CHAPTER 1 – PART 1
Copyright 2021. Natsuya Uesugi | This is an un-corrected ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) of the story and may contain minor errors pre-editing.
Viceroy’s Palace Imperial Dojo
“Ruiho! Dodge this!”
Sprinting, black hair falling in his face, eight-year-old nancy boy, Lino Dejarre, eldest son to Lady Julianna the First Consort and Wife of the Viceroy, lunged slapping the floor as he launched high into the air using his psychic power. The wide open dojo’s ample room to maneuver, he sailed over Riuho’s head, his seven-year-old curly chestnut-haired younger brother smirking as he feighted ready to counter. Lino threw the sparking energy globe, the aegis or manifestation of his psychic power, flashing as it picked up speed. Hurling at him, Riuho dodged feet sliding across the slick floor as it flew past him. Flicking his wrist the aegis whacked backwards, Riuho stomped on the wall leaping as the globe bounced off the shined hardwood floor. His right sole hitting wood panels, he raced up the wall pushing off somersaulting backwards in mid air catching the aegis then sneering crouched the landing feet wide as his brother grabbed his knees catching his breath.
“Lino, stupid! Thought I couldn’t catch it?”
“Now, play nice, Ruiho. You know Lino’s power hurts him…”
“Yes, Mother.” Riuho pouted at the correction.
Lady Julianna lowered her eyes a touch warning Riuho as she remained aloof gently filing her perfectly manicured nails. Immaculate as always, she finished off her crimson-cuffed designer white suit with a plunging neckline revealing her ample cleavage. Hint of elegant rose lace from her bra, she accentuated her look with a pair of exquisite shiny red sling-back high heels. Her reputation as posh teen cover model in her youth, that hint of ageless beauty was not lost on the mature 36 year old mother, her features untarnished, the reason Charles Dejarre had taken her as First Consort at the ripe age of sixteen. The highest honour for a woman in the Pacific Territories, she was the only consort the Viceroy extended the honour of marrying giving her a rank unmatched as the Viceroy’s Wife.
The two young sons of Charles Dejarre, the Viceroy of the Pacific Territories ruler of the City, the Echelons and the Zone took military drills daily in the Imperial Guard dojo in the Family Wing of the Viceroy’s Palace among the rooms allocated to Royal House Dejarre. The training sessions led by Imperial Guard Septentrion, Shennen, a highly-decorated member of the Sentinels Defense Force, he was Second in Command with the highest-rank of Weapons Master.
The boys were testing to qualify for the Outsourcing Program as Potentials, a highly-selective program for grade school children officially evaluated as “Codess Potentials” on First Manifestation. Lino’s readings had been extremely high on First Manifestation as the early hints of latent codess ability first started to show when he was six years old. Ruiho’s reading, middling only, not as high as Lino’s, his power would still qualify him for a spot in the program at a lower rudimentary percentile. Shennen overseeing the test for both boys as they fought the choreographed mock battle watched carefully ensuring both met the specific stances and formations required to certify.
Jumping high in the air, the ball of psychic energy bounced wild off the far wall, Riuho’s power unstable, lacked control. The projectile wobbling as it picked up speed grew larger spinning and sparking as it whizzed towards Lino who stretched barely capturing it, the force throwing him backwards. The energy too great, he flipped in the air using his psychic power to dispel the extra energy compensating lowering the recoil as his controlled movements meticulously hitting all the required positions. Jerking his feet wide, he came to a fast landing sliding backwards across the floor.
Stopping short, the glowing aegis hovering over his palm sputtering, the raucous energy from Riuho died out as Lino controlled the shining globe. Distracted, a far away stare, he glanced at his mother trembling, eyes confused, pupils dilating.
The colour drained from his cheeks, white as a ghost.
Julianna was concerned as he quit catching him lost.
“Lino, honey, what is it?”
Eyes fluttering back and forth anxious, shoulders rigid, he grimaced.
