Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Chapter 1: Beer, Robots and the Past

Shorty stared at the giant beast rising before him. He reflected on the sterile technology surrounding him and the vast expanse of space visible through the giant, skyscraper-sized windows in the distance. The beast was growling, Shorty’s companions were shouting behind him, and a siren blared in the distance while a calm robotic voice explained calmly that there was no need to panic, just the need to evacuate or die.

The beast, large enough to loom over the diminutive (four foot nine inch) man even though it was standing on a landing a full twenty feet below the balcony he was on, glared at the small man evilly, hungrily. Shorty started to turn and...

Wait... This doesn’t make much sense as it is right now. You would probably like some back-story, right? Who is this “Shorty” and why is a huge lumbering beast looming over him? Is it really looming? Why is it looming instead of eating him? Will it eat him? If you are thinking those questions, for starters, slow the hell down, we just started. We’ll get to all of those, but here is that back-story you were promised.

Back in the 21rst century, mankind had finally cracked enough genetic codes to be comfortable playing around with them like so many nerds with a computer language writing their own games. As with computer nerds, gene-nerds were happily splicing together and from-scratch building new life forms. This led to a lot of really weird niche creatures as well as the development of job-specific version of humans, because once people realized they could make their kids into super-athletes or at least have them born with really bitchin’ tattoos as birthmarks, people suddenly stopped having moral hangups about things like cloning and using stem cells for damn near everything. (Thank God they left them out of the ketchup. Except for Japan. It wasn’t pretty for a generation or two.)

This leads us to the breed of human called Homo sapiens brevis, AKA “Shorties.” You can see where this is going. The US Army’s space branch (“Space grunts”, because let’s face it, space marines have been played out a bit) had need for small, strong, mentally tough soldiers that would be easy to transport and feed, would be utterly fearless (that was actually, verbatim, line 430 on their design spec; “utterly fearless”) and of above average intelligence so that they could be taught several roles to maximize efficiency.

The company OJ&G (Orange Julius and Genetics) got the contract; they were able to keep costs down because they already had the facilities necessary to manipulate genes, and had deep pockets because of the smoothie boom in the mid 2020s. As a result, the first generation was born in record time for a human offshoot, and they brought with them an absolute lack of any and all fear, and a love of frozen beverages.

The Shorties had a perfect record in special operations; women, men, and even some really enthusiastic kids excelled at all kinds of things like assassinations and infiltration attacks. After a while, as a race, they got tired of being used as soldiers, though. By that time, mankind had reached for the stars, and even colonized a few. (Well, the planets around them, at any rate)

The Shorties decided they wanted their own home and to make their own way. The now USDS (United Sates of Deep Space) Army did not exactly want to give up on their pet project, despite the fact that it had paid for itself several times over. Actually, by this point, they had paid for themselves roughly 200,000 generation’s worth over the originally contracted 20 generations.
This gave the USDS very little arguing power when the 200,00th generation argued to secede from the USDS and start their own colony on a planet orbiting a blue star.

They then set up shop, created their own cities and culture, and promptly got jobs contracting themselves out as soldiers for the USDS, albeit at higher wages. This arrangement worked out just fine for the Shorties until 1000 years later when roughly 40 percent of the planet’s population was away either working or on vacation; their blue sun went supernova.

The remaining shorties dispersed, finding what work they could; mostly as soldiers. This led to a high mortality rate, and with the race so diluted, they began to become a rare commodity. Then, more recently, they began to disappear, one by one.

Since this is being told in third-person omniscient, we’ll let you in on a little secret: The shorties weren’t just disappearing, they were being kidnapped and experimented upon. The group responsible was an evil cabal of ne’er-do-wells called the Cabal of Evil Ne’er-Do-Wells, also called the CEN. They prefer to be called “The Cabal.”

The Cabal decided they needed a new breed of soldiers if they were going to conquer the known universe. They already had an impressive army made of ghouls, werewolves, werebadgers, zombies and a variety of lumbering, looming beasts, among other creatures. They wanted small, nimble soldiers that could infiltrate enemy locations and place bombs and cursed items in key places.

They tried bribing and then threatening them into submission at first, but shorties like little more than shooting and stabbing things, and they fear noting, so there was really nothing the CEN could offer them that they didn’t already have, and threatening them was pointless. So they started kidnapping them where they could find them.

