Sunday 25 July 2010

This One-Sided Showdown

Kauffman laughed incredulously.

“You can’t expect to stop this, why even bother coming? Look at you, your arm and leg are broken, you’ve lost an eye and who knows how much blood. There’s gotta be bits of you broken inside too. We dropped a building on you.

“Your friends are gone and you were always the least of them.”

Art smiled through the pain. He shifted on his crutches, making himself more comfortable. The doctors had wanted to keep him in hospital for another month, then bed rest. He never listened to doctors.

“My friends? I’ve only ever needed my own company.”

A look of puzzlement crossed Kauffman’s face. There was no way the idiot posed a threat, but the delay wouldn’t matter and the thought that Arthur Bellam had lost his mind was an intriguing one. Intriguing and very satisfying, so much better than just breaking him physically.

“You don’t remember them? Knife Joe? Sharp Sally? Billy the Bright? The elites you sent after me, again and again, while you cowered in your bunker. The elites I killed off one by one. You must remember the videos, Billy’s was particularly vivid. I watched that again only this morning, to get me in the mood. You have to be in the right mood the day you kill a country.”

Art seemed to think about this, his brows creasing a little. He was still smiling.

“You killed no one, and you’re going to kill no one. You talk too much.”

Kauffman gave a little snort of frustration.

“If you’re going to make no sense then I’m bored of this conversation. Your intrusion, your life in fact, is over. Today I finish the job, I kill the last elite.”

Kauffman reached down to his holster and drew his Reiberg 50, overkill at this range for sure, but overkill was his motif.

He didn’t fire.

He blinked.

Someone was standing behind Arthur. She draped her long, slender arms over his shoulders and across his chest, resting her head on his shoulder. There was a certain Slavic look to her narrow features, although her long blonde hair looked bleached, rather than natural.

Someone else was leaning against the bench just inside the entranceway. His arms were broad and muscular and overly hairy; thick, dark, curling hair that spread across his shoulders, beneath his khaki, oil-smeared tank top. He casually picked at the grime beneath his nails with a combat knife whose blade seemed oversized even in his massive hand.

Art’s eyes glowed. Then he was limned in faint light and someone else, the light, stepped out of him, fully human in form but with unclear features, no more than contours and the suggestion of an expression. He was bright to look at, you could not directly do so without squinting, but he didn’t seem to brighten the room. He was not a source of brightness, he was brightness itself.

“There is only one elite, Doctor Kauffman. Whatever I choose to call myself, however I choose to appear.”

Kauffman shot Arthur.

It was a clear headshot, but there was no neat little bullet hole in Art’s forehead. It was a Reiberg after all; Arthur no longer had a head.

“Don’t be ridiculous.” Sally said, her face smeared with pieces of Art’s.

Joe looked up from his nails and smiled.

“Why on Earth would you think I can die?” Billy said, though he had no mouth.

(author's commentary)

Sunday 18 July 2010

This is Foolproof

Marco adjusted his goggles. They were now a little less comfortable than before, but it was part of his routine. It was the same before every job; he would check all external volumes were off (not that he ever turned them on); adjust his goggles; check the volume again on (count them off) all four devices; huff into his cupped hands (whether it was cold or not) and then press his palms briefly together in prayer (though none was said).

“You quite done?”

“No sense cursing things ‘fore we’re even begun,” Marco muttered under his breath, casting a dirty glance at Brant.

He didn’t usually take contract work, didn’t like to see how far bonds formed of nothing more than money would stretch before they broke. Anyone who believed in honour among thieves was a fool. Treachery was a dirty word, and one to be wary of. The money was good though, for what was basically a babysitter’s job.

“Superstitious bollocks if y’ask me.”

Brant snarled at his partner, “We didn’t ask you though. Did we?”

“You never do.”

“Look, Mr. Marco here does good work. That’s how come the boss has him with us. Though we’ve never needed help before, the boss doesn’t make bad plans. Foolproof he calls them. That’s how come even you can’t balls them up.”


Marco smirked at the smaller man’s discomfort. He hadn’t even been told his name, Brant had only introduced himself.

“Hey nothing, it’s the truth. Now are we going in or are we just waiting till dawn and security arrives?”

It was only two corridors later they came to Marco’s drop off point. The other two waited while he hacked the access box, then when the compound security data started scrolling across his goggles he grinned.

“The access keys your boss got were good. I’m in their sys now. You run along an’ I’ll let you know if they know. You know?”

“Ain’t never needed a mommy before.”

“Shut it. The boss ain’t screwed up yet, but if he says we take insurance, we take insurance.”

It was a big compound, it would still take the two goons a half hour to get in and out safely, and Marco had never been the patient kind. Not even ten minutes gone and he was looking around the sys. Cautiously, of course. There wasn’t a great deal of security anyway, he could probably have hacked the system easily enough without the keys, but their mysterious boss (he had dealt entirely with Brant) liked to be thorough, minimise risk. Hence employing Marco.

Now did that really ring right? Was the risk of introducing an independent contractor less than the risk of his boys triggering some alarm he didn’t know about? That didn’t seem such a foolproof plan.

Before he could dwell on that too much he noticed his file pull-up was running sticky; like something was enjoying a little time in his goggles’ processor space, something that shouldn’t be. He looked, and it took him far too long to see that something was there. Something that hadn’t been there before he’d hooked into the compound.

It was fascinating, it was building a process in his goggles, the initial insertion, the seed must have been tiny to have gone unnoticed by his firewall, musta rode in on something else, or several something elses. Look at enough different parts of the sys that no one person was supposed to access and the seed reached critical mass and germinated. It was growing fast. Behind the obvious, easy security and the real security hidden behind that was something oh so much subtler.

