Ronin Extract: Chapter 1 – Kai

The following extract is from the first chapter of a short science-fantasy novel I’m working on. It’s called Visored – Ronin. Work on it has been stalled because of my current project, the serial short story, The Rising.

***

I heard once that any technology sufficiently advanced looks like magic. I don’t know about that, but the Masks are definitely magic…. Dark, evil, magic which corrupt a man’s soul and morals. I know what Iggy says about the theories behind the Mask technology; energy fields, quantum memory, mass-energy transmutation, synaptic links and all that.

Iggy is blinded by the mystery; he can’t see the reality right before our eyes because he’s in his own world. Right now Iggy is pissing me off. I need his mind here, in the real world, if we’re going to make this work.

My head is down, like everyone else around me. There are enforcers on Main Street, and the unspoken rule is clear – Make no eye contact. We trudge along like fraternal clones of everyone else; devoid of hope, eyes downcast, shoulders slumped, faces blank of emotion.

Iggy’s head is down like the rest of crowd surrounding us, but he’s staring at something or the other on his terminal. The terminal is a basic model that took quite a few stolen credits to buy, but Ig is like a tech Picasso, basic doesn’t really matter. I shoulder into him as if by accident, jerking him back to the real world and the steal we’re on.

I don’t have to look up to know where the mob enforcer lieutenant is; my brain is already running in over-clock and my senses are wide open. Using sound and smell, I constantly remap the position of the enforcers and their floozies as they stride majestic through the rest of the crowd. Ig is probably doing the same beside me, not almost as good though, his strength is in his sight and that weird brain of his.

The lieutenant is a few milliseconds away when I push the over-clock and the world slows down around me, I know that at this precise moment Ig has seen the double eye-blink signal from the corner of his eye and he begins to stumble. I note privately to myself how cool his studied clumsiness is.

His arm checks against the arm of the lieutenant’s blond hanger-on, which causes her to nudge the enforcer, and in that split second window I trade his wallet, bulging with credits, for our decoy. The decoy was the keystone of the whole plan. It had to be close enough to the right weight for someone with Surge improved senses not to notice the change, to give use enough time to get away before the enforcers vogued and went ballistic.

We had studied the job for weeks; hunger gnawing our insides most nights for the promise of a big payday, and then spending the last of our credits this morning; loading up on sugar-heavy drinks in order to over-clock. The swap is over in less than a second.

That’s when the crap hits the fan…

 A chilling twinge hits the top of my spine before hell breaks loose – they say over-clockers feel it before normal people, in slightly different ways

Vogue!

Beside me Ig almost trips when he feels it as well. “RUN!!” some primal part of my mind screams – Ig likes to call it ingrained fight or flight, some primitive part of our brain that tries to take over in predator/prey situations, fighting to bypass the more recently developed logic part of the brain to save your ass from becoming road kill.

Over-clockers have to fight this instinct – if an Enforcer notices you react even a split second before the crowd, it means death – nasty, inhumane, tortured death. It doesn’t even take an Enforcer; there are a lot of people desperate to sell your description for a few credits, status or even a single hot meal.

“YOU DARE TOUCH ME HUMAN?” The enforcer lieutenant shrieks.

My feet feel lighter, as if gravity has dropped a few notches. Dirt, paper and other random lightweight street debris float around us. If the sparse, furtive crowd didn’t notice the shrill scream, they definitely fell silent when they caught sight of the very obvious indication of an impending Vogue.

I break my own rule and turn to look along with almost everyone else. My heartbeat sounds like the loudest thing on earth. The lieutenant has lifted the buxom chemical blonde off the ground with just one hand… around her neck.

The Mask appears almost instantly, in the space of an eye-blink, and the lightness suddenly reverses – like the weight that had been lifted slams back down – a shockwave of sorts. The draft of air seems to act as a trigger. The crowd breaks like rats around a feral cat. We run. We all run. There is no option, no choice between fight and flight. We are humans, we are prey.

