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I'm James Maxey, author of fantasy and science fiction. My novels include the science fantasy Bitterwood Saga (4 books) the Dragon Apocalypse Saga (4 books), numerous superhero novels including Nobody Gets the Girl and the Lawless series, the steampunk Oz sequel Bad Wizard, and my short story collections, There is No Wheel and Jagged Gate. This website is focused exclusively on writing. At my second blog, Jawbone of an Ass, I ramble through any random topic that springs to mind, occasionally touching on religion and politics and other subjects polite people are sensible enough not to discuss in public. If you'd like to get monthly updates on new releases, as well as preview chapters and free short stories, join my newsletter!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Burn Baby Burn Chapter Ten 3557

Raw first draft. Sorry about the formatting. See chapter 1 for more disclaimers.


I woke up on the side of the highway in the middle of the desert. I was buck naked; the sun was beating down on me something fierce. There was an ambulance parked next to me, and a man in a uniform leaning over me, his hands pressed against my neck.
“You just lie still,” he said.
I looked around. There was a highway patrol car behind the ambulance, its lights flashing. A cop was standing at the open door of the ambulance, talking to another medic.
“Where am I?” I asked. I remember the ground around me was all covered in trash.
“You’re about twenty miles outside of Las Vegas,” the man said, as he pointed a small flashlight at my eyes. “You been drinking?
“I don’t remember,” I said. “Where are my clothes?”
“We were wondering the same thing.”
“So hot,” I said, putting my hands over my eyes to block the sun. I tried to sit up. The man helped me.
He held a green canteen to my lips. “Have some water,” he said.
I opened my mouth. He suddenly toppled over, his arm gone up to his shoulder. He fell to the ground in shock and began to bleed out.
“Tommy!” the other medic screamed, running toward his partner.
“What just happened?” I asked. But, when I opened my mouth, the scraps of garbage around me began to swirl, rising in a tornado, the point aimed right at my mouth.
The second medic stumbled as he saw this. His right foot fell into the edge of the vortex.
In utter confusion, I opened my mouth even wider as I screamed. His fingers clawed at the ground as the lower half of his body began to stretch like strands of spaghetti.
Not knowing what to do, I closed my mouth. The man’s legs vanished. He didn’t live but a second or two after that.
The cop emptied his pistol in me as I stumbled toward him, desperate for help, completely out of my mind with panic. One of his bullets caught me in the left cheek and wound up in my inner ear, leaving me with the worst vertigo imaginable. His death was the worst of all, as I fell against him, and sucked the skin right off his face.

I found the rear door of an old ambulance in the rubble today.

I think of all those years I wandered around, longing for memories, hungry to recall what had happened the days before, let along the months before, or the years before.
If only I’d known what a gift my forgetfulness was.

Chapter Ten
Monkeys with Robots

Pit parked on the fifth floor of the mall parking deck. It was lunch time and the place was packed. He and Sunday rode the elevator down to the second floor, where there was a walk way to the food court. The walkway across was crammed with people.
“Look at them,” said Sunday, sounding contemptuous. She shook her head.
“Look at who?” he asked.
“All these people!” she said. “My father said that the Nicholas Knowbokovs of the world got away with their crimes by providing the masses with bread and circuses. Crimes of the highest magnitude can take place in plain sight as long as the citizens have stores full of flashy goods and easy credit to buy whatever they wished.”
“What crimes?”
Sunday shook her head. “The greatest theft of all is the theft of minds. From birth, these people are brainwashed by televised propaganda telling them that their surest path to joy and fulfillment is to buy the right toilet paper and wear the right brand of jeans. They can never stop and think about the higher purpose of life because they are distracted from cradle to grave by the lowest common denominator types of entertainment. The world could be changed into utopia if these people pooled their intellects to pursuit grand goals. Instead, the spend their days thinking of how much they want their next can of addictive soda and spend their evenings laughing at fart jokes. This now passes as the human condition.”
Pit scratched his chin. His stubble was coming back. He’d tried to keep his new face cleanly shaved when the hair started growing back, but it was turning out to be more work than it was really worth. He’d never liked looking at himself in a mirror. He’d always felt like he was looking at a stranger. Shaving made him remember how much he didn’t remember.
Earlier in the day, Sunday had made a phone call to the Pangean embassy and spoken to Dr. Cheetah. He’d advised against coming to the embassy directly. The roads around the property were under heavy surveillance. Instead, they were meeting at the food court of a busy mall, where the sheer number of bodies would help them hide in plain site. Pit thought a super-intelligent chimpanzee was going to stand out pretty much anywhere they met, but he didn’t have a better place in mind.
The food court was bigger than some of the small towns they’d spent the last few weeks driving through. The place was full of trees and flowers. Television screens showing advertisements and news feeds were spread liberally among the branches. He braced himself for a speech from Sunday about how trying to make the indoors look like the outdoors was some subtle evil meant to enslave the masses, but, if she was thinking it, she let it slide.
Instead, her eyes focused on a muslim woman in a full veil sitting in a wheelchair at a table dead center of the food court. A beefy black man in teal medical scrubs stood behind her, staring stone faced at Sunday and Pit as they drew nearer.
The woman in the veil held up her gloved hand and motioned for Pit and Sunday to have a seat. Sunday sat first, and said, “Thank you for meeting us on such short notice, Dr. Cheetah.”
“Think nothing of it,” said Dr. Cheetah. The voice had a buzz like an electric razor beneath it. He’d heard the chimps needed mechanical assistance to speak verbal languages. “We owe an immeasurable debt to your father. When one of his surviving children contacts us, the least we can do is afford her the opportunity to speak with us.”
“His only surviving child at this point,” said Sunday. “The Panic and Baby Gun are dead.”
“Ogre is still alive,” said Dr. Cheetah.
“Was Ogre my father’s child?” asked Sunday, sounding surprised.
“I reviewed your father’s genetics catalogue personally,” said Dr. Cheetah.
“He never told me,” she said. Then, she leaned back in her chair and waved her hand dismissively. “In any case, Rail Blade killed him years ago.”
“Oh dear,” said Dr. Cheetah. “You’ve been on the run for many years. I take it your access to information was limited.”
“Extremely limited,” said Sunday. “The only message I’ve gotten from my father in seven years was a note a few weeks ago telling me the war was over.”
“The note couldn’t have come from your father,” said Dr. Cheetah. “He was killed several years ago. I thought you knew. I’m sorry to be the bearer of this news.”
“How do you know he was killed? Did you see the body?”
“No,” said Dr. Cheetah.
“Then all you have are rumors.”
“Perhaps this is so,” he said. “My apologies.”
“In any case, we’ve not arranged this meeting to exchange gossip or rumors. We’ve come to discuss business.”
“I’ve been following your recent adventures with great interest,” said Dr. Cheetah. “After so long in hiding, you’ve disturbed the status quo greatly. The rise of this new team of heroes is an unpleasant development.”
“Unpleasant for us,” said Pit. “What’s it to you?”
“The public at large is extremely uncomfortable with the whole notion of Pangea. While the United States Government has granted us official recognition, the airwaves are filled with loud voices denouncing us as inhuman abominations and clamoring for our destruction. It is the human way to hate those who are different. Now that superhumans are once more openly flying over their heads, the resentment of the general public against so-called ‘freaks of science’ is further inflamed. But, it is difficult to turn this hatred into violence against superheroes; they are, after all, supremely suited to withstand acts of aggression against them. We Pangeans, however, are few in number. We do not fly do we possess the ability to lift tanks above our head. Our seeming weakness makes us tempting targets.”
“You do have command of an army of killbots,” said Sunday.
“That provides some measure of deterrence, yes. But, we are also a struggling young country. We are vulnerable to economic sanctions in a way that superhumans are not.”
Sunday leaned forward. “We can help with the economics.”
“So you can,” said Dr. Cheetah.
“Let’s cut to the chase,” said Sunday. “We need a sanctuary. Right now, there’s no country in the world that would give us safe harbor, at least none with a decent standard of living. I don’t want to hide in some desert cave the rest of my life. We are wealthy people. We’d like to spend this money someplace with flush toilets and air conditioning. A nice tropical mansion on the south shore of Pangea would be acceptable.”
“For us, it could trigger war,” said Dr. Cheetah. “We can hardly improve our reputation in the world by becoming a sanctuary for terrorists.”
“We intend to be discreet,” said Sunday. “The world doesn’t even need to know we are there.”
Dr. Cheetah tented his fingers together in front of his face. “If you were anyone else, this matter would not even be considered.”
“But I’m not someone else. And, if it weren’t for my father, you wouldn’t even have a country where we could try to seek sanctuary.”
Pan nodded, but said nothing. Only the faintest shadow of his eyes could be seen through his veil. He looked lost in thought.
Pit Geek had gotten involved with Rex Monday only about ten years ago. Long before Monday had turned to building an army of meta-human terrorists, he’d spent nearly a decade building weapons to be used against his hated foe, Dr. Know. For a few years, he’d succumbed to the dream of every evil super-genius and spent uncountable hours designing ray guns. Freeze-rays, heat rays, shrink rays, disintegration beams… no sooner than he’d build one than he’d move on to perfecting the next.
One of his projects had been the evolution ray. He’d originally planned to build a devolution ray, something that would turn his enemies into gibbering ape-men. But, when he encountered technical challenges with his regressive evolution ray, he’d decided to whip together a progressive evolution ray from the spare parts to see if he’s gain any insights to help him solve his puzzle.
The ray had worked, at least on his chimpanzee test subjects. Over the course of a summer he tested his evolution ray on 2,000 chimps, making certain he’d solved the technical problems.
Then, Dr. Know had unleashed Rail Blade upon the world. With her ferrokinesis, she’d destroyed Rex Monday’s base in the Congo. In the aftermath, Dr. Know had faced the ethical dilemma of what could be done with a hundred score talking chimps with average IQs of 170. They were no longer wild beasts; they couldn’t simply be released back to the jungle. Nor were they merely hairy humans. They could never truly be integrated into the society of any existing country.
However, in a lucky bit of timing, Dr. Know had only months before found an engineering solution for the ecological disaster unfolding in the north Pacific gyre. In the 80s, sailors began to report back that there vast expanses of the Pacific filled with dense concentrations of floating plastics. Soda bottles, plastic bags, scraps of lawn furniture, and millions of miles of plastic rope and nets were congregating in an area the size of the continental United States. The sheer expanse of the mass was causing severe ecological imbalances as some microscopic life thrived in the mess, out competing other microbes that had long been the base of the food chain.
Breaking the plastics down only created more surface area for the harmful microbes. So, Dr. Know had decided on the opposite solution. He’d designed small solar powered skimmers to collect the plastic in the gyre and shepherd it to a central location. The garbage patch the size of the US was swiftly reduced to an artificial land mass not quite the size of New Zealand. Dr. Know had already anchored the new land to the ocean floor with long chains of repurposed plastic. Birds had already begun nesting on the plastic shores, with their waste forming the foundation of a nutrient rich soil. Many plant species had taken hold as well. Dr. Know had extensive plans to landscape the place, but, finding himself deciding the fate of a small army of super-apes, he’d decided to give the country to them to make of it what they wished. Thus was borne the nation of Pangea.
Dr. Cheetah shook his head. “I’m sorry,” he said. “Pangea has all the resources necessary to become a dominant nation. We have a prime location between the world’s two largest economies. We are a nation of researcher and engineers; our intellectual property laws are the fairest on the planet. Many corporations privately express interest in partnering with our businesses. Only naked prejudice holds us back. We dare not give you sanctuary.”
“But—” said Sunday.
“My dear, there is nothing you can possibly say that would change my judgment.”
Then his cell phone chirped.
“This meeting is over,” said Dr. Cheetah, pulling out his phone.
“Come on, Sunny,” said Pit, standing up. Sunday looked like Dr. Cheetah’s words had sucked the life right out of her. He offered her his hand to help her rise.
They walked away as Dr. Cheetah began his conversation.
“The Covenent did what?” Dr. Cheetah shouted.
They turned back to him. The chimpanzee was standing up in his wheel chair, his body trembling.
Pit looked up at the nearest television. CNN News was showing a large white mansion on fire. It looked like a slightly scaled down version of the White House. Beneath it was the caption, “Pangean Embassy, Los Angeles.”
The camera was focused on the news anchor, but switched back to a reporter on the scene. A very unhappy looking Servant was standing next to him. The sound was off, but closed captioning was on.
Reporter: “What prompted this attack on an embassy?”
Servant: “Department of Homeland Security intercepted an encrypted phone call into the embassy. We have a verified voice print the call was made by Sundancer. Not all of the call was deciphered, but we did have firm information that Sundancer and Pit Geek were meeting with the Pangean Ambassador at this time.”
