Immortality. Paranormal private investigators. Revenge. Then add in vampires, and so much more. The heart of darkness beats strong here with twenty-five (25) of the best short stories from Ripley King.
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5 Omnibus Edition
The 5 series.
Published by Ripley King, 2016.
This is a work of fiction. Similarities to real people, places, or events are entirely coincidental.
5 OMNIBUS EDITION
First edition. January 31, 2016.
Copyright © 2016 Ripley King.
Written by Ripley King.
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Also by Ripley King
The 5 series.
One Last 5
5 Omnibus Edition
And Jesus Wept
Earth Improvement Day
Lonely Hero Thing
Nightstrider: The Spaces Between
The Pre-dead Saga
Watch for more at Ripley King’s site.
Also By Ripley King
5 Omnibus Edition (The 5 series.)
Abracadabra Is Just A Word, Isn’t It?
How the People Kept Their Power
Origins: Little Demon Dolly
In The Becoming
As Things Should Be
The Why Things Are
The Godslayer Device
Another 5 - Only ___ Shopping Day(s) Left Until Xmas!
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
The Boogeyman’s Sister
Have you ever felt real . . .
Shoosh, it’s a Secret
Again, 5 - Welcome To Machine
The Last First Hour
One Last 5 - Fire with Fire
For the Greater Good
Fit for Survival
Two Souls at Sundown
Percible Traynor’s Quest for Immortality
Everything Ripley King
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Further Reading: Love Dark
Also By Ripley King
About the Author
Mind candy for those who like it dark, deep, and delicious.
5 - Serve Revenge Hot
Bryan with the bright green eyes saw it coming. His mother’s eyes, intelligent eyes, expressing love and joy. Eyes alive with wonder at almost everything this world had to offer. Eyes filled in their final moments with an unfathomable fear.
He pushed his fat, raspberry colored, fluffy teddy bear Pudgy to one side, off the back seat of the car and onto the floorboard so Pudgy wouldn’t get hurt. Such a considerate boy.
He closed those beautiful eyes, actually pinched them shut; then hunched his narrow shoulders and pulled a thin arm up to cover his handsome little-boy face.
A useless gesture, like all useless gestures, conceived of in a moment of desperation. It was the best he could do. The only thing he could think of at the time. Nobody could fault him for it, he was only five fucking years old.
The sawed-off scattershot blew his little arm and hand apart, a bloody wad. Bryan’s head splooshed into a cloud of red and gray, yellow hair and pinkish-gray brain tissue coating the automobile’s plush rear interior.
Everything he was—the questioning crooked smile, bundle of feet running through the house when he was told repeatedly not to, stubborn foot stomping “I don’t wanna go to bed yet!” bouncing baby boy—gone. Just gone.
Screaming your dead son’s name jolts you awake, your heart racing. The grisly vision of your son’s murder fresh in your mind. Cold clammy sweat pours off you to dry in the chill night air, realizing it was another nightmare, one of several, realizing it wasn’t quite light out yet, the dawn a couple of hours away from what the digital display says.
You’ll never get back to sleep now, and it’s no big thing. You haven’t had a decent night’s sleep in three years. Five hours most nights, four hours this night.
Did the neighbors hear you scream?
Maybe the scream was all in your head. And if the walls did carry the sound, it wouldn’t be the first time. Frankly, you don’t give a shit. The nosy neighbors can kiss your hairy ass, for all you care. Give your farthest hole a good Frenching. Like they don’t have their faults?
Old man Cruthers, across the hall and to the left, all gut and no ass, pacing the narrow hallway at night in his dirty socks, boxers and tee. The old man is tolerably lucid, and when asked can hold an interesting conversation about the state of the building or the weather. A serious attempt at an overall exercise program? Shed a few pounds?
Walking, good for the soul.
Or desperate Deena, forty-five years desperate, fat and ugly ta-boot. Nightly ordering takeout from every joint around the neighborhood, hoping to get lucky, hoping one of the delivery drivers is more desperate than she. Most waive the tip and run like hell. Once in a great while she gets lucky and gets laid. She has to have a hell of a job to pay for what little comfort she receives.
The warmth of another soul, pushing the bush.
Last but not least is Mrs. Boswellia directly across the corridor, hovering day and night by her peep hole. The only thing more exciting than NYPD Blue reruns or Oprah is the soap opera that plays out beyond her apartment’s windows or peep hole. Maybe Mrs. Boswellia has a thing for old man Cruthers in his boxers, fat gut and flat assed as he is.
Maybe old man Cruthers is hoping desperate Deena will notice him and extend an invite. Give him a nut draining blow job or a roll on the carpet. Fat people sex.
It doesn’t matter. None of it matters.
You push slowly out of bed, the pain grips you by your balls, threatening to walk you around the room on tiptoe. It’s bad today, but pain is your life. Every minute of every waking day is filled with mountainous pain. Physical pain that sharpens all your facilities. Emotional pain for surviving one more day. Pain you inflict upon yourself because you have to.
The shower’s coarse spray heats your skin and warms muscles, stopping the dull ache in your bones. Underneath that magnificent flow of water is where you need to be, where you want to stay, but as the spray loses its potency you stop the wondrous cascade and exit, sorry it couldn’t last forever.
The towel is rough. Water drips from your beard.
