Gaming the System (short story)

(Probably rough, hasn’t really been edited yet, just sort of banged this out tonight! I could probably expand this to a novella if not more. Maybe a serial?)

ONE

I listened as I stood in the darkness, but the only sound I heard was the thumping of my heart and my own breathing. With my back against the wall, I inched forward as quietly as possible. The killer was somewhere ahead of me, armed with a chrome or stainless automatic. I wondered where the fuck Tillman was. My partner and I had split on at the entrance, with me taking the stairs while he went around back.

It was stupid, and we were going to catch hell for it. Sergeant Hines would be just the first in a chain of superiors taking a piece of our ass for chasing an armed gunman into a nearly-finished office tower without waiting for backup. The they didn’t watch this guy execute two men less than twenty feet from us either. They didn’t see the look in his eyes as he stared at us while putting a bullet in the second victim’s skull. The perp was insane, or he was the hardest of the hard-nosed killers that organizations like the Russian mob used to take care of problems.

Then there’s the fact that Tillman and I had each burned through an entire twelve round magazine from no less than fifteen feet away, and this asshole only started laughing as he turned and ran across 5th Street and into a construction site. Neither of us spotted a blood trail, which means we wasted twenty-four bullets at almost point-blank range and came up empty. Last time Tillman and I hit the range, we were thirty out of thirty at thirty feet, and twenty-six out of thirty at twelve. Twelve feet and a moving target that randomly swiveled to present an inch of surface area to hit.

I heard the soft scraping of feet ahead of me. I counted to three then hit my flashlight, hoping to blind him. I barely thumbed the switch on the flashlight when my vision whited out from the continuous fire that belched from his weapon.

“Fuck you!” I screamed after diving to the floor and behind a pile of drywall sheets. “Emerson P.D.! Drop your weapon!” I prayed Tillman heard the shots and was running his ass off to get to me. Continue reading

The History of Books: Part 3-ish (or 2.5, whatever)

Part1 / Part 2

CHAPTER 2.5 – More Backstory But This Time It’s The Story Of Congo, Orange, Shed & Highborn, and Some Other Random Bullshit That Probably Has Nothing To Do With The Rest of This Chapter

Update / Newsflash

Right. So this isn’t really an update, as for you, it is three seconds after reading the last sentence. For me, it is the next day, and at some point during the time I finished the paragraph above, and right at this moment, I realized there is more to this story. It isn’t really important, but I’ll tell it to you anyway. You’ve read this much. The poison is already going to kill you, might as well try and hope that reading more of this crap will speed the death process up so you don’t suffer too much more.

One day, back in the ancient lands of a place called Silicon Valley, was an enclave of wizards and magicians and sorcerers. This enclave, it was full of some of the most powerful mages in the entire realm, and even realms that had never been discovered yet. That sounds about right. I’m kind of making this one up as I go along too, so… you know, put your bullshit filters back on. Which you should have never taken off.

These mages at the Enclave, they heard the far-reaching stories of a great sorcerer, one unfamiliar to them as this sorcerer, Congo The Wise, had come from a land called Seattle, far to the northwest. The Enclave became curious as to how this unknown sorcerer had become so powerful that his name traveled the winds all the way to the Valley. The enclave was well known for the way its various sects had begun to shape the land and the lives of the humans that lived within its sphere of influence, which was quite far and wide.

When the Enclave learned of what the sorcerer had been doing to garner such praise and rumor, the members openly scoffed, brushing off this ‘wise’ sorcerer as nothing more than an illusionist, a trickster, not a real wielder of the great arcane power known as Technology. Privately, the Enclave’s wizards and mages and warlocks and sorcerers and even those granola-eating bastards called druids who rode their stupid bikes to work all began to worry.

And so the High Council of the Enclave of the Unmatched Power of the Arcane Technology, and this is why I just call them ‘The Enclave, because that shit gets old after about the nineteenth time, these elders began to send their best and brightest to this place called ‘Seattle’ to find out exactly how the sorcerer was doing his magic, and to craft their own magic to capture the interest of the citizens (mostly peasants still) of the realm and get some of that internet money. I mean gold. They were after the gold. Continue reading

The History of Books: Part 2-ish

Anyway, out in fiefdoms, the peasants… er readers were growing restless. This new sorcerer named Congo came along one day and started messing with people.

“Hey,” he’d say, like every conversation ever in the history of humanity began, “would you like to see a neat trick?”

And the peasants would say, “Hell yes, entertain us, but be careful, if you use your wizardly sorcerer powers, we’ll call you a witch-demon and put you on the rack until you confess.”

