The distant sound of automatic gunfire and plasma rounds echo from within the skeletal remains of the Chao Triad building.
In the interceptor, Olsin’s finger pauses over the tether recall button. She notes two murky shapes in the dirty haze behind Granny Chun.
“I think you had better rethink your options,” says Lady Chao as she exits the dust, an HPR Launcher hefted on her shoulder. Assistant Alida crouches trembling behind her, eyes tight, hands over her ears.
Chun raises her pumpgun, eyeing the Anvil’s unconscious form protectively. “Of course, it seems we are at an impasse,” she says.
“You will take me with you in that interceptor,” says Chao. Alida squeaks from behind and Chao rolls her eyes. “I suppose you’d better take my assistant as well.”
“Of course, why should I? Because we were lovers in a past life?”
“Nothing so prosaic. The fleet outside is about to be conveniently distracted. And you have no way of finding the girl without me.”
Chun’s eyes narrow and she lowers her weapon. She glances at the hovering interceptor behind, at the Anvil’s bulky form beside her, and sighs. “Of course, you’ll have to leave the launcher behind. It’s going to be a bit squishy onboard.”
* * *
Captain Hansen hasn’t received word from Commander Shi-Cho since the hangar explosion, but Shi-Cho’s interceptor exited the building and is now hovering outside the damaged bay. He stands behind his pilot, his airborne troop carrier suspended less than a hundred metres away from Shi-Cho’s craft, awaiting further orders. Hansen frowns impatiently as the interceptor holds its position, blocking any views or scans of the hangar’s interior. “Open coms to the Commander’s ship,” he snaps to his pilot.
Suddenly the top of Chao’s headquarters erupts as a nearspace orbiter thrusts itself into the air, rear afterburn decimating the plasteel panels around it. “That’s Chao’s escape shuttle,” says Hansen. On open com: “All ships, intercept and take that orbiter. We want Chao alive!”
* * *
Olsin turns to the side door as Chun climbs in, guiding the Anvil’s tethered body to the floor between the rear benches. Jimmy swears as Lady Chao and Alida clamber in unceremoniously behind them.
“And the trip just got better, yet again,” he says, rolling his eyes.
“I suggest we forego the pleasantries and get out of here while Shi-Cho’s fleet chases my orbiter,” says Chao, strapping into her seat. “It won’t take very long before the ruse is uncovered.” She notes Olsin in the pilot chair and frowns. “The mystery of your escape is solved. I’ll discuss this with my ex-guard later.” Chao flexes her durasteel fingers. Olsin gulps and glances back to the control panel.
Chun aims her pumpgun at Chao. Alida quivers in her seat and pretends to be elsewhere. “Of course, just remember you’re my guests,” says Chun. “Play nice.”
“How many more guests are coming along on this little jaunt?” says Jimmy under his breath, scowling and folding his arms.
Olsin’s fingers flicker over the control panel; the multi-turbine engines rotate to the rear and the interceptor shoots away from Chao’s ruined headquarters as Shi-Cho’s fleet pursues the orbiter into the ionosphere.
* * *
Shi-Cho shakes his head as he rises from the rubble. The last thing he remembers was holding the armature’s skull in his fist, closing his fingers around its jaw, awaiting the inevitable cracking of bone and sinew. Then an intense light followed by blackness.
His autorecall plays back the scene: a full power discharge from the enemy armature overwhelmed his parasite flange, the resulting power surge causing a massive EMP disruption that his bioscreens couldn’t block. He went down like a sack of ricemeal.
Shi-Cho glances around as his vision clears. The other armature has disappeared. He stumbles through twisted metal and plasteel debris as his power levels creep back to normal and infrared and ultraviolet ocular sensors take in the surrounds. Internal protein revitalisers repair skin cuts and abrasions. Reformative layering processes rebuild his outer body armour.
Shi-Cho returns to the remains of the hangar, unrecognisable from the ordered launch bay it was previously. His interceptor is gone. So, too, is his fleet. “Damn,” he says.
* * *
Shi-Cho’s interceptor exits the atmosphere and glides silently through the vacuum of the periphery. The turbines close and retros engage across the hull as Olsin manoeuvres the ship into an orbital lock.
“Of course, nice work,” says Chun. Olsin turns her head and grins, then snaps it quickly back as Chao glares.
“Time to earn your passage,” says Chun to Chao.
Chao eyes her long red nails, one of which has broken, and sighs. “You’ll want to avoid the Hoopworld that encircles the planet. As you know Bester owns it—if you so much as place a foot anywhere on it you’ll be seized by his people. You’ll need to find a place to refuel if you want to find the girl.”
Jimmy fiddles with his beard. “And now I’m a wanted man with no options. Just gets better and better.”
Chun checks the Anvil, its body floating gently in zero-g between the passengers in the space between the rear benches. The various glowing power and revitaliser cables connected to its frame twist like snakes. The armature is not breathing, the process simulation having ceased to divert power to internal recovery processors. The left arm is a shallow stump at the shoulder, where subdermal mesh has sealed the wound and covered it with synthi-flesh.
Chao smiles. “It seems your friend has met his match.”
Chun frowns. “Of course, how about you tell us how we can get to our real destination.”
“How do I know you won’t space me before we get there?”
“Because unlike you, I have a sense of personal honour. I give you my word we will not harm you if you help us retrieve Violet.”
“And I assume that you also don’t want my assets to hunt you down like dogs once you have her.”
“Of course; that too.”
“There is a freeport station over darkside, called Flotsam. It’s owned by a dummy corporation that belongs to my Triad consortium. Take me there and we’ll find the girl together. We should have enough fuel to make it. You can refuel there or book passage on an offworlder, if you so choose.”
Chun grimaces. “So, we’re going to a space station you own. Of course, we have to trust you won’t have us killed when we get there.” Jimmy frowns and fingers his beard. Olsin visibly gulps.
Chao smirks. “Well, my love. Life wasn’t meant to be easy.”
To be continued…
Missed earlier instalments? Click here.
What is ANVIL?
ANVIL is a deliberately unplanned, multi-part short story I’m creating week-by-week to challenge myself as a writer (I’ve done this before with The Sale – check it out by clicking here). 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.