short stories collection - a compilation of my short stories.
I was blown off my feet! The entire place was a mess, people everywhere! I don't know what to say, I just...I don't know, it was just...Jesus! The people, there were people all over the ground!
A new organization can 'predict' the future and uses it to get the story first rather than manipulate or prevent horrible events from occurring.
...Click, click, zzzzzz...click. BOOOOOOOM!!!!!!!!!!!! sssssssszzZZZZzzzzzssssssssss...click. BOOOOOMMM!!!! Ahhhhh, oh Lord, Danny...I can't see, I CAN'T SEE, help, Jesus, help me...Go, go, go! It's going to happen again. What the hell...
—I was blown off my feet! The entire place was a mess, people everywhere! I don't know what to say, I just...I don't know, it was just...Jesus! The people, there were people all over the ground!
The microphones dipped and allowed the young reporter to sob a bit. She was still clutching her camera, the only bit that I really cared about. The camera and her eye witness testimony. The testimony part might go to the police first, but we had first dibs on the actual story. The part the rest of the world waited thirstily for. What did the scene look like? What happened? Who did it? Is anyone safe?
I reached into my pocket and pulled out my little gold watch. It was Swiss, supposedly well designed except for the small part were it always seemed to be ten minutes ahead, no matter how much I tried to fix it. It showed 0933, exactly three hours after the explosion rocked the streets of Indianapolis.
—And then I heard a scream and rushed towards a broken concrete slab, it had pinned a small girl against the concrete and was slowly squeezing...
chk BOOOOOOM! zzzzzzz I jumped back a bit as a thin spray of blood filled the air and the young reporter was no where to be found. My camera was out while everyone else fell to the ground. Click, click, click. That should suffice. I then flopped to the ground like everyone else. BeeeeRRRRRR BeeeeRRRR. Police could be heard screeching in from all sides. chk BOOOOOM! zzzzzz. Another person disappeared and my new white jacket was becoming rather stylish red on white. Click, click, click. Three more shots, three more cover stories. Thrusting my hand into the jacket's pocket, I ripped out the golden watch and stared at the time. 0937. Perfect.
—Everyone stay calm! We have the suspect under custody and his weapons are now in our hands,—some officer bellowed out over a megaphone. Undoubtedly a lie.
0938. The clock continued to tick and a small bead of sweat began to form on my brow. This was just the beginning. I took out a small roll of film and popped it into my old Kodak. This next part required a different type of shot.
—Hey, you. Yeah you! Where are you going?! Stop! We said STOP!—the officer started to yell at a man (shabby, middle-aged and black) who was stumbling away from the gore littering the former interview site. The officer pulled out his pistol and got it ready. Click. The white-cop-shooting-black-folk people will love that.
I continued to fumbled with the camera and after a bit finally got it calibrated. I crawled over to a bush on the side of the street. Wasn't exactly sure how the next part would pan out, but it was supposed to be big. I looked down at the watch once more, 0943. I was getting a bit anxious and the heavy jacket I'd decided to throw on wasn't helping much. Looked back at my watch, 0944. It was past time, that happened occasionally, but we'd gotten pretty good at this. Maybe this was one of the 2% that was incorrect...
Chk BOOOOM! Not quite sure what happened, but I was on the ground and no longer in the comfort of the bushes. A small glass shard had wedged itself inside my left armpit and my hand felt like it was about to fall off. Nothing could be heard and I tried to roll over and see if my other ear was functional. No dice. My right arm was still good, I reached up and pulled off my glasses just long enough to see someone roll to the ground, her face half blown off. I could feel a slow wetness creep up my legs. I was bleeding out and I hadn't gotten the shot. Guess that commission wouldn't mean much anyways if I was dead...
—That is quite enough!—a voice bellowed out.
—What? Oh, but I haven't finished. A bit more happened before I blacked out,—I said, looking around at the suits assembled before me. Their eyebrows had raised at my last comment, about missing the shot. I fucked up. Real bad and no amount of long-winded storytelling was getting me out of this.
—Do you realize how many people died that day? If we aren't going to help, we have a moral obligation to at least get something...
