Friday 30 December 2011

The Dorothy Delusion - part 5

Previously on The Dorothy Delusion: .1. .2. .3. .4.

The year is 2032. This is the City, centre of world politics.

Leon ended the call. Somewhere deep in Omnet’s systems a hidden program birthed another that edited the record of the call, then ate it, then ate itself. He never used the same number twice and he never went through Omnet’s official channels. He never paid for his calls either, but that was just a fringe benefit.

Dorothy wasn’t thinking straight, delirious; although apparently as capable as ever – she had taken his men down with some speed. So he had set Scarecrow on the job, he just hoped she would still recognise her partner. They were a natural match; it was why he had put them together in the first place.

Years ago, Leon’s career as a field agent reached its natural end and he moved into operational control. He put together a solid core team: his old partner, the Tin Man, brilliant, calculating, tactical, and sometimes difficult to work with for those very reasons. Dorothy, rising star, great mind, great instincts, if impetuous. And Scarecrow, one of the only people to ever beat Dorothy in a straight up fight, reliable and skilled; he had brains, he just didn’t use them a whole lot.

They had been one of the best teams in the business, but the Tin Man had moved up, just as Leon had, and they’d never found a replacement. Leon’s own son, Simon, the Tiger, had seemed a good fit for a while, but Simon had ended up just another casualty in the long war with the General.

A war that should have been over, but seemed to have a few death spasms left yet.

Leon frowned, the older he got the more the past distracted him. So the General’s memory implant was missing. Leon scratched at his scalp. No, he realised, it wasn’t. He cursed.

“The thing about scummy places,” Munchkin said. “Is that they’re full of scum.”

“Our kind of people,” Fingers agreed.

To the west of the City’s redeveloped centre was an area known locally as The Blinds. It came up on planning committee agendas, but was never discussed; surveying inspectors who went there didn’t come back. The police made a very obvious job of going in, not stopping, and leaving as quickly as possible; the unwritten truce: we pretend we’re doing our jobs, you pretend everything is ok. Nothing to see here.

The tower blocks were old, first generation. There weren’t many other places in the City that weren’t built over the memories of that older city, or the villages and towns that had been its suburbs. It was altogether greyer than modern sensibilities allowed for. The original architects’ idea of green space had been a slabbed courtyard with corner bushes. The meagre greenery was all dead now and the slabs were uneven and rattled.

Fingers looked about, smiling nostalgically. He looked as if he was returning to an idyllic childhood home. In some ways, he was.

“Great place to hide, The Blinds.”

The five men looked around, they knew they were being watched, that was the way of this place, it watched you, it watched itself. And you watched it, as soon as you stopped trying to guess where the knife might come from, you were already dead. The neo-gangsters’ faces and dangerous eyes belonged here, their well-fitted suits did not.

“Whadda you see, Eyeballs?”

“Scum. Looking. At us. Violence. Decay. Don’t think she’s in these blocks.”

“Deeper we go, then.” Munchkin waved them on.

“Deeper. Dirtier. Darker. Doomed.”

Munchkin looked sideways at Eyeballs. He had lost his original eyes in a knife fight and the replacements were shiny black orbs with a broader range of function than biological eyes. They made more aesthetically pleasing prosthetics, of course, ones you could barely tell from the real thing, but Eyeballs had come out of the experience changed. He liked them like this; it unsettled people, put them on an even mental footing with him.

Fingers turned to their other two companions and raised an eyebrow.

“Doomed, eh? Us or them, you think?”

The other two – identical twins, down to the scars – looked at each other. Their mother had named them Smith and Jones and it was unclear if they themselves knew who was which.

They replied in unison. “Us and them, we think.”

>goto 6

Friday 23 December 2011

The Dorothy Delusion - part 4

Previously on The Dorothy Delusion: .1. .2. .3.

The year is 2032. This is the City, centre of world politics.

It was dark outside but something had woken her, something out of place. She stilled. A breeze chilled her damp skin, from an open door or window. She knew everything had been shut, locked; some small voice had made her double check, triple check.

In her head she pictured the apartment. Empty of everything but carpet and curtains. A corridor ran straight up the centre from the front door, two rooms on the right, one on the left and the one at the end where she was.

The door to the other bedroom was the only one that made a sound and she heard it creak. There was the slightest quiet shifting of thick, coarse material, the hush of careful feet in heavy boots. Two in the corridor. Maybe just a two man team, but she couldn’t be sure there weren’t more, checking the other rooms. Could be a team watching the window too.

The door to this room was in the middle of the wall. She took up position behind it, they were unlikely to slam it open, too much noise, better to be cautious, take in the room, notice the empty cans from the cheap, rough energy drinks she had been living on. One man entering, one covering.

