John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum. A movie review.

No spoilers!

I’m a big fan of the John Wick movies. JW3 is another fine entry in the violent action series.

Keanu Reeves is back as John Wick, the almost-retired hit man who loves his dead wife and wreaks bloody vengeance on, well, pretty much everyone over the death of the dog she left him. JW3 starts where JW2 left off: the High Table of assassins has excommunicated him and he needs to get out of New York fast in order to survive. This leads to lots of murder and mayhem, with Wick disposing of various assassins in new and gruesome ways. JW3 is all about loyalty and the consequences of Wick’s actions in previous films. There’s even a sly Matrix joke.

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There’s a bit more world building about the High Table, some new characters, some new twists and a set up for the next movie (how unexpected), but don’t expect searing dialogue and multi-textured layers of meaning. That’s not what these films are about.

The JW franchise has prided itself on its use of practical effects and wonderfully visceral fight sequences. There are several action set pieces in JW3 and Keanu continues to perform many of the fight scenes himself. But age is catching up with him and in JW3 there’s more use of stunt doubles and CGI than previously. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, it’s just an observation. There seems to be more guys getting punched and kicked in the balls than ever before, but maybe I just noticed it more this time around (there’s lots of crossed-leg moments in this film, especially when the dogs come out—for guys, anyway).

JW3 is great. Wick punches, kicks, throws and shoots his way out of trouble. And back into it. I’ll be back for the next one.

Rating: B+

For more movie reviews, click here.

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Anvil. Part 20.

The Anvil stares down at Johnston, who unflinchingly returns the look. “You have a problem?” says Johnston.

“Why am I not with Violet?” says the Anvil.

“You’re too close to her. Might impede your judgement in combat.” Johnston raises his flechette carbine. “Now you better back off, friend. I like my personal space.”

Olsin steps between the two. “He’s fine, sugar—aren’t you?” She raises an eyebrow at the Anvil, who nods and backs away.

Johnston frowns. “You better keep the synthetic in line, Olsin.” He walks over to where Sarain leans against the corridor wall. Glancing back at the ex-Triad guard: “And Lady Chao is still keen to have a chat with you when this is all over.”

Olsin tries hard not to, but swallows anyway. “That’s a conversation I so look forward to,” she says under her breath. She moves over to where the Anvil stands, gazing out a transteel port at the clusters of ships surrounding the station. The glowglobe lights above are still red, giving the corridor and its occupants a crimson hue. Distant, muffled sounds of shots and explosions are background white noise—Bester’s mercenaries are advancing into the station from the end docks.

“You okay, sugar?” Olsin says, before lowering her voice. “Those memjets kicked in yet?”

The Anvil glances down at her, shakes its head, then eyes Johnston and Sarain standing opposite them, speaking in hushed tones with each other.

Johnston looks at the Anvil. “That one’s going to be trouble,” he says. Sarain looks and nods. She pats her arm-mounted EMP cannon, her glowing neural fibre hair highlighting the barrel. “Don’t worry, boss—first sign of a problem and I take him out,” she says.

* * *

Jayle and Kanji lead Chun, Jimmy and Violet through the stark scarlet-illumined corridors of Flotsam station. Kanji’s ruby visual receptors highlight her frown, framed by her burgeoning dreadlocks. “The boss is upset with me again, isn’t he?” she says. “He didn’t even mention I was on your team.”

Jayle rolls her eyes. “I’ll never understand why you need his approval so much, Kanji.” She winks at the big African woman. “Maybe you’ve got the hots for him.”

Kanji starts and almost blushes. “He’s a fine-looking black man,” she says. “But I don’t mix business and pleasure.”

“Must be daddy issues, then.” Jayle ribs the big woman, laughs and winks. Kanji grimaces and giggles, her girlish titter at odds with her hulking presence and the barbed metal appendage that masquerades for a right arm.

Granny Chun holds one of Violet’s hands, the obligatory teddy bear glued to the little girl’s other. “You okay, sweetie?” says Chun. Violet looks up and nods, sucking her thumb. Chun smiles.

Big Jimmy moves up beside them, his fingers hovering reflexively over the auto-pistol in his leg holster. He looks up at Chun and whispers. “I assume you have a plan to get us out of this?”

Chun raises an eyebrow and whispers back. “Of course, what would that be? We’re on a Triad-owned space station about to be assaulted by the private army of richest man in the solar system, all in an effort to get back his little girl. What sort of plan did you expect me to come up with?”

Jimmy scowls. “Well, you always seem to know what you’re doing.”

Chun shrugs. “Of course, this time I’m just going with the flow. Let’s see where Lady Chao’s plan gets us.”

“As long as it doesn’t get us dead.”

* * *

Lu Chi has been an electrician on Flotsam for five years. It’s not a bad life, repairing faulty conduits and replacing broken glowglobes. The pay’s reasonable, the hours great. His wife and son share quarters with him (it’s not often that’s allowed on small stations); a quiet, unassuming life. At least, it was. The attack on the station threw him a curve ball. As soon as this sensor is replaced, I’ll get Lee and Xi and we’ll find an escape pod, Lu thinks. Get out of this place and never look back.

The red lights dim a moment. Lu glances up, curious, then returns to his work. There’s a strange metallic tapping sound on the floor behind him. He turns. The raptor tilts its head, a long strand of saliva dripping from its razor-sharp jaws as its silvery artificial eyes scan the technician. Lu drops his soldering iron and screams.

* * *

Shi Cho turns away. It isn’t often that he’s turned off by violence, but he never imagined the ferocity of the creatures. Bester smiles as he observes. “The perfect predators,” he says. “They didn’t deserve to stay extinct, so I brought them back—improved, of course.” A moment more and it’s over, the last of the technician consumed by the three beasts. Blood trails and spatter covered the surrounding walls.

