Sunday, September 28, 2008

Answered Prayer, Part 9

Sunlight was already streaming through the window when he woke up, filling the space with warm, yellow light. Dawn was lying on his chest. He gave her a squeeze. Her eyes opened slowly.

"Morning, beautiful," he said.

"Morning," she said, then kissed his chest.

"So what's the plan for today?"

"I don't know," she pulled herself up and put her head on the pillow next to him, "Maybe we should just stay right here."

"That sounds like a great idea."

"I thought so." She began drawing lazy circles on his chest with her fingertips.

"So, uh, where were you?" he asked.

"Where was I when? I've been right here."

"I mean when it happened."

She winced.

"It's okay," Rob said. "You don't have to tell me if you don't want."

"No, it's..." she smiled, although it was more of a grimace, "It's just that it was..."

"You don't have to say anything, really."

"I was with him," she said, all trace of hesitation gone from her voice.


"I was trying to break it off with him," she snorted, "Like I'd done so many times."

"I see."

She propped herself up on an elbow and looked down at him. "You know those people, right? The ones that you can't stand to be around because they make you feel like shit, but whenever you try to get rid of them you just...don't. Well, Colin was like that. I mean, not always. Just, you know, later. After I'd been with him for a while."

She smiled wistfully. "When I first met him he seemed wonderful. He was one of those people who could find you in a crowd and make you feel like the only other person on the whole planet. I wanted him. I think I fell in love with him." She shrugged. "He was married, of course, but that didn't matter. He told me he wasn't happy with his wife, that he would break it off if it weren't for the effect it would have on his children and his career. Of course I believed him." A tear formed at the corner of her eye. "I was so stupid then."

Rob reached up and stroked her cheek. "No, you weren't."

"I was," she smiled, "And I know what you're trying to do. Thank you."

"What am I trying to do?"

"Make me feel better about being stupid. I was twenty, I'd been pretty sheltered, and I was stupid. I'm a lot smarter now."

"Just so you know."

She kissed him. "I do. Anyway, I think I was telling you a story."


"Oh, yeah, Colin. All the guys I'd dated before were young and self-centered. I was just kind of an accessory to them or something to do on a Saturday night. I like to think that it's because they were young and stupid, then, too, but I don't know."

"It's a good bet," Rob said. "I can't speak for all guys, but we're pretty stupid when it comes to that stuff."

"Yeah. But Colin wasn't. He was caring and kind. Now, of course, I know that he was being self-centered, too, he was just better at it than the boys I'd been with before."

"Sounds like it."

"Yeah," she nodded. "About a year ago I found out that he'd pulled the same exact routine with another one of the station interns about two years before I got the job. She'd graduated and gone back home, so he just took the next one who came along. That was me.

"Maybe I should be flattered, I don't know, but he didn't drop me when I graduated. We kept right on seeing each other, he kept right on lying to me, and I kept right on believing him.

"Then, of course, I found out that I wasn't his first. I got pissed and started yelling at me. He apologized, said that he was lying to himself and the girl from before, but now he wasn't lying to me. And I believed him. I told him I'd wait for him. And I did, for a while. Then he hurt me again. I yelled at him again. He lied again. I believed him again."

Rob snaked his arm around her and pulled her close. "I'm so sorry."

"For what?"

"I don't know," he kissed her on the forehead, "For what you went through, I guess."

"It's not your fault."

"I know. Still..."

"Thank you." She kissed his cheek. "But it's okay. He's gone now. Literally."


Her voice dropped low. "I watched it happen."


"We were at this cheap motel down in Bolingbrook. I was supposed to be breaking up with him for, like, the fifth time, but instead, well...

"So I got out of bed afterward. I knew that I couldn't break it off. I just wasn't strong enough and whenever I tried he'd talk me back out of it. I turned around and looked at him lying in that bed and I remember I prayed. I said, 'God, I'm not strong enough to do this. Save me from him. Save me from me.'" She paused.

"At that exact moment he disappeared. It was like...he was there...then there was a hole in the sheets and they just collapsed. I...I think there was even a pop."

Rob stared at her for a second. "Wow."

"I know."

"There," he took a deep breath, "There's something I have to tell you. Two somethings, actually."


The response was swallowed up when someone began pounding on the apartment door.

"Hold on," Rob said. He slipped out of bed and grabbed his jeans off the floor. He pulled them on, then grabbed his Glock off the dresser and slipped it in to his back pocket.

He went to the front door and cautiously opened it. Two men in black suits were standing in the hallway, flanked by a pair of fully armed Army privates.

One of the suits spoke. "Sergeant Alexander Simkins." It was a statement not a question.

Rob fought off the urge to grab the Glock and start firing. He wouldn't stand a chance. "Yes," he said.

"You'll come with us." Once again it wasn't a request.

RPG Teaser 2: The Technocratic Union

The Symposium: Pacific Northwest Orbital Construct

Dr. Michael Traveler turned on the teleconference system. At once, the far wall of his office vanished to be replaced by a virtual conference room. Symposium Chair James Thorndyke was already present. One by one, the other Symposium members winked in, followed by the week's guest speakers.

Thorndyke cleared his throat and everyone turned to look at him. "Ladies and gentlemen, we have convened a special meeting of the Symposium today to discuss an appropriate response yesterday's catastrophe and the ongoing crisis." Thorndyke looked around the room then asked the newcomers to introduce themselves.
One Japanese man introduced himself as Tetsuo Kawashita of the Syndicate, substituting for the usual representative who has lost two daughters. One other newcomer had a similar reason for being there. The rest had reports to present.

The first report was from the Void Engineers. The speaker wore the standard orange jumpsuit, but didn't carry it off with the usual Void Engineer attitude. The fact that he looked like he hadn't slept in thirty-six hours might have had something to do with it.

From him, they learned that the Incursion, which seemed to have already acquired a capital I, had gone from Darkside Moonbase to the Front Lines in less than a second. Every Horizon Construct in between had been struck, and nothing had been heard from any of the Union's other in solar system Constructs. It would be at least two weeks before anyone heard anything from any of the Deep Universal Constructs.

Then came a from Iteration X listing estimates of the missing and dead. Over two billion vanished, most of them children. Approximately thirty million more dead from medical crises or trauma. As the Iterator listed the Union's missing, Traveler found himself paying close attention to what she said about the missing constructs. Five percent or less non-human DNA. Was that significant? And apparently the remaining constructs displayed a level of individuality deemed unacceptable by the cyborg or her master. Traveler had to stifle his gut reaction to that assessment. The Iterator moved on to missing prisoners. Fifty-one prisoners had vanished from holding, all of them from the Celestial Chorus. Yet not every Chorister had vanished, and the Statisticians were puzzling over why.

"Trust a cyborg to miss miss the obvious," thought Traveler as he buzzed for attention. "You have input for us, Director?" asked the Iterator.

Traveler nodded. "My facility had three such prisoners vanish. All of them self-identified as Evangelical Christians. Of the four Chorus prisoners remaining in my facilities, one claims to be a Mithraist, two are Catholic, and one is a 7th Day Adventist. I suggest that you look into what religious sects the missing prisoners belonged to."

The Iterator, stopped, apparently watching a Heads Up Display. Then she spoke, "I have passed your observation to my superiors. They consider it worth looking into. Does anyone else have similar data?" Philip Austin of NWO Operations and Elaine Koenig of Psych Ops both looked down at their personal consoles, murmuring instructions to their computers.

"Not immediately," said Austin. "I'll have to put the data together later and forward it to Statistics."

Koenig looked up from her console, "Preliminary examination of Psych Ops records is consistent with Dr. Traveler's observation. I'll forward the complete records after the conference."

As the Iterator continued, a change in her normally uninflected voice caught Traveler's attention. An Iterator expressing emotion? Fear from the sound of it. "Most of you are no doubt familiar with the Apocalypse Forecast,*" she said. "This is an update. The crisis has begun, and we are unable to forecast anything beyond seven years."

That announcement nearly broke up the meeting as some people jumped up and started shouting while others sagged in their seats. The Iterator Programmer and the regional Comptroller merely sat waiting for everyone to settle down. Finally, Thorndyke had to lean hard on his buzzer to get everyone's attention.

"People! Before we worry about the next seven years, let's worry about getting through the next seven days shall we? For that, we need to know what's going on."

"Mr. Austin, what's the report from the Front Lines?"

"Well, accidents are up for reasons previously noted. In addition, suicides are up and there's been a few cases of people going nuts with guns, looking for someone to blame as far as we can tell.

