Fenrir

„Fenrir, jam all outgoing signals and patch that in.” The message started with the familiar Strix United jingle and the main screen on the bridge went blue. „No! Kill the video feed, show me the transcript!” Captain Rains’ orders overwrote the AI’s standard routines, and it did as it was told. The message projected unto the analysis screen. It started scrolling down as he read it. „Ha!” He slapped the console in a fit of joy. „Got you, Wong.” The AI encrypted the message again and took it from the screen. The captain leaned back in his seat and was very much pleased with what was coming. He closed his eyes and started thinking of all the gruesome details of his revenge. A smile slowly sprawled over his face, like the legs of a bird spider.

„Fenrir, start recording the signals broadcasted on the designated frequencies. Bounce Paine out of his bunk, and make me coffee.” Rains yawned and ruffled his blonde hair. He started thinking that he’d never get the chance to redeem himself. “Revoke all level B 20 permissions for Brack’s ID. Remove his login-history and cancel his pending requests. I won’t have him butting in.”

„Yes, sir,” the AI answered in a flat tone. The coffee machine came to life snorting and gargling like a choking man.

Minutes later a tall shadow, Lieutenant Paine, appeared in the doorway bubbling drunken zombie words. „Sowhyamupnwhuusresponsble.” Rains pointed to the brewing machine. „Thankgd,” he shuffled towards the coffee, arms stretched out to welcome the dark burnt scent.

„I’m bored.” Rains said, as if to himself. Paine turned around eyeballing his captain. „Aren’t you sick of being stuck out here, freezing your dick off? Wanna go for a hunt instead?” That got his attention, he forgot his curled fingers in front of the full coffee can.

„Where’s the hook?” Paine swallowed, they were Sleipnir’s emergency backup, but he was definitely interested. The captain behaved quite unusual, for the first time in six months, he seemed genuinely happy about something. Never a good sign. He inched his way towards the captain’s seat. Being forced to tail Sleipnir for half a year has been agonizingly boring, he admitted. For the captain it must have been hell, shadowing and monitoring the man who destroyed his life. This was going to be fun.

„No hooks,” Rains smirked,„and no survivors…”

Only hours later, just before virtual sunrise on Fenrir, a distress signal reached the ship, triggering the alarm.

„This is Sleipnir. Fenrir, do you copy? This is an emergency!” The male voice came in over all frequencies. Rains punched a button and the alarm died.

*

It was dark and cold on the damaged Sleipnir. The AI on the ship scanned the nearest area, tracing every course it would be able to take. It did its best to power the life supporting systems. Both of its humans were safe for now. It calculated the possible surviving ratios and decided not to show the results to its captain. „They are receiving the message,” it said instead.

Captain Wong bowed his head, buried his face in his palms. This was the worst possible thing to happen.

„Doctor Wellington’s vitals are stable. No signs of internal hemorrhage.” The AI scanned for the other AI in the vicinity. It sat on the northern hemisphere of Vesta, waiting for orders. It would take two hours to get to its current location.

Wong coughed slightly, with the smoke filtering through the ventilation. At least none of them was dying. Yet. „C’mon!” He waited.”Mayday! We had a critical accident!” No answer. Where was the cavalry? Wong’s stomach froze to a hard icy ball. “We need emergency evac! ASAP!” He looked at the unconscious doctor. He hit his head pretty hard. “Our oxygen will last for three hours. Fenrir! DO YOU COPY?” The com remained silent. The instruments showed, that the transmission has been received. “FENRIR! Dammit!”

*

Captain Rains sat alone in the dawn of the bridge, feet on the com console. He grinned and folded his fingers. „What will you do now, Wong?” He chuckled softly. Behind him, a door slid open and closed. He felt someone, most likely Paine, move through the darkness. That was a man to his taste, a bad soldier but a good mercenary. Rains harrumphed and manned the mic.

„Fenrir here. That’s a no-can-do. Make yourselves comfy, cause that’s where you’re gonna stay.” Fenrir’s AI showed a simulation of Sleipnir’s position on the main screen. „We meet again, Wong.”

A gasp filled the air and the aether. „Rains? Is that YOU?!”

“Captain!” Brack shouted from wherever he was running towards the bridge. “Captain! Emergency!” His thumping feet nearly reached the doors. “Captain!” With a whoomph he seemed to collide with it. Rains rolled his eyes and sighed. The door skid open and a big hunched over shadow panted in the doorway.

„This is a distress signal. DAMMIT! MOVE YOUR ASSES OVER HERE!” Wong screamed.

„What did I tell you about second encounters?” Rains asked casually into the mic. Over his left shoulder Paine’s hand held out a cup of steaming coffee.

„Donno, I wasn’t listening. I was busy humping your mom!” Wong barked. The low growl in his voice couldn’t hide his despair.

„This is payback.” Rains shook his head. He took the cup and was surprised it was one of Paine’s.

„Captain, why are we ignoring emergency calls?” Brack breathed horrified.

