Category Archives: 31. Time in a Bottle

Werewolves, vampires, and a threat to the entire world. It’s about time.

Time in a Bottle 8

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It goes without saying that I had to tie up a few loose ends. Our journey back didn’t take as long, if anyone’s wondering. Fortune Cookie and I took the snowmobiles back up until we found Moai, who caught a ride on the rental truck. Without the inexplicable aging effects of the temporal phenomena related to the now-averted disaster, we could ignore all those long words and just drive back.

Cookie relaxed quite a bit as we sighted Targu. She dropped her shoulders and rolled them over in the driver’s seat. She wanted to drive the way back, and insisted I sit in the passenger seat instead of anywhere behind her. I suspect she’d grown uncomfortable around me over the course of our trip, especially the part where I killed someone outside of self defense. Like with Mobian, she didn’t seem comfortable with the necessity of the action.

Clearly, she’s never worked a service job. Now, before y’all go calling me a hypocrite, remember two things: it’s not hypocrisy when I do it, and, technically speaking, being a hitman is a service job. And yes, it takes a special kind of idiot to complain about that service. Before y’all ask, yes, I’ve encountered some people like that. Fewer of them around than there used to be.

Speaking of that particular service, Cookie asked me about it. “Are you going to kill that man as you promised?”

I made a show of glancing over from my reclined seat. I’d kept my armor on, as usual, so I affected the gesture in deference to her. “He gonna die!” I said, putting aside the program compiling on my HUD. “Why? You want to watch? No, wait, you don’t want to watch. Otherwise, you’d have peeped into the future and watched it happen, wouldn’t you? How’s your hindsight? Fifty-fifty, or twenty-twenty? Five by five?”

“My vision is fine. Time doesn’t stop anymore, but you’re right. I don’t want to watch you kill more people. Do not try to tell me that’s a bad thing.”

I scooted over into her lap, putting my arms around her shoulders. “There there, puddin’. It’ll be ok. I won’t kill anyone else in front of you.” I turned to look out the windshield as she made a valiant effort to control the truck. “Hey, is that a hitchhiker?” I grabbed the wheel and gave it a small turn toward the side of the road.

There weren’t any hitchhikers, but Cookie grabbed the wheel anyway to keep us from kissing a tree. “Stop that! Get off me.”

Sad that she added the “me” to the end of that sentence, I moved back over to my side of the cab. “Fine, party pooper. So, anyway, about that ability to see the future…”

She stiffened up. She shook her head. “It’s a responsibility and a valuable gift. I don’t know what you want it for, but it can’t be good.”

“I believe it will be. It involves something I saw in one of those timeshifts that could be pretty important. You might want to know about it just because it’s interesting.”

Cookie kept one hand on the wheel, the other going to adjust her hair, then her coat, subtly edging toward her recovered pistol. It wouldn’t do her a whole lot of good with my in my armor, but I began to suspect by her body language that our intercourse was making her uncomfortable. If she didn’t have anything of value to me, I’d point out the uselessness of the weapon.

“It’s when I got sick. Thanks for your help there, by the way. I got a virus. Nothing communicable to you in case you had that on your mind. If you do, it’ll take a hell of a lot more talking to get something from the hot dog cart.” I pretended to peer out the window at the boring wilderness outside. Trees. Shrubs. Dirt. Natural light. Horrible place. “In trying to figure out what happened, I traced the virus back to an alien invasion fleet that had recently attacked Empyreal City. Why an advanced space-faring civilization would feel the need to conquer not just Earth but a part of Earth remains a mystery. But I won’t get the chance to find out because I am going to have died in the future. People who don’t like me would probably enjoy that bit.”

“I’m…sorry.” Cookie didn’t sound sympathetic.

I held up my hands. “Please, please, save your tears. Wouldn’t want you to die of dehydration over me.Besides, knowing it’s going to happen is a bit of a confidence booster. I know nothing gets me before then.”

“Actually…” she started. “The aliens could show up no matter what you do, but you might not be there. I’ve seen something like that happen before. Don’t take it for granted.”

That made sense. I should have remembered that bit from my own experience. I really should have remembered that. Then again, I’d been shot in the brain and emerged in a murderous rampage, so I guess I should allow myself a bit of slack.

It’s rather difficult to think about anything other than how to kill people in the middle of such a rampage. After all, if you could think of anything else, it’d be a murderous but somewhat contemplative rampage. “I’m going to rip your teeth out through your navel, but have you ever considered what the Dao De Jing says about the pursuit of knowledge? Long story short, you’re not going to need that brain I’m going to kick out of your face.”

“Well, thank you for destroying my peace of mind. Why can’t people ever let other people live with a comforting fantasy? Oh, wait, that’s right. Believing in said fantasy could cause me to take actions that directly result in my death.” Fake hysterics finished, I lowered my voice. “If you want to drop me off back where Moai and I stayed, that’d be fine. I’m sure you’re eager to get as far away as possible. You know, in case you wanted to let me know when that invasion happens by phone instead.”

As tense as our parting was, Mobian didn’t even show up to say bye. Some people really aren’t team players.

Thus began my stalking of a Romanian politician. Accuse me of being sentimental, why don’t you? I figured I owed it to my prior victim to kill the person that ruined his life. Pissed as I was when I took out the guy in the tower, I never caught his name. At least I got his kid’s name, as well as his grandkid. Plus, turns out Romanian parliament members, or PMs, don’t get into car accidents every day. I mean, they’re not like the Russians, after all. Though, of course, they issued a statement condemning the recent Neo-Mongolian invasion.

He was one of the younger ones. Not from money or anything, though I may be judging him according to the American ones I’ve been exposed to. Unfortunate incident in an airport men’s room once with a Congressman from Alaska. Fellow had an accident, things got covered up, and then his constituents began complaining about him changing votes and hanging them out to dry.

If it hadn’t been for the conspiracy, I think I’d have found a way to kill him that didn’t involve talking to him. I was busy, after all. I needed to figure out where I was going next. Options are somewhat limited with my translation program FUBAR. For those who don’t know, that stands for Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition. So off Moai and I went to Bucharest.

I picked him up in a taxi just outside the Parliamentary place. Well, Moai picked him up. I was the obnoxious guy who tried to cut in ahead of the PM and steal his cab. “That’s mine!” he said indignantly at who he thought was just another guy in a suit with a laptop case. That’s because this time I didn’t have my armor. It had needed cleaning and airing out.

He head of brown hair with bangs that swept to the side. Handsome enough face, except for a slightly thick nose and a mole by his lip the same color as the rest of his skin. He wore a suit and an annoyed expression that marred his face.

“Can we share? I’m late for my meeting with the American ambassador.” I smiled at him. Namedropping couldn’t hurt.

He adjusted his coat and said, “Yes, fine, but don’t leave without paying.”

I held the door open for him as he got in. Poor fellow. I fully intended to stiff him. When I slid in after him, I noticed him gaping at our driver, a large statue wearing a turban and sunglasses. I shook my head and buckled up. “Way to look racist, Moai. Now, let’s get our friend here to a nice secluded location for a little talk.” I glanced at the PM and gave him a winning smile.

“Fuck that!” He reached for the door and tried to open it. I pointed to Moai, who saw us in the mirror and hit the hydraulics. I expected it and wore my belt. He didn’t and…uh…didn’t. After bouncing his head off the ceiling a few times, he settled down enough for me to strap him down. For his own safety, of course. If he ran off too soon, I might just have to kill him and get it over with. I didn’t want to resort to that. It wouldn’t be fun. I had ideas in mind, starting with handing him a bottle of teriyaki glaze and telling him to put the lotion on his skin or else he gets concussed again.

I took him alive to ascertain if a conspiracy existed. I wouldn’t have considered it except for the change in his voting patterns. If there’s even a chance I get to kill more people in this country, I’d like to take it.

Extracting the information proved boring, however. I sat down across a table from him in a darkened room and gave him my least homicidal smile. I slid a sandwich across to him. “Now, you’re in a bit of trouble, but it’s not the end of the world. It almost was, though that’s been averted. All we’re doing now is filling in some blanks in what we know. Come on, help me out, and we’ll get you out of here in a hurry.”

I felt reasonably assured of his truthfulness when he gave me the story of a sad accident on a wet road with a couple drinks in him that allowed his political enemies to help him out for a price. I know, right? It’s so very disappointing.

He made a much better headline. “PM assaulted by horse dildo attached to passenger train while lubed, tied to tracks on all fours.”

Sometimes, being a bad guy is not about money… it’s about sending a message: everybody’s fucked. Hard. So buy new Double Cross brand lubricant.

Double Cross Lubricant: anything, anywhere.

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Time in a Bottle 7

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***Connection established***

Because of course it was, readers. What’s a little bullet to the head compared to the pure, unadulterated badassness of knowing I survive long enough to die in an alien invasion? To be fair, even I had my doubts there in the coma. Or I probably did. Hard to keep track of that. Good thing I loaded up on nanites while dealing with my little viral invader.

Seriously, good thing. Dying isn’t really on my itinerary if I have any say in the matter, now or in the future. Y’all know why. So after reviving from the dark nothingness of being kinda sorta maybe almost possibly dead, I took a bit of a break to make good and sure I was over it. It was a lot like that time Miss Tycism hexed me, except hers made me experience conscience thought, which allowed me to figure out I was dead. This was just being nothing. Not having thoughts. Not existing, at least as far as my consciousness was concerned.

Then I got angry. I’d certainly say I have a reason or two, though I can find plenty of other excuses. To start with, the bastards didn’t even bury me. Oh, and they looted my armor. Those role-playing bastards! Well, it’s time for the obligatory recurring boss battle, bitches.

Of course, keep in mind that I’ve had some time to reflect on these events, and my mindset at the time wasn’t quite so lighthearted.

Naked, freezing my ass off, hungry, and wielding a whip, I set foot outside the door of the hut they left me in and found a large wolf. It licked its chops. “Come at me, Lon Chaney, and I’ll make you look like the Phantom of the Opera.”

When I approached the door to the infamous clock tower a few minutes later, it was with a few new scratches but a warm pelt to cover up partially. A little torn, and split in some places, but better than going naked. They certainly hadn’t left anything better on the snowmobiles and their sled trailers. Whatever problem they’d had getting in, the doors stood wide open now. Why would they lock up? They captured or killed the perceived threats. Unless the various monsters broke in. That’d be a shame. We wouldn’t want any monsters in the clock tower, now would we?

