Anchora — Volume I
Stories 1 to 10 of the sci-fi/cyberpunk flash fiction anthology
“Are you the guy?” the tall gentleman in a dark leather jacket asked. He smelled of urine.
“I’m a girl,” Zik answered, their face painted a faint turquoise shade by the distant neon lights that survived all the way down from Main Street into the dark and humid alley. “Today, anyway.”
“Whatever,” the gentleman said, his hands in his pockets. “You’re the one who hacked into the security system of Atlanta Inc.’s bullet factory?”
“It depends.” Zik placed a stubborn lock of blue hair behind their ear. “Do you have the goods?”
The tall man produced from his right pocket a thin device that looked like a pen, a brilliant white screen glowing along its side. “We have five minutes,” he said, as Zik inspected the value on the little screen without stepping too close to the man (and to the smell).
“Yes,” Zik managed a poker face. “It looks like I’m Zik, the hacker.”
“Thanks, Zik the hacker.” The gentleman pulled a gun from his left pocket.
In a fraction of a second, an Atlanta Inc. bullet went through Zik’s head and across Main Street.
A second later, Zik smiled, unscathed.
“Wha — ” the man said while Zik turned their back to him and pulled a gun of their own. They pointed the gun to the ground.
“I could smell it from up here,” Zik said. “Bye-bye, piss boy.”
Before the man could turn, the bullet rained down from behind him and landed on his skull. His body fell backward, through Zik’s, and landed on a puddle.
Zik jumped down from the building behind the man and their hologram disappeared into the ground. They took the authenticator from the man’s pocket, pressed the button, and used the code that started blinking on the small screen to transfer the funds to them.
“I guess you can keep this, piss boy.” Zik flicked the authenticator over the man’s dead body and positioned the unruly lock of hair behind their ear. They looked at the neon lights on Main Street and stepped in the opposite direction, disappearing into the alley, engulfed by the darkness.
Dawn watched as her shoe danced a slow waltz in the air, all the way down the uncountable stories of the Felicity Condo. It twirled and turned in the cool air of the night before disappearing in the fog that hid the building’s colossal feet.
The wind licked the side of the building and her hair jumped and twisted wildly, taking her back from wherever her mind was, back to the thin ledge she was standing on.
A distant voice called her from beyond this realm of existence. Her eyes darted from the cacophony of lights in the city below her to the darkness of the sky above. The voice called again, from a few windows away on the side of the building.
“Girl,” the old man called, “what in the world are you doing there?”
Her lifeless eyes blinked once and twice. “I’m jumping, I guess.”
“What the- Come here,” the man said. “I can help you.”
The colorful neon lights piercing through the fog a thousand miles below called to her, but the man’s face did too. It had years and stories etched in expression lines. His eyes were gentle. Sweet. Warm.
What was she doing?
She stepped slowly toward the man, the wind trying desperately to grab her from the wall of the building and throw her down the guts of the city.
“That’s it,” the man said with his arms stretched to her. “You’re almost here.”
She grabbed one of his hands and then the other.
“There you go,” the man said. His gentle eyes held her in a warm embrace and that embrace quickly started to crush her. “I can help you,” he said, each word taking its time, dragging itself out of his mouth. Then he pushed her off the building.
She managed only a scratch on the back of his hand before she was the one twirling in the air.
“Freaks,” the man said, before banging the window closed.
There were many ways to die in Anchora — most of them involved being shot by an Atlanta Inc. gun — but Maya had never considered being offered as tribute to a carnivorous plant a possibility.
So this is how the jungle folk deal with thieves, she thought as the guard who threw her in the cell walked away. In the neighboring cell, a gigantic, muscular man was sitting in a lotus pose. He looked peaceful, arms covered in colorful tattoos. Weirdo.
The cell she was in was just a large opening in the side of one of the giant trees. A spacious mouth with vine-covered metal bars for teeth. Wood had grown around and engulfed both ends of the metal bars ages ago. The walls and the ceiling were covered by a goo-secreting, moss-like surface, and the floor was covered in remains of… she didn’t want to guess.
