Qara

As trite as it sounds, I wholeheartedly believe that certain individuals are born for a life of servitude. That was our Qara. Cursed with a helper gene inherited from her father’s side of the family, she was raised on the principles of being steadfast always and to carry honor and glory everywhere and at all times. These disciplines were non-negotiable. And when she became old enough to properly comprehend their importance, Qara was taught how to be strong alone as well as stronger as part of a unit.

Many of you have asked what was she like as a child and the one moment that stands out in my mind was the time I found her watching the streams of her father charging into battle. The soundless images of war looped over and again and Qara sat transfixed studying his actions, mimicking his motions. When she finally noticed me in the room, she turned and said, “I know what I want to be.”

I had my own dreams for my daughter. What parent doesn’t? I envisioned her as a diplomat because she always had such a gifted way with words, so convincing, so compelling, and able to see other’s points of view while gently persuading them to see hers as well. I pictured her initiating the peace talks that would finally put an end to this decades-old war with a relentless extraterrestrial enemy hellbent on our total annihilation. But seldom do the dreams of parents and that of their children align themselves. So, instead of voicing my objections, I simply answered, “Fine.”

I pulled her father’s old, battered, unloaded service weapon from storage and laid it on a table before Qara.

“Dismantle it.” I said, offering no instruction on where and how to begin. “If you plan to use a weapon, you should know how it operates.” I secretly hoped she would have become frustrated, abandon the effort and move on to other interests.

But there was a spark in her young eyes as she turned the weapon over in her hands, searching for connection points, latches, catches and switches. She only managed to get a third of the way before being unable to proceed any further, but it was a mighty fine effort for her first attempt.

I then sat Qara with her brother, elder by three years, who showed her the correct way to field strip the weapon and reassemble it. He only needed to perform the act once. The weapon had become a puzzle game and Qara memorized the moves to solve it. She practiced stripping and reassembling the weapon each morning before the family rose and each night before she went to sleep. She became so proficient at it that she performed the act blindfolded, and in a head to head competition with her brother was able to beat his fastest time.

In her free time, Qara rummaged through her father’s possessions, sent home to us after he lost his life on the battlefield while trying to defend the moon. She devoured material on military strategy, ran herself through a homemade obstacle course, practiced combat techniques with her brother, and though I still was not happy with her choice, I had to admit I was proud at how quickly she progressed.

Then the day came when I received the letter. Behind my back, Qara had registered for armed service. More precisely, she sought placement in the same unit her father had served in. When she returned home, I held the letter out, a mixture of anger and pride in my voice as I announced, “Drafted.” Her squeal was the last remnant of the daughter on whom I had fashioned my dreams.

Qara began studying and idolizing the veterans of the unit, most of them fought alongside her father. It was like a dream for her that came true. More than that, it was another link to her father’s past, another piece of the puzzle that completed the image of him in her mind.

The next two weeks went by too swiftly for me to properly show Qara how much I loved her. When she left, the following four months went by too slowly before I could see her again at the ceremony that marked the completion of her training. In less than a week, my daughter would be protecting our world from alien invaders, as her father did before her.

The ceremony ended with a complex weapon exhibition that was more for show and less for survival and during the maneuver, Qara’s weapon misfired. I couldn’t have been happier. I know how that sounds and how it makes me look but let me reassure you, I am far from being a cold-hearted parent and an unpatriotic civilian. I care for my daughter more than words can express and would never want any harm to befall her, but the injuries she suffered from the misfire explosion put her on inactive status, and to me it was a blessing in disguise.

When I was allowed to see Qara, the only thing she repeated was how devastated she felt at having something that was within her reach suddenly snatched away. It was the only time since her father’s funeral that I recalled seeing her cry. It hurt to see her tears, but I believed the disappointment would fade over time, even if it vanished slower than the scars on her arms. Selfish, I know, but I didn’t care. She was alive, which meant she was with me, and I wasn’t ready to relinquish custody to her late father.

To my surprise, Qara was nearly in agreement, and what I mean by that is she told me of her plans to contact the academy and inform them that she would be withdrawing from the program altogether. If she couldn’t fight, the least she could do was to make her spot in the unit available to some other able-bodied applicant.

She did it the following day, without hesitation, without a crack in her voice, but neither of us were prepared for the response she received from the commander of her father’s former unit. “You petitioned us, not the other way around. We kept a spot open for you, in memory of your father. The spot belongs to you. Be the warrior your father was and fill it.”

Qara gained a new sense of determination while I was sinking in a quagmire of dread.

She attacked her therapy to improve mobility in her weapon arm and retested for qualification. It was her dream and her passion to fight for her planet. Qara had done well before the accident, but now, driven to not only live up to her father’s example but surpass it and make him proud, she beat her previous personal best and made the top ten percentile in the academy.

Qara joined her father’s unit and fought well. She was shorter than average height and thin but few could rival her inner strength. For saving the lives of her unit during the Atmospheric Offensive, and Operation Orbital Push, she received honors, but none higher than when she sacrificed her own life during the campaign to retake the moon. The same mission that killed her father.

Qara saved the lives of the five soldiers riding with her on a reconnaissance mission in orbit around the moon. She was piloting the ship when a satellite mine attached itself to the hull.

I have been told that the satellite was one of ours that had been rigged by the enemy with enough military grade explosives to wipe out an armada. Once close enough to activate the magnetic clamp, the device began an automated countdown upon impact. Qara instructed the soldiers to evacuate to the escape pods. She could have left herself, but the propulsion units on the pods wouldn’t have escaped the blast radius. She stayed behind and piloted the craft away from the soldiers, away from the moon and away from her home.

One of the soldiers once said to me quietly, “We promised to sacrifice the one for the good of the whole. Your daughter delivered on that promise.”

Her unit paid their final respects at a private ceremony for the family. Each soldier had nothing but praise for Qara. She was professional. Dedicated. A morale booster. Quick to cut the tension by making you laugh. In line for a promotion.  A hero. The compliments went on throughout the service.

Standing here in front of you all on the one-year anniversary of my daughter’s death, I tell you this story not to dissuade you from joining the military but instead to join the fight and do your part. Qara was wiser than I gave her credit for. She somehow knew that peace was not the answer, that these barbarians must not only be pushed back but crushed so that they never again think to visit our world.

If you take nothing else from his speech, embrace my family’s principles. Be steadfast in the defense of our planet always and to carry honor and glory into battle. These disciplines are not negotiable. Train yourself to be strong alone, but never forget that we are stronger as a unit.

For the sake of our homeworld and in memory of all those who have fallen, including my husband and my daughter, the humans must die!

Text and Audio ©2014 & 2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

When Death Offers Hope

I awoke to a stranger standing at the foot of my bed but far more unsettling was the fact that he was dead. I was certain of this because I could see the chest of drawers behind him through his ephemeral body.

“Do not be alarmed,” the man said in a soft tone that registered just above a whisper but was perfectly clear in the surrounding silence of the bedroom which had never known this level of quiet before. “I realize my sudden appearance in your home has come as a surprise to you due to the fact that you and I have never met and that I am a ghost.”

Of the million questions buzzing in my hypnagogic brain, the one that bubbled to the surface was, “What do you want from us?” and my voice cracked in a manner that made me sound considerably less brave than planned.

I tried to will my wife awake, hoping that she might collect the children and get them safely out of the house while I somehow distracted this spirit. I even slid my hand beneath the duvet, slowly as not to draw attention, in order to nudge or pinch her awake to no avail.

“Please know that I have no intention of haunting you or bringing any harm to you or your loved ones,” the ghost said.

