Blue Ash Crisis (2018/2019), Fiction, Novels

Blue Ash Crisis: Chapter 2

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Chapter 2

Bang Bang Bank

Exposed brick lines the peeling walls of the dingy apartment. Three men and a girl spread a pair of floor layouts atop a ratty table. “I am telling you, it’s the perfect time to strike. There is already an anti-police demonstration going on. It will be a turkey shoot.”

“I don’t like it,” a younger man said. “I don’t want some Mr. Johnson knocking on my door some years from now with a score to settle for his corporate masters.”

“You can just move on like snakes on ice. Get out of the country, disappear, have a better life. I bet we won’t even need to dust anyone.” The other three show in the large lenses of his green mechanical eyes. “You in?” They nodded at each other and shook hands. “Good.”

Apricot rested her head on the backrest of the cold black wooden bench. The clouds overhead reminded her of fluffy cotton balls. She swung herself upright and moaned, “I need a good story right now. I will be in trouble if I don’t turn in a paper tomorrow.” She sat upright, reaching for a partially eaten soggy double cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, and a fried egg. “The Bureau of Education sent me a text stating that if I didn’t improve my grades, they would shift me to the labor field, and I don’t want to work in a factory for the rest of my life.”

Bonni sat cross-legged next to Apricot and hung her heel off her foot. Coffee from her uniform blends with salty smells from nearby fried food. Taking a nugget out of a small pouch, she dipped the tip into a teriyaki and mayonnaise carton.

“What about today?” asked a black-haired man seated across from Apricot. A half-eaten hamburger lay in his hand. “I got a couple of photos of the crime scene. They’ll be perfect for your story.”

Next to him, a younger girl picks at a bowl of salad. “She needs a good article, Sato.” Apricot met Sato Takoma while studying. Although he is several years older than her, the two are still in several classes together. Beside him, Machi, his little sister, has also become her friend. Several years younger than Apricot, Machi hoped to become an engineer. She had long been suspected of wanting to be close to Apricot to gain favor with her father. Though this was not the first time Apricot had been acquainted with Machi. During her years at primary school, Machi was a few years under her. She had always seemed like an entitled brat, and after she met her, her opinion remained unchanged.

Apricot glanced at Bonni, whose grin seemed so deep it might just slip off of her face. “Remember that secret I wanted to tell you, like those police were at the robbery this morning. As I mentioned, they appeared troubled.”

Behind her thick black glasses, Machi’s icy green eyes rolled. “I think there is a straightforward answer.” Before she had finished speaking, she takes a bite out of her salad bowl. Her twin tails sway back and forth on her back as Apricot and Bonni wait for her response. Machi then swallowed and said, “Most likely the killing of several people.”

Bonni picked up another nugget and gestured towards Machi with a stabbing motion. “Aren’t you surprised that so many people died? According to Eerie Truths Monthly, there have been many reports of monster sightings. It is impossible for one person to cause so many deaths. She may not have been human at all. I bet,”

“Monsters!” Machi exclaimed, cutting Bonni off. “Ha, she was a crazy person who was hopped up on some pills,” Machi responded, chortling at the thought.

Apricot cut in, “I think it’s an odd thing for Bonni, but I can’t write an article about it.”

“But why appear everywhere now? I remember when everyone thought witches were just fairytales.” Bonni protested.

“There is a great deal of superstition in our society. People still pay homage to Obojo, the money god, whenever they expect a raise.” Machi snapped.

“Something weird is happening! Sato, don’t you agree with me?” Bonni reached over Sato’s lap and stroked him. A heavy red blush adorned Sato’s face as he stared into Bonni’s doe eyes.

A quick kick on Bonni’s leg by Machi forced her back into her seat. “He’s a photographer, not a journalist. And witches are fake, too. The entire thing is a bunch of ill people playing hocus pocus,” she said.

“This may sound like a tabloid story, but who knows what’s lurking in the shadows? We have no way of knowing whether monsters are buried underneath the city.” Sato rubbed his head with a grin. A piercing gaze from Machi made Apricot giggle before she jabbed Sato in the ribs. “Ack!” he exclaimed. “But Machi is right, I am a photographer. If I were to see something and snap a picture, it’s front-page news for sure,” he muttered as he rubbed the pain from Machi’s playful blow.

“This is not tabloid news. It is absolutely innovative.” Bonni shook her head before she turned her attention to Apricot. “This is the journalism that makes people famous,” Bonni said. “Imagine Apricot. They would always remember you as the woman who exposed Blue Ash’s monster invasion.”

With a finger against her lower lip, Apricot said, “Well?” she thought as she watched Bonni’s face. “I need more information and a second source.” She replied. “Thanks for the tip, Bonni. If I get more information, you can bet I’ll write a piece on it.”

“Ugh Apricot,” Machi groaned. “Don’t encourage her to be this absurd.”

“Apricot, come on!” Bonni whined, “My idea is perfect.” Bonni’s mouth and eyes widen at the sound of sirens. Several police cars swerve past, causing the wrappers on the outside table to tremble. Sato immediately pulled his phone from his pocket.

A smirk spread across Apricot’s face as she felt a slight sense of guilt for feeling so happy. “Hey Sato, what’s your police scanner telling you?” she asked. “Could this be something I should write about?”

As she grabbed Sato’s shoulder, she lept out of her chair to examine the screen. Sato manipulates his finger through a black and blue application. The board has several alerts, most of them minor, a few about a protest, and a report regarding the emergency. His finger sailed on the alert. Apricot couldn’t read the text despite her squinting. A moment later, “Yeah.” He said, “A bank robbery happened nearby.”

“A bank robbery would be perfect!” Apricot shouted as she pumped her fist. “Sato!”

“Are you thinking the same as me?” Sato raised from the table. “Here’s fifty marks, Machi,” Sato said, pulling out a few shiny emerald cards. “Sorry, but I think you’ll have to get a ride home.”

Machi blew a whiff of air. “Yeah, I understand. You always ditch me like this. I am used to it.” She glanced back at Bonni, who is grinning with predatory eyes. “Wait!” she cried. “Don’t leave me with Bonni! She is nuts!”

Bonni laughed softly. “I’ll take care of Machi for ya.”

Apricot ran to Sato’s bike, waving to the two girls. “Sorry to take off like this,” she said. “Later, I will call you to tell you how it went.” Bonni waves back as Machi slumped into her seat, cross-armed.

The siren’s clamor battled against the thunder of the trail rider. As Sato controlled the crimson and white sports bike with expert technique, Apricot clasped onto Sato’s back. As he careened through the two onward lanes, cars rushed by. With Sato pulling on the throttle, the gaps between the white lines of the street became a flicker. “Sato,” Apricot yelped. “Doesn’t this seem a tad too fast?” As time passed, the swishing of automobiles had progressed from being measured to more of an instantaneous response.

