An Odd Missive-Part Two

As promised, here is part two of An Odd Missive, in which Paul ventures further into a very different part of New York. Will there be more oddness? Spoilers, yes there will. Next week, the conclusion.

Paul came up a stairwell and out onto a street lined with trees and cozy-looking brownstones. It looked like an affluent neighborhood in Brooklyn, which, given the time he had just spent underground, made sense. What made less sense was that it looked like late afternoon: The sun was low in the sky and everything was bathed in a golden glow that made Paul think of warm caramel being poured over a large bowl of vanilla ice cream flecked with tiny bits of vanilla beans.
He shook his head and looked down at the card, which again contained new instructions — he wondered for a moment where his boss had managed to buy an apparently location-aware notecard. Maybe it was that “e-paper” he’d read about? Something made by Google? He shrugged to himself and read the instructions: “Walk on the even side of the street till you see the greenstone house. Turn one hundred and eighty degrees and look for the door with the brass A on it. Walk to that door and knock on the smaller door to the right…”
There was an ellipsis. Paul turned the card over: “Knock twice, then once more, and enter when bid, but not before.”
He noticed the doors started at Z and went backwards from there. Given the amber afternoon light, picturesque buildings, and tree-lined street, Paul took his time. It seemed wrong to hurry here, so he strolled. Thoughts of the work awaiting him back at the office seemed a distant and minor concern. When he had arrived at the office that morning, he seemed to be facing an endless workload, and he had resigned himself to another late night and not being able to meet friends for drinks, which, as always, depressed him.
But now, none of that seemed to matter. There was a pleasant breeze and the birds were singing, in what sounded like harmony. Could birds do that? Paul had never heard of that happening, but here it was, so he had to admit that it could happen.
Looking to his left he saw that he was close to his destination… E, D, C, B, and finally A. There was a smaller door to the right of the main door of the house, and a little path, in the small front yard that all of these houses had, split off and led to the smaller door.
He walked up to the smaller door, which had two knockers, and looked at the card again. It read, “Knock both at the same time but don’t drop the pies”. Paul looked around, but there wasn’t a place to rest the bag, so he held it in his teeth and rapped both knockers simultaneously. Twice, then once more.
Immediately, two small peepholes opened and two eyes looked out. One eye was brown with flecks of green and the other was green with flecks of brown.
“Who are you?” asked Brown.
“And what do you want?” asked Green.
“I was about to ask that!” protested Brown.
“I can’t wait all day for you to ask the correct questions!” countered Green.
“Do you believe this?” asked Brown, “The absolute temerity!”
There was a pause as Paul listened to this argument, which had the rhythm and comfort of something often said.
“He asked you a question,” Green said.
“I’m sorry?” said Paul, as he took the bag from his teeth.
“So cheeky!” exclaimed Brown.
“Perhaps he didn’t hear you,” said Green, “Maybe he’s deaf.”
“He’d have to be, to not hear you!” said Brown.
Paul looked at his card, which advised “Tell them you have a letter, but do not slide it in the mail slot”.
“Uh, I have a letter,” said Paul.
“Please just put it here,” said Green, who flapped his mail slot open.
“You’ll just lose it,” said Brown to Green. “In here, please,” as he flapped open his own slot.
“I’m not supposed to do that,” Paul said, wishing he could.
“I’m afraid we’re at an impasse then,” said Brown.
“In this we are agreed!” added Green.
Paul looked at his card, which only said, “HOT PIES”.
“I have some hot pies,” he offered.
“Savory?” asked Green, enthusiastically.
“Or sweet?” asked Brown, with equal fervor.
“Uh, both,” replied Paul.
“Why didn’t you say so!” said Brown.
“You hardly gave the poor soul a chance to slide a word in!” said Green.
“As if you every stop chattering!” said Brown.
“Please come in,” Green and Brown said in sync.
* * *
There was a click and a line appeared down the dead center of the door as it slowly swung open. Paul stepped into a long room that was bisected by a neat yellow line of paint. On the left side it looked homey, if a little sloppy; books were stacked on most available surfaces, there were odd-looking devices on the shelves that whirred quietly, and the furniture looked worn but comfortable. It seemed a place where an eccentric professor might live. The man with the brown eye (he had in fact two eyes, Paul noted) stood on that side, dressed in a green suit. His coat was long, longer than was in fashion, as Paul understood fashion, but it looked freshly pressed and fit him well.
