Hack the Future part 18 ( Steven Schaufler & J Dark )

It was still pitch dark, when he awoke. Stumbling blindly to the window and cursing under his breath as he stubbed his toe against his desk, he noted that the faint indigo hue of false dawn was creeping up from the east. He checked his watch and sighed. It was just a little after 04:00. Can’t be helped; he thought, and quietly headed to the shower. Blade was still asleep, and on the couch of all places. He idly wondered if she’d fallen asleep waiting for him. At any other time he might’ve done the gentlemanly thing and draped a blanket over her but, they had an early -and likely long- day ahead of them, so he just smiled and shook his head as he closed the bathroom door behind him.

His morning showers always started hot and ended cold, so roughly fifteen minutes later found him standing infront of the couch -and its sleeping occupant- fresh and invigorated, if shivering, despite the large towel draped around his waist. He nudged Blade’s side with his foot and grinned as he cried out „Rise and shine!“ His grin only widening as her response was to merely groan and turn around. Of course, he only saw that as an invitation, and followed up by nudging her again, only this time there was a little more power behind it, and the target wasn’t her side but her tush. „C’mon, Blade, get up! If you really need more beauty sleep, you can sleep in the car.“ With that he turned and headed towards his room to get dressed. Behind him, he heard Blade mutter something into the pillow that, given her extensive repertoire of expletives, he was glad he missed.

Another fifteen minutes later saw him dressed and all but ready, and from the random thumps and thuds coming from the other room, Blade was getting ready as well. He was surprised to see two rather large slices of salami pizza sitting on the counter and, given the coffee pot was full and the divine liquid within lukewarm, he realised Blade really had fallen asleep waiting for him. Well, he’d make it up to her after this job was done. There might be enough money left over after bills and debt to take her to one of those fancy ‘Fusion’ restaurants. But fancy was not for today. He poured himself some coffee and rummaged around one of the cabinets for a can of tuna, dumping its contents on the pizza and adding a few bits of canned pineaple before nuking his savoury breakfast for a minute.

By the time Blade came out of her room, he was all but finished eating. With his mouth full, he wasn’t going to say anything so he just waved the hand holding the nearly devoured treat in her direction in a combination of good morning and thank you. She just glared, then rolled her sleepy eyes at him; slinging her dufflebag over her shoulder before heading down to the car. Shrugging, he finished his breakfast and, when Blade didn’t return, grabbed his own bag and left the apartment, locking the door behind him.

When he got to the car, Blade had already made her nest, as it were. Tilting the passenger seat all the way back and using her bag as a pillow, she was stretched out comfortably and, judging by the lack of reaction as he got in and started the engine, already fast asleep again. He sighed softly. It would be a long drive, and brainstorming with his partner would’ve helped the prepare more for the job, and also help pass the time but, oh well. He discarded the first tape he’d thought of playing and instead opted for one of his classical mix tapes. At least ‘Hall of the Mountain King’ wouldn’t have Blade jolt wide awake as the ‘Ride of Valkyries’ would have.

There was no need to get pulled over, and so despite all but having the streets to himself this early in the morning, he didn’t exceed the speed limit by too much. I took about forty minutes to get onto the A9. Behind them, the first golden rays of sunlight crept over the horizon, and he grinned as he gazed into his rearview. He knew he couldn’t win but, as he pushed down on the gas pedal and turned up the volume on his anachronistic Alpine stereo system, he sure as hell tried to outrace the sun as he sped southward at roughly 250 km/h.

It was fun while it lasted. Once they reached Bayreuth, semis had started becoming more frequent, and forced him to slow down considerably and, while he was still able to make good time, once they pulled on to the A73, it was over. The last 20 to 30 kilometers towards Nürnberg were more of a slow crawl, and ultimately complete gridlock, before they reached their destination. By the time he pulled up infront of the old sandstone building their rented apartment was in, it was exactly 10:00. Nearly six hours of driving, in what could’ve been done in under five.

Blade had slept the entire time, or at least remained quiet if she did stir awake at some point

Now that they’d arrived however, she fluttered her eyes open as he shut off the engine, and asked sleepily „Are we there yet?“ He nodded in response. „Yeah, we’re here. Still got another hour before we meet the landlord.“ With that said, he reclined his seat slightly and opened the window, then lit up a smoke and puffed the smoke out into the street before looking at his partner. He’d had several hours to think about everything once again. From the what they were about to do, to how he’d deliberately goaded the elf the night before, and the revelation that his partner was a half-breed. He trusted her. He knew she’d always have his back, and with all of the secrets he had, he didn’t begrudge her any of her own. But it was a big elephant in the room -or the car, as it were- and they needed to clear the air if this job was to succeed. He gazed up at the sunroof and asked almost nonchalantly „So, wanna talk about it?“, giving her the option to decide which it she wanted to address first.

Hack the Future part 17 ( Steven Schaufler & J Dark )

Getting the tour, she cross-indexed Irelle’s timetable with the appearances, and found one two days out in Fürth, next to Nüremburg. Cannibal Lighthouse would be playing at the Stadthalle. She quickly got two tickets for the show, then went to public records, which included the building permits, and files showing the layout of the constructed building and any legal modifications. Illegal could be inferred by things like power routing, but until you were in the building, you had guesses, not facts. The building had been erected in 1982, and used as concert hall, and any activity requiring a lot of floor space such as electronic’s shows or once, two years ago, the world championships for a first-person shooter game. The winner had walked away with a million and a half in prize money, and three million in sponsorships.

