Die, Burn, Explode


shambrook_icon.gif wieland_icon.gif

Scene Title Die, Burn, Explode
Synopsis Two colleagues investigate a health and safety issue.
Date April 1, 2018

Somewhere in the Mojave Desert

Midnight in the desert has an aesthetic all its own — white sand and white stars against a rich canvas of blacks and blues, galactic milk spilled horizon to horizon in shades of orange and violet. The wind is biting this far from the compound, cold and dry, with not a cloud in the sky to support a peal of thunder and a flash of fire in the distance.

Wieland stands in the dark with an iPad in his hands, hair aruffle in the mojave breeze, long coat swinging heavy at his aft. Black on black. A ring of scorched earth surrounds a blackened corpse at the end of wide-spaced tracks — no light but for the glow of the tablet screen and the moonlit sand.

"Signal's shit out here."

He raps at the screen. Raises and lowers it. Checks his phone.

"Try putting your arms out."

The second shape in the darkness is a bigger one, all long arms and legs, and the muscle slabbed down on shoulders and back isn't enough to take away from an innate, heavy-boned lankiness. There's no long coat, but bare freckled skin emerging out of a sweat-stained undershirt, seemingly unphased by the cutting cool of the desert air. From where Wieland stands a few feet away, he can feel the vague warmth emanating off his night trip companion.

Also, in his hands, a sphere of metal, affixed to a chain. It rattles a little as Jasper Shambrook toys with its weight between one big hand and the other, tendons and muscles straining, and then drops the weight into the sand in front of him with a muffled thump.

He puts out his arms. Just a little sardonic, his accent that of an Irishman washed up on the Californian shores of the United States, too long ago; "And then what happens?"


The iron ball drops and sand splashes out in a broad circle, scattering across Wieland's boots. He shakes the near one clean, and the chain lashed from his ankle to the ball rolls like a dying anaconda in the sand, too thick and heavy to jump.

"You turn yourself about," he mutters, with a tap, tap and tap.

"We are four-hundred and seventy five meters outside of the default perimeter. His head should've been emancipated from his body long before he fried. Hold this."

The shorter, squarer, more English man passes the iPad up into Shambrook's extended hand without waiting for an answer.

Shambrook holds it, raising it up a considerable distance relative to Wieland's altitudinal capabilities. The screen flickers, for a moment, and glows a little brighter than before. He leaves dirty fingerprints on the screen as a result, black dust picked up from the weight he's been hauling with him, filth gathered as crescents under blunt nails.

"Maybe he ran," he says, "really fast."

He tips a look at the screen, tips the screen for Wieland to look at. Helping. In the dark, under light of screen and moon, what is usually rough, sunburned skin soaks up the blue, the ginger scraggle of beard down his jaw rendered dark on paler skin. "Should we not be steppin' back, in case of spatter?"

"By jove," says Wieland, "He must've outrun the signal! Thereby confusing the very laws that dictate time and space into giving him a pass for, let's see — four hundred and seventy five meters divided by two-hundred and ninety nine million, seven-hundred and ninety-two thousand…"

On and on, as Wieland lugs the great iron ball over the foot and a half he needs to stoop and roll their corpse friend bodily over onto his back. One of his boots cracks down through a blackened crust of glass and gravel as he leans, crunch.

The corpse is wearing a lab coat — singed more black than white, now, with a heat-blistered namecard still clipped importantly to his coat.

Wieland ignores it in favor of pawing into his deeper and more personal pockets instead. Empty. Empty. Empty. Empty. What were they talking about?

Wieland socks the corpse fully in his soot-crusted face, not once but twice, lapels grasped to throttle the neck and shoulders like the thing owes him money.

"— not even a paperclip you useless cunt—"

Spatter apparently rates low on Wieland's list of current concerns.

By now, Shambrook has stopped holding the iPad up, frowning over the screen as if whatever is written there is in ciphers, as the sounds of assault on cadaver play out several feet away. That frown translates into the look he sends past the iPad, over at Wieland, brow hooding as snippets of words play back to him between corpsey rattle and hissed breaths.

"There's, ehm— " He points at the screen. Stops. Looks around, a little, like judging the privacy of the moment. With the endless sprawl of blasted desert wasteland, they're pretty well covered on that front, the vastness of space swallowing up Wieland's curses.

Okay, well. He clears his throat.

"You should really take me up on helping balance your qi flow, next time. It'll do wonders for these little outbursts. Also there's a signal now."

Wieland has given up his throttling and sloughed off the side of the body in a boneless heap, ass over elbows, face in the plasma-baked sand.

The bottoms of his boots are very clean, despite their shared desert trek — sand skimmed up into the fine folds of his trousers and coat. Clinging in the gingery scruff at his jaw. Coarse in his hair.

He doesn't open his eyes.

He doesn't dignify Shambrook's offer of a balanced qi flow, either.

"What's it say about the power level."


There's a long pause, the sound of someone Trying Their Best to divine the answer out of scrolling numbers, flashing indicators, numbers rising and falling. Eventually—

"It says 'medium'."