“These things can go down quickly,” Sato remarked. “Don’t want to miss a thing.” Apricot stared up ahead at a near wall of cars. A shriek escaped her throat as Sato cranked the brake, forcing the motorcycle into a skid. A harsh odor of scorched rubber filled the air as Sato came to a halt behind a truck. “Ah damn. Looks like we’re stuck in traffic.”

Hopping off the bike, she pats Sato on the back. “Sorry Sato.” As she sauntered off, his head tilted to the side. “Thanks for the ride.” She said. “I will catch you later.” Apricot giggled, holding up his camera in the air as she twirled down the road.

“Yeah, can you get a good shot for me, will you?”

Apricot spun around and faced Sato, replying “You bet.”

She ran along the slick, dirty street, sprinting as fast as she could. It is a game of inches and steps that keeps traffic moving through the clogged metropolitan corridor. Apricot’s heel is seared in pain as a screech roars from behind. During mid-fall, she held the camera in the air, Apricot fell on her side while scraping against the asphalt. After regaining her bearings, she discovered a blue bumper inches above her head.

“Oh, my gosh!” As Apricot pushed up off the ground, she heard, “I am so sorry, I, I.” She looked up to see a man stammering out of the open driver-side door. “I didn’t see you, Miss? Are you okay?” Pulling the lens cover from the camera, her heart dropped. She lifted the camera without noticing the man. Looking it over, everything appeared to be in proper order, much to her relief. While brushing off-street dust, she let out a tremendous sigh. Sticky wetness covered her palm as she ran her hand down her thigh. It covered her fingers in a delicate smear of red, and blood appeared on her elbow and knees. Except for these minor scratches, nothing else appeared amiss.

“Miss?” the man asked again.

Apricot said, “It’s alright,” taking flight toward the sounds of sirens with little concern for her own safety or that of the man’s; she’s on a mission, after all.

Rioters blocked Apricot’s path when she approached the source of the piercing sirens. “I hate it when they do this kind of crap. Leave the police to do their job.” In Blue Ash, mass protests broke out for reasons not completely understood by Apricot. As far as she understood, Okabe had taken steps to separate itself from the Uchellan mainland. This resulted in the Okabe family gaining direct control over the police. There has been a less than a positive reaction from the public since they perceived it as privatization of the police.

Apricot reached into her pocket to retrieve her state journalist badge. After she didn’t find it, she went to her purse only to find that it’s gone too. As she glanced over at her person, she realized she had left her purse at the restaurant. She imagined that Machi or Bonni had spotted the purse lying on the seat by now. Looking at the swarms of protestors, Apricot said aloud, “Great.”

People carrying placards and signs drowned her in the flood of people. The heat, smell, and sweat brought back memories of a packed concert. Fighting the tide, she made her way toward the police line. She waved her meager hand, outstretched among the many, to get the guard’s attention. “I am a journalist. Please let me in,” she pleaded.

A police officer glanced at her before shouting over the deluge: “Sure kid, you got a press pass?” She clung to a barricade as she got closer, trying to keep from being snatched up by the mob.

“I accidentally left it behind because I was in a hurry to follow the sirens.”

“I’m press, too!” shouted a man in a business suit.

“Sure kid, I’ll let you through after I see a press pass. Without it, you won’t be coming over the barricade.” the Officer said.

“I am a reporter.” Another woman yelled beside her.

“Please, officer!” Apricot begged.

Using a stern hand, the official gestured. “You’re not tricking me, you punk. Now run before I arrest you for misleading an officer.”

Apricot blurted out in a panic, “What is the official statement of the police about the robbery?”

“The state has decided not to disclose whether this was a robbery miss. Once we have a better understanding of the situation, we will provide further information.” the officer replied.

“Is there anyone inside the building?” Apricot asked, pulling a scratchpad from her pocket.

Redness spread crossed the police officer’s face. Suddenly, he yelled, “Back off, everybody! Disperse!”

“Sorry,” Apricot bowed swiftly before she pushed past the crowd of crazed protesters. She retreated, weighing her options carefully. Negotiating with the police while surrounded by agitators is not a good idea. As Apricot peered back at the swarm, she felt a release from the adrenalin rush she experienced during her escape. This sudden realization slightly soured her emotions. They might have allowed her entry if not for these crazy protestors, she mused.

“Oh well, I can at least get something for Sato,” she remarked while she raised the camera. She watched the protesters fight the police through the viewfinder. With batons bashing in heads, the black-armored officers moved through the pack.

“Looks like I got out of there just in time.“ Apricot squeezed the button. The shutters spiraled with a click and opened just as quickly, capturing the moment on film. Her smile grew wider as she realized Sato would be pleased with the shot. Although, if she walked backward a few steps, she might frame the scene better. Suddenly, she trips. She threw both of her hands to the side as she fell backward, catching herself. The camera pulled on her neck as it dangled midair.

Her clumsy footwork obstructed a metal grate at her feet. She kneeled down to fix the grate, just as a delightful idea came to mind. A network of tunnels used for runoff beneath the metropolis connected all roads. Apricot thought the tunnels would be a good way past the protesters. She threw the grate aside with a grunt. While she descended the rungs into the tunnels, she beams.

The captain shouted through a blue and white bullhorn, “Come out with your hands up.” An entire team of officers surrounded the bank on all sides. The rest of the police remained on the blockade as the disruptors attempted to gain ground.

“Get back or I will shoot!” yelled the officer as the barricade collapsed in half. With a shaky hand, he pulled out a pistol and screamed, “Back up! I said!“ As the rebels make their way through. A young woman of similar age looked at the barrel. He levels it at her head. Wide-eyed, she froze inches away from the gun. The moment between the two soon broke when another man grabbed the officer by the arm.

“Murderer!” cried someone in the crowd. As the officer elbowed the man in the face, he drew back into his friend’s protection.

The police chief said, “That’s enough rabble,” while standing next to a policeman. “Gas these sons of bitches.” A group of officers in riot gear marched toward the group holding long pipe cannons. As the police called out a holler, they released several canisters. As they rained down, metal projectiles knocked an unknown number of people to the ground. Rolling upon landing, they emit a dense cloud of milky brown smoke. As they soon covered the protesters in a cloud of poison, they screamed. To avoid the spreading wall, they trampled on top of each other. Their clothes reeked of the toxic fumes as they breached the plumes.

