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2020.08.06 21:33 Atrophied_Silence Bus touch hidden camera
I stare at the corpse in the mirror. How desperately the dry, clay-colored skin clings to its skull. Rubbery. How narrow its tired eyes are, weighed down by the dark satchels hanging from them. How many broken vessels I could count beneath its sullen cheeks. A nebula of spider veins. A paint-splattered canvas. Children do not want to see this.
I am the owner of this dead reflection.
I think about insomnia, and how many dreams it has kept me from lately. How it chokes our brains, sending the signals between the nerve cells into a gridlock. Subtly, each of the signals starts to short-circuit. Less and less manage to squeeze out of the darker tissues we call grey matter. Life loses its high definition.
My apartment is seven stories, neighboring an abandoned furniture store. Most nights, as I lie on my springy mattress, the ceiling starts to scream. A woman’s grating voice, sinking through the studs and thin layer of drywall. I can hear her voice clearly, as though she were right next to me. She says she’s sorry. She says her job isn’t easy. She begs the other voice not to hurt her.
There are also the shrill, caterwauling sounds of cats humping in the alley below my window. Together, the screams and cat wails form a duet. A terrible sound that makes me think about Holly.
My clothes are piled on the couch. This is because there is a waterfall in the closet. The landlord says he’ll have the leak fixed soon, but has not found the time yet. I complain again to him about the screaming ceiling; he says he’ll look into it.
This morning, I noticed the brand-new car he was driving. An electric one, because he cares about the environment.
Nobody else complains about the noises upstairs. In these halls, most occupants would rather avoid attention.
Still, in bed, I look at the clock—half past one. I look back at the screaming ceiling. I look at the clock again—eight hours have passed. But when did I fall asleep?
I think about Holly, and how much I hate her.
The studio’s dressing room is wide enough to fit three to four people with their own mirror space. Lining the back wall are assorted racks of different clothes, hats, and accessories. My seated shadow pools along the dark wood flooring. God’s manufactured light shines out of the mounted bulbs lining the mirror I’m using. They reveal every imperfection, every slivered gradient of actuality. I dab the teardrop-shaped sponge and slather on another coat of foundation.
I notice three scratches on my left arm, deep grooves of missing skin. When did that happen? I shrug.
A splitting nova of pain pulses behind my eyes. Another migraine, the fifth one this week. I can feel the blood rush and pound through the mushy crevices of my brain.
I think of blood clots, wonder if one is in my brain right now, swelling like a grape made of jelly. I wonder how many people woke up this morning with a smile, utterly ignorant of the calcifying clump forming inside of them. Over time, all of our brains start to shrink. This causes the vessels that bridge the brain to be more likely to tear, dropping us into the calm, quiet depths of a coma.
I swallow a few more pills to sedate the pain.
Soon enough I can no longer see the dark satchel tints or the web of spider veins imprinted on my cheeks. They are all buried beneath a sheet of concealer. “Do whatever it takes,” my father always told me on the way to rehearsals. “Make yourself cry. Make yourself laugh. Lie to the limelight. Whatever it takes to land the part, got it?”
My father wanted to quit his job and retire early.
There it is, straight ahead, my big break.
Now, my cheeks are rosy and blushing with life. My lips are smooth and creased into a soft, cuspid smile. Once again, my skin has regained the counterfeit glow of fiction. I am no longer the corpse in the mirror.
I check the clock: call time, T-minus ten minutes.
I wrap up my time in the dressing room, applying a few final touch-ups. I’m wearing a baby blue dress shirt, slick black pants, knee-length white coat that flutters around my legs. This is the role I play. I head to the Studio Floor.
The set I reach is small, virtually utilizing every inch of space it can. The tall, temporary walls are whitish blue. Against the soft background of painted thin plywood is a metal cart. Vague, unlabeled boxes and containers line the top next to amber glass penicillin bottles. Designated spots on the walls have framed prints of anatomical skeleton art and depictions of different organ functions. In the center of the room is an examination table with pacific blue upholstery. Together, these things form a little piece of stolen space. A doctor’s office.
The set is waiting for something, a surrogate to complete the illusion of life. We call these surrogates, actors.
A nameplate is drilled on the door, in clear view of the audience, Office of Doctor Sammy.
I am Dr. Sammy, one of the “warm and welcoming” characters for our American education series, Blue Avenue. The show’s premise takes place on a fictional street in the Outer Boroughs of New York. A place where human actors and puppets come together to teach children valuable lessons. A place with no discarded heroin needles or sidewalks littered with the homeless. The show was fresh past its pilot and still trying to gain traction, far from competing with the other behemoths of the network industry.
Dr. Sammy’s role is to educate children on practicing diet, the importance of physical activity, and the ins and outs of how our bodies function. I don’t have a doctorate; I just read a lot of books.
I look over the props for today’s shoot, the medical instruments I have been graced with. Of course. The stethoscopes’ tubing is cracked. One of its white plastic ear tips is missing. More shoddy work from Holly.
Holly, the head of our props department.
Holly, the girl with the plump, fat-injected lips and distinct, broken-trumpet laugh.
Holly, the gatekeeper of information.
Holly, the one that I hate.
I’ve complained about her props. I’ve complained severely about them. They are old, worn, and falling apart. It is her responsibility to fix things like this, to feed the aesthetics with decent little lies. But Holly is a penny-pincher.
Most requests given to her about ordering new, undamaged props are met with the same candid response. Pursed lips, a few lines scribbled in her notepad, and a heavy clockwork sigh. “Sorry, that’s just outside of our budget.”
What did you write there? What was the budget actually, Holly?
She was fully aware of my dislike for her. It was what fed the trademark smirk she wore when our eyes every so often met. A cocky, patronizing smirk. An I’m-not-going-anywhere smirk.
At 8:26 AM, Holly took the bus to work.
At 9:46 PM, Holly took the bus home.
Morning and night, on the dot. The bus station she used was a few blocks from the studio. She always walked alone.
Beyond the set are the shifting, stressed silhouettes of the film crew. Clutches of them, operating no less than a military unit. Their exhausted faces dragging their fatigued bodies to complete the task. Push a button. Rig the lights. Man the cameras. They are the living cells of our make-believe organism. The Grip and Electric Cells communicate with the Key Grip Cell. That cell communicates with the Gaffer Cell. That cell communicates to the Director of Photography Cell.
They do not share the viewer’s imagination. They do not experience the magic. The cell does not stop to marvel at its work.
We used to have a larger crew before the long-curved scythe of budget cuts and downsizing trimmed the fat. Somehow, Holly managed to save her neck from it. I couldn’t help but wonder how. Perhaps she had been putting those pillowy lips to good use.
The nucleus of our design, the director, is observing the scene closely from his chair. He is a short and stocky man fancying a wiffle haircut and a Van Dyke beard. He pays his taxes, owns a yacht, fears God, vomits up peach schnapps on the weekends, and flips elderly people off when they cut him off on the highway. Just a man with a wiffle haircut.
But in this room, in that chair, he is the owner of my soul.
Our costar arrives—a petite, middle-aged woman with chestnut brown hair that rests over her shoulders. Her nose pocked with freckles, eyes big enough to make owls feel uneasy, and out of the closet since her nineteenth birthday. Between the different segments she takes part in, I often hear her in the break room talking about her trip to Punalu’u Beach, where the sand is black. She says there is no feeling in the world like dipping your toes in black sand, watching the frothy waves crawl up the dark sheet of volcanic minerals and lava fragments.
But it is not she who I am filming with this day; it is the thing in her arms.
A puppet fashioned into a pig, blessed with the name Mr. Porkpie. His black marble eyes are asymmetrical. His snout is so crooked it almost looks broken. The seams on his left ear are starting to unravel. Not enough for the camera to notice, but give it time. And of course, atop his pink felted head is a black porkpie hat. Holly designed him herself, the magnum opus of her cheapjack craftsmanship.
I wait offscreen, out of sight while Mr. Porkpie is positioned on the examination table, his handler seated behind it.
The studio lights flare up on their fixtures, bright and all-seeing. They leave amorphous blotches beneath my eyelids every time I blink.
I think about celluloid burning and bubbling into a widening anus on the projector screen.
Here it comes, another wave of jagged, pressurized pain; more blood trying to pump through the tight veins in my head.
“Quiet on set,” the Assistant Director Cell yells, followed by “Sound ready?”
The Sound Cells reply.
The Camera Cells reply.
“Roll sound. Roll camera.”
“Marker,” the Clapper Cell says as he clacks the film slate.
Then Mr. Director, the owner of my soul, yells, “Action!”
The scene begins with Mr. Porkpie rubbing his cloven pig fingers over his sizeable pink belly. He heaves a heavy sigh.
I step into frame, a clipboard pinned to my side. “Hey there, Mr. Porkpie.” My voice is cheerful, raised to an authentic Dr. Sammy octave.
“Hi Dr. Sammy,” Mr. Porkpie replies pitifully.
“You aren’t looking so good. Is something wrong?”
The piggish head shakes and then replies in a bubbly, southern accent, “I reckon there is, Doc. I ain’t feeling too good today.”
My face molds into a worried expression. “Oh no, I’m sorry to hear that. What do you say we figure out what is going on?”
“That’d be mighty fine right now.”
I bring out the stethoscope, trying to hide the cracked piece of tubing with my thumb. The part of aural tube with the missing earpiece presses uncomfortably against my eardrum. “All right, we are going to start off with checking your heart.”
“Is it going to hurt?” Mr. Porkpie asks.
“Not at all, remember that doctors are just here to help you,” I say and press the diaphragm against Mr. Porkpie’s chest. There is no pulse, nor will there ever be. “Sounds good,” I nod as I bring out the wooden tongue depressor. “All right, say ah,” I tell him.
Inside the felt of Mr. Porkpie’s mouth is a bent piece of plastic that creates a hinge for his upper and lower jaw. “Ahh,” he says, opening his mouth.
I press the wooden tool atop his non-existent tongue. “Perfect, now let’s check your ears.”
“Is this going to hurt, Doc?”
“Not one bit!” I place the speculum tip of the otoscope into each of his floppy ears.
I think about accidentally catching the loose seam and accidentally tugging his ear off. Oops, did that hurt? Sorry, Holly.
Lastly, I bring out the reflex hammer. The handle has been bent since the day it arrived at the studio, most likely from poor shipment handling.
Holly said it was hardly noticeable. “Just hold it like this,” she says. “See? It is perfectly fine.”
No Holly, it’s far from perfect, much like yourself. You’ve made a mistake.
“No way,” Mr. Porkpie says, “that is going to hurt, I just know it!”
“I promise that it won’t, okay?”
“Aw shucks, all right.”
Lightly, I strike his kneecap. From behind the examination table, an unseen wire is pulled making his leg jerk upward.
I scratch my chin with a puzzled look on my face. “Hm, nothing seems to be the problem. What does not feel right?”
Again, Mr. Porkpie rubs his cloven hoof hand over his stomach. “I was just having me some lunch, and my stomach started hurting somethin’ bad.”
“What were you eating?”
“D’aw, just what I always eat: ice cream, pizza, hamburgers, soda, chocolate.”
“And how many pieces of fruit or vegetables have you had today?” I ask with a raised eyebrow.
Mr. Porkpie looks down. He makes a prolonged “Hmm . . .” sound and then shrugs. “I can’t think of any.”
I cross both of my arms and shake my head disappointedly. “Mr. Porkpie, what have I told you, you need to practice healthier eating habits.” For a moment, I can hear echoes of my mother in my voice.
Mr. Porkpie sighs, or rather, the woman currently fisting him, sighs. “It’s not fair, Dr. Sammy, I should get to eat the food I want!”
“You can, Mr. Porkpie.” I pat his shoulder and explain. “But that stomachache you’re feeling is what happens when you’ve overdone it. It’s okay to eat your favorite foods, as long as you also consider moderation. Your body, and also mine, need a healthy dose of certain food groups to keep it strong and healthy.”
“Aw, I don’t know any other foods to eat. Where do I even start?”
“Allow me,” I say as I disappear momentarily and return with a large chart. Printed over it is a large pyramid of the major food groups. Together, Mr. Porkpie and I discuss each of the sections and the importance of each of them.
I can hear myself talking, the lines leaping flawlessly off my tongue like a fleshy conveyor belt of words, but my mind has already started to drift.
I think about the woman who lives three doors down from me. On my way to the stairs, I always pass by her door. This morning, she was already on her way out with her son. Clasped between his small fingers was his mother’s smartphone. From the phone’s small speaker, I hear a familiar voice—my voice, no, Dr. Sammy’s voice. The child was watching an episode of Blue Avenue, his eyes affixed to the device full of light and infinite voices. His mind full of web-like strands weaving into simple, rudimentary thoughts of wonder and curiosity.
“. . . The second step on the pyramid is for proteins, like meat, fish, and eggs. Protein, Mr. Porkpie, will help power your body with essential nutrients . . .”
His mother glances at me for a moment and then looks elsewhere.
Of course, why not?
At that moment, I am not the face with the golden grin or well-chiseled thoughts planting ideas in her child’s brain. I am the man who lives three doors down. The one who doesn’t talk to anyone. The one with the eyes devoid of sleep and cheeks blooming with spider veins. The one who hates the name, Holly. The corpse behind Dr. Sammy.
“. . . Next, we have the fourth step, specifically for fruits and vegetables. These foods fill our bodies with plenty of vitamins and minerals. Doctors, and I do mean myself, recommend you to eat these up to five times a day. Your body will thank you.”
“I want my body tuh thank me!”
I think about her child’s future. What does he want to grow up to be? Will she support his dreams? Or is he merely a vessel to fulfill her own goals? Get rich, become famous, now your turn to take care of Mommy.
My father wanted to smoke on private jets.
He wanted to eat expensive foods, host snobby fancy parties, and die blissfully slowly in a mansion overlooking the ocean.
His child was the key to this, the secret solution to his hard, hard life. Surely, if he could shape his little boy into the next big sensation, his dreams would be met.
What did I want to be when I grew up? I can’t remember. How many of my dreams were fed to the acting bug? Stuffed down into its infinitely greedy throat. All the forced theater classes. All the sleepless nights memorizing scripts. All the judgmental eyes burning smiles into you. All the things cameras conveniently never saw.
It will never be enough. Lie to the limelight.
I think about grabbing something, digging my fingers into the bundle of pink that is Mr. Porkpie’s throat. I think about holding him down against the examination table. I think about the bright glint of the knife in my hand.
There is sound, a wet muffled thump as the silver sinks between the pink folds. I can feel my ribs rattle from the chaotic pulses leaving my heart. Another sound—a sharp gasp. Quiet, please.
I feel Mr. Porkpie try to push me. A few sharp nails hook into my left arm. Pointless.
Deeper still, the knife pushes further, separating more of the yielding layers. I grip the buried handle and force it to slide downward. A straight seam down the chest, splitting through the stubborn fatty tissues. Rich metallic smells fuse with the air. Blood bubbles out of the newly open cleft. We’ve struck oil, hallelujah!
I pull apart the grisly flaps of the cavity and reach inside. So many new textures, a hidden world of membranes and matter in its most raw form. I explore deeper, squeezing past the feel of slender curved ribs. Within the meat of fibrous strands, my fingers reach the stomach. I pull and tug a few times until it is coaxed out of its moist, gleaming nest.
I hold it—the ugly, swollen thing—up for the cameras to see.
“All right kids,” I say with a Dr. Sammy smile, “this is a pig’s stomach. It can hold up to eight pounds of food. Why don’t we open it up and take a peek inside?”
Now that’s educational.
Now that’s television.
I think about all the questions being wafted around the studio lately. The sort of questions that are starting to annoy me.
Where’s Holly been?
No idea. I punch the knife through another persistent sheet of muscle. Dark, dribbling streaks stain the blue upholstery. Every excavating stroke reveals a new, undisturbed territory of connective tissue. Something splits in half. Intestines, most likely.
Has anyone seen Holly?
Can’t help you there.
I reach back into the newly open doorway of flayed flesh, this time pulling out a kidney. I hold the dripping, oversized bean-like thing in my hand like one holds an apple. Then I start squeezing. I squeeze it until it pops like a party decoration filled with wet, crimson confetti. Some blood catches on my cheek, mixing with the sweat in runny red tendrils.
I blink—two, three times. It all comes back: The bright, throbbing lights. The vibrant dose of pain behind my eyes. The face of the director staring daggers into me.
“Dr. Sammy?” Mr. Porkpie asks, bobs his head, and then asks again, “What’s next?”
My cheeks contract and lift, constructing a tender smile, “Sorry about that Mr. Porkpie, let’s continue…”
The scene finishes with Mr. Porkpie learning an important lesson and Dr. Sammy wishing him—and the audience—luck with their eating habits.
After one other reshoot (just for good measure), Dr. Sammy’s segment is over for the day.
I leave the Studio Floor and head back to the dressing room. On the way there, a tight, acidic knot forms in my insides.
I stop by the break room to put something on my stomach.
There is nothing left, a graveyard of stained plates, dirty silverware, and food containers still lining the tables, mockingly empty.
Picked clean. Never enough to go around. All because of Angela, our sole caterer.
Refreshments were served on her time, her dime.
It was no coincidence that food was readily available when particular people wanted it to be. Angela’s hand-picked favorites.
Any soul kept out of her nepotistic ring went hungry.
I’ve complained about the favoritism. I’ve complained severely about it. Still, her bias is kept plump and consistent.
I think about Angela, and how much I hate her.
submitted by Atrophied_Silence to DrCreepensVault [link] [comments]
2020.07.29 02:40 solarity52 Remember "Chad" and the Drones? One of the all-time great UFO stories. Incredibly Creative
In June 2007 the "Chad Drone" story broke and boy was it a doozy. The photos and graphic design work involved in this UFO story is just mind-boggling. Still way better than anything that has come along since. Check out the link as all the elements of this incredible story are still on this particular site. If nothing else, the folks who designed the PACL Linguistic Primer deserve some kind of award for creativity, detail and just plain weirdness.
My Experience with the CARET Program and Extra-terrestrial Technology Isaac, June 2007
This letter is part of a package I've assembled for Coast to Coast AM to distribute to its audience. It is a companion to numerous document and photo scans and should not be separated from them.
You can call me Isaac, an alias I've chosen as a simple measure of protection while I release what would be called tremendously sensitive information even by todays standards. “Sensitive” is not necessarily synonymous with “dangerous”, though, which is why my conscience is clear as I offer this material up for the public. My government has its reasons for its continual secrecy, and I sympathize with many of them, but the truth is that I'm getting old and I'm not interested in meeting my maker one day with any more baggage than necessary! Furthermore, I put a little more faith in humanity than my former bosses do, and I think that a release of at least some of this info could help a lot more than it could hurt, especially in today's world.
I should be clear before I begin, as a final note: I am not interested in making myself vulnerable to the consequences of betraying the trust of my superiors and will not divulge any personal information that could determine my identity. However my intent is not to deceive, so information that I think is too risky to share will be simply left out rather than obfuscated in some way (aside from my alias, which I freely admit is not my real name). I would estimate that with the information contained in this letter, I could be narrowed down to one of maybe 30-50 people at best, so I feel reasonably secure.
Some Explanation for the Recent Sightings
For many years I've occasionally considered the release of at least some of the material I possess, but the recent wave of photos and sightings has prompted me to cut to the chase and do so now.
I should first be clear that I'm not directly familiar with any of the crafts seen in the photos in their entirety. I've never seen them in a hangar or worked on them myself or seen aliens zipping around in them. However, I have worked with and seen many of the parts visible in these crafts, some of which can be seen in the Q3-85 Inventory Review scan found at the top of this page. More importantly though, I'm very familiar with the “language” on their undersides seen clearly in photos by Chad and Rajman, and in another form in the Big Basin photos.
One question I can answer for sure is why they're suddenly here. These crafts have probably existed in their current form for decades, and I can say for sure that the technology behind them has existed for decades before that. The “language”, in fact, (I'll explain shortly why I keep putting that in quotes) was the subject of my work in years past. I'll cover that as well.
The reason they're suddenly visible, however, is another matter entirely. These crafts, assuming they're anything like the hardware I worked with in the 80's (assuming they're better, in fact), are equipped with technology that enables invisibility. That ability can be controlled both on board the craft, and remotely. However, what's important in this case is that this invisibility can also be disrupted by other technology. Think of it like radar jamming. I would bet my life savings (since I know this has happened before) that these craft are becoming visible and then returning to invisibility arbitrarily, probably unintentionally, and undoubtedly for only short periods, due to the activity of a kind of disrupting technology being set off elsewhere, but nearby. I'm especially sure of this in the case of the Big Basin sightings, were the witnesses themselves reported seeing the craft just appear and disappear. This is especially likely because of the way the witness described one of the appearances being only a momentary flicker, which is consistent with the unintentional, intermittent triggering of such a device.
It's no surprise that these sightings are all taking place in California, and especially the Saratoga/South Bay area. Not far from Saratoga is Mountain View/Sunnyvale, home to Moffett Field and the NASA Ames Research center. Again, I'd be willing to bet just about anything that the device capable of hijacking the cloaking of these nearby craft was inadvertently triggered, probably during some kind of experiment, at the exact moment they were being seen. Miles away, in Big Basin, the witnesses were in the right place at the right time and saw the results of this disruption with their own eyes. God knows what else was suddenly appearing in the skies at that moment, and who else may have seen it. I've had some direct contact with this device, or at least a device capable of the same thing, and this kind of mistake is not unprecedented. I am personally aware of at least one other incident in which this kind of technology was accidentally set off, resulting in the sudden visibility of normally invisible things. The only difference is that these days, cameras are a lot more common!
