I’m super busy, as evidenced by my total neglect of my blog. I figured I should show a little love here and offer up something new to look at.
Here’s a map of the world of the Gryphonpike Chronicles, as drawn for me by Jared Blando:
I’m super busy, as evidenced by my total neglect of my blog. I figured I should show a little love here and offer up something new to look at.
Here’s a map of the world of the Gryphonpike Chronicles, as drawn for me by Jared Blando:
It’s January, so I guess that means it is time to put up a nice handy list of award-eligible fiction. I have a bunch of fiction eligible in various categories for the Hugos plus I am in my second and final year of Campbell Award eligibility. So here’s a list of things and the categories they are eligible for. If you are interested in reading something for award consideration and you would like a free copy, please email me at anniembellet AT gmail DOT com or you will also find that most of my stuff is available free or inexpensively as ebooks on the web (or in paperback in the case of my novel).
Hugo Award Eligible things:
The Light of the Earth As Seen From Tartarus– Hard near-future SF novelette published January 2011
Delivering Yaehala– Otherworld Fantasy novelette published December 2011
Short Story Category:
The Scent of Sunlight and River Daughter and La Última Esperanza and Roping the Mother– from the fantasy short story collection River Daughter and Other Stories, October 2011 (all four stories in this collection are eligible)
Flashover (A Remy Pigeon Story)– Paranormal Mystery, December 2011
That’s all of it, I think. Enjoy!
In the last week or so I’ve put up three new e-books, so I figured they should get their own post.
The first is a fantasy novelette. It has unicorns, chase scenes, friendship, betrayal, and did I mention the unicorns?
Exiled from her people, Alila lives alone in a canyon harvesting Frankincense resin with her twin unicorns for company. When a pregnant princess on the run from assassins disrupts her quiet world, Alila chooses to help her reach the coast. Hounded by assassins and torn apart by distrust, Alila’s choice threatens to reveal her dark past and her terrible secret. If she and the princess survive their journey to safety.
Buy for Kindle (Or get it free via Kindle Prime Lending).
The other two stories I’ve put up are both ones that appeared in anthologies this summer.
Eking out an existence as a scavenger in post-apocalyptic Russia, Ryska never thought she would be more than a blind, discarded military experiment. Then she ends up in the middle of a kidnapping gone wrong and must use her all her skills to save herself, and the young boy who brings back painful memories of her past.
Diarmuid long ago gave up hope of escaping his indentured servitude on the Family’s large drug-refining space station. He owed money he didn’t have, they made him an offer, and he loved breathing so he couldn’t refuse. But when he accidentally uncovers a spy from a rival crime syndicate, everything changes. Suddenly escape looks possible and with a crazy sexbot and a paranoid Siberian on his side, what could possibly go wrong?
Nevermind the Bollocks is a short story originally published in Digital Science Fiction #2.
Hope everyone had a wonderful Holidays. I’ll be doing my “looking back at 2011” post here soon.
My NaNo rebel project is not going well. I’m stuck trying to figure out if this story needs to be told in 1st or in 3rd person. So I’ve switched back to the novel (the sequel to A Heart in Sun and Shadow). I’ve never written a sequel before. It’s tough writing one for a book that is published, too. I can’t change details that were set in the first novel, so I’m constantly having to recheck the older book for things. I think I might take a couple hours today and make a quickie world bible or at least a list with the relevant details. I wrote the first book before I’d really nailed down how I prefer to write novels and I have zero cohesive character notes or world notes at all (which is something I started doing AFTER I wrote this one). It’s odd to go back and look at a work that I did a couple years ago.
In other news, I sold another story to Daily SF. This is my tenth fiction sale in less than two years (first sale was in December of 2009). Five of those have been to Daily SF. I guess it is true, you just have to find an editor who loves what you write and then sell them as much as you can. I’m glad so many stories of mine have found a home with Daily SF. They are a great publication (delivered to your email! Go subscribe! /end plug).
Oh, and I crossed the 1,000 books sold mark for my e-books. Hopefully the next 1k doesn’t take quite as long, but it is definitely a mile-stone.
So that is what’s up with me. Now, where did I put that outline? Back to writing!
Dr. Lucien Graeme had just come home from a mandatory ten hour shift at the Ijipe Morninglight Clinic and all he wanted to do was take a long, scalding shower and curl up in his bed and surf the Wires until he fell asleep. He walked up the last flight of steps to his door, noticing the blood trail that slowly grew from droplets on the hallway floor to a ragged smear along one dingy blue wall outside his door.
It seemed there truly was no rest for the wicked.
Lucien’s day job was as a surgeon for the city clinics, beholden to the Council and its dictates for his livelihood. And while the pay was enough to survive on, it certainly didn’t allow for Lucien’s own expensive and often less than legal tastes. The easiest way to afford his toys and the extra rations was to run his own clinic and go on being a doctor long after official hours were over. Casimir had a seething underbelly of not quite legal people doing not quite legal things, and sometimes those things led to injuries that would be inconvenient to explain.
