Chapter 54

Hi Mom! It's me, JB. How's Dad?

I sound different? Mom, I told you last time. It's allergies and this crappy phone. Yes, I've been drinking tea and taking stuff.

No, I've not been to a doctor, Ma, it's just allergies, I feel fine. How's Dad?

The job? It's going pretty good. I'm doing more... uhm.. internal work. Mostly, I'm doing real-time communications stuff. How's Dad?

No, Mom, I'm not sitting at the computer twenty-four hours a day. Although I'm on call pretty much all the time. It's not as bad as I thought it would be, though. The folks I'm working with are great. I feel like we're getting a lot done, although it's been kinda quiet lately.

No, it's not bad, it just gets like that. It's either a complete panic or fighting to stay awake.

I told you, I'm working with an emergency services group. No, I can't tell you their name Mom.

Oh, don't worry, I'm not the one who might get hurt, but basically it's my job to make sure that the rest of the team stays safe too. It's a lot of fun.

Have I what?

Well, no, I really don't get a chance to go to many clubs or anything. I'm not really into the clubbing scene..

What? Mom, no I...

Yes, I know that Uncle Jack and Aunt Eileen are going to be grandparents for the third time...

I don't know if Chris is, Mom, I try not to delve into my brother's sex life.

Yes ma'am.

I'm sorry ma'am.

I didn't mean to say that, I..

Oh, don't cry Mom...

Ok, Mom? Look, I didn't want to say anything because I didn't want to get you excited, but yes, I've been dating someone.

Well, she's from Texas and has been working on the team for a while. Longer than I have.

A lot longer.

Anyway, like I said, we've been dating.

No Mom, it's not a problem. The boss knows and actually encouraged it. He said it's good for the team

Well, I'm basically a contractor here Mom, so there's no real conflict of interest.

I don't know if I can bring her for Thanksgiving, Mom. It's not like I set the schedule or anything. I don't even know if we get holidays.

Yeah, but I..

Well, no but..

I'd have to check, first but..

Uh, ok. Bye Ma.

I love you too.

Bye.

...

Ok, thank you Roger, you can hang up the phone now.

Oh, uhm ok. You don't think she figured out it was my voice talking, do you?

No, Roger, she's never met you. She just thinks I've got a cold.

Ah, right, sorry I wasn't listening to that part.

Were you listening to any of it?

I was trying not to. I figured it was a personal conversation.

Oh..

JB? Do you have a headache? I don't know if it would help, but I could try massaging some lavender oils into my temples.

Ah, no thanks. It'll go away after a while on it's own.

Are you sure? I might be able to rustle up some skullcap.

No, really, thanks.


JB?

Yeah?

I.. uhm.. I did sort of listen to the end of that...

Ah.

How are going to manage to...

Roger?

Yes?

I'll take some of that deathcap

Skullcap

Sure, ruin my dreams.

Excuse me?

So, where is Chris anyway?

He said he had to run a few lessons.

What? With who?

He didn't say.


Chris scampered across the rooftop, hoping to build up enough speed. His breath was ragged and nearly drowned out the heavy crunch of the gravel beneath his boots. He launched himself off the edge and fired his guy line. He didn't bother to check to see if the anchor seated itself. If it didn't he'd have three hundred feet to think about it.

The line snapped taut as his earpiece crackled. "The average firing rate of a six shot revolver is?" the voice asked in a smooth tone, oblivious to Chris' current situation.

"One half second per aimed shot." Chris groaned out as he swung to a landing on the far side of the busy street. The line retracted back with a hand-numbing clack.

The voice continued in a casual tone,"Lady Peacemaker might argue that, but yes, that would be the average. Turn left."

Chris dove left and tried to remain on his feet on the loose gravel. His eyes flashed across the vista looking for obstacles, paths, anything that he could use to his advantage or become horribly entangled in.

"Oh, and you've got ten seconds." The voice calmly stated. Well, at least he wasn't humming that damn tune from Jeopardy.

Ten seconds, that meant that Chris had to get down to street level, fast. Well, figure around three seconds for the most direct route, but stopping would be a problem. Fortunately, the part of him that wasn't doing the math was in control. His hands had played out a length of line and whipped the guy line anchor onto a metal sewer vent before he leapt over the side. He fell for a dozen feet before the slack caught on the line. His arms and armor seized against the strain. Gravity put up an overwhelming fight. Fortunately, Chris had learned not to take these sorts of things directly. He swung back and forth like a pendulum playing out the line slowly.

"Ten seconds" the voice said with a note of strong anticipation.

Chris looked down. He was too far up to drop. He'd survive the drop, but the armor would lock up on impact and he'd be stuck too long. He fed out more line broadening his arc, just past the bottom of the sweep, he hit the release and began peddling his legs, hoping to match his vertical speed. He hit harder than he expected and tucked into a roll.

