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My Hover Craft is Full of Eels: Part Eight

While I was writing this scene, I kept flapping my hands around, trying to imagine two buildings on floating platforms connected with a rope.  I wanted to picture what happens when one pivots and sinks.  I think I need to build a better model and test it out in the bathtub.  Maybe I’ll toss in some Lego minifigs just to make it more exciting.  Lego eel?  Why not!

http://freeny.deviantart.com/art/Bionicle-MOC-Seasnake-131201360

I love the fact that someone has already built one.
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“What is it?” Japeth’s voice had ratcheted up into the hysterical range.

“Remember those things I told you about? The things that made you say I should get a real job? Well, they’re here.”

“Tube fish? But, but they’re small, harmless.”

“These are ten feet long and unlikely to be harmless. I think the feeding tendrils are envenomed. Did they touch you?”  Persephone remember how drowsy she’d been in the car last night.

“No,” Japeth replied. The raft tipped suddenly. They both staggered. “I don’t think we need to worry about the venom though. Those things are pulling the raft down.”

Japeth was right. The whole apartment was listing five degrees to port. Their floating composite foam foundation groaned like an old ship hull in a storm.

“You have a roof hatch?” The colony world had weather that required those kinds of safety features, at least in the floats.

Japeth nodded. The hatch was in the bedroom. It was an old-style manual with a plastic ring pull and a drop down ladder. The two women climbed out onto the flat roof of the apartment float. From there, Persephone took stock of the situation. The raft had listed further, the edge closest to the city completely submerged. The silt around the raft looked like it was boiling. Periodically a black snack like body would break the surface, roll and then vanish back into the muddy glop.

“Now what?” Japeth grabbed for Persephone to steady herself. The raft had lurched a few more degrees towards vertical.

Persephone looked around for a way out. The nearest floating building was six meters away, too far to jump even with a running start and Japeth’s roof didn’t provide all that much of a runway. She took a grapnel from her utility belt and tossed it towards the nearest roof.  It landed and Persephone slowly pulled it back. It didn’t catch, just skittered into the water. She cursed the slum lords and their cheap-o plastic tiles while she tried to pull the grapnel back. The movement seemed to attract the tube fish. Several of them surfaced and tried to swallow the thing. She cursed, let it go and pulled another from her belt. This time she aimed for a ventilation stack sticking out of the neighboring apartment. The line caught and she secured her end around a similar stack.

“No way. There’s no fuckin’ way I’m going across that,” Japeth said.

“Come on. We used to do this kind of stuff all the time.”

“You did. I was the tech guru, remember? And then I got a desk job.”

“You want me to go first?” Persephone volunteered.

“Tight-rope walking? Over tube-fish infested waters?”

“No dumb-ass. Hand-over-hand it.”

Japeth blinked.   Then reached for the line. She hesitated for a moment, long enough for the raft to lurch again. That was enough incentive for her to swing her feet down and hang from the line. She started inching along, her feet swinging.

Persephone watched and couldn’t help but call out suggestions. “You’re doing great. Just great. But seriously, You don’t have to keep both hands on the line. You’ll go faster if you reach and swing, reach and swing.”

“Shut the fuck up!” Japeth yelled.

“They’re blind, not deaf you know,” Persephone called back. Japeth inched along a little faster. Persephone waited for her to reach the neighbor’s raft before starting her own crossing. The cant of her raft had started to pull the two floating buildings closer together. She now had a slight uphill climb since the attachment point near her was dropping. Make that a moderate uphill climb. Those things were fucking strong and they seemed to work together. Persephone grasped the rope and swung her legs down.  She tried to move quickly using the reach and swing technique she suggested to Japeth. She quickly realized that it didn’t work. The plastic line was slick and the angle of her climb was now too steep. She kept both hands on the rope and slid them one at a time. She made it to the other side just as Japeth’s apartment raft reached vertical. It sank into the silt taking the grapnel and ventilation shaft with it.

Japeth groaned. “My home. My clothes. Everything.”

Persephone put a hand on her friend’s shoulder. “I’m sorry. I’m truly sorry. I…I don’t know how they found me. If I knew they were coming, I never would have come here. You know that right?”

Japeth looked at her, her eyes wide and red rimmed. “Just get the bastards. Okay. Find them and kill them.”

