August 20th, 2011

spider

The Black Blade




Blackhawk from 2000AD


This is an entry for Chuck Wendig's genre-mashup flash-fiction challenge, 'Southern Gothic/Sword and Sorcery'.



The chains weighed heavy on his wrists and ankles, dragging through the dust. He glowered from beneath his heavy brow, eyes like a bull; deep, brown, simmering with aggression. He was a broad and powerful man, a slab of ebony muscle and scars. To look upon him one could only imagine how he might end up in chains. The magic of the ghosts was powerful and could bring low even the strongest, so it seemed.


He lingered a moment too long before the wooden gates, head turning, always alert. The ghost behind him lashed out with his whip, opening a broad stripe across the man's back that stung and bled down his shadowed skin.


“Git yer ass in thar slave.” The ghost drawled, spitting a brown stream of tobacco juice onto the ground. The grey uniform they all wore made them look alike to the chained man. His thick lips curled back from his teeth, feral, but he took the step into the stockade, allowing himself to be shut into the dark with the other slaves whose fates would soon be discovered.


Those soulful eyes adjusted to the darkness slowly. He arched his back, feeling the flesh sting afresh along the line of the whip with a new trickle of blood. Through the cracks in the beams lines of light shone, swimming with dust motes. It did little to disperse the stench of fear and shit from the cell. Most of the others he dismissed with but a glance. Ghost criminals, broken slaves, only one drew his eye.


A woman of the redskins, beautiful and proud. She was almost naked, her modesty covered by a beaded necklace and a waist mat of soft doeskin. He took in her proud mien - she stood when the others huddled - the way she paced like a mountain lion, testing the boundaries of their cage relentlessly. She noticed him the same moment he noticed her.


“You look like you can fight.” She said in the ghost-tongue they shared. She stepped close, her scent of fresh sweat, a feminine tang that was stirring after the perfume stink of the ghost-people's 'ladies' and the stench of the other slaves.


“I can fight,” he admitted, his voice a rumbling growl. His hands pushing up his face, through the thick beard that framed his mouth, up into the tight ball of curls that crowned his head.


“So can I. I am a daughter to a great war chief of my people. I am Nizhoni.” She said, with a toss of her hair, as though he should know who she was - and be impressed.


“I am...”


They were interrupted, the gates at the other side opening. The ghost-people with their fire-staves standing guard as the slaves were ushered out, their chains unlocked from their limbs. He flexed his hands and rubbed his wrists as they were freed, testing his body, ready for the battle ahead.


“Whut's yer name slave?” The older ghost snarled, looking down at his board covered in the chicken scratches his people called writing.


“Wano.” Rumbled the man, glowering at the functionary, grunting as a whip fell for a second time across his back.


“Yer slave name, ya uppity bastich,” the man snarled through crooked, brown teeth.


“Jon.” Came this time, reluctantly. He was ushered forward, a heavy sabre pressed into his hand. It was no spear, but it would do for the grim work of spilling blood.


Together they entered the arena, surrounded by the grey-adorned ghosts and their strange womenfolk. Afraid of their own bodies they swathed themselves in tents of fabric, hats and gloves, hiding from the life-giving sun beneath umbrellas. They might as well be veiled as the women of the desert-folk were. There was one amongst them all, men and women, who looked different. Clad in white, leaning on his fire-staff.  The master slaver. The White Wizard of the people from across the sea.


Harland.


A cheer went up from the crowd, even as the 'ladies' averted their eyes in shame from the red princess' bared breasts. Harland raised his staff and stood, gesturing to the gate on the other side of the arena. With a glow from that rod the wooden doors slammed open with violent force.


A lean man in grey stepped forth to the bloodied sawdust. His hair and beard were long, neat, he was whiter still than the other ghosts and he held his sabre like it was part of him. Wano watched him, tensing his fist around his own blade. The ghost-magic could hollow out a man, take his weaknesses, his emotions, his pain, but it left him with a need to fill that hollow. That made a man dangerous beyond imagining.


Harland's staff struck the ground with a flash of sparks and a peal of thunder, the fight was on. The lean man moved like lightning and almost immediately one of their fellow captives was gurgling his lifeblood onto the sawdust. Wano growled, this was no fair match, who could stand against the ghost magic?


Nizhani backed up against him and even in this fight for his life he could not ignore the curvaceous press of her hips as they stood together, the other slaves and prisoners dying around them one by one. The ghost's beard stained with blood as he tore the throat from one of them to sate his need.


“We cannot win.” Nizhani hissed, a hint of fear giving her voice a tremulous flutter.


