This story was originally written for Round Two of the yeah write super challenge #2, fiction specifically. Enjoy!
The bar was unusually empty for a Saturday night downtown in the city. Even the bartender, a gregarious man who normally enjoyed his shift, wanted very much to clock out early and get away. An undefinable air of gloom seemed to hang over the place. Even the jukebox kept playing sad little songs with wistful saxophones trailing off into minor key.
The front door banged open, and a woman in a red jacket stormed through. “Right, where is he?”
“Ma’am?” said the bartender.
“Guy in a fedora. Used to wear a cloak, I liked the cloak, but he’s gone all hipster now. Wears sunglasses indoors, even. Said he’d be here.”
The bartender pointedly tried not to look at a shadow huddled in a booth by the far wall. .
“Ah,” the woman said. “Typical.” She marched over and sat down hard opposite the shadowed figure, slamming a thin sheet of paper down on the table. “What, may I ask, is this?”
The man slowly removed his sunglasses and folded them up with a neat, ominous click. “It is a complaint. I filed it with your department this morning.”
“I figured that,” she snapped. “But what’s it about?”
“You were on vacation last week,” he said coldly.
“Yeah? So?” she replied angrily. “Look, you’re Death, you’re always on the clock. But I’m only War. I figure I’m entitled to some peace every now and again. People’ve been fighting all over, I just got done with a big show in East Plaznik, and then there’s the big missile scare. I deserve a break once in a while, yeah?”
“Perhaps. But your deputy had the duty.”
War shrugged. “Revolution’s a good chap. Knows his business. What’s the problem?”
“Revolution called in sick. The duty devolved to one of the…lesser incarnations.”
For the first time, War showed a trace of concern. “Who, exactly?”
There was a long pause. Even the jukebox went silent. When War spoke, her voice was very quiet and very strained. “Monday.”
“Yes,” Death said. “The Incarnation of Monday was in charge of War.”
She sighed. “It couldn’t have been that bad…”
Death glared. “Oh, yes, it could have. And it was. Were you aware of what Monday usually deals with? People oversleeping their alarms. Traffic jams on the freeway. Terribly boring work meetings. These are not usually problems handled by War.”
“I still don’t see the problem.”
“Do you know how many people usually die because they were bored during a conference call?”
War’s left eyebrow quirked. “You’re upset because you didn’t have anything to do?”
“I found something,” Death growled, “but it was hardly dignified. There were no explosions. No uprisings. One person missed his alarm and in his hurry to make a meeting got hit by a bus. Another was poisoned by eating a pastry to which she was allergic. A third died as a result of an unfortunate stapler mishap!”
War giggled. “Oh dear. That’s awkward.”
“Fine. I’ll make sure not to leave Monday in charge of War again. Deal?”
“At least Tuesday would’ve been appropriate,” Death said sullenly. “With being named after a god of war and all.”
“I’m curious,” War said. “If you did go on vacation, who’d cover the department for you?”
Death looked uncomfortable. “We have made inquiries. No one particularly has been identified for the duty…”
“No one particularly? So you’re saying there might be someone?”
“There was a volunteer.”
War’s eyebrow quirked again. “Someone volunteered to play Death? You have to tell me.”
Death sighed deeply. “Dysentery.”
There was another long pause. “Perhaps…” War said carefully. “You should plan not going on vacation.”
“I don’t intend to.”
This story was written for Round One of the yeah write super challenge #2, fiction specifically. I was in group 3, so my assignment was to write a story with an emotion (disapproval) and an event (swim in a pool). This was the result. Enjoy!
The alarm had finally stopped. Ensign Sam noted the silence as he made his way down the corridor. He had grown used to the constant wirping in the background. The ensign almost missed it. “Guess you finally gave up on me,” he said, as he pushed open the lift door. “Deck seven.”
The ship’s computer didn’t give its usual cheery reply. The lift simply clattered into motion. Sam missed the swoosh from the old days, as lifts smoothly glided about here and there, carrying people on their various ways. Now it was just him, and no swoosh. Sam supposed he should do something about the clatter eventually. He had no idea what; he had been a medical ensign, not a starship’s mechanic. If the ship’s computer ever felt like talking to him again, he decided he would ask about it.
