All That Remains – Part 3

Through the curtain and down a hall, a much brighter and utilitarian room opened up.  In contrast to the high ceilings and echo of the front room, this room had human dimensions.  More important, in the center of the room held a large table adorned with big dishes of different foods and pitchers of drink.  Mixie dug into it with abandon.

“I take it the food is to your liking?” Pez said with a smile and just a hint of revulsion.

“Yeah!”  Mixie said through a mouth full of something starchy.  “This is great! A real lifesaver. I’ve been going on rations for a while. It’s…”

“A miracle?”

“I was going to say wonderful, but I guess it’s that too.”

Pez sauntered around the kitchen.  “I am so glad you like it. I get so very few opportunities to entertain, you understand.”

Mixie cast a wary eye while continuing to eat.  “I don’t want to sound ungrateful or nothing, but, what are you doing here?”

“I’m feeding the hungry.”  The tall man made a display of looking off into the distance.  “I believe it’s called a form of charity where you come from.”

“No, I mean, you’re out here in the middle of nowhere with enough power to take out a robo pursuit pack. And let me tell you, we could really use what you’ve got.”

“Yes. Yes, you could.”

“So, what gives?”

“Why I do. I give without the expectation of repayment. It’s one of the things I do.”

“No, I mean, why are you here with enough firepower to save my behind?”

“I’m…” Pez started to say with a grand air and then stopped.  He eyed the eating woman and sat down on an adjacent stool.  “Mixie, you are not likely to believe me.”

“Oh?”

“Yes. For you would like the truth, but it runs counter to your beliefs.”

Mixie frowned.  “I’ve only been here an hour and you think you know what I’d believe?  I believe what I can see and I saw you, or something you did, save me.  Why do you think I wouldn’t believe you?”

“Because I know your heart, Mixie.”  He stood up and struck a grand and dramatic pose. “You see, I am the god of love.”

The last word hung in the air and dropped into silence as Pez retained an exagerated pose.  Inspite of herself, Mixie started to giggle.  When he broke his pose by glancing sideways at her the tension of the past days broke out in full out laughter.

“Ah! Levity!” He became once again friendly and happy. “I Adore levity! Yes, you’ve found an incongruity and as such you laugh. I’m most pleased!”

“And mad as a hatter.  You? You’re the god of love?”

“Well,” Pez became defensive. “A god of love, yes. More specifically the god of love to the people of this world.”

Mixie looked around.  “But Pez, this world… It’s a rock. No one lives here.  I did scans before I lande… Ok, so I crashed, really. And I was under fire, but … I’ve been here a couple of days and all I’ve run into are little gecko-looking things.”

“Yes. So, you can see why I haven’t had much company lately, and I do so enjoy entertaining.”

“You’re mad.” she said, still chuckling. “But fine. Keep your secrets.”

“I assure you that I have no secrets, only mysteries.”

“Oh, yeah, of course, because …” She waved a fork in the air.  “yeah.”

Pez continued to be a gracious host, but became short and miffed.  “I told you you would not believe me. Regardless, I am who I am and you are welcome to stay and heal. I grant you the sanctuary of my altar.”

“Uh, yeah. Thanks.” Mixie scraped a fork across her plate, but noticed the sudden chill in the room.  “Hey.  It’s.  I didn’t mean to be … It just … I’m sorry.  Your pronouncement just hit me funny.  I didn’t mean to laugh.”  She looked up.  “That is, I didn’t mean to laugh at you.  That was wrong.”

Pez started to clean the empty dishes and take them over to a sink set into the stone of the wall. “Apology accepted,” came from the turned back in a way that meant that it wasn’t, at least not fully.

After a few moments of awkward silence Mixie tried again. “Hey, listen. I am going to need to get to my rocket so I can at least try to get out of here. Not that you don’t have a very nice… altar, but there is a war on out there in the galaxy.”

“I’m aware of your wars.” Pez said coldly, still cleaning the dishes.

“Really?  This place just seems… remote.  Do you have some kind of hyperspace uplink or something?”

“I have no need for your technology so I do not possess it.”

“Yet you have stores, can lay out this kind of spread.  How can you do that without technology?”

“In the face of love, all things are known. Plus, I’m a God remember? It does come with a few… perks.”

Mixie shrugged.  “Whatever you say. You don’t happen to have a perk that will just grab my space ship and drag it here, do you?”

“I’m afraid I’m a bit weak at the moment. After centuries with nothing but my pets, it’s been quite the busy morning. Exhilarating!”

“I’m glad I could get you warmed up… Look, Pez, that thing you used to make the robos self-destruct, that’s a damned handy thing. Can you at least consider telling me how it works?”

“You are unconvinced of the reality of my being. However, I am pleased that you do not find me to be a threat to you, because I am not. You amuse me. But you will find that I am not good with your technology nor am I a fitting replacement for it. Love is not a tow truck.”

“Shame. I’d love a tow truck right about now.”

“Ah, more levity!  That one I get!” A smile stretched across Pez’s face and for the first time, Mixie had the presence of mind to examine it.  Pretty, with eyes that were a little sunk and a nose slightly too big, but not so much that it made the face unfriendly.  If anything, the imperfections made the whole more relatable and endearing.  In the face of that draw, Mixie became more curious.

“So, you know of the war going on, yet remain here?  In a place not exactly rich in resources?  You must trade.  Who are you allied with?  The Alien Federation?  The Floon Empire?  The Bakag Holding?  You aren’t allied with the Terran Colonies or else you’d have been marked on my navigation map and you clearly aren’t with the Robo Central Collective.”

“I am with them all.  And none.  Well, all except for maybe the purely synthetic ones. Those are as rocks to me.” Pez waved a hand.  “You are curious, cautious, likely paranoid and distrustful.  Fortune placed you within my influence and you are rightly wary of fortune.  I will not judge as that is not in my nature.   But I have no place in your war and will take no sides, even yours.”

“But the Robos…”

“… have no love and no life. I will not betray you but I do beg you not to bring your conflict to my world.  Now, as I mentioned, it’s been a long day.  I will leave you now. You will find quarters including a bath through that door. My chambers are through that door. I would be pleased if you would join me, for levity is not the only thing that gladdens my heart. You are very lovely, Mixie. I would like you to lie with me.”

“Um. thanks? I’m flattered and all but … I think I’ll just … turn in, if that’s OK.”

