Friday, October 31, 2008

Executive Privilege

He couldn't change them.

He looked at them, studied them and thought he really knew them. He was so very scared for them. They didn't know what they were doing. They didn't seem to want to know and that scared him even more.

He thought he could change them with inspiration. Others had effected great change by inspiring speeches alone. So he spoke, at length, about what they could be, what they could aspire to. The speeches were well received, but no one changed. No one reached for more than what they were. They wanted change, but not to them. They wanted to go on exactly as they had been, while he changed the world around them to better suit their needs.

So he decided to show them. Where inspiration failed, example would carry the day. He would live his words and do his considerable part to make things better, to be more than he was. And things changed, but not all that much. His efforts alone would do little beyond the short-term. He needed them to follow his lead, do their own work to make things better.

But they didn't.

The changes he made were just enough that everyone got to be comfortable again. He tried to explain that what he'd done wouldn't last, that he was merely patching a flawed system, and if the system was to change, it was they who would change it. But he was scoffed at, tuned out, derided and ignored. Opposition turned his words against him, telling them all what they wanted to hear, despite that it wasn't what they needed.

He offered them money, turned the change he needed from them into jobs, and that seemed to work for a while. But the pay was necessarily low and the work was hard, and there were jobs by then to be had for higher pay and less work. These other jobs were unstable, he tried to tell them, an effect of the patch and no less impermanent. But they left his jobs in droves, chasing easy money and paper wealth.

He hadn't wanted it to come to this, it must be understood. But he'd tried everything short of this and none of it worked. If they had just changed on their own... but no. No, they couldn't be bothered, so now it was down to this. He sighed and put down the saw, wiping his brow on his sleeve. Then carefully, gently, even respectfully, he slid the top of the skull off the head, revealing the brain. He picked up a scalpel, his face grim.

Time for change.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Deconstructionist

The man walked casually through the vast halls of the lunar fortress. They gleamed with an otherworldly iridescence, their alien alloy shedding the by-products of its chemical reaction with oxygen into the visual spectrum. The man grinned slightly, and a young photographer in a bustling metropolis was blind due to this previously harmless display. The walls changed as the man walked, becoming simple titanium, then steel, then the slick concrete of an underground bunker. The man pushed open a rusting metal door, entering an austere yet still somehow squalid, living room. A costumed superhero sat on the couch; he looked up as the man entered.

"This isn't right," the superhero said, staring down at his hands. "This," he looked around the room, "this isn't my fortress."

"Of course it is," the man said. "It's always been this."

"But, I--" the superhero shook his head. "No, you're right. I dug this out with my bare hands, then used my powers to make the concrete out of rocks and sand. It's useful, I guess, as a headquarters... but I could have done so much more with..." He kept shaking his head, as though to clear it. The man grinned again. The superhero blinked. "My homeworld... there was technology there that was millennia beyond what Earth has. I..." he looked helplessly up at the stranger in his fortress. "I should have access to that, shouldn't I?"

"No," the man shook his head. "Why should you? Your father destroyed your planet and everything on it. If your mother hadn't launched you into space when she did, your father would have destroyed you too."

"But, my ship--"

"Exploded once you were removed from it. It killed your Earth father instantly, and left your adopted mother a cripple, addicted to pain killers and vodka." The man smiled. "Don't you remember how you discovered you were invulnerable?"

The superhero touched his cheek. His bright costume was gone, replaced by tight leather. "She hit me," he whispered. "It was her wedding anniversary, I should have remembered that, and she always drank more than usual that day."

"Yes," the man said, "she was usually a reasonably functional alcoholic."

The superhero glared at the man, his eyes glowing red. "She was a good mother," he growled.

The man just continued to grin. "Except when she wasn't."

The superhero shuddered. "Except then."

"But you put a stop to that."

The superhero looked defensive. "I didn't mean that," he insisted. "The powers were brand new, I couldn't control them and I--"

"And you were really angry at her."

"NO! No, I... yes." the superhero sank back down on the couch. "Yes, I was angry. But I've done so much since then, so much good. Do you," he looked up at the man, his eyes haunted, "do you think she'll forgive me now?"

"She might have," the man nodded, "if not for what you've been up to lately."

The superhero looked confused, "I haven't been up to anything." Then both men looked toward the closed door leading to the bedroom. The superhero shook his head. "But she's just spending the night. She often spends the night here in the..." he shook his head again. "No, no, that's not right." He looked back at the door, a squint indicating he was looking through it. "I thought she was someone--"

"Someone else?" the man cleared his throat. "But that isn't possible, is it?"

The superhero shook. "No," he whispered. "No, I definitely didn't mean to do that to her. I loved her." His look was one that begged forgiveness. "I told her the serum was experimental. I told her! But she insisted on taking it. Wanted to be with me so badly that--"

"That she swallowed a serum that burned her from the inside out," the man said. He gestured toward the door. "And that poor girl..."

The superhero was on his feet again. "But the serum worked on her! It worked! I watched bullets bounce off her, I..."

"Yes, the serum worked perfectly on her," the man agreed. "But then, all those experiments you used her for when you were kids likely helped. Did she ever remember what you did to her all those years ago?"

The superhero was silent.

"So yes, it worked," the man agreed. "But then you went and lost track of time. It was late when you got back to your little fortress bunker, and by the time you two were well into things..."

"It wore off." The superhero's voice was a mere whisper. Then he looked up again, suddenly really noticing the strange man in his inner sanctum. "Wait," he said. "Who are you?"

