Nera whistled quietly to herself as she made her way down the street. Easy half hour worth of work. That poor boy didn’t know what hit him. She tried not to think of how he’d end up by morning.
She slipped in with the thickening crowds, and other locals streamed around her as she entered the market. A city like Nexus never slept. The Twilight City, it was sometimes called because it never really had a daytime or nighttime, just a persistent dusky gloom. Glowing pillars known as chroniker masts contained illuminated runes indicating the time. Most businesses, at least the more respectable types, wound down during the evening, but there were always food stalls open at the Magelight Market. Unsavory business never wound down. The blue magical fire issuing from the streetlights cast a soft glow over the plaza, for which it was named.
Deciding to splurge after her easy score, Nera purchased a leg of turkey and a fresh loaf of bread in the market. She bought a small bottle of mulled wine to wash them down with.
As she was leaving, she felt a tingle on the back of her neck. Someone’s following me. She slipped around the corner of a booth and took a quick peek. The human mage was about fifty paces away, eyes scanning the market.
Balor’s balls! How the hell did he find me? He must have some locator spell. Either that or dumb luck. Her fingers caressed the heavy ring in her pocket, and she briefly wondered whether he could track it somehow.
Nera darted around a couple stalls, putting them between her and Malek. She sprinted out of the market and took the first alley off the main street. Unfortunately, it dead-ended a hundred paces away at a brick wall. She could’ve sworn the alley cut through to the next main thoroughfare. The city must have reoriented itself—it did that occasionally. Cursing, she slipped into the shadows and hoped the young mage wouldn’t find her.
Malek marveled at the marketplace. Even at what he determined was a late hour by the time pillar, the square was lively. A variety of races mingled about, purchasing all manner of goods from the stalls, simple food or exotic animals, clothing and furs, and all manner of trinkets. The raw magical power of the unusual streetlamps illuminating the market were bright sparks to his senses. Such a glut of magical power in this place.
His musings were cut short as Nera’s essence suddenly moved rapidly away from him. “She must know I’m here.” Malek wasn’t surprised as the thief had good instincts—rogues didn’t have very successful careers without them.
I wonder if I can bluff her into giving my possessions back. I don’t want to hurt her if I don’t have to. He shook his head at his own foolishness in trusting the woman. He had made an easy mark of himself. It wouldn’t happen again.
Nera was just swallowing a bite of the warm, juicy turkey leg when a shadow blocked the light entering the alley. She recognized the young mage. So he can track the ring somehow. She cursed quietly to herself. Foolish mistake—never underestimate a mage, even if they are young and green. She’d made that mistake before, and it had turned out badly—enough to have a noose put around her neck.
Malek entered the alley a few paces, looking around as he searched for her. After a moment, he put his hands to his temples and squeezed his eyes shut. His head swiveled, and he reopened his eyes, staring right at her hiding spot. “I know you’re there. Just give me my ring and my coin back, and I’ll let you go your way. I don’t want to hurt you, but I’ll cast a spell if I have to.”
He seemed cool and collected. Although he was young, Nera wondered if he truly had the magical skills to back up his threat.
Ninety-eight more years. I need this ring… I can’t keep working at the foundry that much longer.
Her mind made up, Nera concentrated on the space between her and the mage, who was now a mere dozen feet away. The shadows billowed and flowed out from the walls as if a vial of ink was spilling over the alley. The alleyway was enveloped in a magical darkness. Although the darkness was absolute for others, she could see his shape as if through a muddy window. Nera moved as quickly as she could past the mage, her footsteps silent. No way he can see me now.
“Nice trick, plane-cursed. I don’t want to fight you. I just want what is mine.”
The darkness was suddenly swept away as if a blast of wind scoured it away although it seemed to be absorbed into Malek somehow. A trick of the light, perhaps. Malek was standing an arm’s length away from her, and he reached out and seized her arm.
That nagging feeling that something was different… wrong, even, with the man surged back, and Nera was suddenly aware that she might have pissed off the wrong mage.
“Oi! What have we here?” called a man with a gruff voice from the mouth of the alley.
At first, Nera felt a moment of panic, thinking it might be the Nexus Watch, but she was somewhat relieved to see the three thugs from the tavern. Nexus Watch spelled big trouble if they found out she was still thieving. The gang members were a different type of trouble altogether. They held weapons and were advancing. Somehow, they had managed to follow the two of them. Must have spotted the green back in the market.
