Posts Tagged ‘Action’

PRO-T-EN Man (Short Story Excerpt)

April 22, 2018

May 4th, 2099.

United States of America.

Southwest Quadrant, Sector Two.

2030 hours.

The night came alive with the low thrum of dueling engines. PRO-T-EN Industries Corps Savant, Gunnar Eck Rourke—Job Title: Strategic Executive, Rank: Captain—sat in the comfort of his machine; military grade, custom built, and synched to his private neural-net. Molded to his form, the soft seat reclined, keeping Gunnar low as he sped along the mapped route behind a small PRO-T-EN convoy. Though traveling by autopilot, his hands lay upon the manual controls; smooth metal spheres embedded in the armrests, the throttle-ball on his left, the steering-ball on his right. Above these controls, a multifaceted console lit up the dark interior with a sharp red glow. Through his helmet visor, Gunnar saw a green 40 holding steady on his digital speedometer.

“Non-PRO-T-EN vessels and personnel detected,” Gunnar’s neural assistant, Eos, warned in its soothing, mechanized voice. Thirty seconds before, Eos had been reciting an old poem about lost, violent souls while Gunnar relaxed. Then they’d both received an alert from one of the PRO-T-EN Corps Surveillance Savants, snapping them back to attention.

A PRO-T-EN drone had identified an incoming attack, but the Savant had been too busy to launch a counterstrike, or even perform a thorough scan.

“Analysis?” Gunnar asked with a smirk.

“Four human-persons and three civilian-grade vessels, Captain Rourke. Approaching from the west. Current speed for all vessels, approximately thirty-one meters-per-second.”

Gunnar flicked his eyes from the front viewing pane to his primary monitor. The screen projected a neon blue schematic of his surroundings. All PRO-T-EN vehicles—including his own—outlined in bright green. All non-PRO-T-EN vehicles—including these new invaders—outlined in bold crimson.

“Status?”

“Unknown, Captain Rourke. The human-persons appear to be Unemployed Civilians. No data files detected, and no neural-net activity present, viral or otherwise.”

“I see. Incompetents.”

Now Gunnar glanced at his digital power gauge. A green 90 held steady, showing his primary coils at almost full capacity; plenty of wattage for a little extra maneuvering.

“The human-persons are in violation of multiple ordinances, Captain Rourke. A state of Unemployment is a Class D Transgression in all Civilian Centers. Civilians trespassing in a Corporate Sector is a Class B Transgression. Operating a civilian vessel in a Corporate Sector is a Class B Transgression. Illicitly owning a civilian vessel is a Class C Transgression.”

Gunnar’s smirk became a lupine grin. Un-Civ Incomps; lower than the lowest criminals. Gunnar, of course, knew the PRO-T-EN Industries Corps Protocols back to front. If these Incomps worked for a competitive corporation such as e-PHEMERUS Incorporated or In-E-Ware Holdings & Securities, well, the rules of engagement would be different.

But they didn’t.

Which meant that Gunnar would have to follow strict interaction procedures.

“PRO-T-EN Corps Protocol dictates that you must initiate contact in an official and professional manner, informing the human-persons of their Transgressions.”

“Ten-four, Eos. Disengage auto-pilot.”

“Autopilot disengaged.”

Sighing, Gunnar rolled his right hand over the steering-ball, leaving the convoy behind. The incoming Incomps followed—as he knew they would.

“Breaking formation,” Gunnar said, engaging his neural-net to broadcast the transmission. “Un-Civs times three in pursuit.”

A moment passed, then a bland voice returned: “Backup, Captain?”

“Negative. Standby for update.”

“Ten-four.”

Time to be Professional, Trustworthy, and Energetic!

In tribute to its color and design—and his love of classic poetry—Gunnar called his vehicle The Raven. The PRO-T-EN machine handled with the greatest of ease; a hallmark of PRO-T-EN engineering. Sleek, jet black, and flying five feet above the desert terrain, the PRO-T-EN logo—a raised, golden T—gleamed in the moonlight on its hood. The Raven resembled a combustion engine hotrod, but far more compact, and a hell of a lot tougher. Like all PRO-T-EN Corps vehicles, it had been molded from a secret, patented alloy developed by PRO-T-EN Chemical Engineering Savants. Reinforced throughout—including its front and rear ends, making it an optimal battering ram—coated with PRO-T-EN’s patented radiation-absorbent polymer, and armor-plated, The Raven had been driven through every Corporate Sector in The United States, and had suffered little damage. Gunnar himself had seen more combat than his vehicle, and sitting there, encased in this techno-magnificent pod, he felt no apprehension about confronting the Incomps. He chose to leave the running lights off as he raced into the darkness, relying instead upon his state-of-the-art tracking system. The secondary monitor displayed a neon blue schematic of his surroundings, and Gunnar didn’t see much in the way of obstacles. He had the nerve, the weaponry, and the room to operate.

The poor Incomps behind him didn’t stand a chance.

Gunnar’s assignment had been a simple one from the start: provide an armed escort for three PRO-T-EN transports from the manufacturing plant in Sector One, Civilian Center B—once known as Los, then New Angeles, California—to a PRO-T-EN Distribution Center in Sector Two, Civilian Center A—once known as Phoenix, Arizona. Classified freight; property of PRO-T-EN Industries, the greatest corporation in the world. It wouldn’t be a typical food and supplies run, but still, it seemed like a banal assignment. Captain Rourke needed banality in his life, and volunteered on the condition of approval for an Extended Consensual Absence. PRO-T-EN Health and Reproductive Services had already approved both applications to co-parent a child. He and his wife, Melisma—Department: Medical Services, Job Title: Executive Pharmacologist—had submitted their tissue samples sixteen months ago. It took nine months to get the approval, then seven more to secure an appointment with their PRO-T-EN Reproductive Services Provider. Not that Gunnar complained; he loved PRO-T-EN Industries, and revered his Savant Status with an ardor unmatched.

But he hadn’t been home, or seen Melisma, in a good long while.

Thus, banal or not, Gunnar saw this assignment as a golden opportunity. The trip had been uneventful until they’d reached fifty kilometers south of Civilian Center A’s perimeter. That’s when the Incomps appeared, two on Omnert Enterprises hover cycles, and two in an e-PHEMERUS mini-shuttle which had to be at least twenty years old; a real clunker which didn’t even have retractable solar charging panels. And they wanted the PRO-T-EN cargo.

Which meant dealing with Gunnar Rourke.

“Decrease speed to three, zero, M-P-S.”

“Decreasing speed,” Eos advised.

The Raven downshifted, its engine thrumming beneath the hood. Its internal magnetic field disruptor plowed the sand below, billowing dust in its wake. A black blur against the black night. Heading nowhere, seeking destruction.

“Hold current speed.”

“Current speed held, Captain Rourke.”

Another smirk as Gunnar watched the Incomps close in on the schematic. In seconds, a hover cycle appeared on either side. Although similar to their earlier century counterparts, their front forks attached not to tires, but flat metal discs. The Incomp riders leant forward, hands and forearms resting in slots inside their steering consoles. They wore dark helmets with ancient logos, and tattered white clothing; the attire of scavengers. The mini-shuttle, larger than The Raven but nowhere near as durable, stuck close to Gunnar’s tail.

Four dead Incomps, too dense to know they are doomed.

Content to indulge in this joyride for a few moments, Gunnar held his controls steady, and it neither surprised nor concerned him when he heard a sharp thunk! on the portside viewing pane.