After downloading the floor plans, she hunted for the contractors, then the list of other companies, continuing through them, gathering any and all data on the building she could. Then it was to the local city hall, to get a list of licenses applied for including security. She felt herself fall into the hunt. The familiar excitement of pulling the puzzle togehter had her working long past when TJ returned. She took breaks long enough to find food, use the restroom, and brew more coffee. The next forty hours were pieces of the puzzle being pulled together and downloaded. Satisfied, and wired from twenty three cups of espresso grind coffee, she lay down on the hard floor, taking deep breaths. She reached up and slid the helmet off, shutting down the link.

The disorientation from cyber-holo to full reality always made her naseous. She lay very still concentrating on breathing and focusing her eyes to see in the real world rather than VR. It took a few minutes before she felt comfortable enough to sit up, then grab the last half cup of coffee, and move to the one window in the apartment and gaze down at the narrow alley between the apartment and the neighboring building. Looking Northeast, she could see ‘Max’s Pizza’ across the street.

The area was in an older section of the city, but not completely run down. The area they’d holed up in was a maze of old buildings, aswere the blocks surrounding. Anyone with a knowledge of the area could find a half dozen easy, unnoticable routes in and out. Any warning at all and a person could lose themselves in the maze and foil any pursuit. In short, it was a perfect place for them to stay, until the next job moved them to another town. Blade winced mentally. Crap, I got so into the hunt, I forgot to get us a place to stay.

Blade pulled out her cellphone, and looked for apartmenst for rent in Nürnberg and Furst. She found that she liked near a rail yard. She smiled as she saw there was a pizza place across the street from it. Talk about deja vu. Hmm, ‘Pizza for you’. Perhaps that’s a good sign about the mission. She rented the small two bedroom via her cell, and put down a month’s rent plus a second month’s rent as a deposit to cover any damage. She sighed and looked back over at Max’s. I haven’t had pizza for two weeks, I think that’s long enough. „TJ, I’m off to Max’s for a pizza, I’m taking the room key. I’ll be back in a half hour.“ „Get some coffee Blade, you drank what we had left.“ Oops, forgot that too. Adding that to her mental list, the grabbed the key off the wall hook by the door and walked out.

TJ heard the door shut and let out a weary sigh. He couldn’t really blame Blade for being angry. Hell, he was angry. However, he had also been right to press the elf’s buttons, despite the very real possibility of it all blowing up in their faces. Of course, realizing that, meant admitting that Blade was right as well. He drew in a deep breath only to sigh again. Circular logic wouldn’t solve any problems. Least of all the one at hand. He lit up a cigarette and, while he would’ve really loved some coffee with it, that would have to wait until Blade got back, so he just grabbed a beer instead and flopped onto his recliner to smoke and think.

There’s just too much that doesn’t add up; he thought to himself. From the fiasco at Dayner, which had to have been a set up; to the unexpected but surprisingly timely appearance of the vampire; the visit by Irelle and her wand waving cronies and this new, curious job. Fuck! But Darkos Edge? Seriously? He wasn’t a fan of that band he was in but, the man was like a genespliced lovechild of Ritchie Blackmore and Joe Satriani! The ghost of a grin played across his lips as he pondered several non-violent approaches. Perhaps the threat of broken fingers would make the guy tag along willing, as opposed to being dragged. I guess we’ll find out soon enough…; he mused, before crushing out his smoke.

As he sat staring up at the ceiling, his thoughts kept going back to what Irelle had said about the Phylactery. Something was decidedly wrong about the whole thing. It had nagged at the back of his mind since leaving Dayner but, at the time, he’d had more pressing concerns. Like getting the hell out of that place before getting shot again. Still, he had stolen it from the vault, had held it in his hands until they were caught, and when they escaped and it just lay there for the taking along with their weapons, it had seemed too…convenient. Now he knew why. Someone substituded the fake and, if his guess was correct, it was that fucking bloodsucker. But why? And Irelle? She’d mentioned a connection between that damned cube and the job she’d hired them for. But the dicussion she planned to have with them never happened. Another loose end, as it were.

All in all, he couldn’t shake the feeling someone was playing a game with them. A game he didn’t plan to lose. The more he pondered, the more confusing things seemed to get, the more his stubborness took over and he tried to look at every little detail from as many angles as possible. As he did so, the white ceiling slowly started to look like grid of 64 squares to his tired eyes and his lips peeled back in an eager, almost vicious grin. Challenge accepted; he muttered under his breath, and even as sleep began crawling up on him, he formulated his response. Nf6. His eyes were already closed when he saw a black clad knight leap over a row of pawns on his destrier to take up a defensive albeit challenging position. He never even heard Blade’s return to the flat.

Hack the Future part 16 ( Steven Schaufler & J Dark )

“TJ, I could strangle you right now. What kind of eszett dermho spud move was that? If she didn’t need that bell so badly, we’d be meat parts for the dicers.” Blade glared at him. TJ stood up, then walked to his bedroom. “It didn’t, and she did need us, though I can’t figure why she chose us specifically. A kidnapping like this, a guy who’s a big public figure, and has a security team of at least four all the time, needs at least a six man team to do it right. She picked us two, nethead.”

