Divides. A flash fiction.

This is a short fiction I wrote for a Uni subject I completed a while back. Enjoy!


Steve 🙂 

Divides. By Stephen Thompson.

My mother is dusting. The feather duster she uses swishes lightly over the mementoes and photo frames on the shelf, cautiously tracing a path through our family history like a ship through a field of ice. I watch intently as motes of dust shimmer in the light, settling to the carpet, knowing this is only a short pause on their journey.

My father reclines in his chair, reading. The air is pungent with the thick fumes of an unfiltered camel cigarette. This is how I will remember him long after he is gone, like a silhouette left on a wall after a nuclear blast, its form as anonymous as the figure who left it.

My wife sits before me. Her eyes are electric drills and I am the timber. I’m staring at the table before us and my apologies fall to the floor along with our shared lives; wood shavings, waiting to be swept away.

My son is sitting on the lounge before his games console, the light from the TV playing over his intent features. I sit beside him, reading, occasionally glancing up to see the interaction of figures on screen. Between the lounge cushions is a yawning chasm.

My girlfriend sits across the table from me, sipping from her cup. My own mug sits before me untouched, the tan creamer an iceberg on a coffee sea. She smiles and I see our separate shadows painted darkly upon the wall behind her. Dust motes reflect the light as they dance prior to landing. The apologies to come are an abyss I must eventually cross.

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.


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.


Steve 🙂

Anvil. Part 18.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“On our way, sir.”

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued…

Missed earlier instalments? Click here.

What is ANVIL?

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

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


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.


Steve 🙂

Anvil. Part 16.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hansen breathes again, relieved.

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

“Doesn’t look like much,” says Jimmy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued…

Missed earlier instalments? Click here.

What is ANVIL?

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

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


Steve 🙂

Anvil. Part 15.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Of course; that too.”

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

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

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

To be continued…

Missed earlier instalments? Click here.

What is ANVIL?

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

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


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.


Steve 🙂

The Not-So-Burning Bush. A short tale.

I haven’t written a flash fiction for a while. Here’s my poor attempt at romantic fiction.


Steve 😊

I was ensconced in the bush, its leaves and branches irritating and scratching my face. Completely hidden, I craned my neck to hear what was said, while trying to maintain some sort of focus on Jenny. I could see her back through the foliage.

“…and I just couldn’t believe what she was telling me, y’know? Like, the guy she’s been going out with has been cheating on her for weeks, and she knows it, and she’s still seeing him. Is that pathetic, or what?” The other girl nodded and they both laughed. A few more words and her friend left for a lecture across campus. Jenny sat on the bench near the tree I was hiding in, started checking her iPhone.

At that moment, a sparrow landed next to me on a branch near my head. It was so unexpected that I yelped involuntarily, spun, fell through the bush and collapsed on my back on the pavement next to the bench. My head hit the concrete with a crunch, and I’m sure I saw stars. Yes, just like in cartoons.

Jenny swore, startled by the sudden miracle of a man from a not-so-burning bush. She stood over me, looking concerned (I assume for my potential medical condition, and not for any perceived mental condition). “Jacob? Oh, my God, are you all right?”

I was swearing. “Yeah, yeah, I’m fine.” I rubbed the back of my skull, tried to get up, decided I felt better lying there. “I take that back. No, I’m not.”

Jenny kneeled next to me, unsure of what to do. Students walked past, amused, bemused, uncaring, or a combination of all of the above.

Jenny raised an eyebrow. “What were you doing in that bush?”

“I think I might have a concussion…” Avoidance is the better part of valour, so someone once said. I think it was me, just now.

Jenny frowned as it dawned on her. “Were you stalking me?”

“No, I was just…resting in the bush. For a moment. Getting my bearings. Bird watching. I love trees.” Lying on my back, rubbing my painful head, coming up with terrible excuses. I was the cover model for lame. “Yes, I was stalking.”

She crossed her arms, tilted her head in that delightful way she did when she was being judgemental. “Oh, my God, that is so creepy. And I used to think you were cute.”

“You thought I was cute? I had no idea.”

“Obviously, or you wouldn’t be hanging out in bushes, spying on me.”

“Would you like to get a coffee, or something?” In hindsight, probably not the best time to ask, but I was hurt, desperate and concussed, covered in leaves, scratches and embarrassment. Probably could try for the sympathy vote. Or an insanity plea.

Jenny laughed. She laughed so much she had to wipe away tears. After about a minute of further humiliation, she smiled. “I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but okay.”

“Really? You just caught me stalking you like some crazy guy.”

“Oh God, you really are an idiot, aren’t you? I said yes, already. Shut up, get up, and let’s get that coffee, before I change my mind.”