Persephone stared down at the muddy water. It was placid now, the only movement coming from the rain drops breaking the surface. Were the creatures still down there?  Did they realize that the women had escaped? “Finding them isn’t a problem. I mean this has to be eXime right? They must have tracked the break-in to me and to Albion, but there’s no way they could have followed me here…” Persephone trailed off while she mentally tallied everything she remembered about the break-in. Before she fried it, the security camera on the sixth floor had gotten a nice clear shot of her face. She had to assume they knew who she was, but how did they know she was associated with Albion and how had they tracked her to Japeth’s?  She’d spent all day inside trying to research how best to extract money from Albion. They could have traced her network activity, but that seemed unlikely. She’d used anonymous protocols to shield her identity. “No. I was inside all day,” she continued her thought process out loud. “Even if they were hunting with remote drones they couldn’t have seen me.”

“You were outside when I got home. Throwing jerky into the canal. Remember?” Japeth said.

Persephone winced. The image came back to her. Sitting at the edge of the raft, dangling her feet in the water, the jerky, the rat. She didn’t remember seeing any drones, but the things were stealthy. She should know. Then another possibility popped into head and she wanted to smack herself. “Arch called them guard dogs,” she said.

“Dogs?”

“Old Sol animals.”

Japeth glared at her. “I’m not ignorant. I went to school you know.”

“How far away is the eXime compound?”

“Why?”

“Dogs track by smell, right? What about these things?”

“Do we really need to have this discussion here? I mean they may come back. Pull down this raft as well.”

“Good point. You know who owns this raft?”

Japeth didn’t. They rapped on the roof, but no one answered.

“No one home. Not too surprising. If there was anyone in there they should have called the cops by now. All that shouting and getting jerked around when your raft went down.”

The strained look had left Japeth’s face, but it came right back at the mention of her submerged apartment. Persephone switched her goggles from visual to network mode, brought up a dialing directory and selected a taxi services that operated out of the floats.

“You have a transponder signal, ma’am? The dispatcher asked.

Persephone gave them the frequency for Japeth’s apartment. “There’s a small problem, though It’s under water.”

“Ma’am?” The dispatcher’s tone hovered somewhere between polite and skeptical.

“No really. We had to abandon ship. Some kind of structural failure. We climbed out onto an adjacent house boat. There’s no one home and we don’t know their operating frequency.”

“Any injuries? Do you need emergency services?”   Persephone had to talk him out of transferring her to the Float’s emergency line. She didn’t want to answer a lot of questions and get carted off to a hospital. Finally, the dispatcher grudgingly agreed to send a skiff.

“That frequency you gave me will still work. Transponders are rated to depths of 100 meters for salvage purposes. It’ll get the driver close enough. Just shout and wave when you see the boat with our logo.”

Persephone closed the call and informed Japeth that there was a boat on the way. Her friend looked at Persephone, then at the water and back again.

“You think it’s safe? I mean what if those things attack the boat?”

“Do you want to stay up here all night?”

Japeth admitted that she didn’t. A decicycle later they heard the puttering noise of an approaching boat. The yellow inflatable cab emerged from behind a cluster of residential buildings, its search-light bobbing. They hailed the craft and scrambled down off the roof to meet it. Perspehone told the driver to take them to the Sky Ark docks.

“Big explosion in that part of the city, ma’am. District is locked down.”

“East Bay then.” That was near one of Persephone’s apartments. It was time to risk a trip home. The tube-fish were unlikely to be able to track them there. After all, Persephone’s apartment was in a high rise building firmly affixed to the concrete foundation that supported center city. No silt, no drifting, no where for the creatures to swim. Unless they came in through the sewer lines. Just in case, Persephone was extra careful to keep her hands and feet inside the cab at all times and she left Japeth to wait in a coffee shop while she cased out the place.

“It’s the building right across the street. I’ll call you as soon as I know it’s safe.”

Her apartment building was a fifteen story ring built around an open central lobby. The doorman recognized her with a polite nod and she walked in. The lobby had an artificial light system that claimed to mimic real Old Sol sunlight. It was currently set in its dusk phase with just the faintest hint of stars. Imitation gas lamps lined the walkways and lit up the plants.  The place was advertised as possessing all the ‘romantic charm of a fairy garden’ complete with ‘lush foliage and the soothing sounds of many fountains’. Persephone gave the central fountain a wide berth and summoned the elevator. This one was glass and gave her a nice view of the lobby on her ride up to the eighth floor.  She was relieved to see that there was nothing moving down there.

