Archive for September, 2010

We Call it Ground Work.

September 30, 2010
  1. Who is Osiris Flint? By profession, he’s the United States’ Government’s Man of Action! This means that he’s a one man army who takes care of villains both foreign and domestic. Except now he’s getting old. It’s 1937 and he’s 67. His body aches and groans, it betrays him, and he has really bad tremors (it’s unclear whether the tremors are caused by his fringe alcoholism). The supplements and serums that the government has prescribed no longer seem to make much difference against the entropic effects of aging.He wears a mask to hide his identity. (He has never taken the mask off in the company of others since he first tied it on in 1894.) He lives alone in a penthouse apartment in the Upper East Side of New Amsterdam (it’s New York City, only in a slightly alternate timeline [one in which Lincoln was never assassinated]). Flint is a super hero in name only, he has no super powers… merely his keen intellect and physical prowess. He wields a revolver, but the Government forbids him to kill anyone. He dives an Indian motorcycle, a customized Scout modified with a cowcatcher on the front.
    His once impeccable and imposing physical frame is succumbing to gravity.
  2. There will also be 1894 Osiris, who is only just beginning his role as the US Gov’t Man of Action. Everything is new to him. He’s in prime physical condition thanks to his participation in the US Government’s Man Of Action Program (Although he was enrolled as a newborn, Osiris is only made aware of his participation in 1894. He’s the 1st participant in the program). He relishes the idea of wearing a mask and stopping evil. He embraces the occupation of Hero and Adventurer. He sees himself as invulnerable. Pride comes before the fall.
  3. 1937 Osiris wants out. He wants to take off the mask and walk through the streets of New Amsterdam in the daylight. He wants the life that he feels cheated out of. He wants his life peopled with more than just government agents and villains. He wants to have real friends without having to worry about their safety (He learned the perils of attachment the hard way). And though it’s impossible, and many years have gone by, he wants Cassandra back.
  4. 1894 Osiris wants to be the best he can be at his job. He wants to fulfill every task the Government gives him. He wants to save the day. He wants to save the world. He wants to fully express his love to Cassandra. He wants to find the balance between being a hero and being an average citizen.
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Room of Doom

September 21, 2010

The beginning of April was spent in the Eastern portion of Ukraine. Since my school had suffered a quarantine (remember that? It seems like so long ago,) the administration decided to merge our Easter break and our spring break. This placed my vacation at an awkward Wednesday (of one week) to Friday (of the next.) I caught the nearest thing that the railway of Ukraine has to a Red Eye and shipped out.

The Red Eye train is actually a combination of two trains. It departs Lviv at 7:30PM and arrives in Kyiv at 5:30AM. There is then a hour wait before I jump onto an “express” train from Kyiv to Kharkiv. The “express” train arrives at noon. From Kharkiv I took a bus to Slavyansk, the large city near Raihorodok (which is where my friend Travis lives, and where I would spend my break.)

Now, let’s get something clear:
I like to say that I live in a village. And at 7000 people (small for Ukraine) I am usually justified.
But Travis lives in a VILLAGE. I think there are maybe 5000 people there on a good day. He has no gas. He draws his water from a well. He has an outhouse.
People like to give Travis a hard time because he smells like campfire. Well, that’s probably because he heats his house with a coal/wood burning contraption called a pechka. Yep, he has to shovel the coal (but not before he sifts out the pig iron) and chop his own firewood. In fact, after my twelve days there, I smelled like campfire too. I also just smelled bad.

Since Travis has no running water, the act of bathing is a time-consuming activity. We drew the water from his well (and if my computer weren’t dead, I could post pictures of this… damn) and then put the water on his electric hot plate. Once the water was heated, we poured it into a big metal tub. And once there was enough water, we, one by one, sloshed around and tried to come clean. What really happens is that you get really soapy and then fail to rinse off completely. It’s not clean.

We “celebrated” Easter in Travis’s village, which meant that his students gave us several loaves of Pasky (sweet Easter bread) which we ate. We also had some hard boiled eggs. That was the extent of our Easter celebration.

Our time passed in the village. Travis and I ran a few times. We had dinner with his host family. We had another dinner with his host family’s grandparents. I went to Travis’s school. It’s a lot like mine. He’s got some students who care and a lot of students who don’t.

On the day before Travis and I were going to leave the village and go to Kyiv, we were in Slavyansk. While using the internet there, we met one of the students who had been at Travis’s camp last summer. She was excited to see us and wanted us to come with her and meet her friends. Travis and I have decided that we’ll never turn down a free lunch (read into that as meaning we don’t say no to a possible adventure) and so we said yes. We finished up our internet business and then followed Alyona, her name.

