Shadow Syndicate by Hal Postremo

Shadow Syndicate
by Henry Pailing writing as Hal Postremo

Prologue: Crash Course
Chapter One: Brave New World (Part)

Prologue: Crash Course

Sometimes a single event can change everything; but change has not always been a good thing for us. There was once a great war that consumed the entire globe and threatened all. It was labelled that second of its kind, but the final chapter was far more terrible than anything that had come before it. At the height of socialist nationalism, Nazi Germany developed a dark and terrible weapon based upon the emerging nuclear energy science.

Unfortunately, for all of them, it was used.

No one really knows what happened for sure, the most popular theory is that a French freedom fighters cell gained access to an important control facility. Meddling with the brand new technology, one way or another, nuclear hellfire was unleashed upon the entire continent. Untested projectiles underwent unsanctioned launches that vaunted them high above into high wind currents. There, they detonated and created a shower of radioactive fallout that covered most nations.

Only more southernly reaches such as the Iberian peninsula and some parts of southern Italy managed to escape the fallout that would last for decades to come on the continent. Of course the Nazis collapsed as many of their people quickly died, entire countries wiped out in a matter of a few weeks as more people lost their lives than at any other point in the war. Dark death had come to western europe and the horrific dangers associated with nuclear power was never forgotten.

However the British Isles were fortunate enough to not become victims to the nuclear fallout. They were almost disgustingly quick to celebrate the victory, but the war had not yet ended for everyone. Far away eastwards there was a new world power taking centre stage. Their ultimate surprise attack against a weary and tired western world would be shocking to all and yet in some twisted way inevitable.

Japan had been fighting a harsh war with the Chinese for the better part of a decade. However it was not until they discovered, and promptly named, a new mineral called kameosa that they finally had the overwhelming power to take victory. The first war machines of a new type rolled out onto the shores of China. These were the progenitors of what today we know as the infamous walking tanks of imperial Japan. Powered by overunity engines, they just kept on marching and fighting until they had conquered all of Asia.

Then, before any response could be formulated, the Japanese assaulted the west coast of the United States. Underwater mechanised terrors ripped apart the hulls of the US naval vessels, the warships bombarded the costal defences and then came the walking army of metal and destruction. But this was not to be an easy victory for the imperials, as the Americans fought back with everything they had.

Despite being weary of the fighting, and still shaken by the cataclysm, Britain was still eager to help their longtime friends. So it was fortunate that a brilliant mind in Minerva Sheldrake had come forth with a new technology that could possibly help setup effective defences against these kameosa-driven war machines. The Aurora Dawn project quickly started in Iceland and along the eastern boarded of America. Tapping into natural power sources, in particular geothermal, along with more unconventional and to this day clandestine ones they setup a wireless network to direct vast amounts of electrical energy.

Unfortunately by the time the first colossal airship carriers were launched into the stratosphere, the western coast had been lost. As the Japanese continued to advance both the US and Canada devolved and accepted both the help and authority of the British. A new kind of commonwealth was born out of this, a Neo-British Empire as some call it today. In the strangest twist of all, the power of the royal family was re-established with the prime minister conceding power. This all came about due to a renewed nationalism, seen as a direct counter to the imperialist nature of the Japanese. Fighting fire with fire on the battlefields of morale and duty as much as militaries and evolving allegiances.

Finally with the Battle of Chicago, the Japanese war machine was stopped from advancing any further into North America. They did not expect the first two airship carriers the Neo-British Empire fielded against them. Death from the heavens became the signature trick of the new Atmoscorp of the British, a military service born from the merging of the Royal Air Force and the Old Service. The tide was changing, but even as new aurora network transmitters were set up along the east coast and in Chicago, the Japanese were not done yet.

What was thought to be an almost laughably easy victory became a war of attrition as the Japanese quickly through new railgun technology to bear. An arms race ensued with each side pursuing a different path to a gain a trump card. All the while the possibility of nuclear arms was ever present, but none dared to pursue that particularly path ever again. Instead the modern militaries fight with electrolasers, railguns, self-powered robots, flying battle-stations and devastating area-denial aurora network weapons.

