Acid: Chapter One — Tower of Light

by Louis Calvert

Acid: Chapter One — Tower of Light
July 3, 2020 Louis Calvert

The Castillo Corporation has risen to ultimate power within the Protectorate Council, the government of the wealthy planet Venus, economic capital of the Solar States. Rumours of massive misuse of power and corruption abound, but the Castillo Corporation is now untouchable. 

In response, a secretive cabal has emerged from the shadows of history. The Monitors are whispered nightmares for any individual or group accused of misusing power. Now, a highly trained Monitor agent has infiltrated the heart of the Castillo empire.

Monitor Denica Tarne is about to discover that Venus isn’t the shining jewel she thought she was protecting…

1: Tower of Light

“Architecturally speaking, the fifty storey Tower of Light is little more than a tall conical structure, hardly exciting. However, the innovation here isn’t in physical design, it’s in the materials used. Betty Alexander enhanced the standard aerogel, aerometal, and bubblecrete materials used all over Venus with a proprietary compound resulting in the exterior of the tower glowing slightly. This gives the entire building a haunting halo, even visible from outside the dome if the cloud banks allow the view. It’s strongly rumoured that the Castillo corporation purchased the exclusive rights to the formula for the next thousand years, ensuring that no other building is ever quite so impressive. At the time it was one of the three most expensive single construction projects in the city, equalled only by the Artificers Mansion of the Berrender Family and the Novallero building commissioned by the first Marquis of the Inner Trade Ring…”

 

Extract from “Architectural Digest, Issue 706, June 3523” by Valdez & Mccann Publishing

 

 

Denica shooed the maidchimps out of her suite. It had been a long, hateful day of dances and tiny meals and too much alcohol — none of which she could enjoy properly. The dress she wore sliced into her in more places than she could count. She stood in the middle of her new apartment and admired herself in the mirror screen.

“You know, it’s literally the most painful thing I’ve ever worn — but damn, I look good.”

She twirled one last time before tugging the unbutton. The dress peeled down and sagged, looking like a drooping mushroom. Denica’s companion animal Mawiri, a heavily modified jet black squirrel, bounded over clutching a small medical scanner in her forepaws. 

“Thanks little one. What did you think?”

The squirrel held the scanner up for Denica to take before making fast motions with her forepaws. Denica translated the signs without thinking; “Castillo’s dog was watching us,” Mawiri signed.

Denica ran the little tube over her abdomen. Green lines wove themselves across the tiny screen, everything showing normal. No toxins in the food.

At least no toxins that weren’t supposed to be there, anyway

“Yes, but I don’t know if that was a good thing or not. The Pator was certainly showing an interest in me tonight, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was it.” Denica had never met Pator Oliviana Kersten-Polymia-Castillo in person, despite working for the Castillo Corporation for years, but her sights had been set since day one on being promoted to the Pator’s personal staff.

A hidden function in the medical scanner showed only one active camera in the room. One less than yesterday, and three less than the day before; they were losing interest, their focus being pulled away by the multitude of guests during the ball.

Mawiri stretched with a tiny squirrel yawn, the sweep of her arm making the sign for ‘remote observation’. She’d spotted some extra surveillance the scanner wasn’t picking up. 

Denica nodded at the squirrel. “Tired, little one?”

Her companion stood on her hind legs, dexterous forepaws making quick signs. “Will it be soon?” The pair spoke carefully, aware they were being watched. Mawiri was far more intelligent than any standard gene-tailored companion and she hated using such a cut-down vocabulary, but when they were so close to their goal they had to be extremely cautious. 

“Three more days. Well, three more days of this, then the wrap-up.” 

Translation: The ball lasts for three more days, after that we’ll be pulling the trigger on the final stage.

“Good, getting tired.” Mawiri signed something that encompassed more than just the party.

“Me too…”

It had taken her five years to get this far. A few hacked databases, some well-paid actors for character references, a small fortune in bribes and donations. Denica slipped into the fast-track internship like she’d been born to this life. Years of training and grooming followed, doing menial administration duties for mid-level company managers. During those years she’d been expected to develop a network of contacts, favours, and information that allowed her to climb the ladder of corporate success.

She let the sagging bell shape of her dress collapse completely to the floor. Stepping out of the pile of couture fabric, she padded barefoot to the bathroom. Mawiri dragged the dress towards the laundering chute, tidying up just as a simple executive companion animal should, making a show of it for the camera.

Denica shook her head at the sight of extravagant bathroom glinting at her. Real platinum glinting in the light from a crystal fitting. She suppressed the rage. She’d been granted these apartments last week, this level of excess felt like another test — could she resist the lure of so much power?

She hated it all, but it was necessary. 

Just as she was. 

She was the counterweight to this, the knife cutting the necrotic flesh away to allow regrowth of new, healthy tissue. She recalled Janus, her mentor, lecturing her about the lineage of Monitors, the responsibility, the weight of history. She had always felt proud of what she was, but it was so abstract during her decades of training, it was difficult to imagine the decay she was to excise. For the last five years she’d been steadily immersed in the trappings of corruption, had seen the diversion of wealth away from the civic bodies towards private accounts and off-world investments. She enacted highly illegal activities and morally dubious actions on behalf of her employers, the Castillo Corporation. She couldn’t help scrubbing herself harder under the purified water jets.

When she’d finished showering, her dark skin tingled on the verge of pain. Denica returned to the spacious bedroom and dragged an antique wooden writing case from under her bed. It wasn’t unusual for Denica to make notes, write reports or correspondence to her many contacts in the evening. She almost always used the box. Security had examined it a dozen times over the last few years; it was a heavy wooden antique box that at one time would have been used as a small portable writing desk. At some point someone had updated it and now the upper surface contained an embedded slate and some basic processing functions to connect it to the Tower’s network. 