“Of course. The invite is open and there is no obligation. Overcome your caution and suspicion.  Love is patient and I have nothing but time.”

All That Remains – Part 4

All That Remains – Part 2

It was too good to be true.  Whatever it was knocked all of the robos totally dead, frozen in mid step.  After a moments rest, a few minutes from the first aid kit in her flight suit cargo pocket, she was up again and able to limp through some rudimentary recon.

Hope fled with the realization that she had no water, no map, no food and was injured.  No one knew where she was and she had set out in such a panic from the crash of the ship into the dust storm, neither did she.

“Time to pick a direction,” She said, just to hear something besides the wind.  Regarding the direction where the energy wave originated, she pointed and said, “Might as well be that way.”

 

The cliff was a surprise.  It rose across the desert like a wall and extended as far as the eye could see through the haze in both directions.  The door was an even bigger surprise.  It was high, wide and massive, made of stone and pitted with age.  When she touched it, it swayed effortlessly, but betraying its mass.  With one last look at the cliff face, impossible to climb, and the certain dry death of the desert, she readied her blaster and stepped into the darkness beyond the door.

“Hello?”  She felt stupid.  Nothing but trouble in here, but maybe there was water.

To keep the dust out, she turned and pushed the massive door shut again.

“Ah, you are house trained. Good!” a flippant voice said from the dark.

Mixie fired her blaster near but not at the voice and the report echoed off unseen walls.

The voice was unconcerned.  “But not so well mannered as to refrain from threatening your host. Ah well, Kids these days. So impetuous!”

“I’m…” Mixie caught herself.  She wasn’t sorry.  She had followed her training.  “Who are you? You don’t have the Robo voice.”

“Then I clearly am not a… what did you call them? ’Robos?’ Yes, definitely not one of those.”

Mixie hardened.  “Well then who are you?”

Soft footfalls padded in the dark.  Mixies eyes were adjusting and she could barely make out the room, a large rectangular hall made of stone.

“You see,” the voice instructed, “when one is caught breaking into a house, it is usually customary to make introductions, especially when the owner has had the grace to save you from certain unpleasantries at the hands of your ‘Robos.’

Her head swam but she kept her resolve.  “You did that?  Um… I’m Mixie. Now who are you?”  She stuck her blaster out for emphasis.

The room lightened slowly and a thin person trailing a robe stepped into better light.  “Hello Mixie,” the being said with a dramatic, unperturbed flair.  “I…  am Pez.”  The figure, draped in sheer robes and stuck in an exaggerated pose as the name echoed around the hall.

The echo died as Mixie continued to point her gun.  All at once the pose broke into an exasperated flap. “Well? Are you going to shoot? It seems a rather a curious way to say, ‘thank you for saving my life back there, with the ‘about to suicide’ and loss of limbs and all’ … But I suppose some cultures are just like that.”  The being crossed the room to a fountain and dipped a cup in, mumbling, “Seems rather rude to me, really…” The figure approached on soft feet and held out the cup.  “…or is it just that you’ve been running for so long that you no longer recognize kindness in strangers?”

Mixie considered it, then quickly lowered her weapon and slid it into her hip holster.

“Ah that’s better.  Isn’t that better?”  The being handed her the cup and she took it.

The room seemed to be much lighter now, though the corners were still lost in shadow.  The figure turned a door that had been lost in the shadows. She contemplated her hosts exposed back. “Mr. Pez…”

“Just Pez, if you please.”

“Fine, Pez.”  Her feet followed. “What are you doing here?”

The figure stopped with a hand on the doorway and half turned.  “Why, this is my home.  I putter about. What do YOU do at your home, young lady? And since it’s almost mid-day, I’m making lunch. Come,” Pez’s eyes wandered up and down Mixie. “You look like you could use some.”

All That Remains – Part 3

[Note: Thanks for reading.  Likes and follows are helpful for getting traffic flowing to the site again if you find the story amusing.  I’ll be back to my usual stories as well pretty soon.

Till then, Stay Weird

-SC]

All That Remains – Part 1

A lifeless wind pushed across an unforgiving planet.  Red iron desert and alkaline salts gave the wind grit, bite, and angry color, a color that reflexively spoke to the core of any sentient life form.  It said, you are not welcome here.

Mixie’s boots crunched over the gravel as she ran, blaster in one hand, useless infopod in the other.  She was glad for the stinging dust and its angry color but now that the wind was dying, the dust settled.  It no longer got in her eyes, but she would have cried a river of tears if it would have kept them from flying.

“Halt!” The robotic voice commanded from behind.

Hundreds of robotic soldiers emerged from the same dust storm and kept pace with the fleeing woman in her white flight suit.   With a clear target, the robots began shooting.

“Argh! Dammit!”  One blot grazed Mixie’s leg, slowing her progress as bolts flew everywhere.  The robots didn’t need good aim.  They had numbers.

“Mixie,” The voice said.  Mixie could hear the whir of it’s jet pack gaining elevation. “You are found to be guilty of espionage against the Flange. Your continued evasion proves your guilt.”

With a huff, Mixie twisted, ignoring the pain in her thigh and shot.  The graceless robot sputtered and crashed back to the ground, where the countless others walked over or around it.  Her glance back showed that very few were becoming airborne.  Not a good sign.  They wouldn’t waste energy flying if they had already calculated her capture as inevitable.  Another of the robots continued to speak.

“Destroying one of our rank will not save you. We will not tire. There are scores of us. We have your accomplices. We have your ship. We Have your data.  Soon all will be broadcast back to the Center.”

“Well then you don’t really need me, do you?”  She said between ragged breaths.  She was surprised when it answered.

“Need is irrelevant.  We have been mandated by The Center to retrieve your torso and head alive. Extraneous parts are to be left at the site of capture.”

“Great,” She said, looking across the plain.  In the distance, what looked like a forest of tall columns sprouted from the ground.  She sprinted to it as fast as she could limp.  It was good enough and she relished the feel of rocks under her boots.

From behind her, she heard the sound of the robots activating their hover units.  Maybe there was hope.  Acting on instinct, she dashed left through the odd pillars, hoping to throw off her pursuers.  A few fleeting moments gave her the impression that it might work, until a robot clumsily slid into her path.

She shot the robot full in the chest and turned back to the right.  They would know where she was.  They would all know.

