The Anvil stares down at Johnston, who unflinchingly returns the look. “You have a problem?” says Johnston.
“Why am I not with Violet?” says the Anvil.
“You’re too close to her. Might impede your judgement in combat.” Johnston raises his flechette carbine. “Now you better back off, friend. I like my personal space.”
Olsin steps between the two. “He’s fine, sugar—aren’t you?” She raises an eyebrow at the Anvil, who nods and backs away.
Johnston frowns. “You better keep the synthetic in line, Olsin.” He walks over to where Sarain leans against the corridor wall. Glancing back at the ex-Triad guard: “And Lady Chao is still keen to have a chat with you when this is all over.”
Olsin tries hard not to, but swallows anyway. “That’s a conversation I so look forward to,” she says under her breath. She moves over to where the Anvil stands, gazing out a transteel port at the clusters of ships surrounding the station. The glowglobe lights above are still red, giving the corridor and its occupants a crimson hue. Distant, muffled sounds of shots and explosions are background white noise—Bester’s mercenaries are advancing into the station from the end docks.
“You okay, sugar?” Olsin says, before lowering her voice. “Those memjets kicked in yet?”
The Anvil glances down at her, shakes its head, then eyes Johnston and Sarain standing opposite them, speaking in hushed tones with each other.
Johnston looks at the Anvil. “That one’s going to be trouble,” he says. Sarain looks and nods. She pats her arm-mounted EMP cannon, her glowing neural fibre hair highlighting the barrel. “Don’t worry, boss—first sign of a problem and I take him out,” she says.
* * *
Jayle and Kanji lead Chun, Jimmy and Violet through the stark scarlet-illumined corridors of Flotsam station. Kanji’s ruby visual receptors highlight her frown, framed by her burgeoning dreadlocks. “The boss is upset with me again, isn’t he?” she says. “He didn’t even mention I was on your team.”
Jayle rolls her eyes. “I’ll never understand why you need his approval so much, Kanji.” She winks at the big African woman. “Maybe you’ve got the hots for him.”
Kanji starts and almost blushes. “He’s a fine-looking black man,” she says. “But I don’t mix business and pleasure.”
“Must be daddy issues, then.” Jayle ribs the big woman, laughs and winks. Kanji grimaces and giggles, her girlish titter at odds with her hulking presence and the barbed metal appendage that masquerades for a right arm.
Granny Chun holds one of Violet’s hands, the obligatory teddy bear glued to the little girl’s other. “You okay, sweetie?” says Chun. Violet looks up and nods, sucking her thumb. Chun smiles.
Big Jimmy moves up beside them, his fingers hovering reflexively over the auto-pistol in his leg holster. He looks up at Chun and whispers. “I assume you have a plan to get us out of this?”
Chun raises an eyebrow and whispers back. “Of course, what would that be? We’re on a Triad-owned space station about to be assaulted by the private army of richest man in the solar system, all in an effort to get back his little girl. What sort of plan did you expect me to come up with?”
Jimmy scowls. “Well, you always seem to know what you’re doing.”
Chun shrugs. “Of course, this time I’m just going with the flow. Let’s see where Lady Chao’s plan gets us.”
“As long as it doesn’t get us dead.”
* * *
Lu Chi has been an electrician on Flotsam for five years. It’s not a bad life, repairing faulty conduits and replacing broken glowglobes. The pay’s reasonable, the hours great. His wife and son share quarters with him (it’s not often that’s allowed on small stations); a quiet, unassuming life. At least, it was. The attack on the station threw him a curve ball. As soon as this sensor is replaced, I’ll get Lee and Xi and we’ll find an escape pod, Lu thinks. Get out of this place and never look back.
The red lights dim a moment. Lu glances up, curious, then returns to his work. There’s a strange metallic tapping sound on the floor behind him. He turns. The raptor tilts its head, a long strand of saliva dripping from its razor-sharp jaws as its silvery artificial eyes scan the technician. Lu drops his soldering iron and screams.
* * *
Shi Cho turns away. It isn’t often that he’s turned off by violence, but he never imagined the ferocity of the creatures. Bester smiles as he observes. “The perfect predators,” he says. “They didn’t deserve to stay extinct, so I brought them back—improved, of course.” A moment more and it’s over, the last of the technician consumed by the three beasts. Blood trails and spatter covered the surrounding walls.
Bester brings up a hologram display above his watch face: a three-dimensional schematic view of the Flotsam; a red dot indicator, about 500 metres away.
“You can track her?” says Shi-Cho.
“Only at short range,” says Bester. He whistles for his pets and the raptors scramble to his side. “Listen up, my beauties. You can kill anything you like, but not Violet.” The raptors nod, recognising his command syntax and pre-programmed vis-cues. “Now let’s see if we can find my daughter.”
* * *
The Anvil grabs its head, collapses to the floor. Johnston raises his pistol, steadying it with his other hand. “Olsin! What’s the matter with him?”
Olsin crouches beside the armature. “He’s taken memjets. He’s accessing lost memories.”
Johnston lowers his sidearm. “Just great. How long will he be out for?”
“Your guess is as good as mine, sugar.”
Sarain eyes the unconscious form on the floor. “And just what memories would those be?”
* * *
A rush of images, scents and sounds, blurred and wavering in and out, topped with strange popping sounds, as if from an antiquated speaker. The Anvil sees a man, the same its seen before, on the roof garden of Bester’s building. He’s dressed in a suit, with an ear piece. A tall, good looking fellow, stern faced and lean. A beautiful woman is talking to him, but the Anvil is too far away to hear.
The scene comes into focus, and the Anvil pushes his consciousness forward. The woman is Angelique Bester. The man is Dominic Casheur, one of Bester’s many security agents.
“I want to save Violet from him”, she says. “You’re the only one I trust to help me, Dominic.” Her hand on his face, a gesture of intimacy and closeness. “I have access to funds and a doctor. I’ll fit you out in one of the newest armatures. You’ll be Violet’s protector. I’ve hidden her away in the waveruins, but it’s only a matter of time before Bester tracks her down. You need to get her to the Loop. Promise me you’ll do it.”
They kiss, long and lovingly. Casheur says nothing, just nods.
The images spiral away and the light hits the Anvil’s eyes like a sledgehammer.
* * *
Olsin gasps as the armature’s eyes flick open. “Are you okay, sugar? You had me worried.”
The Anvil rises, rubbing his head. “Call me Dominic,” he says.
“You know who you are?”
“I know the who and the how. But not why I was brainwashed into thinking I was Violet’s mother.”
Johnston hovers over them. “What kind of messed up crap are you talking about?” he says.
The Anvil rises to his feet. “I think someone’s playing me. I just don’t know who, yet.” He turns to Johnston. “More than likely they’re playing you as well.”
* * *
Lady Koga’s interceptor hovers several hundred kilometres away from Flotsam, scanning and observing the surrounding mercenary flotilla and the massive Hyperion hanging over all. Her craft has the latest black horizon dead space tech, allowing it to be undetectable to the cruiser at this distance. She’s still cautious about getting too close, though—Bester is renowned for all sorts of off-the-grid experimental technology. The man is a scientific genius, after all.
Koga’s readouts indicate Bester is actually aboard the tiny cylindrical station, courtesy of a high-powered and undetectable nano-tracker the Triad sneaks into all their business associates. She frowns and runs her hand over her bald pate.
The spherical and limbless black robot strapped into the acceleration couch next to her rotates its single green eye to her. “Mission impact?”
“Let’s wait and see how this develops,” says Koga. “Patience is a virtue, and some lessons take time to teach.”
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.