Monday, November 15, 2010

Spanner Chapter 4: Special Delivery Service

Excuse me while I go all FAWM liner note...

This was originally going to be Chapter 2 when I wrote it during JulNoWriMo, but the original Chapter 1 grew so huge I split it into three separate chapters. So now you’re looking at Chapter 4. The first two parts conclude the extended opening begun in Chapter 1. The third part is a homage partly to William Gibson’s recent novels set in the present day and partly to gangster movies. The final part could be from a spy movie, a gangster movie, a classic film noir, or Pulp Fiction. Finally, Part 1 was written during AugNoWriMo for a Chapter 2 I originally intended to put between the original Chapter 1 and this. I found only two fragments of the AugNo Chapter 2 usable: the first establishes the suicide bomber’s motive, so I put it in Chapter 3 where it belongs; the second, I put here. The last part is a late continuity retrofit [which now incorporates one of the original scenes planned for this early section of the novel].

The two [now three] sections (counting the entire extended opening) are closely connected, but the connection is not yet apparent. However, I’m not yet done introducing characters; I won’t be done with that for another several chapters still...

Note: You’ll find lots of ethnic slurs from this point on. When they’re capitalized and used as if trademarked, they designate the national origins of the Mafias, as here. After all, gangsters are more tribal than most people and far more prone to Fantastic Racism. You've already met the “Honkies” (i.e. Minuteman); here we meet the “Russkies” (Russian Mafiya) and “Wops” (Italian Mafia); soon the “Japs” (Yakuza), “Chinks” (Triad), “Micks” (Irish mob), and other Mafias will invade the story. And yes, they’re all irrationally racist about each other, usually to violent extremes. And wait till you meet the “Freaks”... (However, “mudblood” never designates a Mafia and is always used as a racial slur. Jennifer will explain the full meaning of the word in Chapter 7.)

Update 1/7/2011 — Newly restored to the story: 1) the courier company scene and characters from Project Notebook #13 (2005); 2) the hoverboard delivery sequence from the notes I made in July/August ’10. Also from the Project Notebooks of the early ’00s: Leila’s dream. The sections are now better connected, even if subtly; there’s now a theme of sorts, so I changed the title to match. Several characters important later in the story are introduced in the final here.

Anyway, the pyrotechnics are about to resume. Read on...

...from previous

Chaos Angel Spanner — Book 1: Rock City Blues
Chapter 4: Special Delivery Service

28 August 2014
Shira finds herself in an interrogation room at Bremerton Police headquarters, facing a familiar and annoyingly persistent FBI agent.

“Well, well, well. We meet yet again, Princess Diana Becket of Dictel, Incorporated. You people must really like me in Holy City.”

“That’s Agent Shockley.”

“Of course, Your Highness. Too many people don’t like your royal Corporate name?”

“Why were you in Fort Lee, New Jersey, on the evening of the 25th?”

“Meeting with some friends.”

“An illegal underground meeting, in other words.”

“Of course not. If you know Spanner, you know he was already at work long before I got there. I was there to meet my cousin Karen, who was bringing some Japanese-American friends of ours back to Seattle with her, and we celebrated the youngest daughter’s birthday before we headed back to Newark Airport. While we were there, we got to catch all the fun. On the tele, of course.”

“We can connect you.”

“And everybody other mudblood in Dark City. Just look at the surveillance video. You won’t find any trace of me on the PATH train from Jersey City, nor the ferry from Hoboken, nor in any of the tunnels onto Manhattan. You won’t even find me in the tunnels with the Mole People. Have all your best military spybots try and find me. You won’t, because I was nowhere inside the evacuated zone within the New York city limits during the time in question.”

“We can get you for insubordination.”

“Of course you can, Princess,” purrs Shira. “You always can. I’m already pre-convicted. I’m a dirty stinkin’ mudblood, remember?” She beams innocently.

After Shira is released without charges, a frustrated Diana calls her uncle, the Cartel Chairman. “Uncle, did you tell the local police to let her go?”

