Jazz, Monster Collector in:
season one, episode seventeen
Tricorner Publishing’s Shakespir Edition
This is a work of fiction. Any similarities to
persons living or dead are purely coincidental.
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I was sitting at a small table, face propped against my hand and elbow resting on the tabletop, staring with half-lidded eyes at a big pickle jar full of a cloudy liquid. Every so often I’d flick my index finger off my thumb and let it plink against the side of the jar. Each flick rang the jar and sent one, two, or three, depending on how hard I’d hit it, specks of light soaring trough the goop. They looked like falling stars zooming through the atmosphere. And like meteors burning up, after a second the lights would fade out and leave the jar dark. Then I’d plink it again.
Someone came in the room and clicked on the light, forcing me to cover my eyes from the unexpected brightness.
“Jazz?” DJ, my right hand girl, said.
“Yeah,” I said sitting up and massaging my face. I blinked my eyes several times coaxing the lazy sods into focus.
“Hey, she’s in here,” DJ called into the narrow hallway. Her little voice echoed off the metal walls and I wondered who she was calling to.
She sat in the chair to my right and stared at the jar. “So, what are you going to do with it, now that… you know?” She paused as if considering her word choices then she said, “Now that you know what you know…you know?”
I slipped a sideways smile on. “Yeah, I know, but I don’t know.” I stared into the jar, searching for something that was there but that I couldn’t see. “What does one do with a jar full of souls? I can’t take it to the Wizards Council without incriminating myself further. Last thing I need right now is to get caught red handed with this thing and the enforcer corps are turning over sticks and stones searching for me, every one of them is vying to be the one to bring me in, dead or alive.”
“Not every one of them,” Inspector Samuels said as he entered the room, stepping over the oval shaped door frame. He walked up to my left side. “How are you, Cole?”
My head nodded absently. “About as well as could be expected considering I’ve been held up in this tin can for the better part of two months.”
“Tell me about it,” Parry, my secretary/ex-business partner said. He tripped over the high door frame as he entered and only just managed to keep from planting his face into the floor. He glared back at the opening. “I’ve been here longer than anyone, and I hate this place.” He wedged his in way in front of Samuels, forcing the much taller man to step back, sat down and vigorously rubbed his arms. “It’s damp, dingy, dirty, and really, really cramped. Don’t you think it’s cramped?”
Parry had many neuroses, but claustro was just about his favorite phobia.
Samuels chose to ignore Parry’s slight and settled in the chair across from me. He was dressed in black sweatpants and a matching shirt that was tight enough to show off his magically enriched muscle structure, gloves, skullcap, sunglasses, and a scarf that covered his lower face. “I get that this place needs to be concealed, but don’t you think the entrance is a little too much—and totally filthy?” He looked around the metal walls, the rows of pipes and the multi-colored valves. “What is this place; I mean what was it before?”
“You mean before it was our secret hideout?” DJ asked.
Parry’s normal slouch disappeared with the empowerment of possessing information that Samuels lacked. “It was a hidden chamber for the resistance movement that Jazz says happened even though it’s never mentioned in any records.”
“No, I know that, I mean what was it before that?” Samuels said, his voice muffled by the scarf.
Parry’s slouch returned.
“It was a submarine,” Uncle said as he walked in, having to duck his tall, lanky frame through the opening. “A kind of boat that traveled underwater.”
Samuels’s head turned around the room like he was trying to apply this new information to the structure. Uncle leaned against a shelf that functioned as a counter. He removed a beverage vessel from a pocket of his grease stained coveralls, popped the lid and took a swallow.
DJ turned in her chair to face him. “Don’t all water craft go underwater?”
“It’s before my time,” Uncle said. “Ask her.” The old, white-haired man allowed one finger to peel off the vessel and pointed at me, the spiky haired nineteen-year-old.
I wasn’t in much of a conversational mood, but I was surrounded. “In the time of the Earth we had lots of specialized ships, including submarines.”
“So,” Samuels said. “If this metal tube was for traveling underwater, why is it here, underground in the middle of Nittsburg?”
“That is a good question,” I said. I didn’t much like talking about Earth, too painful, and my brain was acting lethargic. Better to distract. “Parry, how about drinks for all of us?”
“Yeah,” Parry said with more enthusiasm than I had been prepared to receive. Parry was easily excited. He leapt up and out of the room, then was back again in mere moments. I have no idea how that clod managed without falling flat. He set four vessels of MirthMix7, a popular beverage on the conjoined worlds, on the table, and then sat staring at me expectantly.
I let my shoulders rise a bit. “It’s not all that interesting, actually. This neighborhood,” I pointed at the floor, “was built on top of Reserve Park Landfill.”
“Ohh, what’s that?” Parry asked, his eyes were wide with excited anticipation. He was probably expecting a story about a fight since most of my stories were about fights.
“A trash heap,” I said and watched Parry sip his drink in a failed attempt to conceal his disappointment.
“I have no idea what a navel submarine was doing in a landfill, but it was buried during the post Inter-dimensional war reconstruction.”
“Hostile Takeover,” Inspector Samuels corrected me with the official Mirthin propaganda.
I ignored him. “Anyway, the resistance, led by Uncle’s great grandfather, found the sub and, since it has no mallow powered equipment and is therefore magically untraceable, turned it into a hidden lair.”
“And now it’s hiding us,” DJ said then took a long sip of her beverage while looking directly at no one.
A cold silence fell over the room, and then Parry plastered a smile on his face. His brilliant teeth stood out bright against his mocha latte skin. “Well, at least we’re all together again.”
No one said anything, but Parry’s faux knit cap began to dance about on his head and flashes of brilliant light appeared from beneath it. “Oh, yeah, I forgot,” he said and yanked the cap off. A bright speck of light shot straight up into the air, circled the room three times, zigzagged between us, causing everyone seated at the table to duck and dodge, then it landed smack on my cheek, sending my head snapping back. I never understood how something so small could deliver such force. Moxie, the little flower fairy who had bound herself to me, outstretched her chubby arms and hugged my nose. Buzzing up and down, she applied liberal smoothes all over my face, sending me little magic charged tingles that had me bobbing my head and poking at her with my shoulders. Finally I snagged her like a fly from the air into my fist. “Calm down,” I said into my fist then gave my hand and really good shake.
