Friday, December 2, 2011

Fade Away

Sorry for the lack of stories these last two weeks; been playing too much Skyrim for my own good. Recently I saw a documentary about drug users in Russia, and it reminded me of a short piece I wrote back in college. I think everyone goes through some form of addiction one time or another in their life, not necessarily drugs, but destructive behavior you know is hurting you but you can't stop doing. This story is about being in that place.

Fade Away

“Your debt becomes payable in two weeks. If you aren’t able to pay me then, your interest rate is going up by twenty percent.”

Oleg stared at the loan officer with a blank look on his pallid face. ‘Loan officer’ was actually too nice a description, “loan shark” was more accurate. The fat, greasy-haired man worked out of his living room not some bank building. A lender of last resort that only people who really needed money would come to. People like Oleg. “Twenty percent? I, I can’t find that kind of money.”

The loan shark leaned over his scratchy oak desk, his massive belly pushing up against its faux-varnished surface so that he looked like an angry bullfrog when he spoke. “Well then, I suggest you start finding ways to get it. You’re not going to find my business associates as pleasant company as myself. They’re the kind of guys who like breaking thumbs. For sport. And this is going to be business.”

Oleg was quick to back down, “Of course, of course, I’ll get you the money. Two weeks you said? No problem.”

Settling back into his chair, his girth causing it to groan uncertainly, the loan shark grunted. “Good, now get going. I’ll send one of my associates around to your house tomorrow to see how you and your lovely wife are doing.” Oleg started to object, but was quickly cut off with a wave of a fleshy palm, “And no need to tell me that it’s not necessary, I insist. I think you know your way out.”

Oleg nodded, rubbing his sweaty palms on his ratty tweed pants as he got up. As he exited the crumbling building and stepped into the sweltering heat of the summer day, he wondered just how he’d gotten to this place to begin with. The rutted sidewalk in front of the loan shark’s house was littered with shards of glass. Broken wine bottles, shattered windows, cracked syringes, sometimes Oleg wondered if this entire place wasn’t built on a foundation of broken glass.

Walking down the crumbling sidewalks of the loan officer’s neighborhood, Oleg stuffed his hands in his pockets, walking with hunched shoulders and burying his face into the dirty collar of his unwashed striped shirt. He hoped no one would notice him. Not that it really mattered, it wasn’t like he lived in a neighborhood that was any better off than this. It was more of a neurotic fear that someone he had known in high school would see him. He had been better off back then living in a neighborhood where birds, not guns, sang out to mark the dawn. With parents who were mentally together enough to raise him up with at least a semblance of care. It was so weird, Oleg thought as walked briskly down the sidewalk, how teenagers thought they were so responsible; their folks did everything for them. Bought their food, drove them around, gave them shelter, paid their bills, hell they did everything but wipe their butts for them.

And things were so damned unfair that way, Oleg thought. Why couldn’t it just stay like that.

If there was one thing that his thirty-three years on Earth had taught Oleg it was that some things were like physics: you drop a ball and it’s going to hit the ground. You leave your parents house, crash at friends until they can’t stand you, do drugs because you’re thinking of your own happiness more than that of anyone else’s, and you’re going to live a crappy life. But why, Oleg thought with of a mental sigh of frustration, why did it have to be that way.

He walked past a Hispanic guy, sitting out on the concrete porch of a decaying flophouse, his bare-chest marked up with scars and a large tattoo of a red dragon that was inked into his abdomen. The guy had a dime bag brazenly held in his hand. Oleg felt that twinge in his arms, the twinge that was his body’s way of telling his mind that it wanted some more drugs. Oleg kept walking, not to get away from the dealer but because he already had a stash hidden at hom
e. Why, Ego thought as he walked, why wasn’t it that you could have it both ways. Why couldn’t you just feel good, and have a family that wasn’t hurt? It was just drugs, why did your kid have to hate your guts. Why couldn’t everything just be alright?

A red stoplight halted Oleg’s walk, the aging cars that were speeding by belched out an acrid smoke that made his eyes water. Keeping his eyes on the ground, Oleg looked into a puddle that had formed over a clogged sewage drain. In the muddy water he could barely see his face; hair that hadn’t been combed in weeks, puffy bags underneath his dark eyes, a pocked face with signs of wear that should have marred the skin of an older man. He knew that some things in life were like physics…he knew it but couldn’t help himself anyways. Just moan and groan and blame his weakness on other things, and then go back and do the same shit all over again. Just complain about how hard it was to change his life. Just complain and keep doing the same old shit.

Oleg made sure to step in the puddle as the light turned green, blotting out his image in a swirl of muddy water, but he still picked up his pace as he marched towards the stash waiting for him at home.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


So, this week's story comes courtesy of my friend Ioan who wanted me to put together a small sketch about an A Team-esque band of space mercenaries. This one was tough to write; 'buddy comedy' can really be brain wracking, but when everything clicked I had a blast finishing it up:

pic link

Gelo R. Fleisher

The insides of the drop ship shuddered and clanked as it hurtled through the outer atmosphere of Tau Ceti Six. Two men holding flechette rifles and clad in plaz-tek armor sat jostling about in their harnesses, one on either side of a hulking robot.