The door handle turned, the door began to open slowly, smoothly. She ducked low, dancing around the edge of the door, pushing up the intruder’s leading arm, no sense getting shot. Part of her registered that he was unarmed.

She led with a quick, disorienting strike to his chin, then shoulder to his stomach, shoving him. He was big, heavy, but she got a little lift and forced him backwards, throwing him into his partner, knocking them both down. Both unarmed. Don’t delay. A couple of steps and she jumped right, into the spacious living room. Empty.

The block of flats was an H-shape, stairwell in the middle, garden and path in the central gaps. The living room window was on the inside, onto the grassed area, a safer bet than either of the street sides. The window was a sash type; she shoved it up and climbed out.

There was a high wind up and the gusts tugged at her dirty clothes. She was leaning from a helicopter, a dozen helicopters. Men with ugly faces and uglier hearts looked up at her; her men. Had she ever had men? Confused, she saw the intruders in the room, their faces like skulls leering at her. They were shouting something she couldn’t understand through the hallucination.

She was six stories up. She stepped back. Dropped so she was clinging to the ledge by her fingers, then let go. She hit the next ledge down with her forearms, gripping hard concrete, exhaling hard as she slammed her ribs into the building, somehow hanging on.

Scarecrow was towelling himself off when the call came in. It wasn’t a number he recognised. Not so unusual in his business, except it was on his private line. He touched the virtual icon and answered the call.


He recognised the voice on the line.

“Haven’t heard from you in a while.”

“You have?”

“She did?”

“Listen, no, wait, do you have visual on this call?”

Scarecrow knew his apartment was rigged, that was policy. It was in his contract. Full audiovisual. He sat down and pulled a virtual keyboard into his vision. Any onlooking snoops wouldn’t be able to see the keyboard, of course, but they could extrapolate from his finger strokes; he hid himself in the corner, fingers out of sight.

He sent a brief outline of the General’s capture and Dorothy’s subsequent disappearance. His caller probably knew most of it already, he was a resourceful man. But he probably didn’t know the last piece of intel. That the General’s implant was missing, that someone had wiped every misdeed from his conscience, given the monster a very real absolution he most definitely didn’t deserve.

Scarecrow was angry, it should have been the high point of his operational career. But the victory was hollow, stained and soured by Dorothy’s disappearance.

He went back to voice.

“So, what now?”

“Of course.” He grinned, “You don’t work with Dorothy for fifteen years without picking up a few tricks.”

He went into his bedroom. The apartment was searched regularly but he was better than they were, well, Dorothy was. In the wall of the airing cupboard was a hidden cache. He pulled out the gun and pre-paid cards. They knew about the stash, of course. He reached further in, punched through a thin divider and pulled out the device. They didn’t know about the device.

Scarecrow knew exactly where the cameras in his apartment were. He winked at one, held up the device, smiled, and pressed the button. It knocked a temporary block-wide hole in surveillance. It gave him three minutes, he needed no more than two.

Recommended reading:
Name Day by Aidan Fritz. A sumptuous little slice of delirious flash fiction.

Friday 16 December 2011

The Dorothy Delusion - part 3

Previously on The Dorothy Delusion: .1. .2.

The year is 2032. This is the City, centre of world politics.

Scarecrow was in his small apartment, off-duty, waiting for his next assignment. Not that he was expecting one; he knew when he was on suspension, even if they hadn’t explicitly said so.

The apartment was sparsely furnished. The small TV was never turned on; the several bookshelves contained nothing but travel guides. On a single desk in the corner four laptops were set up, all currently blank. To one side was a set of weights, an exercise mat and a heavy duty punch-bag suspended from the ceiling. He didn’t do entertainment. He was always preparing, always prepared. In his head, he was never off-duty.

The root and cause of his current situation was being held in the maximum security prison on the outskirts of the City. He pulled the feed from the cell’s camera into his visual overlay. It popped up to the right of his vision, a picture-in-picture frame. Nothing had changed. He double-checked the timestamp at the bottom right of the image. It was definitely real-time, he was watching live, though it may have well have been yesterday or the day before.

The General just sat there in his prison blues, smiling beatifically, as if he were some angelic choirboy, not a mass-murdering, genocidal psychopath. After years of operations and lost agents they finally had him, but he had one last trick to play: he had no working biological memory, and when they brought their prize in, his implant was missing.

Everyone had implants but for most people it was a more symbiotic relationship. For all intents and purposes, that memory implant was the General. All they had was this blissful idiot.

Scarecrow raked a hand through his messy, straw-blonde hair. He was frustrated. The operation had gone wrong, somewhere. And he had been part of the operation, so until they knew what had gone wrong, he was pulled, stood down. They would be watching him, but it didn’t matter, he didn’t know what to do.

