Red's alarm went off at 7:30, waking him from the
exact apex of an extremely odd nightmare. He slapped it off and flopped
out of bed.
He had arrived home the night before to find Alison asleep already,
and had been more than happy to join her. This morning, Alison was already
up doing reading for the classes she had that day. Red dressed and Alison
drove him to work so she could swing by Circuit City and buy that laptop.
He kissed her goodbye and headed into the building, his badge gaining
A dry erase board stood just within the main entryway to the collections
department. "From this point forward," it read, "No food
or drink will be allowed outside of the break room. This includes soda
or coffee in 'spill-proof' containers. If you need a drink between your
breaks, ask you manager and reasonable requests will be granted."
Red wasn't too happy with this. He typically would nurse a 20 oz. Coke
over a couple of hours between calls. He wondered what might have caused
this change in policy, but as he walked towards the spine of computers
he usually sat in he saw a workstation with a "broken" sign
taped to it's computer monitor. The desktop had what looked like dried
coke all over it.
"Hmph," he though, "One person ruining it for all of
Then he passed another similar workstation. Then another, with the
stains the fluorescent color of Mountain Dew. Looking around over the
heads of those who had come in before him, Red could see that almost
one-quarter of the computers were out of commission.
He took his place at one of the unoccupied functioning machines and
began to log on. He wondered what had happened… had there been
some sort of… mutiny? Strike? Had a bunch of the workers destroyed
their workstations in protest of something? Maybe the new rule had been
announced and then a number of people had 'spilled' their drinks in
outrage. But then why make the rule? It was much more likely reactionary
By this time, Red was ready to take calls. He brought up the woman's
account and verified that she was, in fact, Rita Seinkewicz, which she
was. "I see you have a balance with us of $133.86. Would you like
to make a payment with a credit card of check by phone today?"
"No," said Rita, "That's not why I'm calling. I keep
getting this recording calling my house telling me that it’s important
to call this number. What is it? What is it calling about?"
"Ah, well," said Red, "That's about the balance on your
account. I'm seeing that $67.45 of it is past due at this time and $66.41
is your current balance."
"So, why does it keep calling me every day?"
"As I said, $67.45 is past due."
"That's harassment! If you keep calling me that's harassment I
can sue you!"
"I think, legally speaking, it isn't harassment if we're calling
you about money you owe us."
"I'm going to pay it!" Rita exclaimed. "Haven't I always
paid before? You have that in you computer there?"
"Actually," said Red, "I'm showing that you've paid
every bill for the last… six months at least three weeks late."
"I like to wait till I have two bills before I pay!"
Red opened and closed his mouth a few times.
"Hello?" said Rita.
"Why would you do that, ma'am?" Red finally asked.
"I always pay my bills, you see that there?"
"Ma'am," said Red, trying to sound rational, "These
bills have due dates on them. Your past due balance was due but the
15th of this month, and your current balance is due by the 16th of November.
The previous bill, the $67.45, is late at this point. I see that on
the 28th we mailed out a letter that-"
"I didn't get any letter!"
"As I said we mailed it out on the 28th, which was yesterday.
You wouldn't have received it yet."
"Correct. Because we mailed it yesterday. It was a reminder of
your past due balance which said you're in no danger of cancellation
at this time."
"So why does it keep calling me?"
"Because…" Red took a deep breath, "It was due
on the 15th. Which means that it is now late."
"This is ridiculous! I think I'm going to have to switch carriers
if this is the way your company feels about it."
"That is your choice, Ma'am."
"You're damned right that's my choice."
"Thank you for calling, Ma'am."
"Asshole," she said, and hung up.
The phone beeped, indicating another call.
"Thank you for calling, my name is Red, may I please have you
phone number with the area code first?"
"Yeah, I'm calling because there's a block on my long distance,
and I told you people I was going to pay next month, so why did you
go and shut it off?"
"OK, sir," Red said. "May I please have you phone number
with the area code first?"
The gentleman on the other end of the line reluctantly agreed to give
out his number.
"Thank you," Red said. "Can you hold on one second while
I bring up your account?"
Red put him on hold while the computer thought about bringing up the
account in question. Red sighed. Usually, he'd sip his drink now.
"Hello? Hello?" asked the girl at the workstation next to
Red. "Hello? Ma'am? Uh…"
"You too?" asked the guy across the aisle.
