Leslie lay on his back staring at the cracks in the
ferrocrete ceiling. He shifted, causing the makeshift bunk to creak mournfully
under his two hundred fifty plus kilo frame. The bunk (actually, three bunks
welded together and reinforced in the prison workshop) was set in the middle of
his cell with about a meter of clearance on each side. His feet overshot the
edge of the bunk by about ten centimeters, resting on a copy of The Iliad
that set atop the only other furnishing in the cell—a toilet.
His legs ached. The spots where they dug out the 50
cal slugs, filled in with tissue weld, healed tight and throbbed with each beat
of his heart. He had picked up the slugs about six weeks ago in a meadow
outside of Ottawa.
He and two others had the bright idea (which Leslie had to admit wasn’t all
that bright) to rob an armored transport which was transporting some data drops
from a credit agency. The drops were small and movable and worth an
astronomical price on the street for the data they held. The information was so
precious that it could not be moved in the flow and was only accessed in-house
via dead-end terminals. Harry, the mastermind behind the heist, had gotten the
time and route as well as the guard complements (“Only two, plus the driver!
Can you fucking believe it?”). So Harry, Leslie and another walking knuckle by
the name of Spanner figured they’d hit it on a lonely stretch of road about
twenty klicks outside Ottawa.
It was just getting dark as Leslie lay in the back
seat with his knees jammed up under his chin, hugging the AR-19 with a full
clip of 7.62 armor-piercing loads. Spanner was in the front holding a one shot
anti-tank tube. Harry had the car’ access open, dicking with the fuel cell to
make it appear they had broken down. He had two caseless Glocks strapped under
his armpits and close proximity neo-EMP
in his front jacket pocket.
The transport rumbled down the open stretch, riding
low under the composite armor. Harry stood up and waved. Then he tripped the
EMP. Leslie heard the pop and felt Spanner kick the front door open. Leslie
jumped up and out just in time to see the truck roll to a stop. Spanner ran
around to the back and dropped to one knee, triggering the tube. The
armor-piercing lancet reached just over Mach 2 in the ten meters between
Spanner and the transport’s composite hatch. Its depleted uranium lancet tore
it apart as if it was made of paper. Spanner was hopping up and down and
grinning like an idiot when Leslie and Harry made it to the back of the
transport. It was an open bay with integral racks. Leslie could see what was
left of the two guards in the back. He moved forward through the connecting
door to the driver’s cabin and poked the driver who was slumped over the wheel.
His head rolled boneless on a broken neck, blood seeping from his eardrums.
“Whatcha got, Leslie?” Harry yelled forward.
“Nothing, his ticket is punched.”
“Well let’s grab this shit and di di mau.”
“Right,” Leslie replied, letting the guard drop back
over the wheel.
Once back in the main compartment, all three were
looking at the rack of data drops. There were six of them, built like kettle
balls, round and about the size of a toaster with an integral handle built in.
Spanner picked one up remarking, “Shit! They’re fucking
“Enough with the commentary, just grab two and get
them into the car,” Harry grunted.
Harry and Spanner duck-walked them out of the armored
car. Leslie scooped up two in his right hand and hopped out into the gathering
darkness. He started toward the car when he heard a whirring noise that made
his neck hackles rise.
Turning to face the sound, he couldn’t believe what
he was seeing.
Out of the top of the truck arose a flattened disk
with a rotor on top. It hovered at about five meters and rotated toward the
three men. Two 50 cal muzzles dropped out from the underside. The click as the
rounds were chambered was unmistakable. Leslie threw the data drops and took
off across the field at a gallop. He heard the 50s open up. Looking back over his
shoulder he saw Spanner and Harry come apart like rotten jack-o-lanterns, the
slugs blowing huge gobbets of flesh into the cool night air. Leslie redoubled
his efforts; each stride covered almost three meters at a clip. He heard the
rotors change pitch and move in his direction, the slugs hit him before he even
heard the shots. His legs shot out in front of him, flipping him on his back.
The platform hovered directly above him as two spots clicked on.
“Freeze!” The command rang out from unseen speakers.
A little late for that, Leslie thought bitterly.
It was cold.
Not just cold, but an I wish I had on a heavier
coat sort of cold. A some fucking lunatic dragged me out of a nice warm
bed at four in the morning, at the end of Goddamn November in the motherfucking
Catskills sort of cold.
Shadrach stomped his feet trying to get some life
back into his toes. The stars stood out in a stark contrast against a matte
black sky. His father was in the cab of a borrowed picker trying to coax the
hydrogen cell to life. The method to bring the cell to life seemed to involve a
lot of swearing, as well as carrying out a running narrative on what an unlucky
man he was, adding at salient points that the added burden of an idiot son was
only further proof of a cruel Universe against hard working men.
Shadrach wore a look of complete non-comprehension on
his face. It was essentially his null state. When his father’s attention turned
back to him, he would then become the focus of the aforementioned narrative. In
addition, appearing to be too stupid to know what was happening gave the
narrator the least amount of material to work with.
“Hey, numb nuts! Yeah you, Shifty. Any chance you
giving me a hand here?”
Not being a cell tech or mechanic or even the least
bit interested, he doubted it, but shuffled over to peer in the access. Yep,
there was a cell in there.
His father looked at him with an expression he
usually saved for questionable dairy products.
“You really are useless, aren’t you? What are you
going to do? Who the hell is going to hire you?”
For the life of him Shadrach couldn’t have cared
less, as long as it got him away from here. In fact, he was willing to go as
far away as he could get, without actually winding up on his way back.
Shadrach’s father shook his head sadly. He was a
small intense man with close cropped dark hair. He seemed on the verge of
nervous movement even when standing still, notoriously bad in checkout lines;
often leaving the item, he intended to purchase because the line wasn’t moving
quickly enough. All in all a barrel of laughs. Shadrach was an echo of his
father. At fifteen, he was a little taller and broader through the shoulders,
but carried the same dark intensity. He was looking at his feet when he noticed
an opened coupling underneath the picker’s frame. Bending down he snapped the
two connections together.
“Now try it.”
His father sneered as he reached inside the cab and
hit the power tab. The Telltales flickered to life as the cell came online.
“Well,” his father said, “even a stopped clock is
right twice a day.”
Shadrach stared back with bovine indifference.
Climbing into the picker his father put it in drive
and moved toward the pile of alloy transmission pylons. The power company had
pulled them down to make room for a microwave transmitter they were building.
One of his father’s friends who worked for the power company called him and
said he could have them if he got them out before morning. Shadrach could not
imagine what he could use them for, but if they were for free, his old man was
all for them. Case in point, all the blankets on the beds at home had scorch
marks on them. During a hospital fire the firefighters had been throwing them
out the windows. To his father, they were manna from heaven.
Crawling forward the picker moved in articulated
jerks as the hydraulics sluggishly came to life in the November cold. Moving
the boom over the heap of pylons. His father lowered the claw, the machine
lifted a mass of pylons like a child grasping a pile of pick-up sticks. Lifting
andswinging around, the picker placed
the pylons in its rear payload area. As each new level of pylons was reached,
Shadrach pushed a button activating the tethers which locked it down. This
process went on for about fifteen minutes.
The old picker wheezed and clunked as his father loaded
the last of the pylons. When the final one was in place Shadrach pushed the
tether activation button. The tether would connect, but not lock, due to the
overload of pylons. His father, in no small state of agitation, made repeated
stabbing motions with his thumb indicating Shadrach should get the tether
locked. Shadrach held the button down hard; the servos whined and released a
thin acrid smell into the cold air. Shadrach heard the clunk as the tether locked.
He turned and smiled at his father. His father shrugged, unimpressed.
Walking back Shadrach removed his gloves and put them
in his front pocket. He was looking forward to climbing in to the warmth of the
cab and heading home. Just then, a snap rang out like a gunshot. The tether
broke free and recoiled, rubber band-like, slashing downward. The thin edge
sliced down and caught Shadrach above his left eye cutting down, laying open a
five centimeter gash. Falling back Shadrachlanded on his ass stunned, not really knowing what had happened. The
blood flowed freely, shocking in its warmth, hugging his cheek before moving
down to the space between his neck and tee shirt. His father stood above him,
looking less concerned then annoyed.
“C’mon, brain surgeon, we are going to have to get that
glued. Jesus, you could foul up a High Mass.”
Shadrach sighed, pressing one of his gloves to his
face as he rose to follow his father.
The Qwik Fix was lit with an intensity that Shadrach
suspected had an antibacterial quality. The small waiting room was devoid of
shadows. The Qwik was a chain of what was known as “boo-boo bodegas.” They were
cheap and quick, and if you had coverage they would perform any procedure short
of reattaching a limb with varying degrees of success. They were staffed
exclusively by a med tech who was invariably a “Stan.” A “Stan” was an
immigrant from Turkistan, Uzbekistan or in his father’s lexicon “a
who-the-fuck-knows-where a Stan”.
Shadrach’s father gave the tech the once over as he
came out to exam the gash. He was short and corpulent with skin that glowed
with a sheen that appeared to be the result of some sort of applied cosmetic.
Shadrach winced as cool capable hands examined the wound. He cleaned it
quickly, applied an organic sealant, and closed it with a pistol-shaped
instrument of Israeli design.
Shadrach could feel his skin tighten and pull towards
his one ear.
“There will most likely be some scarring without some
surgical intervention,” the tech said softly. “But it will heal quickly and
cleanly without infection.”
Shadrach knew the chance of any surgical intervention
was unlikely. His best hope was that the scar would add some character to his
The tech policed up his disposable gear quickly and
dropped it into a receptacle. He moved behind the counter to bring up the
“Nice to see he took time from driving a cab to help
us out,” Shadrach’s father mumbled, breaking out his chip. Shadrach knew his
father was critical of all ethnic groups—except his own—which seemed too made
up of exclusively of white, loud and ignorant malcontents.
The transaction completed, they moved outside into
the cold dawn.
“Well, whatever I could have saved we lost on that
Shadrach moved his hand over the scar feeling it
throb along the adhesive.
“Sorry,” he offered.
“You sure are,” Shadrach’s father agreed.
The new shoes pinched right along the edge of his big
They had absurdly large soles, almost two inches
thick. The clerk at the store where he picked them up referred to them as
For Gideon, that pretty much summed up the whole
outfit—from the idiot ball cap to the faux cop uniform shirt, pegged
straight-leg black utility pants, finished off with required white cotton socks
and aforementioned Frankensteins. The only way he could feel any more absurd
was if they required a propeller on top of the cap.
Gideon sat in a waiting room in the Archer Daniels
Midland corporate headquarters in downtown Philadelphia. The room had an
aggressive organic feel to it. There was nothing loose, nothing that could be
moved: the chairs, tables, drink dispensers; waste receptacles all seemed to
have sprouted directly from the floor. There were no sharp edges. Everything
was a pale tan; the space had a feel as if it had been designed to withstand
the antics of especially inquisitive chimps. As he looked around, he had to admit that was a bit of inspired
design. There were about thirty other men in the room, all within a ten year
age range, all from the same economic spectrum. Gideon could see new patches of
skin where gang tats had been freshly removed and replaced with derm analogs.
“Got a smoke?”
“Nah,” Gideon replied, patting down his pockets.
“They don’t allow it in here.”
“Yeah, that isn’t all they don’t allow in here,”
added the smokeless smoker.
“What’s your name?”
“Craig,” he answered, offering his hand. Gideon
grasped it firmly. “You prior military?”
“Yep,” Gideon nodded. “You?”
“TheCorps, mustered out about a year ago.”
Craig rubbed his closely shorn scalp; he still carried the build of his hitch.
A little shorter than average, his mass made him seem bigger. He was dressed in
a mirror image of everyone else.
“ I did four in the Nav, got out about six months
ago, that puts us atop of the food chain in here,” Gideon smiled. It fit easily
on his face. About two inches taller than Craig, he carried none of the muscle.
His dark brown eyes held an implied smile that seemed at home there. His
well-shaped head was shaved close and he wore a carefully trimmed goatee around
his generous mouth.
“Trouble finding work after ya mustered out?” Gideon
“Yeah, not much call for grunt work.”
“Did ya try Security?”
Craig shook his head. “Isn’t much use. Most private
or corporate is all Special Forces.”
Gideon shrugged. “Can’t win for losing.”
“Word,” Craig replied.
The smart wall blinked twice as the next set of
applicants’ names scrolled across. Gideon watched as his name appeared third
from the bottom with the room routing number.
“Well, that’s me,” Gideon said, standing.
“Good luck bro,” Craig commented to Gideon’s back as
he made his way to the interviewing cubicles.
If the waiting room was nondescript, the interview
cubicle was a testament to understatement. It was a small square room with a
chair, desk, and some sort of a chair lamp combination that looked as if it had
grown from a large coerced mushroom. The woman on the other side of the desk
held a small data plaque and managed to look both bored and annoyed at the same
time. Her business suit was just a shade lighter than the room/chair/desk. Her
skin tone suggested that she may have been issued along with the other
“Mr. Gideon, have a seat.”
“How are you feeling today?”
“Right as rain thanks.”
“Let’s get down to business, shall we?”
“It’s your show,” Gideon smiled.
She glanced down at the plaque in her hand, her thumb
hitting the scroll tab at irregular intervals.
“It says here you are a Veteran.”
“Four years, Navy.”
“And did you enjoy it?” she asked.
Gideon thought a moment, then answered, “Don’t really
know if I enjoyed it. But it was something different, that’s for sure.”
“How do you mean?”
“I was stationed on a thirty five year old fast
attack submarine. A dynamic situation at best.”
“I didn’t think there were any submarines in use any
more,” she said, raising her eyebrows.
“That’s what I mean.”
She looked at Gideon. Gideon looked back.
“Anyway, what did you do?”
“Anything they told me.”
Again the eyebrows.
“Mainly, hydraulics, pump repair. Things of that
She nodded. “What makes you think you could do
security work for ADM?”
“I have no idea. The ad said entry level. And if I am
anything it is entry level.”
“Of that I am sure,” the interviewer agreed.
“Although this is the first gig where I ever had to
buy the gear before I was hired,” Gideon said pulling at his shirt.
“We like to think it helps weed out the applicants
who aren’t really interested.”
“I don’t get the job I keep the getup?”
“No.” She shook her head. “It becomes ADM property.”
“How do you get away with that?”
She tilted her head thoughtfully. “Today’s climate is
very...friendly to the corporate world.”
“When hasn’t it been?” Gideon asked
“That,” she responded, “is not a good place to start
a working relationship.”
James Halbert gripped the cool porcelain of the sink
and watched the green stomach bile puddle around the drain. Filling a cup from
the faucet and he rinsed his mouth and spit washing the green stain from his
sight. Standing looking around his small apartment he felt his stomach twist.
He was a thin man, with a halo of gray hair that seemed to float about his
head. Staring at his pinched features in the mirror he tried to remember the
last time he felt good.
Moving back to his small single bed he crawled into
“Time,” he said to the room.
“0438,” the room responded cheerfully.
“Great,” James muttered. Twenty minutes till he had
to dress for work.
James had just turned 50 but looked 15 years older.
He was a power board supervisor for Golden State Edison and it was slowly but
surely killing him.
Pulling a can of Java Joe out of his cupboard, he
stood looking at the empty space the can had left. Reaching up, he moved a can
forward, making the row complete again. All five shelves of the cupboard were
full of Java Joes. James lived on Java Joes and soy bars. It was the only thing
that his body would tolerate anymore. Pushing the tab, he set it on the
counter. Watching as the can warmed to the preset temperature. He knew that it
was an oxidization process similar to rusting in the can liner that heated the
coffee. He also knew that he actually didn’t give a shit…
Once in his combination bedroom-sitting area, he
opened his closet and removed a shirt and pants. He didn’t turn on the lights.
The only things in the closet were identical sets of white shirts and khaki
pants. It was all he wore and as with the coffee, he truly didn’t give a shit.
Dressing quickly, he clipped his I.D. to his shirt
pocket. Then back in the kitchen he grabbed a backpack and filled it with ten
Java Joes and a handful of New Day soy bars. Looking at the label of the last
bar as he placed into the backpack he read the label aloud.
“Make every day a new day to remember!!!” James said
to the empty kitchen. The bars were the consistency of earwax, which funnily
enough is exactly what they tasted like. James doubted if the three exclamation
points were really necessary.
Stepping outside of his tiny apartment, he palm-locked
the doorway behind him. The air was heavy with moisture and some sort of
chemical byproducts from the fires in Oakland. A petroleum cracking plant had
been blown up a week earlier by a militant Earth First! faction and was
still smoldering.Having been to Oakland
once. The thought of destroying anything because of its environmental impact
was sort of like arresting a politician for acting in his own self-interest; a
pointless exercise at best. James walked up to his eight year old Honda Katana
The Honda beeped in recognition, deactivating
numerous interlocks and antitheft devices.
Opening the door he put the backpack in the space
behind the seat. Being a one-seater, it was a little scarce on space. Climbing
in, the car came online, showing the status of its power plant and other
vitals. A blinking readout indicated that fuel was down to twenty percent. He
would fuel up at work. All state vehicles ran on used vegetable oil collected
at numerous fast food restaurants around the state.He hit the warmup switch to heat and liquefy
the solidified grease that had congealed overnight. The small car filled with
the smell of fried food, causing James to power down both windows. The smell
would adhere to his clothes. His whole workspace smelled like a chicken
franchise from all the state employees jammed in the small space. James sighed.
It was because of small absurdities like this he often thought about driving
the Katana right into the Bay, leaving a only small French fry-smelling slick
to mark his passing.
The dash chronometer;
read 05:02. He just had to turn out of Harbor Way, cross G Street, take a left
on Railroad Avenue, then a right on Rickover to Poplar Avenue—a total of 2.3
miles. It would take him a little under two hours. He read somewhere that rush
hour had once only occurred at peak hours like six to nine in the morning or
four to seven in the afternoon. Now the line of traffic was never ending, like
an exercise in perspective stretching to the horizon.
Ninety-three minutes later he pulled into the Power Authority’s
parking structure and into his assigned slot. The structure was located about a
kilometer from the actual building and was made from interlocking, meter-thick
slabs of ferrocrete to minimize blast damage from overenthusiastic
environmental zealots or any other yahoo able to jam a hundred kilos of
explosive into their French fry-smelling personnel conveyance.
The dew wet his pants cuffs while cutting across the brown burned grass to the Power
Authority’s entrance. There was only one entrance through which three hundred
employees had to squeeze every twelve hour shift change. Each employee had to
pass through an identity kiosk. This would scan, sniff and otherwise match to a
profile for each employee. Any employee who came up wanting would quickly be
sprayed with Stayputt—a semi-liquid goo which instantly hardened into a
molasses-like epoxy, sticking the helpless employee to the spot. James had
witnessed about a half dozen Stayputtings. It was usually caused by a new
deodorant or perfume not listed in the Authority’s identification lexicon.
Patiently James queued and waited , moving through
the scanner. Making it through without being glued to the floor; owing, he
supposed, to the fact that he reeked of fried chicken. He made his way to the
elevator and rode down the ten levels to the power board. The Power Authority
was built like an inverted cone buried so only a small amount appeared above
ground; the majority was buried encased in ferrocrete with a polyceramic cell
impervious to all but a multi-megaton strike. The entirety of air, water and
power generated for the facility were site-dedicated. The whole place could be
sealed off and remain independent for weeks, an option that caused James to
wake up in a cold sweat at least once a month. As he approached the portal he
hit the palm scanner; the door granted him access.
The control room was a circular chamber set with displays
on all visible wall surfaces. In the Center were gathered the techs and usage
governors. Seated separately were four facilitators in pneumo-couches facing
the main power loads. The four facilitators were wired directly via spinal
jacks into the grid, constantly monitoring and shifting the billions of
kilowatts flowing through the portion of grid that was their responsibility.
Facilitators were contracted for four years and then given full retirement with
an obscene compensation package. James had yet to meet one who made the entire
four. Most ended up as disabilities taken out while seizing on the couch.
Seizures and emboli were hallmarks of their professions.
“What’s up, Boss?” asked Sean, the p.m. power board
“I’m here, for what’s it worth,” James offered tiredly.
“Dude, in this place that’s worth its weight in gold.
” Sean chuckled.
Sean was a homesteader out from Napa Valley. He did
six shifts on and eight off. Long and lanky, he seemed to be made of rawhide
and bleached bone. His long blond hair was pulled back and tied with a strip of
worn leather; he was always in good humor, which simultaneously both amazed and
“Well Jimmy, everything is five by five just like you
left it. No fires to be put out. Just the chaos and turmoil that passes for
normality around here.”
“How long have the Bees been on?” James asked
motioning toward the facilitators.
“This group’s fresh. The longest about two hours, all
looking pretty mellow.”
They were known as Bees—short for zombies—due to
their marked lack of interaction on and off the wire.
“Well, thanks, Sean. You off for eight now?”
Sean nodded. “Yeah, eight days with the wife and
climbers. You should stop out, we’re putting up our first Riesling this month.”
James shrugged. “Yeah, maybe.”
Sean reached out and grabbed James’ shoulder,
squeezing lightly. “Dude, you got to get out sometime. This place is killing
“Truer than you know,” James said softly. “You take
“You too, hoss; stay frosty.”