When the bank’s mirror glass door opened, the police in front chatted with each other. An unknown man stepped from the shadows with a girl coiled around his arm. He held a gun against the girl’s lower jaw. With a kiss on her cheek, he held his lips close to her ear. He said with a gruff voice; the characteristic of an excessive smoker, “Now darling, remember what I said to you? If you move or say a word, I will spray your face all over the room. You got that?” The woman nodded her head, tears welling up in her eyes with no sign of a struggle.

The policeman lifted the radio receiver from his chest. “Get me a sniper on him, fast.”

“Put down the gun, Sir, it will be to everyone’s benefit if everyone gets out today.” said the captain.

In response to the captain’s words, the man laughed loudly. “I will put the gun down and even give you the girl.” Several officers approached the stairs with guns drawn. “Back up, you shit heads. Back up!” he roared, pulling the gun from the girl and pointing it towards the crowd. “Get back or else!” he exclaimed. The man presses his gun into the lady’s jaw, moving her spongy skin as he does. “If I see a boy in blue,” He said to the police. He pointed the firearm back at the officers. “Well, we wouldn’t want to turn the front of her pretty face into a scarlet fountain, would we?” He pointed the gun back at the girl. “Move back I said! Go, now, do it!” As he turned the gun back to the officers, he waggled the barrel.

“The gun is off the girl. Take the shot.” Said the police chief over the radio.

A bullet thundered from the adjacent building. The charge soared overhead through the man’s face. In an instant, the image of the hostage and the man flickered away, leaving only a small softball-sized orb at their feet. “Wrong move, assholes!” replied the man over the bank’s intercom speakers.

“Shit!“ said an officer as an explosion erupted from the bank’s front. A wave of heat and wind drove shards of debris across the ground, hitting several bystanders. Along with several officers who cracked under the pressure, the remaining protesters fled for their lives.

When the ground rumbled, Apricot huddled to her knees and screamed. As cables dangle from the walls, the shadows dance with the rocking lights in their metal cages. She felt her pounding heart through her shirt as she grabbed her chest. Near her are the metal rungs that mark the exit. After the booming shook her to her core, she couldn’t get to them fast enough. The sight of blue skies through the metal escape hatch bars relieved Apricot. As she scrambled up the steps, she pushed the surface grate open.

Apricot grew a smile as she surveyed the dirty backstreet lot. The lot was full of trash bins filled with recyclables. After she got herself back together, she realized she was behind the bank, since there was a tall brick wall with razor wire surrounding the back lot. As Apricot slithered out of the hole, the metal grate slammed shut with a loud clank. She watched police pull people from rubble-strewn streets that were engulfed in smoke. “Was that a bomb?” she asked. “What bank robbery would use bombs?” Apricot questioned aloud. It seemed absurd that something like that could be true. According to Boken’s Sword, the most likely answer is the simplest. Apricot remembered the rule. “If someone were to use a bomb, why would they do so?” she considered.

Her hands fidgeted as she felt an overwhelming sense of tension. “Could this be a terrorist attack?” She gritted her teeth, swallowing hard, watching this entire incident spiral from irresponsible to dangerous. “You can’t let your nerves get the better of you, okay? If you want to be a reporter, now is the time to act like one,” she coached herself.

Apricot held the camera up to her face to see that the viewfinder was black. The camera cap hung from the lens of the camera on a strand of white string when she removed it from her eye. She returned the camera to her eye and saw a hazel eye staring back at her. The eye had teeth surrounding it instead of lashes. “What the?” Apricot asked under her breath.

With an odd cartoon-like tone, the teeth shut into a grin and said “Hello.” She screamed and tossed the camera. Shaking from the shock, she covered her mouth with her hand. Hearing glass shatter, she looked towards her feet. Sato’s camera lay broken at her feet.

Apricot bent to lift the mangled camera. As glass pieces fell into the street from the lens, a small sob escaped her nostril. A tear ran down Apricot’s cheek as she whispered, “No.”

With the creek of the back door, “Don’t move.” Commanded the voice of a young man. Apricot looked up to see a man with a pistol. When the man bobbed the barrel, she felt pale. Apricot followed the gesture by standing up. Her feet shot up when she observed the chili yellow eyes of this man with a strong jawline looking at her. “He is remarkably handsome,” she thought.

“Now, why would a girl be out here?” he asked.

Apricot held up Sato’s broken camera and explained, “I am a journalist, and I’m trying to get some photos for my article.”

“It seems you need a new camera,” snickered the handsome guy. “You think I am some kind of idiot?” he replied. “You went through the sewers to get here, right? That’s filthy. Were you sent by the police? Got a wire?”

Apricot’s heart sank in despair as she shook her head. “No, I’m just a journalist.”

“Sure, like you would tell me, anyway.” Looking at the barrel, she felt as if the chambered bullet was interrogating her; more like a rabid dog on a leash waiting for the command, looking for an opportunity to bore into her stomach, all too happy to do its job.

When he continued, it broke her heart. “There is one way you can prove you don’t.” He pointed his pistol at her chest and raised his head. “Take them off.” Her face grew flushed as the order rang in her head. Her fingers brush against her shirt, and she breathes deeply. As she swallowed, she averted her eyes. “Go ahead,” the man said with a perverse gleam in his eye. In order to remove her undershirt from her skirt band, she removed her coat from her stomach.

The man lowered his gun and said, “Wait.” Looking down, he turned his gaze to the ground. “You don’t have to do that.” Apricot wondered if it was a trick. Then again, even if it was a trick, he would shoot her, regardless. She lowered her shirt down to her stomach. Apricot hears a clank against the brick wall as the man pushes against the door. He turned to her and said, “After you.”

When she was close to the door, she did not know if she was going to live or die. She found it humorous. She could draw on her first-hand experience of the robbery. It was like the coin had flipped, becoming the story instead of reporting on it. This would be the story of her life if she survived. Maybe even a book deal. Her face brightened at the prospects. “What do you have to be so happy about?” he asks. “Got a sick fascination with being taken hostage?” At that moment, after glancing at the gun aimed at her, all joy vanished. With such paltry words, he snuggly placed the fear of death in the mind.

“What in the hell do we do now?” asked a man holding a pistol. Apricot noted he looked younger than the handsome man, a late teenager, twitchy too; this makes him dangerous.

Her captor shook his head. “I don’t suppose we can just walk out the front door. There is an opening in the back. Heh, the reporter girl, found a way out. If we slip out, though, I am sure we will get chased.”

