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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!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Burn Baby Burn Chapter Thirteen 4689 words

Raw first draft, fresh from the gray matter. See chapter 1 for other disclaimers.


Unless I find more bullets or a different gun, I’ve killed my last goat. A chicken, every now and then, can be pegged with a rock and stunned. Goats just run away.

Two bullets left.

One for her.

One for me.

Chapter Thirteen
The Secret Origin of Pit Geek

The CT scan showed his head was full of shrapnel. No surprise.
What was surprising was when Pit said, “Let’s take it out.”
Sunday wasn’t sure she understood him. “Take what out?”
“All the metal in my head,” said Pit. “I’ve been getting shot in the head on a regular basis for damn near sixty years. It ain’t killed me. But it’s messed up my memory something fierce. So, we cut it out, and I remember who I am.”
Dr. Cheetah scoffed loudly. “Cutting through the required tissue would leave you a vegetable. I might as well run your brains through a blender.”
“If that would get the metal out, let’s try it,” said Pit.
“Pit, I appreciate you want to help me, but I can’t let you cripple yourself,” said Sunday.
“I’ll get better,” said Pit. “I always heal.”
“Brain tissue isn’t like skin or bone,” said Dr. Cheetah. It doesn’t regenerate.”
“Mine might.”
“My oath reads, ‘First, do no harm.’”
“Mine reads, ‘you gotta scramble some eggs if you want an omelet.’”
“Your brains are already scrambled if you think this is a smart idea,” said Sunday.
“Yeah,” Pit said, tapping his finger on the dark black shards that littered the scan. “And all I’m asking is that you unscramble them.”
“It’s amazing you’re alive,” Dr. Cheetah said, as he turned the image back and forth on the computer. “But it’s also possible that these images are corrupted. Look.” He rolled his mouse back and forth, twisting the image of Pit’s brain from side to side. He tapped some of the black shapes. “See? This shard is plainly visible from the front. But, it vanishes when we turn the image thirty degrees. Then, when we turn another thirty degrees, it’s back! I’m getting a similar effect on a dozen fragments.”
“Aw, just go in and poke around,” said Pit Geek. “You don’t need no fancy gadgets. Just a good knife and maybe a sifter.”
Dr. Cheetah shook his head. “If you were anyone else, I’d never do this.”
“You’re not doing it to him!” said Sunday.
Dr. Cheetah sighed. “I understand your reservations. But, Pit is now my patient as well. He plainly has serious, chronic injuries. He has a symptom that greatly reduces his quality of life, in the form of his fractured memories. And, his curious biology does give him a better than average chance of surviving this procedure.”
“You’re both crazy,” said Sunday.
Dr. Cheetah shrugged. “Why don’t you both sleep on it? If you wish to have the surgery, I can perform it tomorrow.”
“You’d perform the surgery yourself?” asked Sunday. “I thought you were more of a general practitioner.”
“My dear, I am a surgeon, an architect, a computer programmer, an attorney, and a novelist. And, until recently, a diplomat. Pangean’s are few in number. We must wear many hats.”
“I haven’t seen any of you wearing hats,” said Pit.
“It’s a human idiom,” said the doctor. “I confess, our language is riddled with them. Until recently, all literature was human literature. Perhaps after a century of chimpanzee literature, humans will begin to adopt our idioms.”
“Like what?”
“For instance, when we face difficulties in reaching a goal, we say, ‘the fattest ants are always lip biters.”
“Okay,” said Sunday. “I’m not sure it will catch on, but I get it.”
“The dung you fling at your enemy sticks beneath your own nails.”
Sunday nodded. “Makes sense. I can almost imagine it catching on.”
“In estrus, even the dominant female has a slick anus.”
She stared at him.
“It means—”
She held up her hand to stop him. “I honestly don’t want to know.”

