Friday, June 26, 2015

Flash Fiction # 152 -- Trolling for Trouble




My troll partner Grik and I sat in a small storage room. Grik is huge, even for a Rock Troll. He took up most of the space except for a corner under a shelf where I sat with my knees pulled up to my chin. Grik sat much the same way and was no happier than I was.
"This sucks." I twisted my head and hit it on the shelf above me. Again. "If something doesn't happen soon, I swear I'm going to go out rob the place myself."
"Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet."
I snorted in amusement. "Still on Rousseau, I see."
"He has a certain connection with life that trolls appreciate." Though Grik spoke softly, the shelves rattled. "One quote comes to mind after this morning: Insults are the arguments employed by those who are in the wrong."
"We should have that printed up and handed out at every office meeting," I replied.
"They wouldn't appreciate the gesture."
"And they'd have to look up who Rousseau is and have someone read it to them," I added. "Oh, damn. Insult. Does that put me on the wrong side of the quote?"
"Only if you said so to them. With me, it is a joke."
"Okay then --"
A light flashed above the door.
"Finally!" I dropped to my hands and knees. Grik stood, hitting his head on the ceiling and a piece fell down and hit me across the back. "Argh!"
"Sorry, sorry." He brushed the plaster off of me. "Okay?"
"Okay. Let's go."
We headed into the hall where I finally stood. My legs cramped but I kept the curse to myself as I hobbled behind my partner. I thought Grik limped as well. Three days waiting for this moment -- we had better not mess it up.
Grik paused at the edge of the hall and adjusted the collar around his neck. It sparkled with LEDs. Real Troll collars were made to control trolls and were illegal as hell. This one was all show and we were ready to get on with the act.
Grik looked my way and grunted. I nodded.
Grik went round the corner of the hall and out into the room. I stayed low, knowing I'd be hidden behind the counter. Nervous Ned, the owner of what I suspected was the world's worst pawnshop, was shifting from one foot to the other and I kept my distance so he didn't stomp on my fingers.
"So, you got yourself one, too, eh?" A weaselly voice said from the other side of the counter. Grik had gone past Nervous Ned and into the larger area. He towered over the place. "Big un, too. Looks stupid. I got me these two here and more out in the van. He tries to take me an' I turn 'em loose on you, don't I?"
I couldn't see Weasel, even though he had to be pretty close to the counter. Small guy, then.
"Well, you see, it's not like it seems," Nervous Ned said. He was pretty nearly tap dancing now. And he was about to give us away.
Grik grunted and stomped forward, the walls shaking.
"You call your dog back, Ned, or else your place ain't going to survive --"
"He's not my -- Ow!"
I jabbed him in the leg. He looked down and saw I had a gun in my hand. So he turned white and fainted.
This was not going according to plan.
"Huh," Weasel said with a bit of a laugh. "I guess that means I can just take what I want, eh my dogs? And you, big guy, you stay right there. I don't know where his control board is for you, and I'm not going to go hunt it down, but as long as he can't give you no orders, I figure you're useless eh?"
"Not entirely useless," Grik said.
"Aaaiiiee!" Weasel shouted and jumped up on the counter, as though that would save him. When Grik moved his way, he fell backwards -- on me.
Somehow I didn't shoot him or myself.
By the time I'd pulled the cuffed and cursing Weasel out from behind the counter, Grik had already pulled the collars off the two trolls. They swayed and looked around, snarling.
"They going to be all right?" I asked.
"Yes," Grik said. He grunted.
The one on the right grunted in reply. Then the left.
Grunt.
Grunt. Grunt.
Grunt GRUNT GRUNT.
Oh yeah, that last one was a curse, especially since they'd turned to Weasel and both took a step forward.
"Aaaiiieee!"
He collapsed on the floor. I nudged him with my foot. "Damn. We'll have to carry him out."
Actually, the two trolls carried him. They tossed him back and forth like a beach ball, waiting each time for him to regain consciousness. I could tell they weren't hurting the guy and I figured they deserved a little revenge. They finally tossed him in the back of the unmarked police van and grunted a few more times to Grik before they headed for the van they'd come in.
"They'll take care of the others and report to me tomorrow with the whole story," Grik said.
Actually, Weasel told us everything we needed to know after Grik pointed out how his case would be tried in a Troll Court. By the end, he was grateful we had locked him up, nice and safe in the police station. So we were done and for once the others were pretty happy as well. But as we stepped out, Grik looked back at the building and shook his head.
"There is a man who was working hard to keep his family in money, but once he found an easier way, he took it, no matter what the cost to others. Rousseau was right: Virtue is a state of war, and to live in it we have always to combat with ourselves."
I grunted agreement. I think I even got the nuance right.

