Bane woke abruptly, the last vestiges of the nightmare fading slowly from his mind.
It was cold in his apartment, a buzzing a/c unit coughing out cool air that evaporated the sheen of sweat on his body. Bane suppressed a shudder as it chilled him. Grunting, he dragged away sodden sheets covering him from the waist down and heaved himself out of bed. It was when he reached the refrigeration unit that he realised he was shaking, and not from the cold.
Pallid grey faces, sunken eyes glaring hungrily, flashed briefly in his mind.
‘Frag it,’ he muttered, closing his eyes a moment. His voice sounded cracked and harsh. He was so dry.
He cranked open the refrigeration unit. It was an old industrial model, boxy and crude, but it worked, which was more than could be said of most tech in
A gust of cold ghosted in the air, weak halogen lighting made hazy as it spilled from the grey-white box.
Bane scanned the contents.
It wasn’t a surprise. He’d been clean for almost five years. No drink, no drugs. He didn’t even smoke. He felt like shit.
Grabbing a bottle of ‘fresh’ he pushed the refrigeration unit shut and sat down in a broad, upholstered chair that faced a portal overlooking the city.
Towers, harsh spikes of black and grey, soared high into a blanket of darkness punctuated by glittering lights of amber, red and blue. Huge clouds of steam and green-tinged pollutant vented periodically from vast condenser banks, only to be collected by immense rotator-fans that carried the effusion throughout Hive Primus, heating certain levels, blighting others. A network of pipes ran maze-like along steep-sided factorums and squat, dense-packed habs below. Bodies, little more than ants, thronged the various byways and lifters that Bane could see. They were the inhabitants of the city, eking out what meagre living they could in the relentless work-house that was Hive Primus. Streaks of garish neon added colour to the monochromatic vista: bars, strip-joints, gambling dens brimming with whores, chancers, deviants and murders and that was just the clientele. For a moment, Bane’s gaze lingered on a particular hab sector several levels below and the appended factorums next to it.
Bane had seen enough. He clicked a rune on a remote panel set into the chair and the viewing portal faded to black.
For a moment he saw his reflection in it.
He’d gained weight, more jowl than muscle, and most of the scars had faded. But his face was haggard and unshaven and showed every one of his fifty-two years. It still bore that same haunted expression that he’d worn five years ago.
Pallid grey faces, sunken eyes glaring hungrily.
The neurone plague outbreak. He’d lived through it with three others; less than half he’d started with. He’d been down and out back then: a stimm addict, a waster, all but dead. Sometimes, he almost wished he hadn’t lived. At least then the nightmares would stop. Times had changed since that day. His
Bane closed his eyes again, trying to find strength. He got to his feet and padded across the room. Even in the half-dark, grey light issuing through ambient filters, he knew the precise location of everything in the apartment. He paused at the vox-ponder unit, hand hovering over the archaic device.
He could call her.
Bane made his open hand into a fist.
‘Frag it,’ he muttered and walked away to the bathroom. He clicked on the halogen lamp, switching off the light a second later as it near blinded him. Blinking back the afterglow, Bane advanced upon a shallow basin at the back of the small, white-tiled room. He gripped the sides of the basin with both hands for support and sighed deeply. Crushing his eyes shut, he tried the lamp again letting his vision adjust. A squinting, scowling face regarded him in the mirror when he opened his eyes again.
Bane took a straight-edge razor from a fairly spartan counter next to the basin. Apart from the blade, there was a metal cup, scattered headache pills and a gun nestled in a shoulder holster.
Twisting an industrial tap on the basin, Bane waited while a series of pipes screeched and groaned in protest before a brownish liquid regurgitated out of it. Barely registering the condition of the water, he ran the razor under it and brought it up to his face. The razor was deadly sharp, a memento from an old ‘acquaintance’, one of the survivors of the neurone plague outbreak – the now dead one.
As Bane was drawing the blade down his pepper-stubble chin the quake hit.
The walls shuddered and a powerful tremor ripped through the floor with all the force of an insistent jack-hammer. Bane lost his footing and slipped. He grimaced as he cut himself with the razor. Three jewels of blood lined his skin. Cursing under his breath,
he reached for a towel and held it to the wound. Bane had to grip the basin hard to stop from falling. The mirror in front of him threatened to rattle loose. He held it fast with a stare.
An aftershock nearly pitched him from his feet and dumped the contents on the counter to the floor. Bane caught the gun before it fell, dropping the towel as he did so. He gripped the basin with his free hand and crouched low and waited it out. A few more seconds, and it was over. Grey halogen lamps flickered and crackled overhead, the hum of the power cells increasing in pitch with a brief light flare. Dust motes and rockcrete fragments fell from the ceiling like shed skin.
