terribleminds

“What the Heart Seeks” – Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: Doing The Subgenre Twist, Once Again

Another week, another interesting challenge form the terrible mind of Chuck Wendig!  This week, we had to choose two story genres at random, and mix them together into a single story of subgenre-melty-goodness in 2000 words or less. As usual, I used the random number generator/recorder at Invisible Castle to keep myself honest, and came up with an 18 and a 2 – a Noir Dystopia. Shiny!

I came two words shy of the goal with the following piece, “What the Heart Seeks.”  It was harder than I thought, inserting dystopian elements into a noir world. I ended up adding a touch of sci-fi to the mix, and shook it real hard. I hope the results tickle your tastebuds.

I knew she was trouble the moment she walked in the door. Her hair was long, loose, dark, falling over her shoulders like an avalanche of black curls. Her eyes, green as a piece of fine jade. Her lips, shockingly red and shockingly full. Her skin, lightly tanned, as if the sun had kissed her ever so gently. Her clothes so tight, I’d have sworn she was shaken up and poured into them. Every bit of her, head to toe, was a violation of the Morality Code. And frankly, I didn’t give a damn. I tossed out the garnish of taboo and drank her in like a drunk at an open bar.

“Mr. Monroe?”

I must have been staring too long, because her eyebrow raised, and she cocked a hand on one of those impossibly curvy hips. I went to speak, found my jaw was hanging slack, closed it. Rolled my head and shrugged.

“What’s it to you?” I said, trying to play disinterested, though I was sure I’d blown that hand already.

“I hear you’re a Seeker, Mr. Monroe. A good one.”

I put a toothpick into my mouth, gnawed on it. I wanted a cigarette, bad, but I was out of cards for them and though they were plentiful on the black market, getting caught sucking down on one without a ration stamp was more trouble than I wanted to get in. And no matter how tempting she looked, I didn’t know this dame. Best to play it safe.

“I have been known to find things, sure. For a price.”

“What kind of things?” she asked, sauntering closer.

“Things,” I shot back. I don’t like being interrogated.

“You ever find…people?”

I paused. My chewing stopped. I reached up and pulled the toothpick from my mouth, and spun it in my fingers. I knew what she was asking, and it could get me in a lot of trouble. Unlicensed use of meta-human abilities was punishable by…well, anything they damned well wanted to do. Still, there was something about her. I gave in.

“People are tough. Not like objects. They change too much, nothing solid to focus on. Besides, most the time, someone goes missing, it’s because they crossed the Greycoats.”

Outside, a shrill whistle sounded, followed by the sound of running, cries. Punctuated my point perfectly.

“Tough,” she said, almost a whisper as she leaned in real close, “but not impossible.”

I couldn’t help but get a whiff of her, of that sweet, unidentifiable but completely irresistible perfume. I can’t deny, it had an effect. Down below, I felt myself stir in ways both immoral and illegal. Damn…this dame was trouble. Why, oh why do I like trouble so much? Still, long as it had been, much as I may be driven by those illegal, animal desires…I don’t work for free.

“No. Not impossible, Miss…”

I paused. I hadn’t even thought to get her name. It’s like she pushed every single one of my buttons, just right. I felt a flush rise to my cheeks.

“Neris. Neris Molpe, Mr. Monroe,” she said, with a smile that could melt even the black heart of a stalwart Greycoat.

“Uh, you can call me Sam.”

“Alright…Sam. So…will you take the job?”

I almost said yes. Hell, if she had asked right then, I might of walked right up to a Grey Inquisitor and pissed on his boots. But there’s one thing that drives me more than even the most primal lust.

“First, there’s a matter of cost. Seeking’s risky business, and battin’ those eyes won’t pay the rent. Or the taxman. Or bribe the Inquisitors. I need to know what you’ve got to offer before I can say one way or the other.”

Her demeanor cooled slightly.

