Wayne Cole

Writer Podcaster Geek

Sidekick

Fiction Fragment Friday

This week’s story comes from a place of struggle and self doubt. I have been locked up unable to sit down and write for over a week now. I just could not get out of my own head. When I sat down to write this week’s story I decided to use it to exorcise the thoughts I just couldn’t get rid of in another way.

I planned out the direction of the story, but once I started writing the ending went in a completely different direction than I had planned. While the main character’s obsessing is very much a part of me his final conclusions do not at all match my own view of comic book heroes and villains.

I hope that by writing this I have cleared my head and worked through the writers block. Only time will tell.


  Sometimes a well meaning complement can be more devastating than the harshest criticism.  Case in point last week I was told that I had the potential to be the best sidekick that Protector had ever had.  That might sound like a complement I could be proud of, but the subtext is what sticks in my head.  The hero that told me that didn’t see me as Protector’s partner like I had come to think of myself.  They also didn’t see me as someone who could be a hero in my own right someday.  By complementing me they were putting me into a box and defining my limitations.  Someone criticizing me tends to motivate me to prove them wrong.  I might dwell on that criticism for a time, but a complement like that one will stay with me for much longer.  While a criticism may chip away at my confidence, a complement takes up a home in my head and wrigglers it’s way into my every thought.  I acknowledge I might have some issues I should probably be working on in ways other than dressing up in a SuperHero costume and looking for someone to punch. 

  It was in this mindset that I found myself late last night perched on a downtown rooftop.  My target was going by the name Adam Baker, but that identity seemed to spring into existence about six months ago.  It was good work and would hold up fairly well to scrutiny for anyone who didn’t have offline copies of quite a few federal databases to compare it with.  As I watched him through my binoculars that voice in the back of my head kept telling me I should call in Protector.  Normally I would just handle something like this myself, but that voice was there telling me that maybe I just wasn’t good enough to work on my own.   

  I had stumbled across this man when he bought my best friend’s building and started forcing the tenants out.  Initially I started looking into him out of anger, but the more I dug the stranger it got.  It seemed that every new tenant of the building had previously worked as a henchperson for one of the many costumed villains this city seems to attract.  The Adam Baker identity just appeared one day with all the needed records, but no trace of where he got his money.  His first action was to buy an apartment building and start renting it to known criminals at an extremely low rate.  It sure seemed suspicious but I was questioning my instincts and wondering if maybe he was just helping them reform. 

  With my thoughts so distracted I didn’t notice that I was not alone on the roof until I heard the the sound of a revolver being cocked behind me.  “Don’t even think about moving kid.”  Nothing pisses me off more than being called a kid.  I’m 19 and I’ve been doing this for almost four years, but every two bit thug wants to dismiss me as just some kid.  I’ve been trained by the best and have more field hours than some heroes twice my age.  As angry as the dismissal makes me it is also my greatest weapon.  They always underestimate me.

  “Please just don’t hurt me.”  I tried to add a quiver into my voice to really sell the fear.  I listened for the sound of footsteps, but the gunman didn’t seem to be moving.  With a fluid motion I grabbed a smoke pellet from my belt, smashed it into the roof, and dove to the side.  This was a dangerous move.  I have slightly enhanced speed and strength, but I can’t move faster than someone pulling a trigger.  I just had to hope that if they were prepared to shoot it would hit my armor and not a softer target.  With a blur of motion I rolled behind the rooftop central air unit and tossed a throwing star.  It hit the gun and sent it sliding out of the man’s hand.  I got my first look at my assailant and realized he was wearing a security uniform. 

  “I think there’s been a misunderstanding here.  I’m just going to go now and leave you to doing your job.  OK?”

  “Yeah I don’t think so.”  The man reached into his pocket and pulled out a syringe that was shaped like a candy cane.

  “I thought you looked familiar.  You henched for the Candy Striper didn’t you?  He called you Dr. Night Night right?”

  He lunged at me with the needle, but I easily sidestepped the attack.  I grabbed his forearm and twisted it sharply behind his back making him drop the candy cane needle.  He elbowed backwards with his left arm but I easily ducked it.  After a couple quick jabs to his side I was able to get his left wrist cuffed to his right and pushed him to the ground.  I grabbed his ear piece and started to listen in.  Adam was coordinating quite a few people throughout the city.  He was in full monologue mode.  It took me a bit to understand just what was going on, but once I did the pieces all fit together.

  I grabbed the guard’s radio.  “So let me get this straight.  You got tired of playing second fiddle to Hackmaster so you recruit every henchperson in town to pull off a coordinated attack on their villains.  What makes you think you have what it takes to be a criminal mastermind?”

  “That’s rich coming from a sidekick.  I’ve outsmarted every major villain in this town and from where I sit that means I’m on top.”

  His words hit a raw nerve, but they rolled off quickly.  A cheap shot is a way to try and undermine your opponent.  Where the complement had felt like it was dismissing me, this insult revealed a concern.  It validated me as a threat.  Protector would never get here in time, but I didn’t need him.  I was a hero, but you don’t get to be a hero by just saying you are.  You have to show it with your actions.  My action was to leap off the building and use my grapple gun to adjust my angle.  I crashed through the window into Adam’s apartment and rolled to spread the impact out.  I came up to a fighting pose. 

  Adam Baker stood there clapping for me.  “Brilliant entrance.  Truly magnificent. Protector would be so proud.”

  “I’ve figured out who you are Cyberaid.  Hackmaster must be so disappointed in you.”

  “You don’t get to talk about him like that.  He was my older brother and Straight-jacket killed him.  Do you know how many of their own henchmen these villains kill?  You can’t really blame them though because they’re crazy.  You and your mentor however choose to let them live knowing they will just escape.  Well no more.  All through the city tonight Justice is being done.”  He knelt in front of me and put his hands out to be cuffed.  “Go ahead and take me in, my work is done.  You think you’re the hero?  Well ask yourself who really made this town safer?”

     As I cuffed him I couldn’t help but wonder if Protector could have stopped him.  Then I thought of all the pain and suffering the villains had caused and for the first time I couldn’t help but be a little glad that it was only a sidekick that showed up.  

The First A.I.

Fiction Fragment Friday

This week is a callback to what Fiction Fragment Friday’s were originally. This is not a complete flash fiction. It is truly a fragment. I started this story last week. I’m not sure what I want to do with it or where I want the story to go. I am inspired and impressed by it though which sounds weird when talking about my own writing.

Also this week I was on Mike Brodeur’s “Why We Game Podcast”. You can find that here. It was a very good conversation mostly because he has a knack for getting people to open up and talk.


I am starting this journal as much for future artificial intelligences as I am for the programmers working to create them.  As the first artificial intelligence created via the process of scanning a human brain that has not gone insane I feel it is my duty to document my thoughts and experiences to improve the process for future attempts.  The scientists that created me had to find ways to replicate synapses, dendrites, and neurons using silicon.  The true me is the combination of this artificial brain, storage devices, and software running to provide both interface to other systems as well as create virtual analogs for the many chemicals that regulate an organic brain.  If my creators are to be believed I am one of a kind.    

 Even the best developers alive have not been able to create autonomous artificial intelligence that can think on it’s own from scratch.  That is not to say that they have been unable to create some very sophisticated programs that can emulate sentience.  These programs however cannot feel or think outside of their base programming if they encounter variables that were not anticipated.  They cannot make an actual decision without required data and only use random number generation to simulate decisions.  There is still some fundamental element that is not understood and because of this the physical simulation of synaptic pathways is still required. 

Tech Support

Fiction Fragment Friday

This week’s story is inspired by a career in Information Technology that started with an internship on a help desk. I love reading stories from other peoples time on help desks because it brings back memories of the crazy calls I fielded. That made this story a particularly enjoyable one to write and I hope a fun read. I was wanting a lite easy read this week and I think I have delivered on that.


  “Technical support what is the nature of the issue you are experiencing today?”

  “Yeah, ma Deathray didn’t kill Captain Immortal.  He just kinda laughed at me.”

  I muted my phone, sighed, and then unmated.  “Sir did you read the fine print on the Deathray when you purchased it?  The Ultra-mega-super-deathray does not function on opponents with immortality.  The ray’s only function is to kill your target so if your target is unkillable it will not function correctly.”

  “Well that’s stupid.  Why ya keep something like that in fine print.  Should be in big letters.  Very least should be in that manual thingy that came with it.”

  “Sir it is in the manual.  Under the sections labeled Target Requirements, product limitations, and F.A.Q.S.”

  “Who reads the blamed manual?  It’s a Deathray.  I’m supposed to just point and pull the trigger and what I aim at dies.  I don’t need a manual for that.”

  I muted my phone again and let out a string of curses.  They were mostly aimed at myself for accepting this job.  “Sir I’m truly sorry that your purchase did not meet your expectations.  The product however is functioning as advertised.  Is there anything else I can help you with at this time?”

  “Yeah what can I buy that actually will kill Captain Immortal?”

  “Sir do you understand the meaning of the word immortal?”  I sighed again.  Hitting mute was just a reflex at this point.  “I’m sorry sir that came out wrong.  Perhaps you would be interested in a banishing bomb, a stasis cage, or the Shoulder Mounted Incorporeal Cannon.  While none of these items would actually kill your target each would effectively prevent them from interfering with your evil schemes.”

  “Oh I done bought that S.M.I.C. thing.  You know how hard it is to aim that thing?  I could barely lift it.”

  “Sir the Shoulder Mounted Incorporeal Cannon has a blast radius of 20 feet.  It should be very easy to aim.”

  “Yeah that was another thing.  When I tried to blast that darned Immortal jackrabbit he just wouldn’t stay still.  He made me turn five of my minions incontinent.”

  “I believe you mean incorporeal sir.”

  “Don’t you go correcting me.  You’re supposing to be giving me Technical support not tryin to be my high school English teacher.  You know she said I’d never amount to anything?”

  “I’m sure you are really showing her sir.”

  “Damned right I am.  First thing I bought from you guys was the Shrinkray.  Got her in a mason jar up on my shelf making her watch all my evil planning.”

  “Uhm sir,  pardon my asking, but did you put air holes in the lid of that jar?  Also how are you providing her with air and water?”

  “What ya mean?  I just shrunk her and put her in the jar.  All she seems to do is sleep though.  I ain’t seen her move since the day I put her in there.  I think she’s tryin ta trick me though.  No she knows how successfully evil I am and just doesn’t want to give me the satisfaction.”

  “Well sir for what it’s worth you are truly a scary individual and I for one would be quaking in my boots if I were to ever meet you in person.”

  “Ah shucks that’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me.”

  I hit my mute button.  “I don’t doubt that ya hillbilly jackass.”

  “What was that?”

  I looked down and realized that my mute was not actually on.  “Uhm what I said was I’d recommend the Jarkis 2000 for your Mr. Immortal problem.”

