Friday, 10 February 2012

'The Sack of Mycovia'

Below is my entry to Madison Woods' #FridayFictioneers.  The idea is to write a piece of flash fiction (in this case, a piece of approximately 100 words) prompted/inspired by the following image:

The original image, along with a full explanation of the Friday Fictioneers concept, can be found at:

I'd like to extend my thanks to Madison for the inspiration :-)

Here's the story (Any comments/feedback would be appreciated, I am always trying to improve):

The Sack of Mycovia
 Behind wax sealed eyes, the Crooked Seers discovered Mycovia in fevered dreams. They whispered furtively to the Undying Emperor and told him tales of a hidden race of mushroom people.  With a languid gesture of his desiccated hand, he dispatched his most feared abominations to bring him Mycovian specimens for his terrible menagerie.

On dark wings they flew, riding a fetid wind, wielding chitinous spears and filling the night with eldritch cries.  They left Mycovia desolate, clutching their diminutive captives in pulsating mucus sacks.  Below, unseen by shifting eyes, Mycovia's chosen remained concealed beneath loam. They would endure, as they always had.

Copyright © A. Flood 2012

Thursday, 9 February 2012


My posts to this blog stopped some time ago when I started work on a new story idea.  Much darker in tone than 'Smoke and Mirrors', it was intended to be a hardboiled, 'future-noir' piece.  Writing it was, in honesty, hard work.

I then stopped writing almost completely following the arrival of my wonderful baby son.  Priorities shifted, perception of time altered, and mental energies were diverted and exhausted elsewhere.  The whole wonderful process of being with my wife and son throughout his first seven months has gone by in a whirlwind of remarkable experiences.  I am so very lucky.

Now I find that my luck continues as I find small ways of making a return to writing.  After all, the creative urge never really diminished, it was just set aside for a time.  Some of the new writing has come from sharing the pursuit with a very good friend and some has been shaped by my new station in life.

With smaller chunks of time, I'll write smaller chunks of fiction.  Flex the old writing muscles and see if they still work.  If any of these fragments, scenes, shorts or pieces of flash fiction feel right, I'll post them.

If you are one of the readers who visit this site from time to time, please accept my sincerest thanks.  It's genuinely good to know that there are people out there who find my writing to be of interest.  I hope I can continue to entertain.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

'Smoke and Mirrors' Pt. 17 (Final)

Domino's meeting with Yamada continues...

Yamada's slightly smug greeting galvanised her will to succeed and Domino suddenly found she had stopped shaking. She was back in control again. She reached into a small fold in the bag she carried across her wrist and, with great care, pulled out a traditional business card that was both anachronistic and exquisitely crafted.

Domino bowed low and offered the card to Yamada, who accepted it with surprising reverence.
His first mistake.
He paused for a moment to examine the card, taking in the quality of the calligraphy, the intricate artwork depicting the hint of a face amid sakura blossoms, designed to leave a lasting impression on the client.

His approval of her gesture was obvious, yet a certain arrogance prevented him from demonstrating it too openly in her presence. So Yamada nodded what might have been a hint at a bow before leading the way over to the low table set into the centre of the room. Domino's eyes scanned the feast arrayed there, spotted the fugu and almost laughed at the perfect coincidence of it all.

The synthetic neurotoxin currently coursing through Yamada's blood was a carefully engineered variant of tetrodotoxin, the deadly venom found in the puffer-fish from which fugu was prepared. In handling her business card, Yamada had come into contact with the poison and would soon feel its effects. Or maybe he wouldn't; Domino wasn't too sure on that point. It did cause paralysis, after all.

Domino meanwhile, would be completely unaffected. The custom skin barrier coating her palms and fingertips made sure of that. Now all she had to do was maintain her composure until the toxin she had bought from Roland's bizarre little lab completed its task.

She blinked as hundreds of sakura blossoms suddenly whirled in the air in front of her, as if carried by some strange breeze along a flat plane, forming a vivid, almost fractal curtain. Domino realised Yamada had reprogrammed the suite's aural/visual defence curtains in order to produce this illusion.

High-intensity projectors built into the floor and ceiling at specific intervals produced fields of 'white noise', operating on a massive range of frequencies and designed with security in mind. Intended to defeat remote surveillance and sniper scopes, they could also be simultaneously programmed to project an accompanying image sympathetic to the owner's décor. Domino had seen people set them up as washi paper screens before, but this level of animation was something new. These defensive screens were one of the reasons she had decided against just taking Yamada out from across the bay, a well placed shot from a high-powered, neural linked rifle wiping his particular stain from her past.

Another reason was that she wanted to see his face. She needed to be in the same room, the same space, when Yamada realised what was happening to him.

