Short Story: His Comet

She leapt at him from behind as he strolled through the square, took him by surprise.

In retrospect, a bad idea when he hadn’t seen her in over a decade. Leaping randomly onto the back of one unaware should’ve advised her against doing so. But she’d never been the brightest bulb in the bunch, just a wild-card.

The wildest of wild-cards at that. A free-spirit, untamed to a fault, that ultimately forced them apart. Brought together again by Tianna’s frame, launched with the force of stupidity, they were quickly parted again– mostly, by Evan’s fall-down back-drop, executed on instinct (Not the calmest bull in the pasture was he.)

The next thing either knew was a giggling yelp; Evan’s sudden terror. It was her. He knew it like he knew his face in the mirror. Her voice, all its variants; coded into his brain as only someone who’d spent years putting it there, bakedin by every moment of mutually-burnt, midnight oil.

All that time together. Years. Years more since. Yet even now he rippled the same mix of emotion and memory. Evan’s mind and body flitted with images, feelings; love, pain, euphoria, joy, sorrow. He recalled every laugh. Every tear. Every shout and cry. Every kiss, touch; everything.

And all of it in a nano-second.

Whether she did too, he couldn’t say. He was certain she’d felt the back-drop. The giggling “oofs” slipping out said so.He scrambled up, staring down at the mass gasping pain and giggles. He thought to offer help as she clutched her stomach, remembered their sex being rougher.

So instead, he stared, bewildered. “Tia?”

She splayed her arms and legs out, breathing relief. In that instant, he took in time’s effects– or lack thereof. Only after he offered her a hand, and she sprang up more spryly than a teenager in heat, did he understand that little had changed.

Any hope that might’ve imparted was balanced to indifference by the drug use under her eyes.

Somehow, they only added to her appearance. The freedom of spirit, it seemed to Evan, balanced anything. Her vibrant mane and doughy, spring-bark eyes remained vital as ever, no matter what lined or hung beneath them.

“Surprised?” She snickered with a sarcastic-coyness.

His eyes narrowed habitually; time had done that. Made him shrewd. Uncompromising. Almost tyrannical in mind. Unlike her, he’d been forced to grow up, forced to become an adult, composed of self-control, occasional cynicism, and ever-waning time.

She needed none of those things. Spirit alone kept her malleable. She took things as they came, had no need to change. It was the mixed blessing of evolution. The simplest organisms survived, but at the cost of the complexity required by the more intelligent ones.

Part of that simplicity had attracted him, and vice-versa. Evan’s complexity was new, interesting. Something Tia had never known. The fact they’d lasted so long before was more a wonder of the couple’s own, lasting ignorance. Their eventual end and how it came was a matter Evan had often recalled. It was at the forefront in his mind now, though he doubted she’d recognize it.

Ultimately,someone like her was an unstoppable force. One of nature, spirit. She was a comet; bound to a solar gravity that kept her rarely insight, but always mesmerizing, awe-inspiring; beautiful.Even if she orbited for eons though, she would slowly erode; never not beautiful or full of wonder, but far from immortal and always ending.

Evan wasn’t so lucky. He was human. Like them, had his caveats, flaws.Their own end proved as much.

He’d spent months of trying to clean up, had long abandoned their lifestyle for forward momentum. Each day became a struggle to grip life despite vices, flaws, mistakes, hopes to change them for the better. Tiawasn’t changing though.

She didn’t want to. In a way, didn’t need to. Life was great for her, especially by her metrics.

To him, then, she was full of shit. He couldn’t have understood the division between humans and the forces of nature she was. Even if he recognized it then, there was no way to understand it yet. That required time, wisdom. Neither of which he’d had much of then.

It was only after coming home, finding her passed out, needled and powdered, that he left. He remembered double-checking her vitals for O-D, rolling her on her side, and grabbing what he needed quietly to live with. In the end, he left with a single pack.

She kept what she wanted, sold the rest for drug-money.

She hadn’t O-D’d, just nodded off. In fact, he wasn’t even angry when he arrived him. It was nothing abnormal for their life. It was the same life they’d lived for years. Still, his only lasting regret was that the spirit he so loved was its own worst enemy. That was not a failing of his own, he knew now.

Then, he’d simply left, confused and alone….

The memories rushed past; he saw no track-marks on her sleeveless arms, exhaled slight relief. She caught it, tried to eye him. He evaded, already checking his watch.

“Not surprised, Tee. Somehow. But what’re you doing here?”

She bounced on the balls of her feet, “Just hanging. You?”

“Lunch meeting.”

She snickered. “Big businessman now. Forgot.”

He didn’t bother asking; word got around. “Meeting an Agent. She wants me to write an autobiography.”

Tia rolled her eyes, pulled at his arm and linked it with hers. She marched them toward a near-edge of the Square. “Buy me a coffee.”

“Tee–”

“Can’t spare half-hour for an old girlfriend?” She joked, dragging him along.

He relented with a sigh, allowed her to lead him across a street and into a cafe. Minutes later they were out again, caffeinated drinks in-hand. Tia ambled, arm-linked, as her brow rose playfully. He knew her too well.

“So your agent–”

“Is just an agent.”

Her sarcastic defensiveness returned. “Just curious.”

He strained syllables, “Sure. And if I asked you?”

“I’d say I don’t care, so long as they’re fun– naked or not.”

“Typical.”

“When’d you get so stiff?” She asked with a harmless elbow.