Today the world is divided between west and east. Whole countries transformed, far from the two superpowers being Japan and Britain on their own. There are allies to the west such as the Iberian Republic and the Scandinavian Union, both forged out of terror after the nuclear cataclysm. Whilst in the west, China is oppressed by a combined Taiwanese and Korean military supported by the Japanese. Australia barely holds its own against occupation with guerrilla tactics being used by the underground. India has become dependent on the aurora network technology for self-preservation, erecting an energy field that ensures their independence but also cuts them off from everyone on the outside.

The entire planet is a mess, as a never-ending war consumes all resources, all innovation and all hope for peace. Two arrogant superpowers have undergone cultural atavism with a slew of dangerous technologies that have ruined so much already. More factions arise with rushed treaties and desperate governments scramble for ways to minimise damage to their countries, or look for ways to flee and live the good life as aristocrats elsewhere. What else could possibly go wrong now?

Chapter One: Brave New World
The aurora network is not anywhere near the greatest marvel of the modern age, but it was what established the revitalized Commonwealth’s dominance in the West. Indeed, if it had not been for the ability to transmit such massive quantities of energy wirelessly, the entire north american continent might have been overrun by the Japs.

In effect the aurora network now serves as a shadow counterpart to the Earth’s intrinsic magnetosphere. Via this hijacking method the primary transmission towers in Iceland -geothermally powered- are able to prevent copycat signals from existing. Minerva Sheldrake, the original architect of this system, famously said “Nothing short of the power of the Sun can shut down British power now.”

-Arthur Roach, historian

The great hulking craft is assailed by strong atlantic winds as it flies far above the dark seas. It rocks ever so perceptibly and the people inside find everything leaning one way before they collectively change their minds and lean the other. Although the weather buffets hard against the flying vessel it keeps its course very well. Aurora pylons peppered along the craft’s surface surge and become brighter as they enter the storm with rain battering down on the vehicle’s metal skin. More power is being drawn from the network and fed into the turbines as they whine and work against the elements for the benefit of their creators.

Inside the airliner everyone is trying to not let the storm get to their nerves; but of course a great many of the passengers are all failing at keeping an air of unconcern. The odd person is already feeling just a little airsick, but none are allowed to get up so they have to be content with paper bags that get soggy very quickly. Stewardesses brace themselves as the airship shakes a little and then resume trying to calm the passengers down.

One of the people aboard does not require feeble assurances. He is the pseudo-famous, and in some circles infamous, private investigator Atticus King. The dark furred American coyote reclines in his seat as the vessel rocks away. He knows these fights and the chances of him meeting is hand from a freak turn of fate seems all too unlikely to him. Being an ex-Pinkerton agent he has seen and most often been in almost every unpleasant situation a person can conceive of without joining the armed forces. However despite his experience, King has never desired the chance to fight for the British Commonwealth. His reasons are his own, but the thirty eight year old has been getting increasingly more independent over recent years.

Relief sweeps over the passengers as the airship comes out of the storm. Stewardess’ smile much more convincingly now as the airliner comes in on its final approach. Peering outside via the porthole Atticus watches as they descend through the storm clouds. Far below the city, his city, New York appears with its impressive infrastructure greeting the airship with dark towers. Along the sides and the rooftops of the skyscrapers there are blue glowing signs of the aurora network pylons. Drawing power from the ether provides an unusual benefit in helping to light the streets simply from the spectacular antennas of the pylons.

“We are coming in for docking now ladies and gentlemen.” An announcement all across the cabins sound via the PA system.

There is a slight swaying from side to side as the airship quickly descends into the urban jungle. Its point of contact is the docking platform affixed to the top of the popular Empire State Building. Struts from the donut shape structure reach out to greet the airship. The flying contraption’s engines turn and blast air so as it gently bring it down, the noise inside the ship and the buildings dampened thanks to sound insulation in the walls and bulkheads.

Atticus shifts in his chair as he puts his dark brown greatcoat on, then adjusts his fedora. Couplings from the docking platform reach out and grab the airship as the engines start to spin down. A long, protected whining comes from the turbines as the coyote stands up and starts moving down the aisles. One of the stewardesses tries to stop him but he ignores her, the docking is almost finished now anyway.

A cage locks around the metal beast, cradling it far above the rainswept streets of New York. Rain pours down its cold hide, concentrating around the indents where the turbines rest. From a distance it looks a fair bit like some kind of giant beetle that has affixed itself to the Empire State Building. The airliners are not built aerodynamically at all. Instead they rely upon the immense power of the aurora network, especially across the Atlantic, to force themselves along in the air.