„Stop pissing.” Rains stared into Brack’s confused face. Scans showed the vital damage to Sleipnir. Paine poked a finger at the analysis screen. „That’s their problem!“

the stain

Someone bent up my fingers, my arms, unwrapped me from Amy’s little broken body. The doctor talked to me. I saw his mouth move. Never heard a sound though.

His rubber gloved hand unwrapped the quilt. I saw what I had wrapped up, what I held in my arms.

That wasn’t my Amy any more.

No… It was…

A bloody rag doll. I couldn’t peel off my eyes from the deformed head, the blue eyes staring to the left and the right, at the same time. Not my Amy!

They told me that I screamed and howled. They made me stop, by sticking a needle into my arm, sending me spiraling into unconsciousness.

Bang.

My arms flew up. Must’ve dozed off.

Bang!

What was that? 

Something hit the window. I blinked. A bird? A snowball? My tongue felt fuzzy, stuck to my palate. It was much darker now.

I should have a look. If it was a bear going through my trash can, or a puma? I had to deal with that. Where did I put the shotgun? Was it even loaded? Ammo was somewhere in the kitchen.

The hard labor of standing up started, and the quilt slit down to the carpet. I put the empty bottle on the table.

The dim light shining in, outlined the furniture. It was enough so I wouldn’t bump into them on my way to the window. I stood there for a while, had to steady my spinning head, or was it my racing heart. I couldn’t tell the difference anymore?

As the world stopped moving, I hobbled towards the window. I took me some time to reach the curtains.

Nobody outside, just the pale blueish gray cover over everything I knew. No tracks visible.

BANG!

From somewhere on the left a snowball slammed against the glass. „Whoa!“ It spooked me.

Caught myself on a fistful of the fabric hanging near me, nearly keeled backwards. The curtain tore. A heatwave rolled over me, from scalp to toe. My knees wobbled a bit more, but I stood again, fairly secure. I peeked out. Something moved. Then I saw it.

And what I saw, made me sober the instant. I held my breath.

„Daadddy!“ Amy’s voice rang clearly in my ears. „Come outside, daaady!“ She danced around in the snow, her blanky around her shoulders, her pink beanie on top of her head. „Let’s play!“ My tongue hurt. I wanted to scream, but the words were glued somewhere in the back of my dry throat. How was this possible?

Everything was right. Was that really my baby? Her blonde piggy tails swooped up and down as she hopped around.

„I wuv you!“ She pulled my heart strings. It stung and burnt. As if she knew, what I longed for, she blew me kisses. Then she started to sing the princess in the woods. The window was cold to my touch. It fogged up around my fingertips.

She was still there, dancing and singing. „Snowman, daddy. Snowman!“ She cheered and beamed up to me.

„I’m coming!“ I wanted to scream. Amy! My little darling is back! Ugly noises left my throat instead. The backyard blurred and swam. Something warm ran down my cheeks. She started to form a big snowball, stretching out her little tongue, like she used to, when she was concentrating really hard. I sobbed. „AMY!“ She giggled and waved for me to come outside. „I’m coming,“ I gestured her. „I’m coming!“ As fast as I could, I hobbled towards the entrance door.

„Please be there, please be there. Please…“ I begged and closed my eyes. My hand tore the door open, felt snowflakes landing on my hand, my face, my toe. Bone chilling cold greeted me, but I didn’t care. My eyes flew open.

„Oh, Amy!“ She stood there, waiting for me, only a few steps distance between us. „Amy! Baby! Where have you been? I was looking for you all over.“ She shrugged, like little children do, with all of her body. Embarrassed she pointed behind her, then to herself. „You were in the woods?“ I asked, barely believing it. She nodded happily.

Have I been looking on the wrong place? Was she there all along waiting for me?

Amy cocked her little head, as if catching to my thought. „Yes, daddy.“ She pulled her shoulders up. „I was waiting for you. But you didn’t come. And I was really tired and you had a piece of wooden doll in your arms, and you and mommy… You cried a lot. And I was scared, that you be mad, if I come out now.“ How could I be angry at my little baby?

I threw my legs out. Long eager steps took me towards my little darling. I closed the distance between us, arms stretched out for a hug. The snow melted under my feet, my socks were wet and I fell to my knees before Amy, but this time it didn’t hurt. I could move without effort. Snowflakes landed on my neck.

I embraced Amy, sucked in the air around her. She smelled like children ought to. She smelled of cookies, crayons and strawberry shampoo. And smoke? My arms remembered her body and welcomed it with force. I couldn’t hold back, I tugged her close and squeezed. „Oh, Amy. Amyamyamy. I worried sick, baby.“ Those words disappeared in her blanky, in her piggy tails and mittens.

„Shhh, daddy.“ Her voice was dripping in my ear. „It’s okay. Don’t cry.“ Her tiny hand petted the back of my skull. It felt like heaven. I had her back, back in my arms. I’d never let go again. Never!

„It’s okay, daddy.“ Her voice buzzed with distortion for a moment. „I stay.“ No, that was only my imagination. „Forever.“ That voice!

