Central jumped as she called out his name. It had been some time since their morning training and he clearly thought she had slipped out. The sudden realization that she never left put metal into his spine and rang him like a tuning fork.
“Yes! Um yes Bee. Central, go ahead.”
The wicked smile on Bee’s face was almost audible in the silent dark of the central monitoring station. “When was the last contact with Mr. Aye’s unit?”
“I…I don’t know, Ma’am.”
“You don’t know?”
The temperature of the room dropped a few degrees and it made Central stutter. “I…I’m just handling our routine security. I thought you were handling the … Uh … intelligence gathering.”
“And your unit does not report in?”
“Well he’s supposed to, but he hasn’t. I… Uh… Please don’t hurt me, but I thought he was reporting to you, like we loaned him to your team and you were controlling him. We don’t play offense here, just defense. I have to stay out of that stuff in order to work in the office.”
“So, you don’t actually know what we do here?”
“Well… No. I route phone calls, I watch monitors for unauthorized people and route security. Those guys get their marching orders from other people. I mean, I know this stuff is shady, and quite frankly, you people scare the shit out of me, but I don’t actually know what you are doing.”
Her voice softened. “Well then I apologize. So, no contact from your man Carl?”
“No. We do log these things and there’s nothing.”
Ms. Bee pulled her lips in, and the lines in her face deepened in the shadow of the room. “If you get any contact, call me. I will be available. Please, keep up your surveillance. Remember our lesson and reinforce it with the others in your group. We will be visited with hostile intent.”
“How do you know?”
Ms. Bee let her smile reflect the glare of the monitors. “I don’t, but I’d rather be wrong than in jail … or dead.”
Mr. Aye came back to the world in the solar powered broiler of the Buick’s back seat. His face was one big bruise, his eyes were blood red and when he blew out, purple blood came out in little droplets. The drug store parking lot gave no cover from the heat and glare, even here around in the back, near the dumpsters. Mr. Aye didn’t seem to notice. Now that he was conscious, he thought about his prey.
“Goldberg.” He said the name while crawling out of the back of the car, disturbing a stray dogs inspection of the dumpster. “Dude lives like a pig. Juvenile, decadent pig. Makes me sick.”
He found his footing on asphalt so hot it softened the plastic of his shoe soles and cooked the blood that dropped from his face. A spot of shade on a narrow strip of grass that separated his parking lot from it’s neighbor called to him He wandered over. Again, the stray dog startled and growled protectively in front of his dumpster.
“Fuck you, dog.” Mr. Aye sat heavily, every bruise and ache complaining. “Lucky to be here. That bastard had a punch.” He spat again, noticing the absence of blood. “Heh. Lucky. Take that Mr. Goldberg. You aren’t the only one with luck. Shit, I survived the fucking Gulf War… twice, Contras, and countless wars with no names. And you, you fuck, you wind up with a hot girlfriend and more money than God for doing what? Sitting here, getting high and teaching kids to count?”
Thick hands rubbed over the purple and yellow bruise that was Mr. Aye’s face. He winced at the pain, but it focused his thoughts. Raw hate sparked in his eyes. “I’m going to get you, mother fucker. It’s my mission and I’m going to enjoy ending you.”
A sudden barking erupted from the dog, directed at Mr. Aye. The hired gun stayed perfectly still, eyes staring into the distance. The agitation in the dog’s bark increased. It repeatedly pounced forward and retreated, trying to scare Mr. Aye. Still the man did not budge
The dog quickly looked around, then appeared to change tactics. It slinked closer to Mr. Aye, growling all the while. It stayed beyond an arm’s reach of the man and crouched low. The growl exposed every one of the dog’s teeth all the way to its gums.
Mr. Aye’s eyes flicked over to the dog.
The dog yelped.
Carl strolled across the parking lot carrying a bag of first aid supplies and two sodas. Getting into the driver’s seat he said, “Here’s your fucking cola. Bandage that face before you go scaring children.”
From the passenger’s seat, Mr. Aye grunted. He swept up the soda in one meaty hand while the other grabbed at the medical supplies.
“You’re welcome, jackass”
“We’re going north, around to the other side of the campus. We’ll cut him off up there.”
“So, you called in and got some intel or something?”
“Uh…” He paused. “Yeah. Something like that.”
“Good. I’m glad we finally called in. Mr. Loveless gets particular about that kind of shit. So, north side. That’s pretty far pretty fast. You sure?
“Just do what I tell you. I’ve got a nose for things like this.”
They exited the parking lot as a smear of red came from behind the dumpster and seeped into the small strip of grass.
The hot afternoon sun, the post-lunch food coma, and the eventual crash from that morning’s bong hits made the world seem burnt and all too real to Dan. The canopy of green played with the sunlight and it streamed down from the branches in pollen-filled beams along with the Spanish moss.
As he walked with Molly, the aging pervert considered the freshman’s short, round body. While he’d never been terribly picky and actually liked a little heft on his women, Molly had the look of someone who had given up on fitness for good. Dan didn’t care. Fat, crazy, needy. These weren’t problems. Problems were for people who did relationships. Goldberg had problems, Dan had opportunities. And Molly? She was female and that meant he was waiting for an opening.