King is the first to step off the airliner, feet deftly skipping one step after the next. He follows the signs to an express elevator and takes it going down. He has no luggage, so no need to wait for it to be offloaded. He straightens his tie whilst the machine descends the first few floors of the building. The control panel is shiny enough so he can comb his fur a little too, trying to not look as exhausted as he is feeling now. Just as he finishes flash grooming himself the elevator stops and its doors open. Atticus steps out into the aerodrome’s check-in.

He checks with a grumpy looking member of staff working the night shift. Atticus shows the guy his passport and signs off the necessary documentation to finish his return to North America. The half hearted wishes for a good evening fall from the man’s lips even as the private investigator is already walking towards the second elevator behind him. Stepping inside he hits the button and the machine takes the coyote down to the ground floor of the Empire State Building.

Then King is out onto the rain swept streets of the city. He pulls his collar up and adjusts his fedora as a particularly bad spray of rain kicks up. It weaves through the streets as a horizontal blizzard of not so frozen water. Hell of a welcome. Atticus grunts and heads out into the vicious weather. There is somewhere he needs to be as quickly as possible, before a certain someone starts to realise the mistake they made. He flags down a taxi and tells the driver where to go after clambering into the back, rainwater getting everywhere in the car’s interior.

With icy blue eyes Atticus looks upon the city, his city, as it careens past the window. Up above at the very peaks of the metropolis’ famous skyscrapers, receptor pylon after pylon glow with energy bring drawn wirelessly from the invisible aurora network. The costs on physical infrastructure is reduced tremendously for power and information services, although the military uses are what is more important to the Neo-Commonwealth. The visual effect is of an artificial Aurora Borealis, hence the name, that shimmers along the rooftops of every city or town it is used in. New York is no exception to this and it is enough to keep a person up at night just gawking at the dazzling lights at night.

The taxi crosses over from Manhattan and into The Bronx. Rounding the dark and slick streets here the taxi quickly comes to the private investigator’s destination. As it finally pulls up to the curb King thumbs the driver his fare and steps out of the car and into the rain once more. The feline taxi driver waste no time in driving away as this neighbourhood is the last place he wants to linger in. Atticus though, well this is just business for him as he looks up at the abused apartment building he needs to go into.

Turning the door handle slowly King finds the front door unlocked; even at this late hour nobody bothers. This is probably proof that the landlord has given up trying to prevent intruders and lets the rent payers protect their own individual apartments however they see fit: probably with a gun. Speaking of guns, the private investigator delves underneath his coat and wraps his fingers around his old faithful. He unholsters his firearm: A “Zeus” branded electrolaser handgun; its exterior construction is of sturdy brass and it looks like a long barrelled revolver bar for it ending in a multiple pronged barrel with a metal wring wrapped around them.

Almost a month back now, King took a job to investigate the disappearance of a local family’s daughter. Their last known whereabouts gave him a lead which led to a chain of nightclubs that operate all across New York; catering to different people for different pleasures. Eventually this had drawn him to London, where he had gone to personally acquire further information (read: pummel thugs’ faces mercilessly for answers, sometimes with rebar) out of a barely organised gang of drug dealers that had started expanding across the Atlantic. As happens too often with people who cannot pay for their fix, things turn from bad to worse. Regular patrons eventually become the dealers’ victims in a privatised industry for who knows what. Atticus will be sparring the details for mom and dad when he gets her back; and he is going to get her back.

The investigator starts to ascend the abused wooden staircase in the apartment building. His feet are making more noise than he previously had hoped for, so he changes the pressure from his heels to his claws. That reduces the sound a little as he takes more careful steps, but the wood is too creaky to truly out manoeuvre into quiet submission. If he is right then the two lieutenants of the New York branch of the drug cartel should be on the third floor, making sure their captives are ready for tonight.

On the first floor there is water dripping down from somewhere above, apparently finding its way inside from a leak in the ceiling. There is damp and rot all along the flight of stairs which King is ascending. Thankfully the storm seems to be getting worse outside, with the shear raw noise of it now beginning to mask his own creaking footsteps. Small blessings then, but nothing to be too confident in as he reaches the first floor and the coyote checks his corners. A quick sprint and he is on the other side where another flight of stairs lead him up to the second floor.