“Then why are you here?” I replied loud enough to wake my wife but not the children because I couldn’t risk them coming into the bedroom to see what all the commotion was about.

The transparent man smiled, “You may speak as loudly as you please. I have spread a calming essence over your wife and children so that they might rest soundly as you and I converse.”

While I must confess I knew nothing of ghostly lore or a sleep-inducing essence, I sensed the apparition was speaking truthfully. I asked, “What could we possibly have to say to one another?”

“As I explain my situation, I ask that you refrain from pitying me and my circumstances for life is not a gift we keep but one we borrow and must one day return. Death is inevitable as you will one day learn.”

“Pity you? I don’t even know you!”

“Of course, where are my manners? The things one forgets once the embers of life have been snuffed. My name is Hamid Tahan and I am–pardon me, I was an Emirati merchant in Dubai.

“In the latter part of my short existence I had been diagnosed with prostate and esophageal cancer. Sadly, it was discovered in its very late stage due to my laxity in caring for my health. My illness defied all forms of medicine and treatments and according to my physicians I had only a few months to live.

” I am ashamed to admit that I had not lived a particularly good life. I never really cared for anyone, not even myself. All that mattered was my business. Though I was very rich, I was never generous and I tended to be hostile to those around me.

“But when it was far too late, I regretted it all. I discovered that there was more to life than the mere acquisition of money and I knew in my soul that if the universe in its infinite wisdom bestowed upon me a second chance I would live my life in a different, far better manner.

“As my mortal time drew to a close, I willed most of my properties and assets to my immediate and extended family members, as well as a few loyal friends and schools in the United Arab Emirates. I gave alms to charity organizations across the globe, as I wanted this to be one of the last good deeds I did on earth.

“And I almost accomplished the task in its entirety but my health had deteriorated more rapidly than was originally estimated and I lost my battle with cancer before I could close out my final account. This is my reason for contacting you.”

“I don’t understand,” I said.

“I have studied you from the great beyond. I see that you are a good man, a kind and generous man even though you are struggling to keep your lovely wife and beautiful children comfortable in the face of the impending bankruptcy of your company. I can help you with this.”

“Help me? How?”

“I could reveal the location of my final, secret account to you, provide you with the codes and information to transfer the funds into your account. Trust me when I say it is more than enough money to pay off all your debt, provide for your children’s futures and allow your family to live comfortably for many years to come. The only thing I ask in exchange for this life-changing abundance…”

“Ah, the catch,” I sighed. “There is always a catch.”

“…is your life,” Hamid Tahan continued.

“My what?”

“I have come to an arrangement with The Powers That Be that I can be reborn if I performed a random act of kindness on a complete and utter stranger and of all the several billion candidates on the planet, I chose you.

“The only drawback for you is that this gift requires a sacrifice. Now you must ask yourself if you love your family enough to die for them? I have seen what lies in store for you and your family and I could not in all conscience live with myself, pardon my turn of phrase, if I did not try to help prevent it.

“You might be thinking to yourself that this is some sort of hoax or scam but if you reflect on it a minute you will feel the certainty of my offer because it has been classified as a Universal Truth. These truths cannot be forged. They are constructed of unconditional honesty.”

I most certainly believed it to be some form of treachery but true to his word, I felt an overwhelming assurance that his claim was sincere. I opened and closed my mouth trying to form words but none were forthcoming.

“You need not give your answer at this moment,” he said. “But I would advise you to decide before the week has concluded. The money will be of little use to your family beyond that point.”

“Wait! What’s going to happen to my family? If you know, you have to tell me!” I wanted to leap from the bed and take hold of the ghost and shake the answers from him, which was an irrational thought but it didn’t matter because I was unable to move from my spot.

“I apologize that I am forbidden to reveal any more to you. Please think deeply on my offer and despite your decision, know that you and your family are in my prayers. May the universe be with you, sir,” the phantasmal being who was once Hamid Tahan said as he evaporated into the dark shadows of the room.

And as I watched the gentle rise and fall of my sleeping wife’s chest I was left to ponder, if I valued my own life over the financial security of my family.”

Text and Audio ©2020 & 2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

The Blessing

“Do you even have the faintest idea why you’re still single?” my mother asks. Questioning me out of the blue is the way she offers her unsolicited and always unwanted opinions.

“I don’t know, Mom, because I just watched The Exorcist and cried through the entire thing?” And this is the way I try to dodge the conversation. “I mean, I know how it’s going to end and I feel terrible for Pazuzu. When it’s all over, Chris has Regan, Father Karras and Father Merrin ascend to heaven but what does Pazuzu get? Bupkis. Nada. Nothing.”

“You’re an odd duck.”

“A sentimental odd duck, let’s not overlook my ability to empathize and emote.”

Mom doesn’t take the bait. “I just want you to find someone so badly. You’re such a wonderful, albeit weird person and you deserve to meet someone really special,” she says.

And then, on cue, Dad pokes his head into the living room and in true man-fashion, tries to fix the problem.

“You attract more bees with honey than vinegar, pun’kin. Maybe if you spruced yourself up a bit,” he says. “Not that there’s anything wrong with the way you look–“

“Shut up, George!” Mom punches Dad in the arm.

“What? I’m just saying some fellas need to see the car polished before taking it out on a test drive, that’s all.”

“You want strangers test driving your daughter?”

“No! Of course not!” Dad waves the notion away as if it was a wasp. “What I mean to say is would it kill you to maybe wear a dress and some makeup once in a while and socialize with actual people in the real world in a social setting instead of throwing your youth away on the internet in chat rooms?”

“Dad, I know you mean well but you’re old–“

“I’m 56.”

“And that’s ancient, so is your way of thinking. Women shouldn’t have to gussy themselves up–“

“I never used the word gussy.”

“–in order to attract a mate.”

“We’re not talking about mating we’re talking about dating.”

“Same difference, Dad. If I met someone and we were into each other we might just hook up. It’s only sex.”

“Not in my house, it’s not! There’ll be no it’s only sex happening under my roof, young lady!”

“Which answers your question, Mom, as to why I’m still single.”

“What?” Mom looks confused. “How did this come back on me?”

“Not that it’s any of your business but I still have my V card.”

“Your what?”

“She’s still a virgin, George.”

“Well, thank Christ for small miracles, I suppose,” Dad breathes a sigh of relief.

“And if and when I hand in my card, I want it to be with someone who gets me, someone on my level and I want it to happen in a place where I feel safe and that’s here, with you guys.”

“You’re not asking us to watch, are you?”

Mom punches Dad in the arm again. “George!”

“Ewww, Dad, don’t be gross!” I decide to make one last attempt at explaining my reasoning. “This place isn’t the fanciest but it’s lived in and it’s filled with love—your love for each other and for me and my love for you. I want my first-time love to exist in the same place.”

“Seeing as it will be your first time, it might not be filled with as much love as you think,” Mom says under her breath and it’s Dad’s turn to punch her lightly on the arm.

“Hey,” he says. “Don’t spoil her fantasy.”

“So,” my voice turns sheepish. “Do I have your blessing?”

They stare at each other for a long contemplative moment and to my surprise, Dad is the one who breaks the ice. “Yeah, kiddo. It’s okay.” And Mom nods in agreement.

“Great!” I snatch my laptop up as I bound off the sofa and race past them and upstairs to my room.

“Where are you off to?” Mom asks.

“To get ready! Tommy’ll be over in a little while and we’re totally going to do it tonight! You guys are the best!”

