All-Ireland Hurling Championship Betting – Odds and

What is a mega sporting event that is your country's Super Bowl?

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the entire tetanic script pt 3/???

It was the ship of dreams... to everyone else. To me it was a slave ship,
taking me back to America in chains.
CLOSE ON CAL'S HAND IN SLOW-MOTION as it closes possessively over Rose's
arm. He escorts her up the gangway and the black hull of Titanic swallows
Outwardly I was everything a well brought up girl should be. Inside, I was
35 CUT TO a SCREAMING BLAST from the mighty triple steam horns on Titanic's
funnels, bellowing their departure warning.
A VIEW OF TITANIC from several blocks away, towering above the terminal
buildings like the skyline of a city. The steamer's whistle echoes across
PULL BACK, revealing that we were looking through a window, and back
further to show the smoky inside of a pub. It is crowded with dockworkers
and ship;s crew.
Just inside the window, a poker game is in progress. FOUR MEN, in working
class clothes, play a very serious hand.
JACK DAWSON and FABRIZIO DE ROSSI, both about 20, exchange a glance as the
other two players argue in Swedish. Jack is American, a lanky drifter with
his hair a little long for the standards of the times. He is also unshaven,
and his clothes are rumpled from sleeping in them. He is an artist, and has
adopted the bohemian style of art scene in Paris. He is also very
self-possessed and sure-footed for 20, having lived on his own since 15.
The TWO SWEDES continue their sullen argument, in Swedish.
You stupid fishhead. I can't believe you bet our tickets.
You lost our money. I'm just trying to get it back. Now shutup and take a
Hit me again, Sven.
Jack takes the card and slips it into his hand.
ECU JACK'S EYES. They betray nothing.
CLOSE ON FABRIZIO licking his lips nervously as he refuses a card.
ECU STACK in the middle of the table. Bills and coins from four counrties.
This has been going on for a while. Sitting on top of the money are two 3RD
The Titanic's whistle blows again. Final warning.
The moment of truth boys. Somebody's life's about to change.
Fabrizio puts his cards down. So do the Swedes. Jack holds his close.
Let's see... Fabrizio's got niente. Olaf, you've got squat. Sven, uh oh...
two pair... mmm.
(turns to his friend)
Sorry Fabrizio.
What sorry? What you got? You lose my money?? Ma va fa'n culo testa di
Sorry, you're not gonna see your mama again for a long time...
He slaps a full house down on the table.
'Cause you're goin' to America!! Full house boys!
Porca Madonna!! YEEAAAAA!!!
The table explodes into shouting in several languages. Jack rakes in the
money and the tickets.
(to the Swedes)
Sorry boys. Three of a kind and a pair. I'm high and you're dry and...
(to Fabrizio)
... we're going to--
Olaf balls up one huge farmer's fist. We think he's going to clobber Jack,
but he swings round and punches Sven, who flops backward onto the floor and
sits there, looking depressed. Olaf forgets about Jack and Fabrizio, who
are dancing around, and goes into a rapid harangue of his stupid cousin.
Jack kisses the tickets, then jumps on Fabrizio's back and rides him around
the pub. It's like they won the lottery.
Goin' home... to the land o' the free and the home of the real hot-dogs! On
the TITANIC!! We're ridin' in high style now! We're practically goddamned
royalty, ragazzo mio!!
You see? Is my destinio!! Like I told you. I go to l'America!! To be a
(to pubkeeper)
Capito?? I go to America!!
No, mate. Titanic go to America. In five minutes.
Shit!! Come on, Fabri!
(grabbing their stuff)
Come on!!
(to all, grinning)
It's been grand.
They run for the door.
'Course I'm sure if they knew it was you lot comin', they'd be pleased to
Jack and Fabrizio, carrying everything they own in the world in the kit
bags on their shoulders, sprint toward the pier. They tear through milling
crowds next to the terminal. Shouts go up behind them as they jostle
slow-moving gentlemen. They dodge piles of luggage, and weave through
groups of people. They burst out onto the pier and Jack comes to a dead
stop... staring at the cast wall of the ship's hull, towering seven stories
above the wharf and over an eighth of a mile long. The Titanic is
Fabrizio runs back and grabs Jack, and they sprint toward the third class
gangway aft, at E deck. They reach the bottom of the ramp just as SIXTH
OFFICER MOODY detaches it at the top. It starts to swing down from the
gangway doors.
Wait!! We're passengers!
Flushed and panting, he waves the tickets.
Have you been through the inspection queue?
(lying cheerfully)
Of course! Anyway, we don't have lice, we're Americans.
(glances at Fabrizio)
Both of us.
Right, come aboard.
Moody has QUARTERMASTER ROWE reattach the gangway. Jack and Fabrizio come
aboard. Moody glances at the tickets, then passes Jack and Fabrizio through
to Rowe. Rowe looks at the names on the tickets to enter them in the
passenger list.
Gundersen. And...
(reading Fabrizio's)
He hands the tickets back, eyeing Fabrizio's Mediterranean looks
(grabbing Fabrizio's arm)
Come on, Sven.
Jack and Fabrizio whoop with victory as they run down the white-painted
corridero... grinning from ear to ear.
We are the luckiest sons of bitches in the world!
The mooring lines, as big around as a man's arm, are dropped into the
water. A cheer goes up on the pier as SEVEN TUGS pull the Titanic away from
the quay.
JACK AND FABRIZIO burst through a door onto the aft well deck. TRACKING
WITH THEM as they run across the deck and up the steel stairs to the poop
deck. They get to the rail and Jack starts to yell and wave to the crowd on
the dock.
You know somebody?
Of course not. That's not the point.
(to the crowd)
Goodbye! Goodbye!! I'll miss you!
Grinning, Fabrixio joins in, adding his voice to the swell of voices,
feeling the exhilaration of the moment.
Goodbye! I will never forget you!!
The crowd of cheering well-wishers waves heartily as a black wall of metal
moves past them. Impossibly tiny figues wave back from the ship's rails.
Titanic gathers speed.
IN A LONG LENS SHOT the prow of Titanic FILLS FRAME behind the lead tug,
which is dwarfed. The bow wave spreads before the mighty plow of the
liner's hull as it moves down the River Test toward the English Channel.
Jack and Fabrizio walk down a narrow corridor with doors lining both sides
like a college dorm. Total confusion as people argue over luggage in
several languages, or wander in confusion in the labyrinth. They pass
emigrants studying the signs over the doors, and looking up the words in
phrase books.
They find their berth. It is a modest cubicle, painted enamel white, with
four bunks. Exposed pipes overhead. The other two guys are already there.
Jack throws his kit on one open bunk, while Fabrizio takes the other.
(in Swedish/ subtitled)
Where is Sven?
46 INT. SUITE B-52-56 - DAY
By contrast, the so-called "Millionaire Suite" is in the Empire style, and
comprises two bedrooms, a bath, WC, wardrobe room, and a large sitting
room. In addition there is a private 50 foot promenade deck outside.
A room service waiter pours champagne into a tulip glass of orange juice
and hands the Bucks Fizz to Rose. She is looking through her new paintings.
There is a Monet of water lilies, a Degas of dancers, and a few abstract
works. They are all unknown paintings... lost works.
Cal is out on the covered deck, which has potted trees and vines on
trellises, talking through the doorway to Rose in the sitting room.
Those mud puddles were certainly a waste of money.
(looking at a cubist portrait)
You're wrong. They're fascinating. Like in a dream... there's truth without
logic. What's his name again... ?
(reading off the canvas)
(coming into the sitting room)
He'll never amount to a thing, trust me. At least they were cheap.
A porter wheels Cal's private safe (which we recognize) into the room on a
Put that in the wardrobe.
47 IN THE BEDROOM Rose enters with the large Degas of the dancers. She sets
it on the dresser, near the canopy bed. Trudy is already in there, hanging
up some of Rose's clothes.
It smells so brand new. Like they built it all just for us. I mean... just
to think that tonight, when I crawl between the sheets, Iill be the first--
Cal appears in the doorway of the bedroom.
(looking at Rose)
And when I crawl between the sheets tonight, I'll still be the first.
(blushing at the innuendo)
S'cuse me, Miss.
She edges around Cal and makes a quick exit. Cal comes up behind Rose and
puts his hands on her shoulders. An act of possession, not intimacy.
The first and only. Forever.
Rose's expression shows how bleak a prospect this is for her, now.
Titanic stands silhouetted against a purple post-sunset sky. She is lit up
like a floating palace, and her thousand portholes reflect in the calm
harbor waters. The 150 foot tender Nomadic lies-to alongside, looking like
a rowboat. The lights of a Cherbourg harbor complete the postcard image.
Entering the first class reception room from the tender are a number of
prominent passengers. A BROAD-SHOULDERED WOMAN in an enormous feathered hat
comes up the gangway, carrying a suitcase in each hand, a spindly porter
running to catch up with her to take the bags.
Well, I wasn't about to wait all day for you, sonny. Take 'em the rest of
the way if you think you can manage.
At Cherbourg a woman came aboard named Margaret Brown, but we all called
her Molly. History would call her the Unsinkable Molly Brown. Her husband
had struck gold someplace out west, and she was what mother called "new
At 45, MOLLY BROWN is a tough talking straightshooter who dresses in the
finery of her genteel peers but will never be one of them.
By the next afternoon we had made our final stop and we were steaming west
from the coast of Ireland, with nothing out ahead of us but ocean...
The ship glows with the warm creamy light of late afternoon. Jack and
Fabrizio stand right at the bow gripping the curving railing so familiar
from images of the wreck. Jack leans over, looking down fifty feet to where
the prow cuts the surface like a knife, sending up two glassy sheets of
Take her to sea Mister Murdoch. Let's stretch her legs.
Murdoch moves the engine telegraph lever to ALL AHEAD FULL.
53 NOW BEGINS a kind of musical/visual setpiece... an ode to the great
ship. The music is rhythmic, surging forward, with a soaring melody that
addresses the majesty and optimism of the ship of dreams.
IN THE ENGINE ROOM the telegraph clangs and moves to "All Ahead Full".
All ahead full!
On the catwalk THOMAS ANDREWS, the shipbuilder, watches carefully as the
engineers and greasers scramble to adjust valves. Towering above them are
the twin RECIPROCATING engines, four stories tall, their ten-foot-long
connecting rods surging up and down with the turning of the massive
crankshafts. The engines thunder like the footfalls of marching giants.
54 IN THE BOILER ROOMS the STOKERS chant a song as they hurl coal into the
roaring furnaces. The "black gang" are covered with sweat and coal dust,
their muscles working like part of the machinery as they toil in the
hellish glow.
55 UNDERWATER the enormous bronze screws chop through the water, hurling
the steamer forward and churning up a vortex of foam that lingers for miles
behind the juggernaut ship. Smoke pours from the funnels as--
56 The riven water flares higher at the bow as the ship's speeds builds.
THE CAMERA SWEEPS UP the prow to find Jack, the wind streaming through his
hair and--
57 Captain Smith steps out of the enclosed bridge onto the wing. He stands
with his hands on the rail, looking every bit the storybook picture of a
Captain... a great patriarch of the sea.
Twenty one knots, sir!
She's got a bone in her teeth now, eh, Mr. Murdoch.
Smith accepts a cup of tea from FIFTH OFFICER LOWE. He contentedly watches
the white V of water hurled outward from the bows like an expression of his
own personal power. They are invulnerable, towering over the sea.
58 AT THE BOW Jack and Fabrizio lean far over, looking down.
In the glassy bow-wave two dolphins appear, under the water, running fast
just in front of the steel blade of the prow. They do it for the sheer joy
and exultation of motion. Jack watches the dolphins and grins. They breach,
jumping clear of the water and then dive back, crisscrossing in front of
the bow, dancing ahead of the juggernaut.
FABRIZIO looks forward across the Atlantic, staring into the sunsparkles.
I can see the Statue of Liberty already.
(grinning at Jack)
Very small... of course.
THE CAMERA ARCS around them, until they are framed against the sea.
NOW WE PULL BACK, across the forecastle deck. Rising, as we continue back,
and the ships rolls endlessly forward underneath. Over the bridge wing,
along the boat deck until her funnels come INTO FRAME besides us and march
past like the pillars of heaven, one by one. We pull back and up, until we
are looking down the funnels, and the people strolling on the decks and
standing at the rail become antlike.
And still we pull back until the great lady is seen whole in a gorgeous
aerial portrait, black and severe in her majesty.
She is the largest moving object ever made by the hand of man in all
CLOSE ON J. BRUCE ISMAY, Managing Director of White Star Line.
...and our master shipbuilder, Mr. Andrews here, designed her from the keel
plates up.
He indicates a handsome 39 year old Irish gentlemen to his right, THOMAS
ANDREWS, of Harland and Wolf Shipbuilders.
WIDER, showing the group assembled for lunch the next day. Ismay seated
with Cal, Rose, Ruth, Molly Brown and Thomas Andrews in the Palm Court, a
beautiful sunny spot enclosed by high arched windows.
(disliking the attention)
Well, I may have knocked her together, but the idea was Mr. Ismay's. He
envisioned a steamer so grand in scale, and so luxurious in its
appointments, that its supremacy would never be challenged. And here she
(he slaps the table)
...willed into solid reality.