“You’d better defend yourself,” Nera muttered, twisting out of the mage’s grasp.
Her hand went instinctively to her belt for her daggers, but they weren’t there, of course. The conditions of her parole prevented her from wielding weapons, which made her buggered in a situation like this—a situation she wouldn’t have been in, had she not been foolish enough to reengage in thievery. She cursed her stupidity for getting involved.
“It’s not your concern. Leave now, and I won’t be forced to use my magic on you,” Malek told the cutthroats.
The young man looked scared, and Nera thought he was bluffing. Great, a mage who isn’t only green but also worthless in a fight. That nagging feeling about him still bothered her, though. She instinctively knew he was somehow dangerous.
“Sod off, arseholes,” Nera told them. “You don’t want to get magicked by this wizard, do you?”
The three thugs approached, smiling. “I think you’d a done somethin’ already if you were goin’ to,” a scrawny human said with a nasty grin revealing missing teeth. “The boy’s green as a leaf. He can’t do shite.”
“Why don’t you piss off, demon bitch?” The larger man scowled at her. “We don’t want to cross yer gang—get the hell outta here. We’re after the green mage’s purse is all. That and the shiny ring he’s got.”
The half-orc leered at Nera and smacked the haft of a spiked cudgel against his hand.
“Good thing you aren’t as dumb as you look. You don’t want to cross the Night Wraiths,” Nera replied, referring to the thieves’ guild she belonged to. “It’s your lucky day, arseholes. I woulda made you three sorry.” She tossed her hair back and swaggered past the three.
“Yeah, yeah. Get yer arse outta here before we change our minds,” the scrawny man snapped. His beady eyes were focused on Malek. The other two thugs glared at Nera but let her walk away.
She could feel Malek’s eyes on her back. Sorry, but most greens don’t make it past the first day here.
Excerpt from Extensis Vitae: Empire of Dust
Rin realized she had reached the entrance
to the massive underground Galleria mall. Her condo was about a mile away—cutting
through the mall would be a shortcut. A
shortcut with plenty of watering holes. A slight smile formed on her lips
as she walked through the automated doors.
Rin threw back her hood and let her coat
hang open. The warmth of the mall was a stark contrast to the blustery weather
outside. She stepped on the escalator and rode down to the crowded atrium.
People strolled through the mall—couples
holding hands and young mothers chasing small children around. A handsome man
chatting on his Datalink smiled at her as she stepped off the escalator. She
looked away from the man’s lingering gaze and headed for a bar she knew well.
people live their comfortable lives having no idea of the things that go on
beyond the borders of Pac-Rim. Good people fight and die for honorable causes
while they can’t see past their triple lattes and designer handbags. I don’t
belong among people like this.
Holograms seemed to cascade downward like
slick waterfalls as personalized advertisements appeared outside the
storefronts. Facial recognition systems processed millions of calculations per
second, and iris scanners flashed as they tried to identify the shoppers
“Welcome back, Ms. Takahashi. Would you be
interested in checking out our new line of women’s spring business attire?” A
pleasant-looking woman’s image appeared in front of her, smiling and showing
off the clothing line. Rin ignored it and continued on. Other holos appeared,
trying to sell her clothing, jewelry, and perfumes. She couldn’t remember the
last time she’d bought any of those items, let alone gone shopping for them herself.
Servants had always made the arrangements when she required clothes or personal
“Ms. Takahashi, wouldn’t you like to drive
a new Lexus today?” A panoramic holovid wrapped around Rin, moving with her and
giving the convincing illusion of sitting in the cockpit of a luxury sports
car. The view panned out, and she saw the sleek red car carving through the twisting
turns of a wide-open country highway.
wonder where the hell they found a road like that? Must be CGI.
The elaborate holo suddenly flickered and pixelated.
It stuttered and refreshed several times before freezing on the spokesmodel’s
face, with the parked car in the background below the astonishing price tag. The
holo suddenly started flickering rapidly again, the audio crackling loudly. Annoyed
at the malfunction, Rin shook her head as she was jostled out of the momentary
“BEHIND YOU!” Huge red letters suddenly
appeared above the frozen image.
the hell is wrong with this thing?
