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Posts Tagged ‘Tessa Coyle’

Tessa swam back to consciousness. She ached, her face felt two sizes two big for her head and she still couldn’t see very well. Wherever she was, her glasses weren’t and that wasn’t a good sign. She tried to move and found that she was bound in place. Struggling against the cables that tied her made her feel the aches and pains in her body afresh and she let out a groan, squinting as she tried to see, one eye swollen shut, the other fuzzy.

“Ah… you’re awake.” Werner’s voice. This did not bode well.

“Barely,” Tessa mumbled past her swollen lips. “Why did you leave me alive?”

“I don’t mean to kill if I don’t have to.” She could barely see him, moving around, an indistinct blob of pink and blue, overalls she thought. Squinting harder, forcing him into focus from sheer force of will. He still wasn’t clear but she could make out his mad eyes staring out of his pockmarked face. They were surrounded by old lights, incandescent bulbs on low power, casting shadows around it was they were, one or two flickering on and off with an electric buzz. Behind the madman was an offset plus symbol, bolted to the wall and there was something more in front of that.

“So what are you going to do? Dribble on me?”

He snarled and slapped her, fortunately not on her swollen cheek. “Watch your filthy mouth, sinne!.” She jerked in the seat and twisted her face back. With him that close she could make him out now and what she saw worried her. He was clearly, unutterably insane. What the hell had happened to him?

“What happened to you Werner? What happened out there?” She jerked her head, she had no idea which way was out, where they were in relation to the dome, but everyone knew that gesture.

“REVELATION!” He thundered and she rocked back on her seat, the shout was like being caught in the teeth of a gale.

“You’re a scientist, you know that’s no basis for anything.” She flinched as his hand raised again, but it did not fall against her face this time.

“Things have changed. God found me in the wasteland and took me to his bosom,” Werner paced restlessly as he spoke, working himself into a deeper frenzy. “Everyone else died in that church but I survived. The townsfolk didn’t take to us, didn’t like being studied. They made us undertake their rituals and my team died writhing in agony but I was spared! The serpent struck me again and again and I DID NOT DIE!” He was grinning now, ear to ear with ecstatic glee. “More, now I could hear the choir of angels, singing in my head!”

“Oh dear… neurotoxin. How did we miss that when you came back in?”

He didn’t hear her, he was well into his rant.

“Pastor Scull helped me understand, helped me recover, explained the voices of the angels to me and what they wanted. To send me forth to bring the judgement that has fallen upon the rest of the world upon this place, this last testament to man’s arrogant belief that he can defy God or his own sinful nature!”

Tessa startled slightly, something cold was creeping up the back of her leg, some sort of icy, spidery thing creeping against her skin. Werner was quoting from some ancient myth now, shouting numbers, thees and thous as though it meant anything to her, so she risked a glance down. Seeing the elbow joint of a familiar looking robotic arm vanishing up her trouser leg.

Tessa squinted hard again as Werner went on and on about seals and demons, the resurrected dead, plagues, floods, famines and fire. Across the way she saw her pistol laid out on a table, the shape familiar enough for her to make out despite her short-sightedness. The other thing that she saw was Robur’s head, a grisly trophy, leaking oil and voltaic fluid, the eyes staring as blank as ever at her, but one still flickered, fitfully and each time it glowed the arm creeped higher up her leg.

She twisted her hands behind her, trying to reach her TeleBand without Werner noticing, fingers stretching, twisting in the cables, wishing she didn’t bite her nails as she fumbled blindly at the controls. At the same time she set her one good eye on Werner, pretending to pay attention. If she could just humour him long enough she might have a chance.

“So!” He shouted returning to her. “I offer you a chance Miss Coyle, join my holy cause or be sent to your eternal judgement.”

“How would I join, exactly?” She grunted, fumbling again for the TeleBand. He noticed, frowning, leaning around her and then laughing.

“We’re deep down here Tessa, your band won’t reach the surface, so fiddle all you want. Nobody will hear you whether you scream or whether you transmit. I can see you would say anything to me, you’re just humouring me.” He gripped her chin and tilted her head up, making her hiss with pain through her swollen lips. “Well then, we shall leave the decision to The Almighty.” He turned away, marching to his makeshift altar while Tessa scrambled with her fingers for the band, hoping she’d got it right as she tuned it through the frequencies.

Werner was moving differently now, slowly, reverently even. In his hands he held a great jar with a massive lid, holes bored through it. Tessa could see something coiled, green, lurking in the bottom of the jar and as he slowly paced even closer it resolved itself. A thick rope of scaled muscle, lurid green, a quivering rattle upon its tail sounding like a maraca as the snake grew agitated and worked its fangs against the side of the glass.

“What… is it?” Tessa swallowed nervously, but as her finger slipped against the dial on the TeleBand she suddenly felt the cold metal of the arm straighten and move with greater strength and purpose.

