frequency

Okay! Don’t look now… but I just busted the lock on 388.

Yeah, yeah. Don’t be so shocked!

As if you never slipped! – With a bolt cutter. On a lock.

I mean, come on… We’re on the same side here, aren’t we? We’re havin’ a little fun! You ’n me… Little snoopin’ round, little snuffin’ out. It’s what I do for livin’. No, I’m a part-time jacker. I know it’s not so reputable, but I ain’t a reputable man. So don’t bother.

I make my living with providing and renting storage units. And doing some stuff round here like fixing, cleaning, changing  some bulbs from time to time. Not overly exhausting. I’m not exactly the janitor here. Well, yeah – that doesn’t sound like I thought it would. So… I hatch the units, till the day they’re abandoned. I crack them open and sell what’s inside. I just have to be on my toes. You know, Jack of all trades device. So I get my hands on anything! Literally anything. You wouldn’t believe what some folks have in storage… I had once an old lady with thousands of porcelain dolls hanging from the walls. Really creepy stuff. Really creepy ancient stuff, and’s brought me a lot of chump change.  Striking lucky – sometimes.

That doesn’t hurt. At least it doesn’t hurt me. A man has to earn his livelihood. And what’s better than sitting on it, like a hen on eggs. You can have an omelette every day…

Which brings us to 388. This room has been rented for five years. Occasionally someone coming by unloading big boxes. Three month ago, the payments stop. I’ve checked all the papers, no one claiming anything. No one to contact, wrong phone number, no address, no post box. No nothing. Suits me. I wait a bit, and get some nice leftovers. I’m the patient kind.

The door of 388 opens smoothly. Consumed air greets me, like a bat greets teeth. Stinks of plastic and paint… I throw the switch, ’n neon lights hum to life. Oh, what a piece of junk! Man, what a shame… What are those? Looks like a bunch of ancient computers. I don’t think anyone will buy such outdated stuff off of me.

A wall like heap of screens flicker on, one after the other. What the- What’s all this gutted electronics, cables jammed into one big Gordian knot. Did it just move? Are rats in here? Maybe I’ve got to call pest-control.

The screens buzz with white noise. Something I’ve imagined to be hearing down the corridors. There is one plastic chair in front of the monitor wall, coated with dust. It seems to be waiting. – Funny…

episode-23-tv-tower

That sound is spine crawling! So annoying, the hair on my neck stands on end. Feels like the skin on my back is too tight… Like… Man, I can’t even turn around properly. It’s like there is a storm brewing in here… Or someone standing behind me. Behind me! Behind-

 *

Ugh, bad taste… Tastes like navel-lint…Tongue dry. Bone dry. Licking the floor? Why do I kip on the ground? What am I doing down here? That sound…

The monitors still vomit that noise on me.  If only the room stopped spinning… I’ll throw up if it doesn’t stop- That damned noise! „Stop it!“ Why the fuck is it so hard to breathe?

„Voice command identified. Analyzing… Command not valid.“ Tinny. Mechanical words vibrated through my skull. Not valid… Where did that come from?  Ah, sponge legs, jello arms. Can’t breathe. I catch my head with both palms. Doesn’t help- Stop it. My head wants to leave. It wants to leave so badly. The room moves. Where are my feet? I need my feet.

„Stop it! Stop it!“ Come on, focus! I have to get out! Stand up! Come on, stand up. Up, I say. Where’s the door? Grab the  floor. Hold on. Push.

„Voice command not valid. Remaining: one try.“ The voice plunges into my ears, pulls my brain out, and stomps on it. So hard… Blood. I taste blood. Stop- I think I’m gonna throw up…

„- Help…“ I need- I… have to move.

„Voice command not valid. Critical state reached. Initializing security protocol. Automated shut-down in all areas in 900 seconds.“ The door. Must- move… Can’t see…

„Shit…“ Words fall out – of my… thing… Stomach. So numb… face.

*

„Morning, Paulsen. What do we have here?“ The tall man asks the uniform taking photos.

„Detective! When did you get back? The body, Harry Brack, forty-two, male, caucasian. Coroner’s been called off, but he says most likely natural cause. Maybe heart attack, maybe stroke. He says that the blood pool origins from an excessive nose bleed due to high blood pressure… He was found by his girlfriend. She’s in his office…“ Officer Paulsen flashes his biggest smile. The detective turns and nods  a little nod. He walks down the corridor. “Hey, detective!” The tall man stops for a moment. “… Good to have you back!”

The Harpy

part 4 - perks of jumbled memories
-part 1, -part 2, -part 3

The black suit reacts to his touch with tiny tentacles reaching up towards the warmth of his skin. In no time it seems, the suit has liquified. It wraps him up from head to the tip of his toes. „Stop tickling,“ he giggles.

The suit hardens, and becomes transparent over his face. Those green eyes shine behind the visor, like lit from the inside. Is it bioluminescence? „Can you hear me? How’s it feeling?“ I ask.

„Awesome! But you could take off my leg, and I’d still feel awesome. With her in my system… Everything’s fabulous! She thinks you’re not dangerous.“ His voice is slightly distorted, as if speaking with two voices, his own and a more soft, lightly slurred one.

„…You said… she?!“

„Hell yeah, my suit is partially female. She grows neutrally, but after the first imprinting with the human genome, they seem to decide themselves, to take the position of a counterpart – for bonding. The link we share is one between lovers; mad, awkward lovers-“ Lovers?! What strange choice of words… „We have to postpone this. Work’s waiting… Babe, let’s get going. Open the door!“

The Cap transforms into a black vibrating blur and slides through the bridge door. Was it even opening? He said lovers… What does that mean? Partners? Love? Maybe only projections… Now what can I do? „Harpy?“

„Yes, Doctor?“ – „How can I help?“

„Eddy is already outside, fixing my wing and back panels. Shell instabilities can’t be helped for now. We will be leaving the lab unit and the sleeping units on the asteroid. The bridge is a capsule itself, sufficient for two humans. Doctor, prepare the medication and perfusion.“

„Can you show me, what he’s doing?“ The screen splits up in four pictures. One shows the view from the bridge, us spinning, two show corridors to airlock and bridge, and one the view from the engines. Outside, the blackness fills the upper half of the screen, interrupted by big white grey irregular dots. Behind the Harpy, a spike of white. A humanoid shadow moves rapidly over the curved back of the ship. It looks like he is dragging some arm-like-wings over the shell. Wow!