“Of course,” she said, and the chill from her lips could have frosted over glass. Oh well. So much for that fantasy. She reached into her bag, a nice, colorful thing that would have gotten her arrested in a less questionable part of town. Color incites passion, passion incited immorality. That’s what the loudspeakers said, anyway, wasn’t it? Her hand slid in, slid out, now carrying…

My jaw dropped. My heart pounded wildly beneath my wrinkled shirt and battered overcoat. I literally had to rub my eyes, to be sure I wasn’t seeing things. I even thought about pinching myself.

“Are those…”

“Reproduction licenses, Mr. Monroe. Two of them.”

She may well have said she held the contents of the Imperial treasury in her hands. Reproduction was highly, strictly regulated. It could take a couple a dozen years or more to get a license for a single child. Many who got them found that years of chemical libido inhibition also killed their ability to have children, but by some strange lack of oversight, the licenses were open. They weren’t bound to a particular name or couple. They were transferable. And very, very pricey.

I licked my lips. Didn’t want to seem to eager but I really couldn’t deny that I was. I rubbed my jaw, felt the stubble that had grown there.
“Alright, Ms. Molpe…”

“Neris, please.”

“Yeah. Alright Neris. You have yourself a Seeker.”

***

It’d been a long night. Miss Molpe…Neris…was hesitant on the details. Couldn’t blame her for that, though. These days, anyone could be a Greycoat. Even me.

We’d evaded three patrols so far, running through dark alleys and abandoned service tunnels, following the distinctive pull my mind felt towards the object of her desire. Every once in a while, the trail would start to dim, and I’d have to ask her for another detail to freshen the imprint. Like I’d said, humans are tough. Changing. Moods shift, and something that defined a person one moment might change the next.

It’s easier, of course, if the person in question has some sort of unchanging feature; a significant scar, a great hairy blemish, a tattoo…well, a tattoo would work if they hadn’t been outlawed by Imperial edict. Even then, though, the way a person views their own attributes can sway how well they can be Sought. Where I might see an angry red scar, the bearer might see a proud badge of heroism. The devil is in the details, they say.

And the devil was poking me, hard. I fingered the stiletto hidden in the sleeve of my trench coat, then sighed.

“I need something more,” I said, sucking on my teeth as I tried to pinpoint the fleeting tug of my Seeking. Neris leaned against the alley wall, trying to catch her breath. I guess we’d been moving a bit faster than she was prepared to go; hard to say. When I start Seeking, I tend to loose myself in the pursuit. She held up a hand. I nodded.

After a moment, she closed her eyes and furrowed her brow. It was clear that she was trying to find just the right detail out, that wouldn’t expose too much information but give me enough to give her a lead. A tingle of paranoia crept up my spine like a spider up a drainpipe, but with a shiver, I dismissed it. Paranoia was the norm these days, ever since the emperor dissolved the senate and handed power directly to the Inquisitors. As much as I might distrust her, she surely distrusted me.

“Can we rest a moment more?” she asked, opening her astonishingly jade eyes and batting her lashes. Those things had to be a mile long. I grunted, gave a nod. But something was nagging me, and I had to ask.

“Who are we tracking, Neris? Boyfriend? Relative?”

Her cheeks flushed the color of a cheap wine.

“No…nothing like that. He’s just…someone who…has something of mine.”

“A thief?”

She shrugged, looking away from my eyes. My jaw tightened, eyes narrowed.

And then she looked up at me again. Those eyes, those impossible eyes, gazed at me like she was drilling a hole in my soul and looking to strike gold. And damn if she didn’t.

“Please, Mr. Monroe…I can’t. I can’t talk about it more than that. Is it enough that he has something of mine? Can we work with that for now?”

I concentrated, felt the return of that familiar tug. Yes…that would work. I nodded, and we were off again, chasing the ghost of her little thief. Whoever he was.

***

We hunted most the night, when we finally came upon the end of the line. The tugging within me, the feeling I’d followed all night, released. Tension fled from me like water from a sieve. I felt my muscles loosen, relax.

“He’s here,” I told her, nodding towards the abandoned storage buildings across from us. “He’s inside one of them – sorry I can’t be more accurate, but this is as close as I can get with people.”

Neris nodded, and started to walk briskly towards the buildings, when that wave of paranoia hit me again. I reached out, stopped her.

“Wait. Something’s wrong.”

