So, I decided to join in a challenge in which we write short stories and then post them on our blogs exactly 24 hours later, no more, no less. (Actually, I guess not about the less part, but definitely no more than that.) Unlike apparently everybody else, I didn’t start writing right before midnight, but started at roughly 1:30 in the afternoon, and finished it almost exactly 24 hours later. In the words, I’ve done absolutely no editing.
So…here it is, my 3,516 word short story.
Daze woke up on the floor, which was quite an odd experience. Usually, when he woke up without remembering having gone to sleep, it was in a water-filled tube, and words floated in his vision. This time, there were the words, but no tube or water.
At the bottom of his vision, in a black, nondescript font, were the words, Reboot #473. Good luck.
Daze blinked, and the words cleared. He sat up, looking at the room he was in. It was small, probably about seven feet in width, length, and height. Perfectly square. The room appeared to be made out of blocks of metal pressed together like bricks, and it was rather cold under his hands. Directly across from him, a black line ran along the wall in the shape of a rectangle, vaguely suggesting the existence of a door. No knobs or other ways of opening the door were visible.
Besides himself, the only other thing in the room was a girl, sitting with her arms crossed just beside the door. Although she didn’t look in the slightest bit familiar, Daze recognized her.
“You were out for quite a while this time,” Beam said tonelessly. “Long enough for them to pull you out of the tube.”
“That bullet must have really gotten me good,” he said with as straight of a face as he could manage. It lasted about two seconds, before Beam rolled her eyes, and he laughed. “I guess I’m getting sloppy.”
“Thank you for pointing out the obvious, Mr. Daze,” she said in her flat voice. A bit of a smirk tugged at her lips.
Daze looked at her for a moment. She looked absolutely nothing like what he’d seen her like last. For the most part, she looked human—or at least humanoid, on closer inspection. Her skin was very pale, almost pure white, and her hair, which fell in long, thick locks to her waist, was a pale gold. She wore a dark grey bodysuit, with lines of dark blue running across it.
The strange parts? Pale lavender wings sprouted from her back, each one probably five feet long, Daze guessed, when outstretched, though she had them pulled close at the moment. Her eyes were a bright orange, and she only had four fingers on her hands.
“You didn’t have wings last time, right?” Daze asked. Although he knew for sure that she hadn’t looked like this last time, he couldn’t at all recall what she had looked like last time. For that matter, he couldn’t remember what he looked like, either. He’d need to find a mirror some time later.
Beam raised an eyebrow. “Your observation skills are astounding, Daze,” she said dryly. “No, I didn’t have wings last time. They’re a new thing.” One wing stretched out a little and curled in towards her, and she ran her fingers across the light feathers.
Trying to remember menial details that were all hazy brought to mind a much clearer memory of shoving open a stiff door, and seeing a message carved into the floor with a knife. We had a deal. Then, the body laying on the ground nearby, only barely alive.
“So what happened, exactly?” Daze said, standing up. He moved to the shadow of a doorway and pressed his hand against the wall right beside it. To his surprise, his hand, although possessing all five fingers, didn’t appear to be made of just flesh and bone. A plate of metal made up the back of his hand, and his two smallest fingers were also made of metal.
The door scanned his hand and approved his identity, then slid open silently. Daze pulled his hand away and flexed it experimentally, noting the bits of metal and bolts that ran up his entire arm.
“Cyborg, huh?” he asked aloud, not particularly to himself or to Beam.
“Yeah,” she said, standing beside him. She tapped him on the temple with one of her fingernails, and it made a metal clink sound. “It’s an interesting look. Anyway, the bullet in the chest got you, and I bled out. It took them, oh, six hours to find us, and they dragged us back here. We’re on the ship, not at the station.”
“Are they sending us back out again?”
“Yes, of course. We’re the ones who made the deal, and so he expects us, though it’s possible he thinks we’re dead. It’s up to us to finish the job.”
Daze nodded, going into the hallway. It was lit only by a long strip of light running along the upper left wall—enough to more or less see where he put his feet, but not really enough to see Beam’s face as she spoke. The ceiling was curved, slanting down to the left a little, and Beam’s wings brushed both the ceiling and the floor. Daze decided that her wings were bigger than his initial guess.
