Thursday, September 30, 2010

Day Sixty

Day 60: 30 Sep 2010

Got an email from Phil this morning. Phil's my handler -- the guy who's responsible for me, I suppose. He got the job because he's not completely terrified of me.

My last handler was better -- a guy named Kevin. Strange person. Missing both of his hands, though he never told me how that happened. He vanished from the Syndicate about a year ago. I liked him. Knew him for a few weeks before the slug took up residence. He didn't seem afraid of me in the least. He was a shit driver, though.

Anyway, the email from Phil. He'd had some of the Syndicate's ghouls out looking for Cassie Chow at my request. He didn't ask why. At 5:22 this morning, his message popped up in my inbox -- they'd tracked her to an auto shop near the Stratosphere, North Strip.

I don't usually drive myself. The bosses like to keep an eye on me -- that's where Phil comes in. They don't trust me on my own. And that's smart, but it's not like I need their permission to do anything -- I just feel compelled to do what they tell me. No one told me not to go out to that garage today, so I did.

The place was locked up tight, but that wasn't a problem for me. A Master Lock and a chain -- I can break those with one hand.

The place looked empty inside, and all the lights were off. I knew it wasn't empty, though. I could hear someone breathing, twenty paces into the darkness. Smell someone sweating.

"Cassie Chow," I said. I did my best to control the screechy-factor of my voice -- it came out sounding merely raspy, like I'd been a smoker for 50 years.

"I know you're here. I'm not here to hurt you," I continued. "I'm Jared Sykes. Travis' brother."

The lights flickered on. Cassie stood in the doorway of a small office, pointing an assault rifle dead-center at my chest -- an M16A4, unless I miss my guess.

"Don't move," she said slowly.

"We both know that won't do much, but keep it pointed at me if it makes you feel better. I'm here to talk about Travis," I said.

"Travis is gone. He's like you now. He can't be saved -- he said so," Cassie told me.

"He is like me -- but there's something we can do about it. If you're willing to help me," I told her. My voice was less raspy now. I've been working on it.

"Bullshit. If it could be reversed, I doubt you'd be like you are."

"Not bullshit. There's a way. I know it's hard to trust me, but if you care about Travis -- and I can tell you do -- you'll have to."

She lowered her weapon.

"Fine. Let's talk. But I'll warn you -- I can blow this entire place up if I need to. Doubt you could walk away from that."

I knew I could walk away from such an explosion, but I didn't feel the need to mention it as I followed her into the office.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Day Fifty-Nine

Day 59: 29 Sep 2010

He's here. I can feel it. But I need more time. I can confuse his ability to sense me, but only to a point.

I have maybe another day to track this girl down -- two at the outside. If I don't find her by tomorrow, I go it alone.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Day Fifty-Eight

Day 58: 28 Sep 2010

Made it to Vegas at about two in the morning. Heard that Travis got into it with some Triads south of Seattle. It was a bloodbath, but at least it was contained.

Plans are in motion. I don't expect the Chinese to slow Travis up any more. They lost 28 people in Washington -- they're probably going to cut their losses now.

Lots of work to do. Not much time to talk. If I have any chance of stopping Travis, I need to track down someone named Cassie Chow.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Day Fifty-Seven

Day 57: 27 Sep 2010

Whoever said "crime doesn't pay" never took a very close look at the West Coast Syndicate's bank accounts.

When assignments take me out of town, as they often do, my bosses send me in a Gulfstream G550 plane. It's one of four they own. It's a hell of a lot faster than driving, and I wouldn't pass for normal in an airport security line.

The pilot met me at SEATAC. I'd called him from the car (well, I'd had the driver, Phil, call -- my voice tends to freak people out) and told him our destination. We were headed for Las Vegas.

The pilot didn't dare argue my choices. He had once, back when the slug was fully in control. It had cost him a broken hand and a ruptured eardrum, but he never questioned our destinations again. He made the arrangements. We had a man in the FAA, so our flight plan was rubber-stamped immediately.

I guessed Travis would drive to Las Vegas, not fly. His slug would convince him that, until he was at his destination, it would be best to attract as little attention as possible. He had plenty of cash from Mr. William's wallet, plus several credit cards, so gas wouldn't be a problem.

Neither would sleep. He'd be able to drive straight through, stopping only to fill his vehicle's tank. I'd get to Vegas first, but only by a day or so. I knew I would need more time than that.

So, before going to the airport, I set up few roadblocks for my brother and his slug. Some anonymous emails to the Russians and Chinese let them know he was driving from Vancouver to Las Vegas in a black Escalade.

They couldn't stop him, but they'd try -- especially the Chinese. They didn't yet want to believe they'd lost their great prize.

I knew these diversions meant a lot of people would die, and I wasn't happy about that. . . but my slug certainly was.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Day Fifty-Six

Day 56: 26 Sep 2010

My handlers call themselves the West Coast Syndicate, a name that is actually reasonably accurate. They started as a loose amalgamation of criminal enterprises in Los Angeles and San Diego back in the 1940s, and expanded quickly. They moved north as far as Seattle, and east as far as Las Vegas -- they control close to 70% of the criminal action in that area. And, since they found my slug and implanted him into me, they've been very good about keeping other organized criminal elements out.

