This is where I write about writing, languages, literature, my books and publishing endeavours, and my academic musings. You might also catch me blogging about pokemon, or Ingress, or showing pictures of the local wildlife or places I visit, but mostly it'll be writing. If you'd like to keep up with just my writing news, and the occasional piece of Australiana please sign up for my newsletter.
Friday's Flash - The Man from the Juniper Tree
This is the third… fourth?... thing I
want to do with this blog. I know I’ve done this before, but, this year, I want
to have a piece up every Friday. This year, these pieces will be taken from one
of my two published flash fiction collections—365 Days of Flash Fiction,
Days of Flash Fiction—and from the upcoming collection, Another
365 Days of Flash Fiction.
All these collections are of
genre-based pieces of fiction, ranging between 100 and 1,000 words. Today’s
piece is the January 25th entry in 365 Days of Flash Fiction. It was
inspired by one of Chuck Wendig’sTerribleminds
Flash Fiction Challenges, way back in 2014.
Cassidy stared at the gleeful smile on the
Burman’s face, tried to lift a hand and break the connection between his head
and the mainframe. Failed. He looked to Marlena for help, but the girl stood silent,
tears streaming down her face. Her eyes flicked between his entrapment and
Burman, helpless in light of the gun pressed up hard under her diaphragm.
whispered, her voice helpless and awash with grief.
Cassidy heard her,
but felt the deadly lethargy spreading through his limbs. Where he had felt
shocked into immobility, he now found he was numb, his body a leaden weight
pinning him to the chair. There was a picture on the wall above the desk, one
taken on the open day at a foreign embassy.
It gave nothing of
the embassy away, but framed the juniper tree perfectly, reminding him of the
day he’d first encountered the agency. The chief had found him, standing in the
juniper tree’s shadow trying to keep a dark-clad woman on her feet, weeping as
he held her tight to his side—his boss’s partner. He’d pleaded with her not to
die, but his pleas had been in vain, and the boss had dragged them both out
before the security guards could reach them.
Cassidy fought to
bring his mind back to the present, but the desk swam before his eyes and his
memory pulled him through the years of training and living under the chief’s
roof, the missions, the funeral, his adopted father’s ever-present sadness.
“You’re just like
her,” Hillier had said at the graveside. “Same fire.”
Fire Burman was
now putting to good use. Cassidy could feel it drawing the life out of him,
could see only the Burman’s malicious smile as she shifted the pistol down and
put a bullet through the top of Marlena’s thigh. Cassidy didn’t see her leave
the office, but he heard the door close, heard Marlena sobbing as she dragged
herself over to the chair.
Cass wanted to
tell her it would be all right, that he’d hacked his way from one system to
another, raiding drug-supported corporations, weapon-smuggling front companies
and taking on service deniers and info-nappers. He wanted to say this system
would be no different, that the company interface was his friend, but the
paralysis that stopped him moving wouldn’t let him. It held his jaw locked
Dammit! Should have seen this coming. Should have… Cassidy’s mind wandered back over the project’s progress reports,
and remembered he could join the data-stream. He wondered if he could save
himself, and wished he’d managed to get his treacherous second-in-command to
tell him how it was done, wished he’d asked more questions about how the
computer tapped the excess energy produced by each person hooked into it—just a
little, she’d said. Yeah, right.
The sound of the chief’s voice made Cassidy jump, jolting him out of the
exploration he’d been making of the interface, making him remember Burman’s
promise. She’d make his adopted father kill him, cause the head of the agency
to drain every last drop of life from his protégé so that she could rise, and
Marlena’s place in the succession was assured. Marlena had protested too soon
to save him.
Marlena reminded Cassidy of the female agent’s presence. He became aware of the
pressure on the arm of the chair, of Marlena’s scrabbling attempts to reach the
jack plugged into his head, became aware of her expletive, just before she
seized the chair with both hands and toppled it and him to the floor.
sshh,” she whispered, as though she wasn’t the one who had cried out in pain
and caused the crash. “Sshh.”
Cassidy noted the
way he’d caught his feet under the lip of the desk, and felt ridiculously
relieved they’d stopped his rag-doll legs banging his knees into his face. He
tried to re-focus on the interface, only to have the chief’s voice pull him
back to his predicament.
“The latest from
the labs,” Burman responded.
Cassidy heard the
scrape of something being pushed across a table.
whimpered Marlena. “Got to be quick. Quick. Quick.”
she’d shut up.
“Why don’t you try
it out?” Burman suggested. It’s got the latest software. There’s even a mission
“I have a report
“No problems, just
log in from here. Come on, Jon, give it a go.”
“Anything for an
iota of peace,” Hillier grumbled, and there was a click. “Nice.”
Cassidy felt a
pull at his insides, a sudden tiring tug.
“No, no, no,”
Marlena said, her voice tearful. She patted Cassidy’s cheek. “It’s wireless,
Cass. Wireless. You’ve just gotta get into the mainframe. Please…”
Wireless. Which means… Cassidy found the
port and leapt for it. Why does she want
me in the mainframe?
“Holy Hell! Cass
is going to love this!” It was the highest compliment Hillier could pay, but
Cassidy doubted Burman would appreciate it. Truth was, he did love the new
system. He flipped and swirled and wondered how he could save himself. Tried to
think like a hacker instead of a man whose mind was trapped in a machine. He
didn’t need to find the data link to his body to know it was growing weaker by
the data-stream, noted the security cameras’ feed, dived in, found the alarms,
alerted the guards. Twisting, he fed the image to the laptop, bringing Hillier
at the run. He shut the laptop down.
The chief took one
look at Marlena and dialled the ambulance. Cassidy flashed the interface tell-tale,
catching Burman’s attention. He had a surprise for her, was relieved when her
fingers seized the connection.
the databanks, he’d found the power commands. Laughing, he tweaked them,
feeding the mainframe’s power-feed into Burman’s fingers, frying her from
fingertip to toe. Laughing, he returned to his head in a wireless leap, hoping
the medics made it on time.