Into Her Darkness: Part 1

1.

Honor Amongst Thieves

Crystal Kane sat at the front counter of a retro, 1950’s-style diner. It was a place three or four times her age. In her late-twenties, it might not have been saying much, but it felt the opposite. She’d been through the wringer, somehow come out in one piece, but older, thinner than felt fair. She’d been a cheerleader in high-school. One of the popular, beautiful girls, that exclusively dated those of similar status, and shunned anyone below her. That had ended on graduation day. She found herself alone when everyone else was going off to college. The friends that promised to call were, like so many other things, lost to life– disappeared without a trace.

That summer had been hell. Crystal had been a blissfully ignorant airhead all through school. Then, as if to reinforce that those days were over, life crumbled. Only weeks into “life beginning” she learned her father’d cheated on his taxes for all of his life. Likewise, her mother had… well, cheated the rest of it. The family split up. Dad went to jail. Mom occupied a new man’s trophy case each night. Crystal ended up out on her ass. Not much had changed since, at least not thematically.

A waitress poured her a cup of coffee at the counter. She’d never been one for alcohol. Downers weren’t her style– the costs of having been peppy until life became enough of a depressant to need no more. Most days, she haunted the diner ‘til lunch, sucking down coffee like a drunk to their hooch. No-one seemed to mind, nor bothered to learn her name. Par for the course, she guessed. She wasn’t one to complain. Not anymore.

The only spot of luck she’d found was the economy’d– and society at that– nose-diving the same time she did. She and others like her took advantage of it. They found free lodging in rundown or abandoned buildings in newly forming ghettos. Hardly the Ritz, but anything with a roof and most of four walls was better than street sleeping in bad weather. Along with a few others in “her building” Crystal managed to scrape together meals of scavenged offenses into a communal soup pot.

Crystal couldn’t recall her last, solid meal. She’d only managed to afford coffee by scouring the streets for change: one cup, one dollar, unlimited refills. The streets were running out of change though. Given the state of things, they weren’t likely to be replenished anytime soon. “Flat broke” was an understatement. There wasn’t a damned thing she’d bought or owned in nearly a decade. Periods were the worst, and a subject better left un-broached.

Someone sank into place beside her. The peripheral profile and weight on the stool said it was a woman. Odd. No-one sat near her. Ever. She didn’t blame them. She’d been forced to showering only during a proper rain. At most, once a week if she was lucky.Usually less.

The woman didn’t seem to care though. Something in the air between them said she was entirely different to most people. Crystal still refused to look at her, fearing any visible revulsion would shatter the remnants of her broken spirit. Nonetheless, she couldn’t deny the sensation of something forming in the air between them.

A robust, tomboyish voice directed words at her, “You look like hell.”

It couldn’t have been me, could it? Crystal remained motionless, wondering if her mind had finally cracked. She’d been waiting for life’s weight to split it open like an egg for years now. Sanity had always managed to keep it cushioned though. Maybe this was finally it– sweet release.

“Need a shower too,” the voice added. “Hair-cut wouldn’t hurt.”

The waitress stepped over, white and polka-dot clad. She habitually refilled Crystal’s cup. The other woman ordered a cup, waited to say anything else until it was brought.

“Talky thing, ain’t ya?” She said wincing at the coffee. “Shit coffee. Why’d you even bother to spend money on this shit?”

Crystal’s head finally rose, checked her left side to ensure no one was there. The same, empty stool greeted her as always. Her head turned back and right, the woman’s features focused. She was like something from a post-punk vid; shaved temples, short, platinum-blonde on top with blue highlights, and more piercings than seemed possible for a human face. Feline features around blue eyes and dark make-up drowned the metal. The neo-punk was topped off by a shredded t-shirt, leather jacket, and tight jeans stretched over combat boots.

If Crystal’d had any feelings left, she’d have found herself both envious and aroused by the woman. It wasn’t that she liked women, but rather, this one exuded such cocky confidence it madeherboth unlikable and unyieldingly desirable. Such paradoxical nature alone forced Crystal’s eyes to linger.

The woman met her eyes. “You know, if you cleaned up, you’d be good looking. You want a job?”

Crystal’s brow furrowed, “I’m not a whore, if that’s what you’re asking.”

The woman threw her head back with a laugh. “Honey, if I wanted a whore, I’d be asking the broads outside.” Crystal wasn’t amused. The woman’s face reformed seriously. “No, I need a woman. One rough enough to handle herself, but soft enough to look good. If you’re interested, just say yes. There’ll be a point of no return. Any time you want out before, say so. Once you’re past it, you’re locked in. Got it?”

