This week for , I present something a little different. Sandpaper Kiss is in final editing now, and I'm praying that I get enough pre-orders to cover the cost of an ISBN. So here's a slice of a new story: Hope City Stories. Enjoy!Chapter 2: A Hero Reborn
Everybody knew what Hope Tower looked like; it was the iconic building that dominated every vista. Even in the outer parts of the city, avenues were angled towards it to make sure it could be seen from every important location. Even if you weren’t in sight of it, it was the city’s logo. The distinctive leaning fan shape was watermarked on every official letter, and embossed on public maps, bus shelters, and tourist plaques throughout Hope. The view from the giant tower was just as impressive, with the multifaceted new buildings that made up much of the city centre reflecting sunlight to make the views from Hope Tower seem as if it was supported in a nest of rainbows.
The inside of the building was just as memorable, if you’d seen it, and its depiction on television made sure that anyone would recognise it immediately. Everything was glass and crystal, as far as possible. Even the smallest hallway had natural light, at least a window into one of the great vaulted, glass-walled lobby spaces cris-crossed with gleaming bridges and escalators hanging in the air to connect higher levels. Virtually the whole building was open plan, and it was beautiful. The designer had been a genius. Now, if anyone ever thought back to the blast that had ushered in the 21st century, their first impression would be the beauty that grew out of the remains. Clearly, that was exactly how it was supposed to be.
Below ground level, though, Hope Tower wasn’t so bright and shining, and wasn’t so well known either. Even three levels of basement parking had sunlight, courtesy of slanted windows for three feet below the ceiling of the first subterranean level, and light wells from above directing the sun’s rays onto ornate, prismatic sculptures. But go another level down, and nobody knew everything that was down there. Half a century before, Mayor Clarke and her team of architects had put just as much thought into keeping the underground complex hidden as they had into creating the impression of openness and honesty for the City Hall and offices above.
The architecture here had its own propaganda. Instead of white marble, chrome, and glass, the walls were lined with utilitarian steel panels, with so many cupboards that it would be impossible to find anything without the approval of the building’s computer core. The styling here said that the city was robust and would defeat anyone who dared to oppose it, or that these people were the pragmatic foundation that supported the dreams of the masses.
Among many military offices, of which nobody knew all the details, and many science labs of various kinds, were the offices of Hope One. This particular think-tank could easily have fitted into either group, but its scientists preferred to think of themselves as entirely separate from the red-tape-laden main arms of the City Council. Amid all the labs, and the more esoteric equipment required by their particular research project, was one large conference room. It was spartan in appearance, but the simple upholstered chairs were deceptively luxurious. The table here was solid wood, with gunmetal trim to match the atmosphere of the room. Lighting strips ran all around the coving, creating a slightly unreal atmosphere with no distinct shadows. It was officially the Research Bureau Presentation Suite; where One’s scientists would show off their findings to the Council’s top brass. But with the decor, and the usual tone of secret meetings that the place was normally used for, it had become known as the War Room.
The man at the head of the table today was colloquially referred to as Number One – or just One, like the department – by his subordinates. He was neither a military man nor a scientist, and his main purpose was to act as a buffer between the two groups within his department. He and his little team would turn the soldiers’ requirements into a specification the scientists could work to, and explain the results of any research to people without a background in technology. Although One theoretically held the reins, he was mostly here as a figurehead today. Just once, the technical team wanted to make their own presentation.
As the assembled dignitaries chattered among themselves, a functionary from the research department fumbled with the remote control for the projector. Some of the chatter was enthusiastic, as it always was on the subject of the superheroes who protected the city. But some of the Councilmen were confused, not yet understanding the scope of this latest project.
Their conversation was interrupted as, at the foot of the table, an automatic door unlocked with a heavy clunk. As it hissed ponderously open mist poured into the room at floor level. This door, everyone present knew already, connected directly to the most secure part of a hermetically sealed research laboratory where all kinds of high-energy physics experiments could be performed. Maybe the rush of steam was a consequence of higher humidity in the air there, a by-product of the experiment they were running. Or maybe Doctor Warren had simply decided it was appropriate to use dry ice, and enhance the atmosphere a little. A figure strode into the room, with the purposeful tread of some adventurous astronaut stepping through an airlock. Both the heavy door, grinding ponderously open on hissing hydraulics, and the man’s suit, heavy steel plates to match the decor, would have been appropriate for the role.
The door closed again with a dull thunk, and the apparition stood stock still while the theatrical smoke cleared. Initially, some of them weren’t entirely sure if they were looking at a suit of armour or some kind of robot; with the joint expertise of all the specialists who’d been called in here it would have been in their power to develop either. What they were sure about, with all the engraved eagles, badges, and other heraldic devices decorating the heavy plates, was that this design had been crafted to scream ‘superhero’ to anyone who saw it. Right in the centre of the chest, a panel two feet wide bore a large embossed logo, , the only part of the decoration that wasn’t incorporated into some form of lights, vents, weapons, or mounting points for other gadgetry. Beneath the shield that represented the city and a stylised image of Hope Tower itself were the letters ‘CU’ rendered in baroque serif capitals. There could be no mistaking the intended allegiance of the figure they were looking at.
“May I present,” the bespectacled lab assistant at the front of the room spoke too close to the microphone, his voice distorted, “The newest hero to join us, straight from the laboratory, Captain Ultimatum!” There was a brief snatch of perfunctory applause, and a babble of confused muttering. The speaker opened his mouth to continue, then hesitated.If you enjoyed, then please comment, or click on #SaturdayScenes to see what other authors have been working on, or go to http://gofundme.com/snadpaperkiss to buy my previous book and help me win!