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.

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Short Story: Dead Gods

On-stage the band were throwing themselves into every lick and power-chord. The effort culminated in all the lasting effect of lint in wind. Long hair flung sweat and other bodily fluids through colored stage-lights with twirling abandon. The lead guitarist leapt and bounded about, readied to kick a stack before using it as a launch-pad instead.

The madness onstage was matched only by the madness of a crowd that might’ve brought tears to Uncle Lemmy’s eyes. The poor old sod may not’ve been there in person, dead or alive, but there was no doubting he was there in spirit. The slam-pad mentality of the mosh-pit exceeded the loss of drugged-out brain cells by an untold measure. All around it, the pumping of fists and screaming of fans made sure Neu-Ballistix raged all the harder for them.

All told, a good crowd. Powerful. One that deserved better than the rabble they were forced to contend with. Perhaps that was the problem. In the end; all feeling, no discipline. A different world for a different kind of person. Thus, Neu-Ballistix would be no more remembered than the nameless rabble from the night before, or the night before that and so on.

Lee Felton flipped his leather-jacket’s collar down and slipped out past a bouncer. He thumbed a cigarette into his mouth as he surged through the few people waiting about, coming and going. They were faceless the way any crowd was; confirmed to the senses as humans, but clustered so as to be inaccessible, personally.

Like the bands every night, every weekend; All feeling, no discipline. All discipline, no feeling. No matter what, all of one thing and none of the other, and all nothing because of it.

Then again, beneath scattered streetlights, who wasn’t faceless and unfamiliar?

To Lee, most people were sterile sperm; the assumed potential of greatness, but that could never be attained. It wasn’t their fault they were blanks– duds, but they were. Fact was, it was really the 21st century’s damaged testes that had done it. The same ones that promised a world of flying cars and hover-boards, but in reality, had turned into slum-lord ghetto-living and dehumanization.

Even smoking in public was outlawed, required standing in the cold. Fine for bouncers on-duty, but why for him? Specially when the chick in the corner’s doing rails off a whore’s cock. They can still get their jollies, why not him too?

In the end, it wasn’t about what was cool, or in, it was control. No-one knew it, and no-one could. The artistic community lived on vibes. In a digital world, that meant being blind. It was a trade-off. The vibes were bountiful when harnessed right, but required certain sacrifices be made. It was the same trade every artist made, personally or publicly. More spot-light, more heat.

It just so happened Lee’s industry was especially good at using the light to blind and dazzle, before pillaging and plundering talent, image, and any hope of reputation. And why not? They were damned good at it. Had been for a century now. Never mind how much sleaze the artists had to contend with.

Lee lit his smoke with a cupped hand, fighting Chicago winds blowing in off the lake.As usual, Winter’s Autumnal-guise arrived in time for coeds getting blasted at weekenders. Lee wasn’t sure why he came out anymore; the bands weren’t hitters, the beer was watered downand too expensive, and he’d long ago given up the hunt.

Were he surfing one-nighters, he’d have hits left and right. That was the problem though; in the industry, you went along or you went against. In either case, you chose a side. Those one-hitters were a dime a dozen, and the corporate industrial music-machine thrived on them.

The shows were more habit than anything. That sort one went about once a week to decompress from reality’s attempts at collapse. Some people were weekend warriors, college kids especially. Others were simple party-addicts bingeing on one vice or another, burning away rotted brain cells already consigned as victims of wage-slavery or normal-joery and its weekly, excess-purge.

Lee couldn’t blame people for wanting to burn cells or war away weekends. Young or old, life was passing by and the more people were forced to sit and accept it, the more it hurt to watch. Lee had seen it enough in himself the last few years, he no longer cared to watch either. Instead, he went to the shows, the bars, the open mics, waiting and listening and hoping he’d find a sound; the right mix, the right person, to make another God out of them.

He doubted he would, even that any existed in these lean, silent times. Funny, everyone everywhere was screaming into mics or acoustic wells and no-one was making a sound. Lee’d figured that was the real problem. The difference between music and noise wasn’t the notes themselves, the sounds they made, rather it was the space between, the silences formed of off-noise; the style.

Lee knew those silences better than most, had built a career on them. It was in the toilet nowadays, but stuck out enough to live off royalties.

Lee started for the apartment off Lakeshore Drive. It was one of the higher-end places. In these times and parts of the world, that meant the heat worked when you wanted it to, ‘stead of when it wanted to. The twenty or so minutes between home and the juke-joint meant enough time for the liquor to run its course.

The cold had only started edging in, but not enough it to chill the bone, wind or no.

The elevator lurched with gut-punching familiarity. Lee lit another cigarette; he’d torn the no-smoking sign off the elevator months ago. Only three people other than he and Rhein used it with any regularity. Two were smokers.The other was an old man that couldn’t smell anything from all the blow he’d rammed in his sinuses over the years.

None of them cared if he smoked.

They were all like him; burnt-out fools with ties to the industry and more mental scars than normal humans had a right to. Lee’d decided long ago the apartment building wasn’t really an apartment building. It was a retirement home for old rockers. He’d lucked out and retired earlier was all.

He slunk to his door, thumbed his way past the print-lock and stepped inside. Rhein was slumped over the couch wearing only leather pants. He looked like Billy Idol might’ve had he been naturally platinum blonde and decidedly less-straight. He’d splayed out on the leather couch in front of the flickering fireplace, looking as if waiting to be taken advantage of– in one way or another.

Lee’d get there eventually.

He tossed his coat down and sank to the far side of the couch, between the widest points of Rhein’s splayed feet. He hunched to unlaced his boots and felt Rhein’s foot playfully close to his back.

He heaved a sigh and it stopped.

“Nothing, huh?” Rhein asked, sparkling blue-grays licked by fiery reflections.

Lee didn’t bother. They both knew the industry was dead, along with everyone attached to it. The few left were unaware. They were headless chicken-bodies and headshot-deer; adrenaline-drive from half pulverized-brains that had yet to decipher their rapid and immutable exit.