Mom turns to Dad, “Who’s Tommy?”

“Dead meat if he knocks on this door,” Dad says cracking his knuckles.

Text and Audio ©2019 & 2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Vacancies, Vacancies Everywhere, Yet None of Them For Me

no-vacancies

My secret self—the bit of me that hides in plain sight just behind a corner of reality—has been wandering my memory palace of late, searching for an empty room in which to steal a bit of solitude for I sometimes need to swaddle my internal dialogue in silence when even the quietest place on earth can offer me no rest.

You might have surmised correctly that I’ve been met with very little success.

Oh, there are rooms aplenty in which I enjoy the occasional lounge-about, each filled with bric-à-brac I’ve accumulated along the way. Items or concepts or vagueries that may or may not find their way into a story, plot germs that piqued my interest for one reason or another, displayed neatly on shelves beside those things kept precious, but each of these pieces of me gives off unique vibrations that assault my mind’s ear like anamnestic tinnitus.

A few of my unused characters who can afford the steep rent have made the suggestions that I either choose my favorite among them to room with or take turns bunking with every one of them for short periods as not to overstay my welcome.

But that really isn’t my style. I like the idea of knowing where characters are so that I might visit them and engage in brief social interactions when I’m in the mood, and leave them to their own devices when I’ve had my fill. And although I am quite capable of being alone in a crowded room, I cannot find solitude with people around, not even the people in my mind, the ones that I have breathed life into.

My irritation at not being able to claim residence in a place that I have been constructing since childhood is beginning to infect other areas of my life. My current location annoys me. My inability to write annoys me. The presence of other people annoys me. The sameness of the day annoys me. Even my annoyance at everything annoys me.

And so Sunday comes ’round and I am attempting to build a new foundation for the memory palace extension on the lone and level sands of ground-down ideas, in a new territory where the old housing rules may not apply. Eventually, when my hoarder nature reveals itself and this section of the palace becomes filled with miscellanea most likely better left forgotten…

I’ll repeat the process. Search for my own patch of solitude. Light a candle and still curse the darkness. Build another room. And fill it with possessions that squeeze me to the point of eviction.

Text and Audio ©2014 – 2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

8 Simple Rules For Dating My Cthulhuian Daughter

Cthulhu

Hello, Brave Young Suitor

So, your plan is to court my daughter, is it? Please, step inside freely and of your own will. Once I have taken your coat, please make your way to the sitting room and help yourself to some refreshments. Be uninhibited and eat to your heart’s content. Gluttony is not frowned upon in this house. Neither is avarice or wrath, but you will discover all this if you make it past the vetting process.

What was that? My daughter never informed you that her mother and I intend to determine if you qualify to date the precious fruit of our loins? Her mistake. And yours, if you are not afraid. Our daughter is an extension of us and if you underestimate us then you are definitely underestimating her.

Do not be an underestimator.

The rules are simple and as follows:

One.

On the table to the right you will find three forms, one for consent, the second a waiver, and the final a non-disclosure. These must be read fully, initialed in the appropriate fields and signed and dated with the pen provided. When using the pen for the first time, some suitors have complained of a sharp pain in their writing hand. That is quite normal, I assure you. It is simply the pen’s piston converter filling device tapping an artery, as you will be signing in your own blood.

Two.

My wife will administer a unique personality test. Please endeavor to answer all the questions contained within truthfully as The Great Old Ones know when you lie and their retribution shall be swift and merciless. Be aware that we will not be accepting applicants who score below “Severely Aberrated.” Standards must be kept.

Three.

You will be escorted to a subterranean cavern and descend six thousand steps to a pit, seated with a shoggoth and made to read the Necronomicon – fleshbound volumes are available for purchase in my library for the insanely low price of your first born – front to back and back to front. You will do this aloud and the shoggoth will ask you questions at the end of each section to ensure proper comprehension.

Shoggoths are shapeless congeries of protoplasmic bubbles. They are also extremely sensitive about their appearance. Avoid commenting on their faintly self-luminous skin, and the myriad temporary eyes that form and un-form like pustules. This is for your own safety as they are extremely hungry, and they are not herbivores.

Four.

You shall be put through your paces. I will endeavor to push you past the limits of your physical endurance while simultaneously quizzing you to determine your intelligence quotient. Your hormones will be set out of balance and your psyche unraveled, dissected and scrutinized to ensure that you are a suitable suitor. Not to fear. I will reassemble you in the exact manner in which I found you.

More or less.

You have signed a waiver, after all.

Five.

If you have completed the tests successfully, you will join the ranks of prospective suitors at a ceremony in the deep woods, where you will battle one another under the supervision of a protean deity whose name you will have committed to memory by that point.

Important to note: if the idea of death, evisceration, and dining on the organs of slain foes makes you feel even the slightest bit uneasy, perhaps you are not the proper match.

Six.

Once you emerge victorious, and hopefully whole, you must leave old puny mortal faiths by the wayside and choose a new path. Our daughter prefers the Esoteric Order of Dagon, while her mother and I are partial to the Church of Starry Wisdom, but there are others, such as the Brothers of the Yellow Sign, the Cult of the Skull, Chorazos Cult, the Cult of the Bloody Tongue, and so on. Do not be swayed by any of us. The choice is yours.

Nothing involving aliens and volcanoes, though.

Seven.

You must take a blood vow to serve my daughter, though the path will surely lead you into the depths of insanity. You pledge to sacrifice yourself without question in order to continue her existence, if called upon to do so. And you swear to take her hand in yours and spread the entropy until you revive the ancient, powerful deities who once ruled the Earth from their deathlike sleep and bring the Great Elder God back in power.

This is non-negotiable.

Eight.

You are finally free to date. And since we realize in modern society sexual activity amongst adolescents has become a commonality, her mother and I fully support this. The only proviso we have is that should a union occur, you shall not spill your seed. Nor shall you engage in any sort of contraception. We require younglings.

Our ranks are thinning.

Signature x:_________________

Welcome to the family!

Text and Audio ©2014 – 2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Keep The Candle Burning 4 – The Convo

He looked wild and unhealthy in the most horrible way possible for someone on the living side of the grave. His light-skinned thin face was a roadmap of scars and lesions, some old and scabbed and some fresh, moist and pink. The skin that circled his storm-gray eyes was a sickly brownish-purple color, that lent him a dark psychotic appearance. Even his hair was in bad shape, being matted in places and choppy and uneven in others. The interface sockets drilled into his temples and wrists seemed out of place; shiny buttons of chrome spit-polished to perfection. Like a beautiful new brass doorknob on an old weather-beaten door.

“Hate to say ‘I told you so’, but—” Marv flashed her a smile. Yellow, ragged teeth clenched around the cigarette butt. He adjusted the rumpled clothes that hung off his anorexic body like a tent. In his current condition, he looked more like the national poster boy for The Euthanasia Campaign, rather than one of the Eurasian Alliance’s Most Wanted.

Talitha watched his eyes take her appearance in. Her hair was cropped short, reddish-brown, curly. Her skin was a beautiful copper color. She recently lost a few pounds which brought her down to 121, which she considered to be her optimum weight.

“Are you alone?” Talitha asked, letting her eyes quickly dance around the room but always snapping back to her target, in case he decided to make his move. The only move he made was with the cigarette hand, bringing it to his lips for a quick toke.