The shorter of the two was rocking back and forth, muttering. The taller one leaned around the robot and poked him with the barrel of his rifle. “Hey, Mauer. Stop gibbering to yourself for a second, I gotta ask you a question.”

Mauer snorted. “Trip, don’t pester me, you’re breaking my concentration.”

Trip rolled his eyes. “Whatever, the only things you ever think about are conspiracy theories and guns. Now, do you have any clue what we’re doing here?”

Mauer jerked his head up. “Hey man, you’re just blind to the truth. See, another piece of the puzzle just fell into place for me. Cows.”


Yes, cows. Or to be more precise, the dairy industry. See, get this. It’s a well known fact that people of Jewish and African descent are three times more likely to be lactose intolerant than Europeans. That means the dairy industry is promoting defacto racist policies by pushing people to drink a product that will cause imbalanced cramping and flatulence across various sectors of society.”

Trip blinked. “What the hell are you talking about this time you crazy nut? All I want to know is why are we here now, like why did the Captain tell us to get into the drop ship?”

Oh, I dunno. Ask the TX-500.”

The robot’s eyes switched on, glowing orange the mention of his name.

I’m not going to ask the robot. Ever since the Captain tried messing with its data loop the thing’s been a broken record. See, watch this.”

Trip tapped TX-500 on it’s slick, metal head. “Hey chrome dome. What’s the weather like outside?”

TX-500’s eyes turned red. “Kill. Crush. Exterminate.”

See, one track mind.”

Kill. Crush. Exterm...”

Yeah, heard you the first time buddy. And Mauer what the hell is that on your wrist?”

Mauer grinned. “You like? It’s my new good luck bracelet.”

No, it looks like you glued a dead hamster to a piece of string.”

Mauer sniffed. “Make fun of it if you want, but when the plasma starts flying, you’ll be wishing you had one.”

Yeah, I Doubt that. So how do you know it works?”

Pff, of course it works; am I being shot at right now?”


Well there you go.”

Trip was about to respond when the door to the cockpit slid open and Captain Maxwell Greene stepped in, the orange light of a burning cigar lighting up his craggy face. “Rise and shine boys and girls, we’re now en route to our latest target.”

The captain paused to drop his cigar on the floor, grinding it out with the heel of his boot. “Now I’ve told you many a time that the greatest joy in life to meet a foe in singular combat and crush them. To defeat your enemy, smear yourself with his blood and roll around in his entrails. Today, sadly, you will not have such a opportunity. Our target,” Captain Greene jabbed a finger onto a holomap that had sprung up on the drop ship wall, “is the Trireme Metal Works. Automated tank production factory, not a living soul in the damned place.”

Trireme’s thugs stole something from our current employer and we’ve been very well paid to go down there and elicit some retribution. This is going to be a sadly simple smash and bash job; parachute in, blow our way through the front door, and wreck some shit up.”

Uh captain.” Trip raised his hand. “If there’s no people down there, why all the guns and armor?”

Precautions son. Factory’s got a full set of automated defenses; flak towers, plasma launchers, and high velocity turret guns.”

Uh, then do we really want to go in through the front door? I mean that stuff sounds pretty dangerous.”

Trip, did I ask you for your opinion.”

No sir.”

No sir indeed. If I wanted to hear the sound of an bleating donkey I would have gone to a petting zoo. What do you think of my plan TX-500?”

The droid’s eyes flashed red. “Kill. Crush. Exterminate.”

Exactly! Good robot. Now that’s precisely the attitude I expect from the rest of you chicken livers. Everyone put on their war face; drop is in two minutes and then the fun starts.”

Smoke lay thickly across the large concrete lot in front of the factory. On a backdrop of burning, smoking tank hulks, Trip, Mauer, TX-500, and Captain Greene huddled behind a shattered wall, bullets and explosions going off all around them. Captain Greene, peeked his head over the wall, swearing and ducking as a hail of gunfire erupted around him. “Shit!”

Alright men! It looks like we’re in a pretty bad spot. The automated defense system saw us coming and it’s gonna turn us into pink confetti if we stay put.” A plasma rocket slammed into the ground a few feet away, throwing a plume of dirt onto the squad.

Trip clutched his rifle tightly. “I told you this was going to happen!”

Thanks for reminder Tinkerbell! Now why don’t you shut your pie-hole unless you’ve got something constructive to tell me! And what the hell is that thing you holding onto Mauer?”

Lucky charm sir!”

Well quit praying to Buddha and think of a way out of this mess!”

ducked as a blast of gunfire raked across the top of the wall, chunks of cement flying everywhere. “Uh, well Cap’n this is a tank factory, maybe we can steal one for an hour or two.”

Another plasma rocket screamed overhead. “Why Mauer, that’s the first bit of commonsense out of your mouth all day! Alright, you two go find me a tank and bring it back here for me to commandeer.” Captain Greene jabbed a finger at the robot hefting a large mini gun. “TX-500, you move forward and provide suppressive fire. Now, let’s all go show ‘em what Delta Squad is made of!”

TX-500’s eyes turned blood red. The mini-gun in his hands began to spin as he stood up and walked towards the turrets. “Kill. Crush. Exterminate.” The mini gun flared to life, spitting a hail of hot fire out at the enemy. “Kill. Crush. Extermi...” TX-500 got three feet out from the wall when a plasma rocket hit him head-on, turning him into an erupting pillar of burning metal chunks. Everyone ducked as smoking robot parts rained down on them.

Trip brushed a burning metal fragment from his shoulder. “Apparently Delta Squad is made up of busted scrap.”

Ah hell.” Captain Greene hefted his rifle and stood up. “You want something done right you gotta do it yourself. Alright you two powder puffs, get out there and grab me a tank!” Greene vaulted over the wall, shouting and firing blindly. “Valahallaaaaaaaaaaaaa!”

Trip watched as Captain slid into safety behind a pile of smoking rubble, firing blindly while letting out a stream of profanity that had Trip blushing.

Mauer poked Trip. “Hey, let’s get moving, if we don’t Cap’s gonna get smoked.“

Don’t tempt me.” Trip scanned the battlefield of burning hulks, his eyes lighting on a tank that seemed relatively intact. Alright, let’s try for that one. One, two, three...go!” Trip and Mauer scrambled out into the open, blitzing towards the tank. A plasma round screamed towards them, landing close behind as they closed in, flinging them both into the air. Trip landed in a heap at the feet of the tank. Mauer landed on Trip. Kissing his good luck bracelet, Mauer hopped off and clambered into the hatch, Trip following, dropping in head-first.

Mauer rubbed his hands, looking at the huge array at dials and levers in front of him. Trip scrambled over to him. “How’s it look? You driven one of these things before?”

Mauer grinned. “Pshh, of course not. But don’t worry, I’ve got my lucky charm. Let’s roll!” Mauer shoved a large green handle forward.

The tank lurched backwards suddenly, wheeling away from the factory. Trip went toppling to the tank floor. “You idiot! You’re going the wrong way!”

Sorry! Sorry! It was in reverse. Okay, I got it now.” Mauer grabbed another handle and jerked it backwards. The tank screeched to a halt and then lurched forward, gunfire crackling against its hard hull as it rumbled towards the factory. “Heey! I see the Captain! Alright you bastards! Take this!” Mauer pressed a big red button with a rocket stenciled on it.

A pleasant female voice filled the turret.

Auto targeting system activated. Enemy target sighted.

The turret swung slowly in an arc, moving away from the enemy turret emplacements until the barrel was staring down Captain Greene. “Crap! Halt! No shooting!” Mauer started slapping random buttons.


The turret shook as a loud boom filled the air.

“Captain! Is he alright?”

Trip stumbled back into the turret, squinting to see through the smoke thrown up by the blast. He could make out a smoking, soot covered figure, shaking his fist and yelling at the tank. “Yeah, looks like he’s shouting at us.”

“Oh halleluiah, what’s he saying?”

Ehh, you don’t wanna know.”

Friendly fire disabled. Alternative target sighted.

The tank turret finally rumbled around, bringing the enemy emplacements into sight.


One of the plasma turrets erupted in a shower of sparking electronics.

The insides of the drop ship shuddered and clanked as it flew up past the outer atmosphere of Tau Ceti Six. Two dusty, sweaty men holding flechette rifles and clad in plaz-tek armor sat jostling about in their harnesses, one on either side of a hulking pile of robot parts.

A slightly singed Captain Greene stood staring at the two, arms crossed. “Overall men, I have to say that the mission was a success. Opening phase was a bit hairy, it's gonna cost a bit to put ol' TX-500 back together again, and you two fruitcakes almost turned me into strawberry pudding. But Trireme's shit got wrecked, and in the end isn't that what matters?”

“Yes sir!” Trip and Mauer said simultaneously.

“Yes sir, indeed.”

Mauer fiddled with his lucky charm while Trip cleared his throat. “You know Cap', we weren't really trying to blow you up.”

“I understand son, and I am a forgiving man.”

“Thank you sir.”

“But not that forgiving. Toilet duty for a month. Now, get some shuteye, I just got our next job lined up and it's gonna be even more fun than this one was. See you pansies in a few.”


Thursday, November 3, 2011

Character Sketch

These days my current writing projects include two novellas, both of which are attempts at stretching my writing chops by doing something different from what I usually tend to write about. One is my first real fantasy story and it's an attempt to do a very moody, atmospheric piece (might post part of it later). The other is science fiction but is much more character-focused than most of my stuff. This week I tried jotting down something of a character sketch for what I hope the main character of that second novella might turn into. Most of my characters tend to be contemplative or overly serious, so here's my attempt at a more eccentric person. Background is that the character, Janet, is a new arrival on an asteroid mining crew:

pic link.

Character Sketch
Gelo R. Fleisher

There were ten of us, all gathered in a semi-circle around the comm board. Charlie, apparently the crew supervisor, was going on about team spirit or something but I wasn’t really paying attention. I’d started on Roger’s latest jigsaw puzzle last night and hadn’t finished it until two in the morning, so I wasn’t feeling particularly chipper at the moment. The fact that I was standing in front of a ventilation fan that was dumping stale, hot air onto my head wasn’t helping my mood either.

“...and let’s all welcome Janet, our newest spinneret technician. She’ll be helping us with today’s job.”

I nodded politely as everyone’s gaze flitted over to me.

Charlie placed his hands on his hips, stuck out his chest and in general put on a pretty good alpha male impression. “Alright crew, so today we’ve got to perform tether maintenance on the asteroid coupling...”

