Dream Fragment: The Scarred Man
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Davin risked a peek out the western window of his apartment. They were all slatted up, of course, with blackout cloth behind them; you had to move the heavy drapes aside to get a good look between the boards, and that meant taking a chance at being seen. Bug opticals were getting better; going outside without using the tunnels meant certain death now, and even the hint of motion in one of the tall buildings' windows risked bombardment with gouts of mineral acid.

But it was worth the risk -- looking. From the vantage of his apartment, Davin had spotted many a bug at their most vulnerable: when they were cocooning themselves for the transition. A person in a tall building could do a lot of damage to the bugs if he could call them in. There wasn't enough firepower left in the present to hurt a bug, but in the past...

Davin squinted between the slats. Something green and glowing was moving on the top of a building two blocks to the north. Davin watched it for a long time, wanting to be certain. Yes, it was definitely a bug starting the cocooning process. It was a fifty foot monster, deadly and ravenous, but for eighteen hours it would be wrapped in a shell, transitioning into something much worse. For eighteen hours it could be destroyed, if Davin could let the past know exactly where and when it was.

Davin memorized the bug's exact location, then carefully eased the blackout cloth back into place. His well-worn pain journal sat on the table, its spine having given way entirely and the whole thing held together by three binder-clips. Davin thumbed through it, contemplating his options for past contact. Many of them had been used already; he had checked these off carefully with a felt-tip marker. Each pain conduit worked, but only once.

Davin found an entry that hadn't yet been checked off. "Fishhook-shaped cut, left thumb," he read to himself. "Facing bathroom mirror. Straight razor." He had made the entry twelve years earlier, obsessively recording the moments when he had deliberately inflicted pain on himself. At the time he hadn't known why he had done it. Or perhaps he had known on some subconscious level -- that what he was doing made no sense, but was nevertheless important.

The scar was right where Davin had recorded it - a white, irregular question-mark just inside the first knuckle. Davin examined it in the bathroom where the light was better. It was an old scar, hard to see unless you know just where to look for it. Davin steeled himself, then found the straight razor in the drawer next to the sink.

He recut his skin, following the lines of the scar the way a child might cut along the dotted lines. Davin faced the mirror and held up his bleeding thumb. He felt the familiar jolt that joined his present and past selves together, united by a bond of pain. But not just any pain -- the same pain, in the same place and manner, forcing his mind in both moments to converge.

"Truscott Building," he whispered intently to himself, looking into his own bloodshot eyes in the mirror. "Two blocks north, southwest corner of the building, between the satellite dishes. October five, twenty-eighty, about four in the afternoon. One bug, cocooning now."

Davin heard himself say the message several times to be certain. But he also heard himself say something else. "You have to move by tomorrow," his past self said. "New cocoon right over your head. We'll be blowing the building. Relocate." The voice echoed around and around in his skull, and when it was done Davin had the usual nagging suspicion that he had just imagined it all.

He bandaged his thumb and turned out the light. Leaving the apartment meant breaking the connection with the past; the pain conduits couldn't bridge unless both ends were forged in the same place and manner. It meant an end to spotting. If only he had cut himself in a variety of places around the city! Davin cursed his lack of forethought.

A dull KRUMP shook the building, and the green glow to the north flared bright enough to glimmer around the edges of the blackout drapes. A keening wail died to nothing, and Davin knew he had helped take out one last bug. He moved around the apartment gathering his few possessions.

There was a pair of scissors hanging on a peg by the door. As Davin took them down, he had a thought. It might be possible for him to return to the apartment, he considered. There could be damage, but perhaps he could come back later on. He could always investigate that later. Meanwhile, mused Davin, it would be good to be able to communicate with his future self about it.

Davin snipped the skin webbing between his right pinky and ring finger. Then, the blood oozing down his palm, Davin got out his journal and began to write.

Recipe: Sweet Potato and Basil Latkes
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I haven't done a lot of creative writing lately, but I have done a fair bit of creative cooking. This is one of my more successful endeavors: sweet potato and basil latkes.

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hangin' it up for now
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I've been really struggling with writing lately, as can be seen by my falling off from the daily grind. I'm going to stop doing it, for now at least.

Writing's been really important to me for the last few months. It's given me something to focus on during a pretty rough period. But I'm through the worst of that, and I find that I don't need to write anymore. Sometimes I want to write, but I don't need to write, if that makes sense.

I also really, really need to concentrate on my health more. The time I spend banging away at the keyboard is time that should be spent in a gym or doing food prep. The truth is, I've fallen into some terrible habits lately and they're going to kill me. So, I'm going to develop some new habits, and hopefully they will be as rewarding as daily writing has been.

I'll still write here on occasion, but probably not frequently. Thanks for reading.