Feast like a monarch in the morning, and grab what you can the rest of the day. Six extra-large eggs from the refrigerator, poached. A pound of bacon, salty, crisping nicely, spatters in the cast-iron skillet. A dab of grease pops out of the pan onto your bare chest. This pain is nothing.
Six slices of heavily buttered toast—real cream butter, not flavored vegetable ooze—and your cholesterol level be damned.
And it’s good. You finally learned how to cook. It’s not like you had a choice. After your wife and son’s deaths you had more than enough time to learn many things.
Hate was new, but you learned how to hate. You simply let your mind dwell on what was taken from you, and hate bloomed like an endless spring meadow in your soul. Hate fed by needs you never truly understood before, but now have an intimate relationship with.
You have a fourth cup of coffee, watching the sun rise over a nasty trash heap called a city. The only decent light you get from your cheesy apartment windows the entire day. It’s like the bright yellow globe rises for you alone.
You want to sit for a fifth cup, watching the sun stretch into the sky, or a sixth cup as the rays warm your soul, but you can’t. The pain will only settle deeper into your joints, making the slightest movements agony. Soon that pain will be gone. The pain in your heart will always survive in one form or another, though it may dim with time.
Pretend you’re fighting ten men at once. Slow, deliberate moves. Punch, kick, hands and feet, elbows and knees, turning small circles within the confines of your living room. Couch to one side, two chairs and an end table to the other side.
Now move a little faster. Your joints scream, lacking proper lubrication. You ignore them.
More imaginary opponents get in your face. It seems you have an endless supply of first-class fighters at your disposal, thanks in part to your rediscovered imagination. A gift from your son. Games of cars, his Batman to your Robin, wrestling, tag, story time. Silently you thank him, and promise to honor his memory.
Every day of the week you work your body and mind to exhaustion. You know why. Plans can go wrong at the least, Murphy’s Law detonating in your face at its worst. Every contingency must be thought out, explored to its fullest, options devised.
Faster. Feel the burn. Feel your once-damaged heart beat proud and true.
Suck more air, it’s not over yet. You have two days left out of three very long years of fierce preparation. Two glorious days.
Two hundred pound squats with the bar squarely over your shoulders. Dip low, push up hard. Six sets of ten. Five hundred crunches, twisting at the top for maximum gain. Three hundred each: dips, pushups, chins. Then do preacher curls until your biceps threaten to burst. The harder you push yourself, the less likely you are to erupt before you’re ready, and you’re almost ready.
“Never ever, not even in prison, have I witnessed one man work out with the single-minded intensity you give those weights. Absolutely possessed.”
“Monk,” you say between breaths. “I’ve changed . . . that lock . . . three times . . . because of you . . . I’m going to start charging . . . for the repairs.”
Monk laughs. “I do that to keep in practice. You’re not the only one. The occasional surprise inspection can yield stupidity or graft.”
“More like get you shot.”
“Why are you here? I didn’t think this early in the morning was your style, addicted to the nightlife and such.”
“Shove enough crank up your nose, and sleep becomes a moot point. I want you to tell me about the other night. The niggers say they were short ten pounds of C-4.”
Monk begins to poke around the place, and yes you took it, but he’ll never find it. The bulk of it is already in place.
“Let me get that pesky closet door, Monk. Feel free to look under the bed or the couch.”
“Tell me about the shipment, dude.”
“Tommy boy weighed it out. He packed the boxes and sealed them. That’s the way he wanted it. We delivered the shipment with me at the wheel. He never let them out of his sight, and I never touched ’em.”
“That’s what he said.”
You were counting on it.
“Sounds like them bangers are greasing our dicks, Monk. Masturbation isn’t my style.”
“Not the first time.”
Monk hands you a gym bag. Inside is a .45 and a digital camcorder. He says, “I think Tommy boy fucked up for the last time. Plant him. I want a first-rate epic.”
Then he hands you an envelope full of Franklins, and says, “I want his cunt and brat growing maggots, too. You don’t have a problem with that, do you?”
You shake your head.
“My pleasure,” you say.
“And while you’re out,” he says, “get us more gas.”
“The tanker will be parked under Fletcher’s canopy before the afternoon is over. Have him dig a hole for three in the garden.”
“We’ll dance on Tommy’s grave tomorrow night.”
You pull a small black box off the kitchen table and open it for Monk’s inspection.
Monk says, “Is this the ring Baldy’s giving his ugly little slit? The stone . . . it’s so small. He bought this. Nobody in their right mind would steal something that tiny.”
“You’re the best man. You want to take it now?”
“Give it to me tomorrow. I might lose it between now and then. Christ that’s small.”
Monk pops open a vial and spreads some gummy powder on a mirrored tray you keep handy. He cuts it into four fat lines and does two. You snort your two. The powder burns its way deep into your head. The rush hits almost instantaneously.
“Whiskey,” Monk chokes.
You pull a bottle and take a swig. Monk takes the bottle and slams half of what you have left.
“If Tommy boy calls, Monk, go with it. Whatever I say.”
You see Monk to the door.
“I just want him dead,” Monk replies.
“And next time, knock.”
He gives you a look that could freeze Texas.
“Yeah, right, knock.” He raps the door. “See? I’m knocking.”
Monk closes the door behind him. You seethe.
Your first hit, you didn’t think you could kill a man, but the asshole wasn’t a man, he was trash. Taking out the trash is a job real men do.
