Metal and Ash (Apex Trilogy), страница 1
Metal and Ash
Published by Samannah Media
Copyright 2012 Jake Bible
All Rights Reserved
This book is a work of fiction. All characters, incidents, and dialogue are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Cover design by ED
First, let me thank all of my fans. You are the folks that made this trilogy rock! Without your support and constant badgering (good badgering!) I wouldn’t have pushed myself to finish this trilogy in the best way possible. I could have gone all George R.R. Martin on you and shit, right?
Second, I need to thank all the folks that helped me get this project finished. There are a lot of you so I won’t name names. Plus, if I forget someone then there will be hurt feelings and possibly tears. Just know you are all appreciated. You know who you are.
Third, a special shout out to Ed Delaney. You made my first podcast graphic for DEAD MECH and have done all my covers since. You, sir, are a HUGE reason I am able to publish these novels. I am forever in your debt. FOREVER!!!
Finally, I have to thank my family. Their patience with me while I’ve worked on this trilogy should earn them a medal or something. At least a large pizza. Love you guys!
What the hell is the Apex Trilogy? Well, we’ll get to that.
In 2009 I decided I would write and podcast a novel. Not just any novel, The World’s First Drabble Novel! That became DEAD MECH, the first installment to the Apex Trilogy. I was so very lucky that the podcast received such great acceptance in the podcast community. It showed me that all of my hard work was worth something, and my crazy drabble novel experiment may not have been so crazy after all. The podcast led to a publishing deal and the rest is history.
DEAD MECH was published, but right as the ebook revolution was starting and the publisher just didn’t get ebooks. I was able to negotiate my rights back since the publisher was such a perfect gentleman and fully understood that I wanted to take DEAD MECH in a direction he wasn’t prepared to. I released it on my own and thus began my great publishing adventure.
DEAD MECH was followed up by The Americans, which, since I can’t do anything the traditional way, was a sidequel to DEAD MECH. Not a sequel, but a sidequel. The characters and setting of The Americans were totally different than DEAD MECH. However, the story took place at the exact same timeframe as the events in DEAD MECH, just a different part of the world. This allowed me to expand the scope of the overall story yet maintain the integrity of DEAD MECH. It was a risk, but the reception The Americans received told me the risk paid off. In addition, The Americans was not a drabble novel. The details of the novel needed more words per section. Or, sometimes, less words per section. My drabble novel experiment ended with DEAD MECH.
That left the third book. Metal and Ash. The apex of the Apex Trilogy. Get it now? Two books side by side that come together into one final book. Apex! And I truly hope that everyone finds this apex, this finale, to be the ending they are looking for. Some events will piss people off, perhaps even make them cry. I know I will receive hate mail and maybe death threats, but I can take it. This is the ending that both of the previous books deserve.
Does that mean there won’t be any more books set in this universe? Never say never, man. Never say never. But this story, the story of James Capreze and his mech pilots; the story of American Ghost Mellissa Bretton and Vessel Beth Laughlin; the story of the Three and their power hungry drive for world domination; that story is over.
Enjoy and know that I put my heart and soul into this. It is the Apex I was truly hoping for.
Metal and Ash
The dream was sweet. A fine dream filled with whiskey, girls, loud music, and all at 15,000 feet. The sky was bright and blue, the pilot’s seat was warm and cozy, and the party in the cabin was going full bore.
Edgar Styles was in Heaven.
And that was the problem.
Even though he was having an absolute blast, it didn’t feel right. His conscious mind told him it was a dream and he got that. He’d always been a big dreamer. It was how he unstressed. That and whiskey and girls.
But the dream wasn’t working for him. Instead of unstressing he could feel the stress building. He could feel tension where there shouldn’t have been any. He could feel.
Again, a problem.
He never felt anything in his dreams. Never had.
So to feel pressure build and build made him wonder what was up.
“Hey, baby,” a scantily clad, very tan woman said as she slipped into the cockpit and closed the door behind her. “You’re looking lonely. Need some company?”
“You can’t close that,” Styles said as he looked over his shoulder at the door.
“Oh, forget the rules,” the woman said as she undid her bra, letting her breasts free. “Just have a good time.”
Styles didn’t even notice the tits that were being pressed towards him; his eyes were on the cockpit door.
“No, I mean you don’t have the ability to close that,” Styles said, trying to look around the woman’s chest as she wrapped her arms about his shoulders. “That door is programmed to respond to me and Al only. Even if this is a fucking dream I wouldn’t have changed that. What the holy fuck is going on?”
The woman looked at Styles, her eyes half-closed, her lips parted and inviting. She studied his face for a moment then pushed away. She picked up her bra from the cockpit floor and put it back on.
“He’s coming around,” she said aloud. “Cognitive development is confirmed. Let’s wrap this up. Extraction team at the ready.”
Styles watched her listen to a response. “Are you on a com?” Styles asked. “You can’t do that either! I have all coms jammed.”
