Fire Beneath Ice

Cold air numbed S.M.’s face as the blades sang with each stroke upon the ice.

It soothed her…

“Soul?” the eighth overlord said. She couldn’t determine if he had been amused or bewildered. “I don’t build souls. Only bodies. You’re merely a sum of parts. Nothing more.”

It soothed her mind then.

The hazy sun peered though the overcast and she turned to skate backwards to spare her eyes from the glare. Black smoke continued to snake into the sky. With the roads as they were, it would be hours before the fire department made it up the hill.

These were the worst kinds of summonings.

Instead of taking her directly to the house last night, her charge had handed her a pair of skates. “One last time,” he had said. He was lucky she hadn’t slashed his throat open. Under her skin she knew what he wanted and it simmered there as they skated towards the setting sun.

Night settled before they returned to the house. He shared his home with four others. His wife stared her down but she didn’t demand an introduction and he didn’t give one. Their three children were sisters of infinite curiosity. Fearless, they climbed on furniture to touch the painted mask and bombarded her with questions. They yelped and giggled at the depth of her voice.

“Are you a boy?” the middle one asked.

“Why do you look like a girl?” the eldest asked.

The youngest tugged on her pant leg, raising her tiny hands in the air. When she was picked up, she stuck her fingers into S.M.’s mouth to touch her teeth.

“What a brave child you are,” S.M. clicked her teeth. Their mother removed the child from her arms and the family settled in for dinner in the other room.

The house was uncomfortably warm with the fire in the hearth and the bundle of nerves that was her charge churning on her skin. Back outside the porch light above flickered then dimmed. In the dark, she had the sensation of something hanging over her. The light flashed, imprinting itself across her eyes in a final hurrah before death. Instinctively, her hand went to the back of her neck, pressing the scar at the base of her skull.

“What are you doing?” Her charge was at the door and she realized she hadn’t sensed his movement. “Are you going to join us for dinner?”

“I don’t eat,” she said.

He lingered at the door before stepping back inside.

He’s going to kill the children…

“I know,” she lifted her face to the burned out light. The filament was glowing inside the otherwise darkened bulb. “I’ve…heard your voice before, haven’t I?” She cupped a hand to her ear but the voice didn’t travel on the wind and it said no more.

She spent the night on the porch even after the lights had gone off in the house and everyone was in bed. He woke up before dawn and came downstairs.

“Come with me to the garage?”

She was grateful for the momentary warmth as they passed through the house to enter the garage. He handed her a gas can and a packet of matches. “Behind the house I’ve stacked a wood pile.”

“I can’t read your mind,” she said in a monotone.

He started his SUV and sat in the driver’s seat. “Give it twenty minutes before you start the fire.” He waved her away. “You will want to wait outside.”

“You’re a monster,” she said.

“No. That’s your job.”

And she’d never allow herself to be accused of not doing a thorough job.

Twenty minutes later, she was dousing the woodpiles with gasoline before lighting the match.

“I knew he wanted you to kill us.” The girls huddled around their mother as she dressed them one by one, returning S.M.’s jacket, coat, and scarf she had thrown on them as she swept them out of their beds and away from the house.

“He asked me to burn the house down. So I did.” She swung the ice skates over her shoulders and tipped her head to them as she walked down to the frozen river. They weren’t charged to her and the further away she got from them the better. For them.

Cracks spider-webbed around her forcing her to return to the edge. She wasn’t ready to return home just yet. She was listening for it. In the scrape-scrape of the blades, the rustle of the naked branches.

Do you seek me?

She halted, ice creaking under the blades. “Who are you?”

Down here…

Suddenly a branch snapped forward, clotheslining her under the chin. Her head cracked the ice, waves of black exploding before her eyes. Frigid water welled up around her as elongated shadowy fingers sought her. Through the shadow a gatherer stepped gingerly onto the ice wearing a fresh white cloak.

“Don’t!” She scrambled onto her feet, forgetting she was on blades, and the ice shattered. The gatherer reached for her as she slid into the gaping maw of the lake. Under the dark water a brilliant gold light flashed, then something from below pulled her under the ice.

The gatherer leaped over the hole and punched through, crooked fingers tangling in her coat. It pulled up limp wool.

A stone’s throw away, a hand broke through the ice then she reappeared, gasping, blood gushing from her nose. The gatherer sprinted towards her, outstretched arms hooking under hers. Pulling her from the water without breaking its stride, they dove into the blue mist and disappeared.