We've been trying to help the mundane authorities where we can, but our available personnel are stretched thin responding to an upsurge in Deviant activity. It doesn't help that many Front Lines operatives are unable to work to, well, personal losses.

"Marauder and Nephandic activity are up. The Marauders seem to be just taking advantage of the Gauntlet breach, but damned if it doesn't look like the Nephandi were tipped off if not actually following a plan. No proof, unfortunately. Vampire activity is up. Seems to be just a case of taking advantage of the confusion. Lycanthrope attacks are way up and I'm getting reports of types I hadn't heard of before, felines, rats, a bear. Dr. Traveler's people have been very helpful dealing with them." He looked over at Traveler who'd suddenly sat up at the mention of a bear, "How the hell did you know? Nobody else seems to have anticipated that one."

Traveler shrugged. "Lycanthropes are my specialty. Basically you need to know two things. The first one, any field op who's ever encountered them knows; lycanthropes don't cope well with stress, and when they're over stressed they turn into 8-9 foot tall monsters with lots of built-in weaponry. The second thing is less well known; lycanthropy is inherited. In other words, they have families."

"Oh my god," burst out Barbara Sloan from Analysis. "They're lashing out. Just like the people with the guns."

Traveler nodded. "Bingo. And there's more of them in cities than you'd expect." A thought struck him and he bit off a curse in his native language. "You mentioned rats? Hell, we'll have to deal with epidemics anyway, but wererats will exacerbate the problem. They're plague carriers, enhanced plague carriers. You'll need to isolate anyone bitten by one of the creatures, and get them to a top level facility as soon as possible."

"They are?" said Austin. "Shit. Well, you're the expert." He made a couple of notes. "Superstitionist attacks on our facilities have also increased. Speaking of lashing out, at least some of the superstitionists seem to be blaming us for what happened."

Everyone digested that for a few seconds.

Thorndyke finally broke the silence, "So, the floor is open. Does anyone have any ideas for what we can do?"

"We'll need to get the most psychologically traumatized field personnel into counseling and put them back to work as quickly as possible," said Koenig. Kawashita asked if it would be possible to just put a temporary block on the emotions while leaving the patients' memories intact instead of wiping the memories completely. Koenig looked at him blankly. "But that would be inefficient. We'd just have to treat them again." Traveler managed to hide his appalled reaction, but noticed that several others at the table were less successful. The Iterators didn't react, no surprise there, but neither did Thorndyke. Either he was hiding his reaction too, or he didn't care. Traveler hoped he never had to find out which. The Psych Op was certainly living down to her department's reputation.

Just then, an attention chime sounded indicating that someone else wanted to join the conference. By the priority code, it was someone with serious pull.

The conference room reconfigured itself to make room for the newcomer, an older man of clearly Germanic descent in a white suit. He introduced himself as Martin Arendt, speaking for Control. The remainder of the Symposium was spent discussing Control's planned response to the Incursion, both internally and in terms of the Union's efforts to influence the world's governments.

*I didn't invent this; it's from the Guide to the Technocracy. Basically it states that there's a close to 75% probability of a world-shaking crisis occurring within the next ten years.

Crossposted to Right Behind RPG

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Answered Prayer, Part 8

The cop was sloppy. His charge had noticed it almost immediately and prepared to take advantage by being extra docile. It was working.

"Can't believe the Army would go to all the effort to pull jurisdiction for a guy like you," the cop said. "Hell, it was just a drunk and disorderly. And you're neither right now."

"They take this shit seriously," the criminal replied, shrugging and shuffling slightly closer to his captor, "That's the Army for you." The sally port was already open, the cop had been kind enough to cuff his hands in front. It was just a matter of waiting for the right moment.

"I wonder if that's them?" the cop said, focusing on a black car a few blocks down.

It was the moment. The prisoner's hands flashed towards the distracted policeman's holster and came up with his service Glock. "Get down, now," the prisoner commanded.

The cop complied. "Don't shoot me," he pleaded. "I've got a wife. I've got kids."

"I'm not gonna kill you. Give me the keys to these cuffs and I won't do a damn thing to hurt you."

Again the officer complied. It would have been a perfect getaway had it not been for one thing. The black car was actually the one with the MPs who were coming to pick him up. And they had definitely noticed that something was amiss.

The prisoner looked up just as the car began accelerating. He abandoned his attempts to remove the handcuffs and instead took off running. There was an alleyway a block down with dumpsters at the entrance, too narrow for a car. He cut down it.

The black car screeched in to a turn and followed him down a parallel street. He turned in to another alleyway and crossed a busy street, narrowly avoiding getting hit.

He cut right, then left. The black car was always there, always a block away, always turning the corner in time to catch sight of him.

Then it was all over.

He came to the mouth of an alleyway at the exact same moment the black car screeched around a corner, nearly clipping a blue Subaru WRX on the fender.

The doors opened. One of the MPs advanced on him, training an M4 at his head. The other stood out in the street, acting as cover.

"Drop the gun," the cop commanded.

The prisoner complied.

"Get on your knees and put your hands on top of your head.

Again the prisoner complied.

"Now don't try anything funny. I am authorized to put a bullet in your head "

He was completely out of options. There was nowhere left to run, nowhere he could hide. The only chance he had was the last resort of the desperate.

"God," he whispered up to the sky, "I know I don't talk to you, I don't do what you want too often, and, hell, I'm not sure I believe in you. But I can't stand to get locked up. Help me out and I'll change my ways."

And with that the MP in front of him vanished in to thin air.

His uniform suddenly emptied itself of its contents and seemed to waver in the air for just a second before gently collapsing to the ground. The gun clattered to the pavement and the sudden shock worked the mechanism once, firing a round that narrowly missed the confused prisoner's right ear.

Somewhere off in the distance someone shrieked. Tires squealed. There was a crunch of metal.

Silence fell over the scene.

The other MP looked down at the empty uniform, then up at the man crouching in the alley. His jaw worked once, twice. No words came out.

"Wha..." he finally managed to get out. He stepped backwards, eyes locked on the mysterious stranger.

He never noticed that he was stepping in front of a car.

It screamed down the road, empty, driverless, as unaware of the man in the road as the man was of it.

The MP bounced off the front of the car and out of sight. The car swerved to the left and tried to do the same thing to a light post. The car lost.

Silence again reigned. "That...that wasn't quite what I had in mind," the former prisoner said after a long moment. He pulled the handcuff keys out of his pocket and fumbled with them for a moment. Freed, he let them clatter to the pavement and stood up.

A sound from the unoccupied car startled him. He grabbed the Glock and started to swing it in line. The passenger door opened and a young woman fell out. She tried to push herself up, but then collapsed. She pushed herself up one more time, then began puking.

He decided she was no threat and put the pistol in his pocket, then grabbed the M4 and cautiously poked his head out in to the street. No one was there but him and the puking woman.

The Subaru was still sitting exactly where it had been when the black car cut it off. It was idling quietly, driverless.

He walked over and looked in through the windshield. A puddle of clothes sat on the driver's seat, the only indication anyone had ever been in the vehicle.

Not one to overlook a true gift, he opened the door of the car and pulled the clothes out, then switched wallets with the disappeared. "Sorry, man," he told the jeans as he dropped them on the pavement. "Looks like I need your identity more than you do right now."

He dropped his two newly acquired guns in the trunk, then got in the Subaru and pulled around the empty Army car. As he did the woman rolled over and looked at him.

"Help me," she said through her puke stained face, clutching her side, obviously in pain.

He drove past her. It was her problem. Something pricked him in the back of his mind. He'd made a promise. He stopped the car and backed it up, then helped the woman in.

"I don't understand," she said. "One minute he was there, then he wasn't."

"I don't, either."

He took the woman to the closest hospital, but didn't stick around. As soon as an Emergency Room orderly arrived to help, he took off as fast as he possibly could. Something strange had happened and he had to take advantage of it. He tuned in to a news station to see if anyone had noted the disappearance, only to discover that it wasn't an isolated case. People were gone all over the city.

On the outskirts of Phoenix he stopped at a storage locker to get some things he knew he was going to need. Years of practice had taught him exactly how to run.

He filled the Subaru's tank at a nearby gas station and pointed the car in the general direction of New Mexico. As he headed east in to the desert, he pulled out his newly acquired wallet and looked at the driver's license.

"Hey," he said to the rear view mirror, deciding to practice using his new identity. "I'm Robert. What's up. Robert. Nice to meet you."

He decided he really didn't like the sound of Robert.

"Hey," he said to the mirror, "I'm Rob."

The irony of his new name suddenly hit him. He laughed for the first time in days.

