Kryos: Chapter 17

Previous chapter

A storm echoed in the north beyond Consortium Hall. Luminous blue arcs scraping gloaming sky. Inside the structure, harsh ringed ceiling lights illuminated the work-worn face of an officious man seated at a wide kalsomined table. The ring-lights flickered erratically as a immaculate figure entered the room. The obsidian-garbed entrant strode methodically toward the table, regarding its occupant keenly with piercing ichorous eyes.

“Oversecretary Gild.”

Ermin Gild straightened in his chair as rain pelted the thick panes of the conference chamber. He pursed his thin lips as the lights returned and gestured to them queriously with his right hand as his left thrummed rhythmically upon the sleeved-smoothed tabletop.

“Mr. Kryos. That from the, ah… what do you call it again? TeleSomA?”

Kryos nodded nearly imperceptibly.

Gild forced a smile. “Well, I appreciate you meeting me on such short notice. And in person, or a close enough approximation. The Chancellor would have come herself were it not for the forthcoming election.”

Kryos folded his hands behind his back and looked toward the empyrean fulminations visible beyond the thick floor to ceiling window-pane.

“No is my answer.”

Ermin Gild furrowed his brow at the smooth resolved declaration, his left hand tapping more rapidly on polished polymer.

“I’ve yet to ask a question.”

Kryos said nothing and turned his back to the speaker seated at the small circular conference table, observing a carbon sculpture that stood the far right corner, which one of the aids had recently convinced Gild to have installed to “liven up the room.”

“Its quite chintz, don’t you think?”

“In execution, not in concept.”

“I didn’t realize there was a concept.”

“A blind man would say as much of a color.”

Gild frowned, left hand tapping faster. He cleared his throat before speaking again.

“Syzr needs to be brought in. We’re gonna charge him with a minor offense, keep that from the public. Wait for the heat to die down and release him, quietly. Comments need to be made to the press. The Chancellor would like your cooperation. We can set this right, but you or Straker are gonna have to make a statement. An official statement. Tell them it was horrible, you’re taking active measures to ensure that it doesn’t happen again, that you’re restructuring. Retraining. Say something maudlin about poverty and crime, they like that sort of thing.”

“You want me defame one of my own to placate savages,” Kryos ran his right hand gingerly along the contours of the dark sculpture.

“That’s public relations.”

“I decline.”

“You don’t seem interested in ameliorating this situation.”

“Not in the way The Chancellor desires.”

“The media is firestorming this. They’ll be more protests. Boycotts. Riots. Rumors. Investigations. I know how keen you are to see your Starglaive Freighter launch. Why jeopardize that?”

“Is that the root of your nervousness? Whether or not my ship launches successfully?”

“You may not believe it, but I’m looking forward to it. The first completely self-sustaining spaceship in human history. If anyone ought to be nervous, its you.”

“You tap your fingers when you’re agitated. As an overwrought woman might bite her nails.”

Gild ceased his rapping and folded his digits into a fist.

“Look. It won’t dent your revenues. You can replace Syzr for the duration of his detention, surely. This is good for all of us. Why are you taking such a hard line?”

“Revenue and reputation are paltry currency to the cosmos.”

Gild leaned back in his chair, brows compressed by perplexity. Knuckles clacking on the table.

“If there is nothing more to discuss, I will be going.”

The man’s form began to distort, quivering like the surface of a pond disturbed.

“Wait. Just a moment.”

Kryos observed the man over his shoulder placidly. His form stabilizing. Gild pinched the bridge of his nose between thumb and index and sighed, closed his eyes, opened them and turned to the affin module built into the table. He pressed the touchpad below the viewing panel.

“Cynthia, bring me a seltzer when you have moment.”

A small thumbs-up icon appeared in response. He found that strange. She had never used emoticons before. Must be the influence of her kid, he thought flippantly. He drew his hand from the control panel and leaned back in his seat, stifling a heavy sigh.

“What we desire is seldom what is required,” Kryos declared resolutely, still observing the statue intently.

Gild cocked his head as a middle aged woman with short, dark hair entered the room, carrying a drink on a tray. She smiled pleasantly and approached the ring-shaped table, which retracted such that the server could pass to the middle of it, whereafter she set Gild’s drink down before him.

“Your seltzer, Sir.”

“Thanks.”

Gild paused, looked to the drink and back to the bland-faced woman, brows knitting faintly. He’d never seen her before.

“Where’s Cynthia?”

“Wasn’t feeling good. She asked me if I could bring it to you.”

“Oh, I see. How dreadful.”

“Her son must be wearing her out,” Kryos interjected without turning.

The server nodded, smiled, “That must be it, Sir.”

Kryos looked over his shoulder to Gild, whose dark eyes were now severe and full of concern, then to the woman.

“Cynthia doesn’t have a son.”

As Gild opened his mouth to issue a query, the woman withdrew a cutter from beneath her overcoat and discharged the device into him. As Gild tumbled over in his chair, writhing in shock and agony, she whirled upon Kryos, the weapon levelled at his head.

The man turned full around and fixed her in his xanthous gaze, as a entomologist might observe a newly discovered species. His posture confident and relaxed. The woman smirked and tightened her grip on the cutter, which began to hum, prelude to discharge.

“G’night Mr. Kryos.”

The next instant there came a resounding crack as the assailant fired a pulse into Kryos’ left eye. His head jerked backward, a neat, perfectly symmetrical hole through it. The woman’s smile widened. She waited for the body to fall. Her grin dissipated when it didn’t. Kryos inclined his head until his right eye was level with his foe. Left eye replaced by a charred hole which fizzed and slowly closed upon itself. The particulates comprising his vessel regrouping. Kryos took a step forward as the woman mouthed incredulity.

“What is this?”

The woman raised her cutter once more and fired two more charges into Kryos’ chest. The blasts barely slowed him down. He neither bled, winced or cried and continued striding evenly toward the waylayer as she gasped and spun, dashing for the exit. The woman’s egress was obstructed by an emergency shield door which descended from the ceiling over the sole doorway. She whipped round to see Ermin Gild, struggling unsteadily to his feet, a hole through his left shoulder, his right hand upon his desk-bound control module, his eyes filled with rage. The woman raised the cutter at him, prompting a wince, then pointed it towards Kryos, who continued his languid approach.

“Open the door or I fire. You hear me. Stay back.”

“Cutters can fire four times on a single charge. You’ve neither a recharger nor time to use it.”

He took another step forward, the woman’s handheld weapon nearly flush with his chest.

“Put that ridiculous thing away.”

The woman’s body trembled as she lowered the weapon. Knowing neither fight nor flight was afforded her. Kryos leaned toward the woman until his eyes were level with her own, his bloodless face serene.

“You have given me the gift of trust. For that, I am truly grateful.”

The woman tensed and drew away, bumping up against the shield door.

“My gratitude would be bolstered by names.”

“I don’t have any. They contacted me anonymously.”

“Ever since I was a child, I delighted in dissection. Absolute understanding of mundane composition affords the possibility of absolute supersession. Of contemporaneous artificial constraints. Or, the frailties of mammalian biology.”

“I don’t know anything.”

The shield door opened, revealing a troop of red clothed Vekt Corp security men.

“Hands in the air! Now!”

“What shall it be, life in a cell, or the end of it here?” Kryos inquired softly.

The woman tearfully met her target’s gaze and drew a blade from a hidden sheath strapped beneath her coat and rushed the closest guard. He fired his cutter and took off half her face. Rheum spattered the ceiling. The woman’s body dropped to the floor, lifeless, leaking red.

“Damnit Captain,” Gild erupted, “We needed her.”

“I’m sorry I didn’t have a choice. Are you alright?”

“I have a HOLE in my SHOULDER.”