"I don't understand it…" the first girl said.
Red clicked back onto the line. "Thank you for holding. Can I
please have your name and address for verification?"
Through his headset came a loud crash. He heard laughter, followed
by another smash.
"Sir?" asked Red. After a moment of no response, he typed "Releasing
line due to non-response," in the account notes. He clicked the
'Next Call' button. "Thank you for calling, my name is Red, may
A scream interrupted him, followed by the sounds of cracking and shattering.
He clicked the 'Next Call' button.
"Thank you for-"
Another smash, and the line went dead. Red stood up and looked around.
Most of the others in the room were doing the same. The managers were
listening in on other people's headsets.
"Ok, people, just do your best," shouted one of the managers,
looking nervously at the TV monitors showing Headline News. "Obviously
something odd is going on, but just do your best to do your job and
we'll keep going through this until we know what is going on."
Another call beeped into Red's headset. "No, Sam, no!" called
a woman, and the line cut off.
"You're cut off," said the bartender.
"You can't cut me off," Chelsea said, "It's ten-thirty
in the stupid afternoon!"
"It's called morning, dear, and considering how rowdy you already
are, it would probably be best if you head back to your room. You're
disturbing the other customers," he gestured behind Chelsea to
the customers sitting in the restaurant portion of the room. She glanced
back to see them looking quickly from her back to their breakfasts and
"Go ahead!" she shouted. "Go ahead and look! You've
never seen a real live stupid holy Saint before, have you?"
"Alright, come on," said the bartender, coming around the
bar. "Time to go upstairs. What room are you in?" He put his
hand on Chelsea's back.
"Get off me," she said, "I can take care of myself.
I can get to my own stupid room. I don't need some stupid… stupid
guy wearing his stupid glasses and…"
"I don't wear glasses," said the bartender.
"I'll be fine!" she ejected. It had only been a few stupid
drinks, after all. She left the stupid Marriott Restaurant & Bar
and headed back to the stairwell leading to her floor. She stopped in
front of the door to room 107 and began to insert her key.
"Who is it?" someone called from inside.
"Chelsea!" she shouted. The she looked at the door a little
closer and then moved to the door marked 109. Once the door allowed
her inside, she threw herself onto the bed and fumed, her head throbbing.
Stupid Red. Stupid Argento. Argento knew Red was here the entire stupid
time and didn't say anything! Just let him run amok and get in the way.
She had a job to do, and she didn't need some stupid, show-off, renegade,
stupid other Saint trying to horn his way in on her mission. She wished
she'd punched him in the stupid face, snapped his stupid glasses in
She still didn't really believe it. Not really. She was only usually
right. She wasn't always right. Not always. It's possible he wasn't
going to beat her. And next time, yeah, bam, she's going kick his stupid
face. To demonstrate, she pulled out her sword and began swinging it
around. She nicked the glass in the painting over her bed, causing a
tree of cracks to grow in the pane as a tiny sliver of glass fell towards
her. She winced and dropped her sword. It spun and fell down into her
head, the hilt smashing right into her eye.
"Grah!" she shouted. Her hands flew up to her face and knocked
the sword out of her head. It sliced through the mattress and bed frame,
both of which slumped to the floor with a thump.
Chelsea made her way up off the halved bed, rubbing her eye. She could
already tell it was going to bruise. A stupid shiner. Her head was ringing
now, as well as throbbing.
She took some aspirin and sat on the chair in the corner, the bed no
longer being very feasible. She felt hot, but she didn't want to turn
the air conditioning on because of her head. She thought alcohol was
supposed to take the stupid pain away. It wasn't until she closed her
eyes that she realized it was actually part of another vision.
Fire. Sirens. Explosions. Where? Shelves… little objects… books?
No, melting. Video tapes. A video store. She opened her eyes, went to
There was a Hollywood Video across the street from the hotel.
She felt remarkably sober as she raced out of the hotel and across
the street. She burst into the store and looked around intensely. She
was the only one there, besides the early 20-somethings working the
place and the odd looks they were both giving her.
"How are you doing today?" the girl behind the counter asked.
"Has anyone been in here?" asked Chelsea.
"Um… yeah," said the girl. Her nametag said she was
a "key grip" named Sandy. "Who were you looking for?"
