Friday, November 30, 2018

Old & Broken - The Late Night Edition

This time though it's kinda funny.

Last night as I was drifting off to sleep, my right thigh decided it would catch a cramp from just shy of the 9th Circle of Hell. This has been happening quite often since I started a new blood pressure med that boasts dehydration as one of it's most common side effects.  Funny thing is that dehydration will also elevate blood pressure as well as cause these hellacious muscle cramps.

Anyway, leg cramp. So I do what any red blooded American man would do in that situation. I scream like a 5 year old and bolt upright out of bed to try and stretch the demon muscle back into a more relaxed mode. Here's where it gets interesting.

You see I am actually on two different meds for blood pressure and oddly enough both bottles come with a warning about causing dizziness if you stand too quickly. Well, I didn't just get dizzy. I went straight to tunnel vision and damned near passed out.

Here's the conundrum. Give in to the dizziness and sit down effectively giving the muscle cramp permission to kill you, OR continue stretching and risk ending up unconscious in the floor.

My dad always said that getting old ain't for sissies. I never knew how right he was.

-Tole

Quick edit.  As I was discussing last night's adventure with a co-worker I remembered that I gave blood last night on the way home from work. Maybe the near-faint was aggravated by the fact that I was a pint low.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Working on Terra

Sometimes a story comes at me from a weird place.  I was sitting in my office last week and for some reason the word dearth popped into my head.  I wrote a paragraph just for the sole purpose of using that word. The paragraph grew into an intro including a new character. I fully intended to keep this character for a recurring role in the future. Apparently Tole the Killer overrode Tole the Author. I swear he grinned at me right before he paragraph that starts "Once everyone is seated and pointless conversations start..." Oh well, I've always said that I'm just chronicling his story not writing it.

This  story is set in the time after "The Affairs of Dragons."I hope you enjoy it.

-Tole

I don’t do much work on Terra for a couple of reasons. The first one is that there really aren’t that many people capable of reaching me in The Bar. Magic withered away on Terra a long time ago, and what is there isn’t potent enough to open a portal to The Bar. Even if someone on Terra gains enough power to get here, they tend to use that power to do the job themselves. Secondly, Terra has never suffered a dearth of people willing to kill someone. You can get it done for much less than I charge. Hell, a lot of times you can get it done for free if you know the right things to say to someone who’s more than a little twitchy to begin with.

All of that being said, I came down into The Bar today to find a plain, vanilla human being in an off-the-rack suit sitting at the bar in The Bar drinking some of the Scotch I keep in stock here. He was talking to Bobby like they went to high school together. I even heard Bobby laugh as I walked up to the bar.

“Hey Bobby. Can I get some stew, cheese, bread, and a couple of bottles of dark?” I ask as I sit down next to the visitor.

“Sure thing,” he says choking off a chuckle.  “Tole this is Daren Scott of the Terran Interdimensional Coalition Tactical Assessment Command. He’s been looking for you for almost a month while you were on that pixie job.”

The pixie job that should have only lasted a couple of days, a week tops, but those things are a lot damned harder  to kill than I ever would have expected. I don’t think I’m ever gonna take another job from the wee folk, the devious little shits. I’m still cleaning pixie dust out of places it should never have gotten into. That shit is like stripper glitter; once you get it on you, you’ll never get it all off.
About the time I finish the shudder passing through my body thinking about all that fucking pixie dust, I realize what Bobby just said. This guy’s from Earth and here in The Bar! Then I remember that humans have a propensity to make anagrams out of everything, and I can’t keep the giggle from bubbling out.

“You work for T.I.C.T.A.C.?” I  manage to choke out around the giggles.

“Sir…” he starts, but I just can’t stop laughing.

“What no toe? Couldn’t get three more letters?” I manage before my giggle box gets going again.

“Sir…” he tries again, but it’s all over now. The lunatic in my head is in full hysterical mode now. It’s all over, or so I thought.

“Mr. Randall… if you please!”

That did it. He barely finished his sentence before the other part of my crazy shoved the giggling idiot back in his box, grabbed a knife off of the counter, and was sitting on Agent Scott’s chest in the floor with the knife’s tip firmly pressed against his jugular. One single little drop of blood leaked out around the spot I was pressing against.

“That man is dead and that name died with him,” I force out between gritted teeth. “If I ever hear it pass your lips again, it’ll be the last fucking thing you say. Get me? My name…is Tole, and the only reason you aren’t dead is Bobby would make me mop up the mess.”

“Understood. Apologies.”

I’ve always thought it was funny how fear will reduce a man’s speech capabilities to one word sentences. I take a deep breath and push the urge to kill him back into the recesses of my mind. That urge doesn’t go quickly though, and I am kind of enjoying watching the arrogance drain out of this ass hole’s face.

I let a couple of extra seconds pass before I hop back to my feet and offer him my hand with a big old smile on my face.

“Good,” I say just as cheery as a child with a shiny new toy. “Now that we have that mess out of the way, what brings you here?”

I sit back down and dive right back into my food. Agent Scott casts a worried glance over at Bobby who just shrugs as if to say “I told he was crazy” and goes back to wiping down the bar.

“Mr. R…” he starts but then corrects himself as he takes a seat leaving two empty spots between us. “Tole, we have a problem back on Earth that the brass at Command believe is best handled by someone with your…skills.”

“Look Agent…Scott was it?” I say between before shoving a spoonful of stew in my mouth. ”I don’t do much work back home for a lot of reasons, but the most relevant one here is that humans are just too goddamn easy to kill. We are, in comparison to the rest of the multiverse, kind of squishy. A well trained sniper or a cruise missile could probably do the job every bit as well as I can. I’m sure one of your member nations can handle this just fine. Why not just head on back home and blow some shit up?”

“We’ve tried all of that,” he said with a sigh. “He’s countered every sniper we’ve sent. Several came back to us in tiny plastic lined boxes. As far as just blowing him up goes, we’ve tried that too.  The target seems to have more luck than any one person should. He’s walked unscathed out of more rubble than human should be able to.  That’s why I’m here.  We are now convinced he is not human and likely not from our dimension or plane. ”

“Well, what about magic?” I asked. “You got here. That implies you guys have picked up some mystical mojo. I thought magic was gone on Earth, but hell, I’ve been wrong before.”

He showed me a tiny little box with some dials on the front and a small digital display and said, “We don’t use magic per se to travel between dimensions. We discovered some work done by Germany during World War II that was very close to breaking through the dimensional barrier. One of our theoretical physicists managed to finish the equations. We discovered a small amount of an element in a meteorite in the same  Nazi bunker that let us generate a new form of energy that is for all intents and purposes identical to the energy you refer to as magic. The only difference is that we cannot control time…yet. However, it’s not a weapon.”

I gave a little cynical laugh and said, “Everything’s a weapon.  You just haven’t gotten creative enough to use it as one yet.”

I’ll be honest here. The thought of any government, much less a coalition of governments, being able to traverse time makes me nauseous. Luckily I haven’t seen any evidence that travel to the past is possible. That thought truly terrifies me. It’s bad enough that they are opening portals to other dimensions at random. They have no idea what’s out there.  Odds are that’s exactly how they got into the mess they’re asking me to clean up in the first place. God people are stupid.

“Fine,” I agree as I put the last of my food away. “I’ll be your killer, but the price is going to be high. You probably won’t be willing to pay it.”

“I would think defending your home world against destruction would be payment enough, but our pockets are quite deep. Name your price.”

I love cocky people, especially wealthy cocky people. This time though I’m not after money.

“First and foremost, my home world don’t mean shit to me anymore. It’s just a rock. Defending it for free would be too much like taking up a cause, and I don’t do causes. I want the technology you’re using to open portals, and I want your coalition disbanded. I want Earth to stop travelling between dimensions. You aren’t ready for what’s out there.”

The way he fell back from me you’d have thought I kicked him in the balls or maybe asked him to eat a live kitten.