Blade straightened as the implication of his words sank in. Two, not six, two. “Point”, she grudgingly admitted. “We’re committed because of you. So now we’re in the bear pit. Got any other brilliant revelations?” TJ smirked, and Blade started a slow burn. She could feel her frustration beginning to roll over to anger. “Easy, Blade. Stow the attitude.” He moved over to the doorway, and leaned on the door. “Think it through. They’d be expecting a full-on crew for a kidnapping. We can take advantage of how they think.” TJ started ticking off points, slapping his hand against his chest and extending a finger each time.

Slap! “One, we need floor plans of his next residence. Hotel, motel, tube, whatever. Every floor.” Slap! Two fingers extended. “Two, we need to know the background of the security. Are these guys former military, moonlighting cops, thugs, or homie boys from the ‘hood.” Slap! Three fingers. “Do they use local security systems, or do they have their own setup for the room / floor.” Slap! Four fingers. “Most important, who’s paid whom for the performance. Who do we have to kiss their ring, or bribe to get our shot without having an unhappy eszett godfather decide we embarrassed them somehow.”

His gaze locked on Blade’s scowl. “So, nethead, gonna get to work or go all clucker pouty?” Blade glared at TJ. “Are you gonna act all meth-head or are you gonna go do some setup?” she snarled back. She felt stung by the ‘clucker’ slang. Elves had clicks in their native tongue, and to human ears it vaguely resembled a chicken’s cluck. Her ears burned with shame and anger as she went back to her room to grab an old plug-in laptop and interface helmet. She moved back into the small central living room, then sat down on the floor next to the low coffee table.

The laptop was set on the table, the connecting cables and power supply laid out neatly next to the near-antique. She connected the power supply to the laptop and plugged it into the floor socket. She rose and moved to the small kitchen as the laptop powered up. TJ watched her go to the kitchen, then turned and departed the small apartment, slamming the door, in Blade’s mind, a little harder than necessary.

Blade savored the few minutes needed to brew and pour a cup of coffee, then returned and sat back down. TJ had his job to do, renting vehicles, making weapons and equipment purchases, studying the buildings in the area, visualizing approaches and exits, timing any security patrols, and monitoring radio traffic. She grabbed a cable, then shifted her shoulder for a direct brain-interface link. She settled the helmet in place. The small shoulder cable snaked into a side port, a second cable linking to the helmet. The connection flashed as the holographic view of the infoweb flipped open on the screen.

She thought about running, and the images flashed past her, creating a three-dimensional cityscape, using IP address locations as building addresses and type. Public buildings showed the names, with each floor being given the name of the business, or individual listed as a resident. A quick thought and most of the public information was suppressed, leaving her the locations she needed to visit. The first location was the public website for Cannibal Lighthouse.

Hack the Future Part 15 (Steven Schaufler & J Dark )

They’re of no consequence for what you’re being hired for.” She paused to make sure TJ and Blade were paying attention. “Your job will be to kidnap one Damero Edkos, better know as Darkos Edge. He’s a ..” TJ cut her off. “Darkos Edge?! The guitarist for Cannibal Lighthouse?!” Blade watched TJ’s face. His features had taken on almost a reverence, if such a word could ever be used in a sentence about TJ.

“He has possession a particular item that does not belong to him. I am asking you to kidnap him, retrieve the article from it’s hiding place, and return the item to me. I will pay your normal fee, plus a bonus, incremental to the number of days before next Sunday that you present me with the item.” “So the faster you get it the more we get as a bonus. Nice incentive.” TJ entwined his fingers and rested them on a knee. “What’s the item?”

Irelle glanced at Blade again, who tried to make herself look small. The sorceress smiled then turned back to TJ. “A bell, about the size of your two hands together.” She raised her right hand languidly. “A small straight rod about as long as a index finger, should also be with the bell. And before you say that’s two pieces, it is not. That is the clapper for the bell.” She reached to her waist, and pulled out a small pouch. She dropped a series of data sticks on the table. “Your fee, plus ten percent for travel expenses. Prove to me you’re as good as your arrogance attempts to imply. Bring me the bell, in total, by Sunday next.”

Irelle smiled, then looked over at Blade. “Be careful, he’s a Humanity First sympathizer. His security team is made up of their members.” TJ gave a curt nod to Blade as the sorceress glided out of the room, the missile mages following her. The door floated off the ground, then settled in the doorway, the doorknob, locks, and hinges still lying on the wood floor. Blade got up from the couch, and stalked into her small room. She stepped to the tool kit, and shifted her shoulder. The cables flicked forward grabbing a flat blade screwdriver and a Phillip’s head.

She walked back into the main room, her feet moving in tense, measured steps until she reached the door. Her right hand reached out, grabbing the hole that the doorknob assembly fit, and yanked. The door shifted, then fell flat with a loud bang. Blade savagely grabbed the hinges, her metal limbs working to straighten the bent plates and screw them back onto the door. Her metal appendage stretched out, cables writhing like the heads on a hydra, grabbing the doorknob, disassembling it then threading the two pieces back onto the door, and screwing it in place. Her left arm grabbed the dead-bolt, steel tentacles scrabbling on the metal and the screwdriver removing the screws. It was slammed into position and screwed into place. TJ watched all of this with silence, letting Blade work out her fear and anger on the door.