The technology itself isn't ours, or at least it wasn't in the 80's. Much like the technology in these crafts themselves, the device capable of remotely hijacking a vehicle's clacking comes from a non-human source too. Why we were given this technology has never been clear to me, but it's responsible for a lot. Our having access to this kind of device, along with our occasionally haphazard experimentation on them, has lead to everything from cloaking malfunctions like this to full-blown crashes. I can assure you that most (and in my opinion all) incidents of UFO crashes or that kind of thing had more to do with our meddling with extremely powerful technology at an inopportune time than it did mechanical failure on their part. Trust me, those things don't fail unless something even more powerful than them makes them fail (intentionally or not). Think of it like a stray bullet. You can be hit by one at any time, without warning, and even the shooter didn't intent to hit you. I can assure you heads are rolling over this as well. If anyone notices a brilliant but sloppy physicist patrolling the streets of Baghdad in the next couple weeks, I'd be willing to guess how he got there. (I kid, of course, as I certainly hope that hasn't actually happened in this case)
I'd now like to explain how it is that I know this.
The CARET Program
My story begins the same as it did for many of my co workers, with graduate and post-graduate work at university in electrical engineering. And I had always been interested in computer science, which was a very new field at the time, and my interest piqued with my first exposure to a Tixo during grad school. In the years following school I took a scenic route through the tech industry and worked for the kinds of companies you would expect, until I was offered a job at the Department of Defense and things took a very different turn.
My time at the DoD was mostly uneventful but I was there for quite a while. I apparently proved myself to be reasonably intelligent and loyal. By 1984 these qualities along with my technical background made me a likely candidate for a new program they were recruiting for called “CARET”.
Before I explain what CARET was I should back up a little. By 1984, Silicon Valley had been a juggernaut of technology for decades. In the less than 40 years since the appearance of Shockley’s transistor this part of the world had already produced a multi billion dollar computer industry and made technological strides that were unprecedented in other fields, from hypertext and online collaboration in '68 to the Alto in '73.
Private industry in Silicon Valley was responsible for some of the most incredible technological leaps in history and this fact did not go unnoticed by the US government and military. I don’t claim to have any special knowledge about Roswell or any of the other alleged early UFO events, but I do know that whatever the exact origin, the military was hard at work trying to understand and use the extra-terrestrial artifacts it had in its possession. While there had been a great deal of progress overall, things were not moving as quickly as some would have liked. So, in 1984, the CARET program was created with the aim of harnessing the abilities of private industry in silicon valley and applying it to the ongoing task of understanding extra-terrestrial technology.
One of the best examples of the power of the tech sector was Xerox PARC, a research center in Palo Alto, CA. XPARC was responsible for some of the major milestones in the history of computing. While I never had the privilege of working there myself I did know many of the people who did and I can say that they were among the brightest engineers I ever knew.
XPARC served as one of the models for the CARET program’s first incarnation, a facility called the Palo Alto CARET Laboratory (PACL, lovingly pronounced “packle” during my time there). This was where I worked, along with numerous other civilians, under the auspices of military brass who were eager to find out how the tech sector made so much progress so quickly. My time at the DoD was a major factor behind why I was chosen, and in fact about 30+ others who were hired around the same time had also been at the Department about as long, but this was not the case for everyone. A couple of my co-workers were plucked right from places like IBM and, at least two of them came from XPARC itself. My DoD experience did make me more eligable for positions of management, however, which is how I have so much of this material in my possession to begin with.
So in other words, civilians like myself who had at--at most--some decent experience working for the DoD but no actual military training or involvement, were suddenly finding ourselves in the same room as highly classified extra-terrestrial technology. Of course they spent about 2 months briefing us all before we saw or did anything, and did their best to convince us that if we ever leaked a single detail about what we were being told, they’d do everything short of digging up our ancestors and putting a few slugs in them too just for good measure. It seemed like there was an armed guard in every corner of every room. I’d worked under some pretty hefty NDAs in my time but this was so far out of my depth I didn’t think I was going to last 2 weeks in an environment like that. But amazingly things got off to a good start. They wanted us, plain and simple, and our industry had shown itself to be so good at what it did that they were just about ready to give us carte blanche.
Of course, nothing with the military is ever that simple, and as is often the case they wanted to have their cake and eat it too. What I mean by this is that despite their interest in picking our brains and learning whatever they could from our way of doing things, they still wanted to do it their way often enough to frustrate us.
At this point I'm going to gloss over the emotional side of this experience, because this letter isn't intended to be a memoir, but I will say that there's almost no way to describe the impact this kind of revelation has on your mind. There are very few moments in life in which your entire world view is turned forever upside down, but this was one of them. I still remember that turning point during the briefing when I realized what he'd just told us, and that I hadn't heard him wrong, and that it wasn't some kind of joke. In retrospect the whole thing feels like it was in slow motion, from that slight pause he took just before the term “extra-terrestrial” came out for the first time, to the way the room itself seemed to go off kilter as we collectively tried to grasp what was being said. My reflex kept jumping back and forth between trying to look at the speaker, to understand him better, and looking at everyone else around me, to make sure I wasn't the only one that was hearing this. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, it's a lot like a child learning his parents are divorcing. I never experienced that myself, but a very close friend of mine did when were boys, and he confided in me a great deal about what the experience felt like. A lot of what he said would aptly describe what I was feeling in that room. Here was a trusted authority figure telling you something that you just don't feel ready for, and putting a burden on your mind that you don't necessarily want to carry. The moment that first word comes out, all you can think about it is what it was like only seconds ago, and knowing that life is never going to be as simple as it was then. After all that time at the DoD, I thought I at least had some idea of what was going on in the world, but I'd never heard so much as a peep about this. Maybe one day I'll write more on this aspect, because it's the kind of thing I really would like to get off my chest, but for now I'll digress.
Unlike traditional research in this area, we weren’t working on new toys for the air force. For numerous reasons, the CARET people decided to aim its efforts at commercial applications rather than military ones. They basically wanted us to turn these artifacts into something they could patent and sell. One of CARET’s most appealing promises was the revenue generated by these product-ready technologies, which could be funneled right back into black projects. Working with a commercial application in mind was also yet another way to keep us in a familiar mind state. Developing technology for the military is very different than doing so for the commercial sector, and not having to worry about the difference was another way that CARET was very much like private industry.
CARET shined in the way it let us work the way we were used to working. They wanted to recreate as much of the environment we were used to as they could without compromising issues like security. That meant we got free reign to set up our own workflow, internal management structure, style manuals, documentation, and the like. They wanted this to look and feel like private industry, not the military. They knew that was how to get the best work out of us, and they were right.
But things didn’t go as smoothly when it came to matters like access to classified information. They were exposing what is probably their single biggest secret to a group of people who had never even been through basic training and it was obvious that the gravity of this decision was never far from their minds. We started the program with a small set of extra-terrestrial artifacts along with fairly elaborate briefings on each as well as access to a modest amount of what research had already been completed. It wasn’t long before we realized we needed more though, and getting them to provide even the smallest amount of new material was like pulling teeth. CARET stood for “Commercial Applications Research for Extra-terrestrial Technology”, but we often joked that it should have stood for “Civilians Are Rarely Ever Trusted.”
PACL was located in Palo Alto, but unlike XPARC, it wasn’t at the end of a long road in the middle of a big complex surrounded by rolling hills and trees. PACL was hidden in an office complex owned entirely by the military but made to look like an unassuming tech company. From the street, all you could see was what appeared to be a normal parking lot with a gate and a guard booth, and a 1-story building inside with a fictitious name and logo. What wasn’t visible from the street was that behind the very first set of doors was enough armed guards to invade Poland, and 5 additional underground stories. They wanted to be as close as possible to the kinds of people they were looking to hire and be able to bring them in with a minimum of fuss.
Inside, we had everything we needed. State of the art hardware and a staff of over 200 computer scientists, electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, physicists and mathematicians. Most of us were civilians, as I’ve said, but some were military, and a few of them had been working on this technology already. Of course, you were never far from the barrel of a machine gun, even inside the labs themselves (something many of us never got used to), and bi-weekly tours were made by military brass to ensure that not a single detail was out of line. Most of us underwent extensive searches on our way into and out of the building. There it was, probably the biggest secret in the world, in a bunch of parts spread out on laboratory tables in the middle of Palo Alto so you can imagine their concern.
One downside to CARET was that it wasn't as well-connected as other operations undoubtedly were. I never got to see any actual extra-terrestrials (not even photos), and in fact never even saw one of their compete vehicles. 99% of what I saw was related to the work at hand, all of which was conducted within a very narrow context on individual artifacts only. The remaining 1% came from people I met through the program, many of which working more closely with “the good stuff” or had in the past.
In fact, what was especially amusing about the whole affair was the way that our military management almost tried to act as if the technology we were essentially reverse engineering wasn't extra-terrestrial at all. Aside from the word “extra-terrestrial” itself, we rarely heard any other terms like “alien” or “UFO” or “outer space” or anything. Those aspects were only mentioned briefly when absolutely necessary to explain something. In many cases it was necessary to differentiate between the different races and their respective technology, and they didn't even use the word “races”. They were referred to simply as different “sources”.
A lot of the technology we worked on was what you would expect, namely antigravity. Most of the researchers on the staff with backgrounds in propulsion and rocketry were military men, but the technology we were dealing with was so out of this world that it didn’t really matter all that much what your background was because none of it applied. All we could hope to do was use the vocabulary of our respective fields as a way to model the extremely bizarre new concepts we were very slowly beginning to understand as best we could. A rocket engineer doesn’t usually rub elbows much with a computer scientist, but inside PACL, we were all equally mystified and were ready to entertain any and all ideas.
The physicists made the most headway initially because out of all of our skills, theirs overlapped the most with the concepts behind this technology (although that isn’t saying much!) Once they got the ball rolling though, we began to find that many of the concepts found in computer science were applicable as well, albeit in very vague ways. While I didn’t do a lot of work with the antigrav hardware myself, I was occasionally involved in the assessment of how that technology was meant to interface with its user.
The antigrav was amazing, of course, as were the advances we were making with materials engineering and so on. But what interested me most then, and still amazes me most to this day, was something completely unrelated. In fact, it was this technology that immediately jumped out at me when I saw the Chad and Rajman photos, and even moreso in the Big Basin photos.
I put the word Language in quotes because calling what I am about to describe a “language” is a misnomer, although it is an easy mistake to make.
Their hardware wasn’t operated in quite the same way as ours. In our technology, even today, we have a combination of hardware and software running almost everything on the planet. Software is more abstract than hardware, but ultimately it needs hardware to run it. In other words, there’s no way to write a computer program on a piece of paper, set that piece of paper on a table or something, and expect it to actually do something. The most powerful code in the world still doesn’t actually do anything until a piece of hardware interprets it and translates its commands into actions.
But their technology is different. It really did operate like the magical piece of paper sitting on a table, in a manner of speaking. They had something akin to a language, that could quite literally execute itself, at least in the presence of a very specific type of field. The language, a term I am still using very loosely, is a system of symbols (which does admittedly very much resemble a written language) along with geometric forms and patterns that fit together to form diagrams that are themselves functional. Once they are drawn, so to speak, on a suitable surface made of a suitable material and in the presence of a certain type of field, they immediately begin performing the desired tasks. It really did seem like magic to us, even after we began to understand the principles behind it.
I worked with these symbols more than anything during my time at PACL, and recognized them the moment I saw them in the photos. They appear in a very simple form on Chad’s craft, but appear in the more complex diagram form on the underside of the Big Basin craft as well. Both are unmistakable, even at the small size of the Big Basin photos. An example of a diagram in the style of the Big Basin craft is included with this in a series of scanned pages from the [mistitled] "Linguistic Analysis Primer". We needed a copy of that diagram to be utterly precise, and it took about a month for a team of six to copy that diagram into our drafting program!
Explaining everything I learned about this technology would fill up several volumes, but I will do my best to explain at least some of the concepts as long as I am taking the time to write all this down.
First of all, you wouldn't open up their hardware to find a CPU here, and a data bus there, and some kind of memory over there. Their hardware appeared to be perfectly solid and consistent in terms of material from one side to the other. Like a rock or a hunk of metal. But upon [much] closer inspection, we began to learn that it was actually one big holographic computational substrate - each "computational element" (essentially individual particles) can function independently, but are designed to function together in tremendously large clusters. I say its holographic because you can divide it up into the smallest chunks you want and still find a scaled-down but complete representation of the whole system. They produce a nonlinear computational output when grouped. So 4 elements working together is actually more than 4 times more powerful than 1. Most of the internal "matter" in their crafts (usually everything but the outermost housing) is actually this substrate and can contribute to computation at any time and in any state. The shape of these "chunks" of substrate also had a profound effect on its functionality, and often served as a "shortcut" to achieve a goal that might otherwise be more complex.
So back to the language. The language is actually a "functional blueprint". The forms of the shapes, symbols and arrangements thereof is itself functional. What makes it all especially difficult to grasp is that every element of each "diagram" is dependant on and related to every other element, which means no single detail can be created, removed or modified independently. Humans like written language because each element of the language can be understood on its own, and from this, complex expressions can be built. However, their "language" is entirely context-sensitive, which means that a given symbol could mean as little as a 1-bit flag in one context, or, quite literally, contain the entire human genome or a galaxy star map in another. The ability for a single, small symbol to contain, not just represent, tremendous amounts of data is another counter-intuitive aspect of this concept. We quickly realized that even working in groups of 10 or more on the simplest of diagrams, we found it virtually impossible to get anything done. As each new feature was added, the complexity of the diagram exponentially grew to unmanageable proportions. For this reason we began to develop computer-based systems to manage these details and achieved some success, although again we found that a threshold was quickly reached beyond which even the supercomputers of the day were unable to keep up. Word was that the extra-terrestrials could design these diagrams as quickly and easily as a human programmer could write a Fortran program. It's humbling to think that even a network of supercomputers wasn't able to duplicate what they could do in their own heads. Our entire system of language is based on the idea of assigning meaning to symbols. Their technology, however, somehow merges the symbol and the meaning, so a subjective audience is not needed. You can put whatever meaning you want on the symbols, but their behavior and functionality will not change, any more than a transistor will function differently if you give it another name.
Here's an example of how complex the process is. Imagine I ask you to incrementally add random words to a list such that no two words use any of the same letters, and you must perform this exercise entirely in your head, so you can't rely on a computer or even a pen and paper. If the first in the list was, say, "fox", the second item excludes all words with the letters F, O and X. If the next word you choose is "tree", then the third word in the list can't have the letters F, O, X, T, R, or E in it. As you can imagine, coming up with even a third word might start to get just a bit tricky, especially since you can't easily visualize the excluded letters by writing down the words. By the time you get to the fourth, fifth and sixth words, the problem has spiraled out of control. Now imagine trying to add the billionth word to the list (imagine also that we're working with an infinite alphabet so you don't run out of letters) and you can imagine how difficult it is for even a computer to keep up. Needless to say, writing this kind of thing "by hand" is orders of magnitude beyond the capabilities of the brain.
My background lent itself well to this kind of work though. I'd spent years writing code and designing both analog and digital circuits, a process that at least visually resembled these diagrams in some way. I also had a personal affinity for combinatorics, which served me well as I helped with the design of software running on supercomputers that could juggle the often trillions of rules necessary to create a valid diagram of any reasonable complexity. This overlapped quite a bit with compiler theory as well, a subject I always found fascinating, and in particular compiler optimization, a field that wasn't half of what it is today back then. A running joke among the linguistics team was that Big-O notation couldn't adequately describe the scale of the task, so we'd substitute other words for "big". By the time I left I remember the consensus was "Astronomical-O" finally did it justice.
Like I said, I could go on for hours about this subject, and would love to write at least an introductory book on the subject if it wasn't still completely classified, but that's not the point of this letter so I'll try to get back on track.
The last thing I'd like to discuss is how I got copies of this material, what else I have in my possession, and what I plan to do with it in the future.
I worked at PACL from 1984 to 1987, by which time I was utterly burned out. The sheer volume of details to keep in mind while working with the diagrams was enough to challenge anyone's sanity, and I was really at the end of my rope with the military's attitude towards our “need to know”. Our ability to get work done was constantly hampered by their reluctance to provide us with the necessary information, and I was tired of bureaucracy getting in the way of research and development. I left somewhere in the middle of a 3-month bell curve in which about a quarter of the entire PACL staff left for similar reasons.
I was also starting to disagree with the direction the leadership wanted to take as far as the subject of extra-terrestrials went. I always felt that at least some form of disclosure would be beneficial, but as a lowly CARET engineer I wasn't exactly in the position to call shots. The truth is, our management didn't even want us discussing non-technical aspects of this subject (such as ethical or philosophical issues), even among ourselves, as they felt it was enough of a breach of security to let civilians like us anywhere near this kind of thing in the first place.
So, about 3 months before I resigned (which was about 8 months before I was really out, since you don't just walk out of a job like that with a 2 week notice). I decided to start taking advantage of my position. As I mentioned earlier, my DoD experience got me into an internal management role sooner than some of my colleagues, and after about a year of that kind of status, the outgoing searches each night became slightly less rigorous. Normally, we were to empty out any containers, bags or briefcases, then remove our shirt and shoes and submit to a kind of frisking. Work was never allowed to go home with you, no matter who you were. For me, though, the briefcase search was eventually enough.
Even before I actually decided to do it, I was sure that I would be able to sneak certain materials out with me. I wanted to do this because I knew the day would come when I would want to write something like this, and I knew I'd regret it until the day I died if I didn't at least leave the possibility open to do so. So I started photocopying documents and reports by the dozen. I'd then put the papers under my shirt around my lower back, tucked enough into my belt to ensure they wouldn't fall out. I could do this in any one of a few short, windowless hallways on some of the lower floors, which were among the few places that didn't have an armged guard watching my every move. I'd walk in one end with a stack of papers large enough that when I came out the other end with some of them in my shirt, there wouldn't be a visible difference in what I was holding. You absolutely cannot be too careful if you're going to pull a stunt like this. As long as I walked carefully they wouldn't make a crinkling noise. In fact, the more papers I took, the less noise they made, since they weren't as flimsy that way. I'd often take upwards of 10-20 pages at once. By the time I was done, I'd made out with hundreds of photocopies, as well as a few originals and a large collection of original photographs.
With this initial letter I have attached high resolution scans of the following:
2020.07.17 16:39 17Julenergetic New Homemade Por-n S-ex
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2020.07.07 00:35 Circephilia Touch camera hidden bus
The clock on the wall told the time. 9:18 pm. Five minutes ago he had gotten the call. Five minutes of tense, shaky, fear and rage filled silence. Then, it broke. A tear running down a scarred face from one too many battles against heroes. A once calm and sometimes happy face curled into an all too familiar snarl. All it took was one call. A parent’s rage is something no one should stand in the way of. Perhaps he hid his identity too well or to poorly. There were an infinite amount of reasons on whether it was because of his past or perhaps an unfortunate accident.
Either way, someone was going to pay. He was going to get his daughter back even if he had to burn the city to the ground to do so. A knock on the door ripped him out of his head, and back into the cold dead air of reality, a static of icy rage reserved only for his former identity burned in his brain as he reached the door, his wife Maria’s sobs could barely be heard as he opened the door to the sight of normal police officers.
“Hello there Mr. Johnson, we’ve come to ask you a few questions-“ the baby faced man in front of him noticed the scars before the tears, recognizing the old name before the new. Robert frowned, ice blue eyes boring into the frightened man and his companion.
“Where is my daughter.” His gruff voice seemed to bring them out of a fear consuming trance, and the first officer gulped.
“We don’t know, sir. Suspects have been narrowed down to a few but no definitive leads.”
“Then go find her dammit!” He practically roared, slamming the door. No, he had lost his patience. They were just as useless as they were all those years ago. Maria sprang up to most likely apologize and talk to the men, but Robert turned away, the familiar rage that burned in his brain stronger than before. Pinching the bridge of his nose and not even attempting to wipe his tears, he made his way to the basement of the house, glancing at a clock on the way. 9:23 pm. The basement was supposed to be a last resort for if his family was in danger from something he did. Villainy used to pay better, and he had managed to scrounge up enough to live comfortably with his new family, but now, it appeared that either some idiot who had no idea, or a hero with a grudge to settle wanted him back, or made a grave mistake. His brow furrowed as he typed in a code to a keypad, which revealed a secret room.
At one time or another after leaving his old identity behind, he had sworn off doing harm to others, for any reason, spare a friendly argument or breaking up a fight. Now, he was prepared to break this oath wholeheartedly. Staring at his old imposing uniform he made himself back in the day, he plucked the mask off from the display stand and put it on. Hiding the tears, the scars, the pain, the rage, and then the static took hold. Taking the picture of Amaya, his sunshine, from his pocket he stared at it, studying every detail of his daughter’s face, and the creased smile he wore, proud and happy. The father daughter dance he knew he would never forget for as long as he lived. He cherished her as much as his wife, more as any of his old henchmen, and a few of his old friends from the underworld. Some of which he still remained in contact with, under non professional relationships. He was going to need to call in some favors, as he was never as tech savvy as he liked to be. After changing into the uniform only days before he was convinced he would never don again, he took two things from a weapon rack, a concealable knife, a lighter, and tucked them into a pocket along with the photograph.
He let the silence ring in the air, then sighed as he dialed the number he had long since memorized.
“Shattered Gambit? Rob? Is that you?”
“They took her. They took my sunshine. I’m cashing in the favor you and Ace owe me.”
