Short Story: The Babel Problem

Some things, you can never really expect; car accidents, terminal disease, mental collapse. Usually, too, the most innocuous offenses have the greatest effect; Little Timmy Traydor’s flu, disguised as seasonal allergies, spreads. A week later, coroners are rolling Grannie Hestor down the driveway in a vinyl bag, dead at 83 from pneumococcal complications.

Again, some things, you can’t expect. You can, however, anticipate others. Sometimes. If you’re careful. Most aren’t. Not enough time, really.

However, no-one ever expects or anticipates a radically-public return from the dead.

Even the corps knew that feat was unattainable, reserved for Heroes of myth, religious icons, soaps with revolving writers and no budget.

But she came back. And it changed everything.

Few wars had the effect of this one. The 20th century had shown Humanity war could be profitable. Only decades later did they learn the terrible truth; only true war could be profitable. And true war couldn’t be manufactured.

World War II had spurred Humanity toward a global golden-age for nearly a half-century before its momentum thoroughly exhausted. Therein were born profiteers of every booming sect of society and economics. Some unions, their politics. Some military arms.Others, medicines or technology.Most saw no connection between any of the afore- or un-mentioned.

Then again, how could they? History’d proven itself repetitious, why would that change? History, after all, was a force. As unstopped and inviolable as Nature. Right?

Wrong. She came back and it rallied a part of every. Living. Human. Not just Corp or Reb, or Aug. And not just a few, but every. one; Corp-execs, loyalist jack-boots, the lowest boot-licks— and obviously everyone else. They all had some stake in her side’s fairing, because she’d done the impossible and come back.

Admissible or not, every Human knew it; through those first hints of collective-conscience forming. Like any social group in need of leadership, its source required rigid morality, lest group survival fail. But what could be that source? Politics were a joke.Peace-keepers corruptible. Courts slap-dash, ancient systems from more-ancient eras. Its descended system and components, too,were relics; museum pieces long before even the pre-digital world existed.

Humanity was now living post-digital though. Everything a 0 or 1 within layered levels of parameters and reference. The only differences were subject, context. Even if mostly-blind to it, Humans recognized their need for decentralized guidance.

Like everything of that time, it formed of collective will and need, through sentinels. Guardians physical and digital.Neither doers nor teachers, players nor coaches, but referees and watchers. The same side-liners never bothering to de-bench but still wishing to contribute.

So, they became the ones drawing and tracking lines and rules. Rather than consciously though, it occurred randomly via the same happenstance as all life’s attributes; Black. White. Gay. Straight. Old. Young. All parameters and references, layered or not. In the end, their system was what mattered; systems were malleable. Allowing the watchers to be fed simply ensured the systems continued functioning and improving.

It just so happened, most of those watchers– the Guardians, also happened to be Au-teurs. Creative-visionary, post-humans specializing in thoughts, ideas, and treading the footsteps of Verne, Da Vinci, Tchaikovsky; their descendants Asimov, Van Gogh, and Zappa; so-on, until webs of influence formed from their own immersion and intimacy withing their worlds.

They were stop-bits. All of them, each a facet of Human culture or the apex of a generation’s feelings on a matter. Bird was the word and it stopped with them;filtered from the insanity of the postdigital age into footnotes, referential layers,choices; 0s and 1s.

When she came back though, every watcher– every stop-bit flipped to 1. Together.

Every Human to ever live was with them.

That moment was immortality; fleeting as it seemed, it was. A moment outside time so powerful it would reverberate forever. It was a moment of adaptation that made for Humanity’s first, true evolution since its origination; its first and last. From Human to post-Human. A shift that would remain ’til the end of existence, because the species in question had beaten back something always existing before.

Her return broke new ground in reality,existence. Without so deep and primal a fearas death,even the most meager existence could become enlightenment. Her return, that moment, made it possible. Immortality,resurrection, radically shifted human existence.

Even if more tech and chrome than not, she remained Human. Especially after the Incident, that was important. While no-one saw it that way then, as they too busy fleeing for cover, it was no less accurate. The war that came with her was Brutal. Atavistic. Devastating. Though Few died relatively speaking, each was felt intimately; the resulting turmoil, total.