As he descended slowly down towards deck seven, Sam reflected on the first conversation he’d ever had in the lift . There had been so many, of course, back when there had been a full crew, but the first one had been particularly memorable.
He had been a bright-eyed young ensign, eager to explore the galaxy and discover new life forms. Sam had been slightly nonplussed when his first assignment in sickbay had been to prepare a detailed inventory report on stocks of available medicines, which wasn’t nearly as exciting as discovering a new life form.
When Sam had finally completed the inventory report, he was to deliver it to the first officer on the bridge. To Sam’s astonishment, when he stepped into the lift on his way up, he found himself sharing a ride with the captain.
At first Sam had been overawed in the presence of authority. The captain hadn’t even noticed him at first; his mind was on graviton-deflector beams, Palsgrafian matrix generators, and the supply of quilithium resonance crystals. Then he became aware of the trembling ensign. The captain decided he ought to say something. “First voyage, ensign?”
“Oh, ah, yes, sir, very much, sir,” Sam had stammered.
The captain, who was still new to the command himself, thought he should relieve the tension with a slight witticism. “Well, is the ship to your liking? Any special requests?”
He hadn’t actually expected an answer. But Sam, being a fresh new ensign, had taken him seriously. “Well, er, a swimming pool would be nice, sir. Not much to do in our off hours, sir. I’ve got a friend on the Sailor Princess, sir, and he says they’ve got a real nice pool….”
The ensign’s voice trailed off as he realized his mistake. The captain’s eyebrows fairly bristled. Sam felt the full force of his glare, and quailed before it. “Ensign,” the captain snapped. “This is not the Sailor Princess. This is the Allied Planetary Starship Fairchild. We’ve been assigned to patrol the quadrant perimeter. We were not assigned to go on a blasted swim!”
Sam had started on a desperate apology, but the lift had reached the bridge at that unfortunate moment. The captain stalked icily out of the lift and grabbed a communicator from a passing lieutenant. “Doctor?” he barked. “You should keep an eye on your ensigns. Seems they don’t have enough to do! Seems they think they’ve got time to splash about in swimming pools! Better correct that misapprehension, doctor!”
The sickbay had not been kind to Sam after that. The doctor, upset at being scolded by the captain, had taken it out on the entire medical staff, canceling leaves and increasing hours in the scheduled shifts. The other medical ensigns had naturally blamed Sam for the new hardships and never missed a chance to mock him for it. It had been a miserable few weeks. Then, with the onset of Barnium’s Syndrome and its unfortunate results, Sam didn’t have to worry about what the other ensigns thought of him anymore.
The lift clattered to a stop. The old ensign made his way gingerly out of it. He was in the engineering section, just near the quilithium crystal tanks. They were practically empty by now, after so long a voyage. Sam cautiously removed the last remaining blue shards and then turned to another tank nearby.
He had been waiting twenty years for this. The ensign had set aside a tiny amount of each day’s water ration he allowed himself. Now, he poured all those accumulated ration fragments into the empty quilithium chamber. With a happy sigh, Sam eased himself into the cool water. He didn’t care that the decrepit Fairchild was about to tumble into a black hole, finishing off its last survivor. He didn’t care that he hadn’t heard from Earth in twenty years, nor that the whole planet had probably forgotten about him by now. All that mattered was this: he finally had his swimming pool.
The bartender of the Dirty Comet Cantina considered himself a conscientious man. He had to be, in his profession. So many space cantinas had turned to robot bartenders, who were efficient, friendly, and didn’t require payment. The Dirty Comet bartender, being human, did expect to be paid. He kept his job by virtue of being the only human bartender in three systems who could keep track of the vast complexity of alien biologies in his system. He knew that a Rigelian could handle seventeen Swirling Supernovas without blinking an eye, whereas someone from the seventh moon of Flaxanar could barely sniff one before they fell off their stool. On this rainy night, he knew that his customer at the moment was pushing the limits of sobriety.
“You,” growled the customer. “Another. Now.”
The bartender summoned up his most solicitous expression. “Here, now, don’t you think you’ve had enough, sir?”
“But you’ve had six Orion Iced Teas, sir, and those are gargleblaster quality. I really think, sir-”
“I’m an otter,” he said, sighing. “It takes more to get us plastered. I thought I’d got there, but I’m clearly doing something wrong, since I’m not there yet. So. Another.”
