The Quietus Saga Chapter 1.3 (WIP)

A foot long and placed in the corner where wall met ceiling, the emergency light flickered its sickly yellow pale into the residential hallway. A faint bass line rumbled from an apartment home, its beat almost keeping pace with the flickering light. Winston knocked on the door that the bass line came from, keeping his body angled so the door would have to happen wide to see him and so he could keep an eye on the hallway.

His eyes darted to a scratching sound from a drainage grate on the opposite side of the hall. Hands curled loosely into fists, he stared. The grate, about the width of his hand and as long as the emergency light, wiggled. It then popped up where a furry body quickly scurried into view. The black rat froze when it got completely free of the grate, realizing something was near it. It stared intently at Winston, whiskers twitching furiously, and then abruptly it went scurrying down the hall. Winston let out the breath he had been holding and knocked on the door a second time.

When no one opened the door, Winston set off once more constantly looking at the ceiling. Mildew and mold ran in long streaks. In places the fungi covered conduits to the point it looked like the piping simply stopped for a few inches and then started again. Next to the conduit were disused rails for automatic pressure washers to keep the hallways pristine. On paper, in the intel provided, the arcology was gorgeous. Small holes showed in the ceiling where a long piece of railing had been ripped free.

He stopped at the next door in the hallway, eyes on the false tile next to the missing railing. Intel provided had it leading to a sub-ceiling or subfloor, dependent on where one stood. It could be full of grims. Or a bunch of Symps trailing me. Shit. Why was intel so bad for this? I could get a few dozen Symps. People are people and will be idiots so there are bound to be a few who side with a terrorist message. But an entire neighborhood? Somebody dropped the goddamn ball. Dropped it big time.

He pounded on the door. The emergency light that was providing a modicum of illumination, blinked out. The telltale hum of air moving through ventilation shafts was suddenly there. He slowly shook his head. It’s worse on regular power. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised at the number of Symps. He pounded again and this time the door swung inward.

Faint red light spilled into the hallway but no sound followed it. At least none he could hear. The ambient sound was just too much. Nice call assholes, he wiped his hands on his sweat and blood stained pants, on ordering minimal gear. He walked slowly back and to the side, keeping a wide angle on the door. In and out they said. We have positive intel on the residents wanting Yosem Mir gone from the arcology, they said. He clenched and unclenched his fists, peeking in.

Fully furnished. A cursory scan placed a futon on the right wall. A chaise in front of it. Long hutch on the left wall. Box in between the chaise and hutch. Table near the kitchen entrance. Two more hutches near the table. A red light hanging from the middle, swaying a bit. Seeing no potential hostiles, Winston stayed where he stood and focused on the details. How the chaise was littered with dirty dishes and waded up clothing. He took in the coiled rope on the box and the rips in the futon that had a blanket hanging off the edge. There was pizza on the table, just laying on the table with seven cups scattered around the food. Toys and instruments and books littered the floor.

A look up and down the hall and then Winston entered the domicile. The bass line from the neighboring apartment home was faint, sounding like a slow heartbeat now. He matched his breathing to it and looked in the hutch that was to his immediate left.

Winston blinked. Twice.

Bugs filled the hutch. Worms writhing. Beetles buzzed and bounced off the glass front. Huge hairy spiders stalked the shelves. Locusts buzzed like saws. Flies covered indiscriminate lumps with worms and maggots writhing in a pulsating mass. A cold shiver ran over him like ice water dumped on his head. Who the fuck keeps bugs for pets? Any more remarks were instantly killed when he turned to look at the box. Not a coiled rope. Coiled intestines with the blood appearing black under the red light. The waded clothing was stained black. Black marks on the couch, centered on the tears.

It was having experienced more fubar missions that he would ever freely dwell on that had Winston moving. Into the kitchen, stepping over a headless feline corpse, getting a knife out of the third drawer he opened. A cheap steak knife. It would break after the first cut, but it was a weapon. An upper cabinet opened. Tin of baked beans. The bluntness complimented the steak knife and it was a projectile.

He spared the dead cat a single glance, noting the missing paws, on his way back into the main living area. Winston went to the first bedroom on the right. Bed, dresser, desk, rolling chair, closet open, posters of musical bands on the walls. Winston nodded at the toolbox on the floor of the closet. He opened it and took the hammer without hesitation, leaving the knife.

