Following a long break from posting and, to some extent, writing in general, I happened across a writing prompt posted on the io9 website. A series of excellent prompts based on pieces of concept art, the project is helmed by Lauren Davis. This particular prompt found its way to me via Pinterest (a wonderful time sink). The original article is here:
and the illustration:
The art is the work of Tatsuyuki Tanaka and is taken from his book ‘Cannabis Works’. Something about the illustration caught my imagination (his work is incredible) and dovetailed nicely with both an odd news story I had read and my growing desire to write again. The following short story/flash fiction is the result. I hope you enjoy reading it.
‘All Her Precious Things’
She doesn’t see them coming to end her life. She is Chu-Hua, Princess of the Chrysanthemum Mechanique, most skilled Nanoweaver of the realm. It never occurs to her that anyone would dare try. Mired in complacency, her mind fails to process the tell-tales.
Their first move is to hack the guardian software in her mecha. She is only aware of the intrusion once the first symptom manifests. The Amphibimech: lumbering menace, lethal construct, infected with a pacifist virus, its defensive protocols deconstructed, leaving it to recite obscure Buddhist sutras through crude vocal synthesis.
“Para, Para, Paragate,”
The mantra is voiced in counterpoint to the syncopated clunks and whirs of the Amphibimech’s decelerating motion and provides the soundtrack to her downfall.
Now everything is spiralling away from her, free-fall down some dark gravity well of despair. Accretion of effort, stolen away. Digital banditry.
She experiences a surrealistic shift into comic book panels of disbelief as the assault dismantles her life. Anger flares from her narcotic fugue, white hot behind tired eyes as the first depleted uranium shell thunks into the Amphibimech’s piecemeal armour. Implosion, explosion, she can’t be sure. The result is the same: high end Russian plating, systematically atomised.
Glancing down at Hippocampus, expecting to find him executing a flurry of defensive countermeasures. Finding instead an impassive stance, her diminutive bodyguard wearing a glazed expression she has not seen before.
She is exposed.
Fight or flight dilemma takes hold and for a moment her body is non-responsive. Too slow. Death unfolding from shadows across the plaza. There. Two ronin. One is sleek, inky doom. Hacker’s console in hand. The other, elevated, she sees now, appearing as a shade from a Pharaoh’s tomb. Ugly protrusion of his rifle’s suppressor beneath the polarised eye of his scope.
Too late, she realises what is happening to her. Feels the drain as midnight fingers play across the face of the console. All her precious things, now subjected to asset decay. She knows the sniper’s shot will not be far behind now. Knows with certainty the exact moment he will choose to end her. No choice now.
Mei collapsed back into the mess of her bed, breathing heavy, blinking away tears in the ghost light from her monitor.
Who had paid them? That was a professional hit. Everything that matters is gone.
She heard the faint melody of her mother’s phone, signifying new mail, right there, in her room somehow. Mei rubbed exhaustion from her eyes and slowly focussed on her mother, sat imperiously in Mei’s favourite armchair. One look at her mother’s smug expression and she knew.
“It was you, wasn’t it?”
The smile, formed by ageing lips, tightened into something entirely insincere. “You’ve finished playing? I’m surprised. What’s wrong?” Her mother’s tone of mock innocence was underscored with bitterness, maybe even loathing.
Mei shivered involuntarily. Bitch.
“You know damn well what’s wrong,” Mei said. “You had someone ruin my account.”
Her mother shrugged and lit a black LuShan. “Maybe, maybe not.”
“I was the best on the server! Maybe even the entire game!”
“Now you can be best at life. Tomorrow we start a new game. Go to see the Match Maker. Then the labour placement officer. Like I say, new game.”
Mei’s shivers had escalated, building into a full blown adrenal storm, pushing her muscles into spasms of indignation.
“Get. Out!” Her scream likely resonated through the entire complex. She didn’t care.
Later that night, Mei returned to her PC, her eyes bright with new purpose. Her mother had ruined her life. Now it was time to return the favour.