Hannox, Chapter 1

(After what feels like too little thought, I am going to post up some chapters of a long, long story I wrapped up several years ago.  These will be put up, here and there, just because.  It is future science fiction, cyberpunk flavour)

Hannox could have sworn his morning alarm was louder than usual.  He didn’t recall adjusting the volume, but the thing chirped at him with gusto.

     “Alarm stop,” he said, being intentionally loud; there was no point in having the voice system miss his command.  He lay there for a few moments, trying to shake his fatigue.  The wall display showed the time at 0901.  He didn’t have much to do, but he never let himself get up later than 0900.  It was good to stay busy, if only to keep up the front.

     “Home system, voice activate command,” he said, exaggerating his enunciation for the program.  At least, he could stay in bed for long enough to check messages.

     “Home system responding.  Security code, please,” his ancient, home network responded through the wall speakers.

     “Security code, alpha 4-6-7-2-9 epsilon hummingbird, end code.”  He spoke back to the bedroom receiver, planted in the ceiling.

     “Home system activated.  Good morning, Gerald.”

     “Good morning, program,” Hannox replied.  The good morning bit was, in fact, the third layer of security for the program.  Voice pattern recognition and the basic code could be worked around, but the specific reply to the program greeting would be far harder to figure out.  The system was designed to be an all-purpose, home assistance aid.  It was intended as your message taker, home security, network facilitator, file storage, door opener, etc, etc.  The original launch for the product, Allhome, was nearly two hundred years ago, and product support ended twenty years later.  Allhome was the flagship product of the Home Tech Corporation; they released a few upgrades and some parallel products, but the failure of Allhome was the end of them.  Now, a full-blown Allhome installation was impossibly rare; as far as he knew, Hannox might have the only one in operation.  The approach was security through obscurity.

     “List new voice messages,” Hannox commanded.  He was already sitting up, despite his early intent to keep resting.

     “One new voice message.  Today.  0734.  Maxwell Henderson.  Two seconds.

     Hannox knew what that was about.  There was no need to actually check the message.

     “Delete new voice messages,” Hannox said.

     “New voice messages deleted.

     “Activate agenda,” he kept on.

     “Agenda activated.”

     “List entries, current day,” Hannox ordered.  The agenda was more of a backup, really; it was rare that he forgot about anything.

     “Entry one.  General reminder to review account statement activity…”  The program paused to allow him to modify or delete the entry.  He let it keep going.

     “Entry two.  1045.  Follow up with price quotation at 6978 Filnom Street, Middle Rim…”

     “Expand entry two,” Hannox commanded.  It was an old quote, and he was sure it would amount to nothing, but keeping active with the business was important.  After all, a front was a front.  Hannox couldn’t remember the specifics of the quote; the agenda entry would have the basics he needed to remind him.

     “Entry two expanded.  Price quote for Tyton Star 905x.  Full installation, with and without service.  Two bedroom bungalow, city lot, no interest in package upgrades, no interest in alternate systems.  Original quote of 23,000 credits, five percent discount not offered.  Aldo and Melissa Whitman, retired corpers, middle sixties, sole occupants.  End of entry two…

     The quote was over a month old, meaning it was practically dead in the water.  Better for them, really; Tyton Star was a low-end brand of systems that made a business of renaming obsolete tech to make it sound impressive.  The markup wasn’t ridiculous, but still on the high side.  Aldo had been focussed on a low-cost option, even though he could probably have afforded much better.  Guys like that were more interested in winning the price negotiation than getting value.  Usually, they would bite when the price dropped enough to brag to their friends.  Considering the sale was going cold, five percent was a last ditch offer to close the deal.  The listed price was 23,500, but Hannox always knocked off five hundred for first time customers.  The five percent figure was explained as a Tyton Star rebate that would only be available for a few days.  Even with five percent off, the system still made reasonable money.  Hannox was fairly certain the Whitmans would pass on the offer.  They had either purchased a competing product or decided to stick with a non-automated security system.

