Fiction

ZIGZAG: Chapter 05

ZIGZAG COVER

*This sample chapter is the fifth of five. Read chapter 4 here. Cover by IMbeta.

The Circuit Breaker depot sat in the industrial district near the train tracks. The walls of the dark office were hit by softly sparking light, showing three computer terminals and desks, dirty ashtrays, and a motivational poster with a green frog.

Sparks flared from the squared server strapped to the back of a man with many roles. He was an Urban Archivist; a Street Scribe.

His black gloves flew over the custom electronic tablet with the sturdy metal frame he’d placed on one of the desks. The underside of his backpack had a spray can Velcro’d at the center and an elastic data cable on the right. The jumper was stretched out, its connector tapped into the first of the three terminals that stored the warehouse’s reports.

He had black athletic pants that fastened around the ankle and black high-tops. He had a black soccer jersey with a white stripe across his shoulders, and black knee and elbow pads. Slim wrist guards protected his forearms.

As far as anyone could possibly know him, he was a hooligan.

The Hooligan’s gloves continued over the tablet, a progress bar filling until a large ‘SUBMIT’ button popped on the screen and lasted only until his thumb gave it a tender smack.

The square backpack started to whir and was soon shooting sparks out the vents on the side. When it generated enough power, the terminal he was tethered to popped smoke. The Hooligan unplugged the jumper from the port and let it zip back into place under his pack.

Now that the data retrieval was underway, the Hooligan went about collecting photographic documentation of the site, and though the small office was excruciatingly ordinary, he diligently documented the general layout. Aiming his camera shots, he snapped three pics and moved on. No sooner had he stepped away from the window than a hooded young woman darted over the gate in its view and booked it to the wall below.

Alex hugged the side of the building as she ran to the edge. With another train passing by, she cautiously peered around the corner; she found two trucks backed up to the receiving dock at the opposite end, a pair of men travelling back and forth down their extended ramps. She searched for a pattern in their routine. It didn’t take long, as two of them passed each other going in opposite directions, the closer wheeling a stack from the warehouse into the container.

The thug dropped the box on the ground halfway in. Turning to leave, he got the full end of a long metal canister straight to the gut. The blow knocked the wind from his lungs and him to his knees.

In his incapacitated state, Alex was able to step around him so their backs touched, reach past her ears, and interlock her fingers over his mouth. Pulling his weight onto her back, she walked him into the shadow as a second thug made it up the neighboring truck’s ramp, right on schedule.

When her captive’s legs stopped twitching and he went limp, Alex propped him upright against the inside wall. She could hear the second thug as he trudged down the metal ramp next door.

After sliding the canister back over her shoulder, Alex pried open the unconscious man’s box and removed a fist-full of Circuit Breaker 9000 phones. She was at the right place.

“What the hell?!” a voice said from behind.

Startled, Alex found a third thug staring at her from the outside ramp, holding a bulky box in his hands. Alex vaulted from the back of the truck as he dropped his haul and pulled a pistol from his jacket.

But before he could raise it at Alex, she’d rerouted his hand to smash him in the nose, forcing his finger down on the trigger. The guard’s face was badly scalded by the cartridge’s exhaust and his ears rang from the loud bang. Desperate to relieve his burning skin, the thug put his hands to his face, a move that offered it some protection from Alex’s strong punch but managed to knock him out anyway and give him a life-long case of crippling arthritis.

Knowing she’d already started a ruckus, Alex raced into the back of the warehouse. She maneuvered a hallway corner and found the remaining two guards just outside the office door. Closing on them, the top of the .357 popped and Alex reached to its black rubber grip. The look on her face scared both men.

Back in the flashing office, the black gloves continued to fly over the face of the tablet, the sparking light reflecting off its screen. The Hooligan had moved to the second terminal and was more than ready to get out of there. A screen popped on his log, a directory that listed a location.

It said ‘Lorelai’s Field’.

He didn’t recognize the location from any of his maps but he’d have more time to investigate it on the drive home than he did now. His tablet finished ripping the terminal’s drives. He swiped the log away and a large ‘EXECUTE’ button appeared. He smacked it with his thumb.

On the hit, the two thugs crashed through the door and landed on top of each other in the center of floor. The Hooligan turned as the long shaft of a metal baseball bat sprayed with ‘.357’ introduced Alex before she coolly strode over the threshold.

She wasn’t expecting the person she found.

His face was covered by a large black handkerchief over a balaclava, a flat-billed black ball cap, and squared black ski goggles. She looked him over from head to toe, but didn’t see any skin. She saw that he was completely anonymous. She knew that he was a Crypto.

Puzzled by her appearance and the two men on the floor, but intuitively knowing it was significant, the Hooligan reached up and squeezed the top and bottom corners on the right side of his goggles with his index finger and thumb. A mechanism clicked together like a camera shutter pinching closed.

The four figures remained there in silence until the computer zapped and smoke puffed out the top.

“Waddup, playa?” the Hooligan asked with verbal flourish.

“Your mask,” Alex said, studying his style. “You’re from Animos City, aren’t you?”

“Have you been there?” the Hooligan asked, pulling the jumper out of the terminal. “The air really carries the light this time of year.”

“Didn’t care for it,” she said flippantly. “Felt vacant despite the crowds. Are you destroying the data or stealing it?”

“Yeah,” he said and nodded at an angle.

“I won’t let you.”

The Hooligan rubbed the jumper tip between his fingers.

“You can’t stop me.”

“Look, I’ll be frank because I’ve done this a lot recently,” Alex said pointedly. “Not even your men can help you out of here.”

“I know you have,” the Hooligan said sympathetically. “But they’re not my men.”

Finishing the line, he darted to the last computer. Jamming the jumper into the port on the front, he started furiously typing on his tablet.

The thugs got to their feet and lunged, but Alex reached out and grabbed the closer of the two by the collar of his shirt, and jerked him back to her.

With no hands to spare, the Hooligan turned to the second thug just as he got to him, catching his chest with the underside of his foot.

The Hooligan looked at the determination in his opponent’s face and realized he needed to step things up. “Gotta put this into overdrive,” he said and pushed the man away forcefully.

The thug landed on the floor a few feet from where Alex had the other’s head in a lock and was mercilessly beating the back of it.

The Hooligan jabbed his right thumb into a mechanical green button on his backpack’s left strap three times. The server pack flared up with each, producing a vroooo, vroo, vroooooo rhythm so powerful Alex imagined a muscle car’s V8 engine kicking asphalt, an illusion made real by the sparks shooting out the vents on the side.

“No,” she said caught in a daze. Shaking it off, she ran her opponent head first into the wall.

Getting to the Crypto, she swung the .357, but the Hooligan’s padded arm braced the blow, knocking the tablet from his hands and along the floor. Alex snagged it and looked at the front. Her eyes immediately scrunched in confusion.

The screen was blank.

The Hooligan grabbed her by the collar and threw her against the wall. He looked at his tablet in her hands. As his vision passed down the screen, his goggles revealed the hidden information contained on it, including the large ‘EXECUTE’ icon. He rapped the back of his knuckle on the virtual button.