Yamada was seated at the table now, and gestured for Domino to join him. She stepped slowly through the repeating curtains of petals, watching for the first flicker of panic in Yamada's eyes.

Any second now...

His fingers went first. The hands and arms weren't far behind, locked into a freeze-frame as the neurotoxin began wreaking havoc on his system. Yamada's eyes widened in shock and completely unfettered fear as, within three beats of his ageing, blackened heart, his muscles completely ceased responding to his commands.

“W-what's happening to me?” Yamada managed, his voice little more than a parched whisper as his airway rebelled against him.

Domino stalked closer, the light from Yamada's neon-Ueno construct reflected in her dark irises as she leant in close to him.

“I imagine you're trying to figure out if it's a heart attack. Or a stroke, maybe,” she said softly. “You might also be wondering why I'm not more concerned, why I'm not in a blind panic, that sort of thing.”

“What!? Who are you? I -”
“Save your breath. You're about to find it increasingly difficult to breathe, much less talk. That's one of the problems with badly prepared fugu: paralysis, followed by eventual asphyxiation. Now...” she paused, lifting a pair of chopsticks from an ornate ceramic cup. “Do you really have no idea who I am? I would have thought some small part of you had been expecting me.”

As Domino lifted an impossibly thin slice of fugu with the chopsticks, she saw Yamada's eyes register sudden comprehension.

“Sh-shinigami?” Yamada croaked.
Domino frowned and sighed at the sound of that word. The code-name they had given her. Death-god or, as they had intended it, bringer of death.
“Yes. And no. Nobody calls me that now. I left that name behind when I escaped your 'Ryu-gumi' organisation.” She almost spat the name of the Yakuza syndicate, the group of wealthy parasites who had fractured a little girl's life.
She stared hard at Yamada, her eyes unblinking accusations, irises morphing from inky black through to molten red as a maelstrom of emotions surged within her. Domino took a deep breath, trying to choose her next words, not wanting her message to be diminished by the confusion she was feeling. Now that she was here, it felt... unexpected, unpredictable.
It was in that moment that there came a discreet knock at the door.

Shit! Domino cursed to herself as she swiftly kicked off her geta sandals and moved silently towards the door. She halted as it opened and adopted what she hoped was a convincingly demure pose as the pseudo-ninja from outside walked in.

“Please forgive the intrusion, Yamada-sama. I notice your heart rate is unusually elevated. Is everything all right?”

Domino had never considered the possibility that Yamada might be fitted with a remote heart monitor. Stupid, stupid mistake. The pseudo-ninja was waiting for Yamada's response. To his credit, the bodyguard worked out that something was wrong quite quickly. As he turned towards Domino, his hand was already reaching for his gun.

“You there! What is – uurk!”

Domino closed the gap between them before he had chance to even consider lining up a shot. Her hands moved fast, sending his gun spinning away as she locked and snapped his wrist in a simple disarm. She then reversed momentum and pivoted, her small movement causing him to tumble head over heels. He landed awkwardly and she used the opportunity to quickly pull off his odd egg-shaped helmet.
Domino immediately pulled him into a sleeper hold, her arm forming a 'v' under his chin, applying pressure to both the carotid and jugular arteries, restricting blood flow to the man's brain. Unconsciousness found him within seconds, and as she felt his body grow limp, she released him to the floor. He would not be out for long, she knew, and so she retrieved one of her acupuncture needles from her hair and applied it as she had done with Koralev. At least when he came to, he would be unable to interfere further with her plans for Yamada.

Padding back over to where Yamada sat immobile, a living statue, she crouched at his side once more.

“You have a loyal man there,” she commented. To her surprise, Yamada opened his mouth to respond. The man had considerable will power, she had to give him that, at least.
“W-why did you not kill him?” he rasped slowly.
“He was just doing his job. Besides, it's you I came to kill.”
Yamada's eyes somehow managed to widen further still, more out of panic than shock. 
“The funny thing is,” Domino continued, “I'm not going to.”

She waited for that to sink in before continuing, “you see, to do so would be to continue on as 'Shinigami'. It'd be almost as if I never left the Ryu-gumi. I came here with two options: the festival treat in my bag, which contains enough synthetic neurotoxin to fell a sumo – utterly lethal within seconds of ingestion, and the calling card, dosed with a little contact poison. Just enough to render you immobile and, I imagine, quite uncomfortable.
“Somehow, in getting to you via your nasty little subordinates, I started to realise that the whole point of hunting you down was not only to avenge my parents, but to free myself of the Ryu-gumi. Rather than kill you all, one by one – which is still an option, by the way – it seems more effective now to issue a warning. Guess who's going to be my advocate?”