A lady was resting against a bank teller’s desk. It looked like she had either a resting bitch face or was poised to tear someone’s head off. Her mature and smooth face suggested she was in her late twenties or even early thirties. However, unlike the other guys, she did not carry a weapon, but the long jacket she wore could conceal an arsenal. “Well, isn’t this great? There’s a bunch of police in front of us, bright eyes is upstairs drooling like a madman, and now we’re holding this kid hostage as well. That wasn’t the plan. What the hell was he thinking?”

“A bomb, Diago is insane.” the young man wailed. He rounded in a circle, carefully maintaining cover from the front.

Apricot was sitting on the floor of the decorated bank. The polished marble floor in the lobby had a large crack she attributed to the blast’s remnants. Several windows around the room were broken, allowing smoke to enter. Even though the smoke was diluted, it still burned.

Rather than get involved in the bickering, Apricot decided to just sit back and watch. But their complaints raised more questions. Among the many things that disturb her, one stands out. They were robbing a bank, but what were they hoping to gain? As soon as they introduced the Emerald Mark, paper money was no longer used. As a result, she could no longer bite her tongue. Obviously, she had to know. “So, what were your plans?” Suddenly Apricot erupted.

The handsome man glanced at her as the other two watched each other. He smiled half-heartedly as he said, “I told you she was interesting.”

The other guy laughed nervously. “Apparently, we gained a funeral instead of a hefty retirement plan.”

“Maybe you could turn yourself in; I mean, it wasn’t your idea to make the bomb. Turn on that… Diago guy. He does not seem to be that interested in you,” Apricot suggested.

Taking a measured step towards Apricot, the girl gives a blank stare. She produces a thin rectangle from her side. The slab opens with a click, revealing a flat spring-loaded blade. She bends down next to Apricot, letting the flat of the blade rest on her cheek. “Comedian, keep talking and I’ll carve a smile all over your face from bloody ear to bloody ear.”

An uncharacteristically calm chuckle escaped the handsome man’s lips. “I kind of like the comedian.” He said. “We need some humor. May as well be her.” As she touched the tip of the blade to Apricot’s cheek, a shallow cut appeared. Apricot’s brown eyes catch hers, as the woman warns her sharply. She yielded the blade to her palm and rose to her feet.

“She might be right.” The nervous man snorted. “I don’t want to die. I mean, uh. I had nothing to do with the bomb. It was all Diego’s idea. Heh, I mean, how can you explain that?”

“Diago, what is he doing up there?” the handsome man said. “I knew deck jockey was just a plug head. Should have never trusted him.”

“Surely, he will still come through for us,” joked the young man. “I mean… he set that bomb up… with the holo-sim from upstairs. Think he has a way of getting out of here?”

The calm, handsome man looked over at the girl with the blade. “Only one way to find out.” She said.

“Okay, I will check on our little decker, see if he’s done,” he said, jumping from the desk and reaching out to Apricot. She questioned her own sensibilities as her heart fluttered. “I want a body as collateral. Hey reporter girl, mind being my shield?” He grabbed Apricot’s hand and lifted her to her feet. “Come on, it’s this way. Just follow me.”

The handsome man had led Apricot upstairs to the second floor of the bank. From the mezzanine, she spied the police outside out of the corner of her eye. The wreckage was worse than she had expected. While Apricot felt more at ease with the handsome man than she did with the lady below her, the gun pointed at her head told a different story. “So, just down the hall. I don’t want a sniper to blow my head off, so please walk in front of me?”

The man huddled up next to her, compressing himself against her lower back. When she felt the chest of the man against her rear, a blush appeared on her face. Outside, she saw several police officers with their guns drawn while others walked around casually with papers in their hands. There were fewer people in the crowd than before.

In the corner of the back office, a girl was crying, with tears streaming down her face. Her sobs accompanied a man working on a computer. Besides his pistol, he has a camera setup on the desk with several cables stretching from his hands and several metallic pieces hanging out from his fingers. They clicked on the keys, typing with brisk speed. Apricot almost vomited. This twisted thing was once human. Unlike his former self, now he looks like he was something otherworldly. “Are you almost done, Diego?” the handsome man asked. “That light show you put on pissed off the cops.”

“Did I?” the deep voice exclaimed, cackling. “I wasn’t aware.”

The handsome man pounded his fist against the table. “Yeah, now get it in gear, there’s no time to lose.” he snapped.

“What? But the party just started.” He grinned. “They got some great countermeasure electronics,” he said. “I got through the first two phases. The buried treasure looks nice. Anyway, the vaults downstairs are unlocked. Load up what you can. The tunnels will be open in a few minutes. I wasn’t expecting this. However, if you give me some time… I think I can find something more valuable. They equipped this place with naked body scanners. You can bet those images are worth something, too.”

“Pervo, we need to get on a bank train NOW to get out of here,” the handsome man yelled.

“Tanj! You ain’t no fun.” Diago looked up from the computer. The inlaid eyes made Apricot uncomfortable. She was sure that he had to undergo a special surgical procedure for those to be implanted. “Including where you gonna go? You don’t think the tunnels are swarming with police by now?”

“Just get it done.” Growled the handsome man.

“Are you a runner?” Apricot inquired. It was utterly shocking to the black-haired lady in the corner. Apricot had heard stories about people who did such things. The crooks had to go to certain locations to gain access to closed systems, not the normal kind of theft. These individuals usually leave a trail of destruction behind them, which did not sit well with Apricot. It is imperative to remove witnesses. With some technical knowledge, they can move in a way most others cannot. Most of the time, they sell their goods on the black market.

Diago glances at Apricot from his screen. “Those eyes, they’re wrong,” Apricot thought. “Like dolls in the shop windows of Akubashi street.”

“Who’s the girl?”

He patted Apricot on the butt and said, “Hostage like yours.” A chill ran down Apricot’s spine. Her first impulse was to slap the man, but she composed herself. “A reporter.”

“Oh, yeah, buddy, if that one doesn’t get creased soon, I’m going to reconfigure her myself. Expert witness, you know joy boy.” She didn’t understand everything he said, but she gathered the gist. This would be a serious threat. Apricot could tell from the other girl’s eyes that she thought much the same.

Apricot felt the handsome man press the tip of the cold barrel into the back of her uniform. “You worry about our escape.” Apricot isn’t sure how to react. The handsome man seems to have a sense of morality. She had the impression he didn’t want her killed. Still, she knew it twisted her emotions into knots. As he drives her towards the hall, he says, “Don’t let the blue boys blow off my head now.”

An angry voice exploded up from the base level. “Kneel!” A retinue of commands followed.

“Ta hell is that!” Diago shrieked. The handsome man, who held out his gun, pushed Apricot to the ground.

