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Day One Hundred and Eighty-two: Self-Guided Tour

November 19, 2011 2 comments

Ezra Reznick stood against the wrought-iron fence, between a couple from Japan who were having their picture taken, and a family of five from somewhere in the Midwest who couldn’t get their littlest to stop screaming for more than half a minute. There were tourists everywhere on Pennsylvania Avenue, along with police, Secret Service agents, and people who actually had jobs to go to, and Ezra wondered again if what he was about to do was a good idea.

The teachers had taken his class off to walk through the Mall, with plans to stop at every major monument that they ran across. From the last time his family had visited, he knew the Washington Death March very well, and had no interest in wearing out the soles of his shoes to go see stuff he could perfectly well see on a postcard. So he hung back and counted on the natural chaos that comes with trying to shepherd a hundred high school students through the city to hide his escape at least for a little while. Even if they did find him, there was nothing they could do that would be worse that what the Secret Service could dish out.

And they would. Of that he was certain. Only if they could catch him, though, and that was the key bit.

He took a breath, held it, and let it out. The black fence was solid and hard, as iron usually is. He rapped his knuckles against it and there was just a dull thud. He flexed his fingers and held them up to the bar again and pushed. This time, his hand went through as though the bar wasn’t even there.

Which, if you wanted to be really pedantic about it, it wasn’t.

Ezra had no idea how he did what he did. The first time he’d managed it was when he was eleven and his drunk stepfather thought it would be a good idea to lock him in a closet for spilling a beer. Ezra had yelled and screamed and pounded on the door until he he just fell right through it. Like a ghost.

It happened again about a week later as he slipped from the crushing arms of Otto Dunnigan, the resident bully at Ravensbrook Elementary, and a third time when that selfsame bully tried to shove him into a locker and he fell through into the classroom on the other side. Clearly, something strange was going on. And for a boy who grew up stealing comic books from the local drugstore, he was pretty sure he knew what it was.

He experimented, trying to make his new talent work without being furious or in mortal danger. And he couldn’t.

Several bloody noses and a few visits to his school counselor later, he was beginning to wonder if he had imagined everything. If maybe he was going to end up being the crazy kid in the school, the one who walked into walls and muttered about how it worked before, dammit.

In the end, it was his science teacher who convinced him. Mr. Tebow, teaching them about atoms and electrons and other things that none of the kids would ever need to know about when they grew up, said something that caught Ezra’s ear.

“Matter,” he’d said, rapping his knuckles on the desk, “is mostly empty space. It seems solid enough, but in reality, there’s more nothing in this desk than there is something.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a golf ball. “If the nucleus of an atom were the size of this ball, the nearest electron would be almost a mile away. And in between here and there?” He bounced the ball on the floor once and caught it. “Nothing at all.”

Nothing. That word hung in Ezra’s head. Nothing. Lots of nothing.

He looked down at his desk and tried to imagine all the nothing that was in there. In between the atoms, between the electrons and the nuclei – nothing. He raised his hand, and Mr. Tebow looked a little startled before he called on him. “If there’s mostly nothing, how come we can touch things?”

His science teacher grinned broadly and said, “An excellent question, Ezra!” He then started drawing pictures of atoms on the board, explaining about electrical charges and how they came in positives and negatives. He went to the supply closet and brought out a stick on a base, put it on his desk and started floating magnets on it, north-to-north and south-to-south. It was the happiest Ezra had seen his science teacher in a long time, and he tried to pay attention.

About a minute before the bell rang, Mr. Tebow said, “And that’s why we can touch things, Ezra.” He picked up the golf ball and tossed it to Ezra, who caught it. “Your electrons won’t go past the electrons in that golf ball. If they could, then, well, – you wouldn’t be able to catch it.” The bell rang and everyone filed out. Ezra sat at his desk while the other kids ran to lunch, just pressing his finger on the desktop.

Mr. Tebow walked over, books and papers in his arms. “Thank you, Ezra,” he said. “Your question was really very good. Keep it up.” He smiled and left, and Ezra felt a little grin of his own crawl across his face. Empty space, he thought. He stared at the desk and his finger. And he had pushed.

Now, in front of the White House, he was ready. He pulled his baseball cap down low and put on a large pair of dark sunglasses. He took a few more deep breaths, closed his eyes, and took a step forward.

There was shouting from the street almost before he’d taken three steps. He opened his eyes and looked behind him – the fence was still there, along with a group of gawping tourists. He grinned and shoved his hands in his pockets. He whistled as he walked casually across the North Lawn towards the White House.

Moments later, there were three men in black uniforms barreling towards him. They looked like football players and were shouting at him to stop and get on the ground. Ezra felt his mouth dry up, and for a moment felt his feet settle on the close-cropped grass. He focused – this would be a very bad time to lose control – and kept walking. Whistling was a bit of a challenge, though.

One of the men dove at him, his arms stretched out to catch him at the waist, and wend right through. Ezra didn’t look back, but kept going through the fountain at a casual, almost touristy pace. The other two reached for his shoulders and grabbed handfuls of nothing at all. Ezra did his best not to laugh as they yelled into their radios for backup.

He had looked at floor plans online, and knew where he wanted to go. After all, if he was going to just walk into the White House, there was really only one room you had to see. He kept the West Wing in his sights and made a straight line for it.

A group of men in suits ran out to block his way and stood with guns drawn. An older man held up his hands. “Stop right there, son,” he said. “I’m -”

Ezra didn’t know who he was and didn’t really care. He walked right through him and kept on his way.

The first wall that he walked through led to a small office with a very surprised young woman on the phone. She yelled out to someone in the hall, who tried to block the door and failed. Ezra turned left down the corridor and headed towards the small suite of offices that surrounded the one he wanted to see.

The White House was in a panic. There were Secret Service agents filling the corridor, and none of them were able to touch him. They were barking orders in strong, authoritative voices that he just pretended were his father’s and ignored. He kept walking. An older woman stood in the doorway of the President’s secretary’s office, her arms crossed. “Young man,” she said. “Just what do you think you’re doing?”

Ezra stopped and looked up at her. She was really trying hard, even he could see that. “I’m visiting the President,” he said. And stepped forward.

She screamed when he walked through her, but he didn’t look back. He was a little startled when a stapler flew through his head and bounced off the wall, but he kept his focus on the simple white door in front of him. Nothing fancy or elaborate about it. Just a door. And on the other side of that door was the most powerful man in the world. A man who was supposed to represent the hopes and dreams of millions around the world. For the first time, Ezra wondered what he’d say when he saw him. He grimaced. The rest of the plan had been meticulously planned out, but somehow he’d avoided thinking about that.

He shrugged. He was a bright kid, he knew that. He’d think of something.

Ezra stepped through the door and entered the Oval Office.

It was just like he’d seen on TV. Paintings on the walls and elegant, uncomfortable-looking furniture. He stepped onto the carpet, pale gray and blue, with the giant eagle in the center. There were bookcases with carefully displayed books and gifts from other nations, and a bust of some guy with a huge mustache and tiny glasses on an antique desk. In front of the tall windows at one end, in between a pair of flags, was the biggest desk he’d ever seen, made from wood so dark it seemed almost black.

There was no one else in the room but him.

“The hell?” he said. He looked around, but he was alone in the Oval Office. “Aww, man,” he said, his shoulders slumping. “This sucks.”

“He’s in Indonesia.” The woman he’d walked through before was standing in the doorway, looking like she was trying very hard not to be angry. “And even if he weren’t, do you really think the Secret Service would have let him stay here?” She took a few steps in and closed the door. “You didn’t really think this through, did you?”

She was right. If this had been a movie, the Secret Service probably would have picked up the President like a football and carried him off to some bunker or other where no one – ghost-kid or otherwise – would be able to find him until he was meant to be found. All the panic that Ezra had caused would be nothing compared to what it would have been like if the President were actually in the house.

“No,” he finally said. “I guess I didn’t.”

She seemed a little more at ease, and took another step towards him. “And you probably don’t have a plan for getting out of here either, do you?” She smiled, and right there he decided he wasn’t going to like her. The woman was pretty enough, but there was a gleam in her eyes. She looked like one of those kids in school who knew they had you where they wanted you. Those jocks who made you buy lunch for them, or the girls who pretended to be friends just long enough for you to embarrass yourself. The fact that she was right again didn’t make any difference. This woman would bully him if she could.

“No,” he said again. “I didn’t.” He looked about the office again and did his best to look completely bored by it. “I guess it all wasn’t worth it, really.”

She nodded. “Now, why don’t you tell me your name and we can get this unpleasantness sorted out.” She reached out a hand to him.

Ezra stared at it for a moment. “No,” he said. “I don’t think I will.” He wasn’t sure if what he was about to try would actually work, but he sure couldn’t make things worse. He waved at her, said “Buh-bye, lady,” and dropped through the floor.

He found himself in a cafeteria, surrounded by more very large men who looked very surprised at his appearance. As they started reaching for their guns, he dropped through the floor again. This time he found himself in a service tunnel, empty and dark, lit every few feet by dim lights. For the first time, he let his feet settle to the floor, and he leaned against the cold concrete wall. His heart was racing, and he was just noticing it now. “Holy shit,” he whispered. “Ho. Ly. Shit.”

He started laughing. He knew that he still had to get out, and he still wasn’t sure how he was going to manage that, but that wasn’t important. He had done it. He had walked into the White Frikkin’ House, and hadn’t gotten caught. Anything else ought to be a cakewalk.

He let his laughter die down, took off his sunglasses and wiped his eyes. There was a whole new world open to him now, and he was going to have as much fun in it as he could.

As he walked down the tunnel, he started making new plans.

Maybe the Pentagon.

