Alfred Bester is a tall man, well over six foot and waif thin. He has a full head of brown hair with a prominent widow’s peak, greying somewhat but less than one would expect for someone in such a powerful position. Bester is supremely confident—a man doesn’t get to his level without being so. When he walks, others move out of his way, some bowing in deference. He is a scientist without measure, an unparalleled businessman, a risk taker and opportunist of the highest order. Creator of nano-polymer, transteel, transluminal/tachyon displacement and gravitic absorption/generation technologies, to name a few of his inventions.
Bester’s business successes are legendary, the rumours of how he achieved those successes just as fabled. To offset any negativity, he is heavily involved in charity missions around the drowned world, offsetting his massive profits helping the poor and sick wherever he can. The public and the private world of Alfred Bester mingle with myths and hearsay, making him a cypher known only to a few.
It is Bester’s gravitic absorption technology that provides the basis for the massive Hoop that surrounds the planet, a colossal nano-polymer carbon ring rotating in geosynchronous orbit twenty thousand kilometres above the equator—his crowning achievement. Neutralising the gravity well generated by the planet below made the Earth-orbital ringworld possible. With hundreds of millions of square kilometres of space on the Hoop’s internal surface, a viable atmosphere and Earth-like gravity provided by spin, a population of twenty billion of the richest people alive live in paradise, heaven made real. The Hoop is the base for Earthgov and every private mega-corporation in existence, the solar system’s centre of power, the hub of a business empire that controls everything and everyone.
The remnants of Earth’s population are limited to scattered airborne cities, hovering over blighted waveruin communities nestled in the tumultuous oceans that swamped the planet as the atmosphere warmed over centuries. The waveruins are the last domain of organised crime, marginalised by corporations far more powerful, efficient and deadly.
It’s his eyes though, that tell the real story of Alfred Bester. Steel grey, hypnotic and all knowing, they seem to pierce another’s soul and reveal their innermost secrets. Those eyes have seen the rise and fall of powerful people, corporations, governments—history itself. It’s rumoured Bester’s eyes are the last human pieces of the man, now immortal as a result of full subdermal armaturisation and macro-personality upload. But that’s just a rumour. He looks as human as ever.
Bester strides the corridors of power, his four clone velociraptor bodyguards springing lightly along behind him, their razor-sharp dewclaws tapping the floors as they sniff for threats and prey. Their cybernetically-enhanced vision scans constantly, identifying the surrounds in ultra violet and infrared.
Shi-Cho’s headstrong attack on the New York waveruin Triad was a mistake, but not unrecoverable. Bester may be the richest, most important man on the planet, but he is always conscious of the trading relationships he built along the way. The waveruin Triads generate limited Verso and Damage drug profits for some of his minor shelf companies, but it is not an arrangement he wishes to sacrifice needlessly. Control over even the most marginalised of the population is still control, after all. And Bester is all about control.
Bester comes to a halt at an enormous transteel window. Outside he can see the arch of the Hoop against a background of space and stars, rising up and shrinking in the distance as it curls around blue Earth below, disappearing in the planet’s shadow. The inner ring contains massive cities and extended natural landscapes as far as the eye can see, shrouded by the occasional high-level cloud system.
All his. All because of him. It never fails to impress even the most powerful man in the solar system.
Bester checks the experimental mass-matter transporter on his wrist, the size of a small wristwatch but perhaps the most complex feat of engineering ever created. A prototype short-range wormhole generator, currently being tested by himself. It’s something that will revolutionise future planetary and system travel and eventually expand his grasp to the distant stars, currently only reachable by transluminal arks undertaking five to ten-year journeys.
Hovering in space beyond the inner Hoop’s atmosphere is a kilometre-long cruiser, appearing in the distance as a thin tube studded with armaments and huge manoeuvring arrays—the Hyperion, Bester’s personal cruiser. His fingers deftly manipulate the hologram controls generated by the transporter on his wrist. His raptors stand ready, sensing the ionisation of the surrounding air. Space bends without a sound and Bester is instantly aboard the cruiser’s extensive bridge. His raptors stand furtively behind him. Outside the huge viewports, the Hoop and the Earth move in perfect synchronisation.
The Hyperion’s Captain stands to attention and salutes. “I’ll never get used to you just appearing, sir.”
Bester smiles. “One day soon, Captain Ward, this will be the only way to travel. Starships and interceptors will become the stuff of myth. Like the Disney Conglomerate, once the world’s biggest mega-corporation. And you know what I did with that.”
Captain Ward grins, his almond-shaped eyes becoming thin lines. “I hope there’s a place for me in your new instantaneous-travel-world, sir. What heading?”
“Flotsam station, over dark side. We’ll join Shi-Cho’s mercenary fleet and see if he’s worth the money I pay him.”
“On our way, sir.”
* * *
“You led them here in one of their own trace-enabled ships?” Johnston is flabbergasted. Kanji snorts and Jayle kicks her in the shins, shutting her up. Sarain stands behind, beaming and rubbing her massive zylex hands together. Violet sits on the couch, sucking her teddy bear’s ear, quietly watching proceedings.
“And these guys are our allies, now?” Johnston gestures to the Anvil, Granny Chun, Big Jimmy and a sheepish Olsin, standing behind Chao. Jimmy glares at Jayle, who winks and makes a show of fingering Jimmy’s .357 Magnum tucked safely in her gun belt. Chun and the Anvil smile and wave at Violet, who returns the gesture.
Lady Chao shrugs and Alida grimaces. “Get over it, Johnston,” says Chao. “You’re always harping on about how little action your team sees. Now is your time to shine.”
“Time to die, more like it,” says Johnston. “If Bester comes along for a joyride in his cruiser he can make this station into swiss cheese without raising a sweat.”
Lady Chao glances at Violet. “Not without swiss cheesing his daughter. And he’s gone to great lengths in the past to make sure she’s not hurt. I have to assume the lunatic in charge of his army isn’t that stupid.” She pauses for a moment, pondering. “Although they did destroy my tower with very little thought for who would be injured.”
Johnston sighs. “You pay the bills, Lady Chao. You’re the boss.” Behind him his team postures, as if posing for some invisible photo shoot. “Possibly for the last time,” he says.
“A quick question,” says the Anvil in her male voice. “Where can I get my hands on some memjets? I seem to have lost my supply when we were nearly drowned.” She eyes Chun, who pretends to check her nails.
Lady Chao raises an eyebrow. “Memory issues, armature? There are numerous malls and pharmacies around. You’d better make it quick, though. We need to brief with station command about our defensive strategy. I want you there.”
The Anvil leaves through a sliding door, Olsin skirting along behind. Chun frowns as she watches the armature exit.
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.