Jenny helped me to my feet. I stumbled a bit, grinning all the while.

“Am I going to regret this?” she said.

“Maybe,” I said. “Maybe not.”

We both smiled.

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.


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.


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.


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.


“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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Steve 🙂


The Sale. Every Episode!

The Sale was an unplanned, episodic story I wrote for my blog over a six-month period. Following is a complete list of every episode, so you can read in order from the beginning.


Steve 😊

Part 1 – The Door

Part 2 – The Butler

Part 3 – The Host

Part 4 – The Knife

Part 5 – The Kitchen

Part 6 – The Secret Door

Part 7 – The Bedroom

Part 8 – The Guest

Part 9 – The Ladder

Part 10 – The Basement

Part 11 – The Lab

Part 12 – The Fight

Part 13 – The Maze

Part 14 – The Hall

Part 15 – The Dog

Part 16 – The Climb

Part 17 – The Trapdoor

Part 18 – The Daughter

Part 19 – The Confrontation

Part 20 – The End

PS You may notice a varying tone between episodes; the story changed stylistically as I wrote each instalment, but I think it worked out well, overall.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Steve 🙂

The Sale. Part 20. The Final Instalment.

The police lights twirled, casting brightly coloured fireflies against the mansion walls. Police wandered back and forth from the house. Everywhere you looked was yellow crime scene tape, cordoning off the building and grounds into their own little worlds where masked crime scene investigators in loose overalls prodded, bagged and played. The rain had stopped and the moon gaped full and garish from behind indifferent clouds.

The main police interviews were yet to come, but there was enough initial discussion when they arrived to realise this was a major case. The media hadn’t taken long to show up, and the street was full of television crews and reporters conversing with tripoded cameras.

Aisha sat beside my gurney after I was loaded into an ambulance. The EMS had triaged me and now joined the driver in the cab.

As the doors closed Aisha smiled and gripped my grimy hand. She’d managed to wash, although her hair was still stringy and matted with dried blood. A large bruise swelled on her left temple. A hefty woollen blanket enclosed her like a shawl.

“Hey,” I said. “You clean up pretty good.”

“As do you. If you like that beaten and bloody, ‘just stitched by the Doctor’ look,” she said, a tear forming at the edge of her eye. We both sniggered, but the act stimulated every cut, bruise and wound on our bodies, forcing us to stop. The suspended IV bag rocked gently back and forth as the ambulance picked up speed on its way to the hospital.

“We made it,” I said.

Aisha sighed. “But what now?”

“Lots of police interviews and stuff, I guess. I’m willing to bet money that Silas had more salespeople buried in his backyard. Could be the story of the year.”

“I meant about us. I don’t know about you, but my head’s screwed up pretty bad.”

I grimaced with the pain of my shoulder and jaw. “I guess we’ll just have to work through it.”

Aisha glanced away, wiping the tears from her eyes. She stared back at me. “Thank you.”

“For what?”

“Helping me get out of there, stupid.” She chuckled. Her tears recommenced their race down her cheeks.

“You saved me more times than I did. I’m just glad it’s over.”

Aisha leaned over and hugged me. I yelped from the pain, and she righted herself. “Oops. Sorry.”

“That’s okay,” I said, grinning through the pain. “No sale for either of us, tonight.”

Aisha smiled and held my hand tighter.

* * *

The ambulance driver was a young woman, no older than late teens. Her shoulder-length red hair bobbed as she threw the vehicle into another bend. The blood-stained body of the EMS next to her shifted lazily on the seat, head lolling back and forth with each turn.

“My mother was killed by a vacuum cleaner salesman,” said the driver, emphasising every word through clenched teeth.

The ambulance forged onward. The rain started again, the swollen drops a volley fired at the dark and sullen road ahead.

The End?

Missed earlier instalments? Click here to read more.

What is The Sale?

The Sale was an unplanned, multi-part short story I created to challenge myself as a writer. My intention was to write an episode as often as possible, generally (but not always) ending with a cliff hanger, then work out how to solve the issue and continue the story.

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


Steve 🙂

The Sale. Part 19.

The revolver was shaking in Silas’s hand as he pressed it against my skull. Water streamed down his face, mingling with his tears. I closed my eyes tightly. I could hear a rush of breath escape Aisha’s lips.

The hammer clicked. Again. And again. Nothing.

I opened my eyes. Silas was inspecting the weapon, his teeth gritted. He swept the useless pistol at my head, but I rolled away, avoiding the blow.

Aisha screamed, raised her knife and charged the huge fellow. Silas didn’t miss this time, clocking her above the temple and sending her stumbling and stunned to the grass. I tackled the big man’s legs and he gave way. As Silas hit the ground I started crawling my way up his body, but a well-placed shoe heel hit me directly in the mouth and knocked me off. I could taste salt and iron as sweat and blood mingled with saliva. I spat and rolled across the lawn away from him.

