Friday, November 18, 2016

When I Sleep, I Dream of Orion

Every morning I wake up in the armpit of this alien world.  For years, all our leaders told us, “Sutaria is the future.” Some future this turned out to be.  Maybe in order to understand it, I would have to go back into the past.

When I was a child in school, I remembered reading about the wars, the depression, the diseases of Old Earth. That is why my ancestors went to Mars. For centuries, there was peace but then the Tharsis conflict occurred. My parents were the first to leave.

Fearing for their lives, they booked passage to the newly formed Orion colony on Gilese. That is where I was born. I remember being happy. There was a time when I was carefree and not so riddled with anxiety. Life was idyllic. Our society was thriving; peace was the norm. It was as if for one moment in time, everything in the universe stood still.  It was glorious!

When I turned 21, it was time for my mandatory service with the Gilesean Faction. I was excited. This was my chance to do something, to make a name for myself. I had been floundering but I felt that I now had a sense of purpose.   My service was uneventful for several months but then a coup occurred. Emissary Davis was overthrown by the power mad Chancellor Warner. This was the beginning of the end.

The government was at war; our once peaceful existence was plagued with demonstrations and violence. Our economy which was booming suddenly went bust. The staples of life became harder and harder to obtain. I had been assigned to patrol the inner quadrants of the Capital where the impact was devastating.  Crime was rampant so a mandatory curfew was imposed. For the most part, the citizens complied with the ruling and enforcement wasn’t necessary.

Chancellor Warner had the people believing that he would lead them to utopia. He claimed that he was the voice of reason in the sea of unrest. His plan was to create a unified federation. The idea was for Emissary Davis to build a colony on the shores of a new planet, Sutaria. Sutaria was several million miles away and the journey would be arduous. This was his vision of greatness that we would expand beyond Gilese and Sutaria was the first step. Manifest destiny in space.

After numerous meetings and negotiations, Warner and Davis emerged looking more like partners in love than bitter rivals. Next came the barrages of Sutaria is the future campaign slogans. With this newly tentative peace forged, it seemed as if we were poised for greatness.  Plans were being made, our finest scientific minds were designing the colony and the ships that would take us there.  

I was assigned to Sutarian detail.  As much as I didn’t want to leave home, it was my duty and I understood the oath that I had taken. My parents were understandably upset to see me go but they supported the government.  My deployment was set. I said my goodbyes and boarded a ship bound for the new frontier.  As Gilease grew smaller and smaller, I could feel my heart breaking. Another life chapter closed, another to be opened. 

Months later, I found myself on Sutarian soil.  As I unpacked in my habitat pod, I glanced out at a bright star in the distance. Tears formed in my eyes.  I didn’t know what the future would hold but I did know the future would be here for now.

It is many years later and I am still here. I have retired from my service in the Faction. It wasn’t easy trying to maintain order. There were some uprisings, some threats from outsiders but we managed to resolve matters with few casualties.

At night, when the world is quiet, I lie awake and think of Gilese. I remember how it felt to be young and full of promise and hope instead of being old and jaded.  Every night I say a silent prayer to whomever might be listening for I know when I sleep, I dream of Orion. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

What Ever Happened to Mad Rants?

Max sat in the dark typing away on his laptop.  His ever-present cup of coffee by his side and Nine Inch Nails blasting away set the tone for his latest blog. Mad Rants was his heart and soul split open for everyone’s consumption.  When he started this venture over eight years ago, he had no idea it would take off. He assumed that he might get a few followers here or there but never in his wildest imaginings did he ever think he would acquire half a million subscribers.

He knew he wasn’t in the big leagues but this little side project sold to The City Paper resulted in a neat and steady cash flow. Max no longer had to detail cars for a living.  He moved out of the cramped studio apartment and upgraded to a two bedroom. Life was good.  Bills were getting paid.  Food was on the table. Most importantly, his thoughts were out there and people seemed to care.

There was a contingency of those staid conservative types that used to love to engage in sparring matches with him.  He lived for those interactions! Majority of his followers understood what he was saying and enjoyed his sarcastic, dark humor.

After he published the last installment of his posts on the psychology of serial killers, he started receiving some oddly unsettling emails. He just shrugged it off and didn’t allow them to interfere with his day. Then, they started coming to his private email address. He knew no one at the Paper would give out his personal information. His friend Blaine worked in the IT division of a worldwide conglomerate, so he knew his home network and identity were foolproof.

