Micro Story: Parlor Tricks

The crowd seemed to be enjoying themselves. There was muted applause for the sleight of hand tricks, a few laughs for the slapstick comedy, and one or two gasps for the flaming juggling pins. However, one person in the front continued to stare at me. His arms were folded across his chest. I had made it my goal by the end of the evening to impress him somehow. So far, it hadn’t worked.

Sighing to myself, I pulled a dagger out of one of my pockets. The blade was sheathed in a simple leather sleeve. Walking to the front of the stage, I took a bow and removed the sleeve with a flourish. “For my final trick…” I bellowed, “I will drive this dagger straight through my hand without leaving a single mark!” A hoot came from the back of the room. That person had been drinking fairly heavily from the start of the show, and it was finally catching up to him.

“Now,” I said, my voice almost a whisper, “this is not a prop knife.” I pulled an apple out of my pocket, and carved a slice out. I then took a moment to eat the apple slice. Building up apprehension before the grand finale…I ran my finger along its edge. “The blade is razor sharp, able to easily cut through food, rope – “

I winced in pain. I had been ‘careless’, and drew a shallow cut across my middle finger. Some of the crowd looked away. The unimpressed man? He unfolded his arms and began to pay attention. Perhaps he was hoping that I would mess up or hurt myself. Some people took pleasure in that sort of thing. Continuing the act, I finished “ – or a finger.” I put the dagger on the table, and reached into my pocket for a glove. The white glove was completely nondescript, save a small pentagram with runic lettering on the back of the glove. As I used my good hand to show off the glove, my injured middle finger rubbed itself against its palm. That was the easiest part of the trick.

I took a deep breath, and put on the glove. My vision immediately blurred. Both the front and back of the glove were faintly shimmering. I reached for the dagger, missing grabbing it on the first try.

Wasting your life on parlor tricks again? The voice boomed in my ears. Surely, there could be a more productive way to die?

Quiet, you, I replied., I need to pay the bills somehow.

Why not steal something? I’m sure that you could easily pocket plenty of fancy jewels in this town. Anything is better than watching you pull carrots out of a hat.

“And now…”I ignored the voice. Rather than count down as was normal, I ran the knife into my gloved hand as hard as I could. There was a scream from the back of the crowd. Others sat there with their mouth agape. The man at the front? He clapped twice, and then went back to his stoic judgement of my act. Following his applause, the rest of the crowd quickly joined in. I ripped the glove off as quickly as I could, and tossed it into a jacket pocket. I could feel warmth returning to my body, and the voice slowly fading. One of these days, I wouldn’t be able to finish that trick, but until then…I smiled, bowed to the crowd, and walked off stage.

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Holiday Throwback: Throwing in the Towel

((As 2014 draws to a close, I have one last Holiday Throwback story for you all. This one was another college story for a creative writing class. The prompt? Dialog-only, with a hard limit on the number of non-dialogue sentences used. Happy New Year!))

 

The fifth round had just ended, and the coach was approaching his exhausted boxer.

“Kid, I’m gonna level with you. You look like something a coyote ate and shat off a cliff,” his coach said.

“Thanks for the pearls of wisdom, Coach,” the boxer replied.

“I’m serious here. There’s only so much a body can take.”

“I’m fine, Coach.”

“No, you’re not. You’ve got bruises on your freaking bruises, not to mention the gash across your eye. Your hand is shaking like crazy.”

“So what? I can still take him.”

“You can barely stand, let alone fight. The only thing you can take is another uppercut.”

“I don’t care. I’m not giving up until I’m on the mats.”

“I’m not letting you hit the mats.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You don’t have to give up. I’m a man of my word, and I’ll end this if I feel that it’s gotten too far out of hand…”

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Looker.exe (part 4)

(A day late due to internet problems, he said, shaking his fist at his router)

(Start from the beginning here)

“What assets do we have planetside?” James asked over the communicator. I opened up a list of names and skimmed through them quickly.

“It seems like we only have Andrew at the moment. Syrus and Archer are on base, Patrick is still recovering from an illness, and Serena and Marcus are on Mars leave.”

I could hear a distinct sigh on the line. “Send the information on Sam to Andrew, and have him head to the Greene residence. I want Syrus and Archer heading planetside to rendezvous with him as soon as possible.”

“Will do.” I closed the connection, and started back to my office. I walked past Archer again on the way out. The pilot was chest deep in that monstrosity of a skimmer. “Archer?”

He looked up, beaming. “What can I do for ya, boss?” He rubbed his hand on his coveralls and extended it to me. I took a brief glance at it, and then looked back at him.