Through the marble ceiling, ghostly figures tumbled to the ground. Light reflected off their cloaks and mirrored their surroundings. “All but for the shimmering, the cloaked figures would have been invisible,” Apricot thought. The cloaks fell off, revealing them to be armored police pointing their guns at the suspects. A mechanically synthesized voice said, “Got ya.”

The handsome man replied, “You did.” His body spun around while a blade flicked from his spinning torso and he cut into the armored collar with the knife. The knife blade scraped against the black kevlar. Then the soldier’s rifle butt impacts into the man’s head, knocking him to the ground.

Diego jumped onto the table, smashing his seat against the wall. His arm swung, launching the computer into an officer. The cables shot back into his left hand. He points his right hand towards the officer’s rifle. ”You fool!” he hissed. A mechanical groan caused his forearm to split open, revealing a hidden uzi. “Rat-a-tat,” boomed the gun. Apricot covered both ears with both hands as she sank to the ground. The horror of this moment spread to her when a smoking bullet fell between her knees. With a louder scream, she crescendos the many ricochets.

As far as she could, she kicked away from the smoldering bullet pressing against the wall. “Ahahaha!” Diego cackled. Suddenly, her back sank into a pair of arms. It was an officer in a cloak covering her, wearing a gray and blue-hosed mask. The cloak was bright on the inside. Fabric acted as a screen, which displayed bodies around the room and made the walls appear translucent.

Apricot watched as the red silhouette of the handsome man swept his foot, knocking the other officer to the floor. “I got you, honey!” a muffled female voice said. As she leaned back, the officer lifted her through the wall. While doing the impossible, Apricot felt a tingling sensation all over her body. With Apricot clutched tightly in her arms, the officer plummets to the ground like a swooping bird. When she landed with a heavy thud on the pavement below, she realized she was thrashing and screaming.

As her mind raced with questions, she shook her head. The largest of them was “What just happened? Did they just leap through a wall?” Apricot looked up into the iron blue mask while cradled in the officer’s arms. A brilliant red gleam glistened in the mask’s eye shields. On the sides of the soldier’s neck shield, there are two air hoses.

The police officer set Apricot on her feet and said, “It’s all right mam, you are safe now.” The officer’s hands were on the clip on the side of her mask as she raised to her full stance. With a hiss, it clicks as she raises the helmet, which allows her long black hair to cascade out over it.

“She has white irises,” Apricot thought to herself. “That’s rare.”

“Are you all right? Hun?” she asked with a rural mainland accent. With a slack jaw, Apricot watched with wide eyes. “I’d like to thank you. Through your little sneaky escapade, I could enter the back door unnoticed.”

She saw another officer jump through the wall with the black-haired woman. He unfurled her and asked, “Mam, do you need any medical attention?” She just wailed in his arms.

“This is the life of a police officer, so dangerous.” She said without meaning to.

“You were lucky to miss.” The officer replied, “I haven’t seen many kids walk out of something like that.”

She broke out of her trance before turning to the armored woman and saying, “Forgive me.” She bowed as low as she could. “Thanks for saving me. You have my gratitude.”

A smile spread across the officer’s face as she said, “All in a day’s work, miss.”

With a clipboard in hand, a uniformed man approaches her. “And apparently you’re a student, too.” The uniformed man said, looking at Apricot’s worn-out uniform. He asked, “What were you doing in the bank?”

Apricot realized she was being filmed as her heart sank. As she gnawed her nails, she muttered, “That’s a funny story…” The officer laughed as she recounted how she became a hostage.

“Press huh, well, I will have to inform your superiors so they can decide what to do. Apricot, you understand me,” he said, waving his finger.

“Yes,” she replied.

“Good girl, say something nice for me. Got it? So would you mind coming with me? Let’s get your account on file, so you can be on your way.” he said.

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Blue Ash Crisis (2018/2019), Fiction, Novels

Blue Ash Crisis: Prologue

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The Crisis

Crowds of people walk through the downtown slums. Throughout the city, ripped posters from long ago adorned the walls. They are now nothing more than meaningless echoes in someone else’s mind; memories of a different time. Men and women are working in offices flanked by large windows, while festive decorations embellished the city and well-dressed customers emerged from carousel doors. Their clicking feet vanished as silence extended to the depth of the snowy streets.

In a shadowy control chamber over a mile underneath a shopping center, a young black-haired girl is sat. As a hand tapped her shoulder, she felt a chill run down her spine. At that moment, she glanced over at the young lady sitting next to her. “Come on, Chino,” she whispered. “We can do it.”

Taking a glance at the console in front of her, she gave a slight nod and half-smiled, but it quickly faded. The fingers instinctively slid across the keyboard. An overhead video wall illuminated the darkened room, and she glanced up periodically. Several objectives are listed under the heading “Mirror Crossing Operations.” Besides interacting with Falcon-One, Chino’s objectives included maintaining power levels. She cleared her throat and adjusted the microphone’s neck. “Alright, it looks like we have everything set up on our end. Let’s get started with the Mantra-Tech systems check, Falcon One.” Chino said.

“Rodger, I have light. The ION engine appears to be functioning properly. Ready and waiting for instructions. Over,” a male voice replied over the intercom amidst a hint of static.

The young woman who sat next to Chino responded: “Begin with the core inspection Falcon-One.” As Chino pulled her uniform from her neck, she left a small sigh of relief at the loss of the growing pressure on her throat. Within a few seconds, Chino’s monitor levels changed from green to orange to red. Her fingers worked rapidly, gathering information about the municipal electric grid.

Billboards lined every street. They emitted a dull fluttering light while cars snake their way through the gridlock. They dimmed marginally when Chino flicked a switch, then buzzed once again. Midway through a busy street, a group of school children watched in awe as the streetlights suddenly go out. Chino watched the levels disappear while a lump formed in her throat. She whispered to herself. “Damn it, not today! I won’t let you die on me.” Chino said as she turned on switches rapidly until the lights sparked back to life and gradually rose to a stable position.

A heavy crackle of interference rolled over the radio. “Core One, stable. Core Two, stable. Oh, Core Three, stable. Core Four, stable.” said the technician.

A loud voice boomed with authority. “Get that line clear.” the commanding officer ordered. Chino slumped into her chair as she worked. An elegant hand closed around her fingers.

Chino turned her fearful gaze to the welcoming eyes of her co-worker. “It will be all right. We got this.” Her whisper offered Chino a comfort she had not expected.

“Click,” the technician sounded. “My cable had come loose.” Chino heard the thumping of her heartbeat during the pause that followed. The technician continued, “Core 6, stable. Everything appears to be working properly. On my end, all is well. The levels are being broadcast now.” A broken streetlight flickered back to life as the clap of thunder echoed, promising rain.

