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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.

Cracked Egg

Fiction Fragment Friday

This weekend is Easter so it is time for another one of my stories about the first manned mission to Mars dealing with being away for the holidays. The overall story is progressing in these individual Flash Fictions to the point that I may need to do one outside of a holiday. I really like the theme of these though. Holiday conversations in the galley. While an expanded story could very well be in my future these really have a formula that I have been sticking with. Let me know what you think and what you would like to see from this series of Flash Fictions.


  Easter was always my favorite holiday growing up.  I lived at the end of a long gravel road with no neighbors around.  Easter meant seeing all my cousins and getting to hang out with people my age.  I was never artistic, but even I could decorate eggs that I wanted to show off.  The search for those eggs would bring out the competitive nature that helped me so much during my astronaut training.  I had to find more than anyone else.  Finally, there was the basket full of chocolate.  What was not to love?

  As an adult there was plenty to dislike about Easter, but as I stared out my window at the distant stars I couldn’t help but be reminded of the glitter speckled eggs from my childhood.  Floating over to the wall I grabbed my tablet from its Velcro cradle and hit play for the fourth time that morning.  The sound of my kids laughter filled my cabin as I watched them run around the backyard searching for eggs. My littlest ran up to the camera holding up a colorful egg while jumping up and down in place.  “Look daddy I got one.”  As she turned and ran back into the yard I had to fight back the tear forming in my eye.  Tears are frustrating in space.  They don’t fall, they just pool up on your face becoming a bigger and bigger ball.  I grabbed a cloth tissue and wiped it away before it could get too annoying. 

  I floated out of my room using the hand grips on the wall to propel myself into galley.  The room was empty making me realize just how much time I had spent stuck in my own head.  I grabbed a pouch of scrambled eggs, plugged it into the rehydration station, and hit the dispense hot water button.  After a few seconds, the pouch inflated and felt warm to the touch.  I squeezed to break up the clump of eggs and make sure it hydrated evenly.  Using my scissors I cut open the top of the pouch and dug in with my spoon. 

  “We missed you at breakfast.”

  The sudden sound of my commander’s voice behind me made me jump.  My arms flailed trying to grab for anything to stabilize myself as I started to spin.  “GAH, don’t do that.  We need to put a bell on you.”

  “Sorry.”  She was trying very hard to hold in her laughter but was not succeeding very well. 

  “Yeah I can see how sorry you are.”  We both laughed a bit as I got myself back under control.  “Sorry about breakfast.  I got a video from home.”

  “I figured.  It is Easter after all.  How are you holding up? I want an honest answer so if you say fine I’m going to spin you.”

  “Honestly commander, I’m struggling.  I don’t like admitting that.  Sometimes I feel like it would be easier if we didn’t get messages from home.  Then when I think that I start to feel guilty for thinking it.  I’m also supper excited that we are only a few days from being the first humans in orbit around Mars.”

  She looked at me appraisingly.  “Do you ever think about how many firsts we are having?  We are further away from Earth than any human has ever been.  Everything we do is a first.”  She grabbed a coffee pouch and plugged it into the rehydration station.  “Between you and me I’m afraid that we might be the first mission to have a crew member breakdown.”

  “Commander really I’m ok.  I’m not going to..”

  She cut me off waving her hands and having to readjust to not float into the wall.  “No, No, not you ya idiot.  You know you’re struggling so you’ll be fine.  Hell, I think you’re the most stable person on this ship.  No, I’m talking about Jamison.  He seems like he is cracking, but always has that big goofy smile on his face.  I’m just hoping he can pull it together and the work will help keep him distracted.”

  “I haven’t noticed anything.  Now that you mention it though that smile is really kind of creepy.  Should you really be telling me this?”

  “Probably not, but I trust you more than anyone else on board.  I really couldn’t do this without you here as my right-hand man.  I might have fallen apart myself when Lisa dumped me if you weren’t here for me.”

  I shook my head.  “No way, you’re way too tough for that.  Stop selling yourself short.”  I took my last bite of eggs and put the pouch in the main trash bin.  “Have you talked to him about it yet?”

  “Yeah, he just laughed and said I was crazy.  Maybe I am.  I’m not exactly feeling the most trusting right now and with the stress of the next couple days maybe I’m looking for problems that aren’t really there.”

  I finished cleaning my spoon and put it back on it’s magnetic home.  I realized that unlike Commander Norton and Doctor Samuels I didn’t really know our pilot very well.  In such a small space it was impossible not to spend time with each other and have conversations.  All of my conversations with Jamison had been superficial though.  I didn’t have any idea how he was holding up.  I didn’t even know if he had a family back home.  “I’ll keep an eye on him.  See if I can get him to open up.”

  “I hope I’m wrong.”

     I floated towards the galley door but turned to look back at her.  “I hope you are too, but as long as I’ve known you I think I could count the number of times you’ve been wrong on one hand.”  I pushed off towards the flight deck to start the long process of becoming friends with our pilot.

The Music of Life

Fiction Fragment Friday

Music used to be such a big part of my life. In my teens and into my early twenties I was always listing to music and looking for meaning. I poured over lyrics and tried to apply them to the things going on in my own head. I had songs that were tied to people or events. Seeing a band live was more than just entertainment. I can point to so many life defining events that happened because of concerts during those few years.

These days I don’t listen to music. I found that while driving I needed something that I couldn’t tune out. Something that would occupy my subconscious mind more and keep it from wondering into dangerous territory for someone with anxiety disorder. That is how I got into podcasts and audiobooks. Even so when I hear a song it can bring me back to moments in my life like nothing else can.

For today’s Fiction Fragment Friday I decided to write something inspired by music. I was going to pick a song that spoke to me when I was younger and use the first line to start the story. Quickly I found that there were so many songs and listening to each brought back memories. The writing exercise then became writing something with the first line of each paragraph being a different song from a different band.

I limited myself to songs that actually meant something to me and had some sort of impact on my life. There were some that really deserved to be on here, but either the first line just didn’t fit or it wouldn’t flow with the developing story. The songs chosen though all have meaning and while it pains me that I couldn’t get one specific song in there I did base the whole exercise on the other song that was one of the more impactful of that time.

The Songs in order:


I’d give up forever to touch you.  That is not a minor sacrifice.  My life has spanned thousands of years simultaneously being among mortals and also apart from them.  Empires have risen and fallen in what to me seems like the blink of an eye.  My thoughts are in centuries not years or mere moments.  In all that time no human has ever been more than a subject to document or a catalyst to aim in the direction history needs it to go.  Why then are you so different?  I know even though I walk invisible to the eye that you can feel me somehow.  You occasionally look straight at me from a distance, or stop when I whisper your name.   

  You are so close no matter how far.  I can feel you like a an extra sense always knowing exactly where you are and when you are in danger.  A normal person has life threatening events a handful of times during their existence.  You have almost been killed twelve times in the last six months and always I was there.  Acting in secret without you even knowing you were in danger.  It doesn’t matter what I am doing when I feel you need me I come.  Nothing else matters.  Why would a simple human hold so much sway when I have watched billions born and die without ever caring.  I feel that something else is out there working against me. 

  How long?  How long will I slide?  I have a duty to be impartial, but moments with you mean centuries to me.  The time line depends on me to ensure certain events happen.   This the most crucial decade of all history and I know your survival is not one of those events I am here to ensure.  You were meant to die on the plane you never boarded because of a flat tire.  Letting the air out of your tire was the first time I violated my mission, but it would be far from the last.  Missing keys, thugs knocked unconscious in an alley, and a contagious patient tripping before they could cough on you are all examples of ways I have overstepped for you.  How long can this go on without my mission being a complete failure?  I want to tell you all this, but once you know you can never go back.

  I’ve been sitting here trying to find myself.  Searching for who I was before the first time I saw you and examining who I am becoming.  Which is the real me?  Am I a man dedicated to his mission, but slowly losing his way?  Am I really a caring man who has buried his emotions deep down so they don’t interfere with his mission?  I could never have allowed the horrors of the past to have occurred if I wasn’t impartial.  Knowing and not interfering is part of the job.  It is not like I have never been tempted to step in and stop the worst atrocities man has to offer, but those have always been minor urges that I could suppress.  Everything is different now.  Knowing what is coming and what you will have to go through I don’t know if I can just sit by and watch it.  Which man am I? 

I don’t know where I’m going, but I sure know where I’ve been.  I’ve seen the worst of humanity and let it happen for the future.  I never questioned it.  Maybe my future isn’t the one that should survive though.  If I do this and stop the coming disaster, then the future I come from will no longer exist.  Without my future as time readjusts it will catch up with me.  My changes will survive but from that moment on I won’t.  It is hard to explain the way time works and sometimes it just doesn’t make logical sense.  That is because it is alive in it’s own way and doesn’t like to be changed.  I can’t put this off any longer and still be able to make a difference.  I might be on my own, but I know what it means to be alone against the world.  I said I would give up forever to touch you and I meant it.  When this is done, I will be back.  I will talk to you before time catches up with me.  I don’t expect anything from you. I just want you to know who I am. 

Variables

Fiction Fragment Friday

This weeks Fiction Fragment Friday is another story dealing with superheroes and villains. I like the main character I have created here and I’m sure we will see him again. Maybe in a future story with Ricochet.


  It is harder to pick the right group of villains for a job than you might think.  There are so many variables that must be accounted for.  What is the goal of the mission?  Who are the heroes most likely to respond?  What personality issues may arise?  Will any of the powers interact poorly with each other?  Will they keep quiet until after it is completed?  This is why jobs that I organize tend to be more successful than my counterparts.  They never consider all the variables like I do.  I suppose that is why they call me Tactician.  It was not a name I chose, but I was young and that was one variable I didn’t consider.  If you don’t announce a name you will never live down what the media gives you.  Let me walk you through my process.

  The start of every job comes from inspiration.  This could be a tip from my network of informants or just an idea that I think up in the shower.  Never underestimate the potential of ideas you have during your daily routine.  I keep a notebook in every room just to capture these ideas whenever they may strike.  This morning my inspiration came from a news article online.  The Museum of Science and Technology downtown was hosting a traveling exhibit on heroes and villains from the 1980s.  One of the objects mentioned was the helmet of Dr. Terror.  This object was barely a footnote among the artifacts from much more successful villains, but to me it was the most prized object I could ever have in my collection.  That particular version of the helmet is the one that I drew for him on my sixth birthday.  Despite how ridiculous it looked my dad made it and wore it because I designed it.  There is no question about what my target is, but I still research every other item on display carefully.  Never do a job for only one reason if you can help it.

  With my target identified the next step is research.  I get the blueprints for the museum, the sewer maps for the area, and make note of every building for three blocks around.  You need to be prepared for multiple escape routes though your crew doesn’t necessarily need to know all of them.  Also you need to know what is nearby if you need a distraction or in case there is a likely hood of heavier resistance.  I run my algorithms to show hero activity in the area and determine the most likely heroes to respond.  That might be enough for most villains, but I take this an extra step further.  I look for public appearances to see where any known heroes will be.  Finally I cross reference the items on display with past news articles.  I want to be prepared for anyone powered that may be at the exhibit to be reminded of their or their parent’s glory days. 

  Next I identified potential resources to bring into the job.  The list started off with every villain not in prison that I knew how to reach.  Next I eliminated any villain that was a Nazi or psychotic killer.  I may be a villain, but I’m not a monster.  I not only won’t work with these people, but find they add an extra difficulty to the group dynamic.  Bringing them in is an invitation to having your crew turn on each other or be manipulated by the heroes.  After all my eliminations I was left with twelve potential resources.  Before forming any plan it is key to know what you have available. 

  With all my data points consolidated I started coming up with my plans.  Yes I do mean plans plural.  I always have a main plan, a backup plan, and an emergency plan.  My main plan for this job was to have Vortex use her portals to get the team directly inside the building.  Then Repulsor would put up one of his force fields to keep out any incoming heroes.  There was only a fifteen percent chance a hero would show up capable of piercing the shield in under twenty minutes.  Brickhouse was chosen for her strength and invulnerability.  This was to handle anyone that might be trapped in the force field with us.  The key to this plan was to enter quickly get as many artifacts as we could and then get out hopefully before we even hit the news.  My main plan is always the best, but I am rarely able to use it.  Case in point Vortex declined because she was trying to go straight and Repulsor had already signed on for another job. 

  My backup plan was not as clean.  For this plan we would buy tickets and go in as attendees.  Pulse owes me a favor so I knew that I could get her on board.  She would take out the alarms and security cameras so there would be no footage of us without our masks.  That would not be a major concern for my cohorts, but I have never been caught and enjoy having my identity remain secret.  Brickhouse could still handle the guards while I bagged the goods.  Without Repulsor I gave us only five minutes to grab and start getting out.  This meant exiting out the back door and into our getaway van.  The van was loaded with my illusion tech so we could change the appearance and plates anytime we got out of sight.  This plan had far more risk, but still had a ninety-five percent chance of working.

  This was a simple plan and should not have gone wrong so of course it did.  In the exhibit room Brickhouse pushed back the guards and I started grabbing the items on my list starting with my dad’s helmet.  When I reached for the Golden Asp’s amulet I was almost crushed by Brickhouse being flung across the room and through the display.  This was the worst case in my plans, but was something I had taken into account.  A man that could only be Champion’s son was posing with energy radiating off him in a bright glow.  There was an entire section of the exhibit dedicated to his father who had recently fallen saving the world.  It was time for the emergency plan. 

     I yelled out orders to Brickhouse and Pulse while moving on my escape plan.  I knew they would only last moments against Champion Jr, but that would be enough.  I hit a button on my watch and it wrapped me in an invisibility illusion.  While the hero was distracted I slipped out the side door and took off in my van.  This was going to hurt my reputation.  Having a failed job would make it hard to hire resources next time. Abandoning my crew would mean the price and quality would both be impacted for months to come.  It also is never good to have people out there with a grudge against you.  It was not my cleanest job, but as I stare over at my father’s helmet on my shelf I am happy to say it was a success because as always I considered all of the variables.  

Impact

Fiction Fragment Friday

Sometimes I don’t know where the inspiration for these comes from. I am just so happy that after years of sitting down and freezing up I can now just sit down and write without hesitation. It brings a fulfillment I can’t really put to words. This week I got an image stuck into my head and it is the first few lines of this story. It amused me and gave me something to explore. I hope you enjoy this story because I think it is in the top five fiction fragment Friday’s I have done. Also if you didn’t catch it I did an update on the blog here Monday about current projects and thoughts.


  “Hey you OK down there?”  Farmer Stevens head peered over the edge of the giant impact crater in his back forty.  He stared at the man who inhabited the crater with a strange blend of curiosity and disgust.  The extremely tight fitting costume hung off this individual shredded to the point of indecency. 

  A groan cam from out of the crater and the noticeably injured man tried to get to his feet.  “Where am I?”  It came out hoarse and he choked on a bit of blood in his mouth.  He winced at the pain of taking a deep breath and knew that at-least one rib was broken.  Standing sent waves of pain over his body.

  “Rural Missouri.  I’d tell you the name of the town but a big city superhero like you won’t have ever heard of it.  Tell you what why don’t you come on in and get yourself cleaned up.  Look like you can use a rest too.  I just gone one request of ya.”

  “Thank you.”  Just speaking hurt.  “What is your request?”

  “Well could ya grab what’s left of your cape off a my flattened tractor there and wrap it around your waist?  I know ya probably saved the world or sum’n but see I got a teenage daughter in the house.  Bad enough one of my fields is ruined and I need a new tractor.  I don’t need her seeing your unmentionable dangly bits too.  She’s an impressionable age ya know?”

  He looked down over the remains of his costume.  There really was very little left of it other than scraps and boots.  He sighed and immediately regretted it as pain shot through his body.  He stumbled and almost fell from the sensation.  Instead he pushed through the pain to grab what was left of his cape and wrap it around himself like a towel.  His cape was actually the strongest part of his costume and it was heat resistant enough to have survived reentry into the atmosphere.  “Thanks.  Usually I would just try to fly off, but I think I need to take you up on that offer.”

  “Probably for the best.  The way you’re stumblin you look like my brother down at the bar on a Friday night.  Not safe to drive not safe to fly I say.  Here let me help you out of there.”

  Farmer Stevens lay on the ground reaching down into the crater offering his hand to Guardian.  It took everything both men had to get him out of the crater.  Steven lay panting in exhaustion next to the hero who lay curled up in pain.  Finally after a minute the farmer spoke.  “You know I’ve never met an actual superhero before.  My son has a picture of you hanging up on his wall.  You know in my day we looked up to athletes and actors.  How is a dad supposed to be a role model these days when there are people like you out there fighting off invasions or saving cats from trees?  Heck you can fly.  A guy like me I can’t even afford to buy a plan ticket and fly the old fashioned way unless it’s been a good harvest.”  He nodded to the crater.  “Between the loss of crop and having to replace that tractor you landed on this certainly isn’t going to be one of those years.”

  “I’m sorry.  Surely insurance will take care of that.”

  “Nah they call it act of Superhero.  Sure they offer superhero collateral damage insurance, but I didn’t take that.  What’s the chances of that happening in the middle of nowhere Missouri?  Apparently a lot better than I thought.”  He stood and offered the hero his hand.  He wrapped the mans arm over his shoulder and started walking him towards the house.

  “It would have been a lot worse if that asteroid had hit.”

  “Oh I’m sure it would have been.  Look I don’t mean to be complaining.  I know you super people do your best and you try to make sure no one gets hurt while you are doing it.  These insurance and construction companies though don’t quite worry about us little guys.  There are a lot of people making a lot of money off your collateral damage.”

  “I never knew that.”

  “Of course not.  Why would you?  You folks are a force of nature.  Saving the world or fightin bad guys.  You blow through and move on to the next big thing.  We don’t have that option.  We’re the folks left to live down here and deal with the aftermath.  Ya know that’s why I became a farmer?  My wife and I were in the big city once.  Had a Laser or a death ray or some such thing slice right through our apartment.  Was a foot away from my daughters crib.  Too close for comfort so we packed up and moved.”

  “I do everything I can to make sure innocent bystanders don’t get hurt.”

  “Sure, but no body is perfect.  It ain’t your fault when a villain attacks you do what you can.  I don’t really know if there is anything that could fix things.  Not everyone out there is you though.  They aren’t all as powerful or responsible.  If you can’t keep everyone safe taking out the bad guys then what hope do the other heroes have?”  The two made their way up the steps onto the porch and sat on the bench to rest.  “You know there are support groups out there for folks that lost people in these battles and can’t get over their anger?  Here in Missouri we got a Governor running on an anti-super powers platform.”

  “I didn’t know that.”  The hero looked defeated.  His eyes stared down at his hands in his lap.  “What am I supposed to do?  I have these powers and I can’t just let villains go around killing people or meteors crash into the Earth.”

  “Hope you don’t think I have the answer for you.  I’m not sure there really is one.  What I do know is that cape isn’t covering your dangley bits when you sit down so I’m going to go in and get you some sweatpants before I bring you in near my daughter or wife.”  The farmer stood and went into the house to both get the clothes and prepare his family for what he was bringing into the house. 

  The Guardian sat out on the porch staring at the crater in the farm field.  He decided when he was up to it he would come back with his strength and speed to fill in the hole.  He could reach out to one of his many rich superhero friends to replace the tractor.  “Maybe that’s the answer.  A charity with supers on the payroll using their powers to clean up after ourselves.”

  “That sounds like a great idea.”  The hero was so distracted in his own mind that he didn’t hear Stevens come out.  He jumped startled by the sudden voice and let out a gasp of pain.  “Careful there.  Here put these on and come get cleaned up.  The wife made Chicken and Dumplins for dinner and there is plenty for you to join us.”

     The hero stayed with the family overnight and recovered enough to fly home in the morning.  The next day after he left Farmer Stevens came out to see the crater had been filled in.  It wasn’t packed right and the soil used was poor for farming, but it was a nice gesture and it would save him time.  The new tractor that sat in his driveway with a thank you card attached however was the newest top of the line model.  It was far better than what had been crushed.  He smiled and looked up into the sky for a moment before getting on with his day.  He couldn’t wait to tell his son he could keep the autographed guardian poster and cancel the ebay auction they had going to replace the tractor. 

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