Weeks after the end of WBWW, and the winner has been announced, I found this exciting gem in my email spam folder. My heart sank as I realised what had happened, this had been submitted by email but for some unknown reason was treated like spam. Usually I trust Gmail, as it usually does a decent job of distinguishing actual spam, but for some reason it hide this away from me. The story was submitted by Wes from OtherSpace. We’ve featured several articles by Wes about his MUSH.
I can’t apologise enough to Wes, this is a great story but unfortunately it was never passed to the judges. So the best thing I can do is post it here so you can read, and wonder how well it would have done in the WBWW competition.
Kill Devil Hills Convalescent Hospital, North Carolina
I have never spoken my middle name to anyone outside my most immediate family.
Once, I asked Mother what had possessed her to choose it. Perhaps most important, I wished to know why she had chosen it for me. But she deflected, urging me to raise that subject with Father, if I dared.
I dared, just one time. I had the ill fortune to present my query during the afternoon of Christmas Eve in 1834, at the height of his daily inebriation. For my trouble, I was rewarded not with knowledge, but with the calloused back of his left hand across my face. “Ask again, it’s the belt for you,” he warned. I did not ask again. But, apparently, I did give him an angry look – so he assured me, and this served to justify the supreme thrashing I received with the belt, after all.
I will be honest: The significance of the name did not register with me until I was about nine years of age. In Sunday school at the First Baptist Church of Oak Bog, on a particularly humid afternoon beneath a mossy live oak, we read the stories of our Lord Jesus Christ’s apostles. We learned about the last supper and the betrayal of Christ by Judas Iscariot, who, it should be noted, deserved to go to bed without bread pudding for his naughtiness. That was the assertion of my friend Toppy Forrest. I found it difficult to position myself against such a sentiment. We were young, then. Good and evil seemed so clear to us at the time.
But now, dear Jessup and Clayton, I suppose I am older and wiser. At 33, in my waning hours, I am the same age our Lord reached before his crucifixion. I will not claim to understand all the Mysteries of the Almighty, which are Legion and often beyond mortal comprehension.
I was born Judas Iscariot Piedmont. I am no longer ashamed. For I came to understand, in the fullness of time, that we all serve a purpose in God’s plan and we all work His will. Even those who take blood money and turncoat someone they love and worship are responding to a higher calling.
This may make no sense to you now. Perhaps in a few years, you will understand. I will pray that it is so. When that day comes, I hope you may find it in your loving hearts to forgive my wrongs. I shall await your embrace in the glorious Kingdom of Heaven.
Nearly 800 years later, in a midtown New York City hospital just minutes from the Outer Banks, Jude Piedmont read those ancient words on a holographic display, scrawled handwriting on yellowed parchment rendered in a cloud of blue-white light.
Jude Piedmont, about ten generations removed from the nefarious Iscariot, kept the letter stored in the data module of his well-used Anyware Cirrus PDA. He was fascinated by the man who was thought to be one of the first serial killers on record in the Carolinas. Most of his letters, including the note in which he confessed to the murders of eight nurses and barmaids in cities ranging from Raleigh to Charlotte, were destroyed in a Pittsboro courthouse fire in the early 21st Century. But the deathbed letter to his sons, written as he wasted away from a cancer that now could have been cured with about six doses of medicine during the course of a month, had been in a special collection at a Kill Devil Hills library.
From time to time, Jude would read the letter in the hopes of finding some clue that would help him fathom the depths of the monstrous mind that could speak so eloquently of religious matters, in a loving tone to his children, while simultaneously harboring a vicious brutality that sought release through the slaughter of innocent women. Iscariot Piedmont had traveled the state, working as a freelance farrier, and wormed his way into the confidence of his victims before slicing their throats and leaving their bodies in shallow forest graves.
So far, no matter how often his eyes scanned the words, Jude had been unable to reconcile the mind driving the pen with the grim legend of the killer who wielded it. He suspected that the answer would elude him all the way to the grave. Luckily, it seemed he would still have some time before that final day might come.
He had a private room with local police guarding the door, just in case someone tried to infiltrate St. Catherine’s Medical Center to finish what the captured assassin started. No window in this room, either. He wouldn’t fall prey to rocket-propelled grenades fired from neighboring rooftops, nor would someone with a jetpack zoom up to open fire with a plasma rifle. Only investigators and approved friends and relatives would be granted entry.