This brings us to Shorty. His real name is Issur Danielovitch Demsky, but everyone just calls him “Shorty”, because even in the far-off future, people are assholes. Unimaginative assholes. Shorty was a victim of a work-decline that all shorties had been experiencing; war had become pretty uncommon. Corporations ran everything, and whenever there was a conflict, they either ran a smear campaign, or simply bought out the competition. The time of bloody coups seemed over, replaced by the time of the bloodless corporate takeover.

Shorty had been a specialized assassin; he could kill man or beast with any gun, handheld weapon, or his hands and feet. He had loved his job, and had personally assassinated over a hundred people, and 4 sheep (The planet of New New Caledonia elected sheep for the vice presidency), so he got a job working at a meat packing station when the kill-work dried up. It was similar to what he had done before, since there was lots of blood and screaming, but it left him feeling hollow.

Modern meat-packing plants no longer worked with long lines of live animals who were walked into the slaughter-house. No, the modern facilities used genetically modified creatures with no heads; they were really a roughly animal-shaped bundle of meat and bones grown to resemble, superficially, the type of meat they represented. So you had cow-like beef creatures, pig-like pork creatures and chicken-and-turkey-like poultry creatures. They were simply fed into a robotic machine that used many-bladed arms to chop the creatures up into steaks, pork, chops, drumsticks, etc.

Of course, for some reason, when the original creatures were being modified into their mindless food equivalents, someone decided it would be a good idea to make them still scream in terror as they were lanced into meat cutlets. This annoyed Shorty to no end since it took the otherwise relaxing job of cleaning blood and meat-chunks off of blades and filled it with the echoes of torment, despite the meat-creatures having no nerves to speak of.

It was a regular day at the Alderaan meat-packing free-space station, at the end of Shorty’s shift when the events leading to the opening paragraphs occurred. He was sitting at a bar, grumbling about how all the other idiots watched nothing but sports and never nature documentaries, when a small, imp-like creature (an imp) snuck through the facility and snapped a few pictures of shorty with the camera chip built into its retina, and transmitted the images to his bosses (the CEN) through transmitter/receivers built into his horns.

The Cabal knew where yet another shorty was located, and measures were taken to apprehend him.

At this point, you may be wondering exactly why they needed the Shorties to do the sneaking-and-placing-things work for the Cabal when they had imps that were perfectly capable of the same work. In fact, one of the Primary mEmbers of Nine, or PEN, asked just such a question a decade before. the responses from the other eight were “Shut up” and “Because we’re EVIL.” he subsequently learned not to bother asking questions.

That member’s name was Marcus Cornelius; he is well aware of his name’s resemblance to one of the mighty Caesars of Rome, and is quite fond of it. But enough about him for now, back to Shorty.

Shorty drank a beer, blissfully unaware of the unholy mini-demon sending his image across the vastness of space, when an argument erupted at a nearby table. It was between two clerics.

Okay, we promise the tangents will stop shortly, but a lot has gone on in the past several thousand years. You see, corporations had become the true powers in the universe; they owned everything. Species were named after the company that discovered them. For example, the CuddleSoft tissue corp had sent probes to a planet called Perseus where they discovered a panther-like creature with six limbs, a snake-like tail, and a second set of retractable jaws, much like a popular Alien from bygone movies. Those jaws? Every last tooth was a poisonous fang. CuddleSoft, in keeping with their brand, called it the CuddleSoft Perseun Snugglebeast.

No less than twenty people were poisoned and eaten by Snugglebeasts because a name says a lot about a discovery, right? The Blade astro-car corp aptly named a similar creature the six-armed bladebeast, and it was, as you might expect with that name, a snake-like creature with six arms that ended in blades. Future people are often idiots who take things at face value.

At any rate, this power became so all-consuming that the CEOs of the really big companies became like celebrities, kind of like Martha Stewart, or Donald Trump (although with much better hair) and eventually Gods. This became quite literal when the celebrity/hero worship turned to real worship, and it turned out that the CEO/Gods could heal and grant powers to their faithful. They lived forever (so far), fueled by their massive piles of money and, in some cases, billions of faithful worshippers.