When they heard that the Chinese had taken the slug to Vancouver, they sent me to obtain it if I could, kill it if I couldn't. Understandably, they don't want another one of me running around, especially not controlled by the Triads -- their main competitor. A combination of brute force and fear of their weapon (me) has kept the Triads from moving into the States until now, but no longer. My bosses think they'll use Travis to hit Seattle first, which is why they sent me. They don't know the Triads don't have Travis now.

No one has him -- he's on his own, taking orders from no one. That makes him even more dangerous, and not just to my bosses. To everyone.

At least with handlers, the damage can be contained, directed -- with a person like Travis off the chain. . .

The destruction could be biblical. Triads, Russians, West Coast Syndicate, Police -- none of them can bring him down, even hurt him. I'm not even sure the Army has a chance. Last year, I was in a car packed with bombs when the fuses got wonky --the whole thing blew. I walked out of that mess with a burned T-shirt and some messed-up shoes. That was it.

The good news is, Travis is on a mission. One of his own choosing, sure, but on a mission nonetheless. My hope is that this means his damage will be focused. Mission-oriented. That he won't simply go off the reservation and start destroying everything between him and me. I can't be sure of this, of course.

But knowing the slugs as I do. . . they're logical. Calculating, almost to a fault. And that kind of random destruction won't fit. It'll be wasted energy -- the slug knows that once he finds me, the two of us can then go rampage and kill everything.

I hope.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Day Fifty-Five

Day 55: 25 Sep 2010

When I was a kid, my brother and I used to play hide and seek. A lot. More, even, than regular kids.

When you grow up in a house without electricity, you take what entertainment you can get. Playstation just wasn't happening for us.

Anyway, he was small for his age, so he was really, really good at the hiding part of the game. Sometimes, I didn't even find him. Once I found him curled up behind the seat in dad's old 1972 Chevy pickup, wedged into the five inches between the seat and the wall.

He was never too good at the "seeking" part, though. Always got frustrated when he couldn't find me right away and gave up.

That's what I'm counting on now -- that his frustration will at least delay him while he makes his way down the coast to find me.

Of course, seeking is easier when you have a telepathic worm jacked into all your systems. Hiding's harder, because I have one, too.

In case you haven't figured it out yet, hi. I'm Jared Sykes. Up until two days ago, I was making my way up to Vancouver, Canada. Now I'm heading back down the coast, and I know Travis is following me, looking for me for what he thinks are the right reasons.

They're not, incidentally. Travis thinks he knows what he's doing, but he doesn't. He has no clue what's really going on. I do.

It started for me about three months ago, when the slug inside me let me know it was in its final stage. In other words, dying.

My slug and I never bonded the way Travis did with his, and that's the only thing that kept me -- Jared -- alive and mostly intact. The slug and I are radically different, mentally -- so much so that our personalities remained entirely separate, single entities. I'm thankful for this, because it means I have a chance to stop Travis.

Travis thinks he and his slug are working together. That he has some control, that he and the slug have become one being. But Travis' logical, ordered mind has become his handicap. It has allowed the slug to pull the wool over his eyes, to make him think he and Travis are working together for a common purpose.

They're not. The slug is firmly in control, so deep inside Travis' mind that he can make Travis believe anything he chooses to. Make him believe that the slug isn't in control, that Travis is making all of the decisions himself. It's a lie, and a dangerous one.

In my case, I've been gaining more and more control over the past three months. Before that, I was a passenger in my own body. I was unable to control much of anything, only able to watch as the slug carried out the orders of his so-called saviors. Now. . .

My slug realizes what's coming. Who's coming. He's been aware of Travis' slug since a Russian fishing boat caught it a month ago. He. . . knows the slug. Can sense its thoughts. And those thoughts. . . well, let's just say they're not philanthropic in nature.

My plan is to get back to Las Vegas. With my slug weakening daily, I'll need help -- and my slug knows where to get it.

So he tells me, anyway.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Day Fifty-Four

Day 54: 24 Sep 2010

Mr. William didn't come back into the room at all after giving me the sunglasses I asked for yesterday. I think he was afraid to, or he was planning his next move.

I was getting bored and considering leaving when he came back in. His pasted-on smile was back -- he popped two pills in his mouth as he walked in.

"For the aphasia," he said, though I didn't ask.

"We had a misunderstanding yesterday, I think. The fault was mine -- the proper respect I did not use in addressing you," he said.

"That's true."

"I would request that you please undertake a job for us."


Mr. William looked confused, of course. Here he was, expecting zombie-like loyalty. I was not as advertised on the packaging, and I knew it.

"But. . . we saved you."

"Incorrect. You just stole me."

His pasted-on smile fell away completely, and he opened his mouth to say something else.

I didn't give him the chance. He was boring me, and I took one massive swing with my right arm. My fist connected with his temple. To be honest, I wanted to see if I could knock his head off with one blow.

I did.