Why're ships always bein' called "she"? Is it because men think half the
women around have big sterns and should be weighed in tonnage?
(they all laugh)
Just another example of the men settin' the rules their way.
The waiter arrives to take orders. Rose lights a cigarette.
You know I don't like that, Rose.
She knows.
Cal takes the cigarette from her and stubs it out.
(to the waiter)
We'll both have the lamb. Rare, with a little mint sauce.
(to Rose, after the waiter moves away)
You like lamb, don't you sweetpea?
Molly is watching the dynamic between Rose, Cal and Ruth.
So, you gonna cut her meat for her too there, Cal?
(turning to Ismay)
Hey, who came up with the name Titanic? You, Bruce?
Yes, actually. I wanted to convey sheer size. And size means stability,
luxury... and safety--
Do you know of Dr. Freud? His ideas about the male preoccupation with size
might be of particular interest to you, Mr. Ismay.
Andrews chockes on his breadstick, suppressing laughter.
My God, Rose, what's gotten into--
Excuse me.
She stalks away.
I do apologize.
She's a pistol, Cal. You sure you can handle her?
(tense but feigning unconcern)
Well, I may have to start minding what she reads from now on.
Jack sits on a bench in the sun. Titanic's wake spreads out behind him to
the horizon. He has his knees pulled up, supporting a leather bound
sketching pad, his only valuable possession. With conte crayon he draws
rapidly, using sure strokes. An emigrant from Manchester named CARTMELL has
his 3 year old daughter CORA standing on the lower rung of the rail. She is
leaned back against his beer barrel of a stomach, watching the seagulls.
THE SKETCH captures them perfectly, with a great sense of the humanity of
the moment. Jack is good. Really good. Fabrizio looks over Jack's shoulder.
He nods appreciatively.
TOMMY RYAN, a scowling young Irish emigrant, watches as a crewmember comes
by, walking three small dogs around the deck. One of them, a BLACK FRENCH
BULLDOG, is among the ugliest creatures on the planet.
That's typical. First class dogs come down here to take a shit.
Jack looks up from his sketch.
That's so we know where we rank in the scheme of things.
Like we could forget.
Jack glances across the well deck. At the aft railing of B deck promenade
stands ROSE, in a long yellow dress and white gloves.
CLOSE ON JACK, unable to take his eyes off of her. They are across from
each other, about 60 feet apart, with the well deck like a valley between
them. She on her promontory, he on his much lower one. She stares down at
the water.
He watches her unpin her elaborate hat and take it off. She looks at the
frilly absurd thing, then tosses it over the rail. It sails far down to the
water and is carried away, astern. A spot of yellow in the vast ocean. He
is riveted by her. She looks like a figure in a romantic novel, sad and
Fabrizio taps Tommy and they both look at Jack gazin at Rose. Fabrizio and
Tommy grin at each other.
Rose turns suddenly and looks right at Jack. He is caught staring, but he
doesn't look away. She does, but then looks back. Their eyes meet across
the space of the well deck, across the gulf between worlds.
Jack sees a man (Cal) come up behind her and take her arm. She jerks her
arm away. They argue in pantomime. She storms away, and he goes after her,
disappearing along the A-deck promenade. Jack stares after her.
Forget it, boyo. You'd as like have angels fly out o' yer arse as get next
to the likes o' her.
SLOWLY PUSHING IN ON ROSE as she sits, flanked by people in heated
conversation. Cal and Ruth are laughing together, while on the other side
LADY DUFF-GORDON is holding forth animatedly. We don't hear what they are
saying. Rose is staring at her plate, barely listening to the
inconsequential babble around her.
I saw my whole life as if I'd already lived it... an endless parade of
parties and cotillions, yachts and polo matches... always the same narrow
people, the same mindless chatter. I felt like I was standing at a great
precipice, with no one to pull me back, no one who cared... or even
ANGLE BENEATH TABLE showing Rose's hand, holding a tiny fork from her crab
salad. She pokes the crab-fork into the skin of her arm, harder and harder
until it draws blood.
Rose walks along the corridor. A steward coming the other way greets her,
and she nods with a slight smile. She is perfectly composed.
She enters the room. Stands in the middle, staring at her reflection in the
large vanity mirror. Just stands there, then--
With a primal, anguished cry she claws at her throat, ripping off her pearl
necklace, which explodes across the room. In a frenzy she tears at herself,
her clothes, her hair... then attacks the room. She flings everything off
the dresser and it flies clattering against the wall. She hurls a
handmirror against the vanity, cracking it.
Rose runs along the B deck promenade. She is dishevelled, her hair flying.
She is crying, her cheeks streaked with tears. But also angry, furious!
Shaking with emotions she doesn't understand... hatred, self-hatred,
desperation. A strolling couple watch her pass. Shocked at the emotional
display in public.
Jack is kicked back on one of the benches gazing at the stars blazing
gloriously overhead. Thinking artist thoughts and smoking a cigarette.
Hearing something, he turns as Rose runs up the stairs from the well deck.
They are the only two on the stern deck, except for QUARTERMASTER ROWE,
twenty feet above them on the docking bridge catwalk. She doesn't see Jack
in the shadows, and runs right past him.
TRACKING WITH ROSE as she runs across the deserted fantail. Her breath
hitches in an occasional sob, which she suppresses. Rose slams against the
base of the stern flagpole and clings there, panting. She stares out at the
black water.
Then starts to climb over the railing. She has to hitch her long dress way
up, and climbing is clumsy. Moving methodically she turns her body and gets
her heels on the white-painted gunwale, her back to the railing, facing out
toward blackness. 60 feet below her, the massive propellers are churning
the atlantin into white foam, and a ghostly wake trails off toward the
IN A LOW ANGLE, we see Rose standing like a figurehead in reverse. Below
her are the huge letters of the name "TITANIC".
She leans out, her arms straightening... looking down hypnotized, into the
vortex below her. Her dress and hair are lifted by the wind of the ship's
movement. The only sound, above the rush of water below, is the flutter and
snap of the big Union Jack right above her.
Don't do it.
She whips her head around at the sound of his voice. It takes a second for
her eyes to focus.
Stay back! Don't come any closer!
Jack sees the tear tracks on her cheeks in the faint glow from the stern
running lights.
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Irish Sports Journalist , Ewan MacKenna talks about rugby elitism and backgrounds, and is son of RTE producer

is he not a hypocrite? Well connected etc. Hardly grew up poor.

talking his usual mix of shite and sense. Shite heavily outweighs sense.
" "
That was good. Very good, actually.
But stop right there and don’t dare go any further.
Inhale. Exhale. Repeat.
We beg you.
For can you imagine this scenario as a glorious alternative to what inevitably plays out next?
Fair, joyous talk of Peter O’Mahony being a monster, and Devin Toner and Tadhg Furlong running into the wall and it retreating. Followed by catching yourself before tumbling over the cliff, and acknowledging that Saturday’s win over New Zealand was impressive but not all that important, and that we’ve made this mistake before as a World Cup is where it’s at.
Sadly, we can only imagine such a perspective though, as we won’t be getting any.
Instead, there was already a “sense of destiny“. There was this being “the celestial citizen of a distant planet“. There was the repetition of one New Zealand journalist’s baffling and possibly jokey claim that we are now the best in the world, as we are as desperate for recognition as those who go on Twitter and tell foreigners to turn on hurling on Sky Sports as it’s great.
Watching the match with five fans from New Zealand, they didn’t think that way. Big rugby fans, the defeat hurt them like a stinger as much as it surprised them. But they were also bullish, looking at the lineouts lost at crucial times, the kick-heavy game that was really bad in execution, a scrum that was rocked, and bad hands at vital moments as areas that must be improved upon.
Crucially they will be rectified come the World Cup as you can bet theirs is a team that will learn a lesson. All the while in victory, we are setting ourselves up for a familiar lesson. Longer term focus and eyes on the big prize will be traded for Jagerbombs on Baggot Street.
Steve Hansen surmised it best. “We’re not going to fix it in a week, but we will fix it and when we get it right, we’ll see some big improvements,” he coldly said before adding words about what next for Ireland. “It’s their turn at the moment so we’ll see how they cope.”
So how will we cope?
This is where it gets worrying. This is where it goes beyond just a game.
* * *
A question the captain of Ireland should have been asked, but never was and never will be.
At the start of this year, during the Six Nations, you’ll remember that Rory Best excused himself from the national camp in the lead-up to a match. On duty but away from duty, he instead headed for a courtroom in Belfast where some Ulster teammates were on trial in a case they’d eventually be cleared in. But the verdict doesn’t excuse his actions.
Best expected us to believe that no permission was sought by a national captain in the build-up to a Six Nations game. And he expected us to believe that he had to be there because someone else’s counsel had told him to take in the environment as he was a character witness, even though it never materialised.
So what about that question?
What were you at Rory and can you clarify all of this, please?
That lot got brushed over and if you’re wondering what it has to do with anything here, it’s crucial as it is the finest example of the special bubble with which rugby operates in this country. It belongs on a different plane and is treated specially and has completely different standards.
That applies to the big issues such as our southern province’s continued meandering into South Africa having already signed one cheat from there. And that applies to the relatively unimportant sporting issues with Ronan O’Gara calling a team great after nothing more than a pool win, and Ian Madigan crying over the same, with both being accepted when such premature hype and hysteria should be called out instantly.
We are a small island and small market and desperate whispers of greatness are heard, never mind the roaring and shouting and fawning. In that way we’ve made our rugby team so soft and, while that may be an odd term given the granite on show over the weekend, there’s a need to separate physicality from mentality; and there’s a need to separate what the vice-president of World Rugby refers to as friendlies from actual games that the rest care about as much as we do.
Of course, the players are professionals and know there is a hierarchy of achievement, but you can’t blank out our constant deifying. The last time they beat the All Blacks they had a DVD made and were off to watch Ryan Tubridy get all warm and fuzzy in their faces. Contrast that with the soccer team who also beat the world champions in a far more important game, as nothing ever became of it.
Perspective only applies to some it seems.
The worst part for rugby is it doesn’t realise we’ve been here before. That’s what happens when so much support is cheaply allied to what’s marketed best, and what’s popular right now. There’s little or no depth beyond the hardy few and it means this isn’t once bitten, or even twice bitten, as this is the third time around. If we are talking about being Six Nations champions the year before the main event and of the serious form in tests a year out from that main event, then let’s glimpse briefly back.
In 2006 we won four out of five in the Six Nations including in Twickenham, and then we walloped both Australia and South Africa.
How did that end up when it mattered?
In 2014 we were Six Nations champions and again beat Australia and South Africa in a perfect end of year.
How are those games remembered given what came next?
Each of those teams were talked about as being golden generations that had the potential to go a long way into the World Cup. And while there was a fear of saying it out loud, there were definitely thoughts of being champions pockmarking a wider nationwide mindset.
And today? Here we go again, lazily confusing and muddling what ought to be the end of the beginning with the notion that this is the beginning of the end.
* * *
Where this comes from is a fascinating discussion for it’s a trip into the elitism of Ireland.
Once old money, it’s become an admiration of any money, and if our choice of sport gives us a loose allegiance to a class, so many are clambering on board to pretend to be mixing with those better off. If you don’t believe us, look at a list that represents this version of Ireland while the notion that rugby is the game of the people and the team of us is still so blindly accepted.
Of the 21 on Saturday’s panel that can make a claim to being Irish, their education went as follows:
– Blackrock (x3)– St Mary’s (x2)
St Michael’s (x2)– St Andrew’s (x2)– Clongowes, Castleknock College, Wesley, Belvedere, Pres Cork, Wallace High, Portadown College, Belfast Royal, Kirkham Grammar, Munchin’s, Good Counsel, and Ardscoil Rís.
Only those last three via Keith Earls, Furlong and Seán Cronin represent what is normal in our country.
This association with upper class drives rugby’s popularity but it also creates short, hollow memories. However, you can’t say any of this, for you have to celebrate and join that hype and hysteria. This is the sporting equivalent of the political utterance that we all partied. To not drink and dance is to be negative. Perspective rather than sold perception is to be negative. To want fulfilment of potential when it actually matters is negative. And it makes you a begrudger, that term being the Irish equivalent of fake news, a learnt shield to hide behind that saves people from having to think for themselves and debate what are fair alternative opinions based on fact and reality.
Why can’t people just enjoy wins like this, they ask?
Why can’t people just enjoy it without the hyperbole, you retort?
We’ve been here before yet we throw the same ingredients into the blender and expect a different cocktail. We think the world is now scared because of an on-field performance that was no doubt relentless and impressive.
You can be sure though that South Africa are smiling because of what’ll inevitably happen off of that field before the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals on October 20th.
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[OC][Jenkinsverse] Salvage - Chapter 77: Shock and Awe

This work is an addition to the Jenkinsverse universe created by Hambone3110.
Where relevant, measurements that would normally be in alien formats are replaced by Earth equivalents in brackets.
Note that these chapters often extend into comments. This one in particular...