—Now, no need to start preach, I think he knows what he has done,—one of the suits said and leaned forward.—And I'm sure he will not do it again, now will you Johnny-boy?—
The man backed up, his face a grimace intermixed with a smirk. I looked around the room and finally realized the magnitude of my fuck-up. Neal Johnson, Tod Ellison (the sarcastic douche who just called me Johnny-boy), Dick Mav, and Phil Collins were all in the room. The same look of disgust painted on each face. In the back, sitting in a chair, was Dr. Maurice Dells. Fucking Dr. Dells. She was a blond-haired, blue-eyed devil without a tail plus some tits. They must have drugged me up good for me to miss out on those details before telling the story. I never missed the details.
—Now, let us look at this another way, shall we? Why would Johnny-boy here fuck up so badly and not just tell us. Could he be hiding something,—Neal said. He leaned in and poked me in the rib. I bit my lip and stifled a yelp. Not in this company, not now.—At least he is still the proud mother-fucker we sent to get that shot. That ONE FUCKING SHOT. What is wrong with you Johnny-boy? Lost your touch? Our half-million dollar compensation not good enough for your pretty-boy ass to take?—
Several of the men laughed, especially Tod. Hated that snake-eyed pedazo de mierda. He always wore a white on black pinstripe suite with a little green handkerchief. A name-tag was pinned on his left breast, gilded with black lettering in that pretentious font (Sabon if you care), was TOD ELLISON, DIRECTOR. As if you wouldn't know that. But Neal was right, about the fuck-up. I ain't no pretty-boy.
—You fucking kidding. You really think I got myself in this...—I gestured to my bandaged ribs, gorged out armpit, and broken leg.—...condition because I wanted to? What fucking incentive would I have to do that?—
—Because...—Dick stepped up, seems they orchestrated this so each would get their turn. Their little snide remark.—...you be working for someone else.—
—Or the machine is broken,—I yelled out. The second that came out, the magnitude of my next fuck-up hit me.—I mean, what if my goddamn watch was wrong...—chk Boom! Dr. Dells hit the floor.
—What, what the hell...—Phil walked over to her and cupped her face in his hands. She was looking about wildly, her face a mix of confusion, rage, and fear. She was attempting to wriggle free, but Phil had been pumping iron lately.—Trust me, darling, this is nothing personal,—he said and put the barrel to her head. chk boom! A thin mist filled the room.
—Mmmmm, such a shame. I rather liked her. Now look, Johnny-boy,—Neal said, gesturing to the body on the ground.—Dr. Dells is dead. Wish there was a real reporter in the room to get that story. Do not talk about the fucking machine. Ever.—
Honestly, I hadn't really anticipated this...reaction. If I knew about the machine, surely Dr. Dells knew about it. She was the chief medical officer here. She talked to every injured reporter these slimeballs brought back from whatever conflict, accident, or other disaster arose.
—The fuck? She talked to Mike. Remember Mike? The father-of-five you sent on DreamCatcher when you knew it was going to sink. Yeah, he sure well told her about the machine.
—Shut up! Shut the fuck up! Don't matter if she knew now, before or after, we'd have to kill her either way. Can you imagine what would happen if people knew about the machine?—Dick said and stepped forward, putting his barrel on my temple.—Don't worry Johnny-by, I won't kill you, not now. Who else are we going to send to Cape Town in two weeks? Surely not Hilda, or Paul. Maybe Gil, but, honestly, I don't like that fucking Jew. And neither does anyone else,—he turned around and looked at the others, they nodded. He turned back towards me.—Now Johnny-boy, you're going to rest here. We'll calibrate the machine and find out if it was that precious little gold watch of yours,—he said and held it up, letting it swing back and forth on its delicate gold chain.—or you.—
Neal was already at the door and Phil was holstering his gun. Tod was punching something into his phone. Dick slid his gun back into its holster with a faint click and started through the now open door.
—Oh, and Johnny-boy. Remember, iit is just a machine. It does not actually see anything. Do not forget that,—Neal said and closed the door behind him.