“Physical attack detected,” Eos advised. “Zero percent structural damage. The human-person is in violation. Damaging PRO-T-EN property and endangering the well-being of an on-duty PRO-T-EN Savant are both Class A Transgressions. Lethal force is now permitted.”

Gunnar shook his head. This non-employable scum thought he could smash his way in with a roto-hammer while piloting a hover cycle at thirty meters-per-second! Typical. Gunnar had dealt with their kind many times before. He despised them and their rabid, illogical unwillingness to join the Civilian Centers and contribute to society. And these particular Incomps had to be insane if they thought they could engage a PRO-T-EN Corps convoy and stand even the remotest chance of success.

Thunk!

“Physical attack detected. Starboard side. Zero percent structural damage. The human-person has committed the same Class A Transgressions. Lethal force is advised.”

Gunnar glanced to his right as the other Incomp started in with a roto-hammer, too. Through the viewing pane, he saw the brand-new Iron Steed ’99 Series hover cycle, with its marbled crimson bodywork, and felt a pang of regret.

What a shame; having to destroy such a beautiful machine. Perhaps one day, Omnert Enterprises would see the light and sell their stock to PRO-T-EN Industries.

“Would you like me to execute an offensive maneuver, Captain Rourke?” Eos asked with an eager lilt.

“Negative. Hold manual settings.”

“Very well. Remember that safety is a PRO-T-EN virtue.”

“Ten-four, Eos.”

The Incomps kept hammering—

Thunk! Thunk! Thunk!

—and the mini-shuttle rammed The Raven’s rear bumper—

Crunch!

“Vehicular impact detected. Aft end. Two percent structural damage. All human-persons present have committed multiple Transgressions. Lethal force is now encouraged.”

The Raven wavered, but Gunnar held his course. He had these Incomps right where he wanted them, far from the PRO-T-EN cargo, and disposing of them wouldn’t be hard.

Time to dispense some PRO-T-EN justice!


If you enjoyed this excerpt, please like, subscribe, and share!

Show support on Patreon @ https://www.patreon.com/jesselynnrucilez

Thanks for reading!

JLR

“Code: Green” (Full Story)

September 13, 2017

1.

February 10th, 2015.

Manhattan, New York.

7:01 p.m.

“Doctor Banner?” Jarvis said in his smooth, mechanized voice.

Bruce looked up from a large electron microscope. He stood in the main research lab of Avengers Tower, his new home. During his brief sojourn here, Bruce has grown quite fond of the prim, British-sounding A.I. program, and now sensed a tone of hesitance, yet urgency in his inflection.

“Yes?

“I’ve just received a video chat request for you.”

“Me?” Bruce stepped away from the counter and walked toward the flat screen monitor which dominated the far wall. “From who?”

“Doctor Elizabeth Ross.”

Bruce sighed. For an instant, his eyes flashed a deep emerald green—which might’ve been a trick of the light. “Put her through,” he said, pulling his glasses from his lab coat.

“One moment.”

The screen, which had been showing a muted CNN newsfeed, flickered. Bruce slid his trembling hands into his pockets and did his best to look composed. But deep inside, the tormented scientist felt anything but.

My God. It’s been seven years since that night in Harlem. What could she possibly have to say?

A beautiful, dark-haired woman appeared. Sad but intent, Betty’s eyes bore the unmistakable puffiness of recent tears. Seeing her again, even on a video screen, recalled deep feelings of loss and regret.

And fading love.

She’s still gorgeous…

Behind Betty, a stark white wall loomed, giving Bruce the idea that she’d called him from a clinical environment.

Oh, please tell me she’s not sick!

When the visual feed connected on her end, Betty brightened. The picture shook as she moved; filming herself with her phone.

“Bruce?”

“Yeah, Betty. I’m here. What’s going on?”

Betty’s smile held a moment longer, as if the very sight of Bruce pleased her. Then it faded, replaced by an expression of utter sorrow.

“It’s Dad. They think he’s had another heart attack.”

Bruce stiffened. “That’s terrible!”

“I know. They’re running tests on him right now…”

Bruce gazed at the screen, at the woman he used to love more than anything. The first time General Ross had suffered a heart attack, he’d been in Calcutta, helping the local peasants. That had been before the Chitauri invasion, before The Avengers. Before he’d met Natasha.

Before a lot of things.

“I need to see you, Bruce.”

The words, unexpected yet unsurprising, cut into his heart like a cold knife, and Bruce felt his breath leave in a rush. “I can’t,” he said, and shook his head.

“You can, though. I’m in D.C., at Med Star Hospital. That’s not that far.”

She can’t be serious…

“Betty, I can’t go to the hospital. There’ll be security everywhere. Not to mention that if your dad gets wind of me being anywhere near him, he’ll fly into a serious rage. Someone could get hurt.”

Betty gave Bruce her stern, I-won’t-take-no-for-an-answer look, which he knew quite well. “We can meet up at Meridian Hill Park. Lots of wide open space. No one will bother us.”

“That’s a sound plan, Doctor,” Jarvis said. “I can provide a schematic of the park if you’d like.”

Chuckling, Bruce again shook his head.

Betty’s face wrinkled with annoyance. “Who was that?”

“That’s Jarvis. He didn’t mean to eavesdrop. He’s an A.I. program Tony uses to keep his life in order. He runs everything.”

“Quite correct, Doctor Banner. My apologies for interrupting, Doctor Ross.”

“Oh.” Betty’s face softened. “That’s okay, Jarvis.”

“How did you know I was here?” Bruce asked.

“Are you kidding? Since the collapse of S.H.E.I.L.D., and with The Avengers hunting down Hydra, the news has been all over you guys. It’s certainly no secret where your headquarters are.”

“Right.” Bruce looked at the floor.

I can’t do this.

“Bruce…will you come? Please?

A silent moment passed. Bruce shut his eyes. Tony had left on a business conference with Pepper. Steve had gone to visit Peggy. Thor had taken Jane to dinner. Clint had disappeared. Which left just him and Natasha and Jarvis.

Please don’t beg, Betty.

Bruce thought of Natasha. Her long, lean body. Her dark red hair. Her stoic, mischievous gaze. He pictured her in the gym, sweaty and intense. She wouldn’t want him to go, either—for a variety of reasons.

“Please come, Bruce. We can just talk.”

Seven years, Betty.

But in his heart, Bruce knew that he had to go—for a variety of reasons. “Alright,” he said, looking up. “I’ll come.”

“Thank you, Bruce.” Betty smiled a hopeful smile. “See you soon.”

Bruce nodded. “Yeah… see you soon.”

Betty’s smiling face disappeared. The screen remained blank and dark.

“Jarvis?”

“I’ve already taken the liberty, Doctor. A Quinjet will be waiting on the roof. I’ll notify Agent Romanoff once we’re in the air to simplify matters.”

Taking off his lab coat, Bruce smirked.

Good old Jarvis; he thought of everything.

2.

 “Approaching Meridian Hill Park, Doctor Banner.

Bruce didn’t respond. The Quinjet could’ve made the trip in under five minutes, but Bruce had instructed Jarvis to take it slow. Thus, for the last half hour Bruce had been staring through the side window, reflecting on his tumultuous relationship with Betty. Their first meeting. Their first date. Working on the gamma project together. The experiment which had ruined his life. Her father’s rage, which had sparked a manhunt and forced him to live as a fugitive for several years.

All just water under the bridge now.

Yeah. Deep, dark water…and a very shaky bridge.

“I’ve located Doctor Ross. She’s standing at the base of that splendid cascade fountain.”

Bruce turned to the control panel. His face looked taught, pensive.

“Thank you, Jarvis.”

“My pleasure, Doctor Banner. Starting our descent.”

