Thursday, September 20, 2018

The Failing Frontier 15 - The Quest for El Dorado

Jubal was bored. He sat on a public bench, glancing around for his droid head unconsciously before remembering that he didn't have it anymore. He sighed and resumed scanning the crowd as they filtered through the slowly revolving doors. They came in groups or individually, most were in a hurry, some seemed lost. All of them had big plans. All except for Ari Sarkissian.

Ari walked into the airport without any luggage, wearing a casual outfit and trying to hide his identity with a baseball cap and sunglasses. He stopped as soon at he reached the departures board and stared at it, lifeless and frozen. He was sufficiently engrossed that he didn't notice Jubal walking up behind him, and only turned when Jubal grabbed his upper arm with considerable force.

“I knew you'd turn up here sooner or later,” Jubal whispered.

“What--” he sputtered in surprise. “You? You work for me, don't you?”

“I used to, yes,” Jubal answered quietly as he led Sarkissian to a corner. “But that was just a front, so that I could get close to you to claim the bounty on your head.”

Ari blanched and looked around frantically. “I--I can pay you,” he stammered desperately.

“Oh relax,” Jubal laughed. “I've received a better offer. Do you happen to know of a little junkyard operation called Moe's?”

“Are you joking?” Sarkissian stared at him in confusion and pulled his arm free of Jubal's grasp.

“I'll take that as a no. Well old Moe has certainly heard of you. He has a rather high opinion of you as well. He's putting together a crew for an operation--”

“Sorry, not interested,” Ari interrupted him. “I'm done, I'm just--”

“--to recover a lost horde of gold bars,” Jubal interrupted back.

Sarkissian's jaw dropped open. Jubal watched the confusion and avarice wrestling in Ari's eyes. The avarice won.

“I thought so,” Jubal said with a smile.

He started walking out of the airport without looking back. A few moments later, Sarkissian caught up with him.

“How much is a horde exactly?” he asked.

“Oh, just the entire contents of one of the most successful pre-war bank's vaults,” Jubal answered coyly.

“I see. And why--”

Jubal's phone rang, and he held an index finger to Sarkissian's lips as he answered it.

“The first package has been secured, Moe.”

“Well that's just dandy,” came Moe's friendly voice. “Your droid is coming along nicely, by the way. Oh and you'll never guess who just walked into my shop.”

“Edward Wierczyk, exactly as you predicted,” Jubal answered drily.

“Well, yes,” Moe began patiently, ”but he's brought a new, uh, friend with him. You may remember her from your first visit to my shop.”

“Jane fucking Kelley,” Jubal hissed.

Sarkissian's eyes widened at the name.

“But she was-- I just--” he stammered, his face reddening. Jubal pushed his index finger into Ari's lips again.

“That's a deal breaker, Moe,” Jubal growled into his phone.

Moe chuckled amiably in reply. “Oh son, we both know I'm the one holding all the cards here.”

Jubal ground his teeth together and gave Sarkissian a forced smile.

“I'm sure we'll all get along just fine,” he answered bitterly.

“You'd better,” Moe replied cheerfully, “or else you won't have much of a chance against those Infernals, will ya?”

Monday, September 17, 2018

The Failing Frontier 14 - Ari's Pound of Flesh

Ari had picked a random direction. He walked for what felt like an hour in his boxers through deserted streets. It seemed like a miracle that they found him, but they did. Around a corner, just like the last dozen he had walked past was a limousine. A well dressed driver made eye contact with Ari and nodded ever so slightly.

"Mr. Sarkissian, our patron requests a moment of your time."

His first instinct was to run, but that would be pointless. Ari had been contacted like this before for his real job.

"Please wear these.", the driver offered Ari some basic clothing, which he prompted put on and stepped into the vehicle.
The interior was dark and all light disappeared as the driver closed the door behind him. Ari sat and stared where he knew Kitano Takeshi, or his simulacrum would be sitting. A few tense moments later the limousine started the move and two small eye-shaped lights flickered to life, barely illuminating a Proxy-Mech.

The mech was an android, its AI designed to mimic perfectly a person's actions and decisions. It could also self destruct if it detected any attempt to capture it. It allowed those that could afford them to put themselves in potentially dangerous situation in total safely and if need be, total anonymity. In this case, the Proxy-Mech was a copy of Hei Long's CEO Kitano Takeshi.

