Anvil. Part 20.

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.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

Anvil. Part 19.

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.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

Anvil. Part 18.

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.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

Anvil. Part 17.

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.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

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 🙂

Anvil. Part 15.

The distant sound of automatic gunfire and plasma rounds echo from within the skeletal remains of the Chao Triad building.

In the interceptor, Olsin’s finger pauses over the tether recall button. She notes two murky shapes in the dirty haze behind Granny Chun.

“I think you had better rethink your options,” says Lady Chao as she exits the dust, an HPR Launcher hefted on her shoulder. Assistant Alida crouches trembling behind her, eyes tight, hands over her ears.

Chun raises her pumpgun, eyeing the Anvil’s unconscious form protectively. “Of course, it seems we are at an impasse,” she says.

“You will take me with you in that interceptor,” says Chao. Alida squeaks from behind and Chao rolls her eyes. “I suppose you’d better take my assistant as well.”

“Of course, why should I? Because we were lovers in a past life?”

“Nothing so prosaic. The fleet outside is about to be conveniently distracted. And you have no way of finding the girl without me.”

Chun’s eyes narrow and she lowers her weapon. She glances at the hovering interceptor behind, at the Anvil’s bulky form beside her, and sighs. “Of course, you’ll have to leave the launcher behind. It’s going to be a bit squishy onboard.”

* * *

Captain Hansen hasn’t received word from Commander Shi-Cho since the hangar explosion, but Shi-Cho’s interceptor exited the building and is now hovering outside the damaged bay. He stands behind his pilot, his airborne troop carrier suspended less than a hundred metres away from Shi-Cho’s craft, awaiting further orders. Hansen frowns impatiently as the interceptor holds its position, blocking any views or scans of the hangar’s interior. “Open coms to the Commander’s ship,” he snaps to his pilot.

Suddenly the top of Chao’s headquarters erupts as a nearspace orbiter thrusts itself into the air, rear afterburn decimating the plasteel panels around it. “That’s Chao’s escape shuttle,” says Hansen. On open com: “All ships, intercept and take that orbiter. We want Chao alive!”

* * *

Olsin turns to the side door as Chun climbs in, guiding the Anvil’s tethered body to the floor between the rear benches. Jimmy swears as Lady Chao and Alida clamber in unceremoniously behind them.

“And the trip just got better, yet again,” he says, rolling his eyes.

“I suggest we forego the pleasantries and get out of here while Shi-Cho’s fleet chases my orbiter,” says Chao, strapping into her seat. “It won’t take very long before the ruse is uncovered.” She notes Olsin in the pilot chair and frowns. “The mystery of your escape is solved. I’ll discuss this with my ex-guard later.” Chao flexes her durasteel fingers. Olsin gulps and glances back to the control panel.

Chun aims her pumpgun at Chao. Alida quivers in her seat and pretends to be elsewhere. “Of course, just remember you’re my guests,” says Chun. “Play nice.”

“How many more guests are coming along on this little jaunt?” says Jimmy under his breath, scowling and folding his arms.

Olsin’s fingers flicker over the control panel; the multi-turbine engines rotate to the rear and the interceptor shoots away from Chao’s ruined headquarters as Shi-Cho’s fleet pursues the orbiter into the ionosphere.

* * *

Shi-Cho shakes his head as he rises from the rubble. The last thing he remembers was holding the armature’s skull in his fist, closing his fingers around its jaw, awaiting the inevitable cracking of bone and sinew. Then an intense light followed by blackness.

His autorecall plays back the scene: a full power discharge from the enemy armature overwhelmed his parasite flange, the resulting power surge causing a massive EMP disruption that his bioscreens couldn’t block. He went down like a sack of ricemeal.

Shi-Cho glances around as his vision clears. The other armature has disappeared. He stumbles through twisted metal and plasteel debris as his power levels creep back to normal and infrared and ultraviolet ocular sensors take in the surrounds. Internal protein revitalisers repair skin cuts and abrasions. Reformative layering processes rebuild his outer body armour.