The car soon felt lonely, though. Quiet. He plugged a Dead Hot Workshop CD in to the car's CD player. There was nothing better for a long drive through the desert. Well, them or the Peacemakers.

I'm too tired for sleeping
Fast asleep but I'm not dreaming
Look for truth in aberration
Sinned to much to be forgiven.

I walked from Hell to here today
The world is young as it is wild
For every step you plan to take
Plan to walk another mile
Don't confuse yourself
If it don't mean anything

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Answered Prayer, Part 7

"Why would the American ambassador just offer to de-arm?" the bartender asked.

"I don't know," Rob said, "But it makes about as much sense as China and Russia offering to adopt a U.N. sanctioned religion."

"I can't see the French going for that, either," Dawn added. "And I think India is one of the current Elected Members, so I doubt they'd support it."

Rob and the bartender turned and looked at her.

"What?" she held her hands up, "I was a poli sci minor. I'm a total politics geek."

Rob shook his head. "I wish I'd known what I was getting in to."

"Hey, you decided to stick around."

"I guess I did." He turned back to the bartender, "Um, hate to change the subject, but can I get a cheeseburger?"

"Sure thing," the bartender replied, looking relieved to be thinking about something different. "And for you, miss?"

"I'll have one, too," Dawn said.

"Nice," Rob said, smiling.


"I like a girl who can order a cheeseburger."

"Then you'll love this," she winked at him, then turned back to the bartender. "I'll take a Johnnie Walker Black. Rocks." She looked back at him. "Your move."

"Maker's," Rob said. "Double, neat."

* * *

They left the bar three hours later, the strange video long forgotten. She was having a hard time standing up straight. Rob was more than happy to wrap his arm around her waist and keep her walking in a straight line.

"I just want you to know," Dawn said, slurring her words slightly, "That I usually don't drink like this."

"It shows."

They got to his car and he helped her in to the passenger's seat. "Hey, Rob?" she asked as he started to close her door.


"Let's not go back to Colin's place."

"Where do you want to go?"

"It just so happens that I have a perfectly cute little apartment of my own." She smiled up at him. "Let's go there."


He ran around the car and hopped in on the driver's side. As soon as he pulled away from the curb Dawn rolled down the window and began gulping in huge lungfuls of air. "Okay," she said after a minute, looking and sounding quite a bit more sober, "I'll have to give you directions."

"That would be nice."

An uneventful ten-minute drive brought them to a little apartment complex set off the road in a leafy residential neighborhood. She led him through a security door, up a staircase, down a hall, and in to a bright apartment decorated in reds, blacks, and whites and organized along sharp, straight, modern lines. "Here we are," she said. "Take off your shoes, please."

"Really?" He asked, kicking off his shoes. "This doesn't look at all like what I imagined your place would look."

"I got the stuff in this room from my sister," she replied. "The bedrooms and the kitchen are all me, though." She walked over to a stereo in the corner and turned it on. A soft guitar filled the room, followed by a Scottish-accented tenor voice.

Row gently down the waves as they grow
Unlike the land the sea can let its pride show
When you're hand in hand in a storm's command
Let the boat go gently

"I love this song," Dawn said, walking back across the floor and taking Rob by the hand.

If morning ever breaks its spell
We'll be floating on a heaven that whispers hell
And the wind sounds like the world is waking
So row gently now

She led him over to the couch. He sat down and she put her leg up on the couch so she was sitting facing him. "Um," she said, shyly, "So..."

Between every grain of sand there are chances
And better times to make advances
The walls of stone
That we'll leave behind us

He looked in to her eyes for a moment, then put his hand behind her head and leaned towards her. Their lips met.

As we go now into the blue, into the blue
Whatever this moment turns into
Go now into the blue, into the blue
Whatever this moment turns into

She pulled back slightly. "You're a good kisser," she said, then met his lips again.

Let the sails down, let them blow
When we're awake we won't feel so alone
The tide has its pride, but it's a pride that comes and goes
First so strong then so gently

He stopped, then looked at her for a long moment.

"What?" she finally asked.

"I don't know," he shrugged, "I'm just trying to figure out how I got here."

"Don't think about it," she said, "It can only ruin the moment."

There are hills beyond these hills
Where the air is still grey in its mystery
That thankfully will always remain a mystery to me

"C'mon," she said, grabbing his hand and standing up. "Let's see if we can't find a way to get you to stop thinking about the past for a little while."

As we go now into the blue, into the blue
Whatever this moment turns into
Go now into the blue, into the blue
Whatever this moment turns into

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Answered Prayer, Part 6

"Welcome, welcome, friend," the dark-haired man said, sticking out his hand, "I'm Christopher."

Rob shook the offered hand. "Rob. It's, uh, it's nice to meet you."

"We were just about to sit down for the evening meal," the woman standing next to Christopher said, "Would you care to join us?"

"Sure," Rob said, "Thank you."

The couple, or at least he assumed they were a couple, led Rob in to the house. "We don't get too many visitors out here," the woman said, "But we like to be hospitable."

"Not too many are these days," Rob replied.

"Well, it's important for us to display the love to everyone," she said, "We are the chosen, after all."

"I see," Rob said, unsure of how to reply. "By the way, I didn't catch your name."


"Are you married? I mean, to each other?"

"Oh, no," she laughed. "There's no marriage here."

"I see."

Rob fell silent and let them lead him through the house and out the back. They ended up in a large barn. A pair of long, wooden tables ran most of the length of the building. Each table was about half occupied, with men ranging in age from about seventy to maybe fifteen sitting on the inside and women, mostly skewed towards younger ages, sitting on the outside.

"Take a seat," Christopher said, gesturing towards an empty spot next to a young man and across from a blond teenage girl.

Rob took the offered seat. He shook hands with the guy sitting next to him. "Rob."

"Charlie." Nice to meet you.

He turned to the girl, who smiled shyly, then looked down at the table. "Hey, I'm Rob," he said.

She looked up, smiled again, and mumbled something. "That's Kristen," Charlie said. "She's kind of shy, but once you get to know her better...well, you'll learn, I'm sure."


Rob didn't get a response. Christopher had taken a position at the head of one of the tables. He loudly cleared his throat and began speaking.

"Friends," he said, "Today is a truly auspicious day. I have heard from the lord. He has given me a message to share with you all. It has been ten days since the Lord took away our enemies and our work is finally to begin."

Rob risked a look across the table at Kristen. She was staring at Christopher with rapt attention and an expression somewhere between love and worship. He turned and caught a glance at a couple of the men at the other table. They, too, had adopted an expression of worship. He began to feel distinctly uncomfortable.

He pulled his jacket close to his side as unobtrusively as possible. The reassuring bulk of the Glock in its concealed pocket offered a bit of comfort.

"We have waited for the prophesied day," Christopher continued, "The day that the Lord removes the lukewarm church from this world and takes the innocents in to his divine protection so that we can begin the true work of preparing this world for the imminent return of the Messiah.

"And much work must be done to prepare this world. For the Good Book commands, 'Go ye therefore and multiply and subdue the Earth.' And that it what we will do. Tonight the Lord told me it is time to begin multiplying so that we might raise new children in the proper way.

"I have told you," he voice lowered, "That the sins of this world will be repaid to it seven fold. The Lord has shown that He is displeased with the heathens, the heretics, and the false believers for raising the innocent to be full of carnal and worldly knowledge. So the Lord has taken the innocents away.

"It is now time," his voice rose, "Time for us. It is time for us to multiply. It is time for us to subdue. It is time for us to lead the world in the Lord's name," he finished nearly at a yell.

The young man next to Rob had turned his attention to the girl across the table. He was studying her with a lustful gaze. Everything suddenly clicked in to place. He wanted to run.

"I'm so glad you've come to join us," Kristen said from across the table. "I didn't think I'd be able to play my part in the Lord's plan."

"You, uh, you what?"

"I've been preparing my entire life for this moment," she smiled at him, "But as the youngest, I didn't think I would have a chance. This is a great blessing."

"The youngest? How old are you?"


Rob swallowed hard and blinked. "And you've been here your entire life?"

"Yes," she nodded enthusiastically, "I've been blessed to be born and raised here, in the Lord's new Eden."

"I have to go," Rob said. He began to get up from the table, but suddenly realized he was already standing. All he could think about was escape.

Several of the men had also stood up. They began to gather around him.

"What seems to be the commotion?" Christopher asked, stepping between two of the men to stand directly in front of Rob.

"I'm really not comfortable with...well, with whatever it is you're doing here," Rob said. "I think I'm going to go."

"But you haven't even had dinner," Christopher said. "I'm sure that it will all seem much better after you've filled your stomach."

"No, no, that's okay."

