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February 27, 2012 — 1,192 words

Freedom Beer, Part 11

By Greg X. Graves

Hank always said that he didn't want to be handcuffed to a desk. When his father quit the family business to go teach gorillas sign language and Greco-Roman wrestling, Hank had told the workers that he he wasn't the sort of man that sat behind, in front of, or, the worst of all, on top of it to appear casual.

Whenever he was on premises, he sat behind a table, wedged between the fermentation tanks, with tankards of beer in front of him.

That didn't meant that Hank didn't have an unused desk sitting in an office that saw less use than the bridal registry of a shotgun wedding.

The Chef shoved Hank and Zelphia into Hank's office and laid two hands like lead weights on Hank's shoulders to plop him onto the ground. The cold metal of the desk leg gave him goosebumps. Winsy clicked a pair of handcuffs into place. They did the same with Zelphia, whom they had forced to limp under her own power from the helicopter while Hank walked behind.

"You could have let me carry her," Hank said, feeling Zelphia's head loll onto his shoulder.

"Keep an eye on him. We don't want you being caught by surprise again," Winsy said.

"I was not caught by surprise. The only ones caught by surprise were the attendees at the  mattress convention that we were flying over." Hank could still see the bits of mattress fluff stuck in the Chef's mat of chest hair.

"So you're saying that he's just a better fighter than you?" Winsy asked.

Hank grinned, expecting the Chef to clock the puny, simpering guard.

The Chef simply shook his head, but kept his gaze straight onto Hank. Winsy looked around the room.

"No file cabinets? No shelves? Just this big, stupid, ugly desk?"

Hank couldn't see onto the other side of the desk but he heard the squeak of springs as Winsy threw himself into the ancient office chair. Then the thunder of long metal drawers being pulled open.

"You don't even have a paperclip in these desks, let alone any paper to clip together. I'll just have to check the rest of the facility. Unless you wanted to save us some time and maybe your girlfriend's life?"

Hank stared straight ahead.

"Fine." Winsy left the room.

"I'm glad that you survived the fall. I wanted a rematch. Three punches didn't do it for me to pay you back for that sand," Hank said to the Chef. Hank pulled on the handcuffs. They didn't budge. He wrapped his hands around the desk leg and pulled. It didn't budge. Nor did he really expect it to; for all of his strength, he still couldn't shift a battleship. And a battleship contained less steel than his desk.

"Funny," the Chef said. He clocked Hank in the face. Hank felt like he had fallen out of the helicopter and landed face-first into a pile of bricks.

The offices of Rockjaw Brewery sat along a catwalk that ran over the production area – old Laurentius Rockjaw hadn't wanted anybody to think that they were working on anything other than delicious beer.

Unfortunately, this meant that Hank could hear the soldiers wreaking havoc below. He knew that the Viper and his goons were ransacking the brewery in an attempt to glean clues about the Rockjaw recipe. The commotion grew louder as the minutes passed. He listened to Zelphia's labored breathing next to him. He wantd to tell them the location of the recipe.

"Don't tell them the location of the recipe," Zelphia whispered, her voice as soft as a breeze.

Two soldiers walked past the doorway of the office, laughing about how they had taken a leak in one of the fermentation vats. Hank cringed.

The Chef grinned. He had found Hank's weakness. It wasn't his money, or his pride, or his face, or even Zelphia. It was beer.

"It sure has been a while since I went to the bathroom," the Chef said, and left the room.

Hank clenched his jaw.

"I wish I had just blown myself up when I had the chance."

"Quitter," Zelphia said.

"Realist. Look at what's happening. All of the work that the Rockjaws have put into this brewery, gone. All of the good times, good friends, and good brawls, gone down the drain like a skunk batch. I'm going to tell them the location of the recipe."

"Hank, you don't need beer to have a brawl. A brawl is within you, not a bottle. By the way, I unlocked our handcuffs."

That's all Zelphia said, because at that moment, Winsy and the Chef came back into the room.

"You are not being paid to have a piss," Winsy said. He squatted down in front of Hank. He let the gun hang from his finger.

Hank tried his handcuffs. They were unlocked. I'll be damned, Hank thought. I never even felt her working on them. Then he remembered that she was a cat burglar.

"Hank, you are being a bad boy. If you just told us the location of the recipe then you could go home. You could take your girlfriend to the emergency room. She's lost a lot of blood already. She probably doesn't have much time. Look at how faint she is. Can't even keep her head up. Come on, Hank, we're tearing apart your brewery. We're prying up the floorboards. We're ripping through the walls. We're going to find it."

