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.

Book Recommendation of the Week

This week’s book recommendation is The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher. Somewhat subject related to last week’s recommendation, this book is about Star Wars but not in the way you may think. This is Carrie Fisher’s memoir about her time working on the original Star Wars movie that released in 1977. She has several other memoirs, which I would like to read. I picked up this one shortly after she passed away in December 2016.

This book is centered around Star Wars but really doesn’t talk about it as a subject at all. It is a great insight into what celebrity life can be like and goes into detail about the events of her life before and after the movies created one of the largest fandoms in history (probably the largest ever). It begins with her discussing how she never planned to go into show-business. One reason was because she grew up seeing the other side of the business being the daughter of Debbie Reynolds. I never realized how young she was when the first Star Wars trilogy was made. She was only 19 during the first movie. Another main topic of the book is her affair with Harrison Ford, which probably doesn’t go into enough detail for some but I thought it was well composed. Nearly a third of this book are actual pages of her diaries from the late 70’s. Diaries she re-discovered which prompted the book.

I think this book provides great details about who she was. She was often conflicted and always combating low self-esteem despite being an outwardly strong, independent role-model who seemingly never gave a shit. She definitely grew into that role. The later half details interactions with fans. You can imagine how some of the interactions go, but a few she details are something else. Though I can be really compassionate about things, I always think that if I were to meet an idol, I would keep my interaction brief and courteous (because I understand they have better things to do than talk to me). Though some fans go beyond the comfort levels, it was great to read that she had many great interactions and that she enjoyed every minute of meeting most of her fans.

This book is about how Carrie Fisher became Princess Leia and embodied that character nearly her entire life. She became an icon and had to live with the rewards and consequences of that. If you like memoirs or want to know more about Carrie or even just a little insight behind the scenes of Star Wars, give this book a read.

Happy Reading.

Living Space

“She lived here?” Jen asked as she waded through piles of miscellaneous junk. Piles of clothes, stacks of papers, a table covered in old toys and broken gadgets.

The room smelled of cat piss and dust, as if the door hadn’t been opened in decades. The carpet was stained and torn. The floorboards were showing in one corner, which Greg avoided for fear of falling through the rotted wood.

“It would be easier to just burn this place down,” he said.

“We need to find at least a few reminders of her. The rest can be trashed.”

Reminders. That was why they were there. To find an untarnished object to induce memories. Good memories of his mother. Before she moved here. Back when she smiled and he would visit her. Back to good times.

“I can’t believe this is how she ended.” His voice caught as the guilt set in.

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.

 

 

Book Recommendation of the Week

This week’s book recommendation is Republic Commando: Hard Contact by Karen Traviss. This is a Star Wars book, so this may only be of interest to a few million (maybe few hundred million) people on the planet. I believe this book can also interest many people who are not fans of Star Wars. If you’ve never heard of Star Wars, please tell me which planet you hail from as I am interested in interstellar travel. I am recommending this book because: 1) I like it (surprise), and 2) this Friday is May 4th, which has been deemed Star Wars day.

Now, onto the details. This book follows the missions of a elite four-man squad of commandos during the Clone Wars era of this franchise. What makes it great, besides the spec ops side of the story, is the special look into the lives of these soldiers. They are clones bred for one purpose and trained excruciatingly to be the best. They are not considered human but rather government/army property. The names they are given are tied to their number designations or a reference to their specialty (i.e. the name of one demolitions expert is Scorch). When grown (they were grown not born), their genes were manipulated so they aged twice as fast as a normal human. This was done so the soldiers would be ready in half the time it would have normally taken. Because of this, almost all of these soldiers are literally ten-year-olds in twenty year old bodies. This accelerated aging becomes a point of interest later on in the series. Yes, it is a series of five books that starts during the Clone Wars and ends after the formation of the Empire.

This first book focuses on one squad of commandos, a Jedi, and the squad’s original Mandalorian trainer who is one of a handful who believes these men/boys deserve much better than what they were given and will fight to help them. I won’t go into the specifics of their mission in this book to stay away from spoilers. The second book brings in another four-man squad of commandos. This squad is actually the one you get to play as/with in the Republic Commando video game that came out in 2005 and was incredible. I still play it from time to time.

What I think is most interesting about this series are the conflicts that occur because these elite soldiers are clones. The way they are treated/viewed by the citizens of the galaxy they are fighting for is saddening and, I hate to say, realistic. The psychological and physical issues are staggering and can mirror many problems we face in our own, real world.

Karen Traviss (who has written books from several franchises) does a great job portraying this squad. She is an excellent writer of action/military/science fiction. If you don’t like Star Wars, try another one of her books.

I know even the fans of Star Wars are split on several issues including how the newest movies are altering the fictional world they know and not meeting some expectations (which happens). This franchise has changed the world several times over the last 40+ years. I was even a little upset when I found out that all of the books that take place after episode six were unceremoniously thrown aside and we are supposed to act like they never existed. Of course I hate that. There were many awesome stories in those books and I’m sure those authors worked hard to make those stories not only compelling but fit into the overall story of the franchise/universe. All that elaborate work seemingly no longer relevant or included. I haven’t read all of them (not even close, there are so many). I’ve only read a few. This series is by far my favorite of this franchise. Luckily it is still part of the Star Wars canon.

Happy Reading.