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Authors: Mr Mike Berry

Xenoform

BOOK: Xenoform
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Xenoform

By Mike Berry

Copyright
©
2011 Mike Berry

*

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

In the interests of honesty, I have to say that this book is
for
me.

Find me a creative person who doesn't

ultimately do it for selfish reasons.

However, I
dedicate
it to Annie, for making it possible.

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CHAPTER
ONE
 

Leo Travant shook a reeferette from a battered Sativia packet, lit it and inhaled expansively. He smiled, stuffing his hands into his pockets, happily regarding the teeming crowd as it breathed and swelled its way towards Friday night.

He fluttered his brilliantly-plumed parrot wings, feeling the greasy evening air ruffle their feathers delicately – the caress of the living city. He savoured this sensation momentarily as the gravpods silently planed up and down the neon roadways. He absent-mindedly relit one edge of the reeferette where the wind had smoked it and crossed into the pulsing, almost solid mass of High Street foot traffic, heading west against the tide.

He would see the Jukeman one more time. Of course, the Jukeman wasn’t his real name. Leo didn’t know his real name, and knew better than to ask. To the Jukeman he was an interloper from another world – the world of smart suits and conference calls. Or was he an interloper
in
the world of smart suits and conference calls? Either way, he would have one more hit and then off the stuff. It would all be fine and life was good.

The people here were dressed in the simple, clean lines of the moderately wealthy, their bodymods of reasonably high quality, doubtless most of them legitimately obtained and installed, unlike Leo’s own. The lovely, flightless wings would have cost a year’s worth of his good city salary on the legit market. They had been custom-designed and made by one of the black market’s finest bodymod surgeons, introduced to him, coincidentally, by the Jukeman.

The people moved hurriedly and without fuss – cogs in a machine, grinding and meshing along the crowded pavements. Places to go, people to see, lives to be lived, busy, busy. HUD-glasses showing street-map overlays, net-brooches jacked into direct neural interfaces, stunning chameleon skin patterns, high chrome faces, sexmods and fightmods and workmods – a heaving, breathing bio-mechanical mass.

The domes of the spaceport loomed in the north – huge, silvered hemispheres like congealed blobs of mercury. The elongating plume of an ascending lightpusher – a sustained-acceleration craft still climbing out of the Earth’s gravity well on fusion drives – hung like a dwarf star above the monolithic skyline. Soon it would switch to ion thrusters for its long and steady acceleration into deep space.

Leo moved away from the glittering edifice of the Smithson Investment Advisory Services building where he worked, crossing at a junction without waiting for the lights, passing the holo theatre. From a projector in a film advertising billboard emerged foot-thick metallic snakes, holograms made solid by force-field manipulators. They writhed through the air like trails of silvered smoke. Occasionally, one would snap the hat from a passer-by, spitting it back into the crowd or soar towards someone menacingly then swerve away at the last moment, fangs bared and crackling with electricity.

A stunning woman with lengthened legs and honey-coloured skin bumped Leo’s arm and he burned her on the bare elbow with his joint. She hissed, scowling, and jerked her arm away but continued into the throng without slowing.

‘Sorry!’ he called after her redundantly as he paused to watch her recede from view.

Damn sheep. There should be a cull,
he thought, but immediately scolded himself for allowing his mood to falter. Leo re-pasted his smile into place and returned to the business of walking.

Spyflies buzzed past on tiny whirring rotors, their helter skelter flight patterns so much like those of real flies. Some were operated by the police, but others belonged to market research companies, private detective agencies, mapping and surveying organisations, even private owners. The tiny, complex devices were the latest piece of highly desirable, highly expensive must-have tech amongst the business classes.

Leo came to the end of High Street, where it exploded into a six-armed junction. Two roads anticlockwise from his position he saw Beat Street, heard its heartbeat of pulsing seismo-bass, saw the play of laser light along it.

Not looking out for cars, he dashed across the road to a traffic island. A gravpod with an iridescent paint job braked sharply to avoid running him down. A smooth-faced man with sunglasses leaned out and shouted something at him before accelerating off again.

This is some strong shit. I nearly got creamed there. Must keep it together!

Leo looked suspiciously at the roach between his fingers as if the item itself had tried to get him killed and dropped it to the floor. It bounced, trailing embers, into the gutter and he ground it underfoot as he stepped out, more cautiously this time, into the road.

He gained the other side without incident this time and weaved his way up Beat Street, pausing now and again to look at the flashing holos for upcoming club nights. Various tunes competed for air space here – back and forth, each taking bites out of the other, basses rumbling like machines of war, lasers flashing in time.

Here the well-heeled mixed with the down-at-heel, partied in the same clubs, consumed the same drugs, drank the same poisons together and danced in time, or out of it, beneath the same strobing lights. Beat Street was famous throughout the land, its largely respectable pleasures available to all comers.

Leo passed beneath the gossamer trellises of Viaduct One. Trains and gravpods streamed by overhead like the shuttles of a loom. Evening was giving way to night.

As he passed from the Centre District and neared the Lanes the architecture of the city seemed to age and crumble about him. The buildings, though smaller here, were more oppressive. They crowded and shouldered their way towards the narrowing road as if huddling together in fear of the falling night. Ceramicarbide and glasspex false fronts gave way to dripping brickwork and boarded-up windows. Strange smelling smoke wafted from doorways and alcoves. The music of Beat Street was just a murmur now.

The pavements were less crowded here, though Leo knew that as soon as he entered the Lanes proper the crowd would thicken again. The buildings were mostly dilapidated housing tenements, each subdivided into as many tiny flats as physics would allow. The people moved slowly in comparison to those in the more affluent parts of town, heads lower, clothes cheaper.

It was getting dark. The shadows seemed to bunch into all corners, thick and gloopy like some industrial residue that had fallen from the air to blanket the city.

Leo ruffled his wings, shivering slightly against the cold of autumn and paused to light another joint. A tall black man with plastic eyes and a bald head studded with antennae peeled away from a shaded patch below an awning and swayed towards Leo.

‘You like a smoke?’ this character drawled in an incredibly deep and sonorous slur. ‘I got – is good…’ He tried to lay a hand on Leo’s shoulder but the hand seemed possessed of its own ideas and floated away to wave vaguely in the air. Micro-lasers glinted on the man’s knuckles.

‘I’m good, friend, thanks,’ Leo answered, managing to keep his voice more-or-less steady. He stowed his lighter hurriedly, smiled, and brushed past the aerial-headed black man without looking back.

The juke withdrawal was making Leo’s heart race. Surely it
was
just the juke. He would sort out this one last hit and then be done with it for good. The Jukeman had the pills to cure all ills. Oh yeah. Strangely, the symptoms had seemed worse since he had had the wings fitted. He had quit the juke before and it had not been nearly this bad. Never mind – he would be free of it soon. For good this time. One last hurrah may even help with the workload – the current contract he was working on at Smithson’s was proving to be a bitch. When it was cracked, though, there may even be a promotion on the cards. What better time to get clean than then? He would start in a new position with a new lease of life. Clean, wealthy and young, the world would be his oyster. But first – one more dose. Just one.

BOOK: Xenoform
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