Kill The Messenger-Part Three

As promised, here is part three of Kill the Messenger, where our hero‘s mettle is tested and the fight betwixt Classical and Abstract art continues. Please enjoy!

This is dishonorable!” said the Amber Thane, much too loudly, in Paul’s opinion.

You must admit, it’s damnably clever,” appropriately whispered Dominic.

How else can we move around the camp?” asked Paul with a lopsided purple mouth.

They shambled amongst the Abstract troops who were loping, oozing, hopping, shuffling, and otherwise moving towards the sounds of combat.

Paul thought it was damnably clever of him to disguise all of them as Abstract troops. His less than classical training in art assured them that they would not be recognized. Dominic was impressed with his ability to ape their enemy’s style, and Paul was thankful that his lack of rendering skills had a practical application.

Where did they take your blade?” Dominic asked the Amber Thane.
The Knight scanned the camp with his asymmetrical eyes, squinted and pointed to a large tent-like structure in the back of the camp.

It must be there!” he declared.

Thinking of the Thanes’s terrible eyesight, Paul asked, “Are you sure?”

Do you think me a fool!” challenged the Amber Thane.

Fool was not the first word that sprung to Paul’s mind but Dominic quietly interjected, “I’m sure your squire but wishes to speed your return to the front.”

Of course! I was about to say something very much like that,” said the Amber Thane.

What are you three doing?”

They turned to see an Abstract, it was difficult to tell if was an officer, Paul wondered if they even had any like a chain of command. In any case, this one was large, easily eight or nine feet tall. All of them froze, unsure of what to do, though Paul saw the Thane’s fist, or what passed as a fist curing up.

We’re about to fold the edge of the inside layer,” croaked Paul in his raspiest voice, the one he used when there was no caller ID on a call and wasn’t sure if was someone he knew.

The large figure stared at them, or it would’ve if it had a face, for a beat and said, “Then get going.”

Yeah,” Paul wheezed as they moved on to the back of the camp.

An entrance as a challenge to find but they soon did and slipped in. The Amber Thane’s sword was leaning against something in the center of the tent. This was something non-abstract and definitely not impressionistic. It was a glass sphere, fitted on bottom and top with metallic caps and filled with a clear liquid with a pale yellowish tint. Attached to it was an a tangle of what looked like cables connected to a clock face that was draped over a tree.

By the canvas…” said Dominic in a hushed voice.

What?” asked Paul and the Thane simultaneously, though for different reasons.

It’s Hieronymus’ Solvent,” replied the soldier.

Whose what?” asked Paul who looked closely; there was a subtle scent of pine and licorice.
Dominic looks at his companions, his vertical eyes gone wide, and said, “The jar from Hieronymus Bosch’s lost painting, Revelations.”

And…” inquired Paul.

The jar was held aloft in the hands of the Four Horsemen,” said the Amber Thane softly, as he looked closely at it, squinting his one tiny eye and the other lopsided one.
That chilled Paul, not from what was said but the fact the Amber Thane did not shout.

So, what’s in there, a mix of plague, war, famine and…” he asked.

You are a simple soul, the last one is pestilence,” remarked the Amber Thane as he patted Paul on the head.

No one knows, but it is said that whatever it contains, it means the end of all things,” replied Dominic.
They all stood there for a moment, just staring at each other. Finally, Paul spoke.

Well, there’s only one thing we can do.”

Agreed,” said the Amber Thane.

We need to steal it,” said Paul, while the Amber Thane said, “Enter the battle and die as men!”
“What?” they both said to each other.

It is the only honorable course!” proclaimed the Amber Thane.

How is it honorable to let everyone die?” countered Paul, who thought this a very fair question.

There is nothing to be done in the face of this infernal device! Better to die in combat than wait submissively for oblivion to take us all!” said the Thane and with that he took up his blade, unsheathed it and electricity arced along the edge.

Paul feeling as though he had nothing to lose at this point (quite true) felt it was time for a bold/foolish action.