Bass line matching the beat of his heart now, Winston kept the hammer angled away from his body as he stepped across the hall to the bathroom. The entrance covered by a hanging curtain backlit by a nightlight. His chin dipped in acknowledgement. It made no sense, was irrational in every way, but he accepted the mutilated brown and white dog hanging by a wire as a statement of fact.

The bass was getting stronger as he got closer to the wall separating the two apartments. Winston extended the hammer and pushed the door open to the master bedroom. A snake on the bed slithered into a tight ever moving coil as a warning to Winston. He kept his distance, as he could, checked the en suite, and then a few seconds later was pushing open the last bedroom door.

Faintly illuminated by a nightlight on the wall, the room was a blank slate of freshly painted drywall. Walls without a blemish wherein the other rooms were sloppily painted, had holes randomly throughout, and the odd piece of art work hanging in the hall. He looked over his shoulder into the bathroom at the hanging dog that looked like someone had worked it over with a cheese grater, and then he slowly turned his head to look down the hall. Just as slow, he brought his gaze back to the room. It was too off. Too wrong.

Thump. Thump. Thump. The bass followed him into the room. Angling to keep the door in his peripheral, Winston began walking the room, skirting the walls. A finger traced a line on the new neon yellow paint. Gaze took in the perfectly installed sculpted mid-height baseboard two shades whiter than the wainscoting. The same shade of white as the chair rail. His bed was a matching white; linen, mattress, and frame. Winston crawled onto the bed.

An absence of light, black as sin moved in front of the entryway.

From the middle of the room Winston swung the hammer.

Yellow was the color of light.

Back into a corner of the closet, Winston screamed wordlessly.

Light keeps the horrors away.

The complete absence of light, radiating terror like a forest fire radiates heat, floated. Crawled. Slithered over the threshold.

Light repelled the nightmares.

Winston turned his back to the open door. His hands squeezed on tin of baked beans and the handle of the hammer. Breath catching in his throat.

Light vanished.

[Reaper, where are you?]

The door closed.

Legit concerns or doubt?

I f****** got this! Umm, do I?

I finished Chapter 6 of the tentatively title sci-fi horror THE ENCOUNTER OF RUINATION. Now the thoughts are going overtime and it reminds me of quote of Bertrand Russell:

The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.

Now am I being cocky, arrogant, or self-sure when I liken myself to that latter group? It’s not modesty that’s for sure, but back to Concerns or Doubt. I want to write a sci-fi horror and am confident I can pull it off, yet that damnable imposter syndrome rears its repugnant head.

Did I finish the last sentence of the last chapter correctly? Am I choosing the right direction in short chapters instead of short sections and long chapters? (Because I can’t go back and edit, right) Did he bounce back too quick? Did he react realistically even though this entire story is made up and not realistic?

Our doubts are traitors,
and make us lose the good we oft might win,
by fearing to attempt. — William Shakespeare

You know what Willy? You make a good point. You miss 100% the shots you take right?

Writing is really interesting in that you can be 1,000% confident while you’re writing and the next day, but then after that you are 1,000% positive that you jumped the shark. And you know what; up until an hour ago I was positive I jumped the shark with what I wrote. But then I remembered that in writing there are no rules. There are just guidelines.

I do want to know what you folks think of my writing. I would like to know if when you get done with the chapter if you think that that was just completely silly, that there was a part in there that just ruined it or it’s all amazing. You are my beta readers in a sense, and I thank you for it.

The Quietus Saga Chapter 1.2 (WIP)

Feeling a soft warm body press against her leg, Master Sergeant Kat “Reaper” Bacque reached down and absently petted the black dog that had adopted her and Corporal Obara “Ghost” Yoson. Her eyes remained fixed on the communal area the hall emptied into. It was massive. Easily a million square feet. Ghost or Hatchet would know the exact measurements but she didn’t feel like asking—Ghost. Asking Hatchet wasn’t a choice at the moment; and it didn’t really matter. At a little more than or less than a million square feet there was an awful lot of open space and hiding spots for any remaining Yosem Mirs or their sympathizers.

