Tales from Space 3 Excerpt

18 Nov

Here is a excerpt from We’ll Meet Again, the tale of how Anore Wrought managed to not only steal the cure for the weaponized plague that was killing her husband Victor, but rescued long-time friend and ally Nick Goodfrey from his captivity with rival Sindo Corporation.

You can find the whole story in Tales from Space: The Great Corporation War, available in 2018 from StarkLight Press.

This excerpt copyright 2017 Anthony Stark.

 

He came at her out of the darkness in the wide hallway, emerging from blackness like a wraith from out of the realm of the dead. Beside him emerged four other Sindo Corporation assassin-guards, all armed. They were unsurprising- he shocked her to her core. Anore was prepared for a fight, knew that the Sindo knew she was about to attack one of their three flagships for the files Wrought Industries needed so desperately. Sindo was, of course, expecting her to try to get the files- they contained the cure for the deadly engineered disease Sindo had given to Victor Wrought.

Anore Wrought was an exemplary fighter, with fast instincts and deadly accuracy; she had been ready for up to ten assailants trained in Japanese martial arts. Four attackers was dealable, but as she eyed their leader with his almost nonchalant stride and the small, cruel smile that played on the corners of his mouth, Anore was unsure if she could beat this fifth foe.

“Nick,” she addressed their leader, watching his face for some sign of recognition.

He held up a hand, and the assailants stopped. Cocking his head to one side slightly, he grew still, regarding Anore Wrought, the second in command of the single greatest foe to the Sindo Corporation.

He gazed at his opponent with even eyes. “I am not called Nick anymore,” he informed her. “I am now Raine.”

“You are Nick Goodfrey,” Anore looked at him, her eyes willing the android to break with his Sindo programming and remember her. His face was implacable, as she had seen it before, yet there was something wild, almost mad there now that sent a shiver through her, along with a sour spray of shame. He looked the same, yet the drawing of the artificial flesh around his eyes made him seem at once vicious and terrified. The way he had taken to holding his mouth contributed to this effect, with that small, mocking smile held there like a mask. His jaw had grown somehow, giving him a more imposing aspect, making Nick look as though he had gone from a wistful teenager to a hardened adult during his tenure with Sindo. It also added to the sense he was now more dangerous. Sindo had either dyed his hair or replaced it, from its original pale blond to a dark chestnut, almost black. The new color made him seem larger and augmented the sense of menace about him. His blue eyes stood out like topazes, framed by the dark crown he now wore.

Sindo had given him standard assassin’s garb- a dark, slim-fitting long coat with pants and a high collared shirt. Nick’s was deep blood red, the color of Sindo Corp; it signified him as the leader of his group. He wore highly flexible assassin’s gloves that Anore knew would allow him to increase his already formidable grip. He carried on his belt, only part hidden by the coat, a pair of long knives and a garrot wire.

“Nick,” she repeated.

Ignoring this assertion, he took a step toward her; his assassins obligingly stayed in their spots.

“You have come for the files encoding the antidote to the weaponized illness plaguing Victor Wrought,” Nick declared. He tilted his head to one side, his blue eyes glinting in the dim light of the hall. “Did you find what you sought?”

“He’s dying, Nick,” Anore explained earnestly, dropping her stance and holding her hands wide. “I have to try to save him.”

Nick’s jaw worked at this and his eyes flared vicious, horrible light. Anore froze, lifting her guard once more, swallowing hard. What had she said- was Nick so angry at Victor still?

Slowly, his mouth cracked from side to side, until he started to silently laugh with a broad, open-mouthed smile that alarmed her to her core. She had never seen him maniacal before, not in all their years together. After a few moments of silent paroxysms, he started to laugh out loud, wracked by a terrible mirth that made him bend forward slightly, his eyebrows raised. He laughed in her face, his eyes wide, his eyebrows high. Behind him, his henchmen laughed as well.

After an interval that held Anore galvanized in place, Nick regained his composure, straightening to his full height and running his hands down the hem of his coat to settle himself. Still smiling broadly, he inclined his head; the first gesture that she recognized as his own.

