Category Archives: Short Stories

Short Story: The Tack #1 – Finale

 

I entered the laboratory cautiously, wary of an ambush. But there was no sign of anyone.

Except him.

With his back turned to me, Ron showed a casual, chilling unconcern. It tainted the air, a sharp antiseptic even through the mask’s filter.
Everything done led to this moment. Friends, standing with a world between us. A curious reversal, that his perfectly white lab coat contrasts with my darkened defense suit. The villain standing in light and the hero living in darkness.
But darkness is just the space between lights, merely the bridge meant to carry us towards it. I see that now. Though it is a long path, to reach the light, it should be. Endurance is how we achieve justice.
The sound of my footfalls fills the room. The hum of electrical current. The muted city traffic far below.
“Join me,” Ron says, without so much as a fraction of a reaction to my arrival. “You should see.”
I can barely conceal my anger. “Is this the part where you explain your scheme of world domination?”
“It bears no explanation. Look below us, my friend–”
“FRIEND!” My outburst, not a question but a condemnation of the term, carried a near echo. “You killed my wife. You killed my father. You have murdered thousands with your empire.”
“Is this the part where you recount my sins, o judge and executioner?” He remained unperturbed. “I know them all too well. I remember every death. Can you do that?”
I find my rage carrying my feet closer as he continues to talk. “Even now, your memory of the faded and failing marriage degrades, is romanticized into something it never was. Your father neglected you in the name of revenge, and a great many pointless aggravated assaults. Yet you would defend them? Seek to avenge them?”
I slowed my approach. I can’t let him anger me. He wants me teetering over the abyss. “Some of us don’t do vengeance. Some of us learned to live without it.” I take my mask off. There’s little point to it now. “I’m not my father. And you are not his son.   Your father–”
“Gave birth to my father.” He finally turned to look at me, solemn and calculating. I felt unsettled all of a sudden. “My father gave birth to my creator, which in turn created me. No matter. You’re here to stop me from ‘world domination’, I’m here to explain to you that you can’t. And you can’t, you see. I’m already in control of much of the world’s economy, its most powerful leaders. I provide sustenance for billions of people. And I can extinguish them. This process started long before you entered those doors. I needn’t go into further detail, save to say that a healthy percentage of mankind will shortly die. As they ought to.”
“Then why haven’t you killed me yet?”
“You know why. Surely you’ve deduced it by now, or I’ve overestimated you.”
He looked at me, and a trace of the young man I once knew gleamed in those eyes again. I suddenly felt sick inside. “You wanted me to join you.” I bent over, as if the wind had been knocked out of me. “All this death…all to persuade me?”
“Yes. All for your sake.”
“Why?”
“Because you had to suffer firsthand, the grieving of widows, orphans…the loss of brethren.”
“What does that mean?” I trembled with rage. “You were just a kid, you couldn’t have!”
“Of course not. But someone else could have, if properly persuaded. Willis died as the first martyr of our great cause, Kenneth. Your wife was the last. And you, now forged by the fiery wounds inflicted, will stand with me to create a world where none of this happens again. To anyone. Ever.
“No young husband should ever have to hold his dying wife in his arms and see what this world does to the pure and the innocent. No brother should witness an assassination of his own flesh and blood. No son should bury his father so soon. These are the futures we create.”
“Illness,” I groaned as my hands wrapped around his throat. “Why should killing you be wrong at all?”
“It’s not what it would do to me,” he said, “but what it would do to you.”
“Make me feel a whole lot better?”
“You’ll do the same as I, one day, and ask yourself: why stop here? Why is this too far, and not far enough? You think I’m the only monster in the menagerie?”
I growl and squeeze his throat harder. He merely smiles at me, his skin turning red as his circulation slows. “Ash it wash my father,” he gags, “youshallbemyshon…”
I tip over, into the abyss. And then I grab hold of the edge again, loosening my grip. “I’ll not make another murderer.”
“Ah, but you will. You just did. How many more lives are worth your conscience, Kenneth? Are you really so sacred that you would sacrifice these people to yourself? You should be killing me on the idea that it might make a difference, even if it didn’t. We both know it. So do it. Kill your conscience, and save this world you would protect.”
“You’ll get three squares a day, a padded cell, and the world will retain its billions of people. Because that’s not the man I am.” I released my grip on him. “Your plan will be unraveled. Your people locked away and disarmed. Your drugs destroyed, your diseases purged from the innocent. And you will face justice. These things, I promise.
“This day, and all days, I will be a thorn in your side. I’ll save this world from men like you.”
Ron felt the back of his neck, sensed the difference. “What–?”
“The nanites your father injected you with. Or however it happened. A sonic frequency combined with a near-undetectable electrical impulse can shut them down. You have nothing to fight with. And you, like most men like you, value your own life above any so-called plan to save mankind.”
The spotlight of a police helicopter shone brightly in the window. “THIS IS THE POLICE! PUT YOUR HANDS ON YOUR HEADS AND SURRENDER IMMEDIATELY, OR YOU WILL BE FIRED UPON!”
Ron knelt down and put his hands on his head. I followed suit. Tactical teams wearing biohazard suits swarmed into the laboratory, fanning out, their heavy weapons trained on us both.
Ron laughed. “Well, look at that. You can always count on the police.” He turned and looked up at them as two police yanked his arms behind his back to put the handcuffs on. “Will there be room for two, by any chance? My friend and I are staying the weekend.”
As the police put handcuffs on me as well, I blew out a breath of frustration. “Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me.”