~*~

Exercising one of my characters from my forever-a-WIP-and-most-likely-to-end-up-in-the-bottom-of-a-desk-drawer.

If you hit the like button, please comment on whether you’re fire or ice. Just because…

Connect with me on Twitter: @sm_saves

~*~

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Loralei’s Search

(This is part of the same story as Sleeper’s Den and Agent K. Nell and occurs prior to the events in those stories.)

Her search through the digital archive turned up disappointment. The employee database contained bare bones – name, phone number, address. No emergency contact, she noted. She chewed over the start date as she activated the elevator with her white key fob. Three days ago. Probably the date the profile was set up.

No mention of his previous years with Cable.

The elevator doors opened to a frosted glass door that yielded to her key fob and passcode. During her first year with White Cable, she had spent months scanning the mountains of paper documents in Central Files to a secure server, reducing the old paper archive to two file cabinets. She doubted anyone had been up here since the project had been completed.

The elevator doors closed. By the light of her smartphone, she opened the M-N-O drawer and there he was: Nell, K.

He hadn’t been kidding about the K.

Two pictures were stapled to the cover page – an unsmiling young man with dark tangled hair and an equally depressed older man with somewhat manageable hair and dark circles under his eyes. Same deadpan stare taken twenty five years apart.

She snapped the folder shut as the light from the elevator illuminated a path to her and the door slid open. “What are you doing up here?” Way to sound like you’ve been caught, she berated herself.

“Legal wants my old records.” Nell eyed the folder. “Are you authorized to be up here?”

She handed over the folder. “I’m part of White Cable.”

“Were part of White Cable.” He didn’t check the name as he tucked the folder under his arm. “Now you’re Red Cable. Didn’t they put you through transfer reprogramming?”

“That’s illegal nowadays.” She had heard stories of reprogramming. If you transferred departments, experienced trauma out in the field, or were under corrective action, you had to submit yourself to a twenty-four hour session of audio stimuli tailored to your specific needs. And repeat as often as your lead thought necessary.

Most of the stories whispered of the sinister side effects of the corrective action reprogramming.

“Too bad. I’m sure I could dig up one of the old tapes if you want to experience it for yourself,” he said, unsmiling.

“No. Thank you,” she shouldered past him to get to the light of the elevator.

“If there’s something you want to know just do that finger thing and ask.” He pantomimed writing in the air.

“Text you?”

“Yeah. That.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” she said as the elevator doors closed between them.

~*~

I wrote this interaction back in early August. I’m posting it after some helpful prodding from Spiral Artist.

Kind of bland but no overused love-at-first-sight tropes.

Connect with me on Twitter: @sm_saves

~*~

The House Named Veronika

I know you shouldn’t name things because you’ll become attached to them.

Veronika, the mystique, the heart breaker.

Scrutinizing the neighborhood with her evil eye pediment.

The Mister and I have been house hunting for a year now. We’ve seen ranches, two-stories, bungalows, Victorians, various bi-levels, tri-levels, and quad-levels. We’ve ventured into dungeonous basements, crawled up to dusty, low-ceiling attics, wandered into houses built like churches, explored a bomb shelter, and climbed steep staircases in search of a balanced house with at least two full bathrooms, a two car garage, decent kitchen space, and a bit of sunny yard for a garden.

And one that feels like home.

Weeks ago, a house we’ve passed on walks from the library went on the market. A white and black two story we mistook for a duplex because of its two separate porches and front doors.

She is a single family home built in the 1870s. Last major remodel done in the 1960s.

I hold a grudge against anyone who has ever put carpet over wood floors. I curse them if they have also put down carpet on their bathroom floors.

Veronika sports cat puke green carpet with pink pinstripe wallpaper. There’s dark wood paneling down the hallway with violently floral wallpaper. It’s peeling because it was applied to preexisting wallpaper underneath. I should have known something was amiss when the MLS only showed pictures of the outside and one picture of the kitchen sporting red linoleum and cabinets painted robin egg blue.

Despite the hot mess, she seduces with a unique floor plan. Two staircases, one to two bedrooms and a full bath; the other to a study. Home library? Yes, please. Another set of questionably structured stairs and makeshift handrails lead to a surprisingly well lit basement with built-ins and a workshop.

She sings to my writer’s soul but, she also gives it a fright.