The End

Words: 999



Friday, June 19, 2015

Flash Fiction #151 -- Izain's Choice, Part 5 (End)





They didn't have much time.
"Damn!" Trapped, and the door would open any moment to someone who would kill them for what he'd done. "Mara--"
"Down!" she hissed.
He obeyed without thinking as the door snapped open. Then he realized Lichad wouldn't know he was here. He took that moment to send a quick message to Captain Lawrence, too. One word.
Help.
He keyed their location, keyed on the vid and shoved it into the corner of is pocket. The knife went back into the sheath. He might be able to pretend to be harmless.
"You damned little bitch!" Lichad yelled as he came in. "You! Do you know what you did? Did you think you'd walk away --"
Izain knew Lichad's temper. He had to move now --
"Kill that bitch!"
Right now. No thought.
The intruders were not as close as he would have liked. He wanted the group to walk up the spot where he could see them and know how many -- but would that make a difference?
No.
He shoved crates towards the enemy and leapt out, charging straight into the group. Lichad yelped and jumped back -- never really brave, their Lichad -- and the two guards with him spun from Mara to him. Both had laser pistols in hand, but Lichad's move put him in the line of fire. The guard did not kill their boss, alas.
The other spun from Mara to Izain and fired. The shot stung along the side of his arm, no matter how fast he'd moved to get out of the way. He had the impression of Mara dropping behind the desk as he leapt at the crates and sent a few more tumbling. By then, more of the guards were at the door but Lichad was trying to retreat and blocked the way.
How long until help got here?
Izain had ducked between more crates and sent them falling as well, but he was running out of cover. His arm hurt like hell and he couldn't move it. If help didn't get here soon, he was not going to survive. The thought annoyed him more than frightened him. He hated hard work that went wrong.
The last falling crates had hit one guard in the arm. The other was going around the desk --
"To your left, Mara!"
"You!" Lichad growled. His face, which had been red with rage suddenly went insane. He stopped retreating and charged straight at Izain.
That saved his life because both of the guards had aimed his way. Lichad threw himself at Izain and got into the way again. Izain didn't have anywhere to retreat. They hit the wall with enough force that it sent agony through is wounded arm and his head felt odd. He barely got his good arm up, but Lichad had him by the neck now. The best he would do was put a knee to the groin -- the man howled but didn't let go.
Izain dropped his arm and snapped the blade back out into his hand. He stabbed and didn't much care what he hit, but as Lichad fell back away from him with a sound of shocked dismay, both guards caught him by the arms, blows knocking him back again, the blade gone from his hand. They pinned him to the wall. One brought up his laser and put it right against Izain's forehead.
He closed his eyes.
"If you don't want to die right now, you'll drop that pistol. Immediately."
Captain Lawrence.
He opened his eyes as the guards let go of him. He blinked once, seeing her and station guards in the room. Mara had stood. Good. She survived.
He slid down. . . .

There was hell on the station for the next few days. He managed to miss most of it, trapped in the medunit with guards on the door. He was pretty sure they weren't there just to protect him and he didn't test the theory by trying to leave, even after he stopped aching at every breath and twitch.
No one came to see him.
He slept a lot since they wouldn't get him touch a computer. Probably wise on their part.

"Wake up."
Izain sat up with a start. Captain Lawrence stood over the bed.
"Captain?" he said, trying to shake off the drugs they kept giving him.
"Time to go. We have to hurry. The ship is due to leave that station in ten minutes." She tossed some clothes on the bed. "Dress quickly."
He probably broke some sort of record getting the ship uniform on. Then they were jogging down the quiet halls. Night shift for the station. Not many people out. He didn't ask questions, just starting to feel the relief that he was not being left behind. A guard stood by the lift and nodded as they went in. It went downward quickly and without stopping at any of the levels. They reached the bay area with the ship docked just two berths away. By the time they reached the airlock, they were both gasping.
"Three minutes to launch," a voice warned.
Another run up to control. He dropped into his usual seat, surprised to find it empty and ran a quick check, too aware of others watching him.
"Clear," he said, still slightly gasping. "You did get the warning about the ship already having been targeted by Lichad?"
"I took care of the problem," a voice said to the right.
He spun half in his chair, even as the ship began to pull out. "Mara! Well, damn!"
"She needed a job," Captain Lawrence said as the ship trembled with power and the station slipped away behind them. "I hope I don't regret this. But I think . . . There are things that need to change out there. We've all seen it and the crew agrees. You two are going to help."
Mara and Izain nodded.
Three jumps later, the ship exploded.
At least that's what the computer records say. . . .

