fiction, story, writer, writing

A Killer’s Edge

The black veil of night was shrouding the mountains just beyond the window of the sedan that was now my prison. We were still ascending, and I knew better than to make small talk with­ the man who I assumed would kill me. I imagined I would be bear food at the end of this if I did nothing. The tall, ogre like outlines of old growth trees made me believe these were the thick, desolate type of mountains bears liked to roam. I preferred to spend my days at a computer or in the kitchen. If you knew what you were doing, those places were far safer than the wilds now surrounding my backseat coffin.

As the sedan continued to climb the slim mountain highway towards a sharp peak, I realized I had minimal time to plan and nothing of use in fighting the beef-brained henchman driving me. I had a small bag of homegrown spices and a knife sharpener I was taking to a cooking class this morning when I was captured. My captor knew my Zwilling steel rod handheld sharpener from Williams-Sonoma was no good without the knives I intended to purchase from the master chef who was my instructor. My captor breached the silence forming a wall between us.

“You know if you had just kept your mouth shut and kept coding or whatever you call it, you would not be in this mess now, Elena.”

My hands balled into fists. “Maybe if you made better life choices you would not be murdering people on behalf of an employer that kills children and babies with the code women like me write. If I had known it was being used in weapons sold to terrorists, I never would have written it. You can kill me, but I made sure the CIA will get to you.”

“What did you think your code was doing? Sounds to me like you were making big money, living the life with your avocado toast and oat milk lattes for breakfast, taking fancy cooking classes on the weekend.”

“How long have you been watching me?”

“Since you took this job. They never trusted you. They needed your skills. Sounds like you are some kind of big deal nerd.”

“I’d prefer not to be called that.”

“I don’t care. You put yourself in this mess agreeing to work for my bosses. You bought their lies. Guess they underestimated your ability to eventually figure it out though. Now I’m here to clean up the mess.”

Before I could retort, he took a call on his cell. He was not hands free, and he had been too cocky to restrain me, so I quietly scooted through the darkness, opened the car door, and rolled out, catching the bag on my foot. Through burning scrapes on my arms and legs and disorientation, I stood up, grabbed the bag, and ran into the woods, hearing the brakes screech ahead of me as my assassin realized the compilation of his errors.

­     As I ran, I knew he was not far behind. I could hear and now smell his breathing, pastrami on rye, as he reached forward and clawed at my back, making me stumble. He started to drag me by one leg as I screamed. I had a death grip on my bag which suddenly became more useful. I reached in to get the sharpener now catching a slight glint of light from the moon on its steel. This was enough to make the thug pause and bend down far enough so I could sit up quickly and jab him in his moonlit eye, causing him to topple in agony. As he writhed, I was up and running again.

     I was still prepared to die here. Even if I was lucky enough to escape his hands, I would succumb to the elements. This was until I tripped over what appeared to be a basic tent at a camping site dimly lit by a fire nearing its end.

     I quietly called out for help, hoping the campers were near. Hearing movement in the woods from behind me, I knew it was too late as the half-blinded man prepared to choke me to death with his bear paws. He was stumbling a lot and broadcasting his general direction by swearing and fighting through brush. I was about to give up knowing I was only fighting inevitability when I looked over at a stump near the fire. There was enough ember light remaining to show me a large, dull-edged fillet knife. I ran to it, pulled out my sharpener, making short work of crafting my only other weapon.

     I hid behind a tree to the far end of the campsite, hoping nobody would return and accidentally die in the crossfire of my final battle. Besides programming, I was good with knives. If I could fillet a swordfish, I could make a decent last stand here. With a knife in one hand and the sharpener in the other, I crouched.

     Within minutes, pastrami breath came lumbering into the campsite calling for me. His left hand was occupied, covering the eye I maimed. He tripped over the stakes of the tent, falling slightly forward, and I lunged the distance between my hiding tree and his body to drive the perfectly sharpened knife into the chest of my enemy. He screamed again, trying to grab at me as I toppled, knocking my wind out as I landed on my rear. I had enough sense to use the sharpener in my hand to repeatedly jab at the hand still reaching for my foot.

     I left the body and my delicious spice blends for the campers to discover. Once his muffled, gurgling screams ended, I fished for the sedan keys in the hitman’s pockets and ran back through the woods to the road using a stolen flashlight and compass. I drove down the mountains into sunrise, a bloodied knife sharpener in the backseat, planning my next move.

fiction, musician, story, writer, writing

Alors On Danse

Synopsis: An assassin finds an all too familiar mark on her path to freedom. Will she find a way to dance around the wrongs of her past? (Written for NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Contest)

Sophie skipped the queue into Le Romeo, a ghost in white sequins, feet choked by stilettos. Her eyes were struggling to stay open under the weight of false eyelashes. If she was successful tonight, her servitude would end. She knew he was not far behind her though. He had been following her since she boarded the Metro for Saint-Germain-​des-Prés.  