Apparently at random Denica wandered to a spot on the ornate rug and sank into a full lotus position, the wooden box on the floor before her. If anyone was watching through the remaining camera they’d find their view of her blocked by a vase standing on a side-table. A couple of twists and presses coaxed hidden compartments open in the portable desk, revealing that the wood was a sophisticated veneer. Partitions in what seemed like solid wood popped open and unfolded, dull metallic tools nestled in recessed slots. Denica reached forwards and reverently stroked the instruments of her trade. Mawiri scurried over and unpacked a small cleaning kit, passing tools and lubricants silently to Denica as she worked. 

The assassin moved in practised motions, checking over her kit. The soft clicks of weapons assembling followed. 

Precise. Clean. Efficient.

Methodically she disassembled and cleaned everything once more and stowed it all back in its hiding places. The ritual reassured her, the familiar actions stripping away the veneer of the corporate lackey she’d been forced to adopt. She spent another hour catching up on some reports, making notes, and finally emailing a few friends, none of which were real.

“Time to sleep. Tomorrow we party. Again.”

Three days later a hole silently melted itself in the window of Denica’s tenth-floor residential suite. 

A masked figure slipped through, into the half-light of night on Capitol. 

It slowly crawled up the face of the tower, taking a strange zig-zag route, avoiding illuminated windows.

A fortune in bribes over the last few years ensured no security system recorded her presence, or absence, tonight. Denica’s long smart-fabric poncho imperfectly copied the general colours and patterns of the walls as she climbed. She wore the traditional Kitsune mask of the Monitors, a stylised ancient Earth creature known for cunning and stealth, almost feline, but with a longer, dog-like face. The mask’s chameleon surface twinned with her poncho, both struggling to mimic the ghostlight of the tower walls.

Now, at just after midnight, the Tower of Lights formed half of Denica’s world. The ambient glow reduced her reality to absolute black behind an eerie green-yellow light in front. Cutting-edge filaments modelled from modified spider DNA encased the arms and legs of her bodysuit, allowing her to crawl — very carefully — up the almost vertical face of the Tower. She didn’t fear being seen; anyone working this late probably wouldn’t be gazing out of a window of a darkened office, but trusting her life to such a bleeding edge piece of technology made her nervous.

It’s finally time!

Muscles singing from the climb, she was breathing hard, but elated to be on the final portion of her years-long mission. Deftly she palmed a small device from her belt and slapped it on a dark window. The dull metallic hemisphere bloomed open and several fat yellowish slugs oozed out. The highly modified molluscs slithered around surprisingly quickly, tracing an ever-expanding spiral circle outwards from the hub, leaving a glistening slime trail behind. As the spiral grew larger bubbles formed along the slime trail, the plastic window wobbled and broke down, turning brown as it melted away in stringy drips. Denica slithered through the hole with a deep sigh of relief. The slugs were already slowing, reaching the end of their metabolic lifespan.

Denica had entered a simple office several floors above the apartment she’d been given on the residential floors. The insignificant little room she dropped into contained little other than a few shelves stacked with dusty files and a powered-down desk pushed up against one wall. Keeping this office empty had taken her months to arrange and cost her several favours. Having access to the low-security office levels made her ascent to the top floors much simpler though — the exterior of the Tower featured a range of very nasty security features which got more aggressive the higher up you went. In contrast, she’d found it depressingly easy to find leverage on a low-level security administrator with secrets they’d prefer not to be publicly known. 

Once inside, the internal security for these few levels was poor. Denica’s biometric ID had already been entered into the system last night. She’d been promoted, as expected, to Oliviana’s personal staff after the last day of the Annual Ball. This single step was why she’d spent so long worming her way into the Pator’s good books. No amount of bribery, threats, or hacks could insert biometric ID into the upper-floor security system. Without that the elevator wouldn’t function. More than that, it would literally explode, killing the occupants.

Oliviana Castello occupied the top two floors of the Tower. It was a fortress. There were precisely two ways to get in or out: the main elevator which Denica rode now, and the roof, the security of which would have required even more elaborate methods to bypass.

Inside the elevator carriage Denica quickly checked her equipment. She stripped off her spider gloves. They were already dying, the follicles dropping out and littering the floor with thick black hairs. 

Her adaptive poncho had calmed down after the oddity of the glowing tower walls, currently matching the wood paneling of the elevator interior. Her bodysuit allowed excellent movement and contained better-than military-grade flexible reactive-armour. Woven into the back plate were pods of emergency medication; if she did get wounded her suit would automatically stave off shock and administer a series of sophisticated drugs aimed at keeping her going, allowing her to finish her mission. Two wide silver medical bands wrapped each wrist, each of which could be triggered to inject a specialised cocktail into her bloodstream. Designed for offworld special forces it would give her an edge in combat, but prolonged use wasn’t advised. The bracelets also carried antidotes to the stims and drugs to suppress the debilitating comedown — for a time. She checked and loaded her pair of millimetre-thin duelling pistols, a venusian classic; patted her knives in their sheaths; and pre-armed a few tiny silvered hemispheres of variable-yield explosives, just in case things went wrong. Finally she toggled the pigment on her mask from adaptive camouflage to the traditional white and red colour scheme. 

Part of her job was to carry on the myth. Survivors, or later observers of the security footage, would tell of an unstoppable assassin — one of the Monitors. 

The lift pinged, the doors slid open.