He stepped up to the punch bag and began laying into it. He knew his reputation, the spy with no brain, and now the General had him trumped on that score too. He wasn’t supposed to be the one doing the thinking, that was Dorothy’s job. And now Dorothy was AWOL, another casualty of the operation.

He watched the General’s smiling face and thumped the bag till sweat poured from him and sand scattered the carpet at his feet.

Leon scratched at his scalp; his hair was still in its trademark dreadlocks but they were thinner and only vestigial traces of the old chestnut brown lined the ashen grey.

He hadn’t returned to the Tree House, his base of operations; he might have been drawn out specifically to reveal its location. Besides, this thing would be easier to see through from within the City.

He had the Tin Man’s intel strewn across his retinal display; maps, rumours, possible sightings. He flicked things around with hand gestures, trying to match pieces of the puzzle together.

Dorothy’s projected entry into the City was most reliable piece of information. After the operation that brought in the General, she had been rushed back with severe cranial trauma. But before they arrived at St Mary’s hospital, if reports were accurate, she had broken free, run away. It made no sense.

Everything else was conjecture, ghosts and guesswork. He began chopping the data up and feeding it to his operatives.

“Where are you, girl. What game are you lost in?”

She jerked awake, eyes wide, mouth opening and closing, gasping. Most people would have been screaming after a dream like that but years of honed instinct kept her quiet. What instinct? She couldn’t remember. All she could remember were the bodies, piles of corpses higher than any man, and laughter, a man’s laughter that seemed to be her own.

>goto 4

Friday 9 December 2011

The Dorothy Delusion - part 2

Previously on The Dorothy Delusion: .1.

The year is 2032. This is the City, centre of world politics.

The Siberian looked over the men in front of him. You couldn’t deny their muscle but that wasn’t why he was hiring them. They had a reputation for being smart. Not his kind of smart, there wasn’t a whole lot that approached his kind of smart, but smarter than your average bear. And they knew the City, they worked the City and they didn’t get caught, which was impressive when you knew the City had the biggest urban law enforcement budget in the world, the best tech and the sharpest officers.

These men played at being hoods and gangsters, but with a knowing humour. They were strangely anachronistic in the modern world and he suspected they liked it that way.

The Siberian was a tactician of the highest order. But the problem with brilliantly cunning plans was that you had to count on less brilliant people to execute them. Which was what had gone wrong, which was why he needed these men to help him fix it.

“Gentlemen. Mister Rollins.”

He let that one sit for a second.

Munch growled, his real name was not public knowledge, it afforded his dear mother some protection. But there were no lengths of retribution the Siberian would not go to and he felt that an important fact to establish early on, to curtail anything which might lead to the necessity of such retribution.

“I’ve lost a package, I’m reliably informed it’s somewhere in the City.”

“No offense, Gov, but we’re not the postal service.”

“Ain’t lost and found either,” Fingers added.

“Ah, let me elaborate. This package is about one and a half metres tall, red hair, green eyes, the most delightful freckles. Not quite, ha ha, herself.”

The Siberian produced a photo.

“I need the package alive, but beyond that, well, you’re not the postal service, so I expect you can manage it at least reasonably undamaged.”

There weren’t many people who could draw Leon from his woodland retreat, but one of them was missing, and another had requested a face-to-face, so a compromise was reached and here he was, a wooded park, on the outskirts of the City, uncomfortable territory for both of them. He rubbed his temples. Cities were too sterile, it took too much to disturb them, made it harder to tell when someone was coming. 

His team had arrived early and settled. This tiny pocket of nature had resumed its natural rhythms and the dissonant clamour of the City was muted. He listened. He could hear the bustle of rats in the undergrowth, the patter of squirrels over branches, the rustle of the wind through drying leaves. Autumn was fast approaching.

He turned his hands in front of his face, fascinated by the dusty hue that had crept into his dark skin the past few years, like old chocolate half-remembered and rediscovered; which was not far from how he felt, now. He flexed his fingers, grimly amused at the insidious twinges of pain. For him, Autumn was already here.

The bird chatter changed, panic, a blackbird’s warning cry. Leon heard tread, a twig snapping. He didn’t need the whisper of his perimeter guard to know they had company. The guard attached video, but he didn’t open it.

“Still jumpy, Lion?”

A thin figure, impeccably dressed, entered the clearing and stood beside the chair opposite Leon’s. He wore a grey, tailored suit, so well cut most people wouldn’t have realised there was a small pistol holstered beneath; his head was shaved close to the skull but you could see his hair had gone silver; he was wearing wire-rimmed glasses and he supported himself on a thin cane. In the old days Leon would never have heard him coming.

“You get rusty, Tin Man?”

The cane was new. It might have been a concession to age or, knowing him, it might equally have been for show, camouflage. The glasses were old, and they were camouflage too, or maybe he needed them now. Leon thought it more likely he wore contacts and kept the glasses as a prop.

