Taarg: The Skyrises, from Memorium (c.1995)

This follows on from Taarg: the Caranada Ballroom. I've decided to include both here, because they illustrate what these nasty, Universe 2 beasties are capable of.

Neroas comes from the Acrantophis excerpt. I like his character, that of the man who can do so much, yet prefers to keep that power and channel it into creativity and a world within a world for himself. His past, as a member of a shadowy counter-action organisation from the starfields of the Between called the Tayra, means he has an innate suspicion of journalists and their revealing, inquisitive natures.

Teska works for GNS, the broadcasting corporation referred to in Night View.

There is also reference to the "Candannel kids" here. They are taking retribution for the Uncle Harry debacle, also included here.

"Teska! Teska Janaul! Now, if this isn't a surprise fer me ticker, beautiful lady, I don't know what is! "

Teska smiled a bit uncertainly at the exuberant man standing with one hip leaned against a sleek chrome-blue vibro that was virtually a humming, parked testament to the art of the grafitti artist. "Hi, er, Rattling Jack, " she murmured, and felt Neroas' kindled interest alongside her.

"Just call me Rattler, Teska! All my friends call me that. Say, you guys ain't seen a couple of gumbiters in the ol' candlestick, have ya?"

"Gumbiters?"

"Kids. Two o' them, brother an' sister. Came from the Candannel place. Jeez, them kids were a hoot! Raided their allowance money t' hire me down here just t' visit their dad. Made me feel real warm inside, know what I mean? 'Course, told 'em t' be careful with those boosters they had. Smelled acid, I'm sure. Didn't want 'em redoing the insides o' my vee, right? They said they were going t' do some engraving. Ain't that cute?"

Neroas was smiling broadly now, and Teska wasn't entirely sure why. "So, you're for hire?" he asked, and the old man angled his head.

"Yeah, well why not?" The Rattler touched a side control, and the vibro's hatch hissed open. "Make yerself comfy, folks, an' tell me where ya wanna go."

"Interesting city you have here, Teska," Neroas murmured. "Did you know that someone's acid daubed an entire executive fleet of vibros down in the basement park of the GNS building?"

Teska's mouth shaped an 'o'. "You're kidding. Those kids?"

"Tomas and I were at the seccer's desk, Teska, we heard everything."

"Candannel's kids. The old man's going to go berserk."

"Say," the Rattler said now, turning his head as he seated himself by the controls, in front of his passengers, the hatch slowly closing, "any word on that story you an' Crawt were so into, Teska? The Mets let me loose again, so if you need help --?"

"We want to get to the Jorgayl building, westside."

"No kiddin'? Hey, bet that's t' do with the ballroom fuss last night, huh? Sure. Consider both o' ya there in a blink's twitch, Teska." He flipped a monitor off. "And no charge, Teska. No charge fer friends o'the Irishman."

As the vibro smoothly eased away from the curb, two men spilled out of the GNS building. Both heaving for breath, and sweating like marathoners, glancing desperately up and down the street.

"Damn! We missed her!" one gasped,  bending forward to rake in air, a hand on his companion's shoulder.

"Doesn't matter," the other insisted. "Look. They're here."

A gleaming white municipal v'way cleaner-drone darkened the street by the two waiting figures as it purred to a halt. A similarly white-clad main emerged from a control turret, and leaned an arm nonchalantly on the rim, inspecting their sweaty features from behind reflective shades.

"You said you had info?"

The two nodded in tandem. "Sure do. That journo we told you about? The one connected with the Saguaras? Well, she's nosing into the ballroom stuff. Just gone off to talk with that Jorgayl frakker."

"You overheard this?"

"Yeah. Look, we want some assurances, y'know? After we did the Golconda thingo, we've heard nothin', an' -- well, your boss seems damn unstable, an' me an' Das want protection from sudden death, 'kay?"

"Protection from --? I'm sure Lord Arragoth will consider it, gentlemen. In due course." The man reached down into the turret with his other hand. "If you'll excuse me, now, I must get to work."