James watched Sean make his way out of the power board
wondering—not for the first time today—what the hell he was doing here.
Facing the main screens James said. “Initiate shift
clock.” A numerical countdown from 12 hours started. The power room was now
isolated until the start of the next shift. James’ chest started to burn from
the stomach acid splashing into his esophagus. He tore open a soy bar and
gnawed into it grimly.
“Chief, we’re getting spikes. It looks like we’re
going to lose the Alcatraz feed from the wind farm,” barked one of the governors.
“Shit,” James whispered, switching swiftly to the
relevant screen. He could see the megawatts draining away as the farm dropped
off line. “Balance out the drain with Diablo Canyon’s surplus.”
“I don’t know Chief, it’s going to be close. Their
grid is barely in the black.”
James nodded. “I know, just do it.”
The governor punched in the command. A moan came from
the pneumo-couch closest to James. A young blond woman writhed in pain as the
power feed and drain balanced out.
“Put the facilitator’s vitals up on screen,” James
said. The usage governor brought up the woman’s vital signs, all were green
except for the neurotransmitter levels which had moved into the red.
“See if you can shift some of her load onto one of
“No can do, Chief, all facilitators working at max
Grimacing, James sighed. “Four dedicated organics are
pushing the envelope with this responsibility level; even with two more we
would still be functioning at eighty percent capacity.”
The governor shrugged. “You’re preaching to the
choir, but you know upstairs they are not going to allot any more than just
less than ya need.”
This was not news to James. There was very little in
this place that was news to him.
He sat for the next hour watching the boards. The
feed and drain balanced precariously, staying just barely in a non-critical
Gulping down a Java Joe he looked up at the shift
clock; it had just passed the halfway mark. Still 05.59.06 left on his shift.
James massaged the back of his neck.
“We’re getting reports of a large warehouse fire in
“So, Oakland as a rule is always on fire.”
The governor keyed in the appropriate commands
bringing up the readouts at a selected substation. “I’ve got a twenty degree
Celsius ambient rise at critical two at transformer.”
“Shit, how close?” James asked, although he already
“Close, I got it inside twenty meters from the
reported fire site.”
“Is there a redundant at standby?”
“Not a chance, Chief.”
motioned. “Bring up the brownout cascade and start cutting all non-essentials.”
A scream rang through the power board as the blond
facilitator seized, flopped off the couch and was torn free from her c1
coupling. The screens went crazy as the power grids controlled by the seizing
facilitator went into automatic shutdown. Twenty square kilometers of some of
the most expensive real estate in the country—two major airports and five major
medical centers—fell from the grid. Icons began flashing on the screen as
everyone from the state’s Chief Executive on down was now attempting to contact
whoever was responsible for the shit storm that had just occurred.
“Unseal the power board and get medical in here, and
call Personnel. We need a standby facilitator ASAP.”
The burning in his chest spread as he tore open
another soy bar. James wished fervently that he could crawl up his own asshole.
The house sat back about three meters from Main
Street. It was one of the oldest still standing in Yarmouth, Maine. Its
shingles were faded to the requisite silver patina, giving it that authentic
New England flavor. On the front porch was a lobster trap that someone had made
into a table by nailing an old cabinet door on top. The screen door was so
rusted, that when looking out it seemed like dusk even on the sunniest of
summer days. Inside was a small living room piled with books and various pieces
of sound-producing paraphernalia, from triangles and old wax tube phonographs
to the latest ambient sponge emitters.
At the left corner of the living room was a hallway
that ran to the kitchen at the back of the house. Along the hallway were two
rooms. At the second doorway was a small mousy woman on her hands and knees. In
the dim light she appeared much older than her thirty-three years. She was
wearing a severe ankle length black smock with a black kerchief tied over her
colorless hair. Her face, devoid of any makeup, was set in grim determination
as she shoved handfuls of pamphlets beneath the locked door.
José Maganna was on the other side of that door
watching the pamphlets appear one after the other as if by magic. He knew it
was not magic. It was his wife Donna. Donna had gone crackers, one egg roll
short of a combination plate, and one dwarf short of a full Snow White. José
sighed. He could remember ten years ago when they had first married what a
delight she had been: cheerful, open, carefree. But that was before Beverly,
her sister, a former heroin addict, found religion and began the process of
becoming a Catholic nun.
Now José Msc, PhD, Dsc(Manc), C. Eng, FIEE, FIEEE,
FIPENZ, FRSNZ, Professor Emeritus at Colby College, had nothing against
religion, organized, disorganized or otherwise, but it had taken over his
formerly happy wife to an unhealthy degree. It had begun gradually, at first.
She was so overjoyed that her formerly useless sister had given up drugs,
prostitution, and rumored armed robbery, and turned her life around. She
started making trips to Portland to help her sister at the diocese and it was
good. But soon the changes began. No more makeup. No more nice sundresses. No
more laughing, and not insignificantly, no more sex.
A thirty year old woman had transformed into a sixty
year old dowager. He had tried to approach her, to talk sensibly about what he
saw as a dramatic change in their lives. She would hear none of it, Jesus had
entered her life. Amen… As bad as that was then, it was about to get a whole
Her sister The Nun had somehow ended up pregnant.
Considering she resembled a well-worn Ernest Borgnine, José suspected Divine
intervention. Unfortunately, that was also the story she sold to Donna who, to
José’s horror and disbelief, bought it: hook, line and sinker. So on a sunny
October afternoon, his wife and her sister the immaculately-knocked-up-proto-Nun
were in Portland watching the placement of a statue of the Archangel Gabriel on
the roof of a newly opened church. They had craned it up a hundred meters. The
connecting pin on the hasp failed, sending four hundred kilos of polished
granite screaming towards the
newly-knocked-up-aforementioned-Borgnine-doppelganger. There was nothing left
of her but a pair of size thirteen sensible shoes. This, along with the fact
that the statue was of Gabriel, who appeared to the Virgin Mary to tell her she
was pregnant with Jesus, was not lost on Donna. It sent her first class
straight to wacky town, which brings us to today with the pamphlets being
shoved under José’s door.
The timing could not have been worse. José rose from
his chair, picking up the publications and putting them in a wicker basket
which was already half full.
“Thanks hon, I’ll get right to these,” José said
The pamphlets ceased to appear as she went to pray or
eat incense or see visions of the trinity in apple cores or any other way she now
occupied her time. José went back to his desk and booted his home terminal to
Colby’s mainframe. He held a professorship there but had no classes, or any
students for that matter. He did purely research and he was on the verge of
His specialty was harmonics. It was known that all
matter vibrated or oscillated at a set frequency on the atomic level. His team
had stumbled upon the frequency that triggered energetic reactions in a
specific group of unstable elements. Elements such as weapons-grade uranium.
The effect did not appear to be diminished by distance or shielding. He has
been able to keep the discovery to himself, since he was the only one with
access to all of the information. Acting as a Systems Analyst, he monitored and
compiled all the data. Leaning back in his chair, he laced his fingers behind
his head and closed his eyes. In repose he resembled more the lobsterman than
college professor. He was short-limbed and thick, with skin roughened from
hours spent on his whaler hugging the coast when not on campus. His hair was
still County Cork red, he carried little else of his father except his
temperament. The rest was all his mother: a McCrae whose tongue was as sharp as
her wit, and to this day could make him sit a little straighter with nothing
more than a glance.
Leaning forward he rubbed his eyes. He knew what he
had. It had the potential to detonate any fissionable material at considerable
distance. Point zero two micrograms of plutonium had been brought to critical mass
by an old Verizon com sat in a geo-synch orbit a little over a week ago. The
transmitter that was used was almost thirty years old and the signal had been
splashed over almost seventeen square kilometers. The test had been monitored
by Department of Energy. The sample was encased in a lead alloy, impact
resistant fail-safe container, specifically designed to determine its ability
to contain release of any radiation in case of accidental or deliberate
detonation. It was at a ridiculously small scale, for obvious reasons. José had
disabled the triggers while attaching the frequency monitors, which were part
of a separate experiment. Then he then initiated the detonation using a signal
from his laptop uploaded to the com sat.
There was a short delay which the primary team
attributed to substandard tamper plugs; that was fine with José. Why now?,
while he wrestled with this, was he dealing with his wife going full-out Piper
Laurie in Carrie mode? He could be within spitting distance of making
nuclear weapons obsolete while at the same time his wife was seeing the Virgin
Mary in ceiling water stains.
“Nothing is ever fucking easy,” he said to an empty
The graduation ceremony moved with a glacial
slowness. To Shadrach, the pace was identical to the rest of his unremarkable
academic career. He didn’t think he would have even graduated if social
promotion hadn’t come back in vogue. His parents were a no-show; the old man
had remarked this morning that somebody else probably needed his seat. The
ceremony dragged on with a fever-like quality. His classmates were buzzing with
what they were going to do afterward and couldn’t wait for the fall, a road of
promise stretching out before them. The only road for Shadrach was some shit
job to pay for some shit life.
Clutching his diploma he hung back as the rest of the
crowd went on to many parties and celebrations. He had not been invited to any
his self-absorption and noticed a man standing beside the walkway. He was
dressed in a camo uniform and had the same molded appearance Shadrach had come
to recognize as military.
“Can I help you?” Shadrach asked.
“No Son, but I think I can help you.”
Smiling sadly Shadrach shook his head. “I don’t think
there is much you can do for me.”
It was the soldier’s turn to smile. “You got yourself
a good school lined up for the fall?”
“Going to take some shit job? For shit pay?”
“Yeah, well my last reenlistment bonus was more
credit that you’ll see in a year.”
Shadrach shrugged. “I didn’t exactly graduate in the
top of my class.”
“Neither did I, but I was willing to work hard. Are
you willing to work hard?”
“Sure, I guess.”
The soldier turned and grabbed Shadrach by the
shoulders. “It is an exciting time, son. All the services are coming under one
command, a unified defense force. Today’s warrior is the best trained, best
equipped killing machine in history. Today’s grunt is equal to a platoon of
soldiers twenty years ago. Isn’t that something you want to be part of?”
“Ahh...” Shadrach was a little overwhelmed.
“Well, here is a flow token, check it out.” The soldier
handed Shadrach a round disk that glowed
softly with a green luminance. “It will work in any public link. Don’t miss a
Shadrach watched the token glow in his palm as the
soldier walked away.
The public access looked just like everything else
used by the public. His father, a man never short of a bon mot, once
told him that no one ever washed a rented car. Since Shadrach had no web access
at home this was his only option.
The exterior was built like a old style phone booth,
tall and cylindrical, and designed to withstand an artillery strike. It had no
corners or seams in which to gain purchase in the event of any attempt at
Shadrach swiped the token across the reader. The glow
from the token faded as the access stirred to life. A section rolled back into
itself allowing a meter-wide slit which Shadrach entered. He seated himself in
a well-worn couch as the section rolled back into place sealing him in. It was
pitch black for a moment until the screen came to life. Ventilation fans kicked
in, removing some of the faint piss-sweat smell that permeated the space. The
screen ran him through the start up process, which for anyone of his age group
was second nature. He pulled a permeable prophylactic skull wrap from the
dispenser and placed it on his head, sealing it at his brow line. He pulled the
interface crown down, fitting it over his head where it slowly molded to his
contours. The site was keyed in through the token. Leaning back and forcing
himself into passivity, he pressed the Go switch located under his right index
The crown released micro-thin filaments which passed
through the wrap, into the skin, and slid through the cranial fissures directly
into Shadrach’s brain. The transition was instantaneous. One moment
piss-smelling public access, the next green field, blue sky overhead and sun on
“Eyes forward recruit.”
There about two meters in front of him was the most
impressive physical specimen Shadrach could ever remember seeing. Tall and blue
eyed with a gleaming scalp shining through his high and tight. Every major
muscle group was outlined in his spotless military fatigues.
“Err…” Shadrach offered.
“I said eyes front!”
Shadrach did the best estimation of whatever the fuck
“eyes front” was.
“That’s better,” said the impossibly military,
“So you think you got what it takes to be a soldier?’
“Well, good for you. Every soldier in today’s United
Defense Forces is equivalent to a full platoon of soldiers twenty years ago in
means of firepower and information gathering. They are also the best protected
in history. This is the wet gear body armor with Paladin helm head protection
with battle con information and targeting system.
A black battle harness with helmet appeared out of
thin air, then disappeared, reappearing on Shadrach’s body.
“Notice how light and flexible it is.”
Shadrach bent and swung his arms. He had to admit it
was awfully comfortable for armor.
“The Paladin battle helm has wireless neuron pickups
which give the solider real-time tactical info on retinal display.”
Shadrach jumped as printed data appeared about a
meter in front of his face.He could see
a compass heading, altitude, temperature, and a grid map indicating his
Shadrach blinked hard twice, and the readout
disappeared.He blinked hard twice again
and brought the display back up.
“Cool,” Shadrach said.
“That’s a firm worm,” said the very military,
military man.“The standard close combat
issued weapon is the Mark Two Energy Impeller.”
The weapon appeared in Shadrach’s hands, it was heavy
but balanced.There was a large tube
like opening at the end of the barrel.
“Bring up your tactical display.”
“Take aim at one of those targets.”
Shadrach looked as five man-sized cutouts appeared
at, according to his tac display, fifty meters. A second gun site appeared.
Shadrach put the rifle to his shoulder and overlapped the sites. “Discharge the
weapon” flashed in the corner of his vision. Shadrach depressed the trigger, it
produced a slight kick followed by a barely audible oomph. A fist-sized ball of
white fire rocketed out, impacting and incinerating the target simultaneously.
Shadrach stared at the target opened-mouthed.
The very military,
military man stepped in front of him almost nose to nose. “Do you have what it
The simulation blinked out abruptly leaving Shadrach
sitting in the public access with a new feeling.
James rubbed his eyes. They felt like they were
covered in a fine grit.
“Most of the western grid is looking hairy, we’re
going have to shift some load.”
James nodded. “We holding any surplus?”
Sean shrugged. “What do you think?”
James looked back up at the screens and noticed
something he hadn’t noticed before.
“What’s that indicator?It’s new. The blue one up above
Sean looked up a little flustered. “That’s Vancouver.
Another country altogether. Ain’t got nothing to do with us.”
“Ever been there?” James asked.
“What? Yeah sure, couple a times. Nice strip joints.
Now about the grid.”
“Nice up there?”
“Yeah I guess. Plenty of juice. Dug a big geo thermal
off of Vancouver Island. Even the homeless shelters got electric heat. Now
about the grid.”
his face. “Pull five percent off anywhere that will tolerate it, see if it
“You’re the boss, boss.”
“Just lost two step-down transformers in Long Beach.”
“You know, I got family up there.”
Sean looked up at James. “Up where, Chief?”
“In Vancouver,” James pointed with his chin. “Up
“Ah, yeah, Chief, the transformers?”
“Start the cascade; keep it local till the crews get
“There is a primary care and two long term hospitals
in that district.”
“Well,” James shrugged. “Hope their gennys are up to
“Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!”
“My relatives left me some land up there.”
“Nice, farmland I believe.”
“Yes, what is it Sean?”
“We got incoming, the Montrose bead reactor just
scrammed. A whole lot of real estate just went black.”
“Some vineyards maybe.”
“Chief, come back to me.”
James shook himself. “Feed in enough to the heavy
urban areas for stoplights and traffic control. Get law enforcement up to
speed. I’ll get on the horn with the Governor.”
“Yippee,” Sean said as the circus came to town.
He was on his fifth Java Joe and it was only two
hours into the shift. His stomach sat like a rock in his gut pulling toward the
floor. James felt steeped in hopelessness. He felt he could die where he was
standing and it would be hours before anyone noticed. The Bees were real
twitchy—there were just two of them—a gaunt teenager and a Malaysian double
amputee whose vitals kept spiking.
“We are picking up coms out of San Fernando. Their
entire grid is in a flux; they have lost all of their facilitators,” said
James looked down. “Who the hell are you?”
“Where the hell is Sean?”
“Burning Man I think,” responded Wendell.
“Good for him,” grumbled James.
Audibles rang out in the enclosed space. “Boss we
just lost the girl,” one of the governors shouted, “and if we don’t pull the
other one out of the flow he’s going to
go tits up sure as shit.”
James felt a sharp spike of pain behind his eyes. He
swayed on his feet for a long moment. Taking a deep breath and opened his eyes.
He looked at the blue light that was Vancouver and said, “My family left me
some property in Vancouver; I better see how it’s doing.”
With that James pulled off his I.D.,dropped it on his desk and moved to an exit,
hit the palm ident and left the power board. Open-mouthed employees watched in
The sun was warm on James’ face as he walked into the
parking area. Along the edge of the lot was a homeless man feeding a cat and
her kittens. He was breaking off pieces of day-old bread, dipping them in a jar
of clam juice and tossing them to the furry multitude. James walked over a
The homeless man jumped a little. “Uh, hi.”
James took a closer look and determined the man was
probably twenty years younger than he initially appeared. Along both cheeks
were strips ofhospital tape covering
some blackened skin tissue. The sun was not as kind as it used to be.
“Nice cats,” James offered.
“Yeah, thanks,” replied the homeless dude.
“She just have kittens?” James asked.
“Yeah, I guess,” said the homeless dude.
James stood there smiling at him in a way that made
the homeless dude a little nervous.
“You want to sell one of those kittens?”
The homeless guy’s eyes narrowed. “For
what? You’re not going to eat ’em, are you?”
“No, no,” James grinned. “To have as a pet.”
The homeless guy mulled this over. “How much?”
“Can you drive?”
The homeless guy nodded. “Sure, but got no license.”
James shrugged. “That’s the great state of
California’s problem, not mine. Step over here.”
The homeless guy stood and walked over to the Katana.
James opened it up and grabbed some stuff out of the glove box. “Change voice
print ident,” he said to the car.
“Standing by,” the car responded cheerfully.
“What’s your name?” James asked.
“You’re kidding right?”
“Nope, serious as an audit...”
“Okay, Ruben, ah, Ruben Smith.”
“New voice ident now,” James told the car.
“State name following the tone,” the car said.
The sharp tone sounded. James motioned to Ruben.
“Ruben Smith,” the homeless dude said uncertainly.
“Ruben Smith. New voice ident on file and accepted.”
James walked over and pointed at the kittens. “I’ll
take the tortoiseshell one.”
The homeless dude looked a little stunned. “Sure
thing buddy, rock on.”
James nodded, picked up the kitten and headed home on
He got to his apartment about ten minutes faster than
if he had driven. Letting himself in, he poured some milk for the kitten and
went to his bedroom closet. He reached for his favorite light jacket and
changed into his best walking shoes. Taking his credit chip he dumped both his
accounts off his terminal, closing them both. From his cupboard he pulled down
three packets of tuna then grabbed an old ammo bag and put a towel in it before
setting the kitten into it. He put this over his shoulder, put the tuna in his
jacket pocket and opened the door. He blanked the I.D. plate allowing anyone
access and walked down the steps, leaving the door open behind him.
Moving toward the coast he worked his way toward old
Route One. The coastal highway had been impassable to vehicle traffic for years
and was considered a no-go zone. This would have been a grave concern at one
time. Now it just seemed interesting. It was a twenty kilometer stroll to the outside
of Inverness. Inverness had been gradually taken over by Cambodian oyster
farmers to the extent that all signage was non English. The town border was
gated off and you to enter you had to prove liquidity .
James smiled broadly as the gate sentry extended a
scanner. The sentry smiled back, exposing gums stained dark from beetle nuts.
James produced a chip and waved it over the scanner. The readout caused the
sentry to smile even broader and pet the cat that rode on his shoulder.
James had named him Charles H. Littlefellow after a
one-eyed hamster he once owned. He was a tiny tortoiseshell tabby who rode
easily on his shoulder and was strangely content to sit at his perch and watch
events unfold. James moved through the turnstile and made his way down the main
drag. The houses were all built on stilts, allowing the fluctuations of the
greenhouse encouraged ocean tides to go where they may. It was a happy town
full of laughing running children which were almost outnumbered by a surprising
number of Jack Russell terriers. Moving closer to the town’s center, James was
assaulted by delicious smells coming from a clump of gaily colored restaurants.
Picking one at random, he climbed up and seated himself at one of the outdoor
tables. Looking around he noticed that nearly all of the tables were full;
mostly brown faces and a sprinkling of obvious tourists. A small black and
white terrier hopped up on the bench opposite him regarding him with strangely
intelligent eyes. Charles H. Littlefellow puffed up against his neck giving a
“Shoo, shoo!” said a pale fleshy man, waving the
terrier away. He squeezed onto the bench across from James, smiling and wiping
his sweaty face with a wash faded bandana.
“Edward Thompson, at your service.”
“James at yours.”
“Yes, yes very well. Here for the food are you?” he
said in a surprisingly high voice.
“Sure, good enough reason as any. Why all the dogs?”
“Dogs, dogs, yes, yes, place is filthy with them. But
great ratters. Keeps all the rats down.”
James looked around nervously. “Are you in charge of
“No, no. Biologist. Help with the oysters and
mussels. Place is all mussel and oyster farms. Help keep them healthy. Whole
local economy based on them.”
