Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Murder Academy

Johnny walked the halls of The Murder Academy, feeling sullen and heartbroken. This year wasn't turning out anything like he'd thought it would. After his killing spree the year before that nearly wiped out half the population of his hometown, Johnny's parents sent him here. The brochure had promised a "safe and progressive environment in which to mold today's young thugs and sociopaths into tomorrow's serial killers, assassins, mass murderers and hitmen", but so far it was all boring history, math and science. His teachers insisted that a solid grounding in these core classes would make him a more efficient, innovative and therefore sought-after killer following graduation, but he really just wanted to get to the actual killing. Hell, they didn't even let underclassmen into the Stabbing Club, and that was one of the reasons he wanted to come to the damn school in the first place.

Then there was Ms. Barry. He closed his eyes with a sigh just to think of her. She taught Advanced Poisons and was the advisor for the Femme Fatale Club. She had also substituted for his Violent Anatomy 101 class the previous week, and he hadn't been able to get her out of his head since. His roommate teased him about his crush, but Johnny didn't care. He didn't care that so far Ms. Barry seemed completely indifferent to his affections. And he'd gone out of his way to sneak home just to get his collection of preserved heads to show her. He thought for sure that would impress her, but she just smiled and suggested he talk to Mr. Weems about any possible extra credit.

But he'd show her. Somehow he'd find a way to show her how much he cared.

The next day, he was given his chance. Basic Tools and Practices had its first lab, and the class was assigned to bring in the mutilated corpse of a freshly killed hobo. He and his lab partner, Becky Johansen, went out that night to find a fitting victim. He'd told Becky his plan. He was going to carve Ms. Barry's name into the Hobo's chest, and present it to her at the assembly the following week. Becky agreed to help him with the carving. She had plenty of experience, as she'd been caught carving bad goth poetry into the flesh of her boyfriends' dead bodies at her old high school. Becky always helped him in his classes. She was a good friend.

But then that night, down at the railyards, something happened between Johnny and Becky. He was holding an old drifter down while shoving a rag in his mouth to keep him quiet and Becky was tying him up when Johnny looked at her in a way he never had before. There was something about the way the moonlight reflected onto her face from the steel bolt cutters she used to cut off the old bum's fingers that gave her beauty (which had always been obvious, for all that he never noticed) an otherworldly quality. Right then and there, he knew there was only one name he wanted to carve in the the struggling hobo's chest.

Later, their hands touched as they shoved Johnny's lucky hunting knife up under the drifter's ribs and into his heart, warm blood running over their entwined fingers. They looked deep into each other's eyes as the ragged old man gave one final spasmodic twitch and it was as though time itself had stopped.

"Becky," Johnny whispered nervously, "would you like to go to the Spring Massacre with me?"

Becky smiled and tears filled her eyes. "Oh, Johnny," she said breathlessly, "I thought you'd never ask."

Becky and Johnny stayed together all through school, eventually being named Master and Mistress of the annual Clergy Hunt in their final year. They went on after graduation to run a very successful murder-for-hire business until they died in each other's arms amid a hail of gunfire during an FBI raid on their compound.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

A Game of War

"If you'll follow me, Senator?"

She followed the official-looking young man down a non-descript hallway. She had received a strange invitation at her office the previous day, telling her to come to a particular address. She had been told to come alone, and that she would learn things imperative to her presidential campaign.

And so, here she was. The young man leading her seemed nervous, and became more so the further they went, leading her to the conclusion that she wasn't supposed to be there.

Finally, they came to a large glass window, overlooking what appeared to be a converted warehouse. Several thousand young men and women sat in the most comfortable chairs she'd ever seen playing video games on state-of-the-art entertainment systems. They seemed to all be playing the same combat simulation game. She looked over at the nervous young man.

"And?" she said, eyebrow raised.

"Do you know what you're looking at, Senator?" the young man asked her in a low voice, glancing around.

"A bunch of kids playing video games?"