“I’m afraid so, Diana,” says Richard Becket. “We have to be careful with this Shira Thomas. She is Hope Reston’s daughter, you see, and Reston is dangerously popular among the rabble. With the humanist delusions and, more importantly, the vast resources of the Wilder Foundation behind her, she has the means necessary to steal our rightful dominion from us during the upcoming election, no matter how much we spend, and election day is closer than you think. The Foundation have even managed to Incorporate both mother and daughter on us and give them some degree of sovereign immunity. And never forget for a second that you’re in the land of the liberal enemy.”

Diana says nothing for several seconds. Then she says “Thank you, Uncle,” and hangs up.

1 September 2014
The monster chases Leila, and she runs. She bears no clothes no armour no defense: she is beautiful slender pale vulnerable and she runs. Every time she looks back to see how close or far it is, it takes a completely different shape. She doesn’t know her mission, but still she runs. Through alleys paths traffic garbage crowds, through scuzzy apartments clean skyscraper offices stifling fuming factories she runs. As long as she keeps running, the monster will never catch her. But she’s afraid, and so she runs.

Then she sees him again, the huge grim figure in the mirrorshades in the dark, and it begins. The wars the civil wars the strife the terror, the burning oil spills the hurricanes the earthquakes, and the world is about to end the same way it always does and the same way the man in the mirrorshades wants it to end, and the robot zombie apocalypse is about to begin — but after the nuclear warheads launch, a red tabby cat attacks the man and he panics and the world goes into chaos and dream visions go random —

Leila suddenly wakes and sits bolt upright, the covers flying off her bare drenched skin. Dripping sweat glues her short black hair to her forehead. She breathes heavily, gasping for air.

She struggles out of the bedcovers and sits at the side of the bed and lets the sweat run down her skin. She has never experienced anything like this. The vision always ends the same way. But not now. The wordless sense that something huge is about to happen overwhelms her. She tries to think about it for a while. Then she gets up to take a long cold shower.

That night, she sits listlessly in the food court at the Harborside Commons and watches the chairman of Apple try to join the Cartel up on the LED monitor screens and sees the world take one step closer to the end and despairs. And then the same thing happens to the big broadcast Corporate meeting that happened in her dream that morning: the whole scene descends into chaos. But this time the chaos is caused by a man — a mystery man on a hoverboard wielding smoke bombs, exploding flares, and a monkeywrench. And the talking heads are calling him after the monkeywrench: Spanner. The world tries to take one more step to oblivion, and an angel of chaos appears to trip it.

For the first time in over a year, Leila does not take her antidepressant pill. The despair has fled. All that is left is shock.

2 September 2014
Tacoma, day.
East Tacoma is the “badside” of metro Seattle. The City of Seattle once had its ghetto districts. Then Seattle transformed into one of the world’s most glamourous and desirable cities. However, in doing so, it left Tacoma behind.

If there is anything resembling “badside” left in the City, it is North Park. But that slumlike neighborhood speaks French, which the world knows as the most intellectual of the Romance languages, even if the peasants who dominate North Park speak street French with its pig-Latinesque verlan. But the City of Seattle recently convinced Sound Transit to construct a light rail line through the area, the Ballard-Northgate Link. North Park will receive a station of its own, the station area is being designed by architects and urban planners consumed with passionate love for the great cities of Europe, and North Park will become as fashionable and intellectual as its dominant language. From North Park to the Central District east of downtown and South Seattle in the southeast, “badside” is fast disappearing. Gangsters have been waging a continuing war of resistance against the advance of the City that is devouring their ’hoods. But even they know that their unholy crusade is a lost cause. The gangsters who give up move south to Tacoma, where City poses no threat to badside.

Once Tacoma was Seattle’s equal. In those days, Seattle coincided with Boeing City, a provincial backwater. Both were industrial cities attached to coastal ports; the difference was that Seattle had swallowed more of its suburbs, while Tacoma didn’t have as many suburbs to swallow. All that changed with Microsoft, grunge, and the Dot-Com Explosion of the late 1990s. Seattle entered the lofty realm of the great American cities: New York, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco... Tacoma tried to follow Seattle: building a city-owned citywide broadband network, expanding its colleges and technical schools, luring businesses that had been crowded out of Seattle or the Bay Area — but all that failed. Tacoma was eclipsed by Bellevue, the boom suburb directly across Lake Washington from Seattle which had birthed Microsoft and the Northwest tech boom. If Seattle is the bright shining star of the Puget Sound metropolitan system, Bellevue is its binary star. Tacoma became the dark star at the very edge of the system, what Nemesis the death star is to the Sol System.