"You've become a liability Mr. Sarkissian. We will no longer be requiring your services as a courier."

Ari knew the Kitano was right. The whole point of being a courier was being able to attract as little attention as possible. If he was being hunted for a bounty he could no longer guarantee he could deliver.

It continued,
"You will receive a generous compensation package..."

"Wait, I can..." Ari interjected, but he had nothing to add, no reason he wouldn't cut him out if he was in their position.

"Ari," the Android's tone softened, the business tone was gone. It reached over with a cold metal hand and placed it on his shoulder. "It's over. You've had a good run. You helped the company get where it is today, and the board hasn't forgotten that. You've got a golden parachute coming your way. Take the money, change your name and face, move to Tahiti." The android sat back in its chair. The business tone returned, "credits have been tranfered to your account. The driver will take you wherever you want to go. Thank you for your service."

The Android sat back and Ari heard the metallic grind that meant the Android was physically destroying its memory so that it was totally unrecoverable. The Android's joint locked up, it was nothing more than fancy shell now, and with it died Ari's career, the business he had poured his entire life into since he was a teenager.
Ari sat in the back for several minutes just processing. The last few days had seen the entire life he'd built for himself crumble around him. His career, his reputation, he could never show his face in the racing circuit again without the fear of getting straight up assassinated. The one thing he had left was the money. Kitano's advice was solid. He could be on a beach in Maui with a new identity by tomorrow.
Ari's finger pressed the intercom button but he remained silent, the driver's voice came over the intercom,


Is that enough? Ari asked himself. Didn't it make sense to finally let himself stop fighting for more? Couldn't he just be?

"Take me to the airport.", saying the words felt like ripping off an arm.

"Of course sir."

The limousine started to move and Ari stared out the window. Looking at the city that had been his home his entire life, he just felt bitter.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Chapter 13 - Eddie Indulges Himself in a Road Side Snack

Edward watched as Ari walked away, and smiled to himself.

“He should have listened to you,” said the voice. “The road he now walks...”

“Yeah, I know. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t happy about it. Guy’s a piece of crap.”

“So are you.”

“Did I ask for commentary?”

Edward turned back and looked at Jane on the floor. She would die without help, but Edward had no idea where they were or where Jane was taking them, and from the looks of it, they’d driven to somewhere pretty remote. He didn’t particularly want to see her dead. She was a good egg in a bad position, and she’d saved his life in that fight on Titan. He owed her for that, and if he let her die right here instead of saving her in return, he didn’t think he could live with himself.

Edward sighed to himself, approached Jane, and started rooting around in her pockets for any kind of communication device. Nothing. She’d taken his away when she’d “caught” him. “What do I do here?” he asked out loud.

“Are you asking me to help? You know I need something in return if you ask me for something beyond the terms of our existing agreement.”

Edward groaned. “What do you want?”

“Hmm. A Hand? Her hand.”

“Too much.”

“Yes, it is, but she’ll die otherwise.”

Edward rubbed at his face. This whole thing was too much. He needed Jane alive for more than his altruistic reasons. She knew where Oren was. She was taking Edward right to him before this whole episode. If he saved her, she might be willing to share the information, but he doubted that would be the case if he took her hand away.

“How about a finger?” he asked out loud.

“Ooh. In the mood to bargain are we? All the fingers on one hand.”

“No! I might as well take the whole hand at that point. Two fingers.”

The voice remained quiet while it considered its position. The pause lasted a good thirty seconds. “Agreed, but I choose the fingers.”

“Okay, done.” Edward sat down onto his rear, took Jane’s left hand in his own and lifted it. “Which one first?”

“Pinky please,” said the voice. Edward grabbed the hand firmly between his own, and lifted it towards his mouth. He pushed the little finger in up to the knuckle and bit down hard, his teeth pressing deep into the flesh. Jane thankfully didn’t stir as he chewed through the flesh and bone where the joint met. The process took a few seconds, Jane’s blood pumping erratically into his mouth and throat, and dripping down his chin and shirt. He effortlessly swallowed the finger whole.


“Okay,” said Edward. “Which finger next?”

“Pinky please.”


Once Edward was done mutilating both of Jane’s hands, the voice indicated that he needed something sharp to get the job done. Jane had taken back her shimmer blade when she’d accosted him, and it was this that he drew from her belt. “So?”