“I need for you to find Syrus and meet me in my office in fifteen. James needs you planetside.”

His smile vanished for the briefest of seconds. “Will do!” Archer closed the hatch on the skimmer and jogged off towards one of the other docks. I turned sharply and was about to walk towards the elevator when a person blocked my path.

“Hey.” It was Ari. Continue reading

Holiday Throwback: Crash

((Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! Today, I’ll be revisiting a story that I wrote way back when. Enjoy!))

 

The raindrops made a constant, soothing thud as the pattered against the windshield. Even with the wipers at full speed, my view of the road ahead was obscured. I still drove at my normal speed – much faster than the limit. Inside, there was little noise besides the engine and the breathing of my passenger.

 

Looking over, I saw her sleeping peacefully, knees brought close to her chest in the passenger’s seat. Wispy brown hair veiled her face from sight. She and I had been friends since high school: nothing more, nothing less. I relied on her to survive English class, she trusted me with her Mathematics grade. Finding out that we were going to the same college was thrilling. I was secretly elated that I would be seeing her for the next four years. She was quite possibly my best friend at college, and we always watched out for the other.

 

As if she knew I was talking about her, she stirred slightly, her hair sliding further across her face. I smiled to myself, and looked back at the sharp turn in the road. A moment later, I realized what I saw. The brakes squealed, but the tires refused to touch the ground. All of a sudden, my hands wrenched the wheel to the left, a desperate move to avoid the inevitable. The car was now in an uncontrollable skid, slipping off the road – straight towards a stand of burly oak trees. Her face contorted as she woke up, eyes full of fear. I had just enough time to give her an apologetic glance.

___                 ___                 ___

 

A crunch of metal, then nothing.

 

            Hearing was shot, vision fading. Just turning my head towards her is an ordeal. Bright red blood is trickling from the corner of her mouth, her ears, her scalp. Exhausted from the effort of keeping my head up, I start to lapse out of consciousness. My eyes open, staring straight at her midsection. They instantly close, repelled by what they had seen. I try to open them again, but it’s impossible.

 

Darkness.

___                 ___                 ___

 

I felt someone shaking my shoulder. “Wake up,” the voice cried. Groaning slightly, I rose to my feet, blinking several times to accommodate the sterile white background. Her baby-blue eyes wave with a mixture of concern and confusion. “Where are we?” She asks.

Examining our surroundings, I reply, “I’m not sure.” I can guess, but I won’t tell her that until I’m absolutely positive.

 

A single hallway branched off the small room that we were in. The two of us headed in that direction until we hit a T-junction. On our left, there was a sign that read ‘Caution. Possible asbestos and brimstone leak ahead. Do not enter without proper protection.’ To the right was a large mahogany door with a gold plaque that read, “Library”. Past that was a dead end. Our choices fairly limited, I opened the door to the library. She walked through, and I followed. The neutral colors of the large room were a relief from the harsh whiteness of the hall.

 

 

As libraries went, this one was small. There were a handful of reading chairs and two tables. In the corner were two doors, and at the far end of the room was a service desk. She turned towards me. “I’ll go try to get a librarian. Could you go see where those two doors go?” Nodding, I walked towards the closest door. My hand was on the knob when I heard the chime of a bell. Smiling at her determination, I entered the darkened room. I groped at the wall, searching for a switch. Finding one, I flicked it on. As the room was flooded with fluorescent light, my eyes widened.

 

There was no ceiling, at none that I could see. Rows after rows of shelving units seemed to extend forever. Looking down one row, the lack of walls was self-evident. No shortage of books, however. Reaching for the closest book, I opened it near the middle. It was blank. Confused, I turned to the first page. In the center of the page was a name and year of birth. Turning the page, I saw information regarding the person’s parents, time and day of birth, and other information that would be seen on a birth certificate. Waste of pages, I told myself as I picked up another book. It was very similar to the first. I walked past a row or two before picking up another book. This one had maybe a page or two of information, adding such trivial facts as first words and incoherent thoughts.

 

Heading down the row, I was so transfixed by the sheer size of this annex to the library that I didn’t notice where I was walking. My foot hit something hard, and I let out a cry of pain. Looking at what struck me, I saw a scooter resting, its silver sheen dulled with age. I examined it, trying to tell if it was still functional. All I saw was a black screen, and two buttons: Power and Navigation. Pushing the Power button caused the scooter to sputter to life. Rolling the vehicle out into the aisle, I steered it towards the far ‘wall’ and began to drive. For an old vehicle, it zipped along at a decent pace.