The bartender also prided himself on his ability to judge when his customers wanted to pour out their sorrows. “Having a bad day, are we, sir?” he said kindly, sitting down opposite the otter.
“A bad day,” the otter repeated. “A bad day? I have had a bad year.”
The bartender tried to look sympathetic. He had heard so many sob stories over the years that he found it hard to seem really genuine without knowing the details. “Like to tell me about it?”
“You’re not an angel, are you?” the otter asked suspiciously. “I don’t like angels.”
“No angels here, sir,” laughed the bartender. He stopped laughing at the otter’s expression. “I mean, er, no, I’m pure human. Three generations Earth-born.”
“Congratulations,” growled the otter. “I don’t like Earth either.”
Here the bartender made a mistake. “What’s wrong with the old planet, then?”
“Earth was where it started. That angel was from Earth. The murder case that angel dragged me into: Earth. The Holy Grail? Earth. Filthy, stinkin’, stupid Earth.”
The otter smacked his paw on the bar for emphasis. “I wish the whole planet would disappear. Like that.”
The bartender decided not to press the point. Instead, he silently got the otter another drink. Neither of them realized that they had been overheard. Even the bartender had overlooked the shadowy figure in the corner booth. But the shadow had heard what the otter said. The bartender hadn’t lied; there weren’t any angels on the small moon. Unfortunately, there were a few members of the other team.
The shadow listened, but the otter was through unburdening himself. He didn’t say another word until he had finished his seventh Orion Iced Tea. “Another,” he said, more slowly. “Put it…. Put it on my tab.”
“Right, sir,” the bartender said. “And that’ll be under…”
“Stamper,” growled the otter. “Same’s it was before.”
“Of course, sir,” said the bartender.
The War was over, again. She’d fought snarling zombies, robot lizard guards, even reanimated laser-eyed Stonewall Jackson clones. Now, finally, Confederate Connie’s time machine was smashed, its shattered remnants skittering about in the summer breeze. Gaseous Girl smiled. “Looks like this one’s …gone with the wind.”
The song is “Before He Cheats“, by Carrie Underwood.
- I note the frequent use of “probably”. As in, the gentleman in the song is “probably” slow-dancing with a bleached-blond tramp, he’s “probably” buying said BBT a fruity little drink as she can’t shoot whiskey, etc. Is the singer entirely certain of her facts? Given the drastic action she undertakes, I hope so. Especially as this will almost certainly expose her to legal liability.
- Is the pool stick literal or some sort of odd metaphor?
- The singer seems certain, again, that both the guy and the BBT are pool players.
- Professor Harold Hill could certainly advise the singer on the dangers of pool. (See “Ya Got Trouble“).
- Unfortunately, the singer takes dramatic action based on her assumptions about what her cheating boyfriend is doing.
- She just keyed one side? Not both sides? Which side of the four-wheel-drive did she key?
- I like the fact that she went to the trouble to specify the specific brand name of the bat she used. The singer did not use a plain baseball bat such as you might buy from Wal-Mart. No, she used a Louisville Slugger.
- Also, she got the pronunciation of Louisville reasonably correct. I can personally attest that Loo-ey-ville is a good way to say it, although many locals use “Loo-ah-vul” or even “Luhvul.”
- Under no circumstances can you say Lewisville.
- That’s just not cool.
- It seems a particularly bad idea for the singer to carve her own name into the seats of the car.
- How did she get in, anyway?
- Does she have a key?
- Fellas, if you’re going to cheat, make sure you get your keys back from your ex.
- Or, you know, don’t cheat.
- Anyway, why did the singer feel the name to personally autograph her vandalism?
- In the legal world, that’s what we refer to as evidence.
- Sadly, cheatin’ on your girlfriend is not legally actionable.
- Smashing headlights, slashing tires, keying the side of a car, and knifing your name into the leather seats, alas, is.
- I’m not sure what backroom Polo is, but it doesn’t sound hygenic.
- I have no observations on the quality of Shania Twain’s music.I have never, myself, performed karaoke. Not of Shania, anyway.
- I did do “The Cheeseburger Song” from VeggieTales once. It was well received.