And then the pillars were gone.  She ran out onto a plain every bit as flat as the one she had just left.  No time to think.  Run.

A massive bolt struck her and sent her tumbling to the ground. “Ah!” She screamed.  “No! no. Not … Not FAIR!” She considered her blaster, considered the taste of the barrel.  She was looking down that barrel when the sound of a hovering robot became louder and crunched down near her.

Looking up, the expressionless camera pods focused on her.  “You…”

She shot the robot dead center and it fell away from her.  As the rest of the robots crunched their way through the maze of pillars, Mixie tried to crawl away over the endless plain of sand. The robo she’d shot could no longer move, but it continued to talk. “Damage to one unit will not prevent your capture, Mixie.  We have been told that in times like this, you humans usually choose to genuflect to your deity.  You should do so now before you are disassembled.”

The shot tore through the crippled robot, obliterating it.  Mixie looked down the sight of the energy weapon and cursed herself for wasting time.  Flipping back over to her knees, she continued her painful crawl.  As the loping crunches grew louder, she knew she would know the taste of that barrel.

A wave of energy unexpectedly raced across the desert plain in front of her.  It looked like death, but at least a more tempting and complete death than a blaster bolt.  Mixie continued to crawl.  It washed over her like a blanket of static, loud and impressive.  Once it was gone, all the dust surrounding her stuck to her like a magnet and her wounds screamed from the sand and grit.

She clenched her teeth, but continued to crawl, and crawl, and crawl. She listened for the sound of robos crunching or flying that would be the signal to have a final meal of blaster bolt sandwich.  She listened, but nothing came.  Looking over her shoulder, she saw that her crawl had taken her only meters from the pillars, but out in the open.  Nothing came.  It was quiet, just her and the angry colored sand.

All That Remains – Part 2

[Note: This is a piece that’s not terribly long, but I’m putting it out in parts just to get back into the swing of writing.  August hasn’t been a terribly kind month and this is an attempt to break the logjam.

I’ll be back on The Strange and other projects soon. But until then, enjoy my emulation, update, and tribute to 1950’s sci-fi rendered in Liquid Wax.

Stay Weird

-SC]

The Strange – Episode 28 – A lot to Learn

“Central!”

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?”

“Yeah.”

“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?”

“Yeah.”

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.”

“That’s convenient.”

“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.”

The Strange – Episode 29 – InVision

[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.

Stay Weird

SC]

 

 

The Strange – Episode 27 – Take Your Best Shot

The doors of the Pen opened out into the bright sun of early afternoon.  The concrete plaza outside reflected the sun back up and made everyone but Goldberg squint.  Two sides of the plaza, one opposite them and one to their right had walkways one flight up and there was a set of concrete stairs going up just outside the door.

“Well, I’ve got to get back to my office to finish up grading papers,” Joy said facing toward Goldberg.  “Remind me later never to make an assignment due on Friday.”

“Now where have I heard that before?  You are clearly taking council from a wise man.  And I’ll… I’ll stay in touch.  Ok?”

“You’re cute when you are stoned and awkward.”

Dan slapped Goldberg and turned toward the bikes they had rode down on earlier.  “I’m done, dude.  Time for me to turn in and call it a day.  Try not to blow up the house or if you do, try not to wake me up.”

Goldberg turned to Joy as the group broke up. “So, I’ll see you later?”  his eyebrows gave away the neediness in his eyes, obscured behind the rose-colored sunglasses.

“Maybe,” she said, fingers straightening out his new haircut. “Now that you look presentable.”

“Yeah, well… This really hot hairdresser gave me this nice do.  I think she was coming on to me too.  She kept pressing her boobs into my back.”

“Ah, you noticed that, did you?”  Joy put her arm around Goldberg’s neck and pulled him down for a long kiss.”

“You all need to get a room.” Sarah said and turned to go with Teague.  The two climbed the stairs that led to the upper plaza, leaving Joy and Goldberg to their kiss.

Dan wheeled his bike over to Molly.  “So where are you off to?”

“I don’t know, really.”  Her face darkened. “I guess I’ve got to figure out my life again and Joy was going to take me shopping later, but until then, I’ve really got no place to go.”

Dan looked around with eyes blazing red.  “Hey, well, you can hang out at our house.”

She sniffed.  “Really?”

“Yeah, sure.  You know how to get there from here?  You just follow…” He pointed up the stairs where Sarah and Teague were climbing but then looked back at Molly.  She looked clueless and more than a little cute.  “You know what, it’ll be easier if I just showed you.”  He walked his bike to the foot of the stairs and hefted it up to his shoulder with Molly bouncing behind.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Hidden in the void between the wall of the student union and a planter holding a shrub, Mr. Aye opened his bag.  Inside he found, among other things, two guns.  One was a longer-barreled version of a revolver with a scope.  Kind of a cross between a handgun and a rifle.  This, he knew, was a medium range sniper rifle, at least in his trained hands, and with low-powder, subsonic ammo, as quiet as he could get.  The other was a longer version of the dart gun he’d used earlier.  More gas for more punch, better barrel for longer range, but still not lethal.

At that moment, with both guns in his hands, the door one tall floor down and across a paved courtyard Goldberg and his pack of idiots wandered into the sun.  “So much for catching them in the glare,” he mumbled.  “At least Carl got the head count right.”  The group formed clumps, then pairs.  Goldberg was entangled with one of the girls with funky hair.

Mr. Aye’s eyes squinted.  Veins appeared on his hands as he squeezed the guns tighter than necessary.  Without looking, he dropped the dart gun back into the bag.  He crouched behind a planter and steadied himself against the concrete.  Through the scope, he could see Goldberg’s smug, smiling face.

“Wing him,” Mr. Aye mumbled.  “Well, accidents happen.”

He went into his shot ritual.  Feel and mold your biology.  Breathe out, hold it, wait for the heartbeat to finish.

Ba-bump.  Squeeze.  Explode.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Hot expanding gases created a shock wave in a tiny space.  Lead jerked into motion, propelled by the gas and the wave, down a tube lined with swirling groves.  The tube was tight and the swirls cut the sharp point’s outer flesh, twisting it.  The pressure from the explosion did not relent, and the pointed lead projectile continued to accelerate. Twisting and pushing until it finally reached the end of the tube. It screamed spinning through the open air at fantastic speed toward the unsuspecting flesh of its target.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Goldberg and Joy continued to kiss.  After a while Joy broke it off.  “You know, this whole make-out as we are parting ways thing is really not my style.”

