Category Archives: Writing

New Story published in Luna’s Children!

doubleThe anthology Luna’s Children is now out in kindle and a print version is coming out soon. This is an anthology of werewolf stories edited by D. Alan Lewis. There are actually two volumes: Stranger Worlds and Full Moon Mayhem. My short story, “Always Hungry” is in Stranger Worlds.

So what’s in my short story? The story bends several of the rules of the anthology. For one thing it’s not really about a werewolf per se. The main character is a coyote who is altered by the tears of a young woman into…something else. Something not quite human, but not of nature either. It’s an intense horror story, though there are some lighter moments in it. Like many horror stories it deals with humanity coming into conflict with darker natures and the supernatural.

Read it and tell me what you think!

Switchblade Pisces Pt. 17

switchbladepisces

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Chapter 17

~~~~~*~~~~~

On one side of the large parking lot outside the main entrance of the clinic Delacroix, two FBI agents, four local police cars, and a SWAT van sit there looking mean. On the other side there’s Eklund, Janis, Jazz, a few doctors in lab coats carrying tasers and me. Things don’t look that good. I’m betting on a number of things that might not be true, but at this point my plan is the only thing that makes sense. A hail mary pass, that just might get us all killed. Fun.

Eklund walks across the no-man’s land of the parking lot. Janis follows him. Delacroix joins him in the center of the space with the two agents to back him up.

“What’s it going to be, doc? The hard way, or the really hard way?”

Eklund looks older than I’ve ever seen him. He wipes sweat off of his brow and glances at me. I nod at him, even though I’m not sure about this either. Then he clears his throat and speaks. “What is will power, Agent Delacroix?” he asks.

“That sounds like a question, doc. I’m looking for an answer.”

“True, but you see, your reasons for attacking us seem to be contingent on whether or not the agent we took from the hospital wanted to be saved or not. But he was unconscious, how can we know what he wanted?”

“Your Pisces there put him in the hospital, I don’t think he’d be running to join her again.” Delacroix walks closer to Eklund using his height to intimidate the smaller, older man.

“You don’t think, but you don’t know,” Eklund points out.

“Sure, fine. Why don’t we wake him up and ask him? Oh, that’s right, we can’t, because he’s in a fucking coma.”

“Janis?” Eklund turned toward Janis, who’s rubbing her wrists in discomfort.

Delacroix and the two agents tense up, expecting an attack.

“Go to Delacroix. Do whatever he asks.”

Janis’s eyes go wide, but she follows the order, walking over to Delacroix.

“Go ahead. Give her an order,” Eklund prods.

“Stand on one foot,” Delacroix asks, and Janis does so. “Jump up and down.” Janis still follows the order. Delacroix’s face hardens into a scowl. “Kill yourself.”

The blade snaps out of Janis’s wrist, but she doesn’t raise it to her neck or any other part of her body. She wavers still on one foot. Then, slowly, her raised foot comes down.

“Kill yourself!” Delacroix yells, but now Janis’s blade retracts back into her wrist. She walks, slowly at first and then with more determination, back to Eklund’s side.

Eklund smiles. “She has a computer in her brain. It has a very simple program. Follow every order. A couple of days ago, she would have followed your order. But she has gained a will of her own. She has learned how to ignore her programming.”

“Am I supposed to be impressed? One of your robots is malfunctioning, how does that change anything?”

“Janis, if you could go back, would you rather I hadn’t helped you out? Would you rather I had left you in a coma?”

Janis swallows and shifts her weight. “Sometimes…sometimes I think I feel that way. But not right now. I don’t want to die, and I don’t want to be in a coma again either. I’m sorry if I’m not supposed to say that!”

“It’s okay, Janis. You’re a human being, now, not a robot at all. You’ve made me very proud.” Eklund pats Janis on the shoulder and turns to Delacroix. “You say Agent Fox wouldn’t want to be here. I say at the moment he has no will of his own. I say that anyone with an ounce of willpower would rather they have a will than not, and the only way we can give Agent Fox any semblance of will, would be to let us help him. Afterwards, he can decide if it’s worth it or not, but until then, let us do what we can.”

“How do I know you didn’t just program her to act this way? She’s your robot, you could tell her whatever you wanted.”

“I’m not a robot!” Janis says suddenly, her blades out of her wrists. She seems a little startled by her own outburst, but then she slowly smiles. “I’m not a robot,” she says again. “I have a will of my own.”

“Oh yeah? How do you know that? How can you be sure?”

Janis steps in front of Eklund, powerfully, resolutely. She is her own woman. “I know I’ve got it,” she says, “Because it makes me feel good.”

