Sunday, June 30, 2013

Metal In The Moonlight - Episode 10.

Episode 10

Chief Gnaeus wasn’t the most well versed man when it came to advanced sciences or medical technology. He couldn’t tell you which end of a Nano-Med Injector was up, nor could he truly admit he understood everything Dr. Foxfire said half the time. But he had always been a man willing to trust his gut, it was something that had always seen him through many a dark moment. And right now it rolled with reservations.

“I am afraid I have further news with which you might not enjoy hearing,” Dr. Foxfire began bluntly. “There have been complications regarding the wounded worker; Marcus Gabriel Vincent. Gabriel has begun to manifest an accelerated healing rate that exceeds anything I could have anticipated. I believe it is a combination of the experimental nanite treatment and some effect of the terrible trauma he has faced. In either case the end result is that Gabriel has been altered down to the genetic level. All my tests have been able to prove that he is in control of his faculties, Chief. And as the only known survivor of an attack from this thing I think he may be our only real hope at identifying this threat.”

The Chief allowed the good Doctor to plead her case completely before he even considered uttering a single syllable. This wasn’t the time for a snap judgment or a hasty decision. He had to consider everything carefully, and he certainly had to weight her remarks against his own instincts. And what they told him was that for everything he was being told there was a handful more tucked from view.

It was like the stories he had been told as a child of these fabled clever conjurers who used to ply their trade to dazzle unsuspecting travelers with trickery. While you watched on at the marvels that mystified your eyes there was deft gestures that hid the truth from your view. That was at least in part what was happening here. He couldn’t pin the Dr. Foxfire’s motivations down to being involved, blindly manipulated or just simply naive but he was sure there was more to this.

“Chief,” Dr. Foxfire called out to return his attention so that she might continue. “Gabriel has agreed to submit himself into your custody on a single condition. He has requested the opportunity to enlist into service for the night-patrol to help combat this threat. In exchange for this probationary chance he is willing to forgo his freedom and surrender his fate to your judgment willingly. If you deem him to be a threat liken to this midnight monster you may do with him as you please. All he asks is the chance to help hunt down the beast that has so maimed him and prevent it from harming others.”

Papers ruffled out of sight from the screen’s view as Chief Gnaeus referenced a handful of updated reports. Something had sparked in his mind that toyed its way around to connect several loose dots of thought that demanded to be put together. “Ah, yes,” Gnaeus finally purred victoriously. “Does this have anything to do with the recent news of your patient’s previous employer vanishing like some of the others? Or perhaps the violently vandalized work site he was last seen at before this fabled attack made by some fictional furry fiend?”

Before Dr. Foxfire could address the matter Gabriel stepped into view himself to answer Chief Gnaeus’s implied accusations. He couldn’t let the Doc fight all his battles for him; it was time he stood up for himself. Besides, if he didn’t do something to face the matter he feared his own frustrations might betray him to his already building furious frenzy once again.

“Forgive my frankness, sir,” Gabriel pleaded ingratiatingly. “I know I have no right to ask for your trust or to beg for any measure of your consideration. These strange events are your responsibility to resolve, and you have a duty to do so. I also understand how my own claims must sound, especially as the only person claiming to have survived this bizarre business. But be that as it may; that was my handiwork at that job site that was destroyed. You can ask anyone who ever worked with me or whom I did even a trivial task for – I take pride in my work, I could never willingly dirty my reputation by destroying something I crafted.

Please, sir; give me the chance to help. If not for me to clear my name then at least let avenge the other victims who fell before this beast. Once everyone is safe once more then I will willingly share the creature’s fate if you so decide. But for their sake let me help, if there is even a single chance this bent nail might be driven in straight to be of some use.”

“You are the grandson of Thael Vincent, are you not?” Chief Gnaeus inquired with a raised inquisitive eyebrow. Craftsman Thael was a common name among the older residents of Gallu; there were incredibly few who didn’t know the name let alone the respectable reputation he had commanded. With Thael there was never a flicker of doubt with the degree of quality from the skilled master craftsman when you brought a task to his work table.

But if his memory hadn’t failed him yet completely Thael had had a son who was as far a cry from his own lofty ideals as ever there could have been. Whatever became of him was a blur at present but he did recall vaguely that Thael had been forced to take in and care for a grandson. Something about the child’s mother falling terribly ill; the whole matter had been a saddening shame. The old master had been in the twilight of his years and he had been pressed into caring for those of his kin that should have been the ones in role reversed.

“I am,” Gabriel confirmed proudly with only a slight glimpse of grief hinted in his tone. If this boy truly was the blood-kin of Thael himself and raised likewise by the man then there was at least the chance he inherited his fore-bearers character. For that reason alone he decided he would grant him the consideration he requested.

“Thael Vincent was a respected and admittedly great man,” Chief Gnaeus declared easily. “I knew him well and never once found a single reason to think badly of him. In his memory and for the sake of his good name I will give you the opportunity to prove you are made of similar stuff. And for your own sake I pray that you took his teachings to heart.”

Old wounds threatened to tear themselves open inside Gabriel as his grandfather’s name brought with it painful memories. Thoughts of his ill mother and her struggle, of the long nights filled with tears. But worst of all was the empty space where his father should have been. The knowledge that his grandfather was toiling endlessly each day in his place and continuing to do so every night when he should have been able to enjoy the rest he so richly had earned. He had wanted so badly to be able to do more, to ease the burden then but he was just a child. There was nothing he could do then, and even less he could understand at the time.

But now he could appreciate the matter, now he could understand what his grandfather had said back then. The words drifted from his memories to find their way into his waiting mouth. “If a job is worth doing then it is worth doing right, and you never leave a job left undone,” Gabriel recited. “Thank you Chief, for giving me the chance to finish this job and I can assure I will not disappoint.”

For a second, Gnaeus had to admit that this boy almost sounded every measure of the man his grandfather had been. Only time would tell for certain though.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Metal In The Moonlight - Episode 9.

Episode 9

“We cannot sit idly by and allow more people to fall prey to this predator if we have the power to stop it,” Gabriel recited as he now paced about the room. Opposite from him Dr. Foxfire now sat in complete lady-like fashion, legs crossed neatly at the knee in her full fox-form. Her bushy tail still swished back and forth rhythmically while she clicked a clawed finger against her tilted chin.

“Yes, I do agree completely,” she admitted quietly. “However, as you have already pointed out rather wonderfully; you have no intention of allowing yourself to become anything like our present threat. And I have worked for so long to maintain my own hidden nature I dare not risk my secret becoming known. If we are to stand against it without my direct guidance or your own fully unleashed primal might then we shall have to approach the matter with some kind of advantage.

Besides, if you were to attempt to challenge it now without knowing your own strength or it’s you would almost definitely not just be courting disaster – you would be opening yourself to blame from the populace. Consider it for yourself, what would the people of Gallu think if they saw more than one such creature roaming the streets at night?”

“Especially if one of them was also marked with metal,” Gabriel added regretfully. “You’re right, if I charge out there half cocked I am liable to just end up smashing myself instead of fixing anything. But if we don’t do something this thing will continue unchecked. And if either of us ends up being blamed we’ll see the inside of a dark cell. Then where will we be? There has to be a way to prove we aren’t the problem here. There has to be a way to earn our freedom and allow us to act to protect everyone!”

Clever contemplation seemed to grip Dr. Foxfire firmly in its embrace as she almost purred with satisfaction at herself. “One thing I haven’t informed you of yet; Chief Gnaeus has decreed that I am not to allow you out of my direct supervision or custody. He seems to think something more is going on and that there is more to you than we’re admitting.”