Sighing, Bruce settled back. Through the front window, he saw a large water garden, lit by intermittent lamps, looming out of the darkness. The Quinjet whispered over its calm surface. Bruce had never been here, and marveled at the thirteen-tiered fountain, also lit up against the darkness. Sure enough, at the base, he saw a lone figure with dark hair.

Betty…

The Quinjet slowed and stopped, hovering over the shallow reservoir. Bruce removed his glasses, unstrapped himself, then walked to the back. The rear hatch opened with a loud hiss, and a ramp extended to the walkway. Bruce, clad in a black sweater and jeans, strode down the ramp with a forced air of nonchalance. His lips twitched. His hands curled into fists, swinging at his sides.

“Bruce!” Betty exclaimed, rushing toward him.

“Hello, Betty.”

She met him halfway, threw her arms around him. Bruce stiffened against her, but returned the gesture. Through her thick parka, through her mittens, he felt deep, uncompromising warmth.

“How are you?”

“Better now!”

Bruce smiled. Her cheek felt good pressed against his. Her hair smelled of fresh berries. “Good. How’s your father?”

Betty released him, stepped back. “Dad’s doing okay,” she replied, wiping her eyes with her mittens. “The doctor thinks it was just acute indigestion.”

“That’s encouraging.”

Sniffing, Betty smiled. Her cheeks had reddened, like the tip of her nose. “It’s so good to see you!”

“Yeah. It’s good to see you, too.”

“You look like you’ve been taking care of yourself.”

Bruce shrugged. “Stark built a hell of a gym for us.”

“I can’t imagine what it’s like living in Avenger’s Tower, Bruce.”

“It’s luxurious. Don’t really feel at home there yet.”

Come on, Betty. Get to the point.

“Listen, I’ve been thinking…” Betty stepped toward him, hesitant yet eager. “Things are different, so maybe they can be different between us.”

“How do you mean?”

“Come on, Bruce. You’re an Avenger now. A hero. Practically sanctioned by the government. That means…”

What?” Bruce looked hard into her eyes. Imploring. Knowing what she meant, but demanding that she come out and say it. “What does it mean, Betty?”

Betty’s forehead wrinkled. “No one thinks you’re a monster anymore…”

Bruce chuckled, walked to the edge of the water garden. The cool, calm surface rippled in the light breeze.

“It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks, Betty. You and I both know the truth.”

“You and I both know that we love each other…don’t we?”

Bruce closed his eyes. He envisioned Natasha watching him; arms crossed, awaiting his answer.

God, this is the last thing I need right now.

“Your father…he still believes I’m a monster, regardless. He’d never allow it.”

“You don’t know that.”

“Has he told you differently?”

“Well, no…I mean, not exactly.”

Bruce opened his eyes, turned to Betty with an incredulous look.

Is she kidding?

“But after his heart attack,” Betty continued, “he’s been a changed man. He’s nowhere near as angry as he used to be.”

“Betty. If he knew you were here talking to me, this place would already be surrounded with heavy artillery.”

“No, Bruce.” Betty shook her head. “It wouldn’t. I know it would—”

“Uh, guys?” a new voice called. Raspy. Sultry. Businesslike. “Hate to break up the reunion, but I’ve got bad news.”

Bruce and Betty turned toward the Quinjet. There, at the top of the ramp, stood Natasha Romanoff; left hand resting on the bulkhead, right hand resting on her cocked hip. Her eyes looked severe, but a slight grin played upon her lips.

“Jarvis says there’s something headed this way, fast. A ship of some kind, and it seems hostile.”

Bruce’s right hand leapt to his forehead. “Natasha! What’re you doing here?”

Natasha’s gaze never left Betty. “Looks like I’m saving your ass from an unnecessary Code: Green.”

“Were you on the ship the whole time?”

“Yep. Just watching out for my impetuous partner.”

Betty turned to Bruce. “What’s a Code: Green?”

“Uh…” Bruce looked at Betty, held out his hands. “It’s when the Other Guy is needed for a mission.”

“Oh.” Betty turned back to Natasha. Vapor streamed from her nose as she appraised the black-clad woman. “You’re Black Widow, right?”

“That’s right, Doctor Ross. And right now we’ve gotta be going. Say goodbye, Bruce.”

Bruce put his right hand on Betty’s shoulder, extended his left toward Natasha. “Look, I just need a minute here.”

“And I’m telling you we don’t have it. We need to get airborne, now!

He shook his head. “I don’t understand.”

“Look, bring Ross if you want, but hurry!

Shivering, Betty looked skyward. “Maybe you should do as she says, Bruce. But I’ve gotta stay here with Dad.”

What the hell is going on here?

Confused and annoyed, Bruce looked at Betty. “I’m sorry. This is crazy. Maybe we could talk another time?”

“Come on, Bruce!” Natasha’s voice now sounded as intense as her gaze felt. Eyes wide, she removed the gun holstered on her right thigh. “We’re safer in the air!”

“Right, Natasha.” Looking into Betty’s sad, startled eyes, Bruce felt an inner tug. Whatever still existed between them hadn’t been resolved, and might never be. “Sorry, Betty, I’ve gotta go.”

Betty tried to smile, but failed. “I know, Bruce. It’s okay.”

Bruce turned from Betty. Toward the Quinjet. Toward Natasha. Frustration filled his heart, and he had to remind himself to take a deep breath, lest his blood pressure get too high.

This is what I get for trying to sneak off. Now Natasha’s gonna be angry, and I’ll have to explain. Never had an assassin of her caliber mad at me before. Bet that won’t be fun. She probably makes the Other Guy look like a pussycat. Might need to call a Code: Green just to save myse—

MISTER GREEN, I PRESUME!” a sudden, amplified voice shouted.

Bruce froze. He, Betty, and Natasha all looked up as a bright spotlight fell upon them.

Uh-oh!

Squinting, shielding his eyes, Bruce gazed into the sky. Something large and ovular hovered above them, and for a panicked moment he thought the Chitauri had returned. But that couldn’t be it. Not without another portal. And besides, the tyrannical voice had called him Mr. Green—

The name I used when I was on the run…

“Who are you and what do you want?”

YOU AND I HAVE AN EXPERIMENT TO FINISH, BANNER!

“Bruce, I’m scared!” Betty whispered.

“You know this maniac?” Natasha said, shielding her eyes with one hand while aiming her gun with the other.

Bruce grit his teeth.

No questions, damnit! Just let me think!

“Doctor Sterns? Is that you?”

CORRECT, BANNER! I KNEW IF I FOLLOWED ROSS LONG ENOUGH, YOU’D EVENTUALLY SHOW YOUR FACE!

“I thought Blonsky killed Sterns,” Betty whispered.

“Me, too,” Bruce replied. He remembered all too well the night Sterns had tried to help cure him, and the disaster which followed when Emile Blonsky, a high-strung special forces soldier, somehow became a superpowered Abomination, waging a one-monster war on New York City.

And he got that way because of my DNA. Now Sterns must be infected, too!

Natasha stepped off the ramp, cocked the hammer on her gun. “Whoever you are, listen to me very carefully. My name is Agent Romanoff of The Avengers. You’re creating a potentially disastrous situation here. You need to stand down.”

Betty jerked toward Natasha. Still staring up, Bruce’s jaw fell.

STAND DOWN? AHAHAHAHAHAAA! NEVER! IT’S BANNER’S FAULT THAT I’VE BECOME WHAT I NOW AM! AND HE’LL REPAY ME BY GIVING ME A SAMPLE OF HIS SINGULAR BLOOD—RIGHT NOW!