Shi-Cho returns to the remains of the hangar, unrecognisable from the ordered launch bay it was previously. His interceptor is gone. So, too, is his fleet. “Damn,” he says.

* * *

Shi-Cho’s interceptor exits the atmosphere and glides silently through the vacuum of the periphery. The turbines close and retros engage across the hull as Olsin manoeuvres the ship into an orbital lock.

“Of course, nice work,” says Chun. Olsin turns her head and grins, then snaps it quickly back as Chao glares.

“Time to earn your passage,” says Chun to Chao.

Chao eyes her long red nails, one of which has broken, and sighs. “You’ll want to avoid the Hoopworld that encircles the planet. As you know Bester owns it—if you so much as place a foot anywhere on it you’ll be seized by his people. You’ll need to find a place to refuel if you want to find the girl.”

Jimmy fiddles with his beard. “And now I’m a wanted man with no options. Just gets better and better.”

Chun checks the Anvil, its body floating gently in zero-g between the passengers in the space between the rear benches. The various glowing power and revitaliser cables connected to its frame twist like snakes. The armature is not breathing, the process simulation having ceased to divert power to internal recovery processors. The left arm is a shallow stump at the shoulder, where subdermal mesh has sealed the wound and covered it with synthi-flesh.

Chao smiles. “It seems your friend has met his match.”

Chun frowns. “Of course, how about you tell us how we can get to our real destination.”

“How do I know you won’t space me before we get there?”

“Because unlike you, I have a sense of personal honour. I give you my word we will not harm you if you help us retrieve Violet.”

“And I assume that you also don’t want my assets to hunt you down like dogs once you have her.”

“Of course; that too.”

“There is a freeport station over darkside, called Flotsam. It’s owned by a dummy corporation that belongs to my Triad consortium. Take me there and we’ll find the girl together. We should have enough fuel to make it. You can refuel there or book passage on an offworlder, if you so choose.”

Chun grimaces. “So, we’re going to a space station you own. Of course, we have to trust you won’t have us killed when we get there.” Jimmy frowns and fingers his beard. Olsin visibly gulps.

Chao smirks. “Well, my love. Life wasn’t meant to be easy.”

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 🙂

Anvil. Part 14.

“Get to the interceptor,” says the Anvil, gritting her teeth. As Chun, Jimmy and Olsin exit stage left, she flexes her fingers and tenses. Autonomic sensors and variable defence pattern assessments are whirling around her brain. Her HUD is flashing multiple warnings, red, red, red. She’s outclassed by the hulking armature before her.

Shi-Cho is relaxed, almost casual. He doesn’t take his eyes off the Anvil. All his sensor readings indicate his power levels and damage capacity easily outweigh his opponent’s. He’s aware, however, sensors can be deceived, and challenges are measured by more than just heads up display data.

They move simultaneously, twin blurs of motion. The impact of collision cracks like thunder, shaking the room and making Chun and her companions stumble as they climb into the nearest jet—Shi-Cho’s interceptor. “What the holy,” says Jimmy, grimacing. Chun frowns and points to the rear bench, climbing in after him. Olsin takes the flight chair up front, strapping in and activating the console. Multi-turbine engines churn into motion.

Shi-Cho fires his MWEs blindly, but the Anvil has his arms held up and away from her bulk. Her own MWEs are out of their forearm housings, pointless in this position. She headbutts the big armature hard, but the resounding crack leaves both none the worse for wear. Their legs strain against the deck as they vie for position. Holes appear in surrounding walls like magic, plasteel melting like butter as random MWE shots miss their marks.

“Not bad,” says Shi-Cho. “But my little upgrade hasn’t shown what I can really do, yet.”

“Less talk,” replies the Anvil through clenched teeth.

