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The Relic

Fiction Fragment Friday

This weeks story finds inspiration in multiple places. First it was inspired by all the recent space flights by the commercial sector. Second it was inspired by my own personal phobia of flying which is extremely at odds with my obsessions around the space program. I am in sheer awe of the advanced being made and strongly frustrated with myself knowing I would be too afraid to take advantage of them.


  I gripped the arm rests on my seat not quite sure what I was about to experience.  I had never been on a normal flight let alone a suborbital flight and there are not a lot of firsthand experiences to read about in preparation.  There was even less to research about the craft I found myself in since it was still highly classified.  If I didn’t need to be in Antarctica in under two hours, I would have never agreed to it.  When the President of the United States sends a man in a black suit to tell you that they found an alien spacecraft buried in the ice and he wants you to be with the first group that goes in you do not decline no matter how scared you are.  The more I looked back on it the more I wondered if it had been a question at all or if the man had just been informing me that I was going.

  It didn’t make any sense at first.  I am an author not a scientist and I don’t have any sort of security clearance.  Sure, I do a lot of research for my books, but that is not the same as being a real expert.  The agent who said I didn’t need to know his name confirmed that the president knew all of that.  I was chosen because of my books.  The president wanted to make this discovery public knowledge during his time in office but didn’t want to cause a panic.  He felt that if his favorite Science Fiction writer were to experience the ship and write a novel about it that would help prepare the public for the announcements.  Social media has changed the way that disclosures happen, and he thought that his administration could take advantage of that.  So, there I found myself sitting in a classified vehicle, on a classified runway, getting ready to fly to a classified dig site, to see a classified alien spacecraft.  It certainly was not how I expected my Monday morning to go.

  As the plane started to accelerate the situation became very real to me.  I watched as the buildings of the military base rushed by my window.  There was a feeling that I had crossed a line of no return.  The plane tilted upwards, and I felt my stomach drop out from under me.  The best was I can explain the sensation is that it was like being on a roller-coaster, but instead of feeling like I was falling I felt like I was being yanked up.  Rationally I know it didn’t take long, but in the moment, it felt like an eternity.  Finally, there was a brief moment where the seatbelt tugged on me and it felt like there was a minor drop.  That was when the rocket boosters triggered.  I fought back my anxiety as every sensation I had experienced came back far stronger.  Just when I didn’t think I could take any more all the pressure ended.

  I looked out the window and truly saw the Earth for the first time.  The curve had a thin hazy layer that I realized was the atmosphere.  It looked so small in comparison, and I could help but feel a bit small myself.  For the briefest of moments my fear was replaced by awe.  My mind started racing with all the ways I would describe the planet in my next novel.  It was then that I realized we were weightless, and I couldn’t quite decide if I was happy or terrified.  As I let out what sounded like a crazy giggle, I realized that I was both.  I looked around the cabin and realized that I was the only one on the plan who looked nervous.  I guessed they were all used to it. 

  In a little over an hour and a half we had landed.  While I was nervous about landing the sensations were not nearly as strong.  The bite of the cold when I stepped out of the plane however was something I had underestimated.  It was not just the cold, but the wind that assaulted me.  For a moment I thought I might fall backwards into the cabin of the plain, but a general reached out and helped me steady myself.  I think I expected to see the spacecraft as soon as we landed or possibly arched metal structures.  Instead, there were sleek buildings on steel beams about 20 feet off the ground.  There was also one large blue domed building in the center.  I didn’t have much time to look though as the general rushed me into one of the raised buildings.  Since I was freezing, I was glad he was in a hurry. 

  After a short briefing a military escort took me into the domed building.  They had explained that it was a drilling facility and that there was an elevator that would take us down to the cavern containing the ship.  The elevator opened to a large cavern lit with spotlights.  I was focused on the man before me.  The president was standing there with his hand out for me to shake.  He introduced himself and told me what a fan he was of my books.   Once again, I was in awe.  The whole experience seemed more like a dream than something that was actually happening to me. 

     The moment I saw the ship I knew the real reason he had asked for me.  It looked exactly like ship on the cover of my novels.  It wasn’t just a passing resemblance; the design was exactly the same because this was the ship I had written about.  They had found my grandfather’s spacecraft.  He was the sole survivor when it crashed a hundred and fifty years ago.  His race looked enough like humans that with a bit of modification he could blend in.  He had told me enough about it and given me his records so when I started writing novels, I based them on it.  The one thing he would never tell me though was where it had crashed.  Now I knew, and I also knew as I looked around at the weapons being pointed at me that I was going to be asked a lot of questions I didn’t want to answer.

Fireworks

Fiction Fragment Friday

This weeks story is a continuation of my first manned Mars mission holiday series. In each story I have explored the main character dealing with being away from his family on a holiday. Since the Easter story they have landed on Mars and are no longer in transit. While I might someday write a full novel about this mission these stories are much more point in time focused. If you are interested in seeing the complete story of this mission please let me know and I might add it to my project list.

I have greatly enjoyed writing this series and developing the characters. I believe that I have built a much larger world from these characters even though the stories have been very focused.

For my previous Mars mission stories:


  “Daddy, daddy, look at me.”  I stared at the video screen watching my daughter spin around in the yard holding a sparkler in each hand.  Her giggling was infectious and brought an instant smile to my face.  The loud fireworks still scare her, but the pretty ones like sparklers bring her so much joy.  In the background my son was holding a giant sword shaped sparkler high in the air.  Even with the haziness that comes from recording sparks at night I could see just how much fun they were having.  When her sparklers went out my little girl ran up to the screen.  “I miss you daddy, but mommy got me a puppy so I’m ok for now.  Come home real soon though.  Ok, bye.”  She blew a kiss and ran off to her next adventure.  I closed the message and set my tablet down.  It is always easier to record my reply if I give myself some time to think about it. 

  As I lay on my bunk smiling, I felt a strong vibration run through the habitat.  The sensation was followed by blaring alarms.  While these are not good things anywhere, they are especially troubling in an enclosed habitat on the surface of Mars.  As I frantically accessed the central computer to check the alarms I tried to remind myself of all the safety measures.  The habitat was constructed in a ring so even if we lost one of the modules we could still get to all the remaining ones.  Between each module was a connector module that provided life support to the modules on either side so even if one failed the modules on either side would still get air and pressure from their remaining connector.  The 3D printed regolith shell that covered the habitat could easily be repaired by the robots that built it before we got here.  My fellow crew-mates and our supplies however could not be replaced.

  My tablet showed a pressure alarm coming from the living quarters.  That module contained our kitchen, tables, and lounge area so I was mildly relieved because that would be the easiest module to repair.  Something in the back of my head though just told me that it wasn’t empty.

  Commander Norton was in the connector module frustratingly poking at her own tablet.  She looked up at me and I couldn’t miss the momentary relief that crossed her face.  “Reid, oh thank goodness.  He welded the door shut.”

  “Who?”

  “It’s Jamison.  He snapped.”

  I had been trying to get through to our pilot since Easter, but he kept us all at a distance.  The stress was getting to him, but instead of getting closer like the rest of us he had withdrawn further into himself.  We had hoped that once we landed and started our scientific endeavors that he would be able to refocus.  That had not happened, and he didn’t seem to be making any progress on his assignments.  Even so I never imaged anything like this.

  “What do you need me to do?”

  She pointed to the suit port on the third side of the connection module.  “He shut the cameras down.  I need eyes on what is happening in there.”

  I slid into the space suit and started closing it up.  Instead of the standard airlocks our habitat had suit ports.  The suits themselves always remained outside the habitat.  You slid into them from behind and then sealed yourself in and sealed the port behind you.  When you came back you would back up to the port and reconnect the suit crawling out from behind.  It wasn’t exactly the easiest way to get into and out of a suit, but it kept us from having to decontaminate the suits after each walk.  In a matter of moments, I was in the suit, sealed, and walking on the surface of Mars between the habitat and the shell that protected us from radiation. 

  “Ok, Commander I have a visual.  Looks like he’s drunk.  I’m seeing fire and sparks in there and he punctured the habitat a few times with a knife.  It’s leaking air.”  I caught myself staring at the sparks and thinking about the sparklers my daughter had been holding.  I physically shook my head to force myself to focus.  The holes were leaking fast, but thankfully the habitat was designed for leaks instead of bursting.  We didn’t have unlimited air though so the longer it leaked the more danger we were going to be in.  “I can patch it from out here, but that won’t fix the Jamison problem.”

  The very annoyed voice of an angry engineer came over the line.  “I’m working on that problem from the other side of the living quarters.  Cutting through the half ass welding job he did now.  Got Doc Samuels over here with me.” 

  “I’m working on the external patches now.  He doesn’t look too happy about it.” 

  “I’m almost through this door.  Just keep him distracted.”

  “Yes ma’am.”  I made myself as big as possible in the transparent part of the habitat that served as a window.  He was waving the knife at me and screaming so he didn’t notice the hatch to the habitat swing open.  I watched as mission specialist Susan Foster charged through the door and tackled Jamison.  I could see his knife slide into her side as they fell.  Doctor Samuels rushed in behind and stabbed him in the neck with some sort of needle.  I patched the holes as quickly as I could, but I felt helpless as the three struggled and Fosters blood started to coat the floor.  I just kept repeating in my own head to focus on the mission and trust my crew mates.  That is hard to do when every instinct is telling you to get inside and help.  I had a job to do though and stayed as focused as I could.  By the time I was done the living quarters were empty.  

  It felt like the process of connecting the suit to the habitat and climbing out of it took far longer than it actually did.  In my rush I stumbled and hit my shoulder against one of the environmental racks.  After a few moments of cussing, I started rushing though the habitat towards the infirmary.  Rushing is rather difficult with the lesser gravity of Mars, but by now I had started to adjust. 

  The infirmary was in a chaotic state.  Commander Norton was tying Jamison to a chair while Doctor Samuels was operating on mission specialist Foster.  “What can I do to help?”

  The commander looked up at me, “We got this, go start a damage assessment in the living quarters and make sure the fire is completely out.”

  “Yes ma’am.”  I looked over at the operating table.  “Is she going to be ok?”

  Doctor Samuels answered without even looking up.  “He didn’t hit anything major thankfully.  She’ll recover here, but the gforces when we leave the planet are going to be very risky.”

     I nodded and headed toward the living quarters.  As bad as this was it could have been so much worse and almost was.  I wondered how the commander would report this back to our superiors.  This mission had been a rally call and a source of pride for the United States and now one of our own had almost single handedly ended it on the 4th of July.  Many of our scientific projects were going to have to be scrapped and the return trip just got exponentially more dangerous.  As I walked down the hall of the habitat, I couldn’t help but wonder if we could actually recover from this blow. 

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.  

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            

Collateral Damage

Fiction Fragment Friday

This weeks story is a bit short. I think I was probably inspired partially by some of the books I have read recently including comics. I have had an idea in my head for this type of story for years but never actually sat down and wrote anything.


  The worst day of my life started out like any other day.  I woke up in the morning and went through my regular routine.  First a shower, followed by breakfast, then about a half hour on social media fighting with people I have never even met.  That last one was supposed to be just a quick check to see what was new in the world, but these days it always deteriorated to fighting.  Then would come the inevitable realization that I was running last for work because I allowed myself to get sucked in again.  The guilt for wasting to much time and letting myself get that angry tended to shape my entire day.  I realized I had a problem, but I just couldn’t seem to walk away.  Just like any other day the worst day of my life started with me angry and in a hurry because I was running late. 

  A loud boom assaulted my ears and my apartment building started shaking.  This wasn’t the familiar rattle of a sonic boom or the L train going by.  I was thrown from my feet and hit the ground hard barely able to brace myself with my arms.  The large bookshelf that was the last thing my father had ever made for me came crashing down onto my legs.  I let out a scream of pain and I was sure something in my legs had cracked.  The shaking stopped for just a moment and everything was quiet except for a creaking sound throughout the building. 

  My floor collapsed under me and I found myself falling.  I lived on the fifth floor and as I fell debris pummeled me on the way down.  The two floors above me were coming down as well.  When I hit something hard I pulled myself up into the fetal position as flooring and furniture buried me.  Everything went dark and the pressure on my body was like nothing I had ever felt.  I could tell that my head was bleeding because the blood ran into my eyes.  Breathing was extremely difficult, but there was oxygen still making it in.  Unfortunately I could smell natural gas in the air as well.  Pain wracked my entire body, but I knew it would feel even worse when it wasn’t being held back by adrenaline.  If I didn’t move now I was going to die, but the wrong move could cause the debris to shift and kill me faster. 

  I felt the floor lifting up below me.  I went from laying in a fetal position to being tossed sideways wish one of the floor planks impaling me in the side.  I found my head open to air and I could see what was left of my collapsed building.  There right under where I had fallen was Alpha.  My building had collapsed on the world’s strongest superhero and he had tossed me to the side with the rubble on top of him.  He shook his head and his long golden hair flowed in the wind.  His clothes were torn, but he didn’t have a scratch on him.  He did look angry though and he shot into the sky.   The realization hit me that he had been knocked into our building during one of those big superhero brawls.

  Using what was left of a wooden beam for support I limped across the rubble.  I could hear crying and screams all around me.  Pushing through the pain I started digging where I could.  I was able to pull my downstairs neighbor Jane out and could tell right away she was in as bad a shape as I was.  This was when something ignited the gas line.  There was a large ball of flame that washed over us before settling into a column of fire.  Wood and furniture caught fire and I realized that we couldn’t help anyone else.  The two of us stumbled supporting each other out of the building before collapsing on the sidewalk. 

     As I lay there on the ground, I could see the fight happening in the air above me.  Superbeings trading blows while my neighbors died without anyone coming to help them.  Stray energy blasts hit surrounding buildings and I wondered if anyone inside had been killed by them.  You always hear the stories about people getting caught up in these big battles, but you never think it’s going to be you.  As I lie there barely able to move I could hear the sirens in the distance.  I turned my head and coughed up blood onto the sidewalk.  It would be weeks before I would find out that they both were actually heroes.  This was one of those cases of mistaken identity that led to heroes fighting heroes.  Much like my entire morning the whole fight had been pointless, and no one would be held accountable.

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