~~~~~*~~~~~

There was a flurry of decisions that had to be made, most of which I couldn’t quite follow. Eklund and his clinic were allowed to continue under stringent government surveillance. He was no longer classed as a terrorist threat, but was required to pay a fine and work a few hundred hours of community service for the injuries the two agents sustained.

As for me, I have a job now, working for Eklund. As to what that job actually is, that’s difficult to say. I can usually pick things up pretty quick and passing the tests for certification in different areas hasn’t been a problem. Sometimes I work in the operating room, assisting one of the doctors, sometimes I’m fixing some electrical problem. Eklund understands how bored I get doing the same thing and lets me work on whatever needs doing. It’s perfect for me and I get paid more than I would ever make doing something else.

Janis visited her mother again recently. I think they bonded a little. There was mutual crying. I asked her out on an official date, and we’ve gone on a few of them since. That’s going pretty well. Janis still can be a little too accommodating at times. I don’t think we’re going to stay together. I think she’s still learning who she is, and at some point she’s going to have to see other people just to make sure I haven’t influenced her too much.

I think I’m okay with that. I think I love her, and I think I’ll be a little jealous of whomever she’s with, but I think I’ll be able to deal with it. I’m still learning who I am too after all. Maybe we’ll find each other again. Maybe we’ll drift apart, but whatever happens, it will be because of our own decisions. Our own will.

When Agent Fox wakes up the first time, I’m there in the room with Dr. Eklund and Dr. Gardener. He opens his eyes and blinks a few times. “Don’t worry, Fox” I tell him, “We aren’t going to hurt you.” The fans on his prosthetic cortex whir. “I’m Ethan Yates. I’m a friend. These two helped you out of your coma, their names are Dr. Eklund and Dr. Gardener. For a while, you’re going to have to do whatever we say, but eventually, you’ll be able to make your own decisions. Nod if you understand.” Fox nods slowly, and I know he’s going to be okay.

I love my job.

THE END

~~~~~*~~~~~

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Switchblade Pisces: Pt 16

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Chapter 16

~~~~~*~~~~~

Sleep comes like a ninja from behind, and I fall, vanquished like a random lackey from a rival clan, into the bed.

In my dreams I’m running through stacks of old computer towers, their fans whirring searing hot air onto my calves and shins. I am naked and I can’t figure out where I’m supposed to go. And then I find a surge protector with many cords plugged in. I start to follow the cord for that and I start running following it because somehow I know that getting to the source is important. I run and I run, servers and computer towers spitting hot air at me as they rise higher and higher around me. Finally I come to a circular clearing and I see Janis on the ground at its center. The cord runs into her chest, between her breasts into her heart.

For some reason, in the dream, I pull the cord.

Janis screams.

I wake up.

~~~~~*~~~~~

I can sense the urgency as soon as I open my eyes. Outside my room, I can hear quick footsteps going back and forth. I slept in my clothes so after checking myself for any embarrassments, I open the door to see what’s going on. No one is paying me much attention, just rushing toward some area of the building. I decide to follow the general flow and find myself in the back of a small crowd of people both in and out of lab coats gathered around the doorway of a large office. A man with an impeccable hair cut and a laid back charisma is talking in the lazy drawl of a southern gentleman to Dr. Ecklund through a large flat screen display.

“…Oh I’m well aware of the work you’re doing, Dr. Eklund. I know all about your little mad science projects, and while I’ve wanted to take you down for years, the government—” The man says the word “government” with the same palpable contempt with which he said Dr. Eklund’s name “—felt a wait-and-see approach was more ‘prudent.’”

“My research could be of great benefit to the American people and the military I assure you, Mr. Delacroix.” Eklund speaks in a somewhat flabbergasted tone, as if someone suggested borrowing his underwear without warning.

“We can take your research, Dr. Eklund, and we will. You see you have kidnapped a federal agent, and that is a big no no.”

“We’re saving his life!” Eklund protests.

“It doesn’t matter what you’re doing to him, doctor, it ain’t done with his permission, and it ain’t done with the the permission of the American government. Now I’ve got this friend, Sal. He’s in charge of the local SWAT division? Way I see it you got two choices. You can either come peacefully and let us ransack your little establishment and take what we find useful. Or you can get your switchblade pisces, I’ll get my guns from Sal, and we can have ourselves an altercation.”

“I have rights! My patients have rights!”

Delacroix gives Eklund a condescending look. “Dr. Eklund, that was before you committed a federal crime! You came into this yard looking for a cock fight. Don’t you stop struttin’ now.”

The display goes dark. Everyone is silent for a moment. One of men next to asks, “What are we going to do?”

Strangely enough, I think I have an answer.

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Switchblade Pisces: pt 15

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Chapter 15