It was mutually beneficial; the higher executive branch of large companies became gods or demigods, and the many benefits associated with godhood (including plenty of women or men, depending on their preference), and they not only provided quality products and/or services, but bestowed upon their faithful the powers of healing, many corporate specific powers (CuddleSoft clerics can render even the hardest carbon fibers snuggly soft), and vast faith-based discounts on their many products.

The good news is that almost every new corporate religion observed the same holidays; days like Christmas, Thanksgiving, the Fourth of July, Discount Product Day, Black Friday, and a host of other oddly American-centered and Judeo-Christian holidays. Despite this, the various corporate faiths were religions in their own right, with splinter groups, zealots, sects, cults and general religious bickering that accompanies any and all differences in core belief. Usually this is limited to the kind of arguing happening at the table behind Shorty that we will get back to in a minute.

Sometimes, it leads to war and acts of corporate terrorism. A radical splinter group of the Starbucks/Krispy Kreme conglomorate called the Venti Honey-Dips set off a low-grade tactical nuke in the middle of a Dunkin’ Donuts worshipping city on the planet of Crueler. A mini-war started between the radicals and DD fundamentalists, until the public condemning of the VHD’s actions by President-Messiah Gordon Baldwin, and the subsequent merger, which led to the creation of the SKKDD, simply called “Skids”, the single most powerful coffee and pastry making religion in the known universe.

The members of the VHD where then slow roasted to perfection and fed to snugglebeasts.

Back to the argument in the bar; a rather portly, yet still very attractive cleric of Skids named Piper was arguing with a cleric of Johnson & Johnson’s Witnesses over who provided the greater service to the universe. Piper argued quite eloquently that coffee and donuts were more important to the overall well being of the universe and its inhabitants; after all, people used talcum powder and bandages because they needed to, people enjoyed coffee because they, well, enjoyed it. Plus, even the clerics for Darren’s Rat  Poison and Daggers could heal people, so really, who needed a company that sold equipment for people who didn’t have clerics?

Their bickering was becoming loud enough to attract the attention of the other patrons, one of whom was LeDouche LeFleur, cargo pilot extraordinaire, and snooty space Frenchman stereotype. The cleric’s arguing elicited a sidelong glance and an arched eyebrow from the space-Frenchman. He was rail thin and slight of build (both) with slicked down hair and a pencil-thin moustache. His face was nearly always unflappable, his current arched eyebrow was a precursor to his slit-eyed glare, which nearly always meant death, or at the very least, humiliation.

Hanging around his neck was a most unusual medallion. It was slightly smaller around than a human head, although it was barely a half-inch thick, and it clearly bore the impression of a metallic face. In fact, it was actually a robot’s face. The face belonged to a robot named Nebulon-B35, and slaughterbot designed to double as a robotic combatant and meat trimming worker. Nebulon was known to his friends as Ned, a nickname given to him by a coworker who could not spell.

Ned had always been more enthusiastic about both the slaughtering and killing aspects of his job, performing each with equal abandon, enthusiasm, and often confusion. In one such incident, he ran into combat against a vile horde, except it wasn’t a vile horde, it was a side of beef. That would be all well and good, except Ned attacked through the meat and hit a power transformer that fried his circuits. That would have been bad enough, except Ned then fell into a compactor that turned 97 percent of his body into a metal pancake. The only non-destroyed part of him was his face, which, fortunately for Ned, was where his brain was.

There was an unexpected side effect of being electrocuted, however. Ned’s transmitter (also in his face) was fused into a super-transmitter that allowed Ned to enter the “minds” of other robots. This was useful when Ned needed a body for something. Unfortunately “something” was often Ned trying to attack anything that looked remotely threatening or meat-like. No one is sure how he became LeDouche’s medallion, but Ned’s robot-possession ability had proven useful in piloting LeDouche’s ship in tight spots (Ned was an accomplished pilot, as are most slaughterbots) and he provided a loud, obnoxious counterpoint to pilot LeFleur’s stoic demeanor.

