Larna Temple and the Fitness Vampires

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Larna Temple is a city contracted vigilante in charge of fighting Shawdia's seedy underbelly. She meets a Lifepire, an infected human that is obsessed with fitness and weight loss to a lethal degree. She gets caught in their world and must join a group of science avengers to stop a lifepire terrorist bent on taking over Shawdia. This would be an easier task if Larna didn't have a doppelganger from alternate earth stalking her.

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Chapter 1

I am not sure why this current situation has me thinking about my late aunt Pam’s sweet potato pudding, but I can’t keep from thinking about it. Certainly, I would have better things to ponder, like how to remove the ropes tied around my wrists and ankles. Though it is a phenomenal pudding, it does not change the fact that a lifepire had me tied to a wooden chair in a dingy basement.

His name was Gerig, a fitness freak or lifepire. Everything about him was an anomaly against nature. The skin was a powdery white almost bleached flour. His head was baby smooth and his eyes beady like most lifepires. His bare chest stuck out with toned abs and pecs that looked like cold granite. All to show off his fierce exercise regiment. This particular lifepire was very proud of his body and wanted to make it clear to me that he had spent a lot of time working on it to shave off the excess fat.

Gerig paced up and down the concrete floor, not taking his eyes off of me the whole time. He was scanning me over, looking for an explanation that I could not give.

“Do you know why I brought you here?” He spoke with a hiss that was fueled by the crazy passion in his beady black eyes.

I felt a lump in my throat. There was only one reason a lifepire captured anyone. He had seen me at my worst and most unhealthy time.

“You don’t want to do this,” I pleaded trying to sound more threatening than I did, “I have friends and power.”

He did not register my answer. Instead he waited for me to answer his question. Lifepires often dragged their victims into secluded areas. Gerig had caught me and dragged me into a gawdy basement.

“It wasn’t that fattening!” I retorted.

He let out a sonic laugh that filled the basement. It was an evil laugh that demanded you know he was in charge. “Forty grams of fat, thirty two grams of sugar, fifty grams of carbs and don’t even let me get into the sodium intake. The oil alone that it was cooked in could give me nightmares.”

There was spit coming from Gerig’s mouth when he spoke.

The scratchy ropes started to give my wrists a burning rash. I knew Gerig would not have me in these ropes forever. Eventually he would let me out and then the real torture would begin.

He spoke again with indignation, “I shouldn’t have to tell you, Larna. Not only did you eat a food that layered you with disgusting fat, salt and sugar, but you ate it at an hour your body could not work off the fat. That is a double lawbreaker in my book!”

I tried not to feel guilty. The lifepire was the illegal one. People say that an alien strain of bacteria got into the burger meat at the Happy Burger chain. The result was a sizable slice of the population losing weight, growing muscles and obsessing over fitness. They say that the mind of the lifepire constantly begs for exercise, clean eating and healthy living. It is a burden so deep that it destroys the mind and creates a monster.

Gerig retired back to the shadows, “what kind of fruits do you eat on a regular basis?”

I was a healthy young woman for all intents and purposes. I barely had a spare tire on my gut and my arm muscles formed a small potato when I flexed. I did not deserve this inquisition for eating a fried fudge waffle at an ungodly hour. Though, to the lifepires we were all unhealthy heathens who deserved to be forced into torturous health diets and backbreaking exercise.

“I eat cantaloupe and raspberries.”

Gerig’s eyes grew bright with shock, “that might as well be liquor and donuts! Larna, have you ever heard of goji berries or raw zebra fruit. Every morning I wake up at 5am and have my raw zebra fruit and cauliflower smoothie.”

He spun around with his back facing me, “tell me, what is your conditioning routine?”

Feeling the burn of shame for not answering correctly, I felt that this answer would not be much help. To the non-lifepire some might consider me athletic. You need to be quick and strong to be an honorary member of the Justice Vigilante Corp. They won’t take any schlub off the street, put them in a rubber suit and expect them to fight crime at the dead of night. It takes some bodily discipline. I did my fair number of push ups and burpees to get this semi-fine physique.

