Archive for the ‘Flash fic’ Category

The Pen Is Mightier

Sunday, August 25th, 2013

Calliope Cervantes walked into her quarry’s store, ducking just in time to avoid a cheap lobotomy from a razor-sharp boomerang. Miles Johnson ran an upscale boutique that sold fancy old-fashioned pens and paper, which only rich people could afford. She knew that boomerang, though, and it didn’t belong to a middle-aged pen-pusher.

“Where’s my man, four-arms?” she shouted, stepping over broken displays.

“I was here first, chocolate chip!”

Blake Taurus disappeared into a back room, along with the muffled screams of, presumably, Miles Johnson. Taurus was a freelance bounty hunter, unlike Calliope, who worked for the good old IRS. And she’d be damned if that hulking biomod junkie swiped her commission. Especially in those awful fake crocodile-skin boots he always wore.

She clicked her heels, rocket boosters powering up, and launched herself through the store. The back door was, as expected, wide open, and led to a narrow hallway that ran the length of the building. This time she had to dodge a pair of boomerangs, twice, the flashing magnetized steel zipping back to the man who had thrown them. Calliope was lucky he had his hands full, or it would have been four. With a grin, she zipped after him.

Taurus had almost made it out a side door when Calliope careened into him like a missile with breasts and kinky hair. He lost his grip on Johnson, but the poor man was thrown against a concrete wall so hard that he was in no condition to run off. Taurus, meanwhile, was only bruised. And angry.

“Back off, sheila,” he growled. “I’ll get prime credits for this fella from the Bankers, and I’m in no mood to dance with you first.”

“You always were a lousy dancer, weren’t you?” she retorted. Bankers, eh? Citizen Johnson certainly owed the wrong people money, on top of old Uncle Sam.

The big man pulled an extra pair of boomerangs off his belt, but she was too close for him to throw them, so he took a swipe at her face instead. She leaned away, then jumped back to avoid getting a close look at her own guts. He spun towards her, all four of his arms slashing and stabbing so fast, it was all she could do to stay out of their reach.

Calliope went for her tasegun, but Taurus sliced her hand open and she dropped it with a curse. He kicked it and it skittered off behind her, back toward the shop. That left her with a pair of SCIDs, which she couldn’t use in close quarters if she wanted to walk away with all her bits. And, of course, her boots.

She kicked one boomerang aside with a snap of her foot, hooking it backward to catch another of the blades and drive it into the wall. Sidestepping a downward swipe, she used a quick rocket burst to launch her knee hard at Taurus’ head. He ducked and she turned her momentum into a roll, coming down next to the still-unconscious Johnson.

“Finders, keepers,” she said, grabbing the man and hefting him over a shoulder. Firing up her boots, she shot them both backward toward the exit door.

With a roar, Taurus charged, and she had to drop her quarry to dive out of the way. Taurus crashed into the door, buying her just enough time to get Johnson with her good hand and use her rockets to slide them across the floor of the hallway, back toward the pen store. The ground was slick with her blood, and Taurus slipped and skidded as he raced after them.

Calliope dragged the lump of a man into the store and looked around. She could get out with Johnson, but she didn’t know how Taurus had gotten here, so he might be able to follow and overtake her if she ran. She had to bring him down, fast. All she had were pens, pens and more pens.

She eyed a display of platinum fountain pens, on satin pillows behind glass. The things people would pay for… Still, those points looked pretty sharp. A sign above them proudly proclaimed, “The Pen Is Mightier Than The Sword! Lifetime GUARANTEE!” Well, that was good enough for her. She smashed the glass with her elbow and grabbed a pair of them.

A boomerang flew past her ear, so close it nipped off a lock of hair. She somersaulted into a crouch, then jumped toward the back room where Taurus stood, two of his hands clenched into fists while the other two held boomerangs.