Blade worked fast and viciously, and the door was soon back in place, with a few new gouges in the wood from flailing screwdrivers and cybernetic cables. She rounded on TJ, then stomped back over to the far end of the couch, and sat down. A shaking hand pulled out a cigarette pack. She tore the foil open and shook the pack, a cable with a small grasper snagged the paper and tobacco tube, and held it to her lips. A small pocket lighter appeared from her pocket. She clicked the electric striker, and a green flame stretched an inch upwards. Blade leaned back and drew deeply. Her head tilted back as twin clouds of smoke issued from her nostrils.

Hack the Future part 14 (Steven Schaufler & J Dark)

The little apartment was quiet, but for the sounds of five people breathing and, he thought, he could almost hear everybody thinking. The silence seemed to drag on for several seconds. He risked a quick glance towards his partner who looked at him as if he had lost his mind, but who was also covertly preparing herself in case their guests chose option one. His eyes snapped back to the pale, slender elf. Irelle rose to her feet. Slowly. Gracefully. She didn’t even look at him, as she crossed towards the shelf on the far side of the room. Her thin, alabaster-like fingers wrapped around the cube they’d ‘acquired’ from the Dayner vault and she nodded, as if to herself. Only then did she turn to face Blade and himself. She hefted the cube as if to gauge its weight, even as she continued speaking „But if you ever insult me again, I will not leave enough of you to fill something as small as this!“

Irelle drew back her arm before throwing the cube at him rather forcefully. Despite his reflexes he only barely managed to snatch it out of the air before it hit his head. He glared at her and she flashed him a cold smile. Coincidentally, the contents of that folder and the real Phylactery are related in ways even I do not fully understand…yet. So you see, we do have quite a bit to discuss.“

Blade let the breath she had been holding out slowly. She noticed the mages did also. We dodged a bullet. They don’t want to throw down, but there were ready to. I really don’t want to do that again. She shook her head, flipping her long hair back like a black fan. TJ smirked as if to say, was there any doubt, kid? Her hands clenched into fists as she visualized punching him in the mouth. She blinked as Irelle began to talk. Irelle had regained her poise, though Blade knew that TJ’s little power play had lessened her in the eyes of the mages. There’d be a very dangerous reckoning for that stunt after they were no longer useful.

Irelle strode back to the table, the cube still in hand. She stood there, a gash of white contrasted by the brown wood, the green mages, and the dark grey of the walls. She set the cube on the table. She started to lift her hand away from the cube when she stopped. Turning her full attention to the cube, and ignoring the puzzled looks of the other four in the room, she picked it up again, and concentrated. She turned to TJ. “Where did you find this.” It was obviously not a question.

Blade looked down as TJ answered the sorceress. “At Dayner Heavy Industries.” He didn’t try to bait or goad Irelle, for which Blade was thankful. Now that both sides had postured, they both agreed to at least be respectful, if not civil. “Dayner”, Irelle whispered to herself. She raised her head, and smiled. “They tend to have things others pay money for”, TJ smirked. “Indeed, and if this was the prize, I would expect you may have been in a race to procure it.”

Blade’s head snapped to stare at Irelle. TJ’s face became guarded. “I wouldn’t have been surprised by it either” he said in a careful tone. “When people want things, they tend to have rivals that want the same thing.” Irelle nodded, her eyes watching every twitch and movement of TJ’s face. TJ returned the stare. “It says how much stock a person puts in things, is represented by the people that they hire.” “Indeed it does” Irelle agreed. She stared a moment longer, then yawned, moving a hand in front of her mouth. She lowered it then shifted topics.

Hack the Future part 12 ( Steven Schaufler & J Dark )

“It would be a shame to discover that Humanity First found out about her. Rabid humans like them could make both your lives very short.”

“What do you want, bitch.” TJ was glowering at the sorceress who blinked in surprise that a ‘mere’ human would dare to insult her. The two wands shifted to aim at TJ. Blade tensed, shifting forward on the sofa, and the nearest mage to her swung back at the motion to cover her.

“You are impertinent, even for a human. We have shared wine and hospitality.” She didn’t turn to look at the two mages. “Put the weapons away. We’re not here to kill them.” The mages hesitated, then reluctantly, slid the wands back into the belt sheaths.

“You got some nerve yourself. First you toast us, then threaten. Then you do an about face and go back to toasting. You gonna threaten again so we all start shooting?” He looked at Irelle, his hand resting on the kitchen floor, mere centimeters from the butt of the revolver. “Your call Lady.” He waited, coiled like a snake waiting to strike. Blade felt herself tense up as the two mages looked to the sorceress for their instructions. Irelle watched TJ through narrowed eyes, then looked down. Runes glowed and her wine glass floated to her. She raised the glass to TJ, and then perfunctorily to Blade, and drank.

“The job would be to kidnap someone. They’re an active member of Humanity First.” She waved her hand, and a thick manila folder popped into existence just above the coffee table, and dropped with a solid slap of paper on glass. She looked at TJ, then Blade. “You complicate many things, half-breed.”