“They have their magic,” Wano rumbled, waiting for the inevitable attack “we have ours, drawn from the land. What makes land other than the blood, sweat and tears of our brothers and sisters? Distract him. I will do the rest.”


The ghost came upon them then, seeming to fly over the sawdust without touching the ground. Fast, almost too fast to see but Nizhani was barely fast enough to meet him. With every sinew and muscle straining to the task she could – just barely – hold this creature off.


Wano sprang, built like a bull but with the grace and speed of the panthers from his native land. Too late the ghost realised he was no longer slaying the broken and the helpless. These were warriors of red and black.


Overconfidence was his downfall. Wano's blade carved the ghost's neck clean through, a spray of blood, unnaturally dark, lost against the
darkness of Wano's flesh even as he was drenched. He finished his wild swinging circuit and snatched the severed head from the air,
still alive, blinking, mouth working silently as Wano held it high. He fixed Harland with a wild glare, beating his chest with the fist
that held the sword, Nizhani proud at his side. 


“WE WILL BE FREE!” Came their roar, together, man and woman, red and black, so powerful that the silent, shocked audience rocked back in their seats. Afraid, perhaps for the first time ever.





spider

Doc Osmium: Synchronius Maximus - Part Four: Order & Chaos









The Museum was only fifteen minutes from closing when they arrived. The Doc bounded up the stairs two and three at a time, leaping towards the entrance as fast as he could as Susan rummaged for change to pay the parking fee.

“Leave it!” He shouted back at her, his voice carrying surprisingly loudly given the distance and how hard he'd been running. She sprinted to catch up with him as best she could but he was a powerhouse. She only caught him at the turnstile because he paused to cram a fistful of dollars into the donation box before moving in.

“We shut soon!” The woman called from the entrance booth, but the Doc only gave her a cheery wave and kept on running with Susan drawn, apologetically, along in his wake.

The Doc was well ahead of her, out of sight, by the time she reached the genetics exhibit, losing him amongst the giant plastic helices, posters about heritability and the stuffed examples of ring species. Susan wandered, a little lost, they were almost the only people in here, the last few visitors filtering away as the time to closing counted down over the intercom. 

Flustered she turned this way and that, looking for the Doc in every shadow until his massive mitts closed on her and dragged her back into an exhibit, huddling her down behind a string of ape-men that roughly delineated the ascent of man.

“Seems as good a place as any,” he grinned, he seemed to be enjoying this far too much, the game, the chase, even though people had died. She was tempted to say something to him but knew it would be futile to try and sway his opinion. The man was as stubborn as he was... interesting.

The museum closed, the lights went out and they were alone in the dark. She was bored and, frankly, she needed to pee. Every time she went to open her mouth the Doc hushed her, pressing a finger against her lips in a manner she found patronising. She took a deep breath to remonstrate with him and he clamped his hand over her mouth. She bit down, hard and he scowled at her, pointing to the exhibit hall ahead of them.

Two shadows moved, a pair of low rent security guards on their night shift. Chattering about television as they shone their torches left and right. Nothing for them to really be worried about so she bit him again, harder, then stopped. There was a 'plink' noise as something bounced and rolled along the floor. One guard went flying, treading on something, his feet flying out from under him, shrieking like a little girl as his arms flew out and caught his partner in the temple, both of them falling down with a sickening 'thump' and laying still upon the ground.

What were the odds? She didn't know, couldn't think to calculate but this whole thing had been a long series of coincidences, extreme chances and strange circumstances. This was just another in the list and she was beginning to get numb to it.

Whoever it was that had thrown that bauble now stepped into the exhibit hall, a stalking shadow, tall and somehow freakish, his long coat sweeping around him.

“Doctor, show yourself!” The man's voice was harsh, filled with contempt, hatred, a seething animosity that twisted his voice and his features. “I know you're here,” he snapped his fingers and the lights came back up with a flicker and a crackle. Another coincidence? In the light the man was revealed, a gaunt, skeletal figure with a strange, wedge shaped head and a pronounced widow's peak, a pinched mouth and a permanent sneer.

The Doc waved his hand downward, telling her silently to hide as he drew himself up to his impressive height and strode purposefully out of the stand, between Homo Sapiens and Neanderthal Man.

“Here I am. As you wanted. You've killed people to get me here. So why don't you tell me who you are and what you want, why you've done all this. Why would you do this?”

The man folded his hands neatly behind his back and that sneering face broke into a smile, it didn't look like it belonged there. “A man who calls himself 'Osmium' has the temerity to ask me my name? Well, you can call me Augury,” He ran his hand down the great, plastic double helix that dominated the exhibit. “As to why? It's because of this. You're an abomination Doctor, an unnatural thing, every advantage you have you've been given but an artificial thing such as you cannot evolve, cannot change. Only given the natural order can we succeed and progress as a species.”