Bester brings up a hologram display above his watch face: a three-dimensional schematic view of the Flotsam; a red dot indicator, about 500 metres away.

“You can track her?” says Shi-Cho.

“Only at short range,” says Bester. He whistles for his pets and the raptors scramble to his side. “Listen up, my beauties. You can kill anything you like, but not Violet.” The raptors nod, recognising his command syntax and pre-programmed vis-cues. “Now let’s see if we can find my daughter.”

* * *

The Anvil grabs its head, collapses to the floor. Johnston raises his pistol, steadying it with his other hand. “Olsin! What’s the matter with him?”

Olsin crouches beside the armature. “He’s taken memjets. He’s accessing lost memories.”

Johnston lowers his sidearm. “Just great. How long will he be out for?”

“Your guess is as good as mine, sugar.”

Sarain eyes the unconscious form on the floor. “And just what memories would those be?”

* * *

A rush of images, scents and sounds, blurred and wavering in and out, topped with strange popping sounds, as if from an antiquated speaker. The Anvil sees a man, the same its seen before, on the roof garden of Bester’s building. He’s dressed in a suit, with an ear piece. A tall, good looking fellow, stern faced and lean. A beautiful woman is talking to him, but the Anvil is too far away to hear.

The scene comes into focus, and the Anvil pushes his consciousness forward. The woman is Angelique Bester. The man is Dominic Casheur, one of Bester’s many security agents.

“I want to save Violet from him”, she says. “You’re the only one I trust to help me, Dominic.” Her hand on his face, a gesture of intimacy and closeness. “I have access to funds and a doctor. I’ll fit you out in one of the newest armatures. You’ll be Violet’s protector. I’ve hidden her away in the waveruins, but it’s only a matter of time before Bester tracks her down. You need to get her to the Loop. Promise me you’ll do it.”

They kiss, long and lovingly. Casheur says nothing, just nods.

The images spiral away and the light hits the Anvil’s eyes like a sledgehammer.

* * *

Olsin gasps as the armature’s eyes flick open. “Are you okay, sugar? You had me worried.”

The Anvil rises, rubbing his head. “Call me Dominic,” he says.

“You know who you are?”

“I know the who and the how. But not why I was brainwashed into thinking I was Violet’s mother.”

Johnston hovers over them. “What kind of messed up crap are you talking about?” he says.

The Anvil rises to his feet. “I think someone’s playing me. I just don’t know who, yet.” He turns to Johnston. “More than likely they’re playing you as well.”

* * *

Lady Koga’s interceptor hovers several hundred kilometres away from Flotsam, scanning and observing the surrounding mercenary flotilla and the massive Hyperion hanging over all. Her craft has the latest black horizon dead space tech, allowing it to be undetectable to the cruiser at this distance. She’s still cautious about getting too close, though—Bester is renowned for all sorts of off-the-grid experimental technology. The man is a scientific genius, after all.

Koga’s readouts indicate Bester is actually aboard the tiny cylindrical station, courtesy of a high-powered and undetectable nano-tracker the Triad sneaks into all their business associates. She frowns and runs her hand over her bald pate.

The spherical and limbless black robot strapped into the acceleration couch next to her rotates its single green eye to her. “Mission impact?”

“Let’s wait and see how this develops,” says Koga. “Patience is a virtue, and some lessons take time to teach.”

To be continued…

Missed earlier instalments? Click here.

What is ANVIL?

ANVIL is a deliberately unplanned, multi-part short story I’m creating week-by-week to challenge myself as a writer (I’ve done this before with The Sale – check it out by clicking here). My intention is to write an episode as often as possible, generally (but not always) ending with a cliff hanger, then work out how to solve the dilemma and continue the story. I have no idea how the story will progress, no idea what it’s about until I get there.

Only you can tell me if it’s successful or not. I hope you enjoy my continuing experiment.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

Anvil. Part 19.

Shi-Cho smiles grimly as Flotsam station appears in the transteel cockpit window. At this distance it is little more than a tiny spinning tin can, a shining diamond against the charcoal disk of the planet below. Captain Hansen, seated in the pilot’s chair in front of Shi-Cho, gestures to a nearby monitor. “We’re being hailed by the Hyperion, sir. She’s about 500 kays off the port bow.”

“I’ll take the call in the back.” Shi-Cho heads to the private cabin and awkwardly seats his massive frame in the chair. The hologram flickers to life. It’s Bester; his long, lean features are less stern than usual.

“I want you to bring your ship to my cruiser,” says Bester.

Shi-Cho frowns. “You said I would have command of this operation.”

“You still have command. I have an alternative for you and I to get aboard while the assault takes place.”

“And what would that be?”

“Dock with my cruiser. I’ll show you when you get here.” The hologram fades and Shi-Cho’s eyes narrow suspiciously. “Gods-damned trillionaires and their secrets.”

* * *

Olsin rushes to catch up to the Anvil as it strides down the corridor.

“Hey,” says Olsin. “Slow down.”

The armature’s reply is curt. “I didn’t ask you to come with me.”

Olsin matches the Anvil’s stride, double-stepping to keep up. “Sugar, you just saw your daughter and hardly said ‘boo’,” she says. “Back in the cell you were ready to rip the walls down to save her. Obviously, something’s the matter.”

The Anvil keeps its eyes locked ahead. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Well, sugar, amongst my qualities of awesome hand-to-hand fighter and incredible shot, I’m also a great listener.”

