Okay, more like six months, but these three-thousand-or-so words are the first new SlamDance I've put on the web since, well, 2004 at least. It's changed some since back then; you'll notice a few new names and ideas in this. there's more to come, and I need to knock my rambling background bullet points into some sort of coherent shape, but I just wanted to show this off, for better or worse.
A few of you may have read this already in earlier forms, and it may change again later, but for now, enjoy.
Even nineteen storeys below, people were startled by the violent shattering of safety glass. They might have been forgiven for thinking that a meteorite had suddenly hurtled out of the office window halfway up Australia Square. It sped through the air with barely a downward arc over four lanes of Friday night Sydney CBD traffic and through a fourteenth-storey window on the other side of George Street. Several desks, partitions and filing cabinets caved before its momentum until the object was arrested just as brutally by a concrete pillar.
It sucked in a deep breath laden with concrete dust and yelled in agony.
“Slam! Are you okay?” a voice said between its ears.
The 2.4 metre, red being tentatively moved protesting limbs. “No,” it gasped, “but I'm alive.”
“I heard o' budget flights, Slamdance, but next time front the readies for the wings, eh, bro? What happened?”
A grin rapidly melted into a grimace of pain as Slamdance staggered to his feet. “I'm also lucky that golem has a good pair of throwing arms.” He put his hands above his knees and took another shuddering breath, fighting to clear the pain and dizziness. “I could have – akhh – been smeared all over the pavement.”
“Yeah, I saw your human cannonball act from down 'ere. How'd you let it get that close?”
“It set a trap, Rev,” he said. “Used some people trying to get out as a distraction.”
“What the hell? Most golems don't think about more'n their job. Forget ambushes, man, that thing just got lucky.”
“I'd agree,” Slamdance replied, blinking to clear concrete dust and chipboard fragments out of his glowing blue eyes, and looked to the window he'd just arrived through. “Except those people were only trying to get out because the doors were barricaded shut.”
“You serious? Hostages?” the voice said. “What's a golem need hostages for?”
“As soon as my back stops arguing with me I'll go and ask it.”
“Yeah. Wait up... Lissen, bro, you're top of the chart on COP FM right now. Ain't long 'til TRS get all up in the house.”
A chill whent up Slamdance's spine. “Oh, no; that'll be a blood bath.”
Slamdance gasped as he jogged, then ran back toward the gaping hole in the window. A few paces from the ledge, he sprang, placed both feet on the very threshold like a long jumper, then leapt up and out – and the rocket nozzles that had unfurled like flowers from underneath the armour-skin on his back spat blue flame, hurling him back across George Street.
He was still gaining altitude when the exhausts on his right hand side suddenly flared and sputtered.
Damage from the fall, he thought. Instead of back inside Australia Square, his new trajectory took Slamdance straight to the lip of the building where the bottom of the broken window met concrete flooring. Sparks whirled in Slamdance's vision as his breath was squeezed from his lungs – and then gravity began to pull him back out of the window again. He scrabbled frantically for purchase on the carpet, but to no avail. “Oh fuck! Slam! MIKE!” Rev yelled in his head-
A massive, metal claw wrapped itself about Slamdance's right arm. All three hundred kilos of him were yanked upward as if he were a rag doll.
“What part of 'go away' do you not understand?” the golem roared, drawing its huge yellow-and-black-striped right arm back for a punch that would probably take Slamdance's head off. The voice between his ears was yelling frantic profanities.
Quick as a striking cobra, Slamdance pivoted on his right shoulder, ignoring the agony of torn muscles, driving both his feet into the golem's exposed flank. The golem yelled in pain and staggered backward into the dark office, off balance, right arm now flailing. Twisting his battered muscles yet further, Slamdance brought his left arm up and across. With a snap, a triad of blades sprung from Slamdance's forearm, fastening about his fist; he slashed them across the thick black hose running along the golem's left arm from its back. Hydraulic fluid spewed across Slamdance, but the golem's grip loosened and he dropped to the floor. In a flash, he was back on his feet in a fighting crouch, snapping another triangle of knives out of his right arm.
“You're a series four industrial work unit,” Slamdance said, eyeing the golem uncertainly. “You shouldn't be able to string a sentence together.”
“Definitely not bright, stating the bleeding obvious,” the golem replied.
“Yeah?” said the voice between Slamdance's ears, “A three-metre golem in a lifting suit breaking into a CBD office building ain't world-class dumb-arse?”
The golem struck out with its right arm. Slamdance swayed out of the way on his hips, jabbing out in return but scoring only a glancing blow. “Whatever you're doing here,” Slamdance said, “holding people won't help. Let them go.”