The studio, stripped of the cheap grandeur it once laid claim to, was small. There was barely enough space to fit the little table and two stools that sat across from the stove and sink. To the right was an alcove that held a toilet, no sink, no shower, and no door. To the left, where Quinton stood, was an unrolled sleepmat. Atop the little table was an ashtray made of foil, an open can of Albanian beer, a dusty and scratched cybermodem with connecting interface wires, and some half-melted candles. Come to notice it, there were candles all over the room, on the stove, the sink, the floor.

Most importantly, on the floor, by his right foot, was a pistol. She brought her own gun to bear and targeted the spot between his eyes, her lips skinned back from her teeth. “Slowly kick the 9mike-mike my way, now!”

Marv hesitated a moment, looking at his Browning and its distance from his hand in relation to the slamtracker’s finger to her gun’s trigger. He sighed and complied, kicking his pistol across the wooden floor.

“Turn around and assume the position,” Talitha said.

He took a long last pull on the cigarette, crushed the butt in the ashtray, turned quietly and leaned against the wall, hands flat, feet spread apart. Talitha bent her knees and reached for the Browning, never taking her eyes off Quinton, and tucked it into the waistband of her slacks. She moved to her bounty and patted him down. Nimbly reaching into the largest of the advantage belt’s compartments she produced four very thin metal bracelets, two with green markings and two with red.

Talitha turned him to face her and Quinton obediently held his fists in front of him. She gently but firmly took him by one shoulder and pulled him down vertically, knees and back bent in a crouch, his hands positioned close to his ankles. With a series of clicks his wrists and ankles were cuffed. The bracelets had no chains or bars linking them. The slamtracker stepped away and triggered a device. Dim green and red lights emanated from the bands and they homed in for their counterpart. Two sharp clinks resounded when magnetized metal rings touched. She had arranged the bands so that his left wrist was shackled to his right ankle and vice versa. Unable to keep his balance in the awkward position, Quinton landed on his butt, knocking over his stool.

She did a quick scan of the toilet. Quinton was alone. In the periphery of her vision, she could see him sitting on the floor testing the magnacuffs.

“Forget it,” she said, holstering the Glock and examining the Browning. “To separate the cuffs you’d need to exert five hundred pounds of pressure in both directions.”  Marv continued testing the cuffs anyway.

“Why didn’t you shoot me when I first walked in?” she asked, holding up his gun as if to say it’s loaded and functional.

“Not my style,” he looked up from the cuffs. His eyes, although weary and bloodshot, were sharp, intent, intelligent. “When I aim that gun I don’t shoot people, I shoot obstructions. I shoot aberrated ideologies. I shoot the future that has no place for the individual, only the corporate. The things that hit the ground when I squeezed that trigger were definitely not human. Maybe at one time, but not when they came to me.”

“You can’t glamorize killing. I do enough of it to know.” Talitha sat on the stool nearest her. “There’s nothing poetic about what you did. Nothing justifiable.”

“Since when isn’t freedom justifiable? Who decides that?” There was a twitch in one of Quinton’s jaw muscles.

“The survivors of murder victims.”

“And if you murdered me right now, could my survivors claim your freedom? Your life?”

“See this face? Not impressed by your word games.”

“They’re only word games, Ms. Slamtracker, if you’re on the losing side. When you’re winning, they’re indisputable facts.”

“Secure that crap, okay?”

After a long silence, Quinton said, “Murder me. Give my people a cause.”

“Your people? You mean—what is it you call yourselves now—The Midnight Raiders?”

“That’s what you call us. The media spoon-fed you a label and you lapped it up like a good corporate doggie. I’m talking about the hapless, the wretched, the destitute, the impoverished, the indigent, and unprovided for. All the underdogs are my people. They’re the stuff of lore. The kindling that keeps the flame alive.”

Talitha stared at him through slitted eyes. “Underdogs? How can you say that with a straight face? You’re part of the largest terrorist organization on three continents!”

Quinton’s intensity seemed to spark around his shoulders like electricity. “Since when is it terroristic to fight for freedom? When the movement first began, we held anti-corporate law protests, which was our right, to have our voices heard, to demand justice and equality. The response? They passed laws against us, claiming we were a menace to the EA Nations.”

Talitha glowered at him. “There are ways of fighting that don’t violate the law.”

“These corporations you work for, whose values you uphold and defend, siphoned billions of dollars from public programs that should have been used for food and shelter, creating a homelessness problem, which they sought to solve by rounding up the homeless and turning them into unwilling human subjects. They carved up the brains of public assistance recipients to implant software, wetware, data and storage chips, at first just to test the effects and later to create nonvoluntary data couriers. They connected toxin sacks to these people’s vital organs to force their cooperation. How can they expect us not to fight back?”

“Spare me your recruitment propaganda,” Talitha said and placed Quinton’s Browning in her waistband at the small of her sweat-stained back, adjusting it for comfort.

“Did you know the very first ‘Rinthjock, the guinea pig that was fitted with prototype interface sockets, was a woman on welfare?” Marv didn’t wait for her response. “Documented fact, look it up. In order to receive benefits for herself and her four children, she had to agree to submit herself for testing. The techies who created the method of downloading data directly into the mind without having to constantly slice open a skull and install datachips, devised a way to patch the human nervous system into a direct computer link via the major nerve trunks in the wrist and base of the skull. The process placed her in a vegetative state and to get a better understanding of what happened, they vivisected this poor woman, whom they considered intellectually inferior, and then had the nerve to rename the internet after her in tribute.”

“Her name was Labyrinth?”

“No, they weren’t interested in making a martyr out of her so they hid their tribute within a longer word. Her name was Arinthia Simpson.”

“You know, I let you go on to see if I could make some sense out of what you’ve done,” Talitha said. “But this dump is a sauna and I’m not in the right frame of mind to listen to zealotry at the moment, so be quiet, while I call this in.”

Double-tapping her right temple, Talitha activated her comm implant and held her thumb to her ear while speaking into her pinky. She called in the bounty and arranged for a wagon to swing by for the pick-up. All there was to do now was wait.

They sat in silence for nearly a half-hour, each with their own thoughts, until Marv said, “I read in a news article about a torture gadget the Eurasian Alliances Science Guild makes to sell to foreign countries that are still run by military dictatorships. Our own police agencies help by selling them torture equipment like this headband I saw. It’s worn like a skull cap and clamped on tight. Tiny pins on the inside of the band pierce the forehead, through the skull and into the brain. When activated, the headband selectively fries the forebrain with a jolt of current. Most of the victim’s memory is eradicated, leaving enough to implant an easily controlled pseudo personality into the empty brain, creating a killing machine.

“Our corporations manufacture these headbands. It’s made here, mass-produced in sweatshops that employ poor people at slave wages. Most of them don’t realize they’ll be wearing that cap eventually for some minor infraction that a rich person can simply buy their way out of. Mind you, I’ve only seen photographs of the headband; not the torture, just the results.”

“What did I tell you about—”

“Not spewing propaganda. Just making conversation to pass the time,” Marv said. “That wagon sure is taking its sweet time getting here. You positive it’s on the way?”

“It’ll be here, so why don’t you just sit there and reflect on your life choices.”

“Can I just tell you about this chair I saw?” he asked but didn’t wait for an answer. “It was a picture of an ordinary wooden chair bolted to the floor in a room in Chad where people had been tortured. There were no people in the photograph, but you knew from looking at the chair, from the blood-soaked back and seat that people had been tortured there. Women and men, light-skinned and dark, rebel and scapegoat, sane and crazy. In Chad, in Nova Scotia, in Cuba. And if it’s there for foreign dissidents, you know it’s here for native ‘Rinthjocks.”

“Of course, because you’re beset on all sides by the tyranny of evil corporations, blah-blah-blah.”

