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 🙂

Anvil. Part 11.

The Anvil struggles groggily to her feet. The room is silent. “What did I miss?” she says.

Lady Chao and Granny Chun are still kissing.

“Somebody want to fill me in on this development?” says the Anvil. Violet runs over to her and grabs her leg protectively. Sarain’s EMPG is at the Anvil’s head again. “No fancy moves,” says the oversized mercenary.

Chao and Chun separate. Chao blushes and steps back, realising the entire throne room is watching. “Of course, it’s good to see you, too,” says Chun with a wink.

Chao straightens her sleeves. “I knew you were at the District 7 tower,” she says. “We’ve been keeping tabs on you and Bester’s daughter since you arrived a few weeks ago.”

Chun smiles. “Of course, you didn’t drop in for a visit?”

Chao’s demeanour is fashioned in stone. “I’ve been very busy.” She steps back to the throne and sits. “Place the armature, the midget and the girl in separate holding cells. I will interrogate Chun.” A number of wry smiles around the room immediately disappear under Chao’s sullen stare.

Jayle winks at Johnston and whispers “I’m sure that will be a long discussion,” emphasising ‘long’.

Big Jimmy crosses his arms. “I’m not a midget,” he says. “I’m shorter than average.”

***

The powered manacles on the Anvil’s hands and feet match her glowing neck brace. The gentle hum of control atrophiers are a constant reminder that while held here she is unable to activate her strength, weapons or regenerative capabilities. It doesn’t prevent her assessing the cell’s capabilities and weak points, however. After a few minutes she gives up: it’s obvious she’s stuck here with no way out.

The cell is small—each wall five feet long and eight feet tall—with a steel bench and toilet on one side. The door across from the bench is a seamless part of the wall, with the exception of a tiny transmetal window at head height. The cell is completely sound proof.

The Anvil thinks about her predicament. She has a burning need to get Violet to safety. But how? She is frustrated not only with her inability to carry out the task, but with the infuriating lack of memories to go with it. Aside from the few visions she had earlier, no fresh recollections about her daughter have come forth. She’s still not sure how she feels about the child.

Was Angelique Bester a doting mother? Or was she just married to Bester for the money? No matter how much she tries, the memories remain locked away like diamonds in a security vault. Locked away, much like the Anvil is now.

***

Big Jimmy paces left and right in his spartan cell, muttering to himself. “Never should have agreed to take them out in the Clarissa,” he says. “Knew all that money was too good to be true.”

Every once in a while he feels for his magnum, but it’s not resting on his hip where it usually is. “This will look nice on my wall,” he says, mimicking Jayle’s higher pitch. “When I get out of here I’ll show you where it’ll fit nice, sister.”

***

Violet sits on her bench, nursing her teddy and sucking her thumb. She’s not sure why she’s here, or where the Anvil and Granny Chun have gone, but she’s sure they will return for her soon. She lays down and goes to sleep.

***

Olsin checks the tiny cell window to see the little girl asleep on the bench. She shakes her head. “I don’t get how that kid is so calm,” she says, glancing at Hanx, the other guard. “If I was that young, I’d be freaking out right now.” Olsen runs her fingers along a long facial scar, then through her blonde tresses, and rebalances her carbine in her other hand.

Hanx, a tall wiry fellow with a shaved head and silver eyes, leans against the wall, smoking an e-cig. “Forget it,” he says. “That’s not your problem. No way either of them is getting out of here. Just relax.” He inhales the e-cig, exhales a plume of nothingness. “Be thankful you weren’t on the fireteam that got funked going after these guys.”

***

The rooms of Chao’s secure quarters are huge, lavishly adorned in a mishmash of Chinese, Japanese and Korean stylings, taking up an entire level of the building. There are no windows—peaceful holographic visuals from a forest with Japan’s Mount Fuji in the background are projected just above the surface of the surrounding walls.

“Of course, I have to ask,” says Chun, cradling a cup of shoujiu in one hand as she reclines in a hovering portachair. “What do you intend to do with the Anvil and Violet? Oh, and Jimmy, of course?”

Chao downs her cup and places it on a hovering tray. It fills, as if by magic, via a very expensive subluminal nutriment processor, invisible to the naked eye. “You’re not really in a position to ask, Chun.” Chao drinks from her refilled cup. “But if you must know, I intend to negotiate with Bester regarding the girl.”

“Of course. The others?”

“The armature can be rebirthed. It’s an expensive piece of hardware that shouldn’t go to waste. As to the little fellow, he can join my organisation or a death match. I don’t really care one way or the other.”

“Of course, very generous of you.”

There is a long and uncomfortable silence that follows. Chao sits in another portachair opposite Chun, crossing her legs and fingering her cup aimlessly. Chun keeps her eyes on her captor.

“Why did you leave?” Chao’s voice has softened, almost a whisper.

Chun leans forward, smiling whistfully. Her face is a mass of lines and memories, each crease a dedication of years. “Of course, you know why, Chao. You were focussed on your business interests. I was focussed on myself.”

“So, you became a nanny to the stars.”

“Of course, as good a job as any. Believe you me, being a nanny for hire for overbearingly pompous rich people can be pretty stressful.”

Another pregnant pause. “We could have had children.”

Chun sighs. “I don’t believe that it would be ideal to raise children in this…environment.”

Chao stands, all business again. She places her cup on the hovering tray. “And I suppose dragging a child through the waveruins and out to sea was ideal.”

Chao rolls her eyes. “Lady Chao, I appreciate the drink, but I think that perhaps our business is at an end.”

Chao scowls. “I agree.”

Four armoured guards stride into the room and take position around Chun’s portachair. “Of course,” she says. “You always were very efficient.”

***

Shi-Cho flexes his new fingers. He can feel the power cascading through his limbs and body. He still looks human, but the fiery plasma and enhanced cyberaugs below the surface make him much more.

“The prototype M-series armature,” says a miniature holographic Bester, projected from the console of Shi-Cho’s interceptor. “Easy to acquire since I own the company. I won’t bore you with the specs. No doubt you’re absorbing them now.”

Shi-Cho’s eyes glow momentarily as the inlink feeds data directly to his synapses. “Now this is more like it,” he says.

“Good dog,” says Bester. “Now go and get my Violet back.”

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 10.

Lady Chao’s headquarters is just as ruinous as the other buildings surrounding it. Rusted metal supports play peek-a-boo through holey concrete walls. The lower levels are salt-sutured steel and raggedy plate glass. Only the top four levels are decently attired: various rooftop antennas, dishes and hangars; multiple gun emplacement bubbles poking through garish red panelling; open flight bays punctuating the walls with intent.

Kanji manoeuvres the interceptor into one of the flight bays and settles the jet down on its landing gear. The side door whooshes open and cluttered bodies pile out, Sarain still restraining the Anvil and Jayle dragging Chun and Jimmy’s unconscious frames. Johnston acknowledges several heavily armed guards, their neurolytic tasers and plasmafeed gunnery directed at the armature, Sarain’s EMG to its skull and her massive arm around its chest. Kanji exits last, pats the jet’s side affectionately and lights up a cigar.

