Granny Chun is led sedately to a cell opposite the Anvil’s. She catches a glimpse of the big male skull behind the tiny transteel window as she is pushed gently into her cell by two armoured guards. Prison guard Olsin smiles at the Anvil as she palms the door closed and waves the escort away.
“Like the look of him, huh?” says Hanx, relaxing with his feet up on his console. He’s wiping his sidearm with a soft cloth, a smokeless e-cig hanging from the corner of his mouth.
Olsin drops into a revolving chair next to him. “He’s pretty hot for a biomachine.” She twists a finger through her golden locks and absently fingers her scar, eyeing the Anvil’s cell door.
Hanx guffaws. “You’ll do anything,” he says, smoothly rubbing the cloth around the autopistol’s barrel.
The Anvil returns to her bench. She keeps scanning the room, over and over, until the repetition becomes a meditation.
Chao and Johnston are walking a steely corridor, it’s length broken at two metre intervals by ornately potted orchids hovering in suspensor-pods at various heights from the floor. Chao is flexing her durasteel fingers, as she often does when she thinks. Johnston deferentially walks a few steps behind.
“I want the girl moved off world ASAP,” Chao says. “I’ll reach out to Bester as soon as I know she’s locked down. She’s not secure here.”
“I’ll get on it straight away,” says Johnston.
Chao stops suddenly and Johnston almost collides with her. She turns and looks him in the eye. “No mistakes,” she says. “I can’t stress this enough—anything goes wrong and I will find you.” Johnston shrinks under her gaze. “There is nowhere you can hide.”
“There will be no mistakes,” he says, his voice breaking nervously.
Shi-Cho has assembled a troop of armatures and mercenaries, the best that money can buy. He has twelve assault carriers, ten interceptors and almost thirty armed drones. His cloaked fleet is en route to the city’s underside and from there down to the waveruins, where the tides play languidly with the rotting towers like they’re vestigial toys of yesteryear.
The tiny hologram of Bester flickers momentarily as the fleet passes through the gaps between the overcity’s airborne spires and tethered transtubes. “I want you to contact the undercity triads. They’ll have the best idea about where Violet might be.”
Shi-Cho smiles as he flexes his powerful new armature muscles. “No problem, boss.”
“I don’t want a war with the triads,” says Bester. “They’re good customers. Don’t be afraid to get a bit pushy, though—this is my daughter we’re talking about. Violet must not be harmed. If a hair on her head is damaged, I’ll hold you responsible. And if you think that new armature body will protect you from my wrath, think again.”
Shi-Cho grimaces and salutes mockingly. “Your will be done, Mister Bester.”
Johnston and Kanji arrive at the door to Violet’s cell, ignoring the two lounging guards. Kanji’s vicious metal arm, adorned with spikes and razors, glints wickedly in the glowglobe light. The ruby-red sensors where her eyes should be are unsettling.
“We’re moving the asset,” says Johnston. “Open the door.”
Olsin stands and strides over, carbine at the ready. “On whose authority?” She’s shorter than the two mercs, but her eyes are fiery—she takes her job seriously. Hanx watches from his seat with wry amusement.
Kanji smiles, displaying rows of disconcertingly filed teeth. “I suggest you do it.”
Hanx flicks the switch to the cell door and it slides smoothly open. “Nobody tells us nothing,” he says.
Violet stirs from her sleep, rubs her eyes and stares vaguely at the figures before her. Johnston fires a tranq dart into her chest and the little girl drops like a stone. He lifts her body gently and leaves the cell block, Kanji walking behind, eyeing the guards.
The Anvil’s cries are silenced by the surrounding walls, but the muffled sound of her manacled fists beating on the doorframe brings Olsin over. The guard hits the com and hears the Anvil’s screaming voice: “They can’t take her! You need to let me out of here now!”
“Settle down, sugar,” says Olsin. “Save your energy—you aren’t going anywhere.” She shuts off the com and settles back down in her chair as the Anvil continues to pound on the door.
Shi-Cho closes off the hologram. The third triad boss he’s spoken with and none have any idea about Bester’s daughter. There are another seven controlling the sprawling undercity waveruins.
Next: Lady Chao in District 7. Here’s hoping she knows something, he thinks.
The Anvil’s internal clock tells her three hours have passed since Violet was taken. She stopped trying to break down the door after ten minutes—the manacles draining her strength made it a useless proposition from the start.
Outside the transteel observation port, she can see Hanx and Olsin playing cards.
Across the way, Chun is at her window. She’s signalling with her fingers; an old army code, somehow ingrained in the Anvil’s mind. She wishes her memories of motherhood were as complete.
Bribe the girl, signals Chun. She likes you. Play on that.
The Anvil taps on the glass. It takes a good few minutes of this before the guards notice and roll their eyes. Olsin gets up and fingers the intercom. “What’s up?”
The Anvil holds her bank account palm hologram up to the tiny window. “I need out of here,” she says, smiling. “As you can see, I have enough money to pay my way.” Olsin’s eyes widen. “If that’s not enough I can help you in other ways.” The Anvil raises her male eyebrow in what she thinks may be a sexy way, unsure if it comes across as leery. She’s not used to being in a man’s body, after all.
Olsin calls to Hanx, who reluctantly comes over. The Anvil continues: “Free me and my companions, escort us to a jet and you can have as much as you need to start a new life.”
Hanx rubs his shaved pate thoughtfully. He glances at Olsin, who’s considering her options. “Chao would track us down and kill us,” he says. “I like being alive.”
Olsin stares at the Anvil’s masculine face beyond the transteel. His eyes are very blue, his jaw looks like it was chiselled from steel; she likes that in a man—synthetic or not. She puts a carbine shell into Hanx’s gut. As he collapses to the floor in disbelief she fires another into his skull. Quickly to the console to kill the zipcameras and another flick to open the cell doors.
The Anvil steps out, manacles and neck brace glowing. Olsin strides over to her and kisses the armature longingly on the lips. “I want the money and you,” she says. Olsin presses the carbine between the Anvil’s eyes. “But how do I know I can trust you?”
Granny Chun stretches and files into the corridor between the cells. “Of course, we need weapons and an escort. It would not be wise to try and fight our way out of here. Of course, we need you.”
Big Jimmy walks over to stand beside Chun, looks up to her. “I want my gun back.”
The Anvil holds out her manacled hands. “I give you my word I won’t renege on the deal. I owe Jimmy as well.”
“Damn straight, you do,” says Jimmy.
“I have Bester’s daughter,” says the hologram of Lady Chao. “But she’s not in my district. I’ve hidden her away so we can…negotiate a return.”
Shi-Cho’s eyes narrow. “It would be in your best interests to hand over the girl.”
Chao laughs and the hologram flickers. “I’ve had her placed in a transluminal containment field in transit. That’s a tachyon sensor block, in case you don’t know. You won’t find her.”
Shi-Cho frowns. “Perhaps we should talk face-to-face.”
“Meet me at my tower—you know where to find me. You alone, and no one else.” The console hologram flickers and fades.
Outside the interceptor’s cockpit windows, Chao’s misshapen district tower looms in the dark, the crashing waves below hidden in the murky night. Behind Shi-Cho’s interceptor, his cloaked fleet hovers silently, untraceable. Not quite a transluminal field, but the next best thing.
The HUD in his eyes shows the planned trajectory of multiple missiles toward the tower, faintly glowing paths targeting flight decks, gun emplacements and communications dishes. One thought and the missiles are away, gliding silently through the air, each seeking their final destination. Shi-Cho activates his fleet com.
“Lady Chao is to be taken alive,” he says. “Other than that: no prisoners.”
To be continued…
Missed earlier instalments? Click here.
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.