“No kidding,” Gabriel chided before gesturing an apology for interrupting and bowed for her to continue. “Be that as it may,” Dr. Foxfire emphasized her mild irritation at the interruption and then proceeded. “I also advised the Chief to step up night-time patrols as a security precaution and warn against unnecessary activity after dark. If I know old Gnaeus and his type nearly as well as I wager I do; I think it is a safe bet he will take the notion and run with it. We should be able to expect that he is already reviewing personnel records to form a special squad to hunt this thing. And if he is he will likely need someone with experience encountering it. He will also not want something he considers a possible security risk tucked away where he can’t keep a close eye on it.

So we will kill two birds with a single paw,” Dr. Foxfire proudly professed. Gabriel found his head somewhat dizzy as he tried to follow this fox’s fuzzy logic. “How are you proposing we accomplish all that,” he prompted like a curious school-boy. “Simply,” Dr. Foxfire assured him. “All we have to do is offer your services in helping to identify the dangerous creature and agree to submit yourself into their custody as a probationary member of the civil-defense forces.”

“And what are we going to do when they discover that I go all fuzzy?” Gabriel exclaimed. He wasn’t sure he liked this idea very much at present. It was sounding more like insanity than genius. “We are going to tell them,” Dr. Foxfire added matter-of-factly. Before Gabriel could object further she took advantage of the momentary shock she knew the claim would purchase for her and charged forward.

“This other sinister shifter is going to continue to cause chaos no matter what. Once others start to report the nature of the threat there will be no hiding the fact that people will fear you as the sole surviving victim thus far. If we provide the truth, or a small seed thereof now we might control the eventual reactionary outcome. All we have to do is disclose to Chief Gnaeus that there have been some unexpected results of your recovery and then his suspicious will be placated for the time being. He may not trust you but if he has you where he can keep an eye on you he is less likely to decide to hunt you down as well. It will provide you the chance to help out. You will be under intense scrutiny but you’d be on a leash instead of in a cage, or worse.”

“I don’t know,” Gabriel remarked aloud. He had stopped his pacing and found himself starring up at the ceiling as his thoughts drifted about. What if they didn’t go for it? He could end up still locked away or executed as some despised monster. Chief Gnaeus had no reason to even consider allowing someone he already was suspicious of to become involved further. Wouldn’t he just assume that he was trying to manipulate matters directly or cover up his own guilt?

A bleep from a small wall mounted terminal interrupted Gabriel’s introspection as it filled with the familiar face of his bartending buddy. Sebastian didn’t wait for any friendly greetings this time; he just jumped right into the message he needed to relay. “Apologies Gabe, I know you’re still recovering – although you are looking remarkably well! I dread being the one to deliver dour news but I knew you would want to hear this. Your crew recently stopped in for some renewed spirits, and I don’t know how to put this delicately. But I am afraid that the last job you guys were working on has been canceled. It seems the couple that hired you guys has vanished and the work site was trashed up pretty bad.”

“I am sorry man,” Sebastian apologized further. “I know how you feel about your handiwork and all, let alone a job left incomplete.” The news ripped into Gabriel like a sharp sliver and only a growl slipped out in response. It seemed he no longer had a choice left to him as the image of the boy was brightly burning behind his eyes. As the screen once more went dark Gabriel turned to face Dr. Foxfire once more. He found only a furious roar of rage communicating completely all he needed to say.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Metal In The Moonlight - Episode 8.

Episode 8

“Where would you like to begin,” Dr. Foxfire asked with a clinical degree of composure. There was an almost playful patience to her measured manner as she took up a seat facing Gabriel. Much like some careful spider she seemed completely at ease and ready to control the coming conversation. Casually she crossed her legs and allowed one foot to bob slightly back and forth. Her hands were clasped together and rested neatly in her lap. Eyes of deepest emerald held Gabriel in their entrancing gaze and the soft white glow of the room seemed to highlight her silver-grey hair until it almost looked like it was burning.

A whispered voice at the back of his mind told him that the Doctor was consciously making a point to emphasize a desired image. Somehow she was subtly dominating the situation, but he couldn’t tell how or why. Gabriel found himself dizzy with a growing twist to his thoughts that prompted him to shake his head to try and clear it. “Something happened while you were in your office,” he mumbled weakly.

Gabriel decided squarely to push aside any of these thoughts that seemed to blur his focus and seize on the troubling ones that worried him. “I can’t make sense of things completely,” he explained with a sense of shame that sparked a small measure of annoyance at his implied weakness. “But as I became irritated I discovered strange feelings flooding through me that I cannot explain. With them came powerful impulses that made me want to do things, changing me.”

Unable to maintain the Doctor’s scrutinizing stare Gabriel quickly lowered his head and closed his eyes. He was still searching for the right words, some way to communicate what he had experienced without sounding mad. But no miraculous method offered itself to temper his tongue with the words he so wished would provide the appropriate answer. With a sigh he resigned himself to whatever fate his uttered claim might earn him.

“I am changing into some monster,” he revealed, the very admission bringing with it a wave of guilt and worry. “The rage and frustration burned inside me. Before I even knew what was happening I found myself watching in horror as my body betrayed me. My flesh became furry and my desires darker. Claws formed and this crazed creature was standing in my place threatening to replace me with its own control over me.”

When next he looked back up a softer sight was waiting to meet him. Dr. Foxfire’s entire demeanor somehow now radiated a calming aura that reached down into Gabriel’s core. He found the fury inside him that strained against him for release retreating to ease itself. It was like bathing in crystal clear water, or bathing in the warm sun while a friendly breeze was blowing.

Gabriel drank in the soothing serenity and paused for a long moment before he continued. His voice lowered into a hushed whisper when next he could find the words that waited for him to speak them. “I wasn’t sure that I was going to be able to regain control,” Gabriel admitted with a diminished degree of nervousness. ‘I was terrified that along with my body that my very soul had also been taken from me by that malevolent monster.”

“And yet, you now sit before me once more in control of your self,” Dr. Foxfire interrupted with professional precision. “What vile taint did this creature corrupt you with that allowed you to return to your senses? Hmm, how did you regain control if it has so completely taken everything you are from you?”

The questions hung on the empty air for several silent minutes as Gabriel forced his self to consider them. Only a single answer kept presenting itself to his stumbling survey; he had forced his way back out. Through determination and focus he had managed to find something calming to ease his anger back out of control.

“I focused myself to regain control,” Gabriel finally answered confidently. “I refused to allow that thing to take anything else from me. There is work left for me to finish and it is something that is worth me doing right. To give up or try to take the easy path wouldn’t be the right thing to do. My Grandfather taught me better than that, I am better than that.” Gabriel peered directly into the emerald enigmas that held him and matched them with his own piercing perception.

Dr. Foxfire could read the fiery forged determination that those steely eyes declared. “I am not my father, Doc. And I refuse to lower myself to be compared with the likes of him or something as inhumane as that monster.” She had heard enough, and even more than that she had seen into him. What she found waiting her was a welcome relief, worthy of a trust she hadn’t found in a very long time. Now it was her turn to sigh deeply before she continued.

“Well done, it is a rare enough thing to find someone capable of confronting such primal impulses,” the Doctor explained. “When I studied your test results at first it was a peculiar puzzle that presented itself. Your very genetic structure has been altered into something else. Now, naturally there is only a handful of explanations know to cause such a thing. But unofficially there are some lesser accepted things capable of affecting someone in such a manner.”

“What are saying Doc,” Gabriel interrupted with an instant inquiry. “What do you mean by some unofficial explanation?” The simplest answer presented itself to support the Doctor’s case. It took the form of a bushy fox tail that jovially appeared behind her to swish about. “Does that answer your question?” She asked with a coy grin. Ironically Gabriel now found himself dumbfound and speechless stuttering to recover.