Crystal shrugged. She’d done a lot of things, awful by even depraved standards. Mostly, it was solely to survive. Then again, what wasn’t these days? This idea seemed ludicrous anyhow: some stranger appears, offers her an out from the hell she’d been sucked into? Not a chance.

“What would I have to do?”

“Well, first, get cleaned up. Then, we’ll get you some new clothes. You’ll have to look the part, like me– so clothes, haircut, piercings.” The woman eyed her extensively. “Eventually, you’ll have to do something specific for me.”

“Like what?” she asked, more hopeful than she expected.

The woman frowned, glanced around, “You agree to come with me, I’ll tell you everything when we’re alone.”

Crystal eyed the half-empty coffee cup in her hand: what was the worst that could happen? Death? There were a lot worse ways she could think to go than trying to get out of this mess.

“Uh… okay.”

A few minutes later, the two slipped outside together. “I’m Angela, by the way.”

“Crystal.”

Angela led her around a corner of the diner, into an alley behind it. A BMW motorcycle was propped in the center of the small roadway, a helmet strapped to it. Angela climbed on, passed over the helmet. “Just don’t fall off.” Crystal did her best to swing a leg over the bike, put her hands around Angela’s belly. “No getting fresh. Not ’til you’ve showered, anyway.”

Crystal managed a snort. It was sort of a laugh. At least, closer to one than she’d managed in a long time. The bike started with a gurgle of fuel and the high-sounds of a performance-tuned engine. They took off, raged toward top-speed. Streets and ramshackle buildings blurred and zipped past. The scenery only sharpened long enough to corner before once more racing up to speed. The bike zigged and zagged toward the city’s edge. One of the piers came into view; a place once a center of nightlife where tourists were as plentiful as residents. Now, it was a sad caricature of itself. A few strips of abandoned buildings and storefronts were all that remained, like a coastal, ol’ west ghost town.

Angela maneuvered around a corner, into an alley, and raced toward a warehouse at its end. An abrupt turn found them facing down another alley. In its center a section of street began to rise up, wide enough to accept a vehicle: an elevator camouflaged by its place in the road and built into a housing underground. They zoomed into it, sank beneath the street. The elevator settled into place. Lights flared on across panel-lighted walls. Crystal was blinded. She blinked out water, found herself among a veritable showroom of modern and classic cars. Her jaw nearly fell off as her eyes bulged.

“Hop off,” Angela instructed.

Crystal obliged. Angela zoomed forward to a spot at the far-left, turned, and inched the bike backward with her boot-tips. Crystal shut her mouth, shuffled over, neck swiveling to take in classic muscles parked among super-cars, pick-ups, SUVs, and other bikes.

Whatever Angela did was clearly profitable, but what use could she have for Crystal? She wasn’t skilled, or all that smart, and had been living a vagrant’s life the last decade. She’d scrounged for every minor necessity. Luxuries didn’t even exist anymore– not beyond the few she saw now. What the hell could she possibly help with?

She met Angela at far-end of the garage, the bike’s engine still clicking from heat. Angela threw her leg over, rose to full height, then hung her helmet off a handlebar. She rounded at Crystal, surveyed her shabby clothing and hair again.

“Shower and a haircut.”

She thumbed her way past a print-locked door. Crystal followed her into a kitchen of black and chrome appliances, mahogany-stained cabinets, and black-granite counter tops. LEDs crawled to full-brightness in the ceilings and walls as they entered, cast warm light across equally warm, earthen tones. An island counter and stools at one side sat amid the L-Shaped kitchen’s center. Angela’s boots reverberated off the hardwood to the double-wide fridge/freezer combo as she dug out a bottle of wine.

Food peered out from the fridge, made Crystal’s stomach growl and her mouth water. Angela must’ve heard it. She whipped ’round, “I’ll order in. You like Chinese?”

She couldn’t be sure anymore, but wasn’t picky. “S-sure.”

“Good.” She slid a phone from her pants pocket, thumbed it, held it up.

For the next few minutes, Crystal was transfixed as Angela bantered Chinese to someone on the other end. She ended the call, slid the phone into a pocket, and dug for a corkscrew and scissors in a drawer. She led Crystal through the adjoined living room. More motion-sensor lights did their upward crawl, revealing plush, leather furniture, a glass coffee-table, and a large television and stereo sitting on standby. The place reeked of an excess contrary to the neo-punk air Angela’d cultivated. Yet somehow, Crystal sensed she was even more at home here than anywhere, as if her confidence alone ensure it.