A pretty young woman with striking dark eyes walked
up and handed them menus painted on smooth pieces of driftwood. “Thank you,”
James said. She nodded, flashed a brilliant smile and left.
“Most of them don’t speak English. A point of pride
with them really, makes it a little hard to work with, but one soldiers on.”
James scrutinized the menu closely; it clearly was
written in some language other than English.
“Can you?” James asked.
“Yes, yes of course.” He waved the girl over and said
something quickly in a sing-song dialect that sounded strangely melodious
coming out of his fleshy face.
“My Cambodian is dreadful but passable.”
“Thanks. What did you order?”
“Mussels in green curry for you and oysters in
saffron sauce for myself, both top notch, top notch. What be your purpose here
if I may ask?”
“Just passing through, headed north to see family.”
“Well good luck. Godspeed. Yes, yes.”
The mains arrived, both in huge deep hand carved
wooden bowls piled high. James’ was steeped in a green curry sauce that was
pungent and sweet. His companion attacked his in a manner that would lead James
to believe it may be his last meal.
“So you’re a farmer? Growing these in pots? With
“No, no. No dirt. Mussels on rafts with ropes hanging
down with pegs every few feet; mussels attached like crystals on a string.
Oysters a little more complicated. Three steps. Start on upweller rafts on
wires in clusters then moved to a nursery, finally to Japanese lantern nets.
All to a good effect as you can see.”
James nodded. He was pulling a few of the mussels
apart, rinsing the meat in his water glass and feeding them to Mr. Littlefellow
who daintily scooped it with his paw and ate it heartily.
“No dirt, huh?”
“Yes, yes no dirt at all.”
A smile now settled comfortably on James’ face; wearing
it seemed as natural as putting on his shoes; something he would need to start
his day. He had been making good progress up the coast. Fourteen days on the
road had put him in Ferndale just outside Eureka.
Then things got a little spooky. The closer he got to
Eureka the more disturbing things began to pop up along the roadside. First
cryptic bible passages on billboards along with crude religious statuary
portraying Jesus or the Virgin Mary, often put together with what appeared to
be animal bones (James hoped). On the outskirts of Ferndale he saw his first
cross tree. On it he saw an ill-used man tied to it by an over-abundance of
barbed wire. As he got closer he could see the man was dead, and from the looks
of it, had been for some time. At the base in a camp chair was a small elderly woman
who had seen better days as well.
“Hello, are you alright?” James asked.
She looked up slowly; her right eye was completely
“Yes, no not alright, not really,” she said softly.
“Can I do anything for you? Do you need something to
eat or drink?” James rummaged around in his backpack. “I got some pizza Slims
She shook her head. “No, I think I’m done eating. Or
anything else for that matter.”
James looked up at the man. “Did you know him?”
“For forty three years. My husband.”
“Didn’t keep the Sabbath holy. They caught him using
his roto tiller on Sunday.”
“Who caught him?”
“The Brothers of the Sanctified Wormwood, they pretty
much run Eureka. Showed up about ten years ago, bunch of long hairs, barefoot
and screaming about Jesus. Everybody laughed at them. Nobody laughing now.”
James put the Slim Jims back in his backpack. Digging
through the outside pockets he found his multi tool. “Come, I’ll help you cut
“I wouldn’t. They find him down; one of us will go
“Do you want to come with me?”
“Where you headed?”
“North to Vancouver, family left me property there.”
“Have you found Jesus?”
James thought for a minute. “Didn’t know he was
She smiled. “I’d head east to Burnt Ranch then north.
Nothing good for you or anybody in Eureka.”
“Sorry about your husband.”
“Yeah, well sorry describes just about everything
At that moment the cat poked his head out of James’
jacket pocket and peered sleepily at the woman.
“Well, hello kitty.”
James smiled. “That’s Mr. Littlefellow. He’s a good
“I’m sure he is. You and Mr. Littlefellow keep safe
now. Head east then north. It’ll be the smart thing.”
“We will. And thank you.”
“Stay safe and God Bless, for what it’s worth.”
James walked away slowly. He turned and looked back a
couple of times. The woman just sat with her head down; she grew smaller with
every glance. The image of that cross remained with James longer than he would
Burnt Ranch was, as it turned out, an inspired
destination. Lush verdant fields spread to the horizon filled to bursting with
all manner of agricultural foodstuffs. The colors were almost cartoon-like in
vibrancy. As James walked down the middle of the two-lane highway his shoulders
were brushed by overhanging sunflowers with heads as large as trash can lids.
He heard grunting and laughter in the distance, turning the corner he saw a
well kept homestead in a small clearing. It was a neat little geodesic dome
with each panel painted a primary color. There was a grouping of solar panels
near an outbuilding and a scattering of farm equipment. The grunting was coming
from a pretty young woman in overalls trying to hitch a wagon to a small
tractor. Her long sun-streaked hair hung down, falling over one shoulder as she
tried to muscle the cup onto the ball of the tractor’s hitch. The laughter came
from two small children, a girl and boy who were pushing on the wheels trying
to help. James stood and watched, a smile returned to his face.
“Hey Sonny Jim, you going to gawk or help?” she said,
noticing James standing there.
“Ah, sure,” James said, quickly dropping his pack and
He grabbed the tongue and lifted up hard. The woman
and the two children pushed on the wheels and the ball slipped into the cup
with a metallic thunk.
“There,” said James.
“Faith,” said the woman.
“When warranted,” said James
“No, no my name is Faith. That is Hope.” The little
girl smiled. “And that is Redemption.” The boy stuck out his tongue.
James looked a little blank.
“I know, I know. It seemed like a good idea at the
time. The boy also answers to Demp.”
“Hiya, Demp,” James winked. From the boy the
“What’s your name?” asked Hope.
“My name is James.”
“Well, hello James, where you headed?” asked Faith.
“North to Vancouver.”
“Brave man—or stupid. Want to earn yourself a meal?”
“Good. We’re harvesting and could use the help.”
They all got into the wagon with Faith at the wheel and
rode out into one of the fields. To the delight of the children, James pulled
Mr. Littlefellow out and put him on his shoulder. They came to a patch filled
with some of the strangest looking vegetables James had ever seen. They hopped
out of the wagon. The cat jumped down and went exploring with the children in
“What are these?” James asked pointing at the red
spheres on long vines littered the landscape as far as the eye could see.
“Hybrids; an experimental boutique strand by Burpee,
of tomatoes and pumpkins.”
“Are they good to eat?”
“Naw.” She shook her head. “A mixture of tomatoes and
pumpkins. Taste like shit but goats love um and grow like weeds on um. And we
got almost as many goats as Tonkins.”
“Here.” Faith handed James a pair of clippers. “Cut
them about six inches from the tops.”
“Okee dokee.” James bent over, snipped through the
tough vine, and picked up the heavy fruit. It had a strange texture, the skin
felt leathery and thick with a squishy base underneath. The wagon filled
quickly. They made several trips to the barn loading and unloading the Tonkins.
They were dense and heavy; it was hard work.Removing his jacket James rolled up his sleeves. Sweat matted his hair
to his forehead. Looking over at Faith he noticed that she seemed as fresh as
when they started. He had to admit the real work felt good. The last couple of
years all his work centered around anxiety. Good honest labor was just the
tonic his body needed.
Littlefellow scooted by with the squealing children
not far behind. Faith stood and stretched. “Come on, I’ll give you that meal I
Inside the dome was surprisingly cool. The interior
was a riot of colors and jumbles of toys and books. Faith shooed the children
toward the bathroom and showed James to the kitchen to wash up. A moaning sound
came drifting out of a room just off the kitchen. James startled, peered in and
saw a young man with long dirty blond hair tangled in bed sheets; he was tied
down with padded restraints and appeared to be having a seizure.
“That’s Gerald.” A voice came from over James’
shoulder. “My husband.”
Faith went to the bedside and wiped his brow with a
wet cloth. The man stopped struggling and slumped back into the pillow. Faith
smoothed out the bedclothes, kissed him and moved quietly out of the room,
shutting the door behind her.
Back in the kitchen she took two glasses from the
drying rack and set them on the chopping block.
“Wine?” Faith offered.
“He built this place you know. Dug the vertical shafts
for the geothermal heat pump himself. Place stays at a constant 68 degrees year
“Is he sick?”
Faith shook her head a look of disgust passed over
her face. “He’s a geothermic engineer. Or was anyway. He worked on the project
up on Vancouver Island. Got hooked on thrust. The rest is history. We lost our
insurance six months after he came back. Now he pretty much just seizes the day
away. We had him on the wire till we lost coverage. That at least gave him
periods of rest.”
“How did he start?” James asked.
Faith pulled out an earthenware jug from under the
counter and pulled the rubber stopper. “Currant wine, tart but good. How’d he
start?” She shrugged. “Who the hell
knows, he was always a little impulsive. They were working crazy shifts,
digging the shafts. It sure didn’t take long. About a month. He was home and
fine. A couple weeks later a mess.”
She smiled. “Don’t be. No one to blame but him.”
The children, tow-headed echoes of each other,
swarmed the kitchen. They were brimming with energy and delight. James slipped
slowly at the wine and watched dinner come together around him. The
children set a rough-hewn table with blue enameled plates and hand-hammered
silverware. Faith started a fragrant hickory fire in a grill underneath a metal
vent hood. She took out large skewered goat kabobs and put them on the grill.
The kabobs cried out in a delightful hiss as the flames met the meat, releasing
an aroma that brought James’ appetite to full awareness.
They all set down. Along with the kabobs Faith had
made a huge herb salad with a balsamic honey dressing and artery-clogging
chunks of goat cheese. Before she sat down she tore a slab of goat apart,
placing it in a bowl on the floor for Littlefellow.
The two children chattered gleefully about their day
and any other thing that entered their tiny delightful minds. Faith smiled and
nodded, encouraging the exchange. James said little, soaking it all in, feeding
a need for family that he did not know he had.
“You had enough to eat?”
James nodded, barely able to move. “Wonderful all of
it, thank you.”
He helped clear and washed the dishes in a deep slate
sink. The sun was dropping behind the low hills, casting the house’s interior
in warm pinks and russets. James was sweeping the kitchen when Hope and Demp
came to say goodnight.
“Goodnight,” they sang in unison.
“Goodnight and sleep well,” James sang back.
They skittered toward the bedrooms followed by Faith,
with Littlefellow scampering behind. James poured himself another glass of wine
and sat on the couch, letting the day drain from him at his leisure.
“Well they’re down, both exhausted. Your cat curled
right up on Hope’s pillow. Needless to say she’s overjoyed.” A loud moan came
from her husband’s bedroom. “I’ll be right back, have another glass of wine. We
trade meat and cheese for it, got
James nodded. She returned a short time later. Her
hair was wet and she had changed out of her work cloths into a pair of cutoffs
and an oversized man’s t-shirt. She sat across from him, folding her legs
underneath in a fashion that James always found disconcerting.
“So, what do you do, James?”
“How do you afford nothing?”
James shrugged. “I used to work, a lot. Saved some.
Just going to wander for awhile. Live a little bit…for a change.”
Faith smiled a sad smile. “Living ain’t a bad idea.
Been surviving so long sort of forgot how to live.”
A silence stretched out like a long note. James broke
the quiet with a question.
“A drug did that to your husband?”
Faith swept a stray lank of wet hair back from her
face. “Yeah, thrust breaks down the myelin sheath; mimics MS that way. As long
as they use they’re functional. When they stop…well you see what happens.”
“And being on the wire stops it?”
“Stops the shaking and the seizures. He was on it
till the insurance ran out. He could at least sleep then.”
“What does it cost?”
“You got to buy the unit outright.” She told James
how much. It was a lot. Almost all of the credit on James’ chip.
She leaned forward with her elbows on her knees. “You
ever get lonely James?”
“Yeah me too, sometimes. Sometimes so much it’s
killing me.” She got up and grabbed some blankets along with a pillow from a
cupboard and handed them to James.
“You sleep well, James.”
James woke to soft sounds. Opening his eyes he saw
Faith standing over him. She was painted from a palette of shadows and half
light. He knew she was naked from the sound of her breathing.
“You want some company, James?”
James had to admit he did. It had been a long time.
And it was better than he remembered.
Waking early he dressed quietly. Faith had gone back
to her room. James gathered his things, checked on the children and saw
Littlefellow still curled up on the pillow. The data port was next to the
screen. Finding the household account number written on a fertilizer receipt he
dumped both his credit chips into Faith’s account. Standing in the cool morning
he moved down the driveway and turned north. He felt good.
In retrospect, he had spent a lot more money on a lot
The barracks were long and narrow on the second deck
of a structure that was old when the Hun was advancing. Shadrach was one of sixty
lined up in front of bunks. They were a representative demographic of lower
income classes. Whoever put forth that populist fantasy that only the best of
the best was drawn to the volunteer military had never in fact set foot in the
There were sixty of them. Thirty male and thirty
female. The military was indeed a truly integrated equal opportunity employer.
If you couldn’t find gainful employment or had the desire to travel to foreign
lands and meet interesting and exotic peoples and blow them to small
unrecognizable meaty chunks for the furthering of corporate interests, think military.
“Good morning splittails, and you too ladies.”
This was Senior Chief Anderson. He is their drill
instructor. He appeared to not have been born, but molded from some
semi-precious resinous substance. He was just under 180 centimeters tall and
not a gram of fat visible. His jaw in perpetual thrust shined as if just shaved
moments before. Shadrach doubted that he ever shaved. He was pretty sure the
stubble came to attention every morning and fell off in a military fashion. Ice
blue eyes blazed out from under a geometrical high and tight fade. Military
readiness oozed out of every pore.
He went down each aisle and pulled out all of the
folded fatigues and skivvies and scattered them the length and breadth of the
“Terrible, like a bunch of clap-infested orangutans.
Why me Lord, why me? What did I do to you to warrant such a burden?” He raised
his eyes heavenward.
Sixty of them dropped to their bellies and “sharked.”
Sharking involved lying on your belly, raising both arms and both legs up and
waving them up and down. It was uncomfortable and stressful.
“Shark! You motherfuckers and ladies! Shark! Welcome
to the United States Defense Force. No more Army, no more Navy, no more Air
force, no more Marines. The ships sail themselves. The planes fly themselves.
You ladies and girls are what are needed now. Grunts. Bullet soaking, IED
eating, standard issue grunt. They ain’t going to pay you shit. And be assured
ladies and gents, you will get the shit. The sooner you come to grips with this
the better off you will be. On your feet!”
They all jumped up and came to attention. Across from
Shadrach stood Summorald, a fleshy redhead from Odessa, Texas. For reasons
beyond Shadrach’s understanding he began to snicker.
Senior Chief walked up and stared at him; a look of
utter disbelief on his chiseled features.
“Is there something funny, recruit?” Senior Chief
asked in a barely audible whisper.
“No Sir, nothing funny at all Sir,” responded
“Then please stop laughing.”
Summorald, through a great effort of will, stopped.
For a moment silence reigned in the barracks. Then Summorald began to struggle.
His pale face started to turn beet red. Sweat began to trickle down from his
fire engine red brush cut.
Senior Chief leaned forward as if the recruit was a
new species of insect that had appeared on his breakfast plate. His nose was a
bare centimeter from Summorald’s. Summorald, at this point, was engaged in a
titanic struggle, his face stretched and pulled to unnatural contours. His
body, as taut as a bow string, vibrated in place. Sweat now poured freely,
soaking his fatigues and running down his pants legs, pooling around the toes
of his Kevlar combat boots.
“Anything to say, recruit?” The Senior Chief asked
Summorald held for a second longer, then let go.
Shadrach noted with some respect that he had managed to bite down on the bark
of laughter that rose out of his throat. This unfortunately led to an explosive
blast of air out of his nose, an unnaturally copious amount of gelatinous
mucous blasted forth from Summorald’s nostrils. Shadrach for a fleeting moment
saw in profile, the gob as if frozen in time, golden and glistening, amorphous
and shifting It crossed the minute distance, impacting with an audible
splat. It hung tenaciously to the Senior Chief’s nose before losing purchase
and falling to the deck. The barracks gasped as one.
It became unspeakable.
Sam White sat in his office at The Pit. The office
was shabby as was its proprietor.Sitting
leaning back against the wall looking out a third story window on what was
without question the seedier part of Bayonne (which was like arguing about
virtue in a whore house). Sam was the sole owner of what once had been the
premier cage fighting franchise in the United States.
That was ten years ago. Now with over fifty different
leagues and organizations he was holding on to a very tiny market share, which
he was now in danger in losing. He still held broadcast deals on the three
major web outlets. He was due to renew next week. He knew he didn’t have the
credit and more importantly, they knew he didn’t have the credit.
Sighing, he looked at the posters lining the walls.
Back then he was King Shit of Turd Island. In retrospect he supposed he should
have stashed some of that income.
“Sam, ya got company.”
That was Kelly. Kelly was his last employee. They had
a thing going about two years ago. Now, no credit, no Kelly.
“Who the hell is it?”
“I think I better send them in.”
“Go ahead, who the fuck cares.”
The door opened and to Sam’s amazement, in walked Sir
Walter Reid, Australian billionaire promoter, publicity hound and all around
Sam just sat there with his mouth hanging open in
“What’s wrong, mate? A bad bit a vegemite?”
“Ah, no,” Sam managed.
“Well good. I have an offer that may interest you.”
Sam just nodded. Anything at this point would strike
him as interesting.
Sir Walter pulled up a well-patched chair and sat
across from Sam, lighting up what appeared to be a factory rolled marijuana
“Want some?” Sam just dumbly shook his head.
“Cheers.” Sir Walter smiled, taking a long hit.
“What can we do for you?” Sam asked.
“I want to stage a contest under the Pit banner.”
“Really? You?” Sam asked incuriously.
“No, no mate. My special project so to speak,” Sir
Walter said while adjusting his silver mane of hair. He was tanned a deep
mahogany, which made his brilliant white teeth stand out in stark contrast. To
Sam he appeared as to have never had a moment of doubt in his life. Sam, on the
other hand, radiated doubt like a leaky breeder reactor.
“Indeed. You know a fighter by the name of Frank
The air went out of Sam’s sails at this point. Frank
was a muscle-bound human growth hormone addict who, though monstrous in
appearance, couldn’t fight off a cold, much less a trained fighter. Steroids
and other substances were pretty well the norm in the fight game now but it did
not make the fighter. It would make you bigger or stronger or recover faster.
But it wouldn’t make you quicker or smarter or able to take a punch. Frank had
been put to sleep so many times that he was likely to die from bed sores.
Sir Walter smiled. “You haven’t seen Mr. Palmer
“No,” Sam admitted tiredly. “I haven’t.”
Sir Walter stood and opened the door. “Mr. Palmer, if
you would, please?”
Sam was not prepared for what walked in. Palmer had
been big before. In truth, huge was a better word. But now, he stood in the
middle of the office, dressed in a pair of slacks and a black t -shirt. Kilos
of muscle were layered on his chest and upper body. His head and jaw bulged in
almost comic proportions hiding his eyes under a shelf of bone.
“What the fuck is this?”
“That, Mr. White, is the future of combat sports and
you are lucky enough to be on the ground floor.”
Sam snickered. “Sir Walter, no matter how you dress
up a pig, it still is just a pig. No offense, Frank.”
“Things are not exactly all sunshine and daisies eh,
mate?” Sir Walter’s eyes sparkled mischievously. “Not exactly no worries? Eh?
To tell the truth Son, if it weren’t for the access to those three outlets of
yours, we would not be darkening your rather threadbare doorstep. But,
opportunity doesn’t always come in through the front door, eh?”
Sam couldn’t, for the life of him, see where this was
going. “So what’s your sell, Sir Walter?”
A smile broke across Sir Walter’s features like a
blazing sun on an azure morning.
“ Burt Iron.”
Sam White was stunned. Iron held five separate heavyweight
belts and was as close to a human wrecking machine as ever strode God’s green
earth. “You’re fucking kidding right? Iron won’t even return my calls. And he would
eat our friend here for breakfast. No offense, Frank.”
Again the grunt.
“My friend, my dear, dear friend,” Sir Walter said,
spreading his arms wide. “It is a brand new day. Mr. Palmer is not the man he
was a year ago. Nay, he is not the man he was a mere month ago. Daresay he is
not the man he was a week ago. It is a brave new world. Indeed a brave new
White shrugged. “I don’t care how much ya juiced him
out, Iron will take him apart.”
Sir Walter crossed the room. Pulling a collapsible
pointer from his blazer pocket he pulled it to its full length and tapped the
bulging right bicep of Frank Palmer.
“Attend please. Advances in immune suppression as
well as neurotransmitter analogs have made available improvements to our Mr.
Palmer here undreamt of as recently as a year ago. Grafted in here are
groupings of synthetic fast-twitch fibers which almost triple his reaction
times. HRT in the new parlance. His new HRT is HRTx3; which stands for human
reaction times three.”
