Something a Little Different

25 09 2016

Writing isn’t my only hobby, though it’s what I primarily post here (hence the change of the blog name). But aside from writing, I also take photographs, I knit and crochet, and recently I’ve begun making fanvids again, something that I took a 5+ year break from. Now I have some decent software and a renewed interest, and here is my first attempt at using that software.

 

It’s a little tribute to my favourite episode of one of my favourite shows. Firefly’s Out of Gas, and I hope you all like it.

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The Artist

8 08 2016

This week’s TerribleMinds challenge was to mash up two subgenres as decided by a dice roll. I’m not saying I cheated, but I did roll a couple of times to get something that I thought I could work with, and ended up with Cli-Fi and Noir. Now Cli-Fi plays right into Still Turnstiles at Station 6, but what about Noir? I can’t say it’s a genre I’ve written in before and I had to go look it up, only to discover that written Noir is, apparently, different from Film Noir. Anyway. I like what came of it, even if I rarely write in first person and it’s my first time dabbling in the Noir genre.

The Artist

The pouring rain made short work of the artwork I’d created, washing away the blood in only a few minutes as I crouched beside the body of the young man. A shame, really, that he had to die so soon. I wouldn’t have minded spending some more time with him, but circumstances had necessitated a change of plan and I’d had no choice in suspending our relationship sooner than I cared to. Reaching out, I brushed a strand of soaked dark hair away from his pale forehead before slipping my fingers down to close the lids over his pale blue eyes. He’d been dead for only a few minutes, but the chilly wet weather had already turned his skin cold and there was no longer any enjoyment in touching him.

“Goodnight, sweet prince,” I whispered, quoting the old bard as I took one last look at the piece I had left for the authorities to find. The young man had been a street dweller; skinny and pale, but attractive with his pale blue eyes and dark hair in stark juxtaposition to each other. He wore the new clothes I’d given him and he wore them well even now that the rain had soaked them through. The designer jeans fit him perfectly, as did the charcoal grey shirt with the black tie to go with it. The black leather shoes still held a shine, which certainly said something about the quality of them, not to mention the cost.

The cost had been worth it, of course. In the grand scheme of things, money and wealth meant nothing when the world was ending in a slow but catastrophic climate disaster. Leaving my little pieces of art on the streets was merely one of a thousand ways to protest the inaction of previous generations that had left us with a dying world. My contribution was simply to say that no matter how much money was spent on external and material matters, death came to us all, and that included the world itself. Just as death had come to this young man in front of me all too soon.

The statement I’d made with this piece was in the quick and violent end that the young man had faced. The long gash across his throat had severed both carotid arteries and he had died in less than a minute. A much faster and less painful way of dying than what was offered to the world and the rest of humanity. You might say I was doing the boy a favour by taking his life in such a manner, keeping him from living through the death spasms of the world, but I’m not so philosophical or vainglorious. I’d killed him to make a statement, that’s all. Nothing more, nothing less.

It was time to go. I stood, took a last look at my latest masterpiece and smiled in appreciation. The rain might have washed all the blood away, leaving a relatively clean body behind. Lying like that on his back with his hands on his chest where I had carefully placed them, he looked at peace, at least as long one could ignore the gaping wound across his throat. It marred his beauty, but that was the point, wasn’t it? To take something beautiful and turn it ugly, just the way our predecessors had done to our planet. My work here was done for the night. Now it was only a matter of time before the authorities came to view it.

* * *

I ordered a whiskey as I sat down at the counter of the dimly lit bar. The place was all done up in dark woods, leather upholstered seats and tarnished mirrors. The shades of the lamps were green glass and there were candles in red glass bulbs on the tables. It was the kind of place where you could expect to be left alone with your drink, where no one asked you any questions or even bothered to notice you in any way. I liked the privacy this place offered, but mainly I had chosen it for the television that was permanently tuned to a local news channel.

The news was the same as they had been for years now: constant rain and flooding in our part of the world, eternal drought in most other parts of the world, all resulting in famine, wars, and refugee crises everywhere with nothing but talk about what to do about it. The latest and most ridiculous plan put forth yet was to evacuate the whole planet and resettle the entire population in the already established colonies around the solar system. Some even suggested striking out for interstellar space, looking for new systems to settle. I very much doubted that those colonies would want to accept more than eight billion new souls in their midst even if it was at all possible to get them off the Earth’s surface before it was too late. I supposed it had to do with hope. People needed that, and the media was all too happy to provide it, right alongside all the dismay.