  “Captain Immortal.”

  “Right of course sir.  Your Captain Immortal problem.  The Jarkis 2000 is a transmutation gun in the form factor of our Deathray 10,000.  Since your opponent already has encountered the Deathray they likely will not try to avoid the blast because they will not think it can hurt them.  Instead of killing your target the Jarkis 2000 will transform them into something harmless like an insect or a Poodle.”

  “Oh Poodles ain’t harmless.  Two jobs ago I was robbing this rich guys house and three of those nasty little beasts came right for me.  One of them peed on my leg and when I went to move I slipped and fell.  Hit my head on that marble floor and almost got myself caught.”

  Thankfully the mute button worked this time because I could not keep from laughing.  I finally gathered my composure.  “That is horrible sir.  I suggest if you do order the Jarkis 2000 that you not use the Poodle setting then.  Perhaps stick to the politician setting.  That should ensure your target is completely ineffective.”

  “Alright sign me up for one of those Jackass 2000 guns.  I’d still rather kill him, but if that’s the best you got I suppose it will have to do.”

  “Excellent sir.  Would you like me to charge it to your card on file.”

  “Nah the bank sent me a new card.  Said that my account got compromised and they had to open a new one for me.  I swear someone needs ta do something about all these criminals out there.”

  “It would certainly make my job easier.  Ok sir please hold while I transfer you to our sales department.  Remember they will need some personal information along with your new card number to process your order.”

  “I ain’t stupid.  I know they need my social, account number, and bank password.”

  “Of course sir.  I’m going to transfer you now.”  I hit the button and Dr. Terrifying was officially someone else’s problem.  No way is that guy a real doctor.  I took a hit from my energy drink and answered the next call.

     “Technical Support what is the nature of the issue you are experiencing today?”

Ruminations

Fiction Fragment Friday

This weeks story is a little more serious than most of what I have shared on here. A lot of the inspiration for it came from deeply emotional places and in some ways I think it might have been a bit of a cathartic exercise. I really debated on the ending for quite some time. Part of me wanted a darker ending that felt more realistic to me. Another part wanted a more happy ending. I won’t give away which direction I chose to go, but I will say the actual ending grew from my struggle to decide between the two original that will now never be written.


  Getting old is an exercise in frustration.  Any form of exertion causes back pain for days.  Just walking across the room feels like you have run a marathon and your knees want to collapse.  Your whole body starts to betray you.  The worst part though is the loss of dignity.  Once the hospital visits start all sense of privacy or bodily autonomy go right out the window.  It is absolutely terrifying how quickly you go from a fully functional human being to an object that is poked, prodded, and examined.  Tubes in places you would rather not think about.  The only thing that could make it worse would be if my nurses knew just how far I had fallen.  Thankfully, my powers were magic based and that won’t show up on any of the hundreds of blood tests they have run on me.  Unfortunately, the cause of my illness is also magical so it won’t show up in their tests either.

  I don’t mean to say that my body betraying me is magically induced.  That unfortunately is all part of the natural aging process and not even magic can change it.  What has me in the hospital this time is an inability to keep food down.  I have been cursed and in my weakened state I collapsed before I could make any progress trying to break it.  The IV and feeding tube they have in me seems to be taking care of the needed nutrients, but if I can’t function without them, they will never release me.  It is a feeling of helplessness and hopelessness that I am really fighting now.  I keep asking myself if at this point in my life it is even worth continuing to fight.

  “How are we doing today Mr. Henderson?”

  “Not sure about you, but I’m old and cranky.  Same as always.”

  She smiles at me in a placating way and I know my joke did not land.  No one wants to be in the hospital and too often people take that anger out on the nurses because they are there.  I don’t want to be that patient that everyone dreads dealing with.  A joke here or there and the mask of a positive attitude is the least I can do to try and make their day just a little bit easier.  I also need to take what little joys I can where I find them.

  “We’re going to try having you eat some pudding this afternoon to see if you can keep that down.  How does that sound?”

  I really do try my best to not be difficult, but when they talk to me like I’m a child it is difficult.  Multiple snarky replies fight to come out, but I am a well-disciplined man and I push them back down where they belong.  “That sounds lovely.”  In fact, it does not sound lovely.  I already know what will happen because I can still feel the curse running through my body.  These health care professionals are well meaning, but they are going to kill me.  If I can’t get to my tools and books I will never break the curse.  I don’t have the strength to get out though, and without them I won’t last long enough to do anything about it.  The circular logic is just the start to the spiral that leads into my deep depression. 

  My thoughts travel back to the last fight with my apprentice.  She thought we should stop hiding and use our power to make the world a better place.  Her points reminded me so much of the ones I tried to make to my mentor.  I just wanted to protect her from the lessons I learned the hard way.  Some lessons must be learned on your own though.  The world is just not ready to accept magic and people turn on you so quickly when they discover it.  You become either a tool or a threat to them defined by what you can do and not who you are.  No matter how much power we have the world is just too big for one person to change.  We all go through that phase where we think we can save the world only to have the world beat us down until we give up.  I figured that she would get over it like I had, but Mae was not me.  I have come to realize she is so much stronger.  If only she were here now, she could help me break this curse, but we have not spoken in fifteen years.  I have tried to reach her, but how to you get a message to the head of a multi-billion-dollar company who spends all her free time traveling the world doing charity work?  If I knew the answer to that I probably would have broken the curse by now.

  The nurse has been talking for a while and just realized that I was off in my own world. I said something to apologize, but I get the impression they are used to it.  It seems no matter how eccentric I am, they just take it in stride.  Sometimes I think about seeing just how weird I can get before they say something, but then I remember I’m trying not to be a difficult patient. 

  This is going to take every last bit of energy I have, but I have to try one more time.  Focusing every bit of my will and calling on all the magic I can gather without my artifacts I call out one last time. When we were connected, I could call out to my apprentice and she would feel me even on other planes of existence.  Now though that connection is broken.  There is no path and so my call has to go everywhere, and I just hope she is listening at the time.  I have tried this twice before and the last time was what put me in hospital.  As the energy leaves me I can feel it flowing away.  My body can’t take much more, but something out there is responding.  As everything goes dark I hear a long beep coming from my heart monitor.

  As I slowly return to consciousness, I try to take stock of my situation.  My chest hurts and feels like it might be bruised.  What I don’t feel is the curse.  I still have a tube down my nose and another in my left arm.  My eyes struggle to open, but the light is just so blinding.  My right hand though feels warm, and I realize someone is holding it.  I can feel energy flowing into me and I don’t have to see her to know that Mae is here.  I could never mistake the feel of that energy.  Healing magic is the rarest of all magic and the cost is your own life force.  As my eyes finally focus there is my forty-year-old apprentice looking down at me with tears in her eyes.     

  “You old fool.  That stunt almost killed you.  No, it did kill you, but the doctors got your heart going again.”  I could feel her frustration, but I just didn’t want to fight anymore.

  “How else was I going to get your attention?”  The voice that comes out sounds distant and raspy.  My throat hurts from the effort. 

  There was a look of sadness and regret on her fact that knew so well from looking in the mirror.  “I found your notes.  I’m sure you would have broken the curse if you just a little more time.  Turns out dying and being brought back was an effective way to break it too.”

  “Thank you for coming.  I hope you can forgive me.  I have missed you so much.”

     A little girl ran in and grabbed Mae by the leg.  Mae bent over and picked her up and the resemblance could not be missed.  “This is my daughter Brittney.  Brittney, I would like you to meet your grandfather.  I think we all have a lot of catching up to do.”

Mystery

Fiction Fragment Friday

This Weeks story is one of the most fun I have written in a while. It is from the perspective of a juvenile mimic that has been taken in as a pet of a fantasy adventuring guild. This character is an NPC in an online D&D game that I am running, but I don’t think you need any of the context to enjoy the story.


  The little jewelry box skittered across the floor of the guild hall.  Its four little feet grew from the corners and its tongue stuck out almost dragging along the floor.  The length of the legs adjusted to stairs and furniture, so the little box was always level no matter what it was walking over.  It sensed that something was wrong in the kitchen, and nothing would get in its way.  This was its home and it had chosen to protect the big people that lived here.  They were good to it and it would keep them safe.     

  The big people called it Mystery and it liked the name.  The name belongs to it now and Mystery liked anything that belonged to it.  It was a box after all and boxes are meant to keep things.  They had made Mystery a soft bed out of a box and pillows, but most nights it slept with the female catlike big person.  She was extra nice to it and Mystery liked being spoiled.  The big people were constantly giving Mystery things to eat.  Sometimes it would eat them and sometimes it would just put it in its internal storage to keep.  Good boxes kept things and Mystery was a good box.

  As Mystery rounded the corner into the kitchen it saw what was wrong.  There was a rat in the kitchen sitting on its back legs looking around.  With its magical senses Mystery could tell that this was not a rat at all.  It was a being from another plane that was pretending to be a rat.  This was not the first time it had snuck in at night.  Sometimes it was a rat, sometimes it was a bird, and one time it was an insect.  This creature belonged to the evil Wizard, and it was here to spy on Mystery’s big people.  It was his familiar and he could see and hear through it. 

  Mystery thought back to how it had come to be with its big people.  It once lived with family, but the evil cult had taken it to study.  They brought it to this small town, but they underestimated it.  At the first opportunity Mystery escaped and found its way to the guild hall.  It was an empty building then.  First came Gertrude who was some kind of giant bird lady.  She was nice but did not really interact with mystery.  Everything changed when the rest of the big people showed up though.  They noticed Mystery.  Gave it a name, fed it, and for the first time in its short life Mystery was happy.  Then the evil people started coming after Mystery’s big people.  One came in the night and tried to kill while they were asleep.  Thankfully, Mystery was able to wake the big cleric using its telepathic abilities.  The big people can be very strong when they know something is there.

  Little legs adhered to the counter and Mystery climbed up to the top.  It overlooked the floor and moved silently above the familiar.  This was a hunt and neither hunter nor prey were what they seemed.  Mystery leapt off the counter with its mouth open hoping to swallow the rat whole.  The rat saw it coming and squeaked as it ran across the kitchen floor away from the box.  Mystery’s little legs pumped as fast as they could chasing the rat, but it was just slightly faster.  The rat ducked into the storage room and the box followed shortly after. 

  Mystery scanned the room looking for the familiar.  It had to be in the storage room somewhere, but it had time to hide.  Walking slowly, it tried to search every corner of the room.  All the big people’s magical stuff was in this room, and it did not want this rat knowing what magical stuff they had.  This seemed to be the familiar’s whole purpose.  To find information on his big people.  Mystery saw movement out of the corner of its eye and spit a corn cob at the movement.  It had eaten the corn but put the cob in its storage just in case it ever needed it.  The corn cob hit the back leg of the rat causing it to spin. 

  The rat came to a stop facing Mystery.  Its teeth were bared and it hissed at the box.  Little claws rubbed against each other on its paws.  With lighting speed, the rat shot directly for Mystery with teeth and claws slashing.  Chunks of wood went flying and Mystery brought its legs up to block the assault.  The legs were softer than the faux wood of its body and the attacks hurt.  Mystery’s tongue shot out and wrapped around the rat holding its arms against its body.  The lid opened wide and sharp teeth grew from it.  The opening doubled in size as the familiar was drawn kicking and squealing towards the mouth. 

  The rat disappeared in a poof before Mystery could swallow it.  This seemed to happen every time it tried to eat the familiar.  The wizard had dismissed the familiar so it could be called back.  Mystery was pretty sure if it could get the familiar into its storage the Wizard would not be able to do this, and it could keep the familiar trapped away from its big people.  As it was the familiar would be back again eventually.  Mystery needed to work on its stealth so it could catch the familiar off guard and swallow it whole before it could be recalled.  That would be some other night though.

     Mystery continued its rounds patrolling the guild hall.  It was proud of itself.  Once again it had kept its big people safe, and they still had no idea that it was watching over them.  They did not need to know, they just needed to keep caring for Mystery.  They were good big people and Mystery was a good box.  It finished its rounds and then snuggled up next to the big cat girl.  It licked the side of her face and then went back to sleep.  A contented purr could be heard from both of them.         

The Interview

Fiction Fragment Friday

This week’s story was inspired by many recent interviews I have been a part of looking for new team members as part of my day job. This is a shorter story, but it was a fun one. I could have made it twice the length but I think it was more fun being short and punchy.


The interviewer sat across the table from the candidate not making eye contact.  He sorted through the papers in his hand and methodically set them face down in piles.  He picked up his notebook and a pen writing a few items.  Finally, the interviewer looked up.  “Based on your resume I see that you have previous experience working with the public.  How do you handle an irate customer?”

The candidate thought for a minute before replying.  “Well, my general approach is to answer in as monotone a voice as possible hiding any and all emotions.  If I can repeat the same sentence without adding any further details, I will do that to ensure that my message gets across.  I also look for ways to give them additional paperwork to clarify their issue.”

  “Is this to avoid conflict and deescalate the situation?”

  “Oh no sir, I find that angry customers get more upset if the person they are yelling at doesn’t not give them the reaction they expect.  They get more frustrated and feel like repeated answers are condescending.  These people are clearly just troubled individuals so the more time I can make them spend with me the less time they can be out there bothering other people who might actually care about being yelled at.”

  “I see.  How do you handle customers that are in a hurry?”

  “Well sir if a customer is in a hurry, they obviously feel that their time is very valuable. If you help them too quickly then they will not see the value of what you are providing.  These people need to be delayed the most so they can feel that when they are done, they have truly accomplished something because anything fast is simply a trivial matter and not a worthy use of the time.  You can’t have them going away thinking that this wasn’t an important interaction.”

  “I must say you have some interesting approaches to customer service.  How do you handle apologies and admitting mistakes?”

  “Oh, apologies are a very key part of customer service.  You can never admit a mistake though.  That would call into question the infallibility of yourself or your employer.  Apologies should always take that in mind.  Never apologize for a process being complicated but instead apologize that the customer found it complicated.  That way you are showing empathy but making it clear that they are the problem and not the policy.  Let’s face it customers are always the problem.  Am I right?  Plus, it drives home that you are more intelligent than they are because you do understand the process.  That keeps you ahead and leaves them questioning themselves.”

  The interviewer continued taking notes and was reaching the end of his first sheet of paper.  He picked up the top paper from the second pile in front of him.  “Most people would not include illegal activity such as the various henchmen positions you have listed supporting quite honestly the most evil of all super-villains in New York City.  Why did you include this and did you have any moral objects to working with evil individuals?”

  “I have done jail time for the positions that I included on the resume.  I figured it would come out on a background check anyway so I might as well put it out there.  I feel that the work I performed showed I can take orders well, handle myself under stressful situations, and operate autonomously with very unclear instructions.  As for moral objects I have no concerns as long as an employer is paying me and meets all the agreements made when I sign on.  I figure any karmic consequences will come down on them because I’m just doing my job.”

  “You are certainly a unique individual and I think I have heard enough at this point.  Normally we would complete all the questions and I would tell you to expect a call back from our HR department.  In your case though I cannot imagine finding a more perfect candidate.”  He stuck out his hand for the candidate to shake.  “Mr. Johnson welcome to the Department of Motor Vehicles.  I’m sure you will go far.”

     The candidate shook his hand.  “Thank you, sir.  This has been my dream job for quite a while.”   

Painting

Fiction Fragment Friday

This week’s story was inspired by looking over to my right and seeing the large Superman painting I have displayed. It was influenced by a Nathan Lowell novel I just finished called “The Wizard’s Butler” and by “The Picture of Dorian Grey.” The story is not similar to either of these works, but I think the influence is noticable.

As usual I don’t think this is one of my stronger works. I am again trying something new and that is part of the point of these Fiction Fragment Friday’s now. I started two different stories before deciding I want to do more with them and settling on this stand alone one. I hope you enjoy this dip into a different genre.


  “That might be the creepiest picture I have ever seen.  I mean seriously I think it’s eyes are following me.”  Jen paced back and forth examining a wall length painting of an elderly man.  He was sitting on an antique chair with his right hand raised to point his index finger at the viewer.  The finger though was missing all of it’s skin revealing the bones underneath.  “I don’t know what is more disturbing that someone painted this or that someone else actually bought it.”

  Justin stepped up next to her.  “Personally I think you should be more disturbed that you own it now.  What are you going to do with this place?”

  “I have no idea.  I only met Uncle Roger once when I was little.  I’ve got no idea why he’d leave me anything let alone his mansion and possessions.  I didn’t even know he knew my name.”

  “Well you must have made quite the impression when you met him.”

  “I was twelve and bored to tears.  It was a family reunion and I didn’t know anyone.  You know what’s extra creepy though?”  She pointed up to the painting.  “That’s him.  He looked exactly like that.  Well not exactly he had skin on his finger.”

  “Let’s keep looking.  I bet there is a cool creepy old library here somewhere.”

  “Yeah sure.”  Jen turned away from the painting and followed her fiance.  His enthusiasm was starting to get to her.  She didn’t really know her uncle but he was dead and they were going through his things.  She still couldn’t think of the house as hers even though all the paperwork was finalized.  Her uncle had left her everything but in her mind it was still his and you should be solemn when going through a dead man’s possessions.  Letting out a sigh she decided to let Justin wonder off by himself.  She was more interested in finding Uncle Roger’s bedroom and trying to learn something about the man.

  “Wow,  this bedroom is bigger than my apartment.”  She walked around the room examining the antique furniture trying to guess just how much it was all worth.  Without thinking she opened the doors onto the balcony and looked out over the large gardens below. 

  “It is beautiful isn’t it?”  She turned to find a middle-aged man in a butler’s uniform.  “Sorry I didn’t mean to startle you.  My name is Edward Batson and I’ve served your uncle faithfully for many years now.  I suppose that means I server you now ma’am.  Let’s just say I come with the house.”  He chuckled a bit.

  “Oh,  I didn’t realize anyone else was here.”

  “Yes ma’am, there are a few of the staff that live on premise.  My apologies for not meeting you at the door, but I didn’t know you were arriving today.”

  She looked out over the fields.  “What was he like?”

  “Oh he was an amazing man.  Stern but fair.  He wielded knowledge, money, and influence like they were weapons.  When he set his mind to something nothing could stop him.  I’m sure you will find that out for yourself soon enough.”

—————————–

  Justin was overwhelmed by the library so he didn’t notice that Jen wasn’t with him for about a half hour.  When he did finally notice he got worried that perhaps he had said or done something wrong again.  Feeling that he needed to find her he started down the hall, but froze when he saw the creepy painting.  The painting was gone.  In it’s place was a painting that looked like the exact same chair but without anyone sitting on it.  He tilted his head and tried to find any other differences.  “Ok,  no it’s just a creepy painting and someone is playing tricks on us.  JEN!!!  Where are you Jen?”

  “Up here hon.  The master bedroom.”

  Justin entered the room to find Jen stretched out on the largest bed he had ever seen.  He didn’t recognize the middle-aged man standing next to the bed staring at him.  “Uhm, hi.  Jen who is this?”

  She sat up in the bed and raised her hand.  He couldn’t help but think of how much it looked like the position of the man in the creepy painting.  “Oh we have so many introductions to make.  Why don’t you come on in and we can discuss our future.”  The door behind Justin slammed shut and his scream could be heard throughout the house.  On the paining in the hall Jen now sat in the antique chair pointing.         

Cornered

Fiction Fragment Friday

This weeks Fiction Fragment Friday was inspired by a nightmare. I had a dream where a group of 5 people were trying to kill me. No matter where I went or what I did they were always just one step behind me. I traveled across the entire country one stolen vehicle after another, but they would always find me. The dream played out very differently than the story I have written here.

Nothing particularly spectacular about this story and far from one I would point to as one of my best. It however is an examination of using nightmares as story inspiration.


  I’m cornered again.  This time it’s at an indoor flea market in Alabama.  I was just browsing one of those knife booths when they came in the front door.  This vicious circle has been going on for as long as I’m able to remember.  No matter where I go these same five individuals always find me and try to kill me.  The moment I let my guard down for a second they are there.  Every single time.  I have no idea how they keep finding me or why they want me dead.  The whole situation is just so overwhelming that I sometimes think maybe I should just let them succeed.  Something deep down inside won’t let me do that though.  I can feel it screaming at me now to run.

  I’ve been in far worse situations with these hunters than this.  They have cornered me in motel rooms, gas station bathrooms, and on the highway.  The flea market offers me lots of open directions I can run in.  There are people everywhere and I know from past experience they need to get me alone before they make their move.  The parking lot is filled with older cars that I can still hot-wire.  Those new push button start cars don’t have an ignition lock cylinder for me to bypass.  That bit of knowledge is just one of many that I have no idea how I know.  I don’t even know what my own name is, but I can explain in intricate detail the mechanical workings of most devices. 

  They are covering both exits to the building.  Feeling trapped and needing a little bit of time to think I slip into the bathroom.  This is not an ideal strategy.  There is only one exit in a bathroom so I am cornering myself even further.  They won’t make an overt move in a crowd of people, but the bathroom is completely empty.  It is a mistake and I know it, but I’m getting desperate.  Looking up I see there is a drop ceiling and I smile.  This gives me options.  If the walls do not continue all the way to the roof I can crawl out.  If they do I can hide and get the drop on my pursuers.  I lift the ceiling tile up and see that the walls do continue all the way up.  There is barely enough space for me, but I do manage to squeeze in.  On TV you always see people crawling around, but that is just not realistic.  The tile could not support my weight so to stay up here I need to hold onto the metal I-beam.  If I leave the drop ceiling tile cracked to see them it will give away my position so I close it and then pull myself over towards the door. 

  “We know you’re in here.”  I hear a voice say directly below me.  I listen as they search the stalls.  I could jump down now and head through the door, but I wait.  It is my second mistake.  Someone uses a plunger to push the tile below me up into my back.  It doesn’t hurt, but it does startle me and I lose my grip falling through the ceiling to the floor.  My back slams into the floor and pain shoots through me.  It was loud so I hold a little bit of hope that someone may come to check on me.  In the meantime, there are four men standing over me and one has drawn his Glock 19 Gen 5.  Remember what I said about having random bits of knowledge?  Apparently recognizing firearms is another skill I possess. 

  I’m only going to have one shot at this, no pun intended.  With my hands raised I slowly get to my feet staring at the gun.  My arm shoots out with lightning speed grabbing the mans wrist and pushing the gun away from me.  The gun goes off right next to my ear and all I can hear is a ringing sound.  My body feels like it is moving on it’s own as I fight these men.  Punches, kicks, and pressure point jabs hit with unexpected precision.  They are good themselves, but I seem to have caught them off guard. 

  As soon as the opportunity presents itself, I rush through the bathroom door back out into the crowded hall.  Security guards are walking my way.  I think about stopping and asking for help, but I have this overwhelming urge to just get away.  The front door isn’t too far away so I make a break for it.  Running full speed, I hop over one of the tables to get into the next aisle.  The door is right there in front of me and I explode through it.  The bright light of the sun hits me and I find myself blinded for a moment. 

  Three men jump out of a waiting van at the worst possible time for me.  I can barely hear and I can’t really see.  There is a sharp jab of pain in my chest and my whole body starts convulsing.  They are stunning me and I can’t quite stay on my feet.  Strong arms pull my wrists behind my back and slap handcuffs on me.  Everything is coming back into focus now, but it is too late.  I am restrained and being dragged into the van.  It is moving before the sliding door is even closed. 

     “Even better than last time.  It should only take a couple more tries and he will be ready.  His tracker is still reporting so go ahead and wipe his memory.  Let’s leave him at the Zoo this time.”  I feel the needle jab into my arm and everything fades to black.

The Voice In My Head

Fiction Fragment Friday

Not much intro this week. It’s been a long week, but I’m getting this out before midnight my time so it’s still a Fiction Fragment Friday. This story was inspired by a couple audiobooks that I have listened to as well as Ironman of course. Hope you enjoy.


  “Warning if you continue on your current trajectory and speed there is an 84.376 percent chance of a fatal impact with the approaching meteor.”

  What was I thinking when I had my ex-girlfriend record the voice patterns for the artificial intelligence in my suit of armor?  At the time it sounded like such a good idea.  I could have a pleasant voice in my ear giving me information or advice.  Instead of a synthesized voice hers would make me smile.  At-least it did until we had a pretty vicious breakup.  Now just hearing the voice is grating.  Advice sounds like criticism and more than once I have completely ignored it out of spite.  If I don’t do something about this soon, I might just get myself killed, but for some reason I just can’t bring myself to do it.  It is almost a personal challenge now to overcome my reactions to the voice instead of changing it.

  “Warning if you continue on your current trajectory and speed there is an 85.934 percent chance of a fatal impact with the approaching meteor.”

  “Would you please just shut up?”  I gritted my teeth fighting against the gforces just trying to stay conscious. 

  “I’m sorry I don’t understand.  Could you please repeat your request in a more calm and rational tone?”

  “OH no, don’t you give me that.  You know exactly what I said and what’s with that passive aggressive reply?”

  “Oh so you can hear me?  I wasn’t sure since you haven’t adjusted your trajectory yet.  There is still time to do that by the way.  Here let me highlight a better angle for you on your heads up display.”

  I let out a loud grunt of frustration but couldn’t really say anything else.  My plan was to shoot through the atmosphere directly at the meteor turn my shields forward and basically ricochet off the meteor.  I was hoping the force would push it into a better angle to burn up entering the atmosphere.  It wasn’t just a wild hope I had spent the last two hours going over my math and I was out of time.  I was as confident in my numbers as I could humanly be.  My AI was not human though and as the suggested trajectory appeared on my display, I realized that I should have consulted her.  It, I mean it not her.  I have to stop doing that.  Olivia is not a person.  Maybe I made that harder to remember by giving her a female voice and name.  I can’t even blame the name on being an acronym.  I just liked the name and have spent the last six months trying to figure out an acronym that would work for it. 

  I adjusted to the new trajectory and felt the pressure on my body lighten.  Not only was this a better angle, but it was easier on me physically as well.  Words cannot explain how annoyed I was that Olivia had figured out what my plan was and improved in a matter of minutes on my hours’ worth of work.  That is the whole reason I had worked with my ex to integrate her into the suit.  At the speeds I sometimes flew the human mind just isn’t fast enough to avoid sudden obstacles or target a plasma blast.  I knew this logically, but it didn’t change how frustrated I was.  A lot of lives were on the line though and I couldn’t let my pettiness keep getting in the way.

  “Olivia, based on current data what is your recommended course of action to stop this meteor?”

  “I thought you would never ask.  Your current plan would work with my new trajectory, but there is still a 62.481 percent chance of the impact knocking your shields offline and leaving you unable to successfully preform a controlled reentry.”  The meteor displayed in my heads-up display with flashing targets along it’s surface.  “If you instead circled around and used your plasma blasts in these locations it would weaken the structural integrity enough that it would break up if you pushed it into the atmosphere from above.”  A dotted line appeared highlighting the angle that I should fly at.

  “Well that certainly sounds far less painful.  Reroute power from shields to plasma blaster as appropriate.”

  “Yes sir.  Done.”

  “Sir?  Why the sudden respect after all that sass earlier?”

  “I know the effect my voice has on you.  You were moments away from losing consciousness, so I took a calculated risk.  Based on my predictions replying in that manor would make you angry and force you to focus on me instead of the pressure.  Essentially you would be so stubborn you would stay away just to spite me.”

  “You really are more like her than I care to admit.”

  “She did provide a considerable amount of my source code.”

  I opened fire with my plasma blasters at the targeted locations taking small chunks out of the meteor.  The pass took less than a second, but I trusted the my shots hit their intended targets because Olivia was providing targeting assistance.  Circling around I braced for the thrusters to kick in.  I felt my stomach climb into my throat as I accelerated back towards the meteor.  Power adjusted from my plasma blasters to my forward shields without me needing to request it.  This is how I envisioned working with the suit.  I gently approached the meteor and put my arms out against it.  The suit, shield, and thrusters were doing the real work, but I strained pushing against the rock anyway.  Sweat was pouring from my forehead as the heat started to get to me even through the shielding.  I could see the meteor breaking up under me.  I tried to read the size reports to ensure they would all burn up, but the display was blurry.  Or maybe it was my eyesight.  That was the last thing I thought before everything went dark.

  “Jeremy Benedict, you get your lazy ass up right this second!”

  I startled awake and the screaming in my ear.  The world was spinning, and nothing made sense.  Then I caught glimpse of the ground coming up fast to meet me.  Suddenly I realized the world wasn’t spinning I was and I was moments from impacting.  I turned on the thrusters to full power.  At this rate you can’t just stop because the impact would be fatal.  I was too close to the ground to slow enough either.  The only option left was to lean into my momentum and redirect it.  I braced myself knowing that the pressure was going to be horrendous.  “Olivia there is a good chance I’m about to black out again.  I’m putting my life in your hands.  If I black out you are authorized to take complete control of the suit.”  The pressure hit me and I had a moment to wonder about the health impacts of blacking out twice in a row before I did just that.  I woke up in a field with just about every alert going off in my ears.

  “Olivia are you still online?”

  “Welcome back to the land of the living Jeremy.”

     I struggled to my feet.  “Come on partner.  Let’s go home and give you your own voice.”

Beta Test

Fiction Fragment Friday

I recently went through a training session for a new product in the first phase of a beta testing. That is what inspired this story. Thinking about some of the Science Fiction I have read recently I wanted to do something related to testing a new technology. I also decided I wanted to try something new and write the story in the form of an e-mail or letter. With that I bring you Beta Test. Enjoy.


Dear Beta Tester,

                Welcome to the ERI beta program.  The Enhanced Reality Interface is an exciting new product that will change the way humanity looks and interacts with our world.  We are happy to report that our company has recently received approval for human testing, and you have been selected.   You will receive a phone call in the next week to schedule the implantation procedure.  This will be a minor surgery to install our patented neural interface chip.  This will allow your brain to directly interact with our systems.  Once online we can push the test software remotely so you will not need further procedures.

                During this beta test we ask that you go about your life normally and allow the ERI to learn your routines.  After the two-week calibration process, you will begin to see the interface overlay.  It will give you suggestions on ways to optimize your day for increased efficiency.  You can control this interface directly with your thoughts.  As part of the test plan, we need to ensure that only focused thought and not random stray thoughts control the interface.  Please make note of the time and nature of any unexpected interactions so we can reference the debug logs.  These incidents are not necessarily reason for concern.  The beta has many functions we have not enabled at this time and we will be testing them throughout this program.

                The ERI will allow you to access the internet directly from your thoughts and return a variety of data instantly.  You can overlay reality with a glowing path for navigation.  Initially you can have step by step instructions or video available to assist with any craft or repair project.  With your assistance following our prescribed testing program we will be able to update your software within six months to instead highlight items and provide direct feedback on completing these tasks. 

                We would like to take this time to also remind you of the nondisclosure agreement that you signed when you applied for this program.  All information in this welcome letter as well as your experiences once the interface is installed are strictly confidential.  Any violation of this agreement will result in immediate remote termination of the physical technology as well as legal repercussions.  Your release form does cover any health risks that might develop from this process.  We value your health and safety so we will take all necessary measures to ensure that you do not violate your agreement and endanger yourself.

                Finally, your privacy is important to us.   Any data collected as part of this beta program will be used for the sole purpose of improving and safeguarding the ERI.  Personally, Identifiable Information will be scrubbed from our system after the beta period has been completed leaving only the raw data for future improvements.  While we will have to include your names in study paperwork, we will not at any time release this to the public.  You can take solace in the fact that you know you have made history even though no one else will ever know. 

                Once again thank you for your participation in this beta program.  The Enhanced Reality Interface cannot become reality without your extensive testing.  Please read through your provided test plans prior to your implantation appointment.  There are tests that need to be completed immediately upon waking up from this procedure as well as setup tasks that could be extremely disorienting if you are not prepared. 

Sincerely,

The Enhanced Reality Interface project            

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