All Chapters
Derktha, Agwaren Capital City Jennifer Delaney
Jennifer Delaney, mid-twenties space-babe adventurer, rather decent improvisational swordswoman and evidently an awe-inspiring force of obliteration that crushed her enemies and terrified civilians alike, which had proven an unfortunate drawback in several instances when she’d been unable to convince the locals that she didn’t also intend to slaughter them all. With the language barrier as it was, the best she’d been able to do for them was to point in a direction and wildly wave her weapon at them until they got the damned hint that they should scarper right quick.
Aliens; even on a Deathworld they tended to be thicker than her older brothers, who she’d often held mustn’t have been standing in line when brains were being handed out. This lot couldn’t even handle fending off a small force of alien death machines.
The problem there was in how they thought about things, their minds and bodies both limited by the inflexibility of the latter. They were bigger than her, and much stronger, but they were slow to move and that took a lot of the danger away unless they actually managed to catch you. They preferred swords, but they would sharpen them brittle and, with slow movements, would press them slowly against each other in pitched battle. From a distance they could, in theory, use the bulky crossbows they carried around, but those were also unwieldy and decidedly inaccurate besides.
Agwarens looked threatening, but that was about it, and it was no good at all for dealing with robots that could flit around and kill you with fire, robots possessing qualities that, in the grand scheme of things, were much closer to that of Jen than the Agwarens: fast, deadly and more than capable of avoiding anything as slow as the Agwarens seemed to be.
Jen’s sword, its brittle edge now melted blunt, smashed through another alien death machine, bursting through with a trail of blue plasma that followed it like some magical force. Even in the all-too-literal heat of battle, she was able to recognise that she must look really cool, and that it was a failing of the universe that there was nobody around with a video camera to make a recording of it.
“For posterity,” she mumbled, ducking behind a burned-out chair to take shelter from the plasma-blast. Although it would only count as posterity if she actually managed to survive this situation.
She had to admit that things did not look good. Jen had arrived in the throne room, summon by screams and war cries and then silence, to discover a wasteland of barbequed corpses and scorched décor. She had taken down the two robots responsible for the carnage, twin flashes of steel bringing them down in short order. But not fast enough to stop them from summoning the others.
Jen had been sitting on the throne, catching her breath and rubbing her aching arms when they had arrived in force. Twenty of them flooding in through the front doors as a single force and bearing down on her while, from on high, a handful of survivors watched from the galleries.
“Well, at least somebody’s here to appreciate my efforts,” she grumbled in grim resignation, knowing that odds were good that she was either going to die or find herself gravely wounded. The throne room was an open space, although there were steps that rose against each wall, lined by the large seats capable of accepting Agwaren bulk. These had largely survived the slaughter, unlike the Agwarens themselves, and now provided Jen her only real barrier against the grave. That was not especially reassuring.
There were, however, two factors that were in her favour: her diminutive size meant the chairs provided more than ample protection, and her speed gave her the edge she would need. All she needed to do was kill twenty alien death machines in a single, pitched battle and there would be nothing more to worry about.
“So then,” she whispered, speaking only to herself, “that’s something to look forward to.”
Jennifer Delaney started the battle by hurling a dagger straight through the plasma conduits of the lead robot, a component of critical importance in preventing the whole thing from exploding a few seconds later. She was back behind the chair when it went off like a bomb, spraying the room with burning shrapnel carried on a wave of heat. Four others, those closest to it at the time, were twisted into molten wreckage before they could reach a safe distance, and the total force set against her was immediately reduced by a full quarter.
Not bad for an opening move, and the cheering that rained down from the galleries gave her a dark satisfaction. The people above had been witness to a horrible slaughter, the end of their High Lord and much of their leaders, all blasted into ash by monsters beyond their understanding. Enough people had died in front of her today to last a lifetime, and while Jen couldn’t promise them victory or entertainment, she could promise that she’d put every last ounce of energy in her towards stopping the invasion.
Although the cheering definitely helped, as did the fact that for the first time of all the times she’d had to set herself against someone there was no question about right or wrong; not when it came to evil killer robots, and not when it came to whoever was controlling them. There was only the question of how it should be done, and the answer was a refreshingly simple ‘by whatever means possible.’
Right now that meant she killed them with swords and knives, but God help them if she ever got her ship back, or if the wrath of Earth was ever to fall upon these fuckers. Hell might be a woman scorned, but even that would pale in comparison to a pissed-off Irish redhead working a grudge.
The first of her attackers flung itself up into her row of chairs, its spindly legs catching hold of the furniture to arrest its motion so that it could pivot its weapons towards her. It was slower that she was, though, and exploded under the might of her oversized sword, the wreckage gouting a plume of blue plasma that trailed after her blade like a magical force. She spun it round to strike the dying machine with the flat of the blade, batting it into its allies as it exploded and reducing their number by a further three.
They were down to eleven, and she’d only just gotten started, but Jen was under no illusions as to their intelligence. The machines were capable of learning, at least to some degree, and they would not try the same thing after the first attempt had been so disastrous. If they were anything like death-machines in the movies, they would try to adapt, try to predict her next move, and try to make a plan around it. The secret would be in not giving them the luxury.
Jen burst from cover, snatching up twin knives that had survived their owner, and rolled back into cover as a burst of plasma annihilated her previous cover. Two things resulted from that: she knew where every one of the machines now lurked, and so long as the robots weren’t dumber than a box of rocks they knew that the chairs weren’t worth a sack of crap for cover. Things were about to get a little more desperate on Jen’s side of the fight.
She rolled out from cover, flinging one knife and then the other, with Old Jen vaguely wishing she’d been born ambidextrous. New Jen did just fine without that sort of unnecessary benefit, however, and managed to put one of the daggers through a sensor unit and the other through a particularly ugly tapestry.
That was a pity, but it couldn't be helped; the robots would adapt to her methods and would increasingly learn to evade her knives. She couldn't expect to hit an erratically moving target every time in the best of situations, let alone when they were actively attempting to avoid it.
She still had her sword though, and for the moment she had her cover, and-
The chair in front of her exploded in an enveloping burst of hot plasma that showered her with hot ash that she only barely avoided letting blind her. Even so it settled on her skin, searing it with black flecks. It hurt, but she pushed through it, springing through the billowing cloud of debris as her cover exploded under concentrated plasma fire.
That had been a clever strategy, to force her to pause before raining down heavy on her actual position. It was somewhat unsettling to realise that, not so long ago, her choices would have gotten her killed, but for now she only had to deal with some slight pain.
But there were still eleven robots left, and they'd adapted quickly enough to pose a legitimate threat. If she didn't end things quickly...
She sensed the heat before it hit her, and rolled clear of a spread of plasma that would have rained down upon her in full. The wave of pure heat still swept her, blasting her skin dry and searing it painfully, and setting light the edges of her clothes.
Jen's head was swimming, and her chest ached for the sweetness of cool, unpolluted air, but there was no way to escape, and if there was no way to survive she was going to do the only thing she could: she was going to take as many with her as she possibly could.
Through fire and flame, and with sword in hand, she launched herself at them with a last burst of energy and a guttural roar.
+++++ +++++
Record 573-Black-12 +Recovered from C11-Orange-712-Yellow-6+
"I'm telling you there was something," Vivrez insisted. "Look... this still works, I'm going to get it on film. Vassa?"
Vassa frowned, shaking her head and spilling her long, straw-coloured hair around. "You do what you want. And stop filming me."
"Look," Vivrez told her, "Boph would-"
"Boph is dead," Vassa replied flatly. She stared at the camera with an empty gaze. "I wish you'd died first."
Vivrez paused, then turned the camera around to film his own balding face. "I'm not done yet... maybe if Boph was right... if there are aliens out there, maybe we can get them to help us. I have to try, and even that girl on the video... 'Oiri', she said that the police woman suspected they were going around."
"Going around killing people," Vassa said nastily from off-camera. "You think you can climb that mountain? You think you can fight the 'killer aliens'?"
Vivrez looked away, off toward her. "And then you'll be alone. I'm going tomorrow."
End Record
+++++ +++++
Mountain lair of the Dark One, Agwar One-Thirty
The human was faster than any creature One-Thirty had seen before, and more than capable of wielding the heavy Agwaren weapons that had, traditionally, posed no threat at all to her Abrogators. It had somehow managed to throw a knife across a room into an Abrogator's primary plasma conduit, and had destroyed a total of five of the machines in the ensuing explosion. Then it had sliced straight through the combat-ready hull of an Abrogator, and swatted it back amongst the others where it would do the most damage.
That was when One-Thirty began to take direct control of all units, a move that would have been impossible for most members of her kind, but was merely quite challenging for somebody who'd had thousands of cycles to practice. At first she'd had one unit put down suppressing fire while her main force had targeted the human's position, only to have the human launch itself through the explosion into relative safety. Then it had narrowly avoided a widely-spread attack that had been intended to slow the creature down.
One-Thirty had been preparing to leap upon a weakened target, to mob it and kill it with all the force she could muster. She had not expected it to be leaping back, even angrier and more vicious than it had been before.
There was an angry snarl on the human's face that put One-Thirty in mind of ancient enemies, and a burning hatred in its eyes that showed the kind of rage that only a predator was capable of. One-Thirty had only seen that kind of rage once before, upon the very face she now wore.
Ironically if it had been the machines acting alone, they may have responded with lethal precision before the human could even reach them. They would not have recoiled on an instinct that transcended time, flesh or programming, and they most certainly wouldn't have panicked as the human set about ripping them to shreds.
Within moments there were too many plasma explosions for her to keep track of what was going on, damage reports from all units were flooding her senses before abruptly terminating.
Two units destroyed, sword thrust. One more on the recovery, and another three as those units detonated. The remaining five scattered as she sent the command to escape the blast radius, not noticing that the human rode one of them.
That unit was destroyed a moment later, not even able to get a good look at the human that had annihilated it. The others saw it though, a haggard and burned remnant of its former strength. Its skin was blistered and red, its hair burned away and its clothing blackened. Only a deathworlder could have stood up after that, and only the worst of them could have kept fighting.
In One-Thirty's judgement that meant this creature was the worst to ever live.
+++++ +++++
Derktha, Agwaren Capital City Groddi
Lord Groddi had not left the Chosen One behind by choice. He had been scared, that was true - terrified, in fact - but he had his pride and his courage to guide him through such weakness. He had set aside all of those things to ensure that, while the Chosen One sought the enemy, he would see to the populace of the city.
It was not without some ulterior motives that he did this, however. Groddi knew that he would most likely die in any encounter with the Dark One's forces, just as he knew that if the High Lord were to die the people would be in search of a new ruler. That being the case, why not ensure his own survival along with the lives of those who would be left to make such a decision?
Without shame, Groddi knew that he had advanced himself while his peers had spent their lives dying in service to their High Lord. The only thing that concerned him now, as Groddi, and not as the young Lord of his family, was that the Chosen One was fighting for its survival against the forces of the Dark One, and that without his help it may very well fail. Without his help, it might also overlook his importance in the world after the Dark One, where its opinion would undoubtedly decide his future fortunes, but there was also the strong possibility that it might also mean that there was no future to be had whatsoever.
Groddi knew little of the Dark One besides the legends, but he had known the Chosen One and had seen it move. He had seen it destroy a minion of the Dark One like no Agwaren ever had, and if there had ever been a stronger piece of evidence that now was the time, and that this truly was the chosen one that fate foretold, then he did not know what it was. Now was the time to bet it all, to gather the strength of his conviction and to inspire those around him. Now was the time to rise to the banner of the Chosen One and to claim his rightful destiny. Now was the time when the Agwarens took back their world from the foul creature that had soiled it since time immemorial and carved a line in the stone that would mark history as being 'from this time on, Agwarens rule'!
With a force of six dozen he arrived just in time to find the Chosen One at its limits, surrounded by the corpses of friend and foe alike, and preparing for its final moments. The strange creatures of the Dark One converged on the Chosen One, reluctant in spite of their superior number, and paid no attention to Groddi or his men.
Groddi snarled under his breath, deeply offended to be so thoroughly disregarded, and in that moment made a vow that the Dark One would never again underestimate any Agwaren. He vowed that he would become a nightmare to haunt the thoughts of the Dark One until the foul creature could finally be laid to rest.
He vowed to claim victory here, and at every battlefield henceforth. He roared the charge, and his men descended upon the shining horrors, blades raised and crossbows loaded. A cheer flooded down from above as the men charged, and the foul creatures whirled to face the onslaught.
It was then, in that unforgettable moment, that Groddi witnessed doom lifting from the Chosen One like a black cloud, and the Otherworlder, already standing to its full height, seemed to raise itself taller still. He would never be able to explain how, to those not present, the Chosen One had seemed so large despite its size.
He would never be able to explain its ferocity, and, upon later reflection, he would hope to never again see its like.
But that, as it turned out, was not to be.
+++++ +++++
Corporate Secret Holding Pen, Perfection, Class Three World
Layla did as she had to, and maintained her cool smile until she'd exited the chamber that contained Chir's cell. She had managed to keep up the façade of the uncaring enemy agent, she'd even lied to him about bearing his child, but those had been the hardest lies she had ever told. And yet there had never been any question about telling them; there wasn't anything a good Mother wouldn't do to keep her cubs safe, and Layla, in spite of everything, still thought of herself as a good Mother.