The party makes its way from the hangar through a jumble of sleek, shiny corridors. The inside of the building is much better appointed and armoured than the externals would suggest. A few brief moments in a fast elevator and Johnston is leading the group to Lady Chao’s audience chamber (he refuses to call it a throne room). The grand double doors are engraved with oriental dragons, naked men and women, fire breathing snakes and lotus blossoms.

Inside, the walls are lined with armed and armoured guards. Their weapons snap to attention and target the Anvil. She raises her manly eyebrows at the welcome, while Sarain pushes her forward until they are less than five metres from the dais and the elegant wooden throne.

Lady Chao is not present. Johnston checks his watch. He taps his foot. Kanji puts out her cigar on her thigh and places the stub in a pocket. Jayle winds up her depleted plasma net and reloads it into its housing. Sarain releases the Anvil, but her EMPG hums mere centimetres behind the armature’s head.

Granny Chun comes to, clutching her skull. She eyes the throne as she stands. “Of course, that’s not good.” She grabs for her pumpgun, but it’s gone. Jayle shakes her finger and winks.

Big Jimmy rubs his head as he rises to his full four feet. Everyone in the place towers over him. “Plasma net. As if I didn’t have enough headaches for one day.”

Jayle fingers Jimmy’s .357 Magnum revolver, the butt extending from one of her belt pouches.

“Nice antique,” she says. “It’ll look nice on my wall.”

Jimmy glowers at her. “I’m glad I could help you out.”

“You guys all right?” says the Anvil, glancing back and forth between Chun and Jimmy.

“All right, shut up, everyone,” says Johnston, who ceases fidgeting as a sliding door behind the throne opens.

Lady Chao enters, her blue artisilk dragon robe swaying with a gentle swishing sound. She is a tall, older woman, with Asian almond eyes, big lashes, a nest of crow’s feet and long, steel grey hair. She carries herself regally, but there is more than a hint of menace, especially when her sleeve moves to reveal her engraved, durasteel arm. She slides into the throne and regards the Anvil with a frown cut from amber.

“You killed my fire team,” she says.

“They tried to kill us,” replies the Anvil.

“You stole my interceptor.”

“I didn’t destroy it, though. I was shot down.”

Chao eyes Johnston, one eyebrow raised. “It was necessary for the recovery op,” he says, sheepishly.

“In my defence,” says the Anvil. “I was just trying to get us to the launch tower. We were travelling by boat and your jet appeared.”

“My boat,” interjects Jimmy from behind, raising his hand. Chao glares at him and he fades back into the scenery.

“Where’s Bester’s little girl?” says Chao.

“You can’t have her,” replies the Anvil.

The EMPG pulses next to the Anvil’s skull and the armature collapses. Sarain pries open the back capsule and pulls Violet from within. The little girl clutches her teddy close. “Granny?” she says, through tears.

Granny Chun rushes forward before Jayle can stop her, kneeling and placing her arms protectively around Violet. She eyes Chao warily, who at this point had not noticed her standing behind. Chao’s eyes widen.

“Hello, Chao,” says Chun.

Every eye in the room looks to Chao and then back to Chun, almost comically in sync.

“Chun?”

“Of course. Long time, no see.”

Lady Chao rises from the throne. She strides slowly down the dais steps and moves toward Chun. Her arms rise and the artisilk sleeves drift back off her durasteel arm, the neon tattoos dancing in the glowglobe light. Her gleaming red nails reach towards Chun’s neck as the old nanny rises to meet the challenge, pushing Violet behind her.

The two women kiss.

Every male jaw in the room drops.

Jayle winks at Kanji. “Well, that was unexpected,” 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 9.

A sonic boom cracks the sky beneath the floating city. Tossing to and fro in the wild surf below, the little inflatable raft seems little more than a speck on the ocean’s roiling back. The aging interceptor slows and pulls up twenty metres above it, hovering unsteadily in the wind and rain.

Big Jimmy eyes the jet above, one hand shielding his eyes from percussive rain drops. “This a rescue? Or someone else to wanting to kill us?”

Observing the hovering silhouette, Chun pulls her pumpgun from her back holster and cocks it. The Anvil stares dourly at her. “A bit out of range, don’t you think?”

“Of course. But not for long, I suspect,” replies Chun.

***

Johnston watches the overhead monitor. The three figures in the boat below are shrouded in downpour and the image distorts further every few seconds. He hits the monitor with his palm. “Damn it, Kanji, can you get this picture any better?”

The pilot turns back, her metal eye pieces glinting in the cabin light. “You have a choice, Boss. We can take a dip in the ocean where you’ll get a better view, or I can keep this jet stable and you can have a crappy one. What’ll it be?”

Johnston swears. “Okay, I can’t tell who’s who down there, so we’ll have to assume they’re all hostile.” Jayle and Sarain smile at each other, activating various arm-mounted weapons: EMP cannon, Ion Taser, Plasma Net. “No fatalities,” Johnston says.

“Boss, we’re professionals,” says Jayle, winking. Her IT and PN mods are visible outside their forearm housings.

Sarain strokes her EMG, her massively oversized arms and chest armour barely fitting in the cabin. “Just open the door and let me have one shot.”

As if on command, the cabin door slides aside and the elements introduce themselves. Sarain leans out and fires a silent pulse at the raft below.

***

The Anvil’s systems die. She was about to attempt a shot from her MWEs when they both ceased functioning, returning involuntarily to their forearm housings. Chun sees the look of alarm on the Anvil’s usually unmoving masculine countenance.

“Probably an EMP pulse,” Chun says. “It’ll take a few minutes for your systems to reboot. Big Jimmy, time to show us what that antique handgun of yours can do.”

“Shit,” says Jimmy, pulling out his Magnum as he continues to shield his eyes from the deluge.

An amplified voice from above: “Lay down your weapons. We know about the armature. We don’t want any trouble. We can get you out of this storm.”

***

Johnston has his eye on the monitor; he can see some movement amongst the blur. “Stage two,” he says. He squeezes over to the cabin door, takes out his plasma pistol and uses the infrared viewfinder to target the raft floor between the three glowing red figures below.

The raft bottom shreds: it immediately collapses and the three occupants go down into the surrounding waters. Jayle and Sarain speed down into the chaos on droplines.

***

Water clouds her senses. The Anvil’s bulky male form drops like a stone, sinking, sinking. She flails her arms and legs uselessly, a string-less marionette. The jet above recedes as the cloying darkness consumes her. She glances to her back capsule to see Violet, thumb in mouth, but calm, protected from suffocating and the changes in pressure as they sink lower.

Above, an immense black shape collides with the surface and shoots down, some sort of propellant system in its boots. The Anvil sees a huge, hulking black woman, tube-like hair flailing like angry, radioactive snakes. The woman’s massive torso and oversized arms close around the Anvil and drag her up, up, up to the surface and away from the sea’s cold embrace.

As the Anvil’s head breaks the water she sees another woman, with sharp blonde hair and shining, metallic legs, suspended via dropline from the interceptor above and lifting two unconscious bodies in a glowing net.

