Thursday, January 24, 2013

Wrath of the Void Strider Excerpt


Up ahead, huddled near a payphone under a shadowy overhang, two hooded fellows took note of them and moved quickly away, deeper into the darkness of a shuttered restaurant.  “Such subtlety,” Takeo mocked, and he rested his hand near the small of his back.  He whispered to Gavin, “Whatever those guys have to say, don’t talk to them.”
“Why not?” Gavin asked, as one of the hooded men stepped back into view, his hands in his pockets.
“Got a smoke?” asked the stranger, his companion close behind him.  He glanced this way and that.  Other shadows loomed deeper within the shuttered restaurant.
Gavin answered, “Not on me,” and he felt a sharp jab to his arm as Takeo nudged him along.  “Sorry.  Good luck.”
“Slow down,” a deep voice rumbled, and a massive creature of stone skin stomped into view from further down the walk.  The others swept in behind Gavin and Takeo as they regarded the stone man.  “Really could’ve used that smoke.  What else you got?”
“One or two things,” Takeo growled, and he pulled Gavin stumbling to the wall.  In a flash, he produced a heavy revolver that had been tucked into the back of his pants, and he leveled it fearlessly at the stone man.  “You are all leaving, now!”
“I don’t think so,” snarled the stone man, and he charged.
Takeo squeezed the trigger twice, and two shots struck their mark, near where the heart would be on a human, but only a shower of sparks rained down from the stone assailant’s chest.  Two more hooded figures bolted from the deeper shadows, as the first two lunged.  Takeo gripped and swung a hooded man around, sent him careening into the stone attacker.  A blur of kicks and punches, and two more toppled with a crunch to the ground.
“Fogg, I could use some help!” urged Takeo, as the mechanical pup playfully dodged the swirling melee.
Gavin threw all his might into a punch aimed at the fourth hooded man.  It failed to connect, and he found himself cast to the ground, his feet swept out from under him.  His head spun as his back struck the concrete, knocking the wind out of him.
Several loud pops filled the night air, flashes of light as bullets streaked through the darkness.  Gavin heard joints crack, saw guns and knives hit the ground as he tried to regain his senses.  He rolled away just in time for the stone man’s fist to crash down on where his chest had been a moment earlier.  Another pop from Takeo’s gun resulted merely in a waterfall of embers.
Grimacing, his lungs on fire, Gavin forced himself to breathe in and struggled back to his feet.  He watched the stone man stomp toward his friend.  Takeo dove behind a trash bin, but the attacker smashed it flat with his massive fists, sending garbage in every direction.
Gavin opened his mouth to shout, but a raspy squeak came out.  Clearing his throat, he finally bellowed, “Maugal!”
The stone attacker paused, and it pivoted to regard him.
Glad for the reprieve, Takeo bolted to the space behind an unhitched semi-truck and set to reloading his pistol.
“You’re a maugal, right?”  Gavin took in the towering, pitted and cracked, blue stone skin of the thing that now lumbered inexorably toward him.  The other four attackers writhed slowly on the ground, moaning in pain.  To Gavin’s surprise, Takeo jumped protectively between Gavin and the moving slab, his gun leveled.  Fogg trotted to his human’s feet and promptly sat.
“I’m impressed,” spat the maugal.  “You even got the pronunciation right.”
Gavin slipped past Takeo and pushed against the attacker’s chin with his loosely balled fist.  “Hey, beautiful,” he grinned, and he slowly shook his head as the monolithic thug focused on him.  His heart pounded in his ears.  “I’ve never actually seen a living maugal.  Word on the wire is the Union’s done with you.”
“Choose your next words carefully, bludder,” seethed the glowering, blue cliff face.  “This doesn’t have to be painless.”  One of the human attackers hunched up to his knees, leaned over on his hands, and Takeo promptly kicked him out cold.  “Call off your guard dog.”
“He’s my friend, ghyl’la sorna (Old Maugal slang meaning, “One who serves as a warning to others.”  Highly offensive).  Not my guard dog.  Look, you’re an ancient, noble thing, and the wonders you’ve seen would put any one of us humans to shame.  We’re beneath you.  Far beneath you, but here you are, relying on human trash just to get by.”  Gavin held the maugal’s baleful glare, though it demanded every scrap of courage he had to do so. His voice cracked slightly as he whispered, “How disgraceful.”
It snarled, “Now it’s personal!”  And it drew back an earthen fist.
“You’ve killed me,” announced Gavin.  “I’m dead on the ground.”
You’re about to be!” it roared.
He shook his head.  “No, maugal, I’m dead!  We both are.  Takeo and I are two red stains on the drive.  Dead as dead.”