The Anvil stops and turns to Olsin, its masculine face inscrutable. Olsin shrugs and smiles, and they continue walking. Around them, technicians, troops and general staff run around like lab rats missing a maze, as Flotsam preps for attack. A siren starts to wail and the overhead glowglobes change colour, painting the surrounds scarlet.

“We need to hurry, Bester’s mercenary fleet must be within range,” says the Anvil. Picking up the pace, they run until they come to a large room, walls layered with colourful vending machines. They pass fast food, clothing, fetish and gun vending machines before they arrive at a pharmaceutical dispenser. “Memjets,” says the Anvil, palmchip hovering over the sensor. A plastic pill case drops into the collection slot as money is transferred. Grabbing the box, the armature flips two tablets into its mouth and swallows. The synthi-flesh nub of the Anvil’s missing left arm throbs sympathetically.

“Recall problems, huh?” says Olsin. “I don’t suppose this has anything to do with your attitude towards your little girl?” The armature frowns and starts back to the briefing room, Olsin jogging beside her.

“Look, sugar,” Olsin says. “I may not know you that well—hell, I only just found out you were a woman thirty minutes ago—but I sense you’ve got some heavy-duty crap going on. Aside from having your ass whipped and losing an arm, that is. If I’m going to be fighting alongside you, I’d prefer to know your head’s in the game.” The Anvil continues silently.

Olsin sighs. “Hell, sugar, you might as well actually be a man. You sure do act like one.”

The Anvil stops abruptly. “That’s the problem,” it says, a frown creasing its masculine brow. “I think I am a man.”

“So, you’re not a woman, after all?”

“I don’t think I’m Violet’s mother, either. But someone wants me to think I am.”

* * *

Chun fingers the pumpgun hanging at her side as the briefing officer informs the team of the boarding defence strategy. There are numerous hologram displays clogging the air: lots of pretty icons and moving arrows, station and weapon schematics. She sighs and rolls her eyes every few minutes. Violet stands at her side, cuddling Chun’s leg with one arm and her teddy with the other. Chun soothingly runs her fingers through the little girl’s hair.

Jimmy stands beside her, arms crossed, moody and unimpressed. Every once in a while, his eyes dart to Jayle, who is less interested in the plan than Chun is. She sticks out her tongue, teasing the little man as she spins his antique Magnum around her finger. Jimmy grinds his teeth, cocking his station-issued auto-pistol. Chun places her palm on the barrel and guides it downwards, shaking her head.

The holograms fade, the circus over; the briefing officer exits. Lady Chao stands out front, tall and menacing, neon dragon tattoos on her durasteel arms shining like warning signs up and down dual roadways. Her assistant Alida hovers behind, looking as inconsequential as she feels. Johnston addresses the team.

“You heard the defence plan,” he says. “The Flotsam defence teams will cover the docking bays at northside and southside. There’s always the chance Bester’s mercs could enter elsewhere, but that might end up depressurising the station and I don’t believe he’d be stupid enough to do that. Our job is to prevent anyone getting to Violet Bester and use the confusion of the attack to get her out of here. We’ll be in two teams—one directly responsible for the girl and the other to provide backup and fire support.” He eyes the newcomers warily. “The boss insists we mix and match, so Kanji and Jayle will go with Chun and Jimmy in Kid Bester’s team and the Anvil, Olsin, Sarain and myself will be the fire team. Any questions?”

The door slides open and the Anvil and Olsin step in. “Yeah,” says Olsin. “Mind repeating that?”

* * *

The massive shell of Bester’s cruiser dwarfs Shi-Cho’s troop carrier as it snuggles into the Hyperion’s docking bay like a baby in utero. Shi-Cho makes his way to the bridge, the slider lifts taking much less time than expected, given the distance. The doors part silently to reveal a control area at least fifty metres across, studded with transteel-encapsulated flight officers, vast hologrammatic screens, and recessed operations cavities filled with vacc-suited men and women.  A floating viewing platform dominates the centre, facing massive ten metre-high transteel view ports overlooking Flotsam station, a few hundred kilometres distant. Bester’s lithe figure stands next to the vacc-suited Captain Ward. Four two-metre high raptors festooned with cybernetics, aggressively sniffing the air and tapping their dewclaws, hover behind.

A localised anti-grav field glides Shi-Cho onto the viewing platform. The raptors immediately tense as they face him. He stares them down, his internal sensors and pre-cursive tracking arrays registering their armaments, plotting potential attack and defence vectors; his HUD is a wash of colour impressions and data.

Bester turns. “Shi-Cho, your fleet can commence its attack. It will be a diversion—you and I will be entering the station separately while the station crew are distracted.”

Shi-Cho sends a message to his fleet vessel commanders. In the huge view ports the flotilla of ships closes on the station, splitting into two groups and heading for the north and southside docking bays. Streams of silent plasma light up the dark as various station defensive turrets respond. Several troop ships and interceptors explode in brief, distant flashes. Captain Ward gestures to his operators below, and multiple munitions-seeking fission torps launch silently from the Hyperion, bright contrails hanging in their wake. Flechette defence arrays launch from the Flotsam. Some of the torps are curtailed, but most get through. There are flares across the station’s knobbly surface, and the turrets and missile bays are no more. Ward turns to Bester. “All external defences neutralised, sir.”

Bester watches as several of Shi-Cho’s ships dock at both ends of the station, with others holding position around Flotsam to prevent any life pod evacs. As the minutes pass, comms transmissions from the ground assault troops advise heavy resistance portside.

Bester checks his watch, a brief holographic panel flickering to life, his fingers darting across translucent keys. Shi-Cho looks on curiously. He’s never seen a watch like that before.

“It’s time for us to pay Lady Chao a visit,” says Bester.

