Ramshackle Memories

Snow blew in through the open window and Mathew watched the saturated flakes pile onto the hardwood floor. He didn’t move. Something in him refused to. He knew he would have to clean it all up before long or the wood would warp or stain or become imperfect in some way, but he couldn’t stop thinking that it wasn’t the end of the world if the floor became flawed. Whatever happened to it would be his responsibility. He was the man of the house now. His inheritance was everything his father “would take care of tomorrow.” The loose step out front, the broken microwave handle, the run-down tractor sitting in the barn that was meant for “tomorrow” a few thousand yesterdays ago.

“Mathew!” His mother walked across the snow-covered floor to shut the window. “What are you doing?” She stepped carefully through the slush to where he sat against the wall. She stood in front of him still wearing her black dress. “Mathew, honey, you must be cold.”

He didn’t say anything.

“It’s freezing in here,” she said, shivering. She stared at him for few seconds before walking to the closet and grabbing a blanket. She came back, placed it over his curled-up figure, and tucked in the edges. “We’ll get through this dear,” she said softly, “Everything will be okay.”

He didn’t move. He only stared at the snow in the room.

She stood. “Dinner will be ready at five. Aunt Mindy is making it for us. Be sure you thank her before you eat.” She shut the door behind her.

He watched the white snow gradually turn translucent and transmogrify into a grey lake. He could see his reflection on the surface. He wished himself as small as he felt so he could take the folded gum wrapper in the corner and make it a canoe and row out onto the lake inside his room. He would weave through snowflakes like icebergs and spend the afternoon making his way to the other side where he would land at the foot of the bed. The oak leg a sequoia he would climb until he reached the duvet he imagined would feel like burlap clouds.

He dreamt of his escape as the blanket trapped what little heat remained in his body. He grew warm but the numbness never fully went away.

“It’s five o’clock,” his mother’s voice reached him from downstairs. Dinner was always at five. Even when his father’s heart stopped, the routine refused to budge. Nothing would change. That’s why nothing was fixed. There was never time because every day was the same. His father would wake up, work in the field, come back for lunch, feed the animals, go back to the field, check on the cattle, eat dinner at five o’clock, maybe run to town, get things ready for the next day, then fall asleep in his chair trying to catch a bit of news just after the sunlight faded from the window.

“Tomorrow” was always a dreamland where there was time for anything and everything. Time enough to fix the tractor or the microwave or the loose step out front. Time enough to play catch. To teach a boy how to shave. To help with homework. To go to the doctor so they could find the clogged arteries.

He didn’t want to go downstairs. He wasn’t hungry, but he also wasn’t two inches tall sailing across the puddle on his bedroom floor.

Mathew decided then not to replace the floor even if it did get damaged. Even if mold started growing beneath the floorboards, he wouldn’t be around long enough to deal with the constant swollen eyes and coughing. He wouldn’t fix a damn thing in this house, because you fix what you intend to keep.

To Own A Galaxy

Public transport had been the best option. It had been the only option, but it was beneficial is two ways. It was filled with hundreds of other passengers going off world for whatever reason they desired, and it left the authorities with only a rough time of departure and possibly thousands of ships to trail. Mya hoped the guards hadn’t noticed Prince Kayden’s disappearance for at least several hours. The longer they waited, the better their chances were. Kayden was notorious for running off from his studies so it wouldn’t be too far out of the ordinary for him to be somewhere he wasn’t scheduled, but Mya was also gone and therefore not present to offer an explanation of the prince’s whereabouts. That is why she worried.

They sat on the observation deck watching the planet shrink behind them. Mya kept her eyes out for any small, imperial ships. She hoped that if any arrived, they would be small and would search the passengers briefly before letting them continue. She had already found a place where she and Kayden could hide during the search. Her greater fear would be the emperor arriving himself in his personal ship The Eclipse. If that happened, she was dead. She could see it now. The emperor not even asking to see her. He would only ask for the button that would expel her into the void.