“Right away. I’ll inform Diomed.”
“Good.” Slipping back to himself, he hung up the phone, taking off the mask again. Looking back to see Maria enter the room, he went silent.
“I can’t stop you, can I?” She whispered, face red from crying.
“No. I’m sorry.”
“Then come home safe. Both of you.” She crossed the room and hugged him, Robert quickly returning the embrace.
“and don’t blow up Omegopolis again with your friends.” She continued, pulling away.
“That, I cannot promise.”
“Then bring her home.”
“I’ll bring our little sunshine home.” Shattered Gambit pulled the mask down and picked up the buzzing phone.
“Ace of Clubs.” He murmured.
“Ah yes, Shattered Gambit, it has been a while. I was beginning to worry you had fully converted back into society.”
“Have you found her or not.”
“We have. Tecton is sending you the coordinates.” Glancing at one of the screens in the room showed a set of coordinates and an address.
“It seems an old friend decided to glean your attention in the worst possible way.” The villain chuckled over the phone, and Gambit’s face twisted further into a scowl.
“Indeed.” His voice was ice, as he hung up the phone in the middle of his friend’s laugh.
The hero’s base showed on screen, a well known sight to most within the underworld. Over the years, he had noticed a pattern with the top heroes. They liked to provoke the villains. To goad them into traps that rarely worked. This time, they had made a mistake in trying to lure them out. Shattered Gambit was in retirement. They were dealing with the wrath of a father, not the rage of a villain who wreaked havoc, and those who knew Robert Johnson would certainly agree the former was much worse.
His next stop was the garage, normal upon first glance, a minivan for school, Maria’s ride to work, and the various play date drop offs and carpools. Next to it, a motorcycle, his motorcycle. Press the right button, it was no longer Robert Johnson’s motorcycle he rode every other week and occasionally picked up his daughter with in the sidecar, but Shattered Gambit’s vehicle of choice. Tracker, coordinates, everything he could need and more for getting a clean getaway from a renegade hero, or tracking down a stolen family member. He couldn’t go directly to the hero’s base right away, as he was horribly under equipped, but that was where the lighter he had grabbed came in. One specific hero, he had found, Flightless Avenger, liked to take trophies from the villains he defeated. The lighter belonged to a better known supplier of weapons and ammunition down at the infamous Armory, underground bar and barter area for the darker side of the city’s Elite. Having long since earned a ranking there, one returned possession from the jaws of an overconfident hero would be all it took to give him a weapon to take the hero down, and take his daughter back. The old crow likely fashioned her a trophy, and that, that was unacceptable. If he didn’t act civil, Robert swore he was going to wring the idiot hero’s neck for even putting a single finger on his sunshine if he didn’t put a bullet in the bastard first.
The bar that served as a facade for the Armory was seedy, grimy, and a direct contrast to the place hidden under it. Sure, some dirt leaked through but there was enough class and style to scrub that all away. It had been eight long years since Shattered Gambit roamed the area, and his return was met with a silence so tense it could be cut with any one of the concealed weapons most had on their person. An odd sort of reverence for one of the men who helped shape the Underground into what it was. Walking past the stunned new faces he saw, politely nodding to old faces he recognized, he made his way to the one eyed arms dealer he was looking for.
“Antonio.” Robert set the lighter on the counter, and the man snatched it up, studying it.
“How did you find this?”
“Straight from the crow’s beak. I recognized it. Didn’t have a chance to return it before retirement.”
“So Shattered Gambit has returned. I missed you, my friend. You need a weapon again?”
“Yes. Something that shoots. I’m going to put that old bird down.”
“Tell me, old friend, what has brought this side of you out again?” Robert scowled under the mask, but tugged the photograph from his pocket, careful to hold his thumb over his own face in case anyone else was watching.
“He took my sunshine. Snatched her right out of the school bus. Police were useless as always.”
“Ah, I see. It would be the same for me if someone took my Bonnibell or little Chelsea. We are still on for Friday, yes?”
“If all goes well, those rascals will be playing together again in no time.” Tucking the photograph back into the pocket, Robert checked the time as Antonio went into the back to get his weapon. He checked the time. 11:32 pm. Hazel had been missing for five hours now, and it still made him very nervous behind the static filled mindset that was Shattered Gambit, and all the power and danger that came with it. He was still a father, and the very thought of his daughter being in danger turned his nerves to ice. Flightless Avenger had grown increasingly unstable, to the point where both the Hero League and the Villain Underground has started to take notice. If this is what it culminated to, he would gladly be the one to pull the trigger to eliminate not only this threat to his family, but to his friends, and even his enemies. There was still a human heart in him after all, under the layers of ice and stone most saw first.
“Alright, here you are, Gambit. Make us proud, eh?” Antonio slid the gun across the counter, smiling. Robert took it, checking it, before putting it in a hidden holster.
“If the bird dies, either way they’ll be happy since one more threat is eliminated.” He responded, nodding to his friend before hastily leaving, to avoid the attention of a couple newbies who were getting just a bit too close for comfort.
His motorcycle was waiting. Still humming with a new tank of fuel in it, likely from a friend. His continued patronage was a reason the place still existed, after all. Riding off like Miss Whirlwind was on his tail, he sped through the streets of Omegopolis, towards the building dubbed by his fellow villains The Bird’s Nest.
His face twisted into a scowl once again as he stared at the building that he was all too familiar with, from the various escapades he used to make, and the numerous interviews the Hero had over the news that Maria couldn’t stop watching.
Parking the vehicle outside, he checked his weapons, concealed, and not, and eying the security camera he spotted, went inside the unlocked front door, one hand curled in a fist, the other held on the gun’s trigger. The base, he thought, looked closer to a stereotypical villain’s lair than a hero’s base. Trophies lined the walls of the first floor, both from fallen, and active villains. Venus Maxima’s plasma gun, one of Tecton’s various remotes for his machines, Nightmaricus’ cape, Total Flare’s goggles, one of Dr. Corundum’s lab coats, one of Slink’s tail spikes, what remained of Illiptica’s favorite puzzle, and what nearly made him laugh, another one of Ace of Clubs’ custom made butterfly knives. Noticing there was nothing of his, made his blood run cold. A terrifying realization that he was right, Amaya was, to the utterly crazy hero, another trophy, scared him to his core, and made him all the more determined to get his sunshine back. He made a promise, after all.
The second he found the door to the basement and heard the hero rambling incoherently nearly made him see red as he snuck down the stairs, and kept to the shadows as he searched for his daughter, and found her, awake, crying, tied to a support column. Simultaneously, he felt his vision go red, and his heart shatter into a million pieces and drop into his stomach.
“Ah yes, Mr. Gambit, I’ve been expecting you.” The mad Avenger spoke, and the room flooded with light.
“Daddy!” Amaya shrieked.
“The bad man took me off the bus!”
“Be quiet you brat.” The Hero snarled, and that, that was enough to make Robert pull the gun out of the holster, and attempt to shoot the insane bird that stole his sunshine. He missed, but it was enough to startle them. Flightless Avenger let out a yelp that sounded like a frightened hawk.
“Close your eyes, sweet pea.” He spoke to his daughter, who he knew only recognized the outfit he wore from accidentally finding the room only a couple months prior. At that age, kids could find and get into anything. She screwed her eyes shut, scrunching up her face in the process. Another gunshot rang out, catching the man in the arm. Shattered Gambit ran forward, tackling the man and pinning him to the wall.
“Please! Let me go! I’ll give your daughter back! You’ll be sorry about this I swear!” They gibbered, looking for any escape plan, as Robert held the gun to their chest.
“No. You forfeited that when you decided to gamble with your life by taking my sunshine.” The villain snarled, leaning in close to look at the Hero’s utter fear, relishing in it.
“and you lost.” He spoke low, pulling the trigger and letting the former hero go limp on the floor, before shooting him in the head, as if he were a zombie that wouldn’t die otherwise. Putting the gun away, he ran to his daughter, and pulling out the “borrowed” knife, he started to slice the ropes to free her.
“Can I open my eyes now, daddy?”
“Not yet, sweet pea, I’ll tell you when, okay?”
“Okay daddy. I don’t like the bad man. Did he go away?”
“Yes he did, he won’t bother you ever again.”
“Thank you daddy.” The little girl yawned, and Robert scooped her up once she was freed, going up the stairs and out of the building.
“You can open your eyes now, Amaya.”
“Are we going home?” Her eyelids drooped, as she was buckled into the sidecar of the motorcycle, and her pink helmet was put on her head.
“Yes we are, and mommy’s waiting. You can sleep if you want.”
“I’m not tired!” She protested, the yawn she made contradicting that.
“It’s past midnight, sleepyhead, way past your bedtime.” Robert started driving, and Hazel pouted for a bit before eventually falling asleep, and he took the time to call Diomed.
“Safe and sound. Riding home.”
“What happened with this mess?”
“It seems the old bird has been collecting things. Not anymore. Gone for good.”
“Ah, good, good. Was anything of mine or Tim’s there?”
“One of his remotes, I believe from the attempted earthquake generator, and one of your knives. Another one I stole from him before, but he somehow managed to replace it.”
“I’m forgetful with those, unfortunately. Shall I fill out the incident report, or will you?”
“I don’t think they will accept parental rage as an excuse to kill a top hero. I’ll need help for this one.” Robert sighed, glancing over to his sleeping daughter.
“The kidnapping report should help. If all else fails, I can pull strings with the others to set you three up with new identities, but I do have a couple questions, Gambit.”
“Go on. Sleepyhead here’s out like a light.”
“About... this. Are you going to come back professionally? I and a few others, Julia, Nyx, Arthur, the heads of the Underground have been planning, with enough of us we can finally make the push to take over the city proper. Make it better. Get rid of the corruption within the heroes, make sure something like this never happens again.”
“I’ll have to think on it, Ace. Maria and I... well, you know her.”
“Stormcloud never lost her touch. You remember how she was. Perhaps she can return too, with convincing. You can have little five of spades grow up in a better world. Please, Gambit, we are so close, this will never have to happen again.”
“Let me get home and put Amaya to bed, then we will talk.” Robert sighed, ending the call. The hum of the road and the soft snores of his daughter permeated the silence as he thought. He would have to talk in the morning after Maria and Amaya were off, away from home. He was tired. The static was starting to clear. He never stayed up this late unless he was fixing up the motorcycle.
“What a night.” He spoke to himself as he pulled into the driveway, parking the motorcycle in the garage, and taking his daughter out of the sidecar.
For just a moment, a fleeting moment, it was just bedtime. Taking off the mask to give Amaya a kiss on the forehead as she fell into a deeper sleep, in her room. Closing the door carefully, he glanced at the clock nearby. 1:15 am. All was well.
submitted by Circephilia to Omegopolis [link] [comments]
2020.07.04 10:33 MilkbottleF Bus touch hidden camera
Collected in Down the Road to Eternity: New and Selected Fiction (Talonbooks, 2009). Dozens more of her tiny stories are available in The World Afloat: Miniatures (Talonbooks, 2014):
The Bright Gymnasium of Fun
How many laughers make up a laugh track? How are laugh tracks engineered?Kristmas Kraft
Is there a laugh track company? With its own building/parking lot/cafeteria? Does the laugh track company have its own stable of laughers and highly trained technicians? Are laugh track companies union shops? With shop stewards and an annual general meeting? With negotiated contracts covering such items as sick leave for laryngitis and with the right to strike for better working conditions?
Do laughers laugh at anything? At nothing? Is the mark of a good laugher one who can laugh for no reason at all, as if a switch were turned on?
Do laughers practice laughing? Sitting or standing in their living rooms/kitchens/bedrooms or on public transportation systems, do they suddenly ring out with laughter, practising the same laugh over and over until they get it right? Do professional laughers, therefore, have to carry identification on their persons at all times which will reassure startled or frightened passersby that they are indeed just practising their trade and not, in fact, mad or deranged or both?
Is there a pay scale for laughers? Are guffawers, hooters, roarers and howlers paid more for their work than are gigglers, twitters, cacklers and snigglers? Do belly laughers and shriekers command the highest fees, enough to make a decent wage? Enough to claim, in real life, the equivalent of the humorous, middle-class counterpart presented in many of the TV sitcoms they perform for?
What is real life? Is it that state of being which exists other than what is presented on television and in movies and videos? Something other than performance and posture?
Are there child laughers in special demand for childhood laugh track events such as cartoons/birthdays/tooth extractions? And what of amateur laughers? Are there how-to-laugh books developed especially for them which can be purchased at airport magazine shops/drugstores which encourage them to embrace laughing as a hobby? Are there night school courses that amateur laughers can attend in January/February/March? Tricks of the trade they can learn from practitioners who are slightly more skilled at laughing than they are? Techniques such as breath control/crescendo/decrescendo as in the training of singers and musicians? Are there laughing forms to master?
And what of those sad/abnormal souls who stubbornly refuse all merriment, all lampshade and lewd joke activity? What of them? Should there not be places/institutions/homes where they can receive treatment for their affliction? From which they can emerge, restored to rapture, and armed with tanks of nitrous oxide to declare that it is not better to sorrow than to laugh, it is not better to die than be born?
Is it true that the aging process kills off dopamine cells in the brain, that as we get older euphoria declines, and our capacity to have fun diminishes? Why there is no fool like an old fool, young fools being a dime a dozen?
Is there a market, therefore, for personal, portable laugh tracks? Small, special recording devices that we can all carry around? Attach to our persons? To enable us to laugh at our families/governments/worlds? Would illness/despaihopelessness/anguish finally vanish as some people have suggested? Would we then all be prodded into states of chronically good moods, becoming perpetually pleased, and not tormented to death as we are now with the what-fors and whys of an absurd existence?
Would the boundaries, then, melt away between what is laughable and what is not? With everyone wearing their portable laugh tracks and laughing at everything/nothing, even in their dreams, even in love, would not the world as we know it become like one enormous California, as smooth and mild as a grapefruit? A heaven on earth? A bright gymnasium of fun?
On the other hand, in a world of stunned, uniform laughers, would there not emerge a deviant subclass, a deliberately unfunny, underground movement of anti-laughers declaring their right to misery/ bleakness/doom? Intent on the destruction of stand-up comics and gameshow hosts? Would not the cry of dadaist ecstasy be heard again, this time as “Assasinate the Laughers!” in an updated attempt to startle/ shock the smiling millions who, poised before their television screens, are laughing on cue as if possessed by some grand/homeric/universal tic?
Should not television laugh tracks be scrutinized? Do they not control the quality/frequency/duration of our laughter? Do they not disallow transcendence by rendering all experience cute? Do they not tranquilize us by rendering our laughter thin and meaningless until death do us part?
What if all the laugh track laughers went on strike? How would any of us know what is funny?
I heard about this cute Christmas gift idea that you can make at home—your own Kraft nativity scene, colourful too, and mmmmmm yummy.On Holiday with Giants
First hollow out a three pound brick of your favourite luncheon meat so that it resembles a stable and so that you, looking down through its roof, look like an angel. Then put your stable onto a cookie sheet and surround it with shredded coconut. This is the hay. Next stick four tooth picks into four wieners and stand them up. Top each wiener with a Kraft green olive. These are the cattle. For Mary, top an upright cocktail wiener with a Mini-Mallow and use strands of coconut for her hair. A hollowed out Maxi-Mallow will do for the manger and the infant Jesus will be a cocktail wiener wrapped in a Kraft Cheese single. Surround the table and the hay with Miracle Whip and shredded Velveeta Cheese.
Take a picture.
Then place your Kraft nativity scene in a three hundred and seventy-five degree oven for forty-five minutes. Serve when friends drop over on Boxing Day or use as a festive centrepiece, a Merry Christmas gift from Mom in the kitchen, that happy lady, that wise shopper.
Our children are larger than us. They carry us about on their huge backs like packsacks, you on the boy, I on the girl. Riding them through the city streets in search of playmates it’s evident that other parents are being carried about in a similar way; some are even slung on their children’s hips like bags of groceries, some ride anxiously on fat shoulders. Then we are set down in designated areas for drink and conversation, dozens of parents gathered together for worried viewing of the park across the way; the children are playing their fearsome games there with baseballs the size of pumpkins, and bats sturdy enough to support a house. Grandparents, no bigger than dolls, sit amongst us nodding quietly to one another: Ah, the wisdom of the world!Vacation Time
At night it’s back to the hotel room. You and I in a corner of the room sharing a single mattress on the floor. The children each with a king-sized bed arranged before the TV set where they watch game shows and eat peanuts—the shells rising in mountains from the floor. The room growing smaller by the minute. The children growing larger and larger.
During the night the room heats up like an incubator. But the children don’t notice. They sleep with massive fists thrust in their pink gaping mouths. When our daughter laughs and tosses in her sleep her roundness bruises the hotel walls. At three A.M. our son cries out in a man’s voice: Barricade the door, the troops are coming! His size twelve feet flailing against the hotel quilt.
We, on the floor, sweat and lose moisture, shrivel a little more, dry out. Our lotions of little help. Our lovemaking of little help. We keep reducing in volume. Peanut shells spill onto our mattress. On the way to the bathroom we wade through a clutter of pop cans and pizza cartons, track shoes, comics.
Regarding these sleeping giants, we realize it’s too late not to have had them. The die has been cast. Inexplicably, our pride in them remains.
Each summer during the two weeks of vacation time goldfish flee their bowls to build dazzling orange nests in trees. Monkeys, lions and snakes trade places with accountants, lawyers, and priests, holidaying in another kind of zoo. Free birds fly voluntarily into cages allowing their rarer brothers a two-week dose of the sky. All the hard-working ants, red and black, get two weeks off to loaf on the beach. Worms crawl out of their dirty holes to hang like brown tinsel from the eaves of churches.Refusal
During the two weeks of vacation time every wronged animal is avenged: gangs of domestic cats and kamikaze budgies rampage the streets in search of juvenile delinquents; a committee of gerbils and hamsters makes plans for the eradication of small boys; angry butterflies work round the clock sharpening their specimen daggers; pet turtles grow temporarily huge commanding their owners to languish in slimy tanks on the front lawn—two weeks go by and they don’t feed them or change the water.
During vacation time, old women watch in horror as their pet terriers turn into porcelain dogs, as their china figurines come leeringly alive—girls with parasols, boys with fishing poles—to run off for two weeks of fragile sex in a place far away from glass cabinets.
SLAPAll Chickens are Sucks: Notes from the Litshow
First there was a slap. Two slaps, one on either cheek. Don’t interrupt me when I’m on the phone! Slaps you’d see a princess give a nobody in a movie, or a maid, or a workman. Smack, smack. Like that. Quick. With the hand that fed, that washed the body, that brushed the hair. Slaps like the sound of sudden gunfire, unpredictable. And the war zone: the living room, the narrow hallway where the telephone rang.
She must have placed the phone under her chin, must have positioned it carefully so she could slap with ease. Come here while I slap you. No, it was the pulling at her skirt, at the long slim high-heeled legs that did it. Close enough for her to whirl around, one hand free. And a dummy child in place to receive it, not figuring it out in time, always too close, always surprised and shocked. A sudden slap like the slap of birth, or of insight.
There’s a house at the foot of a steep hill, a rented house with dusty passageways and hidden rooms, with balconies overlooking a large wood-panelled living room, a castle of a house. In an upstairs bedroom there are angels. Yes, angels, you’re sure of it. Three in white gowns, two in blue, with thick, waxy wings. Hovering at the end of your bed; one is floating near the ceiling, its golden hair brushing the overhead light. Angels living—if that’s what angels do—in your room. They don’t speak but their presence is so claustrophobic you scream. Scream and scream. Their presence is sucking the air from the room, but they’re smiling at you warmly, like Bible drawings of Jesus, and their smiles never change. Smiling while they eat your air.
Quit imagining things, you’re later told. Come down to earth.
This woman who slaps. What of her? Oh, you keep away from her, at least you try, keep her at arm’s length, refused. Because a nightmare is having your arms cut off below the elbows. There’s so much blood when you push her away. But still she grabs, still she slaps.
Why won’t you call her Mother? Because the word sticks hard in your throat like a growl and won’t form into music?
Instead, you call her the slapping woman.
What does the slapping woman look like? Is she beautiful? Is she a beautiful, wicked Queen? No, not beautiful though she has a certain grace, like the cold stiffness of a China figurine.
But everything about her is brown. Like dirt? Yes, like dirt. From her thin hair to her dull-brown eyes, from her tailored suits and her alligator high-heeled shoes to the fox-fur she wears when going out, draped around her shoulders like a live thing. Two tiny fox heads with yellow glass eyes staring at you from either side of her neck.
In the back yard you mould the slapping woman out of mud and twigs, a whole family of mud-pie women, some larger and more fierce than the others, some small and helpless. When the mud is powdery dry, you have wars with them, smashing them together until they crumble, until armies of perishing slapping women are strewn in broken clumps about the ground.
You use twigs for their arms and legs because her bones are so sharp they hurt you when you’re held. Twigs that snap easily in half, then snap in half again.
Tea in the living room. She pulls you onto her lap in front of a neighbour woman. Her knees are sharp through her brown skirt; it’s difficult to balance, to sit still without falling off.
She’s being careful with you, formal, slow. No, you couldn’t call it kindness, but her voice is even, a silky veil, a kind of song. She’s talking to the woman about her home, far away, across the ocean. The sun shines all the time in Australia. Just shines and shines. Not like here where there’s nothing but rain.
Warily you let her hold you, soothed by the delicious sound of her newly soft voice.
Her slapping hands for the moment lying still.
