Escape From Asylonia, page 1part #1 of The New War Series
THE NEW WAR - PART 1:
Escape From Asylonia
By Christopher Skoyles
© Christopher Skoyles 2019
All Rights Reserved
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Table of Contents
The shuddering underbelly of the yellow beast coughed and belched above the cold, steel pedestrian lane.
Slumped inside the beast’s comfortable carcass, Noah sank his fingers into his faded leather jacket and pulled out a fistful of dollar bills. His weathered hand trembled as he reached over the back of the driver’s seat with splayed fingers, showering the taxi driver in a confetti storm of crumpled notes. He collapsed, shoulder first, into the door, and fell sideways out of the jetcab.
The cold steel rose up to stab him in the hip. Pain pierced his aching pelvis like razor wire, slicing back and forth between his thigh and spine. He lay where he landed, with his chest throbbing against an old, black T-shirt, and his legs sticking out before him in battered blue denims. Noah propped himself up on unsteady arms and arched his neck backwards, unflinching against the slap of a reckless breeze. He watched the taxi take off, first blistering a trail away from him, then screeching into a turn and hurtling back towards him. It soared high above the tangled strands of cinnamon brown, evolved from what had once been Noah’s neat crop of hair, and it travelled up towards the Skyway until a sticky air devoured it.
The sky hung over him like something from his nightmares. A crimson sun leaked onto a palette of deep violets and electric blues, welcoming the birth of a new night. The air hung hot and clammy in the aftermath of rain showers, making breathing something that required effort and conscious thought. Sucking air into lungs smeared with tar, Noah stared into the dying embers of the sun and longed for Earth. His brain throbbed and his veins itched. His lungs relaxed, rubbing painfully against the back of his rib cage. He tried to stand and failed, let down by a gaunt, tired body which had once been defined and full of life. His coarse skin, once wrapped snugly around solid muscles, fell loosely over flabby limbs which refused to hold his weight.
His second attempt to stand was thwarted by a rush of blood racing through a whiskey-induced fog, disorientating him to the point of collapse. With the third attempt, his arms lashed out at his sides as though with two different minds of their own. His legs bounced, twisted, and slung him into the doorway of Manor SL69.
Noah's quivering hand slid involuntarily along the manor’s biometric lock, a square panel screen with a blank face from which an emotionless female voice spoke.
'Unrecognised data. Unauthorised citizen. Access denied.'
Noah felt the same underlying hostility in her monotonous tone that always bugged him whenever he heard her speak. It was if she knew. As if she resented what he had become. As if the unthinking computer looked down on him with contempt. Noah snarled at her.
‘Argh! You just, you shut up will ya?’
His voice merged the dialect of his homeland in South East England with the tinge of a Texan drawl, picked up from his time spent living in the Lone Star State to complete his military training. Sober, it was a curious accent which most who met him found difficult to place. Now, it was a sloppy cacophony which came out of his lips in a slur.
Noah thrust his fingers back into his jacket and found nothing. He tried a different pocket, and another one, until his hand rested on the thing he had been looking for.
He took it out and removed the grubby, bloodstained surgical bandage which covered it. The bandage drifted into a puddle, curled about itself, and finally sank. Noah cursed. He brought the cold, mauve-coloured flesh of a severed hand to his chest. Chunky and broad, and with congealed blood matted like dry mud around the stub, the sight of the lifeless appendage before his own bloodshot eyes caused Noah’s stomach to churn, and the sides of his brain to smart.
It reminded him of The Last Kill, and of all the kills that had come before it in The Final War. It reminded him too, of the one thing he could not kill, an enemy that was bigger and more powerful than he had ever been, even in his prime. It was an enemy that stalked him and tormented him as he lived out his days on this contemptible planet. Back on Earth, he had some form of defence against The Disease, but not here, where every reminder of home was like a new wave of infection.
A violent cough scorched his chest and scratched at a throat already ravaged by whiskey and cigarettes. It shook him out of himself, and drew his attention back to the present situation.
‘Let me in,’ he moaned as he slapped the flesh of his victim's hand against the surface of the biometric lock. A bead of blue light blinked rapidly and relentlessly.
'Data recognised,’ announced the monotone gatekeeper. ‘Lavia, Enosh. Authorised citizen. Access granted. Welcome home, Mr. Lavia.'
Her voice unchanged, Noah’s paranoia nonetheless replaced her scorn with a knowing, passive aggressive mockery, as if she was really saying: I know you’re not Enosh Lavia, and I’m on to you, buddy.
He shook his head, throwing the idea from his mind, then thrust the hand of the late Enosh Lavia back into his pocket, and wobbled into the hallway. There, a plasma display screen greeted him with a persistent electric hum. Across its face, the words Welcome to Manor SL69 fought for life with an incessant flicker of light.
Even at the height of his own misery, Noah derived some small amusement from the word Manor. He imagined that th
The dull stench of damp in his nostrils reminded him of just how dilapidated these manors had become since their occupation by Asylonia’s assorted down-and-outs. Pressing his palms to the wall to guide him along, Noah coated the tip of a finger in grime and dirt. The route before him was hidden among the darkness of the corridor, hinted at occasionally by a timid tide of light, trickling out from the welcome screen and then withdrawing again. The splash of his boots against the wet, rubber floor echoed around the corridor as he moved down it, using the kind of instinct that came only from making the same journey countless times over his three-year imprisonment on Asylonia. He staggered on, through the onslaught of an impending hangover, and towards the pedestrian carrier.
Phlegm bubbled in Noah’s throat as he exhaled deeply. He remembered how the pedestrian carriers had been touted as the biggest revolution in the way people got from A to B since the automobile, and how quickly they had sprung up just about everywhere in practically no time at all. He was sure it could not have happened this way, but he seemed to remember going to sleep one night, closing his eyes on a world where people still used elevators, escalators, and travelators, and an opening them the following morning to an Earth overrun with pedestrian carriers. He also remembered - and he was more sure that things had happened this way - that they were quickly eradicated when the majority of the population announced that they had little interest in being strapped into a torpedo-shaped container and promptly shot through a network of claustrophobia-inducing tubes.
It was just unfortunate that most of The New World had been created at the height of pedestrian carriers’ fleeting popularity. It was even more unfortunate that nobody had considered, or actually cared about, replacing the planet’s carriers with more comfortable solutions, as they had back on Earth.
His fingers trembled at the navigation computer. The silver band he wore on his index finger tapped nervously against the touchscreen keypad.
'Invalid code. Access denied.`` spoke The Gatekeeper.
Fighting off a case of The Shakes, Noah managed to steady his hand long enough to enter the correct digits: 08-27-16-84.
'Coordinates accepted. Access granted. Please step inside and ensure you are safely secured inside the pod. If you are unfamiliar with the safety features of this Lemark 947 Personal Carrier Craft, please press the button to your right. When you are ready to begin your journey, please use the button to your left to initiate. Thank you for travelling with Lemark today, have a pleasant journey.’
‘Yeah right,’ Noah scoffed.
He fell backwards into the shoot, strapped two sturdy safety belts across his chest in an X-shape, and a third around his waist. He looked about him for the two buttons, and depressed one with his thumb.
‘Thank you. Loading safety demonstration.’ The Gatekeeper said, mocking him.
‘No, damnit, Not that!’
A hologram recording buzzed into action. A pint-sized woman floated at his eye level in her own miniature carrier pod, her legs bound by a navy blue skirt, and propped up on high heels of the same colour. She wore a white blouse, blue scarf, blue hat and bold makeup.
‘Thank you for travelling with us today. Your safety is important to us...’ began the hologram woman, showing only a touch more emotion than The Gatekeeper through her forced smile.
‘No, shut up!’ Noah told her as he reached to his side again, and this time found the correct button. Over the hologram’s instructions for adjusting a safety belt, The Gatekeeper spoke.
'Heading to Apartment Eight, Wing Twenty Seven, Block Sixteen, Floor Eighty Four. Please keep arms folded throughout your journey. Welcome home.'
He shuddered, not at the gust of air pushing upwards from his feet and smacking him in the face, but at the word home. Crossing his arms and tucking his chin into his chest, Noah gulped nervously.
He hated this part, always had, even in his all too rare moments of lucid sobriety. Supposedly calming images of idle rivers and swaying trees appeared and disappeared around him, trying to trick him into believing he was not in a confined tube, but rather in more idyllic surroundings. His feet left the floor suddenly, and every twist and surge of the carrier brought a fresh dose of fear in torturous contractions. All the while, the little blue and white woman fastened and unfastened safety belts in front of him, wished him a pleasant journey, and began the whole process over again. He was projected back outside Manor SL69 through an intricate network of tubes, their ugliness masked with more illusions, now of frothy waves teasing the edge of soft, sandy beaches. The carrier reached the eighty fourth floor of Block Sixteen. He clenched his eyes and battled against the churning in his stomach as the carrier leaned swiftly around a corner into Wing 27, and dumped him, sans whatever remained of his dignity, into Apartment Eight.
He landed with his back against the wall of his own personal cell, and sat catching his breath for what felt like an age. The room reminded him of everything that had gone wrong. He swore he would get out of there, that even though his every attempt to leave Asylonia had so far failed, he would find a way to get off the planet and get back home.
His stomach churned faster. Using the leg of a nearby steel table to assist him, Noah crawled painfully to his feet, and into the bludgeoning attack of a dizzy spell. He stumbled backwards, then forwards, then doubled over at once and retched. His guts flooded his whiskey-sodden throat and spewed forth from his lips like a burst pipe.
The United Earth Force Jet Fighter IV ship avoided the wrath of an oncoming missile by ducking deep beneath an insatiable comet. Undeterred, the missile turned on itself and gave chase. The pilot led it back towards the flaming jaws of the comet, then shot from harm's way at the last possible second, feeding the comet’s voracious hunger with the missile’s unstoppable momentum.
Jet Fighter IV traversed two burning stars and fired at the row of Attilian battlecruisers. A single shot blistered the engine of the lead ship and sent it crashing into the one beside it. In turn, the second ship pummelled a third, and down they went. The pilot grinned, admiring his handy work, watching the row of ships toppling like titanium-plated dominos.
He had already begun to imagine the Welcome Home party. They would fall over themselves to be near him, showering him with praise, sincere in their insistence that such sheer, natural born talent had not been seen among the battlefields of space since Wing Commander Alan Attreus had last led the Jet Fighter fleet to countless victories. There would be a lavish ceremony for him in a grand ballroom a million miles away from the dimlit world of his cockpit.
The pilot punched the air. Beyond his screen, battlecruisers tumbled into the waiting mouth of an inferno.
His celebration was cut short by the sight of an Attilian Stealth Warrior charging forward. A powered exoskeleton suit encased the creature’s enormous limbs, allowing him to race through the dead air of space in streak of metallic red and silver. The fuel pack strapped to his spine shot scarlet flames into the atmosphere. His guns shot through the debris of defeated battlecruisers.
'Oh no you don't,' the pilot laughed.
He sent his craft screeching round on its axis. Its tail cracked the stealth warrior upside the head, knocking his fuel pack from his armour. Without it, the warrior hung in
'Eat dirt, slime ball!' The pilot yelled in triumph. Lips twisting into a cocksure grin, he projected his ship towards the mass of fire that had devoured his opponents. A second fleet of battlecruisers dove upon him with a barrage of fire. Pulling out one of his favourite tricks, he avoided their blows by heading straight towards the inferno, flying beneath it, then soaring up and over it, and the battlecruisers, in a loop, rolling upside down as he did so until he was positioned behind them. It was a move meant to confuse and disorientate the enemy as much as it was to place himself in a better attacking position. Leaving the Atillians dumbfounded, he fired a shot into one ship and created another domino run of battlecruisers, all sailing into the belly of the fire.
A deafening silence filled the vast battleground. Carefully, the pilot moved into an upright position and rotated his ship three hundred and sixty degrees to get a better look at the wasteland around him. All was quiet. Calm prevailed. The enemy soldiers had all been destroyed, swallowed by the heat of a fire which raged on in the heart of space as a warning to the enemies of United Earth:
This is what happens when you mess with us.
And then a thud. A scorching, scraping noise which pounded the eardrums and ripped a gash in the roof of the Jet Fighter.
The pilot’s stomach bounced into his dry throat. His white knuckles strained over the yoke. With a deft flick of a switch, his view changed. Outside, a second stealth warrior introduced himself. The creature had hacked his way through the dense atmosphere of the Madromedelia galaxy and crept up along the rear of the ship, tearing his way through the hull. The pilot tucked his chin into his chest plate, dodging the Attilian claws dancing inches above. He hammered on the thrusters, brought the yoke to his stomach and sent the ship nosediving towards the edge of the Attilian base’s gravitational field.
Yet the stealth warrior only clung on stubbornly to the gaping chasm he had created in the hull. Seeking to avenge the loss of his comrades, the Attilian clawed and snarled at Commander 4107. The pilot held his body against the yoke to avoid attack.
Careening towards the enemy base, the pilot felt his heart drop to his guts. A turbulent wind turned his cheeks into waves and stole his breath. As his ship broke through the atmosphere, Commander 4107 brought her back to a horizontal position and scraped her across the tops of Atillian turrets.