They were sitting on just the other side of Melvin Chunk from Shorty. Melvin was a large, hulk of a man, at just over seven feet tall and nearly four hundred pounds of solid muscle. Melvin was a descendant of an engineered race like Shorty; only his race had been built for manual labor, like lifting cars or punching out bulls. They were the Dozers and every last one of them had the last name Chunk, Crunk or Clunk. Despite these unfortunate features, they, as a race, were often well-read and enjoyed dainty things like tea and small finger sandwiches. Melvin was enjoying a cosmopolitan when the J&J Witness leaped from his seat, which toppled over loudly, and shouted “Blasphemer!” at Piper. When she began to argue that powder belonged on donuts and not feet, the man began rebutting with “LALALALA! I CANNOT HEAR YOU! LALALA!”

Melvin could feel the tension mounting in LeDouche, and could sense Ned searching frantically for something with blades to inhabit. He started to rise when he noticed Shorty.

Finally, we get to the main character.

The small man was gripping the edge of the bar tensely, his half finished beer and three quarters finished smoothie sitting in front of him collecting condensation. Shorty turned and stared hard at the red-faced Witness before getting up and walking over to him. Then man crossed his arms over his chest, because in the past few generations, the dwindling numbers of Shorties had led to a decline in awareness of their reputation and culture. Shorty walked past him and grabbed his fallen seat and stood it up. The Witness looked down with ill-concealed contempt at Shorty, thinking he was trying to smooth things over and get him to shut up by placating him. He started to say “You can get me a beer now too” but all that came out was “YouAHH!” as Shorty jumped up grabbed the man by his hair and dragged him into his seat.

The Witness was surprised by how strong the small man was. Then Shorty got in his face; the man was further surprised to find that Shorty looked deceptively child-like, with a long black topknot in his hair, large, sparkling blue eyes, and boyish features. He still further surprised by the strong, tenor voice that came out of the small, muscular man. “Please, shut up. I understand that you are very passionate about foot powder and diaper cream, but I am passionate about beer. And smoothies. And I am particularly passionate about drinking them in peace. If I can’t, I get passionate about stabbing things that bleed. Are we clear?”

The Witness nodded silently, sufficiently cowed, and hoping no one noticed that he had peed in his robes. Shorty turned and headed back to his seat, but not before tipping a non-existent hat at Piper and saying “Ma’am, for the record, I too believe powder belongs on donuts.” It was at this moment that Piper discovered a fondness for short men with broad shoulders. This will be important later.

A few million miles away, as the crow flies, as they do when outfitted for space travel, sat nine figures, watching things unfold on a floating display situated between their nine thrones. It was the PEN. Magnus Archville scoffed “Stupid American-descended idiots... they never say that right...” Magnus had a distinctly proper English accent, and a self-important demeanor to compliment it.

Marcus (told you we’d come back to him) leaned back in his throne and asked “What is it now?” “Doughnuts, my dear boy. Those idiots always call them ‘donuts’... It’s like they can’t spell, even when they talk.” Marcus put his face in his hand and shook his head. Magnus infuriated him with his constant superiority and reckless, often stupid sense of always being right. Not that Magnus did not have a right to be confident; all of the PEN in the CEN were accomplished Necromancers (death wizards) and Magnus was among the most powerful. He was also constantly talking others into doing things his way, not because his way was better, but because he liked his way and always tried to impose his will on everyone.

Marcus hated him particularly. He was the youngest member of the PEN, and had been talking to Arliss Bloodthrist, a vampire and number 7 of the PEN, about maybe using vampirism as a means to immortality, since you had to be immortal in order to be on the pen. However, Magnus, being a lich, and convinced that any idea he had HAD to be better than anyone else’s, took it upon himself to show Marcus just how great lichdom was by setting him up with the magic lich producing potion and a phylactery to contain his immortal soul without consulting him first.

Marcus woke up one morning to find that he was not only dead, but a lich, crushing any dreams he had of being a vampire and holding killer vampire sex parties like Arliss. In fact, being a lich meant that not only did none of his “equipment” work, he was going to start rotting away like any other corpse until he was just a skeleton. Marcus had been a fairly attractive man in life, and even after a mere 18 months of undeath, he was beginning to look like a tangerine that had been sitting on the counter for a month.

It had made him more than a little resistant to every thought that came out of Magnus’s shriveled mouth. “Oh shut UP you self important asshole! Who cares if they say ‘donut’ or ‘doughnut’? No one! it’s just another excuse for you to feel superior! What the hell is wrong with you that nearly limitless necromantic power and an army of hundreds of thousands doesn’t give you the same rush that being right about the pronunciation of a word does? They don’t even sound different!! How can you tell they aren’t pronouncing it right?!?!

