Yet another of the many short stories I wrote a while back and have decided to trunk, since it's not really worth shopping anymore. My writer's group really dug this one, despite the rather obvious (and profane) tropes and language tricks I pulled out. Enjoy.
The dumpster just sat there, as it had for the last several minutes. Guido ‘The Wrench’ Morelli stared at it intently, brow furrowed in concentration. After a long moment, he let out a frustrated grunt.
“It’s not moving,” Tommy ‘The Gun’ Galvino said behind him, conspicuously picking nonexistent lint from his thousand-dollar silk tie.
“You gotta do the finger thing,” Tommy insisted, rolling his shoulders to straighten the jacket on his pinstriped suit.
“I’m not doing the finger thing.”
“It works when you do the finger thing.”
“One time," Guido snapped. "One time it worked when I did the finger thing.”
“You got a better idea?”
Guido exhaled in disgust, and turned back to Tommy. “I feel like a jackass when I do that shit.”
Tommy smiled. “You look like a jackass when you do that shit. But it works.”
“Fine,” Guido hissed, “but you tell anybody about this, and I’ll finger-thing your ass.”
“Sorry cutie-pie, I don’t swing from that side, but I’ll pass the word you’re looking for a husband.”
“Fuck you,” Guido snarled.
Tommy winked. “The sooner you let it go, the sooner you’ll be over me.”
Guido turned back to the dumpster, his face again knotted in concentration. Then he reached his arms out, opened his palms theatrically, and wiggled his fingers.
The dumpster lurched. Two of its rusty-wheeled feet lept from the ground and paused—trembling at an impossible angle—as if threatening to tip the dumpster over. It hung there for a long second above the cramped alley, a barely audible shudder groaning through its metal hull. Then Guido let out another pained grunt, and the dumpster slammed thunderously back onto the asphalt.
“Holy shit!” Tommy jumped back. “Wake the fuckin’ dead, why don’t you?”
Guido doubled over, his hands on his knees, and took in a few shallow breaths. “It’s too fuckin’ heavy.”
“Bullshit,” Tommy snapped, yanking Guido’s lapel and forcing him to stand up straight. “You flipped Geno’s car yesterday. No way this stinkin’ dumpster weighs more than his Ferrari.”
“C’mon Tommy, it’s full of garbage.”
“And you’re full of shit. You ain’t been to see the gypsy, have you?”
Guido frowned, a look of fear washing over his face. “She ain’t no gypsy, Tommy.”
“That ain’t the point. You ain’t been to see her, have you?”
Guido smacked Tommy’s hand away and straightened his own suit jacket. “She creeps me out. There’s somethin’ unnatural about her Tommy.”
“No shit she’s unnatural. The old bitch conked you with some fairy dust, said some abracadabra, and now you got voodoo powers or some shit. But it’s our ticket to the top. When you flipped Geno’s car, you flipped his crew—to us. Word’s out, now. The Wrench and the Gun got new muscle, so make way. But people are gonna be gunnin’ for us, so we gotta stay strong. And that means you gotta keep gettin’ the mojo from the gypsy.”
Guido looked down at the palms of his hands. “But you don’t know what that fairy dust feels like, Tommy.”
Suddenly, an English-accented voice shouted from the far end of the alley. “'Tis no mere fay magic that you speak of. You wield the Sands of Erebus, though you are unworthy of their power.”
Guido and Tommy turned to see a tall, lithe man adorned in a chainmail shirt, bright yellow leggings, and a purple oversash step out from behind the dumpster. In his right hand he held an ornate sword, while a metal-rimmed wooden shield obscured his left forearm.
“Who the fuck is this guy?” Tommy asked in disbelief.
“Do not feign ignorance,” the stranger snapped. “You have ensnared the Sorceress of Sands in this dark realm and claimed her divine magics for your own. I have come to free her. Release her now, and I promise you a merciful death.”
“Oh yeah?” Tommy smiled, drawing his .22 pistol from his jacket. “Merciful this.” Then Tommy fired two quick shots square into the knight’s chest, the sharp pop of the pistol echoing endlessly off the walls of the alley.