“Stab her in the heart.”


The voice laughed for a long time in his head. “Oh, Eddie, you’re too easy. Just cut your hand and feed her the blood. Honestly.”

Edward did as he was told, drawing the blade across his palm, using his fingers to part her lips, and dripping the blood into her throat. He winced as he executed the process. “How much blood does she need?” he asked, but as he did, she screamed and sat bolt upright, nearly head butting him in the process, before throwing up a pink tinged fluid all over the road. When that was done, she fell back to her rear, and raised her hands up to her face.

“What the fuck, Eddie?”

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The Failing Frontier 12 - Jubal's New Deal

Jubal watched the laser beam blast through Jane’s shoulder. Her eyes wide in surprise, she glanced at her cratered shoulder, back at Jubal, then collapsed. Jubal approached her carefully and kicked the carving knife away. He watched blood trickle to the floor, but the blast had been hot enough to cauterize the wound almost completely. It would only take a few minutes for normal clotting to occur and for the bleeding to stop altogether. She would survive. So now he needed to decide, should he kill her for derailing his surgery? Or did being a fellow Red Hand member entitle her to live?

“I've got enough trouble without worrying about Red Hand repercussions,” Jubal said to the unconscious Jane.

He turned back to the window and zoomed in. Edward was talking to Moe and Jubal could just manage to read their lips. He caught enough words to conclude that Edward wanted a bike delivered to Hei Long. Their transaction apparently completed, Edward turned and walked away, apparently in quite a hurry. Jubal considered chasing after him, after all he hadn't spoken to Edward in far too long… and the bounty on his head was nearly as high as Sarkissian’s. At the edge of the junkyard, Edward ducked down the backstreets and ran off. Jubal let him go, he had a mission to complete. Their reunion would have to wait.

He picked up his GR-67 droid head and was startled as the electronic pulsing sound began again. He shook the head and gave it a sharp tap, and the strange signal stopped as suddenly as it had begun. Jubal frowned and stuffed it into his handbag. He heard Jane stirring weakly as he climbed down the stairs, but he ignored her. Stealthily darting in and out of high cover, Jubal made his way through Moe’s junkyard and approached the back door. He reached into his bag and pulled a short cable out from the droid’s open neck and plugged it into the maintenance interface on the security panel. Within a few seconds, the LEDs changed from red to green and the door silently slid open.

“Cakewalk,” Jubal muttered to himself as he snuck inside.

The door closed behind him and a fine spray erupted simultaneously from a dozen different directions at once. Jubal tried to dive into the next room, but the mist instantly hardened into a rubbery mess and he was frozen in mid-leap inside an oversized marshmallow. He struggled to pull his limbs free, but he was completely immobilized.

“Welcome to Moe’s,” said a nearby voice.

Jubal looked up to find Moe calmly sauntering into the entranceway that Jubal had failed to cross.

“Well this is embarrassing,” Jubal sighed.

“Oh, don't feel too bad,” Moe said kindly. “Most dirtbags don't even make it past the door! That's some gizmo you got there. GR-64?”

“-67 actually,” Jubal answered, wincing as his foam prison tightened against his body.

“Wowie, the -67 is my favorite,” Moe continued happily. “I'm sure I've got enough parts to build a new body for your droid twice over!”

“Sounds great!” Jubal wheezed as his breathing became laboured.

“‘Course, if that's what you were interested in, you would've come to see me during normal business hours. And you didn't do that, did you? So what are you here for? Now don't waste your breath lying to old Moe, I don't need to tell you that foam will crush the life out of you in a couple of minutes--give or take! I ain't no scientist after all!”

“A book,” Jubal gasped. “Sarkissian sent me to steal your copy of Paradise Lost.”

“Did he now?” Moe laughed amiably. “Ari Sarkissian is just incorrigible. He wants to have it all. You know, I bet my copy is the very last one in existence?”

“You--don't--say,” Jubal croaked as the foam expanded across his throat.

“During the war, the governments of the world tried to outlaw any and all works that pertained to supernatural evil--hell, demons and the like. They hoped it would help stifle subconscious fears of that genre and weaken the Infernals. Paradise Lost was near the top of the list of banned works, just below the Bible. 'Course I didn't believe in that mumbo jumbo and I don't agree with book burning on principle. Seemed like I was the only one who saw things that way though. I remember bonfires as high as Brooklyn Bridge. They even managed to purge whatever Internet servers hadn't been destroyed by the fighting.”