I didn’t think someone like Major Veronika would love a coward,” said Paul with more confidence than he truthfully felt.

The sharp end of the power blade didn’t pierce his throat but it certainly could move into that neighborhood with little difficulty.

A poor choice of last words,” said the Thane.

Dominic held his hands up and suggested, “I think, perhaps, that the

stress of the situation has addled his brainpan.”
Paul breathed in and said, “No, it hasn’t. You want to run away and die, then don’t call it bravery. We need to do something about this jar, if we’re going to die either way lets try to save everybody.”

This last statement hung in the air. Sounds of distant battle could be heard, with the tick tock of the draped clock moving in inexorably towards their own doomsday. The Amber Thane sheathed his power blade and nodded.

You are far more daring and less simple that I gave you credit for my Squire,” pronounced the Thane.
It was both praise and an insult, but Paul also knew it was not the time to quibble.

What is the plan?” asked Dominic.

First, they shed their abstract disguises, the Amber Thane was especially pleased to do that, and they looked at the tangle of cables connecting the clock to Hieronymus’ Solvent. The Amber Thane wanted to cut them all but both Paul and Dominic persuaded him that would likely set off whatever the Abstracts has set up.

Paul had seen enough movies to know that choosing the correct wire to connect was tricky business and often was cut in the last few seconds. But the characters in those movies were often experts in this sort of things and had the good will of the screenwriter on their side.

Paul’s only experience with explosives was throwing firecrackers as a boy and he was fairly certain that if he had some mysterious creator who was ultimately in his corner, he or she was of a mercurial nature as her or she put him in increasingly dangerous situations.

So moving it is as dangerous as severing those tendrils?” asked Dominic.

I don’t really know, but probably, yeah…” replied Paul.

Damn those Gloppy Devils!” cried the Amber Thane, “They vex us even in their absence!”

It was at this point that three abstract fighters entered the tent, they resembled armored figures but their proportions were decidedly asymmetrical.

Seize them,” said the middle one with a voice like wood breaking in an echo chamber.

Whatever Paul thought of the Amber Thane, he was a furious warrior, he leapt into action before the enemy warrior ended his somewhat predictable command. Electricity could faintly be heard sizzling bellowed alternating war cries and insults as he sliced through his foes.
It was so impressive, that it had the unfortunate, in Paul’s opinion, of attracting more Abstract soldiers. While it might worry Paul, and it did, it seemed to delight the Amber Thane who was jubilantly carving up all comers. He spread oddly hued viscera everywhere, and grinned while doing it.

Dominic grabbed Paul by the shoulder and said, “Whatever plan you have, now it the time to set in motion, your Thane can only last so long!”

Indeed, while the Amber Thane was clearly having the time of his life, numerically, it was simply a matter of time before the Abstracts overwhelmed him. Paul looked at the rat’s nest of cables and wished he could know which one to cut. If they only have something to move it…

Dominic, paint a steel ball around all this,” Paul said, waving his hands to indicate the jar, wires and clock.

But that won’t protect us!” replied the artist solider, “It’s simplify blow apart!”

Trust me!” Paul said a grin.

Dominic quickly and expertly created an iron sphere around Hieronymus’ Solvent, the snarl of cables, and the droopy clock. The metal had a grey metallic sheen, symmetrically spaced bolts. It radiated strength and heft and looked as if it had always existed and always would.

It will not hold for long,” said Dominic as he shook his head.

It doesn’t need to,” said Paul who took out his own brush.

While ray guns were his favorite thing to draw as a boy, there were several other things that filled the margins of his school notebooks and he now painted one of them. The tent ripped and tore as the thing Paul created stood. Paul knew that he would never be the artist that Dominic was but if there was something he knew how to render, it was a robot.

Candy apple red and silver, it stood fifteen feet tall with antennae on its head that arched electricity back and forth.

Clearly, this did not go unnoticed. Dominic’s eye went wide. The

Abstracts froze, fighting stopped and craned what passed for their heads up. Even the Amber Thane paused, though he saw an opportunity to take several heads and did so, but he did so without any martial proclamations.

RX-13, the name he gave to his creation, reached down and picked up the iron sphere and spun his arm round and round until it was a blur.

Five, four, three, two, NOW!” shouted Paul!

On NOW, RX-13 released the payload and it shot straight into the air with the sound of loud whistling that faded as it got smaller and smaller until both object and noise disappeared. A pause followed, then a thundering explosion. What, at least to Paul’s eyes, looked like a glorious sunset blossomed, though it was very high in the sky and not at the horizon, but no less glorious for being in the wrong place.

The Amber Thane, and Dominic mopped up what was left of the Abstract forces around them. Paul did little actual fighting, but directed RX-13 who took care of a large share of the foes. As the Forty Seventh Pigmenteers over ran the camp with a great variety of weapons (too numerous to list here), the battle and day was won.

Paul, Dominic and the Amber Thane fielded many congratulations from the troops, and RX-13 was justifiably ogled and inquired about, what

was it exactly, how did he think of such a weapon, would he teach them to make one?

The sounds of celebration suddenly faded and Major Veronika parted the troops and approached the Amber Thane. He smiled and it was the happiest Paul had ever seen him. Leaning in, the Major whispered something in his ear. The Thane went a little pale.

Are those terms acceptable,” said the Major. It was clear that there was only one possible response.

For you, and you only,” he replied.

And with that they kissed and there were many cheers, hats tossed in the air and huzzahs.

RX-13 faded, as creations that are made in battle were want to do, their purpose fulfilled. The camp was soon made classical, as Paul was told not to say it was non-abstract, and things settled down.

Until, of course, the celebration. Huge kegs of beer and wine were created, long tables, bent under the weight of delicious food and songs were sung. A huge bonfire was lit and everything was cast in a warm orange glow.

Paul was enjoying telling the story of Hieronymus’ Solvent, not for the first time that evening when Dominic tapped him on the shoulder.

The Major wants a word with you,” Dominic said, as he led him to the command tent.

Major Veronika and the Amber Thane stood with goblets in their hands and Paul and Dominic were each handed one.

I wished to thank you both personally, for your daring and innovated rescue,” she said as she raised her wine, “To perspective!”

To perspective!” everyone echoed and drank.

Veronika glanced at the Thane, who sighed.

Squire, you have proven yourself beyond what could be asked of you, I must confess, far more than I had any reason to expect,” said the Amber Thane.

It was, without question, a backhanded complement, but it was perhaps the kindest thing the Amber Thane had ever said to him so Paul murmured, “Thank you.”

Such gallantry warrants reward,” said the Major.

Yes of course,” harrumphed the Thane, picking up a scroll from the table.

Unrolling it, he squinted, making an unpleasant face. Major Veronika cleared her throat; a small sound, Paul nearly missed it. However it had a visceral effect on the Thane. He sighed and produced a brown leather case, opened it, and put on a pair of black rimmed, round spectacles.

The Major smiled and it looked as if the Thane blushed. Paul thought that such an absurd notion that it must be true, as most things in the borough were. Clearing his throat, the Thane spake, “Kneel, Paul of the Borough.”

I’m sorry, what?” asked Paul, who could think of no happy outcome of such a request.

The Thane’s eye narrowed and awkwardness flooded the tent with a preternatural rapidity. Paul glanced at Dominic who gestured a discrete downward motion. Hoping for the best, Paul knelt.

I, the Amber Thane, Guardian of the Labyrinth of the Inner Realm, Slayer of the Nine of the five Chimeras, Defender of the Lost, ennoble the Squire before me,” intoned the knight.

These are the last blows you must endure without recourse or revenge,” said the Amber Thane as he stuck Paul on the shoulders and neck with the flat of his blade, (happily, without electricity surging through), though Paul thought could have been gentler.

Now arise Paul, to be henceforth known as the…” the Amber Thane turned to Major Veronika and loudly whispered, “Must I? It seems cruel”

Paul, who was mid-arising, did not like the direction this was heading when the Major replied, “Quite.”