Kayden watched in wonder as the other ships passed by and the stars slowly changed as their ship shot further into space. Mya couldn’t help forgetting everything as she watched him. This was the first time he had been off planet. It was his first time even outside of the palace. Everything was new to him and his sense of fascination filled her with love and inspiration. She was never able to have children and Kayden’s mother was killed before he could know her name. If she hadn’t taken him away, he would have grown into a more ruthless version of his father. She couldn’t bear to the innocent child before her become a monster.

The stars stretched as the ship accelerated and the planet behind them disappeared. Kayden gripped her leg, frightened, and she patted his head.

“It’s okay little one,” she said, “we will be to our new home soon.”

The boy looked up at her with his big eyes. She smiled.

“Come, let’s go get something to eat.”

She took him by the hand and guided him down to the dining area that was filled with nearly fifty other passengers. They waited in line and humbly accepted their bowls and bread. Mya was concerned the clothes she had picked out for him were insufficient, but no one looked at him twice. As far as they knew, the prince was in the palace and this was some random kid. Too clean to have come from Entori, but perhaps that was now working in their favor.

They found a table in a small alcove where they could sit and eat. Once full, Kayden began to nod off. Mya picked him up and took him to their small room. She hoped they would sleep the remainder of the trip.

 


Lunder’s men were suited up. If his info was correct, the ship with the prince would be arriving in this sector shortly. It would only stay a few minutes as its crew re-calibrated for the next jump. He kept his hands on the controls.

“All your helmets on?” he asked over the comms.

“We wouldn’t hang out in the EVA door without them on.”

Lunder grumbled. Ryker was always a smart ass.

The cruiser popped into view and Lunder hit the accelerator. “Show’s on boys.”

“Could have warned us before sprinting this junkheap,” Ryker chimed in.

“Shut up or I’ll conveniently forget to reel you back in. Get ready to jump.”

The small freighter moved alongside the cruiser. Lunder checked the thermo-scans. “Nearly everyone is asleep except for some of the crew. The boy is located on the third floor center hall. You know the drill.” He punched a button and the EVA door opened. The six men jumped out, shooting small jets of air to maneuver around the cruiser. They got into position and Lunder listened as they checked in.

“Charge one set.”

“Charge two primed.”

Each man pulled away when finished and Ryker commed to Lunder with the all clear. “Ready to burst the bubble, boss.”

“Do it,” Lunder said.

Explosions lit up the side of the cruiser ripping a hole in its side. Contents spilled out into the emptiness. The the frozen void now littered with rubble and bodies. The six men weaved through the debris and onto the ship. They detached their harness ropes as they entered the cruiser.

“You’ve got a straight line to the boy, but security is coming in fast. Make it quick.”

“I hear ya,” Ryker’s voice chirped over the comms.

Lunder watched his men comb through the halls checking rooms for the boy. He kept an eye on the other heat signatures racing down the stairs. His boys were good in a fight, but he didn’t want to risk a gunfight with the boy inside.

 


Mya had woken to the rumble through the ship. The alarms started a few seconds later. Kayden woke up and clung to her. He was frightened, as was she, but she soothed him. The alarms tone shifted from blaring to a quiet clamor as the captain’s voice came over the speakers to alert everyone that the ship had been boarded. He asked everyone to secure themselves in the nearest room possible and fit themselves with EVA gear if possible.

Mya looked around the room but didn’t see any gear for either of them. She cursed herself for choosing a common room that didn’t offer the basic emergency equipment. She knew the emperor would have ordered the ship seized without damages before being searched thoroughly. The captain mentioning EVA gear meant the hull had been breached, which meant whoever was boarding the ship wasn’t working for the emperor. If they were simple raiders…she wished her luck wasn’t that bad, but if they were, there was a chance they knew nothing about Kayden and would loot the ship quickly and leave. She hoped security would take care of the problem soon.