I yanked my head back to look at Amy’s perfect little face. Everything was like I remembered. Big brown eyes, little nose and a small mouth with full soft lips, pink cheeks. Where did that voice come from, then? „Was that you, baby?“ I asked her. She stared into my face. I couldn’t read  anything in it. Something was different, though. I couldn’t put my finger on it.

Her eyes! I remembered them clearly. Why did I notice just now?

They have been blue two years ago, but they were dark now. How was that possible? Eye colors did not… Change?

Her tiny mouth twitched and stretched into a sick grin. Her eyes glistened. Like the eyes of a rat. They went all black, tuned to some otherworldly channel. I swallowed. „Amy? Baby?“ I didn’t sound like me. „Are you okay?“ Her eyes bulged. „AMY?“ No!

The distorted voice answered with my daughter’s mouth. „Amy isn’t here, daddy.“ The grin widened to full teeth. There were too many teeth in that mouth! „What’s wrong, daddy?“ Oh, God! „Don’t you wuv me?“ No! I pulled back, but lost my balance. The icy sensation burned on my back. The snow was powdery, slipping into every wrinkle of my pullover and pants. „You wuv’ me now, daddy?“ I gasped.

The wind picked up. Its force bent the firs. They squealed and groaned. The gust swept over the roof, whooshed ice crystals into my face, into my eyes. It stung, like pins and needles. I couldn’t see.

My legs numbed, didn’t move at all. My hands trembled towards my baby. That was impossible! That mouth stretched beyond its anatomical possibilities. I saw so much more than her pink gum and the too many teeth. I saw bone and working muscles. „NO!“ She chuckled, as I scurried towards the house on an all four. The wind stuffed my mouth with tiny ice shards. She danced around me, singing the princess in the wood, with my Amy’s voice.

That thing wasn’t my daughter! It was something… else. I saw something pink reach into the furious white gusts, she giggled. Oh, God! „You are not my Amy!“ I screamed into the howling sound around me. It wiped all silhouettes away, replaced it with a wall of white. Sick laughter reached me, the kind of psycho laughter you don’t want to hear from a four year old. Never from your own four year old. „Are you scared, daddy?“ She buzzed, „let’s play!“

The way she said, „daddy,“ chilled my blood. The voice was deep and guttural. The hair on my neck stood on end. Where was the gun? I had to get the gun.

The thing, that looked like Amy, screeched. I caught a whiff of smoke and strawberries. Somewhere ahead, only a few steps away, there had to be my house, entrance door still open. No matter how I tried, I couldn’t see it.

„Come on, old man. Keep moving!“ I cheered on. „Get back to the house.“ More laughter drifted to me, over the wind gusts. The ice whooshing past my face glistened, reflecting some soft light. I stopped. There was something bright behind me.

green goes great with bruises

  • content warning
  • HWWF 2015 assignment

„Nice…” Mary licked her lips with concentration. She bowed down over her right hand. „Careful now!” She whispered to herself.

The nail polish brush stroked evenly over the arch of her right middle finger. The creamy butter yellow of the coffee table clashed with the sparkling aquamarine of her nails.

The dull metronome on the kitchen wall ticked away a bit too loud. Shabby thing, she thought. The new photo wallpaper of King’s Cross Station, she put up herself, didn’t go well with the white and green porcelain clock. Mike brought it back from some garage sale. Yesterday she saw a golden rimmed station clock on the shopping channel. That would go just fine.

On the big TV screen, Emily Garner’s Jewelry Show flickered on mute. Pearl earrings and pendants waltzed into full shot. Mary leaned back and chuckled. Those earrings were pricier when she bought them last week. „Ha!” She felt lucky, hunting down the best bargains. That was her world. She could start as a pro-shopper. That’d be a great job, her dream job, in fact. Being the wife of a private eye was boring her out of her mind. Mike was nice, but never glamorous, or mysterious. Mediocre at best. The last time he wore a smoking was at their wedding.

The keys chimed as her husband rammed them into the lock of the entrance door.

„Home, hon!” Mike’s voice disturbed Mary in her admiration for the peridot pendant on the screen. She turned up the volume.

„Kaaay!” She said, eyes glued to the TV.

„Dinner?” Mike asked head poking into the living room, but Mary didn’t answer. After waiting several seconds he went investigating the kitchen instead. Nothing. The stove was cold, and there was nothing prepared in the fridge. The freezer was stuffed with frozen lasagna, and something that looked like mac’n cheese. “Dammit, Mary.” He closed the freezer and sighed. He had enough of these kind of welcomes. He felt like someone had put his head into a bucket full with ice, and his heart on the grill. „Hey, Mary? What’s for dinner?”

„What you order, Mike!” She hollered from the couch. He just stood there, head hung, arms perched on the kitchen counter. He tried to breathe in deeply. This wasn’t what he wanted to come home to. After all those hours in the car, on stakeouts, he longed for something home cooked. For something that could warm him, from the inside, like the thanksgiving dinners his grandma had made.

Mary was different. She ate like a bird, when she wasn’t on some weird diet. Everything to fit into her fancy clothes. She had absolutely no passion for cooking, music, or movies. Everything he loved. The only thing on her mind was money, jewels and fancy clothing. She worked hard for her ideal beauty, that he had to admit. But beauty was only skin deep.

Mike picked up the phone and dialed. „H’lo, yeah. I’d like to order a big pizza. Yeah, uh-huh. Top it with extra cheese, anchovies, olives, onions, salami and bacon.” Mike walked over to his wife, poked her on the shoulder, and pointed a finger to the phone. She shook her head. „Yeah. To 2352, Remington Avenue. Yeah, okay. You too.” Mike put the phone back. He thought of a shower, but decided to have a smoke instead.

Mary didn’t allow him to light a cig inside. It made the curtains yellow, she used to say. Somehow, it was convenient. He wanted out, so he could breathe again. He grabbed the lighter and threw a look at his wife, marveling at some stupid jewelry. Shopping channel. Again. He decided to take a closer look at their bank account. He’d be damned if he missed her addiction, or something. His shoulder leaned against the door, he slowly pushed down the handle.

In the living room, Mary snuggled into the couch cushions. That necklace with jade and gold was breathtaking. Only four hundred ninety nine! They were kidding. So cheap! The dark haired model wore it with a dark green satin robe, with a deep décolleté. She looked astounding. Mary scrambled to get the phone. She dialed.

The entrance door blew open. The sound made her jump, and the phone fell to the ground. „MARY!” Mike roared from the entrance. She stood. He was hunched over, carrying something big and heavy in his arms.

„What the… Stop that! Don’t carry the trash back in!” No! That was a human! It dawned on her the instant she closed her mouth. Dirty sneakers, black jeans, black hoodie, a hand flopped down and dangled lifeless from Mike’s grip. She couldn’t look away.

“Come on! Don’t just stand there!” Mary didn’t move, eyes bulging. “I found him outside, behind the trash cans.” He groaned, the man was heavy.

She scrambled to make room. “Is he… Is he?” She stuttered.

Mike laid him on the couch. “No.” Now she saw, it was a young man, limp and dirty and senseless. Blonde hair, bleeding from several cuts on brows, cheek, nose and mouth. His face was blueish purple on the left side.

„Oh god,” she gasped, hands covering her mouth. Mike turned around looking at her. She’d pass out, if she had time to get worked up.

“Water, towel, peroxide. Now.” She rushed into the bathroom. Mike’s hands seeked for a pulse. His face relaxed, „strong and steady.” He stroked over the man’s brows with his thumbs, then on the jawline. No crepitation, that was good. His hands checked shoulders, elbows, hands. Seemingly okay. Nothing broken, as far as he could see. He pulled the lower eyelids down. White. Eyes rolled back into his skull.

Mary came back with everything he asked for. “Most likely, it’s a nasty concussion. Don’t worry,” the pained expression on her face didn’t ease. He smiled at her. She was pale, her eyes glowed with the fire he used to love. There was a glint of the magic Mary meant, so perfect, so kind and caring. She was still alive in there, just hiding all these years, in the skin of this person he married. He was relieved that it still existed. For a moment, he imagined Mary’s beautiful face and her burning eyes above him, glowing in the darkness, rocking above him… Rocking him. His mouth went dry.

„Hon, I’ll go check outside,” she looked at him anxiously, „please clean him up a bit.” She was just nodding holding tight the bowl with the water. He needed to breathe.

Mary knelt down beside the man. „Why us?” she asked. The man on the couch looked peaceful, like a sleeping child. In fact he seemed to be in his early twenties, a lot younger than she thought. Her fingers wetted the cloth. The smell was overwhelming. Carefully she touched the face. She could tell, it was beautiful, even with dirt caked on his temples and the back of his head. His brows were long, lips arched like a Mongolian reflex bow. Under her hands, the skin became brighter and brighter. She set the bowl down and cupped his bruised cheek with her hand.

His eyes flew open. Green!

That moment broke into her, like a green bottle’d burst into million shards glistening in the sunlight. She gasped. The green focused on her, it begged her barely audible. “Please…” How gorgeous he was… She’d cut herself on that green. How sweet that pain would be! The green hid again behind his eyelids. A tear ran down the bruised cheek. She felt the young man sink back into the softness of unconsciousness. Mary stared in awe. She smiled a little embarrassed smile. She blushed and wondered how anyone could hurt such a lovely being.

She took his hand and squeezed it. “I’ll take good care of you now. Everything is going to be alright.” She whispered into his ear.

stray cat son

This assignment is a scene with two characters, thinking/talking about a third character. In Nr1 it is the point of view of one character, then the second character gets the spotlight.

#1

I imagined the fat headlines, the news reports, the sleek trial.

‚Private eye, Mike Fletcher, brings down corrupt mayor.’

I had only one shot. No one would listen to an old fart like me twice. Ever. I needed a safe place for the evidence. Justice could only be served, if I played my cards right. Huh, I would be famous. Either way…

Ah, my back was killing me. I loved my GTO, but I payed a high toll for these stakeouts. Sitting tight for hours, painful and boring. Not that I wasn’t used to pain or boredom. It tempted me to barge into the mayoral office, guns blazing. Patience wasn’t really my forte, the waiting tore on my nerves. I longed to let my inner Clint Eastwood out.

