Tag Archives: action

The Apocalypse Ticket


An illustration of an asteroid on its way to Earth. See more space dust images.

The Crimson Fist streaks around the corner in a blur of aerodynamic fins and chrome, scattering a crowd of shoppers clustered around a street vendor.

Stomping the accelerator, the Fist grits his teeth and steals a glance toward the sky.

Less than thirty minutes til impact. The oncoming asteroid — a small planet, really — hangs in the sky like an anvil, eerily unmoving despite hurtling toward the earth at interstellar speed.

He’s been waiting for this. He hasn’t hit anything in months, and he’s itching to strike with the energy of a dozen neutron bombs.

The Fist swerves past the traffic bumbling through the intersection, clips a pickup and sends it spinning up onto the sidewalk. Frustration rises: he makes to smack the dash but stays his hand. Calm. Focus. Don’t waste it. He grunts and checks his rear view. The damage is minor, and he zooms ahead. Then: the flashing of lights from behind. The chirp of a siren. He bites his lip. Wouldn’t be the first time some newbie on the force tried to pull him over. Then it’s memos. Depositions. Fruit baskets delivered to the injured officer’s house. A two-week anger management course. A tractor trailer parked in the middle of the road ahead.

“Damn!”

Crimson Fist stands up on the brakes. Pedestrians cluster on the sidewalk behind the semi, a three-car pileup sits in front. No way out. He yanks the emergency brake and whips the car around, but before he can gun it back up a side street, the police cruiser slides up in front of him and nudges his front bumper.

The PA boops and then booms: “Step out of the vehicle.”

Grinding his teeth, Fist hops out of the vehicle and flings a finger at the sky. “Do you see that? I have to go.”

But Officer Krups is in no hurry. He hooks his thumbs in his belt and saunters over. “Know how fast you were going, back there?”

“You can’t be serious. Hello? The world is about to end!”

Fist’s reflection wobbles in Krups’ aviator sunglasses as he shakes his head. “World’s always about to end, ain’t it? What with you superheroes and villains always feuding about this thing or that. Day always gets saved in the end though, don’t it?” He unclips his citation pad, deliberately licks the end of a pencil.

By me!” Fist fumes. “save the day. I have to –”

Krups holds up a finger. Writes. Slowly. “Running a red light.” He flips the page. “Fleeing the scene of an accident.”

Serenity. Breathe. “Come on. Look, write the ticket, but can you at least hurry up?”

Krups lowers his head, stares at him over the tops of his shades. “Speeding.”

A sudden shadow falls on the street. A hundred heads rotate skyward; the asteroid, taking up a lot more of the sky now, has drifted in front of the sun. The Crimson Fist mashes the knuckles of his right hand into the palm of his left, showering the pavement with sparks.

“Officer.” Fist speaks through grinding teeth. Consider the Other. “I’m sincerely sorry for the danger I’ve caused to these civilians. But if I don’t get to the rocket and get to that asteroid in the next –” he checks his watch “– seven minutes, you, and me, and everybody else on Earth is going to die.”

Weasel eyes narrow behind his aviators as Krups curls his mustached lip into a smirk. “There. Was a simple apology so hard?” He tears the tickets off his pad — rip, rip, rip — and presents them to the Fist, who snatches them away and stalks back toward his vehicle. “Hold on a minute, son.”

The Fist whirls, heat energy distorting the air around his hands, two tiny suns burning in his eyes.

“Wanna tell me about that expired tag?”

Krups explodes backwards and goes sailing through the front window of a coffee joint, scattering hipsters and overpriced coffee before cartwheeling over the counter and coming to rest on a couple of very startled baristas. The Fist is almost back in his car when he hears Krups calling weakly from the ruined shop, “Assaulting an officer!”

The door deforms as he slams it, and the Fist guns it across town. In minutes, he’s strapped into the space suit, and the one-man rocket blasts off into low orbit with thirty seconds to spare.

The asteroid looms like an inverted, rocky earth as he clears the stratosphere. He ejects from the ship and sails toward the rocky mass, like falling toward a mountaintop out of an airplane, except upside-down. His knuckles glow.

The craggy, pitted peaks drift closer. The Fist draws back his hand. The wispy atmosphere around his fingertips churns and ignites.

He lets fly.

His fist strikes the asteroid with the force of a dying star going supernova. An explosion of light and a deafening crack and he’s falling to earth again …

But something’s wrong. It wasn’t enough.