The droplines retract and the Anvil and her companions are pulled up to the hovering jet.

***

The cabin is very cramped. Johnston eyes the Anvil warily. The armature is still restrained by Sarain from behind, the EMP cannon pushing into her temple. Chun and Jimmy are unconscious, the depleted plasma net hanging loosely around their forms as Jayle awkwardly takes her place on the bench.

“We won’t harm you,” Johnston says. “But try anything stupid and you’re all on a one-way trip back to the bottom. Are we clear?”

The Anvil nods.

Sarain glances at Johnston. “The asset is safe. Looks like she’s gone to sleep.”

“Where are you taking us?” says the Anvil. “Do you work for Bester?”

Johnston laughs. “You think we’d be travelling in this piece of crap if we had the backing of the world’s richest man? You’re in the waveruins. The Chao Triad wants a chat with you.”

The Anvil stares blankly.

“And Lady Chao isn’t very happy about losing a plane and a fire team. I guess you’ll have to explain that to her once we get back.”

The jet arcs and weaves through the surrounding skeletal buildings that extend from their watery resting places like broken teeth.

The Anvil’s systems are back online. She scans the surrounding cyborgs, noting armaments and calculating potential firing patterns and escape vectors. The EMG pushes hard against her head. “You’re not the only one here who can classivise,” whispers Sarain. “I suggest you sit back and enjoy the ride. I wouldn’t want the little girl or your friends to get hurt in an unfortunate crossfire.”

“That’s good advice,” concurs Johnston, strapping in.

The Anvil settles back uncomfortably, mind racing. Outside the rain dashes against the hull as the interceptor nears its destination—the headquarters of Lady Chao.

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 8.

The tall old woman is angry. She throws her cup of shoujiu across the room where it shatters against the wall. “They took my interceptor?” Her eyes are narrow slits, her crow’s feet now a delta fanning both sides of her face. The armoured men kneel before her, heads bowed to the floor. One watches her nervously with wide almond eyes, the other, a strong chinned black man with a sharp goatee, scowls silently.

“Lady Chao, we could not have imagined—” says the first.

Chao rises from her throne, an extremely rare wooden item (where does one get wood, nowadays?), hand carved with weaving oriental dragons. Her hands clasp and unclasp rhythmically, long red nails glinting in the glowglobe light. The woman’s blue artisilk robe sways in a serpentine rhythm as she walks. Reaching down, Chao grabs the speaker by the neck, lifts him like a marionette. The sleeve of her robe falls back, revealing a shiny durasteel forearm, engraved with intertwining snakes and flowering vines in garish neon hues. The man’s neck snaps with the sound of a branch breaking and she tosses his lifeless body into the far wall. The black man grimaces.

“It’s up to you, Johnston,” she says, striding back to her throne. “Recover the girl. The interceptor is expendable.” Her eyes drill into him. “As are you.” Johnston gulps imperceptibly, backs away from his master and exits the room quicker than he would like.

* * *

The launch tower is in sight, about ten kilometres away. The interceptor bounces through the squall, swooping and re-correcting as needed.

“Of course, I thought you knew how to fly this thing,” says Granny Chun, strapped into a cabin bench seat. Next to her, Violet grips her teddy and grins. “It’s like being on a roller coaster,” she says. Big Jimmy, on the other side, holds his head in his hands, occasionally stroking his full beard nervously. “Give me my Clarissa any day,” he says.

In front, the Anvil struggles with the flight controls. “Apparently the sim progs didn’t cover bad weather.” She looks to the readouts around her, glances at the tower ahead. Even from this distance, there’s no mistaking the size of the thing—a kilometre-wide metal platform, rising three hundred metres above the surface of the waters, bristling with antennae, thermal exhaust towers and nearspace shuttles. Their way off this world.

They are five kilometres from the tower when the port engine explodes in a hail of debris, smoke and fire. The interceptor immediately starts to drop, the age-old systems straining and failing to correct its altitude.

“What the hell was that?” cries Big Jimmy. “What is it with people wanting to kill you?” His antique Magnum appears in one hand as the other steadies him.

“Of course, you should put that away,” says Granny Chun, whisperingly calm. “We don’t want a stray shot hitting anyone.”

Jimmy stares at his piece uncomprehendingly, then sheepishly slides it back into his leg holster. “Sorry,” he says.

The Anvil looks around, trying to sight the attacker through the plastiglass canopy. She checks the scanner. Nothing. The interceptor spirals towards the ocean. “Chun, look for some life jackets,” she says.

* * *

The hologram from his palm chip fades as Johnston jogs to the flight bay. Beside a big antique interceptor wait three augmented women, with bodies punctuated by scarring, cybernetic parts, dermaplastics and dangling neural fibres. “Kanji,” he says to a huge African woman with a massive barbed metal arm, dreadlocks and glowing red visual receptors for eyes. “Start her up.” Kanji immediately boards the jet and the engines churn to life. Johnston climbs into the back and straps himself into the rear bench. The other two women follow.

“The rogue interceptor has just been downed by one of my contacts at the launch tower,” says Johnston. “We have less than five minutes to get there and recover the girl. We need to get her before Bester’s men do. I’m feeding you ocular video from our assault troops of the armature and the other occupants of the jet.” Each of the women pauses briefly as they review a replay of the Clarissa assault on their retinal links.

Jayle, with a scarred angular face, spiked blonde hair and durasteel legs, smiles. “L-series armature: subdermal mesh, megajoule MWEs, endura core, protein revitalisers, reformative layering. Nice.”

Sarain, dark skinned with oversized zylex torso and arms and glowing neural fibre hair, winks. “A nice challenge, y’mean,” she says. She extends an electromagnetic pulse cannon from one of her forearm housings.

Johnston frowns, remembering the throne room. “No screw ups,” he says.

“You worry too much, boss,” says Kanji from the pilot’s seat.

The jet rises on a plume of superheated air and exits the hangar at top speed, slicing through the rain and wind and leaving the waveruin tower behind.

* * *

Water is streaming in through cracks in the fuselage. The Anvil pops Violet into her back capsule, sealing the little girl away from harm, then straps on a life jacket that’s far too small for her broad male frame. Chun pops the side door. Water sluices in, filling the cabin to waist height. A raft inflates. Jimmy struggles to exit and falls in face first, swearing as he does. Chun follows, groaning as her wounded leg makes contact. The Anvil follows last as the interceptor sinks beneath the waves in a coda of spume and froth. The raft is buffeted left and right, half full with rain and surf, the Anvil’s side dipping low under her weight.

“Well, this trip just keeps getting better and better,” says Jimmy, water cascading down his dark face.

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 7.

It’s six hours out and Granny Chun vomits into the bucket for the seventh time. She groans and spits bile into the foul, bitter broth meandering at the bottom of the pail.

Violet is out of her capsule, sleeping restfully, strapped into a seat next to the Anvil. The boat heaves and sways in the racking winds. Big Jimmy laughs as he stands on a raised platform so he can reach the wheel. Outside the tiny cabin, water cascades in sheets off toughened plastiglass.