Unlike Seattle, the Pierce County side of the Tacoma area took the form of a twentieth-century Rust Belt white-flight suburb: the conservative white suburbs outside, the black-dominated industrial city in decline, and the cancer at the core of the city that the twentieth century called “inner city” and the twenty-first calls “badside.” The King County side of the Tacoma area, centering on Federal Way, did not become like that. The polyethnic, polyglot airport suburbs of southern King County glory in the name Seattle Southside. The Pierce County suburbs (and the King County exurb of Enumclaw, well away from glamourous Seattle Southside), however, do not even revolve around Tacoma itself. The real job engine of Pierce County is the massive defense-contractor “edge city” built on the Lewis-McChord military base southwest of Tacoma. They are suburbs of not so much Tacoma as Lewis-McChord, populated mainly by soldiers and superpatriots who have placed the whole county, including even Tacoma, into a seemingly permanent state of conservative icelock. There are scattered isolated districts throughout urban Pierce County that could be an alternate future Tacoma, the most promising being downtown with its university and its arts. But most of Pierce County is white, conservative, and military. East Tacoma — Badside — is its dark mirror, its Detroit-like “Black Bottom,” the black hole that could swallow all of Tacoma and threaten Seattle itself.

Tacoma is a grimy industrial city on a perfect harbor and at the southern end of the Seattle area’s long rail-oriented industrial corridor. It is most famous for the pulp-mill stench called the “Tacoma Aroma,” which settles on the city and chokes it like a poisonous miasma. East Tacoma is the flat area south of Interstate 5 overlooking downtown, and east of the main north-south street, Pacific Avenue. It is a largely bombed-out zone of unrepaired old houses, unsanitary shanties, and dodgy businesses flanking its major street, McKinley Avenue. The area is constantly ravaged by gang wars; when the gangs launch attacks outside the zone, the whole city is placed under martial-law lockdown until the gangs are beaten back. A mile separates the two major cross streets that link McKinley to Pacific Avenue and the Tacoma Mall, South 38th and South 56th. Between them, a mafia-built netherworld of bars, strip clubs, and whorehouses sprang up since the coup of 2012. In the middle of that desolate mile stands the infamous Loco Moloko.

“Moloko” is Russian for “milk,” and Loco Moloko is indeed a milk bar. But “Loco” designates “Wild West”: Russia is the “Wild East” of Europe. All the milk drinks at Loco Moloko are drugged, for it is run by Russian gangsters, or Russkies. The establishment is themed like the milk bar in A Clockwork Orange, complete with milk dispensers designed to look like female breasts.

By all rights, Desiree Richter-Thomas shouldn’t be here. Beautiful, bright in mind and personality, semi-famous and promising, her present and presumed future are supposed to belong in the highest reaches of the star system. Indeed, she herself was a DisneyPop SuperStar once. But she has a dark and violent personal history, and she has been unsettlingly close to gangsters as long as she can remember. It goes with growing up Dictel.

Her beautiful face is framed by gamine-cut copper hair spiked with hard gel. She wears a translucent white blouse with the letters “di” printed on the front: the latest intellectual fashion involves obscure references to twentieth-century European literary fiction, and only those who are “in” recognize the reference to Robbe-Grillet. She keeps it half-open, exposing her lacy black bra. Below the waist: black leather skirt, black satin tights, black synthogator boots.

Beautiful, charismatic, dangerous: Desiree is the center of all attention. Nobody pays attention to the briefcase at her feet.

She sips a chocolate milk spiked with amphetamine. She wants to be ready for when the Wops arrive.

The owner, Leonid Stroman, sidles up to her table and sits across from her. “Hey, gorgeous.” He speaks English fluently, almost without an accent. Much more understandable than his incompetent lieutenant Andy Williams, who murders the language every time he opens his mouth.

“What do you want?” she says suspiciously.

“Anything for me in that little black satchel of yours?”

“If I tell you,” she purrs, “I’ll have to kill you.” She smiles innocently and winks.

“Must be some big shit in there.”