Reporter: Doesn’t this violate international law, to attack the sovereign soil of an embassy.
Servant: It would also be a violation of international law for the Pangeans to meet with these fugitives, or withhold information on their whereabouts.
Reporter: But the raid didn’t unfold as planned.
Servant: We arrived inside the Ambassadors office unannounced, but without taking hostile action. We did not find our targets. Before we could leave, the Pangean’s robotic security forces initiated an unprovoked assault. We caused some damage in the course of defending ourselves, but I can assure you there were no human casualties.”
Dr. Cheetah dropped his phone as these words appeared on the screen. “Three of my aides were killed,” he cried. “That monster!”
By this point, everyone in the food court was staring at Dr. Pan, and, by extension, Sunday and Pit. There had to be fifty cell phones pointed in their direction, snapping pictures.
Pit took Sunday by the hand and started to run back across the enclosed walkway.
“Ap and Skyrider weren’t on the screen,” said Sunday, breathing harder than she should have after running such a short distance. “Do you think you killed them?”
“Maybe,” he said.
“I can’t believe that son of a bitch survived having a mountain fall on him,” she grumbled.
The door to the elevator opened. A teenage boy practically walked into them. He was holding an Ipad in his hand and a familiar voice was coming from the speakers.
“The robots had flamethrowers as well as guns,” a kid was saying. “They caused the vast majority of the damage you’re seeing on screen.”
“Give me that,” said Pit, snatching the iPad away from the kid half a second before the door closed. The sound of fists pounding on the door faded as the elevator began to rise.
The screen showed a webpage. The banner read, “Ap’s Live Web Cast.” The screen was divided into two windows. In one window, Ap was smiling as he answered question. In the other window, what looked like a blonde college age girl in nerdy glasses was staring into a webcam.
“Ap,” she said. “Code4U here! Such a thrill to finally meet you!”
“Hey Code, whatup?”
“I was just wondering why you didn’t use your foam mode to control the fire?”
The elevator stopped at the third floor. Amazingly, the teenager they’d taken the iPad from had run up the flight of stairs next to the elevator and grabbed at the iPad as the doors opened. Pit kept his grip on the device as Sunday kneed the kid in the groin and pushed him back out the door.
“I did control the fire as much as possible, but once it became clear that our targets weren’t on site and the confusion over who was attacking who died down, we were asked to leave the grounds. Since we were no longer in hot pursuit, we had no choice but to comply. Rest assured, the Covenant will always respect the wishes of the appropriate authorities. Today, we just made a tough call in the face of two competing legal premises.”
The elevator doors wouldn’t close because the iPad guy was too dumb to stay robbed. He kept kicking his foot back into the door just as they were about to close. Sunday kept pushing him out.
He ran at them again. With a sigh, she held up her right hand, and allowed it to burst into flame.
This time, the doors closed unimpeded.
Code4U asked, “So, if you’re in L.A., do you have dinner plans? ‘Cause I’m in school here and I’d love to meet you in person.”
“Um,” said Ap, looking flustered.
“I mean, not like a date,” she interjected, suddenly sounding embarrassed. “I mean, you probably have a girlfriend.”
“Well,” said Ap, with an expression that was almost a grimace. “It’s like this. I…”
He cupped his left hand to his ear. “I have reports the terrorists have been spotted. We’ve got to go!”
The signal in Ap’s window blipped out, then just as quickly reappeared. The burning embassy was no longer the backdrop. Now, behind Ap, there were large concrete columns and row after row of cars.
“Oh shit,” said Sunday.
Then, the elevator shot up like it was a rocket. The sudden acceleration knocked them both to the floor.
“Oh shit!” screamed Sunday. With a horrible jolt, the steel cage that carried them smashed through something above them.
Code4U vanished from the second window of Ap’s webcast and was replaced by streaming video from an unknown source showing the elevator bursting out of the top floor of the garage. Skyrider was under the car, lifting it. Servant was on top of the car, kneeling. A pale yellow plasma flowed from his hands and coated the steel box he stood on.
“Close your eyes,” said Sundancer, her hand flaring. “I can’t cut loose without frying you, but let me get outside.”
Pit closed his eyes, but could still see light dancing before him. There was a smell like the burner of an electric stove turned to it’s highest heat. Seconds passed. Then more seconds. Pit opened his eyes as the light faded.
“Power trouble?” he asked. “Need some help?” This wasn’t the best location to help get her powers jump started again, but he was at least willing to try.
“This metal isn’t burning!” she snarled. “I can’t go hotter without cooking you!”
On screen, Ap was crawling up the elevator shaft. The box was a tiny dot in the sky by the time he reached the top and turned his camera on it.
“We’ve got them!” he cried. “Skyrider is going to fly the elevator to a secure holding location, while Servant is reversing his time aura to maintain the integrity of the cage. Basically, Sundancer can throw all the power she wants at it, but time is passing so slowly for the molecules of the box that it would take a year before the damage appears!”
“Well now,” said Pit He shoved the iPad into his mouth, then smacked his lips. “This looks like a job Pit Geek.”
“Just do it,” she said.
“I’ve been wanting to say that line for years,” he said. Then he pressed his lips to the door, and sucked.
And then the explosion pulverized every bone in his face.
3557 words

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