„Working at this pace, he will run down his reserves in approximately fourteen minutes. The oxygen leak has to be found. Three ampules benzodiazepine to five milligrams each should suffice. Perfusion solution with high sugar level for iv-access is needed too. The ectoparasite will be shed, as soon as Eddy’s blood sugar level will drop below thirty milligram percent.“ What?! That means hypoglycemic coma. That isn’t how he described it. „He is high on her neurotransmitters. In order to bond and to use the suit optimally, he has to have a positive emotional response to her. His memories aren’t exact about the shedding.“ I understand.

„Any residuals? What about dependence?“ -„Medical check-ups show no evidence. Behavior patterns do not show any symptoms of craving.“

„How about tests on long-time survival?“ This is interesting!

„Hibernation in outer space: one month, two days and twelve minutes. This is why we accompany you on your research trip, doctor.“ Oh, wow…

The first aid box starts gleaming red, and I prepare a syringe. „The leak is fixed now. Pressure loss: zero. Beginning with oxygen reprocessing. Restoration of optimal oxygen level in three minutes and twenty-seven seconds. The captain is now heading this way.“ Okay then! Lets get started. A small maintenance robot nudges my foot. I put the syringe into a little ammo clip – doors slide open…

Oh, fuck. The humanoid shadow stands in the doorway. I think it – they – grew taller. A lot taller. They’re huge!  The captain looks at the swarming robots, then at me… That’s more a stare than a look… His face cut out of marble, rigid, with slightly opened mouth, eyes wide behind the visor, not blinking.

A somewhat vacant look… Creepy… I try to swallow, but my mouth just dried up. If he comes at me… I won’t last two seconds. What do I do?

The captain-thing leans in my direction – oh fuck – he grows my direction. I back away slowly. What if it behaves like a predator? Don’t run. No sudden movements! Keep cool. Keep cool. Slowly… Carefully. Just back away… Careful now. It keeps coming this way. Is that a growl? Oh-uh. He looks at me, like I was fucking delicious…  What the – don’t trip! Ah! In a blink the captain-thing is over me, before I hit the floor, locking eyes. Wow… hypnotic green… The floor stops… I stop midair? …How?

Oh, he’s lifting me uuuup- „Aaah! Stop. Put me down. No! Stop. Don’t throw meeee – umph- Aaaargh, that wasn’t nice!  Bad captain!…Fine! 330!“ The maintenance robots dart for him, plunging themselves at the captain-thing. They shoot wires across the bridge, trying to pin him to the wall, or the floor. Not successfully, though… He tears through the wires, smashes some robots…

How long is he going to do this? He seems smaller though. The robot with the sedatives lingers at my foot. „I tripped over you, didn’t I?“

The Captain-thing snarls with anger. It looks like he is shadowboxing, getting caught in those wires. Definitely not moving as fast as he did before.

„Shedding imminent,“ the voice of the Harpy interrupts, „prepare for sedation. Secure the captain. Estimated time to shedding: one minute and fifty seconds.“ The robots double their efforts, and manage to pin him, half kneeling, to the floor and wall. He grunts with effort, but it’s futile. He can barely move now. I squat beside him and try to get his attention. Those green eyes can’t even fix on me anymore. Nystagmus. Tremor. He’s shaking,  breathing’s shallow. Blood sugar level must be low by now.

„Captain, look at me!“ He tries hard, I can see that. Suddenly he slumps over, eyes rolled back into his skull. That’s it! The suit begins to soften, to retract from his face, hands and feet. The robot with the sedatives fires his shot between the toes of the captain. Good that he’s cold out, that’d hurt. I stick an iv-access into a vein on the back of his hand and start the perfusion. His chest is barely moving. „Harpy, how is the metabolite rate of the suit? When will the sedatives wear off?“ I won’t be able to physically remove the wires, to stretch the Cap out. That has to wait.

„The ectoparasite is unable to clear benzodiazepines sufficiently out of the blood system. She is engineered that way. Shortly, One will be ready to help you with the removal. Estimated clearance of benzodiazepines from captain’s blood system: eleven hours and forty minutes. Waking time in approximately nine hours.“

I wonder, what kind of hangover he’ll have. If I antagonize the sedatives, he’d be seriously pissed off, I guess. I’m tempted to, since he threw me across the bridge… Reminds me off, „Harpy, could you provide me with some clothes?“

The Harpy

part 3 - code 330
-part 1, -part 2

„What did you mean by, she’s not just a cargo ship?“ Eddy plunks down into a pilot seat, shrugs and ruffles his dark hair.

„You know- They don’t let a rookie doctor and a priceless AI in a man suit, just fly off like that, would they? Your company protects its belongings damn well. What do you think? They let you deactivate the tracking device you know of, and do nothing? Ha!“ I… I really did! Now that he puts it that way, it sounds bonkers.

„Don’t be upset… They are already sending someone after it. I told you, this is not a simple cargo ship, and I’m not only your captain, but also your and Proto’s bodyguard… Is it that shocking for you? Did you grow up in La-la-Land? Oz, you’re the most naive person I’ve ever met!“ He laughs his head off. „He’s got more bugs than you imagine. There’s one in the suit too. Yes, he took it, and launched all escape units, so we are trapped here. He even set the ship to self destruct, you know that? To cover all loose ends… Clever little shit! The missing suit is a bread crumb thread, if there is more left from the Harpy, than fuel snowflakes and debris scattered all over the belt. Do you know where he is heading?“ I shake my head. How did I let this come this far? „Maybe Europe, to the deep-sea terra-forming units. That’s where I would hide.“

He sits down near me, resting a hand on my shoulder. „Don’t sweat it, buddy. Not your fault. I’ve been waiting for something like this, to happen. I let the Harpy respond, as it expected it. Proto’s hacking did more damage than I thought. But Harpy is a tough girl. She can handle. She didn’t even send an S.O.S Signal. Brave girl.“ He pulls a chocolate bar from one of his pockets and offers it. „Eat. You’ll feel better. I promise.“ As I take the bar, he catches my fingers in his palm. „That he killed you, I didn’t foresee. I am really sorry. I failed to protect you.“

„- Tried. Thanks to you, I’m alive.“ His green eyes pierce my skull. Don’t blush, don’t blush.