“I’ll tell you what. Make sure your men are ready. There’s a little crew coming straight from Naples, armed courtesy of the Pope. I want them to enjoy the little surprise I’ve got in store for them.”

“Okay, if you say so, beautiful.” Warily, he leaves the table and summons a few burly Russkies into his office behind the liquor bar.

Desiree looks at the cuckoo clock over the entrance. Below the clock face is the little door from which the animatronic cuckoo will emerge in just over six minutes. The second hand approaches the XII with a tick, tick, tick...

She scopes the ceiling. Four hanging compact-fluorescent light fixtures, spaced evenly to give as much light to as many places in the bar, but only just light enough to turn the darkness into gloom.

The front wall has no windows. The front door, centered in the wall, is a heavy steel security door. Since President Palin decreed alcohol illegal, badside bars have gone covert like in the bad old Prohibition days when racketeers hid speakeasies within warehouses and funeral homes. No alcohol is served at Loco Moloko, but the drinks are still illegal. The “milk bar” is still just a cover. Pious prohibitionists still send the police, so it’s best to minimize suspicion.

Desiree looks at the dispensers behind the bar. The dispensers are white female mannequins with oversized breasts. To pour the milk, the bartender squeezes a breast. Each mannequin dispenses a differently drugged milk drink. You can order hot or cold.

Finally, she looks around the bar. The tables are the same color as the milk dispensers but made of a harder thermoplastic. On each one is an electric candle; in each candle’s bulb, tiny lightning dances. At some of the tables, nervous men sit. Leonid has passed Desiree’s warning on to them. They stare at the door, waiting for the Wops to bust in. Their guns are ready for the intruders. She notices that some of them are wearing earplugs. The regular clientele are gone; Leonid doesn’t want to put them in danger, or he knows he’ll lose business. Even criminals hate going bankrupt.

At last, the time comes. The cuckoo comes out of the clock to announce the new hour.

“They’re heeeeere,” Desiree sings. She tightens her legs around the briefcase.

Exactly on time, someone knocks hard on the front door. The knocking gets harder and more regular, as if the Wops are using a battering ram. After a few seconds, the door shatters into splinters. The Wops have arrived: eight Camorra hitmen, professional serial killers, special-forces trained, rush in, wielding Uzis from the Israeli syndicate and Mafiya-made Kalashnikovs. Desiree shoots the clock cuckoo above them: a screamer she’s planted in the cuckoo goes off, forcing the hitmen to let go of their guns and put their hands over their ears. Some of them let out a scream of their own. Before they can recover, Desiree shoots out all four of the hanging lights, leaving the place in darkness. She picks up the briefcase and runs to the back while Russkies and Wops light up the darkness with gunfire.

When she exits the back door, she notices that Stroman has planted rosebushes in quincunxes within brick-walled terraces in a desperate attempt to bring order to this chaotic no-man’s land. Behind her she hears a car coming; she hides behind a rosebush. A sleek black Maserati. Figures.

The driver gets out, takes a Beretta 9mm pistol out of the shoulder holster hidden within his blazer, and looks around for Desiree in case she has escaped the free-fire zone within Loco Moloko. She slips silently behind him, puts her arms around his neck, and wrenches his head to the right to break the neck with a loud snap. She likes his fedora, so she swipes it off his lolling head and puts it on her own. She strips the jacket of the corpse and puts it on; it’s a couple sizes too big. She slips into the Maserati, adjusts the seat and steering wheel, puts it in gear, and drives away. For security, she puts her hand on the GPS and kills it with a zap.

Once she adjusts the driver’s seat, the Maserati fits her like a glove. By now, the Wops have discovered their dead comrade and are taking to their own cars to track her down. Instead of going straight up McKinley, she crosses it and takes South 48th west toward Pacific. She figures the Wops should have spotted her by now, so two blocks short of Pacific she turns north on East A Street, which will get her to the Interstate 705 interchange and downtown more quickly and give her a little more distance on the Wops. Half a mile up, and it’s east on South 38th. They’ll be here soon. Unfortunately for them, East Tacoma is completely covered with security cams: once they start speeding, the cops will be on their tail in no time flat.