“Does it hurt, sir?”

Gild glared and opened his mouth, a curse poised on his lips, cut off by the Captain.

“I’m sorry, sir. A medic will be up shortly.”

Gild inclined his head in approval and sat down heavily in the chair adjacent his former one which had been overturned in the scuffle as the guards dragged the body out of the room. As the door closed behind the cadaver and the men who carried it, Kryos approached the table. After several seconds of leaden silence Gild, fighting back tears of pain and dread, looked to the projection.

“What’d you mean, she’d given you a gift?”

“The only people outside of my company aware of TeleSomA are you and the members of the board. This facility requires secretary clearance, which means-“

Gild’s eyes went wide.

“It was one of the under secretaries.”

Kryos looked toward the small hole in his companion’s shoulder and then toward the storm breaking in the distance.

“Someone within the Consortium wants me dead. Make sure to keep this matter in-house. Tell no one.”

The injured man ground his teeth and downed his alcohol spiked seltzer, “What? No. We need to tell the board. The Security Commission. Do you want them to try the same trick again?”

“To kill a wolf, do not hunt it down, bury a blade in the snow and salt it with blood.”

Kryos: Chapter 16

Previous chapter

Ryard Vancing adjusted his high collared coat against the chill northern wind which swept through the narrow rightward walkway of the market district, intensifying its feverish clangor, and side-eyed the woman Syzr had assigned to accompany him. He’d missed her name during their hasty introduction and attempted to surreptitiously acquire it from her gleaming monochromatic armor. His gaze alighted upon the left side of her breastplate. No name tag. He looked next to the woman’s left pauldron, observing only Kryos’ distinctive sigil, black against the metallic-polymer carapace. He grimaced and cursed internally, annoyed by the informational dearth, embarrassed by the momentary mental lapse.

“Why’d they remove the name tags from your uniforms?”

The woman’s voice crackled mechanically through her facemask as a group of vendees passed slowly by, peering at the contents of the hastily assembled market stalls, “Its Sirin, Sir. Elyse Sirin.”

“I wasn’t-“

“Names can be a health hazard.” She lowered her voice and leaned slightly toward Vancing. “See how they leer.”

Vancing looked to the vendees passing along the passage before them, their eyes narrow, brows furrowed, mouths disdainfully curled, their garb cheap but garishly worn. One of the men, a lean, mangy souther with boisterous facial tattoos, rammed his shoulder into the CAV-keep’s own, knocking Vancing off balance.

“Watch it,” the souther shouted with a half-suppressed grin, prompting laughter from his rambunctious confederates.

“You’re the one who ran into him,” Sirin declared flatly, looking to the interloper from behind her helmet’s pall.

The souther whirled upon the woman, face contorting with malice. “What’d you say?”

“You ran into him. You should apologize.”

“That so, bootlicker?”

“You should pay more attention to where you’re going.”

“You should pay more attention who you’re talking to,” the man took a firm step toward Sirin, “Bootlicker.”

“Its alright,” Vancing replied with mild trepidation, raising his hands. “No harm done.”

“Wasn’t talking to you, company man,” the souther spat without taking his eyes off Sirin, inches from her face.

“You people think you’re so special. Think you run this city.”

“Not as much as you run your mouth.”

The man spat suddenly, coating Sirin’s helm in effluvia. Ryard flinched, expecting tragedy. Sirin said nothing. Unmoved. The souther’s companions ceased their laughter and tensed.

“What? Nothing? Nothing? That’s what I thought. Bitch.” The man puffed out his chest, chin titled upward, eyes wide, jerking his upper body threateningly toward the woman. She observed the man silently as spittle slid down her helm. When Ryard moved to intervene, a member of the branded upstart’s party nudged him in warning, staring around with concern. “Les git, man.” The tattooed man grimaced, realizing his antics had aroused the displeasure of the surrounding shoppers and vendors, some of whom were armed, and, in degrees subtle to overt, made the fact plain for all.

“I’ll be back for you, bitch. I’ll be back for you.” The man made a rude gesture with his tongue and left off with his friends.

Ryard sighed, turned to the woman and handed her one of the antiseptic wipes he kept in his inner jacket pocket to clean up after machinery maintenance runs. She took the synthetic cloth and cleaned the spit off her helm methodically.

“Charming guy.”

“The facial tattoo marks him a Red Reaver.” She declared, disposing the cloth in a nearby metal waste bin which stood between an automatic food crafter seller and a hand-made jewellery stand officiated by a young girl whose hair was decorated with myriad feathers.

“Guessing that’s not a comic book fan club.”

She nodded focusing her attention to the affin module mounted into her left gauntlet, checking the images of the hooligans captured by her helm’s monitors. “Local gang. Souther upstarts, mostly. Suspected by the Security Commission of three turf dispute homicides on rival gang members in as many months.”

Ryard raised his brow and spread his hands. “Why’s nothing been done?”

“With the continual influx of migrants the security commission has been overwhelmed. Doesn’t have the manpower to investigate. If they did, its doubtful they’d find the will to sustain an investigation into a protected class, regardless of the damage being done for fear of sparking further insurrection. Its one of the reasons why district locals started stocking weapons. Legal and otherwise.”

“Perhaps you should change into something else,” Ryard gestured to the woman’s white armor as he wound through a pack of errant skytechs.

“Is that an order, Sir?”

“A suggestion.”

“I’d prefer not to sneak around like a common criminal in my own district.”

“You live here?”

“Used to. I was born here.”

“I thought all KSRU personnel were sourced from the deep colonies.”

“Used to be. Syzr changed the recruitment policy after the agency transitioned from special operations to general policing. A move intended to win trust with the local communities.”

“Doesn’t seem to have worked out.”

“Not as well as he’d hoped. That’s why you’re here, Sir.”

“Right.”

The duo walked in silence for some time through the busy souk, assailed at regular intervals by tricket hockers, used clothing salesmen, scrap merchants and children asking for donations for “the local church.” Sirin shooed them away, explaining to Vancing that there were no churches in the entire district. Shortly, the pair stopped before a stall in the end of the north-western edge of the bazaar where a mechanically magnified voice echoed from the piazza beyond. Only snippets of the speech were audible. Ryard caught “Plantation of doubt,” and, “We true sons of Aecer.” Sirin ignored the distant orator and turned to Ryard.

“May I attend to a personal errand, Sir? Won’t be more than two minutes.”

“Of course. We’ve got plenty of time.”

Sirin moved through the packed crowd to the old man behind the stall, who smiled and inclined a balding head in greeting.

“Ms. Sirin. Back so soon. And with company. What’s your name, son?”

“Ryard. Pleased to meet you, Sir.”

“Nice to meet you, son.”

“Any fresh eels, Cab?”

“Oh, my dear, we just ran out.”

“Drat.”

“Don’t fret!” The fishmonger smiled and bent, with considerable effort, underneath his wide, hand welded table, withdrawing a culinary cryo-cube, which he set upon the tabletop and patted proudly. “Still have one box of jellied eels. Colony’s finest. Saved them just for you.”

Ryard arched his brow as the woman bent with delight to the large black box before opening up her credit application and hastily swiping her wrist bound module over the old man’s processor.

Ryard folded his arms and jerked his head towards the oratory, “Whose giving the speech?”

“Kriezer Sonderon. Haven’t you heard of him?”

“Heard of him. But not much. Heard he’s running for the Chancellorship.”

The old man bobbed his head. “Moonshot. But I gotta respect his dedication. He’s been giving speeches all across the sector for months now. Always in person. Always on time. Been getting impressive crowds of late.”

“He still drawing venom from the press?” Sirin inquired as Cab took the culinary cube and placed it on a hound-sized courier drone perched upon a pallet which rattled and crawled dutifully towards the customers.

