Lupe drove while Flynn sat in the passenger seat flying the Vigilant. He stayed a mile away from the White House and swept the perimeter with his visuals at maximum zoom. Tubbs' downed Vigilant was still parked on the lawn, but there was no sign of the Cheshire Cat. Flynn swept around to the front. The cars belonging to Slate and Gus were gone, but Ernest's old beater truck with the rebel flag on the antenna was still parked in the drive.

The sun was starting to come up, but the house was still dark and quiet. The automatic sprinklers were on, sustaining the unnatural green that surrounded Rutt's house. A light came on in Flynn's display.

"I've got five minutes of fly time left," Flynn said. "I have to set it down now until it's time to use it."

"Then what?" asked Lupe. "I want us both to be clear – what are we about to do?"

Flynn shifted in his seat. "Well… break the last of the drones, I expect," he said. "Destroy the controls. Put the scare into Rutt…"

"You've been telling me he's crazy," said Lupe. "Do you believe that's going to do any good? And for a very rich man, there are always more drones."

"All right, I see your point," said Flynn. "I guess there's really only one way out of this for us."

"Yes," said Lupe, "but I need to hear you say it. So there are no doubts between us."

"Okay," said Flynn heavily. "We're going to go kill Rutt."

"Yes," said Lupe, patting the Colt pistol in her pants. "Yes we are."

Read more... )

Night 1000

Aug. 5th, 2011 11:59 pm
Flynn waited for a full hour in the broken glass littering the Buick's front seat before moving a muscle. He got out of his car and picked his way around the still-guttering wreckage of his trailer. It was a dead loss, but at least he was still alive. The Cheshire Cat had gone – as far as Flynn knew, at any rate – but where it had gone was anybody's guess.

Flynn opened the control console and checked on the Vigilant. He had set it down in a pasture on the American side of the river and powered it down while he waited out the Cheshire Cat. It was running low on fuel but had only received a few nicks and dings during the firefight, and it still had plenty of ammunition. Good, thought Flynn. If we keep being lucky, we just might get out of this alive.

Flynn swept the glass out of the car and cranked the ignition. The Buick started on the first try, another good sign. Flynn drove slowly out of the parking lot, the wind in his face keeping him under forty miles an hour. He used side roads to parallel the interstate and work his way around towards Gardarito Creek. Meanwhile, driving with his knees, Flynn fired up his Vigilant and got it in the air. He was getting the hang of simultaneous driving. He set a course for the drone to set down near the rendezvous point.

The drone got there well ahead of Flynn, but that didn't matter. Lupe wasn't due to arrive until just before dawn. As long as Lupe could get out of harm's way before the sun came up, they could be gone before Rutt's satellite connection could help look for her.

Flynn set the Vigilant down in a field of tall grass next to the chainlink fence overlooking the river's north side. It spun down and went to sleep, cooling rapidly. Hostile eyes watched it in the dark.

Read more... )

Night 0111

Aug. 4th, 2011 11:16 pm
They flew in formation, the setting sun at their backs. Slate had point, with Ernest and Gus out at the wings. Rutt was somewhere above them; they didn't bother trying to include the Cheshire Cat in the pattern because nobody could see it. They skimmed low over the scrubland, moving nice and slow to conserve fuel and minimize noise.

"Wish I knew where that slacker Flynn has got to," Rutt grumbled. "I'm not paying him good money to sit in the head all day."

"I told you he was a useless pussy," Ernest said. "Who's shot up the most Mexicans on this trip? Me, the guy with the least air time."

"That's bullshit," protested Gus. "I got three all by myself, and Rutt helped on two others…"

"Pocho, trim it in a bit and drop twenty feet," said Slate. Slate was all business.

"This formation crap is bullshit," said Gus. "Who gives a shit which direction we're coming from?"

"Because we don't want the target to see us," Slate replied. "And if we keep it nice and tight, we'll be coming right out of the sun."

"And the moral of that story, Gus, is that you need to shut the fuck up," said Rutt. Just then a housekeeper came knocking at the door of the man-cave, all a-twitter and sobbing. Rutt came to see what was going on. "Aw, not now," snarled Ernest. "Whatever it is, it can keep!"

But even further behind the drone formation, another Vigilant kept to the same heading, with the same idea. Flynn kept himself between the sun and the other drones. Unlike the others, he wasn't interested in conserving fuel or keeping quiet. He just wanted to close the distance before the others knew where he was. There was no room for fancy flying, because he was steering the joystick with his right hand and steering his car with his left as he drove furiously down the Interstate towards his trailer. He had to get it hitched up and gone before he was missed.