Only pulverized dust should remain, but the asteroid has sheared and fragmented and become many, hurtling toward Earth with deadly inevitability. As he falls, with the doom of the planet swirling all around him, the Fist can only think of one thing.

Krups.

Down below, Krups has hauled himself out into the street. He regards his upended police cruiser and the oncoming shower of meteors with the same sour scowl.

“Knew he was a fraud,” Krups mumbles, as the first of the meteorites pepper the street.

 

**********

This week’s Flash Fiction is brought to you by Chuck Wendig’s random title challenge.


The Bag Man


Chuck’s challenge for the week: The car chase.

The fact is, I am not that thrilled with car chases. All they ever seem like is another tool to demonstrate how clever the chasee is and how inept the chasers are, and usually that’s just a big game of cops and robbers but with explosions and smashed fruit stands and millions of dollars in collateral damage. So I tried something a little different, a sort of Walter Mitty glimpse inside a familiar scenario.

The Bag Man

Wednesday mornings are the best. I get left alone most of the time, only occasionally getting called upon to fetch this or that. Mostly I hang around trying to dig up dirt on the neighborhood offenders, a couple of crazy cats that like to loiter around and cause trouble for the locals. Makes me sick, really. Dunno why they can’t keep that stuff in their own neighborhood. It’s sort of a little game we have: one of them will set up shop in a shady spot until they see me coming, and then they just bolt. Truth be told, I don’t know what I’d do if I caught one of ’em, but I chase ’em to send the message: this is my turf, not yours. But before too long they hop a fence or scramble up a fire escape or something, and well, I’m not in the shape I once was, so that’s usually the end of that. I can’t help but get the sense that they’re laughing at me, but this is my turf — it’s not like I’m going to STOP chasing down the no-goodniks.

But there are none of them hanging around this morning, which is good. Leaves me undistracted so I can focus on the big kahuna.

I’ve been chasing this guy for years, but I’ve never truly had a good chance at catching him. He always catches me unawares, showing up and dropping off packages for his associates, and clearing out before I can question him. He doesn’t wait around for payment, so I’m guessing he’s just some sort of bag man for some even bigger, more sinister syndicate operating right under my nose. I’ll hear the roar of his engine as I’m sitting down for a nice bowl of chow, or while I’m hunkering down for a midday nap, and by the time I can get on the road to look for him, all I can see are his taillights going around the bend. He’s been dodging me for years, and all I’ve got is his vehicle; a flat white truck with blue stripes. Inconspicuous. Blends right in. Vanishes quick.

But not today. Today my superiors have been a little lax with the call-ins, and as a result I’ve been ensconced in this sweet little spot all morning. I’ve got the whole road staked out, from the Johnsons’ place with the absurd little Cupid fountain out front, to the Smiths’ down at the end of the block with that gorgeous picket fence. The kind the neighborhood toughs want to pee all over. Sleepy little town. My town. When this guy rolls through today, he’s gonna feel the heavy weight of justice as I clamp down with my —

Son of a bitch. There he is.

I hear him before I see him, the peppy little coffee-grinder sound of his engine betraying him from around the corner of the Johnsons’ yard with that low-hanging Magnolia tree. He’ll lurch into view, turn this way up the street, and then I’ll have him. And, sure as sunshine, there he is, the boxy front end of his little white truck poking into view, before he makes his move…

Bingo.

He turns down my street and I turn from my post, hopping down from my window seat — its comfortable shape, molded perfectly to my butt, forgotten as I fly into action — and down the stairs. I skid out of control when I hit the linoleum in the diner — they must’ve just waxed — and crash into the kitchen wall with a decidedly unheroic yelp. Not my proudest moment. I spin around in a jiffy, though, and dart for the back door, which crashes open as I barrel through it and bangs shut the moment I am clear. Its clatter sets my teeth on edge as it does every time I give chase, priming me for the hunt.

The truck is almost at the Smiths’ by the time I careen onto the road behind him, my tail end swinging wildly out into the far lane as I fight for traction on the rain-slick asphalt. Then everything catches and I am flying, hurtling through space toward him, his white-paneled exterior growing large in my vision, the absurd red-and-blue eagle taunting me from the back hatch. I see his arm withdraw, empty of packages, and I know it’s him. Another successful drop. The wind of my pursuit flows like fingers through my hair, whistles in my teeth, tastes of paper and diesel and lunch meat on my tongue.