To which the sorcerer replied, “What? I thought this story had moved into like the 20th or 21st century by now. I have to go change costumes into 15th century period fashion.”

But then Congo, the great sorcerer, showed them the trick. He let them choose an item they wanted to buy, and then he would teleport it right to their front door. Or barn door. Or hovel door. Congo didn’t care, he could make items appear right at anyone’s door that had a legal address in a proper zip code.

This caused another revolution of sorts, but it really had nothing to do with The Publishers. Yet. Soon though, the tides of war arrived on the publishing shores, and they had no choice but to take up arms and do battle against the evil sorcerer. For the evil sorcerer Congo was now teleporting books to the doors of peasants everywhere, but this particular spell, according to The Publishers, not only teleported the book to the front door of a peasant… er customer, but a side-effect of the spell is that it also nicked a few cents worth of profit out of The Publishers’ coffers.

The battles raged for a while, but eventually the sorcerer won the ability to demand the terms of a treaty. He didn’t outright destroy The Publishers. He wasn’t really an evil sorcerer. He was pretty damn intelligent, as he knew that his own trick depended on The Publishers doing their job to work. How could the sorcerer teleport books to a peasant’s house if there were no books to teleport because the great sorcerer had destroyed The Publishers who produced the books?

(side note: This wouldn’t be the last time The Publishers clashed with Congo. There’s some more conflict in Chapter 2.5 somewhere. I’m too lazy to look it up, but trust me, Congo The Wise is a very tricky trickster, and The Publishers, by Chapter 2.5, are these old dudes like from The Dark Crystal, which is a kick-ass movie if you’ve never seen it… you really should check it out. Jim Henson and stuff. It’s going to be cheese, but it’s a totally awesome badass cheese. Like Pepper Jack cheese or something.)

And during a night of drunken debauchery with an entire ballroom full of virgins or rappers or something, after almost setting the King’s couch on fire with a slurred Power Word, it came to him. The sorcerer’s epiphany was that he could craft a new spell, one more powerful than any he’d ever crafted, that would teleport the books directly from the author to the peasants. Customers. Sheesh.
Continue reading

The History of Books: Part 1-ish

So I got into a discussion with a friend the other day about a bad review on one of my books. He wanted to know why I hadn’t armed myself like Rambo and chased the person down and I guess blow him up with an explosive-tipped arrow (I mean, these arrows can blow up Russian attack helicopters, so I’m pretty sure I can blow up a reviewer pretty easily, assuming I can even draw a bow without folding in on myself like an accordion in a Bugs Bunny cartoon).

I just shrugged and said I didn’t take it personally. I realized a long time ago that no matter how great something or someone is, there’s always got to be one (or as usual, more than one) person who has to go and take a shit all over it. That’s human nature. I mean, I bet if Jesus showed up, there’d be a mob posting troll comments all over his YouTube sermons.

That phrase, by the way, ‘taking a crap all over <insert whatever someone was taking a crap all over>,’ is actually from around 400,000 years ago.

In the ancient days, a caveman looked at another caveman’s drawing about a mammoth being hunted, and smeared excrement in the shape of a penis on it. This was Og’s first bad review, and he was incensed enough to hunt down the offending reviewer, and crush the reviewer’s head with a heavy stone.

Rokk, the first caveman lawyer, successfully defended Og, earning him the world’s first acquittal. He then went on to draw cave paintings of how he successfully defended Og. Of course, there were plenty of other cave persons who thought Rokk was the lowest form of caveman scum, even for caveman lawyers, and they smeared many pounds of excrement all over Rokk’s masterful drawing of his lawyerly prowess.

However insultingly disgusting that was, Rokk’s ego was saved by the many more supporters he had who would smear honey or blood on the cave paintings, while others would draw little cave paintings of praise below Rokk’s masterpiece.

Those little drawings of praise were the first set of known reviews on Amazon.com. The little drawings of trolls or ice cream cones below the little drawings of praise below the cave drawings were also the first comments on the first reviews at Amazon.com.

Yes, I know it was before electricity and computers were invented. Who’s story is this? Mine or yours? That’s what I thought. Now shut the hell up and learn about some book history stuff!

*****

 A long time ago, this guy wrote a book. It was a pretty damn good book, but it was getting all messed up because everyone wanted to read it, and it was the only book. Producing a book back in this time was pretty expensive. The author had to write it all out by hand. (I hear young authors crying out in disbelief, but it is true, I swear. I even wrote by hand once, and not just to be “retro cool” either… it sucked but it was either that or lug around a 72 pound typewriter, which only got it stolen from you, and then you got your ass beat by big kids who called you names like “Eternal Virgin” and “Sissy Bitch.”)

