Wednesday, February 27, 2019

CS-0001

While I slumbered, the world went to shit. At the height of civilization, whole nations devoured each other and themselves. Greed and avarice bred war and plague. Entire populations suffered the ravages of man’s atrocities. Caught up near the onset of the madness, an IUD blew my team to hell. I clawed my way back to consciousness and found myself bleeding out on a battlefield. My legs were gone. My right arm laid in shreds while burns covered what was left of my other arm and most of my head and torso. From out of the smoky gloom, figures emerged, mumbling amongst themselves.

“There’s a pulse!”

“How is that even possible?”

“The burns must have cauterized the worst of his wounds.”

“What’s his name and rank?”

“His tags are slagged, but his insignia shows he’s a Staff Sergeant.”

I tried to respond, “Will…Anderson…”

“Hush now, son. We’ve got you. You’ll be right as rain in no time. Gather him up then. He may make a suitable candidate.’

Amidst the fog of pain and battlefield smoke, I slipped into dreamless darkness. How long I was out, I can’t say. Whirring and buzzing, occasionally interrupted by muffled human voices, stirred my consciousness. Bright lights beat against my face until at length, convinced the torturous glow would not abate, I pried open my eyelids to seek out its source.

A compass of crosshairs spun in my right eye, adjusting focus on the various objects around the room as a “heads-up” display scrolled data across my left eye. Code, numbers and statistics flashed by, giving detail on every object my focus landed on. A plain, pony-tailed woman with a clip-pad and stylus took down readings from the equipment and instruments plugged into my body. She clicked a button on the clip-pad and spoke aloud, “Doctor, he’s awake.”

 After a moment, the doctor breezed into the room. The doors swished shut behind him. A tall, slender, dark-skinned man, he strode up to the lab technician and took the clip-pad she offered. He scanned the device for a moment and handed it back to her.

“How are we feeling, Sergeant?”

I struggled to answer against a sand-paper throat, “Where… Who…”

The barely-audible hum of servos signaled the raising of my arm. I looked in horror at the grotesque, metallic appendage. “What have you done to me?!”

“You were nearly dead when we found you. You would have died had we not intervened.”

“Instead, you made me into a monster?”

“Not a monster. A man, with a new lease on life.”

Servos whined as I flexed the metal digits of my hand opening them out and back again to form an iron fist. Looking at my legs, I found more machinery than man below the waist. My torso and left arm were completely covered in bandages.

“Never-mind the hardware, son. It’s only temporary. Something for you to use until your new prostheses are complete. We used the remnants of your legs and your left arm to model them. When installed, no one will ever be able to tell they aren’t your natural limbs.”

With the assistant’s help, he began to untether me from the monitors. “With the world in chaos, it wasn’t difficult to get the funding and backing for our program. You are the first successful prototype cybernetic soldier.”

My guts threatened to explode as the full weight of his words struck home. Cybernetic Soldier. A cyborg. That’s what they had made me into. A human robot. Why didn’t they just let me die? “How could you do this to me without my consent?”

“Son, when you signed on, you became the property of the Army and it became your proxy with full power to authorize any medical treatment or procedures on your behalf.” He had completed unplugging me from the equipment. “Now, let’s see if you can stand.”

The bed I was on tilted up until I was fully erect. With reluctance, I took a tentative step and then another. To my amazement, the hardware responded to my intentions as easily and intuitively as my former legs. I proceeded to walk around the room, testing out my prosthetic hand and legs on various articles I came across. Everything worked as naturally as if I had been born with it.

Just as I was beginning to come to terms with my new situation, alarms klaxoned throughout the building. The doctor glanced at the lab technician who was furiously consulting her clip-pad. “Doctor, the lab’s been breached!” she shook visibly as she relayed the news.

He turned to me. “Son, we have to get you out of here. We can’t allow to come to further harm. And we certainly can’t allow this technology to fall into enemy hands.”

“What are you saying? You developed the technology for this purpose, didn’t you?”

“Yes but…”

“Then let’s put it to the test. Let’s see what it can really do. Or, more precisely,  what I can do with it.”

Without waiting for a reply, I tore out the door and down the hall toward the first commotion I could find. Enemy combatants were swarming like vermin against the handful of friendlies desperately trying to hold back the onslaught. Lab technicians who remained were hurrying to escape. Those who had gotten caught lay dead or dying on the floor. Some of the enemy were rifling through papers, computers and supplies.

Something clicked in my head and within nanoseconds, I had identified the friendlies from the rest. My optics appeared to slow time as the battle raged before me. Bullets fired my way. Instinctively, I raised my metal arm and a shield expanded automatically, easily deflecting the rounds. Before I had a chance to think, I was in the melee, rending flesh and breaking bone. Some of the enemy fire had pierced my defenses, but nothing vital was hit. In moments, forty-one soldiers laid dead at my feet. The remaining friendlies gathered up the lab techs and hustled them off to a safer location.