Actually, yes we would.

I entered with great care and caution: I charged up the steps, waving my fetish store weapon in the air, accompanied by the song “Bad Clown is Back”. I took stairs two at a time, wondering if they had anybody guarding that low down. Up one set of stairs, up another to the left, and then a third one to that left noting the occasional drop of bird crap every once in awhile. After traveling clockwise up a clock tower like that, I found a landing with a dull brown skeleton laying on it.

I went to kick it and hurt my toe on old metal. Seems the old clock used to be guarded by clockwork of a sort. Or someone got intimately acquainted with the bronze age in a whole new way thanks to time shenanigans. Time…shenanigans! Shenanigans in time! Sorry, for a moment there, I imagined an 80s tune in my head.

Besides, the next person to say shenanigans deserved to get…well, I didn’t have a pistol to whip them with, but at least I had a whip. I suppose that could be useful for whipping of some sort.

Back at the time, I figured I’d do more than just whip whoever I ran into, and made a valiant effort to keep that anger going as I continued up the clock counterclockwise. I steadily rose into the belly of a mass of old machinery. None of it moved, so I didn’t miss anything. I guess you could say I was worried I’d be late.

Ba dum tish.

Turns out I’d been closer than I expected. Squeaking and creaking began from higher up, descending to meet me. Human voices called out as well, but I don’t think they knew about me at that time. That changed after three more sets of stairs, where a guard stood on the fourth landing, calling up in a language I couldn’t understand.

I figured my translation program got fried in all the excitement, or I lost it with the reformat.

The guard spotted me out of the corner of his eye and turned. He shouted some more to whoever listened up above and went to raise his hunting rifle. I had already swung the whip, knocking it to the side. A loud crack and muzzle flash accompanied a shot that hit nowhere near me. He didn’t get off any more shots. The next time he tried, the whip wrapped around the gun and I snatched it away, reaching the top of the stairs.

He tried to dodge away from me, but I pushed him over to the edge of the landing. He twirled his arms, trying to reverse his balance. I grabbed one of his arms. Perhaps not knowing me or just not caring, he let me and then tried to throw his weight forward. I pulled when he did so and launched him face first into the wall. He staggered back, probably a bit fuzzy. Figuring he couldn’t understand me anyway, I put my arm around his shoulder and said, “There there. This way to the medical tent, comrade.” Then I showed him a shortcut to the doctor’s that involved him walking off the edge of the landing anyway.

I guess they shouldn’t have called it a landing then. A departing, maybe, but not a landing. That’s what he did on the floor instead.

About that time, the squeaking had reached me and I noticed the cogs beginning to turn in the middle of the shaft. I also heard shouting from higher up, and looked up to see the faces of other guards, including the bastard who shot me, all looking down. I raised my whip to the sky. “You’re all going to die in here!” I promised them loudly. That drew more shouts

I looked for a shortcut, too, figuring I needed to get my ass in gear. Or, more specifically, on gears. I wrapped my whip around my waist like a belt and jumped for a cog hanging close to me in the middle of the shaft. Unlikely that pansy Batman, I have no trouble jumping small gaps out of costume.

I scrambled up the gears, careful not to lose fingers or toes. Ever been mountain climbing? Try mountain climbing where the mountain is constantly moving and can crush you if you stay in one place too long. I pretty much immediately regretted my decision to take that route, instead hoping the next contestants on Romania’s Next Top Corpses would meet me halfway.

Three of them waited on the fifth landing up from where I jumped. There they were, sitting around, training guns on the only way I could get up there while I tortured my arms and legs sneaking up to their level. Hunting rifles instead of anything military grade.

I meant to land behind them as silently as possibly, but I skidded on the stairs and bounced off the wall. The thud alerted them, but they didn’t react well to the whip flying toward their faces. I didn’t whip them, I just tossed it. Anything vaguely snakelike being thrown at a person’s face tends to make them flinch, unless you’re a porn star.

I kicked the middle guy in the balls hard enough to knock him on his ass. I poked the one on the right in his eyes and grabbed the other one by the balls. Treat your enemies like you would treat life. When I pulled back my hands, I had a pair of eyeballs shishkebabbed in one hand and a pair of nuts in the other. But at least I put them back. The guy on the right dropped to the ground with a gonads in his sockets, while the one on the left held his crotch as he tried to get used to the new additions in his scrotum area.

The third guy took one look at his buddies and decided that getting the hell out of there was the better part of valor. I grabbed my whip and tried to crack it overhead to speed him on his way. Still not that good at cracking a whip.

Nobody obstructed the remainder of my ascension to the top room until one of the corner landings ended at a door. You know, I really expeced a lot more guards there, but that turned out to be the height of their resistance. Like the body back at their trucks, maybe they’d been killed off by others. I couldn’t recall the face of the guy who shot me enough to tell then if I’d encountered him already.

I banged a fist on the door to “Shave and a Haircut”. “Alright, you assholes! Turn off your clock before I have to clean it for you!”

The door opened and I then I found the guy who shot me, pistol leveled at me. I dove over the edge and this time he missed. I know I probably seem like a badass with a whip, but I’d been getting by on hope, luck, and the weapon’s simplistic design. Then again, a whip isn’t much of a weapon.

So even though I didn’t have time to aim for any particular piece of machinery, I did a hell of a lot of flailing. I suppose I also thought I had inevitability on my side. Either way, when my arms failed to catch hold of anything, the whip wrapped around a gear rotating parallel to the ground.

Ideally, he’d have thought I fell. From the bullets whizzing by and ricocheting everywhere, I got the distinct impression he knew where I was. I’m just glad the gear wasn’t too slow. Though, from the way he shot me in the ass and leg, it clearly didn’t rotate fast enough. Gritting my teeth and growling to myself, I realized I needed a way to surprise the guy. Or at least something else I could throw at him. If everything went well, I’d probably get one shot while he had one shot.

When I came around again, he saw the whip dangling from the gear, then quickly adjusted his gear as I limp-ran along the top. Even hunched over like I was, I had enough momentum to give the balled-up wolf pelt a good throw. It soared through the air only a short ways before opening and obstructing his view of me. That covered up my further run and another dive. I skidded off the floor of the landing, skidding and partially converting to Judaism. On the plus side, the results of that skid also gave me a higher range on my singing voice. Or is that higher pitch?

Either way, at least I got on there and got close while he blew a hole in the pelt. When I came up, I grabbed his hand and twisted the wrist sharply, forcing him to drop the weapon. My open palm came up and caught him under the chin. He would have stumbled back, but I kept a firm hold on his wrist and pulled him toward the edge. One good throw sent him a little too far into the inner workings of whatever device had been set in motion.

It ground his bones, and itself to a halt.

Limping, bleeding, scraped, naked, and pissed off, I stepped into the room.

The Mobian was just removing the handcuffs around his wrist and helping Fortune Cookie with hers. “You were right it seems.” Looking to me, he said, “Jolly good distraction. They put your stuff over there.” He pointed over to a dais holding a panel with a wheel holding a series of circles. Astronomy, perhaps? Behind it, a gyroscope with dozens of rings vibrated, but otherwise stayed still. The rotor in the middle looked spherical and glowed a faint green. It made quite the grinding noise to the chagrin of an older man who stood nearby, trying various switches on the panel.

Beside all of that sat my armor in a pile and a set of tools.

“Cool, just what I need.” I walked over, ignoring the panicking man, and checked for my syringes. None in the pouches. But I did spot them behind the pile, not too far away from a cot. On it sat an empty syringe and the dried remnants of pink goo. The nanites are programmed to break down and expel organic matter that isn’t me or any part of my implants.

I injected myself and pulled on my armor, ignoring Cookie and Mobian’s attempts to talk the old man out of his course of action. I couldn’t understand Cookie or the man, but Mobian had some sort of universal translator thing going on because I could hear him. You know the drill. “Blah blah blah, think of what you’ll do to the world, blah blah blah, Nothing justifies this, blah blah blah.”

I tested out my gauntlets, and smiled to myself as the energy sheath appeared with no problems. Then I walked over and smashed my fist into gyroscope’s rotor. The grinding noise stopped as the sphere itself blew apart in the direction I’d punched. I turned to the now-silent trio. “I’m sorry, did I interrupt your talk?”

The old man looked at me with sunken, reddened eyes. Whatever he said, he spoke softly and in a language I couldn’t understand. I looked to Cookie. “Can I get a translation? Had a bit of a data loss recently. Also, good to see you again.”

“It’s good to see you too, Gecko. Sorry for not saying so earlier, but it was more important to stop what was happening. Besides, I knew you would show up.” She smiled at me. I waved my hand forward, urging her to get on with it. “He said that this is his life’s work, and it doesn’t matter if you destroyed it. He will rebuild.”

The Mobian put his hand on the old man’s shoulder. “This isn’t you. You were never like this and you don’t have to be.” The old guy shook Mobian’s hand off his shoulder and muttered to himself.

Cookie stepped over and translated more quietly for me. “He said that Mobian doesn’t know everything. He doesn’t know what it’s like to lose a son and grandson in a simple, stupid car accident.”

Mobian shook his head. “No, I don’t, but I have lost many friends and companions over thousands of years. Everyone mortal faces death, and I can’t be there to save everyone. I shouldn’t be there to save everyone.”

The man whirled on him, holding a finger up right in Mobian’s face. The gangly time traveler swallowed heard as he heard out the verbal assault. “I trusted you. You saved me from the camp, and I saw you other times saving the world. You were a god to me. A false god.” She declined to translate what the old man spitting on Mobian meant, but I picked that one up by context. “You can’t save everyone, but I can. I can prevent anyone from ever dying again.”

“You would prevent anyone from ever living again, too.” Mobian said. I could tell that even though the old man’s scheme had flaws, his accusations stung.

“Translate for me?” I asked Cookie. She nodded. “Who was responsible for your son’s and grandson’s deaths?”

The old man glanced my way. Cookie dutifully translating between us. “A Parliament Member. He didn’t go to jail. The police determined my son was in the wrong. But I know Marius would never be so reckless. Mihai was in the car.”

I nodded. “I can see to it that he does get punished for what he did to you. I understand how you feel. Something bad like that happens and your world ends. Your world stops, but everyone else’s keeps moving on. Everything moves too fast and before long you feel like you’re in another world entirely. You want to keep a hand on it. Am I in the ballpark?”

The old man heard me out, then nodded.