He moved the pointer to the knobby growths on his
knuckles as well as the bulging jaw and forehead. “Here we have an example of
an aggressive application of Wolff’s Law. The bone density at these points
rivals stone.” He collapsed the pointer and moved in, leaning with both hands
on White’s desk. “That, together with an augmented dura to cushion the brain to
help avoid knockouts, and adrenaline analogs in permeable ceramic disks planted
along his spine. All these make our Mr. Palmer a fighter not seen in today’s
White had to admit he was impressed. “Yeah, but Iron.”
Smirking Sir Walter walked over to the door jamb running
his thumb over the faded oak veneer.
“Mr. Palmer, if you would?”
Palmer moved over in two long nimble strides to stand
in front of the door . Pulling back a tomato juice can-sized fist he swung his
shoulders, powering the blow from his feet, sending it whistling toward the
door. It exploded in a shower of splinters producing a basketball-sized gouge
where the fist impacted. A lipless smile stretched across Palmer’s features as
he warmed to the task. He struck the door two more times, smashing it completely
away from the steel reinforced frame. The room fell quiet as the dust settled.
The only sound was the squeak of White’s chair as he stood up. He walked over
and examined the man-sized hole in what had been a alloy reinforced door
“I only hold the licenses till next week. I don’t
have the credit to renew them.”
Sir Walter smiled “I’ll have the credits transferred
before the end of business today.”
“We’ll have to promote hard. All the outlets legit
“Not a problem.”
“You got a confirmation from Iron?”
“He’s under contract for one fight only. A ridiculous
purse to go against a fighter to be named later. He thinks it’s to promote a
new venture I’m unveiling.”
White rubbed his head in wonderment. Kelly was
pensively peeking through the ruined doorway.
“Can I look at the hand?” White asked.
Palmer stretched it out. Sam turned it over
inspecting it for damage. It was pristine.
“You got a title for this little shindig?”
Sir Walter made quotation marks with his thumbs and
index fingers. “Demolition.”
“Perfect.” Shaking his head, Sam moved toward the
Father Woolsey sat in his study studying the light
passing through a glass of Jameson’s. It cast an amber glow across a letter on
his desktop. The letter was from a parishioner requesting that her sister be
buried as a nun. The sister in question was well known to Father Woolsey. She
was a novice, and not a very good one at that. There were reports of substance
abuse and fighting at the convent. In fact, she was on her way out for
pregnancy when, according to eyewitness accounts, she threw herself under a
falling piece of statuary, killing herself.
Sighing, Father Woolsey finished his drink, rinsed
out his glass and placed it in the drying rack. He was due to meet with Mrs.
Opening a closet he checked his hair in a mirror, and
smoothed an errant strand. Still dark and full at fifty. He had gotten the
calling late, only entering the priesthood after his wife died at forty. He had
taught college physics for twenty years and enjoyed it. His brother was a top
researcher at Los Alamos and was well aware (and impressed with) the work of
Mrs. Maganna’s husband who was involved with some groundbreaking work with
To Father Woolsey, his work seemed to involve mostly
putting out small fires such as this and very little spreading The Word. He had
to admit the Church was in decline. The last survey had the number of the
faithful down over twenty percent.
Well, no one said it was going to be easy, he
There was a soft rap at his door. He opened it,
stepping aside, to let the diminutive woman enter. She seemed smaller than she
actually was, almost folded into herself. Father Woolsey steered her to a chair
across from his desk. Moving to his seat he smiled one of his best “I’m just
here tohelp” smiles. He recognized the look in her eyes. Reason
would not win the day today.
“Mrs. Maganna, how nice to see you, how are you
She twisted a handkerchief in her hands and stared at
a space just above the Father’s head.
“I’m here about my sister, the Sister.”
“Yes, well…that may be a problem.”
At this she leaned forward, staring intently into the
Father’s face. “What could be the problem?”
“Well, she wasn’t really a Sister, was she? Just a
novice really, and with all due respect Mrs. Maganna, not a very good one.”
“She was touched by God.”
Flustered Father Woolsey rubbed his face with his
hands. “That may be, but she wasn’t really a nun, was she?”
“I would like her to become a nun.”
“Well dear, there is nothing I can do, nothing anyone
can do really.”
She came to her feet and brought up a large purse
onto his desk. She opened the clasp and pulled out a data tab.
“This is very important.”
Father Woolsey reached over and took the tab. Putting
it in his reader, he opened and scanned the face page. The office was quiet for
long moments as Father Woolsey continued to read the document, his eyes getting
wider by the second. He finished, crossed over and poured himself a large
scotch which he downed in one swallow. His normally ruddy features were pale
and his hands shook noticeably as he seated himself.
“Do you know what you have here?”
She nodded her head vigorously. “I know it’s
“Does your husband know it’s here?That you have it?”
“That’s not really important.”
Father Woolsey shook his head. “It is very
important. What would you have me do with this?”
“Give it to the Church. Something this important
should be in God’s hands.”
“That may be true, but it is not yours to give. I’m
afraid we will have to speak to your husband.”
“Don’t worry. He will agree. This is God’s will and
it will be carried out.” Standing she shook her fist. “As with my Sister, this
is God’s desire manifest and it will happen!”
Amazed, Woolsey could just stare. He was wishing for
the moment just a few short minutes ago when there were only small fires.
Sitting for a time he stared at the tab on his desk.
He had been out of the loop for a couple years. And even at his best he was an
academic, teaching the principles, helping build the foundation for students to
start their journey into the wonders of the hard sciences. Still he knew enough
even at a cursory glance that what he had on his desk was of earth-shattering
importance. Quickly transferring it to a storage node he then locked it in his
desk and placed a call to his brother.
A hiss filled the study as the search took place. A
few muted clicks followed and then his brother’s familiar baritone filled the
“Tom Woolsey, it’s your dime on my time.”
“Tommy it’s Wayne, how you doing bud?”
A laugh escaped from the speakers. “Wayne! Good to
hear from you. How’s the soul saving business?”
“They’re dying to get in”
“I’m sure. What gives me the honor for this rare
“Well…” Woolsey hesitated. “Something just came
across my desk that you might be very interested in.”
“Stand by, I’ll squirt it to your node.”
He keyed in his brother’s database, accessed the node
and transferred the information.
“Got it, it’s coming up on my screen… Holy Shit!”
“My thoughts exactly.”
“Is this legit? Where did you get it?”
“His wife dropped it on my desk two minutes ago.”
“His wife? Does he know it’s gone?”
“I’m not sure. Is it what I think it is?”
“Well, it’s just a summary. I’ve heard of some
research in this area. I’ve even heard Maganna doing some work at Colby, but
preliminary at best. According to what I see here he has had a reproducible
“What would be the real world applications?”
“If it’s legit?Whoever controlled this technology would make any nuclear arsenal
obsolete. It would shift the global power structure. It is almost beyond my
Father Woolsey leaned back in his chair and
closedhis eyes. “What should be my next
“Well, I would do two things immediately. One,
contact Maganna directly. Is the wife crackers?”
“That is a description that could be applied safely.”
“Two, get a hold of someone in your legal and see
what rights you have on something like this.”
“Yeah, that’s just about what I figured. Thanks a lot
Tom. I appreciate it.”
“No problem bro. Any other world changing bequests
from crazy women you get your paws on don’t be afraid to call.”
Father Woolsey smiled. “No problem, Tom. Thanks
again—and call Ma.”
“You bet, fight the good fight.”
Father Woolsey broke the connection. He sat in his
chair and stared out his window watching dark clouds gathering above the
“That is an apt metaphor if I ever saw one,”
he thought. He had been craving relevance for years. It was the reason he
entered the priesthood after his wife died. It turned out, as with most
anything else, it was just a play. Just going through the motions of a half-remembered
dance. Now it seems things were on the verge of becoming very relevant.
Relevancy of historical proportions.
In the seminary his roommate, a very slight and
effeminate young man from Groton, Connecticut, used to do needlepoint as a
hobby. Beautiful detailed work such as a poster-sized replica of the Sistine
Chapel. His roommate would listen as he wailed on about how he needed to be
relevant. The day they left for their assigned parishes, he handed him a small
package wrapped in brown paper. Inside was a small needlepoint in a simple
wooden frame. It said: Be careful what you wish for. You just may get it.
Gideon hopped up and down attempting to get the
feeling back into his feet. The ferrocrete leached the warmth right out of them,
turning his toes into numb blocks ten minutes into his shift. He was at the non
second gen seed storage facility outside Allentown, Pennsylvania. He was in
full paramilitary mufti, tech vest, bead com link, battle helm and full auto
barely obsolete assault rifle, complete with two fifty round clips of
armor-piercing-Teflon-tipped-sub-sonic marauder ammo. Gideon thought it was a
bit of overkill for a bunch of seeds. ADM didn’t think so.
“Fuck, it’s cold.” That was Dick Fentes, Gideon’s
co-worker and the only blond haired blue eyed Mexican Gideon had ever met.
“Dude, it’s always cold.”
“It’s not the cold, it’s the humidity.” Snickers
followed. Dick was one of the funniest guys Dick had ever met. He was always
cracking himself up. Gideon and Dick walked the perimeter around twenty
fortified hundred-ton storage bunkers of ADM’s finest seed technology. The
seeds were of super yield hybrids of basics foodstuffs such as wheat and rice.
They were very expensive, very effective and only one generation. So you had to
have new seeds every season. This made a lot of hungry poor people very angry.
Which Gideon supposed explained the bunkers and the paramilitary trappings. It
wasn’t a bad gig. The pay was good as were the benefits and the chances of
getting attacked outside Allentown was remote at best. The downside was it was
a long twelve hours, duller than dishwater. But it made for interesting
“For a billion?”
“Yep clear, tax free.”
Fentes pondered this.
“Yep,” Gideon nodded. “All media. Prime viewing time.
Intense concentration contorted Fentes’s light
features. He stopped at a bunker to pass an I.D. chip embedded in his wrist
under a scanner to log their scheduled round.
“Just let me make sure that I got the particulars. I
get banged up the ass on live video Broadband on all outlets for a billion
credits? Tax free? I heard tax free. For how long?”
Gideon thought for a moment. “To a satisfying
conclusion, of course.”
“No mask or hood? Face obscured digitally?”
Gideon looked at him with disdain. “No, in fact your
name would be at the bottom of the shot in large letters. In Britannic bold
font no less.”
“Britannic bold font huh? I dunno, a lot of people
calling me queer.”
Gideon shrugged “A lot of poor people.”
They walked in silence for a time. They turned the
corner and started down the east side of the compound. Gideon stopped at the
scanner to log in his chip.
“A billion credits.”
Gideon looked up. “O.K. I’ll bite. A billion
“To beat your grandmother to death with a stick.”
“Live? Broadband? Can’t spend it if you’re incarcerated
awaiting permanentchemical rehabilitation.”
“No.” Fentes shook his head. “In the privacy of your
own home. Following a light meal. You can even wait till the old girl is dozing.
So she doesn’t see it coming.”
Now it was Gideon’s turn to quietly ponder. The two
men continued to walk down the east side. The bright overhead high intensity
lamps cast elongated shadows that pantomimed their steady progress.
“You left out a very integral detail. One the
decision would hinge on.”
“Really? I don’t see where?”
“Think about it. What is the pivotal question?”
Fentes’s brow furled in concentration. “Got me, bro.”
Gideon stopped and stomped his feet to get some
feeling back in his numb toes, then turned to face Fentes.
“How big is the stick?”
The Yvon Robert arena was a steel and glass
monstrosity that crouched in downtown Quebec City like a fragment from a
delirium dream. It was named for a popular wrestler who showcased in the area
from the 1930s through the 1950s. The arena had also been the headquarters of a
short-lived uprising that attempted to break away from Canada and form an
Independent Quebec. It was put down brutally by the Canadian military. A fact
not forgotten by the local populace.
Sam White had flown in that morning in a tilt from
Portland, Maine. As he made his way to the arena he pulled his handkerchief
from his breast pocket to wipe the sweat that had collected under his limp
collar. He moved dazedly through the empty parking lot to the main entrance. It
had been only six weeks since Sir Walter had walked into his office. It had
been an interesting six weeks.
“Sir, lean in and keep yours eyes open.” The guard
Sam leaned in and placed his chin on the padded lip
of the retinal scanner. The disposable covering crackled as the scanner matched
the pattern of the blood vessels in the back of his eye to the pattern on file.
“You’re free to enter, Sir.”
Sam moved in to the arena, working his way through
the maze of hallways to his temporary office. Outside his door was the events
poster. Demolition was sprawled across it in huge blood-red letters. It was the
most hyped event since Houdini made an Asian elephant disappear in front of
five thousand gaping theater-goers at the New York Hippodrome almost a century
and a half ago. The arena held over twenty thousand. Sir Walter had posted the
tickets for free on a first-come, first-served basis. Ten thousand in the
States, ten thousand in Canada. There had been riots at the ticket kiosks. Sir
Walter was also was providing free buses from the States to the arena. This
almost guaranteed all manner of hammered assholes by the time the gates opened.
If the bout didn’t live up to the hype, Sam was sure they would pull this place
apart with their bare hands.
Sam looked up. Sir Walter stood grinning down at him
looking for all the world like an ad for rejuvenation therapy. His Caribbean
blue eyes sparkled under his fashionable tousled mane. He was dressed in a
suburban version of safari gear. Sam had to suppress a strong impulse to
“Sir Walter, I hope you know what you are doing.”
Sam unlocked his office door, stepped inside and
flicked on the lights. It was a small space containing just a chipped steel
desk and two chairs. Sam stepped around and collapsed in the chair behind the
desk. Sir Walter literally hopped, landing lightly in the remaining chair,
grinning all the while.
“Why the long face mate? All a go. The fight of the
century and all that; sit back and enjoy the show.”
Sam pulled a damp handkerchief across his face to
wipe away the sweat. “I dunno. No gate receipts. All the merchandizing given
over to the arena. You got credit to burn? If this falls through I’m done.”
Sir Walter turned up his famous smile another
megawatt. “Son, you were done six weeks ago. This is a lifeline. If I were you
I would grab it and not worry about what it’s attached to.” He stood and waved
Sam out from behind the desk. “Let’s have a look at the fighters. Shall we?”
Iron’s dressing room like the fighter was a Spartan
affair. It was just him, his trainer and his cut man. Burt was a deceivingly pedestrian
looking figure. Average height, a little build up in the shoulders, his face
was tight with scar tissue. He looked bored. He was famous throughout the fight
community for his supercilious nature. The only time he looked interested was
when in the cage. He was fifty one and zero. All by knockouts, all within the
first round, he was impossible to take down and very few even tried.
“Sam, how are you doing?”
“Fine you feeling good?”
“Right as rain.”
“Burt, you know Sir Walter?”
The fighter shook his head. “Don’t know him, know of
him. How are you doing?”
Sir Walter grasped the outstretched hand. “No worries
mate. You ready to scrap?”
Burt smiled. “For what you’re paying there ain’t much
I wouldn’t do with an attitude of enthusiasm.”
Sir Walter beamed back. “Well done.”
“But I ain’t going to carry him. First opportunity,
I’m putting him to sleep. I know he’s juiced to the gills. A big strong boy,
but you can’t muscle up a jaw. Just so it’s understood first chance I get he’s
Sir Walter reached out and clasped the fighter on the
shoulder. “I would expect no less. Good luck.”
Burt nodded. “Thanks, he’ll need it.”
Palmer’s dressing room was something different
altogether. Sam had to squeeze into the room sideways. Palmer sat on the dressing
table in the middle of the room. The table seemed to bow in the middle from the
burden it held. The room was stuffed full of men in lab coats. Sam sensed more
of an air of technicians than medical personnel.
“Who are these guys?”
Sir Walter shrugged. “Support personnel.”
“Blokes who keep everything up and running.”
Sam scratched his head. “He’s not a piece of
Sir Walter shook his head. “Oh, but he is. He is a
literal piece of fighting machinery. He has been designed to smash, rend and
break. He is state of the art.”
Palmer was stripped to the waist. He was vaguely
human in outline. His arms and shoulders bulged with kilos of muscle. Faint
tracings of white scarring ran up and down his arms and across his trunk. His
forehead and jaw were built up to almost comic proportions. He resembled a
nightmare. There was a fine mesh net draped across him with cables leading to a
console. Technicians were consulting the readouts and preparing dose pistols.
The hisses of various pharmaceuticals being injected into Palmer filled the
“Have you tested this? Are you sure it’s going to
work? I mean that’s Iron we’re talking about.”
Sir Walter smirked. “He’ll wade into Iron like a warm
bath. Believe it.”
A technician walked over with a hand readout. “Sir
“Yes Robert. How are things looking?”
The small pinched man looked at the readout in his
hand. “Things are looking optimal, Sir. The analogs read at good pre-fight
levels. We are getting one hundred and five percent responses from both fast
and slow twitch fibers. The density at strike points are textbook. The wetware
chips for targeting and execution are all coming back green. One moment, Sir.”
Robert walked over to Palmer. “Could you please
stand, Sir, and trigger a fight loop?”
The huge man stood. He towered over everyone else in
the room by at least a head.
“OK gentlemen; let’s get this on all five inputs for
the data sync. Mr. Palmer, if you would.”
The fighter began to breathe deeply, his skin flushed
and veins protruded from all visible parts of his musculature. His respiratory
rate increased and sweat broke out, falling to the floor in dime-sized drops.
“Fantastic. Larry what do you got on adrenal
“Looks five by five. Endorphins also at combat
“Cardiac also optimal. Ninety-five percent of target
rate. Good preload and stroke volume. Pulmonary also a go, gas exchange right
on marks, spo2 a little high but blowing off right on the curve for pco2.”
“Give us a snap, Mr. Palmer.”
Palmer threw out a punch and pulled it back in a
smooth liquid motion. Sam jerked at the snap it made. He could only make out a
“Neurotransmitters are dead on. You got yourself a
go, Sir Walter.”
Sir Walter grinned. “By all means, let’s go.”
The crowd noise rose and fell in a tidal pattern. It
was near high tide as Iron made his way to the cage. Normally, as the
titleholder, he would have entered last, but part of the contract stated he
would enter first, and for what Sir Walter was paying, the sequence was of
little concern to him. He entered the cage to the music of Bury Me With My
Boots On, an old country favorite of his. There had been a couple of
prelims so the canvas was littered with blood-based ideograms. He hopped up and
down in place, rolling his head side to side to loosen his muscles. He felt
good. No, scratch that, he felt fantastic. He figured he had two or three more
fights in him and he was out. No reason not to go out on top.
The lights in the arena went black. The crowd, well
lubricated with Labatts Blue, howled like the damned. A red spot picked out an
entrance on the north side of the arena. A jarring buzz came over the arena’s
sound system followed by a mechanical strumming Welcome My Son, Welcome to
the Machine. Iron smiled; it had been years since he had heard this
particular tune. The curtains parted as a hooded figure in an ankle length robe
made its way to the cage. The crowd went crazy, screaming chants of “Machine!
Machine!” Iron watched the figure grow larger as it got closer; he had to admit
Palmer looked a lot bigger than he remembered. Since this was both a
heavyweight and a non-title match, there had been no weigh-in. This was the
first time he had laid eyes on him since a card two years ago when a Japanese
savate fighter had taken Palmer apart in two rounds.
Palmer stepped in the cage followed by a small crowd
of handlers, half of them in lab coats. Iron smirked; he hoped Palmer was
feeling well. Palmer walked to the center of the cage and undid the belt of his
robe. His corner man pulled the robe off him. A gasp ran through the arena.
Oiled under the lights Palmer looked like something from a horror flick. His
skin appeared parchment thin, absurd masses of muscle twitched and writhed,
revealing every fiber and striation. His head appeared to sit almost on top of
his collarbones; his shoulders coming almost to his ears. Turning helooked at Iron. The lantern jaw and
overhanging forehead gave him a sinister cast.
Iron started to not feel good about this.
The announcer stepped into the cage.
“Welcome to Demolition!”
The crowd roared.
“On my right, undisputed World Champ with fifty one
wins and zero losses, Burt The Done Deal Iron!”
“On my left, with a record of four wins and seven
losses, Frank Palmer the Archangel!”
Burt was a little surprised by Archangel moniker. He
was pretty sure Palmer couldn’t spell Archangel.
The fighters took the center of the cage. The referee
gave them their instructions. Stepping back, he yelled. “Engage!”
Sam White watched the footage over a dozen times.
It all started innocently enough. Iron circling
toward his right, looking to throw an overhand. Palmer stood hands down,
turning, not attacking, and not advancing. Iron jabs with a left and follows with a hard right
to Palmer’s jaw. Palmer didn’t even blink.
Sam slows it down to frame by frame at this point.
And it’s still a blur. Palmer pistons out his left then pivots, throwing the
right from his waist. The impact snaps Iron’s head to his left. The force of
the blow tears Iron’s mandible from his skull. Blood falls in a large gout,
painting Iron’s chest as his jaw spins across the cage, impacting and sticking
into the mesh. Iron, with his tongue hanging down like an absurd necktie,
stands still for a moment before falling flat on his back, going into shock
before he even hits the mat.