“Your play, Bruce,” Natasha said.

Betty moaned. “Bruce, you can’t! He wants the power of—”

“I know what he wants,” Bruce interrupted. Then, to the ship, “What If I refuse? What, then?”

A moment passed. Dim red lights flickered on the ship’s underbelly. A loud whirring sound cut through the air.

IF YOU REFUSE, I’LL HAVE NO CHOICE BUT TO DEPLOY MY DRONES AND HURT YOUR TWO GIRLFRIENDS!

Girlfriends? Bruce bristled at the implication.

“I’m not his girlfriend!” Natasha yelled.

“Stay calm, Bruce!” Betty said.

“I’m trying, Betty.” Taking slow, measured breaths, the angry scientist walked to the center of the spotlight. “No, Sterns. No way I’m giving you anymore of my blood. The cops’ll be swarming all over this park in a minute, and you’re gonna end up in the Vault with Blonsky.”

SO YOU REFUSE?

“That’s right!”

THEN PAY THE PRICE!

“I think not,” Jarvis said from the Quinjet. Then the ramp slid inward, and the rear hatch hissed shut. The downward-facing jets roared to life as the plane rose up, turning to face the strange ship in the sky.

“Good job, Jarvis!” Bruce called.

“Evens the playing field, doesn’t it?” Natasha said.

YOU THINK YOU’RE ANY MATCH FOR THE LEADER? WELL, TAKE YOUR BEST SHOT!

“My pleasure,” Jarvis replied, and two red beams shot from the Quinjet’s underbelly. The ship lit up with a dark red sheen which faded, and from within came the sound of maniacal laughter:

HAHAHAHAHAAA! STARK-GRADE REPULSAR BLASTS, EH? TOO BAD THEY’RE NO MATCH FOR MY FORCE FIELD!

With a roar of its own, the ship flew forward, smashing into the Quinjet—

BOOM!

Betty screamed.

“Whoa!” Bruce said.

“Take cover!” Natasha yelled as she ran toward Bruce and Betty, pushing them toward the sheer granite wall of the fountain.

More laughter filled the night sky as the Quinjet sputtered and shook. Jarvis fired another repulsar blast which dissipated around the ship, and reversed engines.

“Sir, it appears that we’re at an impasse,” Jarvis said. “We cannot damage each other significantly enough to gain the upper hand. But I have alerted the nearby authorities.”

BAH! THE AUTHORITIES! WHAT HAVE I TO FEAR FROM THEM?

Another whirring sound sliced the air. Bruce’s eyes widened as he saw six glowing orbs descend from the ship. They dropped like falling bombs, then turned and swarmed in his direction. As they neared, he saw that they looked like giant eyes with neon red pupils, and each of them had four metallic tentacles slithering at its side.

“Drones!” Natasha cried. “Get down!”

Bruce stepped in front of Betty, who wrapped her arms around his waist. Natasha rolled forward, coming up on one knee, and fired two shots into the air.

Boom!Boom!

A bullet bounced off of the closest drone, and it swerved—but didn’t die. Natasha rose, leapt into the air with a spinning kick which connected on another drone—

Thwang!

—knocking it away, but not disabling it.

Jarvis fired another blast which faded around the ship’s force field.

HAHAHAAA!

“Damn!” Natasha screamed. Two drones had descended upon her, their tentacles wrapped around her arms and holding her in place. The rest flew toward Bruce and Betty,

“You won’t get away with this, Sterns!”

NO ONE CAN STOP ME, BANNER! NOT EVEN YOU!

Four drones now hovered around Bruce. Breathing deep, the scientist raised his fists. Behind him, Betty whimpered.

“Careful, Bruce!”

Bruce stepped forward. “You’re playing a dangerous game, Sterns!”

THAT’S WHERE YOU’RE WRONG, BANNER! THIS IS NO GAME!

The drones swooped in. Bruce swung and missed as they dipped and dodged his fists. Two of them skirted around him and latched onto Betty. She shrieked, and Bruce spun on his heels.

“BETTY!”

Another blast from the Quinjet. This time, the ship faltered—

DAMN YOU!

—and lurched forward. Intending to fly beneath the ship, the Quinjet dipped, but not before the ship crashed into the cockpit—

BOOM!

—driving it backward and down into the shallow water.

SUBMIT, BANNER! COME PEACEFULLY, AND I’LL SPARE YOUR GIRLFRIENDS THE SAME FATE AS YOUR JET!

Facing Betty, Bruce began to shake with rage. The drones held her arms just as the other two held Natasha’s, and two more hovered at his sides, waiting. He felt powerless, even as the beast within began to stir.

But if I let it out, I could level D.C. What if I end up smashing the White House?

TEN SECONDS, BANNER! THEN MY LITTLE HELPERS PULL YOUR GIRLFRIENDS’ ARMS OFF LIKE BUTTERFLY WINGS!

“NO!” Betty screamed.

“Bruce,” Natasha said. “Code: Green.”

Bruce sighed. “Are you sure?”

“Yes. It’s the only way. I’ll provide the lullaby.”

Jaw hanging, Betty’s gaze flicked from Bruce to Natasha, Natasha to Bruce. Detesting the fear and pain in her eyes, Bruce raised his arms.

“Fine. Take your sample, Sterns.”

WISE DECISION, BANNER!

Yeah, Sterns. We’ll see…

Bruce closed his eyes. They ached from the glare of the light. Sirens arose in the distance as he waited. A moment later, he felt metallic coils slithering around his biceps; cold from the night air. He heard Betty breathe a sigh of relief and knew that she’d been let go. Natasha, too, by the sound of the cocking gun behind him.

She wouldn’t need it.

“Betty!” Natasha called. “Run to me!”

Bruce smiled as he heard Betty’s shoes slapping against the concrete. Now, he could let loose.

HANG ON, BANNER! YOU’RE GOING FOR A RIDE!

The drones tightened their grip, began to rise. Bruce planted himself, allowing the rage brimming in his heart to overflow.

I don’t think so, Sterns!

When Bruce willed the change, it happened much faster and with far less pain than when he tried to resist. Every molecule in his body began to vibrate. Numbing cold shot through him as his bones began to thicken and grow. His heart pounded. His veins pulsed. Blood flooded into expanding muscle tissue.

Then it came.

The moment when it felt as if a bomb had gone off in the center of his brain.

The moment where Banner ended and the Other Guy began.

3.

An inhuman roar echoed throughout Meridian Hill Park, alerting all within earshot that something monstrous loomed by the vaunted cascade fountain. And there, beneath the spotlight of the ship, stood the mighty Hulk. Twelve feet tall, emerald-skinned, and layered with muscle. Veins bulged from his neck and forearms as he curled his hands into massive fists. The remnants of Banner’s clothing lay at his bare feet. Something had tried to hurt his friends, and fury lived in his every breath. He wanted to rend, he wanted to destroy.

He wanted to smash.

Hulk looked at the ocular-shaped drones with slithering tentacles, and decided to smash them first.

AH! I SEE YOU WISH TO DO THIS THE HARD WAY! WELL, YOUR CHOICE, BANNER!

The spotlight intensified; almost like looking at the sun. Pain stabbed at Hulk’s eyes, making him flinch. He snarled, blinded, and swiped at the air. Maniacal laughter filled his ears, and he dropped into a crouch, forgetting the drones, ready to leap at the bright thing in the sky.

Then another blast came, direct from the ship.