Hank looked as earnest as he could.

"Please stop this. I'll tell you where the recipe is if you just let me take Zelphia to the emergency room."

Hank noticed that Winsy was a good actor. He didn't flinch. His pupils, however, dilated faster than a puddle of oil spreading over a bowl of water.

"Very sensible. Where is it?"
"If you stick your head up your ass and take a left around the corner, it should be on the second shelf from the top."

Winsy lost all pretense of control. His rage flashed upon his face as fast and with as little warning as a tornado dropping into a cornfield. He put the barrel of his pistol against Hank's forehead.

"You've lost all value as a prisoner. I'll give you one last chance to tell me where the recipe is."

Hank's eyes went wide. He shivered to mask that he was making a movement with his hand. Winsy and the Chef were focused on his face and the gun. Perfect.

"Okay, okay," Hank said. "The recipe is located in...my head. It seems important to you, so let me help you keep it safe."

Hank moved so fast that he had a finger wedged behind the trigger of Winsy's gun before Hank's empty handcuffs clattered to the floor. At the same time, Hank headbutted the barrel. His gamble paid off: Winsy wasn't holding the gun very tightly. The sound of wrist bones crackling filled the room like a string of firecrackers going off.

Winsy wailed, the car alarm after the report of the pyrotechnics.  The Chef brandished a knife. Hank leapt to his feet.

"Now for that re-match."

 

 

February 25, 2012 — 836 words

Freedom Beer, Part 10

By Greg X. Graves

A twin-rotored transport helicopter squatted on the tarmac next to its twin. Their engines idled in the afternoon sun and the twirling blades threw shadows over Hank.

He carried Zelphia in his arms. With every few steps he glanced down at the blood-soaked tourniquet keeping her life in her body. The knot held. Hank was glad for a youth spent camping with the Little Mosquitoes Club. Zelphia had her eyes closed and her arms wrapped around Hank's next. Her hair tickled his arm.

Behind him walked the Chef and a parade of soldiers. They would be riding in the first transport with Hank and Zelphia. Spiknid, Winsy and another squad of soliders boarded the other.

Hank climbed through the doorway, being careful not to bump Zelphia's head. Two benches ran down the sides of the helicopter. Red webbing hung from rails welded to the walls. Hank buckled in Zelphia and took a seat next to her. He crossed his arms and watched the soldiers as they slumped into their seats.

Hank wagered that they'd seen more action in the past few hours than they'd seen in weeks. And he knew what toll that could take on a man: it made him want a break.

The Chef closed the door. The motors whined, groaned and, finally, screamed as they left the ground. Then the Chef grabbed a strap secured into the ceiling. He loomed. Right in front of Hank.

"Move it, you smell like a pile of week-old kitchen scraps."

The Chef glowered down at Hank.

"I know that your pea brain hasn't processed it yet and I hate to spoil the surprise, but we're in the air. Zelphia and I can't go anywhere. Go sit down," Hank said.

The soldiers along the walls glanced at Hank and the Chef, then at one another. They were mercenaries. They were on the job. So they wanted to do as little work as possible. Hank punching the Chef or vice versa would necessitate them doing quite a lot of work.

"I don't like to leave my fresh meat unattended," the Chef replied.

Both of Hank's hands shot out and shoved the Chef in the hips. It sent him off balance. He had to grasp a pair of overhead straps just to arrest his momentum. The Chef responded by pulling himself into a charge at Hank and ramming a fist into the metal wall where Hank's head used to be.

Hank, meanwhile, had rolled off of the bench and into a fighting stance.

"Listen, I don't want to clobber any of you. I'm caught, and that's a fair cop. But this lunkhead thinks that he can cheat his way out of a fight with a handful of sand and treat an already beat man any way that he pleases, and that's not something that I can stand for. I'll bet that all of you were bullied. That's probably why you became bullies. But forget who you are, just for a second, and think about you were. I'm gonna sock this bully in the face for the kid that you used to be."

None of the soldiers moved.

The Chef dove towards Hank.

Hank grabbed a pair of straps overhead, lifted his feet up to let the Chef pass underneath, and then he brought both feet down. The Chef face-planted into the textured steel floor. He came up, blood on his face, and a mad look in his eyes.

Hank didn't look frightened. He didn't look excited, or even like his blood pressure was up. He looked as bored as if the Chef was a particularly bland bowl of oatmeal that Hank had to eat.

The Chef reached into his hand and threw a handful of sand towards Hank.