“Do you know the difference between a freedom fighter and a terrorist?”

“I’m sure you’ll enlighten me,” Talitha rolled her eyes.

“It’s what side of the line you stand on. I’m on the freedom fighter side. How about you?”

“I’m on the side that upholds the law, the side that has to listen to your lies and whiny nonsense about being forced into a way of life not of your choosing. And when I don’t subscribe to your bullshit, then I become the enemy and that gives you the right to kill me.”

“That’s not what we—” Marv started.

“You weren’t born a rebel with interface sockets and firearms, it’s a choice,” she said. “You made a conscious choice to live outside the law and enforce your own brand of justice and you don’t even have the decency to explain yourself and own up to your crimes. Why is that, Mr. Freedom Fighter?”

Quinton squirmed a little to get comfortable in his crouched position. He was used to the heat so it didn’t bother him much but he noticed Talitha could not say the same. She had tied a rolled handkerchief around her head to keep the sweat out of her eyes, but was helpless to stop the dark crescents that grew under her armpits. “I’ll explain it to you, the way my mother did to me,” he said, keeping his tone even, gentle but not condescending. She was the one with all the weapons, after all.

To Be Continued…

Text and audio ©2002-2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Keep The Candle Burning 3 – Talitha

Avenue B was crowded with petty consignees who made their living as best they could. DNA, RNA and organ banks. Barter firms. Boosterware outlets. Gambling holes. Hotels. Bars. Trixiepens. Bodegas. Prosthetic surgeries. Hockshops. Each animated with the cadence of people turning profits, the murmur of small enterprise, the barbed aroma of sweat and adrenaline.

Talitha Manchand inched her way out of the vendor clutter and holographic psychedelics of the avenue and jetted down a hotel-lined sidestreet. Three quarters down the block, she hooked a sharp left and spun the ’13 GeoPlymouth Cloudburst into a convenient alley. Guided by its lasertracking system, the hovercar maneuvered effortlessly through a maze of dumpsters and garbage cans, kicking up a mini-storm of grit and paper trash. The Cloudburst stopped a few feet from the back entrance to the Forgotten Realm Hotel, gently lowering itself on its flexible skirt. When she killed the engine, the skirt deflated and retracted into the car’s underbelly housing. She flicked on the dome light and slipped the Glock 19 out of the holster secured under the glove compartment and checked the load.

Flicking off the dome light, she climbed out the car, checked the alley, holstered the Glock in her advantage belt and walked over to the hotel’s back door. The sonic padlock was ancient; she picked it with a high-frequency whistle normally used to stand off attack dogs. With a soft click and a push of the door, Talitha stepped into a cluttered urine and sex-scented stairwell that used to be a service entrance and ghosted her way through the lobby.

The lobby loiterers were pretty much what she expected: snuffheads, scavoes, jonniegirls. Each in their little cliques, dialoguing. Except for a rail-thin stimfella, who was dealing stims to a skud, she might have gone unnoticed. The skud looked so hard up for a fix he probably would have snorted potassium cyanide. Behind the stimfella were two husky goons on the lookout. Definitely his billyboys.

“HEY!” the skud yelped as the stimfella pushed him to the side and walked away. “I slid you cash, so where’s my stash, man?”

Talitha knew there was no way the skud was up to going toe to toe with the stimfella but jonesing muscles sometimes made a weak man strong. And judging by the way he was listing and clutching the left side of his torso, he probably sold a lung or kidney to enjoy the uncollected stim.

“I’m talking to you, man! You deaf, or just stupid?” His answer came in the form of sledgehammer fists. The billyboys beat him to the ground and all he could do was bawl out in anger against their fury, trying to protect the recent surgery stitches.

The stimfella swaggered on an intercept course with Talitha and his billyboys, having made short work of the skud, weren’t too far behind. All three men stopped directly in front of her, blocking her path.

“Name’s Trent, jodie. Whatcha doin’ in the Paradise?” the slump-shouldered stimfella brushed blond locks out of his eyes and rubbed a blemish on the side of his aquiline nose. “Your man not servin’ you right? Lookin’ for a jock to rock your box? You found ‘im. I promise you a screamin’-and-creamin’-yabba-dabba-good-time,” he said, licking his thin dry lips.

“Fuck off,” Talitha said, before her brain could catch up to her mouth. There was no way this was going to end peacefully.

“Best put some speck on the way you talk to me, ‘fore I have to do it for you, the hard way,” The stimfella said, grabbing his crotch.

The billyboys exchanged glances and laughed. This was a game to them, Talitha realized. They were out for shits and giggles. Their laughter faded when Trent, sporting a lime green weasel-suede leisure suit, reached into his breast pocket, came out with a yellow plastic inhaler and fired a round up each nostril. He absently passed the inhaler over his shoulder for his billyboys to divvy up the dregs. Talitha studied the stimfella. A full head taller than she, confident, tough and tanked up on some stim that probably boosted his reflexes and gave him an adrenaline buzz. Someone was going to get hurt.

Talitha considered it might be her, so she tried to sidestep. Billyboy one and two flanked their boss left and right and circled her, smiling, Trent lashed out at her face with the back of his left hand, a bitch-slap, what real men used to keep their women in check. This punk regarded her the same way he did his stimmed-out trixies. Someone he could slap around one minute and get them to go down on him the next.

That was all it took.

Talitha’s body went wild. Blocking the slap with her forearm, she snagged his wrist with one hand and slammed the heel of her other palm into his elbow. The impact forced the elbow joint to bend the wrong way with a moist, popping sound. Trent’s scream trailed his collapsing body to the floor.

Billyboy One came in from behind and tried to get Talitha in a headlock but before his arm locked around her throat, she slammed the back of her head into the biliyboy’s face, smashing his nose. At the same time, she hooked her foot behind one of his knees and forced it to buckle while shifting all her weight against him suddenly. They toppled backward. When his head struck the tiled floor, his grip loosened and she rolled out of his arms and drove her elbow down into his solar plexus.

The remaining billyboy was over her suddenly, shifting his weight to his right leg so he could kick with his left. Talitha ducked inside the kick with her arms close to her chest. Then both arms shot out one after the other and her tiny rock hard fists slammed into the billyboy’s testicles like pistons from an ignited car engine. The quadruple punch doubled the man, forcing him to topple over Trent’s body and crash to the floor in a fetal position.

Talitha rolled to her feet and brushed herself off. She glanced around the lobby, her expression explicit. It said, simply: Next?

The cliques slowly scattered, loiterers making their way towards the exit. They recognized the fighting style and pegged her as slamtracker.

“Now that they know what you are,” said a voice from behind the front desk. “They’re probably planning to bum-rush you when you leave.”

“The least of my worries,” she mumbled.

The desk clerk, who’s nametag read: ADEL, was a nondescript beaker-bred hermaphrodite who looked as androgynous as they claimed Bowie did in his heyday. Adel seemed mildly amused, glancing past Talitha to the three moaning men on the floor.

The skud picked himself up unsteadily and began rummaging through the stimfella’s pockets. Trent made a weak grab attempt but the skud stomped down on Trent’s broken arm. The stimfella shrieked, eyes rolling into the back of his head, and the skud returned to his scavenger hunt, taking all the stims and money he found.

Talitha thought, maybe, if he hurried to the organ bank, the skud could get his old lung or kidney back, or even buy new ones. More likely, he would forego the organs and buy more stims. He was visibly bleeding from where his stitches popped, but he seemed rather pleased with his ill-gotten gains. He pocketed his goods and on his way out the door, he kicked both billyboys in the face, obviously the icing on his satisfaction cake.