"Really, we insist."

"I do, too," Rob pulled out the Glock. The men all backed off a step. He turned to Kristen. "Look, I don't know you," he said, "But if things are happening here that I think are happening, you don't have to stick around."

"But it's the Lord's plan," she replied.

"No," Rob shook his head, "It isn't. Look, I don't know what god's plan is, but it's not this. This is just fucked up."

"I will not go with you," she said. "I will stay here and do the work the Lord has given me. The Good Book says that I will be blessed by my children, so I must play my part."

"I should put a bullet through your head," Rob said to Christopher, his voice lowering to an angry growl. "But I don't think that killing you will save that poor girl from being exploited by one of these other perverts."

One of the other men stepped in front of Christopher. "I don't think you have enough bullets to kill us all, mister. Do you?"

Rob's finger tightened on the trigger and for a brief moment he considered trying to get to Christopher. "No," he whispered, relaxing his grip, "I don't."

"These are our ways," Kristen said. "We live by the word of the Lord."

"I don't think that your god called you to have children with the first random guy who shows up," Rob said. "Christopher over here is exploiting you. You don't have to stay. Come with me. Please."

"You should probably go," Kristen said. "You obviously do not understand the ways of the Lord and will bring judgment down upon us if you stay."

Rob realized his was in a no win situation. He backed out of the barn, then turned and ran back to his Subaru.

As he got back on the road and pointed the car towards Missouri, he looked in the rear view mirror and made a simple vow. "I will never leave anyone behind again," he said to the empty highway behind him. "I've run away too many times."

RPG Teaser 1: The Technocratic Union

An Exchange of Memos

From: Research Director Michael Traveler, Progenitor Research and Education Collective Z234


Request for assistance

At approximately 2000 hours, [date] this facility suffered a complete failure of its dimensional shields. Whatever breached our shields did no equipment damage other than the shield generators; however, it took a large number of personnel as follows.

3 prisoners, all fanatics from the Celestial Chorus
Every child under the age of 10.
Several children between the ages of 11 and 15.
Every bioconstruct created in the facility that was based on human genetics and under two weeks of age or still in growth tanks.
17 bioconstructs in for treatment

In addition: Every pregnant woman in the facility suffered a spontaneous abortion (I wouldn't call it a miscarriage if there were no contractions.)

Several prisoners took advantage of the resulting confusion to attempt an escape. They have been recaptured.

We need assistance to defend the facility against future incursions and repair our shields. We do not have nearly enough combat personal.


attachments: list of missing personnel w/Ident codes
list of equipment damaged in escape attempt
surveillance video of incident

From: Henry Burford, Western North America Regional Administration
To: All facility directors
Re: Requested assistance

I know you don't pay attention to anything outside your own interests, but you're going to have to wait your turn for assistance. In case none of you prima donnas noticed, the whole planet and every Construct inside the Horizon was affected. If any of the Traditions were responsible for this, it appears to have been a small faction as preliminary surveillance suggests that they were affected as well.

Right now we're busy putting out fires on the Front Lines. You'll have to make do with what you've got.

Also, this week's Symposium is moved up to tomorrow at 1600 hours UTC for all Constructs in this region.


From: Research Director Michael Traveler, Progenitor Research and Education Collective Z234
To: Henry Burford, Western North America Regional Administration
Re: Front Lines Incursion

Wait a minute. The Front Lines were affected globally? If people disappeared in anything like the distribution we experienced, you'd better be prepared to respond to an upsurge in lycanthrope attacks. I'm not kidding. Get the word out immediately. I'll send as many people as I can spare to assist with handling such problems. They'll all be medically qualified as well. Also, I want as many live specimens as possible without endangering the public or unduly endangering the field personnel.


PS Can you at least get us temporary shielding while we prepare to receive casualties from the field? I'd hate lose them to another incursion after treating them.

Edit: Crossposted to Right Behind RPG

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Answered Prayer, Part 5

Sunlight was already streaming through the window when he woke up, filling the space with warm, yellow light. Dawn was lying on his chest. He gave her a squeeze. Her eyes opened slowly.

"Hey," she said, smiling. "You're still here."

He smiled back. "Of course."

"I was kind of worried this was going to be awkward."

"What? This?" He laughed. "I think this is one of the lest awkward, um, ones of these I've ever had."

"One of these?"

"Yeah. I'm not entirely sure what to call it. I mean, we weren't on a date, we didn't have sex, we are."

She reached up and stroked his right cheek, then kissed him on the left. "Plenty of time to worry about that later," she said. "But I believe you promised me that you'd be taking me out today."

"That I did."

* * *

There wasn't much going on in their little corner of suburban Chicago. Things seemed to be slowly returning to normal, but it looked like there was a long way to go. Some shops were open and engaging in desultory trading, bartering in kind as much as, if not more than, dealing in cash. People seemed to trust that cash was still good, but at the moment it was less useful than getting goods in trade.

"This is sad," Dawn said after they'd looked in their dozenth darkened window. "I mean, this is really sad."

"I'm guessing it'll be back," Rob said. "At least it doesn't look like there's been much looting."

"Well," she smiled up at him, "You didn't get to town until yesterday."

"Hey, now."

"I'm sure you'll have the problem fixed by the weekend." She slipped her arm around his waist and gave him a squeeze. It softened the blow considerably.

"I think I see a big rock over there," he laughed and put his arm around her. "I could show you how it's done."

"So should I feel honored that you decided not to break my window?"

"Nah. I just don't have time to teach you how to pick locks. It's easier for rookies to just throw something heavy."

"How about we just go over to that bar over there?" she pointed down the street.

"You think it's actually open?"

"Looks like it."

He checked his watch. "Well, it is nearly half past noon. And I'm pretty sure we don't have to be anywhere. Let's start drinking."

"Cool," she looked up at him and raised an eyebrow. "Colin didn't drink and wouldn't have the stuff in his house. I miss it."

"Ooh, that's rough. I think I'd kill myself if I had to spend two weeks stuck in a house without beer."

"It's my own fault."

"True. Let's go help you repent."

They walked down to the bar. It was open for business and occupied by a few people who obviously didn't have anywhere else to be. They ignored the tables and took a pair of seats at the bar.

"Menus?" the bartender asked, "Or just here for the ambiance?" he jerked his head towards a sullen pair at the far end of the room.

"Menus would be good," Rob said. "What do you have?"

"Pretty much anything 'cept the fish and anything that needs tomatoes."

"You take cash?"

The bartender raised an eyebrow. "Cash? Of course. Where do you think we are?"

"I, uh..."

"You a runner?"


The bartender nodded. "Ah. Yeah, civilization's still here. Best get used to it."

"Hey," Dawn cut in, "Turn that TV up."

There was a TV over the bar that had been playing a re-run of Two and a Half Men on mute. It had switched to a view of a pair of anchors sitting in a studio somewhere. The bartender grabbed a remote and turned the volume on."

"...disturbing video from the temporary U.N. headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. It shows the new Secretary-General Nicholae Carpathia's first address to the Security Council. The video was uploaded from a camera phone and no one is sure of the source."

The scene shifted to the middle of a grainy, low-fi video. The camera was behind the speaker, pointed more or less at the main table behind which sat the Security Council.

"We must unify to face this threat," the Secretary General was saying. "It is something that is much larger than the petty struggles that have so long divided us. I propose, therefore, that we take a first, symbolic step. We must disband the religions of the world and create a single, unified belief that all people can see, understand, and appreciate."

"What?" The Chinese ambassador stood, face flushed with rage. "You presume to come before this body with promises of assistance and this is what you give us? This...this...I do not even know what to say." The ambassador paused and took a deep breath. "China does not have an official state religion. It is an insult to suggest that we must have one now."

"I believe," Carpathia's voice was quiet, measured, "That you are mistaken in your assessment of the situation. You will go to your government and you will suggest that they comply with my suggestions. There can be no other way."

The Chinese ambassador suddenly seemed to deflate. "Y-yes. I will do as you say," he said mechanically, nodding. Then he sat down.

"Wait," the Russian ambassador stood. "This is foolishness. Even if you do convince the Chinese, Russia will not stand for this." He stopped. For the next several seconds he seemed to be listening to something, but no one was speaking. The ambassador nodded several times, then spoke again. "Ah, yes, I see," he said. "I will go to my government and suggest that they back your proposal."

The American ambassador stood next. "Perhaps we should propose additional measures."

"And what would those be?" Carpathia asked.

"I just had the thought that maybe we should consider drafting a plan to turn military control over to the United Nations. We are not safe as long as the world is an armed camp."