„That can’t be helped now. I underestimated him, I admit. Didn’t think, it is capable of being this human…“ Releasing my hand and the chocolate bar, he turns to the screen and says,„hey babe, unlock E.K.1. for me. Would you help me with One and Two, sweetheart? How are your subroutines coming? Lets repair you ASAP and detach. I want to find that fuck tard and kick his ass to bits.”

“Your wish is my command, Eddy. Damaged data seventy-five percent restored.” The Harpy replies happily. With a rattling sound several terminals thrust aside, new terminals open up. Maintenance robots flood in from the corners of the bridge, darting for the body parts of One and Two. Like fire ants over a limping frog, the humming things run down the bits of cyborg. This is definitely – weird, but cool – and oh my god! Bio-suits! He has bio-suits! One black, one translucent, both hooked up to some iv-like accesses. I only heard rumors of them, being top secret military technology. Self sufficient systems for exploring new environments. Whoa. Now that’s a thing!

“What- what are you doin’?” Eddy’s taking his clothes off. I try not to look surprised. I should try not to stare instead.

“I’m dressing up for the big prom, so that I’m pretty for my prince. What do you think?! These are next generation bio-mechanical suits – they need full skin contact, and a bit more…” Wait, does that mean, that they are autonomous, or semiautonomous? Are they alive? “Ok. Ask now. I know that look, you will be bugging me over the com. So?”

“What do they need more?” I ask.

“Water, salt, carbon-dioxide, electricity, sugar and heat. They’re like overprotective giant leeches, designed to keep you alive, in order to remain alive themselves. Vicious things, instantly adapting to radiation, temperature changes and pressure. They are having their eyes where you aren’t looking. Giving you an extra hand, or tentacle, or spider legs, or wings. Just needing access to your bloodstream and your nerves- both sensory and muscular… They’re boosting your reflexes, beyond… I can’t explain. God, I love them!“

He stops suddenly, „…one more thing,“ and turns to me with a grave look. „I didn’t think of it… When I come back – stay away from me!“ What? Why?

„I’ll be high on their neurotransmitters. I can’t guarantee for your safety, nor mine. Stay put. That’s the best you can do… Prepare enough sedatives. Just in case -”

“W-What do you mean – just in case?” Now I’m curious. “After the first time, I tried to drink cooling liquid. The second time, I tried to walk out into space, cause my grandma was knocking on the airlock, from the outside… I’ll be hallucinating. I’ll be hungry. And horny. I could try to eat you, or fuck you, or both.”

“You’re kidding, right?” He can’t be serious.

“Just do me a favor, okay? Just knock me out, before I… Don’t let me do anything stupid. OK?!” He is begging? “I don’t want to wake up, with a big ass hangover, next to a corpse.” He leans over to me. „This is important! Harpy will tell you my specs. She prepares a modified robot for me, with enough drugs for a day sleep or so. If there’s a problem. Any problem… The override code for Ed-emergencies is 330. She’ll wrestle me down then. Don’t forget: three-three-o. I didn’t want to use the suit, with you on board, but desperate times… You know the rest.“ He flashes a big grin and proceeds undressing.

—————————————————————

-part 4 - the perks of jumbled memories

The Harpy

part 2 -  confused AI
- part 1 -another way to die

„Captain Edward Wong, Doctor Oscar Wellington, two cyborg pilots, ninety-six maintenance robots, and me.“ The Harpy answers in a flat tone.

„See?“ Eddy gives me the I-told-you-so-look. „Where is Proto?“ he asks her.

„Proto is not on board.“ What?! „His suit is missing. Scanning… He is jamming me.“ Another I-told-you-so-look.

Proto is my assistant. He isn’t supposed to leave the ship. Where is he? What the hell is going on? He’s going to get in trouble…

Being neither a human nor a cyborg, his legal status is not quite clear yet. Not on Earth, not on Mars, not on the lunar mining colonies, and apparently neither on this ship. As a matter of fact, he is the first of his kind. Between an AI and a human clone, he is a miracle, if you ask me. He is priceless! For the captain, he’s just an AI, in a man suit…

Crap, I even deactivated his tracking device two days ago, hoping to keep other companies at bay. Maybe this move qualifies me a dumb-dumb…

„Proto is going to get a good going-over. And if you don’t start pulling yourself together, I’ll beat you up too, for good measure!“ Eddy stands in the doorway. I can’t tell if he’s joking.

The soft purring of the Harpy interrupts. “Warning. Warning. Collision course. Risk: ninety-three point sixty-six percent. I suggest immediate change of course. Dr. Wellington’s vitals are stable. Captain, you are needed on the bridge. Dock station four has been activated. Escape capsule two has been launched thirty seconds ago… Launching remaining capsule… I am confused.”

“WHAT?!” We both cry in unison. ”What the hell is going on?!” The captain shouts sprinting out of my lab.

“Wait! Cap! Eddy!” I dash down the corridor, only to see  his back turning round the corner. Man, he’s fast. Better be! If this is sabotage… The only one, who could have done this, has already fled the ship. Crap! He’s gonna destroy us. I’m a fucking idiot!

“Warning!“ Harpy tweets. „Collision is now inevitable. Remaining time to impact: twenty-three seconds. Course change impossible. Pilots manually deactivated. Autopilot permanently deactivated. Override. Error. Override. Error. Override. Error – sorry.”

If the Harpy gets smashed to bits, and we both die, that’ll be on my head. Only my fault. Somewhere ahead the furious cursing of the captain echoes.

How did we end up here? The last thing I remember, we were passing Mars, to swing into polar orbit and – fuck. Why are we in the asteroid belt?!

“Buckle up! Prepare for impact. Eddy, it’s been a pleasure.“ Harpy adds cheerfully. Oh, no! Crap! The next thing I know, I get thrown into a blender and swirled around the place. Hitting the corridor ceiling, the floor, and some walls. Smoke! Shit! I hope the ship doesn’t cut out all the oxygen…

That’s a lot of smoke down the corridor. Behind me the doors slide open and I get violently pulled in, hitting something hard. Pan galactic gargle blaster – my head has doubled it’s size, I swear. What a fucked up day!

“Hey Doc? Oz? Come on, stay with me. I won’t kiss you twice a day, you know.” Eddy’s big hands slap the dizziness right out of me.

“You’re not my type,“ I lie.

