A science fiction story about the end of the world, love, suspicion, betrayal, murder, and everything else.
Episode One: The heart of a hero
Episode Two: Love hurts
Episode Three: God speed your love
Episode Four: Two hands ain’t good enough
Episode Five: Part One: Rape of the Sabine Women
Episode Five: Part Two: Rape of the Sabine Women
Episode Six: Everything counts in large amounts
Episode Seven: Love Never Fails
Episode Eight: Princes of the Universe
Episode Nine: Technobohemian Dreams
Episode Ten: It’s getting kinda hectic!
Episode Eleven: Part One: The Dunning-Kruger Effect
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The Prodigy, Breathe
The Book of Carrot
Book One: Principal Virtues
Chapter One: Love is a battlefield
Episode Eleven: Part Two: The Dunning-Kruger Effect
“Can you meet me at the Little Theatre for Children? I need to pick Marian up and I thought it would be nice for us all to go to dinner from there. Pizza, maybe. You know how Marian just loves pizza.”
“What time?” John replied to Cristina’s SMS.
6 is great. Love you. Miss you.
John was about 100 meters from the Little Theater when he saw Cristina and Dana walking some meters ahead – Dana was one of Cristina’s high school classmates and lived nearby.
John smiled and admired Cristina’s silhouette from behind; she was hot. He zoomed in on his view of her.
“John!” Lumi commented and laughed.
He ignored Lumi.
Ahead, the women walked passed a bald man wearing sunglasses and a white suit. He smiled at them; Cristina didn’t notice but Dana smiled back. He was cute.
Meanwhile, Cristina pulled out her phone to call Marian; she pushed the speed dial and put the phone to her ear. John was 10 meters behind her.
The man in the white suit moved into John’s focus and blocked his view. Then John saw him hit Cristina in the back of the head with the butt of a stainless steel Beretta M9 handgun. Cristina fell forwards on the sidewalk.
From behind, John punched the man in the kidneys. As the man spun around (unable to catch his breath), John brought his knee up and simultaneously pulled the man’s face down on his knee – breaking the man’s nose and top front teeth. As the man in the white suit spun to the ground, John got in a sidekick to the man’s head.
On his back and dazed, the man lifted his head up. John jumped up and kicked down on his forehead – smacking the man’s head hard against the sidewalk. The assailant was unconscious.
Dana helped Cristina up on her feet as a crowd gathered around the unconscious man.
An old man wanted to know why John had attacked the man in the white suit. Meanwhile, John caught his breath and a pool of blood began to spread out from where the man’s head lay.
Next to the unconscious man’s right hand, lay the 9mm pistol. In his left hand, Cristina’s phone.
Concerned about the bleeding, John thought to apply pressure to the wound, but when he lifted the unconscious man’s head, he saw shattered skull and brain. John’s heart sank. He checked for a pulse. Kneeling in the spreading pool of blood, John closed the man’s eyes.
“Is he dead?” Cristina asked too loudly. John sighed – John had killed the man – and Cristina vomited in reply to his sigh.
A police officer pushed through the circle of gawkers and checked for a pulse. Then she called her station for them to report the death and for dispatch to call for an ambulance. Meanwhile, John called his lawyer – John’s lawyer would be there in 15 minutes.
The police officer rose to her feet and asked for witnesses. The old man who hadn’t seen what had happened, volunteered to tell her everything that had happened. He only wanted to know if they had coffee and sugar at the station. Everyone else left immediately – no one wanted to spend hours at the police station followed by countless hours and days at a courthouse for the trial.
His eyes red and tears streaming down his cheeks, John explained to the police officer that he had subdued Cristina’s attacker. John’s intention was to subdue and disarm the man and not get shot in the process – not kill the man in self-defense.
Six hours later, John, Cristina, Dana and Marian walked out of the police station – thanks to Lumi.
Lumi was able to immediately provide the police with time stamped video footage of the attack on Cristina. She had emphasized the savagery, threat and force of the attack: zooming on the gun as the man cocked his arm back and then struck Cristina in the back of the head, zooming on Cristina as she fell and smacked her face against the sidewalk, and, best of all, how the assailant pointed the pistol at John seconds before John had kicked the man’s head into the sidewalk.
Lumi also provided John’s lawyer with the case files of the assailant’s past arrests and other police inquiries. With a quick search, she also had contact information for the surviving families of the dead man’s past victims.
It was an open and shut case. This was the opinion of the police. Formalities would follow…
It was not an open and shut case, however, for Cristina or the public.