“TURN AROUND—NOW!!!” The video unfroze,
and the spokesmodel shouted, “Drive a L-L-LOOK OUT!”
Rin’s instincts kicked in while her mind was
still trying to process what was happening. She spun around just as a woman
Two large military-looking men were
approaching, dressed in dark trench coats. Rin noted the assault rifles aimed
in her direction just as they opened fire. People screamed and began to scatter
for cover, but their cries were drowned out by the deafening thunder of the
AK-47s in the confines of the mall.
Rin’s hand instinctively went to the hilt
of the katana at her waist, but it found only air. The sword was collecting
dust back on the mantle at her condo. A curse came to mind just as she was
riddled with bullets.
Her HUD blazed an angry orange from the
damage as several rounds hit her in the chest and stomach. Rin pirouetted and
fell through the plate-glass window of a men’s clothing store. Shards of glass
rained down as bullets whizzed past her. She fell through the display, tangling
up with a mannequin as she tumbled into the store.
For a moment, she was back in another
mall, after the cataclysm. Looters were rushing everywhere, but Rin ignored
them, intent on avoiding some thugs chasing her. One of them snarled at her and
grasped her arm, spinning her around and throwing her through another store
window. She fell to the floor, glass shredding her hands and forearms. A shard
of glass slipped through her ribs and pierced her lung. The exoskeleton was an
anchor on her numb legs as she lay there in agony. Glass crunched as the thug
slowly approached her. Realizing she was fighting for her life, she searched
for something, anything, to use for a weapon.
“Cease your hostilities immediately! The
Sea-Tac Police have been summoned.” The automated voice blaring over the PA
system snapped Rin back to the present.
Things were different—she wasn’t nearly as
helpless as she had once been. Her wits collected, Rin rolled under a rack of
suits, which provided some concealment.
The attackers ignored the warnings blaring
over the PA system and approached the shattered window. “No blood. The woman’s
unhurt,” one of the men remarked.
“Of course she is, you fool. You think the
pay would be this good if that bitch wasn’t a class-one target?” the other man
snapped, scanning the store cautiously. He hopped into the display case. “Where
did she go?” The question was addressed at a frightened store clerk peering
over a counter.
“I… I have no idea who you—”
Bang. Smoke trailed
from the barrel of the AK.
“Too slow, dickhead. Get in there and
start searching. I’ll cover you.”
The second man entered the store
cautiously, gun barrel moving slowly side to side as he looked high and then
low, trying to get a view around racks of clothes.
“Target cornered in a clothing store. Converge
on my position,” the first man called into his Datalink.
the hell are these people? Hit men sent by Thorne’s people in retaliation for
the Skin City incident, most likely. Wonder
if they’re behind the bombing campaigns also? Rin crouched lower and waited
for her chance.
As the first hit man approached her
position, the lights in the store suddenly cut out. The man cursed and jerked
back in surprise. She assumed he would have low-light augs, but the momentary
distraction allowed her to make her move. She reached out from under the long
rack of clothes and seized the man’s ankle.
“Wha—” the man cried out as Rin pulled his
feet out from under him, yanking the man under the rack. Before he hit the
ground, her forearm blade was out and stabbing her attacker through the ribs
repeatedly. The man gurgled and tried to grapple with her, but she was too
fast. With a strike under the chin, the blade pierced the man’s brain.
skins, then. Just some augmented mercenaries. Immediately, the clothes above her
were shredded by bullets as the second merc cut loose. A couple rounds grazed Rin
before she pulled the dead man over herself as a shield. She dislodged the
AK-47 from his grip and fired a wild burst in the direction of the other
Hoping he had dropped for cover, Rin
rolled out from her position and sprinted toward the rear of the store. Gunfire
resumed behind her. Bullets tore past her, and not seeing an immediate door,
Rin lowered her head and dove through the rear wall. The polymer burst apart
around her, and she found herself in the rear of the shop, stumbling over
crates on the floor. Boxes and racks of plastic-covered garments filled the
space. She fired another burst from the AK over her shoulder to cover her
retreat and shouldered the rear exit door open.
Rin found herself in a long corridor with
blank white walls. She sprinted down the hallway to put some distance between
herself and her pursuers. She briefly considered calling her brother for an
enforcer team but knew it would be all over before they would arrive.
can handle a few mercs. I hope.