Two drinks and an hour later, I had waited long enough. I paid up my bill and left the bar without so much as a glance back, letting a small smile play across my lips as I heard the news anchor on the television report on a body found and though the police declined to comment, they had it from an anonymous source that this was very likely another victim fallen to the serial killer they had named The Devil’s Designer. Stupid name, but it had sprung up out of the way the killer – that is, me – dressed their victim in expensive designer clothes. I suppose it could have been worse. There were some reporters who still insisted on comparing my work to Jack the Ripper’s, after all. Quite insulting, that, but I chose to simply ignore those ignorant bastards and go about my business. A true artist couldn’t expect the press to get it right, could they?

* * *

I took my time with my next piece. Starvation, by its nature, necessarily takes a long time. And as I wanted this masterpiece to have a particular aesthetic, it took even longer since simply starving the boy to death would not have accomplished the skin and bones appearance I was aiming for. And so for some time when no new victims turned up, the press speculated about what might have happened to the Devil’s Designer. Some said that the killer had died in the flash flood that had occurred shortly after the last murder, others were convinced that the killer had moved on, found new killing fields either abroad or out in the colonies. So little patience the press had, and soon enough the stories about the Devil’s Designer vanished from the television screens or were buried deep in the digital media’s online editions.

For three months I kept the boy alive on a bowl of rice a day, all the water he could drink, while every now and then, I gave him a treat in the form of a candy bar in order to keep his hopes up. I lied to him, of course, telling him that once I had accomplished my goal of turning him into an image of starvation, he would be free to go, that he would become famous for what he had gone through and what he had survived. The media would love him, I told him, and he would never have to live on the streets again. In the beginning, he hadn’t believed me; he was a smart kid and had already figured out that people weren’t to be trusted. But in the end, with his body and mind weakened, he began asking me questions about what it would be like to be famous and whether he would like it or not.

Comforting him, I continued lying, telling him that everything was going to be just fine, though at the same time, I began cutting back his rations, feeding him less and less every day. His face was gaunt now, to a point where I could almost see the skull through near-translucent skin. Skin which had a rather unhealthy yellowish colour now, that was mirrored in the whites of his eyes. The rest of his body was now at the point I had aimed for: skin sagging around bones with the joints sticking out as hard painful looking angles with no fat at all, and barely any muscle. I could count all the ribs and all the bones of his spinal column just by looking. It was a cruel and horrendous change from the slender but well-muscled young man I had picked up three months prior, but the statement such a change made was beautiful and powerful. It was, in fact, hard to imagine how I could possibly go on from here. Perhaps, indeed, this masterpiece would be my last. Perhaps I could retire now.

By the time I stopped feeding him completely and cut off his water supply, the boy was too weak and confused to realise what was happening and in those last few days, he simply cried and when he couldn’t cry any longer, he just lay there quietly, lips moving though no sound came from them. At that point, he must have known that he wasn’t going to live, but there was no fight left in him and one thunderous night, he slipped away peacefully as I sat by his side, holding his hand. “To die, to sleep,” was my whispered quote for this young man, who was now at peace, in pain no more. I sat with him for a while before I got to work, dressing him in the clothes I had purchased for him that first day when I had met him and lured him in with the promise of new clothes, a hot meal, and a warm bed for the night. The expensive slacks, the designer t-shirt and jacket, as well as the shoes had fitted him perfectly then, but now they sagged unflatteringly around his emaciated starved body, just as I’d planned.

The very last, and most important, touch I made to this piece was to slip a handful of photographs into the pocket of the jacket. They pictured the young man in his new outfit, beaming happily at the camera, clearly thrilled to not only be photographed but feeling comfortable and sexy in the clothes he wore. He had been quite beautiful then with his short blond hair, chocolate brown eyes and a deep, albeit fake, tan. He had worn the surfer look well, and I smiled as I recalled talking with him as I took the photos. He’d wanted to go to California, learn to surf and just lie on the beach when there were no waves, soaking up the sun. I hadn’t had the heart to tell him that the image of Southern California as a paradise had long since been shattered by drought and rising sea levels. I had allowed him to keep that dream safe and sound to take with him to the grave. It was the least I could do, after all, in return for him to become part of my own legacy.

