Lady Chao’s headquarters is just as ruinous as the other buildings surrounding it. Rusted metal supports play peek-a-boo through holey concrete walls. The lower levels are salt-sutured steel and raggedy plate glass. Only the top four levels are decently attired: various rooftop antennas, dishes and hangars; multiple gun emplacement bubbles poking through garish red panelling; open flight bays punctuating the walls with intent.
Kanji manoeuvres the interceptor into one of the flight bays and settles the jet down on its landing gear. The side door whooshes open and cluttered bodies pile out, Sarain still restraining the Anvil and Jayle dragging Chun and Jimmy’s unconscious frames. Johnston acknowledges several heavily armed guards, their neurolytic tasers and plasmafeed gunnery directed at the armature, Sarain’s EMG to its skull and her massive arm around its chest. Kanji exits last, pats the jet’s side affectionately and lights up a cigar.
The party makes its way from the hangar through a jumble of sleek, shiny corridors. The inside of the building is much better appointed and armoured than the externals would suggest. A few brief moments in a fast elevator and Johnston is leading the group to Lady Chao’s audience chamber (he refuses to call it a throne room). The grand double doors are engraved with oriental dragons, naked men and women, fire breathing snakes and lotus blossoms.
Inside, the walls are lined with armed and armoured guards. Their weapons snap to attention and target the Anvil. She raises her manly eyebrows at the welcome, while Sarain pushes her forward until they are less than five metres from the dais and the elegant wooden throne.
Lady Chao is not present. Johnston checks his watch. He taps his foot. Kanji puts out her cigar on her thigh and places the stub in a pocket. Jayle winds up her depleted plasma net and reloads it into its housing. Sarain releases the Anvil, but her EMPG hums mere centimetres behind the armature’s head.
Granny Chun comes to, clutching her skull. She eyes the throne as she stands. “Of course, that’s not good.” She grabs for her pumpgun, but it’s gone. Jayle shakes her finger and winks.
Big Jimmy rubs his head as he rises to his full four feet. Everyone in the place towers over him. “Plasma net. As if I didn’t have enough headaches for one day.”
Jayle fingers Jimmy’s .357 Magnum revolver, the butt extending from one of her belt pouches.
“Nice antique,” she says. “It’ll look nice on my wall.”
Jimmy glowers at her. “I’m glad I could help you out.”
“You guys all right?” says the Anvil, glancing back and forth between Chun and Jimmy.
“All right, shut up, everyone,” says Johnston, who ceases fidgeting as a sliding door behind the throne opens.
Lady Chao enters, her blue artisilk dragon robe swaying with a gentle swishing sound. She is a tall, older woman, with Asian almond eyes, big lashes, a nest of crow’s feet and long, steel grey hair. She carries herself regally, but there is more than a hint of menace, especially when her sleeve moves to reveal her engraved, durasteel arm. She slides into the throne and regards the Anvil with a frown cut from amber.
“You killed my fire team,” she says.
“They tried to kill us,” replies the Anvil.
“You stole my interceptor.”
“I didn’t destroy it, though. I was shot down.”
Chao eyes Johnston, one eyebrow raised. “It was necessary for the recovery op,” he says, sheepishly.
“In my defence,” says the Anvil. “I was just trying to get us to the launch tower. We were travelling by boat and your jet appeared.”
“My boat,” interjects Jimmy from behind, raising his hand. Chao glares at him and he fades back into the scenery.
“Where’s Bester’s little girl?” says Chao.
“You can’t have her,” replies the Anvil.
The EMPG pulses next to the Anvil’s skull and the armature collapses. Sarain pries open the back capsule and pulls Violet from within. The little girl clutches her teddy close. “Granny?” she says, through tears.
Granny Chun rushes forward before Jayle can stop her, kneeling and placing her arms protectively around Violet. She eyes Chao warily, who at this point had not noticed her standing behind. Chao’s eyes widen.
“Hello, Chao,” says Chun.
Every eye in the room looks to Chao and then back to Chun, almost comically in sync.
“Of course. Long time, no see.”
Lady Chao rises from the throne. She strides slowly down the dais steps and moves toward Chun. Her arms rise and the artisilk sleeves drift back off her durasteel arm, the neon tattoos dancing in the glowglobe light. Her gleaming red nails reach towards Chun’s neck as the old nanny rises to meet the challenge, pushing Violet behind her.
The two women kiss.
Every male jaw in the room drops.
Jayle winks at Kanji. “Well, that was unexpected,” she says.
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.