Hank anticipated the manuever. With a powerful thrust of his body he kicked open the door of the helicopter. It went pinwheeling off towards the mountains below. The wind exploded into the cabin and blew the dust into a harmless cloud.

"Fight dirty once, shame on you. Fight dirty twice, still shame on you because you're obviously a goddamn rat," Hank said. He punched the Chef in the face.

The Chef stepped backwards from the blow, but smiled.

Hank punched him in the face again. The Chef stepped backwards, but smiled bigger.

Hank punched the Chef in the face once more. The Chef stepped backwards and fell out of the helicopter. Hank smiled the biggest.

"And rats don't belong on airplanes."

Hank looked up to see the other helicopter floating a few dozen feet away. He could see down the sights of one of its machine guns, straight into the eye of its operator. Spiknid watched, his face contorted into a rictus of anger.

"I'm just proving a point," Hank shouted across the howling void. He sat back down next to Zelphia and stroked her hair.

"I may have to give up my beer, but I don't have to give up my principles."

Not one of the soldiers said a word.

 

February 25, 2012 — 292 words

Chapter 5p5 – Crazy Girl!

By Tim Sevenhuysen

Tic and Haglyn listened through Tic's PAI as Mr. Dunter toured Milly through his action figure collection. "These shelves hold my War Axe 100K figurines," he was telling her. "Over here is my complete set of Sue Starlights, and those are my Adam Astrobots."

"Are those a complete set, too?" Milly asked politely.

"No, not quite," said Dunter, wistfully. "I was forced to part with one of my favourites recently, for business reasons. But then the courier I hired stole it!"

"That's terrible," said Milly, without much conviction. "Still, it's a wonderful collection."

"And this is only the first of five rooms!"

"Oh! Well, in that case, maybe I'd better use the bathroom before we continue."

"Certainly," said Dunter. "It's just around the corner there. I'll wait."

Tic and Haglyn heard Milly's PAI bouncing in her pocket as she walked towards the bathroom. It began to bounce faster, and a little faster, and then they heard her footsteps really take off.

"She's running!" Tic whispered to Haglyn.

The footsteps stopped, and Milly's hushed voice came over the PAI. "Tic, I got away. I'm going to head to the basement levels and look for clues about my parents."

"You crazy girl!" said Tic. "You're going to get yourself locked up or killed."

But Milly wasn't listening anymore. For several minutes Tic paced nervously back and forth across Haglyn's back room, listening to the sounds of Milly walking across carpets and down echoing stairwells and quietly opening various doors.

They heard the sound of filing cabinet drawers being opened and papers rustling. Milly said, "Oh! Tic, I—"

"There you are!" shouted a rough voice. Milly shrieked, there was a crunching sound, and the line went dead.

[poll id="27"]

February 24, 2012 — 1,265 words

Freedom Beer, Part 9

By Greg X. Graves

Hank wiped enough of the sand from his eyes to see Zelphia standing in the doorway.

"Don't set off the charges!"

"Why not?"

"Because we can still get out of this alive!"

The Chef seized the distraction by seizing Hank and wrenching both elbows behind Hank's back.  Hank's hand slipped off the detonator as the Chef's armlock forced him into a pose reminiscent of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. His hands stuck in the air ineffectually.

"What the hell are you doing here? I told you to stay in at the air force base!"

"I did! I tried to! Except Josiah saw a way to get back in Perry Easton's good graces. Right after you said goodbye I felt a knock on the head. When I woke up I was tied up in the back of a truck barreling down here."

"That no-good snake-in-the-grass son-of-a-bitch! I'll wring his neck! Where is he?"

"Laying down. I kicked him pretty hard when we got out of the van."

"Well, can you kick this lug just as hard?" Hank asked.

The Chef laughed.

A company of soldiers buffeted Zelphia on their way into the room. They wore uniforms emblazoned with the same insignia of Saint Secaire Brewery that Hank had seen on the goons that ambushed them in the desert. The mooks formed a half-circle around Hank and leveled the muzzles of their guns at him.

"I was recaptured, Hank," Zelphia said.

A small, bald guard loped towards Hank to pat him down. He removed the detonator from Hank's pocket and tried to lift the satchel charges, but he could barely manage one. Hank's knife clattered out. The guard picked it up and studied it. The blade was as long as the guard's arm.

"It's called a knife," Hank said, "and if you don't stop standing in front of me holding it like that, then I'm not going to be held responsible for kicking the pommel and bouncing it up into your chest."

"Such violence," said a voice like the low murmur of wind through the branches of a dead tree atop a lonely hill with a single grave whose occupant had once owned a harpsichord. The owner of the voice came through the door.