“Good! You’ve come to,” he grins and helps me lean against the wall of a monitoring desk. Partially disintegrated, the two damaged pilots lay on the floor of the bridge, emitting sparks.This is bad… One head lies near my foot, looking right at me, smiling sheepishly.

“Is this One’s or Two’s?” I ask. The Captain is pressing something cool at the back of my head. He needs a cool-pack too. His nose bleeds, but he doesn’t notice, or doesn’t mind.

„Two’s. Only Two has this stupid grin. Proto’s gonna pay for this, as soon, as I manage to lay hands on it! I swear!“

”Was there a fire? Um, there was a lot of smoke…“ Eddy nods. „Is there any oxygen left outside the bridge?“ He shakes his head. „This is bad… Can you fix them? The cyborgs? You need them – to repair the Harpy, don’t you?“ I study my lap, then my hands. „I thought… I thought you hate AIs and cyborgs.” Color me surprise.

“It seems that way… Hasn’t your mama taught you, that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover?” I didn’t consider him a decent human being, nor a life saver. His rude behavior with Proto… I assumed… Well, I thought he is a bigoted windbag. My bad…

His eyes lock mine. “Just look at you! Died and resurrected today. You’ve learnt nothing from it, did you? Still cheeky to your savior, bucko? Hm?“ Suddenly he shrugs, and seems a lot older and paler than before. „You had a rough day, kid. Now stop bleeding all over the place, will you?” What just happened? „I’m happy you’re alive.“ He laughs a deep guttural laugh. How strange, I never heard him laugh before… “And here I was thinking, this will be the most boring half year of my life, on this science field trip.”

I take the cool-pack, and offer it to him. “You okay? Anything broken?” He shakes his head.

“A fuel tank, but that’s not the problem. We can still detach, but we have to do that manually.“ Not what I meant. „Also, there is a leak somewhere I need to find, before we run out of oxygen. Fix One and Two. I hope my baby didn’t get hurt too badly… You know, she’s not just a cargo ship.” He snorts triumphantly. “If you hadn’t pass out, like an anemic victorian princess, you could have seen my brilliant maneuver. I landed her. I landed the Harpy, on a fucking asteroid! Which is unbelievably stupid and amazing at the same time!“ Did he just wink at me? That nose is broken, definitely. He smiles and turns away to look at the screen. We are spinning. “At least, we’re alive – for now.”

———————————————–

- part 3 - code 330
- part 4 - perks of jumbled memories

boca de morte

It is too damn hot and too damn humid to feel like a decent human being.

Plus, this is my last beer – maybe for months. Lukewarm as piss…

How the hell do people here cool themselves?!

The food is spicy, the liquor nasty. To shower is useless, cause I’m sweating.In. The.Shower! The river looks tempting though. But… I won’t take my chances, to end up with a weird, or nasty disease, or both.

Putting clothes on is utterly pointless, if it wasn’t for leeches, mosquitos, spiders, ants and snakes… So yeah, clothes stay on.

The nights are hot, the days are hot, it rains. Then it rains a lot. In one word: hell! Oh. Forgot. Everything here is GREEN! I’m trapped in a green humid hell. Ugh, my brain needs to be chilled! And now the beer is gone too. Dammit! The local dive has tainted booze and no nice women, or men to look at and play with. Fuck.

My only pleasures are sleeping by day, and surfing the web by night. Killing time in camp, till the equipment picks up something unusual. Waiting for the locals, to bring us some news, or strange animals.

Nicky-boy is delighted, to the roots of his black hair. Cooing and petting everything with fur and feathers, that isn’t fast enough to run for it. He could be petting something else… Fuck! It’s the heat talking.

My favorite cryptozoologist is a nice hetero guy, don’t let me convince you otherwise. All head over heels into his books and myths. He won’t recognize a flirt, even if it sat on his face. He’s so neat, that you could throw up…

The plan is, that Nicky-boy searches for a local legend, a so called „boca de morte“. A mouth of death, some strange giant ghost lizard. Maybe we stumble upon unknown ruins, or undiscovered petroglyphs. My plan is to interfere and annoy as much as I can, doing the climbing, the crawling into caves, the hiking. You know, the daredevil parts- the getting on, getting in, and getting under mystery places. Mainly getting on each other’s nerves, till we both lose it…

Last week, Nicky-boy, Pedro – our guide- and me, we were out in the jungle, exploring some places people are scared of. Places of taboo, places of burial, with strange names, translating to „Devil’s Hole“, „Angry-trees“ and „Ghost-making-River“. Places your hair stays on end. Surprisingly, they are within a three mile radius from each other. We set up some self timer cameras, just in case.

Meanwhile, Nick, that early bird, put together a kind of folklore folder, trying to decipher similarities in different  old tales from the region in question, looking for hints, what that mythical creature may look like.

They all are about some kind of monster, from the belly of the earth. It always appears near a river, or a lake. It is said to be a giant lizard, sometimes a human, sometimes a mix of both. Considered a very bad omen, humans encounter it mostly during wartimes, and in times of famine and pestilence. In some stories it is the hungry god of the jungle, in other a gatekeeper to the realm of the dead, sometimes it has a function as a judge and hangman. The tales also suggest that it is a scavenger and that it hunts smaller mammals, birds. Everything it can catch, I guess. You aren’t picky about your food, if you are the gatekeeper of death, are you?

Yesterday Nick showed me his drawing of what it might look like – a huge lizard like figure, as big as a human, wrinkly, with tiny eyes, huge mouth and whiskers.

„It could be a giant salamander,“ my favorite cryptozoologist says over our breakfast. „I heard something like that lives in Japan and China,“ he adds. Disgusting thing, I hope I get to see one.

Now, that the sun is down, let’s have some fun. Where’s that laptop? Nick has got it again, I bet.

„Nick?“ Typing.

„Nicky?“ And ignoring me.

„Nicky-boy?… Doctor T!… Are you done?“ More typing and ignoring.

„Come on, man! I know you’re the scientist and stuff… But that doesn’t mean I don’t get to have some fun too…“ Nothing.

„Don’t make me sit on your lap!” He doesn’t even look up from the laptop, types on furiously.  I plunk myself across the table and rest my feet on top of it. This is a perfect opportunity to smoke. Now where’s my lighter? I’ll annoy the hell out of him.

