Many chapters with not many words

The challenge: 1000 words broken up into TEN chapters. Any genre.

 

To Come Undone

Chapter 1
The Plan wasn’t working. He knew it, understood like comprehending the inevitability of a shit after his dose of arrel gel in the morning. But knowing changed nothing, and he wearied of masking sensations he wasn’t supposed to have.

“Attention Twelve Seventeen. Permission to attend controls?”

Sweat broke on his back before she even finished speaking, and he wondered if he felt her enter the snug navigation pod, had gathered for her arrival before she cleared the hall.

“Greetings, Four Thirty-Five. Access confirmed.” He swallowed hard as she lowered to the molded seat on his left. The desire to stare was a pulse in his head, yet he dared not risk sensors noting so drastic a movement.

“Four Thirty-Five requesting latest period report.” She leaned forward when speaking and he removed his gaze from the side of her face before his temperature spiked and set off alarms. He’d been promised this wouldn’t happen, assured of elimination through a regimen of gels, physical challenge and concentration. What a crock, he thought, the comment filling his head. A yellow light sparked on his console as a bead of sweat slid down his spine.

“Period report relayed,” said the mainframe voice, and he couldn’t help but compare the canned femininity to the husky intonations of his co-pilot. He’d dreamed of her voice often, though that wasn’t supposed to occur either.

Four Thirty-Five’s hand spurred the report’s progression, and he had an overwhelming need to watch her slender fingers. The yellow console light flashed red.

“Twelve Seventeen,” chirped mainframe Mother. “We’ve recorded a significant rise in body temperature. Are you well?”

Fuck you, you fucking machine, his mind roared. You don’t give a rat’s ass how I am. He sweated from both temples and would’ve given his rations to be out of the suit hugging his form.

“Twelve Seventeen to Mother. Yes, I feel fine.”

 

Chapter 2
Night had fallen and nothing had changed. He lay in his tube, staring at stars, and sleep, it would not come. He reasoned that the extra gel he’d ingested after evening rations was keeping him awake, but knew that wasn’t true. Even off-duty he thought of her, and recalled her hands, her voice, her form. This wasn’t going to go away, and Colony constraints be damned.

Chapter 3
With a static stutter, the outdated console belched up a vertical screen, an array of graphs, all of them meaningless. The notion was so fierce he wondered if he’d forgotten a gel. He’d been told his work was valuable and thought that he agreed.

“We’re aware of solar storms in system H-4 and we’ve sent new coordinates to avoid contact. Confirm coordinates,” demanded Mother.

The display flickered as though uncertain, reminding him that flying a beleaguered ship was an indication of poor prospects. He’d been an idiot to believe them. Jabbing a hand forward, he slid the unstable screen, fingers brushing Four Thirty-Five’s arm as she moved to do the same. His heart pounded as he looked at the side of her face.

“Confirm coordinates,” Mother urged, flat vocals at odds with Four Thirty-Five’s profile. She trembled, and he was certain her yellow light was crimson.

“Twelve-Seventeen is acting against protocol.” Four Thirty-Five’s back was straight, her voice level, and he bristled at her control.

“Turn your head, Four Thirty-Five. Look at me.”

Her eyes began to water, and more than anything he wanted to know why.

Chapter 4
The room, it could not hold him, nor anchor feelings down. He let his mind go soaring, and in his thoughts he saw her, and touched her, and shared what was in his head. They could give him gels, and push his muscles to exhaustion, but he’d be dead before he released her.

Chapter 5
His head bobbed heavy on his neck. Keeping focused on the console took every bit of strength. He sensed before he saw her, and tried to lift his gaze, but immediately Mother engaged them, and the orders didn’t stop, and when Four Thirty-Five left at shift’s end, he did not even see her depart.

Chapter 6
“You have a message. You have a message.”

The robotic call ceased when he rolled over and mashed the flashing button. A glance at his tube monitor told him shift was hours away and rubbing his eyes, he started message replay.

Chapter 7
There wasn’t any stopping it, no off button he could press. They’d been draining ideas from him and now separation was the rule, and still the emotions were forming. He’d always been persistent, and warned them at the start, but they’d been certain of reformation, and now he’d be the one to pay the price.

Chapter 8
Four Thirty-Five did not see him, her eyes were facing front. The console screen had gone haywire, and he watched her reboot.

He inched along the floor until her seat was right beside him. Her attention was all on Mother, and mainframe’s static-filled confusion, just as he’d hoped. Being so close made his heart skitter. He put a hand on her nearest knee.

Four Thirty-Five jerked sideways, almost falling from her chair. Her eyes hit his.

“Four Thirty-Five to Mother, I do not read you. Repeat command.”

The mainframe burped back only static.

Chapter 9
“They can’t see us, can’t hear us. It’s like we’re not even here.”