She heard a noise outside the door. Then a muffled voice say, “You sure this is the one?” Pause. “You better be right.”

They had no where to go. She held Kayden closely to her. He began crying. The door crashed inward and two men walked in. They barely fit in the tiny space. She looked at them but only saw the black masks and black EVA suits. No signifying markers. They had paused, looking at her as if confused. The one by the door pressed is fingers to his ear, then said, “Alright.”

He pulled out a bag and threw it over her and Kayden. She tried to prevent it from landing on them but the other man wrapped it around them both and zipped it up, pressed a button, and the material hardened into a rectangular container.

“Let’s move.” Pause. “We’ve got the package. Heading out now.”

 


Lunder watched the heat signatures as three of his men engaged security while the other three, including Ryker, hauled the boy back to the tethers. The small hallway provided no cover and two of his men went down fast and permanently.

“Get us the hell out of here,” Ryker yelled over the comms.

Lunder switched two buttons and the two men who had tethered the package began reeling toward the ship.

“Hurry it up Ryker. I won’t wait for you.”

“Then don’t you wimpy bastard.”

A third man fell in the hallway as Lunder hit the switch and Ryker ran for the tethers, shooting behind him the entire way. Every tether began winding toward the ship. Ryker jumped and gripped the packaged. He flew through the debris and was nearly pummeled by a section of wall. A few security guards shot after him but he was well beyond their range.

As soon as the EVA door was secured. Lunder floored the accelerator.

 


He sat watching an entire galaxy spiral before him. A drink in one hand paused halfway toward his lips as the table to his right alerted him of an incoming call. He tapped the surface a few times and Lunder’s voice popped out of the speaker in the room.

“We have what you want.”

“Good.” He never took his eyes off of the galaxy below. “Bring him to me.”

Phantom Queen

Three young women stood watching the sea. Footsteps too far to hear alerted them of a man approaching. Their wait was at an end. They all turned in unison and walked toward the small cottage they would call home for today. Two of the women turned toward the third and merged with her, disappearing like ghosts into the earth. The lone woman kept walking toward the cottage. Each step she took aged her until she was grey and slow. Hours passed before the young man came into view.

“Hello Madame,” he called as he approached, his leather armor defining his muscles more than hiding them. A long spear lay strapped across his back. The smile on his face dispelled any intimidation his figure would have normally held.

She stopped milking her cow and turned toward him in crafted surprise. This was the first time he had recognized her after many attempts to capture his attention. “Oh, hello young man. You must be weary to have come all this way. Please, have some bainne. There is too much for just me.”

He approached and graciously accepted the offer. He drank three full glasses of the fresh milk.

“Thank you for your kindness. This will help my strength in future battles.”

“You shall be the strongest warrior,” she said knowing the truth of her words.

“Alas, I cannot stay to enjoy a proper exchanging of words. Please accept my deepest apologies.” He bowed to her.

“No need for such formalities. Young men are naturally making use of their constant vigor, as they should before age strips it of them.”

The young warrior continued his path and the old woman watched him go until he was lost to the horizon. Then her body burst into a murder of crows scattering across the sky.

Elemental Cocktails

They weren’t strictly legal. Places that sold them always claimed to be on the level, but everyone knew what really went on, and it was only a matter of time before someone slipped up and the place would get shut down. Others would pop up as soon as one fell. Overnight, multiplying like a virus. They served anyone and everyone who wanted a taste. The problem was, one taste could be too much. Many died after one dose. Some people gained unnatural abilities most of which were temporary. Just enough to make a man feel immortal, and that was the draw.

Martin never considered trying them. The thought had occurred to him, but he kept to alcohol for any inhibiting drugs. It was predictable, slow, and his body could cope with the recovery. No risk of instant, permanent damage. Genetic Altering Tonics, or GATs, were the latest craze that had created a lot of problems for the city. To Martin, GATs were only slightly worse than cocaine or heroin. He’d never been interested in trying them but he found himself in a DNA bar nonetheless.