The other side mirrored the layout exactly. Well, not entirely exactly, Paul realized. There was the same furniture, but it was neatly organized with books on shelves, odd devices in glass cases with brass plaques at the bottom, and it was spotlessly clean. Green was dressed in a brown suit, but unlike his companion — Paul was unsure if they were friends exactly — it was worn and showed some food stains.
Both of them inhaled through their noses and smiled.
“The Table,” they said simultaneously, and hurried to the center of the room, where each took hold of two seemingly invisible points on the yellow line of paint and pulled back, revealing a rectangular stone table that rose up from the floor, along with three chairs, one on either side and one at the head.
“Shall we?” they said, pointing to the middle chair. Paul sat down and placed the sack with the pies on the table. Brown produced from his pockets a placemat, small plate, and silver fork and knife. Green pulled out a greasy, crumpled piece of newspaper from his pocket and smoothed it on the tabletop. They each took their respective hot pies and ate them. Brown in small, careful forkfuls, and Green with his hands and spilling flaky crumbs down his front. Brown neatly dabbed his mouth with a napkin, though there was nothing to dab, and Green licked his fingertips and collected the remains of the pie and popped them into his mouth.
“That was splendid!” said Brown.
“Top notch!” agreed Green.
They both seemed in a very good mood, now that they had eaten. Paul thought they might be hypoglycemic; his last girlfriend had that and was a terror if she missed a meal. Paul had taken to carrying energy bars in his jacket to avoid arguments.
“Now, young man,” said Brown, “what may we call you?”
“Indeed, names are important,” agreed Green.
“But not your full name, of course,” added Brown.
“Indeed not! Keep your secret name, well… secret,” said Green.
“I’m Paul,” replied Paul.
“A good name!” said Brown.
“Solid, reliable,” added Green.
Paul did not feel quite solid at all. In fact he felt as though he was in a dream, even though it had a through-line that was unlike most of his dreams, which made no narrative sense when repeated out loud afterwards. Or so the girlfriend before the last seemed fond of telling him.
“Thank you…” Paul said.
“You’re welcome,” said Green.
“Quite welcome,” added Brown.
All three stared at each other till Brown said, “Have we introduced ourselves?”
“I’m sure he didn’t come here by accident,” said Green.
“Surely not, but it is rude not to do so,” countered Brown.
Green thought a moment and said, “Agreed.”
Brown said, “I am Lucius Parsnip, esquire.”
Green immediately added, “And I am Petronius Looseleaf, esquire.”
“So, you’re lawyers?” asked Paul.
“Oh my, no!” said Parsnip.
“We are gentlemen!” added Looseleaf.
“It’s just that–“ began Paul.
“I believe you brought a missive?” said Parsnip.
“I’m sorry, a what?” asked Paul.
“The letter,” said Looseleaf.
Pulling it out from his coat pocket, Paul put it on the table.
“Lovely penmanship,” observed Looseleaf.
“Quite. It’s a dying art, I’m afraid,” said Parsnip.
Neither reached for it, but they did look at Paul.
“Would you mind terribly?” asked Looseleaf.
“Just turning it over,” finished Parsnip.
“Sure,” said Paul, as he flipped the envelope, revealing the wax seal.
“Oh, well, this is a surprise,” said Parsnip, although he did not sound surprised in the least.
“Shocking,” casually replied Looseleaf.
They each took out a small pocketknife and sliced through the wax seal. With an exhalation of air the envelope unfolded itself, getting larger with each unfold until, lying flat, it fully covered the table. Parsnip and Looseleaf grabbed their place setting and newspaper, respectively, just as it finished. It was an illustration of a doorway standing in the middle of a forest glen. The image was rendered in black ink, but so highly detailed that it seemed almost real. The foliage seemed to flutter in a wind. Which was impossible.
“Very well, in you go!” said Parsnip hurriedly.
“No time to waste!” added Looseleaf.
Paul had enough. He stood and said, “What is going on here?!”
“You need to go through the door and retrieve Julia,” said Parsnip.
Paul, who felt he’d been a pretty good sport about everything today, said, “It’s a picture of a door! Not a real door! If this is a joke, it’s over! And not really funny!”
“It’s no joke, old boy,” said Looseleaf, who grabbed the doorknob on the paper and flung it open as he stepped aside, the door falling back and hanging off the side of the table.
Surprised, Paul leaned over and looked in. He saw a forest glen at dusk, the horizon at a right angle to where he stood. Crickets chirped, and a nightingale sang. There was an earthy smell, rich and loamy. Paul didn’t know what loam was, but that’s the word that sprung to mind.
“What is this?” asked Paul, as he looked back at these odd men.
Without a word, Parsnip and Looseleaf each bent down, grabbed one of Paul’s ankles, and tipped him over and down through the doorway. Paul felt a wave of vertigo as he passed though the doorway and landed in a heap on the forest floor. Shaking his head, which did nothing to ameliorate his nausea, he then closed his eyes, took deep breaths, and did not move. When he felt as though he was no longer going to vomit, he opened his eyes.

