When the Apocalypse came, I didn’t even notice. I was too busy kicking ass in R’hitharu.
I had taken the form of Swiftblood the Immortal Warrior Priestess. Six feet tall, with rich ebony skin covered in glowing spiral tattoos, Swiftblood had long, glossy black hair pulled into a high ponytail, accentuating her sharp cheekbones and fierce golden eyes. And that leather bustier was to die for.
I entered the castle and prowled the corridors. My mission was to save the king. Accessing a terminal on the wall, I consulted the castle Oracle and saw a red dot indicating life form in the king’s bedroom. That was my destination.
I kicked open the bedroom door and was immediately attacked. It was a golem, so it hadn’t registered on the Oracle’s sensors. The golem took me off guard but fortunately, as Swiftblood, I had lightning-fast reflexes. I grabbed the disgusting creature and ripped it apart with my bare hands. The golem opened its mouth and emitted a blood-curdling scream. It fell to the floor in pieces but immediately the dismembered torso began crawling in search of its missing head.
“Die already, you cursed thing!” With a wave of my hand, I set the golem on fire and sent it to choking, smoking oblivion.
When the smoke cleared, I sprinted to the corner where the king was cowering. The moment he saw me, he was paralyzed. Like all men who gazed upon my magnificence, he was at once terrified and completely in love.
I reached toward him with my strong, elegant fingers. As he lifted his trembling hand to take mine, I simply grabbed him by the collar of his tunic and hauled his royal ass off the floor. Half-dragging him toward the door, I said, “We have to get out of here. There’s probably more where that thing came from.”
But before I could go any further, a hooded figure vaulted through the window of the castle and landed in the middle of the room. He jabbed a finger in my direction and thundered, “UNHAND MY CLIENT.”
It was Darkfoot the Zillionaire Playboy Monk.
Darkfoot tore off his cloak. He was seven feet tall, with skin of gold and biceps the size of melons. His hair had been shorn, the better to show his splendid cranium. In his left hand he held a pair of glowing nunchaku. With his right, he reached into the leather pouch fastened to his belt and pulled out a silver throwing star.
Okay, baldy. Let’s play.
I tossed the king aside like a bundle of rags. Putting my hands on my voluptuous hips, I glared at Darkfoot. “Your client? That’s funny. Where were you when he was getting his ass handed to him by a golem?”
“I’ll tell you where,” I said. “Not. Here.”
“You didn’t give me a chance—”
“I WASN’T FINISHED TALKING!” I reached behind me, tore the door off its hinge, and hurled it at Darkfoot. He dropped his weapons and threw up his arms. The door smashed against his forearm and broke into a hundred pieces.
“I wasn’t interrupting,” he said with exaggerated patience. “I was just answering your question. Why are you being so bitchy, Rocky?”
Damn it, Sanji just broke character. “MY NAME IS SWIFTBLOOD, FOOL!” I ripped the giant mantle off the fireplace and threw it at Darkfoot. He ducked just in time, and the mantle smashed through the wall.
In response, Darkfoot tore the chandelier from the ceiling and lobbed it in my direction. “Quit throwing stuff at me, wench!”
I snatched the chandelier from the air and started swinging it above my head by the chain. Behind me, the king belly crawled toward the doorway. Crapoly, I’d totally forgotten about him.
I released the chandelier and it accelerated toward Darkfoot at Mach 3. He threw himself to the side as the tasteful but deadly missile rocketed through the hole in the wall. Several seconds later, there was a loud BOOM! Darkfoot approached what was left of the wall and looked through the hole at the smoking crater in the distance.
“Are you crazy? That was my house!”
Sighing, he bent down and picked up his weapons. When he stood back up, he said, “Where’s the king?”
I looked around. “Uhhhh…”
“You let him get away?”
“Stop yelling at me!”
Darkfoot shook his head. “He’s gone.” He soothed himself by twirling his nunchuks, passing them under his arms and around his waist. “Good luck getting paid,” he said.
“Speak for yourself. You’re not getting paid either.”
“I don’t need money,” said Darkfoot. “I have a zillion dollars, remember?”
“Omigod! Guys, you gotta see this!” Darkfoot and I turned in the direction of the voice.
“Hey, Mack. That’s not cool,” said Darkfoot. “You’ll get your turn in a minute, okay?” This was the first time in weeks that Sanji and I had had the opportunity to role play in person.
“Yeah, Mack,” I echoed. “Your terrorists aren’t going anywhere. They can wait a few more minutes for Deathstalker to shoot the crap out of them.”
“I’m totally serious,” said Mack. She turned off our program. The castle disappeared and suddenly we were just three friends standing in the Live Action Simulation room. Mack and Sanji were freshmen at the Corporate College. I was there as Sanji’s guest.
“Check this out,” said Mack. Her FlexScreen was stuck to the wall. She pressed an icon on the ‘Screen.
“This had better not be kittens,” said Sanji
“Unless they’re terrorist kittens,” I added.
“Shut up and watch,” said Mack. “You’re not gonna believe it.”