Talitha turned her attention back to Adel, flashed her credentials and said, “You know why I’m here.”

“I’m the one who called, but don’t go thinking I’m some sort of snitch. I just needed the finder’s fee for an emergency, that’s all,” the clerk said and pushed a slip of paper toward her. “That’s his room number.”

“Not my concern how you justify it, as long as the information is accurate,” Talitha started for the elevator, spotted the OUT OF ORDER sign then made for the stairs instead.

The Forgotten Realm lived up to its name. Calling the place low-tech would’ve been high praise. Most of the mechanix here were decades old. Still, Talitha had to admit she was slightly impressed that the whole place was put together from salvaged materials. Shame no one here jerry-built an air conditioning system. She was on the nervous side to begin with, add that it was the last night in July, and it made for a woman who gave off enough sweat to cure the Delaware drought. Walking up twenty-three flights of rickety stairs didn’t help the matter any.

Talitha heard the stairwell door close behind her. Her left hand adjusted her advantage belt to put the more suitable compartments in her reach. The Glock 19 mini 9mm trembled in the grip of her tense right hand. She debated whether or not to leave the safety catch on. Her index finger rested near the trigger.

Cold fear poured down her spine as she started down the long, empty hallway. She licked her lips, trying to taste some courage. The Glock grip itched her palm. Her breath was quick. She paused outside the door number scratched on the slip of paper. Standing off to one side, she tweaked the doorbell and waited. Nothing. She put her mouth to the apartment’s intercom, ‘Marv Quinton?” Still nothing.

The locks on the door were electronic; finger-idents that were programmed to the renter’s fingerprints that could only be overridden by special 4-digit codes. Child’s play. From one of the smaller sections of her advantage belt she pulled a device roughly the size of her thumbnail. It looked like a tiny calculator. She placed it on the lock panel and it took all of fifteen seconds to tumble the locks.

As soon as the pneumatic door opened, her stomach quivered. “Mr. Quinton?” Talitha called into the doorway of the jet apartment. No answer. Not that she expected one. If he felt up to having company, he wouldn’t have made her pop all three of the finger-idents on the door.

Her weapon readied, she stepped inside. The door hissed shut behind her, the locks snapping closed. Darkness swallowed her like a hungry animal. The heat was three times as severe inside, made worse by the stale air. “Lights on.” she spoke to the ceiling, but nothing happened. Either he had disconnected the light mechanism, or this dump wasn’t fitted with voice activated halogen strip lighti—

To the left, the tip of a matchstick scraped along the warped wooden floor and burst into life. The barrel of the Glock swung left, her body following and she planted her feet firmly apart, slightly bent, thumbed the safety off and braced herself to lay into that corner of the room.

Laughter. Man’s laughter, as the match rose to light the tip of a cigarette. She couldn’t see his face clearly, the flame played eerie shadow games with his features. He sat on a stool in the corner, looking like a gargoyle on a precipice.

“You should be more careful when you violate someone’s space. If I was as mental as most make me out to be, I would’ve flatlined you at the door,” the gargoyle said. He blew out the match and was devoured by the shadows again, all except the fiery tip of his cigarette.

“Marv Quinton?” she tried becoming less of a target, stepping away from the spot he saw her at, but the floorboards creaked, giving away her movements.

“Depends on who’s asking,” the cigarette tip bobbed up and down as he spoke.

“Talitha Manchand, ‘Rinth police.”

“You mean slamtracker, don’t you? ‘Rinth cops don’t come this far out when they can hire local.”

“Fine. I’m a tracker, okay?” she swiped at the sweat on her forehead.

“Dialogue.”

“Not in the dark, Mr. Quinton-“

“I insist.”

“Not in the dark, Mr. Quinton!”

“I have my reasons.”

“NOT IN THE DARK, MR. QUINTON!”

“The years haven’t been kind to me.”

“Did I ask you all that? I just need to viz you, okay? It’s regulation.”

Quinton stood up and reached over to hit the old fashioned manual lightswitch. Two dusty fluorescent rings flickered on and Talitha squinted until her eyes adjusted to the light, and it took all the self-control she had to keep from flinching.

To Be Continued…

Text and audio ©2002-2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Keep The Candle Burning 2 – Quinton

In the heart of Slummer Paradise, where the pollution-to-air ratio was widely acknowledged to be the worst on the planet, Marv Quinton fitfully tossed and turned on a rented rotten wood floor.

Why he opted to lay his sleepmat there was obvious. Being hazardzone, the Paradise offered excellent cover because it was as dark, grimy and ominous as the rumor suggested. The persistent stinging smog created by makeshift power stations and chemical plants, hovered over the tiny region and cut resident life expectancy short by sixty percent with cancer, heart disease and emphysema. The drawn faces of the locals took on the grays and browns of the cityscape. Acrid smoke from rows of chimneys darkened the streets. Lignite and coal, used to fuel the mechanix of the area, was primitive, cheap and abundant. It was also high in sulfur and ash and intensely dirty.

All in all, it was a small price to pay for a rest to the endless running.

The area was originally named Alphabet City in the PreCollapse Days, but that was before the FlatFall of ’92, when the Eurasian Alliances established the Global Commodities Barter Systems which succeeded in destroying the economies of the former superpowers. All plans for the commercial and residential redevelopment of Alphabet City were scrapped in the depression that followed.

After years of neglect and decrepitude, after sewage, factory discharge and poorly stored toxic waste had contaminated most of the surrounding areas, the residents who could afford it began moving away in droves and a dome was constructed to contain the area’s pollutants. It became a scarred and battered, lost part of Manhat, rumored to be inhabited by freaks and misfits. A place where acts of depravity and violence were the social norm.

An exaggeration on the truth. The area was inhabited by travelers and squatters mostly, with a few neurobikers, ‘Rinthjocks, and down-n-outters tossed into the pot to add flavor. Even though many of the babies were born with deformities, asthma, bronchitis, and eye and skin ailments, due to the high level of toxic metals collecting in their parent’s tissues, they were not misfits. They were pioneers that saw a home in a lifeless place. It was their sweat and muscle that rebuilt the area, some were even cunning enough to devise independent air-filtration, sewage and electrical systems. And as for the acts of violence and depravity, well, they happened no more in the Paradise than anywhere else. Both factions of segregated Manhat gave the Paradise wide berth just the same.

Rising fear from the rumors eventually led to the area being legally designated Hazardzone. That was when Alphabet City’s concrete and steel skeleton became Slummer Paradise. Home to those who had nothing to lose by becoming lost in the bureaucracy. Visited by no one in the mainstream, except for slamtrackers, who came to collect either police or private bounties.

And in the center of this asphalt and tar prairie, Marv Quinton hid in a one-room coffin, equipped with the barest of essentials needed to continue his existence.

Nighttime stressed him the most. He was used to being mobile until daybreak. The hysteria, brought on by the restlessness he usually managed to beat down, was just about to bust its cap. The rathole he took refuge in suddenly began to close in on him. He yanked the interface cables from his head shunts and shoved his cybermodem violently aside. Not even being online in the Labyrinth contented him any longer. He paced the room, chain-smoked and flicked stations on the vid monitor until nothing was on the screen but the subliminal psychedelics of the non-broadcast channels that were meant to lull the viewer into a passive, consumable state, which had no effect on Marv. For inspiration, he worked on his agenda and list of priorities until they became so sophisticated and scrambled, he had to stop before he lost his mind. Funny thought, that, since he was surely crazy already.