They entered a large bedroom, passed its king-sized bed for a pair of doorways. Angela handed over the wine-bottle, directed Crystal into one door– a bathroom– and entered a walk-in closet beside it. The bathroom was the most modest room she’d seen yet: quaint, with a full shower-tub, toilet, and studio lighted mirror somehow retaining the elegance of the home’s other décor. Crystal focused on herself in the mirror though; it’d been months, years maybe, since she’d seen herself reflected in anything other than a sheet of metal.

She blamed Angela even less now for wanting her to clean up: her hair was more dread-locked than anyone but a Rastafarian had a right to. Her face looked smeared by handfuls of grease and road dirt to say nothing of the utterly pitiful clothing she wore. Above all, she reeked. She couldn’t smell it herself, so long accustomed to it, but she could smell everything else. By comparison, toilet mold was pleasant.

Angela reappeared with a pile of clothing, set it aside to unlace her boots, remove her socks, and roll up her pants, revealing a plethora of tattoos.

“Get naked.”

“Huh?”

She moved to turn on the tub, “You need to soak that shit off, and I need to cut your hair. So. Get naked.” Crystal hesitated. “I see it every day. If it makes you feel better, I’ll get naked too.”

Her eyes widened, “No, that’s… It’s fine. I’ll just–”

“Jesus, here,” she interrupted, tugging off Crystal’s long coat.

She helped to undress her upper half, then tossed the dirty clothes aside. A bra was evidently more than Crystal’d been allowed. Moreover, her clothing hadn’t prevented her bare skin from getting just as greasy and dirty as the rest of her.

The bath frothed with bubbling soap as Angela helped Crystal from her pants. There was no denying the homeless girl’s discomfort. To her credit, she powered through it for the sake of her new benefactor. Likewise, Angela remained detached, handled the whole thing as if a nursemaid.

Crystal plunged her feet into the hot water. Her eyes welled up involuntarily; a warm bath. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d had a warm bath. She sank into the water, like a cooked noodle snaking through a fork. The tears flowed as she submerged her head. On emerging, they were just more wetness, camouflaged by dirt-streaks and flushed cheeks.

Angela gave her a moment, then sat on the back-ledge of the tub behind her. “This is all gonna’ have to come off,” she said, settling in with scissors in-hand. “I’ll do my best, but honestly, you’d be better off shaving it.”

Hair-styles were the last thing on Crystal’s mind. The warmth infecting her was too powerful. The urge to sleep came on but would mean squandering it. Instead, she let a dull dreaminess take her. With it came the distinct fear of if she’d hallucinated Angela’s existence. If she had, she didn’t want it to end. She’d go to her grave never seeing reality again. Angela’s hands weighed her shoulders though, telling her it was reality; a bizarre one where someone gave a shit. At that, more of one than an entire world combined.

So, what was the price? She couldn’t help but wonder. Angela’s hands were rough, used to hard labor or something else that she couldn’t place. Their grip was strong; it tugged her hair firmly this way and that. The precise, staccato notes of the scissors told of dexterous fingers, certain of themselves and their actions.

Crystal’s curiosity finally piqued. “Why’re you doing this?”

Angela answered as best she could, keeping her mind focused on the task at-hand. “Short answer, I need a new partner. My job isn’t the kind you can do alone. My last partner left after a big job. I can’t keep working without one. Thing is, I know what it’s like being a street rat. I was one once. If it hadn’t been for someone doing this for me, I’d be where you were this morning.”

She was grateful, but the obvious question needed to be asked, “What kind of work do you do?”

“Let’s just say its legality is questionable,” she replied, tilting Crystal’s head. “Sit up.”

Crystal inched upward, nipples hardening from the cool air above water. Angela maneuvered her back, between her legs, laid her head back to trim the front of her hair. Crystal closed her eyes to avoid the awkwardness of looking up at her.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t know what that means.”

“I’m a contract thief.” Crystal’s eyes opened to a squint. Angela’s hands stilled. “Don’t judge me when I’m helping you. Trust me, there’s a lot worse ways to get by. Few pay as well.”

She winced, “Sorry. I’m… not judging you, but you don’t have to– you know, hurt people, right?”

“Only if they try to hurt me,” she said sternly. Crystal frowned. “You want out, say so.”