He smiled “Not really mine either, but I’m willing to make an exception.”

“It’s not like I’m evaporating.  I’ll see you again tomorrow.”  She chuckled as his hands were inadvertently tickling her.

“Yeah I know.  I just can’t shake the feeling like you are going to disappear or something.”

“Well you are just going to have to get over that.  Besides, I’m going to take Molly to get some clothes tonight after I finish grading papers.”  She glanced over to where Molly was following Dan.  “At least, that’s the plan.  You boys will just have to deal.”

“Sounds to me like you are ‘doing your hair’ or something.”

“Well! What! Ever!  You have fun getting lost, but here’s something to remember me by.” She jumped into his arms and gave him a big, playful kiss.  Goldberg wasn’t ready to be attacked like this and he stumbled back a good number of feet until he hit the front of the Pen.  By reflex alone, he quickly twisted Joy in his arms only by a few inches.  He noticed the sound of a fire cracker and Joy jumped.  With a naughty smile she said, “Whew!  Goldberg!  You pinch me like that again and I might have to give you a spanking!”

She kissed him again and Goldberg thought, “what pinch?”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Up on the upper plaza, Sarah Grimaced and spun.  “Ouch! Fucker!”  She held her left butt right butt cheek and crumpled to the pavement.

“Sarah!  You ok?  Baby?”  Teague crouched down and put his big hands around his girlfriend as she sat on one cheek and winced.

“Yeah, it’s just… Ow!  What the hell was that?”

“What was what?”

“I just had this really sharp pain in… well… my ass.”

Dan came up the stairs with the bike over his shoulder and Molly in tow. “Man, you could at least have gotten more than a few feet away before you start talking about me.”

“Can the crap, stoner.  I think Sarah might have dislocated her hip or something.”

“Uh… ow… Actually, it felt like …  Like being shot with a rubber band or a pellet gun or something.  It stings like crazy, but I’m ok, I think.”

“Really baby?  Who would do something like that?”

Dan looked around the scene.  He narrowed in on the planters that lined the path where the plaza wrapped around the student union building, becoming a balcony.  “I’m just pitching, but maybe you should ask the guy with the gun over there?”

“Where.”  Teague’s voice dripped with chained rage.

Dan pointed before he thought better of it.  “Dude’s right there.  Between the bushes.  Just walk along the wall behind the planters and he’s right there.”

“What.  Where?”

“Right there!  Oh for shit sake.  Are you blind or something?  He’s hidden in the plant fucking thing right there.”

Teague took off mumbling, “Stay right here baby.”

“Teague!”  Sarah shouted.  “Don’t hurt him!  You’ll get suspended.”

“I’m already suspended.”  Teague said.  He squinted and followed Dan’s directions, running full steam.

Dan looked at Sarah and said, “Really?” His face clouded with loss.   “Ah crap, there goes the season.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Wedged in between the potted bushes and the student union’s wall, Mr. Aye manipulated his bolt action sniper rifle, ejecting the cartridge.  They had moved at the last second, but still, it was a dead-on hit.  Or it should have been.  But a look though the scope showed those two still sucking face.

“Bastard.”

Mr. Aye finally raised his head from his sight to see Teague barreling towards him.  He stood and calmly reached inside his jacket with his left hand while his right stayed in position on the sniper rifle.  His hand came out in a flash brandishing a black semi-automatic that looked small in his meaty hand.  The shot was almost casual, and dead on target.  Teague’s shirt exploded in a scorched rip, exposing his bronze chest between his pectorals.

A second shot ripped the shirt slightly to the left, but Teague kept coming.  He stepped right up to the man and grabbed him by the throat.  Two more shots went into Teague’s chest before Teague grabbed the gun and his hand.

“Dude.  Stop with them fucking bee bees.”

Wind had to force its way through the constriction in Mr. Aye’s throat before being formed into words, and even then, it also had to get through the bandages that now covered most of the assassin’s face.  “What Bee Bees?” He croaked out.

“Oh, you’re funny now.  You shot my girlfriend in the ass and now you owe me a new shirt.”

Mr. Aye’s eyes flicked over to where Goldberg and Joy are just now separating.  “Looks like she’s stepping out on you then.”  He tried to point with his eyes, but the way the big angry football player held him limited his motions.

“What the fuck did you just say?”  Teague’s eyes bulged out at the man dangling in his hand.  “You know I’ve been told today that I have an anger management problem.  They think I’m the same out of control street punk that came in last year, getting in trouble and shit, but you know what I say?  I say I’m being really fucking understanding here.”  He shook Mr. Aye by the throat and said, “Do I look like someone with an anger management problem?  I should kick your ass into paste, but I’m not.  You know what I’m going to do?”

“Urk.”

“Yeah, well, I’m not totally sure either.  But I am resisting the urge to throw you off this fucking balcony.  It’s not even a thing.”  Teague looked at Mr. Aye for a long moment.  “You familiar with the concept of Karma, mother fucker?  It means that if I do what I want to do and beat the ever-living crap from you, that I put a black mark on my own soul or som’thin’ like that.  But you see, Karma also says that you get what’s coming to you in the end.  Maybe not today, but some day, the bad man pays.

“Now here’s the deal.  You… are a Fucker.  A bad man.  You shot my girlfriend with your pea shooter and you ruined a perfectly good shirt.  It’s pretty well established that your karma here is pretty dirty.  You have some shit coming your way some day and some time, hanging over you like… like a fucking thing that hangs over you until it falls and wrecks your day.  But you know what?  I have the will and the means to help you out with that.  Right now.  You can pay right now instead of having it over your head, waiting to take you.  So, what do you say?  I’m feeling like being an agent of Karma.  How’s about we lighten that load you’re carrying around with you?”

“Merp!” the big man squeeked with nothing but his toes lightly tapping the ground.

