Kryos: Chapter 35

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An unctuous sychitin-garbed retainer of middling age led Zarya Cece from the massive vessel’s docking bay, up an expansive industrial lift where the floor was scuffed by constant transit of mining slag, through a series of short and twisting halls, to a wide, palatial gallery lined with albescent statuary of exquisite men and women in majestic repose. The ceiling was high and fluted as the folds of a rooted collybia and from them beams of illumination fell with singular focus upon each icon. Tributary baubles lay upon the pedestals of the effigies. Necklaces and bracelets, ornate vases and funerary urns and polished slipper shells and notes on sheafs of codium fragile. On the base of a cenotaph in the form of a solemn man in streamlined armor was a delicate blue flower. The woman strode to the monument, took in the masterworked contours of the proud, solemn face, and lifted the flower. A petal fell from the stem and floated to the plinth. Zarya frowned.

“Why must beautiful things be so fragile.”

The guide surveyed the woman’s elegant raiment. “You must be very fragile if that is so.”

Cece rolled her eyes. “How often do such lines work for you?”

“You’d be surprised.”

“I wonder. Tell me.” She looked to the name painted below left collarbone on the man’s ashen plate. “Audo. What do you do here?”

“I work on the docking module. Watch the ballast, pressure, which ships come and go. That sort of thing.”

“Don’t your systems do that automatically?”

“Course. But there’s always a chance of system failure. Its Kryos’ policy for all workers to create a secondary record, by hand, of all pertinent activity, in every module, on every deck.”

“Lot of extra work. Explains why there are so many people here.”

Groups of men and women, clothed as the guide, moved down the pass, talking with staid incision and inclined their heads to the newcomer. Cece watched her usher return the gesture and did likewise.

“You came at a busy time of day. A busy month, really. So many new kelp farms to install. But tell me, if you don’t consider it indelicate, what does Sodabrucke plan to do? Has a new government been formed?”

“I can’t answer that, handsome.”

“You mean you won’t. I shouldn’t have asked.”

The woman looked up to the ceiling where shifted small black clusters.

“What are those?”

“We call them SERIA sensors.”

“Sensors? Like cameras?”

“Not exactly.”

Audo dipped a hand into a pack at his belt and removed a thin length of material whose composition eluded Cece’s ken. “The wearer senses what the array senses.” She reached forward for the artifact, but Audo withdrew it from her grasp. “That wouldn’t be a good idea.”

“Why?”

“To use it, one needs to undergo a tuning process. Those that don’t are at risk of seizure.”

“Goodness, why even bother with something that dangerous?”

“Direct telesensory inception has unique benefits. But frankly, I was of much the same opinion when Kryos and Straker came up with the idea. I was part of the original development team. When it became clear it was feasible, I told him it wasn’t worth the risk. He disagreed. He said: ‘Only the malformed are without fear. Only the cowardly shrink from it.’ Then he put the device on.” The man lowered his voice and leaned toward the woman. “Nearly killed him.”

“Really?”

The man nodded gravely. “Scared me half to death. Scared all of us. His whole body convulsed, and he made this… horrible noise. But then, right as his vitals we’re going south, he became quiet and slowly pulled himself up on the edge of the work bench. I asked him what he was thinking, told him it was crazy.”

“What did he say?”

“‘One cannot wring crops from halcyon earth.'”

The woman furrowed her brows and shook her head.

“Ah, but I’m taking up too much of your time with my stories.” The man pocketed the device and gestured down the corridor. “Shall we continue?” Cece assented and followed behind her guide beyond the crowded memorial chamber. When they were near the end of the corridor a boy at the threshold of maturity came plunging about the corner, bearing a object some three feet in length in his arms.

“Graf! You nearly ran into the good lady.”

The boy halted just short of the duo, his eyes low.

“Sorry.”

“No trouble. What have you got there?” Cece inquired, bending to the bundle.

Graf shifted the lump, prompting Cece to gasp and draw back in horror, for in the boy’s arms was a large, pale chitinous creature, with triangular charcoal eyes and four bony antennae that rose up nervously. Its many-legged underside was paler than its shell and at its rear was a thick mass of fins, wider than its head.

“What is that?”

“An isopod.”

“Why are you carrying it?”

“Mr. Kryos gave it to me.”

The woman looked to her guide with utter bewilderment.

“They’re popular pets in the colonies.”

“I see.”

“We put them in the reservoirs to keep them clean. They’ll eat just about anything that falls to the bottom.”

The woman took a step back as the isopod raised its upper limbs in her direction. The boy laughed.

“Well, not anything. Don’t worry, lady, it won’t hurt you.”

The man gave the boy a reproachful look. “If he gave you that, I take it you’ve dispensed with the fighting?”

The boy worked his lower lip back and forth. Jubilance subsiding. “Yes, sir.”

“Good. Well, be on your way, boy.”

Graf adjusted the bottom feeder in his wiry arms and absquatulated.

The duo walked on.

Past the artful ossuary was a long, dark hall. The steward pointed to the recess at the far end of the protracted corridor. “His study is straight ahead. Be mindful of the water.”

Zarya Cece raised a brow, smiled and curtsied. The man nodded, turned and left off; footfalls and form swift-receding to shadow.

She watched him and paced into the black. A high aperture embowered by caliginous strands opened to an ersatz grotto. Long, high and pale as bleached bone, awash in dismal azure light. The blanched walls were composed of unreflective translucent material that revealed the complex clockwork of the great machine. High above, argent forms floated in torpid circles. At the center of the hollow, a pool, and dark shapes within it. Opposite the entrance, across the water lay a pale expanse of what appeared as variegated sand that rose up by subtle degrees to a brassy mass of jagged, scintillating scale-like structures, between which a man sat an ashen chair fused to the surrounding material. He wore dark, laminous clothes trimmed with gold that shone like his eyes. His posture bespoke detachment, yet his voice carried across the chasm with restrained intensity.

“Expectant of a wolf, I recieve a fox.”

“Commissioner Kryos.” The woman curtsied.

“I am a commissioner no longer.”

“Chancellor Sodabrucke is reconstituting The Board. She thought that might interest you, given that your ship is still on the mainland.”

“It is where it belongs. For now.”

“That may be so, but by law its still under SecCom control. You want it back. Work with us.”

“As it was not Richter’s to take, it is not yours to give.”

“That’s not very diplomatic. We’re offering you aid.”

“Spermaceti is a pearly waxen substance derived from the head cavities of cachalots.”

Cece’s face creased with confusion. “And?”

“Do you know how many lumens a seventy six gram candle of this material affords?”

“No one uses candles anymore.”

“One. Each algae light-vessel in this chamber affords two hundred and thirty lumens. There are ten thousand five hundred of them. How many candles would I need to light this chamber?”

“I don’t know.”

“One needs knowledge of dimensions. Two million four hundred fifteen thousand.”

Luminance filled the cavity in tandem with his voice. Phosphorescent went ceiling and walls. The woman raised her hand, squinting against the sudden bluish glare until her eyes adjusted.

“That’s all very fascinating, but I don’t see what this has to do with anything.”

Kryos stood. “A single adult cachalot produces around one thousand nine hundred litres of spermaceti. One million nine hundred thousand grams.” He clasped his hands behind his back. “That’s roughly twenty five thousand candles per whale-head. Or, twenty five thousand lumens per whale. Seventy six grams of my algae produces seventeen thousand four hundred and eighty lumens, over half that of an entire adult cachalot, so tell me, Ms. Cece, what need have I of whales?”