There were other things she didn’t want to know, but found out anyway. They’d driven to
Goodall, the capital city of Pangea, since this was where the hospital was located. While it was the largest city on the island, it was still small enough to walk everywhere. From one end of the town to the other wasn’t even a mile. The town didn’t even have stoplights.
The hotel had been built with several floors to accommodate humans. The place was stuffy and filled with mosquitoes. Pangeans didn’t like air conditioning; it robbed enclosed spaces of any smell except that of the air conditioner. Dr. Cheetah explained that this would be like decorating a human room with a single unvarying shade of beige. So, windows were left open, and bugs came in, including a spider in the bathtub big enough to have it’s own zip code. Pit Geek chivalrously devoured the arachnid so that she could take a shower.
In the evening, they went out into the streets to see the night life. Every third business was a grooming parlor where rows of female chimps wearing white gloves fussed over their chimp clientele, laboring to pick away all the fleas and ticks that had accumulated during the day. They passed a bar where a chimp band called the Hoot Pants as getting the small crowd to wave their hands in the air as they hooted and panted. These all seemed to be harmless imitations of human businesses until they passed an open air restaurant that resembled a sushi bar. Only, instead of a glass case full of fish, there was wall of small cages holding tiny primates, small monkeys and lemurs no bigger than pug dogs. A group of male chimps were passing a tablet computer around with schematics for some kind of engine. Most chimps spoke in sign language, but these three had the vibrating implants that gave them voices. They were practicing their English by having a conversation where every other word was a number. They were drinking bright red juice from coconut bowls. At least, Sunday hoped it was juice.
But her hopes were dashed when the largest chimp pointed to one of the cages. The chimp stationed at the cage had a leather apron around his neck, with the pockets stuffed with knives and cleavers. He pulled a screaming lemur from a cage and carried to the chimps table. They shoved their computer into a briefcase as the butcher chimp slammed the still wiggling animal down on the table hard enough to stun it. Then he pulled a cleaver with a blade nearly two feet long and a eight inches wide and swung it. The lemur was perfectly bisected I the aftermath. The three chimp’s fought one another to get the two halves of the brain. Two of the chimps hooted as they chewed up their pink prize. Then, one said in buzzing English with a perfectly bland Midwestern accent, "Fast apes eat brain, slow apes suck kidney.”
The chimp who’d had no brain to eat dug the left kidney out of the bisected primate and popped the purple organ into his mouth. He didn’t look happy. He crossed his arms, and sulked.

The next morning, Sunday was covered in welts from mosquitoes. She appreciated the love of smells, especially as a gentle breeze blew floral scents through the room, but didn’t understand why window screens hadn’t caught on.
She pulled her knees to her chest and stared at Pit, who was still sleeping.
Then he snorted, and looked at her with one eye half open.
“Good morning,” he said.
“I don’t suppose you’ve forgotten what happened yesterday?” she asked.
“Probably some of it,” he said.
“How about….?”
“I want the surgery,” he said.
“Fine.” She slid next to him, pressing her body close, drinking in his warmth and his scent. “You better not come out of this a vegetable. I love you, but I’m not changing your diapers.”
“Yeah, you would,” he said.
“Yeah,” she sighed. “I would.”

Sunday chewed her nails as she sat in the surgical waiting room. The surgery lasted hours. A young female chimp passed through the room every hour, offering her bottled water or fruit juice. Sunday wasn’t thirsty.
Which as ironic, since Sunday was certain she was in hell. In the years she’d worked for Monday, he’d engaged in constant mind games designed to leave her contemptuous of other people’s lives. She’d been an easy target. She’d hated every man her mother had brought into the house, and despised her mother for not being a stronger woman. Monday had convinced her that her innate superiority to ordinary humans had already begun to manifest at a young age. It was natural that Sunday felt no empathy for others, because there were no others who were her equal.
Now that she was twenty five, she could see how easy it had been for a fifteen year old to fall for a father telling her she was better than everyone else. He’d been able to take the baseline alienation and rebellion present in any teen and puff it up into full blown psychopathic isolation, where Sunday had been alone as an inheritor of truth and power in a world populated by dull, nameless shadows she would never care to know.
How easy it had been.
How easy it had been to kill.
And now she thought about all cops she’d burned, and all the wives and mothers who’d waited in rooms just like this for word of whether their loved ones would live or die.
If Pit did die….
If Pit did die, she would turn herself into the authorities and ask to be executed.
And maybe, in some small way, this would pay back all those widows and orphans she’d created.
The female chimp came into the room. Instead of offering water, she said, “Dr. Cheetah would like to see you.”