“You were out for thirty-six hours, Daze. We’re already probably facing a cold trail—so yes, immediately.”
The hall opened up into the main control room. Daze stepped up into the warm, slightly sticky room. Around him was the buzz of computers and the murmur of voices, all belonging to various crew members and their equipment, working to keep the ship running and in order.
In the center of the room, a very tall, green-skinned man talked to someone who was covered in so much dark fur and fuzz, Daze couldn’t make out a single feature about them. Daze and Beam approached the table, and when there was a pause in the conversation, Beam said, “Hey, Captain.”
The green man looked up, and his grey eyes widened at the sight of them. “Ahh, you two, finally up and about. Excellent. We’re almost at Ioskade.” He gestured towards the large screen at the end of the room. At that moment, it showed a small planet, mostly filled with blue water, but there were chunks of land, more brown than green, and bits of wispy clouds. Data on and about the planet scrolled by on the right side of the screen, too fast for Daze to read unless he really concentrated.
“Is everything still on the planet, or was it moved?” Daze asked.
“Most of it’s still there,” Captain said. “The message that was left for you is there, but we took the…body.” Captain’s voice gave out slightly, and Daze took that as a bad sign.
“I take that to mean it wasn’t revived?”
“No. We didn’t find you soon enough to do it on that one. We barely had enough time to get you and Beam.”
“Oh.” He felt a stabbing sensation in his chest at the realization that they hadn’t been able to save one. One had died. He let himself feel the pain and grief for a moment, then pushed it aside, knowing he had to concentrate.
“So what’s next?” Beam asked. Daze saw a twitch in her right eye, which told him she’d felt and done the same as him. “I assume we’re going back onto Ioskade to see if we can find any more clues than last time.”
Captain gazed at the planet on the screen for a moment, then nodded. “Yes, I believe that’s the plan.”
Several hours later, Daze and Beam were back on the planet. The atmosphere here was a little thin, but it seemed that his cyborg parts weren’t only on the surface. His body adjusted fairly well, and he didn’t have any problems with breathing the thinner air. Beam, on the other hand, had to bring a tank of air with her to occasionally breathe out of when her lungs needed more than what she was actually getting.
Although Daze’s memories of what had happened last time he was here were hazy, they began to come back the more he was on the planet. The two of them stood in front of a large structure. Ioskade was a rather Earth-like planet, and it had a plant very much like Earth’s trees, which could be cut down and used to build things, such as this structure.
Whoever had built it had not been all that creative. It was mostly a square, with nothing to make the building look at all elaborate. There was a door, built with old-fashioned, rusty hinges, and the windows were mostly just holes with heavy curtains. Aside from the oldness of it, the house really was nothing spectacular. It wasn’t even in an interesting place, but on a flat plain of trees and tall grasses.
Beam walked up to the door and fiddled with the handle for a moment, before realizing she had to turn it to get it to open. “Such weird doors.”
Daze vaguely remembered her making a comment similar to that the first time they were here. “Can you imagine if we still had doors like that?” he asked, with a sense of déjà vu.
Beam frowned, and shook her head. “Nope.” She pulled the door open, and walked inside.
The building, Daze remembered, had three rooms. This front room was clearly where whoever had lived in the house had spent most of their time. Simple furniture, most of it made of the same “wood” as the house itself, was scattered across the room, some of it upturned.
Beam turned and looked at Daze, meeting his gaze. They both remembered this part as well.
Images flashed across Daze’s vision, of what had happened before. He and Beam had been in this room, as well as another woman, Vine. After spending months tracking Vine down, meeting her there in that room had felt a little anticlimactic. Daze always liked for the setting to meet the situation, but it almost never did.
Beam had tried to tell Vine to step down, and to come with them and face what she deserved. Vine had laughed at her, and brought the two of them into the next room.
In the present, Beam pushed the door open. It was originally a bedroom, but Daze couldn’t imagine that anybody would want to sleep in there ever again.
Someone had taken a knife and carved the message, We had a deal, into the ground in large letters. Blood was splattered all across the room, and in the corner, there was a large pool of it. Daze winced.
“That’s yours, isn’t it?” he asked.