“That’s an awfully long-winded way of calling us dim.”

“I did not say dim.”

“What then?”

“Inefficient.”

Argent machines descended from the ceiling and arrayed themselves across the reservoir that separated host and visitor. Kryos moved from the ashen throne toward the pool and gestured for his guest to ford the watery expanse. The woman tested the metallic carapace of the first of the temporary platforms, which gave but slightly beneath her boot, then made her way across the wide pool. Striding with easy confidence toward the opposite shore.

“If we are candles,” Cece began with a tinge of ire as she forded the makeshift bridge. “To continue your analogy,” she stepped off the last SIKARD and tilted up her head at the black garbed man before her as the insectal machines crested the edge of the tranquil liquid and spiraled in the air about the speakers. “Its only a matter of quantity and time before we’re brighter than the sun.” The woman reached for her affin module, the top half detaching to a hand-held device which she raised and clicked. The SIKARDs trilled and spasmed and fell from the air. Kryos grit his teeth and fell to one knee, muscles twitching unnaturally.

The woman raised the device to the beleaguered man’s head. “The woman who attacked you in Gild’s office had an orbital implant. I saw it all. Your telesoma. The good chancellor, foolish girl that she is, let me into the Board archive. I read your file.” She gestured to the downed SIKARDs. “Knew about your little friends. So I had a field disruptor installed in my cutter and the cutter fitted to my affin module, in case you had your men search me.”

Kryos, inhaled sharpely, rose and surveyed the woman’s device briefly, before his helodoric gaze returned to her face.

“I ordered them not to.”

“Huh?”

“A snow-buried blade is useless if the fox cannot lick it.”

“I don’t see a blade.”

“You are preoccupied by looking.”

“Forgettable, far as final words go.”

Without compunction, Cece raised the modified cutter and fired a pulse through Kryos’ chest. He looked down at the void where his heart should be and spun to the pale throne, which bubbled with the residue of the blast. With a muffled cry, he wavered unsteadily on his feet and slumped against the unadorned chair, his head lolling lifelessly.

The lights dimmed. Murk re-enveloped the chamber.

The woman looked to the corpse with triumph.

“Should have pulled your magic trick.”

The corpse’s eyes swiveled to the woman, its mouth forming a thin smile.

“What prompted you to think I hadn’t?”

In tandem with the woman’s breathless gasp, the pale-throned figure contorted and dissolved to an amorphous mass and seeped to the floor as a voice echoed from above.

“Revenge is a greater motor to man than amity, for the latter is a burden, and the former, a pleasure.”

The woman cast her eyes up to the ceiling and took a step backward. There, Eidos Kryos stood. She looked to the left wall and beheld, some fifteen feet up, another Kryos, then to the right wall, where, at similar height, yet another facsimile of the man gazed down upon her, the heliodor of his irises glinting in the gloam. The Kryos upon the left wall continued where the ceiling-borne one had left off.

“I induce this wolf you’ve bound yourself to does not desire vengeance against my person, but the whole of society.”

The Kryos upon the right wall spoke next. “This person was the same who slew The Board.”

The Kryos on the ceiling continued the oratory cycle. “This predator weaves a grand tapestry. Perhaps, from it, your master sought to pluck an errant strand. And so sent you here.”

“He would never-” Too late she realized the error.

“So it is a man.” The three visages spake in unison. Those left and right began to walk down from the walls toward the woman as the spectral orator on the ceiling dripped piece by piece to her feet. Recomposing.

The woman backed away from the apparitions toward the pool. Mind reeling. Hands quaking on the useless cutter.

“Stay away,” she howled, as the figures closed the distance.

From the depths of the reservoir a black-plated hand emerged, gripped Cece by the ankle and tore the balance from beneath her. She shrieked and fell to the floor, weapon flying from grasp, brow colliding with a small mineral tumulus in the sandy expanse and dripping red. She clawed blindly at the silt-strewn floor, vision blurring as the sound of a surfacing form and dripping water preceded a rippling shadow.

Kryos stood at the edge of the artificial pond, a breathing apparatus affixed to his face. He reached up and removed the mask with methodical familiarity, revealing a slender silver device that wrapped about the left temple. He surveyed the female placidly. Eyes and half-diadem gleaming. As footsteps closed upon her, Cece scrambled for her weapon. A dark heel descended upon it. With bloodied brow and locks in disarray, Cece looked up to behold the dour face of Ermin Gild gazing upon her with reproach. The man retrieved the device from the ground and switched it off. The SIKARDs hummed to life and rose into the air as Kryos knelt and took the woman’s face in his hands.

“Ash is more beautiful than a painting scourged. For it is pure as the fires that birthed it. But to purify iron, mere flame is not enough. A furnace is required. Whose glow illuminates the slag of the soul. It is a pity that you shall never see it.”

Next chapter

Kryos: Chapter 34

Previous chapter

A yawning corridor the hue and texture of anthracite arced over Ermin Gild, who progressed at a harried pace across gray-scaled tiles. The man’s footfalls echoed off the disorienting ceiling, from which hung long autochthonous tangles of curved, compressed carbon, the ends of which were fitted with a series of small translucent orbs that glimmered when the walker passed within fifteen feet of them, thereafter dimming and falling to darkness once more. At the far end of the sable pass was a great tripartite door, the lower portion of which retracted into the floor as the upper segments withdrew to the top of the portal; beyond it, another hallway, shorter than the one preceding, that let out to a massive, multi-tiered cavity, composed of a circular walkway of corded material that wound the length of the chamber.

In the center of the room was an abyss from which rose a circular mechanized platform containing a complex armature holding a massive sphere affixed with multistage ion collectors that extended from the contraption with perfect symmetry. From wall and lift, interlocking mechanisms and assembly arms wound with musical regularity around the nexus, giving the room the appearance of a vast, alien clocktower. Before the platform-borne device, manipulating a series of electronic touchscreen panels, stood Eidos Kryos, garbed in his habitual dark-scaled coat; overhead, his ever-present metallic guardians drifted in placid circles, some crawling upside down on the ceiling, the tapping of their insectual legs lost to the shuttered factory’s rhythmic clatter.

“You said you were leaving.”

“Sonderon was just attacked. He’s in critical condition. Souther leaders suspected. SecCom is completely absent. Whole market district has gone sideways.”

Several of the drones flew down and spun about Ermin’s body. Sensors tracing thermal patterns.

“I know.”

Ermin sized up the strange sentries and prodded one on its underside. Kryos twitched with discomfort.

“Would you mind not doing that?”

Gild’s brows creased as he took a step forward. “You can feel that?”

“You were speaking of the city.”

“Sodabrucke hasn’t formed a new government. The surviving members of the convention are with Amberleece, hiding in the clouds. There’s open warfare in the streets. Power grids are shutting down.” Gild gripped the railing of the walkway. Knuckles going white. “Why haven’t you done something?”

Kryos answered flatly. “I have.”

“The KSRU? You think they can handle this? With Syzr in custody? Its too far gone for that. You have enough men here to take Consortium Hall, or whatever is left of it. If it takes a war to reestablish order, so be it. Something must be done.”

The large, yet delicate robotic appendages of the dais grasped one of the cylindrical amassers extending from the spherical device and, rotating with inhuman speed, screwed the cylinder into place. Kryos gazed over his shoulder at his distant guest.

“My war is not with men.”

“You tinker with that ridiculous contraption as the city burns.”

