So this is a sort of companion piece that goes along with thefirst part of this story. the stories are set at the same time so that anyone who reads both will be able to compare the events and see where they meet up. I know it isn’t original as an idea but it came to me after i had started writing this one so i will be going back to the first part and making as few changes to make them sync up better. there will also be a third part to this that i would like to say is coming soon but my motivation is still rather dead right now so…enjoy?
The Sty. A run down and god forsaken hole where even the most desperate people fear to go, a haven to criminals and a home to only those who can find nowhere else to go. The streets were piled with scrap and junk that kids would dig through for anything of value. The shops were run down, offering what little they had at extortionate prices. The rats ran free and only the tops of the tallest buildings escaped the filth. The faint neon lights that list up the alleys flickered and died and the only buildings that seemed to prosper in the lowest regard where the bars where the desperate inhabitants would drink away their woes. The food supplies that the main city shipped in never spread far enough and people would go hungry more often than not. Every corner was a danger as people lay in wait for anyone who they could pilfer for money or even just food. The sty was the only place in Indus where physical money was still widely traded, the rest of the city having progressed to non-physical forms of currency such as fingertip scanners. The three districts of the city were a blight on Indus’ clean and ordered image, an unsightly disease that they had tried repeatedly to cut out to no success.
Kurt Harron woke up. It wasn’t the slow, waking up that movie characters seem to experience, where they slowly regain consciousness and roll over in their massive beds to see their loved ones beside them. it was more like a switch had been flipped, one second he was asleep, the next his eyes were open and he was wide awake. If Kurt had rolled over he would have seen nothing but a wall a foot away from him in either direction. Kurt was in a small pod in a collection of hundreds of pods that lined the walls of the cubicle hotel in which Kurt had decided to sleep. There was only one feature to the otherwise blanks walls that had yellowed badly in the years since the pod had been installed. A small potted plant stood in the corner of the pod, a few inches from Kurt’s head. It was fake of course and barely more than twelve inches from pot to top most leaf but some strange part of Kurt had taken a liking to it when he had seen it and so he had stolen it.
Sliding down in the pod Kurt managed to slide the curtain aside with his boot and pushed himself from the pod, dropping a few feet to the floor. the was no movement anywhere in the rest of the hotel complex, but that was to be expected being the middle of the night so no one saw Kurt leave, pausing only for a moment to glance at the door to the public showers and pull a handful of change from his pocket only to decide against paying the credit to get in and have a wash. Once out onto the streets Kurt wandered around the side of the building to a crater that was sunk six feet into the wall of the hotel where he sat down to examine his surroundings.
The rest of the alley was littered with small pieces of shrapnel and if Kurt had to guess he would have said the crater was made by some fool getting careless with a grenade he had procured from somewhere, in this city they weren’t very hard to come by if you were set on getting one. Kurt was wearing a pair of dirty black and grey combat trousers and some very old parade boots, all covered with a makeshift poncho that he had fashioned out of a grey plastic tarpauling he had found a few days ago. After surveying the area and deciding that no one else was around the still dark streets Kurt looked down at the computer deck fused into the flesh of the underside of his right arm. The screen glowed a bright orange against the darkness and illuminated the middle aged but rapidly aging face of Kurt.
He was scrolled through the briefing for a target he had picked up on the Black-Net, essentially a bulletin board for people that wanted to employ those of the more unscrupulous nature. The target was a minor Apex Corp employee, just a cog in the machine that has been told it was slightly more important than the rest. The goal was a simple assassination as well as a snatch and grab of some information from his computer. Nothing of much use to anyone but it would almost certainly elicit a response from Apex; the fool who had posted the job was new in the city. Indus didn’t often bring in new entrepreneurs, most people weren’t stupid enough to think they could cut off a slice of the pie the existing corporations were fighting over and those that did often found themselves out in the middle of the nuclear winter without a envirosuit, but this new guy was beyond a fool. He was trying to take a slice of Apex’s pie, their pharmaceutical pie, maybe the most expensive pie in the whole city. Kurt would have put money on this guy being dead by daylight, but still Kurt wasn’t going to look a dead man in the mouth and one man’s folly was another man’s fortune.