“Hey,” she called to her cellmate, “big fella.” No response.
A drop of goo hit her forehead and she cleaned it with the back of her hand. She inspected the substance and watched it slowly infiltrate into her dark skin. “What the…?”
A subtle numbness spread through her arm and she started getting drowsy.
“Hey,” she tried again, shaking her arm in an attempt to bring it back to life.
The man in the other cell was sitting still, only his chest moving slightly, up and down. She blinked and he hid for a moment behind her eyelids, a full second of total darkness.
“What’s your name?” she asked drunkenly.
Each time she blinked was a longer period of darkness until the world was painted a perpetual shade of black.
An eternity later she was slapped out of her slumber. Her face stung and she shook her head a million times. The neighboring cell was empty and its door was open, the guard who had thrown her into the cell in a past life lying in front of it.
Towering in front of her was the tattooed giant, one hand holding a thick branch on his side, the other one extended to her.
“Jax,” he said.
“My name is Jax.”
Dino turned off the neon sign outside the bar and slapped Minda, who was drooling on the counter.
“Minda,” Dino said through his scarcely toothed mouth, “go home, you drunk pig.”
Minda jumped away from the bar, still holding an empty glass. His face was red and swollen. He tried the glass but there was nothing left.
“Dino,” he said with a frown, his tongue numb, his mouth dry. “What’s your secret?”
Dino rolled his eyes while he rubbed a filthy rag on the counter, getting rid of Minda’s drool. “I work hard,” he said.
Minda frowned harder, like a child told to go to their room. “No! I’m talking about… Take Rocketman! How can Rocketman be so…” He licked his lips looking at the empty glass. “So…” He could taste it, in his mouth right now. “So good! What the fuck is in it?”
Dino stopped with the rag and laughed, shaking his head. “I’m telling ya, it’s hard work.”
Minda rolled his eyes.
“I’m serious,” Dino said. “You probably don’t remember, but my drinks haven’t always been good. When I started, this bar wasn’t called Toothless Dino’s. It was just called Dino’s.” He continued cleaning the stainless steel countertop. “I’ve lost most of my teeth getting better at mixing and trying the drinks myself. I tried everything that didn’t work until I got to the things that did. You can’t get to the good stuff without going through the bad stuff first. But I know what you’re talking about, you’re talking ingredients. Come ‘ere.”
He threw the rag away and leaned over the counter. Minda stepped forward, staring intently.
“What I put in my drinks,” Dino whispered, his lisp taking over, “is every fucking thing I can get my hands on. Rocket propellant, paint, goo from the giant trees, used motor lubricant I buy from desert bandits, fucking piss, the list is endless, really. It’s just a matter of finding the right ratio.”
Dino took the glass from Minda’s hand and washed it behind the counter. The ruddy-faced man stepped back, his face contorted with confusion and disgust.
“I think I’m gonna go now, Dino,” he said apprehensively. “I’m not sure I’ll come back tomorrow.”
Dino laughed wholeheartedly. “Oh, Minda. But you will.” Then the laugh was replaced by a serious look and he adjusted his tongue inside his toothless mouth.
Coles stepped onto the large balcony and the cold wind pushed him back inside. Out there, she approached the railing, each step firm and certain on top of high heels.
“If it’s true,” she said while he struggled to get outside, “that you have been facilitating the egress of people from Anchora,” her powerful voice pierced through the wind, “that means you don’t know this company, and you don’t know your place in it.”
She put her hands on the railing and leaned over the city, her suit and her hair impeccable, in complete disregard for the storm approaching. The short, plump man dabbed his forehead with a silk handkerchief.
“Most importantly,” she said and turned slowly to face him, “it means you don’t know me.”
There was a crash of thunder behind her.
“I’m… I’m sorry, Miss- Miss Atlanta, ma’am,” the man stuttered. “As I said, there- there- there must have been a mistake. I reviewed the internal rules-”
“I make the rules, Mr. Coles!” She stepped toward him. “I know you, you sick little man. You spend your days swimming in an ocean of paperwork, looking for a crack through which you can slip your fat little fingers.” She leaned forward and looked him in the eye. “Unlike you, I know my company. And I know you, Mr. Coles.”
She stood straight, her fingers crossed behind her back. She walked slowly past him.
“Nobody on this planet,” she said, “goes anywhere unless I allow it, Mr. Coles. If I want people to stay somewhere,” she stepped back inside, leaving the man on the balcony, “they do. They stay there for as long as I want.”
The little man looked at his boss with wide eyes while her finger hovered on the button by the door.
“Unless they jump,” she said and pressed the button, making the thick sliding doors close shut between them.
“Zik,” Agh’s voice cut through the static on Zik’s headset, “you gotta stop with the romance shit.”
Zik typed commands frantically, their eyes jumping from one terminal window to the next.
“And you gotta get yourself a new keyboard! Are you typing with a machine gun? For fuck’s sake! That’s too loud.”
The green cursor in one of the hundreds of terminal windows blinked a couple of times before spitting out a bunch of data.
“Yis!” Zik punched the air. “I got you! Man, for a bounty hunter, you’re terrible at hiding. Oh, hey, you’re near Toothless Dino’s! I can catch you there for a drink in five.”
“Zik, buddy,” the voice in Zik’s ear said slowly, “I need you to focus. You and me? Ain’t gonna happen. This is a strictly professional relationship.”
Zik was thrown back on their chair as if hit by a bullet, their hand on their chest.
“Agh,” they said. “You’re fantastic with that laser dagger thing, but your deadliest weapon? Your words.”
“Alright, that’s it.” There was a click and a notification popped to let Zik know the call had ended.
Zik typed a command and one of the terminal windows turned into a large chronometer. Five seconds. Ten. Fifteen. Thirty seconds. Come on.
A new notification popped to let Zik know about an incoming call. Unknown ID.
Zik sighed in relief and smirked in the dark. “Toothless Dino’s, then?”
The eye roll on the other end of the call was audible. “Shut up.”
The bandit came scrambling behind Jax, up the rocky hill that cut the ocean of sand like an ancient scar. “Holy shit!” he said.
Jax didn’t look back, the large statue on his shoulder.
“Jax,” the bandit called, breathless. “That was insane!” He stopped at the top of the hill to take in the destruction they were leaving behind, a pile of twisted metal and junk and bodies and flames. “I think we lost Josh and Trashmouth.”
“We’ve got the artifact,” Jax said. “Let’s go.”
“Haven’t seen Maya, either.”
Jax stopped. He gently slid the statue down his back until it landed on the dust-covered rock with a thud. He walked to the bandit’s side and surveyed the flaming wreckage with a frown. He stood there for a moment, the flames burning in his eyes.
“You guys coming or what?” a voice said from behind the two.
Maya was leaning against the statue, a smirk splattered on her face.
Jax’s frown dissolved into a blank stare. He approached Maya, eyes deep into hers. He picked up the statue and walked.
“Ma’am, giving me the finger won’t help,” the woman said from behind the transparent wall. She went back to chewing her gum the second her sentence ended, her eyes only half-open.
On the other side of the wall, Crash was holding a brassy hand in front of her face, the middle finger pointing heavenward.
“I’m not giving you the finger, stupid. This is the bug!”
“Oh,” the woman raised her eyebrows, but her eyelids refused to move. “That’s the Gunz v5, right? That’s not a bug, it’s a feature.”
Crash hid the naughty hand in her pocket. “You listen to me bitch,” she banged on the wall with her good hand. “This hand is useless. You give me my money back or I’ll shove this feature up your-”
The woman pointed to the camera above her, her eyes displaying a passionate amount of indifference, her mouth laboring on the chewing gum. The sentence “Protected by Atlanta Inc.” circled the camera like a fence.
Crash breathed out of her nose. “You’re right,” she said, “this is a feature.”
She banged the Gunz v5 against the wall, making sure both the woman and the camera could see the brassy finger. The only response was the sound of the gum being tortured. Crash turned away and stepped into the neon-bathed street, the feature in her pocket.
Jax took one step forward holding the half-burlap, half-dark-red-stain bag on his side. The line behind him was short, about the same size as the others. He waited for the booth in front of him to become free. Hundreds of doors dotted the huge concrete walls like the visual representation of a metronome beat.
“Free,” the glowing sign above the booth came to life to invite him in.
“Welcome to Argon,” a cheerful voice announced as the sliding doors closed behind him. A three-note melody punctuated the sentence. “Brought to you by Atlanta Inc. — Everything.”
Jax ignored the massive orchestra of buttons and blinking ads in the vending machine-like sidewalls of the booth. He faced forward, through the opposite set of transparent doors, into the dark guts of the city.
“Would you like to identify yourself?” the voice asked.
The voice spat the next sentence a lot quicker, in a less gleeful tone. “Your anonymity doesn’t mean your position won’t be tracked during your visit. By proceeding you confirm you understand these terms.”
Jax stood there, immobile and indifferent, the stained burlap bag on his side.
“How long will you be staying with us?” the voice asked, back to its cheerfulness.
“Twenty-four hours,” he answered.
“Would you like to hire Atlanta Security for a limited-time discount price?”
The voice took a second to process.
“It’ll be five hundred Atlanta Credits, please. How would you like to pay for your visit?”
“Okay,” the voice said. “Please take your CredChip to the detector on your right.”
Jax reached inside the burlap bag and pulled a severed forearm, a limp, gray hand hanging awkwardly to the side. He approached the dead wrist to the detector and a blue dot glowed under the skin.
The doors in front of Jax opened and the voice spoke again: “Thank you. Atlanta Inc. wishes you a happy visit to Argon.”
Jax left the arm on the booth’s floor and walked into the thick air of the city.
The two breathless men stepped out to the dark alley and banged the door behind them.
“Thanks,” one of them said between breaths, his hands on his knees, his glasses sliding down his thin nose. “You really saved me back there.” He pulled as much of the rancid air as he could into his lungs, trying to ignore the smell. “I don’t even know who you are.”
“Let’s keep it that way,” Agh said, considerably less out of breath. He put his gun away and reached inside his purple faux-leather jacket. “Toothless Dino’s is pretty packed. We have a couple of minutes before A.S.S. notices we’re not in there anymore.” He pulled out a different gun-like device.
“A.S.S.?” the man asked, still breathless. “Ass?”
“Atlanta Security,” Agh explained while he pulled something else from a different pocket and screwed it to the tip of the device. “I add an extra ‘S’ of my own volition.” He smiled.
The man gave him a confused look over his glasses, hands still on his knees. “Why are they after me?”
“Don’t know, don’t care.” Agh finished preparing the device and pressed it against the side of the man’s neck, his finger on the trigger.
The man’s whole body froze, except for his hands which he raised awkwardly over his curved body in a desperate please-don’t-hurt-me manner. “What are you doing?”
“This is gonna hurt,” Agh said and pulled the trigger.
The man fell to the ground, his face against a puddle of rainwater and piss and general nastiness.
Agh removed the tip and threw it away to the side. “Put ice on that for the next couple of days.” He pocketed the device.
The man screamed, his hand on his neck, his glasses broken. “What the hell?”
“You can’t be tracked by Atlanta Inc. now, that’s the hell. And you’re gonna have a cool scar like this one.” Agh pulled down the tall collar of his fur-lined jacket and showed him a scar like a rudimentary drawing of a sun. “You better cover that.”
The man turned on the floor, his eyes closed, his teeth clenched. “Why are you doing this?”
Agh adjusted his purple jacket and put his hands in the pockets. “Same reason people do anything on this planet: someone paid me to.”
He turned and walked toward the bustling sidewalk. “I’d run now if I were you.”
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