But even she had to admit that the line was becoming a little blurry.
Her composure only slipped when she was sure that the Gaoian legend wouldn't see, and that was entirely the best she could manage.
"If I didn't know better, I'd say you've developed feelings for that pirate," said the nameless Corti operative in charge of this facility. His gaze was coldly analytical, and his voice equally so. He was, in Layla's estimation, the Cortiest Corti she'd ever met, and that was about the furthest from high praise as she cold get.
She turned to him, hardening her resolve once more. "I'm a professional, Agent," she told him. "It doesn't matter what I feel, I get the job done."
"If only everybody exuded your professionalism," the Corti replied humourlessly. "I was watching your interaction, and I believe you have successfully subverted him. What are your thoughts on the matter?"
"He'll do everything you want him to," Layla replied, half hoping it was untrue. "Though I can't promise how well he'll do against the human. They say he destroyed a city on his own."
The Corti managed an involuntary frown. "Merely a rumour," he told her. "It was little more than a couple buildings and a space station, and it wasn't entirely by himself. Rest assured that your companion in there is more than capable of taking the human down if he is smart about it."
To Layla, that seemed a lot less likely than the legendary human simply obliterating Chir at the first sign of treachery, but she had to admit that it wasn't entirely impossible that the Gaoian strategist might be successful. He might hate her forever for what she was doing now, but it would be a lighter burden for her to carry than if he died.
"He's smart enough," Layla told the hateful little alien. "But I don't know whether the human has brains to match. If he's with his Corti companion I suspect it will be impossible for Chir to succeed."
"Don't concern yourself with that one," the Corti replied. "We have resources who have been keeping track of anything we can find on him. We are confident we can catch him in a moment of weakness."
"And what of my cubs?" Layla finally demanded, unwilling to withhold the question any further. "Are we done? Do I get my children back?"
The Corti answered with an expression that only gave her despair, plunging the last of her fragile hopes into darkness. "We still have use for you for a time. Be patient."
Another adjustment to the agreement, then. It had already passed beyond all semblance of the original contract, and she was an increasingly unwilling participant in her masters' plots. At first it had been a simple job that paid a small fortune, and her only responsibilities had been to gain Chir's trust and involve herself in his plans, suggesting the vessels of some corporations over others. That had been hard enough, and she had not been willing to allow Chir to get any closer to her than a working relationship, but she had been able to justify it by thinking of all the lives she was saving, and of all the money she would be paid.
The return of Adrian Saunders had changed everything, and she'd received an answer almost as soon as she'd made that report; her assignment had come to an end, and she was being offered a new undertaking for even greater reward. She had refused, but her declination had only gotten her children kidnapped to change her mind.
"I have done everything you told me to," she said, her words carrying an angry growl.
The Corti's reply was terse. "And you will continue to do so. Or are you operating under the mistaken belief that we were merely bluffing? Let me give you a helpful piece of information: this company does not bluff. You will remain in our service until you are of no further use, and I would suggest ensuring that the eventual parting is amicable."
Anger swelled within her, but again she could do nothing. She may not believe she would ever see her children again, and she was beginning to doubt she would even survive past the end of her service, but for the moment she was alive and that gave her possibilities. They wanted to keep her scared, wanted to make her fear for the lives of her children and clutch to whatever crumbs of hope they gave her.
But there was no trust left for her to give them. She could obey and hope, or she could plan and act, and Layla had never been the sort of Gaoian to prefer the former. She was a piece in their game, completely at the mercy of her masters, but that didn't mean she had no options. There were still those who could be convinced to help her, and those who had every reason to want to do so.
She left the facility quietly enough, but on her way back to her hotel she purchased a pen and some paper, antiquated instruments that now served as luxuries. They weren't electronic, and were therefore an expense, but they couldn't be monitored by digital surveillance and in this day and age few people would even think of communications being sent in such a manner.
She could only hope, however, that the person she was addressing it to would receive it, and that he'd know what to make of it if he did. There was also the question about what he'd even manage to do if he was inclined to follow her request, given his current circumstances, but he was a human, and they seemed to have their ways.
At her hotel desk she leaned close to the paper so that no hidden eyes could see, and began to compose her letter. Dear Darragh, it began, I hope this letter finds you well...
+++++ +++++
Superior Firepower, subverted Hierarchy Command Cruiser
Adrian Saunders
The transition in and out of warp was one that Adrian had always been able to identify for as long as he'd been able to recall. It was a tingling, not uncomfortable, that focused in all of his nerve clusters. Not uncomfortable per se, but it certainly got his attention.
He was, therefore, well and truly awake when Askit relayed the fact. "We've just entered Local Space," he advised. "Although I suppose you already know that. We're about (three hours) out though, so there's no need to hurry."
Adrian lifted the thermal dampener that blindfolded him as he slept and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. "Thanks, mate," he said through a yawn. "But I'm up now. I'll just get an early start on things."
Askit acknowledged and ended the communicator link, leaving Adrian to get his shit sorted out. He'd felt better with getting solid hours of sleep, and he'd even taken up whatever he could remember of the meditation and yoga stuff he'd been forced into joining by his wife, back when they were newlyweds. It hadn't done much for him back then, but now... it calmed the simmering madness that threatened to boil over whenever he was put into a stressful situation. He wished he'd paid more attention to it at the time.
"What are you doing?" Xayn asked with interest, witnessing the breathing and exercise routine for the first time. "Some form of exercise?"
"'Warrior One', one of the few parts I can remember of something we call Yoga," Adrian replied. "It's meant to build strength, and improve balance and state of mind. Fuck knows I need the last one."
Xayn nodded. "My people also make use of physical repetition to improve combat effectiveness. My father ensured that I spent much time in this practice when he still lived."
Adrian eased from his stance. "Your father died bravely."
"Yes," Xayn said, looking thoughtful. "I know. Perhaps I could join you in your practice?"
Adrian shrugged, feeling a little interested in seeing what the ancient civilisation had to offer. What happened next made him glad that the V'Straki had not yet managed to interpret a stifled laugh.
Adrian disguised it with a coughing fit, not wanting to insult the saurian, but jumping up and down on alternating legs while furiously scratching at the air wasn't exactly what he was hoping to see.
"Yeah, mate," he said, once the absurd demonstration was complete, "I can tell you spent a lot of time on that."
"The secret is in the hopping," Xayn confided, glancing around as if worried they'd be overheard. "You need to keep the right kind of rhythm. I am told that, on the homeworld, there would be fields full of students moving as one. It must have been glorious."
"I wish I could have seen it," Adrian said truthfully, his face a frozen mask. "It'd be unforgettable."
Xayn looked away wistfully and then nodded. "Do not worry, if we are successful then I will ensure you have the chance."
Adrian moved his head up and down in a very deliberate nod. "It would be a dream come true."
His voice threatened to break under the sheer effort of keeping the laughter in, and he forced himself into another coughing fit.
That merely brought on an expression of concern however, and Xayn studied him carefully. "I hope that I have not infected you with something..."
"Nah, mate," Adrian reassured him. "Totally fine."
Askit provided a mercifully well-timed interruption, arriving on scene. He looked tired, as he always had since they'd stolen the ship; he'd been over the systems twice and still didn't fully trust them. Not that Adrian felt any better about it; he slept in Spot, regardless of the relatively cramped quartets, and kept his vacuum suit - sans helmet - on at all times. It wasn't paranoia if you'd learned the hard way.
"You look troubled," Adrian observed, noting that the little Corti hadn't offered any sharp remark on joining them. "What's wrong?"
"As bizarre as it sound," Askit replied, sounding puzzled, "what's wrong is that nothing is wrong. We're approaching Perfection-"
"Some might say we're already there," Adrian joked, waggling an eyebrow.
Askit gave him the disgusted look he deserved. "We haven't been detected, and nobody is shooting at us. I have a bad feeling about this enterprise."
"Something to do with this Vakno?" Adrian guessed. Askit had seemed to respect her abilities, which really was something to be concerned about, but in the end she was only one Corti.
"I attempted to pry into her systems," he revealed. "The only seriously secure systems on the planet, prison included. The connection was terminated within moments."
"Ah, fuck." Adrian grumbled. "Did you leave any fingerprints?"
"He was working on a computer, Adrian," Xayn reminded him. "He would not have been able to touch those computers."
"The walking fossil is correct," Askit agreed. "My arms are not quite that long."
"It's an idiom," Adrian said with a sigh. "It means 'does she know it was you?'"
"I suspect that she will figure it out if you go down there shouting your name," Askit replied. "So please don't do that."
"Well that's Plan A dead in the fucking water," Adrian retorted. "I guess I will just switch over to Plan B."
Askit's response was predictably dry. "Business as usual, then."
"We have a military tactic on Earth called 'Shock and Awe'," Adrian replied, shifting gears for serious discussion. "Basically it boils down to using way too much firepower."
"You're attacking a prison complex, not a space fortress..." Askit noted. "It wouldn't be expecting an attack at all."
Adrian grinned, and waved a hand around to gesture at both ships abd everything in them. "Then they really won't be expecting what we'll ve serving up. You know where Darragh is being held?"
Askit shot him an indignant look as an answer.
"So we'll start the show with some cloaked missiles, follow up by my arrival, and sustain coilbolt fire until we've got the Irishman out of there," Adrian explained. "Any questions?"
"Let me understand this," Xayn said after a few moments of consideration. "You intend to maintain artillery fire on the facility you are invading. Are all humans this reckless?"
"I'm once again amazed that I'm saying this, but your crazy plan could work," Askit added. "You just need to avoid being shot by coilbolts. It should be easier for you because you'll be the only one not being targeted."
"That was the idea," Adrian replied, as overwhelmed as usual by the show of support. "Now you all tell me what the fucking problems are."
"It is completely insane," contributed Xayn.
Adrian glared at him. "Except for that one."
"You're a human," Askit said, "and if they caught Darragh we can assume they have human-level weapons."
"There's also the local guard unit," Trix added, chiming in over their communicators. "They'll probably get there within a few (minutes) of your attack. That's not a lot of time."
Adrian frowned; he'd been hoping for a reasonably soft target that would surrender rather than fight, thereby reducing the number of casualties. An armed response would change that. "So, what kind of response can we expect, and what would slow them down?"
"That would depend on what they're expecting," Trix replied. "Against a human they'd bring their big guns, although it's hard to say if they'd hesitate. The only target they'd delay against would be..."
"Hunters," Askit finished. "The response teams are always late to attacks by Hunters. And you just so happen to have a Hunter ship."
"And we already know what Hunters will do against anywhere found to be harbouring a human," said Trix. "It might even be possible to get through this without firing a single shot."
"You're saying we should pretend to be Hunters?" Adrian repeated, turning over the idea in his head. "Could that work? I don't exactly have a fucking Hunter costume lying around."
Xayn hissed unhappily. "I am sorry to interrupt, but what is a 'Hunter'?"
"Short version? Space-Cannibals," Adrian told him. "Long version? Creepy white aliens who like eating other intelligent species. I killed a whole fucking lot of them a couple times, and it's for the best that they still think I died on take-two, but now they've got issues with my entire species. My bad, I guess."
"So you will pretend to be the enemy of all species to secure the release of one of your own?" Xayn asked. "A bold plan. I like it!"
Adrian smiled at him. "The big question is, can anybody do a convincing Hunter accent? Trix?"
"You want me to speak in Hunter?" she asked, somewhere between surprised and disgusted. "My understanding of them is that they communicate through their implants. I'm not sure there's much of a language to be spoken, and what does exist is foul beyond measure."
"I believe that's a no," Askit supplied. "But it's not as though they'll know that what's being given to them isn't the Hunter language. You probably just need to advertise your vessel and start making obnoxious demands. I've a feeling you'll be good at that."
"Fuck you, too, mate," Adrian replied with a laugh. "Well, it sounds like a real Plan A to me. You'll be supporting me from the Superior Firepower, mate?"
Askit nodded. "Of course. I will retain Xayn here for everybody's safety. The killer robot can go with you and Trycrur."
"And when do you make your assault the Prison and take the human male from your enemies?" Xayn inquired excitedly. "I will wish to be watching as you rain fire upon their puny bastion."
"We'll call that Plan B," Adrian told him. "Don't worry, things normally go tits up real fucking quick, so the odds are good that you'll get your fireworks."
"Such confidence," Askit noted. "I suppose that I should just ready the missiles."
"And I," Trix said, "have some ideas I'd like to add to this 'Shock and Awe'."
+++++ +++++
Perfection Penitentiary, Perfection, Class Three World
Darragh Houston
Darragh Houston had never been in prison before, unless of course you counted being held in captivity by the Corti, but that was hardly the same thing. Back then he hadn't done anything to deserve his incarceration, and moral indignation was entirely justified.
Now, however... not so much. He had to admit that the charges that they were laying against him were serious, and equally as accurate. He was a pirate, and a killer, and actually being confronted with that fact was rather depressing. Back home, in Ireland, the sentence for that sort of thing was measured in years; out here they were less squeamish about the death penalty, and didn't mess about with delays. At a guess he'd have no more than three weeks before he was 'processed', and that would be that.