“Of course,” he said maganimously. “You couldn’t leave him for dead, could you?”

So it was hatred for Victor, Anore thought to herself. Forgetting her outnumbered state in hostile territory, she looked, exasperated, at Nick. “It’s not like I want to save his life,” she said. “It’s just- not fair.”

Uttering a sharp bark of the same laughter that had chilled her to her core, his eyes flashed again. “No,” he agreed. “Terribly unfair, what we did to him… and how could you let something unfair stand? You, champion of right and good.”

Anore squinted at this, unsure of what Nick was implying. “I don’t think I’m champion of anything, Nick,” she replied quietly, watching her android closely.

“But you are… good,” he said. “Most assuredly. The Wrought Corporation fights on the side of the angels, isn’t that so.” The corner of his mouth curled up into a crueler smile. “Victor certainly believes this- and you are quite convinced of your own moral authority.”

“I- we,” Anore stumbled, wounded by the spite dripping from his words. “We are good people, Nick- we are trying.”

“Well,” Nick said glibly, that same brutal smile playing at the corner of his lips, “If you are the good ones, then, that would make me… the Enemy,” he pulled up his gloves. “Wouldn’t it? You must return to Victor and save his precious life, to combat the unfairness of it all… and I must stop you.” He cocked his head to one side and raised his hands. Beside him, his henchmen took up their guards once more.

“Because, my sweet heart, you see- I am a villain.”

He twitched his fingers, and all four assassins set upon her. It was a desperate flurry of a battle, and Anore, shocked by the viciousness in Nick’s voice, the sheer wrath in it, lost precious seconds recovering. His assassins had her pinned up against the wall, having pummeled Anore despite her blocking of nine out of every ten blows with expert reflex. Their weapons were strong and relentlessly aimed, however, and she found herself sliding up the bulkhead of the ship, her limbs pinned. She watched, helpless to move, as Nick approached her.

“Let’s see,” he mused, eying her up and down, “where would I be, if I were a crystal drive?” He began to search her. Anore gasped at the strength in his hands, so determined compared to the old, gentle, subtle touch Nick had once possessed. Her eyes widened, shocked, at the unabashed sexuality of his touch as he searched her. He kept his eyes locked on hers as he ran his hands over every inch of her body.Nick had either learned that sexual domination was an effective tactic to use on prisoners, or had developed in extremely predatory ways for his time at Sindo Corporation. Either way, Anore had never been handled by Nick Goodfrey so roughly before, and it stunned her.

He ran his hand up her legs, feeling expertly and brusquely either on side of her thighs, then gripped her with fingers like iron, just hard enough to hurt, between them. He smiled thinly.

“We’ve searched everywhere else,” he remarked. “You’ve hid it in one of your holes- which would you like me to search first?” He ran his finger back and forth between her legs idly as he asked.

Anore crashed her head into Nick’s; one of the assassins lost their grip on her shoulder and she started to wrestle her left arm free. The thrashing destabilized the other three, and she started to slide down the wall.

It might have worked as an escape tactic, had Nick not hardly reacted to the blow to his head. Raising upright almost immediately, he saw Anore begin to slide down the bulkhead and, moving in, grabbed her with one hand and lifted her again to her position slightly above him. His hand was immutable around her neck and she started to choke. She stilled her thrashing- his hand could pop her head right off her spine, if it so desired.

“Nick!” she gasped around the purple spots rising in her vision. “Please-”

Smiling viciously, Nick graciously lowered her to the ground, his grip loosening just enough to let her breathe. He pumped his fingers into her carotid arteries, however, twice to show that he could not just suffocate her, but cut off her blood flow as well. Her eyes tearing, she looked up at him.

Pressing himself up against her, pinning her against the bulkhead with his weight most effectively, Nick raised his other hand to her mouth. His eyes never leaving hers, he pinched her jaw with his fingers until her mouth opened. Inserting his index finger, he swept her mouth. He even searched the back of her throat, which he did with a lingering gusto.