His backpack whipped up and the terminal coughed out a smoky rattle. He tugged on the cable and the jumper hopped out of the computer and zipped back into his server.

“That means our fun is over,” he said as he slid the tablet into the holster-like pouch on his left thigh.

Alex corrected him. “It means you’re now my only target.”

She pulled both her legs up and kicked him in the gut. Without anything to support her weight, she crashed violently to the ground. The Hooligan staggered back, and Alex saw her opening to attack. Unfortunately, her haste caused her feet to slip out from under her, and so was off balance when she swung, putting so little power behind the bat that the Hooligan’s thuggish opponent was able to catch it midair.

The fight was descending into disarray, with fighters now defending their enemies.

The Hooligan poked his head up, looking first at the bat then Alex.

“You can’t tell but I’ve got a grin clear across my face,” he said gaily.

The fabric on the Hooligan’s face mask hadn’t even settled from the words when the man Alex had been fighting sprang up and let a jab fly over her back, cracking the Hooligan right in the mouth.

Alex smiled broadly. “Did it look like this?”

Rather than getting in a tug of war over possession of the .357, Alex dropped low and gave the thug who had caught it a quick left-right-left to the stomach.

“Why not just show me?” she said, grabbing the bat and putting her foot to her opponent’s shoulder. She pushed her leg out as she pulled her arms in, forcing the bat from the thug’s hands.

At the same time, the Hooligan spun his new foe around and punched him backwards. The two men collided into each other in the center of the room.

It was then Alex realized that she and the Hooligan had completely swapped positions from where they’d started. Frustrated by the situation, she swung the .357 out beside her, smashing the nearby terminal’s screen and sending glass to the floor.

“Take off your mask,” she said seriously through a smile.

“You got it,” the Hooligan said obediently. “Just give me one second.” He grabbed the open door’s handle and yanked it closed, with him safely on the other side.

Stunned at the silly turn of events, the three people still in the room all looked at each other dumbly.

Alex sighed. “Hey, uh…” she said with a hanging ellipsis, “he’s getting away.”

The second thug yanked the door open and dashed down the hall in pursuit of the Hooligan, leaving the fourth to rush Alex. She stepped her left leg forward and smoothly bunted him in the face, using his own speed to knock him into a cold heap on the floor. She flew through the open door and rushed down the hall.

In the loading dock, the first thug Alex choked out stepped off the back of the cargo truck in a stupor. Trying to shake the dizziness away, he slapped his head once…then again…then a completely different fist punched him across the face from the other direction. He went down. The Hooligan dropped alongside the body and pulled a pair of keys from his pocket.

Glad to have an auto for the trip back home, he quickly ran to the dark side of the building. The V8 engine kicked again in the shadow. The burly revving rose until the Hooligan coasted back into the light on a black six-speed bicycle with chrome rims that he’d stashed there, its spokes splinking as they turned. His pack shooting sparks as it compiled a new file based on the Circuit Breaker data, he steered towards the extended ramp to the back of the trailer.

He jumped off the bike and let it ghost ride up, where it crashed inside the container and rang the bell on the handlebars. Following that, he slid the ramp back under the bed of the truck, stepped to its back fender, pulled the rollup door down, and locked it into place. Sensing something behind him, he found the second thug training a pistol on his chest.

But before the man could pull the trigger, Alex slammed her shoulder into him from a full sprint and ejected his body from the ground. The Hooligan took a step to the side and the thug crashed head-first into the back of the door, falling unconscious to the pavement.

Alex and the Hooligan were alone at last.

But Alex was tired, and breathing hard to prove it.

“Give me the data,” she ordered, wearily pointing the bat his way. It visibly wobbled under the strain.

“You look beat,” the Hooligan noted sympathetically. “You should rest, let this go.”

Alex charged forward, swinging.

“Give it to me!” she commanded again.

The Hooligan ducked the corner as the bat buried into the back of the truck. Gunshot. She pulled it out and swung it the other way, but he casually pivoted so he was looking at it when it buried into the driver’s side. Gunshot.

Before Alex could pull it out, the Hooligan punched her across the face one way, then the other, then straight on so she fell to her back.

The Hooligan stood over Alex, his backpack sparking excitedly into the night sky.

“You Cryptos are cowards,” Alex said through her exhaustion. “No courage to put your face to your actions.”

“Your father had courage,” the Hooligan said. “Do you remember the last face he made? If you let your enemies know who you are they will exploit your weaknesses.”

“Whatever your plan is for my kingdom, you’ll have to kill me first.”

At the young royal’s words, the Hooligan hesitated, and his server’s sparking settled into a low, uncertain grind.

Out of nowhere, a spray of bullets hit the passenger side of the truck and swept towards the Hooligan. Diving behind the driver’s side, he threw the door open and climbed inside the cab.

Alex spun around in the trail’s direction. Her protector was wearing a large, light brown wool poncho with a small semi auto machine gun pointed out the slit on the right side, steadied by a hand with a large circular scar between thumb and index finger. He flipped the safety off to a click and let the gun go. An elastic strap swung it back under cover. He had a rugged face and stiff hair brushed back and to the left, above shaved sides.

“Carmichael!” she exclaimed at seeing the captain of the Royal Guard under her father.

The truck’s large engine kicked awake and coughed exhaust. Regaining her composure, Alex sat up to see the truck gain speed. She was staring at it when Carmichael sprinted past, a small sawed-off shotgun gripped tightly in his hands. He skidded to a stop within view of the driver’s side mirror and destroyed the metal and glass that reflected the Hooligan’s ski goggles looking back. Carmichael pumped the shotgun and sent another burst out its short barrel, but the truck had gained too much distance to be effective. The truck took a corner at the far end.

Alex got to her feet. “He took the data!” she said frantically. “Did you see him? Do you know where he’s from?” Alex let the full realization lift the .357 over her head. “How are we supposed to find a shadow in a city with no lights?” Her anger pulled the trigger.

Channeling the last of her strength, she slammed the .357 on the ground with the force of a rocket, successfully producing a burly gunshot that cracked the night in two while failing to properly express the full depth of her fury.

As if an alarm clock rang to get them up for work, the three bodies nearby stirred, one moaning in pain.

“We go to Animos and figure it out,” Carmichael said unflinchingly. “I failed your father, Princess, I won’t fail you.”

Alex looked to the gun across his hands. “That standard issue for the Royal Guards?” she asked and looked into his eyes.

“Doesn’t matter,” he said honestly, “I’m not a Royal Guard anymore.” His Diamond Badge was gone to prove it. “But believe me,” he said with hazel eyes blazing, “I’m a better archer than a knight.”

Alex stared at him for a beat too long, trying to decide whether or not she fully trusted his sword. Realizing she didn’t have any other options, she walked over to one of the thugs regaining consciousness, leaned down, and punched him out again. Pulling the man’s truck keys from his right pants’ pocket, she threw them at Carmichael, who snagged them from the air.

“Get in the truck,” she ordered.

If you like what you saw here, please consider purchasing the paperback on Amazon for $9.99. The $2.99 eBook is also there and at Smashwords.

