Friday, April 17, 2015

An Excerpt From "Upon a Far Distant Shore"

Below is a rather longish excerpt from the beginning of "Upon a Far Distant Shore." I'd like to know what you think.

“Upon a Far Distant Shore”

I have loved the stars too fondly
To be fearful of the night.

Sarah Williams,
“The Old Astronomer”

 The fabric of existence twisted and two specks of organic matter passed into the space between realities.  One, unconscious, drifted along, carried by tides in the aether.  The other, more than conscious, moved with purpose, watching the first speck, following at a distance.

 With a thought, the second speck twisted the fabric of existence again.  As the first speck disappeared into a new reality, the second smiled.

 Now we shall see what we can see, it thought.  Now we shall see what my benefactors wish.  Now I will gain my reward.


 …voices screamed and lights flashed through her mind, accompanied by the smell of burning rubber.  There was a sense of falling then something hard and cold beneath her…


 The air was cold, colder than the pavement on which she lay face down.  The only other sensation she felt was the pain in the back of her head.  She welcomed that growing headache.  It reminded her that she was still alive.

 For a long few minutes, she lay still, taking stock of herself and her surroundings.  She flexed muscles without moving, confirming there were no injuries beyond bruising.  She extended her senses to their fullest, hearing wind whistling between buildings.  All she could smell was the slight odor of decaying garbage.

 Artemis Xian opened her eyes.

 She stared across the pavement and wondered how long she had been unconscious and how long it would be before Balthazar continued his rampage.  She wondered what happened to the police that had responded to the alert and the civilians caught in the middle.  She wondered if they were even still alive.

 Well, that could’ve gone better, she thought.

 Artemis took a deep breath, rolled over and sat up, wincing at the stiffness in her back and sides.  Her dark eyes scanned the deserted street, from the unmarked two- and three-story windowless buildings that rose on either side of the street, to what looked like storage containers in the distance.  Evenly spaced lamp posts rose along the curbs, throwing weak light onto the street and the buildings.  There was no sign of a threat.

 There was also no sign of life.

 Artemis massaged her eyes and blew into her hands to warm them.  “This doesn’t look like downtown Lakeland,” she whispered.  “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Florida anymore.”

 She got to her feet and checked the two scabbards slung across her back, making sure her two Eskrima sticks were still in place.  Checking further, she found her cell phone, stun gun and the rest of her equipment still in place.  She shook her head and laughed.

 “Didn’t even have a chance to draw my weapons,” she muttered.  “Oh Balthazar…you always did believe in hitting first.”

 A breeze blew down the street, tugging at her short, dark hair.  Artemis rubbed her hands together, beginning to feel the cold through her tactical suit.  She looked down the street, seeing nothing but the same unmarked buildings.  She looked in the other direction and sighed.

 “Well, here I am.  Wherever here is.  Time for shelter and reconnaissance.”  She checked the street again and jogged to the nearest three story building.

 Artemis looked over the unadorned door then checked the street again.  Still seeing no sign of life, she turned to the wall.  She looked up at the roof and brushed her hands over the smooth siding.  Once she had a sense of the metal siding’s condition, Artemis concentrated on her hands, increased the attraction between her hands and the wall and started to climb.

 As she climbed the wall, Artemis thought back to the alert she had responded to.  Balthazar, a man with mutant abilities similar to her own, had started raging through a local mall.  The local police had done their best to contain him, though their efforts were for the most part in vain.  After checking with the officers on scene, she had charged into the mall, intent on doing her best to contain Balthazar until her backup from Section Alpha arrived.

 She had been rushing passed officers and frightened civilians, heading for the mall’s food court…until high wind that came from nowhere hit her.  She slid to a stop as the floor beneath her twisted into what looked like a whirlpool.

 There was darkness and a sense of falling.

 Then she woke up on the street.

 Artemis stopped climbing, looked up into the night sky and thought, You never showed any teleportation or energy manipulation abilities before now, Balthazar.  Are you still mutating?  We got our abilities from the same place.  So if you’re still mutating, does that mean I’m still mutating?

 She closed her eyes and sighed.  I hope I’m not.  It’s taken me four years to get used to being able to lift more than half a ton and climb walls like a spider.  Although being more flexible than an Olympic gymnast does have its advantages.

 Artemis sighed again and continued climbing.

 She paused when she reached the roof, her senses extended.  When she heard nothing, Artemis pulled herself up to the roof.  The roof was wide, flat and empty.  She turned back to the street.  It stretched in opposite directions, disappearing into the distance.  Artemis walked to the back of the building, hoping to get a better sense of where she was.

 All she saw was darkness.

 Artemis massaged her eyes.  “God damn it.”

 She looked into the darkness again, crossed to the front of the building and climbed down.