“Falcon-One, everything looks fine on our end. Start the particle engine check.” Chino instructed. At last, the roving camera displayed an image on the wall. The technician dressed in an astronaut suit is working on a satellite. Blue orbs flew through the unnatural darkness like fireflies lighting up a warm summer night. While watching the spectacle through the screen’s muddled image, Chino cannot help but admire the colors. As the wisp ran in front of the optics, the camera adjusted its lenses to focus.

The technician grunted, “Let me see here.” Over the radio, a plastic board snapped. Chino looked at her co-workers wearing white, gray suits managing various switchboards inside the control room. They are all surrounded by colored holograms. As seen from her angle, their images were nothing more than bright lines of color. They changed and twisted as her own did while sifting through the compiled data. “Engines one and two are ok. Ah…. Let me see engine three, is OK.”

Through the darkness, the technician drifted along the satellite’s channel attached to a meager tether. The light from the wisps painted his spacesuit’s white nylon tricot a dull blue. With only the satellite as a guide, he waded through the dark void, climbing metal rungs and climbing snowy plastic as he changed his sense of direction. His excellence in his trade was clear to Chino as he flew around the machine.

When Chino had ensured that the energy levels were stable, she began her last check. After opening a few screens, Chino breathed deeply. “Headquarters has cleared you to engage the Mantra Drive Falcon-One.” The technician glided to the edge of the satellite, using his thrusters. His feet were hanging over the panels. He reached for another tether from his side and connected it to a rung on the ladder, gathering his footing. After that, he grasped the bar of a round switch. By turning the white cylinder with the metallic chime, he waited for the satellite rods to glow red one by one.

A man stood up and pointed to his screen as Chino shouted, “Object spotted, Commander, east of the gate.” On the wall panel, a picture of the object appeared. A moment later, her heart fluttered. She thought to herself, “This shouldn’t be happening.” Instantly, the computer recognized the object and locked onto it. “Falcon-One, there is something far off in the distance on your three. Could you provide a visual?“

The technician saw a twinkle in the distance. His HUD displayed a green box around the object. Inside, numbers are counting down. “Roger, I copied a visual. It’s approaching rapidly.”

“Falcon-one, can you tell me what your reading is on this?” The commander’s voice was firm, but Chino felt worried in it as well. There’s a loud, haunting crash as pieces of plastic and metal fall onto the floor. The light turns the satellite into nothing. The man lost his suit instantly. His flesh flew abroad, and his bones dissolved in the light.

During the commotion, the video feed flashed off. Everything inside the building trembled like an earthquake had struck. The commander yelled in concern, “Falcon-One, do you copy? Do you copy Falcon-One? There is no signal, Falcon-One. What is the situation out there, Falcon-One?”

30 Years Later

“Today marks the thirtieth anniversary of the explosion that destroyed Blue Ash city. At least the disaster, which reduced everything in its wake to rubble in an instant, killed two point three million people. Smoke from the explosion obscured the sun for three days. This was one of the most devastating disasters in modern history. A brand new city has risen in its wake. New Ash City has been called a technological wonder of the world. We remember…” in a flash, the news anchor disappeared into the black of a television screen.

“Yeah, yeah, we’ve heard it before,” said a young girl looking over a suburban township.

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An End To All You Know (Summer 2019), Fiction, Novels

An End To All You Know: Prologue

This story is currently a work in progress. If you find any errors or have comments please feel free to let me know.

When time ceases to be time, it is easy to lose yourself.  We define ourselves in finite terms.  If handed infinity, would you still be you?  I lost myself some time ago.  Unborn to the world, stashed away, placed on pause.  Past, present, future, they all converge inside the abyss.

My chest raised and lowered with each deliberate exhale as the cool eternal darkness carried me to unknown shores. Movement, movement; I had not felt movement since untold times long ago. The sound of brisk footsteps running along a tiled floor echoed through the under tide.  It rose me, my heart started beating as my mind opened, sparking to life anew. The deep pulse channels through my body once again, grasping my fingers into a fist I jolt as I realized, I still existed.  My soft lips part as I took a deep inhale as one would when breaching the surface of water. Immediately regret filled me along with the invading murk.  My lungs burned, plump with an unknown fluid while my mouth swelled with the taste of mineral steel.

My ten thousand years closed eyes opened as the illusion of long-suspended slumber is broken.  A dark sterile white ceiling greeted me.  The tiles edge rush like a river as an occasional beam passed overhead while rods of light like spears stab through the glass.  Ever more clear the sound of footsteps grow as the remaining fog that held me for so long depleted.

The twine of my silky black hair filled my vision as waving undersea foliage. Every subtle movement caused the drifts in which I rested to whirl and wander.  I rolled off the smooth, spongy floor to levitate in my container.  Through the dark murk I could make out something human like just beyond the glass, but it moved wrong, like a reproduction.  The strange thing hunched its upper body over the foot of my container with cables and cords lining its scratched timeworn metallic armor. To my side I heard a mechanical groan, with a simple jostle of my hip I rolled over, my gaze leaping toward another pair of similar strangers.

A whimper left my throat along with a wisp of carbon-dioxide.  My eyes grew wide and my jaw fell agape as I released a bounding shriek.  The lumbering form of an imitation human face; imitation as to the extent it is something akin to a cheap plastic mask.  I darted around the strange cell swiftly toppling me with a powerful sense of claustrophobia.  My insignificant movement aroused the attention from the alien creature, and to my horror it turned in my direction. With no way to escape, I was at the mercy of this inhuman pretenders.

Outside in the dark I could make out I was inside something like a stretcher surrounded by a glass tube and submerged in some kind of liquid that allowed me to breathe. “She isn’t supposed to be awake.” the being’s voice startled me. The sound was distorted through the smothering fluid, even still I could tell it was digital, broken and artificial like the rest of the peculiar thing.

“Stay quiet.” demanded another of the alien engines; its voice was deeper and more machinelike than that of the first. The group came to a full stop. I halted my breathing, hoping that I had not angered my captors. They stood still. The tension of no reply grew as it strangles my every vein. Only the slight whine of their long warn motor’s break the agonizing silence.  Was it me?  No, they were observing the hall for something. “They have spotted us.” announced a male voice.

A loud ear-piercing scream from the dark sent shivers down my spine. I felt it crawling across my skin, like an unfamiliar touch grooming me where it should not.   Bracing my knees onto my shoulders, I curled tightly into a ball and covered my ears to stop the deep stabbing pitch.  The screams increased in numbers, there must have been a hundred of them and the surly roar of gunfire was all too loud. It hurt as each percussion thundered through me. My eyes latch shut to escape the horrors which I knew awaited the rising of my lids.  All that separated me from a nightmare, is an inch of glass. The thought drew a light sob to crawl from my throat.