One of the men laughed nervously, pointing at the cleaner. "Don't Arragoth pay you guys enough? You cleaning the streets now, man?"

"Oh, yes," the one-in-white replied. "Must do our little bit to keep litter off Kerav's fine v 'ways, now mustn't we?"

A small barrel-like projection snicked away from the side of the cleaner's hull, aimed at the two humans, and fired. The men fell where they'd stood, without making any more sound.

Then, from beneath the fringe of grime-catchers at the drone's base, a blue gas spilled out, hugging low to the pavement, and blanketed the crumpled bodies. Turning into a thick, oily fluid and then a rubbery solid, as the shapes beneath the cover shrunk and dissolved to nothing except part of the chemicals that destroyed them without fuss.

Finally, the rubber slid back under the drone, with a gurgling sound as it returned to its fluid state.

The man in the turret leaned over to look at the pavement, nodded with satisfaction. then went back into the body of the drone, closing the lid.

As the drone pulled away from the curb, there was a slight movement in the doorway of the GNS 1obby.

Varch stared, open-mouthed, at the pavement.

Then ducked inside, and ran to find Shanlax.

"Get me vibro redec'd by the best o' the best, y'know. Ever heard o' the Infra Diggers, Teska?" Rattling Jack turned his head from the vibro's viewshield, and companionably rested his arm across the front seat as he faced Teska and Neroas in the back. "Them's a bunch o' hot artistes -- street spikers, I heard 'em called -- that don't mind turning my vee here inta a work o' motion extravagance." Ahead, another vehicle braked to a stop suddenly, but the Rattler merely flicked at the directional, veered the vibro out of the way in the nick of time, and kept right on talking.

"So, how's Crawt? Bet he got banged up bad last night, eh? Yeah, what a bash. Saw a flock o' insurer agents over there early this am, bitin' their nails, and hop-dancing all over the place. Hah! Got no time fer insurers. Y'know, they refused ten times t' insure my vee? Got no sense o' class, th' bastards."

Neroas was half listening to the Rattler, had half an eye on Teska's tense form alongside him. The rest was on a disturbing twitch in the base of his brain. Something he now dubbed the Acrantophis Flick.

"Time is like a still pool, until an event breaks the placidity and creates the ripple." he'd read amongst the fragments of parchment he'd studied. So long ago, now ...

Ripples go in every direction. In water, they travel in all degrees of the perfect circle. In time, though, there is the variance; in time's pool, the ripples travel in the perfect sphere. Everywhere. Waiting to be felt by ones with the knowledge to receive their import ..."

Those damned experiments of his. He'd felt the twitch then. And he felt it now.

Evil, deadly evil, was abroad, and coming closer with each heartbeat.

He looked back through the rear screen. And saw the usual urban scene for Kerav City. Vibros. Harebrained pedestrians. Control lights at intersections, sugar-cake munching Metro Seccers, patterned v'ways. A couple of sanitation droids, humming their way from point to point, stopping at a rubbish tube, upending the contents into the trailer behind, spraying dead any stubborn flies that hadn't got the message that today was pick-up day.

A couple of sanitation droids that, suddenly, detached themselves from their trailers, like snails freeing themselves from their cumbersome shells. The loads tipping over, some of the refuse spilling out into the street as the droids pulled away simultaneously, in the direction of the traffic.

 

In the direction of the hire-vee from where he watched them with narrowing eyes.

"Rattling Jack," Neroas said coolly now, "how fast can this vibro go?"

The Rattler lifted an eyebrow. "How fast? Y'mean, based on average revs?"

"Uh, huh," Neroas confirmed, still watching the progress of the two angelically white droids that were adroitly wending their way through the choke of vibros. Heedless of the shaking fists from drivers, and the flash-toot of angry engines.

 

"We-e-ell. Long as y' don't go tellin' Metro-Sec -- this here beauty can do about ten points over the average. First bought her from a 'ventor nut who dabbled with varper engines and vibro shells --"

"This thing has a varper engine?" Neroas questioned, his attention now switched to the grizzled driver. Teska was frowning, trying to ask what was going on, and now looked curiously out the rear screen.