“Sure, sure,” the old man rubbed his jaw, “But he’s popular round here. Not often the big whigs speak directly to the public, specially not here. Chancellor certainly doesn’t. Vis Corp’s headlines play well with the cognoscenti. Less so with the man-in-the-street.”

“I see. Well, we’ve got to be going. Thanks for the eels, Cab. I owe you one.”

“Any time.”

The pair moved off from the market lane, the fishmonger’s transport drone following close behind, clicking over the wind-polished pavement. Ryard searched the southern edge of the throng which had assembled in the spacious plaza beyond the souk. At the center of the mass a small man, unimpressively dressed, spoke from a pedestal ringed by large men with dark body armor, stunners at the ready.

“-no longer will we hang our heads in shame, no longer will we bow before alien masses, no longer will we sit idly by while the Consortium strips us of our birthright. Our guests jeer. Clearly, they disagree. They disagree because they’ve gotten just as fat and complacent as us, the only difference is that we, brothers and sisters, have at least gotten fat and complacent from our own work. From our own blood and sacrifice. It was aecerites that built this city. Not federants. Not southers. Not these others whose origins are opaque even to themselves. Yet they demand access to the full fruit of our labor as a impetuous child would demand sweets from his mother. And like children, they throw tantrums when they do not get what they want. What, I ask you, do our demanding guests themselves build? Certainly they do not build stable societies, otherwise they’d have no reason to pour into ours.”

The southers present jeered and booed, some shouting obscenities, others shaking their fists and chanting in unison, all drowned out by the thunderous cheers of the surrounding aecerite multitude.

“That him? Sonderon?” Ryard inquired, gesturing toward the stern-faced man upon the podium at the center of the plaza. Sirin nodded, her hand moving to rest gingerly on the cutter sheathed upon her hip as a fight broke out between several dissenting southers and Sonderon’s supporters.

“Stay close, Sir.”

“I will. Hey. Its her. Fawnell. There.”

The officer followed the CAV-keep’s gesticulation and discerned, amidst the increasingly raucous crowd, a well-dressed middle aged woman in conversation with a man who wore a ragged chartreuse coat.

“What would you like to do, Sir?”

“Not an opportune time. Too much commotion. And I don’t want to roll up on her with you. Might intimidate her. No, I need to reach her alone. Let’s wait. We can try and talk to her after this circus wraps up.”

“And if she leaves before Sonderon finishes?”

“We’ll follow her.”

Ryard continued to observe Fawnell as the fight between the souther hecklers and Sonderon’s security agents intensified as members of the crowd joined in. Ryard cursed as his view of Fawnell was suddenly blocked by the swelling mass. Bodies pressed against him as the discord grew. Ryard jerked as a firm hand fell upon his shoulder. He turned, expecting Sirin, but was greeted by the man with the chartreuse coat’s smiling face. Sirin whirled, drawing her cutter, lowering it just as swiftly as Ryard held up his hand for peace. The man’s face was familiar.

“Mr. Rehdon.”

“Mr. Vancing.”

“Surprised to see you here.”

“Shouldn’t be. My work takes me to all districts. How’re you fitting in with Syzr’s crew?”

Ryard looked over Illander’s left shoulder to behold Fawnell nervously glancing back and forth between the melee and Sirin.

Illander removed his hand from the CAV-keep’s shoulder as one of the protestors was brought down by a stun-shot from Sonderon’s guards and spasmed upon the ground, screaming in pain. The crowd cleared away from the guards momentarily as they spread out in a wide circle around the orator’s makeshift podium. Fawnell gasped and Sirin tensed, primed to draw her weapon.

“This powder-keg is about to blow, Mr. Vancing. I suggest we take our leave before it does.”

Ryard nodded curtly. “Have you eaten, Mr. Rehdon?”

“Not yet.”

Vancing looked to the courier drone which carried, upon his back, Sirin’s well-stocked culinary cube and then returned his attention to the green coated man.

“Do you like eels?”

“I do. But that’d make a scant meal. I’ve a overstocked pantry and few to share it with.”

“That’s a very kind offer.”

“Is it accepted?”

Ryard looked queriously to Sirin, who stood guard at his side.

“Up to you, Sir.”

“Accepted it is.”

Rehdon clapped his hands together and rubbed them, a wide smile on his wan face. “Splendid. This way.”

Ryard and Sirin followed Rehdon and Fawnell down the pulsating streets of the market district as Consortium klaxons sounded in the distance. Fawnell flinched and drew her collar taunt about her neck, as if to gird herself from the aural onslaught. Rehdon leaned to the woman, put his hand lightly upon her lower back and whispered something in her ear, after which she nodded, smiled sadly and relaxed. The group then passed north beyond the market district where the tessellated crowd thinned and arrived before an ancient theatre surrounded by incongruous tenements, bedecked with motley desaturated recyced plastics and small bands of low-end automated street cleaners and package couriers moving water filters and bandages, errant wide-eyed children and small flocks of birds whose smoky coloration rendered them near-indistinguishable from the housing exteriors upon which they perched and clucked and cooed. Everywhere the scent of decaying batteries, avian fecal matter and fresh sediment, residue of residential tofts and construction plats.

Rehdon halted before the high, decorated glass and wood double-doorway of the antediluvian theatre and turned to his companions with a smile, “Welcome to my humble abode.”

“You live here?” Ryard inquired, craning his neck to the top of the opulent structure, dwarfed and shrouded by the surrounding tenements.

“Yep. Well, partially. Whole place was going to be demolished. Found that to be a shame, given its history. Luckily, used some contacts from The Center to get in touch with the Aecerite Historical Society. After some back and forth I persuaded them to delay the demolition long enough to scramble funds to buy it. Ever since its been a home away from home.”

“And a delight to the community,” Fawnell added as Rehdon opened the rightward door and ushered his guests inside with a dramatic bow.

Once inside the lavish confines of the old theatre, Sirin slowed, waited for Fawnell and Rehdon to pass, turned to Vancing and slowly removed her helmet, revealing a smooth oval face wreathed by pale blonde locks, clipped-down at the left of the head and the base of the skull; her eyes, blue, lips thick, and about her jaw and brow, a series of small irregular scars.

“Sir, I think its a good idea to keep watch at the entrance in the event those reavers from earlier decided to follow us.”

Ryard stared at the striking visage. Lips slightly parted, poised words stunted.

“Sir, are you feeling alright?”

“Hm, yes. Yes. Fine. That’s a good idea.”

“I’ll call you if I see anything.”

“Alright.”

The woman inclined her head curtly and removed a packet of pre-cooked eel from the courier drone and ordered it to follow Ryard, then turned and walked back to the entrance, helmet under her left arm.

“Is your friend always so standoffish?” Fawnell asked from where she stood a few paces ahead of the man.

“And easy on the eyes?” Rehdon interjected slyly.

Fawnell nudged the man in the ribs. He grinned and held up his hands as if in surrender.

“Call me Ryard, ma’am. And, to answer your question, I couldn’t tell you. First time working with her. So, how did you two meet?” Ryard queried suddenly, desperate to change the subject, walking to his remaining companion’s sides, hands in his coat pockets, drone following.

“We met through Astrid Sodabrucke’s campaign.”

“I hear she stands a good chance of winning the election.”

“Mm hm. Better than Sonderon, that’s for sure.”

The woman looked to Ryard. Weighing his response to the jab. When he said nothing she continued.

“I was a staffer during last years election and early on Ms. Sodabrucke asked me to reach out to local organizations. First group I contacted was The Center-“

“I was just a volunteer organizer at the time,” Rehdon added.

“He’s just being modest. He really helped me along.”