© Dane Ian Thomsen 2016

Cover photo © 2016 by Dane Ian Thomsen

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Fiction

ZIGZAG: Chapter 04

ZIGZAG COVER (no titles)

*This sample chapter is the fourth of five. Read chapter 3 here. Cover by IMbeta.

The hypnotic rhythm of the song the music app on Alex’s phone had selected for her gave the Royal Cemetery a hallowed air that seemed to fit the situation perfectly. Alex had come there to sit under the warm sun and read, but the comfort of her father’s headstone and the melody had overcome her, carrying her away to sleep.

Like most other apps that were being released daily, the music program had linked with her other social media accounts, constantly trading data, slowly learning her preferences until it could automatically find a song that fit her mood. It was so accurate, there were times when she wasn’t completely sure if the music suited her feelings or caused them, but she shook it off as silly paranoia.

Two books sat on a bench beside her. Their titles read: ‘The Secret Story of The Electron Gods’ and ‘A Plug N Play Nation: How ZetaPort Operating Systems Connected Society’. A third book lay across her lap called ‘The Unknown History Of The North American Motherboard,’ open to the two page spread of the continent. A series of icons littered the pages, indicating nodes evenly distributed over the land with outlines around them designating borders. ‘Diamond Kingdom’ was just west of center and ‘Animos City’ was a few centimeters to the south east.

With massive terminals called ZetaPorts built directly into the planet’s crust, the North American Motherboard networks across the continent. By utilizing a port’s natively running Zeta Operating System, leaders can provide their people with uniquely crafted civilizations, and endless opportunities. Over the years, hundreds of societies have risen, from the barbaric Hammer Valley to the beautiful Blackletter Coast, but not all have proven sustainable and collapsed. A bulky shadow moved over the map inside the book.

Alerted by the presence, Alex’s eyes snapped open. She pulled her headphones off.

“I know,” she said guardedly. “It’s time to get back to work.”

The circular table at the castle’s conference room was occupied by nine bodies. On the side with their back to the door sat four people in suits, four people with patches fixed to the breast of their jackets sitting across, and Professor Zwei in a cream-colored long-sleeved shirt leading the conversation on one end between them.

“It has come to our attention that you’re willfully colluding to keep prices high,” Zwei said, his eyes just a little too large in his glasses, his pupils intensely scrutinizing everything without actually looking at it. “This will stop at once.” Soft scratching sounds came from against the wall.

A rotund man with stringy hair replied to the statement. “Your allegations are as baseless as your power to stop them if they were true. But I shouldn’t need to tell you – ask your economic advisor.”

“That is a legal grey area,” said the man with a patch of gold bricks pinned to his lapel. “Accurate within some limits but artificial market manipulation inherently impedes open trade, which is illegal.”

A puffy faced woman with a reddish nose came back. “But again, you don’t have proof any deals took place.”

The conference room door flung open and a guard stepped in, holding it long enough for Alex to stride through before closing it again.

“What a joke,” the princess said to the group contemptuously. “You cut back-room deals, stifled competition to keep costs high, and pushed people to desperation.” She commandingly took her place across from Zwei and looked at the execs to her right. “I’m not going to force you to break up your arrangement, so let me tell you what I will do – I’m going to undercut you. And I’ll bet I have access to the better production pipeline. Then I’ll watch you go broke. Go tell the others.”

The four stood from their chairs and left.

When the room settled down, Alex heard the scratching sound of diligent note taking and realized her advisors weren’t the only people in the room. In chairs against the wall by the door sat five people who all looked strangely similar with their short haircuts and hairless faces. They held notepads and pens, dispassionately studying the meeting. They all stopped writing and looked directly at her.

“I hope you don’t mind, Alexandria,” Professor Zwei said with a broad, toothy smile, “but I wanted to give some of my more promising students an opportunity to sit in on our proceedings, see how our government is really run.”

“Of course not,” Alex said and compared Zwei’s toothy smile to his analytical, expressionless grey eyes, as if he didn’t really agree with how he felt. She turned to the students and found the exact same looks on their faces. “Glad they could join us,” Alex said, and nodded to them. “What’s next, Professor?”

Zwei looked down at the stack of paper in front of him. “Drake’s remains are still sitting in the morgue. We need to decide what to do with the body.” The students put their pens back to their pages and scratched out more notes.

“What we do with it?” the Defense Advisor, with an icon of a shield, asked incredulously. “We dig a ditch and kick him in. He assassinated the King. We don’t honor traitors.”

“A traitor with significant public support,” added Zwei. “Don’t forget why the King hired him to lead the Diamond Knights in the first place.”

“He’s a hero in Animos City for fighting against their own tyrant,” said the Foreign Relations Advisor with the shaking hand lapel pin. “There may be diplomatic blowback if we’re not careful. We may see flashes of aggression at our border.”

“And within it,” came back the Defense Advisor. “Compassion will settle the dissidents. Right now, the public stands united, but on edge.”

Professor Zwei was contemplative. “I recommend a temporary ban on weapons in public,” he said. “We don’t want to agitate the situation further.” The students murmured to each other in agreement and continued to write.

The Civil Advisor shook his head. “It’ll be interpreted as the first step before a total governmental incursion. People need to feel like they can protect themselves. Don’t worry – any unprovoked aggression will be met with harsh punishment.”

“They’re worrying too much,” the professor said to brush the objection off, “nothing will happen.”

“You know that’s not true,” Alex said, pushing her chair away to stand. “Something else is out there, and it’s watching. That’s where our focus should be.” She took a few steps to the door. Her escort pulled it open.

“What about Drake?” Professor Magnus Zwei inquired, his eyes and face uniting together in their curiosity. The students halted their writing and looked at her the same.

Alex stopped.

“Burn him,” she said, “I’m sure it’s what he’d want.”

“You’ll be a great queen one day Alex,” said a warm voice filled with love.

The entrance to Diamond Stadium was packed with people all walking to the front gates. By the video quality and the bob of the frame, it was obvious the scene was recorded from a camera phone.

“Come on dad, not this again,” Alex said from off screen. “We’re gonna miss the start of the game.”

“Is it really that big a deal?”

The camera spun around and found King Quentin Diamond dressed in casual clothes and a large hat in an attempt to blend in with the crowds.

“You’ve seen these guys play a thousand times,” the king said.

“You can learn a lot by watching the athletes on the field,” Alex said behind the frame. “How their bodies leverage their muscles to create power, how their frames create momentum, adjusts to create fluid motions. It’s beautiful and elegant.”

“See, that’s what I’m talking about! Give me that!” he said as he swiped the camera from Alex and pointed it back at her. She was wearing the same denim shorts and white tee that had been beamed to the kingdom after Drake’s death. She spun away again so she could see where she was walking. “It’s just a constant stream of poetry out of you,” her father said. “You’ll also make a great orator.”

She stopped and punched his arm playfully, shaking the camera in his hands. “What are you talking about?!”

The king laughed. “No, really! You do it so easily you’ve stopped noticing!”

“Oh yeah, right,” she said sarcastically, “I’m a natural poet, I just don’t know it.”

Alex paused for a second, thinking about what she’d said. When she had, she turned away resentfully.