998 Words

Friday, June 12, 2015

Flash Fiction #150 -- Izain's Choice, Part 4




As the door opened, Izain crouched down by the crates, quickly putting the knife back together. The stiginite blade would have done more harm, but it didn't have much reach. Besides, he didn't want to physically hurt anyone here.
He couldn't see who came in, but it was obvious the person wasn't expecting any trouble. The steps never faltered and the door swished shut. Izain took a quick, quiet breath, preparing --
"What the hell --"
A woman's voice. That didn't slow Izain, who pushed upwards from his crouch and threw himself at the shadowy figure just at the edge of the crates. They hit the ground hard, with her under him and she grunted in surprise.
She was a good fighter, too, getting an elbow into his stomach with enough force to get a gasp of pain before he put the knife right in front of her eyes. She stopped struggling and her face paled from the rage-red of a moment before.
"I'm not going to kill you, Mara."
He saw her blink at the use of her name. He pulled the blade back, but still kept it within her sight. She focused on him, frowning for a moment before her face changed.
"Izain. You're an idiot. What the hell do you think you are doing coming back here?"
He sat back on his heels, but kept her body pinned underneath him. Mara had never been one of his favorite cousins, but she had seemed smarter than some of the clones who marched after Lichad when he decided to take over.
"I'm here to do what I should have done before I left the last time," he said. He carefully eased up, but she made no move against him and he didn't think the blade he carried dissuaded her, either. He saw only calculation in her face as she slowly sat up, rubbing at her right shoulder.
"What are you going to do against Lichad?" she asked. "You can't stop him --"
"I can't, but the IWC can," he said. Her face reddened; the Inner Worlds Council and their troops had never been friends of the Singletons. "I'm hooked into the computer and I can dump everything to the Station Master. My captain is already up there, setting things up. Give me one really good reason why I shouldn't do this. I could disappear again, but it seems like this crap is going to keep following me."
"You are the one from the Mayfire," she said. The lines on her forehead deepened as she looked him over. He felt his blood go a little cold, hearing the ship's name. "Everyone wondered who was with them. Most of them thought it was someone who had jumped a ship, but I always thought it had to be someone from the station. Lichad already has the ship tagged. He was gleeful to see her put into port here and I don't think she'll survive more than a slide if she takes out."
Mara hadn't needed to tell him this. He would have been careful of the ship anyway, given what he was about to do -- but now he realized there was likely something already worked into the Mayfire system. He looked at the wall and then back at her. "What should I do, Mara?"
She stared at the ceiling for a half dozen heartbeats. "You aren't the only one who hates what's happened here. You were just one of the few smart enough to find a way out. Take the bastard down. It's going to be tough on the rest of us, but I'm not the only one who wishes they'd stepped in when Grandfather died. Lichad doesn't go anywhere without six guards and a lot of weapons, and as long as he has control of that damned computer -- you can access it?"
"I already have," he said.
She didn't doubt. "Lichad was worried after you disappeared. He was waiting for it. Do it, Izaid. Take it all down." Fire shown in her face. He watched her for a moment. "Do it! Someone else could come in at any time!"
"Give me the names of people who shouldn't go down with Lichad." He shoved the blade into the sheath and pulled out his pocket comp as he stood. "Fast."
She blinked, then began to rattle off a few names. There were not many. He typed them into a file -- and added hers -- before he went back to the wall. She followed and knelt down so that he didn't have to worry about her standing over him. He still wasn't certain he could trust her. If he couldn't, he was probably damned anyway. He might as well put her to work and have a better chance of surviving if she did do her part.
"Setting the pocketcomp as a relay," he said and nodded to the desk. "Get the computer booted."
Mara dropped a hand on his shoulder before she hurried to the computer. This was trust, which was something he'd rarely tested in the past. He monitored what she did at first, then stopped watching. She could have given him away by now.
"Is is safe to pull up vid from the camera in the hall?" she asked. "I'd really like some warning if someone comes our way."
"Yeah. Do it." Having her to monitor that was a real help while he carefully worked the probe just right and kept his fingers on the pocketcomp keys to steady the flow. They were already starting to dump the info into the Station Master's computer. He hoped Captain Lawrence had talked her way in. He hoped the Station Master was wise enough to get the guards moving.
"How does it look out there?"
"Normal so far."
"Then go. Go now. Lichad probably already knows about the link. I'm almost done here. Go, Mara. Lay low for a while."
"I can still --"
"Go!"
She glanced down at the screen. "Too late anyway. Lichad is here."

