Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Sergeant Killman and The Jungle Orgy of Blood

Another week, another flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig's terribleminds. This week's challenge was to mash up two different sub-genres and see what happens. I chose Man Adventures and Steampunk, and what emerged was an uber pulp version Heart of Darkness, which just so happens to be one of my favorite novels so I'm pretty okay with the result. As always, feel free to leave any comments you have and I hope you enjoy.

    The sweltering thick muck of jungle air bore down on Sgt Killman and seemed to be getting only worse and worse even after he’d stripped down to just an undershirt and army khaki pants.  He wadded thigh deep through the leech infested river with his arms above his head clutching his custom made repeating rifle in an effort to keep it mostly dry. His muscled torso shone with sweat, blood and those water droplets from the Congo river that clung to his body with a ferocity only matched by his own passionate commitment to his current mission.    
    "I say, I do hope Von Kurtz's fortress is close by," his companion Watkins called out from behind. The old man carried a portable gatling gun on his back and was still able to keep pace with the Sergeant.
    Killman hoped for this as well, especially for Watkins sake. The old veteran had ably served the British Empire for far longer than any other man he could name, and was still Killman’s equal on the battlefield when his experience and tenacity were taken into account. But time had caught up with Watkins, as it did for all men, and just last fall he’d had to replace his heart with a copper valve pumper. The doctors and scientist of the Technopolist Union insisted that the valve was capable of withstanding the most extreme climates without malfunction though Killman, a veteran of the campaigns in Afghanistan and Burma, remained skeptical. He had seen the mechanickal ‘wonders’ that the Empire had brought to bear, the tank-walkers and the servo-soldiers and all the rest, sputter and stall at the worst of times despite assurances by those self-same technocrats. Still though, in spite of Killman’s reservations, Watkins had insisted on accompanying him on this jungle trek and the Sergeant knew his old friend too well to try arguing with him.
    “No worries. Is not far,"their native guide assured them. They hadn't gotten his real name before they left, and probably couldn't pronounce it even if they had, so like the other Europeans stationed in the New Belgian Congo they had just taken to addressing him as Tall-Lean for his corresponding appearance. They’d heard he was the best tracker and hunter around, and in the few days of travel he’d been essential in navigating them through this toughest and most dangerous region on earth. In Watkins and Killman’s eyes he had more than lived up to his reputation and they valued his presence greatly despite his limited proficiency with the English language or any other civilized tongue known to them.    
    Killman’s heart beat quickly in his chest as he realized that, after weeks of travel and preparation he would soon be reaching the destination. He remembered back to when he’d first heard the news, to the day when a submersible had abruptly surfaced on the shores of his deserted island retreat and a prim and proper captain of the British Navy had emerged. Before Killman could recover from his shock and properly berate and beat the man for disrupting his hard earned retirement the captain handed him an envelope with the Royal Seal upon it. Inside was a letter that bore the startling news of the return of his arch-nemesis Baron Viktor Von Kurtz, master of hypnosis and mad genius extraordinaire. The world had long thought Von Kurtz was dead, but apparently not even hell’s infernal fires were enough to contain the monster’s twisted evil and insanity it seemed.
    Even more shocking was the news that Von Kurtz had made a brazen attack on the German Confederacy’s capital of Berlin with an army of jet pack wearing servo-soldiers. During the assault the Baron had kidnapped the Kaiser’s daughter Princess Sophia and had spirited her away on his gyro-zepplin. The German princess was the betrothed of the future King Edward VII and their wedding was meant to seal the alliance between the Empire and the Confederacy to stand against the threat of the expansionist Russian Commissariat. With her abduction though, such an alliance was now in jeopardy, and the Russians were no doubt marshalling their armies in the East to launch a pre-emptive strike while the western powers were still divided.    
    Sergeant Killman knew even before he finished the letter what his mission was to be.  The Technopolist Union had used their network of telescopes and orbiting satellite mirrors to track the Baron to a jungle fortress in the New Belgian Congo. The fortress was garrisoned with an army of servo-soldiers making any direct assault upon it difficult to say the least and would also endanger the princess’s well-being. Killman knew that the only way to get her back was for a team of commandos to infiltrate to the Baron’s fortress, retrieve the princess and exterminate Von Kurtz with extreme prejudice, which was exactly what he was ordered to do. He also knew that he was the best man for the job. The letter ended with signatures from the God-Empress Victoria, the Kaiser Wilhelm II and even the Emperor Norton I of America.
    Killman’s reverie was broken when he noticed that the jungle had gone suspiciously quiet, as an eerie silence descended around them. Watkins had noticed as well, and he readied his gatling gun at the hip while the three of them made their way out of the water and onto the riverbank. The silence was broken when a metallic rod burst up from the river and lightning began streaking around it. The lightning shot out in an arc and slammed into Tall-Lean, vaulting him backwards. A quick look at the native’s burnt chest showed that he was dead. Watkins and Killman swirled around and fired at the rod, tearing it apart with a hail of bullets.
    A metallic screech filled the air and two ducked for cover as a giant metal claw crashed in the exact same spot they’d been standing. They looked up to see the all too familiar face of Baron Von Kurtz smiling down upon them from atop a tank-walker.  The Baron had on a pair of etheric oil goggles that covered his eyes but Killman could tell they still shone with absolute and utter madness.
    “Vell, vell, vell, it seems that mein old friend Sergeant Killman has made a pilgrimage to see me,”Von Kurtz sneered. “I suppose I should be flattered that the nations of the vorld have sent their best man to face me.”
    “Hand over the princess Kurtz and we promise to make your death a quick one,”Killman shouted.
    Von Kurtz cackled as his voice reached an even higher pitch.
    “Generous as alvays, Gute Sergeant, but I suggest we ask the princess herself vhat she vishes in the matter.”
    A woman clothed in dark, revealing black leather emerged from the top hatch of the tank and joined the Baron atop it. Watkins stammered and even Killman was taken aback when they both realized that it was none other than Princess Sophia who stood by the Baron’s side.  She threw her head back, her long golden hair shimmering in the sun and laughed. It had the same  crazed maleficence as Von Kurtz’s own. The sound was joined by the thrumming drone of jetpacks filled the air as a legion of servo-soldiers descended upon them.
    “I extend to you a similar offer to the one you gave me, the Baron shouted. “Surrender now and your deaths shall be quick and painless.” His grin somehow got even wider than before. “Vell, mostly painless.”
    Killman spat as he reloaded his rifle with a new clip.
    “Give up?  Shucks Baron, why would I do that when this just got a whole helluva lot more interesting?”  

