Editor’s Notes: Introducing The Crux by Ayla-Rose Warth, the first in series of creative works where some pretty amazing and talented authors like Ayla have chosen to provide you the viewer with the unique experience of being able to read a novel as it is being written. Wait … it gets even better! These authors have also chosen to provide you with an opportunity to potentially contribute to the story’s development.

How does it work? Simple… leave your comments on the story as it unfolds over the next six months. Readers are encouraged to express their opinions regarding story lines, structure, and character development. When works, such as ‘The Crux’ by Ayla-Rose Warth, are ultimately published, the final version may include ideas submitted by readers along with credit.

Without further adieu, we hope you enjoy Chapter One of ‘The Crux’ as much as we did! Thanks Ayla for giving us all this unique experience!


The Crux: Chapter One

My fingers darted nimbly across the holographic keys, shadows cast against my face from their soft green glow. The sunset’s pale iridescent hues were now engulfed by darkness, leaving only the faintest twinkle of stars in their wake. I could tell that there was not much time left until the last lights faded, as an unsettling calm befell the city. Soon, the shadows would welcome the night and all that came with it. My eyes flickered methodically between the projected screens which hovered in the air above my left wrist. The comm that I had implanted deeply between my forearm tendons was far more advanced than the newest model hitting the markets –  even if it left me marred with jagged, unsightly scars. Many users fail to unleash the true potential of their comms as I have; but in all fairness, a mechanic like Axel is hard to come by. The holograms held my focus tightly– until suddenly, they emitted a glaring cardinal flash and fizzled out completely. Curses streamed out from under my breath as I realized my hours of work were for nothing. If this comm wasn’t a part of me, I swear I… My thoughts trailed off quickly, as I instead settled to kick my feet against the gravel of the roof a few times – like an infant throwing a tantrum. I flopped onto my back with a sigh, yanking my cloak over my face. Letting negative feelings build up was unnecessary; there was enough pessimism plaguing my life as it was.

I rolled my head to the side, peering in the direction of the Crux. I had finally found a new spot with a great view of the entrance. From here, I could see that uppity corporate building, obnoxiously out of place, and shoved in so closely to the old dive bar. They were trying to squeeze a functional office into an obvious lack of space in a bad part of town – surely on some fantastic deal. This, however, left us with a narrow alleyway, shrouded in shadows – the perfect fit for a secret entrance lurking beneath. I spared it a glance here and there as I hacked. As much as I loved the place, I preferred the quiet for my work – and definitely couldn’t have people reading the secrets that lined my screens. I had begun to spend more time on rooftops lately. The view was advantageous and the atmosphere was open and steady. My environment was free of the tension and unpredictability that hung so heavily down below. Since the Chasers became more efficient, it’d been challenging for people like us to be on the streets. Rillo learned that the hard way. Yeah, he was an annoying little runt, but the kid didn’t deserve an end like that. I almost shuddered a little at the thought, but I shook my head and stood up abruptly. This isn’t a line of work where I can have the luxury of regrets, or worry myself about the stupid mistakes of others.

My fingers inched into my pocket, wrapping around my two successful ports of the evening – Lux’s company file, and some lecherous footage for ol’ Gino that I had discovered was illegal for a good reason. I shuddered at the thought of enabling that repulsi—or rather, eccentric, old man, and instead I focused on the unearthly heap of Neta I was going to receive for it. Oh, I could just imagine what sort of new tech I could now get my hands on. To cater to his…bizarre private interests was an immense amount of work, and high risk at that – but boy was that payoff ever sweet! Nasty old bastard, I thought, backing towards the far edge of the roof. I allowed myself one last little smirk before clearing the thoughts of Gino from my mind like tabs from a screen. I began to sync my comm to my graphene-plated boots. They were the newest nanotech off the market, skin-tight and weightless, while still providing significant armouring.

Red strips illuminated on the sides of my sleek, black boots, shooting up to my mid-thigh. The light pulsed three times before settling, signaling the sync had completed. After a couple taps on my comm confirmed everything was set to go, I sprinted forward effortlessly. The boots seemed to have full control as I jumped over the edge, springing me to the next rooftop. I felt adrenaline course through my veins as if I had just taken the initial drop on a roaring rollercoaster, blood rushing in my ears and a jolting tightness in my chest. From rooftop to rooftop I let myself soar. There was something exhilarating about the way I could spring to such places, a reality unimaginable to surface dwellers. When I was atop the corporate roof and peering down at the alley which sheltered the Crux, I paused – ensuring my path was clear.

With a step off the edge, I didn’t so much as blink as I plummeted down multiple stories. Damn! These boots were worth all the Neta that I’d blown on them, without a doubt. It was hard to get your hands on fine pieces of technology like these – even more so since these were wearable tech rather than surgical implants like my comm. At my soundless landing, the red lights dimmed swiftly, and I stepped towards the entrance of the Crux.

Whir.

My swallow caught in my throat as the cold fingers of dread wrapped around my stomach.

Whirr.

The sound filled my ears, causing every inch of my skin to prickle into goosebumps.

Whirrr.

My breath hitched as I whipped my hood back up and darted into the shadows, pinning myself to the cool, uneven brick wall. Squeezing my eyes shut, I did not dare to take so much as a peek, a breath. I knew better. My deeply furrowed brow twitched ever so slightly.  A Chaser– where could it have come from? I could feel my pulse begin to race. I knew I had scouted the area beforehand, and they just couldn’t be that fast– they couldn’t. Terrified to so much as even exhale, I waited in what felt like an eternal, disquieting silence.

That was close, way too close. And right next to the Crux? I cussed under my breath as pangs of fear and guilt overcame me. In that one single moment I could have cost everyone everything that we had worked so hard to build. I whipped my head around, trying to calm my shaking limbs. Lacking all of my usual composure, I took three hasty steps into the corner opposing me. I inhaled deeply as I caressed my comm over the bricks. There was an instantaneous drop as the hatch gave out, but I felt the firm, comforting grasp of the winds surround me. The tubes carried me down quickly, into safety – into the heart of the Crux.

~

‘The Crux’ Chapter One continues November 21st, 2019 …

Ayla-Rose Warth and UFE Tagona Press © 2019

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