Parry huffed at me, which I expected, and DJ said, “Jazz, please,” and shook her head in a disgusted manner, which I also expected. I didn’t care what Parry thought of me, but DJ, she’d always looked up to me, idolized me, hell, wanted to be me, but those days were over, my recent actions of revenge, death, and destruction had seen to that. But idolization can never last, especially when directed at the living because eventually the living always disappoint you, eventually let you down, which I also expected. I just didn’t expect it to hurt so much.
I opened my hand. Moxie was sat on her butt, legs outstretched and leaning back on her hands. Her head wobbled around, setting her blond curls bouncing, like she was still dizzy from the shakeup. When she looked up at me her chubby face beamed with a huge smile. Her double pairs of wings beat at a blur and she made a twisty-turny flight path for my face. I caught her by the hem of her little flower pedal dress and held her in place. Her wings beat faster, her chubby hands reached for me, and she gazed at me like a smitten puppy. No matter what I did, said, or how I behaved, nothing would diminish Moxie’s affections for me. But if I let her, she’d literally smother me with said affections. Fortunately my little flower ward was easily distracted.
“Moxie, look,” I said and turned her in sight of the vessel of MirthMix7 in front of me. She set loose a bird-like chirp of delight, licked her lips and rubbed her pudgy belly. I let her go and she flew straight in, making a loud pop as she squeezed through the narrow neck. The vessel glowed with her golden light as loud slurps echoed from inside. This was good; Moxie would leave me alone for a bit and I didn’t really like mallow-made beverages.
“You’re going to break her heart one day, you know?” DJ said and took a swig from her bottle.
I said, “I know.”
“Eventually you break everyone’s heart,” Parry said.
“I know,” I said with an insulted rasp.
“Oh, I know you know,” Samuels said.
I held up my hands in surrender. “Okay, are we done with the Jazz attack here? Because I was fine sitting here all by my lonesome.”
“You weren’t totally alone, technically.” DJ tapped the pickle jar with her drink vessel like she was making a toast, sending a dozen glowing specks shooting through the goop then fading out like a fireworks display.
They all seemed intent on making me as uncomfortable as possible. “Yes, DJ, I’ve been bathing my magical healing stone in a solution made of a thousand suffering souls, I screwed up. I should have checked this gunk out years ago, I’m a very bad person, now how about you all leaving me alone again?”
My rant was broken by an incredibly loud burp that sang out from my drink vessel. Moxie’s head popped out of the bottle and she tried to pull herself out, but her belly, swollen full of the beverage, wouldn’t let her pass through the spout, so she crossed her arms on the rim, laid her head down, and settled in with a satisfied gleam on her face.
We laughed. We all laughed, even me. The release felt good. It lightened the room. Uncle came over and set a dark, wrinkled hand on my pasty-white forearm. “You want another MirthMix7?”
“Nah,” I said and shook my head. “I think I’m off enchanted drinks for a while.”
“Whatever, but I’m having another,” he said and walked for the door. He stopped, straddling the doorframe. “Now everyone behave yourselves in here while I’m gone, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll set up the vidarama set tonight.” He walked away.
“Vidarama,” Samuels said. “Does he think we’re kids?”
Parry sat up straighter. “I thought that sounded fun.”
Samuels turned his head away and said, “You would.”
Parry’s slim face bunched with angry lines. “Why are you even here, captain enforcer squad? Shouldn’t you be with your corps friends pretending to catch bad guys on the vid vision?”
“Parry, relax,” I said. “He’s only playing around.”
“Yeah, kid, relax, I didn’t mean anything by it.” Samuels reached out and gave Parry’s upper arm an ‘okay guy’ double pat. As he did the scarf covering his face slid off, revealing his visible muscles, tendons, veins, bones, and other assorted human internals.
“Ahh!” Parry went to leap back out of his chair, but only managed to tip it over, which he immediately collapsed into. He landed on his butt tangled between its legs.
“Whoa, settle down,” Samuels said, stood, and reached out to help my secretary up.
All Parry saw was a skinless face leaning for him. Kicking like he was in a tube floating in a swimming pool, he slid the chair across the floor it until he hit the wall.
Samuels looked at his gloved hand like there must be something gross on it, but there wasn’t. Then he looked at me. I motioned across my face with a finger.
Samuels, realizing his scarf had dropped off, turned his back to us and hurriedly got his covering back in place.
I hadn’t moved. DJ finished off her drink. Samuels turned back around. He raised his hands and let them slap against his thighs in a release of tension. “Sorry about that.” Then he reached toward Parry. “Here, let me help you up.”
Parry waved his hands. “No! No, no, I’m fine.” He leaned his head back at an awkward angle and crossed his legs at his ankles, which were sticking up in the air. “It’s really pretty comfortable.”
Samuels looked from Parry to me.
“Just sit down, he’s fine,” I said.
The inspector hesitated, and then took his seat. That’s when I noticed that he hadn’t touched his drink.
I reached across the table and yanked his scarf off. “Go on, enjoy your drink,” I said and dropped the scarf in a ball.
From behind the glasses that hid his fully exposed eyeballs, he glanced apprehensively from me to DJ.
DJ pursed her lips; her narrow eyes projected an air of disinterest. “Doesn’t bother me at all.”
I shrugged and adopted DJ’s air. “Be my guest.”
When Samuels smiled I could see his jawbones hinge and the muscles that controlled them draw back as blood surged. And when he tipped his head back to take a drink, I saw his throat expanding and contracting.