Right before the interchange, she spots a billboard. On it is the Michelin Man... phobic reaction begins against her conscious will...

don’t panic, Desiree, don’t panic don’t panic don’t panic

She takes deep breaths to try to control the fear and tries not to hold the steering wheel too hard. She forces herself to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo until the billboard is past, she’s on the freeway, and the fear subsides. As if by clockwork, the Wop cars speed down the on-ramp from 38th westbound to chase her. Sure enough, they’re being hounded by a pack of screaming police cars. She gets down low, punches the accelerator, and heads downtown. One of the mobsters shoots his Uzi at her; bullets perforate the back window and the windshield. Her narrow escape from death obliterates all remaining fear and puts her into the absolute calm of combat. Past I-5, off at 26th, to Freighthouse Square. She skids to a stop in front of the entrance, grabs the briefcase, leaps out the door of the Maserati and into the building’s entrance.

That train had better be here. On the way over, she had been too preoccupied with her pursuers to pay attention to the tracks. She runs down the middle of the station between the stores, threads her way through the milling crowd, hoping the cops can catch the Wops before the Wops can catch her. A bullet whizzes past her: spotted! People panic and scream, running around chaotically. But they hide her from the hitmen. But not for long. She runs through the long corridor, looking for the next exit on the train side. At last she finds it. The train is there. She exits through the open door.

A distance from her in the direction she came from, she spots a slender black-haired woman. Is that her? She approaches the woman silently, almost shyly, hiding herself behind the passengers she passes in case the Wops look her way. Closer and closer, she approaches the woman, who is looking at the train door as passengers get off. She forces herself to walk faster. Finally, she gets close enough...


The woman turns toward her. She is gorgeous. Her slender, lithe body wears a classic little black dress perfectly. Her violet eyes look almost sad. Her sleek black hair is cut into a Neo-Wave wedge, the short hair on the left side of her head shaved into a checker pattern; above that, a prominent white stripe.

Desiree breathes a sigh of relief. It’s her. It really is her. Rukmini Ariel Shield.

Ariel smiles at her and reaches out toward the briefcase. In a delicious Irish accent, she says, “Here, let me handle that for you.”

“No. Not yet.” Desiree takes the black fedora off her head and puts it on Ariel’s. Then she puts the briefcase down, holds it between her legs, then takes the blazer off and has Ariel put it on. It fits her perfectly. She gives the briefcase to her. Then she takes Ariel in her arms and gives her a long sweet kiss on the lips.

She hears guns cock behind her. She turns and finds five Wops pointing Uzis at her. Ariel steps in front of her and advances slowly toward the hitmen. They shrink backward slowly, their faces contorting in terror. This Ariel Shield must be more dangerous than I thought... Ariel gestures her to stay close. She darts behind Ariel quickly and puts her hands on her shoulders. She can feel that Ariel feels no fear.

Suddenly gunshots sound and the Wops jerk and fall to the platform. Several cops hold guns behind the now dead gangsters. One of them calls out to Desiree and Ariel: “Are you two young ladies all right?”

The two women smile at the policemen. Ariel answers. “We’re perfectly fine, thanks!”

The police sergeant comes up and says, “We’ll need you two to make a statement...”

Ariel gestures him to be quiet. “Sorry, Sergeant, but our business right now is much too important. We’ll give our statements later. But soon. Thanks.”

She takes Desiree into her arms, looks deep into her eyes, and says, “Come with me.”

Desiree looks at the train door. The conductor cries out, “All aboard!” She looks back at Ariel, gazes into her eyes for a second or two, and says, “Okay.”

Ariel takes Desiree by the hand and leads her onto the train. A few minutes later, the doors shut, the horn sounds, and the train leaves for Seattle.

On the high-speed foot ferry from Seattle to Port Townsend, Desiree points to the briefcase and whispers to Ariel: “So what’s in here that the Pope wants destroyed?”

Ariel puts her arm around her. “Ancient Gnostic gospels,” she whispers back

“What’s wrong with those?”

“Remember the uproar over the Gospel of Judas a few years ago? When I make these public, Rome’s reaction will make that look like a tempest in a teacup in comparison. What these scrolls contain will destroy the entire orthodox picture of Jesus. This threatens not just to destroy the Church of Rome, but the whole Christian religion, strengthening the position of the American Empire. That’s why the Pope wants it destroyed and our Uncle Dick covets it, so that’s why I need it.”