My eyes narrowed, searching, not Seeking. It was quiet. Too quiet. No sounds of whistles, no barking dogs. No signs that an Imperial patrol had been through here, no sign that they were coming. And where there are no signs of Imperials, there are almost always signs of crime. This place was clean. I pulled Neris back behind me, reached into my jacket, pulled my unlicensed revolver.

“It’s a trap,” I growled.

“I know,” she said, and I felt the cold, round touch of a barrel against the back of my neck. Every bit of me cringed. I’d been had. Hard.

“Your gun. Drop it.”

I considered, briefly, resisting. I’m no slouch when it comes to using a gat, and my impression thus far was that this dame wasn’t used to getting her hands dirty. Not this way at least. And then, the Greycoats came. A whole squad, swarming out from the storage buildings. I may have been able to take her, but my gun was at least a dozen rounds shy of taking the rest.

“Excellent work, Mrs. Molpe,” the lead Greycoat said. “We’ve been after this Seeker for some time now, but he has always proven too slippery a fish.”

Mrs. Molpe? Fuck me.

“Stop, Donovan,” she said, her voice cracking in what almost sounded like sorrow.

He slapped her, hard.

“That’s Captain Donovan, you dirty little Enticer.”

An Enticer? They sent an Enticer? It all began to make sense. The loose details, the feelings of paranoia, the way I set aside my usual distrust so easily. I looked at Donovan. Shit. He was the one I was Seeking the entire time.

I looked over my shoulder at the apparently married Neris Molpe, and sneered.

“Don’t,” she pleaded, “Don’t hate me, Sam. They have my husband. I didn’t have a choice.”

“Everyone has a choice, Neris.”

“Not true,” Donovan said pointing his gun at me menacingly, “You are out of them, Mr. Monroe.”

I smirked. Couldn’t help it. I  had a choice.

I lunged, and as I did, pulled the stiletto from my coat sleeve. Donovan’s eyes widened; guess he’d never had anyone resist before. He tried to bring his gun to bear, but I was on him to quick. I buried my blade in his throat. He gurgled, gasped, fell backwards.

I felt the first shot that hit me, but I didn’t feel the rest. My body became suddenly heavy, and I slipped to the ground. I heard Neris scream, and a moment later, felt her arms wrap around me, cradling my head.

“Sam! Oh, Sam…I’m sorry Sam!” she said, sobs wracking her body. I tried to move, couldn’t. Hurt.

“S’ok, dame. I made my choice.”

Coldness swept over me. My sight began to fail. I looked at her, at those impossibly green eyes, and smiled. Imagine that. Me, in the arms of a beautiful dame, her eyes heavy with tears for a cagey old Seeker. I tried to laugh, coughed blood instead.

There were worse ways to go.

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“Rider from the Storm” – Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction Challenge: The Phoenix

It’s that time again folks, from the talented and ever terrible mind of Chuck Wendig comes another weekly challenge. I decided that this time I would continue the story from last week’s attempt, as I like the world I was building there and this prompt gave me a perfect excuse to revisit it.  Hope you enjoy another slice of Li Drevin’s life…

“Li Drevin?”

I ignored the woman asking my identity and continued loading the limited storage space on Harley, my warp-bike. I spared a glance her direction, saw the uniform, and thanked the ancestors I’d chosen not to respond. It didn’t matter. She saw my glance, and her face took on a hard glare.

“It’s no use ignoring me. I was confirming your identity as a matter of civility, Mr. Drevin, but I know it already. I’ve come to bring you back to the Congress. They weren’t done with their questions.”

“What’s more to ask, Lieutenant…”

I glanced briefly at her chest. Strictly professionally, I assure you.

“…Anders? I’ve told them what I came to tell them. I’ve warned them of what’s coming, and how quick it’s doing so. Now I am going to jump on my bike, hit the black, and get my way to the other side of the galaxy, quick as I can. I don’t have time for political bullshit.”

None of us do, I thought.

“And what then?” she asked, crossing her arms, “If these things – what did you call them? Phoenix? Phoenixes? Phoeni? What is the plural for them?”

I hadn’t named them. I was just hired help, out on the galactic rim, that happened to be on the planet where they were found and knew the scientist who named them. Gracie Wu. Poor girl. She’d called them Phoenix when she’d found their ancient, long-buried ship during a geological survey. Their bodies, desiccated and lifeless, revived with exposure to the light of that system’s star. As they revived, they emitted brilliant flashes of bioluminescence.

Like a phoenix from the ashes, Gracie had said.

That was just over three cycles ago. Gracie was dead, now, along with nearly everyone else on that world.

“Phoenix,” I grumbled, “The plural is just Phoenix, like fish and deer. As for what I’ll do then…”

I sighed. What would I do then? The Phoenix, at first, seemed benign. Almost plantlike in their forms, their limbs like tendrils, roots, off shoots of pulpy, vegetative bodies. Then they began to move. To walk, or writhe, or slither, or whatever the fuck it is one does on tendrils.

Then they began to fly.

That was the first sign that something was wrong. When the first one took to the air, hovering, much to the misplaced delight of the people watching. Then it struck. Fast as lighting. A tendril drilled deep into the heart of the lady who’d brought it back to life. It consumed her from the inside out, shriveling her flesh till it looked like the things she’d pulled from the ground. And then…then her flesh began to writhe, to wiggle in the sun. To reform, to expand, to move on its own power. Hot light burst from her, and she stood. Not Gracie. The thing that wore her body, her face, but not Gracie.

The planet was overwhelmed in hours.

I’m fast, damned fast. Not just on a warp bike, but on foot. Always have been. I still don’t know quite how I’d gotten away but I had, and I wasn’t going to give them a second shot at me. So I’d go, far. Other side of the galaxy, and from there? A sleeper ship maybe? I know they were launching some outwards to the distant arms of another conglomeration of stars. I didn’t know.

All I did know was that a storm was coming. And I planned to ride ahead of it for as long as I could.

“Mr. Drevin, please come back to the Congress. I don’t want to have to use force.”

I turned back towards the young lieutenant, and saw the stun-rod in her hand.

Like I said, I’m fast. Damned fast. Her arm was already in motion, but I was a blur, stepping underneath and pushing her arm, helping momentum carry her swing too far and off balancing her. I placed one leg slightly behind her, and pushed, toppling her to the ground and snatching the stun-rod from her hand. She looked up at me in shock, her eyes focusing on the tags that hung from my neck, with their distinctive black and gold stripes. Her mouth hung agape.

“Drevin…you – you were at Lisborn?”

I felt the color drain from my face.

The Battle of Lisborn. The last great battle in a war of greed and power-grabbing. And attempt by a bunch of wealthy, power hungry fucks to break apart the Republic. It was at Lisborn that they’d used their ace card, the device they thought would make even the might of the Republic tremble. The Star Crusher. Tens of millions lost in a moment. A blink of an eye, the collapse of a star. Everyone in the system dead. Everyone but one.

I’m damned fast.

The only good thing that came out of Lisborn, myself included, was a sudden, crushing defeat of the separatists. They hadn’t counted on the Republic doing that, and the Star Crusher? They only had the one. Their bluff got called, and they folded faster than the star that Lisborn orbited.

The mood shifted. I reached out, helped Anders up, handed her back her stun-rod. I noted her face, as pale now as mine had been at the mention of Lisborn.

“Ancestors be merciful,” she breathed, her eyes welling with tears, “You aren’t lying. They’re coming.”

I nodded.

“What should we do? What can we do?”

I shrugged.

“Head for the far side of the galaxy,” I said, “Maybe catch a sleeper ship. Try to stay ahead of the storm.”

I paused just long enough to throw a leg over Harley. Anders didn’t do a thing to try and stop me.

“Stay ahead of the storm, and hope to the thousand hells that they can’t cross deep space.”

I pulled on my helmet, touched off the bike’s engines. I left her there, staring off into the black. Staring in the direction of the Phoenix, and the coming storm of fire.

Flash Fiction Challenge, this week from Chuck Wendig…

From the terrible mind of Chuck Wendig comes this week’s Flash Fiction challenge: a story of no more than 1000 words, incorporating the following three random sentences.

