On the Seventh Day

This week’s flash fiction challenge, as seen here.

Gods vs Cultists. I’m a bit over the word count at 2,111. Another featuring the Trust. I was trying for a bit of different tone from last week’s story, maybe a little less ominous.

I really need to notice these before Thursday. Again, first draft of a one day story.

 

On the Seventh Day

On Monday, Actaeon groaned and stretched as he blinked open his four jeweled eyes. His gaze swept the room in circles, up left down right. He sat up. Grey stone overhead, and grey stone below. It was cool but at least dry.
He was clothed in a simple grey robe that began changing even as he noticed it. As the sleeves shrank and tightened, as the skirt knitted itself into trouser legs, Actaeon paced around the cave. His skin felt tight. Unused. His muscles were loose and relaxed. He didn’t feel worried though his mind was empty. He knew his own name, he knew the names of the things around him: clothing, stone, bed, cave, god. God.
Awareness hit him in a rush. “Son of a bitch,” he swore aloud. “Humans.” He settled at the end of the bed, arms crossed in a gentle snit that escalated to a fury as minutes grew into hours grew into day. He made lists in his head of the indignities he was going to visit upon the person of the jackass that brought him back into being. He amused himself by transforming his limbs into different creatures he could remember from the time before. He laid back down and tried to reclaim eternal rest. He reminisced, in detail, his past loves and paramours. A horrible grinding noise filled every square inch of the cave, and an opening appeared in the wall. Actaeon sprang to his feet. “Let’s behold what unbelievable bullshit I get this time.”
Miles of forest tumbled down the mountainside to fall into prairie. He sighed deeply. A steady stream of cursing tracked his progress as he stomped down the hill, trees exploding into dust, birds helplessly flying in tighter and tighter circles until they torpedoed to the ground, little fires burning in each footstep he left. The smarter animals fled at the smell.
As he reached the edge of the prairie, his muscles rippled unpleasantly and suddenly his perspective was several meters higher. Finally, he thought, and began bounding across the open land. His heart felt lighter at the prospect of civilization.
On Tuesday, Actaeon wandered into a mid-sized city that was still many times larger than the last city he’d seen. The buildings were tall and the streets were so clean and hard. Skyscraper. Concrete. Automobile. No, car. The words came much more quickly now, filling his vocabulary in massive strokes. He glanced about, searching for telephone.
“Thank you for calling Continuum Trust and Holdings. How may I direct your call?”
At least there was one constant in the human world. “Hello, yes. I am Actaeon. I’ve apparently been called back into being.”
“Actaeon, sir. We’ve been expecting a call from you. I’ll put you through to the God Division.”
He winced at the bouncy melody suddenly blaring from the receiver. Music and passion were always the fashion, at the copa they fell in love. Utter nonsense. He couldn’t wait until his smite powers showed up.
“Hello, sir! Such a pleasure to get a call from the Seeker. Our sincerest apologies we couldn’t get a delegate out to meet you at your formation. Predictive time is an imprecise science. How can we assist you today?”
“I want information first. Why am I here now?” He thought fleetingly of the warm, pleasant nothingness he had been torn from, and scowled.
“A new cult emerged, In the Eye of the Seeker. We’ve been watching the Aspirants for several years now, and infiltrated with our operatives last year when it was clear they had some juice.” Actaeon growled low in his throat. The human coughed nervously, and continued quickly. “Now that we have confirmation of your Being, we can proceed with the course of action of your choice. What’s your pleasure?”
“Pleasure?!” Actaeon thundered. He could hear the plastic bits of the telephone vibrate against each other. “I want to go back into blissful nonbeing. That was my pleasure! Not. Being. Nonbeing. How about you provide that?” The human squeaked audibly.
“I think I better escalate this to my supervisor, Mr. Actaeon, sir. His name is Mr. Hanover, sir. He will be in touch very soon, sir.” Actaeon gaped at the phone when dial tone started buzzing in his ear. He clenched his fist around the receiver, and tendrils of smoke licked up the sides of his fingers as the plastic melted and dripped to the ground.
On Wednesday. Actaeon woke to a new thought. How had the Aspirants recalled him onto this plane? He was sure he wiped out all his worshippers last time, every one who had ever heard his name in the whispers. He destroyed absolutely the tablets and books and paintings of his likeness, every scrap obliterated. It was a certainty. This Mr. Hanover had best have an explanation.
Conveniently there was a telephone in the room he choose last night. He floated the receiver to his ear, barking the name Hanover at the robotic voice that answered. He twined all thirty of his fingers in the curly loops of the phone cord. He wasn’t expecting the cheery voice chirping a greeting.
“I need to speak to Hanover. Yesterday your representative did nothing, and today I have. More. Questions.” His voice rose with each word, pushed from behind clenched teeth.
“Of course, sir. We take your business very seriously. Unfortunately, Mr. Hanover was made redundant last year, and I’ll be serving his clients.”