Suddenly a loud booming noise startles the private detective. He clutches the grip of his gun as sparks violently erupt from light fixtures. Electric white bolts shoot from the brass fixtures and leave burn marks on the wood floor. This startling and odd display of electromagnetic activity is probably due to some dodgy wiring combined with a stray thunderbolt hitting a network pylon associated with the apartment building. The P.I.’s black fur is sticking out from the back of his neck. There is more noise now coming from above him. Footsteps from the third floor, obviously the electric discharge has rattled them too. But something unexpected calls out above the sound of the storm; a girl’s desperate scream.

Atticus leaps into action, charging up the stairs he reaches the third floor just in time. A couple of brutish individuals, one a large ursine and the other a thuggish canine, burst out from one of the apartment doors. In their hands are large cases, probably filled with illegal narcotics. So they were clearing out. As their eyes focus on the fedora wearing figure of the coyote, they are already in the sights of his gun. Their mouths open to yell out in protest or warning, the bear looks to be letting go of the cases before charging forward. King refuses to give them a chance.

A phased laser array fires first from the mouth of his gun. Highly energetic blooming takes place in the distance between the electrolaser gun and its target, the bear. Ionisation of the air allows conduction of a high voltage charge which arcs across the air and makes contact with the thug’s skin underneath is fur and clothes. Synapses and nerve endings are assaulted by the new source of artificially produced electricity and quickly renders the large man unconscious. His friend has already dropped his cases and is now trying to dart back through the door. A second shot is fired from the firearm, this time taking out of the dog making him crumple up with forward momentum knocking is muzzle into the wall just beside the doorframe.

“Ouch.” He says with a smile as both criminals lie unconscious but breathing on the floor. He heads on towards the door, pressing up against the wall beside it before peeking around to see the room empty.

Creeping his way inside, Atticus keeps his vigil, cautiously checking all corners. However there is a resounding lack of anything at all in this place. The room is ugly and worn down with damp wallpaper peeling away, clearly not a place suited for occupancy. He goes into the adjacent rooms and forces every closet he finds open but there is most definitely nothing in the entire apartment. Ceasing his search for a moment Atticus goes back into the hallway and checks the cases both thugs were trying to carry out with them. Prying the lock of one open, he finds multiple transparent sachets inside, each filled with a redish brown powder. Sky, the most popular illegal narcotic. If the other cases are filled like this one too… It must be the local operation’s entire stash, they were likely using the apartment as one of the ever changing “safes”. Quite a find but it does not help him release the girl.

“Unless…” Atticus cracks open a new idea, one that is the most dangerous yet. He may not be able to find the girl on his own, but he knows just who does. But this is going to require a little preparation. So he confiscates the cases one by one, and exits the building without so much as a goodbye to the sleeping thugs.


2 thoughts on “Shadow Syndicate by Hal Postremo

  1. Hello Henry. Happy New Year to you,

    This is my second attempt at a comment on your extract. My first one was brilliant. But I lost it to a errant pinkie.

    I have just read your extract of Shadow Syndicate and I have to say that I am in two minds about it. I believe you have the ingredients of a good story. But I also think that Arthur Roach’s preface is two long and too wordy. It needs to be much more clipped and sharp. I suggest you have a listen to Richard Burton’s narration in Jeff Wayne’s musical version of H G Well’s War of the Worlds.

    The description of Atticus Kings [do you really want to refer to him as pseudo famous?] flight aboard the ‘great hulking craft’ is in need of a grammatical tidying up. In fact the whole extract requires a grammatical tidy up; particularly with regard to sentence structure.

    Staying with the subject of Atticus King. You refer to him as a coyote. Yet he possesses the ability to wear clothes, walk and talk, handle and use an advance handheld weapon and above all, think. The existence of such a humanoid canine requires some explanation; particularly since further on you make mention of drug dealing members of the bear and dog families. Are such chimera the result of the nuclear fallout that Arthur Roach mentions in his preface?

    All in all Henry, I think that your Atticus King has the makings of a good character. However, the subject matter of drug dealing child kidnappers is a bit old hat. An outlandish character like Atticus needs to be investigating something a bit more out of this world.

    Finally. Who or what is the Shadow Syndicate?

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