Up until now, I’ve been reluctant to share excerpts from any of my novels out of a sense of caution. Novels tend to be judged by different standards than short stories and from a contextual stand-point, it’s much easier to summarize the latter.
However with writing as in all aspects of life, it’s necessary to take risks. City of Steel from which the following chapter is extracted is nearly ready for human consumption anyway: And about time too! Four drafts and nearly ten years in the making…and I’m still not fully satisfied with it. Everyone is their own worst critic! To make matters worse, I’m already working on a sequel under the working title Iron Star Falling.
Stories, like children need to be let out into the world to succeed or thrive or be bullied or to conquer. Below is a taste of a story that began life almost ten years ago in a crappy studio apartment in Dublin and through its sequels will be completed on a different continent.
In the meantime, I’ll let you be the judge. As always, comments or hate-mail are greatly appreciated.
July 7th 2017
CITY OF STEEL
BY CHRIS O’CONNELL
The plot: The year is 2201. After a series of wars and natural disasters, Central America is swallowed by the Pacific and the North American continent is cut off from the rest of the world. In the wake of these horrors an extreme fundamentalist religious sect, the Church of the New Light Reborn, gains followers and launches a crusade to purge the former United States of all other faiths. Their goal is New Philadelphia, the ten thousand foot tall sky-city whom they believe to be the New Jerusalem. After capturing New Philadelphia, the New Light Reborn anxiously awaits the arrival of the Messiah.
But as the years pass with no sign of the Messiah’s return, revolution brews in the City of Steel. To stave off rebellion the city’s theocratic government embarks on a secret plan to purge its rivals.
Enter Hector Dadrian, a private investigator and former soldier haunted by his many war-crimes. When a widow hires Hector to investigate her late husband’s suspicious death Hector and his family are pitted against ruthless crime-lords, conniving merchants, mercenary armies and the theocratic government itself in their search for answers.
Hector Dadrian lay in the bathtub trying not to think of the past but the physical pains caused by memory wouldn’t relent. It was always like that whenever the depression struck. An ache would develop under his shoulder blades then spread up to his neck before curling around his ears and pressing on the soft spots behind his eyes like clenched fists. Soaking in warm water helped relieve the discomfort but not by much.
He stretched out across the bottom of the tub and allowed the water to creep over his lithe body until it reached his chin. Along the way, the water passed over a muscular torso etched with dozens of pale scars. He risked closing his eyes for a moment. Keeping them shut was dangerous because doing so carried the risk that sleep would creep up on him and with it the nightmares.
Water dripped from the leaky faucet, the plinking drops playing a slow staccato rhythm in the pool. He focussed on these regular sounds and took even breaths. Slowly the tension fled his aching muscles and with its retreat the pains in his neck and behind his eyes receded. In their absence sleep filled the void.
It was more a memory than a dream. He was in the ruins of Pittsburgh an MJ-20 carbine humming in his hands. The weight of the long barrelled MJ-35 sniper rifle slung across his back reminded him how exposed he was amidst the ruins of the slums.
Overhead the sky was the same dark colour as his body armour and it surged with the threat of torrential rain. He moved through shattered rubble: Fire blackened grey concrete houses that had once sheltered the urban poor and now the broken second line of defense for the Pittsburgh sky-city now that the Army of the New Light Reborn had breached the outer defenses.
Hector felt alert, nimble and deadly as he jogged between the ruined houses, sighting down the rail-carbine’s barrel, scanning openings and chunks of fallen debris for signs of the enemy and finding nothing but crushed roofs, shattered ruins and dismembered corpses.
To the north, the sky-city was a fifteen hundred metre high knife blade thrusting up and out the ground towards the smoke filled sky. His nose itched from the acrid smoke and from the Silver Dust he’d snorted with Sergeant Rehnquist in the hours before Command ordered his platoon over the top. The Dust killed the stress and the worry of being on the frontlines Rehnquist had said. It helped a guy forget about all the death and all the scattered body-parts that once were friends or innocents.
And where was Rehnquist now? Dead or alive?
Probably. Most of the platoon had been cut down by enemy fire long before they reached the slums.
And what the fuck did any of that matter when he, Hector Dadrian, Elite Scout and Hero of Plum Creek, was alive and moving and ready to ready to win the war!
He ran between two crumbling single story buildings. Caved in roofs, gaping holes in walls, insides filled with burnt furniture and crushed civilians. The shacks had offered little protection from the Philadelphian artillery barrages.
He turned a corner and saw the woman cowering against the wall. Blood and amber liquid ran down her legs. The newborn baby in her arms, naked and wailing as its mother pleaded with Hector not kill them and struggling to shield the infant with her scrawny body… only for Hector to submit to the Silver Dust high, the despair of the campaign and his surging blood-lust and pull the trigger…
He jerked awake so suddenly that water sloshed over the sides of the bathtub. The sound that woke him was the tap of delicate knuckles on the bathroom door. He cursed under his breath and ran his fingers through his hair. From the hallway outside the bathroom came Karolina’s concerned tone: “Hector? You okay in there?”
“Yeah!” he called and pinched the bridge of his nose against the pain flaring behind his eyeballs.
“It’s two o’clock” Karolina persisted. “You wanted me to get you so you wouldn’t be late for your meeting.”
“Be out in a minute” he grunted.
As her footsteps retreated down the hallway, Dadrian took a deep breath and slid his head under the water’s surface. Then when his lungs began to sear for want of fresh oxygen he lifted his head clear and sucked in a deep breath of air. His headache had receded to a distant throb at the back of his skull but the residual memory of the nightmare lingered.
(City of Steel Copyright Chris O’Connell 2008. Reproduction of this work and any characters therein is prohibited. The right of the author has been asserted.)