No longer able to hold it in, her father burst out in spirited laughter. The laugh drew the attention of the thick, unkempt man watching the video on a monitor in his small room.

Scramble’s workshop was littered with electronic components and computer equipment. On the west wall next to the lone barren space was a bookcase filled with videogame cartridges and discs in jewel cases, a throwback to a bygone era of physical media. A can of spray paint stood by itself.

As if the king’s laugh had broken a damn inside her, the Alex on screen started laughing too.

A third one came from Scramble’s left.

Turning over his shoulder, he found the real Alex leaning back against the bare wall, arms crossed, looking over him at the video.

“It’s the last time I saw him,” she said lost in thought. “How did they get this, Scramble?”

Scramble leaned into the screen and highlighted a bit of code. “It looks like…” he said as he deleted the line and watched the picture cut out in response “…you gave it to them.”

Alex looked away from the screen, directly into his eyes.

“Everyone with a Circuit Breaker 9000 did,” he added. “It’s the new processor inside. First time you recorded something,” he threw a thumb towards the screen, “namely, the video behind me, a family of crawlers nested in your subroutines. Every service you linked to your account was accessed and copied. Drake’s footage was from old military records, interviews, and psychological exams going as far back as fifteen years.”

“Why hadn’t this all been data mined already?” she asked, pushing away from the wall.

“I did some research. People were talking about packets of junk data in the code years ago, but their investigation didn’t seem to go anywhere – figured it was legacy data for scrapped features. It happens,” Scramble shrugged. “No one realized the code was slowly building in the various sectors with each revision. The new silicon completed it.”

“The 9000’s been out a month. How much could they have taken?”

“Depending on the processing power server-side,” Scramble calculated, “it’s conceivable they’ve cloned half the hard drives they’ve accessed.”

“How many phones are circulating?” she asked.

Scramble scooped the phone pieces up and dropped them on the floor. “A million units sold through,” he said. He brought his thick leather boot down and broke the hardware apart.

Alex was puzzled. “What could someone do with all that data?”

Scramble blinked. “What could someone do with full access to a person’s life, their darkest secrets?” he asked, confused how Alex couldn’t understand it. “They could hold them hostage.”

He slid an older model phone across the table to her.

“Security through obsolescence. You just need to enter your login. It’s already paired to your headphones.”

“Hmph, the hypocrisy,” Alex grumbled as she punched in her twenty five character password.

Scramble shook his head. “It’s different and you know it. Your headphones get translated text to speech for what people put out on the chatrooms willingly. You don’t get names.”

She shrugged and slid the phone into her left hip pocket. “Where did Circuit Breaker distribute?”

Scramble switched browser tabs and pulled up a map.

“Depot on the east side of town connects outlets here and their headquarters in Animos City.”

Alex frowned. “That’s the second time I’ve heard the name Animos today,” she noted. “I don’t like it.” She looked out the window and at the neon purple beam reflecting off its glass.

After thinking on it, she turned away decisively. She lifted her gold visor off her head and looked at it in her hands. “Scramble,” she said soberly, “I need you to run interference on my escorts.” She set the visor on his desk.

Scramble’s face went white. “No!” he argued. “You need your men to watch your back.”

“Even if Drake’s men hide among their ranks?” she countered.

At that thought, the cloaked figure standing on the outside window frame by his boot heels silently climbed down the side of the two-story building and disappeared.

Chapter 5

If you like what you saw here, please consider purchasing the paperback on Amazon for $9.99. The $2.99 eBook is also there and at Smashwords.

© Dane Ian Thomsen 2016

Cover photo © 2016 by Dane Ian Thomsen

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ZIGZAG: Chapter 03

ZIGZAG COVER

*This sample chapter is the third of five. Read chapter 2 here. Cover by IMbeta.

The Diamond Kingdom was a land of many faces, from the young and beautiful to the old and ugly, and home to a multitude of different cultures. The resource-rich territory spread out across fertile agricultural lands and lumber mills. And in the center of the considerable labyrinth of developed residential and commercial property was the neon purple beam shooting from the top of Diamond Castle.

The flashing police siren painted the empty streets blue and red as it raced down the asphalt. Alex sat in the back seat of the Knight’s cruiser, fighting the nagging feeling that the masked driver was glancing at her in the rearview mirror. It was a fight she would win. If she couldn’t handle this small modicum of stress, she had little hope of overcoming any real pressure, and then she would be no good to those who counted on her the most. Since he took command of the military, new faces had entered Drake’s increasingly tight army, and with them an increased sense of rigidness she didn’t recognize. She was glad that her escorts hadn’t confiscated the .357 or its canister- it meant they either didn’t respect her, or were secretly allies that knew what she could do with it. She knew that not all the Diamond Knights had betrayed her but that you couldn’t simply determine a person’s allegiance by looking at them. She occupied her mind by focusing on the Chatter.

As if a stream of consciousness from many minds, she heard “they have her” and “‘Bout time the cops did something right” and “Spoiled Princess, what’chu gonna do now?” all relayed to her in sequence. A single calm voice broke through the chaff. “She’s not like that. She saved my boyfriend and me. If she hadn’t shown up when she did, I don’t know what would have happened to us.” But that was almost immediately drowned out. “Hahahaha” and “Yeah right, shut up” and “kill yerself”. Alex turned tiredly to the window and the passing streets.

With every second they drove, the purple beam became larger, splashing the sides of the buildings with the warmth of royal light for more than a mile around.

The cruiser pulled up to the castle’s grand entrance. Alex stepped out and looked up at the place that had long been her home, following the majestic beam until it penetrated the cloud cover blanketing the night sky.

Alex was ushered in through the front halls to the throne room, the .357 canister in her hands. As the large double doors were thrown open, she was hit by the neon purple light that radiated from the glass floor in the center of the room through the same at the ceiling. Dozens of people wrapped around the walls, anxiously awaiting their turn before their new king. On the squared throne’s armrest, Alex could see a steel helmet given a serpentine flair thanks to the protruding chin and two sets of rubber tubes running from the back across the cheeks. A motherly-looking woman stood tall and addressed the throne.

“I swear to renounce my faith in the traitor monarch,” she said, trying her best to sound obedient when it was never demanded of her before, “and pledge loyalty to my new king.”

The Knights stopped Alex a few feet away from the crystal seat in the center of the beam.

The first time Alex had met Drake was after his predecessor’s funeral when she was thirteen. Magnus Zwei had introduced him and listed his many military accomplishments, from safeguarding the scabs during the Bowler Strike to rallying a defense for the Siege of Clay. What struck her was after the professor had finished, Drake threw in one more of apparent personal importance. The name of the battle wasn’t what lodged it in her mind, but the feeling that, despite its already considerable length, he needed to add one more item to the list, hoping that would be the one to finally impress the young princess with more important things on her mind. Seeing the pathetic theater before her, Alex couldn’t help but feel it again, that strong sense that Drake fought for respect, a consolation prize for winning love.

Drake sat on the throne, the gold crown atop his disfigured head. Upon seeing her, he casually interrupted the woman’s pledge.

“I‘m not detecting sincerity here,” he said callously. “Maybe if you’d started with respect for my position.” He motioned to two Diamond Knights standing off to the side. “Help her find some.”

