Below you will find the first chapter of my debut novel Neon Fever. If you enjoy it, sign up for my email list for future chapters and the full release!
CHAPTER 1 – KAIN
“Claire, gimmie an update.”
The small monitor in the car’s dashboard beeped and lit up. Several men loading boxes from the back of a light gray van and into another in the middle of a dark alleyway filled the screen.
Kain took a long draw on his cigarette as he leaned in closer, the smoke filling the car around him.
“Sir, the buyer has arrived, and they are exchanging the merchandise,” Claire said, her smooth female voice sounding deceptively human, especially for an A.I. She piloted a small recon drone high over the alleyway where his car sat around the corner from the illicit deal.
A group of local augmentation jackers secured someone willing to sell them Protomet-172, a special enriched metal used in manufacturing human augmentations: arms, legs, organs. Anything these days was replaceable or upgradeable, and like most tech it created a seedy back-alley market demand for low-cost knockoffs.
A highly regulated material, only a few companies possessed the coveted license to buy, manufacture, and sell Protomet-172. Black market sightings a rarity, Captain Moore assigned Kain to the task of tracking the seller down before it landed in the wrong hands. Unregistered augmentations caused rampant issues as of late, and a shipment of this size posed an imminent threat (and a sizable profit) if Kain failed to stop them.
“Do a thermal scan of the area, I don’t want any surprises this time.” A moment later a view of the two vans appeared on the screen, a mixture of green and orange with spots of hot red floating in between.
“Should I connect you to the Captain and call in reinforcements?”
“I love that you know the answer already but feel compelled to ask me anyway,” he said, taking another deep drag on his cigarette.
Kain groaned as he mulled the idea over.. Protocol dictated for him to contact the station and report his meetup. The 322’s would be dispatched, a group of heavily augmented soldiers whose purpose was to handle what would be a messy situation such as this. Kain knew better, but he also didn’t care.
The memories of his dream the night before roamed still fresh in his mind, and he wanted something to help distract him.
The same nightmares haunted him on and off for years, ever since his deployment. They’d go away for a while, but they were more frequent recently. He needed to talk to someone, to get some help beyond the basic medication he took. Kain never used the medical benefits from his service. Less of a matter of pride and more of a lack of time than anything else. Or at least that’s what he told himself.
“Claire, prepare for combat recon.”
If an A.I could complain, Claire certainly would have. But she gave a calm and soft, “Yes, Sir,” like always. He didn’t need the risk, but after years and years of training off-world and two-and-a-half tours of duty, the rush of combat called to him like a distant lover. He craved it. Yearned for it.
Kain finished the cigarette and stepped out of the car, throwing the smoke cartridge on the ground as it flashed and evaporated. He pressed his thumb against the truck of the car. It beeped once and popped open.
“How many are we looking at?” he asked. He pulled out and loaded his rifle—a personal item not normally afforded to detectives. His good buddies down at the armory had set him up with a complete package a while back, off the books.
“Sir, I count seven men,” she said. Kain paused for a moment at the words, contemplating the situation, but continued putting on his body armor and getting the rest of his gear ready.
Once he finished, he pulled a final box out of the trunk. The small metal case contained four small metal syringes, each filled with a bright green liquid.
“What’s my estimated tolerance today,” he pulled one syringe out and closed the case, setting the thin metal injector on the trunk lid. He stared at the liquid inside, transfixed. He wiped his palms on his pants as he picked it up again, twisting it slowly between his fingers.
“Sir, by my calculations you will have approximately eight minutes of enhanced physical movement.”
“Shit.” A whole minute less than last time. “You sure?” he asked.
“Sir, based on your body mass and frequency of usage—” she began before he cut her off.
“Yeah, yeah ok.” The drugs made him feel like the street trash who shot hacked-together chems into their system for a quick high. But it would be suicide to try and go at it without them, and he needed the stims to even the odds. It was a constant back-and-forth battle between what he knew was right and what deep down he knew he wanted.
He glanced up over the car at the vans parked only a few dozen yards away. He knew they wouldn’t be there much longer. Time to move.
Closing the trunk, he moved to the mouth of the alley. He took a deep breath and lifted up his shirt sleeve, the crook of his arm already riddled with little dark dots. He pressed the applicator against his arm and hit the button, the needle shooting the drug into his veins with a soft click.
The effects hit instantly. His arms and legs bulged inside his clothes as his muscles expanded. He hit the switch on the side of his vest releasing the helmet which popped up from his collar and swung down over his face. It wrapped around and connected behind his head with a metal snap. The heads-up display on the visor appeared, showing the alley across from him as Claire marked each hostile on the screen.
He took a moment to steady his breathing and Kain’s mind flashed back again to his dream: the black water engulfing him, his body thrashing violently against the enclosing darkness swirling and surrounding him and filling his lungs. He struggled for air, for control, but the water was too strong, and he sank down into the crushing abyss.
Kain raised his rifle and started jogging toward the vans. His heart raced, pumping hard from the juice. His muscles itched with energy, his mind sharp and focused. Not as strong an effect as it used to be, but very intoxicating nonetheless, and he barely noticed himself grinning.
As he got closer, he raised his badge. The holographic screen popped up and displayed his credentials large enough for them to see.
“Gentlemen, can I see some permits for that merchandise?” he called, scanning the group carefully, trying to map the path each man would take when things went south. One man turned, pointed at Kain and shouted to the others. Seconds later a volley of bullets erupted in his direction.
Kain broke into a full run, speeding across the space between them in an instant. He reached the first van and planted his feet hard, throwing his full weight against the front of it. The van skidded backward on its mag wheels, and he heard the deep thud as it hit two of the men on the other side.
The whole scene became a blur of chaos, gunfire, and smoke. The drugs dulled the world around him, letting him think and see faster and clearer then he would have been able to otherwise. Claire buzzed far overhead, giving him a beat-by-beat update of the surrounding scene. He swung out from behind the van, carefully shuffling sideways as he fired meticulously, each round assigned to its target with precision.
His death waltz.
The dance of calculated and rhythmic destruction whose instructions sat ingrained deep within his bones. Alive, seeing the world as vibrant and clear as ever. He kept his breathing heavy and even, his muscles demanding as much oxygen as possible.
More gunfire, and two of the men dropped in a spray of blood. Click, empty. He slung the rifle and pulled out his pistol. Bullets slammed into the side of the van he crouched behind. He returned fire. Exploding clatter rang out as his bullets tore through the metallic kneecaps of two more of the men. They were shitty street augs and not military spec limbs built to withstand small arms fire. The men collapsed to the ground, their metal body parts leaking fluid and refusing to respond.
More shots, Kain counted each bullet until he was out of ammo. He tried to keep his head clear and focused, but he struggled to breathe, his chest and lungs aching.
Only one smuggler still stood, a massive man decked out with three augmented limbs. Kain wondered how cranked past the standard tolerance they were, making it easy to rip him apart in seconds.
He strode forward. Kain tried to brace his feet for combat, but his leg muscles gave out. He stumbled backward and fell, barely catching himself as the rest of his muscles hit their peak and shut down. The massive smuggler drew nearer, his large metal fist pulled back. Panic started in his chest and rose into his throat.
A hammer slammed into Kain’s head. The sound of the man’s metal arm colliding with his helmet made his ears ring. The screens flickered hard, threatening to shut off. Another hammering blow and the metal mask bent inward, cutting into his lip. Something in his jaw popped, exploding pain through his neck. Blood dribbled down his chin. Kain reached into his pocket and barely got hold of the metal puck inside. Bringing it up, it beeped, attaching itself with a snap to the smuggler’s arm as it swung towards Kain’s face. Kain pointed at the nearest van. The puck beeped again and yanked the large man away, pulling him through the air and slamming him into the side of the van with a deep crunch.
Kain let out a huge sigh and collapsed on the ground. Red hot pain filled his body, pulsating in waves with every breath. A warmth ran over his arm from a large bullet hole in his right shoulder.
“Ok, now you can call backup,” he said and then passed out.
A few hours later Kain walked into the station, and towards his captain’s office. Several of the other officers glanced at him as he walked by, murmuring under their breath and pointing to the large bandages wrapped around his arm. He tried his best to block them out, but he caught one or two phrases “…dude has a death wish,” and “…with his condition too? Just reckless…” Kain brushed past the group of onlookers in the hall, refusing to acknowledge their glaring.
He knocked on the door and a moment later it slid open to reveal a rather extravagant-looking office. Metal shelves packed with old dusty books and awards lined the walls. Pictures of a man shaking hands and giving out commendations littered the large desk that sat in the middle of the room.
The desk itself had a large holo-screen up replaying Claire’s footage of the bust from earlier. The department issued Claire to him not only to help with his lack of technical capacities, but also to monitor him, given his history of “reckless behavior.”
The holoscreen disappeared. Behind it sat Captain Phillip Moore, a large and stern-looking middle-aged man. His massive white beard reached down in direct contrast to his clean-shaven head. He’d been Kain’s superior ever since he joined the force and had even championed him to make detective despite the whispers and backroom comments about Kain’s condition interfering with his work. Stunts like today didn’t help his case.
“Sit,” Moore said, his voice deep and gruff, his mouth stretched tight across his face. Kain sat through several conversations like this before, and Kain wondered if this one would be as explosive as the last.
“Captain, if I can—” Kain began, but the captain closed his eyes, mouthing the words again. Kain sat and braced himself for the onslaught of yelling.
The captain met Kain’s eyes and instead of going off on him as he expected, the words came out calm and soft. “Third time in the last four months Kain. Third time our guys had to come to scrape you off the ground barely conscious and beat to shit.”
His voice made Kain uncomfortable, gentler and more comforting than he used to. Kain preferred the yelling.
“What do I have to do to get you to stop trying to kill yourself, huh? When are you gonna figure out you can’t charge into these situations, half-cocked and full of that shit you keep pumping yourself with and expect to make it out every time?” He gestured to Kain’s arm, the injection mark still red and puffy from earlier.
“You don’t understand…” Kain began. He wanted to explain, to make sense of it, to put reason behind his actions even though he himself barely understood them half the time.
“I get it,” his captain said. “I understand. What you’ve done and what you’ve seen off-world. The mark it left on you. I get that. I know it’s difficult,”
“Do you?” Kain said, the words coming out much harsher than he intended. “Do you know what it’s like being the only fully human detective out there? Shit, maybe the only fully human person in the city. Do you know what it’s like knowing you only get one set of lungs? One heart? One liver? One set of arms?” His eyes flashed down to where the Captain’s own augmented arm sat against the desk, a gift from his wife on their twentieth wedding anniversary last year.
“While everyone else runs around with the freedom and comfort in knowing they can swap out their failed pieces for new ones? Hell, most do it for fun. You know what it’s like being looked down upon by your peers because you can’t lift a car or scan an entire building with upgraded retinas? Having everyone treat you like a delicate flower that needs protecting because you don’t get a second chance?” His voice shook, hands balled up tightly into fists. The anger raced through him. Always the same. The resentment boiled up fast in his chest, itching to explode out of him. He took a deep breath to try to calm down.
“There are new developments in neurological medicine every day—” The captain began but Kain shook his head.
“There’s no fucking cure, and there won’t be one,” he said, his voice flat now. “They’ve taken gallons of my blood over the years. I’ve had hundreds of tests run and they still don’t know what the hell happened.” He stood and reached for the door, trying not to let his anger spill over anymore.
“Wait,” the captain called to him.
“There was a murder up near the westward hills last night, some teenager. His parents are pretty upset. I want you to look into it, ME’s are reporting something strange is going on. Take the drive to cool off.”
Kain turned again, not caring if the captain had finished speaking, and continued through the door and back into the hall.
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