So he stitched up and patched up and medicated all sorts of criminals and in return got paid, sometimes in credits, sometimes in favors, most often in goods or services. Lucien thought of himself as a very reasonable man. He always found ways for his extracurricular clients to settle their debts.
The boy curled up in a ragged ball outside his door this time wasn’t someone Lucien had seen before. He stared up at Lucien with bruised-looking eyes too big for his thin face. Not a boy, a man, but a skinny, unkempt one, clutching a satchel and a badly broken arm.
“You the doc?” the man said through chattering teeth. Lucien recognized the signs of shock and wondered how far this idiot had come with that arm.
“Sure,” he answered, unlocking his door. The hallway was clear, his PUDI was linked into his private wires and monitoring the security system installed. Lucien owned the entire floor of this section. He liked his privacy and needed the space to hold all his specially acquired equipment.
He helped the man up, noting his dilated pupils and unsteady breathing as well as the thin film of sweat coating the guy’s face. Definitely in shock.
“I’m Dr. Graeme. How’d you find me?” Lucien asked as he half carried his patient through the foyer and into his after hours examination room. It was highly unlikely this sucker was working for the Grey Guard or anything. Even they wouldn’t go so far as to give someone a compound fracture just to uncover an illegal medical practice.
“I’m Tom. A friend said, I mean,” the man said, shivering. “I can pay. Friend said you fixed up people who aren’t on the official forms.”
“Let’s get an IV in you and set this arm, then we’ll worry about payment,” Lucien said in his best bedside doctor voice.
Tom seemed to relax at that, though he didn’t want to let go of the satchel until he was assured it would just sit on the floor until the procedure was finished. Lucien got him comfortable and pulled on gloves. Everything was laid out in a neat, orderly fashion, but sometimes he missed having a competent nurse. Too much risk, however, and a nurse would have to live in the flat to be any real use since his after hours clientele were erratic at best.
What he didn’t tell Tom was that what he was adding into the IV would knock him out. The man’s thin face smoothed out and his jaw went slack as Lucien counted back slowly from fifty as he got his implements ready and assembled what he thought he’d need on a tray.
With his patient blissfully unaware, Lucien was free to examine the arm. A hand-held x-ray imaging machine slowly scanned and loaded a picture of the broken arm. The radius was the bone sticking out of the skin, and it was fractured into three pieces. The ulna looked better, but had a nasty fracture as well with hairline spidering of the break all through the bone. He’d lost a lot of blood as well but at least his tendons looked mostly undamaged.
A quick slide and check revealed blood type and Lucien started a bag going. Tom’s heartbeat was steadier now that he was on painkillers and unconscious. Lucien took a deep breath and tucked his mask up over his nose, pinching the bridge.
It would be easiest to amputate the arm at the elbow. Otherwise this would take a pin or two, a lot of stitches, and using one of the special breathable casts he’d acquired from the clinic. Far, far simpler to just remove the damaged arm at the elbow.
Underneath the mask, Lucien smiled. Simple was for hacks and quacks. This arm was a challenge, and as tired as he was, he still couldn’t resist the lure of putting something so broken back together again.
Besides, the man had said he could pay. Amputation was so much cheaper than surgery. Tom would pay, Tom would be grateful. A little consideration now might yield unknown dividends in the future. Small-minded men where the ones who didn’t plan ahead, didn’t seek longer term advantages.
Lucien’s foot tapped the satchel as he pulled up his chair next to the examining table. He made a mental note to go through the bag this man had clung to through all his pain and trouble, a bag that might have something to do with how his arm was crushed in the first place. Later. Now, now was the time to begin his latest masterpiece, now he would deal with this ruined arm and make it whole again.
* * *
Sif figured whoever had come up with the design for these stupid Hunter-killer drones must have been the god of con artists. The little drones were quick, but their hovering depended on magnetic forces, so their movements were simple to predict. They also hummed a little, the kinetic motors creating an almost aural static that a normal human ear might have been able to track, but her ears did just fine.
The Hunter-killers also broke easily, not being designed at all for slamming into walls and floors at high speed. Against a slow, stupid thief with no night vision, she could see the darts working. Maybe. These drones were never going to have the chance to find out.
Using her PUDI as a mini-map for the building, Sif led the drones away from the stairs she’d sent Hex up. There was another way to the roof from here if she went out a fire escape access point and she wasn’t averse to a little climbing. The hallways dumped into each other, one winding corridor after another, and she knew this was taking too long. Hex would be well away by now, however, and the drones seemed to have given up pursuit.
She was nearly to the door when the whir warned her. Sif dove to the side, dropping down. A sharp prick stung her shoulder but she ignored it, twisting and rolling down the hallway in a half-tumble. The murmur of the drone’s motor located it for her and she was up again, kicking off one wall to gain height as she leapt and smashed the annoying thing into the concrete and plaster wall. It lodged there, humming angrily.
Sif’s arm started to go numb and she could almost feel her cells curdling and dying as the poison tried to invade her system. With one hand she plucked the dart out of her shoulder. It was thick and short with the dark gleam of the poison coving half its length, seeping out from the hollow center through invisible holes. So tiny a thing. She tucked in gingerly into a pocket in her belt.
