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David Ploss

Redmarked

- SAMPLE EXTRACT -

I. Redmarked

The street was completely deserted. It was winter in the city of Keleste, and snow hugged the surfaces of everything. Like the hawkers and sellers who's pushcarts and stalls stood in the same manner during the daylight hours, the snow gathered in the crevices and bunched up in corners and alleys. The lidless globes of street lamps, although dimmed for the evening hours, bubbled the shadows across the fluffy white topography of the thoroughfare. The recessed, street level entrances of the skyscrapers that stretched forever in all directions, stared out towards the boulevard like soulless skulls. Their onyx gaze the only place the darkness was complete, hooded from the artificial light of the street globes during all hours of illumination. This was the reality of existence in the under-city of Keleste. Having run out of space to expand across the surface, the planet's infrastructure had moved skyward, leaving those less fortunate behind. Every building with roots in the surface stretched for miles into the air, having expanded up when it could no longer expand out. Keleste was as much a city as it was a planet, but determining the difference was a matter of context. It spanned the entire surface as a city, and occupied an orbit around the local sun as a planet.

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David Ploss

Redmarked

Keleste was split in two by the ploys of government and societal status. Up in the skyward expanses of the High City, wherein dwelt those with more established means and influence, was a bustling sphere of activity. Business types shuttled from building to building across covered catwalks and via transport machines that zoomed through the air like ground vehicles without wheels. The daylight hours saw the most activity, especially during the winter months. As the darkness of the long evenings descended upon Keleste, temperatures dropped below advised operating temperatures set forth by the Agency; the governing body of Keleste, both city and planet. As a result, the airspace, catwalks and transport machines lay dormant during the long darkness, the only illumination coming from the ubiquitous lamp-globes that dotted the infrastructure in a grid-like pattern, and the sirens and spotlights of Agency patrols as they made routine surveillance passes. As the darkness of the night settled upon those of the High City, so did it blanket the deep reaches of the Under-City. The dingy, disparaged realm of Keleste's likewise dingy, disparaged inhabitants. For just as the sun brought an increase of activity high above the planets surface, so did it bring out the locals who called the under-city home. The bowels of Keleste played host to all manner of illegal activity. From drug distribution and illegal contraband, to weapons smuggling and human trafficking, the inhabitants of the under-city attempted to scratch out a meager existence however they could. But, with the onset of darkness, the activity slowed to a crawl. Like the High City, the UnderCity grew much colder as the planet moved farther away from it's sun. Snow fell each night. Sometimes lightly, but it always fell. Even though the under-city was covered by miles of buildings, it was not spared the climate changes. In that one way, the two sections of the city were equal. No matter if you were a High City aristocrat or an Under-City slum rat, unless you had an artificial means of generating heat to protect yourself, you would not survive more than 5 minutes out in the cold of a Kelestian night. It was nearly silent this night, an uncommon occurrence in this part of the under-city. Silent, but for the leaden footfalls of a single individual. Quick paced and uneven, they echoed through the faint fluorescence of the night. These specific feet were running, or more accurately, fleeing. A gunshot rang out, and the footfalls quickened. Out of an alleyway burst a man, 2


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Redmarked

running hard. He stumbled and crashed to the ground, billowing up a cloud of white snow powder as he skidded to a halt. Grunting in pain, clutching and arm wound and scrambling back to his feet, he continued on, full tilt. Puffs of snow rippled out from each footstep. He banked left towards one of the black, pit-like doorways of an abandoned tenement building and crashed, shoulder first through its arched entranceway. It was even dimmer within the building. The strips of illumination bulbs twitched spasmodically along the edge of the ceiling with a lack of power. The man allowed himself a split second for his eyes to adjust before moving on. A stairwell drew his attention wholly. Up. It was the only way. The man sprinted up the stairs, breathing hard and bleeding heavily from the wound in his arm. He was hooded, wearing a black cloak that trailed in tatters behind him as he ran. As he ascended another flight, he paused to glance back down the stairwell. The two men were still chasing him! They wore the dark red coveralls of the Agency. He cursed his luck under his breath and winced as he noticed the blood trail he was leaving in his wake. He was going to have to fight them. He had no choice. There was no way he was going to let them get him. Sweating heavily now, he frantically looked around for an escape route. There was a battered metal door at the end of the hall. Roof access. That was the most probable assumption, as there were no more stairs to climb. He ran to the door and tried the handle. It was locked! He growled, his frustration boiling to the surface as he repeatedly pulled on the handle, shaking it in a brief attempt to will it open. Nothing. He spun on his heals, again searching for an out. He could here his pursuers now, clamoring up the stairs not four flights away at most. Ah! There was a door off to the left he'd missed. It blended well with the wall of the corridor. No doubt one of the abandoned tenements left in the husk of this building. The pain from the wound in his arm was starting to flair again, the Stim-ul shot he had given himself was starting to wear off. His head swooned slightly as he struggled over to the door. He tried the handle. The door swung open, squeaking on it's wretched hinges. “like a casket...� the man thought aloud. He could here the footsteps of his pursuers echoing cautiously up the stairway. They were only few flights away. The man took a half step into the room and glanced around its interior, noting the large window broken bare on the far side. Satisfied, he slid inside and shut the door behind him again.

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The man slid along the wall and nestled into the only clear corner. From this angle, his pursuers would have to enter the room before they saw him. He could kill the first man outright before he made eye contact, and possibly the next before he could react. He checked the magazine of his snub-pistol for what seemed like the thousandth time. Six shots. Not nearly as many as he knew he'd need, but perhaps enough to make a healthy last stand. He nestled himself deeper into his corner and appraised the room, that would probably become his grave, with more detail. The big vista window that he'd seen upon his initial glance was the main focal point. Directly across the room from the door, it offered an expansive yet highly unimpressive view of the bland brick and steel building across the alley. All the panes had been lifted clear by some desperate slum scavenger who was probably in need of a bit of bargaining money. Glass could be traded for quite a pretty penny down here in the under-city, as could scrap steel. If the glass was gone, then so were the old escapeways that had been attached to the outside of the building. Almost all of the oldest buildings in the under-city had had ancient ladder systems on their outer skins at some point in their antiquity. In the corner opposite him on the other side of the room, stood a stack of rotten wooden pallets. They were clearly the subject of too many harsh seasons experienced from the exposure provided by the empty window. Adjacent the pallets was a fairly large drift of snow. Freshly piled close to the edge of the window courtesy of the erratic wind currents that plagued the spaces between buildings. Under the drift, he could make out what vaguely resembled a mattress. Moldy and dark, it almost looked as if it had budded from the floor in some places. The man chuckled to himself. There was probably a body under there. Some sad, unmourned soul had probably spent its last moments in that bed, cursing its own existence. He wasn't going to become another unmourned soul. He swore it. The man sat there in the corner, breathing hard with eyes closed against the pain, gun raised, waiting for his pursuers to arrive. “Looks like you're bleeding a touch.�

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Redmarked

The mans eyes shot open instantly. He froze, gun up. Had he fallen asleep? Were his pursuers here already in the room with him? How did he not hear them approaching? He managed a stifled breath. “Who's there? Stay away!” “Don't worry, mate. You're fine for now. I'm the least of your problems.” The voice was coming from nowhere and everywhere at once. The wind from outside was bending the sound around the room and he couldn't get a fix on it. He hunted frantically around the room with his pistol sights. Searching for the source of the sound. “What do you want?” “Where are you?” “Got a few blokes on your tail I see.” the voice seemed to laugh a bit. “They're Agency scum, after my Patch they are. I've got a few credits on my head.” The man relaxed a little but kept his gun raised. “I'm not with the Agency, so you can relax.” The voice seemed to be curious now. “Though pray tell, how many creds?” “Where are you? I can't see you.” Maybe he could bait the voice into showing itself. “Come out so I know who I'm talking to.” “I'd rather not while that gun is still up. No, I'll stay hidden thanks. Though I thought I'd mention, the only way out is through that window. Although, just in case you're curious, it's nine stories to the ground, express ticket, so good luck.” The man was now looking at the window, licking his lips, weighing the odds. Perhaps he could make it part way down. There might be a rain tube within reach that he could descend. “I...” The voice interjected, “Oh, and before you try it, you might want to take that generator on the wall opposite you. You won't last five minutes out there in this cold, not even at a full sprint. Although I highly doubt you are in any state...” The man spoke up quickly, “my faith is what keeps me warm. My faith protects me.” 5


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“Your faith wont protect you from freezing your balls off,” the voice chuckled. “You'll be dead in five minutes.” “Is that science?” The man mocked. “No,” the voice retorted, “it's fact.” “Bullshit!” the man said, more belligerently defiant now. “It's just more Agency talk. More stuff to keep us all afraid. My faith in Muntok keeps me alive!” “Suite yourself. But in my experience, faith in a weakly contrived image of humanities hopes and dreams never kept anyone alive longer than solid, rational thought. That, and a fully-charged thermal-gen pack.” “Is that science?” “Why do you keep asking that?” “I do it to annoy people.” “Well, it's working...” “I know, right?” the man sat back and chuckled to himself. There was a long uncomfortable pause. The man set his gun back down into his lap. He cocked his head to listen more intently. He was healthily startled when the voice returned sharply. “Well, good luck dying then. I'm leaving before those Agency folk get here.” “Wait!” The man gasped. “Take me with you!” his hand was outstretched in a gesture that, under normal circumstances, would have looked pitiful. Though here, in the stripped down, blown out shell of a building, faced with the option of life or death, it was rather fitting. “No.” Said the voice frankly. “I don't need a wanted man following me around. Guilt by association and all that.” 6


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“Fine then! At least tell me how to get out of here.” begged the man. “It wouldn't really matter. That would require science, and you don't go for that type of thing. Besides, if they kill you, that's one less god-loving lunatic on the loose.” The voice seemed rather pleased by this last statement. “Fine! Sod off, you faceless coward! I hope you die in a fiery heap somewhere!” The man threw his head back, eyes clamped shut, teeth gritted in frustration and desperation. It was the last semi-intelligent motion he would make. For in the next second the right side of his head came off in a shower of gore and fluid, painting up the wall behind him in a plume of flowing blood and greasy brain matter. “Boom.” said the voice form nowhere as its source swung itself down through the empty window, landing softly inside the room on the balls of its booted feet. The gun in it's hand still smoking. It was a man. He was shrouded almost completely in a heavy cloak. Infinitely black, it was trimmed in deep red and accented with dark gray swirls. His face was invisible inside the deep hood, save for the red light that shone from his augmented left eye. Aside from the faint illumination provided by the lumen-globes of the alley outside, it was the only source of light in the room. A huge rifle was strapped across his back. The shrouded figure stood slowly and sharply shrugged his shoulders to adjust his cloak. He cocked his head towards the door. His red eye dimmed slightly as it clicked and whirred through to some unknown setting. He closed to the door and opened it. He leaned his head out and surveyed the hallway. His eye clicked and whirred once more, searching. He retracted his head before surging out into the hallway, his large pistol raised, solidly braced. He progressed down the corridor towards the stairwell, his robotic eye constantly scanning his surroundings, one booted foot placed confidently in front of the other. As he approached the first step, he used his available hand to pull back his cloak revealing a belt of canisters. He selected a canister from the line without looking down at it, held it to his mouth and pulled out the ring-pin. Walking toward the railing he thumbed the release and tossed it down the stairs. It made six bounces before rolling to a stop. It sat for a second, and then made a sharp 7


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click. Followed by a strong hissing noise. A heavy smoke was now filling the stairwell. “I'd say that will slow them down a bit more.” the shrouded figure said aloud. He could hear the two men below already coughing and gagging from the dense smoke. He replaced the large pistol to its holster at the small of his back before returning down the hall to the room. He left the door open behind him as he stepped back inside. Stepping gingerly through the growing puddle of blood now covering a majority of the floor, he remarked at the sheer amount of it. Perhaps he could have survived out in the cold a little longer. The more blood you had, the longer you could retain your body heat. And this bastard had a lot of it. He stood over the half-dead, gurgling man, now laying supine in his own fluids. “Well, you wanted to see what I looked like didn't you? Pay attention, since you'll be dead in a few seconds.” He pulled back the hood of his cloak to reveal a tightly shaved head. Roughly-hewn features were framed by high cheekbones, and a handsomely square chin. Handsome thirty years ago, perhaps. However, his left eye and ear had been replaced years ago with artificial ocular and auditory implants after a grievous wound had required their removal. These implants improved his senses beyond that of a normal man's. He'd had the word “Oculus” engraved across the skullplate in a feeble attempt to name it. The nickname had stuck, and he used it often. Neurally linked to brain, he could think the action he required. He could blink-click his way through different vision filters and features. Of all the aspects of his visage, the most gruesome looking was the huge scar that puckered the left side of his face. It extended from the base of his Oculus to the corner of his mouth, lifting his stubbled lips into a permanent sneer. “There, are you satisfied?” He squatted down nearer the dying man so he could get a better look. “you...gnghrr...ugly...rrshkss...stard...” the dying man gurgled at his feet. “wha?” he replied mockingly, “Is that science?”

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The man at his feet began to tremble, entering the last few moments of his life. “wh...hhhrrrg... why...nnngh...why d...” he gasped. “Why do I keep saying that?” He was beginning to enjoy this game. “Oh, I don't know. I guess I do it just to annoy people.” The man on the floor began to shake more violently now, his death throes becoming more severe. “ggggnnnrrghhgrr...hhurkg...” he managed with his final breath, at last becoming still. His grizzled killer chuckled to himself. He stood up once more with a grunt and replaced the massive hood back over his head. Then he smiled. “I know, right?” He was still smiling as he dragged the corpse to the center of the room.

***

The two men crested the top of the stairwell with rifles raised. They panned left and right as they progressed along the hallway, following the blood trail laid out before them. It was heaviest here. The two men were dressed in deep red coveralls and wore thermal generator packs on their backs attached to harnesses. The point man signaled for his partner to cover him from the stairs as he advanced down the hallway towards the metal door on the left hand side of the corridor. The blood ultimately led here. The door was closed, but he could tell it wasn't locked. Perhaps it was a trap, just like the smoke canister that had delayed them earlier. He flattened himself against the wall outside the door and gestured for his partner to rejoin him. He indicated his intent with a brief set of hand gestures. His partner grabbed the door handle and silently counted to three. On three, he yanked the door open and the first man turned into the room, moving fast, rifle keyed to the far right corner and window. His partner followed suite, one hand on his lead's back. He swung left to clear the other side of the room. It was a well-trained maneuver. One that had 9


David Ploss

Redmarked

been performed many times this night while in pursuit of their quarry. This time was much like the rest, save for one thing. The men lowered their rifles and they both looked at the corpse in the center of the room. From what was left of his face, this was the man they were looking for. There was quite a lot of blood. The first man keyed up his communication headset. “Team A to Base, be advised. Suspect, code 218745g has been apprehended. I repeat, suspect code 218745g has been apprehended. Redmarked has been neutralized, over.” He winced at the static that greeted him in the wake of his statement. “Damned under-city, you can't get a solid hold anywhere in this blasted dump.” His partner nodded his agreement. “At least we'll get some decent credits from this one. Sad we didn't get to do the deed though. Lazy coward took his own head it seems.” “Yeah, what a crying shame.” said the first. “Grab his ident-patch and lets get out of here. We've been delayed long enough as it is.” His partner took a step towards the corpse and kicked it over onto his stomach with a booted foot. There was a sharp CLICK! He then noticed the small box the corpse had been laying on. “Oh shi...” was all he had time to say before he was vaporised.

***

The cloaked man paused under the white glow of a street lamp . He tilted his head at the sound of the distant explosion. 'Seems they found my present.' he chuckled to himself. 'About time.' He continued on again. Infinitely black, the gray accent swirls of his cloak succeeded in making his outline shimmer as he walked. Blurring it as if he wasn't really there. Every step he took billowed up the snow in puffs of white, and the trailing edge of his cloak brushed along the surface. It was quiet. The under-city of Keleste lay dormant, awaiting another night to be finished. The only 10


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sounds came from the lone, cloaked figure as he walked along the street. His thermal generator hummed quietly, and the large rifle strapped to his back clacked faintly after every step. “Who's next?� he wondered aloud, his Oculus ever searching.

***

The End.

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Redmarked