A young girl was visible upon the stage of the auditorium, flowers in her hair. Her garb, a patchwork of shoddy materials. The girl smiled and waved to the entrants. Rehdon waved back as he waltzed down the traverse.

“Ah, Mallory. Be a dear and grab three of those prepacked lunches from the pantry, will you.”

The girl beamed, whirled and bounded behind the high scarlet curtain and vanished into the darkness of the stage house, footfalls receding to a muted patter, then, silence.

“Your daughter?”

“Dear Mallory is an orphan. Formerly a sifter. Worked the landfills prior to the Markov Plan. When it was put in place, she had nowhere to go, so I hired her to keep the theatre ship-shape. Make yourselves at home,” Rehdon bid, moving to stand athwart the stage as Ryard took in the strange masks, marbled busts and pieces of scrated and shanty mail arrayed about the stage as Fawnell took a seat in the front leftward row with a sigh of relief.

“I feel as if my legs are gonna fall off.”

“That’d be a shame, they’re quite shapely.”

The woman shook her head as Ryard lowered himself down beside her.

Ryard pranced to the edge of the stage, twirling a cane he’d fetched from the bric-a-brac piled haphazardly about the dais, “A show before our meal?”

“You going to dance for us?”

“Ah ha, a dance, what a splendid idea!”

Rehdon fidgeted with his carpus-wound module, whereupon an ethereal waltz played from the auditorium speaker-system. The stage-borne man swayed to the rhythm, his movements growing progressively more bizarre and exaggerated. Fawnell giggled, turning to Vancing with a raise of brows.

“He’s such a cad.”

“He seems like a real nice guy.”

“He really is.” She cleared her throat, going stiff, “But I take it from the presence of your friend you didn’t come out here so we could talk about the arts over a light brunch.”

“No ma’am.”

“You KSRU?”

“No. I’m just a CAV-keep.”

Ryard remained quiet a moment as the triple meter orchestration swelled ominously and cut out.

“Well, I’m going to go see what’s taking Mallory so long, make yourselves at home,” Rehdon declared over his should as he spun his cane with practiced ease and vanished behind the stage house curtain.

“Alright,” Fawnell replied, raising her voice. She waited for the host to leave before returning her attention to Vancing, “I’m guessing you want me to talk to the press? Put out a statement?”

“That would be helpful.”

“I don’t mind having lunch with you, Mr. Vancing. You seem nice. You really do. But I’m not going to discuss this matter any further.”

“Most of the information blacked out after Markov is maintained by the KSRU.”

“How?”

“Kryos Industries manages the database for the ASC.”

“What’s that got to do with anything?”

“I was briefed. Saw danzig’s priors. Next time he decides to slice someone up,” he pointed to the girl who reemerged from behind the stage curtain bearing a covered polymer tray, “It might be someone like her. More his type.”

Sadness and fear shone in the woman’s eyes.

“It’s not that simple.”

Ryard met the woman’s gaze, “Why?”

Fawnell clutched her hands together and exhaled deeply.

“Because of Sodabrucke’s campaign. She maintains me as a consultant.”

“You’re afraid they’ll do to you and her what they did to Syzr.”

“You know how sensitive issues are surrounding aecerite and souther relations. The headline, ‘Sodabrucke connected to anti-souther fanatic.’ I won’t chance it.”

“Who profits by your silence? Danzig, or his next prospective victim?”

Mallory traversed the retractable stair of the newly refurbished stage and proffered the tray, which Fawnell took and placed in her lap. She watched Mallory retreat back up the stairs and turned to Ryard with sudden resolve.

“Fine. I’ll do it. Under one condition.”

“Name it.”

“Security. Until this blows over.”

“Done.”

She nodded and opened the tray. Sliced pomegranate.

Next chapter

Kryos: Chapter 15

Previous chapter

A cry of animal pain echoed throughout the outer dormitory hall aboard the Progenitor as two boys, one large and muscular, one raw-boned and small, tussled, falling to the floor with grunts of exertion as a rotund youth watched with mounting trepidation from a distance. The pudgy boy cried for the combatants to stop, time and time again, growing more agitated with every subsequent protestation. Shortly, a figure emerged from the high, arched portal at the end of the corridor and quietly advanced upon the trio. The objector’s expression subsided to dumb and totalizing terror as the entrant’s voice, calm and commanding, echoed throughout the vastness of the cavity.

“It only takes one cuckoo to ruin a nest.”

The three boys froze, the larger one looking over his shoulder to behold a pale man of middling height, garbed in form-fitting vestments, obsidian and auric-trimmed, his hair short and neatly back-swept upon his pate, dark as his garb. His face, masklike and keen.

“Do you know this bird, Damin?”

The large youth’s mouth parted, lips quivering. “No, Mr. Kryos.”

The young man that had taken a pummeling rolled to his side with labored breath, grimaced and glared at his foe. Eidos looked to the youth on the ground placidly and gestured to the doughy, terror-stricken boy by the door with a tenebrous, sharkskin gloved hand.

“Help him up.”

The rotund boy’s eyes widened and, momentarily, he jostled forward and hefted the battered youth, Graf, from the ground. The beaten boy fixed his shirt and wiped blood from his lip, wobbling defiantly on unsteady legs.

Kryos looked from face to face. His own visage, statuesque in surveyance. Xanthous eyes alighting on Damin.

“Explain your flapping, little bird.”

Damin gestured to Graf, face contorted with ill-constrained rage, “He said… he insulted my family. Sir.”

“What did he say?”

“Said southers were were lower than apes.”

“Does beating him disprove the assertion?”

The boy said nothing as Kryos stepped forth, leaning toward Damin’s recoiling face.

“Why are you here?”

“Because of my father.”

“And why is he here?”

“Because… he works for you.”

“Do you?”

“No.”

“And so you earn no keep. And if you are party to another such outburst, neither shall he. Do you understand me, little bird?”

“Y-yes, sir.”

“It would pain me to clip your wings before you learn to use them.”

The boy said nothing more and cast his eyes to his shoes. Kryos straightened and looked to Graf.

“Return to your quarters. And boy.”

Graf paused and turned to Kryos expectantly as blood trickled down his chin.

“Be more mindful of your manners.”

The boy nodded solemnly and shortly all three began moving off.

“Not you, Duncan. You stay.”

The pudgy youth held-up reluctantly, looking over his shoulder to the pale, pitch-gilt man behind him.

“Walk with me.”

Graf and Damin departed through the portal at the end of the high hall as Duncan moved to stand beside the speaker. Kryos began strolling slowly down the high, vaulted hall, away from the dormitory, Duncan following apprehensively. For a moment all was silence, save the duo’s rhythmic footfalls upon the stainless lacquered floor. A few service drones rolled from distant alcoves to clean up the blood. The boy looked from side to side. The high albescent walls were thick with white statuary, the artifacts shaped in the likeness of men and women of varying ages, all garbed in the standardized sy-chitin of the deep colonies, poised in grave and august variations.

After half a minute of quiet, Kryos spoke.

“Why didn’t you intervene? Break up the fight?”

Duncan shrugged, struggling to put his past emotions into words.

“A man overcharged with violent instincts is as given to vitiation as a man bereft of such impulses.”

Kryos turned to the nearest statue and strode up to it, hands behind his back, his heliodoric eyes widening.

“Do you know this man?”

The boy observed the statue before which Kryos stood for a long moment. The artwork depicted a middle-aged man decked in old-gen KSRU armor, with fine, chiseled features, short hair and a long scar across the left side of his face, gazing stolidly into the distance. The young man shook his head in response to the query, short, auburn locks falling over his left eye.