His engine growls and he lurches away from the curb, that tinny grinding sound like a nest of angry bees infuriating me. He’s not getting away, I silently vow, not today. And I am certain that he can hear my growl from behind, because he’s picking up speed, scattering tiny pebbles like living, malevolent marbles and causing me to slip and fall further behind.

He can’t get away. But he’s going to. If he makes the turn onto Oak, he gets away every time. I can’t keep up with him in the open.

I call out for backup, barking out in short, clipped phrases to my colleagues, trying to get them to join the chase — The bag man! He’s on Studebaker Street! I’m in pursuit! — but I know, in my heart of hearts, that nobody will help me this time. I’ve roused them too many times, I’ve made this my own personal crusade, I’ve exhausted them with my tales of my great chases after this guy. I can see them now, elbow-deep in piles of trash looking for leads, asleep at the desks catching a nap before their shifts, lazily munching a snack of congealed bacon and beef from last night’s leftover burgers (probably going bad, but some guys will eat anything). They’ll hear my call, think to themselves, Rufus is at it again, and start laughing, already anticipating my tale of another failed pursuit.

Not this time, boys. I dart forward and just miss his bumper, go sailing into the road as he clips the turn short. An oncoming wood-paneled wagon slams its brakes and skids, its occupant just visible above the wheel, squinting through glasses that make her eyes look somehow twice as big as her head. She stares at me and I shout at her, “Get outta the way!” but she’s frozen behind the dash like a deer that’s just scented a predator, and I have to take to the sidewalk to get around her.

She’s helped this monster get away without even knowing it — Oak Street is a long stretch of straight road, and the white truck has opened up a tremendous gap on me. I slide back onto the asphalt, ignoring the honks of the angry motorists I cut off, and continue halfheartedly down the street. His taillights are tiny in the distance. He’s going to get away, I think, but then his taillights light up like great red eyes, and they stay lit. He’s stopping.

I’m renewed. Adrenaline surges into every inch of me as I open all the way up, cannonballing down the street, shocked motorists swerving aside and shouting out at my passage. He’s only a hundred yards away now. Fifty. I’m actually going to catch him. It’s happening. I can taste my victory. My tongue slides out across my teeth and hangs there.

I close the last twenty yards in a frenzy, sliding in sideways on the glossy black street to block his escape. I stare at him through the windshield, my weapons out, howling at him. Out of the car! He looks out the window, sees me, and jumps in surprise back against the door. Never expected I’d catch you, did you, you lowlife? He looks panicked. His eyes dart from me to his steering wheel, to the traffic stopped all around, onlookers gaping in dumbfounded wonder. I hear the chatter of my colleagues echoing in the background. They can’t believe I’ve done it, and they’re rushing to the scene to get a firsthand look. This is how it’s done, boys.

With a sudden movement, he slips the vehicle into low gear and tries to dart past me into the oncoming lane, but I lurch sideways and head him off. He backs off and tries to take the sidewalk, but I’m there in a flash, shouting at him now louder than ever. His eyes are wide, terrified. I can smell the fear washing off him in waves. He eases his hands off the wheel and holds them up, in the universal “nothing to fear here” gesture.

Horns are sounding all around, people are shouting. This has gone on long enough; they want to get on with their business. I realize, suddenly, that I have never actually thought of what I would do if I caught this man. I can’t kill him. He won’t talk to me — probably doesn’t even speak my language. We stare at each other in silence for a few moments as I decide, as slowly as the leaves turning, that there’s nothing for it. I have to let him go.

It’s enough, I think, that he knows I caught him. That I could catch him again, any time I wanted to. It’s enough that he knows this street belongs to me. It’s enough to let him go, terrified of what might happen next time. I pull my lips back in a snarl and move out of the road to let him pass.

He slides by with terror in his eyes, but he can’t resist having the last word. Through his rolled-down window, he shouts in a tremulous voice full of defeat: “Nice doggy.”

Then his wheels spin and in a spray of mist from the road, he’s driving off into the distance.

I lick my paws, as if this was my plan all along: to catch and dismiss this man. I move to make an explanation, but nobody’s even looking at me now; the cars are just sliding past, moving on with their own respective Wednesdays. I see my colleagues, gathered at the edges of fences, tugging at the ends of their leashes, trying to get a better look. Their faces are a mix of amazement and wonder. I know what they’re thinking. He caught the bag man. It’s enough. I pad back to the house, my head and my tail held high. Smells like lunchtime.


