This Can’t Be Good, by TDK

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8:00 a.m., Monday morning – Usually the time for grabbing coffee before logging in and catching up on the days memes.  Hell, the computer would even finish booting from its weekend slumber for a good 10 minutes anyway.  But not this time.  This time it was actually Sunday, and it was 7 a.m., and Mitch had been sitting in his boss’s office for the past -how long now? where’s the clock?- debating with the speakerphone to little avail.

We get that it went off early, but that doesn’t tell us enough,” Jim said, trying to keep his calm.  “We really are going to need those flight logs before I can send my engineers after the problem.  Otherwise, we’ll be flying blind and any answers we might be able to come up with won’t mean anything.”  Jim’s cell phone buzzed and he quickly looked at it.

Information in the flight logs is classified,” said the phone.  “I will not give you access to them.”

You can scrub them,”  Jim responded. “We gave you guys a utility to do that.  Look.  Just go talk to your superiors and they’ll tell you the same thing.  In the meantime we need to get off the phone so we can get to work here.  I’ll call you back with hourly updates.”

With the conference call over, Jim turned to Mitch.  “Thank you for getting here so soon.  I know you won’t get anything, but at least try to go through the code changes between our last two releases to see if anything pops out.  That was Kurt just now, he’ll be in soon.  No word yet from Harry.”

I’m on it,” said Mitch as he got up.  Today was not going to go well at all.  Not enough sleep, and Harry was unreachable.  Not that Kurt was a bad engineer, he just tended to do things… his own way.  More than once, code reviews had caught some less-than-polite words strewn about his work.  Mitch had let some of his more subtle silliness fly, though. It all worked well, and the paperwork wasn’t worth the hassle.  Harry, however was ideal.  He worked fast and precisely and knew the source code backwards and forwards.

Why would a bomb go off early? He internally asked himself.  The first thought was, of course, that it was faulty bomb firmware, but the Air Force swore there were no changes in the bomb firmware, and they had dropped another one on the target just to be sure, with the same result.  Somehow, their software must have been at fault.  Given it faulty targeting data or something.

The coffee was only beginning to kick in when both the scrubbed logs and Kurt rolled in the door an hour later.  Caffeine must not work as well after only four hours of sleep.  Mitch, quickly grunted out instructions to Kurt to go through the logs while he scanned the targeting changes.

Got it!” shouted Kurt not 30 minutes later.  How was he always so awake in the morning?  It’s just not fair.  “It’s a stupid sign error.  They were trying to hit something below sea level near the Dead Sea.  We dropped the negative on the altitude when we passed it over to the bomb.”

Something didn’t sit right with Mitch about what Kurt had just said so he wandered over to his cube.  “Kurt?  How did you know where they were flying?  They scrubbed the location data before they sent it to us.”

Well yeah,” said Kurt.  “But Harry and I had been talking a while ago about how to get back at that data if we needed to.  Sure they change up all the coordinates but-”

Don’t tell me any more!”  Mitch interrupted.  “So I guess you guys wrote up a script or something to just break the law any time it became a hassle.”

There’s more to it than that.  You still have to-”  This time a simple glare cut Kurt of mid sentence.  “Anyway.  Yeah.  But we haven’t used it before today.”

Okay.  I’m going to go tell Jim the good news.  But, I don’t want you saying too much about this to anyone.  Understand?”

Mitch blearily walked over to Jim’s office.  He was on the phone, again, with someone else who was coming down on him for this.  When he finally hung up, Mitch opened his mouth to speak when the phone rang.  Again.  After a quick glance to the caller ID he paused.  “Seven five seven?  Another call from Virginia?”

Jim picked up the receiver and quickly got to talking.  Mitch could only barely hear the words, but he heard Harry’s name in there which seemed rather odd to his sleepy mind.  Mitch took the opportunity to close his eyes briefly before something else Jim said brought him back better than any stimulant ever could.  “What do you mean defected?”

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DEADlines

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Eviscerator moved quietly down the halls. He was proud of that. A lot of people claimed to be masters of stealth, but how many could do it covered in armor that bristled with blades?

As he crossed the hallway, his team members fell into step beside him. On his right was Firebug. While Eviscerator felt the man was… unstable, to put it mildly, the man had an impressive track record. Despite charging into heated battles with two giant propane tanks on his back for five years now, he’d never been blown up, and had only killed three S.K.U.L.L. agents.

On his right was Vector. Eviscerator was the first to admit that his moral compass had a tendency to point south, but Vector was a pyschopath. He carried twelve guns of varying sizes openly, and Eviscerator knew he had at least four more hidden on him.