“I could use a coffee. You know if we finished off the coffee this morning?” The sound of the young woman’s voice was both strangely familiar and somewhat out of place to Dan’s ears. She hadn’t said much this morning, not much that made sense anyway, and somehow this straight forward, practical question was odd.
His response was cool yet friendly, betraying little of his thoughts. “If not, I can direct you to the Quick mart. I’ve been up since last night, so no coffee for me. More bong hits, maybe, but no coffee.”
“Oh yeah, I forgot. You are nocturnal. Isn’t that a little weird?”
Dan shrugged. “Nah. You find work or the work finds you. I’ve worked hard to get a life where I don’t have to work so much. Weird shifts are a part of it. Pays well.”
They rounded the corner to the street where Dan shared the apartment with Goldberg. It was the only quiet side street that had been paved recently, so there were a bunch of kids doing skateboard tricks on homemade ramps.
“But what about girls?” She searched for his eyes as they walked. “Don’t they, like, have a problem with it?”
He smiled and looked out for errant skateboarders. “I suppose the right girl won’t mind so much.” The clacking skateboards of a half-dozen young daredevils swirled around them as they approached the apartment. Shuffling up the dusty driveway, they slid through the open lower door.
Climbing the stairway, Molly said, “Well, I don’t mind it. Especially on a hot day, it makes all the sense in the world to sleep past this heat.” She got to the door to the apartment and pushed it open without a second thought.
“Well, you know… If you wanted to join me…”
She turned around with a shocked look on her face. Dan tried to keep his careful mask of nonchalance in place, wondering if he’d just made a huge mistake.
“I… I never thought you’d ask,” she said with a blush.
“Well, I didn’t want to rush it,” he replied with a grin and an internal sigh of relief.
Halfway hiding behind the door, she made flirty eyes at Dan. “So, can I make you a bong hit, Dan? Will you be able to stay… up… for me?”
He grinned. “Never a problem.”
Molly walked into the cluttered apartment with Dan now nakedly ogling the way her behind wobbled in her shorts. “Uh, Dan?”
“I think the cats got into your stash.”
His anticipation broken, he finally noticed that the coffee table was a total mess, the rolling tray upended and weed spilled out on to the floor.
“Crap! Look at this mess. Billie!” Dan went off looking for his cat.
He came out of the bedrooms with a blurry eyed white cat in his arms. Back at the coffee table, he picked up what could be salvaged. “At least they didn’t knock over the bong. Dang, they ate a lot of this. They are going to be acting weird all day.”
“Why? What do they do?” Molly asked.
“Junior turns into the ‘great gray hunter’ and Billie mostly just sleeps or chases stuff. They are hyper-annoying, though, so they get to play outside today. Besides, I think we want to be alone, don’t you?” He flashed a leering grin then turned and called into the house. “Junior!”
Delgado drifted through the confused recesses of his own mind as it coped with the new doors opened and rooms created by the silver. In reality, he was in a toy car in the hot sun, but that world was lost to him now.
Thoughts drifted to dreams and dreams became crazy and jumbled, but surprisingly lucid. Delgado had not been much of a lucid dreamer. This nap though, this was something different and he knew it.
He began high above the desert, flying backwards, watching the sun set in the east. He knew it was east because a huge compass lay just beneath him, attached to his sternum with the north pointing off his left hand.
Bright light entered his eyes and then washed down to the color of sand. As the brightness faded further, the sand separated into a naked blue sky above and sand below. The horizon slowly sharpened and in the sand he could see acres of crops being planted along neat rows. The novel channeling of the far off river turning the silt to mud. Further focus found people in the fields wrapped in simple loin cloths, their bronze skin and dark hair marking their African heritage.
Delgado became momentarily disoriented as his view of the scene shifted suddenly. He realized that he was looking through someone’s eyes and that the viewer had been looking out a large, open window. Now the person whose eyes he was gazing through walked through the room. A high, thatched roof made of palm fronds kept the sun off of the dozen or so people examining papyrus documents and waiting for an audience with the man in the gold chair at the other end of the room.
“Nur!” a man called out, running forwards. Though Delagdo couldn’t understand the words, the meanings were plain as anything he’d ever heard in English or Spanish.
“Minister Makek. To what do I owe the honor? “
“Nur, I was wondering.”
“And what is it that I might help you with?“
“Well, it’s your brother. I was wondering if you might talk to him again.”
The man named Nur sighed. “Defense Minister, you have me in a bind. You know that my family is forever and always at the ready to serve the Pharaoh. We are loyal people.”
“Yes, we understand. But the Assyrians from the East … Nur, they are a threat to us all!”
“I am aware, which makes my bind all the more painful to me. Pray thee, walk with me to my brother.”
The Minister stiffened. “I… I’m not…”
“Come now, Minister. We’ve talked of this before. My brother is a man and a simple man at that. I myself witnessed his birth. I myself had to shelter the boy, lest he fall to rogues. Retain a calm tongue and you’ve nothing to fear from my brother.”