Moe regarded Jubal with a thoughtful expression for a moment, while Jubal choked and sputtered.

“I'll tell you what,” the old timer continued. “I'll let you have the book, and the droid body, if you do something for me first.”

“Ok,” Jubal managed painfully.

Moe pulled a whistle from his pocket and blew. Jubal didn't hear anything, but Moe was clearly puffing hard. Jubal felt the foam softening around him and emitting a loud hissing sound, like it was deflating. In another moment, it crumbled into popcorn-like fragments and he collapsed to the floor, desperately gasping for breath.

“Infrasonics,” Moe explained with a fatherly smile, holding up his whistle. “So, you're going to get me a key. It won't be hard to find, since it is always around the neck of Wallace Hanson. You can find him in the Caloumi building in New New York.”

Jubal nodded, still catching his breath.

“Oh, and don't leave Jane lying around on my property.”

Jubal looked into Moe’s kind, smiling face and sighed resignedly. He picked himself off the floor, collected his handbag and walked out without saying another word.

Jane regained consciousness just long enough to give Jubal her temporary address, before passing out again. He stuffed her into a self-driving taxi and got in for the ride. Cursing and grunting with effort, Jubal managed to get her into her apartment. He bandaged her shoulder before remembering that he should still be angry. He was a little concerned that she never fully regained consciousness throughout the entire process, starting to wonder if she had gone into a coma.

“Doesn't look like you've been eating your vegetables, Jane Kelley,” Jubal said to his unconscious colleague. Shrugging his shoulders, he left.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

The Failing Frontier 11 - Ari's Had a Bad Week

“Alright, alright, fine, you’ve got me,” Ari shouted defeated. The woman put a gun in his face and shoved him in the trunk of her vehicle beside Edward. This was the second time this week he and Edward had been abducted together. The first time they had been Displacered right off their bikes during a race. One second they were fighting for 1st place on their grav-cycles, the next they were sprawled on the floor hog-tied and being  dragged away by a group of 3 bounty hunters.
"Watch this, it'll be good." Edward said cooly as he was being carried by over the should of a large burly man.
"Shut your mouth!", the bounty hunter yelled at his quarry just a moment before he was swept off his feet.
A skinny green haired person in a black body glove had come seemingly out of nowhere and knocked the would-be kidnapper to the ground. The two other bounties hunters that had been dragging Ari let him go and turned their attention to this new threat.
Ari did what he knew he had to, he writhed and tugged at his hastily tied bonds to free himself, and a few seconds later while everyone else was  still fighting amongst themselves Ari got to his feet and bolted, leaving his attacker, his rescuer and Edward behind without a second thought.

Ari had run until he made his way back to the street, where Grant had coincidentally been coordinating a rescue operation.

"BOSS! Oh thank sweet baby Christ! Are you ok?" Grant looked more than a little relieved to see him.

Ari stumbled and fell to his knees next to Grant. A crowd started to gather at the commotion. "Get me out of here!" Ari barked at his bodyguard.

He'd been rushed from the scene to an apartment he was told was a safe house. Grant had spent the next day on the phone handling things Ari didn't have the presence of mind to think about.
Finally, after about 24 hours Ari had calmed down enough to tell himself it would be best if he just got some sleep. It turned out that wasn't a great plan either.
When he heard the rifle fire he just ran. It didn't help much.
Now he was stuffed in a trunk. Edward pressed up uncomfortably in the close quarters. Ari banged on the trunk for a few moments hoping for a miracle but soon stopped. Eventually the car stopped, Ari waiting for the woman that kidnapped him to come for him. After what seemed like an eternity Edward broke the silence.
"You've had a shitty week haven't you Ari?"
Ari's stomach clenched. Why did Edward seem to damn calm. Just like when they were kidnapped a few days ago. Could Edward be involved in this somehow?
"Yah, I've had a shitty week Ed. What the fuck do you want?"
Ari felt Edward reach around his body in the dark space. As he did the trunk popped open to reveal the smoggy night sky and Edward's hand pulling on the emergency release bar that all vehicles had in their trunks.
"Going to bolt again this time? I wouldn't blame you."
Ari pushed Edward's arm away from him and climbed out of the trunk. They were in an area he didn't recognize. Running it seemed, wasn't the smartest idea. He sparred a look at the driver who had face planted into the steering wheel. Ari couldn't tell if she was dead or alive.
Edward climbed out of the trunk after him.
"Well Ari, what's it going to be?"