Dr. Dells lay crippled in front of me, blood all over the back wall and chair were she'd been sitting. The blood had begun to congeal on the floor around her. They'd just left her there. I suppose some janitor was in for a fucking surprise. There was no real point in trying to run away or anything. Those pricks probably put a tracking device in me already. I rolled over several times until I found a comfortable position and dozed off.
—John, hey John!—a voice called out and my cheek suddenly stung. My eyes had crusted over a bit, must have been rubbing them in the night. Eventually they opened and there she was, good as new. I hadn't seen Hilda since her harrowing escape from an armed uprising in Tanzania several months back. Supposedly she allowed herself to be raped to get safe passage across the border to Kenya and onto Nairobi, where we had an office.
—The hell? Where've you been!?—I blurted out and reached up to hug her. She backed away.
—Sorry John, not here. Not now. What the fuck happened to Dr. Dells? No one has seen her in several days.
—Have I been out that long? Shit. I don't know. Should probably ask Dick.
—I don't talk to dicks. What happened to Dr. Dells?
—How the fuck should I know? Leave me alone, I want to rest.
—I'm going to find out one way or another. You know that,—she said and started to walk out. She began to open the door but stopped and leaned over. Rubbing her finger against the edge of the wall below the chair, she turned her head and raised an eyebrow. She quickly got up and left.
Several days passed before anything eventful happened. I watched the news and marveled at some of our reporters. One had been at the scene of an assassination of Kazakhstan's president, the only reporter in the obscure town of Taraz where it occurred. It was a massive story, he'd been there for a (formerly) secret meeting between the Russian finance minister and a Chinese general. Both were also killed in the attack. I wonder how much money they pulled from that. I switched off the channel when they started talking about the actual politics. I didn't really care. Was tired anyway, these fucking meds are doing wonders for my physical strength.
Turned on the TV one Saturday morning to see what new reality show had been coughed up by the networks this year. Nothing interesting, the basis was that some girl needed to find as many guys as possible on a trip across the US. She was something of a whore, to say the least. Was changing the channel to something less mind-blowingly bad when Neal and crew walk in.
—Hey Johnny-boy! We thought you had left us. Wake up,—Neal said and did his customary welcome. I felt an acute pain across my ribs and stifled my yelp once more.
—Why is that necessary?! What's wrong with you?—I hissed.
—Now now Johnny-boy, that is no way to speak to your boss. We have decided on a change of plans. We are sending you to Singapore! We think something real big is about to happen.
—You mean the machine thinks...—a cold sensation gripped me and Dick was at my side in a flash, gun at my throat.
—Now, Johnny-boy, do not think because you let slip about the machine once you can just go blurting that phrase out whenever you feel like it. No, we think something is about to go down.
—And it don't involve no future-predicting machine either,—Dick said without a hint of his normal snarkiness.—We think someone else has one. And we are pretty sure they are not using it to report the future,—Neal said, his tone flat. There was a hint of fear, and a slight hysteria, in his voice. I'd never heard them like this.—You know, Johnny-boy, we have never used it to change the future. Not once. Even we realize the danger. Do you know how we do it, Johnny-boy? Do you understand how it works? It is quite fascinating, really. It does not actually see the future, only predicts a possible future. We have something equivalent to an MRI machine, it can detect the slight change in magnetic field induced by people's thoughts and dreams then convert that into probable ideas, actions and feelings of each person. This corresponds to the transition probabilities in our hidden markov model-like simulation. We have a massive matrix of possible states each country, state, county, city, borough, neighborhood, and person could be in. It crunches the numbers once a day and chooses the most likely next state.—
—I don't give a fuck how it works. And it shouldn't matter if someone else could play the same game.
—Johnny-boy, if you could predict the future, and only you, what would be your first move when another person comes along? Eliminate them. And if they tune their machine, they will see our machine clear as day. It does not think about the future, but lives in it. It destroys the algorithm, the math breaks down. We are a bright red target...—Neal leaned forward, a smile starting to play across his face.—And so are they.
—How much for the expose? You want to show the world who they are?
—...Exactly! The perfect red herring to keep others off our trail.