Alyona led us down a street away from the internet cafe. We thought we would be meeting with her friends outside of the cafe, perhaps in the square. This was apparently not the case. Nervously, I asked where it was that we were going. Alyona responded that we would see.
Travis and I exchanged looks.
She veered off of the main street and walked us down an alley.
Travis and I exchanged looks.
“I think we might die,” Travis said.
I nodded. We continued down the alleyway and emerged into the courtyard of an apartment block. There were several “business” fronts around the courtyard. They shared entrances with the apartments themselves.
“Where are we going?” Travis asked.
“We’re going to my friend’s apartment. Sergey wants to meet you,” she said.
Travis and I exchanged looks.
We entered an apartment and ascended the stairs. “Who is Sergey?” Travis pressed.
“My friend who wants to meet you,” she said.
Travis and I exchanged gulps.

///Allow me to interject. This is the kind of crap that happens in horror stories, or in the Twilight Zone. Real people don’t actually get led into crazy apartments where they are then ritually slaughtered by men named Sergey. Not real people.///

We entered an apartment, but did not enter an apartment. The apartment was just a long hallway with doors on both sides. It seemed to take up the entire floor of the building. On the door opposite from the entrance was a sign. The sign had a Triangle on it and the name “Meridian International Group” From down the hall came a woman. She smiled at the three of us and said (in Russian)”Travis, Casey, nice to see you. Please come this way.”
Travis and I exchanged gulps.
“Um, how does she know our names?” I asked.
“Where the hell are we?” Travis asked.
“What’s going to happen here?” I asked.

Travis turned to Alyona and asked (in Russian) “What do you want with us?” (exact translation)
Alyona just smiled.
So, we were obviously confused. We were obviously worried. And we were obviously aware that there was not going to be a free lunch.
We were led into a room that was maybe ten feet by eight feet. There were four desks around the walls and there was a person at a computer at three of the four desks.

Travis leaned over to me and said, “This is the kind of room in which you usually end up selling your soul to the devil.”
I nodded.

We were told to sit at the open desk. We did. There were posters all over the walls. Some of them were the triangle logo. Others were photos of people with labels like “Crystal Member” and “Gold Member.”

Alyona and the woman sat across the desk from us. Travis and I were sitting in the corner with our backs to the wall. We were trapped, at the mercy of whatever foul intentions the people in the room might have had. The woman smiled at me and said (in Russian), “So, Casey, you are from Lviv, no? How do you like the East?”

I looked at Travis, a look that meant why does she know I’m from Lviv?
“The East is nice. I have been here before. My Russian is not so good, but it is nice,” I returned the smile, weakly.
(in Russian)”Alyona, who is this woman?” Travis asked.
“She is my mother,” Alyona responded.
(in Russian)”And what are we doing here?” Travis asked.
“Our friend, Sergey, would like to meet with you.”

Travis and I turned to look at Sergey. He was a tall, skinny man with a greasy black ponytail. His adam’s apple extended as far as his nose. And at the end of his long fingers were long fingernails (I’m not making that up, I swear.) Sergey was currently in the middle of a conversation with two young men. He was speaking to them about something (very quickly, and my Russian is not very good) and they were listening silently.
“How do you like our business?” Alyona’s mother asked.
“Business?” Travis replied.
She indicated the photos on the walls. “Many of them are from Russia. It is a good business. Sergey would like to talk with you.”
Travis looked at me, “Do you realize what this place is?”
I nodded, “Pyramid scheme.”

////Pyramid schemes are blowing up all over Ukraine. The idea of a big payoff for little work is attractive to Ukrainians. Whether it is perfume, makeup, or vitamins, in almost every village/town/city there are people peddling their wares. My post office is always full of boxes from Avon and Oriflame. I confiscated over a dozen Avon catalouges from my students last semester. The schemes are everywhere, and apparently they had set their sights on us////

It then became clear that Sergey and all of the other people in the room were selling something or convincing others to sell something. “Travis, we should get out of here,” I said.
He nodded and said (in Russian) “We have to go. We’re meeting a friend soon and do not want to be late.”
Alyona’s mother nodded and said, “Just one moment. Sergey really wants to meet with you.”
“Who is Sergey?” Travis asked.
“Sergey is a professor of Ukrainian Sciences,” she responed, as though that explained everything. It didn’t. I still don’t know what a Professor of Ukrainian Sciences would do.
Alyona’s mother then stood up at moved over to Sergey. She said something to him, I assume about hurrying up his salespitch.

At that point, Travis and I exchanged looks and stood up. (in Russian) “We really have to go. Maybe another time?” Travis said as we pressed our way to the door.
Sergey stood up and moved into our path. He said, in English, “I would really like to meet with you. It would be interesting for me. When is the next time that you will be in Slavyansk?”
Travis shrugged, “Maybe in a few weeks?”

“Please, come back here so that we might meet. In a few weeks,” Sergey offered his hand. It was moist and limp, but we each shook his hand. We smiled at Alyona and her mother, said thank you and then backed out of the room. Once we were out of the apartment and into the stairwell, we broke into a run. We took the stairs four steps at a time. We did not stop running until we reached the square.

We survived with our lives.
The rest of April passed without incident.

