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Authors: Sean Williams

Tags: #Urban, #Sociology, #Social Science, #Cities and towns, #Political crimes and offenses, #Nuclear Warfare, #General, #Science Fiction, #Adventure, #Military, #Fiction, #History

Metal Fatigue

BOOK: Metal Fatigue
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Sean Williams
Metal Fatigue

In memoriam
Harold Alwin Schiller 1903-1983
David John Williams 1942-1995

The author would like to thank the following people for their help during the preparation of this novel: Bill Congreve, Shane Dix, Bill Gee, Jeff Harris, Phillip & Jo Knowles, Kelly Manison, Peter McNamara, Sputnik, Nick Stathopoulos, Jonathan Strahan, Louise Thurtell, Damien Warman and Juliette Woods.
Some sections of this novel are loosely based on the short story "Robbery, Assault and Battery", published in
Nemesis
#17 (March, 1992).

"Each culture casts its own shadow, a shadow which is a perfect description of its own form and nature. The shadow which our technological civilisation casts is that of Lilith, 'the maid of desolation' who dances in the ruins of cities. Now that we have made a single polluted city of the entire world, she is preparing to dance in the ruins of our planetary megalopolis."

William Irwin Thompson
The Time Falling Bodies Take To Light

PART ONE: THOU SHALT NOT STEAL
PRELUDE

Friday, 14 September, 2096, 11:15 p.m.

"I am Lucifer," said the voice.

He woke with a start, and opened his eyes.

The room was lit by second-hand streetlight, an indistinct, yellow haze which spilled through the curtains and lapped at the damp-stained walls. The curfew had not yet fallen, which placed the time at before twelve o'clock; still, the faint electric light was not quite enough to fully dispel the night. Shadows crowded about the bed, whispering black secrets in the distant voice of the city.

He sat up, letting the sheet slip from his shoulders to his lap. The humid air, stirred by the sudden movement, brushed the rigid bulges of his muscles with the electric caress of an approaching thunderstorm. The woman beside him snuffled to herself and rolled over. There was a subtle tension in the air, an expectant pause, a moment waiting to be filled.

He listened ...

People stirred in the buildings around him: someone screamed, another laughed, a third raised her voice in anger. A nearby couple made love with abandon, oblivious to his prying, sensitive ears. Far away, the languid tongue of the river licked its lips and tasted the rotten teeth of Patriot Bridge.

When the voice spoke again, it did so without sound or expression. It whispered directly into his mind a second time, "I am Lucifer," then fell silent again, waiting.

He closed his eyes, concentrated, and visualised a reply, parcelling the soundless words into a bundle of electric thought and hurling it outward into the night.

The response was instantaneous: "Remember your duty."

He slid from beneath the sheet and stood upright. In profile and near-darkness, his naked body was sexless and smooth-skinned. His chest and shoulders were massive, and his limbs gifted with both power and grace. His poise balanced, trembling, on the brink of blinding motion.

He remained that way for some time — frozen, indecisive, reluctant to commit himself to any course of action — until movement through a part in the curtains caught his pinprick eye. Leaning closer to the window, he peered out and down at the empty street below. As he watched, a shadow moved, stepped onto the littered roadway and into a wash of streetlight.

The man stood a full foot shorter than he, with wide shoulders and a wrestler's build not yet soft with age. Receding mouse-brown hair exposed a high, proud forehead and generous ears. A thick moustache bristled beneath the snub nose, lending the man an air of familiarity that defied the best efforts of his memory. He might have seen this man somewhere before, although he wasn't sure where.

It didn't matter. The man, whoever he was, was irrelevant. Curiosity had been carefully bred out of him, replaced with an inescapable compulsion to obey orders.

There was something about the man's silent watchfulness, though, that made him nervous. Something indefinably wrong. The man was so still, he hardly seemed to breathe ...

The woman stirred again, not quite awake. Her voice was muffled by sleep. "Cati?"

