The Danger Zone – Part VI

Previous part.  Start from the beginning.

The shape slammed into the lead Humvee, knocking it sideways and sending it rolling through the drifts of sand.  Kurt didn’t even pause, sending a steady stream of lead towards the monstrosity of a creature that had attacked.  My eyes, however, were following the wreck of the Humvee, now a shattered and dented mass lying in the dip between two sand drifts.  The impact had reduced it to a nearly unrecognizable ball of metal.

Kurt’s assault rifle had run out of ammunition, and he was spewing a steady stream of loud curses as he struggled to reload in the bouncing vehicle.  The gunner on top of our Humvee had managed to drag the heavy mounted machine gun onto the new target, however, and the monster in front of us let out a thin, almost inaudible wail as the new stream of high-velocity rounds tore through it.  I caught an impression of flailing tentacles, a jagged, gnashing beak, and far too many eyes of all different sizes, all smashed together into a roiling mass.  An instant later, however, the heavy bullets shredded it into pulp.

Still letting out that thin scream, the monster landed in the sand, its death spasms rolling it off the side of the convoy.  With the path ahead of us clear, the driver didn’t hesitate to slam the gas pedal all the way to the floor, and we leapt forward.

The soldier riding shotgun in the passenger seat looked down at the computer screen mounted in the central panel of the Humvee.  “Beacon’s just ahead,” he announced.  “One thousand feet.  Eight hundred.  Six hundred.  Four hundred.  Two hundred.”

The driver slammed on the brakes, and I clutched at my seat belt as the vehicle skidded sideways for several feet before coming to a stop.  My wide eyes saw that, of the dozen delivery trucks that had originally entered the portal with us, only eight were still with us.  The rear Humvee was still with us as well, but I could see smoke emerging from under its hood and with the front wheels twisted at an awkward angle.  Several of the large delivery trucks were spotted with what looked like burn marks, and one of them had a large tear in the metal siding.

Kurt reached behind the seat, into the trunk area of our Humvee, and pulled out a briefcase.  Hauling it over the seat and into his lap, he popped the side door and leapt out of the vehicle.  Bradley, on my other side, followed suit.  Not sure what to do, but not wanting to be left alone in the vehicle, I hurried to follow them.

The gray sand that made up the surface of subspace was very light, and small clouds of it swirled around my feet as I landed outside the Humvee.  A few of the grains reached my mouth and nose, making me cough.  They were gritty in my throat, but tasteless.

I turned towards the other mercenaries.  Kurt was kneeling down on the sand, the briefcase lying open in front of him.  Inside was some sort of computer machinery, with which he was fiddling.  Bradley was standing next to him, his alert and worried eyes on the dark clouds around us and his hands tight on his assault rifle.

I moved towards Kurt, trying to peer over his shoulder in the dim half-light.  The computer screen inside the briefcase appeared to be running some sort of program.  “What is that?” I asked.

“We need to send a signal to the other side, so that we can get a portal out of here,” he replied.  “They can’t just leave the portal constantly open; you’ve seen the kind of things that are out here.  So we open a miniature portal, just big enough to send a radio signal through, to let them know that we’re at their endpoint.”

The computer beeped.  “How long is it going to take?” I asked, looking around nervously, my eyes on the sky.  The low, oppressive clouds gave the entire world a claustrophobic feel, as if a great weight was hovering just above us.  There could be an entire army of those monsters, hiding in or above the clouds, and we would never know – until they swooped below to attack.

Kurt straightened up, brushing the ubiquitous sand from his fatigues.  “Signal’s sent,” he said.  “Should just be a few minutes now.”

Getting towards the end – promise!

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The Danger Zone – Part V

Previous part.  Start from the beginning.

The roaring of our vehicle’s powerful engine jumped an octave, and I felt the visceral thrill of acceleration throw me back into the hard seat.  Spinning around to stare out the back, I could see the larger cargo trucks shaking back and forth as they lumbered to keep up.  The featureless, identical hills of gray sand, however, seemed to stretch on forever, offering no clue as to our increased speed.

At first, it seemed as though Kurt’s plan was working; I could see the darker smudge among the hazy clouds, the origin of the attacking misty tentacles, receding into the background behind us.  But the smile of relief had barely appeared on my face before it was whisked away as I glanced forward again and saw more splotches darkening the clouds ahead.

I finally found my voice.  “But I thought that subspace was empty!” I said in disbelief.  “I thought that nothing could live here!  Nothing could survive!”

Kurt had pulled his gun back inside the vehicle to avoid losing it as we had picked up speed, but he kept his window open, casting suspicious glances towards the clouds.  “Oh, there are things here, all right,” he growled.  “Don’t know if you’d call it living, though.  Seems that they just want to attack, far as we’ve seen.”

“You encounter these things regularly?”  I stared up at the sky, my eyes wide, struggling to keep a handle on the situation.

The only response I received from Kurt was a short nod, but the soldier riding shotgun in the front, who had remained quiet for the entire ride so far, finally opened his mouth.  “And they’re getting worse,” he added darkly.

Shifting in my seat to lean forward, between the two front seats, I turned to him.  “Worse?”

The soldier didn’t turn back towards me, didn’t even tear his glance away from the window, but he opened his mouth to reply.  “Been doing these runs since the beginning,” he grunted.  “First few runs were completely clear.  Fifth run was when we first saw them – they attacked just as we reached the end, so some of us could escape.  Still destroyed half our convoy; we weren’t prepared or armed at all.”

The man adjusted the position of the rifle on his lap slightly.  I watched his knuckles turn white as he gripped the weapon.  “Now, they attack every run, and more of them each time,” he went on.  “We tried lights, klaxons, different times, different routes – nothing made any difference.  The whole place looks exactly the same, and there’s no way of navigating save our guidance systems.  So now all we can do is try to outrun the bastards and hope for the best.  And I don’t know how much longer our luck will hold.”

Despite this fatalistic viewpoint, we seemed to be doing all right – for the moment.  The engines of our convoy were roaring as we hurtled over the sand, splashing through the crests of dunes, but the dark shapes in the clouds seemed to be keeping their distance.  “Three minutes to beacon,” the soldier in the driver’s seat commented, his voice terse.

The commander merely grunted again, turning his gaze back to the skies, but Bradley risked a quick smile at me.  “Not so bad of a run,” he said.  “We ought to make it the rest of the run without any-”

Bradley’s words were cut off, and the rest of my senses momentarily overwhelmed, as a gigantic shape suddenly swept down across the road in front of us…

To be continued…

Flash Fiction – the ultimate weapon of a god!

Short break from The Danger Zone.  This excerpt is in response to the following writing prompt:

God grants a warrior one wish. The warrior wishes for the ultimate weapon. He is given a can opener.

I opened my eyes, feeling the weight of the gift in my hands. I savored the moment of triumph, refusing to let my gaze drop from the swirling god in front of me. This was it. The ultimate weapon. I would be forever the best. Filled with anticipation, bursting with joy, overwhelmed by pride and conviction, I looked down.

“It’s… It’s smaller than I thought.”

Hmm. I flipped the item over, spun it around, trying to make sense of the curious object. It seemed quite simple; two pieces of steel, each about eight inches in length, connected at one end by a riveted joint. A couple of gears meshed together near that end. The handles were coated with rather flimsy black plastic.

I raised the weapon above my head and, with a dramatic flourish, pointed it at the far wall of the cavern. Nothing. No death beams, no pain blades, no poison-tipped killing darts. I tried spinning the gears a bit. The tool made a whirring sound, but produced no further reaction.

After a few minutes, I turned back to the swirling, ever-shifting cloud of smoke in front of me. “God, I don’t understand,” I asked, my tone plaintive. “What is this? Is it a great weapon from the future?”

“Yes, it comez from zee future,” the voice boomed out of the cloud, echoing around the cavern and making the ground shake beneath my feet. “It iz a can opener!”

“A what?”

“Canz! You know? For ze food holding?” The smoke somehow managed to swirl in a rather confused manner. A small metal cylinder dropped out of the fog, rolling to a stop at my feet. I picked it up. Printed on the side of the cylinder was a blue fish, wearing black glasses, a red hat, and a rather silly grin.[1]

“This thing opens cans?” I repeated, hefting my ultimate weapon, which I was beginning to suspect was nothing of the sort. “I wanted something to smite my enemies! To destroy armies! To bring my foes crashing to their knees in their haste to grovel before me!”

“No, no,” the cloud replied. “Zis was your wish. For all canz to be open before you. And zis openz everyting!”

I made sure that my groan was loud enough for the cloud to hear me, and turned on my heel, stomping heavily as I left the cavern. Charlie, my worthless excuse of a guide, was waiting for me just outside the mouth of the cave.

“How did it go, boss?” he asked, radiating anxiety from every pore. “Get the weapon?”

I held up the can opener for him to see. “No! The stupid god gave me some sort of cooking tool! Like I’m a woman! I told you that we shouldn’t have gone to the god of- of whatever he was the god of!”

Charlie glanced down at the wrinkled and folded map he always clutched. “Bomb shelters,” he read off.

“Yeah, well, I don’t know what one of those is, but it sounds powerful. But apparently the ultimate weapon there is this thing!” Filled with disgust and impotent rage, I pulled back my arm. On the other side of the clearing outside the cave stood a tall oak, its branches gnarled with age. My throw sent the can opener flying directly into its branches.

Boom.

I was thrown to the ground. Muscles crying out, I sat up, waving a hand in front of me to try and clear some of the dust that now filled the air.

Charlie and I both rose unsteadily to our feet, staring across the clearing at the remains of the oak tree. The trunk, at least three times my arm span in circumference, had been shattered into splinters. The two halves of the tree had peeled away, as if the axe of the gods themselves had descended and split it like a piece of kindling. A thin plume of white smoke rose from the stump still protruding from the ground.

“We should go find that weapon,” Charlie finally spoke, his tone unusually flat.

I could do nothing but nod. We staggered across the clearing, bits of charred wood crunching beneath our boots. The can opener was buried in the trunk, and I had to brace myself against the tortured wood with both feet in order to pull it free.

“Opens everything, huh?” I said aloud, turning the odd tool in my hands as Charlie looked on. “Maybe this wish wasn’t wasted, after all.”

The Danger Zone will continue on Wednesday!

The Danger Zone, Part IV

Previous part.  Start from the beginning.

I stared out the windows at subspace.  I felt as though we were in the Sahara at night; we were surrounded by dunes of sand, while the sky overhead was a dull black.  The dunes seemed dimly lit, hazily visible, but I could see no outcrops or breaks in the rolling sand.  “On guard against what?” I asked.  “Why are we so armed and armored?”

Kurt grunted sourly and didn’t reply, staring out the window, but the soldier on the other side of me gently nudged me.  “Listen, traveling out here is dangerous,” he said, his tone much more congenital than Kurt.  “There’s things out there.  And they don’t like us being here.”

I turned to face the other man.  Despite the combat fatigues, sidearm strapped to his leg, and heavy rifle laid across his lap, he looked surprisingly young, his face clean shaven in contrast to Kurt’s rough stubble.  “Things?  Have you seen them?” I asked.

“Bradley,” the young soldier offered, holding out his hand.  “And yeah, they’ve tried to hit us a few times.  Personally, I think they’re attracted to the engine noise.  Hey, looks like the convoy’s all through – you might want to hold on to something.”

I looked up.  Indeed, all of the vehicles had now passed through the the portal, and were moving across the gray sand, their tires sinking in slightly.  “Got the exit beacon,” the pilot commented in front of us.

“Then let’s get going!” Kurt ordered.  The driver nodded, and his foot slammed down on the accelerator.
Despite Bradley’s warning, I was thrown back in my seat as the convoy vehicles leapt forward, rapidly accelerating until the dunes outside were blurred and sprays of sand were being thrown up by tires.

“Fifteen minutes to the beacon,” the driver announced, his voice nearly a yell to be heard above the roar of the engine.  Kurt grunted in acknowledgement, although his sour expression didn’t change as he stared out the window.

I turned back to Bradley.  “What sort of creatures are out there?” I asked.  I had never heard of anything being alive in subspace; all accounts made it out to be barren and deserted.  Yet the preparations and weapons carried by these soldies painted a very different picture.

Bradley opened his mouth, but couldn’t seem to find the words for a minute.  “They’re just alien,” he said finally, shuddering a little.  “Monsters.  Not like anything on Earth.  They come in groups, so we don’t-”

The radio mounted in our Humvee buzzed into life, cutting Bradley off.  “Contact!” it squawked.  “Left side, coming in fast!”

Kurt roared wordlessly, raising his rifle to point out the open window.  I stared over his shoulder, trying to see what was coming.  At first, I could see nothing out of the ordinary beside the rolling gray sand dunes.  As Kurt raised his weapon, however, I could see a darker, indistinct shape approaching, above the dunes.  It looked like a bank of very thick fog, rolling in towards the convoy.

As I stared, darker shapes solidified inside the fog, reaching forward.  My eyes went wide.  The shapes were resolving themselves into massive tentacles!  They appeared partly amorphous, wobbling slightly as though made from jelly.  Kurt’s rifle barked, the staccato of automatic gunfire shattering the silence.  The tentacles burst apart into shredded chunks.  But already, more of them were emerging from the fog.

Kurt’s rifle wasn’t alone.  The other men in the convoy turned their own weapons on the fog.  The higher-pitched pops of rifles were joined by the heavier thudding of the mounted machine guns on the Humvee turrets, each round tearing through multiple tentacles.  Yet still they poured out of the fog.

“Faster!” Kurt roared at the driver as he shifted to a new target.  “We can’t win!  We need to get to the beacon!”

Continued in Part V. Yes, there are a lot of chapters.

The Danger Zone, Part III

Continued from Part II.  Start at the beginning.

The discovery of subspace began, as so many great breakthroughs do, with a tragedy.  At the end of the twenty-first century, with space exploration experiencing a massive resurgence in popularity, research teams around the world, both public and private, were racing to develop the next generation of zero-atmosphere engines for interplanetary flight.  Most of the public institutions were pursuing more reasonable upgrades to current rockets, such as reusable, refillable booster stages, lighter and more compact fuel, and more efficient shuttle designs.  The private research groups, however, were free to chase down stranger long shots – which may partly explain why, on one sunny morning, a research complex in Massachusetts exploded in a blast that radiated out for twenty miles and turned the ground to molten glass.

This tragedy attracted widespread media attention, of course, but Actinide, the company that had been funding the research facility, managed to remain stubbornly close-mouthed and avoid detailing too much information in the investigative probes from government review boards.  Less than five years later, they announced that they had discovered a new method of travel, crossing thousands of miles in mere minutes by traversing across an alternate dimension.

Actinide didn’t file any patents, and over the next few years the company managed to keep the details of its discovery fairly secret through a combination of corporate counter-espionage, bribes, and the occasional rumored industrial sabotage of a rival that was getting too close to developing their own version of subspace travel.  Scientists made fruitless complaints about the poor research environment, other shipping companies went bankrupt, and Actinide quickly gained a near-monopoly in the interplanetary shipping market.  Yet somehow, they still seemed plagued by delays and issues with their subspace systems.

This is where I came in.  Sure, I was a pure-hearted academic on the inside, but I knew the advantage of good marketing, and sold myself to Actinide as an expert who might be able to help streamline their process.  I had suspected for a long time that they had issues, and their request for me to accompany a cargo shipment proved my suspicions correct.

My credentials weren’t falsified, of course; aside from the researchers working behind gag orders for Actinide itself, I probably knew more about subspace than anyone else.  The principles were remarkably similar to something out of a science fiction tale; gates at fixed locations used very high pulses of energy to form a temporary tunnel through the fabric of reality, creating an entrance and exit.  The convoy would travel through subspace between these two portal points; rough data suggested that a meter in subspace corresponded to approximately 4 kilometers in our dimension.

It had taken several seconds as the crackling of stray bolts of energy grounding themselves around the portal intensified, but I could now see that the giant ring was filled with a shimmering haze.  I could hear a faint crackling noise radiating out from the portal, like the noise around a bug zapper on a warm June night.  A loud buzzer sounded, and with a jerk, the vehicles dropped into gear and began rolling forward.  I stared over the shoulders of the bulky men in the front seat, watching with wide eyes as the Humvee in front of us vanished into that haze, growing obscured as though entering thick fog.  We were close behind, nearly bumper to bumper, and I tried not to hold my breath as we passed through the portal.

I had been expecting some sort of sensation, some sort of tingling or prickling, but I felt nothing.  Kurt, sitting next to me, poked me with an elbow.  “On guard,” he growled.  “We’re in it now.  No relaxing until we’re through.”


The Danger Zone, Part II

Continued from Part I.

My brow furrowed.  “Wait.  Fool’s errand?  Is this dangerous?”  I uneasily remembered the massive stack of legal documents given to me by the Actinide lawyers, all of which required my initials.

This comment produced a couple of short, humorless laughs from the men working around me.  The commander’s lips didn’t even twitch, however.  “Ever handle a gun before?” he asked.

I briefly thought about mentioning that I had tried out for javelin in undergrad, but decided that it wouldn’t be of any use.  “Never,” I replied honestly.  As soon as the word was out of my mouth, a pistol was thrust into my hands.

“Easy,” the commander told me.  “Point it at the enemy and pull the trigger.  If it runs out, well, you’re probably dead by that point anyway.”

“Enemy?” I repeated, feeling totally lost.  But before I could get a reply, a loud whistle sounded from somewhere in the recesses of the massive hangar, and the men around me seemed to double their movements.

The commander’s hand landed firmly on my shoulder.  “The portal’s about to open,” he announced.  “Time to move.”

With the commander forcibly leading me from behind, I approached the convoy.  Only as I drew closer did I get a true sense for how large – and heavily armored – these vehicles were.  Half a dozen massive delivery trucks made up the heart of the convoy, but a pair of heavily armed Humvees were at the front, closest to the portal, and a third brought up the rear.  All three escort vehicles sported rotary turrets on top, soldiers running final checks on the oversized guns mounted in them.  I also noticed that the tires on all of the vehicles were oversized, at least three feet in diameter, and seemed to be covered in some sort of gritty sand.  I wanted to stop, to ask questions about these details, but the commander pushed me onward.  It soon became clear that my destination was the second Humvee, just behind the front-runner.

“This seems a little heavily armed for just a transport, don’t you think?” I managed to shout above the noise as the commander pushed me up and into the back seat.  “And by the way, I don’t think I caught your name!”

The man glared at me as he climbed up into the seat behind me, pulling the door shut, but I forced myself to keep eye contact.  “Kurt,” he told me shortly.  “And trust me, this isn’t enough weaponry.”  I wanted to ask more, but a loud hissing cut me off.  I glanced forward, past the burly and rough-shaven man filling every inch of the driver’s seat, and watched, around the front vehicle ahead of us, as the portal opened.


The Danger Zone, Part I

Steam hissed through pipes around the massive platform, struggling to cool the air as the last vehicles of the convoy pulled into position.  The gloom of the gigantic chamber gave the impression of everlasting night, despite the struggling halogen bulbs far overhead.  Men in camouflage uniforms were rushing around.  They walked with a sense of self-importance that went beyond the sidearms strapped to their waists, and in many cases the larger and heavier-looking weapons slung over shoulders or across the back.

Standing in the midst of this activity, I did my best to stay out of the way.  Men with chiseled faces and stern frowns were double-checking a hundred different things on the heavy vehicles; tire pressure, ammunition loading belts, piston pressure gauges, ammunition reservoirs, and other systems that I couldn’t even name.  I couldn’t recall another time when I had felt so out of place.

A week ago, I recalled, I hadn’t been this nervous.  Indeed, I had been ecstatic – I was, as far as I could find, the very first researcher to be given permission to ride along on a subspace transport convoy.  Or, as the mercenaries I interviewed called it, the “danger zone.”

As an academic researcher, fieldwork was always highly coveted, and subspace was the Holy Grail – an entirely new dimension, only recently discovered and still barely understood.  Private interests, namely the Actinide Shipping Corporation, had been quick to purchase patents on the access machinery, and they now held absolute control over what passed through subspace, using the rapid transportation to rapidly grow into one of the most powerful companies in existence.

Of course, the one commodity that Actinide couldn’t control was information, and rumors quickly spread about subspace.  Mysterious lifeforms, unusual materials, and strange messages were all claimed to exist inside subspace.  Some anonymous sources even insisted on the internet that entire ecosystems existed inside this dimension, disturbing and unusual beyond our wildest imaginations.  Nothing was verified, of course, and the Actinide Shipping Corporation regularly issued blanket denials to all such rumors.  If anything, however, this only increased their prevalence.

It didn’t help that Actinide chose to offer relatively few subspace transport options, usually citing the cost of activating portals as the main reason.  They also hired some of the toughest mercenaries in known space, battle-hardened men and women who seemed more likely to be found in a war zone than working for an import/export company.  These men were fearless, emotionless, and, as I had found in my attempts to gather more information about subspace, unwilling to break the terms of their non-disclosure agreements.  But now, I would finally have the chance to see what I had been questing after!

My mental monologue was interrupted by my name, ringing out in a gravelly voice over the sounds of mechanical adjustments.  I turned, and found myself face to face with a tall and imposing man.  I guessed that he had to be in at least his sixties from the gray in his hair and the deep-set lines on his face, but his head was still buzzed and he carried himself like a trained killer.  Several stripes decorated each shoulder, and he was clearly in charge.  He glared down at me as he approached, regarding me much the way that one would regard a particularly unpleasant insect that was about to encounter the heel of a boot.

“You’re the nerd,” he said.  It was a statement, not a question.

“Yes, I’m a graduate researcher at MIT, working on possible practical applications for subspace travel in regards to-” I began, but the man clearly wasn’t interested.  A short wave of his hand cut me off.

“You’re a goddamn bureaucratic nuisance, is what you are,” he interrupted.  “And you sure as shit don’t know much about subspace, or you’d never have volunteered to go on this fool’s errand.”


The Superhero Date, Part II

Continued from Part I.

I took the hand, and was surprised when the gorgeous woman lifted me up onto my feet without showing any apparent effort.  I’m not overweight, and can live with my mirror appearance if I suck in my stomach a little bit, but I’m no featherweight either.  The girl brushed off my shoulders, smoothing down my wrinkled jacket.  I noticed that, even when I was standing straight, she was at least three inches taller than me.  “I’m okay, I think,” I managed to stammer out.

As I gazed up at the woman, I struggled to find words.  The woman spoke up before I could speak, however.  “Here, let me make it up to you,” she said.  “Let me get you a cup of coffee; you can sit and get your breath back!”  And before I could say a word, I was being hauled across the lobby towards the overpriced coffee shop in the building.

Fortunately, I managed to find my voice and placed an order – large coffee, cream, no sugar.  The woman ordered an extra-large chai tea.  “It helps me keep my mind clear, calms my nerves,” she explained.  “Now, my name’s Ellen.  Ellen Etters.  Who are you?”

“Aiden,” I replied, taking a sip of my coffee.  It was too hot, of course, and I forced myself to swallow it, burning my mouth, instead of spitting it out.  “Aiden Amherst.”

Ellen leaned forward, smiling at me.  “An alliterative name!” she pointed out.  “You know, it’s not every day that I get to meet someone . . . with an alliterative name . . . in everyday life!”

I smiled back, although I wasn’t sure what she was talking about.  “And you work here?” I asked.

She nodded.  “Daily Globe newspaper, on the fifteenth floor.  I write a gossip column, and attend most of the city’s high-class functions.  There’s actually one coming up tonight!”  She leaned in towards me, her eyes blinking enchantingly.  “Maybe you could come with me, so that I could get to know you a bit better-”

Before I could respond, we were all temporarily deafened by a loud explosion from just outside the building!  I jumped up out of my seat, watching as a giant cloud of dust rolled up against the floor-to-ceiling glass windows.  I turned back to my chair, but to my surprise, Ellen was already gone.

She must have gone running off to find someplace safer, I thought ruefully to myself.  As another loud crash made the building shudder, however, I decided that perhaps I would be safer outside.  I hurried for the door, pushing through the crowds and forcing my way out onto the cement “garden” area.  But once outside, I could do nothing but stare up at the sky in awe.

What looked like a gigantic metal monster was stomping around downtown!  Even as I watched, the monster swung its arm into a neighboring building, shattering concrete and sending splinters of glass raining down on the shouting crowds below.  Everywhere I looked, people were running away in all directions, many with their hands in the air, as pieces of building rained down on the street.

“Away, foul creature!”

To be continued!

The Superhero Date, Part I

It had started off as a relatively good day, I reflected ruefully, as I stared out through the windshield of my car at the unmoving bumper in front of me, the red of their brake lights shining back at me.  I had woken up on time for once, had resisted the seductive urge to press the snooze button, and had crawled out of my snug little one-person cocoon of blankets and gotten dressed for work.  I was going to make it in on time – or at least, I had thought I would.  I hadn’t managed to foresee this traffic jam, however.

I caught a glimpse of something in my rear mirror.  It looked as though something was speeding towards me, moving so fast that a plume of smoke was being thrown up behind it!  And it was headed right towards me!
With a loud whoosh, the object shot over my car, only inches above my hood.  A second later, the wave of dust and dirt washed over my car.  The rattle as the tiny bits of grit and rock bounced off my vehicle, surely managing to further scuff my paint-job, was briefly covered up by the dull and echoing thud of the sonic 
boom.  I grabbed onto my wheel with both hands as my car rocked back and forth from the pressure wave.
“Asshole!” I shouted ineffectually, waving one fist at the asshole in the cape and tights as he speeded towards downtown, blissfully above the sea of angry drivers who hadn’t been quite as genetically lucky.
Oh yeah, I should probably mention.  I live in a world with superheroes.  And god, I hate it.
I was still grumbling as I walked into the gigantic office building, where the desk I called my own was located, twelve floors up.  Other workers flitted all around me – none with their feet leaving the ground, however.  No superheroes here, of course.  Those that exposed their true identities would almost invariably land rich book deals, TV guest appearances, and other perks of being a celebrity.  For those with lesser powers, they did their best to keep them secret, not telling anyone.  For some people, the genetic lottery had paid out.  For the rest of us, we could do nothing but sit back and watch with envy.
With my mind preoccupied, I wasn’t watching where I was going, and suddenly, I felt myself run into something squishy but unmoving.  Before I could catch myself, I fell backwards, landing on the stone floor with a hard thud.  
“Ow!” I said aloud.  “Gosh, you really should be looking where you’re-” But my words cut off as my gaze rose up from where I had landed.
Long, tapered legs, accentuated by a tight pencil skirt and nylons.  A tight, fitted blouse, showing off a perfect hourglass figure.  A fully covered but still prominent bust, which is what I guessed that I had collided with.  Waves of long, platinum blonde hair, framing a face that could make angels weep.  And behind a pair of thick-rimmed black plastic glasses, brilliant blue eyes looked down at me with surprise.
“Oh my god, I’m so sorry!” the angel above me cried out in melodious tones.  A beautiful, delicate hand extended down towards me.  “I totally wasn’t looking where I was going.  Are you all right?”
To be continued!

How Different Animals Take Their Coffee

This wonderful idea was inspired by another; I cannot claim credit.  And for that reason, this list may be incomplete.

Everyone has a special creature they relate to, their “spirit animal.”  To find their spirit animal, some people go on mystical quests into the desert, searching for an inner vision to give them guidance.  Some people just get wicked drunk or take lots of drugs. 

However, perhaps there are easier ways to diagnose someone’s spirit animal.  Could the answer reside in, of all places, in how he or she takes their coffee?

Hummingbird: decaf, 27 sugars.

Squirrel: hazelnut, light roast. Sprinkle of nutmeg.

Black bear: venti, extra milk, honey, shot of syrup.

Sloth: straight vodka, splash of absinthe.

Panda: chai tea. Hipster.

Badger: Irish coffee, hint of nutmeg.

Grizzly bear: Salmon flavored. You don’t have salmon?  Better get some.

Dog: I’ll just have whatever’s left over, thanks!  How are you doing today?  You must love this job!  It seems so fun, getting to help make people happy all day by getting them  coffee…

Cat: That one. What he has. Gimme. I want his.

Deer: Can you put salt in this?

Mosquito: Just a small, but I’m going to pay for it out of the tip jar…

Fish: Just water for me, thanks.

By the way, if anyone figures out their spirit animal from this, please, let me know!  Finally, my writing will be validated…