"I'm just a man," the man said. "A man with a special power." He smiled. "Nothing so grand as your impressive abilities, but quite potent in its way." His smile deepened. "I can reach back through time," he explained, "and alter key events in any person's history. I can change the very continuity of someone's life."

"Did you change mine?"

The man nodded and laughed. "Oh yes."

The superhero snarled, leaping at the man. "Change it back! You change me back to whatever I was right god-damned now! Or I'll--" He fell to his knees, muscles atrophied and bones brittle. His words were choked off in a dry rasping cough.

The man laughed, shoving the dessicated superhero onto the floor with his foot.

"You'll do nothing," he sneered. "I'll retcon your radiation poisoning away after I've left," he promised. "I want to keep you around like this a while." He checked his watch. "Ah, yes, well. I must away. I've a brooding man in a cave to visit and grant his fondest wish." He smiled and exited the bunker, stepping into the razed slums of a once-vibrant city.

"Be seeing you."

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Unkillable Bastard

He walked slowly, slipping through the doors as they swung open and drifting into shadow. In each hand was a black-handled revolver. A hood obscured his face and a long coat settled around him as he waited.

He did not have to wait long. He heard his quarry approaching, noisily chasing some drunken harlot down the hall. It was the third this week, for the target was a creature of habit. The hooded man grinned, spinning his revolvers about his fingers. At exactly the right moment, he stepped from the shadows, pointing one of his two guns at the pair of revelers. The woman stumbled back, bumping into the wall and falling with a giggle. The target's eyes narrowed, making him seem far less drunk than he should have been.

"So, you're who they sent," the target said softly, a wry smile on his lips. The realization that the target, a noted unrepentant alcoholic, would be sober upon returning from the bar caused the trickle of sweat running down the hooded man's spine to chill.

From the depths of the gunman's hood came a low even growl. "I am."

"You must be good." The target still hadn't moved, but his eyes had taken in the entirety of his surroundings.

"I do okay."

The target nodded. "Ever blow a hit?"

The question made the hooded man blink. "Um, no," he finally answered.

"Not once?" A teasing smile.

"Never." A firm answer.

"Well," the smile turned languid and the target stretched in a yawn. "You're going to blow this one."

The hooded man tightened his grip on the gun and his trigger finger twitched. "Think so?"

The target's attention was drawn by his companion, who was crawling to her feet, looking blearily at the hooded gunman. Raising his index finger, the target said, "Excuse me a minute," then bent to help her to her feet.

"Whasssee doin' withat gun?" her slurred tones were tinged with worry. "He ain' gonna shoot you issee?"

"Shh," the target cooed, "don't be silly. He's just an old friend having some fun. He's probably drunk. Go on in here," he led her toward the door to his apartments, "and wait for me. I'll be along. I just need to talk to my friend here." He opened the door and she stumbled inside. He drew it closed and locked it again, finally smiling up at the hooded man, who'd kept his gun trained on the target the entire time.

"Thanks," the target said, pointing toward the door, "for waiting."

The hooded man gave a brief nod. "I prefer to minimize the collaterals where possible," he said.

The target smiled again. "Smart guy. No wonder you're still in the game." He chuckled. "I should call and thank them. Sending someone like you shows me respect."

Another hooded nod. This was getting old. He should just kill the target and go. But the target was talking again.

"You really want to shoot me, don't you?"

"I don't get paid if I don't."

"Fair enough," the target nodded and kept smiling. "So why don't you?"

"I don't know," the hooded man was forced to admit.

"I do," the target replied. Then, seemingly at random, he asked, "You live alone?"


"Ever married?"


"Any kids?"

"None that I know of." The hooded gunman laughed derisively. "You trying to play on my sense of loneliness? Come on. You just got done praising me. You think I'm going to fall for an amateur psych job?"

"No," the target stopped smiling. "You're going to stick that gun in your mouth and pull the trigger."

"I'm what?" More laughter. "Why the hell would I--"

"Because you really really want to," the target spoke bluntly. "You've been wanting to blow your brains out since the first time you picked up a gun. But you're scared, so you've been making others your proxies for years and drawing a nice paycheck doing it." His eyes became kind and his voice comforting. "But all you want, all you think about, all you fantasize about is what it would feel like when the bullet drills up through the roof of your mouth and into your skull. You wonder if you'll get to feel your brain explode."

The hooded man staggered back a step, the gun shaking. "How did you..." he stammered, "H-how..."

The target looked deep into his eyes. "I think it's time you find out, don't you?"

The hooded man slowly raised the gun to his mouth, taking the barrel between his teeth.

"That's it..." the target's voice was quiet and very soothing. "That's it," he said. "It's all going to be okay. For the first time ever, things are going to be okay for you. Now," his voice turned to one of command, "pull the trigger."

The hooded man's face split in two as the top of his skull erupted in a gout of blood and brains. The target crouched down and took the second revolver, looking it over appraisingly. As he walked toward his apartments, he tucked the gun in his jacket and removed his cell phone, placing a call.

As he slid his key in the lock, he said, "Ah, sergeant! It seems a young man has committed suicide in front of my home again. Would it be possible-- thank you. I really do appreciate it. What's that?" There was a pause, then he laughed. "Yes. Yes, I do think you should bring it back to them." Another pause and another laugh.

"Oh, I'm sure they'll know who it's from."