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Stories on the Go

Amazon calls this a showcase of recent indie writers.  I’m one of them!  Although probably the least experienced of the bunch.  My story “Welcome Home Mrs. Lee” is a cheerful little science fiction tale of plastic surgery and murder.  I have to say a big thanks to author Frank Zubek for suggesting that I join this project.  Also, a big thanks to author and editor Andrew Ashling for putting it all together.

http://www.amazon.com/Stories-Go-Very-Short-Authors-ebook/dp/B00R1GECO6/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1419211577&sr=1-1&keywords=Stories+on+the+Go

Disclaimer:  No eels were killed in the making of this post.


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My Hover Craft is Full of Eels: Part Seven

When I was writing this scene, I was thinking about the Bechdel test.  I was not thinking about the World Trade Center bombing.  What I ended up with is a conversation between two women interrupted by a falling building.  I feel slightly embarrassed.  This is a pulp sci fi story.  It has too little gravitas for my subconscious to be sneaking in images of real world terror.  Also, Persephone’s callous reaction now means that I hate my main character.  I’m thinking about killing her off…..

Featured image from:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Trade_Center

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Persephone woke up to the smell of mud and sewage. The janitor’s uniform was gone as were the papers. Her panicked searching brought Japeth back into the room.

“Mr. Albion has them. He said he’d get back to you about payment.” Japeth’s lips were pursed. She looked like she’d been chewing on something rancid.

“He’ll pay. He’s okay.” Persephone suddenly wasn’t sure about that.

Japeth shrugged. “Yeah well. Mr. Okay patted my ass on the way out. I wasn’t impressed.”

Persephone wanted to say something positive, but the best she could manage was “His family has the money at least.”

“What was the job?”

Persephone relayed the eXime story to Japeth.

“H-craft racing? Giant tube-fish in the fountain?” Japeth’s eyebrows had nearly vanished into her hairline. She shook her head. “When are you going to get a real job?”

Persephone grimaced. They’d had this conversation before and probably would again. They’d grown up in the slums together, both children of Old Sol families that had been hit hard by the metal riots. They used to work jobs together back when Persephone was building a client base. Japeth had seen it as a means to help destabilize the New Regime government, Persephone had seen it as a profitable calling. Japeth had left when Persephone had agreed to work a government contract. She claimed that she was leaving to make something more of her life, but Persephone was pretty sure it was just her feelings for the New Regime. Persephone had accused her of being unrealistic and Japeth had accused Persephone of selling out. That ended their partnership. Japeth had gone on to make a name for herself as one of the best Sublimators in the colony. Sublimators took scrap metal and converted it into new tech. The best were able to create circuits with only the minimal amount of material. They could spin wires that were angstroms thick and that still performed efficiently. Japeth was the reason that Persephone was able to afford so many cameras and other forms of electronics. That didn’t keep her from chiding Persephone about her job choices.

“Hey. The New Regime Is sponsoring eXime. Once upon a time that would have been a good enough reason for us to trash their office.”

Japeth shrugged. “Stealing form a minor H-craft manufacturer to benefit a major manufacturer hardly constitutes a change in the status quo.”

“If they’re so minor than why does the government have their hand in this.”

“Bread and circuses. It’s what the New Regime does best.”

“This is bigger than that. I feel it.”

“Feel? You?” Japeth snorted. “I gotta go to work.” She waved Persephone in the direction of the kitchen and told her to help herself.

“I’ll pay you,” Persephone blurted. “I mean for putting me up for a couple of days.”

Japeth met her gaze for a second, then looked away and sighed. “Honey. I wish you had something that I wanted.”

Japeth took the only boat leaving Persephone to chew over their last conversation. Where did Japeth get off on being so superior?   All she had was this two-room floating apartment in the lowest rent district of town. Persephone had two apartments in the city center.

To ease her mind she sent a message to Arch. She suggested that it would be wise for Albion to wait before making the cash transfer to her account for the work she’d performed. eXime knew about the break-in and might be tracking financial transfers in an effort to see who was behind it.

About an hour later she got a message back saying that no payment would be forthcoming since the documents that she’d acquired were of no value

Despite her rage, Persephone still managed to keep her response professional. “I acquired classified documents as requested. Payment is warranted.”

The response was irritatingly brief. “The documents contained the chasis designs but no reference to the engine mechanism. Payment will be rendered if you provide the engine specifications.”

Did they think that she was withholding something from the break-in? That was ridiculous. Arch had been watching the entire time. Did she have any legal course? She tried to imagine enlisting a lawyer. ‘Well…I was hired to perform a crime and now they won’t pay me.” That wouldn’t fly even in a colony court of law.. She’d just have to hack the Albion accounts in order to extract the money that was her due. She spent the rest of the day trying to figure out how to accomplish that.