A thin shriek, as of metal grating against metal, filled Hulk’s ears. Augmented to a torturous decibel, the sonic beam would’ve ruptured the eardrums of any mortal, but Hulk withstood it. Not without extreme pain, though. It didn’t just sound like scraping metal, it felt like scraping metal. Inside his ears, inside his brain. Combined with the blazing, blinding light, Hulk felt assaulted on all sides. Miserable. Unable to fight.

Eyes shut, hands clamped over his ears, Hulk sank to one knee; hunched over, growling, shaking, trying to escape the unbearable pain. The merciless soundwaves rippled over his flesh, rattling him as if someone had reached into his body, grabbed his spine, and shook it hard.

HAHAHAAA! FOOLS! EVERYONE ELSE TRIES TO BEAT YOU WITH STRENGTH! BUT I, THE LEADER, THE SUPEREME INTELLECT, KNOW YOUR TRUE WEAKENESSES!

Another roar filled Meridian Hill Park. Hulk hated the bright light. Hulk hated the shrieking sound. Hulk hated the dumb ship in the sky. And, most of all, Hulk hated the voice calling out to him.

“Puny voice thinks it’s strong! But Hulk is stronger! HULK IS STRONGEST ONE THERE IS!”

AHAHAHAHAAA!

Head bowed, Hulk slit his bloodshot eyes. The drones had surrounded him, forming a ring of unblinking, neon pupils against the white glow. He leapt, snarling, and grabbed two; one in each powerful hand. The drones crumpled like aluminum cans, then Hulk threw them as hard as he could upward and into the light.

THE DRONES ARE EXPENDABLE, BANNER! JUST LIKE YOU!

Again, Hulk roared—from pain, this time. His hands flew back to his unprotected ears as he shut his eyes. “Not Banner!” he growled, tensing his legs.

“AM HULLLLK!”

The green giant sprang up with sudden vigor, flying straight into the air. Toward the ship. Toward the light. Toward the horrid noise, which grew ever louder, ever more painful as he approached. The sonic ripples even served to slow him somewhat.

BOOM! 

Using himself as a battering ram, Hulk slammed into the ship. He felt the force field, the steel underbelly fold like cardboard against him, then, aided by the sonic blast, gravity yanked him back.

Being that close to the sound overwhelmed him.

DAMN YOU, BANNER!

BOOM!

Hulk landed on his knees, causing a small earthquake which sloshed the dark water behind him. Fault lines spread through the concrete from the point of impact. The fall didn’t hurt, though. The sound did, even as it faded and everything went quiet. He felt sudden moisture on his palms, and understood that blood now dripped from his ears. His soundless ears.

HULK CAN’T HEAR!

Still, Hulk felt the shockwaves slamming into him, and bent forward. The pain in his head increased tenfold; a sledgehammer whacking his brain over and over. For the first time, Hulk felt utter confusion. He raged, but his rage couldn’t stop this particular pain. Then, taking advantage of his fallen posture, two steel tentacles slithered around his neck and began to constrict. Two more slithered around from behind. The drones, trying to choke him in tandem.

MUST GET AWAY FROM NOISE!

Collapsing, Hulk barrel-rolled to his right, but the pounding shockwaves followed, hammering him into the cement.

NO! MUST GET AWAY!

A sudden gust of wind passed over him. Cold liquid sprayed his side. Again, Hulk rolled, and this time, the sonic hammering lessened. Shielding his face with bloody hands, Hulk slit his eyes to see a big, black shape rising from the water. The Quinjet, angled toward the ship, and from its two cannons came shimmering red beams. Hulk couldn’t bear to look up, but a moment later, the light faded…the shockwaves subsided.

Pounding stop, but Hulk still can’t hear!

The beast looked up to see two more beams streak from the Quinjet into the ship’s exposed underbelly. A soundless explosion lit up the night sky, and the sight emboldened him to rise.

Now…HULK SMASH!

His head still throbbed. His eyes still hadn’t focused. He felt tired. He felt weak. But the rage still burned, an urge to destroy still lived. So he ripped the drones from his neck and crushed them into metallic dust. The other two flew toward him and he swatted them down like gnats. He glared up at the fiery ship as it wobbled and began to descend. The Quinjet’s engines turned downward, hovering over the water.

SHIP HURT HULK, NOW HULK HURT SHIP!

The ship fell.

Hulk leapt.

With no force field, the steel walls shredded like paper. Hulk burst through with ease, and in a frenzy began to rip the interior to pieces. Blinded by fury, he didn’t see much except a great web of gears, cogs, and metal tubing. No Leader to account for the voice which had hounded him.

Not that Hulk cared. He destroyed the ship with glee, even as he fell. This time, Hulk landed on his own two feet—

BOOM!

Another small earthquake as Hulk steadied himself. He couldn’t hear the sirens, but he saw them. Hulk knew what that meant. The puny men in blue with guns would try to stop him, but they couldn’t.

HULK WILL SMASH THEM ALL!

Facing the fountain, Hulk started forward. Something moved from the corner of his eye, and he turned. Two women now walked toward him, fear evident on their faces. He recognized them as Betty and Natasha; both friends. He growled, surprised at their presence. He still wanted to smash, but seeing them made him want to smash less.

Hulk miss friends…

He stepped forward. Both women halted. He read the words, Hey, big guy on Natasha’s lips, and smiled.

Big Guy is Hulk.

Tears streamed down Betty’s face. Bruce, you’re bleeding, she said, and although Hulk hated being called Bruce, he hated seeing Betty cry more.

“Betty…Hulk fine…”

Hulk looked down at his bloodstained hands, and groaned. The pain in his head had begun to ebb, but he still felt tired.

Maybe Hulk not fine. Maybe Hulk sleep.

He looked up, saw concern on both women’s faces. Both reached out to him, and, sinking to his knees, Hulk reached out to both. Natasha took his left hand while Betty took his right. Even in gloves and mittens, their hands felt warm and comforting. The urge to smash dissipated, replaced by the urge to rest. Jaw hanging, Hulk looked from Natasha to Betty, and back, reading the conversation on their lips:

Are you okay, Doctor Ross?

Not really, Agent Romanoff.

Well, don’t worry. He’ll rest now.

Hulk’s eyes began to flutter. He felt a chill from deep inside as the last of his rage faded, along with his mighty strength.

Yes…Hulk rest.

Eyes closed, Hulk went slack. His emerald green skin began to fade into a more human hue. His bones began to shorten, his muscles shrank like deflating balloons.

Becoming plain old Doctor Banner, mild-mannered scientist, once again.

4.

When Bruce awoke, he found that part of his hearing had returned; the miracle of his gamma-poisoned condition. He lay on his back, naked, shivering against the cold—and now cracked—concrete. Betty held his hand in both of hers. Her scarf lay bunched beneath his head. Her parka lay over his groin and abdomen. His entire skull throbbed, but, looking into Betty’s worried, tear-stained face, the melancholy scientist forgot his own pain.

“Betty…is everything okay?”

“Yeah, Bruce. Sterns is gone, and no one got hurt. Except you.”

Bruce groaned. In the distance, he heard faint sirens and even fainter voices. All jumbled, frantic. Annoying.

“Is Natasha handling the cops?”

“Yes.”

“Good.”

Using Betty’s grip for leverage, Bruce sat up, rolled to one knee, and stood, clutching her parka around his waist. The cold bit into his skin like a barrage of needles. His breath steamed out in monstrous clouds. He shook his head to clear it, then looked around.

My God…

The Quinjet again hovered over the water garden, hatch open, ramp extended. Debris from the ship lay all around, and the walkway looked as if it had been struck by a meteor shower.

Fallout from the Code: Green.

“You’re freezing, Bruce!” Betty said, pulling him close and wrapping herself around him.