“His name was Valen Drossian. One of the first of the KSRU. And one of the finest. Nine years ago, when Aestival began their bloody bombing campaign against our topside facilities, I charged him with hunting the malcontents down. Fifteen citizens died before he tracked the leader, Moreno Carduus, to her lair, a formerly abandon warehouse in the exclusion zone. Once he and his men were at the entrance, primed for entry, one of Carduus’ confederates hijacked their affinity modules and informed them that six citizens were currently being held at the facility and if they did not retreat immediately from the district, all of the hostages would be killed. One for every minute of inaction that passed. Video proof was then provided for the claim. So Valen had two choices: Storm the building and risk the slaughter of the hostages; or retreat, allow the insurgents to flee and hope the prisoners were treated mercifully.”

“Which did he choose?”

“The latter. At Valen’s command, they left the area and let Aestival escape. Consequently, every hostage was executed. Three men, two women and a little girl, seven years of age. Their heads were severed and placed at the base of the newly built KSRU tower, looking up at Valen’s office.”

The lad’s face crinkled as he once more grasped clumsily for words. Finding none. Kryos reached his left hand to the statue and caressed its smooth, alabaster cheek.

“Valen died three weeks later in a bombing of my company’s topside headquarters. The charge laid by a plant from Aestival. Thereafter I commissioned this monumental in his honor. That his deeds not be forgotten. A work which was to inspire the rest which you see within this hall. Every man, no matter how virtuous, has his fault. Valen’s was believing in a world which did not exist.”

“Why are you telling me all this, Sir?”

Kryos let his hand fall from the statue and turned to the boy.

“Because you are a Valen in the making.”

The duo’s exchange was interrupted by harried footfalls and labored breath, followed by a well-groomed and elderly man in sy-chitin, who jogged forth and paused some twenty feet from the pair, caught his breath and then strode quickly to Kryos’ side.

“What is it, Gabel?”

“Sir. Over Secretary Gild requests an audience. He gave no details save that the request relates to a matter of utmost importance.”

“He called himself?”

“Aye, Sir.”

“He’d not have called personally without the assent of the Chancellor. Likely concerning the Syzr affair. Tell him I shall conference within the hour, lest that proves inconvenient for him.”

“Very well, Sir.”

The clerk bowed curtly and departed down the hall, whereafter the boy, his face lined with perplexity, stared at the statue.

“What was the world he believed in?”

“One without strife.”

Kryos traced the lines of the scar about the statue’s face.

“He failed to appreciate life’s fulcrum.”

The man let his hand fall from the statue and looked to the vault above it, as if discerning a shuttered form.

“War existed long before we did.”

Next chapter

Kryos: Chapter 14

Previous chapter

“Do you think I’ve governed well?” Agna Richter queried, well-lotioned hands tightly clasped before her waist, fingers writhing with agitation as she gazed out the spotless window of the cluttered highrise office, beyond which shimmering Kryos Industries aircrafts drifted along the thermals above the sleek and jagged towers of Central, their comparatively thin forms casting colossal transient shadows; aphotic blades, slow-cleaving the towering brightness.

Ermin Gild paused midway to removing an errant eyelash from his left suit sleeve, right brow arching at the Chancellor’s query; pale mouth crinkling with displeasure and mild apprehension.

“I trust you’re not blaming yourself for the recent perturbations.”

“Spare me the HR obfuscations. I’m not one of your clients.”

“Very well.”

“You didn’t answer.”

“Yes, of course.”

He removed the detritus from his sleeve and straightened his collar, brows crinkling.

“I used to think so,” the woman replied with restrained exasperation, turning slowly from the window, gray-auburn hair glimmering with pane-transmuted luminance, “Now, I’m not so sure. The city has changed. Its nearly unrecognizable from when I first took office.”

“Change is the only constant.”

“You say these things often. Things that belong on postcards. It is the rate which concerns me.”

“A rate we’ve helped bolster. You were the one who signed the Markov Plan.”

“Something to be proud of. Or so I was told at the time.”

Gild gestured to one of the massive aeroplatforms drifting slowly beyond the window, “I remember the old com towers back before Kryos took over the sky. That was, what, twenty five years ago?”

“Yes.”

“My mother believed the towers were giving her cancer, now she thinks the sky-cells are spying on her.”

The Chancellor laughed dryly.

“Why?”

Gild shrugged.

“On balance, negative emotions prevail. Apprehension. Anxiety. Suspicion. Fear. We’d not have survived long as a species were we capable only of merriment and serendipity.”

“I suppose. But. Its not just the buildings. Or the sky-cells. Its the people. I don’t recognize them anymore. My neighbors are foreigners. Their customs are alien. There was a time when I could simply look at a passerby and know their origin. The city. Or elsewhere. I could discern their district by their accent. Their dress. Their gestures. To do as much now I have to query an affinity module. To know one’s origin is to know one’s mind. I find myself wondering: Are they no longer of Aecer, or is it I that have been passed by? Am I out of step? Isolated? Antiquated? I don’t think I am. I suppose that’s how it always goes. The advance of age brings with it golden idylls. But to believe in their verity is foolish. The past is afforded its inordinate luster by the vitality of youthful ignorance,” She wearily removed the brow-bound affin transmitter previously used to give her hastily cobbled speech to the public, and handed it to her confederate. Gild took the device wordlessly, his eyes fixed upon the woman in keen scrutiny; the lines of her face in stark relief by the scant-filtered light. She appeared to have aged ten years in the space of five. Gild returned the transmitter to the desk inlay where the Chancellor was want to keep it and put his hands in his pocket.

“People think times change rapidly once they pass middle age because they’ve half a lifetime of knowledge to refer to. That’s why most people tend to become increasingly recalcitrant in their attitudes the older they get. Having more, they realize more fully why they have it, and all that went into its production, and so understand how easily it could be taken away,” Gild responded matter-of-factly, eyeing up the food crafter on his superior’s desk, “Consequently, solutions become scarcer, as a fixation upon preservation – the fear of change – divert creative energies from reformation.”

The Chancellor smiled sadly.

“That’s a very polite way of calling me a fossil.”

Gild withdrew a piece of candy from the crafter and popped it in his mouth, closing his eyes momentarily as he savored the algorithmically calibrated chemicals.

“Not a fossil. A holy relic.”

“I didn’t say you could have those.”

Gild stopped mid-mastication, “What do you want me to do, put it back?”

“No.”

He pushed the chocolate morsel to one side of his mouth, tapping his foot.

“With all due respect, Chancellor, you need to focus.”

“I do. That answers my question.”

“What question?”

“Nevermind.”

Gild was silent a moment and finished off the candy with a muffled crunch before speaking in measured, forceful tones.

“Did you see the Kleiner interview?”

“Yes. I’d meant to ask for your advice.”

“Well, you must act. The sooner the better.”

The woman ran her hands across her forearms. Mouth creasing.

“What would you recommend?”

“Not another speech. At least not on the topic. Have something arranged to take the public’s mind off of the incident and off of you,” he moved the wrapper theatrically across the table, away from the crafter, “Placate the populace. Draw the energy out of the rabble. Shift everything to externalities. Talk about the Federation. Talk about the global economy. Foreign relations. Sporting events. Keep the messaging positive, but not too positive, otherwise it’ll read as fraudulent. Anything you like that is distant from the volatile matters of the moment. Just don’t talk about Kryos, or you’ll be dragged into talking about Syzr and the Security Commission and why they haven’t moved on him, and what you’re doing about it and how that ties into the unrest. Et cetera. Doesn’t matter how you answer. You’re the figurehead, you get scapegoated. Or rather, we.”

She nodded solemnly and twined her fingers together.

“What do you think of the Colonel?”

“I don’t know much about the man. His record prior to The Rollout is light on details. I hear he’s quite fanatical. One of those until death types. A well-trained hound.”