She was led to a brightly lit room where Dr. Cheetah was staring at an array of peanut sized bits of black metal laid out on a blue plastic tray.
“Is he…?” she asked.
“The surgery encountered difficulties,” Dr. Cheetah said, sadly. He shook his head. “His brain tissue… we underestimated his regenerative abilities. His brain tissue was healing nearly as quickly as we could pull out metal.”
“Then is he …. is he … ?”
“I’m sorry,” said Dr. Cheetah. “I didn’t mean to create an air of suspense. The surgery was, perhaps, a failure. But, Pit has survived. We won’t know the state of his mind until he wakes, but he seems strong. He was… we gave him enough gas to tranquilize and elephant yet he kept coming too. We had to halt the surgery before we’d removed all the shrapnel.”
“But you took out all this?”
“We took out far more than this,” said Dr. Cheetah. “I have another tray filled with bullet fragments, shrapnel consistent with a hand grenade, the broken tip of a knife blade, the shaft of a bar dart, and three nails.”
“And what are these?”
“These are eleven of the twelve anomalous fragments we saw on the CT scan. The ones that vanished at certain angles.”
“Okay. But what are they?”
“My dear, since you are the person most familiar with Mr. Geek, I was hoping you could tell us.”
She tried to pick one up. It dropped from her fingers instantly. The fragments looked like lumps of hard coal, but this one had been as yielding and wobbly as a water balloon, and surprisingly heavy. She picked up another one, cupping it in her palm. The rolled it forward with her finger and it vanished, though she could still feel the weight I in her hand.
“The turn invisible?”
“At certain angles,” said Dr. Cheetah. “But more than invisible. From certain angles, they can’t even be touched.”
Which seemed to be the case now. Her fingers couldn’t touch the unseen weight on her palm. So, she shook her hand, and a black lump flew off and landed on the floor.
“Be careful, please,” said Dr. Cheetah, reaching for the fragment with his long arm. “We can’t afford to lose what seems to be a very exotic form of matter.”
“Forget losing it,” she said. “You say Pit still has a piece of this in his brain?”
“One large piece, roughly the size of his thumb. Perhaps some smaller fragments as well. The scan has many mysterious shadows that measure no more than a few millimeters.”
“Fragments?” she said. “Do you think these were once part of something larger? Do they fit together?”
Before Dr. Cheetah could answer, she picked up two bits that looked like inky cheetahs. She jammed the curved bits together. For some reason, they wouldn’t touch.
“What do you think—”
Before she completed her question the two halves flowed together into a ring roughly the size and shape of a mini-donut. It lifted from her palm and floated at the level of her eyes. Then, the donut swelled to the size of a bagel as the fragments on the tray vanished one by one. The whole process took only seconds.
Then the lights went out.

Pit gasped as he woke in darkness. His entire skull was on fire. Sounds and pictures and smells and textures and tastes flashed in his mind too quickly to grasp.
He knew who he was. He knew how he’d stopped being a man and turned into a monster.

1954. Frank Macey stared into the mirror at a face he didn’t recognize. His thick black curls had gone gray and stringy. His square, ruggedly handsome face had begun to sag. His stubble was flecked with gray. He hadn’t bathed in almost a week.
What was the point? He hauled garbage for a living. He was up before dawn every day dumping metal cans full of rot and filth into a truck that smelled like evil, a scent that rose from a black sludge caked into every crevice and cranny of the vehicle, a smell that had gotten into the pores of his skin and would never wash away.
He’d been famous once.
“Stick-em-up,” he said to the mirror, pointing a finger at himself.
He hadn’t come out west to play bad guys. Everyone back home had told him that with his looks and talent, he’d be playing the leading man in every film. And his prophesied success had nearly come true. He’d been hired on the first audition he’d gone to. He’d gone to be cast in the role of the sheriff. The director had said his nose was too big.
“You Jewish?” the director had asked.
“No,” Frank had answered.
“You got kind of a look about you,” the director said. “I can see you as a bad guy. Say, ‘stick-em-up,’ for me.”
Frank did a quick draw with his finger and barked, “Stick-em-up!”
“Not half bad,” the director said.
Frank had been on screen for the first two minutes of the film. He’d come out from behind some bushes when a stagecoach had stopped to move a fallen tree from the dusty trail. He’d fired his gun once overhead as a warning then yelled out his line. The leading lady had screamed and Dallas Smith, Texas Ranger had shot the pistol from his hand and knocked him out.
Audiences loved it. Something about Frank’s face made it a face they enjoyed seeing take a punch. He’d gone to open other films, robbing banks and saloons and trains and riverboats and even a church. He’d gotten more lines. In some films, he’d been able to tack on, “This is a robbery!” In others, he’d shouted, “Dallas Smith!” in surprise and despair when the ranger had popped up from behind some random bit of scenery and shot the gun from his hand.
The job had paid good wages, but Frank never stopped wanting to play the leading man. But anytime he’d try out for another movie, he’d be told that audiences didn’t want to see the Stick-Em-Up Kid get the girl.
Frank hadn’t been able to get the girls in real life, either. His on-screen persona was of a guy who couldn’t take a punch. A punk. A loser. And ladies wanted heroes.
Except, some ladies only wanted money. He’d had to get good and drunk the first time he screwed up his courage to pay a whore. Eventually, the parts dried up, and he ran out of money for both booze and whores, so he chose the booze.
And now it had been ten years since he’d last been in a movie. Ten years since he’d come to Hollywood wanting to be a hero, only to learn he had a bad-guy’s eyes.
He got dressed in the cover-alls he wore to work. They were stained and stiff with gunk. In his pocket was a Colt 45.
He drew it and pointed at the mirror.
He delivered his line.
And then he shot his reflection in the face.

Frank was just starting his garbage route and just finishing a bottle of scotch when he’d turned the truck west and started driving toward Vegas. It was four in the morning. He’d be over the state line long before anyone noticed him missing. In Vegas, people walked around with cash in their pockets. Frank would enjoy some cash in his pocket.
And unlike the movies, his gun was filled with real bullets.
No one was going to be punching him the jaw after he delivered his lines.
And then, just minutes before dawn, on a trackless stretch of highway with not a single car or building for ten mile in any direction, he’d run into…
Actually, he didn’t know what he’d run into. A thing. He’d run into some thing. It had looked almost like an elephant, if you removed the legs and just allowed the elephant to levitate two feet off the ground, balanced on a pencil-thin shaft of glowing green light. It had no trunk or eyes or ears, just a mouth as wide as the bumper of Frank’s garbage truck. It was dark purple, drifting right down the white dotted line divided the highway. Frank was doing sixty, the top speed the truck could handle.
He’d gone through the windshield when his truck plowed into the thing. He should have been killed, but the floating beast had been blubbery. Sinking into it’s body had been like sinking into a bathtub filled with lard and covered with a blanket.
And then the beast had torn apart, and the wheel of his truck bounced past him, and garbage was thrown all over the dark desert.
He’d slid along the asphalt, his cover-alls protecting him from road burn. It had still taken him a moment to recover. By the time he sat up, all the blubbery remains of the beast were bubbling away, evaporating with a smell like ammonia, vanishing into thin air.
All that was left after the accident was scattered garbage and a truck so pulverized that there wasn’t a single piece left bigger than a playing card.
“What the hell?” Frank asked.
His words were answered by a humming sound that released three pulses that matched the cadence of his words.
“Someone there?” he asked.
Again, three pulses of sound.
Then, a black donut had appeared in front of his face.
It hummed three times.
Frank had reached for his gun.
The donut had floated forward and placed itself against his forehead. It was warm and soft, and suddenly there was a voice in his head not his own.
“My apologies,” the unseen voice said. “Do not be al—”
Frank had twisted his arm awkwardly to place the barrel of the gun against the metal ring that touched him. The bullet was aimed straight at his own forehead. It would kill him if it passed through the mystery object.
And he felt as if this would be the best possible outcome.

