Okay, here is the next part. Hope you like it.
Thanks for reading and for your feedback. Much appreciated!
Oh... and apparently I've been selected as AOM for the writing category??? Huge thanks to anyone that voted (you're all crazy, but thanks!)
The continuous background noise of the Trans-Continental-Rail train engines hummed with a sleep-inducing rhythm which dulled the senses and reduced conversations between the passengers in the dimly-lit carriage to a generic murmur. Shona Rourke had been slumped in her window seat for several hours. Her half-closed eyes stared over the rim of her cheap black plastic shades and through the grimy window pane to the night-shrouded scenery beyond. The landscape was a dark blur that swept by as her mind wandered in a semi-trance. She wondered how her friends in The City would react to her imminent, unannounced return and had spent the best part of her journey envisioning various scenarios. Most of the scenes that had played out in her head involved looks of pleased surprise on the faces of her friends followed by open arms and a return to the 'good old times'
Given the circumstances of her departure two years ago she knew this was fantasy-indulgent bullshit.
If Shona was honest with herself she knew that she didn't really give a crap about what others thought. Sure, the events that had transpired had caused some loss of face and general embarrassment, but it hadn't been anything that she couldn't handle. At least, that was what she had kept telling herself. It was when people had started getting killed in reprisal that she'd decided it was best for all concerned, especially her, if she disappeared for a while. Only one other person's opinion really mattered to her: that of her brother, Connor.
She'd not been able to speak to him before she left and hadn't contacted him during her absence; only ever getting as far as starting to dial his number before hanging up or staring at a half-finished Sphere-mail before thinking it was a bad idea and cancelling.
Of all the re-uniting fantasies she'd entertained since deciding to return to The City, the one with her brother had been replayed in her head the most. Would he be glad (yeah, right!), surprised (was he ever?), angry (annoyed maybe?), indifferent (possibly)? Hell, Shona didn't even know if he was alive or not, but the thought of him not being there at all bothered her more than she liked so she suppressed it.
A subtle change in the tone of the engines broke her reverie, the pitch dropping slightly as the train decelerated. Shona straightened in her seat, slid to the outside, stood and retrieved her bag from the rack above.
The rest of the passengers began to slowly move as if awakening from long haul anaesthesia; all except for the young couple that were still passionately necking a few seats in front of where Shona stood holding her bag. A disembodied, synthetic voice that was barely understandable and sounded distinctly bored, announced that the approaching stop was The City. Shona idly wondered if the train's artificial pilot actually was bored or just programmed to sound that way.
She returned to her seat as the other passengers began to jostle her as they collected their respective luggage, swaying against each other in the narrow aisle like passengers on a ship in rough seas. She tucked the back of her battered leather long-coat under her legs as she sat, propping her bag in the adjacent seat where it became a makeshift armrest. After momentarily watching the other passengers bump into each other and mutter unheard apologies, she returned her shaded gaze to the window where she noticed the lights of The City approaching. A brief tension gripped her stomach, a mixture of apprehension of what to expect and excitement at coming home.
There were still several minutes until the TC-Rail arrived, so Shona activated her internal Wet-Wareman. A play list appeared in her field of vision, generated by her cyber-optic interface. With a mental command the selector scrolled down and highlighted an artist, album, and track. She turned off the music video option as she wanted to watch the approaching lights. As her mind wandered once again, music began to play with perfect acoustic quality in her head.
The TC-Rail pulled into the platform of The City terminus with a loud discharge of exhaust as its engines wound down into standby. Heavy anchoring clamps slid into place at the front and back of the train and the carriages settled to a standstill. After what seemed like an eternity to the passengers, the doors slid open and the cacophony of the platform flooded into the carriage: a mixture of people-noise, distorted announcements, advertisements, music, and the engine noise of other trains and shuttles endlessly arriving and departing.
It was an assault on the ears.
Shona patiently waited for the masses to recede before grabbing her bag and joining the melee.
Further down at a different carriage, Laura Heaven was carried out of the train amidst a heave of departing passengers. She had no recollection of her feet touching the ground for most of the experience and was left somewhat disorientated from the crushing bodies and blaring noise of the platform. Eventually the people thinned as they went their own ways and she felt the soles of her pink Converse finally touch hard concrete. Adjusting the weight of her shoulder bag, she ran a hand through her bright pink hair and drew a breath as she took in the sights around her. The air tasted hot and sweaty with a tang of engine fumes and there was a vibe of frenetic energy that verged on mania.