Silas climbed to his feet, the butt of the revolver in his hand, cursing and crying. Soaked with rain, he looked like a giant silhouetted scarecrow against the whitewashed house wall.

“Junifer,” he sobbed. “My Junifer…”

I kneeled next to Aisha, who groaned and held her temple. Her face was painted in blood, her hair hanging in strings down her back and chest. I grabbed the knife from the grass beside her.

“Give it up, Silas,” I said. “You can’t stop us now.” I rose up, bent over in pain, shaking from exhaustion and blood loss. “We’re going to the police. Your little house of horrors is done.” I smiled at the melodrama of it all.

“No,” he replied with a grimace. “It’s you who’s done.” He ran at me, flailing the pistol butt as he did. We connected. We both fell. Silas grunted.

“Nicely played,” he said, wheezing. The knife hilt extended from Silas’s chest—he gasped for breath as a murky blood stain grew beneath his shirt. Then he was silent.

Aisha clawed her way over to where I had fallen. “John,” she whispered, the drumbeat of rain punctuating her words. “Is it over?”

I lay my head back as she placed hers on my chest. “It better be,” I said. “I don’t think I can get up.” The rain continued its obsessive caterwauling on our shivering bodies. Aisha and I laughed; the manic laugh of insane asylum inmates, just prior to admission.

To be continued…

Missed earlier instalments? Click here to read more.

What is The Sale?

The Sale is an unplanned, multi-part short story I created to challenge myself as a writer. 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 issue and continue the story.

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


Steve 🙂

The Sale. Part 18.

Junifer Vasilikov limped closer. In the moonlight we could make out a ghastly, bloody smear covering her features. Her hands were empty. “My mother was killed by a vacuum cleaner,” she said, wearily.

Aisha leapt to her feet, knife at the ready. I stood up and we faced Crazy Junifer, together. I raised my hands in a conciliatory gesture.

“Junifer,” I said. “We don’t want any trouble. We just want to leave this place.”

The mad woman’s eyes were wide, her tears mingling with dewy raindrops. Every few moments she would quirkily brush her hand across her wet, stringy hair, as if something annoyed her there.

“My mother…” she said, the words almost a whisper. Junifer lowered her head. She stood trembling.

“Junifer,” said Aisha. “Please let us go.” She lowered the knife to her side and extended a shaky hand.

Junifer sobbed. The light rain was drizzling, now, and our clothes were wet through. Aisha looked at me sadly, indicating to go around the poor woman. I stepped to the right.

Crazy Junifer leapt forward, screaming like a banshee and clutching at Aisha. The two grappled, twisting around as I watched in abject horror. Then Aisha pushed Junifer away.

A trip. A scream. A nauseating crunch. Junifer had fallen down the open hatch next to the house.

Aisha stood in shock. “I didn’t mean to—is she?”

I knelt and glanced over the rim. At the bottom of the ladder, Junifer’s body was twisted, broken and deathly still. A pool of blood grew around her as I watched.

The rain’s intensity had increased, the sound of each drop a hammer beat on the mansion’s roof and walls.

“NO!” screamed Silas. I looked up; he was standing over me. He must have come around from the front of the house. His face was a contorted cacophony of pain and rage. Watery rivulets cascaded down his forehead and cheeks. His eyes were wide with fury.

“I’ll kill you,” Silas screamed.

To be continued…

Missed earlier instalments? Click here to read more.

What is The Sale?

The Sale is an unplanned, multi-part short story I created to challenge myself as a writer. 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 issue and continue the story.

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


Steve 🙂

The Sale. Part 17.

The climb down was a blur of motion and fear. The air was musty, mouldy and laced with the smell of our sweat-soaked and angst-ridden bodies. At the bottom of the ladder, we stood before the exit panel to the basement storeroom. Aisha gripped the knife tightly, ready to stab anyone who might be waiting on the other side. In the gleam of the flashlight, her bruised and bloodied face was contorted and twisted in a psychotic melange. My expression wasn’t much better. In our torn and dirty clothes, we resembled vagrants without a street corner.

The storeroom was bright. Both exit doors were open. We cautiously tiptoed to the lab entrance. On the floor were smeared blood and strands of sticky hair—the remnants of the fight with Junifer. Her body was nowhere to be found.

The lab was as it was before, less Silas and his omnipresent revolver: the steel tables with built in restraints angled at forty-five degrees; the sideboards filled with test tubes and equipment; an array of vicious looking implements obviously designed for torture; the ever-present smell of antiseptic. I searched the room while Aisha stood watch at the doorway. There were no guns, but in the rear, in a space behind an aluminium storage cupboard, a steel ladder to a trapdoor in the ceiling.