"Yes," the young man nodded, "but there is more to those games than you see at first glance."

"Such as?"

"Well, for one thing, those graphics seem awfully life-like, don't they?"

She shrugged. "I'm afraid I don't follow the technology that avidly. But I understand such things are always improving, yes? And I'm beginning to think these kids are all playing some next-generation game system?"

"Not quite. You see, these young men and women have been recruited by the Pentagon for this."

"For what?"

The young man sighed, looking down. She began to suspect she was talking to a whistleblower. He had the look of someone who's conscience had finally gotten the better of him.

"These people are engaged in what has been officially named 'Remote Asset Optimization'," he said.

"Really," she said. "I assume you've brought me here to explain exactly what that is?"

"Yes," the young man nodded. "You see, these young people are among the best gamers in the country, recruited by the Pentagon after achieving a certain level in the latest Operation Global Empire combat sim game."

"I'm familiar with the title," she said dryly.

"I know," he said, beginning to get excited. "Your opposition to violent video games is well-known, so I thought you would be best to bring here. Perhaps you can expose what's going on over the course of the campaign."

"Perhaps," she said. "Why don't you tell me what's really going on, so I know what I'm dealing with."

There was a pause, while the young whistleblower gathered his courage. "You're familiar with the new nanotech battle gear that's been developed for combat troops, yes?"

"Of course," she said. "That stuff is common knowledge. Lightweight polymer body armor, submolecular performance enhancers, medical implants, etc."

"What is not commonly known," the young man said, "is that the suits, the performance enhancers and the medical implants make it possible to reanimate dead soldiers for a limited span of time."

"Do they," she said, staring down at the mass of gamers. She noticed they were hooked up to a collection of tubes, which were in turn connected to a series of machines and plastic sacs.

The young man noticed her attention and nodded. "They're being intravenously fed a nutrient rich caffeinated glucose solution. Essentially a liquefied form of the typical gamer diet of snack foods and soda, though I should point out that the solution they're being fed has higher nutritional value than what they'd normally be eating. They're also hooked into a waste removal system, thereby preventing the need for bathroom breaks."

"I see," she said. "And I suppose you're going to tell me that these kids are controlling the reanimated bodies of dead soldiers in our various combat zones throughout the world?"

"Yes, actually," the young man said. "Once a soldier dies in the field, his or her nanotech activates the reanimation sequence and initializes control functions, at which point their bodies fall under the control of these gamers. A miniature camera mounted on the soldiers' armor can provide first and third person perspective, depending on the gamers' preferences."

She nodded, continuing to survey the room below. "Hmm. I assume they've made some progress in utilizing the wounded as well?"

"Oh, um, yes," the young man responded. "Even the reanimation technology can only stave off decay and rigor for so long," he explained. "At best, the gamers have use of a dead asset for most of a day. Less, if the body takes too much damage. A wounded soldier can be kept in a coma indefinitely and used for as long as its gamer can avoid damage." He gestured to the people hooked up to the game consoles. "Of course, these people were chosen for their extremely high proficiency, and manage to avoid serious damage for a considerable time. But, should their asset take too much damage..."

"A nanobomb implanted in the soldier is activated, leveling a 5-mile radius," the Senator said.

"Um, yes," the young man said, looking up. "But how did you..."

The Senator aimed her pistol at the young man. "Why do you think I singled out the Operation Global Empire games for particular criticism? Everyone knows the quickest way to get young people to do anything is to tell them they shouldn't. I've known about this plan since its inception. I've been assisting in the creation of the necessary cultural triggers to generate enough willing gamers for the project."

"B-but... why?"

She smiled, "Why do politicians do anything?"

He didn't have time to answer, as the bullet from her gun sprayed his brains all over the window.

She pulled out her cell phone and dialed. Down on the floor, a high-ranking supervisor answered his.

"I'm here," she said. "No, my visit wasn't scheduled. One of your people brought me here, hoping to expose the project. Tend to your security, general. I don't have time to clean up your messes."

