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

Kryos: Chapter 8

Previous chapter

Ryard Vancing silenced his affin module upon the callithumpian sidewalk and craned his neck up at the immense facade of KSRU headquarters, which rose above the surrounding buildings of Southern Block like a prodigious, concrete anvil, condensed at the eyrie. Lanning tapped his foot with impatience. After a matter of seconds, a drone descended from a slot in the edifice’s sleek veneer and hovered before the entrants. Lanning proffered his affin module to the drone’s scanner, whereupon the aerial machine issued a series of clicks and flew away as the large, twin doors to the high compound opened with a hydraulic hiss. The duo traversed a long, narrow, glassy-floored lobby and emerged therefrom to a great and vaulted hall, the entrance to which was guarded by two men with white-plated armor, undergirded by dark, coriaceous bodysuits; Kryos Industries insignias visible on their left pauldrons. Lanning greeted the guards and gestured cordially to his companion.

“This is Ryard Vancing. He’s expected.”

The guards swiftly parted, stiffened and, to Ryard’s surprise, saluted him solemnly. When the pair were beyond ear-shot of the sentinels, Ryard arched a brow and turned to his orange-clad escort.

“What was that?”

“You helped save the city, Ryard. Most people have forgotten about it, but they haven’t, and they respect you for it. Ah, there he is. Allow me to introduce you to Colonel Syzr. Though I should warn you, he’s not keen on small-talk.”

Lanning gestured to a large armatured man, who stood gazing intently at a enormous monitor which hung from the ceiling at the end of the hall, behind which a double stair with cupreous railing led to an upper landing. Syzr spoke without breaking from his enterprise; his voice radiating mechanistically through a polished vermeil helm.

“Greetings, Mr. Vancing.”

“Its an honor to meet you, Colonel.”

The Colonel turned sharply and fixed Ryard in what the guest could only assume to be his gaze, for his face was fully palled, his eyes, veiled by the lenses of his tactical mask.

“The honor is mine,” the Colonel replied demurely, extending a plated hand to his guest, who shook firmly, wincing as he did so.

“Lanning tells me Vera… er, Ms. Straker wanted a word. Is she here?”

“She will be down momentarily.”

Syzr turned to Lanning and gestured toward the door. Lanning bowed cordially, turned heel and departed. Shortly thereafter, a woman entered the hall from the rightward stair; decisive, pale and of middling height, garbed in a tight, high-collared white coat with black inner lining, visible in the vestment’s tails. Her long, raven hair, secured by a slender argent band. Her cold, primly restrained visage warmed slightly as she took the guest’s measure.

“Mr. Vancing. I see you’re still in the habit of combing with a windstorm.”

Ryard self-consciously raised a hand to his head.

“Uh, its good to see you too, Ms. Straker.”

“I’m glad you saw fit to heed my summons. I would have approached you myself, but you have doubtless seen what it is like out there.”

“Your face would be more readily recognized than Lanning’s,” he replied, matting his birdnest tresses, “A target for any radical with a grievance, real or imagined. And certainly, you could not have sent Mr. Syzr – given how omnipresent he is in the news cycle. I quite understand.”

“Its precisely that kind of keen perception we need. And I appreciate time’s scarcity. So I shall be brief. Mr. Kryos has tasked me with the reformation of the KSRU. He desires a transition from anti-terror operations to general policing – a move the Colonel has long advocated and the Constorium have long opposed. Mr. Syzr aims to integrate the KSRU into the block’s defensive infrastructure, and has the green-light from the mayor to do so. I want you to help him with the transition.”

“Help how? I don’t know much about security systems.”

“I keep Lanning on retainer for that. I want you to help us facilitate our message to the people. To gain their trust.”

“You want me to be your propaganda minister?”

“If that’s what you want to call it. The city is disintegrating before our eyes, the consequence of decades of madcap policy and a burgeoning population.”

She gestured to Syzr who switched on a series of feeds, each showing a different genre of barbarity. In the upper right hand corner of the screen was a intricate chart displaying incidence of institutionally recognized crimes. One panel displayed a newsfeed from Aecer Digest, the largest news corporation in the city, wherein aerial footage ran of three men assaulting a woman in an alley with the headline, “Riots continue after Kryos-connected vigilante killing.”

Syzr shook his head and crossed his arms about his vermeil-plated chest as Straker took a seat and lit up a cigarette; she offered one of the neat, psychoactive cylinders to Ryard, but he politely declined.