The tablet lands at the velocity of a ginger underhand throw next to Wieland's hand, glassy flecks of sand striking his face. "You egghead twat," is the last part of that, jovially delivered.

Slowly, and with much drama in the way of reluctance and sand skimmed and shaken loose, Wieland picks himself up out of the dirt.

He pulls the tablet up with him, screen swept clean. It lights the underside of his face in blues and greens, eyes cut glassy clear to Jasper with a very distinct lack of appreciation on his way to squinting at scrolling text, windows pinched and tapped and swiped. Sand continues to dribble thin through the creases of his coat — around his collar, down his back.

The dead weight of his chain now lies black across an equally dead body.

"He was struck once within the perimeter before the killing blow. Eighteen fifty-seven hours. Fried the, ehm. The pingy-thing."

He paints a non-eggy picture with a flip of his wrist.

"Promising news for you, actually."

As Wieland works, Shambrook ducks down into a crouch, combing his fingers through the sand. It glitters where it stirs, and he gathers a handful, just letting it sift out through his fist, letting the cold wind play with it as it falls. This doesn't seem to have purpose, just idle actions, as if well used to keeping his own company, whether in the vicinity of others or not.

This last bit gets a look, doubtful. "You know out here, lightning strikes however many times it likes." He looks to the mangled, burned out husk of a corpse.

"Will she want the scraps?" His broad nose wrinkles at the notion of more heavy lifting than he cares for.

"Not enough blood left for her to bathe in."

Wieland doesn't give a damn if she wants the scraps. She isn't here right now and he is, gritty with sand, the pads of his hands smeary and black with burnt person.

"How many in a row do you think you could survive?"

This might be the first earnest question Wieland's asked the entire excursion.

She isn't here right now and Wieland is talking about her like she isn't here right now, and Shambrook's fidgety silence implies like he's never sure that she isn't here right now, some way or another. He dusts off his hands, chin tucked in, shoulders curled, and he tips a doubtful look back at the corpse.

"As many as angels what fit on the head of a pin. Maybe less."

He throws a look past his shoulder at the latest flash from the heavens, the inevitable rumble that follows. With great distrust; "Besides, these aren't of any belonging." Without thinking about it, his blunt fingernails seek out a spot on his neck to scratch.

A long, high-lifted step takes Wieland back over the corpse, and the chain drags after him, cuffed to his ankle as it is. He ignores it.

"Do you know that for a fact or are you being a gargantuan priss?"

There's really only one way to find out, isn't there?

At this slightly closer range, Wieland looks up at Shambrook the same way he might a fox in a very tall tree, seeking some tell-tale glimpse of dismissal, or perhaps fear. He even tilts the iPad in his hands, just so, to slant light up past the branches of the great ginger's arms.

"If you overload the backup in this one he'll blow."

The look that Shambrook carves back down at Wieland is really the only look one can give someone who is accusing you of cowardice while you are, in fact, feeling a little cowardly. That, and the whole point of saying things about angels on pins is about the lack of fact.


But he doesn't say anything to that question regardless, this last part considered curiously for possibilities more weighty than just, you know, for funsies. He grunts out acknowledgement and then paces around, boots leaving impressions in the dense sand as he finds a spot to stand that qualifies as close enough. Then, he claps his palms together, rubbing them swift for friction, a sandpapery sound that follows an outstretching of his hands in what is potentially unnecessary care and flourish. Or maybe very necessary, given the delicacy of his target.

There's no sound of warning to what happens next, save for the way the numbers of Wieland's screen suddenly climb and flux, and then— a sound like a crackle of electricity, a muffled air expulsion, a tearing and patter as a point high up the corpse's neck explodes outwards in a spray of over-baked gore, a crack of bone as neck snaps, skull popped like a cork and landing several feet down.

Shambrook wriggles his fingers, and lets his arms fall back down at his sides.


"We can keep this part between us, yeah?"

Pulverized ash tumbles up into a miniature mushroom cloud shot through with volcanic bombs of gore, and Wieland squints against the sound — preemptive against any blowback.

The measure proves unnecessary. Bits and pieces rain down out the far side, and he gives his tablet one last glance before he nods and tucks it away in his coat as good enough.

"Naturlich," he says. With an umlaut. It's fine.

"Vultures will see to the rest, provided they're fans of barbecue. It's the circle of life, Jasper. Natural as it gets."

Run for your life, die, burn, explode, have your soft bits devoured by terrible birds.

"Get the ball, will you."

In the gloom, Jasper's teeth are white in what is both grimace and smile, maybe just a defensive baring of fangs about the ever present possibility of being condescended to. But not enough that his silence can't be taken as agreement.

He comes back around, reaching down for where the iron ball has sunk into the dark sand, the click and clank of the chain following where it snakes down towards Wieland's ankle, enough slack to drag along between them as they start to make their way back.

Left behind, the wind tosses sand over and off the corpse in short fits and starts, and his scorched white coat flutters in the desert wind.

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