“Then you’d better have answers. How did the humans recall my name? I destroyed every record of my existence. I should not have been found.”
“That I can answer, sir. Last year we instituted intra-division open communication, and it came to our attention that one of the Marians split a large section of her devoted off to revive Seeker worship. It appears she herself was due a vacation, and she had too many devoted to get away.”
“A MARY? Fatima? Guadalupe? Lourdes? WHICH ONE?” That backstabbing band of witches. He knew he had reason to hate them.
“I can’t tell you, sir. We’ve discussed the impropriety with her and reaffirmed our client guidelines, and she has…adjusted her intentions. I can assure you it will not happen again, sir.” He huffed in disbelief.
“Again? I’m already here!” The room spun a bit as two new eyes opened in the back of his head. The panoramic view was disorienting at first. “Uh, how are they managing to evolve me so quickly? This morning I had fifteen more fingers than I went to bed with, and I just got two more eyes. The scent of honey and incense keep fogging around me. I am seriously done with this. Fix it.”
“Sir, times have changed since your last being. Technology has advanced rapidly, and ideas can be shared with millions of people in a split second. The proliferation—“ Her voice cut off abruptly. Actaeon stared mutely at the two now separate pieces of the hotel telephone. He had been squeezing the cord in frustration, and when his fingernails transformed into razor sharp talons, they sliced through the wire like it was nothing.
He put the mangled phone pieces on the desk for housekeeping, left the “please clean” placard swinging on the door knob, and strode upstairs to the roof deck. He pulled the wind in all directions, trying to disperse the cloud of incense rising around him.
On Thursday, Actaeon wandered downtown. He had decided during his steam bath—he was no longer able to shower, as the water pinging off his chitinous scales drove him nuts—he would try to fuck some shit up today. If the Trust wasn’t going to do their job, maybe he’d force them into it.
The streets looked different than they had two days ago. The world moved so quickly now. He amused himself remembering the way the screams of his followers’ enemies echoed across the mountains as he pulled their hearts from their chests.
When Actaeon arrived at a crowded park in the center of the city, he rose in the air. He felt a tingle of satisfaction at the surprised faces below him, and spread his many hands. “I am Actaeon, Seeker God. Despair, for your time is now ended.”
He willed each beating heart become a spark that would ignite each of these puny humans into a pillar of furious divine fire. He pursed his lips, and gently blew the air that would fan the flame.
Nothing happened.
He tried again and again, watching with one eye as fear below turned to bemusement. Fine. He couldn’t smite. He did have fifteen arms with which to throw bricks, which he managed to do with devastating accuracy.
He was smiling over the bedlam, looking for more bricks, when the Seeker Vision hit him. Immediately a hundred thousand voices rang in his head, entreating, beseeching, a litany of pleas for him to find this, please hide that, please give me this opportunity, please promise me something new, please help me out of here, please take this illness away, please bestow an injury to my enemy, please please please me me me me me me me.
Actaeon staggered back to the hotel and fell into bed, squeezing all his eyes shut tightly as possible. The room phone had not yet been replaced.
On Friday, Actaeon cautiously probed consciousness before committing to awakening. Relief flooded him as he realized his evolving nature caught up to his Vision. He stood, spread his wings to their full span, and crossed to the desk. He plugged in the new telephone waiting there. This one was in two pieces, no cord.
“Continuum Trust and Holdings. How may I direct your call?”
Upon speaking his name, Actaeon was transferred immediately. The voice was no longer cheery or feminine. “I’m now handling your file, sir. Ms. Yates became Division Vice President earlier this year. How can I assist you?”
“Ms. Yates? I just spoke to her on Wednesday. She pawned me off in two days?”
The serious young man paused before answering. “You’re still in godtime, sir. Each hour you perceive is about a month in human time.”
All gods above and below fucking sideways,” Actaeon snarled. He smashed the disconnect button vehemently. It was not nearly as satisfying as slamming a receiver down on the cradle. Goddamnit.
On Saturday, Actaeon could barely maintain a solid form. Arms and feathers and forked tongues and unseeing eyes and wings and tails and new things he didn’t have time to catch the names of sprouted from his body and then sucked back in with hideously slurping sounds so rapidly he was a vaguely god-shaped blur. Droplets of iridescent goo flung off his form as he struggled to the phone. He didn’t let the receptionist finish.
“Get. Me. Yates. Now.” There was only a moment of silence before that cheery voice filled his ear.
“Mr. Actaeon, good morning! I trust you had a pleasant rest. My apologies for any misinformation sent your way.”
“Please make it stop. Please stop the Aspirants. I can barely hold this form. I will find you if this doesn’t end. I will come to your offices, and I will burn you all to ash and bone.”
The cheer in her voice was replaced by steel. “I don’t think that would be to your benefit, Mr. Actaeon. Perhaps a short nap? I’m sure we could nail down your form in, say, twenty minutes your time?”

