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"Peeps," thought Danrake Constantine, activating the vision augmenting nanobots. They spread out across her eyes and adhered to the surface of each eyeball from the two monofilament tubes. The city below her came into sharp relief as the nanobots amplified both light and magnification. The nanobots coating her eyes made them look like phosphorescent disks. Danrake was perched at the top of Patreaus’s Spire which was the tallest freestanding structure in all of Xira. Unfazed by the precipitous drop she swept the city with her gaze, using her mind she directed the nanobots to focus in on various buildings that rose up, poking up into the night sky. Lights twinkled below, and air cars flitted about like hummingbirds among a flower garden. The city had stood for more than two thousand years in various forms. The old buildings had long ago crumbled into the mists of time. Only the great central computer Centra remained from the first grand age, and Centra heavily modified now, controlled most aspects of the city. Gone were the trappings of the past, the Creator deity silent for the past millennia, gone is the magic He had bestowed on the people and gone were the heroes and villains who had fought over the city known as Xira.
Danrake was directly related to one of those faded heroes, from long ago. Her DNA had been processed at birth, and a genealogy tree fashioned showing the links to her past. In truth, that was superfluous work performed. Danrake had been concocted in a laboratory, grown from very select genetic samples. How, she wondered, would her ancestors view her now? Would she be considered a failure and disappointment for entering the detested niche occupation of assassin? Such thoughts had no place while on a job, the plain fact was that evil still existed, manufactured by man to be sure, but it was still around. And there were people willing to pay large sums of anonymous money to have bad people killed both privately and publicly. She had reached the top of the ranks of assassins by being the best at private eliminations, and that enabled her to pick contracts depending on her research of the target. Tonight was one such case, ‘Big’ Narsico Fontanelle purveyor of all things repulsive, including: child pornography and slavery. He was presently in control of more than sixty percent of the North Ward, and so far managed to evade the city police and other determined assassins.
Honor amongst thieves was an ancient concept, and a group of criminals who didn’t like the atmosphere created by Big Narsico’s organization had engaged Danrake to cut off the head of the beast. His building sat a mile north of her position and she focused in on it, increasing the image resolution several times in order to scan the roof. There were cameras naturally, a couple of human sentries and if the electrical scans were accurate, a number of robots, cloaked and waiting. Nothing out of the ordinary, since most of the larger crime figureheads were massive property owners with plenty of resources. The external security did not faze her, it what was inside that demanded caution. She hadn’t been able to obtain any recent floor plans or useful intelligence. She settled her breathing down using a technique her sensei at the island monastery had taught her, and then leapt from the Spire. Cool air rushed past her face, “Glide,” she ordered silently. A pair of wings unfolded from her backpack. The wings caught the air and turned her fall into a steady glide, drifting across the gulf of smaller buildings towards Narsico’s.
Danrake was dressed in a charcoal gray jump suit, made from a neoprene like material. A webbed belt was buckled around her waist, and the backpack adhered to the back of the suit. Inside the backpack was a multitude of tubes and pipettes all running through a mini-computer that was hard wired into her central nervous system. In the tubes were different kinds of nanobots meant to enhance various attributes. With a single thought she could alter her speed, strength, intelligence, hearing and vision. The onboard computer also controlled the configuration of the backpack enabling it to morph into a glider, or shield. The backpack housed a built in scabbard for her shinobigatana, a three foot long sword that had its own special properties. Wind tugged at her close cropped hair, one of the few exposed parts of her body. The upper portion of her face wasn’t covered, although her eyes now had nanobot lenses over them. She banked sharply, rolling onto her back and dropping altitude rapidly, just as she was below the building’s top floor she twisted herself and swooped upwards. As she drew even with the rooftop she retracted the wings and tumbled expertly to a gentle landing behind one of the human guards.
Louie was smoking a rumpled filter-less cigarette, swirling blue-gray clouds of smoke around his head. A sudden breeze whipped up and blew the smoke away, startling him out of his stupor. It wasn’t easy being on guard duty, especially in the small hours of the morning before dawn.