She is located in a stable historic neighborhood but there are so many to-dos and unknowns: electrical, plumbing, windows, the possibility of lead paint, the slanting front porches on top of the tearing up of carpet, the tearing down of wallpaper, the refinishing of 150 year old wood floors and repairing plaster walls. The known fact that her one-and- a-half garage will eventually have to come down, plus the shed and the tree behind it, to build a two car garage. Despite her below-market price, we can’t afford an unknown becoming a pricey emergency repair.

Veronika is too high maintenance. Veronika demands too much.

So our search continues.

~*~

If you have any house hunting/owning success or horror stories, please share them in the comments. I would love to read them.

Connect with me on Twitter: @sm_saves

~*~

Agent K. Nell (Sleeper’s Den Pt. 2)

This is a follow up to Sleeper’s Den.

Covered in goosebumps, he shivered in the paper hospital gown. The cuffs around his thinning wrists and ankles were icy. Head tipped forward, he lapped up the mucous from his runny nose as it dripped down the feeding tube and over his cracked lips. His eyelids shuttered.

The door across from him slammed open. He jerked to attention as a bald man in a dark gray suit entered, handing a case to the guard.

Eyes crawled over him as the man took him in. “Hello, Nell.”

“Hello, Grim,” Nell said around chattering teeth.

“I’ve been looking forward to hurting you. I wish I could have been here when they first brought you in.”

“And where were you?” he asked.

“Business,” Grim said. “Couldn’t get away even if I wanted too.” He peeled off his leather gloves and took Nell’s hand turning it over, caressing the bony fingers. “You were always a waifish thing. You ought to have taken better care of yourself. You look downright ghoulish.”

Nell couldn’t argue. He had caught a glimpse of himself in the reflection of the observation window the day before when they were preparing another torture technique in an attempt to get him to talk. He didn’t recognize the man looking back at him with pallid skin, hair in tangles, and eyes sunk so deep they looked like holes. “Now what?”

“I figured you and I would have lots to catch up on.” Nell’s head slumped forward but Grim framed his face, holding him up as he struggled to stay conscious. “I would like for you to tell me the password.”

“I have many passwords – bank account, work computer, home computer, several Wi-Fi passwords, email passwords. Hell, even my gym locker requires a password.”

Grim broke from his name and smiled. “Red Cable’s password.”

“You have my key card.”

“Not to the building. Your team. What you use so they know it’s really you.” He picked up a set of goggles and pressed them to Nell’s face covering his eyes and nose. He adjusted the earpieces to fit snug in his ears. He watched as Nell’s fingers writhed. “Relax,” Grim hushed. “You used to enjoy my VR.”

“We are a long ways away from that stage in our lives.”

“Nonsense. You’re never to old to flirt with your prey.”

The screen darkened. Nell smelled blood mixed with oil so strong he could feel it in his nose. But then there was perfume and the hand and backside of a woman wearing nearly nothing. The patches of vitiligo; her calling card.

“She wouldn’t be caught dead,” he told himself. But hell, she looked so good…

“You phone needs a charge,” she said turning to him with the red cable, tassels shaking as she moved. She came to him, swinging burlesque fans, sliding them down her body. He felt the feathers caress his face, felt their breeze as she waved them.

When she straddled him, he felt a weight on his lap, could smell her sweat and deodorant and the perfume of her flesh. He was more awake than he had been in weeks as she rode him and kissed his mouth. He felt the pressure of her lips, the heat of her breath.

“I’ve missed you so much,” he whispered.

There was a buzzing and she was suddenly holding knives to his throat. “What’s the password?” she asked.

He gasped, her weight suddenly crushing him. “I don’t know. Lora, please. It’s me.” The blade nipped into his throat.

The scene shuttered. “What’s the password?” she said again.

“I…don’t…know.”

Again the shutter. The visual and audio looping. “What’s the password?” she repeated. He could no longer smell her and his eyes burned. Then she stabbed him, over and over, and he could feel the blood pouring down his chest.

The goggles lifted. Grim sat astride him, emptying a glass of red syrup down his neck. He crushed it in his hand and wiped the fake blood against Nell’s face, slivers of glass slicing into his cheek. The guard stood off to the side, holding a pair of feathered fans.

“I am going to hurt you now,” Grim said in an unfeeling monotone. He peeled off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves.

Shaking, Nell allowed his eyes to roll back and his head fell against Grim’s chest. Grim stood and the guard helped his uncuff Nell from the chair. “Where do you want me to take him?” the guard asked.