Standing, Kurt wandered into the main street. The imitation moon was just still high in the sky and most people were still sleeping, or trying to sleep in whatever holes they had found. Kurt looked up at the building whose shadow he had been hiding in. The capsule hotel that he had had the misfortune of calling home was one of the few solid and sturdy buildings in this part of town, being as it was made to be one large piece of concrete and metal. Most building in the sty were a strange collection of square prefabricated rooms which could be removed from each other and, in theory attached to any other prefabricated room which made anyone with the equipment to do so a very rich man, and most of the structures resemble huge square modern art pieces rather than actual buildings. Most residents of the slums would be luck to say that they had a single room to themselves, with some ten by ten rooms housing up to five people.
A lot of other buildings in the Sty were hurriedly assembled hotels like the one Kurt had slept, either that or apartment blocks even worse than the prefabricated housing which had been erected after the ground beneath the first three districts to be built in this area had collapsed, dropping all the buildings and people who had lived there into a crevice hundreds of feet down. After the incident the governing body of Indus had decided to cut their losses and covered over the hole with titanium sheets and had intended to build new districts on top. That plan had never come to fruition and all that was ever built were these apartments and hotels, buildings intended to house those misplaced by the catastrophe, from there came the prefabs and finally shacks had been built in the far corner of the city, pressed right up against the wall. In the nine rich districts of the city people would look upon the Sty and say that they wouldn’t wish it upon their worst enemies.
The foul smell of poorly prepared fish rolled up the street and Kurt started moving before any more of the food vendors started to wake and prepare their wares. No food in Indus was fresh, it was all artificially replicated in labs and then sold to the public but the Sty managed to gain a special level of stench every day when the food vendors started pedalling their wares and the smell of lab grown chicken, cooked in grease, was mingled with artificial fish and vats of fake potatoes drenched in vinegar and a thousand other smells to make a sickening cacophony that would almost overpower the usual stench that filled the streets like a burst sewage pipe.
Kurt made no effort to hurry as he passed through the streets. There was no real rush to get on with this mission and he was formulating a plan as he went. If he wanted to try and keep the Apex heat off his own back, ideally, he would have taken the target out in his home or before he got to his office but that would still leave the problem of finding the computer data and his employer had failed to provide many details on his target. It could take hours to find a man on the net. All the employer had specified was the name of the man, a picture, the office he worked in and the floor. Kurt decided that the only place to get at his target would be at his workplace. But how could he gain access?
The idea come to Kurt just as he left the Sty and headed into Indus proper. The difference was staggering as one entered the richer districts of Indus. The small was gone and the filth even in the middle class areas was almost gone with it. The advertising boards were unvandalised and there was no sign of the oil drums that littered the streets of the Sty, full of kindling and ready to be lit up for light when the power went out again were nowhere to be seen. The while city seemed to switch from prefabricated and temporary buildings to tall structures made from polished steel and glass. Even the lowest rent apartments were painted in bright white to in keep with the aesthetic and the glowing signs on buildings advertised theatres, restaurants and medical clinics rather than cheap bars.
The streets were still all but deserted the atmosphere of the city proper came across to Kurt as very fake and forced. The smiling images on the advertisements felt like they were grimacing rather than genuinely smiling and if someone really looked they would notice that everywhere they looked they were being sold something. Apparently nobody in this city was happy with what they had. The sterile feel of the richer districts made Kurt feel like everything was trying so hard to be perfect. At least the Sty felt real and lived in.
Kurt knew he must have stuck out in the clean and tidy city like a sore thumb compared to the few people who had ventured from their homes at this time, dressed in their well kempt matching outfits, their suits and shined shoes. Kurt was covered in dirt, he kept the hood of his makeshift poncho up and his face covered so that no one would see that every now and then his irises would flash yellow as the orbital implants refocused themselves. Several people went out of their way to avoid him and almost all of them turned to watch him over their shoulders.