TO BE CONCLUDED.

An Odd Missive-Part One

This is part one of a short story I wrote a while back. I’ve broken it up into three installments, partially because is it longish for a short story, and partially encourage readers to come back for more. On a self-indulgent note, story won the 2016 New England Science Fiction & Fantasy Association Short Story Contest, which, if you’ll forgive my bragging, is something I’m quite proud of. Now that that’s over, please enjoy An Odd Missive, Part One.

The letter arrived inside an interoffice envelope and was put in Paul’s inbox, and in that way it was ordinary. But there is where ordinary stopped. The address read like this:
Messrs L. Parsnip & P. Looseleaf
752 Inside Thoughtful Lane
Chamber of the Next to Last A
North-South Webbton, Old York
The Borough
123456-654321
The names were odd and the address absurd. There was no place called “Old York”; even the one in England was simply called “York”.
It also was handwritten, with the sort of care only given to weddings and other such events. The envelope itself was made of a thick paper — clearly handcrafted — and the very feel of it was smooth. The final touch was it had been sealed with wax, a copper-colored wax that was impressed with the image of a bottle.
There was a heft to it; whatever was in it was heavy, but not rigid like metal or plastic. The idea that it was plastic seemed somehow wrong. It had a slight give when pressed, gently of course; something told Paul to press gently.
There were no other instructions on the envelope, no memo, no stickies, nothing. Picking it up, Paul went to his supervisor’s office, Ms. Barbara Karkowski. Ms. Karkowski was a good boss in Paul’s estimation. She neither micromanaged nor attempted to be pals with those in her department. Questions would be answered, if asked, and paychecks would be passed out twice a month, which was all he asked for.
Paul stuck his head in Ms. Karkowski’s office and said, “Boss, I have a question.”
Ms. Karkowski did not look up from her laptop screen; she continued to tap away but did say, “Shoot.”
“I got this odd letter…” he began to say, which caused his boss to stop whatever she was typing and look up.
“Close the door,” she said, as she shut her laptop and gestured to the chair in front of her desk. The whole office was super-clean and functional, as if it had been decorated by Scandinavians from the future. There were no personal touches. No photos of loved ones, no tchotchkes, no themed calendar of dogs or cats, or anything else, for that matter.
She took out a key ring from her purse and unlocked a desk drawer, removing a wooden box and placing it in the center of her desk. The box was in sharp contrast to the rest of the office, as it was battered, stained, and clearly extremely old.
“What’s –“ he began.
“Please be quiet,” she said, but not unkindly.
Paul did as he was bid; this was odd, she almost seemed nervous. She was never nervous, occasionally irritated, but not nervous.
Paul watched as she pulled out a tiny key that hung from a thin chain around her neck. It looked a little dull to be jewelry, and Paul had never noticed it before. Ms. Karkowski didn’t wear a lot of jewelry, and the chain the key hung from was thin, so it must be normally hidden inside her blouse.
With a loud click, the box was unlocked, and she removed a leather-bound notebook. Like the box, it was stained and worn, but it did not seem in any danger of falling apart.
“What is written on the front of the envelope?” she asked.
Paul tried to hand it to her, but she made no move to grab it, saying, “Put it on the desk, facing me.”
He did so. She read the address and said, “Now turn it over.”
Again, he complied. This was getting odder and odder.
“Huh,” she said, and opened the notebook. She checked several pages and found what she looking for. Taking a card from the box, she wrote down what looked like several sentences. She then put the notebook back in the box, locked the box, placed the box in the drawer, and locked it once more.
“Paul, it is very, very important that you do exactly what I tell you to do,” she said.
“Can you tell me what is going on?” he asked.
She stopped and looked him in the eye for a good minute. He felt as though this was a test of some sort, not that he could tell what for, but he didn’t look away.
“You need to deliver that envelope,” she replied, and handed him the card she had written on. “Follow these instructions exactly.”
Paul read the card and said, “This doesn’t make any sense.”
“Just do exactly what I wrote, and there should be no problems.”
“Listen, is this some sort of hazing? I know I’m the new guy but –.”
“Paul, you’re a good worker, please just do this and it will sort itself out,” she said.
He looked at her; there was no hint of humor, no twinkle in the eye, no sly smile. There was however, a slight furrow of the brow.
“OK, I’ll be back when I’m done,” said Paul.
“Yes, of course, why wouldn’t you be?” she replied.
He was about to step out of her office when she added, “Be careful of the Coppermen.”
Paul wanted to ask if he had heard her correctly, but she was back to her tip-tapping on the laptop, and he knew that meant this conversation was over.
* * *
Paul put on his coat and left the office, the letter in his inside pocket. He pulled it out. The first part of the instructions were, “Take the 6 train downtown to the end of the line, riding in the last car”.
The 6 train was just two blocks from the office, but it began to rain, so he ran most of the way.
Paul walked to the back of the subway platform, and the train arrived just as he got there. Some good luck, he thought, as he pushed his wet hair out of his eyes. The car was crowded, but he was able to wedge himself in. Stations came and went — 50th Street, Grand Central Station, 33rd street, and so on — till they reached City Hall, end of the line. By then, it was only Paul, an old lady with a shopping cart, and a tall, thin man with a handlebar mustache and wearing an old-style suit with enameled pins on his lapel — clearly some sort of hipster, Paul thought.