To be continued…

Missed earlier instalments? Click here.

What is ANVIL?

ANVIL is a deliberately unplanned, multi-part short story I’m creating week-by-week to challenge myself as a writer (I’ve done this before with The Sale – check it out by clicking here). My intention is to write an episode as often as possible, generally (but not always) ending with a cliff hanger, then work out how to solve the dilemma and continue the story. I have no idea how the story will progress, no idea what it’s about until I get there.

Only you can tell me if it’s successful, or not. I hope you enjoy my continuing experiment.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

Mission Impossible: Fallout. A movie review.

Negligible spoilers!

I’d heard good things about Cruise’s latest impossible mission and decided to give it a go. MI:Fallout has a reasonable story with twists I (unfortunately) saw coming a mile away and some very stoic performances. It rises to the occasion with lots of well executed and thrilling stunts, many performed by Cruise himself.

Cruise is back as Ethan Hunt, working for the IMF, a covert group that takes on impossible and deniable government spy missions. A terrorist group has gotten their hands on three Russian nuclear warheads and plan to blow up stuff. Hunt’s team has to get the warheads back. Along for the ride is a CIA hitman (Henry Cavill) to make sure they don’t screw up. He seems to screw up far more than they do, though.

I get the impression if I’d watched the previous movies I would have more attachment to the characters, as MI:Fallout assumes you’re a fan and thus provides no backstory for any of them. I felt detached as a result and so really didn’t care if they lived or died (or why they bother doing these thankless jobs in the first place). The story was full of twists (as you’d expect from an action spy thriller), but they were fairly obvious so the movie lost the element of surprise it should have had going for it. I’m so tired of hearing The Dark Knight’s much-copied plot twist: “he planned to be captured all along!”

Tom Cruise did many of his own stunts, with various scenes showing Cruise in the thick of the action—across rooftops, on a motorbike, cars, helicopters, halo jumping—he certainly earned his money. The stunts were the core of this movie and quite impressive, but without an emotional attachment to the characters the whole thing left me feeling flatter than Cruise and Cavill’s monotone performances (Cruise hasn’t really acted in a movie since Magnolia in ‘99).

MI:Fallout is one for the franchise’s fans, or for people who love action set pieces but don’t care about emotional engagement.

Rating: C+

Anvil. Part 18.

Alfred Bester is a tall man, well over six foot and waif thin. He has a full head of brown hair with a prominent widow’s peak, greying somewhat but less than one would expect for someone in such a powerful position. Bester is supremely confident—a man doesn’t get to his level without being so. When he walks, others move out of his way, some bowing in deference. He is a scientist without measure, an unparalleled businessman, a risk taker and opportunist of the highest order. Creator of nano-polymer, transteel, transluminal/tachyon displacement and gravitic absorption/generation technologies, to name a few of his inventions.

Bester’s business successes are legendary, the rumours of how he achieved those successes just as fabled. To offset any negativity, he is heavily involved in charity missions around the drowned world, offsetting his massive profits helping the poor and sick wherever he can. The public and the private world of Alfred Bester mingle with myths and hearsay, making him a cypher known only to a few.

It is Bester’s gravitic absorption technology that provides the basis for the massive Hoop that surrounds the planet, a colossal nano-polymer carbon ring rotating in geosynchronous orbit twenty thousand kilometres above the equator—his crowning achievement. Neutralising the gravity well generated by the planet below made the Earth-orbital ringworld possible. With hundreds of millions of square kilometres of space on the Hoop’s internal surface, a viable atmosphere and Earth-like gravity provided by spin, a population of twenty billion of the richest people alive live in paradise, heaven made real. The Hoop is the base for Earthgov and every private mega-corporation in existence, the solar system’s centre of power, the hub of a business empire that controls everything and everyone.

The remnants of Earth’s population are limited to scattered airborne cities, hovering over blighted waveruin communities nestled in the tumultuous oceans that swamped the planet as the atmosphere warmed over centuries. The waveruins are the last domain of organised crime, marginalised by corporations far more powerful, efficient and deadly.

It’s his eyes though, that tell the real story of Alfred Bester. Steel grey, hypnotic and all knowing, they seem to pierce another’s soul and reveal their innermost secrets. Those eyes have seen the rise and fall of powerful people, corporations, governments—history itself. It’s rumoured Bester’s eyes are the last human pieces of the man, now immortal as a result of full subdermal armaturisation and macro-personality upload. But that’s just a rumour. He looks as human as ever.

Bester strides the corridors of power, his four clone velociraptor bodyguards springing lightly along behind him, their razor-sharp dewclaws tapping the floors as they sniff for threats and prey. Their cybernetically-enhanced vision scans constantly, identifying the surrounds in ultra violet and infrared.

Shi-Cho’s headstrong attack on the New York waveruin Triad was a mistake, but not unrecoverable. Bester may be the richest, most important man on the planet, but he is always conscious of the trading relationships he built along the way. The waveruin Triads generate limited Verso and Damage drug profits for some of his minor shelf companies, but it is not an arrangement he wishes to sacrifice needlessly. Control over even the most marginalised of the population is still control, after all. And Bester is all about control.

Bester comes to a halt at an enormous transteel window. Outside he can see the arch of the Hoop against a background of space and stars, rising up and shrinking in the distance as it curls around blue Earth below, disappearing in the planet’s shadow. The inner ring contains massive cities and extended natural landscapes as far as the eye can see, shrouded by the occasional high-level cloud system.

All his. All because of him. It never fails to impress even the most powerful man in the solar system.