Wasteland, pt. 3


It’s Flash Fiction Round Robin Week 3, and I come to you continuing a tale started by two other frequenters of TerribleMinds.

I’ve compiled their contributions here, but if you like what you see, you should click on their names to read more of what they’ve written: Angela Cavanaugh started the story, and a fellow known as WildBilbo wrote the second part. I’ve written the third section, and hopefully, hopefully, somebody will pick it up and finish it next week.

I hope I left it poised for a good ending. I don’t write a lot of action-y stuff, but I had a good time with this.

Here, then, is…

 

Wasteland

Part 1: By Angela Cavanaugh

They didn’t count on me surviving. Of course, if those fools could do anything right then I wouldn’t be walking through a desert right now. The once green ground is now completely scorched, and I haven’t seen the remains of a building for miles. The only upside is the clouds. Those fallout clouds block out what would otherwise be an intense noon sun.

Someone might ask me, were there any survivors left to ask, why I was headed into the epicenter of the fallout. They’d warn me of radiation poisoning. But I’m not worried about radiation. I might have survived the blasts, but my blood got poisoned all the same. I ain’t got much time left, and if I’m going to go down, you could bet that I’ll be taking them with me.

I’m headed toward the center, because it’s where they are. Not just the men who tried to kill me. Yeah, they’re there, too. But for all I know, so is everyone that wasn’t massacred.

Before they dropped the bombs, those gentlemen built themselves a fortress. They’ve got an entire city that could withstand the blasts and keep out the resulting radiation. They tucked themselves in, safe and sound, and blew up the world.

I should know, I was originally meant to be in that city. Had my apartment all planned out, furnished even. My days of wet work were supposed to be over once the world had achieved peace. Their idea of peace, anyway. And I was ready to retire in that peaceful place.

But until that day came, I was working security. Which is a nice way of admitting that I was an assassin. Every so often someone would get curious about what we were building. Or worse, they’d find out what it was. It would have put a real dent in the plans if word got out. Therefore, any time we found out that someone was snooping or onto us, I’d get called in to take care of the problem.

I kept walking. I could just see the outline of the city in the distance. It was obscured by the clouds, but even still, I could see how massive this was. This wasn’t some little bunker under the earth. The men who put this project together were rich men and political leaders. They were used to living a certain luxurious lifestyle, and saw no need to compromise that just because they were bringing about the apocalypse.

This didn’t mean that they wanted to associate with the working class. That wasn’t their idea of a peaceful paradise. They funded the very best robotics research and made certain that their city would be self-sustaining. Automated farming machines, automated electricity, completely automated anything. These men might be elitist, but they weren’t stupid. They hand picked everyone for their society, and some of those they chose were scientist, teachers, a few people who could work on the automated machinery if needed.

My guess is that these people would end up as slaves before too long. They brought them in under the guise of equality. But those who run things, they’ll never see these people as equal. Seems to me that those who hold the knowledge are better than those who have the power. They’ll never get a chance to realize that.

I coughed a wet cough and spat blood. Maybe a quick death in the newly created desert would have been preferable to the slow one I’m now suffering. And perhaps either would have been better than if I had lived in that city. I don’t know how long it would have taken them, but eventually they’d have tried to make me a slave like the rest.

If there was one thing that I liked less than being controlled, it was being tricked. The bombs weren’t supposed to go off for two more weeks. I suspect that was intentional misinformation. A way for them to quietly clean up their loose ends without any protest.

I had gone out on a job, the same as I had several other times. There was another threat to our project. And we were so close to completion. I put all my fear into that job and rushed out to kill whoever dared threaten the future of humanity. That was how they had sold it to us originally. I could hate myself for having been so naive.

When I got to the address that I had been given, I found that there wasn’t anyone inside. There was just a large mirror in an otherwise empty room. Scrawled on the mirror in black sharpie was a message to me:

“There’s no room for men like you in our new world.”

The threat was reflected in the mirror: me.

They might be smart, but so am I. I ran from the house and looked for a place to hide. Luckily for me, a neighboring house had a deep tornado shelter. Once I got inside of it, I could tell that it had been outfitted during World War Two as a bomb shelter, as well. I had only just made it in when I felt the quake of the bombs exploding.

I survived. Problem was, while this may have been a bomb shelter, the owners clearly hadn’t been expecting to need it. There were no provisions. I wouldn’t be able to stay there long.

Truth was, I didn’t want to. I had a rage inside of me that I needed to express. Radiation or not, I was heading to the city.

