Archive for: October, 2011

Revenging Angel by Charles Cameron Olson

Oct 30 2011 Published by under The WiFiles

Paris, France
October 7th, 2017 AD
The screaming finally stopped. The man was dead.
Fayme knew this, but she held the arc a few seconds longer, basking in the actinic brilliance of
the lightning arching between her outstretched hands and through the dead man’s skull, filling his
empty eye sockets with light and washing out everything else in the room.
When she released the flow of electricity, the corpse slumped into the deep leather arm chair he
had been thrashing in moments earlier. Smoke poured from the eyes and ears and the scent of
burnt meat, hair and feces quickly filled the room.
Fayme breathed it in, relishing a smell that usually made her just a little sick.
“Brule en enfer, piece de Russe merde!”
She spat on the body.
A sizzle of fat ran from one ear.
At last her pulsing rage receded. Nikolai Boricov was dead. Adele was avenged.
Fayme almost collapsed as her strength drained away. She caught herself on the dead man’s
desk, palm flat, then yanked her hand away as if she’d been burned by the smooth wood. She
picked up the pink scarf she had dropped earlier while stripping and used it to polish the place
she had touched. Then she found her red silk opera gloves and pulled them back on.
No fingerprints. Never any fingerprints. There was no hiding that Eclair had killed Nikolai.
After all, there were only so many electrokinetics who could burn a hole through someone’s head
and most of them were men.
However, Eclair had no fingerprints on file, while Fayme Verreaux did. Fayme preferred to keep
her minor juvenile record separate from the thoroughly capital one associated with Eclair. She
still had a life to live, after all. Assuming she made it out of the manse.
It had been stupid to plan getting in but not getting out. Insane. However, she hadn’t been sane
after losing Adele. Revenge had been the only thing she wanted. Here on the other side life
looked a little different. Getting out alive had value again.
She took stock of her surroundings, surprised that no guards had come yet. Of course, judging
from the large collection of black leather straps and polished torture devices hanging from one
wall they were probably used to screaming coming from Nikolai’s private office.
They probably had heard her sister screaming that night five weeks ago.
Nikolai’s screaming would have sounded little different. After all, she had made sure to draw out
his finest falsetto.
Fayme pointedly ignored the wall filled with Nikolai’s toys and looked around the rest of the
room. She was surprised to find a large collection of paintings, most from the Italian
renaissance. She had missed it before when she first came in, too absorbed by revenge.
Fayme walked up to a print of Raphael’s Saint Michel terrassant le demon. Saint Michael
slaying the devil. She remembered seeing the original when she was thirteen. Her mother had
taken her and Adele to the Louvre on a Saturday to show them the paintings. She had taken from
ten in the morning until the museum closed. It had been wonderful. She leaned closer,
examining the brush strokes.
No. It couldn’t be. She extended her sensory field, feeling through the paint, sensing the
radiation from isotopes.
“Merde.”
This was the original. It had to have been one of the paintings stolen during the Paris riots in
2013. She checked the painting next to it. Caliari’s Wedding feast at Cana. Also the original.
To think that all these beautiful priceless pieces had been wasted on that beast day after day.
Then she thought of her sister being raped to death while the paintings she had loved as a child
looked on and her anger built back toward the storm it had been when she came in. For a
moment she wished she hadn’t killed Nikolai so quickly. Electricity began to crackle over her
fists, leaving char spots on her gloves.
Then she looked again at the archangel Michael standing triumphant over the bestial devil, spear
in hand, and laughed. She went to the armchair, dragged the corpse from it and cast it face down
under the triumphant painting. She liked the symbolism.
Turning her back on the body she extended her sensory field throughout the room, feeling for
metal through artwork, paneling and flooring. She searched around the whole room without
moving from where she stood and quickly found a safe in the north wall behind another Raphael,
an active data line running through the floor up to a hidden terminal in the desk and something
that had to be an equipment locker or a safe room behind the leather restraints on the south wall.
She went to the terminal first. As she uncovered it she caught sight of her reflection in the shiny
black surface of the dormant touch screen. Her long hair, currently dyed red to please the dead
man, was all awry from when he had grabbed her. She combed it straight again with her fingers
and tied most of it into a tight bun at the back of her head. Her green contacts were still in the
right place. Her mascara was a little smudged on one side. No fixing that until she had more
time. Fortunately, the latex pieces she had worn to accentuate her cheekbones and change her
chin shape were also still in place. Even if someone got a good look they would have a very
hard time recognizing her later.
Fayme woke the terminal and found it locked by a thumbprint scanner. That was easily fixed. A
little work on Nikolai’s body with a superhot arc of electricity and she came back with his
cauterized thumb.
Once she was into the computer she went straight for the security records. Nikolai had
administrator privileges for the records of all the cameras on his mansion. She found the ones
for that night and set a 32-pass security eraser to work on them. There would be no pictures of
her for anyone to find.
After that she set up a transfer to a backup site online and began uploading the contents of
Nikolai’s computers. Everything, personal files and security records first. If she did get into
trouble she could probably find something there to use as a bargaining chip, whether with the
police or the mafia.
After that she set up a voice-only call with a hacker who owed her a favor.
“Arnaud, you have contacts in the Paris police, yes?”
“Eclair? Of course.”
“Good. I need you to send them a picture for me. And tell them that if they are very quick, they
might just be able to search Nikolai Boricov’s computer and private office before his men can
destroy any of the delicious things lying around in here.”
“You are doing a very dangerous thing, my dear.”
“I’ve already done the very dangerous thing. Now I just need to escape. Will you do this for
me?”
“Of course. I’ll have the police on their way as soon as you send me the picture. I happen to
know a detective who is itching for a promotion.”
“Thank you, Arnaud. We really must have lunch sometime. You are a good man.”
“I look forward to it.”
She signed off and retrieved Nikolai’s smartphone from where he had left it in his jacket. It was
coded. She sighed and left it on the desk for the police. She would have to use her own.
After retrieving it from her shoulder bag next to the door she snapped a picture of the corpse
lying under the painting and sent it to one of the fake emails Arnaud kept for such things. He
would be waiting. That meant the police would be on their way in minutes. She would leave
when they arrived at the front gates.
Distraction arranged she went to the safe in the north wall, carefully removing the precious
painting covering it. Setting it out of harm’s way, she checked around the safe with her senses
but felt none of the electromagnetic telltales of an alarm. Some quick work with a loop of
electricity between right forefinger and middle finger allowed her to burn through the bolts
holding it closed. She had it open in under thirty seconds.
It was filled with documents. A small stack of bank bonds would make a good addition to her
personal savings. There also looked to be several small bars of metal. She recognized them.
Exotic elements. Dull-gold kartium and silver-white vivium. The three small marked containers
next to them would contain radioactive ludium, perfect-black spectrium and liquid-silver alium.
There was probably only an ounce of each, but even that was a small fortune.
Nikolai had been saving up for something, though it could just be his emergency retirement fund.
Everything small and valuable went in her bag. Then she shut the safe but left it uncovered.
On the other end of the room she found that the hidden metal room had been an equipment
locker. She found the switch that slid the wall out of her way and opened the door of the locker
the same way she had the safe.
Inside, an operator’s dream. All Nikolai’s most expensive toys. Some of the guns Fayme saw
had to cost more than a middle-class family made in a year. Several of them had barrels and
other parts made out of 1198 eternite steel so they could fire overcharged high-velocity rounds.
That made sense. Nikolai had possessed some superhuman strength. He could have used those.
She grabbed a field bag and started packing the custom guns away, along with some other small