He thought to snap, sighed instead. “Sorry. Caught me off guard, that’s all.”

“That bad huh?”

“Don’t even know.” He angled them toward an apartment building, unlocked it with a key, and led her to an elevator. “I’m not a self-writer, Tee. I’m not even sure I’m a writer.”

“Oh listen to you, Mr. Opportunity, angry at the knocking on his door.” He scowled. The elevator arrived. She led him in. “Which floor.”

“Seven.”

They rode up in silence; Tianna was in her own world. Evan replayed his conversation with Marlene: Autobiographies were the rage. Of course she wanted one. And of course from him. Never mind having nothing interesting to say about himself, he didn’t want to write one. Period.

Biographies, auto or not, were self-indulgent, over-long masturbation sessions about oneself or their heroes. Certainly, they had their place, but they were also a tacit admission that the subject had peaked.

That, in and of itself, would keep him away from one. The sooner you accepted you’d peaked– and stopped trying to achieveto do so– the sooner you started stagnating. Every creative knew stagnation was a creative’s death-sentence, their malignant cancer cells. The idea was to stave it off, in sessions, seasons, projects. Always. Indefinitely. Until you died trying to keep it up.

Not sitting and wallowing over what you’d already done.

Tia tore him away again, “Serious thoughts abound.”

He sighed and motioned her to the first apartment on the left. He led them into a modest, one-room apartment, furnished with warm woods and cheap furniture. The place was lived-in but clean; an effect of being too work-focused and economical to afford or gather much. The only thing resembling clutter outside his desk were a few food wrappers from lunch on the coffee-table.

She sat beside him on his cheap, creaking couch and finally began to discuss herself. Everything nondescript. Stories of “friends” laughing about “things,” or vents and rants about others. Nothing solid. Nothing of substance, but enough to pass the time and fill the air.

Tianna had always spoken of her life as if describing distant dreams. Ones experienced while in others. That, he felt, was Tia’s essence. Her life was a dream in a dream; Too real to be fully-illusory, too illusory to be fully-reality.

It was a manifestation of the pure wildness of her energy. There was no way to change or control it. You rode or dealt with it, that was it. Much like a tribal free from society’s laws, so too were they without its advances and progress.

Before either knew it, the sun had set taking the afternoon and turning it to evening. Tia had managedto creep over, rest her headhis shoulder. He allowed it, too enveloped in his own thoughts to feel anything beyond allowance, pressure. He let it continue after something in him began to resonate; something so deep only she could reach it.

Evan had loved her. Had spent years with her. He’d intended to spend more,but woke up one too-many timesin a pool of his own shame and grief. Even afterward, he hoped to find her beside him. She was his first and only love.

Then, his worst and deepest loss.

It was never leaving that hurt.Even now, he wouldn’t have hesitated. It was the needing something, deep down, from someone whom didn’t really need you. Something deep inside him needed her even now.Just as bad as the day he’d left, every day before that.

No matter the women before or since, none were her. None were a comet. His Comet; an indescribable, undeniable force of nature and spirit winging along solar tides.

He glanced down to find her fresh-bark eyes looking up. They came closer.

The night passed with few words, but unassailable, unbridled feeling. It was morning before her solar gravity released him and his senses returned.

He lay then in bed, half-awake. Clothing rustled nearby. She would be leaving this time. He felt it, asked anyway.

“You’re going?”

She smiled over a shoulder-blade of resplendent inks. “You think I’d ruin last night by staying?”

He winced, feeling pain cut deep as the love the night before. She slipped her shirt on, crawled up the bed, and kissed him deep. When she pulled away, their eyes met.

For an instant, the free-spirit faltered. It was as if, all along, she’d known his thoughts. Not just now, but always. Past and present, she known them as if her own. All of them.

“I have to.”

He suppressed grief, muttered, “You don’t.”

She rose, softening playfully, “I do, Evan.” Her facade returned, “Besides, you’ve gotta’ book to start. Put in a chapter about me.” She grabbed her things and smiled bitter-sweetly. “This was fun. Maybe we’ll do it again.”

She left without another word.He let her. It was easier. For both of them.

An hour later, still in the grieving throes of her departure, he sat to work. The text document stared, begging for words. Half an hour passed before he began with two words: My Comet.”

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Hard Lessons: Pt. 5

5.

Getting Sentimental?

Crystal moved about, stuffing a duffel bag full of clothing and other items she’d need. Beside it, a black Molle pack bulged with sensitive gear and armaments, save the pistol eternally in arm’s reach.

Presently, its ballistic nylon just hung beside her button-fly, nestled between cotton and denim with the Baby Deagle’s familiar weight. Comfortable. Secure. Like her armored riding-leathers, a manifestation of continual discipline and preparation. Doing it felt good, especially when she could afford to. Turning a street-rat into a thief always made a certain sense.

Usually anyhow.

Now, she felt awkward, as if running. As if the job was just a convenient excuse. A knock rounded her at the door, Arthur stepped in and closed it at a nod.

“Leaving tonight?” She grunted non-committally. He grunted assent. “Jus’ take care’a yourself, kid. Hate to see something happen to you.”

She managed a smile, “Getting sentimental with age?”

The slack-lines of his face tightened. “Won’t be ’round to save yer ass forever. Stay outta trouble.”

“No promises.” She returned to her bags. “I sense that isn’t the only reason you’re here.”

He cleared his throat with a step forward, “I heard what happened earlier.”