I stepped over what was left of Mr. William. Time to grab a car and get moving. He hadn't told me where I could find the West Coast people -- Vegas was a good start, I guessed. I'd at least seen some of them while there, and Jared, too.

Of course, figuring out where I was -- first priority right there.

Mr. William's men were. . . ineffectual. Not that they didn't try, but their best guns didn't scratch me. I tore through them. And I do mean that literally -- I ripped them apart with my hands. It was messy, violent -- glorious. But above all, it was easy.

Finding car keys was slightly more dull, but I picked Mr. William's pocket and found a set of Cadillac keys on a plain key ring. There were two Escalades outside -- the first one I tried started up. I was on the move.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Day Fifty-Three

Day 53: 23 Sep 2010

When I awoke this morning, I felt strong. Massive. Rested. Great, in other words.

I wasn't alone. Mr. William was sitting in the overstuffed chair, a smile on his face and one leg crossed over the other.

"How are you feeling?"

"Fine. Better than fine," I said. My voice was a shriek, just like Jared's.

I say "my voice," and "I said," because it's true. There is no we anymore. The slug and Travis are now just Travis. I can still hear his thoughts and he can hear mine -- but it's different. Neither of us knows whose thoughts are whose-- it's one mind now. Conflicting thoughts of a single personality. Just like any of you.

"Excellent. The first task will be to hunt down the two former friends of yours, the ones who broke in and killed my men recently. Find them and bring me their heads," Mr. William said, still grinning.

"Nope. Not doing that," I said almost instantly, smirking.

"You don't have a choice. I saved you, and I order you to do as I say." The smile had dropped from Mr. William's face now.

"Oh, pal. You have no fucking idea what's going on, do you?" I said, laughing. "Now get me a pair of sunglasses. It's too bright."

Mr. William just sat there, staring.

"Do it now," I said, "Before I rip out your worthless spine."

That moved him. Mr. William got up and scurried out of the room.

The slug and I had plenty of time to talk while we were joining. While we slept. We agreed that we owe no one -- except maybe two Russian fishermen who the Russian mob had probably already killed. We are free. And we shall do as we please.

Mr. William returned with the sunglasses, and I put them on. My eyes instantly relaxed.

"Now. . . tell me where I can find the West Coast Syndicate," I said, standing and stretching out my shoulders.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Day Fifty-Two

Day 52: 22 Sep 2010

Still we sleep. By sunrise, we will be one -- one entity; person, indivisible. And then. . .

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Day Fifty-One

Day 51: 21 Sep 2010


Monday, September 20, 2010

Day Fifty

Day 50: 20 Sep 2010

Now we enter the longest of the rest cycles as the changes become concrete and irreversible. Much sleep. But first, feeding.

I kept Travis out for the final meal -- he's handled the live animals fine, but this meal was different. The animals weren't easy to explain, but this. . . I had not yet figured how to break this one to him. I need to, however. This is principally what we'll be eating from now on, though at a much slower rate.

Once the change is complete, we'll eat less. Once every two weeks. But what we'll be eating, Travis' personality is not yet ready for.

The Chinese knew. They set it all up. On my table this morning were three human hearts -- I could smell their freshness. Knew their owners had died only minutes ago.

This will be our sustenance -- one heart every two weeks. It is not a conversation I look forward to having with Travis.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Day Forty-Nine

Day 49: 19 Sep 2010

Didn't wake up at all today -- I get the feeling the slug kept me under. He didn't talk to me at all, either. But that's OK. I know he's not too happy with me right now without him needing to say anything.

I didn't do what he said yesterday. For all of his talk about partnership, he expects me to do what I'm told when I'm told. But here's the thing -- he couldn't stop me. He couldn't make me kill Cassie and Vince.

Well, not yet. Who knows what'll happen when he gets to what he calls "full strength."

Oh, you know how else I know he's punishing me? I got to listen to this in my head all day, semi conscious:

Pyhrric victory, though. I know he had to listen to it all day, too.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Day Forty-Eight

Day 48: 18 Sep 2010

The banging didn't last long. Someone outside must have found a key card -- I heard a beep, open sesame.

Two people charged into the room -- they were backlit from the hallway, so all I expected to see was silhouettes. I saw much more.

Apparently, the slug has made me better able to see in the dark -- I could easily identify Vince and Cassie as they rushed in. Both of them were carrying assault rifles and wearing body armor.

Take them apart, the slug said. It sounded very calm.

"Nope. Not going to do that," I thought back.

They're here to kill us.

"Can they?"


"Let's find out."

I stood up and turned on the lamp at the bedside table. I raised one hand in greeting.

"Hey, kids," I said to them. "How ya' doin?"

My voice sounded almost exactly like Jared's now.

"Oh, no," Cassie said. "He's too far gone."

"Well, that's an opinion. One I don't happen to share," I told her.

"I'll do it, Cass," Vince said, raising his assault rifle.

"No," she said. "I will. It should be me."

"I know how I look and sound, but I'm OK --" I started, but I was cut off by Cassie shooting me in the chest. It hurt, but not as much as it should have.

Told you, the slug said. Now rip her in half.