"Three o' them, man."

"Use 'em, then. We're being followed."

"Wow! No kiddin'! We're gonna have a chase? Woo-ee, this is gonna be a terrific day!"

"A chase?" Teska asked, finally getting Neroas to look her way. "Dammit, what are you playing at, Neroas? What do you mean by--?"

"Take a glance, Teska. See those cute white thingos that happen to be playing dodge with the traffic, keeping on our tail?" Teska looked again, and saw the droids had found a clear spot, and now gathered speed just as the hum of the Rattler's vibro gained momentum and they were flung forward. With Rattling Jack blood-yelling at the top of his voice, and the wind whipping at the hull.

"Refuse droids. But ?"

"Taarg. Teska. Those are Taarg."

"Come on, Neroas in broad daylight? With Metro scanners all around? With ?"

One of the droids uptilted a rim, and Teska could see red eyes staring right at her. Seconds before a stubby traction limb clicked up several angle degrees, and opened fire.

The vibro's thrusters howled as The Rattler slewed to avoid the blast, and he grinned. "Man, just when I thought today was going to be slow crawling hell. Damn, but I love this city!"

"Holy hells, it is a Taarg!" Teska breathed, and Neroas gave her a smug look.

"Huh. And you journos think you know everything!"

There was a bleeping coming from a shoulder pouch Teska wore. She retrieved a comm-1ink, and muttered tersely. "Yes?"

"Teska?" came Shanlax's voice. " I just had Varch come see me. Honey, get your tail back here, there's trouble! That Lukhor guy !"

"Shanlax, you're a bit too late."

"Huh?"

"Right now, we're in a hire-vee, heading down -- Trewpara Street East, being chased by two rogue refuse droids."

"Them Taarg thingos? Jeez, Teska -- hold on to everything, lady, I'm calling the seccers."

"Good. " Neroas murmured. "That should give the Taarg a bit of local shooting practice." He angled his head back, testing the rear screen's fittings. "Wonder how Jark! Duck!"

He pushed Teska's head right down and over his lap, as he bent forward and as the rear screen peppered into the vibro's interior with a shriek of abused plex. The Rattleer was swearing up a storm about non-insurance, Teska was gasping, and Neroas was muttering. "Well. That takes care o' that question --"

"Teska!" Shanlax was bellowing down the link. "You still there?"

Teska groped for the link on the floor of the compartment, shakily held it up and yelled, "No, I'm not!" before throwing the link out the rear hole.

"Fine use of modern communications marvels," Neroas commented drily.

"Well?" Teska asked pointedly, straightening and glaring at him. "When you going to start doing the protecting, huh?"

"Soon as you get your hand off my thigh, lady, so I can move!"

A hand instantly lifted, and Teska went hot in the face. "I was trying to get my balance "

"Yeah, I know you were. Just give me room t' get to the pieces, 'kay?"

"Pieces?"

Neroas grimaced. "Typical journo. Always with the q's." He'd reached inside his tunic jacket, and brought his hand out with a clutch of metalloid parts of a whole Teska thought she recognised.

"Bits of a qrell!" she gasped.

He gave her an approving grin. "Good guess, Teska. Been hanging 'round the firing ranges with Sag, huh?" He began snapping them together with a minimum of wasted effort, despite the now rocking mot ion of the vibro, as the Rattler guided them up over curbs and down narrow alleys, trying to evade the tenacious pursuers. Distantly, they could hear Metro sirens.

"Good friend o' mine taught me how to break these beauties down, " he murmured, almost to himself. Last night, the last sleepless night, he'd worked on the Orgurran qrell he'd had since the spaceport, and thanked again the lessons of the Cobra.

"So, you' re ex-Tayra," Teska guessed, and saw Neroas' irritated frown.

"No q's, lady. Wait until I can avoid you at light speed, 'kay? Don't hit on me in a damn hire-vee while two clinkers are looking t' turn us into crackling doggie food!" He then twisted round, aiming the qrell and softly counting off numbers.