Gerig started again before I could even get a word out, “I bet you don’t even know the fifty best crunches to a rock hard abdominal. Don’t even pretend to know what a twenty four hour cycling marathon is or a six hour log lift-a-thon is. Your lies will get you nowhere.”

I decided to ask the question that I knew too well, though it was customary to ask. “What will you do with me?”

Gerig smiled with perfect white teeth, “I am going to save you like any of my kind would.”

“How?” I asked, fearing the worst.

His smile grew wider as if I just opened up a treasure chest of weight loss powder for him, “I haven’t made your exercise and eating plan yet, but I can plainly see that you will be down here with me for at least six months. I will probably start you on an all liquid protein broth and celery mixture. Meanwhile we will work vigorously to transform your muscles from flab to rocks. We will start off slow with eight hour sprints followed by zero gravity side lunges. But don’t get weak on me. That is just the beginning.”

“You’ll keep me here?” I gulped, knowing that the stories were true.

He nodded, “You will be saved. America has no right to disgust the healthy with your vile eating habits. Your body will be restored to greatness.”

I did admit that his body was sculpted perfectly and his skin was spotless, but that did not fool me from seeing that the lifepire was more monster than human. The rumors were that they would trap a poor soul for breaking one of their health laws and cage him up. Since the bacteria made the lifepires stronger and more enduring they did not understand why normal and uninfected humans would die from their torture. We were not meant for oxygen stew or a thirteen mile one legged hop step.

He turned his attention back to me. His strong arms gripping the sides of my wooden chair. He surely saw the fear in my eyes staring back at him. Even with my perfect grade at the vigilante academy for lifepire awareness and light defense, it would not prepare me for this. How was I supposed to know he was waiting in the shadows of the Cream and Dream?

“You will be made into a perfect machine, Larna. I promise you that!” he said with some spittle landing on my cheek.

He rubbed his hand over my thick black hair. His fingers were like mini marble statues. “What kind of shampoo and conditioner combo do you use? Eucalyptus? Tea Tree?”

“Save and Mix Non-brand Shampoo.” I said in regret.

He spit on the floor and stomped on the saliva, “Are you some cow? Do you even have any love for yourself? Your body’s a temple, Larna! A temple does not shop at the Save and Mix, nor should it tolerate any skin or hair conditioner that does not contain natural ingredients from the Eastern hemisphere!”

I almost wanted to say I was sorry, but I really wasn’t. I was not going to apologize because my budget could only afford non-brand shampoo.

He was about to lecture me on the many uses of Moroccan mint oil for the scalp, when there was a violent knock on the door of the basement.

“Lar, are you in there? Lar, can you hear me?”

Some violent kicks banged against the door.

It was Teddy’s voice. I recognized it behind the door.

Gerig blew hot air out of his nose. He turned to me, “if you breathe one word, I will increase your diamond push ups for tonight one hundred fold.”

He turned to the door, “stop banging, you idiot! That is Dutch mahogany!”

“Burny Eagle, I am in here!”

Gerig shot me a look that would freeze Satan.

A few more cracking kicks and the Dutch mahogany door cracked open. Teddy was standing there holding a fully automatic defense clipper in one hand and a large bag of cheese puff chips in the other. He was holding out the bag like a vampire hunter would hold a crucifix.

Gerig began to hiss and scowl like a cat from an alley. He strayed backwards, stepping away from Teddy and his cheesy potato chips cooked in a deep frying vat.

Teddy stepped closer, fearlessly holding the bag. The defense clipper in his other hand was turned on. It would cause Gerig some nasty bruises.

I was a disheveled mess. Sweat covered my thick sweater, my hair felt like the underside of a sink and I am pretty sure I smelled like fear and loathing.

“Are you alright, Lar?” He asked, not looking away from Gerig.

“My day is looking more hopeful,” I managed with a smile.

Gerig was backed into a corner between an old rocking horse and a microwave that was covered in dust. His eyes burned a steady hate beam on Teddy.

“You fool! You delay your inevitable demise!” Gerig shouted.

Teddy shook the cheese bag of chemicals and additives, “I would sure hate for any of this food to land on you.”

Gerig whimpered.

Teddy took the yellow clipper in his hand, aimed it at Gerig and fired. A blue light flashed at the head of the gun. The sharp rubber band fired at eighty miles per hour and hit Gerig in the shin.

Gerig jumped and fell onto his butt.

“That was just a warning bruise. You come near me and you will be black and blue, mate!”

Gerig hugged the corner that he was stuck in, unable to move.

Teddy was wearing a beige military vest. He pulled into his chest pocket and pulled out a knife. His utility knife started sawing away my ropes until I could feel my blood circulating into my hands again. Next was the ankles and I was finally free of the chair. I got up, stretched my legs, gave myself a regretful sniff and turned to Teddy.

“My tracker was blinking for a good thirty minutes.” I said less miffed and more thankful.

Teddy tugged on his orange mustache, “Sorry, I was in the middle of my sneaking and scurrying class at the academy.”

“You found me, Burnt Eagle. That is all that matters.”

Gerig shot up baring his teeth like a predator. “What will you do now?”

I shot him the nastiest glare, “I am traumatized and I will probably need a hot fudge sundae to get over it.”

“You monster!” he screamed.

When we were outside the small suburban house, I was able to see Teddy in the daylight. The rosy morning was beginning to peek its head over the white suburban houses.

Teddy was a short middle aged man. He liked to wear aviators even when it was dark out and he never took a mission without his cowboy hat he got from Australia. His hair was a radiant orange even though he was old enough to gray. He had been in the Vigilante Academy ten years my junior. He was more of a mentor than anything else, teaching me the fine arts of bully intimidation, beginner’s judo and how to win at Kitten Cards. When the Vigilante Justice branch opened in Shawadia, New York, he was the first recruiter I spoke with.

He gave me a stern shove without a playful grin, “Larna, you know the Cream and Dream would be a trap. Why did you expose yourself so easily?”

Teddy was tough with all the vigilantes he trained. While he was on patrol, he was not Teddy Lanister, but the foes that feared him knew him as Burnt Eagle.

“There hadn’t been a lifepire in Shawadia for months. That Cream and Dream would never be open if they suspected a lifepire lurking around these parts.”

He did not change his mood, “you know that what you did was a rookie mistake. You were outside, alone in the dark, far from the precinct and not checking your corners. Shawadia is the twenty seventh most dangerous village in the United States. You can’t just be galavanting about without checking every dark corner.”

I dug my slip-on into the gravel. He was right. I was an honorary vigilante now and I needed to be more careful. Though the thugs and foes of Shawadia did not fear the vigilante, Thunderfly, like they feared Burnt Eagle, I was willing to work for the kind of fear and intimidation Teddy had.

A scream erupted from the old white house. Gerig was running around the yard and cursing the air. Behind him were two men in three piece suits giving chasing. The bigger one of the men launched on Gerig and took him down to the ground. Both suited men placed steel cuffs on the lifepire and dragged him into the back of an orange van. The van was property of The Portal of Justice or TPJ.

“We are lucky it was just one,” Teddy said wiping his knife off and putting it back into its holster. “Lifepires like to travel in packs.”

I turned to Teddy,” Why do you think they are coming back to Shawadia?”

“I don’t know, but this means the town will have to cancel the BBQ fundraiser and the Homemade Fudge Farm Tours if there are any more.”

I cursed under my breath. I had gotten reserved spots for both of those events.

“You never told me how he caught you.”

“He blindsided me when I was going to grab my food from the counter. He must have been watching me for at least ten minutes. The next thing I knew there was a bag over my head that smelled like sleepy tea leaves.”

What I didn’t tell Teddy because we were not that close was why I was seeking such oily food in the first place. Teddy may be my closest confidant in the mean streets of Shawadia, but he did not know the deep inner workings of Larna, the single bachelorette.