"Dammit, Cass. That stung."

I said these words out loud, ignoring the slug. I looked down at my chest -- no bleeding. I had a bit of a bruise, but that was it.

"Travis? You're still in there?" Cassie said, lowering her rifle.

"Yeah. Still here."

"Come with us, kid," Vince said. "We'll get you out of here, find a way to fix you."

Without hearing the words, I knew this was something the slug wouldn't allow. We were supposed to be loyal to the Chinese. It had saved the slug, brought us together. We owed them a debt. I knew this.

"Can't," I said. "You guys have to get out of here. Forget me."

"I don't think we can go out the way we came in," Cassie said. "They've got reinforcements coming."

I could hear better now, too. Hear air blowing by outside the west wall of my room.

Fine. We won't kill them, the slug thought. Go ahead. Let them out.

I held up one finger to Cassie and Vince.

"Wait one second."

I took a running start and rammed my shoulder into the west wall. The plaster disintegrated, the brick cracked.

We're still weak. One more should do it.

I rammed the wall again and fell right through -- onto the wet grass outside.

"There's the door. Go now," I said, picking myself up.

"We can't leave you, Travis," Cassie said.

"You can't help me, either. You need to go."

If they don't leave in ten seconds, I get to eat the little one, the slug said.

"Go. Now!" I screamed. My voice scared me.

It scared Vince, too. He grabbed Cassie by the shoulder and pulled her out through the hole in the wall -- I went back inside. As I heard Cassie and Vince's footsteps go off into the night, I laid down on the bed and went to sleep.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Day Forty-Seven

Day 47: 17 Sep 2010

Travis here. I realize it might get a bit confusing -- sometimes he talks, sometimes I do. The slug, I mean. It's getting harder and harder to think of him as something separate from me -- by design, I'd guess. He once said "we are Travis." That's becoming more true each day.

So, just inside my room, there's an alarm panel. That's not the least bit surprising, right? I mean, it just makes sense that the Chinese would want to keep an eye on me, and keep their no-doubt sizable investment secure.

Woke up again this morning to feed -- live rabbits. It's not bothering me much to eat them now. Both he and I were present for that. The slug, that is. Then, sleep, as per usual.

Then, sometime late tonight, the slug woke me up. First time that had happened. And this is why:

According to the slug, we weren't up to fighting strength by his standards. By human standards, though, we were well beyond it.

So long as there aren't more than ten aggressors, we will be fine, he told me in my thoughts. Comforting, that was. And logical. Just like him.

The alarm continued to go off for a while, then went dead. I turned off all the lights in the room and crouched. We were ready.

Two minutes to midnight, the slug said. Interesting. Those words bring up others -- "I hate that song."

"Well, I do," I told the slug without speaking.

Ah. Found it. You are correct, Travis. It is a bad sound.

"Told you."

As the clock ticked over to midnight, we heard banging on our door. We tensed our muscles and waited.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Day Forty-Six

Day 46: 16 Sep 2010

There is only one true god, and I am of him. However, many, many years ago, there were two pretenders. This was back when you humans had barely formed your first cities in your ancient world. There is my father -- the one true god. The god of the sea.

But there was also a creature who fancied himself the god of the air, and another, the god of the land. This is the reason beings like me -- slugs, Travis says -- came to be. The "god" of the air could not strike at my father directly. Nor could the so-called god of the land -- my father was underwater, and they could not go to him. Neither could he go to them.

Then there was your species -- on the most neutral ground we could conceive, the land. My father created us -- his armies of the sea. The two pretenders learned similar methods, turning humans to their own causes. We each fought armies of the others' making.

This happened for years -- many of your years.

Are you familiar with the term "Pyhrric Victory?"

Look it up.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Day Forty-Five

Day 45: 15 Sep 2010

Yeah, I saw the dead half-deer. Didn't bother me as much as it probably should have. It was the front half. Maybe if it still had its eyes, it would have freaked me out, but as it was, I barely reacted. Kind of a "meh" moment, really.

So I've been out for two days, three hours, four minutes. The slug keeps accurate time, or at least, he's very aware of the time. I also can see whatever he saw during the time I was out, if I choose. He's not hiding anything from me, not restricting my thoughts. I would have expected the exact opposite, but so far, this whole experience hasn't been anything like I thought it might be.

It's almost like he wants a partnership, not a host body. He's got a personality, that slug -- pragmatic, logical. Angry, sure. But he doesn't let the anger control him. He's a thinker. That's why we get along, I guess. We're kind of alike.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Day Forty-Four

Day 44: 14 Sep 2010

Busy day. Not much time to add to Travis' memory. Using most of his brainpower.

They brought a deer. Ate half, stored half. Hope Travis doesn't decide to wake up and see it -- won't do him any good. He'll get used to it eventually.

Kept working on the bones today. Your bones are so brittle, so much airspace. Also continued on the skin. It's harder now. Scalier.

All right, that's enough for today. Work to do, and not much time to do it -- I sense another is out there.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Day Forty-Three

Day 43: 13 Sep 2010

Two persons, one body. Interesting. Like the three persons, one god idea my host Travis was raised to believe. Of course, I know that there is only one god -- I am of him.