items that looked useful.
In one corner she found that what she had first thought was a statue was actually a British
Gawain, one of their new powered armor suits. How Nikolai had gotten one… Fayme didn’t
want to leave it, but she had little choice. They had to be fitted and she didn’t have time. She did
take the power packs. They were small and worth almost as much as the rest of the armor.
Next to the armor she found a light railgun with ammo and more power packs. That she did
take. It barely fit in the bag, even broken down, but the amount of exotic elements in one of
those was absurd. She couldn’t bear to leave it.
When she laid eyes on the last item she truly smiled for the first time since stepping on the
manse property. A full US military tactical rig, complete with computerized tactical helmet and
ballistic armor. She was much lighter than Nikolai, but just as tall. This she could wear.
Minutes later she stepped out of the equipment room wearing black tactical armor with the straps
tightened all the way down and a blank-faced matte-black helmet. She had a large black field
bag slung over one shoulder. She had stuffed her shoulder bag into the field bag so she could
keep her hands free.
Before leaving she checked on the computer terminal to make sure it was finished downloading.
It was. She melted the hard drive. Then she went to the main door and ran enough electricity
through the deadbolt to fuse it. Finally she went to another door in the north wall. This one
would lead to Nikolai’s private quarters.
As she waited before the door she fished out her mother’s St. Nicholas medal from where it hung
around her neck on a long silver chain. The shiny gray pewter image showed the wear of many
years in an anxious hand. She kissed the medal and put it back under her new armor.
In the distance she heard sirens fire up. They had probably waited until they were already at the
gates to avoid warning the men in the house.
Fayme smiled again, put one hand over an open wall socket, and blew the wiring in the house.
She opened the door, searching the dark hall beyond in an instant with her sensory field. She
found no adults waiting, but almost missed the two small children standing right in front of her.
The oldest, a girl, barely came up to her waist. She shined a flashlight in Fayme’s face.
Autodampers in the helmet compensated, but it was still annoying.
“You are not papa,” the girl said in perfect French.
Fayme stared, trying to take in the situation. She knew Nikolai had been married. Her research
said he was separated, with two children, a daughter and a son. These had to be them. Camille
and Luc. Both born in France. Where was their mother? Why were the children here?
She couldn’t let them see their father.
Gently she pushed them both back a step so she could close the door. A zap from one hand
fused the doorknob and lit the hallway with a momentary flash. The children jumped at the light.
Fayme knelt in front of them and flipped up the faceplate on her helmet. What would she say?
She thought of St. Michael.
“No, I am not your papa. I am an angel. My name is Michelle.”
She concentrated and a white glow filled her left hand as she excited the electrons in the air for
an inch above her open palm. She could only pull that trick off at very close range, but that was
all she needed right here. The glow filled the hall with soft white light and the children stared at
her in wonder.
Then Camille met Fayme’s eyes.
“Where is my papa?”
Fayme sighed sadly.
“I am sorry, Camille. Your papa is no longer here. He did many very bad things and I was sent
to take him away.”
Camille continued to stare into Fayme’s eyes before letting out a small gasp. She grabbed her
brother and squeezed him until he squeaked.
“Shhhh,” Fayme said. “You must not cry now. Do you know where your mother is?”
Camille nodded.
“Good. Do you have her phone number?”
Camille nodded again.
“Very good. You are very smart, Camille. You must call your mother as soon as I am gone.
She will come and get you.”
“I want to see papa!” Luc cried.
Fayme glanced down at him. He looked so much like his father. Same sharp nose, wide brow,
brown hair. He couldn’t be more than seven, but Fayme could easily see that he would look just
like Nikolai when full grown. She wondered if he would be a beast like his father.
“You cannot. You must go with your sister. Your mother will come and get you.”
“I want to see papa now!”
Fayme narrowed her eyes.
“You would address an angel so? You are very much like your father, I see.”
Camille clapped a hand over Luc’s mouth.
“Please, do not kill him.”
Fayme exhaled. She hadn’t even been aware she was holding her breath. She wasn’t here to kill
a child. Even if he did look like a copy of his monstrous father.
“Teach him to be a good boy, Camille. See that Luc listens to his mother.”
“I will, miss.”
Fayme nodded. “Good. Now go back to your rooms. The police will be here soon and then you
can call your mother.”
Camille nodded and dragged her brother back down the hall into their room, shutting the door
behind.
Fayme sighed and got back up to her feet. The weight of the night hit her again. She had not
been expecting the children. She had seen the comprehension in Camille’s eyes. The girl knew
what lay beyond the door Fayme had guarded.
She had never thought of herself as the kind of person who would even consider killing a child,
but Luc had looked so much like his father. Nikolai. Her sister’s rapist. Her sister’s murderer.
He was dead now. She had to let him be dead.
Was that what she was becoming? A monster who would even murder children?
Fayme shook her head and headed down the hall. She heard yelling from other parts of the
house and knew she didn’t have much time.
Past the children’s room she found a window that looked out on the back yard of the manse. She
opened it, threw her field bag down onto a bush and dropped down after it.
A quick scan of the yard showed her an empty run to the hedge bordering the property and the
high fence behind it. She hurried across the grass, carrying the heavy bag effortlessly on her
back even though it weighed almost as much as she did.
When she was almost at the fence she felt a bullet crack through the air over her head. She
dropped, avoiding the second and third as the muzzle report from the first reached her. She
knew which direction the shots had come from and put a large topiary between herself and the
shooter.
So close to escape, but she couldn’t leave with someone shooting at her.
Fayme extended her sensory field around and through the bush, searching for the shooter, but
found no one. They had to be some distance away if the sound of the shot had taken that long to
reach her. Clear on the other end of the property. Well outside her sensing range. Her best
option would be to blind them and make her escape now, rather than engage.
She dropped the bag, fishing through and pulling out several smoke grenades she had grabbed
from the locker. These were the hot kind that the military used to jam IR vision. She popped
two and threw them to either side of the bush. She threw two more in the other direction for
good measure, re-shouldered the bag and crawled to the fence under a thick blanket of black
smoke. No more shots came.
When she reached the fence she stood up.
A wide, long loop of lighting stretching out from both hands cut through the bush and the fence
in seconds. The flash normally would have given her away, but the smoke covered that. She did
it again a few feet to the left, then again on the bottom to finish it off. She heard steel bars fall
into the street on the other side.
Fayme pulled burning topiary out of her way and stepped out onto the street. A few quick bolts
from her hands took out the streetlights and she was once again cloaked in darkness. Behind her
she heard the yells of the police again as they covered the entire property.
Fayme jogged toward a dark alley. Once she was in it she felt fairly sure of her escape. It would
take several more days to complete things, but once she sold the haul she was carrying on her
back she would have more than enough money to make it out of the country.
It was a victory, but it felt hollow. Even though everything Fayme had ever known was here, she
would have to flee the country if she wanted to have a life. She had grown up in France. It was
where her mother had grown up, and her mother and father before her.
Yet, it also was where her mother had died a drug-addicted prostitute and where her sister had
been raped and murdered by a monster. It was where she had been beaten and raped by gangs
and used by the mafia to kill people and steal things.
Her heart still felt empty, but she decided a life elsewhere would have at least some benefits.
Perhaps in America. She had been working on a minor career as an actress. Perhaps there she
could do it full time.
It was decided then.
“Adieu mama. Adieu Adele. Priez pour moi en paradis.”
She truly wondered if anyone in the darkness heard her. It did not matter. She headed down
another alley, intent on the home of a buyer she knew, already determined that she would never
again return to her dingy apartment in the projects of Paris.