“You mean the pathetic garden snake he is showing his fangs? I expected as much.” She didn’t bother to look, stepped to a desk, dug through it. “Where don’t you have surveillance gear?”

He firmly dodged the question. “Be careful with him, Crystal.”

You be careful with him, Arthur,” she corrected. “I’m leaving.”

His voice stiffened further. The caustic sound caused her to meet his gaze. “I received a care package. Everything on Lucas Dale. Known aliases– many of them.”

She hesitated, rationalizing, “And?”

“He’s not to be underestimated.”

“You have more than a hunch.”

He remained firm, “He’s been in every lock-up along the West coast. From Imperial to Seattle. Mostly petty theft.”

“He’s a drifter burning credit.”

“His or an aliases, yes.”

Crystal knew the con. It worked, but never forever. It was a hold over from the era of real criminal organizations. The kind smuggling cargo by ship-fulls into the ports, leaving trails of bribes along their way. The type to play the game by the rules, so long as they knew how to skirt them.

Not the wannabes that were wantonly bribing politicians for new laws, new rules, trying to tailor the game to their greed. The bottom line was, even those original gangster knew the game worked because everyone needed each other. That was why they could work the subtlety needed, that was the field of play, and those were the rules,

The original Gangsters to burn credit along the coasts, were working to get startup capitol. They later became industry players, selling of names and logos at massive fortunes without blinking. IN the end, the logo may’ve been a billion years old, it was the family– the people– behind it, that mattered.

By the time the creditors finally pissed enough to come looking, arrived, they were paid off with interest for the trouble. Not all of ’em came looking though. Not all cared or needed. That just made the Gangsters happier.

But the con wasn’t allowed to go nowhere. That was how you ended up with schemes and laws named after you.

You could con, but not for the sake of conning alone. It had to be going somewhere. If you weren’t going somewhere, you couldn’t confuse the mark with your movement. The fact was though, no matter how good you were, the longer between burn and profit, the worse off when the creditors finally came calling.

The idea was to toss money at them, just like everyone else. That way, they think you’re just getting to them in line. When in reality, you’re waiting, seeing if you can get away with keeping it, or if they really did expect it back.

Crystal’d seen a few public corp-deals use the tactics with different language. Recently. The con was alive and well. Most of it was sound, functional. Then again, the criminal dumb enough to try it alone would never learn why not before it was too late.

So, Lucas.

Crystal couldn’t help the smug validation, focused instead on Arthur’s warning. Angela’s capture had taught her the old man’s intel was always good.

But like Angela’s capture, Lucas’ burnt credit could come back to bite them– even if they didn’t want him around. Nothing short of a change in blood allowed for it. If the issue were colder, darker, a severed link could let come what may, never involving them. After all, families were often composed of strangers.

But Crystal knew Angela, their friendship. She’d been there every step of the way since they’d met. Lucas hadn’t. Now, acting as if he had been, beyond her personal slight in the issue, was attempting to pull wool. Her predatory features flashed, then hardened to match Arthur’s.

“What else?”

“Petty mostly. DUIs. Long list. Quiet a year or so. No trail ’til he showed up.”

“Underground.” He nodded.

In the shadows. The same shadows she and Angela lived. She winced. If he’d been off the grid that long, not in jail, he was either clean or–

She spoke it aloud, “He’s in deep. With something.”

Arthur nodded, “He didn’t just run into you two.”

“Think someone’s after him– us?

He gave a single, firm shake, “No. More’n likely sheltering himself. He’ll try to poke his head out. We’ll confirm something then or not.”

She shifted her weight, crossed her arms. “An actual hunch this time?”

Arthur nodded, “Drugs.” Crystal’s brow rose. “Mental-deficients could see the guy’s a user. Binge-type. Drink’s just’a stop gap ‘til he’s carrying again. My guess, better be soon.”

“You think he’ll try ripping us off.”

One of Arthur’s eyes narrowed, “Try to.” He glanced past a corner, eyed the hall beyond, “I put a palm lock on the Gym. Keyed to your HUDs. Work like RayFIDs. Can’t get in. Doesn’t matter though. Damage is already done.”

She tried to ferret out his subtext, couldn’t.

“Garage.”

A toon’s ton of bricks, minus all the potential amusement, tumbled down upon her at once. Panic hit. Angela’s garage– their garage. Millions of creds worth of automobiles. In plain sight. Most custom. All immaculate. Crystal conservatively estimated eight million after armor and tuning.

And aside from the few biometrics installed on their bikes, nothing would keep Lucas from taking the keys and dropping it at a chopper. Worse, if he dropped it at the wrong one, it could bring heat. Crystal had to bank on Lucas being too proud enough not to rip off his own sister.

She wasn’t holding her breath.

Any further chance for hope was buried by fresh reality. Whether or not Lucas knew when he’d found her, he knew now; Angela had money. Worse,was the minor subtext both Arthur had discerned. If Lucas was into drugs, he was into the drug trade.Meaning he’d likely skipped town after burning credit with dealers.

In other words, until it was necessary to leave to survive.

In simplest terms, Lucas was a failed, petty thief; a con-artist hiding from dealers, hoping to magically recoup piling losses before someone caught or killed him.

Angela needed to know. She wouldn’t yet. She’d been too befuddled. That, Crystal knew, was the source of her uneasiness. Angela always had a plan, a back-up plan, some ability to improvise; some route whose clairvoyance was always in reserve. Even if it took a retreat, regroup, she always had a way through, because she was always clear-headed, business-like.