- In conclusion, what I learned from this song is: don’t cheat, and if you get cheated on, don’t vandalize the cheater’s car, and if you do that, don’t sign your name to it like you’re Banksy.
Last time, in the Catrina Chronicles, our heroine had escaped from the alien lizard starship and continued her travels through time. She now finds herself in ancient Rome, trapped in the Colosseum along with other innocent civilians, about to be sacrificed to a group of rampaging lions purely on account of religious differences….
The gate creaked open. Three lions, all fairly mangy and roaring up a storm, charged out. Catrina shrugged. She knew that the proper thing to do would be to preserve history, let the lions eat the Christians, and walk away. But, then again, she had already rewritten.history six ways from Sunday. What was one more twist in the fabric of time? “I have a feeling I’m going to regret asking that question,” Catrina said to herself. “Ah, well.”
She turned and unleashed the power of Mlrning, the Shovel of Thor. In an instant the three lions were three frozen lion-sicles. Stunned silence filled the Colosseum. “It is Minerva!” someone called in Latin, and all around Romans in various lengths and colors of togas dropped to their knees.
“Oh, blast,” Catrina said. “Listen, people, I am not a god! Or a goddess either!” Unfortunately, she said this in twelfth-century English, not first-century Latin. She was no longer on the alien starship with its convenient internal translation matrix. Catrina had never been very good with languages, and so her next idea would turn out to be a very bad one. She decided to attempt a communication in Latin.
Catrina searched in her mind for a Latin phrase she knew that might calm everyone down. Something bubbled up in her memory, and Catrina, wasting no time, yelled it out as loud as she could. The Colosseum had very good acoustics, and nearly everyone in the stadium heard her. This proved singularly unfortunate. What she meant to say was “Stay calm, everything is fine, you all are good people, and I am your friend.” What she actually said was, “Sola populo bona est.” This translates roughly to, “The only good people are dead people.”
Needless to say, the Roman crowd didn’t take very well to this. Some of them thought the godddess Minerva was threatening to slay them in her divine wrath, and they ran shrieking in fear. Others, noting her poor Latin grammar, decided that she must be some sort of foul witch. Many of this last group had weapons, and they promptly decided to use them. Arrows thwacked into the sand around Catrina’s boots.
“Right,” she said, “I tried diplomacy.” She promptly unleashed a blast of icy power from the Shovel of Thor at everyone in the stands, freezing wave after wave of Romans. This included the current Emperor and his entire family, who had gone out for a day of relaxation and sport. Catrina gestured wildly for the Christians to run for the exits, which they frantically did. She started to join them. Just then, the Swirling Vortex of Imaginary Time appeared before Catrina had the chance to say, “Oh, no, not again.” The princess vanished from the Colosseum, leaving behind a Roman Empire with a sudden leadership vacuum. This would not end well.
Catrina’s knees scraped sand. At first she thought she was still in the Colosseum. Then a wave splashed around her, and she realized she was on a beach. “Oh, good,” said Catrina. “I’m about ready for a vaca-”
A bullet cracked past her head. She didn’t see where the shot came from, and she wouldn’t have the chance to learn, because a whole storm of bullets came zinging after it. Catrina dived for the sand, as explosions resounded over her head. She glanced back at the ocean, and saw countless gray metal ships swarming with men. She looked towards the land. More bullets blazed at her, from behind solid concrete fortifications bristling with barbed wire and chattering guns.
Catrina had no way of knowing that it was June 6, 1944, and that she had just crashed into D-Day. What she knew was that the guys on the beach were yelling angrily at her in German. Catrina didn’t have much more experience in German than she did in Latin, but what they were saying didn’t sound friendly to her. “Well,” she said resignedly, reaching for Mlrning, “here we go again.”
This has been another exciting episode of the Catrina Chronicles. For previous episodes, go here. As always, thanks for reading!
Last time, in the Catrina Chronicles, our heroine had just released her future arch-nemesis Susan from a cell on board an alien lizard starship. This may not have been the best idea. Regardless, Princess Catrina now races down the starship corridors in a desperate attempt to escape…
“I’m always running places,” Catrina remarked. “Just once, I’d like to conduct a walking escape. Maybe a leisurely stroll escape. But no, I have to run. Always run. It must be my lot in life.”