Every Human alive felt each death stronger simply for being alive. The truth appeared then:

Humanity was experiencing a total mental-awakening amid a self-inflicted violence so shameful and harmful, a counter-balance was not only impossible to avoid, but inevitable and necessary. What that came to be was an idea, simple yet immeasurable in its effect; competition for resources was no longer necessary for survival.

Resources were finite, certainly, but properly divided were more than enough. It was time to stop, think, then act; all the while recognizing that what set us apart from animals wasn’t clothing, organization, or even intelligence. Rather, it was the grasping and manifestation of concepts so abstract they could only arise from one source; imagination.

An animal knew only it’s immediate point in space-time. It could be conditioned through binary emotion– warm or cold feelings– to react as per instinct and reflex. Ultimately though, it could not think long-term, nor plan its future beyond a few, select moments.

But Humans were different now.

For the first time, they were forced to pause and engage what they’d created via collective will. In that came the obviousness that the struggles underlining society were pointless, because they were solvable. Certain parties simply weren’t doing there part to solve them.Her return, the war that came with it, made one thing clear: it was time for that to end.

Far bigger concerns existed. Thus, so could things to fulfill even the wildest dreams of the most wild dreamers. Humanity simply required a slight extension of patience, one considered unobtainable from life’s demands.

But that belief was dictated by elderly ideas and systems of even older ideas. Ones formed with hope of a so-called “perfect” world.However, the world needn’t be perfect, only that Humans have a goal to keep them striving, reaching, and staving off stagnation.

Pre-digital gave way to postdigital, the actual digital age merely the transition between; a Human process of realization, that of not only their place, but perfection’s. The latter as an abstract construct meant as a guide-wire to be always expanding, growing. In effect, an info-virus seeking to rectify a Babel problem that wasn’t a problem, but a consequence of nature and human existence.

If allowed and harnessed, that same consequence was its own force to be reckoned with.

She returned, and everything changed. The stop-bits flipped. Alarms went up. And all hell broke loose. The rest is history. The resurrection. The second coming. It was there, but only because Humanity willed it. It– she was salvation, because Humanity needed one, willed it possible. She just happened to be convenient.

On one level or another, people suddenly agreed with her revolution; all people.Immortality was a living being’s concern, and she’d defied it. In doing so, she sealed the Corporations’ fall.

No-one wanted ’em anymore. They weren’t good enough, purpose aside. They were the first, rough-draft systems of a newly foresighted species; learning-software output of child-students of the universe learning to multitask any goal, aligned or otherwise.

It was only after things truly began for Humanity, its progeny, their affected. Now that they knew how to do it right, it could be magnificent. And it was.

Preview: Guardians of Liberty

Guardians of Liberty
(Beginning 5/25/18)

Martin Black, aka N1T3, is a hacker between worlds. Centrally located on the fine-line between hero and villain, his world is one of Corporate dominance and slavery. Now forced to flee for his life because of it, he knows corp-sec are coming– and they’d prefer him dead to alive.

Going off-grid proves more dangerous expected, but N1T3’s few, effective resources make it impossible not to. More importantly, he must; a logic-vision of formed of careful and meticulous analysis, makes it clear that the time is now or never to safeguard the future of not just technology, but Humanity as well.

Until then, his society is hurtling headlong toward disaster. Aided by a few, choice friends, N1T3 must find a way to safeguard the vision or risk seeing a second Roman-Fall. Given the way things are going in his world, too, it could be the last.

But will it be? Find out here starting next Friday, May 25th , 2018 on the Logbook.

Guardians of Liberty is a postdigital novella set in near-present day London, heavily combining technology, programming, freedom, and their inherent conflicts with pulse-pounding results. Don’t miss it!

Excerpt from Ch 1: Losing Home

Things had changed.

The pre-digital age had given way to the postdigital with no delineation between itself and not, or even the transitory state between. That is to say, the nether-realm of quantum mechanics between 0 and 1. That fickle bitch of nothingness between program and switch whose existence made possible the idea of AI, ghosts– anything damaging to a functioning system.

But that was ultimately life, or the possibility of it. The simultaneously all-important and utterly vestigial “in-between.”

Poetry-Thing Thursday: Only Ourselves to Blame

It used to be,
you could do or say,
whatever you wanted,
but not today.

Electro-eyes catch all,
we see, say, and do,
and those that fight it,
are really far too few.