But this wasn’t a job.

It was her brother, the same type of clouding to her judgment therein, that had occurred with Caruso; intimacy. Then it was Julia, her former mentor, lover. Julia’s murder, Angela’s own escape, and a later theft, brought it on then.

Now, it could be Lucas. Same barrel, different trigger.

The last time Angela hadn’t thought clearly, she’d been kidnapped and tortured. The acts might only be against her brother this time, but could wound her all the same. Neither Crystal nor Arthur could allow it. More than that, they wouldn’t. Regardless of how, it needed to be handled.

“We ‘ave to talk to her,” Arthur said finally.

“No. I do.” The old man grunted. “We play this properly. I fail to make her see things, you can. Ganging up guarantees failure. Freeze all but the funnels. After the Tong job, there should be a liquid, few thousand creds here. Enough to hold us over. All of us. By the time this next job’s done, we’ll know how to proceed.”

“Why’m I freezing the accounts?” He requested for Angela’s future benefit.

“Security. A possible situation you’re monitoring. Don’t lie. Don’t bullshit. But don’t address it if you don’t have to. Take it all if she wants, but keep in mind the ceiling yourself. The creds themselves are safer in limbo if there is a breach.

“Meanwhile, I’ll be on Curie’s expense account. Prep to ration, too, just in case.”

He considered her earlier sentiments, “This means were involved now.”

“Yes,” she agreed. “But Lucas brought heat. She knows security risks must be monitored, regardless. Given our suspicions, it’s not unfair, even if she’s unwilling to see it that way yet.”

Another knock sounded, as if on some invisible cue. Crystal beckoned Angela in.

Arthur hobbled past, “Take care of yourself, kid. Hate to see somethin’ happen to you.”

“Getting sentimental?”

He grunted evasively, hobbled out.

Angela leaned against Crystal’s desk, uncertain of what to say. She began in the obvious place.

“How long’s Titus need you?”

“Week at most.” She stuffed the last of her gear into bags, zipped them shut. “You?”

“Job’s a go as planned.”

The silence settled into frankness. “Angela, I know you don’t want to hear it, but you’re like a sister. You’ve done more for me than anyone should, so hat I is from love and respect.”

“Lucas,” she guessed. “He hit on you?”

She hesitated, “Yes, but that’s not what’s bothering me. I can take that. This is more.”

Angela’s guard rose. Remnants of sibling defense manifesting in stiff corners of the mouth; a white grip on one hand, the other crossed beneath it. The kind of things so subtle only software could catch it, yet so engraved in Human DNA, software wasn’t necessary.

Crystal caught it faster than a HUD ever could, ever would.

“I know he’s your brother, so I’ll only say this; I’m concerned. For you and our friendship.”

Bile churned in Angela’s gut. Crystal’s fury perched on her tongue, tightening the subtle lines near her mouth, formed from the decade of accompanying her isolation, street-living. It met Angela’s bile, held it level.

Crystal was pleased, “I’m leaving. I don’t want to fight with you.”

“Why bring it up?”

It was a fair question. She could have just as easily left it, festering or not.

“To remind you what you know. Blood or not, you owe Lucas nothing.”

“How would you know?”

Another fair question. Crystal had no family to speak of.

“I know you, Angela,” she countered with equal fairness. “You trained me. Taught me to trust my instincts. They’re telling me something’s off. I trust you. You trust me. “

Angel softened slightly, silent. She deflated enough for Crystal to focus. Only facts. No posturing.”Your shock’s blinded you to the fact that he’s found you. Against all odds. Now, he knows we have money. Connections.”

If Angela questioned Crystal’s sincerity, there was no sign of it. She was quiet, still.

She replied slowly. “I’ll think about what you’ve said. But how I handle this situation is none of your business otherwise.”

Crystal respectfully corrected her, “So long as you do not live alone, it is more than your business. It becomes my others’ business when you allow them in.”

Angela assented with a nod.

Crystal finished packing and made to leave, “All I’m saying is, keep him checked, Angela. For all our sake’s. His too.”

They parted with little more than a tacit agreement. Crystal snatched her helmet off the handle bar, then made for her rendezvous with Titus. She hadn’t seen Lucas again, but she would. Somehow she knew it. At least she was getting away for a few days, if only to let come what may.

At least someone wasn’t too sentimental yet.

Poetry-Thing Thursday: Lines in Space

Sit with me a moment, child,
for my bones are old and numb,
my gums at-rot from rum,
and my dreams are all long gone.

Sit with me and listen,
for I’ve seen the rising sun,
felt the barrels of life’s gun,
and tallied my last sum.

Lean close and let me whisper,
my tale’s a fading ember,
born of blood and timber,
that’s uttered in a whimper,

For you see it is no secret,
that magick, love, and regret,
come in equal measure,
leave one a little lesser.

But at our end we’re equal,
evened by death’s steeple,
no matter our home-people.
we live and die, good or evil.

So sit with me a moment, child,
and prepare to take my place,
for my time has come and gone,
leaving only lines in space.

Short Story: Birth of a Tyrant

Unlike the giants of and before its time, spawned of boardroom wars and the reverse cell-division of elderly mergers, Arc Systems started in a garage with two key-jocks. Theirs was the same rags to riches tale as their one-day benefactor Cameron Mobility. A tale more rare by the day. In an era where days were already far shorter.