It wouldn’t kill her. Probably. But it meant a detour on the way home. She felt the familiar hunger in her blood. She needed more Drift, she was burning through her body’s resources too quickly doing everything she’d done tonight and, now, fighting off the poison. There was nothing else for it. She’d have to go see Lucien and barter something other than credits for his services and her drugs.
With a grimace, Sif slipped out onto the fire ladder and into the neon-lit night.
Ryg started cursing again as one portion of his screen, the window following Sif and Hex, went dead blank. He couldn’t reach them through their PUDIs either. But his progs were running. Whatever had jammed the Wires and stopped communication wasn’t jamming up the feed that ran through the hard cables up to the array on the roof and down into the hidden government black box below.
Hex and Sif can take care of themselves. Ryg had his own job to do. He hadn’t known what kind of programs he’d need to help him get into the servers, so he’d loaded the chip with the works. Now he streamlined it, pushing his best trackers and code-catchers to the front, searching for the access points.
To anyone on the outside, the data flowing past Ryg’s eyes would have looked like numbers with the occasional strange characters woven in, but to him it was another world. There! When the BioCore servers had been rigged to piggyback on the government array, they’d left open doors into the servers. It was a clean, efficient job and Ryg almost wanted to meet the code writers who’d done this.
Stop admiring someone else’s work and do your own, he told himself. He tripped the keyword hunters he’d laced his progs with and cued them up to compile the data onto the right hard drive, the one that Tommy would swap out as soon as Nico and Kadin cut the power.
Sitting alone in his room, Ryg bit his lip and focused in. His friends were all out of contact. Beyond his control. Easier to contain what he could and let the rest go. He was almost in, almost there. The progs were copying things from the BioCore servers as well, but that would just help confuse anyone looking for a trail. And who knew? That information might come in handy or be sellable at some point. He had things perfectly under control.
Then his screens went black.
* * *
Nico scanned the help document on the console in front of her and brought up the right control screen. The tech, currently sweating this out tied to his chair, had logged in when he’d arrived at work, which made her job a lot easier. But she needed another code to open the override box on the wall behind him.
“Alim?” she said softly, guessing at his name from the user log on the console. “I need a code to open the override.”
“Don’t you tell them nothing,” the fat guard said. He was sweating to and kept posturing with verbal threats as though his words were scare Kadin and her away. The man was called Combs by his partner, as in “shut the hell up, Combs” and “for Loria’s sake, shut the damn hell up, Combs”.
Kadin glared at him and threatened to backhand him again. Combs already had a fat lip from a gentle tap a little earlier. He shut up again, glaring, looking like a fat grey sack with big dark circles of sweat stinking up his creased uniform.
“Alim?” Nico didn’t want to seem in a hurry, but time was passing and they needed to throw the switch soon.
He glanced at the two guards and then, sighing as though the building had just come down onto his chest, he gave her the code. The door of the override box slid open, revealing a bright red lever with a bunch of warning text written too small to make out from a distance.
“Red, of course.” Nico smiled at Kadin. “Get the door.”
Kadin opened the door and blocked it with his body. Nico waited for his nod and then grasped the lever. With the jammer on, it was impossible to know if they were running exactly on schedule, but the timing was close. Seconds shouldn’t matter.
“Good night,” she said, and flipped the switch.
* * *
Tommy felt the humming within the walls die out as the tunnel he lay in went eerily silent. Things were going exactly to plan.
“Booyah, go time,” he said and rolled up to his feet. He shook out stiff limbs and worked his head around to loosen up his neck muscles. Then he picked up the heavy pry bar and worked the door open. With the electronic locks disengaged, it was easy work. Just an understanding of physics, a little applied pressure, and bam. He was in.
Tommy left the pry bar in the doorway, just in case they had the timings off and the place tried to lock down on him. The room was a reinforced, repurposed utility room. The servers stood in a single bank in the middle, with heavy fans venting out into the old sewer tunnel. Those fans were one of the things that had tipped Kadin and his team off to where this box might be.
Tommy slipped the hard drive out of its case in his satchel and counted down the banks until he found the seventh. He was pretty sure Ryg had meant seventh from the top, anyway. The room had a lot of shielding and his PUDI wasn’t cooperating even with the power out. No way to check, so he’d just go with his first instinct. Seven from the top.
The drive slid free easily and Tommy replaced it with the duplicate. Someone would notice the replacement at some point, but he doubted anyone checked on this place often. There hadn’t even been distinct footprints in the settled dust outside the door. The replacement drive was generic, bought with stolen credits, and untraceable.
Tommy tucked the new drive into his satchel and grinned. Let them try to come for him, come beg for their dirty little secrets. On this drive would be information about the upcoming nominations. Info someone would pay dearly to have. He licked his thin lips, tasting the synthetic fibers of the mask.
A vibration, then a low hum were his only warning. The power kicked in, more quickly than even his fastest calculation.
“Crap on a stick.” Tommy dove for the closing door, getting his hand on the pry bar before it shut. The heavy steel inched open as he worked it with the bar, but red alarm lights had come on and time was running short.