“Affin tampering, patch distribution, muggings, rapes, and murders are all on the rise. Revolutionary parties and gangs are emerging at breakneck speed. Worse, the Consortium refuses to do anything substantial about it. I shouldn’t have to elaborate – you saw the riots. The people are losing confidence in the system’s ability to protect them. It remains with us to restore that confidence.”

“I’ve obligations. To the station.”

“We are willing to pay you double your current weekly credit allotment.”

Ryard nodded, rubbed his chin and looked to his module. The screen of the slender device displayed two missed calls from Lind. No messages left. Lind never left messages.

“I have to go. I’ll think about it.”

“Emergency?”

“Dunno.”

“Very well. Let me know when you come to a decision.”

“I will.”

“Syzr will see you out. And Ryard.”

The man turned expectantly to the exquisite woman.

“Hm?”

“A comb, next time.”

Ryard smiled wryly and left off, following Syzr out of the central hall, to the lobby which roiled with commotion. A group of local workers were arguing with KSRU clerks at the reception desk.

“A good a time as any to introduce you to the members of the Aecer Center for Social Progress,” Syzr declared, nodding towards the men and women waiting in the lobby, “They’ve been working with us to build a relationship between the labor unions and my men. That’s their leader, there.”

Ryard followed Syzr’s gesture to a slender man with a chartreuse coat and short, neatly slicked hair, who stood slightly apart from the men arguing with the clerks behind the counter, hands in his pockets, eyes taking in the contours of the walls and ceiling. After hearing the sound of encroaching footsteps, the man with the pale green coat quickly turned to the duo and waltzed toward them with easy, languid strides.

“G’day Colonel. Dreadful what they’ve been saying about you. Truly dreadful. But you’ve a new friend. One whose face I recognize. You must be Ryard Vancing.”

The man extended a curiously bandaged hand to the CAV-keep. Ryard took the man’s hand and shook amiably.

“That’s me. And you are?”

The man with the chartreuse coat flashed a charming smile.

“Illander Rehdon.”

Next chapter

Kryos: Chapter 7

Previous chapter

Ryard Vancing adjusted his coat collar and surveyed the crowds marching through the streets below the main CAV-way warily. Individually, the discordant multitude was unremarkable, composed of both men and women, young and old; the general heterogeneousness of their dress suggesting spontaneity of organization. There were mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, CAV-keeps and sky-techs, street-sweepers, artists and vagabonds, some with signs, most without. All particularities of the wild conglomeration evanesced in the novel meta-organism that roiled across the pedestrian lane with stark ferocity, howling to self and sky, breaking windows and signs as assurance drones of the Consortium moved to meet it. Chastising the malcontents with workshopped slogans.

Vancing idly wondered why the Consortium had their drones fly so low, where any volatile fool with a blunt object to-hand could strike them down.

As he watched the fray, he listened to the newsfeed on his wrist-bound module; an Aecer Digest roundtable discussion between a female anchor and two middling-profile pundits.

“-ight. Would you agree with Ms. Choufey, Mr. Sabin?”

“Not at all. He killed two people. He’s a maniac. The KSRU are not law enforcers, they’re mercenaries for Kryos Industries. Hired guns. The guy should be arrested.”

“Arrested? He should be given an award.”

“I’m beginning to think you’re as crazy as he is.”

“What kind of society is it, where you’re called ‘crazy’ for saving a woman from god-knows-what?'”

His module lit up, breaking the passenger from his oneirism. Call incoming. He looked swiftly to the name displayed on his bracer’s screen: Lind Howell. Vancing accepted the transmission request, listening as he continued to anxiously observe the mob pump their fists into the air and smash up the storefronts below.

“Ryard, are you alright?”

“I’m fine.”

“Oh, thank goodness. I was worried sick about you.”

“Its not as if they’d clamber onto the CAV-way.”

“No. I guess not. I don’t know. Things have gotten so… I just had a bad feeling.”

“You and me both. I’m coming up on the way-station. I’ve gotta go. I’ll be home soon.”

“Alright. Stay safe, Ryard.”

“You too.”

He closed out the line and leaned back in his seat with a sigh as his lev-han shot beyond the pedestrian overpass and pulled into the eatery district substation shift-yard, just beyond Southern Block. His vehicle parked and opened the leftern passenger door, whereupon Ryard exited and, with practiced ease, strode to the back of the machine and removed two large cases, which he carried, one in each hand, as he walked into the station.

Inside a pert woman at the counter held up her hands in entreaty as a small, olive-skinned man gesticulated frustratedly.