“This ‘ridiculous contraption’ is the bridge to a future long disclosed.”

“What is it?”

Kryos turned to face his questioner. “An engine. To my ship which lies interred in Aecer. Come. Observe.”

All of the argent drones descended from the ceiling and formed a walkway from the inner engine platform to the outer walkway.

“You want me to cross on those things? Isn’t there a gangplank?”

“This chamber was designed so that none but I could navigate it. Only the SIKARDs allow access.” Kryos raised his obsidian-plated hand to his pallid temple. “And they answer only to me.”

“SIKARDs?”

“Vera has a fondness for acronyms. Are you going to cross?”

Gild looked toward the hovering mass with trepidation. “What if I fall?”

“Desirous of war. Yet quivers to cross a span.”

Gild’s face twitched with annoyance, swallowed by apprehension as he peered down into the gulf, the bottom, opaque to shadow. Momentary glimmers of light radiated from the void, all moving in thin vertical lines. His fingers flexed. He inhaled and stepped out into the frigid chasm. Foot firmly planted on the flexile carapace of the autonomous aerial drone before him. Then the next and the next until he stood on the last and gasped, arms wind-milling and, with a panicked cry, tumbled backward. He steeled himself for the long plunge and closed his eyes. A firm hand clasped about his forearm, foreclosing his fall. He opened one eye and saw two heliodoric irises staring back at him. Amusement there shining. Gild grabbed the machinist’s black-clad arm and Kryos hauled him up. For a moment the beauracrat bent, hands on his knees, panting as his heart thrashed and his legs trembled. Kryos paced toward the machine as the panels of the array below it displayed a silent feed of recent news coverage.

“I do not intervene directly because the people of the city have yet to offer sufficient supplication.”

One heading read “KSRU needed, now, more than ever.” Another, “Eidos Kryos’ ADC must be part of Sodabrucke’s new government.” Yet another, “Chaos ingulfs the city; the Association of Deep Colonies must intervene.”

Kryos scanned the feeds placidly. “But their insouciance swift subsides. Slowly they realize their raft is the flood.”

Ermin surged forward and caught Eidos about the collar, slamming him against the blue-glowing control array before the voluminous, furcated motor. Kryos’ brow furrowed with discomfort, his previously immaculate hair falling about his face.

“Bastard.”

Kryos, tiled his head. Saying nothing as a disconcerting humming reverberated from near distance. The Oversecretary ignored the sound and tightened his grip on the obsidian coat collar, his face inches from the magnate’s own.

“You don’t give a damn about anyone, do you?”

“Were that true, I’d not have caught your arm.”

Ermin’s wrath faltered. Slowly, Kryos raised his aphotic laminated hands to the Oversecretary’s shoulders.

“If I had not caught you, my SIKARDs would have.” It was only then Gild realized the argent drones levitating several feet away. The source of the ominous sibilation. Spiny limbs primed for violence. “They can be somewhat overzealous in their drive to protect.” Kryos gave the isopodic wardens a curt half-wave with his left hand, as if brushing dust from the Oversecretary’s shoulder, whereafter the automata scattered and spun out into the cyclic, alloyed expanse. Gild relaxed and released his grip. Then, a buzzing. Kryos tapped one of the adjacent panels.

“Yes?”

“Vessel approaching, Sir. Pilot says she’s an emissary from the new government.”

“Her name?”

“Zarya Cece.”

Next chapter

Kryos: Chapter 33

Previous chapter

Holleran Meris moved alone through Southern Block market, groceries to hand, as Kreizer Sonderon’s steely voice knelled in the distance through a portable sound system hastily established in the bustling plaza, guarded by a band of subtly armed soldiers in gray and black, partisans of the politician’s cause. A red ensign of stylized flame emblazoned upon their armored shoulders. Surrounding the man was a thick crowd, ebbing and flowing, yet maintaining a transfixed core of men and women, of various ages, whose faces and gesticulations displayed rising passion. As the minutes mounted, so did their numbers.

“We know the truth.” Sonderon declared, jabbing the air toward the Fabrdyn airship, which loomed to the north. “No matter what candied words the Federation’s propagandists and their accomplices in our own traitorous government might spew, they hold nothing but malice in their hearts for the Aecerite people. They view us as inferior stock. Cattle. Yes, ladies and gentlemen. Cattle. Read their papers. No. Not the ones they publish on the affin, but those they publish in their internal memoranda. Listen to their lectures. No. Not the ones that recieve a public showing, but those in their own symposiums, in the halls of their universities and council chambers, wherein they digress upon, with a chuckle in their timbre and a twinkle in their eye, their fanatical hatred for our kind. Even if they themselves should be Aecerite. Look to portrayals of our people in the popular fictions. We are always depicted as villains, or as archaic and outmoded. Relics of a bygone era. Things to be cast aside. Replaced. Is that what we are? Look, friends, and you will see the verity of my words. Isn’t it curious that just before the election, the self-styled leaders of our so-called government are blow to pieces at an event attended by the Eastern Bureau’s envoys? Isn’t it further curious that my principal opponent, Astrid Sodabrucke, who is scarcely more than child, has been appointed as the new Chancellor under the emergency powers of the mayoral convention and the security commission? Coincidence? I think not. You may be asking yourself: Do they think we are such fools? Allow me to answer, brothers and sisters, for I know well enough the sordid shape of their minds to do so. Yes. That is precisely what they think of you, of us. Of every man, woman and child of Aecerite blood. And will we accept it? This perpetual denigration of our people? This foisting upon us of souther savages? This coring of our industry? This outsourcing of our security? I ask you again: Will we accept this coup of our birthright?”

“No,” the mass hollered in unison.

“Gods below. If he keeps on like that, there’ll be a riot,” Meris exclaimed to no one in particular.

A young man, arms crossed, expression hard, who had participated in the chant, turned to the solivagant. Red sigil visible on his right shoulder.

“Maybe. But maybe there should be.”

Meris cautiously withdrew as the younger man turned his back and rejoined the swelling chant of his brethren.

“Sonderon! Sonderon!”

A shot rang-out. Meris bucked with fright, dropping his supplies to the pavement of the pedestrian walkway. Sonderon slumped from his banner-laden podium. Blood splattering the rostrum. Face contorted with shock and pain. A thin rod of metal through his shoulder, close to the neck. The crowd scattered with cries of terror, as the politician’s security team rushed to their master’s aid.

Meris looked up in the direction from whence the peal had come and scanned the rooftops of the surrounding and broken tenements. Atop an adjacent residential complex overcast by one of the manifold drifting aerostats that peppered the sky, he spied what looked to be a large man, all in grey and black, crouching and holding in his hands something long and dark, which he dismantled and shoved into a bag. The shooter rose, slung the pack over his shoulder, turned and vanished from view as bellows of impotent wrath rang below.

Next chapter

Kryos: Chapter 32

Previous chapter

From the heights of the Fabrdyn aviform apparatus, Illander Rehdon gazed down upon the smouldering ruin amidst the shuttle yard and the tiny pale dots signifying cargo and clearance vehicles moving around it in steady, contrasting flows. Behind him, in the aircraft’s palatial lounge, Astrid Sodabrucke paced nervously, her secretary reclining on a divan, both watching the news projected from the floor-to-ceiling wall-screen with obsessive, fearful focus as the vessel tilted amidst buffets from the rarified air. The motion-board depicted a prim female anchor of indistinct extraction who spoke in a measured monotone. “The culprits of yesterday’s tragic KASC bombing, which claimed the lives of a East Federation delegation and the Consortium Board, with the exception of Eidos Kryos, who had recently resigned, have yet to be identified. The grim event occurred during a diplomatic ceremony intended to improve relations with the East Federation, prompting some to suspect a political motivation.”