Leon rose and they shook hands, then settled into the chairs and considered each other.

The Tin Man’s voice was thin but not frail, never frail. “Dorothy is here, in the City.”

“That can’t be the good news it seems. Or you wouldn’t have called me.”

“We don’t know where in the City. And you have the resources here, the man power, the connections you have always hidden behind.”

Leon didn't rise to the bait. He was alive, and older than most people in this business, because he didn’t put himself at risk.

“OK. You know I’ll help. So why meet in person, why risk both our exposure?”

“The game is changing, Lion. You’re too removed these days to feel it. Maybe I needed some reassurance that you haven’t changed, too much can be hidden behind electronics.”

Half the truth, Leon thought. The Tin Man was too calculating for that to be the only angle; too heartless to be that sentimental. And that made Leon worry.

There was one whole truth in what the Tin Man had said though: Leon was too removed from the board. The game had definitely changed.

> goto 3

+ + +
I would normally use stars to separate story from my ramblings, but I'm already using stars so...
I'm going to recommend a couple more non-space-based SF serials.

The Vagrant by Pete Newman (part 1 here)
Kind of Lone Wolf and Cub meets Lords of Light, post-some-apocalypse. Shaping up to be something quite astounding.

Dusk by me and three other writers. (part 1 here)
Chaotic, post-apocalyptic collaborative writing. A broken reflection of a fallen civilisation; the twilight years of mankind.

Friday 2 December 2011

The Dorothy Delusion - part 1

The year is 2032. This is the City, centre of world politics.

She hadn’t slept in four days. The floor of the room was littered with cans of energy drink, all empty; she held the last in her hands and they were shaking too much for her to open it. She would have to move on, whoever owned this place might come looking, whoever was after her might come looking.

Whoever was after her... She should know that, but everything was confusing, conflicting. Her head hurt, inside and out.

Sleep was the enemy. Sleep was full of horrible things, nightmares like memories, impossible imagery. There were other enemies, but sleep was the hardest to keep at bay. The longer she evaded it, the closer it got, until it crept into her vision unbidden, with dirty hallucinations and blood-slick visions.

Her eyelids fluttered as she slid sideways a little and jerked back. The room twitched, the green-grey carpet became a muddy field strewn with corpses, their lifeless eyes gaping upwards, bile and blood and mud mixed across their faces like some demonic child’s colouring book, with no regard for the lines.

She slapped herself, hard, twice.

“Stay awake, stay awake, stay a-fucking-wake.”

She had to figure it out. That was what she did, right?

The room swam, darkness coiled about the sides of her vision. Why would the dead not leave her alone? Why had she killed so many? Didn’t she stop that kind of thing? Wasn’t that her job? Was it? She couldn’t even remember her name.

She felt paralysed, unable to move more than a shudder as dead things snuggled up to her. A skeletal arm curled across her waist, tattered edges of greening meat hanging from it like ragged clothes. A rib cage pressed against her for comfort and warmth. A skull settled beside her head, facing her, chattering cold nothings into her ear.

The General stared blankly at his cell wall. He was a model prisoner, he never made a fuss, he never did much of anything, just smiled his infuriating, oblivious smile.

Beneath a bright strip light in the warehouse district four heavyset men waited while a fifth, bigger man buzzed the intercom. The problem with modern technology, they often agreed, was that it made the night too bright. They liked the old movies, where this same scene would have taken place beneath a blinking, yellow lamp, the flickering glow caught on wreaths of cigarette smoke.

None of these men were smoking, not here, on a public street where they might draw the unwanted attention of the law.

They were thugs, men of violence, and they would have revelled in fitting the old stereotype; they would happily have worn it like a badge of office, but for the fact it might impede their job in unnecessary ways. They liked efficiency. For example, why carry a weapon when your fists can do the job; there’s never been a law against fists.

“Who’s this keeping us waiting, Munch?”

Munch, short for Munchkin, was the absurdly large man at the buzzer. He knew better than to buzz twice and it was insight, not his size, that put him in charge. He had heard of the man they were meeting, and he knew impatience on their part would do nothing to ingratiate them.

“They call him the Siberian.”

“I hate Russians.”

“I don’t think he’s actually from Siberia, Fingers.”

Fingers’ main topic of conversation was usually what to do were someone to find themselves in an interrogating situation, and where might be the best place to start.

“So why call him that?”

“Why call me Munchkin? It’s supposed to be ironic, ain’t it. On account of the Siberian landscape being so icy, snowy, and generally white and him being so–”

The door opened, a man’s eyes glinted dangerously from the shadows within.

“Warm.” Said a voice that wasn’t. “You were going to say ‘warm’, weren’t you?”

> goto 2