One of the hooded thugs weakly gripped his gun, and trembling, pointed it at Gavin, but the maugal backhanded the battered assailant into a nearby parcel truck hard enough to dent its side.  “I can handle these two pieces of worthless bludder drek without your help!”
“And you have,” said Gavin, his tone almost soothing.  “Now what happens?”
“I kill you!”
He shook his head.  “We’ve established that.  Now what?”
“I… kill.  I…”
“Right, we’re dead.  What a mess!”  Gavin held his opponent’s stone gaze.  He leaned in and asked, “Now what?”
“I… take your things.”
“Wrong.  Ever heard of Hohiro Sato?  Probably not, so I’ll tell you.  He’s works for the Yubitsume’s oyabun.  Pretty important guy.”  He glanced toward Takeo.  “That’s his dad.  There’s a gene key linked to his gun that sent out a distress signal the instant he squeezed off that first round.  A Yakuza fire team is already en route.”  He straightened.  “Sure, you might start sifting through whatever’s left of us, but it’s hard to find anything that’s even intact when one of us humans gets struck by a ton of stone.  Simple physics.  And then you’ll have his blood all over you, and trust me, they will not stop looking for you until you’ve been broken.  You’re an old stone, maugal.  Probably fresh off a prison rock, am I right?”
It regarded Gavin as if it had just suddenly become aware of his existence, and its shoulders avalanched down to slump.  “But…”
He rested his hand on the maugal’s neck.  “Go to ground.  Keep low and hop on a shuttle to someplace deep in the dark, maybe one of the new colonies.”  He regarded the remaining thugs as they stirred.  “Leave them.  You’re better than that, better than them.  Plus, I think you killed one.”  Gavin nodded toward the limp heap at the base of the dented parcel truck.
“Right,” growled the monolith.
“Go,” urged Gavin.  “I saved your life, and you spared me mine.  That’s square in my book.”
The maugal straightened and smiled steeply with a flicker of dignity.  It stomped back toward the shadows.  “Thanks.”  It paused and turned around.  “I won’t see you again, bludder,” it added before vanishing from sight.
Gavin exhaled, relieved, and he glanced to his stunned companion.
Takeo stared at him with wide eyes, his mouth slightly open.  “How…?”
“I’ll explain after we’re back on the road.”  He nodded toward the looming stone edifice of Supernova Express before turning sharp eyes to his friend.  “Wait.  When the hell did you start carrying a gun?”
Takeo regarded the three surviving attackers.  “I’ve always carried a gun.  You just never noticed.”
“Are you serious?” 
His friend nodded.  “Since I was sixteen.  My father insisted on it.  I’m going to ask these guys a few questions before the police arrive.”  One by one, Takeo dragged the assailants to the curb and retrieved a bundle of zip ties from Gavin’s toolbox.  After he had bound their hands behind their backs and their feet at the ankles, he returned to Gavin’s side.  Fogg took the form of a parking meter crowned by a rotating blue and red lamp.  “Go get her.”
Bright light flashed from the east as the sun crested the horizon, and it lit up Afskya’s indigo sky.
Gavin nodded and clapped Takeo’s arm.  “We’ll be right back.”  He turned and hurried along the sidewalk, closing quickly on the club.
He slowed as he approached the front doors, where a bulky, horned male rhidorm served as bouncer.  Around the corner of the building near a pair of trash bins, Gavin noticed a huddle of people keeping out of sight.  His eyes flitted over the shadowed group.  A very tall woman whispered, “It’s not an exact science, Captain.  He’ll be here… eventually.  Trust me.”  Her eyes tracked directly to him, and she held his gaze.
Gavin looked uneasily away, but he felt her eyes fixed upon him.  “Hey, Chris,” he said to the cornuted rhidorm bouncer, and he nodded.  He rushed the last few steps to the entrance.
“Hey, Gavin,” rumbled the bouncer, and he pulled the door open.  Thumping dance anthems roared out into the night.  “That your friend shooting off fireworks in the alley?”
He chuckled in response and nodded.  “Something like that.”
Chris’s thick, gray skin wrinkled deeply as he winked.  “Go on in.”
Gavin stepped through, and the door closed behind him.  A young woman with matted blonde dreadlocks waved him past the ticket booth, and he muttered his thanks.  He scanned the foyer for Taryn.
He hardly had time to seek before she stumbled into him.  “I’m so glad you’re here,” she breathed.  “The guy I came here with was a total creeper.  He was literally all over me.”  She paused.  “OK, not literally, but you get the idea.”
“Are you alright?”