– – – –

Taking a slow, deep breath, TJ let his gaze drift briefly towards his partner. He’d known she had her secrets, as did he, but for the most part, they didn’t have the potential to fuck things up for them as badly as her being a half-breed did. This wasn’t the time to worry about it however. The arrogant clucker and her proposal were the matters at hand, and they intruded rather suddenly into his thoughts again, with the sound of a heavy folder slapping onto the table.

Irelle’s golden eyes locked onto his with what could only be described as a challenge, and he met it head on. Holding her gaze without so much as blinking, he stepped close enough to the slender elf to brush against her as he reached for the folder, and it was her eyes that blinked in surprise. Not only because a mere human dared to get this close, but that it was done with such a casual nonchalance, feigned or not. It was almost amusing to her, and she watched him curiously as he began to peruse the folder’s contents. Then he looked at her again, and there was nothing amusing in that steely gaze.

„Go for it“ he told her in a quiet, conversational tone. His index finger marking a page in the closed folder, as he turned his back to her to rummage through the drawer of one of the endtables. As such, he couldn’t see the surprised blink, or how she cocked her head to the side as she asked „Excuse me?“

Hack the Future Part 11 ( Steven Schaufler & J Dark )

He flung himself towards his gun skidding along the linoleum floor into the kitchen. He looked back trying to determine which target he needed to focus on first. His hand stopped mere millimeters from Blade’s revolver. The sorceress’s runes blazed in white light, as she gazed at her two companions. The missile mages froze solid, wands half drawn from the holding sleeves on their belts. Except for the glow of the runes, he hadn’t even seen her hand or lips move at all. How the fuck did she pull that off? These elves just keep getting weirder every time I meet one. Irelle looked at the two then glared at Blade with eyes that blazed like golden fire. Turning to face TJ, her gaze seemed to say ‘This is all her fault!’. Her shoulders tensed, much like he’d seen the mages do just before they’d tried to draw their weapons.

Eventually, she blinked her eyes, as if to clear away what just happened. Her hand stretched out again, as she floated her glass to her. After taking several long draughts, she let her eyes travel back and forth between the two mercenaries. Taking a deep breath, her eyes moved to linger speculatively on Blade before she intoned, „It seems the job has just become a tad more complicated.“

Blade listened intently. Irelle had not yet released the two mages. Glancing back over to them, both men still wore the snarls that were on their faces when They started pulling their wands. Their bodies weren’t straining at the spell. They knew that they would be released eventually. They’d reacted to Irelle’s reaction. She’d stopped them. That should be the end of the problem. But, Blade knew it wasn’t. Being healed by Irelle had laid bare everything that she was trying to hide. Her heritage, the magic. Irelle had felt it all.

Healing is so intimate. Whether you want to or not, you always get a sense of the real person. What they are. Everything of what they are. She covered it as she always had, with attitude and a hard reserve that said ‘don’t mess with me’. Her gaze hardened as she looked at the two paralyzed mages, and her eyes narrowed further as they shifted to Irelle. You want to condemn my blood? Bring it, bitch. I’m badder than you, I’m meaner. Tattoos don’t mean a thing. Not against a gun, and a brain. So come on, throw down and see who loses. Big hint, it won’t be me.

Her heart raced. She felt that thrill of fear and anticipation just before a fight. She watched Irelle, who stared back at her with a razor-edged smile that promised ‘game on’ any time she wanted. Blade broke the stare down first. She was way too keyed up after the healing. Irelle chuckled softly, rankling Blade’s nerves further. She looked back over at TJ, who was staring at the sorceress. “Going to explain the complications, or are we done here?” He folded his arms across his chest and straightened up, squaring his body at Irelle. He’s decided things aren’t going to change as we are right now. He’s going to force it. Irelle beat him to it.

Her runes flashed, and both mages finished their draw, pointing the rune-carved sticks at Blade. “The complication is that your half-breed pet would get you both condemned and killed where I’m going to send you. TJ blinked. “Half? Blade? She could see things click in place behind his eyes. The lucky coincidences. The strange times she chose to hesitate or rush headlong. He knows I could sense them. Dammit, why now!? He’ll never trust me again! She gritted her teeth and glared frustrated anger and shame at Irelle.

She outed me. If she tells the Purists, I’m going to be a walking target. Hell, she could tell Humanity First and forget the Purists. Elves have nothing on humans. They shoot their own kind without a second thought. Elves prefer banishment. They’ll kill too, but that’s usually not vindictive enough. They like to make their targets suffer. It makes for nastier psychology.

A Last Good Day Part 1 ( J Dark )

(( This is a possible idea for another story ))

“Do you tshink that’s deep enough?” the boy running the white and red backhoe shouted. His tousled brown hair ruffled in the breeze as his brown eyes glanced over at his father. His son, Dirk was so similar to him that people had teased him about being cloned. The boy, at twelve, was only a few centimeters short of his father’s height, and his large, lean frame hinted at the bulk his father carried.

Dirk scratched his nose as Harlan Zachary ambled over next to the rumbling machine, and looked down at the gash dug in the ground. “Lemme check it”, he yelled over the noise of the engine. He pulled out a yellow tape measure, and drew out four feet of tape. He lowered the bare end down into the narrow pit. His own red-blonde hair curled like he’d stuck his finger in an electrical socket, and didn’t pull it out. It peeked out from under his Tim Horton’s hat in fuzzy glory. His weathered features at odds with the babylike curls.