"Why that sounds like a wonderful idea," Carpathia replied. "I do not think I could have said it better myself."

"I second that motion," the British ambassador said.

The video abruptly ended. Rob, Dawn, and the bartender sat in silence, staring at the blank screen. Dawn was the first to find her voice.

"What the hell was that?"

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Answered Prayer, Part 4

He knew something was wrong when he pulled in to town. Something about the place was just off.

When the two guys in ratty military surplus camo holding suspiciously clean M-16s jumped out in front of his car, his suspicions were confirmed. Rob dropped the Subaru WRX STi into first, popped the clutch, and brought the car to a stop. He slipped the Glock under the coat sitting on the passenger seat, but kept his hand on the gun.

One of the M-16 guys walked up to his car, signaling that he should roll down the window. Rob complied.

"What brings you here, friend?"

"Just passing through. Looking for supplies, maybe a place to stay."

"This here's our territory. You can pass through, but it'll cost you."


The pseudo soldier stroked his long, red beard and squinted in to the car for a moment. He looked over at his partner. "Hey, T-Bone, he wants to know what it'll cost him."

T-Bone laughed. "Ask him what he's got."

Red beard looked back at Rob. "Well, whaddya got?"

"Um," Rob said, risking a quick glance over at T-Bone. His gun was trained on some point above the Subaru. Red beard's was slung over his shoulder. It was a good way to look like a badass. It was an even better way to look dead. "Well, I've got this."

The Glock flashed out from under the coat. Red beard never fully registered it before taking two rounds through the forehead. T-Bone was just beginning to react as Rob popped the clutch and slammed on the gas. The military wannabe somehow managed to get out of the way. He even swung his rifle around quickly enough to get a burst off.

The right side of the Subaru suddenly dropped and the car jerked around. Rob swore, swung the wheel and turned the jerk in to a sideways skid. He'd lost a tire.

Three more rounds thudded in to the side of the car, then it slammed to a stop against a wall. Rob blindly fired through the passenger window, then dove through the door. Three more rounds spanged against the concrete behind him, so he kept rolling. Out of the corner of his eye he caught a glimpse of T-Bone.

He stuck his leg out and jerked to a stop as three rounds passed through the air he would have been occupying. The Glock came up and he put three rounds in to T-Bone's chest. He dropped to the ground. He wouldn't be getting back up.

Rob turned and looked at the Subaru. He already knew about the right front tire. On top of that, three windows had been shot out and it was leaking gas. The car was done. He would be, too, if he didn't get out of the street.

He grabbed his coat off the front seat, then took his M4 carbine out of the back. As he turned to run up the street he suddenly discovered he wasn't alone.

"Hey, you," someone yelled from behind him, "Over here."

He turned around. A woman and a teenage girl were standing on the porch of the house that had suddenly become the final resting spot of his Subaru. The woman was holding a shotgun and the girl had a revolver.

"Can you get us out of here?" the woman asked. "We have a car."

"Yeah," Rob nodded, "I'll need some of the stuff out of my car, though."

They disappeared back in to the house and Rob popped his trunk open. A minute later the garage opened and the woman backed a green Mustang out in to the driveway. She opened her trunk and Rob started throwing his stuff in next to the pair of suitcases that were already there. The woman ran out to the street and grabbed red beard's M-16 while the girl sat in the back seat next to a small armory and somehow managed to look bored and scared at the same time.

"Shit!" the woman yelled, "We've got to get out of here."

Rob hopped in to the driver's seat and backed the car down the driveway. He stopped long enough for the woman to jump in, then peeled out down the street as a pair of pickups gave a futile chase. He quickly lost them.

"Thanks," the woman said. "By the way, I'm Karen and this is my daughter Tina."

"I'm Rob. And I should probably thank you. I wouldn't have gotten very far on foot."

"Maybe not."

"Who were those guys?"

"I don't know," Karen shook her head, "Some militia group or something. They moved in to town a couple days ago and started looting the place. We figured we'd sneak out, but they've had guys on our block ever since they got here."

"That's a little weird," Rob said.


"So where to?"

"My husband's a Captain in the Reserves. His unit's up in St. Louis. They're supposed to be getting ready to come down here and get rid of these militia guys."

Rob got on the highway but didn't get anywhere near St. Louis. Less than five miles up the road they ran in to a military convoy and flagged it down.

A man wearing captain's bars on his fatigues hopped out of the lead Humvee, a broad smile on his face. "Karen," he said, opening his arms to embrace his wife and daughter. "Tina. I'm so glad you're safe."

"Thank him," Karen said, pointing at Rob.

"All I did was drive," Rob shrugged. "I even had to borrow the car. Er, your car. Sir."

The captain turned. "You a vet?"

"Um, yes, Sir."

The captain let go of his wife and daughter, then turned towards Rob and offered a stiff salute. "Thank you, soldier."

Rob returned the salute. "You're welcome, sir."

The captain nodded off to his right, then began walking away from his family. Rob followed him.

"I know you're a stranger and you've already done more than I could ask of you," the officer said, putting his arm around Rob's shoulder, "But do you think you could take Karen and Tina up to my sister-in-law's place in St. Louis? Talk it out with Karen, but I wouldn't mind letting you take the car afterward. I figure we owe you something and we were going to replace it, anyway."

"That's no problem, sir."

"Be careful though, son. Something's going on out here and I don't know if anyone is safe any more."

"What do you mean?"

"I know a few spooks Right before all those people disappeared they said they were getting some really weird intelligence, like someone knew something big was going down and they were moving assets in to place to take advantage."

"What kind of assets?"

"Groups like the Anarchy Boys." the captain paused, "Um, you met a few of them back down there."


"Scuttlebutt has it that there have been a lot of terrorist attacks and some of our supply problems are due to sabotage, not just confusion."

"How could anyone know about something like that?"

"I wish I knew."

"Can we get it under control?"

The captain sighed. "I don't know. We're holding now, but just barely. We're lucky that the big cities have managed to keep control. Well, everywhere but Texas. If the cities collapse we'll be in trouble."

"I'll bet."

"Official word has it that the U.N. is offering to come in and help. Unofficial word says that they're pushing some sort of unified world government as a condition, however."

"Really?" Rob raised an eyebrow. "A bunch of people disappear, the country falls in to anarchy, and the U.N. shows up offering assistance in exchange for joining their government? Think it's connected?"

"I hope not, but let's just say that too much is going on right now for it all to be coincidence."

Monday, September 15, 2008

RB RPG: Responses to questions and comments

Rhoadan, your proposal for a Mage game really got me thinking. How would the Technocracy respond? This is THE nightmare scenario for them, a Code Ragnarok that goes to eleven. Do they go psycho-killer on the Reality Deviants or husband their forces until they identify the threat? To be decided in game.

Has the Event altered consensual belief so that Mages can operate with less fear of Paradox? Yes, but that may not be obvious right away.
Has the loss of the RTC's (excellent tools for control) affected their hold on world affairs? To be honest, RTC's are better tools for the Weaver than the Technocracy. The Weaver only cares about order, any order. The Technocracy cares about a specific kind of order that the RTC's reject. Still, that doesn't mean that there's no effect.

What relationship did Nicky Appalachian and Stonagal have with The Syndicate? As noted in my original recruiting post, I'm not using the exact characters from the books, but rather analogs. Nicky White Mountains analog is definitely NWO although he may have Syndicate advisors.

One other thought on the Mage game. The Event was a supernatural attack resulting in casualties that are best measured in gigadeaths. EPIC FAIL. Heh. I've figured out why they failed. It's their own bleeding fault and I'm even using something from the White Wolf canon to explain it. What I haven't figured out yet is how I'm going to handle the reveal and whether or not it's too late to fix the problem. It didn't come to this overnight and it's not going to possible to fix it instantly either.

The entire raison d'etre of the Technocracy is to prevent that sort of thing. Yep. But it's one of their prevention measures that set this up.
I'd expect a lot of traumatized Technocrats to resign, go the John Courage route and carry out their own agenda by any means necessary. Wouldn't surprise me if some of them went rogue, but I don't get the John Courage reference. Could someone please enlighten me?

Even if Control hunkers down until they get a clear target, there will be plenty of agents attacking whoever is "clearly responsible" for this disaster. Let's just say that Control's response will have an impact on the action.
Which would be a common, human reaction even if you weren't using a suave, sophisticated, ultra-now, super-tech conspiracy of global defenders as a setting point. True, that.