~~~~~*~~~~~

The feeling of elation lasts for about thirty seconds before I turn around to see if the old guy is alright. I’m not sure what I’m hoping for—for him to be okay or out cold—but regardless I can’t just do the cool guy thing and keep walking away without looking back.

As it turns out, Eklund’s got a bloody nose, but seems okay otherwise. Fine. Now I can get back to…

Jazz is in front of me. Or I should say Jazz’s chest is. He’s a big guy. He puts a heavy hand on my shoulder. “You ordered me to protect you, Baxter, but this person does not seem to be a threat any longer. How do you wish me to proceed?”

Eklund takes some time to walk up to me before he responds. “It’s okay, Jazz,” he says, holding his nose gingerly to keep blood from dripping, “He was just reacting to a little test I gave hib.”

Jazz reaches into his trouser pocket to pull out a handkerchief. He gives it to Eklund.

“Thank you, Jazz. Drat it. No batter how buch I dow I’b dot supposed to tilt my head back, I still want to.”

“A test?” I glance between the two men, still halfway wanting to find my way to Janis and the drama going on around the gurney that’s steadily retreating down the hall.

“That was very ibpulsive of you, hitting be like that.” Eklund frowns regarding the bloody handkerchief for moment before rephrasing.“Very willful.”

I shrug. “You pissed me off. I reacted. I’m starting to think that might be what will is all about. Just acting on emotions.”

“Is that it?” Eklund asks, “Or is it the codtroll, of your ebo…of your feelings, that indicates will?”

I’m a little confused at this point. Too many things going on at once. “Look, I’m not one of your experiments, okay? I want to see what’s going on with the FBI guy.”

“That’s true, I suppose. I’d have to have a lot bore test subjects before you could be part of ad experibent. You’re really a case study. The data I get frob you is strictly anecdotal. Still, it’s a starting point.”

I swallow, remembering that Eklund brought me here to experiment on me. I am literally his test subject. Or at least potentially one. When does a test subject start actually being a test subject?

I’m trying to tease this apart when Eklund continues “I was also hoping that by interacting with you, Jazz and Janis would learn to think on their own. Develop their own will.”

I look back at Jazz, just in time to see his face relax from a twitch that looked a lot like a sneer of contempt.

“Did you see it?” Eklund sounded joyful. “He still doesn’t realize he has opinions.”

Jazz’s cortex fans start whirring as he frowns.

“Just let it go, Jazz. Don’t overheat yourself.”

“Yes, Baxter.” Jazz says, relaxing.

“As for you, Mr. Yates, you should let Jazz take you to your quarters. You’ve had a lot of excitement recently and you aren’t going to be buch help to anybody for the dext few hours. I’ll just leave you with this small paradox: can a person choose to ignore his or her own will?”

“Of course they can!” I said, “Otherwise…”

Otherwise they wouldn’t have free will, only they are supposed to be ignoring their free will… Crap.

“Get some sleep, Mr. Yates. Things will likely get very interesting this afternoon.”