“I was born this way,” Dr. Foxfire continued. “Some might call me a Kitsune although others undoubtedly prefer the terms abomination, monster or demon. And while I have managed to keep my abnormal nature hidden for a very long time it has not been easy. It’s part of while I took up this duty on some quiet pioneer post. However your current condition is quite different I am afraid. Clearly you were not born this way; instead something has afflicted you with this altered existence.

What should be of concern though is the fact that whatever attacked you is still on the loose. And I can say with some authority that until recently no similar suffering individual has been known to be residing on Gallu. If they were here I would have discovered them long before now. Instead we have an unknown threat that has appeared recently and whoever it is they seem completely comfortable reveling in their unleashed rage. If something isn’t done to stop them soon things are going to get worse.”

“How do you mean worse,” Gabriel asked with a growing measure of concern. He had witnessed first hand how dangerous this thing was, but he was certain that once it was known the authorities could deal with it. “While you so far are the sole survivor of an attack,” the Doctor replied reluctantly. “If this threat isn’t contained and quickly we face a growing one of not just this mysterious monster. Another like you could turn into a similar creature or we could contend with the creation of other nightmarish things.”

“Can’t the peace-keepers handle that thing,” Gabriel offered as an excuse to ease his fears. “Perhaps you should look inside yourself and consider the answer to that one,” Dr. Foxfire countered. “Fair enough,” he conceded as he realized that he couldn’t see a few peace-keepers stopping him with simple side-arms either. “What do you propose we do then?”

“Consider our options carefully,” the clever fox-tailed doctor confirmed. Gabriel had no real idea what options might be left for them to consider but at this point he still longed to be able to do something. But just like the start of any project he couldn’t refute the value of a carefully crafted plan. “Measure twice, cut once,” Gabriel agreed and waited to hear what options they had to choose from.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Metal In The Moonlight - Episode 7.

Episode 7

Gabriel paced back and forth in his room, as his mind began to wander like his feet. He was growing tired of standing still in this place as much as he did not know what seemed to be going on. The Doctor kept asking questions but she wasn’t really providing him with any answers. It was all very frustrating; he was being kept in the dark. He was being kept locked away in this room. And he was quickly growing tired of both.

The irritation began to build itself into a slow boil inside that burned his blood. Gabriel could feel as he paced that he was feeling warmer and warmer. His muscles begged to be put to work and his nerves tingled with nervous need for releasing the pent up power. With each step Gabriel found himself roaring like a revved motor, ready to run.

What was this feeling? He couldn’t explain it; it raced through him with a rippling surge to sweep him into its influence. The strange sensation was some instinctive desire that threatened to push aside all his thoughts. All this contemplation was driving him crazy! “Where are you Doc?” Gabriel growled. “What is this that is happening to me?”

With each question that he couldn’t answer Gabriel grew even more enraged. And with each increasing measure of anger he found a tidal wave of primal might erupting from within. At first he thought his teeth felt different as he flexed his jaw in frustration. Then he noticed his gait was more of a smooth stride that held an odd hinged quality to it. But when he looked down he discovered there was more to it than that.

The sight was enough to make him howl in horror and roar with rage. Like water thundering over a waterfall, Gabriel found his fury in a similar collision course downward. Thriving on his terrible temper this strange shape seemed to be shifting into something between the man he used to be and some manner of creature. Where his left arm had differed from his new metal man-made right by retaining its proper natural nature it now had become something bizarrely bestial.

Where once burnt-sienna colored the hair on his head now there was a freshly formed layer of thickening fur sprouting to coat his flesh. Everywhere the chrome components ended a sea of rich reddish brown contrasted. As he watched on his left hand began to form the tell-tale pointed tips that heralded claws. His every sense exploded with fresh sensory input that threatened to overwhelm him.

Gabriel could feel himself starting to be pushed deeper and deeper inside. He felt like someone looking out a small window, who could only watch on as things happened. “No!” Gabriel objected defiantly. Summoning all his force of will that he could muster he speared his sense of self back upwards to regain control. If this anger could give birth to such primal power then perhaps he could temper it, restrain it. He needed to focus on something that didn’t evoke anything that might feed his rage.

So Gabriel focused hard on working in his grandfather’s workshop. He concentrated on the feel of his hammer in hand and investing himself in his work. The image of the shy little boy worried for his pet came to him and he held on to all those things that he could to calm himself. Gabriel pushed aside every thought about his father, anything that might threaten to tempt his temper. And as he did he found his breathing slow, his swelling adrenaline diminishing.

 Gabriel allowed himself to sit back down on the edge of his bed for a moment to consider things. He didn’t need the Doc to explain this one to him. As he gazed into his own reflection cast back at him from his right arm he looked into the mirrored image. His eyes were still the same steely-grey they always had been. But when he looked into them now he couldn’t help but find the monster starring back that had so savagely stripped so much from him.

As he considered everything he found himself feeling every part of him that was so distinctly different now. Each piece was a price paid to defy death, every one something that had been taken from him. And now he had to come to terms with the fact that whatever that thing was it had managed to try and still take another thing from Gabriel. His very humanity seemed now to be dangling in the balance.

It was a cost that he refused to willingly pay, one that was far too high. Perhaps it could be reversed he wondered, or maybe the Doctor could do something. And if nothing could be done to stop it, if he began to turn into something like what had attacked him? It was a thought he did not want to entertain.

What if someone saw him change into this mysterious monster form? Gabriel began to find more questions forming that he also didn’t like. He already had to admit that looking as he did with all these implanted cybernetic components he was bound to draw some unfriendly attention. But if a walking patchwork of man and machine began to transform into a fur-covered creature odds were nobody would question its fearsome intentions.

“I think we should talk,” Dr. Foxfire suggested softly from the open doorway. The sudden presence of his devoted doctor caught Gabriel by surprise. He realized that he could smell her faint scent upon the air, even hear the hushed clicking of her heeled shoes on the floor. Somehow he had been so distracted that he hadn’t noticed her approach he decided.

“There are some things you should know,” she continued as she carefully entered the room. Her eyes were firmly on the floor and something about her body language Gabriel realized was different. “Yeah,” Gabriel answered awkwardly. “I have a few questions myself and I think I should tell you about some things I discovered while you were gone.”

Dr. Foxfire met his eyes with her own fixed stare full of emerald enigmas. “I already know,” she confessed with a clever crooked grin. Gabriel found the same irritated impulse threatening to claw its way back to the surface and wrestled to bite it back down. “What is going on,” he snarled. “Like I said, let’s have a little chat, shall we?” Dr. Foxfire offered once more, and this time Gabriel got the distinct impression that he didn’t have a whole lot of choice in the matter.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Metal In The Moonlight - Episode 6.

Episode 6

“Time to get back to the core of the matter,” Dr. Foxfire confessed as she called up Gabriel’s initial test data. From the moment he had entered her operating room she had collected tissue and blood samples for the records. It was standard protocol, allowing her to cross match blood types and properly configure implants. But now those samples could provide her with more vital information.

“Hippocrates, run a full genetic analysis on the current samples. Give me a real time feed direct to this terminal and make sure to filter the findings accordingly.” The wall behind her desk flashed to life to display a complex series of data fields. Her facility A.I. was already hard at work scanning and compiling the necessary information to meet her request.

“And Hippo, let’s cross reference the data with all known abnormalities on file. Including my own personal research, confirm authorization code for secure access – Samantha Foxfire delta three.” Dr. Foxfire had collected various research and curious bits of data for years as a hobby. It had helped her pass the time between patients and to keep her mind sharp. But it was something long ago she had learned the hard way; sometimes it was wise to keep some information safely locked away.