“Aisha,” I called. “I’ve found a way out.” I blinked back a tear, palpable relief in my voice.

She ran over. “Go,” she said. “I’ll be right behind you.” We hugged shakily; the pain of our wounds was sneaking back now the adrenaline was wearing off.

I climbed. At the top the hatch was locked with a simple sliding bolt. It worked it loose and pushed the trapdoor upwards.

Fresh air licked my face. A light rain dusted the grass as I stumbled over the rim into the dark night. I fell to the ground. The moon reflected off the whitewashed house wall behind me. Aisha collapsed next to me. “We’re finally out,” she said.

A twig cracked.

A dark figure stood several feet away, silhouetted against the moon, long hair flitting like Medusa’s snakes in the breeze. Each word it spoke was emphasised through clenched teeth. “My-mother-was-killed-by-a-vacuum-cleaner,” said Crazy Junifer.

To be continued…

Missed earlier instalments? Click here to read more.

What is The Sale?

The Sale is an unplanned, multi-part short story I created to challenge myself as a writer. 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 issue and continue the story.

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


Steve 🙂

The Sale. Part 16.

At the top of the stairs, another corridor: four sets of doors, two on each side. Aisha smiled grimly. “I know this part of the house. The bedroom I hid in is the last door on the left.”

“The secret passage,” I said. “We can take the ladder down to the pantry and double back around behind Silas. We’ll be closer to the entry.”

There was a crash as the door at the bottom of the stairs slammed open. “Come back here!” screamed the aging butler/mad scientist/serial killer. A bullet impaled the frame next to me. Aisha and I rushed through the door she indicated and shut it behind us. We grabbed the dresser and dragged it to block the doorway.

The room was much as we’d left it. The panel of the secret passage stood open across from the antique four poster bed Aisha had lain under for a day.

The entry door rattled against the dresser, Silas cursing as he pushed. We ran for the passage, closing the panel behind us.

“We have to move quickly,” said Aisha. “Or Silas will work out what we’re up to and be down in the pantry before we get there.” We moved hurriedly through the tight and musty passage, my flashlight beam reflecting off floating dust motes and stringy, hanging cobwebs.

“Then let’s go down to the basement. He won’t be expecting that,” I said.

“Are you crazy? Last time we did that, we almost got killed.”

“We might be able to find a weapon.”

“I seem to remember you saying something similar last time. And we have a knife, now.”

“I was thinking more like a gun.”

“I’m sure Silas leaves AK-47s lying around everywhere,” Aisha said, raising an eyebrow. “If we do find something, I hope your shooting isn’t as bad as your throwing.”

“Hey, it was a heavy flashlight.” I paused and grinned. “If we get a gun, maybe you should handle it.”

Aisha’s strained laugh died as we reached the top of the stainless-steel ladder. I went down first, shoulder pain searing with every movement, gripping the Maglite in my mouth.

“I don’t want to even think about how bad this could turn out,” Aisha said.

I mumbled unintelligibly and kept climbing down.

To be continued…

Missed earlier instalments? Click here to read more.

What is The Sale?

The Sale is an unplanned, multi-part short story I created to challenge myself as a writer. 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 issue and continue the story.

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


Steve 🙂

The Sale. Part 15.

Aisha and I swore simultaneously.

Silas gestured to his slavering doberman, straining at the chain he held. “This is Goering,” he said. “I think he would like to make your acquaintance.” He unleashed the beast and it catapulted down the hallway, chain flailing behind.

Aisha and I ran back through the doorway we had exited. Further down the corridor on the left was the entrance to the maze below, at the far end was the other door. We bolted as the dog barked and bounded after us.

Goering caught me about five feet from the end door, its weight knocking me to the floor, teeth finding their mark in my wounded shoulder. I screamed as it tore into the already-bloodied flesh. Aisha stabbed the dog, which yelped and turned to attack her. I have to hand it to the girl, she’s a psychotic when she wants to be. The knife was a flurry of movement as blood and canine yelps filled the air. The doberman dropped at the same time I rose to grab the doorknob.

A bullet cracked the wall next to my head. “How dare you kill my dog!” screamed Silas, running toward us, revolver raised.

Aisha and I leapt through the entry, slamming the wooden door behind us and ducking as bullet shots punctured the panels. I clicked the lock on the doorknob, and we glanced at the stairwell behind us. Stairs headed up to the second story we’d visited earlier in the night. Silas was swearing and straining at the handle on the other side of the door. It wouldn’t be long before he produced a key or shot the lock.