Paul got off and looked at the card again. “Go down the metal stairs at the end of the platform till you reach the seventh step. Then walk backwards (this is important!) five steps and then forward nine”.
There was a metal stairway leading down at the end of the platform. It looked like there was normally a chain across it, presumably to keep people from doing what Paul was about to do. The area was poorly lit as it was, and it looked dark down there. This had to be some sort of elaborate prank. Paul didn’t like pranks, usually because he was the victim of so many, but he tried to be a good sport about them.
He counted out his steps carefully, watching his feet: forward seven, backwards five, and forward nine more. On the ninth step, he looked up and saw a tiled archway and an old-fashioned turnstile ahead of him. Oddly, the lighting seemed better now. There was no slot for a Metrocard, but he saw a metal sign reading “Entrance” and below that “5 Cents”.
He looked at the card his boss gave him. There seemed to be new instructions on it somehow: “Enter the turnstile, DO NOT JUMP! Wait for the Y train. Get on and ride till you reach Stuyvesant Square station, but before that, go to the hot pie stand and buy two”. Paul, who had never jumped a turnstile in his life, fished through his pockets and luckily found a nickel, dropping it in the slot and pushing through the turnstile, which made a metallic thunk as it turned.
Walking down a tiled, arched corridor, Paul eventually came out to the platform for the W train. Like the corridor he had just passed through, it was tiled and had a curved but higher ceiling. It did look like a subway station might’ve looked when you only had to pay a nickel to ride. Must be one of those station restorations the city did to commemorate the subway’s long history, and he probably entered it through some little-used back entrance — a shortcut, Paul thought. There were even people dressed in what, at first glance, seemed like period costumes. Upon closer examination, though, there was something off about the clothing.
One young woman wore a hoop skirt with denim jacket over a yellow tank top and a tiny hat with blinking lights. The man from the subway with the handlebar mustache was there, reading a newspaper. Another gentleman, in a bowler and goggles, checked his pocket watch and raised his eyebrows. Three women wearing military jackets, jodhpurs, well-polished boots, and some sort of veiled hats that suggested a very stylish beekeeper nodded at Paul as he passed them, murmuring something he couldn’t make out.
This was clearly some sort of subculture gathered here, Paul thought; hipster-ish, what with all the old-timey clothes and affectations. He figured it was best to go along with it. Then he saw a cart selling, according to the sign, “Hot Pies”; so Paul walked up.
“Two hot pies, please,” he asked.
“Sweet or Savory?” asked the old woman standing behind the cart. Paul consulted the card his boss had given him; it now said, “Buy both, eat neither”.
“One of each, please,” he said.
“I like your manners,” the Hot Pie lady said, with a smile. She pulled two pies out of the cart, wrapped them in paper, and placed them in a brown paper sack.
“Ten cents” she said, as she held out bag.
Paul fished a quarter out of his pocket and received the change. Glancing at the coins she gave him, he saw that the nickel had Jefferson on one side and an owl on the other. The Dime had a wasp and the profile of a woman he didn’t recognize.
“Ummm… my change,” Paul began.
“Would you rather have pennies?” asked the Hot Pie lady, who held out a handful of copper coins of varying sizes and shapes.
“No. I’m fine,” he said, “Thank you.”
Paul mingled in with the others waiting for the train. As he looked around, he saw, worked into the tile, the name of the station: “New City”. If this was a hazing, it was the most elaborate he had ever been in.
He felt a light breeze and saw a light coming down the tunnel. The sound of clattering was heard and the train thundered into the station in a cloud of steam. The train stopped, doors opened with a hiss, and a new group of unique people poured out, and Paul was fighting a rushing river of lace, crinoline, old leather, silk, and canvas. With some effort and more than a few excuse-mes, he made his way onto the train just as the doors slid shut.
Paul fell into the wicker seat, and nearly into the lap of a spindly man as the train took off. The man was dressed as if he were submarine mechanic, based on the brass and steel tanks that sat on the floor between his legs, the helmet with many small, thick glass faceplates that he held on his lap, and the many tools that hung from his broad, rubberized belt.
“Sorry,” Paul said, over the noise of the train. Submarine Mechanic said something in what sounded like Chinese, and shifted down two seats with a dirty look.
Normally, Paul enjoyed reading on the subway; it made the time go faster and usually prevented strangers from talking to him. However, he didn’t want to miss his stop and get lost. A little voice in the back of his head told him that would be bad, very bad.
A short man wrapped in a coat many times too big looked up at Paul, then closed his eyes and lowered his head. Paul normally took great care in picking out clothes that blended in with his surroundings, but now he was the odd man out. If he were dressed in a Napoleonic Calvary officer’s jacket and a kilt made of fur, he’d blend right in. Of course, that would be silly, as there already was someone sporting that particular ensemble at the other end of the car.
Stations came and passed: Pieter’s Point, Inside Star, (the Submarine Mechanic got off there), Old Amsterdam, Widower’s Walk, Svetlana Boulevard, and Lonely Hill, to name a few. Paul glanced at the card, which now read “PAY ATTENTION”, and he looked up and saw they were pulling into Stuyvesant Square Station.
He leapt up and exited, carrying the paper sack with the two hot pies, which seemed to still be hot. Looking around, he saw people walking towards an archway with the word “EGRESS” across the top. He vaguely remembered that was another word for exit, albeit an old-fashioned one, but that seemed to be the order of the day