“They call them ‘radlers’. They’re native to the gorges around the Pastor’s home town. A unique creature born of radiation and the desert and granted a gift from God, redeeming the serpent by becoming a crucible in which a man’s faith can be tested and confirmed.” Werner set the jar down next to Robur’s head and unscrewed the lid, thrusting his hand down inside, the radler striking and striking, sinking its fangs into his arm repeatedly, but he barely flinched, grasping it firm behind its head and drawing it forth.

“A remarkable creature Officer Coyle, a survivor. A nocturnal hunter that imitates a cicada or a cricket, that uses its glowing body to draw and hypnotise its prey. A creature so visible that it needs a venom stronger than any other to keep away even greater predators. If you survive… it awakens you to the heavens, the spirit… IF you survive.” He stepped closer still, holding the writhing serpent before him, swaying and waving it, imitating its motions.

Tessa could feel the hand yanking, pulling, scraping at the cables that bound her, she just needed another moment and she could be free. “ROBUR! NOW!” She shouted, giving it all the force and emotion she could. Werner turned, eyebrows shooting up his forehead in surprise. Robur’s eyes lit up and from his damaged vox he began to emit a series of beeps, starting slow and getting faster and faster.

The cable came loose, her wrists were free, she grasped hold of Robur’s disembodied arm just as Robur’s bluff was detected and Werner turned back around.

Adrenalin was a good substitute for caffeine pills, she surged up out of the seat with Robur’s arm raised high and brought it crashing across Werner’s head as his eyes met hers. He fell like a stone, the radler spilled from his grasp, striking him three times and slithering away with a derogatory swish of its tail, vanishing into the ducts.

Tessa grabbed her belt from the table and cuffed Werner, fumbling to press her glasses back onto her swollen face, leaving him laying there, bleeding from the scalp while she picked up Robur’s battered head.

“Maam,” he fizzed and crackled, sparks falling from his jagged neck stump. “I think you may have bent my arm striking the miscreant.”

Tessa laughed and then gasped, clutching her face with her free hand. “That’s the least of your problems I think Officer Robur. To think they say you Metalmen don’t have a sense of humour.”

“I was merely making an observation maam.”

“Let’s find our way out of this hole and contact the precinct.”

“I concur maam. At least it’s over.”

Tessa staggered unsteadily up the stairs, cradling Robur’s head against her chest. “I’m not sure that it is.”

“Maam?”

“That town, they know all about us, they hate us, there’s no telling what Werner told them. I’m betting we haven’t heard the last of this ‘Pastor Scull’ and his merry band.”

“Ah. Well. All the more reason to get me repaired then maam. Turn left up here.”

“Have a little faith Robur, have a little faith…”

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The Identification Room was dominated by the huge visiscreen that covered one wall. Tessa sat at the small operator’s desk and bent the microphone to her lips while Robur slotted the appropriate information reference cards into the slot. Tessa threw the switch and fidgeted with her hands, food and drink wasn’t allowed in the Identification Room, even in pill form. Without the constant supply of caffeine and glucose she was rapidly tiring, adrenalin or no.

“MONOVAC, online.”

“ONLINE.”

“Process information cards and arrange by category, psychology, sociology, anthropology.”

“PROCESSING.” The screen glowed, illuminating Robur and Tessa in its greenish cathode rays. Three lists appeared, equidistant, divided by scan lines, lists of names of those who might have been involved in the sabotage at the Aubade facility and, perhaps, the BioVat.

“Combine psychology and anthropology lists under heading ‘suspects’. Search records of entries under ‘sociology’ and combine those with biological knowledge with list ‘suspects’, remove the rest.”

“PROCESSING.” The screen went blank and then reappeared, a single, long list of names. Men and women, the cream of Science City Zero’s minds in the human sciences.

“Still quite a list maam,” Robur interjected, electronic eyes fixed upon the electronic screen.

“I think we can narrow it further. MONOVAC, search list and eliminate all of those without biology qualifications.”

“P-R-O-C-E-S-S-I-N-G.” The screen reset again, but it was barely shorter.

“MONOVAC, do any of those listed have a history of psychological problems or trauma?”

“PROCESSING. THREE ENTRIES HAVE TRAUMA NOTATIONS.”

“MONOVAC, create a new list and add those entries to it. Title the list ‘prime suspects’ and display it to the right of the current list.”

“PROCESSING.” The screen flickered briefly and divided again into two lists, one short, three names only.”

“MONOVAC, zoom in on list ‘prime suspects’ and expand to fill display.”

“PROCESSING.” There were three names now, prominently displayed. Doctor Taeger, Doctor Monroe and Professor Werner.

“MONOVAC, what is the current location of those displayed.”

“TAEGER IS A GUEST OF PSYCHE SERVICES. THE LOCATION OF MONROE AND WERNER IS CURRENTLY UNKNOWN.”

“Eliminate Taeger from the list.”

“PROCESSING.” That was it, down to two suspects.

“Any ideas Robur?” Tessa turned to him and scowled, the beginnings of a caffeine headache making her furrow her brow and squint in the glow of the visiscreen.