Okay, so DJ and I had both lied. Watching him was just about the most horrible thing I’d ever seen. But I felt at last partially responsible for the policeman’s condition. He had been helping me and Mickey the sasquatch protect my office during an attack by a cadre of goblins, bvorks, and three belmar magic users. Now in my defense, Inspector Samuels had broken into my office, but I should have been quicker, should have taken out the belmars straight off. One of the creepy little pucks managed to spout half a spell before I killed him. The result was that Samuels’s beautiful, brown skin had been turned completely translucent. Thus far he’d been able to conceal his condition, successfully avoiding questions that would lead us all, mainly me, into trouble with the wizards council, the major governing body on the inter-dimensionally conjoined planets called, Mirth. I’d been using my underground network to help Samuels find a counter spell, but thus far we hadn’t found a single being that even knew a spell that could have such an effect.
Samuels set down his vessel and, apparently feeling less self-conscious or more comfortable, whichever was more appropriate, removed his glasses exposing his eyeballs, and related muscles, nerves, capillaries, and other disturbing viscous. We humans are not pretty on this inside.
“So what are you doing here?” I asked him.
Samuels’s emotions had become impossible to read—no visible face—but I sensed he was feeling hurt and that was confusing. The inspector and I had had our moments in the past, but our relationship was a distant working one of very limited trust on both sides. He’d sworn to enforce the rules and I’d sworn to break them. I bucked the system and he was the system and that’s what I was comfortable with. I was starting to wonder if more than just his skin had changed.
He cleared his throat. “I have some information. And I wanted to see you.” He paused, his eyeballs turned down to the tabletop and I think he bit his lower lip, hard to tell as I couldn’t see it. Then he looked back up. “And I had nowhere else to go, looking like this.”
“Looking like what?” DJ asked like she was oblivious to his condition.
“Okay DJ, don’t overdue it,” I said.
DJ shot me a wink. What the heck? The little devil was intentionally lightening the moment. She too was changing in unexpected ways.
“What’s the information?” I asked.
He pulled a recordstone tablet out of his inside jacket pocket and set it on the table in front of me. Recordstone was a mallow infused mineral that could absorb and store psychic information. The information could then be read back with an attuned reading device, unless it had been locked.
“The file on the explosion that destroyed your office,” he said.
“Is it unlocked?” DJ asked.
“No.” Samuels shook his head. It was interesting how the veins on the side of his head bulged with the movement of blood as he did.
He caught me staring and I looked quickly to Parry, still feigning comfort in his awkward position on the floor. “Parry, see if you can get this file open.” Then I turned back to Samuels, who’d donned his big sunglasses again, thank goodness. “Give me the gist?”
“The file was off limits, even to me, and no one would tell me why. I do know that the explosion’s been officially labeled an unstable mallow accident. They’re charging you with smuggling unrefined mallow inside the city limits.”
“Oh goody, yet more bounty on my head.” I tapped my thumb into my chest. “This monster collector’s become the collected.” I felt my brow tighten further as my aggravation increased. “Wait; there was no unrefined mallow in my office. That means that either someone faked the spectrum signature, very difficult to do even for a wizard, or that someone high up in the system altered the records, someone high enough up to lock you out of the file.”
Inspector Samuels turned his palms up. “Was there a question in there?”
“So which was it? Who is setting me up here, a powerful wizard, or someone of high status in the system…or both?”
Samuels sighed. “I have no idea; I don’t even know how to find out. I have no access to the council. Heck, I don’t even have access to the cud demon that scrubs the council’s toilets.” He tapped a finger against the rectangular stone tablet. “No one will tell me who ordered the file locked. This thing that’s going on, whatever it is, is coming from higher up than I can access; maybe straight up and outside of the system.”
“Inspector Samuels,” I said, tilting my head at an inquisitive angle, “are you accusing me of something?”
Samuels turned sideways in his chair and scratched at the invisible skin on the back of his neck. I looked away. “Look Cole, I came here in the capacity of a friend, not as a captain of the enforcer corps, and I’m not going to accuse you of anything, but you’ve managed, whether directly your fault or not, to get yourself into an awful lot of hot water here, more than ever before. You’ve made some very powerful beings very angry, and you can’t hide down here forever. Now I’m doing my best to keep the corps off your tail, but I have limited access right now due to my condition and sooner or later, probably sooner, it’s is going to catch up to you. I want to help you, I really do, but I told you before that you’d have to choose a side and that time has come.”
“Hey!” Parry shouted, and, in a flailing of limbs and a ring of the metal chair banging up and down, got himself off the floor and standing. “I want to help too.”
“Good,” I said and jammed the recordstone tablet in his belly. “Take this upstairs and see if you can get it unlocked.”
“Sure,” Parry said trying, and failing, to cover the pain he was feeling from where the tablet bumped his belly, then he hurried out. Parry was a good secretary, but he was made of marshmallows.
“What about me?” Inspector Samuels asked.
“Can you see if any Draconians have been confined on weapon charges—or on any charges at all?”
“Draconians?” DJ and Samuels exclaimed at the same time.
“I know what you told me, Cole, but the lizards are all pacifists. They haven’t been violent in decades. Hades, they’re just about the most ardent proponents of peace on the planets,” the inspector said.
“Does this have to do with the necromancers you fought?” DJ asked.
I nodded. “That, and the armored warriors that attacked us three weeks ago.”
“Attacked you? Jazz, come on, be serious,” Samuels said.
“Come on, Jazz,” DJ said. “I don’t know what got the Dracs on your enemy’s list, but those armored attackers were way too big to be Draconians, even for their warrior class. I mean those guys were huge.”
“No,” I said, “their armor was really huge.
“I don’t know; it’s still a stretch.” DJ ran a hand through her long, straight black hair and I got the feeling she was trying to keep her patience with me. “Look, are you sure this doesn’t have more to do with what happened to Mickey. I’m sorry to have to say it but you might be deflecting here, applying your guilt on the lizards?”
“So,” I said ignoring DJ and turning back to Samuels, “will you look into it?”