She senses Shi-Cho’s power level increasing. At the same time readings show her own levels dropping–strength, leeched away. Staggering, she releases her grip. Shi-Cho’s fist strikes her chest and pain receptors go wild as she’s flung back into the hangar’s rear wall, crumpling the plasteel like foil.

Shi-Cho brushes dust from his shoulders. “This new model has a parasite flange. When we’re close enough I can drain your energy and supercharge my punches.” He smiles, smugly. “Just thought you’d like to know.” Shi-Cho marches forward through the debris, an ominous premonition veiled in dust and smoke.

The Anvil rises, fires her MWEs directly at his skull. The invisible beams have no effect. Moments later a Microwave Dismissal Field registers on her sensors—it must have been cloaked. She returns the MWEs to their housings. No point leaving them out. She can taste the iron of synth-blood in her mouth, smell her fear as if it was a tangible, lingering scent in the air.

“You are hopelessly outgunned,” says Shi-Cho. “Want to give up now?”

“I’ll take my chances,” says the Anvil, not as audaciously as she would have liked.

“I hoped you’d say that.”

The next impact drives the Anvil through the wall into the room beyond. Metal and plasteel debris, dust and synth-blood fill the air. She’s conscious of multiple wounds across her body. Pain is a constant cloud, mulling through her brain, racking her body. Damage inhibitors work overtime to repair her, taxed to their limit. The last thing she sees before passing out is Shi-Cho leaning over, a huge hand reaching down.

* * *

Memories flood her senses: she sees a boy, fresh out of cadet school, raising his first plasma rifle; now a teenager, making his way efficiently through a zero-g assault course; a weary adult male in jungle fatigues, sniping insurgents with gola rounds.

At the same time her daughter, laughing and playing on the rooftop garden of Bester tower. Several guards stand protectively around her. The Anvil sees the child smile at the man she pictured earlier, this time in a business suit. He smirks in return, puts his hand to an earpiece, responding to orders from an unknown source.

The Anvil is rudely awakened, screaming as her left arm is torn from its socket.

* * *

Lady Chao finishes Shi-Cho’s soldier off, twisting his neck until it breaks. The body drops listlessly to the floor. Alida looks on, eyes and mouth wide, blood-spattered face pale.

“Come now, Alida,” says Chao. “If you want to be my assistant, you’ll need to be made of sterner stuff.” She strides off to the waiting orbital shuttle, hanging vertically within its launch chamber and visible through the room’s transteel windows.

Alida stumbles behind her, glancing nervously back to the closed iris door they entered through prior to taking out the troops. “Won’t they shoot us out of the air?”

Chao smiles. “They will try.”

* * *

Olsin hovers Shi-Cho’s interceptor just outside the ruined hangar, fifty metres above roiling waves. The rain has started again, great torrents of water shadowing the surrounding buildings, flyers and seas below. Around them Shi-Cho’s fleet is assembled: multiple troop carriers, interceptors, bombers. They choke the open space between the waveruins, flitting this way and that, all with pre-assigned tasks, none paying attention to Olsin’s jet.

“Now’s our opportunity to get out of here,” she says.

“Of course, not until we have the Anvil,” says Chun, watching the gaping gash in the hangar entry for any signs of movement.

Jimmy glances anxiously from port to port. “It won’t be long before these guys realise we’re not their boss.”

Olsin grips the flightstick tighter.

* * *

Shi-Cho holds the Anvil’s left arm aloft, synthetic blood dripping, frayed plasti-synth muscle fibres dangling from bicep and tricep joins. Subdermal mesh closes over the gaping wound under the Anvil’s shoulder, protein revitalisers and antishock gels flooding her system. Her HUD registers massive system damage.

“This would make a nice trophy,” says Shi-Cho, before tossing it aside. “But I’d rather have your head.” He reaches down, fingers enclosing the Anvil’s mouth and lower jaw.

She murmurs something through his grip. Shi-Cho’s eyes widen as the world turns phosphor white.