Tommy wedged his body through the opening, the steel crushing in on his thin chest and hips. Almost. Almost. His body made it through but the door crunched shut on his arm, the pry bar keeping the locks from engaging fully. Tommy screamed and scrabbled at the door with is free hand, finally gripping the pry bar enough to force a space so he could yank free.
His arm was crushed, the flesh purpled and bleeding and his fingers wouldn’t move when he tried. Pain lanced through him. No time, no time at all. He left the pry bar and bolted down the tunnel, hugging his arm to him. Somewhere behind, he heard the telling whir of a security drone, but Tommy didn’t look back.
* * *
With their PUDIs jammed, Hex and Sif had to communicate with gestures. Any sound would give away their positions to the Hunter-killer drones. The heat and noise of the server banks helped disguise them for the moment at least and the positioning the of the servers meant the drones couldn’t come in over their heads.
Hex caught Sif’s eye and she made a tiny motion indicating she was going to engage to the right. Sif had out her longer knife now, but Hex wasn’t sure how much good it would do against the tiny balls of metal darting through the room. His gun would at least disable them, if he didn’t miss.
So I won’t miss. No problem at all. He took tiny breaths and waited for Sif to move. She was quick and her movement would distract the drones. He had to let her go out there.
When the government had been experimenting with making quick humans, the genies, for a controllable, replaceable workforce for outside the dome, the initial trials hadn’t gone well. Ryg was a model from one of those earlier attempts. Sif was the last and best of the attempts, before the government shut the program down in favor of just using illegal children and captured criminals. Too much money, too much expense, too many ethical issues.
But not before the Sifs had been created. Assassins, lovers, guards. Playthings for the elite. Smarter, stronger, faster. Genetic masterpieces utilizing the full majesty of the human DNA code mixed with something more. Sif had never told Hex what that something was. He knew she had issues, and that she got something from the creepy doctor Lucien Graemes. But he never asked her what. Sif had always made it crystalline clear that she took care of herself. No questions.
So he didn’t argue with her mimed plan, just gave a slight nod that he knew she’d pick up even in the red-tinged shadows of the server banks. The grip of the eletro pistol was smooth and almost soft in his hand, the rubber warming to his nervous hold.
Abruptly, the hum of the servers died away and the sudden silence hovered thick and strange around him. The lights had gone out as well and for a moment Hex couldn’t see at all. He jerked his night vision goggles down over his eyes and jammed the wire into his PUDI by feel.
The world turned to green shadows and Hex threw himself aside just in time as a shiny greenish ball hurtled toward his location, a fine dart pinging off the server framework where his head had been a moment before. Guided more by instinct than reason, Hex brought his pistol up and squeezed the trigger.
The drone hit the concrete floor with a satisfying thunk. One down.
“Program chip,” Sif’s voice said over the re-activated subvocals. The power was out, which meant, thank the gods, that jammer was down.
Hex slid around the side of the servers and felt for the right spot with his free hand. Another thunk told him Sif had found a target and disabled another drone.
“Got it,” Hex said. His fingers found the chip and he yanked it out. Too late to leave without a trace, but there was no point in getting sloppy and making it easier to trace them.
Green glinting metal and the flicker of a bright patch of light caught his eye. Hex ducked behind another bank of servers, working his way toward the door.
“Are you guys all right?” Ryg had rebooted the connection now that the jammer was gone. “What’s going on?”
“Hunter-killer drones,” Hex said, shooting down another one. Sif materialized from the darkness and leapt up, nearly to the ceiling. She kicked off the wall in a half-sideways jump and slammed another drone into the floor as it came around the servers, just ahead of where Hex stood.
“What?” Ryg said something else but the high pings of servers rebooting and the renewal of power to the jammer somewhere in this room cut him off. It was wire silence again.
Hex quickly disabled the night vision before the renewed lights could blind him fully. He sprinted hard for the door, but Sif got there first, slamming it open and leaping up to spike another drone into the hard concrete. They ran, not trying to speak, keeping low in the corridor and making for where he remembered the stairs should be.
The jammer had a range on it and Hex could have shouted with joy when his PUDI started connecting again and the maps of this stupid place came up, pinged by Ryg who was clearly waiting for the two of them to come back online.
Sif shoved him aside into a wall and Hex grit his teeth at the bruising force as he felt a dart skim past his hair. The whir of more drones filled the hallway. Too many.
“We’re screwed here,” he told Ryg. “We need a better exit. These things’ll be able to go anywhere we can.”
“Can you shut them out? Get to a door?”
“We’ll just be trapped and they can probably come through the vents.”
“Working on it,” Ryg responded.
They hit the stairway doors and Sif kicked it in. It was a fire door, heavy but on hinges, with a safety bar that gave easily to Sif’s insistence. Hex was on the first step when he heard the door close behind him and the thunk, thunk, thunk of drones hitting hard surfaces. He jerked around, gun ready.
Sif wasn’t behind him. The stairwell was empty for the moment and beyond the closed door he knew she was fighting the Hunter-killers. Alone.
“Move,” her voice ground out over the sub vocals, a soft burr inside his head.
She’d catch up. He’d just get in her way. Probably. It was better this way, safer for both of them. It’s better, like that makes it easier, yeah.