Inspector Samuels sighed. “I want to help you Jazz, I really do. But you keep asking me to inquire about one impossible theory after another and it’s starting to cause the wrong people to question if I’m right for this job anymore.” I think his eyebrows rose, but it was more a vibe as his hair had become translucent too, or maybe was gone altogether, I couldn’t tell. “Remember that ancient red dragon you claimed to have spotted? That gained me weeks of uncomfortable stares.”
And your invisible skin doesn’t? I wanted to ask, but held my tongue.
“Look, I really want to help you, but if I’m going to stick my neck out here, you’re going to have to give me some hard evidence,” Samuels said.
“Fine,” I said and dug into the pocket of my long, pleated skirt. I set three, bright green, oblong discs on the table.
DJ took one and stared at it. “This is a lizard scale.” She passed it to the inspector, but looked at me. “Those are what you picked off the street after we were attacked.”
Samuels turned the scales over in his fingers. “You’re sure these came from your attackers?”
“Positive,” I said.
Samuels scratched at his forehead and for a second I thought I caught a glimpse of skin there, but it was just a playing of the light. “The Lizards you fought underground, who’s chamber we never did find by the way, you said they raised a black dragon.”
“They did raise a black dragon,” I said.
Samuels huffed out a breath. “I’m sorry; I’m trying here, Jazz, but a dragon, really? I think someone would have noticed.”
“Like we said,” I said, “someone from very high up.”
“No way,” Samuels said authoritatively. “The dragon council was disbanded long, long ago.”
“I’m not suggesting anything different,” I said.
Samuels tapped the scale against the table and glared at me.
“What are you suggesting?” DJ asked.
“I’m not suggesting anything,” I said, unable to conceal my gathering impatience. “I’m merely showing you my cards.”
Samuels clenched the scale in his fist. “So what do you need from me?”
“I need you to show me the other guy’s hand, then we’ll know what’s worth betting on.”
“Okay,” he said, stood, and shoved the scales in his pocket. “I’ll see what I can find out,” he said then left.
“How about me, boss?” DJ asked.
I smiled. “So, still calling me, boss?”
DJ didn’t smile, but she didn’t frown either. “I won’t say that I agree with everything you’ve done, or the way you’ve done it. But I have no doubt that every move you made was done because you believed it was the right thing to do; and because you were trying to save us. As long as you’re fighting the good fight, I’ll have your back.”
One of the hardest things I’d ever done in my challenging life was force myself to not cry just then. All I had was the strength to say, “Thank you.”
DJ stood and tossed her empty vessel halfway across the room and into the waste bin. Nice throw. “So what are my orders?”
I slumped back in my chair and thought. “Why don’t you give all my battle gear a good going over? Get everything cleaned, inspected, and fully loaded. I need to be ready for the biggest fight of my life.”
DJ just stared at me for a long moment, stared like she was searching for what was really on my mind. I worked hard to not show her.
At last she said, “Cool, no problem,” and waked out.
I heaved out a load of tension with an exhale, then leaned my head on my hand and gave the pickle jar a solid plink. A single point of light appeared and whizzed though the goop. Alone again at last.
“Aren’t you bored with that yet?” Uncle asked entering the room.
No peace for the wicked.
Uncle came up to the table and stared down at me with eyes that had grown cloudy over time. Much like me, Uncle didn’t go in for all the magical anti-aging processes most Mirthlings indulged in.
“No. Not really.” I thought about giving the jar another shot, then just slumped back. “Yes, completely, totally, and painfully board. I am so scrudding board.”
“Look what I found,” he said and dropped two billiard sized balls attached by a short cord on the table.
“Hey,” I said sitting, and perking, up, “My old Whamos.”
“I was digging around in an old parts box and there they were. I thought maybe you’d want to work on them. It’d give you something to do while you…what are you doing again?”
I picked the magnetronic bolos up and held them, bouncing my hand up and down. “They’re too heavy. Besides, I could never get the fields balanced, good idea though.”
“I always thought so,” he said in that placating tone he used when he was trying to make a point.
“Okay, what’s on you mind, Uncle?”
“You are,” he said. “Sitting around here for weeks on end, moping, sulking, and generally feeling blue. Seems to me you need to do something to break this spell you’ve put yourself under.”
“I know,” I said. “I know what I should do. I should turn myself in. That would take the heat off of all of you, and could potentially move me closer to the beings who’ve been manipulating me.”
“You could do that,” Uncle said scratching at the white stubble on his dark face. “But that doesn’t sound at all like the girl I know.”
“Yeah,” I said with a snicker. “The girl you knew would have armed herself to the teeth, hopped inside her sentient flycraft, and made full frontal assault on the magisterial buildings.”
“So do that then,” he said.
I laughed—laughed really hard. When I finished I said, “Look, I might be reckless, and impulsive, and crazy, but even I wouldn’t attack the courts directly. I don’t know anyone stupid enough to do that.”
When I stopped talking to take a breath I became aware of the distinct wine of a thruster engine in distress, then the sound of a heavy metal something scrapping against something hard, then something big slammed into something solid, shaking our buried submarine.
“What the lower realms?” Uncle shouted.
I bolted out of the room, uncle was close behind. I ran the narrow hallway, leapt and caught the ladder’s metal rungs then clambered up and out through the hatch. I grabbed the edge of the toilet rim that concealed the hidden entrance and heaved myself out and into Uncle’s garage as I drew my MacDaddy revolver from my concealed holster.
One of the big, rollup doors for bringing in flycraft had a massive, oddly shaped dent. Something had smashed into it from outside. When Uncle caught me up he cursed.
DJ and Parry appeared from the office door. DJ was carrying my Robotusen personal mini-missile launcher. The big gun looked huge slung over her little shoulder and Parry looked terrified.
“Are we under attack?” DJ shouted.
“Soon see.” I ran for the man door set between Uncle’s twin rollup doors. Outside, with his nose stuck into the rent metal door and grey smoke seeping from both of his Avi-star thrusters, sat my little flycraft. Actually my ex-flycraft as I’d granted the demon soul I’d bound to the industrial machine his freedom when I thought I was going to die.
