Apollyon Effect Part 2 – 1000 Subscriber Special!
Wow, woke up and nearly was at 1200 subscribers! Thank you all so much! Here's some more of the subreddit only story, Apollyon Effect!
Even with the painkillers, the walk down to the Road was slow and painful. This building was off the power grid, filled with squatters and drifters and other dregs, so no elevator. It meant eighteen stories to take down to street level, and he felt every one of them. Every two to three stories he had to pause to catch his breath, leaning against a wall or even outright sitting down. Still, after half an hour, he made it to the street. He peered around the side of the building and scowled as he noticed several shards of plastic scattered about – the remnants of his phone. Or, at least, a phone, and he choose to assume it was his since that fit the way the night had been going.
Limping, he got to the station. A screen, smeared with dirt, lit up. “Please present your phone!” was displayed across it. He tapped the small button that said, in tiny font, “I don’t have a phone,” followed by a frowny face. It didn’t respond. He pulled up his sleeve, wiped at the screen for a bit, then hit the button again. This time it asked him to select his financial institution and enter his billing information. He did so, then sat back and waited.
Fifteen minutes later, a car pulled up. Given how tight his budget was, he’d chosen one of the cheapest options, so it was old, tiny, and he knew the seats wouldn’t recline. A single seater, too, the seat in the middle and only about twice as wide as a motorcycle. The door opened to his fingerprint, and he got in, closing the door before someone jacked his ride. “Hello [USER]” displayed on the screen. Too old to even have voice interface. “Please select destination.” He tapped his address into the keyboard. “Thank you. Would you like music? Y/N?” He looked at the speakers, badly torn as they were, and decided against whatever static would come blaring out of them. He selected N.
The car whirled to life, a steering wheel folding down towards his hands. It wouldn’t allow him to operate it unless it detected an imminent collision, so he leaned back, groaning with pain again as he did so.
He had 2 weeks to come up with thirty-three grand. Counting the costs today, he had only about 9 grand in his bank account. 8 once you factored buying a new phone, which he’d have to do first thing in the morning – even if he got one of the cheapest models. And he had to get a new phone – he could try to get some freelance work with it.
Michael Clarke was a freelance special interest troubleshooter, or, in common parlance, a Lancer. Lancers did various jobs that skirted the line between legal and not, and rarely made all that much money – although there were also tales of those who had made big enough names for themselves to get the attention of various Executives. Once they noticed you, you were set for life, either because they’d hire you on at a very good price, or because they’d make damn sure you never had to worry about money, food, shelter, or anything besides decomposing ever again.
It was better to get the first option, although some Lancers could command Corporate level pay while staying freelance. They were rare as all hell, though, and always had to watch over their shoulder. When Michael had started Lancing at 20, after dropping out of college, he figured he’d become one of those ultra-badass Lancers who stayed freelance. 6 years later, he was desperately hoping he’d be one of the ones that lived long enough to retire.
As he travelled along the road, his car moved up to the top lane – much to Michael’s gratitude, as he liked seeing the sky for a change. From this vantage point, the Central States Gigacity stretched before him. The largest, in terms of land area covered, of America’s 6 Gigacities, it was also the least populated. Michael had seen pictures of it from space, and it looked more like a spider web with a few large bugs trapped in it. Those large bugs had been some of the biggest cities in the Midwest and Great Lakes region pre-Crash – from Kansas City to Saint Louis to Chicago, branching out from Chicago to Detroit and Indianapolis and even up north to Toronto in what had been Canada.
Chicago was the hub around which the whole Gigacity revolved, but Michael lived out between what had been Saint Louis and Kansas City, the large, regional slum known as the 64-Roadcity. It was residential areas and business areas that had sprung up around highway 64, which had been stacked to be a 3 layer highway to allow for inter-gigacity traffic. After the crash, much of the 64-Roadcity had lost power, and while it was slowly being restored, the extended period without had left the region a slum.
