An Excerpt From Derrick Lafayette’s Kaleidoscope: Dark Tales
We continue to celebrate the publication this new collection of stories by Derrick R. Lafayette, published this week by Fictional Cafe Press. It’s five short works and a novella, each as different and original and evocative as can be. You’ve never read anything quite like these – well, a close perhaps if you’ve read Robert Coover. Here is an excerpt from Derrick’s story, “The Sixty-Five Percent” to tantalize you into buying a copy of his book – which we’ll be announcing at any moment. Come on, Ingram, Come on, Amazon, let’s go!
“It’s filthy down here,” Abbot complained, hunching his body into the sewer pipe. A rivulet of brown water soaked his socks. Insects of unknown origin slithered above him. He adjusted his lab coat, pulled up his tan pants, and accepted the fact that his oval glasses had a crack at the top.
“We are alive, and we have him.” Leeto dragged the unresponsive body of his enemy-experiment. “He is beautiful.”
“He is dead.”
“No,” said Abbot. “There is a disc processing in his brain. In silence, it can be heard. The machine still lives.”
“They have brains?”
“More like brain tissue surrounding the artificial frontal lobe.”
“Where will this tunnel lead us?” asked Abbot. “No, wait, more importantly, how long until we can be on land?”
“It empties at Avalon, in three miles. It’s a Silent Zone. Safe enough.”
“Three miles?” Abbot gasped.
“Follow my voice when it becomes too dark to see, and be grateful.”
The exit had a dip of about ten feet which Leeto hadn’t anticipated. He fell awkwardly on his shoulder, straight into the shallow water but near land. The experiment fell on its back, but the combat vest attached to its ribs protected it from injury. Abbot, being the last one, carefully went out feetfirst to his amusement, and saw the crest of mushroom clouds on the horizon. It’d become a regular sight for him these days, like a pinch of stars on a clear night.
“They say at your age one fall is all it takes,” Abbot said as he approached Leeto to help him up. Leeto’s lab coat was competely drenched and covered in mud. Abbot thought it represented Leeto’s personality: a specialized mess.
“Something like this isn’t worthy enough to take me out,” Leeto said, wiping leaves off his pants. “We need to find any remains we can. The experiment’s metal is heavier than expected.”
The place called Avalon held an eerie calm. Neither wildlife nor human life existed, as far as anyone knew. The opposition had decimated everything a decade ago. Given the amount of nuclear interference, many species living in the water were permanently mutated. On land, the surviving humans had migrated.
“I see dead bodies,” Abbot said. “No, let me correct myself. Dead mutated bodies of what appears to be fish.” He took out a small square device with two lenses in the front, similar to a pair of vertical binoculars, and placed it next to his eye. Small fibers protruded and attached themselves around his pupil. In his view, Avalon became a topographical map. The heat sensor in the device couldn’t detect a thing. “This technology is fascinating,” Abbot declared.
Leeto rubbed his shoulder as they made their way toward the shore. “Everything from Jexa is better than ours. Eras ahead.”
Abbot continued to survey. “There’s a van. I doubt there’s fuel. We can check the tank.”
“Let me see.” Leeto snatched the device and examined the vehicle through the lens. The doors were riddled with bullet holes. The windshield was shattered and the hood was dented. “Okay, take the experiment; I’ve marked the destination.” He pocketed the device. “I have a kill switch and an interface on my waterproof watch, so you shouldn’t have any—”
“No.” Abbot cleared his voice after it had squeaked and repeated himself. “I do the recon, and you carry the purse. This is the same thing that happened at Kitt, and at Bragder. I am your colleague, not your working hand. Plus, I’m worried about the details you left out of this mission. This quest of nonsensical means.”
To Leeto, Abbot’s words were like rain on an empty street, draining into the sewers. Leeto tapped the shoulder he had fallen on. “It’s worse than it seems. Put your youth to good use. Grab him by the collar and pull with your knees.”