Sodabrucke shook her head. “Its so surreal, I feel as if I could wake up at any moment.”

“I know quite what you mean.” Rehdon replied.

“Suspect a political motivation? How could it be anything but?” the secretary, Mercedes Slate muttered to no one in particular.

“Just because a raptor dives underwater doesn’t mean it wants to swim,” enjoined a garish voice from the doorway. The trio turned to behold a crimson-haired man, with bright green eyes, dressed in form-fitting athletic attire of amethyst, draped with gold and baring manifold branching blue-purple and yellow extensions which trailed behind him like the prey-thick tendrils of a phosphorescent anemone.

“Mr. Amberleece,” Sodabrucke blurted with delight. “I didn’t get a chance to properly thank you-“

The man held up a hand in supplication.

“No need for thanks, and please, call me Devik.”

The redhead took the woman’s left hand and pressed it warmly, a wide smile gracing his wide, angular face. Thereafter, he looked behind the woman to the elegant green-coated man standing at the window.

“How have you found my ship, Mr. Rehdon?”

Illander Rehdon turned from the window, hands in his pockets.

“Most wonderful. I’ve heard it described as The Progenitor’s equal. I’m not disappointed. And like my dear lady, I should wish to extend my thanks for your hasty hospitality.”

“I couldn’t very well leave you down there in that chaos.”

Rehdon tilted his head, noticing a subtle sadness manifest upon the Fabrdyn executive’s visage.

“Vays was a friend of yours was he not?”

Devik was silent a moment and moved to the window, as if unable to weather Rehdon’s gentle, understanding gaze.

“Yes. I’m going to miss our conversations. He was a marvelous raconteur. The stories the man could spin…” a mournful smile flashed across Devik’s face, dissolving to a despondent anfractuous line as he pressed his hand to the translucent palladium pane that separated his soma from the unimpeded expanse of cloud-thin sky. “He once gave some food to a scraper during a routine inspection before he joined the board, and that the man was so thankful for the vittles, he taught him how to play the knulute. Problem was, when Vays got a handle on the instrument, he was overheard by the owner of a local nightclub who thought Vays was a professional musician. Got invited to play that night, and, for some reason that he couldn’t quite articulate, he accepted. Ha. Well, he wasn’t a hit, but he played good enough that no one complained and that’s all the nightclub owner was looking for. Vays was so pleased, he made a habit of patronizing that club and hired the down-and-out who’d taught him as his valet. That was the kind of man he was.”

“I’m sorry,” Rehdon said softly.

“Don’t be. It wasn’t your fault.”

Before anyone could say another word, a coterie of men and women equal in number, extravagantly garbed, filed into the chamber. Members of the mayoral convention that had survived the warehouse explosion.

“Late late, but no matter. Take a seat, ladies and gentlemen. Much to discuss,” Devik declared, gesturing to the numerous divans, couches and armchairs arrayed about the room, his melancholy giving way in totality to a inviting jubilance. The entrants did as they were bid and shortly were attended by a bevy of mechanical stewards rushing in and out with drinks and food.

“We are thankful of your harborage, Mr. Devik,” the eldest female among the newcomers replied. “We will need it. For we have a heavy charge.”

Sodabrucke leaned toward the conventioneers. “Reconstitution of the government.”

Next chapter

Kryos: Chapter 31

Previous chapter

Screams of men and metal streaked the variegated horizon above the burning subterminal warehouse. Blending discordantly with the pungent odor of seared solvents and fulminant fire alarms. The vast mechanical construct creaked hideously as dark particulates streamed skyward from every billowing aperture. The high central spire buckled and collapsed as dozens of men and women ran from the lobby to the vehicle-crammed shift-yard that partitioned the intensifying raze from the space-shuttle launch-field, alight, flailing, swift-succumbing to their injuries, falling thereafter to beetle-black heaps as thick plumes of dust hung as a throttling mist, like strange cancerous growths upon an invasive alien world. Melted faces frozen mid-scream looked out upon a massing crowd, residue of vain pleas to a deaf or disdainful god.

Ryard Vancing stared at the roiling ruins of what had once been Kryos’ astral shipyard depot from his perch in the Vilar Corp lev-han, idling before the former repository’s vehicular storage zone, leather-gloved hands tight upon the console. No words availed themselves to his tight-drawn lips, nor thoughts to the desultory corridors of his mind. Sirin, who sat to Ryard’s right, looked askance and gently placed a plated palm on the tense man’s shoulder.

“Sir.”

He jostled in his seat, as one woken from a disturbing dream.

“Hm?”

“Orders?”

He shook his head, senses returning, and exited the vehicle, Sirin following, “Take my lev-han. Go straight to the Arch Terminal. Tell the staff to seal the exists. All of them. Whoever did this might still be here.”

“We don’t know it wasn’t an accident.”

“Nor do we know it was. Every member of The Board was there.” He lowered his voice. “This was no accident.”

“Sir, with respect, given the Chancellor’s acquisition of this property, you don’t have authority to dictate to Consortium staff.”

“Richter wouldn’t have been able to clear out all of Kryos’ men and keep the facilities running. I’m confident they’ll listen.”

“But Sir-“

He looked grimly to the adjacent inferno.

“Go now.”

The woman flinched, taken aback by the uncharacteristic brusqueness of the order. Momentarily, she inclined her head, put on her helm and entered the CAV-keep’s resting lev-han, whereafter it whirred to life and sped down the causeway to the neighboring spire which served as the administration hub for the whole of the sprawling aerospace complex. Ryard ran toward the blaze, heart pounding, scanning the assembled lev-hans and mag-rays of the multi-tiered shift-yard as he went, looking for any sign of Salis’ craft amongst the suspended machines. “There’s still a possibility he got out of there in time,” he muttered erratically to himself as the lobby came into view. There the CAV-keep was met by a convoy of Consortium peacekeepers in the midst of establishing a perimeter about the burning facility, led by a middle aged, soot-smeared SecCom official wearing a breathing apparatus. The masked leader of the party extended his hand as if casting a spell, calling, “Hold.” When Ryard did not stop, two peacekeepers sallied forth and blocked his path.

“I came to help.”

“Appreciated, but, not your job. Its dangerous beyond this point. Stand back,” the masked man shouted over the din; behind him a woman wailed, “Cai, oh gods below, Cai!”

“What happened?”

“All we know is there was an explosion and the building is unstable. Now stand back, or you will be detained for obstruction.”

“I’m KSRU.” Ryard proffered his affin module much as he was able due the officer’s constriction and flashed his ID.

“Mr. Vancing.” The man removed the face-plate breathing apparatus, features smeared with grim from the billowing wreckage. “Didn’t recognize you through this damned thing.” The man paused and whirled suddenly as the wailing woman fell to her knees, obstructing the medical drones ferrying the injured, “Hoppler, get that woman out of here.” The man named Hoppler, some yards hence, snapped to attention and jogged to the hysterical woman, taking her gently by the shoulder and leading her from the path of the oncoming rescue drones, their words lost to the consumptive, mad chatter of the bystanders and the ferocious rumble of the blaze.

“Its Vogel, right?”