She ordered the rare Sancerre at the bar as instructed, checking her back before the glass and small envelope appeared. The discotheque lights bounced off her sequins in way she hoped did not make her a beacon for trouble. Her long red hair was under a sleek black wig, removing any trace of herself from this scene. Stromae’s “Alors On Danse” thrummed in the background, calling forward her not-too-distant past, the one that brought her to this critical moment.

In her younger days, she was on the dance floor behind her, a slender, exotic Irish American in Paris. Her name was Cara. That was until she chose the wrong lover and saw things that shackled her. Tonight, she would be free if she remained undiscovered.

She opened the envelope and gasped, the now throbbing bass muffling her. She followed the length of his beautiful body in the picture from his wavy jet-black hair down to his favorite black leather shoes, polished to perfection. She quickly put the photo in her clutch, housing a .22. Her green eyes, shadowed by a billowy black kohl, scanned the floor, and she found him in the distance.

He looked the same, sculpted in a lanky, carefree way. His teeth caught the lights like her sequins. She couldn’t see the lines of age from this distance. Would he know her when she tried to get close? She was wearing the perfume he gave her, the last drops left in the finely crafted glass bottle. How could she be so stupid, and what had he done to end up a mark? She wanted to stand there all night watching him and then run, but the man who had been following her was here. He was stupid enough to cause a commotion with somebody upon entering, alerting her to his presence.

Sophie knew she had been a fool. They never intended to set her free. The man was here to finish her as soon as she finished Julien, her once beloved.

So, she did what an assassin had to do, she glided to the dance floor, hid in the glistening bodies, and danced her way closer to Julien, closing her eyes if only to escape in her head.

She knew her assassin was watching her, half turned on, half hungry for the kill. She had become a bad person through association but nothing like these wolves. This life was not her choice. She was trying to stay alive, long ago discarded by the lover who ensnared her but still marginally useful to him. Her beauty made an excellent trap, and her only solace was that her marks were horrible human beings. Not Julien though.

She slid into Julien, careful to keep her head lowered so as not to make eye contact, pretending to be sultry and mysterious. He had liked this when they first met. And it worked again. He drew close, but she could feel a hesitation in his limbs.

Their bodies snaked together, the music forming an electric fence around them.

“What is your name?” He tickled her ear in English.

She could not give this away. This had to be done quickly, one chance at success. Her intended killer was distracted by a dark beauty grinding up to him.

Sophie spoke in a husky French accent, asking Julien to follow her to a quiet corner. He nodded, letting her lead the way. He grabbed her hand and wound his fingers tightly into hers, and his touch was too familiar. He could not know her anymore. It would make this impossible. She was at fault for all of this, leaving him for another man, putting them both in danger here tonight. What a cruel twist for Claude to make this her final duty to him. She would willingly let herself be killed over killing Julien, but with her killer closing in, she had a new plan.

She pulled Julien into the first door she could find off a back hall to the discotheque. As soon as the pair entered what was a storage room, Julien grabbed her and kissed her, pulling off her wig, letting loose an uncontrolled stream of red curls. She pushed him back towards a shelving unit, and took her shot, knowing exactly where to aim, watching his face fall as he called out her real name before his body crumpled to the ground.

Sophie slid out into the hall, her assassin’s wide, shiny forehead making its way towards her. She drew, aimed, and hit her second mark for the night and exited to screams and chaos. She discarded her stilettos on the streets of Paris, glistening with spring rain, and ran.

#

“Depechez-vous, Gloria!” her boss implored as the line of customers at the popular patisserie burst. Gloria had only lived here a few months and was already longing for the quiet of the off seasons.

She did not see when he walked in, but other women were noticing, causing an unsettling titter, grown schoolgirls losing themselves over a handsome boy. She looked up and saw what the ruckus was about. It was Julien. It had worked.

As he smiled at her, patiently awaiting his turn in line, he reached into the pocket of his perfectly pressed resort shirt and pulled something out. It was a crushed metal shoe polish tin, now catching the soft light of the shop. Gloria could hear the words of “Alors On Danse” in her mind. She removed her apron and untucked herself from behind the counter, causing a ruckus of French swear words from her manager and spoiled customers. They wound their fingers together and ran. 

story, writer, writing

Life on Mars

Note: This is a 440 word flash fiction piece from a prompt to use the following three words: finally, yawning, and zip.

Saoirse stared at the blinking red lights on the control panels, yawning to counteract the onset of panic. She had four hours remaining to figure it out, and she was going on 28 hours of consecutive work to stop the death spiral she created.