Abbot grumbled curse words under his breath and glowered at Leeto, now noticing his jaundiced eyes. The white whiskers escaping Leeto’s ears and nose and knuckles. The saggy skin on his neck. The surprising amount of muscle on his arms. Not to mention the zigzag scar from his eyebrow to his top lip, acquired while saving Abbot’s life.
Abbot had been three, but the trauma had set in deep; all the emotions of that day he could recall in an instant. Smokeless green fire surrounded his room. Yelling and pulling and shooting damaged his ears. Leeto’s cold hand when he pulled him from his bunk bed and fled the orphanage. No one else survived.
“Fine.” Abbot brought himself to the present reluctantly while squatting, trying to figure the best way to drag the unconscious soldier. “When he wakes up and snaps my neck, I want you to cry so loud they hear you all the way in Wils.”
“My boy,” Leeto said, “there’s no one alive in Wils. Not anymore.”
“The sentiment is the same.”
“Come, come, we’re wasting energy.”
The van looked better up close. Abbot looked around for a seat. After that long trek, he was exhausted. For lack of a better place he sat on the experiment’s chest, sipping synthetic fluids from a waterskin.
Leeto, feeling cautious, scanned the vehicle three times over. A nervous tick formed in his fingers. He began picking at his cuticles. He forced himself to breathe deeply before taking out a small metal square from his pocket. He shook out the sewer water inside, then pressed the center button. It unfolded into the shape of a pistol. The LED screen on the back read: 6x ammunition.
“I thought you were left-handed?” Abbot questioned from a distance, in between sips.
“You fell on your left shoulder.”
“It’s much better now.” Leeto readied himself in an antiquated officer stance with the pistol drawn.
“Of course it is,” Abbot said, rolling his eyes. “Call me if you need me. I’ll be doing what I always do.”
Behind Abbot’s ears were two small zippers. As he pulled them down, thin antennae jutted from both. The tips blossomed into a circular design of metal plates that resembled miniature satellites.
“Do it quietly,” said Leeto as he crept toward the trunk, noticing it was propped open. He slowly lifted it with the barrel of the gun, expecting a mine trap to detect skin contact. Inside were transport materials used for medical supplies. Hazmat bags filled with a saffron liquid and random body parts: heart, liver, lungs. He closed the trunk and walked to the right side. As he glanced into the back window, he found himself staring directly into the barrel of a submachine gun.
Abbot’s satellites were detecting radio waves from the attacker’s bases nearby. Anything in a forty-mile radius. Originally encrypted, all the binary language was decoded into tangible speech.
“Insurgents at Kamogelo. Reinforcements required. Control ratio 9 to 1,” the dispatcher said over the communication frequency.
Abbot jumped to his feet. “9 to 1?” he whispered to himself.
“Confirmed location. Latitude 38.8951 and longitude 77.0364.”
Abbot calculated the coordinates in his head. “Past the mountains.”
Leeto raised his hand to show his pistol. He thought the figure holding the submachine gun was an older model attacker. It was programmed with tangible speech and fitted with mock skin to resemble the Original Man. There was a large open wound near his jaw, and as he spoke, Leeto could see the mechanical gears working to make him talk.
“Is this Star Date 4096?” the older model inquired, keeping the gun steady.
“You speak tangibly. Are you a diplomacy droid?” Leeto slowly placed his forehead on the nozzle of the gun. “No . . . you’re a nonviolent model from Othelia. Why are you in a Silent Zone?”
The older model readied his position and repeated, “Is this Star Date 4096?” Inside his eyes, several lenses made robotic noises as they scanned Leeto. “You do not have a heartbeat.”
“And you, my archaic friend, were not programmed to kill. Unlike me.” Leeto blew the older model’s head off its shoulders.
Derrick R. Lafayette has written four novels and over a dozen short stories, published in print and online. He was The Fictional Café’s 2021-2022 Writer-in-Residence. When he’s not working as an IT engineer or studying chess gambits on the astral plane, he’s reading or writing profusely. You can find more of his work on Amazon.