“A well-trained hound is unlikely to bite without the consent of its master.”

“Yes.”

“In light of this, Vis Corp’s narrative strikes me as improbable.”

“Of course it is. But its plausible, given ignorance of the subject. And plausibly presented. Far as the public is concerned, that’s all that matters.”

“When is it we stopped being ‘the public?'”

“The day you were sworn into office.”

“If we want to move Syzr we have to talk to Kryos.”

“I can speak to him.”

“Five years ago you tried to have him removed from the board.”

“Yes. I’m not entirely sure that was wise.”

“He’ll not have forgotten.”

“Of course not. He never forgets anything. But he’s not the type of man to hold a grudge. At least, I don’t think he is. Even after all these years I haven’t completely figured him out. If you want to send someone else, I’ve no objection.”

“Do you still want it?”

“What?”

“Don’t be coy. His seat. On the board.”

“I don’t know.”

He looked out the window to where smoke roiled like a great phantasmal centipede, thinking on his superior’s words and wondering as to its origin, “So many things I thought were wings five years ago now seem as shackles.”

Next chapter

Kryos: Chapter 13

Previous chapter

White garbed clerks moved in busy cliques beneath the high, vaulted ceiling of the control room of KSRU Central wherein Acelin Syzr loomed over his sparsely furnished alabaster desk, watching the wall-screen with attentive concern from beneath the cover of his sleek, monochrome mask. The flickering mesh of the central screen, which hung before a branching stairwell, displayed, in a locked-down wideshot, a spacious, judiciously decorated news set, in which a large middle-aged man with a scarred face sat facing an aging make-up caked anchor-woman. Tyser Lanning chuckled and swiveled on his padded chair toward his taunt and well-armored superior who stood the center of the floor.

“Broad looks like she fell headfirst into a crayon blender. We can put networks in the sky, cities under the sea, ports in orbit, but convincing cosmetics somehow eludes us.”

“Quiet.”

Lanning screwed up his face and fell silent, adjusted his long orange overcoat and returned to his affinity tablet array; scuffed fingers busily tapping ergonomic keys; cushioned, close-fitting headset humming; eyes taking in the detailed feeds of various Consortium-approved, Kryos-manufactured aerial drones, judiciously scanning the sprawling cityscape for social perturbation.

“This is Tiffany Bardis for New Vision, here with Central Sector’s Danzig Kleiner, the lone survivor of a vicious, seemingly random attack which occurred two days ago on the streets of the entertainment district, where the leader of the KSRU, a one Acelin Syzr, confronted Mr. Kleiner and two of his friends, Darius Culp and Victor Mehan, both southers and first generation district residents; the event, unfortunately, culminated in the deaths of both Mr. Mehan and Mr. Culp. Mr. Syzr, for reasons which remain unclear, was not detained by the Security Commission, and remains at large, prompting protests from local residents outraged at the cruel injustice of the act and, what they view, as the burgeoning tyranny of Kryos Industries, whose KSRU mercenaries now operate, in some capacity, in every single sector of the city. The KSRU has since released a curt statement, in which they declared that the event was prompted by self-defense and suggests a extensive investigation by the Security Commission. Curiously, the Security Commission has not released a statement. We reached out to both Kryos Industries and the Security Commission; unfortunately, neither have responded to our queries.” The woman turned to the greasy, hastily done-up man sitting roughly five feet from her with a mirthless smile, “Mr. Kleiner, thank you so much for being with us today, I know how stressful this must be for you, given all you’ve been through recently.”

The man rocked slightly and nervously rubbed his knees, as if scrapping mud, “Thanks for having me, Tiffany.”

“How are you holding up?”

Syzr’s hands went tight about the corner of his sparsely furnished alabaster desk.

“Its been rough. But I’m doing alright.”

“Given the dearth of footage from the incident, can you start from the beginning and tell us exactly what happened?”

“Sure. Well, I and my friends were just minding our business, took an alleyway shortcut to a club we liked to hang out at, when… this guy just springs out of nowhere and starts attacking us. Like he had it out for us.”

“The short video clip which was leaked shows your friends assaulting Mr. Syzr; can you explain what happened prior to the beginning of the available recording of the event?”

“Yeah. Yeah. Well, that’s deceptive, they were fighting back. See, he came in swinging and they pushed him back and I was just stunned, stunned, didn’t know what to do, then they tried to tackle him and that’s when the recording begins. At the time, I didn’t know he was paramilitary, thought he was just some guy.”

“I see…”

Syzr loosed the table and straightened, “This cretin can barely string a sentence together. Its doubtful he came up with this narrative on his own.”

“Think someone has been feeding him lines?” Lanning inquired, removing his headset and rubbing his chin contemplatively, popping a printed biscuit from a culinary crafter on his work-desk.

Syzr nodded near imperceptibly, “Someone coached him.”

“… Mr. Danzig, some have floated the idea that he targeted your friends because of their origins. That he had some pathological grievance against southers. What do you think of that?”

“Could be, Tiffany, could be. There’s a lot of crazy people out there…”

Syzr turned to Lanning, “The bastard’s smiling. Has Fawnell agreed to speak to the press?”

Lanning shook his head and leaned back in his chair, “She refuses to talk to anyone, even the Security Commission. Probably afraid of blow back from the mob, now that Mehan and Culp have been turned into martyrs. I’ve not tried to contact her personally, but Vogel did, told me she shut him down immediately. I put out a missive to see if any of our staffers might know her. All replies negative, so far.”

“I’m surprised Vogel’s still willing to share information with us.”

“So was I. I don’t think the Commissioner is aware of his indiscretion.”

“Still no news on the rest of the drone recording?”

“Nothing.”

Syzr uttered a curse under his breath, the utterance rendered opaque by the mechanical distortion of his full-helm’s respirator. From the far end of the hall, the sound of two pairs of footsteps reverberated. Syzr turned and beheld Jean Raimer, a dark-haired man of middling height and powerful frame, armed and armored in gleaming sy-chitin, his helm tucked under his left arm, his right, curling to a salute which was swiftly returned. Behind him stood a middle aged man with well-combed hair and a high-collared monochrome coat, a Vilar Corp logo upon the right shoulder.

“What is it Corporal?”

“Apologies for the interruption, Colonel. Ryard Vancing is here to see you.”

Vancing stepped forward, his visage uncharacteristically grim and reserved, his eyes fixed upon the colonel.

“Come concerning our request?”

“Yes. Hope I’m not interrupting anything.”

“You are. But I can multitask.”

The enormous screen cut suddenly away from Kleiner’s interview to a scene of roiling violence backlit by ravenous flames licking up the berth of a tumble-down tenement. A young reporter faced a Vis Corp coverage drone which hovered some six feet above the woman, the machine’s multi-camera array focusing in on the most active zones of conflict. “Chancellor Richter just now called for calm after yet another outbreak of violence in Central.” The woman turned to a middle aged souther whose swarthy face was twisted into a permanent snarl. “Sir, excuse me, can you tell us why you’re out here? What are you hoping to accomplish?” The souther paused and drew up to the woman, seemingly annoyed, followed by a group of compatriots. “They’re out here killing us.” “Who, sir?” “KSRU. Security Commission. Big business. Whole damned government. We’re out here to show them we won’t take it any more. If they’re gonna keep killing us, we’re gonna start killing them.” “They kill us, we kill them,” the crowd began to chant with increasing fervor. The reporter’s face contorted with apprehension. “She’s from the government, she’s from the government!” Someone off-camera shouted. The next instant someone struck the woman in the back of the head; her body ragdolled, prompting her crew to leap vainly to her defense. The crowd swiftly turned upon the journalists with cries of fury, whereafter fists and blood were thrown in a sudden flux of savagery. Screams of deep animal pain blanketed the scene, drowning out the crackling raze and homemade explosives sounding in the distance. As the grotesque cacophony reached its invariable apogee, the feed cut, transitioning back to the Vis Corp interview set where Tiffany Bardis shook her golden head, mouth twitching like a skewered grub. “Gods below…” for a long moment the woman simply starred uncomprehendingly, as if in a trance, “T-that’s the latest from our on-the-ground coverage of the protests currently sweeping Central Sector…”

Syzr muted the monitor and turned to the entrant.