“You certainly can wait with your porn, can you? I’m discussing some routes and places of significance with the Professor. Your precious Howard-time can wait, since all your favorite sites do not sleep. And. Next time you ‘borrow’ the laptop, please be kind and clear the history.“ He gives me lectures? Why the disgusted face? I let the smoke billow his direction.

“Pfff. You’re just jealous.” He’s got a clingy girlfriend waiting for him at home. I’m free. Completely! „Don’t blame me! I’m the epitome of sexiness, the king! The lush ladies and gents love my craft!”

“OH! NO! No, no. Don’t wiggle your ass in my general direction. It’s bad enough, that I’m stuck here, with a maniac like you. Maybe for months. Please, hold your crown jewels the other way. I’m going to throw up from so much… Howard-ness. Come on. Don’t blow that smoke into my face, will you?“ Ha. It’s easy to piss him off! It’ll be fun! Maybe I survive without liquor.

“So? Any new routes, we can check out? Or ruins? I’m not mad, if we discover an ancient sunken city. Boredom is poison for me. I’m dying here. You know what happens. Dense ideas and trouble.” He shrugs. I thought so. Nothing. Sigh, I’m bored. Bored. Booooooored. Oh! Wait a minute! I know that look on his face! Something’s up! Hell, yeah!

“Howard! Look! One camera went dead. I just lost signal, like now – now. Another! We’ve got to recover it. Maybe it caught something. Both of them by Devil’s Hole. I just told Professor Henriksen, that it’s the most likely location, we should start with the search. Erm, Howy?” Nick tries to enchant me with his puppy eyes. Finally some action!

„I’m not Helen, Nicky-boy. No use for your puppy-eyes technique… But who knows, if we get lonely… Ahahaha, just kidding- You know, I’m nuts for action, but if I have to climb, I’ll need a second man. Pedro isn’t keen on climbing, or holding a rope, or holding stuff, or just walking… Plus, I saw him half an hour ago barging into Dragon’s Den. He’ll be useless for three days straight.”

“PING-I-love-you”

“What the hell was that? The laptop? A personalized jingle? Hahahahaha. Don’t tell me it’s your chat, with Helen? Or email from her. NICK! She’s got your balls, and painted them pink and spaaaaarkly!“

“Shhh. I call you back, darling.” Bwahahaha. “No, dear. It’s Howard. Yes, him. You don’t say a word! No! There is a mute button!” Nick closes the computer and tries to recollect himself, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Look, Howard. You’re my best friend, whom I owe gratitude. For the money, for the help with the equipment, and for catching me before I ran into that knife… But… God! You’re annoying, disgusting. You’re a drunk, a liar, a gambler and  bully!”

“Thank you!“ I bow graciously, „I do my very best.“

*

Nick  shakes his head in disbelief. „Let’s get prepared, buddy. The equipment doesn’t safe itself, does it? We’ll leave before dawn.“ His surprised look stops me. „What!?“

„I don’t know… It seems funny, that you are now keen on  recovering cameras. The last time we were setting them up, you freaked out. And now you can’t wait to get going to the very same spot? Isn’t that strange?“

Pffff, bullshit! Some old tribesman has managed to sneak up behind me, and played a flute. Chilling tune it was though…

„No jungle man scares me shitless. If I catch Pedro before he’s cold out, he can be our guide. But, I know our luck… And I have to find us a new guide. Lets hope that there are more than I can shake a stick at. I’m off to Alcohol’s Den, then. Wish me luck!“ I stand up, stretch a bit, cigarette still burning and ruffle Nicky-boy’s hair. He hates it.

Dragon’s Den is a one-room-shack with a plank on two boxes as bar, and one table with four chairs. It’s pretty crowded. Everyone’s head flies my direction as I enter. Silence. Peachy!

I wave at the most bartender-like looking person. „Tequila!“ Everyone start to laugh. I get a colorless liquid in a small fish can. A fish can! Blimey, I might even get tetanus from looking at my drink. An „Obrigado“ can’t hurt. Pedro is already snoring, leaning against the wall. I knew it!

Now who looks like willing to be our guide? „Senhores! Necessitar de liter. Selva. Bom negotio. Bom dinheiro.“ I speak slowly and carefully, hoping that I make it clear. My Portuguese is not the best, I know. Good Money, good deal. Jungle guide, where are you? Not one of them reacts. They are eying each other. Fine then, I sip out of my fish can. It is Tequila! Color me surprise.

„Maiz uma vez.“ I hold the can under bartender-persons nose. He refills it. A huge smile reveals his big crooked yellow teeth, which match perfectly with his yellow sclera. What strange blueish gum he has… He really is fat, belly and all, but the left lower arms and hand looks dried up, skinny. Nearly unnatural… Noticing my looks, he smiles even wider. A  slender man comes to sit down beside me.

„Senhor branco. Liter!“ The man points at himself, noding. „Selva selva. Bom liter.“ Jungle guide, there you are! „Maiz uma vez,“ I point at my new friend. Yellow-teeth gives him a small broken glass with some liquid in it. Both smile at me, like a starving man would smile at a steak. I put some coins on the plank, and turn to the slender man. I show him my watch and hold up five fingers. 5 o’clock. He nods violently, holds up five fingers too, and smiles his starving-man-smile. I point at myself, and overarticulate my name: Howard. He nods and smiles. In expectance of his name I point at him. „Nome?“ He nods. No answer. Peachy! Again then. Howard. Pointing… „Pedro“ he says finally. Maybe we have better luck with this Pedro…

At five o’clock I bounce Nicky out of his bed. I’ve been busy the whole night checking and packing the climbing gear, ropes, hammocks, tequila, tarp, food, water, first aid kit, some knifes and what not… And of course I surfed a bit the naughty sites. Pedro-Two stands outside, as ready as he can be. I fill an extra cup with coffee, and give it to him. I brew too much. Nick gets his stuff together, and we show him where we want to go. Pedro looks shocked, shakes his head. „Maldoso. Maldoso. Morte, maldoso,“he keeps stammering. Yes, we know. Evil place. Some Real and two cigarette packs convince him otherwise.