Ensign’s Log

Photo by Jacub Gomez on Pexels.com

Today is Star Trek Day, honoring the anniversary of the first time it was broadcast, fifty-five years ago. This is a short story I wrote that is, let’s call it Star Trek adjacent. I’m a big fan and this is my way of paying tribute. With the serial numbers filed off.

Live Long and Prosper and… Engage!

Ensign Edward Park’s Personal Log-StarDate 8720.73

I have been tasked with transporting Atlas, favorite pet of Captain Buhle of the U.S.S. Centurion. While some of my shipmates have dismissed this is as a dull errand, I see this as an avenue into the Captain’s good graces. I’ve wanted to serve on the Centurion since I was a child and read about their exploits.

I don’t see this as brown-nosing, (Lieutenant J.G. Pillington I’m looking at you!) but rather as an opportunity to show Captain Buhle that I’m a responsible officer with much to offer. She apparently dotes on Atlas so this can only help my career.

Hard to believe that no one else volunteered for this.

End of Log.

Personal Log Supplemental-StarDate 8721.11

Have arrived at the Altairian outpost and taken possession of Atlas. The name must be ironic as the case he came in was very small. Some sort of miniature dog? Atlas is sleeping now so I can’t really tell. The Lieutenant who passed him along to me advised me to not fly too fast in such a small craft. Apparently, it would upset up Atlas, which he said was dangerous.

I’m supposed to rendezvous with the Centurion tomorrow so I have plenty of time to make it. Atlas, you are in the safest of hands.

This is easier than I could’ve imagined.

End of Log.

Personal Log Supplemental-StarDate 8721.56

This is bad, very bad. I’m currently fleeing from a Gorgorian Rapid Raider. There’s supposed to be a cease-fire after the conference at Mantok-Prime. I hailed them to remind them of that fact but frankly, they were more interested in mocking me and firing upon the shuttle than in any real diplomatic solution.

Shields are holding but since they gave me a shuttle with no weapons, I will have to outfly them. Why don’t our shuttles have weapons? Right now it feels like they should.

End of Log.

Personal Log Supplemental-StarDate 8721.89

We escaped! I suppose that’s obvious since I’m here to record this log, but it’s kind of a miracle. The Gorgorian Rapid Raider had hammered us, alarms were blaring to tell me the shields were about to fail, and then Atlas began to whine. Honestly, I couldn’t tell right away, as he was harmonizing with the alarms.

Then suddenly, he stopped. Then the Gorgorian Rapid Raider exploded. We, and by we I mean the shuttle, started spinning out of control. Fortunately, I am a fully trained star pilot and had no trouble steadying the flight path. Eventually.

Sensors indicated that the Gorgorian Rapid Raider suffered a massive quantum engine failure. Maybe the Gorgorian Rapid Raider passed through a micro singularity. Those Gorgorian Rapid Raider need to hire some more qualified engineers.

Am I saying Gorgorian Rapid Raider too much? No. An Ensign’s logs need to be thorough and accurate. I mean, a Gorgorian Rapid Raider is a formidable foe.

