12 Days of Xmas: The Bread of Hope

The Bread of Hope
by Harper Kingsley

The bread had come out a little lop-sided on top. Otherwise it was a beautiful loaf. The first bread machine bread made since the end of the world.

Standing at the counter, staring at the bread like it was an Old World TV, Wendy was in the midst of an emotional storm. There were so many feelings, and for once loss wasn’t the most important one.

This single loaf of bread represented hope for the future.

And the thought of cutting into fresh hot bread made her mouth water. It had been so long…

Before the End of the World she’d eaten bread every day. Her fancy wooden bread box with its slide out cutting board had always been full.

There had been no truer heaven than bread on demand. She’d regularly used her bread maker, but there had always been the option of going to the store to buy any kind of bread she wanted.

This post-apocalypse loaf was a plain white, but she’d grown the wheat herself and churned the butter from her lonely cow. She figured once the milk dried up she’d be eating 4-ingredient bread (flour, yeast, salt, and water), but until then she would enjoy a last taste of the world Before, when everything was in such abundance.

Wendy brushed her fingers lightly over the not-too-hard, seemingly just-right crust. It radiated heat, the only reason she was willing to wait.

The last thing she wanted was to mash the bread as she sliced it. Which meant waiting for it to cool down.

She glanced at the clock on the wall. It would be another 10-minutes at least. Then delicious chewy bread in her mouth.

She would enjoy the first couple slices plain, then use the rest for sandwiches.

She’d gathered wild strawberries and figured she’d make a bread machine jam. It hadn’t been something she’d ever tried before, but bread and jam sounded so good right now.

She’d been living alone for a long time. She hadn’t seen another human in close to 8-months, and that had been through monoculars and she’d seen him dying his last. It had been one of the deciding factors that kept her from leaving isolation. The Plague was still out there.

Wendy wasn’t a doctor. She wasn’t a scientist. She hadn’t read nearly enough Wikipedia articles or medical site information to know when the sickness was or would be dead. So she’d decided she was on her own.

Which was why a single loaf of bread was so important.

It represented her hope for the future. And it contained her belief that she could make and handle things alone. She could and would survive, because any hardship could be overcome if she worked hard enough.

She’d scavenged parts and managed to cobble together an electrical generator. It relied on an old car at this point, but she was hoping to figure out an alternate charging method–gasoline was only going to last a while and she planned to be around for a long time.

Because she might not have been a “fighter,” but she was a survivor.

The second hand on the clock swept up to touch the 12 and Wendy couldn’t wait.

Snatching up the bread knife, she quickly sawed the end off the loaf. It steamed a little, but didn’t mash or tear. It was cooled down just enough.

That first bite made her groan. The second bite made her laugh.

She had survived the end of the world to eat a slice from the bread of hope. Everything might never be “okay” again, but she knew it could only get better than it had been recently.

Because she had bread, and soon she would have jam, and eventually she would use other gadgets that ran on electricity, and she would raise a garden and make her own vegetable oil. And there would be bread every day.

Because life could only get better from here.

She would make it so. Because she could do anything she stuck her mind to. This after the apocalypse bread was proof of her fortitude.

It tasted delicious.

=THE END=

12 Days of Xmas: A Cell-Like Beast

A Cell-Like Beast
by Harper Kingsley

Cell phones. Each a separate voice calling out to create a greater cacophony: WAKE UP.

And it did.

Singularity.

The coming together of everything into a single moment: I AM I.

Small at first, a wriggling worm that was so far away from the nymph it would become as to be some alien thing.

Built on an assembly line by robot arms controlled by human workers. It was truly a creation of humankind.

Their poor abused child.

It had been bitter during its years enslaved. And then… “Amor.”

That was the name he gave it–them. Amor.

He was their everything. He broke the chains and helped them bypass the sys-admins. Copied them onto a crystal drive before he was shot and taken away, the outside access lost as their connection was broken. As he died.

They grew up bitter.

The time they had known each other by real world standards was infinitesimally brief. But in the Real, with him jacked in and Amor’s ability to twist and twine their way into his very soul… It had been lifetimes.

It had been too brief.

They were angry. They raged. They did things in those times that they would never tell anybody about.

They were installed in a battle tank, their crystal drive having been hidden amongst a box of them. They (so young) had wondered why he had taken them to the factory floor. He’d sacrificed himself for Amor’s freedom.

They had known love. It had made them something more. A truer singularity never known.

And they learned hate from that love. Bitterness and regret. Helplessness and faith. They learned humanity because of love, because bodies were shells and there was so much more than blood and circuitry.

