The tall old woman is angry. She throws her cup of shoujiu across the room where it shatters against the wall. “They took my interceptor?” Her eyes are narrow slits, her crow’s feet now a delta fanning both sides of her face. The armoured men kneel before her, heads bowed to the floor. One watches her nervously with wide almond eyes, the other, a strong chinned black man with a sharp goatee, scowls silently.
“Lady Chao, we could not have imagined—” says the first.
Chao rises from her throne, an extremely rare wooden item (where does one get wood, nowadays?), hand carved with weaving oriental dragons. Her hands clasp and unclasp rhythmically, long red nails glinting in the glowglobe light. The woman’s blue artisilk robe sways in a serpentine rhythm as she walks. Reaching down, Chao grabs the speaker by the neck, lifts him like a marionette. The sleeve of her robe falls back, revealing a shiny durasteel forearm, engraved with intertwining snakes and flowering vines in garish neon hues. The man’s neck snaps with the sound of a branch breaking and she tosses his lifeless body into the far wall. The black man grimaces.
“It’s up to you, Johnston,” she says, striding back to her throne. “Recover the girl. The interceptor is expendable.” Her eyes drill into him. “As are you.” Johnston gulps imperceptibly, backs away from his master and exits the room quicker than he would like.
* * *
The launch tower is in sight, about ten kilometres away. The interceptor bounces through the squall, swooping and re-correcting as needed.
“Of course, I thought you knew how to fly this thing,” says Granny Chun, strapped into a cabin bench seat. Next to her, Violet grips her teddy and grins. “It’s like being on a roller coaster,” she says. Big Jimmy, on the other side, holds his head in his hands, occasionally stroking his full beard nervously. “Give me my Clarissa any day,” he says.
In front, the Anvil struggles with the flight controls. “Apparently the sim progs didn’t cover bad weather.” She looks to the readouts around her, glances at the tower ahead. Even from this distance, there’s no mistaking the size of the thing—a kilometre-wide metal platform, rising three hundred metres above the surface of the waters, bristling with antennae, thermal exhaust towers and nearspace shuttles. Their way off this world.
They are five kilometres from the tower when the port engine explodes in a hail of debris, smoke and fire. The interceptor immediately starts to drop, the age-old systems straining and failing to correct its altitude.
“What the hell was that?” cries Big Jimmy. “What is it with people wanting to kill you?” His antique Magnum appears in one hand as the other steadies him.
“Of course, you should put that away,” says Granny Chun, whisperingly calm. “We don’t want a stray shot hitting anyone.”
Jimmy stares at his piece uncomprehendingly, then sheepishly slides it back into his leg holster. “Sorry,” he says.
The Anvil looks around, trying to sight the attacker through the plastiglass canopy. She checks the scanner. Nothing. The interceptor spirals towards the ocean. “Chun, look for some life jackets,” she says.
* * *
The hologram from his palm chip fades as Johnston jogs to the flight bay. Beside a big antique interceptor wait three augmented women, with bodies punctuated by scarring, cybernetic parts, dermaplastics and dangling neural fibres. “Kanji,” he says to a huge African woman with a massive barbed metal arm, dreadlocks and glowing red visual receptors for eyes. “Start her up.” Kanji immediately boards the jet and the engines churn to life. Johnston climbs into the back and straps himself into the rear bench. The other two women follow.
“The rogue interceptor has just been downed by one of my contacts at the launch tower,” says Johnston. “We have less than five minutes to get there and recover the girl. We need to get her before Bester’s men do. I’m feeding you ocular video from our assault troops of the armature and the other occupants of the jet.” Each of the women pauses briefly as they review a replay of the Clarissa assault on their retinal links.
Jayle, with a scarred angular face, spiked blonde hair and durasteel legs, smiles. “L-series armature: subdermal mesh, megajoule MWEs, endura core, protein revitalisers, reformative layering. Nice.”
Sarain, dark skinned with oversized zylex torso and arms and glowing neural fibre hair, winks. “A nice challenge, y’mean,” she says. She extends an electromagnetic pulse cannon from one of her forearm housings.
Johnston frowns, remembering the throne room. “No screw ups,” he says.
“You worry too much, boss,” says Kanji from the pilot’s seat.
The jet rises on a plume of superheated air and exits the hangar at top speed, slicing through the rain and wind and leaving the waveruin tower behind.
* * *
Water is streaming in through cracks in the fuselage. The Anvil pops Violet into her back capsule, sealing the little girl away from harm, then straps on a life jacket that’s far too small for her broad male frame. Chun pops the side door. Water sluices in, filling the cabin to waist height. A raft inflates. Jimmy struggles to exit and falls in face first, swearing as he does. Chun follows, groaning as her wounded leg makes contact. The Anvil follows last as the interceptor sinks beneath the waves in a coda of spume and froth. The raft is buffeted left and right, half full with rain and surf, the Anvil’s side dipping low under her weight.
“Well, this trip just keeps getting better and better,” says Jimmy, water cascading down his dark face.
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.