“Who is coming, honey?”
Aegis disintegrating in his hand, Lino fell to his knees slapping hands over ears, teeth clenched cringing. That very second the Palace Alert System sending hexagon red holo-alerts that flashed in the air, on the walls, on the ceiling, taking over the room warning of imminent danger.
Ruiho ran to Julianna falling into her arms hugging her, eyes wide.
“Mother, what’s happening?”
Shennen yanked his sword from the sheath at his back as an alert screen popped in front of him detailing the threat. The window disappearing seconds later, he approached Lady Julianna who gathered up Riuho pushing him towards the door.
Shennen peeked down the hall checking for danger.
“My Lady, we are under attack. They’re after Vena. We must get the heirs to the shelter.”
Ignoring Shennen, Julianna got down on her knees gently touching Lino’s hands uncovering his ears. She smiled calmly lifting his chin forcing him to meet his eyes.
“Mother, the thoughts, too many. All the voices…. It hurts….”
“I know, honey. It will be over soon. We have to go now. Close your mind. Remember, like they taught you. Take your brother’s hand. Shennen will make sure we’re safe.”
“Are you sure, Mother? Where are we going?”
“To the shelter. You’ll be safe there. Come with me.”
Lino offered his hand reluctantly giving in, Julianna pulling him to the door as he took Riuho’s hand following after Shennen. They ran down the empty hall through the Family Wing towards the main building. As they got to the Royal Ministers’ Hall an explosion blew out the windows as they made their way to the foyer off the Parliamentary Wing.
They joined others as the mob of ministers and servants moved towards the hidden stairs to the underground tunnels. As Shennen led them, Lino concentrated trying to drown out all the minds, focusing on the floating yellow holo-beacons marking their escape route, the hall filling with smoke.
Two Sentinels in red uniforms met Shennen in the foyer as another led the rush of servants and ministers towards the shelters.
Lino gripped Riuho’s hand harder as he tugged on his mother’s skirt. She nodded with a smile encouraging him to remain calm.
“Go, I’ll get the boys to the shelter.”
“My Lady, are you sure? I can send an escort detail with you.”
“Mind my husband. The Viceroy must not be harmed. Protect the palace. The bloodline is paramount. Vena must not be compromised. We must protect Lino.”
“Yes, My Lady.”
Shennen slapping a fist to his chest in obeisance retreating with the other two Sentinels rushing towards the front of the building as a hail of gun fire rang out. Lino watched Shennen disappear around the corner as two servants closed the doors on the foyer shutting them in, the metal slats coming down on the hallway windows a palace guard pulling a blaster and motioning them forward.
Julianna waved the boys to follow as Lino dragged Riuho behind him moving towards the Phoenix Ballroom. Weaving through ministers rushing about carrying papers and filing boxes trying to protect sensitive data. Julianna made her way with her children seeing the sign for the stairs to the underground shelters.
Fingers slipping, Lino lost hold of his mother’s hand as everything exploded into chaos, a calamity of yelling and sirens assaulting as the ceiling came crashing down on top of them, Lino’s world thrown into chaos.
A silence like death washed over the hallway.
Ears ringing, Lino stirred blinking in slow motion as he regained consciousness face down in a pile of debris concrete slabs hovering above his head controlled by his psychic power. The foyer white hot, billowing smoke everywhere sirens doppelered growing louder screaming in his ears.
A heavy weight pushing on his temples, he wiped sticky wet from his forehead, crimson dripping from his fingers as he looked up seeing huge marble slabs from the pillars that held up the roof. The enormous concrete blocks, the regal ten meter glass chandelier from the domed ceiling hovering high above his head, his psychic power kicked in, sheer instinct, fighting to survive. Swiping his hand, the heavy slabs shivered then shattered into thousands of tiny pieces, shards of glass and concrete falling away. His strength fading, he tried to catch his breath having used too much of his power, his abilities taxed to a child’s limits.
