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Posted: Sun Apr 01, 2007 10:32 pm
Groggily, I reach out to silence the clock as its ringing draws me from slumber into wakefulness. I was dreaming the same dream again. Although I am unable to remember the dream upon awakening, I am left with the singular awareness that it was that same dream. This is the sixth morning in a row I have awakened with that certainty.
Rising to sit up on the side of my bed, I clutch my forehead and groan. It’s the same headache, too. Every morning, after the dream, the same headache.
I shuffle my feet into my slippers and grudgingly rise to walk three steps from my bed to the tiny corner rack which holds up my meager collection of clothing. I take hold of pants, shirt, socks and suspenders. Moving carefully in the pitch black of my lightless room, I take three more steps away from the clothes rack along the wall to my right and take my towel from the hook there. Five more steps along the wall, and my hand grasps the doorknob.
I walk down the flickering gas lit hallway to the public bathroom. I set my alarum to go off at least thirty minutes before the rest of my floor tends to get up and begin their daily rituals. The freedom of having the bath to myself for even a short time is a good thing. And it’s part of a daily routine that I have developed for efficiency and effectiveness over the course of the past four years. Much like everything else in my life, everything falls into place.
My head continues to throb as I wet one end of my towel and drop my skivvies to the floor. I wash quickly and economy; already I can hear the stirrings of my neighbours as they begin their own daily. I scrub my body more quickly now, as I have no desire to share the pipestand with a dozen more men and women. I hide the bar of soap in my trousers when I am done with it. Some people would beat me senseless for it.
Dressing quickly, I make my way back down the hall to the tiny room that I call my own. I secrete the bar of soap away, and place my chipped mug on the coil of the small gas stove on the wall beside the door. Just a few moments to heat my coffee in the morning is all I really can afford for the gas bill. I sip it slowly.
The small tin of coffee sits upon a small wooden shelf above the stove. It’s American, imported and expensive. The coffee is one of my very few luxuries. A growing anxiety has begun to build in my gut. I really should be walking downstairs now, time to find walking path to work.
As I open my door, I notice the sleeve of my jacket is short on my arm. I sigh, realizing that I have needed a new one for over six years now. Maybe next month. But I have been telling myself that for at last two years. I sigh again.
The walk to the pneumatic elevator on this, the seventy-eighth floor of my apartment building of 90 floors, awaits me. It’s gurgling and groaning, stop-jerk motion as it takes me and five of my neighbours down to the ground level betrays its antiquity. I am almost certain it will break down every time I step into it.
The walk from Hulme-in-the-Moss, my poorly-appointed home district of The Great Metropolis for the past four years, to my workplace in Chorlton-cum-Hardy takes a little over an hour in the best conditions. It’s a Thursday, and normally it’s easy going this time of week. But the dank humidity of steam engines running amok has already heated the air, and I find myself running late for work for the first time since I started there. I take off my jacket along the way, the throbbing in my head growing with the rising heat of the bustle of the Great Metropolis. I’m sweating already.
As I move into the small building beside the Metropolis Constabulary in which I perform my work, I quickly realize that no one has noticed my tardiness. My coworkers are busy today, in a hurried flow of action I rarely see. I move to the second floor, and once there to the employees’ lockers.
Under the watchful eye of the monitor which sees all that goes on in this area, I strip down to my skivvies and place my clothing carefully within my locker. I step to the row of uniform lockers next to the personal lockers, and find a suit of work clothing that fits me. Barely, that is; the suit I normally wear is already taken.
I turn from the lockers, looking to the hands of the employee timeclock as they tick into twenty minutes past the hour. I am tempted to turn back the hands and punch my timecard, but the temptation is not great enough. The clock buzzes softly and then with a click, my time is logged with my guild.
My starched, crisp white suit is immaculate. I should be pleased; the uniform is a badge of my station. But the slight stains upon the usual uniform I choose to wear have always pleased me slightly. I know that my job affords me a better pay and quality of life than the majority of those in my station, and with it there is a sort of image that must be maintained. But the twist to that image has been ingrained into my schedule for the past four years, and it is unsettling that my routine today has already been broken beyond any form of repair.
Up the stairs again, and I walk to my cubicle. It is the same as every other cubicle in this office. Flat grey particleboard walls and a Scope point mounted upon the far wall. My Ethergloves lay upon the low, empty desk. They are waiting for me, as they do every morning when I arrive for work.
I pull back my chair; something’s wrong. The Ethergloves are not in the right place. I didn’t leave them there yesterday evening when I left the building. I look around, that sense of dread returning again. Someone’s been at my desk. Nervously, my hands grip the name badge around my neck. My eyes fall to my number label, which I affix to the front of my white uniform every morning. It reads-
“4215-0831?” A cool voice calls to me from my right.
I recognize the voice, although I have only briefly heard it once, those four years ago in which I received my promotion after completing my apprenticeship. Grigson, it’s Grigson – the Head Scrivener of Building 203.
As I turn to Grigson, I see the grey faces of my coworkers surrounding me glancing up nervously. They are secretly pleased that it is me that has drawn the attention of our highest superior. The job of a Scrivener is a hard one to get into, and a hard one to keep. No one wants Grigson’s attentions.
Turning, I can see two men dressed in immaculate black suits. I recognize them as well, they are members of the Security Attachment. Their faces are impassive.
“Yes, Master Grigson?” I reply to him, hoping and praying to God that my voice sounds meek and unassuming.
I must have done something, I immediately conclude. But what? I’ve done nothing but my job, never deviated in my pattern for four years. Four years.
“Please come with me. There are some matters that we must discuss in private.”
The walk back downstairs to the conference room is unnerving. Everyone is dead silent. I can’t stop thinking about what I might have done. There couldn’t be anything. Grigson passes the conference room, and the Security Attaché behind me gently prods me to move on as I pause momentarily by the door.
We go down the hall, past the employee lockers and the uniform lockers. Grigson inserts his security badge into a wall-mounted ID scanner. We are going to the Security Operations Station. I don’t have the clearance to enter, but none of the defensive measures are triggered as I scan my own ID badge and pass through the doorway.
The halls and stairways here lead further down below the building, and seem labyrinthine. I have lost all orientation, and my stomach is lurching. Grigson opens a door with a metal plate over the window, and beckons me inside. I step in, head down.
The door closes behind the Attaches, and the sound of it latching shut is certainly much louder in my ears.
“Sit down,” Grigson says, and I move to obey.
Looking up, I see the only place to sit is a chair which looks something like a sterile white barbers’ chair. As I move to seat myself, I notice that there are leather straps and buckles upon each armrest and two at the footrest. There is even one built into the headrest.
“If you don’t mind my asking, Sir, what is this all about?” I speak, trying again to seen meek.
“I believe I will ask the questions here, 4215-0831. Please seat yourself, now.” Grigson commands me.
I sit, and the Security Attaches move to buckle the straps around my wrists and ankles. I am struck by the situation, and something in me tells me I do not want to allow them to restrain me. I attempt to jerk my wrists free, and the impassive Attaché to my left reaches up and strikes my Adam’s apple with the edge of his hand. Gagging and choking, I fall back helpless into the chair as the two men strap down my arms. I feel vomit creeping up my esophagus.
“4215-0831, something curious has been brought to our attention,” I hear Grigson state calmly as I attempt to catch my breath and hold down the sour vomit rising in my throat.
“You were seen entering the Great Metropolitan Corporation’s administrative filing domain yesterday by someone in the office. At that particular time, there was no one cleared to be in the filing domain. Your clearance doesn’t even allow you access at any time. Which brings us to the question immediately upon my mind, Scrivener 4215-0831.”
I gasp out a breath, trying to clear my throat and clear my name.
“It wasn’t-“ I rasp.
“No, it wasn’t you. We know exactly where you were and what you were doing at that time, Scrivener. My question is, who was impersonating you, how did they get your clearance, and how did they change it to reflect a status you do not even have?”
Something cool and biting and metallic slides into the flesh of my arm. Grigson is pushing a needle into me. As the injection is completed, I feel the warmth of whatever he has injected into me spreading through my body.
“No, lad, I don’t believe you do know. That’s not what this is about at all.”
Two men begin to wheel small surgical steel tables into the room. They are wearing medical masks. As their gloved hands unroll the cloth rolls upon the small tables, I can see surgical instruments. They look at me like a test subject, a laboratory rat.
“We want you to find out the answers to these questions. You want to know them too, don’t you? We want you to find this person, and then we want you to discover what they have been getting into and taking out, and then we want you to eliminate them. Is that clear, 4215-0831? Do you understand?”
I try to nod, but the warmth has taken me over, and I can feel a tremendous weight of sleep and the liberating black of obliviousness sliding over the entirety of me.
Posted: Mon Apr 02, 2007 9:13 pm
Awake again, I struggle weakly against my bonds. My head is throbbing dully, but it’s not the headache. My mind is blank, with no recognition of dreams forgotten. A shiver runs over my skin as cool air strikes out against rivulets of soured sweat. I am not in my home.
Recognition then hits me. This is my workplace, Building 203 of the Association of Licensed Shriveners. The Master of Building 203 peers down at me.
“Everything went well, 4215-0831. The implantation was a success.”
“Implantation?” I groan, moving against my bonds again.
“You have been volunteered to assist in the capture, interrogation and elimination of the individual who has been impersonating you. Therefore, it was necessary to implement implantation of a Scope jack into your cranium,” Grigson grimly informs me.
“Is…is that safe? I mean, isn’t that illegal?” I reply nervously.
“For the vast majority of the civilian population, yes, it is. But we can’t very well have an Associate dropping tabs, now can we?”
Tabs…the thought leaves a sour taste in my mouth. Most illegal entrants into the virtual world that is the Etherscope use them. Chemically-impregnated squares of paper which transfer your consciousness into the Scope, they are sold on the street by urchins and the disreputable. I’ve often heard that they can severely damage a person’s sensibilities and personalities. Not for me at all.
My hands are released from the straps, and instinctively I reach for the back of my head, where it throbs the most. There is a shaven spot which my fingers slide over on the back of my head, and then I touch the juncture where swollen flesh meets the cool metal socket. I know that it will plug into a Scope Point, and transfer my consciousness into the Etherscope, but I am completely unfamiliar with immersing myself fully into the Scope.
There are demons there, or so I have heard tell. Horrifying things haunt Etherspace beyond the walls of the domains built by man there. I have never seen them, nor have I been anything beyond a remote presence within the Association’s clientele’s domains. I am a Scrivener, I transcribe, locate, replicate, delete and create files within the domains of the clients according to their specifications.
I don’t want this, I have no desire at all to leave my hard-earned position behind and face such dangers. But it’s been decided for me. There is little I can do now but attempt to make the best of what I have been assigned.
Grigson hands me something I have never seen before. I peer at it, awaiting explanation. He doesn’t notice the quizzical look on my face until a few silent moments have passed.
“It’s a Scope point, boy. A portable Scope point. Plug one end of the cable to the point, and one into the jack in the back of your head.”
“I understand, Master, but…should I not hide this well? What if the authorities see it? I will need a hat to cover the jack. And where do I start looking? How do I find this person?” I ramble on, a million different questions tumbling rapidly after these from my traitorous tongue.
Grigson waits until I pause for breath.
“Son, we are the authorities in this sort of matter. Just present your ID to anyone who asks in the Constabulary if you are stopped. Your clearance was upgraded the moment you went under. And as to where to start, you should first go here.”
Grigson hands me a calling card, very nicely done on thick ivory paper. ImageMakers, it says in bold black letters, with an address in Birkenhead.
“But this is in Liverpool, it will take forever for me to walk there Sir.”
“Well, you don’t have forever to get this done, so I suggest you start walking now. We have a contact there who will meet you. She’s a member of the Constabulary, but you’d best be right quiet about that one. She’s under cover, and it wouldn’t do for you to blow that. She’s just there to validify you to the shopowner. His name is Comstock, and he’s a Program Crafter. He will make whatever programs you might need to take into the Scope with you. He’s already been paid, you can commission whatever you’d like. But don’t push it. And keep to your own cover identity; here’s the brief.”
He thrusts a brown paper wrapped package into my hands. Then Grigson beckons for me to rise.
“Get going, lad. Get on this now.”
Shakily, I rise from the barber’s chair. The implant doesn’t hurt yet. My head is still numbed. This is all coming so quickly. The questions keep rolling in my head, but I have been given my mission and Grigson has made his expectations clear. Even though the mission itself is so very vague.
Posted: Mon Apr 02, 2007 9:14 pm
Great story mate, i can't wait to read more.
There is more isn't there?
I am going to show this to my players who are having a hard time grasping the whole feel of the Etherscope world.
Posted: Mon Apr 02, 2007 9:24 pm
There's more coming
Looks like I posted the new chapter for tonight right before you submitted lol...thanks for the kind words, hope I can keep it up well...I am on a lot of drugs right now, so I am feeling inspired...and they are all legal, pro...I mean PREscribed by a doc in light of my recent appendectomy, infection and edema...lot of time off work and time on my hands and inspiration from dreams of my own...oh, and btw, read That Olde Blacke Magick, http://www.goodman-games.com/forums/vie ... php?t=1071
It's the first story I wrote on here. It's more of a mystical journey, this is going to be more of a Scope thing.
Posted: Thu Apr 05, 2007 8:31 pm
So I find myself now, very late in the evening, soaking wet from the constant drizzle falling from the dark sky above me, shivering with the cold that chills my bones and feeling a growing pain in the area of the recent addition to my physiology, traversing the banks of the River Mersey. I knew it would take forever to get this far, and I am still not yet to my destination. I cough, wetly, and realize I may be catching a chill.
This is almost too much for me. I am confused and in pain, not fully comprehending how this could all have happened. I have been so scheduled and staid, certain in the comfort zone that I have established for so long. And I am about to find that my confusion could be my downfall.
Two men step from the alleyway beside me; I didn’t hear them shuffling across the flagstones towards me. One man’s teeth shine in the dim gaslight…he has steel-plated teeth. The other twirls a truncheon, and smacks it into his palm with an ugly sound that makes me start.
