WIP: Rough Edit _ Rise of the Iconoclast > Chapter One

Work in Progress

RISE OF THE ICONOCLAST: A bunch of ex-military troopers in full-borg conversions, now flying around in a battered aerodyne – always hungry for fuel and excitement, and the big gig that will allow them to step change their lives.  A random encounter with a foolish man, they discover an unusual object – a shard of technology. They’re told it is part of the original casing of the Dragon Breathe AI.  And they’re not the only people – or things – coming to look for it. 

Djr note: I started this back in 2012 after. Currently on 8,000  words (Chapter 3). It’s an addition to the post-Yellow Dawn (Age of Hastur) canon of work and contains characters that make an appearance in The Social Club.  It’s an experiment with more light-hearted characters but hopefully not at the expense of the tension and drama of the plot – most of the characters are a little unhinged from being full-borgs, and another one is a Changed.  There is a challenge of conveying the characters as machines with human minds. There is also a challenge in squaring away the fact that each of them has a different chassis, with different components and functions and appearances.  Cramming all of that up front can make very heavy reading (turgid?), so I hope I’ve managed the balance with what you read below.  I’m trying to include detail but without bogging down the pace.

NOTE: regarding the featured hero image – cyborg – used here for flavour and not associated with my work; artist unknown, please advise and I’ll credit.

This is a rough edit. Straight from the machine. Ignore typos and glitches.

Chapter One

It was night. Sprinting full-tilt across the uneven terrain was an act of survival. The decision to retreat wasn’t something that came easily to Izaäk Raske, even though the idea often sung through the organic channels of his mind like a chorus of self-preservation. In any conflict it was a game of numbers. And he always did the maths. His body may have been a machine but his brain was still the one he’d been born with, before a bomb-blast in Krakow left him in the hands of a corporate-sponsored surgical unit.

The large, curved and metal-plated bulk of Hariwald was a few strides behind him, his hip-joint whining like an overworked sex bot thanks to the shard of shrapnel that had ripped through it five minutes earlier. Had they really been running that long? Steinsson, wearing a slim and agile infiltration chassis, ran alongside.   All three of them were in trouble.   In their wake was a murderous mob of gelweed technicians, no better than redneck farmers, hell-bent on reclaiming what Raske and his crew had stolen.

A spray of projectiles tore up the earth around his feet. The technicians must have hit a rise in the arid, dusty landscape behind them. Then the rapid – dink – dink – dink – as a stream of the home-made bullets struck him. Raske didn’t know where yet. He heard the sound through the amplification patches built into his metal cowl. Thankfully nothing stopped working. No damage data appeared within the aquamarine glyphs projected over his field-of-vision by the various layers of electronics and sensors that encased his human brain. Even so, the instinctive coding of his once-flesh self, made him hunch up as he ran, trying to present a smaller target.

Steinsson must have caught a few rounds too because he suddenly whooped, punching the air with a metal fist extending from a limb of modular carbo-plastic segmented armour. The excited voice was modulated with a weird electronic squeal, one of Steinsson’s quirks of personality; the half-mad bastard had embraced the borg-life with the zeal of a drag-queen running into a dress shop.

Raske didn’t share the enthusiasm for a metal existence – he didn’t see himself as immortal through technology. Raske still held onto the dream of being flesh once again.

The technicians might have been steadily falling behind but he knew, from the state of Hariwald’s shrapnel damage, that they were carrying dangerous ordinance. It would just take something to punch through the armour plating at the back of his skull; something heavy with a white-phosphorous coating or depleted uranium core, or a plasma bolt fired from an industrial cutter – and it would be goodnight señorita.   His brain was all he had left. Those technicians were bristling with modern equipment: it was the reason Raske had chosen to rob them in the first place.

He clutched the booty to his – once polished, now badly scuffed – chest-plate. The booty was a rugged-looking briefcase, the kind once used by couriers before the world turned to shit; black carbon-wrap emblazoned with subtle bio-hazard logos.