A crowd of strangers with drinks in their hands have gathered around the piano at the far end of the living room. The slapping woman is playing “Kitten on the Keys,” “The Twelfth Street Rag,” “Hernando’s Hide-Away.” Everyone is singing. You’re sitting on the piano bench beside her plunking at the high end of the keyboard, at those shrill notes that are never used. Miraculously you’re at the heart of things, ignored.
Once during these times she calls you Darling and strokes your hair. Darling!
Play us another one! Something we can get our teeth into. Play “Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ra.” Play “My Heart Is Like A Red, Red Rose.”
Darling! The music of that rare caress.
She’s given him your plate with the cut-up meat. Then laughs and laughs. Standing at his side, she’s feeding him the meat, one piece at a time. Be a good boy and eat your supper! And he’s laughing too, his head’s thrown back, his wide mouth open. Oh, the bells of that private laughter! His paper napkin at his throat like a bib. He’s holding his mouth like a hungry bird, she’s teasing him with the meat. Don’t be a naughty boy! Making him bend after it, further and further, until he falls off the chair.
The slapping woman is shouting. Throwing plates of food against the kitchen cupboards, a bowl of stewed prunes, a gravy boat against the kitchen door after the father’s retreating back. A white door, brown gravy.
Once again she’s crying. I want to go home. I hate this country, and all this rain. It’s a prison. I hate everything about it.
Dressed in a night-gown, you’re running circles around the edge of the living room rug, jumping on the armchairs, keeping time to “The Teddy Bear’s Picnic.” Play the record again! And again! The Father’s on the floor beneath a lamp holding a needle and pink thread, sewing doll’s underpants. And a cape! And a doll’s skirt made from a piece of cut-up pillowcase. Threading elastic with a safety pin through a crude waistband. I learned how to sew at sea, on the ships at night. We had to do our own mending.
You’re sitting on the living room rug with the Father eating toast and jam. Then the floor’s a heaving black ocean with orange circle islands made from the light of table lamps and you’re a sailor hopping from one circle to the next. Yo ho ho. The Father’s clapping his hands. And a bottle of rum.
Where is the slapping woman?
Gone like a drifting fog because her departure is so quiet. She’s slipped out at night, floated through the bedroom ceiling with the angels.
You’ve looked up from your playing, turned around at the supper table and she’s not there. You weren’t watching and she stole away. You weren’t watching and she’s slapped you again.
Why won’t you eat? The Father’s given you all your favourite foods: chocolate cake and ice cream, fish and chips, orange pop, jelly beans, marshmallows. You should be happy; this should be a celebration, she’s gone away. Why won’t you speak? Cat got your tongue?
But there are no words for this emptiness, it’s too large to name. You long for her slippery legs, for the hands that once stroked your hair. Without her presence you feel eerily alone.
The Father rocks you on his lap. He reads to you: Winnie-the-Pooh, The Owl and the Pussycat. You cry and cry, adrift in your sadness. You’re clinging to a ball that’s too wide for your grasp. Hold onto the Father, he’s a sailor, he won’t let you drown. Listen he’s telling you a story: She’s gone away on a boat, maybe never to return.
She’s sailed in a boat, in a pea-green boat, she’s slapping the ocean blue.
In the living room of the castle house. You’re helping the Father put toys into a large cardboard box.
And where will I love?
You mean live?
Yes, where will I live?
With your Grandma on the Island. And I’ll visit every weekend. You can make me toast and jam, and we’ll take rides in the car and go to the beach.
And stand on the shore, and wave at the waves, and stare at the boats in the distance.
And what about your tricycle? Do you want to take that?
Oh yes. And the doll and the doll’s clothes and all the books. Hans Christian Andersen. The Princess and the Pea. The Snow Queen. The Snow Queen! There once was a child who lived frozen inside …
Pushing aside the toys you take hold of the Father’s hand.
The Compassionate Side of Nature
A large poster in the bedroom where I sleep is titled “How To Be An Artist.” The poster lists several things I can do to become one: invite someone dangerous to tea; make friends with freedom; swing as high as you can on a swingset in moonlight; give money away; believe in magic; laugh a lot; take moon baths; draw on walls; giggle with children; play with stuffed toys; build a fort with blankets; hug trees.
- A man asks if he can pray before I begin a reading, kneeling in the cafe and asking for God’s protection. This was in a dream. The same dream in which my reading was sabotaged by a young Jehovah’s Witness poet who flung my books into a bank of blackberry vines.
- I give a reading on a B.C. ferry. Over a hundred Japanese tourists are in attendance. All of them are asleep except for one who is manning a video camera. It occurs to me that I often see Japanese tourists sleeping en route—heads slumped against bus windows, bodies leaning into each other in airport lounges. But there are always one or two taking pictures. Perhaps they draw straws to pick who will stay awake and do the filming. Perhaps they gather, later on at home, on their day off from the corporation, to view these slides and videos. All of them amazed and delighted by what they slept through. In this way having a kind of second vacation.
- A literary agent writes to say he’s interested in representing my work. He wants to tell me about his clients, most of whom, he says, are professionals in one field or another. “There are medical doctors,” he writes, “Ph.Ds, an Indian author who used to be a movie star, a lady veterinarian pilot who has spread her wings into adult mysteries, an eighty-five-year-young medical missionary with a wooden prosthesis leg (lost to gas gangrene in her early thirties) who has worked for over fifty years as a nurse in the remote regions of Northern India. There’s a … ”
- An organizer who has a German accent gives me details about an upcoming reading: “You will catch the three-thirty ferry. Dinner is served promptly at five-thirty. The reading begins at seven-thirty. You will read for forty-five minutes. Then there will be a lengthy coffee break after which you will read for another forty-five minutes. You will sleep on my couch. If you bring your husband he will sleep on the floor.”
- Driving to the town in southern Saskatchewan which has become famous as the home of junior hockey coach-pedophiles, the reading organizer tells me that there is one word I cannot say during my reading. “It’s the four-letter word beginning with ‘c’ and ending with ‘t,’” he says. “They just cannot abide that word.” I ask him if the four-letter word beginning with “f” and ending with “k” is all right. Also the seven-letter word beginning in “a” and ending in “e” which is used for rear end. “Are these words okay?” I wonder. These words, the organizer assures me, are fine: “There’s no problem with them. But they’ll walk out if you use the ‘c’ word.”
- After seeing me on a cable interview a woman acquaintance telephones. “You did very well,” she tells me, “but I noticed that you used a lot of ‘ums’ and ‘ahs.’ I can help you with that. I’d like to invite you, as my guest, to the next meeting of Toastmasters International. It’s at the Silver Threads. You go in the front door. But don’t turn right. That’s Bingo. Turn left.” I instantly decide I love my “ums” and “ahs.” I’ll keep them. It’s what saves me from sounding like I’m in sales.
- After a reading I sleep in the home of a woman who is enamoured with angels. Small, glittery angel forms appear on tables, floors, countertops. They’re everywhere like air freshener. There are also angel sayings placed here and there. On the sewing machine: Every blade of grass has its own angel. On the typewriter: If everyone only listened to their angel. On the bathroom mirror: Make angel wings ten times.
The poster is colourful; there’s an angel blowing a golden trumpet in each corner and the how-to instructions are printed against a large rainbow. A Care Bears ambiance hovers in the room. In the morning I flee. As I’m getting in my car, the woman calls gaily from the front steps, “You never know when you’ll be touched by an angel!”
- A book reviewer creates a prize. It’s made out of an empty cereal box. He calls it the “Wet Salami.” I am one of seven winners. It’s possible I dreamt this. The winners are required to perform a musical number on stage; all of us wear identical blonde wigs. One of the winners plays the piano, the rest attempt a chorus line. I then step forward to deliver a speech of thanks. Looking back at the other winners I notice that they are all idiots, drooling sub-normals happy to be fêted. Each of us is holding a wet salami. One of the idiots is eating hers.
- I give a reading before twenty-four empty black chairs. The reading goes well. There is nothing dreamlike about this occurrence. The reading goes well because I’ve given up all hope of an audience ever arriving; it’s become clear that the twenty-four chairs have become my audience. I therefore conjure up significance: There is something exquisite about the way this double semicircle of chairs have hurled me into the moment, something … er, wonderful … about the way I’ve crashed into where I am. Which, on this rain lashed Wednesday evening in mid-December, is exactly nowhere, or as Donald Barthelme would say: nowhere—the exact centre.
- At the last minute, my publisher changes the title of my new book to All Chickens Are Sucks and puts me in charge of promotion. This may or may not be a dream. I take my duties seriously. At the book launch I wear a chicken outfit and sing in a chicken squawk the theme song from Saturday Night Fever: “Stayin’ Alive.” Then I read excerpts from the book. Every so often I let out a terrible chicken screech. For my finale I settle myself on the floor, grunt several times, and lay an egg. Everyone rushes for the book table. The publisher immediately begins a second printing.
For five weeks we watched the video feed of the eagle’s nest. A man had placed a video camera in the nest and we along with several million people sat transfixed before computer screens and watched as a nesting pair took turns sitting on two eggs. It was exciting. Soon we would witness the birth. But mysteriously one of the eggs disappeared. It was explained via the newspaper and TV coverage that this often happens with eagles—an egg may be empty. We consoled ourselves: this was raw nature, after all. Then holes were seen in the second egg and we became excited once again—a chick was about to peck its way out of the egg. But it soon became evident that this egg was also empty. There was great sadness among the several million people. But we continued watching to see what might happen next, if anything, and were not disappointed. Three days after the second egg was discarded a new form appeared in the nest—a miniature dachshund wearing a rhinestone collar. We think—and hope—that the dog is a replacement for the failed eggs. You hear about these things, about the compassionate side of nature. For example, mother ducks adopting abandoned kittens, and so on. Perhaps it is the same situation here. The parent eagles at present seem attentive to the dog; they feed it and have in no way harmed it. And they appear mesmerized by the rhinestone collar, staring at it for minutes on end then tapping at it to see what it might be. During sunrise the collar glints spectacularly. But we fear for the dog. What will happen when the eagles decide it’s time for it to fly? Will they push it from the nest to its certain death? A rescue operation has been mounted. The world watches as firefighters, who have a well-deserved reputation for rescuing cats from trees, confer with wildlife experts. The great worry is that the eagles will be spooked by human intervention and fly off with the dachshund in a bid to protect it from predators. The dog’s name is Bismarck. His owners, an elderly couple who live in a cottage nearby, are receiving trauma counselling. Meanwhile scores of grief workers are on standby should the story end badly.Because of Russell Edson
They are clearing out old theories, their no-longer-fruitful theories: the theory of possible; the theory of want; the theory of restlessness; the theory of wandering; the theory of lizards; the theory of coffee mugs; the theory of figure skating lessons; the theory of clocks.A Little Something
They’ve shoved the old theories into garbage bags and set the bags at the end of the driveway. A propped sign says: Free.
Behind the living room curtain they watch who stops by.
A boy on a bike takes the theory of lizards.
Predictable, says the son.
A woman with a dog drags off the theory of clocks.
She’s old, says the mother.
A woman pushing a stroller grabs the theory of want.
Makes sense, says the father.
The daughter lets out a scream. You threw out the theory of want? While I was still using it?
We thought, says the father.
How could you? It goes with the theory of desire!
We got rid of desire last summer, says the father.
You what? screams the daughter.
Oh dear, says the mother.
We’ve still got the theory of open, says the son.
Open? shouts the daughter. That old thing? I wouldn’t be caught dead.
Dead? says the father. We threw out dead when you were born.
Oh dear, says the mother.
Now I’ll never, cries the daughter.
Never? says the father.
Shut up! screams the daughter.
Didn’t we give never to your cousin Shirley? says the mother.
Shut up! Shut up!
Fifty thousand vaginas were sent through the mail. Free samples. Part of an ad campaign for a revived play. We couldn’t get ours open. It was shut tighter than a bivalve. “Useless!” My husband cried. “You call that a talking vagina?” I knew how he felt. Last week, a shriveled penis was left on the doorstep. Another free sample. It came with a card: “A little something from the Goddess.” Goddess is a line of lubricants. The penis was supposed to enlarge and chase you around the house and call you baby when rubbed with the cream. No dice. I couldn’t even get it to squeak. The cream’s a fraud. The penis lay on the dining room table like an old carrot. Then the cat dragged it off but gave up trying to chew it because the skin was so tough.Breakdown of the Month Calendar
We’ve buried the vagina and the penis together in the back garden. Perhaps a little something might erupt through the dirt this spring.
January. Outside, the everlasting wheezes and falters. The dog poses on the community picnic table then vanishes. The town is flabby and grey. At home there is a tight limit on table language.The Gnats That Blur Our Vision
February. Mother’s mind goes missing on a drive for soft ice-cream. A return to the picnic table turns up a bird’s skull. Grandma wears work boots and lime-green stretch pants to Grandpa’s funeral. The language on the fridge magnet says You Are Loved.
March. At home Mother’s mind is found buried beneath the laundry. Sister writes a poem in praise of emotion. A new dog is bought and named Odysseus. Outside, the everlasting is crackling and green.
April. It rains on the town for thirty straight days. For thirty days Brother watches TV. Father unplugs the sink, the toilet and the storm drains. Mother’s mind scurries off in a torrent of ditch water.
May. Brother gets a prize for taking a bath. Grandma wears a black sarong and bare feet to Old Age Bingo. Sister writes a hymn about dread. The planet tilts nearer the sun.
June. Outside, the everlasting bubbles and bursts. Mother’s mind returns inside a yellow helium balloon. The balloon settles in a backyard tree and glows at night like a lamp. Father lies on the living room rug laughing hysterically.
July. Odysseus begins his wanderings through the blue and silver town. The balloon bursts when a robin lands on its surface. Grandma breaks her arm climbing the tree to gather pieces of Mother’s mind. The robin is taken to the vet.
August. The car breaks down on a trip for Krazy Glue. For two weeks, the glue keeps Mother’s mind attached to her brain. One evening the everlasting, the town and Mother’s mind are cast in a lovely bronze light. The car breaks down on a trip for pizza.
September. Brother wins a prize for taking out the garbage. Mother gets a new broom to commemorate renewed effort. Grandma gets a new pot to bang on because she’s not dead yet. Brother wins new love—the vet’s comely assistant.
October. Mother’s mind hitches a ride on her broom and soars towards the moon. Father says the trick in life is to keep your eyes averted. Grandma says the treat is hardly worth the effort. Grandma runs off with the bingo caller.
November. Outside, the everlasting is ragged and brown. Odysseus returns with Mother’s mind on a leash. Father lies on the kitchen floor laughing and laughing. The planet tilts away from the sun.
December. Sister writes a poem about renewal. Brother wins a prize for leaving home. Mother’s mind is housed with the budgie. The car breaks down on a trip for birdseed.
We turned off the lights to see through screens into other worlds. To absolutely lose ourselves in madness, passion, abandon, sublimity. To fully fucking wreak shit with our puny conscious minds. Because each of these new worlds has its own physics, its own creator. Because after everything the screens were so lovely, glowing, casting a deeper spell, allowing multiple universes, allowing ecstasy. “Because after something comes nothing. No enemy armada. No music. No score.” Just us and our control of the unseen. Plus the satisfying wasteland at the end of rapture. Our only requirement is to have a kick drum knocking at all times, occasionally wind chimes.The God of Banality
Still, the old deities hover nearby like a cloud of gnats. Some burrow beneath our eyelids and blur our vision. This has happened more often than we liked. One such gnat was especially persistent. This was the blind seer Jorge Luis Borges. Suddenly our eyes would feel scratchy, as if a handful of dust had been thrown at them, and then, when we’d try to rub them clean, there he’d be trailing his entourage of former selves, multiples of Borges.
“Every man runs the risk of being the first immortal,” he and his younger selves would intone, their hawk-like profiles flickering across our screens.
“Every man runs the risk of disconnecting his subconscious.”
We’d fiddle with the controls.
“Every puny ecstasy rushes toward its own demise. Not even a bird’s trill can save you.”
We’d shrug him off, having no time for the prophesy of dead seers. Having time only to execute our parts as the kings and queens of the graceful glide. For the engine running mankind’s ambitious extinction.
Our eyes glow like abalone swans in a pool of glare.
We have washed the house in morning rain. Bathed the children with words plucked from the lips of poets. Bathed ourselves with the music that inhabits the end of dreams, three descending notes of rapturous birdsong.Play Button
We have swept the pathway of ashes, tethered our farm animals to oak trees, chopped wood at sunrise, sprinkled salt and milk across our doorsteps, lit outdoor fires for the morning feast where eggs boiled with pig’s snouts and magical words have been offered and consumed. We have re-told the death anecdotes and the tales of narrative luck that allow us to take heart in this world.
We do these things every morning to ensure the enduring presence of the god in our lives. The god of the everyday—soothing, predictable, common to all—a singing hologram that lives in dust.
I want to be the play button that sends out laughing songs. Thereby reprising the merry view. Where its folk reign. Sacred champagne. An endless ticker tape parade.What We Need
I’ll even project pictures of the world’s dumb work. What we do, the mush of things, the clinking animosities, the wondrous starving in the wondrous world.
If I can stay the old form, thoughtful and sweet from the history store.
If I can be a slot machine for Chekhov. A one-armed bandit winning a jackpot of sight. Though I’ll settle for a sly aside of knowing why. And how and when. A merry-go-round as to words, tra la …
A handler. A hand up. A hand-hold. A Han(d)sel and Gretel. A handstand. Handlebars. Handball. A handbook. Handwriting. A handicap. A handgun. A hand grenade. Handcuffs. Hands wringing. A handle on it. A hand out. A handmaiden. A handyman. A hand job. A handbag. A hand mirror. A handout.Jesus Loves me but he Can’t Stand you
A good hand. A hand over a fist. A hand over a hand. A handsome thank you.
A hearty handshake. A handful of good luck. The sound of one hand clapping.
A handspring. Another handspring …
I’m drinking alone this Christmas.Pulse
I’ve hired a wino to decorate my home.
I’ve put a bar in the back of my car so I can drive myself to drink.
Jesus, will you be drinking with me this Christmas?
Will you be thinking of me if you do?
My head hurts and my feet stink.
I don’t know whether to kill myself or go bowling.
* Compiled from C&W song titles.
The timeline is shrinking. We are entering the risk zone. Consumers are in the dump, victims of financial advisors, psychopaths, corrupt CEOs, their own greed. We wonder: should we stay in the dump or should we go? Cut our losses or take a wait and see approach? Spend what’s left on Christmas or cut back, hunker down? It’s a rich mystery. It’s feared the crisis could get much worse. Surplus has been scaled back by billions. What does this mean? Falling prices in a broad range of categories have created a nightmare scenario that worries the top cop. He’s pledged to end disorder. We’re not in the best place on earth any more. This much is clear. This much has been repeatedly stated. The homeless are no longer docile or whacked out but angry. Their numbers have swollen to include former haves. Now everyone’s in danger of slipping into the red. It’s feared the bloodbath’s about to begin. We are in deeply negative territory. We are plunging hard and fast into meltdown. It is feared we are headed beyond what is known.Author Interview
* Compiled from newspaper headlines, late 2008.
To Be Continued
- Thank you.
- Sure. Appears to be. But isn’t.
- Five of us, actually. Though everyone’s left. Except us.
- School. Work. One to a nursing home.
- That’s right. Two of us in this big house.
- Not bad. I write. He cycles. We visit the others.
- Oh, every few weeks.
Last night we returned to the beach to see the massed gulls. So many were circling the sky overhead as we walked that we were certain we’d find them perched on the rocks as before. There was a strong wind and the sun had broken through the heavily overcast sky so that the underbellies of the gulls were illuminated, flashing white as they rode the wind. But the beach was empty of birds. The herring must have moved farther down the inlet. The strong wind, cold on our faces, pushed at the sea with such force that whitecaps had formed. The light on the small surf, on the overhanging arbutus trees lining the beach, and on the larger firs and cedars beyond them was green and yellow. The scene was hectic, exciting, with the cawing birds overhead. We climbed the rocks and stood looking out, the dog beside us. The wind blew our hair back and the dog’s fur was blown flat against her body; she angled her nose and sniffed the windy air. When we returned to the path along the shore we saw uneven lines of grey and brown herring roe spread along the beach. They were woven amongst the seaweed, and together they glistened in the yellow and green light like a living veil.submitted by MilkbottleF to shortstoryaday [link] [comments]
There are times when the experience of living in this world is rapturous. And there are times when it curls us crying in our beds. Between these extremes we tell one another what we know …
2020.04.27 08:57 TeraHeroIdharNahiHai Sriram Raghavan talking about the first & the last shot of Badlapur.
In this series, Film Companion picks movies of the past decade with great first and last shots and asks directors to break down how they came up with them, shot them and what their significance is
Sriram Raghavan‘s 2015 revenge drama Badlapur opens with the intriguing text: Don’t miss the beginning. Only when it does begin, it’s oddly placid for a thriller. There’s a bank heist, but we don’t see it unfold. There’s greater turmoil in the film’s last shot, in which Raghu (Varun Dhawan), who lost his wife and child in the robbery, finally gets his revenge and is struck by the realization that life is still as empty.
Raghavan talks about how the opening shot sprung from his desire to do something radically different from his previous film Agent Vinod (2012) and the alternate ending Badlapur almost had:
The film opens with a static shot of MG Road in Pune in broad daylight. A mother buys vegetables, makes small talk with the vendor, traffic passes by. There’s nothing to suggest it’s anything but an ordinary day – unless you’re watching the background closely. Two men exit a bank. It’s still calm. They then try to make a getaway, with horrifying consequences.
