Kanji sprawls in her hovering portachair, its suspensors struggling under her weight. Her spiked durasteel right arm dwarfs the other, whose musculature is networked with ridged veins. “So, boss”, she says. “How long until Chao gets here?”
Johnston stands at the transteel viewport, arms folded, staring out into space. The dark planet below passes in and out of frame every few seconds as the cylindrical station rotates to create artificial gravity. “That’s Lady Chao to you,” he says with a glare. Kanji hunches like a scolded child. “I received word she’s about to dock,” he says.
Jayle, noting Kanji’s submission, winks and sneers. She caresses the hilt of Jimmy’s antique .357 Magnum in its holster, a finger tracing one of the many battle scars ornamenting her face. She glances at Violet, who sits silently chewing the ear of her teddy. “I don’t know why we’re needed for this job. This kid never does anything except hold on tight to that bear.”
Johnston turns to face his crew. “That kid is the biggest meal ticket in the solar system. Didn’t you pay attention to the transbrief?”
Jayle winks. “Bester is her dad, but by all accounts, he hardly spends any time with her. Who’s to say she’s worth much at all?”
Sarain’s arm compartments are open, her ion taser and plasma net launcher extended. She runs a fine cotton cloth over the taser, polishing it until it gleams in the glow of her neural fibre hair. “That’s the thing about rich guys, baby—they’re very possessive.” She admires her handiwork and retracts the taser, sets to work polishing the launcher. “It’s all about ownership; love don’t have nothing to do with it.”
Kanji glowers. “Bester’s mercenary fleet took out Chao’s—I mean, Lady Chao’s tower. Bester wants his little girl, all right. He may send his fleet up here if he finds out where she is.”
Johnston scowls as he listens to a transmission on his ear piece. “Looks like he just did. So much for that transluminal containment field—they must have tracked her another way. Time to earn your keep, ladies.”
The team smirks and fist bumps. “It’s about time this babysitting mission got more interesting,” says Jayle with a wink.
* * *
The Anvil starts awake as the interceptor lurches to a stop in the hangar at Flotsam’s axis. Chun calms her as the armature flails in the zero gravity. “Of course, It’s okay. You took quite a beating. You’ve been under for hours, repairing.” Chun checks the nearby monitor, starts removing the various feeds and drips that snake from the Anvil’s torso to the machine.
“Where are we?” says the armature, holding her brow groggily. Curled foetus-like, she floats in the centre of the cabin between its occupants as Chun gently extracts more cables. The lines feed slowly back to the wall-mounted revitaliser, concealing themselves within its curved silvery skin.
“Of course, we’ve just arrived at one of the triad’s space stations,” replies Chun. “Lady Chao has said she will help us.”
Lady Chao smiles briefly at the armature, her face a blank slate as she turns back to the viewport. Alida shrugs apologetically. “I’m Alida, Lady Chao’s assistant,” she says, holding out a trembling hand.
The Anvil grips the proffered hand softly. “I’m Angelique.” Her deep male voice still seems unfamiliar.
“I’m sorry, I mistook you for a man,” Alida says, eyeing the muscular body.
“I get that a lot.”
Jimmy shifts uncomfortably in his belts. “Now that you’re awake, I want to discuss our arrangement.” His dark skin is a little pale—space travel doesn’t agree with him. “The deal was to deliver you to the launch tower; not get my boat destroyed, get captured, lose my favourite gun and get sent into space with some crime boss.”
Lady Chao raises an eyebrow. “I would say ‘saved’ by some crime boss, wouldn’t you agree?”
Big Jimmy scowls. “Okay, saved. I think my compensation needs to be renegotiated.”
Granny Chun rolls her eyes. “Of course, you think this could wait, Jimmy? She’s just recovered from major trauma.”
“All the more reason to confirm my money now,” says Jimmy. “I don’t know how much longer robot man-girl here is going to be around.” He eyes the synthi-flesh nub where the armature’s left arm used to be.
The Anvil’s eyes dull for a moment. “I’ve doubled your fee and transferred it to your account; you can check your palmchip to confirm.”
Jimmy glances at the hologram momentarily generated by his palmchip, smiles appreciatively. “Well, that’s more like it. Now, how do I go about getting off this tin can?”
Lady Chao unclicks her restraints as the side door slides open. Beyond the hatch, a number of men in protective suits float, waving the interceptor’s occupants out. “You may want to put a hold on that for a moment, little man,” she says, gliding effortlessly through the door. Alida follows close behind.
Jimmy glowers at Chao’s back as he removes his belts. “So, now I’m a man with money but nowhere to go, stuck in a tin can in space in the middle of a war between the world’s richest man and the waveruin triads. Fantastic.” He clumsily floats to the exit. “And I’m not that small.”
Olsin completes systems shutdown and glides from the pilot’s chair to the open door. She glances back at the Anvil. “Speaking of deals, sugar, I want my cut, too.”
The Anvil looks wearily at Chun, who shrugs. “Of course, we can discuss my remuneration later.”
* * *
Hansen confirms the coordinates and turns to Shi-Cho. “We’ve confirmed their location, sir,” he says. “A station called Flotsam, over on dark side. It’s possible the girl’s there as well.”
Shi-Cho grins. “A triad station, no doubt. Lots of external defences. Probably spaceborne fighters, plasma missiles, fission torps. Maybe a defensive shield. No better place to hold a valuable hostage.” He strides back to a private cabin just off the cockpit of the troop carrier. “Ready the fleet, I have to make a call.”
* * *
Bester’s holographic face is fuming. “I didn’t want war with the triads, Shi-Cho. I was explicit in my instructions.”
Shi-Cho is untroubled. “You paid me to do a job. Sometimes that involves thinking outside the box.”
“Outside the box? The triads and I have a strong business relationship which may now be jeopardised by your attacks on their holdings.”
“I believe your daughter is on Flotsam station.”
“Believe? Is it a gut feeling, or you definitely know she’s there?”
“Only one way to find out.”
Bester’s eyes narrow. “If she’s not there, it’ll take more than a flashy piece of prototype armature armour to stop me from removing all your remaining human parts and feeding them bit by bit to my clone raptors.”
Shi-Cho smiles. “Mr Bester, if your daughter’s not there I will gladly volunteer for any sadistic little exercise you choose.”
Bester reclines, his features darkening. “I’ll be joining you in my cruiser for the assault.”
“As long as I retain command, I don’t care if you book ringside seats for your entire entourage.”
* * *
Lady Koga’s interceptor streaks skyward. She’s cushioned in her acceleration couch, wavering ripples on her skin betraying the g-forces at play. A spherical, limbless black droid is strapped into the couch beside her. “Mission?” it says in a metallic monotone.
“Education,” says Koga. “Today, we teach someone a valuable life lesson.”
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.