Reporters had been waiting outside of the police station – Lumi’s video (state evidence) had been leaked to the press and beyond. While John’s father escorted Cristina, Dana and Marian to the truck- going around the reporters, John and his lawyer met the reporters head on.
“What’s it like to kill someone? Was it anything like killing a zombie?”
“Do you have any regrets, John? Did you have to kill him!?”
“His mother says you murdered her son in cold blood and she wants justice. What do you have to say about that?”
Did the game prepare you for split-second reactions and Bruce Lee moves?”
Reporters, puppet journalists and professionals, shouted absurd, macabre and difficult questions at John as the cameras rolled.
John raised a hand and announced that he’d speak if they would allow him…
“Most of your questions, tonight, are profoundly inappropriate. The loss of a loved one – especially one’s child – is always an unfathomable sorrow…
You wonder if I have sympathy for his mother and I say that I do – I appreciate her loss just as I feared for the life of my love when that man struck her head with a semi-automatic pistol…”
John paused and took a drink of water from a water bottle he had been carrying.
“I don’t know about you,” John continued, “but I stand by the people written upon my heart. If they are threatened by deadly force or other serious harm, I will smite my enemy. As should you.
This is my civil right and yours.
If you wouldn’t do that for yours – obviously – you never knew love…”
“So you’re saying that you will kill again, John? Who will you kill next?!” shouted a disheveled reporter holding a half-eaten shawarma – its contents threatening to spill out.
“Is that a gun you’re pointing at me from inside your pants pocket or are you just excited by me?” asked John with a strong note of sarcasm.
“If its the former, I suppose you’re next…” John said and shaped his hand into a gun, shot the reporter with an imaginary bullet, and blew the imaginary smoke off the imaginary pistol barrel.
John was surprised at his own reply. It was a cool thing to say and John fired it like John Wayne swinging sawed-off shotguns off the hip, but it left John with doubts and fears about what he might become.
Perhaps, killing a man changes us… starts a transformation. This moment, however, wasn’t the time for doubts and fears. He was surrounded by a pack of Hyenas.
“Who do you think would win, John? Your bad ass or Chuck Norris?!”
Undistracted by the journalists trying to goad him, John wanted to talk about The Press…
“Do you really want to create a new conversation of no consequence – a noisy chat that flirts with endless questions and emotions without any hunger or thirst for whole-hearted answers? Why?
Because you think that’s what sells. Because you have a job to do. Because your boss told you that’s what you have do to get your pay check.
That’s why you never question if what you do is right, if it makes a difference, or if… what you do threatens and devastates truth, democracy, or the dignity of the human person.”
“Are you calling us, monsters?” asked a sexy, young anchor woman as she dropped a candy bar wrapper to the ground.
“Yes! You are a monster because you lack any kind of profound depth of compassion. Or commitment to human rights and hope.
Do you care about anything other than yourself, Miss anchor woman?!”
“Fuck you,” the woman shouted back.
The Press merely acts forcefully as a self-promoting advocate of its own corporate performance and reputation, John thought to himself.
Meanwhile, it serves as a naive and enthusiastic evangelist of powerful social, political and economic groups which pay top dollar for the cunning solicitations and silence of the so called Free Press.
If the Press ever had a higher purpose, it had forgotten them like the empty soda bottles, candy wrappers and partially eaten shawarmas that would be left in the wake of live reporting and paid editorials.
“But you can make a difference. You can clean up. You don’t have to play along with the con…”
“Fuck you, John!” several reporters replied as they threw their empty soda bottles down in disgust.
When John joined Cristina, Dana and Marian in the truck, however, Cristina asked the question that sank his heart.
“Did you have to kill him?”
“Shut up, Cristina. You’re so stupid!” shouted Marian.
John had no reply to her question.
“How can you give a speech at a moment like this?” asked Cristina.
John had several replies for her, but held his tongue. None were kind.
“This is not the moment for weakness,” his father explained.
“John has to be strong. Otherwise, the Press will eat him alive and on the bone…”
“I don’t care about what the Press says or what everyone else thinks,” Cristina shouted out.
“John is doing what he has to do, and you need to let him do that,” John’s father said in a calming voice.
“If you love my son, you will stand by him and wait for understanding to come – as fast or slow as it comes.
I know it’s not easy for you, Cristina. You have burning questions that can only be searched out in your heart and in living your life.
John’s going through the same thing, but he must stand strong because public opinion is not merciful.”
Cristina didn’t say anything more on the ride home, but her confusion and anger grew in her silence. It didn’t help that Marian also gave her a kick every time she had wanted to say something stupid. Marian’s kicks were frequent.