"I'm sorry, Hank. I knew that I couldn't fight all of them at once," Zelphia said.

He was no longer wearing judge's robes but Hank would recognize that malignant sneer anywhere.

"Judge Spiknid!"

"You surprise me, Mr. Rockjaw! I didn't think that apes had such good memories!"

"Sentenced by some punk hired by Josh Spurlock to throw a wrench in my due process."

"On the contrary. Josh works for me. I am Perry Easton, I am the Viper, I am Mr. X, I am Judge Spiknid."

Zelphia's eyes went wide.

"I've never punched three assholes at once," Hank said.

Spiknid cackled.

"I enjoy your bravado in the face of failure. Winsy, bring me that ape's equipment." The small guard that had frisked Hank carried over one satchel charge and Hank's weapons. Spiknid examined the detonator and explosives. "My, my, we were prepared for some demolition. It's a shame that none of the brewery equipment is here."

Spiknid bared his teeth.

"This entire complex serves as a decoy. We use it to trap spies and do-gooders. We lure them here and then shoot them. Too many people want the recipes of Saint Secaire's award-winning ales, excllent English special bitters and stupendous stouts for us to have a more elegant solution. Unfortunately one must always be sensitive to the exigencies of the situation. "

"Now that you mention it," Hank said, furrowing his brow, "I've heard that Saint Secaire Brewery consistently wins best beer awards in the category of beers brewed by Saint Secaire Brewery. Shove it. Nobody likes your beers and, worse yet, nobody has heard of your beers. Let me and the lady go so that you can get back to hiring more marketing firms to help you sell your rusty piss in bottles."

"Interesting that you should say that. Our beers have lately been compared to the beers sold by your own brewery."

"Reverse engineering a recipe isn't innovating. It's stealing."

"Innovation is a fancy word for theft. I am innovating when I ask you to give us the recipes that Rockjaw Brewery uses because nobody else in the industry has asked you so bluntly, so openly. You should commend me for my candor."

Hank laughed so hard that his knees buckled. This manuever put a lot of strain on his shoulders and elbows but he couldn't help himself. He blinked the tears away as he tested whether or not the Chef's grip had slackened. It hadn't. He adjusted his weight for his attack anyway. He wasn't going to die unless he'd already broken his hands on the Chef's face.

"You might be a liar, a thief and the owner of a shitty brewer, but its not too late to be a comedian." Hank tensed his legs to spring.

"Let me put it another way." Spiknid pulled out a pistol and held it to Zelphia's head. "If you don't give me the recipes, I will kill her first. You have played your part admirably, my dear, but your usefulness may soon be coming to an end."

Hank locked eyes with Zelphia. She didn't show an ounce of fear. Hank wasn't sure why but that placid look took the fight from his limbs.

"I don't have them on me."

"Of course not. Take us to Rockjaw Breweries. I have cars waiting."

Zelphia whirled out from underneath the gun. Neither Hank nor Spiknid nor any of the soldiers expected this. The spin sent her leg careening into the side of Spiknid's kneecap. The sound of a dozen stalks of celery snapping in half filled the room chased by the howl of pain from Spiknid. He fell to the floor while Zelphia snatched his gun.

"I'm a fucking cat burglar, do you honestly think that I haven't had a gun held to my head before?" The soldiers had trained their weapons on her. "Hang on there, hotshots. If you shoot me, you lose your only bargaining chip."

"Not if we only shoot you in the leg," Spiknid hissed.

Winsy stepped forward with a small pistol, pressed it to Zelphia's thigh and pulled the trigger. It was a small gun but to Hank's ears it sounded like he had his eardrum pressed to a cannon. She dropped and one of the soldiers took Spiknid's pistol away from her. Blood blossomed out of her wound and began to pool on the floor.

In his rage Hank easily broke free of the Chef's grip. His shoulders dislocated but he rolled them back into place as he ran towards Zelphia He didn't grimace. In a moment he had ripped the satchel from the demolitions charge into shreds and fashioned a tourniquet.

"Well, now you have two optio-" Spiknid began.

"I'll give you the goddamn Rockjaw recipes if you take us there in helicopters. But hurry the hell up."

Zelphia laid on the floor with her head propped on Hank's leg while Spiknid's soldiers picked him up and they organized the transport. She managed a smile at Hank.

"Don't look so worried. I don't have to be concerned about the Viper anymore. He knows where I am and he's already shot me."

"Do you need anything?" Hank asked.

She grimaced and clutched her leg.