The count was foregone to make room for medical
personnel. Sam had gotten the report today that after fusing a couple of
vertebrae Iron would walk again; solid food, on the other hand, was another
question. The Qs were through the roof. It was almost in constant loop on all
Sir Walter had been right. Palmer was indeed state of
José Maganna had a full scale warm fuzzy on. He felt
so good he had to admit it made him a little paranoid. He and Donna had it out
the night before over his project. He had expressed to her that he was making
overtures to the Danish government to begin large scale development. He felt
the Danes were one of the saner governments and least likely to use it for a
military advantage. Donna naturally thought it should be turned over to the
Church. José expressed with little room for doubt that he would eat his
research dry, before he would turn it over to that bunch of bead-rolling
“What did you make?”
Donna smiled coyly, “Shrimp Diablo.”
“Yes, really. It’s your favorite.”
His wife brought a huge pile of angel hair pasta piled
high with shrimp swiming in a spicy red sauce. She hadn’t made it since her
religious mania hit full stride. And she was serving it wearing a nice tan
knee-length skirt, her hair falling down around her shoulders. Considering her
usual mode of dress, she might as well be in a G-string and pasties. José was
savoring the spicy aroma when she set a vodka martini with lemon peel at his
It was like she was a different woman. Overnight.
Like when they had first been married. He sippedthe martini and shivered as the ice cold
vodka hit the back of his throat.
“Glad you like it, honey.”
“Thank you, honey.”
She smiled broadly and sat down to her plate of
Well, José thought. I might even get laid
Dinner went smoothly. José had four martinis and had
to be helped to the bed. Donna gently lowered him and took off his shoes and
“Thanks Babe,” José slurred.
“No problem honey,” Donna replied, watching her
husband drop into a martini fueled slumber.
Donna quickly cleaned up the kitchen, rinsing the
pots and plates. She wiped the stove down, humming a toneless tune just
underneath her breath. Then she went room to room in their small house shutting
all the heat vents. Going quietly into their bedroom careful not to wake her
sleeping husband, she opened both vents in there to their widest.
Before meeting José she had worked in a library in a
small teaching college. She worked mostly on the weekends, so with the
exception of midterms and finals she had the place to herself. It was a good
job. She enjoyed reading and read just about anything that came across her
desk. It was part of her job to stamp and put out the new magazines. She was
putting out a medical journal called Chest. She thought that was a
rather cryptic title so she sat down on the quiet second floor as the late
autumn sun streamed weakly through the leaf-spattered skylights.
The title still stuck in her mind. Killing With
Kindness. Capital Punishment By Nitrogen Asphyxiation. A man named Stanley
Dore had published an article theorizing that putting someone to death with
nitrogen was painless. He wrote that when a person inhales odorless and
tasteless nitrogen without added oxygen, no suffocating effect would be
experienced by the subject; he would simply lose consciousness and die a short
time later. And since it didn’t involve a degree or medical skill to open a
tank valve, he felt it would be more merciful at both ends.
The basement was a surprisingly neat space. José had
a workbench and some woodworking tools. Donna reached under the bench and
pulled out a parcel that she had received via the mail a week ago. On the
packing label was her sister’s name and address. Her sister’s rent had been
paid until the end of the month and mail was still piling up. She took a box
cutter from the toolbox and slit open the top. The return address was to an ice
cream fountain supply store. She reached in and pulled out an E cylinder of
Unfolding a small stepladder she reached up and
pulled apart the duct under their bedroom. She sealed off the duct with tape
and some plastic they’d used for insulating the porch windows. Then reaching
for a two meter length of garden hose she had already cut. With the plastic and
tape she made another seal around the regulator and the end of the hose then
climbing back on the stepladder, cutting another hole in the plastic around the
duct and fed some hose through, and sealed it back up with the tape. She
cracked the valve just enough so the plastic puffed out as the gas flowed; but not too much so the valve wouldn’t freeze.
Then, she went to the movies.
James sat near a fire hydrant and pulled his Land’s
End all-weather all-terrain weekenders off and inspected the sorry state of his
poor pitiful feet. He had to admit they’d seen better days. He little resembled
the man who walked out of the power board a few short weeks ago. Ten kilos had
dropped off his frame revealing a bone structure under his face he had not seen
in years. More than the physical change was the mental. His eyes reflected the
peace that now resided within. People responded to the kindness they saw within
and reacted openly with friendship. Considering all he had were the clothes on
his back, he couldn’t remember ever feeling better.
Sitting on the outskirts of Vancouver he was a little
surprised to see that it actually existed. The sun was warm on his face and the
air felt good on his feet as he leaned back in the grass. He owned nothing, had
nowhere to be and had not a care in the world.
James looked up to see a small blond girl standing at
the roadside; she was carrying a purse at least as large as she was.
“Are you alright?”
James smiled. “Yep. Thanks for asking.”
She sat down and started to dig through the purse.
She was in up to her armpit hard at work looking for something. A look of
triumph spread across her small features.
“Would you like one?’
She held out two picture-perfect Granny Smith apples.
They shone as if they had been polished. James reached and chose the smaller.
As he bit in, the crisp tart fruit flooded his mouth. It was delightful.
“That has to be the best apple I’ve ever had. Thank
The young girl smiled prettily. “My grandmother gave
them to me.”
“Well be sure to thank your grandmother for me.”
“I will. My grandmother loves me.”
James grinned “I’m sure she does. What’s your name?’
“My name is Bethany. What’s yours?’
“James. You live near here?’
“In that blue house across the street. Where do you
James thought for a minute. “Nowhere.”
“You don’t have anywhere to live?”
“I guess I live anywhere I’m at.”
Bethany’s face screwed up in concentration. “At our
church there are people who have nowhere to live. Father Gilbert helps them.”
“Really? Where does Father Gilbert live?”
“At the Episcopal Church downtown.”
“Why, thanks again, Bethany.”
“No problem, Mr. James.”
A blond woman stepped through the door of the blue
house and did a quick look around. Spying her daughter talking to the strange
poorly dressed disheveled man, she yelled, “Bethany! Get your butt in this
“Oh ohh,” said Bethany.
“Oh ohh,” agreed James.
He watched the small girl beat feet to her house; the
oversized purse dragging behind her almost an afterthought. The blond woman
scooped her up, gave James a dirty look and ducked back into the house. He
couldn’t blame her. James supposed his appearance was enough reason for the
term “stranger danger.” Brushing off the dirt, he wedged his ill-used feet into
his shoes and went to find downtown Vancouver.
The biodiesel delivery truck reminded James of his
mother’s black fry pan, the smell it gave off heating up on cold mornings when
he was a kid. James smiled and Butch smiled back. Butch was in charge of all
the pick ups from the U.S. border to downtown Vancouver. Butch was dressed in a
pair of cut off denim overalls and little else. From a distance he appeared to
be wearing neck-to-ankle brown long johns. It was in fact a pelt-like covering
of body hair. Butch was the hairiest man he had ever seen. The only parts
without hair were his upper cheeks, eyeballs and teeth. And you saw a lot of
teeth. He was always grinning.
“You a blessed man, brother James?”
James thought about it for a minute. “I don’t really
“Well, if you were you would know. I’m a blessed man
James. It is evident from the time I wake till my head hits the pillow at
night. You see those drums behind us?” Butch hooked a finger over his hairy
shoulder. “Those drums are filled with grease from diners from all over. The
remains of food that gave joy and comfort to thousands of people, I in turn pack
it up. Stuff that people would have thrown away, I turn it into fuel to help
people who would otherwise not have any way to power their cars or cook or
whatever.” Butch grinned, flashing his non-hairy teeth. “Waste not, want not.”
James settled back into the heavily taped seat and
sipped the plastic cup of herbal tea that Butch poured from a big red thermos.
Butch asked where James was headed.
“Father Gilbert’s,” He said.
It turns out that the biodiesel co-op was part of the
Episcopal church that Father Gilbert headed.
“Ain’t that some shit?” Butch declared. “You’re
looking for Father Gilbert. I’m wheeling for him. Kismet dude, I’m telling ya.”
James shrugged. He didn’t know much about kismet.
Things just seemed to be fitting together more and more.
East Hastings Street ran parallel to the water. Butch
dropped him off at the corner and gave him directions to the church. Moving
down the street, he delighted in the sights and the sounds of a vibrant growing
community. It wasn’t like California at all. Everything seemed more planned
out. There was room given for green spaces, mini parks and flower gardens.
People moved at a more leisurely clip, not hell-bent on a destination but
enjoying the bright sunshine. Further down the sidewalk James noticed a children’s
karate class in a storefront across the way. The small robed students went
through their katas in uncanny precision. He was enjoying the exhibition when a
delicious aroma caught his attention. Following his nose, he turned down an
alley and found a small square two story building. It was open on all four
sides with stools set under the wraparound counter.
He saw a large man wearing a white tee shirt and
checked pants stirring several large pots. The man was dark with a large round
face topped by a shock of jet black hair. James moved up to the counter and
stood quietly until the man noticed him.
“Can I help you, Sir?”
“Sure smells good.”
“Not just smells but tastes good too. Can I get you a
He shifted from foot to foot a little uncomfortably.
“I’m sort of short on funds.”
“Ain’t we all friend? You sober?”
“As a judge.”
“You afraid of work?”
“Fear a few things, work ain’t one of them.”
“The door’s around the other side. Got some pots need
scrubbing. You knock them out I’ll toss you a big bowl and some bread to sop it
Johnny Thai had opened Noodle World about ten years
ago. He sold soup exclusively but when he first opened his English was limited;
but he knew “noodle” and “world.” So, Johnny Thai’s Noodle World. It wasn’t the
best location, set back off East Hastings, but word of mouth spread quickly. He
was open three hundred and sixty five days a year rain or shine. He lived in a
small apartment upstairs and was married to his business. And that was just
fine with him.
Soup, he thought, was a song, a song about life. From
every pot he made he saved a cup to start the next one. The Thai coconut he was
stirring now had ingredients going back from the first pot he put on the burner
ten years ago. It had a history, a life, a memory that shaped and lent it
character. It was Johnny’s job to nurture it and help it grow, a job that
Johnny took very seriously.
Finding the door James stepped into the cooking area.
The interior was spotless. All surfaces were stainless steel and shined. The
floor was covered with thick black rubber mats. A huge eight burner Viking
stove stood menacingly in one corner. Each burner had a large soup pot on it
bubbling away. Against the far wall was a four-bay sink piled high with pots
and pans. Taking off his jacket, James rolled up his sleeves and moved toward
“Hey, friend.” The owner tapped a framed sign by his
head said that read “All employees must wash their hands.”
“Sorry.” James went to a small sink and scrubbed
vigorously, not missing the humor of having to wash his hands before putting
them into hot soapy water.
“Paper towels underneath, you looking for Father
“Yea, how did you know?”
“Ain’t brain surgery, you’re hungry, you’re looking
for Father Gilbert.”
James grabbed a green scrubbie and went to work on
the pots. The morning trade started to pick up. The owner tended to customers
as James tended to the pots. It was early afternoon before they both sat down.
After the pots James grabbed a broom, kept the counters wiped down and cleaned
up the empty bowls and cups.
The large man ladled out two huge bowls and placed
them on the counter. He waved James over and put down two glasses of iced green
tea then reaching over and opening up a paper sack he tore off a couple chunks
of Russian pumpernickel.
James leaned over and took a long inhale. “Yes sir,
that’s the one I smelled in street. What is it?”
“Thai coconut. Dip some of that bread in it, it’s
still a little hot.”
James tore off a piece and dipped it in. He blew on
it before popping it inyo his mouth. It was sweet, hot and spicy. “Wonderful.”
“Thanks.” The large man reached over and grasped
James hand. “Johnny Thai.”
“James Halbert. Thanks for the soup.”
“No problem, thanks for the help.”
James grabbed the spoon and started ladling it in.
Johnny watched with amusement as James downed the bowl in two minutes. Sweat
beaded his face as he sat back.
“That was wonderful.”
“Want some more?”
Johnny refilled the bowl. “Why you here, James?”
He shrugged. “Seemed like a good place to go.”
“That’s what I thought too. Picked it out on a map.”
“I picked it out on a large power board.”
James shook his head. “Never mind.”
Johnny pulled out a large hand rolled cigarette. He
lit it and the air filled with a sweet pungent smoke. “Want some?”
James held up a hand. “Not a tobacco user.”
“Not tobacco, friend. A little more.”
James’ eyebrows raised. “Really?”
James grabbed the joint and took in a deep lungful.
His head felt like a band had been released, allowing the skin surrounding his
skull to slide freely. “So soup, huh?”
“You know why soup?”
“Because when the revolution starts, and it will,
they’ll come for the lawyers, the politicians, the teachers; but do you know
who they won’t come for?”
James had to admit he had no idea.
“The dude who makes the good soup. An asset in any
“From your mouth to God’s ear my friend. From your
mouth to God’s ear,” James said as he passed back the joint.
The Supermax was located in Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines,
Quebec. Leslie’s new home. He lasted about a week in general pop, and not for
lack of trying. He kept to himself and it seemed to work initially. Most of the
other guests of the state cut him a wide berth, which was fine with him. But on
the third day in the yard he could see trouble starting across the dusty
basketball court. Some Black inmates had gathered together, pointing and
snickering. One of them, the biggest by at least a head, was giving him the stare.
Leslie just closed his eyes and leaned back against the cell block wall feeling
the weak sun on his face. He was in no hurry, it would come his way soon
The gen pop cafeteria was large by institution
standards. The prison had been originally a grade school that had been refitted
sometime in the distant past to serve as a correctional facility. Its walls,
doorways and hallways were made from a full meter of poured concrete. It had
been designed to be dually used for education and a fallout shelter during the
cold war. The tables folded down from the walls like a Murphy bed with benches
attached. Both table and benches were made from steel with a laminate coating.
Leslie slid in with some difficulty into a bench at
the empty table. They had finally found a jumpsuit that would fit him. It was
still a little tight in the shoulders and chest and rode up to his calves like
knickers, but Leslie had endured worse.
Lunch was Sloppy Joes, and as far as the food was
concerned Leslie had to admit it wasn’t that bad. One of the servers on the
line had taken a shine to Leslie, giggling and blushing while batting fake
eyelashes he had made himself from some frayed vinyl attached with sticky juice
residue. Leslie just stood expressionless while the smitten con carried on how
huge and handsome he was while piling his tray to Herculean heights with
whatever was the special for that day. Back at his table, he took a sawed off
plastic serving spoon from his coveralls and looked down at the red glistening
mass gleaming wantonly under the bright fluorescents
As if by magic, a mass of white granules appeared in
the midst of Leslies Sloppy Joes.
“How’s that, cracker?”
Leslie looked up and saw the black con from the yard
with an empty salt shaker in his hand.
“That looked a little bland. Not so much now.” The
con smiled. His teeth gleamed a solid band of gold. He was tall, almost as tall
as Leslie, wrapped in layers of muscle from countless hours spent working out
as a guest of the Canadian penal system. He took the top and slowly screwed it
back on the shaker and then overhanded it, quickly bouncing it off Leslie’s
brow. Leslie knew the space was monitored by closed circuit so it would be
filthy with bulls in moments.
Exploding with a speed that belied his bulk, Leslie
reached under the table and grabbed the con by his belt. The man just had
enough time for a guttural “Urk” before Leslie jerked him back through causing
his legs to hit the bench at his knees as the underside of his jaw smashed into
the table’s edge. He hung up for a moment, his body bowing to form a “U.”
Leslie braced his feet against the floor and twisted hard at his shoulders,
pulling the unfortunate con all the way through, snapping his neck and spine
Standing up slowly and deliberately grabbing a paper
napkin from the dispenser, Leslie wiped his spoon free of salt and approached
the table where the con had originated from. The table was silent; the formerly
jeering compatriots of the now-folded con sat respectively with hands folded so
as to allow for no misunderstandings. Leslie walked behind them, picked up each
tray and dumped the Sloppy Joes onto one tray. Alarms were now sounding and the
prisoners were all dropping face down so the guards fumbling with the gate
would not misinterpret any actions.
Leslie sat down, removed his sawed off serving spoon
and went to work on the tray of Sloppy Joes.
“O.K. fuckhead! Grab some fucking floor now!”
Leslie continued to spoon at a leisurely pace
enjoying each bite.
“Alright Frank, zap him.”
Leslie bit the serving spoon in two as fifty thousand
volts coursed through him, plunging him into the awaiting darkness.
Shadrach lay in the damp moss heavy with morning dew.
From a meter away he was invisible. He and his spotter had advanced only fifty
meters in two days, bringing them to the edge of a clearing. The mimetic sniper
camo they were wearing reproduced the moss and leaf ground cover, making Shadrach
and Danny small humps in the terrain. After eighteen months in the United
Defense Forces Shadrach was a trained sniper. Little had changed in the art of
sniping since the Revolutionary War. The main skill essential in being an
effective sniper was one that could not be taught. You could be taught to
shoot; hell, with the AR 19 Shadrach carried, if it was visible in the scope
and within a thousand meters, it was a one-shot kill. The woodcraft and
survival skills were teachable. But the ability to lay motionless for days on
end was something one was either born with or not. Shadrach and Danny had it in
They were dropped in a week ago on the Transylvania
plateau twenty five kilometers outside of Cluj-Napoca in the Carpathian
mountains. There was a problem with a paramilitary group calling themselves The
Secularists; a second generation group of renegade biologists that had come
over from Berkley twenty years ago.
What had started as an agricultural compound
experimenting in ways to improve milk output and egg production had morphed
into a bioweapon think tank, specializing in aggressive organic modifications.
They had existed below the radar and were pretty much left alone until the “War
Dog” incident in the Balkans. Six months before, an urban pacification squad
went to break up a black market shoulder launched missile stash. They met no
resistance and found the suspect building abandoned.
Moving down into the basement to confiscate the
contraband is when the problem presented itself. The squad moved down on night
vision to secure the space. One of the team found the switch and kicked on the
lighting. Out of the corners came two low growling shapes moving fast . Before
weapons could be brought to bear the dogs were on them.
Each weighed in at close to ninety kilos. They had
once been mastiffs.
They now were that—and a lot more.
Both were wrapped in organic Kevlar making all vital
organs impervious to standard caseless rounds. Adrenal analogs flooded their
systems, supercharging unnaturally dense muscle, rocketing them across the
floor. Their brains were altered to allow them to exist in two states, passive
docility or unreasoning, unrelenting savagery. The black marketers had injected
the two with a time-release hormone which would turn on the dogs, who would now
fight till they were dead.
The first hit the solider chest level, knocking him
from his feet. Shoving his muzzle forward the dog opened his jaw to an
unnatural width and tore out the victim’s throat with triple rows of razor
sharp teeth. One of the squad opened up, followed by the others a split second
later. The small space filled with the acrid smell of propellants and the
rattle of close quarter arms fire. The bullets scored along the dogs’ hide,
unable to penetrate the organic Kevlar while bouncing off the calcified alloy
skulls. This drove the dogs to new levels of mayhem and they tore into the
soldiers with renewed ferocity. The roar of gunfire was replaced by screams and
the sounds of blood painting the walls and floors. The dogs moved through the
squad with a frightening intensity. The com tech saw the op coming apart. He
broke for the stairs, sliding, and slipped in the gore-covered floor. One of
the mastiffs raised its misshapen head and caught the movement. It covered the
three meter distance in a single leap.
The com tech was on his hands and knees scrambling up
the steps when the dog slammed down on top of him. The dog crunched down,
tearing into the sat com rig, ripping it from the soldier’s back. The tech grabbed
the edge of the door and heaved himself from under the dog onto the first
floor. He kicked it shut with his left foot and toed the deadbolt home with his
Laying on his back, his breath coming in ragged gasps
he tried to figure out how a simple smash and secure went tits up. A huge bang
and the door rattled on its hinges. The tech rolled over to his feet and went
to the transport to get just what the fucking dogs needed. The night was cool
and silent. There was not a light to be seen. He pulled out his
flashlight,powered up the coms and
radioed back to base.
“Eyrie this is Razorback do you copy?”
A static hiss filled the transport.
“Razorback this is Eyrie we have you five by five
what is sit rep?”
“The squad is down. Dogs tore them to pieces. I got
just what those fuckers need.”
A squawk rang out. “Say again Razorback. Repeat from
The solider ignored the radio, pulling out gear from
the back of the transport until he found what he was searching for. The satchel
charge was a two by two solid brick of concentrated Simtex with an integral
fuse. Pull the tab, toss it; ten seconds later the offending bunker or safe
house was a memory. The solider returned and moved to the door, listening for
movement. He heard nothing, put his hand on the door and pushed. Feeling no
resistance, he pushed the tab on the satchel activating the timer. The readout
started at ten. He slowly pulled back the deadbolt with his right hand,
gripping the satchel by the handle in his left preparing to crack the door,
toss the satchel and withdraw before the house goes.
The door cracked, the readout was at eight when the
dogs hit the door. The impact slammed the com tech back against the wall. The
dogs were on him. One bit into his leg pulling off his calf in a snap. The
second dog was at his chest snapping for his throat. Screaming, the solider
jammed the satchel into his jaws. The dog bit down and pulled it from his
grasp. The dog then lifted his blood-drenched muzzle and shook his head side to
side to free the Simtex from its jaws.
The blast reduced the house to its foundation.