“This is the life,” cries Jimmy, breaking into a sea shanty.

“Of course, you are such a cliché,” murmurs Chun from her bucket.

The Anvil sits stolidly, immune to the effects of the storm and the constant churning of the seas around them. She stares at her male hands—big, meaty things, far larger than the dainty palms and delicate fingers she imagines she had before. Still, she struggles to remember, and yearns for a Memjet to clear the haze and let her see everything clearly.

She glances at Violet. The little girl is fast asleep; it’s almost as if the tot was tucked away in bed, and not affixed to a padded steel chair in a tiny boat bouncing in the middle of a raging ocean. The Anvil doesn’t know how the child does it. In fact, she knows very little about her child at all. Her appalling lack of memory is disturbing. Armature rebirths aren’t supposed to have recall problems; they’re not unheard of, but they’re extremely rare. The Anvil just wishes she could show some spark of recognition, some lingering emotion towards her daughter. I guess that will come soon enough, she thinks.

Around them in the distance, the husks of broken buildings stand like waylaid fisherman, up to their necks in surf and rain, waiting to be saved. Above the silent overcity hovers, stretching as far as the eye can see in all directions, streams of sunlight breaking through between the grav-supported spires, like the blessings of God.

* * *

The old interceptor wends its way through sleeting rain, sleek wings folded back as it cruises at top speed, dancing between rain drops, riding the wind like an exotic dancer on a mirrored dancefloor.

“We have the boat in sight,” says the helmeted pilot. “Running in silent mode.” The wings extend and engine exhaust vents rotate downwards as it slows, maintaining its altitude over the churning ocean.

Behind the pilot, five men in battered combat armour, hefting aging autofire rifles. The closest has his helmet off; he’s bald, with almond eyes and diamond cheek bones. “Take us in and hover. We’ll downdrop and see what we’ve got,” he says.

“No problem, Mister Tano,” says the pilot. The antiquated interceptor hovers silently, fifty feet over the bobbing boat, matching the vessel’s course. The steel grey armoured men move to the hatch, where they attach droplines to the collars of their dermasuits. Tano replaces his helmet and signals to the others. “Okay, drop and drag,” he says, motioning with his fingers in a coded series of movements reiterating what he’s saying. “Non-lethal fire. The child is not to be harmed.”

The side door slides open with a screech and the cabin’s internal calm is broken by buffeting wind and spray. The troops launch out and down, the droplines taking them at speed to the vessel’s deck below. The wind shakes them about momentarily, but the droplines stay true, guiding them to the heaving floor. Each lands softly on the rain-soaked deck, weapons raised and ready, the cabin hatch before them. Tano gestures two of his men to each side of the door, the others behind him. As he signals to move forward, the hatchway explodes outwards and the Anvil flies headfirst into his chest.

The other troops respond, firing at the big armature as its MWEs extend from its forearms and fry two of them. They collapse to the deck, along with a bloody and unconscious Tano, whose breast bone and ribs are broken. The Anvil takes numerous non-lethal shots, but they bounce off its subdermal protection harmlessly. The remaining two men switch to lethal rounds, but it’s too late. The Anvil swings around, grabs a leg of each and rips them from their bodies in a torrent of blood. Their screams are lost in the roar of the surf.

Overhead the interceptor is starting to rise. The Anvil grabs a dropline from the collar of one of the downed troops and hits the recall. The line immediately drags her up into the air. She enters the cabin; the pilot is pointing a big, old fashioned auto pistol at her chest. He fires. Ion shells find their mark and the Anvil collapses backwards against the frame. One of her MWEs fries the pilot’s head and he collapses over the glowing control board that encircles him.

There’s an explosion below. Looking down, the Anvil sees the aft of the Clarissa is now bits and pieces of detritus, spamming the roiling waves. The vessel is upending and sinking fast. She can see Chun, Jimmy and Violet, soaked and clinging to the cabin hatchway. Chun indicates the droplines still attached to the bodies and latches them to the others and herself. The three rise to the interceptor as the boat slithers below the surface, taking the armoured corpses with it.

As they climb wearily into the hovering jet, Big Jimmy is in shock. “My boat,” he moans. “My beautiful Clarissa.” The Anvil pulls some thermal blankets from an overhead locker, distributes them.

“Of course, that was unexpected,” says Chun, sneezing. Violet sucks her thumb and holds her teddy tight. Chun wraps the blanket around and cuddles her.

The Anvil throws the pilot’s body out the side door and closes it. “I’ll reimburse you for the loss of the boat, Jimmy. I don’t know what happened. It’s possible my MWEs burned through your outboards. Sorry.” The Anvil’s angular male face is stony and emotionless.

Big Jimmy is rocking back and forth, wide-eyed. “You blew up my boat? That’s my living right there. Poof. Gone.”

The Anvil ignores Jimmy for the moment, seats herself behind the control console and looks over the instrumentation. The layout looks complex but is actually fairly simple to operate. She’s sure she has some piloting progs that will help her sim her way through it. The biggest issue, now, is where did this vehicle and its goons come from?

“Of course, I don’t think those guys were sent by Bester,” says Chun, as if reading her mind.

“Who then?” says the Anvil, eyes flicking over the controls.

“Of course, I’d say someone informed on us to the local Surfer Mob. They control the waveruins and run the local rackets. They probably know that Bester is searching for his baby girl. He would have reached out to them when she first went missing, I suppose.” Chun smiles wanly. “Of course, they probably thought they could get more for her via a little blackmail.”

“At least now we can get to the tower quicker,” says the Anvil.

“Of course, they’ll track us.”

“All the more reason to move fast.”

Big Jimmy rocks gently in his seat. “Who are you crazy-ass people, anyway? I said I’d take you to the tower, not get shot the hell up by the mob. What do I do now?”

The Anvil turns and smiles her masculine smile, perfect teeth gleaming. “I guess you’re coming along with us, Jimmy.”

Jimmy scowls. “Great. Just great. I suppose I can get my ass handed to me by someone else along the way?”

“Of course,” says Granny Chun.

 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 6.

They tramp down five flights in faulty glowglobe dimness, skirting sleeping derelicts and the occasional Verso dealer. They are given wide berth by the occupants; Granny Chun’s pumpgun speaks volumes without ever needing to bark. Eventually they reach a level just above the thrashing surf—dockside. Parts of the floor are gone (collapsed or removed, who can tell), and destitute and cobbled-together boats and skiffs bob and float on the water just below. There are shanties of rudely constructed metal and plastic around the floor, some with signs advertising fishing and ferry services.

“This doesn’t seem like the sort of place to find reliable people who can keep secrets,” says the Anvil, drily. “And these vessels don’t look particularly seaworthy.” She remembers the boat she viewed from the city above, tossing and upending in the sea below, its passengers dancing in quicksand waters.