Night was taking over. Not true night, but night all the same. That perma-twilight hailing the realities of Sprawl living, its police-state of corp control, currency, and finally, collapse. Long before Augs and their struggle, their coder-fathers were dreaming big.

They had to be. They’d conquered the planet. Where else was there to go but parts beyond?

Countless, open-platform and proprietary systems; OS, informatics, GUIs both human and automated– all software coded for so-called next gen tech, meant to revolutionize the industry. It never did, of course, but that didn’t change that modules, portions, or whole programs of Arc’s code were running all over the world.

In short, brothers Hank and Allan Womack, were software geniuses well-placed to make change. More than Hackers, they were virtuosos. Their code backed a million computers and security systems, globally. They’d cornered market share on corporate sector when it mattered most; long before anyone else.

In their case, before anyone realized the extreme importance of software security to begin with.

Arc and the brothers were simply waiting for their opportunity, their opening. When it came, they grappled with both hands, wrestling it into submission.

An old schoolmate had seen Allan on a vacation-trip to town. Over beers, he and Allan spoke of work. Thomas Marin, former Marin Medtek CEO and now major share-holder and partner with Cameron Mobility, spoke vaguely of designing “next-gen” prosthetics.

Apprehensive but enthralled, Allan agreed to a preliminary meeting.

Truth was, everything was “next-gen” in those days. It was a buzz-word. Used by people who didn’t understand a generation was just the gap between eras. There was nothing noteworthy in the design, apart from revelations of the speaker’s ignorance.

Allan knew Thomas though. He’d never spoken in hypotheticals, was far too intelligent to be ignorant of his own implications. If he truly believed it a wave of the future, it damned well would be.

Or, at least, could be.

Thomas and his employer needed software. Good software. Cameron couldn’t risk their in-house teams knowing or screwing up the code. They wouldn’t have the chops, anyhow. They were GUI programmers, less than hobbyists in comparison to specialist virtuosos like the Womacks– Arc.

That meant outsourcing the designs, ensuring against information leaks, potential saboteurs. The best way was NDAs; small firms, a whole helluva lot of money on the line. In the end, the brothers saw no logical reasons not to pursue the contract.

Decades later, they’d remember Thomas’ arrival with the on-call Cameron Mobility Lawyer. The pair strolled into their new, strip-mall location, sat down at the six-person conference table, rented just for the occasion. There they remained…

For all of fifteen minutes.

The lawyer’s eyes said he didn’t know such squalor could exist, let alone spawn business. Hank was testy. Allan saw it in his eyes. From then on, he did the talking. Hank added only a few words for things he’d forgotten.

Intros and NDAs aside, they outlined the project’s particulars: Arc Systems would receive prototype prosthetics and comprehensive instructions on use, purpose, ability. Then, beneath corporate oversight, Arc would program them to specification regardless of time required.

Money was no object either, the brothers were assured, but the prototypes were irreplaceable. In addition, Thomas would act as liaison; the corporate oversight and link between companies, present at all meetings and often enough in the office to verify work was being done.

The Womacks received an advance, torn from a corporate check-book. The lawyer held it to himself thereafter like an undertaker his mortician’s log. Reading out zeroes but incapable of much else otherwise, the brothers Womack, Marin, and the wage-slave parted.

The rest is history. Arc Systems received the prototypes and set to work, eventually revolutionizing the prosthetic industry by forming the basis of something much larger, grander. Few innovations have had the lasting effects of Arc’s.

Even Cameron Mobility, on the cusp of every advance in prosthesis since the 1950’s, had admitted they were out of their element. Hiring the Womack’s meant bringing people skilled in tech. The same people giants and Titans of industry refused to allow pre-digital kids access to.

Ones like the Womacks, whose expertise was now invaluable, begrudgingly needed.

That collision of worlds had been long approaching, but it gave birth to bionics, Augs, everything after. Optics and mental control, though still in concept stages, existed then too. Controlled by tiny, photo-reflective rings, wire receivers, or headband-interfaces– the bases of all, optic, aural, and HUD-based controls.

The first wave of augments were designed, completed, tested. The eventual, human subjects to were merely the first prototypes of a species’ post-evolutionary dreams. Before the phenomena, the endless ethics arguments, the corporate-take over and catalysts that lead it– and the greatest mass-conflict in history…

Until then, the corporation was the future.

Arc Systems learned it first-hand, growing tenfold in its first year. By the fifth, when its contract with Cameron Mobility was finally completed, they were on-par with the Med-Tek giant. Equals, as much as two Colossi could be when not at one another’s throats.

Partnering not long after allowed the Womacks to buy out.

Selling the name was easy. In the end, it was the people that mattered. Though neither cared to anymore, nor needed to, either could have made a living working alone on hobby-projects.

Nonetheless, the two-sided blade severed something deeper, more important.

In their quest to gouge themselves on the new, black gold of trans-human and elective augments, the corporation became a monster. Each one, in its own way, contributed to the Paris Incident. Yet equally, had the brothers not contributed to the corps, history would not remember either.

The past, like the inevitability of one’s moving further from it, cannot be changed. The Giant’s birth that was Arc Systems, would one day prove more sinister than anyone could have anticipated. It would prove it was not just another giant born, but another tyrant, too.

Hard Lessons: Pt 4

4.

Details, Baby. Details.