Her eyes were large and shining and made up all he saw.

“How can you be sure?”

He smiled, so relieved to let it form. “Solar storms. We’re passing through them. I got an order to enter new coordinates last shift, and I didn’t. I didn’t change them because this is the only way for us to be alone.”

She stared down from her molded seat. “Twelve-Seventeen. Those storms could shut us down.”

“Yes,” he said, moving closer. “But I had to. So I could tell you that no matter what they do, I keep dreaming of you, and ask if you do the same.” His body empty, a locked chest thrown wide open, and yet she sat so silent. He almost couldn’t breathe.

Chapter 10
Around them light was growing, becoming brighter still. Before him she was moving, her hands rising until they rested on his cheeks. Her eyes filled, and overflowed as she spoke.

“It happened to me too, and I didn’t understand. I don’t know what to say.”

Feeling spread through him, as warm as the light. “Let’s not say then, let’s only show.” He grabbed her then, and pulled her in, and felt her arms ease round his own.

 

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Flash Fiction: BugPunk

Formicidae Fury

With the Takeover everything changed, and I’m not sure how it happened, even now. People claim it started out of the blue but I wonder if it did, really. For months the scientists talked, and wrote, and put stuff on YouTube, but no one listened, and didn’t care, because hey, the Dow Jones was soaring and Brad and Angelina had snagged a new kid from East Neverheardofit, and so what if ants were multiplying like crazy and growing to three inches long?

Well, we all cared now.

“Hey, Boss. There’s a breach at section eight. You comin’?”

I looked up at the young man leaning around the doorframe. “Right behind you.”

Second breach of the day and it wasn’t even noon, which meant the colony was roving, and that was never good news for us. I left my maps on the desk and grabbed my hat from the back of the office door and as I caught up to my messenger waiting with several men at the end of the hall, I heard mobilizing all over the house.

“What’s colony status?” I checked each tired face around me in turn and got a lousy feeling when no one answered. “Harmon?” The bearer of my message flinched as I stared him down.

“They’re foraging Boss, at level three for sure.” He winced again. “Maybe four.”

“Christ.” I could feel the relief from the guys when they realized I was more worried than angry. We didn’t have much time.

“Okay, I want repellent lines reinforced at every boundary and thirty guys with me to the fore. We throw the bait and fix the breach and then we wait and see. Hit it hard and fast.”

Murmurs and then they scattered, each one an efficient machine, and every time I saw it I wondered how I’d come to lead. These soldiers-boys were the real deal and I, well, I was somewhere in between.

Daylight hit me heavy as we poured out the old front door, and when eyes adjusted I wasn’t happy to see more. The aging farmhouse rested on a hill from which we’d witnessed the valley’s demise, and the sight of brown, dry land and remaining ragged trees made my stomach hurt.

“Harmon,” I said, and soon he was striding at my side. “How’s the cancer-stick water?”

“Low, Boss. Real low. But Wilkens said he heard chatter about a supply drop soon. Betcha we get more if we ask.”

I could worry into nothing or buck up and deal, and honestly, my mind was already made.

“What we need is salt.” I tried to keep from breaking into a run as we neared the boundary. “Send two guys into town. Hit every feed store and clean them out of all the salt they have. Blocks, bags, I don’t care. We want it all.”

Nodding and running, Harmon went, and the boundary rose before the rest of us, a high dirt wall with one portion removed. Not fallen but taken away bit by bit, tidy as can be, and probably done in the blink of an eye. The men fell to it then, shovels wielded in capable hands, yet putting more dirt in place did nothing, it was what we put on and in that soil that mattered.

“I want to take a look,” I announced to no one in particular, yet one of the men jogged over with an ancient wooden ladder a minute later, probably absconded from the barn. We rested the legs upon the dirt wall and to my surprise the aged wood gave only minor protest as I ascended.

What a sight.

Beyond the wall was nature’s destruction; no trees, no grass, not plants of any kind. And not far enough for comfort lay the carcass of a cow, covered in ants. They’d brought it here, I was certain, for we hadn’t observed surviving animals in several days.

Black and orange ants feasted together now, dissecting meat and marching it away, and all of them huge, as long as my hand. They’d changed even more. I sped back down the ladder before they captured my scent with their ever-moving antennae.

“How long has Harmon been gone?” I demanded of the man holding the ladder as I stepped to the ground. He gave me a look of surprise.

“About fifteen minutes, Boss.”

I was getting that sinking sensation again, the one that woke me up at night and set my stomach twisting. “I’m going to get Wilkens to spark up the radio again and see who we can reach.” Without waiting for the man’s reply I sprinted back to the farmhouse, my head starting to ache. Up the stairs and to the right and there he was, my expert in ham radio.