“The borderlands expire thanks to the hundred violins.”

“A poetic pattern retains inertia.”

“The criminal disappears after the inventor.”

Here goes…

It was a study in contrasts. Lord Felwin se Vaan, a man born to one of the purest noble lines and a knight of the Emperor’s own Praetorian elite, dressed in a uniform of vibrant crimson, pressed so cleanly, so tightly that he looked more toy than soldier…though nothing could be further from the truth. Before him, the sneak-thief, Rawley, a bastard-born son of the gutter, his greying robes disheveled and sooty, and only newly returned to him. The latter rubbed his wrists gingerly, massaging the lingering ache of the manacles from which he’d so recently been freed. Lord Felwin regarded him with a cold, cautious stare, then handed him a small bundle of similarly colored cloth. The rogue took them, rolled them open, and regarded the pair of blackened daggers that they held.

“Remember,” Lord se Vaan said, his voice crisp with authority, “the nature of your parole. You are to find the artificer, Taalien Kreg. You are to retrieve from him the schematics from his…device. And you are to silence the creation of any further constructs of their nature.”

Rawley flipped the daggers deftly, caught them, and made them vanish from sight. To Lord se Vaan’s right, a wizened, wrinkled old man gasped. The rogue smiled.

“Right. And you remember your promise. My crimes wiped clean. My debts paid full. My freedom guaranteed.”

Felwin nodded sharply. The rogue bowed, and took his leave. The old man, Master Daen of the Artificer’s League, sighed.

“And thus,” he spoke, his voice dry and raspy, and colored with no small amount of regret, “the criminal disappears after the inventor.”

Lord se Vaan turned and regarded the old artificer, one of his Emperor’s most trusted advisors.

“You  think I am wrong to do this? You think there is a better way?”

“Taalien is a brilliant creator, my lord.”

“A brilliant creator?” Felwin cried out. “A brilliant destroyer! Gods be merciful, Daen, have you seen the men that return from the havoc your ‘creator’ has wrecked? The borderlands expire thanks to the hundred violins! A hundred VIOLINS! What madness drives a man to make warfare with such a thing as sound?”

The old master shrugged.

“A poetic pattern retains inertia. Its waves carry, grow, amplify. In the grasp of a musician, these waves rise and fall, make beautiful sounds of questionable use. In the hands of a genius though…”

His words trailed off, and over them, outside, separated from them by not just walls of stone and sand, but miles of terrain and air, the horrid wailing of Taalien’s creation could still be heard.

“Your words border on treachery,” Felwin warned. Again, the master shrugged.

“If acknowledgement of genius is treachery, then I willingly condemn myself every day. That said, genius is no excuse for wickedness. No, Lord se Vaan…I cannot think of a better way. Trust in me, I have tried. Taalien was a brilliant student. Hmmm…yes, even my superior in intellect. But he must be stopped. I question only your choice of instruments, my lord. This Rawley…what makes you think him trustworthy?”

“I have my reasons.”

Silence then, save for the distant wailing of the sonic weapon, the hundred violins and their damnable, impenetrable shield. The master nodded, turned, and took his leave. Felwin stood there, silent, alone.

Rawley would succeed. He had to. He alone knew the passages well enough, beneath the keep in which Taalien had walled himself. He alone could move with the silence and deadliness this act would require. He alone carried the fate of the empire on his sneaking shoulders.

“Speed of the Gods,” Felwin whispered, “little brother.”

Beyond, the violins wailed.

Chuck Wendig’s Weekly Flash Fiction Challenge…”We’re all human, even when we’re not.”

This week’s Flash Fiction challenge, from the incomparable Chuck Wendig at http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2014/05/02/flash-fiction-challenge-behold-your-theme/

The challenge? A story with a theme of “We’re all human, even when we’re not.”

One week. One thousand words. I can do this.