Fact was, not much could be done about it. The industry was dead; taken over by corporate ass-hats and frothing mouth-pieces. All of them, demanding everyone be the next pop-rock idol or gang-banger wannabe. Didn’t matter which because they were all the same; sluts on their knees sucking for the money shot– or hoping to get some of the splash-back, if nothing else.

Lee laid between Rhein’s legs, head on his navel, only then noticing he’d been throwing back sips of whiskey from a rock-glass. Lee looked up Rhein’s torso as he sipped, the Billy Idol image damned-near complete. He couldn’t forget what drew them together, even if he barely remembered how or when.

Rhein was a God; Lee, the demi-God at his side. They’d rocked the country, torn down stadiums, halls, and homes with walls of sound. One did it live, the other did in the studio. In that way that living fast makes Relativity make sense, they lived and did it all in a decade.

Then, the bubble burst with the touring fan-base. The boredom and rot set in. The silence came with it. They’d done their best not to acknowledge the haunting truth ever since that Rock was dead, the industry with it; its Gods now fables sinking into obscurity to eventually fade forever.

Lee let his head sink back to Rhein’s navel, finally at-peace with the idea. At the very least, if they were dead, the Gods had a good run. Now, they could sleep, secure in what they’d been.

Short Story: Great Harmony, Great Harm

The question that comes up most often is, “what did the corps want with all that power?”

Firstly, they didn’t want anything. This misunderstanding was partly their own fault and design; an effect of juvenile and prematurely formed P-R departments. Sub-entities incapable of seeing the larger one they were part of, its emergent sentience.

But then, if they’d seen that, they’d never have fallen. So, would the same problems have existed anyhow? Likely not.

While the corporations didn’t survive the fall, their seed remains scattered.

Incorporation was an idea never existent before its take-over. Many things had tried to reach for it, notably religion, but like the world that came after them, corporations were an evolution of those first-reachers. Rather than being copies or counterparts, they were an intermediate form of one of Humanity’s collective, special endeavors.

Like the Moon Landing and the Space-Age,Corporations were merely taxonomic delineations of Human transitions. This one, post-human; postdigital. Not because humans or digital things no longer existed, but because they would now always exist.

Such transitions were the evolution of Human society. Pre-corp history was ancient, no matter how recent. Simply because it was history without technology, its principles and ideals, its ubiquity.

A culture, or entity, unable to cope with its environment, dies.This is the basis of all theories of adaptation and evolution.Corporations took over by riding that evolutionary wave and thinking they could control it.

Really, they were deluded opportunists.

That was the Corps’ greatest mistake. Even to the end, they didn’t realize what they were. Even less, the damage they were doing to the order of things with their refusals to evolve or die.

Irony is, corporations evolved from a place of need. Like that of government and law, their niche was theirs and theirs alone, could never be met otherwise. They could forever be lords of their lands without care or worry for the world outside.

But only in their lands. Nowhere else.

Obviously, that didn’t last. Internal competition brought out teeth. Corps gored one another’s throats, spilling blood-money into their water and wine and making them thirsty for more. It wasn’t long before Corps were rabidly dividing the land, conniving and double-dealing for anything, everything.

A panic-scramble for ground spilled to the rest of the world as simple panic. Corporations had become either too big or too small. There was no middle ground. Some collapsed. Others became scavengers, cannibalizing their fallen brethren for survival.

The latter lasted.

Trying to fill every niche at once, and mostly failing, revealed the true systemic corruption within them; greed. In such a volume as to rival that of original sin. Humans had been greed-mad, yes, but postdigital humans were capable of such immense effect, affect– their corporations moreso– that each was capable of total effect in their own fields, contexts.

In other words, a single human could have the power of many– and vice versa, and thus each human could now alter the course of human history if they so desired. The only unknown was scale. Corporations made any scale possible.

They were prosperity and security beyond competition, or survival, or even primal need-fulfillment.

Corporations had resources on every level; in astounding numbers. They could build, test, and perfect ideas in fractions of normal time. They could perfect rockets to Mars before government papers were even seen. What else could be expected of elderly systems and organizations based on pre-digital-age mentalities.

Like Humans, Corporations were multi-cellular organisms. They simply weren’t sentient. Yet.

They were one creature, formed of groups of smaller ones, working together to ensure the whole acted in protection of itself. Governments, like corporations after them, operated this way. Their methods of action were justice, law, order. Corporations knew, and indeed cared only for, money.

If corporations had been satisfied with their place or their guiding Humans not so foolish, they’d have laid claim wherever money could be found and settled in for eternity. Ultimately, it was their playground. Wherever, however, so long as it was money, Corporations could handle it.

But the didn’t. Instead, they began to diversify into politics, security, law; places they had no business in but their money could buy just as well as anywhere else.

If things had gone any differently, they would have remained benign enough to coexist with the postdigital world.It was their aggressive manifestation of greed, impotent outside their own deserved grievances, that condemned them.

The possibility of niche breakout was the corporations’ first exit to evolution, however self-guided. Rather than approach it like sentient, self-aware organisms, they tore past, swallowing what they could and smiting the rest. The individual organisms therein, rather than recall the whole’s greater priority, aimed purely for personal gain.

Nothing unusual, but the way they did it was the problem.

These cells saw the inherent flexibility in their system, their environment; that any cell could take over any work. Then began to strive for the top, for purely monetary gain. That interchangeability of components was an idea formed first in mass production.

To corporations though, it was the people running and maintaining the system– its employees, that were the interchangeable parts.

In the end, all that mattered for a corporation was that its parts ran. After all, that was how the money was made, the resources stockpiled. Even the engine through which the money was made was interchangeable. Its context, through-put, was part of the immense robustness of the system as well, because it was really a framework.

As a chassis is the frame work for a car, any car, a Corporation could do anything. Not because it wanted to, but because it was designed to, engineered to. Corporations were the culmination of millennia of social organization, collapse, and restructuring of society through unguided chaos.

Like those ramshackle, sheet metal systems of law, government, you-name-it, they were meant for easier repair after falling down in the storm. Their parts were only ever phased-out. Not replaced. Above all, they were never meant to weather the storm.