That ought to be worth a commendation. Fingers crossed.

End Log.

Personal Log Supplemental-StarDate 8722.24

Well, the engines are damaged and I had to drop to sub-light speeds. This is very inconvenient. If I can’t repair the problem I won’t make my rendezvous with the Centurion. I’m reluctant to send out a distress signal as it might attract more attention from the Gorgorians.

Also, it would reflect poorly on my abilities as an officer and damage my chances of getting assigned to the Centurion. That, I refuse to let happen. Time to roll up my sleeves and get working.

End Log.

Personal Log Supplemental-StarDate 8722.73

Well, that took longer than I anticipated. I ran half a dozen level one diagnostics, realigned the crystalline shunt, and hand cleaned thirty-seven isotronic chips and the damned thing still didn’t turn over. It wasn’t till I re-polarized the power coupling that it worked again.

At least now I can get back on schedule. Apologies to Atlas but I am NOT going to be late.

End Log.

Personal Log Supplemental-StarDate Unknown

A good officer has to be ready for the unexpected. That’s what they taught us at the academy. It’s the first thing they say on the first day. Be ready for the unexpected. It’s a fine sentiment. Except how in holy hell can you be ready for the unexpected? That’s crazy! CRAZY!!!!!!!!!!!

(Log Paused)

Okay, I screamed and feel a little better. Not a lot, but I’ll take what I can get.

We were flying at top hyper factor, at least as fast as this shuttle can go, when Atlas started to howl. Except it wasn’t a howl, exactly. More like a keening wail. I tried to get him to stop. I sang him a lullaby, then tried talking to him in soothing tones, telling him that we were on our way to his mommy, and finally, I shouted at him to just shut up!

I’m not sure why I thought this creature would understand the Galactic Standard tongue, because it did not. The sound it made got higher and higher pitched until there was a burst of bright light and then I passed out. I dare anyone, ANYONE to not pass out in these circumstances.

Upon awakening, I found the familiar sight of rushing stars outside my forward viewport replaced with a swirling sea of colors and fractals. The navigation computer has thus far failed to locate where we are. But it gets worse.

Atlas is missing.

End Log.

Personal Log Supplemental-StarDate Still Unknown but later

Having searched this tiny shuttle fore to aft, I have found no sign of Atlas. I’m not sure what is worse, being trapped in an unknown region of space or losing Captain Buhle’s beloved pet. If I can’t find a way home, I’ll never know. That’s not better. Probably worse.

Time to start scanning and see what I can find out about where I ended up.

End Log.

Personal Log Supplemental-StarDate Who The Hell Knows

So the sensors were no help. Outside the shuttle is what the computer calls a “Pocket, pan-dimensional matrix of unquantifiable energy readings.” Thanks. For. Nothing. In other words, you have no idea. Also, no sign of Atlas. Ugh.

At least the nutritional dispenser is still working but all it can produce is a chicken sandwich and coffee. Some good news, that’s a perfect lunch.

I’m going to see if I can find a way out of this “Pocket, pan-dimensional matrix of unquantifiable energy readings.”

I mean, how big can it be?

End Log.

Personal Log Supplemental-StarDate Who Goddamn Cares At This Point?

So, a pocket dimension can be pretty damn big. I’ve been flying for what the computer tells me is one week, three days, seventeen hours, and forty minutes. I have no choice but to believe it.

Why would a computer lie?

Why indeed…

End Log

Personal Log Supplemental-StarDate No Idea

My Chicken sandwich was a little dry today. That should be impossible, given it is made from a static formula. But I swear it tasted like it had been sitting out on a counter for a bit too long. Strange.

On an unrelated note, my beard is coming in nicely.

End Log.

Personal Log Supplemental-StarDate Infinity Plus One

While time seems to stand still, I have not aged, for some reason, my hair and fingernails have continued to grow. Does this make any logical sense? Nope, not at all.

While I have perfected my braiding skills, I fear that this is some sort of personal hell. There are no Rigellian monkey bears with my father’s voice, forcing me to sing in public. Still, it feels pretty personal.

While I sleep, the sounds of Atlas echo through my mind. I try to find him but I find myself stuck in a pool of butterscotch. Let’s be clear, in my dreams. I would kill for some butterscotch right now. Anything except for damned chicken sandwiches and coffee.

All scans have yielded no life sign reading. I’ve lost the Captain’s pet and I can say, with a high degree of certainty, I’ve had lost my mind as well. Log entries that back that up have been deleted. No one needs to read all those quantum limericks. Honestly, not my best work.