Monk asked you to do it as a test. The dickless wonder pissed Monk off. He bothered Monk’s greedy sensibilities. Skimmed some drug money and bought himself a grave.
You did it with your own two hands and a smile. Monk was highly impressed. He slapped your back and put you above many of his so-called friends, which suited you just fine. It made you money, not that you needed any, and gave you access.
You flip open your phone.
All the drugs you moved. Weapons, ammo, some of it Nam surplus, most was state-of-the-art. It all passed through your hands, and you had the pick of the litter. Death and mayhem sold on the streets to ignorant fools.
“Wake up, Tommy boy . . . .”
Then your second hit. The rest of the crew liked your work because you had style. You didn’t care one way or the other how they felt because it was Earth Improvement Day, and you just wanted to do your part.
“Fuel. Monk wants you to take the bitch and brat. Look legitimate for me . . . .”
“We play well together, and it’s his sandbox . . . .”
“Be my guest. He’s waiting for you to do just that . . . .”
Killing this waste of skin will be fun.
Now for your second call, and this one is hard to make.
Donna’s father Fred loved you like a son, once. Yet he disagreed with you in your darkest hour.
Three years ago you woke up in a dimly lit bleached room, full of machinery. Ear-piercing bleeps, low-pitched buzzing, loud hums and rhythmic whooshes. You could smell industrial-strength cleaners, your own sweat, and someone else’s fecal matter.
You were alive, albeit barely from the look and sounds of it all. Blood and other liquids were being forced into your veins drop by machine-fed drop. The beating of your heart was being watched for discrepancies. You slept for long periods of time.
You knew where you were, but where was your wife? Your son? Were they in other rooms, struggling through their own tangle of tubes and machinery? Were they home safe? Could they, or did they visit?
That night you had your first nightmare. You woke, wanting to die. The nightmare imparted the impression your wife and son were never coming to visit, not ever. Fred finally confirmed your worst nightmare was real. And as much as you wanted to die yourself, the damned stuff surrounding the bed wouldn’t let you.
Pain relief and sleep came and went with each syringe added to your IV drip, but you endured.
You even endured the endless parade of doctors, stopping in twice a day to collect their fair share of your insurance company’s green.
Later, between sessions of physical therapy, with nothing to do all day but suffer and mourn, you watched hours of television. It didn’t take you long to realized why it was called an idiot box by informed advocates for higher IQ scores. Yet, many strange notions presented on various tasteless programs gelled into one seriously warped idea.
That one idea sprouted into a forest of what ifs, the what ifs snowballed into a plan of sorts, and nothing told you, no matter how hard you asked yourself the necessary questions, the plan was bad. You told Fred.
Fred listened, and left for the night, but came back the next night and asked you to move on. You shouted many things you’ve come to regret, and haven’t spoken to him since.
“Myer’s Oil. Fred Carnes.”
“It’s me, Fred.”
Dead air. You can feel his thoughts shifting around in his head.
“It’s been a while,” he finally says.
“I need a big favor.”
“What is it?”
“I need a gas tanker. Full. The semi will be returned, but the tanker will be a total loss.”
“It won’t bring them back. You know that.”
“No, it won’t.”
“Why are you still doing this?”
“To stop them from murdering someone else, Fred. Three more times it’s happened, and no one has stopped them. The cops can’t do a thing. Everybody lies, and money buys justice. You, Fred, know that all too well.”
More dead air. He’s had time to think.
God knows you argued with him that day so long ago you thought about killing him. He held tight to his beliefs, and you never mentioned it again.
“I’ll leave the key in the ignition," he says. "Truck 46. When can you steal it?”
“Exit through the south gate.”
Maybe he pays more attention to the news at night. Once his daughter and grandson became a statistic it was real for him.
Maybe deep down in his heart he knows you’re right.
“After this,” he says, “you will never contact me again.”
And you feel a moment of pity for a man resigned to his fate as a silent accomplice.
A strange sight, a fucking-big gas truck in a residential neighborhood, but this “hood” doesn’t have Betty C living on the block. Best Homes & Better Gardens is used to swat flies and roaches, and the Weekly World Dispatch is just another book in a strange bible, the words inside spread with fear and conviction.
The old in their decrepit boxes, the young breeding a new generation of crime and death; multicolored weeds, dirt for yards, peeling lead paint.
“I called Monk,” Tommy boy says. “He said to play it your way, but the kid isn’t here. He took off this morning when I slapped him upside the head. I caught the brat dipping into my stash.”
Tommy boy’s woman tops off a bottle of pop with whiskey and hands it to him. The kid is a loose end, but it still works to your favor. The kid hasn’t made you, and can’t place you. When he realizes his parents are never coming home, maybe, with luck, the kid will find more to his life than drugs and prison. From what you know of the kid, he’s tarnished. Abused into a semblance of adulthood, possibly beyond redemption.
“Fletcher’s,” you say, “but not too close.”
The drive is a long one. Down a small little-used highway into the desert.
Fletcher lives ten miles from the pavement in a box canyon. Ten miles, and you can see anybody and everybody coming. If it has value: guns, drugs, this gas, it’s there. And that’s the beauty of God’s grace. Sometimes things come together like tits on a Ritz. Good cracker.
When you were incarcerated those many weeks in the neighborhood ICU, wrapped in pain, sleep was blessedly provided. The drugs couldn’t stop you from remembering, and it hurt to do more than let the tears slide silently down your cheeks, but still you cried.