Here goes…warning, definitely NSFW…

 

 

I still remember when she picked me up at that party. I had a pretty good buzz going, just grooving to my own beat, and then, there she was, all smiles and giggles and that hint of blush at her cheeks that spoke of either intoxication or embarrassment. Maybe both. It didn’t matter, though. There was a definite spark between us, a vibe that neither of us could have imagined before. I remember the way she gasped that first time she touched me, and the way I felt shivers all over. Man, it was intense.

Even that first night, when most lovers are a little too clumsy or fumbly or drunk to do things right, we clicked. A fucking puzzle of, well, fucking. God, it was amazing. She climaxed at least a half dozen times, and afterwards, we lay there together, basking in that delightful glow of really good sex. She laughed a bit, commented on how she had never known anyone who could last as long as me, but hey man, I’m like the Energizer bunny. I keep going and going, and she fucking loved it.

I knew, of course, that we’d never be exclusive. She made that clear from the start. She was not the kind of girl content with monogamous sex, and while yes, maybe that’s more my thing, she was way too into me and I WAY too into her to care. I can’t lie, we had a hell of a lot of fun together. And even when she did have other lovers, she always came back to me later. I was the best, she said. No one could get her off like I could, and yeah, I was damned proud. Hell, there were even a couple of times when we shared a lover together. Kinky, I know, but damned man…it was crazy. Fun. Sexy. Hot, hot, hot. Let’s be honest, there was no way I could say no. But life, man…life has a funny way of getting in the way of sexy times. We rolled on pretty good for a good year or so, just fun times and lots and lots of play. She even showed me off to some of her friends which was, you know, AWKWARD, but that’s the kind of cat she is, and hey, I got nothing to hide. And then…well, then, the inevitable happened.

She got pregnant.

Funny how something so small can have such a huge impact in your life. It wasn’t on purpose, and I’ll be honest here, I’m pretty confident it wasn’t mine, but we weren’t exclusive, and as close as we’d become, there was no way I was going to ditch her over it. She cried, a lot. She hardly ever touched me, when she first found out…I don’t know if that was guilt or shame or what have you. And when she did, it was always something quick, urgent. Need, not want. Afterwards, she’d cry some more. I’d try to comfort her, but there’s only so much I could do. She decided, at last, to keep the baby. I supported her regardless, knew we could make it work. And for a while, things did get better. I’ll tell you now, some women, when they’re pregnant, they can’t get enough sex…and that was my girl to a tee. We were going at it constantly – she said it helped with her back. I wasn’t going to argue. I thought she looked radiant, stunning. Beautiful. Every time I touched her, every time I made her cry out, I loved it. I loved her. God, she’s amazing.

When the baby was born, things slowed down again, but hey, I knew they would. It’s tough to get intimate time when you have a little one, crying and fussing and eating and shitting. And damned, man, that shit is non-stop. All hours of the night, every day of the week. I knew my girl was exhausted and since she chose to take on all the childcare stuff, the best thing I could do was be supportive and not complain. So I didn’t. I kept quiet, my needs under lock and key. I stayed content with the time we did get, those rare intervals when the baby was napping and we just had to fill that need as quick as possible. I was still her go to guy – the others couldn’t be bothered with baby drama, and lets be real, they couldn’t do the job as good as I could anyway.

Sometimes, I wish things could go back to that time, crazy as they were. Yeah, sexy times were rare, but they were good. Passionate. Intense. For a moment, when she was on the edge of climax, I could see in her that smile, that blush, that giggle from that first night. I’ve never seen anything so beautiful in my life. But things change, man. Babies are hard. And eventually, baby daddy wanted in on the picture. She was reluctant at first, I mean, the fucker hadn’t been there when she needed him most, had he? But now he wanted to be. Now he had changed. And she cried. She wanted what was best for the baby, and what was best was knowing his daddy. I get that.

Dude hated me, though. Felt threatened by me, I guess. He didn’t like when I was around, and got belligerent when she talked about me. He wanted me gone, out of her life. And again…she wanted what was best for the baby. She didn’t even ask my opinion. So here I am. Kicked to the curb like a piece of common trash. Used, abused, and discarded. Wrapped up in some cheap rags and tossed out the door. Now it’s raining, and I am out in the cold.

And fuck me. I think my batteries are leaking.