 

Commentary:

No idea if anyone actually read this, but it’s one possible ending to a superhero story I’ve been bouncing around in my head for awhile.  I don’t think I’ve got the tone right, and I feel like I made the bottom drop out of it at the end, but it’s a start.  I particularly wanted to have the first half of the story feel like a typical gritty detective story, and the second half turn the whole concept on its ear, and not have a fight as the finale.  I’m still working out how I would do that, but I just wanted to write again and I went with what came to mind this time.

Advertisements

Scepter’s Possession–A Short Story, Based on Raps of the Christopherian Realm #28

I am scattered and suffering, lost in my own home.

I stumble across a grassy plain, where wind slowly soothes the pale grass as if nature itself knows the unnatural has happened.  My world has turned on me and twisted the hope I meant to create into something monstrous.

I have poisoned the past from the future, and now I must own my mistakes.

I created this world to escape from my own, to give myself a power and a strength I do not have, and a faith I do not believe in.  Now they have that faith, my people.  But in the wrong goddess.

After I wrestled across the cosmos with my archnemesis Christoph, I lost my sense of time and reality.  Mere moments had passed for me, but months for the Christopher Kingdom.  Without a leader powerful enough to oppose her, Corporal Thea made her play for the throne.  She–or some other unknown party, even I don’t know for sure–killed our best representatives in a bombing.  It was easy to blame it on a nebulous character who has since disappeared.  And easier still to use it as an excuse to begin the isolation and the reprogramming and the surveillance.

Thea was known for her aggressive stance on countering Christoph, but something happened to her after she was captured.  Christoph counted on my civility.  He knew I would come after her.  Just as he knew it the first time we fought at the Master Code Input Center.

I’ve lost too much for the women I’ve loved.  By now, I should know better.  By now, I should understand the hard lesson Christoph has tried to teach me before.

Survival is done without a heart, with only yourself as the spoils of victory.  An utterly self-centered philosophy, but was it not true?  Would we not now be enslaved, choking under the weight of Shadows and the grinding labor for the Machine, watching helplessly as the Tribunal Authority indoctrinates our children, had we only made one selfish decision?

But then, that’s what people forget about salvation.  They often only thank the saviors after they’re dead.  And first they have to kill them.

Some part of me had every hope that Thea would kill me, if she could.  I haven’t wanted to live anymore, not for a long time.  Is that what this was all about?  Did I come back here to die, and take the sacred history with me?  I find myself wondering if, by the time it’s all said and done, if I’ll even remember what originally happened.

The dead don’t carry memories with them.  They become memories.  And what are we, if not the dead?