For a change, I wasn’t alone. I had company.

Benny was sleeping in the passenger seat. Head sunk on his chest, dark hair hanging over his forehead, skinny arms resting in his lap. He looked so peaceful, that I nearly believed the world was a good place. Inside the GTO, it was solid and light and warm. It was alive.

Two month ago, Benny strayed to. I found him behind my bins, the crap beaten out of him. Face bleeding, swollen blue and black. Beyond recognition. No money or ID.

Maybe it was only a case of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Maybe not. I spent half of my days on the wrong side of the tracks. I understood. It was easy to decide that the boy had enough hard luck. I carried him inside.

Mary, my wife, was at first shocked, then delighted. She started to pamper the kid, obsessed over him. We had no children of our own, so she dumped all of her suppressed love unto him, trying to drown him.

Lucky me, she stopped most of her nagging, busying herself with the needs of a teenage boy. She stopped chewing my ear off, about the house, the job and the money.

Benny said he was eighteen. A lie, but it was okay with me. He claimed he had no home, no family or friends. Surely, he had his reasons. I didn’t ask, and he didn’t tell. Since then, I half expected to find his bed cold and empty, every early morning. But he was there, and he kept being there.

Benny stirred.

A week ago, he begged me, to take him with me on the job. Mary was livid, but the kid stood his ground. She had to give in. There was more to him, than the obviously too young streetwise kid. I knew that, but she only saw the bruised boy in need. Mary whined, that Benny was our God-sent son. She prayed he’d stay forever, and called that her love.

I went with the idea, that he was our stray cat son. He could leave anytime, I wanted him to be free. If that was what he needed… Sometimes it was easy. I knew exactly what I could do to comfort him. A hand on his shoulder, or a hug, sometimes the silence of being left alone.

Usually he fell back on being sad, when he thought no one was looking. He kept himself busy with napping and eating. I always had the feeling, that he tried to catch up on things he missed, like a refugee.

And by night? Hell, I had no idea what he did. I heard the windows open and close. Obviously he snuck out. As far as I was concerned, he could be batman’s sidekick, or a guerrilla gardener or a drug dealer. As long as he came back, I was good.

My cigarette died. Mary smelled the tobacco anyway. I needed a stretch. The car door squealed, as I got out of the GTO.

„What’s up old-timer? Crackin’ somethin’portant?” Benny yawned from the passenger seat.

„Wanna kiss your teeth goodbye, bucko?” Hmpf, called me old-timer. I could kick his ass anytime. Benny stretched in the seat, in his twisted cat manner, letting his joints click loudly. That sound drove me up the walls. „Ugh, stop that!” It sounded spine crawling, like the dry snapping of bones. „Wanna eat?” I asked him. I was hungry too. He nodded.

#2

The birdman behind the counter opened his beak and jarred.

‚What the fuck?’

He grabbed me by the elbow and sent me flying into a deep pit. It hurt. I landed on my back, in a bed of black feathers. It felt sticky, then sharp pain clawed into my limbs. Tiny needles pierced my skin.

‚Ow! Not nice. Hey! Lady! Gimme a hand outta here!’

A woman, very similar to Mary Fletcher stood at the edge of the pit. Or was that a giant bird nest? She smiled.

‚Fuck.’

That was no ordinary smile, so wide! So impossibly wide… With way too many teeth! I swallowed. All teeth. What was that in her hand? A burning match! Oh God! She threw it.

‚NO!

The feathers combusted! My lungs burnt as I inhaled the flames.

‚Mike!’

An iron grip pulled me under the surface.

‚HELP!’

My body and mind plummeted side by side into the blackness of my nightmare. I jolted awake.

‚Okay.’

I was in a car. Nothing burned. Mike’s car.

‚Just breathe.’

He wasn’t in the car. Where was he? I couldn’t move.

‚Calm down!’

Everything was fine. I was okay. No one torched me. I puffed. The air felt hot, smelled of leather and tobacco. I rubbed my face. The shirt Mike gave me was wet. Tongue stuck to my palate, lips hurt, my throat was stinging and dry. Felt like I ate all the dust from the Gobi desert.

Through the dirty windshield, the orange sun shone in. I must have slept nearly the whole day. I saw Mike standing near the open driver’s door.

‚Thank God.’

He did some clumsy stretching. His back must hurt, he groaned. Googling for hours at that stupid house, and the traffic did nothing for your health. Same went for smoking and drinking booze, coffee. Doing drugs, numb the existence… But people did that anyway, didn’t they? And I did that too.

‚Yeah, but why me?’

Man, I wished I wasn’t the one to tell him. Mike would hate me for this. Even I hated me for this.

‚But it’s fuckin’ necessary.’

Yeah. It was… Was there ever a right time for such news?

‚No, never…’

I tried to tell him a couple of times during the week. But how did you tell someone you liked, that his wife was cheating on him? Beyond that, she loathed him, she hated everything he said, owned or did. I swallowed.