Grim tipped the chair, sending Nell to the floor. “The floor will do just fine,” he murmured cutting through the back of the paper gown with a switchblade. “Please give us some privacy. I will call you when I’m finished.”

~*~

The call came in the early morning hours. The caller reported that they had found a body dumped alongside a lesser traveled trail. When EMS arrived, they discovered the man was still alive. Before transferring him to the gurney, one EMT took a picture of the carvings on the man’s back and quickly sent it to a number stored as MIST in his phone.

~*~

The Mistress’s heels clacked on the hospital’s floor. Within seconds of forwarding the image to Head Cable, she received the order to retrieve a white coat.

She was playing doctor.

Images flickered across her mech eye as she replayed the audio relayed from EMS to the hospital switchboard.

Middle aged, white male, arriving to the ER ETA 8:15; unresponsive, severe dehydration, multiple contusions and lacerations.

She found the room in the ICU and slipped in.

“Are you in position?” a voice echoed in her ear.

“Yes, sir.” She picked up the chart at the end of the bed and sent a digitized copy to Head Cable via their feed.

“Proceed with caution.”

She peeled back the sheet and rolled the man onto his side. She scanned his back, forwarding the image. The flesh was inflamed around the lacerations but she could make out the words carved into the skin.

Black Cable with a wide X carved through it.

Green Cable

Yellow Cable

White Cable

Red Cable

“You get all that?” she asked.

“That’s a lofty grocery list.”

“You mean you don’t put down “kill a cyber organization” in between your bread and milk?” she teased without humor.

“Can you confirm his identity?”

“I believe so.”

“Then do so or eliminate him.”

She rolled him back over. Her sensors had been worthless with the sleepers. Personality defects gave away the first two but even she had been fooled by the third one. She ran a current through him, enough to stimulate him back to consciousness. “You have ten seconds to prove to me you are Agent K. Nell,” she said.

“Zero, eight, seventeen, twenty, fifty,” he rasped. He swallowed hard. “August 17th, 2050.” He fainted.

She backed away from the bed. “What are your orders, sir?”

“Put in the transfer but don’t tell Loralei.”

“Yet?”

“I will determine when.”

The com link closed.

“Yes, sir.”

~*~

Sleeper’s Den

NSFW — mild (but not graphic) sexual content.

The smell was as intoxicating as the music was loud. He had been stripped of his coat at the entrance; managing to keep a hold of his burner phone as he was swept away on a wave of body heat and perfume.

Ladies draped in feathery boas danced on tip-toes atop glossy tables. Bare servers glided about the rooms with silver platters loaded with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, gloves, dams, and jellies.

He glanced behind him. The view of the entrance was now blocked by two sentinels of metal intertwined with chiseled muscle. He ducked his head as they scanned the room. If he didn’t get the call soon, he would never find his team.

His body jerked as something bit the back of his thigh. An androgynous woman in a three-piece suit slid the end of a riding crop across his cheek. She winked at him as she led two leashed men, clad in leather masks and collars.

His grip tightened on the phone, waiting for that familiar triplet buzz as he went deeper into the Den. Stray hands reached out for him as he passed. Topless beauties lavished him with strands of pearls and kisses. Curly haired young men made playful attempts to wrestle him from his path before clinging to someone more willing. He struggled to stay vigilant, losing track of the cybernetic agents.

A flash from his peripheral and suddenly the cyborg was upon him, ramming him through a glass partition where a contortionist performed for an engrossed audience seated under a glass floor. Metal talons sliced into his shoulder as the bony fist smashed into his nose. He lost his grip on the phone and deflected the second punch. He spit into the human eye, using the last acid packet stashed inside his cheek.

The human part whined. He tore out the mech eye, ripping the cables, pop-pop-pop, and punched it into its mouth. The cyborg choked, stumbling backwards as sparks exploded from its eye socket.

Blood beaded on his upper lip as he frantically searched for the phone. He was met by a face surrounded by a tangle of human limbs. She stifled a giggle, shoulders bending as she squeezed herself tighter.

He lunged and she somersaulted away, unfolding and refolding, balancing on one hand, legs wrapped over her shoulders, the phone squeezed between her ankles. Her free hand wrapped behind her neck, middle finger pulling down her eye as she stuck out her tongue.

Dropping to the floor, he swung his leg. She hopped over it one handed.