Titus eased into a booth before Crystal, clearly out of his element. The diner was in one of the dingier parts of town. The pair might’ve stuck out were Crystal not so frequent a sight of the place. Its retro 50’s style was long embedded in her heart, and despite the grime and muck– or perhaps because of it, the place felt like home.

Besides, even in her darkest hour they’d never thrown her out. So long as she could scrape enough change for a cup of coffee a day, and she didn’t disturb anyone, she could stay in, keep warm. Were it not for that, and a single conversation, Crystal’s life would consist of scraping muck for sustenance…

If she lived at all.

Nowadays, she met contacts here for that reason. She was giving back more than enough, infinitely more than what they’d given because they deserved it for giving at all. In the process, she ensured no-one there breathed a word of ill against her, no matter the circumstance.

It allowed her and and Titus to discuss details in the vague way so-called criminals do, publicly.

“That’s our stake.”

He slid an SD card over with a sleight of hand, lifted his coffee to drink.

She slotted it in a tablet, HUD in public-mode as she twiddled her thumbs and waited to fit in. For all anyone knew, she was checking emails. Titus’ tone encrypted his meaning; they might’ve been planning a party for an old friend.

In a way, they were.

Crystal contained a smile to continue the bluff, let the tablet rest as if reading. She focused on the foreground of her HUD, strings of data here and there, informatics, readings. Then, a series of photos filled her vision:

An empty, rundown street. Industrial. Corroded. Seaside across town. The place was newer, considerably smaller than usual. The prominent target, a former fish-packing plant.

She knew the locale; knew every warehouse there had been out of use a decade or so by all but occasional dealers. It was also near the water, which meant dingy, shit-smelling lofts and salt-corroded steel to scope the place.

She loathed jobs like this, but they paid right. She especially hated inevitably ending up smelling like fish days afterward– or any of the other industrial gifts left in Jackstaff’s many former-quays and fisheries.

At least she and Titus would suffer equally. He was far too refined to enjoy the place, but even he knew a job was a job.

She sighed, mentally sifting images to get a lay of the land; streets, loading docks, alleys. All empty. Their lengthened neglect was evidenced in trash and debris caught in their narrow wind-tunnels. Only living photographs might capture their entrapped eternities. Ever-spinning. Never-moving.

The tragedy was repeated on and through the whole, claustrophobic area via the light of a Hong Kong ghetto; low-lit with aged incandescence and the sheen of near-constant wetness oozing from the sea-air, rain or shine.

Altogether, an average, industrial image of a coastal fishing city sans one thing; people.

The target was different. Lit differently, more fluorescent. The bulbs were newer, conforming to codes or else looking right only at specific distances.

The differences were subtle, meant to be missed as pieces, but obvious and numerous otherwise. After seeing it that way, the building looked out of place; an art decco server-farm in northern wilderness. Stylistically fitting, but thematically off.

“Hidden,” Crystal said absently.

“Mmm,” Titus replied, sipping coffee. His tongue wished to recoil, but he held it firm. “Old friend’s place. Goes by once a month.”

She pushed and arranged images with her eyes to better fill the area’s blue-print. The tech caught on, instantly rearranged the photos properly.

“Storage?” Crystal mused.

“Near as I can tell.”

She played a vid; high angle images of a middle-aged man with olive skin in rain. Drone footage, Crystal guessed. Titus was good with tech; always knew the hottest gear. Usually, its designers too.

The mark emerged left-of-frame, crossed wet grounds. A tailored two-piece betrayed obvious wealth, putting him supremely out of place despite the emptiness.

“Done your homework,” Crystal said.

Titus let out a laugh.

The olive-skinned man approached a side-door. The tens tightened into two-second increments. Stills embedded in the film at each zoom. This stop-motion way allowed Crystal to observed the man approach a seemingly random section of warehouse wall and turn to face it. Frame-by-frame, flew at insane speed into filmstrips of stills faster than normal vid.

The man pressed a hand at a section of the warehouse’s sheet-metal wall. The narrow alley suddenly glowed with growing light. Nearby street sank, slid away, just wide enough for a small staircase. The man entered. It slid shut again.

“Feels familiar,” Crystal admitted, thinking of Angela’s garage.

“Same designer.”

“Friend of yours.”

He gave a casual nod, continued, “Problem’s the lock. Like your bike. Hand. Eye.”

She winced: biometrics were notoriously difficult to crack. Most common among wealthier, less-legally inclined folks and paranoid governments, there still weren’t many bypass measures. Some needed retinal scans. DNA. Voice-print. In any and every order. Usually with secondaries, key-codes, passphrases, print-scanners.

Cracking a biometric was a job in itself.

Most could be bypassed with enough, proper interaction with the mark; high-res 3D HUD scan converted to bypass a retinal scanner; conversation mined by aural implants for vocal phonemes; even prints or DNA lifted or taken with minimal interaction and proper tech.

Combining any of a number of them raised the difficulty almost exponentially. The trick was shadowing the mark long enough to get all of ’em at-once. Best way to do that, was a long con, or a slick hit.

Every thief worth their coin knew the best security was obscurity. Once that was gone, it was just a matter of time-vs-loot.

Most too, knew cracking a single biometric was generally key to a job. Most of its effort simply went into grabbing the key-sample to generate bypass from. Titus would’ve known that too. Unless he had something up his sleeve, Titus wasn’t the type to be unprepared.