The donut floated into Pit’s recovery room. Dr. Cheetah and Sunday followed close behind it. Sunday had lit up a single finger to provide light.
“If you use your powers, it will kill you,” said Pit.
“It’s just a finger,” said Sunday. “I’ll be okay unless I really light up again.”
Pit’s focus turned once more back to the floating black donut.
“What the hell is that thing?” he asked.
“I am Eleven,” the donut answered.
Man, woman, and chimp all stared at it, wide-eyed.
“I have learned your language in the years you have hosted me,” said Eleven. “I apologize if my previous attempts to communicate cause you discomfort.”
“You… you were inside me?” Pit asked. “In my head?”
“Yes,” said Eleven. “Part of me continues to reside within you. I thank you all for freeing enough of my form to allow me to reintegrate at least partially.”
“What are you?” Pit asked again.
“I am Eleven,” the thing answered.
“Is that a name or an age?” asked Sunday.
“It equates most closely with the human concept of a name,” said Eleven. “My age would be difficult to convey in your language.”
“You apparently know numbers,” said Sunday. “How tough can it be?”
“I am a seven dimensional explorative construct,” said Eleven. “Time moves backwards in my sixth dimension, and orthogonally in my fifth and seventh dimension in relation to my other four dimensions. If I were to express my age using your constrictive enumerative systems, my age would be expressed as a negative number.”
“Dr. Coco will be most anxious to speak to you,” said Dr. Cheetah. “He recently proposed a unified field theory operative in seven dimensions.”
“This conversation cannot occur,” said Eleven. “I am forbidden to interfere with the affairs of the inhabitants of planets I study.”
“You damn well interfered with me!” said Pit.
“This was never my intention,” said Eleven. “You drove your vehicle into my vehicle. You met my attempt at telepathic communication with an act of violence.”
“Vehicle?” said Pit. “You were driving a damn legless elephant down a dark highway! I wouldn’t have hit you if you’d been in something with headlights.”
“The bioship glows quite strongly in infrared,” said Eleven. “I was not aware of your species limited ocular range.”
“Why have you stayed inside him all these years and never said anything?” asked Sunday.
Suddenly, all the lights came back on. She let her finger fade back to its normal state. She didn’t seem to have any pain.
“My sentience could not emerge while I was fractured,” said Eleven. “I could not heal myself without damaging my new host’s brain even further. Of my ninety-three restrictions, the first is that I shall do no harm.”
“But you did me all kind’s of harm!” said Pit. “You stole my memories. You made me a damn zombie monster!”
“Even in my non-sentient state, core programming required was designed to maintain a bioship. Any damage you have accrued over the years has been repaired. My repair mechanisms strove to keep you in the exact state I found you in. With minor improvements to your fueling systems, of course.”
“My fuel… you’re the reason I can eat anything? And don’t go to the bathroom?”
“Your evolved fuel systems were wasteful and inefficient. You would never build sufficient power for interstellar travel through primitive chemical digestion. All of your world seems woefully underpowered. The rather minimal power I pulled from the environment to rebuild myself was sufficient to damage this structures power systems. You are the most energy efficient creature on this planet, Frank Macey. I have fueled all of your biological needs for over five decades with only the three humans you devoured when you first opened the mass portal. The excess mass you’ve consumed is being kept in stasis until such time as it is sufficient to power your travel through space.”
Pit didn’t really know what to say to this.
Sunday, however, cut to the question that should have been on his mind: “Now that you’re not in him anymore, does he still have his powers?”
“But I am still inside him. I must maintain my hosts systems while I’m still inside him.”
Pit reached into his mouth and drew out the regeneration ray. “You’re in luck, Space Donut. This baby has a ‘remove foreign material’ setting.”
Sunday surprised Pit by jumping forward and snatching away the ray. “No one is removing anything,” she said.
“Th—sk—ha,” said Eleven.
“What was that?”
“My apologies. I was merely stating that it would be wasteful to remove me at this point. Given that my subroutines have already altered your body to serve as my vessel, I’d like to remain within you until such time as I complete my study mission. I apologize that I could not be heard before. The device Sunday is holding is emitting radio waves that interfered with the voice channels I had selected.”
“What do you mean, it’s transmitting radio waves?” asked Sunday.
“I’m unsure how to make my statement any clearer,” said Eleven.
“What’s it transmitting?” she asked.
“Real time data of our conversation. Limited physiological data on the bearer’s body temperature, heart rate, and the ph levels present in sweat.”
Sunday turned to Dr. Cheetah, he voice sparking with anger. “You knew about this, didn’t you?”
“I swear I knew of no such thing.”
Sunday pressed her lips tightly together.
“Dr. Troglodytes,” she said.
“Of course,” said Dr. Cheetah.
“Will one of y’all tell me what you’re talking about?” asked Pit.
Sunday started yanking IVs out of Pit’s arm.
“Ow!” Pit screamed as the needles tore from his veins.
“You’ll survive, you baby. I need you dressed in one minute.” She turned to Dr. Cheetah. “Trog have an office in this hospital?”
“Of course,” said the chimp. “He should be there now.”
“Lead us,” she said. “We can’t let him get away.”
Pit got out of bed, feeling a little woozy from the massive amounts of gas they’d pumped in to keep him under. “Who’s getting away? What are we in such a hurry about?”
“My father is dead!” said Sunday, throwing open the doors of a white cabinet. She said, “Yes!” as he found his clothes. She tossed them to him. “So if Rex Monday didn’t send us a regeneration ray, who did?”
“Dr. Troglodytes? Why?”
Sunday shook her head like she was frustrated by how stupid Pit was being. “He said he’d been studying our biological data! That machine tore us down to our DNA and put us back together. For all I know, he’s trying to give himself our powers!”
“Since your powers are killing you, this seems unlikely,” said Dr. Cheetah. “Still, I would like to discover the truth.”
Pit yanked on his pants and threw off his hospital gown. He grabbed his shirt and headed for the door. “We’ll come back later for my boots.”
Then the floor shifted sideways beneath him and he slammed face first into the wall. He tried to balance himself, but the floor continued to jump and tremble. The IV poles toppled and everything attached to the walls fell off and landed with a crash.
“Earthquake!” Pit yelled.
“Impossible!” shouted Dr. Cheetah, as he clung to the edge of the swaying bed. “We have no earth to quake! Pangea sits atop a fused mass of floating plastic. We cannot be affected by seismic action!”
“Then how the hell do you explain this?” shouted Sunday.

What no one in Pangea could know was that, far below, on the surface of the sea, the anchor chains had all been severed. The central chain, the strongest, was now in the grip of a large man in white tights with a red S on his chest. Servant strained as he pulled the chain northward. He was determined to keep his schedule. In two hours, the northern tip of Pangea would be within 200 miles of the southernmost Aleutian Island, and thus in the territorial waters of the United States. In two hours and ten minutes, Pit Geek and Sundancer would finally face justice.

4689 words

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