“Not bad, old man,” she teased. “Catch!” She kicked the phone over his head, the screen shattering on impact.

He scrambled for it as the second cyborg entered the ring. A green light scanned the Contortionist then scanned him, turning red halfway down.

“Freeze,” it aimed its mechanized arm, fist replaced by a cannon. “Hands up.”

He pressed the center button and placed the phone on the floor as he stood. The phone emitted a high pitch screech and the glass tile shattered, sending him into the crowd below. The bodies buffered his fall as he tripped over them, reclaiming his phone, status light flashing red. The audience applauded, cheering as he shoved through them to get to the stairs as the cyborg pursued him.

He slammed through a door, knocking over a bird bath of dried ice and leaping over an orgy of limbs sprawled on the floor. A man was running towards him. He dodged right. The man predicted his move, speeding to intercept him.

He slammed into the mirror, cracking the surface. Falling to his knees, a fresh gush of blood splattered his jeans. Numbness crept through him. Perhaps that’s why he didn’t feel the pastel purple wings unfurl from his back; semi-circles of soft ostrich feathers embracing him.

The green light reflected in the mirror, spreading across the wings. It flickered off. He could feel the floor groan as the cyborg lumbered away.

The wings fell away and he discovered they were attached to the arms of a woman standing behind him in a floral thong and silver tassels. She covered herself with the fans. “You lose your way?” she asked. She took his hand and towed him to a narrow staircase leading to a closet sized room stuffed with a dressing table and loveseat.

“Your phone needs a charge.” She opened a drawer and pulled out a red cable. The click of it penetrating the phone jostled his brain. A government issued cable. Red Cable. His team’s name. She plugged the phone into an outlet.

He settled on the loveseat as she swept the fans in lazy circles, caressing her body then caressing his face. Then she straddled him, hanging the fans over the back of the sofa. He caught her scent, nose brushing her underarm fur. Her skin reminded him of old chocolate; the white of the cocoa butter rising to the surface. She was rocking in his lap and he nuzzled between her breasts, tongue lapping at the sweat.

It tasted the same.

“Loralei.” The name was foreign on his tongue and he gasped as she grinded deeper. He dug his fingers into her fleshy bottom, finding familiar dimples. Fragments of memories rattled in his mind. Lying in the cradle of this woman’s hips, her rolling him over so she was on top.

“I will remember this date forever.” Someone said.

She had laughed, maybe? It was bright. They were outside, maybe? “It’ll make for a good secret password someday.”

The woman with the purple fans kissed his mouth, tugging at his lower lip. And he wanted her so inexplicably even though he had been unaware of her existence these last three days.

Bzz-bzz-bzz.

He was startled from his reverie.

Bzz-bzz-bzz.

She pulled back the fans, feathers falling into his lap as the knives sawed through them. She held the blades to his neck. “What’s the password?”

“I don’t know. The phone.”

“You don’t need it.”

“I need to take their last call, please. If I don’t, I’ll never see them again.”

“Who’s them?” she demanded.

Red Cable. Coming together at the drop point. The call would tell him what to do about his team.

He stared through her. “Please, stop. Stop. Don’t!” His lips didn’t move but the screams of a man echoed from him on repeat.

She stabbed him in the throat, dragged the knife free and stabbed again and again. Each time the recording became warped, the voice morphing as it slowed to a halt. His blood ran from red to clear, cheap synthetic fluid.

The door opened behind her as she climbed off the body. The Contortionist slipped in, followed by the Mistress.

“Another sleeper,” the Mistress muttered.

“But he seemed so real,” the Contortionist said.

Loralei filled a capillary with the sleeper’s blood. She slapped it into an autosampler and it whirled as it ran its analysis. Sixty seconds later it spit out a receipt sized print out.

“They’re still using his blood. He’s dangerously anemic now.”

Bzz-bzz-bzz.

Loralei picked up a circular device and strapped it around her chin before accepting the call.

“Are you at the meeting point?” the voice asked.

“Yes.” The voice morph made her voice deeper.

“Scatter the flowers to the wind.”

She rolled her eyes. “How poetic. This is the third sleeper you’ve sent to us. Let us reiterate that you are to send us the living original.” She hung up.

The Mistress chuckled. “You’re still hoping they’ll do as you say?”

Loralei stared at the slumped sleeper. A stunning copy of the man they were trying to recover. “We have no other choice but to hope.”

~*~

I hope you enjoyed it. Thank you for reading.

~*~