Even late in the evening, the station was thriving with activity. Tourists rubbed shoulders with commuters and travellers while buskers wielding a variety of instruments tried to compete with the general clamour of life to get themselves heard. Spread out among the crowd, armed and armoured travel corporation security personnel stood like lethal untouched islands amid the wash of the human ocean; their enhanced eyes and itchy trigger-fingers watchful for pickpockets, fare-dodgers, and troublemakers. Huge floating displays gave information regarding the times of the dozens of trains and shuttles that were ceaselessly coming and going. You needed to be an expert in cryptography to understand what they meant though, and the distorted and generally indecipherable blare of an occasional voice announcement did nothing to unravel their mystery.
Around the inside of the perimeter of the station were the overpriced shops, boutiques, bars, cafes, and restaurants that tried to snare any unsuspecting travellers with their bright and animated advertisements, the way a shiny, colourful lure on the end of a hook sought to cause a fish to bite.
In an effort to give her reeling senses a brief respite from the onslaught, Laura looked up at the darkening sky beyond the domed, windowed ceiling of the platform. This crush of life was quite a contrast to the town she had come from and she was sure this was the most real people she had ever seen in one place at one time. She was more used to dealing with avatars in the Sphere and this amount of actual loud and smelly real life was a bit of an overload.
Thinking of the Sphere, Laura touched her personal S-Box that she kept in a pouch at her hip. The pouch was black synthetic leather and bore a design of a pair of spreading white wings representing her own avatar and handle within the Sphere: Angel.
Thoughts of her alter-ego brought a confidence boost to the nineteen-year-old and she pulled out the postcard her friend had sent her. The picture was of two beautiful Art Nouveau women embracing in a kiss. On the back was a handwritten message instructing to meet at Katelle's Cafe near platform 3 at 21:00. It was signed 'Pixel' and was followed by many 'xxx'. Scribbled in the margins next to Angel's address was Pixel's own home address with a comment instructing 'In case you wanna return the favour!'
How typically retro of her, thought Angel as she read the message for the hundredth time. Pixel had always been about 'Old Skool'. The thought of actually meeting the girl that she had formed such a strong friendship (relationship?) with in the Sphere caused a fluttering, excited feeling in the pit of her stomach. She glanced at her wrist. The luminescent numbers of her implanted Skin-Watch told her it was only 20:32. She had time to spare.
Looking out over the surging crowds Angel easily spotted the animated panda drinking a cup of coffee beneath the words Katelle's Cafe.
May as well see what the coffee's like in the big, bad City. With that thought she braced herself and joined the throng.
Heavy rain pelted off the roof of the taxi as it pulled up outside the Ravencroft Apartments. From within the cab Shona noticed that even after a couple of years the busted streetlight outside the building still hadn't been fixed and, despite the fact that it was dark and raining near biblical levels, there was still the usual collection of unsavoury characters hanging around in darkened alleys and outside building fronts. She swiped her cash-card, paid the fare and grabbed her bag as she stepped out into the downpour. Instantly her shoulder-length dark red hair was soaked and plastered to her head, the warm, heavy rain striking her coat with a sound like a million drumming fingers. The smell of the soaked streets filled Shona's nose: a pungent aroma of garbage-littered gutters, diehard street vendors, and back-flowing sewage drains.
The Ravencroft was one of the oldest buildings in The City, harking from a time when the place had a fraction of its current troubles. The architect had gone for a Gothic look and had a done a good job, the result being that the front of the building could have passed as that of a church, complete with gargoyles. The grandeur of the structure had slid into decrepitude; years of neglect coupled with graffiti and vandalism hadn't added to the aesthetic value of the building.
Shona stood in the pelting rain as the taxi pulled away and looked up at a window near the top. That had been her window. After a particular job had gone unexpectedly well she'd paid enough rent to the shit-hole landlord to keep the place hers for five years. Yet, as she looked up, and rain streamed down her face, a frown formed above her shades. When she'd left, there had been blinds in that window. Now there were curtains. Cheap, nasty ones.
A deep rumble of thunder rolled across the night sky and a gunshot echoed a few blocks away. What the fuck is going on with my apartment! Shona thought.
Moving like the gunshot had been a starter's pistol, she dashed for the stone steps that led up to a canopied entrance with a swipe-card lock and a list of peeling and faded names next to a column of buzzers. A quick sprint got her under the relative protection of the overhang and she searched her pockets for her entrance card. Once the plastic had been found and slid through the scanner the door opened and Shona stepped into the dimly lit foyer. The thick aroma of the stale, blue carpet mingled with the stench of old urine and brought a small involuntary smile to her lips. Even though it smelled like crap, it smelled like home. Rainwater went flying as she shook the lapels of her coat and ran her fingers through her long, red hair. She took off her shades, folded them and put them in a pocket.