     “Entry three.  1400.  Contact Winston.  Discuss apartment maintenance…

     Which was Winston’s way of doing house calls without suspicion.  His real business was arms and ammunition.  Hannox had a Magnus 1400 rifle that used a rare type of ammo; Winston was the only reliable supplier that Hannox knew.  His supply of ammunition for the Magnus was fine, but he planned on spending some range time with it in the coming weeks, so a top up was in order.

     “End of entries.

     “De-activate agenda.  Exit home system.”

     “Home system exiting.  Have a nice day.

     “You, too,” Hannox said.  It was another security prompt for the system.  The security portion of the program had a ton of features that were set to notify him automatically, so there was no point in looking into the security log.  His apartment was in a decent area of the middle rim and there had never been a serious security problem.

     The time was almost 1000 before Hannox finished washing up and eating.  The joy of running a security sales and consulting business as a front was lots of easily-explained down time.  The 1045 call to Whitman was flexible, so there was plenty of time for the real job.  A trip to see his main contact was in order, even if it was a little early.

     The apartment took up the entire second floor of a two story building; the downstairs occupant, a retired accounting executive, was quiet and inconspicuous.  Hannox had thoroughly checked his background after he moved in.  The building was owned by Hamitomi Corporation’s property holdings division.  They owned a lot of buildings in the middle rim.  The choice of a Hamitomi building was intentional; it meant he had no specific superintendent.  His unit was just a number, in a large list of numbers.  The yearly inspections were a farce, a double check that the building was still standing and in good order.  Hannox had made a few interior modifications that weren’t on the books, and though they were technically allowed in his rental agreement, he preferred to keep them to himself.  In six years, he made sure that any repairs and maintenance were done without the knowledge of Hamitomi; and he was sure they didn’t mind.

     The building had an attached garage that was exclusive to him.  The other tenant didn’t own a vehicle, which was perfect.  The garage had also been slightly modified to improve security.  Hannox entered a complex code into the security lock and confirmed with his voice signature.  The lock requested confirmation of the code, and Hannox entered the same code with two characters transposed, opening the lock.

     The car was an older model Honda-Tirudachi 1100 series.  They were reliable, had great longevity, and remained common enough to blend in with traffic.  Like so much else, Hannox had made changes to the car.  The 1100 series came with a one hundred and eighty horsepower engine, which was more than peppy enough for civilian use.  There was an 1100x package that upgraded a few things, but mainly bumped the engine to two hundred horses, and that was downright quick.  Sure, there were bigger engines and faster cars, but very few that weren’t monitored with extra care.  Hannox had made enhancements that would attract no immediate attention, and they were all legal enough that a fine would be his worst punishment, if he ever got caught.  The motor had been adjusted to put out two hundred and fifteen horsepower.  The 1100s also used an old-style power train and transmission, which had been enhanced to give the car maximum acceleration from slow speeds.  Most situations where speed was needed in the city meant getting off the mark quickly; top end speed was rarely a worry because there were very few places it could be reached.  The vehicle had a silicon-based coating that made it resistant to casual ballistic impact and other blunt damage.  The tires had an interior coating to make them self-sealing and nearly wear proof.  He had also installed his car’s transponder into a remote control toy car that he could deploy from the undercarriage.  He had never used it but if he ever got in too deep with the authorities, it would make a great, short-term decoy.  And, like his apartment, there were a couple of hidden compartments for stowing hardware.

When They Hate You Back

(All right, back into the darkness. This is a bizarre and horrific tale that just occurred to me one day. I wrote it very quickly and made few adjustments. If you don’t like your stories weird, stop now; otherwise, enjoy.)

Melissa Perkinns flung her latest outfit against the wall in a fit of rage.

“Fuck!” she yelled.  It was the strongest word she knew; still, it was far weaker than what she felt.

A pile of unpicked clothing lay discarded in the corner, a victim of her picky taste.  I should draw a chalk line around it, Melissa thought spitefully.

Her closet was small, typical for a dorm room, and picked clean of every stitch except for a dirty pair of sweat pants and pyjama top.  Melissa’s anger simmered, unwilling to boil off into the karmic void.  It was too much to deal with and find something to wear at the same time.