I was getting close now. I could see distinct outlines of the tall buildings that rose over the top of the solid fence that surrounded the city. If I could keep myself together, I could have my revenge.

I coughed again. The blood was thicker this time and came more readily. I caught my breath and continued on. Because if there was no place in this world for men like me, there was no place in it for men like them, either.

 

Part 2: by WildBilbo

Men like me… men like me… men like me…

While my shoulders and arms burned from exertion, my memory of their last message cycled through my head. A constant beat, it kept me focused me as I scaled the wall of the fortress. Upwards towards the waste ducts spewing filth down the sides of the massive walls. The pounding sleet was not helping matters, but I clung on, fuelled by rage and revenge. Arm-over-arm, my aching hands gripped the reinforced concrete joins and dragged my sickening body towards my goal.

The walls were built on a slight inwards angle to better resist the attacks of extreme weather, which eased my climb somewhat, but it was still gruelling work. I had left most of my equipment below, keeping only the essentials; goggles, carbon dark-suit (in waterproof pouch), climbing gloves, tough nylon cable, and a simple double edged carbon knife. Any more would be weigh me down on the climb, and be detectible once inside.

Men like me.

My teeth ground as the phrase rolled around in my mind, angrily scratching at the sides. The very traits that made me such a valuable tool in clearing the way for their new world made me too much of a risk to keep around to live in it.

Innovative. Relentless. Merciless.

Unnecessary. Unpalatable. Unwanted.

Men like me.

I felt a molar shift then pop out of its socket under the pressure of my clenched jaw. I spat it out in a long stream of bright red pit  and heard it clicking as it rolled down the fortress wall. I knew the radiation must have settled deep to be affecting my gums already. Hanging six stories above ground level, I was glad my muscles were still my own; it couldn’t be long till it took out my central nervous system. I had to hurry.

With a lunge, I grabbed the lip of the waste duct and dragged my head and shoulders inside. Processed sewerage, rubbish and radioactive runoff funnelled from the fortress dome hit me full in the face, threatening to cast me back, until I was able to wedge myself against the sides. I was grateful for my goggles, otherwise I would have been blinded by the muck. Carefully I crab-slid my way sideways, working my way into the immensely thick walls, moving inwards and upwards against the quick flowing corruption swirling about my chest.

I shuffled this way for an interminable length of time in the dark, stopping only to cough lungful after ragged lungful into the filth sodden scarf I had wrapped around my head. My teeth continued to drop, one by one, leaving gaping wounds in my gums. I needed to regularly swallow, as the blood would not stop flowing and filled my mouth.

I was falling apart.

As I moved I thought about the inheritors of this new world. I contemplated the privileged few, ensconced in their towers under the dome, looking down on the mere mortals, scuttling technicians, scientists, teachers all labouring to maintain this structure, working to keep the boots firmly on own their necks. The utopia I had imagined, had worked for, was never possible. I killed, I had been killed, to entrench the power of the powerful.

All men are fools. Even men like me.

The pipe opened up into a massive chamber so suddenly I slipped and fell, briefly going under and taking in a lungful of the icy sludge. I clawed my way to the surface gagging, dragging my way onto a long maintenance ladder, hooking my elbows around it as I vomited in long, heaving spasms. When they subsided, I ascended, one rung at a time until I reached the hatch. I took a breath, closed my eyes and turned the wheel.

As I expected, the hatch was unsecured. The fortress was designed to keep out the environment, not people. There were not meant to be any people left outside. No need for strict security measures when all that remains outside is a toxic wasteland. A wasteland and millions upon millions of rotting dead.

My cracked lips curled into a sneer. Not all dead.

I stood in a long narrow corridor of bare concrete and grey steel pipes. An orange light slowly started to glow, reacting to my presence. I used it to get ready. Stripping off naked, I cleaned myself as best I could, then put on the skin tight carbon dark-suit. I reached out and put my thumb through the sensor returning the corridor into darkness. I disappeared.

It was time to decide which way to move so I listened. From the right I could hear the deep bass thrumming of a huge engine., to the left nothing… no. Wait. A whistle.

Grasping the carbon blade I started running towards the whistler. As exhausted as I was, I covered the distance quickly, and he wasn’t expecting anyone to be here. I had a quick glimpse of my victim, a maintenance tech, carrying a toolbox and a clip board, whistling tunelessly. Wearing the dark-suit and coming from the unlit corridor I was invisible until it was too late. There was no time for him to scream as I moved in close, ducking low under the startled man’s clipboard, before pushing up with my legs, both hands on the carbon knife’s hilt. I drove the blade up through the man’s chin with enough force for the crosspiece to shatter the his jaw, while the twelve inch blade broke through the top of his skull and pierced through his hard hat.

