Archive for January, 2012

Sitting in the break room, the assistant warden regarded his subordinate coolly through the rising steam from his coffee cup. He slurped loudly and slowly, then lowered the cup. As it thudded just a hair too loudly on the table, the second-in-command of the Janszen Correctional Institution put on his most disarming and collegial smile.

Of course, anyone in the prison could have told him that it was the most annoying and insincere-looking smile they’d ever seen, but with rare exception they didn’t want to run afoul of his notoriously irritable nature.

The correctional officer sitting across from him and drinking a bottle of Snapple lemonade was no different. In fact, he had even more reason than most to want to be on the man’s good side.

“So, Blanchard, I understand you’re looking to get some experience for a transhuman C.O. job one of these years,” the assistant warden noted.

“Yes, sir. I’d like to get some hands-on experience here and there and then go for my special certification and testing in the next few years—maybe get a job as a C.O. at Bellgate Detention Center or the Federal Correctional Institution in Erie—or some state prison that just has a significant trans population. Maybe even the Givens Center, Silveren or Riverton, though I admit that mental illness part of those prisoners wouldn’t make the places my first choices.”

“Why? Why transhumans, Blanchard?”

“Honestly, sir, because the pay grade and career advancement potential is better for those kinds of correctional jobs. Not that I’m unhappy here…”

No one is happy here,” the warden interrupted, his fake smile melting. “It’s a prison. You don’t need to kiss up because I know it will take you at least two years to get through certifications and all that even if you’re a star student, so I’m not going to be losing you any time soon to a competitor. Well, we don’t have too many freaks among our prisoners, but we have a few. I can give you the chance to get your feet wet, so that you can actually put in an application and increase your chances of getting the training you want. Interested?”

“Yes, sir.”

* * *

Six security monitors gave Larry Blanchard a view of each of the transhuman prisoners at Janszen. Three others were dark, as the cells to which they were connected were unoccupied for now.

“So, you can see our special guests,” noted Fred Weiss, who supervised the correctional officers at Janszen, waving one hand at the screens. “We cap it at nine trans prisoners max, and if we find that we have a prisoner in a normal cell who’s hiding any kind of significant transhuman powers, we transfer him to someplace else as quick as we can.”

“Why’s that?” Blanchard asked, feigning ignorance. It always helped to get on someone’s good side to let them share their expertise or opinions.

“This is a fairly small prison, short on resources and short on really good people—no offense, ‘cuz your work record is solid—and we’re just not equipped or willing to deal with prisoners who have powers,” Weiss answered. “Sure, transhuman powers aren’t always anything that poses a threat to us, but we just keep them away on general principles.”

“Why do we have any at all, then?”

“Because this place didn’t start out as a prison. It was a biotech research facility. Then they went belly up just as they were starting a big expansion. The foundations they’d laid down were about the size the state needed for a new prison, and the walls had only just started going up, so it was a good way to save money and have a head-start on the prison. Anyway, the old research place that started off here has got all sorts of systems in place for things like biological containment, so we do a good business taking a handful of specialized prisoners that other places can’t keep locked up as safely. And that’s where you come in, Blanchard.”

“How so?”

“Well, the Transhuman Unit doesn’t require a very big staff, since it’s more secure than the rest of the prison and has niftier automated systems. We don’t have any full-time openings right now, but we need someone who can float through on a filler basis when someone’s sick and as support staff on days like—well, today.”

“What’s today?” Blanchard asked.

“Time for Patient Zero’s three-times-a-week shower,” Weiss responded.

* * *

The job was, if a little strange, pretty simple, Blanchard realized. They couldn’t let a prisoner’s hygiene and health go straight to hell, so at least a few showers a week were part of the routine. Apparently, they had tried giving Patient Zero a bucket, alcohol and sponges at first, but after a few weeks, he just refused to use them. That left the options of letting him use the shower or giving him sponge baths themselves. Problem with the transhuman villain known as Patient Zero, a.k.a. Gustavo Dobbins, was that he could use his powers to pass along viral infections that were potentially highly contagious and lethal if he so desired, and no one wanted to spend extended periods touching him even with protective gear on.

Having seen plenty of news reports when Patient Zero had been on trial a couple years back, Blanchard knew it was a power that allowed him to be a well-paid assassin when someone wanted a whole community wiped out—his specialty being to work for drug lords to take out their rivals’ compounds or towns in remote Mexican or Central American locations. It was also a power that afforded Patient Zero the chance to indulge his desire to be a serial mass killer, since so few people could pull of the combo of serial killer and mass murderer, and Patient Zero liked attention. He’d mostly wiped out six tiny, remote U.S. towns, as well as three backwater swamp communities in unincorporated parts of the Southeastern United States and two trailer parks over a few-year period using viruses that spread fast, killed quickly and burned out before they could spread elsewhere.

It took a rare kind of psycho to be convicted for 3,348 counts of first-degree homicide, Blanchard mused. And that didn’t even count the hundreds or perhaps thousands of people he’d killed as an assassin in other countries.

So, suiting up in serious hazmat gear was a necessity to deal with him and, as Weiss had told Blanchard, it had to be a two-person team taking Patient Zero to the shower room so that each guard could ensure the other was following precautions—particularly since there weren’t any security cameras in that area—and then sterilize the shower area afterward just to be on the safe side.

Other regular activities like meals were easier to manage, thanks to the various receptacles, reverse-pressure systems and other special security features of Patient Zero’s cell—all designed to keep the villain from touching anyone, which Weiss said was the man’s only way to transmit his viruses. For rare occasions when Patient Zero was being especially feisty and guards needed to go into the cell, Blanchard had been told, they were authorized to gas him into unconsciousness or taser him through the door beforehand.

But knocking him out for every shower wasn’t considered humane—not that Blanchard knew why that mattered to anyone. Patient Zero was on a fast-track to execution after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that his appeals process could be truncated, given his danger to society at large. But laws were laws; the man still had rights.

Correctional officer Larry Blanchard put on the first layer of his protective gear, and then went to rendezvous with Hugo Dawes, the other man assigned to Patient Zero shower duty—and one of the few full-time guards in the Transhuman Unit—so they could finish suiting up and make sure their transhuman dead-man-walking could slough off a couple days worth of sweat and grime.

* * *

“Took you long enough,” Dawes growled at Blanchard as he entered the clean room.

“Not like I have the power over hiring; maybe you should have got the other guy to quit sooner.”

“Yeah, well, I guess you did your part fine,” Dawes relented, as he began the final process of suiting up and motioned Blanchard to do the same. “Warden Grisolm isn’t exactly the easiest guy to maneuver to do what you want him to. C’mon. Hurry. This is a dirty job I’ve contracted you for; let’s get it done.”

Once they were suited up, they proceeded to Patient Zero’s cell and shackled him, then led him to the shower area, checking in with the commanding officer via radio once they reached it.

“Welcome to the club, Officer Blanchard,” Patient Zero said, smiling with near-perfect teeth that seemed to shine in contrast to his dark skin. Blanchard couldn’t place his slight accent, but it had a Central American undertones to it.

Blanchard frowned. “Must be hard to get people to hench for you, considering what you can do,” he commented.

“Oh, Hugo here has been very loyal, and you seemed eager enough.”

“Hugo won’t be the one taking off his gloves and rolling up his sleeve, though,” Blanchard noted nervously. “Also, I’m betting he’ll be avoiding me the rest of the shift, calling in with an excuse tomorrow, heading off to a tropical island and never coming back.”

“Damn straight,” the other correctional officer admitted.

“Oh, Hugo, must you leave me so soon? I told you he won’t be contagious for at least a couple days.”

“I’ll play it safe, if it’s all the same,” Dawes said. “Never was a gambling man. Stop talking, Blanchard, and get to it. From the moment we checked in, the clock started running. If we’re not out of here in 12 minutes, alarms go off and people will get suspicious.”

“Hugo, Hugo, Hugo,” Patient Zero chided. “Let the man chat with me a bit. My little microscopic friends are all ready and waiting in my fingers and palm, and I shower fast. Tell me, Officer Blanchard, why are you henching for me?”