He supposed it could be worse: waiting around for months or years would be more than he could handle. As it was he was already having trouble keeping it together.
The cell they were keeping him in was large for a human, clearly built to hold even the largest of alien offenders, and came with what aliens deemed as only the most necessary of facilities. It had a bed with, in human terms, a luxurious mattress, along with a hygiene unit capable of dealing with the bodily waste of just about anything except for a human - he'd already broken it twice in his stay. Food was provided to him in the form of nutrient spheres, but not in the quantities needed to sustain a human, and nothing he'd said had made any difference; when he died he was going to die hungry.
Then there was the matter of his clothing, or more specifically the fact that he didn't have any. They'd taken it from him while he was unconscious, determined to prevent their captured human from having anything he could use in the process of escape. Clearly, if they thought he was clever enough to escape with only his clothes, they had no idea who they were dealing with.
If silver linings were to be had, it was that the climate was more than sufficient to make nudity comfortable, and that Keffa wasn't here to pass comment. As to where Keffa actually was, he hadn't a clue, but he did know that there was no chance of him ever seeing either Keffa or Chir again.
So much for silver linings, he thought bitterly. Ultimately he didn't have a thing going for him; he was completely and utterly fecked.
He looked up at the entrance to his cage as one of his guards, a Robalin male wearing a proudly yellow guard sash and a Irbzrkian stungun tentatively tossed him a folded piece of paper. "Delivery for you," the guard said as he released it. "Looks as though there's still somebody who cares about you out there, human, although why they couldn't have sent a digital message is anybody's guess."
Darragh picked it up and looked it over, spending several minutes looking at the alien glyphs that covered it before scrunching it up in one hand; his translator was not sufficiently advanced to allow for translation of non-digitised text. The best he could do, and this was solely from his experiences alongside Chir, was identify it as Gaoian.
He looked up at his guards, not sure he should ask but not seeing that he had any choice. "Can you read what it says?"
Normally they ignored his questions or requests, no doubt finding it easier than repeating the same answers, and they did not break this trend now. He muttered his thoughts on the matter without much care whether they heard him. "Feck you guys."
Half a moment later, Darragh Houston's life began to take a distinct turn for the worse.
+++++ +++++
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I felt the heat most on the bridge of my nose and on the fat pockets under my eyes. Even through the windshield of the van, the sunlight made me squint and turned the top of my hair as molten as its color. Knowing I wouldn’t need the gas for later, I turned the air conditioner on full.
Then I waited.
No one tried to stop me. Cormac had been around so long he was forecasted like the weather, and he was due within an hour. To pass the time I listened to a CD of my old stand-up routine. The one I’d done right before everyone decided I wasn’t funny.
Halfway through a hackneyed routine about how office life sucked, I saw Cormac crest a hill. He was just big enough to see and my stomach twisted. If I stared hard, I could tell he was blue.
I gripped the steering wheel. The voice of a younger and oblivious me droned from the speakers. I could still turn around and call the whole thing off. No one knew I was out here… because no one cared. The thought of that got me out of the car more than anything else.
Do or die, schedule be damned. I walked toward Cormac.
Slow like honey poured out of the wide-lipped mouth of a mason jar, that was Cormac. Inevitable as the grind of tectonic plates, that was Cormac too. Cold and terrifying as the meaningless black between the stars, that was Cormac most of all.
As we were in the middle of the desert, there was nobody else around. I’d planned it that way so there wouldn’t be any distractions. Cormac still drew onlookers, but not here. There were no roads anywhere near and no one without a GPS would have been able to navigate. Cormac was on his way to Los Angeles, to tear it into little bits. Everyone knew that’s where he was going because Cormac only ever walked in a straight line. Until he was done with a place and started new.
Sooner than I would have liked, I was in front of him. The blue, almost granite-like, hue of his body made him seem part of a heat haze. Like a mirage, except he had destroyed the Three Gorges dam in the course of an afternoon, busted every Power Plant in the state of New York, and broken who knew how many monuments.
I held my finger an inch from Cormac’s face, and stared him in the eye. Or what I thought was his eye. Cormac was humanoid, but no one really had any fucking idea what he was made of or where he came from.
“I’m not touching you.” I said.
I held my finger there a while longer, and took a step back. Cormac’s expression, or what passed for his expression had not changed.
I swallowed hard and held my finger steady.
“I’m not touching you.” I repeated, careful that I shouldn’t slip and actually make contact.
My heart hammered so hard I could feel it there at the end of my fingertip. Pounding as if to burst the skin and smear Cormac with its hidden red essence.
Christ, I had stage fright.
“I’m not touching you!” I screamed so loud it echoed off the mesas.
The day after my dad died I got a gym membership. I told the instructor I wanted to be a runner. He didn’t say much about it, since I figured a lot of people must have been compelled to work under the same regimen with Cormac around. Not that it meant much, as you’d have to be a turtle for him to catch you. It was a psychological thing.
I’d spent a year training. I had been a string bean when I started, but now I was a string bean with muscles, sinews and fibers. I looked like a fast string bean. I wore shorts with a long sleeve running shirt. My hat shaded my red hair from the sun.
“Why’d the chicken cross the road, Cormac?” I taunted.
I was dancing around him, with my finger held a few inches away. I was careful not to touch him as that would mean death. Whatever Cormac was made from, it killed humans in milliseconds.
“It wanted to cluck your mother. Ha ha, get it Cormac? It wanted to cluck your mother?”
Someone smart had once tried to knock Cormac into orbit. They’d been the first person to realize that Cormac was indestructible. Working from that, they’d realized it didn’t matter how strong or indestructible he was, he still had finite mass. After they’d figured out how to strap a rocket to him faster than he could take it off, they’d launched him. The corks were barely out of the champagne before he reappeared, right in the exact spot he had been, and resumed walking.
They’d figured it had cost him about thirty seconds.
“Cormac! Did you fart? Whoo boy, I can smell it all the way over here.” I farted again for good measure. There were a lot of beans at my camp sites.
No one had ever figured out how he did the reappearance trick. That was still back when we thought there was a way of getting rid of Cormac. Back before the world had gone into damage control. They tried a couple of more times, then they figured he had to have some kind of massless drive. No one knew why he didn’t use it at ground level. Probably couldn’t.
“Cormac, would you rather be kicked once in the junk or punched twice in the face?” I ran in front of him and bent over, grabbing my ankles and let a big one rip.
“Fine! Before you have to ask they’ll all be at equal strength and the foot isn’t sharp. Just a regular sneaker.” I put my hands over my face so that it looked like I was wearing pair of glasses, and then stuck out my tongue.
They’d tried a neutron bomb first, once he was away from population centers. There was plenty of time to evacuate, and there wasn’t much confusion as to where he might be going. After that hadn’t worked they’d tried a hydrogen bomb, just to see if it would make any difference.
It hadn’t.
We’d exhausted gun fire, explosives, and all other conventional warheads long before that point. It didn’t even slow him down. One mile per hour. No faster no slower.
I saw the moon had risen and realized I’d stayed too long. I’d been too excited. I’d been too busy testing for a reaction. If I was going to keep it up I had to stick to the schedule. Keep to the plan.
I had to endure. I had to be as regular and inevitable as Cormac himself.
“I’ve got to go for the night, ol’ buddy. Your mother called and said she needs a good fucking. Guess your daddy turned gay or something. Oh, and by the way, I’m still not touching you.”
After I jogged to my first camp, I took a long drink. I also took out both of my alarm clocks. One was solar powered, the other on a battery that was guaranteed for three years. I suppose I could have gotten another alarm clock, with another battery, but that seemed too redundant.
I knew how this was going to end anyway, and as long as I got to the fifth camp I would live to see the endgame.
I took out my alarm clocks and set them to wake me up in eight hours, and slept.
Cormac would be one half-mile away when I woke up.
I intended that he watch me wake up every morning. Always out of reach.
I’d gotten the idea from stuff I’d read in history about some Arab guy that had led an army through the desert by following a trail of oases. The rest of it, the part of it that didn’t involve any fighting, well, that’d been all me as far as I could tell.
Taking advantage of Cormac’s clockwork regularity and a GPS tracker, I’d laid out ten fully stocked base camps through the desert wilderness. I had unloaded them one at a time from my van until I’d eventually reached Cormac. Once on the move, as long as I did a brisk hour and a half jog toward dusk, I could be at a camp every night and rise to meet Cormac every morning.
My actual mission was complicated. It had occurred to me, some time long before I had resolved to do it, that where weapons failed I might succeed. Perhaps because of my failures as a comedian, I had begun to wonder if the indestructible Cormac might be heckled to death.
I broke camp early in the morning. The sun hadn’t even risen, the alarm clocks hadn’t even gone off, but I was eager and jogged to Cormac. If I really looked at him, I could see a sort of pale blue glow coming out of the crystalline cracks of what I assumed was his skin.
“Sorry I’m late, buddy. Your mom wouldn’t let me pull out until a little bit ago. Then I had to wipe all the shit off my dick. Next time you talk to her, tell that bitch to stop eating corn. I got a kernel stuck in my foreskin.” I gave an exaggerated yawn.
Cormac kept walking.
“It ever bother you that no one comes out to see you anymore?” There had been some cults once that had worshiped Cormac. Most of them went away after the inevitable happened. Never-sleeping Cormac would get a hold of someone and murder them with slow, absent-minded efficiency.
Only one person had ever survived contact with Cormac. Dumb kid had fallen asleep in her car waiting for Cormac to show up, like he was fucking Santa Claus. She’d been wearing very thick clothes, which was what saved her from his initial touch. After realizing with horror that Cormac had gotten a grip on her wrist while she was asleep, she’d cut off her own hand.
“I know your mom’s better company than you, but still. I knew a guy with some retard pedophile for a brother. He still took a trip up to the loony bin every year at Christmas to see him. Oh but look at me talk, you’ll be wanting to kill yourself if I keep it up.”
Cormac’s head pointed dead ahead.
I walked over to the side of the highway and grabbed fistful of pebbles. I threw them one at a time, and bounced them off Cormac’s face. He didn’t so much as turn in my direction.
“Would you say you look more like a Vegas attraction reject, or more like a stain glass window made by someone with palsy? ‘Cause I just think you look like a dick.” I bounced a rock right off of Cormac’s eye.
“What’s the first thing you’re going to break when you get out to LA? Too many fake tits there, for my money. Not that I’m saying they’re all bad. I mean, your mom’s got some great hooters. I could suck on those puppies all night. But if you took out a few plastic surgery centers that would probably be a big help.” I grabbed a stick, walked round behind Cormac, and held it against what I figured was his butt-hole.
Except that Cormac didn’t shit. Or eat. Or sleep.
“I don’t know if you know this, seeing as how you can’t speak or whatever, but you’re the reason there’s no nuclear power anymore. You got too close that time in New York. Almost had a meltdown. How many guy’s was it that died carrying all the hot stuff out? Fifty?
“They have to figure out how to take dams apart when you’re around too. Millions of people displaced by that. Some of those green wackos think you’re the best thing for the environment we’ve ever had. Me? I just know you’re a guy who loves having a stick in his ass so much that he won’t say a word to have it taken out.”
I took the stick and walked to the front of Cormac and held it where his nose might have been.
“You should take a whiff of this Cormac. God awful stuff. It’s probably what your father’s shit smells like after a night of gang bangs. Tell me Cormac, how is it possible for one man to love taking cock that much?” I turned and threw the stick far ahead.
Cormac kept walking, unperturbed.
“Ah, fuck it. We’ll get there eventually.”
I didn’t give a shit if Cormac was impervious to attack. There was no such thing as perfect self-esteem.
“If I tell you a secret, promise you won’t tell anyone else?” I had taken to standing in front of Cormac long enough for him to reach toward me, before stepping back. Risky, and far ahead of what I had laid out for a schedule, but it was the only thing I could do to make him react.
“I used to masturbate to my second cousin. All the time. Every day I came home from school, I’d have to whip one out to her. I knew it was wrong, but she had the best tits I’d ever seen, next to your mother.”
Cormac reached for my throat, but I leaned back so that he missed by the smallest of margins. Still wasn’t much more passionate than swatting at a fly.
“Another thing I want to get off my chest. One time I was at a sleep-over. Must’ve only been eight or nine. Took a big ol’ shit. Huge. Like the one your father has all over the operating room table while they’re trying to shove his asshole back inside. Anyhow, the toilet wouldn’t flush. Wouldn’t you know it, not a plunger in sight. So I left it. Pretended I didn’t know who’d done it.
“There was a dirty kid there named Ryan Sivyer, so I let him take the blame. Would you believe that Ryan Sivyer didn’t invite me back to his birthday the next month? Never accused me directly. Passive aggressive asshole.”
Cormac thought he was going to get clever and get me with his other hand, the one I’d led him to believe I wasn’t watching, but I moved again so that his fingers came up short.
“Chick I used to date in high school, I did some bad shit with her too. She was one of those goth weirdos, had a tongue ring and could suck a dick like no one’s business. I was only going with her because I liked her sister. I stole a pair of her sister’s panties one night when I was over at her house. No one ever said nothing about it. I used them for a jizz rag for what had to be six months before I threw them away.”