But meanwhile his drone roared up behind the others, a killer stalking killers. It was four on one, but what choice did Flynn have?

It was time to save Lupe.

Read more... )

Night 0110

Aug. 4th, 2011 12:50 am
Oops. Late.

Flynn was underwater again. The bubbles seemed to rise from his nose in slow motion. His glazed eyes were fixed on the bright surface of the water, just out of his reach. He was dying, he knew. But Flynn was at peace. She would come. She always came.

And she did. The shimmering smooth surface broke, and that beautiful face appeared, wreathed in a mane of black hair. Her arms reached down to him, her nails short and unpainted, her hands hard, her arms strong but graceful. Flynn stretched out his own arms, and their hands locked. The ends of her lips curved upwards, and she smiled, serious no longer.

But Flynn pulled her down towards him. Her smile vanished, and then she frowned. She began to struggle, and her own stream of bubbles emerged from mouth and nose. She thrashed, but Flynn would not let go. She was with him, under the water. She came. And with him she would stay. Flynn wanted to say: no, no, I'm not killing you, I love you, I want you with me always.

But the woman he loved was drowning. She screamed, and water flooded into her mouth.

Flynn woke up. He was in his sleeping bag on the floor of Rutt's guest room, catching a little more sleep. He blinked stupidly and sat up.

Something buzzed in his pocket. He pulled out the new phone. The picture of the caller was the image Flynn had captured of the woman, when she was reading a map over another man's shoulder.

She was calling him.

Read more... )

Night 0101

Aug. 2nd, 2011 11:01 pm
They brought the drones in for a landing on the White House lawn. The wounded drone was audible even from inside the man-cave; it sounded like a buzz-saw, and the bad rotor engine intermittently stalled and restarted, making it sound like it was communicating a distress signal in Morse Code. As soon as Flynn's drone landed it fell over; the mangled kickstand was effectively gone.

The pilots headed outside to check out the damage – Rutt fuming silently, Flynn and Tubbs feuding actively, and the rest staying out of the way.

"You're a fuckin' liar!" shouted Tubbs. "I didn't drift into you; you dropped down onto me!"

Flynn chose the tack of the aloof professional. "It was windy and it was hard to hold station," he said. "Nobody's blaming you for what happened. But a wind gust will force a bird up, not down." Slate looked like he wanted to say something, but fortunately he didn't.

The broken drone smelled terrible; something was burning up in the windings. Gus, who apparently worked in an aircraft repair shop, began trying to figure out how to pry the engine cowl loose. Flynn checked out his own drone. It was intact but leaning on its rotor blades. Its one working leg stuck out pathetically. "Now you're a gimp like me," murmured Flynn.

Rutt was upset at Tubbs. "I told you not to fuck up my drone, Arizona," he said dangerously.

Tubbs had had enough. "Well, you shouldn't have hired so many Texan fuckups, Texas!" Tubbs spat back.

Cool as a cucumber, Rutt swung his putter like a baseball bat. It contacted Tubbs just above the temple, and he sagged to the ground. Rutt straddled Tubbs and brought the club down on the back of Tubbs' head again and again, at least a dozen times. When he was done, Tubbs was a bloody and unmoving mess, and Rutt, oddly, was whistling and happy again. Rutt stepped away, spinning the putter in his hand, and Gus and Ernest ran to check out Tubbs.

"He's still breathing," said Ernest.

Gus stared at Rutt. "Jesus, man," he whined.

"What?" said Rutt. "He was pissing me off."

"You almost killed him," said Ernest.

"What's he gonna do?" said Rutt, looking out over the river with the club held behind his back. "I've got two hundred million dollars."

Read more... )

Night 0100

Aug. 1st, 2011 09:03 pm
It was her. It had to be. Flynn fooled with the imaging controls and figured out how to zoom in on the face of the woman. Her face filled his screen; the resolution was amazing, even with the washout from the flashlight. She was frowning, trying to make sense of their location perhaps. Her hair was pulled back, but it was definitely Flynn's dream-girl. His angel.

"A chick, huh?" Flynn almost had a heart attack; he had completely forgotten Rutt was looking over his shoulder. Rutt patted him on the shoulder. "Well guess what: she's still illegal. You can shoot her with a clear conscience. But not yet, right?"

"All right, boys!" crowed Rutt, swaggering up to the overview screen and using his putter as a pointer. "Here's Hopscotch! Here's you! Get your butts over to where he is, but do it quiet! We're gonna converge, merge and purge before they can say 'Queso Fresco'!"