“I’ve got kids who need a future, and their mother won’t take care of it but the money you’re paying will go into a trust that will. And they’re on the other side of the country, and about as safe from whatever you’ll give me as they can be. Unless you’re planning to wipe out the whole country.”

“Hah!” Hugo snorted. “He likes the finer things in life too much. Nice clothes, cappuccinos and French food and all that. Make a plague like that, and he won’t have anyone to provide those things. Besides, it’s easy to make nasty bugs that aren’t all that lethal or ones that kill fast and hard but burn out quick. Harder to make a long-lasting plague in humans even if he wanted to.”

“So, this is going to help you escape?” Blanchard asked.

“Doubtful that any infection I unleash will give me a chance to slip out of here, but you never know,” Patient Zero answered. “But there is always hope. And if not, it will be my final blow before I am executed in the next few months. Maybe I can take out a good portion of this county and make a dent in the state’s population—scare people for a few months everywhere else. Shall we?”

Blanchard hesitated for a moment.

“Oh, come now. You’ve been paid, and more money will arrive where it is needed once we’re done. Besides, it isn’t just your kids, is it? Cancer? Or something more boring like a failing liver?”

“I’m henching for you—very short-term—I think I’ll keep most of my personal life personal,” Blanchard said as he pulled off the heavy outer glove, rolled up a sleeve, and removed the thinner inner glove. He held out his arm and waited.

Patient Zero gently grasped the man’s forearm, smiling and squeezing lightly; almost stroking. The act bordered on the intimate, and Blanchard shuddered. But he’d made his pact with the devil, and there was no going back now. If he told anyone, his assets would probably be frozen. Dawes’ sudden disappearance to parts unknown would keep suspicion planted there as Blanchard moved in to fill his vacancy here as a full-time guard, probably. For as long as he could continue to function; for the short time he had yet to live.

Patient Zero didn’t let go for a couple minutes, then he smiled and stepped toward the showers. Blanchard swore the man had a spring in his step like he might start skipping at any time.

“Pleasure doing business with you,” Patient Zero said, looking over his shoulder as hot water spilled over him and he began to soap up. “You get my employee of the year award. Which might be good for you. After all, there is the very slim chance we’ll both live through all this nonsense, in which case I’ll be needing a new Hugo.”
AUTHOR’S NOTE: Just a little bit of trivia and promotion of a friend of mine. While it’s possible it may be used elsewhere, my first and thus far only experience with seeing “hench” and “henching” used as verbs to indicate the act of working as a villain’s henchman (which I do toward the end of this story) is in the graphic novel “Hench.” Which, it should be noted, was written by my college roommate Adam Beechen (seriously lacking Wikipedia entry on him here and incomplete but more up-to-date IMDB entry here). I own a copy of “Hench” (and there are new and used copies right here at Amazon if you’d like to, too) and it’s actually one of my favorite graphic novels, as it takes a pretty realistic look at how heroes and villains might really act, while also exploring one man’s journey as a professional henchman to a series of villains.

Tried this via Twitter without much success, but since a fair number of people have passed through to check out the latest piece of fiction, let me see if I can persuade you to comment here on something for me while I work on the next chapter of “The Gathering Storm.”

While I write this fiction mostly because I feel I must, and I like it, obviously it makes me feel a whole lot warmer and fuzzier about the process when I know people are reading. So, I value each and every one of you readers immensely. So, I feel, in a way, that you are the customer, even though you don’t pay anything to read these (aside from whatever you paid to have a connection to the web). I won’t always please you readers, and I’m sure I’ll do something to irritate some of you at some point (like hit a touchy subject, kill off a character you love, etc.).

But I would like to let you weigh in a bit and, one hopes, help me write even better stories here in the future.

To that end, I’d like your feedback on what’s working for you here, and things perhaps you think I should cover in my fiction (that I haven’t or that I haven’t gone into deeply enough). But mostly, I’d like to get your feedback on characters.

Who are your favorites (villains, heroes and otherwise)? Don’t feel like you have to pick one; I’d like your feelings about any characters that notably please you. Also, which ones leave you feeling lukewarm, or you dislike…or perhaps loathe so much that you never even want to hear their names mentioned ever again?