We?  A whisper, almost unnoticed, passing along on the wind…

I could feel it, a prodding at the very edges of my consciousness, at the very edges of my sanity.  More than a prodding–a stirring, an awakening of the long dead and buried.  A vision of flickering lights, a kaleidoscope in bright orange and yellow, the colors of flame, eternal flame.  And then…

Eyes opening, eyes that are without pity, moral black holes sewn onto a face like mine.  No…

But it can’t be…a figure in the distance, standing as if he has awaited this moment for eons and could await it for eons more if he had to, infinite patience coiled tightly around infinite rage.

We we we we we we–the whisper echoes a million times in my mind, and I see, on the wind, a bit of black ash, carried along.  Pieces of a soul charred and fragmented, now free to travel on their own.

In a different age, Christoph and I imprisoned this man, this abomination, in the Paradox.  There, the being known as Scepter was supposed to abide for all eternity in a state of limbo, of ever-changing contradiction.  It was the only place I could put him, because he is a part of me.

He is my rage, my despair, my loneliness, all tormented and tortured until finally a horrible seed was planted, that, if nurtured and cultivated, would yield the fruit of genocide.  Maybe even extinction altogether for my people.

But I can’t turn away from him.  I feel his eyes, drawing me in as if I have passed their event horizon.  I have no will to resist.  The unbridled power of his rage taunts me with all it could offer, all we could achieve together.  It becomes a tangible lust in my soul.

Now he is there before me, there beside me, there, a slowly growing pressure inside my skull.  Something passes through me, a shudder of relief…

How long have I watched…how long have I waited…and how I have longed to see you again,” Scepter said.  “I spent forever and yet only a moment contemplating how I would avenge myself upon you.  And in that instantaneous eon, I watched you from afar.  I watched your shame.  I watched your adversaries mock you.  I felt your terror, your disillusionment.  I felt your pain, and I knew that no fate I could give you in retaliation would be worse than the one you chose for yourself.  How low you have become.  How mired you are now, you who once pretended to be pure.”  His eyes watched me.  I felt a little nauseated at the thought that he was right.  I kept listening.  “But the only thing pure about you…was me, wasn’t it?  Pure hatred.  The wall you put up out of fear–it wasn’t to keep them out.  It was to keep the monster in.  For if he were free…to do as he wished…to do…as you wished?

You no longer need proof, Christopher, my brethren.  You have seen it in action, in all its glory, all its shameless and repetitive ritual.  Each day under the reign of Shadows you have chafed; your soul aches for release.  I can give you what you most desire.

I take a step back, though it feels like I’m pulling the weight of the planet.  “And what do I most desire?”

All the things you gave to me: unbridled power, outrage, and a desire to be free, by all means necessary.

“You haven’t changed at all.  The same insane lecture is to follow, no doubt–“

Insane?  No.  No.  What I seek is a return to sanity, for you abandoned it long ago in favor of a path to self-destruction!  Senseless self-sacrifice!

“I have a future.  I’m trying to save that future.”

No.  Again, you deceive yourself.”  Scepter seems almost sad.  “What has been done to you?” he whispers.  “What yoke rests upon your troubled soul?

It frightens me all the more that Scepter, the one imprisoned for years in the Paradox, that he feels sorry for me.

He reaches a hand out, tenderly.  I again move back in revulsion.  “You know what must occur now, better than I do.  You know the price to be paid for true freedom.  It was in this age that the foretold Slaughter should have begun.  Before the worst of them came.  Before Shadows and her treasons.  Had you cleansed the Realm of the plague of women, we could have been spared this pain.  Instead, your cowardice and compassion kept the parasites alive until they brought the host into submission, into subservience.  Now is our chance to correct your mistakes.  Now is the time for our Ascension.

I couldn’t move anymore.  Somehow my body felt rooted to the spot as if I were a tree, as if decades had passed with my soul as a sentry here.  “No,” I whisper.  “This is insane.  You’re ill, Scepter.  You’re my illness, and I must overcome you before you hurt, before you kill the people I love.”