He rolled out of it and headfirst into a trashcan. A quick handspring out of the trashcan, removal of several more adhesive wrappers and a cat, a less than nimble vault of baby stroller and a few rapidly proffered apologies and he not only had hit the ground but he did so running.

Chris caught a glimpse of his target, and dove.

Myron flicked the final crumbs from his fingers and lifted his espresso right before Chris skidded across the table. The sugar and napkin holder, unlike Chris, were not caught by the previously empty chair.

Myron frowned as he looked at his watch. "Oh dear, would you look at the time." he said in mock casual. "I really should see someone about getting this watched fixed. It runs ten minutes fast, you know."

Chris' backside did not show the same level of frustration that Chris was feeling. He simply let his boot thud against the table.

"So did you get it?" Myron's chipper voice merely served to grate further on his Chris' nerves. Chris backhanded the newspaper with deadly accuracy. Myron caught it in mid flight and settled in. "Do sit up straight. You're not helping your image with that posture."

Chris slid off the table with an angry thud. He placed himself back in the chair in a more normal form. "I can see why the others are such big fans of you."

Myron smiled from behind the world section. "You can quit your enrollment any time you like."

Chris fumed. Tempting though the offer may be, he had no intention of giving up now. "I don't know what's worse, the senseless tasks you insist on me doing."

"They're training exercises." Myron corrected.

"Wax on, wax off", Chris grumbled.

"And the other worse option would be?"

"The fact that you don't use that voice thing."

"I told you, before, it's all about presence. It's more important what others believe you capable of doing rather than what you're actually able to do. The voice gives me authority, allows me to master any situation. It's all about keeping an ace up your sleeve."

Myron folded up his newspaper and looked toward Chris. "I mean, look at you. You're claiming to be a superhero, yet you don't have a single demonstratable power to speak of, well, other than the uncanny ability to catch any form of projectile even remotely headed your way. You don't posses enhanced senses, strength, speed, or any discernable skills other than being able to find change in other people's sofas. Frankly, I'm surprised you've lived this long."

Chris was growing used to the barbs, "You're welcome to resign your tutorage at any time."

This time, Myron smiled. He opened the newspaper and spun it around to his student. "What do you make of this?"

Chris looked over the page. "Hmm.. Off hand, I'd say that you'd look better in flats and anything heel over two inches makes my foot cramp."

"What? Damn." He flipped the paper over.

Chris looked at the report and accompanying picture.

"I'd say it's a bad time to skip your veggies."


The crowd had long since fled. All that filled the streets now were the shuffling, relatively heavy footfalls of the shambling masses' Birkenstocks. Their murmuring obsession passing through grave cold lips. The moonlight dulling the color of their tie-died t-shirts.

The Blue Stallion held his ground, staring down the road at the advancing horde of undead. He let loose his famed War Whinny, and pawed the asphalt with his foot.

Behind the ranks of the undead, against the light of the full moon, a figure stood laughing and holding out an Egyptian flail and crook. The ancient powers casting a faint green aura. "Where are your powers now, Stallion? Does your mighty Horse Sense not work on those that don't have a mind to control? Mwah-ha-ha-ha!

BM_BSev_682: Sounds impressive. Then what happened?
Scarab64: Oh, the usual.

Kid Colt wasn't quite sure what he had heard. He shook his head trying to see if it got any clearer. He looked toward the Stallion, who might as well be a meat statue. Kid Colt quietly slipped forward, figuring he could easily outrun the slow moving mob anyway.

He could see the soulless eyes staring through him. Their chests, mimicking life behind their "Meat is Murder" t-shirts drew rattling breaths only to exhale a single word. A word, at first too familiar for legions of undead, but oddly.. different.

"Grains? They're saying 'Grains'?" Kid Colt yelled up at the Black Scarab.

Scarab64: What's a guy to do? How was I to know that the cemetery that I picked would be full of dead hippies? Turns out that they were some freak group that didn't eat anything what came from animals.
BM_Bsev_682: You raised an army of zombie vegans?
Scarab64: Yeah, that's the bunch. Hey, I'm from Queens, you think we got folks here what don't eat meat?
Scarab64: They'd last maybe five minutes in the schoolyard over at Saint Demitrious. But then it gets worse.
BM_Bsev_682: I'm afraid to ask.

"You want a piece of this? Huh? Do ya?" Kid Colt stood staring down the alley full of zombies. They moaned in terror clawing at whatever they could in a futile attempt to escape. The soulless eyes reflecting the horror that coursed through their long abandoned veins. Kid Colt sent a new wave of panic through the churning mass of undead as he thrust the open pizza box at the crowd.

"No way Dude!" A voice cried from the middle of the moaning group. "That's like a meat-lover's pizza, man! That stuff is like totally poison, man!"