The foyer was a simple entrance with a dim fluorescent strip-light and bare, grey cement walls that made the place feel colder than it was. A solitary step led past a bank of old and disused metal mailboxes to a stairwell entrance and an elevator. Getting in the elevator was like playing a game of Russian roulette so Shona climbed the step and made for the stairwell, her booted footsteps echoing off the stone walls.
After the third failed attempt at opening her door with her key card, Shona rattled the door handle in frustration. She stopped when she heard movement from within. Deciding that she'd not come all the way back home just to have to knock for permission to enter her own paid for accommodation, she took the door handle in her left hand and began to push. The micro-servos and synthetic muscle fibres of her artificial cybernetic left arm engaged and flexed and the door began to splinter in its frame. Her original arm had been lost in an explosion years ago during one of her first jobs. While the replacement looked real it was many times stronger than the flesh and bone original.
Accompanied by the sound of shredding wood, the door splintered inwards and Shona looked into an apartment that she barely recognised.
The most startling change was the current occupants: a skanky looking whore in nothing but a pair of hastily donned panties and an angry looking man currently trying to pull up his pants and shout indignantly at the same time. Shona took one step in, dropped her bag next to her feet and purposefully closed the damaged door behind her. The look on her face was enough to silence the yelling couple.
When the apartment door opened again the prostitute ran into the corridor in a blur of scanty clothing and cheap pheromone spray, clutching a clear plasti-mesh coat. Shortly after, the man, now fully clothed, walked from the room. His jacket was folded over one arm while the other cupped his bleeding nose. Shona followed behind, pushing him firmly into the now empty corridor. The whore had vanished down the stairs at the end, the sound of her white high-heels clacking on the steps echoing off the walls. When the bleeding man had shuffled fully out of the apartment Shona began to close the door but stopped as the guy turned to face her. She stood with an expectant expression.
'Doo'll bay for dis doo bishch!' His broken nose was an obvious speech impediment.
Shona frowned quizzically as she deciphered this then said with a dismissive laugh. 'Yeah, whatever,' and slammed the door, leaving the guy dripping in the corridor.
After the door had closed Shona leaned back against it and surveyed the room. Most of her stuff was gone and had been replaced with junk. She hoped, for the landlord's sake, that her gear was in storage and hadn't been sold or binned. The room's gaudy decor and its recent hourly paying guests informed of its new function. The thought disgusted Shona as it seemed to defile all the good memories she'd had of living there. For a moment she wondered if she'd gone too far in punching the whore's trick in the face, after all he didn't know this had been her apartment. Then her eyes strayed to the scene through her open bedroom door where she saw recently discarded and soiled sheets lying in a dishevelled heap and, with a disgusted curl of her lip, she wished she'd hit him harder.
Annoyed at the abuse of her home by what she imagined must have been an endless line of prostitutes, she walked across the living room to the bedroom doorway. Seeing that the bed had been used almost beyond repair, but not actually moved from the position she had left it in before leaving The City, she kneeled at its foot and reached underneath, her fingers probing for the loose part in the bare floor boards. A push and a board flipped up. Reaching inside, Shona felt the reassuring cold steel on her fingers and stood up, pulling out a large calibre handgun. It was loaded and ready to go.
Time to have a little chat with the landlord about using my place as a banging shop, she thought as she checked the safety was on and reached underneath her coat to slide the gun into the back of her black jeans. The cold touch of the metal on the skin of the small of her back induced an involuntary shiver.
Before she took another step there was a knock at her door causing it to rattle in its frame.
Maybe that guy fancies a shot at round two? The thought brought a slight smile to her lips and her right hand went to the grip of her pistol and took it out, holding it casually out of sight behind her leg and under her coat.
Walking to the door, she stood at the side and opened it a couple of inches, ready to point her weapon in the face of a pissed off John and maybe a few of his friends. The thought instantly disappeared when she saw who was waiting for her.
The attractive Japanese woman visible through the small gap of open door looked to be in her mid-twenties and was dressed in an expensive suit. She had jet-black straight hair that fell loosely down around her shoulders to her waist and cold, green eyes that regarded Shona from beneath a neatly cut, blunt fringe. She smiled icily, showing perfect teeth.
Shona quickly recovered from her initial surprise at her visitor. 'Yeah, how's it going Fumiko?'
'That depends,' replied Fumiko in accented tones. 'May we come in?' At that utterance an equally well-dressed Japanese man stepped into view. Shona immediately recognised Sato, Fumiko's bodyguard and chief enforcer. He had the look and build of a predator, his short, black hair slicked back flat against his skull. His most remarkable, and somewhat unsettling feature, was his eyes--the original organic ones had been completely removed and replaced with chromed cybernetics giving them the look of permanently polished mirrors.
