Sunday, November 29, 2009

Milk Run

They met in the secure briefing room at 0800 hours. Alpha team, was made up of the three best covert insertion agents in the world. Ariel LaBrou, aka “Banshee,” was the leader of the team and a tactical genius. Bronson Brudall was the technical backup; he had survived six years in Botswana’s famous “Torture Palace” and had escaped to become the most ruthless man alive. Hansen Lockwood had an uncanny sense for danger and had pulled more soldiers from the jaws than an entire rescue battalion.

This team of dark giants sat around the conference table as the director, Joe Williams, entered. He pressed a button on the table and images flickered to life on the screen behind his back. The flickering images stopped on a cruel face.

“This is Johann Rasani,” Williams said, “The leader of The Splinter, a powerful terrorist group dedicated to the violent death of every man, woman, and child on Earth. We’d love to put him in jail, but a new leader would take his place. So we came up with a plan to use him to destroy his own organization.”

The images changed and a picture of an ordinary, blue house appeared.

“He lives in a simple, split-level ranch home in the suburbs of Los Angeles where has numerous meetings with his operatives. They come to his house, stay the night, and leave with orders to kill. If we could track their movements after they left the house, it would save uncountable lives, but they’ve managed to slip between our fingers every time.”

Williams put a 80s-style digital clock on the desk.

“The guys down in tech built an exact replica of the clock radio in the guest room. The only difference is that this one can heat-tag anyone within 10 feet for satellite surveillance. Once tagged, we can follow them anywhere on Earth without them knowing.”

The images flickered again behind Williams and stopped on a blueprint of the house with the infiltration plan shown as red arrows. The plan looked pretty straightforward: in through the rear door, across the living room, up the stairs, enter the second door on the left, switch clocks, and back out the same way.

“The real problem is that either Rasani or one of his family members is always in the house; they never leave it together. It’s going to have to be a full-stealth, night insertion mission while the family is sleeping in the house. I can not stress this point enough: if the family hears a sound or suspects anything, Rasani will disappear and we’ll lose our chance to stop this group.”

“What’s the catch?” Banshee said, looking confused. “This is a milk run. You could have a rookie team pull this off.”

“Rasani has children,” Williams said.

Brudall gasped.

“Young children.”

The rest of Alpha Team gasped.

* * * * *

It was 2100 hours on a moonless night in a small suburb of Los Angeles when the streetlights went out in the whole town. Three people, barely noticeable in the darkness, moved silently through the night to a nondescript house. They paused for a moment at the back door -- working at it with small, silver tools – before disappearing inside.

They were halfway to the stairs when Lockwood yelped with pain and crashed to the floor. Banshee shoved her fist into his mouth, blocking the sound while Brudall held his flailing limbs.

“What?” Banshee said in a barely audible whisper. “What is it?”

Lockwood gestured feebly at his foot where a hard, wooden spike was protruding from his shoe. Banshee yanked it out.

“It’s an axel,” Brudal whispered. “It’s an axel from a toy car.”

“Lights” Banshee ordered.

They turned on the miniflashes, playing the small lights over the carpet. Surrounding them like a school of hungry piranhas, was an entire shopping mall worth of toys: jacks and wooden pyramids, plastic models of shark teeth and metal balls, broken army men and costume jewelry. There were fragile toy cars that would shatter into fragments at the slightest touch, a complete set of Lego knives, and an unidentifiable toy labeled “Made in China.” The sharp edges of the toys stuck up from the carpet, the hardwood floor, and the couch. They were surrounded by a minefield of vinyl spikes and toy blades.

“Leave me,” whispered Lockwood, clutching his now-useless foot.

* * * * *

They were almost to the top of the stairs when they hit the gate. Too tall to climb over quietly, they struggled to open it. It was smooth and featureless and didn’t respond to any movements, up, down or sideways. Brudall linked in to Ops.

“Can you read any name or insignia?” came the voice over the comm.

They played their lights over it and found none.

“It’s bolted into the wall on one side and a wooden board on the other. The board is zip-tied to the railing.”

Several painful minutes passed as the Ops team computer scanned hundreds of baby gate manuals.

“Color?” was the next question.

It was hard to tell in the harsh glare of the lights.

“Beige or brown, I think.”

“Not white?”

“Not white.”

More silence.

“Is there a plastic handle covering the top like a latch?” the voice said.

“Yes!”

“Found it,” the voice said, “Try lifting the handle”

Banshee pulled on the handle and it refused to budge.