It was getting late. I was off schedule again. I cussed at myself for it, but I wanted to… I hadn’t planned on it for two days. I pulled out my dick, so close to Cormac that he had to be infuriated even though he gave no sign. Even as slow as he was I felt vulnerable.
Staring Cormac in the face, I let loose a stream of urine that splattered all over his iridescent blue feet.
“As you may be able to tell, old buddy old pal. I have a habit for pissing people off.” I raised the stream and pissed all over Cormac’s abdomen. I got part of his hand for good measure.
“Ha ha! Do you get it, Cormac? Pissing people off?”
I let the stream go to a drizzle before I zipped my fly.
“Anyhow, I need to go for the night. Drink up. Your mother gets moody if I don’t piss on her at least a little.”
I sat by the campfire, drank some water and ate another plate of baked beans. It would be week and a half before Cormac got to a population center.
It would be the longest stand-up performance of my life, with the world’s worst audience.
No distractions. For the either of us.
I laid down, set the alarm clocks, and looked up at the stars. Which one had Cormac come from? Where were his people?
Where were the other Cormacs?
God help me, did Cormac even understand English?
Cormac was an Irish word for “Destroying Son.” It’d stuck, at least in the English speaking world, because the first place Cormac had ever appeared was Ireland, and some writer had written a poem. Cormac had walked up out of the ocean, and walked straight to Dublin. It was kept secret for a while. They’d pass off whatever he broke as an “unscheduled demolition.”
No one knew why he’d gone there first. It was probably random, since we’d later figured out he’d landed in the Atlantic Ocean like a meteor and spent two weeks walking the ocean floor. It was probably the closest dry land to his drop spot.
After a while it had gotten to be too big to cover up. Cormac had ripped up every power plant in the city. Tore them to bits. He did that with every major utility he found. In a matter of days 1.6 million people were without power, water, or any of the amenities that make city life possible.
He had made Dublin unlivable within three weeks.
“As you can see, I’m up bright and early this morning. I pulled a trick on your mom. I face fucked her so hard last night she passed out. Wasn’t able to wake up this morning to make me throw her another pity fuck. I know, I was afraid the slut might be dead too, but I checked for a pulse before I left.
“‘Fraid to say your dad took a turn for the worse though. The doctors had to… cut him a new asshole! Ha ha! Get it Cormac? Because his other one had been fucked to pulp?!?”
I grabbed another handful of rocks, and took my time so that each one hit Cormac between the legs. It may not have been his dick. His dick may have been in the chest for all I knew, but I figured it was the thought that counted.
“When I was in college, I went back to my home town one weekend. Almost no one in my home town goes to college, so I thought I was hot shit. I was failing everything, but I didn’t tell anyone that part. I’d started doing stand-up then, and everyone thought I was famous.
“Found that goth weirdo I used to date. She’d gotten fat. Not the cute kind of fat either. The kind where it’s all bunched up in different weird places. Her sister though, she got hotter. Her sister and I got lit up, and then fucked in some bushes. We got caught us right in the middle of it. The goth weirdo started punching me in the back, calling me a bastard. Calling her sister a whore.
“After I’d pulled out of her sister, she just sat down, put her head in her hands and asked me why I had to be such an asshole. All she wanted to know was why I had to be such an asshole.
“I looked right up into her fat wobbly jowls, right into that ugly lumpy face and I said… ha ha! I said ‘Because your sister’s hot!’
“So she says ‘You’re not funny, Sean’ so I says ‘Well, you’re not hot so let’s call it a wash!’ Ha ha ha!”
I brought my face as close to Cormac’s as I dared. So close I could feel the fey heat of his blue lights on my eyes. I stared down into the depths of his glass-like face and snarled.
“Her face, all fat and covered with tears, that was the most pitiful thing I’d ever seen in my life. Till now.” I spit in Cormac’s face. It glistened in the sunlight.
I spent the next long while following the blue demon, running around him in circles, declaring that I was not touching him. He kept walking onward. Indifferent.
I had stayed late again. It was only my third day, and I’d already made a habit of breaking the schedule I’d promised myself to follow to the letter. I turned to the dark path ahead, and looked over my shoulder.
“You know Cormac, my mom died when I was young.” I paused, wondering why I had said such a thing. The words had slipped out of my mouth without thought.
“She got cancer.” I felt sweat on the skin of my palms. I pretended it was from the nervousness of not knowing what to say next. I reached out, and grabbed something… a half-formed joke.
“You ever wish your mom had died, Cormac? So that she wouldn’t have to see what you are?”
For half a beat, so quick it might have been my imagination, I swore I saw the fucking thing stop in its tracks.
I dismissed it as wishful thinking and turned to go.
I about let loose the shit that saved my life, before I realized how well and truly fucked I was. I’d woken up to go to the bathroom. I had not expected to see Cormac’s hands pressing against the nylon wall of my tent.
Trapped in a tent like this, even Cormac might manage to get a hold of me before I could escape.
I heard the swish-swish of stretched nylon, as Cormac’s hands loomed ever closer. The tent was coffin-like in its proportions. If I sat up to unzip the door, it would take me right into Cormac’s eager hands.
In desperation, I threw all my weight against the side of the tent opposite Cormac. I hoped that if I could flip it over a few times it would give me the time I needed to get out.
I threw my weight, and rebounded so that I almost bounced back into Cormac.
“I just had to put stakes in the ground!” I shouted.
Cormac must have been on his knees, ready to smother me, because there was barely a foot to move. What I needed was a knife. I had one.
My shorts, which I had put under my head as a sort of pillow, found their way to my hands. If… I found the zipper and pressed the sharp pull tab to the fabric.
Using my other hand to create tension, I ripped the fabric. Once the hole was big enough, I put my fingers through it and ripped it wider. It wasn’t easy. When I’d planned all this out, I’d bought the best. The fear of Cormac’s hands gave me strength. I pushed myself, scrambling, through the small hole, as I felt the rest of the tent collapse behind me.
I ran a few yards before I took the time to so much as pant. I was naked except for a pair of boxer shorts. And the desert morning was cold enough that if my balls hadn’t already been pulled tight against me in fear, the temperature would have sent them their in minutes.
I turned to see Cormac rising back to his feet. If he was upset at my near escape, he showed no sign. Perhaps, could show no sign.
“Ah Cormac, thanks for the wake up call, Buddy. Your mom fucked me to exhaustion last night. I can barely keep my eyes open!”
The alarm clock, still in the tent, went off. It was followed shortly by its companion.
I stopped and stood stock still.
My camp sites were set an eighth of a mile off of Cormac’s line of travel. They were also set with the idea that Cormac’s rate of speed was constant. In all the careful years of observation he was observed to travel no faster or slower in any condition.
I smiled.
I smiled wider.
I smiled like when I found that one joke that would lay an entire audience flat.
I whooped and hollered, turned around, and pulled my shorts down to give Cormac a good view of what he’d missed. What he had tried to kill.
“I didn’t know you cared!” I laughed so hard I cried. I scrambled around the camp, grabbing what I could find and hurling it at Cormac in orgiastic glee.
“Am I getting to you, you old blueballed fuckface! Am I fraying your last nerve, you cumguzzling dickwipe?”
Cormac, slowly, but perhaps, just perhaps a little faster than usual crushed one of the alarm clocks beneath his foot. A few minutes later, the other followed. The twin beeps died so that the only sounds left were the wind and my own breathing.
I remembered the pause from last night. The tick. I ran to Cormac as though eager to share glorious news.
“Hey Cormac! Your momma doesn’t love you! You hear me? Your Momma hates you!”
“When I was little, my mom could tell I liked fighting and stealing too much. I used to get caught with shit from the grocery store in my pockets all the time. Pack of gum, chocolate bar, maybe a comic book. I stole a candle on the day my mom died. I lit it in the church, and I could tell my mom was somewhere up in heaven crying that her son had to be such a little shit even in the face of something so serious.”
I was dressed again. Cormac had ripped apart a lot of my equipment, but I had extra at the next camp site. The only things that were unique were the alarm clocks I’d been carrying in my pockets.
“It was a very confusing time when she died. But I was glad too, because that’s the kind of asshole I am. My mother died, and suddenly I got all the oven-bake pizza and ice cream I could eat. Still, it kept me up at night. Thinking about her somewhere up there, watching me.”
Cormac was definitely walking faster, and I thought I could sense something like strain coming off the hulking blue beast. I walked close to him, stuck my face in his, and walked backwards, matching him step for step.
“I can’t even imagine what your mother thinks of you, Cormac. Maybe I drank when I should have studied. Maybe I fucked when I should have been loving, but I ain’t never done the fucked up shit you done. If I hurt someone it was always incidental. But you? You go out of your way to be a dick.”
I poked Cormac with a stick. In his eyes. In his crotch. In his chest. “How’s it feel to know you can’t catch me? Little Sean Doolittle, who couldn’t win a fist fight if he had a gun, and big strong Cormac is at his mercy. What would your mother say to that?”
I broke the stick on Cormac’s face, but I didn’t worry to much about it, as the way ahead offered many more.
“Way I figure, you’ve got all kinds of relatives. I ain’t no fucking scientist, but nothing like you happens by itself. You’ve got to have family. You’ve got to have people fucking over a long period of time, and with all your fancy powers, you got to have them fucking in a society!
“A sophisticated piece of cum like you doesn’t come to be without serious emotional fucking damage. And this whole slow walk bit? That’s pretty fucked up too. This isn’t how things are supposed to be, are they Cormac?”
I thought about a version of Cormac that was fast. I thought about a hundred million Cormac’s sprinting, and invulnerable to atomics. I had to suppress a shudder.
“I used to burn ants with a magnifying glass. It was another one of those shit things I did that pissed off my mother. So she told me about how in the olden times, when you did something bad, they’d stake you to the ground, and smear you with honey and let the ants eat you alive.
“I figure that’s what they did to you, and you’re here kicking ant hills.” I found another stick and rammed it into Cormac’s face, over and over.
“You’re a disgrace to your whole fucking family, Cormac! Your mother doesn’t even cry when she thinks of you. She thanks God that you’re out of sight and out of mind. She divorced your father so she could go fuck other men, have other children, and write you out of her life.
“The ants finally learned how to pinch, Cormac! So pinch! Ha ha! Your own mother hates you! Pinch pinch!”
The sun was going down, but I didn’t mind. I was onto something, and I’d never been good with schedules anyway.
My throat was hoarse from yelling all through the night, but I’d gotten some extra water once we’d walked close enough to my next camp. I’d forgotten sunblock, but that seemed a minor concern. We were only one day out from the end game, and that was beyond even my wildest expectations.
“Hey Cormac! You think your mom’s going to be disappointed I didn’t fuck her last night? You know, I lied yesterday, when I said she never talks about you. She does have one secret pleasure.
“When I’m nailing her, and I mean really nailing her. Humping her so hard that her ass and tits are shaking like jello, she likes to say some of the nastiest stuff about what a disappointment you are.
“It’s got this weird incest vibe. Always saying ‘oh Sean, fuck me so hard I forgot about that little shit that came out of my pussy’ or ‘oh Sean spank me like I never spanked that stupid fuck’ and, this one’s the tops ‘oh Sean cum in me like that loser son of mine dreams about every night when he touches himself!’”
I had to put my hand on my legs when I bent over, I was laughing so hard. My nostrils were shaking with the thrill of it. I laughed until it was a cough and I had to drink a long pull of tepid water. After a while, the laughter subsided.
“You ever think about fucking your momma, Cormac? I mean, I figure psychology’s got to be pretty universal and that’s Freud. Am I right? You ever listen at her door when she was balling the neighbors?”
I put my hand to my ear in an exaggerated signal that I was waiting for him to speak. Smile still wide, although my lips were beginning to chap, I prepared my next retort.
Cormac’s face opened. Somewhere near the middle of his head.
“Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuckkkkkkkk…” it had all the force of a whisper. All the calm of the eye of a storm. If I weren’t such a prick, I wouldn’t have been pulling my pants down even as he spoke. If I weren’t such an asshole, I might have stood there, moved by the first word ever spoken by a being not of this world, instead of taking a shit.
“Yoooooooooooouuuuuuuuu…” I picked up my own shit, quick as a could, and threw it in the open place in Cormac’s head. I picked up the bits of sand where some of it had escaped me, not caring for how filthy my hands were. Not caring that it was barbaric.
“Eat shit, Cormac!” I screamed, not even trying to be coolly disconnected. Not even trying to be funny. “Eat shit and die!”
It tore my voice box so bad I wasn’t able to speak for the rest of the day.
Neither did Cormac.
I had some cough syrup at my next camp site, and some sanitary wipes which I used on my hands. I even managed to eat a bit, but I hadn’t run so far ahead of Cormac that I had time for anything elaborate.
A weak part of me. The part of me that had taken Bryci’s sister into the back of the car and stuck my penis inside of her, thought about taking the tent and jogging ahead and catching a few hours of sleep. I swallowed hard, feeling the cough syrup lubricating my throat. I’d packed it in case it rained and I took a cold.