And why do the characters in question make you feel one way or the other?

No need for long essays, though I wouldn’t mind if you had extensive thought, insights and inputs. This is a fiction blog, but a blog nonetheless, and most bloggers like to see comments one way or the other on posts (hint, hint).

Let me know. I’m a writer, but also a reader…and a listener. I’d like to know what you have to say.

Bad Breakup

Posted: January 15, 2012 in Single-run ("One off") Stories
Tags: ,

Two pale faces were presented toward each other, though only one could see the other.

On one side of the door, a woman’s face whose worry had drained it of no small amount of blood, one eye pressed to the peephole.

On the other side, a man whose face was even paler—a corpse-like blue-white—though he could have chosen otherwise.

Both bodies shivered, one with growing fear and the other with rising anger.

“Let me the fuck in,” the man said firmly, coldly, and pounded on the door again with one fist. “This isn’t over yet. Not until I say it’s over.”

Her body quaked all the more at that, and she wondered if it that was the precursor of terror, or if he realized she was on the other side of the door and was using his powers to disrupt her body’s functions. Would he do that? Would he stoop to physical violence or harm her with his powers when so far he’d only chosen verbal abuse?

Come, come, come, the woman thought fiercely. Where are you?

The voice wasn’t as clear to her as it was to the man trying to enter her apartment, but almost as if in answer to her silent plea, she heard it from near the street.

“Giddyup away from the door, dude. Really, this is just not cool.”

The corpse-hued man turned at the sound of that voice, leaving only his back for the woman to see, and preventing her from seeing the newcomer who had spoken. She backed slowly away from the door, praying silently as she did, wondering if either Jesus or Buddha would care enough to grant her wishes right now.

“Who the hell are you?” sneered the man on the porch, looking down at the Asian man with the slight build wearing a pair of motorcycle goggles and standing on the sidewalk just at the base of the steps. “I’ve got business here, and none of it is yours.”

“It’s all mine,” said the young man on the sidewalk. He shuffled from foot to foot, giving off the vibe that he was more embarrassed than he was nervous. “The business, that is. Your business is my business…there’s no business like show business—no business I know. I guess you could say I’m inheriting the business. Glower of attorney and all that. Hi. My name’s Peter. Don’t call me Pete, though. I’d rather have a name that rhymes with heater than one that rhymes with sleet.”

For a moment, the man on the porch said nothing. Simply gazed at the newcomer with pure confusion. “What the hell are you on and where can I get some? Well, Peter…I have stuff to talk about with my girlfriend. You need to leave. My name’s Cadaverous.”

Peter shuffled from foot to foot a bit more, seeming more like a man who needed to pee very badly now, and said, “Do you know your name is an adjective?”

“I dropped my fucking human name a few days after I realized I was a transhuman,” Cadaverous responded. “And I never looked back. If you don’t leave, you’ll find out why I have that name.”

Peter frowned, and wished that Christine hadn’t been in such urgent need for help—meaning that he had to rush right over. He wasn’t wearing any of his many-colored coats, nor his mask or normal goggles. He also didn’t have on a pair of his good boots—just a pair of sneakers that would be well and truly shredded if things turned nasty here and he had to go all out. “Okey dookie. Well, uh, I thought the whole cadaverous thing probably had something to do with your complexion. Still, you’re using an adjective for a name, dude. That’s probably against some kind of high school English rule. Wouldn’t Cadaver be enough?”

Cadaverous didn’t speak for several seconds, while his skin went from corpse-hued to a light tan shade. “Better? I can demonstrate some more damaging powers if you like. This isn’t makeup,” he noted, as his face returned to its paler color. “I can change my skin color and even the shape of my face a little, and that’s just one of my powers. I’m a transhuman, and I will fuck you up.”

“Are you gonna fornicate her up, too?” Peter asked. “Cuz that’s what’s got me concerned. I’m kinda irresponsible for Christine and I need to make sure you leave her alone. Ya know? Like ride off into the sunspot and never come back to this town that isn’t big enough for the two of us and where you don’t feel lucky punk.”