“What?” the woman asked, looking to Alex for the power to overrule Drake’s command. Though that hope wasn’t able to stop the guards from dragging her out of the room, the “No!” she let out when it was dashed haunted those that heard it longer than it took for its sound to fade away.

Drake turned to Alex. “Welcome home, Princess,” he said smugly. “We missed you. Where have you been hiding?” He eyed a camera ten feet in front of him.

For years, King Diamond had addressed the kingdom through the broadcasting equipment installed across from the throne. Without needing to be told, the operator turned the camera on and pointed it their way. Everyone’s phone beeped for the public broadcast.

“Why would I hide?” Alex asked undisturbed. “I don’t fear criticism.”

“You don’t heed it either,” Drake said, standing abruptly. He walked to her, around her, the sword sheathed at his belt clanking against his armor the entire way.

Alex refused to be intimidated by his intense scrutiny, staring ahead at the steel helmet sitting on the throne’s armrest, thinking it suited him more than her father’s crown.

“Then tell us,” she suggested, “how will you make it so that when the sun rises next, everyone will be happy?”

Drake caught himself at the question, as if he never believed he’d have need for an answer.

“Fine,” she said generously, “how about a thousand sun rises? Ten thousand?”

Drake walked his broad chest directly into her view, as if trying to prove his dominance by shoving his Diamond Badge in her face, the only in the kingdom to have a gold star on home plate. Intimidation was apparently the only tactic he knew.

Alex could hear the Chatter react to his silence. “Doesn’t he know? – Not again! – Answer her!”

Alex looked up into his emerald eyes. “Think carefully, I’ve seen the consequences of failure.”

Fast as lightning, she hit Drake in the gut with one end of the canister, then into his chin with the other, causing him to stagger back towards the throne.

“You don’t know what they really think,” Drake said, rubbing his jaw. “You haven’t heard their voices.”

Alex’s black hoodie hit the ground. In a white baseball tee with blue sleeves to her wrists, she held the canister out and popped the lid.

All I hear are their voices. Hear mine,” she said, putting her hand to the bat’s black rubber grip. “I’ll die protecting them from you.”

“You will,” Drake said, “and for nothing.” He picked up his helmet from the pedestal. “They’ve abandoned you.”

Alex drew the bat, taking an end in each fist and holding it in front of her like a shield.

“They’re good people. I’ve put my life in dozens of their hands and am still alive to stand before you.”

No sooner had she said this than Drake rushed her, his helmet on with crown on top. He caught his hands on the middle of the bat’s shaft so close he could talk into her face.

“You should be bowing so everyone else knows what it looks like!” he spewed furiously. The helmet gave his voice a metal tint.

“Never!” she rebelled.

A mechanism on Drake’s chin clicked, producing a small flame. She recognized the metal grinding sound immediately – she would never be able to forget. Reacting quickly, Alex ducked for leverage underneath the bat and thrust it up under Drake’s jaw, just as the small tubes along his cheeks blast gas into the flame, focusing a jetstream of fire. Putting all her strength into her legs, she forced his head back. The geyser arced in a line from the far wall up until it was roasting the ceiling above them.

Alex grit her jaw so tight that she could feel her teeth scraping all the way up in her temples.

The geyser stopped. Drake reached down to his belt and whipped his sword out from its sheath, barely missing Alex jumping back. Just as she landed, a fireball lit up the room and flew at her head. She fluidly rolled away, continuing in a curved sprint towards Drake to avoid the missiles flying her way.

The audience scurried away from the blasts as Alex closed in, putting all her momentum behind her bat. Unconcerned by the attack, Drake threw his clawed glove forward and snatched her by the neck, lifting her so high the toes of her sneakers dangled a foot off the ground. He jabbed the tip of his sword into her thigh.

Alexandria Diamond screamed.

“You can’t win,” Drake said and threw her to the ground.

Alex grimaced and clutched her leg. “I don’t need to,” she said through the pain, pushing herself up. “I just have to show people what can happen when you put too much power in one place.” She nodded to the side. Drake turned in its direction.

The camera was staring directly at them, its bulbous lens capturing every frame.

“Then they’ll rise up again,” she whispered.

An elderly woman along the wall couldn’t contain herself any longer. “My God,” she said. “He’s a monster.”

Alex heard something in her headphones. “It’s inexcusable what happened to your family – I don’t know how we got so lost – I’m so sorry, Princess Alexandria…”

“If you’d just bowed at the start,” Drake hissed, “it wouldn’t have had to end this way.” He blew out another stream of fire.

Alex pushed away and somersaulted backwards under the geyser. Catching the balls of her feet, she pushed forward and thrust the bat into Drake’s stomach, doubling him over to the loud crack of a gunshot. She hit him in the leg to bring him lower, another gunshot. She hit him in the chest to knock him onto the ground. Gunshot.

Drake fell to his hands and knees and struggled to look up. He became uncomfortably aware of the people around the room staring at him. His embarrassment made him panic.

“Look away!” he ordered pathetically. “Anyone that watches this will rot in the prisons! Anyone that speaks of it will swing from the gallows!” The flame on the front of his helmet flicked on again.

Alex stepped in front of him, shielding everyone in attendance from his fury. She went through a deliberate sequence of moves she had long ago mastered; she set her left foot out, twisted her waist so the foot rolled onto its toes, and brought the bat back so it ran down the length of her shoulders behind her head. She had locked and loaded her batter’s stance.

“You wanted an audience!” she screamed.

And then the Diamond Princess pulled the trigger.

Snapping her body back, she swung the .357 out with the force of a locomotive. It struck Drake’s metal face.

A gunshot rang through the throne room. The gold crown hit the far wall.

As the ringing fell away, it was replaced by Alex’s heavy breathing. The audience looked at her in stunned silence as she fell to her knees in exhaustion.

“I know you’re angry,” she managed to say between breaths. “If it’ll give you the peace you need, I offer myself.”

Alex held her bat across her hands, presenting it to the room.

“Strike me down.”

But no one dared move.

Then “I accept your offer” came from a voice breaking the spell.

All heads looked around in confusion. “But everyone else will pay first,” the voice said menacingly from a small display on Drake’s forearm.

It was a young Drake with a full head of hair, sitting against a sterile white background that could only have been a government office. The video cut to a presentation he was giving to a military base auditorium, bald again. “You can’t stop the progress of time.”

Alex looked at the lifeless body with the caved in head. “You’re dead,” she said to the screen, mortified.

The video cut again to a heavy set man weeping in a courtroom and cut to more people afterwards.

“You’re right,” he sobbed.

“I am,” a blonde woman carried on.

“Dead,” giggled a boy being tickled on a green lawn. Alex recognized him from the crowd. She looked up to find him staring at his phone, scared but unable to understand why. Alex pulled her own from her pocket.

It showed a video of her standing at the crowded entrance to the Diamond Kingdom’s stadium, her denim shorts and slim white t-shirt bright and airy. It closed out the bleak montage.

“I just don’t know it,” she said. Then the stream went dead.