“Fucking grims could be out there,” she muttered. The dog wasn’t excited so maybe there were none nearby. Maybe there was a entire army ten feet away. Who the fuck knew? Not her. This whole fubar scenario with losing almost all her team, the grims, the grims and  their relationship with dogs was…fluid.

“Wonder how many grims are out there,” Ghost commented.

From her peripheral she caught him squatting to pet the dog. Strapped across his chest and resting on his back was the pulse cannon they had acquired through a tense shopping experience that culminated with an entire Yosem Mir cell dead. The weapon was a two-hander to her and he had it across his back like it was a standard issued rifle. Fucking dick.

“I was just thinking that,” she said.

There was a lot of vegetation in this communal area and the other seventeen in the arcology. The uneducated may have thought the trees there to help scrub the air made disgusting by a million people living on top of each other, on top of the pleasant ambiance they added. The uneducated would be wrong. While there had to be twenty or so mature live oaks in each communal area and hundreds of bushes, there simply were not enough plants to make a difference in air quality which was now the elephant in the room.

Engineering had never been a strong suit for Reaper, but she knew oxygen generators needed a power source to function. She also knew that backup power was finite. What she didn’t know; what Ghost, the only Black Dragon she could talk to, didn’t know was just how long the backup power would function. Even though everyone seemed to be in hiding, at least those who were not Sympathizers, it still meant there were a shit lot o’ people breathing in oxygen in a building on a planet that had practically no atmosphere. Thus, no oxygen.

“I also want to know why there are so many Sympathizers,” Ghost added. “Four levels now and each has been full of the fuck faces.”

Reaper shrugged. “We always knew intel was going to be a little off on this place.” She gestured absently in front of her. “Everybody in this goddamn hell hole hates Trinity.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Ghost stood, towering a foot over Reaper. “Trinity government shits all over everybody who isn’t making them money and shit like that. Still don’t explain why so many Symps here.”

“Probably why we were brought in to close up shop.”

“Speaking of closing. How’s the arm?”

Reaper looked down at the arm immobilized against her side. It was shredded. From shoulder down, the black shirt was missing along with a good portion of skin and muscle. The exoskeleton, made of some sort of graphene polymer and was sinfully strong, was mangled. It looked like a stick of wax had been softened, wrapped around the arm and then cooled.

“Right as rain and I don’t need another fucking injection.” She shoved him with her right arm, the good arm. “Stop hovering like a goddamn momma hen.  You’re worse than my mother.”

“Well.” The words died on Corporal Obara “Ghost” Yoson’s lips. As one, both he and Reaper looked down at the black dog. Shoulder coming to her hip, it looked like a black lab with the musculature of a racehorse. Queen had called it a Hoisin Hybrid, before paths had diverged. Whatever the breed, the thing was fucking pissed. Hackles up, tail down, and lips pulled back revealing fangs that were downright scary; and she’d fight anyone who had a problem with her acknowledging that.

“That pulse-,” she glanced down as the dog started making a growling sound that mimicked the concussions of large artillery, “cannon can light that oaks on fire. I want them all roasting.”

“Which way we going?” Ghost pulled the gun metal gray cannon from his back. It was reminiscent of the ancient Browning .50cal, only it had a 3 inch wide barrel and the stock was 14” in diameter to hold the fuel cell. Reaper knew from practice on the range that the thing was twice as heavy as her. Even taking into account the exoskeleton it was a bit awe inspiring the ease of maneuvering he displayed.

She looked down at the mangled arm and then back at him.

“Oh yeah,” he winked, “you lost our sat comms link.”

“One arm or not, I can still kick the shit out of you.”

Ghost grinned and then rolled his shoulders as the cannon settled in his grip.

“Just follow the fucking dog.”

“Good i-.” The rest of the word was lost in a roar of sound and light. The five foot long cannon let loose a torrent of silvery hellfire that vaporized a line through the trunk of the closest tree. The line traced its way right, zig-zagging a bit as Ghost adjusted his grip. Thunderous sound and ozone filled the air. Heat buffeted the duo and canine. Flames danced shadows around the cavernous space. And then the thunder ceased along with a considerable amount of light.

“Fuck yeah!” Ghost yelled over the sound of boiling water exploding from trees and massive branches falling.