“Seriously, I don’t have beef with you yet but I will mess you up, and if you keep talking crazy, I may just kill you. Except that no one will ever be able to pin it on me. I’ll just go down there, touch you, and your heart will stop. How’s that sound?”

“Heartbreaking?” Peter ventured. “Sorry, I’m not good with the witty red toupee stuff. Was that funny? Query said I should practice conversational skills like that as a kind of therapy. He does verse and rap and stuff like that to keep his head together. Me? I kinda like having loose lobes in my brain.”

“Query? Don’t try to play tough with me. No fucking way a skinny, scared dork like you knows Query. And I seriously doubt you have any powers—at least any worth mentioning.”

“I’m not skurred,” Peter said. “I just don’t like construct.”

“Conflict, you idiot. Conflict!” Cadaverous snapped.

“Conflict. Redshift. Twitpic. Drastic. Oh, bang it!,” Peter exclaimed. “All near-rhyme. What rhymes with conflict? If I have a pneumatic, maybe I won’t forget that again.”

“Pneumatic? What? You mean menomic?”

“Oooooh. Almost. You got it wrong this time instead of me. Cool! It’s mnemonic, right? Whew! Glad to have that sorted. One less confusatory in my Brian.”


“Yeah, brine. Right. Thanks.”

“Go the fuck away! Last chance!” Cadaverous bellowed. “I’m not stepping aside for some idiot who wants my girl.”

“I don’t have any redesigns on her,” Peter said, scrunching up his face. “Ewwww. She broke up with you. She wants you to leave her alone. I’m here to make sure that happens.”

“If she wants to break up with me, she can come out here and tell me herself.”

“She tells me she told you herself nine times already. Four times in person, twice by telephone and three times by texting,” Peter countered. “Seems like enough. Any normal guy would get the message by now.”

“Why are so suddenly talking normal?” Cadaverous asked. “You were just fucking with me earlier, weren’t you? Well-played, but fun’s over. Go home and leave me to deal with my girl.”

“She isn’t yours,” Peter said, “and people tell me I start making more sense when the adrenaline starts pumping. You know. Just before a fight and stuff like that. Doesn’t always work like that. Guess it is now, though. Now. How. How now brown cow.”

“Or not,” Cadaverous said with an irritated tone. “Fight? OK, that’s funny. And you’re a dead man. Or at least one who’s gonna have a wicked long stay in an ICU.”

Peter chewed thoughtfully on his lower lip. Dangalangadingdong. I gotta be careful here. I’ve said too much. Not exactly wide public knowledge that Mad Dash and Query are friends, so that slip isn’t too bad. But still, this Cadaverous guy’s not a total moron,and I’ve dropped enough hints that I’m related to Christine that I may not have a secret identity if I show too much.

He shrugged to himself more than to his adversary and, as Cadaverous started down the top step, Peter took the initiative to close the distance. He held back on his speed considerably, so that he’d seem to just have quick reflexes rather than Speedster powers, and grabbed the other man before he could react, then spun him off the porch steps so that he tumbled onto the sidewalk and rolled into a tree planted near the curb. The thud was audible, and Peter wondered if the man’s head or back against the trunk had made the sound—or both.

Peter considered his options, realizing he hadn’t really planned out how to dissuade the guy from bugging Christine anymore when he was running over here. Or maybe I did work it all out and forgot, because I think I have an idea.

He keyed up the phase-shifting aspect of his Speedster powers but didn’t move from his spot on the middle of the porch steps. Then he started shaking, making spastic motions while kicking in the simple quickness aspect of his Speedster powers.

Normally, the effect of those two Speedster powers together would be to pump him up to relative speeds that could put a speeding car to shame, but he wasn’t going anywhere, just spasming and jerking to and fro. He wasn’t sure exactly how it looked to Cadaverous from his vantage point, but Peter figured it looked pretty eerie, and it probably looked a lot like one of those freaky ghosts in a Japanese horror flick—maybe a bit more unnerving. To Cadaverous, it probably seemed as if Peter was disappearing and reappearing like some series of scenes on a stuttering reel of film and as if his body were attaining unnatural angles and stretching or contracting in freakish ways.