Aisha and I took the stairs, blood from my shoulder trailing behind me as we ran.

To be continued…

Missed earlier instalments? Click here to read more.

What is The Sale?

The Sale is an unplanned, multi-part short story I created to challenge myself as a writer. 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 issue and continue the story.

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


Steve 🙂

The Sale. Part 14.

My fingertips were worn from scraping constantly against the inner wall, tracing our way through the maze. The electric bulbs in the stone and earth ceiling flickered dimly and our shadows gently danced on the surrounding walls as we stumbled on.

My right shoulder lanced with pain every time I jarred it. Every thirty minutes or so Aisha would rip another piece of cloth from the bottom of her tie-dye dress, remove the old dressing and apply a new one to the wound where the bullet had passed through. Her face and arms were a mess of bruises and scratches from the fist fight with Crazy Junifer. Aisha held the knife she had taken from Junifer at the ready and I gripped my Maglite like a club; we were both a little twitchy. Occasionally, we would glance at how dirty, dishevelled and drained we were and laugh. What else could we do?

Finally we found another door. It was steel, much like the one on the lab/torture room, but unlike that one, had a regular handle and no lock. I leaned against the wall, breathing a sigh of relief.

“Ready?” I said. Aisha smiled grimly, nodded and took position beside me.

I pulled the door open. Beyond was a set of wooden stairs leading upwards. Aisha and I hugged and laughed. We took the stairs slowly, the slats creaking with each step. At the top was a conventional timber door with a standard doorknob.

Aisha opened it quietly and glanced into the hall beyond. “We’re back in the house,” she whispered. We exited into the unfamiliar hallway, lit by small glass chandeliers in the ceiling; the door we opened was in the middle of the corridor, with single doors at either end.

“Where to, now?” I said.

Aisha shrugged, gestured eeny-meeny-miny-moe, ending on the left door. I grinned. We tiptoed to the door, and Aisha opened it slowly.

It was the main hall that led to the lounge, kitchen and front reception, where all this had started.

And standing at the far end was Silas, still dressed in his lab coat, his snub-nosed revolver held at waist height. By his side, restrained with a chain Silas held firmly, was a huge, growling and salivating Doberman.

“We really have to stop meeting like this,” Silas said.

To be continued…

Missed earlier instalments? Click here to read more.

So, What Is The Sale?

The Sale is an unplanned, multi-part short story I created to challenge myself as a writer. My intention is to write an episode as often as possible, generally (but not always) ending with a cliffhanger, then work out how to solve the issue and continue the story.

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


Steve 🙂

The Wait. A short tale.

She waited as he wasted away.

She watched and pined. He watched as well; sometimes TV, sometimes her.

She fed him hand-to-mouth. Eventually he refused to eat. As he grew thinner, the drip in his arm pulsed like a marathon runner, sucking exhausted breaths as it neared the finish line.

He smiled painfully. She did, too.

She cried when he slept–never when he was awake. Her tears fell gently on the back of his hand, where they ran off the edge in random segues before fading away with nary a whisper.

She knew when the day arrived. There was no announcement, no symbolic continuous beep on the machine, like on TV. She just knew. So did he.

They held hands.

She waited as he went away.


If you would like to read more of my flash fiction, click here.


Steve 🙂

The Sale. Part 13.

As Aisha and I ran down the underground corridor, squinting in the dim light, we heard a voice crackling from an old wooden speaker box on the wall. It was Silas.

“You can’t escape you know.”

We darted to the passage’s end. A blank wall. Backtracked to an intersection. Ran right.

“I had the tunnels built like a maze for just this reason.”

Another dead end. Aisha swore. “How do we get out of this insane asylum?” she cried. We backtracked to an earlier junction and took a left.

Silas continued, his voice echoing through the stone halls from various speakers. “I’ve been doing this for years, you know. And I haven’t lost a victim—that is, a subject—yet.”

“I guess we’re going to have to hear his monologue after all,” I said.

Silas talked as we ran down more corridors, hoping to find a way out. “I’m not happy about what you did to poor Junifer. She suffers from mental illness, you know. You took advantage of her condition.”

Aisha and I stopped at a cross junction. The tunnels went four ways. We gathered our breath. We hugged each other. Silas’s eerie ventriloquism continued. “Her mother suffered from the same condition, you know. I tried to help Junifer as best I could. But my experimental treatment was ineffective. So, I set her up as the mistress of this house. Only the best for my daughter.”

“She’s his daughter?” said Aisha. “That explains a lot.”

“Let’s go,” I said. I placed my hand on one wall and we jogged along, my fingertips always keeping contact. At the end, instead of retracing our footsteps, I kept my fingers on the wall and followed it around until I was next to the opposite wall. “This will take a long time, but eventually we’ll get out. As long as we follow the walls, rather than the floors.”