“That’s right. I’m the lead division officer here.” Vogel gestured to his men, who quickly released the CAV-keep and returned to fill the gaps in the security cordon, before which a number of shocked onlookers, comprised of local laborers, errant journalists and minor, well-groomed dignitaries, late to the ceremony, congregated in increasing numbers. Between the flux of bodies, Ryard noticed the silvery gleam of Salis’ automated cabriolet from the corner of his eye and pivoted to the machine, passing through the murmuring mammalian river and placed his hand upon the hood. He turned, frantically scrying the crowd for any sign of its owner. Vogel barked orders to his men to clear the new wave of pedestrians and pushed his way through the throng to where Ryard stood.

“The board members?” The CAV-keep inquired dejectedly.

Vogel froze up, the man’s prematurely crevassed face drooping to despair as a charred corpse ferried by a large multi-legged medical automaton passed by.

“They were inside when it happened.”

Ryard slumped against the cabriolet, color draining from his face as Consortium drones crawled forth, frothing fire retardant foam over the putrescent, igneous tomb.

Next chapter

Kryos: Chapter 30

Previous chapter

The variegated multitude that packed the subterminal warehouse of the formerly Kryos-owned Aerospace Complex waxed shrill beneath a dusky star, its light spilling red as wine through wide retractable windows of the pipe-whorled ceiling, the mechanically circulated air immunized against the frass of a vast complex of fingerlike clouds spilling down from the east, as if to gouge the noisy tissue of the molted steel swathed span. A plain dais had been hastily erected where once a considerable pile of scrap metal had stood, on it, the members of the Consortium, elegantly attired and falsely countenanced, were arrayed about a long, elaborately furnished table. In the center sat The Chancellor, her silver mane uncharacteristically unkempt, bags under her eyes, sorrow within them. Her hand moved about her temple and her mouth jerked irregularly.

“Are you alright?” Galton Raka inquired, leaning to the woman with a tenderness which belied his formidable appearance.

“Fine. I’m fine.”

“Where is Gild?” Vays asked between sips from a glass of water, which he savored as if it were expensive wine.

“Aboard The Progenitor.”

“Waste of time.” Ponos Akantha shot in balefully as she aerated herself with an elegant fan of bone.

Garlan Hayl nodded gravely, “Maybe so, but it would look bad, if we didn’t reach out.”

Julian Salis, who occupied the rightmost side of the table glared resentfully at his peers, saying nothing.

Moments later, East Federation’s interim envoy Cai strode through the crowd and greeted the Consortium with the elaborate bow customary to his people.

“Madam, gentlemen, it is an honor to be recieved at this august event. The Bureau sends their warmest regards for seeking a mutually beneficial path.”

“I see you federants remain on the cutting edge of vague pleasantries,” Salis cut in with thinly veiled disdain.

“Julian, that’s quite enough,” The Chancellor snapped.

The envoy turned slowly to the man, forcing a smile, “You seem troubled, Commissioner Salis. Is something the matter?”

“Nothing complaint will change.”

Cai nodded. “Ah, why complain on such a happy day? Iyad Zhu, a man falsely imprisoned, is free, and our two governments engage here in a renewal of positive relations through a program of economic advancement.” The man gestured to the yawning ceiling. “Truly a magnificent structure. We have nothing like it in the heartland.”

“And we have no men as charming as you in Aecer, Mr. Cai,” Akantha cooed.

“Ah, madam, you are too kind.”

Salis scanned the crowd for signs of Ryard Vancing. Finding none, he replied sardonically. “A happy day indeed.”

Momentarily, Cai took his seat and The Chancellor fixed her hair and rose primly, addressing the lively crowd before the dais.

“Times have been challenging of late. As have relations. Between the government and its people. Between Aecer and the Federation and the Southern Republics. But today, we renew our bonds of friendship with the sons and daughters of The Bureau. I am proud to announce that this facility, from this day on, shall be property of our two peoples.” The Chancellor looked to Cai who swelled with pride, then back to the crowd. “Together, with the fleet here developed, we shall no longer fall to squabbling, rather, we shall rise together in a new era of prosperity and peace.”

The crowd erupted into cheers. For a brief moment Agna Richter’s taunt face relaxed into an expression of joy. Seconds later there came a rumbling from deep beneath the facility. The ground shook and all screamed as the complex was enveloped in blinding white light.

Next chapter

Kryos: Chapter 29

Previous chapter

Ceiling-bound algae cast a dim blue light within the calcareous quarter, wherein the faint, rhythmic sonancy of water mingling with the steady steps of Eidos Kryos. The svelte, pitch-garbed man strode the onyx floor of The Progenitor to a wide, shallow pool, girded by thin tangles of vegetation which hung from the ceiling, draping to flat black squares. Large spindly shapes skittered beneath the faint-roiling liquid. The water lapped at the man’s waist as he reached beneath the surface and ran his hands along one of the irregular forms, his fingers tracing bony, rust-colored contours. Suddenly, an attendant’s voice intruded from the far doorway.

“Mr. Kryos, Oversecretary Gild has arrived.”

“Fastidious as usual. Show him in.”

The attendant bowed low and moved to the automated interlocking polymer portal. Two sets of steps resounded, one entering, the other departing. Momentarily, Ermin Gild stood less than a meter before the broad pool in which Kryos waded, quivering voice ricocheting about the high calcite rafters of the colossal seacraft.

“I did not know.”

“I take it The Chancellor sent you.”

“Yes, yes, she wanted me to persuade you to come to the ceremony, people would begin to wonder should you not… But I speak now in a personal capacity. I didn’t know they’d go so far. I wasn’t consulted. She’s been meeting more and more with Sodabrucke’s advisor-“

“Illander Rehdon?”

“Yes. I fear she may be losing confidence in me.”

“I have not.”

“That’s… kind of you to say, Sir.”

“As for The Chancellor, she lost confidence in herself five years ago when she was unable to deter the partisans during the insurgency. So many lives expended for so little gain. She was blameless in that broil, on present matters, however, her culpability is clear.”

“You go too far.”

“I haven’t gone far enough, neither has your dear Chancellor. Aecer is a knot to be cut. Her hand wavers on the pommel.”

“This year has been hard on her.”

“Cares the raider at the gate for the archer’s inner turmoil?”

Gild fell silent and turned grimly to observe the flowering oddments suspended above his head, and the curious black stacks into which their filaments descended. After half a minute, Kryos broke the silence.

“Are you apprised of Inachidae?”

“Of what?”

Kryos bent to a dark oval shape below the surface of the pool, seized it with a practiced motion and pulled it clear of the water. In Kryos’ hands writhed a massive mottled cream-colored crustacean. So enormous was the arthropod that its legs extended into the pool, even as the man brought it to eyelevel, its spiny, intricately textured carapace wide as its handler’s chest.

Gild drew back from the strange animal with disgust and fright.

“What… is that thing?”

“Shinin-gani. Dead man’s crab. A deepsea forager. They can achieve a weight of over 20 kilograms, a length of 3.7 meters, claw to claw, and a life-span of over a century.”

“May I ask why you’re raising them?”

“For study. Of their regenerative properties. Don’t fret, Mr. Gild, despite their fearsome name and appearance, they’re quite harmless.” He tilted the enormous, quailing creature to better observe its carapace, as if appraising a stonecutter’s burnishment. “Molting takes some time. Around 1 to 18 hours from start to finish. Mobility ceases whilst the abdomen, then gastric area, then appendages, are withdrawn. It is during this time the specimen is most vulnerable. Helpless to predation. On occasion, from their own species.”