It was near midnight on Thursday and he’d wondered down the steps from the street, past a dark-haired man with glowing blue eyes smoking a cigarette, and through the solid wood door. It looked like an other bar. Tables spaced around the room. Booths along two walls. The lights dimmed and music playing just loud enough so no one could overhear your conversation. Martin picked a booth near the back corner and ordered a whisky; two fingers, no ice. At first he sat quietly and sipped his drink. When the waitress brought his second one, he pulled out his screen and flipped through some news and pop-culture videos. The bar filled up and the noise rose. Martin saw a young man following a waitress through the crowd. He got up and headed toward the hallway where he presumed the restrooms were located. His timing was exact and he exited crowd to fall in line behind the young man. The waitress passed the restrooms and knocked on a door at the end of the hall. She said something and the door cracked before opening all the way. Martin feinted toward the restroom door then followed the waitress and young man inside.

“Who’s this?” a voice said as Martin stumbled into the room.

Strong hands grabbed his shirt and lifted him up against the wall. Martin’s eyes followed the hands against his chest, down the forearms, and up to the eyes of the bald brute holding him in place. The brute broke eye contact to look at the waitress for an explanation. She pointed to the man that had followed her.

“I don’t know. He’s the only one who followed me.”

The brute cursed under his breath and turned back to Martin.

“What are you doing here?”

“I’m just here for a drink,” Martin said. The bald man stared at him so he offered more. “Whiskey. Maybe a G if you have it.”

The brute lowered him to the floor and let him go. “We don’t. Whiskey is out front.” The bald head nodded toward the door.

“Too bad,” Martin said, brushing his jacket, “I came prepared.”

The bald man raised an eyebrow. Martin pulled a small wad of cash from inside his jacket. The man smiled, took the cash and flipped through it. He patted Martin on the shoulder. Then he turned toward the young man who came in with the waitress who also pulled out a wad of cash and handed it over, managing to look bored through the entire interaction.

The bald man turned toward the waitress. “Get back to work.”

The waitress scurried back into the bar as the bald man walked to a small table and sat down. He gestured for Martin and the younger man to sit. They did.

“So, what’ll be?”

Martin remained quiet, letting the younger man go first.

“Elemental. Windstorm.”

“Good choice. And you?”

Martin wasn’t expecting to make a choice that quickly. He was hoping to see how the younger man fared.

“Elemental. Lightning.” He managed, hoping he sounded genuinely informed of what he was doing.

The bald man smiled. “Looking for a little extra kick? You’re wife’ll appreciate you tonight.” He nudged Martin.

Martin smiled. “Someone will at least.” This brought a laugh out of the man while the younger one sat there impatiently. Martin placed his hands in his pockets. His left one gripped a pistol, the right rested on a button.

The bald man opened a cooler and brought out two tumblers, setting one in front of both men. Then he rummaged around doing something out of Martin’s view but eventually planted two cocktail shakers on the table. He shook one and held the shaker over the young man’s glass.

“You’ll have to drink this one fast I’m afraid. Not much to savor, but gives a good kick.”

He flicked the top off the shaker and let the contents pour into the glass. He quickly pulled shaker away but some of the liquid started rising out of the glass, floating as if untouched by gravity. The young man gulped down the tumbler’s contents and then rose from his seat to sip the three orbs of liquid floating above the table. He sat back with a smile on his face. His eyes glazed over and his arms rose, then the rest of his body lifted from the seat and he hung suspended in the air. Limbs moving glacially. His hair independent as if he were underwater.

“Alright,” the bald man said, breaking Martin’s attention from the young man, “Your turn.” He shook the container and poured it into the tumbler. The liquid was opaque, but glowed blue and white as electricity flickered through the it like lightning in a cloud. Martin stared at the drink. He’d already forgotten about the man floating across from him. Something irrational and unnerving.

“Drink up, before the spark fades.”

The voice brought him out of thought. He pressed the button in his jacket before reaching for the drink with his right hand. His left remained on the pistol. He’s pressed the button too late. There wasn’t enough time. The bald man would become suspicious if he didn’t drink the lightning in front of him. He held it in his hand and watched the flickering light inside the liquid.

“Go on,” the bald man said.

Martin took a sip hoping a small amount wouldn’t be too strong. He felt the liquid crackle down his throat. He placed the tumbler on the table before his muscles began flexing involuntarily. His mind shifted into overdrive as his synapses fired rapidly. He fought to remain conscious he began to see the lightning firing inside his eyes. He lost track of time but what little he took in of his surroundings showed him that his team had arrived and were detaining the bald man and strapping the younger one down.

He barely recognized his partner’s face as Skolfield hovered in front of him. His body was shaking violently as his muscles contracted so strongly he thought they might break his bones. Skolfield was yelling something at him but he couldn’t hear anything but a crackling in his ears.

Then his vision turned a pure white, as if looking into the sun, and he lost consciousness as his body discharged the energy that had wreaked havoc upon him.

Shared Nightmare

When Teryn first walked into the room, he thought it was a monster. He was frightened. The man before him did not look like a human. With his back turned, Teryn could only see the long cords running from the ceiling, hanging low before turning upward and connecting to the man’s back. Several cords littered the floor running into his legs. Legs that were no longer made of flesh. Bone could be seen through the plexiglass and poly-carbonate frame and within the blue liquid currently mimicking blood. Teryn was eight years old. To his eight-year-old eyes, the man was not human.

He was human once. Some of his features still showed semblance of that. Features hidden throughout the mass of cords. A glimpse of a spine. Exposed muscle fibers. The man turned to face Teryn. The face was wrinkled. One eye a cloudy, milky blue. The other green and alert.

“Is this the one?” the thing asked the escort who’d brought Teryn inside.

The escort nodded.

“Good,” the man-thing said, “good.”

Teryn was fixated on the face. It moved like a real face attached to a human body but also danced as if hovering, as if the man were simply a marionette and the master of strings somewhere else spoke through it. One arm, flesh covering only the forearm and hand, extended too far from the body and slowly waved them away. A noncommittal gesture. The escort came forward but Teryn remained fixated until the former man had turned away to once again hide its human features.

The escort guided Teryn from the room and down a hall. The room had been dark with monitors and screens scattered across the walls. The hall was a stark contrast of white. The choking smell of sterilization never went away. Teryn was led into a large, white room where he was told to lay on the table he almost didn’t see as it blended into the white walls. His dirt covered clothes seeming to be the only variance to the white.

He was unaware of why he was there, where “there” was, or who had grabbed him off the street. His fear had been subdued at first with the hearty meal they fed him while in the shuttle. It was the first meal he’d had in years. He was one of the lost children, considered a menace and parasite simply because he tried to survive off the scraps of the poor citizens. On good days he could find an apple core. Most days he would go without anything, so the food in the shuttle was a banquet. A half hour after finishing the meal he’d fallen asleep to the hum of the engine. He woke up in a white room. The escort arrived seconds later. His fear returned little by little he was taken down the halls. When he saw the former man, the fear did not overwhelm him. Instead it receded again to be replaced by wonder and curiosity.

Now that he was again in a room of pure white, the fear came back to unsettle him. A casing descended and encapsulated him on the table. Little metal claws came forth and stripped him bare before the tube was filled with water. The seconds passed like minutes as he panicked within the water. He tried to prevent any from entering his lungs but the need to inhale was becoming urgent. Then the tank drained and air assaulted him. The casing ascended and he looked down to see his skin clean for the first time in his memory. The escort provided him with white clothes.