Spectral spies,
in darkened skies,
death’s gath’ring above.
Through them flow,
autonomous raptors,
whom slit the throats of doves.

Give a name,
they’ll show you a target.
Feel the same,
you’ll soon be mark-ed.

And we’ve only ourselves to blame.

VIN8- Be Weird

Weird is the spice of life, and spices only come into play when food is guaranteed.

When something can be assured, but needs adding to, it is then at its next level of cultivation, evolution. It is at the precipice which is the most fragile but fruitful time possible. It is, in no lesser terms, at its Golden Age– at very least, one of them.

Life is no different.

So, be weird. Weird is generalized. Non-specific. It’s neither white nor black, but not exactly neutral either. Weird is brown; Earthen, the in-between. As is life; the in between unlife and death, nonexistence and unexistence, matter and decayed matter– anti matter, entropy, nothingness.

Life is the moment in which these unassailable forces are momentarily defied. To harness it is to recognize it is illimitable once properly understood.

It takes but a few to understand this, yet many more to make that understanding functional, useful– so that it may spread to all and affect them equally. However, beware those seeking benefit from evading Golden Ages, prolonging suffering-periods. Why, remains as ever the explanation of the species in question.

In the case of Humans, it is power. Knowing this, it is easy to see that labels grouping the powerless and non-power hungry then become categories for oppression.

So, if you must be anything, be everything. Be general, non-specifc. Be Brown. Be weird. Life is guaranteed, living isn’t.

Short Story: Cruel and Cunning

America.

Uh, Yeah. Okay.

Nobody’s sure what the hell happened. Even the people that were there– Corp. Wage-slave. Government. Innocent Bystander. Johnny Reb. No-one has an explanation. There is no clear record of what happened. All that’s ever heard is, “one thing led to another.” Or, “‘N that’s when all hell broke loose.” Never clear explanations, only vague outlines.

Truth is equally vague, but even a silhouette can tell all if well-enough formed by its negative space.

Less of the day-to-day is known, but the broad strokes are clear. Then again, Americans never functioned well on that time schedule. Inside, they were all fat suits sipping lemonade in the sun. Each one an island unto their self, untouchable and eternal.

Just like the ads promised.

Problem of course, was neither commercial nor lemonade was real. The lemonade was corporate-machine processed powder and water, spiked with ignorance and cynicism, and slowly but certainly eroding critical thinking patterns.

Because hey, who needs brains in constant, happy sunshine?

In reality, the ad was just a commercial. Subtle propaganda lulling people into buying the imagery they were being sold and most identified with. It was voluntary, mental slavery. Indenturing self to serve self for want of pure, ignorant bliss.

Then the real world broke in.

Trade-tower attacks woke a lot of people up. It’s the only explanation for what came after. Negative-space again. And without that influx of people being forced to stop, look, everything to come afterward– the crashes, the wars, The Fall– would never have happened.

Or it would’ve happened on smaller scales, and much later, when it no longer mattered what corps were doing because Humanity would have so far surpassed them– while being condemned in the process, of course.

But those things did happen; the towers did fell. The police-state rose in their place, and corps bought and built it through their universal currency of power. No-one would be stupid enough to argue that chain of events. Were they, that person would be calmly but quietly escorted away not to return until their age of reason.

That’s one thing the corps did teach; human-relations. Mostly, through being completely devoid of empathy or sympathy within it. Thereafter, people realized what they’d been missing from life. The utter lack of the Human element in a Human system was what formed the basis of all progress afterward.

That is why bitterness about the corps reign, by-and-large, does not exist: In the end, it was a willing trade for the growth society gained. It would not have been had they not grown, but they did. All sums totaled, Society accepted what had happened.

Corps had taken over because people let them. Then, in due fashion, Corps kept doing what they wanted on the basis that, well, people probably didn’t care enough to do anything about it. Some did. Then eventually all of them did, but only after being buried by the ignorant bullshit they’d built-up around themselves.

Negative space tells it all began for America, after the WTC attacks. Corporations began doing what they felt then. It was cruel and cunning, but not entirely unforeseen– and as a result, infinitely more egregious.

America was gearing up for war, supposedly to hunt those responsible for their fresh wounds. Meanwhile, Corp-reps– so-called “lobbyists,” pressed cases on overburdened and still-mourning government officials.