Very well,” continued the Amber Thane, “Arise Paul, to be henceforth known as the Clever Thane.”

Thank you,” Paul replied and he finished standing.

You’re first quest as a Thane will be to find your weapon. It is a sacred and peril filled task, but…” the Amber Thane paused, “I’m assured that you are up to the challenge.”

Okay, great…” said Paul who was not sure how to react to such nonplussed encouragement.

Major Veronika looked at him and said, “And since you enlisted as a Squire and have been elevated to Thane, you are Most Honorably Discharged.”

Until this very moment, Paul hadn’t given much thought about how long he would have to spend in this painting and found great relief in the knowledge he would be returning to the Borough. There was a twinge of regret mixed in, the 47th Pigmenteers were a decent group, but there was still much of the Borough to explore (he had absolutely no idea of how much) and he wanted to return.

With a smile, Dominic saluted smartly and Paul returned in kind. That set off a round of saluting that seemed as if it would go on forever until the Major spoke up

Private, would you do the honors?” asked the Major.

Yes ma’am,” he replied.

After that there was a round of saluting, which went on too long, until the Amber Thane bellowed, “Enough!” There was one more round of saluting, which thankfully ended quickly, and Dominic led Paul to a clearing a short distance from camp, avoiding the feast, as they both knew that farewells would go on forever.

Well my friend, it been an honor serving with you,” said Dominic.

You too, thanks for putting up with me,” replied Paul.

There was nothing to put up with.”

Paul looked around the clearing and asked, “So, do we need to paint a door or stairway or something?”

Or something,” said Dominic as he quickly painted a brass telescope and handed to it to Paul, “Just look up. But don’t blink.”

All there was left was to shake hand and say thank you, both of which were done, and then Paul gazed skyward. At once he was flying through the magic spin art tunnel as he flew upward, and after an eye watering trip, found himself parting a velvet curtain and was once more in Mrs. Po’s art shop.
“Ah, you’ve returned,” remarked Mrs. Po, “Come along, let’s get you sorted out, Clever Thane.”

Wait, how do you know about that?” asked Paul.

She fixed him with a look that conveyed pity and contempt in equal measures.

You’ll need to stop asking foolish questions like that if you wish to avoid mockery,” she said as she opened her ledger.

After making some notes, she turned it around and instructed Paul to sign it in three separate places, after which she took a lockbox out from under her desk and counted out a pile of coins, placed them in a small pouch and handed it to Paul.

You are now officially mustered out,” she said.

Right,” said Paul.

They stood there for a moment, looking at each other.

That means you can and should leave,” Mrs. Po said.

Paul did so, if only to avoid mockery.

Rather than going straight home, he stopped in a café a few blocks from his apartment, ordered a coffee and pastry called a Blue Forest Blob, which was neither, blue, forest themed nor blob shaped. It was square, filled with a creamy almond paste and made him happy.

As he drank his coffee and enjoyed his Blue Forest Blob he noticed people giving him sidelong glances. He looked to see if he got any almond paste on his shirt (it had happened before), but he was free of crumbs or goop. Finishing up, he signaled for the bill.

The Waitress came over and said, “It’s been taken care of.”

Who…?” asked Paul.

On the house,” she said with a blush and rushed off.

Paul didn’t understand, a feeling he was well acquainted with but instead of asking questions that he knew would present more questions, he left a too large tip and went home. Just before he opened his door, Parsnip and Looseleaf’s doors opened and he was hustled inside with a “Hurry up,” from Parnsnip and a “Many thing to discuss!” from Looseleaf.

It was less of a discussion and more of an interrogation. There were questions, counter questions and many clarifications. Finally they were satisfied, or at least as satisfied as they got and let him go to bed.

If he had been less exhausted, he might have noticed that there was an addition to his front door. But he shambled off to bed. Anyone would’ve with a day like the one he had, and it was only a day, in spite of all that had occurred. So Paul may justifiably excused from noticing the addition of a shield shaped, metal plaque with the image of a robot holding two rayguns and on the bottom, a blue badger.