“Hey, friend. You wouldn’t happen to have a few pounds to help a couplea fellas out, would you?” The metal-toothed man says in what is plainly an American accent.
“I don’t know, this guy don’t look so good, Irv. Maybe even looks like he might keel over soon. Here, fella, that package looks heavy. Lemme take it for ya,” the truncheon-twirler says.
I grip the package tightly, pulling it close to me. This behaviour elicits a rather pointedly negative effect on the surly brute with the truncheon, who scowls and rears back his hand to deliver a blow with some force.
Fortunate for me, they haven’t noticed what crept up behind them in the alley. The truncheon-twirler suddenly grunts, and this pained noise is what alerts me to the fact that we are not alone first. There’s a shadowy gentleman (or lady, perhaps?) behind Mr. Truncheon, gripping his weapon hand arced over his shoulder to deliver a blow that will never come. The figure wrenches Truncheon’s arm violently back and down, eliciting a sharp cracking noise and Truncheon’s even louder cry of pain.
Steel-Teeth sidesteps quickly, and turns to face my saviour.
“So, gotta get into the game, do ya? Well, I play rough,” Steel-Teeth spits.
A low chuckle escapes the shadowy figure, who steps into the light. Tall and lean, the figure is a man. His features are different than most I’ve seen, and it takes a moment to realize what he is. A Delta, a man bred by the Eugenics League from the transgenic strains which utilize canine DNA. It’s his nose that gives it away first; wider at the brow than the end, and curving outward then back down towards his face. Then I see his hair, thick and shiny and striped black and tan.
He’s got a rather large knife in his hand suddenly, and the keen edge draws my eye. This is no kitchen knife, I realize immediately. Holding the knife rather loosely in his hand, the Delta beckons for Steel-Teeth to come closer. His only response is a sharpened smile.
I realize that while these two play out their dominance games, I can easily make my getaway and find myself a shelter from this chilled wet for a short while before I need to head on my way again. I step from them, seeking to gain a bit of distance. My steps are going to quicken, but a sound chilling me almost more than the rain fills my ears, and a hand is on my shoulder.
“Come now, mate, you didn’t think you’d be running off that quick, did you?” The low voice of the Delta, I know this even before the hand draws me round.
His small, black eyes peer at me. I almost think they are weighing me. His knife is bloody, and Steel-Teeth rolls on the ground whimpering. There’s blood splashing his trousers and pooling around his midsection on the flagstones around him.
“Come on, then, we’ll need to be off to the shop then won’t we?” the Delta then says in an almost amiable voice.
“Who are you?”
“You can call me Leander.”
I look back to the whimpering street tough with metal teeth.
“What did you do to him?” I ask, almost not wanting to know how he’d disabled an enemy so quickly.
“I made sure he wouldn’t be making the mistake of destroying the gene pool.”
“You ask too many questions, Julian. Let’s just walk.”
I stiffen at the mention of my code name. He was sent by Grigson to keep a watch over me.
“Yes, we are friends and companions, so act like it and don’t be so damned fearful of everything,” the Delta sniffs.
I am nervous and fearful, and he can smell it.
“I can’t help it, you wouldn’t be able to help it if you were me,” I say, thinking about how I want this all to be over with so I can get back to my normal life.
“Well, Julian, things just aren’t going to be normal for you again now,” “Leander” states as though he is reading my mind, “So it isn’t going to do you a lick of good to let your fear rule you. Buck up, lad. I’m here to watch your back.”
I’m not really sure how I feel about that. But it’s high time to get out of the rain that’s begun, turning the drizzle into a downpour.
“Is there a way to get there without catching my death in this?”
Somehow, I know that he will know another way.
His thin lips spread in a grin, showing sharp carnivore teeth.
Posted: Sat Apr 07, 2007 10:14 pm
The docks of Wallasey are in ill repair, surrounded by towering blocks of tenement flats upon all sides. The smell of the sea and its tradecraft is overpoweringly strong. Leander doesn’t seem to have much of a problem with it, despite his keen sense of smell. The sign above the doorway before us is a rusted sheet of corrugated with its proper title, ImageMakers, inscribed in what appears to be blue spray paint.
I reach out tentatively to open the door, and a slot suddenly opens in it. A great metal orb on a long stalk of slender steel and cable juts out before my face. The orb is fronted by a glassine lens, which rotates and seems to focus upon me.
“What do you want?” the orb asks.
“Ah, I am Julian. I was told to come here. My friend, Magda, advised me that you were a highly skilled-”
“Magda, yes, I know Magda. And if you do as well, surely she would have given you the password, would she not have?” the orb queries gruffly of me.
“Oh, yes, of course, I’d almost forgotten,” I tell the orb, a little embarrassed, “It’s “Steamheel Jack.”
“Well, that was the password yesterday, and I suppose she must’ve told you then, but I change it every day!” growls the orb in a surprising response.
I stumble over my words at this point, because I wasn’t originally prepared for this eventuality. The orb peers at me menacingly, and I am certain I am going to be denied entry no. Then, I hear her.
“Can it, Comstock, let him in, he hasn’t got all night you know.”
The orb shoots backwards to return through the slot, and I can hear several latches being undone and tumblers turning. The door opens slowly, a sharp foolslickering gaslight beaming out from the crack. The figure of a great man, broad-shouldered and square of build, is illuminated by the light.
“Come in, let’s hear what you need and I’ll see how much it’s going to cost your well-apportioned compatriots.”
The coffin flat the door opens upon is covered from wall with Scope points, racks filled with a baffling array of engineering tools, shelves lined with manuals, and hooks upon which hang dozens of cables. Unlike my own flat, there is no bed, only a steel workbench along the back wall. A steel sink sits alongside the tiny stove typical to flats, and an array of what appears to be tools of the pharmaceutical trade rest of a wooden table beside it. Upon the far right wall, a seedy and broken-down couch rests crookedly upon three legs.
And there she is, sitting upon the middle of the couch. She’s an exotically lovely woman, this Magda. She’s tall and lean as she rises from the couch and strides over towards me. Her eyes are deep ebon pools. Her smile is bright, with strong white teeth revealed with the parting of very full and lush lips. Her smooth skin is the color of the rich American coffee tempered with cream that I so love. Her hair is done in short dreadlocks, with streaks of blues, reds and greens. Her hands reach for me.
“Julian, love, where have you been today?” she asks.
And then I find myself being taken into her arms. She leans down and places her lips against mine. I stiffen with a bit of shock for the moment before I remember we are supposed to be close, and wrap my arms about her in return. She moves away from me then, motioning towards the man I can now see.
“Comstock,” she says simply.
The sight of the man would almost be amusing. His limbs, both arms and legs, are massively oversized in comparison to his head and torso. Great pneumatic cybernaughtic limbs replace his flesh ones, through whatever misfortune he must have befallen. His eyes are great lenses of steel-rimmed glass. His bald head is adorned with a web of cables.
I extend my hand, unthinkingly at first, and then withdraw it when I see the great metal hooks that raise to meet it.
“I need some programs,” I tell the juggernaut before me.
“I am sure you do, now let me just see what I have available that may fit your needs.”
“And what exactly is it that you need, young man?” he asks, stomping towards the steel workbench and lifting a cable to plug into the small hole in the back of his cranium that is so similar I am sure to the one I now wear.
It is here that Magda takes over, thankfully. I had hoped she would have been briefed upon my unfamiliarity with the Scope.
“Well,” she says brightly, “he will definitely need some leathers, and a good pair of automatics. Then, what was it again you said, love? A security codebreaker amalgam? And a seeker drone.”
“Yes, and of course the zepcar. Wouldn’t want to forget that, would we?” she adds with a roll of her eyes.
“Consider it done,” Comstock seems nonplussed by her demands.
“Come back in two hours then. I’ll have to hand-Craft a few of those items, and it will take some time.”
I nod, and look to Leander; he’s already standing by the door, cleaning his nails with his combat knife. Magda slips her arm in mine and kisses the side of my neck, sending shivers down my back.
“Shall we go get a bite then, sweet?” she asks me.
I nod, thinking of more than just a plate of dinner. Then my stomach grumbles, and I realize her suggestion has a great deal of merit.
“I know a great little place across the Mersey from here,” Leander says.
Posted: Tue May 01, 2007 7:59 pm
The exposition of violence has left me numbed. My clothing is splashed with the blood of the dying. Magda lies by my side face down. I don’t know where Leander has gone.
Scanning the pub the three of us had entered for a simple meal and drink, I can see the remnants of human beings littered about the place. I almost slip on entrails which have littered the floor. Thick grey smoke hangs over the great room of the pub, chokingly acrid. The scent of burnt flesh sears my nose and makes my eyes water.
Scrubbing at the blinding tears with a sleeve, I stumble to what is left of the doorway and duck instinctively at the sound of small arms fire. I hear the cries of men, women, perhaps even children. Dying, wounded, maimed. I am not sure, my ears ring so loudly from the force of the explosion that only moments ago tore me from my senses.
I step out tentatively. These white-walled magnificent buildings which represent the finest of the Great Metropolitan Estate lining Pierhead have the distinct appearance of an abattoir. A voice cries out in the distance.
And another joins in.
“Down with those who would dance to the tune of Whitehall’s muse of greedy extravagance!”
The voices are answered by the staccato blast of autoguns, and I hear a cry of anguish. I am drawn to the cry. A Metropolitan constable lies bleeding upon the ground, skull shattered by a bullet. There is an autopistol lying beside him upon the cobblestones. I don’t know why, but my shaky hand reaches down to pick it up. It lies heavy and cold in my hand as my feet continue to move towards the last cry I hear.
The smoke clears as I come upon the four young Redcoats gathered around a pair of fallen people. The sound of a pistol firing makes me jump. One figure falls flat upon its back, blood pooling on the street beneath it. Him. A young man, younger than I.
“She’s not going to be much use to us, eh? Wot say we ‘ave our fun with ‘er and then be done with this mess, eh?” I hear one of the Redcoats say to his companions.
Leers cross the faces of the others, and in an instant I know what they plan. One affirms my thoughts by unbuckling his belt and drawing his pants down a bit. The other two grip the figure of the woman.
“Hold ‘er still, eh?” says the Redcoat with his pants down.
Then I see her face. The pistol in my hand raises before my mind even comprehends what I am doing. The Redcoat falls without so much as a gasp. He can’t, most of his throat has been torn away by the bullet I have fired into him.
The two Redcoats holding the girl down release her in their bid to ready their weapons upon me. The other one spins, a pistol in his hand, and I feel the bullet as it creases the air beside my cheek; hear the high whine of its whistle as it passes by me. My own doesn’t miss; I see the bloody hole made in his chest staining his white shirt. I train my sights upon the two men, back and forth between them as they stay their hands from their weapons.
“What for <b>f*ck</b>’s sake is going on here, Julian?” I hear Leander growl behind me.
“They were going to-” I try to get it out, but he steps before me and cuts me off.
“These are Redcoats you’re shooting,” he spits venomously into my face, “and this bitch is a fucking terrorist, you damned fool!”
The bombing…no, I shake my head.
“No,” I say, “They are mistaken, not her.”
The Redcoats are going for their guns, grim determination in their eyes. Leander’s got his hand on mine, forcing my own pistol towards the ground.
“Get ahold of yourself, we are agents of the Great Metropolitan Estate, you wanker.”
The soldiers slow at that but not by much. Their loyalty lies with the Queen, not with any corporate entity. And I have just shot two of their number stone dead. That’s when another shock hits me.
“Hold it, hold it you damned bloody Redcoat idiots! Put the fucking guns away, now.”
Magda. I had thought her dead. She walks towards them, clutching her head with one hand and proffering a wallet with the other.
“MI-5, you right bastards, now what in the bloody hell is going on here?” she asks the soldiers.
They seem just as surprised as Leander and I are. Her glare falls on me, and I see one of her eyes is badly bloodshot.
“I…they…they were shooting people…and this-”
“Fucking liar! This bitch blew up those buildings dammit!” One soldier interrupts me.
“So that gives you the right to rape her then?” Magda says sternly. “Did you give any thought to interrogating her?”
“She killed Charlie,” the other responds glumly, a baleful glaze fixed upon me, “And this piece of sh*t killed Michael and Ted.”
“What the hell were you thinking, Julian?” Magda whirls on me.
“Magda,” I reply weakly, staring down at the bleeding girl, “That’s my sister there.”
And, much to the complete and utter surprise of everyone in our little gathering, Magda turns and coolly shoots each of the Redcoats square in the forehead.
Posted: Sun May 13, 2007 6:25 pm
“Hey, compánach, what are you doing here?” the small man says to Leander as we make our way into his shop.
Magda follows me grimly, not sure of my intentions now. I’ve tried to persuade her that I am going to to through with this mission as planned. I don’t know if my heart is in it now. I am worried about my sister.
“Ah, muirneach, come in and take off that coat,” one of the burlier fellows says, smiling at Magda.
She brushes past him as he eyes her appreciatively. I can tell she’s not in a terribly bright mood right now.
“You sure he’s reliable?” she asks Leander.
He simply nods, and sets Sarah on the table. She’s not bleeding as badly now, but is ashen-faced and unconscious. I take her hand, still unbelieving of the forces that have drawn us back together.
It’s been thirteen years since I’ve seen my Sarah. I thought she was dead, all of this time. When they took her from the factory, I was sure of it.
Sarah and I were orphaned as children, she at six and I at nine. Being poor, we were remanded to the custody of a workhouse. Grueling days of hard labour working in the textile factory for two years made us hard. But only to the outside world, we still had each other through that time.
I loved Sarah like no other, and she loved me. We stuck through the hardest times in our lives together. And then, the accident happened.
The clunk of the metal arm on the table washes my mind with that horrible day. She’d caught her scarf in one of the machines, and in trying to pull it out, it had snagged her fingers. She’d been pulled into the gears up to her elbow by the time anyone was close enough to try to save her. There was so much blood. She was so pale. The headmaster had her taken out of the factory, and I had watched as they loaded her into a van.