 

I traveled along until I felt a thin, sticky substance on my body. Apparently, this section hadn’t been used recently, as the cobwebs told. Stopping the scooter, I stepped into the closest row. Picking up a novel at random, I blew the dust off the surface and turned it to the first page. It had a name, birth year and death year. Skimming through the text, I noted that every page had been written in. The absolute last page told of the man’s peaceful death, surrounded by his family members and given his last rites. Closing the tome, I placed it back into the gap in the shelves. An uneasy feeling began to come over me. As I headed back to the scooter, I began to piece together what this annex really contained.

 

Pushing the Navigation button on the scooter activated a touch screen, which asked for name and date of birth. Calmly, I entered my data, and the scooter leaped forward, sprinting into a row. Stopping harshly in of one of the sections, the vehicle’s headlight was shined directly on an orange binding. Pulling out the book, I opened to the first page. Skimming through, I recalled many memories from my life. The book didn’t neglect a single detail, up to the most recent incident. The last page with writing on it told, in sickening detail, of my crash. However, there were still blank pages after it. Turning back to the first page, I saw my name and birth year, but no death year. “I’m not dead,” I told myself as I returned the book.

 

With a slightly quavering hand, I entered her name and date of birth into the navigation system. The scooter rolled a little further down the row and came to a stop in front of a thin, forest green book. Going straight to the last page, the story told of how the car smashed against the tree at such a sharp angle that the frame tore through her body, ending her life almost instantly. I shuddered, remembering the portrait in my mind with crystal clarity. Flipping to the first page, I saw the death year, the current year. Skimming through, I saw her childhood memories, her school years, and some of her secrets. There were no blank pages. She’s dead, I thought, followed by I killed her. Bringing a hand to my head, I returned the book and drove the scooter back to the entrance of the annex.

 

I had closed the door behind me when I heard the sound of someone approaching. I saw her slowly walking towards me, face slightly pale. Upon noticing that I was there, she quickly went back to her normal expression and gait. “Are you okay?” she asked me.

“Yeah,” I found myself saying reflexively, “I’m fine. Any luck?”

She shook her head. “Nope. I rang the bell twenty or so times, but no one came. What was back there?”

I fell silent for a second, and then replied, “Just the biography section.”

“Oh.” She wasn’t convinced, but didn’t push the matter any further. With a half-shrug, she walked to the door that I hadn’t gone in, and opened it.

 

We walked down another sterile hallway. The place seemed to be like a maze, but she knew exactly where she was going. After what seemed to be an endless string of twists and twirls, I finally turned to her. “Are you sure you know where we’re going?”

She gave me that smile, and said, “I found a layout of the building while going through an enormous Information Directory. It had anything that you could ever want to search for.”

Such as obituary listings, I worried, which might have explained her pale face. We came across a set of double doors. Giving me that all-knowing glance, she pushed the doors open and we stepped out into a clearing.

 

There was a gravel path that led off into the distance. Besides this path, all that I could see was grass in every direction. I turned back to the door, only to find that it wasn’t there. The path continued behind us, with flowers springing up from the fringes of the path. I couldn’t decide which direction to go, so I turned to her. After a moment’s thought, she headed in the direction of the flowered path. My foot shot out, causing her to flounder for a pace. The moment she regained her balance, she glared at me in mock hatred. Balling her hands into fists, she started at me. Smirking, I turned tail and fled.

 

Gravel crunched underneath my feet as I ran from her in ‘fear’. I could hear her laughter as she tried to keep up. My teeth flashed as I twisted around to see her. She was barely within view. Turning forwards, my smile faded. Slowing to a stop, her footsteps grew louder. Small fists beat on my back, but I felt nothing. “What’s wrong?” she asked, looking over my shoulder. “Oh.”

 

Our path led straight to a gorge. Looking down it, there was nothing but the blackest of black. The ravine was narrow, between three and four meters wide. Could we make it? I asked myself. Could she? I was completely at a loss for words. She moved right beside me. “Let’s see if we can’t find a gap in this ravine,” I heard. The two of us split up and followed the fissure, planning to yell as loud as we could if we came across a suitable crossing.

 

I walked along the gorge for a few minutes, wondering what kind of twisted heaven the two of us were in. If it’s really heaven, a small voice in my head remarked. For all you know, this could just be a really bad dream. The argument was still raging in my mind when I reached the end of the world. There was a distinct line where the grass was cut off and replaced with a flat white coating. The sky had disappeared as well. Reaching a hand to the white, my fingertips pressed against a cold, hard wall. Just another room… Sighing, I went back to the path.

 

A moment later, she reappeared at my side. “Any luck?” I asked, and she shook her head. “Same with me.” Looking at the ravine, I commented, “Seems jumpable, with a running start. Not waiting for her to tell me what an idiot I was, I took many steps backwards and gauged the leap one last time. Charging ahead at full speed towards the ravine, I could have sworn that it was getting wider. What was originally a three meter leap had now become a good five meters. I attempted to skid to a stop before I fell over the edge. Gravel slipped out from underneath my feet, and I crashed into the path painfully. Stones flew over the edge and into the ravine.

 

I laid on my back, letting the wind come back into my body. Rolling off of the path, I managed to rise to a seated position. She held out her hand to help me up, and I took it. Blinking several times I stared at the pit. Slowly, a smile crept to my face. I kicked another stone over the edge, and watched it fail to fall. Crouching, I scooped up a handful of gravel. “What are you doing?” she asked, a puzzled look on her face. “Ever see Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade?” I replied, tossing the gravel into the air. Some stones fell into the pit, but most were suspended in midair.

 

She still seemed skeptical. Holding her hand in mine, I whispered, “Trust me.” My foot hovered over the edge, and then dropped down onto a sturdy, hard surface. “See? Piece of cake.” Fortunately, the path was too narrow for us to walk side by side, and she wasn’t able to see the beads of sweat dripping down my face. After we were back on solid ground, I gave her a lopsided grin. Our fingers remained entwined as we walked down the path.

 

My head was starting to ache. With each step, the throbbing seemed to get greater. The dull pain refused to let me focus on anything but the migraine. Her mere presence, however, was mildly soothing to my nerves. In the distance, I could see another gorge, but this one had a visible bridge. A thick fog covered the ravine, and the far side was invisible. Upon closer examination, the bridge looked old, yet sturdy. Like everything else in this place, I reminded myself as I tried to get closer.

 

The headache was bad before the bridge, but it intensified when I was close. I stopped at the base of the ravine, a hand to my head. She turned towards me, a worried look on her face. “I need to stop and rest for a bit,” I told her, and she nodded.

“I wondered why you looked so ill. My turn to look around,” She replied. Her foot was on the first of the planks, and I had a strange feeling pass through my body.

“Wait!” I yelled out, and she came back. A hundred different things went through my mind, which did no good for my headache. “I have something to tell you…” I trailed off.

 

A slight quiver raced across her face, but it was gone as soon as it appeared. “There’s no need for you to tell me,” She said, a partial smile coming to the surface.

“What?!?” I retorted without thinking.

“Not yet,” She continued, the smile blossoming. “I’ve waited this long to hear it.” Another step, and we were inches apart.” I think I can wait a little longer.” Her lips brushed against mine, and then we embraced. “Anyways,” she added, “I think I know what you’re going to tell me.”

“You do?” I inquired. Did I even know what I was going to say?

“Of course,” She answered, pulling away from me. “I’ll see you on the other side.” She stepped back onto the bridge. “You can tell me then.”

 

I managed to stay on my feet long enough to see her disappear behind the wall of mist. Then, I slumped to a seated position, my head buried between my knees. The migraine was getting worse by the second, now that there was nothing else to focus on. I fell backwards, lying flat on the grass. It was cool and relaxing, much better than the whining noise that made listening impossible. I closed my eyes, welcoming the darkness that it gave.

___                 ___                 ___

 

            “CLEAR!!!” Lightning coursed through my body, as my chest leaped in the air. The whine came back, followed by another “CLEAR!!!” More lightning, and I could feel my body twitching involuntarily. “CLEAR!!!” My eyes shot open, and my head flew forward, gasping for air.

___                 ___                 ___

 

An oxygen mask was put on my face as they picked me up and placed me on a gurney. The stroboscopic red and blue lights were in painful contrast with the black, night sky. The rain had stopped, but clouds blocked my view of the moon or stars. I don’t know what they put in the gas, but I was quickly fading. My head barely turned to the side, and saw the bag. A paramedic was reaching for the zipper. I wanted to scream for him to stop, wanted to leap from the gurney and embrace her one last time, see her one last time.

 

I didn’t have the strength to move, didn’t have the energy to cry out. All I could do was watch the person close the bag. He and another person picked the bag up and put it in the back of a police SUV, and then close the trunk. At the same moment, another paramedic put the gurney into the ambulance. With a click, the doors closed, and the ambulance drove away from the crash. The SUV headed in another direction. I’m not sure why, but I didn’t feel as upset about the two of us heading in different direction as I would have before the accident. Maybe it was because I knew we wouldn’t be separate forever. I’ll see you on the other side, I mouthed as I fell unconscious.

