Neon Sky (A Chuck Wendig Challenge)

Posted: October 1, 2015 in Fiction, Science Fiction
Tags: , , , , ,

This week’s challenge, take a title by someone else and turn it into a story. I went over by about 400 words on this one, but I think it’s worth it.

My title is courtesy of David Benson.

Tom sat on the edge of the roof of his apartment building, his long legs dangling over the edge. A cigarette dangled from his bottom lip as he stared out at the smog laced clouds, dancing with all the colors of the city. He heard the not-so-quiet tread of his sister coming up behind him, the distinctive clomp of her size eight combat boots giving her away.

“What are you doing up here, Tom?” Sunny asked, sitting her ass down next to him.

“Smoking a cigarette.”

“I can see that, dumbass.” She punched him in the arm. Lightly though, because that arm was all chrome and titanium and she didn’t want to break her hand. “The party is downstairs, you know?”

Tom shrugged, kept staring out at the clouds.

“See something out there?” Sunny asked, after letting the silence brew like Turkish coffee.

“Nope. Just didn’t want to be downstairs. Those are Shari’s friends down there, not mine.” He emphasized his point by dropping ash down on the pavement eighteen stories below. “And as much fun as hanging around a bunch of strippers can be, I’m not in the mood to listen to club politics at the moment.”

“Going through another rough patch?”

Tom wrinkled his nose. “We’re not trying to kill each other, which is about as good as it gets with us.” Finishing his cigarette, he stubbed it out on the asphalt roof.

Sunny takes a deep breath. “Look, you and I both know Shari and I are never going to get along. But well, she sometimes make you happy, okay? At least you are less miserable when you are with her than when you’re aren’t.”

Tom snorted. “Yeah, yeah, I suppose you’re right. Come on, let’s get back to the part before they trash what little is left of my-”

Tom paused, halfway to standing up.

“What’s wrong?” Sunny asked.

“Did you hear that? Gunshots.”

Sunny’s mouth turned up in a quirky half-smile, a trait she’d inherited from her and Tom’s mother. “In this neighborhood? Wow, that must be unusual.”

Tom shook his head, his long stride propelling him to the roof access door. “They came from downstairs.”

Tom flew down the stairwell, leaping down the stairwell at a breakneck pace. He slammed his artificial hand against the wall, leaving a fist sized impression. He’d left his gun in his apartment. From somewhere behind him, he could hear Sunny yelling, but it seemed muted thanks to the rushing in his head.

Tom came out of the stairwell on his floor, legs churning, feet skidding on the cheap linoleum floor. He saw the door to his apartment standing ajar. He could hear the music playing, but the conversation had ceased. He paused, forcing his breath to slow, urging the adrenaline surge back down. He heard Sunny come out of the stairwell, put his hand up to stop her, waved her back.

He pushed the door open, keeping his cybernetic arm between him and whoever was waiting inside. The first thing he saw was Shari’s face, mascara running from her tears. Her friend Jasmine was next to her, fresh blood dripping from her scalp. Her other friend, Cheshire, was holding herself, silent sobs wracking her body. Tom felt his pulse quicken, felt his tongue grow thick and leaden in his mouth. He saw the three men standing there, all of them armed, guns held comfortable and pointing at the door. All of them positioned with one of the girls between themselves and Tom.

“Everyone okay?” Tom asked.

“Everyone’s just fine,” one of the men said. He sported a slick van dyke, and one of his eyes gleamed solid chrome in the light. Tom glanced at Jasmine, who bobbed her head, arms held tight around her. “We wanted to have a chat with you. The girls here were reluctant to let us in. Had to get a bit rough. You understand how it is.”

Tom kept his face a blank mask. “Yeah. I have a phone, you know.”

The man smiled. His two friend’s kept their faces blank, their eyes fixed on Tom. “Some conversations are better face to face. We want you for a job.”

Tom cocked an eyebrow. “I don’t freelance, not anymore. You want me, you go through my employer.”

The gunman chuckled and his compatriots joined in, a harsh mirthless sound. “You make it sound as if you’re being given a choice, sweetheart. Here’s the thing, we’ve got a van waiting outside. You’re going to go with myself and Danny Boy here, while Sharif here stays and keeps the girls company.”

Tom nodded. “All right. You going to give me my gun?”

“All in good time, all in good time. Wouldn’t want you to go and be getting ideas, now would we? Turn around now and head back outside. By this time tomorrow it will all be a bad dream.”

Tom nodded, tried to catch Shari’s eye, but she was staring down at the carpet.  He turned and headed out of the apartment. Sunny was gone, and Tom could only hope she wouldn’t try something stupid in the meantime.