On the top layer, cresting a hill as he was, Michael could see 64-Roadcity stretch ahead of him in the night, and in the distance, Saint Louis. Missouri was riddled with caves that posed a serious threat for major buildings, so instead of going to skyscrapers like most of the country, Saint Louis (along with the marshland cities in the south) had been one of the first to adopt the Cloud 9 building model. Much of the cities highrises were suspending from massive zeppelins that could be see for dozens of miles. From here they looked like twinkling stars.
The quiet of the road, the painkillers in his system, the electric hum of the car, and the sight of the city ahead slowly lulled Michael to a zoned out state. If it had been a newer car model, it would have jostled him to alertness so he’d be ready for an emergency. Since it wasn’t, it let him rest.
He found himself reflecting on the events that had led to him being on that rooftop.
The notification had come in on the LanceWatch, an app many Lancers used to get jobs. Michael wasn’t used to getting direct notifications – he typically pulled from the available pool of jobs, same as everyone else. “Heard about your work on the 22nd job. Want to hire. 10k, no digi, roof,” followed by an address. Fairly standard, from what he had been told. He’d gotten a handful of DNs before, but this was the first that was requesting no digital information and him specifically.
He swiped over to his friends list and found Mara was online. She and him had worked a couple jobs before, and gotten along well. She had shot him down when he’d asked her out, but had been nice about it, and he hadn’t been a creep, so they maintained friendly contact. He typed out a message to her. “Hey, just got a DN for a no digi job. Mentions the 22nd. Should I be worried?”
A couple moments later her response came in. “How big a bucket?”
“10k,” he shot back. Good money for a lancer like him, but not huge. She returned the message after a bit, “Risky, but not red alert. Make sure you bring a friend.”
“Gotcha. You busy tonight?”
“Yup. Got a job up in Chi. Who’s your second pick?”
Michael grimaced. He didn’t really have any other Lancers he got along with who weren’t out of town. “I’ll figure something out.”
“Michael. Don’t be dumb. If you can’t find a friend, don’t go. Promise.” The message was followed by a perfectly round yellow face with a stern expression.
“I promise,” he lied.
He did try to find someone else, but his few other contacts were out of town, in the hospital, or in a grave. But he needed the money. 10k would get a decent chunk of what he owed Onyx, plus keep him in food and power and rent – you know, the things you need to survive. So he went anyway, figuring the pistol in his pocket would be enough to protect him. Technically, he could argue with Mara that when she said “bring a friend,” he had thought she meant to go armed. That should spare him her wrath.
Then again, if things went bad and she heard about it, it’d probably be in the LancerObit section of the app.
When he got to the roof, his guard had been up. Just because he was dumb enough to go alone to a meet didn’t mean he was going to walk in blindly. The intermediary the contact had hired was there, and alone himself, which put Michael at ease. He hadn’t recognized Grey Oni yet, not with that shifting, multicolored tattoo on his face. He lowered the gun…and almost instantly regretted it. As soon as his grip loosened on the weapon, before he could even speak, the other man had been moving, faster than a normal person. He’s got cyberware, Michael had barely enough time to think, before Grey Oni’s foot connected firmly with his solar plexus, causing him to drop his weapon. His attacker wasn’t done, a knee coming up to meet Michael’s face as he doubled over, but Michael wasn’t completely out of his depth.
Michael’s hands came up to meet the knee, stiffening his elbows so the force of the blow pushed him upright instead of cracking his nose. He rolled back with the motion, and was glad he did when Grey Oni’s hand had impacted the roof next to where he had been. He heard the roofing crack under that fist, and didn’t like to think about what it would have done to his head. He tried to kick Grey Oni in the knee, a blow that actually connected, but it was weak, his vision still swimming from the initial blow, and the larger man took advantage of it to grab his ankle and drag him to edge the roof.
Now that he thought back on it, Grey Oni hadn’t taken him to the nearest point, but rather a bit further to the south than a straight line would have indicated. He also could have kicked much, much harder with those enhanced legs of his, but had instead nudged him off the edge with his foot. Which had also given Michael enough time to catch his breath and grab the side as he went over, leading to the dangling conversation they had.
It helped him relax to know that Grey Oni had been serious about not wanting him dead.