Crystal thought about it: given what she’d seen so far, Angela’s lifestyle was… well, a lifestyle. To say it was leaps and bounds beyond hers missed just how different their two worlds were. Even before the fall, she hadn’t seen such luxury. That it was all funded by so-called “dirty money” was unimportant given she possessed only a set of ragged clothes. If forced to choose between “dirty money” and penniless street-living, her morality was more than flexible.

Crystal eased her head back, “No. I’m still in.”

“But?”

“… Is it, you know, dangerous?”

Angela eased slowly into motion again, “Sometimes.”

Crystal closed her eyes. “Just don’t get me killed.”

“That’s the plan.”

Something acknowledged the possibility of it. Something else said she’d do everything to avoid it. Why, Crystal wasn’t sure, but a sense of intense loyalty resounded beneath it. At the very least, Crystal would follow things to their “point of no return.” Wherever it was, until then she’d at least feel like a human being again, rather than a creature eking surviving breaths. Maybe even, Angela’s company would prove as worthwhile as she felt Crystal’s would. Only time would tell.

Poetry-Thing Thursday: Hope-Fueled Treason

Hope-fueled treason.
A country in turmoil.
We lost our reason,
sense and logic our foil.

We voted away,
our rights to applause.
What man could say,
he took pause?

Fluorescent pride,
glowed on our trees and cars,
as those we trusted, lied,
and we instead watched stars.

Patriots died,
for oil and gold–
and now you sigh,
this story long told.

So are we lost?
Or is there hope?
What was the cost?
How do we cope?

I guess we’ll see,
in time, then act,
or perhaps flee,
the puppets intact.

Short Story: Cosmic Dues

He was built like a Mack truck; broad, flat, angry, and more chromed than a luxury sedan. To say he wasn’t intimidating would be more an insult to one’s self than him. He certainly wasn’t winning any personality contests, but if there was anyone a person to want on your side in a fight, it was him. Too bad Harry was on the other side.

The first blow hit his jaw and about knocked him from his chair. The chair even jumped a little. How, Harry wasn’t sure. Probably something about velocities and angular momentum. He’d have known if given time to think about it. Instead, he was only allowed a loud “ow!” It came out sounding like a stray dog’s yelp from being thumped on the nose by a rolled up paper. Not the cleverest opening gambit, but what did they expect from him?

The Mack truck reeled back for another blow. Harry cringed in his chair. He weaseled out some quick words, “Ah-right. Ah-right. Ah-right. I’ll talk.”

The Mack relaxed its bionic, chrome arm. Its fist relaxed. Harry breathed a little easier. Not much more, mind you, but enough to speak normally. He swept a hand backward across his greasy, jet-black hair. His hand moved from the sheen and the room was more reflected there than in the Mack’s bionics.

“I seen your guy,” he said with his weaselly tone.

For a moment, Harry wasn’t focused on the Mack. Rather, he eyed the well-suited guy beside him. He looked more upscale than anyone Harry’d ever seen. More than likely, he’d never been on this side of town, hence the Mack. Something about his bearing said corporate work. That much was clear in his suit. His bearing didn’t need it. So why the show? He was trying too hard to look corporate.

Harry’s suspicion was aroused. He slicked his hair back again, determined to root the Suit’s true nature. He kicked back in his seat, “So. Uh. Yeh. Yer guy. I seen ‘im, but-uh, I can’t just go snitchin’ on people. Bad for business you know?” He gestured widely to the pawnshop around him. The Mack sneered. The Suit’s remained indifferent. “So-uh, what kind’a assurances do I get I’m not gonna’ feel push-back?”

The Suit nodded toward the Mack. Before he knew it, Harry’s head was being crushed against the glass counter beside him. It cracked, splintered. His breath quickened with terror, but he did his best to keep his cool.

“L-look,” he said with more quickly and weaselly than before. “I c-can’t just go g-givin’ up people. I g-gotta’ get somethin’ outta’ the deal.”

The Mack pushed a little harder, but Harry sensed the Suit’s nod. His head was released. He gasped for air in newly calmed lungs and shriveled in his chair. The Suit leaned at him, his hands gripping his wrists behind his back.

“Ensure I find this man, and I’ll see that you’re well-compensated.”

Harry shrugged, “Look-uh, no disrespect, but-uh, I gotta’ see the money. You know? Otherwise– I mean, how do I know if you didn’t find a suit on the street?” The Mack reeled back. Harry cringed. “All’s I’m sayin’s–” The Suit raised a hand to stop the Mack. “I’ve got a business to think about. You know? Business. You understand? Nothing personal. Anyone can say they got the funds. I can’t take everyone’s word for it.”