Melissa hated her wardrobe.  Sure, it was fashionable enough and new enough to be nice, but it had lost something along the way.  It was not quite right; and that intangible loss ruined the entire value.  She knew she looked good and worked hard to stay fit for the kind of clothes she liked.  But she had reached a lull in her finances.

School ate money faster than she could ever have imagined; and it also meant little opportunity to work for more money.  The clothing budget was slashed to nearly nothing.  The last thing she had added was over a month ago; a simple, grey sweater that would work with several other pieces she owned.  Her credit cards were maxed out, another issue, and family had been bled dry for clothing gifts.

In the end, she made do with a pair of jeans, a white shirt and the grey sweater.  It was as close to what she wanted as she could manage.  Melissa was so outraged that the clothes seemed to burn on her body in rebellion.

When her day ended, she pulled off her clothes and felt relieved to be free of them.  A quick exchange of texts with her closest friends gave no relief; none of them had anything new, either.  Even a couple of old boyfriends spurned her with short, dismissive messages, meaning they had new girlfriends.  She would have put out for a chance at a new clothing option.  Instead, she stood alone and naked, seething with anger that would not stop.

“There has to be something I can do,” Melissa said to the mirror before her, not noticing her gritted teeth.

No new ideas came to her.  She kicked and stomped the pile of clothes for several minutes, finally spitting on it.  Her eyes were wet from the frustration but no sobs came through.

Exhausted from her fit and mentally strained day, she went to bed.  Sleep wear usually escaped her fashion standards, yet she could not bear to wear anything at all that night.  She hated all her clothes.

Nightmares wracked her mind.  She dreamed of her clothes, and how she hated them.  They were so much worse in her nightmare, uglier and uglier each time she looked at them, desperately trying to find something nice.  In the end, she had her familiar pile of clothes on the floor, only different.  This pile had eyes and a mouth.  It was an evil thing, somehow, and it spoke in a crackly, static sounding voice.  The voice was hard to understand at first, as though it were speaking for the first time, however the tone was unmistakable.  Whatever she had felt in term of rage was amplified many times over in the voice of the clothes.

“Bitch,” the clothes spat the first intelligible word.  “You fucking bitch.  You snotty, spoiled whore.  Think you hate us?  Hate us bad?  Well, do we have a nice, bitchy surprise for you, princess?  Fucking right.  Wakey, wakey.  Think you know how to hate…”

Whether it was the power from the clothes’ voice or just the extreme fear she felt at the moment, Melissa woke intensely from her nightmare.  She was too startled to scream, though she wanted to.  Her room was dark but she could feel the presence of something else; something familiar from the malicious feeling it gave off.  She found her phone on the nightstand and lit it up.  She looked into the corner in the dim light of her phone.  The clothes pile was gone.  I must still be dreaming, Melissa thought.

Then the terror returned.

If I am still dreaming, she wondered, what will happen next?

As if in answer, her cell phone slipped from her hand, extinguishing itself as it struck the floor.  Her night vision had faded slightly from the phone’s light, and she could not see where it had fallen.  Instinctively, she reached for it, pawing at the floor below.  Her fingers brushed the rough surface of the cheap carpet before contacting something soft, and she froze in panic.  The pile of clothes!

The soft thing on the floor twisted around her hand before Melissa could recoil.  She frantically pulled back, unable to break the grasp of the clothes, for she knew it could only be that.  She began to scream as more of the clothing lashed further up her wrist and forearm, furthering the hold on her.  Seconds later, the cell phone light came on, illuminating the clothes as they gave a sudden tug, bringing Melissa to the floor.  She started to strike the pile of clothes with her free arm until it, too, was caught.  Pain surged as the bones in her hands began to crack and break under the pressure of the twisting fabric.  Melissa cursed and sobbed, anger and fear dominating her in equal measure.  The clothes latched around her waist.

“I hate you.  I really hate you.”  It was all she could think to say, as her forearms snapped.  A moment later, she could not even breathe; the clothes were wound tight around her midsection.