Aisha nodded and smiled. “So, what were you, John? A boy scout?”

“Just call me the ‘labyrinth lord’.”

Aisha rolled her eyes. We moved on.


To be continued…

Missed earlier instalments? Click here to read more.

The Sale. Part 12.

My hands were in the air and so was the rock-solid Maglite flashlight. Silas was watching the Mexican standoff in the store room where crazy woman Junifer had confronted Aisha.

I threw the torch as hard as I could. It was a crappy throw. The flashlight hit Silas in the side, surprising him more than hurting him. He fired his revolver. The bullet struck me high in the right shoulder, piercing the flesh, ricocheting off the bone and exiting at the side. I yelped and fell back against the laboratory wall.

Aisha and Junifer were both looking into the lab, now. I folded around the door frame into the store room and collapsed next to Aisha’s leg, clutching my shoulder, swearing. There was a fair bit of blood and whole lot of pain. I squeezed my eyes tight and clutched at my shoulder in agony.

“Junifer,” cried Silas. “Kill him.”

At this point I realised he meant me, stopped wincing and got to my feet. Junifer charged me, knife raised and pinned me to the store room wall. I held her back as she screamed like a wild woman, spittle spraying in my face.

Aisha, obviously smarter than me, pulled the lab door shut, grabbed her dropped flashlight and firmly struck Junifer over the back of the head. Unlike in the movies, a good crack on the head with a solid object rarely knocks people out. It does, however, really hurt.

Junifer, distracted now, turned to face Aisha and menaced her with the knife while holding her bloody skull. I grabbed the door handle as Silas made it to the other side. Despite his bulk, he wasn’t as strong as me and couldn’t get it open with me holding the handle this side. Not for want of trying. As we pulled back and forth it almost resembled a child’s game. Aside from the blood, language and strain on our faces, that is.

Aisha was struggling with Junifer on the floor. The knife lay spinning beside them. The girls were scratching, biting and generally doing all the things that make women’s fights so nasty.

“Hit her,” screamed Aisha.

“Would you like to hold this while I do that?” I cried, as the door pumped open and shut in my tug of war with Silas. I really didn’t want to hit Junifer, no matter how crazy she was. My mother had taught me never to lay a hand on a woman. But this was life or death. As they rolled closer to me, I kicked Junifer hard in the skull. She rolled off Aisha onto the floor, writhing slowly, clutching her bleeding head, sobbing quietly. For a moment I was sympathetic. But only for a moment. We still had a gun-toting torturer on the other side of the lab door to deal with.

Aisha was a mess, scratched and bruised. We were both sweat-soaked, dishevelled, drawn and bloody. She grabbed the knife and held the store room door open. “Come on,” she said.

I pulled hard on the lab door until it clicked. Then I let go of the handle and bolted after Aisha as she leapt through the store room doorway. We were in a narrow corridor with rough, rock hewn walls, illuminated by feeble electric bulbs every ten feet or so.

We ran.

To be continued…

Missed earlier instalments? Click here to read more.

The Sale. Part 11. A short series.

Aisha froze and dropped her phone. The screen cracked on the concrete floor as it bounced at her feet.

Across the large, concrete-walled room was Silas, the aged and insensitively tall butler. He was no longer dressed in his servant togs, having changed to a white lab coat and matching trousers, and accessorising with a .38 snub-nosed revolver. Pointing right at Aisha.

Being only partly cowardly, I rushed in front to shield her. Having done so I realised perhaps it wasn’t the wisest course of action. My eyes widened. “What the…”

“Indeed, John,” said Silas, smiling like a James Bond villain. “No need for subterfuge, now. Welcome to my laboratory.” He swept his arm theatrically. Behind him, tables with assorted test tubes and other devices; some impressive looking metal tables with restraints, angled at forty five degrees (for easy access, I assume); various nasty looking serrated tools (for easy torture, I assume). The air smelled faintly of antiseptic. Aisha swore.

“You’re probably wondering what all this is about,” said Silas.

Aisha smacked her forehead with her open palm. “Don’t tell me he’s going to soliloquise.”

“Every good villain needs to outline their plan,” said Silas, smiling broadly.

“Screw that,” said Aisha. She ran back into the store room to the other metal door. I stood there stupidly with my hands up. Silas removed a clicker from his pocket and hit the button.

There was a buzz from the handle-less storeroom door we’d checked out earlier and a mechanical whirring of gears. The door slowly opened.

“My mother was killed by a vacuum cleaner.”