Storms were part of the environment. Humans had grown to recognize that now. Thus, it required preparation and collective strength, will, resources. Re-enter Corps, their greed, until their very purpose was so corrupted nothing of them could be allowed to remain.

Perhaps, if left to time to evolve, become re-prioritized, and adaptedto a new purpose fitting its structure they could have functioned again. In effect; the same garment, different label effect of copy-paste, inherit and sale Corps themselves pioneered.

However, while most corp-people, or cells, recognized this as the point conscious or not, corp loyalty did exist, could be used. Tribal mentality could still wholly manipulate people. It was an effective means of re-orienting, but it was not to be used lightly.

Even before Corporations took that precious grounding-rod of control from the people, their chances of survival were shrinking, as a result of Corp mistakes. History had shown only a small, conscious fraction was needed to corrupt the whole, and gut-instinct alerted humanity it was happening then.

Namely, through mediumof personal greed. Chiefly, by those aforementioned level-jumpers.

In effect a small group had, and were, utterly corrupting the very fabric of Human living simply by trying to corrupt their own, conceptual reality. One was a byproduct of the other, certainly, but neither were acceptable or health for the system, those affected by it.

Theft of concepts was nothing knew. It had long been happening: since the thefts of pagan culture and beyond. The corruption was never whole. Never glaring. It was by degrees. Parasites putting themselves near their host-brain to control its actions.

In other words, their meaningless titles came to mean more than they were willing to accept for the required ratios of risk/worth, win/loss, 0 or 1. Instead of bowing out, they put the weight and squeeze on the rest of the system for their mistakes. This was untenable.

The first Japanese corporations understood this reality. Their culture so perfectly fitted the corporate way, it was a wonder they weren’t its inventors. While that honor remained the West’s, the Japanese were the first and foremost to embrace it.

And why not? The Japanese do-or-do-not absolutism more or less defined corporate existence. It was the manifestation of Eastern culture. Its duality of yin and yang.

Following the aftermath of World War II, and the inherent, flexible modularity of the corporation, it was no wonder the Japanese clung to it– it was hand-tailored to their mental-build on mass-production scales. Ones they’d never seen before because no-one had, but that they needed because of post-war Japan’s desperation.

Any extraneous, cultural details lost in the fitting of one system (society) to other were the eventual consequences of change and prosperity. Necessary sacrifices. Accepted as the price of adaptation and survival. Just as Japanese surrender was a consequence of fighting and losing.

The need to rebuild following retaliation was cause and effect; a system. One fitting perfectly to a rigid, logical culture built from inherently identical, core principles. Though devoid of emotion, it spoke to these humans’ psyche using the same, fundamental methods as learning not to touch fire. It simply did so through the medium of technology.

Technology’s inherent modularity, its reliance on systems therein, simplified all systems to the fewest components necessary to function. It was required for achieving maximum effect and permeability, as per its more or less intended design; ubiquity.

In a changing society increasingly composed of ones and zeroes, and comprehending the scale of their task, the Japanese saw the simplicity of corporations’ dominance as manifestation of not just everything natural, but also logical.That dominance, simplified, was Input=Output.

Likewise, its Yin came of age as digital in all but culture and maturity. Eventually the harbinger of war, it was then too late for any amends. The Yang was long corrupted by greed. Western first, true, but greed.

The difference between Japanese corporate (Zaibatsu) culture and Corporate culture, was the first encompassing the second as a means of functioning. They were separate entities, but no less layered atop one another. Corporate culture was a thing unto itself, designed to appear similar, but too closed and small a system for any of structural redundancies.

The second existed to mimic the first and line its constituent parts’ pockets, so far as they believed. Really, the first was required because of instability in their particular environment; finance.

Japanese culture functioned well with Corporations. So-called Zaibatsus required willingness to accept responsibility, but Vietnam showed western culture vehement feared responsibility. More than that, they’d found they could live without it, however uncomfortably.

Japan’s utter lack of counter-culture during the Western excess of the last half of the 20th century was evidence of a major, social reformation in thought. The entirety of Japan’s culture had been shamed for generations to come for opportunistic greed. At some level, all of them knew that.

None would defy it for generations.

Zaibatsus doubly ensured Corps came to form with the manifestations of Asian, cultural history. Japanese ones in particular were evident in their design and structure. Who better to care for structural redundancy than those so recently and personally reminded of its dire importance?

Japanese cultural evolution was no-one else’s. Not then. And when the time did finally come to emulate it, the message was lost in translation. It came encrypted in silly game shows and absurdist humor; Sensible Chuckles of the post-modern post-war world echoing outward.

In the end, Japan was fertile ground for the Corporations; its people their gentle tenders.The Japanese had wanted it that way. Somehow. Collectively. In time, they helped cultivate it in gratitude for the chance to redeem themselves, however small.

Therein, they cemented their redemption as one of grace and poise despite history. They wished to show how redemption should be done when the sword was no longer an option. Rather than burning the world down, to spite it, as corporations tried too, Zaibatsus attempted prosperity for all involved.

A legacy well worthy of the care provided to it.

Even the loose culture Zaibatsu employees could have been said to form was only such tangentially. The system of culture itself was now modular too, accepting of the full-range of Human effect. Including deep shame, so long as it were aired properly.

Humanity’s dregs of course, took this as a personal challenge, humbling only themselves before the might of time and stone. There, they were eventually forced to rest, for benefit of one and all, themselves through it.

The following admission and correction of mistakes,when made, became the basis of all of life’s continually observed purpose.

Had life not needed observation before, the Japanese might never have seen the benefits it provided. Perhaps, had Zaibatsu Corporatism caught on, corporations would still exist. Perhaps, some day, they will return; evolved and therein immune to greed and people willing to embrace them as the Japanese once did.

So long as the system’s constituent parts remain vulnerable to greed however, it remains removed from civilization’s grasp-at-will tools. A surgeon does not carry a mallet for work of his pay-grade. Thus unneeded tools can be set aside for more viable ones.

Avoiding that mass of potential, its corruption, was the point. Whether aimed toward great harmony or great harm, they could not be allowed. That was the point of the revolution. Not the power the corps had or had not. It was about taking the loaded gun from the child’s hand, keeping it safe until they knew its purpose– and only ever with hope they never need use it.