"The fuck do you mean man? What's your deal? Are you doing  this? What do you want from me?", the empty streets echoed Ari's frustration but no one else seemed to be around to hear them.

"Oh, I no more responsible for this than you are Ari. If I'm being honest I am kind of enjoying it all now. So what's it gonna be? Seems like the car is still running. We can probably get back to town before the bars close. We could have a few drinks, reminisce about old times. What do you say?", Edward might have been high, or just nuts. Ari couldn't read him at all. It seemed like he was almost excited. Ari looked back at the driver.

"Is she dead?", he asked meekly.

"Dunno", Edward responded, "let's check!", he walked around to the front of the vehicle and opened the door. "JANE!" he screamed at the woman. Edward apparently knew her. At the sounds of her name Jane moved ever so slightly before slumping back over.
Edward reached into the driver side and pulled out what Ari assumed their abductor's phone. He grabbed the unconscious woman's hand and used the finger scanner to unlock it. He then dialed a short number and calmly as ever placed it to his ear.
"Hi, I need an ambulance... Yah, I think this lady's having a heart attack..."

"Why are you helping her!", Ari lost it, "she fucking kidnapped us at gun point like 5 fucking minutes ago!"

Edward ended the call. "She's not so bad Ari, she's just in a tough spot. We've both been there, you can do some scummy things when its life or death. I don't need to remind you do I?"

Edward casually bringing up their shared past was more than Ari could handle right now, "Fuck you man", Ari turned around and started walking, still in his boxers.

"Let me call us a cab Ari, it's a long walk.", Edward called after him.

Ari didn't even look back. He just started to run back in the direction he assumed was home.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The Failing Frontier 10 - Jane's broken heart.

Jane opened her eyes.

“How long have I been here?” She thought.

It was dark and she was lying face down on the cold, wet concrete floor. A searing pain shot through her shoulder. She sat up and inspected the damage: her left shoulder was fucked, laser burned and bad. She could barely move her arm and for a good reason; the tendons and ligaments in her shoulder had been burned away leaving a hole through the bone and muscle.

The next few hours were a blur for Jane.

She woke up again in her bed, her shoulder bandaged. She couldn't remember how she’d gotten there; did she walk? She didn’t know.

She poured her self a glass of water and sat down at her table. She was tired, but it felt like she’d slept for a long time; she wondered how long she had slept, but a second later it didn’t matter.

She read her BPM it was at one hundred and ten. Her resting heart rate at one-ten! She knew it was too high and she was stressed, but she couldn’t shake it. She couldn’t shake the uncontrollable will to survive. In her mind there was only one way to do that and that was to track Ari down, capture his ass and hand him over to Oren so she could get herself a new heart. She hadn’t thought about it for a while but it was at the forefront of her mind right now.

“You need a new heart. Get a fucking heart"

She could feel it beat in her chest; she could feel it getting weaker. She could feel her body willing her to replace it. She looked at her heart rate again. It was at 120.

“Stop looking you'll only make it worse,” she thought and she was right: it did always make it worse. She calmed herself and she could feel it slow a little, but it was still pounding.

“John,” she thought. 

Jane arrived at John’s apartment which was on the fifth floor of a high rise not too far from Jane's place. John was a militia man Jane met at a bar once. She could tell he was in to her and she thought he'd probably come in handy at some point so she took his details. She figured, being a militia man, he probably had a nice stash of weapons. She knocked his door. No answer. She knocked again. Nothing.

Jane looked down the hallway noticing that the nearest apartment was a good distance away. She looked at John’s door, stepped back a few paces, ran forward and thrust her foot in to the center of it. The door swung open.

She felt a blast of pain run through her shoulder, shook it off and then entered the apartment.

The air in the apartment was crisp, the design was minimal, a painting of an antique gun, an ak47, hung on the wall and the place had a chemical smell that clung to the inside of Jane’s nostrils.

She turned the apartment upside down and found an Blacks semi-automatic pulse rifle. An expensive piece of equipment in itself, but not quite expensive enough to provide her with a heart. It would help her though, so she slung the strap over her shoulder.