More projectiles. Steinsson whooped again and roared a taunt at their pursuers for them to try harder. Steinsson could have easily opened up a significant lead between himself and them but chose not to. Loyalty or insanity, Raske didn’t know which. It was always the same, and had been for the few months Raske had known him; some kind of deep space colonial marine mission that went awry and left Steinsson drifting alone, and without a cryo-pod, for a very long time.

“Who said this place was a walk in the park?” Hariwald’s very human-coded voice washed up from behind. It wasn’t a question, it was an accusation.

“Quit griping old man,” Steinsson warbled back over his shoulder, layering the modulation with a sing-song piss-take.

It was a fair point, Raske conceded; silent irritation directed towards Steinsson. The deranged recon-trooper (and pilot) had completed a recce and utterly failed to either spot – or report – the fact the gelweed farm was protected by Nanomech. In this case, insect-like sentry systems that held trigger codes for home-made claymores positioned around the main lab. Hariwald had been spotted during extraction and – bang.

Hariwald’s voice buzzed and squelched with electronic equivalent of rage, as his EMU (emotional replication unit) struggled to cope with the surge of juice from his brain. “I never told you my age boy. And you’re deluded if you think your youth makes you any better than me.”

These two constantly grated nerves together.   One consequence of a crew confined to living in each other’s space, jaded comfort against a world now mostly hostile to machines; especially, upright walking, bipedal ones. Most fleshy humans didn’t stop to consider there might be an organic brain inside.

Cold hostility, shouted abuse, or bullets, was a common reaction from survivors when people like Raske and his crew showed up.   They didn’t consider that Izaäk Raske, Hariwald Hlavač, Tristão Steinsson, plus Nikias Solberg and Malthe Herriot, back at the ship, had been born from the wombs of human mothers, and with machine-bodies or otherwise, had all gone through the genetic game of chance and survival against the pathogens that had ravaged the planet ten years ago. Malthe – their engineer – had suffered a particularly terrible consequence of the event known as Yellow Dawn; he was still organic, but he was no longer entirely human: now one of the Changed.

Of course, raiding isolated communities and robbing tech sites did nothing to endear fleshy folks to them, Raske realised. But needs must, and his needs and that of his crew, and his ship – The Ginny – were great.

Raske and the others, they were victims just like the rest of them. All of them had lost family and friends during Yellow Dawn. All of them had gone through the hell of adjusting to a world now reduced to a handful of Living Cities with small settlements, clinging onto dust and despair, spread out across a new wilderness. Only the orbital colonies and deep space habitats powered on, almost unaffected – but reaching those was a gong-pipe dream for the average Joe.

Abruptly, a steep decline opened up in front of the three of them; they ploughed down and off the undulating terrain of dirt and rock, onto the cracked and weed-riddled surface of a main road. Feet clacking on cold tarmac. Raske scanned for bearings. Navigation markers flashed up in his peripheral vision, ghostly green and luminous – waypoint beacons broadcast by the beads he’d dropped on their approach to the target. The road was the final marker – following it south would lead directly to the abandoned villa, nestled in the foothills of a mountain; tucked away behind the villa was their ship, the Ginny, where Nikias and Malthe would be waiting.

It was a good feeling; knowing those two would be there. Raske squirted an SOS ahead of him: Coming in hot. Hostiles on heels. Be ready immediate evac. He prayed they were frosty and that the Ginny was behaving – a few mechanical issues with engineering had left the ship a little bit unreliable lately.

The group picked up speed. If they could create a clean gap between their pursuers they would have enough room to board the Ginny and get away. Frustratingly, Hariwald’s damaged hip joint now squealed like a demented see-saw.   The gelweed farmers could probably track them through the blackness of Interstellar space following a racket like that.

 

 

* * *

 

They covered nearly a mile before Hariwald’s hip finally seized-up. The bulbous, large-framed chassis suddenly toppled forward and crashed down onto the badly weathered road surface. There was a roar of furious cursing, infused with a quavering electronic whistle. Raske and Steinsson stopped and turned. Hariwald rolled over onto his side, large box-like arms flailing as he struggled to overcome the inertia of his physical mass, one massive leg refusing to comply to commands.

Raske dialled-up his night-vision and peered along the barrel of the road. The coast was off to their left; low hills to the right, with the road veering round a curve several hundred metres away. No sign of the rabble yet.

Hariwald began verbalising damage-report data spilling into his awareness: either a main hydraulic line had snapped, ran dry or clogged with dust getting into the internal mechanisms, or the chunk of shrapnel had locked-up the moving parts.

“Won’t know until Malthe takes a look,” Hariwald concluded, voice laced with consternation.   He managed to sit upright, looking like a pile of moving boulders and boxes in the digitally filtered moonlight.

Raske nodded his head. Audio was starting to bleed into his long-range sensors. They didn’t have long. “Can you get up Doc?”

“Negative.”

Steinsson piped up, unable to help himself – Raske guessed: “I bet you were old when they stuck you in that can.”

“Not helpful,” Raske stated. He rushed over to Hariwald; Steinsson fell in silently alongside. The recon-trooper might have been a monkey wrench short of a toolkit but he was strangely quick to acknowledge when he’d crossed the invisible line of command.

They both got Hariwald to his feet and then had to strain their physical capacity to start dragging the blocky chassis along the road, whilst maintaining enough speed to keep them ahead of the approaching mob. Raske guesstimated the gelweed technicians were only five hundred or so metres behind them now. It didn’t help that Steinsson wasn’t built for strength: stealth and agility was not the combination they needed right now.

“Come on you skinny pup,” Hariwald jibed.

“I’d like to see you make it back hoping on one leg.”

“Shut it. Both of you.” Raske told them. He slammed the courier-case against Hariwald; the other borg instinctively grabbed at it and held it there against his chest.

The landscape up ahead looked alien and unfamiliar in the modified moonlight, but the navigation markings in his vision told him they were less than a mile from dust-off.

It was heavy going. Literally. Raske was gritting his proverbial teeth at the persistent warnings, popping up as overlays within his field of vision, telling him that he was exceeding safety limits for the chassis carrying capacity. If he pushed his chasis too hard the central power-to-motor distribution hub would go pop, leaving his limbs dangling like spaghetti from a spoon. Steinsson was helping but they could have done with Nikias being there.

After what seemed to be an interminable period of strained, struggling progress, Raske recognised the vast, irregular mound of darkness rising up to his left, blotting out the starlight. The mountain. Abruptly, they struck the fork in the road that led up to the private villa, tucked away and hidden like a gem in the night. Waypoints flashed up within his peripheral vision. He dragged Hariwald along the ascending route with a stunted running stride.

The technicians were gaining. He could hear their exhausted panting, but their angry chatter suggested weren’t going to give up. Hariwald began trying to hop but it wasn’t helping. Raske told him to stop.

Rounding a curve in the narrow road, the surrounding terrain fell away to reveal the three-story villa hunched on a wide plateau. Even in the moonlight the ravages of weather, decay and neglect were visible in the long-abandoned structure. In daylight, it would have probably enjoyed an incredible view of the nearby coastline and the Mediterranean Sea.

Beside the villa, the Ginny appeared out of the darkness like the poster-icon of an old world Christmas theme. Coloured navigation lights oozed into life as the two crew members on board responded to their approach. With absolute relief, Raske heard the throaty rumble of the helix propulsion motors.

The Ginny was nearly as tall as the villa. A bulky, irregular ellipsoid with half a dozen spherical structures around its circumference. The cockpit window formed the narrow nose of the ellipsoid, a latticework of alloy struts beneath a thick layer of curved, transparent carbo-plastic. The fat rear end contained a cavernous cargo hold – mostly empty – which was being revealed at this moment in a wash of deep red light as the lower section swung down to form a loading ramp.