 

- – -

 

Charles Cameron Olson is a grad student currently working on his MAT Secondary English in
South Carolina. He writes science fiction and fantasy stories as a serious calling, participates in
the body of Christ as a way of life and reads fiction books at a voracious pace on his smart
phone. He hopes to someday shepherd groups of high school students through the crafting of the
English language and maybe teach them some more useful things along the way. If you’d like to
know about any other stories he writes, check out his blog at CCOlson.Wordpress.com.

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Summer Honey By Ronald Shortt

Oct 23 2011 Published by under The WiFiles

She’s the sugar in my lemonade, the hope of my tomorrow, and the
honey of my summer. She is the pedestal of my days and nights, I live
to please her, and I am happy. I enjoy picking her wild flowers and
giving her anything she desires. I am not the fool some might call
me. For I’ve never known such joy. You can fall in love in one day
and so I did.
***
I met her a month ago. She was sweet and shy, walking alone that
godsend morning. She was in the small field (across from my farm)
once owned by the Gownings, I wasn?t quite sure who owned it now;
it mostly stayed planted with soybeans. I already knew what she was
doing, as there was a patch of honey suckles in the backside of the
field hanging from the forest. I had seen some of the neighboring
children out there before, picking them for a sweet summer treat.
I decided to make my way across the field to confront her as awkward
as it would be. I am not sure why the feeling to do such a spontaneous
thing overcame me, something drew me to her.
“Hello. My name is Alex, I own that farm across the street.” I
said and she smiled. She was a bit taller than me with light golden
hair that curled wonderfully. Her eyes were a vibrant green that
matched the wonderful nature of our verdant surroundings. She wore
a white summer dress with purple and yellow flowers. And it was love
at first sight.
“Nice to meet you Alex, I am Elana.”
“You know you shouldn’t taste the honey from those.” I said
shaking my head.
“Why not?” She smiled wonderingly.
“There too close to the field and could have chemicals in them
from pesticides. A lot of the kids pick them; I try to warn them too
but they don?t care, I suppose they are ok if you was them off before
you taste there honey.”
“Very smart.” she said looking down a little red faced. “I was
going to put them in a little vase on my table, I like them for there
smell only but I just wouldn’t enjoy them now thinking they had
chemicals in them.”
“Oh, I am sorry I just thought I?d warn you so you wouldn?t get
sick if you tasted one. But you know I can take you some where, where
they are safe and pure, if you’d like. You know just so you would
know that they were chemical free.”
“That would be nice.”
“I have to ask though, Where exactly did you come from? I’ve
lived here all my life and am sure I would have noticed you before.”
“I moved her actually last week. I live in the old Nolen cabin.
I spent most of my life in Holland Hills.”
“Holland Hills?s, I heard nice things about that town, never
been though, I don?t travel usually more than two hours away from
here. That’s a pretty place though the Nolen?s cabin, it must be nice
to wake up in the morning with the pond to look at.”
“I do love it.”
***
I did take her to the place where I knew of fresh and clean
honeysuckles. We spent most of that day talking on into the evening.
We spent everyday since together in love. While I was not busy
working on the farm, tending to the animals and caring for the
fields, I was with her.
Tonight she is making dinner at her house. I spent all morning
and afternoon working on the new fencing for the farm, for horses.
All I could do was dream of her, carelessly swinging the hammer,
slipping here and there, hitting my thumb. Finally it was five. I
went home and showered. It was a ten minute walk. When I got there
she was in the kitchen squeezing some lemon juice in a picture of
iced tea. After we ate, a meal of baked chicken with potatoes and
carrots, splendidly spiced with rosemary, we sat out back on the deck
overlooking the pond drinking the sweet lemon tea.
“I have to tell you something Alex.” She spoke quietly making eye
contact. “First I want you to stay the night with me, is that okay.”
“Yeah that’s fine.” Of course it was, she had never asked me
too, though I had wanted to since our first evening together.
“It’s going to be a full moon tonight and I want you to walk with
me under it out where you took me to pick those honey suckles when
we met.” I smiled big, she was very sweet in her calm and shy talk.
***
We made love for the first time that evening. Then we slept
exhausted. She woke me around midnight. We got dressed and walked
down the road halfway to my home and turned down the dirt path that
lead into the woods. We reached the secluded opening and it was
beautiful with the bright moonlight cooling the summer night. We lay
on a blanket smelling jasmine and honeysuckles in the summer
breeze, staring at the glittered sky caught in an eternal moment of
bliss.
“I want to marry you Alex. I want you to be mine forever. I love
you.”
“I love you too. Since I first laid eyes on you I was drawn to
you. So of course, let?s get married.” I averted my eyes from the
sky to stare into her.
“Well, we can, tonight we can be married. We’ve been together
only a month and there are some things you don’t know about me and
some things I don’t know about you but what I do know is that I am
not afraid of making this decision.”
“I feel the same Elana but how can we be married tonight?”
She pulled an aged, yellowish sheet from her pocket. “With this
we can lock our souls together forever. Even in death. Right now in
this moment.”
“Ok. Well let?s do it.” I was excited, with much joy, exalted
above the stars I was in heaven at the idea without question. We
stood together and began our clandestine wedding.
Shortt/Summer Honey/04
“Just repeat these words after me:
„By light of the moon
Through lush boon
Let my heart bloom
Lift the black veil
Where a god may have tried
I shall exceed
To be eternal
I shall be yours
Until the cinders of a burnt world perish
I swear it.”
I spoke the words unacknowledged, still dumbfounded in my desire
to be Elana?s forever. Then we kissed. And something changed in me
in everything it was a great feeling stronger than even the love I
held for her if that was possible.
She turned her back to me. She held her face in her hands. She
started to laugh a low and strange laugh. “So many things to learn.”
“Elana are you okay?” She turned and I jumped back, where had
she gone? But it was her, still in her white summer?s dress. Yet her
hair was no longer golden, it was silver but not because of the
moonlight. Her face became craggy and looked older than any tree in
this forest. The crone beckoned me with her bone finger, staring at
me but with no eyes only black holes. Yet in the horror the love
never ceased.
“Come with me now.” And I did under the everlasting spell I
followed her back to the cabin were we made love on the conjugal bed
amidst candles and grimoire?s. And I would continue to follow her
until I became dust, heeding to her every need, caught in her spell.
Though I was evermore infatuated with her I begged her to never show
me the truth again to keep the beldam at bay; the lie is much easier
to live under, with the slavery of this witch. She could still be
my summer honey in the gloss of my mind and she was.
The End

 

- – -

 

Bio: Ronald Shortt is an unpublished writer living in Lakewood,
Colorado since April, 2011, originally from the eastern shore of
Maryland. Shortt has been writing short stories and poetry off and
on since middle school. He has never attempted to publish anything
until this year. He looks forward to attending Red Rocks Community
College later this year for Journalism.

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Annihilation, Inc. by Joseph L. Kellogg

Oct 16 2011 Published by under The WiFiles

When I first met Alfred Benedict III, I was standing on a ledge on the outside of my, as of a few hours before, former place of employment. Emergency vehicles trickled in one by one beneath me, lights flashing silently, as a police officer with a megaphone tried to talk to me. I did my best to ignore him, because I knew that it wouldn’t take much for me to back down. I looked down at the ground, and felt the wind urging me gently over the edge. The thought of plummeting a hundred feet to my death didn’t sound like a lot of fun, but neither did checking into a run-down motel, unemployed and abandoned by my family. I was still teetering, literally and emotionally, when I noticed someone else inching his way along the ledge toward me. He wore a tweed suit, with a black bowtie, homburg hat, and horn-rimmed glasses, and looked strangely calm.

“Excuse me,” he said, clutching his hat to his bald head, “If I could have just a moment of your time-”

“You’re not going to talk me down from here!” I cried. “I’ve made up my mind!”

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” he replied. “I just wanted to make sure you’re really ready.”

“Believe me, I’m ready. I lost my job, my family, and my home, and I have nothing left to live for; I might as well just end it all.” It sounded a lot less confident than it had in the bathroom mirror fifteen minutes before.

