Fleets of Flies

The alleyway was full of the sickly-sweet miasma of rotting garbage. Try as he might to avoid the black bags and strewn trash on the floor, every so often his foot would nudge against a sack. It would take a brief moment before fleets of flies took skywards, swirling about in the alley at being disturbed from feasting and fornicating.

Pressing the back of his hand to his nose dulled the stench a little, replacing it with the clinical odor of powdered nitrile gloves.

It took a bit of a trek down the alley to get into the clearing between buildings where the white tent had already been set up, along with barricades of police tape separating the rest of the world from the crime scene. Dipping into his pockets, he pulled out the blue bags to slip over his shoes.

“Carl.” One of the forensics officers called, carefully stepping around the little numbered plates to meet him. Jenny Ming was relatively new to the job, and her face had a pale cast to it.

“Jenny.” Special Detective Inspector Carl North nodded in return. His face was careworn, his short cut of dark hair greying at the temples. “May I?” He gestured past the tape.

With a nod, she helped lift it a little for him to slip under, a slight groan coming from the detective. “Back troubles?” She asked with a smile of commiseration.

“Age troubles.” He replied, carefully stretching a little as he straightened. “How bad is it?” He pointed to the tent. Carl could feel the unnatural taint in the air causing his skin to goose pimple. She didn’t speak, she just motioned him over to the door through. A quick glance was all he needed before he turned from the scene with a shiver. “You were right to call.”

The body behind him was straight out of a modern horror film, a skeleton that attempted to escape its confines of flesh. Pushing his senses out, he could feel the stain of dark magic on the corpse. It had a peculiar quality, an abruptness to it. At a guess, someone had tried to work a spell above their level and broke it off before the strain killed them. Had it completed there would have just been a pile of skin behind them and a risen horror somewhere else, ready to do their master’s bidding.

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Stress Relief

The steady sounds coming from the living area had her seething. Not just the rhythmic knocking as Zircon entertained one of his colleagues. The past two months had been a constant wear on her nerves. Her courses at the Academy, minus Galactic Language and Literature now, were going well but the atmosphere was getting to her. The more guarded she got, the more the other students kept their distance. The more they kept their distance, the more she bristled.

A moan traveled through the door, Jena Foster tore the covers back and quickly started to dress, her jogging bottoms and a hooded top her choice for the cool Asrat night air. As she slipped her training sneakers on she tried her best to ignore some of the signals her body was sending her. The tingling ‘pops’ a certain part of her cyborg body was feeding to her brain only got worse when she opened the door to see Zircon mid-thrust with a pair of dusky legs wrapped around his midsection.

“Jena?” He called, glancing over as she went for the door.

“Out for a run.” She called back, slipping from the apartment and letting her cybernetic legs take the strain as she vaulted down the stairs instead of taking the lift. Hitting the ground running, she took off out of the building to jog through the sidestreets and along the pavements. An earlier storm had whipped up sand, sprinkling it delicately along the paved surfaces. It took a moment for her gait to adjust to the reduced traction the sand caused, then she picked up speed.

Maybe Zaha had been right. As much as she liked Zircon, he wasn’t human. He didn’t have a full grasp on etiquette and that wasn’t his fault. Three months of sharing a small apartment hadn’t gone as she planned, and while the recreation activities they did together were nice, it wasn’t military service. Perhaps spending it on her own would have forced her to interact more with the other students.

A warning flashed up in-vision at the force her clenched fists were exerting. Her mastery had increased on operating her body in the almost four years she had it, and she had reduced the restrictions her performance limiters placed on her as she got used to it. Even so, when she was vexed she put a bit more power than she planned to in her actions.

And she was vexed.

Irate as she was, she could feel the situation change around her. She was being followed. Two had stepped out in front of her in the alley she was running in. Two came from behind. One of the men in front stepped forth with a cheery smile on his face, holding a portable credit terminal in one hand. “Evening, Miss. Fancy making a charitable donation?”

“Not tonight.” Jena said. A thought suddenly struck her, she had left her service knife on the bedside table. Her service pistol was in the locker under her bed. Stupid.

“There are other ways you can donate to a good cause. Help out, as it were.” The man spoke again, taking a step nearer. Their ident chips were scrambled. The terminal they carried would help launder the transferred credits their extorted. A warning had gone up around the academy about gangs like this skulking the streets.