Thoughts from Inge: Nicky Harz: If I were GM I'd probably make him a rogue NWO agent who is taking advantage of the Event to implement his ideas. There are red herrings pointing to him as a reality deviant with delusions of grandeur (crossover potential here), or (of course) a Nephandus. Nick is playing a double game, he uses the war of the Powers That Must Not Be Named against humanity to further his ascent to power, yet he knows that in seven years the Powers will come and eat him alive until Earth can fight them off. He has to get Earth ready for war, he has to ferret out and destroy enemy agents but must not be obvious about doing so, and the player characters could even be on his side... if Nicky wasn't batshit insane to boot. Bear in mind that at most, I'm using analogs of the characters from the books, not the characters themselves. Yeah, if Nicky Blue Ridge were actually a character in the game, he would be nuts. His analog, however, need not be. Of course there's always the option that this whole thing is some Marauder's Quiet and the PC's have been pulled into it.

From TechnocracyGirl: Another Mage-esque question...what happened to the children and/or clones under 13 out on Darkside Moonbase, Copernicus, and the other deepspace stations? They weren't on earth, so would they have been raptured? Heck, the entire apocalypse is earth-based -- could the mages in deepspace bunker down, cut off all contact with earth and ride the Apocalypse out? Well, the way I figure it, if it's inside the Horizon, it was affected, ergo Darkside could've been hit, but the Cop wasn't. But then the Cop might have problems of its own. How much communication can there be between Earth and the deepspace stations? That leaves plenty of room for the Deep Universal Constructs to be under siege by something.

Frankly, I'm ruling that there are no children at Darkside Moonbase. Too hazardous, no one would bring them there, and anyone who became pregnant would either terminate the pregnancy or transfer off the base.

Clones are a bit more complicated. A clone being held in storage in case the original person dies has no soul, therefore it is of no interest to whatever caused the Event. A clone that's housing the soul of someone whose previous body died will get grabbed based on the beliefs of the occupying soul, not its age since it's effectively an adult. A clone made for some other purpose, e.g. to replace a Tradition mage for purposes of espionage, I'm going to treat the same way I'm treating bioconstructs. If it has more than 95% human genetics, and a soul (i.e. the capacity for Awakening/Enlightenment) then it's human for the purposes of the Event. Bioconstructs don't generally start with any kind of sense of self and will start out with some kind of programming. Such an entity would get raptured. Once it develops a sense of self and becomes a moral agent, its beliefs come into play. The probability of a bioconstruct becoming an RTC is vanishingly small, so it's probably a safe assumption that if it's a moral agent, it won't be raptured. Bioconstructs are generally created as adults, and I assume would take considerably less than 13 years to develop a sense of self if it does so at all.

Edit: Okay, I've been reading the NWO convention book. Evidently John Courage was an NWO op who went rogue in the Victorian era.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Answered Prayer, Part 3

"You know, Dawn, I've been in some crazy places," Rob said as he filled two bowls from the
pot on the stove, "But I don't think I ever thought I'd be eating Spaghetti-O's in a mansion while a dead televangelist's girlfriend holds a gun to my head." He slid one bowl across the wide island to where she was sitting.

She giggled. "It's a crazy world, isn't it?"

"Crazier than it used to be, that's for damn sure."

Dawn put the .38 down on the counter next to his Glock and picked up a spoon. "So what's it like out there?"

"Totally crazy. I hear it's far worse outside the cities, where there were a lot more more people who disappeared, but it's like some people just gave up living, some people panicked, and some people decided to take advantage of the survivors."

"Which one are you?"

"None of the above," Rob offered a half smile, "I guess you could say I'm one of the runners."

"What are you running from?"

"A little bit of everything, I guess. It's a brave new world, I figured I'd be able to make a new start."


"Wherever. What's it like here?"

"Not so bad," Dawn shrugged. "Chicago's kind of taken everything over. But the mayor has managed to keep the power on and the gas flowing. Most of the time."

"Is he planning on starting his own little country out here?"

"No," she shook her head, "At least I don't think so. He's just trying to keep all the services going. The towns and counties are all pretty short staffed, between the disappearances, the people who aren't coming back to work, and all of the new people showing up out of nowhere. At least that's what I hear on the news. And they almost never tell us what's going on in the rest of the world."

"Some places are better than others," Rob said. "I hear the coasts are mostly okay. The government is still mostly up and running and I've seen the Army and National Guard out trying to restore order."

"That's good."

"Yeah. I talked to an Army guy in Missouri a few days ago, though. He says that the U.N. is trying to use this to leverage a One World Government thing."

"So? We don't hear from our own President. What's the U.N. gonna do?"

"Jack shit, probably. Isn't that what they always do?"


Rob shrugged. "Anyway, things are starting to come back. I hear most of the oil refineries and platforms down on the Gulf coast are back online. But the planes are still grounded, since most of the airports took heavy damage."

"There's been some bad weather, too," Dawn offered. "I did hear that we were supposed to be getting an aid convoy or something, but there have been blizzards out east."

"Couldn't tell you anything about that."

"Okay." She looked up at the clock. "Oh, it's time for the nightly news update." She picked up the .38 and used it to gesture towards another room. "Come on, the TV's in there."

He led her in to the next room and took a seat in an overstuffed chair. She plopped herself down on the couch and picked up a remote with her left hand. The gun stayed in her right.

The nightly news report was sparse. It was mostly a list of services which services were being restored and where, a weather forecast, and a reminder of the dusk to dawn curfew imposed on Chicago and the collar counties. There were no sports scores, no human interest stories, no lottery numbers. It ended with what the anchor called "A Moment of Hope."

That night's moment of hope was a quick story about how a group of neighbors in the north suburbs were taking it upon themselves to make sure that stranded Northwestern University students were getting fed and, in some cases, giving them rides home. "Remember," the anchor signed off, "It's all of our responsibilities to watch out for each other. So try to create your own moment of hope for someone tomorrow."

"It's not much," Dawn shrugged apologetically as she turned the set off, "But it helps make everything feel a little normal again."

"What's on the rest of the time?"


"Ah." Rob scratched his head. "So, uh, how did you end up here?"

"A lifetime of bad decisions, I guess," she shrugged. "I mean, I knew that all I had to do was pray that stupid prayer he was always talking about. I guess I thought...I guess I thought that he was just crazy and it would never happen."

"So you actually do buy that Rapture story?"

"What else could it be?"

Rob waved his hands helplessly. "I don't know. I've heard a lot of crazy theories. Seems like everyone's just sitting around trying to figure it out."

"Well, there's not much else to do. Just that and survive."

"I, uh, I met a guy on the road a couple days ago," Rob sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. "I stopped because I saw him lying on the side of the road. He, um, he told me that he'd been clean for six years, that he'd stopped drinking the day his wife told him she was pregnant. Said his daughter was finally the thing he found that gave meaning to his life. When she disappeared he broke in to a liquor store, stole as many bottles as he could and just wandered away."

"What did you say to him?"

"What can you say? All I know is that isn't the answer. We can't fall apart and we can't just sit around and wait for the meaning to come back in to our lives. We need to move." He gestured towards the TV. "That guy on the news was right about that moment of hope thing."

"You know," Dawn dropped her head back against the back of the couch and looked at the ceiling as tears began to form at the corners of her eyes, "You know why I came here?"


"I told myself it was for the food, the supplies. But what I really wanted to do was sleep in his bed." She lifted her head and looked at him, a combination of shame and defiance in her expression. "Really. How pathetic is that? The whole world goes to hell in a handbasket and all I can think is, 'Hey, maybe now I'll actually get to sleep in his bed.'"

"Did you love him?"

She thought about it for a moment. ", I don't know." She paused. "See? I'm pathetic."

"No, you're not." He took a deep breath. "You're human. We all do crazy things for silly reasons."

"You know what the real shit of it is?" she asked. The answer came before Rob even had a chance to open his mouth. "I don't really think he ever cared about me. I've been sitting here by myself trying to figure out what I miss about him and all I can think about is all the reasons I'm glad I don't have to see him any more. I was just a thing to him, a toy. I could see it in the way he looked at me sometimes." She stopped and cocked her head to one side as a sudden realization hit. "Maybe that's why I never prayed his stupid prayer."


She smirked. "He once told me that I should pray the prayer because it really wouldn't be Heaven if he couldn't bring 'his favorite lay' with him. I think I thought it was funny at the time, but it wasn't. He was just a selfish bastard. I couldn't imagine wanting to be in the same place as him for all eternity."

"So then why did you stick around with him?"

"I think," she closed her eyes for a second, then shook her head as if to toss a thought away. After a moment she looked back up. "I think I've always preferred to chase after things that I'll never be able to catch. It's easier, I guess, knowing that I'll never be happy but can always pretend I am than trying to hold on to someone I truly care about and knowing he might leave."

