My soul is leaking away one key-plink at a time as I work on a TPS report. My boss passes by, claps a hand on my shoulder, and whispers, “My office—now. Let’s talk promotion.” I glance up at him and give him a perfunctory smile. Great—an extra bit of luxury in exchange for what is in all likelihood an obligation to attend more meetings where everyone plays candy crush, sleeps, or dithers over colorful powerpoints. I sigh, log off, and get up from my desk. I walk across the brightly lit, open-floored 50th story workspace and open the door to my boss’s office. My hackles instantly raise. The lights are low, a hint of sulfur wafts through the air, and something smells like that weird mix of pungency and preservative that I remember from dissecting dead animals in 10th grade biology class. I’ve never been in here but I can see that it’s interior is bigger than it should be—from the outside, my boss’s office looks like it may be 100 sq. ft. at the most, but from the inside, it looks to be more like a 1000. A giant, candle-ringed pentagram is etched into the floor, and beyond that is my boss’s desk. His chair is turned away from me, but from what I can see he looks to be stroking a cat like Dr. motha duckin’ Claw. I pace around the pentagram, my shoes clopping ominously loud in the dim, smelly dark. When I reach my boss he keeps his back to me. Nervously, I say, “SOoooo…about that promotion…” For a long moment he says nothing, only strokes his cat. Then a single chuckle lifts his shoulders: “Heh.” Another few seconds pass, then he chuckles again: “Hoo.” More chuckles follow, and then he’s laughing like the Joker. “Heh heh. Hoo. Ha. Heeheeee….ohoho. Hahaha. Ahahaha. Mwaha—MWAHAHA. BWAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAAHAHAAAA!!!! AHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!” He turns around on his swivel chair, revealing that the cat in his arms is long dead, and I notice with growing horror that a squirm of maggots is crawling from each of its long-dessicated eye sockets. I see that my boss’s mild-mannered yuppie face is now widened into a full-on Evil Smile. He cocks his head to the side and says, “There is no PROMOTION here, Kent! There is no AID! No SUCCOR! Your heart’s blood will nourish the dark lord Astaroth, and you will be forever bound to his terrible whim! You will spend eternity after eternity spinning on a set of barbed demon genitalia…AFTER you’ve had your skin flayed from your bones, of course, hahaha! At the start of each day you’ll be completely healed so you can do it again! What fun! AHAHAHAHA!!!” I look left, then right. Dark, grunting shadows are closing in on me. I look closer at them and whisper, “Candice? George?” But these aren’t my coworkers anymore—they’re a messed-up cross between my office mates and some kind of insectoid monster-creature. My boss winks at me and says, “THEY got promoted. Sorry Kent—you’ll have to wait your turn…hit me up after you’re done with the demon cocks.” I look at my boss and my eyes steel over. In the best damn Batman voice that you can imagine, I rasp, “Not a chance dickface.” I throw my head back and scream, “PALAMEDES PUBLISHING!” Magic flash. I extend my arms and straighten my legs like Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. Thick, gorgeous sections of graphene alloy began clanking across my limbs, snapping into place as smart cables rear up like snakes and plug into the battle-ports that are now distributed across my body. A badass, blue-green glow emits from the vent-lined thrusters that form on my back, under each of my shoulders and right above my lats. Various weapon systems appear on my wrists shoulders and hips, dial themselves in, and give off a low VMMMMM as they power up their superpositional cores. If this were a movie, here’s where the camera would spin slowly around me while wondrous, transformative music soared through the air. My cranial combat rig sections out over my skull, and my Cybernetically Enhanced Warfare Visor slips across my eyes with a reverbrating CLANK. A bevy of readouts flash across my eyes, and I hear my AI say in a pleasant, robotic voice: “Mark VII Extradimensional Assault Suit is now operational. Good hunting, Pilot Wayne.” My boss is looking at me in astonishment. In a grating whisper I say, “Hope you’re wearing diapers—this shit’s about to get real.” (Come on—you KNOW you’re dying to make some eighties action movie one-liner/pun before you kick ass in a mech-ed out battle-suit). My boss snarls in rage, rips off his face, revealing himself to be an insectoid, and leaps across the desk at me. Now they’re all charging at me. I cross my arms in an X in front of my chest, then sling them out to the sides, activating my hard-light forearm bayonets. I start slicing through demonic insectoids with glee, using what look like two curved lightsabers that extend away from my wrists. Sizzling purple blood splashes across my armor, eating away the paint and leaving behind pitted, corroded metal. I side-kick an insectoid in the chest, sending it flying into its comrades like a bowling ball and forcing them all back. Now that I have a little space, I grit my teeth and say, “Auto-tracking engage. Activate all null-fire and exotic radiation systems.” The coolest laser guns in the history of coolness unfold from my shoulders, and I clench my fists and try not to have a joygasm as I lean forward and blast away at these evil insectoid fools. Time to get out while the getting’s good. I take a knee and say, “Boosters.” The vent-lined thrusters on my back begin whining like a jet engine about to take off…and then BOOM! I blast through my boss’s blacked out windows, breaking through to the clear sunny blue in a scatter of shattered glass. I soar into the wide open sky, turning onto my back so I can give my insectoid enemies the double middle-finger. Rot in your misery-drenched offices, you Astaroth-worshipping bastards!
Don’t fall for the old I’m-gonna-promote-you-but-I’m-secretly-a-dark-forces-worshipper-who-strokes-dead-cats trick. Arm yourself with a mech-ed out battlesuit that would make your ten-year-old self stand up and cheer. Palamedes publishing: Check out their revolutionary Responsive Books software here: Responsive Books. Check out their short stories here: A Gathering Darkness They will soon offer Echo Volume 1 in paperback. For now, get Echo Vol. 1 on Kindle here: Vol. 1 on Kindle. Vol. 2 on Kindle here: Vol.2 on Kindle Vol. 3 on Kindle here: Vol. 3 on Kindle