“But aren’t we against Christianity, too?”

“Of course we are. But we have to deal with [air quotes] ‘Jesus America’ first.”

“Are you sure our uncle won’t send men to kill you first?”

“He’s lost too many men to try that again. He fears me for a reason.”

“So what’s the reason?”

Ariel smiles. “I’ll show you when we get home.” She kisses Desiree gently on the lips, making her blush.

Bremerton, night. Two shadowy figures meet late at night outside a warehouse in the defense factory district on Bremerton’s far Westside, south of Kitsap Lake. She: a middle-aged retired Marine officer in camo. He: a muscleboy in black T-shirt and jeans. Honey Sue Falconer hands a briefcase to Stan Green. He opens it to check the Confederate money inside. He smells it, feels it, holds his flashlight to one of the C-notes to check the watermarks and security strip. Satisfied that the money is genuine, he closes the briefcase and hands Falconer the one he brought. She opens it to check. One million dollars’ worth of illegal Chinese-made steroid pills, one hundred thousand in pre-coup Union greenbacks.

Green whispers, “One mill of pure Man Essence. Worth more than any money.”

Falconer replies, “Anything it takes to give us the edge.”

“You won’t be sorry.”

“Make sure no one else finds out about this.”

Green mimes zipping his lips shut and grins. “My lips are sealed.”

They do not notice the camera hidden in the trees nearby.

courier company. Shira records the scene on her Droid Mega as she walks into the Kitsap Kouriers office on Callow Avenue, hoverboard slung over her shoulder like a sword or electric guitar. She wears a baby tee with the company logo on it, matching elastic shorts, fingerless gloves, and ski boots, all in navy blue; her goggles are perched above her eyes. She strides to the desk when the tanned and pretty woman behind it, Keikilani Thompson, says, “Hi, Shira!”

“Hi, Kei!” sings Shira. She dances around the desk, takes Kei’s head in her hands, and kisses her deeply. Kei blushes furiously.

Sophie Lavoisier, the courier company’s sexy French owner, says, “Hello, Shira. You came at exactly the right time.” Shira turns around; Kei sighs. Shira and Sophie embrace and kiss like old lovers. A man clears his through behind Sophie.

His straight brown hair is shoulder-length and covers one eye. He looks carefully at Shira. “Say, do I know you?”

Shira smiles. “Who knows?” She turns to the pretty young man and shakes his hand. “Shira Thomas.”

“Billy Hunter.”

She asks Sophie, “Is this our client?”

“Yes,” says Sophie. “This is a very special delivery. Monsieur Hunter, her advance, please?”

Billy takes out ten thousand euros and hands them to Shira. She counts the money and whistles. “This is serious.”

“As is your recipient. He will pay double that upon successful delivery.”

“So who is he?”

“His name is Arvid Shield.”

Shira’s eyes and mouth go wide. For an endless moment, she says nothing. “That guy’s bad news. This job’s not just big, it’s hot. How come Warren or Adam isn’t taking this one?”

“They’re not sufficiently reckless. They aren’t willing to take the necessary risks. You are.” Peeking out at her from the back, Adam Toren and Warren Smith nod timidly. “That makes you the only one suitable for this job. Will you take it?”

A wicked grin grows on Shira’s face. “Do you even have to ask?”

night delivery. Shira flies her hoverboard only a few feet above Rich Passage. She feels the wind’s rough caress and the exhilaration of speed. Forty knots is faster than the speed the foot ferries take through the narrow passage. The catamarans slow down to save fuel once they leave the passage and can afford to kick up a wake; in her impatience to get to the heart of the city she loves, Shira speeds up while picking up altitude. Over Puget Sound and Elliott Bay, she watches the freighters and cruise ships below. She wonders whether they see her and are taking pictures; but then she remembers that there are more exotic things on the other side of the Pacific than couriers on hoverboards.

When she reaches shore, she banks sharply upward and heads for the skyscrapers of downtown Seattle. It beckons her like a magical forest of lights. But as soon as she enters, other hoverboarders descend from the roofs. From their colors, she guesses that their intent is not commercial like hers, but criminal. “Hmph!”