The car got off the highway and smoothly spiraled down the ramp to ground floor, pulling up to his apartment building. Michael groaned as he got out, the muscles having stiffened during the ride. He closed the car door as the screen said “Thank you for choosing Ultra,” before it sped away. He pushed his finger to the building’s scanner and the door unlocked, a monitor helpfully informing him that he had 15 days to pay his rent before he would be evicted. He stumbled up the stairs. Across the door someone had plastered a large sign saying “This Apartment No Longer Protected by SecuriFirm!!!” Smaller text beneath that read, “Please bring your account current.”
He shook his head. It was a terrible thing for SecuriFirm to do. In some areas, having that sign on your door meant you’d get robbed within hours. In this part of town, he’d passed twelve apartments on his floor alone with the same sign, so he wasn’t too worried about it. The door would need to be repainted unless he paid, so a SecuriFirm rep could come around with the solvent, but he didn’t see a point in bothering. The sign would be back up within a day anyway. He pressed his thumb to the lock and the door clicked open.
The apartment was small. A single cot that served double duty as bed and couch sat across the very narrow living room from the TV. The refrigerator took up half the kitchen, while sink and microwave took up the other half – only room for a handful of drawers beneath them. He didn’t have room for a table. The back room, which was supposed to be a bedroom the size of a walk-in-closet, had been converted into his work room, a narrow desk set up against the back wall with a chair. The most expensive thing he owned was the HoloPort on the desk. He waved his hand over it and, recognizing his handprint, it came to life.
Screens began to display on every wall of the tiny room. He gestured towards one and it came towards him, and with another gesture it enlarged. He began talking to it, setting up the order for a replacement phone and checking his mail. A drone would have it the phone in the window box later tonight – he couldn’t afford to splurge for one hour shipping.
He logged into LanceNet, and sent Mara a message. “I’m okay. You were right, but I’m okay.” She wasn’t online, out on a job still, but she’d get it later and there’d be hell to pay. He checked the job listings, swearing to avoid any that had the “no digi” tag, then realized he wouldn’t be able to take most, not in his current state. He needed time to heal.
He did spot two offering a couple hundred nubucks each to review security footage, so at least that was something. He took both of those and spent the next several hours watching, bored and aching, before sending the clients summaries of what he had seen. One had been for a wealthier fellow who wanted to know if his wife was having an affair. She wasn’t, but his son had cracked the safe in his study, which explained the missing money. The other was for a couple that was worried the nanny was stealing from them. No evidence of that in the footage, or anything all that noteworthy really. The nanny did play games on their expensive video game system after the kid had gone to bed, and Michael dutifully included that in his report, but he doubted they’d care.
By the time he was done, every muscle in his body was thrumming with pain. He had hit his limit, and half stumbled, half walked over to the cot he called a bed, hoping the phone would be in his window box in the morning.
That was the last memory he had for the next week.
While Michael Clarke was reviewing security footage before falling into a sleep that would last for seven days, Samantha Black was pressed against a wall as bullets chipped the stone near her. She took a deep breath, then another.
It was supposed to be a simple courier job. Pick up a crystal that had data the client didn’t want to stick on a hackable drone, bring it into the Kansas City hub. Whatever was on the crystal, apparently, was very valuable, and someone had hired a rival lancer to steal it.
The shooter was a Caucasian male, short, with close cut hair. He had two pistols he was shooting with. Most of the time shooting with two pistols was only for movies, but his glasses had an Augmented Reality link to the guns that let him see out of their barrels, and he obviously knew how to use them. She was pinned down.
The gunfire stopped for a moment, the man realizing that he was just wasting bullets. “Don’t suppose you just want to surrender the crystal, do you?” he shouted, both of their hearing still ringing from the sound of his guns. She thought about jumping up to attempt to return fire, but decided against it. “I do that, I don’t get paid,” she responded, trying to buy herself time.
“Suit yourself.” She heard the crunch of footsteps as the man began to circle the wall. “Personally I hate shooting beautiful women, but a job’s a job.”
Sam’s mind was racing. Her mouth ran without her brain’s aid. “Good to know equal opportunity applies even to Lance-hunting scum.” There was another pile of rubble not far from her. She could get to it, which would give her cover when he passed the wall, but if she moved too soon he could shoot her through a gap in the wall.