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Switchblade Pisces: pt 14

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Chapter 14

~~~~~*~~~~~

It’s morning when we reach the facility. Once Janis calmed down a little, she was able to act as my navigator, calling out directions from the back. I only had to turn around twice. Sometimes I asked her to give me directions just to make sure she was still okay. The last direction she gave me was to make sure to go into the ambulance entrance, which is to the right of the main entrance with all the windows.

There’s a sort of awning, similar to what some hotels have for arriving guests. It’s still going to be pretty obvious that something is up since we’re not wearing uniforms or anything, but the structure of the receiving area will block the view for most of the normal visitors to the clinic.

When I get out of the ambulance, Baxter Eklund and a doctor with an extremely short and well-kept beard are there to greet us. I’m guessing the bearded doctor is the one Janis said she knew from the clinic. I’m also guessing she doesn’t know him quite as much as she may have thought.

“Hey there,” I say, “We’ve got a federal agent in the back. He’s got a head injury. Possible brain damage. You folks want to take a look at him, see what you think?”

The bearded guy does not look amused. “How could you do something so reckless?”

Eklund doesn’t look angry, just sad and defeated. “They already suspect us of being a terrorist organization. What will they think now?”

“Right. Well, there’s that.” I grab the handle to the back of the ambulance and open the doors. “Look, we’re trying to do the right thing here. You want to help or not?”

The bearded doctor grimaces as he approaches the ambulance. “When you had Janis call, you were already on your way here. We were the closest medical facility.” He pauses as he climbs into the back. “It’s bad enough you’ve made us accomplices to kidnapping. We don’t want that to change to murder.” He grabs one side of Agent Fox’s gurney. “Give me the breather, Janis”

Janis complies readily. She rubs her wrists. I realize suddenly that repeatedly squeezing a plastic air bottle for half an hour might be especially taxing for a woman with switchblades in her forearms. “It was my idea to go, Dr. Gardener” she says. Her fans are starting to whir a little.

Dr. Gardener, whose beard now reminds me of a topiary bush, turns slowly to me, squeezing the breather more tightly than is strictly necessary . “What kind of sick bastard are you? Why would you coach her to say something like that?”

“I…I didn’t.” I’m a little confused and cowed by Gardener’s anger.

“She doesn’t have a will of her own. The only way she could have done something like this is if someone ordered her to.” Dr. Gardener uses the loud clack of the gurney wheels hitting the pavement as they unfold to punctuate his statement.

I have a sickening thought. What if someone else had ordered her to accost me in the hallway and lead me on this crazy quest? It doesn’t seem right, but I can’t completely rule it out.

“You might as well come inside, Ethan.” Eklund tells me, apparently catching the lost look on my face. “I have to make a few phone calls. See if I can’t salvage something from all this. I guess I can’t completely blame you though. Having someone who will follow your every order can get to your head, and it’s something you aren’t used to.” I follow Eklund into the building after Gardener and Janis go in with the gurney. Eklund speaks more softly once we’re inside. “Just in case things got..interesting? You don’t need to worry. She’s been sterilized.”

I’ve never punched anyone in the face before. It sort of hurts and feels good at the same time. The thought hits me as Eklund holds his bloody, broken nose, with that shocked, angry expression in his eyes surrounded by wrinkles, that he’s an old man, and that he might not heal as fast. Strangely, right now, I don’t really care.

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Switchblade Pisces: pt 13

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Chapter 13

~~~~~*~~~~~

The first problem we have to address is getting Agent Fox out of the room. Nurses or doctors will be in to check on the patient soon, even at this late hour. We have to transport him out of the room and somewhere that won’t be monitored so we can figure out our next move.

We need a gurney. I have no idea where one of those would be. They just seem to materialize, pushed by orderlies out doorways, into and out of rooms. Are they all stored in a central location? Or are they just left wherever for people to find as needed?

Thankfully I’m not alone. Janis leaves me in the room. I’m scouting out hiding places in case someone enters the room when she comes in with the gurney. She seems calm as she’s in the doorway, then as soon as she’s out of the hall, her movements become more frenetic as she moves the gurney into position, sliding down the safety rails on the gurney and the bed. I try to match her pace, even though I don’t really know what I’m doing. Janis directs her eyes meaningfully toward Agent Fox’s head. Getting her meaning I move to pick him up by the shoulders. Then I realize he’s still connected to machines. How can we put him on the gurney like that? It would kind of defeat the purpose if we ended up killing the guy in the process of transporting him.

I move from Fox’s head to the breathing machine next to him. It’s way too large to take with us. Also, it’s plugged into the wall. Does it have battery back up?

“Make sure the cords are clear. Move him first, then we’ll switch to a manual breather.”

I nod. It makes sense.

The rest of our flight from the hospital happens pretty much the same way. Me floundering along, Janis calmly explaining what to do. Before I can properly appreciate what we’re doing, I’m in the back of an ambulance pumping air into a federal agent that may or may not have been trying to kill me some twelve hours ago.

With each squeeze of the blue plastic breather, I’m counting up the charges. Theft. Kidnapping. Reckless endangerment. Does Janis have a license? Probably not. So there’s another one. I’ve never been to jail. Never even gotten a traffic ticket before this.

I realize suddenly that I’m smiling.

“Should we call ahead?” I ask Janis, raising my voice so she can hear me. I’m thinking that if we want Agent Fox to get his procedure before his people find out about it, we need to have everyone ready when we get there. At the very least, we’ll need a breathing machine or another hand to operate the hand breather.