“Maam, our suspect does not act like a member of the city. They do not care what damage they bring. I do not believe either suspect would fulfil those criteria. My probability matrix still points to an outside influence, despite the evidence we have found to the contrary. I am afraid we will have to wait for another attack to be sure.”

Tessa’s scowl deepened and then she leapt up to her feet, face lighting up, the headache forgotten. “Robur! You beautiful piece of precision engineering, that’s it!” She turned swiftly back to the microphone and all but shouted into it. “MONOVAC, check records, have either remaining entries in the ‘prime suspects’ list ever been outside the dome?”

“PROCESSING. PROFESSOR WERNER HAS BEEN BEYOND THE DOME.”

“Display Werner’s record in full.” The screen blackened and then filled again, Werner’s image filling one side along with his finger and voice prints, blood type and other sundry data. In two other columns his biography slowly scrolled while Tessa and Robur feverishly devoured every piece of information.

“There, he was with an anthropological expedition earlier this year, investigating the wasteland townships and their people.” Tessa strode up to the screen and stabbed her finger against it, following the information line as it scrolled slowly up the screen.

Robur plugged himself directly into the terminal and he and MONOVAC ground circuits for a while as he downloaded the information on the professor to his internal memory tapes. “He was one of only two survivors from that expedition, the rest were dead from snake venom and wounds suffered at the hands of the townspeople. That township has been designated code black 3 for future expeditions. According to the trauma counsellors at Psyche he has suppressed his experiences and refuses to talk about them.”

“Bingo.” Tessa smiled in the way a cat might smile at having caught a mouse. “MONOVAC, put out an APB on Professor Werner, scan the city grid for his tell-tales and inform us immediately of any sightings.”

“COMMAND ACCEPTED.”

“And now?” Robur unplugged himself and wound the cable back into his chest cavity.

“Now I snatch a nap on the couch in the office and we wait until someone spots him.”

***

Tessa woke with a start to Robur’s cold metal hand shaking her shoulder gently. “Whassafrazzit?” She blinked and straightened her glasses, running a hand back through unruly hair to get it back under some sort of control.

“Maam, we have a hit. Turing square. He was spotted by a civil spy-ray some moments ago but was lost almost immediately. He must be using countermeasures of some kind.”

“A privacy screen perhaps? Not many use those, we might be able to find him from the energy signature if we look for it, even if we can’t spy-ray him. What buildings are on Turing?”

Robur clicked and whirred briefly and then rattled them off. “Museum of Mistakes, Transmetal Logistics, Curie Tower and the Elysium Compubrain Research facility.”

“Both other targets were involved in research, what do they do at Elysium?” Tessa hopped up, checking her weapons and beckoning Robur after her as she began to stride down the battleship grey corridors towards the floater bay.

“Some sort of mind-machine interface maam, based on telepathic principles gleaned from wasteland mutants.”

“That sounds like our suspect’s sort of thing. Let’s go bring this recidivist down shall we Robur?”

“I concur wholeheartedly maam.”

***

The floater hung over Turing Square now, spy-rays and energy detectors at full power as they drifted side to side, trying to get the maximum coverage. They didn’t want to tip off Werner that they were there, that they knew, so the people below continued about their business, unmolested, unaware.

“Anything yet Robur?” Tessa hunkered down behind the windscreen, even in the dome it was cooler at this altitude and she huddled her arms around herself.

“Not yet… ah, I stand corrected. There’s an energy signature consistent with a privacy screen at the back of the Elysium building.”

Tessa took the control sticks and drifted the floater into position, descending slowly at the rear of the Elysium building. A sleek, angular building in the new-futurist style. A Mondrian brought to life in white, black and primary colours. As they descended there was a bang from the delivery entrance and Tessa took the floater into a much steeper dive. “It’s him, whatever he’s doing it’s started.”

The floater flattened out, throwing them down hard into their seats and they leapt over the sides, moving up either side of the door, ionic pistols at the ready, clasped tight in their hands.

“I’ll go first.” Tessa hissed, dialling up the power on the pistol.

“Maam, regulations state that Metalmen go in first. We’re tougher, more repairable, more expendable…”

“And about as stealthy as an elephant on roller skates. We need to get close.”

“As you say maam.”

“Follow me in in thirty seconds.” Tessa huddled low and ripped off her lab coat, the white would just give her away. She left it, discarded on the ground and crept inside, pistol ahead of her, scanning left and right as she moved through the shadows and the patches of coloured light that shone through the great square windows.

Werner was ahead of her, marching purposefully down the steps into the building’s basement. There was nobody to stop him, little or no security to speak of. Clearly the money had been spent elsewhere. Tessa slipped her shoes off and in her stockinged feet crept after him, silent as a ghost.

Down he went, until he got to a great armoured door that sealed off whatever Elysium kept in this pit they’d dug underground. Daybulbs were here, but few. Tessa got the impression that not many people came down here, the research must take place upstairs, whatever it was. Telepathic machines? She wasn’t sure what that entailed but the risks of messing with the mind were huge and whatever Werner was up to here, it couldn’t be any good.