* * *

The hangar erupts, a massive explosion ejecting debris into Shi-Cho’s interceptor. Most of it bounces off the vehicle’s shields. Olsin and her passengers are buffeted left and right by the blast. “What in the holy was that?” cries Jimmy.

“We have to go, sugar,” says Olsin. “Look, the guy is hot, but if we don’t move it we’re going to end up swimming, and I hate swimming.”

“Not yet,” says Chun.

* * *

The smoke is thick. Most of her sensors are out. The Anvil clambers over Shi-Cho’s unconscious form, shaking and weak-kneed, falling every few steps. Synthetic blood leaks from numerous gashes and tears across her male body. Her power is almost shot—a full discharge was enough to take out Shi-Cho temporarily, but she has nothing left. She can barely make it to the edge of the hangar, where flames play tag around distorted metal and transteel detritus. The Anvil collapses.

A shadow appears, tethered to nowhere, consumed by oily smoke. “Of course, you can stay here if you want,” says Chun. “But I think you’d rather be elsewhere right now.”

The Anvil manages a tight-lipped smile as Chun wraps an auxiliary tether around her battered form, then signals Olsin to reel them in.

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). 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 🙂

Anvil. Part 13.

Olsin leads the motley crew of escapees through gleaming corridors towards one of the many tower hangars. As they approach a corner she places a hand on the Anvil’s groin and whispers “Wait, sugar.” Her hand lingers for an uncomfortably long time, then waves them onwards. Olsin’s carbine is at her shoulder, eye to sight, darting the weapon back and forth as she aims and walks.

The building rocks to the sound of a muffled explosion. “What the holy was that?” says Big Jimmy, glancing up as several hovering glowglobes flicker above.

“Of course, it sounds like Bester’s men have found this place,” says Granny Chun. “We need those weapons now, Olsin.”

Olsin grimaces as the building rocks again to the sound of numerous distant thuds. “This way,” she says. “And move it.”

***

Shi-Cho watches with satisfaction from the cockpit of his interceptor as Lady Chao’s Triad headquarters is pummelled and pounded by a succession of missiles and plasma beams. Gun emplacements erupt, hangars spew flame and debris, communications arrays splinter and fall. He’s surprised the building is so robust—obviously internal armour and a strengthened superstructure—it didn’t look like much to begin with, but outward appearances can be deceiving.

He addresses his commanders in the concealed fleet by com. “One carrier to each entry port or hangar, another two carriers at ocean-level to prevent any boats leaving. External assault will be over soon and internal opposition may be high. I want Lady Chao taken alive. Anyone else can be terminated.”

A hologram of Bester appears on the console, his face livid. “Shi-Cho! I thought I told you I didn’t want to make enemies of the Triads. I’m informed that your fleet has assaulted Lady Chao’s tower. Is this your version of diplomacy?”

Shi-Cho smiles, but keeps his attention on the attack. “Listen boss, do you want your daughter back or not?”

“Of course, I do, but—”

“Then let me do the job you’re paying me for.” Shi-Cho flicks the holo off.

***

Guards run left and right, rushing to defend demolished hangars and other entry points. Smoke fills the corridors as Olsin leads the group to an armoury. Her palmchip opens the sliding door and she ushers everyone in as she keeps watch. “Grab what you need and make it fast,” she says.

The external attack appears to have ceased; the building no longer stutters and shakes, the occasional electrical failure and cry of wounded echoing through haze-filled corridors denote its passing.

The walls of the armoury are filled with gun racks. The Anvil watches as Chun and Jimmy seize flechette carbines and plasma pistols, flashcans and frag grenades. Chun takes a pumpgun for good measure. Both strap on armoured vests.

The Anvil activates her MWEs, popping them out of their forearm housings. Her sensors are on full alert, scanning the surrounds, sensing body heat through walls, calculating movement vectors and intercept algorithms. “Ready?” she says.

Chun cocks the pumpgun for effect. “Of course. Feels good to be armed again.”