I held him there, keeping him upright as he kicked about, flinching and twisting on my knife as he died. Once certain, I lowered his body, removed my knife and wiped it on his corpse.

I had to move quickly now. Not only was it getting increasingly difficult to breath, this man would be missed in his maintenance routine soon. Disposal would be pointless, I didn’t have time to do a full clean, and his blood was still pooling on the floor. I grabbed his maintenance pass and then stepped over the body, heading down the corridor to my goal.

I had work to do.

 

Part 3: by Me

Hours might have passed in those tunnels. Or maybe it was just a few minutes. The lack of sunlight made it impossible to tell, and my irradiated brain wasn’t helping matters. Every few hundred feet, I’d have to stop and wait for the dizziness to pass, or pitch over and vomit. Darker and darker it streamed out of me like so much poison, until suddenly nothing came up anymore, and I just convulsed with dry heaves. The tunnels, which all looked the same to begin with, blended together into one great grey tangle of concrete and pipes, and only the numbered access panels assured me I was going in the right direction. Even still, I kept finding that I’d turned around without knowing it.

The city sprawled above my head, a tightly contained sprawl of antiseptic steel and infuriating smugness. That lackadaisical nonconcern for those “lesser” people outside the walls. I wondered how many throats I could slit under the cover of darkness. Then I remembered that, had things unfolded differently, I would have been on the other end of my own knife. Another dry heave wracked my guts. Not far now.

The control grid that webbed across the city had nerve centers scattered all around like raisins in a fruitcake. Redundancy. No central location meant that shutting down the grid would be impossible. It also meant, of course, that I could access the grid through the hatch that now floated spectrelike over my head atop a newly minted ladder of steel rebar. It was only a height of twenty feet. Once, I could have scaled it in a heartbeat, soundless as a ghost in the wind. Now the climb seemed to take all I had. My lungs heaved and burned as I climbed. Near the top, I missed a rung and split my fingernail wide open against the steel. I saw it flutter down past me like a wounded butterfly. The pain seared all the way up to my elbow, and I cried out despite myself.

Idiot.

There was a clatter of footsteps above, and then muffled voices from the other side of the hatch. Before I could recover myself, the faces of two more techs slid into view as the hatch beeped and withdrew.

Sick as I was, the training didn’t miss a beat. Like a coiled snake I struck, reaching up my blood-streaked hand to grab the ankle of one man and yank him down through the hatch. His jaw cracked the floor, then his skull clanged off the ladder, and I didn’t have to see him fall to know the other man was my only concern. With strength I didn’t know I still had, I surged up into the room and spirited up behind him. The red plastic phone receiver in his hand fell with a clunk onto the bank of instruments as my blade slid between his ribs, my hand clamped over his mouth to muffle his scream. He sank to the ground and I knelt over him, his eyes piercing mine with terror and shock.

I must have passed out. Next thing I knew, I was stumbling to my feet again as a red strobing light flooded the terminal and a klaxon sounded. The man was dead, but… there, the emergency phone dangled off the side of the terminal, a forlorn wind chime spinning lazily in the air. There would be a squad of enforcers on their way, and I didn’t know how much time I’d lost.

On hands slippery with blood — mine or the tech’s, I couldn’t tell anymore — I hoisted myself up and jammed the pass I’d taken from the first unfortunate into the slot. The displays blinked and flashed the dead man’s name and then gave way to a schematic of the city. Like a huge bicycle wheel, it fanned out in a protective dome, the spokes separating one district from the next. My eyes flicked across them: sections of town for the rich, the laborers, the government workers… even in our new Utopia, the men like me had to be segregated.

A quick glance told me I was closer to the heart of the city than I’d thought. This nerve center was just a few blocks from the city council’s office. My dried, rotting lips curled into a smile which was probably pretty horrifying, given my dearth of teeth. A second glance froze my blood. The perimeter of the wheel was spotted with red, blinking alerts, some tiny, the size of an apartment; others the size of a city block. Breaches. Leaks. Irradiated air and smoke and dust streaming into our city on the hill through a hundred tiny defects in the “impenetrable” walls. Too many failures to be a mistake. This was a systematic, designed failure of the defenses. I stared for a moment — too long, really — then began to laugh, cackling so hard I set off another wave of dry heaves.