Chapter 4

If you like what you saw here, please consider purchasing the paperback on Amazon for $9.99. The $2.99 eBook is also there and at Smashwords.

© Dane Ian Thomsen 2016

Cover photo © 2016 by Dane Ian Thomsen

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Fiction

ZIGZAG: Chapter 02

ZIGZAG COVER (no titles)*This sample chapter is the second of five. Read chapter 1 here. Cover by IMbeta.

A video played on a handheld screen. Even if the camera’s view hid the identity of the man it was attached to, the height and heavy footsteps down the ornate hallway betrayed an imposing stature. At the pair of large oak doors, a sleek black gauntlet reached from below the lens, grabbed the thick handle, and threw it open. Intense purple light inundated the screen.

The throne room was busy with activity. Three guards stood on duty, one a Diamond Knight clad in black fencing gear and steel-meshed face mask, flanked by two of the King’s Royal Guards, wearing white gear and red capes over their right shoulders. In his thick red robe, dark blue jeans, and work boots, King Diamond leaned over a table covered with documents, talking to a lanky man with a dark brown blazer over a grey shirt, charcoal slacks, and red-leather loafers. The man looked up at the new arrival standing in the threshold, the lenses on his horn-rimmed glasses slightly enlarging his grey eyes under a well-groomed cut of amber hair.

“The Dragon is here, Your Majesty,” said the city’s celebrated educator, Professor Magnus Zwei.

Quentin Diamond turned, obviously exhausted from several days of military action. His disheveled cut of platinum white hair was held down by a modest gold crown. “Drake, what do you have to report?” he asked video’s cameraman.

“The rebels have overrun the guards,” said a firm voice so close that it reverberated through the small screen’s speakers. “Your enemies roam the castle’s halls.”

The king grew quiet in thought. “Post more of your knights at my daughter’s side,” he said. Then: “It’s time for you to evacuate, Magnus.” At his words, one of the attending Royal Guards stepped forward, the silver and bronze lapel pin on his chest in the sharp diamond edge of a baseball field.

The Professor accepted the command without hesitation. “Godspeed,” he said before stepping away, his escort in tow. Drake stepped aside so they could pass.

When they had, Drake reached out and slid the bulky, reinforced lock across the door behind them, turning to the king’s back as he read his reports.

Drake approached his king at a deliberate, measured pace.

“Do you understand it?” King Diamond asked, maybe to himself. “Do you understand how any of this happened?”

“No, sire,” came the response just off screen.

Drake looked to his left and nodded at the remaining Royal Guard and Diamond Knight standing on watch, both men interpreting the sign differently. As the king’s Guard nodded back, Drake’s Knight stepped quietly behind his comrade-in-arms, slapped his hand over his mouth, and ran his blade over the exposed throat.

“Their minds were poisoned,” the king continued, “their hearts were manipulated. This didn’t happen naturally.”

The Royal Guard tried to scream in pain, but his voice was reduced to bubbles through the slit.

“No, sire,” Drake said as he quietly drew his sword from its sheath and with every step came closer.

“We can survive this. We can.”

Drake stopped right behind the king. “No. Sire,” he said with palpable contempt.

The king calmly turned to face the leader of his Knight brigade.

And was met with Drake’s sword run through his abdomen so hard he jerked the crown off his head. Drake pulled him close enough that the ultra-def lens could capture every second, every expression of his agony.

“You mounted these cameras on us to watch our conduct,” his voice boomed. “Let the last thing it records be your death.”

The king summed his confusion up with one word: “Why?”

Drake pulled him in close. “Let me tell you,” he whispered.

A sharp clicking, the sound of metal grinding, came from just off screen, the precursor to a deep red glow that rose on the king’s face.

The scene blast into an inferno of flame, as if it was shot in a jet turbine. The king’s hair was violently blown back as his face distorted, turned black, and disintegrated. The red glow receded until only the purple light remained. The leader of the Diamond Kingdom was gone.

In the video’s frame, Drake’s gauntlet reached up and broke the camera off. The screen went dark.

The video rewound a few seconds, starting once more at the close-up on the King’s face, Drake’s blade in his stomach. The small clicking sounded again, and then Quentin Diamond’s face twisted in torment.

It paused there, remembering the once great king’s death for eternity.

Alex gripped her new Circuit Breaker 9000 phone in her hand, her emotionless face reflecting off the unit’s shiny display. With the video paused, the sound of many random conversations flooded into the area, joyous, the kind that happen in the background of every party. They were all just static.

One voice cut through all the others. It was accompanied by a piping hot bowl of ramen and conjoined chopsticks slid in front of her.

“You must have been hungry,” said a tired old voice.

Alex looked over the boiling pot on the stove to the chef on the opposite side. The small cart was fixed to the end of a rickety old bike with a crooked front tire, the doors at the chef’s knees concealing a propane tank. The word ‘Noodles’ was embroidered at the left breast of the chef’s white apron.

“I can’t even get a whole large bowl down,” Noodles said, impressed.

Alex put the phone on her lap, grabbed the cheap wooden chopsticks, and broke them in two. As she rubbed the splinters off, her legs dangled from the small stool welded to the side of the cart.

The conversations filled the small square unabated.

A price sheet on the cart had red ink through the beef and chicken items, showing they were no longer on offer. An almost-empty tip jar sat beside it with a few lonely coins inside.

Alex crammed a wad of noodles in her mouth and chewed.

“Why aren’t you having fun at the rally?” Noodles asked. Alex’s silence made the chef look away. “Yeah,” he added, “I don’t feel like celebrating either.”

The strong whine of an emergency siren interrupted their one-sided conversation, blue and red flashing lights filling the air above their heads. At the sound, Alex clenched up, putting all her attention on the passing Knight’s cruiser.

The Diamond Knights Corps was formed for the simple purpose of protecting the kingdom’s citizens from threats inside and out. Under Drake’s watch, they hunted domestic criminals and fended off foreign raids. Each and every unit swore an oath to protect their allies and defeat their enemies.

But slowly, the definitions of both those words changed, the social landscape shifting under everyone’s feet until friends found themselves on opposite sides of a battle without having moved an inch. After that, every single element of their culture was one more front in the war. Now there were two sides, and those caught between.

Alex remained on guard until the cruiser passed six seconds later. When she thought it safe, she turned to the source.

“They’ve been sweeping the city for days,” Noodles recounted with resentment.

Alex turned back, ready to talk. “They’re trying to keep the peace,” she said to ease his mind, scooping up a steaming bundle in her chopsticks.

“Where were they when my store was looted?” Noodles asked angrily. “No, they’re searching for something.”

Alex blew on the clump, sending a puff of steam curling off the top. “Drake’s coronation is imminent. It’s put everyone on edge.” She shoved the noodles in her face.

The chef leaned in towards her, taking a nose-full of steam. “Let me give you some advice.”

Alex looked at him as she slopped a mouths-worth of ramen and slipped the headphones off her head. All the conversations in the square immediately stopped, revealing that the two of them were alone in a space that gave the illusion of being packed elbow to elbow with people.

“Find some place to lay low for a few days,” he said with seriousness. “This is no time for anybody to be walking the streets alone at night.” He pulled his face from the mist, his pores now open.