Werner had set a small charge while she was thinking and before she could stop him he’d blown the door, vanishing into the smoke. Quickly she darted after him, holding her breath so she wouldn’t cough from the smoke, emerging into a massive circular chamber, a labyrinth of shoulder-high, anodised blue cases, all of them whirring and clicking, filled with memory tapes and switches going hell for leather in their calculations. It was sweltering in here, the sheer density of computational power producing a sauna-like heat. Sweat stuck her blouse to her back and trickled down her chest, fogging her glasses as she yanked them off, half blinded better than completely blinded.

Werner was winding his way through the labyrinth, up to the console for this dense mass of computational power. Tessa had never seen anything like it, the cross-linked power of at least a dozen MONOVACs, multiplied as they cross-processed, it was an unimaginable amount of power. She squinted, running her fingers along the tape stuck to one of the anodised casements. “Prof. H. Carbide, 1880-1945.” She mouthed, silently, brow furrowing as she tried to make sense of it. A grave? No. Elysium, the Greek afterlife. The Science Citizens of Zero had little time for mythology, but there was a respect for the Greeks due to their philosophy and mathematics. It clicked into place. The research here was a way to record minds for posterity. To transfer a conciousness from a biological machine to one of transistors, valves, tape and switches. Genius need never die! So what was Werner doing here?

She rounded the corner and lined up her ionic pistol on him as he bent over the console, twisting dials, throwing switches and turning a key, opening the box to the Master Erase button.

Tessa was outraged, that was mass murder, whichever way you looked at it. With a roar of anger she twisted around the corner and fired the ionic pistol, full power, a crackling beam of lightning that transfixed Werner, surrounding him with blue threads of light that leapt from surface to surface and grounded into the floor.

“SINNER!” he boomed, turning towards her, his face contorted in madness, she started back but kept her finger on the trigger, pumping an endless bolt of voltaic power into him, but it seemed to do not a thing to him.

“The bastard’s wearing a faraday!” She hissed as he swept towards her, raising one meaty fist and as time slowed she saw his face was covered in scars a dozen puncture marks in pairs. Then he struck her, knocking her flying into one of the blueish cases, stunning her.

Tessa struggled to her feet, seeing stars, trying to remember her training, her pistol dropped, struggling to block his punches but he’d studied scientific boxing too and was bigger, stronger, it was all she could do to hold him off and she was worn down, punch by punch, beaten to the ground, bloodied and bruised.

As she sprawled he turned and raised his hand over the master erase, ignoring her, intent on his mission.

“In the name of the Lord I purge this false heaven of its trapped souls!” He cried out, raising his hands to the sky.

“That’s quite enough.” Robur’s voice cut, mechanical and even, loud even over the clattering of the computational matrix.

“He’s wearing a faraday…” Tessa mumbled through swollen lips, trying to warn him.

Robur heard her and dropped his pistol, springing to the attack, metal arms stretched out towards Werner intent upon grappling him to the floor. The delay was enough though, enough for Werner. He twisted, a massive, impossibly crude firearm, tarnished and pitted, filled his hand and boomed, deafeningly. There was an almighty CLANG as the bullet struck him full in his chest and lodged there, denting the metal.

“How absurdly primitive…” There was a blinding flash and a green explosion of fire and radiation that burned Tessa’s skin. Robur vanished in a ball of green fire and rained down in pieces all around the chamber, glowing fragments of shrapnel embedded into everything, his head landing with a sound like a tolling bell next to Tessa and rolling against her leg.

Werner hit the switch and the cacophony of clattering electronics stopped, abruptly.

“I was chosen for this mission. I will bring this city back to God! They shall take up serpents! It shall not hurt them!” Werner lunged down over Tessa, swimming into focus for a moment, froth at his lips, his eyes wildly staring. “Jezebel! Harlot of man’s arrogance. I cast thee out!”

The last thing she saw was the sole of his boot, crashing down.

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The precinct hovered above Science City Zero and moved where it was needed, when it was needed. A massive silver saucer with a hooped spine projecting downwards, glowing with light as it hovered on its beam of force, suspended by the power of a dozen disintegration generators. Two were enough to keep it suspended, one in a pinch but the denizens of Science City Zero were a pragmatic sort and the Science Police knew the value of multiple redundancy.

Tessa’s office was on the lower part of the saucer, sloping windows offering a panoramic view of the city below. It was morning now and the light filtered through the dome above, diffusing as it slowly replaced the light of the dayglobes in the streets and houses. Tessa sat on the transmetal window, seemingly floating over the city below, gulping back more caffeine pills with a glass of glucose water, so highly strung she seemed to vibrate as she wound through the evidence tapes on her TeleBand, glaring at the greenish projections as though the crime would resolve itself if she scared it enough.

“Robur… summarise… what do we know?”

Robur was standing in his recharge unit, humming slightly as his secondary systems charged and his main generator wound back up to full power. His hands moved a buffer over his new ‘scars’ as he did so and those blank and empty glowing eyes turned back towards Tessa as his switches clattered, processing her request.