“I do think of the first and last scenes a lot, and within that, there’s the first and last shot. Badlapur‘s beginning was scripted, it’s not like we shot various things and then decided what we wanted to start with. The beginning of the film sets the tone, lets the viewer know what to expect. I had just finished Agent Vinod, which was not really satisfying to me as a filmmaker or to viewers because the bulk of it was just chaotic chases. So I thought, ‘Let me just go the opposite route and treat the opening in a minimalistic way.’ That’s why we have a one-shot, almost like a documentary feel to it. A lot of things are happening, but only if you want to see them. If you don’t, you’ll realize you’ve missed something.
There are two reasons we put: Don’t miss the beginning. One is I wanted that as the tagline but the tagline usually gets lost after the first poster. Luckily, there was a film called Badlapur Boysand they said we couldn’t use ‘Badlapur’ as the title unless there was something more to it. So the censor certificate of our film is Badlapur: Don’t Miss The Beginning. Which is mad. The other reason is that if you miss the first five minutes, you don’t know if Liak (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) is telling the truth when he says he didn’t kill Raghu’s wife. I wanted the viewers to know what really happened even if Raghu doesn’t. Usually people take it for granted that everything is being established in the first five minutes, so I wanted to start with a bang so people had to see the beginning.
Bank robberies at the start of movies are very exciting, they have a lot of cinematic scope. There’s this film called Touch of Evil (1958) that has a famous three-and-a-half-minute opening shot. It’s a superb mise-en-scene. I initially wanted to do something like that – start with guys on a bike and then move into the bank – but that would require a lot of choreography, logistics, blocking of roads. My DoP Anil Mehta and I thought we’d just put the camera at a bus stop, as if we’re there, watching. I was not worried it would be a slow beginning because it picks up like mad, the kid gets killed, she gets killed. It’s a shocking opening actually, to prepare the audience for the kind of movie it is. It’s terrifying.
We shot at MG Road, Pune. We had hidden the camera inside a well-camouflaged Maruti van. No one knew there was a shoot going on. No one in the unit had walkie talkies. We had a mix of junior artistes and actual passersby because we had not blocked the road. There was a signal a 100 metres away so we were timing when the green light would come. We rehearsed the previous day because we had to finish filming before 8 am on that day – after that, the shops open and the street becomes crowded. After the rehearsal, I remember Anil gave everyone a big firing, ‘This went wrong! That went wrong!’ It was an expensive rehearsal but it gave us a sense of how things would go. We did five takes the next day smoothly. It looks simple but was complicated because there was real traffic plus our stunt bike had to crash into the car. It was one of those heart-in-mouth moments for us. I normally don’t even have chai with sugar but I was so happy with how it turned out, I had a cream roll at a tapri that day.”
Raghu, who’s spent the last 15 years stewing in single-minded thoughts of revenge, finally gets it. There’s no satisfaction, only loneliness. Alone, and directionless for the first time in more than a decade, he looks to the sky as if in search of something to give his life purpose now.
“Some people didn’t like the ending but I think they’re wrong. Our ending isn’t really an ending, the film suddenly stops and you wonder, ‘Okay, now what?’ I wanted people to come out thinking that. There should’ve been some silence after that, maybe some music and then it should’ve faded to black. One huge mistake we made was putting a music video immediately after the film ends. I didn’t want it but somehow when my producer Dinesh Vijan did, I said okay. Then I saw it on screen for the first time and realized it was a ghastly mistake I have to live with. It’s a good song but it breaks the mood. I wish I could’ve removed it. Whenever I show the film to people, I tell them to shut it off after the last scene.
Ideally, the film should’ve ended with Raghu looking up at the sky. It’s a terrific mood. Dinesh was terrified of this ending, he said no one would get it. He wanted me to put a voiceover in the end explaining why Liak did what he did (taking the fall for Raghu’s crimes). We recorded a voiceover and showed it to a few people. Luckily, David Dhawan thought it was idiotic. So we removed it.
There was another ending in the script but we didn’t even shoot it. So Raghu gets the fake passport and the money and he goes to the international airport. We see the passport with his photo and a fake name, we see the bag which presumably has all the money. When he boards the flight, he leaves the bag behind. The last shot is the bomb squad approaching the bag. That end had no reason to be there, it was just us trying to be clever. It’s visually spectacular, but not our story.
So the actual ending wasn’t planned. We wanted to do the airport scene but when we were shooting the scene that’s now the ending, at this warehouse near Nasik, the light was going and it had begun to rain and I thought that shot was damn good. Anil was like, ‘Oh shit, you’re going to use this as the last shot, aren’t you?’ Sometimes, you just get a sense – this is it.”
submitted by TeraHeroIdharNahiHai to bollywood [link] [comments]
2020.04.18 04:12 Pandoric_Maker The Sanguine Apotheosis, Part 1
Martin Chase woke up screaming at the top of his lungs. The features of his nightmare melted away and were replaced by the face of James Query staring back at him. James was shaking him and yelling trying to get him to focus.
"Martin! Martin! You left the door open! Hey, wake up! I've been trying to call you for over an hour!"
Martin Chase was a tall, lean, dark-haired man in his prime. He was also a troubled soul who felt he was living in two worlds at the same time. A strange sense of dread had crept into his life after he came home from Turkey and it clung to his every waking moment. Alcohol could not drown away the feeling that he was living on borrowed time no matter how hard he tried. He had turned thirty last night and celebrated the milestone with the phone turned off, spending it with his two closest friends, Jack Daniels and Jim Beam. Together they toasted all the good times while he reminisced through his wedding album. He missed Jen, and remembering only hurt. Two years ago, a driver lost control of his car and plowed headlong into the bus she was boarding, sending her and three others through the windshield, killing them. Martin dealt with the loss by burying himself in his work. His job was everything.
Currently he was on his second month of leave after the assignment in Turkey had gone seriously wrong. A teammate was lost and Martin sustained serious injuries that needed time to heal. He was on forced sick leave until further notice from his work from 'collections' as part of a group of ex black ops, Navy SEALs and specialized military types run privately by the Olympex corporation. His job was to acquire things, when money or negotiations were no longer viable options. He and his partner of almost ten years, James Query, shared an illustrious history and were referred to as the negotiator and the enforcer. They weren't thugs and always conducted themselves very professionally while representing the company. When Martin couldn't talk sense into someone, James, the quiet one, would beat it into them.
Martin sat up suddenly back in the comforts of his bed and reached for the pack of cigarettes on his nightstand. He made a face as he realized the sheets were soaked from sweat…and urine, "oh Christ. Not again."
He roused himself after a long drag and headed into the bathroom. James continued to talk to him through the closed door telling him there wasn't time, barely audible over the sounds of the running shower. "Just towel yourself off. We have to go… now! I got a call. We've got a new assignment and they want the both of us in the office. I told them as soon as I tracked you down and got your lazy ass out of bed we'd be in. They're waiting. Vacation's over Mr. Chase, we have a job and this one comes from the top."
"Who from?" came Martin's reply.
"You're never going to believe this. I received a call from a Mr. Scarswood. If you don't recognize the name, he's Mr. Prince's personal secretary." Martin opened the bathroom door a crack, toothbrush still in his mouth, interest clearly piqued. "Charles Prince? The Charles Prince?"
"I know right?" James grinned back at him. "I thought the man was a myth too but apparently he's real and wants to see us. So get yourself in gear, we gotta go!" James' cheerful demeanor left his face as he threw Martin a clean shirt, pants and shoes. While Martin got dressed James bent down examining something under his shoe. It was a fine reddish sand.
"What's with the sand?" He asked at the closed door.
Martin sounded like he was wrestling on the other side, "Shit's everywhere. Must have brought it back from the last assignment. I clean it up but it keeps coming back. Did you find some?"
James came back from the kitchen with a Ziploc bag, took out a credit card and used it to scoop up some of the granules, before sealing and then pocketing the bag. "Yeah, same as last time. No idea where it's coming from? Heh, maybe it's a sign."
The door to the bathroom opened and out came Martin Chase as if transformed into a new man, "Yeah, maybe I need to move to Florida." He smiled. "Let's go. I'm driving."
James protested, "Hey, my car's already here—"
Martin was already out the front door, "I'm driving."
James cringed then sighed, "Man…I hate the way you drive."
Martin was already in the car and started it, "For fuck sake, just get in the car!"
His family seemed to have come out of nowhere, establishing businesses in France just prior to Napoleon's reign. Even with the Emperor's tyrannical grip on France, the Princes flourished in real estate ventures and through auction houses dealing in works of art. Across Europe and America wars were fought and the Princes began quietly acquiring existing companies, concealing their growth behind the respect and established names of others when they ventured into textiles, manufacturing and metal foundries that provided clothing, weapons and information to armies and nations. Elaborate plans were orchestrated involving the companies under their control, creating false competition and bidding wars across Europe that put demands on materials and manufactured goods, manipulating markets, events and outcomes. When wars ended, the Princes expanded into new ventures in construction. They provided cheap homes for veterans backed by government grants and forced industry reforms benefiting every aspect under their control.
Within a few hundred years the Princes had managed to tap into the pulse of the world and changed its rhythm to their own dictating how world events would happen, when they would happen…and for how long. Though no one dared speak it, people sensed the hand of the Prince and feared it. The current heir to the throne, Charles Prince, was a reclusive man who stayed out of the public eye intentionally. He had whole departments of people whose jobs were to make sure it stayed that way. He never appeared in papers or tabloids, on the news, or on the internet… ever. Charles Prince was a myth the world believed invented as a figurehead by some advertising agency decades ago.
Currently the myth himself was standing in his office looking out over the city that never sleeps through an enormous wall of glass that was his window to the world. With a soft knocking on the door followed by a measured pause, Mr. Scarswood entered quietly. "Mr. Chase and Mr. Query are here sir."
Mr. Prince did not move or give any indication he heard the man.
"Very good sir, I'll just show them in," he replied after a moment's silence. Mr. Scarswood was quite accustomed to Mr. Prince only talking to him when necessary. Like a servant he backed out of the room and closed the doors softly behind him. After a few moments, the soft knocking came again and Mr. Scarswood ushered both men in, directing them to stand in the center of the room. He gave them a quick look, his eyes telling them "not a word or sound" and they waited. From the window came the voice of Mr. Prince. "That will be all Scarswood." The man quickly backed out of the room, leaving them to their privacy. After a moment they heard Mr. Prince mutter, "God how I loathe that man."
Mr. Prince turned and walked towards them, motioning for them to be seated with a simple gesture. "You have no idea why I have summoned you here and until this morning probably never knew if I was real or some ghost story." At this last part he gave a grin, and there was something very unpleasant in the way he smiled when he said it. The smile dropped as he became serious. "Mr. James Raymond Query and Mr. Martin Lawrence Chase. Both selected as part of an elite team working inside the department of collections. Over the years you have secured the more 'difficult' acquisitions that money can not always obtain. You have both proven discrete, resourceful, and above all, loyal. This is why you are both here." He rose from behind the large mahogany desk and made a slight gesture in the air to the lavish cathedral-sized office with furnishings of dark exotic wood and soft leather. Around the room were tastefully lit displays containing rare books, works of fine art, statuary and artifacts that would make even the Louvre envious. Both men were brought back from the sights and their curiosity when Mr. Prince snapped his fingers, once getting their attention. "My private collection." He said grinning again, "It is beautiful, is it not?"
He sauntered over to a display and produced a key, beckoning the others to follow. Opening the case, he removed an ornate golden cube. The sound that came from him next was almost loving as he softly cooed "my first…my enigma." He gazed upon the intricate patterns for several long moments. Slowly rotating it in his hands, the golden light reflecting in his eyes as it appeared to stare back.
Just as suddenly, the nostalgia was gone, "Two months ago, your team obtained an object similar to this one in Istanbul called the Sanguine Apotheosis," he told them as he placed the cube gently back inside the case and locked it.
"Yes sir. We located it in catacombs under the Hagia Sophia." Replied James.
"And how many of your team were lost?" Mr. Prince asked.
Both men replied at the same time.
"One," said James.
"Two," said Martin.
Both men looked at each other for a moment, Martin stared at him searchingly. James turned quickly to Mr. Prince. "We lost Jack Hunter, sir. Mr. Chase has been on leave recovering from his ordeal in Istanbul. He had a reaction to the medication he was prescribed that caused issues affecting portions of his long term memory. The doctor's recently changed his script and informed us it just needs to clear his system for the effects to wear off."
Mr. Prince raised an eyebrow at Mr. Chase who recovered by adding, "Just Mr. Hunter sir."
Mr. Prince continued, "Until recently, the Sanguine Apotheosis, obtained at the cost of Mr. Hunter's life, rested in this very case next to its sister along with the diary of the man who created them."
"Stolen?" Martin gasped.
Mr. Prince gave him a look and shook his head as if to say 'who would dare?'
"No," replied Mr. Prince dryly.
Mr. Prince moved to a seating area where there were couches and a low teak table. He sat down and picked a bell up from the table and rang it once. Mr. Scarswood entered quickly. "Sir?"
Reaching into the humidor on the table, Mr. Prince removed a cigar and began lighting it. In between puffs he said one word, "brandy." While the two men began to sit, Mr. Prince never looked away from his cigar, only his eyebrow raised as he regarded them warily. Mr. Scarswood poured a generous measure into a snifter and brought it over to Mr. Prince on a silver tray. Mr Prince put out his hand and maneuvered the snifter onto his outstretched hand between two fingers without so much as touching Mr. Scarswood. The manservant lowered the tray once the glass was secure and backed away once again to leave the office. Mr. Prince lingered on the cigar before tasting the brandy. Once Mr. Scarswood closed the doors behind him, Mr. Prince began to explain.
"I take it you are aware that I own the Sybillen Publishing Houses? It should only be expected, seeing that I have a passion for books and their mysteries. Currently, my most prolific and controversial author is Mr. Athytas B, a pet project of mine, so to speak. He has three titles currently on the Times best seller and reviews list. When he was brought to my attention, Mr. B was teaching as an adjunct professor of history in some dreary community college up in Maine. He wrote fiction of historical events from a first-person perspective; nothing too original, but he made inventive connections that were like finding the missing link in historical circles.
"Much of his writings I have put to use and they have proved instrumental in the solving of certain ancient mysteries and in the recovery of several lost treasures. The information for your recent assignment in Istanbul was provided by the research obtained from Mr. B's latest novel. He is not aware of the role he plays as a specialist in solving ancient mysteries, so I strive to keep him happy and indulge him now that he has become a celebrated author. I saw something more than fiction in his writing and capitalized on it. He's a successful writer and everyone comes out a winner.
"A month ago, Mr. B made a personal request from me for the loan of the diary, the Sanguine Apotheosis and the Enigma. He was excited about a discovery he made involving the Académie Royale d'Architecture while working on his upcoming novel and asked to borrow the items to correlate his data. Against my better judgement, I allowed the diary and the Sanguine to be placed at his disposal. He agreed to give nightly reports with his findings, which he did with considerable punctuality and with new information found in the diary. By the end of the second week, he had turned his attention to the Sanguine and sent in his findings.
"Last week his reports began to ramble on and he repeatedly stated he could not finish his work without the aid of the Enigma. He was told that if he brought back the diary and the Sanguine he could study the Enigma. He refused, and last night when he failed to send in his report by midnight, I had the matter looked into. By 12:30 A.M. this morning I was informed his apartment had been vacated and that Mr. Athytas B had disappeared without a trace."
He stared into the red glow at the end of his cigar and said two words.
The office doors opened, and Mr. Scarswood entered, beckoning Martin and James. "This way gentlemen."
"Which number do I press?" Asked James.
"You don't," replied Mr. Scarswood. "Just ask."
James was impressed.
"I don't have to impress upon the both of you the seriousness and magnitude of Mr. Prince's betrayal of trust," Mr. Scarswood continued. "I've never seen him this angry before and frankly… it's alarming."
He handed a small docket to Martin, who began flipping through the contents. It contained everything they would need to know about Athytas B the author: his real name, background, education, social and email accounts with usernames and passwords, phone numbers, known addresses, and a key to his New York apartment.
Martin looked up from the contents he was rifling through, a question at the tip of his tongue. "Just find him? What about the diary and the box?"
"Just find him…" Mr. Scarswood's voice broke just a little as he continued, "He was very clear on that point."
The elevator bell chimed and the doors opened. Mr. Scarswood was already occupied with other work to notice the pair enter and the doors close quietly behind them. A few floors down, James, straight faced asked, "Martin…Lawrence?"
"Oh fuck off, 'Raymond'"
Both men exited the elevator into a large dimly lit hall with a high counter at the far end. They could only see the top of a guard's hat as they approached. He was seated above them and bathed in pale light from monitors. He didn't bother to look up when they approached.
"George," James called out to the hat.
"How's the wife and kids?" asked Martin.
George suddenly looked up, all smiles, "Hey! Martin, good to see you back. Kids are good. Doing good. Wife's still the same bitch." He laughed, then his face grew serious. "Okay boys, let me see 'em."
Both men produced badges and waved them under a scanner. There was a hum and a cheerful beep as a red light turned green and the doors behind the guard's station slid open, leading to a wing dubbed Collections. It looked like it was designed as a tribute to Ian Fleming and to every James Bond film ever made. Glass-walled suites lined every level, some crammed with computers and rows of monitors with people wearing headphones talking into microphones and typing away on keyboards. Other larger areas were filled with machinery and technicians wearing face masks and respirators, or had people in white lab coats carrying clipboards and continually looking at wrist watches. Martin received periodic waves from colleagues in lab coats and technicians as the pair made their way to their desks.
"About time you got back to work," chimed one of the men working on a computer a few desks away. Martin waved back to the man who was handing several packets to a 'runner' who took them and quickly disappeared.
"Don't get comfy," James warned.
They moved past their desks towards a vacant office used for briefings, before taking a sudden detour towards a room where a machine was in use, producing an extreme amount of noise even through the dampening glass. He produced his phone and tossed it into a microwave oven on the counter, motioning for Martin to do the same. They left the noisy room and went to the vacant office.
Once the door was closed behind him, James touched a panel and the glass went black. He finally broke the silence, repeating Mr. Scarswood's words in a mocking tone. "'Just ask.' This business just got way too Orwellian," he remarked with an edge to his voice.
"This is not a simple search and retrieval," Martin agreed, knowing that they were both thinking the same way. "When it comes to these boxes—"
"Pandorics," James corrected.
"Pandorics, whatever." Irritated, Martin continued, "we both know they're bad mojo. Every time we pull an assignment and it turns out to involve a Pandoric… shit always happens and never goes down easy. There's always something to deal with that they didn't know about, or they just neglect to think it's important enough to tell us saying it's not part of the assignment. Something in the background, someone we don't know about… There's always collateral damage and unhappy people. They're always crazy and they never give them up willingly."
"Amen to that," James chimed in. "Money's never up for discussion."
"Exactly! We've both seen it. People get fanatical about them. Almost religious!" Martin lowered his voice continuing, "we need to start treating these assignments like cops on a domestic call."
James smiled in agreement, "We never know what we're dealing with, who's going to react or where it's gonna come from—"
"—but we both know it's coming," Martin finished. "We don't always know from who, but it always does. So let's not show them our backs anymore."
James nodded, "I'm with ya. It's why we're here. What do you think we'll need?"
Martin pursed his lips and his brow furrowed. He had been thinking about this on the ride down in the elevator. "Put yourself in this guy's shoes. Mr. Athytas B, college professor, author, researcher, inventive… real creative type. This guy's not stupid, so we can't underestimate him. He just pissed off 'the Prince' and took his personal property. He has to know Prince will send everything after him until he gets what he wants. So where does he run?"
"He's not running," came James' response. "He's had to have had all of this planned out for a while. Made his preparations, done his research. He didn't just bolt in the middle of the night or crack under the stress. And this isn't about him stealing either. Prince wasn't interested in the diary or the box—"
"Pandoric," corrected Martin, with a smirk.
James rolled his eyes at him. "Something bigger is going on between these two players and they're both playing long games. Mr. B is set up someplace he thinks is safe. Off the radar from everyone. Somewhere even Prince wouldn't be able to find out about easily. We're not talking money, we're talking smarts. Even with a change of identity he's got to figure they'll find him eventually. So it's not about the where but the when."
"Right," came Martin following his train of thought. "In the end they'll track him down. He knows this. Either this was his plan all along or something happened to force him to move now. All he has is the present to do whatever he has planned. So let's take this one step further and assume he's prepared for all of this. So what's his ace in the hole? What's his protection?"
"Do you think he has something on Prince?" wondered James.
"We're walking into something," Martin said quietly. "None of this feels random. It's Istanbul all over again."
James nodded, opening the door, "We'll talk about that later. Right now they're watching and expect us to be in motion. Watch what you say and guard your words. We'll need to communicate without the phones. You get the suits and vests, I'll grab the gear and a bag of tricks just in case. What kinda protection do you want?"
Characteristically Martin was already out the door and calling over his shoulder. "Everything. Big and small." He ducked into the machine room and grabbed their phones from the microwave. Closing the door, he tossed one to James who was heading to a wall with a large metal door fit for a bank vault with a sign on it that read Acquisitions. He produced his keycard and slid it into the slot of the lock and waited.