And paper wasn’t like today. The author couldn’t just go down to Ye Old Wal-Mart Emporium and stock up on 200 count, college-ruled, spiral-bound notebooks for $.28/ea (Price Drop!). There were no name-brand pens and pencils and fuzzy troll eraser buddies and Scooby-Doo lunch boxes. You spent a small fortune for paper, or maybe papyrus if you are imagining this author living waaaaay back. Ink was messy, you had to dip something called a ‘quill’ into it, then once you wrote about two words, you dabbled sand onto the page to soak up the extra ink and help it dry.

If you are like me, your question is, “How the fuck did anyone ever write a second book?” Continue reading

Henchmen Wanted…

So I’m browsing the services section at zengxhoufortress.craigslist.org and dragonfangisland.craigslist.org to find me a couple of one-eyed Thai henchmen to help me put on my socks for the next few mornings since I injured my back, and I think I’ve found a couple of good candidates.

Somchai, which means “worthy man”, looks like he might fit in with my plans of dominating the international heroin smuggling trade (and helping me put on my socks and pants to start each day until I can do it myself again). He has a proper looking eye patch, most of his teeth, and a badass scar running from the left corner of his mouth up to where his eyepatch is.

His qualifications include:
Piracy on the high seas (21 years experience)

Master of the scimitar (19 kills, 42 wounds)

Expert Intimidation (54 confessions extracted)

Expert Driver (limousines/armored Hummers)

Bookmaking

Debt Collecting

I’m thinking this dude is going to be my captain. I’ve sent him an offer sheet, waiting on his reply.

Klahan (“brave”) is also a good candidate. He’s not as experienced as Somchai, and his profile didn’t include a picture, but he has a supplementary skill set that looks to be exactly what I am needing when I take over Xin Po’s smuggling routes that lead out of the South China Sea.

His resume:
Multilingual – six languages (Mandarin/English/Japanese/Arabic/Hebrew/Russian) and seventeen dialects. This will come in handy.

Knife-fighting champion 2008 and 2011 at the Kumite challenge hosted by the evil Dr. Wang in Guangdong province.

Black belt in multiple martial art fighting styles

World class coffee brewer (this might be the most important skill a henchman can have. If I don’t get a good cup of coffee to start my day, people tend to die when I normally would just chain them to a wall in a dungeon cell and torture them for a while)
Journeyman computer hacker – one never knows when one will need to hack through customs or the Coast Guard computer systems.

Sent him an offer sheet as well, hopefully he’s interested.

Big day ahead of me today. Plots need to get set in motion, communication lines need to be set up with my poppy mfg and distribution networks, and I still need someone to help me get my fucking socks on. No one will respect an evil mastermind if he shows up wearing flip-flops, or God forbid, Birkenstock sandals…

Launch Sequence I (a “Genesis-6” story in “End of the Line” universe)

SOME of you have arrived because you’ve read “End of the Line.” Some of you are probably VERY angry at me for what I’ve done to humanity. I would like to remind you, before you launch a plasma grenade through my window, that EotL is just a story. Fiction.

I would also like to remind you that as bitter and depressing as EotL was, it of course was NOT the end… though I doubt anyone will be prepared for what becomes of humanity. Don’t worry, it’s pretty good. Keep in mind that I’m judging my own writing, so you should be wary of any claims I make about it being “pretty good.”

Right. The chapter preview at the end of EotL is “Launch Sequence II.” What you are about to read is actually the first novella of the sequel, and takes place before LS-II. Don’t worry, it all ties together. EVERYONE DIES! Haha, just kidding. Maybe. We’ll see.

ONE

My mother held my hand so tight that it began to hurt. She gave me a soothing look, but I could see the fear in her eyes. I didn’t really understand what was happening, but I knew that all of the adults were scared. The thunderous booms that filtered down through the underground complex resonated regularly. Every thump caused Mom to jump a little, and each time she would squeeze my hand even more.

“Mom, you’re hurting me,” I said after another powerful explosion made the world around us vibrate.

“I’m sorry, honey,” she replied, relaxing her grip, then giving me a quick hug while holding a small smile on her face for a few seconds. “I’m just nervous.”

Another boom, this time louder than any previous, rumbled down the walls. I could hear other children crying, whimpering in the line all around us, along with the voices of parents doing their best to soothe them. Just like my mother was doing for me. I wondered again if I was dreaming.

—|—

A week ago, I was playing in the park, beating my friends at video games, and practicing with my school’s basketball team. At ten years old, I didn’t pay much attention to the adult things like the news unless my father left the tablet screen open to the cartoons, though some of the cartoons made no sense. Chancellor Ryley was a woman who looked almost like my mother, and I didn’t understand why some cartoons showed her as a donkey, or why the aliens we were at war with were stuffing apple pies into her exaggeratedly large mouth.