Reaper just shook her head. It was no longer a wonder why Trinity banned the weapons. It would’ve taken missiles, plural, to cause the same devastation. The heat was unbelievably oppressive, stealing the breath from her lungs and burning the breath that went in. It was probably just four trees that Ghost ignited, but that was quickly spreading and—she arched an eyebrow and looked around. The fire suppression system wasn’t kicking in. Oh yeah, no power. Then as if her thoughts were magic, overhead lighting kicked on and a claxon shrilled.

“It’s gonna get messy in here,” Ghost yelled and pointed toward the ceiling.

“Snow?” There was so much white falling, drifting on the thermals of burning vegetation and reinforced concrete. A surreal beauty in a hellish landscape.

He shook his head. “Oxygen eating foam.”

Master Sergeant Kat “Reaper” Bacque brought her eyes down from the falling death to the bonfire in front of her. It was like she was suddenly encased in gel with weights on her hand. She shivered from a chill that belied the heat. Raising her hand to point at the voids of light moving through fire that the flames didn’t even reflect off, an overpowering desire to run washed over from head to toe, followed by a fucking bullshit realization.

What the fuck? Scared? “Scared?” she said aloud. The Hoisin Hybrid canine next to her started to stalk toward the flames. Ghost just stared. “Scared!” She roared. “You motherfuckers have no fucking clue who you are fucking with!”

With a scream of rage, Reaper yanked her Stallion Black sidearm from its holster and ripped off six shots. Missing with all of them. The grims were just too fast. It just wasn’t natural.

“Fuck you!” She glanced at Ghost and then jammed the Stallion Black back into the holster. She then punched the terror frozen Corporal in the back before yanking the pulse cannon from him. “Grab the fucking dog!”

Powered by rage, for fuck those motherfucking things fucking thinking they could fucking scare her, she spun once and flung the three hundred pound pulse cannon like a discuss into the raging inferno. That got Corporal “Ghost” Yoson moving. Like the dog were a puppy, Ghost scooped it with one arm and then ran with Reaper. Away from the fire.

“We just came from this way,” Ghost yelled.

“I know!”

“There’s a lot of Symps this way!”

“Shut the fu-.” Reaper bit the tip of her tongue off as the concussion wave punched them like a hundred cars.

Her first thought was good thing the syringes are in my front pocket. Then, fuck you Ms. Stevens. I can fly without wings; and then, shit. Reaper bounced off a pylon into a flat spin, boots cracking against Ghost’s head. Red and a few little flecks of white spewed from his mouth, the dog fell from nonsensical arms, and then Reaper crashed onto her bad arm.

Contorting in agony, Reaper slid on wet ground, eventually coming to a stop. Breath coming in gasps, bum arm twitching like mad, and vision getting hazy she moved on instinct and hardened training. Her good arm groped around her chest until coming in contact with a tubular piece of graphene-titanium alloy. She then pulled the syringe from the pocket and dropped it. It clattered and rolled to a stop next to something. Reaper grabbed for it. She felt something soft and then something hard. Wrapping her fingers around the hard object, her arm moved as if possessed, snapping up and then down. Just as the blunt end of the syringe slammed against skin and bone, the needle snapped out, sliding through bone like butter and into her heart. Instantaneous…less agony. No fucking way this is what relief feels like.

“At least I don’t feel like I’ve fallen through Death’s door,” she said aloud.

“What that?”

She slowly craned her neck in the direction of the speaker. “Goddamnit.”

Underfed, under-clothed, too much facial hair, and holding a machete the Symp looked like a cave dweller who just made human contact after forgetting what people looked like. Beady brown eyes roamed her body. He licked his lips and then grabbed at his tiny dick.

Reaper touched her holster or where there used to be a holster. She turned the touch into a leg rub and then winked at Tiny Dick. His mind couldn’t have even registered the wink for that dog came out of nowhere. It was Reaper just a few seconds from castrating a fuck face with his own machete; and then it was the machete clanging on the ground and the dog tossing half of Tiny Dick’s neck into the air.

“Christ Almighty,” she whispered. The machete was still quivering to stillness as the dog walked away from the newly made corpse. Reaper ran it over in her mind. Nope. Fuck that. Better to just thank the dog and move on.

The dog looked over to its left. Shit, even the muscles in its face rippled as it moved. Reaper followed the gaze and gave Ghost a dip of her chin. Damn did his face look bad. There was a hole in his right cheek and it looked like his right ear may have been partially ripped free. Blood ran a waterfall from his head, thought it was slowing as she watched the hole stitch itself closed. She snorted. Modern medicine.

“Help me up will ya?” Reaper asked.

Ghost shook his head a bit and then gave her a nod as he walked over. “Hoisin Hybrid, she called it?”

For as strong as he was, he was surprisingly gentle in helping her up. “Hoisin Hybrid.”

“We should name it.”

She shook her head. “We should keep moving. We need to find a palmlet, and I no longer give a shit about entering a dwelling without receiving permission.”

Ghost shrugged and then picked up the machete. He handed it to her and then held up his hands. “Your guess in a direction is as good as mine, Master Sarge. Where to.”

Reaper slowly looked up and down the corridor. About fifty feet wide, it appeared to be a people filler for the concourse they had just tried destroying. A body, missing its entire right side, lay a few feet away. The soft thing she touched while searching for the syringe. She let out a sigh at the sight of it. Symps didn’t do that, nor did anyone belonging to any Yosem Mir terror cells that may still have been functioning inside Olympus Mons Arcology.

She cleared her throat and then blinked away smoke stinging her eyes. Just then the power cut, plunging the corridor into darkness. Reaper counted to three before the three emergency lights in the corridor came on. Either the failsafe backup power supplies were failing or wires were being severed. Whatever the reason, it didn’t sit right.

“That way,” she pointed in the direction of the concourse, “between the inferno remnants and the foam is a death sentence. We have to go back the way we came.”

“Six one way, half dozen the other,” he muttered.

“Keep your fucking comments to yourself Corporal. You’re a Black Dragon. Act like it.” She started walking, feeling more than a little glad that horse of a fucking dog fell into step with her.

Ghost flinched at the comment as if she had slapped him. Served him right. He shouldn’t have pointed out the obvious. That was an officer’s job.

The Quietus Saga Chapter 1.1 (WIP)

Chapter

[Reaper, give your fix,] Staff Sergeant Winston ‘Hatchet’ Speh subvocalized. [I’m heading down Hall Eighteen Bravo. No grims in sight.]

His eyes darted around. Emergency lighting from a flood light on his six bathed the wide hall in a faint jaundice yellow glow. Concrete rubble littered the ground, with bullet holes taking the concrete’s former place in the walls. Water sussuring from a broken pipe somewhere in the vast hallway had soaked the ceiling to the point it was raining. The air was rank with putridness like he had just stepped into a wastewater sewer, and a civilian slumped against a wall, ten feet down on the right side. Almost like the guy was sleeping with a mess of yarn on his lap; but yarn wasn’t rubbery, bloody, and filled with literal shit and undigested lunch. The chap had been split open from pelvis to sternum.

 “Shit. Ain’t no one around,” Winston whispered.

No one. Not Reaper. Queen. Javelin. Ghost. Cleaver. All of them fuck knows where. Civilians were scattered, panicked, terrified. Pushed to the irrational and fucking killing each other like rats frantically trying to escape a goddamn sinking ship. Power was sporadic with dwindling oxygen and climbing CO2. Half the cesspit wanted to legit murder him and his five fellow Black Dragons. And a there were bunch of wow I’ve finally snapped and have gone full insane things that were as brutal as the Grim Reaper itself; hence the name.

“Suppose things could be worse,” he muttered and then glanced at the eight-inch black blade he held. Aside from his appendages it was the only weapon he had. While the grims were doing a bang up job at excising the wicked from the arcology like a doctor expelling puss from a pimple, there were still a few hundred humans who wanted the six ARIES Team 2 “Black Dragons” to vacate the premises. “Not sure how though.”

Overhead hallway lighting abruptly turned on. Winston blinked rapidly against the sudden light blindness and then let out a long breath. Red painted every surface in sight like a hundred cans of spray paint had exploded at once. Holy mother of all that is holy that isn’t just concrete, it’s, it’s, Jesus it looks like a family was put through a ricer. His eyes narrowed, gaze focusing on an oddity down the hall. Anything to keep from actively dwelling on what he was walking through. Black Dragons had seen some shit, been involved in some seriously grievous trash, but there was a breaking point to the human mind.