Hex holstered his gun and made for the roof, taking the stairs two at a time. This stairwell opened into another hallway, leading to more stairs and finally to a roof access ladder. He came out, half expecting to find the Grey Guard or at least some security drones waiting. Wind rushed across the dark surface of the roof, rustling through the leaves of a small garden just in front of him.
Hex waited for a slow count and then took off across the roof, scrubbing his face clean of the paint as it started to rain. It wasn’t curfew yet, if he could make it down to street level after going across a few buildings, he’d be safe enough getting back to Ijipe before the city shut down.
“See you,” he murmured to Sif across the wires. There was no response. Refusing to think about it too much, Hex headed home, his face set and grim. Time for that discussion with Ryg.
“You wanna cup of soup or anything?” Dan Garner asked his coworkers in the Kajipe power hub. He was already pulling on his coat over his broad shoulders and bored to tears facing another twelve hour shift. He sure in hells wasn’t planning on doing it while hungry.
“We aren’t supposed to leave, numbnuts.” Bennett Combs was his fellow guard, a middle-aged, slightly overweight man with a weak chin and reedy voice. In Dan’s opinion, the chin matched Combs’s personality.
“Sure, I’ll have soup if they got any.” Alim, the stocky, snub-nosed tech, didn’t even glance up from his datapad. He was watching something, though the Wires were restricted in here. But he was an egg-head, so Dan figured he’d found a work-around.
“I’m hungry,” Dan said to Combs, “My lunch is meager as shit since Kira’s mad again, and I’m gonna grab something before curfew closes everything down.” He glared at Combs, though it was mostly for show. The guy didn’t have enough spine to report him and Dan had seniority anyway.
“Fine, get me something crunchy and maybe some fresh tea? Stuff they got in the back is crap. Should be enough on that.” Combs dug out a plastic WIC card, handed it over to Dan, and then slumped in his chair. The position did unflattering things to his already puffy gut.
Dan hid his grin and punched the open button for the door. It slid back and he looked down at a slender woman with crazy black and white face paint who was kneeling on the floor. She had an electro pistol in one gloved hand, pointed right at him, ready to spit paralyzing current.
For the space of a shaky breath he just stood there, staring at her. Her eyes were brown, flecked with purple and strangely hypnotic. He tried to cue up the PUDI, get a call out, but it felt like static in his head. Jammer. There had to be a jammer nearby. He felt as though the world had slowed down, as though this was something happening to someone else and he were stuck watching.
“Yo, Danny, that door’ll close on you.” Combs couldn’t see around him, Dan realized, but his voice broke the freeze and time sped back up again. Dan started to reach for his gun, fumbling with the safety snaps.
A shadow to the side of the door resolved itself into man, who stepped up behind the kneeling woman. His hair was short and silvered with age, but the man’s body was still thick with muscle and his dark face was painted in the same terrifying black and white patterns.
“Don’t be a hero,” the man said in a gravelly voice.
“The hell? What’s going. . .” Combs squawked from behind Dan but was cut off by Dan’s sharp gesture.
He backed up slowly and the man and woman followed him, letting the door slide shut behind them. “What do you want?” Dan managed to croak out.
“For us all to sit tight here,” the man replied. “You,” he said to Alim, who was half-rising from his seat and reaching for the console controls, “sit back down.”
The woman didn’t speak. She pulled out a handful of plastic twine from a cloth bag at her waist and started tying Alim to his chair while the man motioned Combs and Dan back against the wall.
“What’re your names?” he asked them.
“Daniel, uh, Dan Garner,” Dan said.
“Shut up, man,” Combs hissed at him.
“They don’t want to hurt us,” Dan said, putting emphasis on it. He prayed it was true. Names helped, right? Personalized you to the attacker. He couldn’t remember what they’d told him in training. All he could think about was Kira’s puffy face and how dying on the job would just make her angrier. She’d probably yell at his corpse and then go shopping with her lazy daughter. Dan quickly shoved those thoughts away.
“That’s right, Dan. We don’t want to hurt anyone.” The man smiled and his teeth looked like fine polished bone.
The woman, who still hadn’t spoken, removed their guns and turned first Combs, then Dan gently around, tying their hands behind them and then easing them into sitting positions and tying their feet. Combs grumbled and started to resist her, but she jammed her thumb into his throat.
Dan didn’t resist at all, he couldn’t give Kira and his step-daughter the satisfaction. Her gloved hands were strong on his shoulders as she helped him sit and he caught the scent of something sweet and almost flowery underneath the stronger smell of the paint on her face. When she turned away he had to stifle a little gasp.
She didn’t have the x-shaped scar or small interface jack in her neck. A woman without a PUDI? Everyone got them when they were five. People turning criminal, sure, he knew about that. Living below the grid and all. But to start that young? Dan shuddered, more worried now about who these people could be.
Dan still couldn’t figure what they wanted, but there wasn’t anything he could do about it but memorize every detail of these people and hope to get out alive to report later. With him and the other two secure, the invaders seemed to relax and do nothing. The woman fiddled with the control console a little, but seemed satisfied to mostly stare off into space. Like they were waiting for something. Or some appointed time. Dan shivered, testing the bindings. Tight. He forced himself to take deep breaths and wait. They couldn’t remain here forever.