“Not the facility. I will call a doctor I know. Once he looks at the agent, we can decide who else we need. I cannot decide if Baxter will support this or not. I think I may be scared of his reaction.”

“I guess we don’t even know for sure if we can help him.”

“We will help him. Our facility is better than any hospital’s.”

“What if he doesn’t want our help?”

“When he can say as much, I’ll listen.” Her voice is probably just raised so that I can hear her, but I swear I heard emotion in the sentence. I don’t know which emotion exactly. Anger? Resolution? Desperation? I wonder if Janis’s fans are whirring.

I remember in a flash what happened last time Janis’s fans whirred a lot. “Are you okay?”

There’s a silence. “No. I’m not.”

I feel the ambulance slow to a stop. Janis comes into the patient area. The scrubs she’s wearing are soaked with sweat. Her fans are making a constant buzz sound. I move so that she can take over on the hand breather. “How ‘not okay’ are you?”

“I will be able to operate the breather. You will need to drive.”

“Okay, but I don’t know how to get to the facility.”

Janis closes her eyes. Her fans start whirring even faster.

“I…I can figure it out!” I say quickly.

Janis seems to calm down. Her fans die down to less worrisome levels.

“Just…relax,” I say.

She doesn’t acknowledge me. She just pumps the breather.

I move up to the front of the ambulance. I sit in the driver’s seat. I don’t know where I’m going. I turn the ignition. I figure we’ll have to hit the highway, but I’m not sure where we are. Swallowing, I turn the wheel, pick a direction, and go.

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Switchblade Pisces: 12

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Chapter 12

~~~~~*~~~~~

The way hospitals look is all wrong. They should be small, unassuming little buildings with people inside who greet you with a smile and chat with you about sports or something strange a family member did. You should go to a hospital feeling like you’re going to be cared for. Instead, just about every hospital I’ve been to is built like the lair of a robot overlord. There’s always this large, squat glass and brick façade that seems to say, “Yeah, maybe we’ll heal you. Maybe we’ll break your nose instead. You got a problem with that?”

Inside hospitals it isn’t much better. Usually they have the same set up as prisons and public schools. Cinderblock walls, white tiled floors. Sure, it’s because it’s easy to clean, I get it. But by the same token, five minutes after someone vomits violently due to some obscure illness or bleeds to death in the hall after getting eviscerated in some gang-related altercation, everything is going to be cleaned up and forgotten. It’s enough to make one a little wary about one’s surroundings. Would I prefer blood stains and scorch marks? I don’t know. Some acknowledgment of the passage of humanity beyond what could be put on a sympathy card might be nice.

On the other hand, if hospitals weren’t so sterile and uniform, I might not have been able to dress like a janitor and watch from behind as the nurse working the desk entered her password into her computer. This is what took place after Janis walked in and asked about a patient named John Smith (“I know it’s weird, but I swear to you that’s his name!”). If there weren’t so many regulations in place about how nurses and doctors should dress, Janis and I might not have been able to don scrubs and enter the room of Cooper Fox and Dale Mulder past visiting hours without anyone raising a fuss.

As it stands, I’m just glad we’re the good guys. At least, I hope we’re the good guys. Janis is looking over “Cooper Fox”’s chart, turning through the pages and referring back to the first page to check something. “You able to read that?” I tried myself, but unfortunately the papers are more complicated than I expected.

Janis nods. “Online resources are available to help with the analysis.”

“How is he?”

“He is stable.”

“Well, that’s good. The other guy looks good too. I guess we didn’t need to worry.”

The fluorescent lights above us hum softly. The respirators whosh and click. The EKGs plot out the agents’ heartbeats with hopeful desperation. Cooper Fox has a bandage over his eye and forehead. Janis is staring at him.

“What is it?”

“A piece of shrapnel went through his eye socket, into his brain. They were able to retrieve it. There was, however, irreparable damage.”

“That’s ‘stable?’”

“He will not die from the brain injury. He is in a coma. He may even recover on his own.”

“But he has brain damage.”

Janis nods.

“What about the other guy? Any surprises there?”

Janis picks up his clipboard and looks through it. “Second and third degree burns. He will likely make a full recovery.”

“Great,” I say. “That means we only have to take one of them back to Ecklund.”

Janis snaps her attention to me so fast I’m worried the boxes on her head might fall off. Her fans start to whir furiously, and then stop. “I did not plan on going back.”

“Yeah, I know. We’ll have to steal an ambulance or something. Plus we have to figure out how to get him out of this room without anybody noticing.”

“You knew what I would want to do before I did.”

“It’s not that hard to figure out. He’s got brain damage, you feel responsible, you come from facility that specializes in treating brain damage. Of course you’re going to want to take him there. It’s just a matter of working out how to do it.”

“Why are you still helping me?”

This stops me.

“You have done enough. You can leave if you want. You should leave.”

“Is that an order?” I ask, laughing nervously. My expression turns to a frown as I try to work out why it is that I have to keep helping her. It isn’t just inertia any more. There’s something else. “I don’t know, Janis. We can help this guy. I can help you. It wouldn’t seem right to leave you alone on this. I care about you.” The words are out of my mouth before I can think to stop them. But then I can’t bring myself to take them back. Mostly because they’re true.

Janis tilts her head in thought for a moment. “I think I care about you as well,” she says.

I cough nervously, “Right! And we both care about what happens to agent Fox here, so let’s get this guy to the brain doctor!”

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Switchblade Pisces: 11

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Chapter 11