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Do killbots dream of electric reporters?

This flash fiction challenge was actually pretty easy to write up. The theme this week was robots, and given that my top sci-fi influences are the novels of Philip K. Dick and Ghost In The Shell in all its adaptations I had plenty of reference material to work from. Thanks again to Chuck Wendig for coming up with these crazy ideas and please feel free to leave lots and lots of comments. Oh yes, and I hope you enjoy!

    The androids’ metal casings were smooth and shiny, so much so that Liana Turing could actually see her reflection in them. She felt tempted to reach out and feel the cold surface, but she hesitated. She recalled the battlefield demonstration, how the androids with their sleek, vaguely humanoid bodies, had used their missiles and machine guns to blow apart their artificial targets with ridiculous ease. She thought about how, soon enough, they would be deployed against living people, human targets not made of synthetics but of bone and flesh. She stared at the large blue sensor array that took up most of the android’s ‘face” and shuddered.
    “I’m glad you all made it to the facility today,”the project director’s voice rang out. His voice was deep and low, and had almost a primal quality to it. It seemed like the voice of someone always just on the edge of civility and who would and could switch to violence at a moment’s notice.
    He walked towards her and the other reporters around her with smooth, deliberate strides. At first, during the introduction before the demonstration, he’d reminded her of a big cat, like a lion or tiger or another one of those animals that’d gone extinct during the last century. Now though, she saw him for what he really was; calculated, mechanical, prizing efficiency above all else. A machine, just like the automatons that surrounded them, albeit fully human. His finely tailored smart suit only added to this impression.