She hung up her phone and looked down on the rows of gamers, a slow smile spreading across her face.

Monday, November 21, 2005

A Hero Revisited

"Can we play hero, mama?"

She looked up from her paperwork and smiled at her 4-year-old son. This was his new favorite game. Ever since he found out Mommy used to be a globe-trotting teen hero, that was all he wanted to play. She slid the files into their folder and closed up her laptop. She could use a break from it, anyway. She'd moved from field work to analysis when she got pregnant with John, and she was very much looking forward to returning to it once he was in school. She'd take an elaborate deathtrap over mountains of case files any day, though working for a global organization still came with plenty of paperwork, even in the field. Sometimes she missed the days when a mission would start with a hit on her website and end with a heartfelt thanks.

She grinned. And, of course, her sidekick losing his pants.

"I wanna be your sidekick," her son said.

"Oh yeah?" she said, smiling down at him.

"Yeah," he beamed. "Like Daddy used to be."

She laughed. "Sure thing, sweetie. So, who are we fighting? Mad scientist? Monkey ninja? Crazed Scottish golfer?"

Before John could answer, there was a knock on the door.

"Hang on, sweetie. I'll be right back. You practice your moves, and, uh... try to keep your pants on." She grinned over her shoulder as she walked toward the door.

She saw the green outfit first, and her hackles went up. Green always put her on the defensive. Just to be safe, she grabbed the retractable baton she kept near the front door, before flinging the door open.

The woman at her front door held her hands up and a little girl ran and hid behind her. "No, wait!" the woman yelled. "No, please! I'm not here to fight!"

Later, the two women sat at the kitchen table, mugs of coffee in hand. The children sat on the floor, drawing. John had tried to get the little girl to play hero, but she was very shy, and wouldn't leave her mother.

The woman in green nodded, taking a sip of her coffee. "Yeah, she's his." She shook her head, put the mug down and rested her forehead in her palm. "Not that she knows him. He threw me out of the lair once he found out I was pregnant."

"Um, I didn't know you two were..."

"We weren't. Not really. It just kind of happened one night." She sighed. "It was late, you'd just led a GJ team to trash his latest take over the world scheme, we were at the emergency lair, and he... we... well, things just..."


"Yeah. So, a few weeks pass, I start throwing up in the morning, I take a test and the rest is... well, kind of pathetic, actually."

"That must have been shortly before I left the field. Our kids look to be about the same age."

"Near as I can tell, it must have been. I didn't really keep up with what he was doing after that." The woman in green took another sip of her coffee. "I put a lot of money aside over the years, so when I got pregnant with her I just went into hiding. We've been living on a private island of mine for the past few years."

Across the table, the former teen hero stirred her coffee slowly. "So, you really don't know what happened to him after you left?"

"No. Why? Did he die or something?"

"No. But he is in a secure holding facility."

"Really? What made you finally lock him up somewhere he couldn't break out of?"

"He killed a bunch of people, during his last attempt at world domination."

The woman in green put her mug down hard, and some coffee sloshed over her hand onto the table. "No," she whispered, covering her mouth. "How..."

"As near as we could tell, it was an accident. He had some sort of doomsday device, and it was pointed at the north pole, or the moon or somewhere -I forget the actual plot at this point- and when he tried to activate it, it blew up." She looked down at her lap and sighed. "The shockwave alone wiped out most of a small town. Somehow, he managed to survive."

"He always does."

"Yeah. The thing was, I don't think he was ever prepared to deal with the fact that someone could get hurt. You remember how it used to be. You both made a bunch of noise about how evil you were, but I don't recall either of you ever hurting anyone. Hell, most of his henchmen were synthetic, so even when his labs blew up, there weren't any casualties." She looked away, suddenly sad. "If you could have seen him after... it was as though all the life had drained out of him. I saw him when they brought him in. They said he just knelt down and begged them to arrest him." She shook her head. "His mother came to visit once, just to tell him she never wanted to see him again. Now he just sits in his cell muttering to himself."

