Welcome to the Chaos Halo series written by Mark Cassell.
Beneath you will find the opening story to the series and the biography of its creator.
Alpha Beta Gamma Kill
A CHAOS HALO STORY
By Mark Cassell
Abigale gripped the man’s neck and pressed the triple-barrels against his temple. She’d recently referred to the weapon as Toothpick but had no idea how that came about. His perspiration collected around the metal and trickled downwards through stubble. His breath stank like he’d been eating from the refuse. Who’s to say he hadn’t? They were in the compactor room where they brought the dead. When she’d found him he was tagging ankles while eating something. She doubted people were that desperate. Rationing was enforced out in the free zones, not inside the main provinces. And especially not within the Complex itself.
Red lights flashed from the ceiling as an alarm erupted around them. It drilled into the room, into her brain. They knew she was there.
“ABG One?” The piercing noise almost drowned his croak. “I recognize you.”
“No,” she whispered. “I’m Abigale now.”
His chin quivered. He was pathetic, useless to her. She had to hurry. “I’ll ask again, where is she?”
His eyes focused on something above her head. “What’s that?”
“Shut up.” She slammed him against the wall and stepped back, dragging the cannon muzzles across his forehead. Dirt streaked and the skin reddened. “That’s my Halo. You’ve upset it.”
A crease wrinkled his brow. “What?”
“Answer me.” She thrust the cannon forward and his head smacked the wall. The sound cracked through that maddening alarm. There was no time for this.
The man grimaced. Most of his teeth were black. “The Cleaners took her body to the tech lab. There…”
“There are parts they can recycle.”
“Of course.” She pulled the trigger.
His head burst in a blur of red. Pieces of skull and brain clung to the wall. The echo of Toothpick’s roar died as the body collapsed. Vapour fogged the room. She knew where the tech lab was. It was where she’d taken her first steps. Perhaps she’d meet some of her in-vitro sisters. She’d heard rumours of tech having been cranked up and they’d begun the Second Generation already. They were more machine than organism.
Abigale sprinted from the room and the alarm roared along the corridors with her. She tightened her grip on the cannon, ready for the Second Gens.
The tech lab was up ahead, behind a pair of double-doors. Rust patterned the dented panels. She kicked one and it swung inwards, creaking as it settled on tortured hinges. The alarm wasn’t as loud in there.
She stepped further into the room. It was deserted and smelled of damp, body odour and grease. Spotlights illuminated the dull bulk of machines hidden in a tangle of conduits and cables. Standing tall and empty were a dozen glass cylinders. In-vitro gel oozed from the open vents in all but the one Abigale had escaped from—it still hadn’t been repaired. Curved shards of glass were heaped at its base and the coils of fertilisation tubes and monitor wire lay severed in a mound of crusted gel. Mould clung to it and climbed a short way up the chamber wall.
From the maze of pipes overhead water—or something else—dripped, echoing louder than the raging alarms.
It must’ve been a year ago now. Perhaps more. For Abigale, so much had happened.
Her Halo throbbed and those familiar glyphs stabbed her peripheral. That only proved her adrenaline was up. Nothing else, she hoped. The glyphs were yet to be explained…and she hated that. She didn’t want to admit they looked alien.
Her only faith was in Toothpick. Especially now she’d stolen those upgrades from thearmoury.
Half in shadow and pushed into a corner, a table sat between a pair of rusted canisters. A sheet draped over it, touching the floor, and failed to hide the unmistakable form of a body. Shouldering her weapon, she rushed over to it. The sheet stuck to her hand, and when she snatched it away blood-caked hair flopped sideways. Dead eyes stared back and Abigale recalled when those eyes smiled. It had been only yesterday…
* * *
In the free zones, Abigale had been sheltering beneath a viaduct as the rain pummelled the broken pavement. The girl came from the shadows and was hunched into her greatcoat. From the raised collar her hair was like a bright pink bubble.
The girl lifted her head. “Got any mutrients?” A dark tattoo curled down her cheek like a skinny finger. She was a Triber, probably from a part of the outlands bled dry for its minerals. The minerals that were a key ingredient to the pill she now asked for. That was what people survived on these days. There was no organic food; only manufactured nutrient pills. Mutrients, nicknamed in respect for the mutant genocide a decade ago. The Hilt—the New World Authorities—were behind that.