    She briefly wondered why it was the director who was chosen to unveil the androids to the press. The only explanation she could come up with was one she felt very uncomfortable with.
He was meant to help scare the holy shit out of them. Well, whatever shit was left in them after the demonstration they’d witnessed.
    “Please remember that taking photographs or pictures of any kind is restricted while you’re in the facility. If you require any further elaborations on this please consult the press disclosure agreement you all signed before entering.”

    Not that they had a choice in the matter, Liana reflected. It was standard practice nowadays that anyone in the press had to sign these disclosure agreements every time they covered a government or hegemonic sponsored event or interview. They were always specially tailored for each instance, but they always boiled down to limiting what could be published. And those were just the mild ones. Other disclosures basically stated the government or corporate hegemons could review and edit your work at their own fiat. 
    The director waved his hand, indicated the robots. “Clarketech Industries is very proud to be working closely with the military on this project. These robots are built with the most cutting edge technology available today.  Propulsion packs make sure that the androids can be mobilized to any terrain available on earth and beyond. They sport the latest in anti-EMP hardware and hack resistant firmware. Additionally their new target recognition software means they can notice and remember faces and bodies for reference in future encounters. They are the ultimate design to supplement the existing military forces and are perfectly suited for the most difficult operations where nuclear or air strike solutions aren’t viable.”

    Liana raised her hand. “Director, can you elaborate on these intended ‘operations’?”she asked.

    The director’s mouth continued to smile but his eyes were a different story; they narrowed and scowled at her with distasteful recognition.
    “Of course, Ms. Turing. My purpose today is to provide you all with as much information as confidentiality will allow. The activities that the androids will be assigned to include hostage  rescue operations, limited urban policing engagements in foreign nations, and selective engagements against individual enemies of the public order.”

    “By ‘engagements’ do you mean assassination, Director?”she asked him.
    This time the smile left his face.
    “As you well know Ms. Turing, such a thing is illegal by both international and federal law...”
    Liana cut him off.
    “Well, let’s just say hypothetically if these machines were used by individuals who weren’t as well versed in the law as you seem to be, they seem like they would be the perfect tools for assassinating opponents to the new order.”

    The director’s eyes narrowed even further. She suspected that her editor would be getting a call after the press tour noting her ‘erratic behavior’ during the event.
    “I’m not here to debate hypotheticals with you. And to suggest that they individuals who would be authorizing their use, our elected government liaisons to the military, would use them in the fashion you’re implying is borderline treason,”he told her, then turned his attention to the other reporters. “But enough about that. Perhaps you would be so kind as to allow other members of the press to ask their no doubt relevant questions now?”

    They asked their own prepared director in a routine order, all of them softball questions about the androids and Clarketech Industries that were . Liana wouldn’t have been surprised to find out that the hegemon had sent the questions to all their editors ahead of time. The director’s replies were always polite and curt that technically answered their questions but gave away nothing of significance. He then invited them all to another section of the facility to view the hegemon’s newest civilian android models. These demonstrations would no doubt have another, friendlier tour guide, and would no doubt be showcasing the androids’ newest smart phone integration utilities or some other distracting tripe. She cringed at the thought that most of the other reporters would focus on the civilian androids and only briefly mention the military types for their own articles.

    Liana lingered a bit behind the others. She turned back to see the android’s single eye shift and focus on her, as if it was watching her as she left. She couldn’t help get the feeling that it was marking her face and body, noting her face and body, remembering her, perhaps even as a reference for some future encounter.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