They were almost to the elevator when someone called out.

“Excuse me.” Her voice quavered, and when the three killers turned to face her, she visibly shrank away.

She was a small woman, and the women’s office uniform looked ridiculous on her. Eviscerator was never sure who was responsible for the ridiculously short skirts, the blouse that only buttoned halfway up, or the requirement that all women in the office have there hair artfully cascading over their left shoulder. Lady Shadow might have ordered all the women to imitate her to stoke her ego. Or the Skull King could have decided that since Lady Shadow was so efficient, having them dress like her might make them more efficient. He wasn’t completely together. Or it might have been one of Lord Shadow’s jokes, part of some odd game he and his wife played that seemed beyond comprehension.

Regardless, Eviscerator thought he might have found the least suited woman for the look. She was too short, too flat, too nervous. Making her dress like that seemed cruel, even to a trained assassin.

“We are in a hurry,” he said, trying to sound as gentle as he could. Between the polished facemask, and the forest of blades, he wasn’t sure it helped much.

“It’s… um… I just…” she said, glancing nervously at each of them.

“Spit it out,” Vector said, pointing at her. She shrieked, falling to the ground and flinging the papers she was carrying everywhere. Given that Vector had a pistol in his hand, it was not an unreasonable response.

“Put that away before I cut your hand off,” Eviscerator told him.

“So pretty,” Firebug said, staring at the paper that fluttered around them.

“Just don’t set them on fire.” He turned back to the office girl. He peeled off one of his gloves and offered her a hand up.

The act seemed to comfort her, if only a little. She took his hand and he pulled her to her feet.

“Now, what did you need?” he asked.

“It’s… it’s about the Devastation Project.”

He nodded. “We were just on our way to Tibet to obtain the gem of thunder.”

“We don’t have time,” she said.

Firebug let out a deranged laugh. “The stars will be in position for another two weeks. Lord Shadow made me write it on my calender in big red letters. That’s plenty of time. Too much time, even!”

The woman muttered something inaudible.

“Could you repeat that?” Eviscerator asked.

“The… the Unnamed One, L-lord of Emptiness, and Bringer of Terror said he wants the offering before the Comet of Xeranthia leaves the system on Monday.”

“What? We haven’t even started the rituals. I was going to spend most of next week working on the casket.”

“L-Lady Shadow told us that we’d all need to work over the weekend.”

“Aw, man!” Firebug said. “I had a date this weekend. A hot date!” He punctuated this with a burst of fire from each of his wrist-mounted flamethrowers. The cubicle walls glowed and smoldered in the sudden heat, but didn’t catch. Almost everything in S.K.U.L.L. headquarters had been fireproofed shortly after Firebug had joined.

“Did you finally ask that Emma, from the demolition squad?” Eviscerator asked. Firebug nodded excitedly. “Good for you. Mystara says she’s got a great sense of humor and is really good at treating chemical burns.”

The pyromaniac deflated a moment later. “Aw, but now I gotta spend the whole weekend translating stupid, dry, dusty papers. And they’ll make me turn in my tanks again, I just know it!”

“Wait,” the office worker said, her timidness temporarily outweighed by incredulity. “Firebug is the one translating the ancient Sumerian?”

“Akkadian!” he snapped, “Not Sumerian. Got the Sumerian translated weeks ago.”

Eviscerator chuckled. “Didn’t you know? He’s got a great mind for languages.”

“I’m with the broad,” Vector said. “I don’t think he’s got a mind at all in there.”

“No, still got it,” Firebug said. “They tried to take it from me, when I read what they had to say. But I showed them. I burned ’em all. Every page, every book. The whole library in beautiful fire.”

“Whatever. What about the gem of thunder? The Defense Force knows we’re after it, I can’t get it on my own.”

“We’re… we’re going on without it,” she said.

Vector laughed. “I guess I get a long weekend, then. Have fun, chumps.”

“A-actually,” she stammered, subconsciously stepping so that Eviscerator was partially between her and Vector. “L-lord Sh-shadow said he has a job for you.” She shrunk even farther behind Eviscerator, who suspected she’d probably be clinging to him, if she could have without impaling herself. “And th-that you’re not allowed to shoot me for it.”

“Oh?” Vector said, his jaw already tightening. “What is it?”

“You’re-in-charge-of-the-Starbucks-run!” she said as quickly as she could then ran down the hall away from him.

Prompt: Office Fires

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My friend gave me this week’s prompt: office fires. And he specified that they can’t be literal fires, showing that he knows me too well.

Good luck and good writing!