I left him in public, lying on a bench near a high-scale and expensive restaurant that specialised in gourmet burgers and made my usual wait at the bar, watching the news and waiting for the report on my latest masterpiece. When it finally came, after almost three hours of waiting, it was buried between a story of record high temperature average for the month of December, and an item speculating on the building of space elevators in order to assist in the evacuation of the planet. I sighed, finished my drink with a feeling of defeat and left the bar to walk home in the pouring rain, trying to assure myself that most of the great artists had rarely been appreciated by their contemporaries.

THE END





Simple is Better

9 06 2016

Must contain a map. That was this week’s challenge over at Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds blog.

And boy, did I need a map. With that prompt, my mind went in at least half a dozen different directions, but in the end, the map became a blueprint, and the story itself something I’m not terribly satisfied with as it’s been done before.

Still… I think I like Jo and Gus. I might make use of them in other stories.

 

Simple is Better

“Hurry up, you can’t stay in there much longer.”

“Don’t you think I know that,” Jo told him through clenched teeth as her fingers darted over the keyboard, eyes flickering over the code on the screen as she came up against one obstacle after the next, breaking through them as quickly as she could. And Gus’ nervous energy wasn’t helping her any, in the way he stood behind her chair, shifting from one foot to the other as he tried to get her to do her job faster than was possible.

“They’re gonna catch onto you, track you back here and then we’re fucked,” he said, leaning closer over her shoulder to look at a screen full of code that he knew absolutely nothing about. He was just here as muscle, to protect Jo in case the authorities did turn up at the little outpost where they had holed up for the intrusion into the Commonwealth’s systems.

“Stop. Talking,” she hissed as she kept typing, knowing full well what was at stake if the Commonwealth forces got to them. Probably, she knew better than Gus, having seen the evidence with her own eyes, heard the screams coming through speakers and read thousands of documents regarding what happened in Commonwealth interrogation rooms. “And stop fucking hovering!”

He did as he was told and took a step back, though he continued with the nervous twitches, the impatient movements of his feet, and looking at his watch every five seconds. He had his orders and he wasn’t happy about them, despite knowing that they were necessary. He checked the gun at his side, nervous fingers running over the cold metal of the thing before they flinched away again. He was a soldier, he reminded himself, just as another part of him told him that soldiers didn’t kill those on their own side.

“Done,” Jo said, and got up from the seat, the screen in front of her returned to the black of its offline status. She reached and yanked out the datastick and couldn’t help a proud smile as she slipped it into a zippered pocket of the utility vest she wore. “We can go now, old man.” She winked at him, gave him a good-natured slap on the shoulder and headed for the door.

Cutting her off before she could open it, Gus shoved the young hacker out of the way, raising a grizzled grey brow at her. “My turn now,” he told her, putting one hand on the gun and the other on the handle to open the door just enough to peek through the gap, looking and listening for trouble out in the corridor. Finding none, he nodded and slipped out ahead of Jo, then motioned to her to follow when he found the corridor to be abandoned. “Hurry.”

***

The blueprint Jo had liberated from the Commonwealth data systems was being displayed on the central holo-table in the War Room, so that all those gathered around could see it as they discussed what to do about this newfound information.

It wasn’t all bad news. They’d had forewarning of this, and with the blueprints now hovering above the table, there was a possibility that they could do something about it. Problem was, what did you do about a juggernaut of a ship like the one that the Commonwealth had built? That was what they were here to discuss, and already it seemed that everyone had an opinion of their own.

They had been at this for hours now, and the only conclusion they had agreed on thus far was that if they did nothing, they were fucked. No one had any other solution, though, and the suggestions of what to do varied from putting a spy in place to take the ship down from the inside to send everyone of their attack fighters (a grand total of seventeen) against the juggernaut in the hope that a direct attack might bring it down.

Not one of the ideas managed to gain any traction and the meeting was coming apart at the seams, devolving into arguments and in a few cases, name-calling. The chairwoman was about to call the meeting off when an aide approached to whisper in her ear for a few seconds before handing her a datapad, then retreated to the shadows to rejoin the other aides hidden there.