"Who? What did they do? Anyone suspicious?"
"Just normal people. They… rented movies."
"That's it?" said Chelsea. She was looking up and down the
"Can we help you find anything?" asked the scraggly bearded
guy whose tag called him a "best boy" named Kent.
"It could be anything," she said, "It could be a bomb,
or something just smoking…"
"Well, do you want a comedy, or drama…?"
It was then that a purple SUV drove into the store, knocked over a
number of shelves and parked in the new releases. Both of the employees
dropped to the ground. Chelsea leapt forward as a blonde soccer mom
jumped out of the vehicle with a lighter in her hand and shouted, "I've
come to pay my late fees!"
Chelsea punched the woman in the face, her nose giving both a satisfying
crack and a spout of blood. The woman fell unconscious.
Chelsea looked down at her, and frowned.
"What the hell!" she shouted. "I thought this was going
to be action! Jesus, I should have stayed in my stupid bed!"
Chelsea looked around in the car. A half drunk Diet Coke, a few happy
meal toys, an empty baby car seat- nothing dangerous. Nothing under
the car either. Crisis averted. She kicked the soccer mom and walked
towards the new hold in the entrance.
"I'm calling the police!" whimpered Sandy.
"That's probably a good idea," said Chelsea. "That woman
was going to burn the stupid place down."
She was walking across the street when the video store blew up.
She spun on her heels. The place was blazing. She could hear Sandy
scream. Not a scared scream either- a scream of pain. Chelsea knew she
had checked the car. There was nothing in there that could have blown
up, she was sure of it. Traffic was at a standstill. Cars that had been
driving by had swerved to avoid the flames, resulting in a minor fender-bender
or two. People were running out of nearby buildings to see what had
That's when she heard it- it was very quiet, but it was there- it sounded
like a fan, a very fast one, with a deep tone. It was barely noticeable,
but something brought it to the front of her perception. She looked
up in the air, high above the street.
It looked like a metal person, either a robot or someone in some sort
of high tech armor. It was hovering over the street, looking down at
the blaze that used to guarantee The Scorpion King would be in stock.
The whining fan appeared to be from the device on its back which was
keeping it in the air. Chelsea could see the heat emanating from the
device, warping the air around it. Some sort of weapon was on the thing's
arm, a tiny bit of smoke whisping out of the barrel.
Chelsea pulled her gun and fired at the thing. She could still put
two and two together. Unfortunately, her shooting was not what it normally
was. The robo-thing turned and looked down at her, then turned away
and began to fly off.
Chelsea pointed the gun at the nearest car, a Honda Accord. "GET
OUT OF THE STUPID CAR!" she screamed, and the driver accommodated.
She hopped in and sped off after the unidentified flying stupid thing
before she couldn't see it anymore.
"Anything you'd like to see?"
"Actually, I think I'll just take this one," Alison told
the clerk. He'd said his name was Steve.
"Good choice," Steve replied. "This one's top of the
line, and on sale. Come on over here and I'll ring you up." Steve
had straight, sandy brown hair, a set of glasses that rivaled Red's
in thickness (with one of those elastic things holding them on around
the back of his head), and a thick moustache trimmed to the exact place
where his lips met, so his top lip seemed to be made only of hair. The
moustache had a touch of gray in it.
"Will you be financing this, or…?" asked Steve.
"No, I'm just going to pay all at once," Alison replied.
"Check or credit?"
Steve looked at her a bit curiously. "Can I interest you in a
gift card?" he asked as he scanned in the slip. "They make
great Christmas presents."
"No thanks, just the computer," Alison said.
"No problem," he said. "We're also having a sale on
stereos and televisions, so you know. 15% off most of our top models.
"Thanks," she said, counting out the bills, "But I don’t
think we're on the market for either right now."
"You never know," he said. "That'll be $2159.99 all
"I've got exact change, I think," said Alison, digging through
her change purse until she produced the exact coins to fit the bill.
"Here's your receipt," said Steve, "You can pick up
your order at the desk right over there."
"Thanks so much," Alison said.
"See you soon!" said Steve.
She handed the clerk there her slip and waited while he brought out
her new laptop in its box. The clerk offered to help her carry it to
her car, but she said she could handle it. She was halfway through the
parking lot when the vision hit her. When it ended, she was tearing
the computer from the box and smashing it through a car window.