Blinking as he tried to remain conscious, head pounding, his vision blurry as he sat up, his eyes watered from the swirling smoke. Scanning the hall, fear rattled flooding him as he saw one of his mother’s shiny red high heeled shoes in a pool of blood.
“Mother? Where are you! Mother?”
Black spots overwhelming, he blinked as his vision faded in and out. Cringing, he felt a stabbing in his head, plastering palms on his temples hoping to dull the shooting pain, the aegis sparking about his hands. Power taxed, on the brink of exhaustion, his aegis crawling as it sparked over his fingers, he fought back a deluge of emotions losing control.
Smoke making it hard to focus, a blurry figure hovered over him extending a hand as he saw the red Sentinels’ uniform with the white cross. Unable to make out the face, the throbbing in his head distracting as he fought to concentrate. A third blast hit the building shaking the floor fissures cracking under his feet ripping up the tile like paper. Debris shooting from every direction, he ducked hiding his face, concrete and marble flying all around him. Sirens deafening, his simple sheltered world of calm shattered like a tornado.
A gentle voice broke the chaos, peaceful like from an angel.
“Lets find your brother….”
A prickle flooded fear as he realized Riuho wasn’t with him. His knees shaking the black spots overwhelming. Vision failing edges swallowed in black. Outline of features fading in a blur of coloured pixels, a face, the red uniform… His last memory as he collapsed unconscious.
Episode 01000001 [A] – Blue-Eyed Twins
Echelons – Shizuoko Ghetto | The Maze
Alleyway Near Runners Data Drop Retention Wall
Gasping, Rom slapped the wall racing through puddles changing direction, the glow from the neon sign reflecting off the damp pavement, radioactive dust twinkling in the air. Raindrops clicking against the metal overhang, Rom was a Runner, a data messenger who smuggled data and psi inducer drugs for the Packrat cyberterrorist hackers. Pulling the hood of his black sweatshirt up over his head as he flicked the collar of his dirty tan trench coat, he punched in the scrambler on his handheld then squared his shoulders slipping through the tight corridor at the back alley off Haven 15 deep in the Echelons slums. An armed biker on a black Shie Falcon motorcycle had been chasing him for the last ten minutes. The fit tight, he snuck through, breathing a sigh of relief.
Glancing back as the motorcycle ran up on the corridor tires screeching, the biker flicked his helmet visor up revealing haunting pale blue eyes that shined. The biker pointed a damper gun at Rom trying to neutralize his psychic power, render him immobile. The biker’s tell-tale eye shine was that of a SenseNet Off-World clone. His hatred making Rom’s teeth itch, the biker’s path forward blocked, damper beeping sporadicaly unable to lock on, the scrambler interrupting his psi signature rendering it unreadable.
The intel said his contact would arrive riding a red Shie Falcon motorcycle. The rider after him now drove a black machine. Cursing under his breath, the biker slapped down his visor spinning the bike abandoning the chase swerving away.
Shoulders scraping bricks as he squeezed through the crack, Rom emerged onto an alley in the Shizuoko Ghetto’s Black Sector unsafe at night. The sign for The Maze hanging high over the center of the street, Rom scanned the alleyway sensing people hidden in corners as he tried to get his bearings in the chaotic jumble of nonsense side streets. The scattered cryptic dead-ends littered this Sector, a good way to get lost, meet an unsavory end.
The walls of the dilapidated buildings riddled with bullet holes from constant skirmishes between the Black Market Yakuza gang Clannet and the DNA data pirates known as the Black Holes, the two gangs ruled the area. He caught a shining pair of eyes staring back at him hidden in the dark near a blown out window the black blast radius outlining the broken glass. A subtle reminder of the aftermath of the devastation when the autocratic Atlantea Federation attacked, shattering the thriving metropolis and thrusting the area deep into collateral damage, the evils of war.