"I don't think that I'll be kicking anything for a while, so I wouldn't mind terribly if you would punch Spiknid's head off of his neck for me."

 

February 24, 2012 — 266 words

Chapter 5p4 – No Idea What You’re Getting Into

By Tim Sevenhuysen

Tic was awake and upset. "You just let the girl run off to go see Dunter?" He slammed his fist on the counter, making a glass of water jump.

Haglyn shrugged. "She had a good plan. I helped a bit. If you're so worried, give her a call."

"Maybe I will." Tic took out his PAI and dialled Milly's number.

"Hi, Uncle Philbert," said Milly. "How are you feeling?"

"Very funny. Look, you have no idea what you're getting into."

"Yes, the weather's very nice today!" said Milly.

"Er," he said, "but—"

"Thanks for calling!" trilled Milly. "Bye!"

Tic looked at Haglyn, curiously. He saw that Milly hadn't hung up, and was about to say something when he heard another voice.

"What do you want?" snapped the voice. It was Dunter.

Now Tic understood. She was letting him listen in.

Milly said, "This is a bit awkward, but... I'm madly in love with you."

Tic rolled his eyes. That would never work. He could just imagine Dunter's beady eyes staring skeptically at Milly.

"How flattering," sneered Dunter, "You think you're the first 'secret admirer' who's ever come begging at my door? Please..."

Tic heard Milly sigh. "You're right," she said. "I'm sorry I tried to fool you. The truth is... I was just really hoping to see your action figure collection. I've heard so much about it!"

There were a few quiet seconds. Then Dunter chuckled. "You've got spunk," he said. "I like that. Come on in!"

Tic looked at Haglyn, who cocked her head and grinned. Silently, he mouthed, "Nice plan!"

[poll id="26"]

February 23, 2012 — 1,184 words

The Power of the Story

By Letitia Coyne

 

Some time ago I was reading a blog that described a party bore who was so sure of his artistic moral superiority he felt he could safely criticize another’s work without ever having seen it.

As I understand it, he crafted his own art from sweat and blood; on parchment of living scrotum stretched over 'fretful porpentines'; using a fresh dodo quill for each new preposition, and all that only on the first wet day after solstice in Yobhel. Something like that.

I’ve certainly read text which might have been written by a man in such extremis. Someone perhaps who’d lost sight of their place in the space time continuum – I suffered for my art and now it’s your turn -- But he might have been an artist of truly rare talent.

James Joyce struggled for years with each of his novels, and won – eventually – garlands of praise from the literati, even as his successive works became perhaps less accessible to the average reader. Leonardo rarely ever finished a painting; Mona Lisa has had a dozen incarnations, layers of vision reconsidered. Vincent painted a masterpiece every day, too full of color and movement and the need to capture and express the world around him to agonize over the shadows in hair or the light in air. All brilliant. All a little mad.

I used to think all artists were dealing with mental illness of some sort. Then I realized all people were dealing with mental illness of some sort, only artists choose to channel their pain and their revelation and their joy into art. So maybe this party bore was a great artist who, sadly, had an asshole where his id should be.

Why people write seems to be fundamentally tied to what they write and how they write it.

Some people have a clear vision of who they are and what they want to say, and even how and when they want to say it. Organized souls can commit to a set period each day, a set word count, a codified set of interim goals and an overall outcomes-based protocol structure. For many, that works.

Some people are drifters. They drift from painting, to gardening, to cooking, to woodwork, to jewelry making or dressmaking. They have to create, but don’t have a sense of order governing their time management. They maybe feckless or they may, when the spirit takes them, be absolutely obsessive. No food, no sleep, let the peonies wither.

Some authors use their art as therapy. Dramas and old traumas, love and death and sex, can get so tangled up in their words that their most brilliant expressions start to buckle under the burden of angst. I ache therefore I am. Others have poor boundaries, overly anxious to share their deepest selves. Look at me. LOOK AT ME, this is my soul. Others still will hide, burn or delete a huge part of their creation out of shame or feelings of inadequacy.

Some of us have consciences that are pure stand over merchants, which make us steadfast, stout, and self-disciplined. Some of us need external deadlines approaching like swarming killer bees to shake us out of the long, cool afternoons of ‘she’ll be right….’ or G&T mañanas.

And then there is what we write. If you write shorts or poems or contemporary general fiction, your blank page can be filled with meaningful characters in neat lines with no more preparation than taking a seat with a cuppa at the side.