He carefully tapped the bottom of the trench, he turned the tape towards the sun, and squinted at the reading. “Thirty eight inches.” He turned to his son, and gave him a thumbs up. “That’s perfect. Now, widen it by one trench on either side of this, and have it two feet short of the back fence. I’ll paint out the parking and storage areas. Then we can save your mom some cookin’ and get a burger and some fries.”

Dirk’s eyes lit up. “I’ll besha a larsh drink I get the tsresenches dug before you get the shpots painted!” Harlan gazed fondly at his son. “You’re on, Dirk.” Harlan’s eyes glinted mischeviously. “Readysetgo!” He dashed to the small house, and was through the door just as the backhoe’s engine revved up. Harlan ran to the utility room, snapping the fluorescent light on as he flipped the switch by the door with learned instinct. The paint and compressed air brush was where he’d set them by the door. He grinned and grabbed them, spinning on his heel as his elbow flipped the softly humming fluorescent lights back off. Harlan trotted back out to the back yard, and slowed to watch his son handle the rented backhoe.

The sun was starting to settle in the west, giving a gold and pinks glow to the few overhead clouds. The breeze carried the scent of saltwater and fish from the Atlantic Ocean as he watched Dirk drop another load of dirt on the pile.

Dirk dropped the scoop next to the trench, then dug into the dark earth. The edge of the trench crumbled as the scoop hooked up a load of earth. The scoop curled under the arm, like an elephant’s trunk. Dirk lifted the hoe up then rotated to center the scoop over the pile of earth next to the backhoe. The scoop uncoiled, dumping the earth. He rotated the scoop back, leaning out the side window to gauge where to set the scoop for the next bite of earth. His blonde hair ruffled in the light breeze as he slowly dropped the scoop just in front of the previous gash. Harlan heard light footsteps behind him.

He looked back over his shoulder as his daughter stepped next to him. Willow Zachary stood as tall as her father, at one-point-nine meters. Her hair was mouse brown with red highlights in the sun. Willow might have conjured visions of a thin, tall woman, but she was almost as stocky as her father. She bore the weight well as she competed in girl’s soccer, rugby, and hockey at the Halifax Western High School. Willow just gotten home from her job at Henri’s auto repair. She was one of the student mechanics there, earning credits for a trade school position after graduation.

“Hey, I thought I was going to get a chance to run that.” Willow’s lower lip stuck out in a cute pout as Harlan glanced over at her. She’s got her mother’s delicate features, and my big ol’ body. Harlan let himself drift back through the years, to when he’d greeted her just after her mom’s labor. I could hold you in one hand you were so small. Now look at you, big as me and twice as smart. How did I get so lucky? Lord knows it can’t have been clean living. He turned his attention back to the backhoe, lest his daughter caught him daydreaming. The tw watched Dirk finish the second cut. “I’m gonna beash you da!” Harlan blinked. Oh yeah, the ‘race’! That’s what I get for daydreaming. He hustled out to the back yard, dragging the paint sprayer and carrying the white paint. “Willow! Come help me set up, your brother got a head start!” Laughing over her brother’s protests, Willow joined her father in marking out the parking area and driveway as Dirk chewed at the yard with the backhoe.

Harlan beeped the horn twice. The yowling beep of the horn was punctuated by Dirk’s shout. “Cfome on Mom! Weefe are waiting!” Ruth Zachary came gliding out the back door of the house, and glided to the passenger side door of the well cared for Chevrolet S-10. Barely one and a half meters tall and forty-five kilos fully clothed, she looked like a dainty Chihuahua next to a bunch of burly Rottweilers. But like the old saying, she was a small woman with a BIG attitude.

“What kept you?”, Harlan queried as she sat down and reached for the seat belt. “There was something about a disaster in California on the radio. The news said it was big, but there were no details about what happened.” “Huh.” Harlan backed the S-10 up and out onto the paved road. “California’s got earthquakes, maybe that big one all those scientists have been predicting happened.” He dropped the transmission into drive, and drove down the street towards downtown Halifax.

Hack the Future part 10 ( Steven Schaufler & J Dark )

„I am Irelle.“she continued, as if nothing out of the ordinary had just happened. Then she turned briefly to her companions and addressed them as well. „Remember, don’t harm them! We are here to enter into a contract with them.“ The two elves simply nodded, and raised their glasses towards TJ and Blade. Waiting.

„As I said earlier, I wish to discuss a job with you, should you be interested.“ she looked directly at TJ. Her golden, cat-like eyes locking on his – which no longer seemed to be the dark, thunderclouds they’d been just moments ago, but had reverted to his usual bluish-gray, and holding them in an eerie, unblinking stare. She raised her glass to his. Watched. Waited. He was still angry but, more than that, he was curious. He almost seemed confused. Irelle’s lip twitched slightly in what might’ve been amusement.

„If you raise your glass and drink, we’ll negotiate. If you set the glass on the table, we will leave in peace. No harm will come to you through me or mine.“ She finished that last sentence with a smile that showed her teeth. If anything, that smile only made her look even more dangerous.