Sleep deprivation made him this hunted animal, addicted to fear and sometimes murder. He would have done Strega blotter, mescaphine tabs, hyperpyridinium Jell-0 shots, anything to put himself under, but his metabolism had been altered to make him immune to stims. So he forced himself to stretch out on the hard, unyielding sleepmat. He was certain he understood what Hell really was; lying down, tired enough to sleep through his entire lifetime, times three , yet not able to close his burning, bloodshot eyes.

Dreaming, perchance to sleep.

That was a curse he acquired while on the run. He never had dreams anymore, the dreams had him. Clutching him in a two-fisted chokehold of rudimentary panic that was beyond the realm of his comprehension, yet so basic in structure that it was ingrained in the very foundation of his nature. The fear, or the dream, he wasn’t sure which, had turned his cramped room into a vast black canvas, stretched to opposite sides of infinity. And his childhood phobia of the dark bubbled to the surface from that place buried by years of conditioning, logic and maturity, deep within the sub-sub-sub-regions of his mind. That tiny concrete and steel room, wrapped in wrecking ball chains, with the huge reinforced padlocks that held all the real horrors of the world: the deranged and deformed Prometheus, cybervampires, hellhounds, the CribDeath Man, Geriatric Rabid Killer Teddy Bears. Somehow they were all free again. Some nosey bastard just had to find out what was in that room, just had to pick the padlocks. And now they were coming for him, to exact their revenge, to toss his into that tiny prison. But not before they had their fun. Rule Number 101 in the Horrors’ Ethics Handbook: Always Enjoy Yourself At The Expense Of Others.

Wait! What was that at his ankle? Felt like teeth. Long, sharp, metal…

Only then, when he choked down a scream that made his throat raw, was he beset with the meat of the nutshell. The dream.

Flash-card remembrances assaulted his senses, of different things and different times, but ail in order, as if they had been carefully filed in some sort of mental card catalogue and plucked out by a librarian and thrust into his face, one at a time.

MEMORY of the rough feel of his father’s hands as they brushed his own, accepting his third year birthday gift. The hand-me-down IBM keyboard, one megabyte ram, forty megabytes hard drive with a built-in VGA holoplate that weighed a ton in his tiny grip.

MEMORY of the sweat that poured down his face and stung his eyes, at age nine, when he battled the school computer’s AI for supremacy and rewrote the comp literacy program to upscale the daily lesson plans to something a bit more challenging.

MEMORY of the wonderfully dirty, used smell of the money he made changing grades after he cracked the Board of Education’s mainframe.

MEMORY of the coy smile that played at the corners of his mother’s mouth when she announced, on his twelfth birthday, that she would finance his first set of chrome interface sockets.

MEMORY of the first time he jacked into the Labyrinth, the way the computer data reached out to him, into him, and tickled his nervous system. He reached his first orgasm at that moment, and was embarrassed at the time. Now he wished he could go back and re-experience that sensation. No other orgasm had come close since.

MEMORY of his father’s chalky brown face on the day of the funeral. The facial expression wasn’t right, wasn’t natural. The person that handled the cosmetics obviously never met his father while he was alive.

MEMORY of the scratchy white tissue in his mother’s hand that wiped the tears from his swollen eyes, as she tried to explain in a hushed and frightened tone, that his father hadn’t died of a stroke as she led everyone to believe.  His father had actually been part of a rebel group named “The Midnight Raiders” who punched into the Labyrinth and attempted an illegal data raid on the Polygenom Corporation. Somewhere something went wrong and they tripped over an anti-intrusion program that wiped their brains clean and stopped their hearts cold.

MEMORY of his stomach churning savagely on the night before his fifteenth birthday, when he woke to the sound of his mother’s screams. The ‘Rinth police had violated the sanctity of their home and yanked her from bed with a gun to her head, dragging her struggling body into the street. She was still in her nightgown.

MEMORY of the mixed look of terror and anger on his mother’s bruised and bloodied face, as they shoved her into a dark nondescript van. He knew that was the last time he’d ever see her again.

MEMORY of the helplessness he felt, handcuffed in the backseat of the squad car, overhearing the conversation of the two ‘Rinth cops up front. They discussed sticking him in a foster home until further orders were received. Their casual tone of voice, like they were dropping off clothes at the cleaners, made him kick at the wire mesh partition until he wore himself out. The cops just laughed as he cried in frustration.

MEMORY of him breaking out of the foster care system two days after his arrival. If there was any justice in the world, he hoped somebody snatched the stupid ‘Rinth cops’ families out of bed at gunpoint and shoved the lot of them into a van, never to be seen again. How hard would they laugh then?

MEMORY of learning how to hustle on the streets to avoid eating out of restaurant dumpsters.

MEMORY of faces. Thirty-five screaming faces of strangers, slamtrackers, each characteristically unique and detailed. Faces burned on the insides of his eyelids forever. Thirty-five people, women and men alike, who probably had families that depended on ‘Rinth police bounties. Money that would never be collected. Families that needed to find a new provider.

So many memories, tiny shard images and hollow voices. He supposed, in its own way, it was a form of rest, a sort of OEM sleep. Open Eye Movement. His eyes darted around the bleak room, tracking the images that ran at ultraliminal speeds. The same way tonight as every other time he tried to sleep since he was fifteen. The dream made him a captive audience to a personalized home movie that he was powerless to stop when it came over him. Unable to sleep until the dream ran its course. When it was finally done, so was he.

Just as he was about to settle into that brief and fragile thing that passed for sleep, Marv Quinton woke hard, clothes clinging to his sweat-spackled body. Grabbing the Browning Hi-Power beneath his pillow, he racked the slide, chambering a 9mm shell and covered the door. The act was a smooth reflex, practiced so much, he could have done it in his sleep. Many times he had. The room was windowless and pitch to human vision, but he twisted his head back and forth anyway, scanning. His heart hammered. The remnants of the dream shrieked through his mind. An eddy of pure panic swept over him when he realized he had company.

Someone was in the hallway, just outside his room door.

To Be Continued…

Text and audio ©2002-2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Keep The Candle Burning 1 (a cyberpunk story told in parts)

After what’s been done to us, it’d be easy to wallow in bitterness and self-pity, but both grief and insecurity have to be faced, dealt with and exorcised. There’s more, you know, there has to be more to life than simply trudging through daily hassles, waiting to die. We have a role, a purpose, far greater than self. We have to set examples, lead the way. We represent what we should be, what we dream of becoming and not the thing we’re forced to become. Yes, we as a race screwed up. That’s to be expected sometimes, it’s only human. What’s also human is the ability to learn from those mistakes. To grow. To mature. If you do that, even a little, then perhaps what we went through will have a positive meaning. Don’t let me die in vain.

-The final words of Cheyenne Willys

To Be Continued…

Author’s note: Once again, I’ve gone scrounging around in my box of old first draft/half-finished stories, which is the writer’s version of taking a walk down memory lane. This story was written on the tale end of my fascination with cyberpunk, a sub-genre I was sure was going to take over the market and launch science fiction into bold, new territories. Anyhoo, the above passage may not make loads of sense but it’s the quote I opened the novella with that ties into the backstory of the piece. Why I chose to isolate it in this post is anybody’s guess, but here it is nonetheless. Hope you enjoy it and come back for the rest.

Text and audio ©2002-2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Hard Pill To Swallow

Even before the Uber came to a complete halt, Katie Solomon had the back passenger-side door open ready to hop out, and was pushing her way through the crowded airport with her wheeled carry-on case in tow. Her phone rang and she struggled to fish it out of her coat pocket.