When Actaeon woke from his nap, he felt much calmer. Maybe Ms. Yates’s advice had some merit. He noticed he was down to a much more reasonable six arms, and blissfully no tentacles. Blinking up the rose colored membranes covering his jeweled eyes, he settled down in the cozy wingback chair the hotel provided, and began to Seek.
On Sunday, Executive Vice President Teresa Yates gathered the entire God Division of Continuum Trust and Holdings.
“The Board is extremely pleased with the performance of this division over the past fifteen years. We’ve managed the reawakening to full compliance of an incredibly powerful god in only one week of godtime. The power output of our division has increased thirty-five percent over the last year and is climbing steadily.”
“What if he breaks free? What if he finds the actual information he wanted?”
“Our pilgrims are confident in the Aspirants’ ability to stay on task. We have a firm hold on the direction of their worship and supplication. Actaeon should remain docile as long as we maintain these channels.”
“But—“
“The Trust has managed gods and every kind of monster imaginable for the last four millennium. I’m sure we’ll endure for centuries more.”

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Brand New

So, after a very goddamned long time, I am writing fiction again. I threw this together so I’d have some place to post my piece for Chuck’s flash fiction challenge as my social media presence is basically only twitter. Linky link here.

My random numbers were 12 (vampire) and 18 (medical thriller). I ended up at 1500 words precisely, and didn’t have time to do much editing. God, I hope this isn’t completely terrible.

Life Sentence

Jessica Warren buttoned her jacket as she stood to greet the stuffed suit tricked into begging her to work for—shit, where was she today? Velis Corp? Proxima Labs? She caught a glimpse of the suit’s key card—Catalyst Biological Systems. Right, youth regeneration drugs. Her list of possibilities was growing smaller at an alarming rate.

“Ms. Warren, we are so glad you accepted our invitation. We could use a mind of your caliber here…” As the suit droned on, Jessica let his voice fade into white noise. This introductory pablum was never informative, just a perfunctory performance to sweeten her view of the firm or the lab or the job. Her eyes swept from open door to open door, silently cataloguing what she could see and filing notice of what she could not.

She stuttered a step as her companion stopped to gesture her through another open door. He pretended not to have noticed, keeping up constant conversation as he crossed to the far side of the room to pour two glasses of water, dropping a wedge of lemon precisely in each, solicitous to a fault. Jessica forced herself to focus. Jessica Warren was a scientist. Jessica Warren specialized in synthetic bacteria. Jessica Warren was here to press any goddamn opening she could find to get to the information she was optimistically sent here to collect.

The suit began his interview like all the others, with the same tired questions. Jessica responded with the same rote answers she memorized long ago. She had been so engaged at the genesis of her appointment to the Trust, but now she was just sliding through. Months of chasing rumors and half truths whispered in the back rows of conference presentations and grasping at barely plausible hints in journal articles saw her desperate to get her hands on a concrete lead. Or hell, any indication at all this wasn’t a never-ending wild goose chase. Maybe she should call the office tomorrow and get a few days off; these endless meetings were blurring into a muddy nothingness.

A cautious note crept into the suit’s voice, and Jessica snapped back to attention. This was the first time in one of these interviews she had heard palpable hesitancy. She leaned forward slightly and tried to project an air of ethical curiosity.

“Essentially, we need a new perspective on our particular…issue. Your work for the CDC  combating biological accelerants was of specific interest to our board.” He cleared his throat, squared the corners of the stack of paper on the table with his fingertips. Jessica didn’t miss the slight tremor of his hands. “Rejuvestine has been an absolute success, Catalyst’s flagship, it has made certain people significantly wealthy, but we are seeing a troubling increase in outbreaks of black and whites.”

“Black and whites?” She arched a brow, not exactly feigning a professional interest. He stared quietly at the tabletop, and gave a tiny sigh of resolution. Pressing his lips together, he met her eyes for a long moment.

“I should wait until you sign the NDA, but frankly we’re desperate.” He stood abruptly and strode to the door without pushing his chair under the table. “Please come with me. I want to show you the extent of what we’re facing.”

Jessica followed him down the hallway then through a door, and then another long hallway with a door he used his card to open, which lead to yet another nondescript hallway. They passed through door after door with increasingly invasive locks until the suit signaled her to stop. “This lock is a bit more robust.” He pointed as he spoke. “Retinal scanner, weight pad, retinal scanner, DNA confirmation. Wait until I’ve crossed before you start.”