Big Jimmy pouts. “I’d rather have my Magnum any day. Let’s go get it back.”

The Anvil raises an eyebrow. “And Violet.”

“Yeah, yeah, her too.”

They meet up with Olsin outside, who eyes the MWEs cautiously. “Don’t even think about using those on me, sugar,” she says.

The Anvil frowns. “I gave you my word.”

“Yeah, well you can walk in front from now on.” Olsin nudges the Anvil with her carbine barrel. “Straight down here, then turn left. There’s a hangar about twenty-five metres down that corridor.”

Chun and Jimmy hold their carbines at the ready, covering the rear as the party moves forward through the smoke.

***

Lady Chao clutches the armrest of her ornate throne, crushing the antique wood with durasteel fingers. The hologram in the air before her plays out the battle, showing the de-cloaked carriers and interceptors surrounding and docking with her tower. Separate views show firefights and skirmishes between her guards and assault teams on various levels.

“Should have known not to trust Bester,” she says, sighing.

The tall aide-de-camp standing beside Chao shivers and self-consciously straightens her uniform. Her shoulder length blonde hair glimmers with biocrystal highlights in the glowglobe light. “It appears the battle is not in our favour, Lady Chao,” she says nervously.

“You have a wonderful capacity for stating the obvious.”

Chao rises and the aide cringes, expecting a physical rebuke. “What’s your name?” says Chao.

The girl stammers in response. “Alida.”

“I’m going to need you to accompany me to my orbiter, Alida,” says Chao.

Alida’s face brightens and she bows. “Thank you, Lady Chao. I am most honoured you feel me worthy to continue as your assistant.”

“I may need a human shield,” says Chao, exiting the room with Alida close on her heels.

***

Shi-Cho strides through wreckage and torn and bloody bodies. Assault troops in blue exo-armour on each side of him cover his entrance. He addresses a nearby Captain. “Update?”

“Ground resistance at all entry points has been neutralised,” says the Captain, standing to attention. “Sporadic skirmishes further into the superstructure. We should have a retrieval team at Chao’s inner sanctum within minutes.”

Shi-Cho smiles. “Good. Anything else?”

“We have a fireteam at the cellblock reporting that one of the guards was found dead and the cells empty.”

“Continue with sweeps. The synthetic and its companions are on the loose. Advise your men to be cautious when approaching—the armature is dangerous and its companions are probably armed by now.”

The air erupts with gunfire as flechette rounds ricochet and burst. Armour and limbs are shredded as frag grenades detonate. MWE blasts take out the remaining guards, heads erupting in pulpy masses. Shi-Cho stands amongst the detritus, dust and a few scratches marring his otherwise perfect countenance. The captain lies sprawled on the floor beside him, his skull flowering like a bloody rose.

“Of course, this may be a good time to surrender,” says Chun, appearing through the smoke, her pumpgun raised expectantly. Olsin, Jimmy and the Anvil appear beside her, cannons bristling.

Shi-Cho rubs his palms together gleefully. “You’re the armature that’s given everyone so much trouble,” he says, nodding to the Anvil. “Remember me? You tossed me through a wall.”

The Anvil grins, shrugs. “I’m sure you deserved it at the time.”

Shi-Cho laughs. It’s a creepy, grating laugh that sets all on edge. “I’ve been looking forward to a rematch.” He clenches his fists, which glow with a pale, internal light. “You’re not the only one with hidden surprises.”

The Anvil scans the big man in front of her. The previously ‘human-elementary’ reading is now lighting up with all sorts of emergency vectors and warnings. “Let’s get this over with, then,” she says.

To be continued…

Missed earlier instalments? Click here.

What is ANVIL?

ANVIL is a deliberately unplanned, multi-part short story I’ve created to challenge myself as a writer (I’ve done this before with The Sale – check it out). 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 🙂

Anvil. Part 12.