It was the same van we’d seen so many other horribly injured workers loaded into before. And, like all of the others, she had never returned when the van came back later that evening. I cried for her. I cried for having lost my beautiful sister. And then I had struggled to move on.
The Irishman who comes in has a large glass of whiskey. He puts his scalpel in it. I run my fingers through Sarah’s hair. I can hardly believe this at all. She’s alive.
“Alright, open her shirt,” the hack surgeon says.
Leander moves to do so, but I put a hand over his.
“It’s not right, it’s not…appropriate…”
“Damn propriety, she’s going to die if Hennessey doesn’t do something, lad,” Leander says gently and moves my hand away.
I turn my head, to find Magda glaring at me. She motions for me to follow, and walks into the other room.
Whirling on me as soon as I enter the room with her, I can see the anger in her eyes.
“This had better be worth what I just had to do, Julian,” she hisses.
“I will do whatever you want me to do, Magda, if you will just make sure she lives,” I reply earnestly.
She sees the look in my eyes, and her face softens a bit.
“Damn it all, had to be your sister. I knew something wasn’t right, Mother Ghedri told me not to go out today.”
“My aunt, actually. She’s a voudon priestess; she sees things sometimes.”
“Maybe she can help us figure out where to start, then?”
It comes out more like a question, because I’ve never trusted people who claim they can do magic. But Magda seems to trust her.
“Oh, hell no, I’m not getting anyone in my family involved in this. That’s a bloody mistake, and if you know what’s good for her you’ll leave her out of this too.”
“Isn’t she already in this now?”
“No, far from it. She saw you, but that’s it. Leave her here, and let’s go finish what we are supposed to do. You can look her up later.”
Magda makes perfect sense, but I still want so badly to make sure Sarah’s alright. Then Leander comes in.
“Hennessey says she took one in the lung. He’s going to be working at her for a while. We should go now. She will be safe here, these folks don’t have any love for the government.”
“Who are they, Leander?”
He turns to look at me.
“Irish Mob, me boyo,” he says in a thick brogue, “I grew up here as a wee lad, they know me well.”
“Then on we go back to ImageMakers, to get your gear, Julian.”
I hear Sarah cry out in the next room. Leander steps before me.
“You will do her no good at all right now. We have to finish what we’ve started.”
I nod, still wanting to go to her, but turn around and head for the door.
As I step through into the rainy street beyond, I can hear her. I can hear Sarah calling my name.
Posted: Tue May 15, 2007 2:26 pm
I gasp like a fish out of water when the plug is pulled from the socket at the base of my skull. Disorientation hits me in waves, almost nauseating in force. My eyes scream at the light as I crack them open.
“Wh…where am I?”
“You silly git,” I hear Magda’s voice reply, “We are at ImageMakers…get your head together, you’ve been under far too long. If anyone has been watching you, they could have found where we are by now.”
Then exhaustion hits me.
“Four hours. I thought you were just looking around? I almost decided to drop tab and find out where the hell you had run off to!”
I shiver. It was beautiful, like nothing I have ever experienced. The Etherscope. I resolve to write my experiences down at some time later.
“I was in that long? It didn’t seem like it.”
“Trust me,” Leander adds from behind me, “I took a nap, lad.”
Sleep sounds good to me now. So good, I begin to walk to the cot in the corner of Comstock’s makeshift shop. Magda steps before me firmly.
“We’ve no time for that now.”
Her hand grips my wrist, the other pushing something into my palm. A bright red pill gleams at me.
“What’s this then?”
“You need something to pick you up,” Magda says, pushing a glass of whiskey into my other hand, “Take it.”
My hand shakes as I bring the pill to my mouth. I swill the warm whiskey down, washing it down my gullet. Gathering my Scope gear and pushing it into my daypack, I am hit suddenly with a rush of wakefulness and sensation. I stand up sharply, sucking in a breath, and look to Leander.
“Amp,” he nods to me, “The military uses it to keep their soldiers awake.”
My hands are jittery now, though not with fatigue.
“Well, come on then, I know where it is I need to go first now.”
Magda’s head moves sharply to me.
“I thought you said you were just looking around?”
“I was,” I reply smugly, a grin on my face, “And something found me.”
“Speak up lad. Where are we going?” Leander queries.
“I need to get over to The Church. I’ve some people to meet that might be able to help me.”
“I’ll hail us a cab,” Magda says, stepping through the front door.
“Hey now, what about my pay?” Comstock protests.
Leander tosses a pursefull of coin at him.
“What the bloody hell is this sh*t?” the program crafter exclaims; I hear a sharp intake of breath as he opens it.
“This is too much, much too much!”
“Consider that extra the price for your silence, then,” I hear Leander say as I stride out the door, “And this will be the price if you don’t keep your mouth shut.”
He’s sheathing that big knife of his as he moves purposefully beside me.
“Can’t be too careful; money may talk, but brute force, or the threat of it, works miracles,” the Delta says to me grimly.
A steam carriage rolls up beside us in the downpour, thick smoke belching from its tailpipes. Magda opens the door and ushers me in quickly.
“Manchester,” she says briskly to the driver, “and step on it.”
Leander’s barely shut the door before the driver does, indeed, step on it. He’s moving much too slowly for me now, though. I shift the scope point in my hands nervously as the vehicle lurches through the streets. I am getting closer. I can’t wait to jack in again; the answers will be at my fingertips, and I can go back to my life again.
But some voice in the back of my head asks me, What life is that, “Julian”?
Posted: Tue May 15, 2007 3:54 pm
Now that all is said and done, I’ve taken the time to go back, look over my experiences, and expand upon some of my elucidations of the past week. By now, those of you who have taken my upload capsule understand the rapid evolution I was undergoing, the revolution of thought both conscious and unconscious, the processes of my mind speeding and unfurling at lightning speed. I attribute that mainly to the stress of the circumstances in which I came to find myself becoming something altogether different that what I was, the danger of running with government agents, spies, criminals and miscreants, my prodigious intake of intoxicants, and my unfolding vision of the tapestry of Etherspace in all its glory.
This, then, is my first attempt to clarify upon points I may have missed in the original upload you have already experienced. I begin this section to describe to you, my friend, my first experiences with jacking into the Etherscope.
We left the broken down coffin flat tenement where I’d left my sister in the care of the Irish doctor who was fond of whiskey. Our walk did not lead us far before Magda had been satisfied that we were not being followed. She then had hailed a cab, which brought us hastily through the early morning streets to ImageMakers again.
Magda haggled with Comstock on the price briefly and insisted that I be able to try everything out before a payment was made. This cost her a little in the bargain, but I am certain now it was well worth it.
I was uncertain and shaky those first few moments before the plug slid into my jack and metal met metal with a small click. I was even more uncertain as I pressed the GO button on the scope point and peered into the swirling mists of the glassine portal. My window into another, brighter world, surrounded by cheap pine and containing miniaturized magnets and ethervents, it hypnotized me.
What I saw before me was different than what I was used to. Through my workplace, and the use of my ethergloves, I interacted only in a limited sense with Etherspace. My etheric workplace was always a thick, rich maple desk, with volumes of folders stacked neatly and precisely upon it and lined with rows of inkwells and pens. Each folder contained the data I would manipulate that day, each pen a different tool to perform those tasks.Everything had a familiar and steady place.
What I looked upon when I saw through that portal I carried that day frightened me surely, but little did I know how liberated I would become by that vision. Freedom was within my grasp, and I quailed at the sight of it. The room beyond the screen seemed so painfully beautiful and surreal, I was sure I could not go through with it.
A huge bed lined with goosedown pillows filled the center of the room, adorned with silken sheets of a rich cream. Veils of a vivid scarlet cloth hung from the posters of the bed to fall around it. I could almost feel their caress upon my skin just with looking at them. A thick carpet of white fur was over every inch of the floor.
Something caught the edge of my vision then, and I saw the light of the GO button flashing. I felt rather extremely disoriented for a moment, and slumped to the floor. I struggled to rise, attempting to clear my head, and saw that I was no longer indeed within ImageMakers.
I was within the room I had seen upon the screen. In wonderment, I reached for the hanging veil upon the bed. I could feel the silken texture of the veil between my fingers as I rubbed it between them. I could smell something like ginger in the air. As I looked around, I saw a glass of water upon a table by the bedside and wondered if I could taste it.
In moving to the small table, my foot managed to clumsily catch upon the thick carpeting. Something made a noise close to me upon the floor, and I fell upon my backside rather sharply in my effort to manage my trip and move away from the creature at the same time.
I laughed to see a small grey kitten gazing at me with great green eyes.
“Well, wherever did you come from, little fellow!” I asked it, very astonished indeed to find it here.
But I was even more astonished when it replied, calmly grooming itself all the while.
“It’s rather about time that you found yourself here, isn’t it Michael? I’ve been waiting for some time, you know.”
“What, what,” I spluttered, completely confounded.
“I am a construct of your vastly superior intellectual capacity…that is, vastly superior should you ever choose to recognize that fact, anyway. I don’t understand why you’ve been settling for what little you’ve been thrown. Rather like a dog gnawing contentedly upon a bit of bone by a satisfied owner, don’t you think, Michael?”
“What are you?” I managed to mouth my question at the end of his confusing question/answer.
“Who are you?”
“Well, now, that all depends on you, Michael.”
“Well, seeing as this is the first time we’ve actually met, you’ve never really had the opportunity before now to name me, have you?”
“Uhm, well…Christ, no I suppose not…”
I struggled with words at that point. This was all very strange then, you understand.
“Well, how do you do, I am sure it’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance,” I said, reaching down to the kitten’s tiny paw, “Mister…ah…”
I struggled to find something, anything to name the creature. Only one name came to the forefront, but the kitten beat me to my punch.
“Yes, “Protector of Men”, fine…and the name of your brother, if I recall correctly.”
“Ah…Alex…Alexander! How could you know?”
My brother had died in the crib, at the workhouse. I’d been devastated, because I had cared for Alex and Sarah since our parents had passed on.
“I’ve already told you once, Michael. And I, much like yourself, hate explaining myself multiple times. But since circumstances have changed and I am no longer watching you from a distance, and you are quite thrown into this situation of someone else’s accord, I will cater to you. I am a product of your own capable mind, created by you to assist you in your life’s endeavours.”
“But why are you here?”
“I am here, quite simply, dear boy, because I cannot exist elsewhere. Etherspace is my home. Ether is the raw energy of the universe, and I am given form by your unconscious manipulation of that energy.”
“This is crazy,” I protested.
“Is it really? Is it really any crazier than the pitiful, miserable workaday life, living every day like a clockwork cogwheel in someone else’s mechanistic view of what life is supposed to be? What a dreary grind it must be, Michael. However do you stomach it? I know I couldn’t, not at all.”
At this point, the kitten began licking its bum.
“Stop that, that’s disgusting,” I told it, and moved the veils aside to sit upon the bed.
Alexander leapt up beside me. His eyes gleamed with something. Excitement.
“So where shall I take you first, Micheal? You’ve never been here before. This is so wonderful, you are finally free,” he nuzzled me, rubbing his ears upon my elbow.
I was at a loss for words. Alexander’s strange mixture of sarcasm and innocence struck me. I moved my hand to rub his back absently as I thought. I could hear him purr.
Suddenly, he leapt up, his paw batting playfully at my hand.
“I know, I know!” he exclaimed.
“Shall I take you to the people who have been following you and watching this place?”
Posted: Tue May 15, 2007 7:19 pm
Manchester’s alive tonight. Traffic to Old Trafford is grinding everything to a halt. It’s Manchester United versus Arsenal. And I was going to catch that match, until now.
Now that I am jittering in the back seat of the cab, Magda beside me and shouting obscenities at the slow-moving steam carriages in front and behind us, waiting to meet with strangers who may mean me harm. Now that I am hunting someone whose identity I am uncertain of. But I may have an ace up my sleeve, yet. I smile at the thought.
The sweltering heat of so many steam carriages all moving slowly and so closely packed together is making me sweat. I take off my jacket and hear the thump of the scope point in the pocket hitting the seat. There’s something else in there I picked up at ImageMakers, although no one else noticed.
Growing up as an urchin in a workhouse environment, sometimes you pick up things. A little lift every now and again made sure my sister had enough to eat when the bigger kids would steal her food and taunt her. The pistol I had seen at Comstock’s shop, though old and shoddy, gives me a sense of a bit more security.
“You alright?” Magda asks cautiously.
“Yeah, just hot. Damn, can this thing move any faster?”
I smile weakly at her, nervous as all bloody hell. She doesn’t read my nervousness well, thinking perhaps that I always look like this. Damn, maybe I do.
“Not long now,” Leander says, watching a pair of girls in Manchester United jerseys and short pleated skirts prance by the cab.
It’s time for me to do something drastic now. I can’t wait much longer; my life and my future is at stake. I roll the jacket around my forearm, trying to look as though I am nervously twisting it. The pistol and the scope point are rolled up tight in it. No one’s watching me, I notice.
I move swiftly, slamming my forearm into Leander’s forehead. I hear the impact, see his eyes roll back, and he lolls. I struggle to unwrap the jacket.
“What the <b>f*ck</b>!” Magda pronounces, clearly surprised.
As she reaches in her own jacket to unholster her automatic, I decide to stop bothering and reach across Leander’s limp form to jam the short muzzle of the revolver in my jacket into her ribs.
“Don’t try it, Magda.”
“What the hell is wrong with you? We are helping you, you stupid bastard!”
“Are you really? Perhaps if I told you I met someone else who said otherwise?”
“A girl; a girl in the Etherscope, I met her while I was exploring.”
“What’s the bitch’s name? She’s filling you with lies, Michael. They are trying to use you, sway you to their side.”
She’s using my real name. That’s how I know she’s trying to talk me down; that and the beads of sweat on her forehead. She knows who the girl is, or at least who she represents, possibly. But I can’t take the chance that she doesn’t. I have to get free of them and make my own decisions now. If I don’t and the girl is right, I am a dead man and my beloved government’s been using me this whole time.
Alexander the cat, my newfound friend in the Etherscope, had made my acquaintance with her. My first trip into the Etherscope had been quite eventful. He led me straight to her after our own rather abrupt meeting. The girl said she knew my sister. She said that they were a part of the Northumbrian Republican Movement. She said a lot of things, and I’m not sure how much of it was true.
“Give me your gun, Magda.”
She pulls it gingerly from her jacket, thumb and forefinger proffering it to me. I push the revolver into her side harder, and reach to take it. She moves quickly to the right, reaching for the door handle. I start at that, and my finger jerks on the trigger of the revolver. The sound of the pistol going off in such close quarters is deafening.
The door opens, and I hear Magda strike the ground with a soft grunt. I get out of the cab quickly. When I look back, I see Magda lying on the ground with blood pooling about her. I think she must be dead.
I know this part of town much better than anywhere else I have been these past few hours. I grew up here. I duck into an alley that’s close and will lead me down to Corporation Street, and to Victoria Station.
The Church. I’ve got to get to The Church.
Posted: Tue May 15, 2007 9:28 pm
My senses are assailed from the moment I open the door. Kaleidoscopic strobing lights flicker, illuminating the patronage of The Church. The scents of cigarettes, lust, alcohol, and desperation mingle in a musky bouquet. I feel the beat of the music even as it assaults my eardrums, throbbing and grinding rhythmically. Something Arabic, I think, being vocalized shrilly. A swirl of motion surrounds me, and people brush into me as they pass.
The Church is a very old Roman Catholic cathedral which was abandoned long ago and refurbished rather irreverently into a nightclub. I’ve never been here before, never thought I would ever come here. But this is where my contact is; the girl from the Etherscope had told me to meet her here. I am early.
I’m not sure what to do now. I didn’t tell Magda and Leander this was where I planned on going, so I’m sure I don’t have to worry about them. It’s a shame Magda scared the hell out of me and I shot her, she was pretty. And rather devoted to her Queen and country as well, which made her a liability to me in this.
How can I be sure who to trust? These NRM “activists” are little more than terrorists, using vicious bombings to spur their own political agenda of a separate nation within England for “the people”. And yet my own government, whom I have worked on behalf of for years faithfully, may very well have me earmarked for termination. I’ve no true friends, as I have always kept my eyes to the ground and my nose to the grindstone; I’ve enveloped myself in my work, so to speak. No family to speak of, until tonight when I discovered my sister is still alive.
The truth’s quite apparent to me. I can’t trust anyone. This is completely and utterly insane. And that’s when I realize something. I like this. I must be insane too. But I’ve never felt more alive and awake.
The sensation of leather dragging across my back draws me to turn. A tall and lithely muscled woman is brushing up against me. She’s dressed in close fitting red leather. It leaves little to the imagination, which is good because I’m only just now starting to develop one. She says something, which is drowned out in the thunder of the bass.
I lean in to shout to her.
“You want to dance?” she replies loudly into my ear.
I shrug; why not?
I’ve never characterized myself as a graceful man. Yet something in the music takes me. It has become a primal rhythm, setting me free. I move with her like I have never moved before. And this surprises me, but only briefly.
I’ve never been much with women. I’ve always looked away when one caught my eye and they began to look back. It’s embarrassment, because I know I am not much to look at. They must think me mad, staring at them. But this one is beautiful in a graceful dancer’s manner, and the look she is giving me is not one that I am used to seeing.
The curve of her lips catches my eyes as she smiles at me; she licks her lips, moving her hips against mine.
“Is that a pistol in your pocket, or am I making you happy?” she says in my ear loudly, laughing.
No need to alarm her with the truth; it really is a pistol she feels. I just smile back in return. My hands slide over her back, pulling her in to me. We move across the dance floor, and people part to make way. I’ve only just begun to notice, but people are starting to watch. I must be making a fool of myself with my clumsiness.
“You’re so fucking hot; I’ve never seen anyone move like you,” the woman says to me, and her tongue moves over my ear.
This elicits a shudder from me, and I move in closer. The blood is pounding savagely in my veins.
“What the!” she announces suddenly.
I suppose she feels both “pistols” now. She’s looking down at my pants. I feel suddenly mischievous, and lift my shirt a bit to show her the grip of the gun.
“You were right the first time,” I hear myself say, not quite believing that it’s really me being this forward, “but you’re making me happy all the same.”
That brings a giggle to her lovely lips. I smile back, happy to see her smile. Something inside my head interrupts the reverie though.
Christ, of all the times to be thinking about mating. It’s all you people do. I would so dread being in season all the damned time. How do you make time for anything else?
Alexander. He’s prompting me for something. Oh, yes. The girl, I am supposed to meet the girl here. I look to the chronograph at the bar. Soon.
“Want to grab a seat?” I ask the woman I am dancing with.
She nods emphatically, eyes aglow as she looks at me. Damn, I must have done something right here, but hell if I can figure it out.
They are attracted to you. That’s why they give you a second glance at all. Don’t you ever pay attention to anything?
I take the woman’s arm, and lead her to a booth. She slides in next to me, closely. A smile on her face, giggling, she pecks me on the cheek. Several people pass by, smiling and nodding at me. I wave my hand to a passing waitress, who comes over immediately with a smile.
“What can I bring you two?”
“I’ll have a gin and tonic,” my companion immediately answers.
The waitress looks at me while I think. The way her eyes look, I’d almost believe she wasn’t just waiting for me to order. And her smile.
She’s not, how many times do I have to tell you. Now say something to her or she will think you are daft, you huge dolt.
Still smiling at the waitress, I order a whiskey while mentally ordering Alexander to shut the hell up.
“I’m Lisbeth,” my companion utters as the waitress turns to fetch our drinks. She looks at me expectantly.
“Oh, I’m, ah, Julian,” I try to reply casually.
There’s a hungry look in Lisbeth’s eyes as she leans over and plants her lips upon mine. Her hand is going under the table, and I am certain where I’d like to see it end up.
Quit the mating games, here she comes.
I break the kiss gently. Lisbeth still has her eyes closed and lips parted. I don’t really want to look away. Alexander chuckles in my head.
And then I see her. It’s the girl from my Etherscope dream, made flesh. She’s as lovely as she is in there. I can’t seem to take my eyes from her, and my companion notices and tries to nuzzle at my ear to bring my attention back to her; it doesn’t seem to work.
Her golden hair flows in free-falling waves to well below her waist, swaying with her every motion. She has iridescent blue eyes of a startling and captivating shade. Her skin is like cream, smooth and supple. The beaded dress she wears is glittering in the strobing lights of The Church. They are pearls, I realize; the dress is made from strings of pearls, like the very height of Parisian fashion.
A cigarette dangles from her outstretched hand as she arrives before me. Her full and sensual lips curve into a smile as she takes me in.
“Got a light, darling?”
My eyes rake the table for the box of matches I had just seen a moment ago, and I smoothly pull one out and strike it into life. She leans towards me to be lit. Without a glance to my companion, she speaks.
“Beat it. Julian’s mine.”
Lisbeth vacates her space with wide eyes and a bit of a pout. The girl slides into the booth to lean into me.
She smiles, “Hi there, Julian, do you remember me?”
My heartbeat quickens as her proximity sinks in. Her hip rubs against mine. My eyes watch those lips.
“We have something that we need to talk about, don’t we?” she says huskily.
Suddenly, the music stops. And it isn’t just my thought that everything would stop with such a beautiful woman next to me, either. The sound of gunfire, and screams, echoes. I look to the door and see three Redcoats in full regalia making their way in. Their oiled heavy piston armor send glints of the now-ceased stroboscobic lights everywhere.
“sh*t,” my new companion utters softly.
“They’ve found us.”
“What?” I ask, hoping that these things are not indeed after me. My old pistol won’t do much to dent their armoured hides
“The back door!” the girl proclaims, grabbing my hand and dragging me from the booth with her.
“If anything happens, just follow my lead,” she says, smiling confidently.
We rush to the back door of The Church, and it’s only when we reach it and the girl’s hand throws it open that I hear dimly from somewhere in the back of my mind…
Redcoat squads always consist of four or more individuals, Michael.
The Redcoat on the other side of the door whirls around, unnaturally swiftly for someone encased in nearly a ton of steel, to face us.
Posted: Wed May 16, 2007 5:01 pm
From the girl’s demeanor and the way she carries herself, I fully expect her to launch into a tirade against the Redcoat about whom her father is and why the fellow doesn’t know exactly who she is. She is so imperious, and she pulls it off well. I watch almost mystified as the Redcoat swings around with his huge, stubby-barreled black autorifle, and it doesn’t seem to phase her in the slightest.
“Oh, I am so glad you are here, it seems there’s been something of a riot in there. Have you seen my chauffer?”
She is pulling a delicate little ethercomm from the tiny pearled purse at her wrist.
“I called him but a moment ago. Surely a strapping fellow like yourself could escort me to my airlimo, couldn’t you?”
She slips her slender arm into his.
“Who’s this here, then?” the Redcoat slips out with.
The girl slyly puts a finger over his lips with a smile.
“My manservant, Friedrich. He doesn’t speak English.”
“Bloody Reiklanders,” the Redcoat spits, and turns with the girl in tow.
They begin to walk to the end of the alleyway. I am amazed, but only dazed to inaction for a moment. I follow quickly on their heels.
She walks beside him closely, leaning against him, giggling. I hear him speak to her under his breath, see him turn towards me with a glare. I keep my head down and try to act as a servant would.
A vehicle pulls to the end of the alley, all sleek black and chrome lines. The driver gets out, but the Redcoat pulls open the girl’s door for her. He shuts it as I approach, sneering at me. I shuffle to the other side, and the door is locked.
The airlimo begins to lift, and I see the girl’s laughing face pressed close to the window as I struggle with it. It opens up only a moment before the airlimo lifts up on a cushion of air and begins it’s jaunt into the sky. I barely have time to get in before we are off.
“Where are we going now? And who exactly are you?”
She laughs again.
“Relax, everything’s all right. I am taking care of you now. My name is Anais. And you, dear fellow, are my plaything for the night.”
My eyebrow raises. She laughs at me, her hand brushing my arm.
“Come now, it can’t be all that bad now can it?”
I can’t help it. Everything that’s been bottled up inside me comes raging to the surface.
“You spoiled little cunt. Listen to me, and listen to me well! I am a Scrivener! Do you know what that is? I’ve worked hard half my life to get where I am today, and I’ll not have some little rich bitch keep me from finding out just who in the bloody hell it is that wants to destroy me! My life is in a shambles, and I have got to find a way to get out of this mess and get it back together, and I mean NOW!”
My venom doesn’t phase her a whit. In fact, her eyes narrow a bit and she pulls out one of her long cigarettes and waits a long moment before she speaks.
“Light me, you little <b>f*ck</b>.”
It’s a commandment, not a question this time. I find myself looking for matches again, but this time with more imperative. Striking the match, I proffer the flame to her. She leans in towards me, her crystalline blue eyes focused upon mine.
As she leans back, she lets a long trail of smoke slip from between her lips before she speaks again.
“If you ever speak to me in that manner again, I’ll remove your manhood and let you wear it as a necktie.”
I slide back from her on the seat, taken aback by the cruelty that has infiltrated her voice. My hand instinctively slips towards the grip of the pistol as I feel the threat in the air rise.
“That won’t do you any bloody good, I assure you. There’s something you’ve got, little man, and it’s mine. I want it back. I know you stole it from me.”
Her eyes grow very cold, and her face twists in a rictus of furious anger. A bestial scream rages from her throat.
“NOW GIVE IT TO ME!”
I am so gripped with fear that I am surprised in my struggle to free the pistol I haven’t shot my own bloody cock clean off. Her face; it’s changing before my very eyes into something hideous and monstrous. She is lunging towards me.
My finger jerks the trigger spastically. The creature before me jerks with each firing of the pistol. Once, twice, three times. A low laugh escapes her now-twisted lips as she peels herself from the opposite door. Gore drips from the holes in her chest and midsection, but still she moves.
I fire again, and then again, and she cackles. I shift the pistol into my left hand while my right hand scrabbles madly across the door, seeking the handle desperately. The gun clicks empty as I pull the trigger again.
The girl-thing before me smiles, thick ropes of drool sliding from her widespread lips, and I see jagged teeth ready to puncture my flesh. My hand finds the handle as she grabs at me. The weight of me leaning against it springs the door wide, and I tumble backwards.
I loose a shout, arms wind-milling as I fall. Surely we must be thirty stories or more up by now, my mind flashes. The ground below reassures me of this as I tumble.
Yes, there, a little more to the left and…close your right hand NOW!
I do so almost automatically, just as something hard and metallic slaps into my palm. I am jerked hard by my own weight. Grunting, I reach my left hand up to grasp the object which has become my saviour. Something shrieks in what might be a close approximation of a woman’s voice as it passes me.
Falling towards a building, I have grasped the rung of an old and rusty metal ladder which leads to a fire escape. The impact has knocked the wind from me, but little more. Had I been a little further to the left or the right, I would have struck the side of the wall and slid down it at least twenty eight stories or so.
Looking down, I watch as the girl-thing smacks into the side of the building and plummets to the ground below. With only that moment’s hesitation, I shakily climb the rest of the ladder up to the fire escape’s landing. If five bullets didn’t kill that thing, then I am not so certain that this fall will do so either.
I ask myself what the hell it was as I check the window on this landing. It’s unlocked. As I slide it up and duck into the room beyond it, I am struck with the sick certainty that tonight I have met something I have only heard about in childhood tales told by the supervisors of the workhouse to frighten the children into submission.
I think it was a demon.
Posted: Wed May 16, 2007 7:20 pm
I’ve spent a cold night alone, in the rain, trying to reconfigure the mess that my life has become. Now I lay shuddering in the trash heap I made my attempts to rest in, drenched to the skin. I can’t go back to see Sarah yet, but I resolve to do so soon. I can’t go back to The Church, as that thing I encountered last night may find me there again. I don’t know anything about Scope culture; I’ve never really been a part of anything except the bland and sterile environment of my job.
I’m even more lost and alone now, with no contact to soothe the thoughts that boil in my head. There’s no one even to watch my back. I have no idea where to go.
Yes you do, Michael.
I know I can go back into the Etherscope. But she’s probably there too. After all, that’s where I met her initially.
Well, come to me. We will sort this thing out together. I’m all you’ve got now.
He’s right, is Alexander. He is all I’ve got.
“Just a little while, I want to find someplace safe to do this. And I want a new gun. I don’t feel safe.”
I giggle a little as I realize I am talking to myself. Is this what going mad is like?
Shaking off the rain as I rise, I begin to formulate a new plan of action.
Posted: Mon May 28, 2007 7:28 pm
Sheathed in the darkness of the alleyway, I watch as the night guardsmen begin their patrols on the inside of the building. There are always one or two stragglers who make a late exit from their long work days, and they are who I have been waiting for.
The rain is harder now than it was this morning. Somewhere I hear the yelp of a cur losing its nightly battle for food. The front doors open, and three individuals in heavy coats make their way out, homeward bound. There, now…a straggler, behind them. I shift in my shadows, eyes eagling in on the person. The straggler shifts to move towards me.
I grip the rusty metal shaft tightly in my hand, found in the trash heaps earlier, waiting for my opportunity to strike. The figure passes close, and I step from the shadows and press the sharpened tip of the spike against its back.
“Don’t move,” I growl in my best ruffian’s voice.
A high, frightened female voice answers, and I find myself wondering which one it is.
“Please, mister, don’t hurt me,” she says.
“If you’ll just follow my lead, everything will go well for you,” I reply, attempting to sound as menacing as I can.
I direct her movements further from the front entrance. She moves submissively, quietly as I hold the spike to her back. I don’t want to hurt her, but I hear her gasp as the spike pokes her.
“Quiet, and listen,” I say as I stop her.
She only nods in reply.
“I want in there, and you are going to get me in, lady,” I begin, but she stumbles with a small cry.
As I reach down to help her up from the cobblestones, her hand shoots to the side of my head. Something heavy connects, and my vision becomes blurry. I find myself falling to the stones beside her.
“Thought you could get the drop on me, eh?” I hear her say, obviously very pleased with herself.
“You right bastard, you,” she continues, bringing up the truncheon in her hand to strike me again.
Then I see her face. And she sees mine. Her lips become a near perfect O of surprise.
“Michael? Is that you? Oh, God! You look so horrible!”
I know her face, and I struggle with her name for a moment. I’ve seen her everyday for the past four years. Her number comes to my mind after a moment, but that’s not who she really is.
“Rexelle…my name is Rexelle.”
I taste blood upon my lips.
Posted: Tue May 29, 2007 6:58 am
“Oh, God, are you alright?” Rexelle asks me with concern etched into her features as she daubs at my scalp with a damp rag.
I nod, mumbling about rotten luck as I sip at my draught. Rexelle had dragged me to a nearby public house after knocking me senseless.
“Damn shame ‘bout yer muggin’, these parts is supposed to be safe one would think with the Constabulary right nearby,” the barmaid says with a stern look as she sets another draught before me.
As she prances away to another customer less immune to her charms, I watch to make sure the barmaid is of an appropriate distance.
“Rexelle, I need to get into the Hall,” I tell my new companion.
“What’s stopping you, Michael? And why in blazes would you put a knife to my back,” she asks me.
She doesn’t know, of course not, why would they tell her?
“I haven’t been to work in days,” I quickly think, trying to come up with something to cover myself, “I’ve been very sick. And on the day I left, I left my card on my desk. Do you think you could get it for me perhaps?”
“Why don’t you ask the night guardsmen? And that still doesn’t explain the damned knife. What is going on here, Michael?” she returns, a look of curiosity in her luminous blue eyes.
Her fingers run over the Scope jack on the back of my head as she checks me for further injury. I wince as her eyes narrow.
“Am I sure I even want to know what’s going on here? It would, of course, be my duty to report any fellow Scrivener who’s gone rogue. The damage you could do with your knowledge, Michael,” she whispers.
I could have guessed this was coming. She is going to call the authorities on me. Groggily, I rise to my feet and start towards the door.
“Wait, Michael! Maybe I can help you.”
I turn back to her. Her eyes are flashing as she looks at me.
“Maybe this will be the chance we’ve both been waiting for, if you really are innocent of what they are claiming,” she says with a slight smile.
So maybe they have told everyone something. I am suddenly wary of this slip of a girl. But I have to hear her out, the possibility of an ally of any kind in this situation would be more than I already have.
Posted: Tue May 29, 2007 6:59 am
“You could turn your head, you know,” Rexelle is saying to me with a slight grin as she pulls her shirt over her head.
I am momentarily distracted by the sight of her small, firm breasts, but turn my head with a flush creeping over my face as she bends to pull her skirt down.
“Sorry,” I mutter, just as much to myself as to her.
She has a small flat above a disused shop, an inheritance left to her by her departed rather. It’s perhaps the size of three coffin flats, with its own pipestand and wash basin.
“No need to apologize. You could use a bit of a wash yourself, by the way. You smell like a midden heap.”
On the walk to her flat, I’ve told her everything. Everything that I know, that is. Since that isn’t much, most of our walk was filled with thoughtful silence as she had considered what I told her.
“There’s some clothing in the wardrobe there. It belonged to my brother; he was a little shorter than you, but it would be better than getting back into those filthy rags after you have cleaned up.”
“Thank you, Rexelle,” I reply, moving to find the clothes and set them out.
“Call me Elle,” I hear her say.
“Won’t your brother be upset with someone else wearing his clothes?”
The splash of bathing stops.
“He would be if he were still alive,” she says softly.
“I’m sorry,” I start to say, half-turning towards her. I am stopped by the sight of her.
Her back is turned to me, her lean frame exposed for a moment before she swathes a towel about her. The image of the tattoo of a black sun on the small of her back sticks in my mind almost as much as her smooth skin. Her head turns slightly, and I see a small smile on her face.
“You should get in and wash up before the gas is used up and the water gets cold,” she says simply, and walks to the wardrobe beside me.
I nod, my eyes falling across her slim legs as I turn. Then the towel falls, and she is pulling out something made from an unusual material I have never seen from the wardrobe. Rather than feel a fool staring, I just turn and begin to remove my clothing. I hear Elle chuckle as my pants come down. Craning my head a bit, I see her broad grin as she gives me a once over while shrugging into her new outfit.
“Turnabout’s fair play, eh?”
I turn back to the pipestand, my face reddening.
“Nice bum,” I hear her whisper.
Nice or not, I am certain it’s as livid as my face now.
Once washed, I turn to grasp for a towel and fine Elle’s eyes upon me again. She is dressed in a dark grey slicksuit, a close fitting one piece garment which hugs her every curve and leaves little to my imagination. I find myself growing rather warm at the thoughts my imagination is soliciting to my brain. As her eyes travel down, they widen and her lips curl into a slight smile. I move the towel quickly to cover my embarrassment, but it does little good.
“Maybe we can talk about that later, but for now,” she tosses the clothes I have chosen to me, “get dressed. I have a way into the Hall, and we don’t even need to be there physically.”
I try to catch the clothes with one hand, clutching the towel about my waist with tightly-clenched fingers.
She nods in reply.
“Won’t that be even more dangerous, Elle?”
She nods again.
Posted: Tue May 29, 2007 2:38 pm
Imagine, if you will, a world that is new. One that does not fill your nostrils with the stink of industry, the unwashed masses, and the hideous perfumes that the upper class use to disguise their cancerous rot within. A new world in which everything is clean, death and decay hold no sway, and you can shape your own form at whim. Imagine yourself drifting there, upon the multihued, glittering etheric current, bobbing amidst a sea of bubbles which represent perhaps hundreds of those worlds, waiting to be discovered.
This is Etherspace. It is at once vast, beautiful and horrifying. Since the implantation of my Scope jack, its forcible removal and my return to Etherspace’s expanses through the use of Scope tabs, I have developed an addiction. You will also. It can hardly be helped. Once one has seen a world with infinite possibilities, the taste is impossible to forget.
My own first visions of Etherspace were but a taste of the beauty I would come to know. But I allowed my “job”, and societal expectations, to dictate my needs and desires to me for so long, I grew blind to that beauty.
But a change is in the wind. And that change will bring with it revolution. This, then, is my manifesto.
Let the revolution come. But it will not be what those who beg for political and societal changes expect. Let this be a revolution of thought, fought for freedom of our minds which have been chained for so long by the ties to this physical and impermanent world. Let this be a revolution of information, which begs to be freed for all and not hoarded at the whim of the few who cling desperately to temporal power. Let this be a revolution of body, where we can transcend this earthly sphere of our own accords and not to some form of slavish devotion to another’s dogma.
Even the most glorious mundane political or societal revolution could not rival such freedom.
From “A Scope Rider’s Manifesto”, author unknown
Posted: Wed May 30, 2007 7:52 am
The massive tenement stretches its oppressive bulk before me. Elle takes my hand in hers as I look at her questioningly. I can see broken windows near the top, and fires burning within.
“Are you sure this place is safe?”
“It’s as safe as it can be,” she replies with a chuckle.
I’m worried about that, but I will trust her judgment for the time being. This place frightens me. It looks like Hell itself. The paved streets are decorated with deep cracks, and the buildings around us seem to be sinking into the very earth. Smoke rises from a manhole cover which is ajar nearby. The cab which has brought us here seems in quite the hurry to leave, tires squealing upon pavement and leaving black marks from the rubber left behind.
We step into the building, through broken front doors which hang uselessly upon rusted hinges. Here and there about the lobby lie scattered the refuse of human existence. Flies buzz in the corner near the old and creaking elevator. There is little light, and Elle pulls out a penlight torch. The small beam of light directs us to the elevator in safety as we step over the scattered garbage and human waste.
Rats scamper away from us as I draw the rusted elevator gate open. Elle shrugs close to me, and I am reminded that she is quite lovelier than I had previously seen from work experience.
Be careful, Michael. Something’s not right here.
I’ll keep an eye out, don’t worry, I tell Alexander under my breath. Elle looks at me oddly, lips drawn tight with concern. Perhaps she thinks I am going mad. A smile, to reassure her, draws across my own lips and I resolve inwardly to confirm her fears later rather than now.
The elevator jerks as I shut the gate and Elle presses the button marked fifty-one. Our ascent is slow, halting, and several times I think the elevator may simply give out.
“Let me do the talking, okay? You don’t seem well, Michael. I am getting worried about you.”
“Well?” I laugh a little at that, “I don’t seem well? I haven’t really slept in days, I’ve been driven into a hunt for someone I haven’t a clue even exists, a demon assaulted me and my own people likely want to kill me now, Elle. I should say I am a far cry from well, dear. And I’d really like to know just what the bloody hell is going on here.”
“No need to raise your voice,” Elle says, and I’d swear there’s almost a hint of hurt in there.
“I’m sorry dear; I am just frustrated and confused. Please, forgive me,” I say rather more gently.
Her answering smile and the look she gives me is enough to know that she’s been somewhat soothed. The way she’s looking at me.
You know, you clean up well. It’s no wonder they like you. I’ll bet you odds are she’s trying to figure out just how well you’d do as a mate.
I silently admonish Alexander into quiet, but the thought does stick with me. Elle’s very pretty. But I’ve got to focus on the task at hand.
The elevator stops halfway between my consideration of what Elle’s bare skin would feel like under my hands and my consideration of the situation I have found myself in. The 51 button is lit, and an alarum rings to signal our stop.
“Mott is a Scope tab dealer. He’ll get me what we need. I do things for him sometimes.”
“Tabs? Oh, no, I am not taking any tabs, Elle. I despise those things, they are addictive, you know.”
Elle holds out her arms as she steps out of the elevator, stepping in front of me.
“Do I look like some strung out wasted junkie to you? Don’t be an arse-hat and judge things you don’t know, Michael, it’s unattractive.”
Indeed, Elle does not look so. Perhaps she is a bit thinner than I usually find attractive. But the slicksuit, with its smooth clinginess to the surface of her body and its shiny wet appearance definitely reveals to me that she is not wasted away.
She smiles smugly as my glance over her becomes more than cursory. She then turns away, to walk down the scarred hall before us which leads to this Mott fellow.
“I know, dumbass. You’re thinking about all those times at work you could have made a play for this and never did!” I hear the flirtatious chuckle in her voice.
“No, actually. I was thinking rather something else,” I reply as I see the four men stepping from doorways on our left and right ahead of us.
They are pointing worn old autoguns at us. At me.
“Elle,” says one of them, a bid and rather burly fellow with bad teeth, “Welcome back, Mott’s been expecting you for a few days now. This guy is cool?”
“He’s why I am here. I need to talk business with Mott. Could you show a lady in?”
I notice I am not the only one with appreciative glances for Elle as she strolls almost leisurely past the four men.
The room we enter is huge, perhaps five or six coffin flats in all, with the walls removed. To our far left is a collection of tables littered with a collection vials, burners, tubes and other assorted pharmaceutical paraphernalia. Three women work diligently there with the chemicals, naked except for goggles protecting their eyes and small white aprons to protect their fronts.
To our right is an array of couches, chairs and throw pillows. Upon these sundry items of repose rest numerous of what I suppose to be Mott’s clientele. Tab-jammers, I believe they are called. One of them, a tiny fellow with a profuse abundance of facial hair who must be a Gamma, waves to Elle. She smiles back at him.
People are dancing in the center, and a loud and hypnotic beat is building in the background. We step through the crowd, pressing through bodies, to find Elle’s friend Mott seated upon a divan before us. He’s not like anything I expected.
I expected some grimy miscreant, and instead I am treated to a well-dressed young man toying with a pocket watch on a golden fob. Two very lovely young women with vacant looks in their eyes are seated upon either side of him. Mott’s golden hair falls in long waves, and he pushes a lock aside to look up at us with piercing blue eyes.
“Elle! Good to see you again, I thought you’d be coming back soon,” Mott says with an endearing smile.
He is an Alpha, I can tell. I’ve seldom seen them, and never this close. He is the product of generations of the Eugenics League’s attempts to perfect the human genome. And he is beautiful. I can’t help but feel a little awe when I look upon him.
“So, who is your friend?”
She looks to me, a warning to remember that she is the one who is to do the talking.
“Michael is a co-worker. We’ve known each other for some time now, though I daresay he’s never seen me quite like this. He needs a tab; a very specific tab. We both do, actually. And I need to know if you can get it for us.”
With a gesture, Mott summons a pair of chairs for us to sit before him. Wine is poured out into glasses for us, and finger sandwiches proffered. I snack upon several greedily while Elle explains something of our need to her friend.
When she is finished speaking, Mott looks rather contemplative.
“I have something that may do the trick, dear. It’s a black tab I’ve come across as of late, don’t know where it got patterned or by whom, but it seems to focus on the domain of the Great Metropolitan Estate. Not many left, I think only one in fact. But my chemist can duplicate it. He’s good, is Grimes. Give me a few hours, and I will have a pair of them for you. Shall we say the usual fee, my dear?”
“I’ll have to owe you for now, I am afraid,” Elle replies with an unmistakable tone that belies she is not in the mood for questioning, “Have you got a room we can get some rest in? Michael here hasn’t slept in a while. A couple of hours would do him some good, I think. And can you perhaps spare a couple of men to keep an eye out?”
“Surely I can allow for that, beautiful. Toomes, show our guests to a room,” Mott says, gesturing to one of the fellows who escorted us in.
Fortunately, the walk isn’t far. There’s a large bed inside the room and Toomes hands Elle a key to lock the door from the inside. I collapse onto the bed, waves of tiredness crashing into me, as Elle locks the door and turns to me.
“Why is it that you are helping me, Elle?” I ask wearily, almost afraid of the answer.
Elle sinks into the bed beside me, moves close, and wraps her arms around me. I’ve little strength to resist and I am uncertain whether I want to in any case.
“Why, Michael, I thought you knew by now,” she says soothingly, fingers running through my hair and across my back, “I’ve liked you since that first day we met, over four years ago. I don’t know, you’ve always seemed so distant though. As if you were consumed by something far beyond what I might offer you. And now that I can help you, I don’t mind the chance to get closer to you.”
She’s right, I realize. I have been distant with everyone in my life, whether it’s been co-workers or neighbors. I’ve always been consumed by the task at hand, my job, and my place as a cog in the wheels. I’ve never really let anyone in since I first lost Sarah.
Her arms feel so good around me. I move closer and feel her sigh against me.
“Thank you,” I manage as Elle’s presence soothes me closer to a restful slumber.
“This isn’t exactly how I’d imagined it, beautiful,” she says softly as she holds me a little tighter, “but it’s nice all the same.”
Posted: Wed May 30, 2007 12:32 pm
A loud knocking, and Elle’s insistent but gentle shake, awakens me.
“Wake up, they are ready. I’m sorry, but we need to get out of here before we drop. I don’t really trust Mott that much.”
I nod, rubbing sleep from my eyes.
Elle unlocks the door, and the little fellow with the abundance of whiskers she’d been waving at earlier is standing there.
“Grimes,” he says simply to me, and slaps his palm into Elle’s.
“Here you go, all ready. You must be planning on going on a rough trip by the shopping tab you’ve left,” he says, looking up to Elle.
“Mott knows I am good for it,” she replies shortly, with a brief smile.
She turns to me.
Alexander’s voice cuts into my head quite suddenly, warning me of danger.
Michael, I see something-
Damned cat is always late.
As Elle starts to move through the door, things seem to slow. Her hand, withdrawing from the Gamma’s, moves to her side as she takes one step forward.
“Elle!” I call to her.
Too late. She rocks forward with a surprised look on her face, and blood blossoms from a hole in her chest. The bullet that passed through her misses me by inches. The bed beside me erupts in a spray of feathers. Grimes calls out loudly, and sucks to one side.
I roll to Elle, grasping her arms and pulling her around out of the doorway as another bullet tears a chunk of plaster from the wall behind me. I can hear her gasping for breath from a lung that’s likely ruined.
“Elle, Elle, no, hang on, honey, hang on!” I shout to her above the din of gunfire.
Mott’s men are opening up on the would-be assassin, and the air reeks with the smell of cordite. I hear bullets impacting with walls, floors and bodies. Cries of the wounded ring out.
“Oh, ah, sh*t, I am hit!” Elle croaks to me, looking up from my lap with pink blood frothing upon her lips.
“Oh, don’t talk, love, hold on, please hold on, baby,” I am babbling, my fear for her rising.
I don’t want her to die. I put pressure on the front of her wound to stop the bleeding, but there’s so much of it. Too much.
“Ungh, uh, ahhh…Michael…I…ah, it hurts!”
“Please, just be still and be quiet!” I beg her.
I take off the jacket she gave me, her dead brother’s jacket, and lift her back to press the entry wound against it. My shirt is next, also her brother’s, and I press that into the exit wound hard.
“Just relax, hold on, don’t go anywhere, please,” I chant to her over and over again, a mantra for her to live, to keep breathing.
She does, but it’s ragged and pained, eyes looking up at me glazed with agony. I smile down, wipe the blood from her lips.
“It’ll be okay honey, it’ll be okay.”
She nods and tries to smile but it comes off more of a grimace. Then I notice the gunfire has stopped.
“I am going to lay you down, just hold here and be still, Elle,” I whisper to her, holding her hands on her chest and the shirt that’s pressed into the wound.
Cautiously, I duck my head around the doorway to see what is going on. Most of the revelers have cleared out; the pharmaceutical workers lie bleeding out their lives onto the hardwood floor. Grimes is spread across the floor not three feet away from me. A pepperbox pistol lies inches from his still hand, and a pool of blood slowly seeps into the floor beneath him.
I scuttle across the hardwood and take the pistol into my hand, then roll between a couple of the corpses of Mott’s gunmen and under the pharmaceutical table which is toppled over. I peek quickly once, twice, and then bob my head up a third time before I see him.
A tall man, whipcord lean, making his way among those who lie upon the floor; he kicks each over onto their back and looks them over carefully before shooting each in the forehead with a large, ugly black autopistol. He’s dressed in very understated but fashionable business attire, all black except for the red lining of his vest, speaking of a man of some means. A broad-rimmed hat covers his eyes, but I can see that he has a rather thick beard as well as very long locks of hair hanging down from the sides of the hat. And over his shoulder, a rifle of the like I’ve never seen.
He comes to Mott, lying on the floor wheezing and bleeding from a gut wound, trying to cover himself up with his attendants.
A loud click sounds as the man in black cocks his weapon.
“Where is he, Mott?”
“I-I am sure I don’t have any idea who you are talking about, Aryeh. Please, please, I thought we had an arrangement. I haven’t done anything to step on the Koyekh’s toes, please, ahhh.”
“Just tell me where’s the Scrivener, and I’ll let you live. I know he’s here, I followed him and the girl from the Association Hall. I thought I would kill two birds with one stone, eh? You’ve been cutting into the business with your whores again, after you were warned.”
“No, Aryeh, no whores, I promise you!”
“You are useless, I can find him myself. Koyekh does not give a second warning, you know this, Mott.”
The big gun bucks in the man’s hands, and Mott falls back in a splatter of blood. His head bounces on the floor before resting still.
“Ech hob dir in drerd,” I hear Aryeh say as he spits upon Mott’s lifeless body.
Shakily, I raise the pepperbox pistol in my hand and fire. My assassin recoils as the bullet strikes him in the gut. I rise up on shaky legs and fire again, but the bullet thunks into the hardwood. Aryeh flicks his arm towards me, and something bites painfully into the back of my hand. It goes numb, and I drop the pistol. Blood is gushing from a long and deep slash in my hand which extends from my knuckles to just past my wrist.
Aryeh rises to his feet and walks to me, that big black gun rising to take a bead on my forehead.
“So you are him, eh? Don’t look like much, do you boy?”
He pulls his coat aside to expose the heavy shirt beneath it. My bullet rests there on the cloth, just below his heart. He smiles coldly.
“And here’s where it ends, boy.”
As his finger grows taut on the trigger, my eyes close; I am expecting the end to come loudly. But I hear a loud grunt of shock and surprise, and a thump as something heavy falls upon the floor. I open my eyes to see the Hasidic assassin struggling with another man upon the floor, both grunting and growling at one another. My eyes go to the pepperbox pistol, lying a foot from me, and my left hand seeks its grip.
I raise the pistol, waiting for a clear shot which will not catch my sudden saviour. Aryeh looks back to see me, and thrusts the other man solidly between my sight of him. I hear a groan of pain, and Aryeh kicks the man away. In that moment, I fire upon him, but I see there is a small pistol in his hand, and its barrel is smoking.
Waves of pain and nausea crash through me as I see the blood coursing from my side down my pants leg. My finger tries to draw the trigger again, but to no avail. Aryeh rises, and a booted foot lashes out and kicks away his gun.
I hear a loud contact with the hardwood, and realize it is me; I am on my knees, and the pepperbox has again fallen from my grasp. I look up and, in amazement, recognize the face of my saviour.
“Leander,” I call weakly, watching the two combatants circle one another.
The Delta has no attention to spare me just yet, though. His face is grimly set, and that combat knife he is so fond of is gripped tightly in white-knuckled fingers. The Jew grins.
“Come on, whelp, show me what you’ve got.”
A thin wire blade sprouts into Aryeh’s grasp with a flick of his coat sleeve. Leander reverses his knife in his grasp, holding the blade at a slight angle to his forearm. The two watch each other closely and then, as one, dance towards each other with a speed that I can’t follow.
They part, Aryeh clutching his side and Leander brushing blood from his eyes where the wire blade has opened his scalp. The assassin chuckles.
“I’ll tell everyone you put up a good fight, dogboy,” he snarls derisively.
“I’ll do the same,” Leander says back, with no sign of venom.
They dance in towards each other again, a blur of motion, whirling arms and legs. Leander spins quickly, ducking beneath the wireblade. He spins around the assassin, and his blade opens the back of the man’s trousers low on the calf.
They part again, this time with the assassin swearing loudly in Yiddish. He staggers, barely able to move his right leg. Leander’s grin has turned to a snarling victory mask as he ducks in again, leaping and lifting both legs into the air up over the wireblade’s slowed arc. Leander’s feet thump onto the floor loudly as he comes down, and the two are chest to chest. The Delta’s arm comes up, moves across the assassin’s neck, and the Jew staggers back from him.
First a thin line of blood, then a gush begins as the assassin claws at his opened throat. He falls on his back, and his feet drum upon the hardwood for a moment as he issues a sickening gurgling cry. Then he lies still.
Leander cuts away a strip of cloth from his shirt and ties it around his head.
“Ech hob dir in drerd,” he says as he spits upon the still body of the assassin.
“You alright, kid?” he says as he turns to me.
I nod, eyes wide in shock.
“Come on, we have to get out of here now. You get what you came for?”
“What are you doing here? How did you find me?”
“It’s what I do kid, I find people. Now are we gonna sit here and have a nice cup o’ tea and conversation while the Koyekh Gang is organizing to bring your head in to whoever it is who’s got that bounty out, or we gonna get to work?”
I am confused, and I am sure it shows by his return look.
“Elle,” I croak, clutching my wound.
“The girl, she’s dying, she was helping me, I can’t let her die,” I rasp, feeling weaker by the second.
Leander walks into the room Elle and I shared.
“What girl? There’s no one here.”
“What? She was lying on the floor, bleeding, my coat and shirt were the only thing stopping-“
“Well there’s no one here now…wait…”
I hoist myself up to my feet again, and stagger into the room.
Leander is crouched, his fingers holding up something. It looks like a bullet casing.
“I know where she is, and I know who’s taken her. And they want you to know, too. They want something from you.”
Posted: Wed May 30, 2007 9:48 pm
Everybody wants something from me. My associates, the Scriveners, a strange demon from another realm which I am not entirely certain is truly dead, the Queen’s own, Leander, and now my own sister’s compatriots, the Northumbrian Republican Movement. I turn the casing in my fingers, found in the place where the woman who would have helped me save myself may have paid a brutal price in blood for her simple act of kindness. Leander watches me thoughtfully.
The bullet casing is one a certain cell of the NRM uses as a calling card. The casing itself is nothing unusual, a simply made one from long ago. It’s the symbolism behind it, chosen well; the casing represents the ultimate use and abuse of power by my British Empire.
It is a Manchester Arms .40 autogun shell, and the date upon the rim is 1937.03.14. This bullet was one of many which the King’s Regiment used to quell the Great Metropolis Uprising in a swift and bloody show of force which left the world in shock. It is one of the bullets used to kill hundreds of thousands of rioting workers across the entirety of the city. It is a piece of history, and along the side of the casing in crudely-scrawled lettering is the word “Remember”.
I wasn’t alive then to remember. All I remember is a life lead to their specifications and promises that such a life would reap rewards. Yet I struggle with the thought that I’ve seen none of them, and I am not likely ever to. Not now.
Doctor Hennessey, the Irish hack whom Leander originally lead me to so that he might tend my dying sister, slaps my shoulder to let me know I can lower my arm. He has pulled the bullet from me, stitched the wound and bandaged it, and injected something into the area. I feel warm and light headed. The world spins.
“Helldust,” the Doctor grins, “You need your rest, me boyo. You aren’t going anywhere any time soon.”
“Leander. Leander, you have to help me,” I say, swaying on my feet and perilously close to bowling over right there.
He slips his shoulder under my left arm and helps me through the hall to a small room. There’s a bed there. I sink into it, looking to the Delta’s crazy yellow eyes that are dancing around like four lights in the darkness. Four lights?
“Easy, lad, you’ve been hurt. You need the rest, and there’s nothing we can really do until you can hold yourself up.”
“I need you to go back to that place, Leander. Go back to Mott’s place. See what you can find. I-”
“Shhh, relax, kid, and take it easy, get some rest. I will go out there, too. I’ll be back in a bit. I grew up with this guy, you can trust him.”
“What about my sister?” I ask, reluctant to relinquish my hold on consciousness.
“She’s with them,” Leander says, pointing to the shell clutched in my fist.
“I’m sure you’ve no need to worry, they take care of their own,” he says, spitting to one side with a look of distaste upon his face.
“And why is it you dislike them so, Leander?”
I can feel myself drifting, struggle against it more, and lie back upon the bed in defeat.
“Think about it, lad. Are they really any better than the government we have now, with their bombs and their bullets? When they succeed in their bloody revolution, who then will take the place of our former leaders? Are you really sure that their chosen leaders will be any different, any better, any wiser or more benevolent than the ones we have now?”
“That’s truly a deep thought, Leander,” I grin.
His face swims away from my darkening vision.
Posted: Wed May 30, 2007 9:50 pm
“So, who are you really, ‘Leander’?” I ask before tearing another bite from my meat pie and washing it down with another draught of stout.
“Things aren’t always as complicated as they seem, boyo. I’m Leander O’Donnell, Sergeant in the British Royal Army, a scout and skirmisher. Been in for ten years, seen things the like of which a slip of a lad like you couldn’t dream of outside your penny dreadfuls.”
“And why are you still protecting me? Why haven’t you turned me in to the Master Scrivener yet?” I feel a little wary in asking him this, for I am grateful for his protection now.
He pauses in his own eating at Doctor Hennessey’s small table for a moment.
“I suppose more of the same, then. I gave my word I would watch over you. Something’s happening, something that doesn’t seem right, and you are at the center of it. Besides, I can’t let you fall in with those thugs with their bombs and rhetoric, now can I?”
“So why do you stay in the Army if you don’t like the job?”
“Lad, I’ve got four of my own young buckos I’ve got to feed. There’s not many decent paying jobs out there for a Delta with a good head on his shoulders and fighting skills, now is there? And my missus would beat me senseless if I ever quit before I got my pension.”
I find myself liking this man in his simple, honest manner and his grim sense of humour. The fact that he’s a trained killer doesn’t much unnerve me anymore. I must have smiled at my thoughts just then, because he smiles back.
His eyes brush over the stack of small paper squares and multicolored capsules scattered in the center of the table.
“So do you really want these?”
I nod, chewing my food up quickly.
“Yes, I do. Elle didn’t think that I’d have the time to search for what I need for too long. She was certain this was the best route to take. I trust her.”
“Your girl…she’s a smart one, then?”
I nod again.
“Well, I’ll watch after you while you are under. There’s no place safer than here, got five of Ireland’s finest shotgunners standing outside keeping watch and then, of course, there’s me.”
I don’t have any doubts whatsoever about Leander’s abilities; I’ve seen them executed to the utmost of efficiency too many times already.
“Well, finish up eating, boyo, then I will lock up and sit a watch on you.”
While I finish my last bites of the meat pie, my fingers search the small tabs impregnated with psychoactive chemicals which will allow me to interface directly with the Etherscope. I remember the tab Elle had held, given to her by the now-deceased Gamma chemist Grimes. The black trip, they had called it. I hope that it’s not as forbidding as it sounds.
“Alright,” I say as I swallow my last bite of food, “I am as ready for this as I ever will be.”
Posted: Thu May 31, 2007 4:16 pm
The black trip tab tastes bitter upon my tongue, compounded by the equally bitter upload tabs I’ve taken. My head rushes with the knowledge I’ve absorbed through chemical connection to the collective unconscious. I lay back upon the couch, and Leander seems almost fatherly as he pulls the blanket over me. I smile up at him.
My senses are shifting, and I am aware of a presence beside me. I turn my head, and see a large black cat staring back at me.
“About time you got back to where you belong,” Alexander says dryly as he licks his bum.
“Dammit, stop that!” I reprimand.
“What, stop what?” Leander asks, confused.
“Nothing, talking to my cat. You wouldn’t understand, my friend. I am slipping under, seeing things.”
Indeed, the world of the Etherscope is beginning to superimpose itself over the reality my eyes are used to seeing. Great, vast tubes carrying etheric impulses across a landscape of steel and plastic are appearing over the small and comfortable sitting room of Doctor Hennessey. The walls are dropping away, revealing an endless plain of smoke-filled sky. I am where I am supposed to be, the industrial domain of New London, close to the great library of the Association of Licensed Scriveners.
A rattling sound slowly fills my ears and drowns out Leander’s speech. My eyes cloud and the sight of a passenger car moving swiftly by the monolithic factories and processing plants of the industrial domain replaces Doctor Hennessey’s sitting room completely. I find myself reclined upon the seat, with Alexander sitting beside me primping.
A shrill whistle sounds, signaling that the train is approaching a stop. I rise swiftly, realizing that this stop is mine. I tip my tophat to the lady in the seat across from me. She regards me coolly, dressed primly for some social gathering in New London I suppose.
I move to the stairs as the attendant pulls them down to allow my exit.
“May I take your bag, sir?” a young man in a bellhop’s outfit asks as he approaches.
I am carrying a Gladstone bag, I note with a bit of surprise. I look myself over casually, as much as I can, and notice that my appearance has changed somewhat since last I was within the Etherscope.
“Necessity,” Alexander replies to my inward thoughts, “You were too easily recognizable as you were.”
Indeed I was, at that. My avatar still had the clean crisp white uniform of a Scrivener complete with bold black numbering across the chest and back. Now I appear as some well-dressed gent who might be some sort of doctor.
“No, thank you though,” I reply to the bellhop.
He looks a bit concerned.
“Surely you wish to check your bag and check into the hotel?”
He points across the tracks, to the other side of my destination. The massive white stone hotel there speaks of elegance and expense.
“I will be checking in shortly, young sir. But for now, I simply wish to take in the sights. First visit and all, you see.”
The young man backs away, and begins to approach another passenger departing from the train.
The wall between the outskirts of New London and the industrial domain I seek are purest white upon this side. But I can see numerous gremlins grinding out their cleaning subroutines, scrubbing the walls of the industrial grim dripping over the top. The tab was built just to get inside there, so there has to be a way in. My eyes scan the wall, and within moments find what I am looking for.
A miniscule crack, so tiny as to be unnoticeable normally, rests in the wall a dozen feet from me. I walk to the crack, trying to think of how I am supposed to gain egress here. Then I place my finger into the small crack, and will myself to become like smoke. My avatar bends to my will, and I seep through the crack and on to the other side of the wall.
Alexander appears at my feet, his tail curling around my leg.
“So what now?” he asks, looking up at me plaintively.
“So, you must be the bloke that pretty one was telling us about then, eh?” a voice says to my left.
I whirl about to face the person speaking to me. He’s a short, stocky fellow wearing thick leathers and chains. His dusky skin is pocked with what at first appear to be scars but then, I realize, are actually ritual markings. Great plugs pierce his earlobes. He grins, and his teeth are gold-plated.
The heavy revolver Magda had commissioned for me from ImageMakers appears in my hand quite suddenly, and my erstwhile companion’s eyes widen. I cock the trigger, glaring at him.
“So you are with the scum that’s taken Elle? Where is she? If you’ve harmed a single hair upon her head-“
“There, there; down, Hero, down. You will get your pretty back. All you have to do is what we ask of you.”
I point the revolver at his ugly face.
“I am the one with the gun, my friend. Perhaps you should consider that, and do what I ask of you.”
“And what will you do with that?” he laughs, “Blow away my avatar and send me back to the Prime? Oh, now I am really quaking, mate. Remember that we have her, in the flesh. My friends can do very nasty things to people when they don’t get what they want.”
“I’ve seen what your friends can do. But none of you have seen what I can do.”
I am surprised by the bravado in my own voice; just as surprised as the fact that I’ve spoken this way to someone. Alexander rubs along my leg, grinning up wickedly at me. He’s pleased.
“Yes, well, I think that your bravery is certainly with merit, but I still feel the need to remind you. So my friends are sending you a gift. I am just here to let you know what we expect of you tonight. A messenger, so to speak.”
“Well, then, get on with it, you piece of shite.”
“Alright, lad, no need to get personal yet, this is just business. Here’s our demands.”
He hands me an upload capsule. It burns bright neon pink in my palm.
“I’ve already uploaded quite enough today, just tell me what it says,” I say as I drop the capsule to the steel-grated floor and crush it under my boot.
“Very well, you obstinate bastard. But don’t say I didn’t give it to you when they ask. What you just crushed contains the target coordinates, and security countermeasures, for military files which the Association has been handling over the past few weeks. They are marked classified, and the gremlins attached will fry your stupid brain without the countermeasures. Everyone we’ve sent in thus far has died trying to get them. Looks like you are next.”
“Tell me more, you germ.”
“I think I will be leaving now,” the little man says as he cautiously edges towards the crack.
“I wouldn’t if I were you,” I warn him, “The bullets in this gun contain drones whose sole function is to imbed themselves into my target’s avatar and then seek out their jack in point. I’ve a friend standing by waiting for any signal to crop up, and I am willing to bet you he can find you very quickly.”
“Your threats,” he pauses, looking a bit wary now.
“Promise, mate. We will find you. Ever heard of Leander O’Donnell? Tell me what I want to know now, and make things easier upon yourself.”
I can tell after a moment’s consideration that he doesn’t consider the alternative to speaking with me now an appealing one. He must know who Leander is. His eyes shift back and forth, as though he is expecting Leander to appear right now. I smile coolly, expectantly.
“Alright, you bastard. I’ll tell you everything.”
And he does. And the old saying is so very true. Knowledge is such sweet power.
Posted: Thu May 31, 2007 9:02 pm
I move like smoke, like a wraith; insubstantial and unnoticed. My movement is given quickness with purpose. I know my quarry now. I know who the man is that set me up, and I know he will be here in this place, seeking the very files that I am seeking. I know the name of the man who stole my identity and set me along this path.
Cassius. His name is Cassius, and he is a Scope Rider. I am nervous, because the little man I spoke with moments ago seemed fearful of this Cassius’ reputation. The little man said he was one of the best, a legend. Even legends die, though.
I have broken the security codes to the front door of the Association Hall in this industrial domain. I feel my determination buoy me, spur me on. Alexander skulks the hall ahead of me, keeping me sharp to my surroundings before I have reached them. Though I’ve been immersed in the Scope so little, I feel as though it is my home and I belong here.
The slightest whisper of noise alerts me to a guardian ahead. I slide myself behind one of the numerous great green marbled columns that line the corridor, and peer out to see what lies before me. The revolver I hold is weightless in my hand. Although it has the appearance of a normal revolver, I know that the chambers never actually empty; any ammunition fired is instantly replaced. Comstock is a fine program crafter.
My other hand reaches into the Gladstone bag, for my sword. I set the bag down as I pull the blade free. Its intricate basket hilt encircles my hand, and the blade is three feet of smoky steel. Whisper-thin, the rapier fits me well even though I’ve never used one in the real world. I am readied, and I must be quick. Any lapse in the strength of my attack will give the guardian the opportunity to raise an alarum. And this is something I can ill afford.
I stifle a small laugh as I pull my cape up before me like some silly kinotrope vampyre. Moving smoothly around the column, I come upon the guardian. It has not noticed me thus far, and I study the great iron plates which protect the man-shaped steam golem before me in secrecy. There; a chink in its armour, just where the skull meets the neck.
I move surprisingly quickly, and thrust with all of my strength into that weak point with my rapier. Sparks fly as metal scrapes along metal, and steam begins to rise from the wound I have inflicted. The golem begins to turn, then fall. It is useless now. I throw up an arm to grasp its metallic bulk and guide it quietly to the floor. I sheathe the rapier in the Gladstone bag and smile at its efficacy.
The elevators before me are stainless chrome, doors looking much like great yawning mouths over the dials of their floor indicators. I move to the call buttons, and pull a long strip of wires and circuit boards from the Gladstone. Stripping off the front of the call button panel, I quickly wire my codebreaker amalgam into its system.
The ID recognition systems are scrambled, and I press the call button with no concern of raising suspicion in the operations managers dwelling upon the floor I am headed to. I will have to disable them first before I can gain egress to the files I will need to affect the release of Elle from those NRM thugs. Alexander slips in beside me on the elevator, looking satisfied.
“Well, I must say, you have a natural knack for this, Michael,” he says happily as the elevator rises.
I smell something odd, something bitter in the air. The elevator stops suddenly, between floors.
“Well, maybe not. It seems that someone knows you are here, then,” Alexander finishes morosely, and begins licking himself.
Rather than reprimand him, I merely roll my eyes.
A sliding noise awakens my senses, and suddenly I am holding a gas mask and strapping it onto my face. Gas begins to pour into the elevator. Quickly taking stock, I see the small maintenance panel at the top of the elevator car. My rapier flashes in my hand, and I drive it into the ceiling. Gripping the hilt, I lift my legs and then push off of the side of the elevator car. Spinning into a backflip, I kick the panel free and catch the roof of the elevator with my calves. I grin down at Alexander.
“Okay, smartass, so maybe you are a natural after all.”
He leaps up to join me on the roof of the elevator. Looking up, I can see the shaft extends what appears to be at least a hundred stories.
“Well, let’s see what else you have in your bag of tricks now, genius,” Alexander says.
“Well, you must certainly be a most self-deprecating portion of me, really,” I retort acidly.
Without a reply, he begins to climb the wall of the shaft. I look to my fingers and smile. Focusing my will, my fingertips elongate and harden. They form spikes, and I jam them into the mortar of the shaft wall. Climbing bit by bit, we head together to the fiftieth floor. The elevator door there is cracked. I pry it apart with a violent heave.
I am completely unprepared for what I see lying in wait for me, however. It is Grigson, the Head Scrivener of Building 203, dressed in his starched Scrivener’s uniform complete with stark black code number, and flanked by a pair of Redcoat analogues. The piston armoured Recoats raise heavy-barreled autoguns which begin to blaze with life.
The sound of autofire fills the room, shattering the silence. I move. Wherever a bullet zips towards me, I am not. The flow of them passing by me ruffles my hair and cape. I whirl and pirouette like a mad dervish, skittering across the marble towards them. Chips of shattered marble strike me from the bullets’ impact into the wall behind me.
My rapier flashes, and I am running the first Redcoat through. Its metallic face registers surprise for a moment as the avatar fails. From behind me, I hear the bark of autogun fire and instantly my clothing hardens, pulling close to my skin as its armour subroutine is triggered. The bullets crash into my back like a freight train.
I slide over the floor for several feet, grunting in shock at the impact. No pain, though. Flipping onto my back, I raise the revolver. It crashes like thunder as I fire, and the bullet spins through the air and into the eye of the second Redcoat. It falls back, then begins to dissolve from etheric reality.
“Very good, boy, very good. You can handle a couple of first rate gremlins. But let’s see what you can do against a true Master Operator,” Grigson says.
His smile is grim as he strikes a defensive pose, fists down and knees bent. I’ve uploaded this skill, I know what he’s readying himself for. He is, no doubt in my mind, a master martial artist. I am not so sure I stand a chance. And he senses my uncertainty.
I raise the revolver again, determined not to allow him close proximity to my person, and fire three times in rapid succession. Grigson is still until moments before the bullets strike, and then he erupts with a fury. His cry is loud enough to wake the dead.
The bullets seem to pass him by almost as if he isn’t there. He flows like water towards me, a foot lashing out and catching my right wrist. I hear the bones shatter; it hurts. I didn’t know until now that anything could hurt here. His fist crashes into my chest, and although the armour is there, it is as though I were wearing nothing at all. I fly back into the wall behind me, and slump to the floor.
“So you thought you could go rogue with no consequence, eh? Or at the very least, thought that you would steal more data. I suspected all along it was actually you responsible for those thefts, and my suspicions were doubly proven when you shot Agent Koso.”
I spit blood. Magda; he’s talking about Magda.
“No, it wasn’t me. I can prove it. I am here to capture the man responsible. He’s here, right now, and he intends to steal several top secret military documents.”
“I am tired of your lies, boy. I think I will finish you now. On your feet, and die like a man. And once your avatar crashes, I’ve a squad of Redcoats who have pinpointed your location and are enroute. I will finish you much more slowly in the Prime.”
As I rise, his arms swirl into a devastating attack I am sure I cannot withstand.
“No, Master Grigson, give me the chance to-”
And then a whirl of red mist and floating silks rushes past Grigson, and his head is falling to the floor. His eyes look shocked, and his avatar begins to fall away in chunks.
I look to the form across from me, wiping more blood from my chin.
A man stands there, clad in red silken swathes of cloth similar to a toga. In each hand he hold a short-bladed leaf-shaped sword. Gladius, I think to myself absently, is that it? He bows then to me.
“Cassius,” the name falls from my lips in a whisper.
“Yes, that is my name. And what is yours, little brother?”
“Look at what you’ve done! You’ve killed him!”
“Relax, I’ve only finished him here, temporarily. That is the way of the Etherscope, little brother. He’ll be back eventually, but you are ill prepared a soldier to face him.”
“I’m not your brother, stop calling me that! You are some bloody-minded revolutionary Scope Rider and little better than a common thief and assassin!”
Cassius only grins. He turns, and grips a large stack of papers and punch cards from the security desk. I raise my rapier shakily in my left hand to point at his back.
“I can’t let you take those, they are top secret military documents and I am still a Scrivener. I came here to stop you!”
“I think you came here for something else entirely, little brother. I think you came here seeking a revolution yourself.”
“Bah!” I spit, more blood, “What good are revolutionaries? All they do is spout rhetoric and bathe in innocent blood to prove what little point they may have!”
“And now I think you’ve been listening to your Delta friend a little too much,” Cassius says with an easy smile.
“Look, you bastard, you’ve set me up! I am going to take the fall for all of this! I will be hunted now, you know. Unless I can stop you, bring you in and prove my innocence. They will kill me!”
I step before his path. The elevator rings its chiming signal of arrival. I point my rapier at his heart.
“Yes you are correct. I have set you up, Michael. I’ve created this entire scenario for you.”
“You crazy sick <b>f*ck</b>!” I spit again, this time coughing.
“I’ve broken your chains, Michael. I’ve set you free, and set you upon the road to self-discovery. I’ve given you the means to reinvent yourself. Free of the system and society, no longer just a cog in the wheel but a wheel within the wheels yourself.”
“Spare me the metaphysical crap,” I say bitterly, “You’ve fucked me, plain.”
“But I will certainly give you a reach around, my boy,” Cassius replies with a mischievous gleam in his eye.
“What the hell! Are you some kind of psychotic!”
He steps up to me, the point of my rapier against his chest.
“Some might say that, Michael, some might indeed. I prefer to call myself inventive, though.”
I press the point into his chest, drawing a small bead of blood.
“Inventive, my ass. You’ve invented my death.”
“We all die, Michael,” he says with a smile, “but some of us are more fortunate in choosing our rebirth.”
“Damn you and your mumbo-jumbo! All I want is my life back, damn you!”
“Do you? Do you really want to go back to that miserable thing you call an existence? Every day, regimented like clockwork, an automaton dancing to the strings of dogmatic puppeteers. You are different from the rest, Michael. You are special.”
“What the bloody hell is that supposed to mean?”
I am suddenly overwhelmed with confusion. And something in what he is saying rings true, although I don’t want it to. I just want to belong. We all just want to belong, don’t we?
The pain in my chest is growing. I can barely breathe. The rapier clatters to the marble floor from my hand and I stagger, clutching my chest.
“It was a killing blow, Michael. Your avatar is dying. You need to go back anyway. They know where you are, and they will find you soon enough if you don’t get on the move. They will kill you, then they will dissect you. You are not the same as they are.”
“<b>f*ck</b> me, <b>f*ck</b> me,” I wheeze with the agonizing pain.
My vision is surrounded with growing fields of black. I fall to my hands and knees, blood pouring from my mouth. I fall further onto my side among the spreading blood upon the floor, curling up into a fetal position.
“Remember me, Michael. Remember our meeting, for we will meet again. And soon. We will meet at the looking glass.”
I writhe for a moment, feeling my heart explode within my chest. The black is all now, save a pinpoint of light.
“The looking glass, Michael. Remember.”
And then I am no more.
Posted: Thu May 31, 2007 10:34 pm
I come to in Leander’s arms, quivering violently, as he is trying to hold me still.
“Redcoats!” I gasp through hoarse throat, “They’re coming! We have to leave, they know we are here!”
Leander doesn’t question me.
“Where are the keys to your carriage?” he asks Hennessey.
The doctor tosses them to him. Leander picks me up like a babe in swaddling. He walks towards the front of the house, but quickly swivels to turn towards the back.
“They are already here, dammit,” he hisses under his breath.
“Quickly, this way!” Hennessey calls. He leads us up the stairs to the second storey as a knock sounds from the front door.
“Open up in the name of the Queen!” I hear someone calling.
Hennessey is opening his attic door, pulling down a ladder.
“Think you can make it up? I should get the door and stall them,” he says, wiping a profuse layer of sweat from his brow.
“I’ve got it,” Leander nods.
“Good. The rooftops, lads. You know the way, Leander.”
The Delta nods as the Doctor turns and swiftly moves down the stairs again.
“Coming, yes, coming!” he calls to the rising volume of the knocking at the front door.
Leander makes his way swiftly up the ladder, deposits me and then pulls the ladder up after us. The door closes softly as he eases it.
“Can you walk, bucko?”
I nod to him, gaining my legs weakly. He moves to the attic window, looking out. I can hear muffled conversation downstairs. Leander opens the window, begins to squeeze himself through the frame. I follow with quite a bit more ease.
“You see that?” he whispers and points.
There’s a cable running between Hennessey’s rooftop and the next flat over. I nod. Leander takes off his belt
“Use this to slide down the cable to that rooftop. On the north side, the flats are so close you could jump them, but there are some boards you can walk across. Go.”
I start to question him, but he pushes the belt into my hand.
“I will be right behind you, lad, now go!” he hisses at me.
I turn and wrap the belt around the cable, gripping either end in a clenched fist.
I leap forward, and my weight draws the cable down as I begin to slide towards the flat’s roof. The sound of screams follows me. I land and after dumping into a rather ignominious heap, rise to my feet. Looking back, I see Leander sliding down the cable towards me. He lands running.
“Come on, lad, keep going, don’t stop.”
“What’s going on, Leander?” I mean the screams, and his look says he knows exactly what I mean.
“They are interrogating the Doctor.”
I blink back sudden tears, because I know he means they are torturing him. I can’t help but think what a good man Hennessey is for all his aid to me and to my sister, and I can’t help but hope that he will still be alive when all of this is through. This is ruining so many lives. I have to make it all end, soon.
The boards clatter loudly as we run across them to the next rooftop.
“There they are!” I hear a Redcoat cry from Hennessey’s house.
Bullets begin to spang off of the rooftop, but we are too far away for any great accuracy. Leander rolls for cover behind a chimney on the next roof, then raises up to glance at our followers.
“Have to jump this one, lad. It’s only about six feet. Get a running start.”
I nod weakly. I am so tired of running. But I back up along the rooftop and recoil as a round strikes within inches of me.
“Dammit, go lad!”
I take off running towards the gap, and fly through the air to hit the next roof. Leander follows close behind. I can hear him panting.
“There,” he gasps, pointing.
The sun is rising, the dawn of a new day. The street below us is widened, and a host of steam carriage cabs is picking up passengers intent on beginning their daily routine.
“Have to make it across. Just beyond that is a cab station. So many there, they won’t be able to tell which one we are in if we get to them fast enough.”
“I can’t make it,” I say plainly as I eye the gap of almost fifteen feet.
“Of course you can, you will just need a…ahh…another head start. Run it.”
He is panting harder as he sits. I see his hand over his side, and blood running between his thick fingers.
“Just a flesh wound, lad, now make a start of it,” he commands me, like I was one of his soldiers in the Army.
I nod grimly and turn. The Redcoats are struggling to make it across the rooftops, but their piston armour is so heavy they are having to make quite a bit of effort just to not fall through the roofs. One raises his autogun and the spray of lead falls short of me. I turn at the very opposite edge of the gap I mean to jump.
The moment is slowed as I reach the edge at a run and leap with all of my might. I look down, and see the carriages below me, ten storeys down. My hands slap onto the lip of the slanted roof. My weight is dragging me downward, I can’t keep myself up for long.
“Hold on lad!” I hear Leander cry.
I am struggling to maintain my grip as I hear a thump on the roof above me. Leander’s canine features look down to me, smiling. He grips my wrists tightly and yanks me up to the rooftop. My waist and above rests in safety while my legs dangle over the edge. I try pulling myself up more, and look up to my friend. He smiles at me and pulls and the waist of my pants, leaning over me.
“We made it, lad. The fire escape on the other si-ungh, uhk.”
The sound of the shot happens after my back is sprayed with something warm and wet. I roll onto the rooftop to see Leander clutching his neck, an arterial spray of bright red blood spouting between his fingers. The mist catches me in the face as he pitches forward. In desperation, I lunge to catch his wrist as bullets fly through the air around me. Both hands cling to him.
Leander looks up at me. His eyes seem glazed over. He slaps his free hand to his gouting neck and manages to wheeze out two words.
Tears come freely then. I can’t let him go, I can’t let him die.
“No! We can make it! Come on, Leander.”
His hand goes limp in mine, relaxed. He’s making it difficult for me to hold him on purpose. His other hand pushes off of the overhang of the roof, pushing his weight downwards harder.
I struggle to keep hold of him, and he gasps out again, “Go.”
With one more push from him, Leander’s hand slips from my grasp. I watch in horror as he falls. A passing cab beneath us catches him upon its roof, the windows of the cab exploding outward with the concussive force. Screams sound from nearby pedestrians.
A bullet striking too close to my leg brings me to myself. If Leander was determined to sacrifice himself so that I could live, I’ll not let that be in vain. I rise and rush to the fire escape.
Looking back, I can see the first Redcoat reach the edge of the fifteen foot gap. He tries to leap it, and falls short. I clamber down the ladder quickly, and then another from the first landing, and then another. Three storeys from the ground I find an open window and duck into it.
A mother feeding her children screams at the sight of me; truly, I am a mess for certain. I apologize to her as I whip the towel from her grasp and dash for the front door of the apartment. I take the elevator to the basement with no interruption, although I expect it at every floor and I expect a Redcoat to be waiting there when the doors open.
I find some pipestands in the basement, and quickly scrub myself of blood. A jacket hangs from a line, drying from a recent wash, and I snatch it and throw it on. The coal chute. That’s my way out of here.
I climb through the narrow metal tunnel, wrapping my hands with strips of cloth so as not to burn them. It seems like forever that I climb through the darkness. Then I find the lid of the chute and push it away to enter the light. Climbing out, I see the steam carriage cab station Leander had told me about. And no Redcoats about.
I dash for the station, seeking a cab which is on duty. I don’t know where to go now, but I need some more tabs; my scope point is gone, dropped or left at the Doctor’s one. I want some more Amp, I haven’t slept well in days now. I need a gun.
The cab driver shoos me away, stating that I am too covered in soot. I steal into the backseat of one cab just as the driver slips in and flips on the On Duty lamp on top of the roof of the cab. He looks back, surprised at first to see me there. Then his work face comes on.
“Where to mate? Lovely day innit?”
“Ah, Horwich please, dunno the street, but it’s Waineswright Workhouse.”
The cabbie nods, and puts the carriage into gear. I look back, and see a trio of Redcoats far from me, checking cabs and their passengers. Home. I am going to my childhood home, where everything began in a way.