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Shadow - Novelisation

By Murray Smith
Page 1 of 8

The whole island, you know, was one enormous hotel, complex beyond explaining, and on the other side there were miles of floating hotels, and huge floating stages to which the flying machines came. They called it a pleasure city.

H.G. Wells, 'A Dream of Armageddon'.

Space City. The space station whose name was so recognised as a byword for pleasure and vice that first contact was made there with several inquisitive alien species. A place where crime was properly organised.

One of its most powerful citizens - though he held no official position - was in his quarters examining the contents of a bag of gems. Dressed in a rich brown suit, and a white shirt with a high collar and ruffled cuffs, he sat cross-legged on a grey rectangular cushion, atop a pile of raised pink and orange platforms. The white walls and ceiling of the room were a counterpoint to the platforms and to the two sculptures present, one free standing, the other on one wall.

The young man and woman who entered the room were in direct contrast to it and its owner. Both were barefoot, dressed in ragged brown garments that were fading to grey, with corpse-pale skin and greying hair. Their appearance was typical of the group they belonged to, a group given, among many others, the nickname of 'the walking dead'. While the man, Bek, remained standing, the woman, Hanna, sat down on a lower platform, both waiting for the owner to speak.

The latter did not look directly at the two, sparing his gaze for the gems. "You did well," he observed.

"The owner didn't think so." Bek's voice was cynical.

"Did you kill him?"

"Were we supposed to?"

"It's tidier." The owner was in an instructive mood.

Bek's voice was more cynical. "Well, it's easy to be tidy from where you sit, Largo." He turned and moved away after finishing his statement.

Unaccustomed to this irreverent behaviour, Largo looked directly at Bek. His lips curled back as he said, "Don't get clever, dream head."

Hanna spoke for the first time, sounding as cynical as Bek. "That wasn't the deal."

Largo looked at her. "The deal was whatever I say it was," he explained, thankful that they had enough intelligence and were not too addicted to have done the job. His enforcers were too recognisable for some work; and Bek and Hanna's kind could go places the others could not. They also cost far less.

To remind the two of their proper position, he set down the gems, and took the clear top half off a spherical container on the top platform, exposing a tray whose holes were mostly filled with small, golden coloured balls, that looked only just solid. Largo picked out one. "I own you, dream heads," he explained.

Hanna's reaction was to crawl closer to Largo; but she was stopped by his raised right hand and an "Unhuhhhh. What do you say?" It sounded like a parody of a father trying to teach manners to his little daughter.

Hanna gave a faint smile. "Please, Largo."

Largo's mouth was turned down. "Awwww, come on. You need it more than that."

Hanna held out her right hand and repeated her request. "Please, Largo."

Largo now held the golden ball between the thumb and index finger of his left hand, leaving it clearly visible. "Pure shadow," he lectured unnecessarily, as all three of them knew what it was made of, his face briefly contorting with what looked like mirth that was quickly cut off. "You won't just die without it; you'll die in terrified agony." As Largo distinctly pronounced the last sentence, he placed the ball of shadow down on the top platform, out of Hanna's reach.

His provocation was too much for her; she made a half-lunge for the ball, her face a look of desperation, which was also in her one word request. "Please."

Largo was satisfied with her desperation. "Goooood. All right." He shoved her roughly backwards, then turned his gaze on Bek. "I want your brother to ask for it." Bek held out his right hand. Largo picked up the ball, displayed it to him between the fingers of his left hand. "One word from me, and your supply is gone...," Largo closed his fingers over the ball, hiding it, "...forever."

Bek and Hanna were as still as the room's two sculptures. The former's voice broke the silence. "You've been paid."

"Prove it." Largo still wanted to toy with them.

"I thought that honour was a big thing with the Terra Nostra." Bek sounded like a student who had been deliberately given the wrong textbook.

Largo was having none of this. "We own you, boy," he lectured, and again displayed the ball of shadow.

"Please, Largo. Please." Bek moved slowly forward, right hand outstretched and head bent.

Largo was satisfied. "That's better. We owned you from your first tiny drop of shadow." Again, he distinctly pronounced the last several words, while again placing the ball down, turning his head away from Bek; so he did not immediately notice the latter taking his own gun - which he had carelessly left beside him - and pointing it at his own head, until he turned to face him again. His surprise as such an unexpected reaction was evident on his face.

"Use shadow?" Bek's voice was contemptuous, his hidden hate at Largo and the others who ran the Organisation at last finding an outlet. They demanded that he and others carry out their dirty work - which they claimed was 'just a job' - quietly and competently, without excessive enthusiasm, and pocketed the profits gained from such 'work'. "Do I look that stupid?" Largo moved slightly. "Oh, try it!" was the response.

"Hanna." He ordered his sister, who grabbed the ball of shadow. She then moved to the gems, saying, "There are the two he promised..."

Bek cut her short with another order. "Enough. The gems." Hanna obeyed, putting them in the bag, to his comment of "Good."

"Nobody steals from the Terra Nostra." It was a statement of fact from Largo, with a hint of amusement at their presumption.

"We're innovators," was Bek's explanation.

"You're dead." Again the hint of amusement.

Bek gave his sister more orders. "Out, Hanna. Casual, don't run." He then gave Largo orders. "Face down, Largo. Quickly. Quickly! Now close your eyes." Largo hastened to obey, lying down. He would have his revenge later.

"And stay like that." Bek gave his last order and left the room, first dropping a crystalline data cylinder into a recorder as he went.

A few seconds after he heard the room's doors closing, Largo started to raise his right leg. Bek had predicted such a reaction; so the recorder played an appropriate threat from the cylinder. "Go ahead and try it. Killing a Terra Nostra pusher will be the best fun I've had all day. You stupid murdering scumball." The satisfied tone betrayed the pleasure Bek had in making the recording, which had the desired effect; Largo lowered his leg quickly.

A few minutes later, Bek met Hanna in a nearby passageway, at a triangular window that looked out to space.

"They'll catch us." Hanna's voice was apathetic and hopeless.

Bek ignored her, and gave new orders. "Get Peety meet me at Launch Grid 6 in twenty minutes."

"Nobody gets away from them." His sister sounded like a supporter of Largo.

Bek was suddenly irritated, but suppressed it. "We will," he declared. "Look, I can get a ship."

"Launch clearance, what about launch clearance?"

Bek counted out some of the gems from the bag. "The crew on Grid 6 are for sale."

"It's too late, Bek." Hanna still saw all this as hopeless. While Bek was always aware that her apathy was a normal symptom of being a dream head - a shadow addict - his patience with her began to run out, particularly as victory was in sight. Looking her in the eye, he gripped her shoulder and pointed at her with the second finger of his other hand, invoking their mother's memory, a form of emotional blackmail he hated using but felt was necessary in this case.

"Hanna, she told me to look after you and Peety. That's what I'm trying to do. Grid 6, twenty minutes. Right? Right?" The last question was almost a shout.

Hanna appeared to comprehend his urgency. "Right," she replied, nodding. Both left in different directions.

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