“John stands to lose everything if he shows weakness and self-doubt at this moment,” John’s father reminded Cristina when they were dropped off at Stirbei Voda.
In the Romanian evening news, the headline story ran with a clip of John wearing his K-9s as he came out of the police station. The “experts” debated the question, who is more bass ass, the zombie killer or Chuck Norris?
A clip of John’s attack was aired minus footage of the assailant’s attack on Cristina. The anchor woman reported that John had refused to comment on his charges and the Press were awaiting an official statement from the prosecutor. On the wrap up, she asked her “big” question:
“Why is the killer free?”
John, meanwhile, posted the entire footage of the attack and his interview outside the courthouse.
It had been ten days since Cristina had said anything to John. Or he, anything to her. Or Marian to Cristina. But John and Cristina’s radio silence didn’t mean John felt any differently about Cristina.
Every morning, there was a fresh pot of hot coffee, fresh squeezed orange juice, a bowl of fruits and a basket of bread and croissants waiting for her in the mini-kitchen. Every night, fresh bed sheets, chocolate on the pillow, and a clean apartment waiting for her.
John did these things – not a maid.
In Cristina’s mind, John killed a man because that man had tried to steal her mobile phone. The gun, his hitting her, and her tumble were irrelevant. She did not see the man’s death as proportionate to his criminal intention. John, however, refused to admit that the force he used was disproportionate to the actual threat the man had posed to Cristina.
Cristina felt responsible for the man’s death in a way that made her sick to her stomach.
Cristina had cried when she saw the mother of the man on tv – crying and tearing her hair out. Her heart and compassion went out to the mother who had lost a son.
Yes, John was her knight in shining armor. Her hero. But she didn’t want her knight fighting dragons with the sword, Cristina thought to herself.
Mihaela and Lumi didn’t agree with Cristina and they had told her to her face. They told her she was being selfish, naive and stupid – how could John have known that man’s intentions?! John had seen a gun, he had seen that man hit her in the head with a gun, and he had seen that man point a gun at him.
“Maybe that man hadn’t intended to do her further harm, but John did what he had to do,” Lumi argued.
“Honor John as the hero he is,” Mihaela insisted.
Elektra, however, had a different opinion. She thought John’s violent behavior would only get worse and that she and Cristina should plot an intervention.
Cristina’s mother suffered from a debilitating depression and they couldn’t afford medicine for her treatment. It was one of the main reasons Cristina became a pharmacist. To help people get the medicine they need to live joyful, purposeful and productive lives.
Cristina’s father would beat her mother for sleeping too much, not making dinner, not doing the laundry, and not doing all the other things she just couldn’t do. That was before her mother had been diagnosed with cancer.
Her mother sucked it up: the punches, the kicks, the pinches and all the hateful words. Her mother didn’t protest – she took her punishment quietly because she believed she deserved to be punished. Cristina’s mother truly believed she had failed herself and her family as a person, wife and mother.
Ok, so maybe the problem is me – not John. Maybe, I’m bringing all this baggage to bear on a situation that doesn’t map as much as I want it to. Maybe, I’m trying to rewrite the story of my mother and father through John’s and my story. If I’m doing that, Oh God, that’s not fair to…
Cristina went downstairs to talk to John, but he wasn’t home. Then she went down to the entrance to ask Costin, the watchman, if he knew where John was. Costin told her that John was in the basement.
Cristina heard noise coming from a chamber deep inside the basement. It sounded like construction work.
The door was ajar and she could see a wall covered with large photographs of a bald man – the man from the restaurant. The man in the white suit – the one who sat at the next table at La Boehme.
Cristina heard that strange sound again and pushed the door. There were several chalk drawings of a man in a suit across the walls. She noticed that the walls were chipped and crumbling most where the drawings had been made. John was shirtless, barefoot, covered in sweat and dust. His back was turned to her.
Cristina wanted to tell John that she did love him – in case he now doubted it – and that she was sorry.
John, however, didn’t see Cristina standing at the door. He was focused. John lifted the axe over his head, ran at a wall, and buried the axe into the center of a chalk drawn head, all while shouting, “I’ll kill you first, James Arthur Ray…”
Cement exploded. The axe was stuck in the wall. John picked up another axe as he ran at the opposing wall. Cement exploded and sparks flew.
Cristina cried out, sobbing uncontrollably, and fell to her knees.
John turned to see Cristina on her knees in the doorway. He dropped the axe and ran to her.
