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Gunmetal Sky - Part 1

ZanderXLOnline Now
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Flesh & Steel "Relic Hunters" is on mid-season break. In the meantime, I think I will inflict my old novel on you all! You have my sympathies!
Gunmetal Sky is an old work and frimly rooted in cyberpunk. Please forgive the cliches and I hope you enjoy it none-the-less. There is a fully completed novel here so, if you can put up with it, I will serialise the whole thing.

Thanks for your patience.
Cheers for reading and for any comments.

###

GUNMETAL SKY - by Alexander McGregor

Prologue

The three-year-old girl lay on the cold, metal gurney dressed only in a plain green hospital gown while the monotone beep of a pulse monitor echoed in the sterile operating theatre. A man and a woman in lab-coats observed the still form from behind a protective barrier.

‘Flat-line,’ said the man with a frustrated sigh.

‘Shit!’ exclaimed his female companion. ‘I could have sworn we had it that time.’ She let out a long sigh and rubbed the back of her neck. ‘You better tell Sinclair that number twenty-eight is a failure and we need another subject.’

The male lab assistant glared at his superior. ‘Fuck that! You tell him!’
The woman’s angry retort at the remark was abruptly cut short as the noise of the heart-monitor changed, a single bleep interrupting the constant tone. The pair turned slowly to look through the protective barrier at the child attached to the monitors. Her pulse began to quicken, growing stronger.

‘What the…? How…?’ The assistant stammered dumbly as he looked up at the monitor screen that displayed a close up of the girl’s face. Her eyes were moving rapidly beneath their closed lids. ‘She’s alive?’

‘Obviously!’ answered the woman in a tone that suggested she was talking to an idiot. She stood over a bank of readout displays and deciphered the information on them. ‘Pulse is strong… EEG… EEG is off the chart!’ The scientist looked from her displays to the girl on the gurney. The small child had begun to breathe rapidly, her small chest rising and falling in quick succession, almost as if she were hyperventilating.

‘Respiration and heart-rate are going through the roof!’ Confirmed the lab assistant as he continued to observe his displays. ‘Jesus… her core temperature is going off the scale. What the fuck is going on in there?’

With a mental note to get a new assistant after this was over, the female scientist grabbed a syringe full of sedative. As she opened the sealed door that led to the white-tiled operating theatre, a wave of heat hit her and she broke into a sweat. Feeling as if she had just walked into an oven, she made her way to the now visibly shaking child. When she got to the gurney she took the small girl by the arm and prepared to inject the sedative, sure that it would calm the subject down. The instant that the woman touched the exposed skin of the girl’s wrist the child’s eyes flew open and she stared up wide-eyed at the white-clad adult that was standing over her with the hypo-syringe. The needle recalled immediate memories of the pain of the procedures that had been performed on her by the woman that was holding her arm. Instinctively the child screamed.

A second later the woman screamed.

Flame spontaneously ignited at the point where the scientist held the girl’s arm. In the next instant the adult’s shriek of surprise and pain was abruptly silenced as the flame sprang forth and immolated the woman with a heat so intense that she was incinerated in moments.

Inside the observation area, the lab assistant stared in open-mouthed horror as he watched his boss be consumed by flames. He continued to stare as the small girl yanked out the cables and drips that were attached to her frail body and swung her legs over the side of the gurney. He recovered from the shock of what he had just witnessed and went to push the emergency purge button that would flood the chamber with a lethal neurotoxin, killing all organic life. He froze again as he realised that the door leading from the observation room was still open and then he saw that the three-year-old was looking directly at him through the barrier, her gaze holding him for a second.

The last thing he experienced was an intense white flash before a wall of fire spread from the child and engulfed the chamber, melting the barrier as if it was made of ice, incinerating the man and reducing all of the monitoring devices to slag. He didn’t even have time to scream.

Outside the McKenzie Corporation facility on Asimov Station, people came and went in the busy lunch hour. As one, the crowds turned and looked as a warning claxon sounded from the building. A second later the glass doors of the main entrance exploded outwards, cutting the nearby off-duty employees to shreds in a hail of razor sharp fragments. Those that survived the lethal shower were engulfed in the fireball that burst from the blasted entrance an instant later, scorching the area outside the front of the building.

Chaos ensued.

Amidst the running, screaming people, a short blonde woman spotted a small child dressed in a green hospital gown as it staggered out of the blackened and body-strewn building entrance. Despite the fact that the child’s head was shaved and her features were almost skeletal-like, the woman recognised the girl and couldn’t quite believe what she was witnessing. She weaved through the panic-stricken crowd to get to the child.

Across the plaza, on the fringe of the explosion’s blast-radius , a man picked himself up after being flattened by the shockwave and shook his head, trying to rid himself of the ringing in his ears and the small bursts of light that were exploding like monochrome fireworks before his eyes. The dizziness passed and the ringing subsided only to be replaced with cries and screams of panic and pain. After he had picked up his glasses and returned them to his face, he blinked his eyes and looked about. Amidst the running and yelling people he spotted a small child emerging from the ruined McKenzie foyer. The dazed man stared as his mind tried to make sense of the scene that was playing out before him; the small, emaciated-looking girl with a shaved head lurched and staggered like a wounded animal and he wondered if she had been hurt in the explosion. Instinct overrode the questions that formed in his mind and all he saw was a distressed child. He ran over to see if she was okay.

The blonde woman and the McKenzie employee got to the girl at the same time and both reached to catch her as she staggered and fell. As they held the frail, gowned form in their arms they looked quickly at each other then down at the girl. The child’s eyes were half-closed and her skin was deathly white, her breathing weak and shallow. The blonde woman began to cry as she held the girl.

‘Natasha… Natasha,’ she whispered between sobs.

They man blinked and looked at the woman. ‘You know her?’ he asked.

The only reply was a tearful nod as the blonde cradled the girl and stroked the skin of her smooth head in a soothing manner. The child’s eyes focused on the woman that held her and she whispered something inaudible before she exhaled and closed her eyes. As she went limp, the man jumped back in surprise as her body suddenly and instantly crumbled into ash, as if spontaneously burned from the inside out. All that was left was the undamaged hospital gown which the blonde woman clutched in wide-eyed, open-mouthed shock. She began to scream and cry in grief, her voice mingling with the cries of pain and panic that surrounded them.

The employee clutched his head, unable to believe what he had just seen.

Chapter 1

Lewis Carson stood against a wall in one of the backrooms of Duncan Sterling’s clinic and nervously chewed the fingernails of his right hand while he watched the shaven-headed youth that was sitting at the cheap, plastic-topped table. The clinic was a small establishment in what was commonly referred to as Marooned Town in the lower levels of the Asimov space station and served as a frequent meeting place for those that wished to avoid the attention of the authorities.

Opposite the youth at the table was Dr. Duncan Sterling, a dishevelled looking man in his mid-forties who kept one hand on a half-empty bottle of whiskey, which he subconsciously stroked with affection. The man was a drunk and a mess but he was also one of the biggest members of the station’s black market and practically ran the whole operation single-handedly. His small but thriving clinic was also the “go to” place for the station’s growing Ronin population when they were in needed to be patched up. Even though he was a notorious drunk, he was a capable surgeon (as long as he wasn’t sober) and if there was anything that anyone needed on the station he could get his hands on it.

Even from where he was standing, Lewis could smell the reek of drink coming from the man. The sound of chewing fingernails was beginning to get on Sterling’s nerves.

‘Will you please stop doing that?’ he barked at the anxious man.

Lewis ceased his munching and lowered his hand while he adjusted his glasses. The spectacles were something of an oddity in the current age of full optic replacements but he liked the look and feel of them and had always been reticent about replacing any of his original body parts. In a time where full-body custom conversion and cosmetic sculpting was becoming more and more commonplace, Lewis was secretly proud of the fact he had reached the age of thirty-three without a single artificial modification to his original flesh-and-blood body.

‘Sorry,’ he mumbled as he lowered his hand from his mouth.

Sterling nodded curtly then took a gulp from the bottle. ‘I don’t know what you’re fretting for anyway. This kid seems to know what he’s doing.’ He gestured towards the smooth-headed youth.

The kid had called himself Kenzo or Kengo or something, Lewis couldn’t quite remember, and he had the typical look and attitude of most Sphere Runners.

He had been cocky, arrogant, and so sure of himself that he had managed to convince Lewis to take him on for the job he was now doing. Sphere Runners were contemporary versions of what used to be archaically known as Hackers. While the technology and jargon had changed, and the modern Sphere was about as different and as far removed from the Internet of yesteryear as a computer was from an abacus, the job description had remained essentially the same. Except that, these days, if you got caught trying to illegally pilfer data from a Sphere or A.I. system you were more likely to wind up with frontal lobes that had the consistency of runny eggs than you were to face a jail sentence; hence the cocky, almost banzai attitude that was prevalent amongst most Runners.

Kenzo, (yes, it was definitely Kenzo). Lewis thought, couldn’t have been more than eighteen or twenty-years-old. His young oriental features looked almost ethereal in the harsh light of the room’s single naked light bulb that hung from a cracked and peeling dirty white ceiling. He was dressed in the latest Nu-Punk gear that was such a rage in Runner circles and the skin of his smooth head was covered in elaborate tribal tattoos. A small socket on his right temple connected him via a cable to a matt-black box about the size of a small book that rested on the tabletop. This was Kenzo’s personal Sphere Box and contained his arsenal of programs that would enable him to hack what was needed from the A.I. fortress he had been sent into.

Or so Lewis hoped.

The Runner’s expression was calm and relaxed; his hands placed palm-down on the surface of the Formica table, giving him the look of a psychic medium conducting a séance. Lewis thought this was ironic given the high chance that this kid was most likely about to be sent to his next life. He had tried to explain to the Runner the scale of the system he was being asked to hack and that he shouldn’t try and do it solo but the kid had been all fearless and full of spunk and had convinced Lewis that he was able to do it.

The job itself was a simple data snatch but the target was the McKenzie Corporation data-fortress and, while the task may have seemed simple enough in theory, the end result would most likely be fatal. The idea of sending a kid to a lobe-melting death did not sit well with Lewis’ conscience. He voiced his concern to Sterling.

‘I don’t doubt that he knows what he’s doing. I just don’t like the idea that I may be watching his melted brains run out of his ears in a few moments.’

Sterling snorted and turned to took at Lewis. ‘Oh aye? You mean you’re worried he’ll screw up and not get you your data.’

‘Fuck you Duncan.’

‘Harsh words from the cold corporate there!’ countered the doctor with a laugh.

‘Ex-corporate, you drunk asshole.’ Lewis retorted.

This elicited further laughter from Sterling. ‘Ex my arse! Once those bastards get their claws into you you’ll always be part Drone. And I may be a drunken arsehole, but I’m the drunken arsehole that set you up with this kid and I’m the drunken arsehole that’ll have to clean up your shit if this boy’s brain is reduced to porridge!’

‘Yeah, okay, okay,’ replied Lewis.

The two sat in silence watching Kenzo, the only sound the faint hum of the Sphere Box as it worked.

Without warning the Runner suddenly went rigid and his face slammed violently down onto the tabletop. Lewis and Sterling both jumped, the doctor snatching the bottle away and clutching it to his chest as if he was protecting a startled child.

‘Jesus,’ murmured Lewis as he looked at Kenzo. Faint curls of smoke rose from the Sphere Box.

And Kenzo’s ears.

Then the smell of burnt meat hit and Lewis grimaced, fighting the urge to vomit. Sterling was unfazed once he got over his initial fright; he’d seen much worse in various trauma rooms back when he was a legitimate doctor. Though it was obviously a pointless exercise, he placed the bottle carefully down on the table and reached over to try and find a pulse. With a sigh he pulled his hand away and put the bottle to his lips and took a long pull of the amber-coloured liquid.

‘Well?’ Lewis was pessimistic.

Sterling lowered himself back into his seat and looked at him as he ran a hand through his greasy, greying hair. ‘Aye, he’s dead. Total brain fry by the look and smell of it. I might be able to save the internals for sale if they’re in decent condition but that’s about it.’

Lewis slid down the wall into a crouched position and put his head in his hands as he looked at the smoking corpse. ‘Fuck!’

‘Aye,’ agreed Sterling. ‘That about sums it up. Looks like your big exposure plan is shot to bits now. There’s no Runner on the station that’s gonna come anywhere near you after word gets out about what’s happened to this lad.’

The two sat in silence for a moment then Lewis straightened up as a thought came to him. ‘You’re right. No one on Asimov will touch it.’

‘Aye, I just said that, didn’t I?’

‘Yeah, but I might know someone that will have a go at it. And not some kid whose self-image was bigger than his ability either.’ Lewis looked at Kenzo with regret.

‘Sounds like someone you should’ve called in the first place instead of talking boys into getting involved in this crusade of yours and getting lobotomised by bloody machines!’

Lewis was sick of this crap. ‘Hey, don’t get all self-righteous with me! You’re the one that’s going to cart him out of here in a minute and cut him up like a butcher to see what he’s got worth selling as spare parts in your so-called clinic.’

The doctor laughed at his friend’s outburst. ‘Aye, that’s a fair point. So who’s this person you’re talking about?’

The flare of anger that Lewis felt at Sterling’s remarks faded away. This was how the two friends had always talked to each other--a mixture of insults and personal attacks. A reminiscent smile crept across his mouth as he thought of the woman that he had known years ago. ‘Her name’s Shona. Shona Rourke.’

The doctor gave a thoughtful look and rubbed his stubbly chin. ‘Rourke? I’ve never heard of her.’

‘She’s not on Asimov station; she’s an old friend from back home on Earth,’ replied Lewis. ‘We used to work together. She’ll be able to help. . .’ He trailed off looking at the smoking corpse that was face-down on the table.

‘You hope.’ Sterling finished for him.

‘Aye.’ Lewis mimicked with a hint of uncertainty in his voice.

#

In a darkened bedroom high atop the megalithic McKenzie tower in the station’s corporate sector, Mark Sinclair, the current Asimov division chief executive, had just put down the book that he had been reading before closing his eyes to go to sleep. He had just begun to drop off when he was pulled back from the brink by a gentle chiming from his personal Sphere terminal, indicating that the McKenzie A.I. wished to speak with him. It was at times like this that he wished that he didn’t live in the same place as he worked but, given his position and the current state of the division, it was a necessary evil. He grumbled as he turned himself face up, opened his eyes and stared at the dark ceiling above.

‘What is it Cain?’ he asked with unmasked annoyance.

The chiming stopped and the deep, baritone voice of the A.I. sounded in the bedroom. ‘I’m sorry for disturbing you at this hour Mr Sinclair but I have detected an attempted fortress penetration.’

‘And?’

‘I allowed the Runner to enter my outer system in order to see what information he was searching for before I burned him.’ There was a hint of self-satisfaction in the machine’s voice.

Sinclair was growing impatient. ‘And?’

‘And, from the nature of what the intruder was after, I would say that there is a high probability that he was sent by Lewis Carson.’

Sinclair shook his head in the darkness. ‘Lewis Carson. That boy just does not learn. I think it’s about time he was shown the error of his ways.’

‘I agree, sir.’ Cain concurred.

The CEO considered the options for a moment. ‘Very well, send a small team to deal with him. But Cain?’

‘Yes sir?’

‘Make sure they understand that they are to be discreet. I don’t want to have to arrange another cover-up. Understood?’

‘Understood sir.’

As the bedroom returned to silence Mark Sinclair turned and went back to sleep, not in the least perturbed by the fact that he had just signed Lewis Carson’s death warrant. It wasn’t the first murder he had authorised since he had arrived on the station.

###

If anyone wants to read more then just let me know and I'll continue posting it. Heck, I might even knock up some original images to go with it! LOL!


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Oct 1, 2012 7:17:39 am
Great story!!, but I'm going to have to finish reading this later, for I'm late for work!...have a good one!

by Diemamker Homepage »

Oct 1, 2012 7:18:58 am
Tell you boss it's my fault!

by ZanderXL Online Now!   Homepage »

Oct 1, 2012 10:19:32 am
Excellent writing and looks to be a great story... keep it rolling man! I love this stuff.

by barryjeffer Homepage »

Oct 1, 2012 12:13:41 pm
This is a fine story my friend, amazing work! Congratulations!

by mgtcs Homepage »

Oct 1, 2012 12:48:12 pm
Yeah man, we want more. Your style is great ... mate. I haven't forgotten WW either, just too damned busy at the mo!

by Froggy Homepage »

Oct 1, 2012 12:57:10 pm
Keep 'em coming Alex. Good stuff. You have left us too many unanswered puzzles to stop now! Love it so far...and yes, some images would be nice :)

by SidheRoseGraphics Online Now!   Homepage »

Oct 1, 2012 2:53:24 pm
Ah, I remember this first time round, Alex... was a great read then, still is... you got part way then stopped from memory??

by tigertim Homepage »

Oct 1, 2012 3:59:49 pm
Fantastic work! Like to see you in the best seller list!

by drifterlee Homepage »

Oct 1, 2012 6:57:35 pm
excellent

by Tracesl Homepage »

Oct 1, 2012 8:24:45 pm
Go for it, Alex! More of the story, and any images you come up with - Great stuff here, mate!

by RodS Homepage »

Oct 1, 2012 9:00:16 pm
Absolutely! You can't start that without finishing it. Great writing. Flows naturally and easily conjures up images. Excellent work.

by adorety Homepage »

Oct 11, 2012 12:54:34 pm
An outstanding beginning! Sorry to be so late ... it's been busy out here in RL. Looking forward to getting caught up! :)

by auntietk Homepage »

Nov 9, 2012 4:06:34 am
Some friends of mine are looking to do Shadow Run, but right now we are having at Pathfinder. That is beside the point though.
You have been very busy it seems! I can respect this story just for the amount of writing that has gone into it and that the story is intriguing as well! Bonus!

by Xanthmann Homepage »

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