Once certain there’d be no more tremors, Bane tucked the gun into his pants, the only clothing he actually had on, left the bathroom and went over to the viewing portal and opened it hastily. The tint took a while to dissipate. Bane was stood right next to the portal when the view finally resolved itself and revealed the
A thick column of smoke, dust and ash spiralled up from one of the lower levels. Bane could several structures had been collapsed by the quake and small amber flares in the dark must’ve been fires. Two bridges and a landing plateau were down, shedding sparks. The ants were milling about amidst the carnage. Silent sirens flashed. Lifters ground to an all stop.
It was a bad one. There’d be a lot of damage. A lot of dead and injured.
Bane read the massive sector markings crudely stencilled in black, and partially obscured by smoke.
Bane barely had the voice to speak.
Alicia crouched beneath the overhang and crushed her son close to her body, using it like a shield. Head down, she clenched her teeth tightly against the raucous thunder of the hive quake, rockcrete and plasteel crashing down beyond the protective umbrella of the overhang like rain. Out of the corner of her eye she saw several figures in factorum overalls struck by a fallen iron beam. It was huge. A bridge strut from an upper level. It crushed the factorum workers to paste.
‘Close you eyes, sweetheart,’ she said against the din. ‘Don’t you look.’
A muffled whimper from within the depths of her close embrace told her that her son was listening.
They weren’t alone beneath the overhang. Frontier zone citizens huddled together as if the proximity of their fellows would grant them some kind of protection. Whores, stiffs, factorum workers, peddlers and kooks nestled in a fat, cowering ball of the Necromundan underclass, praying for salvation. Some closed their eyes, others looked to the heavens beyond the rockcrete umbrella of the overhang, a doomsayer preached the ending of the world.
Then it was over. A few sporadic chunks of debris fell like a light rain, accompanied by streaming rivulets of dust. Parchment scraps and chipped paint fluttered like ticker tape but this was no parade. Blood washed the streets.
Waiting a moment longer, in case there were any aftershocks, Alicia got to her feet, her son with her.
‘Roane,’ she said quietly into his ear, ‘we’re moving now. Keep your eyes shut.’
‘My head still hurts,’ Roane sobbed, but doing as his mother asked.
‘I know, baby. I’ll get us home and everything will be okay.’
Alicia near hoisted Roane up and ventured beyond the underpass. The sector was a mess, bodies lay twisted amidst the desolate wreckage, muffled cries of pain and desperation drifted on the smoke-choked air, sirens wailed like screams, distant gunshots thundered like cannons.
‘Come on,’ she urged, pushing past a tricked out hooker with an iridescent holo-wig and indestructible makeup. The hooker snarled something at Alicia as she shouldered her out the way but she didn’t listen. Keep your head down and just go, she told herself. Just go.
Picking through the carnage, trying to get to a lifter to reach the level of her hab, Alicia thanked whatever god was listening that she’d signed on for the nightshift at the factorum that evening. The ‘insomnia shift’ some called it. Alicia thought it a fitting title. Sleep was a precious commodity these days, ever since…
Howling cries and the base roar of throaty engines filled the artificial night, dispelling Alicia’s thoughts. She glanced back across the hellish warzone of the quake centre and saw hulking figures emerging through the dissipating dust cloud. Gunfire barked from the figures’ direction and someone screamed.
Alicia wondered how long it would take the gang bangers to come.
Eyes forward, she scanned the claustrophobic melange of buildings, towers and pipe-ways for a lifter.
‘Come on,’ she muttered, voice desperate.
Another furtive glance behind her revealed the gang bangers were coming her way, killing civilians with impunity, destroying and stealing as they went, sat astride crude hivecycles riding to red and bloody ruin.
Around a corner, between a steam farm and coolant processing tower, she found her salvation. Just ahead, there was a lifter set at her level, dirty operational runes winking green.
Alicia redoubled her efforts.
The hooting catcalls of the gangers were getting louder, the thrash
and pitch of their hivecycle engines an insistent drone in her ears.
Three feet from the lifter and she knew she was out of time. A large stretch of flattened plate highway sped into the distance. Alicia ducked into a side alley next to the steam farm and prayed that the gangers would screech on through.
As she crouched behind a boxy rotator fan unit, the pulsing air it regulated hot and rank, the gangers came into view.
‘Don’t make a sound,’ she whispered to Roane, crushing the boy into her body.