She watched him clear each step, willing herself to not show her discomfort when the security guard handed him a bandaid for his bleeding fingertip as he crossed the marker. He straightened his suit, now slightly less crisp, and motioned her forward. It’s nothing, Jessica Warren, she said to herself. They can’t possibly have your DNA on file. Calm down, you idiot. Still, her joints felt a little wobbly when the guard asked for her details to put in his register.

“I’m sorry for all the cloak and dagger, but this cannot get out. Jesus Christ, it would be chaos.”

He hurried her into a protective coverall, giving her cheap sneakers to wear instead of her heels, helping her snap the hood into the collar. The practiced motions he used to get into his own coveralls gave her pause. Certainly he had spent not an insignificant amount of time changing into protective gear. Her pulse ticked up a bit.

The airlock opened into a large dim laboratory with many smaller rooms opening off the three other walls, each door flanked with large glass panels for observation. These rooms were all dark. “Ms. Warren, how much do you know about Rejuvestine?”

She bent her knees to get a better look at some of the equipment littering the lab table nearest her. “I know what’s in your official literature, and maybe a little more than that through word of mouth. I understand it works by flooding the skin’s lipid layer with moisture and stimulating cell development.”

“That’s more or less it, though clearly a bit more complicated. Unfortunately, some patients displayed an adverse reaction, an aggressive leaching of moisture from the skin that results in restricted blood flow.” Jessica straightened, alert. “This has resulted in necrosis of the mucous membranes and the surrounding skin, usually in a linear pattern. It also appears to affect melanocytes, hence: black and whites.”

The suit walked to a panel of switches on the wall. “The afflicted are particularly sensitive to light, since their eyelids are essentially gone. We’ve observed they sleep only in micro-naps. The current hypothesis is the lack of sleep and dehydration are fueling their delusional states.” He looked at her then, hand resting on the light switches. “We found them mostly at hospitals in the area, barely coherent, ranting that only more blood would help them recover, that only blood could cure their thirst. They deteriorated rapidly after the onset of delirium.”

“So they’re severely dehydrated and delusional? Not actually ill?” She felt a pang of disappointment. Looking at the pile of research on the counter, she started mentally cataloguing the few places she had left to try.

“Rejuvestine is not a drug exactly. It’s a benign self-replicating synthetic bacteria suspended in a gelling agent.”

Jessica’s breath went in a whoosh, and she sank heavily on a stool. “Oh, god. Is it communicable?” She snatched her hand away from an uncovered petri dish full of goo, and rubbed it against her leg, feeling unclean.

“It seems to transmit through bodily fluids, a lot like HIV.” She looked at him wide-eyed, a little lightheaded from the rush of being this close to her goal, and a little afraid of what would come next. “I’m going to show you what the afflicted look like now. It’s…well, not pretty.”

The lights flickered on in three of the rooms, and suddenly leering faces pressed close to the glass. They weren’t not pretty so much as utterly inhuman. All the pigment had leeched from their skin, and necrotic tissue sketched lines across their faces, black slashes where their eyes and nose and mouth had been. Their eyeballs had shrunk, the sclera no longer visible, pupils stretching to become nearly the entire eye. The worst of it was the way their lips had been eaten away, leaving teeth exposed in a rictus grin, shriveled tongues darting out as they hissed for Jessica to come closer.

Ignoring the bile rising in her throat, she peered at the afflicted in horrified fascination. “How do you keep them alive? Can they eat? Do they drink?”

The suit radiated palpable hesitation again. “The only thing they seem to tolerate is blood. And we can’t actually kill them. The bacteria replicate faster than we can eradicate it, and rebuild whatever structure it’s replaced in them. We cut them apart, poison them, burn them, nothing works. The means we have aren’t working. Which is why we’ve brought you here.”

She closed her eyes, gripping the table edge. Was this actually it? She breathed deeply. Jessica Warren was a scientist. Jessica Warren specialized in synthetic bacteria. Jessica Warren stretched her hand back for the baton. “So, if I am understanding you correctly, you want to hire me to develop an antibiotic for…vampirism?”

“Yes. And very, very quickly.”

She pulled out her phone. “I’ll call my boss and give notice. I can start immediately, if you’re amenable.”

The suit looked relieved. Grateful. “Let’s get you set up.”

Jessica Warren pulled the sword from the goddamn stone, the grail from the grave. Jessica Warren completed the quest. Jessica Warren was not her real name.

Jessica Warren was a covert agent of the Trust. Jessica Warren called her boss, and gave her notice.