“Look. I have a had a bad day, in a bad week, in a bad month.” Jena spat, drawing herself up. Under her clothing her artificial muscles bunched up, ready to release their power as she lifted her limiter. “So I recommend that you turn around and leave me alone, got it?”

The frontman for the little gang laughed, a condescending grin on his face. “Listen, Miss, I don’t think-” He collapsed back as Jena coldcocked him on the jaw. The surprise from his fellows let her get close to the man just behind him, doubling him over with a blow to the stomach.

She felt a hand on her other wrist. With a wrench she drew the attacker in and twisted her arm. Her foot lashed out to strike him in the leg, and with a dual motion she pushed him away while pulling on his arm. A sickening crack filled the alley, then a swing of her elbow collided with the side of his head.

The last man standing was rapidly backing away. How long had it been since she’d been in a proper fight? No weapons, no servitors, just close combat. A grin split her lips as she pursued him, the stress bubbling away from inside her as the heat of battle set her heart going.

He was trying to scramble over a wall when she locked her hands around his ankle and yanked him down. Even with one leg hoisted in the air by him he tried to scramble away on his hands and knee. “Please… please no…!” He cried. Lights came on in nearby buildings as his calls attracted attention. Faces were peering out at her now, and the fire in her veins simmered down to leave her feeling cold.

“Call the police.” She called out to the watchers. “This man and three others in that alley tried to rob me.”

 

“I hope your friend is alright.” Natasha said after gulping down a glass of water. She worked as a chef in the Academy’s restaurant, and had finally plucked up the courage to ask Zircon out for some fun, but the way the blonde left had her concerned.

“She has been stressed lately.” Zircon admitted, popping one of the supplement pills he had to take in his mouth before drinking. “A run may do her some good.”

“At two in the morning?” The chef deadpanned. “When there’s been those criminals reported who extort money from citizens?” She rolled her eyes. “And she likely left because of the noise we were making. If you’d have said she was here, I’d have taken you to my place!”

Zircon topped Natasha’s glass up from the pitcher he brought with him. “We may have neglected to lay down ground rules for the apartment about such activities.” He admitted after a moment. “I do not seek sex out, and she has never expressed interest in it. The subject had not come up.”

With her little black dress pulled back on over her head, Natasha worked her fingers through her tresses of brown hair while speaking. “Maybe you should talk about it. Maybe you should put some clothes on too before she gets back. Even if I am enjoying the show.” She added with an appreciative look up his body.

He had just pulled his trousers back up when the apartment door slid open. When the blonde had left her back was rigid and her stride quick. Now she was slumped and moving slowly, and Natasha could see the welts on her knuckles. The chef leapt from the sofa and came over. “I’m really sorry about earlier, I hope we didn’t disturb you too much.”

“It’s fine.” The student shrugged. Her eyes flicked over Natasha. “You leaving?”

“Probably for the best.” She said with a look to Zircon.

“Don’t. I just stopped four muggers, always a chance there might be more.” That explained the contusions on her fists, then. Glancing down, Natasha saw they were rapidly healing.

“Under such circumstances it may be for the best if you stay the night, Natasha.” Zircon advised while on his way to the kitchen. He had already pulled three mugs out from the cupboards before she could reply.

“Sure then… you took on four of them?”

The blonde shrugged. “They weren’t too much of a threat.”

“Zircon mentioned you were a solider.” Natasha hesitated for a moment before continuing. “And I had heard some of the stories going around the campus.”

“Yeah, I’ve heard them too.”

 

The trio sat about the living area in an uneasy silence after Zircon had made tea. Jena was quiet, guarded. Zircon was observing, and Natasha was stuck in the middle kicking herself for getting involved.

“Zircon?” Jena started. “You’re familiar with my systems. Can I put myself in a standby mode, like an autocrew member?”

“That is possible, with some modifications. Why?”

“Next time we have shore leave, I’m sorely tempted to just shut down for the duration. No schooling, no recreation, no relaxation. Just close my eyes one moment, then open them ready to get back to work.”

“Are you serious?!” Natasha interjected before she could stop herself. “Just switching yourself off and on like that? Not using your time off?” She covered her mouth with her hands as Jena’s gaze fixed on her.