"Well," Rob shrugged, "You can't chase this Colin guy all the way to Heaven. And I really don't think you want to."

"Nope," she smiled, "I really don't."

"Give yourself a chance. Get out of this house. I'm sure you'll figure out that there's someone who's worth holding on to."

"I'm scared."

"We all are. It's okay."

She stared at him for a moment that seemed to stretch into eternity. "You might be right," she finally said, nodding.

"I am. Trust me."

"But you know, I'm kind of tired. I think I'll go to bed." She paused. "You probably shouldn't be caught outside after curfew, so if you want you can stay here. There's a guest bedroom at the top of the stairs."

"Aren't you worried about having me in the house at night?"

"No," she shook her head. "I'm not. Besides, if you want to steal this shit, it's not mine. I don't care about it. And as for anything else, well," she waved the .38, "I sleep behind locked doors with a loaded pistol under my pillow. Just so you know."

Dawn disappeared up the stairs. Rob went in to the kitchen, cleaned up the dishes and grabbed the Glock off the island. As he started to go upstairs he realized the front door was still standing open, so he closed it and secured the locks. Then he went to bed.

* * *

A soft knock awakened him some time later. His hand found the gun under his pillow before he'd even registered where he was. The guest bedroom. Everything was softly lit by the light of a nearly full moon, so he knew it was still the middle of the night.

"Rob?" he heard Dawn's voice through the door. "Are you still here? Can I come in?"

He took his hand off the pistol. "Yeah, what is it?"

The door opened and she walked in. "I'm sorry to wake you." She walked across the room and sat down on the side of the bed. "It's just that...well, it gets lonely here."

"I understand. I've been on the road by myself a lot, too." He studied her for a moment. She'd traded in the lumpy sweatshirt and baggy jeans she'd been wearing for a t-shirt and a pair of pajama pants. He realized that he'd been completely wrong. Dawn was definitely not a young girl. In the moonlight he wondered how he could have thought that at all.

"I, uh, I wanted you to know that I'm not scared of you."

"Good," Rob smiled, "You shouldn't be. I'm not going to hurt you."

"I also want you to know that, uh, well, it was nice having someone to talk to," she smiled shyly, "And I'm glad you didn't leave. Or turn out to be a psycho."

He grinned. "I'm glad I didn't turn out to be a psycho, too."

She smiled wider. Her eyes shone in the moonlight. "Um, I don't want you to think I'm, like, a slut or anything, but...well," she paused, "It gets kind of cold and lonely in this house at night..."

He nodded and pulled the covers back. "I've spent too many nights in an empty bed, too," he whispered. "I know what it's like."

She slid in next to him and pulled the covers tight. After a moment's hesitation she pushed her body up against his. "Don't try anything funny," she muttered.

He wrapped an arm around her and breathed a deep sigh. "I won't."

"Hey, Rob?"


"Can you stay tomorrow and do something for me?"

"Sure, what?"

"Take me out somewhere. Anywhere. I don't care."

"I'd love to."

Cookie Monster Part 2

Previously our protagonist Sarah had witnessed Buck and Chloe making goo goo eyes at each other in the face of a global holocaust. This takes place about a week after that incident.

Sarah pulled down the security gate, Chip, Chip Hooray! had new hours as she didn't want to get home before it got too dark. She took a cursory glance around the small storefront, everything had been cleaned and readied for the next day. She took the till to the tiny room that served as the office and storeroom and began to count.

She didn't know why her thoughts kept returning to that couple but a prickle of guilt that had been constant since reminded her. She probably judged them too harshly, or at the least was hardly in any position to lay down judgement on anybody else. She wasn't supposed to be here.

Chip, Chip, Hooray! was an owner operated franchise, with the owner vanished the store should be closed. And it was, for a day. She had delivered the water to the EMTs and fled back to the storeroom to cry until her eyes ached on the day of The Event. Deciding to close she stopped in front of one of O'Hare's many TVs before exiting the airport.

Another scalding bath of panic washed over her as she saw it was global, as previously unflappable news anchors began to break down as they informed the viewing audience that no child under 12 seemed to be in existence anymore, and that riots were breaking out everywhere. Shaking with fear she started for home.

What was a 15-20 minute ride on the El took three hours as the El wasn't running and she had to walk. She passed more EMTs pulling people from cars and when she saw she could be of help she stopped. She ached to go home, to bury herself in her mother's arms like a little girl but she couldn't keep going. Not when there was a stretcher a pitifully lone EMT was trying to load onto an ambulance. Not when a man begged her to use her cell phone as his wasn't going through and knowing that the lines would be jammed and hers wouldn't either she gave it to him anyway.

The closer she got to home the slower her pace became and a gnawing fear that her mother was among the vanished began to overwhelm her. She walked up her block and saw her mother waiting anxiously on the stoop and she ran to her before her mother even had time to leave the stoop and meet her halfway. She began to cry again and her mother led her into the house and sat her down at the kitchen table and busied herself making hot chocolate.

Sarah tried to collect herself, she realized how insulated her life had been. Her father had left her mother when she was still a baby. Paying his child support regularly including an extra check at her birthday and Christmas. He had sent one for her high school graduation and that had been that. School had been okay, neither the pariah or head cheerleader she had enough friends, enough invitations to sleepovers, and a date for the prom not to feel left out. In truth her greatest pleasure was to be able to spend the lunch period in the library reading.

The worst ache had been when her grandmother passed away when she was seventeen. It had been a crippling blow to the family's fiances too, though her mother had tried to keep it from her. Her grandmother had fallen into dementia and required round the clock care. When her mother started mentioning that she might want to considering taking a year off before going to college Sarah realized her college fund was gone. The next blow came when her mother was laid off from her tech support job the following year. Sarah decided to forgo even community college classes and get a job.

She knew how unhappy her mother was at this and tried to assure her it was "just until things straighten themselves out", and her mother would smile wanly and pretend, "of course sweetie". Her mother had been temping as her year off from college was beginning to stretch into two. But even then they had managed to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. And evenings provided plenty of time for reading, or even calling up an old school friend who was still around to go to a movie. Nothing had ever pierced that rock hard shell that there would always be a place to live, electricity, food to eat and clean water to drink until The Event.

As she watched her mother slowly heat the milk in the pot she took stock of where things stood. The power was still on for now. The contents of the fridge where a little a scanty but it would be better to start stocking up on canned goods. She knew she needed to be watching the news but she wanted just a few more moments of blessed quiet before reality had to be faced.

Her mind raced wondering if anyone would be calling about Jeanine, her boss. Money, she wondered if the dollar would mean anything after something like this and made a mental note to talk to Shanti. She worked at the airport's duty free shop and Sarah had a feeling that a bottle of good scotch would get more things done than a hundred in the coming days. She recalled reading an article couple of weeks ago about rumblings that there were serious moves being made to adapt a single global currency. A warm mug was pressed into her hands and her mother and she walked like mourners into the living room and turned the TV set on...

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Answered Prayer, Part 2

He shuffled in to town, coat pulled tight but soaking wet and completely useless for keeping out the cold.

"What the hell was I thinking," he muttered to himself for the billionth time, "Heading north in the winter. Shoulda stayed in Phoenix."

Several little houses dotted the sides of the road. Empty. So many houses were empty everywhere he went.

Except for one. The front door to the house on his right opened. A gray-haired man stepped on to a broad porch, cradling a shotgun.

"Hello, friend," the old-timer called. "What brings you here?"

"Car broke down," the traveler turned and gestured vaguely towards the highway with his right hand, keeping his left covered as he dug in to his pocket for the Glock nestled inside. "Looking for shelter."

"It's cold out. Snowy, too."

"Yes," the traveler nodded, "Yes it is."

"Well, come on in," the old man half turned to the house and gestured inside with the barrel of his shotgun. "I was just making dinner and it's warm by the fire."

"Thank you."

The pair walked in to the cozy house. It was warm, lit by the roaring fire from a pot bellied wood burning stove. A pot of something sat atop the stove, bubbling and filling the room with a sweet barbeque smell. The old man placed his shotgun in a stand between a pair of hunting rifles and an AR-15.

"Hate to seem inhospitable," he said, patting the barrel of the shotgun, "But you know how it is these days." It came out as an apology.

"I've made introductions over the barrel of a gun several times in the past week," the traveler said, shrugging out of his overcoat. It fell to the floor, but he kept the Glock in his left hand. "That's why I've got this."

A slight shadow of fear crossed the old man's eyes. "I, uh, I don't have much, but..."