The Mack relaxed his hand again. The Suit reached into a pocket, tossed a cascade of bills at Harry. Whether or not he was Corporate, it was money. One man’s coin was as good as any other’s in Harry’s eyes. He sifted the cash into a pile. It’d been a long time since he’d seen paper money. All of the people he dealt with nowadays used credit-cards, bit-sticks. Paper money was rare. Especially difficult to counterfeit. Only the super-rich had it, but their money was clean, crisp. Brand-new bills. The Suit’s bills were old, tattered around the edges, soft from decades of handling.

Something wasn’t adding up. Harry knew it. Voicing it was another matter entirely. Even if the Suit didn’t nod to the Mack, and Harry didn’t end up smashed against the display case, calling him out wasn’t the right move. He played it cool. He’d gotten what he wanted anyhow. At the very least, the Suit had been honest about that much.

“Right,” Harry said, cracking his knuckles. “Your guy was here. Yeh. Said something about needing protection. Bought an old reel-gun. Paid with a cred-stick. Took off.”

The Suit stiffened, voice like a mortician’s seeking out a stolen corpse. “Where was he going?

“Dunno,” Harry lied.

The pair met eyes. The Suit’s stabbed Harry’s like needles. For a moment, he thought the guy might actually have something shooting out of them. They hurt.

“I do not believe you,” the Suit said.

Shit.

Harry didn’t need to say it aloud. He felt his face slam glass again. It splintered further, began to flex. Small shards pinched and sliced at his cheek. Warm blood flowed.

“Ah-right. Ah-right. Ah-right!” The Mack didn’t let up this time. “H-he said he was going to New-Burg. Place outside town. Little village. Like a cul-de-sac with a few houses. Look there. I swear! That’s all I know.”

The Mack released him. The Suit turned to slink out the door. The Mack followed. The bell over the door rang. Harry was up, headed for the bathroom sink and mirror. He grabbed a rag, wet it, and dabbed at his face.

“You did well,” a voice behind him said.

He half-ignored it, “Yeh. Whatever. Pricks. Comin’ in here like that. You owe me new glass.”

“You’ll have it.”

Harry turned to view the man speaking to him; he was difficult to miss no matter where he went. He looked like some combination of Rastafarian and android; dread-locks, tubes, and chrome glistening beneath, around, and within brown skin. Whatever the Suit wanted him for, the Mack had his work cut out for him. All the same, the meeting had been set. That was all he’d been needed for. That was all he cared about.

“You will find payment, including compensation, on a cred-stick in the office.” He lifted a hood from the back of his billowing, leather coat, hid himself beneath it.

“Y-yeh. S-sure. Come back anytime.”

The man passed by. He drifted more than walked, like some ethereal being. Harry shook off the shuddering awkwardness it forced down his spine. He walked into the office to check his money. The job was simple enough. Moreover, he liked the idea of sticking it to the wannabe-rich folks. The whole thing reeked of bad news though. His only hope was the party that killed the other didn’t come back to involve him further. Corporate warfare was for the corps. It was the last thing Harry wanted to be involved in. He just wanted the cosmic dues even, his shop open, life to be lived.

He may’ve been a weasel, but he was good enough to fool anyone with it. Too bad it always required blood to do so. He dabbed at the wet spot on his face and sighed. At least he’d gotten paid… this time.

Poetry-Thing Thursday: Fire-Rain

Fire rains beyond dirt-spattered glass,
a window into a hell we thought would never come to pass.
Instead with a toppling of governments to debt,
our only hope now is to one day forget.

Through columns of black-pluming orange and red,
is the electric rainbow of neon-pocked lead,
and down on the streets the fearless ones loot,
ever on look-out for a gun and blue suit.

What little Humanity yet still remains,
is swallowed by the chaos of fear and great pains,
as millions lie dead or else stubbornly defying,
their ticking clocks, their loved ones crying.

Somewhere deep in the middle of it all,
is a group of rich men getting richer off the fall,
but what will it matter once the last poor-men pass,
to be the one with piles of gold beneath the ass?

For civilization, society, economics,
are human endeavors requiring strong tonics,
of human sweat, blood, and labor,
and cannot exist if you are your only neighbor.

So remember, dear mister, it’s not only us,
you damage with your greed’s sadistic fuss,
but yourself and those you might love too,
for even the most hardhearted of hearts finds love anew.