He was too deliberate. The act of a job would be as much a message as the job itself for an… old friend. She guessed too, that was another reason he’d taken her along on it, to minimize chance that anyone else but the effected parties knew.

Her brows pivoted. She minimized her HUD to meet his gaze, “Rushing play? Risky.”

“Still in?”

“Still worth it?”

A smile gleamed over his sour coffee at the prod. She trusted him, that was what mattered. “Always.”

“Then, details, baby. Details.”

She slid the tablet away, simultaneously minimizing the remains of HUD to the unobstructed world. Business fell away to breakfast. The waitress approached, set down two, steaming plates. Titus took careful bites to test the food as he should’ve the coffee.

He ate with careful regard, “Dale show up last night?” Crystal chewed slowly. “Had ‘im pegged the moment he came in.”

He didn’t say, because I own the place.

She tossed back juice, waiting.

“You like ‘im?”

“No,” she said with a calm, firm-edge. “And I don’t expect to.”

“Wouldn’t think so.”

She raised a brow, “You know ‘im?”

“My job, Cee,” he slanged. His next words were exquisite, practiced eloquence. “Partnerships require contingencies.”

Crystal understood. More and more, Titus was a creature of mystery. It was the perplexing way of humanity. Something she’d missed over the years of isolation required by street-living, seemingly so simple outside, yet harboring such complexity.

She smiled, “And our contingency?”

“Depends on our partnership.”

Crystal flushed; she wasn’t sure why. Something in Titus’ tone. She hid a crooked smile and began to eat.

Breakfast passed in causal fashion, ended in a parting amid a cold, rising rain. Titus’ Turbo S shimmered morning-gray along royal violet in millions of beaded droplets collected across its planes and surfaces.

He chided Crystal with an offer for a ride. She fitted her helmet and zipped her leathers in reply. Isolated and half-smirking, she mounted and positioned the bike, then fired its engine. Only after masked and zooming away did she laugh.

The bike was designed and calibrated to her body. Everything from the tires to the gear-ratios to its shape were tuned to a profile she’d created and helped install. The bike was nothing but an extension of her.

Titus knew that; his contact had built it. Her ballistic woven coat and pants could mid-caliber bullets, negating even pelting rains at high-speeds. He knew that too…

Meaning there was more than just joke in the offer. Just as with the job. She couldn’t deny the curiosity growing within her.

Titus knew many people, why her? Why this job? Mixing business and pleasure? He was capable of it, certainly, and obviously found pleasure in her company beyond normal, professional capacities. Otherwise, he’d never have thought of her when the job came up.

But did it go beyond that?

Only time would tell, but the thrill was enough. She hadn’t been chased in a decade, let alone by anyone like Titus, ever. The obvious compliments put her in a mood good enough to be angry once it soured.

Back home, it did just that.

Lucas sat at the island, drunk, hoping to repeat the previous night at ten AM. He was alone. Angela was gone, prepping for Curie’s assignment. Lucas had sunken into the slump-shouldered hunch of the never-sober, professional gambler hoarding poor cards. The backless stool accompanied the shaggy dog glaze in his eyes. His breath sounded over small roll of grease creeping off him and onto his surroundings.

Judging by the sudden gleam Crystal received, he was near-to prowling too. Crystal readied herself as a cat arching to hiss. Two predators had met, would fight. One would lose, even if it was too stupid to realize it yet.

“Where is she?”

“Angie?” Crystal said nothing. “Gone. Dunno where. Didn’t ask.” He managed to stand without swaying, sauntered over with a grease-slick’s attempt at coolness. The still-oblivious predator moved to strike. “But uh, I got time, if you like.”

Crystal leaned in at him, a corner of her mouth cocked in a half-smile. She locked eyes with him, tempted him into fully revealing his intentions. He did, wet his lips with a flick of his tongue. She made it obvious she knew exactly what he wanted, and knew he knew it.

Then a quiet whisper, “Not even in your wildest dreams.”

He staggered back, eyes flashing shame, panic, anger. She’d already stepped past. Somewhere inside him he recognized what happened. He spun on heel to challenger her.

“Told Angie you liked cunt.”

Crystal didn’t bother looking back. “I don’t like you, do I?”

She slipped through the hall, into her room, leaving Lucas to fume.

Were he not alone, he’d have shattered the beer bottle on a wall. Instead he snarled, slugged back the rest, and slank toward the fridge.

Poetry-Thing Thursday: Thunder and Ash

Thunder and ash.
Bronze and brass.
Scenes of a decrepit fire,
burning beneath city spires.

They came first for the village,
the women and men,
leaving the children,
as if already dead.

They took to the forests,
to make amends,
’til once more it came,
’til once more it reigned.

It took the eldest first.
Then each one thereafter.

‘Til one-by-one,
blackness came.
Swallowed them whole.
Ne’er to be seen again,
save by billowing thunder,
and ash ’pon the mountain.

Short Story: Kudzu

Sebastian Rower slid to one side of the bed, red from exertion. Beside him lie Drake, looking something the Greeks of old. His muscled form reflected low-light across a fresh sheen of sweat and saliva. The pair were slick and panting. The taste of salt lingered on Sebastian’s tongue. His body coursed fresh ecstasy, post-sex heat.

Sebastian thought he’d known love from lust; Drake taught him differently.

He’d come to Sebastian through a sea of bodies. Its current undulated beneath swirling spirals of neon. The Club, Sebastian was a perpetual wallflower there. Most nights he clung to the walls like kudzu, simply watching, people completely unaware of his existence.

