September 7, 2013

Issue 8 eBooks available now!

Hello everyone. We now have ePub and Kindle versions available for purchase on our eBooks page here.

Please pick one up if you are more digital than analog these days. We work hard to make sure they appear as much like our printed book as possible and meet the same level of quality.

We hope you enjoy them, and thank you for all your support so far!

September 5, 2013

Penis Lightsabers, or Words As the Underdog of Promotion.

   At FanExpo, our neighbours to the right were Gay Nerds. That's the name of their webseries (which is really funny, check it out). Their logo, which was prominently displayed, was two crossed lightsabers. Shaped like penises.
   I've already told you about about our other neighbours, to the left, who had awesome artwork, also prominently displayed.
   We, on the other hand, had seven stacks of books. And nothing else. No visuals other than the covers by our awesome artists.
   Which meant that the typical FanExpo visitor's gaze would go as follows: look with awe and wonder at the art on our left, slow down, smile beatifically at our neighbours' talent, go blank as they quickly glide over our table, then see the lightsabers, laugh, and go see our neighbours to the right.
   Words are a tougher sale than images. Nothing new there, but the first hand experience of it made me reflect on what it means to...

... Nah, who am I kidding, I'm just jealous.

August 27, 2013

FanExpo: Ghostbusters, Drawings and T-shirts.

   I was a FanExpo virgin. I had never set foot in one of these "temple of geekdom" events. Don't be fooled, I am a geek (I know way too many lines from my favorite movies to deny it), but maybe a closeted one. So I wasn't sure what to expect.
  I was impressed.
  First by the amount of work and dedication people put in their costumes. I have seen some truly awesome feats of apparel in there. To name a few, in no specific order: Ghostbusters' Winston Zeddemore (the accelerator backpack was especially well done), Shaun of the Dead, Zombie Waldo (complete with half of a pen sticking out of his head), a shark with a little character cutting her way of its stomach with a chainsaw (If someone knows the story that refers to, please tell me), a robot pirate that played the theme from Pirates of the Carribean, and many, many more.
  Second, by the quality of the work on display. In Artist Alley, the (actually quite large) section dedicated to independent works, you could find anything from comics to webseries, with lots of fan art in between (check out these guys: they were our neighbours, and their stuff is really cool:
http://brianachan.ca/
http://johnsoleas.ca/
  Third, by the number of interesting people we met. It was really fun to talk we people who really get the idea of having fun with fiction. Duane even said that HBM was "comic books without the pictures", which sort of reflects the "fun to read fiction" aspect we're trying to achieve.
  Fourth, by the T-shirts. I'll leave you with a sample:
  "I Mustache you a question." With the image of a moustache.
  "Keep Calm and Kill Zombies"
  "Keep Calm and Kling on"
  "Romulans Eunt Domus"
  "Error 404: sleep not found"
  And one for the D&D crowd: written in small print: "If you can read this, you've just created an attack of opportunity." 
  Yeah, I had forgotten how much of a nerd I am. It's good to be back.



August 17, 2013

What the Future Holds

Some of you may be wondering where we went. It has been very quiet as of late. Cue epic music here. Beware rabbit hole of awesome.
       Issue 8 is at the printer. If you have heard from us, and consented to us printing your story then you know this is happening. If you haven't heard from us, we apologize for not having gotten back to you yet. We also have stories that are under consideration for number 9. The short of it is that we have an email backlog and we will be working on that over the next couple of weeks. Please hang in there.
        In the preface of issue 8 we address our recent absence and why it happened. Two key people and friends are no longer in Montreal. The elements around that have meant delays. It is also sad because we were all friends even before HBM. There have also been a few other set backs. The good news is that we are still here and we have taken time, and are taking time, to look at our options on how to continue. So we will keep you updated here on the evolution of HBM as that becomes more defined. What is important to know for now is that issue 8 is being printed, there will be a 9 and 10, and we will get back to your emails in the next few weeks.
        Next week, we are attending Fan Expo in Toronto. We'll have a table. Perhaps we will see some of you there. That would be great!