Or perhaps, it was a cat.

Tiny Robots

Here is a short story that I wrote a while ago. It is not an epic tale but I suspect if you live in the five boroughs, you might relate. And if you live somewhere else, this is glamour of big city life.

If there is anything worse than finding bedbugs in your New York City apartment it’s tiny robots. While the robots are not going to devour you like the bedbugs and are not high on the ick scale, they are in fact, downright adorable. They have little sprongy antennae, wide (relatively speaking) round eyes, rubber soled feet and if they were not dangerous as all get out, they would be wonderful toys.

They were designed to look that way by Professor Hieronymus Superious, a genuine mad scientist, who had made the original tiny robot to build a much larger robot. Why build tiny robots that in turn would build a larger robot? Well, he was a mad scientist and maybe not the most rational person, especially since the intended use for the larger robot was world domination, or at least the five boroughs.

Once the tiny robots gained sentience, they reasoned once the big version was built, they would be recycled. Their logic was sound and they turned on their creator who was subsequently arrested by the F.B.I.’s Mad Science Division. The tiny robots disappeared into the infrastructure of New York.
The first thing they did was got rid of all the vermin. Rats, mice, water bugs and rumor has it, an albino alligator were purged from the sewer system and out of every building.

Everyone was pretty jazzed about them in the beginning. The mayor even declared an annual robot day, it was June 13th. But once they started to cannibalize people’s electronics, they became extremely unpopular.
A sentiment I could get on board with as by the time I got home, after some drinks with friends, those miniature jerks had already dismantled my microwave and re-purposed it to build more cute little automata. A chorus of beeps, pings and chirps sounded as they fled into the walls, under cabinets and though any and all available nooks and crannies.

My cat Mac, an orange tabby, was perched on top of the bookshelf, watched the rapid robot exodus. I’d be annoyed, but a cat will only chase the minuscule machines once, super low voltage shocks are not deadly but they do make an effective deterrent. There was an uneasy détente between cats and robots and as long as they kept to themselves, no one got hurt.

I put my now cold dinner on the counter next to the husk of my former microwave, and thought about how to deal with this. Legitimate robot exterminators were very expensive and I knew my landlady would not be shelling out for one.

Since they had not gotten to my laptop, I searched for a more financially reasonable solution. Amazon offered several robot repellers though third party sellers but the reviews for them were mixed at best. There was a mini-EMP machine but everyone in the block would need remove all their electronics while it went off and it was way to much money.

It occurred to me that crowd sourcing might turn something up, so I posted on Facebook, twitter and instagramed a pic of my ruined microwave.

“So sorry!”, “That blows!”, “Call one of the robot killer guys”, and “Sux to be you.” Were among the replies. Mostly sympathy, but no new answers until I got a PM from my old roommate who was now living her boyfriend.

“Becca, Kurt and I had the same thing happen, so I know how bad this sucks. There is a someone who can help you, send her a message, R_hero78@automata.net, and put REFERRAL:CASSIE HOROWITZ in the subject line, she can help you.”

Since my options were limited to watch every piece of electronic equipment I owned be disassembled or emailing a perfect stranger for help, I took the second one. If Cassie was messing with me I’d… well I wouldn’t beat her up, but I might unfriend her but if I was being honest, I probably wouldn’t even do that. So I send the email, explaining my problem.

Almost immediately I got a reply, I’ll be there in thirty minutes. Please do not leave your apartment or turn off the lights and have some food ready to eat.

I did all of it and heated up the take out I brought home in my actual stove, which I last used to make last year’s attempt at Thanksgiving dinner. After managing to both burn the outside of the turkey and maintaining a frozen center, we had Thai delivered.

Exactly thirty minutes later, my buzzer sounded.

She wasn’t what I expected. I though she might be a kindly aunt type with white hair in a sensible ponytail and a twinkle in her eye or a hot nerd girl with big glasses and elaborate tattoos and skinny jeans. Instead, she was slightly overweight with weary eyes, dressed in a peacoat over a food-stained hoodie over a tee-shirt with Korean lettering and the image of pink and blue monster. Her jeans were definitely not skinny but they were speckled in what at first looked like paint but turned out to be minute burns.