In retrospect, I should’ve sent out a distress signal. That’s on me.

Also, whatever Atlas is, I hope he’s lost in his own personal hell. I’ve no idea what that is, but I wish with all my heart he’s there.

So, since I have nothing to look forward to, except more of this endless nothing, I have chosen to employ the self-destruct protocol. If anyone finds these logs, please think kindly of me.

Wait. If I self-destruct, no one will ever read this. So suck a singularity Atlas. You are the worst.

End Log.

Captain Buhle’s personal Log StarDate 8722.67

I am relieved to find the shuttle transporting Atlas intact. He is alive and in good spirits! I was worried about him traveling on a shuttle, it disagrees with him so, but it seems to have worked out.

Unfortunately, Ensign Edward Park has suffered some traumatic side effects from his trip. It will take a few days for him to get his synaptic responses in sync with normal reality. Doc says with some rest, he’ll be right as rain.

The engineering team has told me that the shuttle gave off pan-dimensional radiation but that that was well below any danger levels. In another piece of bad news, all logs were corrupted by the radiation.

When Ensign Park recovers, he can file a report about the incident. He must be a remarkable young officer to have made it through in one piece and keep Atlas safe. I have already requested his transfer to the Centurion, which the Admiralty approved immediately.

And on a personal note, it seems Atlas has taken quite a shine to young Mr. Park, when I visited sickbay, the little fella got quite excited. If I can trust anyone to look after Atlas, it is Ensign Park.

End Log

Live Life Fast, Die Food

This is a short story that combines three of my passions, food, super spy espionage and quippy dialogue.

Svetlana Cortez Abramowitz, agent of B.R.E.A.D. (Baking Restaurant Elite Alliance Division) and noted mannequin model hung by her arms above the giant fondue pot filled with deadly Emmental cheese. She had begun that evening at the underground sudden death clam roll eating tournament under the last Howard Johnsons in Pyrenees mountain range.

With nothing to do but literally dangle, she lost herself in a flashback.

***

Her contact, the Marquise Du Fromage, whose family, ironically, were all lactose intolerant, was nowhere to be seen at the tournament. If her training as a secret agent had taught her anything, it was when in doubt, go to the bar. They usually had peanuts.

“I’d like a Dirty Shirley please, extra cherries,” said Sventlana.

“Right away, Ms,” replied the bartender.

“How do you know I’m not married?” she snarked.

“I don’t, that’s why I used Ms,” said the bartender as he mixed grenadine and vodka, “I didn’t want to presume.”

Taking a sip of the drink, she nodded, “You’re very woke for a bartender.”

“Part of the training.”

“Can I buy you a drink?” said a voice from behind her.

Turning, she saw a tall blond man with piercing earlobes. He had no physical scars but she was sure that he had emotional ones. Guys like him always did.

“I already have one.”

“Did you pay for it yet?”

“No, I was about to open a tab.”

“Then I could still pay for it.”

“I suppose so.”

“Put this on my Dinner’s Club card.”

“Dinner’s Club or Diner’s Club?” inquired the bartender.

“Both.”

“Yes sir!” 

Svetlana regarded the Stranger with a discerning eye, which was her left one.

“If you’re going to buy me a drink, you could at least introduce yourself,” she said eating one of her extra maraschino cherries.

“Why do I owe you something for buying you a drink?”

“How about I try to guess your name,” she suggested avoiding the issue.

“Have at it.”

“Hubert Hucklebean.”

“Do I really look like a Hubert Hucklebean?”

“I suppose not, but if I meet three Hubert Hucklebeans before the end of the year I win a free sub.”

“Meatball or the underwater kind?”

“Underwater that serves meatballs.”

“Then I’m sorry I’m not one then.”

With a flourish, the bartender placed the second drink in front of her. Taking it in her other hand, she toasted herself.

“Why don’t I try to guess your name?” offered the Stranger. 

“Please,” she replied as she sipped from the second drink.

“Myrtle McKenna?”

“Funny you should say that my college roommate wanted to be named that.”

“Did she ever change her name?” 

“Only in Delaware and Guam.”

“Smart. I’ve got another guess.”

“Shoot.”

With the ease of a Nutri Ninja pro, he flung a drugged-tipped cocktail umbrella into her neck.

“I think you’re Svetlana Cortez Abramowitz, agent of B.R.E.A.D.,” he whispered as the room swam around her. She recognized it as a Bulgarian butterfly stroke as everything went black. 

***

“I see you’re lost in thought,” said the Stranger, bringing the narrative back to the present.

“I was,” she said irritably.

“The infamous agent Abramowitz, at last, we meet.”

“We met just before, at the bar.”

