823 words (3 minute read)

Prologue

 

Alyx could feel her Soul thrashing against her skin, like a caged beast begging to be free. Every fiber of her being was in agony; the pain from the knife wound in her gut paled in comparison. She ducked behind the corrugated walls of a collapsed shelter, steadying herself as her blood-soaked legs buckled beneath her. The hiding place reeked of the familiar smell of piss and gasoline; much like the rest of the Outer City.

A patrol of Szeven militia marched past her moments after, their heavy combat boots crunching debris with rhythmic unison. Their sterile white uniforms and stormtrooper-like helmets made them quite the sight - certainly more so than any of the dust-soaked refugees shying away from them. Any sensible parents were ushering their children inside right now, whilst the gang members quickly stashed away their Expy. No-one would have batted an eyelid at the sight of a blood-soaked Runner hobbling down the road. They knew better than to get involved in other people’s business. But Szevens outside of the Inner City? That was never a good thing. Charon’s militia only ever got involved beyond the walls for one of two reasons: terrorism, or corporate espionage. And in their eyes, they were one and the same.

Hurry the Hell up, Alyx thought to herself, waiting for the marching to cease. There seemed to be an endless supply of the soldiers today.

She looked down at her bloodstained hands, wincing as she eased the pressure off of the stab wound in her abdomen. Blood spurted from the already necrotic wound. It was both wide and deep, most likely an inch into her abdomen. The implants in her thighs were already working overtime just to keep her standing, pulsing with every heartbeat and releasing all manner of clotting factors and antibodies direct into her bloodstream. It was a strangely pleasant feeling, though that may well have been the opiates talking.

There was an audible crack as Alyx’s spine spasmed as a new wave of pain took her. She bit down on her hand to keep herself from crying out, breaking skin. She noticed the blood leaking from beneath her nails, and the cracks opening in her palms. She was going to need a new shell; no doubt about that.

"Call Harriet," she wheezed, commanding her commlink to her mother.

"Hey Alyx," the answer was almost immediate, Harriet’s voice soft and deliberate, and well enunciated. The polar opposite of the Runner’s. "You still on your feet?"

"Barely," Alyx whispered, still waiting for the militia to go out of sight. "Bitch stabbed me. Vibro. Got a lid on all the bleeding but this shell ain’t gonna make it. Get Adrian to prep for a Recuva, and a clone on standby. Feel like I’m about to explode."

"Shit," Harriet replied, concern marred by resignation. "I’m on it. Adrian is on his way; he says to watch out. Chatter on SNet says Charon’s moving on the local Penitents. They’re taking a whole army dear."

"I know, I can see them."

"I don’t like this Alyx."

"What’s not to like? Can’t say they don’t have it coming. Bloody Luddites," Alyx said, heaving a small sigh of relief. At least the Szevens weren’t out for her this time. Surprising, given how she’d just lamped one of their most prized assets.

Alyx eyed up her surroundings, looking for a quick escape route. All she had to do now was run faster than they could ID and shoot her. If they weren’t actively after her, that gave her a chance. Besides, she wouldn’t want to distract them. Shooting Penitents was one thing they actually agreed on.

She dashed for it, keeping as low and inconspicuous as a Runner trailing blood and plagued by rampant chorea could be.

"You good?" Harriet asked. "You’ve gone quiet."

"I’m fine. Besides you should see the other gal."

"You’re running out of lives."

"Yeah yeah," Alyx muttered, checking behind her to see if she’d been followed. The Szevens were still coming, pouring from the Inner City like a snow-white oil spill.Corporate Security. It was mind-boggling just how they’d gotten to be so powerful. At least they were focused. If they had noticed her, they didn’t show it. "Think I’m in the clear."

"Good. Now get your ass over here."

"Alright H, see you-"

A small child, eight or nine years old, appeared in front of her, hands outstretched. His face was marred with grease and grime, long hair knotted and full of debris. He looked severely malnourished, like most of the urchins around here. His eyes plead, hungry, looking straight into Alyx’s eyes.

And then he vanished into nothingness.

"-soon."

DeadNet. Now there was something she wouldn’t be getting used to any time soon.

 

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Next Chapter: I - Fixing Alyx