“We’re the last thing you’ll ever wear, bitch,” the clothes whispered in the static crackle of a voice.  “We hate you back.”

Melissa Perkins blacked out as her clothes pile crushed her into a dead, hateful pulp.

The Rhino, the Bird and the Mouse

(This is a story for children. The inspiration is from Kipling, who is great with this stuff. The story was read aloud many times before I ever wrote it down. A huge change from the last story that I hope you will enjoy. Something more traditional and serious next week.)

     Once upon a time, there lived a rhino, a bird and a mouse.  They all lived on a large plain with plenty of food, water and space for all the animals.

     One season, however, the weather was poor and very little rain fell, so water was scarce and all the animals suffered.  This was a rare thing to happen, but it was known that the plains on the other side of the mountains usually had plenty of water when the other was dry.  Many animals made the journey, and soon the plain was almost empty; but the rhino, the bird and the mouse stayed behind.  The plain had always been their home and they did not want to leave, even if times were difficult.

     After a while, though, they found that the shortage of food and water was too much, and decided to make the trip across the mountains.  The three decided to travel together, seeing how they were going to the same place.  They took a well known pass through the mountains.  The pass was safe and the going easy, but they encountered an obstacle, just as they neared the end of the pass, and it blocked them completely.  A small landslide had left a large pile of rocks across their path, and there was no way around it.  The three travelers stopped for a moment, to think about how they would cross.

     “I am sorry to have to leave you like this,” the bird said, “but I am very hungry and thirsty.  The plains are just beyond this place, and I can fly over these rocks without much trouble.  I’m sure you will find a way across, too.  Good day.”

     The rhino tried to say something, before the bird departed, but the bird did not think that a big, stupid rhino would have anything important to say, and didn’t stop.  The bird flew over the steep pile of rocks and down the other side.  This was very difficult because the bird was used to flying on the plains, where he did not have to fly very high or very far.  So, when he reached the other side of the pass and came to that plain, he was very tired and needed rest.  Unfortunately, a nearby pack of hyenas saw him, and how tired he was, and gave chase.  The bird was too tired to escape, so the hyenas caught and ate him.

     Not long after the bird had left, the mouse grew anxious about getting through the pass.

     “Well, I am also hungry and thirsty,” said the mouse, “so I can’t wait any longer, either.  I am small enough to crawl through these rocks.  I’m sure you’ll find a way past, too.  Good day.”

     The rhino tried to say something, again, but the mouse didn’t think it would make a difference, and kept on going.  The rocks had fallen loosely, so there were plenty of gaps for him to make his way through, just like the narrow mouse tunnels under the plain.  He went quite far, manoeuvering through gaps and cracks and such, until he could almost see the light on the other side.  Then, in his excitement to cross, he tried to squeeze through a tight gap.  He had known it would be tight before he went through, but thought he could wiggle past it.  The rocks, however, were not like the tunnels he was used to on the plain, and wiggling was not working.  This was not a problem, for the mouse was patient and knew he would get out.  Unfortunately, a snake was hunting in the rocks, and saw the mouse was trapped.  The mouse didn’t have time to escape, and was eaten.

     The rhino was alone, now.  He was hungry and thirsty, and badly wanted to get to the new plains, beyond the landslide.  He waited until he thought the bird and mouse would be safely across, and did what he had planned to do all along; only the others hadn’t given him time to say so.  He backed up the pass until he had room for a good, long run at the rocks that blocked him.  He ran at the rocks, as fast as he could, lowering his head at the last moment.  His big body and strong head smashed the boulders aside, and he made it to the other plains; where he found water to drink and food to eat.

(The moral of the story is that cooperation is better than selfinterest. A secondary moral is that we should not make assumptions about the input from others, even if we believe ourselves to be smarter.)

Nothing This Weekend

I will be away this weekend and unable to post anything. I will be driving, listening to podcasts and visiting family, mostly.

If I get ambitious, and I do mean if, a short little piece might get posted early next week. We’ll see.

Cheers.