The bullets sparked as they glanced off chainmail beneath the knight’s sash, and the knight himself staggered momentarily under the impact. Then the knight smiled venomously, and locked eyes with Tommy. “’Twill take darker sorcery than that to fell a Paladin of Greyfire.”
Tommy’s smile evaporated. The knight was on him in seconds, a blur of colors as he lept impossibly over Guido and planted his feet into Tommy’s shoulders, slamming the gangster painfully to the ground.
“Jesus and Mary,” Guido yelled, unable to do more than stare.
The knight held his sword above his head, and it began to crackle and glow with wisps of pale light. “For the glory of Greyfire,” he shouted, and thrust the blade toward Tommy’s face. Guido’s breath caught in his throat.
At the last moment, Tommy bucked, kicking the knight backwards and twisting his torso as the sword sliced into the concrete half an inch from his right ear.
“Get this freak off me!” Tommy shrieked.
Guido snapped back into the moment, then launched his bulbous frame at the knight, catching him in the right shoulder and wrapping his arms around the knight’s chest. The pair tumbled to the ground, the knight half-crushed under Guido’s weight, and his sword skittering across the alley.
“Off me, brute!” The knight shouted, attempting to shrug off Guido. The maneuver didn’t amount to much, and the knight’s expression quickly soured. “Your foul magics cloud the blessings of my divine armor! What manner of demons has beset this realm?”
“Shut up!” Guido barked, his voice uncomfortably shrill. “Just shut up!”
“Hey Lancelot,” Tommy hissed above them. He held the knight’s sword in his hand. “Let’s see how you like it.”
Tommy swung the sword overhand, bringing it down like a hatchet into firewood. A sick, wet pop signified the knight’s head splitting open, followed instantly by a sharp ring as the sword met the pavement.
The knight went limp under Guido, and the gangster flung himself up off the lifeless body.
“Jesus God,” Guido panted.
“Quit your cryin’, asshole,” Tommy snapped, pointing the sword at Guido. “I was the one who almost ate this pig-sticker. He didn’t so much as bleed on your fat ass.”
Guido looked down at his sleeves, and saw only grime from the alley floor. He then looked back at the knight, whose brains should have been visible from the open top of his shattered skull. Instead, only a dull white light, perfectly smooth, marked the plane where his wound should have been.
“No blood.” Guido whispered. “No nothin’.”
Before Tommy could respond, the same white glow began to wash over the knight’s entire frame, and within a few seconds, obscured all but the outline of his body. Then, just as quickly, the glow faded out, leaving only a pale cloud of fog where the body once lay.
“What’s goin’ on, Tommy?” Guido’s voice sounded panicked.
“The gypsy bitch,” Tommy snarled, “that’s what’s goin’ on.”
“You heard the freak. He knew somethin' about that fairy dust she uses. Besides, who else could make glowin’ swords and weirdoes with bulletproof pajamas?”
“Are you sure?” Guido asked. “I mean, that it had to be the gypsy that sent this guy?”
“If Geno knew about the gypsy, he woulda made some of his own muscle bulletproof. He wouldn’t send some Halloween costume to do the job.”
“What about…I mean…” Guido stammered, “what if nobody sent this guy?”
“What the hell are you talkin' about?”
Guido swallowed hard, and fingered the tacky cold crucifix hanging around his throat. “What if he was sent by God?”
Tommy stared at Guido for a few seconds, mouth agape.
“Seriously,” Guido continued, “the guy said he was divine, and then he disappears. That’s angel stuff.”
Tommy stepped forward and slapped Guido across the face. “I don’t have time for fuckin’ crazy, Guido. There’s enough shit goin’ on, I don’t need that.”
The two goons stared at each other, eyes cold. After a tense moment, Tommy walked to the end of the alley, popped the trunk on his Cadillac, and threw the sword inside. “Get in the fuckin’ car,” he growled at Guido, who quietly followed the instructions.