The worst part of it was, he was still damn hungry. Dan swallowed hard and prepared for a miserable night.
* * *
Hex and Sif found the door they wanted. It was a reinforced steel door, built to nominally fit in with the rest of the doors in the hallway, but any close inspection revealed it had been replaced long after this building was constructed. There was a keypad inside a plexi box with a slider for a magnetic keycard on the side.
“We need a keycard,” Hex told Ryg over his PUDI.
“Sif has it,” Ryg responded.
Sif was already stepping up to the door, a thin piece of plastic in her hand. She swiped it and waited. Nothing happened. In Hex’s head he heard the muttered string of curses from Ryg, who’d left the communication channel open.
“Give me a moment to think,” Ryg added.
Sif shrugged and pulled out a knife, looking at Hex with a raised eyebrow.
“Alarms?” he asked her over sub-vocals.
In answer she jammed the tip of the blade under the edge of the plexi box and used her superior strength to jimmy it open. The plexi cracked and then broke open.
“Sif! Damnit.” Ryg started another string of curses. “We’re trying to leave minimal trace.”
Hex shook his head and kept an eye on the hallway. No audible alarms were going off yet and no security drones came buzzing out.
“Fine. Here, use this code,” Ryg again.
Sif punched in the code as he fed it to her PUDI. This one worked and the door slid open. Quickly the two of them ducked inside.
“I thought this was supposed to be an auxiliary office. Administrative and such?” Hex said, looking around.
There wasn’t any furniture in the room. It was a large space, as though walls had been removed to combine offices and Hex found where a second door had been cemented over. Against the far wall was a bank of servers, humming away in the near darkness. They stretched from floor to ceiling and had a thick rope of wires patching them into a gaping hole in the far wall.
“This is, different, than I expected,” Ryg muttered, seeing the room through Sif’s forehead camera. “When I found the leak, I thought. . .” he stopped himself, as if realizing what he was saying.
“What leak?” Sif’s voice was deceptively soft over the PUDI. Hex read suspicion in her face that was reflected in his own.
“What are we doing here, Ryg?” he added.
“I’ll tell you later,” Ryg said, sounding resigned. “Just stick the chip in and get the programs running. We’re on a timer here with those patrol drones.”
“Later,” Sif said, making the word a promise.
Hex pulled the chip with the programs on it out of his jacket pocket and found a port on one of the servers. He slotted it in.
“Good?” he asked Ryg.
“Yes, I’m in, just. . .” Static cut Ryg off.
“Ryg? Hey?” Hex tried to re-establish the connection and met the hard silence of a jammed signal. Not good.
Sif met his eye and they melted into the shadows of the room, taking cover behind the server banks as red lights came on and the air filled with the whirring noise of Hunter-killer drones. Nasty little things, Hunter-killers were fist-sized and carried three lethal darts each. Whoever had set up the security here wasn’t messing around.
Hex slid his gun out of its holster as quietly as he could and took a deep breath. No job ever went perfect. If he got out of this alive, he and Ryg were going to have a very, very interesting chat.
Sif and Hex descended down the cabling of the hanging garden outside their flat and climbed in through the modified window, the latter feeling like a rat in a wash cycle. The blue curtain across the doorway into Ryg’s room was tied open and the tiny space beyond that held a cot and low desk was unoccupied.
“Did I miss something?” Hex asked. He bent, hands on thighs, and enjoyed just standing still in a place that wasn’t pissing down water on him.
Sif shrugged. “He said he had something to do tonight.”
She’d already started stripping down and tossing her wet clothing into the autowash installed in the main wall of the kitchen, conveniently near the window. Of course, in a place this small, everything was conveniently close to everything else. The apartment was typical of Ijipe housing plans and had four sleeping compartments that opened off the main room. The main room had enough space for a small kitchen and sitting area.
Hex slung the bag of stolen food up onto the chipped concrete counter next to the sink and sighed. “He never leaves base, that’s all I’m saying. When he said he was busy I assumed he meant busy plugged into the wires.”
“He’s probably down at Kadin’s. He’s got Fisheye with him.”
Hex glanced into Ryg’s room again and noticed she was right, the drone wasn’t resting it its cradle on the far wall. Sif, naked with her waist-length blonde hair unraveling from its braid, gripped his wet jacket and pulled it towards his head insistently.
“Hot shower. Food. Sex,” she said.
“In that order?” Hex asked, amused. What Sif wanted, Sif got. Mostly because she’d just take it and there were few humans capable of physically stopping her. He certainly wasn’t one.
She didn’t respond, instead she continued to assist him out of his clothing. The showers were shared by four other apartments and located across the hall outside. Hex snatched up a robe from the hooks beside the exterior door and followed Sif out. Sif hadn’t bothered to grab a robe. He watched her nude, curving form as she walked ahead of him and felt suddenly far less tired than he had a few minutes ago. Definitely not in that order.