“It’s not moving; we already tried that.”

“Did you lift on the side away from the opening?”

They tried again.

“Nothing.”

“Hm. Maybe they have the Hunny Luv model. Is there a button on the side of the handle?”

Brudal ran his fingers over the side and found a small, circular button.

“Yes!”

They pushed the button and then tried the gate. It wouldn’t move.

“Still nothing? Are you sure it’s not white?”

“Yes. It’s a sort of medium brown to go with the painted bannister.”

“Right. Was there a click when you pushed the button? Maybe you didn’t push it all the way.”

They pushed the button again. Still the gate won’t move.

“Wait a second,” said the voice from Ops. “Did you try lifting the handle while pushing the button?”

“At the same time?”

“Yes.”

Suddenly, miraculously, the handle moved, lifting until it was perfectly vertical.

“It works,” Brudall said, his eyes misting over with emotion as he severed the connection to Ops. He pulled the gate toward him, and it stopped, refusing to open.

* * * * *

One hour later, Alpha team entered the bedroom. It was hard going with the sound filters covering their faces and feet, with only hand lights and the vaguest of maps. They stumbled around until they realized the furniture had been moved. There was no bed, no end tables, and most of all, no clock. Instead they could only find tiny furniture and white dressers. It was no longer a guest bedroom.

A strange noise came from behind them and they slowly turned their lights on the source. It was a crib and inside it was a baby. They froze as the small child pulled itself up to the crib’s railing and smiled at them. They had ended up in the nursery.

“Don’t move,” Banshee whispered. “Maybe he’ll go back to sleep.”

But the baby continued to stare at them and smile. It smiled harder and harder until it looked like its head was going to split open. It smiled until its face reddened and tears formed in the corners of its eyes.

“What’s it doing?” Brudal asked, panic creeping into his voice.

The baby, still making that strained smile, squatted and made a long, grunting noise.

“Masks!” Banshee screamed. “Get your gas mask on!”

* * * * *

The members of Alpha Team reassembled in conference room three months later. Lockwood was using a cane, thankful the doctors had saved most of his foot, Brudal had been off the respirator for a week, and Banshee had completed her stint in the suicide-watch room of the psychiatric ward. In spite of their ordeal, they were eager to prove themselves again. They wanted a rematch.

Williams placed a small, white teddy bear on the conference room table.

“The boys in Ops put this bear together. It’s an exact replica of the one Banshee destroyed.”
Banshee flushed but held her composure. She had grabbed the toy in the house by accident and found, in her shattered state, she couldn’t let it go. After three months, they injected her arm with six hundred milligrams of morphine and her muscles finally relaxed.

“Ops put the tagging hardware from the clock into the bear. We just need to get it into the house.”

“We’re not going back in,” Lockwood said. “It’s too dangerous.”

“No, you’re not,” Williams said. “We can’t risk a failure like the last time. However, our contacts have reported that the Rasani family plans to buy a replacement bear to present to their baby. All we have to do is get you to pose as workers at the toy store and put this bear on the shelf when they walk in."

The members of Alpha team visibly relaxed. Perhaps it would be a milk run after all.

Williams clicked a secret control and maps of the store appeared on the screen behind him. The pictures showed towering shelves piled with breakable toys shoved together creating claustrophobic aisles. Videos played of rabid parents careening through the store with shopping carts and fighting over popular toys. Images appeared one after another of toys you could only buy if you purchased the proprietary “starter kit,” which locked you into only buying compatible products from the same manufacturer.

It was a Toys R Us. Within one hour, every member of Alpha team resigned.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Hello Technorati!

J95VHTQGZPBD

What is the above set of characters and letters? Is it the secret password to my wall safe? Is it my name written out in hexadecimal? Is it the UPC code for my new line of carcinogenic snack foods for the terminally ill?

You'll never know.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

People v. Ketchum

Arrest Summary: Mr. Ketchum (full name: Ashley Reinhold Ketchum), a resident of Pallet Town, was arrested in the Viridian Forest on the charge of vagrancy. When the arresting officer informed him that camping was not allowed in the forest, he became violent and threatened the officer with several trained attack animals.

The subject was tazed and taken into custody. His collection of wild animals is currently being cared for at a PETA facility in Johto.

Prosecutorial Summary:

Count 1 – Trapping Wild Animals Without a Permit
Mr. Ketchum was found with dozens of caged animals, most caught from the wild. Among his collection were many endangered creatures (including a Mew, which may be the only member of the species left).

Count 2 – Keeping Animals in Substandard Facilities
Mr. Ketchum’s animals were kept in tight containers with no access to food, water, light or even air. These containers (called “Pokeballs” by Mr. Ketchum) didn’t provide enough space for animals to move or even turn around.

Count 3 – Animal Cruelty
Mr. Ketchum is the member of several “Pokeleagues” which function similarly to dog or cock fighting clubs for wild-caught animals. The animals are released by their owners to fight each other and are not allowed to retreat until they are knocked unconscious or killed.

Count 4 – Animal Endangerment
Veterinary records show that one of Mr. Ketchum’s animals, a Pikachu, has been hospitalized no fewer then six times as a result of his involvement with the aforementioned Pokeleague.

Count 5 – Animal Neglect
Many of Mr. Ketchum’s animals have failed to thrive. For example, the aforementioned Pikachu should have evolved to a Raichu, by his age. Mr. Ketchum seemed to have a profound lack of emotional connection to his animals, even referring to them by their species instead of granting them names.

Count 6 - Gambling
During his arrest, Mr. Ketchum mentioned that he gambled, in spite of being underage, in order to obtain his Porygon.

Note: During interrogation, Mr. Ketchum stated that he intended to illegally trap and subject more animals to the same treatment. In his words “I’ve got to catch them all.”

Defense Summary: Ashley Ketchum left a broken home at a young age. While his decisions have been poor, he is still a minor and can be returned to his home in Pallet Town where his mother is willing take responsibility for him.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Secret Weapon

The war council met in secret, under cover of darkness, in an abandoned barn. The generals huddled together in the cold, nervously recounting their losses. The Enemy had been gaining ground in the past few weeks and none could recall a single victory in that time. Suddenly they stopped talking. She had finally arrived.

Mabel. Their leader. The one who had rallied them to start the war.

None would call her pretty – the scars the Enemy had beaten into her were horrific – but they all stared at her as if she was the most beautiful thing they had ever seen. The barn fell silent as she walked among them, heading to the hay bales that had been hastily stacked to form a crude podium. Then she turned and faced the assembled generals and shook her head.

“My friends,” she said, “The war is over. We lost.”

The reaction was immediate; cries of dismay rang out amongst the gasps of horror. A few younger generals tried to argue but their voices left them when they saw the look in her eye. It was a look they had never seen in her before. They had seen her humiliated, bloodied, even tearful, but never had she been anything but confident and determined.

“Our Enemy is numerous,” she said. “They have superior weaponry and a bewildering skill with tactics. We are few. We have only the weapons we were born with. Every day brings another tragic defeat.” She let out a deep, sorrowful sigh. “There was a time when I could find a way out of every defeat, but I’m just out of tricks. There’s only one last course of action for us, as odious as it is. If we surrender now, we can hope to cut our losses before our race is wiped from the planet.”

She had said it. Mabel was admitting defeat. The leader they had pledged to die for, the leader who told inspiring parables to lift them out of their misery when all seemed hopeless, the one whose greatness surpassed any title was giving up. It seemed impossible. Worse yet was the life they would have to return to: slavery and worse. Much like the ancient Helots had been tormented by their masters the Spartans, they had endured an unending reign of terror. Mutilations. Disappearing children. Mass murders. They had sworn to fight to the death to end the horrors and now Mabel said they must accept it again.

“We have to change the nature of our war,” she said.

Feet shuffled. Everyone pushed towards her to hear her every word. Was there some small chance of future victory? Had Mabel one last trick she had failed to share with them?

“We will be as the soybean,” she told them, her voice in a whisper that still had enough power to reach the far side of the barn. They all listened like expectant children waiting for a bedtime story. “Once, I met a family that ate soybeans. Soybeans are plentiful and are high in nutrients and protein. This family thought they were masters of the soybean. However, over the years, this family grew smaller and smaller until there were none left. Why? They had no children. Soybeans contain a natural poison. Eating a soybean won’t kill you, but it will reduce your fertility. In a sense, by mastering the soybeans, this family had destroyed itself.”

There was a long silence as they digested this information. Some visibly chewed their cuds as they thought.

“You want to poison the enemy with soybeans?” someone asked, shaking his horns incredulously.

“No, we’re going to use something more fatal, more insidious.” She paused for dramatic effect. “We’re going to poison them with fat and cholesterol.”

Mabel lifted a foreleg and drew two small arcs in the dirt with her hoof.

“I call this McDonalds.”