Wild-haired and wilder-eyed Junifer Vasilikov stood in the open doorway, the gleaming butcher’s knife extending from her white-knuckled grip. Aisha backed up until she bumped into me from behind.

“I’m open to ideas at this point,” she said.

To be continued…

Missed earlier instalments? Click here to read more.

The Sale. Part 10. A short series.

Climbing down the ladder we came to the ground floor, with the passage leading to the pantry. “Should we stop here?” said Aisha, taking the iPhone out of her mouth and shining the torch light up the dingy corridor.

“I really think we need to check out the basement.” I tapped my foot impatiently on the rung above her head. “We don’t know if Crazy Junifer is waiting in the kitchen.”

Aisha looked up at me and frowned. “She could be anywhere.”

“Can we just get going? The faster we get to the basement the faster we can get out of here.”

Aisha started moving downwards again, her iPhone back between her teeth. I could hear her mumbling in the dimness. Within a few minutes she had reached the bottom and lowered herself to the floor. I came down after her.

“How’s the phone charge?” I said.

Aisha checked. “Not good. It’s down to 22%. That torch app uses a lot of power.”

“We need to find another light source. There must be a light switch somewhere.”

The basement was larger than expected, maybe thirty feet to a side. The light from the iPhone pierced the darkness, revealing numerous crates and boxes stacked against the walls, along with what looked like furniture under dust sheets. The ladder was at the centre of one wall. Directly across the room were two doors on separate walls. I could just make out what looked like a light switch near the first door.

We walked over. The door was made of steel, with thick bolts rimming the edges. There was no door handle. “Well that’s just perfect,” said Aisha.

I flicked on the light switch. A neon globe sprung to life in the ceiling. “Let there be light,” I said.

“I hope you’re a better salesman than you are a comedian,” said Aisha. She checked her phone for signal (none), then switched it off to save the battery. I pushed on the door, but it didn’t give.

“All right, mister ‘let’s check out the basement so we can get out’, what now?” said Aisha.

I started checking the boxes. After opening a few, success. “Flashlights,” I said, holding aloft two medium-sized Maglites. I tested each and tossed one to Aisha. “Just in case.”

She was standing at the second door. It was the same make as the other, but had a handle. “Looks like we can either try this, or go back up the ladder and try the pantry,” she said.

I walked over, smiling. “My vote’s to try that one. This house can’t get any worse, can it?”

Aisha shrugged. She opened the door.

Then things got worse.
To be continued…

Missed earlier instalments? Click here to read more.

The Sale. Part 9. A short series.

We made it to the floor access. The iPhone torch light reflected off the shiny ladder, floating dust motes and hanging cobwebs.

“We’re going down there?” said Aisha. Her face wrinkled in dismay. “I don’t know. It’s bad enough I’m in a dark passage with some stranger…”

I slapped my forehead. “Oh, sorry. I’m John. Forgot to introduce myself.”

“That’s because you were too busy screaming like a little old lady.”

“Yes, well we can’t all be heroes, can we?”

“You’re also a hog.” She snatched the cellphone away and shone its light down the ladder recess. “So we have to go down there?”

“It leads to the pantry and further down to the basement. There may be a cellar door we can get out.”

“And who made you the leader?”

I rolled my eyes. “I just want to get out of this house.” I sighed. “All I wanted to do was sell a vacuum to the lady.”

Aisha guffawed. “You’re a vacuum cleaner salesman? What, you couldn’t find a real job?”

“I’ll have you know I’m pretty good at my job. Now if you’ve finished humiliating me…”

She wiped tears from her eyes. “I’m sorry. I’m in sales, too. I sell make-up packages.”

It was my turn to laugh. She crossed her arms and frowned. “I make a good living, thank you very much.”

On cue, I stopped. “Well, I guess we’ve both been put in our places.” An uncomfortably pregnant pause followed while we assessed the state of our lives and our current predicament.

“This Vasilikov woman must be luring salespeople,” said Aisha.

“Maybe,” I said. “But something doesn’t feel right. I only away because Silas—the butler—led me here. Then he disappeared. Plus, the ladder is stainless steel, but the butler said the passages and the house were here since the Civil War, so the original ladder much have been replaced at some point. It doesn’t add up.”

“The butler helped you? I had to find my own way through this freak show house. If I hadn’t run upstairs and hid under the bed, I don’t know what would have happened. That butler was gone as soon as Vasilikov came at me with the knife.”

“Like I said, it’s suspicious.” I pointed to the top of the ladder. “Going down?” Aisha nodded.

“Ladies before gentleman,” I said.

“You’re no gentleman,” mumbled Aisha as she climbed down the ladder, iPhone in mouth.

To be continued…

Missed earlier instalments? Click here to read more.

The Sale. Part 8. A short story.