The inky black, flesh and bone, muscle-bound figure of Malthe came trotting down the ramp carrying a long, curved and wickedly serrated sword; baggy cotton trousers, leather boots and his bare chest glistening in the red light. It wasn’t sweat. The dank, sticky moisture seeped out of the Chief Engineer’s pores almost continuously, an aspect of the affliction he suffered from. Malthe was one of the unfortunates who had survived the first pathogen, the virus that had killed nearly seventy percent of humanity in a few weeks; but as with a few hundred thousand others, he had been left changed at a molecular level. A new strain of human was formed over a few feverish, sweat-drenched days and nights. Some people called his kind “Orcs”. A term of insult. The least offensive word categorising them was The Changed.

Malthe raised the sword slightly to indicate he could see them, then nodded and took up a half-crouched position – ready to defend the ship. The Changed had remarkable sight even at night.

Behind them came the sounds of the technicians, reinvigorated and freshly angered now they had caught a definitive scent of their prey: the navigation lights of the Ginny throwing colours across the mountain terrain, sparkling in the darkness.

As Raske and Steinsson dragged Hariwald up the ramp, the squat, recurved hull of the Harrier Stormhammer came into view inside. The aerodyne was a Recon Assault Craft (A-RAC), and was the only significant item in the hold.   It was also one of only a handful of offence hardware they carried that was actually sufficiently armed to be a threat. Weapons were cheap these days – since Yellow Dawn – but the cost of ammunition was astronomical.

Steinsson threw him a metal glance, the subtle flash of twin electric blue orbs in a heavily armoured face. Within the same gesture, the recon-trooper squirted a short query via his synaptic bridge; the message prompt flashed up in Raske’s field of vision: aerial support? [TS]

      Steinsson wanted to fly the Stormhammer.

Raske stepped away, shook his head – human gestures still a part of him. His response –a purely mental thought process converted into text and fed through his synaptic bridge was brief and blunt: Negative. They don’t deserve it. [IR]

He didn’t add the final tail of his thoughts which was: And we can’t afford it.

Even with a good price for the booty he’d stolen from the gelweed technicians, finances for the crew of the Ginny were not looking good.

“I heard gunfire,” Malthe said matter-of-factly, striding up the ramp with the sword held out by his side. His dark eyes went straight to the area of damage on Hariwald’s chassis.

“Fragmentation damage. Fix him later,” Raske responded, already moving off – heading towards an elevator and steps combo that got him out of the hold. Still vocalising commands he said, “Steinsson, T-G.”

The recon-trooper span away from the limping figure of Hariwald and sprinted off towards a floor hatch that would lead him down into the tail-gun.

“No shooting until you get my order to do so, Stein!” Raske called after him.

“I can’t shoot them?” Steinsson squealed, stopping to glare back at Raske. “What am I supposed to? Wave my guns at them in a threatening manner?”

“They didn’t do any harm to us,” Raske began but was interrupted –

“Begging your pardon, skipper.”

It was the carefully collapsing figure of Hariwald on the floor of the hold.

“They didn’t do much harm to us,” Raske adjusted, “I don’t consider them a threat and I don’t want UTOC coming after us for nailing their corp-sponsored gig, which judging by the equipment these folks are running, this definitely is.”

Nothing more was said. Steinsson dropped down through the hatch; Malthe vanished beneath the staircase into the bowels of the engineering section. Hariwald sat where he was cradling the courier case.

Raising a hand in front of him, Raske began to engage with the ship’s control systems now presented to him through the synaptic bridge. Bright orange overlays, menu tabs, navcomp, system status glyphs with infinite granularity of detail possible if he had the time or inclination to drill down into the data. The carbonised-steel joints of his fingers glittered in the blood red glare of the tactical lighting within the hold. The synaptic bridge understood his finger gestures and brought the ship controls out of visual mode into augmented interaction. As his legs began to carry him up the staircase leading from the hold towards the Ginny’s central passage, his hand brought him into a virtual captain’s suite.