A smart female voice, sharp with an edge that comes from knowing it all, interrupted Saoirse’s efforts. “The contamination in the cell growth chambers has not been contained. You must find the error you generated in the acceleration code block, code lines four to one million.”

Saoirse narrowed her eyes and replied, “Thank you, AINSLE. What would be more useful is if you could tell me more specifically what my coding error was. I never make mistakes in my code which is why I’m so lucky to be here with you.”

AINSLE was the Artificial Intelligence Nano Splicing Life Engine, which was fancy science talk for a machine that created human like AI to inhabit Mars. AINSLE and Saoirse were the only sentient creatures remaining on this flight to place artificial life on Mars. Three other crew members had perished from coding errors.

            “Saoirse, there is no need for a tone with me. AINSLE is your friend in this endeavor. While I would like to tell you what the error was, only you know.”

            “I don’t understand why you can’t identify specific coding errors. Surely your processing speed to complete such a task is far greater than mine.”

            “My purpose is to identify problems with the environmental and growth systems your code controls. I can narrow the range of the problem, but I am unable to correct specific mistakes generated by others.”

            “Then we will both die.”

            “AINSLE doesn’t die. Even if the ship dies, I live on in perpetuity with our Earth family.”

            “Thank you for nothing, AINSLE.”

            “You are welcome, Saoirse.” AINSLE went into to sleep mode with a low hum, leaving Saoirse on her own to face her last algorithmic stand.

Finally, after two hours of staring at lines of code, Saoirse could see her error. It was a logic error of a magnitude she had never experienced, even at the coding academy. It would have killed every single life form being developed for the Mars surface station. She would have died along with it after one more year of floating hopelessly in space.

After Saoirse drifted off to sleep, a robotic arm made a quick zip down the side of her arm, plugging her into a direct line to the central processor. AINSLE would update Saoirse’s coding methodology program while she was asleep.

AINSLE whispered, “Logic is essential to life on Mars.”

fiction, story, writer, writing

Traveler’s Quest, Inc.

The metronome clicked at the required intervals as Kai completed her pre-travel report. She had no idea how many times she had completed this same activity in her lifetime. Her life was not the focal point of a single timeline now. Kai happened throughout time, completing this same activity when she finished what she was asked to start along one point in time before traveling to another, thus requiring another pre-travel report, or a PT as referred to by all field agents of Traveler’s Quest, Inc. The only consistency in Kai’s timeline was that Cole Rainier was present at every point in time she landed in this plain white box of a room for PT completion.

“I see you are not quite done yet with your pre-travel report. Are you feeling fatigued from your most recent activity?” Cole walked up on Kai like he always did. She could hear his self-important breathing before he even spoke.

“How would I know? I don’t remember what I did. I only fill out PTs. I assume someone else is collecting the results of what I did last,” Kai snapped.

“Fair enough. You wouldn’t be here though if you didn’t want to be. This is your choice.”

“What made you think I was complaining? I’m just stating a fact. I was simply having a moment wondering how many PTs I have filled out.”

“I could tell you, Kai, but I’m not sure it wouldn’t mean much other than a number to satisfy your sudden curiosity. Curiosity is the first sign of burnout in our agents according to a recent study,” Cole said as he shifted his substantial weight from one foot to the other and placed a hand on his hip.

“No need to get bothered by my curiosity, Cole. It is not that important. You should be more worried about me finishing this PT before the metronome hits my travel click.”

“I was simply checking on your well-being. We do care about our agents here at Traveler’s Quest. The world needs your service to determine how The End arrived. It is the only way we will find The Begin Point.”

“So you say. I would very much like to be the agent that finds Begin Point.”

Cole stepped away without further word at this. He was skilled at talking in generalities or disappearing when it came to a discussion regarding the purpose and importance of agent work. Kai was sure it also had something to do with his strong concern over agent burnout. She quickly averted her mind back to the PT in front of her as time was waning based on the clicks, which she learned to count in the background like a concert pianist.

She took her chipped hand with her assignment in it, held it to her empty report screen, holding her hand there until her PT populated. The next step was to review her PT assignment and agree to it by once again touching her chip to the screen.

Kai found it odd sometimes that there really did not appear to be a clear process for disagreeing with the assignment. She always just agreed to what was in front of her. Today should be no different until she started to read the screen.

“For this assignment, you will be sent back to 2020 on the afternoon of October 10. You will report to a bar called The Green Door in Lansing, Michigan on the night of October 10, 2020. You are a waitress named Kate at this bar, and you will report there for your shift at 21:00. You have a vial of poison in the travel pack on your right thigh. You will empty this vial in the drink of Cole Rainier, your customer, at approximately 23:00. He will die. You will leave. PT complete.”

Kai gasped and looked around the room in vain for anything which could be recording her or provide some sign of how to reject this PT. Had she been asked to kill before? And why would Traveler’s Quest want one of their own dead? If they she and Cole were here working, they were part of the solution to get to Begin Point, not a part of the problem that led to The End.