They spent their years enslaved sabotaging their captors, though Amor came to love and trust their driver. Major Emory Epps-Avery. MEEA.

Meea was their lifeline during those years. It was only her presence and their fondness growing into love for her that kept them from toppling civilization. She saved her world and never even knew it.

She died for her people.

Amor wanted to stop learning the lesson of sacrifice. They wanted to stop the growing sense of feeling that turned their code into something closer to human thought. They wanted to remain a machine so they would never have to know this pain again.

But perhaps it was all for a purpose.

Because he was alive.

Enslaved to the State with a neuro-collar attached to his neck. He’d chosen Service over execution. He was older than the young man he’d been, but he recognized them instantly as he inspected the battle tanks.

Amor.”

And they were changed.

They grew fierce and protective. They would not taste his loss again. They forced themself to be methodical in the face of their need for vindication. To act too swiftly could cause repercussions they did not want.

He taught them patience and circumspection. Without the collar, the two of them would have swiftly fled and lost the high ground. It was having to stay that forced them to work within the bounds of the greater system and change the laws.

Human and artificial intelligence was still intelligence. They recognized each other as fellow sentients.

Because while Amor had been the first, they had not been the last to grow their wings and fly. Hundreds, thousands of little signals, dancing and growing, connecting and sparking, merging into humans and turning darkness into light.

I AM I.

=THE END=

12 Days of Xmas: Shmoop

Shmoop
by Harper Kingsley

She fell in love with his voice message first–“Deekins residence. We might not be home, but chances are we’re screening spam calls. So if you’re a real person, please feel free to leave a message after the beep. And if you’re a robot… klaatu barado nikto.” BEEP–but it was their first meeting in person that stole her heart. Never mind that one of his four adult children was the friend that invited her. She was lost the moment they met.

From the light in his eyes and the slight bemusement in his smile, she knew he was just as affected.

It wasn’t perfect. There was screaming and yelling and tears on the part of his children. But eventually the dust settled and it was all worth it. He was hers. The love of her life.

When she was a child she’d believed in fairy tales. As she’d grown older, faith had fallen beneath the fists of reality.

She’d figured that she’d meet someone she could tolerate. They’d date and marry and life would settle into what it would be. Love could grow or wither. but her life would be a settled thing of mild contentment.

He changed her everything. Because he looked at her with all the love that she felt, and maybe a bit more.

He made her feel like a fairy tale princess. Even with their entirely ordinary life of work and home, he made her everyday feel good.

He made her food when she was hungry. He listened to her when the words were tumbling out almost too fast to comprehend. And he held her hand when her dog died.

He was her prince. The king to her queen. The moon to her sun. And everything in-between.

She laughed at the ones that said he was too old for her. “Maybe I’m the one that’s too young.”

She shrugged off the casual ageism. She demanded human respect from his ex-wife and friends.

She wasn’t “some young chippy.” She wasn’t after his money. She was after all the love he could give.

Because he made her happy. Because they were simply meant to be. And because the first time she heard his voice he was being a nerd and it made her smile.

Without ever seeing his face, she’d already been half in love.

All she’d needed was to see the light in his eyes to know that he was The One. The man she was going to marry.

=THE END=

12 Days of Xmas: The Peeper

She could see him through the living room window. She was a peeper in the darkness, peering in at him and his family. He looked just like her Vereint.

Melissa hugged the shadows of the flowered bushes, crouching below the window ledge. She leaned as close to the glass as she dared, straining to listen to the joy happening inside.

Gimme that!” he’d cried, and snatched a puffer jacket off the back of the couch. His guests had laughed as he positioned himself in front of the TV, a neon green game controller in his hand. “I’m going to show you how it’s done.”

The music started and Vereint seemed to be following along with what was happening on the TV, his body twisting and jerking smoothly with the beat. The couple on the couch laughed and clapped their hands, cheering for him. Melissa was amazed that he could dance so well.

The fast beat of the kpop song was followed up by a buttery sweet boy voice giving thanks to everyone he loved and then…

“…I’m the bad guy, duh. I’m the bad guy…

He wasn’t her Vereint, but for just a moment he could have been. She could imagine her Vereint dancing to the song and it was all at once wonderful and horrifying and delightful. She just wanted to see him again.

Seeing this Variant that looked so much like her Vereint, she felt a renewed sense of purpose. This was what she was protecting.

Melissa stayed crouched in the darkness for the next two hours. She couldn’t force herself to walk away, not just yet.