He turned away from the window. The blackness of her hair formed a puddle on the pillow, a pool of darkness deeper than the shadows. Reaching down with one massive hand, he touched her reassuringly on the shoulder. The trembling of his fingertips eased as he gently caressed her soft skin, even when the voice called a third time. She was Sanctuary in a world he could not begin to understand, queen of a haven called Peace; he would protect his Sanctuary every way he could, even if it was his own nature that threatened her.

Slowly, her breathing deepened, became more regular, until she finally returned to sleep.

He went to the bathroom, where he would not disturb her further, and opened his mind to the insistent touch of the one who called himself Lucifer.

When curfew fell at midnight, he was leaping from rooftop to rooftop high above the streets, hunting. And the silent man who had stood on the street under his window had long since disappeared.

CHAPTER ONE

Saturday, 15 September, 1:25 a.m.

From the outside, it looked like an empty warehouse: its doors had rusted shut; its windows were broken and boarded up; its roof was slowly caving in.

Kennedy Polis had many such buildings. Once, six decades past, swift, solar-powered ferries had shunted back and forth along the river, bringing with them trade goods from nearby towns. The warehouses had been full, then, and business brisk. Kennedy had shone like a jewel in the North American Model City Project's crown. Completely free of petrochemical fuels, self-sufficient except for a few basic raw materials and equipped with the latest reclamation technologies, it had symbolised the new, cleaner lifestyle promised by politicians for decades — a harbinger of the NAMCP's Utopian dream.

The War, however, had killed the dream, and the Dissolution that had followed had killed most of the dreamers. Now the warehouses stood empty, rotting slowly in the moist air drifting off the river. Some had become temporary homes for refugees, others were taken over by the Mayoralty; the remainder simply awaited the reopening of the city's self-imposed walls, if such ever happened.

The years rested heavily upon Kennedy, and upon its warehouses in particular. But it had not died.

Not yet.

This warehouse was located on a deserted cul-de-sac not far from the slosh and tumble of the river. A white, electric vehicle slid to a halt by a rusted phone booth at the end of the street. The letters "RSD" were painted in bold black down each side of the car and on its trunk.

The younger of the two people inside the car, a woman in her mid-thirties with shoulder-length blonde hair and strong laughter-lines, peered sceptically through the rain-spattered windscreen.

"You're sure this is the right place, Phil?"

The man beside her nodded. With a slightly receding hairline, a thick moustache and a body that was past its peak without being infirm, he looked to be only a few years older than his companion; perhaps in his mid-forties. He was in fact much older. It showed sometimes in his voice.

"This is it, Barney. Trust me." He smiled, teasing. "You wanted to come, remember?"

"Only because you promised to buy me a drink." She pouted mournfully, and he knew she was ribbing him in return. Barney Daniels and Phil Roads had been close friends for most of her life, especially since her father's death, and knew each other's games well.

"Best bar in Kennedy, you said," she continued, nodding disdainfully through the window at the derelict warehouse, no different from the scores of others within spitting distance. "Doesn't look like much to me."

"Nevertheless." He locked the dash with his thumb-print and keyed the car's security system. Thirty seconds. "Coming?"

"Do I have a choice?"

They stepped out of the car and into the street, pulling coats closer to protect their bodies. The rain was heavy and thick, falling in a warm sheet from the dark sky, a solid mass only slightly less dense than the nearby river. Their clothing consisted of the standard casual uniforms of the city's Regional Security Department: grey synthetic fabric, recycled aluminium buttons and thick greatcoats. Roads' genuine leather boots were a rarity in Kennedy, and allowed him to walk through puddles with greater comfort than Barney.

"This way." He led her down a narrow flight of stairs between two buildings. Paint peelings from the crumbling brick walls littered the asphalt path. A left turn took them to a steel door, which slid aside on smooth-oiled runners as they approached. The passageway on the other side was gloomily lit, but at least relatively clean and dry.