That was the revolution’s purpose, and the corporation’s downfall; restoring Humanity, its control, to Humans.

Short Story: His Comet

She leapt at him from behind as he strolled through the square, took him by surprise.

In retrospect, a bad idea when he hadn’t seen her in over a decade. Leaping randomly onto the back of one unaware should’ve advised her against doing so. But she’d never been the brightest bulb in the bunch, just a wild-card.

The wildest of wild-cards at that. A free-spirit, untamed to a fault, that ultimately forced them apart. Brought together again by Tianna’s frame, launched with the force of stupidity, they were quickly parted again– mostly, by Evan’s fall-down back-drop, executed on instinct (Not the calmest bull in the pasture was he.)

The next thing either knew was a giggling yelp; Evan’s sudden terror. It was her. He knew it like he knew his face in the mirror. Her voice, all its variants; coded into his brain as only someone who’d spent years putting it there, bakedin by every moment of mutually-burnt, midnight oil.

All that time together. Years. Years more since. Yet even now he rippled the same mix of emotion and memory. Evan’s mind and body flitted with images, feelings; love, pain, euphoria, joy, sorrow. He recalled every laugh. Every tear. Every shout and cry. Every kiss, touch; everything.

And all of it in a nano-second.

Whether she did too, he couldn’t say. He was certain she’d felt the back-drop. The giggling “oofs” slipping out said so.He scrambled up, staring down at the mass gasping pain and giggles. He thought to offer help as she clutched her stomach, remembered their sex being rougher.

So instead, he stared, bewildered. “Tia?”

She splayed her arms and legs out, breathing relief. In that instant, he took in time’s effects– or lack thereof. Only after he offered her a hand, and she sprang up more spryly than a teenager in heat, did he understand that little had changed.

Any hope that might’ve imparted was balanced to indifference by the drug use under her eyes.

Somehow, they only added to her appearance. The freedom of spirit, it seemed to Evan, balanced anything. Her vibrant mane and doughy, spring-bark eyes remained vital as ever, no matter what lined or hung beneath them.

“Surprised?” She snickered with a sarcastic-coyness.

His eyes narrowed habitually; time had done that. Made him shrewd. Uncompromising. Almost tyrannical in mind. Unlike her, he’d been forced to grow up, forced to become an adult, composed of self-control, occasional cynicism, and ever-waning time.

She needed none of those things. Spirit alone kept her malleable. She took things as they came, had no need to change. It was the mixed blessing of evolution. The simplest organisms survived, but at the cost of the complexity required by the more intelligent ones.

Part of that simplicity had attracted him, and vice-versa. Evan’s complexity was new, interesting. Something Tia had never known. The fact they’d lasted so long before was more a wonder of the couple’s own, lasting ignorance. Their eventual end and how it came was a matter Evan had often recalled. It was at the forefront in his mind now, though he doubted she’d recognize it.

Ultimately,someone like her was an unstoppable force. One of nature, spirit. She was a comet; bound to a solar gravity that kept her rarely insight, but always mesmerizing, awe-inspiring; beautiful.Even if she orbited for eons though, she would slowly erode; never not beautiful or full of wonder, but far from immortal and always ending.

Evan wasn’t so lucky. He was human. Like them, had his caveats, flaws.Their own end proved as much.

He’d spent months of trying to clean up, had long abandoned their lifestyle for forward momentum. Each day became a struggle to grip life despite vices, flaws, mistakes, hopes to change them for the better. Tiawasn’t changing though.

She didn’t want to. In a way, didn’t need to. Life was great for her, especially by her metrics.

To him, then, she was full of shit. He couldn’t have understood the division between humans and the forces of nature she was. Even if he recognized it then, there was no way to understand it yet. That required time, wisdom. Neither of which he’d had much of then.

It was only after coming home, finding her passed out, needled and powdered, that he left. He remembered double-checking her vitals for O-D, rolling her on her side, and grabbing what he needed quietly to live with. In the end, he left with a single pack.

She kept what she wanted, sold the rest for drug-money.

She hadn’t O-D’d, just nodded off. In fact, he wasn’t even angry when he arrived him. It was nothing abnormal for their life. It was the same life they’d lived for years. Still, his only lasting regret was that the spirit he so loved was its own worst enemy. That was not a failing of his own, he knew now.

Then, he’d simply left, confused and alone….

The memories rushed past; he saw no track-marks on her sleeveless arms, exhaled slight relief. She caught it, tried to eye him. He evaded, already checking his watch.

“Not surprised, Tee. Somehow. But what’re you doing here?”

She bounced on the balls of her feet, “Just hanging. You?”

“Lunch meeting.”

She snickered. “Big businessman now. Forgot.”

He didn’t bother asking; word got around. “Meeting an Agent. She wants me to write an autobiography.”

Tia rolled her eyes, pulled at his arm and linked it with hers. She marched them toward a near-edge of the Square. “Buy me a coffee.”

“Tee–”

“Can’t spare half-hour for an old girlfriend?” She joked, dragging him along.

He relented with a sigh, allowed her to lead him across a street and into a cafe. Minutes later they were out again, caffeinated drinks in-hand. Tia ambled, arm-linked, as her brow rose playfully. He knew her too well.

“So your agent–”

“Is just an agent.”

Her sarcastic defensiveness returned. “Just curious.”

He strained syllables, “Sure. And if I asked you?”

“I’d say I don’t care, so long as they’re fun– naked or not.”

“Typical.”

“When’d you get so stiff?” She asked with a harmless elbow.

He thought to snap, sighed instead. “Sorry. Caught me off guard, that’s all.”

“That bad huh?”

“Don’t even know.” He angled them toward an apartment building, unlocked it with a key, and led her to an elevator. “I’m not a self-writer, Tee. I’m not even sure I’m a writer.”

“Oh listen to you, Mr. Opportunity, angry at the knocking on his door.” He scowled. The elevator arrived. She led him in. “Which floor.”

“Seven.”