“Impossible!” he yelled with a look of shock and horror on his face. “The Coalition would never agree to such terms! Surely we can find another acceptable method of payment.”

“Fine. I guess we can work together for three times my weight in gold with an option for doubling it if unexpected difficulties arise…like I’m going to have to kill an old god or some shit like that. That a little more palatable?”

He settled back into his seat and said, “I don’t see any reason that would be disagreeable. You have a deal.”

I get up off of my bar stool and say, “Ok, just wait here while I grab a few things out of my room and then we can head back to Earth and see if I can earn my payment. Have another scotch. I’ll be a few minutes.”

I head upstairs thinking about what all I may need for this job. I really don’t see it taking anything much. I pick up a few ampules of clear liquid and slip them into pockets in my flechette belt. Then I grab something to protect my vital bits and something with a pointy end to put in the other fellow. Don’t really even need to take food since I know I can eat what’s indigenous to the world I’m working on. Plus, it’s a government agency so they’ll have plenty to eat. That makes packing easy, so I grab my dragon scale shirt, my loaded flechette belt, two long daggers, and the spring loaded stiletto. Anything else I need can be improvised on the job.

Time to go be a killer.

I came back downstairs to find Agent Scott waiting on me. When he saw me, he took the small device out of his pocket and manipulated the dials. A small portal just big enough for one man to pass through opened up. It was surrounded by an orange ring of energy that spit and crackled. It really didn’t look at all stable.

He gestured for me to go first, so I turn to Bobby and say, “If Serilla stops by, tell her I’m on a job and should be back in a couple of days. She’s welcome to stay in my room if she’s got nothing better to do.” With that I stepped through. Agent Scott came through right behind me.

The first thing I noticed was that there wasn’t that moment of disorientation from passing through a portal. Maybe science had one on magic in that area. The second thing I noticed is that we were in a nice, clean, sterile, gray room. There was a small machine in one corner that was making a whining noise as it powered down. It kind of looked like the old electric motors we used in the oil field to run the pumping units in their bucking horse motion. It was attached to a small box with some very heavy gauge wires attached to the top.  That must be the device that powered the portals.

The opposite wall was made of very thick, clear acrylic. There were about a dozen people in white coats behind it. This must be the crack science team that breached the dimensional barrier.  By the way they’re moving around they’re very excited about something. One of the first things I notice is about half of them move like they’ve had some training. Don’t ask me what it was that gave it away. Maybe it was the way they stood a little straighter, or the way they held their clipboards. Something about them triggered that automatic threat assessment thing my subconscious is always running.  It would make sense that some of the eggheads would be military. Interesting.

 To the right was the door out of the room. It was flanked on either side by big men in grey camouflage uniforms with black berets on their heads. The patch in the center of the beret actually did have T.I.C.T.A.C. embroidered in an arc across the top. I almost lost it again, but I kept it together…barely.

Agent Scott led me out of what I later learned was named the “Portal Room.” Bureaucrats are nothing if not creative…Jesus. We walked down a hallway with twenty doors including the one we just came out of. Eighteen of them were on the sides of the hallway and one at each end.  Fifteen of the doorways were labeled with a person’s name, including one for Agent Scott. One was labeled Mess Hall and two for guests.  The doorway at the opposite end of the hall was an elevator with a palm scanner.

That added up to a room for each scientist, one for each guard, one for Agent Scott, one for me, one empty, and a dining room. My guess was that no one came or went from this place on a regular basis. Maybe the powers that be aren’t as stupid as I thought. A secure underground bunker most likely wired to be buried in a nuclear blast isn’t a bad start to be ready for something bad to follow you home. They could always dig out the rare element later.

We got to the door to what was to be my room.  Agent Scott opened it and led me inside saying, “There is a computer here that is loaded with all of the intel we have been able to gather on your target. The computer is not on any network, so anything further you require will have to be requested and obtained by one of our science team. The next meal is in 3 hours. If you require anything before then, the phone on the desk is a direct connection to me. Just pick it up and I will answer.”

