Friday, September 14, 2007


Free Fiction Friday: "Rogues Gallery: Aria Fox"

I'm starting a new (semi)regular feature here on the Interminable Ramble, Free Fiction Fridays. Each week, provided I'm near a computer and can remember to do so, I'll be posting some bit of fiction. Most likely it'll be stuff originally printed elsewhere, complete stories or stand-alone chapters, or maybe fragments that never quite made it out of the preproduction stages.

I'll kick things off with a selection from the long-unavailable Cybermancy Incorporated, which is part of the larger Bonaventure-Carmody sequence (which also includes Here, There & Everywhere, Paragaea, and Set the Seas on Fire). The titular character of this stand-alone chapter, Aria Fox, returns in late 2008 or early 2009 in the pages of End of the Century, the next installment in the sequence.

Rogues Gallery: Aria Fox
by Chris Roberson

As she slipped through a fifth floor window into the Hofburg, the streets of Vienna below obscured by a slight midnight fog, Aria Fox found herself unaccountably reminded of her mother. Loosening the harness that connected her to the wire assembly she’d fixed to the roof, Aria decided it must be the gilt-framed mirrors in the gallery within that did it. Her mother had always been unusually fond of mirrors.

Once inside, positioned carefully in a gap in the security net of infrared tripwires, motion detectors and cameras, Aria slipped on a pair of lightweight goggles cabled to the heavy pack on her back. With the flip of a toggle switch on the wrist-mounted controls, a heads-up display pinked the corner of her view, a multicolored grid superimposed over her field of vision. From architectural plans, remote surveys and her own carefully compiled notes, Aria had mapped out a route through the galleries and hallways of the Hofburg to her target that steered clear of any security triggers. The path flashed bright green in front of her on the display, serpentine and zigzagging across the marble floors, sometimes up and over furniture or display cases, bending off out of view. She would have to duck and jump now and again, but all in all it was one of the easier mazes she’d had to run. The Hofburg would do well to upgrade their security.

Cinching the shoulder straps and cross belt of her pack tight, she set off across the floor, crouched low.


From her mother, Aria Fox had inherited little. By the time Melody and her sister were gone, the family fortune had been spent, the homes and estates sold or bartered off, and any odd items of sentimental value lost to flood or fire. What little Aria had inherited, though, consisted primarily of a love for excitement and what seemed a genetic propensity for danger. Raised from an early age to carry on in the family business, with her mother out of the picture Aria had decided to strike out on her own. She became a thief.


Acquiring the target proved even easier than Aria had expected. For all of its security improvements over the years, the Hofburg was in many respects still a product of the Seventeenth Century. Despite the high tech surveillance equipment she’d had to circumvent to come this far, the casing around the target consisted of little more than tempered glass reinforced with steel, with an electronic trigger wire and a pressure sensitive base. Child’s play. Within minutes, she held the target in her hands. The Spear of Longinus.

The principal for the job, a moneyed cabal of eccentrics, had hired Aria to obtain any number of odd bits of esoterica over the years. Reliquaries of saints’ knuckle bones or little toes, purported pieces of the True Cross, supposed Grails and enough mystic shrouds to paper the walls of Aria’s modest home in New York. Each of them had been just another job, though, another trinket to fetch and carry and another sizable deposit into her numbered Swiss account. Hefting the broken, sad-looking spear in her hands, though, two large fragments of metal and wood barely held together by tattered strands of colored thread, Aria wondered again if any target might actually be what so many of her clients had hoped it would be. That something might actually be magic.


From the stories her mother and aunt had told her as a child, Aria had always known that some people would believe just about anything, not least of which Aria’s mother and aunt. She had always considered it either a sign of shared insanity, or a joke that the two women hadn’t known when to drop, but through all their years together, from Aria’s earliest memories to the moment she became an orphan, the two women had persisted in telling Aria the most outrageous of bedtime stories at all hours of the day and night. Floating islands, haunted ships, Nazi werewolves and living brains in jars. Anything and everything, and all of it, they claimed, the absolute truth.