About fifty meters ahead, another door
burst open. Two more figures in black tactical gear darted through, a man and a
woman. They turned in her direction and opened fire immediately. She realized
they knew her exact position.
lot are a bunch of pros.
Rin crouched and returned fire, seeking to
present as small a target as possible. Bullets tore into the floor and walls
around her. One slammed into her kneecap, and another hit her shoulder. One of
her attackers staggered and fell as a few rounds hit the man in the chest. Rin’s
AK clicked abruptly as it ran dry of ammo.
She sprang across the corridor and kicked
the wall hard, hoping to break through again. The polymer shell cracked, but
the core was solid brick. Rin staggered back awkwardly. Shit, I’m in trouble here. The
other one will shoot me in the back any instant now.
The woman reloaded while the man got back
to his feet, obviously wearing body armor or having dermal plating. The woman
gave Rin a nasty smile as she leisurely aimed at her.
Excerpt from Extensis Vitae: City of Sarx
was awakened by a rumbling boom from somewhere in the base. The bunk rattled
beneath him as the walls and floor shook from the blast. Explosion, he thought, instantly awake and sitting up. Concrete
dust drifted down from the ceiling. A crack he hadn’t noticed before crossed
the concrete ceiling. He saw by his HUD that the time was 03:00.
steel door to the prison had been shut the night before after Keeva had brought
him his dinner. He dialed up his augs to try to hear what was going on outside.
A siren went off throughout the base, and a red light on the ceiling flashed.
Footsteps raced by in the hall outside, and voices were raised in fear and
I have to get out of here. He wasn’t surprised the base was
under attack. The rebels had been acting too cocky the prior night, and their
overconfidence had likely allowed themselves to be tracked.
rang out, light at first and then quickly becoming a heavy barrage. For an
agonizingly long time, Mason stood at the bars, listening. The once-confident
voices had turned to panic. Come on, let
me the hell out of here. He gripped the bars of the cell and willed someone
to open the door and release him.
smaller explosion that sounded like a grenade came from somewhere nearby. Mason
felt the floor shudder and the bars vibrate in his hands. Somebody screamed in
pain from what sounded like the hallway outside the prison. Another flurry of
gunfire followed. Light footsteps approached rapidly, and then the door burst
darted into the room and slammed the door shut behind her. She frantically
worked the mechanical deadbolt and then leaned against the door, breathing heavily.
Her eyes were wide with fear, and blood trickled down her forehead. Her blue
hair had turned partially gray from cement dust. Her eyes locked with Mason’s
when she noticed him standing there.
let me out of here,” he said calmly. “Let me fight—I can help you.” He didn’t
want to panic the young woman and send her running away, so he kept his voice
confident and even. “If you don’t want to give me a weapon, that’s fine. I will
try to distract them.”
young woman caught her breath and he saw her nod as she made a decision. “Yeah,
you’d make a good distraction. They may want you more badly than they want us,
but I’m not going to make it easy and give you to them gift wrapped like this.”
She started over to the controls to release the cell doors.
heard the tread of footfalls outside the door—slow, unhurried, and very heavy.
They stopped outside the door. Shit, this
won’t be good. Keeva had apparently heard the tread as well and froze
halfway to the control.
he hissed, his eyes fixed on the door.
door suddenly exploded off its hinges, steel shrieking in protest from the
powerful force that hit it. Mason jumped back a split second before the twisted
steel door slammed into the bars. The door was buckled, and one corner jammed
between the bars of Mason’s cell, keeping it upright. Mason took advantage of
the cover and crouched behind the door, waiting for a glimpse of who stood
outside. The heavy footsteps entered the room, and peering around the door,
Mason saw the tank.
heavy assault skin, or “tank,” as they were often called, entered the room. The
skin was a massive man with a heavily muscled physique, wearing thick
poly-ceramic armor and carrying a pulse rifle. The rifle looked like a toy gun
in the huge man’s hand as he slowly scanned the room. Keeva, who had been
frozen in place, quickly dove behind the desk across the room.
tank spun and fired, the pulse rifle wildly blasting holes through the wall and
tearing the desk apart into smoldering cinders. Mason got up and kicked the
steel door as hard as he could. It dislodged from the bars and struck the tank
in the shoulder, knocking his aim off. Energy bolts flew wildly into the wall
and ceiling, just missing the cell door release control. The tank turned, and
Mason reached through the bars and grabbed the scalding hot barrel of the pulse
rifle with his alloy hand and yanked on it as hard as he could. The big man
took a couple steps forward before regaining his balance. Mason hammered on the
man’s wrist, but even with his strength augs, his blows didn’t faze the tank.