998 Words
(Continued next week)

Friday, June 05, 2015

Flash Fiction # 149: Izain's Choice, Part 3




The walk down the hall wasn't difficult, but it was hell. Izain didn't purposely look away but he tried not to look directly into anyone's face, crew or not. Some people gave him a nod, maybe noting a familiar face without putting any name to it. Pencaris crew and Singleton workers didn't mingle very much.
He hadn't been away for so long that the station's gravity felt odd to him, either. If anything, he felt better than he had in a long while. He felt like he was home.
He didn't regret that he wouldn't be staying long.
Uncle Lichad left an office a few yards ahead of him. He was, as usual, shouting in anger. "I don't give a damn! Get that shipment moved!"
He stomped past Izaid without even looking at him. That was lucky for Lichad because Izaid had his permaglass blade in a sheath on his right arm and if Lichad had so much an frowned at him, it would have gone straight into the bastard's heart, consequences be damned.
Izaid hadn't realized the depth of his rage until then. He kept moving by force of will while his heart pounded too hard and a buzzing filled his ears that, if he had at all been superstitious, might have sounded like the shouts of too many of the dead Lichad had left behind.
He almost went past his door and had to make a sudden stop. No one had seen unless someone happened to be monitoring the security cam on this level, and that was unlikely. He used a card to get through the door and hurried inside, holding his breath while the lights came on and the door slid closed.
While he fought for control, his mind still noted important facts: the room had been used recently and was no longer just storage, though there were crates of things along the back wall where they'd been shoved away from computer controls. This was both good and bad . . . and bad. First, he had to get to the wall and that meant moving things, so he went straight to work on that while his mind worked on the other trouble. Good was that the computer would already be keyed into the system, so that saved him some time. Bad was that anyone might walk in at any moment.
Well, at least this wouldn't take long.
Izain had never liked grunt work but he'd made certain he was always in shape to do it. He didn't want to get caught in some situation where he couldn't get out simply because he was too weak. So now he muscled crates out of the way, wondering what was in them but not taking the time to do a scan. No time.
Sweating and angry that he'd ever come up with this plan, he finally reached the wall and dropped to his knees, wiping his hands against his shirt before he went to work.
He couldn't find the conduit at first and irrationally feared that it had either been moved or he had lost the touch he had been so good at years before. Two deep breaths and then he tried again, and this time felt the minute whisper of power behind the solid wall.
He flicked the permablade into his hand, though the blade itself was not strong enough to cut through the wall. Instead, he twisted the handle and pulled it out, then shook out the small stiginite covering and pulled it off the still attached stiginite blade. Though small, it would do the job; stiginite could cut through anything but more stiginite. The little blade was illegal as hell and damned expensive, but he'd known he would have a use for it.
It cut through the metal wall without even much sound, and he had to be careful not to cut through the power conduit as well. He pulled a probe from his left sleeve and expertly inserted it along the conduit shell and turned the probe slightly to the right. Out of habit, he put the blade quickly back together and pushed it away before he pulled out the thin pocketcomp and tracked the probe's connection.
The connection had read as nothing more than a minute glitch. No one would bother with it. Not yet. He was only in the power cable and not anywhere near the computers. He wanted one computer in particular, which would have been difficult if he hadn't already known the way and the pattern to look for in the swirl of data that crossed the pocketcomp's screen. He'd been prepared to do this work when he left and had decided not to take the chance at getting caught. So why now?
Honest consideration stopped his work for a moment. He knew why, though he'd been hiding from the truth. It came in two parts. First, he felt as though he had betrayed Grandfather, even though he was years dead. But second, he didn't like how he had put the Mayfire in danger simply by being on the ship. He liked the crew and the captain. Yes, he had twice saved the ship from falling into pirate traps, but the act of saving them had targeted the ship by now. He's saved and endangered them at the same time.
Concentrate. He didn't have much time.
The connection to the computer took very careful nudges so that anyone who monitored that particular position -- and he knew Lichad kept a link open to it -- wouldn't see his careful intrusion. Everyone thought that you couldn't actually link to a computer from the power conduit, and most times they would be right. Izain knew tricks though. Carefully trained tricks. He got the link and began working his way carefully into the system. Captain Lawrence would be to the Station Master by now. No time to waste.
The door to the room opened.
(Continued next week)
988 Words