Two sky pirates flank her and move toward her. She drops beneath them; they collide into each other and spin out, slamming hard into nearby buildings. She takes a hard left; the pack follows close behind. She weaves through the buildings, carving a seemingly random path, confusing the gangsters. Then she speeds west toward Bellevue. The pirates, not wanting to miss their target, reassemble in hot pursuit.

She arcs over Capitol Hill, the Central District, and Madrona toward Lake Washington. She looks back at the pursuing pirates and flashes a cockeyed smirk they cannot see. When she reaches the lake, she descends until she skims barely a foot above the water. She slows down slightly; they come closer behind her. As soon as they almost reach her, she dips into the water and slams them with a rooster tail. Two pirates make a hard landing on the lake. The remaining pursuer — to her, obviously the hardest criminal in the pack — pushes his board’s engines to their limits. She speeds up, zigzags, hits the water with her board’s rear end to send jets at him. He grits his teeth with extreme effort as if his board’s lifters were part of his body. When he gets within a meter of her, he pulls out his gun to shoot her. She reaches into the pouch at her left side and flicks out a yellow yo-yo, then reaches behind to flick it into his face. The impact shatters his nose and jaw; his head snaps back, his board flips upward, and man and hoverboard crash hard onto the surface of the lake, then sink into it. The yo-yo is loaded; when it returns to Shira’s gloved hand, the design of a man spinning a yo-yo accompanied by the word “Relax!” clearly identifies it as a Go-Yo™. Shira banks gently upward, checks her gauges, and flies into downtown Bellevue.

The owner of the Bravern’s penthouse does not live in any of his residences; he spends all his time on jets and in swanky hotels, so he subleases them for a profit. Arvid Shield is rumored to be a crime lord; if so, she thinks, he is merely following the example of his father: J. Walter Brinkman, unelected Governor of Cascadia and one of the hated “Fearsome Foursome” appointed by President Sarah Palin in defiance of the state’s liberal “traitor” population. When she sees Arvid, she catches her breath: he is a tall man in a well tailored suit, a beauty with long silky black hair carried by the wind. She knows him to be one of the most dangerous fighters in the Empire, too dangerous for the Tournament in any of its manifestations. She circles the penthouse, descends, and lands in front of him. She shuts off the lifters, takes the cargo out of its compartment, and gives the box to him. He gives her a pouch filled with euros. She counts the crisp bills: €20,000, like Sophie said. She puts the pouch into the cargo compartment; she’s about to lock it when he says, “Not so fast.”

“Hmm?” She smiles when she hears his delicious Irish accent.

“You forgot something.” He gives her another box. “Open it.” She opens the box. Within it: an over-the-eye camera. “This is what Billy Hunter paid you for. Deliver it to him.”

Shira grins. “Huh.”

“You were magnificent, by the way.”

“You were watching?”

“By satellite.” He shows her some grainy video of her fight on Lake Washington, taken from above by satellite. “The newest generation of Landsats are amazing, don’t you think?”

“I can’t imagine what you-know-who would be using them for.”

Arvid laughs. He shows her what she has delivered him: a shimmering complex crystal. “This is a Dictel Research prototype meant for the latest generation of laser rifles that can cut through thick led or huge crowds. Reassembled, it can be made into the core of a cloaking device. Not something to be left in the hands of four criminals that dangerous.” Now Shira laughs.

“Should I trust you with it?”

“No more than anyone should trust you.” He smiles.

Shira puts her new cargo in the compartment and locks it. Then she gets back on her hoverboard, fires up the lifters, rises slowly. Shira Thomas and Arvid Shield stare in fascination at each other for several seconds more. Then Shira turns toward Seattle. He watches her fly away.

on to the next...

Copyright © 2010 Dennis Jernberg. Some rights reserved.
Creative Commons License

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[Revision 1.1, 11/25/10: Improved wording slightly; updated formatting.]
[Revision 1.2, 11/27/10: New layout for the entire series, plus text and continuity corrections.]
[Revision 1.3, 12/4/10: Text and continuity corrections.]
[Revision 2.0, 1/7/11: One complete omitted sequence (the final one) restored, plus a new and superior title for the chapter.]

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