Obliterated by the Dionysis Effect nuclear bomb, there was a reddish haze in the area from lingering radiation. The mash-up of damaged structures remained unstable, high rises crashing randomly imploding as support pillars disintegrated into dust.
The Maze designed to disorient, Rom scanned the sector with his codess, the aegis manifestation of his psychic power sputtering about his fingers as he sensed homeless teens clocking him hidden in corners, Blanks cautious just trying to survive. He tred carefully trying not to spook them knowing they’d attack and kill him if he wandered too close. Knowing the unspoken rules, he caught the shine of a switchblade flicked from an agile wrist. Tensing as he eyed the teen who glared back at him, he looked away making sure not to start something he couldn’t finish.
A sickly orange streetlight flickered overhead greeting him as he gained his bearings, setting into a run taking the corner. A deep puddle splashing waste water on his camouflaged pants, his steel-toed combat boots and tan trench coat were soiled with grey sticky radioactive dust as he picked up the pace the deadline approaching, needing to catch the meet.
Stim implants above his right eye snaking over his forehead in the typical data messenger uniform, his gear was a dead giveaway of his faction as a Packrat Runner. Shouting from anti-government protestors assaulting, the cacophony filtered from the nearby main street as he continued down the forgotten alley.
The civil war started by charismatic leader, Faid Callen of the Packrats was the current response of psychic hacktivists and the social justice movement. The Packrats and their factions dedicated their lives to free the Echelons from oppression. The Parliament recently declaring psychics chattel, not human, the protests poured out into the streets sparking the Hacker Revolution.
Taking a side street, Rom arrived at the Runners’ drop wall. Shining his handheld on the concrete blocks, he ran his index finger between the bricks, fingernail slipping into a cubby hole catching the cold metal tip of an object hiding inside. Pinching it, he pulled the long gun-metal pin drive free scanning it with his handheld the data showing it was an encryption key pre-set to his Runners’ avatar code. Tapping his handheld reading the key, the drive responded as it chimed with a capacity reading noting every byte of storage was in use. Not typical for a data run, the drive held a full two terabytes of data as the handheld flashed a data seepage warning which got him curious noticing dried blood caked on the casing.
The data priceless he would be carrying, all he knew was that it could take down the Elite government. A data seepage warning meant whomever risked transferring the data to the pin drive left nothing to chance, was willing to die for the code on the drive. The fact the delivery location had changed after the mission started at the last minute meant the target he was to meet had probably been killed the last minute change provoking fear by the customer ordering a substitute instead of calling the run off. Internalizing the threat, he was hyper vigilent readying himself for anything.
The handheld beeped alerting him to a second problem. He needed a encryption key to read the data, the information on the drive hashed nonsense, unreadable.
Biting his lip he gripped his right hand the aegis sparking about his fingers, pain radiating from his fingers up both arms as he lost control of his psychic power. The phenomenon known as psi crit , it was a result of the illegal experiments the government performed on him when he was detained and arrested for hacking Parliament. He had become addicted to neurocyne to stave of the damage, keep the psi crit at bay, unable to wean off the narcotic psi inducer drug. It was the only thing keeping his codess power in check.
He pulled a black neuro-stim cigarette out of a metal cigarette case biting the end triggering a puff of purple smoke and breathed in the fumes of the drug, medical-grade neurocyne mist, a psi inducer drug enhancing his codess and dulling the pain as he regained control. Turning his palms over, the aegis subsided, the psychic energy swirling about his fingertips settling as his fried nerves calmed.
When they arrested him in the City for hacking Parliament, the government had wiped his memory robbing him of his personality, his history even his name throwing him out on the street. Waking up on the side walk face down in the sewer, he had no idea who he was or where he came from. His psi unstable from the harsh experimentation, he frequently lost control of his codess having to rely on the neurocyne to stay alive and not go psi crit, fry his synapses. And it was only the Packrats making that possible.
Faid Callen, the Saicho, Leader of the Packrats saved him after he had been beaten on the streets. The factions protected him giving him a home in the Packrat Spawl. But it was the daily maintenance, the neurocyne, that was his lifeline taken daily to keep his psi in check. To ensure neurocyne access, aligning with the Packrats and joining the Runners faction, pledging himself to uphold the Factions communal laws and the Packrat Code, he decided to devote himself as a Runner to Faid’s Hacker Revolution.
He took a deep drag sucking in the purple smoke as the drug heightening his senses, the narcotic enhancing his sight, his hearing more acute, his perception heightened. Sticking out his tongue, a taste in the air sensing someone close. He caught a tingle, a familiar feeling, a psychic close.
The ambient sounds of the alleyway dialing in, Rom picked up the faint hum of a kedek engine moving towards him as a light shimmered at the puddle beneath his feet. Glancing up following the glow, the round motorcycle headlight lit up the the dark alley coming around the corner baring down on him fast.
The headlight shut off as a red Shie Falcon motorcycle screeched to a dead stop in front of him. The lanky driver in a black leather jacket cut the engine. He was met by eerie pale blue eyes of the pre-teen riding the back, the kid was wearing a navy blue student jumper for Junior Off-World Terraforming Academy for scientists in the colonies. The kid was white as porcelain wearing high black combat boots as if he had never seen the sun. Hair shining a bright blue matching his unnatural eyes, the kid released his fingers leaning back showing off a purple blaster hanging from a lanyard at his neck. The weapon able to render a psychic unconscious, he wondered why the kid the weapon as he braced himself unsure of the two teen bikers.
Rom engaged. “Elite Colony weapon?”
Rom read his handheld scanning the Runners app identifying the blue-eyed twins as Off-World clones from the the Pacific Territories Juniper Colony.
“Bit far from home. Juniper’s that way…”
The tall teen in red and black motorcycle jacket, flipped the visor on his helmet up, revealing a sarcastic smirk and a ghostly porcelain face, perfect features of a clone, no human genetics able to produce such symmetrical beauty. The teen biker closed his eyes, nose twitching raising his chin answering Rom’s slight.
“Scent of neurocyne’s nice in the dark. Can’t get pure medical grade Off-World like on the planet. Everything’s synthetic Off-World. The real stuffs on-prem, human flaws, On-World….”
The biker met Rom’s eyes. “I’m Sati. Kid’s Blue. You Rom?”
Stalling, Rom took a long drag inhaling the purple mist then dropped the fag grinding it under his boot.
“So, Psi Faction sends clones? Not any clones. Psychic clones. My apps not reading psi signature on you two. Blocked? I feel you. Codess users can’t hide. Blue eyes give you away. You’re just kids. What happened to my contact?”
Blue slapped the back seat. “What the hell, just kids? You’re no older then me, sixteen. Got problem with clones? Wanna die?”
Blue’s eyebrows furrowed shaking his fist. “My fight’s as good as yours. Frag-shite, On-World Runner….”
Sati interrupted. “Calm, Blue. This one’s Off-Colony, Mainland. Doesn’t understand. Just ignore him. The Atlantea Federation murdered your contact on the way to meet you. They don’t like leaks. We’re your contacts now. All I’ll tell you.”
Determining Sati was truthful, Rom gave his passphrase. “Disposable humans born in blood sacrifices destroyed by greed? We are…”
Sati blinked his handheld chiming confirming the passcode.
“…Sentinels. Clones bleed binaries on gridscan skins for the Hacker Revolution. This is Who We Are.”
Rom nodded as his handheld chimed confirming Sati’s voice print matched triggering the five minute meet countdown.
“Yeah, I’m Rom. We got five minutes. Why the mission intercept?”
Sati unzipped his jacket chucking a data card.