Friday, May 29, 2015

Flash Fiction # 148 -- Izain's Choice, Part 2



       Izain realized, too late, that he had gone insane.
The thought came to him as the Mayfire slipped into the Pencaris System. Everything went without a sign of trouble. Izain sat his usual post and pretended a sense of calm he didn't feel. When he had offered this unique opportunity to the captain, he hadn't fully considered all the things that could go wrong.
He'd had plenty of time to consider those potential problems since then. Until Lawrence had taken up the challenge of this job, Izain simply had not worried. He tried not to now. He had a good plan after all. He knew the people at Pencaris and how to work around them. He had done so often enough growing up.
He'd done so especially well when he left. Unfortunately, he had a powerful uncle who doubtlessly didn't appreciate all the fine details Izain had put into his escape from under his thumb. Izain had always been good at this work, but he and Uncle Lichad had never gotten along very well. Lichad wasn't like Grandfather, who had loved the adventure of being a pirate. Lichad wanted to rip every credit he could get from victims and had recently started selling them to slavers afterwards. Grandfather would have been appalled. After a couple years of the work going darker, Izain found he appreciated the old days. He had no respect for Lichad and no power to stop him, at least not while Lichad kept watch on him. Izain had decided the best way to survive --maybe the only way -- had been to get out. He had taken the quite logical step and left.
He was insane to come back. Granted, he didn't think he was going to survive much longer without doing something drastic anyway. His ability to keep pirates at bay had to be drawing notice. Singleton shipping would soon target the Mayfire and he couldn't be lucky every time they came into contact.
So he came back to Pencaris Station in hopes of doing something . . . something maybe his grandfather would have done.
This entire plan would be handled between he and Lawrence. She trusted the crew, and oddly so did he, but this work didn't need more than the two of them.
They were careful leaving the ship. Lawrence went first and took care of the usual docking business. Izain had instructed her where to wait for him. He left later, out the main airlock and off to the right as though he was checking something on the link between ship and station. Once off in the shadows he worked his way around to the area where crew changed into the heavier clothing worn in the bay. He borrowed a jacket that gave him just enough rank to go almost everywhere without notice and he hoped the missing jacket didn't draw much attention too soon.
He'd changed a bit in the four years since he left Pancaris. People who knew him well would recognize him, but he'd lost his tri-colored and shaggy hair, had the tattoos on his face removed, and even had his twice broken nose fixed. He supposed Lawrence would have been dismayed to see the younger version of himself. She certainly wouldn't have trusted him.
He found Lawrence in the little lobby where other off-ship people lounged, watching vids and discussing their travels with others. He didn't nod her way, but she stood. He could hear her following him out into the hall.
Around a corner and he got the door to a small storage room open without any trouble. The last time he'd been here had been on his way out.
"Everything checks out," he said, not wasting any time. "My fake ID will get me close to the Singleton offices. It will take me no more than fifteen minutes to get through the wall and hack into the power lines, and another half an hour to hack into their main computer. It is not connected to the Pencaris system except by the power lines and it is damned hard to hack a computer that way."
"But you can do it?"
"Yes."
She didn't ask more. "I'll time my visit to the Station Master's office one hour from now. Once you have hacked the computer you'll be able to stop them from doing anything against the station, right?"
"This is an odd time to ask such a question."
"Izain --"
"I am going to glitch all their systems. The info I send to the Station Master will include both their less-than-legal dealings and the plans they have for Pencaris. It would be wise if he could move on those as quickly as possible."
"Why are you doing this?"
He could have told her about his grandfather, but that was both too long a tale and too personal of one. "I have come to realize that I don't like what they're doing. I started working against them already -- you saw that a couple times. Once they realized it had to be one of their own, they were going to start coming after me. I've never been one to sit around and wait for trouble."
Apparently that was a good answer. She gave a nod that seemed to be of approval. "Let me out. You be damn careful. I'll see you back at the Mayfire."
"I hope so," he said, which was the first and only sign of worry he showed. She apparently took that well, too. Maybe it made him a little more human and normal.
He let her out, counted to one hundred, and went out as well, heading to the left and into territory he had known very well all his life. Things didn't change on a station. He passed a couple people he knew, but they didn't take much notice of him. Station crew were ubiquitous here. As long as he acted as though he belonged, he wouldn't draw any attention.
He hoped.

996 words