His grip shifted on his knife handle, which he realized now was coated, like himself, not in water but blood. Fuck, how many people would have to be opened up to make it rain with their fluid? The oddity that had been hidden in shadow before kept his gaze though. It looked like a weathered canvas painting, fraying at the edges and stapled to the wall. Stepping lightly, he found it a bit amusing how the mind automatically responded to new information.

“What in the motherfuck?” The words leapt from his lips without thought as it all came into view and clicked at once. Skin. Human skin slapped to the wall so hard that it stuck.

A boom. A scream. Winston spun on a heel, arm flashing out and sending the knife arrowing into the chest of a naked screaming man before the crazy had made it all of three steps into the hall. While gravity hastened the man to the ground, Winston bounded over to the corpse. He snatched the blade free on his way past and into the apartment home.

The layout was identical to every other apartment in Olympus Mons Arcology. An eleven hundred square foot floorplan he and his team had committed to memory before leaving Earth for Mars. A dual-purpose living/dining room upon immediate entry. A kitchen lay through an entryway on the right near the back-right corner. A hallway eleven feet from the main entry that cut left leading to a room on the right, a full bath on the left and a bedroom just beyond the full bath. A half bath attached to that last bedroom. Inside eleven seconds he had each room cleared and then began work on searching for the palmlet that came with every apartment in the arcology.

The bedroom with attached bath was sad by any measure. A twin-sized air mattress was pushed against a corner. Cardboard boxes, six of them, all filled with clothing, had taken up space in the closet. They were now strewn about the room as Winston made a quick peek into the half-bath. Three shampoo bottles, a bar of soap, and a pink trash can. He snagged the trash can and felt his way through the contents on his way to other bedroom, which he found empty as if no one lived in the apartment.

At the edge of the hall leading into the dual-purpose room, Winston halted. Every part of his being told him to run. Hide. Cower. Find safety. Preserve the self. Sweat suddenly beaded from his palms. His heart began beating so hard it vibrated his entire torso. Horripilation rose and fell across his body. His pupils shrank to pinpoints and it felt like trying to breathe with a pillow over the face. The only thing that kept the knife gripped with nonsensical fingers and his knees from giving out was an innate arrogance that he, Staff Sergeant Winston “Hatchet” Speh was the baddest motherfucker in any given room at any given time.

Lifting a foot that felt as if it were encased in solid lead, Winston stepped fully into the dual-purpose room. Slowly he turned his head to the left, his gaze resting on the grim framing the entryway to the kitchen. Roads were black. Charcoal was black. This was less black and more the absence of light. A night terror given flesh. Wrongness solidified. The primal part of Winston’s brain screamed at him to look away. A fuck all attitude against weakness kept his eyes fixed on the thing and still it was nigh impossible to form an accurate description in his head. It stood on two legs or four or perhaps floated on a twitching tail. Maybe it had a head like a person. Maybe it didn’t. The visual largely would not stay fixed in memory, though one thing he did perceive was the unnatural sharpness of it. Like looking at even the most advanced android out there and getting that sense it was not natural, so to did this grim give off. It was that gut feeling that allowed higher order thinking to take control, once again.

The powered exoskeleton that was epoxied to his skin and also held by magnets attached to bones, and was also now hanging in places by makeshift straps, surged. Winston threw himself across the room and out the door like he was shot out of a cannon. If anything, the grim was faster. Something hard clipped his back just as he passed the threshold and threw him hard against the far wall. Pain ripped from the right clavicle as the magnet on the bone forcibly disengaged from the exoskeleton and then snapped back into place.

Taking advantage of momentum, Winston twisted like a cat and then rolled shoulder over shoulder across the wall. Concrete erupted like a volcano exploding with the grim passing through three inches of block and into an apartment home. A brief scream from an unlucky civilian followed the explosion of wall. Winston pushed off his wall with a foot, bounded several steps down the hall and then fell into a fighting stance.

He arched an eyebrow when the grim did not immediately reappear in the hallway. Weird. His eyes flicked to the macabre canvas stuck to the hallway wall some ways away and his eyes widened at the realization. Holy fuck that’s fucked. He then broke into a jog and glanced at hands that now held nothing but air.  I need a gun and a palmlet…and my team.

[Black Dragons,] he subvocalized. [Where the fuck are you?]