The three men broke from cover slowly. Danny saw them
before Shadrach did. Shadrach could feel the stillness and concentration coming
from Danny and turned to looked in the direction of the men. They were the
other elements of their team they had been waiting for. Shadrach and Danny
stood, slowly allowing blood flow back into their stiff muscles. The three men
were the rest of the team. Shadrach and Danny hit the camo tabs in their cuffs,
shutting down the smart fabric which acted to mirror their immediate
“Ladies!” Master Chief Wallace said, walking up and
shaking Shadrach’s and Danny’s hands.
“Master Chief” they responded in unison.
“Any eyes on the target?”
Shadrach brought up the tac screen sewn into his
sleeve. “Twice yesterday at 0935 and 1610. Both times no clear shot. Both times
moving in and out of the compound. Out from under cover for maybe five-ten
seconds at the time.”
Danny nodded. “Both match up on biometric index.
Ninety eight percent match on scope profiles.”
“Good enough.” The Master Chief grinned under his
camo paint. A sturdy stocky man well into his fifties, he had originally been a
SEAL before the armed forces consolidation. He was the only Veteran on the
team. He trained the teams and took them out on shakedowns to weed out any
problems. He was probably the most competent man Shadrach had ever met. Edward
and Louis stood at his shoulder. Cousins, they were as identical as twins. Louis
was coms, Edward was demolitions. Both notoriously tight lipped; Shadrach
couldn’t remember hearing two words from them in six months.
“O.K. girls, hunker down.” Master Chief pulled out a
smart screen and smoothed it out on the grass. The fabric came to life,
bringing into view a fuzzy indistinct overhead shot from a sat pass of the
compound. “This is the main compound where you saw the targets moving in and
Shadrach pointed at the screen. “This large five
sided building is where the targets entered and exited from.”
“Why so fuzzy Chief?” Danny asked.
Mater Chief shrugged. “They are using some sort of
scrambler. That’s why we can’t get a lock on it. That’s why were going to have
to paint it for the drop. The ordnance will key in on the laser for the hit.”
Edward squatted down and peered at the display. “Why
The Chief rubbed his close shorn scalp. “We are
actually the second team in. The first was an eight man snatch and grab. The
last coms were two hours before the scheduled grab. That was the last known
contact. No coms, so no risks this time. We confirm targets and light up the
building, guide the munitions in, then di di. Sweet and easy.
The Master Chief rolled up the screen and stored it
away in his rucksack. As he stood, up, he squinted at the horizon. “How far to
Shadrach peered at his tech screen. “Nine point five
klicks from this point. We come in from the east. The compound is set in a
bowl. We will be above and out of line of sight until directly on it.”
The Chief grunted. He didn’t like the sound of it.
The first team disappeared too easy, too neat.
“No sign of any patrols? Nothing? Any perimeter
Danny shook his head. “We circled it from a klick
out, nothing. I had my sniffer out and not a twitch. No transmissions at any
level. No power signature, even at passive levels. There weren’t even broken
trails from foot patrols. The place looks residential, a couple of living
quarters, common hall and school, some outbuildings, a ball diamond and the
“It’s all pretty close, Chief. The research facility
is right on top of the other buildings. At most twenty meters between
structures.” Shadrach added.
The Chief grinned. “No sweat. Coming in with a
cellulose shell high altitude penetrator. The engine drops off at twenty
thousand, guides in on the laser. No fragmentation. The only non-organic
components are the explosive and the guidance package. It will break through
the top two floors and explode at ground level. Minimum projectile profile.”
The five stood in silence. Shadows were starting to
lengthen as the sun fell behind the high mountains. Across the field coming
down from the ridgeline was a large shambling shape moving along on all fours.
“What the fuck is that?” Eddie asked raising his
Danny pulled out his spotting scope and dialed it in.
“I don’t know. Take a look Shad.”
Shadrach took a long look. “I think it’s a bear.”
Louis shook his head. “No way, not in Europe. No
“Actually,” The Chief offered, “this is one of the few
areas in Europe where there are bears.”
“You’re sure it ain’t a War Dog, Chief?”
At this they all dropped silent. The large brown
shape stood on its hind legs, sniffed then turned and rumbled back to the tree
line. There was a collective sigh.
“Like I said, a bear. Let’s get a move to the target
point. I want us in by midnight with perimeters set. We guide the munitions in
following target confirmation.”
They moved out single file into the gathering
James settled into the worn easy chair with something
like relief. It had been a long day. The old Airstream had seemed a little
small at first but he was warming to it. Father Gilbert was just what James
needed. A good happy man, he treated James like long lost family. Old and wizened,
Father Gilbert barely topped James’ shoulder. But for what he lacked in size he
made up for in enthusiasm. His church was a beehive of eclectic activity. At
any time of the day or night it resembled a cross between the Berlin Airlift
and the Woodstock music festival. James had wandered in during a food drive.
The main chapel had been piled almost to the rafters with all manner of
foodstuffs. Bags of rice spilling over into open bags of lentils and onions.
Leaning pyramids of canned goods stacked up against cases of donated water.
Father Gilbert’s gift was inspiring people to give. His organizational skills,
on the other hand, were somewhat lacking.
James came in, threading himself through the chaos
and made his way toward the small smiling man in the priest’s collar.
He turned and hit James with a huge toothy smile. His
gray hair was styled in a shaggy brush cut and his faded blue eyes were sunken
in a nest of laugh lines.
“Good morning, how are you?”
“I’m fine, Father.”
“Fantastic. How’s the family?”
“Ahhhh, don’t have any family to speak of.”
This caught Father Gilbert’s attention. “Really? I
have no idea who you are. Do I?”
James shook his head.
“And you don’t know me, do you?”
“Fantastic. I love starting with no one at an
advantage. So are you here to help or be helped?”
James thought for a moment. “Both.”
“Fantastic! Give before you receive and all that,
come I’ll show you what you need to do.”
The Father led James to a pair of tables covered in
canned goods. He pulled a large cardboard box from under the tables. Making two
sweeps with his arms, he emptied the lion’s share into the box and pushed it
back under the tables.
“This is your station. Were you a military man?”
“Good. Useless profession. Anyway you take one of
these.” He reached under the tables and found a large plastic bag filled with
smaller plastic bags. “Take a bag and go around and fill it with enough
foodstuffs for two days. Two cans meat, two starches, two veggies. You get the
“Fantastic!” Father Gilbert beamed. We open the doors
in ten, good luck.”
He walked off towards the tumult and turned back
suddenly. “Oh, how can we help you?”
“Food and a place to sleep.”
“That’s it? You’re in luck. Sam just moved out of the
Airstream. He’s going to school to be a taxidermist. And as for food,” he swept
his arms, “the Lord provides.’”
The doors opened and the multitudes flooded in. To
James it resembled a fire sale. What looked like a good portion of Vancouver’s
unfortunates had gotten the word. At the beginning James attempted to fill bags
according to the Father’s directions. It was like trying to hold back the ocean
with a broom. After about 15 minutes he
just handed the bags out and let them have a go. It took less than two hours
for them to clean the place out to its corners. And then they left as quickly
as they came.
Father Gilbert walked over looking a little
disheveled but otherwise none the worse for wear.
“Well done, James isn’t it?”
“We helped a lot of people. Even if it’s just for a
day or two. No greater good than feeding the hungry, don’t you agree?”
“Speaking of which, are you hungry?”
James had to admit he was.
“Fantastic, this way.”
James followed the Father out of the chapel and
through some double doors into a large kitchen. Four of the other parishioners
who worked the food pantry were seated around a table drinking coffee and eating
soup. A large pot sat on one of the burners bubbling slowly. The smell made
James’s mouth water.
Father Gilbert produced two bowls and ladled them to
the brim. “Here you go James. Enjoy.”
“Thanks. What is it?’
“White bean and sausage.”
“From Johnny Thai’s Noodle World?”
“None other. You know Johnny?”
James nodded. “A good man.” “Indeed” Father Gilbert agreed. “And a good
man makes a good soup.”
“That’s what he told me. And I would have to agree.”
They both sat down and pulled pieces off a big loaf
of black pumpernickel. James dipped his into the soup and pushed it steaming
into his mouth.
“Indeed,” Father Gilbert nodded. “Have you met the
The four women looked up and smiled. They then
returned to their soup with relish.
“And they work cheap. For nothing, God bless.”
The four looked back up. “No, God bless you,
Father,” they said in unison and returned their attention to the aforementioned
“When you finish up here I’ll show you your new
They moved to the back of the rectory. From the state
of disarray, James could see that the chaos of the food pantry was not an
isolated event. It seemed to be the hallmark of Father’s Gilbert’s life. Moving
some chairs and a broken wardrobe gave Father Gilbert access to the door he was
seeking. Putting his shoulder to it, he forced it open exposing the church’s
backyard, which had seen better days. Overgrown with milkweed and honeysuckle,
it more resembled a pasture than a lawn. In the far corner of the lot sat a
rust-pitted Airstream; against it leaned a ancient push mower.
Digging in his front trouser pocket Father Gilbert
produced a fistful of keys. He selected one, seemingly at random, then put it
in the lock and opened the door.
“It’s not much but Sam liked it,” Father Gilbert said
climbing in. “It’s got a small kitchenette with a working toilet and shower.”
James followed him in. It was surprisingly spacious
and clean. There was a small bunk, a well-worn easy chair with end table topped
by a consignment shop light with a sailing ship printed parchment shade.James smiled. It felt perfect.
“So James, what brings you to Vancouver?”
James shrugged. “Saw it on a map.”
“Really? Well, good for you. You shovel in the
winter, lawn work in the summer, and what ever the other seasons call for.”
James nodded. He’d seen the state of the yard. It
didn’t seem a very high bar.
“What did you do before you found Vancouver on a
“Not much. Pretty well practiced not eating or
sleeping and being miserable.”
The Father scratched his head. “Well, you eat well.
Whatever you choose to practice is your business. Welcome aboard, Son.”
James grinned and reached out his hand. “Thank you
The Father grasped it firmly then pointed a index
finger skyward. “Don’t thank me. Thank God.”
Moving over James switched on the electric heater. It
was in the design of a small fireplace. The faux flames flickered to life
pretending to consume the imaginary log. James sat back and soaked in the real
warmth. It was starting to feel cool at night. Soon James would be raking. He
hoped you could burn leaves in Vancouver. Some of his fondest memories were of
the fall. He had grown up in the Northeast. On the Vermont/New Hampshire border
along the Connecticut river. His grandfather was a dairy farmer, or had been.
James can’t ever remember seeing any cows. He did remember that the barn had a
severe western tilt and everyone was warned against going in it. It was a time
when summer stretched for months. Days seemed to linger and nights hung on
grimly till morning.
In late August the trees would start to blaze at the
edges. The progress became tangible almost to the naked eye. James remembered
standing there with the toes of his sneakers soaked, waiting for the sun to
chase the chill that found him first in his grandmother’s kitchen in the
morning, shivering in front of the stand-alone gas heater. He tried to absorb
the warm air into his body while fighting mightily the urge to pee which had
pulled him from his warm bed.
Breakfast would be a huge pile of scrambled eggs
hidden under strips of bacon that his grandmother cooked only enough to get the
grease popping. They would bend in the middle as James folded them into his
After breakfast he and his grandfather would spend
the mornings raking the leaves into huge piles. Sweat would lie thick under his
shirt as the sun rose high in the sky. Lunch would be on the porch with the
cracked stone underneath. Dinner would drag with the weight of anticipation for
what he knew was coming.
Then at dusk his grandfather would set the piles
alight. It seemed to James the flames would reach high into the sky. His face
would be stuck in a grin, cemented to his features with a mixture of sweat and
The small electric heater brought all this back in a
moment. James could feel himself fall back into the body of a grown man,
leaving the nostalgic balm that had enveloped him. He crossed over to the small
bunk, removed and folded his clothing carefully. Climbing in between worn but
clean sheets he switched off the light. The sounds of a busy nighttime
Vancouver filtered through the travel trailer’s thin metal walls. Sleep found
him as it had forty two years earlier and pulled him into a deep untroubled
Gideon was on the verge of screaming out of sheer
frustration. He was attempting to move a almost three meter ridiculously heavy
cardboard tube up a very tight flight of stairs. Helping him was Dick from work
who was now also, much to Gideon’s chagrin, his roommate. A good natured and
well meaning gentleman with one drawback. He was baked. When Dick was not at
work he was fried at the first opportunity. He smoked genetically modified humbolt
which possessed the paralyzing effect of its natural cousin but would not show
up on drug screens. So although he was helpful, he was as dumb as a bowl of
“Dude, ya got to listen. It won’t go up straight. We
can’t bend it. It gets a crack in it we are out a month’s pay. Do you
“You bet.” Dick assured him.”
“Well, stop pushing it fuckhead.” Gideon set it down
carefully motioning to Dick to do the same. They were at a company housing
outside Allentown. It turned out to be surprisingly well maintained, and they
could take the maglev right from the seed storage. When relieved you switched
out of your kit, signed the weapons over to the armory and you were on the lev
and home within ten minutes. The rent was taken out of their pay before they
saw it so they hardly missed it. At their pay grade there were two to an
apartment. Each had his own bedroom with small full bath. There was a common
room-slash-kitchen which they shared. The complex had over a thousand units so
it resembled a small city. He and Dick had decided to spring for a wall
monitor. The apartment had multi feed hookups. So how hard could it be?
Pretty fucking hard it turned out.
“Why don’t we just pass it up through the window?” Fentes
“What floor do we live on you wingnut?”
“Ah. That’s right. The third. And how do we hand up a
cardboard tube ten meters which by the way is so fucking heavy it takes two to
“Yeah, fucking ‘oh’ is right.”
Gideon looked at the overhead, at a total loss as to
how to continue. Then the elevator opened. Diane stepped out. Diane worked in
advertising. She was blond and perky and just glowed with health and sexuality.
She sort of intimidated Gideon. She sort of made Dick crazy with lust.
“Gentlemen,” she said.
“Diane,” they responded in unison.
“What ya got there?” she asked.
“A wall screen,” they answered again in unison.
“Can’t get it up the stairs, huh?”
They both shook their heads no.
“Well, I’ll show you a trick.”
This had Dick’s undivided attention. She pulled a
security tab out of her very tight gym shorts, stepped into the elevator and
hit the button for the basement. The door shut and the elevator indicators
changed from the first floor to the basement. Diane then took the security tab
and put it into a slot and the elevator door slid open. The shaft was empty;
the top of the car could be seen a floor below.
“Fireman key,” she smiled. “The car will stay as long
as the door’s open. I’ll go the next floor up, open that door and we’ll pull it
up to the next floor. Then I’ll go to the next floor and open it and we’ll pull
it up one more to your floor. Got it?”
“Yea, that’s pretty sharp, Diane,” Gideon said,
impressed. Dick, who wasmightly
impressed with her shorts luckily said nothing.
Ten minutes later, that awkward daisy chain had the
screen outside their door. Diane, after some pulling and grunting, removed her
sweat top, leaving her just in shorts and a crop top.
This made Dick pretty much useless for the remainder
of the screen move. Luckily Diane was as strong as she was attractive.
“C’mon fuzznuts, grab a side, we are almost done.”
Dick redoubled his effort. Gideon grabbed the
opposite side and they pulled the screen upright against the wall. The material
was malleable but would stiffen once the power was turned on.
“O.K. Is it level on your side? Good, I’m going to
hit the juice.” Gideon thumbed a tab and the composite material became stiff.
Both of them stood back and looked.
“Look good to you?”
“Alright, here we go.” Gideon pushed the adhere tab
and the screen became soft where it made contact with the wall. It spread from
the contact points, pulling itself onto the wall surface to finally adhere to
it like a coat of paint. In a few moments it became indistinguishable from the
“Man that is freaky.”
“Got to agree with you there, Brother Fentes. That
was a neat piece of technology. Now let’s see if it works.” Gideon walked over
to the router and switched it on. The screen went to a test pattern. Solid bars
of primary color marched across the screen, then dissolved into an outdoor
scene of a large snow capped vista.
“Nice mountain.” Dick muttered.
“Let’s see if we can bring up the menu.” Gideon faced
the screen and said clearly, “Bring up menu.”
The menu sprang up on the screen displaying a
cornucopia of video or audio choices.
“Bring up live feed menu.” The screen switched to
listings of over twelve hundred available shows and broadcasts.
“Whoa!” Dick said feeling overwhelmed.
“I agree. You got anything in mind?”
Dick thought for a moment. Then a blissful smile
broke. “Things I Regret.”
Gideon sighed. He should have known better. It was a
show consisting of college aged girls doing things on camera that they were
sure to regret once they sobered up or got gainful employment.
“Show Things I Regret.” The screen switched to
a shot of a young, drunk and heroically busty young woman who was attempting to
untangle herself from her t-shirt while being sprayed by a hose off camera.
“Fantastic,” Dick muttered, pulling up one of the two
neo-Scandinavian loungers. All the furniture was neo-Scandinavian, which meant
it was all minimal in design and as well as minimal in comfort.Dick had retrieved his power hitter and was vaporizing
small amounts of humbolt and stoking the embers of his failing high. Gideon
went to the refrigerator and searched for something edible. He located some
sweet and sour tuna and spiced rice crackers. Shutting the door he tapped out
an order on the fridge’s touch screen that would be delivered the following
“Dude, dude! You got to see this.”
Gideon went over and pulled up his neo-Scandinavian
lounger. On screen was another busty naked young woman, this time blindfolded.
She was being wrapped in doubled sided tape. Then she rolled around on the
floor doing her best to pick up as many of the yellow feathers that were
scattered about. The purpose of this eluded Gideon as much as it delighted
“Are you happy, man?” Gideon asked.
Gideon shook his head. “I don’t mean right now, I
mean in general.”
This caught Dick off guard. “You mean on an
This caused Dick’s normally un-furrowed brow to
“Dude, I’m not even sure what existential means.”
“You know, happy with your station in life?”
“Station in life?”
Gideon sighed. “Is this what you wanted to do?”
“Dude, I don’t want to do anything except get stoned
or laid or both. If ADM is bad there are lots of worse gigs than walking around
guarding seeds. I mean seeds don’t exactly bitch.”
“You got a point there. But I just can’t see myself
doing this for years. Getting in the pipeline. Ya know, company man, like a
Japanese corporation, a zaibatsu. Getting up and singing the company
anthem and all that.”
Dick raised his hands. “Dude I work so when I’m not
working I can do this.”
“Yeah I guess.”
An icon flashed on the wall screen. A priority
message was in Gideon’s mailbox.
“Open, please.” Gideon said as he watched the
contents of the message scrolled across the screen.
“Well dude, looks like you got an appointment at
medical for a screen. Been doing anything I should know about?”
Gideon shook his head.
“Then don’t sweat it.”
The office was a shrine to dark oak. The only light
came from a data screen that was in sleep mode. The heavy baroque door swung
open suddenly, driving the knob with enough force to gouge a chunk of wood out
of the wainscoting behind it. Chief of Staff Stone stalked in with
thunderclouds on his brow. A short broad man, he radiated menace from every
pore. He was dressed in a black sweatshirt and slacks, eyes puffy from sleep.
He had been awoken from a deep sleep at four in the morning by a courier with a
DNA tab receipt.
Stone had taken possession, dismissing the messenger
with a growl. Inside the satchel was a data tab that could only be read by a
secure console which was at the office. Stone sat behind his desk bringing the
system online. His large head was covered with dark stubble that covered his
face as well.
Stone was formerly auxiliary Bishop under former
Archbishop of New York Edward Fegan, who was now the junior Senator form the
Great State of New York. Stone was a “cleaner.” As an auxiliary Bishop he
handled any delicate matters that popped up in the Archdiocese Neo-Eboracensis
(Latin for the Archdiocese of New York) which mostly involved taking care of
cases of inappropriately amorous priests. Now he was involved in the even less
tasteful matters of government. He was questioning his role in the Church. He
thought the Archbishop’s move into government would advance the Church’s cause.
That did not seem to be the case. It seemed, as much
as he did not want to admit it, that the Church was on the decline. Once the
most populous religion in the world it now ranked a distant third behind
Moslems and the Evangelicals and at par with God help him the Mormons.
With the system now online, Stone leaned forward,
allowing his retinas to be scanned for the I.D. database. He slid the data tab
into the reader. The system flashed an Alpha priority. This caused Stone’s
eyebrows to rise. In his entire service to the Church he had never seen an
Alpha priority. He called up the Alpha Authenticate procedure which involved a
How the hell do you do a serum scan at five in the
The answer came with a whirr which caused him to jerk
his elbows off the desk. A slot appeared in which arose a serum scanner. Stone
place his thumb firmly in the depression and winced as the unseen needle
pricked his finger and drew his blood for analysis. A moment passed as unseen
machinery matched the blood’s composite makeup with Stone’s on the Church’s
He matched; the database released the data tab’s
information to his monitor.
Stone was stunned. What was on his screen defied
belief. He read the summary quickly and then reread it. The implications were
astounding. If it had not come from the Vatican himself he would have
disregarded it as a hoax. He sat with his chin on his fist as he pondered his
One, he would bring Woolsey here under his direct
supervision. Stick him in a retreat up in the Catskills and put him under a security
envelope so he can’t take a shit without asking permission.
Two, find the woman and bring her under his control
Three, bring in Church lawyers and academics to
confirm the data and the Church’s ownership.
And most important how to use this to his direct
advantage. Fegan, though dedicated and pious, was a dolt. He would have to be
removed and isolated at the earliest opportunity. His own contacts within Rome
were scarce but no matter. Fegan was a favorite. He had even been mentioned as
being on the short list when the current Pontiff shrugged of his mortal coil.
“Call Father Woolsey.”
The office was silent as the system sought out the
number in question.
“Calling,” the room responded.
“Ah hello?” A sleep-fogged voice came online.
“Woolsey, Stone here.”
“Bishop Stone out of the New York Archdiocese.”
Stone glowered at the empty room. “Listen closely.
This is Bishop Stone out of the Archdiocese of New York. This call is about the
package you sent. Are we on the same screen?”
Silence came across the line. “Yes Bishop.”
“Now this woman who gave you this information, is it
hers to give?”
“Her husband passed away suddenly.”
“In his sleep apparently.”
“And what does this pious young lady want for this
gift to the Church?”
“She wants her sister declared a nun and buried in a
Stone was nonplussed. “Does the sister want to be a
“Did she want to be a nun while alive?”
“She was on track, but was being asked to leave. She
was with child.”
“At the Convent? Who was the father?”
“She claimed God.”
Stone gripped his head. “How did she die?”
“A statue of the Archangel Gabriel fell on her at the
opening of a new Parish in Portland.”
“Of course it did. And all her sister wants is for
her to be declared a nun and buried in a Church sanctioned cemetery?”
“That’s the gist of it.”
Well if this information is legit I’ll declare her
sister Pope and bury her with red slippers. I want you and her on the first
tilt out of Portland in the morning. Tickets will be waiting. Capish?”
“Tomorrow first thing. Got it.”
Stone broke the connection and sat very still in his
chair. Things that had been embryonic in his mind a few minutes earlier were
now advancing rapidly toward maturation. Once this became general knowledge
among the Church hierarchy it would become hard for Stone to hang on to his advantage.
He would see to it that this would not happen. Stone stood and looked out the
large bay window, watching the gray dawn creep into the awakening New York. He
stood stock-still and waited. The answer would present itself. It always did.
For he was Stone and the Lord would provide.
“Man I don’t know, it could be too freaky even for
our venue.” Sam White watched the footage of a fighter sent in by a French
biotech firm. The gentleman in question appeared grotesque. According to the
specs on the bottom of the screen, he was almost two and a half meters tall and
weighed in at close to three hundred kilos. They must have altered his spine in
some fashion because his head seemed to sit directly on his chest. The bone
built up around the eyes and jaw gave him a barely human profile. Sprouting
from a barrel-like chest sprang two huge arms that were jointed in three
places. The multi-jointed arms ended in mallet-like fists in which the fingers
were fused, forming a sledgehammer-like appendage.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m sure he is formidable. But we have
to draw a line somewhere. I mean Jesus, what if someone decides to graft a
rhino horn or a huge parrot’s beak on some slub’s face? With the new spectrum
of immunosuppressives anything is fucking possible. Yes, yes, I realize the
time and expense you went through but we can’t use them. Please stick to the
guidelines set up for fighters’ adaptations on Cage Incorporated fighter
application. Thanks for your interest.”
Sam broke the connection and stared at the ceiling.
Things were sort of spinning out of control. The interest since Demolition had
been off the charts. He had been dealing with offers from private and corporate
interests. Stables of augmented fighters were popping up like mushrooms in a
damp crawl space.
He was struggling to keep showcases down to one a
month. Sir Walter had copyrighted augmented contests. Any martial contest
between any combatants augmented in any fashion not sponsored by Cage Inc.
would be in direct copyright violation. Not that it was slowing down the
underground traffic, but above board it was his ball game. He tabbed up new
footage under Monsanto’s logo. The fighter came out. quickly taking the center
of the cage. He was tall and well muscled. Any enhancements were subtle—nothing
running to the obvious. He circled his opponent feinting with a jab. Then
quicker than Sam could follow, the Monsanto fighter spun around, coming off his
left foot, he caught his opponent flush with a spinning back kick. The impact
took his opponent off his feet, dropping him in a lifeless heap.
Sam backed up the footage and ran it again at one
tenth speed. Very impressive, nice and clean and controlled. He made a note on
the footage and the fighter’s designation, weight class, etc.
He let out a sigh as he fumbled through his desk and
located the new telepresence rig Sir Walter had sent out. He did not like it.
The whole telepresence experience made him uncomfortable. The rapid transition
from reality to null space always made him queasy. He had to be sitting. He had
tried it a couple of times standing and had fallen over on his face because of
He found the tiara in one of the bottom drawers of
his new desk it. Like his office the desk was all streamlined metal with
chromed Art Deco angels. The whole office looked like a nineteen thirties
version of Tomorrowland. The new office was located in one of Sir Walter’s high
stacks in Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan. “The birthplace of New
York,” Sir Walter liked to say—and did often.
He looked at his watch and realized he was due to be
on in two minutes. Taking the tiara, he wiped his forehead with some pads
impregnated with conductive gel. The tiara was fifth generation. It worked on
skin conductivity, which was fine with Sam. The idea of anything, even micro
filaments, drilling into his head made him uneasy. He fit the tiara on, making
sure the pickup pads made maximum contact. Then he hit the switch cradled in
The room fell away abruptly leaving him in a dark
horizonless space. He hung there for what seemed like an eternity until he
found himself sitting in a chair in Sir Walter’s spacious kitchen overlooking
“Well, you wanker. What’s the good word eh?”
It was Sir Walter dressed in stylish tennis whites.
He was holding a large fish and a strangely shaped knife.
“Been fishing?” Sam asked.
“Bloody obvious that is.” He flapped the fish on the
cutting block. Sam could see with some discomfort that it was still alive.
“What are you going to do?”
“About sharp as a marble today, huh, Sammie? I’m
going take this nice khurku here,” he said pointing at the wicked curved knife,
“and I’m going to slice old Tommie the tuna here into sashimi.”
Sir Walter attacked the unfortunate fish with a vigor
and lack of knowledge that made Sam glad he was only witnessing a construct.
“There.” There was little left of the fish that was
recognizable. It certainly didn’t resemble any of the neatly cut and arranged
sushi Sam was familiar with.
“That looks great,” Sam offered.
Sir Walter looked up, his tennis whites dripping in
blood. He picked up a towel and wiped some of it from his face.
“Don’t be a bloody idiot. That was a bloody massacre
that was. Luckily the wife got some vegemite around somewhere.” He began to
bang through the cabinets.
“Sir Walter, I have some ideas about Cage.”
“Really?” He looked up with half a stick of pepperoni
in his mouth.
“I think we should stick to strictly Corporate
Sir Walter looked thoughtful for a moment. “You may
have a point. I saw the footage that frog bio tech sent in. That was an ugly
“My feelings exactly. We should stick to the big
multinationals. Less freak more performance.”
“Well, there is an upside and a downside to that. The
upside is that at least for now, you’re getting a better product. The downside
is if something goes balls up they’d be off faster than a prom dress. But I’m a
silent partner mate. Cage is your baby, it’s your show.”
“I realize that, Sir Walter. I just wanted to give ya
a heads up.”
Sir Walter tore off a big chunk of pepperoni and
mumbled around it. “We’ll I’m going to hop in the shower, eh? No worries.”
Sam White found himself sitting back in his office,
stiff from sitting in the same position for so long. He couldn’t shake the
feeling that he was just told it was his show and he was on his own.
The Supermax cell was just a little wider than Leslie
as he lay back on his bunk. They had him here in little less than two hours
following his little show at gen pop. He had woken up in four point restraints
in a rapid deployment helicopter. He was groggy from the stun but could still
feel the rise and fall of the aircraft. On landing, it was full dark in the
Supermax yard. They rolled up a forklift and connected it to the reinforced
carbonfiber board he was shackled to. There was a scraping sound as he was
pulled out of the copter and swung free in the cool night air.
“Well, well. Isn’t it our playful little friend.”
Leslie moved his eyes (the only thing not restrained)
and saw the speaker. A tall drink of water with long graying hair pulled back
in a ponytail. His chin was covered with a wispy goatee. Peering through gold
rimmed granny glasses, he seemed on the verge of telling a humorous story. He
had his hands in the pockets of an old sweat jacket.
“So friend, how’s it going to be?”
Leslie, gagged, just looked at him.
“Sorry man. You can’t really answer, can you? Paul if
you would be so kind?”
A bull separated himself from the other guards and
unbuckled the leather gag. The large rubber bite block was pulled roughly from
Leslie’s mouth leaving his lips stinging.
“So what’s it going to be, Tiny?”
“Just wanted to eat my Sloppy Joe.”
The Warden took off his glasses and unzipped his
sweater jacket. Pulling out the tail of his wash-faded CBGBs t-shirt he
polished the lenses. “You just wanted to eat your Sloppy Joe, huh? And that
gentleman you stomped to death with your size twenty sevens somehow impeded
Leslie gave an abbreviated shrug. “Wasn’t bothering
nobody, just trying to get my feed.”
“Well I can dig that. A little enthusiastic but I can
dig it .That won’t be a problem here of course. Twenty three hours a day you
will be in your cell. One hour each day you will be let into a small exercise
yard depending on your behavior. This will be my call, after all.” He spread
his hands palms up. “This is my house.”
Leslie said nothing.
“Quiet type huh? All the better. Oh, there is one
other thing. Doc?”
A small man dressed in a white lab coat came forward
dragging a step ladder behind him. He put the bottom of the ladder at Leslie’s
feet and rested the top on his chest. Then climbing up and he pulled a
disturbingly large gun looking apparatus from his bag and fitted a magazine to
it. He then placed the muzzle behind Leslies left ear. There was a loud pop, a
sharp pain followed. The procedure was repeated on the right. He then clambered
down the ladder and walked back to the group.
“Remove the restraints.”
The guards moved on him and in short work released
him. Leslie stood and rubbed his wrists. The Warden walked forward and offered
his hand. Leslie stood dumbly for a moment and took it.
“Warden Gool. You can call me Goolie, everyone else
does. I don’t have any trouble here; it’s a pretty mellow place actually. And
I’ll show you why.”
He let go and stood back about a meter. “It’s called
a subcutaneous capacitor. Hit him Paulie. High range, he’s a big boy.”
The guard was fidgeting with something Leslie
couldn’t make out; then it didn’t matter. It hit him hard starting just behind
his ears and traveling down his spine and into his legs in an instant. It dropped
him to his knees with his mouth spread wide in a silent scream. His lungs
burned as if filled with acid, his eyes felt like they were about to burst.
Each individual tooth sang in its socket as if the nerves were exposed. Then it
stopped as quickly as it had started.
“Sorry about that. But we give every one a taste at
the start, saves a lot of time, really.”
Leslie pulled himself to his feet. The pain that was
so all encompassing was now all gone without a trace.
“Nerve induction, no real damage. But you can’t tell
while it’s happening. But then, I’m not O.K., you’re not O.K. But hey…” The
Warden made a gun with his hand and moved his thumb forward like a trigger.
“That’s O.K,” he nodded toward the guard. “Put ’em in C sixteen.”
The small television was a six centimeter screen set
flush in the bulkhead next to the slab of ferrocrete that served as his bunk.
It was black and white and only got one channel that Leslie had no control
over. It seemed to be a Catholic channel out of Montréal; it featured a priest
in long robes and a skull cap. Leslie thought he bore an uncomfortable
resemblance to Dracula.
Leslie was nothing if not patient. Not a bright man,
he possessed the ability to completely empty his mind and think of nothing
creating almost a Zen level of emptiness or a reptilian void of waiting.
Leslie startled to awareness. Paulie was standing in
his open cell door. In his hand he held a small remote. “You remember this,
“Good; ’cause you even twitch, it’s bad dreams for a
week. Now this must be your lucky day. I’ve been here for six years and have
never seen anyone get a visitor. I don’t get how you rate and I don’t care. You
walk in front. Step when I step and when you sit put your hands on the table
and await further instructions. Now go.”
Leslie stepped out into the hallway and moved
deliberately ahead of the guard. He passed other cells indicated by the monitor
screens located by the keypads which gave the guards a full view of the
inmates. The hallway ended in a thick door secured with a mag lock.
“Stop and stand back against the wall. You move, you
Leslie stood back as the guard keyed in the sequence.
The thick door disengaged with a thunk and swung open slowly. Leslie stepped
into the room and sat in the one of the two chairs at the table.
“The chair and table are keyed to this remote.” He
pushed a button. “Both are now armed. You break contact with either the chair
or table it triggers the capacitors. So behave.”
Opening the door the guard left. Leslie heard a
snatch of conversation. In walked a well-dressed man carrying a slim attaché.
He took a seat across the table and placed the briefcase in front of him. He
then looked up as if noticing Leslie for the first time.
“I am a representative of Marcus Tonald.”
Leslie looked at him blankly.
“The CEO of John Deere North America.”
“He is very interested in you.”
“Does he want a date?”
“No, he wants to make you an offer.” The well-dressed
gentleman opened the briefcase and removed a slim data plate. He turned and placed
it in front of Leslie and waited.
Leslie looked at him. The gentleman looked back.
Leslie looked at him. The gentleman looked back.
“Hey, sweetheart, if I pick my hands up from the
table I will get the shit shocked out of me.”
“Oh, sorry.” He reached across and turned it back in
front of him. He activated it and read it for Leslie’s benefit. “All charges
will be dropped and all penalties waived if you agree to enter the employ of
John Deere for no less than five years, starting at the point of agreement,
which will be transmitted via web with biometric conformation.” He smiled.
“That of course, is a brief summary.”
“Do I look like I make riding tractors for fuck
The well-dressed man smiled. “I don’t think Mr.
Tonald had lawn care in mind.”
Leslie rolled his tiny red eyes. “Then what does he
“He wants you to enter his stable as an augmented
“What the fuck does that mean?”
The well-dressed removed a invisible piece of lint
from his lapel then leaned forward. “He wants you to have some work done so you
can smash the shit out of someone.”
A large smile split Leslie’s face revealing shot
glass sized teeth that had not been kept up to the best of dental standards.
“Where do I sign?”
Shadrach was the last man in the group following
slowly. They made little sound as they moved through the sparse undergrowth to
the observation point. The five of them dropped to the ground and moved up on
their bellies until the buildings were visible at the bottom of the small
valley. Master Chief pulled a pair of combat glasses from his thigh pocket and
focused in on the compound building in question.
“That’s it huh? The one with the green metal roof?”
Danny nodded. “That’s the one, Master Chief.”
“Eddie, hand me up the Targeter.”
Shouldering off his pack Eddie rummaged through it
and handed the laser forward to the Master Chief. Taking the flashlight-sized
tube he hit the power stud, bringing it online then aimed it down at the
compound building of interest.
“Lou, bring up your slave screen and tell me if
you’re getting a good read on this.”
Nodding Lou pulled out his screen and unrolled it in
front of him. He then took a small lead and plugged it into a module. The
screen snapped to life, it mirrored what the Chief was seeing through the
viewfinder of the targeting laser. Lou adjusted some of the tuners on the
module, bringing the screen into sharper focus.
“I’m getting a good read Chief, with some breakup
along the edges.”
“What do you get for distance to target?”
“I’m getting twelve five five to target.”
“Twelve five five to target. Any interference from
Lou broadened out the gain to cover an increased
area. A little fuzzy on a larger gain, but the laser is burning right through.”
Master Chief grinned. “That’s a roger. Bring up the
bird, see what you got for a read?”
Lou unfolded a small keyboard on the module and typed
in the command. The readout on the screen changed abruptly to an overhead
satellite view. In it the compound was a fuzzy blur, unlike the surrounding
area which was crystal clear. The Master Chief moved over to peer at
the screen. “Yeah, they got that jammed pretty good. We’re lucky the laser
burns through. Bring up our FOF tags.”
Lou typed again, five tiny blinking indicators pulsed
on the left side of the screen. They represented the friend or foe indicators
of the team.
“What’s that?” The Chief pointed at a dull blur that
pulsed under the jamming.
Lou fiddled with the pickups. “I can’t clear it. I’ll
run a diagnostic.”
“It could be the FOF from the snatch
team,” Shadrach said looking at the screen.
The Chief shook his head. “I doubt it. They went off
line two hours before scheduled grab. Lost telemetry and everything, not
Edward pulled off his boonie hat and ran his hand
through his hair. “They could have pulled out the telemetry pickups.”
“I don’t think so. Why bother? To pull them out
involves major surgery. Why go through the trouble and not pull out the FOFS?
I’m afraid the snatch team is history.” Pulling back his sleeve the Chief looked
at his chronometer. “And so will they be in fifty two minutes. Everyone
move into position. Shadrach, you patrol the perimeter. Everyone stay frosty.”
Belly-crawling back from the edge Shadrach made his
way from the lip of the canyon to slightly higher ground that gave him both a
view of the target and his team. He brought up the tech screen woven into the
forearm of his uniform. The four FOF stood out in stark relief on the simple
screen; his FOF was indicated about twenty meters behind. The resolution on the
fabric screens was notoriously primitive.
Shadrach moved further up their right flank and took
a position under some thick growth, in solid cover and with a good lane of fire
to cover his team. He relaxed for a moment, took an energy bar from his breast
pocket and began to chew it into submission. It was gritty and tasted faintly
of almonds. It held everything he would need short of hydration for twelve
hours. He was on the jittery edge of hyperawareness. The mission would go for
good or ill in the next hour. Shadrach’s fervent and only hope was that when it
came down to it he would not fuck up his end.
They came fast.
The team had no coms, only passive systems with the
exception of the targeting laser. Command figured it was the transmissions that
had alerted the Secularists with the first team. No reason had been given till
Master Chief had them on site. Shadrach had thought it strange at the time he
was being outfitted, but was assured he would find out when it was time.
He had just finishing walking the perimeter. It was
five minutes till they would paint the target when Eddie caught something on
“Chief, I got something weird here. I got eight FOF
breaking out of the jamming and headed toward us.”
The Master Chief studied the screen. “Yeah, the
signal’s getting stronger the farther they move from the compound. Anybody
All of them scanned the area with their combat scopes
and came up empty.
“I got them at a thousand meters Chief,” Eddie said,
his voice cracking with tension. “They got to be within sight real soon.”
Using the scope on his rifle, Shadrach saw them
first, breaking cover at the bottom of the hill, around five hundred meters .
Shadrach counted eight figures dressed in some sort of shiny black material
moving fast. Too fast, and there was something wrong with their faces,
something Shadrach could not make out at this distance.
“Chief, I got them moving up at seven o’clock, and
closing. You see it.”
“I got em. Everybody weapons hot! We’ll peg em coming
up then move back to the pick up point. This fucker’s blown and we’re out of
here by the numbers. Shadrach, drop back to the rally point and pick off any
that get past us.” Shadrach looked at him dumbly. “Move!”
Shadrach ran back to the rally point giving him a
good view of the team and the approach up the hill. The eight came into a view
a lot sooner than they should have. Their faces were becoming clearer. They
appeared to have no lips. Through his scope Shadrach could make out mouths,
huge with teeth. It made no sense.
The team opened up at fifty meters. The caseless ammo
let go in a piercing scree. From where he stood Shadrach could see the hits
sparking off the shiny material on their chests, flipping them over on their
backs. They bounced right back up and kept coming. The whole team was on full
auto. Shadrach was frozen, his rifle hanging in his hands. The first one they
reached was Danny. He was switching out clips fumbling in haste. The attacker
reached toward Danny, a large fat blue spark leaped from its outstretched hand
knocking him flat as if pole-axed. Two of them jumped on him and began to tear
at his neck and face with their teeth. All eight were now in the midst of the
team. Muzzle flashes captured the manic tableau in a jittering of flashes.
Every one that was hit popped right back up like vicious Jack-in-the-Boxes.
“Head shots! They got armor! Head shots!” the Master
Chief roared, pulling his sidearm and blasting one of the attackers full in the
face. It’s head exploded like an overripe melon. One stepped over Eddie and
reached for the Chief. The discharge knocked him over, twitching, where two
attackers’ faces dripping gore tore into him.
This broke Shadrach from his inactive state. He
whipped his weapon to his shoulder sighting in and discharging his weapon in
quick succession. They dropped one by one, not looking up from their feeding.
Shadrach walked among the carnage. The team was dead to a man. Torn open and
fed upon. Shadrach kicked one of the attackers over. Its teeth were filed to
points; the mouth was lipless, just gums and teeth. It seemed to be wearing
some sort of ceramic plate armor. Bending closer, Shadrach recognized the thing
at his feet. It was Taylor—a new medic attached to one of the failed snatch
teams . Checking his tech screen; Shadrach saw that the ordnance would remain
overhead for ten minutes total. According to his readout he had twenty five
seconds. He walked over to where the Chief had dropped the targeting laser.Picking it up and he aimed it at the green
roof of the target building.
shock wave at his back he dropped the laser and made his way to the pickup
Kyushu rises unapologetically out of the East China
Sea. It hides none of its volcanic origin, proudly displaying its young vibrant
landscape to the crystal blue skies. It is the Westernmost island of the
Japanese homeland and played a pivotal role in the country’s history. It was
here that Koreans first invaded in 300 B.C., bringing rice paddy cultivation
along with bronze and metal working. They moved eastward through the remaining
islands, pushing the native Jomon before them until only few ancestors, called
the Ainu remain today. Kyushu also witnessed a brief flash of immortality
sixteen hundred years later when a small man made sun burned brightly over
Nagasaki, casting shadows still long in Japan’s racial memory.