The Doc frowned, deeply. “That was not my choice. I can hardly be held accountable for what my parents did to me before I was even born.”

“True, but you do remain an example of the process and, given your exploits, a temptation for others to follow in their wake and a key that others might seek to replicate the process that they invented.”

“And your stake?”

Augury pulled a ball from the helix model and without looking, tossed it back over his shoulder. Miraculously it hit a strut and stuck in place. “I am a mutant, a product of nature. You are artificial, a tool, a device, an unchanging machine. You're not even human while I – and those like me – am the future. I must prove my superiority over you.”

Susan could bear it no longer, she stood up and cupped her hands around her mouth, calling to the Doc. “It's no good Oz, he's insane. He's not listening to a word you're saying.”

Osmium bristled as she showed herself, but the odds were Augury already knew she was there. His massive six-digit hands curled tight until the knuckles were white. “Maybe he'll listen to REASON.” The Doc twisted with that unnatural speed he'd shown before, that sledgehammer fist moving in a blinding blur towards Augury's face. Impossibly Augury moved, the very slightest amount and the Doc's fist went wide, missing him by a hair and smashing into the podium upon which the helix stood. The blow was so powerful that it collapsed, scattering balls in all directions and Susan had little doubt that the Doc had shattered his own fist with that mighty blow, though he didn't flinch.

“My mutation,” continued Augury as though nothing had happened “is that I can prognosticate. From a set of starting information I can see the permutations, the possibilities, everything that is going to happen. Like a chain of dominoes, events one after another. I have seen this fight, I know exactly what you and your little friend there are going to do. I have seen it all before.”

The Doc snarled and swung out with his booted food, a blow that would shatter rock if it connected but Augury merely flinched back and gave the Doc's foot a tap with his own, skeletal hand, overbalancing the bigger man and sending him tumbling to the ground.

“It's futile. You've already lost.”

Susan's mind churned, ran, there was something about the Doc, he was a patronising bastard but he was smart, remarkable, unique. She realised that for all his insistence, all his attitude and bravado in this instance, he was screwed. Augury was right.

Or was he?

The Doc stumbled to his feet again, nursing his broken hand, clenching his jaw in frustration. His indomitable will wouldn't let him admit defeat, even when he was apparently fated to lose and he lifted METHOD, hoping – against the odds – to crack Augury's skull, a man to whom everything was a game, a puzzle, the mere numbers of probability, of chance.

“Wait!” Susan shouted out. 

The Doc's fist halted just before swinging, Augury's smug face waiting for a blow that never came. 

“There's a paradox! He thinks he's superior to you because he's a natural mutation and you're made.” Susan strode forward, picking her way through the balls and struts that now littered the ground, her finger jabbing, accusative, into Augury's face. “But your mutation, your ability, you see everything as unbending fate. A chain of events following an inevitable pattern. If that's the case then what's the difference between you? Everything merely unfolds according to mathematical certainty. You're just as engineered as he is!”

Augury's face fell. “What?”

“Turn your talent on yourself and tell us what you see.” She spat and watched as his eyes glazed over, twitching left and right as the numbers swam in his head.

The Doc wasn't one to wait though and his fist, suspended in time during Susan's diatribe, snapped out and cracked into Augury's skull as doubt flickered in his twisted features. He collapsed like a bundle of coat hangers, his nose spread over his face as the Doc stood triumphant over his unconscious body and shook out his hand, cradling his broken fist against his chest.

“Thank you Susan,” he said after a moment, with a great weariness and a genuine humility and sincerity. “I couldn't have beaten him without you.”

Susan just nodded and supported him as he staggered, the pain finally cutting through his will. “You were the same. Both Newtonians. I remembered what you said, back on the flats.”

“Not any more.” The door opened before them as they stepped out into the cool night air and the glow of the city lights.

“A man who can admit he's wrong?” Susan laughed as she helped him down towards the Corvette.

“I'm a scientist Susan, first and foremost. You test a hypothesis and if it is wrong you revise it. That we beat him... well, that demonstrates that the universe is too complex and random to be predicted in this way.”

Susan nodded as they reached the car. “Perhaps I'd better drive?”

The Doc nodded and then smiled in the streetlight, looking down at his massive six-digit fist and lifting it to his mouth, kissing his knuckles. “METHOD...” He laughed, deep and booming and slid into the passenger seat. The roar of the engine herald of further adventures to come.