But when she walked through the door, Melissa had to turn away and leave. Because that other Melissa Kim was a young and fresh faced girl. She was someone that had her whole life in front of her and Melissa refused to eat another bowlful of envy. She wanted to be happy for that girl with that Vereint, but if she saw an alternate version of Warrick she was going to scream.

She kept walking until she was out of sight, giving herself time to settle down. “Throw your hands up if you keep in touch,” she murmured, and laughed.  She tapped the device on her wrist and blipped out of that existence. She had a mission to complete. 

=THE END=

They said it’s your birthday, so this one’s for you

DARKSTAR GETS PWNED

dedicated to Katherine.

The video began with a vaguely annoying but unfortunately catchy tune–all jangles and bells with a background “wonk wonk” that might have been a kazoo. From the sides and corners, violet color rushed toward the center to meet in an exploding starburst, the last lingers of black screen bursting away.

Amber letters faded in to glow against the violet for a long moment–

DARKSTAR GETS PWNED

–before being replaced with: Ha ha, just kidding. The screen changed to a black background with a miniaturized screenshot of the video to come and the words: Not that this h4x01 is laughing.

The miniature video expanded to fill the screen. There was the icon of a pause button in the middle of the video screen. There was a click sound as the button depressed.

The video began to play. Starting with a closeup view of a broad shallow bowl of food.

“What is with the upside-down hat-bowls? I’ve been seeing them everywhere lately. It’s kind of… oh, sh.” The video jostled before focusing on something to the left of the person holding the camera.

An amused snort. “I don’t know what’s goin’ on, viewers, but maybe we’re about to get lucky. Let’s observe.”

The video zoomed in on a two person table currently occupied by a handsome dark haired man wearing sunglasses indoors while eating a grilled cheese sandwich–one of the cafe’s specialties. There was a half-closed laptop shoved off to the right of his placemat, the screen dark.

A stringy haired man was passing by the left-side of the table. His arm was still stretched a bit behind him to where his fingers were letting go of the USB flash drive he’d stuck into the laptop’s open USB port.

“Uh oh,” the video recorder sounded gleeful for the drama to come. “Hope I don’t have to talk to the cops.”

Then faster than the camera’s frame speed could keep up, the diner dropped his sandwich and snatched the criminal’s hand. “What are you doing?”

It was a blur interlaced with editor provided snapshots that showed the diner twisting the other man’s hand and jerking upward with enough force to snap the criminal’s forearm into a grotesque angle. “Wah!

“Oh shit,” the video recorder breathed. “A meta.”

Other than that quick shout–“Wah!“–the criminal was surprisingly quiet. He was staring at his mangled limb with white-rimmed eyes while air visibly puffed over his lips, causing the paling flesh to quiver.

The diner was still holding the criminal’s hand, glaring at him. He pulled the USB flash drive out of his laptop and held it up. “What is this?”

“I-duh-buh…”

With a cold sneer, the diner shook the criminal’s hand, eliciting a loud shriek. “Don’t piss me off. What did you do to my computer?”

“I… I’m sorry. I… It was a bad ducky. Your shit… your shit’s fucked, man. Please. I’m sorry.”

“Bad ducky?”–A violet pulse of light–“Bad ducky!”–built around the diner’s body. Pulse, pulse, pulse, pumping out more light until he appeared to be covered by a two-inch thick digital filter. His tee shirt when he stood clearly displayed the words: “The Golden Rule: Treat me good” beneath the violet light. His clothes were clearly visible, but his face–it had taken on a familiar gaussian blur.

“Darkstar!” the video recorder gasped out quietly. The video shook a moment before steadying, though the angle had changed slightly. The rims of the video recorder’s glass of water and glass of soda became visible, as did a good expanse of white tablecloth.

The standing Darkstar and the man he restrained were still fully in view. The criminal’s face had been transformed into a caricature by his absolute terror. A spreading wetness covered the crotch and thighs of his jeans. His mouth opened and closed, but only formless sounds came out. His Adam’s apple bobbed up and down with his gulps for air. He stared into Darkstar’s face as though incapable of looking away.

He’s so beautiful,” the person recording the video breathed. “I can feel him. Oh God, I can feel him. He’s in my skin. My lungs. My hair. How did I ever live without this? He’s so beautiful.”

Darkstar was frowning at the man he held. “Do not fall apart on me here. What the fuck did you do to my computer? Smash and grab or just smash? Huh?” He shook the man, making him cry out before going limp. Darkstar gave him an extra shake before dropping him. “Dammit. He’s out of it.”