Martin headed down the hall in the opposite direction towards an area where the walls were lined with lockers. A moment after Martin was out of sight, James turned away from the vault door and moved to his desk and picked up the phone. He rummaged through the drawers until he found an old mailing tube. Reaching into his pocket, he produced the plastic Ziploc bag containing reddish sand from earlier, tucking the bag inside the tube, then writing something on a post-it note in Sharpie placed over the previous address. He used packing tape to seal the tube and secure the new label and wrote something on another post-it. As he finished, a 'runner' came up to his desk. He handed him the tube and the note. The 'runner' nodded, handing him back the note, and sped off with the tube.
Meanwhile, James walked back just in time to the Acquisitions door as its light finally turned from red to green and opened before him. A smile began forming as he entered.
James was busy securing a strap on his bag. "Have everything?"
Martin held up a finger. "Almost." He then put a finger to his mouth and began. "I was thinking. We need to have a look at those reports B was sending in. There might be something in his notes that hint where he might have gone."
James put his phone on the table and wrote something on a piece of paper, clearly in agreement with Martin's proposal. "Mr. B was researching the Sanguine and the diary for his next novel," Martin continued. "Whatever he found made him nervous enough to cut and run."
James held up the paper, with the words "THINK THEY HEARD?" Martin gave him a thumbs up.
"Mr. Scarswood?" James began. "We need to have a look at the reports. There might be somethi—"
"Mr. Prince is well aware of your needs gentlemen. Please come up now." Came the voice of Mr. Scarswood interrupting.
Both men shared the same telling expression as they grabbed their bags and headed back to the elevators.
"Wait, where's Mr. Pr—"
"Mr. Prince has left the building and is currently away on business," announced Mr. Scarswood, cutting Martin off. "I have the authority to grant supervised access to Mr. Prince's private vault."
The interior of this private looked just like the inside of a bank vault. Metal lined with various-sized lockbox doors. What caught James's attention were the few doors made of thick glass that looked like display cases. Behind one thick glass panel he noticed the Pandoric that rested within. He recognized it from a past assignment and nudged Martin. Martin's nod was almost imperceptible and he motioned with his eyes to the other Pandorics on display behind them. Mr. Scarswood unlocked and slid aside a large metal section revealing filing cabinet drawers for sensitive documents. He found the drawer he was looking for and pulled it out a few feet, then began running his fingers over the files until he found what he was looking for. He removed two thick folders, tucked them under his arm and pushed the drawer closed. He then slid out a larger vertical section above the drawer that became a work surface. He plopped the folders onto the table, reached up for a light that was on an articulated arm just above the cabinets, and adjusted it over the table.
Mr. Scarswood cleared his throat quietly and turned to Martin and James. "Would either of you gentlemen care for a refreshment?"
Both men replied, "water" at the same time. Martin looked at him smiling warmly and added a very sincere, "Thank you Mr. Scarswood." Something in the way Martin smiled at Mr. Scarswood embarrassed the man, catching him off guard by the sudden acknowledgment and gratitude. Flustered, he quickly disappeared.
"Up to your old tricks?" James asked when Mr. Scarswood was out of earshot.
James picked up one of the folders marked The Sanguine Apotheosis and handed the other labeled The Gates of I'Dristhd to Martin. Both men were so intent as they pored over the information that they almost jumped when Mr. Scarswood appeared carrying a silver tray. He placed it down on the surface containing an open unlabeled bottle and two glasses filled with an effervescent liquid garnished with slices of blood orange.
Martin removed a glass, took a long appreciative sip, smacked his lips and smiled back at Mr. Scarswood, "Where's yours?"
Mr. Scarswood blinked, not understanding at first, before his cheeks flushed slightly.
"Oh… I'll… just get a glass?"
Martin beamed warmly, "Absolutely!"
James pretended not to notice as he read. Being teamed up with Martin, he discovered early on that the man possessed an amazing talent for schmoozing people. Not just charm or bullshit but a whole new level of artistry. He could just nonchalantly utter those four magic words, 'just tell me everything,' and people developed verbal diarrhea. If there was a drawback to this gift it was getting them to shut up.
James broke the silence every so often reading something informative out loud he had come across. Martin in turn would include Mr. Scarswood in the conversation and ask him to expand more on the subject since he seemed to have personal knowledge and insights on the matter.
"Do you think Mr. B was acting erratically?" Martin addressed Mr. Scarswood. "We've gone over the reports. I get his frustration. Everything was coming together but he was missing the rest of the puzzle. He hit a block and wasn't able to finish the work, or so he wrote. There was something that he needed that had to do with the Enigma. Did you happen to hear any of the conversations that took place, Mr. Scarswood?"
The questions put to Mr. Scarswood had become more and more frequent that the man failed to notice when he became actively involved in the conversation. When it did, his stiff demeanor returned and he addressed them both. "I'm not a fool, gentlemen."
"Never said you were." James said without looking up from his reading.
"I know what you're doing." Mr. Scarswood continued, "I work for Mr. Prince—"
"And so do we," Martin interrupted. "The more time we waste here, the colder the trail is getting. It would really speed things up and make all of our jobs a lot easier if you dropped the butler act for five minutes to help your boss out. Look, we're not here to judge. This is our job, this is what we're good at, and we need to know what's really going on. The longer it takes for us to figure this out when you could be helping, the more time Mr. B has to do what he has planned. We all know he didn't run. There's nowhere he could go that he wouldn't be found in time. He found something and he's acting on it. So let's all be friends and work together to be on the same page." Martin's smile was still friendly and never hinted at anything hidden even when the seriousness of the situation entered his voice. "There's a lot of sensitive stuff that doesn't leave this office." He paused to take a drink, put the glass down and the smile left his face as he looked back at Mr. Scarswood. "We get it."
Mr. Scarswood let out a breath he seemed to be holding and relaxed. "Alright," He said as he straightened a little, an invisible weight seeming to leave his shoulders. "Let's sit down, there's a lot to cover and little time."
They moved to the soft leather couches that surrounded the low teak table that Mr. Prince had used earlier that day. Mr. Scarswood was having an internal conversation and listening to his words before he spoke. "Before I begin there's a question that needs to be addressed."
Both men took his meaning. This was a delicate matter and very important. They each nodded for him to continue.
Mr. Scarswood gave a nervous half smile when he began, "How much do either of you know about Heaven or Hell? Really know?"
Now this was something James or Martin could have never anticipated. Neither of them rolled their eyes or suppressed a laugh. Martin leaned forward with interest and said, "Just tell me everything."
The men produced their IDs and Carl scrutinized them reading out loud. "James Query and Martin Chase. Going to…?"
James took a key from his pocket and read the number, "Apartment 2102."
Carl informed them the previous tenant had already moved out over a week ago and the apartment was already being serviced for the new tenants.
"Fast turnover, we only just heard he left this morning. Still, we have to go up. Like I said, 'company business' and before you ask… don't." Martin said in a confidential way and handed Carl a business card. Carl's eyebrows raised and he nodded knowingly though he really didn't.
The elevator shimmied all the way to the twenty first floor. Just down the hall, James unlocked the door to 2102 and they entered the vacant apartment. The rooms were spotless, and there was a faint smell of fresh paint. James decided to go downstairs to see if there was security camera footage and to talk more with Carl, see if the man knew anything more. Martin was going to sweep the apartment for anything that might have been missed and ask if a neighbor had seen anything. He un-shouldered the bag he was carrying and fished out a portable UV light before passing it over the wood floor. He moved slowly across the room to the far wall. Faint rectangular patches revealed where pictures had been. The wall had been cleaned but the paint was old. He sniffed, catching the lingering scent and began looking around. In one of the bedrooms a window was open. The largest wall was slightly tacky to the touch and had an odd dimpled texture.
He turned on the UV and thousands of tiny blue dots lit up, covering every square inch of the entire wall. He used his knife to prod one of the dots. It was soft and the blade pushed in easily. He rubbed a sample between his fingers, smearing them white with a chalky texture. The wall had been patched with plaster paste and painted over immediately. The plaster was never sanded and resulted in thousands of tiny dimples made visible under the blue light. There didn't seem to be any sense or pattern that he could make out. It looked as if someone got bored, started poking holes at one end of the wall and didn't finish until they reached the other side.
Martin began taking photos of the wall aided by his portable light when he sensed more than heard someone else in the apartment. He stopped his breathing to extend his senses, reaching out for the slightest sound or vibration. Someone as quiet as a cat was moving around the apartment. He crept down the hallway and saw the front door was slightly open. He couldn't see anything from where he was positioned but he could hear soft footsteps. He reached out and used his phone to take a picture. Looking at the screen he almost laughed. He drew a deep breath, held it then let it out while folding up and pocketing the knife into his pocket.
"Hi there!" he said in his friendliest tone.
A little blond haired girl jumped and let out a high pitched squeaking sound that turned into a laugh when she saw Martin. "You scared me!" she scolded him.
"Oh, I'm sorry," he apologized. "Wanna try again now that you're ready?"
She coyly nodded a yes.
"Okay…you're sure you're ready now?" he teased.
She laughed and nodded yes again.
"Okay…but if you're not ready…" he smiled
She rolled her big eyes at him, "come on already."
"Okay…I'm sorry…" Martin extended his hand out to her, "Hi there. I'm Mr. Chase…and you are…?"
She laughed at him and said proudly,
2020.04.17 07:17 writes-things Wolfmother
“Imperator? That’s a slightly… pretentious nickname to give yourself,” Chris commented, after D-Dog closed communications.
“Yeah,” D-Dog said. People with codenames like that have either earnt them, or are way in over their heads.”
“Which of the two was that guy?”
“Well, this is the fourth Imperator that I’ve come across, and all the previous three Imperators are now dead, and before five minutes ago I’d never heard of this one, so… probably the latter,” D-Dog answered, flashing Chris a conspiratorial look. “But we need everyone we can get if we’re fighting Morgan.”
“What about you?”
“Huh? D-Dog ain’t flashy. Ain’t tryin’ to impress anyone with it.”
“Yeah, but I get this sense of… I dunno. Bravado, from it. Daring. Danger.”
“That’s ‘cause you’re associating it with me,” D-Dog grinned. “’Cause I’ve done brave, daring, dangerous shit.”
“What about her?” Chris said, jerking his thumb at her, trying not to be too obvious.
D-Dog glanced over, raising an eyebrow. “Wolfmother’s name? Yeah, I’d say she’s earnt hers.”
“Besides leading most of our operations? She’s actually a mother. She’s the only one of us that has a family. Might be the only one in the entire city, as far as I know. Spends her weekdays working with us, saves her weekends for her husband and kids. Don’t fuck with her,” D-Dog said, then fucked with her. “Hey, Wolfmama!”
Wolfmother turned. “Yeah?”
“You sure you don’t wanna join in tomorrow?”
“Yes, I’m sure. You kids can go hatch your revenge plot without me.”
“Aww. Can I borrow your glasses, at least?”
“Nah. Prince’s got ‘em for the weekend.”
“I’m checking out,” Wolfmother said, shrugging on a jacket. “Husband's cooking steak tonight and I’m not missing it.”
“Alrighty,” D-Dog said, giving her a small mock salute. “G’night, Mom.”
“Night,” Wolfmother said. “Remember…”
“No calls or letters or knocks on the door or confessions of love or telling you someone died ‘till the weekend’s over,” D-Dog nodded. “Yup.”
Wolfmother returned his nod with a curt one of her own and made her way out. Chris nervously raised his hand to wave her goodbye as she passed him.
“See you,” he said.
She gave him a one-note wave back, and Chris was fairly certain she winked at him through those aviators – though he’d never dare mention it to anyone.
“See ya, new kid.”
“Fuck, she’s cool,” Chris said.
“Yeah,” D-Dog agreed. “Your name’s New Kid, by the way.”
“What? No, no, no no. I was gonna pick Silver or Bone or –”
“Wolfmother called you New Kid. You’re New Kid now.”
“Damn it,” New Kid said, hanging his head in defeat.
But they weren’t a fantasy. They were real. The sound of their laughter when they burst open the door before she could touch it was real. The feel of their hands clutching at her legs was real. The smell of Robin’s tawny hair and the warmth of Sarah’s forehead against hers was real. It was real. All of it. Real, real, real. Wolfmother watched her children run back inside, and Rhiannon Hayes followed them through the doorway.
“Hi, Bradford,” she replied.
“Of course,” Bradford said, and went silent.
Robin let go of her hand and dived at the coffee table, rummaging around at its base. Keith was there at the kitchen counter, and he smiled at her, saying nothing, not interrupting their moment. She smiled back, and then turned her attention to her son.
“What is it, Rob?” she asked, kneeling down.
“Look!” he said again, pulling out a slightly crinkled piece of paper from a drawer, and holding it right up to her nose.
“Whoa,” Rhiannon said, blinking, gently leading his overenthusiastic hands back a bit so she could see it. “Oh, is this us?”
“Yup! That’s you, and that’s Dad, and that’s me, and that’s—”
“That’s me!” Sarah squealed, jabbing her tiny finger onto the paper at the smallest pink blob. Rhiannon felt warmth come from her chest and ruffled Robin’s hair, pulling him close. “It looks amazing, honey.”
“It does?” Robin said.
“Yes. One question, though,” she said, pulling away to frown at him, “Do my eyebrows really look that thick to you?”
Sarah giggled, and Robin’s face flushed. “I made a mistake,” he pouted, his precious little baby eyes turning downcast.
“I’m just teasing, darling. I think they’re perfect.”
“Mom!” Sarah pulled at her arm. “Look at me!”
Rhiannon turned, and Sarah opened her mouth wide, revealing a gap in her pearly white teeth where her top-left incisor used to be.
“Oh, wow!” Rhiannon said. “You pulled out your first tooth, huh?”
“Did it hurt?”
Sarah closed her mouth. “A little bit.”
“Oh, you’re so brave, baby.”
Robin tugged at her other arm as well, clearly wanting the spotlight.
“Mom, I lost my fifth one—”
Rhiannon stood up. “Oop, looks like we’ve gotta eat. C’mon.” Her kids held her hands, one on each side, and she led them over to the dinner table.
Robin babbled all the way there. “I was talkin’ to my friend today, and he said that his parents got him a phone. Can I have one?”
“I think that can wait until you’re a tiny bit older, Robin,” Rhiannon said, choosing those words very carefully. “Now, there’s the two little plates for the two of you. Sort out between yourselves who gets which and go sit down.”
“I want this one,” Robin said immediately, taking his.
“No fair,” Sarah complained. “I didn’t get to look!”
Robin put up his chin. “You were too slow.”
“Kids,” Rhiannon said, putting some sternness in it, “Sort it out.”
Sarah took the other one with her little hands and inspected it, giving it a thorough, careful quality check.
“Are you happy with that plate?” Rhiannon asked.
“I guess so,” Sarah said sulkily.
“Okay. Go sit.”
“Sitrep?” Rhiannon said, not taking her eyes off of her children.
“Business has been moving along at a steady pace,” Keith answered. “Last week Robin had slight trouble with his science work and had fallen behind on his homework. Sarah was beginning to learn how to write her last name. I’m pleased to report that Robin has not only caught up but gone ahead of his class, and that ‘Sarah Hayes’ is now written on the kids’ bedroom door in pink crayon. Deciphering it was only somewhat difficult.”
Sarah Hayes. The sound of it was like ambrosia to her.
“Beautiful,” Rhiannon said quietly.
“By this time next week we can expect to see green lights on all boards. Robin’s marks should continue to rise and Sarah is getting to multi-syllabic words.”
“And what about this time tomorrow?” Rhiannon asked, leaning closer to him.
“This time tomorrow, we can expect to be lying on the couch together watching some Disney remake after a day out somewhere. What do you think? Museum or park?”
“Why don’t we ask the kids?” she said. Keith smiled and picked up his plate, rounding the counter, his hand tracing her waist as he went to sit at the table.
Keith stopped in his tracks and looked at her. Rhiannon motioned for him to be quiet, and picked up the phone. D-Dog spoke, and he said one word, and her blood ran cold.
They both knew full well the ramifications of him using her civilian name. It told her three things. First, that her identity had been compromised. Second, that she was in danger. Third, that she was in danger now.
“Drones. Twelve o’clock. Big. Want help?”
Rhiannon looked past her family, outside the dining room window, and her Graybore eye implant spotted electronic signals in the distant clouds.
“Yes,” she answered.
“D-Dog and Mute are en route.”
There was a clatter as Keith dropped his plate back on the counter and went over to the kids, ushering Robin out of his seat, picking up Sarah. “C’mon, baby girl.”
“Mom?” Robin said. “What’s going on?”
“Now.” Rhiannon put an edge in to her voice that her children had never heard before, and her heart stung as she saw the fear and confusion in their faces, but they came, and Keith lifted a tile off the floor, revealing the steps that lead down to the panic room that they had installed months prior to moving in.
Robin hesitated at the passageway. “Mom?” he said again, but she couldn’t answer him – the drones were approaching fast, faster than most drones should have been able to. She only had time to spare one look at Keith, and he looked at her, and then Rhiannon was sprinting down the hallway, grabbing her bag.
“Bradford, I need my exo!” she called. “We’ve got a code red!”
The lights in the house switched off, a panel opened up on the wall next to her and she grabbed the armour that extended from it, pressing it to her chest, letting it automatically unfold over her torso and arms and legs. It was a light kit, not much help against heavy weaponry. But these were drones. She unzipped her bag and took out her Kaiser-20 compact rifle. Biosignature clicked. Magazine loaded. Safety off. Armour wrapped up the woman’s neck and plugged her ears, Rhiannon picked up her shield from the wall panel, and Wolfmother stood ready in the dark hallway.
From a compartment built into the roof of their house, a surveillance drone activated and flew upwards, giving her vision of the entire neighbourhood from a hundred-metre-high vantage point.
“Eight drones are approaching the house,” Bradford replied coolly. “They have their sights set on all front-side windows. They will be in range of your defences in twenty-six seconds. Shall I activate the sentries?”
“Do you know what the drones are equipped with?”
“I can recognize automatic small-caliber guns on all of them except one. It has explosive breaching rounds.”
Explosives. No point trying to keep things quiet, then.
“I regret that I can’t tell you more,” Bradford said. “They seem to have tech I am not familiar with.”
“Turn on the sentries and show me which drone has the explosive rounds,” Wolfmother said.
The drone in the very back of the group was highlighted in red for her.
“Focus on the explosives drone first,” Wolfmother said.
“Bradford, ceiling!” she shouted, and a gun dropped from the kitchen light and managed to put a bullet into the next drone before it was destroyed. The drone wasn’t completely broken, but sputtered and whirled erratically through the air, passing over the kitchen counter – and then Wolfmother finished it off, raising an arm to protect her eyes from shrapnel as it crashed into the dining table chairs. Somebody shouted in her ear.
“One minute!” D-Dog.
But she’d made a mistake – a new drone followed right after the last one. There was no time to duck. So, she screamed as she riddled the thing with bullets and the thing did the same to her, the woman feeling shots slam into the armour on her chest and arms and then finally piercing through. Hot metal imbedded into her abdomen and Wolfmother almost dropped her gun, recoiling –
Then a final, third explosion blasted the wall right beside her, and this time there was no time to brace. Wolfmother cried out as concrete slammed into her body and more dust choked her lungs and sent her crawling behind her shield, her vision becoming hazy, her Kaiser-20 lost far away. A shadow passed into her vision – the explosives drone, larger and more heavily armoured than the rest. A camera pointed right into her face.
“Sorry we’re late.”
She choked down the pain she felt and pressed a button on her exo suit, letting out a breath as the armour fell off her and bullets clattered to the ground. She gingerly lifted the hem of her shirt, checking her wound. No vital spots hit. Wolfmother unsteadily got to her feet, growling with the effort, picking up her fallen rifle.
“Permission to, uh… come in through the new back door?” D-Dog asked, his voice coming from the shell of her exo.
“Fine,” Wolfmother grunted.
She limped back out to the kitchen, picking her way through the rubble, where she saw D-Dog waving at her from the roof of a neighbouring building, Mute standing with his rifle beside him. Wolfmother picked up a kitchen chair and slumped into it as they hopped the fence and came near.
“A bit,” she agreed.
“It got a bit loud,” D-Dog continued. “Place was getting evacuated when we flew in. Lots of panic and noise. And bullets. Are your folks alright?”
“Are you hurt?” Mute asked, indicating the blood on her shirt.
“One shot got through.”
“I brought meds, I’ll patch you up—” D-Dog began, but Wolfmother waved him down. He followed her gaze to the panic room hatch on the floor. And he understood. “Alright,” he said slowly. “You need anything else?”
“No,” she answered. Then: “Thank you, D.”
“No worries,” he grinned. Mute was already making his way out, and D-Dog followed, pausing at the new hole in her house to turn and ask: “See you tomorrow?”
Wolfmother looked down at the nearest defeated drone, through the dirt and frayed wires, seeing the Morgan logo imprinted on its twisted chassis.
“Yeah,” she said. “See you tomorrow.”
submitted by writes-things to HFY [link] [comments]
2020.03.24 19:23 Crone_Johnson Bus touch hidden camera
Cigar in mouth, a young man adjusted his microscope. Writing on a notepad, he carefully examined a glass slide. The only clothes he wore — old trousers with a dozen pockets, fit the dimly lit laboratory. Books, jars, and vials filled the metal shelves. A few of the rusty cupboards were open, showcasing boxes and plastic bags. Herbs and wooden trinkets hung from the ceiling. A large piece of cloth covered a medieval torture rack.
The exit door opened, casting light in the dark basement. Detective Rivera, a well-built man, wearing a leather jacket, pinched his nose in an attempt to ignore the disgusting stench, emitted by the chemicals.
“Sickening as always,” revolver in hand, he walked down the crooked stairs. “You know I hate coming down here.”