Before he could react, Calliope drove the pens through the tops of his fake crocodile-skin boots, so hard she felt them hit the wood floor underneath. He roared in pain, and she rolled sideways, then forward as he tried to stab down at her. As he turned, she kicked his knee out, and he collapsed to the floor with a cry.

Gasping for breath, Calliope rocketed up and over him, narrowly missing a pair of flailing arms. She stalked back to dear Miles Johnson, who was starting to come around, groaning softly to himself.

“‘Come on, my girl!” Taurus called. “We can, we can split the credits!”

“Oh yeah?” she said, slipping an antigrav belt on her quarry. “How much?”

“Four–I mean, uh, one million!”

She whistled softly to herself, pulling out her medkit to slap a patch on her hand. That was an awful high bounty for a pen seller. It wasn’t just money he owed the Bankers, then; he must have some special friends, the kind that asked really sharp, pointed questions that didn’t have any right answers. The IRS would be very interested to hear all about his pals, she was sure.

Calliope grinned at Taurus over her shoulder as the weightless Miles Johnson bobbed along behind her. “Blakey, you’re a terrible liar.” She ducked a boomerang, which lodged itself into the doorframe. “G’day, mate. Gimme a call when you get yourself a new pair of dancing shoes.”

The Fatal Engine

Monday, June 24th, 2013

My hands were covered in blood again, but this time it was my own. And it was green.

“Mister Martin sends his regards, London,” the lady with the .45 shouted through the broken windows of the tea shop. “Says he would love to take you apart one piece at a time, but he can do it just as easy if you crash first.” Her partner followed up with a volley from his Uzi, tearing holes in the counter I was crouched behind, and the corpse of the waiter I’d used as a shield.

Martin. I thought I’d killed him, and his backups. I must have missed one. I had to get out of there and warn Thea.

The shop had a back door, but a quick scan told me it also had a half-dozen jacked-up Crazy Dragons in the way. I was caught between a gun and a knife place, and I’d already discharged my stunners.

I’d take my chances with the blades. My bionic left eye cast a green glow on the shards of pottery scattered over the floor. Glass crunched behind me as the hired guns advanced. Time’s up, I thought, launching myself at the swinging door to the kitchen.

Shots followed me in, and the Dragons flanking the door waited for them to stop before pouncing. The back door was ten paces away. I sidestepped one knife and grabbed a nearby kettle to parry another, splashing a third banger with the boiling water inside. Seven paces. A fourth banger got a face full of flame courtesy of the gas stove. Six paces.

I felt the skin of my left shoulder part, blood spraying onto the gold-papered wall. Then the guns were there, and I dove sideways, landing on the burning Dragon. The girl who’d sliced me took a slug to the gut, another to the chest, and suddenly I wasn’t the biggest piece of chum in the shark tank. The Dragons converged on Uzi-guy, distracting him just long enough for me to sprint out the back door, lady goon cursing like a spacer.

I fumbled with my com as I ran as fast as my modded legs could go toward the end of the alley. I had to reach Thea. If Martin was alive, then Operation: Snow Crash was still active. A massive, coordinated series of EMP strikes, designed to fry the circuits of any borgs in the capital, which was pretty much everyone, including me. And Thea.

I was almost to the street. My com buzzed as it called Thea, and on the sidewalk ahead I heard the first few notes of Ode to Joy. But that would mean…

I couldn’t stop quickly enough, barreling into the waiting arms of two goons with muscles like gorillas. And next to them, lips puckered like she’d French-kissed a lemon, stood Thea.

“Sorry I missed your call,” she said. “Bit busy tying up loose ends.”

I couldn’t speak. Thea. How could she? We’d been trying to bring Martin down for months. I’d left her this morning, sleeping and naked and beautiful, to finish the mission once and for all.

“Are you going to cry?” She laughed. “That would be swell. It’s nice to see you bleeding, but some waterworks would really ice the cake.”

That didn’t sound like Thea. “Martin, you son of a bitch,” I growled. “How long has Thea been a backup?”
“That’s my little secret, London. But did you really think Thea was going to screw you without some… Encouragement?”