The man laughed at her, but apparently wasn’t feeling up to bantering. She listened carefully to his footsteps, doing her best to judge when would be the right time to jump-
Suddenly, the sky went bright. Decades of rampant pollution had turned the once blue sky a permanent gray, and at night stars were rarely visible, the moon only a hazy white sphere behind the perpetual smog, but in an instant a glow began to dance across the smog. They looked like the Northern Lights, but instead of blues and greens they were yellow and red, and they stretched across the entire sky, giving the whole world the sudden brightness of an early dawn. She gaped up at it, and felt her skin begin to tingle as she did.
Her opponent was less easily distracted, and took the opportunity to circle the wall completely and open fire. He was twenty yards away, he couldn’t possibly miss and she couldn’t possibly react in time, only able to reflexively throw her hands up and close her eyes, kicking back from where she crouched…
And then he finished his barrage of bullets, the guns clicking empty, and she realized she was still alive. She looked up. She was behind the rubble she had spotted earlier. What? Her gun was still on the ground near the wall. Fortunately, this time her opponent was as confused as she was, and the adrenaline coursing through her system took over. She leaped out from the rubble, intent on charging him…and found herself sailing into the air. She landed in a crouch behind her attacker. Not sure what was going on, she could see he was moving his guns down to his auto-loader, so she lashed out with a stiff arm to the back, hoping to send him stumbling.
Instead, she sent him flying, rolling across the ground before hitting a wall with a sickening crack of bone.
She looked at her hands, then at the wall. Keeping her hand flat to avoid breaking anything, she slapped it, hard. She expected it to sting horribly and to feel very silly, but instead the wall cracked under the blow, spider webs of fractured stone radiating out from the impact point. She looked at her hands again. She wasn’t enhanced in any way. No cybernetic implants, never had gene therapy done – like many young Lancers, she couldn’t afford it. How the hell did I do that, then? Even someone who had been cybered to the gills, with every bit of remaining human tissue gene modded to its fullest potential, couldn’t have cracked stone with a slap and not felt some feedback.
She looked up. Those weird lights in the sky were fading. But they hadn’t faded completely yet, and silhouetted by them she saw a small swarm of drones approaching, drawn by the gunfire.
Whatever happened to her, she didn’t want her face to appear on a drone cam right next to the site of…of some kind of weirdness, so she took off running, keeping her head low until she was around the corner. By the time she was clear of them, the lights in the sky had completely faded. She took out her phone. Social media was exploding with pictures of the sky lights, all across the world. Already people were screaming about the end of the world or aliens or broken seals…it was a mess of panic and confusion and complete absence of facts or coherence. She put it back in her pocket, figuring she’d check again when the news died down.
Besides, she had her own things to worry about.
The crystal in her bag needed to be delivered or the client would send Predators after it, locked onto the GPS transmitter that was part of its lattice. She had to get moving. And she had to figure out what happened to her.
She went to a car port and waved her phone over it, calling up a small vehicle. She climbed in as a voice helpfully asked her where she was going. She started to give the exact address, then stopped. Stupid. Someone wanted this crystal badly enough to send a lance hunter after her, no way were they not watching the carports. They probably had a webwalker in the system, looking for anyone going to that address. She gave another address, close to her destination, then reclined to make sure she was out of easy viewing.
The car hummed to life and got on the roads.
The calm voice coming through the speaker asked if she would like to hear music or news or if she would prefer to remain undisturbed. She selected news, wondering what they were saying.
“So far no explanation exists for the mysterious red lights that appeared worldwide only moments ago.” The voice of the newscaster was firm and authoritarian, and with a tap she pulled up a screen so she could watch. The calm, reassuring face of Robert Gibson, one of the top anchors with Great Lakes News Network (a fully owned subsidiary of Global Media Consolidated, which was finally owned at the top by Singularity Enterprises) stared back at her. He was pushing 60 now, had seen it all. The Second American Civil War, The Crash, the Year of Riots…
but studying his face in full, real-world clarity from the HD display, Sam noticed that even he seemed less calm than usual. There was a tightness around his eyes, the thinness of his lips. He was scared, too. “Community leaders have urged calm while the cause is investigated. Leading scientists for NASA-X have suggested it was reflected from a solar flare, but others have argued that does not explain the global nature of the phenomenon, and point out that a flare of that magnitude would have caused severe electromagnetic disturbance. Again, we wish to point out that there have be no unusual reports of electronic failures, and emergency services are working normally. In fact, so far no impact beyond the light itself has been reported.”