Of course, these were also the women who’d tried to get her to believe in Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy.


Through her agent Hughes, who arranged all of her jobs and provided any necessary details, Aria had got a general overview of what this Spear of Longinus was supposed to be, and just what it was supposed to do. As she encased it in a self-inflating foam carry-all, which she then secured to her belt, she ran through what she knew. The retreat from any job tended to be the time when most thieves slipped up, overconfident and cocky, but Aria had found years before if she occupied her thoughts and let her feet go where they knew to go, she avoided difficulty more often than not. She’d made it in without incident, and getting out was just a matter of retracing her steps.

The Spear of Longinus, supposedly that which pierced the side of the crucified Christ, had passed through any number of hands in the last two thousand years. As legend had it, anyone who carried the Spear in battle was ensured victory, the thing amounting to some sort of supernatural trump card. Constantine the Great, Attila the Hun, Justinian, Charlemagne, Barbarossa, all had counted among their assets the metal tipped lance which had perforated Jesus, and as a result all of them had carried the day in battle time and time again. Napoleon had tried to snatch the thing for himself before marching to Austerlitz, but someone else had already beaten him to it. Hitler got his hands on the thing in ‘38, but by the end of the war it seemed he hadn’t got the hang of using it, leaving it locked up in Nuremberg while he ended up dosing himself in a bunker miles away.

Aria’s clients for this particular job, Hughes had told her, simply wanted the Spear to round out their collection of mystical artifacts and supernatural ephemera. It hardly mattered to her what they did with it. So long as they made a timely deposit into her account, they could cover the thing in puff paint and glitter and use it for a chew toy. Aria believed in the supernatural attributes of the Spear about as much as she believed that she’d get a quarter from a gossamer-winged sprite if she were to get one of her teeth knocked out in a fight.

Still, ducking under infrared beams and padding past motion detectors, Aria couldn’t help but wonder what it would mean if the Spear actually did work.


In the years since she’d first established herself as a top flight thief, Aria had been able to pick and choose the jobs she took as she liked. The purse from any single job was usually enough to keep her in fine foods and wine for a year or more, with the rest going to her ever growing savings account, while the traveling expenses included as part of her price meant that she could go pretty much wherever she liked. As a rule, though, Aria tended to take a job from anyone once, and provided they paid up on time and there were no complications, she’d continue to take assignments from a client as many times as they required her services. As a result, she’d inadvertently cultivated a small stable of customers who called upon her once every few years, whenever they needed a discrete acquisition for their collections.

After a few years at the job, though, Aria had found that the glamour was beginning to fade. If you’d broken into one world class museum and carted off priceless antiquities, you’d broken into them all. With the money she’d already socked away, Aria knew, she could probably never take another assignment and still live in the style to which she’d grown accustomed; but she kept on, job after job, hoping to find one that would get her pulse racing as that first job had, that would reminded her just why she was alive.

She was still looking. This Vienna job just wasn’t it.


Back on the roof, reeling in the last of the line she’d used to haul herself up and packing it in a long, flat aluminum case along with the rest of her gear, Aria tried to imagine what the world would be like if conquered by some schmuck off the street. If the Spear in the foam carry-all actually held supernatural powers, and it were to fall into the hands of one of the faceless millions, what would that mean to the world? And, more to the point, to Aria?

She’d met only a representative of the odd group of eccentrics who were the principals for this job, the same thin twitchy man with the sunken cheeks on a half dozen different jobs. Hughes was the one who got the assignments for Aria, who made all the arrangements and scheduled the payments, but he seldom if ever met face to face with any clients. Aria herself only did at the end of every job, when she handed over the merchandise. At the beginning, she’d gone the route of making drops into unmarked mailboxes, or in coin-operated lockers at bus and train stations, but after one or two gaffs, she’d decided it was best to use the face to face meet. Then, whatever happened to the merchandise after the exchange, or to the carrier for that matter, was someone else’s problem and not hers.