I shook my head. “I can’t let you stop the world. That’s why I did what I did.”

“You can’t take my knowledge away from me. Send me to prison. I will find a way to do this thing if I have to tell everyone how. Somebody will follow through for me.”

Mobian spoke up again. “Don’t. You can move on from this.”

“The world can move on, but I am too old,” said the man.

I stepped closer to the old guy. “Moving on is not required, but I can end your suffering.”

Mobian shouted “No!” but was too late as I grabbed the man’s neck and snapped it like a brittle twig. I let the man drop as Mobian continued his hysterics. After a few seconds of that, he began pounding on my chest. It became difficult to believe this guy ever worried anybody. “You didn’t have to do that! I could have saved him.”

“You can’t save everyone,” I reminded him. I glanced back at Cookie and the device. I made sure to get a real good look at the device in case I missed anything earlier. The design on that part could come in handy if anyone could scale it way, way down. I held out my arm for Cookie, who slipped hers into it, her head downcast. We left Mobian there to sob beside the dead man.

“Could you have killed him?” I asked her as we made a much slower and safer descent.

She shook her head and whipped a tear away. What’s with all the waterworks around here?

“Then that is why you needed someone like me.”

Halfway down the tower, we came across the blinded man crawling slowly to what he hoped was safety, whimpering to himself with each step. His friends had left him behind. I kicked the side of his head and sent him off the edge to a screaming death.

Cookie stopped to gawk at me. “Was that necessary too?”

“No, that one was fun.” I held up a hologram of a ticket with holes punches out under all but one skull. “And now that I’ve got that one, I’ve won a free food gift card from the Targu Secuiesc funeral parlor. He died so that I may enjoy a sub sandwich. Truly, that soldier was quite the giver.”

Cookie took my arm again on our descent, but muttered to herself. “He gave ’til it hurt.”

Now she’s getting into the spirit of things.

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Time in a Bottle 6

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Behold, the majestic giant clock tower in the ass end of nowhere! Look upon its strong stone base carved right from the mountain. Marvel at its giant door barricaded by some guys. As if that could stop me.

Actually, it might. I think that time spent in the future gave me a virus. Yep, totally the future thing. Nothing at all to do with being strapped to a bed by a vampire. Though, seriously folks, if you’re going to have sex with dead things, always wrap it up. Remember, a penis bag could prevent you from needing a body bag.

I thought I was mostly fine after getting out of that timeshift zone and didn’t notice any problems even running from some prehistoric knee-high raptor thingies. Then I reached the little village here at the base of the tower and got sick. I didn’t like the idea of laying around another so-called abandoned village, but I also didn’t like the idea of shitting my pants. It might ruin the delicious chocolate pudding I hide back there.

At least the clock workers didn’t have time to pack up all their cots before we got there. We didn’t actually see them, which worked for me. I needed to lay down and pump myself full of juicy nanites, ready to flood my system and repair damage at the cellular level.

Would have been real nice if they’d worked. The damage didn’t physically exist, not even to my cybernetic components. Heck, I could have even altered the nanites to handle damage to my armor, but that wasn’t it, either. The hardware was fine; the aliens fucked up my software. Most people won’t understand, but it’s rather difficult to work through the programming of your own eyes, brain, and other body parts. You ever try to code a spleen? I didn’t think so. Most of y’all don’t even know what a spleen does. Well, I got that baby back in order and pumping out hot espresso in no time.

Here your programmers are excited about video games and there I was debugging my pelvic splanchnic nerves. One wrong ganglion and I could have had a bowel movement so large, I’d have been lucky to have any bones left.

Things got a bit trippy there; at some point I had to chase a rogue line into the language center and wound up speaking in faux-Shakespearean English. That’s the language center of the brain, not the language center of the pelvic splanchnic nerves. Those things speak a language all their own. If the saxophone plays the language of the heart, then the best instrument for contacting your pelvic splanchnic nerves is the percussion burrito.

I worked on that and pulled my armor off, prompting Cookie to throw snow at me to try and clean me up. It wasn’t an ice thing to do to me. “Forsook, thou dost not throw snow at mine crotch, you fusty nut with no kernel.” I glared at her as I injected a nice helping of nanites into my neck. I’d rather have them around in case of organ failure so they can keep things running.

“Did somebody just quote the Bard?” asked Mobian, stepping into the room.

I “Eek!”ed and held the loose snow over my crotch as if to shield my delicate privacy. “Thou sayest what?”

“You have a problem, sir.” Mobian pointed at me, then turned to Fortune Cookie. “Hello again. I’m glad you two finally made it. What’s with him?” He directed the question at Cookie who rifled through her pack for a bottle of water she sipped.

Since she was preoccupied, I answered the question about me directed at her on her behalf. “Sick. Went through a timeshift and caught a virus from the future. Hey, I fixed the Hamlet-wannabe sound. Drink up, me hearties! Aw jelly-boned crud buckets. I sound like a pirate!”

The Mobian looked at me, then began to smile. He tried to fight it even as he told me, “Oh. I hope you turn out fine. It would be a shame if you died.”

Cookie glared at him. “He got me here, which is more than I can say for you. You left us back in the town.”

“I was coming back, but by then you already left. In the future, be more patient. We have all the time in the world.” The smile he flashed her looked far more convincing than what he forced out for me, but it only pissed Cookie off.

She walked right up to him and poked him hard in the chest. “No, we don’t. We don’t have a lot of time. I don’t know how much anymore because we’ve gone forward and backwards in time so much on the way up here. I don’t even know what year it is anymore. We need to get to the top of this clock tower.” She pointed at the wall in the direction of the clock tower.

Mobian nodded. “We should start now and leave your friend to catch up.”

“He’s sick,” she indicated me with her hand. “Let him rest, then take us right to the top. Be more patient.” She threw his words back at him.

“About that, you see we have a tiny problem. You see, this tower is the epicenter, right? Right. It’s all very complicated and I don’t have time to explain everything. Only, you see, my ship, the Stridar, can’t seem to go up there.”

“Too much rum gave ye the whiskey dick,” I added.

Mobian didn’t even glance at me. “Shut up, you.”

“You stayed here doing nothing all this time when you could have picked us up, so now we have to hurry up there without the guy we need.”

While they went back and forth on that, I had to crunch some numbers. As advanced as those aliens had to have been to reach earth, they still had to work within the limitations of human programming to make anything compatible with human operating systems. It’s like giving yourself a partial lobotomy because your brain is incompatible with the locals. But what could I possible know about that?

I ran into a bit of trouble when it looked like it would jump to the organics. I’m pretty much the only person on earth that could happen to. Instead, I managed to trap it. It involved priorities. It had its straight. I had its figured out. Ah, the limitations of artificial intelligence in the face of chaos and irrationality. It reminds me of that time I was hired to slay the Roko Basilisk. Pissed off a whole bunch of transhumanist uber geeks. I have no problem with nerds and geeks on their own, but there comes a time when an obsession becomes so intense that you’re rejecting reality in favor of it.

Not that I’d know anything about that, either.

So even though the transhumanist people got all outraged, they couldn’t even have me prosecuted. It wasn’t murder because that involves a human victim. It wasn’t animal cruelty because that involves an animal. It wasn’t even destruction of property since none of them wanted to come forward and claim it wasn’t sentient. If you ask me, it wasn’t much of an artificial intelligence anyway. It just played the Sims all day, making people resemble anyone who didn’t like it, then torturing them.

I swear, you’d think I was giving those transhumanists a heart attack.

Holy crap, I was having a heart attack. Nanites, away! Meanwhile, I continued ignoring the argument between Mobian and Fortune Cookie to concentrate on my parts, particularly the cybernetic portion of my brain and my spinal cord. That’s right, I have a spinal cord, meaning I technically do have at least one sympathetic fiber in my body. Some might say I have at least two; a parasympathetic fibers.
That’s just a little anatomy humor for y’all. You know there’s going to be more coming.

There was the little bastard. Rewritten code. Gibberish that screwed up the functioning of my heart valves. I took over manually while reverting the code. Nanites repaired the dead muscle tissue.

I performed a quick check of my autonomic functions. Balls fine, bladder, kidney, ass, intestines. Crap, my heart was screwing up again, but this time from an excess of adrenaline in the system. Way too much. I breathed in and out way too fast, but hardly took in any air. Motherfucker! I will murder this virus and feast upon its code!

I moved even more quickly through the system, shutting off the flow of adrenaline completely while I tried to clean up the adrenergic storm, which sounds like an awesome band name. “Tonight, for one night only, hold onto your panties as we introduce Adrenergic Storm!” They’d totally play “Through The Fire And The Flames”.

I had a moment to think on the solution while my body attempted to stabilize most of the physical symptoms. Because I’m awesome, and because this all took place much faster than activity outside my own body, and because adrenaline surges slow down the perception of time. But mostly because I’m just that awesome.

More problems cropped up in the spinal cord. The modification I’d made to give myself remote control over my limbs in case of paraplegia or quadriplegia acted up, too. I was hitting myself. At least I knew why I was hitting myself. The heart operating system had been corrupted again. Jinkies, a clue!

I found the bastard code having settled in to my central nervous system registry files, having written itself in to come back after any modifications, including reversions, to the other stuff. That’s when I noticed I had wifi up again. The thing tried to spread outside of me. Uh uh, buck-o. Not when Captain Mega Asskicker The Ultimate Psychopomp Cornelius Gecko the Great is handling things. It’s time to chew bubblegum, kick ass, and take names. It’s time to layeth the smacketh down upon thine candy ass!

At least the bitch of a virus couldn’t crack the interdimensional transceiver. That thing’s set up in a format and encryption from my old world. The only way data gets out that way without my say-so is a timer connected to its own local log only accessible through my organic components. A deadman’s switch, you could say. If I go too long, at least it’ll tell as much of the tale of my death as possible before I get there. Luckily, I haven’t had to make much use of that one outside that time Shieldwall almost killed me in Empyreal City. I don’t even know when it’ll send stuff with how this trip has been going.

At the very least, I won’t just disappear and leave people wondering what happened.

That shouldn’t be the case with this virus, but it worried me. Fucker spread way too fast. And, as I realized when I tried to clean it out of the registry, it could come back about as fast as I scooped it out.

Damn thing had a message, too. An attempt at subliminal messaging, as if that’d work. Obey. Serve. Give in. Surrender. Pave the way.

Bitch, like I’m that easy.