The bastards have killed themselves.

Oh, it was too rich. They meant to cleanse the country of the nameless masses, eradicate the weak, the unnecessary, the unwanted. To do it, they built dirty bombs so insidious they had shattered the very walls they’d built to protect themselves. Somebody inside had killed them all from inside. I might have wept with joy, but for the dehydration.

I wondered if the poor souls in the city knew, then realized that, of course, they didn’t. The liars in charge would hide the truth from them until it could be hidden no longer, just as they had hidden it from me. Odds were, everybody in the city would be dead from radiation poisoning within a few weeks. My revenge was complete, and I hadn’t even had to lift a finger.

But it wasn’t good enough. Not for a man like me.

The footsteps of the enforcers clattered on the corrugated walkway outside the control room. They’d be on me in moments.


A Recipe for Disaster (Anonymous Author Collaboration Concluded)


Chuck’s challenge: A three-author anonymous collaboration, concluded.

Matthew X. Gomez began the tale.  His bit lasts up until the first asterisk.

Mickie continued the tale.  Her bit lasts up until the second asterisk.

My bit concludes the tale.  I wish I’d been able to “end” it properly, but there’s just so much here.  I hope I’ve done their work justice.

 

A Recipe For Disaster

 

I’m sitting on a rooftop across from a bank robbery in process when I feel that tingle at the base of my spine telling me someone’s trying to get into my head. I brush it off at first, a minor annoyance as I gaze down the scope of my highpowered rifle, mentally daring one of the jokers inside to show their face.

Then the tingle gets more persistent, a buzz in my ear, an itch at the bottom of my foot. The probe is turning into an attack.

“Control, do the tangoes have a ‘path on record?” I don’t have to talk loud, the microphone taped to my jaw will pick up every whisper, just as the camera mounted on my helmet is picking up and broadcasting in high res.

“Negative, Ballista, no ‘path on record.”

I bite the inside of my cheek as the buzz turns into a drill. I smile, scanning the windows. If the ‘path is any good he could be anywhere, even halfway across the city, running overwatch on their gig. Still, I’ve got to wonder what a group of Ascended are doing robbing a bank. Aren’t there better things they could be doing? More profitable gigs? The ‘path they’ve got probably thinks he’s being subtle, but given how long I’ve been at this he might as well be marching a brass band down Main Street.

I start simple, throwing mental images to shock and dismay. Goatse. An exploded head. That time I caught my mom blowing my uncle, along with all the associated hatred and disgust that went with it. Finding out my wife was cheating on me with her best friend. That time I woke up covered in vomit with no recollection of how I got there, but there was dried blood under my nails, and blood on my shoes. All of it.

The drill disappears as rapidly as it started.

“We have confirmation that one of the tangos is down.” Control’s voice is always the same. Cool, collected, and with as much emotion as discussing this week’s corn futures.

The corner of my mouth twitches up into a smile. Maybe I pushed a bit harder than I should have. Maybe the asshole shouldn’t have gone around poking where he shouldn’t have.

“How many confirmed tangos still standing, Control?”

“Whisper confirms four tangos still active. All are confirmed Ascended.”

Bile rises up in my mouth and I fight to swallow it back down. I should have figured it was the case. They don’t bring us out for your run-of-the-mill robbers. No, we get saved for the special cases. Lucky us.

“Ballista, we have confirmation of movement. Looks like they are coming out the front door.”

I swing the gun around, get a bead on the door. It swings open. I don’t have the best angle where I am, but I bite down on my lip and concentrate. Hostages start walking out, hands on their heads, eyes a bit glassy looking. I curse when I see what walks out next.

****

It’s her.

What follows is a moment of disbelief and I feel as though I am falling through infinite blackness.Not dead. It’s the only thought I cling to. Not dead, not dead. Then horror-stricken, I am consumed with guilt. How could I have known! It was as if she had been here in this very building for those lost ten years with these psychos, held at gunpoint and waiting patiently for daddy to save her.

Then my heart freezes over as I realize there is no gun to her head. In fact, she cocks a rifle of her own with skinny arms. Her expression, upon which I once placed sweet kisses, is stony and grim. Then there are other things I should have noticed first off— the sharpness of her cheekbones, jutting hard against her flesh, chestnut hair gleaming like liquid bronze. Characteristics of all the Ascended. I groan in despair. Christ, Ixa, what did they do to you?