* * *
Ryg hated the hallways. He thought a blind rat must have drawn up the architectural plans to this section of the building. Some stairs went to some levels and not others. Some hallways went through for hundreds of meters; others only accessed a few apartment clusters. This was also prone to change, since occupants sometimes blocked up or knocked down walls between sections depending on the usefulness of having a pass-through.
Once upon a time, probably centuries ago, someone had painted each hall with color coded bands that, if you had the key, could tell you where it went and other useful information. In some sections dirty colors would leap out of the uniform grey and white to shock his vision. The lack of continuity, of symmetry, annoyed Ryg.
Then there were the people. He could hear them. Smell them. Sometimes they’d brush against him in passing. He could sense their presence behind the composite walls of the building like vermin.
Fortunately tonight it was late enough that he encountered no one on his way up to the rooms he shared with Sif and Hex. He still kept his hood pulled down tight over his face, relying on his drone, Fisheye, for peripheral vision. The fist-sized drone floated above his head with a steady, comforting hum. Occasionally one of its trailing sensor tendrils would brush his head. Ryg kept the visual data the drone’s large single lens collected streaming onto the retinal screen in his right eye.
Ryg took deep, controlled breaths. Fifty meters. Forty. Thirty. Two red lines, familiar and garish, sprang out of the wall ahead of him as he turned a corner towards home. Ryg paused. He reached out with a gloved hand and touched the lines. One. Two. One. Two. Almost home. He made himself walk, resisting the urge to bolt the last few meters. Then he was at the keypad and the door. Ryg punched in his unlock code and then closed the door firmly behind him.
The apartment was empty. The heat readings from Fisheye had already warned him of this. Ryg thought his friends might not have returned yet until he noticed the puddles on the floor and the two large black bags resting on the kitchen counter. He turned and saw that Hex’s black robe was gone from its hook.
Ryg hung his duster up by the door and then grabbed a kitchen towel. Meticulously, he dried the counters and then the floor around the black bags. The bags themselves were waterproof, the beaded precipitation evaporating as he watched. He dumped the towel into the autowash.
Neatness restored as much as he could manage, Ryg let curiosity claim him and opened one of the bags. Blocks of yellow, blue, and red foodstuffs were piled within. He removed a blue brick that had ‘Roll Noodle! Amazing!’ stamped into the plastic. Pulling out a small knife, he slit open the brick. The food was compact, dehydrated noodles that smelled strongly of cheap dried fish.
Ryg shook his head. His friends would be hungry. He put the bags onto the floor, dried the counter underneath them with another kitchen rag, and started heating water on the electric burner to reconstitute the noodles.
* * *
Sif and Hex returned from the showers flushed and refreshed. Sif’s hair floated around her, dry from the blowers in the ceiling of the bathroom. She noticed Ryg was home and acknowledged him with a nod.
He was cooking. This pleased her as the smells of fish and starch awakened another hunger. She went into the little room that was all her own and pulled the curtain behind her.
Carefully Sif removed a narrow, flat box from underneath the lumpy mattress. Inside were two empty vials, a syringe, and one tiny vial of deep purple liquid. It shimmered like quicksilver in the dim light of the magnetized LEDs stuck at random to the room’s support beams.
It was never dark in Sif’s room if she could help it.
She removed her last vial and inserted it into the syringe. She expertly found a vein in her ankle, sliding the long needle beneath her pale, unmarked skin. Her heart, racing before from the long night of running followed by sex, slowed immediately as the drug took effect.
For a few moments the world was bright and clear. She could see everything; the cracks in the cement walls, the weave of the curtain that shut her away from the only two people in the world who gave a damn about her. She felt herself healing, cells that were genetically programmed to shut down and fail years and years past soaked up the un-distilled Drift and repaired themselves.
It was over within a minute. Bitterness replaced the fleeting elation. She’d have to talk to Lucien, she knew, to get more. Not something she looked forward to, especially since they were so broke at the moment. She’d have to rob a business perhaps, which would piss off Ryg.
The curtain twitched a moment before Hex started pulling it back. Sif shoved the box back under the mattress along with the empty syringe.
“Oh,” Hex said, staring at her naked body sitting cross-legged on the floor, “I thought you were getting dressed.”
Sif smiled up at him and shrugged. She’d learned early in life that talking generally got you in more trouble than not talking. If she had nothing to say, she didn’t bother filling the air with meaningless excuses. She didn’t think he’d noticed the box. She was too quick for that. But his dark eyes, the color of high quality wood, narrowed slightly. She pretended not to see his suspicion and continued smiling up at him.
He shook his head.
“Food’s nearly ready.” Giving her a final, odd, look, Hex let the curtain fall behind him.
Sif slipped the box back out and replaced the syringe. She pulled a clean set of drawstring trousers and a tee-shirt out of the stacked plastic containers that made up her headrest. Her hair was too fine to need much brushing and stayed in its customary braid from habit more than natural inclination. She braided it quickly before pulling on her clothes and tying the curtain aside.
“Sit, sit,” Ryg said. “I’ll bring bowls over.”
Sif sank down onto a faded blue cushion next to Hex at the low grey table centering the small living room. She noticed, not for the first time, how different the two men were. They were both tall, over six feet. The resemblance ended there, however.
Hex was swarthy in complexion, dark like most people, with a strong jaw, long black eyelashes, and a cruel twist to his full lips. Small scars cut pale reminders in his chin and right eyebrow, giving him even more of a bad boy air. Dark curls more fitting for a child’s fancy doll than a grown, muscular man, lingered around his face. Sif was always fascinated with how his hair managed to be both soft and coarse at the same time.
Ryg was pale, nearly translucent, much like Sif herself. And also like Sif, he was dying slowly. Unlike Sif, however, Ryg couldn’t use Drift to repair his traitorous cells.
He was a different generation, a different model. His body was painfully thin no matter what he ate, and he had no hair. His left eye had been replaced years ago, a high-tech screen that glowed imperceptibly red covered over the empty socket. His right eye was also an implant, though it was formed to resemble a human eye and had a hazel iris striking only in its normalcy.
Ryg always wore a large robe over trousers that hid his body from the throat down. Underneath, Sif knew, he was slowly replacing everything with whatever he could engineer to work. Lucien had hooked them up years ago with experimental engineered organs to refit Ryg’s dying ones. Parts of his left arm were fitted with hydraulics and cabling instead of tendon and muscle now.
Someday, we’ll run out of ways to rebuild him. She didn’t finish her thought. Pain hovered there, lurking down that road, waiting for her to care too much.
She turned her mind away, rejecting the bright burning of memory. No past. No future. Eat, Sif. Sif picked up her plastic eating sticks and dug into the noodles. For a while the three just sat and ate in silence.
Ryg rose awkwardly and took their bowls when they’d finished. Sif noticed that his right leg was moving more stiffly than usual and made a mental note to ask him about it later. More things to replace, we’ll need more credits.
Pickings had been lean lately. The Grey Guard’s latest recruitment surge, due to the poisoning of Twelfth-Seat Councilman Blake, meant more police on the streets and less easy opportunities for criminal activity. The usual suspects for jobs were laying low until the Council selection process was over. It could take months. No one was sure exactly how long, since it was almost unheard of for a councilman to die without an heir.
Ryg cleared his throat and stood at the imperceptible boundary between kitchen and sitting area. Hex and Sif looked up, abandoning their private thoughts.
“So, we’ve got a job, if we want it.” Ryg’s pale face was tense.
“A job? What kind of job? What does it pay?” Hex asked.
Sif watched Ryg, running her tongue along the inside of her lip. He avoided her gaze.
“Kadin got an offer for it. We’ll go through him. It’s a pretty simple in and out information theft. Totsi Electronics building, some offices BioCore rents from them I guess,” Ryg said.
“Smash and grab, eh? How much?” Hex said, as though they had a real choice. They needed work. The food they’d stolen tonight would tide them over for a few weeks, but there was tech to keep upgraded, building officials to keep bribed, and other, more personal, needs.
“Six hundred wic each, I think it works out to,” Ryg said. “Apparently someone in Isidore at the Phemed main office wants to know what the Casimir’s BioCore is up to. And they’re willing to pay well to get it. Clean credits.”
“The biggest pharmaceuticals company wanting information on their competition?” Hex grinned. “They’d better have clean credits.”
Something’s wrong. Sif knew Ryg, they’d been together almost as siblings for nearly half a century. He was too tense, too still. His body language beneath the coarse robe screamed for them to agree, please agree. Was it the credits? Had something gone wrong? Did he need a complicated implant? Sif shut down that line of thought again. Whatever it was, Ryg wouldn’t tell her unless he wanted to. She’d have to just wait, be patient. Six hundred wic would be enough, more than enough, to pay Lucien for more Drift. She could get a couple months worth of vials. Months without having to worry about her body shutting down was worth whatever anxieties were pulling Ryg into a quiet ball in front of her.
“Let’s do it,” she said.
“What she said.” Hex echoed and put a muscular arm around her shoulders. “Six hundred buys a lot of needs.”
I released another short story collection as an ebook. This one is all science fiction and all the stories deal with space travel or distant planets in some way. It includes my other Clarion application story, “Pele’s Bee-keeper”, which also was a semi-finalist in the Writers of the Future contest. “No Spaceships Go” appeared in December on Daily Science Fiction and will be reprinted in the third issue of Scapezine: the magazine of Young Adult SF.
Here’s the cover:
Here’s the blurb:
A shuttle crash and a rescue by a mysterious woman alone on a deserted planet leads to political and physical dangers… A captain facing court-martial discovers an alien in hyperspace… In the not so far future, a teenage boy has to choose between love and traveling to the stars… On a far away planet, one old miner finds something beneath the ice that forces him to face his grief… Two brothers offered a second chance at their dreams of manned space exploration face technological and personal dangers that could cost them far more than just their program…
This collection of both new and previously published science fiction contains four short stories and a novella. Included are “Pele’s Bee-keeper”, “The Memory of Bone”, “No Spaceships Go”, “Beneath the Ice and Still”, and “The Light of the Earth as Seen from Tartarus”.
Tomorrow- another chapter of Casimir Hypogean!