They rode up in silence; Tianna was in her own world. Evan replayed his conversation with Marlene: Autobiographies were the rage. Of course she wanted one. And of course from him. Never mind having nothing interesting to say about himself, he didn’t want to write one. Period.

Biographies, auto or not, were self-indulgent, over-long masturbation sessions about oneself or their heroes. Certainly, they had their place, but they were also a tacit admission that the subject had peaked.

That, in and of itself, would keep him away from one. The sooner you accepted you’d peaked– and stopped trying to achieveto do so– the sooner you started stagnating. Every creative knew stagnation was a creative’s death-sentence, their malignant cancer cells. The idea was to stave it off, in sessions, seasons, projects. Always. Indefinitely. Until you died trying to keep it up.

Not sitting and wallowing over what you’d already done.

Tia tore him away again, “Serious thoughts abound.”

He sighed and motioned her to the first apartment on the left. He led them into a modest, one-room apartment, furnished with warm woods and cheap furniture. The place was lived-in but clean; an effect of being too work-focused and economical to afford or gather much. The only thing resembling clutter outside his desk were a few food wrappers from lunch on the coffee-table.

She sat beside him on his cheap, creaking couch and finally began to discuss herself. Everything nondescript. Stories of “friends” laughing about “things,” or vents and rants about others. Nothing solid. Nothing of substance, but enough to pass the time and fill the air.

Tianna had always spoken of her life as if describing distant dreams. Ones experienced while in others. That, he felt, was Tia’s essence. Her life was a dream in a dream; Too real to be fully-illusory, too illusory to be fully-reality.

It was a manifestation of the pure wildness of her energy. There was no way to change or control it. You rode or dealt with it, that was it. Much like a tribal free from society’s laws, so too were they without its advances and progress.

Before either knew it, the sun had set taking the afternoon and turning it to evening. Tia had managedto creep over, rest her headhis shoulder. He allowed it, too enveloped in his own thoughts to feel anything beyond allowance, pressure. He let it continue after something in him began to resonate; something so deep only she could reach it.

Evan had loved her. Had spent years with her. He’d intended to spend more,but woke up one too-many timesin a pool of his own shame and grief. Even afterward, he hoped to find her beside him. She was his first and only love.

Then, his worst and deepest loss.

It was never leaving that hurt.Even now, he wouldn’t have hesitated. It was the needing something, deep down, from someone whom didn’t really need you. Something deep inside him needed her even now.Just as bad as the day he’d left, every day before that.

No matter the women before or since, none were her. None were a comet. His Comet; an indescribable, undeniable force of nature and spirit winging along solar tides.

He glanced down to find her fresh-bark eyes looking up. They came closer.

The night passed with few words, but unassailable, unbridled feeling. It was morning before her solar gravity released him and his senses returned.

He lay then in bed, half-awake. Clothing rustled nearby. She would be leaving this time. He felt it, asked anyway.

“You’re going?”

She smiled over a shoulder-blade of resplendent inks. “You think I’d ruin last night by staying?”

He winced, feeling pain cut deep as the love the night before. She slipped her shirt on, crawled up the bed, and kissed him deep. When she pulled away, their eyes met.

For an instant, the free-spirit faltered. It was as if, all along, she’d known his thoughts. Not just now, but always. Past and present, she known them as if her own. All of them.

“I have to.”

He suppressed grief, muttered, “You don’t.”

She rose, softening playfully, “I do, Evan.” Her facade returned, “Besides, you’ve gotta’ book to start. Put in a chapter about me.” She grabbed her things and smiled bitter-sweetly. “This was fun. Maybe we’ll do it again.”

She left without another word.He let her. It was easier. For both of them.

An hour later, still in the grieving throes of her departure, he sat to work. The text document stared, begging for words. Half an hour passed before he began with two words: My Comet.”

Short Story: Desperate Seas

Gray hell rose over the trawler’s bow. It pitched, speared a crest. The sea’s angry maw snapped between drinking-bird dips, Everest peaks, before the jaws closed for that brief moment of progress. In that way, each time it felt eternal, damned and condmened by unknown forces to test one’s endurance.

With it was a rhythm. The rise and fall of chestfuls of breath upon the vast sea of some infinitely-massive cosmic-being’s skin. Riding waves to their crests, as dust rides the twitching ripples of a sleeping giant.

More than that, it was like walking amongst Gods. Those few men whom first did so on the Moon, would again someday on Mars, and forever every planet after that. No matter how mundane it was became, it wasn’t in the moment and that was the point.

It was the ride. Sailing gravity. Surfing twenty tons of ship and cargo. Driven inexorably by gravity, diesel bass-rolls. Meanwhile the shrill-gales are constant. Rain persistent scattershot on steel. Hard, sub-zero buckshot held at-bay by fiberglass and hope.

The precious hope of two men too long ashore and too newly asea, but with a lifelong ambition; trawling. Fishing. No care but the sea and the weight and the rate. Even miles out waters, more or less total isolation, were still coastal waters. Further than that, were deep waters rarely traversed uncesssarily; country’s waters, bridged later by international waters beyond all potential shipping lanes now outmoded.

All of them, the pair called home. They’d long hoped to do so, the sea filled their veins as sure as blood fed their hearts.

Pate manned the helm, fearful of nothing. The sea swelled about him. Long-range satellites weren’t needed to tell him a fierce storm was brewing. The sea told him. Each rise. Each fall. Dipping scents of saltwalter. Bucking rudder-wheel beneath his hands.

Lou felt those too, decidedly trusted satellites, images, and guiding sciences more. His bones still creaked like the ages-old sailor cooped up inside him all his life. Creaks and science agreed; the sea’s mood was foul, growing fouler by the minute.

Even the air knew it.

Luck hadn’t won out much this long. A day from port, barely into a routine, and only a few hours of letting the currents work them. They’d barely felt things out, were hardly near a boon’s weights. Now, they could be crushed and it wouldn’t even be worth the weight.

Muscle and diesel had cast them off, the sea was ordering them in. Now.