TJ had been unfazed by her intent stare, though as she finished speaking, he sighed softly. There was the briefest moment where he glanced towards Blade, then he closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and index finger. He almost wished his partner weren’t here. Almost. Oh well, he couldn’t keep all of his secrets forever, and if there was ever a time to spill this particular one, it was now. „In peace, you say?“ he muttered softly. But if he wanted an answer, he didn’t wait for it, for even as Irelle nodded, he muttered even more softly „Very well…“ Dropping his hand from his nose, he slid it under the glass. Letting the container rest on his palm, while he steadied it with his other hand. He raised it to the elven woman and nodded, then turned the glass by one hundred and eighty degrees, before he intoned formally „Vala zhi; Vala zhi’rha; hla zhi, zhi’rha Vala!“ before flashing Irelle a wide, insolent grin.

The four surprised gasps that assaulted his ears in unison were like music, the incredulous stares from Blade and Irelle’s gophers washed over him like a gentle breeze, and seeing sorceress’s aloof poise shatter, if only for an instant, brought a self-satisfied smile to his lips. He brought the glass to his lips and took a long, deep drink, then sighed softly as he savoured the taste of the rich, amber liquid. Damn! It’s been ages since I had this stuff… Never one to let opportunities slip by, TJ reached down and lightly patted Irelle’s foot, just before he gingerly pinched the sole of her shoe at its open-toed tip not unlike he’d pinched his nose just a moment ago, and moved her dangerously positioned leg aside. „Serrahn, and not a recent vintage either“; he mused aloud after swallowing the heady fruit wine. „Someone came prepared, it seems.“

„Not prepared enough, evidently“ Irelle replied, her eyes meeting his. Watching him curiously and carefully, as the moment of surprise finally faded. Her guards glared daggers at him and, from the corner of his eye he could see Blade looking at him with an expression that seemed a perplexed amalgam of ‘What the fuck?’ and ‘We need to talk!’ Still, he couldn’t quite get that smug grin off his face, so he merely shrugged and addressed the blonde elf. Who, he noted pleasantly, had also taken a drink, just as her helpers did. „Twice now, you mentioned a job. So why don’t you be a dear and kindly elaborate on the nature of said job?“

If Irelle was irritated, she hid it well. Once again, she made sure her hair didn’t cover her runes, then she took another sip of wine before setting the glass on the table and slowly standing with as much grace as she showed when sitting down. „I will of course get to that“; she said in that soft soprano of hers. „Though as we’ve reached an accord, there is something I must do before then.”

And so she did. Once again she held his gaze, as if to convince him that she really didn’t mean him any harm, as she reached out her hand and slipped it under the collar of his shirt.

Those long, slender fingers felt cool against his skin and, though he knew it wasn’t the case, it was as if she was caressing him. That impression was brief, however, because he suddenly felt her nails dig into the flesh of his shoulder, just around the angry wound the bullet had left earlier today. The pain was much the same, if not worse, and it was only the fact she held his gaze that he didn’t flinch. He wouldn’t give her the satisfaction. So he simply sat there with gritted teeth and clenched fists, as her elven magic knitted his flesh and skin back the way it was before that Dayner fucker shot him.

It took all of ten or fifteen seconds before his shoulder looked and felt like new. After Irelle had withdrawn her hand, he rolled it a few times just to be sure but, it didn’t even feel sore anymore. The blonde elf smirked. „And you’re back to one hundred percent!“ With that she turned to face Blade, and slowly dropped down onto one knee, and even as TJ muttered „So I am, much obliged.“

The elf’s sharp nails dug into his partner’s damaged leg. He smiled as he watched the process. Having just gone through it himself, over a much smaller area, he could only imagine the pain Blade must be feeling right about now. As such, that she only sucked in a sharp breath through her teeth showed she was as tough -or as stubborn- as he was. Nodding encouragement at her, he reached over and clamped a hand over her shoulder in support.

Fixing Blade’s leg had taken decidedly longer, though how much longer he couldn’t say. And he took another mental note of how all this healing magic didn’t seem to wear Irelle out in the slightest. On the contrary, he’d watched the elf, and halfway through the process, she had suddenly blinked, then grinned almost wickedly as she cast a sidelong glance up at him. Standing slowly after she was done, Irelle still wore that wicked, secretive grin, and she trailed her long fingers along Blade’s natural arm, then along her shoulder and neck. When she leaned in, TJ almost thought the sorceress might plant a kiss on his partner but, she merely gazed at her as her fingers brushed along one of Blade’s ears.

Irelle frowned. TJ quirked his brow at Blade in an unspoken question but she didn’t meet his eyes. Instead, he heard Irelle laugh, and wished he hadn’t. As musical as it sounded, it was a decidedly eerie laugh, which stopped as suddenly as it begun. The runes on the side of her head flashed white hot, and she spun towards the mages just as TJ saw them both reach for their wands. So much for peace!

Hack the Future part 9 ( Steven Schaufler & J Dark )

The elf priestess, took one glass, then stepped around the table towards TJ. Blade glanced down at the elf’s feet to avoid making eye contact. Her eyes widened as she saw the woman’s shoes. The stiletto heeled shoes were open toed, and strapped like a roman sandal. The back heel was actually a sheath, with a four inch double-edged blade held in place by the long straps. A button above the guard of the blade held it in place, and a simple pull would free it. She set the glass on the table, then walked back around, and levitated the second glass to the edge of the table in front of Blade. Blade saw this as hopeful. That she took the time to personally place the glass in front of TJ meant she was not here to kill anyone, and that she did truly want to discuss something as equals, not as master to servant.