Even as the colony medical specialist it would never do to openly keep sensitive data available for just anyone to access. Such records had been used for countless ages by various enthusiastic groups to twist and pervert as excuses for their causes. One misrepresented scrap of genetic code and an entire breed of pet could be slaughtered for fear of possible mutation. Or a child could be taken into custody for special use projects. It was the kind of thing Dr. Foxfire never could have on her conscience.

But she needed to compare Gabriel’s results to something and her best bet for finding abnormalities would be in these secure files. Already Chief Gnaeus had saw fit to threaten to stick his nose into the matter. If she couldn’t find something to explain things then she feared the former veteran would try to look for an answer himself.

Isolated genetic sequences were highlighted on her screen as she studied the displayed diagnostics. Fragments of Gabriel’s core structure had somehow been overwritten in a way that theoretically couldn’t just happen on its own. Something had changed the misfortunate man, and whatever it was it looked to still be actively in progress. As she observed the very cellular level was transforming into something resilient and almost elastic. Instead of tissue decay rates she was being shown incredible recovery times and durability.

Whatever had attacked Gabriel had left more than just scars to mar the skin. It had somehow left deeper damage all the way down to the DNA. Dr. Foxfire couldn’t be certain but a part of her wondered if by saving Gabriel’s life if she had doomed him to a separate fate. If he hadn’t survived the encounter there was the chance that these alterations might not have taken hold. But by ensuring his recovery she had inadvertently also done the same for whatever now worked its way through Gabriel.

No wonder Gabriel had shown such remarkable speed at healing from the surgery or presented such phenomenal stamina on their initial physical therapy evaluation. His body was repairing itself and adapting at an incredible rate. While it wasn’t completely without precedence it was something that she couldn’t allow to get out. She had to pinpoint the source of Gabriel’s transformation before she could be sure. There were only a handful of possible causes Dr. Foxfire could consider; and she could already rule out a natural development as it didn’t match up with the known evidence. No, the more likely alternatives were some form of secret experiment that seemed unlikely and something she shuddered to contemplate. If it was even remotely plausible there would have been evidence long before now of it’s presence on Gallu.

“Hippo, cancel secure access to restricted files and confirm,” Dr. Foxfire exclaimed urgently. Immediately her A.I. complied and registered the link to her private records had been closed. “Records secure,” Hippocrates commented in his cold computer voice. Dr. Foxfire didn’t enjoy the fact, especially after just having brushed off Chief Gnaeus’ last official transmission, but she was going to have to at least report something to buy her some time to figure things out.

“Reply, previous transmission,” she commanded and waited. The moment that the fresh young face of the on-duty dispatch officer filled the screen Dr. Foxfire requested to speak directly to the Chief. It was a safe bet, she was sure, that the Chief had left instructions to handle anything he deemed important directly. So it was no surprise when the rookie receptionist instantly bowed to the Doctor’s request and transferred the call.

“I am a little bit busy here Doctor,” the Chief answered with fresh frustration. “What is it you want now and it better be important.” Dr. Foxfire decided to jump straight to the point; if the Chief was already under a lot of stress then she didn’t have the time for anything too clever. “Just providing an updated report, as per your official request,” she offered with only a hinted grin.

“What have you found,” Gnaeus implored as his eyes narrowed to focus fiercely at his screen. Dr. Foxfire made sure to maintain her best composure and pretended she was just delivering the news a family member needed to hear about their loved one. “Well, the patient is recovering well from the encounter but his memory is unfortunately still affected. He has had to undergo extensive surgery to repair or replace the damage to his body. It goes without saying that it will take time for him to make a full recovery. While the physical trauma may heal easily the psychological impact may trouble him far longer. I have had to resort to some advanced treatments to expedite his progress but there is little I can do to for his memory besides allow it to recover on its own. We cannot rush it without risking a complete breakdown.

However, what I can tell you Chief is that this was nothing out of the ordinary. Something did attack this man and nearly killed him. By his own account it was something covered in fur, with sharp claws, vicious teeth and an appetite for flesh. I think it would be wise to warn against any unnecessary activity after dark and perhaps some increased security patrols as a precaution.”

Gnaeus listened as Dr. Foxfire briefed him on her findings and while he questioned the idea of some monster on the loose he couldn’t argue with her assessment. No matter what the cause of the disturbance was it was only cautious to enact some preventative measures to deal with things until more could be discovered. But something still nagged at him; his gut still said that this Gabriel fellow was somehow connected.

“Appreciate the report and the advice,” Gnaeus replied after a pause to swallow a gulp from his mug. He had to wince again as he had once more forgotten how it had managed to lose its warmth. “But I would also appreciate it if until we know more you keep a close eye on your patient. He is not to leave your custody or supervision without my direct approval. Understood?”

Dr. Foxfire couldn’t refuse the request, nor did she want to without knowing more of the necessary details. “Agreed, Chief,” she finally consented casually. “Let’s just focus on finding whatever this thing is before I start to run out of beds.” And then she was back to staring at displayed data that started to clutter her wall.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Metal In The Moonlight - Episode 5.

Episode 5

“What’s going on Sebastian, one walk home that was more like something out of a nightmare and now I am looking like some kind of toss-out from a tin can factory. I don’t know what happened to me and what little I do know the Doc here don’t seem to be buying. And now I got just about the only friend on this dirt ball coming to visit me speaking in veiled nonsense. Talk to me man, tell it to me straight; what on Gallu is going on!”

Sebastian ruffled his shaggy mane of walnut colored hair and then took a moment to pause and scratch at his chin. It was a familiar gesture that Gabriel recognized; it typically proceeded any dispense of sage-like advice or at the very least bartender banter. “Alright, here goes,” Sebastian began with a wry half smile. “Like I was saying, you know I hear things – it comes with the unique nature of my position in society.”

“Nothing at all to do with the fact you provides a service prone to prompt people to loosen their lips or genuinely in need of a friendly ear you mean.” Gabriel quickly interjected; even if he was still recovering he couldn’t miss the chance to point out that he knew Sebastian better than that. “Fair enough point,” the bold barkeep acknowledged with a chuckle and a nod.

“Now, where was I, oh yes; the word on the street. As you may already be aware there has been the occasional vanishing act of pets here and there along with the rare drifter or two. Nothing to really bother over, not even serious enough for the authorities to get themselves involved in. And then you manage to get into some bizarre bit of bloody trouble walking home. Everybody has been whispering all hush-hush about it and as the rumors spread the words naturally change.

Some of the more regular customers with a friendly nature from the civil-defense forces have been mentioning a growing concern over some of these reports. Nothing official, mind you, but enough to illuminate some interesting points. Chiefly among them is the fact that after these quiet incidents now there has been one involving someone who didn’t vanish and instead survived. And some of them aren’t exactly making a clear case of separating your name from the victim category or its alternative.”

“Wait,” Gabriel halted his friend with a raised hand and called for an immediate stop to this silly notion. “You cannot be serious; look at me, there is no way I could be lying here in this shape and people think for a second that I was involved!” He couldn’t believe it, there was no way anyone could be thinking anything so absurd. How could he have even ended up so mangled if not for some kind of attack from a savage beast? Surely it had to be the talk of those who had had way too much to drink.

“Don’t shoot the messenger Marcus,” Sebastian advised warmly. He knew full well what using that name would do to his friend, and so he was already waiting to return the irritated eye that it called his way. “Yeah, I know how you feel about that name. When are you going to let that one go?” Clenched teeth and closed eyes were all that answered Sebastian’s query; which was a better reaction than he expected.

“Anyway The Rat Hole isn’t going to run itself,” Sebastian declared and rose with a stretch. “You just take care of yourself man, and keep a sharp eye on your tail. Something is definitely going on and until people have something solid to point their fears at you may find yourself a welcome substitute.”