Kurt didn’t care. He was used to the stares. He was out of place even in the Sty and there were many people there who were worse than he was. Everything in this city was branded by some corporation or another, everywhere he turned Kurt saw logos and advertisements for the various companies that were slowly leaching any life away from the city. People could say anything they wanted about the Sty but at least there was personality to it. All the corporate bullshit served only to slowly make everything the same and worse the wars that the corporations could go to over territory and economic dominance were dividing the city with battle lines of espionage and backstage politics, people died and nobody on the street even knew it was happening. As if it wasn’t bad enough that the poor and misplaced were separated from the rest of the city like they were cattle but now everyone else was being split by where they were in the city and what companies they worked for.
Finally Kurt came to the office block of his target. It was tall, stretching into the sky and towering above almost all the other buildings around it. Compared to other Apex buildings it was small, clearly an older construction and now of little importance. All the newest offices stretched much higher as if all the corporations were in a contest to see who could build a building the highest without it falling down. There was however one problem. There was a wall around the buildings compound. Around twenty foot tall, its smooth white exterior and glowing advertisements did little to hide the fact that it was there to keep people like him out. There seemed to be one gate through with a small road leading off the main one and through it.
Still a block and a half away from it Kurt turned and walked down and alley, his eyes on the flood, looking for something in the darkness. Finally he found it tucked in the corner at the back, a small manhole leading down into the sewers.
Kurt slipped the cover of the manhole back and slowly descended the ladder, making sure to slide the cover back over him as he went. The darkness closed in around him for a second before his orbital implants kicked in and the world seemed to glow with a slight yellow tint as he looked behind him. The sewers were surprisingly large. Wide across from wall to wall, the ceiling was arched above him and the floor was a large grate under which ran a flow of sewage.
There were pipes hanging from the ceiling, held up by thick metal supports that dug deep into the roof. There was about a two foot gap between the brickwork and the pipes and with a deft leap Kurt left the ladder and gripped the closest pipe, pulling himself up and into the gap in a matter of seconds. Here he paused, waiting for the sound of anyone approaching, perhaps drawn by the sound of his leap, though he knew he had been all but silent, or perhaps a maintenance crew who just happened to be passing this section of tunnel. There was no one.
Convinced that his presence was hidden Kurt started crawling. It was easy to mask any noise while he travelled but the progress was slow and were it not for the fact that he had had his nerve systems dulled years ago he would have ached terribly. His head mostly scrapped the ceiling and all too often he found it cracking off a loose handing brick or old bolt from when the pipes had been installed. The layers of filth on the pipe quickly started to cling to his clothing and more than once he had to displace a weevil which had nested atop the pipes, dropping the fist sized insects from the pipe to the grating below where they landed with a dull thunk.
Progress was slow but Kurt knew he had time and he had a plan, though crawling along a pipe was the easy bit. He had to find a manhole close enough to the building he was looking for, from there he could pretty easily gain entry to the building and then it would just be a case of waiting for his target. Admittedly it was not the best of plans but simple and, in fitting with Kurt’s preferred style, could be changed on the fly should the need present itself.
Suddenly Kurt stopped, flattening himself to his cover. There were voiced drifting down the tunnel and they were drawing closer. Carefully Kurt pulled a small screen from under his poncho and rapidly started typing something into the display. Images flashed up of blueprints and circuitry and a few seconds later the sparse lighting in the tunnel flickered and then went dead. A few seconds later three people entered the tunnel. With his optical implants Kurt could see them plain as day even in the darkness and he pressed himself to the pipe again, hoping than none of them had implants of their own.
His fears were averted when none of them even so much as looked up. They were dressed in old and worn combat gear and were clearly members of the cities rebel contingent, essentially the poor people who had banded together and fled the authoritarian rule of the city to live in the sewers. They upheld a token resistance against the city security forces but everyone knew that should their hiding place ever be discovered they would likely be quickly wiped out.