As soon as he was done he turned and left closing the door behind him. I went to the computer and pulled it up. There was a folder on the desktop with images of maps, lots of redacted copies of memos, and a single close-up photo of the being they wanted me to kill. One look at the orange eyes on my target was all I needed to confirm my suspicions. This was definitely going to be interesting. I looked at the clock on the computer screen.  It showed it to be two in the afternoon, so I decided to take a short nap before supper.

I woke from a dreamless sleep about two and a half hours later. I hit the facilities and washed my face slicking my hair back with the water at the same time. I wonder what they eat down in this rabbit hole.

I no sooner finished the thought than there was a knock at the door. I opened it to find Agent Scott waiting. We walked down to the dining hall together.

As we walk Agent Scott points at my belt and says, “You really don’t need those while you’re here. The base is quite secure.”

I laugh at him and reply, “Man, you are thick. You’re opening random portals to other dimensions with zero idea what’s waiting on the other side. I’m not going ANYWHERE without my weapons. So…what’s for dinner? I’ve had military food, and I’m starting to think I should have had Bobby make me something to go.”

“It’s always better when we have a visitor,” Agent Scott commented as he led me to a seat. “One of the guards is a solid cook. He’s doing steak with garlic mashed potatoes and corn on the cob. I think he said something about  some kind of cobbler for dessert. I also picked up some of that dark beer Bobby said you prefer. Too bitter for my tastes, but we wanted you to feel welcome.”

The smell of cooking steak and garlic drifted down the hall to me. One thing I haven’t found in my travels is a world with anything better than a nicely grilled, medium rare porterhouse steak. My mouth watered at the thought.

Agent Scott opens the door to the dining hall. I give him a nod of thanks and take a seat at one of the tables next to the other guard. There are four tables around the room. Three are square with four seats at each and the fourth, where I am sitting, is round with five seats. That makes one for each apartment. So no families here.  This group is keeping it compartmentalized as much as possible. Smart.

Everyone gets their drinks while we wait for the food to be ready. Once the call comes from the kitchen we file through with a tray and get our supper. It looks and smells really good. Maybe the army of whatever country the guard/cook comes from actually teaches a useful skill. Pity.

Once everyone is seated and pointless conversations start, I take in a breath, and it’s time to go to work. I lead with the stiletto extending it with a flick of my wrist and driving it up and into the brain of the guard next to me.  In the same motion I draw the dagger from my belt with my left hand driving it up and through the brain of the man to my left. Placing the tip of the stiletto on the edge of the table I push it back into the locked position as I stand. I push the man to my left over with my foot using the force of his fall to pull the dagger from his skull.

Someone grabs me from behind, but he is obviously not trained in hand to hand fighting because my hands are still free. I spin, and my elbow connects with his jaw. I feel it break under the impact. I finish the spin planting my dagger firmly into his heart sliding it neatly between the fourth and fifth rib. He’s dead before he hits the floor. That’s three.

I chose my seat because it was near the door. I pick up a butter knife and step to the door. I ram the knife home between the door and the jamb and snap the blade wedging the door closed. No one gets out of here until they’re all dead, or I am.

A kitchen knife imbeds in the door just inches to the side of my head. Ah, the cook has joined the fight, so I pull the knife free and return it to him with a flick of my wrist. He dodges it easily, but then he was supposed to. Killing should be done up close and personal. Here he comes charging like the bull he is.

To my left I see one of the scientists coming at me as well, so I sidestep his charge, catching his shirt and redirecting his momentum into the oncoming guard. They collide with a mighty crash. Goddamnit this is fun! I’ve missed having a challenge like this!

I know what you’re thinking. You’re wondering where Agent Scott is in all of this. Well, he’s sitting in his chair unable to move thanks to the small vial of Ortah’ahn snake venom I dropped into his tea right before I got up to get my food. I need him to die last, so I can’t have him messing up my plans.

Two more of the scientists are coming at me charging side-by-side. This is why I got my ass handed to me so much in high school. I was smart, but never bothered to learn how to fight. You never charge a prepared opponent who has superior fighting skills. He’ll beat you every damned time.