“Ah, that’s the point I wanted to talk to you about. You intend to kill yourself, yes, but would that really end it all? Do you really know what will happen on the other side?”

I glanced at him in bewilderment. “Are you trying to preach to me?”

“Oh dear me, no. I’m not here to preach; I’m here to make an offer. What if I could promise you that when you jump off that building, it really would be the end? No heaven, hell, reincarnation, anything of that sort. Just nothingness.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I’ve invented a device,” he said, “which can target and eliminate a soul. It’s called annihilation, and I can offer it to you for the low price of five thousand dollars. I prefer cash, but if you must write a check, I ask that you wait until it clears before jumping.”

“That’s ridiculous,” I replied. “You’re lying.”

“I could show you, if you like. I’m afraid that it was too bulky to bring with me, but it’s sitting in my car as we speak.”

I stared at the ground below me, and for a few seconds I simply watched the people scurry around as they watched me back. I had to admit, I was intrigued by the idea. Curiosity might seem like a weak reason to keep living, but I couldn’t stand the thought of dying without knowing whether he was for real. “Do you have any literature?” I asked.

“Of course,” he replied, reaching slowly into his jacket and pulling out a business card. “You can stop by my office any time during normal business hours, and probably quite a bit later.” He handed me the card, and I read it:

Annihilation, Inc.

Alfred Benedict III, Ph.D., Th.D., Eng.D., CEO

Souls Eliminated, Damnation Averted

An address and phone number were printed at the bottom. With a tip of his hat, Benedict began inching his way back toward the open window. After reading the card a few times again, I followed him, to a chorus of cheers from below.

***

Three days later, I was given my street clothes and a lackluster pep talk by an orderly, and stepped out of the Meadowridge Psychiatric Hospital. The weather was gray and dismal, but I didn’t mind; I had somewhere to go. I pulled the business card out of my pocket, read it again, and then called a taxi, giving the address to the driver.

During the ride over, I had to wonder if I was crazy. If it weren’t for the business card in my hand, I would have thought I had imagined the other man on the ledge. Deep down, I half-expected to arrive and find that no such address existed, and that it had been an angel that convinced me to live another day. It certainly seemed more plausible. When I was snapped out of my reverie by the cab driver asking for his fare, I knew that at least the building was real.

I stepped carefully through the stream of downtown foot traffic to the structure ahead of me, a historic office building that had been recently renovated. As the door closed behind me, the noise of the outside world faded away, leaving only the faint hum of blowing fans, punctuated by echoing footsteps on the marble floor of the lobby. I tried to look inconspicuous as I searched for the appropriate office number, and soon found it. The company name was displayed in black writing on the frosted glass window in the door. I hesitated for a moment, and then knocked; before the glass stopped rattling in its frame, a voice called out from inside, instructing me to come in. When I did, I was greeted with a small office and the musty smell of cheap cigars. A table to the side was stewn with electronic components and wrinkled diagrams, and on the other side was a coat rack with a hat and tweed jacket that I recognized. Farther back was a large antique desk, and seated behind it was Benedict, sifting through papers and muttering, his brow crinkled in concentration. When I closed the door behind me, he looked up.

“Ah, you made it!” he cried. He stood up, grinning broadly, and motioned me to one of two chairs at the cluttered table, taking the other for himself. “It’s been…” He looked at his watch, “…seventy-two hours, so I presume your psychiatric hold went well enough?”

“As well as can be expected, I suppose. I’ve never had one before.”

“Right, of course not.” He paused, and then raised his eyebrows, proceeding cautiously. “Are you… still in the market then?”

“I don’t know for sure, but I’m curious. You said you had some literature?”

“Yes, of course. I have…” He patted his pockets and then went to the coat rack, pulling something out of the inside pocket of his jacket, “…a brochure. But perhaps you’d like to see the device itself?”

I assented, and he dug into the pile of schematics, producing a box that looked roughly like an ancient camera, with a parabolic dish on top and push botton on the side. “It’s called the annihilator,” he said, “at least for now. I don’t much like the term; too dramatic. But I haven’t had a chance to really sit down and come up with a better one.” He handed it to me, and I examined it, but there wasn’t much else to see.

“How does it work?” I asked.

“It would take weeks and a few advanced degrees to explain it fully. But suffice it to say that it manipulates spiritual energy like other devices manipulate electromagnetic energy, taking the ‘meta’ out of ‘metaphysics’ as it were. One strong burst of energy will cancel out the soul.”

“I suppose I should be careful with it, then,” I said, setting it gently on the table with a grin. I wasn’t sure if I was joking or not.

“Don’t worry,” Benedict said with a chuckle, “it would take more power than you can safely get from a wall socket to destroy a soul still attached to a healthy body. For the unconscious, the link is tenuous enough; for everyone else there’s an approximately twelve minute window between death and when the soul leaves the vicinity of the body, and that’s when we use it.”

I nodded my head. It was crazy, but the way he talked about it, it seemed as mundane as a microwave oven. “But why?” I asked. “Why would you make something like this?”

“I find the entire idea of death and the afterlife terrifying,” he replied. “This is a stop-gap measure, really. As I refine the technology, I hope to achieve transmutation of the soul, not just annihilation. To change the sins, bad karma, what-have-you, into positives, to offer salvation without the tedious business of being pious, so to speak.”

“How close are you to something like that?”

“I’ve hit a bit of a snag, to be honest. I need a way to harvest the eucharist after transsubstantiation… I don’t suppose you’d be willing to have a tube inserted in your throat?” He peered intently at my neck, the wheels turning almost visibly in his head.

“Umm… no, I don’t think so.”

“A pity…” he muttered, snapping out of his reverie. With a start, he jumped up and grabbed his coat and hat from the rack. “I’m sorry to have to cut this short, but I have an appointment to get to. Unless… would you like to come with me?”

“To go where?”

“A sales call.”

***

Benedict drifted silently and gently into the crowded hospital room, as a man who knew his way around death, and I stayed back by the doorway, as unobtrusively as possible. An elderly woman lay in the bed, unconscious, and slowly beeping monitors declared weakly that she was still alive, at least for now. She was surrounded by other people who watched solemnly, occassionaly speaking to each other in hushed tones. One was another woman about the same age, and beside her was a muscular man of about forty in a leather jacket. On the other side of the bed was an affluent-looking middle-aged couple.

“Excuse me,” Benedict said, doffing his hat. “You are the family of Mrs. Peterson, correct?”

“Yes, that’s right,” said the rich son.

“My name is Benedict. I understand that Mrs. Peterson was an agnostic, yes?”

“Are you the hospital chaplain?”

“No,” Benedict replied, “I’m afraid not. But I am here about her well-being in the next life. Can any of you vouch for the condition of her soul?”

The rich son narrowed his gaze and shifted his weight nervously, while the others looked on in mild disdain. “She wasn’t devout,” he said. “Wha- what does this have to do with anything?”

“I don’t mean to offend,” Benedict said. “Everyone makes mistakes in life, but I’m sure the last thing you want is for your loved ones to have to spend eternity paying for those mistakes. I’m offering a chance to make sure that doesn’t happen. I’ve invented a device that will ensure Mrs. Peterson does not suffer in the afterlife.”

“How dare you?” cried the elderly woman. “My sister was a good woman, and you should be ashamed for coming in here and telling us she’s going to suffer damnation!”

The muscular son walked up close to Benedict, and growled sternly, “I think you should go.”

Benedict bowed respectfully and glided out of the room after me. “That didn’t go so well,” I remarked as we walked down the hallway.

“People are always slow to accept a new idea,” he replied. “Edison tried for years to smear alternating current, but it proved itself in the long run.”

When we were several more yards down the hall, I heard hurried steps behind us. The rich son stopped us, and we turned around toward him.

“Were you being serious, what you said before?”