Argento didn't want to break a window- he knew he could do this. He'd
read all about it the training books. He was struggling with picking
the lock on Red's apartment door. Through the window, he could see Chaser
sitting on the floor watching him and meowing.
Eventually, the lock clacked into the unlocked position and Argento
crept into the house. Chaser rubbed his leg. Argento didn't really know
what he was looking for- anything really. Anything indicating that Red
was dissatisfied with this life, anything he could use to get Red to
use the gifts he'd been given.
He checked their bedroom. He checked the nightstand next to Red's side
of the bed. A few paperbacks, some Dickens, nail clippers- nothing out
of the ordinary.
He checked around in the drawers and closets of the house. Nothing.
Judging by the contents of the apartment, except for the suitcase full
of money, you'd never even suspect anything unusual at all about the
people who lived there.
He turned on Red's computer.
He opened the "recent documents" folder. A few pornographic
pictures, a couple of MP3s, movie trailers. Nothing of interest. He
saw Microsoft Word on the desktop and searched the computer for ".DOC" files.
Nothing important- no journal or diary.
He checked Red's internet bookmarks. Sites for television shows, movies,
and DVDs, mostly. Argento clicked each one down the list, hoping one
of them was secretly mislabeled. Ain't It Cool News, Movie Poop
Shoot, Scoop Me!… they were all real. He clicked on DVDish.com, causing
the computer to freeze up for a moment, but when it loaded, it appeared
to be what it said it was.
Why did it take so much to load, Argento wondered? It was just a regular
site- no pictures, no ads. With a cable modem, it should- the modem.
The little red light next to "Activity" on its face was flashing
like there was no tomorrow. Argento checked to see if any other programs
were running that would be using the Internet line. He didn't see any.
The page itself was definitely done loading.
He hit Control-Alt-Delete, bringing up the task manager. 'Netscp',
'Realplyr', 'Findfast', 'AOLtray', 'webshots', 'ccdvdish'… what
the hell is that? He selected 'ccdvdish' and hit 'End Task'. The Action
light stopped flashing.
"What on Earth…" he mumbled to himself. Chaser hopped
up onto his lap. "No, no, not right now." He gently pushed
the cat back off.
He searched the computer for 'ccdvdish.exe' and sure enough, found
it in the 'CCDVD' directory in the program files. He double clicked
it. Sure enough, the computer froze up for a moment and the action light
went back to flickering. He went back to the Task Manager and stopped
"What is this program?" Argento asked aloud. He looked in
the CCDVD directory. Besides the '.exe', there were a bunch of '.tmp'
files. Opening them in notepad revealed nothing but gobbledygook. Without
knowing what program to open the files with, he had no way of knowing
what they had in them.
The phone rang. Argento nearly jumped out of his skin. His first impulse
was to answer it, but he quickly remembered that he was not actually
supposed to be where he was. He decided he should probably hurry up
and leave. He signed off the computer.
Accepting the fact that there was nothing to find here, Argento decided
to move on to plan B. He took a screwdriver out of his pocket and began
unscrewing the vent near the bed.
The phone stopped ringing. The answering machine whirred to life.
"You've reached Alison Ames," said Alison's voice.
"And… Red Coates," Red added awkwardly.
"We're not in but we'll get back to you! Leave a message!"
By the time the beep sounded, Argento had the grate off the wall and
was fumbling with taking the microphone and transmitter out of his pocket.
"Hey, Red… it's Alison," said Alison. "I know
you're not home… and I'm supposed to pick you up from work, so
I don't know when you will be able to get home. But when you do, I uh… I've
Argento would have fell on the floor had he not already been crouched
"I guess you should, you know… bring some money and bail
me out if you can. I hope you get home alright…"
Argento wavered for a minute then decided to just screw it. He picked
up the phone.
"Alison?" he said.
"Oh, my God, who is this?" she asked, then, "Argento?"
"I'll be right there, Alison. Are you alright?"
"I'll be fine, I just… I don't really know what happened."
"Don't worry, I'll be right there, we'll get this taken care of." He
grabbed the suitcase back out of the closet and took out a handful of
Red and Alison's money.
"Thanks," she said. "Uh… what are you doing in