Fumbling to catch it, the silver data card bouncing between his hands. Finally catching it, he noticed the embedded chip shined red with blue shadows in dull light hologram exposing hidden text.
Angling the card, the hologram projected over the card as he ran his finger over the chip triggered by his DNA details about the data displayed.
“Vena Satellite Family Program? Data messengers never know what data they’re carrying. Why now?”
Sati went into his jacket flicking a round golden token that pinged as it hit the ground by Rom’s shoe spinning as it came to rest.
“Token’s tagged to your DNA. Fifteen second holo-delivery code. One shot, pay attention. No delivery, no pay. Get going.”
Sati crinkled his nose sniffing loudly then shot a glance behind him to the front of the alley eyes narrowing, a frown snaking across his face.
“Zone Police coming. Their cybernetics reek of rancid animal flesh. All synthetic, nothing that dirty’d on the Colonies. Like them Runner, you stink of On-World decay too. I’ll stick with Juniper.”
Slapping his visor down revving the engine, Blue jumped off the back of the motorcycle as Sati raced off down the alley. The black bike that had been chasing Rom earlier entered the alley, Sati spinning, tires screeching as he quick-turned racing back. To intercept.
Jumping in front of Rom, Blue crouched feet wide firing at the black motorcycle as it bared down on them, the black biker’s bullets buzzing past Rom’s ear as time stood still.
Sati zoomed past Rom as Blue grabbed onto the back of the motorcycle jumping on the back seat of the motorcycle, the two speeding away into the night, the meet over.
The black motorcycle whizzed closer approaching Rom fast. The biker pulling a gun fired hitting Rom in the thigh as he raced past following Sati. The recoil hitting, Rom slammed back into the metal fence, the biker zooming off disappearing around the corner as Rom tried to regain his bearings.
Stunned, a white hot agony ripping through his leg as he stumbled trying to keep on his feet. Pupils dilating in shock, his whole body shivered as he tried to keep himself from blacking out as the pain overwhelmed.
Slapping his thigh, he cringed, he glanced at his fingers now bloody shivering as he picked up the yellow token. He touched the center button as a neon blue projection appeared above the coin with a five digit alphanumeric code.
Delivery Code: 562415 | The Soul Deep
Jet Jockey Underground
Repeating the delivery code over and over trying to memorize it, he shoved the gold token then typed the code into his handheld.
Stumbling forward, he grabbed the wire fence his steps faltering as he fell to his knees slapping the concrete leaving bloody handprints, his strength giving out. Cringing, he rose lumbered forward, making his way to the street hand gracing the wall trying to keep from falling.
Limping away fast, Zone Police sirens looming a street over, he noticed a hidden pair of blue eyes peeking out from behind a trash bin. The yellow street light over his head flickered twice then the bulb exploded bathing the alley in darkness. The eyes vanishing, he wondered why they were there.
Hearing noises at the end of behind him, Rom crouched behind the metal dumpster as two Zone Police motorcycle cops stopped at the end of the alleyway. The headlights from their motorcycles shining able to hear them.
“We got a call. Anything down there?”
One of the police officers got off his motorcycle and came a few steps into the alley shining a flashlight.
A stray feline darted out from under the dumpster dashing across the street slithering into a storm drain the police officer seeing it.
“Its nothing. Just some stray cat. Blanks dinner is all.…”
“Right, I’ll call it in…. Zone Police Officer Xander Storm. Shizuoko Ghetto The Maze. No incident. RTB Zone Police Headquarters.”
The two Zone Police drove off leaving Rom in the alley.
Relieved, Rom realized the hidden pale blue eyes had indeed assisted him allowing him to get away. Pushing up back to the dumpster, shaking hand on his thigh to stabilize his leg, he limped forward. On his way to The Soul Deep, the Underground Hacker Haven run by Jazz the Hacker Informant, he had to deliver the data to finish the job, Hi reputation as a Runner at stake.
TO BE CONTINUED