I continued on down one corridor after another, routing out invaders, mowing through the enemy like chaff to the wind. Before long, I found myself outside breathing in the sweet air of gun smoke and oil and the onion tang of drying blood on rotting flesh. I was bleeding pretty bad by this point but I didn’t worry over it. I knew something none of the enemy I had faced ever would. If I fell on the field, the doc would just make me over anew. The crackle of a near by radio drew my attention.

“…is Flat Rock Command. Report!”

I surveyed my surroundings and realized none of the enemy combatants remained alive. Blood and gore covered my body, only a fraction of which was my own. My onboard computer played back a stream of data across my left eye of the previous hours’ events, as well as my own health statistics. I knew from the reports, I’d survive. Satisfied that all dangerous elements were nullified, I pressed the call button and cleared my throat, “All clear here at the Lab, Flat Rock.”

“Who is this? What is your designation, soldier?”

“Sergeant Will Anderson, sir. Designation CS-0001.”

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Hidden Paradise


“This is my secret place, Jackie. My hidden paradise,” Sarah looked around at the dark recesses of the woods around us. As if in anticipation of an unseen enemy lurking in the bush, under a rock or beneath a tree bough. “No one can know about it!”

“Okay, okay.” I mean, what could I say to that? We’d only known each other for a few days and really, she was the only friend I had at the moment. My father had left the picture when I was little and mom, having put herself through school, while working at a diner and raising me alone had graduated and taken a paralegal position here in the South. I wasn’t exactly excited about the move, but I was behind her all the way. Besides, a change could be good for both of us.

“Seriously, Jackie.” I hated being called “Jackie”. It’s a girl’s name for Pete’s sake! But Sarah had overheard mom calling me that on our first day here at Frog’s Hollow. And since she was the only one around my age to talk to, I let it slide. Besides, there was something different about her. Something magical. At thirteen, she was only a year younger then me with long, black hair and large almond eyes. Her skin was so creamy smooth I ached to caress it. Not at all like the girls in my old school back in Chicago.

“Promise me. Swear the that this’ll stay between us.”

“Alright, alright, I swear!” I mean geez, what was the big deal?

I watched as she reached into a dark brush and pulled back some of the bushy twigs. Inside was a pathway hidden beneath the rocky outcropping above. In she slipped and disappeared completely as the brush switched back into place. I stood there stunned for a moment until the branches parted again and out popped her head.

“You coming?” Her excitement was so palpable, it compelled me to bend over and follow her into the secret path. Down the dark trail we crouched as it was not quite high enough to fully stand up. After a short while the pathway opened on a hidden pond covered in lily pads. All around the lush, green clearing, there were flowers growing I had never seen before. The pond looked cool and inviting under the sweltering Louisiana sun. And Sarah, sweet, beautiful Sarah was beaming from ear-to-ear. What was it about this girl? Why was I so drawn to her, as if by some mystical force?

“What do you think?” She was dancing in the grass, twirling with her arms outstretched.

“It’s beautiful!” I meant it. It truly was the most wonderful place I had ever been.

“Come!” She grabbed my hand and pulled me to a clean rock overlooking the pond. A heat built inside me like the sun, pulsing photons though every pore of my body. I wobbled dizzily from the intensity of it. Thankfully, Sarah didn’t seem to notice.

“This is where I come to see the fairy prince.” She was shaking with excitement.
Poof! I felt like I’d been punched in the gut. Fairy prince? Was she mad? Had I gone crazy for falling for a girl with fairy delusions? The ache in my stomach slowly slid into my legs.

“Sarah, really…a fairy prince?”

“You don’t believe in the fairy world?” She looked confused, and maybe a little hurt. “Of course, you don’t believe. What was I thinking?” She turned away from me, dropping my hand like it had suddenly gone hot. “I thought you were different. I thought maybe you could see the world as I do. The world within the world.” In that moment, the heat of the morning became oppressive.

A splash broke the sullen silence. We both turned to see the cause. There on a huge lily pad sat the biggest frog I had ever seen in my life. It was forest green and mottled all over its top. The underbelly was milky and slightly translucent. An odd deformation of its head revealed a bumpy, amber mass with three spikes, the largest of which stood in the center.

“There! You see?” Sarah’s excitement exploded across the glade. “Tell me you see, Jackie!” She wheeled around and grabbed my forearm with both hands grinning and looking expectantly into my eyes. I hesitated. Even though the hairs on my arm were rising again at her touch, I could not allow myself to fall into her fantasy. I mean really, a frog?

“I… see a bullfrog.” But my hesitation and refusal to accept her fantasy failed to quell her spirit. Invigorated by the sight of the amphibian and determined to win me over, she leaped to animation once more.

“He’s not just any frog. He’s the fairy prince. Can’t you see his crown?” If that deformity on its head could be considered a crown, sure. But instead of voicing this, I stammered.

“Sarah, it’s…he’s…”

“Look.” She put her fists on her hips and stared down at me like a disappointed mother. Lord knows I’d seen that look a million times before. “Around these parts it’s well known that a kiss from the fairy prince will reveal your one, true love.” Oh, my God! One true love? What is she talking about?

“But Sarah, that’s a fairy tale! For children. It’s not real life.” 

She tsk-ed at me as if I had somehow gone dense at the moment.