As they passed through the entrance, Roads noted the tingling, skin-crawling sensation of security scanners, electromagnetic fingers that reached through their clothes to search for the telltale shapes of concealed weapons. Barney, beside him, was far too young to remember the technology that had been available, if not commonplace, before the War, and nervously rubbed the suddenly erect hair of her forearms.

Roads didn't break his stride; the security-sweep was just the first of many technological traps designed to unsettle the unwary or the ignorant, and he didn't want to stop each time to bring her up to date. Besides, she was canny enough. If he looked like he knew what he was doing, she would follow his example.

He only hoped he
did
know. It had been so long since he had last come this way ...

The door at the far end of the corridor remained closed. A panel slid aside in the wall to the right of the door and a gender-neutral voice spoke:

"Please disarm. Your weapons will be returned to you when you leave."

"Phil?" Barney's voice betrayed her nervousness.

"It's okay." He opened his coat and removed his belt. The pistol — loaded with plastic bullets, lead being another rarity — and its holster vanished behind the panel; hers followed after a slight hesitation.

The door slid open.

They stepped through into a muffled riot of noise. Somewhere nearby, removed by only a wall or two, a very large, very noisy party was taking place. Roads smelled smoke and liquor in large quantities, and a general miasma of damp flesh.

Two large bouncers awaited them behind a low counter. "Names?" asked one without looking up from a neon-bright video screen. His left eye was covered with what looked like a simple leather patch. Roads didn't doubt that it hid more than an empty socket.

"Phil Roads." He pressed palm to scanner and waited for confirmation. "I still have access here, I believe."

"That is correct, sir," said the bouncer, his manner formal once the ID was approved. He waved Barney forward, and she likewise subjected her handprint to the machine's scrutiny.

It beeped a negative: as far as its files were concerned, she did not exist. That wasn't necessarily a problem; at least she wasn't a known threat.

"Ms Daniels is my guest," explained Roads. "We're here to see the Head. He's expecting us."

"I'll notify him of your presence." The bouncer listened to an earplug's whisper for a moment, then said: "He'll meet you shortly. This way."

Barney hesitated again, and Roads patted her on the shoulder, nudging her forward. "After you."

"Will I regret it?" she asked. "Probably."

She grimaced. "If you insist, then."

He smiled in return, and followed her inside.

The bar was full of half-seen, vaguely demonic shapes that twisted and writhed in the smoke of a hundred lit cigarettes, thrown into sharp relief by irregular strobes. Music blared from towering wall speakers as Roads and Barney headed in the general direction indicated by the bouncer. An expansive, horseshoe-shaped counter draped with bodies lay across their path. Short but solid, Roads used his weight plus the occasional elbow to clear a way through the crowd. Barney followed close at his heels.

The cubicle awaiting them was the only empty space in the entire venue, one of ten similar cubicles raised half a metre above floor level. Containing nothing more than a table and two leather-bound chairs, it was tucked into an anonymous corner opposite the entrance. A yellow lamp provided its sole illumination.

Roads shrugged out of his damp overcoat and slid awkwardly into the cramped enclosure, noting with relief that it was acoustically shielded. Behind them, the bellow of the crowd diminished to an irritating rather than painful mumble. Barney settled into the seat across the table from him, looking bedraggled and slightly stunned.

"Drinks?" asked a woman via the booth's intercom.

"Water, thanks." He glanced at Barney. Drinking on duty was forbidden, but she looked like she needed it. "And a Scotch."

"Any preference? We have — "

"Something from the cellar. Glenfiddich, if possible. No ice."

"Certainly. Your drinks will be with you shortly."

He leaned an elbow onto the table and smiled at his assistant's expression, waiting for her to speak. She seemed to be having trouble choosing one question out of the thousands she obviously wanted to ask.

"Where's your friend going to sit?" she eventually managed.

BOOK: Metal Fatigue
10.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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