Pate wouldn’t quit so easily though. His strength, daresay stubbornness, emboldened Lou’s own self preservation. Nonetheless, the latter kept himself nearby, half-eying charts, maps, satellite imagery, eyes and ears attuned to every new melody emerging in the persistent rhythm.

All told, things weren’t looking great. Tropical-storm and only getting started. It wouldn’t let up anytime soon. Then again, it had come from nowhere over only a few hours. The waters were too cold, the season too early. Science and reality were harsh mistresses to reconcile at times.

Pate wasn’t much for science. He rode through life on feeling. That was why he Captained the ship. Lou knew that. Like it or not, Pate was right. Captaining was about feel more than hard logic. He’d simply never had the knack, the skill or proper heart.

Self-management had taught Lou to do anything. Navigating and mating a ship was hardly applied rocketry. The dichotomy between he and his partner delineated their personal belief in science’s fundamentals.

Lou believed the laws of averages held ample room for anomalies that could allow it to thrive. Pate felt the utterly measured chaos merely muddied the pattern via the anomalies. It was chicken and egg between Einstein and Newton.

Compounded by this, Pate made room for only one or the other, missing the overall possibility that neither was mutually exclusive. That neither could mean both.

At some point or another, Pate had decided he no longer cared. Since then, challenging his way meant challenging an idle giant. No matter how much Lou wished to, he wouldn’t.

Thus the ship pitched and plunged. The swells grew. Their violence rocked the pair in their skin. Each rise fought gravity. Weighted, cement blocks pulled their guts. Each fall fought inertia that forced their guts in again.

The pace was sickening. Lou knew it was time. Drag lines any further and they’d snap. They, the rigging, the whole damned thing. With ‘em would go the whole trip.

Before Pate could argue, Lou shouted, “Keep course.”

The engines groaned, barely audible over the sea’s fury as the cabin door blew back on its hinges. Lou held it with both hands, let the ship rise and hurl him along gravity to shut it. Scatter-shot rain peppered the air from the billowing gales. He could only imagine how those sailors on tea-routes used to feel.

He shifted his weight, keeping close in-reach of anything he might need to brace on. Each step became a battle, a feat. He tug-o-war’d his way along, half-hanging or half-falling, half-slipping across slicked-wet deck. Each wave-crest was a nothing; each dipped swell, a moment of fearful hesitation when facing the encroaching nothingness before ship teetered over and he used or bore its momentum.

He reached the stern, more wet than any land-born creature before, shivering, freezing, and littered with microfriction-wounds from the salt on the air. He wrapped two hands around a hold, kicked a lock-lever. The sea lurched.

He rode the momentum to a panel, one arm hugged it, and cranked the nets in with a half-frozen hand. The crank-chains wrangled the nets top-side despite the sea’s furious protests, gaining only the slightest hint of power as they crossed the hull’s side.

A distant, warped whale-song reached Lou, mottled by spray and waves. It rang of something tragic, remniscent of frightened death. He craned for the cabin on instinct, expecting Pate to be cursing at him, saw nothing. Pate still-dutifully helmed the waves in spite of their violence.

Lou cursed himself for costing time. Already half-frozen, he needed every second that the ship lulled to secure the rigging before they altogether rose again, screaming.

With it came the distant cry, nearer this time. The sound was desperation. He’d have said a beached whale were there islands nearby. The sound was too small though, too distant yet too near. Above water. It forced a pause over Lou.

He strained his ears against wind, rain, his own breaths, poring over and through them until he heard nothing at all. He waited, zen.

Nothing.

He eased slowly back into action, heart infected by the lingering empathy its cry had pierced him with. He swung the crane about slowly, watchful and alert, wondering. He positioned the net, lowered it; one side went utterly slack, freed its contents.

Again the cry, like spears in the chest, heart, and mind. Prolonged. Near. Beside his skin.

The sound pierced Lou’ bones. It staggered him, knocked him to his knees long enough he was forced to pull himself up, around the cooler’s edge. Lou suddenly knew only of the utter calm the sea had taken on, as if watching, waiting, ready to strike if need be.

There, atop a mound of fish, lie the cry’s source.

Were Lou not so rigidly scientific, he’d have thought himself seeing things. Even then, the horrible, piercing wail of desperation would’ve convinced him otherwise. Its eyes could only have driven it home; however decidedly queer and foreign, they were sentient, intelligent– alive.

And pleading.

Empathic communication imparted their will on the air. Above all, its form was exhausted.

Equal parts lizard, fish, amphibian, and woman. She gleamed with scale-webbed hands barely clutching out and up. The slits lining the neck and nasal-passages choked on air beneath gleaming, terror-filled eyes.

He knew the look. It was the same slumped, fraught peril of soldiers too long at-battle, sailors too long and sea, knowing they could be forced through another fight, another league, another contest. Lou had seen himself time and again looking the same. Every creature exhibited it when pushed past their limits and somehow still going, doubly so if as terrified as she presently appeared.

It was but a moment before Lou grasped one of her arms. Pulled her into him. She helped, using what strength she could muster to fall into his arms and ease their burden. He hefted her in his arms, the calm now silent amid the rest of the chaos blowing just nearby.

She pointed, tired but lucidly, toward the sea. Lou understood. She’d been caught in the net, fought until nothing remained in her, was now drowning in air. The sea was judging his intentions.

He let instinct and duty urge him toward the ship’s edge, to a knee beside it. She managed a fish-like grimace, conveying both her species elegant ssence and her own gratitude. Then, with a light touch of his face, she let herself roll back into the sea.

Lou choked on nothingness, watching her ripples glide away in the ship’s wake, to be swallowed by the sea along with her. It once more began to swell; angry, but less so. He re-engaged his muscles and finished his work in stupefaction.

He returned to the cabin to find his partner and the sea tempered by one another. Pate said nothing, was simply quiet. Back on land, Lou told again and again what happened; No-one ever believed him.

Short Story: Six-Leggers

She was running. Faster than she thought possible. She might’ve been small, agile-looking, but at heart, she wasn’t. At heart she was a lazy-ass couch-potato, something vaguely organic growing from one side after months of stagnation. Often enough, beneath her festered a lukewarm indentation from her time there. Now, it was aching, pain, exertion. Blitz was running like hell, and faster than any human had a right to.