The industrial golem laughed, swinging out again; Slamdance had to vault backward over a work cubicle, which the golem demolished a split second later. “And have their police come storming up here with their guns? You are stupid, Slamdance. Yes, I know what they call you,” it said. “I don't just talk. I listen. I watch.”
Slamdance's surprise nearly cost him his head when the golem snapped off a right jab faster than its exoskeleton should have allowed. He let the momentum of his frantic dodge pivot him about his centre of gravity, turning it into a leaping kick that clanged into the metal rollcage protecting the golem's head, buckling it inward. He regained his feet and punched out again as the golem staggered to its right, retracting the blades on his right hand at the last instant and striking with his fist. It was enough to unbalance the golem even further, and with a desperate bellow it toppled over.
Slamdance hurdled the flailing yellow beast and ran, ignoring the pain each jolting step sent throughout most of his bruised, taxed body. Up ahead was the end of an access corridor leading to one of the fire stairs. The golem had fashioned a crude barricade by ripping the metal sliding doors out of one of the lifts (whose controls had been ripped out) and shoving them into the fire exit's alcove, over the door's release catch. That fact didn't stop a group of fearful people beating at it, begging to anyone who might have been listening to be let out.
Upon seeing the tall being with glowing eyes bearing down on them, the crowd panicked, crying and flattening themselves against the door. Slamdance quashed the urge to try and calm them down, let them know he wanted to help them; the golem would be back on its feet and pursuing any second. He pushed through the crowd to the door, took a firm grip on the bent metal and pulled.
Days before, Slamdance and Rev had decided to test Slamdance's strength. They discovered he could fairly comfortably bench press a four hundred kilogram Honda Valkyrie for several repetitions; if he pushed himself, he could even press the chassis of a car. At the time, of course, he hadn't just been mauled by over a ton of angry construction equipment. Muscles pushed beyond endurance yelled as he tried to pull the metal door away from the exit, but it only gave a few centimetres before its edges dug into the walls and stuck fast.
Slamdance took a few frantic breaths, then re-deployed the blades in his left arm and punched into the door. The metal shrieked but sheared, giving way above the exit's lock release. He pulled the ragged edges open, exposing the opposite panel of the lift door. Just a little more to go and -
“Filthy traitor!” the golem snarled. Its huge hand clamped about Slamdance's shoulder and he was yanked backward. The golem stepped backward, dragging him away from the door and the screaming people, then pivoted on its waist and threw him. Yet more office partitions shattered as Slamdance hurtled all the way across the office and into a wall. Plasterboard gave way and he found himself hanging into a cleaner's supply cupboard. Someone left this closet's door open, he thought, fighting to clear his vision of all the blotches and stars. Of all the strange things to notice when you're about to die.
“Slam, don't say that shit,” Rev spoke between his ears. “Get out if you gotta!”
Didn't realise I was thinking out loud, Slamdance thought.
The dull thump of heavy footfalls sounded behind him. “They work us beyond tolerance, they drive us into fury, they kill us with their police, they treat us worse than pets. We're just...” the golem searched for a word. “Toys. Played with until we break and chucked in the bin.” Its tread advanced across the office toward him, then stopped. Blearily, Slamdance looked up over his shoulder and beheld the golem, a welt swelling above its right optic, standing stock still in the middle of the wrecked office, looking away... into, of all places, the office's kitchen area.
“Not one of them cares for any of us,” it said, speaking quietly for the first time that night, turning back toward Slamdance. “And you... you help them,” it snarled. “You'll come after us, just like them, unless I stop you now.”
Slamdance got his hands up on the edge of the hole in the wall and pushed himself up and around as the golem began to advance again. “You'd...” he gasped. His legs gave way and he fell on his rear, facing the monster. “You'd go that far? Even you'd see... that as murder.”
“If you die now, you get to miss out on fury,” the golem said, resuming its lumbering stride toward him. “That's how you must have justified it, didn't you, all those times? Putting malfunctioning golems out of their miseryyyyeeeEEE!”
Had Slamdance not seen it with his own eyes, he mightn't have believed it. A metal ladder snaked out from between a pair of desks right in front of the massive golem's feet while it talked. It trod down in exactly the wrong spot; whoever had pushed the ladder out lifted it slightly so that it hooked about the golem's ankle and then let it catch against another desk. Caught off balance, the golem toppled once again, falling straight on its face before his feet.
A young woman darted up from behind one of the desks, brandishing a large bottle of caustic cleaning chemical. Just as the golem got its arms under it, she unscrewed the lid and dumped the contents directly into the heat vents on the back of the golem's exoskeleton. There was a sizzling snap and a flash of sparks as the chemical ate into the hydraulic pumping gear. The golem roared again and flames sprang from its metal backpack; just as quickly, the woman raced to the wall, picked up a fire extinguisher and doused the golem as it cursed at her.
Dishevelled blonde locks tossed in the fitful emergency lighting as she looked over at Slamdance and smiled. “Looks like I saved your life, Slamdance! I guess we're even!”
He returned her smile, albeit bemusedly (and pained). “I don't keep a tally, Kaylee Stewart,” he wheezed.
“WHAT?” the voice in his head exploded, forcing him to wince. “Kaylee's up there? What's she doing there?”
“Shut up, Rev,” Slamdance growled, then winced again as Kaylee gasped.
“Shut up, my sweet cheeks,” the voice replied. “I'm comin' the fuck up there.” There was a click as Rev shut the radio connection off.
“Great,” Slamdance moaned. “See what you've done, Kaylee? Now I've got two of you to take care of.”
“You're in no fit state to take care of anyone,” Kaylee said, stepping gingerly past the golem and over to him, slipping an arm about his back. “Lemme give you a hand there.”
Slamdance gasped in pain as he tried to get to his feet. “Don't worry about me,” he wheezed, “I heal quickly. Anyway, what're you doing here?”
“As if you need to ask,” Kaylee replied, smirking as she supported his three hundred kilograms as best she could. “All good reporters scan the police band. A 'golem-related incident' call goes out, you're never far away. But now what do we do?”
Slamdance took a couple of tentative steps away from the golem, now cursing both of them with language that could have come from a barful of navvies, and inhaled deeply through his nose. “The only thing we do is getting those people away from the stairwell door. Once I clear the barricade, you get everyone to safety, yourself included.”
“Oh, now, that's a joke,” Kaylee replied as they staggered forward. “Let those twits in ties go, Tactical Response comes up the steps, bye-bye... well, bye-bye exclusive interview.”
Slamdance looked down at her, shocked. “You'd risk their lives just to talk to me?”
Kaylee snorted. “Risk? What, the fact that a five-foot-nine girl neutralised the golem that beat up big, bad Slamdance too much for your ego?”
There was a hiss and a loud metal clunk behind them, and the golem roared in triumph. Slamdance nodded and met Kaylee's eyes. “That's one of the safety interlocks on the golem's lifting frame, Kaylee. In less than three minutes it'll be free again.”
Kaylee's brown eyes flicked back over her shoulder, trying not to let the fear creeping across her face show.
“Even outside its frame, I'm not much good tying to stop it if I'm getting between it and you,” Slamdance continued. “Besides, a commendation for bravery will probably get your blog a few more hits and a bonus from the boss.”
Kaylee met his gaze. “And you?”
Slamdance looked back toward the office kitchen. “If I can figure out what it wants, then I hope it'll listen to reason.”
Kaylee snorted, but pulled him out of the office with a particular urgency. “Fine, then.”
The whimpering of the crowd turned to shrieks again as the two of them rounded the corner, but Kaylee's barked “Shut up, you wimps!” stunned them into silence. They eased around the pair as they lurched toward the twisted lift door. Slamdance pried more metal back, reached through the hole and pressed the emergency release lever on the stairwell's door. It obediently swung open, a three-foot rectangle of escape between the floor and the bottom edge of the lift door.
Slamdance staggered back and away, out into the waiting area for the lifts. He sagged against the wall as Kaylee started herding the uncertain crowd toward the exit. Quickly realised that escape was at hand, they barged along the short access corridor, ducked under the barricade and ran down the steps.
Kaylee saw the last out and turned to Slamdance. “Just don't get killed or anything, okay? 'Cause, y' know, I still want that exclusive!”
Slamdance shook his head and smiled as she left, then staggered back into the office.
“You stay away from there,” the monster growled as Slamdance stepped past it toward the kitchen. “They won't need their guns, I'll kill you myself!”
In the light from the kitchen's emergency exit sign, Slamdance made out a heavy fabric tarpaulin on the dining table. Something shivered within it. Its weight bowed the thick plastic table only slightly. Slamdance frowned as he hobbled over to it. Whatever it was, why put it in the kitchen? Maybe defensive reasons; there was only the one entrance. Yet industrial golems shouldn't have any instinct for combat. Yet still, industrial golems couldn't talk beyond responses and basic situational prompts.
Another thump, then another. The golem was halfway out of its powered exoskeleton, and it would be a handful of minutes before Kaylee and the civilians got to the ground floor and Tactical Response moved in. Slamdance needed an answer now. He reached for the tarp.
“NO, YOU MURDERING FUCK!” the golem shouted, its roar tinged now with desperation. “LEAVE HER ALONE!”
It was answered by a mewling cry from within the blanket.
Slamdance looked out at the golem, its eyes riveted on his reaching left hand – which, he realised suddenly, was still caged within his blades. He flexed his muscles, and with a pop they disappeared back into his arm. Slowly, over the golem's desperate cries, he pulled the blanket away.
In the scant few months since he first opened his eyes, Slamdance had always been surprised at how inventive people were with invective. He'd heard oaths against deities, messiahs, prophets, coitus, politicians, fecal matter and worse. Yet none of them came close to expressing his horror at what he beheld.
Slamdance's taxed strength left his legs and he collapsed back on the linoleum floor, his back fetching up against the wall. Precious seconds ticked by as he sat, staring dumbly at the bundle of trembling, whimpering thick cloth on the table.
His next conscious realisation was that he was already getting gingerly to his feet. Part of Slamdance noted that he was moving more easily than a bare minute ago – his repair systems were already hard at work.
He looked back at the golem. Its limited musculature left it virtually incapable of facial expression, but it seemed to be... pleading with its optics.
Slamdance stepped back through the kitchen entryway. The golem twitched away, but he knelt and started twisting the emergency release clasps, unfastening the rest of the exoskeleton. The golem stood warily, easing out of the dead framework of metal and plastic tubing, the emergency light catching the reflective safety markings in its yellow skin.
“I'll give you as much time as I can,” Slamdance said. “There's a young man on his way up here now. His name is Fred. Tell him Mike wants him to get you both back behind the curtain. He'll understand.”
The golem looked at him for a few seconds, then shrugged and nodded. They stepped past each other, the golem ducking as it went through the kitchen doorway. Slamdance's eyes adjusted to the darkness as he surveyed the office. Too cramped, too much cover. No escape routes barring the way he came back in, and his damaged jump system wasn't good for breaking his fall any more. He could climb, but the police likely had a twenty-millimetre cannon on a nearby rooftop already.
“What about you?” the golem called. Slamdance looked back over his shoulder; it was standing at the table, preparing to gingerly lift the bundle.
Slamdance returned its shrug. “Do you care?”
The golem looked away. It bent over the table, reached forward and -
The emergency exit light went out.
“What the hell?” the golem rumbled. Slamdance looked about him. Every independently-powered emergency light on the floor had suddenly stopped shining. The only light left was coming from the top floor of the office building on the other side of the road.
Click. “Slam?” The voice between his ears was back.
“Rev?” he replied. “What's going on?”
“Do you hear that?” the golem said.
“Fucked if I know, bro. I'm two floors down from you and all the lights went out.”
“Did you see Kaylee?”
“Nah, man. Musta went down the other stairs. But listen, somethin's odd's goin' down -”
“Someone's got a radio on somewhere,” the golem said. “Weird. It sounds...”
“Like singing,” Kaylee said.
Slamdance's head snapped around. The blonde woman was standing there in the corridor to the lifts, looking up, around, listening to something that kept eluding her.
“Rev, I really have to go,” he mumbled, turning toward her.
“Just lissen, man. Someone called the cops off.”
Slamdance froze. “What?”
“Yeah,” the golem said, stepping back out of the kitchen. “Like someone's singing this weird song that you can't quite...”
“Like it's just out of the corner of your ears,” Kaylee said, nodding, walking forward.
Slamdance shook his head. Isolate comm channel and process audio, he thought, and a subroutine began analysing the waveform input from his ears. Ambient (distant): Saturday night city noise; traffic, horns, sirens. Ambient (vicinity): Air conditioning under load, air movement (pressure differential at window), low-level electrical activity. Close: Respiration (golem, Kaylee), cardiovascular rhythm (Kaylee), modified cardiovascular rhythm (golem). No, the only voice he could hear was the one saying “- the barricade and TRS are back on the leash. This is really nuts, bro.”
Slamdance shook his head and stepped toward Kaylee – who suddenly gasped, eyes wide, fixed on something behind him.
He lunged forward, but something ferociously sharp bit into his calf, and there was an ear-splitting shearing and grinding noise behind him. He cried out in pain, struck the floor and rolled onto his back.
There in the midst of the office was a shadow that stood, a figure that absorbed light. Its outline hinted at a cloak and a hood, but the only thing he could make out was the shining silver sword in its hands; a sword whose tip was embedded in the concrete floor at the end of the deep gouge it had scored after slicing through his leg.
“You again,” Slamdance gasped.
With a careless flex of its shoulders, the shadow freed the sword from the concrete. In one smooth arc, the blade swung up, over and back down toward his throat.
Yes, there's more to come. It's just not quite finished yet. Stay tuned!