In time of course, they offered to “share the weight” by “shouldering responsibility;” all double-speak for the corporate take-over and transference– or theft, of power. By the same process, they eventually convinced the military to shift its focus before eliminating what they could of it.

Because what was good for America, was good for the world. And vice-versa. When America needed all the good it could get, no-one dared go against them. It took over a decade before most were even willing to admit that catch-22 as fact. Until then, things were going south. Fast.

And nowhere worse than state-side.

Sweeping reforms, pushed by lobbyist’s politicians on the take, rewrote whole law-books in legalese so thick even the best-educated couldn’t decipher them. In reality, they were coded transcripts of the take over. All very legal and by the books of course, but why not when the beneficiaries were writing them?

Stage set, America hit its first crisis since the attacks and the war; the ‘08 crash.

An economy once the world’s envy was instantly crippled. The financial sector, already bleeding from poor decisions, panicked and set in motion a near-total bankruptcy. Now, those suffering were the same corporations that had bought select, elected officials. Ones whom, due to the laws they’d written then, were allowed to remain in power. As repayment, the corps took billions in “bailouts” and ultimately, ran off with it.

No-one ever answered for the crime.

The American Way was shaken. Faith in it doubly-so. Then, controversial elections and divisive politicians– and once-solved human-rights issue– utterly fractured its foundation. War had reduced government trust to all-time lows and put people in fear.

It was painfully clear; America was but one, missed-meal from revolt.

The people there needed closure and certainty– for what they’d suffered and what they would yet be forced to. At an individual level, it’s citizens felt the same even if their methods differed fundamentally.

Negative space is certain; neither of those things ever manifested.

The corporations, whom caused the recession to begin with, used the guise of need to consolidate credit and capitol from bankrupted competitors. In this way, they bought and sold debts and contracts to collect on until only the very worst offenders remained for sale. Those unable to collect eventually sold off what remained to others and quit the game.

Again, all very above-board and legal, but ultimately, engineered.

With nowhere for those remaining assets to go but the hands of those hardest hit, the most affected vied for flotation devices to keep themselves from drowning while kicked for the shore of fiscal solvency. Their success cemented the foundation of all that came later.

Some corporations, with earnest hopes of repairing mistakes or not– and if only for their own survival– were given rafts. The rest sank and drowned in the first-come first-serve lifeboat handout.

The corps left, their execs were going down with the ship. Already half-soaked, and now scorned by one-time bribes inevitably for naught, they took what had come their way and ran via legalese loopholes they’d written themselves.

Once more, cruel and cunning.

In months, those left wished they’d done the same. Once they did, the markets had already flooded with reds. Nothing could be done but to let the corpses sink so any survivors might be picked from the flotsam afterward.

With an economy only barely in the black, it was a wonder any corp survived.

It’s also no wonder those that did became so immense. Suddenly left with so much abandoned property and credit, the most they could do was zero out what wasn’t useful, put the rest to work.

Worst case scenarios, were things going into long-term, digital storage as “resource” until it might be useful or “liquid” later. A property too rundown to use was worth more cleared. Whether the clearing was worth it, as always, was a matter of risk/reward ratios.

Meanwhile, new Titans were overtaking their elderly counterparts. Tech, net, and entertainment sectors flourished as industries par-none. These slick, new-moneyed college grads and dropouts with less street-wit than road-kill, overtook the eldest of the old-money’s projections.

Wealth even Scrooge McDuck couldn’t have dreamt.

Avarice in their eyes, the old-money bellied their way over like maggots crossing sidewalk. They began taking back what they’d abandoned, nosing their way in via advisory positions and consultancies to recon and research these new industries.

Only after better understanding, and dissemination of it through their circles and education, could the “old money” truly retake control through their specially-trained kids– from old-money schools– that learned to blend with their “lesser” peers.

In effect, the world was nearly destroyed by a group of college kids blending seamlessly with the rest. Yet the simple fact was, these groups were breeds apart. One more cruel and cunning than ever and couriering dangerous knowledge for one, specific purpose.

That purpose was cultivated over lifetimes of grooming from ever-crueler, more cunning mentors. Each generation, further-conditioned to use them without thought and at the best of times for desired effect. Generally, that amounted to twisting the knife so that their prey felt it. Pain was the length they’d go to, to get their object of money, using a knife eternally cutting people’s throats to pay when told or suffer a fate worse than death.