She’d pissed off exactly the right people at exactly the right time in exactly the right way, so she started running. Problem was, something had gone wrong. They were running too. Faster than she’d anticipated. So fast, in fact, it was obvious they were no longer human. They’d never been human, she knew now, but whatever they were, she wasn’t about to stop to find out.

She threw herself down an alley, took it as fast as her gait allowed, power-slid across a puddle to face its open side. A fence half-way through inexplicably barred her way to the far-end of the alley, its freedom. She swore under her breath, hoping her boots fit the chain-link without a struggle. Even now the galloping six-legs charged her like the low rumble of a Maiden bass-line.

If hell was real, she decided, its minions were vacationing Earth-side.

She leapt at the fence, scrambled up it, caught her first bit of luck in the perfect fit of chain-link.

Blitz could smell them now, didn’t dare look back. They reeked of rotted sewage hinted with days-old corpse. She guessed the human suits they’d shed had hidden the smell too. Otherwise, she’d have stayed the hell away from them to begin with.

She clambered over, snagged her pants on rattling chain-link and leapt for the ground below. She landed with cool air on the small of her back. The fence had taken more than its share of her pants. She couldn’t care less about it, wouldn’t have missed a beat if suddenly ass-naked.

This was Dover’s fault. Stupid bitch. She should’ve never cooked up the scheme, never involved Blitz. Then again, Dover wasn’t busting ass down four-thirty-third street with the creds and six-legger demons. Blitz wondered if she’d ever go back to that shit hole now, but knew that was just anger talking. If she survived, she’d be back, and with Dover’s cut– less now, but her’s all the same.

It was really Yuki and Kris’ fault. Anger aside. They’d done the scam, bragged about it over beers. How the hell was Dover not supposed to try running her cousin’s scam? It wasn’t even really a scam, just a misdirection. It was only the fault of the stupid six leggers who’d put their money where their mouths supposedly were. How could they have expected not to get burned in a place they hardly knew?

Fact was if it hadn’t been Blitz– and Dover covertly– that burned them, it would’ve been someone else. They were wearing suits for fuck’s sake. No-one wore a suit this side of town unless looking to get taken for a ride or packing enough heat to fund a small army. Blitz decided, if she ever got to stop running from them, and wasn’t being eaten by them, she’d have to explain their obvious mistakes.

Then again, that also required facing them without screaming. Enlightenment wasn’t looking good for them.

She raced out into roaring traffic, completely unfazed by it. Headlights swerved and weaved on both sides of the street. Horns blared protests. She passed onto sidewalk, sprinting away from screeching tires. Something heavy thumped metal. Glass was crunched and crushed. One set of galloping legs clambered into a wrench of metal. Screams and horns said one was dead, the other still chasing her.

Even beneath the street noise she heard it, felt it; a rider from hell galloping in charge across a battlefield of blood and fire.

This couldn’t have just been about their money. There was no way. Between Blitz and Dover, they’d made a little over a G hustling through-out the night. Only a couple hundred of it was the hell-riders’ though. If only she could get away, get back to the bar, reach the range of Dover’s double barrel. She’d wanted to keep Dover out of it though, wanted to handle it herself. Do the job like a pro.Not possible now.

Dover ran the bets, upped the numbers, made the stakes look good against Blitz’s skills, and for a few hours, the dough and odds piled up. Then, when the time came, Blitz’s skills took over.

Kris and Yuki had run the scam at the Arcade in Jackstaff. Why couldn’t she and Dover run it at the Circuit Board in Seattle? Each of them do their part, form a whole, and make bank. Like pros. Not possible. Not now.

There was no way around it. Blitz was on E when she’d started. Short of giving back the couple hundred, she saw no way around making the wide bank back toward the C-B. Hoping she’d catch the last six-legger up in the panic of traffic, she sprinted back through it traffic; back toward the C-B and the way she’d come.

Galloping and screeching said the drivers and six-legger were prepared his time. She missed her chance to end things that way. No matter, she had a plan now. One she knew even Dover’d be prepped for, so long’s she knew ahead of time.

Panting for her life, pumping her legs, Blitz dialed her HUD-comm. Dover answered. She panted out a few words with spittle-laden exhaustion. “Comin’ back hot. Be ready!”

The comm cut. She angled back, around the block. The C-B was close, mid-way down. She’d have to play it right, else the six-legger’d grab her at the door, do fuck knows what. In fewer than rightful steps, she was there, half-fumbling the door grab.

Panic took over. Her center of gravity shifted. She was on her back, on the ground, eyes clenched shut in defense as something ranciddripped drool and breathed steam. She felt it reel back, ready to lunge. The air pulsed.

The legger exploded backward from a roaringblast. Screeches shredded the air. Blitz scrambled back. Buckshot tore through legs, severed them from the carapace.Dover’s double-barrel cracked open, ejected the pair of spent shells. Two more slipped in. The gun snapped shut. She let the beast have it again. First, with one barrel. Then, with the other.

It stilled into silence as she cracked open the barrel and reloaded again.

Blitz swallowed hard. “Th-Thanks.”

Dover offered her a hand. “Just protecting my investment.”

They stood, staring at the creature, wondering what the hell’d just happened. Dover decided she didn’t care to know, about-faced back for the bar. Blitz took a moment longer to watch the beast, shuddered at its reality, then hurried in after Dover, glad she was no longer on anything’s menu.

Short Story: Caretaker

He sauntered through the airport terminal in a silk suit. Pristine cuts of tailored, black perfectly accented pressed, white beneath. The polished gloss at his feet matched the mirrored sunglasses wrapped beneath his widow’s peak. Everything about him said high-powered businessman, higher than the countless others around him. For all the cross-traffic and insanity of the terminals knew, he was preparing to board a private jet bound for some exotic destination.

He drew more ire from men than admiration from women, however contained either were in their fleeting glances. Looks enveloped the formal-wear and chrome, attache case in his right hand. Were anyone astute enough to notice, they might have had their suspicions aroused by its finger-print locks. It was difficult to tell, but close-up views of his smart-watch revealed itself for the digital tether to the case and its contents. Were he to separate the two by more than a few feet, every acronym agency in the country would be alerted. In turn, so would the President. From him, every other country in the world would learn the case had been separated from the watch.