Bruce put his free arm around her, smiled as she kissed his cheek.

“I’m so sorry. I guess this was a bad idea…”

“No, Betty. It was good to see you. I just…I hope that now you understand why I have to stay away.”

Head buried against his bare shoulder, Betty gasped. Bruce knew that he’d caused more tears, more heartache, but like any disciplined doctor, he’d done it for her own good.

At least, that’s what he told himself.

“Hey, Bruce.”

Bruce looked up to see Natasha jogging down the steps beside the fountain. She looked cool, calm, and businesslike; per usual.

“I smoothed everything out with Washington P.D., but we need to get outta here, ASAP, before they change their minds and try to arrest you.”

Bruce looked apologetic and helpless over Betty’s shoulder. He glanced down at Betty, indicating that he needed time. Head cocked, Natasha crossed her arms.

“Two minutes. See ya on the Quinjet.”

Gee, thanks, Natasha…

Bruce sighed as his fellow Avenger strode past him. At the top of the fountain, several wide-eyed policemen stood and watched. A general’s daughter had been put at risk tonight, and they didn’t want their butts caught in the ringer over it.

Natasha’s right. Time to wrap this up.

“I have to go, Betty.”

“No, you don’t,” Betty mewled in between sobs. “You can stay here, with me.

Hugging her tighter, Bruce closed his eyes. He’d hurt Betty enough for one lifetime, and with great personal injury, forced himself to pull away.

“No, Bruce! Don’t!”

“I have to. You know that.”

Betty’s eyes flashed. She groaned, shook her head like a stubborn child. Bruce replied with a firm nod, mouthing, I’m sorry.

And he meant it.

For a moment, Betty refused to let go…then her obstinate expression melted with grief. Bruce stepped back, and her mittened hands came away with her parka. Weeping harder, Betty held the coat in her arms as if it contained a piece of Bruce’s soul. The words I-love-you played on her glistening lips, and if she said it, Bruce didn’t hear.

Thank God.

“Goodbye, Betty.”

Turning, refusing to hurt himself any worse, Bruce Banner limped up the Quinjet’s ramp, naked, shivering, morose, and filled with regret.

Believe me, Betty. This is the last thing I wanted.

“Hello, Doctor Banner,” Jarvis said as the hatch hissed shut.

“Hey.”

“How are you?”

Bruce winced. “I’ve felt better, Jarvis.”

“Sorry to hear that, Doctor, although I’m glad to see you back in human form. There’s a change of clothes in your locker.”

“Thanks.” Bruce stumbled as the Quinjet began to rise. “Full speed home, okay?”

“I’m afraid Agent Romanoff has assumed the controls.”

“Terrific.”

Bruce didn’t have the energy to get dressed. He felt like crying, but didn’t have the energy for that, either. So he sank into Thor’s seat on the starboard side, waiting for the inevitable.

“So,” Natasha called in a coy, sarcastic tone. “Wanna tell me why you snuck out on a solo mission without even telling me where you were going?”

With the weariest of sighs, Bruce leant forward, buried his face in his blood-encrusted hands. He had a lot of explaining to do, and even at top speed, this promised to be a long ride home.


If you enjoyed this story, please like, follow, and share.

Show support on Patreon @ https://www.patreon.com/jesselynnrucilez

Thanks for reading!

JLR

 

Bobby’s Fight Official Page!

June 11, 2017

 

 

 

 


Clint “Gladiator” Gault is a professional fighter set to take on an undefeated Russian champion. But over this glitzy Las Vegas spectacle, a specter looms: that of a dead, mysterious boy named Bobby Williams. Having tormented Bobby as a child, Clint learned firsthand that he’d possessed strange and terrifying abilities. Now, fourteen years after almost dying at Bobby’s hands, Clint must grapple with the demons of his past while facing the ultimate challenge. Don’t miss this action-packed sequel to “Bobby’s Dream” by Reno-based author, Jesse Lynn Rucilez.


Available in paperback @ the following stores:

Create Space: https://www.createspace.com/7191970

Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/Bobbys-Fight-Jesse-Lynn-Rucilez/dp/154687576X/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8


Available in digital format @ your favorite online store, including Amazon Kindle, Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble Nook, and more: https://www.books2read.com/u/3JK5BP


Promotional video:


Read an excerpt here: https://jlrucilez.wordpress.com/2014/08/21/bobbys-fight-novella-excerpt-2/


Spoken Word Excerpt:

Blood & Stuffing (Short Story)

March 26, 2015

blood-stuffingFrom the journal of famed adventurer, Max Condor, circa 2015:

Have you ever looked into the eyes of a velveteen nightmare? Well, I have–and I assure you, it’s not pretty. The first time you’re cornered by a vicious, rabid Plushie, and you have to stare into its black, beady gaze, you know the true meaning of the word fear. And here on Teddy Bear Island, fear is woven into the very atmosphere. You breathe it like oxygen. You learn real fast to either embrace it and let it motivate you to survive, or it’ll clog your lungs like mothballs and force you underground.

Strength through fear, or death through unwillingness to adapt and survive. On Teddy Bear Island, that’s the only choice you get. Luckily for me, I made my choice a long time ago.

But…who are the Plushies? What are they? Where did they come from? How did they come to power? I guess nobody knows; nor does anyone know who built that accursed Teddy Bear Temple. For myself, I just know that I’ve lived in that evil Teddy Bear shadow my whole life. And from everything I’ve seen and experienced in this place, I can honestly say one thing for certain: the only good Plushie, is a dead Plushie. Because that’s the bottom line. We humans are now the hunted…so it’s us, or them…in a war to the death…

That’s how I’ve come to find myself hiding in this musty cave a few miles south of The Temple. No food, no water. A tight ball of fear in my stomach. Waiting for death, so I can join my comrades in the afterlife.

You see, I’m the only one left. One of three. Max Condor; brigand, scout, and expert with the longbow. Phoenix Kline; adept of the mystic arts. And Raven-In-The-Wood; warrior, and master of the sword. I’d known Phoenix since childhood. Raven I met one day while exploring. The three of us quickly formed a partnership; venturing out to wage a guerilla campaign against the Plushies. We’d figured at the time that three was the magic number. Too small to draw much attention, but enough to get ourselves out of any trouble we might stumble into. Three was perfect for splitting the overnight watches on our campouts, and each of us felt safer knowing he had two other professionals watching his back. Not to mention that our combined talents made us more resourceful than twice as many average explorers.

In short, we were the best. We made names for ourselves very quickly. Everyone knew us, far and wide, though very few actually knew our faces. We gave the others hope. Hope that the Plushies wouldn’t prey on humankind forever. Hope that one day all of the evil on Teddy Bear Island would be vanquished. And with every mission, with every success, the flame of humanity began to burn higher, and ever brighter.
But this time, something went wrong.

It began with the amulet. Early in his training, Phoenix had heard whisperings of the “Baal de Fuego,” a powerful amulet that gives its possessor ultimate control over fire. Phoenix, in his study of mystical lore, had specialized in the summoning of elements. Wind, lightning…and fire. Especially fire! Nothing scares the hell out of, or utterly ruins a Plushie quite like an open flame. Unfortunately, summoning elements is quite taxing and dangerous to those who wield those powers. But, supposedly, this Baal de Fuego grants its owner the power to summon, control, and intensify any fire with frightening ease. Only a trained spell caster can touch it without erupting into flame, and in the hands of an elemental sorcerer it could turn our war against the Plushies around.

I have to admit, I lusted after that amulet almost as much as Phoenix did. I love the smell of charred Plushie in the morning.