*****

Ezra Resnick’s page at 30characters.com

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Day One Hundred and Eighty-one: Mother Earth

November 18, 2011 2 comments

Starlight Moonwhispers sat among her people in the middle of the Goldwell oil company’s lavish New York City headquarters and looked around the lobby. There were sleeping bags strewn about, small gas stoves to boil water and cook with, and a poetry reading going on near the elevator bank. Mothers were nursing small children, and older kids were running about the marble hall, chasing each other and laughing.

About a hundred people had, like Starlight, barricaded themselves in the lobby in order to protest the oil company’s continued operations. They had been there for six days straight and had refused all offers by the company to come to some sort of compromise. Starlight Moonwhispers had led them all here. She had told them of her visions, her clarity – that if they made a stand in this place, at this time, they would set in motion a revolution that would free their Mother Gaia from human bondage. The local TV stations had been running her videotape all week:

…and it is only when we accept what we are, we human beings, that we will truly know the love that our Mother, Gaia, has for us. She wants us to thrive and be well, to live in peace and harmony with all nature. But the work of evil that Goldwell and other greedy, anti-life corporations do is what ultimately keeps us from knowing Gaia’s love. They rape our Mother with their oil rigs and wells. They suck the life out of Her and burn it into the air, fouling Her precious lungs with the burned filth of Her own body. Is it any wonder that we have earthquakes devastating cities? Is it any wonder that we have floods wiping away homes? Is it any wonder that the Earth Herself is rising up against us? No, it is not.

But our group, the Heart of the Earth, is committed to putting humanity on the right track. We will not leave this place until Goldwell and its vampire brethren dismantle their operations and commit their resources to the development of clean, renewable power that shows our Mother Earth the gratitude that She deserves….

The media had been in and around the occupied lobby for nearly as long as Starlight’s group had, and she was not shy about giving interviews. Every time she was on camera, she repeated her message and made sure she was heard.

The police waited outside the building, waiting for word from the executives at Goldwell. Their CEO had gone on The Biff Browley Hour and said that he was curious to see how long they’d stick around. “Frankly, we do everything off a cloud network right now,” he said. “We could probably run the company from Starbucks if we wanted to. So as long as they stay entertaining, I say let ’em have their fun.”

A young girl, no more than fifteen, approached Starlight nervously. She had taken to dressing like her leader – long, flowing clothes that were made only from natural fibers, without any leather or animal products. Her dark hair twinkled with little beads, and she went barefoot everywhere. She smelled of patchouli. “Starlight,” she said. “Some of us were wondering…” The girl looked nervous, and Starlight tried to recall her name. Something about moss, maybe? “Some of us were wondering if you were going to have another of your sacred meditations today.”

A few times a week, Starlight Moonwhispers meditated. When she came out of her meditations, she told of the Spirit of Gaia, an entity that communicated with her on an astral level, soul-to-soul. She spoke of this spirit as uplifting, empowering, but terribly, terribly weak all at the same time. It was pale and thin and frail, but there was an inner strength that Starlight could see through her enlightened eyes. Since she started doing the meditations – and coming back from them with inspiration for the group – others had been asking to meditate with her, to learn from her how to experience a oneness with the Great Mother herself.

Starlight smiled and brushed a long lock of red hair from her eyes. “Of course, sister,” she said. She stood up, smoothing down her flowing skirts. “Brothers and sisters!” she called out, and her melodic voice rang through the lobby. Everyone stopped what they were doing and looked to her. Some with curiosity, others with awe. Her visions had assembled them here. They had brought them to the houses of the powerful, and now they would guide them further.

“I plan to embark on another spiritual journey soon,” she said, “and all who wish to join me are welcome.” She spread her arms wide, letting the hand-made shawl hang from her shoulders. “Let us all experience the oneness that is unity with our Great Mother!” The crowd started to applaud, and some of them followed as she stepped over backpacks and sleeping bags to get to her preferred meditation spot, a landing on the staircase that went up to the second floor. She had a meditation pillow set up and a glass of purified water. She arranged her skirts around her and pulled her hair into a long ponytail. As she did so a few other people gathered around on the landing, sitting cross-legged in spots of their own.

When she was ready, Starlight looked at each one of them in turn. “We are all connected,” she said. “The pure energy of Mother Earth is in all of us, and we are in Her. Calm your mind, focus on the light of true love, and seek a oneness with our Great Mother.” She sat with her back straight and her fingertips touching, and then closed her eyes. A moment later, she began to chant the mantra that she had been given from the fragile, yet strong spirit of her planet. “Ommm Muuuummmm Annamummmm…..” The others started chanting with her, all of them familiar with the sacred words that she had brought back for them.

In her own peaceful and warm darkness, Starlight chanted and focused on the words and her breathing. She focused on making it to that place inside her that was a white light, a shining and incorruptible place in her heart. After some amount of time, she was aware that she couldn’t hear herself chanting anymore, and took it for a good sign. Soon, the darkness would be pierced by light, and she would once again commune with the spirit of Earth.

She always looked forward to these meetings, but feared them as well. The spirit she saw – it was ill. Fragile. In great pain. What if one day she came here, and that spirit was gone? What if it had died, or left, abandoning humanity to the whims of an unforgiving world? Starlight was vaguely aware that she had shuddered at the thought, and that was when she felt something new.

It felt like she had just dropped from a great height, and she screamed, not sure if she was only screaming in her head or out loud. Whatever it was, she screamed as she fell through the darkness, moving but not moving, and not at all sure how she knew that she was moving in the first place. There was no wind rushing up to greet her, nothing she could see. But she knew she was falling, and she dreaded what would happen when she stopped.

And then she did. Again, without knowing why or how she knew. And when she stopped, her vision began to clear and the darkness burned away as if it were a late-morning fog.

There was metal under her bare feet, and the smell of oil in the air. Great towering machines vanished in the darkness above her, and ruddy light slipped through the cracks between them. The sound of things moving – huge, metal sounds – assaulted her ears, and she cried out against the grinding and the thumping and the sound of parts sliding against each other and squealing in protest. It was a factory. Huge and impersonal and horrible, and Starlight felt sick to her stomach. “Hello?” she said. “I… I don’t think I’m supposed to be here!”

“You’re not.”

Starlight yelped and spun around. The woman standing behind her was short and muscular and holding a large wrench. She brushed a curl of hair out of her eyes and glared at Starlight. “What’re you doing here?” she asked.

Starlight tried to gather herself. “Well, I’m…” She couldn’t finish. She knew what she wanted to say – that she was in the middle of a mystical astral journey to see the spirit of Gaia, but somehow she’d gotten lost – but as she thought about it, she looked at this woman and, for the first time, realized how ridiculous that sounded. “I’m lost,” she said, looking down at the metal catwalk she was standing on.

The woman rolled her eyes and nodded. “You’d have to be,” she said. “Follow me.” Without waiting to see if Starlight would follow, the woman turned and walked away. She led Starlight to what looked like a massive master control room. Pipes stretched about everywhere – some of them steaming, others with frost all along their length. Where there weren’t pipes, there were great, oily gears, turning at a steady pace. Nearer the floor were huge ovens that blazed white-hot and fed their heat to boilers that must have been twenty feet high. The noise was indescribable, but Starlight found she could still hear the woman when she talked.

“Okay,” the woman said, standing by a nest of levers and buttons. “Tell me where you were going when you got lost. Let’s see if we can’t help you find your way back.”

Starlight wrung her hands. “Well,” she said. “I was meditating with my brothers and sisters, and trying to contact the spirit of Mother Earth so that I could commune with her some more.”

The woman held up a grease-covered hand. “Waitaminit,” she said. “You were trying to contact who?”

“The spirit of Mother Earth,” Starlight said. “Gaia.” She smiled and twirled her finger in her beaded necklace. This was familiar territory. “I have been communing with Her for several years now. When I meditate, she comes to me and I feel the great pain that we humans have inflicted on her.” To her credit, tears began to well up in her eyes. “She’s in such pain and so fragile,” she said, her voice beginning to crack. “I just wish I could do more!”

The woman just stared at her for a moment. Then she put her hands on her belly and laughed. Her laughter rang around the factory, bouncing off pipes and walls and coming back to her. She laughed so hard that she nudged one of the levers, sending a boiler up a little hotter and turning a small set of gears a little faster. When she noticed, she was still laughing and wiping tears from her eyes, but she adjusted the lever back to where it was.

“Oh, that was good,” she said to Starlight. “Seriously, that was really funny. Good work.” She reached out to pat Starlight on the arm, but the other woman shrank back.

“I hate to tell you this, kid,” she said, “but you haven’t been communing with anyone.” She tossed the wrench in the air, flipped it and caught it. “Maybe the inside of your own head, but that’s it.” She reached up and started adjusting a pipe fitting.

Starlight stared at her. “What do you mean?” she asked.

“Kid,” the woman said. “I mean you made it all up. It was a dream or a hallucination or something.” She gave the pipe another twist and faced her again. “Good news, though. If you wanted to commune with the spirit of the Earth then, well, now’s your chance.” She shoved the wrench into a loop on her stained jeans. “What do you want?”

The truth of it took a while to sink in, but eventually Starlight said, “You’re the Earth Spirit?” The other woman nodded. “You’re Mother Gaia?”

She shrugged. “That name sounds a little pretentious, but sure. Mother Gaia. Whatever works.”

“But that can’t be,” Starlight said. “You’re not…” She looked around. “This isn’t… You can’t be!”

“Yeah, well, I am,” Gaia said. “So what did you want that was so important you had to come down here and bug me?” She gestured to the lever that she’d bumped. “You just inadvertently caused an earthquake, by the way” she said. “Hope you didn’t know anyone in Peru.”