Bester checks the experimental mass-matter transporter on his wrist, the size of a small wristwatch but perhaps the most complex feat of engineering ever created. A prototype short-range wormhole generator, currently being tested by himself. It’s something that will revolutionise future planetary and system travel and eventually expand his grasp to the distant stars, currently only reachable by transluminal arks undertaking five to ten-year journeys.

Hovering in space beyond the inner Hoop’s atmosphere is a kilometre-long cruiser, appearing in the distance as a thin tube studded with armaments and huge manoeuvring arrays—the Hyperion, Bester’s personal cruiser. His fingers deftly manipulate the hologram controls generated by the transporter on his wrist. His raptors stand ready, sensing the ionisation of the surrounding air. Space bends without a sound and Bester is instantly aboard the cruiser’s extensive bridge. His raptors stand furtively behind him. Outside the huge viewports, the Hoop and the Earth move in perfect synchronisation.

The Hyperion’s Captain stands to attention and salutes. “I’ll never get used to you just appearing, sir.”

Bester smiles. “One day soon, Captain Ward, this will be the only way to travel. Starships and interceptors will become the stuff of myth. Like the Disney Conglomerate, once the world’s biggest mega-corporation. And you know what I did with that.”

Captain Ward grins, his almond-shaped eyes becoming thin lines. “I hope there’s a place for me in your new instantaneous-travel-world, sir. What heading?”

Flotsam station, over dark side. We’ll join Shi-Cho’s mercenary fleet and see if he’s worth the money I pay him.”

“On our way, sir.”

* * *

“You led them here in one of their own trace-enabled ships?” Johnston is flabbergasted. Kanji snorts and Jayle kicks her in the shins, shutting her up. Sarain stands behind, beaming and rubbing her massive zylex hands together. Violet sits on the couch, sucking her teddy bear’s ear, quietly watching proceedings.

“And these guys are our allies, now?” Johnston gestures to the Anvil, Granny Chun, Big Jimmy and a sheepish Olsin, standing behind Chao. Jimmy glares at Jayle, who winks and makes a show of fingering Jimmy’s .357 Magnum tucked safely in her gun belt. Chun and the Anvil smile and wave at Violet, who returns the gesture.

Lady Chao shrugs and Alida grimaces. “Get over it, Johnston,” says Chao. “You’re always harping on about how little action your team sees. Now is your time to shine.”

“Time to die, more like it,” says Johnston. “If Bester comes along for a joyride in his cruiser he can make this station into swiss cheese without raising a sweat.”

Lady Chao glances at Violet. “Not without swiss cheesing his daughter. And he’s gone to great lengths in the past to make sure she’s not hurt. I have to assume the lunatic in charge of his army isn’t that stupid.” She pauses for a moment, pondering. “Although they did destroy my tower with very little thought for who would be injured.”

Johnston sighs. “You pay the bills, Lady Chao. You’re the boss.” Behind him his team postures, as if posing for some invisible photo shoot. “Possibly for the last time,” he says.

“A quick question,” says the Anvil in her male voice. “Where can I get my hands on some memjets? I seem to have lost my supply when we were nearly drowned.” She eyes Chun, who pretends to check her nails.

Lady Chao raises an eyebrow. “Memory issues, armature? There are numerous malls and pharmacies around. You’d better make it quick, though. We need to brief with station command about our defensive strategy. I want you there.”

The Anvil leaves through a sliding door, Olsin skirting along behind. Chun frowns as she watches the armature exit.

To be continued…

Missed earlier instalments? Click here.

What is ANVIL?

ANVIL is a deliberately unplanned, multi-part short story I’m creating week-by-week to challenge myself as a writer (I’ve done this before with The Sale – check it out by clicking here). My intention is to write an episode as often as possible, generally (but not always) ending with a cliff hanger, then work out how to solve the dilemma and continue the story. I have no idea how the story will progress, no idea what it’s about until I get there.

Only you can tell me if it’s successful, or not. I hope you enjoy my continuing experiment.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

Anvil. Part 17.

Kanji sprawls in her hovering portachair, its suspensors struggling under her weight. Her spiked durasteel right arm dwarfs the other, whose musculature is networked with ridged veins. “So, boss”, she says. “How long until Chao gets here?”

Johnston stands at the transteel viewport, arms folded, staring out into space. The dark planet below passes in and out of frame every few seconds as the cylindrical station rotates to create artificial gravity. “That’s Lady Chao to you,” he says with a glare. Kanji hunches like a scolded child. “I received word she’s about to dock,” he says.

Jayle, noting Kanji’s submission, winks and sneers. She caresses the hilt of Jimmy’s antique .357 Magnum in its holster, a finger tracing one of the many battle scars ornamenting her face. She glances at Violet, who sits silently chewing the ear of her teddy. “I don’t know why we’re needed for this job. This kid never does anything except hold on tight to that bear.”

Johnston turns to face his crew. “That kid is the biggest meal ticket in the solar system. Didn’t you pay attention to the transbrief?”

Jayle winks. “Bester is her dad, but by all accounts,  he hardly spends any time with her. Who’s to say she’s worth much at all?”

Sarain’s arm compartments are open, her ion taser and plasma net launcher extended. She runs a fine cotton cloth over the taser, polishing it until it gleams in the glow of her neural fibre hair. “That’s the thing about rich guys, baby—they’re very possessive.” She admires her handiwork and retracts the taser, sets to work polishing the launcher. “It’s all about ownership; love don’t have nothing to do with it.”

Kanji glowers. “Bester’s mercenary fleet took out Chao’s—I mean, Lady Chao’s tower. Bester wants his little girl, all right. He may send his fleet up here if he finds out where she is.”

Johnston scowls as he listens to a transmission on his ear piece. “Looks like he just did. So much for that transluminal containment field—they must have tracked her another way. Time to earn your keep, ladies.”

