Shi-Cho smiles grimly as Flotsam station appears in the transteel cockpit window. At this distance it is little more than a tiny spinning tin can, a shining diamond against the charcoal disk of the planet below. Captain Hansen, seated in the pilot’s chair in front of Shi-Cho, gestures to a nearby monitor. “We’re being hailed by the Hyperion, sir. She’s about 500 kays off the port bow.”
“I’ll take the call in the back.” Shi-Cho heads to the private cabin and awkwardly seats his massive frame in the chair. The hologram flickers to life. It’s Bester; his long, lean features are less stern than usual.
“I want you to bring your ship to my cruiser,” says Bester.
Shi-Cho frowns. “You said I would have command of this operation.”
“You still have command. I have an alternative for you and I to get aboard while the assault takes place.”
“And what would that be?”
“Dock with my cruiser. I’ll show you when you get here.” The hologram fades and Shi-Cho’s eyes narrow suspiciously. “Gods-damned trillionaires and their secrets.”
* * *
Olsin rushes to catch up to the Anvil as it strides down the corridor.
“Hey,” says Olsin. “Slow down.”
The armature’s reply is curt. “I didn’t ask you to come with me.”
Olsin matches the Anvil’s stride, double-stepping to keep up. “Sugar, you just saw your daughter and hardly said ‘boo’,” she says. “Back in the cell you were ready to rip the walls down to save her. Obviously, something’s the matter.”
The Anvil keeps its eyes locked ahead. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Well, sugar, amongst my qualities of awesome hand-to-hand fighter and incredible shot, I’m also a great listener.”
The Anvil stops and turns to Olsin, its masculine face inscrutable. Olsin shrugs and smiles, and they continue walking. Around them, technicians, troops and general staff run around like lab rats missing a maze, as Flotsam preps for attack. A siren starts to wail and the overhead glowglobes change colour, painting the surrounds scarlet.
“We need to hurry, Bester’s mercenary fleet must be within range,” says the Anvil. Picking up the pace, they run until they come to a large room, walls layered with colourful vending machines. They pass fast food, clothing, fetish and gun vending machines before they arrive at a pharmaceutical dispenser. “Memjets,” says the Anvil, palmchip hovering over the sensor. A plastic pill case drops into the collection slot as money is transferred. Grabbing the box, the armature flips two tablets into its mouth and swallows. The synthi-flesh nub of the Anvil’s missing left arm throbs sympathetically.
“Recall problems, huh?” says Olsin. “I don’t suppose this has anything to do with your attitude towards your little girl?” The armature frowns and starts back to the briefing room, Olsin jogging beside her.
“Look, sugar,” Olsin says. “I may not know you that well—hell, I only just found out you were a woman thirty minutes ago—but I sense you’ve got some heavy-duty crap going on. Aside from having your ass whipped and losing an arm, that is. If I’m going to be fighting alongside you, I’d prefer to know your head’s in the game.” The Anvil continues silently.
Olsin sighs. “Hell, sugar, you might as well actually be a man. You sure do act like one.”
The Anvil stops abruptly. “That’s the problem,” it says, a frown creasing its masculine brow. “I think I am a man.”
“So, you’re not a woman, after all?”
“I don’t think I’m Violet’s mother, either. But someone wants me to think I am.”
* * *
Chun fingers the pumpgun hanging at her side as the briefing officer informs the team of the boarding defence strategy. There are numerous hologram displays clogging the air: lots of pretty icons and moving arrows, station and weapon schematics. She sighs and rolls her eyes every few minutes. Violet stands at her side, cuddling Chun’s leg with one arm and her teddy with the other. Chun soothingly runs her fingers through the little girl’s hair.
Jimmy stands beside her, arms crossed, moody and unimpressed. Every once in a while, his eyes dart to Jayle, who is less interested in the plan than Chun is. She sticks out her tongue, teasing the little man as she spins his antique Magnum around her finger. Jimmy grinds his teeth, cocking his station-issued auto-pistol. Chun places her palm on the barrel and guides it downwards, shaking her head.
The holograms fade, the circus over; the briefing officer exits. Lady Chao stands out front, tall and menacing, neon dragon tattoos on her durasteel arms shining like warning signs up and down dual roadways. Her assistant Alida hovers behind, looking as inconsequential as she feels. Johnston addresses the team.
“You heard the defence plan,” he says. “The Flotsam defence teams will cover the docking bays at northside and southside. There’s always the chance Bester’s mercs could enter elsewhere, but that might end up depressurising the station and I don’t believe he’d be stupid enough to do that. Our job is to prevent anyone getting to Violet Bester and use the confusion of the attack to get her out of here. We’ll be in two teams—one directly responsible for the girl and the other to provide backup and fire support.” He eyes the newcomers warily. “The boss insists we mix and match, so Kanji and Jayle will go with Chun and Jimmy in Kid Bester’s team and the Anvil, Olsin, Sarain and myself will be the fire team. Any questions?”
The door slides open and the Anvil and Olsin step in. “Yeah,” says Olsin. “Mind repeating that?”
* * *
The massive shell of Bester’s cruiser dwarfs Shi-Cho’s troop carrier as it snuggles into the Hyperion’s docking bay like a baby in utero. Shi-Cho makes his way to the bridge, the slider lifts taking much less time than expected, given the distance. The doors part silently to reveal a control area at least fifty metres across, studded with transteel-encapsulated flight officers, vast hologrammatic screens, and recessed operations cavities filled with vacc-suited men and women. A floating viewing platform dominates the centre, facing massive ten metre-high transteel view ports overlooking Flotsam station, a few hundred kilometres distant. Bester’s lithe figure stands next to the vacc-suited Captain Ward. Four two-metre high raptors festooned with cybernetics, aggressively sniffing the air and tapping their dewclaws, hover behind.
A localised anti-grav field glides Shi-Cho onto the viewing platform. The raptors immediately tense as they face him. He stares them down, his internal sensors and pre-cursive tracking arrays registering their armaments, plotting potential attack and defence vectors; his HUD is a wash of colour impressions and data.
Bester turns. “Shi-Cho, your fleet can commence its attack. It will be a diversion—you and I will be entering the station separately while the station crew are distracted.”
Shi-Cho sends a message to his fleet vessel commanders. In the huge view ports the flotilla of ships closes on the station, splitting into two groups and heading for the north and southside docking bays. Streams of silent plasma light up the dark as various station defensive turrets respond. Several troop ships and interceptors explode in brief, distant flashes. Captain Ward gestures to his operators below, and multiple munitions-seeking fission torps launch silently from the Hyperion, bright contrails hanging in their wake. Flechette defence arrays launch from the Flotsam. Some of the torps are curtailed, but most get through. There are flares across the station’s knobbly surface, and the turrets and missile bays are no more. Ward turns to Bester. “All external defences neutralised, sir.”
Bester watches as several of Shi-Cho’s ships dock at both ends of the station, with others holding position around Flotsam to prevent any life pod evacs. As the minutes pass, comms transmissions from the ground assault troops advise heavy resistance portside.
Bester checks his watch, a brief holographic panel flickering to life, his fingers darting across translucent keys. Shi-Cho looks on curiously. He’s never seen a watch like that before.
“It’s time for us to pay Lady Chao a visit,” says Bester.
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.