> Vertical thrust

> Hover-park mode {stage 3}

[!] Proj Alt Confirm 300 metres / ascent arc 20 seconds [OK]

> Execute

 

Nikias was up there in the cockpit but Nikias wasn’t the captain, and Nikias didn’t fly the ship. They might have been Raske’s crew but trust only went so far; it didn’t stretch to handing anybody the key codes to the Ginny.

Everything shifted as the Ginny’s motors kicked in and began pushing the ship away from the landing zone. Then came a shudder; Raske dropped his hand to brace himself against a wall as a flux in the power-to-lift ratio caused the whole ship to tilt and slide sideways.

Bloody engines.

He was going to have to listen to Malthe’s protestations about the number of temporary jury-fixes being layered onto critical systems. He’d been warned enough times. This would be a terrible moment for those warnings to be realised.

Raske found a support handle to cling onto as the Ginny began to rotate with the shifting thrust from struggling motors.

Shit.

How close were they to the villa?

The glowing orange architecture of the control suite still floated over his vision. He raised his free hand and swiped rapidly through passive tabs. Reached a status screen with a sickening amount of warning prompts blinking into view and stacking up on top of each other.   He opened up a communication channel through the ship’s audio-rig:

“Malthe.”

“Aye skipper, I’m working on the prob right now.”

His grip on the support handle, bolted to the internal bulkhead, was firm. He knew how to fly this ship in freefall if the need ever arose. But that wasn’t the issue right now. Raske scanned dashboard stats, their altitude was dropping, incrementally but persistently, back towards the ground.   He brought up another overlay, a hybrid of visual and motion tracking scans. Two dozen humanoid figures sprinting up the fork on the road, pushing through physical exhaustion, carrying a variety of solid cold shapes – some long barrelled weapons.

Sound of squealing metal –

A brutal, rivet popping impact; Raske’s arm was nearly wrenched from its steel and graphene moorings.

What the –

Was that the villa?

As if in answer to his internal query, Steinsson’s voice flooded the ship’s audio-channel – throbbing with modulated irritation, “Man! I’ve just had a personal tour of the roof of the house. Can somebody actually fly this thing?”

Raske tuned out the sarcasm: “Malthe?”

The Changed responded instantly, blunt anger raising his voice: “I’m working on it. Maybe if you let me actually fix- oh! – OK- okay we’re there!”

Abrupt cessation of hull vibrations and a feeling of being pressed down as Ginny began to lift again.

“Incoming!” Steinsson’s voice.

Raske pushed himself upright but held onto the support handle. Decision: check engine status or review the external threat? “Can they hurt us?”

“Not sure what they are.” Steinsson responded wildly.

“Eh?” Raske queried.

Then Nikias came through on the ship’s audio-com; his voice, for all that it was synthetic and generated by a machine-chassis similar to the rest of them, projected an unusually organic quality.   Wet interchanges between vowels and throat cracking consonants, and as typical, phlegmatic, brimming with bored emotions. “Twenty three assailants equipped with a variety of slug-throwers. Nothing above a 7.26 mil, but that’s not what we’ve got to worry about. They just launched five drones.”

“Type?” Raske queried, his hand moving through the augmented interface floating within his field of vision. He brought up the ship’s weapon systems inventory – it had been a long time since anybody had thrown autonomous tech against him.

“Scanning.” Nikias responded.

“Malthe – how’s your patch holding up?” Raske queried.

“It’s holding. For now.” Malthe replied, his gruff voice infused with doom.

Nothing appeared in the inventory that seemed to be of any use.

Great.

      Nikias, calm and lord-like: “They’re farm bots.”

Raske began to relax – the edge of a chuckle easing through the transformation from organic impulse to electronic sound.

Nikias: “They’re coming right for the motor intakes.”

Raske spoke quickly, “Can you shoot them Stein?”

“Oh now you want me to shoot?” Steinsson howled.

“Jesus Christ can you shoot them or no?”