“But if I’m to convince him to help us defeat the Assyrians once and for all, I must, I’m afraid, give evidence of the righteousness of our cause. These people are animals!”
“Then I’m afraid we reach, once again, my bindings. My brother is both simple in mind and quality and is, by his nature, very gentile. The thought of anyone suffering, even a foe – for he does not distinguish, upsets him greatly. You would have him aid our Pharaoh by bringing him to war, but his is the mind of a child. As such, he is much more attuned to playing with blocks.”
The pair crossed the room and swept aside palm frond doors and sheets of linen that separated the main room from the patio outside. The strangeness of the scene presented to Delgado in his dream made him question its truth. There on a pillow of white sat a young and frail boy with almost pitch black skin. He drank in the hot sun. Around him flatten disks of gold made crude mirrors that reflected even more sun onto him. If anything the blackness of his skin became even blacker for the light as it let no reflection escape.
As for the boy himself, his smile was docile and wistful. The glare around him was intense but the boy did not seem to notice or care. Instead, he looked off into the distance. There, Delgado could see both a quarry and a building site. The site held the bottom third of a massive stone pyramid. As he watched, a gigantic stone rose up from the quarry and made its way over the land resting on a beam of golden light. It slowly rested on top of the incomplete pyramid and the boy stuck out his tongue, manipulating the stone into place. When he was done, he smiled again.
The boy noticed his audience and smiled even brighter. “Triangle and a square. Sun, Moon. The path of heaven in stone.”
“Yes brother, you have learned well of our spirits. You follow the instructions of our Priests and Architects. The gifts they have given you, you continue to repay.” Looking over at the Minister, he said, “To build is a calling, brother. Be safe with the men and give to the gods.”
The Minister’s eyes fell even as Nur smiled.
The boy turned back to the quarry where the quarry master had just raised a white and a red flag up, waving them. “Ah! Another block.” The boy’s skin seemed to suck the light in from the sunshine and the mirror’s refection. He smiled and stared again into the distance. The huge stone block rose from its place in the quarry and he said, “I like blocks.”
Nur turned to the Minister, who shied away from the boy. “Minister, we would like to help but it appears that all we can do is free up the men and resources while still giving our Pharaoh a just and fitting final home, a gateway from this world. My brother, though miraculous, is no weapon of war.”
The Minister stood straighter. “I can see that now. Not all power is force. But we must remain vigilant. You say this boy is no god, I disagree. Let us pray that should the Assyrians find one of their number with similar qualities that they should be so peaceful.”
As the Minister turned from Delgado, looking through Nur’s eyes the scene washed out into the glare of the sun coming through the passenger side window of the micro compact car. Delgado shook his head, his real head, and tried to straighten out.
“Good morning sunshine,” Belatran said. “Or really, good evening.”
“What time?” Delgado said, but realized that he already knew. The silver had given him an internal clock. “Three thirty?”
The solid marine tried to untwist himself from his sleeping position. “What are we doing?”
“I’m asking questions, talking to people, getting the lay of the land. You’ve been taking a nap.”
“Oh shit! Sorry.”
“Nope. No need. You are getting your training in. History. Let me guess, Nur?”
“Uh… yeah. Did that…”
“Yep. Nowhere near the earliest, but interesting.”
“What happened to him… the kid”
“Pretty sure he eventually died.”
“Well, yeah, but… nobody bothered to note this, that he built the pyramids?”
“To be fair, he only helped with a few. The rest was blood and sweat. Look, recorded history gets weird around powers. The more power at play, the less reliable things get. People can’t handle the idea of powers so it all becomes folklore, explained away, outright changed and forgotten by the same forces that produce the strangers in the first place.”
“Yeah, but get used to it. These strange things happen but it’s hardly ever truly random. Too many coincidences. It’s almost like someone is fucking with us just to make it interesting.”
“Ah, now you are just being paranoid.” Delgado once again broke out into a big yawn. “It’s not like someone is watching us or anything.”
“You say that now.” He watched the younger man snuggle back into a nap position despite the heat. “You’ve got a lot more to learn.”
[Author’s note: Back again in Houston. Dad finally got out of the Hospital and though according to all of the doctors he’s not only extremely lucky to be alive but it’s a straight up miracle he doesn’t seem to have any lasting damage, he’s super weak. And cranky. Weak and cranky. Glad to have him though. So, The Strange hasn’t been a priority. Sorry.
Thanks to everyone who has voted for the story on top web fiction and helped to spread the word that it’s here. The likes and the votes and such help other people find the story, so if you could please help me out by keeping those coming I’d really appreciate it.
I hope this episode finds you all well and still enjoying the ride. I hope to post again soon, but my posting schedule hasn’t been regular for quite some time and I don’t believe that will change soon, maybe not until the next project. I’m working from a draft and frankly some episodes need more help than others. Between the recovering Dad, and everything else that seems to be cratering this summer, I’m not sure I can promise that I can do much of any thing with regularity. However, I am committed to being a weirdo, so you got that.