Granny Chun smiles. “Of course, I know a surreptitious guy.” She leads the way through the ghetto, avoiding campfires and offal buckets, nets and fishing rods, dirty-faced fishermen and wandering down-and-outs. At the far end of the floor, she comes to a tin shed with a large, hand-scrawled sign in front: Big Jimmy’s Ferry. Cheap rates. No refunds. A small, patched and pockmarked boat with an enclosed cabin rises and falls in the hole beside the shed. Chun raps on the door. “Jimmy! Open up, it’s Granny Chun.” The Anvil checks the surrounding area, but her scans reveal nothing out of the ordinary.

The door opens and the Anvil looks down at a short, bearded man; less than four-feet tall, with fiery eyes highlighted by his coffee-ground skin. The antique revolver he brandishes is almost as big as his forearm. When he sees Chun his mood lightens considerably. “Hey, Granny Chun; long time.” He glances suspiciously upwards at the Anvil. “Who’s this?”

Chun smiles. She’s short, but still a foot taller than Big Jimmy. “We need a ride Jimmy. A long one.” Jimmy checks out the surrounds, sneers at some nosey neighbours. “Come on in,” he says.

Inside the shed (which is larger inside than it first appeared, with accoutrements similar to Chun’s place but slightly more upmarket), he invites them to sit at a round table. The chairs surrounding it are normal sized; Jimmy uses a stool for a leg up into his. “So, tell me what you need.” He places his revolver on the table next to him.

Chun and the Anvil sit. Jimmy eyes the pod extending from the Anvil’s back, the sleeping girl within. “I’m not a babysitter,” he says.

Chun smiles. “Of course. We need passage to the far side. Discreet. No questions. There’s a tower there with a launch platform.”

“Yeah, I know it. About forty klicks–A long way over. My boat’s not made for that type of trip, you know.”

“It’ll be the best pay you’ve ever seen.” Chun nods to her partner. The Anvil raises her palm and a hologram appears, indicating a significant bank balance. There are no personal details, but a certification seal indicates its real. Jimmy’s eyes widen. “Enough for you to afford to transition up top,” says Chun.

Jimmy grins. “And why would a guy like me need to move up top? I have so much, already.” He gestures ironically to the room’s contents. “Besides, people above may not appreciate my particular ‘talents’.”

The Anvil smiles, her perfect teeth gleaming in her male jaw. “I can throw in a body graft or full rebirth. Your choice.”

Jimmy sits back, considering. His eyes narrow. “You must really be in the shit.” Jimmy leans forward, running his fingers through his ample beard. “How do I know you won’t shaft me?”

Chun glances at the Anvil, then back. “Of course, we don’t know the first thing about piloting a boat. And we’ll pay fifty percent now and the rest on arrival at the tower. Of course, anything happens on the way, you still have more than enough to retire on.” She eyes the piece sitting next to him on the table. “And I know you can look after yourself.”

Jimmy laughs, a deep throaty bellow that belies his diminutive size. “You have a deal, Ms.Chun. When do you want to leave?”

“Now,” says Chun, grinning. Jimmy guffaws. “Well, I can’t argue with that,” he says. “For that much money I’d personally carry you across the water on Jesus-sanctified miracle legs, if I could.” He leads them both outside, leaps down onto the deck of a twenty-foot skiff with the name Clarissa painted vibrantly on its side. The small front cabin can fit four people; a grimy double outboard engine extends from the aft; an unusually high, four-foot gunwale surrounds the deck.

Chun jumps down and the Anvil follows. Violet stirs briefly in her pod and then drifts back to sleep. The vessel bounces around in the choppy surf, and Chun and the Anvil stumble awkwardly. Jimmy chuckles, steady on his sea legs. He enters the low-ceilinged cabin, places his palm against the console reader and the dual outboard hums to life. Stabiliser pods extend from the hull on both sides and the boat rises gently above the water level, hovering a foot above the surface. The outboard drops lower, its spinning props churning froth and spray. The Clarissa backs out of the sheltered port into the raging sea beyond the walls of the building. Rain cascades in torrents, thumping belligerently on the cabin roof and walls.

Jimmy hefts the wheel, working hard to avoid hitting the tower’s side as the boat is knocked left and right by the waves. Water gushes over the gunwale, then streams out the side channels, leaving the deck awash. The Anvil and Chun strap themselves into two of the four cabin chairs. “Hang on to your hats,” says Jimmy. “It’s going to be a bumpy ride.”

* * *

Alnu has lived dockside all his life, scrounging a living fishing and doing odd jobs. The one good thing about his life is the benefits he picks up as an informant. Alnu activates his palmchip (a newer model, with biochemical enhancers and improved holography, provided by his fine employers) and reports.

“I seen ‘em,” he says, glancing furtively at the Clarissa reversing. “A big guy and an old woman. The big guy looks like he has some sort of capsule on his back—a little kid in it. They’re with Big Jimmy, leaving the block now.”

“Little kid, eh?” replies an electronically scrambled voice. “Good work. We’ll look into it.”

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 5.

The Anvil stares blankly at Granny Chun—not much different from most of her male body’s expressions. “I think you better fill me in. From the beginning.”

Chun grins. “Of course. But we need to get out of here.” She points to the far side of the floor, about a hundred metres across the other side of the market. “I’ll fill you in on the way.” She starts walking, wending between broken stalls, darting into the dust and smoke. The Anvil glances back at Violet in her rear compartment. The little girl has drifted off to sleep with her thumb in her mouth. The Anvil smiles (still somewhat neutrally), and follows Chun into the haze.

“Your name is Angelique Bester,” says Chun as she moves, weapon raised and at the ready, swinging back and forth as she targets the surrounds. “Of course, you are the fourth wife of multi-billionaire Alfred Bester. Or at least, you were.”

The Anvil’s internal scanners have mapped the entire floor. There are no potential hazards or attackers anywhere. She lets Chun carry on her checks—she seems to be enjoying herself. “I assume my husband and I don’t get on.”

Chun’s laugh echoes throughout the level. “Of course, understatement of the year. You were married for six years. Not a bad run, all things considered. Violet is five. She was the best thing to come out of that union.”

The Anvil frowns. “And where do you come in?”

“Of course, I was your nanny.”

“A nanny with covert ops experience?”

“Of course, I had to start somewhere. Nannying is a pretty tough business you know.”

“So, why is my husband after me? And why am I now a man? Or a male armature, I should say.”

“Of course, your split with your husband was unamicable. He wanted Violet, you wanted Violet. He had the money. I suggested you gear me up and I’d hide with Violet in the waveruins, and that you go big with the augmentation. And here we are.”

The Anvil stops. “So, this is just a child custody issue?” she says, disbelievingly. “That doesn’t explain why I chose to become a man. Or why I needed to get the most powerful armature body around. Or the death squad we just fought.”

“Of course, I never said it was just a custody problem,” says Chun. “It’s never just about the obvious stuff.” She faces the Anvil and grins. “Best let your memory sort it all out. Of course, I don’t know everything, you know.”

The Anvil can feel some of the old memories surfacing, like spectres breaching a dense miasma. The constant arguments with Alfred. Violet crying as her mother and father fought. Discussions with Granny Chun in the rooftop garden. Discreet enquiries about rebirthing. There is still considerable fog, though—an impermeable mist that curls and twists and surrounds her whenever she tries to remember.