A detective came and asked you questions. You told him what you could, gave him their descriptions, and the one name you heard.
No arrests were made, nothing happened, no prison for the killers of your family. You once asked the detective why, and he said there wasn’t enough proof to convict them. “Their high-priced lawyers would eat you alive in court.”
They had each other as alibis.
“Back it in here,” Fletcher calls out. “Get it covered!”
You back the rig up, Fletcher unhooks the tank, and you pull forward a few feet and shut the rig down. Tommy boy and his woman help with the canopy. You cover it all with the camcorder.
“Fletch,” you say, “take this off my hands.”
“Yeah,” he somberly says. “Monk called me about that. I’ve known them for years, but you do what you have to, right? Can’t have them running their own show.”
Tommy boy sees your piece just before you shoot him in the leg. Then you shoot his wife in the head. Only for her will you show an inkling of mercy.
“Fuck me!” Tommy boy screams over and over as he tries to slink away.
“You don’t screw the group!” Fletcher shouts back.
You shoot Tommy boy again, in the gut, and watch him squirm some more. Then once more in the head. He twitches as he dies. Fletcher puts the camcorder down.
“Too quick?” you say.
He shakes his head and asks, “Where’s the boy?”
“I’ll have to deal with him later. Seems he got caught pinching a bud. Tommy boy probably fucked him up.”
Their bodies get slid into the hole Fletcher dug. No conversation is made until the newest mass grave is filled. A few stones get sprinkled about to make the mound look decorative.
“How many are planted in this garden, Fletch?”
“Now? Twelve. I have a buyer for the rig, dude. You get to take Tommy boy’s shit-mobile home.”
“Not me. I’m walking home, just to see if I can. Take that garbage out and junk it.”
“Got a gallon of water I can take with me?”
“I got your water, bro. How do you like the decorations for Baldy’s nuptials?”
Kegs line the grounds, waiting for ice.
“Which one’s mine?” you say. “Baldy, he gets him a whiff of pussy and has to tie the knot.”
“At least she loves him. She is an ugly little thing.”
“He shaves her twat and pulls her hair up into pigtails.”
“If you can’t enjoy life, what’s the use of living it.”
“Bad man,” Fletcher says, and lights a doob and passes it over.
“Water first," you say, "and sell me some snort while you’re at it.”
“Here,” Fletcher says, and hands you a large vial. “Take it. You earned it.”
A tiny spoonful goes up each nostril while you wait for the water, studying the rock wall in front of you.
It takes half a day to get back home. Monk calls and you did a good job. A palm full of aspirin takes away some of the pain.
In bed you think about tomorrow, and fall into a troubled sleep. You dream the nightmare you’ve lived with for so long. The same nightmare night after night for the last three years.
It was a nice day. Not too hot for a Sunday drive. Bryan was excited, and Donna had packed the perfect picnic lunch. You left home not knowing where you would end up.
You stopped at a place everybody called the “Bluffs,” and ate lunch in the sunshine. Crispy fried chicken with the works. Bryan tried to feed a lizard its meal.
After lunch the rocks called out, and the three of you answered the challenge. The sweat poured, soaking your shirt. You realized just how out of shape you were. Breathing hard at your age was shameful. Donna thought it was funny. Bryan didn’t care, it was enough keeping him out of trouble.
When you got back to the car it was surrounded by long hair, dirty beards and halter tops. A pack of stoners out for the day.
You wished they had stayed home, scurrying into the shadows like good little roaches, doing whatever scum like that does. But they had claimed the spot for themselves, swapping smoke and spit and cheap beer.
Trouble was the last thing you wanted. You said as much as you unlocked your car door, and they, in turn, smiled their evil smiles, said it wasn’t a problem, but they didn’t back off.
You strapped Bryan in, but before you could unlock Donna’s door they had her on her knees with a .9mm to her head, a dirty dick shoved down her throat. You fought hard. Bryan was crying.
The hairy fucker shot his wad, and then your wife.
The fat bald guy shot your son to shut him up.
The dude they called “Monk,” he shot you six times, point-blank in the chest, and then they all took turns kicking and stomping, listening to your bones break. They thought it was funny.
Almost dead, eyes on the carnage, your soul had been re-forged in the flames of hatred, infused with a need for revenge, tempered by pain.
Again, a slow morning, but the charge you feel within is building to a head.
“Brother!” Baldy shouts. “Glad to see you. You have my ring?”
“I don’t have the ring,” you say. “You have the ring?”
“Ring?’ Fletcher says. “I gots no stinking ring.”
Monk picks up on the joke and carries it farther. “I have a ring around my bathtub, a service ring on my finger, and one around my dick made by your woman’s lips. Wanna see?”
A good joke, but Baldy doesn’t have the patience for it on his special day. You say, “I have the ring.” And hand Monk the box.
“Baldy’s Ring of Enslavement,” Monk adds. “Fucking small if you ask me.”
“Well I didn’t ask you, asshole,” Baldy says. “This was the ring my daddy gave my momma.”
“He pried it off her dead hand.” Monk pockets the ring and tops off his beer. “He dug the bitch up, and probably left with the casket still open.”
Fletcher pulls you to one side. “Like the snort?”
“I found it potent.”
“You come back if you need more. I want to stay on your good side.”
“I’m not going to kill you, Fletch. I’m going to kill everybody here.”
“So,” Monk says as he nears, “the boy does have a me sense of humor. And all this time I thought you had something jammed up your ass.”
“It’s called attitude, Monk.”
“It must be an attitude thing. A baseball bat attitude adjustment could cure that, you know.”
“And when the dead speak, the living can’t hear shit.”
Two more spoonfuls go up your nose. The others are laughing at a joke only you understand. Monk gives you the eye, so, just to piss him off, you wink and tip your beer.
Tina, Jackson’s new pump, whispers in your ear that she wants to suck you off. You tell her to do it here and now.
Jackson is pissed, but pretends not to see. Monk pulls his tool out. Tina doesn’t want him, but she can’t say no. She knows all the unspoken rules. She drains you then turns toward him. You decide to give them their privacy.
Jackson sneaks up from behind and growls a threat in your ear. You grab him by the throat and ask for an apology, which you get.
“This is a wedding,” you say. “Be happy.”
Not an ordinary wedding. The vows traded today come from a code recorded in memory, not a Bible. The Bible would melt in their hands. The ceremony was born this century, and was about to start. Baldy fires his shotgun into the air.
What you see only strengthens your resolve. A founding father stands before them all, guiding them into Hell. He speaks.
“Baldy. Do you intend to enslave your cunt? To beat her without mercy if she turns into a bitch? To fuck her holes, using dick and dildo, or whatever else pleases you? To film what you do for fun and profit? Do you promise to keep her until she gives out and dies, sending her stupid cunt soul to Hell?”
“Cunt. Do you promise to take everything this man has to give? Abuse and cock? To work, so he doesn’t have to?”
“Let us party.”
Cheers and gunfire boom across the landscape.
It’s time. From this point on you focus only on your goal.
With the debauchery in full swing you make your way to the rock wall. A series of cracks and stones form a path you climb like a ladder. Fletcher, yesterday, when you asked why that particular area looked unusual, called it his escape route. He had worked on shaping it for years. Nothing covers your back.
Halfway to the top, in-between two rocks, is a device you take into your hand like hope itself. A remote detonator you placed the day before. It starts a timed bomb, sealing the entrance to the canyon, trapping all the scum inside. Three minutes, not really enough time to finish surmounting the wall, but it’ll have to do.
Two minutes and fifty-nine seconds.
You force yourself up, breaking through the pain.
A few of the smart ones will realize where the attack came from and do like you, climb the walls. You can’t let them escape.
One minute and thirty-five seconds.
Eyes follow you up the wall, you can feel them, but they have no idea why.
Faster. You have to climb faster.
Three years. Three years of death and drugs everywhere your eyes fell. Innocent lives devastated time and again. Three years of the most excruciating, soul-wrenching pain ever conceived. Only God could understand how you’ve suffered. How much pain you let loose in the world by allowing these freaks to live, even this long. You knew the only way to end this disease on humanity was to formulate a final outcome.
Three. Two. One.
Eight pounds of C-4 explode. The concussion almost shakes you loose. Dust and stone pummel your head and back. The canyon's entrance seals, and you pray nothing large is headed your way. That would be the cruelest jest of all.
The sound of the explosion is replaced by screams of terror. The sound is honey sweet.
At the top of the wall you find another remote detonator. At the other end of the signal is the remaining two pounds of C-4, attached to Fred’s fuel tanker. This one isn’t on a timer. This one will blow the moment you push the button, serving the very idea of Hell on a gold platter made from the memories of your wife and son. You push it and dive for cover.
Twenty feet into the air the heat pushes you, on into the sand and rock, which you willingly eat.
Behind you is an inferno, cleansing the Earth. The smell makes you vomit.
You look up and see legs. The legs belong to Monk. Monk has a gun to your head. He’s a little scorched around the edges, and definitely not happy.
“WHY!” he screams into your face, eyes wild.
“Three years ago, Monk. You think you can remember that far back? I was with my wife and son at the Bluffs. Baldy shot my son, just to shut him up. He couldn’t take the noise. Fletcher made my wife suck his dick, and then shot her when she didn’t do it to his satisfaction.”
“And I popped you. Six shots to the chest.”
“But I was still breathing, so you—”
“Are you the only one to escape?”
“I followed you when I saw you climbing the wall. If what you said was true, I was going to kill you, and here my paranoid ass is. I’m the only one. I’m going to empty this entire clip into your head.”
“One question, first.”
“Why did we kill your family that day at the Bluffs?”
“It was something to do. That’s all. We were bored. Now to finish the job.”
You jerk your head to one side just before his finger tightens on the trigger, spinning to the left, onto your side, thrusting your right foot into his kneecap, shattering it.
Monk screams but remains standing, and lethal.
You immediately spin back to the right, and the other foot sends the barking gun flying. Monk sits down, hard.
The second shot grazed your shoulder, but this pain you don’t feel at all.
Monk wants to survive, and heaves his body toward you. His hands are at your throat.
You break his arms as easily as you would two cheap pencils.
Losing it, his teeth gnash at your face.
You make him eat them. Then snap more bone.
He begs, offering hundreds of thousands you know he has.
The words mean nothing to you. You give him one last minute to contemplate his death.
“I’ll let you live if you ask me for forgiveness.”
He spits blood in your face.
You pull him up by his head and savagely twist it, but his face offends you, so you smash it with a rock the size of a watermelon.
“It’s done, Donna. Rest, Bryan. Rest.”
Over three hundred human beings are dead in the hole behind you. A question comes to mind, the same one you asked yourself the very moment you birthed your inspired plan.
The question? Whether you can live with yourself afterward.
Five miles out, next to a shrub, is an outfit in a grocery bag. A pair of scissors is in the bag. You cut your hair, trim your beard short, and bury it all, covering the hole with a rock and some scrub. You take a minute to finger your wound.
The last item in the bag is a razor. Sweat helps it glide over your face, changing you, back into you.
The answer to the question?
And you know in your heart you’ll sleep the whole night.
“Even the most troubled epoch is worthy of respect, because it is the work not just of a few people, but of humanity.” - Walter Rathenau
“I intend to swallow alive and kicking from humanity’s womb the greatest minds and things history has ever produced. Tear them from the very bowels of obscurity. Why? Behind the visible is an excessively complicated invisible. Another reality, if you will. One the human mind cannot comprehend, much less encompass. That is, until now.”
“I don’t get it.”
“Of course you don’t. Never before in human history has there been a tool to do what the human mind cannot. This tool is at my leisure, and all I need are people like you to transform my wants into existence. I need people like you to program my desires. The frontier between the marvelous and the actual has scarcely been tickled, much less porked into orgasmic bliss.”
“Imagine, throughout history, mental warriors thinking they have touched upon something substantial, but one petal of a rose does not a flower make. Those to come after, disciples of ignorant messiahs.”
“Look, not to interrupt your rant, but this is a job offer, right?”
The pimply little turd had a point, other than the one marking the apex of his skull. He was one of ten young programming mavericks I was interested in, and it came down to concern in my enterprise, or my money. I didn’t care which as long as he performed.
I watched him scratch his nose; then pick it without ceremony or shame. For a moment I wondered if he was going to pop the little green tidbit into his mouth. Much to my disgust, he did.
“You want,” nerd boy said, “an interlocking series of viral search programs, with the ability to analyze, sort and determine, then suggest and promote theorem, fuzzy logic notwithstanding.”
“Correct,” I said.
“I can do that.”
“The dollar amount attached to your services is substantial.”
“You want an AI.”
Sometimes the smarter they are, the less they have in common sense.
I said, “I don’t think you understand. The last thing I want is an AI. I like to do my own thinking, thank you. I want the programming to search the world over, and if one search takes it down a whole new road, I want it to light a cigar and enjoy the stroll.”
“But you still want it to tie everything together, right?”
Now he uses a tissue.
“Martin, is it? Martin, I have ideas, and need certain conclusions drawn for me. Here’s the two-headed calf, Martin. I want the programming to piece together the greatest mystery mankind ever has, had, or ever will face. I want answers, but I don’t know the questions. I just know they exist. Yes? or no. I’m waiting.”
And I don’t wait patiently for booger-eating wicks like Martin.
“Two-hundred-fifty thousand each year,” Martin began, “with one year minimum under contract? I’m in. I have nothing to lose.”
Only your life, Martin, if you don’t deliver.
I had my lawyers deliver a contract this morning, and pulled it. Martin signed it in the three places specified.
“Report to me in one week,” I said, exchanging the contract for an envelope. “This, Martin, is a check for the first month. Tie whatever loose ends you have together, buy a car, and have your face scraped. I’ll provide the tissues.”
The year was 1622, and posters had encircled the city of Paris saying, “We, deputies of the principal college of the Brethren of the Rosy Cross—Rosicrucains—are amongst you, visibly and invisibly, through the grace of the Most High, to whom the hearts of all men are turned, in order to save our fellowmen from the error of death.”
A secret society. Not history’s first, and certainly not its last. I don’t care about my fellow man, and I’ll save my own ass. Their reputed knowledge was my sole concern. The transmutation of metals. Gifts of the purest gold when it was needed most have been attributed—actually documented, that is, to the Rosicrucains. I certainly wanted to be wealthier. And the prolongation of life? Who wouldn’t want to live a few decades or a century more?
Fantastic knowledge supposedly gained from a book called the Liber Mundi. It was this one story that got me to thinking. I began to search for other stories like it, not having much success until I ran across the story of Emperor Asoka.
From 270 B.C. on he was India. Ambitious, Asoka decided to conquer the then region of Kalinga. It was written a hundred thousand men were lost, and Emperor Asoka, so horrified by the sight, and I imagine the smell, renounced war. It was his wish that humanity never again put its intelligence to an evil use, and vowed all science to secrecy. Asoka founded the most powerful secret society of its day, possibly to this very day.
The Nine Unknown Men.
The Nine Unknown Men were said to have in their possession nine books, as I understood from what little I found, containing knowledge far in advance of what is known, even to this very day.
The first book was said to be devoted to propaganda and psychological warfare. Defeat your enemy without a single shot fired.
The second was on physiology. Like turning one’s body against itself.
The third book was said to be a study on microbiology. The entire human genome and other pertinent data as it relates to our species, and other species?
The fourth book expounded the transmutation of elements. Lead into gold. Perhaps, Cold Fusion?
The fifth book dealt in communication, terrestrial and extraterrestrial, with references to intelligent life outside our solar system.
The sixth book was said to be a comprehensive study on the principles of gravitation, space and time. And it was my notion that when all was said and done, space, time and thought were not separate components. Patent offices around the globe noted the times and dates of all concepts submitted, and in many more instances than coincidence allows, many of the same, identical ideas were patented within minutes or days of each other.
Imagine the total universe mapped. The seventh book was said to have done that.
The eighth book: light, and all its many implications.
The ninth book was concerned with sociology. The ability to predict the rise and fall of any civilization.
I couldn’t help but come to the conclusion that there were more than these tender morsels in the world. But how to collect them? Use them? How to gather all the secret knowledge of the hidden and lost world in one place at one time?
“Martin,” I said, “you seem to have a problem.”
“I’ve been at this two years now,” Martin replied, “and each month to pass you add more to the list of requirements that these machines are supposed to do, find, or translate. Why is that?”
Roger stopped his exploration of last week’s excursion into the land of code, and turned to face me with his annoying perpetual grin. Donald didn’t want to get involved, and kept at his work with a diligence I bonused him for, handsomely.
Three out of the six geniuses I had hired, remained. The taskmaster in me drove the rest into more satisfying, yet less rewarding employment. Sometimes I missed them, but could live with what I had.
“What was in the library at Alexandria founded by Ptolemy Soter?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” Martin said.
“What knowledge died in the ashes of the library at Pergamo, or when Emperor Chou-Hoang-Ti obliterated by flame thousands of books purely for political reasons?”
“I don’t know.”
“Then tell me what happened to the Pisistratus Collection in Athens, or the library of the Temple of Jerusalem, or the library in the sanctuary of Phtah at Memphis.”
“I don’t know,” Martin said for the third time.
“I want to know, Martin. I want all the knowledge this world has to offer. And if I want it, I’ll have to go get it.” I handed him a tissue before he mined his nose and dined like it was French cuisine.
Roger’s smile widened, but he felt it more prudent to turn back toward his monitor and at least pretend he was hard at work.
“For all of human history, Martin,” I began, “information and scientific discovery has been made, and then lost or ignored at such an astounding rate, I can only conclude two things with uncertainty. One: We are a stupid species. Or two: An organization of some sort has been running interference for thousands of years. I lean toward number one each time I interact with you.”
Donald spoke up with, “Sir, I have information.”
“‘Sir, I have information,’” Martin mimicked.
“You won’t see it coming, Martin,” I said. “But I’m going to kill you, and do it just for fun. Slowly. Painfully. I want you to know every moment of the horror I intend to inflict.”
Donald ignored the last exchange and continued. “It seems Pope Sylvester II had in his collection a bronze head which answered ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to questions deserving ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers. A rudimentary binary computer?”
“Ones and zeros. When was that?” I asked.
“He was born in 920 A.D., and died 1003 A.D., maybe 975 A.D.?”
“This pushes my estimate up another five hundred years.”
“Estimate of what?” Martin asked. Not that he cared, he just liked pushing my buttons.
“See what else you can find, Donald,” I said. “Also, find out if any physical descriptions are available for the equipment found in the tomb of Christian Rosenkreutz.”
And left to do some deep thinking.
The information, the artifacts I had collected to date, I knew in my heart and soul it was all tied to some monumental conspiracy, but the answers were still camouflaged by history, and I couldn’t fathom the why of it all. Actually my suppositions were still in their infancy, but has an otherworldly alien influence been doing all they could to keep mankind naked, tilling dirt?
I had an increasingly paranoid thought that a self-contained bunker with cutting edge defensive systems was just what I needed.
“Unofficially I call it Abracadabra,” Donald said. “With a few modifications it can be voice activated.”
He was my only programmer left after six long years, and millions upon millions of lines of code checked thrice. Roger left the year before, six months after the Martin tragedy.
“I like you, Donald. Gathering the facts and artifacts was the easy part. With your help, even hiring the spies and thieves to document materials I was denied access to was . . . less complicated.”
“The Vatican’s archives. I imagine they were the hardest to retrieve.”
“Not as difficult as one might think, and the information was . . . unique, to say the least. Virtually every government, monarchy and organized church seems to have a secret unwritten doctrine to confiscate, conceal or destroy, unregulated or unauthorized scientific achievement. Our government too, even to this very day. Most technologies do eventually find their way back into society’s clutches, but decades if not centuries lie between discovery and rediscovery, and very little money is made in the transaction. Especially when one stops to consider the billions attached to each modern scientific brick, building monuments to greatness in greed. Why? And we deify these people when they are nothing more than tools. Toadies. Flunkies.”
“Sir, it looks more like happenstance—”
“No,” I interrupted. “This has been deliberate.”
Of that I was sure.
Donald poured me a drink, and himself a cup of coffee. He was skilled at kissing ass at just the right time.
“I should be living on the Moon,” I said, “vacationing Mars. Hell, I should own the Moon!”
Donald said, “The information genie is out of the bottle with the invention of the personal computer, and nobody can stuff the genie in again. Information can’t ever be controlled again, not in the same way.”
“Who would have ever thought that a bunch of dope smoking techno-geeks could have changed the world, but they did with the personal computer, and upped the ante.”
“You’re making monies. That new super-glue formula from the second century. The rediscovered Oregon gold fields.”