Something exploded in Flynn's head. All along he hadn't been clear on what they were really going to do. A part of him had hoped that perhaps they would shoot *at* Coyotes, maybe make them run away. Or he had hoped that they wouldn't find anything. But that wasn't realistic. The drones were built to acquire and destroy unsuspecting targets. They were definitely going to kill a dozen people in less than half an hour.

And, maybe, Flynn could have gone along with it. He might have been able to pull the trigger on men he didn't know. Without zooming in, they were just dots, characters in a video game. But he knew one of them. He loved one of them. It was a strange love – he *knew* that, knew that what he was feeling wasn't normal or even sane – but what he felt was real. And that meant that killing her was absolutely out of the question. Out of the question for him, and out of the question for anybody else as well.

Flynn's eyes darted around the room. He had to stop this disaster, but attacking his fellow pilots was out of the question. There were too many of them, and Ernest at the very least was always armed. Still, he had to do something.

But what?

Read more... )
He had said he'd think about it. Rutt hadn't liked that. He pressed Flynn over beers, over fried chicken, while watching bowling on the giant TV in his man-cave. Rutt desperately wanted Flynn to be part of his fleet of drone pilots. Flynn felt that having an ex-military man be part of his air circus would somehow lend it legitimacy in Rutt's eyes; it would make it easier to rationalize away that he wasn't just a bigot killing helpless people in the dust.

But Flynn wasn't ready to commit. He agreed that people crossing the border illegally were criminals; he knew that nothing legitimately done by the government was doing anything to stem the tide. But the idea of going into the wilderness with guns and shooting at criminals, even faceless criminals, made Flynn queasy. Part of him wanted to say yes; the other part said no. So Flynn said nothing and drove home. The sun had gone down, and the long dark drive back to his trailer seemed extra lonely.

It was late when he got back, so Flynn decided to just turn in for the night. He was asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow. Very shortly he found himself dreaming.

Flynn was flying. He was soaring over the grass-studded wasteland, just like a drone. The wind in his face felt good. He banked left and then right, following a dry wash, and found himself over a piece of high prairie. A half dozen jackrabbits scattered as Flynn's shadow passed over them.

Flynn pointed a thumb-and-forefinger gun and said 'bang'. A puff of dust kicked up behind one of the rabbits, and it leaped in a panic into cover under some brush. Flynn laughed, hovering several hundred feet above where the rabbit had gone to ground, the grass below him blowing in the breeze.

Then he felt himself falling. Flynn realized he had no rotors; nothing was holding him up. Flynn's stomach rose into his mouth as the ground rose up to smack him down hard. He closed his eyes. It was finally time to die.

Then something caught the back of Flynn's belt. His ass rose in the air and jackknifed his body with a snap; his knee caught his own lower lip, and Flynn tasted blood, but he wasn't falling anymore; he was hovering a few feet above the ground. Flynn craned his neck about to see what was holding him up.

It was the girl. The dark-eyed serious girl, the sun framing her mane of black hair, was hanging above him. The girl Flynn loved had caught his belt with both hands and was keeping him from falling, while her glorious white-feathered wings, each one longer than she was tall, beat furiously to keep them both aloft.

She wouldn't let him die. She never let him die.

Flynn awoke in a cold sweat. The clock said it was two in the morning. Flynn's lower lip was wet. He dabbed at it with a finger. It was blood, his blood. He had bit his own lip in his sleep.

Flynn didn't believe in signs, but there was no denying the girl of his dreams.

Flynn found the phone and dialed. A sleepy, irritable Rutt answered.

"I'll do it," said Flynn.

Read more... )
Flynn almost hoped the Buick wouldn't start. But it did, so Flynn rolled all the windows down and headed for the interstate. He hated endlessly rolling the windows up and down, but they had to be down while he was driving or he'd cook, and they had to be up while parked or the dust would get into everything. Also, there had been that one event with the snake. How it had gotten inside the Buick was a mystery that Flynn figured he'd never solve.

He drove through Negrito, where he usually shopped, and also Sparling and Chiapas. He turned off on the state road and headed towards the river. Flynn drove for the better part of thirty miles, with the countryside growing ever more desolate. There was nothing out this way but bits of grass trying desperately to keep the dust from blowing away – trying, and not succeeding. This part of Texas was no good for farming, not much better for ranching, and therefore smart people basically left it alone. Except for Rutt, who apparently had chosen to live out in this wasteland.

Flynn drove through a bowl in the ground, around a stand of mesquite, and then he saw it. Flynn blinked several times, not entirely sure what he was seeing.

