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A Sharp Exit

August 28, 2008 Leave a comment

I wrote this short story sometime in 1992, before becoming a student. At the time, I was heavily into the Cyberpunk genre and particularly, a game called ShadowRun, loosely based on Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner and mixed in with some gene-mangled non-human races and mysticism ala Lord of the Rings.

This infatuation passed on to much darker, Gothic themes after reading Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice, but during my stint as a Cyberpunk fan, I managed to crank out some short stories.

This was the first short story I wrote as part of a series of speculative science fiction pieces on AI taking its place alongside humans in a cold, corporation dominated, post-meltdown future.

I hope you can take a few minutes, then, to enjoy this blast from the past, written 16 years ago, when Amstrad was a reputable British company, Amigas still roamed the land, the Atari ST was a household name and the mainstay of many a band. A time when Macs ruled, PCs were still 16 bit and 1MB of RAM was “pretty damn cool”.

More that that, I was still young and enthusiastic enough to believe that tech would answer all our needs and a bright, clean, shiny and well oiled future awaited us.

A SHARP EXIT

“Where was the Crew?” she thought as she took a quick downwards glance at her watch. Its luminous display proclaimed 14:02. Two minutes late.

As if this wasn’t bad enough she’d chabbed her fix on the security system of the robotics complex and now it seemed that the whole of Gold Star Security were now after her. This was not how she’d planned it!

She ducked and ran as fast as she could behind the low, gleaming concrete wall, which was all that stood between her and the advancing guards. Her breath was coming shorter and shorter as she exerted herself, not usually having to run to save her life.

She risked taking a peek over the slabs back towards her pursuers.

“Shit!” she hissed and dived into the waiting storm drain as a hail of SMG rounds skimmed the top of the culvert. That was close.

There were four guards bearing down upon her at seven o’clock. The walls wouldn’t offer cover when they jumped into the drainage channel with her.

A flash and a resounding crack signified a guard’s shot, accompanied by a spray of stone chips scattering themselves noisily around the duct. Too close.

Trying not to loose her footing, she unhooked a miniature thermos flask type affair from her belt and hastily withdrew the safety tag.

“Hope the thing works!” she prayed; the grenade was a home-wired, plastique charge pressed inside a piece of steel piping welded shut at one end and stoppered with a steel end cap at the other.

It was set for proximity after five seconds priming. Hopefully they wouldn’t see it until it was too late – or even better – see it at all.

She tossed it behind her and it rolled off to one side to nestle snugly amongst the assorted bits of foam and plastic shards which littered the duct; its little LED flashing proudly to itself.

She started to giggle as she careened along the grey stone, feeling an edgy, ecstatic hysteria start to take hold of her. A bullet whanged in a spray of sparks as it hit the wall to her right and she was sure the glittering blue beam of an Aries laser pistol had just singed her hair!

She was laughing now and couldn’t stop herself even though she knew they must be nearly in the channel by now. Foolishly, she peered back down the duct, the guards were piling over the wall.

“Come on you pansies…” she shouted, running for all she was worth towards the corner up ahead that promised escape from view and just a little further – out of sight – was the grating: The outlet to the sewers, which had let her into the compound in the first place. “Nearly there!”

WHOOM! The guards were involved in a bit of involuntary landscape editing as the hundred gramme charge of home-brew went up.

The blast carried down the channel like a runaway tube-train. It slammed into her back and lifted her clean off her feet. Dazed, she sailed through the air and hardly felt herself hit the end of the channel some ten metres away and slide roughly to the ground in a heap.

A hundred Christmas choirboys were singing different Christmas Carols simultaneously and waving sparklers before her eyes.

“I’ll try fifty grams next time,” she thought, “if there is one.”

She braced her arms and started to straighten them. But she couldn’t.

Only half way up, something stopped her. She was about to turn her head to see what it was when she was roughly hoisted into the air.

Through the afterimages of the explosion, she could make out a tall and muscular creature dressed in Gold Star combats holding her clear off the floor by the back of her plated jacket’s collar, choking her. He waved a pistol in her face and was shouting into a receiver on the back of his right hand; his voice unheard through the chorus.

Still, she thought, it didn’t take much imagination to guess what he was doing. There would be more guards here soon.

He started to carry her towards the end of the channel, where a set of stairs lead up to the tarmac. She struggled, but his wired arms were far too strong for her.

She gave up and let herself be dragged away.

“Where was the Crew?” A glance at her wrist showed 14:05:21.

She looked up at the roughly shaven underside of the creature’s face, sallow skin beaded with salty sweat that stained his combat’s collar. As he grinned down at her balefully, huge irregular teeth stuck haphazardly from raw gums and the smell of fish flooded her nostrils.

Noticing her discomfort, his eyes flashed with pleasure in the light of the one neon strip-light at the end of the duct that was still lit. The thing gave her a complementary blood-stopping squeeze round the neck and guffawed.

He rounded the last corner.

Slam! So quickly, before she knew what was happening! A huge metal-clad fist flashed out from around the corner, catching the burley guard in the midriff before he could let go of her and ready himself.

Not unduly phased, the creature tossed her aside like a child with a forgotten rag doll where she collapsed, exhausted against the wall. She watched in fascination as his wires kicked in; the technology never failed to amaze her. The meshing of flesh and machine creating a faster, stronger being was an astounding feat of modern science. And his wires were good: Accelerating his movements far beyond what mere flesh could muster, especially considering the creature’s size and mass.

The creature’s movements were a blur as he moved to find a strategic location in the rubble strewn drainage channel.

He stood, still now and she watched in awe and a little disgust as from the knuckles of his leathery hands slid two sets of long, titanium spurs.

Seeing nothing forthcoming, the thing took on a casual battle pose and grinned, beckoning.

It was then that the Crew stepped round the corner, all three metres and 950 gleaming, chromed kilos of it. She watched as the creature blinked twice in utter disbelief. His wired flesh was no match for the speed and deathly steel precision of the The Crew: It’s nearly-one-tonne contained not a gramme of, soft, vulnerable flesh.

“I knew you wouldn’t let me down,” she said, hugging the Crew’s warm tungsten-clad neck and kissing it as it tenderly lifted its bruised companion onto its back and carried her off into the pipes and away, a flash of silver against the night.

Even in death, the grin never left the creature’s face.

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