At noon we are in the middle of nowhere, absorbed in the twilight of the huge trees, in the ear piercing sound-sphere of screeching, shouting, singing, snarling of who knows what kind of animals. Nick is thoroughly enjoying himself, stopping every few step to take out his magnifying glass, or taking a photo of whatever crawls across his path, smiling at it stupidly. Pedro-Two is in front of us, making the path visible with his bushwhacker. Every now and then hollering an „Oy,“ so we know that he is still there, or we should keep up. I don’t know. In the evening we should be at Devil’s Hole, camping.

*

Before sundown, we reach a spot, where Pedro-Two starts building a camp. Devil’s Hole is some hundred yards away, but  he refuses to go anywhere near it. Three hammocks hang under a tarp and a cosy little fire nearby, food nearly ready, freshly brewed coffee; feels like home to me. I’m starving!

Nick is satisfied with the findings of the day and tries to tell me about it. His babbling submerges into the background noises. I try to listen, I really do – is there a flute playing somewhere? I could have sworn that just now… No, must’ve imagined it. „Sorry Nicky-boy, you’re far too boring. If you continue, I’ll be snoring before I finish my cig. Better stuff your cake hole. In the morning we’ll see what happened to the cameras.“ Fed up with me, he turns to the fire. Pedro is quiet too, as if listening for something himself.

I smoke in my hammock, swatting some nasty mosquitos. I wonder if mosquitos ever get drunk, from all the boozed people in the village. Or if they keep preferring the drinkers, because they’re drunk too. Hehehe…

„HOWARD! Wake up, for God’s sake! Wake up! HOWARD! WAKE UP!“ Nick’s hysterical voice bulges into my ears. I get slapped and thrown out of my hammock. Ouch, belly flop.

„What’s the fuss? I swear, if it’s not important, I’ll whack you. Why are you screaming?“ I try to sit up, but can’t. „What the fuck?“

„Howard! Up here!“ I try to, but only see the tarp and one hammock strangely pulled upwards. What is he doing up there? „Can you move?“ No I can’t.

„No.“ I can raise my head, but my arms and legs won’t respond. I try to crawl in the direction of the fire.

„Me neither. There is something in the tree. Something big! I can see it’s eyes. I was screaming at you for twenty minutes. You sleep like A STONE. Pedro’s gone! This thing… It’s coming down. You hear me?“

„Who slapped me then?“ –

„Not me. I’m fucking up here, rolled into my hammock, like tobacco into cigarette paper! I can’t feel my feet! Get me down! Howard!“ Nick’s horrified voice pitches.

In the shine of the fire I see Pedro moving slowly towards the camp. He is inching my way. What is he up to? He’s naked. What the hell? Quietly, he comes closer, steps into the ember! He- he must be sleepwalking! Eyes rolled back in his skull, he steps over my back, still live coal between his toes. The fabric of my shirt heats up. Hot! „Aaaaaahhhh!“ It burns between my blade bones. Stinging races up my neck, claws into my left temple. Ah, shit. That hurts. „Shit! That jerk-off will pay for this! I swear.“

„What is it? What happened?“ Pedro shuffles away from my periphery field of view. I try to creep further to the fire. Strange, I move better now, hands still numb and unresponsive, but at least I can roll over, and dig my elbows into the ground.

„Pedro is sleepwalking,“ I huff. „He burnt me with live coal, that fuck tard. I can move better. Try it too.“

„What?! You can move?“ Nick’s hammock swings a bit now. Looks like it is slowly sinking back in its regular position. What the hell is happening?

“Whatever you do, keep doing buddy! It’s working!“ I manage to sit up, hands still useless in my lap. „Hang in there, Nicky-boy.“ I hear him grunt and moan with effort, till he plops out of his hammock. „Buddy, your legs! What happened to them?“ Something black, mold like is all over his legs, patch near patch. „What is that?!“

Nick gapes at me helplessly. „I don’t know… I can’t feel them… Like they are missing! Howard, I can’t feel them at all!“ He tries to sit up, but slumps over trying. Come on, try it buddy! I crawl his direction. There it is again, the flute playing. I stop and listen. It is much nearer now, then in the evening.

„Do you hear that?“ – „Hear what?“

„The flute.“

„No… there is no flute. Howard, are you- just now, your eyes -are you okay? Your face went blank, like you were about to have a -Howard? Howard? HOWARD!“

I only hear the clicking of my teeth, their grinding, stiffening in my jaw and mouth. The rest is a red hot blur, turning into a thick blackness. Far away, bulging warmths rips up my throat and lap. I think my stomach tries to escape my teeth. Why drums? Drums. Who twists my fingers? Stop it! Skin fizzles, blisters. Shaking. Stop shaking! Stop! Hot! HOT! The fire! I’m burning! I can’t breathe! I can’t! Heat! It stings! No… Stop… The blackness lifts me up.

„Howard! Breathe! Breathe, dammit!“ Nick’s pale face fogs up in front of me. Why is he so pale and blurry?

„Are you smoking?“ I mumble. He’s terrified. But why?

„You self-centered bloated egomaniac! Don’t scare me like that ever again!“ What am I doing down here? I don’t sleep on the ground, do I?

„Why do I? …Why are you? …Were we kissing?“

„Howard, you had a seizure! Did you ever have one before? Fever?“ No. „Do you take any medication, or drugs?“ I shake my head. Not this time. „Then it could be poisoning. Did you eat any mushrooms? Or did you drink or eat something unidentified?“ I think of the tequila in the fish can. „Maybe…“

„Did you have dizziness or sleeping problems in the last weeks? Did you see, how Pedro prepared the food, or the coffee?“ Again, I shake my head.

„Me neither“

„Where is he, by the way?“

„Wandered off that way.“ Nick nods into the jungle, away from Devil’s Hole. „I can move somewhat now. Fingers and toes still numb. It is dawning already. Let’s hope the daylight makes things clearer. Tell me, why did you ask about flutes?“

„I heard a flute playing, like the first time we were here.“ Nick gives me the eyebrow.

„What do you mean, like the first time?“

„The old tribesman playing that tune, the one that spooked me.“ Is he dumb or what? Forgot that sneaky old fart?