Japeth arrive home at dusk to find Persephone sitting on the edge of the apartment raft, tossing bits of dried tube-fish into the canal. A rat sat on a nearby raft avidly watching each piece of meat vanish into the muck.

“Good day?” Japeth asked.

“Albion won’t pay me.” Persephone groused, then whipped the remaining scrap of meat at the water. The rat glared at her. “I don’t need your lip.” Persephone addressed the rodent. Then she wadded up the wrapper and threw it at the animal.

“Umm. Don’t.” Japeth said. “I haven’t seen one of those in weeks.”

“What are you talking about?   Rats are everywhere.” And this one was a particularly sorry looking specimen. It was emaciated and was missing en eye.

“They used to be,” Japeth replied. “They’ve gotten scarce. Like a lot of things.”

The rat plunged into the mud and paddled in the direction of the vanished jerky. Persephone watched it dive and not come up again. She shook her head.   “Sorry, I’m in a mood. I should get dinner together.”

Japeth joined her in the kitchen and together they put together a nice spread. Green house grown lettuce, rice (one of the few earth crops that grew fairly well in the colony’s wet conditions) and chicken.

“Where ever did you get a whole chicken?” Persephone stared at the naked little carcass in awe.

“Oh. You know.   I take on jobs for barter sometimes. People in the shanty towns don’t always have credits. And you keep telling me to move into the city.”   Japeth smiled triumphantly. “We take care of each other out here.”

By the time the bird came out of the oven, Persephone’s awe had turned to something approaching worship. “It. It smells like food.” Six generations in the colony and countless generations on ships and humans still craved Earth produce. They didn’t bother with forks. They pulled the thing apart and ate with their hands.

“You have rice on your chin.”

Persephone wiped it off and smiled. “You always were a neat freak. But seriously, what do I owe you. For the food, and for staying here and everything.”

That was apparently the wrong thing to say. Japeth got up and started washing. Persephone hung back but eventually grabbed a towel.

“It’s the weather,” She said.

“What?” Japeth asked.

“Typhoons. Mud waves. It’s why I say you should move into the city. I mean how many people sank last spring?”

As if on cue, there was a dull boom outside and the apartment raft shuddered throwing Persephone to the floor. Japeth kept her feet and turned towards the door. She was outside before Persephone could say,”Wait.”

Persephone scrambled to her feet and followed her friend. Streetlights in center city normally came on at dusk and gave the low hanging clouds a grey-orange tint.   There was black area now and what looked like smoke pouring up to the join the clouds.

“Blown transformer?” Persephone asked.

“Too much smoke”

“What part of the city is that?”  An interesting side effect of staying in the floats was that your view changed constantly. Persephone wasn’t accustomed to it anymore. Japeth checked her transponder.

“Silt-flow sent us west last night. That means we’re looking at the Ark district. That big building is Sky Ark tower. That cloud is over…” Japeth trailed off and glanced at Perephone. “Well. It’s over the Albion engineering complex.”

Perephone drew a quick breath. “Isn’t Dete there as well? I mean we’re miles out.” She reached for her goggles before remembering that she’d borrowed some clothes from Japeth and didn’t have her equipment belt. She went in to find it. Goggles in place, she selected low-light and magnification and that brought the smoke cloud into sharp focus. She could see tendrils of heat radiating up to the clouds like the branches of a skeletal tree. The device must have burned intensely hot to leave so much residual. There were no visible flames now of course. Everything was too saturated to catch.

“Damn it. That was Albion. Now, I’m definitely not getting paid.”

Japeth shook her head, but Persephone didn’t notice, still completely absorbed in the magnified view of the engineering complex. She’d found the building at the base of the column of smoke, The top was shattered, but most of the structure still stood. Correct that. It had just collapsed in on itself spewing more smoke. The residual heat signature looked less like a tree and more like a maelstrom now. The building’s collapse had stirred the smoke and clouds into a frenzy. In the city center, the collapse probably sounded like a roar, all the way out here it was just a rattling sigh. It still made their raft quiver.

“Can you see people?” Japeth asked.

Persephone shook her head. “Don’t tell me you’re worried about Mr. pat-my-ass Albion?”

“A lot of people work there. A lot of people might have just died.”
Persephone pulled her goggles off. That brought Japeth’s agonized face back into focus. “Maybe not so many,” she mumbled. “I mean it’s late. Maybe they all went home?” she finished lamely. The raft was still rocking under her feet, it seemed stronger now. Shouldn’t it be dying down after that shock wave? She stared down at the mud-streaked platform then froze.