They reach a stairwell, twisting upwards to the higher living levels and down to the watery depths of the underbuilding. Dim glowglobes hang in the air at every flight. Vagrants in dirty blankets lay sleeping in groups up and down the stairs. The smell is raw and foul with body odour and offal.

“We go down,” says Chun.

* * *

The bubble transport lifts off from the raging waters, foam and surf cascading off its shining, silver hull. Shin-Cho nurses his injured arm and bruised jaw delicately, while rummaging for medical supplies in a nearby wall cabinet. As he reclines, a hologram appears on the console in front of him. A tall man, balding, with dark eyes and a permanent scowl.

“Mr. Bester,” says Shin-Cho. “I suppose you want a report.”

A dark eyebrow rises on the hologram’s gaunt face. “What happened?”

“It appears your wife has hired or bought a synthetic armature to protect your daughter. And as you suspected, the nanny had the little girl secreted away all this time. Your wife was not present, so I suspect she’s still in hiding.” Shin-Cho grimaces as he feels the ugly purple bruise extending up his jaw to his forehead. He pumps a halo-stim into his arm to dull the effects of the nagging concussion. “If I’d known about the armature I could have prepared my team better. It scanned as human until it fired up—we’re talking top-grade bioscreen dampener. Very expensive.” He pauses, dropping the used halo-stim to the floor. “My entire squad was wiped out. Twenty veterans. Killed by a synthetic and an old woman.”

“Maybe I should have invested in someone better.”

Shin-Cho’s brow creases. For a moment his eyes flash darkly. Then he’s all business again. “With the right intel we would have geared up appropriately. My team would still be intact.”

Bester’s hologram smiles. “Well, we can’t have you being ‘inappropriate’, can we? Let’s get you an upgrade.”

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 4.

Shi-Cho has worked spec ops for many years. His body has been wounded, trashed and rebuilt so many times he almost forgets which parts are human and which are cybernetic. His left eye is biosynthetic, but his right is original. He prefers the artificial one. After this job he will have the human eye replaced—a better combination, that way.

His plasma carbine is aimed directly at a tall, muscular man; probably a synthetic, based on the shell with the plassteel cap protruding from his back. Around him are the detritus of the surfers, the underscum that frequent the waveruins below the hovering city. Shi-Cho’s matt-black flexiplas full body armour insulates him from all types of toxins, but he still avoids touching anything. The sooner he’s out of here the better, then on to the next job. The life of a mercenary is never boring.

Shi-Cho’s amplified speech grinds like gravel under tyres. He lost his voice box a few months back and he’s still breaking in the new one. “All right,” he says. “You know the drill. Weapons on the ground. Hands on the back of your heads. No sudden movements.”

The old woman in the body armour still has her pumpgun raised. The synthetic is standing there, placidly. Routine scans show nothing out of the ordinary—just a baby carrier, it seems. Shin-Cho sighs. “You know, when you’re searching for someone, it’s not a good idea to announce it openly, surfer marketplace or not. Amateurs.” He smiles. “Last warning—weapons grounded and hands behind heads.”

* * *

Chun elbows the Anvil as she sights the speaker, shadowed amongst the stalls. “No multiple choice,” she whispers.

Violet hugs her teddy in the little capsule-like womb. From up here she can see nearly everything: the back of the Anvil’s head (is this man really her mother?), the dim glowglobes floating overhead, the hundreds of stalls dotting the floor into the distance, the occasional ray of sunlight through the cracks in the building’s skin; the men dressed in black and the pretty red-light beams in the air, all directed at the Anvil. She tilts her head, curious.

The Anvil registers twenty men, all their locations, calculates reaction times and course and vectors of their potential movements. Her megajoule Microwave Emitters go live, rising from her hidden forearm compartments as she raises her arms to respond.

* * *

Shin-Cho swears. The synthetic just lit up like a Christmas tree—subdermal armaments, concussion shielding, neural enhancers and active/passive retrograde defensives. He fires at the old woman as his troops light up the synthetic, which he knows now is a maxi-class armature. And knowing that, he realises this firefight won’t last long.

* * *

The Anvil moves as Granny Chun drops to the ground and fires. The air around them fills with plasma flechette rounds, but the Anvil is already gone.

* * *

Shin-Cho rolls as the MWE blast fries a line of stalls to his left, then to his right. He sees two of his men burning, limbs flailing, screams registering in his earpieces. The armature is on him in less than a second, its speed phenomenal. He manages to squeeze off two plasma rounds. One glances off the armature’s leg, but its fist connects with Shin-Cho’s helmet and he’s sent flying nearly ten metres into the building wall, which bursts like shredded ricemeal and sends him dropping down, down, down, into the perilous surf below.

* * *

Granny Cho rolls behind a stall, pumping ion shells into whatever she can see. A black armoured chest plate explodes and the merc collapses like a string-less marionette. Another of Chun’s shots takes off another’s arm. “Of course, I love this gun,” she says, cackling with glee.

Her leg is pulsing a thick stream of blood from a plasma round that found it’s mark, but her adrenalin is rushing and her bloodlust is up. “Just like the good old days,” she cries, running and blasting another black-suited merc in the chest.

* * *

The Anvil moves so quickly it’s like the troops are in slow motion. Her MWEs fry bodies and brains to the left and right. Her HUD shows predicted movements and she lays suppressing fire in anticipation. Plasma shells play light trails across the room and old clothes, toys, ancient electronics, crystals, dinnerware and meat products are exploding into fragments and dust that fill the air. A few shells find their mark in her chest, right arm and right leg, but she manages to keep Violet protected at her rear.

Fifteen men are down. Granny Chun has taken out another four.

The last has broken ranks and is fleeing for the far wall, where a great gash in the building’s outer shell provides a convenient exit. The Anvil’s MWEs have reached max temp and shut down to prevent overloading. She reaches for a steel dinner plate sitting on a broken kiosk next to her. The merc is twenty metres away. She aims (precursive tracking arrays ensure there is no chance of missing) and throws.

The dinner plate slices through the merc’s neck from the rear. It doesn’t quite take his helmeted head off; he slows to a crawl, stands still for a moment and then drops to his knees, where he stays, like a petrified silhouette.

Violet is laughing and giggling. The running, jumping and general destruction has her very excited. The various ruined bodies and torrents of blood are hidden by the robust dust clouds choking the air, making the scene appear fantastical.

“All Clear?” calls Chun from somewhere further back.

“Clear,” says the Anvil. She retracts her still-warm MWEs into their forearm compartments. She turns her chiselled male head back to see Violet in the cockpit. The Anvil notes her masculine jawline and cheek bones reflected in the glass. What a nice-looking guy she is. Must have paid extra for that. “You okay, Violet?”

Violet goes shy and sucks her thumb.

Chun hobbles over, applying a halo-patch to the bloody hole in her leg. “Of course, that’s going to scar,” she says, smiling painfully. She claps the Anvil on the shoulder. “Good work. No multiple choice, after all.”