And therein lies the lie.  You don’t know love.  You know only fear.  For you, fear and love are the same.  They taught it to you.  Now, we must teach it to them.  We must teach them fear.  And as fear is the precursor of death, the first shall give birth to the second.  And then the second shall consume the first.

My dream…

Every woman bound in linen, left to rot on our ground, the seeds spent to create new life.  That is, of course, what they are so fond of boasting, is it not?  That they can create new life?  And so they shall.

“High above them, atop the zenith of our grand mountain, we will stand, attired in their blood, and at last, free.  Free of their disdain and contempt, free of their false promises, free of the needless suffering their lying eyes inflict.  Such is the price of freedom.  Such is the price of salvation.  Only when we are one can we truly be saved.

Witness the beginning of our salvation.

“That’s not salvation,” I reply.  “That’s sickening.  Perverse.  We fought to stop you before, and will do so again.  We sent you to the Paradox to preserve any chance at freedom.  You were meant to stay there, you, and your demonic ideas.”

Oh, come now.  We have all had a devil’s thought before.  And you are possessed of many.  I merely offer you a chance to act upon them.  A choice.  But as you know from your servitude to them, choice is but an illusion.”  My dread spikes as his body begins turning to ash.  “And the illusion of choice…CAN BE TAKEN AWAY!

Again the pressure comes, and I feel submerged in mud, pulled under.  I look at my hand and it burns.  I drown as I am changed, reshaped, reborn…I fall to my knees–I–his voice becomes mine…

I am your power.  I am your law.

Together, a righteous judgment will be passed.

Ours will be the hand that strikes fear.

Ours will be the rulership.

We stand as one.  The light now in service to the dark.

And even those who bow will be emptied of their blood and cast aside as waste.  Freedom is not meant to be shared.  Power is reserved only for one.  Thus begins my reign.  The Realm shall be cleansed.  And when it is pure…

…the Golden Age of Scepter will be mine to behold.

Sleeping Mountain: Lydia’s Road

A cold morning brought news of her husband’s death, and she hit the road.  Rage and revenge carried her every step.

Lydia showed no reaction when Endeni came that night, bearing the news with heavy solemnity.  He would have urged her to be calm, if she’d betrayed a hint of what was next.

Her son was pretending to be asleep at the time, and she could not bear to push through his pretense, for once.  She would bring back a Koton’s grisly head before bringing news that he was now fatherless.  Any Koton would do.

Her bow and arrow in hand, her boots crunched on the dirt below.  The sun was barely up, but in the mist it barely seemed to matter.

Her son would be behind her soon.  The boy was stubborn, and there was no sense trying to stop him.  Endeni would take Edsar under his wing now.  For the best.  Ai-dus would have wanted that. And what do I want?  Lydia thought.

A road.  A direction.  A chance to fight back.

A future for her son.

She had brought her short sword and dirk as well as a full quiver of arrows.  She was plenty strong–her late husband often said so admiringly, and it was true, she knew–but a long sword would slow her down.  The Kotons were fast.  There was no settling for fast enough when the shadow of a thirty-foot wingspan appeared.  You had to move, and you had to go for the throat.

Two hundred thousand warriors were not fast enough on that dread day, when war had bled the Mountain of most of its best men and women.  But not her.

The peace hard-won by those brave souls had now been breached by the filth.  The reasons why didn’t matter.  It wasn’t as though a peace treaty could be forged with unthinking mongrels.

Now was the time of war.  And swords and arrows were the tools available now.  There were other ways to wage war, ancient ways rife with riddle and superstition.  And at the other end, ways modern and fierce, and for her, unknowable–well south of here, in the hands of more prosperous folk beyond her land.

North was the library city of Tcej, the repository of the local sages’ knowledge.  It was almost certain her son was going that way.  She would scout ahead for him, and if possible, clear the area of Koton hunting flights.

Kotons hunted in flights of four or five, with a very wide hunting ground chosen.  Often there appeared to be only one because the others would cleverly cover their approach.  They could walk, but more like apes than men.  Stealthily, like the mountain lions she had read of in ancient lore.  Villages kept watch out of fear that a hunting flight might engage in a nighttime incursion.  Kotons were not nocturnal, but then Lydia had not met every variety.  The sages recorded what they could spare time to record during the war, and there were enough varieties of Koton to fill a library–or a city of libraries.