Before releasing the trigger.

Light filled the inside of the vibro. The thrusters missed a couple of beats, as an onrush of air-whack slammed into the rear of the vehicle. Neroas held Teska to his chest tightly, lips drawn back as if on a snarl while Rattling Jack made a few adjustments to his controls, and muttered, " Insurance? Hell, somebody's gonna get a bill fer all this like they wouldn't believe!"

Neroas tossed his head as the roar died away, and saw a receding cloud of smoke and fumes in the throat of the alley they'd just passed through. "Gone," he muttered. "Hell's fire, but that was ..."

"Don't go congrattng yerself too early, kid." the Rattler said then, lowering a side window to spit out into the street. "I can see movement."

Cursing, Neroas blinked and looked harder at the dust and smoke. And saw a droid emerge. One no longer pristine white, and with an impact dent along one side from the explosion of its companion freak. But still moving. This time the eyes were part of a head, a dog-like head just above the rim, teeth glinting as the droid once again gathered speed.

Neroas fired again, but the qrell blast slid off the hull of the droid like water over oiled skin. "Frakker learns, dammit," he snarled. "Smart little --"

"There's the twin skyrises, over there," the Rattler pointed, his finger indicating two needle-like prominences on the skyline. "There's vibro parks inside. Like a goddamned mazecoil. Maybe, if I gun her a tad, we could lose the sodder, what ya say?"

Neroas settled back. "I say try anything right now, Rattler. Anything at all." He spotted, and reached for, a plex canister just in front of him, in a leatherette pocket. He opened it, and took an experimental sniff. "Talcum powder?" he murmured, with surprise.

Rattiing Jack nodded- "Keeps the vibro smellin' nice. 'Specially fer the big shots. Reminds 'em o' mama, cuddles and nice, warm milk. Read 'bout it in a 'zine, once. Works like a charm." He winked. "They give bigger tips when they' re full o' the fuzzies."

Teska was watching the on-coming droid, and shivered. "How far away are we from--?'"

"Just a couple o' minutes, Teska. Don't ya worry 'bout anything. Ain't ever had a ticket fer speed in' , and I sure ain't about t' get trashed by some uppity damn refuse mohger, that's fer damn sure! " He cupped a hand over one ear. "Why, I hears the cavalry! That should slow the little sod up."

Teska watched moodily as the Metro Seccers did indeed turn up. Patrol varpers screaming into the gap between themi and the droid,, uniforms holding up hands and ordering a mindless, instinctive life-force, one hell-bent on multiple homicide, to stop.

She watched as three plumes of fire burst into the air, with the untouched droid speeding on, past the burnting remains of Kerav City's finest.

"Oh, yeah," she murmured, slumping in the plushness of the seat next to Neroas. "That really slowed it up. Remind me to write to the Mayor, if we get out of this, Neroas."

"Oh? What about?"

"My recommendation that next time, they arm the frakkers with tarvs. "

She failed to count how many times the vibro corkscrewed up endless levels, thrusters screaming, the humming now a revving roar as Rattling Jack boosted up all three engines. Numbers flashed past, lights became just a psychedelic blur. And all the time, Neroas was tossing that damned talcum powder up and down in his hand. Looking at the canister. Tapping the outside.

"You, " she muttered, "are weird. One weird bastard. "

Neroas didn't reply. He merely splayed a hand against the inner hull, counting to himself, frowned, then tapped the talcum again.

Jeez, Teska thought miserably. I'm going to die in a vibro with the hire-vee wildman and a talcum fanatic. Come back, Sag, all's forgiven!

She cast one last glance out the shattered rear screen, saw that the droid was still coming on strong, and then refused to look any further.

She heard Neroas suddenly say to the Rattler -- "Say, this is a twin tower? The other side got a vibro park there too?"

"Yeah. Mirror image. Top ten levels are al1 open, too --the lineguys 'parently liked to think of this thing as some kinda Grecian temple in the clouds. I hear from those who use those top levels that the bird droppings up there are murder!"