“No!” Starlight said. “This is all wrong!”

Gaia crossed her arms and leaned up against a steam pipe that was wider across than she was. “Why? Because I’m not all frail and fragile?”

“Well… Well, yes,” Starlight said. Her confusion was fogging her thinking. “I mean, we’ve done so much damage to the Earth with our strip mines and oil rigs and pollution – I just thought…”

She stopped as Gaia stepped closer, seeming to examine her face in minute detail. After a minute, the other woman’s eyes went wide and she leaned back. “Oh,” she said. “I get it now – you’re a human, aren’t you?

“Yes!” Starlight said. “And I’m trying to undo the horrible, horrible damage that we’ve done over the years.”

Gaia smiled, reached out and patted her on the shoulder with a grease-stained hand. “That’s adorable,” she said. “Go home.”

“Wait, what?”

“You heard me,” she said. She gestured around to the vast machinery around her. “Do I look like I’m in any trouble?” she asked.

“But.. but the ozone layer! And global warming!”

Gaia sighed and took Starlight by the arm. “I’m gonna show you something,” she said. “You ready?” Starlight nodded, because if she had spoken she almost certainly would have said “No.”

A moment later, they were standing on a vast plain of ice, with wind howling past them, scouring the surface. The sky was cold and clear, and there was nothing but ice and sky anywhere in sight. Starlight rubbed her arms, but then realized she wasn’t actually cold. She turned to Gaia for an explanation.

“Everything was like this,” Gaia said, and she spoke softly. Even with the howling wind, Starlight could still hear her. “From one pole to the other, the world was a great snowball.” She looked over at Starlight. “For five million years, nothing but ice, wind and more ice.” She took Starlight’s hand, and the scene changed again.

The ice was replaced with land, and the air stank of rot and death. Starlight looked at her feet, and found that she was standing on the husks of great and strange insects, the likes of which she’d never seen before. The air around them was still and quiet.

“The third great dying,” Gaia said. “I nearly lost everything – from the land and the sea alike.” She reached down and picked up one of the dead insects. “So many wonderful things vanished, never to be seen again.” Her voice caught as she dropped it back onto the ground. “You have no idea what it was like then,” she said.

Starlight tried to find something living in that wasteland. She couldn’t. “How did this happen?” she whispered.

Gaia shrugged. “Things happen,” she said. “The universe is a tough place.” She patted Starlight on the arm. “C’mon, human,” she said. “One more.”

There was a dinosaur only a few feet away, stumbling across ash-covered ground, and Starlight’s hands flew to her mouth in shock. It was a towering tyrannosaurus, one of the largest hunters the world had ever known. And it was very clearly dying. Its great, pebbly skin was covered in open sores and lesions, bleeding through the coat of ash. Its ribs protruded from its chest, and Starlight could see nearly every bone in its body.

Without a sound, the great dinosaur stopped walking, fell over, and died.

Gaia went to it and ran her hand over the rough, ashen skin. “I really liked these guys,” she said. She looked back at Starlight. “Nearly two hundred million years, the dinosaurs were it. They ran the food chain.” She patted it and stepped back. “Then a meteor, a few volcanoes and…” She gestured around. When she looked over at Starlight, the girl was on the verge of tears, trying not to look at the dead dinosaur. “C’mon,” Gaia said. “Let’s get out of here.”

They were back in the factory, and Starlight was crying. “What were those things?” she said. “Why did you show them to me?”

Gaia sat on a tall wooden stool that had appeared in front of the control station. “Girl, you humans haven’t even begun to live. You’ve been around what – two hundred thousand years? If I’m being generous?” She laughed, and it was a dark laugh. “You really don’t know anything about the universe yet. Wait until you’ve been around half as long as… as cockroaches.” The smile that blossomed on her face was warm and genuine. “Wonderful critters, my cockroaches,” she said.

“Point is, the planet got turned into a snowball: it survived. Nearly every living thing got wiped out: it survived. It got slammed by a huge damn rock: it survived.” She stood up and lifted Starlight’s chin in her hand. “The Earth doesn’t need you to save it,” Gaia said. “It’ll do just fine with or without you.”

Starlight sniffled. “But what about the ozone?” she asked. “The sea levels rising? Global warming?”

Gaia shrugged. “We’ll adapt,” she said. “That’s the game. You kids have lived in a time of relative peace and tranquility, and you think this is how it’s always been.” She laughed. “Well, you’re so wrong about that, I don’t even know where to begin.” Her smile faded. “Point is, the planet will adapt. Life will adapt.” She sat back down again. “Although, if we’re being honest, you probably won’t.”

“What?”

“Humans are delicate,” Gaia said. “Too much change, and you won’t be around much longer as a species. Which would be pretty pathetic if you ask me – I mean, even rats have been around for about five million, so if you don’t have a problem not outlasting rats?” She shrugged again. “Knock yourselves out.” She stood up again, reached up, and tapped a dial. “If you need to fight for something, don’t fight for me.” She grinned. “I’m a big girl. Fight for your species.”

Starlight opened her mouth to speak and found that she couldn’t. Gaia had one hand on a lever and the other held up. “I’m afraid that’s all the time we have,” she said. “Good luck to you.”

She pulled the lever, and Starlight’s eyes snapped open.

The people on the landing were still sitting, still mediating. One or two of them had fallen asleep and tipped over. Everyone else in the lobby was still going about the business of the occupation.

Her feet unsteady, Starlight stood up, and the young woman who had approached her before looked up from her meditations. “Sister!” the girl said, and everyone else opened their eyes and looked up at her. The young girl came over and took Starlight’s hands. “Sister,” she said again. “Did you have a revelation?”

Starlight looked around at all the people in the lobby and wasn’t sure what she was doing there. They looked so alien to her. So small and so fragile.

She shook her head and said, “Yes.” She brushed the hair back from her face and stood up straight. “Get me a video camera,” she said. “It’s time to adjust our message.”

*****

Starlight Moonwhispers’ page at 30characters.com

Day One Hundred and Eighty: Away From the Green

November 17, 2011 3 comments

As my cast list grows, every now and then I’ll randomly choose two or three characters and see what happens when I put them together. Insofar as there is a canon to any of these stories, these are not canon. Or maybe they are. We’ll see.

When I got to the “Earth” section of this month’s project, I knew I wanted to revisit Evelyn Pierce – first seen as a minor character in Interviews on Day 36, and later as a main character in A Friend in Need, which was Day 38. Her ability to talk to and – one day – control plants made her a natural for this section.

Tanner Quan wasn’t going to be in this story at all – I had come up with a different government agent when I realized that I already had one. And a pretty entertaining one at that. Tanner showed up in the three-part series Special Agent Khrys Ferro on days 133-135. The bagpipes were definitely his idea.

———–

The desert was empty and vicious and bright. The sun hung in the sky, a tiny, brilliant point in a cloudless expanse of blue. Heat rose from the hard-packed floor in waves, and the air itself did everything it could to suck the water from the bones of any creature lucky enough to try and traverse it. There was no wind, no sound at all. Just an endless, dry, hot silence.

A wheezing pickup truck trundled around the hard pack and shrubbery, sending up a plume of dust behind it. It was filthy, covered in road grime from a trip of hundreds of miles, and it looked tiny in the vast emptiness of the desert.

The house it was driving to was weatherbeaten and small, but solid, built up against a cliff face where the sun wouldn’t touch it. An array of solar panels soaked in the sunlight about fifty feet away, and the house had its own filthy truck parked in front of it. A dirt road stretched from its front door all the way to the nearest state road, a good ten miles away. The pickup pulled in, sat for a moment, and then the engine shuddered to a stop.

The driver was small and slight, a man of Asian descent who had dressed wisely for the desert. He had on dark glasses and carried a briefcase, and took a deep breath before he walked up to the faded, sand-blown front door and knocked.

A minute later, the door opened into darkness. A young woman stepped out, dressed in a tank-top and shorts, with a bandanna holding back green hair. She looked the man up and down. “Yeah?” she said.

The man put on a bright smile. “Ms. Evelyn Pierce?” he said.

She slammed the door, nearly crushing his foot.

He nodded to himself. He’d expected this, or at least something very much like it. He went back to the truck, opened the passenger side door, and took out a battery-powered CD player, a folding chair, and a large hardcover book. He brought them closer to the house, in the shade of the cliff, opened the chair and sat down. He put the CD player on the ground, turned on the power and set the volume as high as it could go. He hit the “repeat” button and then “play,” and settled down to read his book.

A moment later, the brash, weedy sound of bagpipes filled the formerly quiet desert afternoon. A bone-chilling rendition of “Amazing Grace” was the first track, and to Evelyn’s credit she made it all the way through the “Skye Boat Song” and halfway to the end of “The Blue Bells of Scotland” before she burst out of her front door with a large handgun.

“Get the hell off my land!” she growled.

The man didn’t look up from his book, but casually paused the CD player and then turned a page. “Sorry, Ms. Pierce,” he said. “No can do.”

She lifted the gun and pointed it at him. “You do know that Arizona has some pretty loose castle laws, mister? I don’t think it would be too hard for me to convince a judge you were a threat to a young girl living out here by herself.”

The man turned another page. “Probably not,” he said. He reached into his shirt and pulled out a gleaming golden badge on a chain. “Shoot a federal agent, though, and no one will give a damn about your…” He glanced over at her house and then up at her. “Castle.”

Evelyn’s eyes narrowed, and she held the gun up a heartbeat longer. Then she let it drop. “You have a warrant?” she said with a sigh.

The man closed his book and put it on the chair when he stood up. “That’s not what I’m here for,” he said. “I’m here to talk to you, and ask if you would be willing to do your country a favor.” He spread his arms wide in a show of innocence. “That’s it.”