The sound of scraping coming ever closer, and beyond that scraping, I could hear the buzzing of a chainsaw carving, slathering a wet pulpy mess as it made its way through whatever victim fell to its grinding teeth.  A splatter of red splashed onto the glass obscuring my view in a violent coat.  With a thud, the carrier is swung aside, throwing me against the wall of the container. More panic gripped me as I observed the three mechanical soldiers fighting with chainsaw blades and rifles. Beyond them is a vision of a swarm; malformed tumorous bodies ridden with polyps, clawed and shrieked in an unbridled feral rage. My kicking feet struck against the glass, pushing me away from the sight. I knew it was futile. There was no escaping. My silent dream released me to this nightmare, and somehow I longed to return to that nothingness.

The capsule shifted again, jostling me from my huddled cowering. I met the plastic faces of another pair of mechanical soldiers. They were pushing the cart; their arms slung over with rifles in hand. Each one popping aimed shots into the swarm. The three in front swung their weapons cutting into the creatures.  A glorious howl lept from there, well, whatever they had. They painted every wall with dripping blood as insides and limbs rained to the floor. Unwillingly getting closer to the tide of battle; my heart sunk. I soon realized the machines were pushing my prison toward that horrid visage. “No, no, I don’t want to go there! Please, no!” I begged with the loudest scream I could muster against the fluid. They gave no answer or even a consideration. My gaze met their cold unfeeling masks once again, molded with that false smile.

Looking into to the fray of battle, I saw only two soldiers. “309!” one android yelled, his voice stilled me. I couldn’t help but notice they showed concern for each other. The front two soldiers increased pace, cutting and chopping to get to their fellow. Among the fleshy horrors I made out the missing android’s arm, and its head, but that couldn’t be right. The head was too far from the arm. I contemplated what I was seeing. “Grab his tracer!” commanded the android above me.

As the puzzle completed itself in my mind I screamed “They ripped him to pieces!” The two android soldiers in front stopped their progress at the end of the hall. One held back the unending hoard of monsters; four arms slashing and cutting against the throng, valiant and proud, a shining conqueror, my, defender? “Are these things trying to save me?” I wondered. My emotions were in a maelstrom of total confusion.

My view become fast covered by the amount of blood that rained down on the group. In some ways the covering sheen of gore comforted me, in others it brought out an intense anxiety of the unknown. The other android picked through the ripped torso of their fallen comrade. It lifted a small card out of the thing’s body. Fleshy tethers ripping free as they deposited the card into their own frame.

“I got it!” the machine hollered in victory. 

“There is an elevator shaft ahead.” said the android who hung over my capsule. Her voice was female, even though her body did not match her gender. They all looked the same to me, aside from a natural patina of rust and wear that allowed them to be somewhat distinguished from each other. “We can get to the roof from there. Attaching to the carrier now.”

Between small gaps where the scarlet black had not covered, I saw that the hall had become nothing but a twitching pile of meat with a river of blood wetting every surface.  Colored cords like worms moved about boaring down into the piles of ruination tethering stray parts back together. The closer to the elevator we got, the deeper the pile seems to be. The limbs that remained gripped at the androids. With little effort they jerked themselves free, giving the parts no purchase. The soldiers stood guard, holding the line against the onslaught as the others pushed my capsule into the elevator.

The capsule lifted into the air by a bright blue light, levitating the android up the tunnel. The entire thing radiated a blue glow as we rose higher. The platform stopped opening to a sky that is bleak, the color of rusted iron, and a dull glow overshadowed everything upon the rooftop. The buildings in the city were decayed with lengthy lines of overgrowth from something like that of muscle flesh. A strange-looking vehicle of some sort waited for the group; judging from the large wings, I assumed it was a plane, but I could not be sure. From the elevator shaft, the other two androids appeared. They were sopping wet with blood. As they walk bits of flesh fell off their bodies leaving a messy trail of gore in their wake.

“You recovered one.” a man yelled from the ship’s open hanger. My heart jumped. Immediately I dove against the glass trying to spot the man through the film of red ooze. They lift the pod as the androids dragged it into the threshold of the plane’s dock. Sadly, pressing against the window provided me with nothing. It was too dark to see anything. Still, it comforted me to hear a human voice. “What condition is it in?” the man inquired.

“It’s awake.” An android grunted.

A torso covered in a white plastic suit pressed into the side of the glass. “We cannot have that.” he commented to the machine. “My, isn’t she magnificent?” I looked over my shoulder to see his face hidden behind a visor.

“Help me, let me out!” I screamed, retching my body against the window. The man’s face seemed even more unconcerned than the androids. His eyes only filled with a dehumanizing gaze in response to my struggles. “What is happening! Why am I here? Who am I?” There is a subtle twitch in my eyes as round dots of crystal floated in from my ducts.

“Phhhhshhhhhhhhh…” A small vent above my head leaked out a malaise of white clouds. The smell is rancid and made me gasp. My body tensed as I gasped for another scream, but my chest could not manage the effort. Instead, a low moan escaped as everything grew heavy.  In the milky fluid I tried to struggle but failed. My fingers pressed against the glass as the weight on my arms increased. It is as though I am being crushed and I fell limp. The iron lids over my eyes closed like curtains, as the theater of this nightmare came to a sudden halt; the deep slumber of stasis returning.

“So, she is asleep. Just like that?” The android I had hired commented.  His head was thin and rectangular, with a single blue upper reticle, altogether its shape reminded me of a pistol.  If one gathered scraps and did their best to construct the human shape, this would be the result of the rest of its body. Cables and ribbons hung between the gaps in its plating and from the back of its head into its neck and down its spine. The plastic mask I provided now dangled off the side of its head, no use for the artificial visage anymore. The entire thing is made of silver black gun metal. Several decades line its body, scraped and scratch listing incomplete model numbers.

In all my years, I never thought I would have this chance.  As I looked upon the bloodied container, a new wealth of hope filled me. I could hardly believe my eyes and I could not look away for fear it was a dream, I nodded my head in response to the android’s question. “Indeed, she is.” I faintly commented.  Rising from the container, I looked around the room.  I had paid for a squad of five and yet, before me, was only four. “I see there are only four of you that returned. I am sorry for your loss.” I said, hoping to cover for my previous lack of acknowledgment.

Then the machine said something most peculiar to me. “309 will live again, like your girl. He is in stasis, sleeping.” the android lifted a small rectangular chip from his bloodied breastplate. “He needs a new body. One I expect you to pay for.”

