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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.


Fiction Fragment Friday

One of the things that I enjoy about flash fiction is the opportunities it opens of for different writing styles. This is not something I frequently takea advantage of, but it is something I have enjoyed on the occasions I due venture out of my first person perspective comfort zone. Flash Fiction gives you the chance to explore small sections of a world from a completely different angle than typical fiction formats. Advertisements, emails, memos, or other typically non-prose formats can be opened up to tell a story in a different way. It can help you world build a larger setting that you are working on.

This weeks story is in the format of an excerpt from a sales training manual meant for the sales teams of a company that provides business continuity through cloning employees in key positions. It let me examine the idea from a completely different lens then a standard story would have.

***End excerpt from the Resilutech employee guide to cloning***    

  Please remember that when representing our services on sales calls that a clone of a person is not an exact copy of the person.  It is easy for confusion to develop around our services and from a legal standpoint you must ensure that every customer understands the strengths and limitations of our cloning process.  Since these calls are all recorded, they can be used as defense in any case of breach of contract litigation.  Please review the following talking points and make sure that each are addressed prior to signing the contract.

  1. A clone will not look exactly identical to the original source of the DNA.  Human appearance has many variables that are impacted by decisions.  Our clones are grown with accelerated growth to the current age of the client in a protected vat.  They have not experienced direct exposure to the sun so skin coloration is likely to vary.  They have not been exposed to the variables that come with natural growth such as injuries, daily routines, and imprecise nutrition.  Our clones will come out of the cloning pods at optimal health since all variables were meticulously controlled.  Thus, their weight, complexion, and height will likely vary from the original.  Biometric data will likely need to be updated.  If the client requests it upon their acceptance of the risk we can aim for a closer match to physical characteristics for an additional fee, but all warranty will be voided, and we will not be held liable for unanticipated consequences.
  2. Our clones are not legally people until they emerge from the pod.  They do not simply lack memories of life events they are complete blank slates with no ability to function in any capacity.  The memory imprint process is only as good as the clients most recent backup.  We will not be held liable if the clone is unable to perform the job or family functions required due to the client being behind on their regular backups. 
  3. While the clone may look like and have the memories of an adult lifetime their bodies have not experienced these events.  Our patented system uses electrical pulses to ensure muscle contraction and growth to fit required functionality, however any tolerances built up through day-to-day activity will not exist in the cloned body.  Skin and eyes will be sensitive, and the clone will likely encounter germs and viruses that their immune system does not have adequate antibodies to handle.  The first year of a clone’s life tends to bring frequent illness as the body acclimates to its new environment.  Additionally, muscle memory will not exist so activities that require extreme dexterity will need to be relearned. 
  4. Clones will experience a period of disorientation before they can return to the original client’s life.  This is due to the stated variations between the clone and original body.  Even simple tasks such as walking will require a level of adjustment as the body will feel different from the original.  Eyesight will potentially vary from the original due to outside factors such as extended time staring at a monitor not impacting the clone body.  The eyes will also be sensitive at first because they have not actually seen light before.  This transition period is minor for most clones as our process produces bodies that are in most ways in superior health to the original.
  5. This cannot be stated firmly enough.  The clone is not the original individual despite having their DNA and memories.  There is a strong psychological aspect to the realization that you are a clone.  Combine this with differences in the balance of chemicals in the brain due to the growth process eliminating random variables and the clone may develop a personality that varies from the original.  These changes tend to appear greater over time.
  6. We will not awaken a clone while the source body is still alive.  This is illegal, unethical, and against company policy.  Please be sure this is stated clearly on any recorded interactions.  There should never be paperwork that indicates otherwise.
  7. As this service is most commonly purchased by corporations to provide business continuity for key positions it must be noted that the signing entity is responsible for all costs associated with the process regardless of the clone’s decisions once they leave our facility and are legally recognized as people.  If the clone chooses to leave the company that is paying for the service, they are still required to pay any outstanding fees.  Per point 6 we will not provide them with a replacement clone as long as the current one is alive.  If the current clone however dies and the contract is still in good standing, we can then provide a replacement at a discounted rate. 
  8. Our company does not clone animals; however we do have multiple partnerships and can often arrange a discounted rate if bundling their service.  After the initial sale is completed all future interactions with these partner services are to be direct and not through our company.
  9. An individual’s status as naturally born, or clone is a protected classification.  It is now included under HIPA and cannot be disclosed without written consent of the individual.  Additionally, this status cannot be taken into account when offering or terminating employment. 
  10. We are required to always use the most current viable backup unless there is written consent from the individual.  A company cannot choose to restore an individual to a time prior to them choosing to leave, discovering incriminating evidence, or filing a complaint if there is a viable backup after that point.  If however an individual signs a release prior to death an older backup may be used.

  We have a disclosure document that you can provide to potential customers that cover these points.  While it is necessary that you discuss them, they do not need to be discussed all at one time.  As long as all are mentioned prior to signing the contract you can spread out the restrictions over multiple meetings.  This is the preferred method as each meeting should focus on the advantages of our services.  Please also ensure that the promotional video of our happy clients enjoying their second chance at life is shown.  We paid a marketing firm extensively to have that video created and our accounting team has shown a 34% increase in opportunities being realized into sales when the video is played. 