The twitchy guy with the sunken cheeks was scheduled to rendezvous with Aria at Heathrow airport in two days’ time. Aria had only to fire a high tensile line across the plaza to the building opposite, making sure the grapple was secure, and then slide across, take the service elevator to the ground, and hop in the rental car she had parked and waiting for her there. A leisurely drive over the European countryside to Paris, a quick flight to London, and then the exchange. The money would be hers, and she could go on to another job.

Then she tried to imagine a world ruled by the twitchy guy with the sunken cheeks. Aria always had to bathe right after meeting with the man, the path of his gaze over her leaving an almost tangible slime trail. He’d tried to shake her hand once, at the beginning. He hadn’t made that mistake again.

Aria fired the grappling line across the courtyard, and patted the foam carry-all at her hip.

She knew an art forger in Paris who did quick work, and she’d seen him do more difficult jobs than this. Besides, she owed him a favor.

She slid across the line, landed noiselessly on the roof opposite, and by the time she reached the car parked below, Aria had made up her mind.


Driving the wide road into France, Aria punched Hughes’ number into her cell phone, the earpiece clipped on, the boom mic shadowing her face.

“Hughes,” came the transatlantic response, matter of fact.

“Hey, baby,” Aria answered, “it’s me.”

“How do, me?” Hughes answered. “Everything go alright?”

“Smooth as silk,” she replied. “But I need you to do me a favor. Call up the principal’s rep and let him know I’ll be delayed twenty-four hours, so we’ll need to push back the drop.”

“What’s wrong? Run into any problems?”

“No, nothing like that,” Aria answered. “I’ve just got some business to take care of in Paris before I cross the channel. Just tell them I got held up in Vienna, and don’t want to leave until, I don’t know…”

“Until the heat dies down?” Hughes offered.

“Sure, why not? Until the heat dies down.”

“You got it. By the way, I’ve got a new job lined up for you, if you’re interested. I know you wanted to take a break, but this one comes with a big price tag. The same clients as the Vienna job, but they’ve doubled their usual offering.”

“No shit,” Aria said. She had been looking forward to some time off, but at double her usual rate she’d be able to take the next two years off and not feel the sting in her wallet. “Okay, what’s the story?”

“A simple snatch and grab,” Hughes answered. “Some outfit called the Carmody Institute out in Recondito.”

“Hmm,” Aria hummed, thinking it over. She’d never been to the city, though she’d spent more than her fair share just up the road in San Francisco. She could get in a bit of tourist action, at the client’s expense naturally, and then sleep for a year. “Okay,” she answered. “I’ll take it. Just email over the details to my secured account, and I’ll take a look.”

“You got it,” Hughes replied, and broke the connection.

Aria ran her tongue over the front of her teeth, thinking things over. Her art forger friend had agreed to do a rush job duplicating a two-thousand-year-old wood and bronze spear, which would be good enough to fool any expert the client hoped to hire. The real Spear would look nice over her mantle back in New York. She’d make the drop a day late, and then catch a flight to the States.

She’d heard Recondito was nice this time of year, which was a plus, but the job sounded just like any other. So much for a little excitement.

Copyright © 2007 Monkeybrain, Inc.


I read the review on Revolution SF, and again, this sounds like fun.

Since it's not available, any chance of you offering as an e-text? (as much as I hate reading text on screen, I'd like to read this...).

Assuming End of the Century goes well, I guess I'd hope for an eventually reprinting of this...
I'm sure that Cybermancy will be reprinted sooner or later. And buying lots and lots of copies of End of the Century certainly couldn't hurt!

I'll be taking quite a few chapters from the book for upcoming Free Fiction Fridays, though, so you'll be able to get a pretty good sampling of it over coming weeks.
Thanks! :)
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