She couldn’t even have her run in quiet, either. Shipboard alarms kept up a constant wirp-ing and WEEEE-OOOH, WEEE-OOH overheard. Catrina picked out a particularly annoying klaxon that sounded like a foghorn with a bad sinus infection. It was about high time, she decided, for her to get off the starship.
The trouble was, she had no idea how. She had no map, no convenient guide to the ship’s layout. She would have asked the ship’s computer, had she known it existed, but it only accepted commands in alien lizard speech anyway, and would have required a security passcode which she didn’t possess. This left her without many good options. It wasn’t as if she could grab one of the lizards and ask for directions. “Well, why not?” Catrina said.
Pausing in her run, she turned towards the nearest door. It looked reasonably like the door to someone’s room. She looked to see if there was a doorknob or some sort of bell. The door, alas, seemed to be made of solid material, without a bell or a knob anywhere. Catrina knew there was only one thing to do. She raised Mlrning, the Shovel of Thor. In an instant a solid sheet of ice had frozen the door over. Then Catrina took a short run and launched herself at it, in a dramatic flying snap-kick. The door shattered into pieces. Catrina went right through, into the room beyond.
She realized at once that she had made a slight error. The room was occupied, as she had hoped. Unfortunately, there wasn’t just one alien lizard in the room. There were two.
“Oh,” said Catrina, her eyes going very wide indeed. “I, um, apologize. I’m sorry to have interrupted your…. um…. you. Could you tell me how to exit the ship, please?”
One of the lizards squeaked at her. The ship’s internal translation matrix kicked in. She only needed to continue down the corridor outside, make two rights and a left, and she would find herself at the teleporter bay. Catrina ordinarily hated teleporters, but she didn’t want to continue this incredibly awkward conversation any longer than necessary. “Right,” she said. “Thanks very much. I’ll let you get back to it then.”
She darted swiftly out of the room and down the corridor, reflecting that one could really never account for biology. At any rate, the lizard’s directions were accurate. A few turns later, and Catrina found herself at the teleporters. She noticed one of them had what appeared to be a scanned image of the Earth. “That’ll do,” Catrina said, and ran towards it.
The lizard attending the teleporter was a minor ensign, who was only covering for his superior while the officer was away (searching for Catrina, ironically). He was also unarmed, and he didn’t like the look of Catrina’s shovel. When she yelled at him that she wanted him to send her off the ship, he immediately complied. The ensign might, had he thought about it, simply beamed Catrina out into the void of space, or just disintegrated her entirely into a random row of dots. But he was a reasonably kindly alien lizard, and he decided to send her someplace with a lot of other people like her. She would, at any rate, no longer be his problem.
What both he and Catrina hadn’t realized was that the Swirling Vortex of Imaginary Time had inexplicably opened up right in the teleporter’s circuits. The alien ensign didn’t know about the vortex, and Catrina had been so busy escaping from the ship that she had forgotten about it. As a result, Catrina materialized on the Earth below, approximately sixty years after the birth of Christ.
Catrina also materialized two seconds after it occurred to her that trusting an alien lizard to teleport her somewhere was not a good idea. She quickly checked to make sure she wasn’t missing any important bits, or that she hadn’t been turned violet. She appeared to be in order. “Well then,” Catrina said, “Where have I landed now?”
Someone screamed in Latin. Catrina looked quickly around. She appeared to be in a wide open area surrounded by stone bleachers. She had once, in her studies a a young princess, seen an engraving of the place, and she had recently been on a tour of Italy and Greece with Susan, before the latter had turned evil. “It’s the Colosseum!” Catrina rejoiced.
Then she realized several other things. There was quite a large crowd in the stands, and they were all yelling at her. She also saw that she was not alone. A smaller group of frightened men, women, and a few children in dirty robes were huddling nearby. Their terrified gaze was fixed on a metal gate that was slowly creaking upwards. Behind it, Catrina heard a distinctive roar.
“Oh, lovely,” Catrina said. “Lions. It just would be lions.”
This has been another exciting episode of The Catrina Chronicles. For previous episodes, go here. Be sure to come back next week when Catrina’s adventure in imperial Rome continues. And, as always, thanks for reading!