Sunday, July 2, 2017

Early Look -- Aragami

Today I'm giving you an extended look at Aragami, the latest book in my Divine Protector series. This one's a prequel and you'll see what life (and the afterlife) was like in the previous universe. As always, please forgive the formatting; Word doesn't translate well to Blogger.


Martin McDonnell is an ordinary guy with an ordinary job. One tragic event keeps him from enjoying life.

Serika is a Shinigami, a god of death. She has one overpowering goal: to kill Martin McDonnell. But Martin's time hasn't come yet, and ending him is against the rules. Nevertheless, she's hell-bent on carrying out this act, and she has one week to do it. Why does she want him dead so bad? Could the answer lie in her mysterious past?

Regardless of the truth, she will carry out her deadly agenda, heedless of the threat her actions pose to the entire universe. This is the beginning of the end.

On a street in Oklahoma, almost to Oklahoma City but technically still in Edmond, was a certain company. Located off Memorial Road was a large building.
            The business in question was Business Scanning Systems. They specialized in taking physical documents from companies and scanning them onto computer before sending them the digital files. Sometimes they sent the physical documents back, but other times said companies paid BSS to destroy them or store them.
            At the bottom of the BSS food chain were the preppers. Their job was to prep the documents for scanning, a job most people didn’t even know existed. They accomplished this by sorting, smoothing, removing staples and other obstacles that wouldn’t make it through the scanners. Great attention had to be paid when doing this; a simple error could screw up one’s whole day, and too many errors would get an ass fired.
            One such prepper was 24-year-old Martin McDonnell. He had been doing this for a few years now—having gotten the job straight out of college—and considered himself experienced but hardly a veteran. No, the real veterans had been here for a decade or more. They’d seen it all and knew how to deal with just about anything.
            McDonnell was six feet tall and two hundred pounds. He kept in shape by working out once a week, though he still had some flab he would have liked to get rid of. Also, his eyebrows were a little too bushy for his tastes, though she had found them cute. And he often found himself pulling at his unruly sideburns, knowing he needed to do something about them.
            On this particular October day, he sat at his table—one of many in the warehouse known as Records Center 2—and flipped through pages, pulling out staples and moving sticky notes which covered information that would otherwise have been missed. He sat at the left-most table in the large area. To his left was the break area and above him was the mezzanine with its abundance of crap they kept in storage. And in front of him was the box he had pulled the documents out of—now turned on its side—with a stack of folders containing said documents. He also had his tools—staple remover, pens, Xacto knife, tape dispenser, and those rubber things that go on your fingers to help you flip through pages faster. Folder by folder, he removed the documents, prepper them and put them back into the box. Later the scan operator would scan them onto the server.
            He glanced at his watch. Another half hour until break time. Just great. He wouldn’t say he hated his job exactly, but neither did he have the zest for life he used to enjoy. Not since that fateful night, anyway. That one mistake had changed his life forever.
            So he just sat there in his red shirt with the BSS logo, mechanically doing his job and pouring money into his 401k. If he had to described his life, he would have called it a treadmill; he kept moving but never got anywhere.
            Mercifully, break time eventually came. Betty Sodatrino came up behind him on her way to clock out. “Break time, Martin.”
            “Thanks,” he said.
            “Me and Marci are going to the mall after work. You wanna come?”
            He shrugged. “Sure.”
            “Great. See you then.” She flashed him two fingers in a V-sign.
            Martin didn’t have many friends at work, but Betty was one of them. Almost as tall as him, she was a lithe bundle of energy with chestnut hair. She was the one who made things bearable for him. He liked her. A lot. Nothing had yet happened between them, but he wouldn’t be too shook up if it did. It also didn’t hurt that she always smelled sweetly of an irresistible fragrance.
            Stretching, he got up and made his way to the break room and its clock to punch out.

* * *

As a formerly devout follower of Shinto, Serika had never believed in the Christian notion of Hell. The whole idea of a fire and brimstone world beneath the surface of the earth was absurd.
            Too bad. She would have killed for that afterlife. No, what she found upon dying was something infinitely worse: Yomi. She could still remember the welcome speech upon arriving in this world: “Welcome, you were a good Shintoist in life and now we’re going to make you a Shinigami, isn’t that great!?”
            She hadn’t believed in Shinigamis, either, but that one turned out to be true. As a god of death, her job was to monitor the lives of everyone in her assigned district (hers being Oklahoma City) and escort their souls to the afterlife. The devoted Shintoists became Shinigamis, and everyone else just became regular dead souls. Turns out they were the lucky ones; being a Shinigami was the worst job you could ask for if you weren’t assigned to a Shinto-rich city like Tokyo which ended up having lots of Shinigamis. But, no, she had to have died in Oklahoma City, a large area with very few people assigned to it. That meant long days, assloads of paperwork, and death. Lots of death. And since the afterlife was classical Japanese, there were no ergonomic chairs, the result being countless hours sitting on tatami mats. She hated those fucking mats. They spent every day mocking her. She’d kill (pun intended) to be able to rip apart each and every one of them, tearing them into smaller and smaller pieces until they were microscopic and she couldn’t physically see them anymore and she wouldn’t have to deal with them ever again!
            But that wasn’t the worst part, oh no.  The worst part was the suffocating loneliness. Her parents were still alive, and the bulk of her relatives who had died lived in Japan and she hadn’t known them in life. They were strangers to her here.
            As she walked down the hallway of the Bureau of Post-Life Relations with its hanging red lanterns and paper walls, she exchanged pleasantries with her co-workers whom she passed. She was being completely fake, though; she didn’t give a damn about any of them. She wished they’d all drop dead—except they already were. Only two people commanded her attention, and she would deal with them both in time.
            She passed by a mirror and noted her appearance. Like all Shinigamis, she wore a black cloak over an equally black kimono. Her raven hair was pulled back into two long pig tails which ran down her back, and traditional geta footwear adorned her feet. Yes, the afterlife had a dress code.
            She soon found the room she wanted and entered. Like most of the afterlife’s rooms, it was brown with tatami mats on the floor. Unlike the other rooms, however, there was a circular metal depression in the center of the floor.
            She approached it and it lit up. “Aogami,” she said. In response, a blue light shot up and enveloped the room. Japanese characters floated about in a chaotic pattern. English was her native language, but her mother had insisted she learn Japanese. Nevertheless, her brain still had to translate for her.
            The characters formed words in front of her face:

こんにちは、セリカどの。 何ですか。[Hello, Serika-dono. What is it?]

The Shinigami weren’t all-powerful or all-knowing. In order to monitor every mortal on Earth and track their probable lifespans, a ridiculously sophisticated computer was needed. Thus, Aogami was created.
She replied, “I need information on a specific person. His name is Martin McDonnell and he lives in Oklahoma City in America.”

[Subject located. Status: 24-years-old. Formerly married, but that is no longer the case. Currently employed at Business Scanning Systems in Edmond.]

“Good,” she said. “Based on current projections, when will he die?”

[In 42.38 years.]

That was no good. She wanted him dead yesterday. “Is there any chance he’ll die sooner?”

[It is possible. He enjoys beer. Alcohol poisoning is difficult to anticipate.]

She stood there for a moment in silence, contemplating her target’s possible demise. “Would it be possible to get a Section Six exemption for him?” In other words, would it be possible to kill him ahead of schedule? She wasn’t holding her breath, though.

[Negative. Section Six exemptions only apply to the most dangerous individuals on Earth. It can only be invoked if said individual is about to commit mass destruction.]

She was disappointed, but not surprised; the Shinigamis couldn’t even get permission to kill the 9/11 hijackers before they carried out their acts. Millions of lives had to be threatened before a Section Six exemption would be authorized. If Martin McDonnell was to die, it would have to be done in blatant violation of the rules. “What would be the penalty for killing him now?”

The characters turned red and began shaking erratically. [Warning! Pre-emptive termination is strictly forbidden! Lord First will be notified of this.]

Unfortunately for Aogami, Serika had anticipated this. Unbeknownst to the AI, she had a friend (and she used the term loosely) named Hebimaru insert an elusive subroutine into its program. With only a simple phrase, she could command its compliance. “Dame da.Don’t do that.

The characters turned back to normal. [Compliance subroutine activated. All interactions between us will remain private.]

“Very good,” she said. “Now, then. Answer my previous question, you piece of shit.”

[The penalty for pre-emptive termination includes extended incarceration.]

She needed to avoid getting caught, then. Imprisonment would ruin everything. “OK,” she said. “If I were to attempt to kill Martin McDonnel, how long would it take for the higher-ups to get wind of it?”

[Based on pre-existing relationship, the Shinigami monitor Martin McDonnell more closely than others. Repeated attempts to kill him would quickly draw their attention. Estimated time for you to become a suspect, depending on the blatancy of the assassination attempts: one week.]

So all she had to do was kill him within seven days. Doing it in person was risky; she couldn’t be seen with him.  Therefore, she felt she should find someone or something to do it for her.
            She already had an idea. “Show me what he’s up to right now.” He should have been at work.
            The characters resolved into a 3D hologram in front of her which showed Martin at BSS. An attractive woman whom Serika knew as Betty Sodatrino walked up to him. “Break time, Martin.”
            “Thanks,” he said.
            “Me and Marci are going to the mall after work. You wanna come?”
            He shrugged. “Sure.”
            “Great. See you then.” She flashed him two fingers in a V-sign. Serika felt flush with anger. She hadn’t realized their relationship had progressed that far.
            Serika shook her head. It didn’t matter. Martin would soon be dead and Betty would have to find someone else. Right now Serika needed to focus. They had to have been talking about Quail Springs Mall which was just up the street on Memorial. “That’s enough.” The image turned back into kana and kanji characters. “Are there any disturbed—nay, psychotic—individuals near Quail Springs Mall right now?”

[Yes. Robert Simons. Age thirty-four. Schizophrenic. Currently sleeping under an overpass on May Avenue outside the mall.]

            “Is he prone to violet outbursts?”


Serika smiled. It looked as if she would get this knocked out in one day. Martin would die and then her life (or afterlife) wouldn’t suck so much.

Itsu made mo.
            It was time to pay Robert Simmons a visit.


Martin’s shift ended at 4:30. He drove up the street to Quail Springs Mall, taking Memorial rather than the adjacent Kilpatrick Turnpike since it was only a few miles.
            He ventured inside and met Betty and Marci Atkins in front of the Yogurt Shack. Betty’s best friend, Marci was a stocky twenty-year-old of short brown hair and average features. Half the time Martin couldn’t even remember what she looked like. Nevertheless, the two young women were inseparable, leaving Martin jealous at times. It had been too long since he had felt that kind of kinship with anyone. Not since that day…
            “Martin? Hello?” Betty snapped her fingers in front of Martin’s face, bringing him out of his funk.
            “Oh. Sorry.”
            She smiled at him. “Try to stay with us, OK?”
            “Uh, yeah.”
            “I’m glad you decided to come out with us,” she said. “You always seem to be in some kind of funk.”
            “Quit apologizing. You’re bumming me out. Try to have some fun with us.”
            He nodded. “OK. Sure.”
            “Now,” she said. “Where should we go first?”

* * *

The gods had the ability to project their consciousness to anywhere on Earth for the purposes of reconnaissance and guidance. They used this to watch people who were about to die and to provide guidance to the living. The latter wasn’t usually done by Shinigami, but there were many gods of different religions and some of them did this for the humans.
            Serika found Robert Simons exactly where Aogami said he would be under the overpass outside Quail Springs Mall. Emaciated, bald and probably smelling of shit, this was not the kind of person she would have associated with in life. She found herself immediately repulsed by him. Let’s just get this over with.
            “Robert,” she cooed. “Wake up, Robert.”
            His eyes jerked open. “Who said that?”
            “I’m God.” It wasn’t exactly a lie.
            He looked all around. She wasn’t physically there, so he couldn’t see her. “God’s a woman?”
            “I can be whatever I want. Today I feel like having ovaries.”
            He stared aghast at empty space. “What do you want?”
            She turned up the charm. “I need a favor from you. Can you do that for your Lord?”
            “W-What kind of favor?”
            Smiling, she replied, “It’s nothing, really. You just have to kill the Antichrist.”
            He perked up at this. “Antichrist?”
            “Yes. There’s a very bad man inside Quail Springs Mall right now.” She projected an image of Martin McDonnell into his mind. “He’s going to destroy the world if you don’t stop him.”
            He thought about it for a moment. “If I kill him, will you make the voices go away?”
            “Of course,” she said as sweetly as possible. She could actually feel her blood sugar rising. “Not only that, but I’ll make sure you get into Heaven.”
            He leapt to his feet with surprising speed. “Then I’ll do it. I’ll kill the Antichrist before he can stop Christmas.” Great, she thought. He was adding his own interpretation to this. Well, whatever. Just as long as he got the job done.
            Robert pulled a hunting knife from his pocket and began looking at it lustfully. “Better keep that in your pocket until you find Martin McDonnell,” she advised.
            “Whatever you say, God!” He then strutted off to the mall. This was going very well, she thought.
            She returned to her body in Yomi and reclined in her chair in her office. The room itself was sparse, just a desk, chair and window which let in sunlight behind her. It looked like any other office in this realm—tatami floor and brown paper walls. She saw no point in personalizing her own private hell.
            For the first time in a while, though, she felt at peace. Once Robert Simons finished the job, she would actually be happy.
            After all, everyone deserved happiness.

* * *

Martin, Betty and Marci strolled through Quail Springs Mall, browsing the shops. Their first stop was Gameshop where they perused the latest videogames.
            “I’ve been wanting to play this,” Marci said as she picked up Stanley Hizzard, Boy Wizard, a fantasy simulator where you played a boy at a school for wizards. It was based on a series of novels by some British author. Marci loved that series, even going so far as to have a Stanley Hizzard lunchbox she brought to work every day. Martin was never really in to it; after all, a school for people with powers? That was just silly. So he muttered something encouraging and turned his attention to McFadden 2017 which had just come out. He had long been into sports games (even though he didn’t play any sports in real life). He had fond memories of playing Basketball Jam on the Super Pretendo as a kid. Dunking those flaming balls had been incredibly satisfying.
            He eyed McFadden 2017 but decided not to buy it. As a new release, it was $59.99, and money was tight at the moment.
            Betty checked out their selection of J-RPGS. Japanese games weren’t as popular as they used to be due to a decline in quality and an increase in quality from their Western counterparts, but they still had a decent audience in the States.
            “Check this out, Martin,” she said, handing him the empty display case of a game called Rondo of Destiny 7. It had a spiky-haired protagonist on the cover. He reached over and, as he took hold, accidentally brushed her hand. He unexpectedly felt a surge of pleasure ripple through him,
            She quickly looked away, embarrassed. Had her face turned red? No, it couldn’t be. He was certain she didn’t have any feelings for him.
            He shook his head. He didn’t need this. It was far better if he didn’t date anyone. At the end of the day, all it took was one stupid mistake to ruin everything.
            Marci ended up getting Wizard Academy, while Martin and Betty left empty-handed. The three then left the store.

* * *

In the twisted hurricane disaster area he called a mind, Robert Simons was on the hunt.
            Martin McDonnell.
            Martin McDonnell.
Martin McDonnell.
Martin McDonnell.
Martin McDonnell.
Martin McDonnell.
Martin McDonnell.
Martin McDonnell.
Martin McDonnell.
Martin McDonnell.
Martin McDonnell.
Martin McDonnell.
Martin McDonnell.
All he had to do was kill the Antichrist and God would take away the voices. This had been his dream as long as he could remember (though his memory was filled with gaps large enough to drive a big rig through). With McDonnell’s face burned into his raw sewage brain, he would have no trouble finding his target.
Like a killer cyborg sent from the future, he patrolled the corridors of Quail Springs Mall, his eyes scanning each and every face searching for McDonnell. These faces eyed him with fear and suspicion, but he barely noticed.
Suddenly, God’s voice was in his head again. McDonnell’s on the second floor, heading for the escalator. Wait for him behind it at the bottom, then attack.
“Will do, God!” The fear and suspicion on the previously mentioned faces intensified.
Don’t say it out loud, you idiot! People are getting suspicious. Just hurry up and do this.
“Yes, God!”

God groaned.

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