In A Flash: Symptom of the Universe

The weapon waited. It had been waiting for centuries. Five hundred thirty seven years, six months and twelve days to be precise. The weapon could be far more exact than that, if it chose, calculating the time that had passed since it had been deployed down to fractions of fractions of seconds, measurable only to itself.

The time that had passed was unimportant, though, of no consequence. It would wait a hundred years, or a thousandth of a second. It made no difference. What mattered was what came after the signal to deploy arrived. Then it would unleash havoc upon its chosen target.

For now, time passed in a kind of stasis. It was aware—as aware as it needed to be.

Read the rest at Circumambient Scenery.

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Now Available: Dream Logic

Dream logic

She was made to dream and told that her visions might save them, but would they destroy her in the process? Asleep she dreams of a ruined world that is slowly dying, where she is forever trying to find someone still alive. Awake she is trapped in a bed and fed drugs that will make her dream. But now those two realms are beginning to combine. and as the distinction between dream and reality starts to crumble it may drive her mad.

A short story by Clint Westgard
Published November, 2013

Available at Amazon, Kobo and Smashwords

 

The Contaminated and the Fallen

She suspected, though she had no proof one way or the other, that this fallen realm in which her dream had her trapped was underground.. Perhaps it was the ever-present shadows and darkness, the days as the nights, whole and unchanging that led to this belief. Her existence here was immutable unmarked by any sense of the passage of time. She imagined a world of caverns, hollowed out and reconstructed into this strange habitat that seemed to her without purpose. A dream within a dream, she realized, and perhaps it was just the dream state thwarting her senses and not allowing her to comprehend all that she saw.

The last words of the voice came to her mind, dimly and half-remembered, as though that were the dream and not this. She was following one of her usual trails toward a dispenser that she was knew was still working. After that, if her dream went as it normally did, she would go above to one of the higher rings where there was a large room filled with desks with screens. Some of the screens still worked, after a fashion, and she would sit and watch them flashing their information and images, until she grew restless and started moving again.

This time, compelled by the words, she continued on along the ring, chewing on the block of foul tasting food the dispenser had given her. She often felt ill after she had eaten the food, though this dispenser seemed to agree with her more than the others. It was clearly degrading, as everything here was, and part of her knew that it was only a matter of time until all the dispensers failed entirely. Would her dreams allow that to happen, would her mind compel the machines to continue to work or would the logic of situation play out as it should? And what then?

Not wanting to dwell on that, disliking the sensation of dreaming and yet aware that she was in a dream, she pressed on, ducking through corridors. Rather than taking one of her usual paths, the ones she knew were safe and abandoned, she went to those areas that the Fallen inhabited. Not all of them were unhazardous, she knew, so she went with care, always checking each door she passed through to make sure it had not sealed behind her allowing her no escape.

One of the machines confronted her as she went, looming up out of the darkness, demanding her authorization. Its voice was disturbingly similar to the one that questioned her when she was awake, though they all sounded more or less the same. The flat monotone, parched of emotion.

The area is contaminated. Please exit immediately. You are not authorized.”

She ignored it, ducking around its bulky frame and moving down the black corridor, the machine sounding an alarm that no longer functioned. The corridor ended at a door that was jammed, which she pushed and pried apart just enough so that she could slip through. She waited a moment to ensure it did not close on her and then turned to go further down the corridor, her path illuminated by a blinking red light along the ceiling. Was this the alarm the machine had started after her breach into his realm, she wondered, or was it from some earlier calamity?

There were a few doors off the corridor, but she knew by the shape and the markings on them that there would be nothing of interest in them. They were small rooms that had perhaps been used for storage or for those who had left to sit in and pass their days. Now they would be empty, or filled with the uninteresting refuse of the decay. At last she found what she had been looking for, a larger door than the others with symbols above its frames. It was open, its automation having failed, and she stepped through into a large chamber.

It was cavernous, the ceiling stretching up past the far reaches of her sight. There were giant tubes, fragile seeming cylinders, and pipes that curved and wound around on themselves, sheltered behind protective glass. Some glowed with dim activity while others were dark. The flashing red light was brighter here, more insistent, if that were possible. She ignored all of that, ducking around the artifacts of this previous age, looking for one of the Fallen. They would be here, she knew, the smell of them was undeniable.

After some searching she managed to find one. He leaned against one of the glowing cylinders, seeming to rest his head against it as he stared off into the distance. In spite of his faraway gaze she felt his eyes upon her, no matter where she stood as she considered her approach. At last, realizing that he would already have seen her anyway, she walked up to him directly. The heat coming from the cylinder on which he rested was tremendous. Instinctively, she crouched down as she moved forward, as though that would protect her from whatever force lay within the tube should it somehow be loosed.

Nothing happened as she came face to face with the Fallen man. The cylinder did not explode, as she had feared, nor did the man rise up and seize her. He continued to stare off into the distance, a leering grin marking his face. She eyed him warily, still unconvinced that this was not some manner of trap that he had lain for her. When he made no motion at all, after she had watched him for several minutes, she moved within range of his grasp, poised to flee at the first instant of motion.

None came and then she wondered if he were waiting for her to speak, to make plain her intentions. How did one address the Fallen? She had no idea, the machines mostly did not respond to her, perhaps it would be the same here. In this realm it seemed she had forgotten the tools of speech, though words still seemed to form as thoughts in her mind. She wet her lips and reached out to touch the man, thinking that if there were no words to speak, then this gesture might be enough.

Her hand had just brushed the cloth of his uniform when one of the machines seized her.

You are not authorized. The area is contaminated.”

from Dream Logic

The Contaminated Man

It was twenty-five blocks to her destination, fifteen north and ten west, right through the heart of what had once been downtown. It was an eery and empty place now, the power cut long ago, to conserve what remained. The power grid and other major infrastructure still functioned to a degree, though for how long was anyone’s guess with fewer and fewer people left to maintain it. They only had electricity in the evenings and only in the few neighborhoods of the city where the Quarantine Protocol remained in effect. Contaminated zones, like downtown, had been abandoned by the Protocol, though not by everyone.

The high rise looked like any other on the block. There was a restaurant and a pharmacy on the main floor, some offices and a skywalk connecting to the building across the street on the second. Above that were more offices and above that apartments. All of downtown had been emptied by the Quarantine Protocol, but those who could not live under that law had returned, here and elsewhere. The spray painted red X’s signified that it was still inhabited. Here was where one could find all those things deemed inessential by the Protocol.

She passed by the elevator and headed for the stairwell and began to climb the fifteen flights, the flashlight she had her only guide. It was stuffy and hot and sweat was soon running down her face. As she went a door opened and then clanged shut above her as someone began to descend. They halted upon hearing her footsteps. Marta continued on to the top of the next flight and then called out the floor number to the person above, exiting the stairwell and moving well back of the doorway to wait. After a few minutes there was a loud knock at the door. She waited at least a minute more before renewing her ascent.

When she reached the fifteenth floor she knocked loudly and then waited before entering. She moved quickly down the hallway until she reached Apartment 1543. Hanging on the doorway was a clipboard from which dangled a pen. Taking up the pen she wrote down what she needed and what she had to offer and then knocked on the door. She turned and walked back the way she had come until she reached Apartment 1522, which she entered after knocking to ensure it was empty.

The apartment had all the furniture from its last occupants. There were even magazines and letters from months ago sitting on one of the tables. She had long ago stopped looking at such markers of the disappeared. Instead she went to one of the windows, peering through the closed drapes to look at the streets below. She could see a man passing near the entrance of the building walking erratically and her mouth went dry. Though she urged him on he sat down on the sidewalk right near the entrance. As she pondered how to avoid the polluted man when she left there was a loud knock two doors down from the apartment she was in.