Gagging, Anore clamped her jaws down around the android’s finger. One of her molars chipped on the assassin’s glove that covered the digit. Nick laughed at her, his finger still in her mouth, tickling the back of her throat in vomitous circles.

“You don’t think I would be stupid enough to put my finger in your mouth unprotected, do you?” he chided. “How very little you think of me.”

Anore glared at him, trying not to gag. He paused, his smile fading slightly. He drove a second finger into her mouth and, after a moment and a near miss with vomit, pulled a small crystal out of the back of Anore’s throat.

“How disappointing,” Nick remarked, dropping Anore as the assassins grabbed her and re-pinned her to the bulkhead. He tossed the drive up in the air and caught it, winking at his prisoner. “I was so looking forward to searching the other two.”

He turned away from her, pocketing the crystal drive. Without looking around, he gave his final order to the assassins.

“Kill her.”

Anore’s eyes widened. She spat out a mouthful of blood from her tooth; it tasted like composite from the glove.

“Nick!” she cried. “Goddamn you!”

He stopped, and turned, looking at her with a face that was now more pinched than she had yet seen it. His huge blue eyes gazed at her, glistening.

“Already done,” he replied.

A rush of panic ran through her, and she hit out blindly with all four limbs at once. She found the grip on her loosened, and Anore grabbed a stick from one of the assassins and started swinging madly. Nick watched from a polite distance, his head cocked to one side. The assailants struck her again and again; her ankle was possibly broken, her ribs bruised or fractured, her cheek and skull cut and bleeding. Yet, in the end, Anore walked out of a pile of four bodies and took a staggering step toward Nick Goodfrey.

He raised an eyebrow. “Excellent work,” he commented.

“Thank you,” she spat out another mouthful of blood. Wearily, she sighed, wincing as her ribs pinched her for it. Beleaguered, Anore took a guard stance. “Come on, then, let’s do it.”

She was surprised to see Nick’s brow furrow with concern. For a moment, his face softened, and the fell light left his eyes.

“I don’t think this is a fight you can win, Anore,” he advised her softly.

“I have to try,” she replied, coughing slightly.

His face grew cold again, and his jaw clenched.

“Why? Why try for him? Why is it him you save?” His voice cracked. He looked her up and down. “You yourself are in imminent danger.”

“Because,” she said slowly, thinking about it, really thinking about why she was doing all this for Victor. It wasn’t love, that was laughable. It wasn’t a paladin-esque sense of justice, no matter what Nick thought. It was… it was…

“Hope,” she said at last. “Hope.” She looked up at him from her hunched half-guard and smiled around her bruises. “Nick, do you remember the last thing you did as you were getting ready to leave- when Victor sold you to Sinclair?”

Nick had been walking slowly toward Anore, ready to initiate the fight at her slightest motion. He stopped now, looked at her sidelong, eyes narrowed.

“I waited at the airlock,” he said, unsure.

Anore, her eyes alight, grinned. “No, not just that,” she wagged a finger at him. “You started to sing. I was trying not to cry, and I couldn’t find a way to get Victor to take it back… and I was starting to cry, and you sang me a song.”

Her voice faltering, her breath coming in gasps, she began to sing:

“Let’s say goodbye with a smile dear,

Just for a while, dear, we must part.

Don’t let this parting upset you,

I’ll not forget you, sweetheart,”

She had to pause between lines, and closed her eyes once with pain and memory, not caring that Nick could use those brief moments to strike.
As she started to sing, Nick’s face gave a great twitch, and he paused in his slow advance. His hands lowered slightly, and as Anore watched, they started to tremble.

“Hope, Nick,” she said. “You gave me hope…you sang it over the radio. I think you must have kept singing it even after we got out of range, because the signal faded in and out, and I could hear it.”

His eyes were shining preternaturally, and he smiled slightly, genuinely. “I sang it until your ion drive signature faded,” he said. “I can’t- I can’t remember the words of it, though.” He looked in Anore’s eyes, unsure, confused, heedless of their mortal situation. “What was the song?”