~~~~~*~~~~~

Not knowing where to go, I wander around aimlessly for several minutes before I see Janis making quick strides from the other end of a hallway. I wave hello to her stupidly. Her eyes widen a little and she stops. “Please do not ask me to do anything,” she says, her voice much calmer than her face looks.

“What’s going on?”

Janis’s fans are whirring. “I am not sure. I think I might be frightened, but this does not explain why I left my room.”

I look around. We’re in the front part of the building. The hallways are lit dimly by a few lights and exit signs, but no one is around the immediate area. There’s probably one or two night nurses around, but I don’t see them. In the secret area past the employees only sign there is probably a lot more activity, but that seems like a world away at the moment. “What were you thinking about when you left?”

Janis looks down. “I was thinking…those FBI agents…they were following orders. I was thinking…they were like me.”

I swallow looking away. “We don’t know that they’re dead.”

When I look back, Janis’s expression seems pained. She’s rubbing her wrists. “Hold on,” I say, “I’ve got a computer in my room I think…” I lead her into my room and turn the television on, finding a local news channel. I figure they might say something about the explosion. While the news anchors are cooing over some rescued kittens for a human interest piece, I look up the name of my apartment complex on the computer.

I find a one paragraph blurb about a small explosion. It doesn’t say anything about anybody being hurt. I show this to Janis. “They couldn’t have been that badly injured,” I say.

Janis shakes her head. “They are agents. It would not have been reported.”

I turn back to the computer screen, not sure what to say. On the television, the news anchors are commenting wryly about the antics of an incompetent bank robber. I’ve always wondered about the crimes the news doesn’t report on. I remember hearing a few stories about cops getting injured, but never FBI agents.

“Well, you seem to be the expert. Would they just go to a local hospital or is there some secret government hospital that we’ve all been kept in the dark about?”

Janis frowns at me. Her fans whir a little. “If there was a secret hospital, we wouldn’t know about it.”

“Right,” I say, turning back to the computer screen, “Good point.” Making a mental note to try to avoid sarcasm with Janis if the future, I look online for hospitals in the area. There are several candidates, so I checked if any of them were known for their burn units. “This place looks good,” I say, pointing to the screen.

“Yes,” Janis says. “We will go there.”

I get up and start to follow Janis out of the room, when I stop myself. “Wait. We will?”

Janis turns around. “There is a problem?”

“No. Well, maybe. I thought you didn’t have free will.”

“I don’t.”

“But then…how…?”

“Are you ordering me not to go?”

“No…”

“Then I am leaving.”

I frown. “We could wait for tomorrow. Might be easier. Visiting hours and such.”

Janis shakes her head. “They might be moved. We are not family.” She walks out of the door she seems almost pushed out by some force. I follow her, but it’s a little difficult keeping up with her brisk pace. We go through the winding halls, through the “Employees Only” door. The large hangar-like space beyond is darker now, but there are still lights in some of the lab spaces and coming out of some of the rooms. When we reach the back door, Janis pauses. “I do not have a choice. I have to go.”

“Okay,” I say cautiously.

“Why did you ask if I had free will?”

“It just seemed like you had made a decision is all. Heck you practically gave me an order.”

“I did not. I cannot do that. You are free to do whatever you please.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t have any better plans for the moment.”