Still that fire-rain does persist,
and I must wonder who it is you have missed,
or lost within that lead-pocked neon,
that has iced over your heart for such an eon.

But even if no answer I receive,
I’ll never do you the disrespect to deceive,
I’d rather resolutely just shake my head,
and hope you find it before you’re dead.

So that one day that fire-rain,
can break for sunshine, like happiness your pain,
and together you and I might meet ‘neath the glow,
of neon-lights with humanity to sow.

Hijack: Part 2

2.

Like most of her drivers, Gail didn’t have much of a home life. She lived and breathed asphalt and exhaust, time-tables and invoices, miles to go and miles driven. Mostly for the sake of paperwork though, she kept a small place near the garage, along with a beat-up, 4-door Chevy more often parked in Lone-Wolfe’s fleet-yard than the rundown place she called home.

She fell into bed sometime around noon. The mattress was a decade past its prime, still barely used. It was small. Home was small. Everything was. Not having many possessions nor sentiment did that, Gail guessed. Keeping three-quarters of her wardrobe in a duffel bag probably didn’t hurt. The few pairs of jeans, t-shirts, and underwear would get her through whatever haul she’d be on. All of it was topped off by a tattered jean-jacket and a pair of steel-toe boots that left her without shoes every time they were resoled.

She hit the bed, passed out in more clothing than usual, shit-kickers included. The haul had been easy for someone rarely needing sleep. It was one of the few things she knew made her a great driver. Unlike most people, she only needed four and a half hours sleep. Anything more or less and she was wrecked, but four and a half was the Goldilocks zone.

Four and a half hours later, she was up brewing coffee and squeezing into her train-compartment-sized bathroom to shower. By the time she was out again, it was a quick redress and mugful of sludge-black coffee before heading to the garage. The beater coughed out rust as it started, then did its job carrying her to work. She sympathized.

Coming home to find M-T’s suits in her office had left a bad taste in her mouth. It lingered, spurred by an accompanying stink of something like a high-end cologne bath mixed with money and the pig-stench of greed. She’d hauled everything from manure to sulfur over the years, and nothing was ever quite so rancid as a wealthy asshole. The more there were, the worse it got, too.

Her arrival preempted the shift-change. Before long, Walt Thacker was forced to belly away back and away from his desk like a slug. Gail watched him disappear from the outer-office as she refilled her mug with black sludge and Brianne Hampton sauntered in. The penultimate sweetheart of the office, Brianne made every man in the company salivate over– and every woman envy– her hourglass figure, big tits, and plump ass.

Gail had never understood the fixation on Brianne’s “type.” She agreed she was an attractive girl, but apart from being good with numbers, she didn’t have much personality. She was a blank page of dullness that sometimes reflected other peoples’ color, but also happened to be the daughter of an old friend Gail had owed a favor to. If it weren’t for Brianne’s father, Murphy, Lone-Wolfe would’ve never gotten off paper. The least she could do to repay the debt was hire his airhead daughter for dispatch work.

“The rather succinct gist of it,” Gail had once told Darian, her chief-mechanic, was that Murphy had run his own shipping business for decades before getting heavily involved with the Union. The “friend of a friend” situation connecting the two gave her an in to the Union. Even with a rig-license, and thirty years of political progress, the Unions were still largely male-oriented. Murphy’s acquaintanceship overrode that, at the promise that she one day return the favor.

When that marker was called in, Brianne was hired, no questions asked. Gail had since sussed out that Murphy had been investigated– and eventually tried and convicted– of bribery. The loss of his kickback-fueled income to a family on caviar and wine tastes was jarring, but so long as Brianne remained useful, and didn’t screw the company like she screwed everything else, Gail didn’t care.

A newspaper plopped onto her desk from the body in front of her. Carl Reyer was awake for once, and dreadfully alert to the world around him. He nodded at the paper between them, and she unfurled it to read the headline; “NHSB to Local 413: Integrate or pay-up!” She looked to Carl over the paper, “Who the hell d’they think they are?”

“What matters is the content,” he said dismally.

She skimmed the article, “National Highway Safety Bureau has received reports citing… non-integrated trucking as number one cause of accidents!? What the fuck?”

“Flip to the back.”

Crinkling newspaper flapped and folded. She skimmed some more, read aloud what she knew Carl was intending her to find, “According to a study conducted by Mechanized Transports.” She lowered the paper, “Those asshats are actually trying to spin this against us?”