Both men sat in silence for long minutes as the Cadillac roared through back streets. Finally, Tommy cleared his throat.
“Look, I’m sorry about the smack," Tommy said, "but it was for your own good. No disrespect, alright?”
“I’m not crazy,” Guido replied. “The guy could have been an angel.”
Tommy rolled his eyes. “Did he look like a fuckin’ angel? Did you see a halo, or big fuckin’ wings?”
“Some angels take, like, human form. They blend in, you know, to test us.”
Tommy laughed. “Dressin’ up like King Arthur ain’t exactly blendin’ in.”
Guido frowned. “Okay, so maybe he wasn’t no angel. But he still coulda been sent by God.”
“What’s with all the God shit, Guido? Seriously, what the fuck?”
Guido looked down at his hands again. “What the gypsy does, Tommy, it ain’t right. She ain’t never done it to you, you don’t know. But it don’t feel right. It feels…I guess…unholy.”
“Yeah, unholy. Like, if I was to walk into a church after she dosed me, I would, I don’t know, burst into flames or somethin’.”
“And when was the last time you even went in a fuckin’ church, Guido? You ain’t never done it since I known you.” Tommy shook his head.
“I don’t remember,” Guido shrugged.
“Exactly,” Tommy replied. “It ain’t worth sweatin’ this angle, okay. The gypsy sent that freak. I don’t know why, but between my piece and that meat cleaver Lancelot left behind, we’re gonna get it out of her.”
“Wait a minute,” Guido said. “I really don’t remember bein’ in church.”
“It’s probably been a while,” Tommy smirked.
“No, I mean, I don’t ever remember goin’ to church. In my whole life. I can’t ever remember goin’.”
“Then why start worryin’ about it now?”
Guido’s voice was growing louder. “You don’t get it, I can’t even remember seein’ a church, or even bein’ outside one. I can’t remember any church, anywhere.”
“What the hell are you talkin’ about?”
“Can you remember any churches?”
“Of course I can…” Tommy paused. “Holy shit.”
“That’s what I’m sayin’!” Guido replied.
“Ocean City’s a big fuckin’ town." Tommy shook his head, a growing concern on his face. "There’s gotta be churches.”
“I know,” Guido nodded, “but I can’t remember any.”
Tommy frowned, then jerked the steering wheel to the right. The Cadillac’s tires screeched as the car cut over two lanes of traffic towards a freeway on-ramp.
“What the hell, Tommy?”
“Look,” Tommy said, “the gypsy did somethin’ to us. Made it so we can’t remember any churches. But the freeway goes around the whole city, and you can see all the big stuff from up here. We’ll just drive until we find a church.”
“But why not just go to the gypsy, like you said?” Guido asked. “Make her cop to what she did?”
Tommy scowled. “Because there’s a reason she didn’t want us to know where any churches is at. And then she sends Lancelot to make sure we don’t figure it out. So if she don’t want us to be in a church, that means we gotta find a church, and fast.”
“Okay,” Guido agreed. “And then we go make her—Holy God!”
The thing stepped onto the freeway from behind an office tower, and made the 20-storey high-rise appear as little more than a household refrigerator. Its giant foot-claws tore manhole-size divots into the roadway, the concrete cracking into ominous spider web patterns under the impossible weight of the beast. Four trunk-like legs rose up to support a heaving, serpentine body. Above that, dozens of jagged teeth sneered below two red, glowing eyes, and heavy clouds of wretched smoke churned from the terrible mouth. At the end, two giant, bat-veined wings unfurled from each shoulder blade, casting an endless shadow across the road.
Tommy screamed, and swung the steering wheel madly. The car veered away from the creature and spun into the concrete barrier that edged the highway.
The front end of the Cadillac crumpled like paper, and Guido felt himself suddenly weightless and dizzy, followed by a brutal wallop as he slammed into the pavement beyond the concrete median. He had been thrown from the car.
Guido lay face up, watching helplessly as the Cadillac sat smoking behind the barrier, its windshield burst open where he’d flown through it. Tommy was slumped behind the steering wheel, barely visible behind the mangled hood. He wasn’t moving, but the dragon was.