 Artemis looked over the door again and leaned close.  She could hear no sound from the other side.  She drew one of her sticks, reached for the door knob and opened the door.  Lights came on as she stepped through.

 The room was large and open.  A large desk stood opposite the door, its top empty.  On either side of the room were clusters of chairs and tables.  Abstract paintings hung on the walls behind the chairs.  To one side of the desk was an open door that led to a corridor.  On the other side was a staircase leading up.  The only sound she could hear was the quiet hum of air conditioning equipment.

 Artemis frowned and sheathed the staff.  “An empty hotel lobby?”

 Her eyes went from the corridor to the stairs as she approached the desk.  She found nothing out of the ordinary behind the desk.  On a shelf were rolls of paper towels, a spray bottle filled with blue liquid and a closed book labeled LEDGER.  Below was a small, empty garbage can.  There was no sign of a cash drawer or any way to process credit card payments.  Opening the ledger showed nothing but blank pages.

 Artemis set the ledger aside and started down the hall.  A turn to the left brought her to a closed door, which opened into a small store room.  She scanned the racks of cleaning and office supplies then returned to the corridor.

 Continuing away from the lobby, Artemis came to another closed door.  She tried the door knob and found it locked.  She thought for a moment about forcing open the door or picking the lock but decided not to.  Artemis looked over the door again and returned to the lobby.

 As she paced around the lobby, Artemis slipped her cell phone from its holster on her belt.  She swiped a finger across the screen to unlock it, brought up the keyboard and pressed a preset.  She held the phone to her ear but heard nothing but dead air.  She listened for another minute then hung up and returned the phone to its holster.

 “Okay.  I can’t call for assistance, I don’t know where I am or how I got here.  As tactical situations go, this sucks.”

 Artemis looked around again and started up the stairs.

 At the top of the stairs, Artemis found a long corridor with evenly spaced doors lining both sides.  The walls and doors were bare and low pile carpeting covered the floor.  She walked to the end of the corridor, her hearing extended.  There was still no sign of habitation.  A right turn brought her to another staircase.  She looked down the corridor again then climbed the stairs.

 At the top of the stairs, she found another corridor of equally spaced doors.  It was identical to the lower floor.  Artemis walked to the end of the corridor, finding only a blank wall.  She turned and looked back toward the stairs.

 If I didn’t know better, I’d swear this was one of Manny’s training exercises.  But training exercises don’t start with a mall being attacked by an over-strength mutant with anger issues.

 Artemis started back down the corridor and winced as the stiffness in her back and sides became aches.  She massaged her eyes and yawned.

 I need a place to sleep.

 Artemis stopped walking, turned and picked a door at random.  She drew her sticks, reached for the door knob and opened it.  She looked into the darkened room, found a light switch to the side of the door and reached for it.

 As the lights came on, Artemis found herself in a long, narrow room with an arched ceiling.  There was a small foyer with clothes hangers to one side, shelves on the other.  Moving deeper into the room, she found a walk-in closet complete with a small washer and dryer, stacked in one corner and more hangers on a bar next to her.  On the opposite side of the closet were shelves of t-shirts, sweatpants and panties.  A coat rack stood in a corner, two with robes hanging from the upper hooks.  A full length mirror hung next to the door.  Across from the closet was a standard bathroom with a large shower.

 Further in, she found a full-sized bed, small galley kitchen, desk with chair and closed laptop.  At the foot of the bed was a small sitting area with a recliner, side table and reading lamp.  A round table stood between the desk and the recliner.  Over the desk was a large flat-screen television.  One last check showed a number of outlets along the wall by the desk and in the kitchen.

 Artemis looked around again and sighed.  “Alright.  I’ll work out of here.”

 She took off the utility belt and equipment harness and lay them on the round table.  She stared at them, brushed her fingers over the Section Alpha insignia embossed on the scabbards, shook her head and sighed.

 “What is it Manny always says,” she whispered.  “I’m a weirdness magnet so stranger things tend to happen to me.  Just relax and take it one minute at a time.  You have a gift for understatement, Manfred.”

 Artemis drifted back to the closet and stood in front of the mirror.  Her gray and black tactical suit was smudged with dirt but the Section Alpha insignia was still clear.  She ran her hands through her dark hair, smiling at the dark red highlights that ran through it.

 Her smile faded and she looked around the room again.  She hadn’t seen any sign of monitoring but she couldn’t shake the feeling that she was being watched.

 Artemis glanced at the ceiling and said, “If anyone’s listening, my name is Artemis Xian.  I’m a somewhat reluctant member of Section Alpha, which is part of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force.  I had been dispatched to deal with an attack by an out-of-control mutant known as Balthazar.  Before I could engage him, something happened that sent me here.  Wherever here is.”

 She waited, hoping for some kind of response.

 All she heard was silence.
(C)2015 Michael P. Dunn

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