My gut twisted. The goons dragged me toward a waiting van, and I rapidly considered my options. There was one more hit of nerve gas in my left boot, and I might be able to manage a quick shock if I could get my com close enough to–

“Take it easy,” Thea–no, Martin–said with a grin as he patted my bleeding shoulder. “Now that I’ve got you, we can finish what Thea started while you were sleeping.”

“What are you–” Inside the van, I glimpsed a mobile Proteus unit. No, I thought numbly. She couldn’t have. I would know…

“Time to reboot, London.” Martin watched the goons strap me in, struggling and slick with green. I searched her eyes for the tiniest spark of Thea in there, but I knew it was pointless.

“If I ever get restored–”

“Don’t worry, chief, you won’t.” The faceplate dropped and I got one last glimpse of my face, bionic eye glowing, human eye wide with terror. “But you’re going to love being me.”

* * * * *
For Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challenge for June 21.


Friday, February 22nd, 2013

“David, don’t move,” I said calmly.

“What? Why?” He spun in place. There was a click as a tile under his foot shifted, then a loud grinding sound from within the walls.

“So you don’t set off the trap,” I said, sighing.

With a puff of dust, the floor started to move, two pieces sliding away from each other to expose what hid underneath. David stumbled into Melissa, who slapped his arm away.

“If we get out of this alive,” she hissed at him, “I’m going to kill you.”

The inside of the temple had been hot, but as the floor opened, the temperature rose until I thought I was going to melt. Unfortunately, if we didn’t move fast, I was more likely to burst into flame.

“The floor is turning into lava!” David shrieked.

“Very observant!” Melissa retorted.

“Up here!” My voice echoed in the cavernous room. I clambered onto a stone dais stained with fresh blood. A huge wooden statue towered over it, jutting out from the wall, arms extended as if to receive the sacrifice below. If we could get onto its head, we could jump to one of the viewing platforms carved into the rock above.

Melissa scrambled up beside me and started to climb, David close behind. I glanced down at the widening gap in the floor. At this rate, we’d just be able to make it out before–

Melissa, now at the top of the statue, yelped and clapped a hand to her neck. It came away tinged with blood and a darker, tarry substance.

“Curare,” I whispered. We only had a few minutes before the poison shut down her respiratory system. But now I saw that the natives who had chased us in here were up on the platform we’d been trying to reach. We had nowhere to go.

I pulled out my pistol and fired a few rounds at our pursuers, but I could hear them ricochet off the walls. The lava had almost reached the altar below us. Sweat ran into my eyes and made my grip on the statue slippery.

There was another platform on the other side of the cavern. But how to get to it? I scanned the walls and ceiling, dense with vegetation from the jungle outside. Vines thick as my arm looped down or dangled over us.

Melissa shot me a stricken look. “My arms’re getting stiff,” she slurred.

“We need to reach those vines and get up there,” I told David, pointing. “You help Melissa and I’ll cover for you.”

“There’s no way we can make that!” he exclaimed.

“It’s that or the lava,” I snapped. “Are you going to give up like you always do? Or are you finally going to pull yourself together and do something right?”

It was harsh, I knew. But the slant of his eyes told me it wasn’t enough.

“Are you just going to let Melissa die when you could be the hero and save her?” I asked, softly.

That did it. He scrunched up his face and shimmied up the statue. The vines were barely within reach, though it took David a few tries to get enough to support their weight. He wrapped Melissa’s arms around his neck and grabbed her by the waist. To my surprise, she planted a firm kiss on his mouth.

“For luck,” she said, her skin flushed. Probably from the heat.

David beamed and took a deep breath. “Geronimo!” he shouted, flinging the two of them toward the platform. The vines creaked under their weight as they swung, then tore free from the ceiling. For a long moment they arced through the air, over the shimmering golden death that burned below. Their momentum carried them up and over the lip of the platform and they landed with a thud, David on top of Melissa. I was sure she’d give him an earful about that later.