Beam nodded stiffly. “Yeah, I told you, I bled out.”
Behind the bed, which had somehow been knocked over and now stood on it’s side, was another, though slightly smaller, pool of blood. Daze’s, this time. He flinched again.
“I really don’t like coming back to the places where I’ve died before,” he said.
“Would anybody?” Beam asked in return. Her face was pinched, and there was the slightest twitch in her right eye. “At least we get a second chance.” She smiled with no humor. “And a third and a fourth…”
Daze echoed the empty smile. “I’m on my four hundred seventy-third.”
“You’re old. I’m only at three hundred and sixty-two.”
“That’s because I’ve saved your life more often than you’ve saved mine.”
Beam gave him a flat look. “Oh, nice try, Daze. Very nice.”
“Oh, yes, bravo,” a new voice chimed in. Both Daze and Beam looked up, neither very surprised to see a figure standing in the doorway.
Vine leaned against the door jam, crossing her arms. Unlike them, she hadn’t changed even the tiniest bit since their last meeting. The human girl stood about six inches shorter than Beam, with her lush black hair falling to her lower back. She wore a knee-length dress with a lot of frills on the bottom.
She looked like she should be innocent. But she was not.
“It is Daze and Beam, right?” Vine asked. “It’s harder to recognize you with your new bodies.”
“How did you know?” Beam asked.
Vine shrugged nonchalantly. She still leaned against the door jam. “My spy up in your little group is quite informative. Say, I wonder. Does it ever get tiring? You know, dying and then being imported into a whole new body, to start all over and die again? Surely one day, you’re going to want to say game over one day, rather than try again.”
Daze clenched his jaw. They’d already suspected Vine had a spy, but they hadn’t known for sure. “When that days comes,” he said, “and I don’t doubt it will, it’ll be when we have completed all of our missions.”
“And I suppose that means dealing with me, first?” Vine mock-pouted for a second, then her face hardened. “I can’t let do that, though. You can’t impede my progress—which means I can’t let you keep coming after me, either. This time, when I kill you, you’re friends up in that spaceship above us are not going to be able to bring you back.”
She pulled a small gun out that had been clipped to her leg and hidden by the dress, and pointed it at Daze. He hesitated, feeling déjà vu again. This was how he died the first time, with one of her bullets through his chest. He really didn’t want to experience it a second time. He reached for his own weapon, but Vine shouted, “Don’t, or I’ll shoot you!”
Daze froze, and held his hands up. He noticed that Beam already had her little laser gun out. It looked more like an old water squirt gun than a real gun, and even when it was pointed straight at you, it was hard to take it seriously.
At that moment, black, nondescript words appeared at the bottom of Daze’s vision, as if they’d been put directly onto his eyes. If you can’t take her hostage, then kill her.
Beam’s eye twitched. Daze knew she’d gotten the same message.
Vine pointed her gun at Beam, instead, since now she was the threat. “You were sent to kill me,” Vine said flatly. Either she had good guessing skills, or she’d just now been informed by her spy.
Beam shrugged with a feigned nonchalance. Daze knew her well enough to tell that she was probably shaking inside. He felt much the same. This part never felt right.
“Will we have to?”
“You won’t even have the opportunity,” Vine said. She nodded her head to the side, a signal, and all at once, a dozen vague forms appeared in the room. In seconds, their features formed, but even before then, they rushed forward.
Three grabbed Daze’s arms and tugged them behind his back. He was too surprised to fight back immediately. Another four tackled Beam, but she managed to kick one back and elbow another. Two more replaced those, and she didn’t have the chance to fight further before they held her still.
Throughout this, Vine moved closer to them, but she didn’t for a second lower her gun. Beam had been unarmed, and Daze still hadn’t had the opportunity to reach for his own weapon, but she alternated pointing it at the two of them.
“Your revival technique, it has one flaw—it relies on machinery. I can kill you both, then destroy your machines, and you won’t be able to come back to life.”
“They can always rebuild them,” Beam snarled. She hated being confined or held back.
“Not before it’s too late to revive you two. They’ll have to send a brand new team on me, and by the time that happens, I’ll be so far gone, they won’t be able to find me.”