Gild grimaced. “Fascinating, but I should prefer to return to the previous topic, much as I should prefer that thorny beast returned to its domicile.”

Kryos, still gripping the great crustacean, turned to the bureaucrat with a unwavering, xanthous gaze.

“I do not prevaricate. The milieu molts. Slip the shell, or be consumed by your kin.”

Next chapter

Kryos: Chapter 28

Previous chapter

Danzig Kleiner pulled the ball cap low over his face as he stole through the busy crowd which, ant-like, flowed through the ashen breadth of the Kryos Aerospace Complex sub-terminal warehouse. The gentle thrumming of the ceaseless ceiling filtration system scantly audible over the footfalls of harried, blue-jumpered workers, plunging to and fro in a gargantuan effort to clear the facility of all non-essential Kryo Industries hardware before Astrid Sodabrucke’s inspectors, arrived prior to the public ceremony to inaugurate closer relations between the Aecer Consortium and the Federation Bureau.

Kleiner passed through the center of the storage area, observing a strange woman with dichromatic eyes perched atop one of the neatly compressed stacks of scrap that lined walls. The woman smiled and waved. Kleiner arched a brow and hurried on to pause beside one of the laborers adjacent the central thoroughfare, reading from his wrist-bound affin mod. On the screen, a Vis Corp news report: “Vigilante and KSRU leader Acelin Syzr moved from Northwing Detention Facility to the Isling Center ahead of trial.”

Kleiner’s battered face contorted with bewilderment and inclining aggravation. Hands going tight about the polymer crate he carried. As he strode through the towering masses of judiciously catalogued metal, he whispered into the concealed comlink affixed to the inner lining of his upturned coat collar.

“What kind of game are you playing?”

A languid voice replied beyond public audibility through Kleiner’s earpods. “You’ll have to elaborate if you want an answer.”

Kleiner took a deep breath and lowered his voice further and moved away from the central lane between the great mounds of industrial detritus and the workers there sifting, collecting and packaging.

“You told me Syzr would be here for the ceremony.”

“And so he shall.”

“Then why is Vis Corp saying he’s being moved to Isling?”

“My dear fellow, why would you expect them to report truthfully on his whereabouts when they reported he had attacked you? As I told you previously, its a distraction, to make those with a grudge against him think he’s somewhere he’s not, so he can be moved safely. Standard practice.”

“But why would the Consortium bring him here? You never explained that. Makes no sense.”

“Recall the recent assassination attempt on that abominable industrialist. They need all the security they can get. What better security than the KSRU, incognito? They also need a head to roll for the mob. In faking Syzr’s imprisonment, the Consortium achieve both ends at once.”

“Hadn’t considered that.”

“Careful. With a wit so razored, you’re liable to cut yourself.”

The line cut out. Kleiner cursed under his breath, tensing, reactively striking the air.

“Hey, Temp.”

Kleiner turned about to discover a middle-aged foreman, smooth-shaven and furrow-browed, framed by two high aisles of metal, baring a countenance of supreme disapproval.

“Yeah, you. What’re you doing back here? We’re on a timer.”

“Sorry, sir. This place is so big… Its like a maze. Gets disorienting. I… forgot where I was supposed to take this,” with some effort, Kleiner held up a smooth cargo container slightly wider than his body, emblazoned with the distinctive insignia of Kryos Industries. It made no sound as he moved it. The foreman studied the object a moment before speaking.

“What’s that?”

“Just old spare parts.”

“No time to sort it. Orders were to clear everything that wasn’t bolted down fast as possible. Sodabrucke wants the place empty as an old shoebox. Don’t ask me why. Waste of good material… But, well,” the man shrugged and trailed off before gesturing to the crate. “Take that to the compactor.” Kleiner raised his brows in confusion. The foreman sighed. “Gods below, you temps are useless. Its in the basement. You need me to lead you by the hand?”

“Right. Basement. Sorry. I remember.”

“Just go.”

The foreman shook his head and dismissed Kleiner with a wave and left off to a cry for advice which emenated from an adjacent aisle of arcane machinery. Kleiner grinned and ferried the container to the facility basement where the thick sparing jutted from the walls. Before him a great pillar loomed. Another behind it. Another behind that. A forest of shadow and steel. The man set the crate down on the ground and looked nervously to the stairwell behind him. Nothing suggested a presence. He knelt and unlocked the small container, flipped the lid and removed a small square packet, the back of which was secured with a thin, translucent sheet. He looked to the left, observing the bulk of the industrial trash compactor, then returned his attention to the artifact and removed the sheet, revealing an adhesive surface, rose and affixed the device to the back of the column, such that it was concealed from the view of any who might enter from the one and only entrance. Momentarily a voice resounded.

“Lee told me he sent you down here.”

Kleiner froze, his eyes going wide with fear, swiftly subsumed by mounting anger. He peeked around the column to which he had affixed the packet and beheld a portly young man with a pleasent, round face and a messy shock of blond hair. Like all the rest of the workers, he wore the deep blue uniform mandated by Fabrdyn Manufacturing and Recyc.

“You’re new, right?”

“That’s right.”

“Whatcha got over there?”

“Nothing. Scrap.” Danzig removed a multiratchet from his belt, knuckles white about the handle, and knelt by the column, as if inspecting it, though no aperture afforded the tool purchase.

“Are these… explosives?”

“Yep.”

The worker moved before the crate and bent to the cargo.

“Where’d you find um?”

Kleiner shot up and hit the curious entrant in the gut with the ratchet, then secured the stunned man by the collar and swung him into the column, golden head bouncing off metal. A sanguine image thereafter. The blond worker issued a gutteral moan and spasmed, struggling to a crawl. Face red and wet. A multiratchet to the back of the worker’s head brought exit to an end.

Kleiner looked to the silent man, then to the adjacent garbage compactor.

Next chapter

Kryos: Chapter 27

Previous chapter

Ryard Vancing bent quizzically to the screen and the images there manifest. Brows creasing with concentration, lips grooving with growing annoyance, hands busily fluttering over the dactyl array. On the display: A woman and a man walked leisurely down a rain-scoured crossway, blinking to alert would-be passers as to the safety of the venture, then up a short flight of stairs to an ancient automat. The former, gaudy-bright and smiling; luxurious curls swaying in the wind. The latter, hooded and gloved; face shaded, its particularities indiscernible. Nascent, rudimentary biometeric analysis of the private civilian registrar archive yielded little, narrowing the identity of the walker from among the several billion which constituted the total population of Aecer, to the subset of several million, which constituted male individuals of a build comparable to Fawnell’s unidentified companion. A potential avenue of research, if the transcribed man was registered in the citizenry database.

“The clothing is common, cheap. Sold in all sectors through numerous retailers. So. Could be any fit man of average height in the city.” Ryard muttered, replaying the sequence over and over and over as his affin module continued spatial-somatic match-processing. Suddenly, he went rigid and paused the recording, focusing on the mysterious individual’s hands, and turned to the insouciant, orange-coated man sat behind him.

“Gloves.”

“Hm?” Lanning looked up from a steaming box of cheon sa chae, semi-transparent strands hanging awkwardly from his maw.

“Why would he wear gloves?”

Ryard jerked his thumb at the frozen image of the cloaked man on the projector.

“The one who was with Fawnell the night she died. It had stopped raining. Wasn’t that cold out.”

“It was raining earlier.”

“But it wasn’t raining when they arrived.”

“I don’t know. Maybe he’s bacillophobic. I don’t pull off my rain coat as soon as it stops raining, I wait until I’m inside. Hardly out of the ordinary.”