Anore’s brow furrowed in sorrow. Nick had always had such a memory for songs. What had happened to him here? She wondered.

Slowly, gingerly, she started to sing, her arms moving from a guard to an embrace.

“We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when,

But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day.”

Nick’s brow worked, and tears spilled down over his cheeks. Shocked at the sight of tears on the android’s face, Anore watched them trail down his face in wonder. When he had left her, Nick was unable to cry. Yet here he was, weeping, quivering all over as though slowly freezing. She started to smile, nodding, and beckoned him to her, still singing. He began to stumble toward her, his head bobbing slowly in time to the words as though trying to understand or remember them.

“Keep smiling through, just like you always do,

Till the blue skies chase those dark clouds far away.”

His eyes were locked on hers, his mouth quivering. As though fighting through some great curtain of Shadow, he started to sing. His voice was wan, and sorrowful, but sounded more like Nick Goodfrey than anything he had yet uttered.

“And won’t you please say hello to the folks that I know,

Tell them I won’t be long,” he said, stepping to Anore further, raising a hand gently toward her face.

“They’ll be happy to know that as you saw me go, I was singing this song,” Nick continued, starting to recall the words more strongly. As he did, he started to smile in a way that filled Anore’s heart with a poignant happiness that made her throat clench.

“We’ll meet again,” she continued, and this time Nick sang the rest of it with her. His hand touched her cheek, and he looked at her in wonder, as though seeing her for the first time. His brow furrowed, and he faltered in the singing, as though he wanted to ask why she was injured.

Anore sang louder, more earnestly. She only had him by the slimmest thread of this song, and if he shook that loose, she might not get another chance to escape. She took him in her arms, and held him tight. To her surprise, Nick melted effortlessly into her embrace, resting his head in the crook of her neck like a small, exhausted child. His breath puffed coolly on her sore skin as he sang with her. His arms wrapped themselves around her; behind her, Anore could feel Nick pull off the assassin’s gloves one at a time and drop them on the floor. His bare fingers pressed against her shoulder blades with a fervent but gentle pressure.

She finished the stanza as she grabbed what she needed out of her pocket.

“Elle,” he said, using the name she had used when they had said goodbye. His voice was soft, and sad, and wistful.

“Nick,” she said kindly, raising the EM stun wand to his neck. She stroked his dark hair and kissed his ear. “My Nick Goodfrey.”

He lifted his head to look at her, a small, kind smile on his face. Anore caught just a glimpse of soft, sad eyes before they widened in shock and betrayal at the sight of the wand. She might have been wounded, but her reflexes were still good; she jammed the wand into the port at the base of Nick’s skull. Even though the port was closed, the jolt of stimulus sent Nick into a system crash. Uttering a pathetic cry that was clenched off by the seizure that overtook his vocal chords, Nick stiffened for a moment, then crumpled to the floor, lifeless.

After something like a wand to the neck, Nick would have to be restarted and given a complete diagnostic. It would take days, possibly weeks, for any random system to degauss itself inside Nick and begin the reboot sequencing on its own. He would not have days, even, before Sindo people came and packed him off to be rebooted and reprogrammed, this time with even less chance of failure to kill.

But she wasn’t going to leave him in this hallway; no one was restarting Nick Goodfrey but Anore. She grabbed the crystal drive out of his pocket so it wouldn’t fall out as she drug him to the airlock. She hadn’t come all this way to lose the antidote now. Stooping like an old woman, Anore took Nick by the wrist and began to pull him the fifty feet to the airlock where her shuttle was lurking. Limping, listing, panting and pausing frequently to catch her ragged breath, Anore pulled Nick’s corpse straight, then tugged it down the hallway and into the airlock. With a whoosh, the spare air expelled itself into space as her shuttle broke away. It was soon lost against the gulf of stars, headed back to the Wrought Industries war cruiser, and home.

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