„What old tribesman? Howard, we were alone. Just the three of us: Pedro, you and me! I thought you were just freaked out, about the jungle and the hole… You said that you saw something, down there. Some bones or so. You didn’t tell me… After all, it is a burial site, so I thought that must’ve been it.“

„I can’t remember. Why can’t I remember? I was in that hole? Down there? By myself?“

„Yes. Pedro was your safeguard. When you climbed up again, you were spooked out, shaking like a leaf. The only thing I could get out of you, was that there are bodies down there, skulls and shattered bones.“

„What?! I can’t imagine! I don’t simply forget stuff like that…“ I sit up and scratch my head. I seriously need to wash up – got puke and scat all over me. Disgusting… If I really got poisoned, or drugged, I’ll teach that fuck tard a lesson never to forget. Either Pedro-Two or Yellow-teeth – I’ll sweep out that shack with fire!

*

The mold like patches from Nick’s legs are nearly gone. I help him stand up, he’s still a bit shaky though.

„I’ve got enough granola bars on me, for a day or two.  We can eat that for breakfast. We should save some for the way back.“

„Thanks. My favorite bird-food: granola. Hmmmm, tasty. What’s next, buddy?“ Nick leans into my hammock and scratches his chin.

„We are here, so why shouldn’t we check the cameras? Don’t you think? Aren’t you curious? Maybe we see a boca de morte!“ I nod. The cameras we set up, are at the edge of the  hole, overlooking the area. One from north, one from southwest- where you can see a small entrance to a cave, or a hole in the wall of the structure.

„Should we check for Pedro?“ Nick shakes his head.

„Yesterday he refused to come near the place. I don’t think he will be bothering us there. But just in case, we should bring the water and the food.“ He’s right. I’d hate to run after him through the jungle. We walk over after packing the most important things. Nick is slightly dragging his right foot. We put down the baggage by the roots of an old tree.

A nearly circular hole gapes open before our feet, forty feet deep, 20 to 25 feet wide. The rocky walls are overgrown with fern and moss, shot through with the roots of the huge trees around. The hole looks drilled into the ground. I can’t see the southwest camera… Only a bent bracket and screw on the ground. That’s strange…

„Look at that! Where do you think the camera went?“ Nick points down into the Hole. I definitely agree. Something has  hit it violently. „Lets check the north camera.“ I bet that one is gone too. And indeed, I’m right. The same bent mounting and screws. „Who will fetch them? With those legs you can’t possibly be my safeguard, Nicky. I will let you down and pull you up. Is that okay with you?“ He nods absent-mindedly.

I help Nick into the climbing gear, and let him slowly down the  wall of the the structure.

Nearly at the bottom he shouts up. „I found Pedro!“ What?! He staggered the other way, didn’t he? „He must’ve fallen down here sleepwalking, I guess. Poor guy, he is pretty banged up and mangled… Definitely dead… Rest in peace!“ Then suddenly, „Touch down. Howard? You were right, these are human skulls and bones scattered all over the place. Cool, these must be ancient trinkets, with jade. Awesome! Howard! Give me more rope! I see something shiny at the mouth of that opening. Might be a camera.“ I let more rope glide down into the hole. The noise Nick is making, moving around at the bottom of the Hole, sounds like breaking of little dry twigs. Somehow it reminds me of ocean waves, coming and going. A sharp pull! So abruptly… nearly sending me off, over the edge. Muffled cracking noises- breaking… Silence.

„Nick? Are you all right? I can’t see you. Nicky?“ I ask leaning a bit over the rim. „Did you trip over your own feet?“ I can’t see him, nor the entrance to the supposed cave. „Nicky? Where are you? Are you okay? Did you find the cameras?“ At the bottom, I see his back pulling intensely out of that small opening, against a force from the inside. What the – Something snaps and Nick falls on his back. His face  immediately shoots up to me, eyes wide with terror, white as a bleached bone. Why is he freaked out?

„…Howard?! I found you, Howard!“ What? What is he mumbling?

„I FOUND YOU! I FOUND YOU! YOU… YOU WERE DOWN HERE, ALL THE TIME!“ He screams frantically. What?! What is he talking about? Is he mad?

„…All the time, down here… WHO THE HELL ARE YOU, HOWARD!? WHAT ARE YOU!?“

I don’t understand… Down there? I start to reel the rope in. That can’t be…

The flute is playing… From down there?

„Howard look at me! Look at me! Come on, focus! Get me out of here!“

He looks… aghast. Nicky is out of his mind. But I can’t help from up here.

„Howard! HOWARD! Pull me up! Pull me up! Come on! Pullmeuppullmeuppullmeup! PULL ME UP! PULL! ME! UP! PULL ME UP!“

sugar fuel

A terriblemind (Chuck Wendig) flash fiction challenge – Superhero plus

„I bite ’n won’t let go! Go ahead! Call me a hard-headed dog!“ The dark haired man flashes his widest grin. Fingers skidding along the keyboard in amazing speed.

„Meh- That’s just a load of bull!“ Next to him, a blue eyed man adjusts his glasses and throws a crumbled up napkin at him. „Chew on this, Black…“

„Don’tcha ´Meh` me, Zeroes! Glue your eyeballs to those Dummy Barriers. Watch me blow’em away… Last one in, buys me beer,“ he laughs.

The left-over sun seeps through the half closed blinds. The hotel room’s a mess. McDonald’s paper bags and cups lie around scattered among other trash. The telly reports some celebrity news to itself. Both men work on their laptops, hammering away line after line into black and white console windows. They are about to pull an all-nighter, snooping around in some nasty corporate networks.  Tonights black-out winner: Strix-Genome Engineering! This company hits jackpot, with a full scale forced shut down.

*

In the lobby of the same hotel, Andy flops into a leather armchair, observing the comings and goings. Near him, neatly folded, tomorrow’s newspaper. The header of a small article, on the upper page informs about a fire on the tenth floor of this hotel. Starting in room 1024. Fifteen injured, five dead.  Among those – two unidentified murder victims. Each of them with a bullet in their skulls. Cause of fire? Unknown. It must be them alright…

He leans back, massaging his temples. Outside, the city’s night shift wakes up. Adds, intersection and street lights flare on, sending screaming signals into his mind, beacons of high-frequency-annoyance. His  head has doubled its size. A clawed and fanged something tries to escape his skull, by gnawing its ways out through the temples.

His notebook rests open in his lap. He has been sketching the last hour like a maniac. The drawn scenario shows two men in a hotel room in front of their laptops. Maybe surfing the net. And they’re both as good as dead. In less than two hours. The skin on his back and shoulders burn, like his eyes. The hole in his stomach sucks down his mind. Bad timing. He needs to eat.