The Anvil wipes her brow, pushes her medium cut male hair back into place. Internally, adreno-stim healers and fibre refabs are repairing any damage. Clothing is reconstituted where bullets have shredded or torn fabric. “So, who were they?”

Chun grimaces as she presses the halo-patch firmly into place. “Of course, your memory’s still up the crapper. Those ‘amateurs’ were sent by the other person looking for Violet.”

“And who would that be?”

“Your husband, you idiot.”

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 3.

The little girl flinches, stepping back and hugging the teddy bear and Granny Chun’s leg. “Well what did you expect?” says the old woman. “You come here looking like some badass, muscle-head man and expect your daughter to recognise you?”

The Anvil steps back, shakes her head. Chun is right. What prompted her to make such an extreme change? Armatures come in female forms. Why take on a male version?

“Of course. I bet you’re thinking ‘why didn’t I take a female form?’” says Chun, rolling her eyes. “You’re just as stupid now as you were then.” The Anvil is taken aback—she still has no memory of who she was before, other than that she was the mother of Violet. She pops another two memjets for good measure.

“You keep popping those pills and who knows how your synapses are going to resculpt,” says Chun, grabbing the packet from the Anvil’s hand. She’s fast for a wizened, cranky old crone. “You’ll probably end up brain damaged, if you’re not already.”

“I need those,” says the Anvil, reaching.

Chun holds them back and wags her finger sternly. “Of course, you do. But better to see how much of your recall comes back naturally, rather than pushing your limits with memjet.”

The Anvil regards the old woman suspiciously. “And just what makes you an expert on Armature rebirths?”

Chun smiles slyly. “Who do you think recommended the upgrade?” She places the box of pills in her pocket. “Of course, I never said use a male version. What, did you think having a dick would make you tougher? Now that’s just sad.” Violet giggles, while still clinging and hiding behind Granny Chun’s lower leg.

“I need to get my daughter out of here,” says the Anvil. Her expressionless masculine face belies any concern. She’s not sure how she feels, yet. Maybe that, too, will come back in time.

Chun laughs. “Of course, you do. And where were you planning on taking her? You don’t even know why you’re here.”

The Anvil looks perturbed. The old crone has a point. “What would you suggest?”

Chun picks up Violet and hangs her on her hip. The girl chews her teddy’s ear (already dog- eared, no doubt her go-to in times of stress). “I’ll accompany you.” Chun goes behind the blanket dividing the room. The Anvil can see her infrared silhouette pulling gear from a cupboard. Violet is a multicoloured vision flicking her legs back and forth as she sits on the bed where Chun deposited her.

A few minutes later Chun emerges with full flexiplas body armour, ion ammo belts for her pumpgun and a wicked looking, six-inch NESblade in a scabbard on her right boot. “Of course, I’m prepared.”

“Where did you get all of that?” says the Anvil.

“From you, idiot. Before you rebirthed.”

The Anvil scratches her head. As insulting as this old witch is, her presence is reassuring. Or maybe that’s just the way the Anvil’s new brain thinks about someone before smashing them.

Violet exits wearing a sleeveless flak jacket. “Sorry, sweetie,” says Chun, kneeling to check the fit. “I don’t have anything else in your size. We missed the kid’s battledress Christmas specials.”

Chun stands and faces the Anvil. “Have you fully assimilated the guide yet?”

“I think so.” The answer is more hopeful than the Anvil would like.

More eye rolling from Chun. “If we get in a jam I don’t want a multiple choice from you when I’m asking for a mega-joule microwave emitter.” The Anvil smiles, but deep down she’s feeling a level of anxiety she isn’t used to (or is she—was she anxious before? Damn her useless memory).

The Anvil kneels next to Violet. “I have a compartment for you, Violet, in my back. It’ll keep you safer than that jacket.” The area of the Anvil’s back from splenius capitis to latissimus dorsi, opens like a multi-segmented flower. The portions lengthen fluidly and join to form an armoured capsule that extends from the rear of the Anvil’s torso. At the top, a clear plassteel cover has formed where Violet’s head will be, so she can see. Violet looks to Granny Chun for guidance. “It’s okay, sweetie,” says Chun. “It may look like a stupid male, but it is, in fact, your stupid mother.”

The tiny girl, gripping her teddy tightly, climbs cautiously into the compartment, which seals around her. At first, she is alarmed, but once the Anvil stands she calms and starts to laugh at the wonderful ride. It’s like she’s being permanently piggybacked in a super-strong baby carrier.

Chun and the Anvil step out of the crude shack onto the concourse. The stalls are empty, without movement. The familiar sights and sounds and smells have vacated like the passing of a puissant hallucinogen. A lone, shadowed figure stands not far from the pair, nestled between a throng of wicker baskets and laminated jackets.

“You’re not going anywhere,” it says in an amplified voice fit to grind calcium from bone shards. In response about twenty red targeting optics appear on the Anvil’s chest, laser lines knifing back to covered snipers positioned around the complex.

“Of course, we beg to disagree,” says Chun, cocking her pumpgun.

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. A short series. Part 2.

The bubble cab drops quickly. Through the transparent plastiglass roof the Anvil can see the city’s bottom, a mishmash of giant tubes, pipes, grav generators and spotlights. The ocean below rises to meet the taxi, a cacophonous tundra where waves crash against the broken skeletons of old skyscrapers half buried in the depths, the cracked and rusted torsos of ancient swimmers frozen in time.

The rain starts, drumming a familiar beat on the cab’s glistening, rounded surfaces. Lower and lower it goes, until the vacant sides of the half-submersed buildings come starkly into focus, all broken windows and crusted metal facades. The cab flits between the old structures, tracing an invisible path through the pounding rain and surf until it arrives at a globe-topped building, as cracked and worn as the others. “You have arrived at your destination,” says the taxi, demurely. The door slides up and a metal gangplank telescopes to the nearest opening, a gaping hole where the building’s outer veneer has crumbled away, exposing rusting and pitted steel beams.

The Anvil climbs out, the rain speckling his armoured hide as he clears the gangplank and steps into the edifice. “Have a nice day,” says the cab as it accelerates up and away. He places another two memjets on his tongue and swallows. Memories pour in, again. He remembers the little girl, but also this place—he has visited here in the recent past.

Before his vision (displayed in infra-red and ultra violet spectrums) he sees a busy market place, with stalls and stores constructed of plastic and metal detritus, covering almost every square foot of this building’s floor. Hovering glowglobes cast muted light and shadows. Everywhere people swarm: bargaining, buying, selling, trading. There are food stores, gun stores, places selling parts for water purifiers, street hawkers selling time keepers and illegal palmchips, Verso and Damage (the latest designer drugs). Buskers, poets and whores ply their trade between stalls, and skinny children run rampant through the crowds, unsupervised. There are no police here, but everything is fairly orderly. Most are dressed in little more than rags; their lean, dirty and despondent faces turn towards him in fear, and the place quietens.