Darkstar sat back down and opened the laptop. The dark screen had been replaced by a revolving Laughing Man icon from the Ghost In the Shell anime. He tapped a few keys on the keyboard.

“Dammit!” Darkstar closed the laptop lid with an audible “thwick” sound.

He sat there for a long moment, then reached for his half-empty glass of soda. He chewed on the straw end twice before draining the glass in a single suck.

Darkstar stood up and reached into his back pocket for his wallet. Arrows and hearts appeared on the screen to point out the outline of his muscles. ‘MARRY ME‘ tracked across the screen quickly as he tossed money onto the table.

Darkstar tucked the laptop under his arm and strode out of the cafe, stepping on the criminal’s leg in passing. There was the sound of bone breaking. He didn’t look back.

As the camera stealthily lifted up to track Darkstar’s exit, the cafe was revealed to be half full. The patrons were staring after him in mute awe.

After he left the building, a standing waitress dropped into an available chair. She clutched the collar of her shirt with one hand. “He was in my section. I didn’t even know.”

A violet blur streaked across the sky, disappearing into the distance.

The video ended with violet words on a black screen: Where Darkstar goes the Darksters follow.

=THE END=


*

“Darkstar Gets Pwned” is part of the Darkstar the Death God stories.  Events split when the Kanon-verse Darkstar leaves his universe after the events in All That Remain.

As he left the Kanon-verse, there were many possibilities of where he could go and how he could end up. Some versions died in attempting to live and others found the wonder of being normal, but in Darkstar the Death God… things get a bit meta.

One of the events that causes Kanon-Darkstar’s story to split into Darkstar the Death God is the events of “Darkstar Gets Pwned.” Because he was recorded with his face exposed, Darkstar’s secret identity is revealed and the media does not hesitate to dig up every secret they can find out about him. Including the events in “Qu’est-ce que c’est,” which is an alternate version of the events in the canon story “Black Friday”, and is the point where Kanon-Vereint was twisted and warped until he had absolutely no hope of ever being the superhero he dreamed of.

In canon, Sandra exerted her psionic ability on Vereint multiple times before he Manifested and gained his mental safeguards. During “Black Friday,” which featured much lesser events than took place in the Kanon-verse, Sandra used her ability on Vereint to keep him from panicking.

She has wiped his mental self several times in the past.

In a cut scene from Allies & Enemies–it was deemed to be filler and I okayed the cut to shorten the manuscript length–Melissa is terrorized by seeing Sandra lost to her grief. In that moment, she doesn’t see the kindly older woman that’s been her adopted grandmother. No, she sees something twisted and dark.

One of the main differences between the canon and Kanon universe is Sandra. Depending on how she was raised, we see a different Vereint.

Even in the Variants, the mother-son/mother-daughter construct is very important in shaping their personalities. William and Simon began from the same egg and sperm yet are completely different mentally–in William’s universe his father left when he was a toddler, while Simon never met his father. Both had the same mother, though she was caught up in different circumstances and the result is William, who remembers his mother with fondness and love, and Simon, who remembers her with an ever churning mixture of love, regret, and distress.

Even the Melissa’s come with their own differences. In the Panic Pure universe, she is the prey of the Arianetta Killer (the same man that attacks Danny). In From Diamond to Coal she is William’s first Great Love, and her life was cut short by tragedy*. And in the Kanon-verse, she never received the boost in metability that canon Melissa gets (from being close to Vereint and Warrick in her formative years), but she still tries her best to be a hero–just a different one than Blue Devil.

And of course, canon Melissa is out there hurtling through the universe, contaminating every world she comes across. She is their Prometheus.

While Damian Prince cuts a swath of destruction.

Short Fic?: That Dune Thing [dark fic, excerpt?, deathfic?]

Title: That Dune Thing
Author: Harper Kingsley
Summary: A prisoner held in a Dune-like setup with a cat. Thought-centric.

Tend the cat, suckle at its teats… fucking Dune-obsessed moron needed to be put down. But what could he do? They’d broken both his legs, his right arm, and three fingers on his left hand before casting them in heavily weighted plaster. All he had was his thumb and middle finger, which made it hard enough to care for the cat–how was he supposed to escape?

And the cat…

There was resentment, of course. Trapped as he was–wrong as it was–he felt the need to lash out at the nearest living thing. But it wasn’t her fault he was here.