She thought for a moment. “What’s in it for me?” she asked.

“Ms. Pierce,” he said. “What ever happened to ‘Ask not what your country can do for you’?”

“Before my time,” she said. “Make your pitch and get the hell out of here.”

He shrugged and picked up the briefcase. “Mind if we do this inside?” he asked. “It’s a little toasty out here.”

She stared at him and then shrugged. “What the hell,” she said. She started to turn, but then stopped. “Is that shirt cotton?” she asked.

His face passed through a moment of puzzlement, but then he smiled. “No,” he said. “Linen. Will that be a problem?”

Evelyn shrugged. “We’ll see. Come on in.”

The inside of the house was cool and dark, and stretched back into the cliff face. It was sparsely decorated, with some throw rugs and bookshelves, and the occasional bit of bric-a-brac wherever she could fit it. He peered back as far as he could see, but she stepped in front of him. “Are we going to do this?” she asked.

“Sure,” he said. He put the briefcase down on the coffee table and took a place on the sofa. “For starters,” he said, “my name is Tanner Quan. I’m an agent with the Department of National Security.” She didn’t say anything, but just crossed one leg over the other and gripped the arms of her chair. “I followed a very long and tangled investigation to find you, Ms. Pierce.” He popped open the briefcase and noticed that she flinched a little. He started taking out manila folders and laying them on the table. “We don’t know a whole lot about you, I’ll be honest,” he said, “but what we do know is very interesting indeed.”

“Like what?” she asked quietly through a clenched jaw.

“Well…” He picked up a folder and began to flip through it. “We know that you dropped off the grid about a year ago and moved out here. Prior to that you were living with your folks in Scottsdale.” He turned a page. “Before that, you were living in Ravensbrook, Illinois of all places.” He glanced up. “Interesting little town, that.”

“I didn’t think so,” she said.

Tanner shrugged. “You were sixteen. No one’s hometown is interesting when they’re sixteen.” He put down the folder and leaned forward. “We found out, of course, why you had to leave Ravensbrook.” He arched an eyebrow. “Rachael Decker?”

Evelyn stood up and grabbed her head. “I want you out,” she said. She flung a hand to the door. “Out. NOW!”

He stood with her. “Ms. Pierce, please. I’m sorry if you’re upset, but -” Tanner stopped talking as his shirt began to writhe and twist on him. It bunched up, wrapping itself around his chest, and started to squeeze. As it did, thin green shoots emerged, which blossomed into pale blue flowers. He grabbed at it, pulling and trying to get it off.

Evelyn was on her knees, holding her head in her hands and muttering to herself. “No, no, no,” she said. “Not this again, no…”

“Please. Evelyn,” Tanner wheezed. “You can stop this.” He tried to cough, but the linen pulled tighter around his chest and began to creep up to his throat. “You can stop this,” he said again, his last word ending in a gurgle.

Evelyn picked up her head, and her eyes had gone a bright emerald green. She looked over at his shirt, and it fell away in pieces, dropping to the floor. The shoots it had produced dried and withered, and Evelyn whimpered a bit as they did. Tanner pushed the shirt away with his foot and stared at Evelyn. “Are you… Are you okay?” he asked once he’d caught his breath.

She looked up at him and nodded. Her eyes were a normal green now, matching the hair that was coming out of her ponytail. “That was close,” Tanner said as she got up and went back to the chair. “Good thing the underwear’s silk.” He grinned, but she didn’t even notice. He sat down again.

“Ms. Pierce, I know what you can do.” He glanced down at the shirt and rubbed his bare arms. “I mean, I knew it before I came here. And I’m sorry that it’s difficult to live with.”

“Difficult?” she asked. “Why do you think I live out here, where there’s almost no plants?” She looked up at him, eyes shining. “I can hear them,” she said. “All the time, I can hear them. And they know that I hear them and they want to… to help me.” A laugh escaped her, almost a sob. “Help,” she said.

“We have people, Ms. Pierce. People who can help you.” He took a breath. “If you help us.”

“And why should I help you?” she asked. “What do you know?”

“You’d be surprised, Ms. Pierce,” he said. He took another folder from the briefcase, this one marked with a red stripe down one side. “Have you heard of Papaver demensum?” He dropped a glossy photograph on the table. It showed a flower, like a poppy but bigger. Its petals were dead black, with a corpse-white center, all perched atop a slender, pale stem.

She picked it up, looked at it for a moment and then shrugged. “No,” she said. “Should I have?”

“It was worth a shot,” he said. “This is the Madness Poppy. It’s a whole new cultivar out of Peru, just starting to reach the U.S. and it’s a nasty piece of work.”

Evelyn sat back in her chair. “How nasty?” she said.

“Well over five hundred beds filled with coma patients up and down the border.” He shuddered. “They just lie there,” he said, “with their eyes open, looking at… something. No idea what it is, but when the screaming starts…” He rubbed his arms again. “It’s not like anything you’ve ever heard before.”

Evelyn looked at him for a while and then got up. She came back a minute later with a sweatshirt. “Here,” she says. “You look about my size.”

He looked at it and shrugged. “Maybe so,” he said. He pulled it on, and it was a little short in the sleeves. He smiled at her and slid them up before he went on. “We’re intercepting the plants as they come across the border, but they’re like no poppy we’ve ever seen. They grow fast, they’re ridiculously low-maintenance, and the profit margin is enormous.” He looked up at her again. “Better than meth, and that’s without all the explosion hazard.”

Evelyn picked up the picture again and then looked back at Tanner. “I still don’t know what you expect me to do,” she said. “I mean, if you wanted them to grow faster, I think I could manage that. But I’m pretty sure that’s not what you want.”

He smiled and shook his head. “They grow plenty fast on their own,” he said. “What we need you to do is to… change them. See if you can convince them to produce less of whatever it is that makes them so potent. Tweak the DNA and just…” He waved a hand about aimlessly. “Out-evolve them.”

Evelyn stared at him for a moment. “Are you kidding me?” she said. She stood up and grabbed a scrap of his shirt from the floor. “I can barely control what I do with those things!” She flung it at him and shook her head. “No,” she said. “I’m not what you think I am.” She opened the door to blazing sunlight and stood by it. “You need to find somebody else. I can’t do this.”

Tanner stood up. “Ms. Pierce,” he said. “Like I said, we have people who’ve got some experience helping people… like you.”

“There are no people like me,” she said.

“Oh, but there are,” he replied, that bright smile working its way out again. “You’d be surprised.” He stood up and put his hands in his pockets. “Some with more troubles than you, believe me.”

She glanced at him for a moment and then looked away.

Tanner waited.

“You really think they can help me?” she said softly after a while.

He went to her and put a hand on her shoulder. “I know they can,” he said. “With a little work, you can live a normal life again. Somewhere that isn’t…” He looked around. “That isn’t here.”

They stood there for a moment, the breeze from the desert bringing sand in over the threshold. Finally she nodded. “Okay,” she said. “But if I get everyone killed, don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

Tanner took his hand back. “Don’t worry,” he said. “We do this sort of thing all the time.”

Day One Hundred and Seventy-nine: Golemime, part 3

November 16, 2011 1 comment

Read Part One here…
Read Part Two here…

———————

I was surrounded by mimes.

The Estervale Civic Center was packed to the walls with mimes from all over the world. There were booths set up to display the latest in mime costuming, props, and makeup; mimes of international renown selling autographed head shots for twenty bucks a pop, and hundreds of people – mimes and mime wanna-bes alike – wandering through the convention center, toting giant bags full of stuff that they’d probably throw away the moment they got home. People came dressed as their favorite mimes and posed for pictures to put up on the Internet, and a couple of guys were done up to look like birthday clowns, just for the shock value.

I didn’t care about any of that. I was there to catch a killer.

People were filing in to the Great Hall for the convention’s keynote panel entitled “The Sad Clown: Emotional Perspectives on Post-Modern Mimery,” whatever all that meant. Three of the world’s greatest mimes were going to lead a discussion on the main stage.

Yes, mimes can, in fact, talk. They just choose not to.

Raul Jiminez-Péron from Spain was slated to lead the discussion, along with his colleagues Michel LeMarch from France and Hiroyuki Hasugawa from Japan. The talk was scheduled to begin in fifteen minutes, and there were hundreds of suspects filing in as I watched. Any one of them could have been the Mime Killer, a man who harbored such a hatred of mimes that he had embarked on a killing spree. Ten performers had died in the last year, and the city was getting tired of taking the blame.

The police presence at the conference was strong. There were uniformed officers patrolling the building, outside and in, and plenty of plainclothes guys like me. If anyone made a move, we’d know about it. This place was going to be our honeypot. No one with a need to kill mimes would be able to pass this up.

But what really gave us the advantage was my golem. I gave it a fresh coat of face paint and a change of costume and put it backstage to watch the crowd. So far, the golem had been useful. True, the police department had already received dozens of complaints from all kinds of official magical organizations, who were affronted and appalled that I would “create life,” as they saw it. Fortunately, the mayor’s office had promised to shield us from the worst of it if the golem worked out, and I honestly didn’t care what they thought anymore. I watched people walk in, and then I ducked in through the backstage door to join the golem and the chief.

For once, he didn’t have his mouth full of gum. I took a sniff to see if he’d been smoking again. “This had better work,” he said. “We’re taking a big chance with this many people.”

I nodded. “He’ll be here, chief. We just have to wait for him to make his move.”

The chief tapped the golem’s chest, and it made a dull thumping sound. “Can’t your flowerpot here find him?”

I shook my head. The golem had brought me to the killer’s house, which brought us here. But no matter how I commanded it, the golem didn’t seem to be able to bring me to the killer himself. Honestly, after all the time I’d spent with it so far, I don’t think I understand how it works any better than I did when I made it. And if I had known what it would be when I made it, I might have agreed with those people who thought it was an abomination.

The golem just kept getting more… real. Maybe it was just obeying the Words I’d put in its head as far as it could, maybe there was something else going on. I really had no idea, but I was already starting to worry about what we’d do with the thing when this case was over.

The lights in the hall dimmed, and the audience quieted down right away. The emcee, a well-known TV mime named Lucas Allbridge, took the stage to eager and polite applause. He thanked the audience for coming, made a few jokes about how he really shouldn’t run off at the mouth, and then introduced the panelists. I watched the golem, and it watched the crowd.

I didn’t really follow the discussion. The bits I did hear didn’t make much sense to me – the meta-re-imagining of the role of the negative in anthro-centric performance modes and all that. The peace and quiet were beginning to bother me, though. Everything said that the killer should be there. Everything pointed right to this place, this time.

That sinking feeling hit me again. Was this guy really this clever? That he’d send us on some crazy chase while he runs around free as a bird? I imagined him coming home to find the door smashed, a dent in his desk and the convention flyer missing. He probably put two and two together and figured out that we knew what he was up to, so he stayed away. Stayed at home to plan his next hit while we twiddled our thumbs and watched mimes discuss mimery.

But could he really do it? That bedroom wasn’t the den of someone interested in killing mimes – it was the den of someone obsessed with killing mimes. And here was the mother lode, the greatest concentration of mimes for hundreds of miles around. Would the man who owned that room really be able to stay away?

A tiny red light answered my question.

I saw it about a second before he golem did. The darkness underneath the Spanish mime’s chair turned a dim, pulsing red. I bent down to get a better view, but the golem was already on its way. The audience murmured as it walked on stage and then started shouting as it lifted Raul Jiminez-Péron bodily from his chair and pushed him away. The other two mimes stood – Hasugawa moved to help his colleague while LeMarch started shouting at the golem in rapid French.

He stopped, however, when the golem turned the chair over and ripped the tape off a small radio receiver that was stuck into what looked like half a pound of modeling clay. A small red light was blinking on the receiver.

“All right,” I shouted, holding my badge as high in the air as I could. The men on the stage were already starting to scramble off, and the people in the first few rows were just beginning to guess what it was the golem held. “I need everyone to move away from the stage in an orderly -”

The explosion was deafening.

I was thrown twenty feet, skidding on my back. My ears hurt like hell, and everything sounded like I had my head wrapped in layers and layers of wet wool. I could hear shouting, and something that sounded like drumbeats, like strong hits on a snare drum. I opened my eyes and staggered to my feet, gun drawn. My vision was bleary, but what I saw was impossible to mistake. A man in a mime outfit was standing over the fallen golem, shooting it and screaming.

I pointed my gun at him and fired. I missed, but got his attention. “Police!” I wondered absently where the other officers were.

He responded by lifting his gun and taking a shot at me, yelling something as he did so. He would have had me dead if the golem hadn’t saved my life.

Its hand – cracked and broken and missing two fingers – darted out and grabbed the gunman’s leg, pulling him off-balance. The gunman fell to the ground and emptied his weapon into he golem’s face, sending little chips flying and tiny clouds of white dust into the air. Still, the golem wasn’t stopped. It stood up, still holding the killer by the ankle, and I got my first good look at the damage that had been done.

The golem had used its body as a shield and absorbed as much of the blast as it could. From its collar to its groin, half its torso was just… gone. The only thing holding it up was the clay of its back, and yet it stood as tall as it ever had. It lifted the gunman high in the air and squeezed its hand. The gunman screamed, and I knew my hearing was coming back because I heard that just fine. With its other hand, the golem took the gun. Casually, without even looking at it, the golem crushed the gun one-handed and threw it over its shoulder. It looked at the screaming gunman, and then it turned its ruined face towards me.

The paint was gone. A jagged crack ran across its face, from jaw to ear, and the remaining eye was shattered and crumbling. But still, it looked at me. It looked at me as if to ask what I wanted to do with this man. This thing. This living being that had less regard for life and law than a creature made from dust and clay only a week ago. The golem looked at me. And waited.

The other officers were pouring into the auditorium, shouting orders and all-clears, but the golem heard me anyway. “Golem,” I said. “Put him down. Gently.”

The golem didn’t have eyebrows – not unless I painted them back on – but I’m pretty sure it cocked one at me before it let the gunman down to the splintered stage floor. The guy was crying and holding his ankle, and begging for mercy in between promises to destroy the abomination. And I wasn’t sure if he meant the golem or me.

Mercy. I was too tired to banter with a crazy man. I let one of the other officers do the litany this time and I watched them take him away, struggling and screaming. “Golem,” I said. “You did good work.”

I was answered by a great, shattering thud behind me and I spun around.

The golem’s body had finally given in to the damage done, and I cursed myself for not seeing it coming. I had used cheap clay, and that much C4 is not something you can shrug off, golem or no. I ran to its side, and a groan escaped me when I saw it.

The head had cracked open and lay shattered on the boards, leaving only a small piece that would be recognizable as its face. There, in the dust and pottery shards, were the Words that I had put into its head. The paper I had written them on was fragile and brittle, the sigils were faded and gray. Great power had come through those words somehow, and they crumbled to dust in my fingers.

I knelt in the shattered remnants of my golem until the chief came over and put his hand on my shoulder. “It’s over, Zoltaire,” he said quietly. “Your golem worked. No one died.” He patted me and I shrugged has hand off with a wordless grunt. “Whatever,” he said. “Back to the station. There’s paperwork to do.” I smelled spearmint and I wanted to stand up and punch him.

Before I left the convention center, I made sure that every last speck of dust, every tiny piece of clay was collected from that stage. I brought it all back to the station and shut myself in my workshop for days. I reconstituted the clay, dug into my my bank account to pay for some of the good stuff to mix it in with, and didn’t sleep until I had built it a new body. Then I went back to the library and cursed out those harpy librarians again to re-build the sigils. I knew what I wanted, but I didn’t want to admit what I wanted. It felt stupid, getting this upset about a golem, a made thing, for crying out loud! It was no more alive than a car or a cell phone or a chair. I knew that.

But I didn’t care. I just wanted it – him – back.

The chief came down and offered to let me go on leave for a while, but I didn’t listen. I shut him and all the other officers out of my workshop while I kept at it.

Finally, after days, I was done. I was exhausted, I was starving, and I stank, but I was done. I had the body. I had the Words. I knew what I wanted.

I was ready.

The ritual was the same as before. I had to cleanse. I took a quick shower with that herbal soap, then came back to the office and dropped onto the sofa to meditate. I tried every visualization technique I could think of to calm my mind – ocean waves, a flower bud opening, a mountain stream gurgling past me – but nothing worked. So I got up, went to the golem, and started the ritual. I threw the Words into its head, rubbed my hands together and started walking around it. I chanted, quickly, quietly, through teeth clenched in frustration at how long this was taking. I chanted the Words and tried to pour everything I had into them. I lost track of time and who I was and what I was doing.

And then I passed out.

When I woke up and got off the floor, I looked at the table.

The golem lay there, inert. Not moving, not wanting to move. There was nothing there but clay.

I slumped down in the corner and wept. Part of me was astounded, amazed that I would be crying over a golem. A golem, of all things. The rest of me just wheeled around and punched that part of me in the mouth until it shut up. I stayed there for a while, at least until the pain broke and I could stand up again. I didn’t look at it as I left.

The chief gave me two weeks. He told me that the International Mime Union would be willing to take the failed replacement off our hands. They wanted to display it as a sign of their gratitude for saving so many of their members’ lives. They said that they didn’t know how to repay me or the department for all that we had done, and that they would honor the memory of the golem forever.

I didn’t care.

I took the two weeks and spent most of them indoors, in bed, with the lights off.

After a while, though, I couldn’t stand to be cooped up inside anymore. I put on a jacket and headed out, squinting into the sunlight. The air smelled fresh, but that was probably just because I’d been indoors for days on end. The people looked happy, but that was probably just because I was a miserable sad sack.

The park nearby was quiet, as always. I bought some bread at the corner store, found a bench by the tiny duck pond, and went to feed some ducks.

While I sat there, I noticed motion out of the corner of my eye. A white flash. I glanced over, and my breath caught for a moment. It was a mime. A little guy, walking smoothly through the park, soon followed by another, who was pretending to be tied to the first by an invisible rope. I heard something from my other side and turned around – three more mimes, making their way towards me and the pond. Soon, there were ten. And then twenty, all coming towards me, and my heart was beating to break through my chest. The only thing I could think of was how I had given up my gun at the police station, and that after all this time, this was how it would end.

Mimes.

They stopped some ways from me, and lined up around the pond. There were enough of them that they went all the way around it and off to the sides. All of them, staring at me with white, unreadable faces and graceful, unpredictable poses.

Then, in a wave as fluid and as perfect as any on water, they bowed. The one closest to my left started it, and the bow traveled through the crowd, passing from one mime to another, all the way around the duck pond until it reached the mime to my right. They had their floppy hats and berets off, heads hanging low to the ground. And then, left to right, they stood again, one after the other.

Without a word, the mimes left. Each by his or her own way, as though there had never been a group there, but that they had all come there by random, unknowable coincidence. In moments, they were gone, and I was once again alone with the ducks.

The sadness was gone, though. Something in the mimes had taken it from me and replaced it with warmth. With… gratitude.

I sat back on the bench and turned my face towards the sun, breathing easy for the first time in days. There would be work to do tomorrow.