As she was leaving the apartment she noticed an curious looking ball on the table near the entrance, so she picked it up and then immediately recognized it as a disruptor grenade.

“Fucking Jackpot,” she thought. She grabbed it and slid it in to the inside pocket of her robes.

It was 3am on Thursday morning and Ari Sarkisian was lying in bed, shacked up in one of his safe houses, when he heard the unmistakable sound of a pulse rifle being fired on the street outside. He threw the covers off of himself and was immediately awake. He darted out of the bedroom, through the short corridor and in to the kitchen. He stumbled in to the kitchen table and then realized he was wearing nothing but boxer shorts. He could hear that the shots were moving closer. Bang, an explosion. He grabbed his shoes and hopped in to the them. In nothing but boxers and shoes he swung the kitchen door open and started to run as fast as he could through the pitch black garden, he made left and jumped over the chain link fence that rain around the perimeter of the house. It was the wrong way. Pulse rifle fire whizzed past him; it was close enough to singe the hairs on his arm.

Jane shouted, “The next one’ll be on target.”

Ari didn’t look back, he carried on running and rounded the corner. There was his grav-cycle covered by a dirty tarp. He flung the tarp off, hopped on his bike, jammed the key in it’s slot and turned it. The bike sprang to life; a symphony of light and heat. He kicked it in to gear and threw his foot at the peddle. He reached about 100 miles per hour in around two seconds rounding the corner at top speed, but it wasn’t fast enough because about ten seconds before that Jane had launched her disruptor grenade in Sarkisian’s direction. The bike went dark and cold. Sarkisian controlled the bike until it slowed to a stop. He jumped off and started running away from Jane. 

Jane pulled the pulse rifle up, aimed and let off a single shot. It went straight through Sarkisian’s thigh. He fell to the ground.

“Alright, alright, fine, you’ve got me,” he shouted.

Jane pulled Sarkisian to his feet and marched him at gun point to one of his now deceased guards vehicles. As she was stuffing him in to the trunk he noticed Grant. He was lying on the floor. Sarkisian couldn’t tell if he was unconscious or dead.

Jane closed the lid of the boot.

She drove down the speedway, it would take a long time to get to Oren’s. She could hear Sarkisian shouting something or other but she just ignored him.

A rush of pain spiked her chest. She pulled over and read her heart rate: 190 BPM. She’d pushed herself way too hard.

“Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck."

Jane pulled her seat belt off and threw open the door. The pain was unbearable, she clutched her chest and bent over breathing deliberately, slowly and deeply. She got it under control and then it tightened again this carried on for about five minutes.

Jane noticed headlights in the distance and then all at once It felt like a vice was crushing her heart, like it could explode at any minute.

“Stop panicking, calm down,” she thought.

Jane started to cry, tears streamed down her face and then she blacked out.

Her body lay limp at the side of the road with the headlights of a parked car illuminating her body.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

The Failing Frontier 9 - Edward Actually Goes EAST

     Edward needed a bike, but what he needed more was to get the mounting pile of bounty hunters off his back. He took back streets and alleyways to avoid attention, eventually winding up at Moe's. He wound his way through the scrapyard, confident that nobody was following him. He eventually reached the gate to the heavily armed compound at the centre of the scrapyard- the place that Moe called home. He pushed the buzzer, which projected a high, tinny, buzzing sound.

     "What the fuck d'ya want?" the old man asked through a loud speaker above Edward's head. It was a new installation, and the volume was clearly jacked up as high as it could go. Edward winced.

     "Hey, Moe. It's Edward."

     "Eddie!" he bellowed. Moe was a jolly old fella, loyal to his last. He'd been a close friend of Edward's father, the two of them running the scrap yard together for years. Edward's father had saved Moe during the Infernal War, and it had cost him his life. "I can guess why you're calling, and I have what you need, but it's gonna cost."

     Moe hadn't let Edward, or anybody else, inside the compound in years. He had his supplies dropped off outside the gate once a week, and had a heavily armed service droid who came out to collect it. "You saw the race, huh?" Edward said. "Hope I'm getting the family discount."

     "Course you are. Thirty-five instead of fifty, 'cause I owe your daddy."

     A bright red light accompanied by the whistle of high powered laser discharge illuminated the window of a building in Edward's peripheral vision. Edward dove to the ground. A camera on the end of a retractable arm popped out from a box on the side of the gate and stared down at him.