So, after many long hours of poring through ancient spell books, contemplating the riddles offered by his mentors, and studying maps, Phoenix–and subsequently, Raven and I–came to believe that the Baal de Fuego had been either lost or buried somewhere within the web of caverns in which I now hide. It didn’t take long for us to agree on the course of action which ultimately led to our destruction. But there was no way to know that at the time. All we knew was that the Baal de Fuego belonged in no wizard’s hands save Phoenix Kline’s, and we meant to find it!

Fortunately, the caverns we sought were but three days journey from Canary La; a small village we’d passed through many times before. The locals knew us, and our reputations could buy most anything we’d need at a fraction of the cost. So we made our way there, slowly, carefully, avoiding trouble and rationing our supplies. Once at Canary La, we rested for two days, stocked up, and finalized our plan.

The first day went smoothly. We left just before dawn, invigorated by the slight chill, and comfortable in the shadowy wilderness. Most of the creatures around us were asleep, or drifting in that direction. The trail was familiar and well-worn, and nothing arose to disturb us. As we walked, Phoenix kept watch straight ahead. Raven, bringing up the rear, watched behind us. I, of course, kept my gaze slightly elevated, scanning the trees for any Plushies crouching on the limbs. At midday, we stopped at a clearing and ate. When we finished, the sun had moved, and we found ourselves walking in the shadow of the Plushie Temple. And though we’d grown used to it, the deep shadow served as a constant reminder that walking death lay all around us.

That night, we all felt so good that we walked an hour past our agreed stopping point. We made camp in a small grove near several large trees. After dinner, we extinguished our fire and camouflaged our makeshift beds with leaves and sticks. Raven, spry as the devil, had taken first watch, followed by myself, then Phoenix. Each of us slept soundly in our allotted time, and awoke refreshed and ready.
I can’t speak for my fallen comrades, but I know that first night I dreamt of fire. A whole mountain of flames, cascading down like an avalanche and sweeping up every last Plushie in its scorching wake.

It was a good dream. Probably my last.

The second day, things changed. It had been warm and sunny, but a certain stillness settled around us. The woods were silent. No wind. No birds. No Plushies. We all felt uneasy, but ultimately chalked it up to good fortune. No obstacles meant we’d find the Baal de Fuego sooner.

A few hours in, the trail we were following…just…ended. Disappeared; as if no one had ever gone any further than that desolate spot in the forest. Here, we found ourselves at the base of a small hill. Nothing we hadn’t tackled before, though. So we dug in our heels and made our own trail. The ground became rocky about halfway up, dust swirled around our faces, and still…no signs of life anywhere.

We’d planned to stop and eat at the peak, but that quickly changed.

At the base of the hill lay a short field. Beyond the field was another dense wood, leading to our destination. We’d expected the hill. We’d expected the forest. What we hadn’t expected, was the carnage below…

Looking down, we saw a horrid sight. Truly horrid. It looked like a dumping ground for corpses. Not human, thankfully. But, perhaps more disgustingly, Koboldian. To me, Kobolds are nauseating creatures–even when alive. Short, mongrel-headed, bestial, and smelly. And now, I was facing a small field littered with their remains. Bodies piled upon bodies. Some of them headless, with large, ragged wounds adorning their necks; as if their entire skulls had been bitten off. Severed arms, legs, hands, and feet strewn about the blood-soaked earth. A massacre. A slaughter. And pervading this grisly tableau, a gigantic cloud of black, buzzing, flies.

“We stand at the threshold of hell!” Raven cried, recoiling from the sight.

“Steady!” Phoenix soothed, placing his hand upon Raven’s shoulder. “Once we’ve passed through this wicked place, and the Baal de Fuego rests in my palm, I shall set it all ablaze! We’ll watch the filth burn to ash and be scattered by the four winds!”

And I? Well, I simply stared in mute shock and fought to keep my gorge from rising. But then more unpleasantness arose. It brings to mind the Zen riddle about the tree falling and no one to hear it. Ascending that rocky hill, we’d heard no sound whatsoever. But standing there, gaping at the fly-speckled field, we heard a sudden roar of insect wings. It felt as if we had thousands of flies, mites, and bees buzzing inside our heads, and it struck us all with preternatural fear.

From stone silence to a whirlwind; as if the haunting sound only manifested once someone actually saw the grotesquerie on display.

Pondering that still makes me shudder.

I shall now spare you, dear reader, of the horrors–both visual and nasal–that we endured whilst trekking through that plain of rotting Kobolds. Suffice to say that we did this with great alacrity, hurrying with all the zeal of scared rabbits at the sound of thunder. And, disturbingly, once we’d slipped across the threshold into the dark forest beyond, the terrible buzzing faded from our ears as if it had never been. Out of sight, out of mind. No one to hear it any longer.

And from there, things only worsened. The wilderness we found ourselves in was dense with gnarled trees, sharp rocks, and a putrid, rotted smell. Like a dry swamp. And all about us, the sounds of a savage jungle. Skittering behind every bush. Fluttering in every tangle of branches. Snarls and growls echoing in the distance. The odd sound of heavy footsteps thumping into the earth.

“Merciful fate,” Raven whispered. “I have never felt so menaced as I do now.”

Silent, Phoenix and I nodded without looking at our friend. We’d heard the fear in Raven’s voice; neither of us cared to see it in his gaze.

What Raven had specifically referred to was the undeniable feeling of being watched. Something out there was stalking us. Something big and deadly. Tracking our every move. Perhaps more than one. Perhaps we’d been surrounded and just didn’t know it.

We were very near that wicked Temple, which only added to our unease.

Still, we pushed onward. Stealth no longer mattered, so we picked up the pace, marching single file toward our destiny. With every step, the ground became harder, the stench worsened, and The Temple’s shadow darkened. Time itself began to unravel. Night descended upon us like a tidal wave, and before we knew it, we were huddled around a fire, eating quietly and struggling to keep our fears in check.

That night was a mellow disaster. Nothing came alive or attacked us, but we were weakened, nonetheless. All of us slept fitfully, and our watches were plagued with incident. For Raven, it was an extended flurry of those heavy steps, as if several Plushies were hurrying toward us. It prompted him to rouse Phoenix and I, only to be embarrassed when we heard nothing save the night wind. For Phoenix, a dreadful moaning arose from the shadows, as if someone desperately needed help. Refusing to wake Raven and I, the sorcerer resolved to find the source of the anguish without aid, allowing himself to be drawn further and further away from camp…’til at last he realized his folly and rushed back. For me, I had to contend with the appearance of a large viper near the fire pit. How it slithered in unnoticed, I shall never know. As luck would have it, however, I caught the creature as it coiled near Raven. It bared its fangs and struck as I approached, but I dodged and beheaded it with my trusty dagger.

Thus, tired and aggravated, Phoenix, Raven, and I greeted the dawn with sighs of relief, packed our gear, and trudged on.

Unfortunately, nothing in the hellish forest had changed. In fact, it had worsened. The gnarled trees looked gnarlier. The sharp rocks were sharper. The putrid reek was the apotheosis of putrescence. Skittering, fluttering, snarls, growls, thumps in the distance; as if every living thing was agitated at our presence. And still, we saw nothing. Still, we felt watched.

How my flesh crawls just remembering it!