The man behind the microscope turned to him, revealing his sickly eyes. A muddy yellow, where the white should have been, surrounded his amber irises. “I’ve got a surprise for you.”
“It better be a good one.”
“Oh it is,” the man pulled the cloth off the rack. Chained to it, a naked woman breathed heavily.
“I’ve tolerated enough of your sins, you unholy piece of shit,” Rivera put the revolver up to the doctor’s head.
“Watch closely,” the man smiled evilly.
Puzzled, Rivera moved closer.
Bright blue veins bulged out of the woman’s pale body. Hair had begun to grow on her once bald head.
“The eight foot abomination I caught for you... where is it?”
“You’re looking at it,” the doctor proudly announced.
“You reversed the corruption?” Rivera holstered his gun.
“Corruption? Us doctors call it disease...”
“Us doctors? Hah. You’re not a doctor.“
“Call me what you will...” the man let out a disgusting giggle. “But my decoction brings out their human side, so yes, it does reverse the corruption as you put it.”
“Can she transform back?”
“Nope, tested her. Everything is back to human. Even the ability to talk... However, she wasn’t willing to share any information.”
Rivera detached one of the three wooden crosses from his jacket, and placed it on the woman’s shoulder. Surprised he took it back. “How did you do it?”
“It wasn’t easy, that is for sure. I mixed a set of-“
“Actually, keep the details to yourself. Is this limited to only one abomination?”
“I tested it on several tissue samples. Works mostly on everything, but in different ways. The decoction drags them back to their original form. If it has never been human, it strips the creature of its abnormal abilities. In the case of the undead, it just turns them into normal corpses.”
“How fast does it work?”
“Depends on how I make it. The faster it works, the more pain it causes.”
“I like that. Can it be applied to weapons?”
“Already built some prototypes.”
“Perfect. I’m going out tonight; you’re coming with me.”
“Wonderful. I’ve left and labeled two cases in my safe, order your goons to bring them to the van.”
“They are not my goons. They are my brothers and sisters, and you will show respect.”
“Apologies. Order your brothers and sisters to bring them.”
“Your atrocious lab is rigged with cameras; they’re already coming.”
The two men walked up the stairs. They found themselves in a clean white corridor with many doors.
“What are we hunting tonight?” the doctor’s fingers were twitching. “Tell me it’s going to be big.”
“Sewers, woods, or the beach — one of the three.”
“I hate the beach... let’s hit the sewers.”
“Fuck the sewers, this is real leather. I’m going to the woods. That means you are going to the woods.”
“The woods it is.”
They entered a large room. Hundreds of weapons and armor covered the walls, while the center had open crates over-flooding with ammo.
“Aren’t you going to take anything?” the doctor asked as he put his tactical armor on.
“He is always looking after me. I don’t require anything else.”
“So the knife and revolver don’t count? And what about the bullet-proof vest under your jacket?”
“They are mere tools, through which I serve.”
“Sure they are,” rather than taking a normal helmet, the doctor picked up a gas mask in the shape of a bird’s head, and hid the rest of his body under a black cloak.
“Leave that shit for Halloween, and get a normal helmet.”
“Only when you stop wearing that stupid leather jacket, Mr ‘I’m badass and I don’t need armor’.”
“My attire doesn’t scare the civilians. Look at your creepy ass, hell, if I didn’t know you, I’d shoot you in the head.”
“You think this is creepy?” the doctor tilted his head. “I have all kinds of surprises in this cloak.”
“Leave the surprises for the abominations.”
The two men exited the room, and walked down the corridor. Using both hands, Rivera opened a double door, which led to the garage, where their armored van awaited.
“Max, wake up,” a woman pushed her sleeping boyfriend. Resting in a tent together, they had been in their sleeping bags.
“Huh? What’s going on?” he rubbed his eyes.
“I heard something, I definitely heard something,” hands shivering, Lily held a pocket knife. “Do you think there are wolves out there?”
“Hunny, relax. Wolves are afraid of humans, they stay away from camps, especially when there are many of us. James and Susan are sleeping in a tent six feet from us.”
“It wasn’t wolves. It sounded more human.”
Max rolled his eyes. “You just always have to find something to stress about.”
“Sorry I am worried for our lives,” Lily frowned.
“Hey, James,” Max shouted. “You awake?”
“I am now,” a voice sounded from outside.
“You hear any monsters outside?”
“Shut up and go back to sleep.”
Smile on his face, Max looked at Lily. “See? No monsters. Relax.”
Just as he closed his eyes, an uncanny shout echoed through the woods.
“What was that?” he drew a handgun from his sleeping bag.
“See? I told you!”
A second shout sounded, this time closer. We could see James’s flashlight through the tent. He was out in the open, looking around. The light along with him disappeared. A tall figure appeared from seemingly nowhere, and grabbed him. He shouted as it lifted him, and repeatedly slammed his body into the ground.
Max fired his gun, leaving holes in his tent. The figure crawled in Susan’s tent before the bullets hit it.
“Quickly,” Max grabbed Lily by the wrist, and led her out the tent. “We need to get to the truck.”
Parked near the tents, their truck awaited. Rib cage torn opened, their friend James laid on the ground. Lily screamed, but Max led her towards their vehicle. They quickly entered.
“Damn it,” Max repeatedly rotated the key in the ignition.
“I told you we should have paid for a mechanic!” Lily shouted.
A tall figure slammed its thin arms on the hood of the truck. Bone protruded from various parts of its pale body. Long sharp ribs, claws, and spikes along the spine tore through flesh. The skin around the head had melted away, displaying an uncanny skull, which seemed to have been once human, but took on animalistic features. Muscle held its elongated, sharp teeth-filled, bony jaw together. Deep in the eye sockets, two beady, yellow gems watched them.
“What the hell is that!” Lily flinched back.
Max stopped trying to turn the engine on, and fired his gun, leaving holes in the front glass. The creature snapped to the sides, dodging each bullet. Once the man had none left, it shattered the glass with its fist. It grabbed Lily by the arm, and began pulling her out.
“Max, don’t let me die like this! I still haven’t been to a five star hotel!”
Max wrapped his arms around her waist, and pulled back.
A single shot rang.
The monster looked to the side.
Pointing his gun at the night sky, detective Rivera had fired a warning shot.
Releasing its victims, the creature dropped down on all fours, and let out a silent hiss.
Rivera grinned, and holstered his revolver. “I was hoping for a challenge.”
Claws out, the monster charged at him. He ducked under its arm with ease. “Slow reflexes... limited intelligence...” he dodged a second swing. “Poor technique... Just another pebble on the road to salvation,” he punched it in the face, sending teeth flying out of its mouth.
It hissed and tried to bite him. Already behind it, he kicked it in the back of the knee. His silver-padded boot shattered bone, forcing it down to one knee. Holding it by the horn, he stretched its head backwards. In a swift motion, he launched his hand through its thin layer of skin, and lodged it in between two vertebrae.
Body paralyzed, it let out an inhuman scream of pure agony, which made Rivera’s smile grow. Deliberately, he slowly slid his hand back and forward, prolonging the pain.
Its head bursted into pieces.
Wearing a bird-shaped gas mask, a cloaked figure emerged from the woods. It quickly hid its rifle back under the cloak.
“Why’d you end it?” Rivera’s smile died.
“You were taking too long,” the doctor’s muffled voice answered.
“Taking too long? I was giving it time to rethink its sins and search for forgiveness.”
“Why’d you use the normal ammo?”
“This one isn’t interesting. I want something special.”
“Whatever. Burn the abomination.”
The doctor nodded as he drew a vial. He let a few drops out, which began to slowly eat through the monster’s body.
Rivera knocked on the car’s window mirror.
Nervously, max pulled it down.
“Hey you two,” Rivera made a warm smile. “Sorry you had to experience this. You feeling alright?”
“Not really,” Lily shivered.
“My team will be here in a moment. They’ll drive you to a hospital.”
Rivera glanced at the destroyed tents. “Were they your friends?”
“Apologies I didn’t get here in time. I give you my word: I will avenge them by sending a thousand abominations back to hell.”
The doctor held the vial of acid over James’s body.
“No,” Rivera stopped his hand. “Their remains will be collected, and a proper funeral will be held.”
“If you say so,” the doctor hid the vial under his cloak.
Armed, three members of their team emerged from the woods.
Before Rivera could open his mouth, his phone rang. “I’m working,” he calmly walked in a circle. “Is that so? Exactly how bad is it?”
Enraged, he stared into nothingness.
“What happened?” the doctor took a step back.
“We’re moving out.”
If not for their yellow raincoats, Troy and Jennifer would have been soaking wet. Heavy rain, almost as loud as the bus’s engine they just got off, flooded the street with puddles. In this part of town, the run-down apartment buildings lacked lit windows or any signs of inhabitants. The rain made it harder to make out the surroundings.
Troy got up close so his friend could hear him. “The stop sign!” he pointed at a bent rusty stop sign, strangely placed between two buildings.
The duo entered the alley, and after passing some trash bins and rotting rat bodies, reached a chainlink fence with a hole torn through. A fence with sharp ends formed a clearing from the surrounding buildings. The three story wooden mansion in the middle had architecture, dating at least half a century ago. The city had grown, leaving the piece of history crammed up within a concrete jungle.
The ‘private property’ signs didn’t stop Jennifer from opening the cold metal gate. “Somebody is home,” she pointed at a weak flickering light coming from the top window. Changing her voice pitch mid-sentence, she sounded like a badly played violin.
Now on the porch, the two could take their hoods off. Troy, wearing a brown suit and green tie, went up to the gargoyle ornamented door knocker. “Haven’t seen one of these in a while.”
As he put his hand on it, a burning hiss sounded from the contact point. Recoiling in pain, he shouted and stumbled back.
Jennifer leaned forward till her face was an inch away from the knob. A bandana held her thin dreadlocks away from her tattooed face. Trinkets ranging from small animal skulls to feathers hung from the layers of loose clothing she wore. “It isn’t silver.”
The door creaked open. “Who may ya be?” an old man asked. Despite staying indoors, he wore an old hat. His eyes were bandaged, rendering him blind.
“What’s happenin, we are looking for a friend of ours,” Jennifer stated.
“That so?” the man sniffed the air. “Ya ‘ere for the girl, aren’t ya?”
Jennifer glanced at Troy to confirm they would be truthful. “Yes, we are here for her.”
“Ya can’t have her.”
“Her mother is worried sick, you pensioner.”
“Drop the lies, girl, I know ya up to no good. Why is it ya want the little one?”
Troy walked up to the door. “We aren’t lying. I’m her cousin, and I’m here to rescue her.”
“Rescue? Interesting choice of words... This be where she the safest.”
“Don’t give me that — she can’t spend an eternity in this hole. She deserves a normal life.”
“I be but a mere caretaker... the owner is not present so I can not invite strangers.”
“If you don’t hand her over, I’m burning this place down to the ground.”
“Hah! With ya precious little one inside? Doubt it, boy.”
The old man shut the door.
Jennifer attempted to stop it with her foot, but felt an invisible wall. “There is a barricade, pookie. Should I enter my way?”
“It will stop you, no matter what form you are in. Allow me,” Troy drew a small box from his suit, temporary revealing a handle. The box contained a few ink bottles and a variety of differently sized paintbrushes. Down on one knee, Troy placed it on the ground. He opened an ink bottle, revealing it was empty. A long needle protruded from the bottom of the bottle’s cap. In a single thrust, he stabbed himself in the wrist. Slowly sucking Troy’s blood, the cap twitched. He removed it from his wrist where the wound rapidly healed, and returned it to the bottle.
“That blood magic is sweet and all, but it would be great if you could speed it up,” Jennifer waited impatiently.
Troy opened the ink bottle, which had been filled with a crimson liquid. The needle on the cap had retracted. Using a sharp brush, Troy painted symbols around the door knob. After a few minutes of painting, he packed everything back in the small box.
Thinking he had finished, Jennifer smiled.
Eyes closed, Troy began to chant words in a foreign language.
Jennifer rolled her eyes.
“It’s done,” Troy casually turned the knob, and opened the door.
“Ladies first,” Jennifer rushed inside.
“Mr Caretaker man, we have entered your home,” Troy announced as he closed the door behind.
They found themselves in an old hall with multiple doors and corridors. The ancient wooden furniture looked like it would fall apart at any moment.
“If you do not wish to suffer, I strongly recommend you bring me my cousin,” Troy continued talking.
“Pookie, look,” Jennifer pointed at a flight of stairs leading to the basement. “How about I check out the basement, and you search the rest of the mansion?”
“How about we don’t split up? There is no telling what there might be down there or up here.”
Jennifer smiled wickedly.
“Or you already know what's down there... You’re not here just for Nina, are you?”
She shook her head. “I needed a way in,” Jennifer’s clothes, skin, and hair took on a greenish translucent color. Her mouth was full of sharp needles where teeth should have been. Eyes absent, two blue dots emitted light, from deep within her empty sockets. Her legs had turned into a blurry shape, which gradually faded into nothingness.
Jennifer’s body became invisible as she left Troy in the hall. Hovering above the floor, she moved down the flight of stairs.
In the pitch black basement, she could clearly see a long and wide corridor, with reinforced metal doors along the walls. Each one had an opening, through which food would be handed.
Half-inside the door, she stuck her head through to examine the cell.
Balled up in the corner of the cold cell, a naked woman shivered. Her head hung limply, hiding her face behind long hair.
Jennifer flew through a few more cells, discovering more naked people. She returned to the woman and regained her human form.
“Wake up, queen,” she poked her with the tip of her foot.
All of a sudden, the woman jumped up. A slit appeared, starting from her bottom lip, and reaching her abdomen. It bursted open, showing rolls of sharp teeth.
The aberration leaped across the cell, and slammed its body against the door. Confused it turned around and swung its arm. Having taken on her intangible form, each attack went through Jennifer’s body as if it was smoke.
The sound had awakened the others, filling the basement with an array of shrieks and roars.
In a single motion, Jennifer drew a curved dagger, became tangible, and sliced the monster’s head off. Whistling a cheerful melody, she removed the creature’s face with surgical precision. She rolled it up like paper, and placed it in a cylindrical plastic box. A hideous grin replaced her cheerful smile as she took on her true form, and exited the cell.
“There ya be,” the caretaker stood at the end of the corridor. “I can smell you... demon.”
Ignoring him, Jennifer seamlessly ascended, disappearing in the roof, and emerging from the floor in the hall. She attempted to fly through the wall, and leave the mansion, but felt the barricade was back up.
“Ya not leaving alive.”
Human again, Jennifer turned around. “Look, it’s the pensioner! Let’s not ruin each other’s days. Because you see, I don’t play nice.”
“Neither do I,” the old man let out a deep growl.
“I’m not here for the girl. Go and take your anger out on my companion.”
“The derpy look’n fella.”
“So he is here as well... Tell me, demon, how long can ya keep ya true form?” the man snapped with his fingers. The sounds of each cell door unlocking echoed from the basement. “The experiments shall flood the corridors and devour all intruders.”
Jennifer became intangible and fled. After hastily going through the empty corridors and rooms, she found Troy on the last floor.
“My cousin was here...” He held a small backpack shaped like a chubby panda.
Human, Jennifer tapped him on the shoulder. “Get rid of the barricade, it's back up.”
“Hey. Did you find the old man by any chance?”
“No time to chat, pookie. A dozen party crashes will storm this room at any moment.”
Troy widened his eyes. “Say what?”
The inhuman shrieks sounded from below.
Troy quickly drew the same box from earlier. “We’re going to have to use the window.”
“It better be faster than last time,” Jennifer pushed a large table, barricading the door, and became intangible. Hovering above the floor on the other side, she saw three naked humans in the end of the corridor, all possessing the same mouth as the woman in the basement. Running at full speed, they ignored her and began their attempts to break through the door.
For a mere second, Jennifer became tangible, long enough to slice the first one’s head off, dulling her knife and rendering it useless. Another one got up the stairs as the two stopped hitting the door, and faced her. Rapidly shifting between forms, she dodged their attacks and simultaneously held them back. Striking with her palms and feet, she dislocated their joints, immobilizing their bodies. More came running from behind, making it difficult to avoid the barrage of attacks.
She passed through the wall, and solidified next to Troy. “Ready yet?”
“Almost,” he had painted half of the symbols on the window.
Two hands bursted through the door. Each slam, pushed the table backwards, raising the chance of them passing through.
Troy put his palm on the window. “It’s done,” he lifted a chair and shattered the glass. “Damn it! I forgot we were on the third floor.”
“This fall can be lethal for me!”
Jennifer shrugged, and flew through him, exiting the mansion.
“No... I can’t do this,” Troy talked to himself. He glanced at the door, which was covered in holes, revealing hundreds of sharp teeth and hands. “Window it is. ” one foot on the frame, he hesitated for a few seconds, before jumping.
Midair, Jennifer appeared. She solidified in front of him, and wrapped both arms around his body. Bones broke on impact. Feeling pain in his chest, Troy opened his eyes. Body crushed, Jennifer, who had softened the fall, laid on her broken back underneath.
“Are you alright!” realizing he could move, he shouted.
Blood poured out of Jennifer’s body as she opened her mouth. “I-I will,” she coughed. “Meet you... at... the station,” her body regained its hideous form. Almost instantly, all wounds healed. She disappeared in the ground.
Troy got to his feet, glanced back at the mansion, and bolted.
The cargo wagon’s doors were opened wide, allowing moonlight to enter. Feet hanging from the ledge, Penelope watched the rocky hills as the train sped down the rails.
Sitting on a crate, Luis glanced at her. “Yo, girly. What are you thinking about?”
A few seconds went by before she answered. “I don’t know.”
“You don’t know? Sister, you always gotta know.”
“When did you decide to become a philosopher?” the undead’s voice sounded from within a wooden coffin.
“Bro, I’m curious.”
Penelope ran her hand through a black and grey cat’s fur, which rested in her lap. “I guess I’m thinking about what I’ll lose next.”
Luis raised an eyebrow. “Well, that’s fucking depressing. Why?”
“Why not?” Penelope shrugged.
“She’s in a bad mood,” the undead’s muffled voice sounded again. “Humans killed some of her friends.”
“Two days ago,” Penelope answered.
“Listen up, girly. Here’s how I go through bad breakups,” Luis sat next to her.
“We didn’t break up, idiot. They were slaughtered. And how many breakups have you went through? I didn’t even know you had friends.”
“Sister, I have friends,” Luis pointed at Troy, who was reading a book. Without looking at them, he lifted his thumb in approval. “See?”
“Good to know.”
“Here’s what you need to know. It sucks when bad shit happens, right?”
Penelope didn’t answer.
“But there are good news too. If something bad happened to you, the exact same bad thing can’t happen again — meaning there is one less bad thing in the world to fuck with you. You can’t lose those specific people twice.”
“Alright. How about this: I’ll burn your house down so you don’t have to worry it might burn down. See? Your advice makes no sense.”
“Sister, I’m homeless.”
“That’s not my point.”
“Don’t listen to him, queen,” Jennifer squeezed in between Luis and Penelope. “I’ve got a better way.”
“Better than mine, sister? Pff,” Luis returned to his crate.
“Horrible things happen in life — you know it, I know it, everyone knows it. The trick is to see past it. Once something is gone, and I mean gone gone, it’s not coming back, see? No matter what you do. So thinking about it is useless. Forget about it, let the memory fade away... if it stays, it will only hurt you.”
“Bullshit,” Troy closed his book. “When someone close is gone, it’s disrespectful to forget them. Keep on carrying the memories with you, you owe them that much if they were really your friends.”
Jennifer turned to him. “If they were really her friends, they wouldn’t want to see her suffer by thinking about them, therefore you must forget about them.”
“If you see it that way, sure. But it will be quite sad to forget them... as if they never existed. Do you really want that?”
“You don’t get a choice,” Penelope stated. “It sticks with you.”
“Derek, are you sleeping?” Troy kicked the coffin.
“You know I can’t sleep,” the undead mumbled.
“You can see ghosts. They must have begged you. Did you ever pass on a message to their living loved ones?”
“I only see specific ghosts who haven’t ascended for one reason or another.”
“Yes, but did you ever pass a message to their living loved ones?”
“A few times. Never ended pleasantly. When someone dies... it’s best they stay dead. You can’t hurt a loved one from the grave unless someone like me shows up.”
“But they probably didn’t want to be forgotten, did they?”
“I’m tired of listening to your pointless discussion. Penelope, life sucks. Pain is like fire — it will eventually extinguish itself. Ones you’ve been burnt enough times, there will be nothing left to burn. Until then, deal with it.”
“Bro, fuck fire,” Luis rejoined the conversation. “You can’t lose something twice. So if you lose it, you don’t have to worry about losing it again.”
“We heard you the first time,” Jennifer said.
“There is a better way,” half-hidden in the shadows, Uriah stood still as a statue.
“Bro, every time you open your mouth you creep everyone out,” Luis interrupted.
“Go ahead,” Penelope kept staring at the fields.
Uriah didn’t move from his position. “When a pillar falls in a house, you do not let the house collapse, you build a new pillar.”
“That’s a good idea,” Troy smiled. “You make new friends to fill the hole, but still keep the memories of the old ones. They’d want to see you live a happy life.”
“No,” Uriah slowly shook his head. “New friends aren’t constant. They can leave you. They can hurt you. They can be taken away... lost... destroyed... share the faith of your old ones. To avoid pain and truly replace the pillar with an indestructible one, you conjure up an illusion: the perfect beings, which would never hurt you, which would never leave you, which would always be there for you... Existing in your head, they can never be stolen from you.”