But no-one in the airport knew that. Nor did they know the case’s contents. Not even the security guard that approached when he refused a scan. The suit remained as calm as the man inside it, ruffled to produce a bi-fold wallet. It laid atop the x-ray machine, open to “C.I.A.” large enough for only the guard to see it.

The wallet and case were promptly returned. The suit, the case, and their bearer were ushered through without delay. The ire of both men and women rippled outward across the small pond of humans gathered. It was greatest from those forced to remove their shoes, or submit to groping in the name of freedom. It, and they, thinned toward nothing the further he found himself from the check-point.

He boarded his plane as any man might and secured himself in a seat beside a window. No-one aboard was any the wiser. The classified courier and his package were unremarkable. He’d removed his sunglasses and settled against his seat. He didn’t even bother to glanced around. He sensed the half-dozen or plain-clothes agents scattered among the usual passengers as if they glowed. Even he wouldn’t have known of them were it not for the brief-glimpses of faces from Langley or its various satellite offices.

Who could suspect a dozen, field-trained CIA operatives were embedded on a random flight from Chicago to Vegas? Moreover, who would suspect an innocuous courier and an unremarkable brief-case carrying a zero-point energy bomb?

The device inside didn’t even work. Not as intended. And it couldn’t explode. Rather, it powered up, reached critical output, then shut down. In the process, it emitted such a lethal dose of radiation anyone in a twenty mile radius would be flash-cooked from inside-out. They’d learned that in Honduras even before he’d been sent to retrieve the damned thing.

What was more, the bomb could be reused. As long as it remained operational, it would work. With miniaturized, super-conductive components encased in steel and platinum, the only barrier to indefinite operation was the compressed helium it needed replenished every so often.

Getting the bomb had nothing short of a war. Field agents were killed and injured. Caretaker himself had a close call. No-one got away unscathed. Either physically, or emotionally, they were all a little less than they’d been.

Op-lead, call-signed Immortal, breached a rear-door of the massive, abandoned chemical factory in with strike-team Alpha. The armed guards patrolling the interior were taken by surprise in their cat-walk positions. Pinpoint-accurate triplets of gunfire barked, splattered blood across surfaces or sparked off metallic railings. Any attempting to flee were suppressed or killed. Most were dead before the last were entrenched behind the upper-floor’s control-room.

Gunfire was exchanged from corners and the control room’s wide, now-shattered window. Half of Immortal’s team were down before Bravo-lead, Locomotive, could flank as planned. The remainders of the two teams sandwiched the upper-level’s forces, moving in and up to brute force their way to the upper-hand. The upper-levels went quiet moments beneath scents of death and expended gunpowder.

Blood had painted the walls and floors with abstracts and Pollockian drip-strokes. They would soon dry, blending with rusted metal and cracked paint of a long-neglected building. For now, the surface sections were eerily still.

Below, Caretaker was moving along the lower levels with Charlie team. Old cement shifted to peeling, lead-lined walls. The latter were newer, narrower, clearly added after the factories construction. Portuguese and Cyrillic listed directions on the walls, lent credence to the facility’s suspected origins. Windowed halls gave views into massive chambers below. The chambers were mostly empty beyond the reinforced glass, save one at the end of a hall.

Inside, a dozen men and women were cloaked in radiation-proof hazmat gear, oblivious to the strike team hunkered down and watching them at a containment vessel. They began to transfer a phone-sized device into a lead-lined case. For no reason could Caretaker or Charlie allow it to leave the country– indeed, the facility, in anyone’s hands but theirs.

Caretaker led his team to a T-junction beyond the windowed room, followed a stairwell left, down, to the lowest edge of the cube-like rooms they’d passed. Guards stationed every twenty feet fell to quick aim. Caretaker remained on-point, hurrying the team along a short corridor, alcove-to-alcove, headed for the containment room.

Gunfire created a rhythm of punctual bursts from the half of Charlie-team covering the rear-flank. Surplus Soviet gear roared over the high-yapps of the latest, mil-spec SMGs.

The hack on the key-card access was quick; a minor splice of some wires. The three-foot thick containment chamber opened. A Geiger-counter clicked green, allowed the free-half of Charlie-strike to move in on hazmat-suited scientists that immediately surrendered at their ingress. They were ordered to the ground while the package was retrieved. It was placed inside the attache-case.

Since then, Caretaker had been attached to it. From Brazil, to Chicago, and now on to Vegas.

He wasn’t able to sleep the whole flight. He’d never been able to. Planes terrified him. Maybe he’d jumped out of one too many during Ranger school. He bided his time in the most unremarkable way of a book of crosswords. It kept his hands and his mind alternatively occupied when one or the other got ahead or away from him.

Caretaker exited Vegas to an long car-ride in a black, unmarked SUV. It ended at the Groom-Lake facility– colloquially known as Area-51. He had to admit some part of him was all the more eager to take the job for the idea of seeing the fabled base. His job was only concluded after he handed the brief-case and tether-band to an Air-Force General. The shoulders stars spoke less of his importance than the severity of his stiffness. Beside him, the black-suited Groom-Lake CIA liaison and a former director of Langley, escorted the General from the hallway where the exchange was made.

It was almost surreal, what Caretaker saw of the fabled Area-51. It was as normal as any office building, as boring as any administrative floor. The thought accompanied him all the way back to the airport and along his departure for Langley to debrief. Like him, that curious office-look was a facade masking countless depths of Man’s most unimaginable achievements, angelically miraculous or insurmountably devilish.

For Caretaker’s part, he knew at least one evil now resided there. Whatever the intent to its storage, for good or ill, it was out of the hands of known-madmen. Caretaker found solace in his faith that those whom held it might find a way to use it for good, or not at all. In any case, he’d done his part. He relaxed against his window seat and re-opened his crossword book. A lingering thought drifted away with the first of his writing; a wonder if known madmen remained in possession of the bomb.