“All great fairy tales have their roots in reality. I thought you knew that much, at least.”

I just sat there dumb-founded that this remarkable girl was so matter-of-fact over what, to me was childishness.

“I can see you aren’t convinced.” Resolution flooded her demeanor. “I’m just going to have to prove it to you.” 

She turned and strode toward the pond. At the edge, she whispered some words at the frog. I couldn’t hear for a strange buzzing in my ears that filled the glade. Cicadas, I unconvincingly told myself. Sweat beaded on my skin and the air thickened around me. I noticed a log floating near her and imagined an alligator. Mom had warned me about the alligators, so my inner alarm was rising.

The creature leapt from the pad and with fly-catching speed Sarah reached out and snatched it from the air firmly planting a kiss on its head. Time slowed as I watched her slip on the slimy rocks within the pond and fall over cracking her head against the floating log. She fell face-first into the water. The cicadas stopped their screeching. The frog had disappeared.

I jumped up from my perch and dove in after her completely forgetting that, as a city boy, I had never learned to swim. In the moment, it didn’t matter. I reached around her waist and rolled her over to me. Carefully keeping her head above water, I drug us both out onto the soft grass. She didn’t appear to be breathing. I checked her pulse and couldn’t find it. I opened her mouth and looked for anything blocking her throat. Tilting her head back just a wee bit, like I had been taught in my CPR class back home I pinched shut her nose and breathed into her mouth. No response. I did it again and then, observing no response, began chest compression. Three short pumps.

I called out to her several times. “Come on Sarah! Come back to me!” Then I held her head and nose again and breathed once, twice and then once more into her. A slight gasp escaped her throat and her hands started to move. I drew back still holding her head in my arms. Her eyes fluttered open and I watched as her initial dazed look slowly turned to wonder.

“You.” She reached up and caressed by cheek. “Of course, you. How could it not be? You, with all your skepticism and grown-up ideas.” 

“Me? What do you mean?” 

“I was dead, and you brought me back to life with a kiss.”

I couldn’t help myself. Those deep, dark eyes. That electric sizzle on my cheek. The joy I experienced just holding her in my arms. I was a goner. She had somehow won me over and I would gladly trade ten years in the real world for ten minutes in hers. Bemused, I grinned and shook my head at her, scooped her gently into my arms and carried her up and out of that little hidden paradise.
 
It’s been fifteen years now, but I remember like it was just yesterday. A living fantasy that I pray will never end. From that day to this, we’ve rarely spent a moment apart. A marriage, a mortgage and two children of our own and she’s still the most magical woman I’ve ever known. A true fairy princess in every way. Sometimes in the quiet moments I imagine that old frog winking at me as he leapt away. Is it a memory or did it really happen?

12 in 12 Months

Last year, I joined the 12 Short Stories in 12 Months writing challenge hosted by author Mia Botha. I failed miserably. Due to work stresses and family issues, I failed to meet the deadlines and eventually dropped out of the Challenge altogether. This year however, I hope to once again attempt this challenge.

The first short story prompt for 2019 is due exactly on January 30th at exactly 1500 words. The prompt: "No one can know". I am creating new labels for these prompts:
  • 12 in 12 Stories
I will attempt to post each entry ahead of time for review. Follow along with me on this journey and please feel free to offer any constructive comments as it will only serve to help me post better entries each month.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Every Now and Then (Love Letters)


Dear Mr. Birmingham, whilst sitting in my den,
I must report how well I am, with paper and with pen.
Here, glowing city lights a-twinkle
bright like stars at night, they wink,
and bid me stop and, of you, think,
every now and then.
Sweet memories to cherish when two hearts would beat in sync
within your woodland glen.

Sweet, my beloved man, I beg of you to know
not for the fail of love for you, I had to go.
But for the hope of dreams come true
amid a neon Xanadu
where people watch and wander through
a skyline all aglow.
With shops, bazaars, caf├ęs and bars, with food and music too,
my heart was forced to go.

Nay, my dear lovely man, and here I press the pen
to boldly highlight letter-strokes and make my point again.
I oft recall us by the pond
on picnic or a secret rendezvous
that sets my mind to wander;
long to be back when.
But let me end on this, a kiss, I think on you with fondness
every now and then.

Dear Miss Penelope, how great it warms my heart
to learn how well it is, you be, though we remain apart.
The hound, she often looks for you
and I myself, it seems, do too.
Tossed in a bed that's built for two
I oft awake with start
to face another lonely day and wonder what to do
to soothe my aching heart.

For while I could not bar your way to follow your heart's star,
I could not leave my home to venture where it is you are.
I look upon my woodland scene
to view the trees and fields of green
and nature's creatures, meek or mean,
how wild and free they are.
And thus, I must content myself that here I shall remain
to love you from afar.

Sweet, my love, Penelope, there sitting in your den,
Know that you’re not far from me within my heart and ken.
For none could ever touch my soul
as you or make me feel more whole,
and knowing you are well is all
I need, now and again
to keep my fondest memories
of love we shared that could not be.
What joy to know you think of me
every now and then.
And ever shall I sit a spell and think of you and me
every now and then.