BM_Bsev_682: They talked?
Scarab64: Nah, turns out there were a few live ones in the group. They thought it was a protest march.
BM_Bsev_682: You got away, though, right?
Scarab64: You bet your sweet anch I did. Soon as I saw the delivery kid show up.
BM_Bsev_682: What happened to the undead army?
Scarab64: Last I heard, they were headed toward Sacramento for some protest thing. I bet that bus smells good.
Scarab64: So anything good goin' on in your neck of the woods?
BM_Bsev_682: Nope. And I don't understand it either. It's as if I've run out of ideas.
Scarab64: You? Run out of ideas? Never. Maybe you just need to go on vacation, think about something different.
BM_Bsev_682: Yeah, I tried that recently. It wasn't as relaxing as I hoped.
BM_Bsev_682: Although I have been tinkering around with a few things
Scarab64: Really? Like what?
BM_Bsev_682: I'm not sure really.

TO: Qrnq Zrng
FROM: Gryllix Command
SUBJ: RE: Status Report (Chester-III)

Lt. Facilitator Zrng,
We have received your latest report and must admit that we are less than pleased with the news.

On the issue of the recent space travel setback, please understand that such matters, although highly regrettable, do happen. It is your task to see about ensuring that there is sufficient reason that funding is kept at a high level. We suggest the "Impending Space Armada of Doom" program.

We are, however, pleased with your report that the Terraists are conducting explorations to their neighboring planet Chester-IV. However we wish to remind you that such explorations should be accelerated. We suggest implementing the "Impending Space Armada of Doom" program.

Your request for additional supplies has been received, as has the sampling of Chester-III products. Although I should note that we fail to see the attraction to a great many of the items you've sent. Terraist foodstuffs are very strange, and a number of members have reported strange sensations in their mouths when consuming items. We are, however, intrigued by two food items you neglected to include in your shipment. Please send us the items known as "Cheez-Whiz" and the Bread of Wonders. If you have problems securing these items, we suggest implementing the "Impending Space Armada of Doom" program.

We also wish to inform you that our leading Xenopsychiatrists have created a new motivational program that a good number of us are very excited about. Although it has yet to be fully approved by the Council and you are not to implement it, we look forward to disclosing the details of our latest program, titled "Imminent Space Armada of Doom". Naturally, we cannot divulge details of this bold new initiative, but we expect it to be highly successful.

We look forward to hearing progress on your next report.

Sincerely,

Grillyx Command

Do You Yahoo!?
Plan your next getaway at http://travel.yahoo.com


Plaskowitz knew better than to keep Him waiting. He also knew not to use that form of capitalization whenever he was around Him, but part of him kept insisting on it. Partly because such forms of speech were generally reserved for the sort of fellows that tended to dress immature cockroaches in cheerleader outfits and take upskirt shots of them.

His arms battled gravity while trying to keep the bundles of memory disks, diagrams, fasteners, portable displays and an unusually useful creation called a P'haas'Dit. He wasn't sure who the three ems were, but they were a very clever race. Putting a strip of non-permanent adhesive to the back of a writing surface...

Plaskowitz nearly missed the door. He mumbled angrily at himself for getting distracted.

"Ah! There you are!" Hi.. The Stockholder's voice managed to send a shiver down Plaskowitz' spines every time he heard it, regardless of how chipper The Stockholder attempted to be. The Stockholder smiled with far too many teeth, not all of which were native to Jelvans. "So tell me my dear boy, are you any closer at figuring out how that fascinating doo-hickey works?"

He meant the human drive. They had confiscated it over a standard year ago, but in some respects, he was no closer than he was sixteen months ago.

Plaskowitz dumped his load on the table and wrung two of his hands together. "Well, we figured that out nearly a year ago. The real trick is figuring out how to get it to work without killing anyone near it, destroying the fabric of space time, or causing the room to fill with something called..." he paused and flipped through several smaller piles, "... the plastic ono band. Apparently this is considered 'music' in some alternate reality although when we first heard it we thought Chuuvii was violating the vacuum resealing unit like he did that one time before when he..." Plaskowitz stopped talking. The Stockholder was standing uncomfortably close, smiling in a way that would cause stars to freeze over.

"So what --have-- you found out?"

Plaskowitz took a deep breath and decided not to talk of the various tests that he performed to attempt to determine the human drive system's capabilities, the various papers that it had caused and the small dimension they had discovered that had quite possibly the best fortune cookies he'd ever eaten. Even if the fortunes were a little depressing. For some reason, it wasn't as funny playing the "In Bed" game when your fortune was 'your corpse will be discovered after twenty days have passed.'

The Stockholder didn't wait for an answer. He turned on his heel and flopped heavily into his chair. The Stockholder had paid a good deal to have the lighting system's AI properly predict his mood. In this case, it cast a swath of light across his eyes. They didn't need the help to add to the menace. "You disappoint me Plaskowitz..."

"Well.. we found a name."


A name?
Just who's name did they find?
Will Bob get his Mojo back?
His Eeeeevil Mojo?
And what did JB agree to do?

Yep, the slow trickling torture of fate will undoubtedly stall out in bringing you the next chapter:

Gritty Garments
or
Sand in your Shorts

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