The team smirks and fist bumps. “It’s about time this babysitting mission got more interesting,” says Jayle with a wink.

* * *

The Anvil starts awake as the interceptor lurches to a stop in the hangar at Flotsam’s axis. Chun calms her as the armature flails in the zero gravity. “Of course, It’s okay. You took quite a beating. You’ve been under for hours, repairing.” Chun checks the nearby monitor, starts removing the various feeds and drips that snake from the Anvil’s torso to the machine.

“Where are we?” says the armature, holding her brow groggily. Curled foetus-like, she floats in the centre of the cabin between its occupants as Chun gently extracts more cables. The lines feed slowly back to the wall-mounted revitaliser, concealing themselves within its curved silvery skin.

“Of course, we’ve just arrived at one of the triad’s space stations,” replies Chun. “Lady Chao has said she will help us.”

Lady Chao smiles briefly at the armature, her face a blank slate as she turns back to the viewport. Alida shrugs apologetically. “I’m Alida, Lady Chao’s assistant,” she says, holding out a trembling hand.

The Anvil grips the proffered hand softly. “I’m Angelique.” Her deep male voice still seems unfamiliar.

“I’m sorry, I mistook you for a man,” Alida says, eyeing the muscular body.

“I get that a lot.”

Jimmy shifts uncomfortably in his belts. “Now that you’re awake, I want to discuss our arrangement.” His dark skin is a little pale—space travel doesn’t agree with him. “The deal was to deliver you to the launch tower; not get my boat destroyed, get captured, lose my favourite gun and get sent into space with some crime boss.”

Lady Chao raises an eyebrow. “I would say ‘saved’ by some crime boss, wouldn’t you agree?”

Big Jimmy scowls. “Okay, saved. I think my compensation needs to be renegotiated.”

Granny Chun rolls her eyes. “Of course, you think this could wait, Jimmy? She’s just recovered from major trauma.”

“All the more reason to confirm my money now,” says Jimmy. “I don’t know how much longer robot man-girl here is going to be around.” He eyes the synthi-flesh nub where the armature’s left arm used to be.

The Anvil’s eyes dull for a moment. “I’ve doubled your fee and transferred it to your account; you can check your palmchip to confirm.”

Jimmy glances at the hologram momentarily generated by his palmchip, smiles appreciatively. “Well, that’s more like it. Now, how do I go about getting off this tin can?”

Lady Chao unclicks her restraints as the side door slides open. Beyond the hatch, a number of men in protective suits float, waving the interceptor’s occupants out. “You may want to put a hold on that for a moment, little man,” she says, gliding effortlessly through the door. Alida follows close behind.

Jimmy glowers at Chao’s back as he removes his belts. “So, now I’m a man with money but nowhere to go, stuck in a tin can in space in the middle of a war between the world’s richest man and the waveruin triads. Fantastic.” He clumsily floats to the exit. “And I’m not that small.”

Olsin completes systems shutdown and glides from the pilot’s chair to the open door. She glances back at the Anvil. “Speaking of deals, sugar, I want my cut, too.”

The Anvil looks wearily at Chun, who shrugs. “Of course, we can discuss my remuneration later.”

* * *

Hansen confirms the coordinates and turns to Shi-Cho. “We’ve confirmed their location, sir,” he says. “A station called Flotsam, over on dark side. It’s possible the girl’s there as well.”

Shi-Cho grins. “A triad station, no doubt. Lots of external defences. Probably spaceborne fighters, plasma missiles, fission torps. Maybe a defensive shield. No better place to hold a valuable hostage.” He strides back to a private cabin just off the cockpit of the troop carrier. “Ready the fleet, I have to make a call.”

* * *

Bester’s holographic face is fuming. “I didn’t want war with the triads, Shi-Cho. I was explicit in my instructions.”

Shi-Cho is untroubled. “You paid me to do a job. Sometimes that involves thinking outside the box.”

“Outside the box? The triads and I have a strong business relationship which may now be jeopardised by your attacks on their holdings.”

“I believe your daughter is on Flotsam station.”

“Believe? Is it a gut feeling, or you definitely know she’s there?”

“Only one way to find out.”

Bester’s eyes narrow. “If she’s not there, it’ll take more than a flashy piece of prototype armature armour to stop me from removing all your remaining human parts and feeding them bit by bit to my clone raptors.”

Shi-Cho smiles. “Mr Bester, if your daughter’s not there I will gladly volunteer for any sadistic little exercise you choose.”

Bester reclines, his features darkening. “I’ll be joining you in my cruiser for the assault.”

“As long as I retain command, I don’t care if you book ringside seats for your entire entourage.”

* * *

Lady Koga’s interceptor streaks skyward. She’s cushioned in her acceleration couch, wavering ripples on her skin betraying the g-forces at play. A spherical, limbless black droid is strapped into the couch beside her. “Mission?” it says in a metallic monotone.

“Education,” says Koga. “Today, we teach someone a valuable life lesson.”

 

To be continued…

Missed earlier instalments? Click here.

What is ANVIL?

ANVIL is a deliberately unplanned, multi-part short story I’m creating week-by-week to challenge myself as a writer (I’ve done this before with The Sale – check it out by clicking here). My intention is to write an episode as often as possible, generally (but not always) ending with a cliff hanger, then work out how to solve the dilemma and continue the story. I have no idea how the story will progress, no idea what it’s about until I get there.

Only you can tell me if it’s successful, or not. I hope you enjoy my continuing experiment.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

Skyscraper. A movie review.

No spoilers!