     "What're you doing boy?"

     "Laser fire, up in the window over there. I've got some unwanted attention on me."

     "Ah, that one isn't here for you. S'Jubal Jenkins. Dunno what the creepy bastard wants yet. Just showed up. Doesn't know I've been watching right back. Just shot some girl up there. Kelley."

     "She's after me. She alright?"

     "Big hole in her, but Jubal won't let her die. They're kin of a kind."

     "Good. Right." Edward stood up and dusted himself off. He often wondered how it was that Moe seemed to know everything about everyone, but there it was. "About the bike. I need two. One in my classic red, and one in yellow, and I need both shipped on separate transports to Hei Long,"

     "Don't know if I have the parts for two full bikes, Eddie."

     "Doesn't matter if the red one is just a shell. It's a distraction. Ship the yellow one under a different name... James Culver. Sounds normal, right?"

     "Sounds good to me. How much trouble are you in?"

     "More than usual."

     "Alright, boy. Consider it done. You need it on credit?"

     "Stick it on the tab."

     "Last time, Eddie."

     "Thanks, Moe."

     Edward turned and walked away, picking up the pace in case Jane wasn't quite as incapacitated as Moe was making out. At the edge of the junkyard, he ducked back down the backstreets and ran off. If he was going to get a bead on Oren and get him to drop the bounty before the next race, he was going to have to work quickly.


     Edward turned from the alley, and there it was. The Spire: a jagged spike three hundred meters high formed of black glass, and entirely indestructible. It had sprouted up at the beginning of the war alongside a hundred others over the world, but when the war ended, and the others disappeared, this one remained.

     Like the Infernals who arrived with it, The Spire was a Tulpa, a construct of the collective human psyche, created to punish us for our transgressions. As far as the scientists could tell, The Spire was used to amplify the human subconsciousness, making it even easier for the Infernals to thrive. The idea baffled Edward. He often doubted that any of it was true. He preferred the idea that they were aliens who coincidentally looked like mythical demons and devils, or even that they came straight out of hell. That humanity could construct things capable of such cruelty was...

     It was during the war that Edward met Ari. They had been in the same unit, trying to hold the line against a storm of nightmares. It hadn't gone well. Edward and Ari had been the unit's only survivors, mainly because they had been the fastest runners. They'd both coasted on that survival to create their public personas in the wake of the war, each avoiding any mention of the other's cowardice, bound to secrecy by their shared success and shared shame.

     Edward placed his hand on the cool, sharp surface of The Spire. He couldn't remember walking closer to the thing. In fact, he couldn't remember much of anything. The ink in the glass in front of him shifted and swirled. He was swallowed into it.

     He stood in a field of waving black reeds, the sky dark above him. A figure stood opposite him, a silhouette much like his own. "Edward," it said. "Good to see you."

     "Where is he?" Edward asked.

     The silhouette smiled. Edward couldn't see it, but he knew it was happening. "He'll be on Hei Long," it said. It's voice was a perfect copy of Edward's.

    "Right. Thanks." Edward rocked in place for a second, but didn't make to leave.

     "Was there something else you wanted, Edward?"

     "No, I..." his voice trailed off. The silhouette's smile broadened further.

     "You have to ask me. You know that. I can't help unless you ask me."

     "It was you that saved me today, wasn't it? From Jane?"

     "It was."


     "Because I knew you were coming here. I knew because I knew what's Oren's plan was, and I knew where Jane would be, and because I know you best of all, and I knew that if I saved you, you would come here. I knew it because I am all of you, and none of you." Edward could see its teeth now. They were yellow, crooked and very sharp. "Do you know what else I know, Edward?" Edward didn't reply. He didn't need to.

     Edward arrived on Hei Long, and received two things to his private quarters. The first was a notice to say that the crate containing his red bike had been destroyed in transit after a routine scan had discovered explosives planted on the engine. The note was marked with a big red CONTROLLED DETONATION stamp. The second thing was a freshly painted, egg yolk yellow Vormire Mk. 3. Not the fastest bike, but a reliable and sturdy animal. He pulled out a portable scanner and started to check it over for tampering.

     "There's nothing there," said the voice in his head. "No need to check."

     "Well pardon me if I don't trust you," Edward said aloud.