Ah, but the allure of Baal de Fuego drove us onward. Once found, we believed, the Plushies would fear our merry little band and we’d be the saviors of humanity. It was an honest, exalted dream, but ultimately doomed to fail. I just hope that within our failure others may find something of value to learn…

So. With our failure not quite realized and our dream intact, Phoenix, Raven, and I reached what seemed like a suitable clearing to stop, rest, and eat. Here, the terrain seemed less menacing, less…hostile. Yet we still felt ill-at-ease as we dropped our packs and settled down for a hearty meal of bread, nuts, dried beef, and water. Normally on our treks, we’d hunt for edible leaves and berries along the way. But there, in that terrible place, none of us dared.

And what happened next was my worst nightmare come to life.

No sooner than we’d fished out our provisions, there came a thunderous roar. All eyes snapped upward. All jaws dropped. A massive pink body hurtled toward us, followed by gray, then powder blue. A Plushie sneak attack. Bunnies. Floppy eared, buck toothed, and clawed. Huge. Enormous. The biggest damn Plushies any of us had ever seen. But the insidious thing was that they’d been stalking us from the trees. Some unholy charm had rendered them invisible, and only then, at the moment of attack, could they be seen.

“Hellfire!” Phoenix screamed, raising his arms.

A moment later, Pink landed, knocking Raven over with a sweep of its gigantic claw. Phoenix and I leapt to our feet as Gray and Blue thudded into the earth. Phoenix had no time to begin a spell, so he pulled his short sword and, in one deft maneuver, sliced Blue’s left floppy ear off and dove into a nearby bramble for cover. Blue howled in agony and stamped its ugly feet. Bow in hand, I notched an arrow and, with one eye on Raven, fell into retreat.

All would-be adventurers take note: Plushies are strong and vicious, but slow and dimwitted. So I, not being the most formidable warrior, rely on treachery. And as Gray lumbered toward me, I spun and sank an arrow into Pink’s back as it swiped in vain at Raven. Pink straightened, screamed, and Raven seized the opportunity, drawing his broadsword and leaving a large gash in Pink’s chest. Gray, meanwhile, rushed me as I notched another arrow. Raven’s face already showed signs of the heavy blow he’d taken, but otherwise my friend was in rare form, ducking Pink’s claws and dealing savage blows in return. I managed to sink an arrow in Gray’s belly and thumped his head with my bow, but paid for it when his claw swept my right leg out from under me. And Phoenix, as usual, had scurried off so that he could put his sorcery to good use. One-eared Blue, however, had turned its attention toward the battle between Pink and Raven.

It should here be noted that Plushies don’t die easily. One of my arrows to the chest would kill a man, but these giant, stuffed, monstrosities must be hacked and slashed several times over to stop them. It’s the main reason they’re so tough to fight. But I digress. The end is night; let me get these words onto the page before I lose my chance.

So there I was, at the feet of Gray. Snarling, drooling, bleeding, Gray was enraged, trying to decapitate me. I rolled; once, twice, and again, putting distance between myself and the damned bunny. It was enough. I notched another arrow, and this time I scored a direct hit to the face! Gray shrieked as scarlet teardrops tinged its fur. I then unleashed my dagger and rushed in for the kill, stabbing Gray’s soft belly again and again. Somewhere behind us, I heard Raven’s grunts of exertion and Pinks howls of misery. I knew Blue was also closing in, and though I’d often seen Raven defeat two Plushies at once, these two were enormous and no doubt able to sustain an incredible amount of damage. This I was finding out as I took another swipe from Gray. Angered, I responded by gouging its throat, and at last, Gray sank to its knees and collapsed.

Gasping for breath, I turned to see Raven in full melee with Blue. Pink’s ruined form lay behind Raven, limbless and lifeless. We’d all but won. I knew what was coming, but even so, I notched an arrow and sank it into Blue’s left flank. Blue stiffened, squealed, and was run through by Raven’s ruddy blade. Then, before Blue could even blink, he burst into flames. All thoughts of attack left Blue’s evil brain as it fell flailing to the ground. Smirking, Phoenix appeared from the forest depths, and the three of us surrounded the dying Plushie. Silent, solemn, we watched without pity as that bloodied, flaming, bunny died its slow, painful death. We could’ve hastened its end with a few quick slashes, but we didn’t.

Finally, when the flames died, we looked around, taking in the awful sights. Three dead Plushies littered the clearing, blood and stuffing all around. Grinning, we breathed a collective sigh of relief…but before we could even begin to understand what had happened, we heard a heavy thump quite near us.

“Oh, no!” I wailed. “What have we brought upon ourselves?”

What, indeed? Because there before us stood another blue rabbit. Gargantuan. Snarling. Claws flexed and ready to rend. And behind it, another Gray.

“Then the legends are true!” Phoenix replied to me. “But I never, ever would’ve believed–”

I don’t know how Phoenix meant to end that sentence. Before he could finish, a roar arose behind us. And there stood another Plushie, this one brown and just as angry as its brethren. Beside it stood an orange teddy bear, grinning that idiot grin which all teddies seem to have.

Thus, four more Plushies–with more on the way, I’m sure.

“RETREAT!” Raven yelled, already running from the horrible scene. “FALL BACK!”

“INTO THE FOREST!” I added, following Raven’s lead.

Phoenix, muttering an incantation, broke into a run beside us.

And there we went. Running blindly, foolishly, into the wilderness. Into The Temple’s malicious shadow. But also, toward the caves we’d originally sought. Flames leapt up around us as Phoenix unleashed his innate powers in a frenzy. Phoenix had poor control while in such a state, but I hoped as I ran that the flames would spread and burn the whole damned forest to the ground. Maybe even spread to that accursed Temple and burn the Plushie idol to ashes.

That’s the only thing which would make this doomed expedition worth the sacrifice.

Now, crouched in this cave as I am, starved, exhausted, and hopeless, my memory fails. All I recall from my dash through the trees–aside from the flames–is the odd streak of brown, blue, pink, orange, green, gray, and black in my peripheral vision. Roars, screams, and–oh, God–the sound of bones crunching in my wake. I ran and ran and ran until I fell and began to crawl. How I ended up in this cavern, I honestly can’t say for sure. I just know that I woke up in a pool of my own vomit; a symptom of my extreme exertion. I crawled to the mouth and found that night had fallen. A full moon has risen, granting me the light to at least write by. Luckily, my journal was still in the satchel I carry around my waist.

So here I am. For all I know, this cave belongs to one of those gigantic Plushies. It’ll lumber home soon, and tear me to pieces. I still have a slim chance of survival, I suppose, but that’s contingent upon me sleeping, healing, and ultimately finding food. At present, I’m too frightened to sleep, and too injured to even attempt to forage outside. I have no weapons. My heart is heavy for the loss of my dearest comrades, and the will to go on is waning by the second. I’ve even begun to doubt the validity of the legend surrounding the Baal de Fuego. Perhaps it was all a ruse by the Plushies to lure us into this blighted place…

Perhaps I’m losing my mind. Or have already lost it.

No matter. Before my body follows suit, I’ll again write the names of my fellowship. Phoenix Kline. Raven-In-The-Wood. Never let their sacrifice be forgotten. Never let their deeds go unrecorded. They fought the good fight ’til they could fight no more, and ’til their hearts failed to beat. Let their deaths be forever etched into the conscience of humanity, and may humanity never fall to the savagery of the Plushies.

As for me…well, who knows what terrors this night may hold?

Who, indeed…?

–March 26th, 2015


If you enjoyed this short story, please subscribe, like, and share.

“Blood & Stuffing” is original fiction based on the Escape From Teddy Bear Island Role-Playing Game, published by Orcs Unlimited Games.

Buy Escape From Teddy Bear Island here: http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/121543/Escape-from-Teddy-Bear-Island

Thank you for reading!

JLR


%d bloggers like this: