Today sees the release of the hugely-anticipated game Crysis 3, and also of our tie-in book. Gavin Smith has written a collection of linked short stories that fill in the gaps between the Crysis 2 and the new game, provide a stirring introduction to the world of Crysis, and feature lots of explosions and swearing. Here, as a taster, is the opening story. Be warned – there is swearing, blood and a little bit of sex in here…
We are also offering you the chance to win a copy of the book and a copy of the game in the format of your choice (PC, XBox or PS3). We have three sets to give away, and all you have to do to enter is read the below story and answer the question: What does CELL stand for? Email your answers, along with your postal address, to email@example.com, with the subject line ‘Crysis’. The competition closes at midnight on Wednesday 27th Feb 2013.
Chance – Part 1
Airfield, CELL cobalt mining support depot, upper Podkamennaya Tunguska River, Krasnoyarsk Krai, Siberia, Russian Federation, 2025
Walker tried to blink away the tears. Many of the other CELL ‘security personnel’ wouldn’t make the call to their partners before a big op. They felt it was bad luck. Before CELL Walker had been in 2 Para, running patrols into the LCZ during some of the worst of the London troubles. He had seen the people who made the calls and the people who didn’t get killed in equal number. He wanted it fixed and strong in his mind why he had to survive each op.
“I know I shouldn’t, I know you just need to hear that we love you and miss you. I know anything else just messes with your head, but we need you back.” Carlotta was crying and, sensing her mother’s distress Elsa, just six months old, started crying as well.
Walker squeezed his eyes closed, a tear running down his cheek. Outside the comms booth there was a long queue of hard men and women waiting their turn to use the Macronet portal, despite the shitty reception and the constantly frizzing images. That didn’t matter, this was his two minutes, nobody would get in his face about that. Just like nobody would comment on the tears. It was the unspoken rule. They’d all be the same.
Walker’s eyes opened as his girlfriend and child shimmered momentarily and then solidified.
“I’m due leave soon and I’ll be back…” his Birmingham accent was still thick, despite years away from the West Midlands of Britain.
“Do you know when your tenure’s up?” Carlotta asked. Walker had effectively been drafted into Cell for non-payment of their energy bill. He’d been labouring when they invited him to ‘work debt free’, but they certainly had uses for a skill set learnt in the British army. His biggest fear had been that he’d end up fighting the Ceph in New York or some other infection area, but at least that seemed to be all over bar the clean up now.
“I don’t know,” he answered truthfully. His superiors acted cagey every time he asked about it. How much debt had they run up, he wondered? Walker had thought that they had always lived a reasonably frugal existence.
There was a discreet tap on the door. The red counter above the booth had run down to zero, but nobody was going to be a dick about it unless he really took the piss.
“Baby, I’ve got to go…” he started.
“I’m always scared, I miss you, both of you, but they give us drugs for the fear…”
“I don’t want to hear that. This one’s different, isn’t it?”
The Macronet link cut. The words: Predicted Operational Security Breach appeared in red floating letters where the poor quality image of his wife and child had been moments before.
“It’s just routine, baby,” Walker lied to the warning message. Why’s that a high-resolution image but my girlfriend and kid aren’t? Walker wondered, inanely, unable to process anything else. There was another more urgent knock at the plastic door of the booth. Walker took a moment to wipe away the tears and then, red-eyed, head down, he stepped out of the booth.
“Sorry man,” he mumbled and made his way through the queue towards the exit.
He pulled down the patch on the arm of his fatigues between the straps for his body armour. He took the first syringe, let the smart needle guide itself to a vein, and he injected the good stuff in. He thought of it as getting his game face on. GABA, trycilics, the military grade stims that he had sworn off when he left the paras. He started to experience the artificial feeling of power coursing through his veins. He knew it was artificial because he knew the contrast between being up on the combat drugs one moment and then coming back down to Earth the hard way a moment later. When you found yourself wearing your squad mate’s internal organs as outerwear. He still embraced the high. Locked the final flickering image of Carlotta and Elsa away. That image was for when he needed to fight harder, just to live.
He pulled his glove off with his teeth. Pressed his thumb against the needle. The weapons rack accepted his DNA and released the Scarab assault rifle to him. He checked the weapon and took as much spare ammunition as he felt he could get away with and headed out onto the airstrip to join his squad.
Outside, under the harsh sodium glare of the floodlights, the second heavy-lift aircraft was unloading APCs. More heavily armed and armoured CELL security personnel filed down the aircraft loading ramp into the freezing Siberian night. Whatever it was, CELL were going in heavy. Maybe it is another Ceph incursion after all, Walker thought. His fear of the aliens was suppressed under a sheen of narcotic courage as he joined his squad.
“Your head in this game?” his squad’s new CO asked as she checked her Jackal combat shotgun. The African-American woman had a strong New York accent. She wore a helmet and fleece cap under that but Walker knew that her head was shaved down to the bone and he’d noticed that her ears and noses had holes in them from multiple piercings that had clearly been removed.
“Locked and loaded, LT,” Walker said, with a confidence the drugs were almost making him feel.
“Outstanding,” his new lieutenant said.
Rovesky Township, upper Podkamennaya Tunguska River, Krasnoyarsk Krai, Siberia, Russian Federation, 2025
“I hate it when it gets in your eye,” Eda said in her native German.
“You’re just going to have to woman up, I’m afraid,” Klaus told her, and then he sighed theatrically and mimed wiping his eye clean.
There was giggling from some of the other prostitutes present who spoke German. It wasn’t voyeurism, Prophet told himself as he listened to the translation of their conversation. No, it was, he admitted, but it had nothing to do with the sex in the brothel below his attic hidey-hole. He just about knew all the prostitutes’ stock responses now. It was their lives. He knew that Klaus was jealous of Vladimir’s cheekbones. He knew that Eda was still young enough to dream of a Pygmalion scenario. He knew who was secretly pregnant. Who were lovers. He heard their Macronet calls to their friends and family back home, the lies they told them, the tears after.
It wasn’t the bad old days of the slaving sex trafficking rings. Natasha’s House of Pleasure was registered and unionised and Prophet wouldn’t be surprised if he could trace ownership of the brothel back to CELL. They seemed to own everything else these days and the township existed to service their cobalt mine. Though Prophet was convinced that it was a front to continue their scientific investigation of the Tunguska Crater. However, thousands of years of social stigma against those who rented their bodies out for the enjoyment of others wasn’t going to be wiped away in a moment.
It was life that he listened to, spied on. It was something that the nanosuit had effectively cut him off from.
He didn’t think that conditions were great for the workers in the brothel, but what he found was that no matter how bad things got, even if a miner went ‘thatch’ on one of them due to too many productivity enhancing drugs, there was always humour present. In that they were like soldiers. He had almost intervened the last time a client had gone ‘thatch’ – fortunately the security had got there before the John had cut the guy too badly.
Still, he knew this was a distraction. The brothel, the coming down off the roofs to walk the frozen streets late-at-night. Looking through windows at people having lives, scraping by in this brave new economy. Somehow, when he saw people huddled around the glow of the Macronet feeds, like they would give warmth, all the stories seemed to be about the CELL Corporation these days. Crynet Enforcement & Local Logistics. Somehow the security consultant company – or mercenaries, to give them their older name – that had so badly bungled the Ceph incursion in New York had managed to pretend competence long enough to re-invent itself as an energy company. It was a rebirth worthy of a particularly corrupt phoenix, he mused.
“I know what you’re doing,” Psycho said from his corner of the loft. The other nano-suited soldier had been watching a feed from the Macronet on a portable screen. Something about CELL launching a satellite network to complement the work they had been doing to turn the ruins of New York into a vast facility for energy generation.
There was only Psycho left of his nano-suited team, Prophet mused. They’d all left him now. All gone their own way, died or been captured by Cell. Or just lost faith in the mission. Cupcake, Bandit, Fire Dragon and Lazy Dane, who had been getting weirder and weirder. Eighteen months of hitting Ceph incursion sites. Auckland, Wuhan, Tokyo, then, on his own, the last one beneath St. Petersburg. That was when even he had to admit he was forgetting what he was. What I once was, he corrected himself. And now only loyal Michael Sykes remained with him. Psycho, who’d rather nail his left bollock to the ground and crawl away from it than let a ‘mate’ down. But Psycho didn’t understand, none of them had, it wasn’t a job, it wasn’t mercenary work, it wasn’t about loyalty to friends, and, sadly, it wasn’t about fucking over CELL. It’s about survival, pure and simple, us verses them, a very old equation, Prophet thought.
“You’re listening in on your little whore house soap opera aren’t you?” Psycho said. The tone in his voice said that he was out to needle Prophet. Prophet tried to ignore him.
“What? You don’t want to talk to me? I’m pretty much the only other carbon based life form you’ve got any contact with these days!” Prophet continued trying to ignore him and Psycho lapsed into silence. And then let out a short, humourless laugh. “I’m sorry that you can’t get nip downstairs for quickie.”
“I don’t want to be wasting time here either,” Prophet all but growled. “Did you think this would be easy?” He stood up and looked around the room. It was a large spacious attic, with exposed wooden beams. The building that contained the brothel had been built from locally quarried stone during one of Siberia’s gold rushes. It sat on the corner of a junction in the township. Nobody had ever quite got around to laying down a proper road and currently the streets were frozen mud. Prophet glanced out the window. He could see the glow of the garish neon sign reflected in the gently falling snow.
“You’re not just wasting time, mate, you’ve lost the plot.”
This is where he brings up St. Petersburg, Prophet thought. He’d heard this song before.
“You were out of control in St. Petersburg, you know you were. It was the last straw for Fire Dragon.”
Prophet knew that Psycho was right. The thing was, he had only realised it in retrospect. At the time it had all seemed to make sense. They were the bad guys. He had needed access to the Ceph tech. He needed information and he needed to upgrade the armour. He had to be strong enough for when they finally found what he was looking for.
“And what’s with the Ceph tech? I know it won the day in New York but it’s changing you, mate. Turning you into…”
“One of them?”
“I was going to say something else.”
“When did you get so soft?”
Psycho’s eyes narrowed dangerously.
“Careful,” the British soldier said quietly.
“We’re fighting a war. I’m not human now. I am something else. You need to get used to that. If becoming one of them is what it takes…” Psycho was just staring at him. “What do you want from me, Psycho?” Prophet asked.
“Something to say that we’re on the right track. Any evidence at all that it’s actually real.”
“Tunguska was where Hargreave and Rasch originally encountered…”
“It has to be here.”
Psycho sighed and leant back against the wall, the top half of his nanosuited body disappearing into shadow.
“We need to be thorough this time… take our time, search everything…”
“There’s no intel, Prophet. We’re running missions based on wishful thinking now.”
Prophet whipped round to glare at the British soldier, the suit automatically running firing solutions and reflowing into a combat-ready configuration. All Psycho saw was the inhuman face of the nanosuit’s helmet. He knew his own suit was sending out identification signals. What worried him more than anything was that he was now sure that the face under the visor probably wasn’t much more human than the alien-looking suit.
“After all this you don’t trust me? It’s there. It’s got to be there.”
“You said that in Wuhan, Auckland, St. Petersburg. It doesn’t exist, Prophet. I think you know that. You need to wake up.”
Prophet was across the attic, forgetting that he had to be careful of people hearing his steps in the brothel below. He stood over Psycho.
“No, there’s a threat… the Ceph.”
“Are dead, understand?” Psycho said evenly, looking up at Prophet. “There are no more aliens. We fought and won that war. The world has moved on but you’ve got stuck, mate.”
“You don’t know what I’ve seen…” Prophet was leaning down over Psycho now.
“Where?” Psycho demanded. “In your head?”
“They were visions,” but even Prophet realised this sounded weak.
“What? Put there by an alien?” Psycho said more softly now. “Reliable source, then. Prophet, we’re in uncharted territory. Fused with these suits, interfacing with alien technology, suffering from combat stress and we really have killed a lot of people. We’ve killed like gods…”
Prophet straightened up.
“You think I’m mad.”
Psycho stood up to face his friend.
“How could we not be struggling? Think of the things we’ve done, what you, especially, have been through.”
“You don’t trust me anymore?”
“Prophet, mate, you know I’d follow you to the ends of the Earth…” Psycho laughed and held up his hands. “Because we’re here, now. I’ll push bullets at what you tell me to, but it’s been eighteen months and not a sign.”
Prophet leant in close to Psycho. Psycho didn’t shift. He just looked back at the helmeted face.
“The thing is, I know. I know what’s coming. I can’t un-see it.”
“Can you hear yourself?” Psycho asked sadly. Prophet turned and walked away from the other nanosuited soldier.
“So what do we do now? Become mercenaries? Go to work as guns for hire like you were when I found you in Mexico? Or do I just turn myself into a VA clinic for psych evaluation?”
“I think you… we’ve been so obsessed with hunting for this thing that we’ve not been watching what’s going on. The world is being bought.”
“CELL?” Prophet asked, failing to keep the scorn out of his voice. Psycho nodded. “And you think I’m obsessed.”
“At least they’re fucking real!” Psycho snapped. “All I see is greedy corporate bastards taking over the world, killing anyone who gets in the way, and it scares the shit out of me.”
“What difference does it make who’s in charge? That’s human politics.” Psycho stared at him.
“You cold bastard,” Psycho said and turned to head back to his gear in the corner. Prophet grabbed him.
Psycho turned on him.
“No, you fucking wait. Taking your call sign a bit seriously these days, aren’t you? We should be fighting the bastards who are actively fucking us and the rest of humanity. Not that you’re still one of us! We shouldn’t be chasing some mythical alpha-ceph! With these suits we have a chance.” There was passion in what Psycho was saying that Prophet had not heard from the other man in a long time, if ever. The suit’s analysis of Psycho’s voice showed him that this was something that he truly believed in.
“How do you fight a company? What? Do you want to go into the board room and start laying fire down?” Prophet demanded.
“If that’s what it takes,” Psycho said firmly. Prophet checked the voice analysis again. Psycho was telling the truth. “Let’s go back to New York, finish what you started. Let’s tear the heart out of CELL and shove it down their fucking throats.”
It was tempting. Not because Prophet believed like Psycho did. He really didn’t care who was in charge. It was tempting because it sounded like a life. As harsh, violent and short as it might be, it sounded like something a human would do. But he knew that the images of what he had been shown, the future, would never stop playing through his head.
“CELL aren’t the mission…” Prophet started.
“You were always a good little boy weren’t you, Prophet? Did what Hargreave told you after they got you out of that little jam. Has it occurred to you that they’ve done something to you, in the suit, makes you not want to go after CELL, to do as your told, behave?”
Prophet was across the room. He had Psycho by the neck and lifted the other man up. He started squeezing.
“Do you know what they did to me!?” he screamed, but as quickly as the rage had come it was gone. He dropped Psycho.
“Nobody puts their fucking hands on me!” Psycho raged, his suit flowing and preparing for battle. Prophet could see the Londoner was seconds away from going for him.
Something changed. It took a moment for Prophet to work out what. There was something different in the rhythm of the town. It had just got quieter. He cycled through various comm frequencies. Nothing. Even the company that handled the policing in Rovesky had gone quiet.
Dead lips smiled. A rictus grin. They were learning. Mainly about comms discipline, it would seem. He could hear engine noises now, the suit sorting, separating and analysing the sounds. Images of the vehicles making the noise started to appear in his Heads-Up Display, effectively playing across his vision.
“Here’s your chance,” Prophet all but whispered.
Both of them heard the fire door battered open with a sound-dampened pneumatic ram several floors below. They heard boots on the stairs.
Psycho picked up his gauss rifle, quickly checking it.
Time to send the message, Prophet thought. Every Macronet-connected comms device in Natasha’s House of Pleasure started chiming urgently as it received a priority text: You don’t know me, but I know you. Something very bad is about to happen. You all need to leave, now.
Even if they believed the message Prophet knew that there wasn’t going to be enough time for them to evac. It was going to go badly for the prostitutes, the regulars, the overseers and the door staff he’d been living vicariously through for the last days. CELL wanted their toys back and in his case they wanted what was left of the corpse in it, out, regardless of who was driving the corpse’s head.
He stood up and started walking towards the skylight at the front of the building. It overlooked the junction of frozen muddy streets in front of the brothel. Cold blue light flooded the attic. The suit’s visor darkened to compensate. Prophet could hear the roar of the VTOL keeping pace with him as he walked, its searchlight shining through the other skylights.
He should stealth now, he knew, Psycho already had, but before it started he just wanted them to see what they were dealing with. He wanted to know how frightened they were.
“Here, Prophet, ever seen Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid?” Psycho asked over the suits’ comms.
He reached the skylight at the front of the building. He looked down onto the frozen streets. Perhaps he’d underestimated just how much CELL wanted the suit back, he thought. The street outside was full. APCs, Bulldogs, Armoured Security Vehicles, at least four VTOLs in the air slowly circling him and a lot of soldiers. The HUD was showing a ridiculously target-rich environment and all the weapons he could register, from SMGs to vehicle cannons to missiles, were pointed at the attic.
The glass broke as Prophet stepped through the skylight onto the ledge outside the attic. More searchlights stabbed up at him, fixing him in their glare as his visor darkened further. He could hear amplified voices shouting at them. He found it absurd that for some reason their instructions were repeated in Russian.
Prophet took a long, slow look at the CELL forces. Then he started to move…