“I’m a trucking Warpsmith like you’ve never seen before,” Peter said, wondering if what he was doing was giving his voice a disturbing timbre. “You can’t kill someone quick. I know you need time; Christine told me. You won’t get me in a dreadloc or any other wrestling holds to do that. But I just need to touch you for a a few seconds—all over your body—really quicktime, and I’ll shred half your skin and muscles into another dimension and all over the sidewalk. You’ll really be cadaverous then, dude.”

Then Peter shut down his powers suddenly and ceased acting out his ruse, then said, calmly, “Your indecision, dude. I’m a Casanova, not a Rocky Balboa. Or something like that. Not much of a romantical, either, I guess—not really—but I can fight you if you want even though I won’t like it much. If you’re tired of life, the universe and everywhere, that is.”

Peter stuck his hands in his pockets and looked into Cadaverous’ eyes almost shyly. He slouched a little, leaning against the railing of the porch steps, and waited for the other man to make a move—or not.

“If I ever catch you in a dark alley, you’re dead,” Cadaverous finally said shakily a minute or two later.

“OK, so as long as I’m still alive, you leave Christine alone, right?” Peter asked, and wondered if he’d still be talking this much or this long if he was in his full Mad Dash attire and could treat this guy like any other transhuman punk—or normal vanilla human punk for that matter.

“I…I don’t…shit…fine. She was a lousy lay anyway.”

Peter studied the man’s eyes and posture—now that he was standing again. He’d learned a lot about body language and intonation from Query tutoring him, and also just from dealing with enemies on his own as Mad Dash, and his people instincts were better honed than his ability to convey a coherent stream of thought in words. The fire was out of Christine’s ex-boyfriend. He was an abusive fuck, but not committed enough to abusing this particular woman when his life was potentially on the line.


Life didn’t give guarantees. But likely his cousin would be free of this jerk now, as long at she didn’t decide to hook up with him again.

Peter stood there a long time, until Cadaverous got up finally and walked away, looking back with hate at Peter several times. When he was long gone, Peter sighed, went back up the stairs, and knocked at the door. Christine opened the door, gave him a fierce hug, and said, “Thank you thank you thank you thank you.”

“Uh, you’re welcome. A swifferier way to thank me would be to stop dating jerks. Especially transhuman ones.”

“Bad boys are more fun,” she said, stepping away and sliding her hair away from one eye, smiling. “And you know, having such a great cousin who’s got power and stuff makes me feel like just any old boring guy won’t do.”

“You have bad taste in men, and adding transhuman powers to the spaghetti mix makes it that much bread crumbier,” Peter said.

“I don’t have bad taste. Like I said, it’s more fun.”

“Until one of them hits you. Or hits you harder than any of the others did. Or kills you.”

Christine was silent for several moments, then muttered, “No one’s hit me yet. At least not all that hard. Can you stop playing the dad role now? Or big brother. Whatever.”

“You’re like a sister to me oh, my oh,” he responded, “and I don’t want you hurt.”

“I don’t want you hurt, either, but you keep going out and fighting bad guys and shit, so maybe…you know…glass houses and all that?” she said.

“Yeah, yeah. People in greenhouses shouldn’t juggle knives or something like that,” he said with a smile, and his cousin wondered if he was joking or just speaking his jumbled thoughts and not noticing as usual. “But my situation is different.”

“Keep telling yourself that, Peter Nguyen,” she said grimly. “Choice is choice is choice. You think he’ll be back?”

Peter shook his head. “Nah. Neverland, I think.” He stared off into the empty distance into which Cadaverous had walked, and wondered if the man would enter a life of crime and they’d cross paths again—or maybe he already was a criminal; it wouldn’t be Christine’s first time dating one of those. “I don’t think he’ll be back, Christine. But the next guy might be, and no matter how fast I run, I can’t always get here before something bad happens. I can’t outrun a bullet. Remember that.”

“Yeah,” Christine said, a tone both morose and sarcastically amused tinging her words. “You remember that, too.”