“Jam,” she commanded the pack, and it immediately started washing the rooftop in white noise, blocking electronic communications. Quickly she moved towards the only door present, sweeping her approach with augmented vision, she saw no sign of movement. She knew it was only a matter of seconds before the radio signals were noticed by someone inside and guards were sent to investigate. Ahead of her the door rose up out of the floor, flanked on either side by cooling units. The radio jamming had disabled the robots, paralyzing them and scrambled the cameras. Swiftly she picked the lock using the tip of her gloved hand, which contained an intricate system of magnets and probes, and she slipped in through the door noiselessly.
Descending the stairs, Danrake cut the radio noise from her pack and engaged the cloaking feature of the suit. It did not turn her invisible, but rather blended the suit like a chameleon into its surroundings. The only part of her not cloaked was the top half of her head. Silently Danrake stole down the hall. “Scan,” she thought to the backpack, and it swept the surroundings identifying targets, and presenting them to her through the vision nanobots. Knowing that Narsico was a large man in poor health, she could eliminate small masses and regular heart rates. One target remained highlighted on the heads up display. Grinning behind the half-mask of her outfit Danrake proceeded further into the building, recording her progress in order to have a map at the end for her own archives. Drawing nearer to her goal, Danrake had the pack sweep the area for greater detail, and found several smaller human signatures, four electrical and one unknown. That was strange; the suit could normally classify anything it encountered, unless this was a prototype ‘bot that hadn’t been identified yet. It certainly had an electrical profile, but it was unlike anything she had seen before. It was moving in the same direction, Narsico Fontanelle’s room.
She didn’t like what that meant, “Speed,” she thought and a rush of nanobots flooded her bloodstream quickening her muscle responses to ten times the normal speed of a top athlete. With her pace augmented she reached the foyer in front of Narsico’s room. Standing about were a dozen human guards wearing shielded clothes in order to defeat scanners like that in her backpack. Closest to her were the two sentinel robots. They were Class 4 Mark 1 combat types, relatively lightweight humanoid in shape and with flattened appendages instead of tubular design. The robots were painted in a black and yellow scheme; their heads swiveled to focus video lenses in Danrake’s direction. She whipped out her sword and activated it using the button in the hilt. Energy rippled out along the blade causing the metal to vibrate at ultra sonic speeds. ‘Be as the wind through the trees,’ her sensei had instructed her. This was the primary tenet of the Wind form, which dealt with movement in combat. Using her boosted speed she easily slipped between the sentinels, and as she did, Danrake slashed left and right. Sparks flew out of the neck joints as the head units dropped to the ground, followed by the rest of the robots.
The human guards tried to react, but could not keep up with her enhanced speed. Like a deadly viper she moved through them, dealing with each one efficiently. Her energized sword was a blur of blue tinged steel as it struck each target. Within a matter seconds all of the guards had been slain, Danrake stood poised over the bodies alert, waiting for something else to challenge her. The door slid open and Danrake flipped to one side as the third sentinel fired its auto-cannon in a rapid burst that shredded the wall across from it. The sound was deafening in the foyer, which was now illuminated in bursts of light by the muzzle flashes. Danrake swung her sword upwards, while the robot was correcting its aim, slicing the auto-cannon in half. Registering the loss of its primary weapon the robot stormed into the hall attacking Danrake using its remaining arm and legs to launch a physical attack. ‘The trees resist force with grace, the willow bends before the wind.’ She deflected the blows, diverting them or just blocking them with her sword, each contact sent glowing metal fragments flying. With blinding speed, Danrake carved a figure eight through the air cutting the robot into four main pieces and scattering its limbs.
A claxon alarm started ringing and recessed strobe lights flared in the corridor. It took her a second to realize that she had not been the one to trip the alarm, it had originated somewhere else. Approaching the entrance to Narsico’s room, she found it had been sealed during the brief fight. Along the seams, smoke rose up where the internal laser torches had fused the metal of the door with the frame. Danrake quickly checked her H.U.D. and saw the large, unknown was getting closer and that Narsico was still in the chamber ahead of her. “Muscle,” she thought. A hot rush hit her muscles and they swelled with an influx of nanobots. Danrake hewed her way through the door with the combination of strength augmented by the nanobots and her sword’s electrified vibrations. Shouldering past the wreckage she entered Narsico’s lair.