He turned and checked his readings. Static. They didn’t show the normal fluctuations that his control panel should have. He quickly reached and felt the top of his head. No cable jacked directly into his skull.
He didn’t have control of the dream and a panicked thought occurred to him.
“Who the fuck are you and what are you doing to me?” Styles asked, voicing the thought.
The woman turned around, ignoring him.
“Right….fine…anytime,” the woman said. “Give me a second to let the others know.” She opened the cockpit door and leaned into the cabin. “Party’s over, folks! Prep for extraction! The cowboy’s waking up!”
The partying crowd booed and hissed as the music was cut short. They all stopped moving and stood still.
Then were gone.
The woman turned and looked at Styles and gave him a genuine smile. “See you on the other side, cowboy. I’ll be a disappointment in the real world.” She cupped her tits and gave them a shake. “Not quite as built as my avitar. Once you get your legs under you I’ll buy you drink. You’re going to need one.”
Then she was gone.
“What the fuck?” Styles shouted. He stood up from the pilot’s seat and hurried into the cabin. “What the hell is going on?”
“Mr. Styles?” a voice echoed. “Please remain calm. Your extraction will be a little uncomfortable and the more relaxed your avitar is the easier it will go for you.”
Styles ran to the bar and grabbed two things: a pistol and a bottle of whiskey.
“I don’t rightly know what the fuck y’all are talkin’ about,” Styles said as he took a swig of the whiskey and then cocked the pistol. “But you’re fuckin’ with the wrong man!”
“We are well aware of tha
Styles started to respond, but his legs collapsed under him and his voice was lost. The cabin started to dim then darken then blip out.
Edgar Styles was gone too.
Dr. Kari Maszle watched the amnio-tank closely as the techs uncoupled the power supply and fluid injection hoses. The vid screen in front of her showed that Styles 00075 had normal vital signs, although slightly elevated. None of the readings were alarming and he was performing just as expected.
But that was what Styles 00001 through 00074 had shown also.
The proof would be in the lavazza as her grandmother used to say.
“Why do you enter the cognitive training personally?” her assistant, Lucas Calavante, asked.
“Because I don’t trust anyone else,” Dr. Maszle said. “Not after 74 failures.”
Calavante nodded and went back to checking his vid screen.
“The prince had more money than God,” Calavante said after few minutes. “Why the hell did he want to clone this American and not himself?”
“Styles has been a product from the beginning,” Dr. Maszle stated. “He was already in development. Clones were needed to fly his aircraft.”
“But why didn’t the prince just upload his own consciousness into one of these bodies?”
Dr. Maszle turned and looked at her assistant, her gray eyes cold with admonishment. “Do I look like a fucking Russian prince to you?”
Calavante shook his head.
“Then shut up and watch your readings,” Dr. Maszle ordered as she watched the amnio-tank being wheeled out of the clone bay. “I’ll be in the exam room.”
Calavante waited until she was gone then let out his breath. “Puta.”
Several techs hooked extraction hoses to the amnio-tank as soon as it was secured in place in the exam room. They double checked the couplings and then opened the valves, letting the fluid inside the amnio-tank drain quickly into the recycling vat beneath the clone bay. In seconds it was drained and all that was left was a body curled into a fetal position.
“Life signs are still stable, Dr. Maszle,” a tech said as the doctor walked into the exam room.
“Open it up,” she ordered.
The amnio-tank made a high hissing noise as the seal on the top half was broken. The top slid to the side lowered itself to the floor, sliding under the bottom half so that there could be full access to the body inside.
Dr. Maszle kept her eyes focused on the body, her every muscle tense with anticipation. In just a few seconds the body started to move and uncurl from the position it had been in for seventeen months. Dr. Maszle cautiously approached, afraid of the disappointment that could be waiting. 74 failures had hardened her somewhat, but not enough so that her stomach wasn’t still churning. She had to fight to keep the bile down as she grasped the side of the amnio-tank.
“Mr. Styles?” Dr. Maszle asked as the body rolled onto its back and the eyes opened slowly. “Mr. Styles, can you hear me?”
The man, obvious from his unconcealed anatomy, blinked a few times and then looked up at the doctor. He tried to speak, but only a harsh rasp came out as he spit up a few globs of amniotic fluid. He closed his eyes and swallowed hard then tried again.
“H-h-h-hey…there,” Edgar Styles croaked. “I…know…y-y-y-you…right?”
“Yes, Mr. Styles,” Dr. Maszle beamed. “You do. We met just a bit ago.”
Styles’s eyes strayed and he grinned. “I don’t…know…what…you’re complainin’…about. That’s a…pretty…nice…rack…you got…there.”
Dr. Maszle looked at her chest and grinned self-consciously. “Yes, well, normally I’d be offended, but I’ll take that as a compliment.” She looked down the tank at his waist. “And you aren’t so bad yourself. I didn’t even enhance your proportions.”
