It’s six hours out and Granny Chun vomits into the bucket for the seventh time. She groans and spits bile into the foul, bitter broth meandering at the bottom of the pail.
Violet is out of her capsule, sleeping restfully, strapped into a seat next to the Anvil. The boat heaves and sways in the racking winds. Big Jimmy laughs as he stands on a raised platform so he can reach the wheel. Outside the tiny cabin, water cascades in sheets off toughened plastiglass.
“This is the life,” cries Jimmy, breaking into a sea shanty.
“Of course, you are such a cliché,” murmurs Chun from her bucket.
The Anvil sits stolidly, immune to the effects of the storm and the constant churning of the seas around them. She stares at her male hands—big, meaty things, far larger than the dainty palms and delicate fingers she imagines she had before. Still, she struggles to remember, and yearns for a Memjet to clear the haze and let her see everything clearly.
She glances at Violet. The little girl is fast asleep; it’s almost as if the tot was tucked away in bed, and not affixed to a padded steel chair in a tiny boat bouncing in the middle of a raging ocean. The Anvil doesn’t know how the child does it. In fact, she knows very little about her child at all. Her appalling lack of memory is disturbing. Armature rebirths aren’t supposed to have recall problems; they’re not unheard of, but they’re extremely rare. The Anvil just wishes she could show some spark of recognition, some lingering emotion towards her daughter. I guess that will come soon enough, she thinks.
Around them in the distance, the husks of broken buildings stand like waylaid fisherman, up to their necks in surf and rain, waiting to be saved. Above the silent overcity hovers, stretching as far as the eye can see in all directions, streams of sunlight breaking through between the grav-supported spires, like the blessings of God.
* * *
The old interceptor wends its way through sleeting rain, sleek wings folded back as it cruises at top speed, dancing between rain drops, riding the wind like an exotic dancer on a mirrored dancefloor.
“We have the boat in sight,” says the helmeted pilot. “Running in silent mode.” The wings extend and engine exhaust vents rotate downwards as it slows, maintaining its altitude over the churning ocean.
Behind the pilot, five men in battered combat armour, hefting aging autofire rifles. The closest has his helmet off; he’s bald, with almond eyes and diamond cheek bones. “Take us in and hover. We’ll downdrop and see what we’ve got,” he says.
“No problem, Mister Tano,” says the pilot. The antiquated interceptor hovers silently, fifty feet over the bobbing boat, matching the vessel’s course. The steel grey armoured men move to the hatch, where they attach droplines to the collars of their dermasuits. Tano replaces his helmet and signals to the others. “Okay, drop and drag,” he says, motioning with his fingers in a coded series of movements reiterating what he’s saying. “Non-lethal fire. The child is not to be harmed.”
The side door slides open with a screech and the cabin’s internal calm is broken by buffeting wind and spray. The troops launch out and down, the droplines taking them at speed to the vessel’s deck below. The wind shakes them about momentarily, but the droplines stay true, guiding them to the heaving floor. Each lands softly on the rain-soaked deck, weapons raised and ready, the cabin hatch before them. Tano gestures two of his men to each side of the door, the others behind him. As he signals to move forward, the hatchway explodes outwards and the Anvil flies headfirst into his chest.
The other troops respond, firing at the big armature as its MWEs extend from its forearms and fry two of them. They collapse to the deck, along with a bloody and unconscious Tano, whose breast bone and ribs are broken. The Anvil takes numerous non-lethal shots, but they bounce off its subdermal protection harmlessly. The remaining two men switch to lethal rounds, but it’s too late. The Anvil swings around, grabs a leg of each and rips them from their bodies in a torrent of blood. Their screams are lost in the roar of the surf.
Overhead the interceptor is starting to rise. The Anvil grabs a dropline from the collar of one of the downed troops and hits the recall. The line immediately drags her up into the air. She enters the cabin; the pilot is pointing a big, old fashioned auto pistol at her chest. He fires. Ion shells find their mark and the Anvil collapses backwards against the frame. One of her MWEs fries the pilot’s head and he collapses over the glowing control board that encircles him.
There’s an explosion below. Looking down, the Anvil sees the aft of the Clarissa is now bits and pieces of detritus, spamming the roiling waves. The vessel is upending and sinking fast. She can see Chun, Jimmy and Violet, soaked and clinging to the cabin hatchway. Chun indicates the droplines still attached to the bodies and latches them to the others and herself. The three rise to the interceptor as the boat slithers below the surface, taking the armoured corpses with it.
As they climb wearily into the hovering jet, Big Jimmy is in shock. “My boat,” he moans. “My beautiful Clarissa.” The Anvil pulls some thermal blankets from an overhead locker, distributes them.
“Of course, that was unexpected,” says Chun, sneezing. Violet sucks her thumb and holds her teddy tight. Chun wraps the blanket around and cuddles her.
The Anvil throws the pilot’s body out the side door and closes it. “I’ll reimburse you for the loss of the boat, Jimmy. I don’t know what happened. It’s possible my MWEs burned through your outboards. Sorry.” The Anvil’s angular male face is stony and emotionless.
Big Jimmy is rocking back and forth, wide-eyed. “You blew up my boat? That’s my living right there. Poof. Gone.”
The Anvil ignores Jimmy for the moment, seats herself behind the control console and looks over the instrumentation. The layout looks complex but is actually fairly simple to operate. She’s sure she has some piloting progs that will help her sim her way through it. The biggest issue, now, is where did this vehicle and its goons come from?
“Of course, I don’t think those guys were sent by Bester,” says Chun, as if reading her mind.
“Who then?” says the Anvil, eyes flicking over the controls.
“Of course, I’d say someone informed on us to the local Surfer Mob. They control the waveruins and run the local rackets. They probably know that Bester is searching for his baby girl. He would have reached out to them when she first went missing, I suppose.” Chun smiles wanly. “Of course, they probably thought they could get more for her via a little blackmail.”
“At least now we can get to the tower quicker,” says the Anvil.
“Of course, they’ll track us.”
“All the more reason to move fast.”
Big Jimmy rocks gently in his seat. “Who are you crazy-ass people, anyway? I said I’d take you to the tower, not get shot the hell up by the mob. What do I do now?”
The Anvil turns and smiles her masculine smile, perfect teeth gleaming. “I guess you’re coming along with us, Jimmy.”
Jimmy scowls. “Great. Just great. I suppose I can get my ass handed to me by someone else along the way?”
“Of course,” says Granny Chun.
To be continued…
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What is ANVIL?
ANVIL is a deliberately unplanned, multi-part short story I’ve created to challenge myself as a writer (I’ve done this before with The Sale – check it out). My intention is to write an episode as often as possible, generally (but not always) ending with a cliff hanger, then work out how to solve the dilemma and continue the story. I have no idea how the story will progress, no idea what it’s about until I get there.
Only you can tell me if it’s successful, or not. I hope you enjoy my continuing experiment.