The Paddington Ambush

   I'm really not sure where he comes up with this stuff, but Chuck Wendig's new flash fiction challeng is, well, gross and perverted. That's the only way to put it really. The story's a real charmer and it's based of a variant of the Ambush Paddington where you, well, just read the rest. You'll find out. 
    Hope you enjoy!
     You have to understand, I did it cause of a dare. I wouldn’t have done it otherwise. At least, I think I wouldn’t have. I was pretty drunk that night. But my buddies dare me to do it, so what could I do? Like I said, it’s not my fault.
    Her name was Cindy or Sandy. Maybe Cathy? I dunno, something like that. Let’s just call her Stacey. She was fine though. Little blonde thing with a nice ass and...well I can’t remember the rest. But you get the picture right? Wouldn’t kick her out of bed for eating crackers. Anyways, we were dancing at the club, doing the bump and grind, and we go up to the bar for shots where we meet up with my buddy Andy. Somehow we got on the topic of what we for decorations in our bedrooms, and Stacey let it slip that she had a huge collection of stuffed animals. Andy’s face lit up like a Christmas tree, and he pulls me over to the side with barely even an “excuse us for moment.”
    “Dude,”he said. “You totally got a chance to do the Ambush Paddington.”
    With the noise in the club I didn’t think I heard him right so I asked him to repeat.
    He laughs and explains what it was.
    “I dunno man,” I reply. “she seems like a nice girl.”
    “Dude,” he pleads. “Do it for the story.”
    I couldn’t argue with that; the story trumps everything in among bros. It’s like an H-bomb of  the bro code battles; you can’t beat it.      
    So I convince Stacey to take me back to her place, to ‘convince’ me that she actually does have all these stuffed animals. It’s a pretty shitty line, but it works out cause before I know it I’m in the pinkest, girliest, room I’ve ever been in. And she wasn’t kidding about the stuffed animals either. There were pink bears, red bears, brown bears, unicorns, pegasuses (pegasi?) all over the room. She blushed when she saw that my jaw was almost on the floor and led me over to her bed.    
    I won’t go into the details other than to re-assure you that my mojo kung fu was still in good shape, and we were dancing the horizontal mambo before you can say what what. I start getting to the point of no return and I look around to try to find just the right prop for the ‘Ambush.’ My eyes settle on this one bear that’s wearing a fedora and made up to be like he’s some kind of pulp detective. It’s perfect. Just as I’m about to bust a nut, I grab the bear, pull out and jizz all over it. White man-cream covers the bear’s jacket, face, and even his fedora.
    Stacey freaked out when she saw what I’d done, to say the least.
    “Oh my fucking God, you came on Mr. Bearsworth. You fucking piece of shit asshole. GET THE FUCK OUT!”
    I barely had time to put on my clothes before she threw me out of her place. It was only when I got outside that I remembered that I’d spent all my money at the club and didn’t have enough for a cab home. I kinda knew the area so I started hoofing it back to my place.
    While I was walking I kept getting this odd feeling at the back of my neck, like someone was watching me. I turned around a couple of times to try and see what it was, but I didn’t see anything. So I kept walking, kept hoofing it. At least I did, until up ahead of me I saw something that froze my blood. Propped on a bus stop bench was the bear. The exact same type of stuffed bear I’d just cum on, with the trenchcoat, fedora, and all that, was sitting on the bench and was facing me. I sped up my pace, tried to tell myself that I was hallucinating or just plain drunk. I passed the bear, and after a few more steps, I looked back. The bear had changed facing to continue staring at me. I shut my eyes, breathed long and deep and tried to tell myself that there was no way a fucking stuffed animal was following me. When I opened my eyes the bear was gone.

    Then the noises started. It started with a rustling to the left, right next to a clump of bushes. The
    I creeped over to the bushes, step by step, taking it slow, and stopped when I saw the top of a fedora sticking out. I panicked and broke into a run. I don’t know how long I ran for or how far, but I only stopped when I got to my apartment. My lungs practically collapsed trying to suck in as much air as I could. I fumbled with my keys for a few minutes as I tried to steady myself. I managed to get the door unlocked and opened. I rushed into the apartment building. Out of the corner of my eye I saw something small and furry scramble across the street. I slammed the door shut, made sure it was locked, then hurried as fast as I could up two floors and into my apartment proper. I stayed with my back to the door for a long time, and eventually I convinced myself that none of what I’d seen was real and that I just needed to go the fuck to sleep.