Sometimes I liked to read the sports section. Earth was two hundred light years away, but they had all of the best leagues and sports, as some sports couldn’t be played on colony worlds if the gravity or atmosphere wasn’t right. Once in a while, my own name was in the local sports section, along with those of my teammates. Sometimes we got our pictures in the news as well. My father printed a hardcopy of the time I made the news by scoring the winning basket in the championship game when I was eight.

It was a distraction from the hushed whispering—sometimes even shouting and shoving—that the adults did over what was happening in the Coalition. All of us kids were told not to worry about any of that, only to focus on the next game, the next day, the next homework assignment. It was easy for me, though it made me uncomfortable around certain adults, as they sometimes forgot to stop worrying and focus on the next game, day, or work assignment. Continue reading

It’s Harder This Way – Chapter One

And finally tonight, many, many, MANY readers have been waiting for some sign of life concerning a sequel to “It’s Better This Way.” Well… “It’s Harder This Way” is getting dusted off and is in the queue. Here’s a sample. Keep in mind, it hasn’t been heavily edited (or even lightly edited). Enjoy! I’ll update as more gets written ;).

1. Onward and Forward

“Mr. Greggs, sir?” Spider asked, skidding to a halt in front of me.

“Spider,” I said, trying not to laugh at his name, “just call me Evan.”

“Evan, sir,” he said, fumbling the words. I could tell that it was hard for him to keep the Mister title from slipping out. “There’s an army scout coming up the road.” He looked back, as if the scout had been stalking him, then back at me. I nodded for him to go on. “He’s coming to you and Mist… Tony.”

“Okay,” I said, glancing over at Tony Galliardi. He shrugged. “Make sure he finds his way to us, and make sure no one says anything. Go.”

We watched him run back down the road, an all-out sprint at first, then after a sheepish look back at us, he smoothed out into a jog. I picked up my pack, shouldered it, waited for Tony to do the same, then began walking south again along the Willamette Highway.

“Who do you think taught him manners like that?” Tony asked as we put one foot in front of the other.

“No clue,” I said with a chuckle. “Is he a Farm kid, or from one of the outer reaches?”

“He’s one of the Davies’ kids. From up on the northeast edge.”

“Huh,” I said, trying to place the family to the location. “I don’t remember them. Seems like a good kid, though.”

“Let’s just hope he doesn’t fall on his knife while trying to slice into an apple.”

I laughed, imagining the gangly teenager tripping over his own two feet, especially around council members. We stopped when we came to the small bridge over Big Marsh Creek. Tony gave the halt signal to the… soldiers behind us. I didn’t want to call them soldiers, as they definitely weren’t that. They passed the signal back down the line, where it would eventually reach the rear, almost a mile behind us. Continue reading

Chronvalescent (a story in the “Departure” universe)

If you’ve never read “Departure,” then this story might not make as much sense. Then again, it might not make much sense mostly because I wrote it…

NOTES: Not edited, so there will be mistakes/errors. I am around 85% finished with the story, which has sort of come on strong over the last few days out of nowhere. I AM planning on a sequel to “Departure” (and in effect, this story as well), which will be titled “Arrival.” This story together with “Departure” will give a more complete backstory to “Arrival.”

CHAPTER ONE

“We have to go, Drea,” Melly said, tugging my arm.

“I don’t want to,” I said. She heard the sulking, near-whining in my voice. “Well, I don’t. I want to stay here with you.”

“You can’t,” she said, her voice heavy with emotion. “You know you can’t. We’ve talked about this for years.”

“I don’t care,” I said.

“Bullshit. You DO care. You’ve seen what happens when you miss your departure.”

“I don’t care,” I said again, feeling every bit the petulant child that I sounded.

“Then you lied all these years,” she said with sudden anger as she let go and pushed me away. “Because if you cared, you wouldn’t do that to me. You wouldn’t make me watch it.”

“It’s not fair, goddammit!” I nearly screamed. I only kept my voice down because the Hackers were everywhere in this part of the Bower.

“I know, baby,” she said, her face immediately back to the crushing defeat she’d tried to hide from me for the last few months. Hell, the last year or more, but it really began on my 39th birthday. She stroked my cheek, trying to wipe away my single tear without allowing herself to shed any. The heartbreak in her face made me want to fall to the floor and just give up. I would just lie on the floor and cry until I missed my departure. The memory of what happened to the unlucky (or stupid) ones who missed their departures was ingrained in us from childhood. Even without the instructional holos we were forced to watch at various intervals in school, there would be one or two who drove the message home every month when they refused to depart.