Her head whips in my direction as if she somehow heard me and I gasp. The blue of her eyes is piercing and I know she sees me through the darkness. Sees me clearer than anyone possibly ever has and I feel weak. My finger loosens on the trigger. She smiles then, a slow and knowing leer and the mental barrage begins again and I nearly collapse from the onslaught of the white noise that fills my head.

Then it stops as quickly as it started and leaves my ears ringing. I look to her again and her face darkens. Her message is loud and clear: She can kill me where I stand. Tears sting my eyes.Baby, please forgive me! How could I have known?

Then, Control over the earpiece, “All four tangoes in sight, please confirm.”

I say nothing.

“Ballista, targets are four adults: three males, one female. All confirmed Ascended. Confirm that you are in shooting range and take the shots.”

I swallow hard, my throat sandpaper. I breathe, “Control, I have reason to believe the female target is Ixa Manning, the subject of a missing persons case.”

I am met with the sound of fingers flying across a keyboard as Control checks the case file. “The case for Ixa Manning was closed nearly ten years ago, Ballista. She was legally declared dead.”

“Fuck that, you think I wouldn’t recognize my own daughter?” I hiss into the mic.

“Ballista…” a hint of warning tinges the cool indifference in the voice. “This is no time to lose your head. That woman is not your daughter. She is a traitor and a terrorist. Now, take. The. Shot.

My mind races. The girl I am sure is Ixa never takes her eyes off me as she grabs a fistful of hair of one of the hostages, a wailing woman shaking so badly she cannot remain on her feet. Unfazed eyes shine challengingly at me as she positions the nose of her weapon beneath her captive’s ear.

****

I see it unfold in slow motion as the training takes over.  Neutralize the threat.  The scope comes to my eye and I squeeze the trigger.  Ixa’s eyes track my bullet and it freezes, floating ponderous in the air an inch from her nose, still spiraling, whispering interrupted death.  She hurls the woman to the pavement, and with her free hand plucks the bullet from the air.  Her eyes fix me through the scope, crystal-blue and glowing.  I know what’s coming; I throw the rifle aside and reach for my sidearm, but she steps the distance in a heartbeat.  Her sharp, seeking fingers bury themselves in my throat as she lifts me from the ground.

Control is barking in my earpiece, but her face is mere inches from mine, contorted into a mask of too-perfect cheekbones and too-blue eyes gone vivid in the colors swimming in at the edges of my vision, and I’m lost.  I don’t struggle.  What good would it do?

In a flash, it’s ten years ago, Ixa is swinging with the careless abandon of a ten-year-old on a peppermint-red swingset in Glaston Park.  She shouts, “I’m flying, daddy!” and my perspective shifts.  I see through Ixa’s eyes, now; see Daddy turn and draw a previously unseen pistol and dart into traffic, forgetting about his daughter at the call from Control.  Rough hands yank me from the swing and hurry me to a waiting car, and I scream and cry for my Daddy, Daddy who always saves me and will follow me anywhere, but Daddy doesn’t come.

Another flash.  I’m still Ixa.  The transformation is taking hold; my eyes grow brighter in the mirror, the spectrum of previously invisible colors explodes in my vision, my mother’s obituary incinerates in my hands, my father — me — weeps behind a dusty windowpane.

Flash.  Ixa’s body, laid out before me, peppered with gunshots, blood pooled and congealed.  Ixa’s voice in my mouth.  “Looks good.”  Flash.  Planning the heist of this meaningless bank.  Flash.  Myself — Daddy — looks back at me through the scope of the rifle.  It’s time.

Flash.

She’s given me this gift before she kills me; the gift of knowing.  It’s enough.  My eyes focus on hers and she’s my baby again, precious, harmless, innocent.  I smile, cough up a mouthful of blood.  The gun slides from my grasp.  Then her black-hole pupils erupt with blue flame.

“Ballista!  Three Ascended are down.  We’ve lost the fourth.  What is your situation?  Ballista??”

On the street, it’s pandemonium, but up here, it’s silent, just for us.

“Sweetheart,” I say.

“Daddy.”

Her eyes are almost piteous.  She yanks me upwards, hard, and I look down and see my body topple over the railing, see my head dashed to bits on the pavement, hear Control chattering away in the shattered earpiece.  But I’m weightless, effortless, floating in my daughter’s unearthly embrace.  She peers into my eyes like she’s weighing my soul.  “Will you come with me?”

What else can I say?  “Anywhere.”

 


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