“Great!  I thought we could work this out.  Now here’s the deal.  I’m going to punch you, but not in anger.  This is Karma for you and for me, an equalizing of the scales.  So I’mma hit you just once, but believe it…  I’m going to make it count.  You fucking deserve that.”  He reached back his enormous arm and said, “Say hello to karma, ya asshole!”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

From where Carl waited in the car he could see the punch, hear the wet, meaty slap it made and feel himself cringe at the result.  No stranger to fights, Carl had an expectation of what a punch should look like.  This one seemed all wrong.  When a fist hits someone’s face, there is always an interplay between the two objects, a negotiation of breaking strength and kinetic energy, not that he’d think of it that way.  In other words, even at its most lopsided, the face gave a little back to the fist, either by slowing it or diverting the blow.  None of this happened here.  The fist just plowed forward toward a point three inches past the plane of Mr. Aye’s face and came back out.  Carl could see the mercenaries head snap back, but it wasn’t enough, especially since the big black man’s other hand held Mr. Aye’s throat steady.  It was brutal and quick, like a piece of machinery stamping out a hole in sheet metal.  And when it was over, the black man simply dropped Mr. Aye and walked away.  No rubbing of knuckles or massaging of forearms.

“Holly fucking crap!”  Carl started the tan sedan and hopped up the curb with a loud scrape.  Mr. Aye lay like a pile of meat.  He carefully drove past the wooden benches and concrete planters that lined the balcony and rolled to a stop next to him.  A practiced hand threw the car into park as he popped the door open and stepped out.  The guy that had thrown the sickening punch was walking away and Carl had no desire to get his attention.  He walked around the car and opened the door to the back seat.

Once again, he had to get an unresponsive Mr. Aye into the car.  This time he didn’t even try to be gentile and instead relied on leverage.  He unrumpled the big man’s body and rested his face against the seat cushion.  Putting Mr. Aye’s ass on his shoulder, Carl pushed against a concrete planter with all his might, causing Aye’s body to fold and scoot across the back seat.  His face provided the foothold for this action and it both scraped along the seat and supported his whole weight.  Soon enough, the meaty body was in the back of the car and Carl slammed the door.  “You’re welcome, you comatose piece of shit.  You’d better not be dead.”

The Strange – Episode 28 – A lot to Learn

[Author’s note: Sorry for the wait – again.  Lots of life issues plus a lot of anxiety about this particular episode has not been a great combination.  I’m also now dropping it when people are least likely to be reading, so I’ve farked this along numerous vectors.

How’d you like, arguably, the first time the team went into action together?  Not exactly the X-men, eh?

I know I say this every time, but if you like what you are reading here, please spread the word.  Voting for me on top web fiction is extremely useful, as are likes and follows.

The story is getting a lot more actiony as the gloves come off, so hold on to your hat.  I’ll try not to have such a long pause between episodes again.

Thanks for reading and Stay Weird.

-SC]

The Strange – Episode 26 – The Eyes That Seek

Carl slowly opened the door to The Pen, trying hard not to open it too slowly, or too fast, or to do anything that might give any indication that he was anything but normal and definitely not being a spy.  The sharp scrape of the bottom of the door on the concrete outside turned every head in the bar towards him and people squinted to pick his features out of his silhouette.

“Sorry!”  He said weakly as he pulled the door free with an equally deafening squeal.  Finally inside the dim, close confines of the bar, Carl looked for the most logical thing to do.  He ducked his hands in his pockets and joined the back of the line of people waiting to be served at the counter.

From this vantage point, he scanned the crowd.  Students mingled with Alumni and the odd family with older children occupied the tables.  Over in a booth sat Goldberg.  There was no mistaking him. He was the only person still wearing sunglasses in the dim room, much less red tinted ones.  He didn’t look a thing like the picture they had in the paper, Carl thought.  Maybe money really does change people overnight.  He had an entourage, that seemed new.

Carl turned back to face the line, to see the cashier and the person in line in front of him both staring at him.   The line had moved on while he was casing the place and had left him standing alone.  Now it was his turn.  “Uh, hi.  I just…”

He shuffled up to the bar and tried to act natural.  “What do you have on draft?”

The cashier looked at the two tap handles not a foot from Carl’s nose.  “You mean aside from Bright Beer?  Nothing.  No bottles either.”

“I’ll have a Bright then.”  Carl smiled nervously causing the boy behind the counter to look at him twice.

“I’ll need to see some ID, Sir.”

Carl jumped in his skin.  The way the boy said it gave him a bad flashback to the last time he was arrested.  It wasn’t like he was trying to be stealth or anything.  Do you give out your drivers license when you are being stealth?  And anyway, he was pretty sure it was in the car.

Composing himself, Carl said.  “Never mind then, I’ll have a cola.”

“Sure thing.”  The boy lifted a red plastic cup from a stack and handed it to him.

Carl thought it was some kind of joke.  The two stood staring each other down, waiting for the other shoe to drop.  After a pregnant moment, the cashier lifted his eyebrows and looked of to the side.  Only then did Carl notice that he was practically leaning on a self serve soda fountain.   “Oh.  Yeah.”

“Buck Fifty.”

Carl fished into his pocket and pulled out a five, thankful to be done with this transaction.  He shifted over to the soda fountain and filled up his cola.  Again, he turned to scan the room.  Goldberg was talking in a group with one of the largest people he’d ever seen in person, bigger even than Mr. Aye.  The other kid was at that table, facing away from the door and there was someone small sitting next to him, across from Goldberg.  Using his deduction, he assumed that there was at least one other person who was in the party, but not currently at the table due to the large man being in a chair at the end of the table rather than at the fourth logical spot in the booth.

“Hey BUDDY!”  The bartender yelled.  Drawing everyone’s attention.  “Hey, you, in the skinny tie!  You forgot your change!”

Suddenly all eyes were on Carl again, sitting by himself at a table in the middle of the room.  He slowly stood up.  Turned and walked over to the kid behind the counter, who was holding out three dollar bills and two quarters.

Carl slowly slipped the currency from the kid’s hand and said, “Thank you.”

When he turned around again, most people had gone back to what they were doing.  He couldn’t tell about Goldberg, though.  Those damned glasses made it impossible to tell what he was looking at, and he was no longer talking, just sitting. The longer Carl sat, the more Goldberg’s eyeless gaze bored into his soul.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Goldberg wasn’t thinking of anything.   Still way too stoned to focus, he’d let his mind wander as Molly and Dan told Teague the story of the morning.  He was over the weirdness for now and was simply enjoying how the caffeine sharpened the blurry edges of his considerable buzz.

Teague looked at the three people in the booth with wide eyes. He looked from face to face and then he smiled wide. “You all had me going there for a sec. Pushed it a little too far, though, so I call bullshit.”