“Is the food ready?” she asked.

“Yes!” I replied and took it out of the oven. I hadn’t burned it, which gave me a sudden and secret burst of pride.

“Put it on the table,” she said as he took a handful of plastic pipes from her battered messenger bag.

She began to assemble a small tower, about three feet tall with a base that was made of Legoes. Pressing a switch, a pattern of lights flickered up and down the height of the tower.

“What is that?” I asked.

“It overrides their programming,” she said as she began to eat.

I now had this stranger in my apartment, eating my food and it occurred to me that I didn’t even know her name

“I’m Rebecca Lee, “ I said holding out my hand.

Wiping her hand on her jeans, she shook mine and said, “Call me Lucius.”

“Just one name?” I asked, shaking as long enough to cover my own hands in grease.

“Yep.”

“Like Banksy!” I said.

Lucius grunted and said, “Sorta.”

So I sat and watched her eat for ten minutes or so. She ate like she was alone, which made me wonder what I looked like when I had dinner alone, which was more often that I liked. I decided that I was more ladylike but resolved to stop eating out of takeout cartons.

“Excuse me,” I said, “but what comes next?”

Lucius nodded to the living room over my shoulder. I’d like to say I just took the sight in with the cynical weariness of a true New Yorker but I was born in Wisconsin so I screamed.

Standing in flawless symmetrical rows, the tiny robots gazed at the small, though not to them, tower. Their micro eyes blinked in a synchronistic rhythm with the lights.

“WHATTHEHELLDIDYOUDO!” I yelled without breathing.

“Relax,” Lucius said, “They’re being reprogrammed, they won’t do anything.”

“They’re on my laptop,” I whispered.

“It’s fine,’ replied Lucius, who spoke at a normal volume. “And you can shout if you like, they can’t hear you now.”

While it was an unnerving sight, they covered the entire living /bedroom, but they did not dismantle any electronics.

“What are they going to do?” I asked.

“Hmmm?” murmured Lucius

I turned, looked her in eyes and said, “You said they are being reprogrammed. To do what?”

Lucius took a bite out of a spring roll, chewed and said, “More productive tasks.”

“That’s a little vague.”

She shrugged and we sat in uncompanionable silence for while.

“Listen-” I began.

“What?” interrupted Lucius.

“I don’t want to seem rude, but are you a…”

She regarded me with mild disinterest.

“Well… You know…” I finished.

“I don’t.”

“What?”

“I don’t know what you mean,” she said.

I took a deep breath, and said, “Are you a mad scientist?”

Lucius laughed. It sounded like a princess might laugh. It was so unlike her appearance all I could do was stare. The giggles slowly stopped.

“No,” she said, “I’m not a mad scientist. I don’t have a trust fund.”

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“It’s tough to have the money or time to build a teleporter or spaceship when you have to work nine to five.”

“Oh. That makes sense,” I said.

A series of musical notes sounded from the tower. Lucius wiped her mouth and took a battered grey metal cylinder, unscrewed the top and lay it on the floor. The tiny robots then marched into the opening and when the last of them filed in, she sealed the top.

My phone pinged and I jumped a little.

“My bill,” said Lucius.

It was very reasonable, much less than I expected.

“I take PayPal,” she said as she disassembled the tower and put it back in her bag.

I sent the payment and she was ready to go.

“Thanks for getting here so quickly, you really were a life saver,” I said.

Lucius nodded as she looked at her phone.

“I have another job,” she said. “If they come back, just message me.”

“Great!” I said holding out my hand but she had already walked out. I had not made a new besty but my place was free of tiny robots and that’s all I cared about.

I cleaned up and was browsing new microwaves online, when it occurred to me that Lucius never said what she was doing with the tiny robots. She said she wasn’t a mad scientist. Why would a stranger who was hired strictly through referrals lie? Oh…