“What have you decided?”

Ryard’s expression waxed solemn.

“This madness must not become our normality.”

“‘This,’ or ‘their.'”

“Who’re you referring to?”

Syzr gestured to a close-up of Danzig Kleiner on the monitor, “Whoever proffered him to the media and coached him. Whoever was behind the seizure of the assurance drone which recorded my encounter with Kleiner’s gang. I suspect the same hand moves behind both curtains.”

“Why do you think he was coached?”

“I heard him speak before we fought. He’s affecting a new speech pattern, new mannerisms. And despite his obvious incompetence, he’s yet to stumble in responding to a question.”

“That’s reasonable,” Ryard asserted with sudden animation. “But right now we should worry about forming a counter-narrative. We don’t have the drone recording of what really happened but as I overheard, the woman who you rescued hasn’t spoken up.”

Syzr nodded.

“Fawnell won’t talk to us,” Lanning replied with exasperation, “She might – just maybe – talk to the colonel, if he came in person; however, if the mob spots him on the street, they’ll be blood.”

Ryard returned his attention to the colonel and smiled confidently, “Send me.”

Next chapter

Kryos: Chapter 12

Previous chapter

Dark clouds massed on the horizon as Ryard Vancing strode the eatery district’s vacated streets, soma sotted by the ruination spawned since his last sojourn. The faint, familiar hum of the main CAV-way’s cargo, crisply audible in the absence of the jostling murmuration of variegated tongues, made the scene disquietingly surreal. The wide, pedestrian thoroughfare was trash strewn; the windows of all surrounding shops, cracked and shattered; the walls, marred by vulgar graffiti; the gentle breeze, bearing the scent of char and sick. A few cheap-garbed itinerants milled about the lane, seemingly perplexed by their selfsame presence; aecerites and southers, federates and those whose origins escaped Vancing’s ken. Several minutes on, a young woman ran up on the sidewalk, several yards before Ryard, and removed a small spray can from her coat and began dousing the wall; visage crooking with prideful cruelty.

“Hey,” Ryard called out, increasing his pace and advancing toward the vandal.

The woman’s face kinked with fright, whereafter she dashed down the street, vanishing into a blighted alley between two dilapidated shops. Ryard halted and observed the vandal’s scrawl: Consortium Kills.

“What were you trying to do to her?”

The brisk male voice prompted Ryard to turn with confusion to behold three middle-aged men progressing toward him from behind a slow-moving detachment of cargo drones that crawled insouciantly across the center of the spacious pedestrian lane.

Ryard gestured to the defacement, “She was marking up the wall.”

“You got a problem with that?”

“Don’t you?”

The men stopped five feet from Vancing, eyes wary, jaws tense.

“Maybe I don’t.”

“Alright.”

Ryard turned his back to the men and removed a cloth from his pocket and began to scrub the wall. As Ryard cleared off the ‘C’ from the cacograph, the speaker, a pudgy man with a high hairline and a round, crinkled face, took in the Vilar Corp logo on Ryard’s jacket with choler and stepped forward, “Think you’d better leave, company man.”

“Will, soon as I’m done.”

“I said clear off.”

Ryard paused and stared at the man over his coat collar, “This is public property.”

“Yeah. And I’m the public.”

“Wager you’d be singing a different tune if this was your house.”

The man spat at Ryard’s feet. The CAV-Keep methodically observed the effluvia and returned to his work.

“Come on, Emmett,” a short, reedy member of the trio appealed softly, “Its not worth it. Let’s go.”

Emmett grimaced and turned abruptly, muttering “whatever” before leaving off, followed closely by his confederates. Ryard watched them tread to the south and continued scouring the wall until every trace of lettering was erased, then folded his cloth, pocketed it and continued along the pedestrian lane as clement rain descended from darkling haze.

When he arrived at the Wyntwurth Automat he sighed and readjusted his collar against the chill downpour. The establishment lay ransacked and boarded, ringed by guard drones of curious, nonstandard extraction.

“Vacate the premises,” the closest of the brassy machines trilled, posturing aggressively toward the entrant. “You have one minute to comply.”

Ryard retreated to the side of the curb, brows knitting with apprehension, ire and dissapointment.

“Appears we’ll have to find a new place to lunch,” a familiar husky voice intoned from behind the wayward CAV-keep. Ryard spun and beheld a old man, elegantly garbed and hairless, save his thin twiggish brows, who sat upon the back of an automated cabriolet at the side of the ill-populated thoroughfare which bordered the cloistered restaurant.

“Salutations, Mr. Salis.”

The old man smiled warmly.

“Hop in, Mr. Vancing. I know a good place.”

Ryard did as he was bid and sat opposite the elderly executive, whereafter the machine’s opaque, oblong canopy secured around them like the mesogleaic bell of a massive sea jelly. After the canopy was secured the craft lumbered forward.

“Isn’t it unwise, Sir? Traveling around by yourself,” Ryard gestured through the diaphanous interior, “Especially in the middle of all of this.”

“I never travel alone.”

Ryard looked over Salis’ shoulder and spied another cabriolet following them. Inside, a lone passenger, barely visible due the distortion of the semi-spherical pane, a dark hat upon his distant head.

“Personal security?”

Salis nodded, “Saif Baumann. Came out of the same class as Acelin Syzr at the academy. Damned shame I even feel I need him. But… well, if the scenery isn’t enough, when I entered the district, I saw a frail, old woman – must have been near seventy years old, maybe a little older – walking across the street. Minding her own business. This young fellow – a souther – came up, pushed her over, hard as he could. Didn’t say a word. Doubt he knew her, given the disparity of their dress. Just pushed her over and ran away, laughing.”

“Was she alright?”

Julian Salis nodded grimly, “Bruised. A little shaken. Had Baumann stop and help her to a med-pod. She’ll be fine. I just can’t fathom why someone would do that.”

“You know those new updates Kryos Industries was debuting for free for recently outdated affin mods?”

“I read about it. But I’ve got the latest model, so I didn’t have to bother with it. I was never very tech savvy.”

“Well, about a week ago, I was in my tenement, trying to make a call on my affin mod. But the release for the patch was set back. Everything was running slow. Kept trying it. Still nothing. All of a sudden, I pulled my module off my wrist, overwhelmed with the desire to throw it across the room.”

The old man nodded and slowly smiled, “But you didn’t,” Salis motioned casually to the outdated module that adorned Ryard’s left wrist, “I’d wager that’s why Kryos had Straker attempt to recruit you.”

“Maybe. I haven’t given them an answer yet.”

“I didn’t figure you had. Which is why I wanted to meet with you,” Ryard straightened, listening attentively, “Whatever you decide, know that you have my full support, as does the KSRU.”

“I appreciate that, Sir. But the substation-“

Salis lifted a hand for silence, “I’m telling you this because I don’t want you to worry about being fired or having your benefits cut, and, more importantly, because the changes we’re seeing,” He nodded out the enclosure to the ravaged exterior of a charging station, “All of this, is bigger than the substation, bigger than the whole line, bigger than Vilar Corp. This vicious revolutionary mood didn’t suddenly just sweep the city, Mr. Vancing, its been building for a long, long time. This is merely its most recent and intense expression. I’ve lived through one revolution. I’ve no desire to see another.”