It struck Piedmont as somewhat curious that they were giving him all this protection while he recovered from his wounds, but it seemed unlikely that it would persist once he walked out those hospital doors. The message seemed to be: We don’t want you dying on our watch, but out there, you’re on your own.
Oddly enough, this didn’t bother him all that much. He suspected that this well-publicized abortion of an assassination attempt might actually serve to insulate him after his release. At the very least, Piedmont thought that it would give him time to distance himself from the event and for whoever wanted him dead to – dare to dream – forget about him.
The door whooshed open. His attorney, Gettleman, stepped into the room with a wolfish grin on his face. “You’re looking lively, Mr. Piedmont. Glad to see it. I thought you might check out on us last night.”
Piedmont shrugged. “I’ve felt better, but I’m counting my blessings. I just want to get back to work.”
The lawyer clucked his tongue. “Forget that,” he said. “You wanted to start your own shipping enterprise, right? That takes capital. Someone just went to a great deal of trouble to try to kill you. Probably someone powerful, with incredibly deep pockets. Now seems like an excellent time to try to squeeze a fat settlement out of somebody.”
“No,” Piedmont said, flatly, shaking his head.
Gettleman frowned. “No? Are you kidding me?”
“No,” the pilot repeated. He fixed his gaze on the lawyer, somber and resolute. “I want to do my own thing, but I want to build it myself.”
“That could take years,” Gettleman said. He very nearly whined. “Decades. Be realistic, Jude.”
Piedmont poured himself a glass of water from the pitcher on the table beside his bed. He knew better than to think the lawyer was urging this greedy maneuver out of some desire to see him succeed in the interstellar freight hauling business. Plain and simple, Gettleman knew he would get a percentage of that “fat settlement.” He took a sip from the glass. Sighed. Then he looked at the lawyer and said, “I really need to get some rest.”
“So you’ll think about it?” Gettleman pressed, the barest hint of a smile seeping onto his face.
No, Piedmont thought. He had enough work ahead trying to track down the careless hacker who had botched the Clara Nell’s computer refit. He had promised to stick with Captain Baker at least long enough to bring Vampire to justice. “No,” he verified aloud. “Goodbye, Mr. Gettleman. The next time I hear from you, it had better be about my recertification.”
The lawyer deepened his frown and furrowed his brow, but recognized that he had no choice but to relent for now. He shook Piedmont’s hand before departing the room.
Once Gettleman was gone, Jude tapped a pad on the bedside table, activating the holovid’s news and entertainment node. He swiped fingers across the displayed images, moving from one frequency to the next.
On the Consortium Broadcast Network, the Castori anchor showed the latest images from the T’lask VII flashpoint – a Nall polydenum production facility world in Fringe space that, it turned out, used captured Consortium citizens as forced labor. The Vanguard had swept in to liberate the captives and occupy the planet, securing a new supply of the precious and volatile energy source that powered OtherSpace Drives (among other things). Warriors from the Clawed Fist Fleet had struck back ferociously, but so far had been unable to wrest the planet back from the Consortium. So, the Parallax government seemed to be rattling sabers, threatening to launch Coreseeker missiles at T’lask VII as a way of saying “If we can’t have it, no one can.” Heightened tensions and hostilities between the Consortium and Parallax would certainly make life interesting in Fringe space for a while, Piedmont thought.
FIP. FIP. FIP. He stopped on a channel showing a vid, produced documentary-style, that appeared to be the story of a massive alien invasion of the known worlds of the Orion Arm. The villains appeared to be gorilla-like aliens with huge warships, which easily crushed the allied forces of the Consortium, Fringe, and Parallax. Piedmont couldn’t decide which was less believable: an easy battle for such an invasion force or the prospect of cooperation between the three disparate regions of the Orion Arm.
FIP. FIP. A big-mouthed Demarian standing on a procenium stage, wailing as if someone was jumping up and down on his feet with cleats on their steel-toed boots. Oh, wait. No – just one of their god-awful operas. FIP. FIP. FIP. Dear god in heaven, FIP.
FIP. A nature special about the metal-chewing rodents, known as buhnehs, that sometimes swarmed up from the mining tunnels deep below Valsho Peak on Antimone and rampaged through seaside villages, wreaking havoc on buildings, machinery, and furniture. The narrator spoke of a particular incident in 2617 when the middle-sized hamlet of Yanz tumbled into the sea because the buhnehs – also known to natives as “buhns” – gnawed their way through the steel girders that held up the platforms supporting the oceanside village.