“You’ve heard the stories about me.” The cyborg sat forwards. “I left my home because war changed me. Being in the military was good for me. Structure, duty, a role. Then I finally get my first load of shore leave and I hate it.” She knocked back the last of her cup of tea before a mirthless smile crossed her face. “I hate not being able to turn off all the survival tactics that are ingrained in me. I hate being around civilians when those tactics drive them away. I hate that he’s more human that I’ll ever feel.” Jena shot Zircon a look.

In silence Natasha stared at her. The tight clench of the cyborg’s jaw, the hard eyes, the thick tone of self-loathing seeping into her voice with every admission. She glanced to Zircon. Her colleague was silent. The blonde cyborg drew in a breath before continuing.

“And most of all, I’ve come to hate myself. I was so proud of everything I did to protect my family and friends. Look at me now. I can’t fit in. I can’t unwind. I can’t even have sex! The only thing that’s been any stress relief to me is beating up some muggers.” With that admission Jena sunk her head into her hands, staring at the floor.

After an awkward pause, Natasha looked to Zircon. “Aren’t you going to say anything?”

“I am unsure on what to say given the information revealed.”

“Well, that’s useful.” With a huff, the chef changed positions to sit next to Jena. “We got off on the wrong foot. I’m Natasha Henderson, you might have seen me in the back of the Asrat City Academy restaurant.” She offered her hand.

“Ensign Jena Foster.” The subdued reply came.

“Hope you’re feeling a bit better after getting all that off your chest. Sounds like you’ve been bottling it up for a while. My brother used to do that. Everything was fine until he’d exploded and vent all at once.”

“A little better.”

Natasha smiled. “That’s good. Look, I know the counselors at the Academy. Maybe you should go and have words with one of them? They’re there to help, after all.”

“That may have to wait.” Zircon interjected. Both women looked over to him. “A security alert has just been tripped on the Herne.”

Lifting her head, Jena spoke. “Probably just the maintenance crew making an error.”

“Another security alert has just been tripped. Someone is routing them through the autocrew command network.” He pushed himself up from his seat. “I am required to return to the ship and investigate.”

“Well, I’m not letting you go alone.” Some life had returned to her eyes as she rose as well. “But getting up there is going to be a pain.”

“I’ve got a ship.” Natasha chimed in with. The pair looked to her. “Well, it’s the restaurant’s delivery ship, but I’m flight certified in it. We do external catering on ships in orbit sometimes.”

Taking a breath to compose herself, Jena started for the bedroom. “Get your gear, Zircon. I’ll get mine, something more substantial for Natasha to wear, and we’ll take a look.” The last part of her sentence was muffled by the door closing behind her.

“Are you willing to do this, Natasha?” Zircon asked while pulling his kit bag from its storage place under one of the counters.

“It’s a citizen’s duty to help out members of the Galactic Federation’s forces.” She replied. “But are two of you going to be enough?”

“I am attempting to gain assistance now.” Came the reply.

 

Warning pips from one of her implants roused Admiral Zaha Roland from her bed. The villa’s bedroom was filled with a wan red light, the source being the Sword of the Hunter. Her sword. Grabbing it, notifications started to flood into one of her in-vision displays from 0436-8 Designation “Herne, Zircon” of the ship’s autocrew.

Dropping the blade, she started her calls for assistance even as she moved to dress. Whatever was happening on-board her vessel, she was not going to stand for it.

Process

“I don’t mean to criticize you,” his superior spoke in a voice that indicated he -was- meaning to, “but couldn’t you hurry that up? We need a lead.”

Pinching his brow as he bit off his planned retort, he sucked in a deep breath before responding with all the patience he could muster. “It’s not a simple task. I am working as fast as I can, and I could work faster if I did not keep having to explain this.”

Continue reading

Investigation

The roll-neck top she had pulled up over her nose did little to stifle the sickly-sweet smell of rotting garbage in June. With hands clad in blue nitrile, she sifted through the alleyway while breathing as shallowly as possible. “On TV, detective work isn’t nearly as glamorous as this.” She joked between breaths, before scampering back as hard-shelled roaches scurried out to fight over the remains of a gyro she’d unearthed.