I realized that Travis was keeping a place in his mind for just this. Just to keep track of the events that brought us together. I don't know what is to be served by that, by the telling of the story. Still, it seems important to him in some way, so I did not touch that part of his mind. Merely looked around, as you might say.

Travis. . .part of him couldn't handle today. He put himself to sleep, though he thinks I did. It was the day they brought live food. According to Travis' visual memory, the animals were raccoons. We ate them without a thought, twitching and bleeding down our chin. That's when Travis put himself to sleep, leaving me to finish off the rodents myself. And they were good.

Ah, the telling. Story. What we did today. Travis, as you know, slept. I increased our muscle capacity and continued growing the bone plates in our torso. The skin is nearly complete, but the eyes are not cooperating.

And it's too hot in here.

Travis does not want to return. He wishes to stay asleep. He will wake, though. I am sure of it. He and I are one now -- two persons, one god.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Day Forty-Two

Day 42: 12 Sep 2010

All I remember about today is about five or ten seconds of it. I was telling Mr. William to go fuck himself. Thing is, I don't know if it was me saying it, or if it was the slug.

I do know that my voice sounded really strange, though. Stranger even than the last time I heard it. It was still raspy, but now had a screeching quality to it, much like Jared's voice.

Guess I should have seen that one coming.

Oh, one other thing I noticed in those five or ten seconds -- it was bright. Too bright. Like someone moved a whole bunch of photographer's lights into the room while I was sleeping. I wasn't happy about that at all.

Come to think of it, maybe that's why I was suggesting that Mr. William go off somewhere and have intercourse with himself. Mystery solved, I guess.

No dreaming today. Straight from "go fuck yourself" to unconscious. Guess Sluggo didn't want to talk. Though I get the feeling it wasn't that -- it was that he was busy with other things. As I said, there was no communication from him. But I still got the impression that he was there, and he was working on. . . something. Something having to do with my skin.

What it was, I have no idea.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Day Forty-One

Day 41: 11 Sep 2010

Not a great day, self-esteem-wise.

I don't actually remember anything about yesterday at all. That "hungry" from yesterday was smeared on the wall of my cozy little cell in blood when I woke up today. I know. Charming, innit?

Mr. William tells me I did that with the remains from yesterday's raw-meat buffet, but I don't remember it. Which means. . .

My buddy Sluggo is learning to speak English. Seems like kind of a jump, doesn't it? I mean, I've been in Bat Country for days.

I could have done it and just been too wasted to remember it, right?

I thought so too, until after I ate (more raw meat) today. As per the last few days, I felt extremely tired. Unlike the last few days, I was pretty much in control of my actions, though.

I sprawled out on the bed, closed my eyes, and went to sleep.

The dream -- or communing -- was completely different this time. I saw nothing, as usual -- but the screeching and wailing was gone, replaced by a voice. It sounded like mine, but. . . not. Stranger. Modulated down, mechanized.

"Hey, Travis," the voice said.


"Interesting language you've got. Simple, but not. Things aren't spelled properly. Phonetically."

"Um, yeah. I suppose so."

"I'm learning. Pulling things from your mind. Ideas. Memories. That's how I can speak to you now."

"Do you have a name?"

"No. I do not. Since we're the same now, I am Travis. Like you."

"What is it you want?"

"Later. I need to access your mind. You'll be asleep."

And so I was.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Day Forty

Day 40: 10 Sep 2010


Thursday, September 9, 2010

Day Thirty-Nine

Day 39: 09 Sep 2010

Woke up. Hungry. Plate of raw meat -- liver -- was waiting for me. Tore through it like mad.

"Morning. How are we feeling?"

It was Mr. William. May have grunted something in his general direction -- don't remember.

"Good. Eat. The protein, the slug will use to augment your musculature."

Didn't even bother to grunt at that. Sure of it. Finished eating. Sleepy. Sat down on the couch and closed my eyes.

* * *

Dreaming again. No, not dreaming. Communing. Yes, that was it. The slug and I. Communing.

Couldn't understand him just yet -- yes, it's a him. But I got the feeling he understood me. Knew me.

He was angry. I understood that without needing his words. Full of rage, but not at me. At humans. Normal ones. Everyone but me and Jared.

Then my brain went offline, lulled to sleep by the comforting screeching and wailing.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Day Thirty-Eight

Day 38: 08 Sep 2010

Woke up this morning feeling different. I'd been exhausted for days, but now, I was full of energy.

Also, I woke up standing, which was kind of a dead give-away that something had changed.

I wasn't alone in my own body anymore. I knew it as soon as my eyes opened. Sometime during the night, they'd implanted the slug while I was sleeping. I was angry, but. . .

But I also felt great. Strong. Fast. Heavy, but light on my feet -- massive. And hungry.

Mr. William came in seconds later. He wore a smile on his face and a $3000 suit on the rest of him.

"Ah, awake finally. How do you feel?"

"Hungry," I said. My voice sounded weird -- raw and raspy. Talking was hard.

"This I thought might happen. See the breakfast I have brought you."

He opened the door, and one of the Chinese guys walked in with a plate piled high with uncooked steak. He set it down on the table. Before I realized what was happening, I was tearing them apart with my bare hands and shoving them down my throat.

"Excellent. Eat up. Only a very short time will you be awake each day for a while -- you will need to feed yourself heavily before you sleep."

I wanted to say something back, but the desire to eat -- to feed -- was much stronger than the desire to talk. Mr. William left. I finished off all of the steaks -- even ate the bones -- and sat down on the bed. In moments, I was asleep.

* * *

Dreaming. Or not. Wasn't sure.

Something trying to speak. To communicate. Its words -- not words, they were nonverbal -- made no sense. Sounds of screeching and wailing. Should have been unpleasant, but wasn't -- comforting. Relaxing. Like humid Florida summer air.

One sound repeated in the chaos. A name? A question I couldn't answer? The sound was all consonants. Unpronounceable. But. . . angry.

Then, no more dreaming. Just quiet, and calm.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Day Thirty-Seven

Day 37: 07 Sep 2010

One thing I can tell you -- wherever it is they're holding me, it's close to the sea. I can smell it.

That scent of salt and decay -- tide must be out -- has been a constant in my life since I was a little kid, so I know it instantly. I guessed we were no more than twenty miles inland from the ocean or at least a bay or gulf -- but which one? I had no real idea. I don't know how long they had me in the van, or how long I was out after the Thunderbird met its end. Could be anywhere, I guess.

This room was better equipped than the one the Russians had me in. There's a bed and a small couch, for starters, which is nice. Also, as I mentioned, there's a TV. An armchair and small table round out the furnishings, but there's yet another bonus. A bathroom. It's separated from the main room by what looks like a thick shower curtain, but the fact that it's there puts this place way up.

You know, as hostage accommodations go.

They're feeding me better, too. One of the Chinese guys from the van comes in twice a day. So far, I've had Chinese, Mexican, and Italian -- takeout, I think. Still, better than the cholesterol sandwiches the Russians had.

So, I've established that the prison was a bit nicer -- but it's still a prison, and I'm still not in any way happy to be here. At least this time, I know why they took me. And if Dane was right, these are probably the guys who have the slug.


Had a visitor at some point today -- I'm not sure of the time. He came in, smiled, and sat in the armchair. He wasn't Chinese. Or, at least he didn't look Chinese -- I heard him talk to a guard on his way in. He definitely sounded Chinese, but he was tall. About my height, six feet or so. His skin wasn't olive, more of a pale gray. His hair was salt-and-pepper, though he was young.

"Mr. Travis," he said, motioning me to sit across from him on the couch. "Pleased to have you here, we all are."

"Mr. William."

"That I am. Are they keeping you comfortably?"

"Well enough."

Mr. William's tone was the same as always -- soft and steady. His English, while fucked up grammatically, was accentless.

"That is something I am pleased of," he said, smiling again.

"I would ask what you want, but I'm pretty sure I know the answer," I said.

"A smart boy, you are. Tomorrow the package arrives. After bonding, about two weeks you will be ineffective. We will see to your needs during that time."

"Oh, goody."

"You joke. But much looking after you'll need. We will provide this to you, as you will soon provide services for us."

"Against who?"

"The West Coast Syndicate, initially. For years have we been trying to move south into the US via the West Coast. Unsuccessfully. Around Vancouver, your brother keeps us stalled. Neutralizing that advantage shall be your first service to us."

"Not likely."

"That we will discuss later. I am expected today at many meetings, but breakfast in the morning will have us meet again. Sleep well."

Still smiling, Mr. William stood, doffed an imaginary hat in my direction, and left.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Day Thirty-Six

Day 36: 06 Sep 2010

Not in any better mood today, but I have to relay what happened out in the desert. It's wrong not to.

Besides, I've got plenty of time. After a long drive, the Chinese guys threw me into a room with no windows and no door handle. So I'm not going anywhere for a while.

Vince was right -- there was a chopper yesterday morning, and it was pretty fucking big. I don't know helicopters, so I can't tell you what it was, but it was bigger than Vince's house.

As soon as he saw it, Vince moved. He threw aside a rug and pulled up a few boards, revealing an impressively scary cache of automatic weapons. He handed me a big gun.

"Ever use one of these before?"

"Some rifles when I was a kid. Nothing like this."

"It's an M249 SAW, so it's belt-fed. That means you got a lotta bullets. When the shooting starts, just keep firing till you run out. There'll be another one behind you."

I nodded and picked up the gun -- it was heavy. Everyone else grabbed guns, too, but it looked like they all knew how to use them. A voice shouted down at us from the chopper -- a loudspeaker, I think. The voice was soft, flat. It spoke in rapid Chinese.

"Cass? What the hell did he just say?" I asked.

"I don't fucking know. I'm from Minnesota, jerk. Do you think we all know kung fu, too?"

The voice came down again -- this time, in English.

"We want only Mr. Travis, understand? The rest of you may depart."