The monster paused above the wreck of the Cadillac, then reached down with its great maw and scooped up the vehicle like so much trash. Guido tried to scream, but he had no voice. The dragon bore down on the car, and a metallic crunch followed. The Cadillac popped, whined, and then spat a stream of fire and glass as the dragon closed its jaw. A final burst of red flame, a bright white glare, and then the dragon's mouth was empty.
Guido began to move, and the monster turned to look at him. Its eyes flashed a brighter shade of red, and Guido froze. The dragon stared for a long second more, then turned and walked across the empty lanes of the freeway, and then down into the city below. Guido heard the thunderous booms of its footsteps fade into the distance, and then it was gone.
As Guido began to pick himself up, he braced for the expected pain. There was none. His clothes were covered in dust and gravel, but he was otherwise unharmed.
“I should be dead,” he said to himself. “Jesus God, why ain’t I dead?”
He looked back at the cracked freeway barrier, where the Cadillac had been. There was no sign of the car. No glass or oil or blood. No indication that an accident had occurred there. All that remained was a glint of metal on the pavement. Guido walked towards it, squinting his eyes against an unnatural glare. He couldn’t make out what lay there until he was standing almost on top of it.
It was the sword.
For the first time, Guido got a good look at it. The blade itself was mirror-smooth and reflective. The hilt, grip and pommel were ornately carved. On the hilt, an illustrated script spelled out the words Divine Justice.
Guido reached down to pick up the sword. As soon as his bare fingers touched the grip, he felt a searing pain, and jerked his hand back. "Fuckin' hot," he barked.
He unclenched his fist to examine the burn, but saw none. Instead, the invisible mark of the gypsy dust glowed on his palms, as if tiny shards of glass were embedded in his skin.
"Goddamn gypsy," Guido moaned. "Goddamn gypsy curse."
Guido drew his pistol from the small of his back, half-surprised that it had remained tucked there during the crash. Then he began an awkward jog down the highway onramp towards the surface streets below.
As he cut onto a backstreet, Guido's path was blocked by a pale woman in a slinky black dress. Her eyes were a bright, icy blue that stopped Guido in his tracks. She licked her velvet-red lips as she stared at him.
"Neighborhood's a little upscale streetwalkers, ain't it, honey?" Guido didn't smile as he spoke.
"This one is rude," the woman replied. "But this one smells delicious." She inhaled deeply, and smiled. "Angry magic in this one."
"Look lady, I ain't interested in the show. Now move."
The woman threw her head back and laughed theatrically. When her eyes met Guido's again, they had changed. Gone was the blue, replaced by sickly yellow-black orbs. Cat's eyes. When the woman smiled, four snakelike fangs leered out, her cold breath rasping around them.
"Mother of God," Guido gasped, stepping back.
The creature lunged for him, and Guido didn't hesitate. The .45 rattled off five shots at point-blank. The woman-thing was flung back into the side of the dumpster, then slid limply down its side, leaving a trail of brackish blood behind.
"Fuckin' demons," Guido shuddered.
The woman-thing stirred, and began to rise.
"God help me," Guido whimpered, and began unloading the rest of his bullets into the monster. Every shot shoved her back into the dumpster, but did not deter her from standing. When his bullets were gone, she began slowly advancing towards Guido.
Guido turned to run back the way he came, but was halted by another of the woman things. She could have been a twin of the first, but that she lacked the bullet holes. "Share, sister, share," the second one hissed.
"Fuck me," Guido cried.
He turned back to the first monster. It had stumbled closer. He could hear the thing hissing, its fangs peering out from behind half-open lips. Guido stared at it, terrified. Then he stared past her, and smiled.
"Bitch, meet the finger thing."
Guido flung out his arms and dangled his fingers. The first vampire abruptly stopped, then let out as shriek as she was hurled across the alley. The small of her back slammed into the horizontal edge of the dumpster, and her spine let forth a sickening crack. Her body began a familiar white glow, and in less than second, the she-thing disappeared.
"Hell yeah," Guido wheezed, collapsing to one knee. Then he turned to face the second creature.
She was already upon him. Her cold hands locked onto his shoulders, and her yellow cat-eyes bored into him. Guido trembled involuntarily, but was otherwise unable to move.
"Suffer," she snarled, and tore away at the collar of Guido's shirt, exposing his neck. She reared back, readying to bury her fangs into Guido's throat. Then suddenly, she screamed.
There, staring back from the top of Guido's chest, was the small gold crucifix. Upon sight of it, the woman-thing tossed Guido to the ground and screeched.
"Your blood cannot hide from darkness, Christian. I will taste it before the sun has risen." In an instant, her eyes slipped back to their piercing blue, the fangs sank away, and she slithered out of alley into the crowded street.
"God help me," Guido repeated. "God. Helped me."
Ten minutes later, Guido was beating on the door of a secluded shop a few blocks away. The flickering neon sign hanging above the door read Fortune Teller, but the boarded windows suggested some other enterprise operated within. Bums and junkies huddled near the steam vents on the corner, and a pair of hookers stood cackling at the far end of the street.
"Open up!" Guido bellowed at the door. "I know you're in there. You're always in there."
Guido stepped back out of the entrance, and considered a running start to break the door down, when he heard the lock unclasp. The door slipped open, but no one came out, and no voice told him to enter. Guido stepped up and looked inside.
The "shop" was just as he remembered it. Directly inside the door was a flight of stairs leading down. A few feet from the base, a blood-red curtain hung over an otherwise open doorway. Beyond that was the gypsy.
Guido hobbled down the stairs and paused at the curtain. He took a deep breath, made the sign of the cross, and then pulled the curtain aside.
The room was small, maybe 30 square feet, and was lit solely by two candelabras which adorned the wood-paneled walls. The only furniture was two plain wooden chairs and a small round table draped in ornate satin cloth. Atop the table sat a pair of bronze scales, and various ceramic vials and bottles, each stoppered with a wooden cork. Behind the table sat the gypsy.
She was old, though how old was hard to say. She wore a lace blouse and red tartan skirt. Her grey hair peeked out from behind a blue satin headscarf, and her knotted frame hid beneath an afghan shawl. Her eyes were black, and her skin was leather.
"Welcome, traveler," she said in a strange accent. "Be seated." It was the same thing she said the first time Guido and Tommy visited the gypsy, and both times that Guido had come alone.
"I don't want to sit, ya fuckin' witch," Guido yelled, "I wanna know what you did to me!"
"I do not promise knowledge, only the means to seek it," she replied. "Do you have offerings for the scales?"
Guido produced his .45, dropped the clip he had expended into the she-monster, and slapped in another. "I've got your offering right here."
"Place your offering on the scales," the gypsy answered, nonplussed.
"I'm not buying, godammit. I already got all the fairy dust--the, what the hell--the Sands of Erebus that I can take. I want the antidote."
"The Sands of Erebus require a powerful bargain. Place your offering on the scales." Her voice never wavered. Her eyes never rose to meet Guido's. She just sat there, waiting for him to comply.
"To hell with this," Guido barked, and pointed the gun at the gypsy's shoulder. "Tell me how to undo this freakin' hex or I'll blow your goddamn arm off!"
"Place your offering on the scales," the gypsy replied.
"Fuck you," Guido snarled, and pulled the trigger.
Guido reached up with his scorched left hand and manually cocked the pistol, then pulled the trigger again. Still, nothing happened. Guido squeezed the trigger several more times in rapid succession. The weapon refused to fire.
"What the hell?"
The gypsy did not flinch, but merely repeated, "Place your offering on the scales."
Guido roared an unintelligible sound, then hurled the .45 at the gypsy's head. It sailed above the table for half a second and then stopped midflight, suspended above the gypsy's scales.
And the world stopped with it. The candles on the walls stopped flickering, their flames trapped in place like a photograph. The gypsy's eyes hung awkwardly in mid-blink, and the curtain covering the door sat half-ruffled, its folds swung out in a frozen wind.
"Dear Jesus, what now?" Guido whimpered. He reached out to fetch the gun from the air, but his hand passed right through it. The motion threw him off-balance, and Guido fell through the table and onto the floor beneath.
When Guido looked up, he could see the outline of the tabletop above him, or at least the shape of it. The underside of the table was slate gray, as were the folds of the dropcloths covering the furniture. They had no texture, and no shadow, as if they were carved out of gray ice.
Guido trembled, then bolted upright, passing back through the table and slipping through the immaterial chairs behind it. In a panic, he clambered to his feet and stumbled through the curtain--literally, as it was equally immaterial. He tripped up the stairs and reached for the door leading outside. His hand passed through the doorknob, and Guido tumbled through the door and into the street.
The world outside was frozen in place. The hookers on the corner leaned backward in impossible angles, suspended in laughter. At the other corner, the junkies sat motionless in a cage of petrified steam. A car hunkered down in mid-turn at the edge of the street, its headlights cutting unflinching swaths into the lifeless morning fog.
"Dear God in heaven, Sweet Mary and Jesus, I'm sorry." Guido fell to his knees. "Whatever I done to deserve this, I'm sorry. Whatever I gotta do to fix it, just send me a sign. I swear, I'll do it. Just call off the Judgment. I ain't ready God. I swear, I can do good, but I ain't ready."
Guido heard something move, and snapped his head around to face the direction of the sound.
At that moment, a strange man appeared from the gypsy’s doorway. He walked through the door--literally--just as Guido had. His clothing was some kind of jumpsuit, only it was made of the same smooth gray material that defined the underside of the gypsy's table. He was taking in the whole scene, and talking to himself.
"Yeah, it looks like the whole instance has crashed," he said. "Something threw an exception in the physics engine."
"Oh my God," Guido stammered.
"Hold on Jerry," the stranger said, and turned to look at Guido. "One of the 'bots is still running."
"My name is Guido. Guido Morelli.” He gulped. “Sir."
The stranger cocked his head to the side. "Yeah, its one of the native gangster 'bots. I think it’s the one that crossed up with the Sorceress."
"The gypsy," Guido nodded. "You're talkin' about when I got mixed up with the gypsy. That's what the angel called her, the Sorceress of Sands."
The stranger didn't acknowledge Guido. "I'm guessing this 'bot is the one that caused the exception. Pull up his log and see what he did right before the physics engine locked up."
A tinny voice emanated from everywhere at once. "Yeah, he was with the Sorceress. Looks like he tried to attack her, which is impossible in the Greyfire Crusade instance. And then…Ah, here it is. He tried to pistol-whip her. That's an attack action, which is banned in the presence of the Sorceress, but there's no subroutine for adjudicating a "pistol whip" event with her character. The physics engine threw a master error, which crashed the instance."
The stranger shrugged. "That's what we get for mixing two engines in the crossover instance. We should have just ported the Sorceress to the Ocean City Mafia system. Anyway, log this as a bug and have Amy's team start working on a patch."
"What about the gangster 'bot?" the disembodied voice continued. "He's got this move in his AI loop now. He could retry it and crash the instance again."
Guido realized they were talking about him. "Please sir," he pled, "I know I done wrong. I swear, I'll do better."
The stranger smiled, and addressed the voice. "Nah, keep him running and restart the instance. This is what beta testing is for."
"Thank you," Guido smiled. "Thank you so fuckin' much. You won't fuckin' regret this."
The stranger frowned. "Jerry, we're not gating the crossover game to 18-and-over, are we?"
"Nope. Greyfire is too big with the tweeners. The mashup server is all-ages."
"Then why are the gangster 'bots still running with the Rated-R vocabulary?"
“Oops.” the voice replied.
“That’s what I figured. Dial this guy back to PG, please.”
“Wait, what’s goin’ on?” Guido asked fearfully.
“Call it an upgrade,” The stranger replied.
Guido inhaled sharply. “What the fu--?”
The words slipped from his mind just as he began to speak. What was he trying to say? His mind swam. It was on the tip of his tongue. The word. He’d said it before. A thousand times.
“Vocab modules are wiped,” the voiced announced. “Loading the all-ages dictionary now.”
All at once the words came flooding back, so fast that Guido was speaking before he even realized it. “What the flip is goin’ on?” Guido asked.
He paused. “What the flip? Who the crap says ‘What the flip?’ Who the crap says ‘What the crap?!?”
The stranger smiled blandly. “Much better.”
“Oh gosh,” Guido stammered, swallowing hard. “I’ve been cleansed!”
“Something like that,” the stranger shrugged.
“It’s a miracle!” Guido shouted.
“The way Jerry works, you ain’t kidding.”
“Very funny,” the voice said flatly.
Guido felt tears welling in his eyes. “Please, are you…are you God?”
“To hear him tell it,” the voice snickered.
“Shut up, Jerry,” the stranger sighed.
“Yes, your holiness.”
“Your holiness,” Guido repeated, “please, sir, are you going to fix what the gypsy did? Are you going to bring back the churches?”
Guido nodded. “I can’t remember any churches. The gypsy took them away.”
The stranger smiled mysteriously. “Oh yeah, we removed the religious artifacts. You would be surprised how many people get upset when giant monsters step on cathedrals.”
“So…so you took the churches?” Guido asked.
“More or less.”
“So how…how do we get them back?”
The stranger smirked. “Convince the parents groups that they belong in the game.”
Guido nodded, staring past the stranger to the buildings behind him. “Spread the word.”
The stranger looked back at his clipboard. “Okay Jerry, you ready to restart the instance?”
“Yes m’lord,” the voice replied.
“Not funny, Jerry. Reboot the mashup, dial the 'bots to PG, and clear Mike’s beta testers for a trial run. We’ve got to be ready for Amy’s kernel upgrades on Thursday.”
“Thy will be done,” the voice giggled.
The stranger sighed again, shaking his head. “This is why we never hit deadlines.” Then he turned, walked through the wall of the nearest building, and disappeared.
“Wait,” Guido called after him. “What am I supposed to do now?”
As if in response, the world flickered. The junkies and hookers disappeared, and the half-turned car jumped suddenly to the far end of the block. Guido felt nauseous for a moment, and heard a ringing in his ears. He closed his eyes and inhaled a gulp of air.
When he opened his eyes again, Guido found himself in a crowd of people, if you could call them that. Only a few were dressed normally: Decent suits, nice skirts, t-shirts and jeans. The rest were decked out like Sir Lancelot or Robin Hood. Suits of armor and wizard robes mingled with lacy ball gowns and bearskin cloaks.
One of the medieval types, a voluptuous woman in a grey velvet cape and pink silk dress, spotted Guido and smiled. She walked up to him, and started talking.
“Nice avatar,” she said.
Guido looked her up and down. “You ain’t so bad, yourself.”
She giggled. "So, what are you supposed to be?”
Guido frowned. “Until today, I was hired muscled.”
“You mean a gangster class?”
“Nobody called me classy.”
The woman cocked an eyebrow. “Cute. So, what happened today?”
“Change of plans. Big time.”
“Rethinking your character?”
Guido nodded, smiling. “After today, I'm all about character.”
“Yeah, I always wish I could play something besides a noble-mage, but I can never pick anything else. That’s why I signed up for the mashup beta, to try new things.”
“I got new things for us to try, honey. Major-league stuff.”
“Sounds like somebody knows some cheat codes,” the woman replied, batting her eyelashes coyly.
“No way. My cheatin’ days are behind me.”
“Then what’s so secret? Have you been a tester before?”
“Yeah, I’ve been tested.”
“Awesome, so you know what the new missions are?”
Guido smiled. “Mission? Yeah, I gotta mission alright. A mission from God.”
“Wicked. That should level us up in no time. So, go on, what is it?”
Guido turned, pointed to a large vacant building at the end of the block, and beamed. “I’m gonna build a church.”
--- END ---