The two women were quiet for a long time, then the woman in green spoke.

"I've reconciled with my brothers."

"Really? That's wonderful! What made you...?"

She smiled, looking over at her daughter, then back at her one-time adversary. "It's hard to be selfish once you have them, isn't it?"

"Yeah. Yeah, I guess it is."

"Well, I realized that so much of what I'd been doing with him, had been done out of selfishness. My older brother had always tried to teach the rest of us the virtue of selflessness, but we never got it. Oh, I guess the twins did, but I know I sure didn't." She shrugged. "I get it now."

"So, you're..."

"Back doing the hero thing? Yeah. The thing is, there are warrants out for my arrest, which makes it kind of hard for very effective heroics."

Realization dawned in the other woman's eyes. "And you'd like me to make those warrants go away."

"No. No, I just want the chance to make up for so much of what I've done. I feel I can do a better job of that with my brothers than rotting in a cell." She looked up, eyes pleading. "I just need time. Time to prove how much I've changed. Can you convince your bosses to give me that?"

The former hero smiled at her old enemy. "Well, I do say I can do anything, right?" She extended her hand. "I'll do my best."

The woman in green shook it, a smile on her face. "Thank you. Thank you so much. I don't know how I can ever repay you."

The other woman grinned wide. "Eh. No big."

Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Gothic Quarter

The Gothic Quarter plays host to the city's supernatural residents. Vampires, zombies, werebeasts and magicians all make their homes there. Much of it was built in the waning days of the 19th century, though there have been modern additions over the years as the Quarter's notoriety grew along with its population. Everyone who lives in the Quarter has a story to tell, and most everyone's story is part of someone else's.

Alison Banta is a prostitute, a high-paid call girl who works exclusively in the Gothic Quarter of the city. Her clients are vampires, werebeasts, magicians and the occasional ghost. She refuses any and all zombie clients. Only steetcorner junkie hookers take zombie clients. She charges her vampires extra to drink from her, and takes a special charm as payment from one of her magicians. The charm protects her from the curse of vampirism, and prevents her more overzealous vampire clients from drinking too much.

Lena Shriver is Alison's roommate, and an earthbound ghost. When Lena died, she found herself with a karmic deficiency. She wasn't judged to be evil, and therefore was not damned, however, she was not pure enough to enter the afterlife. She has been charged with acting as a messenger between the otherworld and the living world, and delivers prophecies through psychics and mediums. Once those in charge of such things decide that she has paid her debt, she will be granted entry to the afterlife.

Roger Sandoval runs the most popular occult shop in the Gothic Quarter, and owns a coffee house and bar (The Wooden Stake) on the same street. He is a magician who has managed to retard his own aging. He has been active in the Quarter since the first World War, though he looks not a day over 40. He is one of Alison's favorite clients, and she is a regular customer at the coffee house and the bar.

Louis Eugene is a bookish wererat. No one likes him much, and he will come to cause much trouble in the Quarter before he is finally killed.

Steven Boykin is Roger Sandoval's latest apprentice. He works the counter at the coffee house, tends bar at The Wooden Stake and nurses a crush on Alison Banta. He is sweet, charming and the typical nice guy. As such, he barely registers on Alison's radar. Her feelings will change when she is in desperate need of a true friend, and discovers that Steven is the only one she has.

Archibald Whitlock is heir to the Whitlock fortune, and executive VP of Whitlock Enterprises, a multinational entertainment company. The Whitlocks own most of the real estate in the Quarter, and have been magicians for generations. Archibald has no use for magic, and seeks to gentrify the Quarter, making it more accessible to tourists and other normal people.

April Whitlock is Archibald's twin sister, and the most powerful witch born to her family in three generations. She is the President of Whitlock Publishing, and a member of the Whitlock Enterprises board of directors. As she also has controlling interest in the family's real estate holdings, she is one of the only people standing in the way of Archibald's gentrification plans. She is one of Alison's clients, a fact that will be revealed to her brother through the machinations of Louis Eugene.