On His Majesty's Secret Service (20 and last)
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Bond took the steps three at a time, his feet light as a cat’s. He was in his element now – the chase. Adrenaline flooded his system. He had to catch Zoeller. There was no more time for games – Bond knew he must capture Zoeller, kill him if necessary, but neutralize his threat. Zoeller and his organization could not be allowed to survive.

Bond heard Zoeller’s panting and clumsy scuffling footsteps not far above him. He controlled his own breathing and concentrated on keeping his footwork quiet. If he knew roughly where Zoeller was, but not vice versa, the advantage would be his.

The spiraling staircase wound around and around as Bond climbed higher and higher into the soaring edifice of Neuschwanstein. Bond’s heart rate climbed, but his conditioning was excellent. Zoeller seemed to be fit as well, but he was older. Bond must inevitably catch Zoeller – he knew it, and Zoeller must have known it as well. Besides, they were going up, not down; where could Zoeller run to?

Bond saw the end of the staircase – an opening at a landing just around the curve of the shaft. The doorframe was decorated with Valkyries crossing swords above the arch. Zoeller’s breathing sounded curiously loud to Bond, and he dropped prone on the stairs a fraction of a second before two shots fired. Zoeller was lying in ambush behind the doorway. Bond fired back, his high-powered revolver chipping off one of the Teutonic maidens’ breasts. Bond heard the sound of Zoeller’s footsteps retreating, and he sprang to his feet once more. “Sorry,” he murmured, patting the maimed Valkyrie on the hip as he passed.

A long corridor stretched out ahead of him, and in the dim light Bond thought he perceived movement in the distance. He fired blindly as he gave chase. A door opened at the end of the hall and blinding illumination filled the hall – daylight. A black outline of an individual was framed in the rectangle. Bond fired again, but the intensity of the light spoiled his aim, and then the door was shut. Bond sprinted for it, his feet kicking up expensive runner rugs. Bond clinically noted drops of blood on the ground in front of the door; he shot the handle and lock in the last few meters’ approach and then kicked the door open.

It was a bright day, and it took a moment for Bond’s eyes to adjust to looking out across that white terrace at the very top of the castle. When he finally could see again, Bond saw Zoeller perched on the lip of the parapet, strapped into a hang glider. Before he could bring his gun up, Zoeller leaped over the edge and disappeared.

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On His Majesty's Secret Service (19)
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The hell of it was, Bond wasn’t sure if he hadn’t really been turned.

Zoeller had given him his gun back, and had provided him with documents that seemed to show that Bond now had several million pounds in a Swiss bank. As far as he could tell, Bond felt that Zoeller really felt he knew him well enough to believe that he could just hire him away from British Intelligence. He had the run of the castle, although there were secured basements he wasn’t allowed into, and Bond was reasonably sure he could escape any time he wanted.

But Bond wasn’t sure he wanted to escape. On the surface, he wanted to remain close to Zoeller so he could gather as much intelligence as possible about this new organization before shutting it down. But Bond was uneasily aware that Zoeller had struck a chord inside him. He certainly was an assassin, and although Bond took no special pleasure in killing, he had every person’s pride in being useful and effective. Bond knew that a man of his sort working for Zoeller would always be useful.

Bond had orders to leave for Paris on the following day. He had a new identity and papers that Zoeller had procured, and he had orders to kill three men who knew something about Zoeller’s organization but whose loyalties were suspect. Zoeller never told him the name of his organization and Bond didn’t ask.

Bond waited in his room. The window afforded an expansive view of the Bavarian countryside. Bond looked out over the peaceful green and rolling fields, and wondered how far he would take this charade. If it was a charade at all.

A faint scraping sound caught Bond’s attention. Nobody was in his room. Frowning, Bond pressed an ear to a wall. He heard something slide against stone and mortar, something inside a cavity in the wall. Bond drew his gun and pressed his back against the wall.

Something tapped quietly at the wall. Then one of the stones began to slide out of its socket, spilling loose grout on the floor. The stone pushed all the way out and landed on the ground with a dull thud. It was followed by a head of very dirty, cobwebby hair. It was Susan, and she wasn’t happy.

“You don’t look like a prisoner,” she said icily.

“I’m not,” Bond said. “I thought I was going to have to come and rescue you.”

“You already did that once,” said Susan, grunting as she wormed her shoulders through the hole. “Once was enough.”

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On His Majesty's Secret Service (18)
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Bond cracked his eyes open and pain seeped in. Everything was too bright and washed-out for him to focus on anything; there was a luminescent rectangle made of agony that had to be an un-shuttered window, and the hateful bubble of torture to his right must be a lamp, while under his head…

Pillows? Soft, down-stuffed pillows. The coverlet he was under was full of feathers as well, too white and bright to be looked at directly. Everything smelled like sunshine and fresh air, with just a hint of lilac.

Bond felt his skull; it seemed to be in one piece, with a kind of crown made of bandaging holding everything together. He probed a little, and the pain made him grit his teeth. Bond felt lower, under the covers; his inspection by touch revealed him to be otherwise uninjured. Naked, but uninjured.

“You’ve been out for a long time,” said a feminine, accented voice. Frau Erma Duessler, Bond was sure of it. He blinked at the white form standing at the foot of the bed. He couldn’t focus properly. Drugs, or concussion? Either way, Bond was sure he wasn’t thinking straight.

“How long?” he croaked, his throat dry.

“Almost three days,” said Erma, crossing to the table where the vengeful lamp stood. Bond heard the sound of water pouring into a cup. Erma held it to his lips and Bond drank until the cup was empty.

“Where’s Susan?” asked Bond. Erma ignored the question.

“I’m instructed to take care of you,” she said. “Herr Zoeller would like to have a word with you when you’re feeling all better.”

“Would he?” said Bond, thinking as rapidly as he could in his degraded condition. If Zoeller wanted to interrogate him, he would do it when he was weak. He wouldn’t wait until he had regained his strength. A member of the Nazi High Command would know that much.

“And are you feeling better yet?” Fraulein Duessler asked. Bond marveled at her voice. It wasn’t the mature tones of a middle-aged woman; this was the laughing, playful voice of a young girl. She touched Bond’s face; her hand was warm and smooth.

“Oh,” said Bond, smiling impishly, “with the right nursing I’m sure I’ll improve dramatically.”

Erma pulled the covers up and slipped inside next to Bond. She was naked too, which, Bond considered, explained her apparent whiteness. The rest of her body was also warm, and also very smooth.

“As I said,” Erma purred, “I’m to take care of you.”

“Impeccable bedside manner,” Bond said. It was the last thing he said for quite a while.

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On His Majesty's Secret Service (17)
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It was late at night, and there was little static on the airwaves. “I’m sorry, Jungfrau,” Bond said over the C-47’s radio, “but I don’t have an encoding device handy. I can’t speak any more openly than I have. Over.”

“Bond, this is M,” said the familiar stern voice. “This is rather too important a matter for you to delay a report owing to security. The Americans and the Russians are a hair’s breadth away from beginning a shooting war, for God’s sake. Q assures me that other measures will provide some protection from eavesdropping, so you had better tell us what you’ve been up to.”

Bond wondered what ‘other measures’ Q could bring to bear on an open radio channel. Then he realized that M had used his name, not ‘Alp-Uncle’ as they had been carefully briefed back in London. Securing an open radio signal without encoding might be difficult; mimicking M’s voice electronically would be easy.

“I’m sorry, M,” said Bond, “but your signal is breaking up, probably owing to some weather north of our position. We’ll be landing in Frankfurt soon, and I shall make that report over a land-line from the British Embassy. Over and out.” He turned off the radio over M’s protests.

“I wasn’t planning on landing in Frankfurt,” said Susan.

“Neither was I,” said Bond. “We’re on our own. In fact, given the fact that Archie was both working for British Intelligence and Zoeller’s organization, I don’t think it’s safe to trust any help from that direction in the short term.”

“So what does that mean?” Susan asked sarcastically. “You’re going after Zoeller on his own turf with nothing more than the contents of your pockets?”

“I suppose so,” said Bond. “It certainly dashes my idea of landing in Munich and hiring a car for Schwangau; I’m almost out of money.”

“Well, don’t look in my direction,” said Susan. “The charts say there’s a small airport in Fussen, several miles from Schwangau. I’ll land you there, refuel, and then I’m off to pick up my gold. Fair enough?”

“Couldn’t ask for better,” said Bond.

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On His Majesty's Secret Service (16)
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Bond and Susan huddled under a tarp they hastily pulled over themselves in the weapons compartment of the plane. A second after they had hidden themselves, they heard footsteps and muffled conversation. The voices didn’t sound like they were speaking English or German. Bond suspected he was hearing Slovak, but he couldn’t be certain.

The airplane engines revved up, fell back off again, and then settled in to a moderate drone. Rattles and thumps shook the plane – signs that it was being prepped for takeoff. “We’ve got to get out now,” Susan said urgently.

“Why?” asked Bond. “You’d like to have this plane. I’d like to know where it’s going.” Susan reluctantly subsided.

Somebody secured the hatch with a metallic scrape, and then the plane lurched into motion. It taxied briefly and then took off. Bond peeked out from the tarp and saw nobody. He quietly crept to the door to the adjoining compartment and looked into the cabin. He saw two pilots; they were concentrating on flying the plane while consulting a folded chart. Bond returned to Susan and pulled the tarp over their heads again.

“Give it twenty minutes,” he advised. “Once we’re well underway, we’ll jump the pilots and make them tell us where we’re going. Then we can divert to wherever you like.”