———–

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Seriously, I had no idea this would go on as long as it did. I meant it to be a nice, tight 1,500 word piece for Worth1000.com, and it just… didn’t want to stop. So thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed it.

Day One Hundred and Seventy-eight: Golemime, part 2

November 15, 2011 3 comments

Read Part One here…

———————-

There was a crowd by the fountain in the middle of Blue River Park, watching a mime. Every now and then they would applaud or laugh, and there was the occasional tinkle of coins as people showed their appreciation in a more tangible way. The mime would walk against the wind or pretend to climb a rope or stumble and fall and roll around, and the people just ate it up.

I stood at the edge of the crowd, glaring at each and every one of them.

The plug in my ear vibrated and I tapped it with a finger. “Yeah?”

“Anything, Zoltaire?”

I could hear him chewing gum as he spoke, and my stomach turned. “Nothing yet, chief. I think we’re making enough money that we can buy some better coffee for the station, though.”

“Dammit, Zoltaire, it’s been a week! I thought your golem-mime-thing was supposed to lure the killer out of the woodwork!”

I looked over at it. The mime was pretending to pull flowers from a little girl’s hair, and the child was shrieking with laughter. I don’t know how it knew how to do that, to be honest. I just wanted to make something that looked like a mime to solve some murders. A little clay, some Words, and a week later, it was entertaining small children left and right. Whatever I had made, it was starting to creep me out, and I hoped that the Mime Killer would strike so that we could put all this behind us.

“I’m sure it’ll happen, Chief. Just make sure the boys are ready when it does.” I tapped the plug again and disconnected. I sat and watched my mime perform for a crowd that was slowly growing bigger. They clapped at all of his – its – antics and moves, and I even found myself chuckling once or twice. Then I reminded myself: that thing wasn’t human and never would be. It would keep walking against the wind until I told it to stop, and if I wanted it to perform until the end of time then it would.

The sun was dropping towards the trees and I sighed. I tapped the plug in the other ear and said, “Golem. Finish your act and return to base.”

It pulled one more rose out of the little girl’s hair and mocked bone-deep sorrow at their tragic yet inevitable parting, then turned to the rest of the crowd and took a bow. Everyone applauded heartily, throwing more coins into its hat. With luck I’d be able to treat the guys in my department to donuts in the morning.

Suddenly, the golem stood straight upright, it’s expression hard and cold, and quickly started scanning the crowd. The people who had been applauding stopped instantly and started to back away. This wasn’t the friendly mime that they had come to see – this was clearly something else, and whatever it was it scared the hell out of them.

I made my way through the crowd to the golem and tried to look where it was looking. As I did, I noticed a hole that had been made in its head, near the temple. Flakes of clay still fell out when it moved. The killer had finally taken his shot.

My eyes hit on a man who was walking swiftly away from the scene, trying his best to look inconspicuous. “Golem!” I yelled. “Get him!”

The golem burst into a run, its heavy clay feet pounding on the pavement. It ran like a freight train – unstoppable and deceptively fast. The man he was chasing heard the thunder of its footsteps and took off in a run of his own, but there was no contest. Within seconds, the golem had him on the ground, hands clamped together in an unbreakable grip.

I caught up a few moments later, breathing heavy and holding my side.

Hey, I’m a thaumaturge. We’re not famous for our physical fitness.

“You have the right,” I wheezed, “to remain silent.” My heart was pounding in my ears, and it took a few breaths before I was able to say the litany all the way through. “You say anything, you better damn well believe we’ll use it, so if you have a lawyer, get one,” I swallowed hard. “Got it?”

The man’s eyes were pinned to the golem’s cold, unchanging face. “I didn’t do anything,” he said. “Get this… this thing off me!”

“Sure you didn’t,” I said. “Golem. Let him up.” The golem stood, hauling the man to his feet. I started to pat the guy down, and right away I had a sinking feeling. There was no weapon. “Where’d you throw it?” I asked, trying to sound as casual as I could.

“Throw what? What are you talking about?”

I wanted to smack him. “The gun! Where did you throw the gun?”

“I don’t have a gun,” he babbled. “I hate guns, I don’t know what you’re talking about!”

That sinking feeling was getting deeper. Just looking at the golem’s damage, I knew a couple of things. The shooter had to be using a heavy caliber weapon, probably from close range – there weren’t a lot of good spots for a sniper to sit. And secondly, if they did, then they’d be using a silencer, so as to blend in with the applause of the crowd. That meant I was looking for a pretty sizable weapon, and I didn’t see anything like that on the run over.

And there sure as hell wasn’t anything like that on his person.

“Why did you run?” I asked him. The man didn’t answer, but just looked at the golem. It lifted the guy off his feet, and a large wet stain spread across the front of his pants. I sighed. “Golem. Put him down.”

The golem hesitated. Just for a moment, and no one else would have noticed. But I did.

Slowly, it set the man on his feet. He promptly fell to the pavement. I handed him a business card. “Here,” I said. “For the cleaning. My apologies, sir.” I reached out to help him up, but he shrank back. “Fine,” I said. “Golem. Come with me.” I walked away without looking back, and a moment later I heard its heavy footsteps behind me.

I brought it back to the station, pulled out the bullet and patched up the damage. Then the chief spent a good half hour hauling my ass over the coals for the screw-up in the park. His main concern was that we’d blown our cover, which I thought was nonsense. The thing was a mime, for gods’ sake – a quick paint job, new clothes, and no one would ever know.

But I did agree that what we were doing wasn’t working out. If the golem had been a real mime, it would have been dead and the killer would have escaped scot free. We needed a new plan.

It was right there that I had my idea. I almost didn’t want to think about it at first, it was that weird. If I thought about it at all, there was a chance that I’d actually think it could work, and if I really thought it could work, then there would probably be nothing but disappointment when it didn’t. But it felt like inspiration, a bolt from the blue.

So what did I have to lose?

I went back to my office and got the bullet that I’d pulled from the golem’s head. “Golem,” I said. It sat up from the table where I had left it. “Hand.” It reached its hand out and I dropped the bullet into it. The golem looked down at the bullet and then back at me. “Find the person who shot this,” I said.

There was no real reason it should have worked. Golems aren’t bloodhounds. They don’t work by sympathetic magic the way a voodoo doll does. They operate on a whole different plane of thaumaturgy, one of life forces and animation and intention. Nevertheless, the golem got to its feet and immediately started walking, bullet in hand. I grabbed my jacket and followed it. I wanted to yell as I passed the chief’s office – tell him I had a lead and I was going to finish the job once and for all. But if the golem decided to walk me straight into the middle of the Blue River Pond, well… I can only stand so much humiliation in one day.

The golem took a relentless course due east from the station. It navigated streets without a pause, stopping at crosswalks and only crossing on the green. “Who told you to do that?” I wheezed as I followed it. I wanted to tell it to slow the hell down, but for all I knew that might have ruined the whole thing. Anybody in its way moved to the side right quick – a tall, slender mime, with footsteps that thundered and a concentrated stare that made it look like it could walk through a brick wall. Which it may very well have.

I followed it for nearly an hour as we made our way to one of the more residential neighborhoods. Oak Hollow had been the preferred borough for grandparents and young yuppie couples from time immemorial, and the neat lawns and well-trimmed shrubbery made the whole place look more like the set for a TV show than a place where people actually lived. The golem strode through the neighborhood, setting more than a few curtains a-twitching, and then finally, blessedly, stopped.

The house it was staring at was a small blue one-story, with some dead flower beds and peeling paint. It was the worst-maintained house on its street, and it looked like the owner had just given up. I looked over at the golem. “This is it?” I asked. It didn’t reply. “You sure?”

This time the golem did reply – by walking right up to the front door and smacking it with the flat of its hand. The door flew off its hinges, spinning back into the dim recesses of the living room, and landed halfway in the kitchen. “Oh, that’s not good,” I said as the golem walked straight into the house, the bullet still gripped in its hand. “We’re supposed to get a warrant, you stupid pile of -” I finished my sentence with an inarticulate growl and followed it into the house, drawing my gun as I did so. I felt goosebumps when I entered the house and hollered “POLICE!” There wasn’t anything magical involved – just years and years of police procedure. The thought of investigating a place without a warrant was just… wrong.

I suppose I could say I was following lost property. Yeah, that would have to do.

There was no answer to my shout, so I called it again. Still, silence. The golem went upstairs, and I followed with my gun at the ready. It stopped a few steps into a small bedroom, and I felt the blood drain from my face when I went in.

The walls were covered with photographs, paintings, drawings, sketches – of mimes. Hundreds of black and white faces stared out at me from all directions, and it was all I could do not to run from the room screaming in terror. There were newspaper articles stuck to the wall, in classic serial-killer fashion, and they were all meticulously highlighted and underlined. Each one, as near as I could tell, was a story about a mime. New mimes debuting on the circuit. Veteran mimes retiring. Avant-garde mimes trying out new and controversial material.

Walking with the wind or something. Damned if I know.

In one special section of this Wall of Mimery, there was a corkboard with several glossy photographs pinned to it. The photos had clearly been taken from a stealth location, but they all showed the faces of the mimes clearly and distinctly. Except for the large red X that covered them. Upon closer inspection, I was pretty sure that these were the mimes that he had killed. The rest of them surrounded me, covering the walls nearly completely. I scanned the faces, and sure enough – there was the golem. It was a photo from a few days ago, when it had been performing in front of city hall. The golem almost looked like it was smiling in this picture, as it reached out a hand to a young woman.

A loud THUD behind me shook me back to attention, and I spun around. The golem had slammed its hand down on the desk, leaving the bullet sitting there on top of some scattered papers. It stood there, staring down at the desk, and if I didn’t know better, I’d say it was excited. There had been no change in the way it moved or stood – it was stock-still, without any of those countless unconscious movements that humans make. But the way it was staring, it seemed to be ready to dash off again.