***End excerpt from the Resilutech employee guide to cloning***    


Fiction Fragment Friday

This weeks story started with the idea of the first few lines. I had the computer response in mind and the conversation between two characters. Then I started debating on what perspective I wanted to tell the story in. I typically write in first person perspective, but I decided right away that I didn’t want to get into the heads of either of these two characters. I debated on third person and then when thinking bout third person I decided to literally write from the perspective of a third person. Someone watching the scene play out. The rest of the story developed from there.

I decided I wanted to make this a short flash fiction and hopefully a fun story. Hope you enjoy.

“Simulation Failed”

  “UUUGGGHH!!!!” Emily pulled her VR helmet off her and flung it in anger.  The helmet reached the end of it’s cable and swung down smashing against the floor.  Parts of the helmet broke off and scattered around the room.

  “It’s not the helmet’s fault you know?”

  “Oh shut up Ethan.” 

  I started gathering the pieces of the helmet and placing them on a folding table while they bickered.  This was becoming far too common these days.  Emily spent most of her time either tinkering away with a gadget or running through simulations in her virtual reality rig.  Ethan would get frustrated thinking it was all a waste of time and make a sarcastic comment.  Then they would fight while I cleaned up whatever mess got made.  I did my best to keep things orderly, but Emily didn’t let me touch most of her equipment, so I had to just accept the masses of cables that ran across the floor. 

  “When are you going to give up?  We could be hiding away and trying to live out the rest of our lives, but no you have to spend all your time in here bashing your head against the wall.”

  “You want me to give up like you?  That’s never going to happen and it sure as hell won’t when I’m this close.  I almost had it that time.”

  “Let’s say you do get it.  What then?  This is all simulation you have no idea if it will actually work in reality.  This is all based on how you think their technology works.”

  I knew his arguments were not wrong, but I also knew that she would not listen.  This exact fight had happened already three times this week alone.  I am still amazed at how much these two had changed in the year since the aliens arrived.  Emily was a super-villain named Vigilance and Ethan was a super-hero named Courageous.  In those days she had a fully stocked lab and not a hidden basement under a collapsed building.  I still don’t understand why she saved Ethan in that first battle.  They were longtime enemies, but she pulled him out of the rubble and nursed him back to health while putting together this lab.  At first, they fought, then they fell in love, and now they fight worse than when they hated each other.  I just try to stay out of the way and keep things going as best I can.  I clean, I cook, and I make resource gathering trips out into the remains of the city. 

  Ethan shattered a mug against the far wall of the lab.  Of course, I went over and started sweeping it up.  I knew what I would see when I glanced back, but I couldn’t help doing it anyway.  They were kissing passionately and shoving everything off one of the desks.  I did not want to see what was about to happen, so I quietly ducked out of the lab and back into the building.  There would be so much to clean up later, but more importantly Emily would want to get back to work in about an hour and I needed to be ready to help.  That meant a supply run.  By now I knew exactly what she would need to fix her helmet.

  I looked around the ruins of the city as I made my way to the warehouse.  Most of the skyscrapers were gone, but a few skeletons of them remained.  People still lived in the rubble trying to get by one day at a time.  For the most part they left me alone as I went about my work, but sometimes I would have to defend myself.  I always felt bad lashing out at these people who were just desperate, but I had a job to do and couldn’t let them interfere.  As I crawled through the hole in the side of the warehouse, I knew I was not alone.  Three survivors had a bonfire going and were cooking one of the aliens.  They looked at me and I could tell they were trying to decide if I was a threat or not.  I find in situations like these the best thing I can do is just move away from them and not try to interact at all.  I moved away from the scene further into the warehouse and gathered the electronics parts I needed. 

     I got home with the parts just in time.  Emily was sitting at her worktable soldering on her VR Helmet.  She looked over and saw me holding the parts that she would need and smiled.  “Great work RB23.  I might have built you to be a housekeeping robot, but you’ve certainly grown past your initial purpose.” Nothing felt better than getting praised by my creator.  If I had a mouth, I would have been smiling.  I wished I had a voice so I could tell her how amazing she was but when she created me, she didn’t see a reason for it.  Maybe someday she will complete her project and defeat the aliens.  Then she might have the time and resources to upgrade me.  In the meantime, I will serve my creator as best I can living for these brief moments of praise.  


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.”


  “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. 


Fiction Fragment Friday

This weeks story is much more standard Superhero than some of the ones I have done lately. I’m going to keep this short and sweet because it is a busy week. Expect a bigger update on things in the works soon.

  The most difficult thing about being a superhero is the day when you realize that you can’t save everyone.  The guilt of that moment never quite leaves you no matter how many you are able to save.  For most superheroes, this moment comes quickly, for some it takes longer, but for far too many it happens as part of their origin.  Guilt can be a powerful motivator, but it is just not healthy to let it drive you.  That is why so many heroes struggle with mental issues or worst devolve into villainy.  Even if you could talk to a psychiatrist without giving away your secret identity, they could never quite understand what you have gone through.  That is where I come in.

  Last year I started a free underground psychiatric service for superheroes.  I saw this gap and being the only super with a psychiatric degree I was uniquely qualified to fill it.  I have a website, business cards, and most importantly good word of mouth marketing.  When a superhero is struggling, they can reach out and make an appointment.  We meet in an agreed upon location in costume and I help them work through their struggles.  Most of the time they just need someone who understands to vent to, but sometimes these individuals are truly haunted.  The stress of living a double life, the guilt of failure, and foolish decisions made while full of adrenaline all keep many of these individuals walking the fine line of a nervous breakdown.  I try to be their lifeline, but it was during one of my recent sessions that I was reminded of that lesson we all must learn.

  “It’s just so frustrating doc.  It seems like no matter how many times I put the Ogre away he just keeps coming back.”

  With a normal patient I would use my trick of pretending to write notes as a way of stalling, but superheroes don’t want any kind of record of their appointments.  There is a fear that my notes would get stolen and used against them.  “Ah that is the catch-22 of what we do.  If we don’t stop them people will get hurt.  If we do stop them any evidence, we find can’t be used in court and we can’t testify.  Even if they do miraculously end up getting convicted the system just isn’t built to contain super powered inmates.”

  “Exactly, it’s all broken.”  I could see tears forming in Akita’s eyes.  “Samantha broke up with me for being too overprotective.  It was hard enough hiding all the bruises, but this last time I stopped him outside her apartment building.  He has to know who I am, it’s just too much of a coincidence.”

  This was a common delusion that Akita struggled with.  He thought that all his villains knew his identity.  “How would he have learned your secret identity?  Did he say or do anything to indicate that he knew it?”

  “Well no, but why would he be at her apartment building?”

  “Isn’t Ogre Samantha’s brother? I know villains tend to get obsessive, but you have to start asking yourself if these encounters are about you at all.”

  I felt like I had been punched in the stomach the moment the words left my mouth.  I had said that almost that exact same thing to my sidekick Rotor two years ago.  He had become obsessed with the villain Nucleotide.  In the end it turned out that he was right.  Nucleotide did know who we were and he slaughtered Rotor’s family right in front of him.  I should have been there for him, but I focused on taking down the villain and not helping my friend.  He didn’t have anyone to talk to and in the end, it broke him.  He started hunting the villains first, and then the heroes for letting the villains live.  That was the day I realized that I couldn’t save everyone.  I couldn’t save my own sidekick from his own mind, but maybe I could be there for other heroes. 

  “You sound like her.  She said I always make everything about myself and that I went too far this time.  She’ll eventually forgive me though.”

  “Too far?  Akita what did you do?”

  “I got a little help and finally put Ogre down for good.  He can’t hurt anyone anymore.”

  I looked at the young man in shock.  I could see my failure written across his face.  I was losing another one.  I couldn’t imagine how it could get any worse and then I heard a voice behind me that I had not heard in quite a while.  I turned pale at the sound.

  “That’s right doc.  Akita here found someone who would actually help him unlike you.  All I asked for in return was the time and place of his next appointment with you.”  Rotor stepped out of the shadows with a flourish and a bow.  “You can go now Akita.”  At first Akita just looked back and forth between us so Rotor yelled, “I SAID OUT!!!”  That was all it took, and Akita rushed for the door. 

  “Jeremy even after all this time it’s not too late.  Let me help you.”

  “Help me? I think it’s a little bit late for that don’t you?”  He twirled a bit balancing a knife on the tip of each index finger.  With a fluid motion he flipped them in the air and flung them both directly at me.  I managed to dodge one, but the other sunk to the hilt into my right shoulder.  He knew me well enough to anticipate how I would move.  I let out a gasp of pain and tried to put some distance between us.  “You know doc your little friend there was right.  Ogre did know who he was.”

  “How do you know that?”  I had to keep him talking until I could come up with something.

  “Because I told him.”

  “Why would you do that?”  My right arm was useless, but I was far from helpless.  With my left hand I generated balls of energy and flung them at my former sidekick.  My aim is not good with my left hand, and he easily dodged them.

  “To prove a point.  See we have been playing a game and you didn’t even know it.  That broken little puppy that just ran out the door is the prize.  Who can mold him best?  Certainly, looks like I have the upper hand.”

  “Well maybe you should look again.”  A sonic scream hit Rotor and sent him flying through the wall.  I turned to find Akita standing in the door smiling.

     “Good work kid.  Went just like we planned.”  I walked over to the hole in the wall and stared down at the unconscious Rotor.  “I may not be able to save everyone, but I haven’t given up on you yet.”


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.  

Tech Support

Fiction Fragment Friday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  “I believe you mean incorporeal sir.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  “What was that?”

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

  “Captain Immortal.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Fiction Fragment Friday

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

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

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

  “How are we doing today Mr. Henderson?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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.”   

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