“Okay,” said Susan. She leaned into Bond as they huddled under the tarp. Bond was suddenly very aware of her female-ness. Not her femininity; Bond wasn’t sure he had ever met a less feminine woman in his life. Or rather, feminine as he had always defined it. Nevertheless, Susan B. Anthony was all woman. Bond found himself confused on the subject of females, an area in which previously he had felt himself on very firm ground.

Bond’s ears popped, and the ambient noise in the compartment doubled. Bond and Susan looked at each other and frowned. They pulled the tarp off, and Bond pulled his revolver out as they tiptoed to the cabin.

The cabin was empty and the door to the outside was open. The pilot’s stick jogged about as the plane cruised on its own. The wind was ferocious. Bond gripped the frame of the door, leaned out, and coolly closed the hatch. Susan jumped into the pilot’s seat and took the controls.

“They just bailed out for no reason!” shouted Susan.

Ahead and to the left, a blossom of fire and smoke appeared, hovering in the late afternoon sky. Bond had seen it before; it was anti-aircraft fire.

“I wouldn’t say *no* reason,” he said.

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On His Majesty's Secret Service (15)
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Susan sat on the pier, dangling her legs over the edge. Her pants were soaked but her shirt was dry, because it wasn’t her shirt. The cargo truck’s driver had survived Bond’s attack and appeared inclined to be hostile when Susan had dragged herself out of the water. It had been necessary to kick him in strategic anatomical areas and club him with his own gun. He was out cold up by the truck with Susan’s wet shirt as a pillow. The driver’s shirt was too big for Susan, but at least it was modest.

Bond bobbed to the surface and paddled slowly to the pier. “What kept you?” Susan asked.

“I had to get my gun,” Bond said.

“That attached to it, huh?” said Susan, smirking.

“Q made me sign a receipt for it,” said Bond.

“Oh,” said Susan. “Who’s Q?”

“Never mind,” said Bond. He hauled himself, dripping, over the edge of the pier and lay panting on the wood planking.

“What about the big jerk?” Susan asked.

“I think he’s still looking for his gun,” Bond suggested. He frowned; one of the boards he was on had been reduced almost to splinters, and sharp bits of wood were poking into his side.

Susan looked around her. “I don’t think this thing is structurally sound,” she said. “It’s a wreck.”

“I hear sirens,” said Bond. “We need to move, unless we want to answer a lot of questions.”

“My gold,” said Susan sternly, “is at the bottom of the river.”

“I don’t think so,” said Bond. “The men in the truck moved one load already, didn’t they? As far as my government is concerned, that truck is empty.”

“Makes sense,” said Susan. They picked their way across the shattered remnants of the pier back to the dock and the truck. Bond closed the cargo door and got into the driver’s seat. Susan handed him the keys she had thoughtfully fished from the unconscious driver’s pants.

“Where are we going?” Susan asked brightly.

Bond started the truck. “We got you your gold,” he said. “Now let’s see about that plane.”

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On His Majesty's Secret Service (14)
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For the record, I am projecting completion at part 20.

Bond blinked rapidly. There was a pounding in his head. No, the pounding of footsteps. Perhaps both?

Bond clutched his head and forced his eyes to focus. He had lost consciousness. How long? Minutes? No. Seconds. Only seconds.

The orientation of gravity shifted, and Bond pitched forwards. His face hit something hard, blooding his nose. It was the steering wheel, the wheel of the Cadillac. He was still in the car.

The car had punched through the side of the yacht. The deck it was resting on wasn’t made to hold the weight of a car, especially a luxury American car, which was built with more metal than the atomic bomb. It was falling through the deck. The car lurched again, and the nose slid down another two feet. It was pointing down now at greater than a forty-five degree angle.

Bond fumbled for his revolver and clumsily drew it out of his holster. His eyes still weren’t quite seeing clearly. There were men standing above him. Bond peered up at them, blinking owlishly. They were standing on the deck above, machineguns pointed down at him. The Cadillac was crawling into the hold of the ship like a wounded beast, trying to find a dark place to hide. Bond patted her dashboard fondly. Good girl, he thought. Loyal girl.

A form swam into view behind the men with the guns. It was a hulking figure – a man in a greatcoat, twice as big as a normal man. The man had a huge furry hat, and a bandana masked the lower half of his face. But for all his size, the mass of his head seemed too small somehow, like big man wearing a comically small hat.

The car lurched violently, and Bond braced himself to avoid breaking his nose. Now the car really was vertical. The windshield had snapped off on a bulkhead, and the front bumper was resting on the bottom seam of the boat.

Bond frowned. What had Q said? The bumper. The bumper could break down a wall.

Ah.

“Easy, boys,” Bond said, slurring his words a bit. “Just let me get unbuckled.”

Bond triggered the explosives.

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