“Japeth,” she said as calmly as she could manage. “Get inside. Now.”

“What? Why?”   Japeth took in the direction of Persephone’s gaze and her eyes went wide. “What….what is that?” There were black tendrils groping over the edge of the raft. Hundreds of them, identical to the vine-like feeding tendrils that Persephone had seen in the eXime compound. It looked like a swarm of glistening snakes.

Persephone lunged for Japeth, pulled her through the door and slammed the thing shut. The raft shuddered and lurched.   Outside, the platform was nothing but a writhing mass. Persephone slammed windows shut and pulled the interior storm shutters across each opening.


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My Hover Craft is Full of Eels: Part Six

Eels!  Or eel-like things at least..  Also, some shooting and running around.

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Persephone had timed her entrance to be slightly in advance of the night shift start time. That way she’d hoped to just look like a zealous employee. She’d known that she would probably have to dodge the actual cleaning staff, but hadn’t planned to be sitting on top of the elevator when they arrived.   Stairs? Not practical, the top floor was probably card access, alarmed or both. She dropped down into the elevator, walked the stool out and came back. She jumped for the hole in the elevator roof, pulled herself up and cemented her improvised hatch back into place. She climbed the elevator cable to the 6th floor landing, reached into her janitor’s uniform and pulled a telescoping rod off her utility belt. She shook the rod out with one hand and used it to release the interlock on the hoistway doors. The doors were still closed of course, but now she could push them open.   She used her feet to achieve that since her hands were busing holding onto the cable and telescoping rod. Her feet kept slipping on the doors, but she was finally able to move them. She adjusted her handholds to put her back to the now open doors and carefully extended her legs until her heels were on the landing. Then she shimmied up as high as she could go while still keeping her feet in place. She pushed off just in time. The elevator was descending leaving her teetering on the edge of a much bigger drop. She hadn’t been too worried about falling initially since the roof of the elevator would have caught her after only one story. Now, confronted with the dark shaft and moving cable she felt queasy. She edged back from the drop.

She was in a hallway with several doors, plastic of course, but with a faux wood grain. They had plaques on them, with enlightening labels like “Conference Room 1”. She tried the handle on the one labeled “Andromeda Spencer, CEO”. She scanned the hallway for cameras. Probably should have done that as soon as she forced her way out of the elevator shaft, but she’d been flustered. There was a camera that covered the entire length of the hallway. No reason to be subtle anymore. She deployed her emp device and the camera crackled, sparked and died. She used her cutter to open a circle in the door, reached through and twisted the handle

Inside there was a spacious office suite containing a glass topped desk and chair surrounded by a vast expanse of oatmeal colored carpeting.   Persephone wondered how Ms. Spencer could stand the austerity; no computer, no filing cabinet, not even a pencil holder. The only touch of color came from some lithographs that depicted an H-craft race, an Old Sol rocket launch, and a sunset over a colony mud flat. That last artist had taken some liberties and displayed more oranges and reds then their wan little star usually produced.  She reached under the middle drawer feeling for a latch and found a press button instead. That made the surface of the desk light up and request a password. One of her tech contacts had supplied her with a data crystal pass key that she could use to force most operating systems, but she couldn’t find an access port. She resisted the temptation to kick the desk and instead scanned the room again. Her eyes lingered on the racing poster. Was it too obvious to store product schematics behind a picture of said product? Apparently not. There was a safe back there. No time to try automated code cracking, she just packed in an explosive charge, blew the door off, and grabbed for the contents. There was paper and memory crystals. She stuffed them into her uniform, returned to the hallway and ran for the stairs. The elevator dinged behind her. Security had finally arrived in the form of a Jasperite rental cop.

He shouted “Stop!” of course. It was what they were trained to do. She plunged through the door setting off an unnecessary alarm. She took the stairs as quickly as she could while the cop fired at her from the sixth floor landing. Ceramic projectiles shattered on the walls sending sharp bits ricocheting around the stairwell. One of them scored a line on her cheek.

“I’m really slipping here,” she muttered.

“I’m coming in,” Arch said.