I still had an ace up my sleeve, but a potentially dangerous one. Reformatting back to my old system. As in, before I got to this version of Earth. Whole different way of storing and connecting files. Some stuff might not be there afterward, but most of it should be. I figured I could check through and recover the data that didn’t have any nasty surprises waiting for me, then do a quick repair of affected programs. It would all be isolated, unable to spread, until I gave the order. Even if I did clear infected files, I think our little virus would soon find itself incompatible with the new way of doing things around here.

That also meant I’d have some problems with a few functions. You know…seeing, hearing, breathing, pumping blood, shitting, and cleaning my own blood. Minor inconveniences, obviously. At least I still had the adrenaline surge on my side. I swept through my own nervous operating system, rendering it all unavailable and unreadable.

I briefly wondered if Cookie might try to give me mouth to mouth when she noticed I wasn’t breathing, but pushed that to the side while dealing with my imminent demise. Kissing could come later, when I live to tell about it.

I focused on my core, heart, and lungs first. Had to keep the power core contained, the blood flowing, and the air moving.

After that, I had a lot of systems to check, like the stomach, liver, and pancreas. Oh, and the bowels. My small intestine was fine, but the malicious bugger had buried itself in my large intestine and my rectum. Rectum? Darn near killed ’em!

Told you I had more coming. Speaking of coming, I checked the gonads. Luckily, the virus didn’t have the balls.

I didn’t worry about my eyes and ears until last. For those keeping track at home, the ears aren’t part of the autonomic system, but I still have parts of them cyberized so I can handle loud noises like rock n’roll and explosions. Insert gratuitous Iron Maiden here.

All in all, I purged myself of the foreign invasion, and even avoided brain damage in the process. That’s really important. Some things are even more thorough at screwing up data than a virus.

Feeling like my usual awesome self, I sat up, pumping my fist in the air. “Aha! I am invincible!”

Except it’d been awhile since I checked in with reality. Over by the door of this shack we’d huddled in stood Mobian and Fortune Cookie with their hands up in the air, men with guns standing around them. One of them stood right in front, training his pistol on Cookie and taking her smaller pistol away with the other.

he whirled flashloud-

***Connection lost. Archiving transmission. Preparing transfer. Transfer complete.***

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Time in a Bottle 5

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So there I was, strapped down to a bed. The pale beauty straddled my waist, her midnight black hair hanging down between us like a curtain surrounding her ageless face and hungry eyes.

This part wasn’t a dream, by the way.

The deep ebony eyes of the woman who looked down on me stared into mine, drawing me in. It felt like staring into a deep well and seeing, far below, the dark water. Feeling, like you do at times, that you want to jump down. She smiled, a cute little grin that showed her elongated canines. I love a cute smile. It’s all about the corners of the lips.

Glowing red dots emerged from deep in the twin darkened wells, boring into me. “Don’t scream,” they seemed to tell me, as if I intended to, “it will all be over soon. Just not soon enough.”

The Gothic siren above me plunged her head against my bare neck, biting into…knife-proof nanofibers. Released from her spell, I suddenly realized I heard Cookie screaming down the hallway as something thudded against wood over and over again. I chuckled and dropped the hologram covering me. I told the mistress of the night, “Oh honey, you just walked into the wrong genre,” just before I snapped the leather restraints holding my hands down and grabbed her head.

The thudding stopped as a different scream penetrated through the entire house. It’s a wonder glass didn’t break. After it cut off quite abruptly, I heard murmuring through the thin walls. Then Cookie revealed she was still ok when she told the people in the hallway, “If you start running now, you might survive! No, too late.”

She’s right. I punched through the wall with my big gauntlets and pulled myself through, knocking drywall and studs loose. I stood there, grinning madly under my helmet, the decapitated head of the vampire seductress on worn on top of my helmet. I held a whip in one hand and a jagged bed post piece in the other. “Don’t panic. I have the shiniest meat bicycle!”

The two bloodsuckers stood there. One had dirty blonde hair in a fauxhawk and looked young. Even a bit of stubble still on his face, perpetually. The other looked to be in his mid to late twenties, shirtless, with curly brown locks and just a bit of six pack showing. They looked like a Twilight fan’s dream, except for the part where their wild gazes tried to penetrate my visor and they bared long fangs in the hopes of helping themselves to my jugular.

Except the sight of me wearing their companion’s head as a hat stopped their instinctive charge. The corner of the shirtless one’s mouth quivered. I left a hologram standing in my place and approached. I dropped to my knee in mid-step so I could get under him and reappeared only as my armored fist made contact with his stinkhole. He screamed like his lady friend as I rotated him sixty-three degrees and knocked blondie down with him. Then I braced him against the wall and reached further. He stopped his twitching and moaning when I yanked his heart out through his ass.

His buddy pushed himself backwards down the hall, trying to get away. I whipped him, wrapping it around his neck to keep him from escaping. I sprinted and shoved the heart right between his fangs, then dialed up the jump enhancer and kicked. The heart, his brain, and quite a bit of skull exploded out through the top of that vampire’s head.

Wolves howled off in the distance. Our constant companions, though they kept a ware distance these days. I backed up to Cookie’s door. “Thought you said this abandoned village would be safe.”

I heard scraping as she moved furniture out of the way. “I said it was safe for twelve hours. Time skipped ahead a day. Please take the head off before I can see it.”

My asshole sense tingled. She wanted me to take the head off…but what if I shoved it in the door as soon as she opened it? No, not right now. I threw the head over at the dead bodies down the hallway. “There’s more than just severed heads out here right now. Thought you’d have seen worse in your line of work.”

She opened the door for me, careful to stay too far to catch a glimpse of the other bodies through her peripheral vision. Her eyes briefly shot up to the blood left behind from my hat. “I have. It doesn’t mean I like it.” She bit at her lower lip, then punched the door. “What kind of morons fantasize about fucking human predators? You might as well write a book about some vapid girl dating a leech.”

“Now, now, this is no time for anger. That comes when you get your hands on them.” I tried to speak soothingly.

“On who?” she asked.

I shrugged. “Whoever. I’m not your mother. But if we’re both rested, maybe we should try to climb this mountain. Because it’s here. And because there are new and exciting things to kill along the way.”

Cookie pulled on her coat and pack. “You don’t have to sound quite so enthusiastic. And please wipe the blood off you. This trip is hard enough on my stomach without that. Do you want me to puke on you?”

For someone whose ability to see the future was murky and worked according to what I saw as inconsistent rules, she knew what button to push. Just for that, I almost didn’t wipe it off so she’d puke anyway. I’m a man, dammit! I’m not afraid of woman bodily fluids, no matter how icky they are. Aside from that time I accidentally walked in on a baby being born. Couldn’t get an erection for an entire week afterward.

As soon as Cookie and I stepped out of the house, a ghoul jumped on at us from the roof. I whipped it. I whipped it good. I whipped it like cream. I whipped it like it owed me money. I whipped it like an obsessive-compulsive dominatrix.

Must have been starving. These ghoul things are roughly humanoid, but the limbs are a bit too long and end in claws. Plus, they have really big mouths and eyes like black marbles. They feed on the dead if they can find enough of it. If not, they’ve been known to try and create more dead.

Then again, I suppose you could say humans feed on the dead, too. They just generally prefer fresh dead things, like vultures, instead of buried dead things.

Mindful of other approaching critters and creepy crawlers, I let Fortune Cookie take her place on the back harness. She’d grown significantly lighter over our journey as we consumed supplies. On my end of things, we’d been at this little trip for more than a week, so if I’ve missed any updates over on that side of things, that’s why.

I took off, loping on all fours to give Cookie a chance to settle her stomach. Plus, it kept me out of spiderwebs. Giant spiders all over this forest. It’s always spiders for some reason. At least the wolves haven’t tried us again. Maybe they even appreciated the snack left at that seemingly-abandoned village.

I ran long, the suit assisting my movements so I didn’t get completely winded running four-legged. I just wished the tower moved closer. It loomed above us. For the longest time, I’d taken it to be a the mountain until the day I ran into the spiders and took us above the tree level for awhile. Cookie had to clean her harness and the back of my armor after landing, but the sunlight glimmered off the face of the clock and showed us we were closer than we thought.

I hadn’t been that relieved to find something since that time Mix N’Max had me hunt down an actual wild goose. He’d injected it with a then-new drug that got rid of people’s inhibitions completely. In the end, he decided not to use it after the entire alcohol industry banded together to threaten him with a lawsuit.

In vino veritas, as they say. In wine, truth. Deep down, some people hate everyone. Others, like, really love you man. Not in a gay way, but they really, really love you. And it turns out that, deep down, some people are homeless.

Days and nights passed as we watched the tower grow larger and taller in our view. Then a funny thing happened. We heard explosions. Distant explosions, with gunfire accompaniment. Risking the wrath of the giant spiders, we went topside to see if any hostile armies were wandering around.

And I was all like “Oh look. The Soviets are here.”

They were Soviets, too. They had the old uniforms and equipment from World War II. I couldn’t pull up if the guys they fought were Romanian or Nazi soldiers, unfortunately. No internet connection.

“We better leave. These timeshifts aren’t all forward,” Fortune Cookie commented.

I nodded and dropped to the snowy ground below, bitchslapping a spider that wandered too close to ambush us. “Yeah. I don’t want to get trapped in yet another backward world.”

“Hey!”

“Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t know your time was so advanced. Still using paper to wipe your ass?”

Say what you will about Demolition Man’s vision of the future, at least they dared to dream of advanced butt-wiping techniques like the three seashells.

We hurried on from that, passing through other eras where we couldn’t necessarily tell we’d changed times. The Soviets were gone, but several of the stops didn’t have internet access, so we only had to worry about most of history.

This turned out to be an oddly prescient way to phrase things, as we passed into one in particular that hurt like a bitch. It was just fucking loud. Like a roaring from above that bored into every technological part of my body, like a male porn star overdosing on Viagra.

I actually collapsed under the pain. Normally those parts don’t feel pain.

“What’s wrong? Why are you screaming?!” yelled Cookie against the side of my helmet.

I didn’t even know I was screaming, but now that she pointed it out, I figured I should stop that. It left me gasping instead. “Fuuuck. Something’s wrong. Very wrong.”

I found the signal all over the place. Internet, radio, microwaves. Beamed down from satellites. I traced it back to…a fucking spaceship. A giant fucking spaceship. And it’s the future.