“No.”

“Why not goddamnit?”

“Too small.” Steinsson said succinctly.

Raske hunched into his instincts with a sense of imminent trouble. Malthe filled in the blanks, “They might be carrying molecular acid.”

“What the hell for?” Raske asked without really thinking for an answer.

“Breaking up the by-products after gelweed extraction and -”

“OK. I get the picture,” Raske snapped. The pervasive gentleness of the hull vibrating as the Ginny continued to rise was a nauseating prelude to disaster. If they drones gone into the internal workings – already strained and patched-up beyond bearable tolerances.

It could be a sudden and very bumpy descent.

Dashboard stats showed the Ginny at 200 metres and climbing. Those drones, if they were fully fuelled and in proper working order would probably out-fly the ship.

He let go of the support handle and pushed himself along the central corridor, momentum building into a short sprint, heading towards the cockpit – every human nerve ending clenched around its synthetic conducer counterpart; his brain quivering like jelly in a can, waiting to for the warning prompts to start burning across his vision like an inferno of bad colours.

His chassis was a Riken Alpha-CYB3 – classic heavy infantry model with modifications to cope with orbital-drop insertions; thermal shielding and enhanced concussion suppression for vital organics. He might survive a catastrophic failure in the Helix propulsion system but then again, he might not. It didn’t matter how much titanium alloy armour plating and G-shock gel wrapped his graphene and synmov workings, if the ship’s power plant detonated on impact or any of the exotic munitions went off, it was going to be over in an instant.

Or worse… shattered, semi-functioning, incapable of self-repair, he might find himself lying crippled within a firestorm, a brain baking in an oven.

Or seriously worse… locked in a metal box of digital darkness, no sensory input, no awareness other than his own mental voice bouncing off infinite walls of silence. Madness.

Steinsson babbled a torrent of abuse as he saw the drones swarming up past the tail gun. Apparently they were small, zippy things; small enough to drop down onto the intakes and release a nasty surprise.

Fear chased him down the last of the corridor like a shadow of his human self.

Inside the cramped, gloomily lit cockpit there was room for two pilots and an observer. There was no sign of Nikias.

Beyond the curving blister of the canopy he saw a moonlit scene of dry, dusty, mountainous terrain – a starlit night stretching out to the horizon. A hint of the Mediterranean off to the starboard side.

“Nikias!” He shouted.

“Oh hello.” Nikias replied, sounding as if he was very close.

“Where the hell are you?”

“Inside the avionics pod.” Raske swirled round and looked down at the floor hatch behind the observer rack. A blue-black glow broken by the staccato flicker of an electrical component shorting out. Nikias answered the question before he had a chance to ask. “I’ve discovered the drones are being manually flown.”

Son-of-a…

The revelation spilled across him like a sunrise.

“I have the com-con freq,” Nikias finished. “And… there.”

Every console in the cockpit flickered. A flurry of static hissed through his sensory feeds. His brain tingled as near-overload hit the capacitors.

Steinsson was wailing.

What’s happening?

      Steinsson’s wails turned to whoops. Raske listened to the narrative whilst his brain recovered: the drones were tumbling out of the sky.

Warning lamps erupted across several consoles. A klaxon began screaming.

“I might have overdone that,” Nikias admitted gingerly.

“Can we still fly?” Raske flung himself into the pilot rack.

Malthe and Nikias both reported that the Helix motors were still working.

“Then let’s get the hell out of here.”

.

# # # END OF SAMPLE

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More Yellow Dawn Chills: The Social Club is a claustrophobic new thriller in this post-apocalyptic world click

David J Rodger – DATA

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4 thoughts on “WIP: Rough Edit _ Rise of the Iconoclast > Chapter One

  1. Hi David,

    I don’t know why you were worrying the sample might come over as heavy or turgid; it reads fine and bounces along nicely. Bring it on!

    Keep up the good work.

    Cheers,
    Rob

    Sent from my iPad

    >

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