As she was talking to Yamada, Domino realised that she had started babbling, almost a stream of consciousness outpouring of all that seemed to matter at that point in time. The man no doubt thought she was crazy. Truth be told, she thought, I am. A little.

Since her escape from the Ryu-gumi criminal syndicate-cum-mega-corporation which had spawned her, she had tried to rebuild memories of her past from a shattered, amnesiac psyche. All she had now were little more than snapshots, the information she needed about who she was being randomly drip-fed to her as she searched for clues.

All the while, the yakuza oyabun had been looking for her, keen to reclaim their most precious 'asset'. After all, they had gone to the trouble of killing her family, taking her as their own and shaping her into a precision instrument of their wrath. They had spared no expense, employing bleeding edge cybernetics, viral skill learning and nanotechnology in order to craft their perfect little warrior. To this day, she had no idea as to why she was 'chosen'.

Perhaps more to the point, she had no idea what she was doing here now. It was only recently that she had recalled Yamada's face, his name, his involvement in her past. So much of her still wanted him dead, his passing preferably prefaced by immeasurable suffering. Certainly, he belonged in one of the many hells. And yet, to kill him would be to somehow dishonour her parents' memory. At least, that's how it felt to her now.
And what she had said to Yamada was true: if she was ever to distance herself from her dark past, she needed to stem the bloodshed. To say she was conflicted was an understatement. But Yamada didn't need to know that. Fuck him. He could stay scared. So long as he got the rest of the Ryu-gumi to leave her the hell alone. Give her space and time to figure out who she really was on her own terms.

If Yamada had noticed Domino drifting off into a reverie, he didn't show it. Tetrodotoxin will do that to a man. The singular brilliance of Roland's creation was that, in controlled doses, the muscular paralysis would not prove fatal and would only hint at gradual asphyxia. Yamada's silence and laboured breathing indicated that the neurotoxin was now in full effect. Domino shrugged slightly. She had never liked the sound of his voice, anyway.

“So... you're going to get the elder Ryu-gumi to call off the dogs. I'm bored now. Consider how easily I reached you. Then consider how messy things will get if I am given reason to become... aggravated. It's time for the Ryu-gumi to find themselves a new asset, a new Shinigami. It'll be much cheaper and considerably safer. Just nod if you understand.”

Domino angled her head, as if waiting for a response, regarding Yamada with mock-childlike curiosity.

“Sorry, my little joke. I'm leaving now. I hope you do as I asked. For both our sakes,” she said as she stood, retrieving her geta in the process. She walked slowly towards the door, through Yamada's private hanami festival, petals of pink and white swirling around her.
Almost as an afterthought, she paused, and over her shoulder, said to Yamada, “the neurotoxin should wear off in time. At least, that's what I was told.”

Domino placed a call through to her Hou-ou Skyline pilot as she made her way back through the Ebisu and, five minutes later, she was climbing into the back of the slightly bulbous, phoenix-branded air-car. She eased back into the plush seat, her whole body trembling.

“Sorry,” she said, to no-one in particular, and promptly threw up.

Countless pinpricks of light, made blurry through her tears, twinkled above Domino. Angel's 'digital constellations'. The over-large towel wrapped around her felt comforting and brought a tingle of deja-vu, like maybe she had felt this way as a child. That was perhaps why she was crying: she just didn't know. But killing Yamada wouldn't change that.

The sounds of Angel emerging from her shower filtered through over percolating coffee and the hum of myriad cooling fans, working hard to keep their respective parent devices in good working order.

Angel slumped onto the bed next to Domino and immediately wrapped her in a bear-hug.

“Proud of you,” Angel said, sealing the declaration with a soft peck on Domino's cheek. “I thought you'd kill him.”
“So did I.”
Angel didn't need to ask why Domino hadn't ended the man's life. Her friend's compassion, her conscience, her humanity even – all these things had been slowly returning, demonstrated with increasing frequency, since the day they had met.

Angel rolled onto her back, lying parallel to Domino, and joined her in staring up at nothing in particular. Just thousands of LEDs, winking in the dark.

“What if they ignore the warning, still come after us?” Angel suddenly asked, her voice edged with worry.

Domino smiled a strange smile then, her gaze fixed on some distant point in Angel's artificial galaxy, almost as if she were seeing the future there, among those constellations.

“They made me what I am. They will find they made me too well.”

They fell into silence then, Angel's complete faith in Domino unspoken but reassuring to her nonetheless. Domino meanwhile, felt content simply because Angel was at her side.
Their fingertips touching, the pair fell asleep, their coffee un-poured, their minds untroubled for the first time in weeks, their bodies relaxed in a shared warmth.


Copyright © A. Flood 2010