Right on queue, Dr. Foxfire returned back from office. “You seem to do an amazing patch-up job Doctor; he looks to be doing great. Shame you can’t do more to repair that busted brain of his,” Sebastian laughed to himself as he made his exit. Dr. Foxfire seemed distracted to Gabriel, in truth he wasn’t even sure she had noticed Sebastian’s little joke – albeit a terrible one. “Something wrong Doc,” he decided to ask. He had had enough negative news for one day; he was still hoping to get to move around some like the Doctor had mentioned.

“Just a patient record error in the database is all,” Dr. Foxfire offered before changing the subject. “If you are ready to begin, I thought we might start with something simple.” A console along the wall responded to a series of key presses to slide a black slab out from the wall. “We are going to start off slow and I will monitor you. Just step up here and we’re going to start by walking, okay?”

“Sounds good to me,” Gabriel agreed as he found himself excited at the idea of not being confined any longer. The sensation of his feet touching the tiled floor was peculiar at first. He could feel the slight difference between his two feet; somehow the synthetic appendage registered the contact and reported it to his brain. It wasn’t completely unlike the feeling of his natural foot touching the cold floor but there was a slight edge of artificial difference that was subtly present.

As he placed his full weight down he found his legs awkwardly answering but his balance was slightly off. It took a few seconds to steady him, and he gratefully grabbed a hold onto his bed with both hands. His robotic right arm’s metallic exterior echoed the cold touch of the bed’s frame. While the Doctor might have attempted to balance out his various implants, Gabriel somehow could feel a shift in his center that leaned to his now heavier right side.

With a long deep breath Gabriel tediously stepped his way towards the extended platform. Once it registered his presence he discovered the base of the unit gradually began to spin prompting him to start walking to stay on. The pace was very leisurely, and with each stride Gabriel started to get a better feel for his adjusted gait. But the restrained rate was little more than a tease to him; he longed to really get his blood pumping.

“Can’t we step it up a bit Doc,” Gabriel implored as he found a smile starting to form and his mood improving. “Let’s put these new parts through their paces,” he begged as he curiously tried to step just a hair faster and noticed the platform responding. “That is not a good idea,” Dr. Foxfire cautioned only to raise an inquiring eye as Gabriel ignored her. Her peculiar patient was already moving into a joggers trot and threatening to increase his speed further. The monitors were feeding back a stream of steady data, aside from some elevated vitals Gabriel was looking to be in incredible shape. Perhaps even more so than he was prior to the accident, in fact Gabriel looked to be barely warming up.

“This doesn’t make any sense,” Dr. Foxfire failed to keep from whispering to herself. The quiet comment caught Gabriel’s attention and without breaking stride he turned to address her. “Surprised at how well your work turned out Doc?” With a shake of her head Dr. Foxfire gestured the question aside. “That is not what I meant; something else is going on here. There is a puzzle here and I aim to solve it. I am going to have to run some more tests.”

Gabriel barely had time to clear the platform as Dr. Foxfire hit the button to return it back into the wall before rapidly retreating from the room lost in her own thoughts. “Guess that means that is all for today,” Gabriel remarked to himself. Absently he flexed his fingers and soon found himself reviewing the strange new feel of his metallic muscles. He hadn’t realized that he had never even managed to get out of breath until now. Perhaps the Doc was right, which reminded him of what Sebastian had been saying. If he alone had survived some monster attack and people found out he was already recovering so fast then there was bound to be questions. And he wasn’t sure if he had any answers that anyone would accept.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Metal In The Moonlight - Episode 4.

Episode 4

The moon had already risen overhead to cast its gentle glow over Gallu. Chief Gnaeus looked past his cooling mug to study the curious reports that had begun to litter his desk. They had been slowly beginning to show up over the last few nights more and more. At first he could just shrug them off; some folks had a tendency to disappear from time to time out here near the rim. Often enough they would show up later but typically it never happened quite on this scale.

And then there was this one report of this one unfortunate soul, viciously assaulted on the streets. Heavily wounded and left for dead by something that according to the details it was claimed might have been trying to eat him. The victim was just some regular laborer on his way home from a job. But something about it didn’t feel right to the Chief. The man was alone; there was no one else to corroborate his tale. And furthermore, typically these types often frequented the local pub for drinks after work. The encounter allegedly took place long after the work day was over and a far cry from The Rat Hole. So what was he doing there at that hour all alone? There had to be more to the story than some fictional creature attacking without ever having been seen or encountered before.

“Dispatch,” Gnaeus called and his desks automatically routed the on-duty officer onto the built in screen. With a grumbled complaint the Chief had to remind himself to stop leaving things so scattered over his desk and pushed aside some of the clutter to better view his screen. Alert and awaiting his command was a young officer, who as far as he could tell had to barely be old enough to serve. It was yet another reminder that it had been so long since he himself was in front of the desk instead of behind it.

“I want an official request sent to Dr. Foxfire immediately for a complete incident report, including any records regarding her findings pertaining to the injured man.” Before ending the call Gnaeus decided to make clarify; he didn’t want this rookie to mistakenly fail to relay his intentions. “And Dispatch, make sure to emphasize to the good Doctor that currently we are still undecided as to whether or not to investigate the suspicious nature of this matter. As such it is in everyone’s best interest to be as honest as possible. If we find any reason to suspect any party is involved with some form of cover-up we will launch a full investigation.”

“Yes sir,” the dispatch officer replied gingerly and the screen went dark once more. The Chief couldn’t help but chuckle to himself, if he was not mistaken it had looked like the officer has written down everything he had said. “They keep getting younger and younger,” Gnaeus remarked to himself. He couldn’t help but wonder how even half of this police force of inexperienced peace-keepers would have handled anything like back when he served. “Those were the days,” he declared and then moaned as he realized his mug had gone cold. “A fire-fight every shift and you never had a chance for your mug to get cold – if you had a chance to grab a mug at all.”


“Come on Doc,” Gabriel pleaded once more. He was eager to get up and move for a change, being confined to the bed was beginning to feel like torture. “I’m telling you, I feel a lot better. At least let me get up and stretch my legs some.” Gabriel couldn’t explain it but with the day’s rest he found himself full of energy and ready to do something.

“I must insist that you not rush into this Gabriel, you have been through a very traumatic event and still need time to recover.” Dr. Foxfire still needed time to evaluate the puzzling patient further. The simple truth was that he was showing remarkable improvements. A little too remarkable, all things considered.

“I cannot consent to releasing you from care just yet, nor would I recommend you attempting to engage in overly exerting activity. We still need to run further tests and allow you to adjust to your new body. While your implants appear to be healing and show no sign of rejection thus far it wouldn’t be wise to tempt fate by stressing them. Right now, without them, you would have never survived whatever happened to you.”

“Here we go again,” Gabriel complained. “I already told you; I don’t recall very clearly what it was that happened. There was some creature; it attacked me on my way home from work. The thing was big, all I know is it was covered in fur; it had claws and was trying to eat me.”

Dr. Foxfire continued to make notes in her file as Gabriel once more recounted what had happened to him. It was beginning to infuriate the wounded worker. “Let’s be clear about this Doc; I am not crazy. I am not mistaken. Something tried to turn me into a chew-toy and if not for you would have done so. You had to see something!”

A beep alerted Dr. Foxfire and interrupted Gabriel. “It looks like I have an important transmission I need to take in my office, and you have a visitor. When I get back, if you’re still feeling up to it, how about we start your physical therapy and run a few tests to see how you’re doing. Then we can go from there, alright?”

“Sounds fine Doc,” Gabriel agreed. “But who could be visiting me here?” As Dr. Foxfire casually exited his room another familiar figure slipped in. “Sebastian, what are you doing here? Who is running The Rat Hole?” Without a word Sebastian strolled over pulling out a chair and proceeded to set down. He draped his muscled arms over the back of the chair and leaned forward to rest his scruffy chin.

