Stories

The Crystal Dragon, Part 11: Chase, by Edward King

#adventure #china #crystal dragon

LAST TIME, ON THE CRYSTAL DRAGON: OUR HEROES, Hammer and Laser, meet in an Internet cafe to discuss the “Cloud Mafia”—a band of criminal elements controlling the mining of the metals used to make phones and computers, those essential pieces of our modern lives—but their talk is interrupted by a mysterious grey-eyed man!
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Hammer and Laser thundered down the steps of the internet cafe. Behind, the grey-eyed man pursued them.

They crossed the street. A heavy stream of traffic blocked their pursuer.

He had one grey eye and one normal, and wore a dull grey dusty rumpled suit.

He stood there helplessly, blocked by a car.

Time seemed to stop. Though they were far from the ancient city center, Hammer felt that they were in the middle of the city—of the world. The present dilemma a seamless part of the tapestry of his life.

Hammer and Laser stood in a town in the midst of three skyscrapers. Children played in the space underneath the grey buildings housing sixty stories of families. Every necessity for life was there, packed into the corners of the dirty streets. In a general store, Bottles of water and packaged food crammed onto tiny shelves. Cramped Sichuan restaurants served spicy pepper dishes. A cell phone shop, a bank. A basketball court in the concrete lot behind the supermarket. At a table on the street, family sat around a steaming wok filled with peppers, long-stalked mushrooms and potatoes.

He thought of her: Alex. The wooden steps, the falling snow, his beating heart.

His eye caught the pink, shimmering lights of a KTV, a karaoke center.

A scantily-dressed model stood outside. Her sequined pink bra revealed her fleshy stomach.

Hammer thought, inexplicably, of Alex Long. The wooden steps leading up to her apartment.

Her body, sheets and bra, embracing him.

“What are you looking at?” said Laser. “karaoke?”

“No,” said Hammer.

“I don’t think that’s one of the legit ones anyway,” said Laser. “Or—depends what you mean by legit, I guess. It depends what you’re looking for.”

The grey-eyed man appeared atop the stairs. One eye watching them, the other grey, opaque.

“Run!” said Laser.

They ran through the smoky streets between the skyscrapers. Past a karaoke bar where skinny women stood below gauzy pink lights illuminating the street. Down concrete stairs.

They hopped across a board between two roofs.

The grey-eyed man behind them reached into his coat. When he withdrew his hand, it held a dull grey revolver.

“Duck!” yelled Laser.

Hammer ducked. A shower of sparks rained from the fire escape above his head.

They ran down the concrete stairs. Laser bumped a wok, launching food into the air.

The peppers landed on the grey man’s face.

“AHHH!” he yelled. “MY EYE!”

Hammer and Laser sprinted down the street.

“Sorry!” He yelled back, still running.

They were back outside the KTV again.

“In here,” said Laser.

They ducked into the entrance and ascended a set of glimmering LED-lit stairs.

“Who was that?” said Hammer.

“We just call him Mr. Grey,” said Laser. “He more or less runs the rare earth mining operation in this province.”

“That was your boss?”

“I don’t think I’m employed there any more,” said Laser.

Midway up the stairs, they stopped.

“I thought I saw her!” said Hammer.

“Who?”

“Alex Long. My ex.”

The wooden steps that led to her front door. The white snow falling softly on the stairs.

They continued up the KTV’s glimmering stairs.

In the inner entrance stood someone.

Alex! Hammer thought. At last!

But it wasn’t wasn’t Alex. It was—

粉一, she said.

Her skimpy clothing shimmered in the light.

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Stories

The Crystal Dragon, Part 11: Train Station, by Edward King

#adventure #china #short stories #stories

There are many thieves in the train but I am not a thief.

There are always many trains coming and going, and many people, and much hustle and bustle, and they use this to their advantage, as a distraction. And though my clothes are dirty and my beard is long, though my eyes are weary and my cap is worn, I am simply a traveler and I would never cause another person pain just for my own gain. I am a decent man.

It is summer now, and so the stations are more hot and dusty and chaotic. The cafes, once something of a refuge from the crowds, have been overrun—the tables are all full and even the spaces on the floor are taken, and I’ve heard that by the afternoon there isn’t any tea left at all; although this is hard for me to verify as I don’t touch the stuff.

Summer is also the time when I begin my travels in earnest. In June I will leave Xi’an and take a train to the coast, to Guangzhou where I once had relatives; but I have not been for a long time. I will look them up, I think, but I should not torture myself with old family history as they will want me to. Perhaps I will not look them up.

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The Crystal Dragon: Novostok, Part 2, by Ed King

#adventure #china #crystal dragon #russia #siberia

HammerBen Hammer, 22, our hero. Recently moved to Siberia to work for an oil company. stumbled drunk through the hallways of the OilbergerPronounced Oil-ber-zhay. The company at which Hammer is employed. dorm.

Hammer pulled a crumpled informational packet out of his pocket to find his room number. The letters swam in front of his face.

He slid the door open and in the square of light that spilled into the room saw Andrew SedgwickHammer’s childhood acquaintance, 21. Hammer doesn’t like him. lying on the single bed, mouth open, trail of drool causing spreading dark spot on the sheets.

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Hammer woke up not entirely sure where he was. He opened his eyes and turned to the left; found a window and parted the blinds a crack. Outside was darkness, and cold, and the knowledge of where he was. Siberia.

He turned to the other side and noted that the other bed was empty: Sedgwick was gone. He picked his crumpled pants off the floor and took his cellphone out of the pocket to check the time. It was two a.m.: just four hours until the first training class.

The night before, the cold had somehow been mixed up in all the romance of arriving and not bothered him. Now, when he was still half asleep, it seemed like something that was intent on destroying him. He had to remind himself that he was only in Siberia for six months. After that, training was over, and he could return to America.

Hammer thought about Sedgwick for a moment. The mop of curly hair, the almost-handsome face, the little gap in his front teeth. They had never had a conversation that went beyond discussing a homework assignment, and yet Sedgwick seemed to show up in every phase of his life, poking his goofy face into seemingly every school and team and extracurricular activity in Hammer’s life.

He thought about the science fair they had been assigned to together in the last year of junior high. Hammer had planned a project about sound waves. His father, a math teacher, had told him that any wave can be decomposed into a series of smaller waves added up. Hammer had used a high-speed camera to take films of guitar strings vibrating and superimposed them onto each other, playing the sound along with the video to demonstrate. He thought it was beautiful that even the most complex things were made up of simple components. He thought about how even his voice could be broken down into simple sine waves, vibrating, circular.

On the day of the fair, while Hammer set up his computer to play back the videos, Sedgwick hooked his guitar into the gym’s sound system. He turned it up as loud as it could go and started to play the national anthem, Jimi Hendrix-style. A teacher or rule-minded student quickly shut off the sound, but not before a gaggle of admirers had made their way to Sedgwick, leaving only a paltry few to witness all of Hammer’s hard work.

They won the science fair. Hammer swore off his dream of being an engineer for weeks. He couldn’t believe that after all the work he had put in, Sedgwick had stolen the show. And yet now, here they were: engineers for the same oil company. None of Hammer’s hard work had mattered.

He was thinking about all this when he heard the scream.

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