Welcome to the forum for the author James Barclay.
Joined: 13 Jan 2005
Location: Louisiana, USA
|Posted: Wed Jun 01, 2011 4:34 pm Post subject: 'Project Orchid, Book One: Earth and Air' - Teaser
|[Interested to see reactions to this. Long-standing project of mine, sci-fi/fantasy hybrid. Thoughts welcome as always. Apologies for the technically incorrect formatting but it was the best I could do in this format.]
“Why ‘Project Orchid’?”
Zinc’s eyes never removed themselves from his monitor. One hand idly stroked the edge of the orchid leaf. “I’m graced with your presence, Lady Riseonei. I was wondering if you’d ever venture down into the depths of Via.” He paused, listened to the silence, and decided to look up from what he was doing. “Please, have a seat,” he gestured to the chair in front of his desk.
The Lady sat, ever poised, though her discomfort with her surroundings was just beneath the surface. Her face remained neutral, waiting.
“Introduced from the oldworld, orchids. Though ‘introduced’ in the sense they were the décor of the wealthier colonists and scientists who found this wretched planet. I’m surprised you didn’t know that. Of either of us, you should be the oldworld connoisseur.”
“I only have so much patience for your ramblings, Commander.”
“And yet you travelled all this way,” he said wistfully, locking eyes with her. Hers hardened, her arms folded.
Zinc allowed himself a little smile, picked up the small potted orchid and leant back in his chair, propping his feet on the open drawer of his desk. He angled the throat of one of the pearly flowers with a finger, turned it side to side. The cyan light from the wall panels, combined with the golden-orange glow of the graphs on his monitor, turned the flowers into sculpted opals.
“This one, rescued from a lab we raided, brought to me on a whim. They’re fascinating. Thrive in the face of adversity; require very little water or soil, gather most of what they need from the very air they breathe, and still manage to produce flowers of exceptional beauty and design – wouldn’t you agree?”
“And in terms of your plan to save us all?”
Zinc smiled wider. “I note your skepticism.” He toyed with the orchid a little more and replaced it on his desk. “It so happens, as I’m sure you’re aware, that IREM was once also called Project Orchid, in its infancy. I’m calling it Project Orchid because my two hackers are going to be just that. They are going to thrive in the face of the adversity we are going to give them, and generate astounding results. They are going to feed on everything we throw at them. Revolution will be an understatement – they are all the hope we need. They are going to save us all.”
“I wish I could share your conviction whole-heartedly.”
“It’s understandable. You haven’t seen them as I have. But you will, when it’s time to play your part. Don’t get me wrong, my Lady. Sacrifices will have to be made, steps will have to be taken carefully. It’s a very delicate plan. But we’ve come too far with it now to go back, and the stakes are too high. IREM moves closer and closer every day; every move of ours counts.”
“And you think by relying solely on two people, we can save free humanity from extinction? That two people can bring down something as far-reaching and impregnable as IREM? The Resistance has been fighting that battle for nearly twenty years…”
Zinc leaned forward in his chair, his perfect teeth gleaming. “If we hold true to my strategy, do what we need to do to nurture their abilities and state of mind…” he shook his head, his voice dropped to a whisper, “Nitrus and Rhea will be nothing short of perfect.”
CHAPTER ONE –
In a single slick move the head had been taken from the body. A scarlet wave dashed the wall, missing Rhea, who was already two steps ahead. She moved to her next target. The stun needle stabbed in her direction. Up came one foot to knock the Mark off balance, followed by her other to smash its face into the wall. Another dart of her hand, another head falling, another wall painted red, in a matter of seconds. The bodies slumped together and she stood perfectly still. All was silent. A flick of her wrists and the blood was gone from the metal.
The two six-inch strands of deadly metal retracted inside the back of each of her hands, up into her forearms. She took a couple of cautious steps forward before the widening pool of blood and gore touched her boots; already the smell of carnage was rising into the air, sharp and familiar to her.
My name is Rhea. I am a hacker, and one of the last legend’s bloods. I am twenty-four and a half, and I am no hero. All I can see is death, she thought, her mantra descending into the cynicism that plagued everyone who remained free of the system. No, concentrate. Location: Beltark, on the River Kues. IREM strand type: demi. Only a demi. Disable or destroy any Mark that gets in your path. Bring down the strand. The Reaper will follow as Via backup. Business as usual.
Rhea glanced down at the bodies at her feet. When active – she could never use the term ‘alive’ – these Marks were the only evidence that IREM existed. She scowled. Not so much at these tools of the system, but because they were the perfect example of how the Inter-Regional Evolutionary Mainframe had taken over the planet seventeen years ago. It had been silent. Nearly undetectable until it was too late.
Rhea walked on through the tunnel that formed the entrance to this small-town bar, but slowed when she came to a short upward staircase. Musty yellow light filtered down, but she could hear no movement. Still. She took her slim-barreled, silver gun out of an ammunition belt and kissed the engraved label ‘Crucifix 33’. Pressing her body up against the left-hand wall, Rhea gradually shifted forward and paused with her foot on the first step. She knew what she would find. The bar would appear normal enough, but IREM was cunning enough to be able to hide its bases – the means through which it sent out controlling signals to the people – everywhere, from tall corporate skyscrapers even to places such as these.