Festooned with skulls and sporting skin-tight red leather across overly developed musculature, Alicia recognised House Goliath bangers when she saw them. They were called the Red Sadists and everyone in
The Red Sadists slowed as they rode past the alley, sat languidly on their hivecycles, shooting stubbers and throwing makeshift firebombs. One got tossed into the alley of the steam farm where Alicia and Roane were hiding. It struck the wall and the glass housing it shattered, spraying a thick tongue of fire as the volatile liquid within dispersed and caught ablaze. Alicia shielded Roane’s head instinctively, but the fire was a good few feet away and died quickly as the accelerant was eaten up voraciously.
The Red Sadists were moving away.
Alicia sagged, but just as she was beginning to relax, her heart stopped.
One of the bastards had slewed his cycle to a stop and was looking down the alley. He was big with three hard spikes of dark, gory hair protruding from a scarred and fire-blackened scalp. Fat, armoured rubber-ribbed boots went up to his knees, sporting dirty spikes and oiled chain bound his naked torso like an iron serpent.
Alicia held her breath, watching through a crack in the rotator fan. Blood thundered in her ears, blotting out the steady whomp, whomp of the fan.
As the Sadist dismounted, she felt inside her factorum overall and found the small stubber she kept there.
No way she could kill them all and get away.
If the Sadist found them, she’d use the gun on Roane and then herself. Better that way. Better than what they would do…
Alicia felt tears welling in her eyes and wiped them away quickly before gritting her teeth.
She wouldn’t show weakness. Not to these fraggers.
Two agonisingly slow steps and the ganger was almost in the alley.
Then she heard a high-pitched whine, so acute it hurt her ears. An ephemeral flash of light followed a millisecond afterwards and the Sadist at the mouth of the alley was pitched off his feet, a smoking hole through the side of his head.
The Sadists were shouting; returning fire as more whines and flashes split the air in two like a hot razor. The chugging retort of something big and powerful added a thudding base note to the high-pitched chorus raking the underbelly of the dead Sadist’s cycle. Fire and heat blossomed outwards as the fuel tank was struck and exploded in a storm of metal and rolling smoke.
Alicia heard the guttural voice of one of the Sadists, obscured by flame, smoke and building chaos.
Through her tiny window behind the rotator fan in the alleyway, she saw figures running for cover, others revving engines and screeching tyres. Another cycle exploded in a blood red bloom, its rider pitched like a ragged doll into the air then landing with a wet crunch. A regulator, dressed in a black on grey, armour-ribbed bodysuit emerged into the firefight. He wore a rebreather mask over his nose and mouth and thick, night-vision goggles across his eyes. On one shoulder was an official Guild Regulators Badge, beneath it was another logo. Alicia knew this one, too.
The Phantoms were guild-sanctioned gang bangers employed to ensure the smooth running of
Backed by the guilders, the Phantoms were hi-tech and well-funded by certain House Van Saar overlords. Tough bastards the Red Sadists might be, but here they were outgunned and outclassed by a superior and well-organised force.
The Sadists were panicking; it was every man for himself. One took a hit in abdomen and got spun into the alleyway. He wasn’t dead and started crawling across the ground, leaving a thick blood smear in his wake and heading straight for Alicia’s hiding place. Groaning in pain, the Sadist got to his feet, thick cord-like veins standing out on his forearms as he levered himself up. Desperate for a hiding place, a way to get out of the regulators’ firestorm, he scanned the alley hazily. His gaze locked onto Alicia’s and she knew at that moment she’d been discovered.
‘You hoo, pretty…’ the Sadist slurred, slipping out a heavy-bladed dagger from behind his back. Even sho
t and likely bleeding to death, the fragger was still dangerous and in the mood for carnage.
She couldn’t kill them all. But this was only one banger, and he was wounded.
Alicia got to her feet, and pushed Roane behind her, standing between the ganger and her son.
‘Ooo, you’re fine missy,’ he said, turning his lecherous glare onto Alicia’s body.
It was a hot night, made hotter by Alicia’s proximity to the steam farm’s rotator fan, and she wore her blue-grey overalls tied-off to her waist. A fabric, figure-hugging top covered her upper torso but left her belly bare and her cleavage on show. Sweat from the factorum forge still clung to her and ran enticingly down her neck.
Her voice lacked conviction as Alicia pulled out the stubber, and positioned herself in front of the fan.
‘Stay back if you know what’s good for you, scavver.’
‘My, my, feisty and delicious, I don’t know whether to gut you before or after,’ said the Sadist with a licentious drawl, dipping his fingers into his wound and sucking off the blood lasciviously.
Pleasantries over, the Sadist roared and flung himself at Alicia who tore away to the side, squeezing off a shot into one of the steam farm’s conductor pipes snaking up the wall. Scalding hot, a cloud of vapour hissed from the ruptured pipe and enveloped the rushing Sadist. Caught in the steam cloud, the gang banger bellowed in pain and crashed headfirst into the fan unit as Alicia’s sidestep got her out of harm’s way.