“Hell no! I’m coming out.” Persephone was on the third floor, the rental cop on the fourth. He was still showering the walls with composite so she paused just long enough to drop a smoke pellet. The stairway quickly filled with a dense brown fog. She was gratified to hear the guy coughing, but the idiot was still strafing the stairwell. She kept running. The goggles kept the smoke out of her eyes, but she still had to breathe the stuff. It had an acrid hydrocarbon tang and she was wheezing by the time she hit the first floor. She pushed open the door and stumbled into the lobby in a billow of self-generated smog. She dashed for the exit to the courtyard, passing within ten feet of a surprised looking janitor. Must be the guy that Arch had seen going in. He had enough time to say, “Umm. Hey.” Before she was out the door.

The courtyard was swimming in spot lights. Persephone winced and yanked off her goggles. “I’m gonna scale the wall and drop down to the east side. Get the car over there.” She didn’t want to risk going back out though the front security check point. That was the one flanked by the two guard towers.   She’d taken three steps before her eyes had fully adapted to the glare. When they finally did, she shrieked. The fountain was full of writhing shapes, they were spilling over into the courtyard. There were so many of them it was hard to make out the individual forms. They were black, shiny, snake-like things that moved with a sidewinder motion.

“Are you getting this?” Persephone asked.

“Your camera’s pointing at the ground.” Arch replied.

She raised her goggles and headed for the eastern wall. The creatures were spreading fast. If she dawdled they’d fill the courtyard and she’d be cut off.

“Guard dogs?” Arch replied.

The swarm swept towards her. “Well. They are homing in on me. Don’t see any eyes though.” Now that they were closer she could make out individuals in the mass. They resembled tube fish, only bigger. Tube fish were native mud dwellers and consisted of a ring of muscle surrounding a channel full of sharp teeth. Different species had tentacles that extended either fore or aft that they used for locomotion and feeding. Anything they grabbed ended up stuffed into their oral channel and would be processed by the rotary motion of their teeth. Tube fish grew to about six inches long. The ones coming at her were ten feet and that didn’t include their terminal tentacles, one of which was groping at her foot.

She fired a grapnel and pulled herself up. The creatures on the near edge of the swarm reared up in concert and flung themselves against the wall. She could feel the tremor of their bodies thrashing down there. She was relieved to see that they couldn’t climb, but they could extend their feeding tendrils well up the wall. She pulled herself up quickly, but still had to saw a tentacle loose from her ankle before she could drop down the other side. The wall behind her looked like it was covered in glistening black vines.

She slipped into the car and Arch started driving. The treads tossed up water from the pavement behind them, but their progress seemed slow and dream-like. She was understandably tired. The elevator, the cop, the monsters. All the running and climbing.

“Note to self. Smoke pellets aren’t great in a stairwell.”

Arch cleared his throat. “Your face is bleeding.”

“Superficial.” She swiped it off with the back of her hand. At least the tread car was warm. Her uniform wasn’t clammy anymore. It had a moist clingy heat and smelled soapy and sweaty. Eau du Janitor, maybe?

“You’re falling asleep.”

Persephone jerked. “No I’m not.” The she shook her head. “We in low town?”

“Yeah. Plan was to drop you off at your apartment.”

Persephone kept two of those, one for an official address and one for emergencies: both cozy and quiet. She couldn’t wait to get out of this car and into a shower. Maybe a cup of something warm first?

“Persephone!”

She jerked again. “Why are you shouting?”

“Try to stay with me. We’re being followed.”

The tiny rear window was a dark square streaked with rain. There were nothing but central city building’s out there. She was about to say that it was clear, but then spotted a pair of lights on the road behind them. Above those lights there was a third, flashing orange. “Cops. Jasperite or New Regime?”

“I didn’t stop to ask.”

Everything had gone bad after the elevator. She needed a safe place. “Can you get me to the floats?” That was the most peripheral portion of shanty town. The building there didn’t have stilts. They tended to drift and in bad weather, sink. She had friends there.

“We’re driving to Albion. Doctor there can help you.”

“Seriously? You want them to track this back to your company?” She advertised discrete services and had never accidentally or consciously revealed the identity of the people that hired her. But then her clients usually had the good sense to leave her alone to do her job.

“You need medicine. You keep passing out.”

“No. I need sleep,” she said as patiently as she could manage. “You keep waking me up.” She popped the door and then recoiled from the moving pavement. She fumbled wildly for the door handle. Her hand connected and she dragged it closed.

“Don’t do that again.”

The cold and rain splatter had restored some of her wits. “Take me to the floats.”

“You expect me to drive there?” Canals served as streets for the shanty town.

“Just drop me at the docks.”

“You’re in no shape to pilot a boat. What’s the transponder address?” Since the locations in the floats move, each residence or business had a frequency. If you knew it, you could home in on it. Otherwise, it was just a confusing floating mess. She gave him the contact frequency and the next thing she remembered was being lifted out of a boat.

“Japeth?” She muttered. Her friend’s pale face and lank black hair shimmered like a mirage. Only the eyes were steady, worried.   Arch and Japeth lowered her onto a pallet.

“The ground’s moving,” Persephone protested.

“Yeah, honey. It does that. Just go to sleep,” Japeth murmured.


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My Hover Craft is Full of Eels: Part Five

This was my third NaNoWriMo and my first ‘failure’.  I didn’t manage to spew 50,000 words last month.  Regardless, I like this story better than my two ‘successes’.  I’ll keep plugging.  In this installment, we have elevators and fish tanks.  How exciting.

Featured image from:  http://a-z-animals.com/animals/moray-eel/

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“I still think I should go in.”

“Why so jumpy?”

“Umm. Well. It’s possible the government might have had a hand in designing security for the place.”

Persephone gave him a cold glare. Her computer contact hadn’t turned up that piece of information. “And you’re only just mentioning this?”

“Hey. I told you the government was sponsoring their racing team.”

“I could have figured that out by the decals on their damn cars. You should have given me everything you had after I agreed to take the case. What do you know?”

“Well, one of our contacts said to look out for the guard dogs.”

“Dogs? Seriously.” Persephone had her cameras trained on the eXime compound for the past week in an effort to see if there was any kind of roving security force. Behind that wall there were two buildings, the larger a manufacturing facility and the smaller an office tower, separated by a courtyard. She’d used drones to give her top-down coverage of the compound and had set them up to run all night. After dark, the drones recorded nothing moving in the courtyard except the slow trickle of the mud fountain. Those had grown in popularity and were now pretty common in civic and business buildings across the city. You could purchase them inoculated with many different colors of algae. The eXime one was a vivid turquoise blue. Not that that would matter in the dark.

“Well, I got the impression that the word dog was in air quotes. Some kind of animal. eXBioform is the parent company after all. Probably something derived from the natural fauna.”

Persephone relaxed. There were only three broad classifications of native fauna none of which got any bigger than your average squirrel. There were arthropods (30 species and counting), tube fish (10 species) and mud flat worms (90 species). There were rats of course but they were an import. They’d stepped off the ships with the first Old Sol colonists and were in the process of eating their way through much of the local life forms. In that respect, they were less picky than many of the colonists, excluding Mr. Adams of course.

“I’ll just have to work fast. I won’t be spending much time outside anyway. It’s unlikely they’ll let their guard beasts roam around the inside of the office building.”

“It’s just that I know you prefer to work unarmed and….”

Persephone cut him off. “I’ve survived this long . Don’t you think, I…” She was sliding then and ended up pitching into Arch’s shoulder.   He’d taken a corner a bit too fast and the treads had barely caught.  Persephone straightened up and cleared her throat. “Easy there. Looks like I’m more likely to get injured in this car than in the eXime compound.” She shot Arch a quick look.

He seemed to be concentrating on the road, but his right arm was resting lightly on the back of Persephone’s seat.   He gave her shoulder an awkward pat, pulled his arm back, and stopped the car.

“We’re here.”

“Anything you want to tell me before I go?” She inquired. “I mean about their security.” Anything non job related could wait. Or better yet, never get mentioned.

Arch shrugged. “Just don’t get hurt. Okay?”

“Done.” She slid out of the car, pulled her goggles back into place and strode for the gate. Mr. Adam’s badge got her through without a hitch and she stepped into the courtyard.   There was a spot-light on the fountain, but it was easy enough to skirt the lighted area. The fabrication facility loomed on her right with the office tower across the courtyard. She could keep in the shadows of the factory building and work her way across the open space without getting anywhere near the fountain. She was halfway across the courtyard, when a light flicked on in the manufacturing wing. It was shining from a small window in the warehouse wall. It cast a hazy orange pool of light against the side of the building and turned the raindrops into a silver curtain. She froze trapped between the new light source and the spot-lit fountain. She opted to keep moving along the warehouse wall. Someone might be working late, but they’d need to be looking straight down from that window in order to see her. If she moved away from the wall, she’d be an easier target. She cautiously stepped into the light from the window and was relieved when no one cried an alarm. No rent-a-cops, no ‘dogs’. Five strides later, she was stepping back into the shadows when she heard a scream. It came from the lighted window, trailed off into a guttural whimper and then fell silent.

Her earpiece crackled, “Tell me that wasn’t you,” Arch demanded.

“Get off the line. I’m trying to listen.” She snapped. Shortly after the scream she’d heard a sloshing noise from the fountain. She looked back and forth between the window and the center of the courtyard trying to decide what sound deserved her immediate attention. Screaming was more ominous than sloshing so she opted for the window. She fired a grapnel up the side of the manufacturing wing and hoisted herself up to the level of the window. Her stolen uniform was sopping wet and felt like an anchor. Poor Mr. Adams. Apparently, the cheap bastards hadn’t bothered with water resistant material. That meant the company deserved to get broken into.

She was looking down into a large space filled with machinery and the partially assembled chassis of one of the H-craft. A more complete model rested at the end of the assembly line, it’s hood popped. There was a woman down there, and another figure, man or woman lying at her feet. The woman tossed something into the engine compartment and then slammed the hood closed. The machine rose from the ground, jerked a few time and then subsided.

Arch’s voice tickled her ear again. “I’ve seen her at the track. One of the eXime drivers. Myra Holloway.   No one else has hair like that.” The woman’s head was covered by an amazing mane of bunt orange curls. “What the hell is she doing?”

“Damned if I know, but that guy on the floor isn’t moving.” The driver left the guy lying there and walked over to the wall. She flicked a switch and the lights went out.

Persephone strained to listen, but no more unusual sounds came from the warehouse or the fountain. She let herself drop back to the ground and moved quickly towards the office building. She didn’t want to be caught out in the courtyard in case Ariadne or anyone else came out.

“Whatever it was, we got it on tape. I’m going into the office tower now.” She wasn’t sure why, but narrating her thoughts to Arch made her feel better. Her key card worked on the office door, and she mouthed a silent ‘thank-you’ to the absent Mr. Adams.

Once she was inside, she brought up a map of the office tower on her goggles. It was a construction schematic so she knew where the rooms were, she just didn’t know what they were. This was the part of the plan where things got dicey. The part where careful surveillance of the exterior of the building was no help anymore. Were there access checkpoints inside the building? Security cameras? Armed guards?   And where precisely would the eXime execs keep their top secret blue prints? Would they be digital or hard copy.   It would be prudent of them to have both considering the unreliable nature of the colony power supply. She decided to start at the top and work her way down.

The first floor was just lobby space containing an unstaffed information desk. Signs indicated the direction of bathrooms and the elevator. She scanned the walls for cameras, saw a few red lights. The front door was being monitored and the elevator, but with any luck they wouldn’t notice that her uniform didn’t fit. She shuffled across the lobby water oozing from her pant legs, and waited for the elevator.

The building had six floors, the top was card access. She swiped her badge, but the button didn’t light up. Crap. Apparently, the executive suites had executive janitors. She punched in floors one through four and glanced out at each one as she rode up. It was all lab space packed with refrigerators, freezers, shakers, bakers and candle stick makers? She really wasn’t sure what half the stuff was. One thing was clear though, eXime had cornered the market on fish tanks. They were full of liquid silt, pretty much the same stuff that covered the planet. The tanks on floor four all had elaborate lid assemblies, with a turn crank and a claw like locking mechanism.

“You getting this?” Persephone whispered.

“Yeah. Weird, but they are an exBioform spin off.”

“Should I check one?” She tapped the glass on one of the sealed tanks. The silt swirled and then something inside smashed against the glass. Persephone jumped back.

“That was big,” She muttered.

“Just see what’s upstairs,” Arch advised.

“Great idea. Fantastic.” Persephone grabbed a lab stool and backed away from the tank. She punched the elevator button and went in with the stool when the car arrived. She barely glanced at the fifth floor. It was a cubicle farm. Desks, some antiquated computers, a pair of ethanol back-up generators. Apparently, eXime didn’t want to be caught flat-footed during a brown-out.

“I’m going up to the sixth floor.”

“How?” Arch queried.

“Watch and learn.”

Persephone didn’t bother punching a floor. She just let the doors close and then considered the roof. The elevator wasn’t metal, of course. She had a ceramic and glass cutter, the thing that had let her into the janitor’s apartment. In this case, she’d have to cut a hatch big enough for her to crawl through. She stood on the stool, etched a rectangle in the roof and punched it. It didn’t budge. She ran the etcher around a second time and smacked again. Her improvised hatch popped out and she pulled herself out into the elevator shaft.

“Persephone. Guy in a uniform like yours just went through the gate.”