“Yes, of course,” Benedict answered.

“The rest of my family doesn’t like to admit it, but my mother was a spiteful woman, and if there is a heaven, I wouldn’t rate her prospects very good. I think I’d rather play it safe than have to wonder my whole life if she really is in a better place. How much will it take?”

Benedict told him the price, and he hurriedly scribbled out a check.

“I think we had better clear the room before we proceed,” Benedict said.

“My aunt was pretty shaken up, and my brother took her to get some coffee. The room is empty for now.”

Benedict nodded, and they returned to the room, which was empty as he said, except for the unconscious woman. He hoisted his bag on a nearby chair, and pulled the device from it. “If you could step back please,” he said, motioning myself and the rich son to move away. He aimed the parabolic dish at the woman, and pressed the button on the side. There was a pop and a bright flash which seemed to linger on the walls, followed by the smell of marigolds. The heart monitor fluttered, and then returned to normal.

“How do we know it worked?” the son asked.

“Do you smell that?” Benedict asked. “I haven’t been able to identify it for sure, but I believe it’s the smell of chaotic spiritual energy. That’s the tell-tale sign of an annihilated soul. And without the soul, the body won’t last much longer, especially in its current state. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or other needs.” He handed a business card to the son, tipped his hat, and we left the room.

***

The pale colors and soft light of the hospital corridor gave way to dark and grimy earth tones, broken up by a wide swath of sky, as we walked briskly out of the hospital and into the visitors’ parking garage. We slowed down to a leisurely stroll as we approached Benedict’s car. “What did you think?” he asked.

“I don’t know yet,” I answered. For an event as significant as the destruction of a woman’s soul, it left little impression on me. Perhaps I expected more shouting, or dramatic bolts of lightning.

“Hey!” a voice cried out behind us. I glanced back, and saw the muscular son of Mrs. Peterson rushing at us. We both began running toward the car, but Benedict was old, and ran barely faster than he walked. The man caught up to him in only seconds, grabbed him by the arm, spun him around, and delivered a solid right hook to his jaw. Benedict stumbled back against another parked car, which erupted into cacophonous shrieks. The son advanced, clenching his fist and screaming “You son of a bitch!” as he thrust his arm into Benedict’s gut. I lunged at him, trying to pull him away, but he threw me aside with ease, the rough surface of the cement biting into my arm as I landed. He spat on Benedict, who was slumped down on the ground, playing dead and bleeding from the lip. Several dozen yards away I saw a worried-looking man on a cell phone, pointing in our direction as a hospital security guard jogged toward us.

***

Benedict held an ice pack to his cheek as he walked out of the holding area and into the police station waiting room. Manny Tomlinson, who had been waiting with me, stood up and greeted him with his hand extended. Manny wore an ill-fitting suit, and looked just a little too young to have graduated from law school.

“Al, you son of a gun, you sure know how to get into trouble!” he said with a grin, shaking Benedict’s hand much more forcefully than Benedict did in return. “They told me you don’t want to file assault charges on the guy. How come?”

“It was just a misunderstanding. I don’t want to make him pay for a mistake made in a moment of anger.”

“You may want to rethink that,” Manny said, “because he’s filing charges against you.”

“What for?” Benedict asked. “I never hit him.”

“It’s not for hitting him. He’s accusing you of fraud, and the D.A. smells blood.”

“But it’s not fraud. I offer a legitimate service.”

“Good luck proving that to a jury, though,” Manny replied. “I don’t think they’d recognize the existence of souls in a court of law. Although you may be even worse off if they did.”

“How so?”

“Because if you’re not committing fraud, then you’re in possession of the single most powerful and destructive piece of technology ever created. They’d have to invent a whole new class of crimes for you. I’m afraid you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place.”

Benedict sank into a chair and buried his head in his hands. “That’s what I get for trying to help people,” he muttered. “The greatest invention of all time, my life’s work, and I’m going to be arrested for it, whether it works or not.”

The two of us were silent for a moment while Benedict nursed his disappointment. Finally, Manny spoke up. “I think you’re going to have to let this one go, Al. You’ve had a lot of crazy ideas before, and I always supported you, but this one is going to burn you one way or another.”

“How can I give it up? I spent over half of my life working towards this invention; it’s part of who I am. It’s everything I’ve achieved in my life.”

“It’s going to get you into trouble. There’s no way out of this without giving up the machine.”

Benedict slowly rose from his seat. “I’m going home,” he said. “I have some things to think about. I trust you can find your way home from here.”

***

I didn’t sleep well that night. There were still too many questions buzzing back and forth in my mind, the kind of questions that made you feel like you were shrinking back into yourself as the world around you grew large and empty. When the sun started leaking its rays through my curtains, and the chorus of city traffic got underway, I got dressed and caught a taxi back to Benedict’s office.

When I reached his door, I knew something was wrong. A sinister light inside flickered, and the smell of smoke drifted into the hallway. I tried the door handle, but it was locked. Wrapping my jacket around my fist, I struck the window until it shattered, revealing the blaze inside against the back wall. I could see the figure of Benedict on the far side of the desk, sprawled out on the floor. I reached in and unlocked the door, rushing to the other side of the desk, where he had been knocked out of his chair. Blood oozed from his head where it had struck the filing cabinet behind him. The flames licked at the edge of the desk, and I pulled him away and into the hall just as the sprinkler system kicked in, dousing us and the room with shockingly cold water.

I yelled for someone to call an ambulance without looking to see if anyone was around, and bent down to examine Benedict. He was unconscious, and had a weak pulse. I started pumping his heart with my fists, and tried to force air into his lungs. I continued the routine until medical help arrived, but he was still unconscious as they loaded him, locked rigid on the gurney, into the back of an ambulance.

I heard later that Bill Peterson was arrested for assault and arson. The police figured that he had tracked Benedict down, and decided to finish what he started in the parking lot. The doctors were were hopeful that Benedict would come out of his coma soon and be able to say what happened. I didn’t believe either of them, because despite the smoke and water that filled the air, I caught the faint smell of marigolds.

*

Joseph L. Kellogg is a high school chemistry tutor and graduate school dropout currently living in Oregon. His fiction has appeared in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, and online at Residential Aliens.

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A Better Place by Chris Castle

Oct 09 2011 Published by under The WiFiles

Phil sat anxiously in the study room, waiting for the others. First he drummed his fingers, and then he tapped his nose. All he needed was a yo-yo and he would have been complete. Finally, he heard a noise in the corridor and then the quick snap of the door handle. He turned round and saw Steve bundle in, followed by Jim and Graham. He stood up, feeling oddly formal, and the others nodded to him. It was time to begin.

They laid it all out on the table in-front of them. The board covered most of it and the few extra pieces just about filled it out. The four of them sat round it, all of them peering down on it, like it was some wondrous, perfect skin-mag. Phil cleared his throat, unhappy with the way his friends worked in silence, though in reality it was the best way to work. He looked to Steve.

“And you’ve done this before, right?” He said to his best friend. Steve rolled his eyes.

“Like, three times. Every time was a success, too. Come on, P, you’ve asked me that question four times already.” Even though his words were peevish, the tone was relaxed as always. It made Phil smile.

“I just don’t want anyone to get in trouble, that’s all.” He said, shrugging. He looked up from the Ouija board to his friend. Steve was smiling.

“How much trouble can we get into, man? We’re dead already!” He said and finally, the four friends laughed.

***

“That’s not the point and you know it,” Jim said, fiddling with the markers. “I don’t know about you, but I like it here. Dead people have way better manners than the people downstairs.”

“How do you know they’re not upstairs?” Graham said quietly and the others laugher, but only briefly. Graham had a way of saying the truth in a way that could scare people without realising it.

“That’s what I mean,” Phil said. And it was true. After all was said and done, being dead was not actually as bad as he’d feared. Sure there were drawbacks, but all in all, the people were nice and the place had a really nice atmosphere. It was like going on a package holiday and finding out, to your great relief, that the other people are actually cool.

“Relax, big guy, no-one’s going to catch us, okay?” Steve said and rolled his eyes at Phil, smiling. REALLY rolled his eyes, too. Due to the nature of Steve’s death, he could do things like that. That was one of the drawbacks, he supposed. You come into the place with all infirmities intact; it was unsettling at first-for ‘unsettling’ read ‘terrifying’- but it was just something else to adjust too. After a while, it just became a warped type of ice-breaker, really.

They also saw to it that in some cases, such as starvation, that people were fed up and allowed to reach a certain place where they could cope with themselves. Phil remembered being with his friend Georgie as she stood in the mirror after a while, recovered, to a point, and seeing tears in her eyes. They weren’t sad tears, either; she finally felt comfortable looking at herself in the mirror in a place where no-one would judge her with harsh words or looks. If you lived in a world where everyone was scarred, no-one could judge, Phil had often thought.

“Okay, so shall we do this?” Steve said. He was smiling and Phil found himself smiling right along. Steve was infectious like that; he was the unofficial leader of the gang, and on a wider scale, a kind of meet and greet mascot for the whole place. He always dismissed his popularity-behind the confidence he was kind of a bashful, goofy guy-but it was a gift. Hell, if you could make a dead man laugh, you had to have some kind of talent, Phil had told him, more than once.

The four of them linked hands and began the ritual. For the past week, Steve and Jim had argued the semantics of trying to contact the living from where they were and the complications of creating a reverse Ouija board. Steve had argued that all it required was a literal reverse, whereas Jim had tried to argue the finer points. As is the case with most arguments when two forces won’t give ground, the third party wins. Graham, in his quiet unassuming way, piped up with three or four sentences, merging the two ideas into one, whole concept, and the issue was settled. ‘Always look out for the quiet ones’ is an adage that holds true in this place, Phil decided. Especially since a lot of them were sent to the place by ‘quiet ones’ who actually turned out to be psychopaths.

The lights were lowered and the game began. Steve read out the ritual and the four of them dutifully closed their eyes. There were the obligatory few minutes when nothing much seemed to happen, but Steve had already factored in for that, saying that they had to allow five minutes for the connection to be made. But time is a funny thing now, in the place; it’s not set in any form and Phil sometimes had that unsettling feeling that years could have passed in the time it took him to walk a corridor. It wasn’t a mean thing, or a trick, the way it was here, it was just different. Graham had once likened it to trying to learn a new language; it wasn’t meant to make you feel stupid, but sometimes you still felt like an ass trying to understand it.

Feelings: They still held in this place. Dying did not mean the end of things in a lot of ways. You could still laugh, you could still feel lonely. But a lot of the other things, the things that made people like Jim and Georgie feel good about being here, were trimmed away; feelings like pettiness or simple cruelty. People could still be hurt, or to be more exact, be hurting over something, but none of it was intended. You could miss the love of someone, but no-one would dump you out of spite, was how it was set up-Graham again.

Feelings were what led them to the séance. Phil felt the hurt of missing someone. Not in the grand traditions of movies, or weepy books; there were no lost lovers waiting on the other side. No, his was simpler; he felt bad for his sister. The two of them, having cruel parents, found closeness quick. They grew up, they argued, they teased, they were family. A family built out of two halves. It was his sister who came up with their joint nickname-‘coin.’ They were heads and tails, simple as that.

So when Phil had found himself in the new place, it was his sister he missed. There were others worse off than him, worse off by a country mile and then some, he knew that. In life, Phil had been a quiet young man, with a few close friends and a love of photography, books; hobbies that lonely people latch onto. Since he had been here he had made a best friend in Steve and become a part of a gang; ‘the ghouls’, Steve had called them. There was even a part of him that was falling a little in love with Georgie, and felt she may be doing the same; he had held the tear that rolled onto her cheek that time when she stood in-front of the mirror; he had smiled and she had blushed and there was a low burst of understanding in what was left of Phil’s heart in that moment.

But then there was Amy.

His sister suffered without him by her side. He knew that; he had flashes from time to time. Moments when she slipped down the walls of her apartment and cried, great shuddering tears of pain. He felt it every time and it rocked him to his heels. It was the cruel twist; Amy had always been the strong one, the confident one, but without the small support of him, everything in her was beginning to unravel. Phil had made his decision after feeling the pain in her shift from grief to another, muddier, murky thing; a pain that might not stop and only lead to a very bad thing. That was when he decided to take action; there was no point being dead and happy when the living you loved was suffering worse in your place.

There was a snap of movement in the board. The four of them looked up and watched as the arrow darted along the board. There was a strange grip to the air around them, almost crackling. Phil thought the atmosphere had a frequency to it now and between where they were and where they were trying to reach was fusing together somehow. It was working.

Steve began to speak, not in the fake-ominous way college kids do when they act it out, but in an earnest way, as if he was in the midst of a test. Phil looked down to the questions that Phil had prepared and began to read them out. One of the factors they had settled on for this to work was no direct contact between Phil and Amy, so no chain was established; instead it was a kind of relay between a third party, which, they hoped, would not cause too much disruption.

The other problem was how the message was going to manifest itself and when. Phil had one terrible recurring nightmare since they had begun this scheme that Amy was old, too old and her life had simply drained away in the same, constant jag of pain she was in now. The other concern, amongst the hundred others, like, oh, you know, disrupting the balance between the living and the dead, destroying a thousand concepts on earth and possibly triggering a world war, was if she would actually receive the message, should it get through, in any understandable way; ‘relax’ spelt out in her cereal was not really going to do the trick, in any way shape or form. Phil drew breath; sometimes being dead was so damn stressful.

As quickly as it was established, it was over. The board ceased to shake, the sparks in the air ebbed away and what had been charged now returned to a sort of peace. The four of them looked at each other and then broke into a collective smile; the smile turned to giggles, Graham worst of all, which, of course, only made it worse, and then the lot of them fell into gales of laughter. They fell to the floor, clutching their sides, slapping each other’s backs, rocking from side to side. That was how the Man, the Master of the House, found them, when he opened the door, his long cloak pouring over floor, his face locked in fury. And like that, the laughter stopped.

Phil stood in the Man’s office, finding out that, yes, the dead can still be scared, and oh yeah, babe, their hands can still shake. The ‘incident’ as it was now being referred to, was being played out in the pool, with the both of them watching. The pool was a kind of liquid CCTV that was used to monitor things in the place. Things ran without electricity and none went without, although nothing was wasted. One of them, Graham, of course, thought out loud, that it said something when the dead were more energy conscious than the living.

“Well?” The Man said. The sound of his voice meant he didn’t have to speak often and what was said was always heard. Phil looked up from the pool and looked him in the eye. And, as best he could, he explained himself, carefully and clearly absolving the others from any blame.

Phil didn’t know if it was that, looking out for his friends, or his honesty, or just his good intentions, that led to what happened next; all he knew was that it was no accident; the Man did not make those. But it played out thus; the Man left the room on an errand, to discuss ‘the incident’ and left Phil alone in the office. The pool, which always dissolved into nothingness after its display, stayed in the air. Phil could not help but peer back into it, feeling somewhere inside himself, that it was something he was meant to do.

The pool rippled and then cleared, and a clear image of Amy appeared in its waters; Amy unchanged, as he remembered her. True, there was tiredness under her eyes, a dark circle that was so out of place it seemed like poorly smudged stage make-up, but everything else was how it was meant to be. She was in his room and she had found the package of photos, just developed before he left her; they were in an envelope and in the envelope was a note, just a quick note that he had dashed off to her before he left the room. He remembered what he had written in that note and thought suddenly how those words meant so much more now, than then. Phil watched her as she read from the piece of paper, and how she carefully folded the note into the chest pocket of her shirt. It was someplace close to her heart; it was enough.