I have a report, Mr. Gibson. I can crack stone and bone with a slap, and leap thirty feet in a single jump. She felt herself laughing slightly at that, and clamped her mouth shut before she started getting hysterical. Gibson’s voice continued. “We advise all people to remain inside. Rioting has been reported along the 64 Roadtown, the 270 Roadtown, in East Saint Louis, Northern Detroit, and Southern Toronto. VARGUS troops have been dispatched to assist the National Guard in restoring order.”
You mean the National Guard is going to stand back while VARGUS busts heads.
VARGUS was one of the top security firms in the country, elite troops that wore Exo-suits that had originally been designed for military use in urban environments. After the country pretty much collapsed during the Second American Civil War, those Exo-suits had been discontinued, and VARGUS’s parent company found itself with hundreds the government couldn’t afford to pay for. The conversion from tech firm to brutal security firm had been swift, and VARGUS had a reputation for being particularly violent when dealing with riots.
I wonder how I’d compare against a V-Suit. The thought surprised her, but the more she thought about it, the more she realized it was a legitimate question. The V-Suits could run at thirty miles per hour, leap twenty feet, and carry about six hundred pounds. They could hit hard enough to punch through wood and plastic doors. But they couldn’t punch through stone. She pulled her bag out and dug through it, finally finding what she was looking for. It was a clip for her pistol, one that had a clasp that was bent slightly so it wouldn’t stay in. She had planned to take it to get it repaired, but…grasping it in both hands, she twisted her hands in opposite directions, and felt the metal give way underneath her grip. A few seconds later, it was in the shape of a corkscrew.
She stared at it, not believing her own eyes. She had just bent steel with her bare hands. Shaking, she put the wreckage of metal back into her bag. It was too weird, it was too much. She was going to deliver the crystal, then she was going to get outrageously drunk, and she’d figure it out in the morning.
The car pulled up to the given address about a half hour later, which had given Sam time to get a grip on herself. The news report had been mostly repetitive: no new information had emerged, although some churches were declaring it to be the End Times, with one particularly fiery preacher, the Reverend Wallace James, dubbing it “the coming of Apollyon,” an older synonym for the devil. The internet was latching on to that phrase, according to her phone, and the lights had gotten the name “Apollyon Wisps” on social media, a phrase Robert Gibson had repeated with a degree of relief.
Even with such an ominous name, Sam understood the relief. Giving it a name, any name, made it less weird, less creepy. Things with names could be understood. No one was ever going to figure out “the strange red lights in the sky,” that’s not the kind of thing people with answers said. “Apollyon Wisps,” however, that was a phenomenon that could be identified, could be traced, could be studied, and finally could be understood.
No other reports of people suddenly leaping 30 feet or cracking stone and twisting steel with their bare hands, though, or if there were they were being drowned out by overall panic over the lights in the sky. Sam was mostly grateful for that, although she kind of wished it would become known so it, too, could get a name. So it could be identified, studied, and understood. Not traced, though. I’m fine with it not being traced.
She got out of the car and scanned the area. Her actual destination was about a block away. It was a nicer part of the Gigacity. Every building had power, the exteriors were painted and in decent repair…not surprising, this close to the Kansas City hub, but still a step up from what she was used to.
Instinct had her duck into an alley. She wasn’t sure what had triggered it. She looked up. This close to a Hub, the sky was full of drones, easily a dozen within a quick glance, but none seemed to be hovering near her or focused on her. She closed her eyes, listening.