Desmond Whitlock is the widowed father of Archibald and April. He is a devoted father, though blind to his son's more sinister nature. April is the apple of his eye, and he will shock everyone when he stands by her during a time of great public scandal.

Amelia Lyle is Alison Banta's birth mother, who will resurface in her daughter's life just as it seems about to end. She will come bearing many secrets, one of which could bring devastation to all Alison holds dear.

Deborah Rossiter is a reporter for City 6 news, and a vampire. She uncovers Archibald's secret plans for the Quarter, though possibly too late to save anyone, including herself.

Terrance Moorehead is also a vampire, and one of the original residents of the Quarter. He is kind and generous, though prone to fits of brooding melancholy.

Bobby Poland is a cop working the Quarter beat with the ghost of his dead partner.

Steve O'Neil is the ghost of Bobby Poland's partner. He must solve his own murder before he can pass on to the afterlife.

Joanna Wallin is the manager of The Wooden Stake, the bar owned by Roger Sandoval, and a powerful psychic. She receives prophecies and predictions from Lena Shriver, and passes them on to her customers.

Patrick Cardwell is a vampire magician, who has been quietly buying up real estate in the Quarter for decades. He is another obstacle to Archibald's plans, as Patrick owns the historical district of the Quarter. He is a contemporary of Terrance Moorehead, though the two are no longer speaking. A deadly threat to a mutual friend will end decades of pointless animosity between the two.

Lula Gabel is an immortal and former burlesque dancer. She is a regular at The Wooden Stake, and is never seen sober. She saw more than she should have during the vampire gang wars of the 1920s, and has been trying to drink the memory away ever since. Though immortal and ageless, she's been drunk for the past 80 years and it's beginning to show.

All of these people will meet at one time or another, some as enemies, some as friends and others merely as passing acquaintances. But all will have lasting effect on the fate of the Quarter itself, and the Quarter will guide their destinies as well. Some will live, some will die...

And a few will pray for death before the end.

Monday, November 14, 2005

The Princess in Waiting

She leaned back against the headboard of the old motel bed, taking a long pull off the vodka bottle. They'd drank most of it the previous night, but she figured there was enough left to kill her hangover.

She was right. Shortly after she finished the bottle, a light buzz dulled the throbbing in her head and quelled the nausea in her stomach. She wasn't quite ready to get up and have a shower, so she lay in bed for a while, gazing at the folds made by the sheet that half-covered her naked body. She ran her finger down her neck, her touch feather-light upon her skin. She idly fondled her nipples while weighing the idea of masturbating before getting out of bed. She opted against it, and went for a shower.

As she stood there, letting the stream of hot water wash away the previous night, she wondered how long she was going to keep doing this. She was attractive, funny, intelligent... how long was she going to waste herself on guys she met at closing time in random dive bars? How many more nights of clumsy drunken sex in cheap motels would she have to endure?

She washed herself with the slow heavy movements of someone trapped between hungover and drunk while her foggy brain pondered the question. There wasn't much to ponder, really. She knew the answer now, just as she'd known it when she started: she'd do this until she found him. Until she found the oaf who would become her love, the bastard who would become her husband, the frog who would become her prince. Her friends thought she was crazy, that she should look for someone who deserved her, rather than spend her nights trolling for scum in wretched little holes-in-the-wall in the seediest parts of town.

But she knew better. Her prince was trapped. Trapped in the form of a cretin, just waiting for her to make him a gentleman. She knew she would find him, the old gypsy woman had told her so. She would find her soulmate among the lowest of men, and he would become the greatest of them through the magic of her love.

But she'd fucked most of the assholes in this town, and not one of them had even stayed the night, let alone woken up the man of her dreams. She was beginning to lose hope, and the supply of jerks was growing smaller each day. If she didn't find him soon, there wouldn't be any more frogs left to sleep with.