“You think I wouldn’t come visit one of my oldest and best regulars as soon as I hear word that their on the mend?” Sebastian was the owner and operator of The Rat Hole, not to mention the closest thing to a friend Gabriel had. In a way the bartending buddy was as near a thing to family as Gabriel had left.

“I heard what happened, and as you know I hear lots of things. Which is why I am here; we need to talk.”

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Metal In The Moonlight - Episode 3.

Episode 3

Gabriel found himself drifting amidst an endless abyss. In every direction there was nothing but this sea of shadow with him at its center. How did he get here he wondered? And just exactly where was here even? Everything felt so fuzzy and out of place. The last clear memory he had was of swinging his hammer – he had been working on something. He was building something.

And then he could hear something. At first it was so very faint, only ticking at the edge of his hearing to tease him. What is that infernal sound? Gabriel couldn’t stand not being able to make it out. If he couldn’t see anything in this maddening mess of midnight he would be thrice thumb-thwacked if he wasn’t going to at least hear something. If nothing else he needed to be doing something.

There. There is was again, just ahead of him and to the right he was sure this time. His feet padded into a sprint and he followed as fiercely as he could to uncover what was making that strange noise. As he felt he was getting closer he slowly began to feel like the sound was familiar somehow. It was something he had heard before, but where? It was like the word on the tip of your tongue. He had always found that infuriating to him, to have something right there on the edge of your mind – to know that you know it but unable to connect the two.

“What are you,” Gabriel screamed as he could feel his heart beginning to race. The building rush of running was thrilling. He could feel his muscles flexing and powering through the steps. It was an exciting surge; this chase seemed to feel so satisfying. But what in all the colonized worlds was that blasted sound? The maddening mystery was beginning to grate on Gabriel’s nerves and as it did he found his teeth clenching. A savage snarl slipped free from him and that’s when he started to understand.

He had heard that sound before. It had been on the walk home. Something terrible had happened to him, something so very painful. But he had a job to do, a task that he had to complete. And just like that he found the sound – a distant primal howl that he could feel whispering through his insides as much as he could hear it. But replacing the endless darkness there was an ocean of delicate white light. He was in a room of some kind, and things were beeping all around him.

“Where – where am I,” Gabriel tried to make sense of his surroundings as his head began to swim with confusion. How did he get to wherever this was anyway? Was he dead? As he tried to look down he found his neck and limbs had been restrained. “What is going on,” he growled before having to groan as pain reminded him he was still far too wounded for any such antics.

“Ah, you’re awake early; I hadn’t expected you to regain consciousness for awhile longer,” Dr. Foxfire remarked as she entered the room. “It looks like introductions are in order, let’s see – Marcus Gabriel Vincent if our records are correct. My name is Dr. Samantha Foxfire, and you are under my care after suffering a quite vicious accident of some kind.”

“Nobody calls me Marcus,” Gabriel objected with a surge of anger. “Not if they want to keep their teeth intact for very long.” Dr. Foxfire allowed herself a brief smile at the comment that she was sure was both meant as a threat and more than likely true. “Well, be that as it may how about I just call you Gabriel then, alright? And you can call me Dr. Foxfire, or Doctor Sam if you prefer.”

“Sure Doc,” Gabriel admitted with a grunt, whatever had happened to him was still painful enough that he wasn’t in any shape to argue or fight. “Now, let’s give you a look then shall we?” Dr. Foxfire began to remove various restraints and with each one Gabriel found fresh sources of discomfort. “I think I should inform you, it’s only fair, and that you have sustained extensive damage to your body. By all accounts you are incredibly fortunate to even be alive right now. I need to prepare you for the shock of what toll the trauma has taken on your body. You lost a lot of blood and we did have to fit you with some artificial implants. I am afraid it will take some time for you to adjust and the road to recovery will not be an easy one. But you have done your job admirably and I hope you will come to find that I have done my very best to hold up my end as well.”

“What do you mean, Doc?” Gabriel prompted, bewildered by the news. “How much, I mean, what have you done to me?” The shock began to take hold as he struggled to replay events in his head. Some thing had attacked him, it was unnatural and he could still picture its cruel claws dripping with crimson. But where the memories began pain and torment followed to cloud everything. He simply couldn’t recall what it had done to him.

“Let’s take this slow then, shall we?” Dr. Foxfire advised with a gentle tone liken to that of a loving mother tending to her child. “We shall take this one step at a time. You have suffered a lot already, and I know this cannot be easy for you. But you must keep reminding yourself that you are still alive. Now, we are going to carefully review your condition. Are you ready?”

Gabriel swallowed hard as he tried to process everything that was happening but in his mind he kept reliving the horror that seemed so much like a terrible dream. He wanted so badly for this Dr. Foxfire to tell him he had fallen and hit his head and this was all just some sick joke. But he knew it wasn’t, he knew this was reality and he had to deal with it. “Go ahead Doc, I can take it.” He confirmed and closed his eyes to focus on her words.

“Your right arm was unfortunately absent when we found you, and had to be completely replaced. You have suffered considerable damage along your right side as well, resulting in cracked, broken and shattered ribs. There is severe muscle and tissue injury along with punctures to your lung. We had to perform emergency surgery to repair or replace what we could. You have also lost much of your left leg below the knee. There is also some scarring to the side of your face and head. I am afraid we reconstructed what we could but your right eye was beyond repair and we had to remove it.”

As Gabriel considered all the details the good doctor was informing him of he found himself distracted by the implications. What was he going to do now? Did this mean he couldn’t work any more; was he going to be some kind of robotic freak of nature? Dr. Foxfire kept talking to him but Gabriel was finding his attention unable to focus on her summary of his condition.

“This is going to take time, as I said, for you to adjust and recover,” Dr. Foxfire reaffirmed. “We are going to monitor your progress and there will need to be some further testing but I believe you can make a full recovery.” As she spoke the words she hoped would help console her patient, Dr. Foxfire covertly began to order some specialized analysis tests. Someone in the condition Gabriel had been in never should have awakened for several days from his comma at the earliest. She would have estimated about a week if things had gone well. He had only been out of surgery a handful of hours.

“We’ll speak more after you get some rest,” Dr. Foxfire admitted and politely exited the room. Perhaps soon enough she could find out if Gabriel could recall anything about what had happened to him that might shed some light on everything. If he couldn’t recall something that might help answer what was going on then Dr. Foxfire was going to have to investigate for the answers one way or another. Something about the whole matter made her curious, and in her experience if something managed to make her curious there was good reason for her to figure it out.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Metal In The Moonlight - Episode 2.

Episode 2

“Get this man into the medical transport immediately and prep 10 units of stabilizer Nano-Meds into the injector.” Doctor Foxfire immediately began rapid firing her orders the second her response team appeared on the scene. The bulky transport slid to a halt and a pair of medical service robots exited to begin following her commands.

“We need to get him back to my facility quickly,” the Doctor confessed mostly for her own benefit. “It looks like it is going to be a rather long night for this gentleman,” she added. Dr. Foxfire had seen her share of grizzly scenes over the length of her young career. But this man had been mauled by something that defied natural logic.

The fact that this man was still clinging to life was an absolute miracle. He had lost a tremendous amount of blood and his right arm was completely gone. Savage wounds covered most of his body; his ribs looked shredded with a possibly punctured lung. The poor soul looked like something had chewed off part of his lower leg and the slash to his face might cost him his eye as well.

“Hurry up and get him loaded Red,” Dr. Foxfire told one of her assistants bearing a crimson band on its arms. “Blue, I want you to pilot us straight back to the facility with the utmost urgency while I try and get this man stable.” The blue-banded bot faithfully complied and took its place at the transport’s helm while its red-banded cohort directed Gabriel into the rear on a hovering board of tetrasteel.

