This is the draft version of Lord of Poison‘s first chapter, “Muerte al Invasor”. This might change slightly leading up to publication, so just keep that in mind as you read this. For those eagle-eyed readers who read my first novel, XENOCHRIST, you may notice that the opening line to this chapter is the same as the final line in XENOCHRIST‘s Epilogue. So, enjoy that little tidbit of info, and I hope you enjoy the chapter! Without further ado:
Lord of Poison – Chapter 1 – Muerte al Invasor
“You artisans, you titans of industry, you truth-seekers, be you welcomed home.” the figure said as the newly constructed digital building came into vision. The crowd feverishly applauded and cheered as the marque flashed a bright array of colors; “PIXELLATE” rendered and the chatter grew louder.
“Can ya’ fuckin’ move or somethin’?!” the woman yelled as she tried to push her way through the crowd.
“Dios mio…” she whispered to herself as she pulled a small device from her long coat and threw it to the ground. A loud ringing echoed as bright colors flashed around the crowd immediately around her causing them to disperse allowing the woman to make her way towards the front to see the proprietor.
“Friend Velouria!” the figure called out as they stood in front of the doors. The crowd began to pour into the building; sounds of music and gaming machines rang throughout the inside as more avatars continued to enter.
“I was wondering if you would make it to the unveiling! How incredible is this, friend Velouria?!” they excitedly asked.
“Ay aja…” Belen despondently said. “I hear you need mansajeras, Jander.” she said in annoyance.
Jander placed a hand on Belen’s shoulder and brought her in closer “You heard correctly.” they said between their smiles as they looked on the crowd continuing to enter.
Belen brushed Jander’s hand away and scoffed “Yeah? And it didn’t occur to you to com me or anything?” she accusingly asked.
Jander huffed and tried to interrupt the woman just as Belen got in their face “Save it. I only do this because you’ve been good to me, but there’s only so much I can take, Jander. You forget about me one more time an’ I ain’t making deliveries for you again. I don’t care how much you pay.”
“Friend Velouria you seem to forget your place.” Jander said in a threateningly manner, “You take that tone with me again and I’ll make sure you never work on this server again. Do you understand me?”
Belen flashed a small smirk to Jander and winked before entering PIXELLATE. “So, where’s the office here?” Belen asked. Jander snapped their fingers and the doors shut behind them and the immediate area went dark as the two were transported into a large library. Velouria circled around before locking eyes with Jander “I’d assumed you would have changed up the decor a little bit.” she said in an attempt to fluster Jander who was making their way towards the back desk.
Jander sat down at the desk and summoned a chair behind Belen which forced her to sit and flew her to the front of the desk.
“You still got some tricks, nice!” Belen exclaimed. Jander removed their gloves and placed their hands on the top of the desk; the desk lit up and opened and an AI greeted them. “Master Jander, how may one assist you?” the AI voice asked.
“K 13 8X 19 5Y” Jander commanded. “Tell me, friend Velouria, what do you know about the Avenue of the Dead?”
“In Teotihuacan?” Belen asked in confusion.
“Yes, in Teotihuacan.”
“It’s the avenue that passes right by the Pyramid of the Sun I think?”
“And what else?” Jander pressed the woman.
Belen sat in silence for a moment before Jander interrupted the quiet “The Temple of the Feathered Serpent.”
Belen sat in confusion “Is this ‘bout the job?” she asked the club’s proprietor. A digital packet suddenly appeared from the opened desk and Jander placed their gloves back on before grabbing it.
“In a way, yes, it is. You’re going to take this to a real location in Metropoli de Mexico.”
Belen was nearly shocked Jander would know she was living in the metropolis but quickly remembered Jander is a famed Infotrader, there isn’t anything they can’t find out. Belen held her right arm out which had a 2-step verification device.
Jander placed the digital apparition and typed a unique code into the device and suddenly the visage was sucked into the device “The buyer has the unlock code. You’ll go to Torre Caballita. Your two-step has the needed credentials. Go to the 34th floor and wait near the hydration tank. The buyer will say “Pioneer of aerodynamics”. Hand over the goods, stun them, break into his office on the 35th floor, retrieve the shiny globe situated on his display shelf next to his desk, and get out. You’ll then head to Torre Mayor and wait at the coffee shop to the right on the third floor where you’ll be asked about the chocolate empanadas by someone else. That’s where you’ll drop off the globe.”
“Dios mio what the fuck are you having me do?!” Belen cried out.
“Friend Velouria, stop acting as if you’ve never done anything like this before.” Jander said trying to calm their friend.