Granny Chun is led sedately to a cell opposite the Anvil’s. She catches a glimpse of the big male skull behind the tiny transteel window as she is pushed gently into her cell by two armoured guards. Prison guard Olsin smiles at the Anvil as she palms the door closed and waves the escort away.

“Like the look of him, huh?” says Hanx, relaxing with his feet up on his console. He’s wiping his sidearm with a soft cloth, a smokeless e-cig hanging from the corner of his mouth.

Olsin drops into a revolving chair next to him. “He’s pretty hot for a biomachine.” She twists a finger through her golden locks and absently fingers her scar, eyeing the Anvil’s cell door.

Hanx guffaws. “You’ll do anything,” he says, smoothly rubbing the cloth around the autopistol’s barrel.

The Anvil returns to her bench. She keeps scanning the room, over and over, until the repetition becomes a meditation.

***

Chao and Johnston are walking a steely corridor, it’s length broken at two metre intervals by ornately potted orchids hovering in suspensor-pods at various heights from the floor. Chao is flexing her durasteel fingers, as she often does when she thinks. Johnston deferentially walks a few steps behind.

“I want the girl moved off world ASAP,” Chao says. “I’ll reach out to Bester as soon as I know she’s locked down. She’s not secure here.”

“I’ll get on it straight away,” says Johnston.

Chao stops suddenly and Johnston almost collides with her. She turns and looks him in the eye. “No mistakes,” she says. “I can’t stress this enough—anything goes wrong and I will find you.” Johnston shrinks under her gaze. “There is nowhere you can hide.”

“There will be no mistakes,” he says, his voice breaking nervously.

***

Shi-Cho has assembled a troop of armatures and mercenaries, the best that money can buy. He has twelve assault carriers, ten interceptors and almost thirty armed drones. His cloaked fleet is en route to the city’s underside and from there down to the waveruins, where the tides play languidly with the rotting towers like they’re vestigial toys of yesteryear.

The tiny hologram of Bester flickers momentarily as the fleet passes through the gaps between the overcity’s airborne spires and tethered transtubes. “I want you to contact the undercity triads. They’ll have the best idea about where Violet might be.”

Shi-Cho smiles as he flexes his powerful new armature muscles. “No problem, boss.”

“I don’t want a war with the triads,” says Bester. “They’re good customers. Don’t be afraid to get a bit pushy, though—this is my daughter we’re talking about. Violet must not be harmed. If a hair on her head is damaged, I’ll hold you responsible. And if you think that new armature body will protect you from my wrath, think again.”

Shi-Cho grimaces and salutes mockingly. “Your will be done, Mister Bester.”

***

Johnston and Kanji arrive at the door to Violet’s cell, ignoring the two lounging guards. Kanji’s vicious metal arm, adorned with spikes and razors, glints wickedly in the glowglobe light. The ruby-red sensors where her eyes should be are unsettling.

“We’re moving the asset,” says Johnston. “Open the door.”

Olsin stands and strides over, carbine at the ready. “On whose authority?” She’s shorter than the two mercs, but her eyes are fiery—she takes her job seriously. Hanx watches from his seat with wry amusement.

Kanji smiles, displaying rows of disconcertingly filed teeth. “I suggest you do it.”

Hanx flicks the switch to the cell door and it slides smoothly open. “Nobody tells us nothing,” he says.

Violet stirs from her sleep, rubs her eyes and stares vaguely at the figures before her. Johnston fires a tranq dart into her chest and the little girl drops like a stone. He lifts her body gently and leaves the cell block, Kanji walking behind, eyeing the guards.

The Anvil’s cries are silenced by the surrounding walls, but the muffled sound of her manacled fists beating on the doorframe brings Olsin over. The guard hits the com and hears the Anvil’s screaming voice: “They can’t take her! You need to let me out of here now!”

“Settle down, sugar,” says Olsin. “Save your energy—you aren’t going anywhere.” She shuts off the com and settles back down in her chair as the Anvil continues to pound on the door.