Seeing any resistance would be slow and difficult, would-be opponents merely jumped ship. Too comfortable, wealthy, and not needing nor wanting, they’d effectively exiled themselves only to possibly return afterward, if welcome.

Otherwise, fuck it.

When it became obvious the government was no longer listening, the economy had officially stabilized. Yet basic needs remained unmet. What once were “guaranteed rights” of the “greatest country in the world” were now “priced to match.”

Such basics to civilization as education and healthcare, free or near-enough since their conception, could and would bankrupt people. The subtle duality of that impliedif one could not affordone or both, one deserved neither.

In reality of course, controlling these two things most easily safeguarded against an unruly populous.

Generations raised with espoused values of education, goodness, and dreams were pushed to the brink. Force-fed them before the corps rigged the game,those dreams collided with reality when they otherwise need not have.Soon, people of legitimate value and motivation were left indebted before their lives might begin.

The problem? Their skills were equally valuable but more theoretical than practical, thus giving them no place in a machine of corporatism that cared only for numbers. Numbers are infinite; patience is not.

Enter the next American election.

Typically, American culture cycled with presidents. The era in question would’ve been no different were America’s culture not so twisted from the recent corporate history. Really,two, competing cultures existed none yet recognized:

One was personal, real. The other, corporate; an avatar-illusion built by corporate sales and P-R.

If people’d known then, the culture they fedvoting was the one what they were hoping to fight, they’d never have been swallowed by it. It never would’ve gotten so far. They’d have seized the booths put someone deserving in power without altering the system entirely. That of course, required the game be level– which it had not been.

For a very long time.

That it wasn’t, assured the eventual outcome. Only once the game and the system were revealed as two sides of the same coin could their whole be examined.Unfortunately, the US system of democracy was so corrupt everything was too little too late. Even the parliamentary systems ended with held ground, managing never to disappear entirely– if only due to their relegated position as bureaucratic, hard-copy, file-managament.

The US had allowed corps a foothold. With it, they then took control. Total control.

Negative space once more tells that America isolated itself. Politically. Socially. Economically. No longer a superpower, it withdrew from global markets, leaving fertile ground for corporate takeovers via the power-vacuum that remained.

Outside throwing oneself onto a pike, hoping to form the launch-pad for the next unlucky bastard trying to get over the wall, there was no hope. Getting out meant money, passports, digital and physical files going back years. Those lucky enough to make it over went alone, left everything behind, and never looked back.

It was the first time in history people weredefecting from the USA.

Little-by-little, the exodus continued until the war finally toppled the walls entirely and the tattered remnants wandered out. By then, the country was ruins– whether places or people. Infrastructure was gone. Financial records. Land-deed and title-information. Gone. No-one owned anything, and nothing made money anymore.

All anyone could do was flee for survival. Some went North, finding refuge in the Canadian wilderness whose more robust trades had survived. Although only largely from the same, laboriously slow death the governments themselves succumbed to.

Credit to them; the Canadians once more weathered the storm of their southern neighbors, though considerably more afflicted than usual. Negative space states the obvious cause as War. Just like everywhere else. It was merely indirect.

Paris looked better during the Incident’s fighting and Berlin looked better afterward than America ever would again.

In the same, ironic way Americans never seem to see coming, they’d finally gotten the wars they’d wanted. Real wars. Not manufactured, but from need. Their brutal atavism was simply the release of repressed rage building since the Atomic era erection and the Cold War blue-balls.

Without possessions to muzzle them, Americans became wild animals, lashing out.

Once Paris was retaken, fighting began everywhere. It needed to happen. Yet because of the takeover’s totality, it needed to be done without the aid of any arm of the “global” resistance. By then, it hardly mattered; people’d been worked to a frothing rage, rabid from the virality of the abuses against them.

America became an apocalyptic ruin without need for an apocalypse.

Three generations raised to believe in wholesome righteousness, force-fed violence and fear, had no other choice but to explode. It was only fears of the aftermaththat had kept people in-check. Once that became the lesser of evils, they reacted.

By then, post-apocalyptic scenery was better than reality’s concentration-camp walls.