“Jander, it’s a fuckin’ government building. It’s a bit different from tagging.” Belen said in protest, “And how th’fuck do I even exit the place holding a goddamn globe, and get it down Reforma?”
Jander shot up from their desk and straightened their clothes when Belen turned around to see what the problem was. Inside the door frame stood a vampire avatar, something basic a first year net user would construct, but Belen knew it seemed out of place meeting Jander in such a basic skin. All the courier could do was glance from around her chair as she looked the two individuals whispered to each other for a moment before Jander shooed the other away and quickly shut the door.
“You just let him enter?!” Jander furiously whispered into their com, “Your shift is over, bring over Rikki or you can find your limbs shipped to every colony. Got it?!” they coldly questioned rhetorically.
The club proprietor motioned for Belen to stand up and they ushered the woman towards the door, “I’ve dealt with enough incompetence this cycle so please do your job. Oh! Don’t forget to grab the synth-skin mask I left for you!”
Belen quickly turned to face Jander with a fire in her eyes “You skipped what the pay would be.”
“Have I, friend Velouria?” Jander said as they handed a piece of paper to the courier before they shoved her out of the room completely. Belen unfolded the paper and her eyes lit up and a large smile crawled across her face.
“I guess it was your lucky day.” a voice stated. Belen quickly snapped back to attention and looked to her left, the vampire avatar from earlier was standing there like a robot not even looking at her.
“You guessed correctly.” Belen snapped before crumpling the paper and erasing the code.
“Ever think about space, Velouria?”
“How the fuck do you know my name?” the courier furiously asked.
“I miss it.” the vampire avatar said skipping over Belen’s question. The avatar lit an e-cig and took a long drag and blew the digital smoke into the woman’s face. Belen took a couple of steps closer to the avatar before stopping in place.
“Space is so goddamn gorgeous. It’s wide and open.” the avatar said between puffs of the fake smoke, “Before this is over you’ll look into it and cry like you’ve never cried before. That’s when you’ll know.”
“Know what? Just who the fuck ‘re you?!” Belen demanded.
The door to Jander’s office flew open startling the courier.
“Reventlov?” their voice called out from the back of the room, “Please stop pestering my guests.” Jander commanded the vampire avatar before turning their attention to the woman “Must I order you too, Velouria? You’re on the clock now and I’d hate for you to be late.” they said before the vampire avatar entered the room once more and the doors flung shut behind them.
Belen made her way down the large stairs leading towards the exit. The place was packed with every type as they huddled around virtual screens, casino games, private booths for fucking and the like. The courier was happy to be back to work she thought while making her way out. It had been a year since she had done a job for Jander when their previous establishment, Divinations, was demolished by Svetlo-Zeme’s STGuard. Belen was lucky to have made it out in one piece while they were rounding up anyone inside.
Making her way through the digital streets she could smell the fake scents of the street foods and booze, the chatter was near deafening as she approached the exit portal. The white flash and roaring of the net flew by and Belen jerked slightly as she came to on a couch.
“Belen!” a woman’s voice called out from the kitchen.
“Si, ma?” the courier replied.
“Bring those dishes in for your father to clean!”
“In a moment, ok?” Belen called back.
“Now, please.” her mother commanded.
Belen got up from the couch in a huff as she removed her gear and grabbed the dishes from the coffee table and walked towards the kitchen. The courier could hear her father muttering obscenities at the TV as she opened the door slightly.
“Goddamn liars!” the man yelled at the TV. Belen’s father was watching the news and yelling at the reporters between mouthfuls of molletes and coffee.
“These metiches can’t even get the fuckin’ news right!” he yelled once more before getting slapped on the back of his head by an older woman. “Lo siento!” the man cried out as the older woman continued to lightly pinch him.
Belen placed the dishes on the kitchen island and refilled her coffee before sitting at the table with her mother.
“You’re up late, Belen.” her mother began scolding, “It’s bad enough your brother doesn’t wake up to his alarm, but you sleep so late!” her mother finished.
“Where’s Alexis, mama?” Belen asked.
“He’s already at the office.” Belen’s father answered.
“You mean the place you should be at too?!” her mother scolded.
Belen’s father got up from his chair by the kitchen’s TV and polished off his coffee before slamming the mug down, “Hell, I need to leave if I’m gonna beat this traffic!” he said before rushing off.
“Your brother left a pack for you by his door, Belen.” her mother stated. Belen’s eyes widened as she excitedly shot up from the kitchen table and ran towards Alexis’ room. Sitting on the floor was a neatly packed backpack. Belen quickly opened to top and inspected the contents. Inside she found a modified headset and two new toggle gloves that she quickly equipped.