“Well, you did ask what was up.”

He leaned in and grabbed some nacho. “Shoulda know better.”

“Believe what you want, man,” Goldberg said, coming back to the moment. “So, they got you on two a days now?”

“Yeah, was… Long story.  New Coach is a hard ass. Said I was tackling too hard in our contact drills this morning. Gotta talk to him later.”

“But the team’s looking good?” Dan asked.

“Yeah, got a really good feeling about this year, even with the … recent injury problem.  Anyhow, we got this new set of plays that should keep people from teeing up on our backfield so much.  We were a little too pass happy last year, but they put in a trap package.  Should make D ends think twice.”

“Trap?”

“Well, yeah.  It’s a blocking thing, but it’s based upon Sun Tsu, you know, The art of war.”

“War?”  Molly burst out. “Football’s just a game.”  The boys all looked at one another, aghast.  “What?”

“So, where are you from again?” Dan asked.

“Connecticut,” she said, getting defensive.

They all grinned and Dan explained.  “Well, yeah.  You see, this is the South East.  Second only to Texas or Ohio maybe in how seriously people take football.  It’s not a game, it’s THE game.”

“Yeah,” Goldberg put in.  “Even I know what’s going on with the hometown team and I’m as nerdy as they get.  So is it top secret or something or can you tell us about this wrinkle.”

“Actually, it’s not secret at all.  We want people to know we’re practicing it.  The philosophy is… well, it’s like this.  It’s conventional to think in black and whites, yin and yang, right?  Can’t help it.  But with a trap, you flip that on its head.  Consider that there are just two sides, one has the ball and the other doesn’t, but aside from that the game is a struggle to push the line, right?  Well the power of the Offense is that they have the one thing everyone wants.”

“The ball,” Goldberg breathed.

“Exactly.  Without the ball, you got jack.  So, people will flow toward the ball, especially at the line of scrimmage.  So, you use that.  Flash the ball.  Play defense with it, defend the ball.  Make them the aggressors and over-pursue.  Make them go where you want them to go, then set up blocking to make sure they stay there.  Use their over pursuit against them.”

“Ok, so fine, what’s the pay out?” Dan asked.

Teague smiled. “Well, first off, if we do it right, it strangles the rush, sweeping them either into the middle or ripping a hole with a pulling guard for the running back.  Since you make the back wait a second, they can bounce out or use the hole to get to the second level.  Hopefully your happy four yards per down.  The second thing is that it looks like a pass play for long enough for the secondary to stay home and for linebackers to think about coverage.  Unless they bite huge, then it’s all up to your back to either be where they won’t be or for the QB to see it and throw against weak coverage down field.”

“You’re being sneaky.”

“No, we’re being smart.  We only have to use it once against someone and burn them good to plant the seed.  It won’t always work.  It’s not your high percentage bread and butter, but it doesn’t have to.  It only has to work once.”  He put up his huge index finger for emphasis.  “And having it in our pocket loosens up everything else that one little bit.”  Teague sat back and looked at the table.

“When does the season start?”  Molly asked.

“Season never ends, girl, but we play our first game last week in August.”

“Yeah, and let me tell you that first game is a sweat bowl,” Dan said, leering at Molly.

“So, what are you boys talking about?” Joy and Sarah walked over, Sarah putting an arm on Teague’s shoulder as Joy slid into the booth.

“Football, death, and explosives.” Dan said.

“It’s a regular Michael Bay movie in this booth.”

Teague tilted his head up to her.  “Nerd boy here is trying to convince me that he was in that building that had the gas leak this morning.”

“Where did you hear it was a Gas thing, Teague?”

“The news. Radio was on when we hit the showers and they covered it.  Had a press conference and everything.  The Mayor said something about upgrading our infrastructure.”

Goldberg looked at Molly.  “Did your kitchen use gas?”

“No, but it looked like it used to.”

“What are you thinking?” Joy asked Goldberg.

“I think I smell a rat.”

Sarah said, “Paranoid much, Nerd boy?”

“You weren’t at Bill’s place.  I don’t need my little bird to tell me that there was more there than meets the eye.  Besides, I would have smelled the gas, I was right there in the kitchen.  I told you guys I would need to investigate this personally.  I was given these abilities for a reason.”

“You mean, you really…” Teague’s eyes went wide again.

Joy nodded.  “Yep. Only good thing to come out of it is that it burnt off a lot of that hippie mop he’d been holding on to.  It’s crazy but true.”

“Well I still think you boys smoke way too much grass, man,” Teague said. “That shit poisons the mind. Plus, I bet you haven’t seen the inside of a gym since you graduated PE in high school.  Put down the bong and pick up some weights and your mind will clear.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that for a smart guy, you are buying your own press.  That’s why I never read any part of a newspaper I am liable to be in.  You are looking at that frontpage piece on your supposed luck and letting it mix with that drug addled brain of yours.  You may have been lucky, but that doesn’t make you superhero man.  Cooperate with the authorities.”

Dan looked at Goldberg.  “Makes sense to me, dude.  Told you that all along.”

“Yeah, but, I never even read that article.  And I did cooperate with the authorities and either they blew me off or… well hell, I don’t know what they are doing.  I gave them a lead, what else do they need?  And Dan, you were there with the dart gun guy.”

Dan’s voice went far away.  “Oh yeah.”

“And, no.  I’m not paranoid.  Look, if they are looking into leads, I’m a damned lead.  Maybe that’s why people are coming out of the fucking bushes at me.”

“So, go to the cops again if you are concerned,” Sarah said.

“Ah, I see you’ve been briefed.  No.  That’s not right either.  They would have just called me back, not send some dart throwing maniac after me.  Dan had his phone on him the whole time.  No.  Maybe there is some other player involved. …Unless they are about to come and pick me up for murder or arson or both…  Fuck!  I can’t go to the cops.  They think I’m a criminal.  I’m sure of it.”

“Well of course you are a criminal.”  Teague said.

They all went stone silent and looked at him.

“Hey man, don’t look at me like that.  Nerd boy’s a doper.  In my old neighborhood that’s a criminal, at least where the cops are concerned.  I know you all are more cosmopolitan and white about it and all, but that is against the law.  The man could come by and pop you whenever he feels like it, they just don’t.”

“I’m sorry, Teague, but that’s hardly helpful,” Joy said.

“It isn’t?  Perspective man.  You are no more a criminal now than you were this morning. It’s just that you have information that someone, the man, the… other man who ever that is… You have what they want.”

“Yeah, but what?” Sarah asked.

“Oh!” Joy reached into her bag and produced the wooden ball puzzle.  “This.”

“Hey!  You got it!”  Goldberg reached over and took the ball from her outstretched hand.

“Yeah.  Here.”

Goldberg started to press the ball in places and quickly had it shedding pieces.  “Did the police wonder why you wanted it?”

“Oh, we managed to take it without them noticing.  Seemed prudent.”

“Good,” Goldberg said as some of the last pieces fell away, leaving just a small square of plastic about the size of his thumbnail.

“What is it?” Molly asked, straining for a look.

Goldberg held up the small data chip and said, “A clue, hopefully.”  He looked at the home buyers guide which glowed faintly to him with possibilities. “And maybe a way out.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

“You are a regular James fucking bond you are,” Mr. Aye spat along with a mist of dark blood.

“Well, he’s in there.  I counted four at his table with a spot for at least one more.  Might have been in the john.”

“You were in there ten minutes.”

“Maybe they were pushing out a duce, ok?”  Carl was still pissed and agitated from going into that bar with the target and being out here with the recently re-bandaged Mr. Aye held little respite.  “All I know is people tend to sit in booths if the space is available not fucking drag an extra table over for the hell of it.”

“Oh, so now you are Sherlock Holmes?”

“Hey, why are you fucking with me?  I got your intel.  I did what you asked.  This is not my fucking job to be doing this.  I’m a god damned driver.”

“And you forgot my cola.”

“And I forgot your cola.  Fuck!”

Mr. Aye let the whole thing sit for a moment while looking over the area from the concrete balcony before spitting out, “prick. Thirsty.”

The two squinted into the concrete plaza below, letting the hot wind blow past them.

“I’m going to go find a coke machine just to shut you up!”

“Fuck it.”  Mr. Aye said in a tone that made it an order.  “Wait in the car.  This might be the best vantage point, but I’m going to need to be mobile on the hop, and that means you.”

“So, what are you going to do?”

“I’m gonna separate him from his group.  Like a wounded buffalo”

“You have a plan?”  Carl nearly bounced out of his shoes with tension as Mr. Aye remained hard as ice.

“We’re beyond plans,” he said, more to himself than to Carl.  The bandage on his nose hid the deepening of his scowl. “I’m going to trust my gut.”

The Strange – Episode 27 – Take Your Best Shot

[Author’s note: Well… Day job. Sorry about the wait.  Please keep spreading the word and I’ll try to be more prompt.  And Stay Weird.

-SC]

The Strange – Episode 25 – Come Together – Part 2

In the back seat of the sedan, Mr. Aye found where the pieces of his body had been jarred loose by the frat boys and hurriedly cobbled them together.

The big man could now feel his legs, his spine had started working again and his face, though swollen, was roughly the same as it should be.  Whereas he could have been described as meaty before, now, he felt more like a pile of meat.

He knew he had at least a couple of broken ribs and he had thought that he had been kicked in the back hard enough to not want to be kicked that hard in the back any more. Even so, he was starting to feel strong enough to try to turn around and at least lie facing upwards.

The effort was fantastic and at one point he had to settle for being half way, on his side.  The uncomfortable feeling of things sloshing around in his torso, as if nothing was anchored down properly, convinced him to hurry up and get on his back.

Again, he could feel things moving around, but decided it was just a combination of his imagination, having his bell rung, and lack of sleep.  The doughnuts he had that morning while taking the reconnaissance pictures outside the Collectors house probably didn’t help, either.  Was that really just this morning?  And now it’s the afternoon.  The sun at a slight angle…  When he looked up, though his swollen eyelids, the sight through the car’s window conflicted with the picture in his mind.

“Carl!”  It came out as a wet slap, making Carl jump.

“Jesus!  Scared the shit out of me.”

“Where do you think you are going?”

“I thought you were dead.”

“Where are you going?”

“I’m going to base.  I thought I was going to be dumping your fucking body in the swamp!”

“I told you to turn around and find a place to get a coke.”

“Which would have been odd last words, for sure.”

Mr. Aye ignored all pain and pulled himself to a sitting position.  Outside he found that they were driving out in the campus’s agriculture plots, near the hospital and almost completely off campus.  He reached back and hit Carl hard in the ear with his open right hand.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The desk stared back at Clive Brace.  His report was done.  He’d gone before the reporters and delivered his findings.  He came back and had been collating what little information he’d gotten out of the investigation.  His mind reeled from the whiplash of it all.  Blank.  Nothing stuck.  Things just didn’t fall together.

“Go home, Slick.”

Brace lifted his head to see Commissioner Painter standing at his desk, baseball hat on and briefcase in hand.  At least he’d changed out of his jogging shorts. The words carried the weight of an order and came from someone who was more than comfortable giving them.

“Yeah.  I will.  I’ve got some things to finish up here.”

“No you don’t.  Clive, you’ve been on since six.  You did fine work today and we’re done.  Put a bow on it and kill it under a pint or two.”

Clive smirked.  “Don’t drink, sir.”

“What?  Why the hell not?  Religion?”

He shrugged and sat back in his chair.  “Never took to it.  And yeah, I know… but I just didn’t.”

“So what do you do to relax?”

“Read mostly.”

Painter gave him a sideways glance and shrugged.  “Do that then.  This place isn’t like Miami, Slick.  We don’t live the job here and we don’t let the cases camp out in the head space, especially when they are done.  I only got three detectives, Brace.  I can’t have you wearing yourself out chasing ghosts or burning my budget on overtime.”

The chair under Detective Brace seemed to sink a little as he looked at his boss.  The thing that bothered him came into horrible focus.  In his mind, a replay of a conversation he’d had in a Miami break room came up, the one that led to the Inspector General’s investigation and his transfer.

He made a conscious effort to keep his blank expression as he probed Painter’s eyes.  “You know, we may just get some leads from that press conference.  Brine gave me a bunch of shit for even mentioning the tip line number.”

“Yeah, well Brine is right.  People are scared, scared people jump at their own shadows and call us to bring them a flashlight and hold their hand.  Still, knowing the Sargent, he was probably a dick about it.”  Clive knew a smirk was expected, so he smirked, his poker face gliding over his suspicions.  “So don’t worry about it.  Penington is detective on duty now.”