The hot air was really starting to get on my nerves; my skin had started prickling and I could my face starting to flush. I raised my arm up straight.

“Um. Do you have a question?” It was Charlie.

“What? Nah. Just getting a little hot. Raising my arm like this helps keep my body cool, makes the blood travel longer through the system.”

Everyone was still staring at me. “Really, don’t mind me, go on.”

“All I was saying....” I soon stopped paying attention again. Charlie seemed like a nice guy; a little full of himself, then again who wasn’t, but the man sure liked to talk. Words, words, words. Maybe I should go to my bunk after this and email him my collection of Sam Spade radio plays. Audio; now that’s the writer’s medium. One hundred percent dialogue, pure brevity of style.  In those old 20th century radio plays everything had to be conveyed to the listener via dialogue and the bangings of an overworked sound effects guy: “Gosh, it sure is cold and dark in here Sam.”, “Don’t worry baby, just hold my hand and stick close to me. Yeah, just like that.”, “Aieee! Look out Sam, there, in the shadows! It’s the killer, and he has a gun!” “Not for long! Take that! And that!” “Oh Sam, you’ve subdued him.” “Yep, he’s out cold, and now to figure out whose behind this mystery.” “My goodness, it’s Senator Clyburn!” The essence of clarity and direction. Charlie could learn a thing or two from them.

“...Janet and her crew will then take the spinneret up and...” That piqued my interest and I decided to go back to following the conversation.

“...we’ll use the drive train to bring everyone up to the spinneret and then Janet, you’ll decouple the pod for transport to the asteroid.”

What? No, no, no. What was he talking about? “Charlie, you should stick with scheduling and leave the spinneret mechanics to me, that’s my job.”

Charlie had stopped talking, his mouth still agape and staring at me with an expression which looked like a mix of disbelief and shock. Was that too harsh? Hmm...I had to explain myself. “Don’t take it personally, it’s not like I’m saying you’ve got a small penis or anything. “

The whole crew was gawking now. Um, time for more explanation apparently. “I mean you’re doing fine on the pep talk, but you’ve got the technical stuff all wrong.” I put my arm down, blood sufficiently cooled. “I mean look, if you stick us all on the load train and then blast it towards the spinneret chances are that we won’t be able to slow down enough to make the coupling and instead all go flying into the asteroid. Then kersplat, we’re all mashed across the side of that rock like you hit it with a sock full of wet oatmeal. And you don’t want to do that because then you’ll go to hell for killing us all. Maybe jail too.”

Charlie looked back down over the schematic on the comm station, biting his lower lip, his forehead furrowed in concentration. He knew I was right.

The rest of them were still staring at me.

I put my arm back up.

Sunday, October 23, 2011


This is a short story that I wrote one day back when I was still working in New York City. I was taking the train to work when I got a strong urge to write a short, enclosed tale. Got most of it done before I arrived at work.


Phone Call

Gelo R. Fleisher

Mary Garbah rolled her car to a stop as the light turned red. Taking the opportunity to free up her hands, Mary took her phone out of its holder, scrambling to plug in the headset before the light turned green. She moved with unnecessary haste; she was taking a scenic route and a quick glance into her rearview mirror showed that there wasn’t anybody behind her. But Mary was a stickler for efficiency, and she would be loathe to keep things held up, even at an empty traffic stop.

The earphones were set snugly on her head just as the light turned green. Proud of herself, Mary eased on the gas, and pressed the speed dial to her mother’s number. The phone rang several times without anybody picking up; it always did.

Mary looked out the car window as the phone continued to ring. Autumn had just started to settle in, and it was chilly enough to have the heater on, but the grass outside was still green and the trees that glistened under the bright sun were only just starting to show subtle hints of red and yellow.

She liked driving this way to her mother’s. It was mostly undeveloped property, flat and rugged with a just few office buildings interspersed here and there. Watching it all pass by provided a peaceful and quiet interlude in her otherwise hectic weekends.


Mary was a little startled by the pleasant, matronly voice that answered the phone. “Hey mom, it’s me.”

The voice on the other end immediately brightened up, “Mary, oh, it’s so good to hear from you. Do you want to talk with your father?”

“It’s okay, you don’t have to bother him.”

“It’s never a bother to talk with one’s children, let me get him.”

“Mom, it’s okay. I can talk with him afterwards.”

The voice sounded concerned. “Is everything alright?”

“Yeah, everything’s fine. Just feeling a little depressed, you know, with the birthday tomorrow.”

The voice sighed. “Deary, forty-seven is not old. When you are eighty-eight then you can complain about getting old. Besides, the older I get the less it all seems to mean to me. I mean just yesterday, well I think it was yesterday, I was working on the flowerbed and I will tell you, the whole day must have passed with me there in my overalls, working away with the trowel and shears in my hands. The next thing I know Joseph is calling me in saying that the neighbors are coming over, you know the Hansons? Such nice people.”

“I didn’t know you had a flower bed.”

“I just had one put in. Mr. Hanson, he was a doctor back when he was younger, says that it’s good to keep up the hobbies of our youth. It helps keep the mind and body active. We used to have a small garden when we lived in Dayton you know, but you were probably too young to remember. I just sort of let it lapse after we moved to Cincinnati. Now is as good a time as any to get back into cultivation I suppose.”