The Anvil moves through the crowd. Once the onlookers realise he isn’t a cop the volume returns, and people are back to business. He checks his internal guide, works out how to display a hologram. At a Thai food vendor he shows the proprietor a holo of the address and the girl’s face. The man tosses vegetables in a skillet over a gas flame, checks the image briefly, and points to a shanty on the edge of the floor. The Anvil approaches the rude metal construction and knocks on a corrugated iron door.

A pumpgun barrel extends from a gap in the steel, aimed at his chest. “What you want?” says a female voice, old and grizzled.

“I’m here for the girl,” says the Anvil, the holo appearing above his extended palm.

“What’s the code?”

He searches his memory. The code is there, having filtered back at the same time as the memories of this market floor. “Rose Alpha Zen.”

The sliding of a bolt. The door scrapes aside. A wiry, weary-faced woman, with missing teeth and a permanent scowl, holding a pumpgun in one hand and the door handle in the other. He doubts the woman could stop him, even if he didn’t have the code.

The wizened hag lowers the weapon, checks around to see who’s watching, and pulls him into the shanty. “You couldn’t be any more conspicuous?” she says grouchily.

It’s a single room, with a small table, coolant box, gas stove and blanket separating this area from the bedding. A hovering glowglobe dimly illuminates the area. The Anvil’s muscular bulk takes up half the room. “I assume that’s your new form,” says the old woman. “I guess you knew what you were in for.”

The old girl’s name coalesces into memory. “You’re Granny Chun,” he says.

She looks at him like he’s addled. “Of course I am, you idiot.”

He taps his head. “Recall transfer issues from the rebirth.”

Granny Chun rolls her eyes. “Of course there were.” She moves to the blanket and pulls it aside, her voice and features softening. “You can come out, little one, it’s all right.”

A tiny blonde girl steps into the glowglobe light, carrying a worn teddy bear. She cranes her neck up as she takes in the Anvil’s size. “Who are you?” she says, a slight tremor in her voice.

The clouds in his memory are clearing. The shapes and forms on the periphery of his thoughts take on solidity. He knows who the girl is. He also realises who he is. He is not a ‘he’ at all.

“Violet,” says the Anvil. “It’s me. It’s mummy.”

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. A short, unplanned series. Part 1.

He awakens to a miasma of colour, of senses and routines flashing incandescently in his mind, before his eyes, of images and words and confusion and cacophony, as the world comes into focus.

Through the informational arrays filling his vision, to the drone of his internals and the pump of his synthetic heart, the glow of body heat beyond the containment walls and the greasy smell of human perspiration elsewhere in the room—all his senses are buzzing like a mescaline high. When he holds up his hand he registers the tracery of titanium bones and plasti-synth muscles; the blood that pumps through his arterial corridors is not plasma and haemoglobin, but viscous and oil-like synthetic blood. He is not himself.

The man in white across the room regards a hologram floating before his eyes. “You’re awake,” he says; his voice is a dry riverbed, cracked and drained of life. “Good.” The radiant display disappears. He forms a toothy grin, more grimace than smile. “The best Anvil available, just like you wanted. Newest L-series armature: subdermal mesh and thermal weaponry, protein revitalisers, endura core, extra-high spectrum sensates, reformative layering. It’s all there in the guide, it should be registering in your forebrain processor, now.” The man in white winks, as if the Anvil is in on some subtle joke. “The best money can buy.”

The Anvil rises from the steel bed and places his feet on the floor. The metal is cold, the pressure registered in his artificial toes and ankle joints is nominal and signals his leg musculature to adopt a relaxed gait. “Where am I?” he says. His voice is dark, warm and smooth. Like chocolate or a good liqueur. “Who am I?”

The Doctor frowns, removes a scope-like device from his breast pocket and places it against the Anvil’s eye. It glows briefly, fireflies flicker. “Odd,” he says. “Memory loss is not common on rebirths.” He walks to a cabinet, removes a fist-sized plastic box and returns. “Take two of these Memjets every hour for the next two days. They’ll help stimulate your neural passages and rebuild your memory from your base drive. If your memory doesn’t return, come back and see me.”

The man in white smiles mirthlessly, claps the Anvil on the back. “Time for you to go. I’ve got others to rebirth.” He points to the door. The Anvil walks slowly across the room, adjusting to his lope; he reaches the doorway and realises he is naked.

“You can constitute clothing automatically, as needed to accommodate your circumstances,” says the Doctor, as if reading his thoughts. “Check the guide.” As if by magic, a blue shirt, black jeans and leather boots weave themselves from nothing, a facade for the Anvil’s muscular frame.

* * *

Outside the clinic, the world is shiny, phosphorescent and neon-coated. It is a sunny day, although the hazy grey and overcast clouds punctuating the blue above indicate possible rain later.

Initially, he registers the gamut of people as ghostly, skeletal afterimages, until his senses adjust and the ‘guide’ is subsumed into his consciousness. Bodies take shape, becoming smartly-dressed men and women in motion.

Massive multi-storey spires hover in the air, hundreds of metres above the tumultuous watery plains below. There are no roads–multiple glowing cylinders connect each structure and through each the inhabitants swarm like ungracious ants, going about their black, grey and blue-suited business. Each floating building is connected to one another by multiple transtubes like tethers. Lines of flying vehicles fill the airspace in between, and the glow of skyscraper-high advertisements penetrate every sense.

The Anvil makes his way to the wall of the glowing linktube, avoiding the fertile crush of bodies. Through the near-transparent wall he sees the patina of airborne traffic carpeting the spaces between multi-storey colossi: transparent bubble vehicles, stubby-winged aircars, floating police transports.

He notes there is a small crystal chip embedded in his palm. A quick scan of pedestrians around him indicates this is standard. The Anvil sees a man hailing a taxi to the linktube by raising his chipped palm.

Hundreds of feet below an aged boat, seemingly crafted from junk, is capsized by a wave—scores of tiny people spill into the surf and struggle fruitlessly like ants in a toilet before being sucked below. No one else pays heed. The Anvil watches the distant struggle, notes the lack of concern around him. Apparently, this is commonplace. Life is cheap, here. Or perhaps those who float above place little value on those who float below.

He pops two Memjet pills. They hit his synapses almost immediately, registering as a sharp pain in his skull and making him wince. An image: a child, a girl with silky blonde hair clutching a teddy bear, no older than five. She means something to him. An address flashes up. A clue? Somewhere to start. The Anvil raises his palm and waits briefly.

A flying taxi arrives, a glistening sphere with motion-filled ads playing over its surface, and hovers beside the tube. A hole opens in the cylinder wall, transmetal flowing like mercury. The Anvil enters the cab and sits. There are two rows of seats facing each other, tinted windows on each side, no driver—fully automated. “Take me to this address,” he says. His chip is scanned, the address and fare debit registering automatically.

“Please be aware you have asked me to take you to a sub-level,” says the taxi’s eloquent sampled voice. “Sub-levels are considered dangerous and are unsupported. Once you exit me you are responsible for your own well-being.”

“That’s fine,” says the Anvil. “Take me down.”

To be continued…

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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