“Fine. Technically that’s true.”

She smiled, one of the true joys of life was to be technically right.

“I suppose you’re wondering who I am?”

“Niles Montrose, assassin for hire and failed saucier.”

Flushed, Niles shouted, “A sauce CANNOT be too rich!”

“That’s not what your instructors at the C.I.A. thought.”

“They lacked vision. Especially the ones who were too lazy to get a new eye exam. Most places will do it for free.”

“If you buy from them.”

“It’s a good deal!”

“Only if you don’t have insurance.”

“Lots of people don’t! It’s a real problem. Much like how you are about to be dipped into the world’s largest fondue pot.”

Those problems seemed unrelated but she did have to admit to herself, she was in trouble.

“Dipping an agent of B.R.E.A.D. into a giant cheese fondue, a little on the nose, isn’t it?”

“It’s a lot on the nose and I think you know it. But look over your shoulder, you’re not alone.

Indeed she was not. The Marquise Du Fromage was also chained above the bubbling caldron.

“Why didn’t you say anything?” Svetlana inquired.

“You two seemed to be in the middle of something. I didn’t want to interrupt,” said the Marquise.

“Agent of B.R.E.A.D dies with lactose intolerant nobleman. If anyone still read newspapers that would be the headline.”

“Let’s table the discussion about the state of print and get to what your master plan is,” said Svetlana.

“And why should I tell you?”

“The Julia Childe Accords stipulate that when culinary operatives are captured the opposing agent must reveal their plans in detail. Section seven, subsection-”

“-Eighteen,” finished Niles, “Very well, rules are rules. Have you noticed how food trends have surged recently? It all started with bacon. It wasn’t difficult, bacon is delicious. Even when it started getting ridiculous, bacon milkshake and bacon sushi no one batted an eye. But then we popularized kale. Kale! It’s disgusting but people couldn’t get enough!”

As Niles monologued on, Svetlana pressed a tiny button on her clunky bracelet that was comprised of butter cubes held in stasis. The heat of the bubbling cheese quickly melted the shortening and allowed her to slip free of her shackles.

“-and quinoa! Because of us, rice was shunned like it didn’t come back from rumspringa!” declared Niles as Svetlana leapt down behind him. 

“Variety is the spice of life but how about a little salt and pepper?” she asked as she tenderized him with both fists.

They exchanged blows and recipes as they fought in the fondue dungeon until the Agent of B.R.E.A.D. jumped up, and kicked off her very pointy high heel shoes. Embedding them into the wall and trapping him.

“You’ve lost!” she said.

“I noticed. Because you have me immobilized.”

“That’s how it works. So tell me, who are you working for?”

“Oh, you’ll find out soon enough. Not because I’m going to tell you. But because of reasons. Sinister reasons.”

“You’d like that.”

“Yes, I’m actually pretty excited about that part.”

“I can tell because your face lit up when you said ‘sinister reasons’.”

“I feel seen.”

“If we could circle back to my original question about who you’re working for.”

With a smirk, Niles dropped out of his evening jacket, the shoes hadn’t pinned him, pulled out a small envelope and bottle of dark brown liquid from his pants pocket, and downed them both. A hideous crackle was heard, followed by a muffled explosion.

Pop rocks and Pepsi, she thought. The final retreat of culinary killer. Niles was moving his lips and she leaned in to hear his epitaph. He whispered, “Would you like fries with that?” and then expired.

“What does that mean?” she asked aloud.

“Pardon me,” said the unfailing polite Marquise Du Fromage, “If you could lower me down, away from the cheese caldron, I would be ever so grateful.”

“Of course,” Svetlana replied as she worked the winch, “I think now it’s time for some… dessert.”

“Is that an attempt at seduction or do you mean literal dessert?”

She unlocked his shackles and said, “I mean sweets, cake, maybe some gelato.”

“I’ll stick to the cake, gelato makes me gazeux.”

“Very delicate.”

“I wish it was,” the nobleman said ruefully. 

“Then we’ll pass… on the gelato.”

“Can I please just give you this microfilm?”

Taking the information, she said, “Right. I’ll get that that dessert… to go.”

“I’m just going to leave now.”

Just before he exited the room, the Marquise Du Fromage turned and asked, “Do you need a ride somewhere?”

Svetlana smiled and said, “In fact I do.”

“They have taxis out front. You should get one.”

“Oh, I will.”

The nobleman left, as things seemed socially awkward. Svetlana waited a few minutes. Partially to ponder Niles’ last words and also to avoid having to make more small talk with the Marquise Du Fromage who was a bit of a drip.

Would you like fries with that would later return in a most ominous way, but tonight, was all about confection.