“Come on,” Melly said. “We have a ways to go just to get topside.”

When I refused to budge, she cupped my cheeks and pulled me in close. I stared into her eyes for an eternity while she nearly brought me to orgasm with an intensely passionate yet soft, loving, slow kiss. My mind whirled as her tongue gently flitted against mine. Time became nothing. My departure became a worry for someone else. I was no one and nothing, my only thought on Mellisandra and how much I loved her. Continue reading

Paradoxis (working title)

Sort of just blew up with this the other day… might be worth exploring further?

ONE

I banged my palms on the steering wheel in time to the music, waiting for the light to change. Twenty more minutes and I’d be home for the weekend. My mind wandered to Marla, the woman I had met a few weeks back on an internet dating site. We’d spent two nights together in those three weeks, and my brain hoped that it was only because of my work schedule that we hadn’t been able to hook up more often. I felt my heart race at the thought of the skin-tight dress she’d worn the previous Saturday when we’d driven up to Boise for—

The blare of at least three horns shattered my concentration and brought me back to reality. I felt my face turn red as I wondered how long I had made the cars behind me wait to turn left onto Borah Ave. A glance in my rearview mirror once my foot hit the gas pedal made me turn even more red, the multiple rude gestures and mouthed insults the proper payment for any dumbass who couldn’t get off their cell phone or stop picking their nose long enough to notice the light had turned green.

I crossed over the first two lanes, my light still a bright green arrow, when a blur caught my peripheral vision. I felt my nerves tingle all at once as I realized a blue Honda wasn’t going to stop at its red light. I couldn’t decide whether to jam my foot on the gas or the brake, but the Honda was moving so fast that I never got to make the decision. A loud bang preceded the crunch of metal and glass by a quarter of a second, the airbags in my Chevy Cavalier filling instantly and whiting out my world.

I braced as hard as I could with my arms and legs, sure that it was the worst thing I could do but unable to control my muscles thanks to the fear flooding my body with adrenaline. The impact spun my car around at least four times, another crunch bringing it to a stop against what I guessed was a utility pole. The worry that I might have suffered whiplash, a broken bone, or a broken nose thanks to the airbag was partially lessened by being able to see the world around me as the airbag deflated.

I blinked a couple of times, unsure of what I was seeing. The Honda was in the middle of the street, its front end completely pulverized, yet the driver had somehow extricated himself through the rear window and was walking toward me. Holding what looked like a huge, silver pistol. As if me making eye contact had enacted a program execution, the man raised the pistol and began firing at me. Continue reading

Letters From the Adult Orphanage #1

To: Inmate #AZ932-09004
Dear Potential New Mom,

Some seriously scary people on the internet told me you needed an adult child to love and care for. I’m a big boy and I can wipe myself, but I’m still wearing training pants. Not because I have a weird fetish (Mr. Davies, the boss of the orphanage, tried to explain what “fetish” means but I could only picture eating spaghetti with peanut butter and broccoli sauce). I need training pants cuz I forget to remember to… You know.

I like dogs and chickens and bears and fishes and ceramic trinkets and piranha and chrome and Big Wheels and paper and crayons and stuff.

I don’t like mean ladies who say nice things while frowning and pinching my cheek (I also don’t like lady aunts who have Lando Calrissian mustaches even though they tickle but then I feel awkward for laughing) and I don’t like cereal or toy robots or punctuation or socks but I love toe socks haha weird right? but I also don’t like genetics or dumb rocks because rocks are dumb and don’t dance or play Xbox.

Anyway, prison pen pals are okay but my friend Dooly says I have to be careful because prison types like you are sometimes mean and say nice things while being mean and I don’t like mean cuz it makes me feel mean and I don’t like mean. I hope you get out of prison and didn’t really do all those bad things to the adults on that tour bus because it wasn’t nice. OK bye!

Please write back,
Jerry Winkleton
(but my friends call me “Jezzy” or sometimes “Destro” but that’s cuz Destro is this guy who works for Cobra Commander though more like a mercenary but the good guys won’t hire Destro cuz he does work for Cobra Commander but I like Destro’s girlfriend. She has cool pants that are shiny and really tight. She sometimes wears funny underwear. But OK for reals bye now!)

PS don’t stab no one in the chow line cuz it’s mean and that lady might be a mom too and then her kids would be like me and live in an orphanage. But then I would have new friends so maybe if that lady mouths off then you can go ahead and shank her. Billy Tibbets says shanking is like sex but he’s 14 and I don’t understand adult stuff yet and he made fun of me and explained it was like punching someone while holding a homemade knife.