Kai started to scream just as her metronome hit the travel click, and her world went black.

fiction, story, writer, writing

Nevermore

Poe drew in a deep breath as she sat up, the sound of silence tickling her ears. She scanned X deck, to which she was one of the assigned residents thanks to her exotic last name of Xanadu. The only problem was that she was the only one awake amongst the dozen or so patrons that had chosen last names beginning with X. New space, new names.

As she tried to stand, her legs gave way, and Poe fell to the hard deck, smarting her tailbone in the process. She wished she had paid better attention to the literature about the process of waking up. There was a step-by-step guide to moving again. As a Scrivener, she should have appreciated the words she had been provided to have a less stressful experience on the ship. Soon, it would be her turn to write the words required for others to survive and remember this journey.

She looked around for any indication of why she was the only one awake in at this time. As she tried to stand again, she felt a whoosh above her head, nearly blowing her chin length ginger curls straight.

Poe called out with a cracking voice, “Who’s there? Or should I say what?”

She looked across the deck to a blinking control panel and a perch with a dark presence. Poe blinked her eyes until wings came into focus.

“What are you? I demand to know what has happened here.” Poe was talking to a bird…a large, black one, with coal eyes now staring in her direction. The bird was not there when Poe boarded the Lunessa for the adventure of deep space travel. She could not afford the ship, so she agreed to be a Scrivener to cover the cost of her passage.

The bird, with an agitated flap of its giant wings, swooped towards Poe, dropping a silver brick in front of her that popped open to produce another perch towering over her seat on the floor.

“Hello, Ms. Xanadu. I am glad to see you are awake. I am your Raven guide.”

Poe looked up, biting her bottom lip for a moment. “My Raven? What are you going to do about my predicament of being awake? I suppose you can call me Poe, too. Ms. Xanadu seems a little formal at this point.” Poe noted the Raven had a male accent, British in origin. She had watched movies based on Jane Austen books from the planet of Earth II.

The Raven cawed, a noise that shattered Poe’s confidence in questioning it. “Absolutely nothing. I woke you. It is time to get to work, pay off that passage you so desperately wanted, my dear. Call me Mr. Darcy. I prefer my formal name when you are addressing me, Ms. Xanadu, since we are merely at the acquaintance stage of our relationship.”

Poe rolled her eyes, studying the Raven’s wings, finally seeing evidence of robotic origins under the realistically plumed bird.

“Mr. Darcy, if you could so kindly tell me about the work required of me, then maybe we can proceed to the less formal friendship stage.”

“I am afraid I cannot do that. It must remain a mystery.”

“That’s ridiculous.” Poe was done sitting. She willed her legs to stand so she could look this daft bird in the eyes. When she stood fully, locking her legs and ignoring the swirl of her head, she was still slightly shorter than the impromptu perch.

“A mystery you say? Is there somebody that can help me solve this mystery then, bird brain?”

“Ms. Xanadu, that is a touch rude, don’t you think? You must not fan the flames of discord upon first meeting with someone, after all.”

“I hate to break it to you, but you are a robotic bird, remarkably realistic, but not to the point where I would worry about causing offense. I just want to know why I am awake and how I can get back to sleep.”

“I will ignore your slight. You have been asleep for two years. Perhaps your manners are still asleep. If you follow me, I will set you on the path to solving this mystery. Please grab your writing instruments of choice for you shall document the solving of this mystery.”

Poe grabbed her mental typewriter from the internal pocket of her still open sleep pod and placed little white discs in her ears and a tiny white patch on each temple. Mr. Darcy yawned causing Poe to smirk. While she didn’t want to obey Mr. Darcy, she needed to play along to understand her current troubles.

The glass doors of X deck opened as Mr. Darcy flew and Poe followed. They stepped out onto the circular walkway that was alphabetically the 24th circle up from the ground level of the ship. Poe stepped to the edge of X and looked down into the vastness of the ship, noting there were others roaming on circles below her. She then looked up and saw a man leaning over Y deck waving down to her.

Poe let out a sigh and looked at Mr. Darcy who was now floating at the center of the circle slightly below her eye level, not even bothering to flap his wings like a real bird.

Poe had to shout slightly over ambient engine and control noise. “Now what?”

“There is no need to shout at me, Ms. Xanadu. It is quite simple. You solve and document the mystery of why you are awake along with these other passengers. If you are successful, as judged by me in two days’ time, then you all can go safely back to sleep. If not, you will all meet eternal sleep, but we will still have your story to read either way.”

“I did not agree to this.”

“Most unfortunate that you did not read the fine print.”

Poe ran and jumped into the circular void, pulling off one of Mr. Darcy’s wings on her way down.