    I collapsed onto my bed and tried to forget this night. I was just about to nod off, when I heard a shuffling coming from across the hall. It was slow at first, but it seemed to speed up, get faster and faster. The noise finally stopped just outside my door.
    Then, I saw and heard the door creak open and the shuffling start up again, this time in my room.
    It was like being in a bad dream, a nightmare. My body was completely paralyzed with fear and the only thing I could move was my eyes. I saw the bear’s brown arm reach up and grab onto the side of the bed. It was followed by the other arm, and the bear pulled itself onto the bed. I couldn’t move, couldn’t react at all. My heart raced, seemed to beat a thousand times a second as I watched the bear amble towards me on legs that weren’t meant for walking or moving. I wanted to scream out at the top of my lungs, but nothing came.

    With a violent motion I didn’t even know a teddy bear could do it started tearing at the stitching around its crotch. The cotton stuffing started to burst out as the stitches gave way. The bear ripped some of the stuffing out of itself and hurled it in my face, getting it on my cheek, in my eyes, and up my nose.
    “THERE!”the bear screamed out. “HOW THE FUCK DO YOU LIKE IT?”

Monday, 6 June 2011

The Dolls

Another flash fiction challenge from terrible minds. I don't have much to say about this one other than to wish you all sweet dreams.

    The dolls talk to me. In the cold, black silence of the night I hear their voices, high pitched and wailing, like lost little children. They whisper to me strange things, blasphemies long thought passed away. They tell me of the secret sins that rule the world and how, if I were to take their council and delve into their desecration, I would gain power over mortal men.
    For a time I listened to them.
    They once told me a story, a dark and awful myth from long before the age of man. This tale of woe is of how the world broke, smashed into a thousand pieces. I can’t remember all of it, because the fog in my head gets worse and worse each day, and causes me to forget. I could ask the dolls to tell me again, but ...no... I won’t do that. I won’t do that you hear me! I WON’T!
    No, please don’t go. My ...condition, you see. Sometimes it acts up.  I’ll try to control myself. I can do that. I’m can be strong, from time to time. I’m stronger than the dolls think I am, although I pretend that I’m not.
    Like I said, I can’t tell you the whole story. I don’t remember it all. But I can remember the ending though, and I can tell it to you. All I ask is that you listen.
    After the world broke apart there were many cracks that formed. Most were small little, things, so small that their existence wasn’t even of note. Other fractures though, were just big enough. Yes, just big enough to let something through. And the things on the other side, beyond the cracks, on the dark reflection of the world? They wanted to come through. And they did. Awful, horrible things that were never meant to be here. Things of pure evil. Things like the dolls.
    When they came through they didn’t move or travel in any spatial sense the human mind could understand. The dark reflection creatures exist beyond time and space. That’s why they can see things when they aren’t there to witness them, and why they see the past and the future. They’re part of the world now, but also beyond it as well. It’s ... difficult to describe. It’s even harder to explain. Don’t ask the dolls though; they don’t like it when you ask them questions about themselves. They get upset.
    Where was I...ah, yes of course. The beginning. When the dolls came into our world they had to attach themselves to an anchor that already existed in our world. And for all our sins, they chose us. As they bleed into our reality they made certain that wherever we were, whenever we were, they would be with us. They took the forms of dolls because they’ve always been the dolls, and the forms of dolls have always been them. They’ve always been with us, and we’ve always been with them. Think about who dolls are usually seen with? It’s children. The dolls exist next to the smallest, youngest and most fragile of our species, and that’s exactly the way they want it.
    Ever look into a doll’s eyes? Notice that even when they face you they never seem to look at you? That’s because they don’t see you. Not really. Not as you think you see yourself. They can’t, not with being what they are. What they see I can only guess.What they see is something I don’t really want to know.
    They told me all of this as part of a story, their story, but I can only remember the last part of it. The fog comes and fades away the rest. They told it to me because I can hear them, and that’s their reward for learning their tongue. Their price for learning it? Well, that’s a ...surprise. You can find that out all by yourself.
    Oh, yes, I can show you how to listen to them. I can teach you the trick of it. Do you really want to learn?