“Wilkens, we need to talk to Boston again, or Manchester, whoever you can get.”

In the midst of making notes in his spiral-bound book, Wilkens pen froze, his wide eyes meeting mine. I saw his Adam’s apple bob.

“What’s going on, Boss?’

“We’re going to get some answers today, Wilkens, and I’m going to make us a plan.”

Switches flipped, and static popped as Wilkens worked his magic. He’d been one of our best resources, and I hoped he knew his importance.

“This time of day I’ll probably get Boston, Boss. You hoping for some news?”

I gave him a wan smile. The cities had been callous, for the lack of nature made them an unappealing milieu for ants. Easy in their position, officials made sure we got supplies, before simply waiting for ants to kill one another, or starve as the population grew, which we’d been assured of. That was over a month ago.

Wilkens had opened the window at his side and through it I heard a truck careen up the dirt and gravel drive. Running to the top of the stairs, I saw Harmon pound through the front door, a salt lick under each arm. His smooth face ran with sweat as he looked up.

“We got it, Boss. Where do you wa—”

The house shuddered, and gave a horrible groan, and as I watched, a crack appeared from stairs to crown molding.

“What the hell?” cried Harmon, but I already knew, and I swear the stairway rippled as another tremor dropped ceiling pieces on my head. Outside men were shouting, and Harmon stared at me, his chin hanging.

“Wilkens!” I called out. “You tell whoever you talk to that the plan is no good. No good!”

Flooring splintered, and plaster tumbled and as Harmon lost his footing and the front door popped its frame, all I could think of was Wilkens’ radio. We had to warn the cities, and let them know the deal, the country containment plan; it was no plan, these formicidae were mad diggers, for real.

Flash Fiction Challenge: Two categories to choose from randomly. 1500 words in any genre

No Better Deal

Death does not make deals.

Warren understood, and knew that midnight wishes and self-improvement promises got you nothing. But just the same he made them, at least until he knew they would not matter, because that’s what you do when you have nothing left to offer, and Warren had that in spades.

Every day he entered the side door, through the smokers hiding there, and lifted a hand to the ward nurses, who no longer made him sign in. They sometimes watched him pass, and a couple even smiled, but that only made him sad, their close-lipped pity, and often he kept his head down. At the room things were always the same- the human smell, but not quite clean, and silence. No television, no second occupied bed, no visitors. Only the body on the bed, a wafer of bone and flesh under covers carefully thin.

And Warren would walk, his one big boot scuffing, until the body appeared before his gaze, and the hand would be right there, so veined, so pale, so still. He could touch it if he wanted, the nurses had told him many times, and he could speak aloud too, but mostly he just stood, his shoulders a scoop of sorrow. He stared until he had to blink, and then he watched the face, in case it twitched while his lids were down, but he never saw it move.

Once he’d been observing when a nurse strode right in with a bucket full of suds. Tender wisps of steam left the water as she set it on the table near the bed and Warren was glad, happy to see baths happened here, and were pretty much the same. But then the nurse drew back the sheet and turned to him, and asked if he wanted to help by holding, and Warren’s head went airy, and he saw grey at the edges of his eyes, and he had to leave the room. He never came at that hour again.

Warren avoided home. He drove or walked until daylight petered out at the blocky skyline, and dark let him raise his head, and see clear again, and move like he had mass. Night brought out blackness in people, the pungent stench of their sin, and in it Warren wallowed, just to know he wasn’t alone.

*

            “It’s been almost six months, Graham. Six months.” The Lieutenant shook his head as he spoke. “Are you aware that there’s very little chance that Lewis will wake up fine, or wake up at all?”

Warren pushed his back into the plastic webbing of the chair and looked at the far corner of the Lieutenant’s desk where paper bulged like white tongues from a stack of files. He couldn’t make his mouth provide an answer.

“Look. Graham. We know how you feel, having a partner go down like Lewis did, but the whole department suffers when something like this happens, and I know some of the guys are worried the way you’ve been acting lately, that maybe we’ve lost you too.”

Warren took in a breath that wasn’t quite even. He forced his unfocused gaze to the Lieutenant’s face. “Tell everyone I need just a little longer. Then I’ll be good. Back to normal. Really.”

Elevated brows indicated his supervisor’s doubts, but the Lieutenant issued only an abbreviated sigh. “You have another week. I can only have so many of these kinds of conversations with you Graham, before decisions get taken out of my hands.” He tipped his head in the direction of the Captain’s office to make his point.

Already Warren was standing, his long frame drooping over the Lieutenant’s desk like a fern. He nodded before exiting to put glass and wallboard behind him, and succumbed to pure concrete under the stiff soles of his shoes. He thought about the Lieutenant’s words as his walk brought him right to the familiar side door. His supervisor might have cut him some slack but he would not find such leniency elsewhere. Death did not make deals.