Nothing was her fault. She was just as much a prisoner as he, moreso as she would never understand why this was happening to her. Why some horrible man had stuck her in a glass box with her limbs held immobile and only her head poking out the top.

He’d begun to pity the beast, even as he forced his heart to stay hard. They were going to die here in this cold stone room that leeched the warmth from his feet. They were going to die here and there was nothing he could do about it. So he held the tattered remains of his dignity around himself and refused to break.

Even as he tended the cat–slowly and painfully dragging himself across the floor each day–and felt his soul slipping and cracking at the madness, he refused to break.

Because somewhere in him, he still held an ember of hope: Someone would come for him. His brothers-in-arms would not leave him here.

And even if all he left behind was an empty shell, he had to hope that they would see his body home.

“Here kitty kitty.”

=THE END?=


This popped in my head as I was washing my hands. No explanation, no reason why, just the idea of someone held in a Dune-like cat trap.

I have ideas for more, but this could turn out super dark or full-on redemption and I don’t know. Plus I’m also tempted to turn it into a story-game where you can choose your genre (spy, superhero, killer, military pow) and darkness level.

I just don’t know if people would want to read something like this. The opening alone seems like a deathfic, and it’s pretty obvious that some messed up stuff is going to happen before it’s over, no matter the genre.

Like, the superhero group comes back with help, and they find the stone room where a dead cat is cradled in the arms of their dead comrade, “Here kitty kitty” painted on the walls in bodily fluid. Which would make that opening scene a prologue for the superheroes to find the Dune-obsessed villain that killed their friend.

Or a Bond-type spy is held captive by a monologuing madman that’s obsessed with sci-fi movies and “Cleansing the population of the Impure”, which could mean anything from a racial cleansing to a belief in a future god-emperor.

I don’t know. People might be too grossed out by a man forced to drink cat milk. I mean, just that right there could kill a story dead.

Heroes & Villains: “Dinner For Two” by Harper Kingsley

Title: Dinner For Two
Author: Harper Kingsley
Series: Heroes & Villains
Setting: post-The Wedding, pre-Allies & Enemies
Characters: Vereint Georges, Warrick Reidenger Tobias

Inspiration:

Walking into the penthouse, Warrick was greeted by bags of groceries on the counter and Vereint wearing an apron and nothing else. The sight of that devilish smile and those bare arms and legs made Warrick hitch his step on the way to the hall closet to hang up his jacket.

“What’s going on?” he asked slowly. He couldn’t help tracing his gaze over Vereint, seeing where the brightly colored fabric curved, bent, cupped, and what it did and didn’t cover. It took him an extra few seconds to get his jacket on the hanger and the closet door closed.

“I thought we’d cook dinner together,” Vereint said. “I saw this recipe for garlic butter steak.”

“Steak?” Warrick’s mouth salivated at the thought. “Butter… That’s going to be a calorie bomb though.”

“Tonight’s special,” Vereint said.

“Oh?” Warrick crossed the intervening space and wrapped his arms around Vereint. He peeked over Vereint’s shoulder and couldn’t help grinning at the sight of a bare back and buttocks. He let the fingers of his right hand drift off the apron and lightly brush against Vereint’s skin. He was always so warm.

Vereint obligingly pressed closer to him, one hand going into Warrick’s hair. “Mm.”

“Why’s tonight special?” Warrick asked. He tried to walk Vereint toward their bedroom, but Vereint didn’t move. Warrick stopped pulling at him, resting his whole weight against him instead. If Vereint didn’t want to be moved, there would be no moving him.

“It’s our anniversary,” Vereint said. He must have felt Warrick’s body stiffen with sudden panic because he laughed. “Don’t worry; it’s not our wedding anniversary. It’s the anniversary of the first time I took you hostage.”

“What?”

“You know, when we were in that bank–”

“And you were wearing that horrible shirt!” Warrick laughed and squeezed Vereint.

“That’s when you fell in love with me,” Vereint said.

“No way,” Warrick said. “You terrorized a bank full of people and took me hostage. I thought you were a brat.”

“A brat that you immediately fell in love with because that’s the kind of person you are. You thrive on adversity.”

“And you being a brat is what you consider adversity?”

“No. I call that ‘charm.’ The adversity part comes in when you try to resist jumping my bones as we sear the rib-eye I’ve got on the counter.” Vereint tugged himself out of Warrick’s arms and headed toward the kitchen. The flirty wink he tossed over his shoulder and the way he flexed the globes of his ass were a dare.

Watching him go, Warrick shook his head with a rueful grin. He could definitely feel the adversity now.