“Nano-Med Injector,” Foxfire requested as the hatch had barely closed and the vehicle began to make its way with all the available haste. Her autonomous assistant handed her the small canister containing a compressed mixture of medical nannites with clinical poise. The tiny technologically crafted creations were a staple of modern medicine. Once injected into the body they could spread throughout to halt damage to the body or repair it. However it took a skilled physician to administer the precise mixture and placement of the injection. Even as miraculous as medicine had come in all these years; it couldn’t bring back the dead or fix flesh that was no longer there.

With a whispered hiss the device she delicately pressed against Gabriel’s body released the microscopic minions and set them to work. They rushed to form artificial platelet barriers to try and seal off the breeches to the body and stop the continued blood loss. Nannites scurried to mobilize themselves to mend failing tissue and began releasing chemicals to help boost the ones Gabriel’s body was already marshaling.

Dr. Foxfire’s brow furrowed as she found herself becoming displeased by the information her monitors started to report. Despite the nannites impressive efforts the terrible trauma suffered by her present patient was looking to be too much. She despised the notion of ever having to say those painful words; “I am sorry, but we couldn’t save him.” With all her training and technology at her disposal she could not accept that as an option.

“Ready surgery for an emergency operation,” Foxfire demanded as she hurried to aid man who mysteriously had managed to hang on this long already. “Make every single piece of cybernetic replacement we have in inventory available and I want it done an hour ago.” Responding to her request the facility A.I. appeared on one of the transport’s screens to address her.

“I must remind you, Doctor, that our current inventory of such components is unfortunately limited. As such it is unwise to waste them needlessly when the availability of them being restocked is unknown.” Whoever had created the advising A.I. had to have a distorted sense of humor, Foxfire decided. “You’re a real piece of work, you know that?” She stated to the virtual face starring back at her from the screen. “For something named after an important founder of medicine you show a complete lack of understanding with regard to your namesakes primary teachings. To a black hole with the inventory, this man is dying and if I have to put everything I have into him to prevent that I will. Including your circuit boards, understand?”

“Understood,” the A.I. confirmed. “The facility and requested materials will be awaiting your arrival, Doctor.” Listed on the screen an itemized inventory replaced the artificial administrator’s face. Foxfire was going to have to have a serious long talk with that A.I. after this she noted.  “Appreciated, Hippo,” she sarcastically commented as the vehicle rolled to a stop finally.

Making the most of every precious moment, Foxfire leaped down from the transport’s rear hatch and sprinted her way to the waiting operating room. Instinctively her banded bots followed automatically behind her with their unconscious cargo in tow. With all the speed she could muster, Foxfire set herself to surgically seeing to Gabriel’s wounds. Working long into the night and part of the following day she tirelessly toiled to tend to the extensive trauma.

By the end she reluctantly had to admit that she had done everything within her power to save him. Including the fact that she did end up having to use most of the available cyberware components she had in stock. Unfortunately her medical facility had never been established with the notion of having to treat such massive trauma cases. For the most part it was only intended to handle first aid, common illnesses and the occasional birth.

Now it was all a matter of waiting and watching. She would have to leave the rest in the hands of her patient. The dedicated doctor had kept her promise; all she could do was hope that her patient wasn’t going to let her down. After a few hours rest she would check on him again to monitor his condition. In the mean time she could use a nap herself, but first a quick records check to identify her patient was in order. Either way she would need a name to put with the face later awake or otherwise.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Metal In The Moonlight - Episode 1.

Metal in the Moonlight

Episode 1

“You know your work-ethic is going to be the death of you someday, right?” Gabriel didn’t bother to look up from his work to see who it was that was talking to him from the roughed out door-frame. “Only if the job is done,” he confessed with a grin. Everyone on the crew liked to pick on Gabriel for his dedication to what he considered to be his hallmark. Like his grandfather before him he strived to hold himself to two simple standards. If something was worth doing then it was worth doing right. And you never leave a job until the task is finished.

Where everyone else on the crew was already long gone to go unwind at The Rat Hole, what served as the local pub, Gabriel refused to leave the job site just yet. They had been building on to an old colonists housing unit for a local couple. But secretly it was for their son that Gabriel was now diligently driving nails in the growing gloom.

The bashful boy had approached Gabriel before obediently following his mother to leave for their trip out of town. He had heard the whispered stories of pets vanishing along with the occasional wanderer before the dawn and worried over his own beloved beast. Gabriel kindly consented to craft him a secure storage for the precious pet and waived good bye.

It was for this lone reason that he was still hard at work, his day not yet ended even as the sun had left the sky. The family wouldn’t be back for a few days; by all arguable logic he only really needed to ensure his task was complete before then. But it just wasn’t in him to pack up and leave without finishing what he had already began.

He had promised the kid that he would do the job, and to him that meant that it would be done before he left. As he drove the final nails into the wooden frame he took a moment to appreciate the clean and functional creation. It was solid; there was no doubt about it. A finely crafted thing that should serve the job of keeping the child’s companion sheltered nicely.

The job was finally complete but the hour was growing late. Much too late to be able to join the rest of the crew for drinks Gabriel wagered. So he decided as he packed up his tools to instead head for home to get some rest. The walk would do him some good anyways; the transports typically stopped running hours ago. Most of the city shut down with the setting of the sun.

His weary feet carried him down the sidewalk towards his house under the flickering night lamps. “Someone should really take the time to repair some of these things,” Gabriel told himself as he wondered just how hard it was to keep such tech fully functioning. Surely it couldn’t be too terribly difficult to perform some kind of routine maintenance on them.

 Perhaps it was the exhaustion, or the combination of the late hour and occasional failing light but Gabriel thought he heard the strangest sound. It almost sounded like some kind of primal growl or howl. He had to be more tired than he thought, why in all of space would he be hearing something like that?

But the sound was getting closer, the noise becoming clear and directed from behind him. “What the…” Gabriel muttered and turned to investigate the curious clatter. Awaiting his eyes was a sight that his mind struggled to make sense of. It was some manner of fur covered creature that at first moved frantically on all four legs before rising up onto its hind limbs to glare hungrily at him. At the ends of its muscled arms were vicious claws that gleamed in the dim lights. A pair of piercing gold eyes gazed down at him from over the monster’s muzzle. And a snarl of sinister sharp teeth dripped with saliva that eagerly anticipated the taste of a fresh meal.

The brutish beast savagely swung a pernicious paw violently aimed at Gabriel. Instinctively the tired tradesman jerked his right arm up to try and shield himself from the blow. But the flesh proved a feeble match for his fearsome foe and pain exploded in answer. So much pain, Gabriel discovered that his vision was failing him and the world seemed to be turning a shade of red.

His right arm still reeled in a tidal wave of torment and refused to respond as he tried to reach for his hammer. He needed something to try and get this thing off of him, to find a way to get to safety. Another burst of agony heralded a blow that tore into his ribs and chest. Breathing instantly became a monumental challenge that made Gabriel question if there could be any safety from this predator.

Cool stone collided with his cheek as Gabriel slipped from his feet to fall to the waiting ground. Defiantly he reached out for a grip with his left arm and tried to crawl as best he could to escape form the nightmare. Everything had begun to feel so very cold and distant to the point that he almost wasn’t sure what the feeling was in his left leg. Turning slowly to look back he quickly understood as he caught sight of terrible teeth chewing.

A scream escaped him and quickly fell silent as another swipe of claws ripped across his face sending it back to the sidewalk. His vision completely failed him as the last thing he could see was his own hammer splattered in blood laying in the moonlight. As consciousness started to retreat along with it a soft voice drifted up to tug at him.