If you write historical fiction or high fantasy (where there is an established pseudo-reality) or non-fiction or science-fiction, there may be weeks or months of reading and note taking, cross referencing and jotting and more and more and more reading before you can put any more than sketches on a page. And chances are the first one hundred sketches you create for a story will be erased before the actual text begins to appear. Essential time and effort that cannot be measured or justified in word counts or deadlines met.

And how you write. Some are plotters who can catalogue out an entire card system which builds into complex storylines and character interactions. Some come upon a story like a chimney sticking out of the sand. You know what style of house it is, and generally where its pieces fit, but you dig away the dross and you don’t know the final detail until it is completely uncovered.

And who you write for. Some people write for their writing group. It’s chardy in the beer garden first Wednesday of each month, with a tight smile critique of each other’s work and the smug satisfaction of a job better done than theirs and the grunt of delicious agony in the artist unappreciated.

As a student I had a dear friend who was an artist. She painted. Constantly. She owned no article of clothing that didn’t have paint blotches or turps stains; every cent she had went on canvas or brushes or paint. Ideas flowed out of her like a river of life. But we were poor students so she sold work. No one thought her a whore for producing what would sell – it was essential cause and effect, supply and demand, produce and consume. There was no danger the well of her art would dry up or rust from exposure to tacky commercial art. She had talent, she had skill, she knew her craft, she studied the processes; what she needed was filthy lucre.

Some write for Squees – and THAT my friend is the way to make cash. Kiddie conflict and otherworldly romances. Some write for a set audience – another well proven route to fiscal reward. Some write for themselves, and do not even know for sure, or care greatly, if anyone else ever sees their words. Writing them makes the invisible real in the same way as slicing an arm.

Who cares, in the end? Who, why, where, when, how or what is not important. It won’t work as a gauge of skill. Even complete assholes with Sunday arty-farty pretentions can write beautiful words. Determined professionals can write crap.

Surely what works, works. Do it. If it doesn’t work, leave it out. Life is short and full of shit. Better to get on with the journey you want to make, than to sit in the mud wishing the world worked differently. Tell your story, it is important.

I recently saw John Bell [of Bell Shakespeare] speak on the power of storytelling, from the democratic nature of Shakespeare to the Grimm respect for children’s right to the truth in classical fairytales. He said, if he ever doubted the power of the story, who ever told it, he remembered a room full of noisy, hyped up, in your face children whose rabble roar blanketed the stage until the moment the lights went down and the narrator began to whisper.

And then you could have heard a pin drop.

February 23, 2012 — 327 words

Chapter 5p3 – Corpora-what?

By Tim Sevenhuysen

The message that had showed up on Gord's PAI read as follows:

STATUS ALERT: TIC BOLTER BOUNTY

A spaceship belonging to corporate spy Tic Bolter has been spotted entering Haddockian orbit today. The exact whereabouts of the "Galactic Pelican" and its pilot are unknown.

Be alert for any sign of Bolter or his ship. He has been identified as playing a role in the smuggling of secret yeti repellent research belonging to Dunter Yeti Security. The illegal data theft of Bolter and his co-conspirators is estimated to have cost the company as much as 10 million litres over the past 10 years.

Bolter may be armed, and is likely dangerous. Approach with caution.

Bounty Upgrade: 250,000L awarded on delivery. Must be taken alive.

Milly looked down at Tic, who was sprawled across the floor with a strip of bacon hanging out of his mouth. She gave him a nudge with her foot. "Well, Tic? Are you really a corporate spy?"

"Corpora-what?" he mumbled.

Milly showed the message to Haglyn. The troglodytic woman read it through, her grin growing wider with each sentence. "Hope it's true. Serves Dunter right!"

"What kind of research could they be doing that needs to be kept so secret?" wondered Milly aloud.

"Yeti security is big money on Haddock."

"I guess... Still, it seems a little odd. Unless they're doing something illegal."

"Illegal?" said Haglyn. "By whose laws?"

"I don't know," said Milly. "Interplanetary law, I guess."

"Ah, well you can count on that, dearie."

"Like... kidnapping scientists, maybe?"

"Wouldn't put it past him. If you're so curious, why not just go ask Mr. Dunter directly?" said Haglyn, grinning impishly.

"You know," said Milly, "I think I will. But not too directly. I have a plan..."

[poll id="25"]

February 22, 2012 — 280 words

Chapter 5p2 – What’s Not To Believe?

By Tim Sevenhuysen

Milly stared at Tic through narrow eyes. "Mr. Dunter is after you because you 'stole' his girlfriend?"

Tic shrugged. "He's the jealous type."

"I don't believe you."

Tic belched. "What's not to believe?" He crammed another fistful of bacon into his mouth.