Now it was just me. I reached for as many vines as I could grab. I would have to hope that I could avoid any darts, because I doubted David was going to be able to give both of us CPR on top of getting us back to the plane. The huge emerald eyes of the statue winked at me, and I wondered if I could pry them out quickly, take them back to the museum…

And then the statue burst into flames. That settled it. I wrapped the vines around my wrist and threw myself backwards, shooting at the natives as I flew through the smoldering air. I dipped precariously low, my hat flying off and bursting into flame before it even hit the molten lava. Would the vines hold? Or would I join it? My vision swam and shimmered, spotted from the brightness beneath me.

And then my feet hit the platform and I fell, sliding away from the lip of the cave and hitting my head on an unfortunately placed rock. I stared at nothing. I’d have a goose egg in a few minutes, and a headache later, and for some reason that struck me as absurd. Icing on the cake. The big, gooey lava cake. I stifled a giggle.

Smoke from the fiery statue obscured our pursuers, so I turned my attention to David and Melissa. David was busily giving her mouth-to-mouth–or so I assumed. I opted to give them a moment to be sure, instead carefully climbing to my feet and investigating our new surroundings.

The cave was small, with a narrow entrance at the rear just wide enough for one person. Beyond it looked like the ground sloped up. And–dare I hope–sunlight?

Now we just had to walk through miles of dangerous jungle, avoiding hostile residents and predators while giving constant CPR to a poisoned, paralyzed person. I patted at a tiny flame that smoked on the sleeve of my shirt.

Piece of lava cake.

* * * * *
For Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challenge for February 22.

Rise and Fall

Friday, August 12th, 2011
Pilar held the tip of her sword to the assassin’s throat. “How much?” she hissed.

He swallowed, his eyes crossed from looking at the weapon. An amateur, she thought. The bounty must have gone up.

“I will not ask again.” She pressed the sword down, drawing blood.

“Ten thousand,” he whispered.

Her stomach clenched. That would feed a family for years. A large family. She hadn’t thought she had any tears left, but her eyes managed to uncover a few.

“This isn’t my fault, you know.” Pilar’s hand didn’t waver, though her voice did. “I was cursed. They set the spell on me and sent me off to where I would cause the most damage.”

She leaned closer to the man, who tried to squirm away and earned himself another cut. Not that it mattered; he would be dead from the curse in a few days if she didn’t kill him now. Like everyone in Tremont, and Fairhaven, and Port Royal with its tall white towers and fabled hanging gardens. Like the people of all the other cities she had passed through in the three empires that were no more.

“I’m trying to find a cure,” she said. She wasn’t sure why, but she wanted him to understand. “Is my life worth less than any other? Can you justify murdering one innocent person to save a hundred more? A thousand?”

“I don’t care about them,” the man said, gritting his teeth. “You killed my family. I was across the sea on business and–”

“But it wasn’t me!” she screamed. “Those damn mages did this! Why don’t you go after them instead!”

“Because,” he muttered, avoiding her gaze. “This is easier.”

Her eyes dried. “Not as easy as it will be to slide this into your throat. For what it’s worth, I am sorry.”

“So am I,” the man said.

Pilar frowned. “Why?”

“He’s only a decoy,” said a voice behind her.

She felt a sharp pain in her chest and suddenly couldn’t breathe. Was that a sword? Try as she might, she couldn’t turn to see who had done it. Not that it mattered. She hadn’t seen most of the people she had killed, so it only seemed fair that she couldn’t see her own killer.

Not my fault, she tried to say, but all she could do was mouth the words as she stared at the man beneath her. He stared back as she fell to the cold ground, with what might have been pity in his eyes, and then she saw no more.

The man stood up, holding his injured throat. “Is it over, then?”

“We’ll know soon enough,” his partner said, wiping his sword clean on Pilar’s clothes. “If the curse doesn’t die with her, then we are all doomed.”