The phone screen read: GRACE.

Katie rolled her eyes and exhaled sharply as she pressed IGNORE and shoved the phone back into her pocket. Not watching where she was going, she collided with someone and was about to apologize when she looked up and saw Grace Brewer holding out her phone.

“Did you just ignore me?” Grace asked, face like a thunderstorm.

“What? No!” Katie lied. “What are you doing here?”

“Um, trying to speak with my supposed best friend who’s been avoiding me for the past week?”

“I wasn’t avoiding. Things are just hectic at the moment and I’m running late for a conference but if I get through screening like right this minute, I can just make my flight.”

“A week, Katie. Not one returned call or text in a week.”

“But it’s never just a week with you, is it, Grace?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means when your life begins a downward spiral, it’s months of consoling, months of advice, months of talking you down off all the ledges. Months that I don’t have right now.”

“Oh, didn’t realize my misery was such an inconvenience to you. Go on to your conference-thingie, then.”

“I am,” Katie said, as she made a beeline for the escalators.

Grace stood there in shocked disbelief, ready to let out a scream of rage that her best friend couldn’t even spare a few minutes of her time, when her phone rang. It was Katie.

“You’ve got some nerve,” Grace started.

Katie cut her off. “You’ve got a few minutes until I board the plane, so you’re on the clock, talk!”

“What? How can you just put me on the spot like that? It’s too much pressure.”

“Okay, then I’ll go,” Katie said. “Here’s the real reason we haven’t had this conversation yet: You’re. Not. Ready. You’re in the first stage of separation: denial.”

“I’m not in denial, in fact, I think I’m being very mature about things. Colin and I are talking, actually talking, for the first time in a long time.”

“Grace…”

“I’m sure you think it’s a mistake, but I still love him. There’s a lot going on. We have history.”

“Germany has a history, too. Nazis, the SS, Panzers. You learn from history, you don’t repeat it.”

“I just need to know if we have a future. Odds are this will fail miserably and leave me more devastated than I already am, but I’ve got to try. Who wants to live the rest of their life wondering what if?”

Katie said, “That feeling of betrayal? That doesn’t go away. Trust? You can toss that out the window. And every time you two get into even the smallest argument, guess what gets tossed into the mix?”

“I hear what you’re saying, Katie, but I…”

“But nothing. You said the sex stopped months ago. He bought new clothes, started spending more time at work, that’s all the classic signs. Were you really surprised when he asked for his keys back? Doesn’t take Holmesian intuition to work out that he met someone else and it was over between the two of you.”

“But I asked him if he was cheating on me and he said no. Granted maybe nothing was going on between them while we were still together, but he was starting to develop feelings for her that he didn’t want to admit to.”

Off the escalator, Katie located the arrow pointing to her gate and headed in that direction. To Grace, she said, “Okay, here’s the part you’re not going to want to hear, the friendship breaker. Yes, Colin is a vile creature who’s sleeping with the office slut, but he’s not in the wrong here, you are.”

“What do you mean?”

“There’s one name that hasn’t come up during all this.”

“Whose?”

“Mark. Your husband.”

“That’s not fair. You know my marriage means nothing to me, obviously, or I wouldn’t have gotten involved with Colin. The only respect I have for Mark is that he’s Lucy’s father. He doesn’t deserve anything else from me. He lost that right before Colin ever came into the picture. Mark is my legal husband, Colin is the husband of my heart.”

“So, what do you hope to get out of all this, a reconciliation? Even if you pull a miracle out of your ass, are you going to leave Mark? Wait until Lucy’s old enough to understand? How many years until she’s off the college? Nine? You really think you can keep a guy like Colin on the side for that long?”

“What am I supposed to do? Financially and logistically, I can’t care for Lucy alone right now. And Mark would flip if I moved her in with Colin. Should she go without or live in a dangerous neighborhood because I’m not in love with her father anymore? There’s no family for me to turn to for help and support. I’m not looking for another father for her, she’s got one. I just wish that we could live under a separate roof. I need to be able to care for her by myself. This situation is unfair to everyone involved.”

“I’m not blaming you for doing right by Lucy, I’m just saying if you plan on winning Colin back, you need to start filling sandbags and shoring up your castle to protect the queen. And be prepared not to let him into your heart again until he proves himself over time. And if you do let him back in, be shrewd, be careful and keep your eyes open wide. Listen for the wrong answers. Remember, in his eyes, regardless of your shared relationship, he’s sleeping with a married woman. After a while you cheapen yourself by staying with him and he’ll value you less. And that’s unacceptable,” Katie said, and off Grace’s silence, added, “I’ve said too much, please be careful, I know what you’re going through and it’s hard to let something close to you go… probably the hardest thing anyone can do. “

“Cheapen myself? He can’t possibly see me that way, can he?”

Katie shrugged. “Don’t know what to tell you, Grace, you’re still kind of unavailable to him. Marriage has a way of doing that to the third party.”

“I just not willing to accept the fact that all the time we’ve spent together was for nothing.”

“There are no number of years together or history or whatever that’s worth your peace of mind,” Katie said, reaching a security checkpoint, She presented her ticket and boarding pass. “He’s violated that by sleeping with someone else and it’s something he can never repair. No matter how good he may be or become. You are the only one who can give yourself peace of mind. I highly recommend you wean yourself from him, as difficult as it may be. There’s more out there. Yes, he’s familiar, but take a good look at that word: fami-LIAR.”

“All I can say is this. I know with everything that I am that I was meant to be with Colin.” Grace said. “For how long, I can’t say, but I know we’re not done. This is not a desperate cry, this is a maturity that’s awakening in me. I won’t forgive him for what he’s done, but I have to work past it. It’s like gutting a house, sometimes the foundation is strong enough so that you just have to replace the innards and resurface the exterior. You combine the old and the new into something better.”

“Look, if Colin’s indiscretion is something you can live with fine, but for me, personally, I can’t deal with infidelity. If the person I’m with starts messing with someone else, it’s adiós muchacho.”

“Don’t you understand? This is about more than just him being attracted to someone else. It’s been a long time since I felt free, an eternity since I let someone really see all of who I am. You were there, Katie, you knew me when. Not to sound vain or anything but I’m beautiful. I’m a unique vision of creation, a work of art, who’s trying to get back in touch with the person I was, who I still am, not the golem that my life experiences are trying to carve me out to be.”

There was silence on the other end of the line and Grace thought the connection had dropped. Katie’s voice finally broke the silence, her tone a little softer. “I get that.”

“Well, you must be close to your gate by now, so don’t let me keep you. I really just needed to say the words out loud before they consumed me. Thanks for being a friend,” Grace said as she ended the call.

Dejected, Grace walked out of the terminal and stared at the long queue for the taxi stand. She resigned herself to her fate of waiting, when a hand hooked the crook of her arm, pulling her in the opposite direction.

It was Katie.

“What the hell are you doing?” Grace asked, confused.

“Being the friend I should have been in the first place.”

“But your flight—”

“I’ll catch the red eye. So, liquid or frozen?”

“What?”

“Name your comfort poison, booze or ice cream.”

“Both?”

“Wow, you really do suck at making decisions.”

“I make decisions all the time,” Grace said, indignant.

“Yeah, the wrong ones.”

“This is being a friend? You know, it’s probably not too late to catch your plane.”

“Still got a little fight in you. Nice to know,” Katie smiled. “Now, where can we grab a froyo mojito?”

“I know just the place.”

Text and audio ©2014-2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys