Monday, January 14, 2008

In the Dark, Part Two: Further Inquiries

(The first few paragraphs of this story, to my amusement, were written on my graphing calculator as I sat in my first final.)

I swung off the street trolley, my hat remaining on my head through long practice. The trolley sped off without me, leaving me at the corner of Oxygen Street and the Rim, where my informant had directed me. I saw no-one at all, and sighed. Jacko had cried wolf for nothing once again. I shrugged and began to walk down the Rim. It seemed a shame to head back to the office, especially when there was a good deli not three blocks away.

Then I saw the thugs loitering a block before the deli and realized that Jacko was just terrible at giving directions.

They eyed me suspiciously as I approached*, which didn't help them in their apparent effort to appear nonchalant in trenchcoats. I noticed that they were standing in front of an airlock, and headed for it. Unsurprisingly, a thug interposed himself in my path. "Sorry, this area is off-limits," he told me.

I twirled a coin between two fingers. "I'm Tyrant's Service. It is your duty, as a patriotic citizen of the Majestic Città del Profondità, to assist me in my duties."

The thug considered this. His comrades gathered around. "What do you want?" he finally asked.

"I want to enter this airlock," I told him.

"No can do," he told me. "It's dangerous."

"I don't care," I told him. "Move out of my way, or I will move you."

The thug seemed on the edge of violence at this, but his fellows calmed him, whispering in his ear, and he allowed me to pass. I unlocked the airlock and spun the great wheel, stepping inside the first chamber.

Something hit me in the back, and my sight went dark. When I recovered, I was sprawled in the airlock, with thugs looming in the entrance. One of them brandished a fist, grinning. His grin faded as I made my way to my feet.

"You stupid sons of bitches," I told them. "You have just attacked an officer of the Tyranny." I took out my flechette gun, and the eyes of the closest one widened.

The flechette gun is a curious weapon. It's a bit of a throwback to the medieval crossbow, both in appearance and design. The main difference is what it fires - instead of a single bolt, it fires a canister of tiny blades, designed to explode in midair and send shrapnel in a wide arc before the gun. It's not as long-ranged as a rifle or as powerful as a shotgun, but the flechette gun is quiet, light, and doesn't require gunpowder to fire, a major advantage for underwater operation. An incidental property of the weapon is the extremely painful nature of its projectiles. If you get hit with a spray of blades, it hurts.

I fired.

The frontmost thug, the one who'd attacked me, was down in a bloody mess on the floor. I couldn't tell how the others were, so I started forward as I reloaded the flechette gun and cranked it back into position.

As I emerged from the airlock, my boots began to stick to the floor. Most of the thugs were more intact than the frontmost one; some had survived unscathed, but they were running for it. I couldn't blame them. I was actually a little surprised at the damage; even a trenchcoat should have stopped a lot of the flechettes. As I checked the bodies for clues, I fingered the fabric of the coats. Cheap, thin stuff. Figures.

I wasn't too thorough in my search. The thugs didn't seem inclined to wear any identification, and I preferred to avoid undue contact with the dead. To my surprise, one of the thugs was still breathing - he'd fallen unconscious, probably from blood loss. I propped him up against the wall, using his trenchcoat to tie him up, and then wrapped his limbs.

After a few minutes, his eyes fluttered open. He seemed rather surprised to see me in front of him. I allowed him no time to adjust. "What is your name?" I asked.

"Alex, Alex Brandon," he mumbled weakly.

"Who is your employer?" I pressed.

"Dunno," he told me.

I pointed the flechette gun at his face.

"No, no, I don't know," he exclaimed with more energy, leaning away as far as he could, even bound and propped against the wall. "Tony was the guy with the money, the finance guy. He's the only guy that met the latest boss."

"Who's Tony?" I asked him. Now I was getting somewhere.

"He was the one who hit you," Alex said.

So, no.

I tried a different tack. "What was your job here?"

"Just... guarding that locker. Loading stuff. Moving stuff." Alex said, somewhat evasively.

I hefted the flechette gun.

"Just look inside the airlock," he told me. "It's all there."

I checked his bonds and went into the airlock. Closing the inner door, the one Tony had been standing in, I opened the outer one. It was looser than most - it had been used a number of times. Past it was a ten-foot high stack of crates, marked "FISH."

I pried one open. Inside was a block of plastic explosive.

For a moment, I was lost for words. Then a thought sparked. "Jacko," I whispered, "You have just saved half a million lives."

*At this point, the story diverges from the calculator version. (I made some earlier changes for spelling, grammar, and flow, but they don't count.) The other version continues:

They eyed me suspiciously as I approached, and i had sex.

Feel free to write fanfic about this.**