“Heh, me pay for a body for your mistake. Why do you expect me to pay for it? I hired you to retrieve her, not to refurbish your aging bodies. You knew the risks when I hired you. If you did not consider the complications that is your own fault.”

The android’s reticle twisted and turned, focusing on me, more, closely, I didn’t enjoy seeing my own concerned reflection gazing back.  A loud creek grumbles as the hanger motors opened the doors revealing his intentions. “Then our contract ends, there is no negotiation.”  The open doors stole the breath from my lungs. It terrified me, not to mention being berated by my suit as it whipped me in the winds.  I could feel my feet growing unsteady as the open hanger threatened the unknowable plummet.

“Wait! Stop!” I screamed. “We can work something out.” the hanger of the ship’s doors closed as my will bent.  What more could I do?  I held no position to argue against it. “I should have known better. Our colony lacks any military grade android parts though. How about a trade? Something of equal value?”

“That is fair. We will require more seeds.”

The surreal nature of the situation leaves me shaking my head. It has been a long time since I went to the outside world. Androids used to be the servants of man. Now they drove a hard bargain.  Where they have learned this kind of behavior. I suppose through observation over time they have become akin to such things.  Still, what could they want with seeds?  There is no real place to plant them, and even still what would artificial beings like them want with anything biological. I had to know, and so I asked. “Why exactly do you want seeds, anyway?”

“Unmodified seeds are the most valuable thing in the world. They are one of the few things we cannot fabricate. Unlike our greedy peers in the empire, we seek to build a new biome and restore the world as we remember from our nativity, before your cursed decay spread.” the android replied.

Impossible, it won’t be done.  Not by their hands. I kept that thought to myself not wanting to give any reason for further torment from the machine. “Yeah, well, good luck with that.” I grunted walking back over to the capsule gazing inside at the fair-skinned girl resting soundly.  At our salvation.

The ship carried us over the ruins of an old city, through the slumbering lands that grew rotted.  We fly through an even more lonely sky, over a vast sea and over mountain passes and fleshy fields; until we reached a desert wasteland of hollowed buildings for as far as the eye can see.

As the ship descended to the ground, a secret hanger door split forth from the sandy soil. Two people waited on the platform for our arrival. A young woman with black hair named Vanity and a much older man, a doctor, Hellibor Winters, who was given charge of this girl. When the ship landed the doors opened to reveal the ark in which she rests. I could hear Vanity shout, “They did it!” from even within the confines of the ship.

“Brilliant. I told you we could trust them.” Hellibor grumbled in his usual gruff voice.  As I made my way out of the ship Hellibor stood stoic as ever in contrast to Vanity’s excitement. Before I even said a word Hellibor says to me “Bring me the capsule.” in that familiar, commanding tone.

“It is good to be home.” I thought to myself.

“There was a complication.” I muttered. “We need to give the androids a bit more payment before they will release the girl to us.” I regrettably informed them.

I still remember that low growl Hellibor let out under his breath.  It was the kind of growl that let me know there would be repercussions for this later. He turned to Vanity, gesturing with his hands. “Vanity, do it, go get another seed for Brainer to give these swine.”

“Yes, Sir Hellibor.” Vanity replied, so formally as usual.  I can’t help but notice the sway in her step as she headed inside the building.  One of the few pleasurable things left in the world.  “So, you recovered a specimen.” Hellibor commented.   I stand side by side with Hellibor as we watched the machines go about their normal activities.

“It’s a girl as you had hoped, yeah, but one thing, she woke up during the extraction. It means they broke the seal on the ark.”  I couldn’t even look him in the eye. Soon noticed my palms were sweating inside my suit.

To my surprise, his reaction was not as sour as I had expected “It should not matter.” he grunted. “If she is infected, then the contaminants should have no effect on her.”

“They almost threw me out of the ship. I think they would have thrown her too. What a way to negotiate extra payment.” Hellibor let out a heavy sigh, shaking his head as he placed his hand on my back.  It was reassuring, to be honest it was the first time I had felt a touch in, well, ages in fact.  It felt unnatural.  Heh, I suppose Hellibor felt much the same way as he whirled his hand away as soon as he realized what he had done.

Vanity returned with a pair of test tubes. “Two seeds,” she chirped, holding out the measly pair in my direction. “They are still cold.” she happily commented as though it mattered.

As I reached for the two seeds I felt a heaviness grow in my gut.  “They will take this as an insult.” my mind screamed.  Two seeds for what they just did.  That was hardly any payment at all.  Though their contract never specified any amount, but it was still clearly plural.  I took the two suspended seeds from her, “This is all you are giving them.”

Hellibor nodded with confidence.  Together we walk to the drop ship’s hanger doors to present our, payment. The leader of the group moved to the lip of the hanger, towering above us like a giant. He jumped down onto the platform, looking at the pair of reflective tubes in my hand. “May I inspect them?”

As I reached to the skeletal metal hand, Hellibor chimed in. “Before we pay, I want to inspect the girl myself. Make sure she is without blemish. To do that, I will need to run scans on her.”

“That will not be happening without my payment. We agreed payment upon delivery. We delivered a specimen. Our end of the deal is complete. Now you must oblige yours.” the sternal android replied.

“Brainer give him the seeds.” Which surprised me. Then again, I guess even Hellibor even knew when to quit.

I extended my open palm. The android plucked one sample from my hand and scrutinized the vial. “This will do, where is the rest of our payment.”

“That is it. One seed for one person. You wanted double payment, so I have graciously allowed two seeds.” Hellibor stated with authority, I was hoping the machine would surrender to such a ridiculous request they deep down I knew what was to come.

“I do not take your humor lightly.” the android groaned.

“As you said before, there is nothing more valuable than a seed.”  It was a fool’s attempt, but none the less I could tell in that unfeeling machine’s eye, I had not impressed.

The android chuckles with this grating, artificial, inhuman laughter. “Now you, you know humor,” it said pointing to me. “I have a feeling however, this girl is worth far more to you than those seeds are to us. If you wish to continue your little game of negotiations, I will destroy her and call it a loss.” The smug masks melted off all our faces. I looked over to Hellibor to see if he wants to continue or not.  His body is stiff,  I could not read him at all, but I could see the fear of failure stabbed clear through him from the machines little comment.

It was right; we needed her far more than the androids needed our seeds. We had searched for years to find someone held in stasis, and now we had it. So close to the goal, Hellibor’s foolish pride was the only thing holding us back; and he would sacrifice his pride, because he must. “How many do you want?”

“As many as you have inside that little shelter of yours.”