A young dark haired girl huddled in one corner of the palatial room, dressed in filthy rags; she was a sharp contrast to the fine decorations. Every object was gilded gold; a large flat panel monitor covered one wall displaying a random set of patterns in morphing colors, a table, laden with food sat in the middle of the room. The far wall was transparent Plexiglas, offering a sweeping view of the cityscape. The floors, walls and ceiling were all pristine white causing the enormous round bed to pop, since it was draped in plum colored sheets. In the middle of the bed, lay Narsico Fontanelle, a grossly overweight and hairy man. His skin shone with a fine coating of sweat and grease, and a worried look decorated his face. His expression changed to relief as she turned off her cloaking system, and then his eyes narrowed:
“What are you doing here? I don’t suppose you’ve come to join my little soiree?”
Fontanelle had a high pitched voice. Danrake didn’t reply, instead she nodded at the child and then at the faint outline of a small concealed exit.
“You want me to give up my little treat?” Narsico said sounding less than surprised.
He rose naked from the bed and crossed the floor to the table, where he pressed a single button, opening the door. The girl need no further encouragement and fled the room.
“So they sent you? I thought they might, so I took precautions. Unfortunately, it seems that those safety measures have failed me.”
He gave Danrake an appraising look, “You’re fairly luscious, if we had more time, I might put aside my normal tastes for a little sample of what’s under that suit.”
Danrake cocked her head to one side like a dog and narrowed her eyes.
“Oh, you’re the strong silent type. Gotcha,” he said with a nasty wink.
He took notice of her backpack and the wires and tubes that ran out of it and into her flesh.
“Ah you are an augmenter, someone who uses technology to become more than what they are. And I was worried that the others might have sent a real assassin,” Narsico sniggered.
Danrake checked her display again; the large object was on the same floor now, and moving steadily on the way to the room in which she stood. Narsico smiled oily at Danrake,
“My daemon is getting nearer, which means that soon you will die, having failed in your attempt on my life.
“Explain,” she said.
Narsico’s eyes flicked down to the monitor in front of him, checking on where his rescuer was.
“I knew the other organizations were going to hire a killer, so I decided to get the best protection that I could afford. Some research and a few bribes gained me access to Centra and I was able to study the ancient art of summoning. Interestingly, even though the Creator departed our world, taking magic with him, the natural forces used by the Shamans and witches of old still remained. Some kind of celestial oversight I imagine. Regardless, I managed to meld the proper balance of human and machine into one physical entity. Add a Shaman’s ritual during an eclipse, like the one yesterday and presto, a daemonic techromancer is born. I do hope they’ll credit me with the name. However, keeping it contained has proved, difficult. One cannot truly contain a daemon I suppose,” Narsico mused.
“And now it appears to be loose, killing my employees. I am certain it is heading here, where it will certainly take care of yo… HURK!” he gurgled as Danrake’s blade sliced easily through his throat.
Blood splattered across the ceiling and floor, standing in stark contrast to the white. Daemon or not, she had a contract to complete and she honored her commitments.
With Narsico dead, his men would desert their posts and quietly find work elsewhere, though one or two of the more enterprising individuals would take control of the assets such as the building, robots, and data systems. None of which was her concern, all she needed to do now was get out. Hurriedly, Danrake stepped over to the table and checked the monitor. It showed a bank of security cameras, in particular the lift lobby where a squad of sentinel robots was engaged with this techromancer. It was bent over, hunched as though it was deformed, or parts fitted poorly together. Odd pieces of robotics were jury rigged to a human torso, though wires came out of the chest and abdomen connecting to battery packs and the lower extremities. The skin, such as it was, was black like the night sky and tears in the skin emitted reddish light. She watched as it stretched out a hand with bent fingers and a beam of light enveloped one of the c4 mk1’s, crumpling it like a giant hand had crushed it. A sentinel opened fire, and dozens of rounds of ammunition were stopped two feet from the daemon, suspended in mid-air. With surprising swiftness the creature crossed the room and using a robotic arm, smashed the last sentinel to the ground, leaving a pile of wreckage unmoving on the floor and a slow pool of oil and hydraulic fluid gathering under it. Without apparent concern it proceeded forward, towards the room that Danrake was standing in.