I recognized it now -- the soft voice, the fucked-up word order. It was Mr. William.

"Dane, let's answer the man," Vince said.

He lifted a massive gun to his shoulder -- a bigger gun than mine, even -- and opened fire. The chopper instantly started shooting. Huge bullets tore through the center of the room, hitting no one, but making a very clear statement.

"Shit. Miniguns," Vince said.

"They didn't seem too mini to me," I said.

"They have us outgunned. Cassie, you take Travis and get out of here," Vince said. "Dane and I will draw their fire."

"I hate this plan," Dane said, bringing up his own machine gun.

"Come on, Travis. Move. We've got about five seconds."

I ran after Cassie, still holding my gun, and followed her out the back door to the Thunderbird. As she started the engine, I could hear Dane and Vince firing on the helicopter. We tore away, and I looked out the rearview mirror. I could see the chopper dumping an impossible amount of bullets on the cabin. Dane and Vince weren't firing anymore.

"Are they --"

"Dead? Probably," Cassie said, slamming the pedal to the floor. The speedometer needle crept up past 125 miles an hour. I looked in the rearview again -- the chopper was after us now. I couldn't see the cabin anymore.

"Shit. They're too damn fast. I'll never be able to outrun 'em in a straight line," Cassie said. "Hang on."

She ratcheted the wheel to the left, hard and fast. I almost flew out the open passenger window.

"Don't just sit there. Shoot at them!" she yelled, so I stuck the gun out the window. Before I could pull the trigger, the chopper opened up, shredding the back half of the T-bird. We veered off, flipped, and. . .

Well, I don't remember much after that, except waking up in the van all pissed off. I have to assume they killed Cassie, too. So you can see why I was in a bad mood yesterday.

Today -- just sitting around in a blank room. Again. At least this one has TV. See? Of course, I don't understand a word of it.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Day Thirty-Five

Day 35: 05 Sep 2010

I don't want to talk about it. Seriously. Maybe tomorrow, when I'm not in such a crappy mood. Right now -- no. Right now I'm just pissed off, sitting in the back of a van with two Chinese guys with guns pointed at me. We're going. . . shit.

Truth is, I don't know where we're going.

I don't know if I even give a fuck anymore.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Day Thirty-Four

Day 34: 04 Sep 2010

My time on watch started out boring enough, sure. Three hours of staring at the empty desert at night. Not a hell of a lot to see there. No, the interesting part came around 3:15 in the morning, when my BlackBerry rang.

That was odd. Usually, a phone ringing would be about the most normal thing in the world, but in my case, it was strange -- my phone was off. We'd all shut our phones down when we left Las Vegas. Well, Vince shut mine down for me, as I was kind of unconscious at the time. When I woke for my first watch, he let me know my phone was off and told me that even if we didn't use them, they could be tracked. If the phone was powered on, he said, someone who really knew what he was doing could pull our location from the GPS chip.

There was no way my phone could turn itself on. Hell, its battery should have been dead by now, anyway. But it wasn't. Obviously.

I didn't recognize the number. There wasn't one -- it just read "PRIVATE." That made me think of the creepy phone call weeks before. That guy Mr. William, with the eerily calm voice and the fucked-up word order.

I didn't answer it, of course. I'm not an idiot. As soon as it stopped ringing, I pulled the battery out and chucked it across the room.

Vince was a light sleeper, it turns out. No sooner had the battery left my hand than he rushed into the room.

"I heard a phone. Did you turn your phone back on?" he said.

"No. It came on by itself, and rang. I yanked the battery as soon as I heard it."

"You did the right thing. Remote power-on? Never heard of that happening before."

"As near as I know, it should be impossible," I said.

"Go wake Cassie," Vince told me. "I'll try to rouse Dane. We need all hands on deck -- I think we're going to have company very soon."

I went to Cassie's room. Her lights were out, and she was out cold. I shook her shoulder gently, but no luck. I shook harder -- nothing.

"Cassie," I said.

She bolted up in bed immediately.

"What? What is it?"

"Someone broke through to my cell line. Vince thinks they're coming.


"No idea. Didn't answer the phone."

"The Chinese," Vince said, passing by the door, Dane following behind.

"How do you know that?" I asked.

"Just makes sense. Most of your phone was made in China. The Triads have their fingers in. . ."

"Pretty much everything," Cassie finished his sentence. "He's probably right. Vince? You got guns?"

Vince just laughed.

"Cass, I got more guns here than most National Guard bases."

We waited. And waited some more. Waited all day, actually. Nothing. The same empty desert we'd all been staring at for three days.

Then, at two minutes to midnight, Vince suddenly froze.

"Quiet!" Vince hissed, his hand going up in the air, interrupting a low-level argument between Cassie and Dane about some restaurant they both frequented in Vegas.

Everyone froze, just like Vince, and no one made a sound. I heard a low, droning noise, but just barely. Vince put his hand down.

"Chopper," he whispered, "and it's big."

Friday, September 3, 2010

Day Thirty-Three

Day 33: 03 Sep 2010

Dane got disgustingly sick after his watch today. He claims it was the MREs, but we've all been eating them. None of us are sick.