“Not just us,” Carl reminded. “The whole industry.”

Gail gnashed her teeth together, growled from the back of her throat. Anger seemed pointless, especially given the article wasn’t directed at her, but for the trio to have come in on the morning the paper was printed showed just how they felt about the industry around them. It was as if thousands of jobs and livelihoods were no more than pawns in a game of money. She wanted to shout, but could only manage a frustrated sigh.

She folded the paper up, gave it back, “Give me some space, Carl.”

“Don’t have to tell me twice.”

She knew as much; her fury was something of a legend, though it was rarely directed toward her employees. Unless they’d severely screwed the pooch, it was generally directed at corporations, competitors, or politicians. The lines her employees couldn’t cross had always been thick enough that it wasn’t often someone toed them, but when they did, Gail gave “Hell hath no fury,” new meaning. For now though, she wasn’t going to scream or rage. She needed to think. She wasn’t even sure why, or what about, but calm was necessary.

Beyond the office, Carl passed Brianne and Jude Gardner on dispatch. It was looking to be a quiet evening after an even quieter day. Only a few rigs were out at the moment, and running two dispatchers was more for keeping the place staffed in case of emergency rather than out of need. Brianne was on auto-pilot. The twenty-something was an air-head at the best of times, but that transitioned to ace dispatcher when necessary. Even though her mood never seemed to change, nor her dolled-up face for that matter, she knew her job. Most everyone figured it was a savant-like trait– something had to fill up that head when the oxygen content drooped.

Something was different now, Jude noticed. Brianne was poised over her keyboard, hands working as she hailed a driver over the headset. A lack of external sound from the noise-canceling headsets dispatchers wore was usual, but it seemed more poignant. The edges of Brianne’s figure hunched toward her screen with a hand at a headphone, tension outlined her joints and limbs. Jude’s heart leapt into his throat; everyone knew Brianne rarely reacted to things, that she was, terrified him.

He nudged a speaker off his ear. “Bud?” Brianne said in her nasal-tone. “Bud? Come in. I didn’t–”

An alarm screamed in her headphones. It was so loud she threw them onto her shoulders and yelped. Jude was up. Gail heard it, threw open the door to her office, and jogged over. Carl peered in from a doorway. Darian and his crew appeared behind him, pushed for views of the scene. Gail heard the alarms; the tracking software was programmed to alert of various events in certain ways. From the sounds of it, this was a critical alarm. A rig was in serious trouble.

“What is it?” Gail asked, bracing against Brianne’s desk and chair.

Brianne rubbed an ear, “Buddy. Ferrero. Running aluminum to Schaumburg on a short haul.”

Gail looked over the status warnings on Brianne’s screen. They were red and yellow, flashing. This was critical. A fire in the engine somewhere. Based on the codes being thrown out, it had to be near a fuel source. What was more worrying though, was the “Collision” and “Unbalanced Load” alarms. The truck hadn’t just caught fire, it had hit something and overturned first.

“Pull up the dash-cam,” Gail ordered.

Brianne’s fingers worked. Dash-cams had been added years ago to better capture accidents and resolve insurance disputes. Fifth-wheel and trailer-cams had been installed as well, but neither would be as important given the fire. A video player flashed on-screen, buffered for a few seconds. It gave way to a bright-orange glow that obscured everything but curls of black smoke at its sides.

“Trailer Cam,” Gail said.

Brianne keyed it up. The afternoon road behind the trailer was tilted left, ninety degrees. Worse, a line of cars had piled up along the left side of the road. A few were utterly totaled. Gail’s heart was in her throat. Blue and red lights flashed. Squad cars bounced along the median and shoulder, rocketed toward the trailer. A pair of cruisers sped past, another pair forced their way over to set up a perimeter, begin directing traffic. A news chopper hovered in the distance. From the angle, a few miles back, but enough to catch the line of cars probably stretching for hours backward. More emergency lights flickered in the camera’s periphery, red and white; fire-trucks and ambulances. EMTs rushed over the median toward the worst cars. More lights, more EMTs, fire-fighters.

Gail became acutely aware of the group at the door shifting behind her. Jude still had one headphone on beside her to monitor his frequencies, but he stared, open-mouthed. As if instructed to by Gail’s thoughts alone, Brianne pulled up the dash-feed beside the trailer-cam.