I ate some half-warm hot dogs, and another plate of beans. I hadn’t planned on all the beans, until I’d got to the store and they’d been on sale. It’s funny the way life works out.
I raised my right hand in a one finger salute to Cormac and kept eating. I made sure to hide the gun in the back of my shorts.
I’d been very careful that Cormac should not see me pick it up. That might have been a useless gesture, as Cormac seemed capable of knowing to the millimeter how to get to what he wanted to destroy, but on the off-chance that he couldn’t see, then I wanted it to be a surprise.
Back to Cormac, I looked down at the gun, and made sure all the chambers were loaded.
“My dad got Alzheimer’s. That’s a disease you get where you get to be rude as fuck and no one can get mad at you for it. So one day, I go into the home to visit him. Not that I did it all the time, I’m a dick, remember? But I got up there every year or so. So what do I see?
“Some fucking little redhead devil is there, lookin’ a bit like me. My dad has got him by the shirt, telling him to watch himself. Telling him that he’d wanted his mother to have the abortion, but she’d demanded they go through with it, and that they’ve both spent their whole life regretting the decision.”
I felt like I’d run out of things to say, and I couldn’t think up anything more creative than bouncing rocks off Cormac’s head. The most original thing I’d thought to think of that day was walking behind Cormac. Sometimes stopping.
That seemed to really burn his biscuit. He wanted me to kill me. Wanted to tear me apart worse than anything else on this ant-heap, and when I stopped behind him, when I made a move like I might get up and leave and never see him again, I could tell that pissed him off the most. I didn’t do it too much, because I didn’t want it to lose his effect, but I did it enough that he had to change speed.
Whatever it was they’d done to him. Whatever the terms of his punishment, changing his speed hurt Cormac. It hurt him like giving birth or being born, or who the fuck knew what.
“It was like going back in time and reading my dad’s mind when I was still a child. Can you even imagine? And there wasn’t even any cheesy Hallmark moment, where he made it clear he really loved me. Nothing but the shit.
“I figure that’s the way your parents feel about you. Except worse.”
“Ran into Bryci after all that happened. She was that goth weirdo from high school. She was a waitress. No wait, I’m sorry. A hostess. I got drunk, and we got to talking, but not about how I fucked her sister twenty years back. About her life. She got married, had a couple of kids. Still fat, but better looking. She wanted to know how life was in the big city, so I told her to come back to my room if she wanted to know.
“I’d washed out of comedy by then and I was doing insurance adjustments, but when she looked at me she saw a star. Anyhow, I fucked her. I fucked her good and hard and long, and I came right in her. Then I sent her on home to her husband and took a shower.”
I took a long swallow of water. My voice was scratchy, but I figured Cormac could suss it all out.
“Came back a couple of month’s later, on account of my dad had a stroke and was on life support. It said right in his will to pull the plug, so I did, but I also felt good about it, and I knew that wasn’t right. Fucking old man, talking about me that way.
“I went to the bar needing a fuck, found Bryci, and guess who was pregnant!?! I knew it was mine because of the way all the color ran out of her face. Wondering if I’d say something. Wondering if I’d tattle to her husband.
“So I ordered a drink. Then I took another, and next thing I know I’m shouting ‘Because your sister is fucking hotter than you!’ at the top of my lungs. Some guys took me outside and roughed me up. Small town. People have friends, and all that.
“Bryci comes out, looks at me and says ‘You’re not funny, Sean.’ Then she spits right in my face.
“So I’m laying there, blood all over my face, and I can’t quit laughing. I had a girlfriend back in the city. Well, a fuck buddy. And that’s when I realized, here I was, going to have a kid. Going to have a kid that I probably wasn’t ever going to be allowed to know, and the most significant emotional relation I’d ever had with anyone, was with a waitress whose sister I had fucked twenty years ago.
“Then I saw some piece about you on the news. Would you believe, except for things like building projects, no one ever thinks about you anymore? You’re just a consideration like earthquakes or volcanoes. No one actually cares about you. We’re not even terrified anymore. And that’s what I realized about myself. I was just someone people planned around. No one actually cared.
“So I figured I was going to have a kid, might one day find out who pops was, I might as well do something good. Went to the gym, learned to run. Made up a plan.”
I drank another deep pull.
“We’re a lot alike, Cormac. That’s why I fucking hate you so much.”
I took out all the bullets in the chambers but one, spun it faster than I could see, and with one flick of the wrist snapped the chamber back into place.
“In my plan, the big one I had for killing you, there were supposed to be news choppers here. There were supposed to be reporters, and big-titty college school girls getting wet between the legs. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to be a hero. I only wanted to get laid a couple of times before the ending.”
I was sitting on a rock, thirty or so yards ahead of Cormac, and he was aimed right at me. The hole in his head was open. Like the son of a bitch wanted to eat me.
“No one knows you’ve changed course, old buddy. No one knows your walking faster. No one even cares. Especially not your momma. I bet that time they knocked you into space, you didn’t even get something so personal as a swat to send you back. It was automated, I bet. No alarms or anything.”
I took aim at the hole in Cormac’s head and pulled the trigger. The gun fired and glanced off. Well, so much for last chances. I’d figured it wouldn’t work anyway.
“That wasn’t very dramatic.” I sighed, and loaded another bullet then repeated the process. This time I put the gun to my own temple and pulled the trigger. There was only a hollow click.
“My mother used to tell me I could frustrate someone to death.” I jumped down from the rock and shot at Cormac. There was another empty report. Three chambers left.
I stood directly in front of him and stopped. I put the gun to my temple and squeezed. Nothing.
“Do you want to kill me Cormac? Do you want to kill me so you don’t have to hear about your momma no more?”
I could feel the effort from him as he struggled to increase his speed by the smallest margins. “Yeeeeeesssssssssss….”
I walked toward Cormac and stayed a few tantalizing inches out of his reach.
“Do you want to kill me so bad you can’t think about anything else?” I asked.
I could see some sort of strange redness inside of Cormac’s mouth. I wondered if that meant he was damaging himself trying to get to me. “Diiiiiieeeeee….”
Cormac’s hand, slowly began to ascend. I leaned forward so my neck was the easiest thing to grab.
“The only relationship you have in the entire world, is with an ant.” I pulled the trigger at Cormac. Nothing. One left.
I could feel the warmth of Cormac’s blue light on my neck as his fingers prepared for a slow squeeze. I waited for the last possible moment.
“Nope, Cormac. Your mother told me last night you weren’t even good enough for this. Do the world a favor and kill yourself.”
I put the gun to my temple.
Two circles of white appeared on Cormac’s head. I supposed they were his eyes. They seemed full of horror. Of agony without end. Of denial and loss.
I smiled. Then I squeezed the trigger.
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{Gaa^7.4.2015//}~ Cavan vs Roscommon. Live.. Streaming. All. Ireland. online.Coverage..

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TSN (tv) Cavan vs. Roscommon live GAA.. Football.. 2015.. Round 2A.. Preview..

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I just spent the last 40 nights in Hell.

I spent the last 40 nights in Hell, gambling with the Devil for my best friend’s life.
My name is Holly. I have a best friend named Jude. You may already be familiar with our story, but if you’re just now joining this party, here’s a brief rundown of what you need to know.
Two months ago we went down into the tunnels below Greenwood Cemetery in Decatur, Illinois. I woke up at sunset five days later with a mysterious bloody staff and no memory of what happened in between. Something was coming up out of the tunnels after me. Jude was gone. In the following weeks, I was stalked by shadows and attacked by a creature that could mimic your loved ones and choke the life from your lungs. Within the staff hid a shadow that drank my blood and, in return, protected me as I ran from the monsters and searched for Jude. The ghosts of the land and the town rose up all around me, giving me few answers and more questions. I glimpsed Jude’s hand everywhere, in trails of yarn leading to strange clues, in writing on the mirror, in a mud-coated figure that stood between me and the face-changing demon that came for me in the night. She may be dead, but some part of her is alive and still fighting, and I’ve sworn to find and save her if I can. She spoke through me while I lay in a trance on a hypnotist’s couch, giving me cryptic instructions on how to open a secret door to find what was lost. I left messages and protections in place, hoping that if I didn’t come back, someone would find them and carry on the fight. Then I went to find the door.
Jude’s instructions were as follows.
“To find what was lost, rise in the dark of night by light of the full moon. Paint thyself with red of blood and black of soot. Adorn thyself with jewels as gifts for the spirits. Bring no weapon, for no weapon shall pass the first gate. Seek ye out the blasted tree in the village of the dead. Bring drink as libation to pour among the roots and nourish thine mother. Bring food as offering to burn and delight the nose of thine father. When the moon is at her darkest, knock three times upon the door, and the door will open.”
I thought about it hard while I made my preparations. Glowsticks, matches, Clif bars, bottled water, a notebook, a compass, the list goes on. I prepared like I was going into the wilderness for a month. The reality would prove to be closer to that than I would have liked, but I didn’t know that yet.
Loosely translated, I figured that the instructions meant that the process of opening the door would take two weeks, from full moon to new moon. The blasted tree in the village of the dead had to be the huge tree in the cemetery that got struck by lightning. I noticed it the very first time we went there, particularly the way the charred bark and dead wood resembled the outline of a door. If I was correct, an offering of unspecified food and beverage had to be made under the light of the full moon, and then in a couple of weeks when the moon was dark, three knocks would open a door in the trunk where the bark was blasted off. However, when I looked up the moon phases, I found a loophole. The full moon was due for an eclipse in the early hours of the morning. There was no way to be certain, but I was betting that I could get that door open in one night.
I walked to the cemetery in darkness that was broken only by the light of the moon and the occasional passing car. The streets were quiet. I took Wormwood with me. I wasn’t sure if the staff counted as a weapon, but I felt naked without it. My backpack hung heavy from my shoulders. I held Jude’s face in the front of my mind and told myself that no matter what happened once I passed through that door, I was going in the right direction.
My heart thumped in my chest as I climbed the hills that lay between me and the tree. Whether it was from exertion or fear or some mix thereof, I couldn’t say. I had a foil wrapped slab of roast beef, shining with rainbow oils, and a bottle of good merlot in my backpack.
When I got to the tree, I knew I was right. The air felt heavy, pregnant with promise. The outline of the door was even clearer in the moonlight. I could make out the seams of it sunken deeply into the wood.
I set down my backpack and took out the offerings along with a deep, calming breath. Then I poured the wine over the gnarled roots. The dry earth drank it in greedily, leaving nothing but a blood-dark stain and the sharp scent of fermented grapes. Then I took a lighter to the meat. I expected to have to hold it there, but it blazed up like dry tinder, and I dropped it quickly when it singed my finger tips. It was ash within seconds. The smell of roasting meat drifted up to my nose, making my belly gurgle. I couldn’t remember the last time I had fed myself. Too much to think about. Didn’t matter.
The ash drifted against the dead white wood and disappeared. That had to be a good sign. My offerings had been accepted. I stared breathlessly at the tree trunk. Then, like a lit fuse, a spark of blue appeared, tracing the outline of the door. Once it had made the whole circuit, the outline glowed gently, almost invitingly.
All I could do was wait.
The eclipse wasn’t until early morning. I had a long night ahead of me.
I decided to take a walk around the graveyard. The shadow of Greenwood had fallen so heavily across my life in the past month that I could hardly think of anything else, and yet I still had spent precious little time in the actual cemetery. I wandered up and down steep hills between towering monuments and silent mausoleums, watching me with gaping dark windows like empty eye sockets. I purposely avoided the steep hill overlooking the place where the tunnel entrance lay until I had exhausted everything else. I passed the Egyptian obelisk that towered over the Civil War graves and stood at the edge of the incline. The gap in the fence was cast in shadow, the new growth on the trees surrounding it and obscuring it from view. I frowned when I saw tiny lights dancing in the undergrowth in the tree line. Surely it was too early for fireflies to be out. And the lights were the wrong color, silvery blue instead of the warm yellow of the lightning bugs I had grown up chasing.
Once I had seen those, I saw them everywhere. They were all around, glowing in the treetops and out of nooks and crannies in roots and tombstones. They drifted like pollen on a summer breeze. They were beautiful. One floated right past me, and I followed it to a hollow in a tree where it lit and stayed. I moved softly so as not to startle it away, whatever it might be.
There was a tiny glass bottle nestled in the hole in the tree. The light danced around it. I reached out without really intending to. I just had the strongest, strangest desire to touch it…….
My trance was broken by a low, guttural growl coming from the sea of white gravestones behind me. I whirled, heart thumping. All was quiet for just long enough for me to think maybe I was imagining things. Then a twig snapped loudly from the opposite direction.
I clutched the staff. Dead leaves crunched softly. I caught the shine of an eye out there in the darkness. A hulking black shape moved swiftly from the cover of a tombstone to the cover of a tree. A low rumble ramped up into a full snarl, echoing off monuments. It sounded like it was right in my ear. I turned and ran.