Negative space dictates guerrilla warfare eventually won the day; individual stories, hearsay, rumors. They all agree that America finally won Vietnam, but only after playing host to it. Stories from combat vets are numerous, however dubious. Each one reveals, little-by-little, an inherent cell-structure in their tactics . How it was formed seems obvious in the way that wave-length, hive-mentality is obvious.

Certain places, hit repeatedly for supplies or to weaken corp lines, were done seemingly at random. The unspoken understanding between the different aggressor-groups that it was where best to strike and when. Cells were small enough to strike fast; in a matter of only days or weeks, whole campaigns were against single corps, bringing them down.

It was not without causalities or cost, as the ruins show. It was a system of warfare allowing for weakness to be located and exploited to its fullest and without delay. The same game the corps had tried to play, but were too big for, too slow. Just as the system before them. They’d simply been smaller and faster than them. Their prey numerous enough to overcome it. If only once. Individuals however, were much smaller, and even small groups of them were effective if their strategies were applied properly.

Eventually, they were. Entirely.

In the end what finally killed America’s corps was attrition. Irony is, it was the same way they’d taken power. Once more students became masters and the old guard fell. The final blow was struck perfectly, more cruel and cunning than ever before until all that remained were smoldering ruins of once-bloated, corporate corpses.

So there it is, for the record; America. Brave and bold. Right up ’til it imploded.

Hard Lessons: Part 17 (Conclusion)

17.

Mr. Brownstone

The Roadrunner screamed to a stop outside an abandoned, Happy-Fish packing-warehouse. Wyatt had done his part at least. Titus’ Custom Porsche came to a rest beside him, its high-performance tires and brake-systems able to stop on a dime, in silence.

The trio piled out at top-speed. Angela led. She crossed the distance to the doors in a stride. Another put her through a door, at the edge of a warehouse floor. Across it, Lucas stood before a heavily pierced and tattooed ganger. His ink was old, faded; an O-G, surviving on wit– and the wide line of enforcers around him.

Ganger-contractors were the real thieves; running protection to people they’d murder in their sleep for a better fee. More often though, they just cut their bosses enemies to pieces and stuffed them into cement-filled drums. Gruesome, but effective.

The trio’s sudden appearance prompted a drawdown.

Unarmed, Lucas blurted in shock, “Angela!?”

The dealer drew on him. “Fuck’s goin’ on? You fuck us?”

“N-no, this is–“

“His sister.” Angela stepped forward, a modded-Sig trained on the dealer.

The dealer grew a sardonic smile. “Oh, little sister coming to reconcile with junkie brother, eh?”

“Big sister, actually.”

“Oh, big sister. My bad. My bad.” Then, with a shout and spittle, “Bullshit! My deals don’t go South. Get out, bitch!”

Lucas pled, “Angie, just go.”

“You stole something from me, Lucas,” she said, eyes on his. “I need it back.”

“I talkin’ to a pair of deaf ‘n blind street-rats!? I said, fuck off!” The dealer spat.

They ignored him. The room twitched, bowing with anxiety. Its various players eyed one another, their leaders. Lucas reached a hand for the tablet in his pocket. The room broke into shouts. Lucas froze.

The dealer laughed, “Finally, some recognition. Aye? How d’you know I won’t just shoot him?”

“You do, you die. You’re not that stupid.” She knew his type. “You still want his cash. Can’t have it if you’re dead. Won’t get it if you hurt him.”

The dealer laughed, lips pursed and rocking, impressed she’d deigned his thoughts. “I think I might like you, sis, but you still gotta’ fuck off. Junkie, give sis her shit so we can get this on with.”

Lucas hesitated.

“Go on fuck-wit. Move it along. Got brown to move.”

Angela kept her gun level, eyes flashing. Lucas started forward; the dealer caught the flash, stopped him. “Ho, ho, wait, Esse.” He’d tasted desperation on the air. “Sis, what good’s a little piece’a shit like this to you?”

“Lucas, bring it,” she said, carefully.

“Nah, Lucas, stay.” The dealers gun leveled on him a hand. The other drew the tablet from Lucas’ pocket. “Good boy, Lucas. Sit. Stay.”

The air thickened.