Janis’s fans whir a little as she looks at me with that puzzled expression I’ve seen a lot recently. She turns and we both go through the back door to the secret entrance.  She finds her bike, and I sit behind her as we rise with the large elevator car. There were helmets for both of us on a rack by the bike, so this time if we crash and get launched into the air at seventy miles an hour, there will be an extra half inch or so of cushioning between our heads and the asphalt when we hit it. “Isn’t there a car we could use?” I ask as the hatchway to the road outside opens.

After a pause, Janis says, “You do not have to come. You could stay here. It may be dangerous.” The way she says it, it sounds like a question.

“That’s a good point.” I mean it too. I’m not sure myself why I’m doing this. I’m not going to be any help. Probably just get in the way. At the same time I’m already ready to go. Got my helmet on and everything. It would feel silly to go back to my room now. If I could even remember where it was. “I think I’ll go with you though. Doesn’t feel right not to. Inertia, I guess.”

There’s a moment of uncomfortable silence while we sit on the motorcycle. “I was in a car accident,” Janis says suddenly. “I was not wearing a seat belt. Neither was my father. He died. I was in a coma. Everything I was before then is gone. Sometimes there are flashes of memory. Sometimes I wonder what happiness is, and if I have ever experienced it.” Janis straightens in her seat. “I do not think I like inertia.” With that, she turns the ignition.

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Switchblade Pisces: Pt. 10

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The room I’m in isn’t too bad. It’s a little on the small side. It’s even smaller than my efficiency apartment where this all started. There’s a double-sized bed, and the room can fit maybe three more beds of the same size and that’s it. On the other hand the refrigerator is well stocked with tv dinners, the microwave works well, and best of all, the flat screen opposite the bed takes up almost the whole wall. It’s got all the satellite channels, and all the latest operating systems, including the ones for video game consoles. Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo, all in one Frankenstein set up. Testing the system out earlier, I started up all three versions of the same game using the same disc slot, giggling madly when they all ran flawlessly. I felt like a mad scientist. And that’s when I remembered where I was.

So I’ve been lying in bed, staring at the ceiling for the past hour or so. I should try to escape. But I’m not really a prisoner. The FBI is possibly going to try to kill me, but probably not. If I just go the police or something… I want to help out Janis, though, even though she killed those people. That was kind of my fault though, wasn’t it? And maybe they aren’t dead.

I’m stupid for agreeing to stay here. Baxter is a madman, I don’t care how good his intentions are. Teaching Janis self defense, okay. Surgically attaching knives to her wrists? Crazy. Even if it is kind of badass.

Letting out a growl of frustration, I get up and look at the games available on the entertainment system. It looks like Baxter’s got Biomechanica 4. It just came out last month. I really liked the other three games in the series. They had a lot of action, and a nice linear plot. None of that role playing crap where you had to figure out what the right thing to say is and depending on what you do the game could change.  All three console versions of Biomechanica 4 are in the display case underneath the television. The Playstation version is supposed to have better resolution, but the Xbox version is supposedly more stable. The Wii version would normally be my last choice, except I’ve heard that there are some extra features they put in that version since it was the last one they rolled out.

I rub the bridge of my nose with my fingers. I rummage in my pockets. I normally carry a six-sided die and a coin with me for just this kind of predicament. I left in a rush though. I’ve got my wallet, but no change. I don’t even have my keys, much less anything else. I could maybe try to flip one of my credit cards, but they’re too light. I want to be able to see whatever I use spin a few times before landing. That way I can sure it’s truly random. Maybe I could fold one of my dollar bills into a foot ball shape and mark one of the sides?

I shake my head. Too lopsided. I’m in a huge building. There has to be a coin or a die somewhere. I’m still dressed, I just need to put my shoes on. I usually put my right shoe on first, because I’m right-handed, but the left one is closer this time, so after some deliberation, I put that one on first and then the right.

Before I open the door to leave, I close my eyes and take a few deep breaths. I’m acting crazy. Why can’t I make a decision? Is Baxter right? Is it a lack of willpower? I swallow. I feel like I have willpower. I can go days without having one of these attacks of indecision. It’s probably just stress. Whenever I get stressed, it’s like the part of me that knows what to do just takes a vacation. I always kind of thought everyone was like that. Maybe they are a little bit. Maybe whatever it is most people go through, I just go through more. Or less. Or something.