The three of them took the stairs down to the ground level. Outside, a van was parked. Two men sat in the front compartment and cigarette butts lay scattered out the window on the side.

“Any trouble, Johnny?” the driver asked, leaning out the window.

“Nothing we couldn’t handle,” Johnny replied. “Danny Boy might have gotten a bit rough, but I’m sure those girls have seen worse, isn’t that right, sweetheart?”

“What’s the job?” Tom asked. Johnny still had his hand on his gun, and Tom could see his pistol tucked into the waist of his pants.

“Get in the van and we’ll tell you.”

Danny Boy opened the back of the van and Tom climbed in. The inside was bare except for some moldy carpet, a few empty duffel bags, and a couple of shotguns. “Planning on storming the police station?” Tom asked once Danny Boy and Johnny climbed in after him.

“Nothing like that.” Johnny sat crosslegged across from Tom, gun resting on his lap. “You ever hear of Neon Sky?

Tom tilted his head. “The drug? Yeah, I’ve heard of it. It’s supposed to be a cheap knockoff. A civilian version of some of the stuff they were pumping soldiers with during the LatAm wars.”

“Good. Me and the boys here found a place where they’re distributing it. We figured we’d help ourselves.” Johnny smiled. “Of course, we’re not the military types.” He jabbed a finger at Tom. “But you are.  That’s how you got that lovely bit of chrome, isn’t it?”

Tom stared ahead, not answering, his eyes cold and dead. Something tingled behind his ear, and he reached up and scratched it, triggering the phone implanted in his skull.

“Thanks for picking up, Tom,” Sunny’s voice echoed in his head. “Sorry it took me this long to make contact. I’d left my laptop back at your apartment, and well, I didn’t think going back there made much sense. I had to splice into a public terminal and you know those are slow as shit. Right, task at hand. I’m guessing you can’t talk right now, and that’s okay. Anyway, I’ve got you tracked on GPS. I’m a little sad you never went and got ocular implants, ‘cause then I could totally see what you are seeing.”

“You okay there?” Johnny asked. “You look a bit spaced. You aren’t high are you? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m totally fine if you are, but that seems like it would be something good to know.”

Tom shook his head. “No, I’m not high.” He blinked. “I am coming off a long shift at my day job, was partying with my girlfriend and her friends, and now being held at gunpoint to rob a drug distributor. Sorry if I’m not as sharp as you like.” He narrowed his eyes. “What do you need me for anyway?”

“They’ve got a reinforced door,” Johnny replied. “I figure with that arm of yours, that won’t prove to difficult to get through.”

“What, the couldn’t get their hands on any explosives? Pshh. Amateurs,” Sunny commented.

“Yeah, all right. How do I know you’ll let us go when this is all over?”

Johnny smiled. “You’ve got my word, sweetheart.”

“Okay, Tom. I’ve been able to get into the traffic cam system and triangulated based on your position. Seriously, a panel van? Talk about lack of style. Ugh, guessing I missed the part where they told what they needed you for, huh? Shit.”

“How much further?” Tom asked.

The driver braked the vehicle none too gently, making Tom and Johnny brace to keep from sprawling. “We’re there.”

Johnny gestured for Tom to exit the van. He stepped down. He didn’t recognize the specific neighborhood, but he recognized the type. Litter strewn on the streets, graffiti sprayed on cars and walls, and the distinctive odor of piss and rotten garbage.

“That’s the door there,” Johnny said, pointing to a black door. Some enterprising soul had spray painted a stylized NS on the door.

“Not exactly low profile, is it?” Tom asked.

Johnny shrugged and smiled. His crew exited the vehicle, grabbing their weapons. Johnny handed out shells, and the shotguns were loaded. “Here’s how this is going to work. Our friend Tom here is going to go and be the Big Bad Wolf and knock their door in. We follow up with the shotguns. No one gets killed if we can help it, understand? First priority is any cash, then the drugs. Anybody got any questions? No, good.”

The four men pulled stockings out of their pockets, fitted them over their heads.

“What, I don’t get one?” Tom asked.

“You’re too pretty to cover up, sweetheart,” Johnny replied. “Now get going.”

Tom walked over to the door.

“You know this is likely to get you killed, right?” Sunny’s voice piped up in his head.

“I’ve got an idea,” he replied, sotto voce. He dug into his pocket, pulled out a small wad of bills. He approached the door, head down, with the shuffle step of the addict. He wrapped on the door with his flesh and blood hand.

An intercom buzzed to life. “What do you want?”

“I hear you can hook me up,” Tom answered, flashing the cash where he thought the camera was.

“Yeah, yeah, hold on.” A woman’s voice. And a woman cracked the door open, still held in place by a chain. “Let’s see the cash.”

