Short Stories

This blog is the home of some old short stories I'd written five or six years ago for "challenges" (contests) at the Writers BBS. In such challenges, someone else sets the topic, genre, word length limit, and time in which to complete the story.

My Photo
Name:
Location: California, United States

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Conflicted

This story was written for a Science Fiction Challenge on the subject of inner conflict

Alex DeLindt stalked the narrow alleyways of New Tokyo, his soft-soled shoes soundless as they struck the wet cobblestones. The evening drizzle awoke every arthritic ache in his six-foot frame and he paused in the shadow of a cherry tree to light a narc-cig. Taking a deep drag of the medicinal weed, his pale eyes roamed the street ahead. He'd been recalled from retirement by the Company for one last sanction ... the Monarch of Earth had been murdered and Alex was the only living operative who'd recognize the assassin.

The narc-cig's analgesic wafted away those bodily ills that came with age and Alex's concentration sharpened. As he exhaled blue smoke with a sigh, he took in the oddity of his surroundings. The colony-planet's city of New Japan had taken a leaf from the book of historical recreation and was an unholy wedding of theme park and medieval Nippon ... perhaps a reaction to the destruction of Japan on Earth.

His sources put Takahashi in one of the establishments on the street ahead and Alex perused the buildings lining the short avenue ... a sashimi bar, a pagoda of prostitution, a martial arts dojo and, at the end of the cul-de-sac, a zendo. A wistful smile softened his angular features as memories surfaced of his years in Japan before the nuclear power-plant meltdown. The smile faded, for that had been 50 years ago and now the islands existed as a radioactive wasteland.

Alex dropped his cig and let it smolder at his feet as he checked the sheathed katana concealed within his long coat. Plasma-energy weapons were illegal in New Japan so he'd brought along an old comrade ... ironic that this sword had been a gift to him from the one he now hunted. With a reluctance that disturbed him, he readied himself, tying back his long grey hair. He had a job to do - it shouldn't matter that his target had once been his wife.

He crossed the street, blending in with the tourists ... just another clueless gaijin in pursuit of oriental pleasures. Halting at the sashimi bar, he saw it specialized in the preparation of the poisonous blowfish and he smiled wryly ... perhaps a meal laced with tetrodotoxin would dispatch Takahashi for him. He gazed hopefully through the large windows but his quarry wasn't within.

Unsure if he was disappointed or relieved, he moved on to The Floating World, New Japan's house of sexual satisfaction, and was startled as a hologram materialized before the establishment's door ... a faux geisha wriggled sensuously, untying the obi of her kimono. Bemused, it was a moment before Alex realized the apparition was of Takahashi. Had she thus earning her keep while lying low? He ruthlessly banished his feeling of distress.

He should be searching the building, capturing her before she escaped, but he couldn't tear his eyes from her stripping holographic doppleganger. If the image was accurate, Takahashi hadn't aged a day since they'd last been together, 50 years ago. She must be using black-market rejuvenators.

Finally, he forced himself to walk through the hologram into the pagoda. As he stepped over the threshold, loosening his sword in its scabbard, he glimpsed her fleeing through a back window. Cursing, he gave chase but once outside, he realized he'd lost her. Then he saw the back door of the nearby dojo swing shut.

He kicked open the dojo's door, his naked sword held before him, sending aikido students scattering. After one look at Alex's katana, the sensei retreated to his office, doubtless to alert authorities. Alone on the totem mats, Takahashi stood in a defensive posture, a bokkenin her hands. They circled each other warily, Alex respectful of Takahashi's weapon, though just a wooden sword, for she was now some 50 years younger than he and lithe with it.

"Why are you here?" she asked.

"You killed our King," Alex answered.

"I had good reason."

"Reasons don't matter. I serve at the pleasure of the Company." He took a step forward, raising his sword.

Takahashi retreated. "But I'm your wife."

"Ex-wife. You left." He thrust with his blade but she managed to deflect the blow.

"I'd just lost my family, my country, to a nuclear holocaust. I needed time alone."

Alex's face twisted bitterly. "To find yourself?"

"To find who set that reactor to melt-down ... it was no accident. And after 50 years of digging, I finally did. King George and his regime were culpable. It began with a conflict over whaling and ... " Her voice died away as she observed Alex's expression. "You knew!"

He used her momentary shock to his advantage, launching a furious attack that disarmed her. As she cowered under his blade, Alex answered her accusation. "Indeed I knew. It was I who set the explosives at the power-plant. As I said, I serve."

Alex gazed not in triumph but despair at the wife he was ashamed to have loved less well than his Liege. With a blow, he rendered her unconscious and lifting her into his arms for the last time, carried her to the zendo next door. The sacred place was deserted and, as police sirens wailed in the distance, Alex lay Takahashi at the feet of a bronze Buddha, drove his blade through her heart, and then fell upon his sword, his final task for the Company completed.