—Won't they just predict that we're coming?
—Only if they programmed that specific state into their machine. Why do you think we never go after the small town stories Johnny-boy? Or report on Silicon Valley? Why do we avoid cutting-edge science like the plague.
—Because we do not care, our audience does not give a damn and the machine cannot. It only sees the big picture and the states fed to it. It does not get lost in the details or see anything new,—Neal said and began to walk out of the room. Dick finally pulled his gun away from my jugular and flicked it into its holster with a near silent click.—Oh, and Johnny-boy. Keep silent about the machine. And stop thinking about it. They definitely can pick that up,—Neal remarked, closing the door behind him with a bang.
I sat in the room for several hours, soaking in what he had just said. He could be lying. I wouldn't put it beyond that fucker. Get me all riled up so I'd have more incentive. Why would they come after me? I'm just the reporter, I don't know anything...
—Fuck,—I whispered.—Damn it Neal, you slimy fuck.—
The next day I was flipping through channels, trying to get a feel for what was happening. There was Gary, at the front lines of a riot in Moscow, something no one had seen coming. But we were there, getting the story. Near Shenzen, a reveal of the mythical phone produced by a cooperation between Apple and Google. It was found in a trashcan near the Foxconn factories hidden behind several trucks and other items. There was no explanation for why it was there or how we got our hands on it, but the story was sold to the New York Times for a pretty penny. Yes, we were on top of things alright. Click. I flipped to Channel 5: news from the underground. They were talking about a developing story...
—There have been reports on the US-Mexico border of armed conflict between SEALS and Mexican cartels. The reason for such a harsh response to the killing of a US citizen in Juarez is at present unknown. We have a reporter from the Straits Times on the ground. Xiaoxi, can you tell us what you are seeing?—I stared at the screen, trying to recall who the fuck Xiaoxi was. We have a Huang and Yasuda, but no Xiaoxi.
—Linda, I'm near the location of the fire fighting,—he ducked as a bullet whizzed by the camera.—There are what appear to be SEALS on the ground here in Juarez, we also have reports from another Straits Times reporter in Mexico City that there is gun fighting near Pantitlán and inside Mexico City Airport. We cannot confirm...—
His mic cut out and the video started to become choppy. In the distance could be seen several armored troops, what appeared to be US soldiers, gunning down an unarmed Mexican national. The death of the US citizen had only occurred a day earlier, so the speed and severity of the response was surprising. This administration was known to be a bit more cautious, especially given the ongoing tension between Mexico and the US over Mexico's positioning of state troops at the border. Anyways, that was enough news for the day. I switched off the TV and went back to sleep.
SMACK! I awoke with a start and began thrashing about to ward off the attacker. SMACK! A small rivulet ran down my thigh and I continued to flail about.—Stop fighting Johnny-boy, it is only us. Time to get on a plane to Singapore!—Neal said and the attack stopped abruptly.
—Why do you always do that?
—Builds character, right Dick?—Dick nodded in approval.—You will thank me later. In the meantime, get dressed.—
The floor felt colder than usual, but I forced myself up and walked over to the sink behind the bed. I looked at myself in the mirror for the first time in days and jumped back with a start. My eyes were sunken in and it looked like I'd OD'd several times over. I twirled around, but Neal and company had already left. This wouldn't fly in Singapore. A suite hung near the door and I got dressed as quickly as possible then bolted out of the door. Neal was waiting outside.
—Sorry about your appearance, the blast really banged you up. We did the best we could. Really,—he said without a hint of sarcasm. The whole time he was fiddling with a manila envelope.—Now, Johnny-boy, I have included your tickets and hotel reservation in this folder. Please do not lose them,—I nodded as he handed it to me. He reached over and handed me a suitcase.—Your clothes. And a camera. Get that story!—
The entire trip over, I went through the manila envelope's contents and pondered on how I would get the scoop without getting caught. Apparently the Straits Times was the prime suspect, a rather mundane new organization headquartered in Toa Payoh, in the central part of Singapore. Maybe I could go in as an American reporter looking to get more information and contacts about the rise of Singapore and the places to watch out for. That might get me a tour of the facilities or at least some idea of where else they might have the machine located. But that seemed to obvious, if they knew someone was coming. Fucking Neal, he didn't tell me anything. There were some cryptic coordinates and references to a yet-to-be-built building. The meds were still clouding my judgment and the flight wasn't the most comfortable. I decided to fall asleep.