“Its just cause I’m an outsider, isn’t it?”

“No. Sir, please calm yourself, I’m doing all I can.”

“That so?”

“We don’t have any more vehicles at present. We’re working at full capacity, and-“

“Lying bitch! I know how you people operate!”

Ryard set the rough-worn cases down gently and raised his calm, clear voice above the commotion.

“What’s the problem?”

“Who’re you?” The man snarled, whirling upon the entrant.

“Ryard Vancing. I’m the station manager. Now, what’s the problem?”

“Wait… I know that name. You’re that guy… who stopped the terrorists at the cemetery, couple of years back.”

“I am.”

“Ah. Well, its just-,” the man looked to the woman behind the counter and then to his shoes, unable to meet Ryard’s gaze, “Its my wife… she needs medicine regularly and we don’t have the credits for a home crafter and… and I needed to get to Southern Block for her medication – but there’s no damn vacancies in the line. She’s… not doing well… and…”

The man began to cry and turned away in shame.

“I just don’t want to lose her.”

Ryard reached out and put a firm hand upon the distraught man’s shoulder.

“I understand your frustration. But you shouldn’t lash out at Victoria, she was telling the truth. Lot of my workers have gone out to protest. So, line and vehicle maintenance has been suboptimal.”

The man nodded and, with considerable effort, looked up toward the woman behind the counter.

“I’m sorry, ma’am. I shouldn’t have-“

“Its quite alright.”

Ryard took the man some distance from the counter, mouthing “sorry I was late” at Victoria over his shoulder, to which the woman, with relief and exasperation, mutely lipped a “thank you.”

“What’s your name, sir?”

“Wasil.”

“Well, Mr. Wasil, you said you needed to get to Southern Block.”

“Yes,” the man replied despairingly.

“A vacancy just opened up. I live in Southern Block and was just headed home. I’ll give you a lift.”

The small man’s eyes widened and he took Ryard’s left hand in his own and pressed it firmly.

“Bless you, sir.”

With a faint smile Ryard patted the man on the back and walked him outside and down the substation stair to the shift-yard whereupon he discovered a tall man with a long orange coat standing before his lev-han.

“Been a while, Mr. Vancing.”

Ryard regarded the man a long moment before he spoke.

“Hello Lanning.”

Next chapter

Kryos: Chapter 5

Previous chapter

The man with the chartreuse coat leaned back in his chair, keenly observing the patch-riddled occupants of the crowded, bioluminescent automat. The whole of the space was lit by large plankton-filled tubes that ran the length of the ceiling in loosely spaced rows; the patrons under which were divided, as if by an invisible line; aecerite to the left, fair and simply, but sharply, dressed; souther to the right, swarthy and cheaply, yet garishly, garbed. Each camp stayed together and furtively eyed the other. Tension writhed in every gesture, louder even than the news-feeds blaring and fading from screen-walls; stories of new building projects and migratory patterns and East Federation’s quarrels with The Consortium. Shortly, there arrived a detachment of low-level government officials, who sat a separate table at the back; an arrival heralded by discontented mumbling, needling eyes and shaking heads.

“Boring. Boring. Boring,” the man with the chartreuse coat lamented with a theatrical scowl, tossing his head back over the rest of his seat, stretching his arms out across the table, palms up, fingers flexing rapidly. The blonde who sat the opposite side of the table shrugged and primly lifted a small glass of aromatic liquid from the back of a passing automat server.

“Most things are boring. Is that why you sent the drone-recording to the media?”

“I thought it would liven things up. Though the spin doctors are certainly taking their time playing it. We’ve been here for thirty minutes and nothing.”

“Have you considered that people around here might like their doldrums?”

“No,” the man laughed, “People want adventure, Zarya.” He flicked his wrist and produced a flower, seemingly from the very air, “Romance. In the old sense of the word.” The man smiled widely and looked towards his companion, “And what is adventure but another word for trouble? Its trouble people want.”

“It’d be more useful to speak of specific people than ‘people,’ as if that were some definate polity.”

The man arched a brow and rolled the flower listlessly between thumb and index, “Your penchant for pedantry nauseates me.”

The woman screwed up her face and stuck out her tongue.

He ignored her petulance and surveyed the distracted and patched-up patrons, “Look around. Bloodthirst in every eye.” He crushed the flower and dropped the remains upon the table, without sparing it a glance.

“Obviously. But they don’t act on it.”

“They just need an excuse.”