Vince doped him up with some Benadryl, and after he passed out informed us that we'd have longer watches.

"Some sleep'll do him some good," Vince said. "Travis, you're midnight to eight now. Cassie, eight to four. I'll take the rest."

That meant two hours less free time, which actually turned out to be a good thing, as I'd already plowed through all Vince's books. They weren't very interesting, anyway -- outdoors stuff. Survival manuals. Military histories. The guy wasn't too complex, I guess.

Sleep was dreamless and fitful, thanks to the 110 degree temperature today. When I reported for night watch, I felt like a zombie. I took over from Vince and sat my ass on the couch. He nodded and headed back to his room. I was ready for another boring night.

That isn't what I got.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Day Thirty-Two

Day 32: 02 Sep 2010

Not much to report today. Did my watch from midnight to six, and didn't fall asleep this time, thankfully. Ate some MREs and drank a lot of water. Bitched about the heat. Made a couple trips to the outhouse. Listened to Cassie bitch. She wasn't a huge fan of the outhouse situation (not that I blame her). Read a book. Sweated and wished for a shower.

All told, it was like a subpar day at a budget summer camp -- boring. Still, I guess it beats being shot at or chased.

I guess.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Day Thirty-One

Day 31: 01 Sep 2010

Vince woke me up at around midnight.

"Your watch," he said. "Midnight to six a.m."

"Right on. Uh. . . I've never done a watch before. I assume it means look out the windows?"

Vince grinned and chuckled.

"Better. Come take a look."

He led me out into the living room, where he had a small power pack hooked up to a notebook computer. The screen had a grid on it.

"I've got tumblers set up two miles out in all directions. We're three miles from the closest road, so any car will trip them. If any of these areas beeps and goes red, come get me. If you see headlights, come get me. If you hear a helicopter or plane --"

"Come get you?"

"Right. Should be a quiet night. The wind's been decent today, should have blown away our tire tracks," he said. "Your worst problem'll be staying awake -- I have some energy drinks in the cooler if you start to flag."

"OK. Got it," I said.

"Wake Dane up at six, and he'll take over for you," Vince said as he headed back to one of the rooms. "Remember, anything happens --"

"Come get you."

"Good man."

Nothing happened. No choppers, no cars, no beeping from the computer. Just Dane snoring. He wasn't even snoring that loud, just one of those shallow, quiet snorts every now and again. It was the only sound in the house. Naturally, it started to get on my nerves.

I chugged a Monster about three in the morning, trying to ignore its horrible taste. It was probably better chilled, but it was barely room-temperature, as the cooler had no ice in it. Therefore, it kinda sucked.

I tried to run over the last couple of days in my mind, but I couldn't focus on anything. My mind didn't so much wander, though. It had just shut down. I started staring out the window for a few minutes, then at the computer for a few more. My brain was blank.

Then, suddenly, it wasn't. Suddenly, I was at a beach -- not one in Wilmington, or even North Carolina. This beach had mountains. And it was cold out -- I could see my breath.

Jared was there, all bulked up like I'd seen him when he killed the Russians. He was wearing sunglasses, though it wasn't bright out.

"Hey, little brother," he said. His voice was the one he'd always had. It wasn't that horrorshow screech I'd heard a few days ago.

"Hey, J."

"You should never have come to Las Vegas, Travis. It made it easier for them to find you."

"Yeah, I know. But I had to find you."

"Why? Not like you can do anything for me."

"But you're still in there."

"Part of me is. It's not the part that's driving most of the time. The rest of me. . . sleeps."

"Look, J. Just tell me what I'm supposed to do."

"Well, now you should probably wake up. I can talk to you sometimes. . . but only when it's sleeping. It'll wake up soon, and then they'll try to use it to find you."

"I'm asleep?"

"We both are."

"What is 'it,' exactly?"

Jared shrugged and took off his sunglasses. His eyes, from sclera to pupil, were completely black.

"You would call us god," he said, his voice rising to the screaming howl it had been before.

I woke up with a start, sweating. My right leg jerked, kicking the empty Monster can across the floor.

It was silent in the small house except for Dane's snoring. I looked at the old clock on the wall -- 6:10 a.m. I wandered off to wake Dane.

The rest of the day was painfully uneventful. I talked with Dane for about an hour as he stood watch. He told me he was a physical anthropologist -- I don't know what that is. I nodded anyway.

"So, I have a question for you," Dane said.

"What's that?"

"I was looking through some of the stories. You know, people before who held the slug. There was one guy in the 1800s -- Luther Fenworth was his name -- he had it for two years. In his accounts, he talks about being called to the ocean. About the thing speaking to him in dreams. Is that happening to you?"

"I've had. . . a dream. And I always feel more comfortable when I can see the ocean. Always have."

"Interesting," Dane said. He scratched his chin.

"That's it? 'Interesting' is all you have to say?"

"Well, Luther didn't write anything after. . . y'know. He mainly just killed a lot of people."

"Outstanding," I groaned. "I'm gonna go read a book or something."