“Ship!” DJ yelled. “What is Ship doing here? And what the heck happened o him?”
“Those are very good questions.” There was obvious battle damage to Ship’s armor plated hull, but all of it could have been scars left over from our dogfight with Toerang and his Krisskrossa. Even if Ship had been in a fight, and lost, why come to Uncle’s? Ship hated my guts…and everything else about me. Seemed like this would be the last place he’d come to.
Uncle’s garage was on a mostly residential street in a quiet neighborhood and the only being about was a tubby man out walking his dodo-berman pincher, a hideous dog/bird hybrid. But the sound of the crash brought a number of beings, both human and deferred species, looking though their wall transparencies and walking out through their semi-sentient doors and staring at the crashed flycraft.
I holstered my pistol. “DJ, we better get inside,” I said and reentered the garage.
“But what is Ship doing here?”
“Come inside. Uncle will sort it out.”
Passing though the door, DJ kept her eyes fixed on my old flycraft and she managed to bang the missile launcher’s nozzle on the door frame. “Sorry,” she said lowering the weapon. “This is so bizarre,” She said as she passed me and headed to the back room.
Uncle stood in the other bay in front of an older Expresscraft Brougham, the station wagon of flycraft and dammed ugly. With a whistle Uncle called his gravity deifiers from their storage space beneath his workbench. The three hovering discs floated in a circle around him at waist height. “You head downstairs and secure the hatch, there’re going to be some questions here.”
No sooner had he finished speaking then I heard Enforcer Corps sirens. Uncle crossed the bay in his long, soulful strides and walked out, his deifier discs followed him eager to lift whatever he needed lifted.
DJ was right, it was bizarre, mostly that thus far Ship hadn’t said a single word.
I managed to get a brief, fitful sleep, then, tired of tossing in my bunk, I got up and went to the com room, pushing my way though hordes of parts, pieces, and assorted junk. Truth was I didn’t know what most of this crap was. I wasn’t completely mallow ignorant, but tech controlled magical power sources weren’t really my forte. Of course Parry didn’t know much more than me, but still more. “Any luck?” I asked for the thousandth time. What could I say? I was bored.
“No,” Parry snapped. When he looked up from the recordstone tablet his thick, black hair was all disheveled. When he raised the binocular-like reader glasses his brown eyes were bloodshot and weary.
“Easy, bud,” I said holding up my hands. “Only asking.”
“I know,” Parry said in a huff and tossed his falla driver on the bench. Falla was a created element that was insulated against magical energy. “But I have no idea what I’m doing here.”
“Okay, take a break, get a drink, get some rest, try again in the morning.”
“Yeah,” he said and stood. He looked me straight in the eyes, which meant he was up on his toes; Parry wasn’t tall. “I’ll try again in the morning.” He gave my arm a squeeze. “And don’t worry, you can count on me,” he said and walked away.
“I’m not worried. You’ll get it,” I called to him. Frankly I knew he’d never get it. Magical encryptions have to be broken by a mage of equal skill, and I was certain that recordstone tablet had been locked by someone very powerful. But to keep my crew from going crazy I needed to keep them busy. Truth was I didn’t care what was in that file. Despite what I’d lead the others to believe, I did have a plan. It was just one that I wouldn’t be returning from so for now, it was busy work one and all.
“There you are,” DJ said coming down the narrow hall at a fast pace. “Uncle’s back.”
She shifted her eyes to the corners of their sockets like she was looking back behind herself. More likely she was avoiding my eyes which meant bad news. “In the mess.”
I walked to the mess; DJ stayed tight on my heels. Uncle was seated at the long table. He was covered head to toe in grease, soot, and some gooey green gunk. He had a mug of steaming caffeine syrup in front of him.
“So?” I asked standing at the head of the table.
He wiped at his sweaty forehead with a rag from his pocket, but only spread more gunk on himself with the filthy rag. Then he took a long sip from the mug. Looked like he was avoiding giving me the news and by his expression he looked none too happy about delivering it. “He was shot up pretty good, meaning bad. Not high caliber stuff, but he took a lot of rounds.”
“So not the Kriskrossa,” I said. “Enforcer corps or gangsters then.”
“Not the corps,” Uncle said, staring into his mug. “They were here, didn’t have any idea what happened to Ship. Asked about you. I told them you and Ship were no longer an item.” Uncle searched his rag for a clean spot. He didn’t find one but he blew his nose on it anyway. He was stalling. I never knew Uncle to mince words so I sat down. “They wanted to take Ship directly to the smelting pot and they seemed eager to be done with it.”
“So why didn’t they?” I asked. “What aren’t you telling me?”
He looked deep into my eyes and said, “Ship’s dead.”
“No,” DJ said and dropped into the chair beside him. Her eyes were already growing moist. “How?”
“Hold on,” I said wanting to tame the rising emotional tide. Ship was already essentially dead, I knew because I’d essentially killed him, and I seriously doubted anyone could have killed him the rest of the way. “When you say he’s dead, do you mean you can’t fix him?”
“Oh, it’ll fly just fine. I already repaired most of the mechanical damage, but that’s it, it’s just a machine again, he’s gone.”
“Oh no,” DJ said and a pair of tears left her eyes and trickled down her cheeks. I had no idea she’d been so attached to that cantankerous hover demon.
But I had good reason to doubt Uncle’s assessment. “You’re being very unspecific. What makes you say he’s gone?”
“Well there’s the obvious, like he’s not complaining, crying, threatening, or generally talking at all. The system recorder shows data from your dogfight with the Cranks, shows Ship dropping you off at the edge of the outlands, near the Grand Nitsburg Hotel, and then there’s a big blank spot until he’s overhead here, damaged and crashing.”
“That’s not possible,” DJ said. “No one can override a flight recorder’s records; they’re encrypted directly into the sub-dimensional storage realm.”
Uncle and I met an uncomfortable gaze before I said, “Uncle can.”
DJ’s eyes grew wide in surprise and she opened her moth to speak, so I spoke first.
“Did you check if the crystal’s still there?”
