The novella is done. Here's Snippet 3.
“Do not vex impatient for your chance for battle and glory, sapients and sentients. Everyone has their chance to bathe in the flames, soon enough. Not all will be found worthy, though. Take comfort in the fact that the fire that consumes them heats the engine of our continued prosperity.”
-Gatekeeper Polomius, Proverbs Of Power
“No gate-damned way, blob. You want this done, you do it yourself,” Jessica said. She walked down the alleyway, away from the Gatekeeper and his bodyguards, and headed towards the back door of the bar.
“We would, pilot Kramer, but appearances must be kept. Protocols followed. 'The Ways of the Old Code,' and such,” the Gatekeeper said.
“You mean you get to clear the dark cloud hanging over your arena by setting up some disgusting, chintzy 'blood vengeance' match. That's low, even for a--”
“-Again, you test us with your words, when we offer only benevolence and good will to you. Besides, we both have something to gain. We are being more than generous in placing the services of a very distinguished design and fabrication facility at your disposal. We both have lingering questions, pilot Kramer, questions that can only be answered by the 'Judah' control module. A control module that only activates when in the presence of members of its controlling house,” Mikralos said. Jessica stopped, and turned.
“Yeah, I noticed the red indicator light. That's the first time he's woken up since Jered died, isn't it?” Jessica said. Mikralos's pod made an awkward bobble motion, and the lights on his pod's surface seemed to fidget and twitch.
“Well...yes and no. Your father sought an audience with us after your brother's death, demanding to analyze and question the command module. Mistakes were made on his part. We...could not accommodate his requests,” the Gatekeeper said.
“You mean, you wanted to extort a grieving father to access the data on his dead son's mech that might show what really happened. He told me you wanted half a million credits for your so-called 'accommodation.'”
“It is not as simple as you say, but yes, that small detail of the occurrence is accurate. Let it be known that his offer and our financial requirements were at odds. Knowledge is power here in Junctionworld, and power costs credits, pilot,” Mikralos said.
“Even though the incident made your place a joke, and nearly put you in receivership?” Jessica said.
A jagged series of pulses ran along the ribbons of light carved into the Gatekeeper's carapace.
“Our financial matters at the time, and since then, are our own concern, pilot. You needn't occupy your feeble mind with pondering that which you do not understand. You need only remember your place,” the Gatekeeper said. An edged grate was now in the smooth voice.
“My place? Oh, that's nice. Fine. So, what's changed? What's new, that this oh-so-generous offer is now on the table?”
“We have come into new information concerning your brother's death. Naturally, since his humiliating demise caused the gladiator sports media to cast aspersions on how our beloved Berva Proxima is operated, our ticket sales and subscriptions have suffered. The facilities are in disrepair. We have even had to resort to...to renting out the main arena floor for trade shows and sales conventions.”
“Mmm...'The Berva Proxima Mech Parts Swap Meet And Social Mixer.' 'Come one, come all, to the Transdimensional Insurance Agent Convention, hosted at the Berva Proxima Arena, the glittering jewel of the Sixth Gate.' I've seen the ads on the nets. Not exactly the high-profile, upper-crust stuff you're used to, is it, Mikralos?” Jessica said.
“It is a slow, sordid ruination, pilot Kramer. Tread carefully,” Mikralos said.
“Oh, I'm sure it's horrible, Gatekeeper, I mean...wow. You poor, poor thing--” she said.
The lights tracing over the Gatekeeper's pod froze and turned to black. A silver claw was around her neck, pinning her against the wall, her boots kicking at the air. Her hands scrambled to hold onto the slippery liquid steel noose. She felt her vision begin to close off. The veins in her eyes pounded. Her lungs burned for air.
“We have been more than patient with your clumsy verbal jabs and snide remarks, but do not start to believe you can mock us, underbeing. Ever,” the Gatekeeper said.
Mikralos lowered her to the ground and hovered away. Jessica kept one arm on the alley wall where he dropped her, coughing and hacking for air. The other hand searched for her pistol. The holster was empty.
She looked up, red-eyed and sputtering, through tears and snot. One of the bodyguards, the one she blew the beer foam at, had her revolver in his hand. The cylinder was empty, the pudgy 20mm cartridges dumped in the puddles of muck at his feet. He waved the weapon in an impatient manner, bobbing it up and down as he offered it to her.
Still trying to catch her breath, Jessica reached for the pistol. The Model Nine snapped the revolver's cylinder shut with the flick of a wrist and tossed it into a pile of trash bags ten feet away. The impact and noise sent a hidden den of octorats scurrying.
She spit, clearing her throat, and snapped a knife out from a sheath in her boot. The hum of its high-frequency blade drilled a hole in the air. The second bodyguard's energy rifle, its muzzle glowing, rose. The vibro-blade's position in her hand switched from hammer to icepick, the blade running along her forearm. She wiped her mouth with the back of her knife hand, and moved for her other blade.
“Enough! We have business to conclude, human. Control your savage impulses, or the deal is off. No command module. No vengeance match. No answers to your questions,” Mikralos said, his voice more composed now. She stopped her advance, switching the vibro-knife off. Jessica spit at the feet of the Nine holding her at rifle point.
“As we thought. Walk with us, Kramer. Our conveyance is in a holding pattern overhead. We are summoning it now.”
The Gatekeeper's transportation was a larger, sleeker version of its personal pod, a mix of limousine and anti-grav yacht. It glided into the alley without a sound, descending from the flickering gray skies over Junctionworld.
A ramp flowed from the rear of the craft, and Mikralos moved up the freshly-materialized incline. His bodyguards followed, their weapons still trained on her. He gave a command to the crew waiting at the front of the craft, and then turned to Jessica waiting at the bottom of the ramp.
“Tomorrow, at this same time and locale, we will send this transport unit for you. If you find the terms we offered acceptable, walk up this ramp, and you will be taken to a private fabrication facility, the best in Junctionworld. Together, pilot, we might correct this transgression. May fortune smile on you, Mech Pilot Kramer, at your match at Red Iridium,” Mikralos said.
Her head still hurt, a combination of the beer and the choke-out. She watched the craft spirit away on silent, glowing grav-drives. Jessica looked down at her watch, and cursed. By the time she found and reloaded her revolver, she was running even later.