Ryard pocketed his hands to resist the urge to wring them together in nervous agitation.

“You’re one of the few who understands what its like.”

“What what is like, Sir?”

“To meet those whose only concern is your eradication.”

Ryard looked out the window.

“Forgive me, I know you don’t like talking about it.”

“Its fine,” Ryard observed the bedraggled pedestrians upon the garbage spackled thoroughfare, who glared at the cab with feral and forthright disdain, “I’m not as sensitive as many think.”

“I don’t believe that for a moment. That’s why Baumann or Syzr or I or even Straker couldn’t hope to do what Kryos expects of you.”

“And you? What do you expect of me, Sir?”

“I expect you’ll do what you know to be right.”

Ryard returned his attention to the window where a mother and daughter walked, hand in hand, beneath the high canopy of a hodgepodge market stall, hastily constructed to accomadate a merchant whose store had been razed.

He wondered at the absence of the father.

Next chapter

Kryos: Chapter 11

Previous chapter

Club beats and the shifting footfalls of a lookout caressed the stifling air within the backroom of The Red Moon, where three individuals anchored a bare, mahogany table; a lock upon the door, a shadow in every eye. Vitalik Radigan, a elderly aecerite undersecretary, pepper-haired and well-tailored, clasped his hands together before addressing the slim, verdant-coated man, who sat the opposite side of the desk.

“We’ve been impressed with your work, Mr. Rehdon. Your talents are singular-“

“‘However.'”

“… However, the Bureau has become concerned of late about unnecessary volatility.”

Illander Rehdon raised a brow as Iyad Zhu, spokesman for Bright Horizons, Eastern Federation’s Aecer outreach program, tapped upon his tablet.

“Unnecessary?”

“Incursions against Kryos properties have become increasingly destructive,” Radigan declared, flexing his entwined fingers over the sleeve-worn tabletop, “We don’t want a repeat of the Aestival Incident.”

“That again? They never tied anything back to me. Commission closed the case.”

Radigan held up a hand in supplication, “As before, no one is casting all the blame at your feet, but recall the damage that was done. It was a diplomatic disaster.”

“You needn’t remind me. With what you require of me, there will always be errors. I can spark a fire, but I can’t control the direction of the wind.”

“We understand that,” Zhu replied coolly, “But you’re fanning these flames in a very particular direction. That drone footage of Acelin Syzr didn’t find its way to the media on its own.”

Rehdon’s brow crinkled with dazzled perplexity.

“How did you know that was my handiwork?”

Finally, Zhu looked up from his tablet, “I didn’t, until now.”

Rehdon grinned bitterly, eyes mordacious, and tapped out the ash of his half-charred cigarette into a small tray upon the elbow-scuffed tabletop.

After a moment of repressive silence, Zhu leaned forward, “Look. They don’t want lucrative properties damaged. As I’m sure you’re aware, the Kryos Aerospace Complex is exceedingly lucrative; not easily replaced.”

Rehdon leaned back in his chair, visage quizzical, and took a drag off his cigarette.

“They want to take it over?”

Zhu nodded and beamed with muted pride, glancing briefly to Radigan before continuing, “Yes.” Radigan scowled at the indiscretion as his confederate continued, heedless, “And they want me to be the one to do it. So from now on, focus your attentions on swaying the activists against the Consortium more generally, rather than Kryos specifically. What we need to attack is not brick and mortar, or flesh and blood, but the idea of Aecer itself. When confidence in the aecerite’s collective bonds are broken, we will intervene to provide fresh ones; a new social contract.”

Rehdon nodded and stubbed out the burning cylinder, “As you wish. My heart beats only for The Bureau.”

Zhu straightened, his face waxing solemn as he crossed his fist about his chest, “And may it thrum forever.”

Radigan reluctantly raised his fist to his chest and swiftly let it fall to his side once more and rose.

“I think that concludes our business here. Shall we?”

Zhu nodded and rose with his compatriot.

“Oh, and Illander.”

“Yes?”

“Give my regards to Ms. Cece.”

“Give them to her yourself. She’ll be waiting outside.”

Zhu inclined his head, moved to the door and knocked, whereafter it was opened by a man from the security detail.

The men exited the room, whereupon they were greeted by Zarya Cece advancing down the hall, who smiled warmly and saw them out and then returned to the room and shut the door. She regarded Illander a moment and walked slowly to his side and snatched up one of the man’s cigarettes.

“What did they want?”

“To tighten the leash.”

“How so?”

“They don’t want to see further damage to Kryos properties.”

“The whole point of going after the company was to force an admission?”

Rehdon grinned broadly, “I had to figure out a way to discern whether or not they wanted to take over his company without violating The Bureau’s orders.”

“So they’re going to kill him?”

“They’ll try.”

“And the Consortium?”

“They’ve not told me, of course, but I’d wager its largely compromised at this point. Yet… Even if the Buearu wins, all that shall be accomplished is the replacement of one sordid, lifeless bureaucracy by another.”

“I don’t like hearing you talk like this.”

“Oh?”

“Its treason, Illander.”

Illander laughed.

“How fearful you are, merely to think.”

“Such thoughts will not die stillborn.”

“Such thoughts will not die.”

Next chapter

Kryos: Chapter 10

Previous chapter

Legate Hild stood the floor of the high, vaulted heart of The Progenitor, as the vast machine forded the coruscated abyss. Through the colossal, semi-transparent windows, she watched a school of silvery fish bank fearfully from the strident craft, like daggers in the dark, and turned to Eidos Kryos, who sat a plain, ashen chair at the back of the room; a book in his pitch-gloved hands. His pallid face mantled by penumbral ambience. His posture, relaxed and diffident. His garb, sleek and tenebrous. Eyes, icteric in the gloom.

The woman cleared her throat and spoke, nervousness speckling her high, clear tones, “The launch has been barred, Sir. Due the unrest, the Consortium declared the timing ‘inappropriate.'”

The swift snap of a book being closed echoed throughout the voluminous expanse, causing the woman to flinch, whereafter the man’s measured voice resounded above the dim-lit waters.

“A regime which cannot inspire trust, nor fear, is as a eagle bereft of keratin; flight, its only defense.”

The woman was silent a moment and straightened, “With a new artificial island, we wouldn’t need to rely on the Consortium for launch space, nor contend with persistent vandalizations of our topside facilities.”

Eidos Kryos rose from his chair, setting the book upon the left armrest, and moved slowly toward the pool as argent drones emerged from the darkness and arrayed themselves over the surface of the still waters, forming a floating bridge. Kryos strode across the aerial passage as great electric-eyed eels writhed languidly beneath.

“Peach trees attract wasps in the summer. Buzzing fills our orchard. Would you first have me plant new trees, or rid the old of the infestation?”

She hesitated, unsure how best to respond as Kryos passed to the opposite side of the reservoir and stepped off the hovering overpass. He passed Hild and moved before the leftward semi-permeable window, where enormous power-cables were visible, half-buried along the bony sea-bed, stretching out into the vast, inky blackness like the tendrils of a monumental, metallic squid.

“How does one deter wasps from a copse?”

“By culling damaged fruit.”

“Understood. Sir.”

Hild disconnected from the module, her avatar dissolving into a dark puddle which swiftly coalesced into a dense, obsidian sphere upon the floor of the Progenitor. Shortly, a silver drone descended from the ceiling and secured the globe in its insectal, carbon fibre limbs and ferried it to Kryos’ pitch-gloved palm.

Next chapter

Kryos: Chapter 9

Previous chapter

“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 then 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 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 turn for the worst. When conflict becomes unavoidable. When fear flares. Its uncivilized.”

“Uncivilized?”

“Civility is more than manners.”

Next chapter