It’s always hard to pinpoint induced continuum errors, costs him so much energy. „Nothing good ever comes from aberrant timelines,“ he hears himself mumble. Not good. Talking to self is just…bad. Hypoglycemia is a bitch. He tucks away the folded newspaper into the book, like a reading sign.

This whole timeline is going to obliterate under his grip. Coincidences will fishtail him across the continuum anyway.

First things first. Two corpses less is a fine way to jump in, isn’t it? BAM! Right into the causal string. Stop those two brain-challenged hackers before it’s too late. It may even suffice to stop the chain reaction. They’re about to dismantle the Strix-Genome Engineering site, to leak information. Those dumbfucks trigger large scale corporate terrorism. A chain reaction leading to war, eventually…

Tenth floor.

The elevator door slides open with a „ding“. Andy walks down the hallway, munching on his third chocolate bar. Sugar’s the best to power up his muscles. The thick carpet feels good under his bare feet.

Room 1024. He knocks. Nothing. „Playing possum?“ He grabs the handle and begins to tense and relax the muscles in his lower arm. He shorts the lock with bare hands. It clicks softly and the door swings open.

The two hackers goggle at him in shock. He enters smoothly and closes the door. Listening intently, only picking up the electricity in the room. It masks all sound distortions that could be caused by a newly branching timeline.

„Wrong room, fucker!“ Black’s the first on his feet, grabs Andy’s jacket, pulling him onto the tip of his toes.

„Not at all.“ Time to deal with this lunkhead his way. Andy stiffens back and arm muscles. The sugar fix pays off, he’s easily building up electricity. His punch stuns the dark haired guy, sweeping  him straight off his feet. Zeroes’ next, he comes at Andy growling, fists swinging like barn doors. No effort dodging those. It isn’t even fun. The logo of Strix-Genome appears on one of the monitors. „Shit!“ He shoves Zeroes out of the way, and palms the nearest socket. He fries the room instantly – the floor, maybe the whole hotel… Lights out, screens black. The headache’s gone.

Zeroes ogles at him dumbstruck. On the floor Black groans, „…what hit me?“

“I suggest, you numb skulls hightail out of here. Try ’n stay alive.“ Andy answers in a flat tone.

Black sits up, wide eyed. With a foot he nudges his dead equipment, then points at Andy’s feet. „Dude? Shoes?!“ Andy looks down at his toes, wiggles them. Yeah. Shoes do not work for him, too much insulation.

„…EMP… Sick! You with Strix-Genome?“ Zeroes finds his mouth again.

„- No. Get going, stupid.“ Both hackers jump up and start to throw things hastily in their bags.

Dimly glowing visions of fire dissolve into the room door. There it is! The timeline shift, finally! Andy starts walking out into the now dark hallway, a bit nauseous. The old continuum’s collapsing, and with it a part of him perishes too. For a moment, his legs almost give out under him… No more chocolate bars in his pocket. “Shit.” Maybe he causes the fire after all. On the way out, he has to pull the fire alarm, and check the newspaper…

„You can’t just take off like that! At least tell us your name!“ The hackers follow him down the hallway, like puppies.

„Leave Strix-Genome alone!“ Andy insists, moving faster.

„What’s it to you?“ Black queries.

„Nothing but a giggle…“ Without looking Andy shrugs and walks off to the staircase. He needs to clear out ASAP.

„Their security system is kaput, and the data is drifting into oblivion… We wanted to blow the whistle. Or at least earn cash. Either way… Looked easy.“ Zeroes explains half running, to catch up.

„Well it’s not! You have no idea, what you’re getting yourselves into!“ Andy snorts annoyed.

He needs to eat.

eloquent baby sitter

The door to the office isn’t closed. My desk is nearby, so I can hear Mr. Ribinsky yelling at someone on the phone.

“What? It’s been now; let me check my… Two hours and forty minutes straight. Well. I can say that you are a persistent little shit. Congratulations on that! You get your assignment alright. But don’t come and complain about the client. I told you – you are not ready. Yet. You are going in anyway? I guess, you do. But if you insist… Don’t expect mercy from me, or anyone else. Got that? Good!”

The noises from the building lot cover the rest of the conversation. The construction workers are making a fuss. All that yelling and whistling… What’s up? I only guess, that Smith finally got his appointment. He is the only one not-ready-cause-still-recovering.

I´ve been doing his job lately. Mine and his, that is.  He’s sloppy, unfriendly, reckless and lavish… Lately, there have been a lot of complains about him, and his little problem.

Smith is one of those guys, who just don’t know when they have enough… Which is not my problem. Mr Ribinsky stands in the door way, smiling at me. “No. Whatever it is. Just no!” I tell him, but I already know it’s too late… “What?!” I ask.

“Dear Wellington, even if you roll your eyes in that eloquent head of yours. It´s already decided. You do such a great job! I think a promotion and a nice raise is going to be in this month. If!” His voice is so sweet.

“If…?”

„If-you-watch-over-Smith-and-he-doesn’t-fuck-up.” His eyebrows -and his chest-shoot up expectantly.

“This is a fucking joke?!” No way I’m going to do that!

„I’ll fire you, if you don’t.” He laughs. “You know you’re good, but-  you want to bet your job on that?” He’s right. “It’s a nice raise. Big money. And a paid holiday. Anywhere you want.”

“Anywhere?”

“Anywhere.” He’s reeling me in.

“Damn you! I swear, I’ll punch Smith so hard, he’s going to need an ambulance, if he annoys me. You know he merits it!” He has a stupid grin on his face. So satisfied with himself.

“Do as you wish. Whatever seems suitable for you. I give you plenty of rope.” With that said, he turns around and goes back into his office.  Babysitting Smith won’t be easy. A hell of a week.

“Look at you, you poor poor Mr Know-it-All. So you are going to watch over Alex, hm?” Estelle, Mr Ribinsky´s secretary, is leaning over her desk to me, with an amused look. “Mr Smartypants, you look so annoyed… Boohoo. Now  listen, you bookworm! If you lay a finger on Alex, or harm him in any way, I swear I´m going to cut you!” Obviously she hates me. But this means that she likes Smith… So, this is how he gets his informations. I’m not impressed. Not at all. Raising an eyebrow to her, she pulls a switchblade knife from her handbag and makes a distinct gesture. From left to the right, across the skin of her own throat, just under the jawline. Then she points it smilingly to me.