In Absentia Luci

Friday, January 21st, 2011

Brother Abselius had not always been an ambitious man. He entered the Order of the Omniscient Shadow mainly because they promised initiates two square meals a day, and he had seen the way people slipped offerings to the other brothers as they walked the streets of the city. Dark things occurred in dark places, so it paid to be in the Shadow’s good graces. If sometimes the pay happened to go into a brother’s stomach instead of onto an altar, who was to know? But the more he learned of the order’s teachings, the more power he gradually came to wield, and he found that it tasted better than any poor peasant’s stale bread.

“What news, Brother Mordo?” he asked when he reached the designated meeting place.

“The First meditates in the Pit, Second,” the heavy-set fourth-level disciple replied, wiping sweat from his forehead. “Her candle suggests she will be there for at least two more marks.”

“Good. I will send you word when… well, I will send word.”

Brother Mordo nodded and slipped into the shadows, as if the Second could not track his movements easily. Still, he supposed it did not hurt for the disciple to practice.

It was customary for the First to finish his journey into shadow in a reasonable time, thereby allowing the Second to ascend to First and lead the Order. The current First, whose name was mysteriously missing from the Order’s records, had been in her place for at least the past three hundred years. This hadn’t been important to Brother Abselius–until he became the Second.

The Pit was the deepest room underground in the sprawling complex that housed the Order. Brother Abselius passed through the above-ground temple that was all most people experienced, with its jet-black stone walls and portraits of significant historical events. He descended into the upper floors, where the wide-eyed pledges began their initiation trials, then down to the darker middle floors, where routine business was conducted by the fifth and sixth level disciples, and farther down still, past the silent chambers of the third and fourth levels in their solitary studies.

If the First would not go gently into the waiting arms of the Shadow, then Brother Abselius would be more than happy to assist her in her passage. He had complete mastery over the Order’s secrets, after all, and was no less than the First in skill, he was sure. Darkness itself was his plaything, his servant to call upon and mold to his will, and there was no place more full of darkness than the Pit.

As he had been told, the First’s candle sat in an alcove outside the thick stone door, at least a mark remaining until the flame guttered out. With a smirk, he casually flicked a shadow at the light and it extinguished in a puff of smoke.

He could not open the door because the First would hear him, and as no one dared disturb her in her meditations, she would at the least be on her guard, if not inclined to retaliate immediately. But he was a patient enough man, and had carefully crafted the tiniest pinhole through the rock wall of the Pit, curved so that no candle light might accidentally reveal it to the person inside. It was a simple enough task to slip into the shadows and slide through the hole in the blink of an eye.

The First sat in the center of the small room, her back to the door, her small frame hunched over her legs with her head buried in her crossed arms. She was still as the stone that surrounded her, and the Second had only to drive a spike of darkness into the back of her neck to secure his glorious future.

“Brother,” the First said, her voice like a whisper of wind through tall grass. “Reconsider.”

He said nothing, but struck, sending the icy stiletto at the woman with the full speed of dark. It sank into her skin without a sound, and she sighed.

Then, to his dismay, she slowly unfolded her limbs and rose to her feet, her black eyes boring into his.

“Your learning is incomplete.”

“I have mastered the dark,” he spat, preparing for another attack.

She shook her head. “You have not.”

Softly, so that Brother Abselius thought he imagined it, the First began to glow. Her skin brightened from the faintest reflection of a star’s glimmer to the pale gleam of the moon, and the Second’s eyes struggled to adjust from the total darkness. His pupils could not shrink fast enough, and the moon soon became daylight, then the searing glare of the sun itself. He threw up his arms to shield his face, but the light penetrated even through his closed eyelids and thick black robes. He could feel his vision burning to white and knew he had gone blind.

“To master the darkness,” the First said, “you must first master the light.”

Brother Abselius screamed.

When the First left the Pit a mark later, she left alone. Inside, on the wall near the door, a vaguely human shadow stained the stone a slightly darker hue that no one but the First was ever likely to notice.