Kyushu was Japan’s power and protein supplier. The
island was ringed with a connected power grid composed of seventy three
interlocked stacked bead reactors. These reactors were a breakthrough in power
production. Operating at over ninety four percent efficiency they functioned as
one huge reactor. The stacked bead design made them virtually earthquake proof
and once online were almost self-sustaining. This system provided for the power
needs of the entire population of Japan. Over two hundred million souls worked,
lived and thrived under the brightly lit climate-controlled normalcy that this
power generator provided.
One of the byproducts of this power generation was
huge amounts of heated waste water that flooded in the coastal waters
surrounding Kyushu. The ambient temperature was eight degrees Celsius higher
than normal ocean temperature. This made the environment deadly to most of the
native fish and fauna. Fortunately, engineered strands of tuna and other
valuable food fish thrived. Fish, as well as kelp and seaweed farms stretched
for kilometers along the coasts, feeding the ravenous protein needs of the
Nevada-tan lay tangled in sweat soaked sheets on her
small futon. She was wishing for things that she knew she could never have. Standing
she walked naked across the tatami mat, looking out her room’s only window at
the darkened landscape. The moon had risen behind Mt. Eboshi, sending a silver
sliver of light down toward the compound where she now resided. A soft cool
breeze slipped through her window, raising goose bumps on her pale skin. She
moved back to the futon, grabbed the sheet, wrapped it around her, and returned
to the window. She had spent most of her twenty two years in this room. Appearing
no more than thirteen or fourteen, thin and wan with huge dark eyes, she seemed
to live in the shadows. Only her waist-long black hair seemed alive. It was a
thick voluptuous cable of ebony that shifted and shuddered in the dim light as
if made of liquid.
The compound was the center of the Autistic
Amelioration Project. The Project produced high functioning female autistics
using zygote manipulation. The effort had originally produced only males. But
the males, while prodigious math adepts, had the unfortunate tendency to become
enamored of a button or crease in their pants and be absorbed for years.
The answer proved simple in the extreme. Female
Autistics. Nevada-tan was the crown jewel of the program. There had been six
other adepts with varying levels of abilities. But Nevada-tan’s math/reasoning
portion of her brain, the intraparietal sulchs, was three times normal mass.
Yet she functioned as a normal twenty two year old woman.
Gazing out her
window Nevada-tan was aware that if she tried to leave she would not get a
meter before she would be gently but firmly ushered back to her room. Moving
back to her futon she lay down and willed herself to sleep. Moments later, her
breathing became regular as she slipped into REM .
A chime woke
her. Sitting up she knuckled the sleep from her eyes, blinking in the soft
morning light. Rising she padded softly to the bathing area of her small room. Toeing
a switch, a portion of the tatami slid back, exposing a shower area and a small
deep tub filled with water warmed to a preset temperature. She showered quickly
and then slid slowly into the water which came up to her chin. Sighing she let
the warmth flood into her being.
tub much too soon, pulling a large raw cloth towel and rubbing herself so
vigorously her skin turned red in protest. She moved to a seascape print on the
wall touching lightly the mountain’s white-capped summit; in response, the wall
slid noiselessly back, exposing a toilet/sink/wardrobe/dressing area. She
completed her morning’s ablutions quickly. Lingering over what to wear, she
chose from her somewhat limited selection a dove gray top and loose pants. Pulling
a brush through her thick black hair looking at herself in the mirror. As
always, she saw a hundred things wrong. Sticking out her tongue at the
reflection she went to her doorway and pressed the exit tab.
opened smoothly into a small hallway. Outside the door stood two guards in jade
colored body armor complete with sidearms and assault rifles. They would follow
at her heels at all times within the compound. It had been this way for so long
she did not even glance at them as she made her way to the morning room.
room is where she had breakfasted all her life. Her life was a seamless stream
of unchanging routine which both gave comfort and infuriated her. As she
entered the bright window-walled room, the two guards posted at the doorway.
Nevada-tan bowed to her two teachers who nodded in return. She moved to the low
table where both were waiting as she seated herself across from them.
and Muroki were part of the routine that infuriated her. They were as constant
as the sunrise in Nevada-tan’s life. They were called “Teachers” but in reality
were more handlers. They supervised all parts of Nevada-tan’s life from her
diet to whom she could socialize with down to her clothing. The most important
part was their supervision of her coupling. Once a day she entered into the
flow to balance and monitor the chain of reactors that encircled Kyushu.
“You had a
slip yesterday, Natan,” Takomi frowned.
hated the nickname Natan but told no one.
“It was for a
moment, the output was unaffected.”
unacceptable Natan. What you do is very important. Lapses of attention cannot
be tolerated,” Muroki scowled for added effect. “Especially for something
reddened to her toes. She could feel her face blaze.
“I am sorry.
It will not happen again.”
eat. Here comes our breakfast.”
the small wrinkled woman with her hair pulled into a tight bun set the tray
down before them. There were numerous small dishes filled with fresh fruit and
three steaming bowls of Miso. Nevada-tan picked up a bowl enjoying the warmth
in her hands; she blew across the top, momentarily pushing aside the steam
which reappeared as soon as she stopped.
must be at your best today. The final modeling of the A.I. is soon to be
completed. Another few weeks it will be done, and you will have accomplished
something very important for Japan.”
nodded. She watched closely as Mr. Takomi finished his little speech. She
marveled at how ugly he was. A small thin-shouldered man, he had a huge head
with comically large features. His ears and nose were oversized, his head was
capped with a small patch of poorly dyed black hair. His eyes were tiny and
mean. He took joy in berating Nevada-tan, who secretly referred to him as “The
turned to his breakfast noisily downing his Miso in a slurp. This caused Miss
Muroki to grimace. As exaggerated as Takomi’s features were, hers were just
visible. She was tiny and delicate. Her dark hair was cut to hug her small head.
Her nose and mouth were mere suggestions. Only her large dark eyes stood out,
watchful and cautious. She followed whatever path Takomi stomped down.
Nevada-tan secretly referred to her as “The Doll.”
it is important to do your best and concentrate.”
watched The Doll pick a tiny sliver of melon and slide it between her non-
existent lips. She watched as she chewed the melon until it could be no more
than a liquid and swallow it, causing her tiny esophagus to pulse in her reed-like
sipped the Miso and thought about the day’s coupling. She enjoyed being in the
flow. There was a freedom in the flow that was missing in her life. Her initial
coupling was always painful but once the filaments made the C1 meld, she was
their breakfast in silence. The Rat checked his watch and announced it was
time. The three moved to the pod which whisked them to the Monitoring Center
located ten kilometers away beneath Sasebo Bay.
Monitoring Center was surprisingly sparse. There were three pneumo-couches, one
prime and two passive for monitoring. Nevada-tan quickly moved to hers, hopping
in and relaxing as the couch molded around her. She heard The Rat and The Doll
fussing around getting into theirs.
when you are ready,” said The Rat.
took a deep breath and keyed the switch. She felt the momentary sting as the
filaments burrowed in. The awareness came to her abruptly. The power loop
connecting all the reactors became part of her, her sense of self. She could
feel that the flow was uneven. The load was being drawn more from the eastern
portion of the Island.
power as a loop, she evened it out, causing it to be drawn more from portions
of the grid that could provide it. The load balanced and the output rose to
ninety eight percent efficiency.
please repeat the sequence so the A.I. can mirror.”
held down a flash of irritability. She felt the A.I. come online and could feel
it as if stood at her shoulder. The A.I. had been modeling for two years now
but it could not quite match the feel. It could read and calculate the
loads millions of times faster than Nevada-tan could. But the sensation when
the balance was reached was something that, until now, seemed to be something
up the same scenario she had just been given with the uneven draw from the
eastern portion of the Island. The A.I. performed flawlessly—until the moment
when the balance was to be made. Then it locked, unable to initiate. Nevada-tan
felt a momentary stab of pride and superiority at the failure. She rechecked
the power efficiency, saw that it was still at the ninety eight percentile and
began the decoupling.
Coming up was
always less traumatic than going in. The room’s sights and smells always
flooded in joyfully as the filaments withdrew. Nevada-tan sat blinking,
enjoying the return of her sensorial impulses as The Doll and The Rat
decoupled. She could see, as The Rat emerged, that he was not happy.
happened?How did the machine
intelligence fail again?”
her dainty shoulders. “It cannot make the leap.”
“What is this
nonsense you speak about? There is no leap. It is a simple reasoning algorithm.
Why does the machine freeze?”
She felt an
unusual but not unwelcome burst of defiance. “What do you know of this? You are
a mere observer, a spectator. You cannot understand what happens, what I feel.
It happens in here!” She struck her forehead with the flat of her palm.
“Only I can know. Do not question what you do not understand.” Nevada-tan was
surprised to find herself standing with her fists balled at her side.
please return to your room, now!” The Doll said pointedly.
spun on her heals and left the Monitoring Center with her security detail in
the capsule speeding back to the center she was a little amazed at what had
just transpired. It was the first time in her life that she had ever said a
word other then yes sir, or yes ma’am to either The Rat or The Doll.Gratefully she entered her room, sealing the
door and her security detail behind her. She collapsed on her futon in a
nerveless heap. She was not used to such emotional exercise. Laying there it
occurred to her that today was her scheduled trip to the Ginza. It had totally
slipped her mind. Once a month they emptied the Ginza in Saesabo and allowed
her to browse the shops. She doubted if that was still on her itinerary after
her little outburst.
Her door slid
open suddenly, revealing The Doll wearing a disapproving look on her face. She
removed her sandals, aligning them alongside Nevada-tan’s and stepped into her
Today was a
day of firsts for Nevada-tan. She had never seen either her or The Rat at her
room. She sat up quickly, sweeping her hair from her face.
was an uncalled for display today.”
dropped her head. “I am sorry, Teacher. It was not meant out of disrespect.”
hope not. We are here to help you in your very important job.”
“I know and
for this I am sorry.”
hope so. I trust this will not happen again.”
get ready. The Center goes to great expense to clear the Ginza for you. We
cannot cancel with so little notice. We will be going despite your behavior. So
The Ginza in
Saesabo was always a little spooky to Nevada-tan. She knew that Japan now held
over two hundred forty million industrial souls. She also knew that almost all
of the surface cities had been replaced by huge underground beehives called
warrens. Only Tokyo, parts of Hiroshima and Nagasaki remained above ground,
plus a few tourist spots like Saesabo’s Ginza. All available real estate had
been turned over to agriculture. Japan for the most part resembled Eden.
Millions of hectares filled with nothing but green growing things tended by
realized there were Japanese who went years at a time without seeing natural
sunlight. Still the Ginza would be filled to bursting at any time, day or
night, with eager students and families; except when she was here. It would not
do for her to have contact with anyone not approved.
“Do you have
anywhere in mind?”
always accompanied her on her outings along with an increased security
Nevada-tan beamed. She loved the octopus balls made with red shrimp and ginger.
The Doll grimaced.
stand was manned by an employee from the center—as were all the shops.
handed over two orders of the crispy bourbon-colored balls. Nevada-tan and The
Doll set at a small café table and broke open two packages of chopsticks.
Nevada-tan greedily grasped a ball between the two wooden sticks, dipped it in
the mayonnaise and popped it into her mouth. The Doll just poked hesitantly at
wrong, Teacher?They are
know, my stomach is bothering me today.” The Doll lifted one up slowly and took
a tiny bite. She immediately dropped her chopsticks, picked up a napkin, put it
to her lips and ran for the bathroom. The security contingent looked on
curiously, for this was definitely out of character. Nevada-tan grabbed another
ball and chewed it. She was enjoying her moment without supervision when she
noticed The Doll’s purse. Sighing, she retrieved it and followed The Doll into
the bathroom. She heard retching in one of the stalls. She stood nervously
outside the closed door.
Teacher.” She leaned down and handed the purse under the stall’s door. It was
grabbed quickly and the retching continued.
went to the sink to wash her hands, on the sink was a data tab. Nevada-tan
froze. It was candy apple red and chipped at the edges. Tabs had gone out of
use years ago. All transfers of information and credit had gone over to wet
chips that were implanted at the wrist. Nevada-tan had no chip; all transfers,
credit or otherwise, were done for her. She grabbed the tab guiltily and jammed
it deep into her pocket.
The Doll, who emerged from the stall looking pale. “I think we will end early
Teacher,” Nevada-tan replied, feeling the tab heavy in her pocket. She followed
The Doll out the door.
James woke to
a pounding on the door that matched the one in his head. He rose stiffly from
his bunk, tripped over two cats and fell hard to the floor. He lay face first
in his pants from the night before.Two
tabbies watched with undisguised curiosity as he flipped over to his back
sticking his two skinny pale legs into the worn khakis.
hold your horses!” James yelled, scrambling to his feet. He pawed at the handle
a few times before getting it open.
was Father Gilbert in all his overpowering good humor.
in the bright sunlight, wracking his brain as to why the Father was standing
James had to
admit he had.
visit the outlyers. Get dressed and meet me at the van.”
With this he
was gone. James stared into the space where the Father had been. His brain was
slowly coming online. Then, in the muddled morass that served as his mind, it
surfaced. He had promised to help the Father bring supplies—both actual and
spiritual—to some of his more rustic parishioners. He had been in his cups at
the time. Drinking seemed to occupy more and more of James’ time. This did not
particularly alarm him, although he found it a little unnerving how easily he
had slipped into this particular lifestyle.
Pulling on a
worn thermal undershirt, he ran a washcloth across his face and headed out to
locate the Father. He found him at the back of the rectory shoving the last few
boxes into an ancient Volkswagen microbus. The bus was in all manner of
disrepair. It had been a donation and James was pretty sure if the Father had
not been so well known that the local P.D. would have pulled it off the road
are you ready?”
Gilbert smiled broadly “No guessing Son. We are doing God’s work. It is as sure
as the morning’s sunrise.”
Gilbert just smiled a little wider and in a mash of protesting gears was off.
most of their day moving through Stanley Park. A host of squatters and
homesteaders had set up house in the wooded areas. James was surprised
at the sophistication of several of the compounds. There were some that
were completely self-sustaining, existing off the grid. Others were simple log
huts and tents. Father Gilbert moved freely through them all, greeting everyone
by name, handing out foodstuffs, warm clothing, and toys for the children (and
Bible chips, when asked).
at the Sunbird camp that was within view of Siwash rock. The residents there
were Neo-Pagans who wore handwoven tunics and spoke a variation of Gaelic.
this?” James asked pushing around some raw-looking tuna in an acidic smelling
It’s made with raw tuna, coconut wine, vinegar, hot chilies, ginger and onions.
Try it, it is delicious.”
shrugged and took a bite. It was good. The texture was a little weird, but the
freshness of the tuna came through in spades.
said.” Father Gilbert was watching two of the children playing with a straw
doll, both of their faces were streaked with a blue pigment.
huh? Why here?”
James asked puzzled.
Rock. That one.”
followed Father Gilbert’s gaze. “It’s a big rock standing in the water.”
rock. It’s holy to them. Like Stonehenge.”
“So, let me
get this straight,” James said as he fished the last piece of tuna off his
plate. “A bunch of Neo-Pagans worshiping a new Stonehenge while chowing down on
Gilbert grinned. “That about sums it up I think.”
his head, standing up to clean his plate and add it to the stack in a makeshift
sink. He then sat down on some moss and leaned back against a convenient rock.
He undid a couple of his shirt buttons and closed his eyes, enjoying the sun on
“Not a bad
above ground is a good day, Father.”
little Agnostic for my tastes but I can share in the basic flavor.”
and squinted at the Father. “Mind if I ask you a question Father?”
“No; by all
seen a lot of preaching. There has been very little God Squad, ya know?”
opened his shirt and ran a hand up the back of his neck.
“Well, I have
never been much of a pulpit pounder. I always felt it was something people come
to on their own or don’t come at all. When I was in seminary I was given
something to read that was just considered scandalous. It was a novel called Stranger
in a Strange Land. You ever hear of it?”
“Well, it was
about a failed mission to Mars that left only one survivor.”
telling this story?”
“As I was
saying, there was one survivor, a child of two of the astronauts.”
“Product of a
“As I was
saying, there was a survivor who returned to Earth and became a religious
leader who died voluntarily in a Christ-like fashion.”
“Oh, now I
get it. Stranger in a Strange Land. Old Testament isn’t it?”
correct, but not really my point. One of the basic tenets of the book was “Thou
art God.” At the time I thought that was horribly egotistic and
self-worshipping. But the older I got the more sense it made.”
Gilbert closed his eyes and smiled. He was silent for a moment then answered.
“It sort of removes the entire bell ringing and rote mindless ritual. If we all
are God then we all have the capacity to be holy. There is something
fundamentally hopeful about that. It makes all this worthwhile somehow.”
there is hope for you yet.”
hope for us all, James. That is sort of the point.” He stood, brushing his
pants. “Come Jimmy, I’ve saved the most interesting for last.”
for about fifteen minutes until they arrived at an opening in a small copse of
trees. Father Gilbert grabbed a rucksack and handed James a basket filled with
canned goods. Carefully, they made their way down a well-worn path that opened
up to a small lake with an island in the center. On the island was what at
first glance appeared to be a small white sailboat.
“Is that a
boat?” James asked.
can’t vouch for its seaworthiness, but it does indeed look like a boat.”
“Who did you
say lives here?”
by the name of Jack D’Baptiste.”
At the shore
edge James could see a series of stones just submerged that led to the island.
A few damp moments
later both made landfall . On closer inspection James could see that the boat
was made from hundreds of small pieces of driftwood as well as others
pieces of debris, cunningly fit together so tightly as to seem to be
unbroken planks forming the boat’s hull.
Gilbert dropped his pack and called loudly. “Jack! Jack! It’s Father Gilbert
with provisions. Ahoy!” Father Gilbert winked at James. “He enjoys the nautical
passed across James’ face that caused him to look up. The sun was blocked out
by something hurtling towards him. A second later James was gasping in the cold
lake water. Above him was a crazed apparition grasping him by his shirtfront.
He was shirtless, dressed in a pair of clammers with a necklace of animal bones
around his neck. His filthy hair hung in knots around his head. Ice blue eyes
peered down at James as he was pulled nose to nose.
It’s you. I knew you would come.”
see his mouth was innocent of teeth. And an odor wafted out that left little
doubt where the animal bones came from.
“I bless you
in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost.” And with this Jack plunged
James into the icy water. James tried to pull the hands from his clothing as he
fought to surface. They felt like iron wrapped in rawhide. An absurd thought
surfaced in his mind as he struggled. If Father’s theory, “Thou art God” was
universal, this man appeared to be the exception to the rule.
Surfacing James pulled in huge snuffles of
sweet air. Father Gilbert had mounted Jack piggyback style, attempting to
dissuade him from his aquatic agenda.
at James and smiled without guile. “I have baptized you. You have returned to
spread The Word and save us all.”
the water from his face. “If you say so.”
Jack let go
of James and began to dance in circles splashing and singing the father
gripping tightly to his back.
“So as it is
written, so shall it be. So as it is written, so shall it be.”
Gilbert dismounted sheepishly and helped James to his feet.
that. That was definitely out of character.”
out his shirttail. “I should hope so.”
grinning toothlessly at both of them. Some of the maniacal gleam had gone out
of his eyes. Father Gilbert shrugged and introduced them to each other.
is Jack. Jack, this is James.”
“I know who
you are. You have returned,” Jack intoned.
“ O.K.” James
to his knees in front of James and bowed his head. “Bless me.”
at Father Gilbert who grinned and shrugged.
James said sheepishly.
to his feet grabbing both the men by their arms. “Come, come, we will have tea
to celebrate your return.”
Father Gilbert stumbled after him.
of the makeshift sailing ship was surprisingly neat. James and Father Gilbert
sat on a bench at a drop-down table. Jack fiddled over a small Jotul stove in
which he brewed tea. The cabin also contained a small bunk bed and tiny galley.
James was drying himself with a rough worn towel Jack had handed him off a
hook. Light from a small lantern cast everything in warm sepia tones.
careful, it’s hot.” Jack handed them two earthen mugs brimming with steaming
tea. Pulling a Christmas tin from under the table, he handed each of them a
blueberry scone. James eyed it warily then bit it. It was delicious; the
surprise must have shown on his face.
the Druids. I don’t bake much.”
“I know Jack,
and it is very good,” Father Gilbert said taking a bite himself. “I don’t
suppose you could explain what that little excitement was about?”
Father Gilbert asked.
“As it said
in the Bible.” Jack said.
Father Gilbert asked, incredulous.
nurse,” James whispered as he sipped his tea.