“But they wouldn’t be real,” Troy quickly replied.
Uriah looked at him as if he couldn’t understand his words. “I am not following.”
“Why would you have friends if they aren’t real?”
“Are these friends there to fight with you? To work for you?“
Penelope sighed. “Friends aren’t laborers. Friendship is a two-way street where you are there for each other.”
“If they are not required to interact with this current world we see, why need them be real?”
“He’s right,” Luis nodded. “Girlfriend or porn — the ultimate dilemma.”
Troy ignored him. “No. An imaginary friend is like a slave — you have full control over them. As Penelope said, it has to be a two-way street.”
“Why does it require free will?” confused, Uriah asked.
Jennifer whipped her arms in the air. “Stop acting like you don’t understand these things. You are perfectly aware of the concept of friendship.”
“Thank you,” Troy smiled.
“However, pookie, I agree that an illusion is enough to replace a real friend.”
“Just because something can’t be touched, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.”
“Okay, tell me: this imaginary friend along with fantasy land solely exist inside your head; what happens when you break down? When you are so hurt, you don’t have the strength to keep the illusion up — you are alone.”
“Enough,” a voice echoed through the cargo wagon.
Everyone went quiet.
“Your personal lives are not the priority, we’ve got work to do, and I need all of you,” accompanied by clicks and taps, the voice seemingly came from all directions. “Soon, this discussion will be obsolete as the world will know no suffering. Rest. Prepare. You are close to the city.”
Everyone traded glances. Troy continued reading his book. Penelope stretched her back, and crawled inside a tipped-over container with her cat. Seated on his crate, Luis closed his eyes. Jennifer sat behind Troy, and leaned on his back. Uriah kept standing still as a statue.
Black clouds created by pollution appeared due to the train closing in on the city. Darkness devoured the moon, vanquishing its light.
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2020.03.21 17:22 absolutpalm Bus touch hidden camera
This is a damn novel, so I'm splitting it into two posts. Enjoy the quarantine reading. I needed a project.
This trip would’ve been an absolute shitshow without this community. I did a ton of research, but nothing provided me as much personal, up-to-date information as JapanTravels. Thank you to everyone for sharing your experiences here.
-I went with Sushi Wifi for pocket wifi. I forgot to tell them that my flight plans had changed (cancelled my flight through Beijing last minute as AirChina was giving refunds, and booked new flights not through China), so I was without my wifi device for my arrival evening and most of my first day. Definitely not their fault, and they got it to my hostel very quickly once I did notify them. There were maybe 3 instances of my wifi lagging but I would just turn the device off and on again and it would be fine.
-I used the SuicaEng app and can’t imagine my trip without it. Super easy to use, just be aware that not every city accepts Suica for all public transit. Made it so easy to get around Tokyo, though, and most other places.
-I did not get the JR Rail Pass. The overnight in Nara wasn’t something I’d been planning on, and it ended up getting thrown in while I was already traveling. Had I known about it ahead of time, it might’ve made the JR Pass worth it, but idk, I haven’t done that hindsight math.
Things I’ll Do Differently Next Time:
-Pack lighter. I wore a black Smartwool base the entire trip and did laundry when needed. Most if not all of my stays had coin laundry available. I also didn’t need most of the toiletries I brought. Would’ve been fine with just toothpaste, deo, sunscreen, face wash, moisturizer.
-Bring a rolling bag. For some reason I thought a rolling bag would be more cumbersome than the large backpack I brought, but the pack ended up getting super heavy with shopping acquisitions and put a serious strain on my back. I’ll also take better advantage of luggage forwarding next time.
-Stay flexible. Even on a relatively unstructured trip with only myself calling the shots, there were still a few situations when I wasted valuable time and energy trying to make the perfect meal or experience happen. My advice to myself for next time is to stay in touch with your energy levels and know when to lean into discomfort (i.e. DO walk into that intimidating izakaya with no other foreigners in sight) and when to take it easy on yourself by changing plans (i.e. DON’T go far out of your way to find some elusive oko place when you’re already worn out).
-Research neighborhoods better. My two Tokyo stays were located on opposite sides of the city; east (Asakusabashi) and west (Yoyogi). This worked really well for planning activities around each stay, to minimize time spent zipping from one side of Tokyo to another, but I think I liked the west side more, and I wish I’d spent my longer stay in that area.
-Spend more money. For the most part, the budget stays I picked were fine for my solo travels, but I think I would’ve had some more restful nights and thus more daytime energy if I’d shelled out for actual hotel rooms or AirBnBs here and there. Almost everything I ate was wonderful, but since I’ve been home, I’ve been wishing that I sprung for one or two fancier meals, and a few more souvenirs for myself and close friends/family. I know I’ll take another trip to Japan sometime, but especially with the state of the world atm, I’m not sure when that will be, and I wish I’d splurged on this one a bit more.
-Arrival at Narita, used what public wifi I could find to get my way through the metro to Asakusabashi.
-East 57 Askausabashi Hostel: The most budget of what were almost all budget stays for this trip, and my only stay in a mixed dorm in a hostel, which I wouldn’t do again. You very much get what you pay for here. It was the least clean of all the spots I stayed (nothing crazy - just bathroom mirrors and counters weren’t always the cleanest), and you had to pay a bit for every little amenity. Especially this first week, I was running around like crazy every single day and basically passing out the minute I climbed into my bunk each night, so I wasn’t bothered by too much, but I could’ve done without the loud snoring, farting, etc of fellow travelers every morning and night.
-It was dark and raining by the time I got to the hostel, so I dumped my stuff, ran to the closest konbini to grab an onigiri and beer dinner plus some snacks for the AM, and cash. After eating and letting fam know I’d made it in okay, I passed right out.
-Edo-Tokyo Museum: My favorite museum of the trip. I had a wonderful lunch at the restaurant on the top floor, overlooking the city, and then spent ~3 hours wandering the exhibits. I thought I knew a lot about Japanese history but I learned so much here. Getting a more thorough framework on the different historical eras provided good context for other museums and sites I visited later in the trip. I also got a Grutto Pass here, which provides free or discounted entry to 95 museums in Tokyo. I got great use out of this and at ~2200 yen it quickly paid for itself.
-Ryogoku Edo Noren: I wanted to check out the sake tasting machines which were so cool and a nice midday treat. This would be a fun spot to grab a bite, but I was still full from lunch
-Sumida Hokusai Museum: A smaller museum but really well-executed exhibits on his work. Kind of a dark and introspective space, which I liked. Lots of English translation.
-Honen Manpuku: Had dinner at this Edo-themed izakaya in keeping with the historic context of my day. I wish I’d gotten a seat with a river view but most of the place seemed to be reserved for a corporate event, and I wasn’t brave enough to ask. Still, had a solid sushi meal here.
- Had a delayed morning because I sucked at using the buses. Heed everyone’s advice here that Apple Maps is the better friend when it comes to buses and bus stops, despite Google Maps being great for everything else. Due to transit confusion, I ended up eating an impromptu “brunch” of 7-11 treats, sitting in a small park overlooking the Sumida River. It was actually really lovely, and I had my first of those strawberry and cream sandwiches. I can taste it now. Amazing.
-Teamlab Borderless: Very fun. I got some amazing pictures and video, and it wasn’t as packed as I’d expected. My only regret was that I either missed the lantern room or it was closed that day. I did the tea room and I’d recommend it. The chance to sit and relax for a bit while enjoying the magical flower tea was a nice way to take a little break from the sensory overload.
-National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation AKA Miraikan: I made it here not long before close, so I wasn’t able to dig into it quite as much, BUT I did arrive just in time to meet Asimo! I had know idea he “lived” here, but I guess they do robot shows a few times a day? It was a trip to see him live. The space itself is remarkable and the Geo-Cosmos is hypnotic.
-Odaiba Onsen Monogatari: My first onsen! I was super nervous about this but so excited too. I have a very small tat on my hip and I felt a little bad about lying to the lady that I didn’t have any, but I was able to cover it with a towel under the guise of modesty when I was walking between baths. The common space is Edo-themed, and you walk around in your yukata and can eat, drink, play games, etc before and/or after visiting the baths. I loved it.
-Tsukiji Market: So much fun. I tucked into a little old lady’s tiny shop for an eel bowl, had giant oysters, some mind-bendingly great uni/wasabi thing, and a daifuku dessert. Could’ve spent hours walking around tasting things and wish I’d allotted it more time.
-Teamlab Planets: I preferred this to Borderless, but I’m glad I did both. I liked that the sensory experiences extended beyond the visual and auditory, and I liked there being fewer people walking around with you. It felt like a more personal experience.
-Fukagawa Edo Museum: Very cool museum, though not a lot in the way of English translation. You wander around a life-size reconstruction of a small Edo-era village as the lights change to mimic day shifting into night and back. Much smaller than the Tokyo-Edo Museum. You only really need an hour here, give or take.
-Fukugawajuku: Tiny little restaurant that specializes in a local clam and leek dish. I was a little intimidated because this place was so small and almost full with only fancy-looking, middle aged Japanese women, but the one amazing waitress treated me with such enthusiasm and care. I felt like I got a truly local experience here and of course the meal itself was amazing.
-Wandered around Fukugawa and some shrines a bit and I loved this neighborhood so much. It just has a really unique, cheery character about it. I wish I’d been able to come back and visit the Dragonfly Craft Beer Bar! It’s on the list for next time.
-Tobacco and Salt Museum: I’m not sure what I was expecting, but this was a fantastic museum. I know a good bit about the history of tobacco in the US (being from NC), but didn’t realize how little I knew about Japan’s tobacco history. My favorite exhibits were the vintage tobacco ad posters and cigarette boxes. Just gorgeous design.
-Asahi Sky Room: Amazing views of the city on the top of Asahi’s Corporate Building, all while drinking some tasty beers. We even got lucky with some distant views of Fuji as the sun was going down. Made a few friends here and we ended up taking some great nighttime photos with the lantern at Kaminarimon. Such a fun evening.
-Marugoto Nippon and Asakusa Don Quijote: Didn’t really want to buy anything yet, but it was fun to window shop and compare two completely different Japanese shopping experiences. Also my first close look at the amazing variety of Japanese cosmetics and skincare, which is a big interest for me. Had a chirashi bowl from one of the places at the top of Marugoto Nippon, and it was okay. In hindsight I wish I’d gotten something from one of the many nearby street vendors or popped into one of the cheap ramen joints lining the streets of the neighborhood around Kaminarimon-dori.
-National Museum of Nature and Science: Interesting exhibits, not much English. I only scoped out the permanent exhibitions and wish I’d checked out the special exhibits too.
-Tokyo National Museum: Ditto my last sentiment, but I definitely enjoyed this more than the Nat’l Museum of Nature and Science. I got yelled at for taking photos. Be sure to double check for “No Camera” signs if you do any museums - I was much more careful the rest of the trip. It was still amazing, despite getting fussed at; the Noh masks were a highlight.
-Yanaka Beer Hall: This entire neighborhood is really beautiful and just the walk through it to the beer hall was an enjoyable experience. I had their Yanaka flight and the mentaiko pasta, and it really hit the spot. Creative use of a historic building. Craft beer enthusiasts should check this place out.
-Haginoyu: I’d been itching for another bath and was hoping Haginonyu wouldn’t be too busy but I was dead wrong. They had an English menu on hand but I somehow managed to miss renting myself a towel and I didn’t want to bug them any further. This got a little awkward when I had to change back into my clothes after doing my best to squeegee myself off, but the baths were great for my tired body. Would totally recommend during quieter hours.
-Kamachiku: Late breakfast/early lunch. Gorgeous udon place in a historic building in Yansen with a view of a traditional garden. Had some amazing sides along with the udon and a glass of sake. Spectacular meal all around.
-Yanaka Cemetery Park: Kind of ended up here by accident when some kind of train issue screwed up my plans to go to a different park. I live in a city known for its burial sites, though, and I found it really fascinating to wander the markers and see what kind of offerings and trinkets were left for people. This is also one of these places that’s impossibly quiet for being in the middle of Tokyo, and that was a nice change.
-Ended up getting kind of intentionally lost in Ueno Station and wandered aimlessly around one of the shopping centers there for a while (Artre Ueno, I think?).
-Titan’s Beer Bar: Great selection of local and imported craft beer here. Enjoyed my beers and spicy fries, and chatted with an English ex-pat. A nice way to start winding down a very casual day.
-Jazz Spot Intro: The most memorable bar experience of the entire trip. I got here on the early side when it was basically empty, and as the hours passed it filled up with local musicians who all took turns playing and singing. It felt so intimate and chill and I ended up having some wonderful chats with other folks at the bar. I’m not even a big jazz fan but this was so much fun and felt like a truly special place.
-Shibamata: A great place to visit for some of those shitamachi vibes. I had the local dango specialty with tea for breakfast and wandered down the busy shopping street to the large local shrine, Shibamata Taishakuten. The ancient pine tree here is amazing, as is the shrine and its attending structures.
-Yamamoto-tei: A beautiful house built by a local businessman that blends traditional Japanese design with western features, all overlooking a gorgeous garden. The weather was amazing so I enjoyed just chilling in one of the tea rooms after my tour, soaking up sunshine and gazing out over the garden.
-National Art Center Tokyo: A free museum and a very cool-looking space, but the exhibits didn’t interest me much, so I didn’t stay long.
-21_21_ Design Sight: Stumbled upon this while wandering through Roppongi and absolutely loved it. Highly recommended for anyone interested in design. The exhibit focusing on the creative process of notable Japanese designers and engineers was very inspiring.
-Tokyo Midtown depachika: The depachikas are an absolute wonderland if you’re into food. I always made the mistake of going during the evening rush but I still loved wandering the aisles and ogling all the beautiful eatables. I grabbed a number of snacky things here for a late lunch.
-Hinokicho Park: There’s an adorable little open house along a pond in this park where you can sit and relax. I made a little picnic of my depachika snacks and enjoyed the quiet of the green space while refueling. A really sweet old couple made conversation and we exchanged pictures of our kitties.
-Mori Art Museum: There’s an amazing view of Tokyo at the top of this museum and I kind of wish I’d had a meal or a drink in one of the top floor restaurants. Another beautiful place to watch the sun go down over Tokyo. The exhibits focused on technology as it’s being applied to current and future struggles with climate, disease, etc. I really enjoyed the little robots meant to provide companionship for lonely folks. Only wish I’d done this earlier when I was a little less tired.
-Otako: This Izakaya serves oden as its specialty. Seemed like a favorite spot among locals and had an interesting mix of cliente - the kind of place that attracts folks from all walks of life. They had an English menu handy and were very kind and welcoming. Perfect place for my first oden, and my first highball.
-Gyoza Bar Comme a Paris: Fantastic gyoza AND a wonderful French onion soup with more gyoza hidden in the soup! Also a parsley sour which sounds weird but was SO good.
-Nezu Museum: Beautiful collection of folding screens, calligraphy, and tea ceremony items. Really, really loved the folding screens. Also a sizable garden filled with shrines, sculptures, and a koi pond. The weather was still great, so I enjoyed the time outside here.
-Shinkansen to Kyoto: Got a reserved seat because I was worried about the size of my luggage but it ended up being totally unnecessary and I went with unreserved the rest of the trip. Grabbed a great little sushi ekiben and plum wine for the ride.
-Comicap Manga Capsule Hotel, Kyoto: Of the places I stayed, this was among the most clean and comfortable. The place is filled with manga (with a small english section) and lots of comfy seating. The women’s bathroom was by far the best of my budget stays - only accessible with a wristband scanner, tons of complimentary toiletries, hairdryers, curling irons, and sparkling clean. FYI you can’t be anywhere in the space between 11 AM and 3 PM.
-Northern Lights: Tiny standing bar close to my capsule hotel. Was practically empty when I visited, but ended up befriending a Japanese dentist. Would’ve been boring if not for the dentist, but we had a nice conversation.
-Fushimi Inari: Starting hiking around 7:30 AM, saw maybe a total of 8-9 other people on the trail. Wasn’t necessarily planning on hiking the whole thing, but I’m glad I did. It was a peaceful and oddly kind of moving experience. Stopped at several shrines on the way up and down to pay my respects.
-Grabbed Lawson breakfast snacks on my way back to the hostel, including a Cinnamoroll bun, which was delicious. Ate, relaxed, and wrote at the hostel until they threw me out at 11 AM. -Gion, Kinniji Temple, and Goou Jinja: I was intending on planning my day while chilling post-hike at the hostel, and being kicked out kind of ruined that, so I did some aimless wandering through Gion for a while. It was gorgeous. I wish I’d returned to see it in the evening. Top of the list for next time. Accidentally ended up by Kinniji Temple, so decided to tour it. Very beautiful - the dragon ceiling painting is spectacular. I bet the grounds are even better in the springtime. I wish I’d been able to actually enter the main part of the shrine at Goou Jinja, but there was a family standing at the water basin, and the parents were letting the small children play with the ladles, including letting them drop and drag on the ground. It pissed me off and I didn’t want to use the ladles, so I just left after wandering the exterior a bit.
-Nijo-jo Castle: I wish pictures were allowed here. It is amazing. I sprung for the English audio guide and it really enriched the experience for me. If you’re interested in the architecture and design of the shogunate, you’ll love this.
-Bungalow: Great craft beer and FANTASTIC food. The leek tempura was one of the best dishes of the entire trip. Very cool, casual space - highly recommend for craft beer lovers.
-Goko-yu: Absolutely wonderful old-school city onsen experience. I was smart this time, and went around 4 PM in the afternoon, hitting a sweet spot between the granny crowd and the post-work crowd. This has a great vintage feel, wood shoe locker keys included, and is super inexpensive. They had an English menu at the counter, and couldn’t have been more friendly. There were only 2 or 3 other lady patrons, and I was able to take my time enjoying all the baths - including my first electric bath! If you’re in Kyoto and want an authentic bath experience but are a little nervous about it, going here during slow hours would be a great way to dip your toes in, so to speak.
-Yamorido: One last craft beer stop to end the day! Yamorido is housed in an old tea shop, and they use Japanese tea in some of their beers in homage. Got to speak to the head brewer for a bit (American guy, I think), who filled me in on the history of the building. Really enjoyed their Japanese Saison!
-Yamazaki Suntory Distillery: I can’t recommend this enough to anyone remotely interested in whiskey or distilling. Easy train ride from Kyoto to the beautiful town of Yamazaki. You get to see so much of the facility, and you can access an English guide to supplement, as the tour guide only speaks Japanese. The tasting room portion was my favorite part, and you get a free pour of their signature single malt in the bar afterward. Also some great stuff in the gift shop.
-Kyoto Station Ramen Koji: On the 10th floor of Kyoto Station, there are a bunch of ticket ramen restaurants crammed into a corridor. Couldn’t tell you the name of which I picked, but I got some spicy ton ton ramen and a beer and it made for a perfect post-AM-whisky lunch. Will definitely be coming back here next visit to Kyoto.
-Nishiki Market: I did a wander through the market just to check it out. I’d just had my ramen lunch so I wasn’t feeling super hungry or high-energy, but it was very cool to walk through. Definitely worth a little more time than I gave it - would make a great meal like Tsukiji if you’re down with tasting as you walk.
-Village Vanguard: This was basically right next to my capsule hotel. It’s like a weird mix of Spencer’s Gifts, Hot Topic, Claire’s, Delia’s and I don’t even know what else. Didn’t buy anything but it was super interesting to browse and check out some Japanese teen fashion along with everything else. After I was done browsing, I had a warm melonpan filled with matcha soft-serve from a stand across the street for dinner.
-Starbucks Kyoto Ninenzaka: The best part of this was the winding walk through the beautiful historic neighborhoods leading up to it. The Starbucks itself was almost completely empty during my visit, which was nice. I got whatever the special was and sat alone in one of the tatami mat rooms upstairs and enjoyed a quiet coffee and the view into the garden.
-Kodaji Temple and Ryozen Kannon statue: I wasn’t planning on visiting these, but I happened by them on my way back after coffee and decided to give them a look. Both were beautiful - the statue was particularly cool, as was the “orb of power”. Had to make a wish!
-Iwatayama Monkey Park: One of the highlights of my time in and around Kyoto. The hike is steep but short and the monkeys are so fascinating and fun to watch. I fed them and took a million pictures. You’re given pretty strict instruction on how to interact with them, and I liked that they were able to move about the mountain and visiting area as they pleased.
-Machiya: I wasted too much time on a wild goose chase for some specific hard-to-find okonomiyaki place, and Machiya in the Porto shopping center was what I settled on once I gave up trying to find it. I should’ve just gone straight to Machiya - it has an English menu and griddles at each table so your oko doesn’t go cold as you eat it. Great, hearty meal for a great value.
-Hotel New Wakasa in Nara: I’d checked out of my Kyoto capsule and took the train to Nara for a one night stay at this beautiful ryokan just a few blocks from the deer park. This was one of only two nights I spent not at a capsule or a hostel, and it was beyond wonderful to have so much space and a bathroom to myself. I splurged and got a room with a private outdoor bath. Cannot recommend this enough if you decide to splash out on a nice ryokan. I loved New Wakasa’s on-site onsen, but being able to watch the sun go down over Nara from my outdoor tub was such a memorable experience, not to mention getting in a morning soak. I opted for the kaiseki dinner and breakfast and both were fantastic. Highly recommend this place if you want to do Nara fancy.
Part II (Nara, Kanazawa, Nagoya, Tokyo): https://www.reddit.com/JapanTravel/comments/fmiitb/3_week_solo_trip_report_jan_17_feb_18_tokyo_kyoto/
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