When they close to within about four steps I draw both daggers. At two steps I fall backwards and open their abdomens as they pass overhead. It’s kinda nasty, but it’s also really effective. They hit the floor with a wet but satisfying smack.

I bounce back to my feet covered in blood to find two more scientists frantically pulling on the door knob. They turn around and see me. I have no idea how I look, but it scared the shit out of these two eggheads…literally. They turn back to the door with the evidence of their terror running down their pants legs onto the floor. Their backs are just too tempting a target. Two quick throws puts a dagger into the heart of each. They fall to the floor with blood running from their mouths.

My breathing is so fast now it’s almost like I’m panting, but I’m not winded…just really excited. I haven’t been this jazzed up in a couple of years. I’ve been taking it too easy, playing it safe since I met Serilla. The animal is loose now though and there’s nowhere to hide...for any of them.

The other guard is on his feet and yelling for the remaining scientists to get in the kitchen behind him. Yes, please get in the corral like good little cattle. Make it easy for me to lead you to slaughter.
Once they’re in the kitchen behind him he turns back to me and says, “I told him it was a bad idea to bring your psychotic ass here. Time for you to die little man.”

“I may be crazy, but I have rules. One of the  first is never threaten me. Let’s see who’s time it really is you walking side of beef,” I say as I take some steps to my right to get my feet out of the blood pooling on the floor. While he and I were bantering, I was pulling the tiny little flechette knives I carry in my belt. I have three in each hand between my fingers like that grumpy old dude with the metal skeleton.

He comes at me in a fighters crouch which lowers his height down from about six five to right at six feet, Hell, he’s still half a foot taller than me, and once he’s in range he leads with a right hook. I drop to my knees and punch him in the inside of the thighs right where the muscles attach to the top of the knee and once in the balls. About an inch and a half of steel in the nuts takes the fight out of just about anyone…eventually. He did manage to hit me and stars swam across my vision. The second and third punch to the nuts took most of the ability to follow it though.

I passed the rest of the way between his legs and deployed the stiletto again. I drove it into his heart from behind, and he fell to his knees. I finished with it up into his cerebellum with the tip exiting his right eye.  I pushed him over with a foot to the back and he hit the floor like the side of beef he was.

I walked over to the door, retrieved my long daggers, and returned to the kitchen. The six remaining scientists were huddled together in a corner. One of them pulls a small revolver from behind his back and fires a shot at me…center mass.  From the sound, I would guess it was a .38. The slug hits my dragon scale tunic which eats almost all of the inertia the round carries with it. Still hurts like a bitch though. At impact the round simply flattens out, and falls to the floor. It’s followed by four more rounds…also center mass.  Thankfully this idiot was trained to put them there. A real killer would have paid the insurance with at least one round to the brain bucket. As a last ditch effort he threw the empty revolver at me, and I dodged it easily. They were begging for mercy as I came into the room. None of them found any in me. I won’t bore you with a story of shooting fish in a barrel.

Once it was down to just Agent Scott and me, I went back to my seat. My food was still hot, and I had worked up quite an appetite. I finished everything on my plate and the plates to my right and left. I had to move a dead guy to get one of them…totally worth it. What? They were really good steaks.  The only thing I did wrong was to go to work before the dessert was out of the oven. I really like cherry cobbler, but it was burnt beyond eating…dammit.

With supper finished, I went and sat beside Agent Scott and said, “I bet you’re really confused huh? I bet you’re asking yourself ‘what the fuck just happened here?’. Well, I’ll tell you. See, while I was on the pixie job someone came to me and offered me more than you could ever hope to match to steal that little rock that powers your portals and leave no one alive to recreate the science that allowed humans to travel the multiverse. See, with the exception of a very select few, most humans are considered just too damned reckless and dangerous to have this kind of power. Personally, I don’t give a shit, but my employer does. That can only mean one thing. You lose.”