***

Shi-Cho closes off the hologram. The third triad boss he’s spoken with and none have any idea about Bester’s daughter. There are another seven controlling the sprawling undercity waveruins.

Next: Lady Chao in District 7. Here’s hoping she knows something, he thinks.

***

The Anvil’s internal clock tells her three hours have passed since Violet was taken. She stopped trying to break down the door after ten minutes—the manacles draining her strength made it a useless proposition from the start.

Outside the transteel observation port, she can see Hanx and Olsin playing cards.

Across the way, Chun is at her window. She’s signalling with her fingers; an old army code, somehow ingrained in the Anvil’s mind. She wishes her memories of motherhood were as complete.

Bribe the girl, signals Chun. She likes you. Play on that.

The Anvil taps on the glass. It takes a good few minutes of this before the guards notice and roll their eyes. Olsin gets up and fingers the intercom. “What’s up?”

The Anvil holds her bank account palm hologram up to the tiny window. “I need out of here,” she says, smiling. “As you can see, I have enough money to pay my way.” Olsin’s eyes widen. “If that’s not enough I can help you in other ways.” The Anvil raises her male eyebrow in what she thinks may be a sexy way, unsure if it comes across as leery. She’s not used to being in a man’s body, after all.

Olsin calls to Hanx, who reluctantly comes over. The Anvil continues: “Free me and my companions, escort us to a jet and you can have as much as you need to start a new life.”

Hanx rubs his shaved pate thoughtfully. He glances at Olsin, who’s considering her options. “Chao would track us down and kill us,” he says. “I like being alive.”

Olsin stares at the Anvil’s masculine face beyond the transteel. His eyes are very blue, his jaw looks like it was chiselled from steel; she likes that in a man—synthetic or not. She puts a carbine shell into Hanx’s gut. As he collapses to the floor in disbelief she fires another into his skull. Quickly to the console to kill the zipcameras and another flick to open the cell doors.

The Anvil steps out, manacles and neck brace glowing. Olsin strides over to her and kisses the armature longingly on the lips. “I want the money and you,” she says. Olsin presses the carbine between the Anvil’s eyes. “But how do I know I can trust you?”

Granny Chun stretches and files into the corridor between the cells. “Of course, we need weapons and an escort. It would not be wise to try and fight our way out of here. Of course, we need you.”

Big Jimmy walks over to stand beside Chun, looks up to her. “I want my gun back.”

The Anvil holds out her manacled hands. “I give you my word I won’t renege on the deal. I owe Jimmy as well.”

“Damn straight, you do,” says Jimmy.

***

“I have Bester’s daughter,” says the hologram of Lady Chao. “But she’s not in my district. I’ve hidden her away so we can…negotiate a return.”

Shi-Cho’s eyes narrow. “It would be in your best interests to hand over the girl.”

Chao laughs and the hologram flickers. “I’ve had her placed in a transluminal containment field in transit. That’s a tachyon sensor block, in case you don’t know. You won’t find her.”

Shi-Cho frowns. “Perhaps we should talk face-to-face.”

“Meet me at my tower—you know where to find me. You alone, and no one else.” The console hologram flickers and fades.

Outside the interceptor’s cockpit windows, Chao’s misshapen district tower looms in the dark, the crashing waves below hidden in the murky night. Behind Shi-Cho’s interceptor, his cloaked fleet hovers silently, untraceable. Not quite a transluminal field, but the next best thing.

The HUD in his eyes shows the planned trajectory of multiple missiles toward the tower, faintly glowing paths targeting flight decks, gun emplacements and communications dishes. One thought and the missiles are away, gliding silently through the air, each seeking their final destination. Shi-Cho activates his fleet com.

“Lady Chao is to be taken alive,” he says. “Other than that: no prisoners.”

To be continued…

Missed earlier instalments? Click here.

What is ANVIL?

ANVIL is a deliberately unplanned, multi-part short story I’ve created to challenge myself as a writer (I’ve done this before with The Sale – check it out). 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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