Daze looked at the room they were in. He stood right beside the sideways bed, three of Vine’s minions or soldiers or whoever they were holding his arms tightly behind his back. They’d slipped something onto his wrists, too, and he couldn’t move them. It was tight enough that he should have lost circulation—but then again, his wrists were mostly made of metal. The question was, could he get out of it?
The other five of Vine’s minions, who weren’t holding Daze and Beam back, stood near the doorway, weapons out. It seemed that Vine was fully prepared to have the two of them attempt to escape.
Daze looked up at the ceiling. This house was old, and the sun beat down on it every single day, aging and weakening the wood. The roof looked the most worn, and Daze thought that maybe if it was hit hard enough, it might break open. A beam ran across the top of the walls and met with another at the point of the roof, helping to support it.
Beam said something to Vine, though Daze didn’t hear her words, and Vine’s face clouded with anger. She stepped up to her, and pressed the gun to her chest.
“Don’t make me.”
Beam opened her mouth, but Daze rushed to speak before her. “You know, Vine, they don’t give you nearly enough credit.”
Vine frowned and looked towards him, though she didn’t move her weapon. “What?”
“They don’t give you enough credit,” he repeated. “Up at the station, you’re just a petty little criminal, but clearly, you do know what you’re doing.” He nodded his head towards the guards.
Vine looked so incredulous, she turned completely towards him and pulled her gun away from Beam. “Petty? I stole a planet. I am not petty. I know what I’m doing!”
Daze nodded. He was lying, of course. Vine’s name was a well-known one, and there was a bounty out for her head. Her reputation for somehow making a highly-populated planet with rather advanced technology completely disappear had put her up as one of the most fear thieves in history. Nobody knew what she did with the planet or the people on it, and nobody knew why she did it or if she would do something like it again. Or, rather, if she’d do something worse.
“That’s what I’m saying,” Daze said. “They have it all completely wrong.”
Now that the attention was off of her, Beam relaxed a little bit. She caught Daze’s eye, and seemed to understand what he was doing without him having to say a word to her. That happened a lot, after having worked together for so many years.
Vine seemed to realize that something wasn’t right, and she raised her weapon at Daze. However, at the same time, he tugged as hard as he could on his bonds, and they snapped. Beam, unable to break out of her bonds, spun around and kneed one of her guards in the gut. The other three took a moment to overcome their surprise, while the first one doubled over, groaning.
Daze pushed past them and grabbed Beam’s arm. “Give me a lift.”Everything that happened next was rather in a rush. Most of her minions tackled them, and a shot fired. Daze jumped, getting a bit of a push from Beam, and grabbed hold of the beam directly above him. As he had expected, it was weak, and it couldn’t hold all of his weight. It creaked, then began to crack, the sound reverberating up the entire building.
“What are you doing?” Vine demanded in a shrill voice. “You’ll bring the entire roof down on all of us.”
Daze dropped back down, but the cracks, now joined by moaning sounds, continued. He looked at Beam, and at the same time, both of them ran for the nearest wall.
A gun fired. Seconds later, Daze felt it hit him in the back. His shoulder slammed against the wall, and the wood gave out under him. He stumbled, fell forward, and rolled outside. Beam tumbled out beside him, and then the roof collapsed.
When the cloud and dust settled, there was nothing much left of the building but a pile of wreckage. Nobody else had made it out alive, from what Daze could tell from his place on the ground. He couldn’t sit up, though, so he really couldn’t see much.
“You’re bleeding,” he heard her voice said. “I’m calling the station, and…I don’t think you’ll make it out of this one.”
He didn’t need her to tell him that for him to know. The all-too-familiar feeling of his life fading away was all he could really feel. He couldn’t even feel the pain, though he was sure that it was there, somewhere.
“Beam?” he asked again. “This time, when they…” He coughed. “I’m tired of this. Dying, I mean.”
Vine’s words from earlier ran through his head. Surely, you’re going to want to say game over one day, rather than try again.
“Time to retire?” Beam asked. He heard weariness in her voice. She wasn’t dying, or at least he didn’t think she was, but clearly she felt the same way.
“I think so.”
Moments later, Daze’s vision faded to black. White, nondescript words flashed in front of him.