Styles’s grin widened. “Never had any com-com-com-complaints. No need to mess…with… perf-f-f-fection.” His whole body shuddered and he slowly wrapped his arms about himself. “F-f-f-f-fucking cold in h-h-h-h-here.”
“Yes, well the process needs exact temperatures to work,” Dr. Maszle said as a tech handed her a thermal wrap. She activated the heat packs and draped it over Style’s body. “The slightest miscalculation has resulted in unfortunate results.”
Styles sighed as the heat warmed his skin and seeped into his body. “Failures? Plural?” He looked about, his eyes taking in the tank and the exam room. “Where the fuck am I?”
“That, Mr. Styles, is a much longer conversation,” Dr. Maszle replied. “First you need to eat and rest. The techs will wheel you to your room.”
“Oh, I can handle that conversation now,” Styles said as he grabbed the sides of the amnio-tank and tried to sit up. “Or not.”
“While electro stimulation and hormone treatments have developed your muscle structure,” Dr. Maszle explained. “You are going to be quite weak for a few days.”
“Fuck,” Styles muttered as he lay back down, his eyes fluttering closed. “I’ll…take…your…word….” In a second he was fast asleep.
Dr. Maszle turned to the techs, her face all business; any trace of excitement gone the moment Styles slipped back into unconsciousness. “I want him monitored at all times. He is never to be left unattended. Understand?”
They nodded and wheeled him from the room. She waited until they were gone and then took a deep breath, leaned against the wall and slid slowly to the floor, letting the breath out as she went down. “Thank you,” she whispered quietly as she crossed herself. “I know this may be an abomination in your eyes, but it is not meant to be. Please understand that.”
She reached inside her shirt and pulled out a medal of St. Luke. She kissed it twice then let it fall back to her chest. A single tear slipped from her left eye and she brushed it away as she got to her feet.
“I need a status report on an ETA of the first viable batch now!” she barked into her com as she hurried from the exam room. “We have a success and I want us ready for full production when the time comes! The Prince’s last orders were to have his air force ready to assist those in need! NOW!”
She thought back on the final encrypted message she had received from the late Russian Prince Alexander Tartarov. His original plan was to be able to sell the clones of Styles along with the illicit, and banned, aircraft that he had designed and had her Brazilian tech company put into production.
His last words had been: “The Three have taken Europe and Asia. The New World is all that is left. Don’t let it fall. Tell Styles I’m sorry for what I’ve done to him, but he needs to know that he may be all that can save what’s left of freedom and the human race from the Three’s forces. Godspeed, Doctor.”
The tracking beacon in the Prince’s aircraft, which was annoyingly called the BTT (Better Than Tits), went dead just seconds after the message had been received.
The dogs whined as the mech rolled up in front of Outpost Tango Charlie, its tracks kicking up a ten foot high wake of snow behind it, but none barked or growled. They had become quite used to the machine coming and going at all hours of the day and night. As the twenty foot tall machine stopped, the tracks on its feet retracted into its massive legs, leaving feet with articulated toes, spread wide over the soft snow.
“How’s it feel today?” Outpost Commander Stephen LaFrance asked over the com as he stepped from the main entrance into the sub-zero weather. The wind whipped at his thermal suit and he instantly cranked the internal temperature up about five degrees. “More responsive?”
“Yes. Quite,” a voice responded over the com. “The transition from track to feet is seamless now. However, I am still a little unsure about this solid state technology.”
“Biochrome,” LaFrance stated. “I know, for an AI that is used to monitoring a thousand different parts and components, having it all integrated will take some getting used to.”
“Until they got their asses blown away,” LaFrance said. “Not many left. Could be fewer still if the Council doesn’t act.”
The mech’s cockpit opened and a sleek, metal figure leapt down into the snow. The dogs growled slightly, but settled down quickly once they caught the figure’s scent.
“Still haven’t found a face?” LaFrance asked as he looked at the smooth metal of the figure’s features. “Come on, Shiner. The guys want to see what face you come up with.”
“A face is not needed,” Shiner responded as he approached LaFrance. “That is a human concept.”
“So is a name,” LaFrance joked. “And you gave yourself one of those.”
“You must be cold,” Shiner stated. “You will expire from exposure to these elements.”
“That’s nice of you to think of that,” LaFrance smiled. “Then how about we get inside and Norton can download your data. Let’s have a look at how you and your mech are working.”
“Of course, Commander,” Shiner said. “I shall follow.”
“This is insane,” Lead Tech Officer Malachi Norton said as he studied his vid screen, Shiner looking over his shoulder uncomfortably close. “The integration rate is not even calculable. This outstrips any of the data Themopolous sent us about the human mech pilots. Even with their Reaper chip to AI integration, this is still quantum levels above that.”
“So it’s fast?” Security Chief Andrew Morris smirked.