She sat reading for a few minutes, letting the voices of the argument fade away into background noise, then tapped out a short message and put the datapad away, raising her head to look around at the assembled brass before smacking her hand hard into the table a couple of times to call for silence.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” she said when the last of the voices fell quiet, her little smile puzzling most of those who sat around the table. There was, after all, nothing to smile about here. “There’s a solution that we haven’t considered, and I think it might work.” She looked to the door, motioning to the young woman standing there with a grizzled old soldier towering over her. “Let me introduced you all to Jo Harkness. She has an idea she’d like to share with us.”

***

“You sure this is gonna work?” Gus asked, sitting beside her in the shuttle, high in orbit above their home, the red plains bright and beautiful below them. His nervous energy was back, but at least he couldn’t pace or hover over her the way they were both strapped into their seats.

“It’ll work,” Jo assured him with a confident nod, her fingers flying over the keyboard, her eyes glued to the screen, despite her urge to look out the windows at the view below. She’d never been in orbit and after today, she wasn’t so sure that she would ever be given the chance again. “Just watch…”

The Commonwealth juggernaut was nothing but a pinprick of light in the dark of space, not much different from the stars surrounding it. Only the green bracket of the head up display allowed Gus to know where to look for whatever was going to happen.

Even so, he almost missed it. The pinprick brightened for a moment, turning a more orangy-red colour, then faded after a few minutes and then vanished a short while after that. He knew what had happened. While the war council had discussed attack plans, the young hacker had located a flaw in the juggernaut’s datasystems, which she had found a way to take advantage of. She had then designed a virus that would trigger the juggernaut’s self destruct sequence, which would destroy the ship from the inside out. No need to risk any lives, no need to send attack ships to deal with the enemy.

All they had needed was a hacker, her datapad and a clear line of sight to aim a comm laser, and the enemy’s greatest weapon had been destroyed in a matter of seconds.





The Captain’s Duty

6 06 2016

A few days late, but here is my the story I wrote for the previous week’s challenge by Chuck Wendig over at Terrible Minds. The challenge was simple: It starts with a bang. But it was somewhat more difficult to get the story out of my head and down in text, and while it’s late, I’m still just posting it here.

The Captain’s Duty.

Bang!

The sound of the shot reverberated through the large hangar space, followed by the thud of a body hitting the floor. Then, silence. No one spoke and no one moved, the tension in the hangar so thick it felt like you could cut it with a knife. Everybody had expected the shot, but once it happened, it was still a shock to the system, the sound loud and almost painful to the ears.

Quinn stood with the smoking gun in her hand, staring at the body of the dead man at her feet. He deserved it, she told herself, even as a sour taste spread in her mouth. The man had betrayed her, betrayed her crew and betrayed the whole godsdamn Commonwealth. The law was clear on what to do with people like him, once exposed, and Quinn had the thankless job of being judge, jury and executioner. She had taken that oath when she had been promoted to captain, but at the time, she’d never thought that she’d be forced to actually follow through on it.

“Dispose of the body,” she ordered, giving the gun in her hand distasteful look before she holstered it at her side, spinning on a heel to walk away, knowing that even if she hadn’t given the order to anyone specific, it would still be followed, and the body would be taken care of.

* * *

The mission was a simple one. Get in, extract the asset, get out. At least on paper, it was simple. In reality, it was usually the simplest plans that proved to be the hardest. And this was no exception: despite it looking as if the prison was woefully understaffed and in dire need of upgrades, Quinn knew very well that appearances could be deceiving, that even if there had been no walls at all and no more than a handful of guards, simply getting in and getting out would be harder than it looked.

And true enough; while it had been easy enough for the small extraction team to get inside the prison and to pacify the guards, everything had started to fall apart the moment they had liberated the asset from his cell. Quinn had watched it all from her seat on the bridge, safe in orbit above the planet, as the Martian Defence Force had swarmed up from a sublevel basement that their intel had neglected to inform the Commonwealth Intelligence Division about.

Bad intel. Or worse, deliberate misinformation. Either way, Quinn had walked her team right into a trap, knowing now that it had been too easy. The information about the asset’s whereabouts and how poorly the prison was guarded should have scream trap, but even if she had realised that from the start, it would have changed little. She had orders. And those orders were to free the asset at any cost.

That cost was becoming evident now as she watched the feeds from the extraction team’s cameras: every member of the five man team either dead or captured and the asset still in enemy hands, only now the Martians had additional prisoners, and though Quinn knew that they were trained to withstand interrogation, she also knew that there were methods that could be put to use that no one, not even the toughest spies, could stand against.