Mack rewound the video to the beginning. It showed a man floating above the White House. He was about 150 feet tall and he was wearing a white linen robe that undulated like waves on the ocean. Then I noticed the hair. The beard. The beatific expression. It was pretty obvious who he was supposed to be.
“I HAVE RETURNED.” His voice crashed over the land like an earthquake. His eyes turned glowing red, and a brilliant yellow aura blazed around him like a second sun. The crowds below stopped and gathered, moving closer to get a better look. I know. People are stupid.
“Jesus,” I whispered. I wondered if Sister J and the other nuns were watching.
“More like Jezilla,” observed Mack.
Giant Scary Jesus glared at the Capital below. “I AM NOT PLEASED.”
He didn’t look any happier when a cluster of drone Apache helicopters appeared and began swarming him. At first he ignored them, but then one flew too close to his head, so Jesus seared it with his eyeball laser beams. The helicopter went down in flames. That’s all it took for the other helicopters to launch their Hellfire missiles. That’s right. The military was shooting hellfire at our Lord and Savior. Even more disturbing, Jesus was eating the missiles like they were Red Hots.
Jesus swatted his giant hand at the helicopters until they flew away. “I HAVE COME TO MAKE MY JUDGMENT,” he thundered as he pointed at screaming crowds. “GATHER THE WICKED AND BRING THEM TO ME. YOU HAVE THREE DAYS TO COMPLY OR YOU WILL TASTE MY WRATH.”
Mack stopped the video. “That’s pretty much it,” she said. “From here it loops back to the beginning.”
Sanji and I were too stunned to say anything. Then Sanji pulled out his inhaler and took a big puff. “Was that for real?” he wheezed.
“I don’t know,” said Mack. Then she and Sanji turned in unison and looked at me.
“What?” I said.
“Well?” said Mack. “Is it?”
“How should I know?”
Mack lifted an eyebrow. “Come on, Rocky.”
“You have to know something,” said Sanji.
“For the last time,” I grated, “just because I happen to live with nuns doesn’t mean I am one.”
“No one would accuse you of that,” said Mack.
Sanji smirked in agreement. “But something must have rubbed off.”
“Oh, right. I forgot. I’m BFFs with Jesus. I’ve got his number right here.” I lifted my arm and talked into my SmartCuff. “Hello, Jesus? It’s Rocky Cruze. Quick question: have you come back to kill us all? Mack and Sanji want to know. What’s that? Mack is a giant butthead and Darkfoot is totally gay? I’ll be sure to pass that along.”
“Hey!” Sanji protested.
“Just forget it if you’re going to be like that,” said Mack. She glanced at the frozen image of Jesus. “I guess we’ll find out eventually.”
“It’s gotta be fake,” declared Sanji.
“I hope so.” Mack looked uneasy.
“It’s probably just CGI,” I said. “Did you find it on YouTube?”
“No,” said Mack. “This is off the news feed.”
“The feed could have been hacked,” Sanji pointed out.
“Or this is really happening,” replied Mack.
I didn’t know what to think. I wondered if Sister J and the other nuns were watching this.
Sanji looked at me. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
“Maybe. What are you thinking?”
He pumped his fist. “Darkfoot and Swiftblood versus Jezilla. It’s on!”
I laughed and gave him a high-five.
“You two are acting like idiots,” said Mack. “This could be terrorists.”
Sanji rolled his eyes.
“I saw that!” yelled Mack.
“Come on, guys,” I said. “Don’t fight.”
“Tell that to Skin and Brains. He started it.”
“Did not, Can Opener.”
“I’m only going to say this once,” I sighed. “Mack, don’t disparage Sanji’s oversized brain. Sanji, don’t make fun of Mack’s Robo-arm of Doom. Okay? Are we good?”
Just then, my SmartCuff beeped. “Shit, our time’s up. We gotta go.” Live Action Simulation Role Play, or LASR, was quite popular with college kids, so it was a good bet other players were waiting to use the room.
I peeled off my SmartSuit and handed it to Sanji. It used to belong to his younger brother. I would never have been allowed to take it out of the compound. Minus the ‘Suit I wore the dregs from The Loving Heart of Jesus thrift store. To find sizes small enough for my 5-foot 2-inch frame, I’d had to raid the children’s section. Today’s awesome outfit was white jeans with a big stain on front and a neon pink T-shirt with the horrifying sentiment: I ♥ Unicorns. But even though my clothes were lame, I was still rocking my signature pompadour Mohawk. Today’s color was dark purple.
Sanji and Mack changed out of their ‘Suits, shooting dirty looks at each other the whole time. Sanji Patel was a little under six feet tall, slight of build with round glasses in brushed silver frames and glossy black hair that sprouted from his head like windswept grass. He had the biggest smile I’ve ever seen but questionable taste in clothes. Today he was wearing his I like π T-shirt despite my warning that it was babe Kryptonite.
Mackenzie Hoffman (who would kill you on the spot if you called her that) was one hundred seventy pounds of muscle and metal. Mack wasn’t wearing a print T-shirt, but if she were, I imagine it would say something like Die Terrorists Die! Her right arm was a custom titanium prosthetic. After the real one was blown off by a bomb, she wasn’t taking any chances. A scar over her right temple marked the place where doctors had inserted a plate to protect her shattered skull. She wore her hair long to cover it, but some things just aren’t fixable.
“I didn’t even get my turn,” grumbled Mack, pulling her ‘Screen off the wall.
“Woe is Mack,” teased Sanji. “She didn’t get to kill anyone. Does that mean the terrorists win?”
Mack gave Sanji a titanium finger and stalked out of the room.
As Mack left, we heard her bawl, “WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING AT?” to the people waiting to for the room.
“You need to stop provoking her,” I told Sanji.
“I can’t help it. She’s so damn serious about everything.” He hefted his backpack over his shoulder and handed me mine.
“I doubt you’d be a ball of sunshine if you saw your mom blown to bits in front of you.”
Sanji paused. “Mack’s not the only person who’s lost someone.”
I smacked my forehead. “I’m sorry. I’m an idiot.”
“Only sometimes,” said Sanji.
We cleared our program and I hurried to the exit. “I don’t want to be late for work,” I told Sanji.
I was a day worker for Corporate Cleaning. One of the privileges of living in the Compound, and why the residents put up with the associated restrictions, was that all the jobs were white collar or retail. “Dirty” jobs like cleaning, garbage removal, and waste treatment, fell to outsiders like me.
“Of course not.” Sanji’s expression was grave. “Those toilets aren’t going to clean themselves.”
“You’re such a jerk!” I punched him in the arm but I was laughing.
Sanji gave me a little bow. “I bid thee farewell, Swiftblood. Until we meet again.”
“Stop, please,” I told him. “You’re embarrassing yourself.”
Sanji grinned. “Not possible.”
I gave him a fist bump. “Peace out, Darkfoot. Until next time.”
After finishing my shift at the Compound, I headed back to the Free Zone. It was called the Free Zone because you were free from Corporate control. You also were free to starve, freeze, and die from an otherwise curable disease.
The Zone was too far from the Compound to walk, so the Zone boss, El Diablo, provided a flatbed to transport the day workers to and from their jobs. It wasn’t charity on his part; he expected favors in return. Fortunately, I was able to use one of the SmartCarts from the convent so I didn’t have to worry about him.
Driving at top speed—which for a ‘Cart was about 35 mph — I arrived at the convent around 6 p.m. I didn’t see the idiot standing in my way until I almost ran him over.
“Hey dumbshit,” I yelled. “You trying to get killed?”
The dark figure turned and regarded me silently. He was tall and broad shouldered, but the hoodie he was wearing hid his face in the shadows. Still, there was something eerily familiar about him.
He tilted his head to the side. “Raquel?”
No no no no no.
I knew that voice. It belonged to Francisco Tolle: liar, thief, destroyer of hearts.
I swallowed and cleared my throat. “Sisko,” was all I could get out.
He lowered his hood and shook out his wild, dark hair.
“Rock! You remember me,” he grinned. “How long has it been? Two years?”
“You would know,” I retorted.
He studied me. “Man, look at you. You’ve changed so much.”
“Really? You still look like the same asshole to me.”
“Now, Rock. Is that any way to treat an old friend?”
“What friend? I don’t see anyone but a lying dirtbag.”
“But I came all this way to see you.”
“Why?” I demanded. “You need me to donate a kidney or something?”
Sisko laughed. “Don’t act like you don’t miss me.” This tactic had worked when I was young and stupid. Now I could see the manipulation behind it. I folded my arms over my chest and stared him down.
An odd expression crossed Sisko’s face. Worry? Doubt? I’d never seen it before. “Seriously,” he said. “I was hoping we could talk.”
“Yeah? Well, I was hoping you’d be chased down and eaten by wolves. Looks like we’re both going to be disappointed.”
“Okay, okay.” He held out his hands in surrender. “I just—” He stopped and looked over his shoulder. “Did you hear that?”
He held up his hand. “Quiet.” He listened intently, then I saw him relax.
“What is it?”
He frowned. “Probably nothing.”
I was getting tired of his bullshit. “Sisko, what do you want?”
“I need to talk to Sister J.”
“So go talk to her. What’s it got to do with me?”
“She doesn’t like me,” said Sisko.
“Color me shocked.”
“I’m not joking.”
“What am I supposed to do about it?”
“Ask her to come out here and see me.”
He waved his hand in irritation. “It doesn’t matter. But I need to see her now.”
“What’s in it for me?”
Sisko sighed. “I’ll owe you.”
“You already owe me. More than you can ever pay.”
“All right, I’ll owe you more.”
I snorted. “Your promises are worthless. I’m not doing anything for you.”
With that, I turned and marched toward the convent.
I didn’t answer.
Sisko called to me again. “Raquel!”
I didn’t turn around but he continued anyway. “Tell Sister J I need to put something in the warehouse as soon as possible!”
Fat chance. I said nothing, just kept walking until I’d reached The Loving Heart of Jesus.
Maybe I’ll tell her tomorrow, I thought. Unless by some miracle my prayers were answered and Sisko did get eaten by wolves. Then I’d know for sure that Jesus was real.