“It’s there,” he said nodding. “But its gone dark.”
I shook my head. “That’s an ausite spirit crystal, no one can draw the spirit from it without the key or another splinter and there are no splinters and no one knows where that key is but me. It’s impossible.”
“So is altering magically encrypted flight data, but Uncle can,” DJ said looking smug.
She had a point.
“Stay here,” I said and headed up to the garage.
I stopped to done my plated, leather battle armor on the way up. I left the main lights off; I didn’t want to encourage snooping from the nosey neighbors. One of uncle’s neighbors was a family of Aardvarkeian Scathes, a naturally nosey species. I activated the mallow lamp over Uncle’s workbench then circled my old flycraft in shadowy light. Ship had a number of small dings where he’d taken bullet fire, and had several scorch marks from near missile misses, but it all looked weeks old. He’d certainly seen much worse damage in our time together. I kept looking, I don’t know why, maybe I was searching for a reason for Ship’s silence, or maybe I was putting off confirming the truth. Death was a part of life, especially mine; I’d chosen a dangerous way of living and those attached to me, whether voluntary or by subscription, were in constant threat of death. This was something I’d accepted long ago, something I’d made peace with.
So why was I feeling so much resistance?
It was Mickey, the sasquatch. Ever since I watched him die knowing how badly I’d misjudged him I hadn’t felt the same, about many things, especially death. But why? Why had the death of this one being who I’d barely known so rattled me? I’d held many people, people I really cared about, people I loved, and felt them slip away. Was it that I’d called him a monster? Was it that I’d lost the one being left that remembered the Earth that I so lament? Or was it something else; something I wouldn’t admit even to myself?
Whatever it was I needed to put it behind me. To do what needed doing I was going to have to return to being Jazz, and that meant facing death and doom without hesitation, without fear, and without concern of consequence.
I walked to the front and stared into Ship’s pug-like, smooshy face. “Ship?”
All I head was my own breathing.
“Come on, Ship,” I said and gave his thick shoving bumper a solid kick. “Stop it now, pouting doesn’t suit you.” Actually it suited him just fine; it was me it didn’t agree with.
I waited in silence. If he was, in fact, simply not speaking to me out of spite then it wouldn’t have been the first time. But to be absolutely silent, no huff, no grunt, no ‘under his nonexistent breath’ comments, that would be very unlike him.
I walked over to uncle’s tool chest and came back carrying a multiplying disassembly lever. “Tell you what,” I said, “I’ll stop breaking pieces of you off when you tell me to.”
I heard the metallic ring of something falling to the floor. My head spun and I trained all my senses on the shadow by the office as my hand went to my zoom-stick in its sheath. My ears caught a faint crinkle of nylon and I relaxed. “Okay DJ, you might as well come out.”
DJ slinked out from behind Uncle’s big tool crib wearing her yellow jump suit with the red racing stripes and a sheepish grin. “Sorry.”
Ahh DJ, ever my persistent shadow; the one being on all of the conjoined planets that I could count on, even when she was miffed at me. “It’s fine.”
DJ dropped the grin and jogged over. “Hey, you’re wearing you battle gear.”
“Very observant; we’ll make a deferred species bond collector out of you yet.”
“Anything?” she asked.
I looked at the metal bulk before me. “Nothing yet.” Ship was a box shape with the corners cut at forty-five degree angles that sat on two, long rectangular tubes that housed his avi-star thrusters. His clear canopy was as tall as his flat nose. It was raised to its retracted position. I stepped over the black and yellow striped bumper and dropped into the seat. I pushed the button to lower the flight control cab and nothing happened. I turned sideways in the seat and pulled the big primary power lever down. That was odd. Normally I didn’t have to do that as Ship preferred the power left on all the time, the lever was something he couldn’t operate on his own. I hit the button and the council lowered into flight position.
“How’s the crystal?” DJ asked.
I didn’t answer; I flipped the four retainer clips off, took the panel’s D-handle and removed Ship’s magi-brain cover. I dropped the cover and unscrewed the input modem cap. Normally the Ausite Spirit crystal I’d jammed inside it cast a purple glow into the cabin, but the modem tube remained dark. I didn’t have much information about ausite, of course I didn’t know of anyone else who did either, not even the wizard I’d gotten it from, and he was now dead. I knew it had been created on another world in another dimension, a world of neither of the conjoined planets called Mirth. The story I’d been told was the original crystal had been created by a god and was stolen by said god’s devotee, who then fragmented the crystal into several pieces; apparently I’d acquired the smallest of the splinters. I have no idea why or for what it had been created, but I did know that it had the power to pull a being’s spirit or soul from their body and to contain it, or to move it to a new vessel. I’d stolen the crystal (yeah, I meant to say, acquired) for a very specific being who’s spirit I wished to contain. Only this idiotic hover demon got in the way and I captured his spirit by accident. Attempting to hide the crystal from the enforcer corps, I stuffed it in my flycraft’s input modem. The next thing I knew the dammed thing’s spirit was trapped inside my flycraft. Truth was I hated Ship just about as much as he hated me. He felt I’d wronged him by bonding his spirit to a machine, and I hated him, aside from the fact that he was a demon, for getting in the way of my intended target. But a deeper truth was that having my very own sentient flycraft had proved to be one of my greatest assets—
“Anyone there, Jazz?”
—one of my greatest assets, next to DJ.
“Nothing. The crystal’s dark.”
The glow from the crystal, I’m told, comes form the energy of the spirit inside it; no glow, no spirit. But I decided to take precautions. “Can you hand me Uncle’s melding glove?”
“Sure,” DJ said and, after a quick look around, passed me a thick, fallow plated glove. I donned the glove and gently touched the crystal; fallow had many limitations and the crystal had the potential to take my soul with the slightest touch. But I felt no tingle, no heat, no nothing. I tried to pull the crystal out, but the thing was stuck. So I tried harder but it just wouldn’t budge.
“I can’t get it out,” I said and sat back.