“Yeah,” her partner responded, hauling a refuse sack out of a dumpster to start pouring over, “It’s all the boring stuff. Pitched gun battles, car chases, hot sex and cool champagne. They leave out the trash duty, the desk work, the endless coffee runs. That’s where the action is.”

“I wish we could wrap up everything in forty-two and a half minutes. We’ve spent that long here already.”

“Maybe there’s extra long advert breaks?” A grin crossed his face as he shook an empty box of condoms. “Holster your piece with Magnum, sponsors of Two Detectives and a Dumpster.”

Her laughter soon became spluttering retches as an unpleasant whiff struck her nose through her top’s light fabric. “Is that what our show is called? I was hoping for something more catchy. Kovalski and Renault, but instead of and, it’s one of those squiggly…”

“Ampersand?” Renault supplied.

“That’s it.” Kovalksi nodded, carefully climbing to her feet. “Why don’t we have uniforms on this task, anyway?”

“More imperative duties. The President’s in town after all, so the gruntwork is all ours.” Wiping his brow on his forearm, he gestured at the pile of trash he’d unleashed. “Not a sign of anything vaguely relating to murder, unless you count some awful Kung Pao chicken and a copy of Diane Taylor’s ‘Fit Fast’ work out DVD.”

Peeling her gloves off, Kovalski tucked one into the other. “Pretty sure that gave someone a heart attack. Not so sure it resulted in someone being choked with a bike tyre’s inner tube.”

Renault sighed. “How annoying is that? Our murder weapon currently has more traction than our investigation.”

Author’s Note: That was a fair absence, wasn’t it? My apologies for the vacation. This week’s 3 Word Wednesday words were: Garbage, Traction, Imperative.

Cat’s Eye

With the family having left on vacation she was free to hack her way past the exterior defences. With the gate timer spoofed and the camera feeds dubbed, she walked into the compound like she owned the place. Her destination? The mansion she once worked in as an assistant.

Her little bag of thief’s tools gained her entry to the family home, using cloned NFC biometric signals to trick the entry system. A handy little backdoor she had planted during her service to the family worked to confound the time-location security systems that might have rumbled her plan.

Once inside, it was easy to begin loading her sports bag with jewellery and other valuables that had been scouted out while employed. Having lined the bottom and sides of the bag with her clothing, she kept some spare to cover it over ready to muffle the sound of her loot and conceal it from prying eyes.

At least the cats were still fond of her, rubbing their bodies around her leg and staring up at her to meow, expecting her to feed them. With her glove covered hands, she stroked their backs and scratched behind her ears, smiling at how much she was going to walk away with in this perfect crime.

She never knew about the cybernetic enhancements of the cats, their vision linked to a small encoding computer in the base of their skull that fed the data to flash chips in their collars. As she left the property so sure of her brilliance and cunning the cats peered through the window at her. The proof of her crimes filed away in their vibrant, customized neckwear.

Author’s Note: Inspired by the April 4th 2013 episode of James May’s Man Lab, on BBC 2.

– 0 –

“Polo?” SDI Carl North offered the pack to his partner, DS Linda Roberts. The pair were sat in her Ford Mondeo, the engine having just stopped.

“Maybe later.” Linda replied, drawing her keys out of the ignition.

Carl popped the circular mint in his mouth and tucked the pack back into his jacket. “Best take a look at this. Wouldn’t want our victim to go anywhere.”

“If he went over that cliff, I don’t think he’ll be walking anywhere.” Linda replied, slipping out of the car. The local police had already set up a cordon and were speaking to witnesses at the small beauty spot on the coast near Hastings. She watched her grim-faced partner wander over near the edge of the cliff to where a small white dog was sat on its haunches, peering across the ocean. He sat down besides the dog and petted its head. With a sigh, she went to find the officer in charge.

She found her nursing a cup of tea by a police van. “DS Linda Roberts,” she introduced herself, “My Partner, SDI Carl North’s over by the scene of the crime.”

“SIS are here?” The policewoman blinked. “I’m not sure why.”

“You know what SIS are like, they’ll jump on any case that interests them. What’s going on? Much of what I heard was rather sketchy.”

“I’m betting suicide or stupidity.” The woman in charge replied. “We’re collecting witness statements at the moment, but we’re getting a lot of consistent information. Male, mid-thirties. Rucksack over one shoulder, bouquet of flowers in his hand, some people are saying he had an MP3 player going. Just walked straight towards the edge and off it, not a single reaction from him, even as he fell.”