Milly opened her mouth to reply, but apparently thought better of it.

Just then they heard the sound of a cash register dinging from the front of the shop. "My cash register!" said Haglyn, narrowing her eyes. She grabbed her scattergun from where it was leaning against the wall and stepped through the door to investigate.

Tic took another gulp of Saucy Wench and wobbled a little on his stool. "Wait a second," he said, wagging a finger at Milly. "You don't believe me because you don't think I could get a girlfriend, do you? I've had lots of girlfriends. Plenty of girlfriends!"

Haglyn popped back in through the door. "Oh hush, Bolter. You're drunk."

"Take her, for example," said Tic, pointing in Haglyn's general direction. "I could even get her as my girlfriend! Just watch!" He took another bite of bacon, turned on his stool, and tumbled down onto the floor.

Haglyn lifted his glass and sniffed at it. "Maybe I made his a little too strong..." She shrugged and downed the last mouthful.

"What was that sound?" asked Milly.

"Oh, here." Haglyn tossed Gord's PAI onto the counter. There was a spatter of blood on one corner. Haglyn dabbed at it with her sleeve.

The PAI had received an alert of some kind. Milly pulled up the message and began to read.

[poll id="24"]

February 21, 2012 — 1,215 words

Freedom Beer, Part 8

By Greg X. Graves

A fireball erupted in the middle of the Sonoran desert.

An F-16 screamed out of the black cloud like an afterburning Angel of Death. Two needle-nosed missiles chased it out. The pair gained on the aircraft.

The F-16 farted and a cloud of flares fell out of the backside. They glittered and shimmered and tumbled down towards the ground. Delicate smoke trails traced their trajectories. The effect was dazzling, especially to the missile. It detected the infrared signature of the aircraft and so thought that it was about to do its job very, very well.

The million-dollar warhead detonated against the side of a fancy road flare.

In the cockpit, Hank relaxed.

Until he saw that the missile warning light continued to flash and the computer continued to squawk.

The two-million-dollar warhead continued on its path. The extra million had been spent to upgrade the infrared detection equipment. It ignored the flares, which burned much hotter than the turbojet, and focused on the heat signature of its dreams.

The needle tip kissed the tail fin of the F-16. Romeo caught up with Juliet at Mach 1 and never before had a tragedy been so pyrotechnic.

Hank watched the scraps of the wreckage plummet towards the desert far below. He followed behind, albeit slowed by the parachutes attached to his ejection seat.

The ejection seat landed with a thump and a small cloud of dust. The parachutes folded over him. They smelled like burnt baby powder and rocket exhaust. Hank pulled out a long knife from the sheath on his calf, slit the straps holding him to the seat, sliced through the parachutes, grabbed the two heavy satchel charges that he'd snuck into the plane for just such an occasion, and set off towards the dissipating black clouds from his attack.

He hadn't finished his business on his first pass.

He'd surveiled the large complex of buildings that interrupted the natural landscape. When the first dozen missiles had gone up, he'd been able to avoid them while he punished the missile emplacements that had been hidden amongst the buildings. They'd gone up in oily plumes that obscured his vision. The missiles chased him out.

Because of his knife and satchel charges, he couldn't cross his fingers, but he hoped that his distress signal had gone through to Colonel Josen.

Hank knew which building he would investigate first: the biggest. Big buildings held more things, including secrets. Especially secrets.

The architect of the complex had not included any chainlink fences, nor any minefields, not even a moat filled with the hundreds of scorpions that seemed to be endemic to the area.

Hank considered that lazy defensive engineering: just because Hank Rockjaw wasn't likely to infiltrate your base didn't mean that you shouldn't take sensible precautions. The architect probably enjoyed long walks on flat fields in raging lightning storms.

The biggest building in the complex loomed before Hank. The sand and wind kept the walls smooth and clean. A door squatted in an alcove along one side. Hank tried the handle. It wasn't locked and the door pushed open.

Hank sighed.

"Shoddy."

He shut the door, then kicked it in.

A black maw yawned in front of him. He held his knife at the ready as he stepped into the shadow. The doorway behind him receded like the surface of the water behind a deep sea diver. Before long he smashed his nose against a wall.

That's when something slid down over the doorway with a clang. It bounced, once, admitting a momentary sliver of light before it settled shut and trapped Hank in total darkness.

"Every damn time," he said.

Several rows of institutional lights turned on. Hank squinted in the glare and took stock of the room.

It was white. And tiny. The ceiling was low. Two entrances interrupted the walls: the one that he'd come through, now blocked by a sliding sheet of metal, and a regular steel door.