With that I put a dagger through his heart, pull it back out, and walk away. I dig the wedge out of the door jamb with the tip of the same dagger and walk back to my room to gather up the rest of my shit. From there it’s back to the portal room where I break open the metal box and pull out a purple gem that is almost a twin to the one embedded in my arm. I toss it into the air, catch it, and drop it into my pocket all while whistling “A Pirate’s Life for Me.”

I open my portal back to the bar, but before I step through, I press Agent Scott’s palm to the emergency scanner that triggers the self-destruct. I hear the computer start the ten second count as I drop Agent Scott’s hand on the floor and step through into my room at the bar. Serilla is sitting on my bed wearing nothing but a smile.

“Hello love,” I say. “You should probably tell your eldest to stop fucking around on Terra before they decide a nuke is an acceptable option.” I take the purple stone out of my pocket and toss it to her saying, “Oh, I brought you something pretty, just as you asked.”

She pulls me onto the bed and well, the rest is between us.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Happy Thanksgiving

Thought I'd take a minute to wish a Happy Thanksgiving to my readers...all seven of you. In all seriousness though I truly hope anyone who happens across my mad ramblings has a great day. I for one have a lot to be thankful for and plan to eat a piece of pie for each and every thing I think of. If I die, I die happy and full of pie with friends and loved ones by my side.

-Tole

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Blog Changes

I spent a little time this morning changing my blog's theme and layout.  It had been like it was for over ten years, so I kind of felt like it needed changing.  Let me know what you think, and for your enjoyment here's Vehicle by The Ides of March. It's been stuck in my head all day and I hate to suffer alone.


Thursday, November 8, 2018

Don't Taze Me Bro'! - Follow up

In an effort to stave off surgery the orthopedic surgeon I saw this week for the carpal tunnel issue stabbed me in the wrist with a VERY long needle. The steroid injection into the carpal tunnel kinda stings at first, that is until the blessed anesthetic kicks in. Fingers were numb for a little over an hour. Made typing interesting.

One thing I found fascinating is how even though the doc was stabbing my wrist I felt the pain in my finger tips and palm. Doc moved the needle a little and that went away but referential pain has always been fascinating.

Another fun bit from the shot was that my thumb, index finger, middle finger, and the inside part of my ring finger were numb for just over an hour. When the doc handed me my paperwork I took it in my left hand and dropped it straightaway.

She told me, “That is what severe symptoms are like.”

My only thought was, “how could someone function like that? I couldn’t.”

The way the decision for the injection was explained to me is that they like to do the injection first because it has a two-fold purpose being both therapeutic as well as diagnostic.

IF the diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome is correct the shot will give symptom relief. If the symptoms return sometime in the not too distant future, the shot may be repeated. If the symptoms return again, then that indicates a surgical procedure is likely to be the only permanent option.

IF the diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome is wrong the shot will have no effect on the symptoms and further investigation is warranted. (The doc is confident in the diagnosis though and we HOPE that this is not the case.)

So for now I sit and wait for the next couple of weeks to gauge how effective this is going to be. I'm hoping I fall into the small percentage where the shot takes care of it. Knowing my luck though...

Here's hoping I break from my norm.

-Tole

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

On Elections and Such

Yesterday people went out and voted. Some are happy with the results and some are not. However, I can truly say I'm happy. Not because one party/person won or another lost. Not because one party or the other controls this or that. I am happy because people got up off of their assess and cast a vote. I'm happy because our system, whether you think it flawed or not, functioned just as it has for over two hundred years. I feel beyond blessed to live in a country where the population at large has a voice in their own destiny.

So take a second before you start foaming at the mouth over this issue or that. Take a breath before you start your vitriolic tirade over the evils of the other guy. Seriously stop and be glad that we live in the biggest social experiment in the history of mankind and that it is still working relatively well despite all of our best efforts to break it completely.

And if any of you disagree with me...you will be shot. (Yes, I know it's not funny and that's the damned point.)

Tole

Pickup Progress

So I spent last weekend out at my friend's house and shop.  When we moved my truck, it would just flat fall on its face and die. I knew ...