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a Science Horror story

by John Argo


title by John ArgoKanon dozed on the gravity shuttle, his narrow, unshaven face nuzzling against its reflection in the fuselage window as the night city seemed to rise around him. It was the illusion of night, of lights and fog and descending from space, he realized. For better or for worse, with all of its promise and terrors, it was he who was descending into the maw of the city, whose lights and windows seemed to form a prison of mirrors all around the descending shuttle.

Kanon had made it this far, but now the most dangerous part of his journey would begin. If he succeeded, he could chew stars in his teeth and laugh with the gods. If not, he would leave only his last desperate finger scratches on the slimy walls of Hammerkill.

His exhaustion from the long and nauseating trip through the interstellar Deepweave, or Temporale, had caught up with him while the barge hovered amid endless delays in the black of space. The unreflective ball of the ground port was dotted with tiny white figures like insects crawling under huge loads.

Startled, Kanon awoke when the shutters snapped open, revealing pale blue sky with sickly orange-brown streaks of cloud. He had fallen asleep as the craft drifted in controlled free fall the last hour or so of its descent toward the city's outskirts. Already, night was falling. Already, a shroud of darkness rushed like a tidal wave over the horizon.

The barge bumped twice, landing in a small valley of broken stones.

"Terraform 345," a speaker announced. "Terraform City. Please gather your belongings and move forward to the customs station." Kanon uttered a short prayer to Almighty, the Dark God, as he joined a row of stragglers in the narrow corridor.

Kanon waited in the train station. He was a lone figure in a long dark coat, with a military bag over one shoulder, a pair of sturdy boots, and an attitude. His brown hair was rough-cut, its ends frazzling on his shoulders. He had a high forehead, needling smallish blue eyes, a beak nose, and small dissatisfied lips in a scarred face. He had not shaved in a week, and his strong jaw looked as if it had been spray-painted army-drab. Tattoos ran up his arms and around his back: opium monsters wrestling like angry storm clouds, their eyes like flashes of lightning—prisonware; what else had there been to do?

He did not stand near the clots of locals who huddled on the concrete apron under an overhang while a damp fog blew over the tracks. A sign creaked slowly back and forth, hanging from the roof beams: "Terraform City."

The locals were anxious to get home before curfew. At night, the City came alive with other kinds of citizens. At night, it was not the Authority that ruled, but the unmen. Kanon had grown up here. He knew the ways.

The station rumbled, and a string of antique copper-colored cars rolled to a stop, like an articulated snake. Steam brakes sneezed. A greasy sheen of condensation gleamed on the train's pitted brown skin. Its windows were grimy, and vague figures moved around inside. Kanon waited for the crowd to press in. He stepped aboard just as the doors folded shut on his heel. The train gave a short whistle and rolled forward. Someone had urinated in a corner of the step below the one on which Kanon stood. The cheesy smell of unwashed bodies packed together made Kanon feel at home. Nothing changed here. Same drab old grannies in wool scarves and dull-eyed men with work-hardened hands and work-deadened eyes.

The train rumbled in a blur toward the City, which loomed high all around like an ash-gray skull with thousands of tiny pinprick eyes. The twelve-lane portal, scorched long ago to a charcoal color, grinned in welcome. The train shot through. The City, behind its walls, was a field of enormous pyramids glowering in the last chrome-cold light of the dying day. The train rumbled into a station whose name was written in an indecipherable alphabet resembling tangled fishing hooks.

Kanon got off and looked around uncertainly, swinging his bag at his side. A pair of rail cops swaggered through the crowd some distance away, distinct in their field-gray uniforms. They carried stun staffs and wore heavy gray ripguns on their belts along with net-satchels. Kanon sidled through the crowd, avoiding them.

Then he was alone. No more crowd. He picked his way down a dark street, occasionally climbing over rubble. "Hey honey," called a female voice from a doorway and he glanced up to see a fleshy figure in a slight blue dress, grinning through a blood sauce of red lipstick. Cigarette smoke wafted around her, and spread like a musky incense.

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Copyright © 2018 by Jean-Thomas Cullen, Clocktower Books. All Rights Reserved.