Heavy footsteps thudded on the ground behind me as I fled through the cemetery, my backpack thumping against my back. The staff was warming up in my hands. I scanned frantically for somewhere to hide, something to climb. A tall stone shape loomed out of the night right in front of me, something grey and knobbly that towered over ten feet in the air. A bloodcurdling howl rang out right behind me, and I felt displaced air whoosh past my ankle with the audible snap of jaws just barely missing me. I flung the straps of my backpack off my shoulders, dropping it heavily. I heard a startled yip and a thump as it struck something solid, then I was throwing myself at the tall monument, fingers scrabbling for holds in the rough stone. I think I levitated by pure fear, because I was climbing onehanded while trying to hang on to the staff. Somehow my feet found purchase, and I scrambled up out of reach, making it to a flat place on top with Wormwood still in my grasp. I looked down.
A massive dark form leapt against the monument in a frenzy, bellowing and howling, claws scratching against the stone. It looked like an enormous dog, but it stood nearly upright on its hind legs, its shoulders huge and powerful, like some kind of wolf-man hybrid out of a cheesy horror movie. Only this was real. I slammed the butt of the staff downward, aiming for its head, but it turned and caught it with powerful jaws, nearly yanking me off my perch. The staff slid out of my hands. I had an awful second of panic, but then my arm went numb as a warm shadow flowed up my arm to wrap around my neck, shivering. Wormwood hid itself underneath the curtain of my hair, pressing against me like a terrified puppy.
The dog-like creature on the ground prowled around the base of the monument a couple of times before giving one last thwarted snarl and loping off into the night, dragging my staff in its mouth like an oversized bone.
I stayed on my perch. I was shaking as badly as Wormwood was. The thing I had climbed didn’t look like any tombstone I had ever seen. It looked, in fact, like a stone chair lifted ridiculously high off the ground on a pillar that was carved in the shape of a twisted tree trunk covered in vines. There were letters carved into the seat, but it was too dark to make them out.
Just when I began to consider climbing down, the smell of rotten eggs and burning plants drifted upwards and the ground at the base of the chair split open. Thick tendrils of something so black it absorbed the moonlight slid out of the cracks, twining around the trunk, reach upwards, creeping towards me. The stone where it touched turned red hot in seconds, glowing beneath the darkness that oozed up towards me. I desperately gauged the distance from here to the ground, weighing the likelihood of a broken bone against whatever would happen once those creeping things reached me.
The stone of the chair began to radiate an unpleasant amount of heat through the soles of my shoes.
I made up my mind to jump, but when I braced myself a tendril lashed upwards and wrapped around my ankle.
Then, pain.
It arced up my spine, lanced through my veins, burst from the tips of my fingers and my eyes and the ends of my hair. Ripping, tearing, searing pain as if I was being dragged out of my skin, flesh stretching and popping and rending around me. I screamed, over and over, but the pain did not stop or lessen. It grew. I couldn’t comprehend how it could get worse, and yet it did, sending wave after wave over and through me, scorching me, scouring me clean of anything but unending, unrelenting pain.
Then everything stopped, and I fell to the floor somewhere…..else.
I took a moment to catch my breath. My palms and face were pressed against a cool tile floor that was the color of a really good steak – red and marbled with streaks of white. I sat up. I could feel Wormwood hiding underneath my hair, clinging to the back of my neck. It felt like little sticky caterpillar feet against my skin. I looked around.
There was a boy standing at an elegant little bar against the wall, frozen in the middle of pouring something sticky and purple out of a crystal decanter, looking at me curiously.
He could have been anywhere from sixteen to thirty. He had one of those faces. Smooth as porcelain and just as pale, as if it had never been touched by the greedy rays of the sun. He was dressed in simple, tailored black clothing, the cut of which screamed expensive. His dark hair was cut with razor precision in that fashionable style you see all the men wearing these days, sharply shaved sides fading upwards to a longer top that was swept to one side, a few wavy locks escaping to dangle over his high forehead. Cheekbones to die for. His hands and forearms were laced with abstract black lines inked into his white skin, and the flickering light from the nearby fireplace made them appear to be moving lazily. His feet were bare, covered in the same tattoos. His eyes were a startling shade of crimson.
He put down the decanter and spread his tattooed hands wide, his red eyes crinkling with good humor.
“Welcome to the Devil’s lair,” He said. “I do love unexpected company. Won’t you have a seat?”
I stared at him, ignoring the fireside chair he was pointing to.
“You’re a devil?” I asked stupidly.
He laughed. It was a rich, kind sound that invited me to laugh along with him rather than feel laughed at by him.
“My dear, I’m the Devil. Capital D, if you know what I mean.” He dropped one eyelid in a roguish wink.
I gaped at him. He spun on his heel, back to the bar, still talking as he mixed himself a drink.
“In all seriousness, though, that would be my most oft-used nickname. Funny story, did you know that I’m where the term ‘nickname’ originated? Old Nick, that’s what they call me, among many other things. Some more flattering than others. Prince of Darkness. Lord of the Flies – that one’s just a fancy term for shit eater, you know. Morning Star, Mephistopheles, the Great Deceiver, the Father of Lies, Satan. Take your pick.” He danced over on bare feet, swishing a martini around in its glass, and gave me a courtly bow. “Lucifer. At your service.” He straightened up and plopped a whole eyeball into the martini glass, bloody pink stalk and all. He took a deep sip and closed his unnerving scarlet eyes, licking his lips with a contented sigh. “Ahh, that’s the stuff.”
The eyeball swiveled in the clear liquor and looked at me. It was cornflower blue. I gagged. I looked up to see him watching me with a twinkle in his own eye.
“Oh, where are my manners?” He asked archly. “Can I offer you a drink?”
I swallowed. The barely-there tickle of Wormwood at the nape of my nape steadied me. Reminded me to bite down and get my guard up. I was really in the lion’s den now. Everything leading up to this had just been practice.
“I had you pegged for more of a scotch guy,” I said. “I’ll have whiskey. Two fingers. Neat.”
His eyebrow lifted, and the corner of his mouth twitched. The overwhelming presence of him eased a little. I found I could breathe again, without ever having realized how hard it was before. I had the sense that I had just passed some kind of test. For what I had no idea, but I was betting it wouldn’t be the last. Okay. I could do this. It was just a drink. Just friendly drink with the Devil. No big deal.
I reached up underneath my hair to stroke one finger against Wormwood. It hummed reassuringly against me, warm and crackly like static on a scarf fresh out of the dryer. I took a deep breath and sat down in the less threatening of the pair of wing backed leather armchairs before the fire. While Satan himself clinked around at the bar and poured me a drink, I took the opportunity to take a good look around.
The Devil’s self-proclaimed lair looked remarkably like a rather classy gent’s study. It was spacious yet cozy, the fire on the massive hearth throwing warm light across the floor, the walls lined with leatherbound books. Apparently Lucifer was quite the reader. He had titles from both ends of the spectrum and all things in between. Machiavelli, Rowling, Darwin, Bukowski, Milton, King, Tolstoy, Chaucer, they all had their place on his shelf. Maybe this was where books went after they were burned. The ceiling was so high that it disappeared in shadows before I could tell where it began. One side of the room was taken up by a massive mahogany desk. The other was dominated by a four poster bed big enough for Andre the Giant to impersonate a starfish in.
“Try this,” The Devil said at my elbow, startling me.
He offered me an exquisitely cut glass that was brimming with amber liquid.
“I wasn’t sure whose fingers we were measuring by,” he offered by way of explanation. He crossed to the other armchair and seated himself across from me.
“I thought the Devil never sleeps,” I said, nodding at the ridiculous bed.
“It’s not for sleeping,” he answered. Deadpan, he lifted his refilled glass to his lips and licked a drip of clear liquor from the rim with a forked, very red tongue.
I flushed and took a sip of my drink. It was…..well, I think it probably ruined whiskey for me for the rest of my life. It tasted like you think whiskey will when you’re young, before you actually try it. All smoke and sin and fire. It tasted like Ireland in a bottle. It tasted like green hills and fog and the breeze blowing in off a restless sea. It tasted like whiskey ought to taste.
I gave an involuntary shudder of pleasure. My eyelids flickered shut as a delicious warmth crept through my veins and my tense muscles relaxed for what felt like the first time in my life.
When I opened my eyes, he was watching me with the smug look of a man showing off his first sports car.
“That’s some damn good whiskey,” I told him.
“And an even better chair.”
I looked down. The chair was nice, buttery soft leather in a color like coffee with plenty of cream. I rubbed my thumb across the arm and noticed a dark spot on it. I peered closer. It looked like someone had taken a permanent marker and drawn a heart with an arrow through it that said MOM. You know, like one of those old timey tattoos. I froze. I remembered seeing a post on Reddit awhile back, a picture of a pair of gloves made by the infamous serial killer, Ed Gein.
The leather of the arm had freckles on it. I was sitting in a chair made of human skin.
I forced myself to stay seated. My skin was crawling. The Devil grinned broadly at me, and the sly glint in his gaze was clearer now. I felt a sharp pinch of anger somewhere underneath the fear and disgust. He was mocking me. Treating me like an honored guest while he garnished his drink with eyeballs and seated me on flayed human flesh. He was seeing what it would take to horrify me, to break my composure.
I tilted my chin up. I hadn’t come this far to run screaming now.
“The tattoo is a nice touch.” I told him, deliberately resting my hand on the inked spot.
“Would you like to see it better?” He asked, leaning forward and snapping his fingers. “Let me bring down the chandelier.”
My heart sank as something creaked in the shadows above. I looked up, bracing myself for the next tableaux in this little show of horrors. Two pale shapes materialized out of the darkness. Bare, motionless feet. Then dangling legs. A nude, still human body was descending from the shadows above the fireplace. There were smudges of dirt and crusted blood on the cold white toes. I didn’t want to see this. I focused on Wormwood’s warmth and forced myself to keep watching as the carcass was slowly lowered. When it finally swung into full view, it felt like a freight train to the chest.
Jude’s naked, very dead body hung above me. She was suspended from a meat hook that pierced the back of her head and protruded obscenely from her mouth. Her pink hair was tangled and matted with wax drippings from the crown of black candles that ringed her head. Her arms were outstretched, two smaller hooks piercing and lifting her hands like some gross parody of Christ on his cross. The candles burst into life, lighting up my best friend’s corpse in cruel, inescapable detail.
I lurched forward and puked violently, splattering the Devil’s expensive liquor all over his sickening furniture. When I was done I hurled the glass at his head.
“YOU BASTARD,” I screamed.
Infuriatingly, the monster in the other chair was clapping his hands and giggling like a little boy, kicking his feet with glee at my reaction.
“There it is!” He cried. “I wondered, you shy little mouse, you drab thing! No one comes knocking on the Devil’s door without a spark of hellfire burning deep inside them. There’s a lion somewhere in there after all.”
I stood there, fists clenched, shaking, utterly speechless with rage. It only seemed to amuse him further.
“Ah, you’re much prettier with your dander up, darling,” He gasped, wiping a tear from eye. “That’s right, get that blood pumping. You’ll need it where you’re going.”
“And where am I going?” I bit off. Wormwood was responding to my anger, pulsing hotly against the back of my neck.
His mirth stilled as swiftly as it had come on, like a summer cloudburst, there and gone. He looked up at me, scarlet eyes suddenly cold and calm and ancient in that young face.
“Why, to the land of the dead, Holly Moses,” He said softly, almost sadly. “You ought to know that by now.”
My knees gave out. I slumped back into the chair.
“What do you know?” I whispered.
“Everything, little one. Everything you need to go down into the deep dark, all the secrets that you must wear as armor. I know the hidden ways to bring your friend back. I am the tree that bears the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, life and death. And I’ll tell you, too. For a price.”
I bowed my head and closed my eyes. Fuck. FUCK.
“Let me guess. You want my soul.”
“Oh, don’t be dull, sweetheart, that was what I was into last century. I like to keep things more interesting nowadays. I’ll make you a deal. Let’s play a game. I’ll even let you choose which one. If you come out on top, you get those answers you’ve been so desperately chasing. I’ll arm you with all the knowledge you need to set things right topside. You can save your beloved girlfriend, be her hero for once instead of trailing after her like the little grey shadow you are. But if you don’t, I get to keep you down here as my darling little pet for the remainder of your natural life. I have many more hooks hanging above that lovely bed you noticed earlier, along with a choice selection of whips and chains, gags and ropes, cats with nine tails and wonders the mortal world hasn’t even come up with yet. I’ll take you to dark places within yourself you never thought existed. It gets lonely, down here in the ninth circle. I can’t tell how diverting it would be to have a new toy to pull apart in my boredom. What do you say?”
I chose my words carefully. Each one felt like a heavy stone falling from my lips.
“I’ll play.” I said quietly. “But here are my terms. If – no, when I win, you answer every question I ask without lying, whitewashing or skirting the truth. You send me back home unharmed. You give me Jude’s body and one hell of an apology. You tell me how to bring her back. And I want my memories. Not from your shit eating mouth, either. I want my real memories from those five days down in the tunnels. I want them put back in my head so I can sort through them myself. Think you can manage that?”
His smile was so wide I thought it would split his face in half. He looked like a crocodile, half submerged in the water, about to snap up his prey.
“Without a doubt.” He said, and spat in his palm before holding it out. “Now, do we have a deal?”
I stared down at the Devil’s lily white hand, dripping with viscous spit, and I took it, and I shook it.
“We have a deal.”
Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
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