How to tell, that Mary deliberately walked in on me, while showering. That she tried to touched me, to kiss me, to seduce me. She snuck into my bed, when I slept. I wouldn’t stay any longer with her alone in that house.

‘No… Just yank that patch off. Fast. Easy.’

It’d hurt anyway. I couldn’t bring myself to break Mike’s heart. He loved her. He said it so many times before. He was lucky being married to her.

‚Yeah, lucky like a man having a rusty knife rammed between his ribs.’

He told me the stupid nauseating story about how they met and how they kissed. Romantic bullshit. I’d never understand that. And if I kept it to myself?

‚Wrong! And you know it.’

Mike’s face was pale and tired. He deserved the truth. I had to repay him somehow for the kindness. For everything he had done for me. I owed him that. At least.

He never asked any questions. He was there, patiently waiting for me to begin with my story.

„What’s up old-timer? Crackin’ somethin’portant?” I was hungry. He leant down, supporting himself forearms on the door and car top, and grinned.

„Wanna kiss your teeth goodbye, bucko?” As if he’d ever be able to catch me. Ha! I stretched more and my joints clicked into place. „Ugh, stop that!” But I wasn’t done with stretching. “Wanna eat?” I nodded.

almost friends (2)

2 / 1

There was a killer on board. I had seven month to unravel his identity and to pin him. I went through the received data from the ministry. The profiles of Rico Jefferson and Ian Dervall were promising. I could rule Ivanov and Rizzo out, after today’s incident. Rizzo really thought I’d be defenseless. He won’t make the same mistake twice.

I shared my room with Dervall, a huge afro-american cyborg with sand colored eyes. He occupied the lower bunk, I had the upper. A quiet man, with the mind of sheep, the average of ten words and two facial expression a week.

My first thought upon meeting him was, that he was Jefferson’s brute lap dog. The way he followed him everywhere, like a shadow, waiting to be petted. Gaining his trust was most important. I would start with him and see where it takes me.

I knew he and Jefferson had a history together, they worked for five years on the same mining ship. Most likely side by side. It was that time, when Dervall had his accident, leaving him a ruin of a human being. I’ve read the log data and the surveillance feed transcript on that accident. It was fishy, someone had it altered.

On the ceiling an ocean hurled and splashed against the rocks. It was the comfort holo for the passengers, designed to keep us happy. Depression was common during these long flights. I chose it to soothe Dervall’s alertness to my actions. Monotony was a cyborg’s weak spot.

I used the time for tai chi, to let my thoughts fly. A clear mind is most effective mind. „You’re officially classified as liquid, Kintaro.” Dervall said. I mustn’t let him know that I was capable of killing him with bare hands. My moves could betray me.

„Sumimasen, sorry?” I managed.

„You move like a bengalese tiger.” He added a gummy full teeth smile. Did he see through?

„Ian, don’t say that.” I hoped not. It’d be very inconvenient if he sussed me. „Jefferson set you up? He did, didn’t he?” I tried.

„Rico?” He shook his head confused. „What do you mean with set up?”

„Nothing in special, just curious.” I thought of his pain and suffering. I sat down on his bed. „You two know each other for long?” I looked at what was left of him, lining of scar-tissue ripping his perfect dark skin to ribbons, stitched up with nearly skin tone prosthetics.

„Well, yes. We already worked for five years together on the mining ship Gorgo Beta. He saved my life.” He patted his prosthetic leg. „I was sent out to repair one of the giant waldos, and Rico was my partner instructing me. Somehow I got my security line tangled up in the hydraulics, and when the gear slammed back into motion, the gripper went online, and it caught it. I got yanked into the grinder mechanism.” What if that wasn’t an accident? What if it was a cover up for something else? Dervall tapped his left arm and eye. „It tore my arm from its socket, ripped my leg straight off.” Did he even remember how it happened? I doubted it.

In his eyes, I could only see the dull numbness of a man under heavy medication. „So Rico’s your best friend.”

„Yeah…” He furrowed his brows. „Come on, he’s the funniest guy. You’ll like him, once you get to know him.” I bet. Something told me that Jefferson was a dangerous man. I had to be very careful about this.

I stood up. „We’ll talk later, Ian.” My body went on with the exercises, but my mind raced.

almost friends (1)

about friends (2)

I slouched on my bunk and stared at the ceiling hologram revolve. It was the boiling ocean throwing itself against the rocks of some shore. It was Niishima’s time to watch the sea. In about one hour I would change it to the starry night sky over the Sonoran Desert. This was relax time, after a 25 hour shift on the transporter taking us to the mining regions in the asteroid belt. With us I meant, Ivanov, Rico, Niishima and me. Captain Rizzo would remain on board. Five men wedged into a tin can floating through the black emptiness of the space, heading towards some expensive rocks and dirt. The journey we just started would take seven months.

Niishima was moving, and I watched him starting his tai chi exercises. Eyes closed, concentrating on his movements, his muscles worked under his soft skin. I pulled my prosthetic leg in, so he’d have enough space. Stressed out, huh.