Alex slipped her headphones back on and the commotion started again. The first voice that welcomed her offered alarm: “The Royal Guards assaulted the rally!” “They’re hauling away the organizer!” said a second.

Alex set the empty bowl and chopsticks on the cart.

“Thanks for the meal.”

In one fluid motion she grabbed the canister leaning against the cart and tossed a stack of bills and handful of coins in the jar. The coins hit the inside and rolled it into a slight spin, easily doubling the sum at the bottom. Stunned, Noodles looked from the swaying container, but his young customer was already running away at full speed, the canister’s strap pulled taut over her shoulder.

Alex ran down one street and up another, the buildings plastered with a guerilla ad campaign for Circuit Breaker Manufacturing’s latest cell phone model, dozens of stickers and posters proclaiming it provided unheard of levels of independence and individuality. The marketing had been going for weeks and the media had reported record sales and lines out the doors.

Rounding a corner, she ran straight through the front door of the largest building in the area. Her footsteps led from the base of the building’s stairwell up the four flights to the top. Bursting through the access door, Alex stepped to the edge of the roof and looked to the streets below.

From her vantage point, she easily found the lights and commotion of the political rally a few blocks up, dozens of shadows playing across the nearby buildings. With that as her frame of reference, she scanned the surrounding area until she found three bodies obscured in shadow manhandling a fourth down a small alley. Two of the men pushed their captive through the back door of a machine shop a block up from Alex’s position, leaving a single man on guard outside.

The garage was lined with metal-working equipment including acetylene torches and arc welders. A stripped ZVX Turbocharger sat in the center of the floor, getting its mangled roll cage reinforced after a crazy weekend in the desert. The driver’s-side door was removed and the sporty bucket seat was sitting beside it. Zack Gunn, the vocal young college activist, was thrown backwards onto the black cushion and safety harness.

The two knights standing over him wore the traditional red cape covering their right shoulder, concealing their arm. The man that approached Gunn had light brown hair cut diagonally to the back left and close to the scalp on the sides. The diamond badge on his right lapel had a bronze star on the pitcher’s mound rather than the four bases, which was customary for Drake’s Diamond Knights. It indicated that he was a captain in the Royal Guard, the unit charged with protecting the Diamond Family.

“I’m sorry for resorting to such drastic measures, Mr. Gunn,” the captain said, “but we’re desperate.”

“You have no right to do this,” Gunn replied with a scowl.

“I want you to get us audience with Drake.”

“What do you want from him?”

“You don’t need to think that far ahead,” the man assured.

“You’re going to assassinate Drake.” Gunn concluded.

The Royal Guard answered without words, tapping his sheathed sword against his thigh. Zack eyed the blade fearfully.

The concussive boom of a gunshot split the air outside. The captain recognized the complex sound profile of the discharge, how it contracted back before rocketing forward in a higher pitch, curled at the end, and puffed complete. It was a .357 magnum.

The captain turned to his colleague and said “Check it out.” The knight stepped from the room.

Now just the two of them, Zack Gunn pleaded. “I don’t have the kind of sway you think I do.”

The Royal Guard didn’t buy it and said so in more words. “Your calls for reform started all this – your protests, calling for people’s jobs, you turned words into a knife. You changed public opinion,” he finished succinctly, “he’ll meet with you.”

“Maybe, but I won’t ask him to.”

The soldier grudgingly unsheathed his sword, clenching his fist around its handle.

“I beg you to reconsider.”

“No,” Gunn said courageously.

The Royal Guard thrust the sword forward, the sharp tip coming straight at Zack’s shoulder.

Out of nowhere, a long silver bat appeared, scooped the sword up, and guided the tip into the ceiling. The weapon read ‘.357’ in red ink.

Alex stood between the two men, confidently wielding the baseball bat in front of her, the metal tube slung diagonally across her back.

The Royal Guard was surprised by the small person and let out an automatic “Who-” but the “-are you?!” was finished by Gunn, who was more surprised.

“Another subversive?” the captain spat. “You hide in every crevice and scurry through the darkness.”

Alex quickly reset her stance. She held the .357 at the knight, creating a space between him and Gunn.

She processed his features quickly. Hazel eyes with blazing orange irises, thin nose, and set lower lip. It was Blaire Carmichael.

A blade swung at Alex from outside her vision, but she deflected the attack down and hit the assailant across the face with the bat. The magnum shot cracked off and the knight Carmichael had dispatched outside went to the floor.

Alex repositioned, recreating the distance between the two.

“Stand down, Captain Carmichael.”

Though she couldn’t be positive, Alex thought she saw Carmichael’s eyelids flicker, surprised to be identified by name.

Gunn looked from their assailant to his new bodyguard to Carmichael and grew emboldened. “You want to know what led to the revolution? This,” he said angrily. “You.”

Carmichael’s face set in anger.

He lunged forward and brought his right arm out from under his coat, swinging out a thicker short sword he had concealed there.

Meeting the attack head on, Alex reached the .357 and caught Carmichael’s hidden weapon, the two crossing into an ‘X’, revealing a circular-shaped scar on the webbing between his index finger and thumb. She looked at the blade in his hand, surprised by its sudden appearance.

“Well that was a curveball,” she said.

“Your corruption,” Gunn prattled on, “and the corruption of your betters, brought Drake to power. His bloodshed stains the Royals’ hands.”

Carmichael looked at the hooded figure, unable to understand how anyone could defend these obvious lies. He’d personally seen how his fellow officers had their trust in Drake betrayed; he still felt the sting where a dagger’s tip had jabbed his back. Refusing to suffer the slander further, he pulled his sword back and swung it forward. Alex brought her fists back to her shoulder and the .357 vertical, as if ready to swing at a pitch. Carmichael’s blade hit the shaft guarding her neck. She pushed it away.

“I said, stand down!”

With bravado, Alex plucked her hoodie in her fingertips and pulled back. For the first time in days, she revealed herself in full.

Alex had long blonde hair to the center of her back and a translucent gold tennis visor that warped the ceiling lights, splashing rich color over her blue eyes. She looked radiant. The two men’s jaws went slack.

“Princess Diamond!” Carmichael gasped.

“You should be dead!” Gunn added.

Carmichael bristled at the disrespect. “Princess, listen to this man’s words! Don’t you care how he speaks?”

“No,” she said brusquely. “I only care that he can!”

“He can be forced to take us to Drake.”

Alex was incensed by the suggestion. “You dare request something in your king’s name that would never be ordered under his command?!”

Carmichael looked away in shame. “Then let us evacuate you from the city, Princess.”

“No, the people are suffering,” Alex said. “You need to keep them safe.”

Carmichael tugged his sword from the ceiling. “Your father must be avenged,” he pleaded as he re-sheathed it.

Alex agreed in the only way she knew: “Defend the spirit of the dead by protecting the flesh of the living,” she said with clarity. “Go. Now.”

Reluctantly, Carmichael nodded to her and picked up the downed guard near his feet, putting his arm around his neck to support his weight.

Right before he reached the door, Carmichael turned back. “I’ve protected the king for so long,” he confessed to her somberly, “I don’t know what I’m going to do now.” Then he left.