“You. Do. Not. Touch. Me. WITHOUT MY SAY SO”

My heightened hearing picks it up unconsciously; it also picks the wet sound, in-between a crunch and a squish. Even though my feet are pounding like pistons to carry me away as quickly as possible, a waft of the breeze from the energy updraft carries the smell of blood – acidic and metallic, like iron. My brain creates a mental picture I don’t need – cancel that – don’t want it to. The sequential thuds of a detached body and head hitting the pavement only confirm the tapestry that is being woven between my ears.

Enforcers and the Famiglia they serve call us rats; normal humans are intelligent lab rats – useful but ultimately expendable and replaceable. And like rats we run.

We are barely around the first corner we can find, when the paranoid monster notices that we switched the wallet. I glance back at Iggy and notice the same realization mirrored in his panicked eyes. We are too far away to actually feel the pulse of the energy drafts, but that familiar twinge happens once..twice….a third time…..and then again.

The whole platoon has vogued!

Those of us who live in the inner city we know that simply running away from an angry enforcer is not good enough. You have to scurry, like a scared rodent. Make use of any and all corners, back alleys, tunnels …and most especially, sewers.

Thieves like us love sewers; enforcers hate to muck themselves up like that. The stink and wetness help cover our tracks better than any other means of escape. Half of a steal is the escape, which is why I take the lead here; I know the best routes to shake off pursuit.

My head is already pounding from the aftereffects of ‘clocking and I’m guessing Iggy is probably in worse shape, which is why I know we’re shit out of luck when an enforcer lands right ahead of us when we duck into an alley way. There’s a slightly dented green dumpster at the dead end that covers up a portion of the alley that has collapsed into the underground highway.

I size up the situation as we literally screech to a stop. Masks must have been made to intimidate. They all look pretty much the same: very pale, grey, ceramic-like faceplates with two evil looking holes for the eyes and a slight protrusion where a person’s nose would be. No visible string or attachment holds them onto the face.

The enforcer must be some sort of drama queen. He rises slowly out of the half crouch he landed in and looks down at the cracked pavement as if he’s amused. The slimedog is dressed in standard lower rank gear: tacky too-tight fake glossy leather blazer over a white silk dress shirt, his trousers are the same tacky type of cut as the blazer and he has what have to be non-regulation pointy-toed imported shoes.

“Well, well, well… what do we have here?” his voice sounds loud and hollow, as if coming from an extremely large, empty room. “…two rats without visible IDs”. As loud as his voice was, the thud of my heartbeat seems even louder.

He cocks his head as he takes a closer look at me, “..is one of them a home-lander?”. Every nerve ending seemed to be screaming to my brain “RUN RUNRUN DANGERDANGER RUNN”.

I swore to myself as my stupid brain made my body do just that, in the wrong direction. It was crazy gamble. Iggy caught the hand signal just as I started to charge the enforcer. If I can fault him for anything it wouldn’t be his trust and loyalty.

We catch the Enforcer by surprise, and he flinches, probably thinking we are crazy suicide bombers of the radical Resistance. I shorten my stride just enough for Ig to take a half step lead and then catch the growl of annoyance from the enforcer as my brother shreds his jeans sliding towards the dumpster.

I don’t give the slimedog enough time to react. I launch off on my left foot – so hard I could almost swear I hear the pavement crack – pushing into overclock once again as I let instinct throw my body at the correct vector. I flip at the last moment and feel a rush from the danger of the second as the world slows down for a heartbeat.

My right foot slams down on one of the weakened boards nailed over what is probably someone’s window. What feels like a hundred joints beg for escape as I contort my body once again into an aerial backflip right over the enforcer. I allow myself the pleasure of a wide grin as the idiot lifts his right arm to block the shower of shattered glass that follows my trajectory over him.

The execution of the maneuver is flawless. I drop right into the dumpster, into to the underground highway where Ig is already waiting.

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