I heard he had a fight with drunk Rizzo. It ended with calling names and a bloody nose. No doubt it was self defense on Niishima’s behalf. Rizzo was doing the job for over twenty years, and he was lonely. The booze must’ve killed enough of his neurons that he’d try to hit on Niishima. On a ship like this, there wasn’t much else to do than drinking, and facing the one eyed snake, anyway. And Niishima had a distinctly feminine appearance, small and slender, long lashes over dark almond eyes. That old fart went insane over any trace of feminity. „You’re officially classified as liquid, Kintaro.” I told him and decided to watch his back from now on. Rizzo would never dare to pick a fight with me. I’d break him in half instantly.

„Sumimasen, sorry?” He turned to me confused.

„You move like a bengalese tiger.” I stated and meant to be appreciative. Niishima pulled a sour face instead.

„Ian, don’t say that.” Did I hit a nerve? „Did Jefferson set you up? He did, didn’t he?” His black eyes glistened, cheeks boiled. Blushing, huh?

„Rico?” I shook my head. „What do you mean with set up?”

„Nothing in special, just curious.” Niishima lied. And he was bad at it. Why would he lie? „You two know each other for long?” He asked carefully. I had the feeling that I needed to be wary, for some reason. Niishima sat down near me.

„Well yes. We already worked for five years together on the mining ship Gorgo Beta. He saved my life.” I patted my prosthetic left leg. „I was sent out to repair one of the giant waldos, and Rico was my partner instructing me. Somehow I got my security line tangled up in the hydraulics, and when the gear slammed back into motion, and the gripper went online, it caught it. I got yanked into the grinder mechanism.” I tapped my left prosthetic arm and eye.

„It tore my arm from its socket, ripped my leg straight off.” Niishima’s eyes lock on mine.

„So Rico’s your best friend.” It sounded flat, as if he was stating it for himself. He looked at me and smiled. It was the most sorrowful smile I ever saw on a man’s face.

„Yeah…” That was a strange reaction. „Come on, he’s the funniest guy. You’ll like him, once you get to know him.” I tried, but Niishima stood up.

„We’ll talk later, Ian.” He said and resumed his exercises.

the shape I’m in

Special Agent Eric Paulson stood in the doorway, with a goofy smile on his thin lips. He flicked away his still burning cigarette. Snowflakes melted on his grey stubby chin.

„Fuck. What do you want?” I asked. Bitterness seeped from the back of my throat. I wanted to spit it out, but words fell out instead. „Seven! Years!” No calls, no visits, no cards. He didn’t even call, when my daughter, Amy, died. I’d be damned if he doesn’t want to drag me back to the hell I’ve been through.

He was fast with flashing a smile. There it was, the I’m-better-than-you-look in his blue-green eyes. The look I died to smack out of his face, with a brick, or bottle, or a chair, or my fists. His dark hair was shorter, his build porkier than I remembered. He was doing well. The red parka he was wearing was too tight on his belly and arms.

His smile froze to an annoyed grin. He must have his reasons for coming all the way out here. „Is that all you got for me, Vince?” He pulled an offended grimace, and pushed me aside, to enter the hallway. “Unbelievable!” That was Eric Paulson all over. He stomped his feet on the doormat. With one hand he opened his ski parka and I slammed the door shut.

I needed a drink. I went to the kitchen to grab a bottle. Talisker Storm. I prayed, he came to visit out of pure friendliness, as a friend, as family. But I knew his hesitation in the hallway meant he had a case I should help him with. He stared at his boots, left hand absentmindedly stroking his jacket, where his breast pocket was. I knew that look of guilt… Long ago, Eric and me, we were a team. He was the agent, and I was the psychic profiler. We were match and gasoline.

„Prepared for the blizzard, buddy?” He attempted small talk. Futile, but I nodded. He inched my way, eyeballing the photos of Maria, Amy and me on the walls; reminders of my misery. My kitchen disgusted him, I noticed. Today it seemed peculiarly smaller and dirtier than usual, even to me. „It was clean last month.” I manned the whisky bottle and shook it at him. „Want some?” I asked by courtesy.

„You tell me, Vince,” he shrugged. „Don’t you see, what I’ll do?”

„It’s not working that way, Eric.” I turned and went to the twilit living room, switched the lights on. He followed me in silence. „You know that.” The bookshelves made the room look like a cave.

Outside, the snow came down in thick curtains. I couldn’t see his car. Up here, November hit us hard, with temperatures below 15 °F all week. The winter was gentle and silent around my house, the woods insulated me from the world. But I felt it roar in the valley, and down in Points.

I plunked down into the leather couch and tugged the patchwork quilt over my legs. Maria, my ex wife, made it during the two long years of our marriage, for Amy. She was adept with the needle and yarn, but she couldn’t take it, after the accident, after…

She left me the quilt, so she could forget. It covered my bad knee, which was cold and swollen. It hurt badly and I couldn’t hide it. Eric furrowed his brows. Was that concern?