I flung myself off the bed, seeking to extricate my lower leg from whatever was grabbing it. My effeminate scream echoed through the room.

“Oh, shut up,” cried a female voice from below. My leg was released and I huddled against the wall under the shuttered window. An attractive African-American woman in her mid-20’s pulled herself from under the bed and stood. She was dishevelled, dressed in what looked like a tie-dyed hippie dress.

“Who are you?” I said, eyes wide in disbelief.

“I’m Aisha,” said the woman, smiling. “Sorry I scared you. You scream like a girl, you know.”

I rose, looking suitably miffed. “What the hell were you doing under that bed?”

“Hiding from the crazy woman,” said Aisha. “I guess you’ve met her, otherwise you wouldn’t have reacted like you did.”

I relaxed somewhat. “How did you get here?”

“Long story,” she said. “But we need to move, because your girly screams have probably informed  her where we are.” She paused to look me up and down. “I don’t suppose you have a gun or a knife on you? All I’ve got is my cellphone. I can’t get a damn signal, though.”

I deadpanned. “Yeah, I’ve got a few knives tucked into my shoe and a machete down my underwear for just such an occasion.” She rolled her eyes.

“Can I see the phone?” I said. She hesitated, then handed it to me to inspect. It was an iPhone with about 50% charge left. No phone bars, no reception. Strangely, no internet either.

It was at this moment that I realised Silas the butler was nowhere to be seen. The secret door was still open, but he had disappeared. My brow furrowed and I raised an eyebrow, Spock-style.

“There’s a secret passage over there,” I said. “You can tell me your story as we go.” I walked to the opening.

“That’s my phone, you know.”

“There’s no light in the passageway. I need it to see where we’re going.”

Aisha seemed to be in two minds, but decided to follow. “I hope to God you’re not some serial killer.”

“Can’t be worse than Junifer Vasilikov,” I replied. I clicked on the phone’s torch app and climbed into the passageway.

“Is that her name? So she’s some Russian chick?” said Aisha, following. I slid the wood panel into place.

“I guess so. Hey, you didn’t notice the butler standing at the passageway entry a few minutes ago did you?”

“No, I only saw your legs.” Aisha noticed how dank and dirty the corridor was. “Hey, you better not be leading me into trouble. I’ve been hiding safely since last night.”

“You seem pretty okay for someone who’s been hiding out in a strange house for 24 hours.”

“I carry lots of snacks. I’m more annoyed about no internet. You know how dull it can get under a bed?”

To be continued…

Missed the earlier instalments? Click here.

The Sale. Part 7. A short story.

The musty corridor receded into the darkness. Silas, holding his lighter aloft, turned and beckoned me to follow. I trailed him as he crept forward, sweeping dusty cobwebs from the way as he went.

Before long we came to a ladder marking the end of the passage. It led up into the dark and down through a square-cut hole in the floor to the depths below. “We have a choice, sir,” said Silas, glancing up and down. “Which way do you suggest?”

I eyed the ladder, touching the rungs gingerly; they were cold, metallic. “This ladder is made of metal. And it’s not rusted.”

Silas peered more closely. “So it is, sir.”

“Looks like stainless steel,” I said. “Not the sort of material available in Civil War days.”

“Curious. Perhaps it was added at some later date.”

Something wasn’t adding up here. “I don’t even want to think about what’s below this house. Let’s go up.”

“After you, sir.”

I  smiled. “No, I insist. After you.”

Silas climbed creakily up the ladder, awkwardly cradling his lit lighter as he did. He climbed more slowly than he walked, each rung a superhuman effort. I started up after him.

Eventually Silas reached the floor above: another dim, mouldy corridor receding left and right. More cobwebs. I pulled myself up and stood beside him (his prodigious height made me feel like a dwarf).

“So many choices, sir.” He smiled, showing whitened teeth.

“There must be a way out somewhere,” I said. “Let’s try left.”

The left corridor ended after twenty feet. “It’s the back of a secret door, sir.” Of course it was the back of a secret door. What else would I expect to find in this crazy house?

“I can’t hear anything, sir.”

“Then let’s get out of here.”

The door opened into a master bedroom, illuminated from above by a chandelier. It was lavishly appointed (if a bit old and worn) with a four-poster bed, antique cupboards and dresser, with floors of  polished wood. I slipped over and tried one of the windows. It slid open, but the shutters beyond wouldn’t budge. “The shutters are jammed.” I tried another. Same thing. “This one, too. What the hell is going on here?”

Silas looked suitably vacant. “I’m not sure, sir.”

I sat on the edge of the bed. “How am I going to get out of here?”

Cold fingers grabbed my lower leg. I screamed.

To be continued…

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