Mary still a little surprised. “What do you grow?”

There was a beeping noise that came from the phone. Mary looked away from the road for a second to glance down at it. The small icon that symbolized the power level was blinking. “Damn, the battery’s dying on the phone. I forgot to bring the recharger and I’m...”

Mary heard her mom suck in her breath on the other end of the line. “Mary-Anne Garbah, watch your mouth. There’s no reason for me to hear that sort of language from you. I do hope you don’t speak like that around Jennifer and Andrew.”

Mary rolled her eyes. “Mom, it’s not the fifties anymore; ‘damn’ is not a swear word. People use it all the time.”

“Well call me old fashioned, but I thought I raised my little girl better than to blaspheme. Your phone, what make is it?”

“Astra, I told you that last week.”

“Well, I’ve heard that Conducive’s is a better model, maybe you should buy that one.”

Mary let out a sigh. She’d had this conversation before and didn’t feel like repeating it. “Hang on mom, I’m just getting off the freeway, I’ll be there in five minutes.”

Her mom must have noticed the irritation in response, and her tone softened. “I’m sorry for being such a bother, it’s just that we both miss you and worry about you. You don’t realize how much we cherish these calls. I tell you, the things that they can do with technology these days. Why I remember when I thought radio was a wonder to behold.”

Mary looked back out at the scenery; the sparseness of the freeway was giving way to the small suburb that was between her and her mother’s place. As she stopped at another traffic light, she saw a young mother pushing a pink stroller down the sidewalk. The mother was young, must have been in her late twenties, bundled up against the wind in a green jacket. They reached the edge of the sidewalk just as the light turned green. The mother looked over and said something to the child, the words mute behind Mary’s car doors. As the car began to move again, a pang of wistfulness touched Mary’s chest. “Mom, what’s it like to grow old?”

The line was silent for a second. “To be honest Mary, I didn’t really think about it as it was happening. But I don’t think it’s so bad. As long as you don’t have too many regrets and have people to talk to, it’s not bad at all. You know, I was thinking the other day about how helpless you were as a child, why I couldn’t leave your side for ten minutes without you crying. You couldn’t walk or even feed yourself. You totally relied on the people that loved you. Maybe it is justice that you end your life having to rely on those who love you as well. Just make sure to hang tight to the ones you love.”

Mary was silent, not knowing what to say as her mother’s place came into view.

“And how are David and the children?”

Mary turned into the parking lot, taking the key out of the ignition, grabbing the phone and opening the door. A chilly wind gushed past, making Mary stuff her hands in her pockets. She raised her voice slightly to fight the sound of the wind. “Good. David’s still working on the novel, and Jennifer is going to graduate from college in three weeks.” Shivering against the cold, she quickly opened the back door of the car and picked up the half-dozen tulips she’d bought for her mother. Mom had always had a soft spot for tulips.

“Well, I will mark it on my calendar. Joseph and I will definitely be there.”

The day was still bright, with only a few clouds dotting the pristine blue sky. She almost had to squint as she made her way out of the parking lot and into the grassy field. She walked along the orderly rows of crosses and monuments, trying to find her mom.

“I’ll tell Jennifer that, I know she’ll appreciate it. She really misses you. You know I still miss you too sometimes, even on the phone it’s not really the same.”

“Well, don’t be too eager to see me just yet, I don’t think David would appreciate that. I’ll still be here at the end of the day, and you always have my number.”

Mary smiled, her eyes scanning the horizon. “Ok mom, I’m almost there. I love you, talk to you soon.”

“I love y...” The phone beeped, and the line went silent. The small screen that showed the time and signal strength was dark. The phone had run out of power and shut down.

After a few minutes of walking, Mary found the right place. She took her time, enjoying the scenery and the peacefulness of the cemetery. She idly thought that being laid to rest wouldn’t be such a bad thing if she could be laid here. Just hang tight to the ones you love. Mary stopped at her parent’s tombstone, a large grey and white edifice with black lettering cut into the stone:

Janice Garbah Joseph Garbah
1937 – 2023 1932 – 2019

He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully

Between her parent’s names and her father’s favorite bible verse, was a carved picture. Her parent’s faces were etched in perfect detail into the smoky marble. It was an engraving of a photograph taken on their fortieth wedding anniversary. Dad and mom’s faces, touching at the cheek, dad with thick glasses, thinning hair and a teeth flashing smile. Mom, looking as proper as ever, her hair made up in an elaborate bun. Even through the stone she could see the contentment in her mother’s eyes. Mary took off one of her gloves, kneeling down and tracing the outline of her mother’s face on the cold marble.

She’d always meant to ask mom what it all looked like from where she was, what she saw as Mary spoke to her on the phone. Could she hear what she said without it? Probably mom would just shrug.

The wind picked up, shaking the boughs of the trees that lined the cemetery, and sending crisp leaves bouncing along stone monuments on the grassy hill. Shivering slightly, Mary stood up, placing the tulips on the side of the headstone. Putting her glove back on, she said a quick prayer.

Opening her eyes, her gaze lingered on the picture on the headstone. She could almost feel her mother close by. “I love you too mom.” Then turning around, she went back to the warmth of the car.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Bloody Red Tape - Part II

Last week I posted the opening scene of a short story about bureaucrats in a space empire and their attempt to get the upper hand in a succession fight. The story was going to be called "Red Tape" and this week I'm posting another scene from it.

I ended up never finishing Red Tape, and as I was putting this post together I realized again why: the whole setup was just too complicated for a short story. My goal was to have it be between 5,000 and 7,000 words (about 25 pages long), but with the various plot machinations going on and all the infodumping that needed to be done, there just wasn't enough space to get it all in there. I could have made the story longer, pushing into novella territory, but the material was just too grim for me to really enjoy writing about it at length.

The back story for this particular scene is as follows: the narrator is a low level bureaucrat (he runs the state ballet) who has managed to get some compromising images of a high-level power broker fooling around with one of his ballerinas. He's planning on using these as blackmail as part of a power play, however the secret police (the 'ISG') don't want him to succeed...

pic link


Red Tape
Gelo R. Fleisher

It had been a good fifteen minutes since I had arrived in the opulent office and I was still all alone. I slouched deeper into my plush red chair, and booted up a game of solitaire on my communicator. I was a few games in when I finally heard the sound of one of the ornate wooden doors being cracked open.

I sat up in my chair, craning my neck to see who had just walked in. A pale, sickly-looking man clutching a briefcase was holding the door open for an old man. The old man was dressed inconspicuously enough, with a tailored black suit poking out from under a drab brown overcoat, but I immediately recognized the face.

The old man was Kaspar Chernopov, head of the ISG.

My heart started beating faster as I jumped up out of my chair to greet him. Did he know about the ballerina and the blackmail? How could he know? I hadn’t told anybody. The Federacy’s chief spymaster walked towards me, flanked at a respectful distance by two aides wearing black wrap-around visors. The sickly man with the briefcase closed the door, and remained standing next to it.

My lips started flapping before my head had thought of something to say. “”

Chernopov ignored my yammering and settled into one of the large, plush chairs, gesturing for me to take a seat. Everyone had heard stories about the old man, of people who had crossed him and were dragged down to the interrogation pits, of his spies infesting every nook and cranny of Federacy’s bureaucracy, and of the old-fashioned file cabinet in Chernopov’s office that was supposed to house the deepest secrets of people from all walks of life.

As I dropped back into the chair, my eyes flitted to the two aides who had marched in with Chernopov. They were still standing, one a few feet from the old man, and the other a few feet from me.


So these weren't aides at all, but bodyguards, probably pumped with so many nano-chems and reactives that they could snap my neck before I’d even known what I’d done wrong, and without breaking a sweat as they went about it. They stood impassively, their twitching eyes hidden behind black visors, their fists resting loosely at their sides. I slid my gaze over to the sick-looking man with the briefcase standing at the door. I had no clue who, or what, the hell he was. I could feel the collar of my uniform squeezing against my neck and a damp sweat forming on my skin.

Chernopov cleared his throat. I jerked my eyes towards him. The spymaster looked his seventy-eight years, with a slightly gaunt face that was carved deep with wrinkles. A crown of white hair hung to the back of his skull, ringing a bald pallet that made his forehead seem larger and more broad than it was, like some bizarrely intellectual Neanderthal. He looked at me through two thick-rimmed glasses perched on his blunt, hooked nose. I wondered what information was being projected on the back of the glasses into those piercing blue eyes, made no less clear by the age that seemed to be tugging at the rest of his slender frame.

I flinched back into my chair as he lifted up one of his bony arms.

It took me a second to realize that he’d stuck his hand out towards me, like he wanted me to shake it. Not knowing what else to do I gripped the extended palm with sweaty hands, pumping it up and down profusely. “Sir, this is a great and unexpected honor!” His grip was stronger than I was expecting, and I felt my knuckles crack as he squeezed. I let go. Chernopov smiled thinly and folded those taut fingers against his chest.

He began speaking in crisp, clear tones, a cyrillic accent adding a lilting quality to his words. “It is good to meet you Colleague Barents. Would you like some tea? Perhaps a cookie?”

I stared at him stupidly.

“Coffee then?”

Um, no?

“Yes please.”

Chernopov waved at one of the bodyguards. “Did you say you wanted a cookie?”

Hell no.

“Oh why yes, how kind of you.”

One of the bodyguards soon materialized besides us with our drinks and cookies, and for the next fifteen minutes we had one of the most boring conversations of my life. Chernopov asked about next month’s performance season and commiserated at how tough it must be to keep all those artsy prima donnas in line. After seeing my share of ISG jackboots stamping around, arresting ideological offenders and turning their brains into tomato soup, I would have thought Chernopov would have been a bit more on the crude side. But no, the guy knew his classical ballet; Vaganova, Cecchetti, the whole nine yards. He even laughed at my bad jokes and clinked my coffee cup in a toast to my managing this important facet of the Federacy’s cultural heritage.

I have to admit, by the time I excused myself (I did have the blackmail material to drop off after all), I was downright flattered. And just a little bit confused too. If this wasn’t about Hanzer and the ballerina, then what? I mean, did the head of the secret police normally have high tea with nobody pencil-pushers like me?

As I walked towards the ornate wooden exit of the room, the sick-looking man with the briefcase tugged the door open for me. Nodding to the man, I turned around to wave goodbye to Chernopov when a sudden dizzy spell that washed over me. I felt my knees buckle as I toppled forward, I could feel bile rising in my throat like and wanted to vomit. The sick man helped right me as I lurched out the door.

I stood there doubled over in the hallway outside, taking deep breaths as my senses slowly returned to me. From behind, I heard the door click shut.

Oh shit...

The synapses in my brain stared firing, throwing out all sorts of crazy scenarios, all of which were most likely true. What an idiot! I should have ran out of that room as soon as Chernopov walked in. Of course they knew about the ballerina. I had been so flattered that a bigshot like Chernopov was paying attention to a nobody like me that I hadn’t bothered thinking what exactly I was doing. I’d just met with the head of the secret police and his goons had probably been filming the whole thing. Right now they had to be sending cute little snapshots of the meeting to Secretary Puzo. I was sure there would be a real nice shot of us clinking teacups.

Puzo, that paranoid crank, would think I was going behind his back, trying to get cozy with his enemies. He’d abandon me and without his protection, the ISG could bring me down to their dungeons without anyone complaining. Hell, Puzo might even be the one who gave the order. I could feel the sensation of the ISG men shaving my head, getting ready to screw in the brain scorchers. No! I had to, call Puzo and explain what happened, and fast.

I reached into my pocket, grabbing for my communicator. My hand came back nothing; my pockets were empty, the communicator gone. The sick man with the briefcase, he must have taken it off me when I bumped into him.

Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit.

I wheeled back to the ornate door, yanking at the handle, but the damn thing was locked. I banged on door with both my hands, shouting for someone to open it, but remained shut. Still faint with delirium, I staggered down the hallway, looking for someone, anyone I could grab a communicator from. I banged on doors as I ran down the corridor, my hands raw, the knuckles soon bleeding.

I stumbled about, banging helplessly against the interminable hallway of locked doors, my fate at the hands of Chernopov’s goons growing larger and larger in my mind. I’d confess immediately when they brought me down for interrogation, sign anything, give them every name, anything to stop them from putting me under torture. But it wouldn’t matter, they’d make an example of me for all the other upstarts who tried playing with the bigs. They’d have to get some bruises on me first, for everyone to see. Punch me around a bit, maybe run my fingers through a vice one by one, and then they’d start getting creative, cerebral. They’d inject liquid fire into my veins, the nano-chems hooked up to a control panel so they could cause my my nerve endings to start firing pain signals into my head as they played them like a piano. Then they screw in the brain scorchers and rewire my neural pathways by force, making me see all sorts of hellish images as my grasp on reality fell apart at the molecular level. And after they’d had their fun and I was a walking vegetable, it would be my turn to be trussed up for public execution and have my brains liquefied in front of my colleagues.

The images swirled about me, colliding in a feverish terror. The world was spinning, I was panting, my lungs burning as my chest heaved. I dropped in a heap on the ground. I lay there, sprawled out on the floor, my body frozen with fatigue and panic. Tears welled up in my eyes. It wasn’t supposed to end like this.
But as I sat there, a miserable, shivering pile, I saw the outline of an orange jumpsuit out of the corner of my eye. It was a janitor, walking out of of of the offices. He stopped when he saw me. “You alright?”

I pushed myself back onto my feet, wiping my face in a pathetic attempt to hide my miserable state. “I, I need your communicator.” I hated how desperate my voice sounded. 

The janitor looked at me warily. With my suit disheveled, my hair a mess, with tears and snot smeared across my face, I would have avoided me too.

“Please give me your communicator.”

He looked at me, blinking in confusion. I dropped back down on on my knees, grabbing his jumpsuit with trembling hands. “Please. See, I’m begging you. Please. Give me your communicator. Please.”

“Sir, it’s against regulations, I could lose my job if...”

My head was pounding, I didn’t have time for these excuses. “Who do you work for?”

“Vice Director of Maintenance Halloway.”

My voice had a hysterical edge to it as I started shouting at him. “You want his job? You can have it! Don’t want to work anymore? I’ll retire you and your family on an early pension. Whatever you want! Just give me your communicator!”

Still looking at me warily, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a small, black pad.

I grabbed it greedily with shaking fingers, dialing Secretary Puzo’s number. After an interminable pause, I heard his voice on the other end of the line. “Who is this and how did you get this number?”

At the sound of Puzo’s nasal voice, a sensation of palpable exaltation flooded out of every pore in my shaking body.I found myself unable to speak as the words choked in my throat. Tears threatened to pour down my face for a second time, I’d never been more happy to hear another person’s voice in my life. I leaned shakily against the wall. My voice trembling, I spoke “Hi, I...” my voice choked up. Coughing, I tried to continue. "I...I landed a meeting with Kaspar Chernopov, you know the head of the ISG”.

“I know who he is.” I could hear the deep tinge of suspicion in his voice; he was probably looking at the photographs already. “Yes, and I think we need to meet right away, in person, this line isn’t secure. He told me something about you and his plan to replace the General Secretary.”

Puzo was quiet. “You’d better not be shitting me Barents.”

“No sir, never sir.”

“Fine. You’ve got half an hour to get your fat butt up here.”

“Oh thank you sir. Thank you, thank you, thank you. You have know idea what this means.”

“You had just better not be wasting my time.”

“No sir, never sir. I’ll be right over sir.”

As he hung up, I heaved a sigh of relief. I was saved! The sensation was eurphoric, but fleeting. As the bliss of my salvation faded, a burning anger began to course through me. I could feel my face and hands growing red. I wanted revenge. I accessed my home database and immediately cancelled the monthly ballet tickets of every ISG employee under the vice-ministerial level. Yes it was petty, but I was pissed and this was the stick fate had given me. That done, I lurched back down the hallway, furiously thinking about what the hell I was going to do next.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Bloody Red Tape

I've always been a big history buff, and one of the time periods I've been most interested in is the post-Stalin Soviet Union. After watching this series, and reading this book on the political machinations that brought Mikhail Gorbachev into power, I got to thinking that it might make for an interesting sci-fi story.

I was going to call it "Red Tape" and it was going to be about a group of bloody bureaucrats in this space empire who were scheming to get their faction into power after the death of the empire's most recent dictator. I took it as a bit of a challenge to try to make pencil-pushing a tense spectator sport, and I think it would have been a pretty engaging story too.

But, the further along I got in writing it, the more I just got disgusted with these...bastards I was describing. I ended up just not having the stomach to finish it, and put it aside. Maybe one of these days I'll finish it up, but for now I thought I'd stick up the introductory scene of the story (warning: it has some graphic depictions of violence). The goal was to convey the flavor of the world as well as set up what was at stake if the main character's faction lost out. So, without further ado...Red Tape.


Red Tape
Gelo R. Fleisher

The scented breeze emitting from the ventilation fan drifted rather pleasantly across my face as the soldiers trussed up my colleagues for their public execution. They all looked in pretty bad shape. Their eyes were glazed over and their shaved heads were interspersed with purple welts where the ISG thugs had hooked up the brain scorchers to rip their confessions out of them. They should have just confessed at the start and saved themselves the trouble. If I am to be honest, I have to admit that I would tell the Intelligence Services Group absolutely anything they wanted if I was ever unfortunate enough to find myself brought down here for interrogation.

There were forty or so of us observers in the audience, decked out in our gray suits and datapads, and sitting in rather uncomfortable stools bolted to the floor. We were in one of the public auditoriums that abutted the main ISG prison complex, and smell of gloom and misery seemed almost palpable in the air. The whole damn place was clunky and cold, a far cry from my normal surroundings higher up on the Pinnacle Station. The walls were made up of thick slabs of interlocking black metal, scrubbed to a scratchy shine and reeking of thickly applied antiseptic. Harsh white lighting blared out from large flood lights hooked up at random intervals and illuminating the slick pit of the execution chamber.

The motley group of twenty or so condemned were close to me, if I had stood up and stretched out my hand I could have touched the nearest one. They were all dressed in the same drab gray suit that I had on, the outfit standard to the legions of bureaucratic functionaries of the Trans-Union Federacy. The only splash of color on them (besides the muddy purple of bruised skin) was a pair of epaulets on their slouching shoulders. Their epaulets were red, indicating that they were part of the Ministry of Defense. Mine were green - Ministry of Culture. In front of us, teenage soldiers were tying each of our erstwhile compatriots to metal poles, their arms stretched and clamped into place above their heads. They’d already been pumped with the nano-reagent that would cause the cell walls of their neurons to burst on command.

Flick of a switch and their brains would disintegrate into pink jelly.

As the Vice-Functionary to the Progressive Artists Trade Association, I was afforded a front row seat in the spartan auditorium, with a gaggle of my underlings arrayed behind me. I hoped that none of the debris of execution would splatter on my suit; I had an important meeting to go to after this.

As the soldiers finished their work and moved to the side of the arena, a lieutenant with a face like a fist stamped out onto the field and glared at the victims. “You, the convicted, had the responsibility to arrange for the protection of our glorious Premiere and failed. You stand guilty of gross negligence in the execution of your duties, of failing your nation, your Party, truth and reason, and the peoples of the Federacy. You will now face the only punishment fitting for such wretches and traitors. Redeem some shred of dignity for your posterity and die like patriots.”

The lieutenant pulled a small baton from his waist, put his thumb against a black button on its crown and raised it skywards. The coup de grace was about to be delivered and I put on my best scornful stare, staring at the space above the victim’s heads. There were rumors that the ISG kept tabs on anybody who looked away and I’d rather not be on their radar anymore than I had to be.

The lieutenant pressed the button. The fallen functionaries writhed in unison, struggling against their bonds, shouting incoherent gibberish and horrid screams as their minds were liquefied in front of us. I did my best to remain contemptuous in the face of their death throes, but it was hard not to display some reaction to the morbid scene. I felt my stomach churn as one of the prisoners vomited, blood streaming from his eyes.

It was over in a few mortifyingly long seconds, and the condemned all lay dangling against the poles, lines of blood dripping out of their noses and ears. One of the executioners, a gangly kid whose uniform was too large for him, ran up to the prisoners and started jabbing each body with a sensor-tipped bayonet, making sure nobody still had heart function.

The lieutenant turned to face us, stamped his foot down and raised a closed fist. “The Federacy is Strong! The most cultured! The most rational! The vanguard of the future!” I clapped as politely as I could and began to shuffle out. This was the dirty aspect to the preservation of power, but the better parts were beckoning for me up ahead. As I turned and filed away from the field a shot rang out; the kid must have found a survivor.