DJ stood on the shoving bumper and tried to look over the council. “Want a hammer?”
“No,” I said with a chuckle, but I wasn’t certain that she’d been kidding. “It’s melted into the components; it’s not coming out without having Uncle disassemble the entire council.”
“Great,” she said, “so let’s do that.”
This was going to be hard. “It doesn’t matter, in fact I think it’s better this way.”
DJ’s lips pursed and her eyes narrowed into stink-eye position. “Why doesn’t it matter?”
Harder than I thought. “I’ve come to a decision, but you’re not going to like it.”
DJ stepped off the bumper, crossed her arms and glared at me.
“I’m going to turn myself in.”
“Oh that’s just brilliant,” DJ’s head nodded with an angry vigor. “Oh yeah, just give up, great plan. But hey, I’m sure another turn in the mallow mines will do you good, since you barely survived the last time.”
There was no easy way to do this, so it meant being firm, more then firm, driving her away, I had to. “This is not up for debate, this is my decision and—”
“No it isn’t,” she said with an impertinent laugh. “It’s that decaying corpse’s decision, the thing you call father but that you’re not sure is your father and that you claim to hate because he’s the most evil being on all of Mirth…that guy’s plan is the one you choose?”
DJ face had turned a deep shade of red and I wasn’t sure whether she was about to cry or to kick me really hard in the face.
“This is how it is,” I said and screwed the input modem cover back on. I took the magi brain cover and went to set it in place.
DJ jammed her hand in the way. “No way, not after all you’ve put me though.”
“I put you though!” I shouted planning on beginning a tirade that would leave her no room to interrupt, but she beat me to it.
“Oh come on, Jazz, you’ve been half off your nut for the last month. And sure, I could almost understand that you thought you were dying and you thought you needed to save us, and great, you lived and we were all saved, thank you very much. But now, here at the edge of something huge, right at the point that we might find some real answers, you decide, after your devil-evil father told you to, to just throw in the towel, give it all up, so long and thanks for all the fish. That sounds like the most cowardly thing I ever heard of.”
I was impressed that she hadn’t passed out considering she hadn’t taken a single breath though all that. Her Douglass Adams reference was also noteworthy, Mirthlings didn’t read for pleasure, I had no idea where she’d heard it.
“Tough,” I said and flipped her hand up sending her stumbling back off the bumper. I jammed the cover in place and flipped the first hasp closed. As soon as I flipped the second hasp DJ unhooked the first.
I kept a hand covering the second and reached to flip the third only to find DJ’s little hand covering it. “Don’t make me punch you,” I said.
DJ leaned her face closer to mine, narrowed her eyes and said, “I’d like to see you try.”
She sounded serious, very serious, but I knew the kid knew she couldn’t take me in a fight, not on her best day and me on my worst. She was vying for time. Probably hoping uncle would come into the garage and talk some sense into me. But I was in a particularly unreasonable mood and giving DJ’s ego a good pounding would be just the thing to push her away for good. I narrowed my eyes, balled up both my fists, and straightened myself up.
DJ squared off her shoulders and sunk back into a fighting stance.
This was truly going to hurt me more than her, but I had no other choice and I was done with all the listening.
That’s when I heard the approach of distant sirens—a lot of sirens.
The man door on the front of Uncle’s garage slammed open. “Jazz!” Inspector Samuels shouted as he ran through the bays and nearly straight past us. “Jazz!”
“Here,” I said then vaulted over the council and landed beside DJ. I gave her shoulder a friendly, but solid punch, just to remind her of the pecking order.
“Ouch,” she said and rubbed her arm, obviously exaggerating so I would get that she got my point.
Samuels altered his trajectory so abruptly he nearly sent himself head over heels. A bit clumsily he got his feet back under control and shot over to us. Now the good inspector made full use of all the benefits of a magically powered world, including the use of devices that kept him in tip top condition without the bother of diet and exercise. So the fact that he was panting and nearly out of breath meant that he’d been running for some time, which meant that he hadn’t taken his patrol flycraft which meant he was here in an unofficial capacity. And the sirens were growing closer and in greater number.
“Cole,” he said panting hard. “They’re coming,” he paused to gasp in a couple of breaths. “Nothing—” Pant again. “Nothing I could do, sorry.”
The inspector had his scarf balled up in his hand. His hat and glasses were gone completely, leaving his brain tissue and the throbbing veins attached to it, clearly exposed. He was like a living version of the visible man model from my biology class.
“Not your fault,” I said. “Thanks for all you’ve done.”
Uncle ran into the garage. “Sounds like trouble. How long until—good gods!” he shouted catching sight of Samuels.
Samuels scratched at the top of his head and it gave the illusion that he was scratching his brain. “Yeah, look, forget about me, you’ve got five minutes, maybe six.”
“That’s fine,” I said, leaned against Ship’s side rail, crossed my arms and searched for tooth debris with my tongue.
DJ’s head shook; her eyes were moist. “Jazz, don’t do this, please.”
“What…what are you doing?” the enforcer corp officer asked.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “But I’ve decided. The rest of you get below, you’ll be safe there until they leave.”
Samuel’s creepy eyes turned between DJ and me as his surrounding eye mussels flexed and relaxed. He seemed torn, like he didn’t know which way to turn, then he centered himself, reached inside his jacket, took out his enforcer corps credential and dropped it on the floor. Then he walked up beside DJ and set his hands on hips.
“Oh no,” I said uncrossing my arms.
“Oh yes,” DJ said crossing hers. Samuels pointed at DJ in case I’d missed her defiant expression.
Parry looked confused, or maybe worried, or scared. Hell, he was probably all three and then some.
DJ, arms still crossed, tried, and failed, to subtlety wave Parry over. Parry looked plainly confused and DJ waved harder as she glared at me and said, “If you’re turning yourself in, then we’re turning ourselves in too.”
Parry, who was coming over at last, stopped in his tracks and his expression went terrified. He gulped then asked, stammering, “W-w-we are?”