'You're asking me like I have a choice?' Shona tightened her grip on the pistol as she addressed Fumiko. 'What do you and Sato want?'
The Japanese woman shrugged slightly and smiled innocently. 'Just a simple talk between old friends, nothing more.'
'So talk,' came Shona's curt reply.
'That's not very polite, Shona-san.' Fumiko feigned distress and placed a hand on her supposedly wounded heart.
Shona figured if Fumiko's intentions had been anything else besides talking then her metal-eyed attack-dog would have reacted by now. She warily opened the door all the way, stepped back and gestured into her apartment with her left hand.
As Fumiko entered, her eyes quickly flicked over the interior, seeking out any potential trap. Sato followed a few steps behind and closed the door, never taking his silver eyes from Shona. She smiled up at him, seeing her reflection in his gaze, and took a couple of steps back. Fumiko turned to the other woman and indicated the concealed hand. 'You can put that away, Shona-san. I simply wish to talk.'
Eyes darting from Fumiko to Sato and back again, Shona relaxed slightly and revealed the gun with a shrug. 'You never know in this neighbourhood,' she said as she returned the weapon to the back of her jeans and showed her empty hands before crossing her arms across her breasts.
'I like what you've done with the place,' said Fumiko with a look of mild amusement as she viewed the decor.
'Yeah, I thought it might add character, you know? I don't want to seem rude by not offering you a seat but, given the condition of the furniture, I'd actually advise against it.' Shona inclined her head to the nearby two-seater couch whose imploded cushions lay on springs that had no doubt been shagged into oblivion. 'Gomen nasai,' she added with a straight face.
Fumiko gave a slight smile. 'I prefer to stand.'
The Japanese woman walked to a shelf that ran beneath the window, turning her back on Shona. She seemed to find great interest in the half-melted red candle that had welded itself to the wood. A black-nailed, immaculately manicured finger came up and rubbed the malformed object, caressing its twisted shape.
'You know, I'd heard you were on your way back here but I couldn't quite believe it. I thought to myself, surely she's not that stupid.' She turned and faced Shona. 'Not my Shona-ku. And yet, here you are.'
Shona shrugged and snorted slightly. 'I'm not your Shona. Not anymore.'
Fumiko and Sato moved quickly, both closing the distance to the other woman in a few swift strides, forcing her back against a wall. Shona inhaled sharply and tensed but kept her arms crossed in front of her. Sato stared down at her and Fumiko stood inches away.
'I give you this one chance to leave.' Fumiko brought a finger up before Shona's face as she spoke. 'Because of what you once meant to me. Leave tonight and return to wherever you have been cowering all this time. And this time stay away.' The finger came down and pointed at Shona's chest, jabbing as the Japanese woman continued. 'Did you really think people would be glad to see you after what you did? After how you left things? I warn you, you will not be safe in my city if you remain. You will be made accountable.'
The finger lowered and Shona unfolded her arms and took a resolute step forward, forcing the shorter woman to take a pace back.
'You know what?' asked Shona in a defiant tone, staring into Fumiko's eyes. 'That sounds kinda interesting. I think I'll stick around and see what happens. It might be fun.'
A disappointed sigh came from the Japanese woman as she looked at the floor and shook her head. 'As you wish Shona-san. I doubt that we will meet again, but my associates will be in touch.'
'I look forward to it,' replied Shona with a relaxed tone.
The two women stared unblinkingly at each other then Fumiko turned to the door. Sato opened it and they left, leaving Shona alone in her apartment. She reached out a hand and leaned against the damaged door.
Welcome home! she thought to herself then, straightening herself up, Right, time to see about my stuff.
Oct 2, 2012 12:25:58 pmby SidheRoseGraphics Homepage »
First of all...I told you would :) Congratulations!!!
Another couple of chapters full of visual candy for the brain to process into mind-movies. This just becomes more and more intriguing by the layers and potential interactions. An excellent read, Alex!! More please.
Oct 4, 2012 8:28:08 pmby adorety Homepage »
Congrats on AOM and this is a perfect example of why you deserve it. Great flow and very engaging. Wording and details really bring life to the story and conjure the visuals. I will now move on to the next installment. Sorry for commenting late, but setting time aside is better to allow imersion into the story. Awesome job.
Oh yes, Ravencroft seems to come to my mind from somewhere else and may harkin back to your RPG days? Maybe my memory is blurring things. Vampires come to mind.