Before I could look into that, Cookie pushed on my shoulder. She’d gotten off my back at some point. “We need to go. I don’t see or hear any wolves or spiders, but we need to get moving.”

I tried cutting off my own internet, radio, and phone access. It actually helped, though I felt like I’d had my dick ripped off all over my body.

A spaceship and some sort of cybernetic pain signal. Wonderful. At least Cookie seemed understanding as we moved a bit slower this time, but I had to stop just before we came to another time curtain. I had to hold up there. “Ok, get off. There’s something I need to see.”

“About what?” she asked as she slipped off my back again.

“The signal that pimpslapped me is traveling through the internet, originating in an alien spaceship around Earth, and we’re in the future. I know you’re worried about time stopping, but I think I want to see how this goes.”

Cookie opened her mouth to object, then stopped. What was she going to say, that someone shouldn’t know the future? Instead, all she said was, “Stand near the curtain so I can push you to safety.”

“Good idea,” I agreed and stood at the edge of this time shifty place, then opened up to the internet again.

Let’s see…blah blah blah, crazy Republican runs for President, another huge Bitcoin scam, and some guy went on a mass shooting spree that killed a bunch of people. Damn. Nothing surprising, but nothing useful to me. You’d think it’d be easier to find information on an alien invasion, but apparently aliens are on a lot of people’s minds.

Ah, there we go. Alien invasion fended off in Empyreal City. Well that’s dumb. What kind of invasion only targets one city? Combined force of heroes, villains, and Russian Federal Space Agency heading into space to chase off the mothership. Sorry NASA. Should have had a spaceship. It’s been confirmed that the invasion leader attempted to blow up the entire city after losing the ground battle until he was killed in suicide attack by…

Well that’s not right. Yeah, figured it was a good time to get the fuck out of there. I dropped into the next time period, which cut off access to the information and the signal.

Cookie rushed up to me. “Are you alright?”

I gave her a thumbs-up and sat up. “Yeah. Good news is, I’m pretty sure we beat this whole tower thing. I’ve just got a few things to deal with in the future.”

Fortune Cookie nodded.

Just great. For some reason, I get it into my head to help stop an alien invasion, or die trying.

Yeah, this shit ain’t happening. I’m NOT dying in a suicide attack against an alien trying to destroy the planet. Not over my dead body, at least.

In the meantime, I really need a break. It feels like somebody sandpapered my brain with dicks after that second encounter with the alien cyber assault.

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Time in a Bottle 4

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So there I was, strapped down to a bed. The pale beauty straddled my waist, her rich ginger hair hanging down between us like a curtain surrounding her ever-so-cute freckled face.

Ah, Felicia. Cute, funny, and way too smart for my own good. To be straddled by her would be too good to be true.

And, sadly, it was. Sorry. But if someone with money actually every reads this stuff and decides it needs a movie, I just really wanted to have Felicia Day in there. Hell, I didn’t even dream that. I didn’t dream anything. Just fade to black. Then I woke up to the pissed visage of Fortune Cookie standing by my bedside, holding a glass of water that she just almost poured on me.

“Ha! Too late, I already woke up,” I said. She tipped the glass over anyway.

That’s what I had to wake up to before we went on our little trip. Not Felicia Day getting my lips all wet; a glass of water. All that because I made Cookie upset over insisting I adjust my armor for the trip. She thought I meant hiking originally, before I pointed out that the story given to us involved trucks taking parts up there. Or maybe she just didn’t like the idea of me sleeping until noon.

I pulled it on and showed her I’d fixed up a harness that could hold her and her pack, as well as some items for me on the front. All she needed to do was double stuff her own pack, put on a lot of clothes, and strap herself against my body. She didn’t seem to hate it, though I couldn’t read that expression. She speaks English with some sort of Asian accent when she’s around me, but sometimes people’s body language differs from region to region as well.

While I’d never bothered inquiring, I’m fairly certain by now that testing her body for chemistry wouldn’t pan out.

We all loaded up into a rented truck to take us up the rough side road to that village they mentioned. I can’t remember the name offhand. Bumfuck, I think? We had to stick Moai in the truck bed. I figured it’d be tougher to get a pickup truck out here, but I should have remembered. The landscape turned to forest as we puttered up the hill, Moai and his mullet wig riding free in the wind. The journey was uneventful, though Cookie made me turn off the radio after they started playing “Boom, boom, boom, boom!” by the Vengaboys.

Damn Hephaestus. Those song rights could have been mine.

But no wolves. No trouble at the village. Hell, the people pretty much vanished as soon as we got close. Perhaps they expected us to be a group of psycho killers. I guess they dodged a bullet on that one.

The road narrowed after that. I wanted to gun it, but Cookie overruled me and took over driving. Probably a good idea with the snow we ran into, but at least we could follow the road still. That ended when the road did, abruptly, at various trucks. Moving trucks, that is. They weren’t semis, but they had nondescript white trailers. Only as we slowed did on pulling up did I notice our truck seemed a bit louder. A glance revealed it to be overheating and racking up the RPMs. Cookie noticed it as well and stopped us a good ways from the blockage ahead.

“Moai, take a look under the hood. See if they rented us a piece of shit. Cookie, be careful.” Despite what I said, she followed me up to the others vehicles.

“Hoods up. They had mechanical problems too,” Cookie said. “There are sled marks ahead. I see they haven’t made it to the tower yet. There’s still time.”

“One problem, o Fortuna. I think they would have left a guard.” I looked around, flipping through vision modes smooth as a goddamn Predator. Nothing came up until I got to my recently installed Vibrant Mode. Better light absorption that makes colors stand out more. I spotted the skin. At first, it surprised me that I couldn’t see blood. When I got closer to the body, I realized why. “Werewolves. The local variety drinks blood.” The throat and belly were torn open, but the only blood clung to the leaves of bushes or the bark of nearby trees as sprayed droplets.

Cookie glanced over, then turned her head away before she could see too much. Then her head shot up. She searched the sky.

“Something up?” I looked up as well. Not an easy thing with the sun glaring straight up in the sky.

“What time do you have?” she asked, then checked her own watch.

I pulled up the time on the HUD. “12:24. Which isn’t right, because there’s no way that drive took less than a half hour.” We’d been going for hours at least.

“Time isn’t right here,” she said.

“I thought you said they hadn’t reached wherever they were going? If this tower isn’t complete, you wouldn’t think they’d be messing up time.” I pondered that. “Or maybe it’s like a crater. Space and time are all connected, and if you smack something into the ground hard enough, it makes a disturbance in all directions. That sound like plausible enough bullshit to you?”

Cookie shrugged. “It could be. I hoped you knew more than guesses.”

“I’m trying to figure this out as I go along. I already knew that time could be affected by gravity. Figuring out time is stranger to me. It’s not how I’m used to thinking. Then there’s the really confusing stuff, like you not being able to see what you do but somehow knowing you’d get me here if you told me to go to Vladivostok.” I checked around for any more bodies, then stooped closer to the dead guy to check him. His watch hadn’t been broken, so no luck seeing when he died. The time affected him as well, I believe. Otherwise, Cookie wouldn’t have needed me to find a dead person. Dead things give off a very distinct smell if they’ve spent any time rotting.

“I’ll tell you on the way. We need to catch them.”

I stood up then and adjusted the harness I’d fixed onto my armor for our trip. “That’s impressive.” I walked over to her and knelt away. “I figured you to be a bit less risk averse with your abilities. Hop on.”

Thus we soared over the majestic Romanian landscape, happy as a pair of lovebugs. Or I was. I didn’t care what Cookie thought as I jumped along, though at least she told me how she used her powers to get me here. It’s kind of simple, actually. She never sent me the message. She sent a text addressing me to that Elementalist guy who because she knew I’d attack him and she hoped I would see the message.

As for Moai, I advised him that he could wait around or maybe check out the village, but it’d be slow going for him up a snowy mountainside.

I’d been dialing down the power on the jump enhancers enough to keep from dying, and I figured I was safe enough since I aimed up a slope, but I didn’t adjust for all the extra weight on me. First big jump out of the gate and I had some shattering down there despite the snow to land on. Possibly some skin penetration from the inside. I didn’t look. Just had to wait as everything healed.

At least Cookie didn’t bitch at me then and there. She’s gotten more and more hostile to me over the past few days, a phenomena typical of most people I spend a lot of time with. However, she wasn’t that unreasonable. She even patted me on the shoulder and said she appreciated me doing something bound to shed days from the trip. I blame pheromones, since sapiens and machina are different species. It means there is something wrong with human noses that forces them to find me unattractive. Otherwise, I’d have to beat potential mates off.

I’m being informed by Optimal Outer Control that I forgot to end that sentence with “me with a stick.”

On my side of things, I think my problem with being attracted to humans is that they’re so stupid. That, and probably because of something I heard where a person thought I might straighten out better if I just met the right person whose love could set me straight. As if sticking your dick in someone automatically makes you a better person. I get some of the thought behind the idea. If I was getting laid all the time, I’d probably be happy that I got laid. Still wouldn’t be doing much to help me up into the Carpathian mountains, would it?

After a bit of healing time, I dialed back the jumping some more. It’d be a hassle, but I’d hippity and hoppity my way up quicker than zoosexual bunny in a brothel. And I aimed too, until we passed through some weird curtain of twilight in midair. One moment, it was afternoon. Then we fell through a shadow and looked up to find the sun setting.

“That was sudden,” Cookie commented. “Are you fine to keep going? If we push through, we may reach day again soon.”

“I’m good if you are. Hope you’re bundled up back there. I get the feeling we’re about to run into the local wildlife. What a horrible night to have a curse.” Before she could ask what I meant about a curse, howls filled the forest around us. I spotted glowing red eyes moving through the trees.

Cookie noticed them too. “Can we outrun them?”

“Maybe. I’d rather fight them. That way, they’ll know not to chase us.” I checked the trees nearby for a good spot.

“I’m armed, but I don’t think I can fight them.” She pulled out a small handgun that my HUD identified as a CZ 83 as she aimed it past my head into the darkness.

“Is that really all?” I reached to a side pouch on my harness, trying to take out something I’d brought along special for this situation.

She held out a wooden stake in her other hand. Not a bad idea.

I cocked my head to the side. “That’s more like it. Ok, I need you to loosen the harness up a bit while I dump you someplace safe.”