June 20, 2013

Flash Mob 2013

Hi everyone,
The Flash Mob 2013 in which Vincent is participating is going to kick off in a few hours. Check it out!

June 7, 2013

Qoorgadstein's Syndrome

Hi everyone,

Vincent's decided to enter FLASH MOB 2013, a flash fiction contest celebrating International Flash Fiction Day. The guidelines for the contest basically said "push the envelope."
So tell us what you think: has the envelope indeed been pushed?

Here it goes:

Qoorgadstein’s Syndrome.

Neurological disorder of the frontal cortex leading to rapid personality decay, irrational anger, confusion, and, eventually, loss of physical substance.

Epidemiology: Incidence is reported at 0.001% but is probably underestimated due to difficulty in observing the later stages of the disease, after loss of substance occurs. This may lead to cases never coming to a physician’s attention. It has been theorized that the only way to observe the terminal stage is self-documentation by the patient himself. As Holly always said, if you want something done right, do it yourself.

Etiology: Unknown. It has been noted that most patients had suffered an emotional loss prior to disease onset. This has been dismissed by relevant authorities as an idiotic load of crap! Nobody knows anything useful about this, it seems. Morons. At least maybe they’ll rename it after me now.
How long has Holly been gone? A we k? A month? Twen y years? Time eludes quantification.

Clinical Presentation: The patient f rst demonstrates personality decay, with alternating bouts of irrational anger, confusion and depersonalization, oft n described as a “feeling of not being here.” This is fol owed by moments of looking in a mirror without recognizing your ref exion. It stares ba k like a goddamn stranger. Is it me, Holly? As the disease progresses, the patient notices a thinning of his body’s subs ance, as if he was b coming transparen . The capacity to inter ct with th  physic l world is gr dually lost.


Evol tion and Pr gnosis: The t rmin l stage h s ne er been  escribed, since a l kn wn cases h ve d sa peared bef re th  diseas had r n its                . It    bel    ed         atal.


April 6, 2013

Final Encryption - Part 7


  In which Marie-Ange loses it, a jerk gets his entertaining comeuppance, and Ricky actually has a genuine idea. 


  Old repurposed factory buildings surrounded Club Stereo.  A fancy light show flashed on brick walls covered with fading ads from the thirties, while windows of hip and overpriced lofts shook in sync with the music.  The sidewalk was crowded with revellers in a lineup to the club entrance. Most were drunk.  One man was trying his dubious charms on a woman in a red dress, who was trying to fend him off.
   “Oh, come on baby,” the man was saying, slurring his words, “You can’t be wearing a dress like this and then brush me off.  You owe me, I don’t know, a blowjob or something at least…”
   “Leave me alone,” the woman said, but the man grabbed her arm and started shaking her. “You’re hurting me.”  None of the other revellers seemed to be willing to intervene.  Some were laughing and filming with their phones.
   Suddenly a nun in full habit got out of a van, walked to the man, and grabbed him by the balls.
   “Ouch!” the man yelled, “what the…?”
   The nun just squeezed harder. “Son,” she said through an angelic smile, “I’m in a really bad mood tonight because one of my friends just died, and righteous godly wrath against a miserable sinner such as yourself seems like just the ticket to make me feel better, so unless you want God to decide you don’t need your manhood anymore, I suggest you go home, say three hundred hail Marys, then get a life and sin no more.”
   The man squealed.  “Let me go, you fucking bitch!”
   A man with a muscle shirt and a crew cut stepped out of the van, walked to the drunk, said “Be polite,” grabbed him in an armlock and wrestled him to the ground.  Behind him, a small woman with grey-blond hair exited the van as well.  With careful little steps, she knelt beside the man and whispered something in his ear.  The drunk started to sob uncontrollably.  Muscle shirt released him and he limped away into the night.  The small grey-blond woman went to check on the woman in the red dress, who seemed shaken but all right.
   What did Nina say to him?” Ricky asked Raven from the window of the van.
   “I don’t know,” Raven said with a dark smile, “But usually they don’t recover.”