Then, Neroas scrambled forward, sliding into the front alongside Rattling Jack. "And how far apart are the buildings?"

"'Bout thirty yards. Godflammed boulevard down there, kid. This here's the west side -- where the creds fly high, man."

"And how far you reckon this vibro can stay airborne?"

The Rattler gaped at him. "Airborne? This here's a vibro, kid -- not a stratter!"

"We get to the first o' them open levels. Rattler -- just make sure those engines o' yours have all the boost they need. Cycle 'em all up, and tell 'em they're about t' remember how to fly again."

"Jeez an' the saint's chorus -- you some kinda escapee, Neroas?" Rattling Jack yelled over the roar of the vibro.

Neroas grinned. "Just trust me, Rattler. None of us are going to die today."

They went up the levels. Heard the Taarg behind, at frustrated, angry intervals firing blindly, scorching the walls of the park, leaving flaming imprints of its passage. Teska was more interested in the fact that Neroas was making the side-screen by his seat go down, and was starting to lever himself out through the opening.

With the talcum powder.

No use asking why, she thought. The man was crazy. That was reason enough.

Hanging onto the sleek lines of the vibro with one hand, Neroas set his face against the whipping airwash that flung his hair back as a dark banner. He balanced there on the edge of oblivion, moving with the turns, keeping an eye on the Taarg and trusting that the vibro's speed would make it impossible to get a clear shot at a piece of dangling, air-whipped humanity. He felt the rush of fresh air just before the Rattler nosed the vibro onto the open level, and he yelled, "There! Head for the other tower!

Rattling Jack shook his head with a fatalistic shrug, and juiced the engines, setting them for max-speed.

At which point, Neroas flung the talcum powder canister at the skyfilled gap they were about to plow through.

The canister shattered, spilling its contents all over the floor.

The vibro roared over the pile.

Talcum powder was sprayed up and around, shoved back by the thrusters, sent up as a white cloud by the backwash of air and gravitons.

And then the hire-vee was in the sky.

Teska yelped, and clung to the seat. Rattling Jack had flared nostrils and the widest eyes in history.

Neroas was calm, cool, and murmuring to himself, moving calmly back into the cabin, hands spread out over the controls, over the inner hull.

And, just when in all logic they should have dropped like a stone, with the anti-grav thrusters having nothing to anti-grav against except wishes and hopes and Kerav's good ol' smog rating they were diving into the square mouth of the twin tower park. On the other side. The varper engines red-hot and the thrusters bucking the vehicle about like a kiddies' fun-ride gone horribly wrong.

For some reason, Teska slid up and looked out the rear screen's hole.

At a droid flinging itself from out of a cloud of white talcum powder, realising its fatal error too late. And falling, in perfect accord with Newton's laws, with the dog-head coated in talcum.

She thought she heard the Taarg howl, all the way down.

"Blindsided him! Jark, Neroas, you are a frigging marvel!" Rattling Jack was saying now, slapping Neroas on the shoulder with one hand, the other soothing his bronco'ing engines down, shutting off all but one, an eye on the temp gauges. "The little bastard couldn't see for the powder!"

Neroas smiled, then looked across at Teska. "You okay?"

Shakily, she said, "I'll live. I think. That was --"  

"You still want t' keep that appointment? After all the shaking up, maybe you should "

She shook her head firmly. "No. No way. I'm still going." The Rattler grinned. "Well, folks, just give me about fifteen minutes while the engines come down from solar to flicklight, an' then I'll be happy t' take you down t' Jargayl's. In style."  

Teska sighed, shuddering as she remembered the moments before. " I think I've had just about all the style I can take today, thanks. Just get us there without --"  

She gave Neroas another close study. And put same facts together in her head.

Sag was always proud of his Tayra group, the Vipers Nest. And he mentioned one member, named the Mamba, who could always turn the most innocuous objects into lethal weapons. 

Even talcum powder, perhaps? 

She caught Neroas giving her a forbidding stare, and shut her thoughts down.  

Just in case, apart from willing vibros to fly, he could read minds . . .