As the last of the feeds were cut, Quinn remained quiet for a long few moments, listening to the quiet breathing of the bridge crew. She could feel their anticipation, sense how they awaited her orders, though every one of them knew what those orders would be. Still, she took her time to sit in quiet contemplation for a few moments, cursing the bad intel and the orders that had followed.

“Retreat to Hold Point Delta,” she finally said, when the anxious silence on the bridge had gotten to thick you could cut the tension of it with a knife. “Make sure we remain stealthed.” Orders given, she got up from her seat and stood there for a moment, staring down at the screen on the console, showing nothing but dark blank feeds with the words ‘transmission failure’ printed across in white letters. “XO, you have the conn.”

***

The investigation hadn’t taken long. Even before returning to Earth, they had found the buried transmission logs, and from there it was a fairly simple matter of tracking them to the person who had sent the information regarding the extraction to Mars. What Quinn hadn’t expected was for it to be one of her longest lasting crew members and someone she had considered a friend for more than a decade.

She and Ingram had come up together, had served together on this ship since they were both just junior lieutenants and while Quinn was on the bridge officer track and Ingram an engineer, they got along well enough to become close friends in a short time. So close that most people on the crew had believed for a long time that they were an item, though that couldn’t be further from the truth, and it wasn’t until Ingram found a boyfriend that most of the rumours died out.

But finding that Ingram was the traitor, that he had given vital information to the Martians was not just a shock, it was something that Quinn had a hard time believing. She had questioned him for hours, for days, but had never gotten a satisfactory answer out of him apart from him claiming a newfound sympathy for Martian causes. It was utterly ridiculous and Quinn refused to believe it, even when she found his bank accounts empty of any payment for services rendered.

In the end, answers didn’t matter. What mattered was that Ingram was guilty, that he had confessed, and that it was Quinn’s job to pass judgement on him. Despite wanting badly to be able to lock him away forever, or send him to prison for the rest of his life, there was only one acceptable punishment for treachery.

And that was death.





Still Turnstiles at Station 6

2 05 2016

Oh look! There’s life in this blog place yet!

Here is another flash fiction, courtesy of Chuck Wendig on Terribleminds.com. This week’s challenge was an extension of last week’s where we were asked to come up with a title. Out of those, Chuck selected ten and asked us to choose one for our story. I was torn between The Blood Lottery, The Blind Tattooist, but eventually ended up with:

Still Turnstiles at Station 6

At its peak, every day, close to fifty thousand people passed through Station 6 on their journey onward to other parts of the solar system and beyond. The other five stations processed just as many people, which made for total of three hundred thousand humans leaving the Earth every day at the high point of the evacuation.

 
At that rate, it would take nearly sixty-five years to get everyone off the planet’s surface, by which time, of course, it would be too late. So more stations were built, each bigger and capable of taking more passengers until there were a total of twenty-one stations that cut the evacuation time down to just around fifteen years.

 
Now, even as the planet drew its last gasp and the majority of the population had left the surface either by way of one of the twenty-one space elevators or by private spacecraft, the original six stations were deemed needless, while the new and larger ones continued to lift those few who were left on the planet. It was not just the end of an era, it was the end of a world.

***

“When are you going up?” Ellis asked, casually leaning back against the counter he was manning, looking out over the nearly empty hall of Station 6. Of the row of twenty turnstiles, only three were still in operation and the queues by them hardly had more than a handful of families in them. It was quiet in the grand entry hall. So much so, that the tired whispers of those still here echoed loudly throughout the large space, making it seem like it was filled with ghosts.

 
“I’m not,” said Calloway, shrugging her shoulders as she looked out of the huge windows toward the desert landscape that had once been the Amazon jungle. There had been life out there, once, Calloway knew, but now all that was left was a flat and desolate plain that might as well have been on the Moon. If not for the colour of the dirt and the glint of light reflected off pools of brackish water, you could easily be fooled into thinking that you were, indeed, looking at a lunar landscape.

 
“You’re staying?” he asked, surprise written all over his face. “I wouldn’t have pegged you for an Earther, Cal.” His brow furrowed as he looked at her more carefully, trying to determine if she was joking or not. “Really?”

 
“Really. And it’s not Earther, it’s Preservationist. Some of us have to stay behind to try to preserve what’s still alive, make sure the Earth doesn’t end up like Mars used to be. In fact, we’re already using some of their terraforming efforts to restart our own ecology here.”