(This is a blog post from one of my former lives. I’d almost forgotten about this wild, skin-of-our-teeth adventure. Are you new to my catalogue and want to see more of this previous life? [or perhaps you just want to revisit the path that I once walked] Walk This Way)

Cairo, 1894

September 20, 2010

The waxing moon cast a weak light over the abandoned streets of Cairo. It was three in the morning and the city was asleep. The heat of the day had abated and a cool wind blew, kicking up dust and dried palm leaves. Doors were bolted against intruders, but windows were left ajar to catch the breeze. And in a certain building at the end of a certain street, a light burned in a second-story window.

Several large rats were on the street below the window, and they busied themselves with the fallen debris of the previous day. Suddenly, the rats froze. Their ears perked up and their whiskers twitched instinctively. Though there had been no sound audible to a man’s ear, the delicate sensors of the rats had detected furtive movements. Their fight-or-flight mechanism kicked in and, knowing that there would be scraps elsewhere, the three rats scurried away to the safer darkness between buildings.

The rats’ senses proved correct, and the cause of their flight appeared moments after the rats had fled. Two men slinked silently from the shadowy street opposite the lighted window. They were big men, but not muscle-bound. Their lithe forms, wrapped from head to toe in black fabric, moved like smoke over water. The black fabric on their foreheads was adorned with a silver pyramid, but there were no other markings on their bodies.

Their eyes reflected the moonlight, but only one man had the dark eyes of the race of pharaohs. The other man’s eyes were a vibrant blue, more befitting a northern race. Their legs were slightly bent, and they moved quickly toward the lit window. Their hands were empty and held out from their sides as though to prevent collision, but each man had two, formidably sized knives strapped to a baldric across his chest.

The lowing of a camel shattered the night’s silence and the two men threw themselves to the ground. In the pale moonlight, their prostrate forms looked like little more than shadows on the street. When no camel or man approached, the two men returned to their feet. They nodded at one another and continued toward the building.

They reached their goal and wasted no time with the ground floor. They did not try to force the door or either of the lower-level windows. Instead, they began to scale the flat surface of the building. They pressed themselves to the wall and climbed hand over hand, moving like the desert lizards that were often found skittering along walls and ceilings. In almost no time the two men were at the lit window. The first man poured himself over the window’s edge and into the building. The second man followed behind him.

The room was empty save for an oil lamp on a table near the window.

And a masked man.

He leaned casually against the wall, as though he had been waiting for them. Behind the mask, the man’s green eyes flashed furiously. The sharp lines of his face gave way to a smirk and he pushed himself off of the wall. Standing straight, he was an intimidating sight: The man was easily six feet tall and looked chiseled out of stone. The spread of his broad chest and shoulders stretched his oxford shirt to its limit, and the rolled-up sleeves revealed the cords and tendons of his forearms. He held a snub-nosed revolver in his right hand.

“Only the two of you?” His voice was deep, but calm, “You should have brought more.” He crouched slightly and beckoned the two men with a wave of his left hand.

In a flash, the dark-eyed intruder drew his knives and rushed at the masked man. The masked man also lunged forward, raising his left hand above his head. His fist struck the intruder underneath the jaw, and the intruder reeled backwards. As the dark-eyed intruder fell backwards, the blue-eyed intruder slashed with his knives. The first knife caught the masked man on the thigh and his canvas pants bloomed red with blood. But the masked man did not stagger; he feinted to dodge the second knife and swiped at the blue-eyed intruder with his revolver. The intruder leapt back and the barrel of the revolver hit only air, causing the masked man to lose his balance. He tottered forward, but caught himself from crashing to the floor.

The dark-eyed intruder raised himself from the floor. He shook his head once and lifted the knife in his left hand, making to throw it. Wary of the blue-eyed intruder to his right, the masked man turned quickly on the balls of his feet and leveled the revolver at the dark-eyed intruder. He pulled the trigger twice, the gun’s reports were nearly deafening in the small room. The first bullet buzzed past the intruder’s head and punched into the wall behind him, but the second shot caught the man in the throat. The intruder gasped and sputtered, his dark eyes going wide. The knives clattered from his hands as his body dropped to the floor.

From the corner of his eye, the masked man saw the other intruder moving at him. The masked man ducked and pivoted, and then brought his bloodied right leg up to plant it into the intruder’s midsection. With a wheeze, the blue-eyed intruder doubled over and dropped his knives. The masked man followed him to the floor and drove his knee into the intruder’s chest. There was a crack as the man’s ribs broke under the pressure, but the intruder did not cry out in pain.

The masked man’s hand trembled slightly as he aimed the revolver at his foe’s head. “You’ve seen that I’m not afraid to pull the trigger. But dead men can’t talk and I’m going to need some answers.”

“I’ll say nothing. To die in the service of The Sphinx is a great honor.” The voice of the intruder was flat. His blue eyes were emotionless.

The masked man flipped the gun in his hand and struck the intruder’s temple with the revolver’s handle. The intruder’s blue eyes rolled back into his head. “I might be new to this, but I’ll get you to talk. Don’t let anybody tell you that Osiris Flint can’t learn on the fly.”