Rhea listened again, and could just about hear quiet footsteps. She was surprised Marks had any concept of stealth. She looked around, then up, and noticed the last in a series of arm-thick, horizontal beams across the ceiling. She shoved her gun back in her belt, jumped and caught hold of the beam, swinging her ankles up one after another. A little shifting and she was hanging by the backs of her knees, coiling her body together and tucking her long ponytail inside her shirt. Out came the Crucifix 33 again, and she fired into the dark near the entrance.
The footsteps quickened and two Marks with stun needles made their way down the stairs into the tunnel. Rhea wasted no time and shot them in the back of the neck, and the close-quarter shots threw the two Marks to the ground. Rhea waited, still aiming at them, just in case she hadn’t destroyed the chips and they started to get back up. Thankfully, they didn’t.
Tense silence filled the next few moments, and then the beam Rhea was holding onto vibrated slightly. She pressed a hand to the ceiling and felt the shivers just before they stopped. Rhea cursed, and then cocked her head and her frown changed into a smirk,
“Here we go.”
Rhea uncoiled her body from the beam, hanging upside down for a moment before she pitched herself backwards, flinging her legs off the beam to land expertly on her feet. Her gun in her right hand, and her knife unsheathed on her left hand, she dashed up the stairs.
There was a bar slightly to her left, a mass of chairs and tables in the far left-hand corner, and the floor seemed to be the only stable construction, but it was the other staircase on the right that she was most concerned with. She was almost finished calculating possible numbers – and thus reconsidering her battle plan – when she thought she could detect another enemy aura behind the bar. Why hadn’t it come out yet?
When the first of the heads appeared Rhea confined that thought for later as she realized her estimate had been slightly miscalculated. The first pair of Marks she shot in the eyes. Their backward tumble stopped the rest long enough for Rhea to stow her gun yet again, sheath her knife and stand ready. She concentrated briefly to summon the power of her aura, and it manifested itself as a tangle of ruby-streaked neon green light around her body. It glowed and shimmered with the intensity of a shell of stars, but she would only need to get the Marks down long enough to destroy the base control. Her face developed an unamused scowl as she watched the crowd of Marks swarm towards the mighty heat signature like ants to sugar.
Rhea narrowed her eyes and pushed her palms outwards, letting loose a twisting flood of green and ruby ether. It consumed the enemy bodies, incinerating them within moments and cutting her a path to the door. Rhea instantly ran through it. The aura around her died away as she brought out her knives on both hands again.
A stun needle plunged towards her shoulder, and Rhea lunged to the left. As soon as she located the right arm there was an expert slice and it was severed. She fought off the original needle with her right-hand knife, dipping down in a roundhouse kick to avoid a third Mark aiming for her back. The kick took the legs from beneath both of them.
A fourth Mark was in front of her now, blocking the path. Rhea leapt up at him like a wild animal; her left-hand knife swiped through the needle-bearing wrist. Her right-hand one tore the jugular vein from his throat. Her armored forearms pushed him down and she carried on running, slashing violently to get to the doorway.
At the bottom of the unexpectedly short stairwell Rhea sent a pulse of ether upwards. The resulting holes in their bodies disorientated the Marks long enough for her to cut her way through with less danger. She took a breath at the top and noted two windows on the far side of the bedroom – the larger one was open to the dark street beyond. It was through this window that the Marks had been coming. One was just kneeling down now, in fact.
She whipped out her gun and shot the most visible kneecap, raging forwards to decapitate the female Mark. The next Mark was about to fall forwards in Rhea’s direction, needle raised, when up came her foot to meet his chin. His head struck the top of the window and bared his neck to her – she used her last current bullet at close quarters. There was very little neck left.
Sound behind her. Out went another pulse of ether to throw the Marks back down the stairs. Rhea looked beside the doorway, noting a wardrobe then ramming into it. It was nailed to the floor, and her small body couldn’t move it enough to block the stairway as she had wished. Fast glances around the room, searching for where the strand could possibly be. A kick went to the bed testily – it wasn’t nailed down. She looked back at the wardrobe to consider why it was secured. She cocked her head and smirked briefly. Then she heard the Marks downstairs getting back up to come for her.
“No time.” Bloodied knives sheathed.
Rhea summoned her aura again, but this time it grew to blinding strength. She concentrated, remembered the boundaries of the building and focused them down to just this room and what must lie beyond the wardrobe, creating an invisible shell to contain the attack that was coming…
Suddenly her head went back and she screamed a blood-curdling scream. The piercing sound shattered the windows and the mirror nearby. The ether she summoned hurtled outwards like a supernova; it filled the room and incinerated everything to meaningless ashes that piled on the unharmed floor and billowed into the untouched walls. The main brunt of it surged into the wardrobe, obliterating it and pushing beyond to reveal just what Rhea knew it would reveal – the base controls. The concealed machinery melted and exploded before finally crystallizing into shapeless piles of molten carbon.
Rhea forced herself to stop her scream, and the light of her aura vanished just as quickly as it had grown. She regained her breath then held it as she listened for the noise downstairs. Brief silence, and then the thump of bodies collapsing. A cautiously triumphant smile. Rhea moved to the broken windows, her boots crushing the shards of glass – outside, she saw a few people drop unconscious to the street. That would be happening everywhere in the vicinity, now, to everyone who was chipped. Success.
(I am so out of the loop. But that's okay!)
Writer, reader, photographer; one foot in England, one in the US.
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