Catch

Days were lost in the vibrant hum of machinery. Rings floated from paper, chained in a pleasant melody of different shapes and colors. Purples, blues, and reds churned into new concoctions. The feint sound of Vivaldi wafted from a set of speakers in the corner of the lab as equations burst forth in a crescendo of exuberance only to fall quickly in the sense of quiet reality. Suspense and anticipation rose with every test. Nothing was more beautiful than discovery, fatherhood of abstraction and eternal life.

‘Heather,’  the sense of enchantment faded slightly. ‘Is the shaker ready?”

Julian’s lab partner, an equally passionate and intelligent woman grabbed the test tube from the table without prompting. Both were enchanted composers.

“Let’s do this.”

Julian chuckled.

“Indeed.”

Heather smiled warmly. The work continued to enthrall even after months of perseverance. Research was a measured master.

The shaker rattled. Chemicals turned into potions before the alchemists eyes. Perhaps this concoction would be better, this tweak would be satisfactory. It would be another day before the two could even start to understand their new compound.

Testing day. The coffee tested same. The routine never changed. Julian pulled up to the loud speaker of his favorite fast food restaurant.

“I’ll have an egg sandwich.”

The soft texture and warmth were comforting. Park, grab the badge, walk into the stark interior of the university laboratory. It was just another day. Julian hated how confident he had become in the continuation of his research. He needed something to keep him on edge.

Heather was always early.  She became accustomed to waking up with the sun while growing up on a farm. A few students scattered throughout the lab prepared monitors and cages for the test subjects.

On a hunch, the rats were split into three groups. Aside from the control group and one afflicted with Huntington’s disease, a group of healthy rodents was also set to receive the new elixir. Hopefully, the diseased rodents would show signs of improvement in the coming days. . It would take at least a weak for the data to form a pattern.

Every Thursday, Julian sat at his laptop responding to emails and taking care of clerical work. He monotonously plodded on. It seemed that undergraduate students would do anything to get out of actual work.

The door to his office, slamming against the wall.

“Jesus!” Julian turned to see who had entered, half expecting to see a student.

“Heather?”

“You’re going to want to see this. It is working.”

“Ok?”

“It’s better than expected. They want to try it on humans!”

“Already?”

“The afflicted group is showing massive signs of improvement. There is a catch. It seems to improve cognitive awareness equally well.”

“Dammit. One of our grants is with the military.”

The DARPA grant was one of the main reasons their research continued.

The desert was an inhospitable place. High temperatures, hostile civilians, patrols in heavy, somewhat useless clothing. Joe kissed a a picture of his wife and brother with Huntington’s disease whom she took care of. They couldn’t afford in-home care or the new medicine that promised to help temporarily reverse cell degeneration. The actual concoction was supposed to be the cheapest on the market but his brother would likely be dead within a few years.

“Ready sergeant?” A scrawny private asked.

“Let’s go. Command gave us some pills that are supposed to help with.”

“Have you tried them?”

“Yes.” Joe lied but took his pill anyway. The rest of the marines followed suit.

Baijah was a backwards place. The buildings were easily comparable to the beaten down one room shacks found in the back woods and ghettos of Arkansas. Everyone was on edge. Poor, desperate, and indoctrinated. These were the perfect people to turn into hostiles. The soldiers eyed the walls and roofs suspiciously.

The barricade wasn’t surprising. A few burning buses, enough to stop the convoy of joint light tactical vehicles. Bullets pinged off the specialized plates. The company specialized grabbed the controls to the remote turret and started to suppress the enemy.

Room clearing. Joe barked orders. Something felt different. Even with the instinct instilled by basic and continual training, everyone was more alert.

The group entered the third building intact. The entryway was pitch black but something was amiss. Out of the corner of his eye, Joe spotted a small slot no larger than a can of Bud. He took aim as his soldiers walked into the room. The first shot from the AK-47 whizzed off of the side of a privates helmet and Joe fired a perfect salvo at the hole. The tip of the gun protruded loosely from the wall.

The private, who would normally be seriously wounded shot Joe a quick glance.

“Freaking pills.” He blurted out.

Julian’s new vehicle was somewhat of a spectacle at his new gig. Headquarters was set in an old industrial building not unlike a strip mall. Julian and Heather were a success story to the newly graduated PHDs. The university was happy to take a portion and let their work continue.

The chemist’s parked in his front row spot, grabbed his breakfast sandwich and walked into Paladine Enterprises where Heather stood talking to a potential employee.

“Julian, we have another order from the army.”

The candidate’s eyes narrowed with keen interest.

 

Tribal

An examination of modern tribalism from the perspective of a middle of the road outcast. The main character was chosen as a good representation of how far this country has gone towards separation in some regards and not of myself, obviously.

The alarm roused Kelly to another summer day in Tuscon. June was always cringe-worthily hot.

Kelly looked longingly at her pillow longing for the connection of a relationship. At 30, she could feel the need for a human connection and her chances sinking further into the deep. All she wanted to do was sleep.