Two of the rebels were male, one tall and pale skinned with a single stripe of dark hair down the centre of his head which hung down the left side of his head. He looked familiar to Kurt but he couldn’t really place him. The other man was just as tall but with dark skin and his hair in long, thin braids that ran down to his arse. The third was a woman, not a lot shorter than the men and almost as pale as the first with her short hair shaved into an undercut. Her hand was in the back pocket of the first man.
Keeping very quiet Kurt let them pass underneath him until they were out of earshot before he continued on his way. It took him another half an hour crawling to reach what he was looking for. A ladder like the one he had leapt off was cut into the wall and leading up into another manhole. Kurt carefully eased himself off the pipes and onto the ladder, quickly ascending.
Kurt stuck his head up from the manhole ever so slightly and peered around, smiling to himself. He was in the perfect position, the middle of the road right outside the main gate to the office block where his target worked. The artificial sun was imitating Kurt by only slightly rising above the horizon as if scanning the city before it decided to rise. Lowering himself back into the hole Kurt jabbed a few more buttons on his screen and a small picture appeared showing an image of himself and with a few more presses there was a quiet whir and the screen displayed the message ‘magnetic field engaged’.
The roads of Indus all worked via magnetism. The roads had a magnetic current passed through them and the cars other vehicles all produced the opposite magnetic field, essentially repelling themselves from the road and floating a few feet from the ground. Then the magnets in the vehicles could shift to decide which way the vehicle was propelled. At the same time if the ISF needed to lock down the road for any reason they could simply reverse the polarity of the roads and all the vehicles would be pulled to the ground and locked in place until they were released. The only vehicles in the city that didn’t use this technology were the police patrol vehicles, which could employ fusion engines to achieve full fledged flight and large haulage goods that could carry tonnes of supplies throughout the city, usually used by companies for supplies such as medicine and food, and as such were too heavy for magnetic repulsion to be practical.
With his personal field activated Kurt poked his head above the road again and looked away from the gates. Right on time there was a van pulling up with the company logo on the side. Slowly it pulled closer to the gates and as it did so Kurt braced himself, preparing to let go of the ladder and positioning himself so that his back was angled more towards the sky. As the van floated over the manhole Kurt released the ladder and allowed himself to be pulled up through the hole and into the air, hovering between the van and the road. The van never stopped moving but continued forward, through the gates of the compound and seemed to drive around the entire building before finally entering a parking lot and coming to a stop, supported a few feet off the ground by supports that stopped the vehicles propulsion magnets from touching the ground while it was turned off. Kurt deactivated his personal field and dropped the small distance onto his front, quickly rolling away from the car and easily escaping into the shadows of the car park.
The van’s occupant didn’t seem to have noticed anything as he hopped onto the tarmac and walked casually to a door by the entrance of the parking lot, quickly swiping a card across a scanner before heading out of sight through the door. Alone and hidden Kurt carefully undid the small plastic fasten on his makeshift poncho and allowed it to fall to the floor, exposing Kurt’s body. His entire torso was covered in small wires, printed into his skin and seeming to go deep into his muscle mass, emerging from the skin to run for a few inches before disappearing again. The wires ran from his chest down to below his trouser waistline and up to just below his jaw line. On his left pectoral there was a sheet of metal with a small display across embedded into the muscle with a thick wire running from it, down his left arm to another display installed just below the wrist, very similar to the portable screen that Kurt had used earlier.
Kurt ran his fingers across the display on his chest which lit up with a bright, vibrant orange light which sliced through the dark and exposed Kurt’s position to anyone who may have been watching. Kurt hurriedly typed commands into the display in his wrist and his entire skin started to slowly turn more and more silvery and chrome until he resembled a blob of mercury moulded into human form. And then in a matter of seconds his skin, the wires and displays all disappeared from view completely, leaving just a pair of trousers and boots stood alone and a crumpled poncho.
Kurt stood for a moment, adjusting to the electric tingling feeling that flowed through his body, seeming to pass through his very cells almost painful but still slightly enjoyable. Kurt felt powerful, every time he did this he imagined where he could go, what he could do and how know one would ever know. But he always refocused himself. He had a job to do. Bringing himself back to the world he quickly removed his trousers and boots, wrapping them in his poncho and hiding them away in a corner of the parking lot before heading over to the door his driver had disappeared through and examining the scanner, a simple design it would prove no obstacle.