The dealer thumbed the tablet with one hand, “Now, me, I’m thinking, big sis gets her crew together, brings ‘em ‘ere to get somethin’ from little bro. Risks a deal. Means he’s carrying somethin’ important. Somethin’ she wants back. Bad.

“Right, mi hermanos?

His crew nodded mischievously. He hefted the tablet in a hand, the other firm at Lucas. “I’m thinkin’ this might be worth somethin’ to her. Or someone her crew works for. Aye?” He leaned toward Angela in a hush, “Catchin’ on, am I sis?

Angela’s body tensed, rigid, “Yeah. You are.” Her face tightened, sharpened. “You won’t get out of here with it. Give it now, we all walk away. Make your deal. Don’t. Otherwise… what’s another sour deal in Jackstaff?”

He mmm’d and stepped back shaking his head, gun on Lucas, “I dunno, sis. Sounds like a threat to me. What’chu think mi hermanos? Big sis got a hard-on for putting money where her mouth is?”

Lucas twitched at the agreement, his fear and detox growing, “Let’s all jus–“

“Shut up, Lucas,” Angela ordered.

The dealer mocked her with a grating, nasal tenor, “Aye, shut up, Lucas. Big kids’re talking.”

“You walk out with that, you’re worse off than if I killed you,” Angela warned.

“Dead men don’t have no problems, sis,” he said, eyeing the tablet. “Live men on the other hand, got bankroll. Make me an offer.”

“I just did; your life.”

He laughed; deeply and uproariously, tablet held to one side of his head, mid-air. “Big sis ain’t gonna risk lil’ bro over–“

His skull’s innards splat across the tablet, spraying air with a passing slug and a paste of blood, bone, and brain. The dealer’s body crumpled.

The room was frozen save Curie’s John. He appeared alongside the bullet’s obvious source: one of a cadre of heavily armed men in fatigues. The enforcers were still processing. The John’s men raised their weapons, said nothing. The John strolled toward the newly unemployed posse, catching them before they’d grasped reality.

He projected to be heard, “I am a reasonable man. Our associate here was not. The police are on their way. You have precisely ten seconds to flee or we will open fire. Ten… Nine.”

He continued to count. One of the dealer’s men fled. The rest aimed, dove for cover. A wall of fire cut two down before they were in, the rest scrambled.

Angela tackled Lucas. She huddled over him, ballistic-weave coat fanned to shield them from the automatic weapons rattling and chattering overhead. Semi-automatic barks of low-caliber pistols answered back in sparse desperation.

Titus and Crystal kept down at one side of the warehouse’s edge. The John’s wall of fire was continuous, unrelenting.

“Let ‘em work it out, Cee,” Titus instructed, gun ready.

It took only seconds longer for them to cut down what remained of the dealer’s people.

Then, choking silence.

Crystal and Titus rose slightly. Angela and Lucas eased themselves up. Lucas was utterly stunned, but Angela was waiting, curious if the John would kill them too.

The John instructed a man at his left, “Mister Norman, if you please.”

Norman stepped over and rolled the dealer’s corpse sideways, exposing his grisly death-face and the cracked-eggshell state of his head. Norman collected and wiped the tablet, handing it to the John. He removed his card from its side, reached into the inner-pocket of his jacket, and exchanged it for a USB stick. With indefatigable grace, he stooped to place the stick on the floor before Angela.

“A job well done, Miss Dale. My regards to the Madame.”

The John was gone before the distant sirens forced them to flee.

Lucas lagged behind the others, panting and running, but too focused on the stash he’d stolen off the dealer.

No point letting it go to waste.”

Angela sent Crystal with Titus, fled with Lucas in the Roadrunner. She drove until she was sure they weren’t followed, then pulled over in a nondescript alley to breathe. Meanwhile Lucas prepped a and snorted a lump of brown. Seconds later, he was calm, collected.

Angela waited for his head to clear before it fogged up again.

He smiled, “That was wild. What the hell was that? I mean, I knew you were–“

“Get out of my car.”

His face fell off. “Huh?”

“I said, get out of my car. Now.” She safetied the Sig in her lap. “If I see you again, and you’re not clean, I’ll turn you in. I swear on my life, Lucas. I survived our childhood because of you, and I’m sorry I couldn’t get you out with me, but I loved you then and I love you now.

“So get out, and stay away from me.”