“Wha- ah!” I caught her by surprise when I jumped this time, landing in the branches of a tree. They cracked under my weight, but held at least long enough for me to tell her to get free and stay in the tree. I tried to stay close to their bases. Acting fast thanks to adrenaline, Cookie pulled herself free into branched just over my head that supported her weight more easily.

I looked down and had an idea. I hopped back and tried to catch as much of the branches as possible while gravity decided to reintroduce me to its friend the ground. Hello ground, I’m falling. Hi falling, I’m the ground. I landed on my feet with all the skill of a cat. And, also like a cat, a giant canine jumped on me and attempted to eat me. I shoved it off using the limbs in my hand and then tossed them down.

I had a different weapon in mind for playing with these doggies than a simple stick. In my helmet, Konami Kukaiha Club’s remix of Bloody Tears began.

The next one tried to jump me from behind. Cookie yelled for me to look out, but I already whirled on it, whip unfurling in my hand. It didn’t crack. It was too busy splitting open the face of a giant black wolf and confounding it enough to land in front of me rather than on me. It lunged at that range, but I brought my other arm up. It bit into metal. The metal didn’t give, but it didn’t want to let go. “Oh no, here I am, a helpless bipedal being versus a four-legged thing clamping down on me with its mouth. Whatever shall I do?” I asked no one. Then I lifted it into the air and kicked it in the balls. It let go. I wrapped the whip around its throat and pushed hard on its body with my leg. Something snapped and it went limp.

Before I could free the whip, a pair of tried padded silently toward me from behind. More giant wolves, consistent with the lore. I rolled to the side like a cop firing on a crowd of protesting black college students and grabbed the pair of downed branches I’d dropped earlier. The first wolf got a hard shaft of wood deep down its throat and went limp. The wolf, not my wood.

My wood never goes limp unless I want it to. Good thing, too. If I walked around with it hard all the time, there’d be a major population problem on the planet. Genghis Khan ain’t got nothin’ on me. More like Genghis Gone.

The second one tried to bite my face off and it might have succeeded but for the fact that I wore a helmet. So if there ever is a movie version of all this, that’s the part where the big name star dies because those assholes never wear their fucking helmets. They also probably wouldn’t shove that stick up the wolf’s ass and turn it into a Popsicle like I did. I turned with my new weapon to try and find more wolves to beat with their limp friend.

I found them building a pyramid under the tree where I left Cookie. It didn’t surprise me so much to find them standing on each others’ backs as much as it did that I missed them until now.

I checked to see if Cookie was doing anything stupid, like panicking and falling out of the tree. She held a liquor bottle in her hand. Well, shit. I’ve been doing all the heavy lifting and she’s been partying? Oh, never mind. She lit a rag on fire at the top and hurled it down on the gathered wolves as a Molotov.

That sent them scattering, except for the one coming to tangled in my whip. I dipped my wolf on a stick into the flames until it caught, then proceeded to light the recovering werewolf on fire with my patented “smash them upside the head” technique. What it lacked in brevity it made up for in fun.

From there, we packed up and headed further up with the knowledge that at least compasses weren’t screwing up as much as the clocks were. The howls of wolves accompanied us, but they didn’t try us again. They disappeared when we passed through a curtain of light and we found ourselves at morning time.

“The morning sun has vanquished the horrible night,” I told Cookie.

She nodded and took a sip from a backup Molotov cocktail. “We should get some rest. Time is flying. Having fun?”

I waved my dead giant wolf stick and my whip. “Bring me the heads of Bella Lugosi and Lon Chaney, for I am the vampire slayer!”

Cue the Buffy theme song.

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Time in a Bottle 3

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I think it’s fairly safe to say that the Mobian and I don’t get along. He didn’t take kindly to the story from Fortune Cookie that will fail and she brought me along to keep that from happening. When he tried to ask if she was absolutely sure, she pointed out that she had foreseen where to find him. I have to admit, that did a lot to help her credibility with me.

I still don’t necessarily like being manipulated into all this, but Fortune Cookie had some good points. It wouldn’t destroy the world, but being stuck in time isn’t something I want either. I imagine it has something to do with being frozen in place, in one moment. I don’t even know if I’d be conscious and frozen there. As I believe we’ve established by now, there’s only so much stuff I can make up in my own head to keep myself entertained.

So there I was, recruited to be the one person capable of stopping time from ending. I’d begun having the thought every now and then that perhaps the Soviet rocket fuel vodka gave me permanent brain damage, because that’s fucked up. It all seems so far-fetched. Really, Cookie’s answer that I was basically the best she could get on such short notice is the most satisfactory answer I could come up with to why I got pulled in on this one.

I mean, I do have a penchant for killing people and widespread destruction, two things the Mobian just doesn’t do.

But enough about all that, y’all are probably interested in what we actually did. Not much. It was late and I’d been drinking, so Cookie figured I should sleep. Also, was damn glad to have my crate back. I had to get it stowed away, and that led to more drinking with the people I had move it. That led to a brief car chase and a night in the local police station. They released me, so I showed them I had no hard feelings with a night out at the local bar.

I may be developing a problem. However, given he body count it’s racking up among the civilian populace, I wouldn’t say it’s my problem.

After all that, Cookie woke me up with a big backpack dropped on my head. Surprisingly, she hit my actual head. As in, the one with the brain. The one with the brain organ, not the metaphor. I’ve been assaulted by woman waking me up before, and never before had I ever met someone so sick and depraved as to not hit me in the crotch. Something’s seriously wrong with this woman. How dare she treat me that way!

I tossed the backpack to the side and stood up in bed, pointing a finger down at her accusingly while wearing only boxers. “That’s it! I demand you punch me in the crotch like a normal person.”

She ignored my gyrating crotch, tempting target though it was. “Get down, please. We need to find the person or thing that we’re here to stop.” She picked up the backpack and held it out to me. “I bought some things you can use.”

I took the pack and opened it. Laptops, radios, cell phones, that sort of thing. “You just expect me to throw all this stuff together somehow and just magically detect disturbances in time.”

She crossed her arms. “I’m having trouble seeing where we need to go.”

I dropped to my butt and grabbed the alarm clock off the motel night stand. “Here, if anything happens to time, this should tell you.”

“Wakey wakey in there!” A British voice called out, then the Mobian slammed the door open and walked in, holding some doohickey in his hand. The blocky device had a rotating satellite dish up top near a spiraling antenna and a cord that led to earphones on his head. When he saw me in bed with Cookie there, he pushed a button that stopped the dish and pulled off the headset. “Oh, am I interrupting?”

“A gentleman wouldn’t tell,” I said, taking Cookie’s hand and kissing the back of it.

She pulled it away, bright red spreading across her face. She turned toward the Mobian. “I am trying to convince him to build something to find any disturbances in time.”

Mobian pointed down at the gizmo in his hands. “I’ve got that. I’m tied in with my ship. This should tell me if any large timeshifts occur. If you want something to warn you, get a watch.” He pointed to the alarm clock in my hand.

Cookie put her face in her hand and turned to stomp out past Mobian. He turned to look at her, then looked back at me. “What got into her?”

I raised an eyebrow. “You want me to answer that honestly?”

His face deflated. “Not at all. One of us better go after her, she’s so sure we’re all needed to fix this. You two are so close, maybe it ought to be you.” He stepped to the side to give me a clear path through the door.

“Moai, clothes!” I called out. Moai shot up from his mattress on the floor, spooking Mobian who flinched back a step.

As I rushed out the door, I heard Mobian telling Moai, “You remind me of these angel statues I’ve met.”

Still in boxers, I ran out and then headed for the stairwell, wondering if how necessary this was the entire way. Then again, I figured it didn’t matter because it gave me a chance to run outside nearly nude. In fact, I stopped halfway down the stairs to throw off my boxers and continued shouting, “Free at last, free at last, good balls almighty, they’re free at- oh, there you are.”

I found Cookie just outside the building, looking things up on her phone. “I think I should call your enemy Venus. Maybe she will take this seriously.”

“I stayed to help, didn’t I? Wait a moment.” I held out my hand to the side. On time, my clothes tumbled through the air to land nowhere near where I anticipated. I began picking them up off the concrete and putting them on. “I’m here. I’ll save the world, I guess. Yeah, you probably didn’t pick the best person for that, but I’ll do the job.”

“I thought you would take it more serious than you’re known for.”

I shrugged. “Bad shit’s going to happen whether I’m frowning or laughing. I might as well try to have fun. Who knows, maybe that’ll throw whoever’s doing this off even more. Like if the Allies at Normandy had charged up the banks dressed as clowns. They’d have had a lot more fun, and lots of people are scared of clowns. You’re asking me for a tall order, though. Mobian’s looking, and I bet he knows how to contact us.”

She scoffed. “He’s not happy I brought you along. He doesn’t like serial killers.”

I nodded. “Most people don’t. I know it’s hard to believe, but it’s a sad fact that serial killers are a persecuted bunch. They try to lock all of us up.”

Cookie glanced down at the ground, tapping her foot for a few seconds. Then she looked back at me. “Fine. How would you like to start your search?”

I realized she also stood on uncertain ground. Whatever she’d been doing in relation to the Japanese Underworld, it hadn’t involved something as major as a worldwide event of disastrous proportions. She was outside her comfort zone as well. “Ok, here’s what we should do. Mobian came here for some unknown reason. Something must be up around here. We should ask around in a place where tourists asking questions won’t seem that strange. I think that means we head back to the pub, where I happen to have gotten in good with a few people thanks to keeping them drunk.”

I normally wouldn’t explain it so well to someone. I intended to flippantly suggest we head to a bar and figure things out from there. When Cookie nodded, I added, “This is new for me too, ya know. Last time I did anything like this, it’s more because Spinetingler wanted to kill me. Now you have me here to try and save the day.”

She made a big show of exhaling. “That sounded serious.”

I held out my arm to invite her along. She took it and we headed out to find that pub again “Just giving you a break. The arm is perfectly safe, no need to pull away. It won’t bite you.”

They welcomed us at the bar thanks to my efforts building rapport. I stepped up with Cookie in tow, greeting the excited patrons who hoped for another day of drinking on someone else’s tab. “Hello there, fellow drunks and alcoholics. What’s the news of the day? Anything unusual going on?”

It didn’t take too many drinks to loosen tongues enough that I got a bit of news not normally passed on to tourists, though it helped that I’d been seen in the company of a strigoi. That’s a type of vampire, for those who don’t know. Every place has a different type of vampire, it seems like, and some of them seem so different that it seems stupid to categorize them all as part of the same sort of being. Even the blood-drinking thing isn’t a good indicator, since Romanian werewolves are known to drink blood too.