Dwayne Johnson’s new movie is a cross between Die Hard and Towering Inferno. Despite the derivative premise it manages to be a successful homage to those movies and once again shows why Johnson is the world’s leading action star.

‘The Pearl’ is the world’s tallest and most technologically advanced skyscraper, built in Hong Kong by a super-rich computer tycoon. Johnson was an ex-marine and FBI agent who retired after an explosion took his leg. Now he’s an amputee who runs a security consultancy, brought in to inspect the Pearl’s safety features for the world’s biggest insurance underwriting. His wife (Neve Campbell) and kids have travelled with him and are staying in the as yet unopened residential level. Some bad guys from the tycoon’s past set the building on fire, with nefarious intentions (other than burning the building down, that is). Time for big Dwayne to step up. Along with a whole lot of duct tape.

I’m not sure if it’s possible to dislike Dwayne Johnson. Offscreen he seems like a genuine and affable guy. Onscreen he generally plays to type. What’s different this time around is Johnson plays a disabled man, making him a viable protagonist. Let’s face it, the guy’s so big it’s hard to believe the villains will give him a hard time, but having one leg evens the odds a bit and allows him to play up his disability in a number of scenes.

As a movie Skyscraper is a bit dumb, but it succeeds because it doesn’t pretend to be anything else. It’s a full-on action-come-disaster flick, ready-made for the burgeoning Chinese market, with lots of lovely views of Hong Kong and a peppering of Chinese co-stars. Neve Campbell (remember her from the Scream movies and Party of Five?) gets to kick some ass as well, keeping happy that portion of the audience tiring of guns and testosterone-fuelled blokes. Who am I kidding? They won’t go to this film.

In the end it’s all about the Rock hurting himself and others as he takes on the building and the crooks, Bruce Willis-style, but without the jokes. Yep, this is pretty serious, but hey, he’s saving his family so the tone feels right. There are plenty of tense scenes to keep you on the edge of your seat and Johnson displays just enough machismo combined with fear to pull them off.

Skyscraper is the kind of exciting and entertaining romp that you’ll secretly enjoy even if you hate action movies.

Rating: C+

Anvil. Part 16.

Like the new logo? I put a fair bit of work into it – Steve 🙂

Hansen’s airborne troop carrier hovers at the entrance to the ruined hangar. Shi-Cho taps his foot impatiently on some rubble as the side hatch slides open and he and his troops clamber inside. He makes his way to the cockpit as the others seat themselves on benches lining the rear cabin, opening their visors, lowering weapons and strapping in.

Hansen stands behind his pilot, gripping his sweaty hands tightly behind his back. His tempered South American features are broken by a deep scowl, a tinge of wetness on his uneasy brow. At over six foot, he’s still much shorter than Shi-Cho’s enhanced armature form. He nervously runs a hand through his close cropped black hair.

“I take it Chao got away,” says Shi-Cho as he squeezes through the hatch into the cabin.

“Yes, sir,” replies Hansen without turning. “The orbiter was a diversion, flying on automatic. It appears Chao left in another ship.”

Shi-Cho raises an eyebrow. “You mean my interceptor?”

Hansen wipes a bead of sweat from his forehead. “Yes, sir.” He unconsciously holds his breath and braces himself.

Shi-Cho grins slyly. “Don’t worry, Hansen. We know where she’s headed—my interceptor has a subterfuge beacon installed.”

Hansen breathes again, relieved.

* * *

Lady Quing sips her cup of shoujiu. As head of District 4 and 5 operations, including Verso production and distribution, she holds a prominent position in the Waveruin Triad Council. She is the only Triad leader present at the meeting wearing a business suit, rather than traditional artisilk robes; she disdains ancient formal dress. “Chao’s tower was attacked and almost destroyed,” she says, eyeing the others seated around the ancient oaken table. “An open attack on the Triads by Bester’s private army.”

Lady Chen, a portly older woman wearing a robe much too small for her girth, draws on an e-cig, exhaling invisible vapour into the air. “Do we know the reason for the attack?” She smiles ingenuously. “Perhaps Chao did something to upset our valued trading ally?” Chen oversees District 2 and 3 and the Triad’s more legal trading operations, including prostitution, cybernetics and weapons smuggling. Her innocent expression belies her sado-masochistic inclinations.

Lord Yang—handsome, silver-haired and sporting a zylex carapace in place of a human torso—laughs. “Why am I not surprised?” District 1, protection, racketeering and laundering are among his domains, but he much prefers hunting giant underwave lanfish. Quing can tell from the vacant expression that’s what he’s thinking about now.

Quing frowns. “This is not the first time Chao has moved beyond this council’s auspices. Bester wouldn’t do something like this without good reason.” She finishes her cup and places it on the table, where an invisible subluminal nutriment processor refills it. “I have it on good authority that she may be involved in the recent disappearance of Bester’s daughter.”

Chen rolls her eyes. “Kidnapping.” She takes another puff on her e-cig. “How long has it been since we engaged in something so rudimentary?”

Lady Koga is the only Japanese in the Triad Council and the youngest member. Her unlined face, bald pate and svelte frame look out of place amongst the haggard, greying crime lords at the table. Her multiple subdermal armaments, prodigious martial arts expertise and exceptional strategic acumen aptly suit her roles of assassination, enforcement and managing District 6, the roughest of the waveruin sectors. She leans languidly back in her chair, sipping saki. “The issue is not what she’s done,” Koga says. “I don’t care how much the world’s richest man misses his little cow. The issue is the level of response required. Bester needs to learn the Triad is not to be trifled with.” She stares at Chen, who smiles serenely. “‘Valued trading ally’ or not.” Chen’s smile fades.

The others, along with five other Triad leaders present at the table in hologrammatic form, nod in agreement. Yang grins. “We’re open to suggestions, Koga.”