Her roommate scuffled down the hallway towards the bathroom.

“Again, Jennifer?”

Outside, steam wafted from the streets and sidewalk despite the illusion of neatly pruned trees supplied by water from another state. People hustled to their air conditioned vehicles.

Kelly glanced quizzically at her phone, a slew of rescheduled interviews and questions having nothing to do with their related job postings filled the screen. She could find work in a matter of weeks only a few years ago. They praised her veteran status and pondered why a former MP would not join the police. Now, she started to wonder if her friend’s idea of starting a consultancy was  a good idea.

At last, she heard the bathroom door open and gradually pulled herself into the monotony of another day.

“Happy pride, ” Jennifer smiled,

“Thanks.”

Kelly looked down at her new uniform. After writing systems for six years, graduating from college in two, and serving another two in the military, this was her fate. She had far surpassed some of the skills desired by her first employer but, because of perception, was given the option of severance or termination.

Of course, aside from one last visage of her past, the mirror did not show a man. Her less than chiseled face and figure were a sense of relief.

Work  itself was another reprieve. Kelly picked up her loaded van, not missing her days as a loader, planned her route, and plugged her phone into the cigarette lighter. Static-X’s Destroyer blared from her headphones. Get the slip, run, repeat, destroyer. No one seemed to notice.

The day flew by with barely a glare until six p.m. when her phone started to reverberate with the intensity of a bumble bee.

“Jennifer?”

“I need a drink. You in?”

“Sure.”

“30 minutes, same old spot.”

Jennifer always seemed to know the exact time she returned her van, clean of course. It was practically annoying.

The Stoic was a typically quiet LGBTQ hangout. Most people kept to themselves except for the occasional flirtation lobbed at Jennifer. The bar’s low profile, stately rounded green doors, caged windows, and beaten wooden sign kept most of the night club scene away. On this day, however, the Stoic was bursting at the seems with the addition of a few extra patrons scattered around the establishment.

“Kelly!”

Jennifer sat at the partially full bar sipping a whiskey, the dim light partially obscuring her face.

“Any plans for tonight?”

“Ultra-Sonic is playing downtown. Want to go?”

“Yep.” Kelly turned to the attentive bartender. “Vodka tonic.”

“Drinking today?”

“Just the one.”

No one seemed to notice the loud thud of the bar door.

“You don’t belong here!”

Kelly shot a glance at the bartender who looked as puzzled as she was.

“Your kind are going to hell!”

Jennifer slowly mouthed the word shit, grabbing Kelly by the arm. The entrance was blocked by several men with shaved heads, wearing white suit shirts, ties, and black pants. Their flamboyant leader was a tall, large man with the look of the devil.

“Fuck.” The bartender reached for the phone. “LEAVE!”

Kelly made out the typical cries of the alt right just outside the bar. Their love of hellfire rang up from half the block.

“We have a right to be here. This is America!”

A few younger patrons stood to confront the men.

“Why do you need to do this!”

“Cuck! You have no right to wear that. We’re sick of this horseshit!”

The Nazi pointed to the young patrons antifa armband.

“If you wouldn’t have worn that. We might not be here!”

 

“If you weren’t such an ass, I wouldn’t wear it!”

This set the neo-Nazi off. His eyes filled with rage as he grabbed the younger man.

“Get your hands off me, ape!”

“Who are you calling ape!”

The large man swung at his nimble target as more people joined the fray.

Kelly was visibly shaking. The back exit was clogged with uneasy patrons. There was no escape.

A large baton emerged from a holster at the brute leaders side and something clicked in the woman’s head. Kelly raced to intervene before she could think, a holdover from her days subduing drunks and rowdy marines. Grabbing the baton she kneed the large man in the groin, causing the antifa member to subsequently fall to the floor as she placed the assailant in a well timed four point arrest. The other Nazis stared in disbelief.

“Damn Tr…” one started to blurt out before Kelly could stop him.

“We all just want some peace. Leave us alone.” Part of her glare veered towards the mess on the floor. “Let us do our thing and you do yours. This, this is America. Don’t hurt us, we won’t hurt you. That is freedom.”

The men didn’t seem to understand but the police were already making their way into the Stoic.

The same peaceful neighborhood awaited Kelly the next day.  It seemed odd how the stairway of her two story brick apartment was always much cooler than her room.

“Kelly?” A gentle voice asked. “We saw you in the news. That took some guts.”

Her elderly neighbor, a person whom a few years ago might have scorned her, pointed at the front page of the Tuscon Sentinel.  “Let us do our thing” the headline stated in bold letters as if placed for maximal effect.

The title was completely out of context. Kelly blared angrily at the misappropriation.

“That didn’t seem like you.” Her neighbor stated reassuringly. “It’s those damn fools with money. They ruin it for the rest of us.”

Kelly smiled.

“We all just want the same thing.”

“Don’t become that.” Here neighbor offered a stern warning.