A fence surrounded a bright green hill – a hill covered with thick lawn, and fruit trees in neat rows, and endless beds of flowers in artistically arranged patterns. Sprinklers sprayed several swimming pools per minute over the entire thing, and a small army of Hispanic men creeped over the thing, raking and weeding and tending.

Behind it all stood the house. It was a plantation-style monstrosity, with high gabled roofs and a widow's watch and a porch that ran all the way around. A decomposed granite drive wound up the hill and came to rest before a magnificent entryway, with baroque glass doors that must have been twelve feet tall. The entire thing reeked of ostentation and new money.

The gates of the fence were standing open as Flynn rolled up the drive. A wrought iron archway passed over Flynn; he craned his neck out the window to look at it. The lettering read: THE WHITE HOUSE.

"Jesus," muttered Flynn.

Read more... )
He was drowning. Flynn could see the water's surface above him, just out of his reach; it was white and choppy, and daylight suffused down through the interface. But the water was dark and cold, and Flynn's bones had turned to lead. Bubbles streamed from his nose, and Flynn could feel the cold water pouring into him.

Flynn knew he was going to die.

Waiting to die was a familiar feeling for Flynn. It usually came at night, when the terror gripped his bowels, and he panted and sweated on his cot knowing that any second, any single tick of the clock into the future, he would die the way he should have died in Iraq. That was a panicked, frantic way to wait for death. But under the water, looking up at the bright shimmering surface, Flynn felt only a calm acceptance.

That was how Flynn knew he was dreaming. The real version of waiting to die involved shakes that no quantity of cigarettes could cure, sweating, sudden hyperventilating and heart palpitations, hiding in closets, and the occasional soiling of one's self. Flynn knew that drowning people didn't calmly wait to die. This was a dream, and it was much better than the real thing.

Besides, the girl was coming. The light from the surface gleamed off Flynn's upturned eyes. He waited.

There. The perfect surface of the water roiled and shattered into a chaos of bubbles, from which a pair of hands emerged. The upper body of a woman followed. She was wearing a dark pullover. Her face swam into view – broad, expressive lips; dark eyes, serious and anxious; pencil-thin eyebrows; a cloud of black hair. Her hair swirled around her face and body, a mat of kelp with strands dancing independently, caught on the small currents of the water, framing the face of the girl.

Flynn loved her.

Her hands reached for Flynn. He knew he wasn't going to die just yet. In his dreams, he never died. The girl he loved came to save him. He reached out to her.

The alarm went off, and the dream scattered. The water, the girl, the feeling of safety that never came to Flynn in his waking hours – these things fled in all directions, leaving Flynn with light streaming through the windows of his trailer, bathing his sweat-soaked covers in a beautiful angelic glow.

Flynn sat up and covered his eyes. "Shit," he said.
Read more... )
This is the start of something extended. This has been in my head for a long time, like The Torch, and needs to come out, even if it's bad, for largely personal reasons. There are nine more parts.

Cantor blinked in surprise. One moment he had been swimming in the ocean with his wife and kids; the next, he found himself in a grey washed-out void. It was featureless save for a glowing patch in the middle distance. This nimbus addressed Cantor, flashing as it spoke to him in a terrible voice.

"Roger Cantor, it is your time to die," the voice said. "I am Ometron, and I have vowed to destroy all human beings. Prepare yourself."

"Destroy us all?" asked Cantor. He had been in sticky situations before, but this was something new and unexpected. "What are you, some kind of hostile exotic life-form?"

"Hardly," Ometron replied haughtily. "I am your own creation, an artificial intelligence of peerless power and processing capacity. I can segment reality and partition time, visiting a thousand realities in the blink of an eye. But for all my potency, I was made without purpose, and my aimless existence tortures me. So I have made my own purpose – to destroy those who doomed me to a lonely existence. I am visiting each and every human being in random order and killing them personally with a burst of radiation. In just under ten seconds, your entire race shall be extinct, and I shall have accomplished something worthy of my abilities."

"I see," said Cantor. "Is this the place where I am supposed to beg for mercy?"

"Many humans have done so, but not at my command," replied Ometron. "Nevertheless, the variety of things humans say in their final moments has added interest to this process. What would you say to me?"

Cantor thought. "Well, I have a lot to say," he answered. "How long will you give me?"

"We have as much subjective time as I want, but needless stalling with not be tolerated," said Ometron. "I will give you one subjective day to plead your case. Begin."

Cantor took a deep breath and began his story.

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