Kurt was invisible even to himself but his eyes could see the electronic impulses passing through the wires embedded in his body, making him appear to himself as a series of glowing orange wires stood on their own like ivy wrapped around an invisible tree. The displays in his chest and arm were the only other part of him that he could see, though they were as invisible to anyone else as the rest of him. From the display on his arm Kurt pulled a long wire with a simple connection jack on the end which he plugged into the side of the scanner. He explored the internal programming, him mind probing around the simple device like a mouse exploring a maze, cutting directly to its goal at the end while still being cautious to avoid any danger, or in this case tripping anything that would set of the alarm. Kurt smirked at how basic the device was. For such a large company Apex clearly didn’t think its physical security a big issue.
Kurt slipped through the doorway and into a small hallway with one door leading off to the left and a set of stairs at the end. He kept low as he moved, often crawling across the floor on all fours like an animal, sliding round the corners and constantly checking behind himself. He was completely silent and, short of walking straight into him, no one could have even known he was there.
The stairwell lead to the first of many offices. The room was large and open, but with huge ten foot dividers separating it into roughly thirty cubicles with one smaller room at the far end with a glass door through which Kurt could see an executive office, one large desk with built in screens and even a potted plant in the corner that made the plain and featureless rest of the office look barren in contrast. The walls were almost entirely floor to ceiling screen, paper thin in order to take up as little room as possible that could be used to cram more people into. Together the screens displayed an image of the Indus skyline in an attempt to simulate the office being higher than street level. The ceiling was a brilliant white in colour and the carpet was deep red and spotless.
The stair case continued upwards and Kurt wasted no more time looking around the office, he had been inside cells before and had resolved to spend as little time as possible in another one. Each floor held another, almost identical office as the first with the only difference to each one being the colour of the carpet and Kurt realised what it meant when his target was on floor red 3. There was no one else on the stairs, in fact there were very few people in the building at all, clearly still being early outside despite the illusion of the bright skyline that the screen lined walls were trying to give. Kurt was silent, his bare feet making no noise against cold concrete floor even as he bounded up the stairs, his enhanced muscles enabling him to leap up a whole flight at one.
Finally he reached the third level with red carpet, he must have been about twenty flights up from ground level and when he emerged from the staircase and felt the soft carpet between his toes the first thing her noticed was how dark it was inside. The screens with the bright skyline were gone and there were real windows looking out onto the city. here and there in the office there were some lights switched on at desks and the quiet sound of typing could be heard floating around the empty room. At least some of the employees on this level liked to arrive early.
Cautiously Kurt moved around the office, keeping low again and hugging the corners he was startled at one point when just as he rounded a corner he came face to kneecap with a bleary eyes office worker. Kurt rolled just in time, to avoid any impact and landed on the floor with a thump. The office worker looked around for a moment and then continued on his way. Kurt untensed, and allowed himself a second to lie there on the floor before continuing with even more caution, sliding along the floor almost on his belly, coming to the glass door to the executive office at the opposite end of the room and managing to open it hardly any wider than a foot and slip in, easing the door closed behind himself.
Standing upright again Kurt looked around the room, the lack of a potted plant meant it had possibly the single least amount of personality of a room Kurt had ever seen and he smiled to himself, reminded of why he preferred the slums to the city at large, filth gave a place character. Opening one of the computers built into the desk Kurt busied himself with trying to find the files he needed to sell. The security for the computer systems was leaps and bounds above the security for the building itself, comprising of multiple firewalls, anti-viruses and encoded filing systems. Complex for most people but not for Kurt, for him it was almost child’s play, tearing down the fire walls with ease and simply inserting his own programme to run and scan the whole system for the information he needed, it slipped by the anti-viruses and sought out every instance of the keywords he entered on the whole buildings network. Admittedly it would still take some time, but that was something that Kurt had a lot of. All he had to do was sit and await the programmes completion and then the arrival of his target.