***

   Marie-Ange turned to the crowd.  “Now next time a woman gets harassed in front of you and you think it’s funny to not do shit about it, know that I’ll find you and personally make sure your redemption is complete.”
   “Who do you think you are?” A man yelled from the crowd.  “Batnun or something?”  He was brandishing a cellphone above his head, trying to catch the scene with the camera.
   Marie-Ange’s tone became suddenly and dangerously pleasant.  “Bring that phone over here, son,” she said.
   “But…” the man said.
   “Bring. That. Phone. Over. Here.”
   He brought it.
   “Good,” Marie-Ange said.  “This seems like a pretty fancy phone, my son,” she told the man, seeming to admire the device.  “Is it?”
   “Uh… yeah, actually, it’s the latest shit,” the man said.  “Got it yesterday.”
   “And I suppose you’re on all possible social networks, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest,   MyNavelFluff.com and all that?
   “Uh, yeah, though I’m not sure about that last one you mentioned…”
   “Perfect.  Film me.”
   “Uh…”
   “My son, I don’t have all night.”
   The man obligingly raised his phone and started filming.  Marie-Ange put herself against the entrance of the club and made sure the sign was visible behind her.  “Alright.  This is a message for StormBrainOne.  I’m sister Marie-Ange.  I’m here.  I’m waiting for you.”  Then she grabbed the phone from the man’s hand, and turned the camera towards him.  “Also, this man here is a coward.”  She pressed send and smashed the phone on the pavement.  “Now go,” she told the man.  “Thirty Hail Marys for you.”  The man left, visibly confused but unwilling to face more humiliation.
   Back in the van, Gaston and Miguel were both frowning.  “Now she’s gone too far,” Gaston said, his wrinkles deepening in worry.
   “I knew this would happen.  Shit!” Miguel said, slamming his fist against the dashboard. 
   He was a squat, dark-haired man in his forties who seemed to be perpetually in movement.  His eyes   never stopped scanning his surroundings as if expecting a lion to pounce on him at any minute.  Which,    Ricky supposed, wasn’t far from the truth. 
   “Relax, man,” Ricky told him, “I’m sure she knows what she’s doing.”
   But Gaston shook his head.  “Not this time,” he said.  “This time she wants revenge.”
   This worried Ricky substantially.  “Then we should, I don’t know, stop her and get the hell out of  here or something,” he said.
   “I want revenge too,” Gaston said laconically.
   They were interrupted by Marie-Ange knocking on the driver side window.  People were still filming the whole scene on their phones.  Free entertainment, Ricky supposed.  Behind them, he could see some cars pulling up in a large parking lot.  Some of the cars were really nice.
   “All right,” she said quickly, “Nina, Raven and Gaston.  All three of you are going in.”
   Gaston?  The blind man?  “But…” Ricky said.
   “Gaston,” Marie-Ange went on, “The sound system in this place can play louder and further than  anything in town.” Gaston nodded, and she continued. “I need you to rig it to play this.” She handed him a pink and orange 8-track tape.
   “No problem,” Gaston said, and turned to Raven.  “Raven?”
   “Don’t worry, I’ll get you there,” Raven said.
   “What about you, Marie-Ange?” Nina asked, concern in her voice.
   Marie-Ange looked at the door of the club.  “I’ll be on the roof, by the satellite dish,” she said.       “That’s where he’ll come.”
   “I should come with you,” Nina said.
   “I agree,” Raven said. “You’ll be in more danger than us.”
   “No,” Marie-Ange said.  “He might not come if Nina’s with me.”
   “Why?” Ricky asked, confused.
   There was a brief silence.  Everyone turned to Ricky.  Then Nina spoke in her usual, careful voice: “I seem to be… I suppose we could say immune to SBO’s powers.”
   Ricky didn’t really get it.  “I don’t really get it,” he said.
   Nina smiled, just a little.  “I don’t know why, but SBO can’t touch me.  It might be because I never use digital technology, and I don’t understand it, I suppose.  That’s what Aurélien thinks.”