“Not as an isolated fact, but consider it in context. In every frame in which the man was recorded, he’s turned just far enough away from the monitor so that his face is concealed. And his dress suggests a desire for anonymity. The walk from the crossway to the restaurant is around three minutes. All that time, a clear view of Fawnell’s face. Yet this other, his face is covered throughout. He must have known about the monitor.”

Lanning slurped down his noodles and shook his head. “Are you familiar with pareidolia?”

“You think I’m compromised because I talked with her.”

Lanning nodded slowly. “You’re emotionally invested. Can’t pretend you’re not. A man that’s emotionally stimulated by the moon is more likely to see a face in it.”

“Of course I am. That doesn’t mean I’m wrong. You have to confess its suspicious. The way he’s all wrapped up for such a simple outing. The way his posture is kept so as to ensure his anonymity. His inconspicuousness is conspicuous.”

“I don’t. And it isn’t. You know, the only reason you were allowed to see that recording is because The Ice Queen fancies you?”

“You really think I’m errant minded, don’t you?”

“You want me to answer that honestly?”

“Depends. You want me to tell Straker you call her ‘The Ice Queen?'”

“Not particularly.”

“You wouldn’t have let me see the recording if it were up to you, would you?”

Lanning stirred his dish contemplatively. Reticent to answer.

“Well?”

“No. Probably not. You’re supposed to be working public relations.”

“Aren’t I?”

“Teleforensics is public relations now?”

“Whoever wanted Fawnell dead is almost certainly the same agent behind the press leak. Possibly, the riots as well. Syzr’s right. There’s something large at play here.”

“‘Almost’ and ‘certainly’ are two words I don’t like to hear in the same sentence.”

“What’s my designation?”

“Huh?”

“My rank?”

“Interim Major of Communications.”

“Meaning?”

“Your ego is inflating?”

Ryard snatched the noodles from Lannings hand.

“Alright. Alright. Take it easy.”

Ryard shot the man a glare.

“Take it easy, Sir.”

“Get on the console.”

With a huff of disatisfaction, Lanning moved to the central array and looked to the queries Vancing had previously entered. He shook his head.

Ryard set the orange-garbed analysist’s meal down on the table, his eyes passing over the guady, crumpled wrapping.

“Long Shadow. Premium noodles. Strange name.” Ryard screwed his face up as he continued scanning the colorful package, which depicted two anthropomorphic fish mascots stirring a cauldron filled with thin, processed kelp strands.

“Because they’re longer then usual.” Lanning replied over his shoulder. “Dinner sized. I promise, they’re good. Better than Sirin’s slimy eels anyways.”

“Shadow.” Ryard’s eyes widened with a jolt of recollection. “The same shadow moves behind both curtains.”

“What?”

“Something Syzr said. It reminded me of something. Someone. The man who I met when I went to see Fawnell.”

“Who?”

“Illander Rehdon.”

“The community organizer?”

“Yeah.”

“I’ve never spoken with him. Seen him come by a few times. Seems a pleasant fellow. Always smiling.”

“He was a friend of Fawnell’s. Showed me and Sirin around his theatre. Strange place. Masks. Red curtains everywhere.”

“What’s he got to do with anything?”

“He was the last person to see Fawnell alive.”

“So?”

“His hand was bandaged.”

“And?”

Ryard cupped his chin, waxing contemplative.

“If one were going out, with a bandaged hand, and were desirous of anonymity, it’d be a good idea to wear gloves, wouldn’t it, even if it wasn’t cold.”

“You’re getting ahead of the facts.”

“Now that I’m thinking about it, Rehdon’s around the same size as the man walking next to Fawnell.”

“So are you.”

“I have an alibi. Does he? See where Rehdon was during the incident.”

Lanning stopped typing and turned around.

“You’re serious?”

“Look through the registry to find his affin mod, then run a search for it. I want to know where he was just before, during and after the midtier incident.”

Lanning raised his brows. “Ok…”

The clacking of keys resounded throughout the cluttered backroom. Ryard took a seat at Lanning’s desk, mind reeling. Moments later the sound of footfalls and a officious female voice drifted in from the doorway.

“News, Sir.”

Ryard looked up from Lanning’s desk to spy Elyse Sirin standing in the doorway, helmet under her left arm, concern stark upon her scarred and sleep deprived face.

“I hope I’m not interrupting.”

“No. Not at all. What is it?”

“The Consortium just passed a unanimous resolution to seize the Central Aerospace Complex. In response, Kryos resigned from the board “

“Why?”

“The Consortium and the Federation have entered into an agreement for joint-ownership of the complex concomitant to a new economic venture. The Chancellor is holding a ceremony to inaugurate the partnership.” Sirin held up a security token. “You’ve been invited, Sir.”

“Me?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Ah,” Ryard smiled dourly, “Salis.”

Tyser looked from Vancing to the woman, his voice tinged faintly with dread.

“Who was behind the resolution?”

A shadow passed over the woman’s face.

“Illander Rehdon.”

Next chapter

Kryos: Chapter 24

Previous chapter

The woman who called herself Sia Kandor tested the strength of the slender, metallic restraints about her delicate hands and glared at the large masked man strapped to the opposite side of the windowless cargo hold of the automated Security Commission mag-ray. The way before the vehicle was smooth, and the interior was silent, save a subtle jangling and the whir of the wheels until the woman spoke.

“If you’d not deceived me, neither of us would be in chains.”

“A woman working under a false name complains of deception.”

She tilted her head up with haughty ire. “Says a man wearing a mask.”

“A mask is not a lie.”

“Its an obfuscation.”

“So is a medical dressing. A wrap obscures a wound, yet signals its existence.”

“What are you on about?”

The man reached toward his veiled face, but the restraints obstructed his grasp. He craned his head forward until his fingertips were flush with the surface of his helm, methodically unlatched the face plate and slowly removed it. The woman’s mouth parted at the sight of his naked visage. She looked on in fascination and horror. For several seconds she was too stunned to speak.

“Gods below. What happened to you?”

“Seven years ago I was tasked with securing an Aestival stronghold in the city. My team made easy entry. The site appeared abandoned. Foolishly, I relaxed, wandered from my team and removed my helmet to get a better look at some schematics laying on a table. Designs for a bomb, more potent than anything the terrorists had previously deployed. The next instant, a man flew from the darkness and showered me with industrial solvent. He escaped with the plans and I was left,” he gestured at his visage, “Like this.”

He raised the face plate back to the helmet and latched it in place with a muted click.

“Why do you care about any of this?”

“Any of what?”

“About Hastings and her benefactor.”

“So, as I suspected, someone put her up to it. Who?”

“You gave over seven years of your life and your face to this city, what has it provided in return? Nothing but the hatred of the masses. Did you hear what they were saying about you last night on Vis?”

“Tell me about Hastings’ benefactor.”

“It must be galling, to see how much of a media darling Kleiner has become. How they shower him in praise and you in execration.”

“Tell me about Hastings’ benefactor,” the man repeated without perturbation.

The woman somnolently shook her head.

“Your situation is grim enough.”

“You’ll talk eventually. If not to me, than to the Consortium.”

“You’re thoroughly mistaken, Colonel.”

The road became bumpy, a cacophony of voices resounded beyond the hold and somewhere further away a Security Commission siren rang.

“Why?”

The woman leaned against the cold metal wall and spoke as one before the gallows.