 
“Right. But…” Ellis had no idea what to say to this new-found knowledge. He’d always just assumed that his colleagues here at Station 6 were all going to join the evacuation, same as he was. The idea of staying behind was, to him, so absurd that it never even crossed his mind. “You’re staying?”

 
“Yes, really, Karl, I’m staying.”

 
“But why?” he demanded, still not satisfied with the answer. He’d known Calloway for well over ten years now, and she had never even given a hint that she might be thinking of staying behind on a dead planet. It made no sense at all. Why would anyone stay on a doomed planet, a planet that would surely be hostile to any kind of life within a decade?

 
“It’s the right thing to do, Karl. We might not succeed, but we at least have to try, don’t you think?” she said, looking at him with an intent expression and a small smile playing at the corner of her mouth. “Besides, I don’t have a family. No parents, no siblings. No children. And my wife agrees with me. We’re staying here. We’re going to do our best to save this world, heal it as best we can. Is that so wrong?”

 
“No. I guess. No, it’s not,” he said, the echo of closing doors making him look toward the gates that led into the departure hall, where the last of those leaving from Station 6 were waiting for their ride to orbit. It was quiet now, in the entry hall. The turnstiles had stopped clicking, the missing sound of them filling the space and making every one of the attendants fall silent.

***

Calloway wiped the sweat from her brow with the back of her hand and stood, letting out a light groan as her back protested from having been bent over for so long. She looked around her, letting out a sigh at the dusty landscape around her, her gaze lingering for a moment on the dark line drawn straight up into the air by the space elevator nearby.

 
It was nearly ten years now, since the facilities at the base of that one had been closed and some seven or eight years since the last of the elevators had been closed down for good. There were still spacecraft coming and going, but even that was a rare event these days. The rest of humanity had given up on Earth, and more and more, it seemed like they were correct in their assessment that the planet was beyond saving.

 
“Georgia!” Pauline shouted, her voice full of joy and wonderment. “Come here! Look at this!”

 

THE END





Winter Stars

21 04 2012

Missed the deadline on last week’s Terribleminds challenge, but I wanted to post it anyway. The challenge was posted on April 13th, which was exactly two years to the day after my mother died. I contemplated writing about that, but found it too hard and too personal to put into a story. Maybe I’ll write about it in a regular blog post some day. Anyway, Chuck’s challenge was “Death is on the table” and went like this:

What all this means is, today we’re talking about death.

The Big “D.”

Demise. Dirt-Nap. Stick a fork in me, I’m done.

You have 1000 words to write a short story that prominently features death. What that means is up to you, of course. And genre is also in your court.

But a death — or the concept of death, or an exploration of death — must be front and center.

I went the science fiction route as per usual and for once went a little long. 1043 words according to Scrivener. Hope you like.

 

Winter Stars

There were worse ways to die.

Lying paralysed by a laser shot in the back wasn’t bad at all. He felt nothing from below that point right somewhere around the upper thoracic region and he had a wonderful view of a clear starry sky overhead to keep him company as life slipped away. No, this wasn’t bad at all.

His eyes tracked the movement of a satellite across the sky, wondering briefly if it was looking down on him, recording these last moments of his life, but dismissed the idea since it obviously wasn’t geostationary. There were probably others up there, watching, he figured.

“Still alive, huh, Finnegan?”

Fuck! Couldn’t the bastards even let him die in peace?! Closing his eyes in frustration for a moment, he turned his head in the direction of the voice, then opened them again to look at the approaching silhouette of the woman. “Go away, Jules. You’re intruding,” Finn said, the words misting in the cold air as he spoke.

“You should be happy to see me,” she said, almost casually, as she set an aluminium case down beside him, then knelt in the snow, throwing back the fur trimmed hood of her down jacket. She flashed a smile at him, running a gloved hand through her dark curls. “I’m here to help.”

“Help finish me off before I freeze to death?” he asked and shook his head – the only part of him he could still move – then fixed his eyes back on the stars and the moving specks of satellites above. “Thanks, but no thanks. If you don’t mind, I’d rather take this the slow way.”

“I’m not here to kill you,” she said, sounding disappointed and hurt that he would think that. There was a light rustle in the night from her jacket as she shrugged and turned to open the clasps that held the lid of the case shut. “Then again, I’m not exactly here to save you either.”