FIP. FIP. FIP. A game show called Throw Bar, hosted by the jocular Thaddeus Neidermeyer, in which contestants from around the Orion Arm were challenged to throw unusual objects, sometimes including their competitors, as far as they could. Tonight, a Castori teacher hurled a black leather boot belonging to a United States Civil War re-enactor about twenty feet. A Timonae bank teller tossed a copy of the Throw Bar home game about forty-five feet. The defending champion, a Demarian data entry agent, threw the Castori teacher forty-eight feet to win the day. Unfortunately, the Castori left the competition with a shattered back, a sprained wrist, and a broken leg.
FIP. A talk show, featuring a G’ahnli finance expert named Soogorbma, who talked about the importance of building a retirement savings for those sunset years, because 110 was the new 90. He sang the praises of Consortium military investment bonds, which never seemed to go out of style. Given the current climate between Earth and Nalhom over T’lask VII, it actually made a lot of sense.
FIP. FIP. FIP. FIP. Rockhopper races, pre-recorded, broadcast from the asteroid fields of Ungstir. The smart money was on DelMarenno, but Piedmont knew you couldn’t count Jest’liana Warren out of the running on her worst days. Besides, he had met both. DelMarenno was an unrepentant drunk. Jest was good people.
Again, the door whooshed open. Piedmont waved his palm over a sensor, freezing the playback so that the holovid showed Jest’s hopper coming out of an arcing sweep from behind one of the rock chunks near Ungstir Three.
He recognized the new visitor as the Zangali who had come to his rescue in the stairwell. Detective Prague had told Piedmont his name. “Am I disturbing you?” the security guard asked as the door whooshed shut behind him. He nodded his snout toward the holovid. “I can come back another time.”
“No, it’s great to see you, Mr. Salaban,” Piedmont replied, extending a hand from the bed toward his visitor.
Despite having such a huge paw, the Zangali managed a gentle squeeze of the offered hand. “I will not take long. The doctor informed me that you were conscious. I wished to pay my respects. Thank you for including me on the list.”
Piedmont scratched the right side of his face, rough with stubble. He hadn’t shaved since before court a day earlier. He wondered aloud, “How long have you been waiting out there for me to wake up?”
Salaban grunted. “I was given the day off,” he said. “I could think of no better way to spend it than to ensure that I saw you through to this point.”
“That’s kind of you,” Piedmont replied. “Seems like I’m going to live to fly another day. Considering you saved my life, it made perfect sense to put you on that list. If *you* wanted me dead, I wouldn’t be here right now.” He let his arms fall to his sides on the bed. “Speaking of which: do we know anything new about the shooter? The police didn’t have much to say.”
The Zangali shook his head. “Nothing on file in the public records I checked. He’s a ghost.”
“Connected,” Piedmont mused, frowning. That would fit with Gettleman’s assumption that the assassin worked for powerful people. “That’s not good.”
“No,” Salaban agreed.
Piedmont imagined one of two scenarios would play out for the assassin, and neither of the likely outcomes involved facing justice in a court of law. He strongly suspected that the shooter, known only as Grim, would either end up dead in his cell (probably looking like a suicide) or he would disappear from custody during transit from the city jail to the courthouse. Grim’s fate relied on whether his employers considered him too much of a liability to live or too talented to die. Given that the assassin seemed to be doing a fantastic job of keeping his mouth shut about his bosses, they might want to keep him around for more wet work operations down the line. But any loose end could unravel for them too. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. Better safe than sorry, they might think.
Of course, that could just as easily apply to the target that got away, right? Perhaps he was fooling himself, thinking that his high profile would make them reluctant to strike again. Maybe they’d just be more circumspect next time. Instead of trying to kill him in a secure courthouse building, perhaps they would arrange for him to die in an apartment fire. Plasma explosion? Electrocution? Slip and fall? Heart attack? Why limit their vengeance just to him? Couldn’t they just as easily sabotage the Clara Nell, killing Captain Baker and the rest of the crew along with Piedmont, sending a message to anyone else who tried to thwart their will next time?
“I may not sleep again for a while,” Piedmont said.