He had showed the strange missives to Blaine who attempted to trace the IP where the emails were originating from with no luck. He had also asked his editor if anyone had been asking how to get in touch with him. David laughed and said, “All the time!” But quickly pointed out that everyone was referred to the work email he kept with the Paper.

After about two weeks of graphic threats to his life, the emails stopped coming. Max didn’t know whether to be concerned or not. That was until he received the manila parcel in his mailbox. Obviously, it had made it through the security machines at the post office so it wasn’t anything to be afraid of he reckoned. He stared at it for a bit before deciding to open it.  Inside the parcel was an unmarked VHS tape. Max cocked his head.  Who even deals with these anymore in this digital world?

Luckily for Max, he still had a video tape player. This was a relic from the 90’s when technologically speaking things were way less complicated. He popped the VHS in the player and sat back in his chair. The image on the tape seemed to be deliberately out of focus.  Max could make out a form, possibly a male sitting in a basement or maybe a garage.  Upon further examination, the male appeared to be bound to a chair and gagged.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, Max felt as if he had seen this before.  Sitting forward, he studied the television screen intently.  The male appeared to be waking up.  The worse part about this tape was the lack of audio.  The man in the chair was soaking wet.  He looked beyond the camera with his eyes widening in horror.  He began to move around violently in the chair.

Out of the corner, there was a flash of light and a small line of flames began to quickly move toward the figure in the chair. At that moment, Max understood how truly horrific this video was and what the end result was going to be for this unlucky fellow. Before that outcome could be realized, the video shut off.  Max was left staring at the screen with the images of flames in his eyes.

“Jesus Christ!” He scrambled over to his desk and looked at the parcel. There was no return address, no indication of where it had been before reaching him. What the fuck was this about? Did this have anything to do with the emails that he had been receiving? Max debated on whether or not to take the video to the police. “They will probably think I had something to do with it.”

After all, it could be publicity for one of his reader’s indie films. He had gotten crazier shit in the past from fans. This tape felt like something more and it terrified him.  Sleep was definitely going to be elusive tonight. Max stared at the screensaver on his computer. The proverbial beacon in the night beckoning him to finish his post.  The cheerful deserted island scene with the azure water seemed ominous to him now.

As Max wrestled with his unique dilemma, he could feel his eyes getting heavier and heavier. The rational part of him knew that he needed to take that tape to the authorities. Someone was murdered or at least appeared to be murdered.  The sensational side of Max knew that another tape might show up and it could be a future story for his blog.  With no immediate answer in sight, Max went to sleep.

Detective Trask was in no mood to be trifled with this morning. At least, he thought it was morning. He pulled his car up to the abandoned garage. This side of town was not for the faint of heart. Before he could exit his vehicle, one of the uniforms knocked on his window. “Yeah?”

“Detective Trask, they sent me over to tell you it’s pretty bad in there. You might want to grab a mask or something.” Trask nodded. He exited his car and pulled a worn handkerchief out of his pocket. When the call came through about this 187, he was barely functioning and didn’t know that he would have to grab a kit.

Of course, as with every tragic scene, you had to have your lookie loos.  This wasn’t any different.  Trask made his way past the yellow crime scene tape and into the garage.  Immediately, the smell of burnt flesh crept into his nostrils. He pulled his handkerchief tight over his nose. The smoldering charred mess still bound to the chair assaulted his eyes.

“Do we have any idea who this unfortunate soul is?” One of the numerous crime scene workers milling about handed Trask an evidence bag. He could clearly see the name on the driver’s license. “Max Draper?”  “Yeah. The former Max Draper.” Trask nodded as he proceeded over to a video camera set up in the corner. 

“Whoever the sick fuck was that did this guy in left us a present.”  Trask looked into the videocam viewer just in time to see Max go up in flames. “I guess yesterday was his last blog entry.” “Huh?” asked Trask. “Yeah, he’s Mad Rants. You know, the City Paper?” Trask stared blankly at the young patrolman. “Guess he’s the story now.”  

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Mezzanine

Jamie always hated meetings. She had a real aversion to them. Most of the time they were pointless and resulted in a nonstop bitching session. The problem with this “huddle” and God how she HATED that corporate bullshit term was that it was taking place on the old, abandoned Mezzanine floor.

Two years ago, when she was new to the company, she recalled a conversation in the elevator with one of her colleagues.  She couldn’t figure out if he was kidding at the time or if he was serious. “No one ever presses the M button unless they are invited on to that floor.” “Really? What’s there? All of the corporate secrets?” Her colleague locked eyes with her. “It’s a regular floor. Just a couple of offices that no one uses and a conference room.” Curiosity piqued, Jamie couldn’t help but press the subject further.