“Oh John… what is this – what happened to you?” she cried.
“I have to kill him, Cristina. I have to; I have to kill him before he kills you,” John stammered, tears streaming from his eyes as he held her tight in his arms.
“You don’t have to kill anyone! You don’t have to kill anyone else,” Cristina cried out.
“I’m going to kill him…”
Cristina pushed John away and stood up. He fell backwards.
“You don’t have to kill anyone else, John. No one wants to kill me! It’s all in your head, baby…”
“I’ve seen it! Ask Zach! Ask Mihaela!
I’ve seen you die – too many times. The pain is burning a hole in me…”
“You need help, John! No one knows the future.”
Oh God – John. You’re sick and you need help!”
“Please believe me, Cristina. Try…”
“No, John. It doesn’t work that way. You’ve become a danger.
Maybe, you’re sick in the head,” Cristina shouted at him.
“Or, maybe, you’ve signed up with bad people and you put us all in danger by taking their money.
Maybe, that is what this is all about. Maybe, you’ve taken dirty money.
Why can’t you just tell me the truth! Just be honest with me for once!”
John was silent – looking at her through his K-9s.
“Say something!” Cristina yelled.
“I will protect you…”
“I’m sorry for you, John. But I don’t ever want to see you again,” yelled Cristina
Cristina turned and ran out of the basement.
John knew he couldn’t make Cristina understand him. That’s why he did not run after her.
Until she had seen what he had seen, she could not understand. With or without her affections, John would save her from the barefoot man. Or he would die trying.
Love does not fail.
John stood up, went over to where he dropped the axe and picked it up. Then he resumed chopping up the walls where he had drawn the chalk figures.
Cristina ran upstairs and started packing suitcases. Her father asked her to explain what was going on, but she only shouted at him to pack. Marian started screaming at her.
John got a message. He was needed in the game.
John logged in and his PC phased into the tunnel where he had logged out. Emma Snow was still there.
“Where did you go?” asked Emma.
“I was scared. I thought you left me.”
“Do you have more food and water?”
John gave her all he had – three days of rations. Then he made his way out of the tunnels on his way to the rendezvous point. Emma followed him at a distance.
The Field Commander of FOH’s 13th Division had summoned John – explaining they were boxed in a Catch 22 with no way out.
John saw Emma following him on his radar. “You don’t want to follow me,” he told her. Emma didn’t reply, but she continued to follow him to the surface.
On the surface, John made his way to Gara de Nord – the railroad station – where he was told that FOH’s 13th Division was pinned down by two Independent groups. Pirates – in other words.
John did an all points Guild broadcast asking for support from other Divisions, but it looked like no one else was logged in.
John entered the station through a smashed out window on the side of the main terminal. Everything was quiet. That was strange.
Making his way to the tracks, he spotted 21 friendlies on his radar. They were close.
“Is that you, John?” asked the Field Commander.
“Yes, June,” replied John. “Where’s the fire?”
In reply, the 21 friendlies opened fire on John. His shield lost resilience fast as the rounds came in. 148 hits had taken his shield down to 50 percent in 10 seconds flat.
John was supposed to run for it – anyone else would, but John went for the traitor. The ambush hadn’t planned on him doing that. They were already moving to cut him down in his attempt to escape. Three hits and the Field Commander of FOH’s 13th Division was almost dead. She had 50 levels – one year of real time play to lose if she died. She turned to run – her mistake. John buried his axe in her spine. Her preference for cocktail dresses instead of armor was also her mistake.
Mrs. June Marcus of 8032 Nall Avenue, Prairie Village, Kansas was making very good money on eBay too – like any commissioned officer of FOH. But the good times were over for her.
That’s why coups were rare – real money, livelihood and community was at stake.
John turned around to face the others.
John knew his PC wasn’t going to get out alive – 120 levels would be lost. But John had taken down the boss traitor – he had gotten as much satisfaction as he could hope to get. Emma ran out to him and took his hand.
“I’ll stand with you, John,” said Emma.
Shots were fired. John’s shield dropped to 32 percent resilience. 28. 19. 7. 2.
A column of light came from above – something new to John. His PC and Emma dematerialized – also not the typical death sequence. The text on his screen, loading…
John logged out of the game and accessed the security camera feed in time to watch Cristina and her father make three trips as they carried their luggage down. An airport taxi pulled up and they loaded the luggage in the back. The three got in and the taxi sailed off.
Next Episode: Episode Twelve: Part One: We Have No Bread
All Rights Reserved by Stan Faryna
31 October 2012