"No, no. No. Sorry." He set the pistol down on top of the rifle stand. "I just wanted to let you know that I'm not going to pull anything on you. Really," he smiled, "I appreciate your hospitality."

"Good, then," the old man smiled. "I'm Ed."

"Rob," the traveler replied, sticking out his hand. "Nice to meet you."

Ed pointed to a worn couch. "Have a seat, friend. Dry out some. Tell me where you're headed."

"Chicago," Rob said, plopping down on the couch. "Figured I'd be there today, too. Damn car broke down, though."

"Lots of people headed there these days," Ed laughed, "It's the only place that's still working. Who'da thought the Democrat machine would actually turn out to be a good thing?"

"Guess it's true," Rob smiled, "God doesn't like Democrats."

"Well, it's like they say. One thing god and the Republicans have in common is that they disappear whenever there's a crisis."

"Who says that?"

"Me, I guess."

"I'm not going looking for order, though. I could have gone to California if that's all I wanted Word has it that they've got stuff pretty much under control out there and it's a lot warmer."

"So why are you going to Chicago?"

Rob shrugged. "I really don't know. Guess it seemed like a good idea. I needed a change of scenery or something."

"I can understand that, I guess," Ed said, walking on stiff legs over to the stove. "Lots of people looking for a fresh start these days." He stirred the pot. "Hope you like beans. I still got a few hot dogs left, too. Cut 'em up and put 'em in the pot."

"Sounds delicious," Rob smiled. "I don't get too many hot meals."

Ed grabbed a couple plates and spoons from a cabinet next to the stove and ladled out the meal. He limped back to the couch and handed a plate to Rob before sitting slowly down in a threadbare armchair.

"So why did you stay here by yourself?" Rob asked between bites. "Or are there still people here?"

"Nope," Ed shook his head, "As far as I know I'm it. But it won't last long."


"They'll be back," he nodded sagely. "People are running to the cities, looking for order and protection. Once the food runs out they're gonna realize that someone needs to start farming again."

"So you think it'll get back to normal around here?"

"Normal?" Ed chuckled and shook his head. "Son, after something happens like what we've been through, you never get back to normal."

"I guess not."

"So, what are you planning to do now?"

"I don't know," Rob shrugged. "Probably find an abandoned car and take it the rest of the way. It's how I got this far."

"Figured as much," Ed nodded. "Tell you what. I don't like the idea of being generous with things that don't belong to me, but the kid next door has a real nice car. It's one of those Acuras and he's always working on it. Shouldn't break down in the middle of winter. If you want to start looking, you might go there. He's not going to be back for it any time soon."

"You sure?"

"Son," Ed leaned forward, "He was sitting on that very couch when it happened. One second he was here, the next, well, you know..."


"And let's see if we can't find you a dry coat. I've got a couple old ones down in the basement that'll probably fit you. They haven't fit me in years," he laughed and patted his stomach.

* * *

Early the next morning Rob pulled his newly acquired 2006 Acura RSX up behind a green Mustang on the shoulder of a snowy highway. The previous owner had been kind enough to leave the keys on an old man's couch inside the pocket of an apparently unneeded pair of pants.

He opened the trunk of the Mustang and pulled out a gas can and a length of rubber hose. There was no sense in leaving a half tank of gas sitting uselessly on the side of the road. He opened up the gas cap on the Mustang and began siphoning out the fuel.

Once the gas was flowing he began transferring the contents of one car to the other as quickly as possible. A duffel bag full of clothes went first, followed by a few boxes of carefully rationed canned and freeze-dried food and candy. A toolbox was next, then a bag full of batteries of various sizes. It quickly became obvious that the trunk of the RSX was a little too small.

The guns went in the tiny back seat. He placed a Remington 12-gauge pump action shotgun, a full milspec M4 Carbine and a pair of Smith & Wesson .44 magnum revolvers on the seat and carefully covered them with his new coat. Then he wedged four ammo boxes in behind the passenger seat.

Last, but certainly not least, he dumped a pair of completely frozen gallon jugs of water on the floor of the front seat and dropped a couple boxes of CDs and a half-empty bag of beef jerky on the passenger seat, then shoved a wad of bills in to the glove box.

Once the gas can was safely stowed in the trunk he put his prized copy of Dead Hot Workshop's 1001 in the CD player -- the signed copy he'd gotten from Steve Larson himself at a show back in the late '90s -- and got on the road. The previous day's storm was a distant memory and he shot eastward under a clear winter sky, his unofficial theme song blasting from the Acura's speakers.

I'm gonna get me some peace someday
Guess I missed the boat when the cradle started rockin'
From the womb come a newborn baby
Is the light of day
Any better than that?
Tell me I'm not alone

Friday, September 12, 2008

Answered Prayer, Part 1

It was a good house, the sort he looked for. A plaque above the door proclaimed "Praise the Lord!" but the murky darkness within claimed there was very little praising going on at the moment.

The door was locked, but that wasn't much of a problem. A few quick jiggles with his lock pick kit and he was in. A gentle push and the door swung slowly open. Nothing happened.

His Glock preceded him in to the house in steady hands at the end of extended arms. He tracked it slowly across the openings to the entry hallway and up the staircase with practiced ease. Still nothing happened.

The pistol continued to lead him, this time down the hall toward what he assumed was the kitchen. It was right.

He already knew that something was wrong before he saw the open cans sitting on the island that dominated the ostentatiously large space. There was no stench of rotted food. Someone had been there recently. Someone had cleaned.

Someone was still there.

Someone was watching him.

He slowly turned to his left, bringing the gun part of the way around.

"Who the fuck are you?"

The voice belonged to a snub-nosed .38 revolver. No, wait. It belonged to the hands grasping the .38.

"Don't you dare point that gun at me," the .38 -- no, the hands -- said.

"I, uh, I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't know anyone was here." He dropped the Glock to his side. "I'll go."

"...Yeah. Maybe you should."

He noticed for the first time that the .38 was shaking slightly. The hands holding it were trembling. Hands that were attached to a pair of slender arms. And at the other end of the arms from the gun was a frightened looking woman. No, a girl.

There was no worse place to be than in front of the business end of a gun held by a terrified, threatened person. He'd learned that the hard way twice already, which was two more opportunities than most got. He began to slowly back out of the kitchen.

"Wait." The girl said, voice tight.


"Put the gun down," she gestured toward the island. He complied. "Tell me something about what's going on. You know, out there," she nodded toward the front door. "I, uh...I don't get out much."

"I don't know much," he shrugged. "I've seen a few things, every once in a while I hear a radio broadcast. There are some shortwave radio operators, some CB, but nothing's really organized."

"Hey, it's gotta be more than I get sitting here by myself."

"You're by yourself?"

Her eyes widened slightly. "Um, I, uh, I mean..."

"Look," he held his empty hands up, "I'm not going to hurt you. I understand why you'd be worried, but, believe me, I'm not like that."

"If you don't mind, I think I'll keep this," she said, shaking the pistol. "Now talk. Please."

"What do you want to know?"

"Anything. Really, anything at all. How many people are there? Where are they?"

"All over. Everything's pretty much going crazy."

"So there still are a lot of people out there?"

He shrugged. "Depends on where you are. Lot's of empty towns out west of here. Don't know if it's because everybody disappeared from them or some disappeared and everyone left."

"You've been west?"

"Yeah. I was in Phoenix when it happened."

"Why'd you come here?"

"I guess I saw it as a chance to make a new start."

"A new start? There's no new start here. It's just the end."

He shrugged. "Maybe for some."

She closed her eyes and shook her head. "No. It's the end. The guy who used to live here, he was one of those TV pastors. He was always talking about the end times, how everyone who loved Jesus would disappear, then a bunch of bad shit would happen, then Jesus would come back."

"I haven't seen Jesus yet."

"No, we've got a lot more to get through first."

"So you figured you'd be safe here?"

"No," she smiled, "I knew there was a lot of food and supplies stockpiled over here., the guy who owns...owned...the place was pretty paranoid. I guess he worried that the Rapture would happen and he wouldn't get to go with."

"Why? Wouldn't a TV preacher be first to go?"

"Maybe the ones who didn't have mistresses."

"Ah." Realization dawned. "Wait, you? But you're..."

"Twenty-five," she smiled. "I know what it looks like, but he wasn't a pervert. I interned for his show in college. That's where we met."

"Cool. Um, I guess."

"I believe, though, that you were supposed to be talking."

"I know."

"Oh, hey, you hungry?"

"Always, these days."

She gestured at a cupboard. "There's a bunch of cans of stuff in there. The stove still works."

"Cool. By the way, my name is Rob."


"Nice to meet you."

"Yeah. So far."