“No…” he groaned, realising then what was going on and why Jules had arrived just as he was about to check out of this life. Bastards weren’t going to let him leave that easily.

* * *

“One more mission and you’re done, Finnegan. Your contract will be fulfilled,” Jackson said, sitting behind his desk with his characteristic Cheshire Cat grin, fingers laced together as he leaned back in his leather chair. “You sure you won’t sign an extension? You’ve done good work for us, you know.”

“Positive,” Finn said, a little too forcefully, but he wanted the Director to know without a doubt that he would never work for him or the Agency again. “I’m done with this kind of work.”

“Well… Too bad,” the Director said, shifting forward in his chair to put his hands on his desk, pale blue eyes studying Finn for a long quiet moment. Then, abruptly, he reached out for the data chip lying next to him on the desk and tossed it to the agent who caught it in a smooth motion. “Your next target. I suggest you pack your long johns. It’s gonna get cold where you’re headed.”

* * *

The mission had been fake, of course. He’d realised that too late, though, when the target had led him on a wild goose-chase out in the middle of bloody nowhere. He’d made a fatal mistake and knew that his mind hadn’t been properly on the job, and now he was paying for it.

“You’re here to…” Finn began, leaving the rest unsaid, not wanting to put words to it. Doing that would make it real and he didn’t want it to be real. This wasn’t something he’d agreed to, but then the Agency did whatever the Agency wanted. And that, he had known. He had been arrogant to think that he was exempt from that. Now he knew better and it filled him with a dread that was worse than the idea of dying.

“Yes,” Jules replied, doing him the favour of leaving the unsaid words unsaid. A slight hissing noise came next, as she lifted the metallic device from the foam inside the case, starlight glinting of it in the periphery of his vision as she moved it in front of her to inspect it. She pulled off her leather gloves – one after the other – using her teeth, dropping them in the snow beside her, then turned to look at him. “It’s time, Finn.”

She sounded almost sad, he thought, his eyes still watching the stars, while his mind had spiralled into a panic that his body refused to acknowledge and react appropriately to. The sniper who’d shot him sure as hell knew what he was doing and Finn had to admire that on some level. On another level, he cursed that sniper’s skill. A little to one side or the other, up or down and he’d be dead already, and his worst nightmare wouldn’t be coming true.

“Please. Don’t,” he pleaded, shocking himself – and Jules – with the fear and horror in his voice. “Just let me die. Please. I’m begging you, Jules. If ever —”

“I have to,” she cut him off, and he quietly thanked her for that even as she leaned over and pulled off the knit hat he wore, then slipped the metallic headband with its thin wires attached over his head.

He felt it contract and then thin needles stabbed into his scalp, though his skull and into his brain, the searing pain only lasting a second until there was…

Nothing.

* * *

“Finnegan,” the voice said, female and familiar. “Finn? Wake up. C’mon, open your eyes.”

“I’m awake,” he said. He felt numb, like a part of him was missing, something substantial and important, but he couldn’t put a finger on what it was. And he bloody well couldn’t figure out where he knew that voice from. Somewhere…

“It’s time, Finn.”

Jules.

“Why’d you do this to me?” he asked, opening eyes that weren’t his, turning to focus them on her as he spoke with lips that had belonged to someone else before they had Transferred him into their body.

“Because we own you, Finn,” she said with a cold smile and jutted out her chin in an authoritative gesture. “Now get up. You have a mission.”

 





The Gate

12 03 2012

Another flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig at Terribleminds. This one I like a bit better, but that may have to do with bringing out an old roleplaying character of mine to star in this little story. Feels good to write for Matty again even if she’s in an entirely different universe this time (I’ve played her in Star Trek and Firefly earlier). Maybe if I continue with these challenges, I’ll use Matty more often.

This past week, I talked about word choice, so it seems only fitting I choose words for you.
I have, in fact, chosen 20 words.
You must choose 10 of these words and use them throughout your ~1000 word flash fiction story.
Might be tricky, but hey, that’s why this is a challenge and not, say, me tickling your privates with a feather.
The ten words:
Beast, brooch, cape, dinosaur, dove, fever, finger, flea, gate, insult, justice, mattress, moth, paradise, research, scream, seed, sparrow, tornado, university.
You’ve got a week. Friday, 15th, by noon EST.

The words I ended up with are bolded throughout the story. Hopefully, that won’t confuse the reading of it. The story is 937 words long and starts with a rude awakening. Enjoy!