The woman smirked, “Perhaps you should give them one.”

“Perhaps I should.”

The man rose and moved to the southers and ordered them a round of drinks; server drones went scurrying. The woman watched with interest, and began folding a napkin with detached and practiced ease. A stout souther of considerable height raised his fresh glass to the man with the chartreuse coat.

“Much obliged, stranger.”

“Think nothing of it. I merely seek to remedy this,” he gestured broadly, “Dearth of festivity.”

“The what of what?”

“I mean you seemed glum, friend.”

“Mm. Been having a rough week of it,” the taciturn souther replied quietly as a breaking news alert flashed across the wall-screen that enclosed the large, hollow, featureless square which rose up from the core of the thin, square island counter which sat the center of the establishment.

“Self-defense or cold-blooded vigilantism?” A trim, blanched woman queried rhetorically as a New Vis Corp logo zipped across the bottom of the display, “This is doubtless the question many viewers will be asking after they see new and exclusive aerial footage of a recent confrontation in the North Central tenements; we would like to take a moment, however, to warn the more sensitive members of our audience that what you are about to see features explicit violence and intense language.”

The man with the chartreuse coat smiled as the recording he had stolen ran, displaying an armored man confronting two southers, one short, one fat. The crowd went silent until the recording progressed to the mugger’s deaths, at which point the establishment erupted with murmurs.

“As if we weren’t up against it enough. Now there’s a psycho out there hunting us…”

“I dimly understand how you feel,” the man with the chartreuse coat replied, “Given what those folks over there have been saying. Puts a bad mood into the air. Moods can be infectious.”

The massive souther followed the chartreuse-garbed man’s gesticulation – a quick tilt of the head – and lighted upon the aecerite locals, who sat in the left corner of the bar; they conversed quietly amongst themselves, seemingly wary of being overheard, despite the pervasive rumble of the newsfeed.

“And what have they been saying?” The man inquired slowly, feigned disinterest naked in uneven tones.

The man with the chartreuse coat leaned toward the souther and whispered in his ear. The listener tensed and shook with rage.

“They said that, did they?”

The man with the chartreuse coat nodded with simulated sadness. The souther worked his jaw, rose from his chair and strode furiously toward the aecerites.

The fighting began almost immediately.

Next chapter

Kryos: Chapter 4

Previous chapter

A long, shallow pool sat the center of the vast, austere cavity; the still silhouette of a man beyond it. He reclined upon a thin, ashen chair, seldom more, to the lone female observer, than living shadow. His heliodoric eyes, lambent against the atramental pall; his voice, strident in opaque tranquility, echoed throughout the cavernous expanse of the underwater facility.

“The chalk is to hand, but the board has been moved.”

Vera Straker strode to the edge of the pool opposite the man and straightened, fastidiously adjusting her stiff monochrome coat and folding her hands at her waist before responding.

“Should the decline continue, our summit will be barred. For a time.”

The man in the ashen chair momentarily surveyed a young woman with dichromatic eyes who swam in the pool, surrounded by dark, anguilliform shapes, before answering.

“We do not seek summits. Only wings to surpass them.”

“So we find the feathers.”

“I want you to go to the mainland. Speak with Ryard Vancing.”

“Why him, Sir? He’s just a CAV-keep.”

“A single feather can be the difference between flight and freefall. The people regard him a hero. They like him, and he, you. And so…”

“I understand. But, with respect Sir, should our response not be more substantial?”

The man was silent a moment. He regarded the woman across the pool critically, rose and moved to the edge of the reservoir. His pallid skin and obsidian vestments illuminated by the water’s reflection. His visage mask-like, indecipherable save a recondite hardness; a implacable determination, evident in the stolid set of his jaw and the unblinking fixity of his keen, xanthous eyes.

“All barbarous quarters sink to the depths of their degradations. And the drowning are ill-inclined to argue the provision of a raft. Here. Now. The raft is the flood. And so, we shall offer our own.”

Next chapter

Kryos: Chapter 3

Previous chapter

Galton Raka stared out the window of his highrise office in the Security Commission Center, observing Aecer’s vast, metallic grandeur. The Security Commission headquarters loomed above the Central Sector CAV-way intersection at the very heart of the city, which scintillant with the movement of thousands of lev-hans, mag-rays and assurance drones, dancing to the dictates of the affin net’s algorithms. The lanes dropped and rose in irregular tandem to the needs of the citizenry, appearing, to the lofty observer, like massive, beetle-clad serpents. Above the bustling racket of the grand transportation thoroughfares, colossal tethered aerostats drifted like great argent whales; fundamental infrastructure for the city’s communication network. Raka smiled weakly and took a sip of coffee. He had forgotten how beautiful the metropolis looked from above, and remembered all too well how ugly it had begun to look from below.