Speaking of which, there had been a lot more werewolf attacks than usual up in the mountains to the north. That hushed the formerly-jovial attitude. A man with a bushy beard leaned over and tried to explain. “We get werewolf attacks here. Not often, but we get them. They are the big wolves. They eat dead bodies and kill people to drink blood. Something has them riled up.”

Someone else joined us. He looked like a teenager except for his bushy beard. “It may be those men who came through. They went that direction with a lot of trucks.”

“Do you know what they had in the trucks?” Cookie asked.

A woman joined us as well. I had my doubts at first, with the bushy beard hanging off her face, but the boobs gave it away. “My brother talked to his uncle’s cousin who knows a girl who works a truck stop for johns and she told her told him told him told me that she gave one of the drivers a Portuguese Breakfast in the back of the truck and it had a bunch of brass in it.”

I bought some extra drinks for the bearded people who were so helpful to me. “Just brass? Just a bunch of ingots or something?”

The bearded lady shook her head. “Different shapes and sizes.”

Cookie looked at me. “Would that be used in anything?”

An old man with a bushy beard, bushy sideburns, and bushy ear hair joined us, shaking his empty mug for us. I glanced at the barkeep and cocked my head toward the old guy. One refill later and he told us. “It could have something to do with the giant clock tower in the mountains.”

Cookie and I both asked the same question.“Giant clock tower?”

The beareded teen nodded. “Oh, that old thing. That could be it.”

So I guess everyone knew where there was a giant clock tower in the Carpathian mountains this whole time. And now a bunch of werewolves are running wild in the same direction as the tower. I wanted to run out and punch them, but Cookie insisted we go back to Mobian and tell him. Except he was missing. According to Moai, Mobian’s device pointed north and dinged, so then he ran out and disappeared into his ship.

After transmitting the tale using the beeping of a cell phone, I paid him off in a glass of mineral water and turned toward Cookie. “That Mobian guy’s a bit of a dick. Just for that, I’m not bringing him anything to drink. Now, do we have any rockets or artillery around here?”

Cookie grabbed the backpack she brought earlier and dumped out all the electronics she bought. “I’m not doing that. We better get hiking.”

Oh fuck me. Now I’ve got to go on a camping trip? I hate camping. I hate it so much, I don’t even do it when I’m drunk. Hell, I hate camping so much, I don’t even do it when I’m trying to hurt myself. Fuck, I just hate all of it. Nature can go eat a dick.

Well, look out Nature. It looks like it’s finally time for the dick to bite back.

Damn, just how much of my brain has all this alcohol killed?

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Time in a Bottle 2

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This isn’t too bad a town. They rolled out the red carpet for me once they figured I was just an eccentric rich person. That’s the difference money makes. If you’re homeless, you’re insane. If you’re rich, you’re eccentric. Whether or not money can buy happiness, it sure does buy a clean bill of health from a psychiatrist.

Anyway, I dumped a bunch of money renting a room while I waited on Moai and bought myself some goodwill at the local taverns with a few rounds of beer. Well, up until the door slammed open one night and a bald man in black clothing entered. He had some really gnarly teeth and overgrown eyebrows. He pointed one finger at me, a dirty yellow fingernail grown to a length more like a claw. “You are the one who killed my brother!”

I raised a frothy glass of amber liquid. “Actually, he got drunk off my blood and passed out in the square when the sun came up. Please, let me make it up to you with a drink.”

His hand joined the other one behind his back as he approached and eyed my glass. He sniffed. “Is this some sort of trick?”

“Nah,” I said, then set the glass down. I reached under the table and zipped up my fly. “I just didn’t want to get up. Bartender, some more beer! And make sure you’re washing these glasses really well.” To the vampire guy, I asked, “You can drink beer, right?”

“Bitch, please,” he told me. “I’ve drunk beer that made Charlemagne want to swear off drinking. This piss water won’t faze me.”

“Uh, yeah, I suppose you could drink the piss water if you really wanted, but I meant the beer.”

This whole thing sounds like I’m spending my time getting wasted, but that’s not the case. For one thing, beer tastes nasty. Even European beer. Lots of people love it, though. Handy tool for getting people on my side. It helped with the vampire, after all. He wasn’t that bad of a guy after several drinks. Turns out, his brother was a dick. He just felt honorbound to come after me because I seemingly killed him.

We settled our differences in a game of beer pong. I almost nailed a shot from behind my back, but he swiped it away before it could finish rolling into the cup. The whole bar let out a collective “Awww,” when that happened. In the end, he had his revenge as I fell to his superior ball handling skills.

He didn’t bother with grabbing any blood, which is good. I prefer my blood in my own body, when possible. After we finished the game, we both sat outside in the same square that claimed his brother and passed some vodka between us. I asked him if there’s any chance his brother could be revived. “You all have a lot of odd powers. Maybe find a guy and drain him over the ashes?”

He shrugged. “Time stops for us physically, but death is still the end.” He passed the bottle back my way.

I took a swig, then held it up in the air. “Damn. Here’s to being late to your own funeral.” I passed it over again. He raised it, but before he could drink it, someone grabbed it from his hands. We both turned and there stood the woman in the Chinese dress. Except now, she wore considerably warmer clothing.

“Don’t worry. I’ll make sure everyone gets where they’re going on time,” she said, taking an impressive drink off the bottle herself.

“A bit thirsty, weird lady I met in Vladivostok?” I leaned back and looked her over.

“You remembered.” She smiled and handed the bottle back to the bloodsucker.

“You have something to do with that Fortune Cookie person, so I doubt you’re surprised.”

She bowed her head. “I don’t know everything, and it would have been difficult to expect you to remember anything from that night.” She lowered herself and offered her hand. “Call me Cookie.”

I hopped to my feet and took her hand. “At last, we meet at first,” in consideration of our meeting in Vladivostok, I added, “…for the second time. Confused yet?”

“Yes,” said the vampire, who didn’t bother looking up from the bottle.

“No,” said Cookie. “But wait until I have to use the future tense to describe the past. You’ll wish you had that vodka.”

Ah, right. I probably will be as confused as she thinks now, in the past of her future, when she talks like she’s talked before about things that haven’t yet happened. But that didn’t happen that night. That night, she finally told me what I’m doing in Romania and the significance of my run in with Romanian undead nightlife. “He doesn’t matter,” she said with a nod toward the vampire.

The vamp gave a soft hiss.

“Be nice to the guy, his brother died recently.” I checked the time on my HUD. It gets annoying having the exact time in the lower corner of your eyesight constantly. Ever watched a clock while you waited for something? That’s why I kept that program more in the background where I could call it up. I wanted to warn the vampire if daylight approached. From one being who hates the sun to another, it seemed like common courtesy. Besides, he might be one of those Quiverful kids. There might be nineteen siblings and counting all waiting in the wings to try and bleed me for revenge.

“My brother was a sheepfucking asshole!” said the vampire. See? His brother fucked sheep. There might even be vampire lambs hiding in my pillows to drain me dry.

“See? Not only did he have to grow up with an asshole brother, but now he’s dead and he’s got to feel sorry for him!” I pulled out my wallet and dropped some lei, the Romanian currency, in his lap. “There, now you can buy yourself a drunk hooker to help you get to bed tonight.”

He picked himself up and threw the bottle at a nearby car, setting off the alarm. “There are no hookers around here! They’re too afraid to walk the night. I’ll go now. Maybe find some sheepfucking farmer to remember my brother by.” He walked off a ways before melting into a wolf and loping off into the night.

I looked at Cookie, who waved me toward her and started walking her own way. I joined in beside her. “I’m glad you’re not angry,” she admitted, speaking in English this time.

I adjusted my coat to try and bundle up against the cold. Just because it’s summer doesn’t mean it’s warm in the Carpathians. “I’m a bit ticked off. After Vladivostok, I intended to go to North Korea and wreck the place. The North Koreans and I got into a bit of a disagreement this time, so I don’t like them. They’re assholes, I’m a dick. It’s about time I forced my way in and screwed the place up. Fuck yeah. So why am I here?”

She glanced sideways at me, reaching back to adjust the ponytail of her hair. “The fate of time itself may rest in your hands.”

I rolled my eyes, then swiped at a moth flying around my head. “I don’t believe you, because that sounds unbelievable and nobody would be stupid enough to try and have me do that.”

She gave me a flit of those lashes of hers. “What if I said you were a special individual uniquely suited to the task at hand, painstakingly manipulated into just the right position to help me deal with this crisis?”

“Sounds like bullshit.” I zapped the moth out of the sky with my laser eye.

“It is. You were the best choice I had available to me when I noticed that time only went to a certain point and stopped. I look into the future and I can catch a glimpse, a scene, and know when it’s going to happen.” She rubbed at her thin nose. “I started noticing that everything stays static, everywhere, for months. I traced it back. The time stop happens later this month. I looked around for someone I could pull into this who might be able to help. I did a lot of research, too. I know you are a bad person, but you have experience I may need.”

I turned around so I could better watch her lagging behind. “For someone who can see the future, you don’t seem terribly well-prepared.”

“Futures change.” She kept her chin up as she spoke to me, looking me right in the eye. “Time is a many-branching path. The future changes all the time. Six months ago, this wouldn’t have happened. Now, it’s fixed. It will happen.”

I tilted my head. “If it will happen, absolutely will, then why bring me here?” I stumbled over a curb and almost fell.

Cookie grabbed my arm and threw her weight back, helping me regain my balance but losing hers in the process. I caught the same hand that grabbed hold of me and pulled her up as well. I let her go, pretty damn sure she knew that was going to happen. She confirmed it when she looked up at me, speaking softly under the glow of a streetlight. “I knew you would fall, but I didn’t know I could stop you. Do you know why?”

“I know you’ve got a pretty face and a body pressed close to mine after I also helped stop you from falling. Some people might suspect you’re using that to make me sympathetic to you. Right now, that makes you like those people who do the commercials with sad songs playing over hurt dogs.” I let her go and stepped back away.

“I’m sorry,” She bowed her head. “but it helped make a point. Your question was valid. I can’t see the result of my own actions. With you here, that gives me a chance, and I know you want to help. You don’t have to keep finding things to get upset about.”