Taryn nodded.  “He wasn’t hearing no, so I bent back his fingers.  Maybe broke one or two, not sure.  The jerk ditched me after that.”  She smiled brightly.  “So… I figured it’s been a while since I’ve seen you, and I really wasn’t in the mood to call a cab.”  Taryn Sikes looked taller than she was, lean and strong of build, yet elegant besides.  She was ospyrean, proud and fierce.  Snow-white down blanketed her birch-white skin, and brilliant red feathers cascaded from her head, tied up loosely at the shoulders.  Her keen eyes were more golden than brown.  She wore knee high steel-toed boots draped in buckles, tattered net leggings under ripped shorts and a threadbare black T-shirt over a tight, long-sleeved grey undershirt.
“Stop dating humans,” he chuckled.
“Fat chance.  Is Takeo with you?”
Gavin nodded.  “Fogg is too.”  He led Taryn back to the entryway, smiled toward the woman with blonde dreadlocks and pulled open the door.  “We should hurry.”
Taryn glanced about.  “Where are they?”
“See you, Chris,” Gavin said to the bouncer, and he pointed further down the block toward Fogg’s rotating police light.
“Hasta.”  Chris dipped his massive forehead horn toward Taryn.  “Ma’am.”
She gasped as she took note of the bound assailants, of Takeo looming over them in the distance.  “Oh my God!  What happened!?”
Gavin laughed quietly, dryly as they stepped out into the cool morning air.  The door closed behind them, and it was suddenly and deafeningly quiet.  “That’s part of why we need to hurry.  We got mugged by a maugal and his crew of human thugs, but it’s alright.  Takeo took care of it.”
“We’re so lucky he’s our friend,” she said.
“And that he agreed to come,” Gavin added.  “I talked down the maugal, though.”
Taryn smirked.  “Yeah, right.”  She squeezed Gavin’s hand, quickly kissed its knuckles, and held it close against her chest.  “Not everyone gets to be a hero, and you don’t need to impress me, anymore.”
“I really did, though!  Right after I got my ass kicked by one of his goons.”  He pulled free his hand.
Taryn stopped, stood directly across from Gavin.  “You promised.”
He breathed out heavily.  “I’m not lying.  I swear.  Not to you.”  His ears were quite red, and his shoulders sank.  “I swear.”
She nodded and returned to his side as they resumed walking.  They passed the group of people near the trash bins Gavin had earlier encountered.  “Fine, I’m choosing to believe you.  How did you do it?”
Gavin stole a glance toward the huddle and shivered to find the tall woman silently staring at him.  He leaned in and whispered, “I told him there was a radio signal broadcast as soon as Takeo took his first shot, that there was a Yakuza special weapons team already en route.”  He looked at her sidelong.  “I sort of charmed him after that, and he left.”
Taryn huffed, amused.  “Only you, Gavin.  It still counts as lying, though.”
Gavin shook his head gravely, gesturing as if cutting his throat and mouthing “no” repeatedly.
“What?  There’s no Yakuza weapons team.  So you lied, but in this case, I can excuse it.”  She winked, before suddenly noticing his growing panic.  “What is it?”
Now you die!” roared the stone giant as it stepped back into view on the far side of Gavin’s truck.
“Maugals have excellent hearing,” breathed Gavin, and he swallowed visibly.
“No more of your tricks!”  The maugal looked up and down the street, ignored Takeo as he demanded the granite thug stand down.
“We should run,” advised Gavin.
Taryn’s eyes went wide.  She spun her friend around back toward the club as music roared from its momentarily opened doors.  “Good idea!” she urged and gripped his elbow, led him stumbling as they dashed toward a group of club goers that had just exited.
From behind him, he heard Takeo bellow, “Gavin, look out!”  He heard the creek of his truck’s shocks, the groan of its metal as the maugal lifted it off the ground.  Takeo emptied his gun into the truck near its fuel tank, but none of the bullets struck home.
Startled by the gunfire, the small crowd of club goers screamed and started to scatter.
Like a cannonball, the pickup rocketed through the air toward Taryn and Gavin.
Taryn lost Gavin’s elbow, spun about in time to behold his massive vehicle on a direct course for his back.  She stumbled and fell.  Breathing out, she closed her eyes and hit the sidewalk hard.  Gavin dove with arms outstretched, and he landed protectively on top of Taryn.  Terrified screams filled the air, but they abruptly stopped.
They were replaced by astonished gasps, and whispers of, “That’s impossible!”
Gavin rolled away with Taryn in his grip, tumbled into the alley and came to rest with her atop him.  Her eyes met his only briefly however, and she fixed her attention on where the two of them had just been.  Suspended in the air, nearly as high up as the street lamps, was his Hulkr Rhino.
Thunderously, it crashed down, a burst of broken things, skewed wheels and a shower of glass.
Gavin breathed out and closed his eyes.  “My truck.”

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