“Hold on,” it pleaded with an edge of concern mixed with authority. “Just hang in there; you are going to be alright. Help is on the way!” Everything had become disconnected; Gabriel could only hear the muffled sound of the stranger’s voice now.

“Come on, I need you do something for me – I have a job for you; you have got to try and hold on. You do your job and I’ll do mine, deal?” Deep down Gabriel no longer had the understanding left to grasp what was happening. But some basic part of him seized on that sole notion; that he had a job to do. And if he had a job left to do there was no way he was going to leave without finishing it.

“Appreciated,” the voice remarked noticing that Gabriel’s pulse struggled to keep from weakening any further. Gabriel wasn’t sure what could be done to save him considering the shape he must be in. But if he was asked to do his best to hold on then that is exactly what he was going to do. Besides, at least he had already completed his project for the boy he admitted to himself. Seemed like an unusual thought at the time but Gabriel figured perhaps the pet would be safe. If anything could keep something safe from such a monster.

Gabriel found thoughts of monsters and protection trying to dominate his mind as he fought to focus on his assigned job of clinging to life. Somehow the darkness behind his closed eyes deepened to claim him and Gabriel realized he had no idea what was happening around him anymore. All he could do was drift amid dreams as a decision came to him. Someone needed to make things safe if such creatures could threaten everyone. And if there was any way he could then he was certainly going to take up the task.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Released - Neon Knights Ebook.

Well, as of yesterday afternoon Neon Knights has been released in it's revised ebook format. Every episode collected together into a variety of formats and made available through Smashwords. As with A Light In The Dark I have chosen to make the book completely free; I started by writing them for my own children and after seeing how much they enjoyed them I decided to share them with others. If you or your own children read any of my works and smile then I consider myself well paid indeed.

I have found myself thinking a lot about these little serial stories lately. Each one is it's own unique thing, much like a flavor to be savored. One thing I can honestly admit about Neon Knights is that it was just a blast to write. It incorporated so many various elements that I could draw on for it, not to mention it allowed me to make use of some of my own technical background. The whole experience was quite satisfying to say the least.

However I have to be honest here;  Neon Knights without initially meaning to be ended up becoming a little more mature than A Light In The Dark. Just kind of evolved that way, actually.

Well, much like Zero I could probably go on and on analyzing the story and my others but I think it best to take some friendly advice and not let my mouth run away with me. Give it a read and see what you think for yourself - it is free after all. I need to get back to revising Luck of the Claw for release anyways I suppose.

Hopefully you'll find it enjoyable.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Neon Knights - Episode 25.

Episode 25

Lexel ran the nodes, driven by more than just her typical enthusiasm. Normally it was just fun and games; an entertaining past time to challenge her while allowing her to appease her curiosity. But this was different, this time it was important to her. As she dove deeper and deeper to isolate the necessary nodes that formed the slumbering network Lexel slowly sharpened her focus.

The faintly shimmering strands of subtle signals that connected the various digital points were obvious to her trained eyes. To the casual observer or a security crawler for that matter they would appear as just more background static. But not to Lexel who already knew what to look for, not for someone who had been there before. For her it was like following a waiting trail of breadcrumbs to lead her home.

Waiting for her like whispering white snowflakes upon the gentle wind was the familiar source point, still silent. Even though her last visit wasn’t that long ago it felt like she hadn’t been here in quite some time. The gamble had paid off by proving to lead her to getting Zero entered into the games. Perhaps her luck would still prove favorable using the little node once again.

As swift as she could Lexel set herself to weaving her little waiting wonder and placing a keyed trigger to awaken it. This time though Lexel made sure not to alert anyone to her presence. If everything went well her little modification would remain harmless enough that no one need ever know about it. And if she had to use it, well, something told her that NaN most likely had other avenues to take advantage of. There was no way the secretive underground group had staying active this long without their fair share of contingency plans.

Satisfied with her little deft display of digital legerdemain Lexel quickly retraced her steps back out. There wasn’t time to waste to pause and appreciate her work; she had an important call to make. Lexel had barely removed the jack from its slot before her vision had completely cleared to view the screen still setting in front of her. She pushed the lingering disorientation of rushing back out to reality so fast and reached to reopen the communication channel.

“It’s times like this that I should say that my mother always taught me that it isn’t polite to keep someone waiting on the line, but ironically I don’t think she ever mentioned the matter. In fact, I think she would approve,” Lexel admitted with amusement. “Let’s take a call then, shall we; catch up with our dear old friend Mr. Graystone.”

The screen lit back up to display the still shaken image of Xeph who startled at the sudden signal of Lexel’s returned call. She had to cut her friend off immediately, poor Xeph was terrified beyond reason and right now she needed every ounce of nerve for the task at hand. “Put sinister Suzy on Xeph,” Lexel demanded as she watched her friends’ eyes go wide with fright. “What are you,” Xeph tried to mutter but panic imprisoned her voice to silence her.

Replacing her scared scarlet haired sister Mr. Graystone stepped into view, pushing Xeph aside with a rather rough shove. Lexel figured it was just another show of contempt, a deliberate attempt to try and keep reinforcing his displayed dominance of the situation. “So which is it going to be, have you decided to see reason or are going to throw these two to the wolves?” Graystone dangled the question like it was bait with a smile and waived his bandaged stump for effect.

“Hope that nasty wound isn’t bothering you too terribly, because I think I might have some disappointing news for you. And I would just feel horrible if I just made your mood even worse,” Lexel answered and watched Graystone’s face to gauge his reaction. By the growing twitch and slightly increased pulsing veins in his forehead it seemed fairly obvious that she was getting under the man’s skin.

“I will take door number three gray-pants; no surrender, no come and get me. Instead I am going to offer you a one time simple as can be offer. You let them go and agree to leave us in peace and I will refrain from releasing every scrap of data about your precious project. Make one move against up or harm a hair on their heads and soon find everything blasted all over every node in every network.”

Lexel allowed herself a brief pause to let the full measure of her threat sink in. “And I am going to need an answer immediately. I am afraid I am not quite as patient when my finger is on a trigger as some folks. So what is it going to be then, huh?”

Mr. Graystone’s face filled with a frightening fury as he began to snarl a vicious response but something seemed to restrain him. It was almost like he had to turn his attention to a conversation Lexel couldn’t hear and whatever was being said seemed to be just as upsetting to him.

“Fine,” Graystone finally answered grimly. However don’t think that this is the end of this! Remember that this all began with your illegal access to our node and as such we have evidence detailing your nefarious node-running activities. One step by you or that problematic prototype anywhere near your friends here or anything resembling the authorities and you will find yourself blamed for all manner of things with plenty of evidence to see yourself hunted by the law as well. Try to burn us or return to your regular life and find yourself exposed for the criminal child you are. If the price of this silence is so much then consider yourself a shadow of the streets!”

“I would rather think of us as Neon Knights actually,” Lexel countered and clicked the channel closed. Her bravado faded and tears began to form as the understanding that she could never go home sunk in. But just before the sobs could start Lexel found her in the firm grasp of a pair of mighty muscled arms. Soon even the Professor joined in and Zero leaned in close as well to form a crude group hug.

Perhaps she could make her own life and her own little family here on the streets, Lexel thought to herself. “Cute name,” Tyrn declared with a proud grin on his face. Lexel couldn’t resist bursting into giggles at the comment she discovered and let herself laugh. “I suppose it is,” she agreed as she wiped tears from her face. “Every champion needs a fighting title right; The Neon Knights is a nice fit for us I’d say.”

“Agreed,” Zero seconded and just like that they all began to celebrate. They were a newly born team now, and things would never be easy for them. But they had faced every challenge and succeeded so far; who knows what the future could hold for them? “Anybody want to play a game,” Zero asked his friends and fresh laughter erupted to fill the room. He was definitely going to look forward to the challenges ahead.