“Angie? What’re you–“

She wasn’t listening.

“You could already die for what you know. Get out. Otherwise, I don’t want you here. Take Wyatt’s money, the Dealer’s brown, and get the fuck outta’ my city.”

He was visibly hurt, “Angie, I–“

She hardened with finality, “Get clean or don’t. I love you, but I don’t care. Go.”

Mechanical habit forced him from the car. He watched, slack-jawed as the car trundled off through pouring rain and steam-frosted air. Some lessons had to be learned the hard way. Angela knew that. Either you learned ‘em, you died trying to, or you were killed failing to.

Hard lessons, but important lessons.

18.

Never Go Home Again

Crystal and Titus stood across from Arthur at the island counter. Arthur was relaxed, more-so than the others; as if a sudden weight were lifted from them all, but him most of all.

Crystal figured it for the best, “Angela left. She say anything about it?”

Arthur shook his head. “No, but I know why.” He looked to Titus, “We may need help.”

Titus slugged back beer, curious nonetheless. “Details?”

“Have any contacts in CPS?”

Crystal’s eyes narrowed, turned to meet a similar expression in Titus.

*

Seattle was a big city. Bigger than ever these days. It was obvious the sprawl was taking over. Approaching metros was like coming in for cross-country landings; the highways forcing you to taxi a holding pattern until you could be pointed to a terminal. Save they did it with traffic jams and convoluted loops of concrete that made sense on paper, but not in practice.

It was no wonder auto-cars were taking over; they were just plain simpler.

In spite of everything though, Seattle never felt less like home. Unfortunately for Angela, that wasn’t necessarily a pleasant thing. She loved the city itself, but returning was like standing on hot coals while force-fed milk and honey. It took all of her emotional control not to treat it like walking straight into a lion’s den.

Guns weren’t an option here though.

To Angela’s credit, better than anyone might expect, even if she felt differently. She’d been fighting to figure out her approach. Eventually, she decided on winging it. Improv was her forte, after all.

Just past midday, she stepped through the doors of an old, back office to speak with the woman there. She was pretty, if plain, and brimming with all the pleasantness of over-educated civil servants finally meeting intellectual stimulus again. The woman disappeared a few moments later.

An eternity of hand-wringing later, she reappeared with a young girl in tow.

Alison was an almost perfect duplicate of Angela at her age; primly groomed, bicep-long curtain of hair, bright teeth and fresh braces. Thick, conservative clothing covered roughly every inch of the rest of her, like some pseudo-modern take on a puritan-pride ad. All the same, that image missed one subtle but crucial thing.

That one thing hinted itself with flashes of gold beneath Ali’s collar.

Few might have caught it, but Angela’s attention to detail was beyond the realm of most’s imagination. That last detail also made Angela’s heart ache. She knew the habit, had it herself through childhood– was partly why, despite her piercings and eccentricities, she’d never taken to necklaces.

She despised the cross, all it stood for. Ali did too. Hiding it was the only vigil of rebellion open. Angela knew her parents, knew Alison wouldn’t have been allowed a scrap of unsanctioned writing, let alone a diary. Thus she expressed herself the only way she could.

She entered the room with grace, poise. Her eyes were on the counselor. She never even noticed Angela; never expected anyone to come for her, let alone her own sister. Angela’s heart broke, its effect felt in the sudden turn Ali gave.

Her eyes met Angela’s, widened, “A-Angie?”

Tears welled, duplicated by sisters separated by a generation of suffering and now rejoined to heal. It was safe to say Alison remembered her, only time would tell if she could forgive her.

Poetry-Thing Thursday: Siren’s Song

You find her eyes are dead,
cold and feeling-less.
They suck you in with dread,
leave you without happiness,
but the Siren’s song,
is far too strong,
and you’re already long gone.

She came on like wind;
slow, cool, soft,
then your wrists were pinned,
your body hoisted aloft.
Spinning went your mind,
for those of her kind.
Find sustenance in wasted time.

For you the end is near,
She will suck you dry–
the heart’s love,
the eyes’ fear.
Death is yours only to defy,
but it will come soon,
for life is its boon,
and your name,
written in its rune.

A cautionary tale,
is all you’ll become–
an old dusty trail,
of bones and then some.
For the Siren’s song,
is far too strong,
and you’re already long gone.