I looked at the papers on the desk. Most of them were handwritten notes, varying from simple reminders to buy bread and ammunition, all the way to tightly-scrawled screeds about mimes and the horrors they inflicted on society. I picked one up and started to read it:

By their very actions, the mimes are simulacra of reality, fakers and frauds who deny the reality of our reality, a world in which we must all live. They paint their faces a dead white, for they are the dead, the haunted, the living ghosts of our subconscious desire for simplicity and for a way to face the world in a way that makes sense to our simple, sheeplike minds. Those of us who protest, who fight, who see the world for what it is, we are the ones they mock. They mock us with their invisible boxes and their walking against the wind and vanishing down stairs that aren’t there – YOU’RE JUST CROUCHING DOWN YOU FRAUDS WE KNOW HOW IT’S DONE! They see us and they know how we struggle. But they are the agents of the Absurd, the carriers of the cosmic joke of which we are all the punchlines, and until they are gone, until the mimes are wiped from the earth, I cannot have peace, fight the fight against the forces that truly control our world and enslave us all.

I looked up at the golem, which was still staring down at the desk. “This guy’s nuts,” I said.

The golem stabbed a finger down onto the desktop, nearly punching a hole through the wood. It had pinned down a printed flyer, one that was done up on nice glossy paper. When I saw the title, I wasn’t sure if I should jump for joy or throw up. Instead, I clapped the golem on its rock-hard arm. “Good police work,” I said. The golem didn’t reply, of course, but it did seem to stand a little straighter.

I took out my phone and dialed the station. The chief answered, and I started talking before he could take a breath. “There’s a convention,” I said. “All mimes, all the time.” I looked down at the glossy flyer, which was advertising the first ever Estervale International Mime Conference. Mimes from all over the world, all in one place to talk about the craft. “I guarantee he’ll be there.”

I closed the phone and looked up at the golem. “Think you can find him?” I asked.

The golem turned its head with deliberate slowness and looked at me. Its white, ceramic expression and its glassy, dead eyes never changed. But I was pretty sure it smiled.

TO BE CONCLUDED! (I hope)

*****

The Golemime’s page on 30characters.com

Day One Hundred and Seventy-six: The Hole

November 13, 2011 1 comment

The sinkhole had opened up in the middle of downtown Freestone at a little after three in the morning. This was fortuitous, of course, as it would have killed or injured hundreds – if not thousands – if it had appeared during business hours. It was almost perfectly circular and took out the entire intersection of Twain and Fifth, along with the properties on the corners. By the time the morning commute started, the police had blocked off the roads and set up detours, which inconvenienced drivers, but not too much.

By chance or the grace of God, the hole had just missed a major subway line. Still, that line had to be closed down between stations, just to be on the safe side. The gas and electric lines were shut off from the main station, which left a few blocks without power, but the rest of the city could continue on without trouble. The sinkhole made the morning news and crowds came to see it, those who didn’t have jobs that necessitated them staying in the office. It was the biggest event of the year thus far, aside from the fire at the north docks that killed forty-one people.

Still, city officials had to deal with angry property owners who wanted to know where their businesses and buildings had gone, and reporters who kept asking the same unanswerable question: how did this happen?

The truth of it was that no one knew how it had happened. From initial observations, it seemed to go down forever. That was, however, an inexpert view by some of the police officers on the scene, who dropped a piece of asphalt from the edge and waited to hear it land, which they didn’t. As the sun rose higher in the sky and shined deeper into the pit, the bottom remained in shadow. It was eventually decided by Mayor Levens that experts should be called in and allowed to find out what exactly had opened up in his city.

The geology department at nearby Sallicen College sent their team over, headed by professor Jenna Spenser. Professor Spenser had gained notoriety in the past decade for leading teams into the most inaccessible regions of the world. She was an expert mountaineer and spelunker, and her expertise had been sought by some of the nation’s top corporations and governmental bodies. An event like this, which was already becoming known as the Freehole, was one that she could hardly pass up.

Early the next day, she brought her team to the hole and walked three full circuits around it. When she finished, she stood at the very edge, her chin in her hand and her foot slowly rubbing back and forth on the rim. “The northwest corner,” she finally said, and her team of eight started making their way to the corner where there used to be an upscale clothier.

“Why there?” the mayor asked. He had come out to see off the expedition, and had to be convinced not to make it a media event. His original plan was for a brass band and some bunting, to turn it into a gala moment for the city. His advisors reminded him that there was a good chance professor Spenser’s team would find nothing, and even some chance that not all of them would come back. Added to the still-increasing financial cost of the sinkhole, it was suggested to him that he might keep it as low profile as possible.

“The ground is more solid there,” she said. “And there are structures in the remaining buildings that can act as excellent foundations for our tethers.” She looked over her shoulder. “Lucy, when we get there, I want the harnesses out and ready to go!”

The young woman who was carrying a large black duffel bag nodded and ran ahead. The other students picked up their pace. When the team arrived, the harnesses came out and were put on immediately. Professor Spenser checked each of them, and nodded in appreciation to find that nothing was out of place. They spent the next hour preparing for their expedition, checking lists of equipment, readying the lines that they would descend on, and making sure that every possible safety measure would be taken. When they were finished, the mayor came over, followed closely by the TV crew that he hadn’t been able to resist calling in.

“I would just like to say,” he said, “that we are all of us grateful for your agreeing to help us in our time of need.” He turned to the camera. “Truly it is the great spirit of Freestone that has moved us all to pull together when it seems that the world is, truly, falling apart around us.”

The cameraman zoomed in on professor Spenser’s face, which was very carefully blank. After a moment, she said, “We have enough line here to take us to about five hundred meters down. We’ll be taking samples -” she patted the bag around her waist, “and documenting the whole thing on our helmet-cams here.” She walked over to the winches that had been bolted to the supporting columns of the building. “When we’re done, my two people here – Carter and Maria – will start these up and bring us back.”

She turned back to the mayor and glanced sidelong at the cameraman and the reporters. “When we get back, we’ll bring our samples up to the university and start work on them right away. But to warn you – the process will take a while. A few days, maybe.” She looked at the reporters again. “So don’t get your hopes up, okay?”

The mayor smiled and nodded and promised that no, he would not expect too much too soon. Then he walked professor Spenser and her remaining team members to the edge of the hole, where they had already installed a ladder system that would allow them to descend more easily. “Into the bowels of the earth you go,” he said. “And I pray for your safe return, with the knowledge that we have advanced in our understanding of what goes on beneath our feet.” He stood, smiling for the cameras for a moment, before he realized that professor Spenser was already in the hole, and her team members were on their way to follow her.

The pit was truly vast – at least thirty feet across, which made the geologists look utterly tiny as they crawled down. Within a few minutes, they had vanished into the shadow of the pit, and it was only a few minutes more before even the lights of their headlamps could no longer be seen. The darkness had swallowed them utterly, and no one who watched could suppress a feeling of dread.

Up on the edge, Mayor Levens hovered around the surface team. Every time their radios would crackle he would snap to attention and listen for the voice of professor Spenser. Each time, however, she simply radioed up her depth, and that she had nothing to report. A hundred meters, a hundred and fifty. Two hundred, two hundred and fifty. Three hu-

The radios squawked loudly, letting out a squeal that pierced the air. Everyone put their hands to their ears, but it didn’t help. The noise went on and on until one of the students picked up the radio and dashed to to the concrete floor. The radio warbled and hissed a bit, and then went silent.

Everyone started at the broken radio and then ran out to the pit.

The sun struck the northern edge of the pit, but all the rest was impenetrable shadow. The lines still stretched from the winches into the darkness, but they no longer played out. There was no sign of the team. “Hallooooo!” the mayor yelled. All he got was silence.

The students ran back to their base area and started setting up the backup radio. It took time, and the mayor had the chief of police set up a cordon around them to keep the reporters away. Word of the loss of contact had already leaked out, and the media wanted to know what was happening. What had seemed to be a simple operation was rapidly becoming a human tragedy.

Then the earthquake struck.

It started low and quiet, a mere tremor that barely shook dust off the rim of the pit. People looked at each other as if to confirm what they were feeling, and no one was entirely sure. Freestone stood far from any active fault lines, and the last quake that anyone could remember feeling was decades ago. That quake had managed to knock stock off shelves in the grocery store, but little more. This one was prepared to do far worse.

The vibrations became a rumbling, which became a shaking. People fled from the rim of the pit, helping up those who were at risk of being trampled by those who came behind. The police looked about, unsure of what to do, and some of them saw to it that the impromptu evacuation was made more orderly. It was hard to do, however, as the quake grew stronger, knocking people off their feet and into each other. The buildings shook and rattled, masonry dropping and smashing on the street. Glass began to break and burst outwards in great shards, cars were overturned by the force, and in moments, it seemed as though the entire city was destined to collapse into rubble – or worse, to fall into a vastly larger hole than the one before them. The mayor clung to a wall, crying out for someone to make it stop, for anyone who could save his city.

As though a switch had been hit, the shaking stopped.

Buildings that had been damaged too far started to crumble, blowing great clouds of masonry dust into the air. Smoke could be seen rising above the skyline in several different directions. Water mains had burst and were spraying all over the street, covering it in a thick slurry of mud.

The mayor walked out on shaking legs, looking at the wreck his city had become. Windows gaped emptily from the faces of buildings that were crazed with great gaps and cracks. A city that had never been built to withstand the shaking of the earth was revealing its flaws before his eyes. Mayor Levins started to weep quietly on the edge of the pit.