I had met Steve on Shawadia’s cyber forums for Young Professionals Who Like Ice Cream MeetUp. It was on this forum that I presented myself as an adventurous, optimistic and go getting East Indian female who loved Rocky Road. Steve on the other hand was a clever, business student, who liked baseball and 80’s pop music.

After many back and forth conversations through the cyber forums letter sending database, we had decided to meet at the Cream and Dream last night. He said he would be the man wearing a pinstripe jacket and a fedora. I told him I would be wearing a college sweater and acid washed jeans. My body type was comfortable, but very functional. My physique was two steps below a professional cyclist, but three steps above lounging sofa junkie. The term I would use is thick, but smartly structured. Upon entering the frosty eatery of ice cream delights, I noticed that the college sweater and acid washed girl had shown up but the pinstripe jacket boy was not there. Not wanting to be rude, I waited for him. One hour went by and I had only seen an elderly tourist couple from Florida. A second hour went by and I still had not seen pinstripes walk through the door. It was too late when my body had registered that he had stood me up. I was not going to let some 80’s pop connoisseur give me the low road. I did what any self respecting vigilante officer would do. I ordered the Mega Fudge Waffle Plate. It was the best fifteen dollars I had spent the whole night. Each bite was a surge of sugary revenge and chocolate goodness in my belly.

Nope, Teddy would not be hearing about my adventures in dating and how I let myself get fooled by some con artist with a grip on silly women’s hearts. He would not hear how a perfectly reasonable professional with high aspirations and a good head on her shoulder was swept to the dirt like common refuse. I am a woman of sensible decisions.

I lived alone. My parents, Harna and Gershwin, were happily retired in East Nebraska’s deep tree’d hills. They had always wanted to venture deep into the woods and be lost in God’s beautiful nature. They waited for my 28th birthday when I had a steady job as a Vigilante Officer and I was a fiance to Gavin Douglas, the number one vespa salesman of North Shawadia. My parents, as loving and caring as they were, had felt the deep calling to sell all their belongings and live in a cabin in the dark forests. At first they wrote me letters, which were delivered by a carrier pigeon that took them six months to train. It was odd seeing a bird peck at the window, wanting to deliver a scroll of paper tied to its foot. The pigeon was patient waiting for me to add my own message to my parents. They had promised to come back for my wedding, but that never happened. The wedding was postponed and they fell ill several months later. I wouldn’t dare tell them that exactly one year ago Gavin and I had a huge fight over his career and he stormed out. The wedding turned into two funerals.

Strangely, I was not hurt at all that they did not stick around in Shawadia to watch me get married and possibly have kids with the now estranged Gavin. I know daughters would love for a family to be close by. The Temple family has always believed that you raise your kids till they are ready to fly off and you leave them be. They left my brother too, but he is married and has a rewarding career as a lawyer.

I had made it to the Justice Precinct on the corner of Main Street and a gas station that had sold really nice Catholic candles. I refused a vespa ride back from Teddy. He tried to show sadness for my recent tragedy while still playing the role of my superior. I just wanted some time to be alone and the precinct was three blocks away. I had always heard that lifepires were brutal, non-thinking creatures, but I had never seen their insanity upclose. I could still feel Gerig’s spit on my cheek as he yelled. If Teddy had not been there I would still be in a rigorous routine of celery shakes and double jointed yoga sessions. I shuddered.

The vivid community life of Shawadia had no idea that there was a lifepire amidst them. The veggie and fruit markets were selling apricots at half price. The local Chess team was doing a peaceful demonstration against the injustice of checkers favoritism in front of the board game depot. The political trucks strolled by with their banner signs that read “Welcome Decision Bot 3.0 for President.” Life was happening on its own.

The precinct was a yellow brick building with “Justice In the Dark” written in big black letters under the Vigilante Corp sign. It had two floors, decent vending machines, and a rec room with a rickety foosball table. This is the sole building that kept Shwadia safe from the ne’er-do-wells of the town. Art thieves, fake purse dealers, spray paint enthusiasts, and the like had reasons to fear us. We were a force for good, roaming the streets. A couple hundred of these buildings were stationed around the United States. All of them were filled with fully equipped vigilantes.

Gertrude, the elderly receptionist, let me into the lobby. She gave me the utmost concern and rubbed my arm when she heard I was captured by the lifepire.

“You poor thing. Did he hurt you?”

“I am fine, Gerdy,” I lied. Or maybe I was telling the truth. Where did shock fit in this?

“Teddy is ready to meet you. He just got into his office.”

I was about to head into the stairwell, but Gertrude had a story to tell. “My uncle on my mother’s side became a lifepire. He was going to force us to lift weights until our arms broke off.”

I returned with a look of sympathy, but I was more than done with lifepire talk. Unfortunately, that is all Teddy wanted to talk about.

The justice offices were quiet with the occasional phone ringing. Officers were making copies, fixing the programming machines, challenging each other to try the new exotic coffee flavors and fretting over budget meetings. There were different public information posters on the wall warning vigilantes to watch out for Male Bowler Aggression or Watch Out for Agriculture Tax Fraud.

I sat down in a blue chair near Teddy’s office and watched an officer brag about the two hoodlums he brought down with a ninjutsu kick. Three more vigilantes were coming in from the night patrol. There was Fire Rat with a red hockey mask and two stun swords and the Masked Nikita who wore a long blue scarf and a blue skin tight ski outfit. They unpacked their gear into lockers and went about their day. Most likely they were taking down graffiti artists in the third and fourth ward.

“We are ready for you, Larna,” Teddy said gesturing toward the door.

Teddy’s office was bright, but insipidly boring. He had a plain oak desk with no pictures on it, a programmer that was at least five years old and a copy of Non-Lethal Gadgets Quarterly sitting quietly on his desk. Adjacent to his desk was the suited man from TJP who caught Gerig. He was a shorter man who had close black hair and whose name I learned was Frank Burser.

Frank stood up and shook my hand, “I am so sorry that happened to you, Ms. Temple. I can’t imagine how you feel right now.”

“Can I get you a coffee or a tea, Larna?” Teddy asked.

I shook my head. I just wanted the debriefing to be over. I was in no mood to talk about being snatched by a lifepire.

Teddy sat down at his desk and he bridged his fingers. “Larna, has the full report of the lifepire, Frank. She was blindsided by one while off duty.”

“What were you doing, Ms. Temple?” Frank asked with a pencil and a pad of paper.

“I got a bite to eat at the Cream and Dream.”

“By yourself?”

That question sounded so condemning. Was I not allowed to be alone?

“Yes, I was by myself.”

Teddy’s eyebrow raised slightly. He did not piece together how weird it was for a thirty something young adult to be alone at a fast food restaurant at midnight.

“What were you doing there so late?” He asked.

“I was hungry,” I said, almost sounding offended.

“At midnight? Away from your apartment?”

“Yes,” I sounded peeved.

“Larna was not on duty for the night shift,” Teddy remarked.

Frank nodded, “Well, as you know, The Justice Portal works hard to cooperate with the Vigilante department. As the saying goes, ‘you scuff’em we cuff’em.’ We are trying to assess if Shawadia is getting an outbreak of lifepires. This Gerig was hiding outside that restaurant for days waiting for someone to commit a class one lifepire health felony.

I could feel my face getting red and hot. Frank was referring to my midnight binge as a class one felony.

“I already spoke to Larna about how she should have acted in procedure. She had the JV tracker on her keychain before she was knocked out by Gerig. She activated the SOS beacon so we were able to find her,” Teddy said under his mustache.

Frank cleared his throat and flicked a fuzzy off his expensive pants, “We think that might not be the last lifepire to be in Shawadia. Gerig was alone, which is usually an isolated incident, but we think more are coming.”

“You mean to here?” I asked.

“Gerig was a scout. His job was to scope out the area. Usually when a scout lifepire is in the area, it means that a large group is coming in.”

My armpits tightened up and I felt a cold burst in my chest, “like how many?”

Frank scratched his head, “we don’t know. But this would be a good time to get the vigilantes from 3rd precinct and East to collaborate an action plan. The last thing we need is another local carb crisis.”

He was referring to a few months ago when Shawadia had three lifepires. They were weaker and lower on the food chain. They managed to kidnap a ten year old girl and ridicule her baby fat for three days straight. That girl is now in deep cognitive therapy.

I had reached for a tea candy on Teddy’s desk. I often reached for candy when I was nervous. “We can round them up, right? The other villages have had success capturing their infestations.”

Frank looked uncomfortable in his chair and shifted his hips, “Yes, Ms. Temple, with the right equipment and firepower we can apprehend them, but those are common lifepires. Those ones are weaker and only have a smaller strain of the alien bacteria. The one you dealt with today was stronger.”

“How can you tell?” I asked, not fully prepared to hear the answer.

“Usually a low level lifepire is satisfied when his victims can run a 100 kilometer race in one day. That is the goal they strive for. Gerig, the one who captured you, would train you for a 200 kilometer race. We interviewed him and he admitted that he would train you for a 200k. Weaker lifepires cannot torture their victims for that long. Gerig was prepared.”

I gasped audibly, “that would have killed me twice over.”

“We estimate that you would have negative five body fat percentage and would need to be fed through a tube for 3 months to recover.”

Frank was not finished, “this is the real reason we brought you in, Larna. In our investigation of Gerig’s holding basement we think he might have given you a substance.”

It took me a few seconds to register what Frank was saying, “a substance?”

“It was a sport’s drink.”

“A sport’s drink?”

“A concoction of proteins, electrolytes, sugar substitutes and a healthy dose of the alien bacteria. We are not sure what the bacteria would do to your system, nor are we sure that you should be worried. It could have just been an attempt to get you to lose weight.”

I vaguely remember waking up in the chair with the faint flavor of Blasting Blueberry in my mouth. I didn’t even think twice about it.

“But the bacteria could make me a lifepire, right?” I was shaking. Could this day get worse?

Frank shook his head, “All bacteria owned by the alien species that infected that burger meat three years ago is inert and ineffective. There is little to no chance that you would turn into one of them.”

I was relieved.

“But,” Frank started, “We would like to get some tests on you. A few blood tests and a sample of your skin cells will tell us what we need to know.

“Then we can get rid of it?” I said hopefully. Sadly, I knew modern science had not made a way to reverse the lifepire sickness.

“Currently there is no way, but that does not mean the bacteria inside you will do anything, nor does it mean we won’t have a cure. It’s important to stay positive, Larna. So far there is nothing to worry about.”

I nodded, feeling slightly better about my situation. Some freak injects me with a strain of the bacteria and now I am left wondering what my fate is. I never thought I would have to worry about whether the alien strain would be inside me. It had already affected everyone years ago and they are still hiding in the shadows. But what would happen if I woke up and had an insatiable urge to exercise for twenty four hours straight? What if I only craved organic seaweed salad or judged others for eating red meat? What a horrible life that would be. I did not mind living healthy. It was a requirement to be part of the Vigilante Corp, but to be that utterly obsessed would be inexcusable.

Frank let himself out of the office.

Teddy tried his best sympathetic glare, but it was hard to see his eyes under the aviators.

I slowly stood up from my seat, “I guess I will be taking the rest of the day off then.”

Teddy acknowledged the request and let the words “I’m sorry,” leave his lips. The sentiment didn’t help much.

I was ready to go out to the office when Teddy called me back. “Larna?”

I turned around.

“I need help with my programmer. Maybe you could help me get into my digital mail?”

Teddy knew I loved the art of programming and I believe he was just helping me get my mind off of what happened. He was also one of the worst programmers in the office. Teddy could barely write a line of code to open his email. The kindergarten students were learning how to code to make their emails do all sorts of neat tricks, but Teddy could not open the program.

I leaned over his desk and looked at his ancient programming screen. A green blinking cursor stared back at me.

“It’s really simple,” I said with confidence. I started typing on the old keyboard making a clunking sound with each keystroke.

“First you need to open up the database.”

Open→ Database _ Programs. TeddyProgram Connect. Open→ Execute Operations

“Then,” I said with a smile, “you need to tell the programmer you are the user.”

Initiate User = Me Open -- > Permissions = Enabled Operate.Now

“Now is the harder part,” I explained winking at him, “do you want to start in a graphics enabled screen or just text?”

Teddy shrugged.

I started typing.

Exectute.Program → Via Database Go To File Marked Programs = 1 Operate Mail Database. Execute

Via graphics enabled

A colorful screen popped up on the monitor. I could tell that Teddy didn’t use the program a lot because he had 62,000 unopened messages.

“Thanks,” he said, “I just have to type in the right number to read my messages, right?”

“Yup. I could have added the option for your messages to be in stereoscopic 3D or added a line of code where an opera singer sang out your messages, but that would take an extra two minutes.”

Teddy shook his head, “this is fine. Thanks for helping me, Larna.”

“You really should learn C0ug3r, Teddy. All the hot jobs require at least introductory knowledge of the code.”

“I like pencil and paper, thank you very much.”

“Psssh,” I said half mockingly, “You dinosaur. You can do anything with C0ug3r that your imagination can think of. Just the other day I programmed my dishwasher to play the song national anthem when my dishes were done.

I could tell that Teddy was done having the youthful technology talk. His mustache started to twitch. I began to leave his office when he spoke his final words to me for the day.

“Larna, we will get to the bottom of this. I swear.”

“Thank you,” I mouthed.

I had made my way to Titan Heights, just three blocks down the road. It was a twelve story tower that had reflective ocean blue windows when the sun was out. Roger was at the door to greet me.

“Larna, I must have missed you leaving this morning.”

“Must have,” I grinned weakly, knowing that I spent most of my night in a dingy basement.

I was halfway to my pad on floor 8. I just wanted to get home, kick off my shoes and get the smell of waffles and failure out of my body. My whole frame ached and my skin felt tired. I could probably sleep for a few hours and skip lunch. The hallway was lowlit filled with residents who were just starting their day.

My door opened without the key. I froze. I pushed the door gingerly open and peeked my head into the small apartment. No one was visible. The place still looked like my usual chaos. The kitchen sink was filled with dishes and the futon couch had folders spread out around it. Did I forget to lock up? No. Impossible.

My heart was beating now and it took me a few seconds to take my first step into the vacant apartment. Everything was in place, but I couldn’t ponder what could happen if there was a nasty lifepire lurking in my house.

I silently put my keys on the counter overlooking the kitchen. My feet tiptoed through the beige carpeting. This time I was ready. No one would take Thunderfly by surprise. I pivoted toward a sound coming from the bathroom. It was the rustle of paper. I crept closer.

The door knob turned on the other side. I was ready. My feet twitched. My hands felt like two balls of fire.

The door opened. I shouted my war cry. Both hands went into Jiu Jitsu takedown number four. I grabbed the lapels of the intruder’s jacket. My hips pivoted forward, moving my weight toward the attacker and I rolled backwards with all my weight.

His body jerked forward like a ragdoll hitting the carpet hard. By the time his shoulder slammed against the carpet, I knew who it was. I had a microsecond of regret followed by instant relief that it wasn’t a lifepire.

“Hey! Hey! Hey!” he shouted, putting both of his hands up in surrender. His body had landed inches away from my garage sale coffee table.

I dropped my heel onto his chest, but this time it was out of annoyance, “You had to use your key today? Of all the days, it had to be today, Calvin.”

Calvin slowly got up, feeling a pain in his back from an intermediate vigilante. “Holy Crow, Larna, I was just getting the egg spinner from the kitchen. Is this how you treat all your guests?”

Calvin straightened his suit and stretched out his back, sounding like a baby dinosaur. His black hair got tussled in the battle, but the thick mousse was still holding it in place.

“This is how I treat my brother.”

“What are you doing home so early? I thought you had work.”

“I got the day off.”

“That’s good,” he said picking up an apple from a basket that I was planning to use later for an apple pie.

“How is the firm?”

“Bananas!” he stated, “The president still won’t lift his lawsuit on 3.0. It is a headache for the country.”

“Does this happen every time a president robot becomes sentient?”

“Well when President Decisionbot 1 had to end his term he also became sentient, but that only resulted in a few tears and a special robot grief counselor. Seems the Decisionbot 2 has gone even more sentient and is putting up a fuss because Decisionbot 3 will replace him in the upcoming election. He has engineered an airtight lawsuit against the whole nation, saying that it was unfair for him to be replaced. Our team is still reading the 200 page grievance letter he sent.”

I forgot that my brother had an equally stressful job. Handling lawsuits on a federal level had to be tiring. The algorithm machine that ran the country always acted a little funny near the end of its term. Decisionbot leadership was a ruling made by fed up government officials, mayors, governors, senators and judges about eleven years ago. They had decided, collectively, that one human should not have the final say about America’s direction and it should be a problem solved with mathematics and engineering. Thus, we were the first nation to put an advanced calculator in charge of it’s laws and rulings. We kept the governors, senators, and mayors to handle the human side of government. Plus, AIs do not have imaginations, which is why Decisionbot relies on its cabinet to feed it the data. It has been an extremely successful idea and only the fourth year glitch seems to be the only hiccup. Decision Bot 1 gathered sentient feelings by the end of its term. Decisionbot 2 is becoming emotionally driven as well, but because he is an advanced calculating machine it will take the news even harder.

“Any reason the President machines keep taking on human emotions and rebelling?”

“All I have are theories. When you put a super smart calculating machine in the Oval Office and it has to pump out fair judgements for 24 hours, it tends to pick up some feelings. None of the engineering team has any idea how a super sophisticated calculator with formulas for running the country can all the sudden gain an opinion and a personal attitude.”

“What will you do?” I asked mostly curious.

“Probably something similar with what we did for 1.0. We will have to use indisputable logic to remind it that it is a robot with manufactured feelings. It is taking my team all day and night to build a logic matrix that would cause the bot to give up the office easily for its predecessor. How do you convince a rogue data processor that it is done doing the greater good?”

I remember in the last transfer of power when Decisionbot 1 had locked himself in the Oval Office, sending out sad country lyrics to the public via a radio broadcast. It was usually by then that the nation was ready for a new machine to keep things in order. I cannot imagine what that machine goes through. It uses every bit of data, news story, opinion, history book and market research in the nation to compute laws and decisions that are one hundred percent fair and equal. In the end, it does a pretty swell job making a mixture of both religious appeasing and alternative lifestyle appeasing rules.

“Do you have any plans for this weekend’s Joseph and the Technicolor Pride Awareness Holiday?”

“Not with a boy,” I spat out.

He patted my shoulder. Good ol’ Calvin. He was the only man who could sympathize with my woes. He knew the struggle I had.

“You can join Mara and I. We have front row tickets to the Old Testament Appreciation Parade.”

“I’ll think about it.”

Calvin hugged me before he left. He smelled like minty aftershave and the faint odor of kissing up to rich people.

“Us Temples always succeed in the end. Buck up, Lar!”

“Thanks, bro!” I smiled.

He left the apartment and I spent the rest of the day with the doors locked and my pepper spray easily accessible.

Start writing here…

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Further Recommendations

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jeannerobinson150: I like everything about the story, plot line and characters.The wiring and the grammar are sloppy. I have to stop and rethink what was written to determine who is being referred to and to determine what words the author wanted to use.

Caitrina: All ways something happening, keeps you on your toes

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