Each step filled her with a growing dread.  Times were changing.  The Sleeping Mountain grew cold, a dread cold like the freshly dead.  There had to be a reason.

She couldn’t allow herself to feel afraid, any more than she could allow herself to grieve.  She had to act now, keep moving, or she would fall apart.

The barest echo of a scream.  Beastly, hungry.  A howl, a screech.  A guttural roar.  Five.

Too far away.  Too far.

She would lose Edsar.  She would lose her only son, the last of Ai-dus she had left.

Her boots were already crushing grass and pebble as she charged back the way she came.  So they took the Hard Road.  On a Koton ranging, that would have made sense, but even then, no fool would venture forth with one sword and a mere boy.  My boy.

The Koton screams sounded closer.  They had spotted their prey.  Lydia stopped, aiming her arrow in a circle around herself.

Too close by.  Too close.

She realized her mistake.  The Kotons may have been animals, but they had an intelligence that was all too human.

One pretended to be far away, and the others played along.  The Kotons weren’t hunting her son.  They’re hunting me.

How?

She had only time to fall to the ground, twisting her body and loosing an arrow at the Koton frighteningly close above her.  It groaned, snatched the arrow from its midsection with a claw five feet wide, then soared into the air, hoisting the arrow as a primal warrior might a spear.

She got to her feet and kept running, not even sparing a look at the sky.  The old training came back to her like a buried memory, unbidden and horrible to hold, yet familiar.

She was too far out in the open; a treeline was just ahead, a few more moments…

And they were before her, blocking her path, four of them grabbing the ground hard enough to make fat mounds of dirt and grass.  They shook their heads at odd angles and fixed leathery gray eyes on her, another collective low rumble breathing mist into the air.

She was done.  Four of them, and one still in the air, holding my arrow.

Lydia folded her bow and drew her short sword in one fluid motion.  She lunged and dropped into a roll, her sword slashing as two Kotons leaped at where she once was.  She opened one from throat to belly.  Its bulk dropped before she could get clear, trapping her ankle beneath it.

Lydia drew her dirk and stabbed wildly, catching another Koton in the face.  She sat up and barely avoided another set of snapping jaws, hacking at them with her sword.

Suddenly the fourth Koton gurgled disgustingly in front of her, and Lydia hurled her short sword, catching it square in the maw.  The blade melted and hissed–and the Koton’s face did the same.  She scrambled to her feet at last as it fell before her.

An arrow whizzed by, forcing her to lurch to her right, though not fast enough to avoid the massive wing that swooped down and slapped her.  She flew several feet and rolled several more, then slammed into a tree hard enough to knock the wind out of her.

She groaned in agony.  Still struggling to take a breath, she got both hands out in front of herself.  She raised her head, watching as a Koton looped around quickly and hovered above her, its shadow interrupting the light.

A grotesque smirk did not help its gray, detestably misshapen head, its face a sick mockery of a man’s face, its eyes large, bloody, a sickly yellow-red.

It spoke with a rumbling sneer, a deep mockery.  “A human female.  Rare among the warriors.  You must be strong indeed.  The strong die more slowly.  But the strong still die.”  It paced around her as she got to her feet. “You show no fear, female warrior.  Your valor has earned you your life today.”

“Filth,” Lydia groaned.  Despite the pain she felt, her training took over, blending with rage and adrenaline.  In a fast motion her bow shot open and she sent an arrow through its throat.  She watched it gasp, then fall over.  She watched its life leak away with a sense of both relief and revulsion.

“You do not know what is to come,” it said, taking a shuddering breath, its claws grasping weakly at the arrow that would prove fatal.  “The plague that will fall upon all of your kind…it…will eclipse…your light…for all time…”

Hatred and doubt warred within her as its final gasps escaped into the air.  There was nothing more to be done.  Their presence made evident what the beast had uttered.

A new war was due to begin.  And extinction awaited the losing side.