“Because, very soon, the Consortium will cease to be.”

Next chapter

Kryos: Chapter 23

Previous chapter

Ryard and Sirin led two captives before them as the third prisoner was dragged by the fishmonger’s drone upon a collapsable gurney across the pavement of the residential thoroughfare. Red light crested the horizon as the wind picked up, howling like a mad god between the tight, twisting spires of the southern block’s industrial district, that opened before the weary party to a massive clearing enclosed by a high wall, patrolled by armored guards visible through magnesium aluminate encased embrasures, behind which rose the enormous, angular facade of KSRU Headquarters. A large motley crowd stood before the outer wall, waving placards and homemade signs, shouting and chanting against the institution with chaotic fervor. Someone had erected a polymer effigy of Acelin Syzr, hands stained with ersatz blood, to the left of the portal-bound path. A few members of the agitated mass slammed their fists vainly against the broad, flat gate of the barbican. A newly assembled cacograph on the gate read ‘murdrers.’

Ryard scryed the crowd and hesitated before the wide, low-walled monochrome lane which let up to the outer gate of the crowded defensive perimeter, face heavy with exhaustion and apprehension. Sirin halted beside her companion and pressed a small button upon the side of her helm.

“Captain Raimer, do you copy?”

“Copy, Corporal. At the gate?”

“Just got back. Crowd appears volatile. Need space cleared for entry.”

“Understood. Standby.”

“Afraid of your own people, fawner?” The red tattooed man sneered to the CAV-keep over his shoulder with a clatter of metallic restraints.

“As you are aware, electricity will flood your body if you stray over twenty feet from me,” Sirin interjected flatly, “What you may be unaware of is that this corrective measure can be initiated manually.” She nodded to Ryard. “He inveigned against it. Continue in your petulance and he might change his mind.” The prisoner scowled at the woman before looking to Ryard uncertainly, then to the seething mass before the imposing alabaster wall.

Ryard and Sirin led their captives up the wide paved incline as a squad of plated KSRU officers wielding burnished alumina shields emerged from the barbican and swiftly cordoned off the entrance. Eyes and veins bulging, the mob screamed, cursed and spat at the armored agents, some throwing objects to hand, pieces of detritus recovered from the nearby processing plants. A few attempted to break the cordon, but were, with little effort pushed back by the white clad auxiliary officers.

When the wrathful multitude had been suppressed, the party passed through the division in the sea of bodies to the interior of the partition as the shielded guards closed the gate behind them. In the courtyard, the wayfarers were met by the dark-haired Captain, Jean Raimer, whose tan, perpetually displeased visage Ryard recalled from his previous visit. Sirin bolted upright and saluted, holding the pose until the gesture was returned. The Captain removed his helmet and held it in the crook of his arm as he surveyed the bound trio and their sleepless captors.

“Pleased to see you made it through safely. Crowds been at the gate for hours. Corporal, take our new guests to processing. Raffin will need your statement on the,” he gestured to the reavers, “Incident.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Come with me, Mr. Vancing.”

“You look worried. Is something wrong?”

“Just come with me.”

Ryard left Sirin and the barbican retinue in perplexity and accompanied Raimer to the citadel, passing beyond the lobby and great hall to a spacious, dimly lit study on the second floor where Tyser Lanning and Vera Straker waited. Lanning paced nervously beside a bookshelf while Straker sat a desk in the back of the smokey room, a small sediment filled tray before her, thick with discarded cigarette stubs.

“You wanted to see me?” Ryard queried after a lengthy silence.

The woman gestured hastily to two chairs before her paper piled desk. “Take a seat. You too, Captain.”

Raimer and Ryard settled into the two chairs before the desk, the latter folding his hands in his lap, leaning forward expectantly.

“Where’s The Colonel?” Ryard asked, curiosity and impatience overwhelming his tact.

Straker adjusted her austere white garb and took a long drag on her cigarette, her expression grim and exhaled before addressing the gathering.

“What I am about to say does not leave this room.”

Raimer nodded. Ryard looked around, confused. “What happened?”

“Yesterday, at Consortium Hall, a one Rachael Ryan Hastings made an attempt on Eidos Kryos’ life.”

Ryard bolted upright.

“She, unsurprisingly, failed, and was dispatched by Ermin Gild’s security detail. Mr. Kryos does not attend meetings in person, but communicates through a telesomatic interface, which is, to the naked eye, indistinguishable from a real person. A precautionary measure. Clearly, the would-be assassin did not know this or the attempt would not have taken place. We presently have only one lead concerning the case. You asked about The Colonel, Mr. Vancing. He went to follow up this lead directly. Danzig Kleiner, the man who attacked Casja Fawnell had a peculiar weapon on him during his encounter with Colonel Syzr. A sychitin blade. So did the assassin. The Colonel believes the supplier for Kleiner and Hastings are one and the same. If so, its possible the merchant or merchants responsible for dispensing the blades knows who commissioned the assassination, if they themselves were not responsible.”

“I see.”

“There’s more. Last night, Casja Fawnell was struck by a vehicle along the Kiflin Line CAV-way.” Straker met Ryard’s gaze, her own melancholic. “She was killed instantly.”

Ryard’s mouth parted. He leaned back in the chair, staring at nothing. For half a minute, no one spoke.

“I… I just spoke with her. She was going public…” Ryard tensed and jolted forward, anger shining in his eyes. “Was it Kleiner?”

Lanning shook his head. “Just a freak accident.”

“We don’t know that for certain,” Straker cautioned.

“What else could it be?” Raimer interjected flippantly.

Lanning moved to stand before the tinted window of the study as dawn broke above the spires beyond, rain smattering pane and sill. “She went to eat with a friend at a restaurant in the mid-tier called ‘Harborage,’ adjacent to the line. When she left, she must have taken her time on the crosswalk, maybe got distracted, and was hit by an inbound lev-han headed for the market district.”

“Who was the friend?”

“Dunno. Haven’t been able to ID the person from the available footage.”

“There’s a recording?”

“Yeah.”

“How do you have access to recordings from private premises?”

“All private feeds connected to Affinity Network are accessible by the Security Commission district substations. However, approval of access can’t legally be granted by the Commission. Normally, citizens are only allowed to view feeds with the assent of both the associated surveillance company and the individual or individuals that hired them. Unrestricted district-wide access was part of our arrangement with the mayoral convention.”

“May I see it?”

Lanning looked to Straker. After a long look at Ryard’s grim, desperate face, she nodded.

Next chapter

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… 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 to 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 ship 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 for satiation,” Kryos declared resolutely, still observing the statue.

Gild opened his mouth to respond 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,” Gild stated flatly.

As Gild opened his mouth to issue a query, the woman withdrew a cutter from beneath her overcoat and discharged the device into him. Gild tumbled over in his chair, writhing in shock and agony as the woman 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. Left eye reformed. 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 nor winced 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.”

“You’re wasting your breath.”

“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. The new arrival’s tensed and aimed their weapons at the failed assassin.

“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, her face twitching with desperation and despair. With considerable speed, she 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.

Gild looked upon the carnage with horror, stunned to silence.

“She didn’t leave us a choice,” the captain of the guard stated unevenly as he strode into the room, “Are you alright, Mr. Gild? Mr. Kryos?”

“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 Project 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.

“See to it this matter is kept in-house.”

The injured man ground his teeth and downed his alcohol spiked seltzer, “You want them to try the same trick again?”

“To kill a wolf, bury a blade in the snow and salt it with blood.”

Next chapter