Looker.exe (Part 2)

Read Part 1 Here

It had been a full day, and I was no closer to finding the source of the slowdown than I was before. There was one lead that I was able to find, but it was not reassuring. Based on the tracer results, this code was already system-wide. How could something malicious have migrated so quickly without raising any flags? I had spent all morning weighing my options. Did I continue looking for other leads? Did I try and combat this from the shadows, slowly deleting each instance of this code over the course of a few days? Did I take complete control of the network for an hour or so and completely purge the code? Each option had it’s advantages and disadvantages, and I couldn’t make a move until I was certain what the right option would be.

While I deliberated, I got a vid-chat request. It was from James. I accepted the request, and his face appeared on my monitor.

“Q, How goes the search?”

“Poorly. The problem appears to be global at this point. I can’t easily fix it without shutting down non-essential components of the station for a short while.” I grimaced. I was hoping to have taken care of the issue without bringing it to anyone’s attention, but the head of R&D had managed to notice the slowdown.

“What are you talking about? I was asking how the search for Sam was going.”

Oh, that search. “Not so well either. I’ve been monitoring her ident verification, credit usage, and cellular usage. Assuming she went planetside, coverage should still be decent enough that we’d get a ping on one of these sources. Now, if she were still on the moon or gt a lift to Mars, then we might have a bit of a problem. But, given Mar’s current orbit relative to Earth, and the canvas that you had the military do of the lunar surface, I think we can discount both of those possibilities.”

“We’re in agreement on that much, but I would still like to find Sam as soon as possible. Try widening the net. See if there’s been any unusual activity on her parent’s end. The longer she’s out there, the more likely that she will get picked up by someone else.”

“Someone else, James?”

“Yes, like the people that came and stole the positron handgun. Either she’s working with them or she doublecrossed them and is now on the run. I believe that it’s the latter, given that we found one body over by the base breach.”

“If you say so…I’ll look into the recent expenses of the family. I’ll let you know the moment that I find something.”

“And only me. If Ari finds out, she might try to contact Sam. That could be disastrous.”

“I don’t like lying to my sister.” I said bluntly

“I know you don’t, but do you want for Ari to feel responsible if something happens to Sam?” I was silent, and James continued. “Trust me, the moment that we have some usable information, you can tell her everything. And Q? Whatever you’re searching for on-site, give it to one of your subordinates. I need you to focus on the task at hand.”

“Richard will be very upset with me if he finds out that I was handling a personal favor instead of ensuring the security and efficiency of the system. I’ll take care of both.” I turned off the video chat, and poured myself a new cup of coffee. James was right – as loath as I was to admit it, I needed to find Ms. Greene as soon as possible. I sent off an email. Within minutes, someone entered my office.

“You asked for me, Mr. Lodon?”

“Yes, Jake. I need for you to look into something for me…” I started to explain the slowdown situation in heavy detail. If I couldn’t figure it out, then he would need to know every single piece to even have a chance. After an hour-long discussion, I sent him off and returned to my current task.

((Continue to Part 3 here))

Looker.exe (Part 1)

I drifted along lazily, watching little chunks of data speed by. Each packet traveled at exactly the same rate – one of the few perks of having such a highly interconnected system. Not one seemed to deviate – or did they? As I looked closer, I noticed one little bundle chugging along just slightly slower than the rest. As it passed by, I reached out towards it. A slender strand shot from my palm towards the packet, ensnaring it. The packet disappeared, popping back into existence inches from my hand. I popped open the “lid” of the packet.

With the lid opened, the data on the inside popped out, floating around my entire self. I took note of the origin IP, and then began to inspect the chunks of code. Nothing looked terribly out of place. However, something here – or was it something back at the source? – was causing this packet to slow down. This wasn’t the first case, either. I had gotten a handful of warnings from the system monitors about reduced upload speeds the past few hours, and it was starting to get obnoxious. No one else had noticed (yet), but it was only a matter of time before a formal complaint was raised. I ran a custom diagnosis on the packet, trying to glean whatever I could on the cause of the slowdown.

<External Stimulus Alert> The green text flashed briefly above my head. I copied all of the data from the packet, and handed it off to a tracer. Destination – the IP of origin. It would look for copies of any of the code in this packet being sent or received, and record the source, destination, and packet speed. “I’ll check up on you in a bit,” I said to it as it sped off.

<External Stimulus Alert> I looked at the text again. “Disengage haptic control.” Everything went dark for a few moments. A whirring sound could be heard as the visor retracted back into the headset. I blinked a few times, my eyes readjusting to the stations artificial light. My sister was staring at me from in front of my desk. “Good morning, Ari.”

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