Maybe I’m just tired. If I sleep for a while, maybe I can figure all this out when I wake up. I don’t know how I’m going to be able to go to sleep though. Maybe if I just lie down, though, I’ll calm down enough. It seems like a reasonable plan.

I hesitate at the door while I consider it. My hand turns the knob.

Why am I even leaving? For a coin so I can flip it to make a decision? That’s stupid!

I push the door open.

I should just stay in the room and think about things a little more.

But the door is closed and I’m outside of the room in the hallway.

It’s two in the morning, and the front part of the clinic, where I am is mostly empty. The room I came from is at the top of a T intersection in the hallway. I can go forward, left, or right. All three ways seem to disappear into shadow.

I feel utterly lost.

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Switchblade Pisces: pt 9

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After going through the office door, there’s a short antechamber, and then another door. There are more hallways after this, only these are a more modest size with rooms that remind me of a retirement home. When I look back at the door, there’s a sign reading “employees only” in serious-looking blocked script.

After the wide expanse of the other hallway, these corridors seem positively claustrophobic. They turn and exit in several different ways. Along one branch I see what looks like sunlight.

“This is the front of the clinic. The only part most people see. Everyone thought I had gone mad when I put so much money into this place. Baxter’s Vegetable Garden, they called it.” Eklund stops at a room. He opens a door. Inside there are bright decorations, stuffed animals, a girl sleeping in a bed connected to machines. “They told her parents she was brain dead.” Eklund shakes his head. “It’s only part of her brain. Just twenty five percent. People have survived with less. But it’s her personality that’s missing, her dreams. Her will. There’s no way to give that back to her, the doctors say. They say it’s better to give up.” Eklund closes the door and faces me. “I will not give up.”

I’m impressed, but the force of Eklund’s convictions scares me a little too. I actually step back away from Eklund into Jazz’s chest. Swallowing, I say, “I still don’t see where I come into the picture. I don’t think I have much willpower. Why are you interested in me?”

Eklund looks down, a small smile coming to his face. “That’s precisely it, Ethan. You have the lowest amount of willpower of any otherwise healthy person we have documented. You are intelligent, you’ve gotten admirable marks in all the classes you’ve taken in college and in high school. The jobs you’ve had have all been brief, but you’ve gotten good reviews when I’ve interviewed your employers. Still, you’ve been in that efficiency apartment next to the university for over a decade now. You’ve changed your major eighteen times. It’s astounding that you’ve been able to keep going the way you have.”

“I’m just trying to figure out what I want to do,” I say, “That’s not that strange.”

Eklund raises a bushy white eyebrow.

I swallow nervously. “Well, I mean, it’s a bit weird I guess. Ten years is kind of crazy. But I’m just interested in a lot of different things.”

“You see?” Eklund raises a finger. “You can’t even stick to your guns on your own opinion of yourself.”

I want to protest, but I can’t think of a workable argument.

Eklund glances at Janis and Jazz behind me and looks down. “I can only imagine how you must feel. To never be sure of anything. I’ve had my doubts before. It is true I need security to protect myself and this clinic, and it is true that I can’t risk this place being discovered by the wrong people. Using Janis and Jazz as I have, giving them their modifications… It was a creative solution to a problem. It protects them, and they have not suffered for it. Still, sometimes I feel like I’ve taken advantage of them.”

“We would not exist without your assistance. Any advantage you take from us is therefore morally acceptable.” Jazz states, his prosthetic cortex whirring a little. Janis’s whirs some as well.

“Thank you, Jazz, but I’m afraid I can’t take your words to heart, especially when you act like a cult member about to drink the kool-aid.” Eklund sighs, looking a little older. “The kool-aid comment was an allusion to the Jonestown cult. I am speaking about a conflict between philosophy and emotion. Do not attempt to understand.”

“Thank you, Baxter. I will not.” As I look back at him, Jazz seems to relax a little.

“That goes for you too, Janis.” Eklund warns. “This subject might make you overheat.”

Janis nods.

“She overheated a bit on the way over here,” I said. “She was upset about the agents she killed.”

There is a soft sound of something sliding against skin, and Janis’s cortex begins to whir.

“Janis,” Eklund said, “Please retract your blades. You are angry at me, but you probably don’t want to kill me.”

I whip my head around to see Janis snick-ing her blades back into her wrists.

“Janis, you should visit Dr. Kisugi to make sure you haven’t hurt yourself.”

“Yes, Baxter, I will do that.”

I watch her turn and walk down the hall, through the employee’s only door.

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