Magnus sniffed and turned to the enraged number nine and stated flatly “Because, like you, they come from Americans.” He smugly turned his nose-hole up at Marcus and looked away, visibly stating he was quite done with the whole affair. Marcus slouched back into his chair, and mumbled to himself. “I don’t know why the hell we put up with him. Smug asshole. Where the fuck does he get off? He killed me! Motherfucker... I hate him so much....”

Mickey Two-Fingers, the PEN’s lone Ghoul King interjected. “We have a shorty in our sites! Stop this retarded bickering and mobilize the attack force! We need that specimen! And... I would love to get my claws on the fat lady.”

There was a near-unanimous groan from seven of the other members, all save Reginald Brightmeadow, the zombie king.  Mickey was called Two-Fingers because that was all he had left on his hands, his middle fingers. Being that he was a ghoul, he was also a cannibal. He accidentally locked himself in his lab once and wound up eating eight of his own fingers before a minion showed up and let him out. He promptly ate the minion, because, as he said, fingers were just like an appetizer. After that, his minions started taking orders only over their headsets. He rubbed his palms together and licked his over-sized mouth with his long, snakelike black tongue.

Despite their disgust over his taste for overweight people, the PEN could not disagree with his rationale. Reginald, who also doubled as the team’s demon-summoning expert, made Mickey agree to sharing Piper before he would give send the appropriate command to the imp to start the attack. Mickey growled “Isn’t one cannibal enough for this cabal?”

Reginald nodded his rotted, seeping head. “Sure. Whoever can count to ten on their hands gets the position.” eight out of nine PEN members found that hilarious. When they finally stopped laughing, Mickey said “Fine, but I get the head and thighs.”

Reginald smirked (as best he could, he had no lips) and said “Sure. Pinky swear it?” It was several minutes before the laughing died down enough for Reginald to give the order, which he did. The imp reached into the backpack it was wearing (but we just didn’t mention before because it was not important at the time) and pulled out a small bottle with a lid. It snuck into a warehouse where a large number of people we busily moving large refrigerated crates of meat around to be loaded into the loading loader. He unstoppered the bottle and set it on the floor. Through him, Reginald cast a spell, and the bottle began to emit a green gas, which slowly crept across the floor of the warehouse.

A hover-forklift operator was the first to catch a whiff of the green vapor. He thought to himself “My, that glowing green fog smells delightfully cinnamony.” and then promptly fell over dead at the controls, crashing the lift into a group of people that were enjoying a coffee break, up until the moment they were all tragically killed.

A similar scene played out all over the warehouse until everyone inside was dead. The green mist faded, and then something strange happened; all the recently dead people started getting up and walking toward the exits. This was difficult in some cases, where the unfortunates had been partially crushed or lost a limb in the various crashes, but Corp Gods bless them, they soldiered on like a good zombie should.

This part very closely resembles the part in every zombie story where they don’t actually show you what happened but imply that zombified people walked right up to confused friends and loved ones who, not knowing there was a zombie outbreak in progress, walk right up to them, only to be bitten and/or killed and/or partially devoured before moving on to doom others to the same fate because they are similarly unaware.

So they spread out through the station, biting and ripping apart former coworkers and friends, and pretty soon the entire station was crawling with undead, except for the level with the bar, coincidentally. The rather indecisive security system was trying to figure out if something bad was actually happening, since people kept getting attacked, but they also kept getting right back up, so technically, they seemed okay.

It was not until the CEN assault force arrived that it started to become certain something was amiss. The evacuation alarm started when werewolves started streaming in through the docking entrances. “There has been a breach in security. There has been a breach in security. Security has been breached. Dangerous organisms have breached security.” It droned on and on. After a few minutes, Melvin was reaching his breaking point with the alarm, and didn’t care if the universe itself was going to implode, he just wanted the damn alarm to shut up.