*

                The guy at Warren’s desk was an officer he barely knew, yet the man grabbed his shoulder like a longtime pal.

                “That is fucking great, man. You got to feel better knowing that son-of-a-bitch got taken out by one of ours, right? Fucking justice, man.” The young cop gave one last ‘hell yeah’ jerk of his head and moved off into the crowd surrounding Warren and Lewis’s workspace. Warren’s phone wouldn’t stop ringing and though he’d made it inaudible he could still see the winking bank of orange lights.

                Engulfed and suffocated was how Warren felt with the veritable mob of personnel congratulating him, and each other, on the killing of the drug-embroiled criminal who’d almost slaughtered his partner. Warren wanted to get out, be free of enthusiasm, and when he finally put his hands on the wheel of a department car, he headed straight for the hospital.

                The nurses could see a difference. They stopped as Warren stalked by, and several followed behind him, as though netted in his wake. When Warren bulled into Lewis’s room the nurse adjusting his IV froze, took one look at Warren’s face, and padded out the door.

                Warren’s thighs hit the bed. He grabbed Lewis’s placid fingers in his, and let out a sob, which sent hands to the mouths of the nurses gathered at the door.

                “We got him, Gian. We shot the bastard dead.”

*

                Sunlight gushed, pouring in over the bed where Lewis lay, his back and head propped, a tray across his lap. He took a bite of hospital sandwich and chewed it slow, and winked at Warren with one exaggerated drop of lid.

                “Now that’s what I call food.”

                Warren smirked despite his pounding headache, and the nurse behind him giggled, as most did when Lewis spoke. He’d always been a hit with gals and even skeletal and pasty he still emitted charm.

                “A good appetite will get you out of here sooner, Mr. Lewis, so you just keep up the good work.”

Another smile and a scribble on the chart and she was gone, leaving Warren and Lewis alone to partake of gorgeous sun and gravid conversation.

                “Can you believe the bellezas working here? And I look like morgue meat.” Lewis rolled his eyes with mock injustice but Warren had to struggle against the tightness in his neck.

                He cleared his throat. “Listen, Gian. About that night, the shooting, I want to—”

                “No pareja.” Lewis held up a finger. “Do not talk about that. You and I know that bad shit happens in this job. That’s all there is to say.”

                Warren could tell by Lewis’s steady stare that explanation wasn’t needed, but not apologizing filled Warren with impotent heat, and made him hollow inside. He recalled Lewis waking, and giving his hand a feeble squeeze, and though the doctors said it was probably just an involuntary reaction to rising from coma, Warren didn’t believe that was all. Not given that Lewis opened his eyes minutes after Warren’s report of the department settling a score.

                “I heard,” said Warren, working to speak without a wave of emotion. “They’re talking about letting you out of here by the end of the week.”

                “Many thanks to God, too, because the department’s covering only some bills, and if I don’t get out of here soon, I won’t have any money left. Then how am I going to buy treats for las damas?”

                Typical Lewis, thought Warren as he blinked against the sun’s painful glare, making fun of dire financial straits when it probably gave him nightmares. He didn’t know who’d been telling Lewis he was on the hook for enormous bills while he lay recovering in bed, but he did know whoever it was deserved a kick to the solar plexus.

                “Seriously, will you be able to manage? Can your family help at all?”

                Lewis chomped diligently on his crust but Warren saw the fear in his dark eyes.

                “Mi mama, she has nothing. Not with Ronald gone.” Lewis shrugged with one shoulder, eyes down. “I don’t know about Lena. Maybe a little.”

                Warren knew Lewis’s Columbian sister not at all, had learned simply that their real father died when Lewis was tiny, and that his mom married a British man who’d adopted them, but by now had passed as well. If Warren had no one, then Lewis was only a step above.

                “Don’t worry, Gian. I think I have you covered,” he heard himself say, and even as Lewis lifted his chin, the plan birthed in his mind. Extended seconds of silence bloomed.

                “What do you say pareja?” Lewis stared with the expression of someone uncomfortably close to hope and Warren grinned, his knowledge of absolution complete.

                “You know me and money, pal. I don’t ever spend and now this situation, well, let me just say I can’t think of a better way to use it. So, like I said. I got you covered.”

                Warren could look at Lewis’s eyes with a smile, yet turned away when they began to fill, and when his friend gripped his forearm Warren shook his head and rose. Promising to be back, he made his way out and for the first time leaving the hospital, Warren stood tall.

He hadn’t told the truth, and didn’t plan to, but once the tumor mauled his brain and his simple will was read, his partner would understand. He walked a while then, one foot dragging, his smile upturned to the sun. He felt light as a bird then, and happy as he could be, because while death didn’t make deals, it couldn’t do a damn thing about superior bargains on the side.