The plane touched-down at Changi sometime later and I awoke in a haze. My head throbbed and it seemed I had begun drooling in my sleep. Combined with my meth addict appearance, this would bode well for my entrance into the country.
—Check that you have all your belongings before alighting from the plane,—a flight attendant reminded us over the intercom. I reached below my seat and felt around for the envelope. It wasn't there. I got up with a start and frantically searched the seats around me. No way someone could have stolen...then I spotted it in the seat pocket in front of me.
I got past immigration without incident, apparently my story about being a reporter won them over. Jumped in a taxi and headed over to the Mandarin Oriental. Rain pattered against the windows and obscured my view, but I could see the Marina Bay Sands and other hotels and skyscrapers of Singapore in the background. Fuck, they had even built up the Esplanade area even more, if that was possible. Tipped the cab driver and before I knew it, was asleep several stories up. The investigation could wait another day.
My phone was ringing. I reached around and eventually got a hold of it. 13:00, it said. Seems I hadn't adjusted to the time difference. Flicked open the phone, it was Dick.
—Hey Johnny-boy! No hard feelings 'bout the barrel on the temple, yes? Any details yet? We want our story!
—Yeah, yeah, I know. Give me a couple days,—I said with a little more ice than I intended.
—We're counting on it.
The click seemed louder than usual. I got up and cleaned myself up. Went over and opened the windows and looked upon Marina Square. Someone was staring up at me, but I ignored it. There were a lot of envious natives who didn't like us tourists. Put on my jeans and t-shirt then swung my camera around my neck. Time to go hunting.
I got on the MRT and headed over to Tao Payoh. The headquarters was nothing special. Got a short tour and talked to several reporters but immediately felt that nothing would become of this. I thanked them and left toward the MRT. The sun was started to beat down and the tropical climate didn't help. I flicked open the envelope and scanned over the coordinates that were given to me. Only the machine could have produced such a string a drivel. Yet, after staring at it for an hour, I realized it was perhaps the worse encryption that one could think of. They'd merely taken the original coordinates and done some simple arithmetic to arrive at the scrambled ones. Luckily this wasn't some CIA shit or people's heads would be rolling. Punched the coordinates into my phone. Pointed to a spot on Sentosa, that disgusting resort island that tourists seemed to love. As I got up, I noticed some wide-eyed Indian women staring at me. As our eyes locked, she blushed and skirted off.
It was getting dark and HarbourFront was packed with people. I got on the Sentosa Express and headed over. I already knew where I had to look, there were several depots hidden from the tourists. They were new enough that no one would think suspect activity would happen there. But I'd been through too much and seen it all. This was amateur stuff.
As the tram slowed to a crawl and the doors opened, I jumped out and jogged over to the south-side of the island. Dusk was fast approaching and this would be all the harder at night. The depots were surrounded by flimsy looking fences. I walked over to the nearest section, got down and strained. After a bit of heaving, there was enough space to slide under. After the run-ins in Somalia or the harrowing escape on the Baltic, this was nothing. Except the fucking scrapes on my legs. Always hated that part. I dusted off and looked around. Nothing unusual and yet my hair was on end.
The lights were on in some of the buildings and I crept to the closest one. I'd turned off my camera, it wouldn't be needed in this case. The shutter would be too loud and the pictures probably wouldn't tell people anything: it was likely they just had mainframes, servers and other hardware rigged up. Nothing too sexy. Surely not a Bond-style villain's den. I peaked into a window and then turned around with a start. A man stood there, a gun raised and a bored expression on his face.
—Let me guess, you're searching for a 'story',—he said and started to approach, his gun waving lazily about. I raised my hands.
—Just a bit curious, you know how nosy we Americans are.
—Nah, I don't know. Never been. Try to avoid those fat-asses,—he grabbed at my t-shirt and threw me to the ground. Amateur hour indeed. I twirled around in the air and swung my legs together, catching his right leg in a grip. With a slight jerk he went tumbling to the ground and a slip second later I had his gun in my hand.
—Ain't the first time I've had a fucking gun pointed at me,—I blurted out and pointed the gun at his head.—Not going to kill you and I don't...—I felt my hair stand on end again. There were more. I punched him in the face and ran back toward the hole in the fence. Sliding under I tossed the gun into the sea and sprinted toward the tram. I was never one to be terrified, but this city was supposed to be too benign for this type of shit. Dashing through the line, I slipped onto the tram just as the doors shut. Turning around I saw faces in the crowd staring at me. Those weren't no astonished tourists.
I flipped open my phone and called Neal. He didn't pick up, even after repeated calls. Neither did Tod, Dick or Phil. Looked at my watch, 20:16. They should be fucking awake, those lazy shits. I opened my wallet and thanked god I'd taken the black card, more than enough money to get out of town.
The tram slowed to a crawl and I saw those same stares in the crowd outside. I ducked low and followed the mob out into VivoCity. The place was packed and I continued to weave my way around until I was outside. A taxi was pulling up and I cut off a young couple.
—He douchebag, that was ours...
—Go fuck that tiny bitch of yours or something,—I yelled and slammed the door close.—To Changi, now!—
The taxi pulled out and raced off down the highway. Behind me I could see several cars pull out and begin pursuit. The fuck? This can't possibly all be due to me fucking that amateur over. Jesus. Why didn't Neal tell me they'd pack heat?
—Can't drive like this, no good for me. Out, out!—the driver screamed after a bit and dropped me off near the Marina Bay Sands. Cursing his mother, I got out and threw some cash back in the car. I ran toward the mall, best to stay in a public area.
Dashing past Avalon, the club was blaring and people were all around, I came upon an idea. My t-shirt was just borderline stylish and my jeans fit the look. Not many people would be by yet, but that cover would be enough. I slid into line, flashed my ID, paid the ridiculous cover charge, and went inside. Blue light washed over me and several well-to-dos gave me looks of disgust as they walked past in this swanky attire. Gliding over to the bar, I ordered just enough to keep me company for awhile, the heat would simmer down with time.
Several hours went by and the club began to fill with people. The DJ was playing some of that fucking awful house music, but I'd take it over a bullet, for now. A rather attractive, somewhat familiar looking, Indian girl slid up beside me. I was always awkward in one-on-one situations.
—Hey. I can't really hear,—she bellowed out and pointed to her ears. The music had gone up a couple decibels.—Let's dance!—
She grabbed my arm and lead me over the dance floor. Just then I felt a cold sensation across the back of my neck and whirled around. Three men were staring at me, another had his pistol out while the third was pushing back the gathering throng. Guns were a very unusual sight around here, so I heard. Fuck, not even sure how they got those past the bouncer.
—Look, people,—one of the men yelled out, his gun sweeping the crowd. People scampered back, falling over one another.—We don't mean any trouble, except for this little shit.—
I began to back up and tripped down the stairs leading to the dance floor. The girl had melted into the crowd. Stupid bitch. The man walked down the stairs and pointed his gun at me. I looked left and right, hoping for some out. Maybe a roaming cop, or a daring onlooker, would save me. Nothing. They all looked on with a mix of pity, disgust and terror. Until I saw one girl, her expression cool as the night. A camera was draped around her neck and glasses slightly obscured her features. She seemed to adjust her dress awkwardly and walked with a bit of trouble. For the split second before I turned back towards me aggressors, I deciphered the clues. Hilda! That fucking bitch. Who'd she sleep with to get this story. 'Reporter killed under mysterious circumstances', I could see the headlines now. Wasn't about to let that happen.
—Now look, I don't know...
—You fucking well do, fucking American. Think you can just trespass on government property, attack a guard, and walk off scott free? Wasting me time, let's get this over with.
He raised his gun and pulled the trigger.