The Afternoon Interruption

Bang.  Bang.  Bang bang bang bang bang.

“What the heck!” I shouted, jumping up from my reclining pose in my room.  The series of rapid-fire explosions seemed to be coming from directly outside my door.  As I scrambled from my bed, where I had been relaxing and enjoying an episode of Doctor Who, I continued to hear more bursts of noise from outside.

Briefly, I wondered if there was some sort of gunfight outside.  I know that our neighborhood is not the safest, and although I’ve never seen or heard any actual fights, the sound of police sirens has become a nightly occurrence.  Should I even look outside?

I cautiously open my door a crack, peering out into our living room.  Immediately, I spot the source of the ruckus.

Several days previously, while my roommate had been away on a weekend excursion, I had taken the opportunity to fill his room with balloons.  Upon his return, he had been delighted by the colorful sight, and had swept the balloons en masse into the living room, where they had covered most of the floor in a dense sea, ever shifting in the gentle breeze of the ceiling fan.  While this had been pleasant for several days, I had quickly grown tired of having to trudge my way through the latex tides on my excursions to the kitchen or bathroom.  Earlier this day, I had requested politely that we reduce the number of balloons in the apartment by a measurable margin.

Clearly, my roommate was willing to oblige.  Gazing out through my half-open bedroom door, I could see him standing triumphantly in the center of the living room, face red, stabbing all around him with a kitchen knife.  Scraps of latex lay strewn across the floor, and as I watched, his plunging blow caught another balloon, which exploded into a shower of rubber scraps with a cacophony of noise.

I opened the door further and caught his eye.  “Having fun?” I asked, as he paused in his slaughter.

“Oh, most definitely!” he retorted.  “Just reducing the number of balloons, like you asked!”

I shook my head slightly, smiling, as I closed the door and the loud bangs resumed outside my room.  Briefly, I wondered if our neighbors were concerned, and if I should expect any police visits.

The Transport of the Future

I yelled out a furious obscenity as the Buick dropped down into my lane.  I slammed my foot down on the air brake, the rear flaps opening to full as I frantically tried to slow my car.  The driver in front of me was idling along; he couldn’t have been going faster than eighty.  I barely managed to avoid removing his trunk.

“Are you freaking kidding me!?” I yelled at my windshield.  “What are you doing, merging right in front of me?  We could have both been killed!”

Still shaking with rage, I hit my signal and merged to the left.  I slammed my foot down on the accelerator, enjoying the visceral rush as the dual-injected Hexagon engine sent blue flames out the back of my car and boosted me easily past the idiot Buick.  I held out my middle finger to the driver, an elderly man hunched over the wheel and squinting through thick glasses, as I roared past.

“Moron,” I muttered to myself.  Glancing ahead, I noted that the lane ahead was occupied by a large freight truck, its engine struggling just to barely meet the speed limit.  I glanced in my overhead mirror, and then merged upward.

I had barely centered myself in the upper lane, however, when I heard an angry honk from behind my vehicle.  I glanced at my mirrors just in time to catch a blurred Corvette as it raced past.  I glanced down at my speedometer and estimated that the driver had to be doing at least fifty over the limit.  “You’re crazy!” I shouted at the rapidly shrinking blue flames zooming ahead of me.

I shook my head slightly as I checked the cruise control.  Man, I had always thought that flying cars would solve all the problems.  I can still remember being stuck in gridlock down in 2D, wishing that I could just zoom over everybody else.

The problem, of course, is that I wasn’t the only one who leaped at the opportunity to pick up a flying car.  They were being offered at aggressive discounts to the senior citizens, to boost sales.  Businessmen were being sold on their straight-as-an-arrow efficiency, soccer moms were being sold on twenty-airbag safety systems, and mod kits were letting anybody with an old beater and a few grand get their worthless hunk of metal airborne.  And if gridlock is frustrating in two dimensions, just imagine it in three.

I continued to make my way home, weaving through the maze of constantly shifting, slowly moving drifters, losers, and hobbits.  No wonder I was always more stressed getting home than when I finished work – it wasn’t the job, it’s the ride home!

Part 1: California, Rest In Peace

I didn’t look up as the emissary entered my office. My pistol was in pieces, scattered across the desk in front of me. With a thump, a manilla file landed among the parts.
I slowly raised my gaze, the leading edge of my flat-brimmed black hat rising to reveal the young man’s face. I watched, feeling a dispassionate, disconnected interest, as his face blanched slightly. The Company didn’t employ many of us, and I was known for my skills. With three fingers, I delicately lifted the slide of my Colt off the table and locked it into place. I kept my eyes on the emissary’s face as I reinserted the recoil spring.
“Job for you,” the young man stammered out, licking his dry lips. “Er, from the Company. Bank robber.” His eyes followed every movement of my fingers as I slid the clip back into my pistol.
With the tip of the barrel of the reassembled weapon, I flipped the folder open on my desk. My eyes dipped briefly to examine the pages, but the barrel of the Colt held a steady bead on the emissary’s head. “Indiana Central Bank and Trust,” I read aloud.
“Yes sir. The robber’s a girl, from the south. Pretty brazen robbery. Wears a black bandana, but that’s about as far as she goes for disguises. We have more background in the file.” I flipped to the next page in the file as the man spoke.
“Interesting parentage,” I commented. “Cop and a protester? Odd pairing, especially in the Deep South.”
The emissary shrugged. “Suppose so. The whole girl’s a little odd, if you ask me. Just look at the name she goes by.”
“Indiana Bank and Trust? Doesn’t seem a big enough incident to merit a Priest.”
“Ah, but it’s not just one bank,” the other man interjected. “She’s hit three, so far, and probably another one today. The Company’s taking a hard stance against criminals, so they’re calling in the big guns. You’re to send a message – she’s stealing from our network, so the Company steps in to take care of the problem. And you, as a Representative of the Company-”
I stood, pushing my chair back. The young man took a reflexive half-step back as I rose, cutting off mid-speech. “I’m to ensure the problem goes away,” I finished his sentence. “Understood. Now, out.” The emissary didn’t need me to tell him twice, and scurried away.
Pushing aside the lapel of my long black coat, I slid the Colt into its holster under my left shoulder, balancing the weight of its fellow on my right. Scooping the file off the table with one hand, I checked my reflection briefly in the mirror on my wall. My white collar stood out, the only bright spot against my black clothes. Below the brim of my hat, the eyes of a trained killer gazed back at me.
When the Company had a troublesome issue, they would send a machine gun priest to take care of the solution. We had earned our name – messy problem, messy solution. But we guaranteed that the problem would go away.
Leaving the office, I glanced down at the name on the file. Danni California – she probably hadn’t intended to cause much trouble. But the Company had sent me the file, and I was going to make Danni California go away.