Koga downs her saki with a gulp and rises. “Just leave it to me,” she says.

* * *

Flotsam station appears in the forward transteel windows like a shiny, rotating tin can, partly silhouetted by the arc of the planet’s dark side. As the interceptor approaches, the canister grows until its bulk fills the cockpit view: a mile-long grey cylinder, its outer face pockmarked with meteorite craters, pimply comms installations and wart-like gun turrets.

“Doesn’t look like much,” says Jimmy.

Chao’s long hair flows like medusa snakes in the zero-g. She raises an eyebrow. “And I suppose your vast experience with all things offworld makes you an expert, little man?”

Jimmy reddens and crosses his arms, the motion moving him awkwardly against his restraint belts in the null gravity. “I’m not that short,” he mumbles.

Granny Chun cradles her pumpgun protectively to prevent it floating away. “Of course, how do we get in?”

Chao gestures to Olsin in the pilot seat. A sliver of opaque plastic the size of a credit chit angles through the air at her head. “Transmit that code on the docking channel.” Olsin grabs the card from the air and activates the communications array. A few moments later, a crackling response: “You are most welcome, Lady Chao. We are honoured you have chosen to join us. Johnson and his crew arrived a few hours ago and advised you might be coming at some point, but we didn’t think it would be so soon.”

“Some unforeseen circumstances,” replies Chao. “When we dock I want you to batten every hatch and engage all defences. We can expect a full assault within the hour—I estimate about fifty ships, maybe more.” Silence from within the cabin and the comms. Chao glances at the blank faces around her. “You really think Shi-Cho can’t track his own ship?”

Alida crosses her chest in an antiquated religious gesture, looking to the heavens above. Jimmy shakes his head and murmurs to himself. Chun grimaces and grips the Anvil’s unconscious body to prevent it drifting. Olsin gulps and looks back at her teammates, wondering whether any amount of money will make up for what’s about to come.

Chao rolls her eyes. “Amateurs. It’s a wonder you got as far as you did.”

To be continued…

Missed earlier instalments? Click here.

What is ANVIL?

ANVIL is a deliberately unplanned, multi-part short story I’m creating week-by-week to challenge myself as a writer (I’ve done this before with The Sale – check it out by clicking here). My intention is to write an episode as often as possible, generally (but not always) ending with a cliff hanger, then work out how to solve the dilemma and continue the story. I have no idea how the story will progress, no idea what it’s about until I get there.

Only you can tell me if it’s successful, or not. I hope you enjoy my continuing experiment.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

American Assassin. A Movie Review.

Minimal spoilers. But it won’t matter much, because you know what’s gonna happen before it happens anyway.

I was dragged along to see American Assassin. My best mate paid for the ticket, and it got me out of the house, so I couldn’t complain.

Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien) watches his girlfriend and lots of people killed at a Spanish resort by Islamic terrorists. He dedicates the next 18 months of his life training (18 months? That’s not much. Bruce Wayne spent 12 years becoming Batman) to infiltrate and take out the terrorist cell. He’s picked up by the CIA, sent to covert ops specialist Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton) to be part of his assassination team. Rapp has issues with authority, is a loose cannon, blah, blah. Soon they have to stop one of Stan’s best students (oooh, didn’t see that coming. Yeah, you did) from using a nuke to take out a bunch of Americans.

american assassin

American Assassin suffers from the weight of numerous clichés, from characters to story to stunts to dialogue. It’s not the worst action movie I’ve ever seen, but it’s not memorable and not a movie I would recommend—you’ve seen all of this before with better scripts and direction.

Michael Keaton, as always, is great, but his role lacks depth and so he does what he can with the material he’s given. Dylan O’Brien looks alternately depressed and angry, but doesn’t muster much in the way of leading man charisma. The bad guy (Taylor Kitsch) is just an average bad guy.

My advice is save yourself the price of a ticket and see something better. This is one to stream on Netflix or rent on DVD (can you still do that?).

Rating: D

‘Kong’, baby! A movie review.

No spoilers were harmed in the making of this review

Just saw Kong: Skull Island. Lots of big monsters, big explosions, soldiers getting eaten by big monsters, big explosions blowing up big monsters, crazy-ass leave your brains at the door logic. Awesome.

So, you know the deal from the trailers. King Kong is a humungous ape the size of a building. He protects the natives and the peace-loving animals of Skull Island, a lost world protected from discovery by a massive weather system surrounding it. Until Skull Island is picked up by satellites in 1973, that is. It’s the end of the Vietnam War, and Monarch, a company funded by the US Government to track down monsters and stuff, joins up with another expedition planning to map the island. Add a military escort, lots of helicopters, and you have a recipe for lots of head kicking goodness and Apocalypse, Now references. Cue shots of Kong smashing crap up.

There are a lot of good actors in this movie, and some solid performances – Samuel L. Jackson as the crazed, vengeance-driven colonel, Tom Hiddleston as the ex-SAS tracker, John Goodman as the Monarch boss who knows more than he’s letting on, Brie Larson as the more-than-capable anti-war photographer, John C. Reilly as the war-lost pilot gone native. And more. But don’t let the acting get in the way. What you’re really here for is the big dino-like beasties and lots of ‘Kong smash’! The 70’s soundtrack  that accompanies it is freakin’ great.

You may have guessed that I really enjoyed this movie. I love a good, thought-provoking and message-laden film as much as the next literary nerd, but every once in a while, I just need to switch off my life-stressed brain and see some big explosions. And giant apes.

Kong: Skull Island delivers. Catch it now. Oh, and hang around for the post-credits scene – franchise building begins…

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