Moxie, glowing brightly in the dim light, flew out of Parry’s shirt pocket, took him by his earlobe and, with wings beating furiously, dragged him up to DJ’s side.
“Oww, oww, oww,” Parry said and swatted at his ear. “I’m going, stop it.”
Moxie flew right up to my face, crossed her arms then gave me a, “Humph,” and turned her head disapprovingly. But my little flower ward couldn’t stay mad at me for even a second. She caved in, flew up to me and applied intense, magic sparked kisses to my face.
“Alright, alright,” I said and caught Moxie by her semi-transparent wings. “You can stay, but only if you can sit quietly.”
Moxie beamed a smile; the golden light she produced brightened by several degrees and she clapped her pudgy little hands together in glee. I set her on my shoulder then said, “As for the rest of you—hey!” I shouted as a little magically charged kiss landed on my neck. “You have to sit still,” I said glancing at the little flower ward perched on my shoulder.
She nodded, setting her blond curls bouncing, and crossed her heart over her unclothed breasts; Moxie was unabashed to say the least. The flower wards were, by magical standards, a very primitive species, motivated by love of their charge, in this case me, and unencumbered by ego. Lucky little speck.
I started again, “As for the rest of you—”
“As for the rest of us,” DJ said and began dumping her many and varied weapons on the floor, “We can turn ourselves in if we want to.”
Samuels dropped his stun-pole on the floor. “And we want to.”
“We do?” Parry asked and DJ jabbed him with her elbow. “Yes, I want to too…I suppose.” He had no weapons to relinquish.
A siren drew very near, it’s volume rolled down and I heard a flycraft’s landing thrusters ignite. More sirens were approaching. I looked back at my overly and undeservedly faithful companions, then over at Uncle leaning against a support pole polishing a wrench with his filthy rag. He met my eyes and shrugged.
“Gods damn it!” I shouted and wrung my fists in a sudden burst of rage. I looked over at Ship, now nothing more than an inert flycraft; inert but heavily armed and armored and unexpectedly maneuverable. Me and that little dock switcher had been in many a battle together before I’d attached a demon’s soul to it, and I’d survived them all.
Outside I head several more flycraft landing.
I looked back at my defiant friends and was struck by the determination in their eyes, even Samuels’s as gross as they were. My friends meant well and I didn’t deserve them, but they were probably going to get us all killed. What choice did I have? How could I return their loyalty and courage with cowardice, and yes, DJ was right, turning myself in was a cowardly move, and I’d have been lying to myself to think otherwise. I hopped off Ship’s bumper and walked up to them. “If I fight, win or lose, will you promise to stay hidden, to stay alive and to carry on this fight, regardless?”
DJ grimaced as she met Samuels’s gaze, but I saw a silent vow pass between them. “Agreeded,” DJ said.
“Oh thank god,” Parry said, panting hard. Apparently he’d been holding his breath the entire time.
I pulled on my flight gloves and ran to Ship’s cockpit. I pulled on my leather flightcap, buckled the ear flaps beneath my chin and hopped into the seat. Outside raised voices were excitedly exchanging orders, and then someone banged hard against the door. “Open up by order of the Enforcer Corps warrants and free searches code or be invaded.”
I jammed my boots into Ship’s pedal straps and flipped several toggles, beginning the primary starting sequence. Then I looked at the little line of faces staring at me, DJ was smiling victoriously. “Don’t just stand there staring like idiots, run!”
Parry ran off, tripped once, and then scurried through the office door. In a scramble DJ and Samuels gathered their weapons. DJ gave me an encouraging nod before running, Samuels close behind her. I spotted the detective’s credentials still sitting on the floor, but before I could call to him the big roll up door behind me exploded into the shop, banging hard against the back of Ship and shoving us…me, several meters forward and slamming me back into the seat. Luckily I’d just gotten my five point harness buckled. I heard a dozen heavy, booted feet storming in. I hit the ignition for the twin Avistar thrusters, flipped the lever to lower Ship’s canopy, pulled the lift thrusters throttle back and pulled the pedal up. I lifted off and began a slow turn as about a zillion mallow bolts rained against Ship’s thick hide. I was surrounded by a dozen armed officers. Outside at least five armed flycraft were parked waiting for me. It had been a while since I’d fought the enforcer corps. If I don’t die, this will be fun.
..to be continued.
It’s the beginning of the end.
Jazz, Monster Collector: Episode 18, Battered
Watch for it Jazz-Fan
I hope you’ve enjoyed this Jazz adventure.
If you’d like to learn more about the monster collector, or me and my other works, please visit:
Jazz: Monster Collector, the serialized adventures of Mirth’s only deferred species bond collector. Stories just the right size for your commute, lunch break, or anytime you want a fast, exciting read. Want more? Follow episode by episode as Jazz seeks to uncover the secret force behind the inter-dimensional takeover of the planet she loved, a little place once called Earth. Episode 17- Broken: Despite her best efforts, Jazz is still very much alive. But she’s facing multiple warrants, she’s homeless, she’s eliminated most of her enemies and the latter is making her really depressed. With nowhere else to turn, Jazz and her loyal followers hide themselves away in Uncle’s underground submarine. Just when she thinks she might die of boredom, Ship arrives home, but he’s missing something, namely that demon soul Jazz always found so annoying. So why is she missing it? What happened to Ship? Who happened to Ship? Before Jazz can answer these questions, she going to have to answer the door and it’s not the welcoming committee come knocking. Jazz, Monster Collector, Season One: Earth’s Lament: Jazz is a deferred species bond collector, which is a polite way of saying, Monster Hunter. She hunts them and whenever she can she destroys them. Her hatred for the bvorcs, goblins, trolls, and fairies that live side by side with humans on the magically conjoined planets called Mirth runs deep. But only Jazz knows why, how deep, and what she’s willing to do to express it. But Jazz’s greatest enemy is the invisible power behind the hostile takeover that destroyed the Earth that she remembers. And that’s one enemy Jazz probably won’t live to face. A fast paced futuristic serial with a touch of noir and a lot of trouble.