A Cog in the Machine

Chuck Wendig’s instructions this week: Choose one of these last lines submitted (from last week’s challenge) and use it as the first line. Once I chose, I knew I had to revisit our friend from my last Chuck Challenge, read about him here.

          “That plan didn’t fly, superhero, and now we’re short a bazooka.”
          “Yes, thank you very much for that enlightening conclusion,” Royston said through his teeth. “And for chrissakes stop calling me superhero.” Wanker.
          The tall American shrugged and surveyed the portal in front of them. The blast from the bazooka did little more than mar the otherwise flawless sheen of the strange doors. They looked like metal, but Royston never saw metal that black and shining before. His companion pulled out a cigarette and lit it, holding it in the corner of his mouth as he surveyed the damage. Royston glanced at him then back at the spent bazooka lying on the ground. It was worth a shot, he thought.
          “Well, now what?”
          “Will you bloody shut up? I’m trying to think,” Royston said.
          “Can’t think and talk at the same time? I thought the Brits were supposed to be in possession of superior intelligence.”
          It was amazing to Royson that Talan could be such a colossal pain in the arse. It wasn’t just that he was a Yank, or that he was built like Captain America, or that he was arrogant to the bone. It was mainly that he was an incurable prick. Royston took a deep breath, massaging the spot on his wrist where his tattoo still burned.
          “Bloody Council,” he muttered, staring at the doors as though they would reveal their answer.
          “What was that?” Talan asked.
          He looked completely calm, standing there, smoking, while the entire world could go to bits at any moment. Royston wished he’d used the bazooka on Talan instead. He didn’t really think it would open the portal, but it was worth a try.
          “I said, ‘Bloody Council.’ As in bugger the Council and the Councilman and the damned prophecy,” Royston’s voice echoed off the metal walls around them and he winced.
          “Bad week at work?” Talan asked, grinding his cigarette into the floor with his combat boots.
          Royston rolled his eyes. Talan looked like he stepped out of a particularly bad American spy film with his black pants covered in pockets, black boots, and black t-shirt that was strategically several sizes too small. Royston wore what he always wore. He rubbed at his forearm again. The blasted tattoo felt like a nettle sting. Should it still be hurting?
          “What do you think, G.I. Joe? Have you ever been told you’re the second runner up as the bleeding al’Uttarak, the One meant to save the bloody world from disaster? Well?” He shoved up his sleeve and stuck his arm out to Talan. “Have you had some crazy prick with a set of needles tattoo a bloody Sanskrit novella into your arm in the middle of the night after you just watched a bloody wall fall on the first al’Uttarak’s head?”
          Talan looked at him with one blonde brow raised. “What tattoo?”
          “What do you mean what—” Royston looked down at his own arm.
          Just that morning, the words of the prophecy still stood out on his arm in thick, black ink. The skin around the letters was still red and tender and it itched like mad. But now…
          “Well, I’ll be damned,” Talan was looking at the portal now.
          Running across the shining black surface in glowing white letters was the prophecy. Royston looked at his bare arm—bare except for the slight red marks from his itching and then back up at the portal. He gaped at it for a moment before reaching out a trembling hand to touch the word he recognized—the one for al’Uttarak. There was a high-pitched whine of metal against metal that made both men cringe and the doors began to slide open.
          “I don’t bloody believe it,” Royston said faintly.
          Talan let out a low whistle, “Guess this means you’re the real deal then, Roy.”
          “I am not the sodding al’Uttarak. This is some trick of the bleeding Council’s. If Shafer would have been here the same blasted thing would have happened.”
          Talan grunted but did not respond, he pulled his gun from his belt and moved slowly towards the opening.
          “Right, then, now it’s open,” Royston cleared his throat. “So you go in there and—”
          “No way, superhero, you’re coming with me,” Talan reached back and grabbed the collar of Royston’s coat, dragging him through. As Royston crossed the threshold there was a searing pain in his arm and the doors clamped shut again with a screech. He looked at his forearm again. The tattoo was back.
          Talan met his eyes and shrugged, “You’re the brains of this operation.”
          “Well we’re completely buggered then,” Royston said. His heart was hammering, his eyes widening in an effort to soak in any trace of light in the dark room. There was a click and a light flicked on, startling him.
          The flashlight illuminated Talan’s grin. “‘Fraid so.”
          Royston followed the small puddle of bright white as Talan led them down what he could now see was some sort of passageway. The walls were of the same smooth metal-like material as the doors. There were no markings or carvings of any kind.
          “You know, I pictured this being a lot more like Indiana Jones,” Talan said. “Old stone chambers and carvings and booby traps—” he stopped abruptly.
          Royston nearly staggered into him and peered over the big American’s shoulder.
          “Bloody effective, I’d say,” Royston looked down into the gaping hole at their feet.
          Since the floors were shining black, it was hard to see where the abyss began—or where it ended. Royston edged to the side so that he stood next to Talan. It looked like the hole stretched for several yards—too far to jump. Talan was scanning the ceiling and walls—all completely smooth, all devoid of purchase.
          “Oh sod it all,” Royston muttered. “Go to the portal and open it, then all will be revealed,” he mimicked the Chairman’s voice. “Just bloody brilliant.”
          “Don’t know what you’re so upset about, Roy. Our government’s been lying to us for years.”

10 thoughts on “A Cog in the Machine

  1. Very nice! Great love-hate relationship you’ve got going on between these guys. Very Cable & Deadpool, only with a little more snark (which I approve of). I also thought your Brits vs. Americans rivalry was very poignant. Overall a great story, and en enjoyable read.

  2. Nice. I love it. I had a great time with Royston the first time around with his last story. This time is no different. Bloody brilliant! Great job! 🙂

  3. I think this is a vast improvement on their last outing — we’ve spoken about this, no need to drudge it up here, but you seemed a lot more sure of yourself and these characters this time around. You create EXCELLENT characters, and I know you claim you don’t know how to write humour, but I think that these have a terrific wit about them — maybe you are just having a hard time inserting YOUR sense of humour into things, and maybe you shouldn’t be so concerned about trying to do that, when you seem to be doing a very good job of creating characters with their own sense of humour. Excellent job, darling. And kudos for balancing two different ongoing stories! (As I’m doing it myself, I know how hard it is to keep up!)

    • Thank you! I tweaked the first Royston story and I think it came out a little clearer, I was feeling snarky and I know Royston would be, too. Having the foil of Talan the American was terrific fun. I’m glad you thought it was funny—and I think you’re right. I forget that characters must inevitably have their own senses of humour just like any other character trait.

      I’m juggling right now, but we’ll see if I can keep everything spinning!

      (Part of me wants to write some sort of joke post where I connect 3-4 of these stories completely arbitrarily, but it might be amusing only to me!)

  4. The ending line and this line “It was amazing to Royson that Talan could be such a colossal pain in the arse. It wasn’t just that he was a Yank, or that he was built like Captain America, or that he was arrogant to the bone. It was mainly that he was an incurable prick.” were very snarky, and very enjoyable.

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