This was what Brant (or ‘the boss’) had him here for. A ghost of a system, that wasn’t really anything but rumour.

Marco went to tab his mic open to warn the other two. Then he stopped himself. He ripped his goggles off. Whatever the intrusion was, it was growing fast and he had no idea how much time that gave him before it did what it did. He had no idea what that was, he just knew he didn’t want to be in the saddle when it happened.

So ‘the boss’ had never hired someone else before? And the one time he did was the one time something happened? From the floor beside him his goggle set whined and sparked, and then the lenses flashed and blew out in tiny glass slithers.

“Shitting shit!”

If that had still been on his head, if he’d still been looking through those lenses... His ePad suddenly vibrated and he pulled the display out. Just before his goggles committed suicide there had been a sudden spike in wireless comms, and the level was still high. They definitely knew he was here.

Him, but not Brant.

Oh, the plan had been foolproof alright... only he was supposed to be the fool.

Time to prove them wrong.

(author's commentary)

Sunday 11 July 2010

This Crumbling Bastion

He takes the seat by her bed and reaches out to her. His dry fingers trace the contours of her soft skin, trailing down her arm, lingering on her hand. He holds it lightly and looks at her, so perfect.

“I won’t be here forever. I promised I would protect you and look, I am old. I will fail you one day, all too soon.”

His mouth turns down, his eyes narrow ever so slightly and he swallows hard, pushing back the emotion with a single slow blink of his weary eyes. It is still more of that particular emotion than he ever showed her, before...

“I’m sorry.”

He always relied on her to talk, comfortable in his role as listener, occasional commenter. Everything she directed at him was like a flutter of sunlight dappling warmly against the bastion of his thoughts; every smile she evoked was genuine. He hopes he will never forget her voice; at least until that fast approaching moment when there is nothing but what is forgotten.

“I wanted so much to protect you. So selfish really. Where I failed everyone else before you, I so desperately wanted to be nothing but happiness for you, never darkness or sadness or harm. I don’t think I ever told you that.”

He hangs his head, and from there downwards his whole body sags in an inexorable, slow avalanche. He feels his bones moving against each other, feels the familiar twinges and aches as his body settles, wonders when he accepted his deterioration. When he gave up, failed her.

His head nods a little, as if sleep were courting his ponderous thoughts. Then he sighs.

“No. Not today then.”

He gets up slowly, feeling the aches and twinges restringing themselves, stopping before he is fully vertical. He gave up trying to stand up straight years ago, not long after.

After she.


That ache is always the worst. That twinge sharper than the others.

He leaves then, slowly, painfully. He closes the door and looks back in through the glass porthole as he waits for the hiss of the seal to cease, as he always does, until the light clicks off.

(author's commentary)

Sunday 4 July 2010

This Unholy Place

This unholy place is more than superstition. It is not a place where the imaginations of fearful yokels have been spurred on by misty moon-phantoms cast wanly through drifting, shifting cloud; where lightning has thrown shadows leaping and clawing across gravestones; where crepuscular creatures have become the uncomfortable shifting of the restless dead. This place, though it is also eternally shrouded in mist and cast in deep shadow by the valley walls, is hell-touched in ways plain to see.

Hold tight the reigns of your superstitious human mind as you approach, resist the very real sense of dread and the desire to flee, but do not get too close. Stop, and observe, and you will see the hands thrust upwards from the loose soil. Red, gnarled things, unnatural skin taught to the bone. Twisted roots these are not, watch them flex in anticipation, they know you are close. And should some unwary rodent stray too near while you watch you will see it taken, snatched up and torn apart as if in a feeding frenzy, all the nearby hands grabbing for it, snatching it from each other, wanting a piece of warm flesh, hot blood; a piece of the life they are so much a sacrilegious facsimile of.

Deeper into the mists you might think you can see the baleful eyes of some fearful, unknowable beast, watching you, leashed only by its dark savouring of your terror and unfathomable motivations. What stands between its immobility and its thunderous charge through those grasping, hungry limbs? What stops it devouring you, with the sound of your blood slapping against rough stone only hidden by the sharp cracking of your bones shattering between its jagged teeth. Or maybe those eyes really are a trick of the light, some distant gem gleaming in unnatural ways. You would have to go closer to know for sure. If you could. If you would.

But horror surrounds you. So the approaching figure seems wholly inappropriate in this place, in as much as he seems wholly unbothered by it. He fits though, somehow. He has about him a mightiness. Swathed in a dark cloak his power and build are evident even through the concealing cloth; his gait may be casual but it conveys a comfortable strength, a dangerous strength; you could imagine him on the field of battle, calm amidst the slaughter, yet orchestrating the worst of it.

The ghoulish hands still as he approaches, though in apprehension or expectancy it would be hard to say. Do they fear his might or desire to consume it? He steps amongst them and they quiver, then relax, strangely acquiescent. They reach for him, but only to touch his cloak. It seems a sense of reverence has overtaken this place that knows only the irreverence of life and holiness. He takes a step or two more, then pauses, and looks behind himself. At you.

Looking straight into the depths of his hood you can at last see his face, or rather the bleached skull that sits atop his broad shoulders. An icy brightness sits in each eye socket, more piercing than any stare, they are like the pinpoints of stars – burning yet cold, distant yet immediate. There is no desire to flee in you now, there is nothing but a certain sense of your own inevitable doom.

He turns from you and walks on.

You do not feel spared. You know your life is his. You know one day he will claim it.

(author commentary)