***

Phil left the Man’s office with a list of chores that left him grateful that he no longer had any concept of time. As he walked the corridor he looked into each room; each of them occupied one of his friends; variously scrubbing, wiping or cleaning something. Each of them looked up, each of them winked. He reached his own designated room. He opened the door and found Georgie at the far end, clutching a mop and bucket.

“Guess we’re on detail together, huh?” She said, smiling.

“I guess so,” he said, walking over to her and returning the smile.

*

Chris has been published numerous times, including at The Absent Willow. He can be reached at chriscastle76@hotmail.com

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Feeling Freedom by by Jeff Kozzi

Oct 02 2011 Published by under The WiFiles

Blane Kajer felt crowded.  He’d wanted to explore Simmel to see his first non-native world for himself by himself, but two of the slaves he had freed upon his arrival on Simmel followed him.   The mute Garren they called Maverik witnessed Blane’s quiet exit from the Leswensel residence and followed, more like a stray lantil puppy than the enormous reptilian he actually was.  When the Kollin Vasion saw them leaving, he invited himself along so that he could walk freely on the world that he had formerly known only as a world of masters.

Vasion, at least, demonstrated more intelligence and general competence than Maverik, and Blane figured that the Kollin could at least keep the energetic Garren out of trouble.  With luck, Vasion could keep the Garren occupied and distracted, thus salvaging some small portion of Blane’s need for solitude.

Maverik idolized Blane, who only briefly enjoyed the preferential treatment.  By leaving the Leswensel Residence, Blane had hoped to escape constant attention.  Treated as an outcast in his foster family, Blane had grown up used to being ignored and left alone.  Now Blane’s lover Domenika and Maverik both constantly and continuously pulled Blane into interaction with thepeople around him.  Maverik’s grateful dedication and Domenika’s new openness of their relationship now smothered him.  Blane had resented the unwalled isolation that had surrounded him during his childhood, but he had adjusted to it so well that he craved time alone.  Denied that since their arrival on Simmel, he became increasingly frustrated and irritable.  He suffered longer than people with more honed social skills might have, because he didn’t want to say anything potentially hurtful to either Domenika or Maverik.  He wanted to explore the freedom that a new world and his new personal liberties offered.  The new and strengthening connections to those around him were already checking the freedoms he had always imagined he would have as an adult.

The Garren liked Blane immensely and automatically with undying appreciation for the human who had freed him from his bondage.  Blane’s rescue of the slaves had not been a move calculated to gain him friends.  When the imperial slaver had begun tormenting Maverik, Blane had related to Maverik’s learned helplessness and suppressed anger all too well.  Witnessing that abuse had triggered an eruption in the deep well of Blane’s rage.  He had acted in thoughtless righteousness, interceding for the slaves’ benefit like he had wished someone, anyone, had interceded  during his tormented childhood.  Blane had not planned out what to do with the slaves once they were free.

Blane had since heard the Garren utter no comprehensible word.  Maverik conveyed his anger with twists and flicks of his massive tail, quivering, vibrations and outright snorting from his huge nostrils, snaps of his huge teeth-lined jaws, and purring roars that echoed in his massive scale-covered and slaver-branded chest.  Blane could not tell if the Garren was mute or just did not or could not speak Interworld Standard; the noises Maverik made came from his chest or nose, never past his throat.  Smarter and emotionally stronger, Blane took the differences in their mental facilities as a responsibility to Maverik.  As a lifelong victim throughout childhood, Blane felt that the strong should be defending the weak, not exploiting them.  The fact that Maverik stood four times Blane’s height and perhaps seven times Blane’s weight only made the situation amusing to watch.  If Maverik felt the black mood Blane often radiated, he thought his continued presence and cheer would brighten his small friend’s spirits.

Blane had never had any real friends during his formative years.  Now he had no notion as to what to say or do with friends.  Blane had never before encountered that problem with Domenika; too afraid of her father, she had seldom openly associated with him.  The times they did get together, sex had always bridged the gaps between them.  They would talk sometimes in the darkness on the edge of her father’s homestead, then sneak back to the house separately.  Once there, they would guiltily avoid all conversation in fear of saying something revealing.  What other uses did people have for friends other than discussion or sex?

Vasion spoke most often during their visit into the Imperial-built city that surrounded the Leswensel Residence.  Blane knew that the imperials had castrated Vasion to curb his aggressive Kollin nature, but he didn’t imagine that the operation had succeeded.  Vasion would wait for imperial officers to pass, then make quiet, whispered threats of violence against them.  Vasion’s fins would quiver or sometimes fan erect, their sharp spines pointing skyward as if to stab the eyes of his alien slavers’ gods.  His webbed hands would clench into tight fists.  He would remain tense, too ready to fight, until Blane diffused him with a caustic remark like “Orfezzins, they bleed kind of blackish,” or “Jadannis, with that blue skin, you should see how they bruise.”  Vasion would snicker at Blane’s brutal images, then relax until he saw the next uniformed officers.

After strolling for three hours through Fedzordza, it became quite clear that the situation would only get worse.  Vasion relaxed less than he angered with each distant encounter.  Funny, mean and off-color remarks came easily to Blane; it took him longer to figure out a way to suggest going home without making it seem like an order to the two freed slaves.  “I’m tired.  We should go back.”

Vasion grumbled consent while he sneered at a pair of Qualmloids in imperial uniforms.

Maverik panted excitedly and hopped behind the two.  Blane swore he felt the ground quake under the Garren’s massive feet.

They were still at least a half-kruup from the Leswensel Residence when five enforcers approached them directly.  Blane threw Vasion an uneasy look as Maverik growled at the uniforms he recognized only as the sign of slavers and abusers.  Vasion tugged on the Garren’s heavy arm, precisely how he’d signaled restraint to the Garren so many times during their enslavement.   “Easy, Rik.”

Blane smiled nervously at the enforcers.  “Can I help you?”

“Those slaves,” the Delmeen commander pointed.  “Aren’t they Leswensel’s?”

“Yessir,” Blane smiled.

“What are they doing away from the house?”

“It’s bein’ fumigated,” Blane lied quickly.

“Who’re you?” the Dogomon sergeant asked.

“My name’s Mard,” Blane lied with the first name he thought of.  “Thade sent me from Shorns to watch the house while the missus is away.”

“Doesn’t he trust our men stationed there?”

“He sure does.  Couldn’t speak good ‘nough ‘bout them.  But Mrs. Leswensel, she wanted a civilian or two t’make sure the place don’ get too military-like, so she said.”

The Dogomon cocked his head to the side.  His muzzle rippled to reveal a large canine tooth.  “So you’re at Les’ house?”

Blane nodded with perfect maintenance of his nervous smile.

The Dogomon leaned closer.  Blane’s hand neared the cloth sack that held the Chrid concealed at his side.  “You,” the Dogomon grunted with a puff of breath that gagged Blane with the stench of rotting flesh, “tell Grishanyail that I want those fifty stans he owes me.”

“Will do,” Blane promised.

The Imperial scowled, and leaned even closer, driving his snout into Blane’s nose.  “You tell him—”

Maverik reacted to the Dogomon’s threatening posture, most particularly because that posture threatened Blane.  Immensely larger and unfathomably stronger, Maverik took the differences in their physical facilities as a responsibility to Blane.  He reached out a long arm.  With just his thumb and one finger, he  grabbed the hapless alien by the head.  The Dogomon’s booted rear paws swept from the smoothly paved street.

Blane smiled stupidly. “Rikki, put him down.”