Tom jackhammered the door with his chrome fist, snapping the chain. The door caught the woman hard on the chin, sent her sprawling back.

“What the f-?” A man sprung up from the ratty couch he was sitting on, pulling a gun from his belt, but Tom’s too quick. Grabbing the man’s wrist, he twisted it back. The gun dropped to the floor as Tom drove his knee up into the man’s groin. He collapsed on the floor, weakly reaching for the gun before Tom stepped on it.

Tom bent down, retrieved the gun, a heavy automatic that fit his hand like it was meant for it. He scanned the room, sees the case with the little pink capsules. Neon Sky. Picking one up, he placed it under his tongue.

“All done in here?” Tom heard Johnny ask. The woman Tom clocked with the door starts to get up, but Johnny nailed her with the butt end of the gun. Johnny looked at the gun in Tom’s hand. “What do you think you are doing with that?”

Tom bit down on the capsule. Fire coursed through his veins. Everything trailed color. Johnny said something, but it was like he was speaking underwater. Tom raised the gun. He had time to see Johnny’s eyes grow wide, saw him try and bring the gun around. Flame exploded from the barrel, and Johnny went down, his head blooming into a red, wet mess.

Tom watched as the spent case tumbled through the air, his feet already propelling him toward the door. He pulled it open, eyes and hand aligned in tracking his targets, finger on the trigger. Danny Boy and the other two looking slack jawed, frozen in place. Neon Sky gave them all a glow, trails of pink and blue as they realized what was happening, tried to get out of the way. Thunder boomed in Tom’s ears as his gun fired. The driver and the other guy went down hard. The bullet meant for Danny caught him high in the shoulder, sending him spinning like a top. He tried to get his gun up, but Tom stomped down hard on his wrist, feeling to bone splinter and crack under his heel.

Danny Boy looked up, eyes wet, blubbering something. It might have been “Sorry.”

“So am I,” Tom replied, pulling the trigger.

He climbed into the van, thankful the keys were still in the ignition. His hands trembled, the peaceful glow of the drug fading, the enormity of his actions crashing down.

“You still there Sunny?” Tom asked.

“Yeah, are you okay? I mean, I heard the gunshots, but I have no idea what happened. All the cameras around you are out.”

“Johnny and friends are dead. I’m heading back to the apartment. Are the girls still okay?”

“Yeah, they’re fine. Sharif is sitting there, watching them. He’s drinking a beer, but otherwise he’s behaving himself.”

“How do you know?”

Tom could almost see Sunny smile. “Hacked the webcam.”

“Good.”

Tom knocked on the door of the apartment. The Neon Sky had worn off, but the shakes had stopped as well. Jasmine opened the door, and Tom pushed past her. Sharif was still sitting on the couch, just as Sunny said he would be.

“Shit,” Sharif said, staring down the barrel of Tom’s gun. “Johnny?”

“Your friends are dead. Here’s the thing, I don’t want your body in my apartment. So here’s the deal.” Tom tossed the case containing the Neon Sky. “You take that shit, and I never see you again. Understand? I even get a whiff of your shit around me or any of these ladies again, well, I think we both know how that conversation is going to go, don’t we?”

Sharif nodded. He stood up, and Tom noticed the growing wet stain on his pants. Tom ground his teeth together as Sharif left.

That would be hell to get out of the couch.

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Comments
  1. Cool story. Lots of atmosphere and a really original character has been crafted in Tom. The Wendig deadline doesn’t give time for polishing, so there’s a few glitches in there (mine’s the same). But this doesn’t detract from the smouldering core of the story you’ve got. I get the feeling this character could inhabit a novel in its own right. Btw, if you want to check out my offering for the flash fiction, then you can find it at http://tomghadams.uk/the-beast-of-both-worlds/

    • Yeah, I tend to view these as “fire-and-forget” kind of stories, which may be a bit of a disservice. I’m giving some serious thought as to putting the best of these into some sort of collection.

      As for Tom, well, he’s a character I’ve used before and one I’m comfortable writing. I haven’t found a “plot” to slide him into yet, but he’s done well with these shorts. (As a bonus, I sold a story featuring him which should be out this year).

      • moteridgerider says:

        That’s great news that you’ve sold one of your stories. A series of shorts with a good character like Tom can gain some impressive mileage. Look at what Conan did for Robert E. Howard.

      • Absolutely. I’ve got a small stable of characters I like coming back to. Still trying to break into markets though. It’s a marathon not a sprint, at least that’s what I keep telling myself.

  2. […] than front and center, but I’m still pretty happy with how it came out, and I got to give Sunny her own story for a […]

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