It took her a moment to realize it wasn’t anything she had heard, but what she hadn’t heard. Electric cars hummed on the road, drone buzzed in the air, but there weren’t any footsteps, conversations – none of the sounds of humanity. After a moment, she decided it wasn’t anything to worry about. Of course the streets were near empty. Besides it nearly being two in the morning, the news was talking about riots and chaos in the streets in the wake of Apollyon Lights in the sky. Most sane people would clear out with that kind of danger. So what does that make you?
She began to make her way towards her destination by climbing a nearby fire escape. She’d go across the rooftops as long as she could – as densely packed as the buildings were, she should be able to get fairly close, giving her a chance to survey the area. And if she encountered a gap too big to cross…Is that really likely anymore? Here on the Roadway, buildings only had three or four feet between them, five at the most. She had cleared four times that distance without even trying earlier. Really, the biggest thing I have to worry about is overshooting.
She began to make her way across, pulling up her hood as she did so. The black and white patterns on the back of the hoodie would make her a blank spot for most commercial drones, and while high tech ones could beat that, those expensive ones wouldn’t be found out on the Roadways. Nothing between her and her destination required much of a jump at all, thankfully, and the one jump she thought she’d have to risk she’d been able to skip with a piece of thick plastic fauxwood on the roof. It creaked under her weight but held well enough. Then she was on her destination. No goons waiting for her up here, which was a relief. She peered over the edge of the building. Goons down there, by the entrance, like she had feared. Three of them, armed with gauss repeaters. She almost whistled. They weren’t playing around.
Again she wondered what, exactly, was so important on this crystal.
The job was a 15k courier job, and Sam strongly regretted not questioning why someone would pay so much for a simple “carry this.” Still, she had a reputation to uphold, and a strong desire to eat something besides hoppers for the next month, so she needed to figure out how to get past them. She could climb down the building and go through a window? No, if they spotted her she’d be a sitting duck. Head back a bit and come around at ground level? It could work, but again, if they spotted her…
She thought back to earlier. Her leap had taken her high up in the air, high enough where her attacker had looked as small as the men below. The men that were closely huddled together.
Oh, what the hell. She thought. Worst case scenario you just die, right?
Taking a deep breath, she vaulted over the ledge and plummeted towards the gunmen below. It took every ounce of willpower she had to override the desire to scream as she fell. The ground, the men, the pavement all rushed to meet her like a freight train. Her skin started feeling that tingling sensation again, and the edges of her vision started to take on a blue tint.
Then she met the pavement.
She expected, if the fall didn’t kill her, to crack the pavement some beneath her feet. Instead, a shockwave exploded from her feet, blue energy radiating out in a dome as she fell to one knee. The wave dissipated quickly, but it sent her would be assailants flying. The pavement splintered beneath her, making a crater twice as wide as she was tall. She was almost as shocked as they were. Almost. She hadn’t been flung into the air, though, so she had a leg up on them. She moved over to one and grabbed his gauss out of his hand, then quickly pushed it back towards him so the butt impacted his chest. She had judged the force right this time – she didn’t crush his chest, just knocked him silly.
The other two were rising to their feet. No time to congratulate herself. Gauss shots could punch holes in reinforced steel, she didn’t want to assume her new…powers, for lack of a better term would protect her for them. She ran towards one as she underhanded tossed the stolen guass at the other. The thrown gun got to its target before she got to hers, hitting the man in the face with a sickening crunch. She hoped she had only broken his nose.
The one she was charging raised his gauss and squeezed the trigger. It made the distinctive, deep “whump-bang-whump-bang-whump-bang” of gauss fire, the compressed gasses releasing first followed by the sonic boom, and the slugs zipped past her. She felt a sting on her arm but she was already on him, and with a quick flick of her wrist he was down as well, his head cracked against the pavement. She reached down and checked his pulse. Alive. She looked over to the other one and could see he was breathing. The first she had taken out groaned, but showed no inclination to get to his feet.
Okay. I’m getting the hang of this…except for the fact that I somehow exploded when I landed? What the hell? Didn’t matter, not right now. She looked at her left arm. The sleeve of her hoodie was torn, and a thin red line had blossomed from it. She quickly put a hand over it to stem the flow.
Her phone beeped a reminder, and she went inside, holding her arm still. She had ten minutes to complete the transaction.