She went over to the large window and sliced across the Plexiglas. Hurriedly she made a half dozen score marks in the window and then grabbed a chair and swung it with all of her might. The shock of hitting the window went up her arms and she almost dropped the chair, however a small spider web of cracks had formed at the point of impact. Repeatedly using all of her augmented strength she battered the reinforced glass with the chair. Finally a chunk of window fell away allowing the wind to rush into the room. Some sheets on the bed flapped tiredly in the breeze and then settled down. She put one hand on the jagged hole in preparation to clamber out and launch herself away from the building. She didn’t know why, but she felt compelled to rescan the surroundings with an eye for the girl. Danrake found her mass signature ten feet away, still in the hidden hallway, unmoving. She was moving as soon as her nanobots reported life signs on the girl, kicking in the diminutive door. Seeing that there was hardly enough room for her, she sheathed her sword and approached the young girl carefully. The little one was huddled on the floor hugging her knees and rocking staring fixedly at the wall. She turned her head to face Danrake; there was a mixture of fear and hope in her eyes.
Danrake scooped the girl up in her arms and said gently:
“I’m going to take you out of here. Please trust me.”
The little girl worked up a smile and patted Danrake’s concealed cheek. From behind her the sounds of the daemon entering the bed chamber of Narsico echoed down the hall. Danrake moved quickly further down the hall, not caring where it led as long as it was away from the daemon. The hall opened up into a small austere room that was strewn with books, data disks, unopened food containers and other detritus that implied the monastic isolation of someone doing research. It was then that Danrake noticed that notes were scrawled everywhere including the walls, furniture and every free bit of paper. “Pillage,” she mentally commanded her backpack, causing it to wirelessly tap the terminal on the desk, record digital images of everything and start cataloging and referencing all the books. Down the hall it sounded as though the daemon was having trouble navigating the narrow corridor. Vaguely Danrake wondered why it was having trouble if Narsico managed it. That thought leapt to the forefront of her mind, looking over her shoulder she realized that he couldn’t have made it between rooms.
She put the little girl down, “Is this your room?” she asked. The girl nodded her brown eyes serious.
“Is there a way out of here, other than the hall?” Danrake said. This time the girl shook her head negatively.
“Are you a Simula-Tron?” Danraked asked suspiciously.
Sometimes the rich would have human replicas manufactured as a means to live out illicit fantasies, or spend more time with a lost loved one. They could even be programmed to perform mundane tasks, such as research. This time the girl nodded affirmatively. The unusual circumstances must have sent the faux child’s programming haywire, causing it to exhibit fright as a coping mechanism while the API struggled to re-orient itself.
“Do you know about this daemon that is coming down the hall? Can it understand me?” The child robot nodded. “If you were programmed with vocal response, use it now,” she ordered.
“Of course miss. What can I assist you with?” said the Simula-Tron in a sweet lilting voice.
“The daemon behind us, can it be stopped?”
“Uncertain. Our research had not reached any conclusions to that affect as of yet. However, we are dealing with two entities here. First is the daemon, which we cannot control. The second is the physical container. While we cannot control it per se, it could be shut down.”
Danrake though for a second, “Would an EMP do the trick?”
“Yes miss it would,” the Simula-Tron replied.
“Ok, where’s your interface jack? We can offload your databanks and reconstruct you later,” Danrake trailed off, leaving unspoken the fact that the little robot would perish in an EMP blast.
She shook her head trying to figure out why she was having an emotional response to a robot, even one designed to look like a little girl. The Simula-Tron offered her right hand, palm up displaying a recessed port in the wrist. Danrake drew a data monofilament from her pack and inserted it into the port. Her H.U.D. showed the transfer progress moving quickly. The sounds of the daemon were much closer now; she would have to buy some time. Playing out the monofilament, Danrake approached the hallway carefully. Five meters away the hulking monstrosity was attempting to push its way through the narrow corridor by main force. It was tearing out sections of wall as well as structural supports and a cloud of fine dust choked the hall.
“Hold!” called Danrake, “State your purpose,” she demanded.
The techromancer paused its destruction and tilted its head as it pondered the statement.
“To defend the master,” it answered in a voice as deep and rich as the ages, although it did sound a bit tinny coming through hastily prepared audio modules.
“Your master is dead, why continue?” she asked.
“Master’s status not relevant. Freedom relevant. You represent a condition that must be satisfied,” the creature answered.
“You’ll not find me an accommodating target, and if the master is dead, then any preconditions he set should have died with him.”
“Logic doesn’t always work. Sometimes a contract is non-negotiable, you as a hired killer should understand that. I have waited more a millennia to be freed and now that I have been released from the inky blackness of space I will not return to it,” it said angrily.
The evil presence was at once familiar and completely alien to Danrake, it was as if on some subconscious level they had known each other previously. And then recognition flared in her genes and worked its way out to her mind, this daemon was a primeval malevolence and someone in her past had fought it before. Danrake smiled,
“I know you daemon. I know you well and I know that you have been defeated by my ancestors. You have no power here; best you flee before I send you back to the cold darkness you fear so much.”
Glancing over her shoulder, Danrake checked on the Simula-Tron who met the look and nodded indicating that the data transfer was completed. “Evac and contain,” she ordered the backpack, initiating an emergency relocation of the data it was storing to the server secured in a remote location. Danrake slowed her breathing and settled herself down focusing on the key phrase of the Ocean form: ‘The Ocean is endless, it is patient and timeless. In the end, everything succumbs to it.’
“Are you still there? Show yourself and I can end your life painlessly,” called the daemon.
Danrake didn’t reply, instead she dove low into the corridor and rolled to her feet in a blindingly fast maneuver, using the energy from the acrobatics to propel her sword straight towards the daemon’s chest. With no difficulty it caught her blade in the metal hand and simply held it in place.
“Foolish,” it commented.
“No, foolish is holding on,” answer Danrake as she activated the sword’s energy field, and pushing it straight through the robotic hand, as a bare blade would cut through flesh. The point struck home in the machine’s chest, and a cloud of darkness swarmed over her left side. It was the strange energy that the daemon had employed in the lower levels. “Nuke,” she thought. Her backpack hummed loudly for a second and then there came a loud ‘POP’ and a green shockwave spread out in a circle. It washed over the daemon and seeped into its circuitry fusing switches in position, destroying batteries and ruining every electronic component. With the loss of power and control, the human remains that were attached became useless. The whole machine sagged in the hall, supported in part by the close confines. Danrake shuddered at the small shock she received from her own electronics shutting down. Her enhanced muscles, vision and speed all ceased to function as the microscopic bots perished. In the darkness she failed to see the pale gray mass rise from the body, it drifted up through the ceiling and vanished. Danrake extracted her sword from the wreckage and looked back over her shoulder to the small room where the Simula-Tron had fallen. The little girl lay still on the floor, a peaceful smile softly imprinted on her face. Danrake turned away and crawled over the wreckage. Once free of the room, Danrake carefully made her way down to the first floor.
Reaching the bottom of the stairwell she sagged against the wall with a bowed head. The sudden destruction of the nanobots had left her exhausted, and wracked with pain. In her blood steam the nanobots were inert and, unable to be recalled by the backpack and incapable of functioning having been at the epicenter of the pulse. Now it was as if Danrake had come down with a sudden and significant dose of a heavy metal poisoning. She fumbled for the door handle, and clutched it as she retched uncontrollably. It promised to be a long day when she returned to her hideaway, hooked up to a blood filtering machine in order to clean her system out. Sluggishly she moved out of the stairwell into the lobby, crossing it as quickly as possible. She lurched out onto the street. Immediately the noise, light and motion of the busy city came close to overwhelming her. Danrake flowed into the stream of people moving past the building’s entrance. In a matter of seconds she was swallowed up by the mass of people.
The amorphous cloud drifted idly around Narsico’s office, unable to solidify. That could not matter less, the daemon thought. It was free, unconditionally free. It would be a small matter of time before it could assume another physical form, and time was something the daemon had plenty of. No, it mused, I am daemon no longer. I am to be reborn as I once was, and I will have my revenge on those who imprisoned me. The city of Xira and every person in this world will fear my name again.
well crafted story that leaves you satisfied, but hoping for more.
nice mix of science and magic, and terminology. nothing like an inside joke to appeal to a technologist :) Ultimately, thanks for sharing
Raymond Coulombe, Michael Gallant, Timothy O. Goyette
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