“Two weeks ago, Donald, my Dayton plant was destroyed by a fire so hot, nothing was recognizable, sifting through the ash. Ten of my workers died. I was experimenting with antigravity. I had a working prototype of a spacecraft, going through final testing. Nothing connected to the project or the building was flammable. The security I had in place failed.”
“You think someone set out to destroy the process?”
“Yes I do. Your services are no longer required. I’ll give you a year’s worth of wages as severance. Have your section cleared by tomorrow. I took the liberty of transferring all of our work to the protected systems. Call it proactive paranoia.”
“Yes, sir. Thanks, I think.”
He should do well to thank me. I may have saved his life.
My money came to me in a time-honored fashion. I inherited it upon my father’s passing, something I hastened. I, in turn, capitalized on every opportunity to pass my way, so much so I considered my personal motto to be devour all enemies.
Blood on my hands or not, I was certain knowledge had been systematically stripped, misdirected, even murdered out of humanity’s hands. Knowledge that could have advanced humanity by centuries. It was if some Faustian bargain-in-reverse had been struck, and I wondered how many rocks I would have to turn over before I found humanity’s secret keepers. What secret society claimed its title as warden? I spent months chasing my own tail.
Countless millennia living the status quo, and then humanity went from a modified version of the wheel to the Moon and back in less than two hundred years. A very serious breakdown of the mechanism our keepers employed. The only conclusion I could come up with, the founding of the new world had severed all ties to government and church based agents. The very act of free thinkers, emigrating to the United States had made the Moon possible.
Now the cogs of suppression were once again in place. No real breakthroughs evident in any of the sciences, just headway made on existing ideas.
The space program now hobbled for the most part, though novel ideas might bring it back from the brink of extinction. The personal computer and the Web was a freak accident for the better, now more a tool for commerce. I sometimes wondered if humanity itself unconsciously policed its own advances. It did, yet didn’t explain the rise of secret societies. Even so, from all my many investigations, none of those enigmatic organizations survived into the here and now with their power base and mission directives intact.
I could see nothing to prove my information vampirism alerted anyone, but that didn’t explain the fire, and though the equipment was gone, the schematics were not. Antigravity was as simple as generating an electromagnetic field, but it needed the fastest computer made to control the field’s influence, effectively negating Earth’s own constantly fluctuating gravitational field. Two magnets in opposition.
“You’re right about one thing, Byron Callis. Poke around long enough and someone gets worried.”
“Donald?” I was by the only door in or out, and it was secure.
“Don’t worry yourself. I got in. That’s what counts.”
“I thought you were too good to be true. But, like a fool, I ignored my instincts.”
“You have been deemed a danger to humanity as a whole, Byron Callis.”
“You won’t be leaving, Donald. At least, not in one piece.”
“One man means nothing to liberate humanity from its infancy. You have reached for a dangerous match, and we’re here to slap your hand. You, your species, you all seem to worship greed, nothing more, unable to realize how close to oblivion you truly are. Most of the marvels surrounding you, like television, might as well be magic for all you know or care. Abracadabra.”
“Naming the system a private joke on your part? Why don’t you tell me about the ‘we’ you shoved into the conversation.”
“You could help humanity, but you don’t. And Martin died a needless death.”
“Martin picked his nose and ate what he found. Don’t pretend to know my motives. You and your people let humanity have nuclear and biological weaponry, yet you want to slap my hands?”
“Children must grow up.” Donald said. “Yes, I can see into your mind, and know it better than you do. I can pick out your thoughts as you form them. Now, understand me. I’ve been watching your species screw it up, killing themselves, and that’s the shame of it, but they will learn, and they will grow up.”
“Are you armed, Donald?”
“Why would I be?”
“Good.” And shot him dead center in the chest.
The round passed through him to splinter the far wall.
“Magic,” he said. “Abracadabra.”
“So smug,” I countered. “One of the Nine Unknown Men?”
“Older. I’m an angel.”
“God? Just like television you’re here to tell me there is a God, and you want to save my black and twisted soul?”
“Even God couldn’t accomplish that miracle.”
“Then strike me down.”
“I do live with one wingtip forever dipped in blood, but I have never struck anyone down. I give them a choice.”
“And what is my choice?”
“The knowledge we shared here is too dangerous. Humanity is not ready for it. Your choice is slow suffocation, or a quick bullet. May the living universe transform your soul.”
Then, Donald vanished.
Angel or not, I don’t think Donald realized how vindictive I truly am when I don’t get my way. He may have designed the system and the shelter, but he didn’t supervise the construction. I had a panic button of sorts installed, and pushed it.
I decided long ago that the information I was digging up, someone meant it to stay lost. All that hard-fought information was mine, and if I couldn’t have it, everybody would. The moment I pushed the button thousands of newspapers, magazines, colleges and scientists from all over the globe were getting lots of e-mail with attachments, and my location. What else is a panic button for?
I was happy, and then my power grid crashed. The emergency lighting kicked in, but after an hour I realized the secondary generators wouldn’t. Nothing I could do. No way out of the hole I dug for myself.
I have no real working knowledge of this shelter. I did what rich people do all the time. I simply invoked its creation with the words “build it,” and it was so. If I wasn’t rescued within the next day . . .
Two days have passed, the air is getting thinner, and I still have the choice Donald and the God he serves bequeathed me.
Do people bother to open their e-mail attachments anymore?
“Choose, Byron,” I said aloud. “Choose.”
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