His quiet reverie was interrupted by the automated swish of the office door, footsteps following, quick and light across the scuffed hardwood floor. Raka gazed over his shoulder and beheld a fair-featured man, short, stocky and dressed in the vestments of a Consortium Security Commission officer. The guest performed a perfunctory half-bow and straightened, politely but impatiently awaiting address.

“What is it, Vogel?”

“Something I thought you should take a look at, sir.”

“Could have just sent it to me.”

“Didn’t want it in the system.”

At the admission, Raka turned slowly and walked to his table, setting his coffee down with agitation, leaning back in his chair as he waited to be told the news.

“There was a mugging, sir.”

Raka sighed heavily and gestured with disgust to his affin tablet.

“There’ve been plenty.”

“Three men attacked a woman in Central, near the HEZ.”

“And? Our hands are tied.”

“Two of the robbers were killed in the attempt.”

“By the woman?”

“No. By Acelin Syzr.”

“The head of the KSRU?”

Vogel nodded. Raka ran a hand through his thinning hair, working his jaw back and forth.

“What was he doing in Central?”

“I’ve no idea. The whole scene was captured by one of our assurance drones.”

“Has anyone but you and the monitors seen the recording?”

“Well, that’s the peculiar thing. The robbers trashed the drone once it flew down. We lost the signal. All we captured up to that point was the robbers assaulting the woman and knocking her to the ground.”

“Have you identified her?”

“A one Casja Fawnell. Middle-aged. Moderately wealthy. Member of the Aecer Historical Society. She’s yet to file a complaint.”

“I take it you got the rest of the footage from the drone… you did recover it, didn’t you?”

“No, sir. Wasn’t there. Someone stole it.”

“Which means whoever took it has the whole recording.”

“Yes, sir.”

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

“Probably, Sir.”

Raka shook his head.

“Can you identify the surviving robber from the footage you obtained?”

“I already have. His name is Danzig Kleiner. Career criminal. Been in and out of Northwing since he was a kid for everything from larceny to rape. No permanent residence.”

“Haunts?”

“Likes to hang around a club called the Red Moon. Disreputable establishment, from what I’ve heard. Its not far from the tenement where the assault occurred. I was planning on checking it out after I swing by Ms. Fawnell’s place.”

“Alright. And Vogel.”

“Yeah?”

“If this situation escalates, bring Syzr in.”

Vogel arched a brow.

“Bring him in?”

“For protection.”

“His, or ours?”

Next chapter

Kryos: Chapter 1

A woman’s cry cut the air.

Acelin Syzr stiffened and strode quickly down the winding back-alley toward the origin of the shriek. His armored bulk clacked dully, gleaming vermeil beneath the muted sunbeams which filtered from the high, jagged spires that rose like defiant brands towards a roiling and ominous sky. The corridor formed by the dilapidated apartments was filthy, strew with the detritus of past itinerants: condoms, bottles, torn clothing and adhesive drug patches; dregs of the newest narcotics craze. A long-haired junkie shivered against the early morning chill and loosed saliva with a ragged cough. Twenty feet on, a dead cat lay, foam spilling about its distended, yellow jaws, ants piling around its exposed innards. Small cuts of cat carried out and down into the shuttering dark. Syzr surveyed the dross and continued on, quickening his pace as another scream rang out from the depths of the concrete tomb. The sonic thread ended in a ratty blind, before which the alley diverged left and right. Three men stood about a middle-aged woman who lay upon the ground, bleeding from her lip, shirt torn at the collar. Wealthy – judging from her garb. Her pert, pale face, contorted with disgust and horror. Syzr watched the drama from behind the cover of a high door stoop which, given its dominion over the passage, had been built prior to the construction of the adjacent building. The largest of the muggers leered at the woman and drew a razor from his belt.

“Shoulda known better than to walk alone.”

“Rich cunt,” the shortest of the trio spat.

The last member of the group, a fat, balding man with a pockmarked and piggish face, chortled and lumbered threateningly toward the woman as she scurried up against the alley’s blind. As Syzr readied himself to intervene, a Consortium assurance drone floated down to the scene from the rooftops, synthetic voice clacking, robotic and pleasant.

“Please reconsider your actions, citizens. There is no need for violence.”

Momentarily, the muggers froze and tensed, eyes going wide, mouths parting. However, when it became clear the drone’s sole function was rhetorical dissuasion, they laughed and smashed it. The aerial machine sputtered on the ground, frantically looping dialogue.

“There is no need for violence. Thereisnoneedforviolence. There-“

As the triad cackled and returned their attentions to the bleeding woman, Syzr cantered from around the stoop and stood the center of the avenue, his battered onyx face-plate melding with shadow, his voice crepitating mechanically through the opaque polymer veil.

“Depart the woman.”

The trio whirled, eyes wide, weapons glinting in the gloam.

“Who the fuck are you?” the fat man hissed, balling his fists.

The tall man surveyed the intruder’s visor with perplexity and sneered, “This ain’t a costume party, pal.”

“Depart the woman or depart this life.”

The tall mugger grinned malevolently and jabbed the air with his shiv, “You looking to die, tough guy?”

The full-helmed man said nothing and took a step forward. The fat man and the short man looked to the shiv-wielder for guidance; he gestured with the blade toward the interloper.

“Take him.”

“The latter, then,” Syzr declared evenly.

The short man produced a roller chain from his belt and rushed forward, flailing metal. Syzr maintained his position and let the chain drive strike him across his armored left shoulder, whereafter recoil brought the slender piece of machinery up into the assailant’s face. The short man screamed and clutched rubies at his eye. Syzr kicked the man in the gut and slammed a fist into his trachea. As his companion dropped to the ground, vainly sucking air, the fat man rushed in, grunting with rage, and caught Syzr about the mid-section, attempting a tackle, but recieved an elbow to the back of his neck and ragdolled. Syzr kicked the man in the face until he stilled permanently, then picked up the chain drive and turned to the leader, whose face tinctured with terror and incredulity.

The tall man bolted and caught the weight of the chain drive to the back of his right knee, stumbling to the ground, cursing as Syzr fell upon him. Before Syzr could land a critical blow, the tall mugger brought his hands up around his head, curling his body into his attacker, and, with considerable effort, shucked the man free of his body. The thief rolled and picked up his shiv, taking several swipes in Syzr’s direction – feints. Syzr wasn’t concerned with getting sliced, his armor could take it. He backed up, confident, coiled, shoulders rolling. Form fluid and controlled. The mugger grabbed a empty bottle off the ground, flew forth and stuck his foe in the side, feeling the armor give, he grinned and brought the glass down into Syzr’s head, shattering the vessel and scuffing the helm. Syzr took the blows with a grunt of surprise and pain and caught the mugger’s left hand in which he hefted the neck of the broken bottle and squeezed with all his strength. The mugger loosed a howl of agony as the remnant of the bottle fractured red ribbons to hand. Syzr drew the man’s dactyls to palm and smashed them against his face, once, twice and then headbutted the reaver to the ground.

Squealing and cupping his bleeding visage, the mugger fled.

Syzr gave pursuit, but quickly stopped as he noticed red rivulets running from his side.

His eyes narrowed beneath the abraded, monochrome helm as he watched the criminal vanish down the leftern alley.

“Craven scum.”

He walked stiffly and slowly back to the disheveled woman, clutching his leaking abdomen, wondering how a common criminal had been able to acquire a weapon capable of piercing sychitin.

“You alright, ma’am?”

She shrunk back from the carnage-stained man, shuddering.

“Ma’am?”

“H-hm?”

“Are you alright?”

She nodded, tears in her eyes, quivers in her lips.

Syzr extended a plated hand and, after a moment of hesitation, the woman took it as the drone continued its mantra.

Next chapter

Tatter: Chapter 37 (Finis)

Previous chapter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A man of his word.”

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

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

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

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

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

“It shall be done.”

“And you – what do you want?”

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

“The firmament, gilded and baroque.”

Tatter: Chapter 36

Previous chapter

Vangr apprehensively stood the center of the old theatre and watched the chartreuse man tinker with the mannequin upon the wide and dusty stage, crimson curtains hanging above like clouds of blood.

“Just you and me now, Mr. Vangr,” the tinkerer declared with vague amusement, without turning from his labors.

Vangr shifted from foot to foot upon the mildewed and heavily carpeted flooring. He didn’t like the place. The dead-eyed dolls. The hideous masques that leered from the walls. The make-up tins and wigs and corsets. The whole of the establishment, a temple to deception.

“We need to talk.

“We’re talking now.”

“About what I’m owed.”

“How fortunate Grazen and Moreno died before the curtain’s fall.”

“Why?”

“Because now there is no intermediary between you and The Federation, but me. And so, if I were to tell them, no, no, it wasn’t he that bungled it. No, no, it wasn’t his incompetence which allowed the specimen to get away. It was Grazen and Moreno’s orders… well, who is to say otherwise?”

“And you’d do this for me because?”

“Because, like you, I never cared for The Federation’s politics, or Aestival’s theology. Every oath of loyalty, a fetter. Every system, a cage.”

“Kryos once told me: ‘There are some cages it is better to be inside of than without.'”

“He’s right of course. That’s how he’s survived this long. But we have different priorities…”

“And what are those priorities, exactly? If you don’t care about Aestival, or The Federation, why do any of this?”

“Every belief in the future as it would be discloses all alternative futures in the process. I simply wish to widen the scope of possibilities.”

The chartreuse man snapped the mannequin’s head on with a resounding clatter and turned to Vangr with a wide, rictus smile. The mannequin turned in tandem and, likewise, smiled.

Next chapter

Tatter: Chapter 35

Previous chapter

In the wide black holding cell, only a single ray of light; a woman there illuminated. A shackle upon her throat which meant pain should the shadows be tread. She sat upon a soft, dark cube, hands folded upon her lap. No sound save a faint mechanical groaning; rhythmic sheering of metal on metal. The hiss of the chamber’s handless door opening. Footsteps reverberated upon the pitch and polished floor as the thin slats which ran-parallel about the room faintly illuminated, casting wide a sombre bluish glow.

A slender female figure stood the space before the woman on the cube and carried a large case the width of her own back-lit body, which she set at her feet and opened, revealing a soft, dull-black oblong artifact. The shadowed woman removed a small, handheld device from the left inner pocket of her long elegant coat and pressed it to the object, prompting it to shift and grow. The case-borne object hummed and slowly assumed the form of a trim, elegant man, wan of complexion, whose eyes gleamed like young twin suns, filtered through the lattice-work of burnished heliodor. After a long silence, the man-form spoke, his voice low and measured, pooling in sonorous strands throughout the ambit of the penitentiary murk.

“Greater in inequity is the well-intentioned deceiver than one ill-intentioned. The former has conviction in the rectitude of their wickness. The latter labors under no such illusion.”

Soriya Haldeck looked to the floor, her lips writhing, face creasing with anxiety, unable to meet the man’s luminous and unwavering gaze.

“Would you say this is so, Doctor Haldeck?”

“What does it matter now?”

“It will always matter so long as we can exercise moral judgment.”

“Only God can judge me. He’ll judge us all. Eventually. Even you.”

“Convenient that the judgement of all should be raised in a discussion of your crimes.”

“Freeing a slave is a crime?”

“Your mouth moves, but it is the dead who speak.”

Kryos leaned slowly toward the woman, her eyes yet averted, hands working together as if covered in nettles. The avatar assumed a rigid posture and gestured to the attendent behind him, who withdrew a telepad and held it nine paces before Haldeck’s anxious face. On the screen a shaky video feed of the central sector played. A pile of smoldering rubble. Screams of men and metal. Weeping. Officials rushing, frantic, to and fro, some cursing under their breath, others subsumed in focus. Civilians rooted to their shades, dumbfounded by terror. A elderly woman on her knees, covered in dust and blood, a old man before her, silent and still as statuary. A child, no more than seven years of age, broken and battered beneath a mound of rubble, one arm missing, replaced by a phantasmal sanguine trail. Haldeck’s eyes grew wide as she took in the carnage. Her lower lip quivered like a water-soused worm. Abruptly, she looked away, vainly attempting to quell the rising sense of terror that writhed within.

“That footage was taken directly after the destruction of the central reactor.”

“I’ve seen it before.”

“A teacher and her class from the local school were on a field trip. That’s her body there. In the red. The dress, a gift from her husband. They’d been married three days.”

Soriya began to weep.

“Why are you showing this to me? I didn’t do it. I didn’t set the bombs.”

“If your mind was guiltless, you’d not offer defense.”

“I was only doing what I thought was right.”

“This I have addressed. Your actions aided the group responsible for the destruction of my reactor. Central sector’s reactor.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I selected you to oversee the DS program due to your intelligence. Deduce.”

“You mean Vangr? Vangr was working with Aestival?”

“Well done.”

“I… I didn’t know.”

“That is obvious. Had you the full picture, you’d have blown the whistle on the entire enterprise and would likely now be dead. In this way your treasonous folly was fortuitous. For you.”

“Where is she? Did you find her?”

“She’s safe. Due some unexpected intervention. And my director’s perseverance.”

He turned emotionlessly from the woman, speaking into the hazy azure reach.

“The partisans planned to turn her into a weapon. One which Grazen planned to sell to the Eastern Federation. Were the scheme successful, millions would have died. Instead, only hundreds.”

Kryos then melded into the penumbral expanse as the woman’s sorrow echoed throughout.

Next chapter

Tatter: Chapter 34

Previous chapter

The lab-lights coruscated from the dustless ceiling as Ryard Vancing held his bleeding side. Teeth clenched. Eyes narrowing upon the tawny, ferine woman who circled him, jaw set, fists clenched as Tatter watched the scene with keen concern from the diagnostic pod where she remained firmly bound.

Ryard briefly caught her gaze and forced a smile.

After a terse silence, the gray-streaked woman lunged with considerable ferocity, gouging at the man’s eyes, seeking to drive her thumbs into his sockets. He caught her about the wrists, using her momentum to thrust his knee hard into her gut. The motion tore his wound as it doubled the woman over; screams of pain caught in two throats. The woman staggered back, heaving, and pulled a silver scalpel free of Grazen’s instrument rack upon the nearby table, desperately slicing at her foe with the dreadful hissing of a serpent cornered. Ryard raised his arms, blocking the shallow cuts. Soon his arms ran red and his movements slowed. He could feel the life draining out of him and knew if he didn’t finish her swiftly, all would be lost. He dodged back behind the arc of her blade and kicked at her left knee, catching her shin, unbalancing her and dropping her face first to the ground. The woman caught herself and bounded from the floor, rushed forward with hateful gait and drove the blade of the scalpel into Ryard’s shoulder. Instead of throwing his foe free, Ryard grabbed the woman’s hands, forcing the blade yet deeper. The terrorist’s eyes bulged with confusion as she attempted to escape, finding herself bound to the bleeding CAV-keep. He thrust his crown into the middle of her face, then again and again until he felt her nose break. She slackened and fell to the floor, holding her ruined face, groaning and gurgling blood. Freeing the blade from his chest, Ryard lumbered over to the woman, falling to his knees before he reached her, the pain subsiding to numbness, the fury waning to somnolence.

“Why would you risk your life for that filthy abomination?” The woman spat with rekindled wrath, rolling to her side as she clawed toward the bloody bone fragment, which lay upon the floor between her and her foe.

Ryard said nothing and walked on hands and knees to the jagged ivory artifact and hefted it from the cold, bloodstained floor. She threw herself at him, wildly, despairingly, madly, attempting to tear out his throat with her bare hands. Ryard shoved the scalpel into her gut, yet still the insane creature did not relent. With the last failing vestiges of his strength, he drove the jagged length of bone through her left orbital socket with a wet snick. The woman howled and fell upon her back, twitching erratically, a tangle of unintelligible syllables, pouring from her frothing maw. The woman’s chaotic spasms swiftly subsided and she lay still upon the white polished floor, soaked in blood. Her chest, no longer rising and falling to vitality’s ancient hymn.

Then, only silence reigned.

Ryard observed the corpse of his foe and then rose unsteadily and freed Tatter from her shackles, collapsing thereafter against the exterior of the diagnostic pod under the encroachments of a leaden slumber.

“Help him!” Tatter exclaimed suddenly. “He’s dying.”

As his consciousness faded, he followed Tatter’s gaze and beheld the form of a woman standing in the doorway of the hidden lab. He recalled her face.

Vera Straker. Director of Kryos Corp.

She moved cautiously into the room and observed the corpse and then rushed to Ryard’s side as Tatter gathered the man in her arms, dichromatic eyes searching a blood-spattered face.

“Your plan worked, Ryard.”

“Yeah,” he whispered triumphantly.

He closed his eyes, feeling Tatter’s frigid caress give way to Straker’s commands.

Then the world fell away and all was warmth and darkness.

Next chapter

Tatter: Chapter 33

Previous chapter

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

“Raise your arms. Slowly.”

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

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

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

“The guards… did you… kill them?”

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

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

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

“Not with who?”

“Aestival.”

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

Grazen looked cautiously over his shoulder.

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

“Ryard – look out!” It shouted.

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

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

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

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

Next chapter