Maverik sniffed at the Dogomon, who writhed to hold onto the Garren’s enormous fingers to take the strain off his neck.  The Delmeen stepped back, his hand falling for his holstered lasertron.

Blane’s voice gained a shrill desperation.  “Please?”

“Charge him!!” the Delmeen demanded of Blane.  Then the Delmeen noticed the discolored skin on Maverik’s and Vasion’s wrists, where the slave bands had ringed them until very recently.

Blane’s stupid smile did not dissipate.  “Oh.  The charger.  Where’d I put it?”

“Gun’m all!” the Delmeen shouted.

The other three Imperials, another Delmeen and two Bekks, drew their lasertrons as the Dogomon in Maverik’s grip reached for his own lasertron with one hand while the other still gripped Maverik’s scaled finger.

“Not good,” Blane sighed.

Vasion acted in the protection of his friend and threw himself into the three enforcers.

“Really not good.”  Blane finally lost the stupid smile, stopped thinking and began acting reflexively.  He drew the Chrid. The energy scepter gleamed in the Simmellian emerald sunlight.

A brawl had started, publicly.  The Delmeen commander fired a quick shot that grazed Maverik’s massive forearm.  The sting surprised the Garren into dropping the Dogomon.

One of the Bekks fell back with the force of Vasion’s assault and drew her communicator.  Vasion hurled to tackle the alien woman.  They tumbled.  Vasion knocked the communicator from the enforcer’s grasp.

Maverik snorted when the Dogomon shot him in the chest.  Scales burned with an acrid stench , but even at such close rang, the laser could not penetrate the Garren’s hide.  The blast and the stench of his own burned scales did nothing but anger him.  He stomped his massive three-toed foot once.  Bones crackled.  The Dogomon never grunted or screamed.

Light burst from the Chrid.  Blane released a single blast, then ground his teeth in fear that he would hit Vasion.  The white ball of energy veered skyward.  He hoped it would hit a Imperial patrol plane.  He turned on his heel and cut the Delmeen commander in half with a wide thin red ray as the Delmeen fumbled for his communicator.

Vasion displayed outright savagery, landing blow upon blow in the hapless Bekk’s face.  Vasion’s awareness of this time and place was lost.  He remembered beatings administered by other blue-uniformed Imperials, and hated Bekks specifically.

Maverik pounced at the remaining two enforcers as Blane started after Vasion.  Maverik’s eyes rolled  after them both.  Aged thirty-two Intergal years at the time he had been sold into slavery, the Garren had been little more than a big late adolescent.  He had since aged little, emotionally or physically.  He had always allowed himself to be led by Vasion more than anyone else, slaver or fellow slave.  The sight of this friend in action incited Maverik as much as the sight of Blane being threatened had.  The Garren bashed the two Imperials together with a perverse pleasure.  The pent up anger shared by all three young men finally found release.

A siren wailed in the distance.  Blane doubted coincidence.  “Vasion!  Rik!  We gotta go!!”

Blane felt pinned down.  Having chosen their journey off the main routes where they would be more likely noticed and questioned, they were on a side street, on one of the higher elevations of the small city.  Blane and Vasion alone would have stood little chance of being witnessed.  Maverik’s size made him difficult to conceal.  He stood taller than a quarter of the buildings in the area.

“They deserve this!” Vasion bellowed.  He grasped the Bekk by her pointed ears and tossed her to the side.  She gasped for breath.  Her face and uniform were all blotted with blood.  Blane killed her with a needle of green energy from the Chrid.  Vasion turned to Blane and began sputtering protest.

For the briefest instant Blane wondered if Vasion would turn his anger on Blane himself.  “I know they deserve it, Vaz.”  He shrugged against Vasion’s objections, hoping Kollins found the gesture disarming, and not some type of fin-puffing challenge.  Vasion grunted and looked at Maverik.  Blane sighed relief and turned in the same direction, then to the two remaining Imperials that Maverik had captured in his huge hands.

“I lost myself,” Vasion admitted, eyeing Maverik.  The Garren tossed the two enforcers through the air in a sadistic game.  He would let one go, watch him start to run, then snatch the imperial back into his enormous hand, squeezing a little more tightly each time.  Vasion barked, “Rikki!  We go!”

Air whistled through Maverik’s stiletto teeth.  He took a enforcer in each fist and slammed them together repeatedly, then hurled both against the ground.  The Delmeen didn’t move.  Maverik stomped on him, heedless if the thick curled horns on the Delmeen’s head might puncture his foot.  The Bekk man struggled to limp away.  Blane killed him with a clean thin burst of the Chrid even as Maverik reached out for him.  The Garren snorted his disappointment to Blane, then smiled with a wide, toothy reptilian grin.

“Where’s there a teleporter?” Blane asked Vasion.

Vasion splayed his bloodied webbed hands.  “We’ve never been allowed into the city before.”

“Come on!”  Blane fled the scene, encouraging the two former slaves to follow.

“This way!” Vasion shouted, stamping his foot.

Blane stopped and turned. “There’s at least one patrol comin’ from that way!  We gotta avoid them!  Rik’s not ‘xactly forgettable to anyone that sees him!”

Vasion hesitated.  As alien as the Kollin’s face was to Blane’s human features, he could tell that Vasion wanted to attack the other patrol.  They stared at each other for long moments.  “True,” Vasion finally agreed.  “Rik, haste!”

The Garren ran forward with strides that would encompass at least five of any Blane or Vasion could take.  He scooped up Blane first, then Vasion, and fled the scene with a fleetness that belayed his bulk.

The excitement had invigorated rather than exasperated them.  They had made a stand together, even if they had not intended to.  That stand had become a statement in their minds, even to Maverik.  Their lives of repression and slavery were over.  Those who had directly served as parents, guardians, controllers and slavers to them all were now gone.  Yet a city, an entire world, bustled all around them, full of similar users and abusers.

At the start of their first journey away from the residence, they had each been so overwhelmed by Simmel’s expansive size and pervasive Imperial occupation and their total unfamiliarity of it that none of them would have dreamed of lashing out.  But their anger had forged a bond of mutual protection, and had gotten the better of them.  The battle was over.  Five slavers and authority figures over this conquered world and its repressed people had been left behind, beaten and crushed and killed.   Blane and Vasion and Maverik all knew that they had accomplished something that none of them would have dared if they’d planned it ahead of time.

The garage doors slid shut, signaling their return to their current home and sanctuary.  Silence fell between them momentarily.  They each silently looked between the closed doors and each other, at first disbelieving that they had gotten away with their rash melee.  Blane smiled when the success of their retreat fully registered in his mind.  In response to Blane’s smile, Maverik’s chest rolled in a contented purr   Vasion clapped his hands together with a sound of bursting air between his flippers.  Blane’s smile broadened.  Maverik hopped in place, shaking the walls.  Vasion grinned, a gesture that displayed his serrated teeth.  Reacting to each other and the cathartic release of anger they shared, they erupted.  Hooting and victory snarls and back slapping morphed into laughter.  Blane and Vasion laughed in a riot, sound bursting past their throats to echo through the empty garage.  Maverik guffawed noiselessly, his head shaking and bobbing, his teeth glinting in the indirect light.  With words and motions, they recounted their battle, exaggerating it with each retelling.  No longer controlled children or captive slaves, they shared individual but identical fantasies of lashing out at the Imperials again.

*

Jeff Kozzi – A property manager in Providence, Rhode Island, Jeff Kozzi has been published in various magazines and anthologies including Our Haunted World, Malicious Deviance, The Aether Age Helios and Things We Are Not.  He writes mostly in his own “Sivil Galaxi” milieu  and is currently in search of an agent for an ambitious space opera trilogy.  He maintains a website at www.kozzi.us.

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