When she had counted off thirty seconds, Marta left the 1522 and went down two doors. Unlike the other, Apartment 1526 was completely empty with light streaming in from the drapeless window. In the center of what would have been the living room there were several small boxes. Seeing them she could not contain herself and she ran forward, dropping to her knees to inspect them. She opened each one to inspect the pills, ensuring they were all still within their plastic casing. That done she popped one of them free and, with a shaking hand, swallowed it. The boxes she put in her bag exchanging them for a small container of strawberries that she had picked that morning from the terrace garden of their building.

The contaminated man was still sitting at the entrance when she had descended to the fourth floor. There was another entrance on the opposite side of the building but even that, she feared, might be too close to the contamination. Instead she decided to take the skywalk, though it was a journey into the unknown. That building had been unmarked, meaning it was abandoned. In her experience the polluted were drawn to people, the internal logic of the disease insisting that it be spread, so an empty building would likely be safer than chancing the other entrance.

Her decision made she did not linger. It was never good to remain away from where the Protocol was in force. The uncontaminated in these areas lived on the knife’s edge and preferred it that way, if the reports of beatings and theft and worse that were broadcast were true. She did not doubt it, not after surviving these last months where any illusions about what people, contaminated or not, were capable of had been shattered utterly.

Marta moved quickly across the skywalk, feeling exposed for some reason in the glass walkway. The high rise she entered was much the same as the other one, filled with abandoned shops and stands, all draped in shadows, daylight rising up from the entryway below to guide her. A series of frozen escalators led down to the main floor. She stood atop one, peering around the lobby to ensure she was alone before starting down. The escalators emptied out toward three revolving glass doors that glimmered where the sunlight caught them. What she could see of the street beyond appeared empty but she walked from one end of the lobby to the other to confirm that there was no one near before stepping into the nearest revolving door.

The door went forward about a quarter of a revolution – not enough to allow her to exit, but enough to close off her means of retreat – before it lurched to a halt and would not budge. She pushed at it, calmly at first, assuming it was merely jammed, but when it became apparent that it was stuck she threw all her weight against it, trying to shake it loose. The door rattled loudly but would not move and she kicked at it in frustration. Next she turned around and tried to push the it backwards, but, as she suspected, the tracking wouldn’t run that way.

She tried to gather herself, to calm the pulse that was thundering in her temples, but instead panic set in and she moved about in a frenzy from side to side, trying to dislodge the door. It had no effect, the door shuddering and vibrating under her blows, but no more. At last she slid down to ground, her back against the glass, tears in her eyes and sweat streaming down her face. Her whole body began to tremble as she thought of what would happen if someone were to find her trapped here, or if no one did, if she were just left to starve and be set upon by the contaminated.

After some time Marta managed to calm herself and she began to think through how she could engineer an escape. Nothing came to mind and she had to fight down her panic again. The thin wedge of space she was trapped within seemed to be growing hotter by the moment, the sunlight beating through the panes of glass. Though she knew it was impossible she could not help imagining the stuffy air slowly draining from the place with each breath she took until she suffocated.

A flash of movement on the escalators above caught her eye and for a moment her heart leapt in excitement, only to be replaced by trepidation. No one would help her here. The Quarantine Patrol would not come for her even if she managed to contact them on the radio. She swallowed, telling herself that it had been nothing more than a change in the light, but the distinct sensation of being watched that crept across her neck told her otherwise. She leaned forward trying to parse the shadows above her, hope and fear wrestling in her mind. She thought she could make out something there, a vague form, but she couldn’t be certain. No further movement came, though she waited expectantly.

Fucking goddamn idiot,” she said at last to herself.

The words seem to break a spell that had been cast. The shadows moved atop the escalator and she briefly made out the form of someone backing away quickly. She nearly called out, begging whoever it was to stay and help her. Before she could though there was a crash against the glass behind her and she whirled around to see a man, his face contorted into an awful grimace slamming himself against the immovable revolving door. She screamed and jumped to her feet, throwing herself against the door as hard as she could to no effect. The contaminated man yelled something unintelligible in response to her screams and redoubled his tortured efforts.

from Quarantine Protocol

Now Available: Beware! The Seas Are Angry This Night

Beware scaled

“Captain, I don’t know what to tell you. The game has changed.”

And so it has, but the Captain is determined not to lose. He faces a host of problems though: the man he was supposed to make a deal with has betrayed him, turning on the Infernal Contraption which means death to everyone near it, and now he is forced flee passing through a city descending into chaos and violence. And then there is the Grand Jefe…

A short story by  Clint Westgard
Available at Amazon, Kobo and Smashwords

The Game Has Changed

“Captain, I don’t know what to tell you. The game has changed.”

The dwarf peered sullenly through the haze filled cavern, rank with the smell of refuse, at the dandy who was smiling and smoking a thin cigarillo.

“Anger troubles the blood,” the dandy said in a sympathetic voice, his smile deepening. The expression on the henchman who stood behind him, his hands hanging free at his sides, as though he were waiting an excuse to use them, did not change.

“Daftness,” the dwarf said. He was dressed in sailor’s clothes, as was his companion, a giant of a man with hands as large as the dwarf’s head. They had docked that afternoon and made their way through the city and then below, through the sewers, to this room, as had been agreed. The sewers were ancient and huge, no longer in use, the sole memories of a long extinct civilization. They still retained the shadow of the grandeur that had once existed aboveground, long disappeared, replaced by haphazard and crumbling edifices.

“The Grand Jefe will not be happy. He’s no faro man.”

“He will play,” the dandy said. “It’s all been arranged. There’s no need to trouble yourself with his concerns.”

“I will decide what to trouble myself with.”

The dandy shrugged.

“Daftness,” the dwarf said and spat on the ground. “What have you done?”

“As I said, it has all been arranged. A new sun rises tomorrow,” the dandy said, spreading his hands. He looked at the henchman as if he might confirm that indeed it was so.

“Arranged? What daftness is this? What’s been arranged? What have you done?” Spittle flew from the dwarf’s mouth as he said it.

“It hardly matters to you, but I am keeping the Infernal Contraption. It is no longer for sale.”

“It has already been promised to someone. We set sail tonight.”

“The seas are angry this night, captain.”

“All nights.”

The dandy made a show of looking at his shoes, though he still kept his eyes on the two of them. He threw the stub of his cigarillo away and stepped toward the dwarf, holding both hands before him.

“I don’t know what else to tell you. It is not for sale.”

“The thing is not yours. It is for the Grand Jefe to decide,” the dwarf growled. “Now let’s stop with this nonsense. The hour’s getting late.”

Here the dandy’s smile grew. “As to that, there are great many things that are no longer for the Grand Jefe to decide.”

“We’ll see what he has to say when I tell him that you’ve squared the deal.”

“You’ll not be seeing him anytime soon.”

As the dandy spoke the henchman stepped from behind him holding an antiquated handpiece. Before anyone had a chance to move further the giant leapt towards the henchman, moving with a surprising quickness, and got hold of his wrist and neck in his massive hands. The sound of grinding bone was followed by an airless scream from the henchman, more felt by the two who watched than heard. The gun fell from the henchman’s hand and the echoes of its clattering had only just dimmed when he followed it to the ground. The dandy watched with disbelieving eyes.

“The game is changed,” the dwarf said and was at the dandy’s throat with a knife.

From Beware! The Seas Are Angry This Night by Clint Westgard

Forthcoming: Beware! The Seas Are Angry This Night

Beware scaled

“Captain, I don’t know what to tell you. The game has changed.”

And so it has, but the Captain is determined not to lose. He faces a host of problems though: the man he was supposed to make a deal with has betrayed him, turning on the Infernal Contraption which means death to everyone near it, and now he is forced flee passing through a city descending into chaos and violence. And then there is the Grand Jefe…

A short story by  Clint Westgard
Forthcoming May 2013