 
The Gate

The gate was open.

Doc slammed on the brakes as soon as he saw and the Beast came to a sudden halt that woke Matty by way of her forehead smacking into the dashboard in front of her. Grunting, she gave Doc a hard glare as she started to say something obnoxious and insulting about his driving skills. Then she saw.

“Shit,” she said, knowing that a wide open gate meant nothing but trouble. With a capital T.

“Shit, indeed,” Doc agreed, in that quiet and severe tone of his. Doc wasn’t an actual doctor. Not of the medical kind, anyway. He was one of those Ph.D doctors with a degree in literature or history or one of those things that were useless in more practical sense. Still, he’d been smart enough to survive ’till now, which was why Matty was always happy to be teamed up with him on recon missions.

“I’ll go in and have a look around,” Matty said and pushed open the door of the heavily armoured truck, grabbing the shotgun from the rack at the back at the same time. “You stay here.” Glancing back at him, she could tell that he would rather come with her than stay here alone and she gave him a shrug of her shoulders. “To guard the Beast. Case they’re still around…”

“Yeah, okay,” he said unhappily, then tapped his ear with one finger as his other hand dug into a shirt pocket to extract an in-ear comms device. “But stay in touch, will you?”

“Deal,” she said and jumped down, booted feet throwing up a small cloud of dust from the road’s surface. She slammed the door shut and turned, took a deep breath of cold air and started walking toward the open gate, shotgun held at the ready.

* * *

The world had been ending for a long time even before The Change. Human kind had not been kind to the planet they inhabited and depended on for survival. The only home they had. Scientists had warned about things like climate change, rising sea-levels and pollution for decades upon decades, but the economy had always taken precedence over the environment and by the time the politicians finally took the warnings seriously, it was far too late to do anything about it. Paradise was lost.

Those who survived the aftermath of the wars, the illnesses and the weather isolated themselves in small communities of like-minded people, splintering a human race into ever smaller and smaller factions, each with their own agenda and method of survival in the post-Change world.

This was the world that Matty had grown up in. The Change had started when she was just a toddler and she had no memories of the sort of world Doc talked about, where people went to work and school, ate out in restaurants before catching a movie at the theatre, went to a ballgame on Sunday afternoons. Lived what he called normal lives.

The stories Doc told were like fairy tales to Matty, something she could hardly believe had been reality, but she would never tire of them, no matter how long he went on and on, trying to teach her some of the things he had learned at university all those years ago.

* * *

The first thing Matty saw as she went through the gate was a bright orange plastic dinosaur lying on the ground near the door to the constable station. Stegosaurus, if she remembered Doc’s lessons properly, but that didn’t matter. What mattered was that she recognised it as belonging to Constable Singer’s little girl, Delia. What mattered more was what she saw as she looked around.

Destruction everywhere. Doors kicked halfway off their hinges, windows glass laying shattered in a thousand pieces on the ground. There were signs of struggle, blood staining the ground here and there, but no bodies. But no sign of survivors either. She continued, following a trail of blood drops, through the narrow and twisted alleys, the silence making her want to scream just to break the spell, to make herself wake up from this nightmare.

“Matty, what’s going on? Talk to me.”

She’d stopped talking to him without even noticing. Now she could hear the fear and concern in his voice as he spoke. “Sorry, Doc. Still with you. Don’t worry,” she said as she turned a corner, walked slowly toward the large building at the centre of town. “Haven’t found them yet, but I’ll keep looking. I’m checking the community centre now.”

She found them there, all of them. The raiders had shepherded them there – men, women and children – and lined them up against the wall and then shot them. Everyone she had ever known, gone. Killed. The immense weight of shock and sadness forced her to her knees, a numbness spreading through her body and her mind like a rapid fever, sapping her will and strength until there was nothing but darkness and emptiness left.

* * *

“What now?” Doc asked quietly as he sat beside her in the Beast. They had buried the dead and loaded the truck with what few supplies that had been left behind by the raiders. They were ready to move on, but they hadn’t discussed whereto or what they should do. They had simply agreed silently that they couldn’t stay here.

Matty held the wheel so tightly that her knuckles turned white. She glanced sideways at him and released one hand to turn on the engine, Singer’s constable badge, which she had hung from a chain on the rear-view mirror rattling with the vibrations. “Now we deliver justice.”