The HUD on the headset was cleaner and more streamlined this time and the gloves didn’t shift around her hand as she waved them around the room. Belen made a slight motion with her left hand and an AR screen appeared with a list of various saves. The courier filtered through the saves until she came across one titled “ANDRO_KING”. Belen cautiously opened it and a previously unseen piece of art imprinted on the AR space as she looked at her brother’s door. The basic moving image was a chibi version of Alexis as he rode a leopard and wielding a macuahuitl running in place.
Belen gave a soft chuckle as she looked on the image now embedded in the AR space on Alexis’ door before she removed the equipment and placed it back in the pack. As she lowered the headset in she noticed a handwritten note at the bottom.
“Velouria – Hope this helps the next time you go tagging. Love – Andro”
Belen placed the note neatly back in the pack and slung it over her should and headed towards the door.
“Belen?” her mom called out.
Belen huffed at being stopped once more and turned around, “Yes, ma?” she annoyingly replied.
“Please take your brother his lunch. He left it on his way out, and your father is already gone.” she requested.
Belen rolled her eyes at the request but took the packed lunch nonetheless, “Anything else?” she asked her mother.
Belen’s mom gave her a slight up and down before pulling her close, “There’s protesters in the city, please stay safe and let me know when you’ve reached your brother, ok?” she worryingly asked.
Belen gave a small kiss on her mother’s cheek and cracked a smile, “Of course! I’m always safe!” she said cheerfully before leaving the house.
The bustle of Zona Toluca echoed through the housing cube’s corridors, the smells of food from the hover-carts filtered in enticing Belen. The courier headed towards the drive-cycle storage on her domicile level and quickly unlocked her locker. A folded Italika took up the bulk of the locker and her helmet sat directly above on a hook and a small package laid on the ground which she quickly opened; inside laid the new synth-skin Jander had mention from before which she discretely placed over her face.
The mint green cafe racer unfolded allowing Belen to walk it out of the locker; its lights dimmed and the dash screens fired on as the low hum of the racer purred throughout the storage area. As she mounted the racer Belen began to gear up, putting on her helmet which connected to the racer’s computer, her haptic gloves, and the 2-step verification pad just before the pulsating energy plates slowly lifted the bike up and in a flash Belen had sped out of the exit.
The hover-carts came and went along with their smells as Belen made her way to the main deck pass to join the other vehicles making their way to the metropolis center, to Mexico City. Zona Toluca was 60 kilometers from Reforma so Belen flipped a makeshift toggle on her thrust handle causing the energy plates to overclock allowing her to exceed the cafe racer’s top speed. The zone came and went as she continued to make her way through the traffic leading into the city; her bike was slim enough to allow her to weave between the various vehicles as she pushed onward.
Just as Belen entered Zona Polanco she was able to see what appeared to be the tail end of a group of protesters filtering in and out of the streets. Their colorful signs stood out against the dilapidation of the barrio, their chants melted and blended together as she sped through. The road was starting to narrow and slip between the massive buildings at the edge of Reforma and she knew she needed to get onto the avenue soon to get to Torre Caballita, but the protesters filled the entire stretch as they made their way to the presidential compound.
The speedway curved slightly and Belen could see the top of the tower just below the speedway. In a hurry she took the cafe racer off the track and began to back-burn her energy plates to slow down the bike’s descent towards the street. Landing hard Belen quickly triggered the anti-theft and made her way towards the vestibule.
The tower was inconspicuously conspicuous in that it the government tried so hard to not stick out that they ended up sticking out as the monolith-esque building sat on the avenue. Just inside entrance were massive security desks that doubled as reception on either side, and in the center were the clearance vestibules with full-body scans leading to the lifts. Without skipping a beat Belen walked up to a free terminal and tapped her 2-step against the pad and the light flashed green allowing her to enter.
The inside of the scanner smelled of B.O. and stale smoke, but to Belen’s glee the scan lasted only 5 seconds before the next door quickly shot open allowing her to walk towards the elevators.
“MA’AM!” someone yelled causing Belen to suddenly stop mid-step. The courier turned to face the sound only to be greeted by a small spherical bot floating near her, “Ma’am, you mustn’t leave your vehicle out front without proper validation.” the droid said mono-tonally.
Belen huffed at the delay and tapped the 2-step against the droid’s interface until a basic smiling face appeared with a green light. “Thank you, Catherine. You have one hour of validation before you face vehicular penalties. Have a good day.” the droid said in the same tone before hovering off to some other task.
Belen entered the elevator to her left and quickly punched 34. The lift was older and took a little longer than the standard lifts which allowed Belen to place a small visor across her eyes giving her a HUD and concealing the upper half of her face.
The HUD was able to give her very basic scanning systems, maps, ID checking, and an AI with no name. Belen began to slightly stretch just before the doors opened to the 34th floor. She carefully scanned the corridor before exiting into the hallway and slowly walking to the right.
“Computer, hydration tank?” she asked the device on her face. The HUD suddenly laid out a simple floor plan with a breadcrumb GPS showing her the route. The floor was relatively quiet save for the distant sounds of coms ringing and being answered causing Belen to walk more carefully down the path until she came to the tank.
Belen glanced around the area and scanned the corners to make sure she was alone when she was able to spot the scan of someone walking towards the hydration tank. Belen crouched down and pretended to tie her shoes never taking her eyes off the silhouette approaching.
A middle-aged man in a suit came around the corner and was startled when he saw Belen. The man quickly shook it off and straightened his suit and slicked back his hair as he slowly approached the courier and cleared his throat.
“Pioneer of aerodynamics?” he sheepishly asked.
Belen stopped pretending to tie her shoe, stood up and approached the man, “Two-step.” she demanded of the man.
“Our contact never said they’d send such a treat as yourself.” the man said in a low creepy tone.
“Two-step, now.” Belen pressed the man as she held her device out. The man quickly snatched Belen by the wrist and held it tight as he typed the code into her pad never breaking eye contact with Belen.
The pad began to transfer the data into the man’s portable deck, and he continued to stare at Belen until the transfer was over. Belen tried to move her hand away but the man wouldn’t let go, “Maybe you want to accompany me tonight? I know a good place in Del Valle we could spend time to get to know each other.”
“Do you think I’m a Red Light doll?” Belen angrily asked the man who gave a slight laugh hearing the question.
“You get paid to do what you’re told. I’m telling you what I want, and I have good money. Probably more than you’re seeing this entire year! Don’t be stupid here.” the man coldly stated.
Belen looked down to her hand still being gripped by the middle-aged man and gave a slight laugh, “I was hoping you’d do something fuckin’ stupid.” she said under her breath.
“What was that?” the man quickly asked.
Belen looked up to the man and clenched her right hand into a fist, “Chinga tu madre.” she said just before slamming her right fist square into the man’s jaw sending him flying against the wall.
To her surprise the man was still conscious and spitting out blood, “YOU FUCKING WHORE!” he yelled as he readjusted his jaw implant. Belen wasted no time in standing over him and continuing her punches until the man laid in a pool of his own blood and urine.
“He’ll live.” came a voice ringing through the HUD forcing Belen to spin around hoping to find the source until she finally saw outside the large window a small drone hovering in place, “I said “stun” them, correct, friend Velouria?” the voice asked.
“You owe me another six-thousand credits for this, Jander.” Belen retorted before cleaning the blood splatter from her arms and heading towards the escos to the 35th level.
“You gonna follow me all the way, huh?” Belen asked Jander through the drone.
“I just want to protect my investments, friend Velouria.” they replied, “Besides, I was able to record that incredible beat-down of the senator. It isn’t every day you get such delicious blackmail.”
“Blackmail?! Did you know he would’a done this?!” Belen asked in shock.
“I thought he would have tried far more, but this was sufficient.” Jander replied.
“You’re a piece of shit, you know that right?” Belen rhetorically asked.
“I do, but let’s not pretend you didn’t enjoy giving him his just desserts.”
The 35th floor was mostly cleared for lunch as Belen quickly walked towards the GPS destination. “The globe should be on the case behind the desk.” Jander’s voice rang.
“I remember. I’m not a total idiot.” Belen said as she forced the door open.
“I never said you were, friend Velouria.”
“Then stop actin’ like I am an’ let me do my fuckin’ job.” she angrily whispered to her contract.
“Very well. You’ll be on your own from here, Velouria. Try not to disappoint.” Jander said just before the drone outside the widow flew off into the city below.
Belen spotted the globe in the case behind the desk just as Jander said and made her way over. The display case was advanced, Belen had never seen anything quite this good. Using the HUD she scanned base hoping to find a weakness only to see the power supply. In a hasty move she instantly cut the power and just as quickly as the power was cut an alarm blared throughout. The door instantly shut and a blast door slammed in front of it preventing escape.
And that’s it! Thank you so much for reading, and if you have any comments or questions feel free to drop them below, or hit me up on on Twitter!