When they were alone, Alex turned to Zack. “I’m sorry for that.”

“Why?” he asked with puckered lips. “They’re your soldiers, you trained them that way.”

“Don’t mistake their confused anger with hatred.”

“Your family’s always looked down on us,” he said with irrational insecurity, “we scraped and scavenged just to get by and you did nothing about it!”

“What did you want?”

“A better life,” he said emotionally.

“How?”

“Better policy!” he snapped as if that was all it took.

“We had minimal taxes so you could work towards anything you wanted. Did you?”

“You were supposed to give us freedom from work!” he yelled honestly.

Alex regarded him, then dropped to her knees. “If that’s how it is, there’s nothing else I can say to you.” She presented the .357 across her hands. “You’re angry, and looking for someone to punish. If it will bring you the peace you need, I offer myself. Strike me down.”

Zack looked at the bat for a few beats, trying to work out what was happening. Slowly, he reached out for the weapon, his hands trembling more the further they moved.

Just as his fingers scraped the metal, both he and Alex’s hip pockets lit up and beeped in unison. At the same time, they pulled their phones from their pants, the screens bright.

The neon purple light inundating the Diamond Kingdom’s squared throne showed every scar around Drake’s deformed mouth and bald head. He was kneeling before Professor Zwei, who ceremoniously presented King Diamond’s golden crown. Though Magnus’s eyes were hidden by the reflecting neon purple off his glasses, his grimacing mouth showed the difficulty with which he carried out this duty, people’s mandate or not. He formally placed the crown onto its new heir.

King Drake stood to the camera.

“This kingdom has seen much strife,” he addressed all, “but that is through. What we require now is solidarity. If you supported the former ruler, I give you this one chance to appear before me and swear your fealty. If I have to find you, I won’t be so lenient.”

The stream stopped and the phones went dark. Drake was not a man prone to needlessly wasting words.

“My parents supported King Diamond,” Gunn said. Alex looked up and saw the activist’s face flushed and scared. “Those pictures of his death…” he started to say but trailed off.

Alex stood. “I won’t let harm come to them. But I’ll need your help.”

No more than a minute later, Zack was holding Alex’s custom CB9000 phone at her, her figure filling the small screen. He hit record and her image was beamed to the entire city.

“This is Princess Diamond,” she said to the void with all the stoic confidence expected of her title. “Allow me to be the first to offer myself to Drake. Come get me.”

Zack Gunn stopped recording. With a voice darkened by the realization that none were guaranteed mercy from Drake’s blade, he said “I’m sorry about your father,” and turned away in shame.

Without responding, Alex reached to the black hood hanging behind her neck and flipped it back over her head.

Chapter 3

If you like what you saw here, please consider purchasing the paperback on Amazon for $9.99. The $2.99 eBook is also there and at Smashwords.

© Dane Ian Thomsen 2016

Cover photo © 2016 by Dane Ian Thomsen

Standard
Fiction

ZIGZAG: Chapter 01

zigzag_cover_1280

*This sample chapter is the first of five. Cover by IMbeta.

An old game was playing out in the Diamond Kingdom, an assassination the first point on the scoreboard. Vying to steal an early victory, night fell on the beautiful land, a vibrant neon purple light its final line of defense.

Though the small business park was sparsely lit, the lone street lamp between the accounting agency and parking lot was so powerful that it made the terrible darkness outside it seem that much thicker. A slight breeze blew dead leaves along the cement.

Then the many voices of the all-knowing, infinitely wise Chatter appeared as if from the ether.

“The Royal Family has been murdered!” exclaimed a woman’s worried voice. “The video’s being blasted all over the place.”

Colleen Clarke stood in the cone’s center. As she looked past her limp white shirt and frayed navy blue skirt, to the figure kneeling in a black zip up hoodie and black jeans with a metal tube slung diagonally across its back, she could only think of her family.

“I know you’re angry and looking for someone to punish,” the figure said without emotion, “but don’t know who to blame.”

The Chatter continued, too preoccupied with itself to listen. “The coup was a long time coming,” said a concerned man’s voice. “But I’m not sure it needed to be so bloody.”

The figure presented a silver metal baseball bat cradled across small, calloused hands, the numbers ‘.357’ prominently spray painted at the end of the shaft in runny red ink.

“If it’ll give you the peace you need,” the figure laid out, “I offer myself.”

“I don’t know,” the weary voice of a woman chimed in. “There must have been a better way.”

“Strike me down,” the hooded figure said with finality.

Without flinching, Colleen grabbed the bat and lifted it so far over her head it ran down her back.

Feeling the weight disappear from its palms, the figure lowered its head and patiently awaited the verdict. They knew Colleen Clarke as they knew so many others.

Colleen’s husband was injured in a car crash and the insurance decided to dump him rather than pay. Colleen didn’t know how they could afford the medical. Her youngest was struggling at school and she didn’t know what she was going to do about the tutor’s bills. She was in her best clothes and kept failing interviews because she didn’t have the hip new diploma that was somehow more relevant than her years of experience. She didn’t think it was fair.

In her anger, she looked down on the figure and sneered. Her muscles surged, bringing the .357 down.

And then the mighty gunshot of a magnum revolver split the air, making the figure’s eye twitch reflexively.

A swirling metal sound announced the bat rolling along the asphalt. It came to rest against the person’s knee. They opened their eyes and saw its spray painted name pointed up. The hooded head lifted.

The circle of light was one person short. Colleen Clarke had thrown the bat at the ground and vanished. She’d never said a word.

After a second, the space was occupied with the many voices of the Chatter once again.

“Cowards. I’m glad they’re dead,” came the acidic words of a bitter man. “If the Diamond Knight’s Commandant could see how the kingdom was in ruin, why couldn’t its king?”

The figure grabbed the bat and stood into the light, its rays casting a gold hue over blue eyes and the soft young skin of a twenty year old woman.

The bitter voice continued to spew bile. “There are things we deserved that they didn’t provide. So we found someone who would.”

The young woman slid the .357 into the metal cylinder strapped to her back. It clicked into place and the cover locked.

“I should have a good job, why don’t I?” asked the entitled man.

She reached both hands into the hoodie by her ears when a spoiled woman added “I want a nice house, where is it?” and slipped a small pair of cushioned headphones off her head, dangling them at her side. As if having been beckoned to it, she turned her eyes to the east and the glorious sight miles away.

A large neon purple pillar of light extended from the earth to the sky, its color splashing from the base.

As she stared its way, everything receded from her mind. If she had wanted to, the young woman could have taken solace in the fact that Colleen Clarke had a return message from one of the most respected law firms in the city sitting on her home phone, but that wasn’t why she’d set it up.

A man’s voice came over the young woman’s pair of headphones, joining the constant stream relayed to her. “If the Royal Family had only listened to us,” he said self-righteously, “this never would have happened. Long live Drake, the People’s King.”

Even if the young woman heard it, she didn’t. Instead, Alex stood there and enjoyed the silence.

Chapter 2

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© Dane Ian Thomsen 2016

Cover photo © 2016 by Dane Ian Thomsen

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