I hate that she knew I just played hard to get, but I needed one more answer. “Why Romania? How did you see it started here?” I put my hands in the air. Instead of waving them like I just didn’t care, I merely spun around to theatrically indicate the validity of questioning why time stops in Dracula country.

“Because of him.” She pointed off down a side road. I stopped and caught myself before I needed to throw up, then looked in that direction, watching as Moai and my crate parachuted down to land in the street, blocking it off.

“Him? That’s Moai. He doesn’t know anything about all this time stuff.” I waved at Moai. “Yo, what’s up? Good to see you!”

“Not that. Him.” She pointed at a light hanging in the air. Looked pretty distant, before I noticed it growing in size with a steady hum. It grew to about the size of a phone booth, multicolored electricity streaking across the outside as it settled on the ground. The outline of a door appeared in the middle of the glow, then opened to reveal a man who stepped out of it. The glowy orb thing disappeared with a snap, and the man turned to us, looking a little fancy in his pinstriped brown suit.

The gangly fellow smiled warmly. When he spoke, I placed the accent as somewhere north in the British Isles “You won’t believe this, but something very cool is about to happen around here. Shame I have to stop it. Listen, folks, time is coming to an end!”

Weird British guy, glowing ship, association with temporal phenomena. Yep, I knew of this guy. A bit out of my league if he decided to stop me, but he generally worries more about extinction-level events. Well, that’s a thought to end constipation. I looked over at Fortune Cookie, whose closemouthed grin and raised eyebrows revealed her own excitement in the phase of my obvious exasperation.

Our newest visitor looked between the pair of us. “Don’t panic, everything will be quite alright. I am the Mobian.”

Why do I suddenly feel like I’m no longer the main character in my own life?

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Time in a Bottle 1

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If I had any words to describe my few days in Russia, it would be “Why did I wake up in Romania?”

For those who aren’t aware, Russia is huge and Vladivostok is on the Pacific ocean. Imagine my surprise when I woke up in Romania, which doesn’t actually share a border with Russia. The Ukraine is between Russia and Romania. If that’s enough to make your head hurt, you wouldn’t be alone. I’ve felt this bad before, but I think it involved a power hammer to my head and memory loss. I’m beginning to see a pattern.

When I awoke today, it was in this central square type of place. I found myself being poked by an old man. “Son, you should wear some pants if you’re going to sleep outside in this weather.” My translator program pegged the language as Romanian.

The only response I could muster was a curious, “Ow.”

It took me ten minutes of being poked before I peeled myself off the ground and looked around. The fellow was right. I needed clothes. I wore nothing but a bunch of ashes that had piled up on my belly, sticking to the occasional wound. I had scrapes, cuts, and even punctures for the ashes to settle in, not counting the bruises.

Which would be easily accounted for if only I had money. After stumbling around a few minutes, I spotted a pharmacy next to a bank. It wasn’t my lucky day, but it was getting luckier every second. Even better, I found a coat much like the one I normally wear in the bushes in front of the bank. And when the bank teller threatened to call the police on me for entering pantless, I slipped and spotted a pair of pants hanging from the balcony. They fit me perfectly, and even had my fake ID.

It’s a good thing I decided to strip late in whatever trip I was on. I wasn’t in any mood to shove my brain down the internet enough to transfer stuff on my own, so I went inside and arranged a transfer of funds from the Double Cross corporate accounts. Double Cross: when you don’t have your wallet, trust us to have it.

Global positioning put me in Targu Secuiesc, a town in the Carpathian mountain range. It also put my travel crate in and Moai in Omsk. I poked my finger to my ear as if I had a bluetooth phone earpiece on and gave him a call.

“Oww…fucking dial tone. Moai! Are you fine? Speak to me Moai!”

“Beep.”

“Dammit, Moai, this is no time for cuss words.”

“Beep beep.”

“Moai, this is no time to discuss the idiocy of the Kalam Cosmological argument. I just woke up in Romania. Get here with my crate. It has all my first edition Harry Potters in it. And…hold on a moment.”

I looked up to a pleasant man in a suit offering me a complementary mug of their finest coffee. “To help with your hangover. We are always ready to help our valued members.” I’m sure. It’d be bad business if they got a reputation for jerking their members around. Then again, maybe they could help me after all.

“Excuse me, my good fellow, but perhaps you can get some money to a friend of mine in Omsk. He’s a mobile Moai statue, and I’d like him to bring me a rather large package.”

“In Omsk? There’s been quite a commotion over the news about everything that happened over there. But you said he had a package. If you want, I can help arrange travel for him?”

That got me curious. I took a sip of my coffee, the heat from it weighing down my eyelids and making me long for more sleep. “It’s a large package. A crate big enough to hold a few people.”

Despite the sound of that, he kept right on smiling. “I can ask for people who have experience with that sort of thing.”

“There aren’t any people in it right now, so I don’t need the human traffickers.”

He waved his hands. “That’s good. I meant truckers who are used to that load.”

I squinted one eye as if in a bit of pain. “I’ve seen some of the dash camera videos. I want it here in one piece. Maybe by plane?”

He shook his head enthusiastically. “If you think the drivers in Russia are bad, you don’t want to try the pilots.”

I looked at him, then spoke to Moai again. “Moai, I’m going to send over some money. Use your best judgment on whether you bring the crate by land or air. You’re looking for Targu Secuiesc, Romania. I’ll make sure to give you enough to be generous with the bribes. Hope to see you soon, ok?”

“Beep.”

“Beep you too, buddy. And beep yo quarry.” That’s the statue equivalent of Yo Momma. You know, like “Yo quarry so big, it’s been worked by a hundred men at one time.” Moai should know I mean it affectionately. I’m unsure how emotionally attached he is to his quarry, but I do know he’s a chip off the old block.

I glanced up at the waiting bank manager. “I think I’ve had an interesting few days. Is there any place around here I could grab a bite to eat and try to figure out what I’ve been doing the last few days?”

He showed me to a restaurant nearby where I chowed down on some kebabs and pulled up my memories starting when I arrived in Vladivostok.

All was well until I got off the ship with a bunch of naked sailors and a got into a fight with them over their mistaken belief that I cheated at cards. They clearly didn’t understand that when I cheat at cards, it means killing the other players and stealing their money.

The brawl soon led to the bunch of us heading to the nearest bar, where I proceeded to get us all kicked out when, in an attempt to show solidarity with my new nude pals, I attempted to undress while dancing on a table. On the plus side, I made 500 rubles and stole six wallets. I still remember that part somewhat in the regular portion of my brain.

Feeling flush with cash, I took the nude sailors to a club instead and that’s where I have nothing to go on but the recordings. There, I tried some new type of vodka derived from old Soviet-era rocket fuel and started dancing with a woman in a Chinese-style dress. She looked Asian, but spoke flawless English. I was too enthralled by my belly feeling on fire from the vodka to think much about that. Aside from idle chit chat, one phrase in particular stood out to me. “I would love to tell you more about why you are needed, but it’s about time you go where you’re needed.”

The vodka left me spasming on the dance floor, at which point my dance partner and the sailors heroically abandoned me. Moai carried me out of there and to a waiting ambulance that waited outside, presumably for anyone who drank Soviet rocket fuel.

I then woke up and hijacked the ambulance. I drove west through China and broke down in Mongolia, where I was rescued by a peaceful Mongolian cable guy. I spent the night on his couch. I awoke the next morning and noticed a bunch of horse herders nearby.

At this point, I apparently stole all their horses and convinced several youths to join me in rebuilding Genghis Khan’s empire. We even attacked a Russian military base just north of Kazakhstan. There, I gave several of the Mongolians and some new Russian recruits a crash course in helicopters, with something of an emphasis on crash. I may have also launched artillery on Omsk. That’s probably why Moai went there. When in doubt, follow the explosions.

I raided Omsk and captured a lubricant factory, converting an old cannon at the military base to fire a huge globule with me in the middle. I aimed for Moscow, but given my incapacitated state it’s lucky that I even went westward at all. Instead, I finally stopped sliding around Volgograd. You’d think I’d have hit a tree or two along the way, and I did, but it was a lot of lubricant. I mean a lot. That place is on the other side of Kazakhstan. I flew through the air, got the air knocked out of my while deflecting off a few trees, and skidded along to Volgograd where I landed in a train car full of teddy bears. I emerged wearing teddy bear armor, but got caught in a train door while beginning my reign of fluffy terror.

The train dragged me all the way to the Ukraine. Funny thing. It appears I was regaining some of my cleverness at this point, though bio data shows my blood alcohol level still looked pretty damn drunk. I should have been dead a few times over at this point, and not just from all the crazy stuff I did. I kept the fluffy suit of teddy bears on and knocked on a random door, announcing myself to be the husband from America there to move in with my mail order bride. She dumped me on the spot, told me she wanted a divorce. I suggested an annulment. I’d even let her keep the house if I could have the car.

I stole the car.

The next few hours were a blur of racing from one car to the next, jumping out and stealing the next car, then doing the whole thing over again. I believe I kept introducing myself as Jason Statham to the unfortunate drivers I encountered along the way, and told them I needed their car to look for Liam Neeson’s daughter. I would watch that fucking movie.

I stopped when something tackled me off the roof of a moving car in Targu Secuiesc. He looked pale, with a bald head and big, untamed eyebrows. I could see the vein popping out on his forehead. Motherfucker bit me with those messed up teeth of his, so I’m guessing it’s one of the older European vampires.

I started hitting him before he could drink me dry. Vampires may be immortal undead creatures with a variety of supernatural powers, but even they don’t like it when you kick them in the balls repeatedly. Very few creatures do. It’s a handy tip to remember if you ever find yourself facing a supernatural undead killing machine. Or superheroes. Or your boss when he annoys you.

Double Cross is not legally liable for what you do to your boss when he annoys you.

The vamp tried to fight but just stumbled around a bit. We both did. It was Mortal Kombat on rocket fuel vodka, and it ended in a Friendship when we couldn’t remember why we were fighting and started singing in Romanian. Things got maudlin. I streaked. As the morning sun rose, I fell asleep with him laying on my chest.

Which explains the ashes.

My apologies for not having anything interesting to report this time around, but it’s only today I woke up like that, and now I think I’ve got a few days’ worth of being the personal bitch of the Oh God of Hangovers.

In the meantime, it’s probably best if everyone stays away from the new Mongol invasion of Russia. The news is reporting that their leader is either a sociopath or drunk off his ass. That sounds familiar.

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