“I just want to clean my desk off before I leave.  Put a bow on it, as you say.”

“Good.  I’ll see you on Monday, slick.”

“Yeah.  Have a good day sir.”

The old coffee was stale and shook as Clive brought it to his lips. Bitterness slapped him as he hoped it would and his hand was steady resting the mug back on the desk.

Code fifty three fourteen.  Clive knew it well.  He knew that a detective could not be forced to leave a case within two days or if there were active leads without proper hand off.  An anti-corruption clause from the days of the old south.  Penington would close the case on orders the minute he clocked out.  Clive was certain of it.

He was on the clock.  Time to get going.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Car skidded to a stop, stuttering and smoking.  It drifted off to the right and came to rest rubbing a curb.

Carl got out of the car in a panic, not completely understanding what had just happened.  His hand was up to his ear and when he looked at it, he saw the blood, his blood, coming out.  Two more steps and vertigo forced him to one knee.

Behind him, a door opened.  Mr. Aye swiveled out in a single motion and reared up to his full height and girth.  He looked like he has been hit by several cars, but none of this surface damage was evident in his stance or his gait as he walked over to a now cowering Carl.

Mr. Aye’s shadow fell across the driver.  “I said East, fucker.”  The voice was low, loud and crackled with blood.  “We are on the hunt, man.  You don’t give up on a hot lead because of a little boo boo.  What the fuck is the matter with you.”

“You were dead.  I saw you.  You weren’t breathing.”

“Don’t care.  You follow my orders.  If you do anything else against my orders,”  He bent down to get right into Carl’s face.  “You won’t like it.”

Carl got his nerve back.  “I don’t fucking like it now.  Why can’t you drive yourself, you big asshole?”

The skinny man braced for another blow, but Mr. Aye backed off a bit.  “There are things I will need for you to do for me, like drive, like go into places I can’t go looking like this.  I’ve been spotted by our prey, you have not.  We will require more cunning and stealth at this juncture.”

“Hah!” Carl said “Big man needs me!”

“I didn’t say I needed you, just someone who isn’t me.  Your importance is defined by me now.”  He turned around and opened the door to the back seat.  “Let that sink in.”

Carl got to his feet and swerved back to the car.  “Sink this, mother fucker!” he mumbled. “We get done, we’re going to resume this little trip to the swamp and you get to meet my friends for dinner.”  He opened the driver’s side door with more force than was necessary and flung himself behind the wheel.

“So, we’re going to go get a coke.”

Mr. Aye nodded, looking around the back seat.  “Yes, and hopefully, a smile.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Joy followed Sarah up the hallway to the bathroom, but raised an eyebrow as she took a turn and headed through the exit door instead.  Beyond the door, lay a cinder block hallway lined with emergency lights.

“So, what’s on your mind?” Joy said.  “And what’s with all the cloak and dagger?”

Sarah whirled, her black and purple hair umbrella-ing out in recognition of centrifugal force.  “The thing is, I’m pretty sure I’m going crazy, so hang with me.”

“Oooooh, Kaaaaayyyy”  Her eyes grew wide.  “So what.  What’s up?”

“Have you been having thoughts that seem a little off.  Maybe like they aren’t yours or don’t have anything to do with what you are currently doing?”

“Maybe a little.  I kept on thinking about how the apartment needs tidying up, getting a coffee.  But honestly this day…”

“Well, let me tell you about the thoughts I’ve been having.  I’ve been thinking about going and visiting a bombed out building with some freshman girl I’ve never met before.  Picking up a ball shaped thinger… Oh yeah, getting wasted first thing in the morning before that.  Going and reading some absolutely horrendous stories.  I’ve even got a list and a synopsis I wrote down as proof.  Then I wrap it up by coming here.  Sound familiar?”

“So what are you trying to say?”

“I’m saying that ever since the bomb blast thing this morning I’ve been… um…”  She closed her mouth and said into Joy’s mind ‘… hearing your insipid internal dialog.’

“Holly Shit!”

“Yeah.  I’ve been trying to get you to shut up too, but apparently you haven’t been getting the hint.”

Together they sighed and said “This is not cool.”

“You know, if you try, you can shut it out a little,” Sarah said.  “I have tried focusing on what I’m doing and that pushed the impression of what you are doing into the background.”

“Yeah, but I don’t want you looking over my shoulder at all. But why is this happening?”

“You tell me.  It’s your boyfriend that goes into burning buildings and the like.”

Joy opened her mouth, breathed in as if to speak, but then shook her head.

“Yeah, it is like something out of a stupid comic book.”

Rounding on Sarah, Joy snapped. “Hey! Stop reading my mind.”

“I wish I could, but you are leaving it too open for me. Keep your damned thoughts to yourself.”

Joy looked at her twin. “Nice hair.  Did you somehow do this?”

“No.  Goes with the territory I guess.”

They both asked each other. “Read anyone else’s mind?”

“Guess not,” They both said, dropping their chins in identical movements.

“So what do we tell and to whom?” Joy asked.

“Well Teague won’t like it.”

“No shit.  Teague doesn’t do weird.”

Sarah scowled.  “I was referring to how attached he is to me and his general love of privacy. This is going to be threatening to him.”

“And don’t forget weird. Ok, fine. But I think we tell Goldberg.”

“Why?”

Joy turned back toward the main part of the bar but stayed in the hall.  “Well, two reasons, First he’s got his own thing going on with that whole ‘Lucky as hell’ act he’s working on.”

“And the other?”

Joy looked over her shoulder and said, “He’ll figure it out anyway and may already know.  Come on.  Time to rejoin the party.  We’ll catch up tonight if not… you know… sooner.”

The Strange – Episode 26 – The Eyes That Seek

[Author’s note: This section was quite short for me so I didn’t feel good about having everyone wait a whole week for it.  I’m also testing the ability of WordPress to schedule releases so I can build up a buffer and get more consistent with the updates.  I figured this would be a good dry run.

Again, votes on Top Web Fiction are hugely useful for helping spread the word about the story.  Likes and comments in wordpress are also very helpful within the population of wordpressers.  I always feel a bit needy asking for word of mouth, but nothing happens without a request, eh?

So I hope you enjoyed our little interlude here.  I’ll be back next wednesday with more, if not sooner.

Stay Weird

-SC]