Time passed, the sun rose and let light into the office thought the spotless windows and slowly sad looking office workers entered and sat down to their desks. The one downside of Kurt’s stealth systems were that they allowed for nothing external to be worn and not for the first time Kurt regretted paying the extra credits to change the colour of his inbuilt systems from the original, gaudy green, to the much preferred orange that they were now, at the expense of a built in watch. From watching the artificial horizon sink away below the sun and the increase of traffic below him he could make a rough estimate that it was closing on average time for work to begin and, Kurt guessed that his target’s position as an executive gave him leave to be moderately late for the start of the day. Still, the longer he had to wait the more nervous Kurt got. He was a paranoid man from experience but he never liked staying still for too long and he had a feeling that something was wrong.
Suddenly there was a buzz from the systems inbuilt to his arm, he looked down at a new message that had appeared, someone e else was trying to remove the data, his data. A cold flush ran down his spine as he rapidly hammered more commands into his device. Someone else was after this target, information and all. Kurt activated his counter measures just as he heard voices coming from the main room, voices greeting someone. A quick look through the glass door revealed his target. A scowl on his face he was storming past the other workers without so much as a word and making a beeline for the room in which Kurt was hidden. Another buzz from his systems, they had detected the other hacker trying for the data and Kurt recognised the signal, he knew the other hacker and now he was panicking. All he could do was sit and wait for his target to come to him or he would risk exposing himself.
Grabbing his right wrist he peeled off a flap of synthetic skin and pulled a blade from where it had been concealed beneath. It wasn’t a knife as much as it was a sharpened shard of metal, cruel edged and polished to a sheen. Kurt held t in a white knuckled grip as he quickly scanned the surrounding rooftops and then returned his view to his target. He was barely ten feet away now, just a few more seconds and he would be Kurt’s. Every footstep seemed to last an hour as the closed slowly on the office. Kurt adjusted the grip on his weapon. The man’s hand outstretched to open his door. Kurt’s systems buzzed again and but Kurt ignored it.
There was a quiet crunch sound and the target collapsed through the door, his head missing and chunks of bone and claret painting the featureless ceiling, blending into the carpet. The body dropped to the floor in front of Kurt and he instinctively dove into the corner. There were screams in the other room. Kurt had to escape, and he could see only one way. Diving forward he threw the office window, the only feature of the whole room, wide open and threw himself to the air.
Wind screamed in his ears as he fell, the force of the air so severe as he plummeted that even he was forced to shut his eyes against it. As he fell he focused on counting the rough distance that he had fallen, trying to calculate the velocity at which he was traveling, even with a computer for half his brain it was hard to get it exact and as he activated his magnet field he knew he had been slightly too late.
The force of the field bucking against anything metal hit him like a train as he was rapidly slowed, the sudden deceleration knocking the breath from him and when he hit the ground it was so hard that he left dents in the metal road. The skin on the soles of his feet split like it was paper and blood spattered across the ground. it was nothing but instinct that got Kurt moving for cover before he allowed himself to slump down to the ground, hurling himself behind some packing crates piled and ready to be loaded onto trucks. He caught his breath and looked around his surroundings. He had not fallen as far from the building as he had expected, in fact he was still inside the compound, which made things easier. As he picked himself up he was reminded of the old proverb of the apple falling from a tree and smirked despite himself as he carefully picked his was around the building and back to the parking lot, leaving a trail of bloody footprints as he went. That was no worry, his blood wouldn’t be on any records for DNA and was splice with chemicals so that it would rapidly break down when exposed to the elements. Retrieving his clothes he dressed and slipped into the shadows again. There was no alarm sounded though there was a clear increase in activity on the floors above him.
Only then did he check the screen on his arm, deactivating the stealth systems and opening the message he had received. The data had been successfully retrieved onto his own systems and likewise deleted from the systems of the other assassin.
Just then another message popped up on screen. A second job had become available to him. Opening it he smiled to himself as he read the posting. Maybe there was still a chance to salvage the day he thought as he slipped from the parking lot, avoiding the bloody and already dry footprints he had left on the way in.