With a resounding clang, the fan unit’s mesh housing came away and landed in a heap, bunched and twisted with the impact of the heavy Sadist.
‘Now, I’m gonna cut you,’ he promised, all business as he brandished the knife.
Alicia fired the stubbber again as the ganger got to his feet. The round hit him in the shoulder but he didn’t slow. Two more caught him in the chest and thigh, and still he came at her. When she fired again, the Sadist moving as inexorably as a building storm, the gun clicked empty.
The Sadist grinned maliciously clutching his wounded abdomen, the ragged hole cauterised by the regulator’s lasgun.
Out of the corner of her eye, Alicia caught sight of Roane. He’d wandered from behind the fan unit and was staring at his mother, tears in his eyes.
He mouthed her name, the ganger barely a few feet away, hovering near the exposed blades of the rotator fan, the rank air it expelled mixing with the stench of the Sadist’s blood and sweat.
Don’t look, Alicia mouthed back, balling her fists as she faced the hulking ganger, murder written indelibly across his snarling face. Even injured, she couldn’t beat him. He was too big. She’d fight him anyway.
Blade glinting cruelly in the halogen half-light, the Sadist went for the kill.
Roane screamed, so full of anguish, so full of pain and wanting that it came like a blast wave across the alleyway.
The Sadist slipped suddenly and his flailing chain caught in the rotator blades and was chewed up eagerly. Screaming, he was dragged into the exposed fan and rendered into sump-gator chum in seconds. Blood and meat sprayed outwards, expelled in a grisly fountain. The alley way was spattered in gore. Alicia felt it hit her face and neck, as dumbfounded she regarded the ragged mess of bone and viscera stuck in the fan’s mechanism.
‘Come on,’ she breathed, rushing over to Roane and leading him out of the carnal house alleyway by the hand in a hurry. The fighting in the streets beyond had moved on. Only clouds of smoke and chilling corpses remained.
‘Don’t look back,’ she warned Roane. ‘Don’t you look.’
But Roane did look as they left the alley, headed for the lifter. He saw the mess of the ganger, the torn flesh, muscle and leather, the matted tufts of hair and clotted blood. He watched the red ruin of the man until the last possible moment and felt nothing, thought nothing except one thing.
My head hurts…
By the time Alicia reached her hab unit, the shakes had died down to a low murmur. She fumbled the card lock at first, fingers twitching still but got it together and heard the dead bolts scraping free and the sharp click-hiss of pneumatic pressure as the sturdy door to her abode granted her ingress.
Ushering Roane inside, she told him to get himself a drink and then sealed the door shut, locking it down.
A few cracks ran up the walls that hadn’t been there earlier that evening, and a couple of items had fallen over; a portable heat-unit and a bank of freestanding halogen lamps. Otherwise, she’d escaped the worst effects of the quake unscathed. She placed a kiss on the thick, plasteel bars ribbing her ceiling and walls, and unclasped her boots. The quake proofing was more than she could afford, but then it wasn’t her cred that paid for it. For that, at least, she could be grateful.
Roane had retreated to his bunk by the time she moved from the entryway and into the kitchen. Opening the refrigerator unit, she pulled out two bottles of grain liquor and a half-dozen sheaths of processed gator meat. Opening a drawer, she cracked open one of the bottles using her teeth, fished around and pulled out a box of stubber shells. Alicia then moved into the main room in the hab, sat down in an old chair and took a long pull from the bottle to steady her fractured nerves. Draining the grain liquor dry in a few seconds, she cracked open the other bottle and drank more slowly, savouring the taste as she went about reloading her stubber, fastidiously checking the trigger and loading chamber. The grain liquor was black market. A third of her pay at the factorum w
ent on it, but it was worth it.
Alicia was about to take another pull from the bottle when the vox-ponder unit set up in the corner of the room chimed at her. She ignored it at first, drinking deep, but the tinny resonance became insistent and annoying. Setting the grain liquor down, she walked over slowly to the vox-ponder, considered it for a moment and then picked up the conical receiver cup.
Crackling silence returned from the other end of the line.
‘If you want to talk, then talk.’
Alicia slammed down the receiver.
Bane returned the receiver to the vox-ponder base unit and sighed deeply.
She was alive.
He went back to the bathroom and finished shaving quickly, before returning to the vox-ponder and switching to shortwave comm to make another call.
It was a statement, not a question.
A voice on the other end of the line confirmed.
Bane checked the time. A green-diode display on the table chron read: .
‘We’re going out.’
‘I’ll get the car,’ Trank responded and the line went dead.