“I’m not a dealer.” Abigale dropped her hand from the cannon. This girl was harmless.
“Yea, but you must have some.”
Abigale leaned back against a girder. The girl’s boots were laceless and the greatcoat was a patchwork of worn-leather. She smelled of the grime she no doubt lived in, but her face and hair defied the otherwise-lack of hygiene. “What do you have that I may need?”
“These?” She pulled out a pair of goggles. They had a thick strap and molded rims, and the eyepieces were attached by an adjustable rod. Perfect if you wanted to fly a tiltpod, though such contraptions were no longer commonplace. Because of the spore-clouds most fliers were decked with proper cockpits and wraparound windshields.
Abigale curled her lip. “Why would I want them?”
“You look like you need them.”
She stood straighter. “What?”
“You’re squinting.” The girl shrugged. “It’s like you see something no one else can.”
Perhaps this girl wasn’t your average Triber. Was she a mutant with psych-perception? She spoke of the glyphs. As Abigale thought of them, those flickering symbols pressed into her vision. Yes, she knew she sometimes squinted.
“So,” said the girl whose grin almost split her face in two, “you are interested?”
“How will they help?”
“Here.” She pushed them into Abigale’s hand.
Water specked the glass but they were otherwise clean. She hooked them over her head and pulled them down. No need for adjustment.
Those alien glyphs shrank.
After a moment, Abigale whispered, “How did you know?”
“I see stuff.”
Abigale looked past the girl and into the rain, into the blackness of dead buildings. The glyphs were still there yet somehow subdued. A welcome relief. “Okay, how many mutrients?”
“How many you got?”
“Enough.” She pushed the goggles up to her forehead. “Two weeks?”
“Three, no more.”
“You think four is—” A roar of laser pulses echoed and the girl’s greatcoat billowed in shreds of leather and flesh and bone. Red mist blended with the rain as her body slid across the pavement. Both legs, from the knees down, spun out into the shadows. One boot fell off and splashed a puddle.
Abigale crouched behind a stone block. Sprayed across the area near her head were the words, Resist the Hilt—a common slogan in the free zones. She clutched her cannon and stretched for a view of the gunners. The smell of cauterised flesh and burnt leather clawed up her nose.
Beyond the girl’s body and the smouldering upheaval of what once served as a loading bay, two jets hovered above the twists of a chain-link fence. It was the Hilt—bored militants out for late-night target practice. Below them, the fence rattled as energy spheres spat lightning downwards, holding the vehicles aloft. Their front-mounted guns whirred and cranked, seeking a target. The muzzles glowed and beams tore through the ground, reaching for her. The stone shook as Abigale pressed against it.
She sprang to her feet and charged for the derelict darkness.
The sewer network beneath the old city proved an easy route to evade the Hilt. A lot of people lived down there, and a lot of people had died down there. The Hilt cared little for anything or anyone outside the Complex.
They did, however, care for those who escaped.
* * *
Now, inside the Complex, Abigale looked at the remains of the girl. Broken arms hung from a legless torso, little more than a mess of coat-folds and flesh. The skin around her neck had fused with her clothes in a web of blisters. One cheek had melted and lengthened her mouth into a twisted grimace. Dried blood peppered her forehead and her eyes stared past Abigale, above her head as if she still saw the Halo. What else could the girl’s psych-perception have revealed?
She tugged a packet of mutrients from a jacket pocket and placed it beside that matted, dull-pink hair.
“Four weeks’ worth,” Abigale murmured.
Thundering feet echoed from a distant stairwell.
She pulled her goggles down and thumbed Toothpick. It vibrated as the upgrades kicked in.
This time she was ready for them.
Mark Cassell often dreams of dystopian futures, peculiar creatures and flitting shadows. He is a freelance writer, published poet and author of supernatural horror and dark fantasy. After travelling the world, he returned with wider eyes and became a member of the Brighton Writers Retreat. He now lives in a rural part of the UK with his wife and a number of animals.
His stories can be found in several anthologies; most recently in Dragon: Ten Tales of Fiery Beasts and in the Hell’s Garden Anthology. He is excited to see his Chaos Halo series as a regular feature in Future Chronicles, and is currently in the final drafts of a supernatural horror novel, The Shadow Fabric.
You can read his blog at www.beneath.co.uk and find him on: