She had to admit, Leah‘s whole body gelled better after Beathen’s treatment. Back in her apartment, she stretched and flexed her limbs, noticing how limber she felt. Leah’s augments were designed to go unnoticed by most doctors. There were only a handful of physicians trained to operate on an augmented body like hers, and only one of them, besides Beathen, lived in Koster City. That woman creeped her out, so Leah avoided her at all costs.
Beathen, on the other hand, had known her all of her life, and his allegiance to her father was unquestioned. That mechanic’s team was merely one unit in an ever-expanding secret army that Leah’s father had positioned all across the New Democracy. The intel that he got from his informants gave him a significant advantage over so many “elite” aristocrats. This network of information was why he had such a powerful career in the Patrician Force, and was able to quickly rise to Koster City’s highest office in that field.
The teenage thief suddenly felt a surge of embarrassment as she imagined for the first time that her father may not have only arranged for the stone to be brought to Koster, but may have also arranged for its two subsequent thefts. Her mother had given her the assignment, but Mrs. McNab had often argued with her husband, dissatisfied that she was so often left “out of the loop”. Leah had decided that it was anybody’s guess how much her mother knew about her father’s intentions. Still, if her father was a major player in the events of the stone, he would have taken precautions well above Leah’s pay grade.
She felt a returning impulse to check on the stone and make sure it was still in place. The shades and curtains over her single window had already been pulled to give Leah the privacy she so often craved. She was half-dressed now and freshly showered, but she put off the rest of her preparations to rush over to her bed stand. She pulled at the bedframe’s corner leg until the digital code in her hand was accepted and the lock disengaged. The hidey-hole slid open, and she immediately thrust her free hand in and retrieved the cloth sack. The weight felt right, but she continued to slide the fastening rope loose to let the bag open just a bit.
A bright, brown light burst from the bag, threatening to illuminate the entire room. Quickly, Leah squeezed the opening shut and re-fastened the fastening rope. She thrust the stone back into its hiding place. With a quiet “whirrr”, the bedpost closed and locked itself automatically. Being a thief herself, Leah tended to prefer hiding places that were right out in the open. By stashing minor values in more conventional hiding places throughout her apartment, she was that much more confident that her true best hiding places would never be questioned… Unless she was raided by someone as well-off as her own family.
The spy/thief/teenage girl stared down into her palm in wonder. A thin micro-chipped film had been inserted into her palm. This tiny, digital projector allowed her to create a unique locking code with security systems designed for ordinary-looking items. These types of devices weren’t commonly seen in Koster City, except for amongst the very wealthy (those that could afford the microsurgery in the first place). “Microsurgeries” were performed for various reasons, like projecting or receiving information, altering one’s personal body or appearance, or (like most of Leah’s) augmenting physical abilities. Microsurgery was essentially any physical augment involving a micro-connector to the nervous system.
Microsurgical augments had been added to each joint on Leah’s limbs, allowing her to add an almost hydraulic pressure to her movements. From a standstill, she could jump almost three stories vertically and could punch clean through a brick wall. Not that she could do the latter without pain. Her bony points had been covered in what the surgeon had called “organic metal” to protect her from damaging herself, but punching through a brick wall could still break her arm.
Others working for the elites would receive augments too, so Leah had to train intensely with various martial arts masters that her father controlled. An average person was nowhere near a match for her, and she could easily hold her own against most augmented people. But being an agent with valuable – albeit limited – information and access to the McNab operations, her father’s primary purpose for her physical augments was to avoid capture or, at worst, containment.
The physical ones were the least of her augments, however. Leah’s optical lenses had been removed and replaced with highly advanced receptors. A layer of film had been added to her retinas that allowed them to shift between various modes of light refraction. The telescopic film could effectively “tune” her vision from high UV to frequencies of thermal detection. She could see up to five times further than the average person in any light.
Leah’s visual augments were particularly useful in the daily fogs, but she found her sound detection to be far more useful. Somehow, the surgeon had replaced much of her eardrums with a receptor designed to interpret a wider range of wavelengths. She had had to spend months learning to “tune” her hearing. Mostly, that had just been teaching her mind to interpret this new data. She could now tune her hearing until she became her own sonar: she could interpret sounds around her as three-dimensional images. Thinking it over now, she felt like her auditory augments played the smallest role in that development. That had been mostly Leah training her own mind. Her hearing had given her a new form of sight.
She let her palm drop, My signature’s unique, Leah thought, it could be traced back to me. Hurriedly, she changed into flexible leggings with discreet pockets on the sides. She selected a black vest and pulled it on over her cotton, grey blouse. She already wore long black socks; she chose a pair of cushioned boots and put them on. I should be doing a lot of jumping tonight. Attempting to be ready for anything, Leah fastened her utility belt to her waist and refreshed the items inside. Once she’d selected a few tools and weapons, she tuned her hearing and vision to scan for potential onlookers. Satisfied that no one in the area was acting suspiciously, Leah unlocked and opened her window.
As soon as the window was open, a single purple flake came fluttering toward the young thief. The days were getting shorter as summer came to a close. She blew at the creature to ensure it didn’t land in her room. A sting by a single member of the Mannah usually wasn’t enough to kill, but it was more than enough to cause excruciating pain. Leah leaped through the window, landing on the elevated deck in front of Gizmo.
Gizmo calmly lay in its dormant position, but both eyes peered at Leah in what seemed to her like anticipation. The thief pointed upward and motioned with her hand to indicate that Gizmo follow her. Leah then leaped clean over Gizmo’s head and onto the wall. She’d made a series of grooves and carvings, on the wall opposite her apartment to allow herself to move quickly around its surface. After quickly scaling the wall, she proceeded, rooftop to rooftop, to one of the highest points in Koster’s poorest district. There was no need to wonder if Gizmo was following her, the quattour was practically out in front of Leah as if anticipating her destination. Leah had meant to ask Beathen about this.
The vehicular cat was an old Margay model quattour. Gizmo’s frame was specifically designed for climbing and moving quickly through forested areas. Gizmo’s rocket launcher, plasma cutters and Rev-light were designed for those times when some obstacle could not be simply averted (like a boulder, or tall, thick bushes). Leah kept two such rockets in her apartment for such purposes but had rarely loaded them, much less used them. As much as Leah loved trees, she made more use of Gizmo’s retractable claws and prehensile tail to move quickly between ruins and tall buildings.
The two definitely made an unusual pair as they ran and jumped across the rooftops. This was one of Leah’s favorite routes because it couldn’t be seen from any other vantage point. She and Gizmo made good time hopping over the buildings. They were heading to a close-knit series of apartment buildings that sat atop Round Hill: the tallest point in the Zellwood District. The buildings there had been many things in their lifetime, but now they were old and abandoned. The tallest building, and its neighbors, had been condemned. All the windows had been boarded up and the doors nailed shut, but from the roof, Leah could see nearly all of Koster City.
Looking south from that point, Leah could clearly make out the East docks on her left and the tall buildings of the downtown district directly in front of her. Beyond the tallest of them, mansions rose into the horizon against the city’s slope. The West gates could be spied a little distance off to her right. Koster’s main road wound down a gradual slope into Downtown before it broke off in three directions. In Leah’s opinion, this was Koster’s most magnificent viewpoint. The gears in the machine that was Koster City could be seen turning, from that vantage.
Besides loving to gaze over the beauty of this industrial municipality with a river running through it, there was a very practical reason why Leah loved this location. She loved to leap into a sliding path through the hillside forest that separated Zellwood from the industrial district. From the industrial district, she planned to start her search for the mysterious stranger she’d robbed just a night before.
Now, Leah was only a few leaps and bounds from that place of subjective serenity. She hopped onto a long air conditioning unit, ran a few steps, leaped, and rolled onto another unit. A few powerful skips took her to the top of a short chimney close to her destination rooftop. Leah crouched and pushed off in a dynamic leap to clear that final wall. Mid-air, she saw three boys crouching near the roof corner opposite her approach. The three were facing away from her and seemed as unaware of her as she was of them only a moment ago. The lithe noble-lady hit the roof in a crouching slide, and all three boys peered over their shoulders in a cool, almost nonchalant state.
It seemed to Leah that the three boys were more curious than anything. Leah locked eyes with the one in the middle. He stood from his crouch and turned to face her. Dirty muscular legs extended beneath his gray denim shorts. He was shirtless under his loud, red vest. A strong tan accentuated his muscular build and contrasted with his golden blonde hair. Leah’s search was over before it had begun. The thuggish boss pushed a lock of that golden hair out of his face and started towards Leah.
This is my first web-published story. Please let me know what you think in the comments below. To get the bi-weekly chapters I send out, just click here.
Special Author’s Note
Nothing much happens here, but augments will play an important role in Leah’s future conflicts. I had to take a moment to outline the basics of her abilities, and the costs, and give a quick demonstration. It seems that the boys she’s looking for are tough brutes but they may have bitten off more than they can chew when it comes to Leah.
While I guess I didn’t notice it as much while writing it, Leah and Gizmo’s unique relationship is really fun for me. The visual of them hopping from rooftop to rooftop over decrepit buildings was a bit …cathartic? In any case, I’d highly anticipated how things would go when Leah and David first met, and I hope that I did well in laying the groundwork for their working relationship.
Read the next chapter to find out!