Anvil. Part 16.

Like the new logo? I put a fair bit of work into it – Steve 🙂

Hansen’s airborne troop carrier hovers at the entrance to the ruined hangar. Shi-Cho taps his foot impatiently on some rubble as the side hatch slides open and he and his troops clamber inside. He makes his way to the cockpit as the others seat themselves on benches lining the rear cabin, opening their visors, lowering weapons and strapping in.

Hansen stands behind his pilot, gripping his sweaty hands tightly behind his back. His tempered South American features are broken by a deep scowl, a tinge of wetness on his uneasy brow. At over six foot, he’s still much shorter than Shi-Cho’s enhanced armature form. He nervously runs a hand through his close cropped black hair.

“I take it Chao got away,” says Shi-Cho as he squeezes through the hatch into the cabin.

“Yes, sir,” replies Hansen without turning. “The orbiter was a diversion, flying on automatic. It appears Chao left in another ship.”

Shi-Cho raises an eyebrow. “You mean my interceptor?”

Hansen wipes a bead of sweat from his forehead. “Yes, sir.” He unconsciously holds his breath and braces himself.

Shi-Cho grins slyly. “Don’t worry, Hansen. We know where she’s headed—my interceptor has a subterfuge beacon installed.”

Hansen breathes again, relieved.

* * *

Lady Quing sips her cup of shoujiu. As head of District 4 and 5 operations, including Verso production and distribution, she holds a prominent position in the Waveruin Triad Council. She is the only Triad leader present at the meeting wearing a business suit, rather than traditional artisilk robes; she disdains ancient formal dress. “Chao’s tower was attacked and almost destroyed,” she says, eyeing the others seated around the ancient oaken table. “An open attack on the Triads by Bester’s private army.”

Lady Chen, a portly older woman wearing a robe much too small for her girth, draws on an e-cig, exhaling invisible vapour into the air. “Do we know the reason for the attack?” She smiles ingenuously. “Perhaps Chao did something to upset our valued trading ally?” Chen oversees District 2 and 3 and the Triad’s more legal trading operations, including prostitution, cybernetics and weapons smuggling. Her innocent expression belies her sado-masochistic inclinations.

Lord Yang—handsome, silver-haired and sporting a zylex carapace in place of a human torso—laughs. “Why am I not surprised?” District 1, protection, racketeering and laundering are among his domains, but he much prefers hunting giant underwave lanfish. Quing can tell from the vacant expression that’s what he’s thinking about now.

Quing frowns. “This is not the first time Chao has moved beyond this council’s auspices. Bester wouldn’t do something like this without good reason.” She finishes her cup and places it on the table, where an invisible subluminal nutriment processor refills it. “I have it on good authority that she may be involved in the recent disappearance of Bester’s daughter.”

Chen rolls her eyes. “Kidnapping.” She takes another puff on her e-cig. “How long has it been since we engaged in something so rudimentary?”

Lady Koga is the only Japanese in the Triad Council and the youngest member. Her unlined face, bald pate and svelte frame look out of place amongst the haggard, greying crime lords at the table. Her multiple subdermal armaments, prodigious martial arts expertise and exceptional strategic acumen aptly suit her roles of assassination, enforcement and managing District 6, the roughest of the waveruin sectors. She leans languidly back in her chair, sipping saki. “The issue is not what she’s done,” Koga says. “I don’t care how much the world’s richest man misses his little cow. The issue is the level of response required. Bester needs to learn the Triad is not to be trifled with.” She stares at Chen, who smiles serenely. “‘Valued trading ally’ or not.” Chen’s smile fades.

The others, along with five other Triad leaders present at the table in hologrammatic form, nod in agreement. Yang grins. “We’re open to suggestions, Koga.”

Koga downs her saki with a gulp and rises. “Just leave it to me,” she says.

* * *

Flotsam station appears in the forward transteel windows like a shiny, rotating tin can, partly silhouetted by the arc of the planet’s dark side. As the interceptor approaches, the canister grows until its bulk fills the cockpit view: a mile-long grey cylinder, its outer face pockmarked with meteorite craters, pimply comms installations and wart-like gun turrets.

“Doesn’t look like much,” says Jimmy.

Chao’s long hair flows like medusa snakes in the zero-g. She raises an eyebrow. “And I suppose your vast experience with all things offworld makes you an expert, little man?”

Jimmy reddens and crosses his arms, the motion moving him awkwardly against his restraint belts in the null gravity. “I’m not that short,” he mumbles.

Granny Chun cradles her pumpgun protectively to prevent it floating away. “Of course, how do we get in?”

Chao gestures to Olsin in the pilot seat. A sliver of opaque plastic the size of a credit chit angles through the air at her head. “Transmit that code on the docking channel.” Olsin grabs the card from the air and activates the communications array. A few moments later, a crackling response: “You are most welcome, Lady Chao. We are honoured you have chosen to join us. Johnson and his crew arrived a few hours ago and advised you might be coming at some point, but we didn’t think it would be so soon.”

“Some unforeseen circumstances,” replies Chao. “When we dock I want you to batten every hatch and engage all defences. We can expect a full assault within the hour—I estimate about fifty ships, maybe more.” Silence from within the cabin and the comms. Chao glances at the blank faces around her. “You really think Shi-Cho can’t track his own ship?”

Alida crosses her chest in an antiquated religious gesture, looking to the heavens above. Jimmy shakes his head and murmurs to himself. Chun grimaces and grips the Anvil’s unconscious body to prevent it drifting. Olsin gulps and looks back at her teammates, wondering whether any amount of money will make up for what’s about to come.

Chao rolls her eyes. “Amateurs. It’s a wonder you got as far as you did.”

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.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

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