Madness

“Why is she here?”  The new guard pointed to a screen.

The other guard, who had been on the job longer, briefly looked up.  “Oh, her?  She stabbed another inmate.”

“Why is she screaming like that?”

“She’s nuts.  That’s why they have her chained, too.  Gotta keep her from hurting herself or something.  But she’s always screaming.”

“Doesn’t it get to you?  I mean, even if you turn off the sound, you can hear it through the walls.”

“Used to.  Learned to ignore it.”

“What did she do, anyway?  I mean, to wind up in prison?”

“Went on some kind of rampage.  Tore up a lot of people before they got her under control.”

“Her?  She doesn’t look like much.”

“Looks are deceiving.  Assume anyone in here would kill you if they could.”

“Oh.”

They sat for awhile, keeping watch on the monitors and filling out logs.  It would have been monotonous except for the screaming.

“I’m going to check on her.”

“Don’t bother.  You can’t let this sort of thing get to you.”

“It’s driving me nuts!”

“Suit yourself.  Just stay away from her.  Don’t do anything stupid.”

The new guard picked up the keys and walked over to the cell.  He opened the door to make sure she didn’t have some injury the camera didn’t pick up.  Faster than he would have thought possible, she leapt toward him, the chain breaking as though it were made of paper.  She grabbed his hand.

It only took seconds for him to shake her off, but by then the rage took over.  His world went black as his body rushed back to the desk.  Grabbing a pen, he stabbed the other guard in the chest with it.  He then began running through the prison, beating bloody anyone he came across.

She laid back down on her cot.  The madness had receded for now.  The relief was temporary, she knew, but it had been too long since she had last managed to free herself even for a little while.  Her eyes closed, and she slept.

The Key

On the table lay a large key.  It looked old, detailed ornamentation at one end, big blocky teeth at the other.  He picked it up and studied it.  Where did it come from?  He didn’t remember it being there before.  And what did it open?

Restoring the house had been a monumental task taking many months.  But as it neared completion, this new discovery raised new questions about the place.  There had been no doors they had been unable to open.  And none of the locks looked like they could fit such a key.  And it hadn’t been here before.  Had it?

He pocketed the key and decided to investigate when he returned in the morning.

Later that night, a dream woke him from sleep.  He remembered a trunk in the attic.  They could never open it and had not found any clues as to what might be inside.  It was still there.  And the key might fit its lock.

His curiosity would not let him sleep, so he rose and got dressed, then headed back to the house.  He turned on lights to help him navigate the ground floor, but the other levels had not been wired for power, yet.  Grabbing a flashlight, he made his way to the attic.  The trunk was the only thing up there.

He hesitated, but just for a second.  Then he walked over and put the key in the lock.  Or at least, he tried to.  The key didn’t fit.  It didn’t make any sense.  What else could it be for?

Before he could consider the question further, he heard noises on the floor below.  It sounded like someone, or some thing, was walking around down there.  He snuck back down the stairs to find out what it was.  As quietly as he could, he made his way towards the noises.  Light was coming from around a mostly closed door, despite there being no electricity up here.

He peered through the crack and saw someone ruffling through some drawers.  Taking a breath to calm his nerves, he opened the door.  “Who are you?  What are you doing here?”

The figure jumped and screamed.  It turned around.  He instantly recognized one of the restoration crew.  “Holy crap!  You scared me.  I’m trying to find my house key.  I think I misplaced it earlier, and it’s been bugging me.  Decided to come back before work started up again to look.”

In spite of himself, he let out a chuckle.

“What’s so funny?  And what are you doing here?”

He held up the key.  “I was trying to figure out what this was for.”

The other laughed, then, too.  “Yep.  That’s my key.  Where did you find it?”

“The coffee table down in the living room.”

“Huh.  Well, thanks!”

They walked out together

 

 

Up in the attic, a key fell seemingly from mid-air and landed next to the trunk.

Disruption

With his eyes closed, he passed his hand over the stones.  Bits of spark jumped from them back to his fingertips.  None of them felt quite right, however. It was a luxury to have the time to consult the runes.  A luxury he didn’t often have anymore.  Thus, he relished the charges of energy. Finally, one spark did not fade right away, drawing his finger to one stone in particular.  He picked it up and briefly caressed the piece, worn smooth from many years of use.  Then he flipped it over.

Disruption.  Upheaval.  Change.

That is what the rune spoke of, and yet it need not mean something terrible.  A big change was coming.  The rune did not reveal when, or what shape it would take. Whether he should resist or go along with it, the rune had given him the warning; the rest was up to him.  The temptation to draw again, to gain some clarity, was great, but he resisted it.  Another rune would merely reveal what he wanted to believe.  That would not help this time.  The runes were clear.  The murkiness was his own.

He swept up all the stones and replaced them in their pouch.  Change?  He would be ready, whatever it meant.

Problems with Work

“Has anyone ever told you that you look like Santa Claus?”

The man at the bar looked up from his drink.” “All the time. You seem too sober to try to be funny.”

The other man grinned, or perhaps grimaced. “Not for long, I hope.”

“Your job?”

“Yes. Well, no. My wife. She thinks I work too hard, don’t spend enough time at home.”

“Santa” sat listening, stroking his bushy, white beard. “My work hardly ever lets me leave the house. But I can sympathize. First round is on me.”

They sat next to each other for some time, drinking, but hardly talking. Just silently commiserating over alcohol.

Without preamble, the man launched once more into his misery. “She doesn’t know how demanding my work is.”

“Tell me about it. Do you know how hard it is to teach elves to code? Or to reverse engineer some of these new tech devices? And don’t get me started on Intellectual Property and Licensing Agreements. It was so much simpler when kids just wanted wooden trains instead of video games or cell phones. You know?”

The man looked at him. “I think you’ve had too much to drink.”

“I think you might be right.” The fat man with the white beard stood up and walked out of the bar.

The man then decided he, too, had had enough. He could have sworn he heard sleigh bells.

A Cup of Coffee

“She’s cheating on you.”

“Hello to you, too.”

“I mean it.”

“Can I at least sit down and take a sip of my coffee first?”

“Why aren’t you upset? She’s cheating on you!”

“So how have you been?”

“Geezus! Didn’t you hear me?”

“I heard you. So did everyone else in the cafe. I know she’s been cheating on me.”

“You know?”

“Yes.”

“How long?”

“How long has she been cheating? Or how long have I known?”

“How long have you known?”

“About two months. I assume it’s been going on longer.”

“Two months? Why didn’t you say anything? Why are you still with her?”

“I didn’t say anything because I figured you’d act… well, pretty much the way you are right now.”

“But…”

“And I’m still with her because I still love her.”

“But if she’s cheating…”

“So what? I still love her. That hasn’t changed. And she hasn’t left me.”

“I can’t… You should… I… I don’t know what to say.”

“Good. Maybe we can enjoy our coffee now?”

Not Home

Rian knew they were coming for her.  She had tried, in small ways, to help the village. Avoiding overt displays of magic, she provided salves and poultices that seemed to win her the affection of her new neighbors.

But the Terrgat had her scent.  They were coming for her, and the village would hand her over.  Her assistance was genuinely appreciated, she knew, but the Terrgat were feared.  And so, ultimately, was she.  They had to know she used magic.  Disguised as it was, they villagers were willing to pretend not to notice. But with the Terrgat coming, none of that mattered.

Despite her attempts to avoid being tied down, she had accumulated many things since coming here, and had even become attached to some of them.  Ignoring the danger, she had begun to lay down roots.  Deep enough to make leaving hard, but not deep enough to keep her safe. She only grabbed her book inside its case, a few coins she had on hand, and the pouch she had made for this eventuality.  All her tools would have to be abandoned.

Just before she opened the door to leave, there was a knock.  Her heart skipped a beat before she realized it was at the house next to hers.  It was nearly too late, but she left via the back door.

Unfortunately, one of the Terrgat had circled around behind the row of houses.  He spotted her immediately.

“You, there!”

She began to run.  There was no point in trying to talk her way out of this.

“Stop!”

She heard his heavy footsteps behind her.  Ducking between two of the houses, she saw a group of villagers on the street.  As they caught sight of her, one of them pointed.

“There she is!”

And that was it.  The village had turned on her.  She could wait no longer.  Drawing a small gem out of her pouch, she threw it down and stepped on it.  Instantly, a heavy, dense fog enveloped the area.  It would spread over half a mile from this point.  No one could see more than two feet in front of themselves.

She began to run again, thankful she had memorized her path.  Ducking between buildings several more times to confuse her pursuers, she trusted that memory.  However, someone had left a cellar door open that she didn’t see through the fog until it was too late.  Tripping, she landed heavily on the dirt floor of the cellar five feet below.

When she looked up, she saw a girl, maybe ten, in front of her.  Rian recognized her right away.  Her name was Mayn, and she had come to Rian for medicine to help her mother.  One scream from the girl, and the Terrgat would have her.  All of her hopes died here.

But Mayn smiled and placed her fingers against her lips.  The girl would not give her away?  The relief she felt was tempered by the sounds of pursuit getting louder.  It did not matter if the girl did not draw them to her; they would still find her.

Then she remembered her pouch.  She drew out another gem and quickly crushed it between her fingers. Then she threw the pieces out of the door.  An image of her sprang from them and began running away.  Soon, the sounds of pursuit receded after it.

Mayn walked over to Rian and hugged her.

“Thank you for my mother.  Now run.”

Rian squeezed her back and quickly stole away.

…Or Is It Memorex?

“This is it.  You don’t get another chance.”  She pulled the trigger, and he took a blow to the chest, all the air knocked out of him.  He collapsed as the world went black.

His eyes flicked open to see a sterile white room, made even more impersonal by the overhead fluorescent lights.  A clerk ran over and tipped his table so that he was nearly upright.  “Sir, we weren’t expecting your extraction so soon.  Is everything alright?”

He shoved the young man away.  “No, everything isn’t alright.  Everything is a mess.  Somebody shot me.  I don’t know how much progress I lost.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, sir.  Would you like something to eat?  It’s morning, and I can have some breakfast…”

“Haven’t you been keeping the nutritional regimen running?  I eat inside.  No need to waste time eating out here, too.”

“Of course, sir.  My apologies.”

He looked over at a woman on the other table.  Her eyes were closed; she was still plugged in.  “When is she supposed to come out next?”

“Not for another hour or so.  Shall I arrange for you and your wife…”

“She’s not my wife.”

“Oh?”

“I mean technically, legally, we are married.  But that’s really just a matter of convenience.  My wife is inside.  And probably wondering where I am.”

“I see.  Another player, then.”

“Don’t you dare use that slur in this house.  I will have you fired.  We aren’t ‘players.'”

“I apologize, again, sir.”

“Fine.”  He shook his head.  “Anyway, no, she’s not another eperson.  She’s an AIE*.  As I said, she’s waiting for me.  I’ve got to get back in there and explain the situation to her.  She may be able to help me undo this loss.  I only need a few minutes.  Have the connections clean and the processor cycled before I get back.”

“Yes, sir.”

 

*Artificial Intelligence and Emotion