“Person or persons unknown gained access to the BioVat facility late last night. The surviving scientists report a technician of medium height, medium build and brown hair. Not especially useful. We know that this person or persons replaced the punch cards with those from a cloning depot allowing the synth-men to develop a mentality and musculature that they would not normally achieve. This was done inexpertly, though it suggests at least a passing understanding of the technologies involved so we are looking for an educated perpetrator…”

“…In a city of millions of scientists, engineers and technicians.”

“If I may continue maam?”

Tessa waved away his concerns with a grumble.

“Well, sabotage is passing rare maam, everyone in the city knows we depend on the city and its infrastructure. Attacks usually come from outside, or are attempted from outside but as you well know such incursions are rarely successful, suggesting that the attack has to come from inside. Perhaps a stolen identity, a turncoat is preposterous. Who would give up all this for the radioactive wasteland beyond? Certainly nobody rational.”

“Not everyone has a set of valves, switches and circuits for a brain Robur. Even scientists can get wedded to their pet theories and follow them in the teeth of the evidence. It’s a struggle for us all.”

“A terrible flaw in the human mind maam.”

“But essential to understand possible motives for our perpetrator.”

“As you say maam.”

“So, basically we don’t know anything except that our saboteur could be almost anyone and doesn’t care about the welfare of the city.”

“As you say maam.”

Tessa slammed her hand down on the transmetal, something that always gave her a frisson of fear, even though she knew the transmetal was nigh unbreakable. “Damn and blast. We’ve no option but to wait for the maniac to strike again and that irritates me. Without another incident we can’t even begin building a profile.”

“It does, indeed, seem prudent to wait and it is not as though we have a choice maam. Perhaps you should get some rest.”

Tessa threw one of her pills at Robur and it clanged off his chest plate with a loud ‘ting’.

***

Tessa was dozing at her desk, the electromassage lulling her – finally – to sleep, overcoming the surging chemistry of the pills the boiled through her veins. Robur was still plugged in, repeatedly churning over the evidence that they’d gathered, hooked into the precinct’s MONOVAC for additional power, putting in various variables and calculating probabilities, but nothing was seeming to fit.

Tessa tumbled from her desk with a start as the TeleScreen leapt into life.

“Coyle!” Her master’s voice, Captain Newton swimming into view on the screen and peering out at them through the electric eye.

“Sir!” Tessa clambered back up into view, rubbing the rheum from her eyes and straightening her glasses, trying to scramble back to reality from dreams of synth-men and violence.

“We’ve another incident. A containment breach at Aubade Power, another research institute. Very high tech, very well protected, very advanced. The director’s called me in person and asked for my best agents. That’s you. Get down there.”

“Sir.”

It was not long before they were there, taking a full scale floater this time, rather than a disk, in case they needed the extra power or swiftness it could bring. The Aubade facility was blindingly bright, surrounded by the proctors and their screens, flaring blindingly bright every colour of the rainbow as the blinding light within reduced the building to a mere shadow, slowly getting soft at the edges as the terrible forces within began to melt even the strongest of buildings.

The floater set down at the proctor line and they had to holler to be heard over the screaming of generators and the roaring air.

“Maam!” Shouted the proctor over the deafening sound. “The inner screens have gone down and we can barely hold it in with the screens.”

They moved into the shelter of one of the newly arrived screens, others being shipped in from around the city to reinforce the perimeter, so that they could be heard.

“There’s no way I can let you in maam, we can’t get close and the director told us they were harnessing the power of the sun. The Energy Commission is trying to find a solution but we may have to evacuate the city.”

Tessa growled and snapped at the proctor. “I can’t deal with it without a closer look. Bring me a proctor suit, a fresh screen and some high capacitance cabling. Immediately.”

“Maam…”

“That’s an order.”

The proctor scurried off to get what she wanted, after a brief glance at her badge and she turned to Robur next, so fast the otherwise implacable Metalman actually recoiled. “Open your chest plate Robur.”

“Maam?”

“We’ll need the extra power.”

Tessa suited up, strapping the heavy armour-plating of the robotic proctor suit into place and strapping on heavy welding goggles beneath the helmet. The suit was too big and pinched at the joints, but there was little that was better protection in all of Zero. Behind her as she finished suiting up, the Aubade building was now all but impossible to make out, the light within so strong that even the most solid of walls was near transparent.

The screen was powered up and focussed to the minimum, all of its power focussed in a tiny space. Robur’s chest was open and the cables ran from it to the screen, sending even more power into the field projector, threatening to overload it.

The proctors withdrew and Tessa flexed the hydraulic muscles of the suit, pushing against the screen and marching step by step into the bedazzling aura of the glow that was too bright for any to see how she was doing. The ground was wet beneath her armoured boots and pushing the screen forward was like wading through treacle. It wasn’t treacle though, the ground was melted like magma. Metal, brick and ceramic flowed thinner and hotter as she got closer to the centre, having to throw her arm in front as the light grew too bright even for the goggles, the helm and the screen all together.

A warning bell rang inside the suit as she reached the epicentre of the light and the heat. A miniature, artificial sun, suspended in the air between massive presser rays, protected by their own screens that were flickering and faltering even now.

The warning bell rang louder and louder, increasing in frequency and volume as the suit began to buckle under the strain. There was only one chance and it was a long shot but the fate of the city was at stake this time. Forcing the suit to maximum power she pushed the small screen closer to the presser projector console. The suit was beginning to melt, a trickle of metal silvery as it ran down the faceplate and dripped from the chin.

There was one chance, one slim chance to end this. Tessa tore the panel from the presser controls, hissing as the heat began to bore through the suit, burning her fingers as she exposed the power connectors. A quick twist back and she snatched the power leads from the screen projector, thrusting them into the presser controls. The moment the screen went down she was seared, the suit seizing up as the joints melted but in the power of the supercharged pressers the miniature sun shrank in on itself and turned dark.

In an instant everything changed, the outward pressure of the sun energy abruptly reversing direction as the miniature black hole that had formed began to crush what was left of the building inwards. The suit wouldn’t move and began to drag along the floor as Tessa struggled with the controls, whining hydraulics straining against the fusion-welded seams but it wouldn’t move, grinding across the cooling floor as the rock began to set up solid again.

In desperation Tessa hammered on the inside the suit, straining with her wiry muscles against the chest plate until, finally, it gave way. She spilled out, snatching and grasping at the cables, floating backwards, spiralling inward towards that singular black point as it devoured the suit, stretching its atoms into infinity. She was white knuckled, clinging on for dear life as the cable drew taut and then slowly, implacably drew backwards, hauling her inch by inch away from the swirling void.

There was a scream of metal on metal and the great presser rays trembled in their brackets, suddenly tearing loose, sucked into their own creation and annihilated. Without the power of the ray the singularity could not maintain and with a thunderous clap of equalising energy and a rush of air it disappeared, blasting what remained of Aubade into smithereens.

Tessa blinked as the rubble was pulled from her, smiling up at Robur as he tossed aside the distorted remnants of a steel beam and helped her up to her feet.

“Are you alright maam?”

“Never better Robur… never better… though I think our chances of getting any evidence out of this place are pretty much zero.” She dusted herself down and stumbled out of the debris, leaning on her metal companion.

“You’d be wrong there maam. I believe we do have a lead. I was conversing by TeleBand with Aubade director while you were engaged in your heroics.”

“And?” She leaned against the floater, wearily popping a fistful of caffeine pills and dragging out the first aid kit.

“The only change of note was that they began a study into the psychological and social implications of true artificial sun control on the general population and its potential uses for impressing or intimidating wastelanders.”

“I see… so?”

“We have suspects. A list of suspects from the psychology, sociology and anthropology departments involved in those experiments. The only new people who would have had the opportunity.”

“Forget the sociologists, they’re less likely to have biological knowledge.” Tessa dragged herself into the floater. “Let’s get back to the precinct and crunch the cards. Maybe we can find this bastard and then I can get a decent night’s sleep.”

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Boop-dee-dee-beep-deep-woop, boop-dee-dee-beep-deep-woop.

Tessa groaned and wound the sheets around her head, hoping the noise would go away, but it wouldn’t, the clamorous ring of her TeleBand just keep going and going, the greenish light of its screen flashing as it strove to get her attention. She fumbled her arm out of the mummified cocoon of her sheets and groped for her glasses on the bedside fresher, fumbling them onto her face and falling with a thump onto the floor as she writhed like some bizarre linen caterpillar across the floor to the Teleband.

Cold metal and worn leather were felt against her fingertips and she sat up, the sheet falling around her slender, shirt-covered body as she hit the answer button and squinted through the thumbprint on her glasses at the tri-d, metal face that appeared, hovering, over her wristband.

“Maam.”

It was Robur, her partner, a 41st interation 124C model Metalman, not very lifelike, but an effective partner and a good ‘man’ to have on your side in a fight.

“Robur… you do understand that humans have to sleep right? I have to get eight hours natural a week rather than hypersleep or I’m no good to anyone.” Tessa pulled up the hem of her nightshirt and wiped the lens of her glasses so she could see more clearly. He was just a Metalman, he wouldn’t care about a little flashed skin.

“I am sorry maam but Captain Newton was most insistant that I contact you. We have a Code Prometheus incident at the BioVat facility on the corner of Gernsback and Capek. The proctors are containing it at the moment but they want Science Police on site as soon as possible.”

Robur’s voice became more and more annoying the longer he spoke for, that grating buzz of an artificial voicebox was especially irritating before coffee and breakfast.

“I’ll be there as soon as I can Robur. Have the proctors set up a perimeter one block around BioVat and deploy Mag Screens for containment. I’m on my way.”

Tessa slapped the TeleBand and cut him off, stepping up out of the cocoon of sheets and peeling off her nightshirt.

“Lights!”

The daybulbs glowed dimly and slowly built up to full brightness as she crossed the room to get her uniform. She paused a moment and wrinkled her nose at the sight of herself in the mirror. Short curly hair, Buddy-Holly glasses, a figure so slim and boyish that if it wasn’t for the way her hips moved everyone would think she was a man. She was strong though, despite being slight, flexible and fast and – most importantly – brilliant. They’d wanted her to go into research, her parents, but the Science Police was where it was at, safeguarding the advances of others and protecting the city from the terrors that lay beyond the dome.

Tessa pulled on her foil cap and stepped into the ion shower. There was a hum and a tingle as the electric stream and a gust of air blew away the top layer of dead skin cells and she hopped back out, pulling on her uniform. Royal blue trousers a size too big for her, a black blouse and white tie, her gunbelt with its ionic pistol and her long white lab coat. Lastly she strapped her Science Police band to her other wrist and checked herself in the mirror. It would do.

Tessa threw open the window and stepped out onto the balcony, pressing the button on her TeleBand to summon a police disk. Below her the whole of Science City Zero was laid out, a glittering panorama of lights and sounds, the shining beacons of cars, planes, disks and balloons. The spires of the banded towers, the web of their skywalks and transit tubes. Above it all the great arch of the dome, the night sky barely seen beyond it, only The Moon bright enough to compete with the scintillating, kaleidoscopic glow of the city.

The disk arrived, swooping up to her balcony on dim pencil beams of force. Tessa leapt aboard and swept down over the city, heading as fast as she dared towards the incident.

***

Tessa swept down out of the sky and jumped from the disk, leaving it to flit its way to another appointment with a sudden surge in velocity. Fishing in her pockets she popped a caffeine and a breakfast pill from her dispenser and strode purposefully up to the line of proctors, waving to Robur as she did so.

“Ah, greetings Maam.” The Metalman waved to her, his chassis gleaming beneath the daybulb streetlights, all burnished blue-steel and armoured rivets. He was surrounded by proctors in their heavy armour, lightning guns in their hands as the finished establishing their perimeter.

“Report?”

“The cordon has been thrown around as you requested, the incident appears to be contained but there is ongoing violence within the BioVat building. Spy-Ray examination reveals several unidentified hominid-like forms and several scientists inside, perhaps hostages. There’s interference from the fires and electrical shorts, so that information is only seventy-percent accurate, for which I apologise.”

Tessa turned to the proctor captain, looking up, her neck aching as she looked into his faceless helmet.

“We’ve surrounded the building with ten megawatt energy screens and have deployed three units in a cordon around the building, there to back you up should things go pear-shaped maam. Captain Newton has ordered us to cooperate fully, but we’re only to enter at your behest.”

Tessa popped another caffeine pill, she had a feeling she’d need it. As she swallowed she unbuckled her holster and hoisted out her ionic pistol, checking the charge and the settings, nodding to Robur to do the same.

“What do we know about BioVat Robur?”

“Independent biological research and development company maam. They research into synthetic life but their bread and butter is creating synth-men for biological experimentation.”

“Brainless clones for medical research… who’d attack a medical facility?” Tessa scowled and marched up to the line, gesturing the proctor on duty to take this screen down when they went through. Robur pulled his own pistol and stood beside her.

“Three, two, one…”

The crackling screen faded out with a low buzz and the two ran forward, the light slap of her All-Stars contrasting with the heavy clank-clank of Robur’s feet. He wasn’t exactly stealthy. The screen came back up behind them, sealing the area behind an impenetrable screen of force and they slammed up against the wall, either side of the door.

“Ready?”

Robur’s steely head nodded, once, the glow behind his eyes intensifying and then he stepped around, kicking the revolving door out of its housing and sending it sliding violently across the foyer to smash the reception desk to smithereens.

Inside it was chaos, full of smoke, fires burning here and there, showers of sparks as cabling burned and shorted. The ground was slippery with a pinkish goo and the cause was readily apparent. Deformed, cancerous, muscles ballooned to ridiculous proportions, the synth-men had broken free of their containers. Twisted, like hairless gorillas, veins pulsing, rage in their eyes, the handful in the entrance turned their incoherent anger on the interlopers and leapt to the attack.

“Does not compute!” Robur cried with what sounded like genuine anguish. “Synth-men have no brains… no conciousness!”

“Worry about that later!” Tessa darted inside, sliding on a slick of the pinkish goo and ducking under the tree-trunk arm of one of the synth-men. Her ionic pistol hummed in her hand as she twisted, sliding on her bottom across the chequered floor and firing, a blue beam of coherent electricity striking the synth-man and hurling him to the far wall with the stink of ozone and bacon.

The remaining synth-men bounded and leapt, roaring like jungle apes as they moved. Tessa scrambled out of the way as one landed on the spot where she had just been. Thanking blind chance that she was as small and slight as she was. Where it landed the floor cratered, muscle so dense it must have weighed twice as much as it should and been in unspeakable agony, crushed by its own muscles. Robur shot the other out of the air deftly with his pistol, playing his beam across the creature’s chest until he was sure it was still.

By then the third had gotten its meaty paw upon Tessa and had her by the ankle, hauling her upside down before it’s face, ape-like fangs bared as it roared, spattering her glasses with spittle. There was a crash nearby as Robur slammed into the remaining synth-man before he could recover, bearing him down to the ground and pounding his neanderthal brow with fists like hammers while Tessa twisted and struggled.

Blinded by the spit she felt its other hand grasp her around her head, the span of its fingers sufficient to pluck her cranium from her spine as though it were plucking a grape. She tried to calm herself, to remember her scientific boxing lessons and then she lashed out with all the strength she could muster, slamming two of her knuckles one side of the synth-man’s head and the butt of her pistol the other, just between the ear and the jaw.

The creature roared and dropped her, she landed awkwardly on her shoulders and back, upside down, lifting the ionic pistol and blindly firing between the creature’s legs. The roar became a howl, high pitched almost beyond hearing and this time the ozone stink was mixed with burning hair as the thing dropped like a felled tree.

The bone-crunching noises of Robur’s fight also came to a halt and he strode over to help her up.

“Are you alright maam?”

“No thanks to you. Why didn’t you attack the one that had me?”

“I knew you could handle it maam, within a ninety-three percent probability anyway. Taking the remaining problem out of the equation seemed the best course of action.”

“There’ll be others, we need to get to the lab where the spy-ray saw the scientists.”

They nodded to each other and ascended the stairs two and three at a time, heading back through the offices, blasting left and right as more of the synth-men emerged from the side rooms, blinded by pain and rage there was nothing they could do but put them down.

“This is monstrous, whoever did this is a sociopath.” Tessa growled as they stood back to back, blasting away at the tide of muscle that dogged their every step, climbing over the bodies of dead office workers and the remnants of destroyed desks as they finally got back to the factory doors.

They burst through and slammed the metal doors shut behind them, standing on the gantry that lead to the control chamber, beneath them a sea of tubes, many of them broken, filled with the pink plasm that supported the synth-men growth, but there was only one inside. A brute bigger than any other they had seen, towering over the cowering scientists in the control room.

“Hold the fort Robur, I’m going to get the scientists.”

The Metalman nodded and slid his arms through the handles, bracing back against the door as it rang like a bell, massive fists hammering from the other side, roars and snarls of frustrated as the iron and steel of robot and door refused to give, though it began to dent.

The hulking synth-man turned, one eye massive and yellow, larger than the other, one whole side of its body larger than the other. Clumsily it turned and loped towards her as she marched towards it, ionic pistol raised.

“Science Police, surrender to impartial justice!” She gave the warning, even though she knew it couldn’t understand. The body of a monster and the mind of a newborn.

Predictably, it ignored her and began to run, a lopsided lope towards her.

Behind her Robur channelled his own power into his chassis, electrifying himself and the door, shocking the synth-men hammering on the other side to death, his whole body arched and glowing, heating up from the power coursing through him.

For her part Tessa kept marching on the giant synth-man, depressing the firing stud on her pistol, the blue coruscating light struck the creature full in the chest, burning its flesh, charring its skin, but still it kept on coming, teeth bared, marching into the ravening beam as though walking into the wind.

Tessa stared, disbelieving as the massive creature came closer, closer, closer and reached into the beam, burning off one of its own fingers to snatch the pistol from her hand. It grinned in triumph as it crushing it like a drinks can in its maimed fist but Tessa didn’t miss a beat, swinging her leg back, then forward and planting the very toe of her boot into the mass of dangling flesh between the things legs. It grunted and she grasped, and pivoted, using its own off-centre weight to hurl it from the gantry to plummet to its broken-necked doom amongst the shattered tubes below.

The fight was over, the scientists in shock and useless as witnesses. They called in the proctors to guide them out and put out the fires, that left them free to look over the control room without interference. It was a wreck, a mess, evidence was hard to come by in such a disruption of blood and wreckage, but they divided it up into sections and went through it methodically, despite Tessa’s aches and pains. This was where a Metalman came into his own, they couldn’t experience boredom and his mechanical precision was an inspiration.

It was Tessa that found it though, breaking open the feeder mechanism to the MONOVAC she ran her fingers down the mass of punch-cards and felt the hard edges of newer cards inserted into the sequence.

“What do you make of these Robur?” She plucked the newer cards out of the feeder, tucking torn pieces from her notebook into the gaps to mark the spaces.

The Metalman took the cards and fed them into his universal slot, shuffling them like a stage magician as they flew into his slot and his tubes and switches cogitated with a noisy flickering, digesting the information.

“They’re plasm codes maam. I am no expert but according to my interior library these sequences relate to muscle, bone and nerve tissue growth, including brain tissue. I conjecture that…”

“…someone introduced a little Mr Hyde into our mindless Doctor Jeckylls.”

“Indeed maam.”

“So then, there’s no question.”

“None at all maam.”

Tessa tossed the remaining punch cards angrily onto the floor, spilling them everywhere, kicking the pile so it fell between the slats in the gantry and turning back to Robur, stabbig her finger into his impassive face.

“Sabotage!”

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