“What’s with the dog my partner’s… doing I don’t know what with.” Linda said with a sidelong look, Carl busy petting and fussing over the furry mutt.

“We’ve got animal control coming over soon to collect it, belonged to the man apparently. Was biting at his trousers and barking as the man walked over. It’s got a collar on, no leash though. If it’s been chipped, we might be able to get some more information on the man.”

“Alright, I’ll go relay that to SDI North. Thank you for your time.”

“No problem, take care by the edge. It’s a long drop.”

“Fool.” Carl said as she approached.

“Excuse me?”

“Not you. This one.” He said with a gesture over the cliff.

“Well, they suspect suicide or an accident, so either way it’s a fair word in some people’s opinions.”

“Not what I meant. Polo?” He offered the pack again, as well as something else.

Linda looked down at the item pressed into her hands, then the dog, then off the cliff. “Carl, what the hell is this?”

“I said already, Linda.” Carl said, sucking air through the hole in his mint. “Fool.”

Author’s Note – Just a snippet today, but it came about after finding and sorting through my Rider-Waite tarot deck. I do love the artwork, from the Minor to the Major Arcana. Don’t ask for a reading though, I’m useless at it.

Abstergent

(Author’s Note – Very humid and warm where I live today, which does not help my headache. Only a short story today.)

Harsh and stinging chemicals scrubbed in. Scalding water steaming as it left the tap. Jagged brushes scraping across skin and probing under fingernails. All the different products and techniques she used had long since removed the physical traces of blood on her hand. Well, their blood.

Skin had come off from her efforts. Then it was her own blood that was dripping into the sink. In her eyes, it was that woman’s. That poor young woman forced into a life of hawking her body for cash. The anger had overcome her in seeing her partner dropping the girl back at her spot in the street.

She had read Macbeth. And she knew now, even as she scrubbed at her own blood that it would never be hers. She would never be clean of it. No abstergent would cleanse the taint from her soul and purify her of that sin.

Pensée

The prison cell was not what she thought it would be. She was chained, certainly, but instead of hard stone floors and damp walls, it was furnished in a dark lacquered wood. The purpose of her chains seemed to be to keep her looking at the primary feature of the room, a tall mirror surrounded by a pitch black frame that almost seemed to drink in the light of the room, the flames in all the lanterns drawn towards it.

Her crime was the theft of a hen and a rooster, done by her own admission in a moment of madness after finding her own little flock decimated by the hallmarks of a hungry and sly fox. Her neighbour had plenty of them, she told the court. It was only two chickens, and they had been kept in cramped conditions.

The court, made up members of the town council, were quick to rule. While the circumstances were distressing, and the two chickens had been returned, there was still the need for some punishment to dissuade her from any further crimes. As such, she had been brought before the Mirror.

As the flickering flames found themselves drawn towards it, the same occurred with her eyes. And as she stared into the reflection of herself, dressed in a brown peasants smock with a woolen cape of dowdy gray, the reflection stared back into her. Their eyes made contact, and the punishment began.

A runaway train of thoughts, of the strife her simple act of theft brought to the town, to her own life, and to the neighbour she stole from. It span out from there, a twisted pensee wherein her actions lead her to more acts of theft, the effects of those crimes building like a tide as it swept through the community. Her reflection became a bitter mockery of herself, with cruel eyes and a self-satisfied smirk plastering her face, her appearance changing to one of wealth even as glimpses under the fine drapery and clothing revealed a black, rotting husk. The contagion soon crept up, spreading to her face as it drained all the pride and arrogance out. Then any glimmers of good and hope were snuffed out as the affliction made her features grotesque and putrid.

She was screaming, sobbing, desperately wrenching at her bindings to turn away from the vision presented to her, being forced into her mind by the mystical artifact. A heaving stomach gave way to retching. And then it was over. The vision had stopped, the guards had come back in to unchain her and carefully lead her out.

“What…” she stammered, her throat dry. “How… how long was I…”

“Just five minutes.” The guard replied. “By order of the Town Council, you’ve served your sentence. Go in peace and abide by the law. Your husband is waiting for you outside.”