Which brings us back to the bar. Most of the patrons ran screaming, the J&J Witness was still pretty shaken by Shorty and did not want to get up for fear of getting an extra hole in him. Piper was smugly enjoying her drink while eyeballing Shorty, and Ned was having a one-sided argument with LeDouche over why they should leave immediately (Essentially Ned was shouting “Organisms! Did you hear that?! ORGANISMS! I can kill organisms!” while LeDouche finished his drink)

The bartender, Mac (because isn’t that what all bartenders are called?) switched to the closed-circuit security channel to see what was going on. The cameras showed hunched over, manlike forms (werewolves) chasing after screaming workers, and non-screaming workers (zombies) clogging doorways while trying to get to their screaming counterparts. To eat them. Five jaws hung open in mute fear, Ned shouted “Yeeaaahhhhh!” at the site of the carnage, and Shorty simply sighed because now he was not going to be able to get another round.

“Is anyone here a pilot?” He asked. LeDouche blinked a few times, his normally unflappable facade quivering in fear. “Monsieur,  Ah am a pelote.” He said. Shorty stared at him and blinked several times, trying to decipher what exactly the skinny Space-Frenchman was saying.

“You’re a... p-pilot?” Piper asked.

“Oui, madame. Ah am a pelote.”

Shorty nodded. “Good, where is your ship?”

“Follow meh.” LeDouche said. The remaining people in the bar fell in behind him, except for Melvin and the Witness. Shorty paused on his way out the door. “Are you coming?” Melvin shrugged and came forward “Yep, just needed to grab some refreshments.” He smiled widely for a second before his normally calm demeanor snapped back into place as he shouldered 7 beer kegs stuffed into a large net-like bag.

The Witness still sat, rooted to his chair. “You said to sit down...” Shorty shook his head “No, I said to be quiet.”


“You comin’?”

“I think so...”

Shorty turned and walked out of the room and the Witness (very quietly) followed in behind him. On the walkways above and below them, people screamed as terrors of the night chased them. It wasn’t night, since they were in space and so there was no night and day. They stepped around several fallen bodies, and Shorty picked them over for weapons. He managed to find several pistols and a shotgun. He then shot all of the security guards he picked the weapons off of since they were starting to stir despite missing limbs in several cases.

They came to a landing not too far away from the docks, and LeDouche pointed out his ship. It was large, and sleek. LeDouche explained that the Blade company, famous for astro-cars and bladebeasts had built it, as evidenced by the proliferation of blades on the outside of the vehicle. It was also armed with several cannons and machine-lasers.

The Blade Astro-Car corp also manufactured weapons, and in fact, didn’t make anything that did not include weapons. Their least weaponized product was actually a gun that only had 2 other guns built into it. Shorty could not believe his luck, and started toward the dock when they were cut off by a row of zombies wearing custodial uniforms.

Shorty calmly made sure his guns were all loaded with chambered rounds while the others started screaming and backing away. Shorty calmly drew two pistols like a cowboy at a showdown and Bang! Bang! Bangbangbang! Five zombies hit the floor. He decided the other weren’t going to be much help, so he scavenged some body armor off the security guard corpses before moving on, admiring the thick metal gauntlets with forearm defenders that were actually small enough to fit him. From the elbows down, he looked like some sort of Iron Man.

The group ran past the newly really dead zombies and wound up on a large balcony with an elevator on the other end. There was a deep unearthly growl, and from below, a large shape rose up. A massive, beady eyed head with shark-like teeth and slits for a nose crested the balcony.

Shorty stared at the giant beast rising before him. He reflected on the sterile technology surrounding him and the vast expanse of space visible through the giant, skyscraper-sized windows in the distance. This seems about where we started everything. See? It came full circle, now we can get on with things, since we have some back story and our characters are established, and...

Damn it... Ran out of room in this chapter. Guess we’ll have to wait until the next one to find out what happens.


At any rate, while the others were screaming in fear behind Shorty, the creature was looming over them, ready to attack, growling. It opened its razor-filled maw and began to let out a great bellow. Shorty grabbed the railing so he could reach the creature and punched it right in the nose-slits. “Shut UP!” he shouted.

The others did just that, and the beast, whether through utter confusion or if Shorty had actually hit it hard enough to knock it senseless (he did, the gauntlets were designed for crushing heads, and the creature, a demonic Sizlac, had a loosely fitted brain the size of an orange. A small orange.), also complied.

No comments:

Post a Comment