He dressed and was taken to dining area filled with other children ranging from his age to late teens. He saw a few he guessed were even a few years younger than he was. He didn’t recognize anyone and kept to himself. Many stared at him while most ate and talked without giving him any notice. He was shown a seat near the back and given a plate of food. He was still full from the shuttle, but he ate voraciously nonetheless because there was never a certainty of another meal.

Six years passed and he grew accustomed to his new life. He would wake up, eat in the mess hall, exercise rigorously, then be given a break for lunch and leisure before returning for a second exercise session. No one spoke to him except the other children. A few he called friends. One of which, Martin, had ran the same streets he had before arriving here. He still didn’t know where “here” was, but he was grateful. He had turned from a malnourished boy to the semblance of a strong young man.

New kids joined their ranks every week. Several left their ranks each week as well. The pattern was always the same. Young boys came in and young men left. The few questions asked were never answered. He always speculated that the men were conscripted into the war.

“What war?” Martin always asked.

“The war, you know, there was always advertisements about enlisting. Trying to convince people to leave the city and hop on a ship to some other world where they could fight.”

“There was no war. They just wanted idiots to join labor camps.”

“Yes there was. I remember seeing the ads. They always mentioned three full meals a day. I fantasized about joining but you had to be at least sixteen. I walked into the recruitment center once but the guy threw me out.”

“Those ads were for the labor camps. You could enter one and get food, but then had to work to pay for it. That was the scam. You get a full belly then spend the rest of your days paying for it. Each meal costing more than the previous one.”

“And what about this place then?”

That was where the conversation always ended because they had no answer. Martin waved off the question as they entered the arena where their second training session was to be held. After three hours they were exhausted. They showered and returned to the mess hall, ate, then slept like dead men as they did every night.

Four more years passed. Every day more or less the same. Teryn and Martin saw friends escorted from the dining hall or simply disappear after the previous nights rumble. They suspected their time would come soon and were proven right one night as they sat down for the last meal of the day. They were taken together. It was the first meal Teryn had left unfinished in the ten years at the facility.

He and Martin were escorted down the white halls. No one spoke. Teryn only looked at Martin with a small trace of concern. When Martin was taken down a different hallway, Teryn watched with concern but returned a nod before Martin disappeared from view. They’d both known the chances of staying together were infinitesimal.

A door opened and Teryn was transported to a memory he’d nearly forgotten. It was the grey room filled with monitors. The cords hung from the ceiling. Falling close to the floor before turning upward and into the spine of the former man. The thing turned toward him. The aged face still held one foggy blue eye and another clear green one. A smile crept across the mask of skin.

“A perfect specimen,” it said, “we can proceed.”

The escort approached Teryn.

“Who are you?” Teryn asked. He didn’t truly expect an answer. He was used to his questions being met with silence, but the man-thing replied.

“I am a monster that was once a man. A shared nightmare.”

Teryn was removed before he could reply. He was taken to the room with the table and fitted into a capsule he did not remember being in the room ten years ago. His mind was circling the man-things words as they placed a helmet on him and he drifted into unconsciousness.

When he came to, he was standing before a mirror. His vision slowly focused and he heard his voice without speaking.

“I must thank you for setting me free,” his body said.

His mind was foggy. His eye surveyed the room looking for explanations. His body stepped toward him.

“You will remain here until yours is found. Then you shall be freed,” it said and placed a hand on his face, “I waited two centuries before you came along. I’m sure your wait will be shorter. Stay strong. If your mind breaks, that will be the end.”

Teryn couldn’t feel anything as the hand was removed. He watched his body leave the room. He tried to move but no part of him reacted. His eye scanned the screens in front of him. He couldn’t feel his arms or legs and couldn’t even tell if he was breathing. There was no familiar rise and fall of a chest. Nothing. He tried to move again and an arm drifted into his view. Flesh covered the hand and forearm but near the elbow it turned to metal and plastic. He tried to scream, but had no voice.