Men or women. Straight or gay. Anyone in, around, between. They all sought The Club. Their reasons were varied but similar enough. Sometimes it was drugs. Sometimes booze. Sex or something similar; always a wiling from between the long-nights and docile daylight.

Sebastian watched, never bothering to do much more than nurse a drink each night. He might’ve been content to live out that obscurity forever, little more than a passing thought in the rarest of minds.

But Drake appeared.

He had an undeniable allure. It rolled in as if on waves from beyond a place of light. Even before adding in sexuality or magnetism, it turned crowds like pre-storm gales; ever-graceful but with auras of power, intimidation, awe.

Sebastian swore he saw them, however briefly. They rolled from him in auric waves, barely visible beneath twirling lights. It seemed too, to automatically repel those Drake felt unworthy; in effect, bestowing even the knowledge of his existence was a gift.

Yet of all the vibrant, colorful people there, Drake chose the dull, earthen vine; Sebastian. Otherwise doomed to creep, alone, merely existing. Drake’s auras decided otherwise. Like an old vid of lovers at first-sight.

Drake approached, auras firing and repelling the crowd so his forceful-grace never faltered. Their eyes locked, attached by a magnetism pulling one to the anchored-other. He saw them then.

For the slightest breath, Sebastian thought himself seeing things. He was center of this God’s attentions, feared to believe it, would’ve cast his eyes away to check could he bear to. Something more said he was both seeing things and their center. He, and only he.

Drake’s approach made time exist only for them. Its eventual return found reality muted, distant and hollow from an inexplicable force between them.

Drake introduced himself with a now-familiar, sonic equivalent of silken marble. He leaned in with only the slightest touch to Sebastian’s wrist. The effect a whisper in the muted sound; a distant sea-surf amidst the hot-spring of his touch.

They danced. For hours. An eternity, it felt.

Something powdered met hot blood. The night became a blur of spinning. Ecstasy, laced with exhilaration. The Club faded to the passing background between it and Drake’s place until the flow of time became impossible to track.

Hot, fast-tempo sex dominated after. Between long, slow moments of unbridled bliss seeming to last forever.

Sebastian could take no more. He gave Drake the last, best part of his remaining strength, then fell beside the God with a growing exhaustion. The Auras, until now empowering him, were finally taking their toll. No mortal’s waves, after all.

He let himself cool down, laid his head on the muscle-bound chest beside him.

Drake curled one arm around Sebastian, used the other to light a cigarette, and smoked. Sebastian watched, Drake seeming never to exhale. Sebastian closed his eyes, hypnotized to nether realms between bouts of fluttering eyelids.

He hard only the inhale, the deep chasm between it and the next. Nothing more.

Darkness flared from a cherried-cigarette. Utterly drained, Sebastian was forced to speak. His star-struck despair was the same as any whose euphoric fever-dreams were shattered by a painful reality.

“I guess I should be going now.”

Drake said nothing, merely lit another cigarette. Sebastian moved to sit up. Drake’s arm tightened, stilling him. Sebastian waited, taking the excuse to bask in the God’s glow.

It was no good. There was no pleasure there anymore. No fire. Just two people, alone, naked. At least, one person, however God-like the other. One, utterly drained, as if its parts were decayed from the energy he’d expended.

Drake finished his cigarette, forced a pause to the air. Sebastian took the transition, tried to rise again. Drake’s arm tightened in silence. His strength was immense, firm.

A lump of fear manifested near Sebastian’s brain-stem, forced him to try again, “I should–”

Drake’s arm held firm. Sebastian was caught, held by the threatening vice that was Drake’s mass of muscles, endless strength.

“Really,” Sebastian squirmed.

Drake was silent, smoking. Again, Sebastian attempted to rise. Drake’s arm gave only the slightest twitch. He was still again. The pill exploded along Sebastian’s brain, surged freezing electricity along his spine in icy, electric arcs.

Terror shook his struggling limbs, stilled by a force not his own.He was ready to run. Trying to. It was utterly hopeless. The body that had delighted him was now against him. With only the twitch of a muscle, Sebastian writhed, clawing in cold sweat at the beast beside him.

He begged, pled for release, fearful of the God’s sudden transition. Drake finished his cigarette and finally began to move.

Sebastian held his breath: one, swift motion forced Drake’s lips against his. The creature exhaled. Smoke billowed from it into Sebastian’s lungs. Acrid smoke smothered any hope for air.

His lungs filled. His sinuses.

Still it came.

The weight was too much. His airways bulged, overfilled. They began to tear; a million tiny cuts from a billion points of skin being drawn and quartered by one another. He wished to scream, smothered from the inside out; Drake’s smoke was too powerful, too thorough.

Sebastian’s innards stretched, bled. The smoke infected his blood, filled, swallowed, replaced it. The process repeated endlessly, every inch of him torn by the next and last. Inexorable terror accompanied the stomach-drop of blood and fluid spilling into unrightful places.

Still, Drake exhaled.

Sebastian’s lungs were no more. Utterly annihilated by the force of persistent smoke. Its tearing, shredding, quarter. Until its threads severed at ever level of existence imaginable.

Then, the rest of Sebastian went too. Piece-by-piece. Tear-by-tear.

Sebastian gave a final twitch and dissolved into smoke. It dissipated slowly, taking Sebastian with it forever.

Drake eased himself back and lit another cigarette.