Hank considered using the explosives on the door and leaving the building but discarded the thought. The room was too small: he'd blow himself up with the door. He reached for the door handle but it swung open into his outstretched hand.

"This is too easy. I wonder if they have a cake waiting for me, too."

Then a thick mat of chest hair mashed into Hank's face. He stumbled backwards and took stock of the man that had come through the door.

He was burly, bald and bare-chested, with baggy, checked pants on his legs and no-slip black shoes on his feet.

"My name's the Chef, and you're fresh meat that needs to be tenderized."

"A fight! Finally!"

Hank slid his knife into its sheath, tucked the sheath into one of the bags containing the satchel charges, and set them down. Before he had finished, the Chef picked him up like a rack of beef and threw him into a corner. Then the Chef took Hank's knife out from the satchel.

"I don't have my butcher's knife with me, but this cheap piece of shit will have to do."

"That knife is not cheap!" Hank got to his feet. "But you sure are. You didn't fight fair."

"You should have kept your knife for the fistfight. You may have lived an extra second or two."

Hank rushed the Chef. The Chef grabbed him by the shoulders, twisted him around, and suplexed him into whatever harder-than-diamond floor had been poured. Hank bounced twice, rolled and was on his feet while the Chef slashed at him. Hank grabbed the Chef's hand and tried to wrestle the knife away.

The Chef headbutted Hank, who reeled. The Chef closed in for a stab to Hank's kidneys but Hank hadn't reeled for as long as the Chef had anticipated. Hank grabbed the Chef's hand, put him into a joint lock, and bent his arm so badly that an octopus would have tapped out. The knife clattered to the floor.

The Chef fell to a knee under the force of the joint lock. He reached into a pocket, pulled out a handful of sand, and threw it in Hank's eyes.

"We're not even outside and you threw sand in my eyes! That is bullshit!" Hank thought camel thoughts and blinked furiously while the Chef punched him in the face a few dozen times. Or it may have been a few thousand times. Hank couldn't really count after the first couple.

Still blinded, Hank fell over onto the one obstacle in the room: the satchel charges.

With the alacrity of an experienced fighter, Hank evaluated his resources. On the one hand, the Chef was susceptible to a good joint lock. On the other hand, Hank was blind, beaten up, laying down and didn't have his knife.

What he did have, however, was the detonator for the satchel charges in his jacket pocket. He thumbed off the safety. He'd wait until the Chef got real close so that they'd both go up. Wait for it, he thought, wait for those stupid, cheating fingers still caked with sand to grab him for the kill.

"Hank, don't!" A woman cried.

Zelphia!

Hank paused. The sweat from his fingertips condensed on the plastic button.

"Zelphia, is that you?"

"Yes, Hank, don't do it!"

February 21, 2012 — 300 words

Chapter 5p1 – Lifesaver

By Tim Sevenhuysen

Tic and Milly sat on stools in the back room of Haglyn's shot up and now abandoned pawn shop. Tic was slurping at a Saucy Wench, wincing with each mouthful but grateful for the numbing effects of the alcohol.

Haglyn entered with a heaping plateful of greasy bacon and plunked it down in front of them. "Eat up," she said.

"You're a lifesaver, Hagga," said Tic. "In more ways than one." He folded up two slices of bacon and set to chewing. Ah...

Milly idly tinked her fingernail against her glass.

"What's wrong, missy?" said Haglyn. "Never seen a man shot before?"

Milly's eyes clouded a little further.

"Don't let it bother you," advised Haglyn. "He was just one of Dunter's goons. Not worth battin' your eyelashes over."

"Is Mr. Dunter..." began Milly, but trailed off.

"Is he what?" prompted Haglyn.

"Well, evil?" said Milly. Haglyn threw back her head and laughed. Milly looked miffed.

"There's the word!" Haglyn wiped a tear from the corner of her eye. "Sorry, sweetie. I just haven't heard that word in years. You're on Haddock, dear. Didn't you know? We're all 'evil,' in one way or another. But Dunter's worse than most. Started out rotten and got worse. I still remember that day, twenty years ago, when he waltzed in here, stuffed some jewelry down his pants, and took off running! I took a shot at him that day, but I missed. Shame, too."

"That's horrible!" said Milly.

"I know!" said Hagyln. "And he went downhill from there."

"So why is he after Tic?"

"Blessed if I know," said Haglyn. "Bolter?"

Tic swallowed a mouthful of bacon. "Um..." What should he tell them? "I, er, stole his girlfriend?"

Haglyn burst out laughing again.

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