The skin squeezed the trigger, and bolts blasted into the wall of the cell,
sending chips of concrete flying and choking the air with dust. Mason pinned
the barrel of the rifle under his arm against his ballistic vest.
open the fucking door!” he roared. He hoped the woman hadn’t gotten shot, but
he couldn’t be sure.
tank hauled back on his gun, slamming Mason hard into the bars of the cell.
“James Mason,” the skin grunted in surprise as he got a good look at Mason’s
face for the first time. He hauled on the gun again, and Mason could feel it
slipping through his grasp.
his left hand, Mason fumbled at the weapon and managed to hit the release
button for the energy cell, but it slipped out of his hand and bounced off the
booted foot of the tank before he could secure it.
big man grunted in annoyance and punched at Mason, who released the rifle
barrel and ducked. The tank’s fist slammed into the bars with a loud clang, leaving a bar bent from the
mighty blow. The skin stooped to pick up the energy cell and Mason knew he was
Excerpt from Obsolescence:
Obsolescence is a short story which takes place in the world of Extensis Vitae and focuses on events shortly before the Cataclysm.
Mason leaped out the hatch of the drop-ship, his team following close behind. His power armor easily absorbed the impact from the drop, and the roof of the building shuddered under his landing. The rest of the squad followed him down, the skins and more heavily augmented grunts not needing any power armor.
Bethany landed a few feet away as light as a cat. She wore only her assault helmet and a vest of lightweight body armor over her uniform. She nodded toward the door, indicating that she was ready. “Got you covered.”
Mason sprang toward the steel door. He gave it a powerful kick and the door buckled and tore free from its hinges under the might of the power armor. Bethany darted through the opening, weapon ready.
“Stairwell clear,” she called. She raced down the steps and Mason followed more slowly, careful that he didn’t miss a step in the bulky armor and lose his balance.
He heard cries below in the corridor. There was the rapid popping of a submachine gun and Bethany leaned back inside the stairwell casually as a spray of bullets tore into the doorframe next to her.
Mason stepped brazenly out into the corridor and brought his gatling laser to bear. Small arms fire bounced harmlessly off the breastplate of his power armor. He saw a couple thugs with SMGs firing as they backed away down the hall. He squeezed the trigger. The weapon whined for a few milliseconds as it powered up and then it began firing repeated laser blasts down the corridor. Blat blat blat blat.
The first thug dropped as large cauterized holes were blasted through his torso. The second managed to duck through a doorway to the left. Mason took a step and threw his shoulder into the wall, bursting through into the apartment in a shower of plaster and debris.
He found himself in what appeared to be some type of narcotics lab. Even through the power armor’s filtration system, he could faintly smell the stink of chemicals and burnt substances in the room. A complex assortment of vials and tubes were strung together along a countertop and an orange liquid was bubbling in a large flask over a portable burner. Looks like a Rage lab, he thought.
Rage was the newest and hottest drug on the street, granting its users nearly superhuman speed and strength for short periods of time. It was popular among a lot of the street gangs’ muscle. The fact that it eventually burned out the motor cortex in the brain was apparently lost on its users.
Narcotics had been legalized decades ago, and the pharmaceutical companies had naturally zeroed in and quickly attempted to take over the narrow market of what had previously been illegal drugs. Once corporate profits were added into the accounting equation, street prices had soared. As a result, homegrown narcotics labs continued to flourish just as they had for the past century or more. It seemed there would always be a demand for cheap and readily available drugs on the street.
Mason heard shouts and the clamor of heavy footsteps in the hallway as his grunts swarmed the corridor in both directions. There was no sign of the man with the SMG.
Mason advanced toward the next room. Motion to his left drew his attention as a man with a shotgun popped through the entrance. He swung the gatling laser around, but the man was already dropping dead from the neat hole that appeared between his eyes from Bethany’s railgun.
“C’mon Captain…reflexes getting a little slow in your old age?” she taunted as she slipped past him and into the next room. He heard the kerang of her railgun as she fired again.
Mason jogged forward into the next room, footsteps thudding in the heavy armor. One man lay dead in front of Bethany and she faced off with another. Her eyes were narrowed in concentration and made Mason think of a cat toying with a mouse.
The Rage junkie came at Bethany with a curved knife in hand. Their movements were a blur to Mason as the junkie stabbed at her. Faster than Mason could follow, Bethany quickly disarmed the junkie and stabbed him in the ribs with his own knife. She lifted him off the ground by the throat one-handed, his fingers clawing at her hand futilely as she held him with ease.
“Where’s Userov?” Bethany demanded. She shook the man to emphasize her question. The junkie gurgled in her iron grasp and kicked at her. Blood soaked his side around the knife protruding from his ribs. “He’s not talking,” she remarked and casually tossed the man against the wall. She snapped the railgun up and put a round through his heart before he even hit the ground.
The spit of SMG fire drew their attention. The thug that had escaped earlier crouched in an inner doorway, unloading his clip at them. Bullets pinged off Mason’s armor, and Bethany grunted as she took a couple rounds.
Mason turned and began squeezing the trigger of the gatling laser before the target was in his sights. The powerful weapon began firing, the pulses of energy carving a horizontal line through the wall. The hood futilely dove behind the wall in the next room, but Mason merely held the trigger and swept the next room with a concentrated stream of energy blasts.
He eased off the trigger and listened for any signs of the gunman. Embers glowed at the edges of the groove he had burned through the wall. Poking his head inside the room, he saw that the thug had been cut in half across the torso. The corpse was nearly bloodless; the intense heat of the laser beams cauterized the wounds instantly.
Mason and Bethany finished clearing the apartment and rejoined the rest of the squad in the hallway. Resistance was fairly light and the other tenants were in the process of surrendering to the heavily armed CorpSec squad. They lined the tenants up in the hallway and put them on their knees amongst the trash and broken glass.
“We are looking for one Alexei Userov…who knows where he is?” Mason asked.
“Fuck you, pig!” one of the thugs spat at him.
Mason turned and backhanded the man. The blow from his armored fist shattered the thug’s jaw, sending him airborne and slamming into the wall. The brittle polymer wall dented and cracks began spider-webbing outward. Several teeth spilled onto the filthy floor as blood gushed from his mouth. As simple as that, the fight went out of the thug.
“Do I need to keep asking?” Mason looked around at the people lining the corridor. There were the usual thugs, junkies, and degenerates, but a lot of them looked like normal poor folks, some more desperate than others. A few looked defiant though, and he saw loathing on more than a few faces.
Mason was about to ask again when an old woman spoke up. “Next floor down,” she croaked. “Take your trigger-happy cowboys and let us be. Nobody goes down there because of that asshole and his goddamn robot.”
“Thank you, ma’am. Be happy to oblige,” he told her.
“Shall we take the quick way down?” Bethany asked him with an eager grin.
“Sure, why not,” he replied with his own smile. This part was always fun. “Mills, take half of the squad down the east stairs, Johnson the west. Leave two men behind to cover this lot here—we don’t want any surprises out of them. Follow our lead and meet us in the middle,” he told the rest of the squad. Mills and Johnson formed up their squads and began jogging toward the stairwells in opposite directions. Two grunts kept their rifles trained on the tenants.
Bethany came up to Mason and stepped lightly on his armored foot, slipping an arm around him to hold on. Mason fired up the gatling laser and turned in a circle, the weapon cutting an arc through the floor, which collapsed in a neat circle under their weight. The two of them dropped down to the next level.
His Lieutenant stepped free and moved to cover his back. Mason squinted, and at the end of the dark hallway he detected a glowing red light. His HUD illuminated the robotic form in the gloom, and a moment later, a hulking shape moved in the shadows.
“Robot 12 o’clock,” he called out. “Looks like an Enforcer Bot of some type—heavy caliber too.” Servos whirred loudly and the massive mechanical form began to lumber forward with a heavy tread.
“Copy. This side is clear,” she replied.
The robot took a few more steps and the glowing red “eye” brightened in angry intensity. It was broad across the armored carapace, with stout legs and a flat head containing its sensor array. The bot’s arms were massive auto-cannons. Mason was expecting it to call out a warning, but it raised its arms and the clack of cocking weapons was loud in the hallway.