“That doesn’t make sense. Why would you not use the space?” “I don’t know. I’ve never been on the level myself but I hear there is quite a bit of construction going on.  I guess it’s closed off for safety reasons.” Still finding this explanation peculiar, Jamie decided to let it go. Maybe one day she would be able to investigate the mysterious Mezzanine floor on a lunch break. No one would know and what would be the harm in it?  If anyone caught her, she could say she was lost.

The Mezzanine area had slipped her mind until today when she got the invitation in her email. She put the finishing touches on her latest project, printed it out, grabbed her coffee mug and headed for the elevator. As she walked toward the lobby, she couldn’t help but notice that no one else was leaving their cubicles. There were other people on the invite, at least she thought she saw other names.  Perhaps they were already waiting in the conference room.

She pressed the elevator button and as if by magic, the doors opened immediately. This was a rare occurrence.   Elevators were a tough commodity to come by when you were late for work. She stepped inside, pressed the large M and watched as the doors closed.

Jamie’s office, well her cubicle (she wasn’t important enough to have four walls and a door), was located on the 15th floor.  The Mezzanine level was actually the 13th floor but in order to not frighten people the owners of the building decided to give it a fancy name.  Her thoughts interrupted by the doors opening, Jamie stepped out into the dimly lit hallway.  Taking a deep breath, she looked around.

The first thing she noticed was the uncommon quiet. She had been to many floors within this building and all of them had a buzz. Not this one. Shrugging it off, she proceeded down the hall. Finally, she reached Conference Room 1301. She opened the door.

In the middle of the area was a huge mahogany table with chairs for twenty people. It looked like a typical conference room. Nothing seemed amiss. Jamie wondered why no one else was here yet.  Did she have the right location?  According to her watch, the meeting was going to start in five minutes.  She could feel a sense of panic building in the pit of her stomach.

To quell her nerves, she opened her presentation folder and began to go over her bullet points. Her focus drawn to her notes, she didn’t notice that she wasn’t alone in the room anymore.
“Ms. Davis?” Startled, Jamie raised her head and found herself looking straight into the eyes of an incredibly attractive man. Flustered, she almost knocked over her coffee mug. “Hello. I didn’t see you come in.” The man nodded. 

“I saw you were engrossed in your presentation so I thought I wouldn’t disturb you.” “Thank you for that.” “My pleasure. I am Ian Rogers.”
“Uh, Mr. Rogers? As in CEO, Mr. Rogers?” “That is my father who is the CEO.  When he is away attending to certain interests, I deal with his meetings.” “Oh.” Jamie scans the vacant room.  “I am sure you are wondering why you are the only attendee?”  “You could say that, Mr. Rogers.”

“Well, I…. that is my father and I decided that you were the only person necessary for this particular tête–à–tête.” Ian’s soft voice was rather soothing. He’s obviously English, Jamie thought. “In answer to your question, Ms. Davis, I grew up in London.”   “Oh, I couldn’t quite place your accent.” Did she ask him where he was from? At this point, she was so uncomfortable she couldn’t remember.

Ian stood up and begin to walk around the room. “You have been with this company for two years, correct?” “Yes.” “Do you like it here?  Is your work satisfying?” He turned around, his preternaturally blue eyes scanned Jamie’s face. Taking a deep breath, Jamie replied, “I do enjoy being here.” “Good.  It is always nice to know what your employees think.” Ian smiled. Jamie began to feel light headed. Something about his smile….

“Did you want to hear my presentation?” “No, that won’t be necessary. I know all about it.” Now Jamie knew that was impossible because she had finished it late last night and hadn’t shown it to any of her co-workers. “How?” She was finding it increasingly hard to speak let alone form coherent thoughts in her fog induced brain.

The last thing that Jamie remembered was Ian’s deep glowing red eyes. Weren’t they blue? She felt someone gently tapping her on the shoulder. Turning around, she saw her co-worker Derek standing next to her. “Late night?”  Disoriented, Jamie shook her head. “Was I sleeping?” “You dozed off.” Jamie looked around and noticed most of the cubicles were vacant. “Where is everyone?”

Derek smiled. “At the meeting.” “Meeting? We have a meeting?” “Yes. We better hurry or we’ll be late.” “I don’t remember getting a planner for that, Derek.” Her colleague was already on the move. Scrambling to keep up with him, Jamie tried to remember what had happened. She boarded the elevator with Derek. “What floor are we going to?” Derek turned around and Jamie found herself face to face with Ian Rogers. “Why Jamie, you already know that answer.”