It was one of professor Spenser’s students who first saw the light emerge from the terrible darkness and called out to her companion. They all crowded the edge, wary of the crumbling asphalt, and looked down.

There, deep in the bowls of the sinkhole, was a shining light. A blue-white point of brilliance that seemed to be getting larger and larger as they watched it. A cold wind began to howl up from the hole, blowing away dust and debris and forcing them back as far as they could go.

Moments later, in a great whirlwind, a crystalline platform burst up from the sinkhole. It shot up into the sky and glittered in the sun above them, a great diamond more brilliant than anyone would have imagined. It spun lazily, throwing light and rainbows everywhere in the ruined city, sending spots of illumination into every shadow.

Slowly, then, it began to descend. The platform was nearly as big across as the sinkhole, and had no visible way of holding itself up, unless it was being powered by the six glowing crystals that jutted down towards the pit. As it dropped, the onlookers could see what looked like people standing on the smooth and glittering platform. They were tall and looked strong. Each of them was dressed in a spiked armor made of the same stuff as the platform, and they held shining spears and swords and tridents at the ready. They each looked like they were ready for an attack, even from a city that had been so recently devestated.

And in the center of the platform, standing in a small, filthy group, was the unmistakable figure of professor Spenser and her team. They were bound at the hands and feet with crystals that looked like they had been grown into place, but they looked unharmed. Professor Spenser stood between her team and the soldier who guarded them, and she looked ready to fight if necessary. Her eyes were as hard as the crystal, and she looked as dangerous as anyone else on the platform.

When the great crystal surface was even with the street level, it stopped. The mayor looked at the two students, who in turn suggested with subtle nods and gestures that he might want to go do something about this.

He straightened his suit jacket – which was covered in dust and debris, and was badly torn at the shoulder – raised his substantial chin high and walked out to the edge of the crystal platform. Several of the armored men saw him approach and moved to intercept him with their glimmering weapons. The mayor forced himself not to look at them, but instead trained his eyes on the woman who had led the mission into the first place.

“Professor Spenser!” he called, and she looked over at him. A sudden playfulness overtook him, undoubtedly an irrational reaction to the stress he had endured that day. “Did you find anything?” he asked.

To her credit, professor Spenser didn’t laugh, nor did she look astounded that he had asked such a plainly ridiculous question. She did smile, though. “I may have,” she called back. “I’ll have to wait for the test results to be sure. It might be a few days.”

The mayor bit his tongue and then said, “Well, be sure to let me know if you find anything.”

She shrugged. “I wouldn’t get my hopes up.” She barely got the last word out before she finally cracked and let loose with a peal of laughter. She was quickly followed by the mayor, and then by her exploration team. The crystal platform seemed to amplify it and send it ringing out far and wide. The armed men looked confused and worried, and didn’t seem quite sure what to do about this strange and unexpected reaction.

Mayor Levins laughed until his jaw hurt. He would have to deal with this problem, certainly, and in the back of his mind he knew it would not be easy. But for right now, he was able to laugh in the face of the unknown, and it was the best thing he could do.

*****

Jenna Spenser’s page on 30characters.com

Day One Hundred and Seventy-five: The Good Guy Bomber

November 12, 2011 1 comment

Oscar stripped wires under the bright light of his workbench and cursed the kids today. They had no discipline, no drive. They didn’t know the value of hard work or what it took to make something of themselves.

He turned off the TV so he could concentrate. It was election season, and the jackass running to stay in the White House was getting on his nerves. The man had done everything in his power to screw up the country, and now he was asking for another four years? Oscar shook his head in disbelief just thinking about it.

He took up the soldering iron and secured the wires on the circuitboard with the precision of an artist. The wires stretched away from the box in three different directions – to the battery pack, to the radio receiver, and to the electronic trigger. A ribbon cable connected the voice recognition chip to his computer, which was waiting for input. He’d tested everything out and was meticulous in hunting down bugs and problems. He’d had a vision, a plan of action that he saw through from the very beginning, and didn’t give up at the first sign of a problem. The end result was that by God, when Oscar Lembrick wanted someone blown up, he got blown up good and hard.

Ever since the good old days of the anarchists, there had always been a place for the bomber, mad or otherwise. In the old days they had the most primitive of grenades, where you had to light the fuse, throw and run, and pray that it blew up after it left your hand and not before. And as silly as those things were, they worked. A grenade set the world on the path to World War I. Bombers were the boogeymen of their age, long before there were mindless Communist hordes. They were messy and imprecise, true, but they got the job done. Sometimes you needed a delicate precision instrument, and sometimes you needed a big goddamn hammer.

And there was no bigger hammer than Oscar.

When he was young, Oscar discovered he had a love of seeing things explode. He was an avid fan of the Storybreakers show, which revolved around the premise that there was no explosion too big to put on TV, and soon found himself looking for ways to do what they did, only at home – in direct disregard of their pre-show warning. He bought fireworks from roadside stands and made low-power explosives from instructions on the internet. While other kids languished in their air-conditioned homes playing their video games, he was out past the woods, strapping his own tiny bombs to old toys to see what would happen when he set them off.

Unlike other childhood fascinations, this one stayed with him as he grew up, and it made the course of his life crystal clear. He studied chemistry and physics, learning about reactions both slow and fast. He began to lurk in some of the more disreputable sections of the internet, looking for people who knew more about explosives than he did and quizzing them as best he could without scaring them away. The art of destruction became a passion for him, and it wasn’t long before he graduated to the major leagues.

His first true bombing was a biker bar a few miles out of his hometown. The Crow’s Nest was where the scum of the earth came to drink and wind themselves up for some real violence. The townsfolk could hear the roar of their motorcycles as they came in along the main boulevard, and that was the signal to get off the streets and hope they would pass through without wreaking havoc. Even at their most gentle, the barbarians who made the Crow’s Nest their home would cause thousands of dollars of damage, and the police had neither the will nor the means to take them out.

Oscar, on the other hand, had both.

A few well-placed pipe bombs, and the Crow’s Nest was reduced to a smoking ruin. Of the fifty-three people inside, five were alive when the ambulance showed up, and two of them didn’t even make it to the hospital. There was an investigation, of course, but nobody looked too hard. These were not people whose deaths made the world a dimmer and less wonderful place to live in. As far as the authorities were concerned – unofficially, of course – someone had done them a favor, and if he wanted to remain anonymous, well, they would have to live with that.

Oscar’s career took off from there. Over the years he made better contacts and pulled bigger jobs, always aimed at people whose deaths would be considered a public good. Still, he managed to pull off some spectacular blasts. He blew out a soon-to-open casino in Vegas for a bitter son of the Nardozzi family, angry at his father cutting him out of the vast criminal network they managed. The blast effectively dismantled the family organization in an instant, leaving the son to finish the job.

He’d done a bomb in Germany, taking out the headquarters of the Weisshammer neo-Nazi group, and lent his expertise in Baghdad against a cell of insurgents there who thought that their goat-corpse I.E.D.s were actually clever. The money he made allowed him to move to a more isolated location and buy better supplies. As the years passed, his internet colleagues began to call him the Good Guy Bomber, the man who made sure that the bad guys were well and truly eliminated. He wasn’t entirely sure how that happened, but it was better than blowing up women and children by a long shot.

After years of explosions, he was able to retire. He took the money he’d made, bought a few dozen acres of land out in the middle of nowhere and decided that he was going to live the quiet life. Maybe take up a less dangerous hobby, now that he was getting older and his hands weren’t as steady as they’d been when he was in his twenties. He would make fireworks, maybe, something that could still bring in a little honest money. He could leave the troubles of the world behind him – the people losing their jobs, the economy slowly circling the drain, the poison in the air and the water. It would just be him and his ranch and the occasional experiment with fuel oil and fertilizer.

That lasted just about six months. There are some things you can’t walk away from, and blowing up the bastards seemed to be one of them.

This job was a little different from the others he’d done in his professional days. No one was paying him for it, and no one had asked him to do it. He was doing it pro bono, because it had to be done, and because none of the punk-ass kids these days were able to get it right. The news was full of stories about the most recent event, a blast that had gone off in a shopping mall and killed ten people. Ten people except for the one that they were trying to get to. What’s more, the morons were dumb enough to put their bomb-making video up on some website, so they were all in cuffs within hours of the blast while the sonofabitch they were trying to take out walked away looking like a martyr.

He tapped a few keys on the computer and fired up the voice-recognition program. When it was ready, he pulled the microphone close, cleared his throat and said, “My fellow Americans.” The wave-form on the screen blinked blue and then a steady green. He said it a few more times at different speeds and pitches and tones until the program had it down cold. Then he did the same with “God bless the United States of America.”

Those two phrases would go into the activation chip, which would fit snugly into the microphone casing he’d bought. The head of the microphone would be a shaped charge packed with C4. Getting the microphone up onto the lectern would be the trickiest part, but the moment that man spoke either of those phrases, he would soon be missing a head, and the country could go about electing someone who wasn’t actively trying to run it into ruin.

Oscar smiled grimly. He’d taken out a lot of people in his time, but this would be his first president. If he succeeded, he would probably be found. This wasn’t taking out a bunch of scumbag bikers. The authorities wouldn’t just shrug it off and close the case. His name would go down in infamy.

He turned the TV on again, where the man he was going to kill was giving a medal to another man who had admitted to stealing billions from pension funds and retirement accounts. The next guy in line had barely escaped being convicted of selling military electronics on the black market. The President himself was under investigation for taking bribes from three industrial lobbying groups to cut regulations back to the point where rivers were starting to catch fire again. In four short years, everything had gone bad. Everything had gone wrong.

Infamy.

Oscar smiled grimly and started to assemble the bomb.

He could live with that.

*****

Oscar Lembrick’s page on 30characters.com