She only had the one dose of antidote, after all.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

A Mother's Love

She leaned against the gate post and lit a cigarette. The crackle of paper and tobacco was the only sound to be heard save the low howl of a near-constant wind. With a flick of her wrist, she closed the cover of her lighter, then slid it into an inner pocket of her coat.

While she smoked, she scanned the horizon, periodically checking in with the sentries at the three other gate posts of the compound. All clear. All quiet. Just as it had been for weeks.
She should be thankful, she knew, that they'd had such a lull in the violence that had plagued them these past few years. But so long as that violence could erupt again at any moment, she preferred a constant state of alertness and peril to the complacency that had begun to settle over those she guarded. She'd been furious to hear that the children had been allowed outside the gate yesterday, and had petitioned the governor to lock down the schools and cut the teachers' rations as punishment. He hadn't listened to her. He'd been sympathetic to the teachers and their charges. The small exercise yard and dilapidated playground equipment inside the compound could not compare to the recreation to be enjoyed in the low hills less than a mile away.

She didn't argue that point, but attempted to convey how vital it was they not relax their vigilance now, particularly with regard to the children. This compound was the last refuge of free and untainted humans, and those children were the only hope of their survival. There were rumors of other compounds in what was left of Europe and Asia, but nothing proven, and in the absence of that proof she would err on the side of caution.

She took one final drag off her cigarette and dropped it, grinding it under the toe of her boot and shifting her gun to her other shoulder. She knew many of the others found her caution overzealous, but she didn't care. If it kept them safe, she'd let them think her a tyrannical fascist. Would that she'd had this caution at the beginning, her own children might still be with her, rather than out there, desperate to feast on her living brain. She'd known the nature of the threat at the time, but had counted on others to protect her and hers. She'd foolishly gone about her life, secure in the knowledge that the Sentry Initiative would keep them all safe.

Her grip on her gun tightened, her knuckles turning white, as she thought of the Sentries. Powerful warrior robots, they'd been designed to fight and exterminate the hordes of zombies that had begun feasting on human brains, increasing their own numbers with each victim. For a time, the Sentry Initiative had worked. The zombies were held back from the cities and suburbs, and had begun to decrease in number.

Unfortunately, they'd underestimated their enemies. They'd thought the zombies mindless creatures, not realizing they kept their intellect, their knowledge and their memories. They were the same people they'd been before becoming infected; the only thing they lost was their connection to the human race and those moral values that kept them from killing. What they gained in return was unnatural strength and resilience, and an insatiable hunger for living brain tissue.

It stood to reason, therefore, that one of the zombies would be proficient with computers and their various systems. It designed a virus that acted much like the zombie infection and uploaded it to a captured Sentry. Within weeks, the robots were all on the side of the zombies, save those few in the compound that had escaped infection.

With the robots on their side, the zombies had little trouble acquiring new humans. Her own children had been stolen from her arms by an infected Sentry. She had escaped only through the efforts of a passing troop of soldiers. They'd taken her in, turned her grief to vengeance, and trained her to fight and protect. And she had done so for over a year now, rising quickly through the ranks and becoming a trusted advisor to the governor. But at night, when she was alone in her bunk, her arms would ache for her babies, vengeance would turn to grief and sorrow would flood her soul.

The scrape of a shoe on gravel pulled her attention back to the now and she looked down. There before her, as though conjured from her own memories, stood her son. Her beautiful little boy was just as she remembered him, save for the greenish tinge to his skin, the sunken eyes and a gaping hole in his exposed skull. He looked up at her and smiled his sweet smile.

"Hello, mama," he said, in the little sing-song voice she loved. He opened his arms wide and said, "uppy."

She squeezed her eyes shut against the flood of tears, swallowing the lump in her throat. When she opened them again, he was still there, arms open, asking her to pick him up.

"Uppy, mama."

She raised her rifle and took aim, but her hands shook and it fell from her grip. She knew she should call for backup, should call one of their Sentries, but...

But it was her little boy.

So instead she knelt down and held open her arms, pulling her son into her embrace. She was so happy to be with him again, she barely felt it when his teeth ripped through her scalp and cracked open her skull. She was only dimly aware of him chewing on her brain and didn't even notice the change when it came. She was where she should be, with her son in her arms. She was a soldier no more, and a mother again at last.

"Where's your sister?" she asked.

"Back at our new home," her son answered. "I'll take you there soon." Then he looked up at her, innocent eyes blinking. "I'm hungry, mama."

She smiled. "I'm hungry too, sweetie." She took his hand, leading him into the compound. "Come on, let's go get something to eat."

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Waiting For Herself

She was waiting for something.

She couldn't be sure what it was, she just knew she had to wait for it. She didn't want to, of course. She wanted to have it. Now. Right this moment. Because the waiting was starting to drive her mad, and she could feel her life being stolen.

Yes, stolen. Others were living it, while she let it slip from her grasp as she waited endlessly for that one ephemeral moment when her life would suddenly make sense. She knew it was there, waiting for her, and she knew that when she found it, it would be brilliant.

She thought she had found it. She was so sure that moment had come, but now it seemed that moment had been stolen by the very man who had brought it to her.

How dare he? How dare he offer her the promise of excitement and desire, lust and fulfillment, and then snatch it away just as she thought it was hers?

He had betrayed her. He had given just enough to get all she had, and his betrayal would continue until there was nothing left of her and all her myriad potential had withered to naught but empty nostalgia. He was a coward or he was a bastard; either way he had reneged on the promise of his passion and she should be well quit of him.

But what then? Where to go, what to do? When would her waiting end, and how would she know when it had?

It would end when she finally knew herself, and could see what it was she could offer herself, rather than all she kept offering to others. See beyond the shell to the spirit, beyond the body to the mind, past the needs of others and into the needs of her own soul. There was greatness living inside her, and her moment would come when she accepted it at last.

And when she did, the stars themselves would sing in celebration.

Monday, November 07, 2005

The Monster Fighter

She stood, tense yet relaxed, her hands flexing. She watched them come up over the rise, low moans rising and falling in a macabre chorus. Every part of her was screaming to run straight at them, take them all out in a whirlwind of fire and razor-sharp steel. She primed her wrist-mounted flamethrower and drew the sword from its sheath at her hip, but she stayed where she was. They wanted her to rush in and let them set the battlefield. But she was smarter than that. She may only be five years old, but she'd been fighting monsters since before she could walk.

The gang of the undead came closer, and she checked the seam on her brain helmet. It was securely fastened to her battlesuit, which meant the zombies wouldn't be feasting on her tonight. And if she had her way, they wouldn't be feasting on her parents, either. She spared a glance for the black cat at her side.

"Ready, Loki?"

He looked up at her with a brief, "mow", then began to paw at the ground, anticipating battle.

She hefted her weapons, setting herself in a fighting crouch, and waited. She'd chosen her position carefully, so as to force them to come at her in smaller groups. The location would prevent them from surrounding her, and she would be able to--

The shrieks came from above her, causing Loki to hiss, fur standing on end.

"Vampires," she growled. She didn't look up. Her helmet did more than just protect her brain, it contained an array of sensors that were already giving her the number and positions of the attacking flock. They'd circle a while, letting the zombies tire her out before swooping down for the kill. Fortunately, she'd designed her battlesuit to be impervious to a vampire's fangs. She called it her blood suit. Her daddy helped her make it.

She pressed a button on the handle of her sword and a long wooden stake protruded from the base. She gave the vampires a good look, so they'd know what they had coming. She smiled as they howled in anger.

The first of the zombies made it to her position and she prepared to leap into action. A war cry rose in her throat and she swung her sword in a great arc, slicing the zombie's head in half. She leaped aside, blasting the next with her torch. She raised her sword for another strike and--

"Sage! Time to get ready for bed!"

"Aww, Mom! I'm fighting zombies! And there's vampires!"

"Well, you can fight them tomorrow. It's bedtime."

With a slight pout, she pulled the plastic bowl off her head and dropped her toy sword on the floor. "Oh-kay," she called. She looked down at Loki, smiling. "Fight more monsters tomorrow?"

Loki looked up, mewed, and proceeded to clean himself. Sage took off her leotard, put on her pajamas and went to go brush her teeth.

Friday, November 04, 2005

In His Final Hour

The old god lay dying, the last of his celestial life-force finally fading away. It had been centuries since he had felt strong, and many more since he'd felt anything like his old self, when the fate of nations rested in his hands, and the lives of mortals depended on his whim.

But those days were long past. Most of his pantheon had died long ago, or been absorbed into others and changed their aspect. He had hung on, but now it was finally over. His only lament was that he would be alone at the end.

"Not alone, Zeus. Not while I'm here."

Zeus sighed, but couldn't help the smile that turned up the corners of his mouth and caused the ragged wisps of a once-luxurious beard to twitch.

"Jesus," he whispered. "You would minister even to me?"

Jesus smiled at the old god and shook his head. "I have not come to minister, simply to sit by your side and ease your passing." He sat down next to Zeus in the ruins of the Olympian palace and took the elder god's gnarled and spotted hand in his own.

Zeus nodded, his weak smile spread further across his lined and gaunt face. "You're a good boy," he said.

Jesus said nothing, simply patting Zeus' hand.

For a time, neither said anything. Then...

"Your father," Zeus rasped, "must be pleased at this."

"Why so?"

A thin wheezing laugh came from Zeus' cracked lips. "Come now, boy. One thing everyone knows about your father is how much he hates to share."

Jesus shook his head. "It wasn't like that..."

"Yes it was," Zeus said. "But I don't begrudge him that. We Olympians didn't like to share, either. " He closed his eyes and sighed. "We did so much harm in our time..." his words came like a faint breeze. "We were so... petty... at times..."

"It was a different age," Jesus said. "The people demanded different things from their gods. Look at my father. He's hardly the same god he was in his early days."

Zeus smiled again, this time directly at the young messiah. "You're right, of course. Still," his eyes clouded over, and his mind drifted back over the millennia, "sometimes I miss the old days." Ancient glories flashed in his eyes then, and a small spark crackled across his fingertips. "I was revered as the mightiest of all the gods. Men lay sacrifices at my feat, and took up grand quests in my name. Women bore my seed and heroes sprang from their wombs. In those days..." his eyes dimmed, and his hands began to shake. He sighed again. "But that was then. Now... well..." he leaned his head back against the pillow and closed his eyes again. "Now if you ask the average person who I am, they'll tell you I was a supporting character in a 10-year-old television show."

"And comic books," Jesus offered, trying to make the aged deity feel better. "You still show up in Wonder Woman from time to time."

Zeus flashed him an annoyed glare. "Thank you," he growled. "I feel so much better."

Jesus shrugged. "Just trying to help."

"Well, don't."

They were silent for a while.

Zeus stirred and looked over at his guest. "Sorry," he said.

Jesus waved the apology away. "Not at all," he said with a smile.

Zeus nodded and lay back down. "Tired," he said. "And cold..."

Jesus got up and wandered around the dilapidated amphitheater. Finding a tattered curtain, he brought it back to Zeus' bedside. "Here you go, Zeus." He went to cover the old god with the curtain. "This should..."

But the old god was dead. His sunken eyes stared blankly into nothing.

Jesus covered him anyway. "Goodbye, old man," he whispered. "I'll miss our conversations."

He reached out and closed Zeus' eyes, then turned and walked away.

Later, a great bolt of lightning struck the dead god where he lay, sending the last of the Olympian gods to the final peace of oblivion.