[Outworld] Spirits

The first chapter in the Outworld saga.  The previous chapter in the Outworld saga.


Why are we brought to Outworld?  What is our purpose?  These questions plague many adventurers, arising in the dead of night to deprive them of sleep.  Some seek out places of power or influence, while others want to merely find an escape, a place where they can live out their days in peace, free of the bizarre.  Still others are driven by their search for answers, desperate to fill in the holes in their memory.  Nearly every adventurer has some quest.  Few of them find the answers they seek.

I stared at the rock rising from the center of the lake. “That’s a hand in there,” I said, staring.
Cain slowly lowered his rifle. “Yeah,” he replied. “Doesn’t seem to be doing much, though. We’ll leave it alone, dodge this encounter.”
His speech concluded, Cain turned away from the oasis, dropping his pack and grabbing some dry branches for a fire. I couldn’t turn away from the trapped hand, however. Only reluctantly did I tear my eyes away, joining my companion in opening a few cans of food to heat over the fire for dinner.
With our meal concluded, I continued to gaze out at the center of the shallow pool. “It’s a girl’s hand,” I said finally.
What if she’s trapped? What if she isn’t some sort of monster?” I pressed.
Cain shrugged one shoulder. “Doesn’t matter. Not worth the risk of finding out.”
I turned to glare at him. “You know, you make out to be this experienced, well-traveled explorer,” I snapped at him. “But despite that, you don’t seem to care about anything that’s out there! Don’t you feel curious?”
Despite my outrage, Cain didn’t seem too put off. “Curiosity tends to lead to trouble,” he replied cryptically. “I’ve seen a lot, and most of it I’d walk right past if I could go back and do it again. I’m not set on searching out trouble. And things like that,” he nodded towards the crystal, “are trouble.”
I sat and considered this for a long moment, but finally dragged myself to my feet. “Well, I’m not going to walk past it,” I said, my mind made up. Picking up a heavy branch, I began wading into the pool, heading for the center. Behind me, Cain growled in frustration, but when I glanced back I saw that he had picked up his rifle and was covering me.
As I had suspected, the pool was fairly shallow – the water had barely reached my armpits by the time I stood at the center, next to the crystal and its enclosed prisoner. Now that I was closer, I could see that the hand was definitely feminine, and seemed to be stretching out as if trying to escape. “Here goes nothing,” I muttered to myself, and raised the branch over my head in an overhead blow.
The heavy impact of the branch left a spidery crack in the clear, smooth surface of the rock. I raised the branch again, slamming it down again and again on the rock. Finally, as I paused for a moment to catch my breath, I cocked my arms back for one more blow. By now, the crystal was entirely covered with thin cracks, distorting the view of the arm within. I brought the splintery branch down once more.
The crystal shattered, sounding like breaking glass. From the interior came a dazzling blue light, shining up like a beacon into the sky. Caught by surprise and half-blinded from the intensity, I staggered back a few steps in the water. As I blinked to adjust my eyes to the sudden brightness, I stared in awe at the pillar of illumination rising up from the ruins of the crystal.
Over a few seconds, the light began to coalesce, condensing inward to form some sort of shape. I raised one hand to shield my eyes, still holding the branch off to one side. As I watched, the light condensed and dimmed slightly, revealing a luminous female humanoid hovering above the water in front of me.
Oh god,” I whispered, as the figure gazed down at me.
Behind me, I heard another groan from Cain. “Couldn’t leave well enough alone,” he complained. “Now we’ve got a spirit to deal with.”
I stared up at the girl, still slowly edging back out of the pool towards the dry sand of the shore. Her gaze turned to follow me, her pupil-less eyes glowing white. I wondered whether I should have heeded Cain’s advice and never touched the crystal.

Spring’s Here!

“Hey guys, it’s springtime!” Fred yelled across the garage.
Sipping my coffee, gloved fingers wrapped around the mug to absorb its warmth, I glared at him. “Fred, are you crazy? It’s not even April! We still have another month of snow!” I shouted back.
Around us, several other drivers were also sending dark glances towards Fred, but he continued to wear his annoyingly foolish grin. “No, it’s the day after the equinox!” he replied. “That means that this is officially spring! Even up here!”
At the far end of the office, our dispatcher leaned out of his office. “Sorry to break up your teatime, ladies!” he called. “Snow emergency in Grand Rapids, should take you a couple hours to drive up. Get moving!”
Climbing up into the cab of my rig, I shook my head at the notion. “Short sleeves and sandals, any day now,” I said out loud as I fired up the engine. After letting the engine warm up for a few minutes, I threw the big truck into drive and followed the other snowplows out of the garage and into the frigid Minnesota tundra.