Jets of water and foam rained down the windshield. Like the trailer, the rig was on its side, obvious from the angled, flashing lights of fire-trucks on the road ahead. The fire was shrinking, but anything beyond the storm of fluids was impossible to discern. Shadows flickered behind the camera, as if from lamps casting back-light on the camera’s view. It took a moment for the washed-out color to re-focus. When it did, the bulk of the rain had fallen away to streams trickling along gravity’s pull. Bodies of firemen and EMTs were formed up around the right edge of the view, by the looks of it, all working together. Gail knew what was about to come next, but she shuddered anyway.

Buddy Ferrero’s dark-skinned body peered from between the emergency workers that rushed him across the feed. Someone fought to fit a mask over him and squeeze a breath-bag. Buddy disappeared behind the cluster of bodies that rushed him to the median, reappeared for a moment as he was lifted, then disappeared as the group reformed. They rushed him to the rear of an ambulance, then dispersed as the doors shut. The ambulance pulled a U-turn through the gawker’s pace of traffic, and sped away with lights flashing. They watched until it became a mere blur of color, and disappeared.

Gail’s shaking hands pushed her upright. She glanced ahead and sideways, “Jude, Brianne, get back on the radio. Darian?”

“Yeah, boss?” The slim, jump-suited, black kid replied.

“I want you in my office. Pull all of Buddy’s routes for the last month. Go through them one-by-one, starting with today’s. Find out what the fuck happened to that rig. I want a month’s worth of history. I’ll be back in to review everything soon.”

“Sure thing, b-boss,” he stammered, mind caught in what he’d seen.

“Marla, you’re with me,” she said to the tomboyish girl now standing where Jude had been.

“Whatever you need, Gail.”

“The rest of you make yourselves useful, help where and how you can. If you’ve got hauls, check your rigs now,” she instructed, heading for the office to grab her jacket.

Marla followed her to the door, hands in her jump-suit pockets, “Where’re we going?”

She grabbed her jean jacket from the chair Darian sat in, handed him a two-way radio, “If anyone calls us, let me know A-SAP. If it’s the press, hang up.”

“Got it.”

She pulled Marla along for the door and out of the offices, “I need a mechanic, and you’re the only one I can spare. Gerry and Simon are still rebuilding the alternator on Felicia’s Coronado.”

Marla followed her out to the beater Chevy, “So, uh… where are we going?”

“To Schaumburg. I don’t want anyone else examining that truck before we do.”

They slid into Gail’s car as she internalized her last thought; because this is way too fucking coincidental.

Bonus Poem Double Feature: Part 2- Futility

Vigilante,
Closing in on a candlelight vigil,
spies the masked villain,
waiting in the wings for his next victim,
and so strikes with the power of voice,
until fear eviscerates the villain’s volition.

Meanwhile,
across a scarred city in moonlight,
is a deranged would-be protector-man,
whose only intention is that of the crime of murder.
After, he’ll hide behind a shield of metal,
that prompts sounds of mangled meat.

Futility,
is seen through the looking glass of fear,
where it is easy to mistake happenstance for fate,
but reality is Ralph, and harsh and frank,
and so long as we don’t allow ourselves to, we’ll never forget,
that there is no such thing, and thus our own futures formulate.

Speaking,
will forever be the path of sustenance,
as long as our reality is that of society.
We may remain in the din but reign in the silence,
for our hearts beat truest when in solace,
may they forever then, find written words for serene survival.

Poetry-Thing Thursday: LCD Calamity

LED.
Technology.
When you’re in,
think of me.

Virtual Insanity.
LCD Calamity.
When you’re out again,
forget how to be.

For the ‘net is quite large,
and has a lean to take charge.

Electricity.
Bit currency.
Arcs in light we see,
to throttle us with ferocity.

When corruptibility,
is formatted glee,
we’ll be forced to take knee,
risk our lives or flee.

Then will float a barge,
with our corpses as its only charge.

Corporatocracy.
High-Velocity.
Suicide-society,
burning to ashes around me.

Cyberpunk scene.
Streets unclean.
Veins of pink and blue and green,
striate what little Humanity can glean.

Web 2.0 turned to dust,
in favor of corporate lust.

Insanity.
Corporate manatee.
Greed vanity,
ruling iron-fistedly.

Where poverty,
becomes artistry,
only to utterly,
destroy equality.

Beware of the creature,
of man-made feature,
and hydra-headed preacher,
for it is no teacher.

Instead,
listen to your head,
or you’ll find dead,
those liberty bred,
from the LCD,
Calamity,
and Cyberpunk dread.