She motioned the two men forward, then levitated glasses up to hover in front of them. The two mages placed their wands into small sheathes on their belts, and slowly plucked the glasses out of the air. The runes on the side of her half-shaven head glowed, and TJ gasped as the spell was canceled. The sorceress purred in a soft soprano, “The show was to get your attention.” She gestured and a folding chair floated out of the corner, unfolded and set itself down behind her. She lowered gracefully to the seat, somehow making the movements remind Blade of a stalking predator. The woman ignored Blade, instead leaning towards TJ, her white dress outlining her curves.

She smiled then used a hand to push her blonde hair away from the runes. “I will offer wine, as a token of respect, and to prove my intentions, while flamboyant, are not intended to cause you harm, nor disrespect.” She looked back at the broken pieces of the once-solid oak door. A gesture swept the pieces into a spinning maelstrom that quickly reassembled into a wood door once more. The door floated, then settled back to the ground. The metal pieces remained where they fell. The elven lady looked to the mages.

Fae magic. It can’t affect anything with iron. But she used her hands to touch the guns. She’s not a normal elf. Unlike a full elf, she wasn’t injured by contact with ferrous items like nails, doorknobs, or door hinges. Iron was like silver to werewolves, a potent poison for long as they were contacted by it. The iron would act like salt on a garden slug, eating its way through the body and corroding the flesh it touched.

“I am Irelle”, she continued in her soft soprano. She turned to gaze at the two mages. “Rremember, We are here to offer them a contract. D do not attack them” They nodded politely, and held their drinks out towards TJ and Blade.

“As I said earlier I have a job for you, if you are interested.” She looked TJ in the eyes, her golden cat eyes meeting his dark brown ones in an unblinking stare. She raised her drink, and waited. TJ seemed angry, and confused. “If you raise your glass, we’ll negotiate, if you place the glass on the table, we will leave politely.” Irelle smiled, showing her teeth. Blade felt like she was looking at a opened straight razor. It was all on TJ. She shut her eyes and remained absolutely still, hoping to avoid any attention. Teej, this feels way to formal for ‘just some job’. WAY too formal. I hope you pick up on that.

– – –

This day just keeps getting and better! TJ thought to himself as he watched the elven intruder’s every move. After everything that had happened today, he had a strong urge to hurt somebody and vent his anger and frustration. This ‘visitor’ would do. Granted, he couldn’t move but, if looks could kill, that elf wouldn’t have managed to finish her last sentence. But she did. And somewhere beneath his roiling anger he felt a faint hint of curiosity bubble to the surface.

He was only peripherally aware of the guards and Blade, who was being uncharacteristically quiet for some reason.  His eyes followed the slender blonde’s every move and gesture.  As such, his lips quirked in annoyance when he couldn’t figure out just where she suddenly got that bottle from. There was no way he could’ve missed her reaching into her cloak, so the only explanation was some sort of silent conjuration. That, of course, meant she was even more dangerous than he’d initially assumed. Not a pleasant thought but, one reinforced by the way the coffee table slid back as if on its own accord, followed by several glasses drifting over from the now open cupboard. By the time the elf upended the green bottle and filled all five glasses at once, he was more irritated than surprised. Damn, this one loves to show off, doesn’t she?

When her guards stepped into the room after a nearly imperceptible motion of her fingers, he realized his first impression was slightly off. They weren’t dressed in brown, so much as they were just… drab. Some tan here, some olive drab there, several washed out shades of grey and green tossed into the mix to break up the monotony when seen up close. At a distance however, they would blend into any environment. He recognized them for what they were by the implements they had tucked about their person, and while he was confident he could take on one in a fight, two of them would be a challenge, even without their soft-spoken handler. Two of the filled glasses hovered towards them, and after tucking their wands almost reluctantly into their belts, they took them almost in unison.

The mysterious blonde smiled faintly as a nearby fold out chair hovered towards her, unfolding and lowering to the ground between the coffee table and the couch. Her blood-red robe fell open to reveal a white dress which clung to her like a second skin, emphasizing what curves she did have on that slender form of hers, as much or more so, than the plunging yet narrow neckline did. And she was seated with an almost cat-like grace the moment the chair touched the ground.

The runes on the side of her head glowed faintly, even as she raised one of her slender legs to casually rest it on the couch. TJ gasped. Not just because of the sudden end of the compulsion but, because of the literal stiletto heel that was resting almost absently between his legs, just a few millimeters from his crotch. One wrong move and he’d be a eunuch. Or worse. He glowered at the elf, and his fists clenched so hard that his knuckles turned as white as the elf’s dress.

The sorceress smiled as she brushed back some of her hair which had fallen across her runes. She had leaned forward, presenting one of the filled glasses to TJ. „I will offer wine, as a token of respect“ Keeping her leaned forward position, she glanced back over her shoulder and gave subtle flick of her fingers, only for the disintegrated door to swirl in a cloud of splinters and slowly but surely reform itself. Showing off again! He thought to himself. I wonder if that view down your dress you’re offering is part of your ‘intentions’ as well… Hearing her hiss softly, he looked up to see the door settle gently onto the carpet. Only the metal hinges remained where they had landed in the explosion. Huh… so she is affected by iron. I wonder why touching our guns bare handed didn’t seem to faze her…