„The Eric Paulson I know, wouldn’t dither,” I growled at him. Jaw muscles clenched together, my fist was a white ball of bone, sinew and muscle. The Eric Paulson I knew, was responsible for my stiff leg.

He breathed and rubbed his chin. „You know why I’m here, don’t you?” I gazed out of the window. “I need your help.” I shook my head and twisted the cap of the bottle off. “We got ourselves a phantom, a smart and cruel predator.” Eric continued unimpressed. “Maybe you can give us a new angle. We’re desperate! You’re our straw.” I stared into the bottle before my lips touched the liquor. No need for a glass, or ice. There was this hollow icy feeling leeching my stomach.

„We’ve found his sevenths victim yesterday. He is different. I haven’t seen anything like that in my whole life,” Eric told me. His presence woke something up in me. It stirred. “He isn’t satisfied with just killing them. No. He tortures them for days, breaks their bones, peels their skin off, while they are still alive.” Eric walked up and down in the room. “Vince! He’s a monstrosity, an abomination!” The first gulp burnt its way down into the midnight of my soul.

The smell of smoke and bunt hair hit me.

Eric came up close to me, observing my face intently. I must’ve spaced out. „Was the last victim burnt?” I asked, hoping he’d say no, but his eyes lit up instead. Poor man… That merited another gulp. „I hate you.”

Eric sat down on the coffee table in front of me. It creaked its complains. He plucked the bottle from my hand and held a plastic bag in front of my face. In the bag was something lathy, dark and stained. I swallowed, that was a knife of some kind, unusually thin.

„For the love of God… Eric, I don’t need more nightmares.” He wanted me touch it. “Why are you forcing me?” I didn’t need to be a psychic, to know where that thing had been before. Instantly, my phantasy went wild, flooding my consciousness with pictures of bloody pierced hearts, deflated lungs and slit throats.

„You play hermit in the woods? That’s okay,” his calm voice floated in the room. „You won’t talk to me, cause you’re teed off? That’s also okay.” He ruffled his dark hair. „I respect that, and I’m truly sorry for what happened. For what I did, but can’t take back…” He took a sip from the bottle, and pulled a grimace. „Alright. Be mad at me. That’s fine.” Eric looked at me like a beaten dog. “You expect the world to leave you alone?” His lips tightened. His left hand made a flat horizontal swiping gesture, as if covering something. „I’ll have none of that bullshit!” I stared at the star and heart patterns on the quilt. „Vincent, I really need your help! I’m not giving up on you. We all need your help. With your special abilities… It’s your duty to help.” I felt his despair seeping into me through the pores of my skin. “He sent us a picture of his next victim. A little girl, not older than five.”His voice picked up volume and urgency. “Help me solve this!”

We locked eyes. That face! I heard myself gasping. His hurt expression… His eyes wide and watered up, lips trembling, corners of his mouth pointing to his heart… He had that same look… The same look, when I had pulled him out of that car wreck. He was 17 and I was 19.

I couldn’t imagine how hard it’d punch me. I forgot that I still had these feelings in me. Why did I notice just now? Eric was exhausted. Something festered in him, something stinging, black and tar like. Something hungry…

And easy as that, I was his partner again. Ready to hug and comfort Eric, ready to watch his back…

I took the plastic bag, and my he smiled weakly. Between my fingers the knife slithered into my palms, snuggled into my left hand and wanted to be clutched tightly. A lefty. My hands felt wet and warm, the blade seemed to pulsate, like a beating heart. I sent out my thoughts like tentacles.

„It’s not a gift…” The smell of blood was overwhelming. „It’s a condition, ruining my life.” I told myself, and forced my stomach back down. „I think, I got something. Take notes, Eric, I’ll forget everything in about half an hour, or so.” My body plummeted, my mind trickled down my navel, like sand in an hourglass. “He’s a lefty and went to college. Had good to mediocre grades but dropped out. He prefers to work with his hands. He’s in his forties. I get the feeling of clay on my hands… Maybe pottery, maybe gardening. Overly adjusted. Most likely married, but his little wifey is clueless, so is everyone else in his social vicinity.” I swallowed, my body grew heavier, my vision blurred. „He needs glasses.”

Heavy knocks echoed through the house, made me jump. The door trembled under the beating. Eric nodded towards the hallway. „Go on. Open the door. It’s an officer with more information you need.”

The hard labor of standing up started and the quilt slit down to the carpet. Eric took a big gulp of my good wisky, while I hobbled to the door. He was right. It was a man in uniform at the entrance. His police car sat obediently in my driveway, lights flashing. Where was Eric parking?

„Good afternoon, sir. I’m Officer Peterson, Hampshire County Police. Are you Mister Samson? Mister Vincent Samson?”

„Yes.” I answered. Suddenly, I didn’t like how things summed up. The icy feeling dropped deeper.

„I’m sorry that I have to tell you.” He breathed. “Your ex partner, special agent Eric Paulson, was killed, yesterday, in the line of duty.”

—No!

„I’m sorry for your loss… He was on his way here, to beg for your expertise as profiler.” Officer Peterson harrumphed. “There is something else… His little daughter was kidnapped.”