   “Yeah,” Miguel said with a short, nervous laugh, “she can’t even log on to a friggin’ computer without frying it.” 
   Nina frowned, and Ricky could see the comment had hurt her.  Still, she kept smiling.  “Yes, Miguel, digital technology is foreign to me.  I have no use for it, and it appears to have no use for me either.  That being said, I think I should go with Marie-Ange.”
   “Well, it’s too late for that,” Ricky said.
   Marie-Ange had just disappeared behind the club, still filmed by tens of smartphones ready to broadcast her location to SBO.
   “Shit!” Raven said.  “I’m going after her.  Nina, you’re with me.”
   But Ricky, getting out of the van, put a hand on Raven’s shoulder.  “I think you should do as the nun said, man.”
   “What?…” Raven said.
   “I think you should go in there with Gaston and Nina and rig that sound system, just as she said.”
   “Who the hell do you think you are to tell me what to do?”  Raven said.
   Ricky got suddenly very tired of being trucked around by these weirdos.  “We don’t have time for a pissing contest, Van Damme.” He pointed to the club entrance with one hand, and to the parking lot with the other.  “The nun is risking her life in there right now, the car over there is a 1958 Chevy, and I have a plan.”
   “Huh?” Raven said.
   “Now go!” Ricky said.
   Nina pulled raven by the sleeve of his muscle shirt.  “I think we should do as he says.”
   Raven sighed, said “Sure, what the hell,” and walked to the door, Nina and Gaston in tow, the blind man carrying an 8-track tape deck with bare wires hanging out of it.
   The bouncer stopped them.  “Where do you think you’re going.”
   “Shit, man,” Raven said, “let us through, don’t you see it’s an emergency?”
   The bouncer crossed his arms.  “You’ve caused enough trouble here, sir.  You need to go party elsewhere.”
   Raven face reddened. “You are going to fucking let us in or…”
   “Sir,” the bouncer said, tensing.  “I’m warning you, step away.”
   This was heading south fast.  But then Gaston stepped in, his face calm, his white cane clicking on the sidewalk.
   “How’s it going?” he said to the bouncer in his soft, raspy voice.
   The bouncer’s eyes widened in shock.  “Are you…?” he said.
   Gaston nodded.  “I am.”
   There were whispers in the lineup, just as the bouncer's eyes kept expanding and his jaw dropped.  “But you’re supposed to be dead,” he told Gaston.
   “True DJs never die, my friend.  Now will you let us in, we’re in a hurry.”
   The bouncer almost fell over himself.  “Of course,” he said.  “Er… will you be playing tonight then?” 
   Gaston put his finger to his lip as he walked in.  “It’s a surprise,” he said.
   The bouncer seemed about to have an orgasm or something, and the people in the lineup started to scream with excitement.  Gaston gave them a wave as he walked inside, followed by Nina and Raven.
After they disappeared, the people in the lineup turned their phones towards Ricky, since he was the last filmable piece of the show.  He sighed.  Time to put the plan in action, before SBO caught on.
   “Wait here,” he told Miguel.
   He walked to the 1958 Chevy, smashed its passenger side window, ripped the radio from its socket and went after Marie-Ange.

TO BE CONTINUED.

April 3, 2013

Alive!

"Issue 8 of our growing speculative fiction anthology is coming up." 

You say, "wait... coming up? Wasn't it already supposed to happen?"

Er... because of a faulty replacement piece in our time travel device we find ourselves with less time instead of more. We have consulted the expert on time travel, Santa Claus, but we are still waiting for his advice. Unfortunately, the elves field his calls, and we have no direct line to him.

Seriously, things have been busy (too busy to focus on our publishing) and so the deadline is being pushed back to May 10, 2013.







Finally, we are able to refocus our energy and time on hbm. Sorry for dropping the metaphysical ball. When you drop that ball, the shit gets weird and delays happen as confusion ensues. 


Thanks for your support and interest!


January 29, 2013

Final Encryption - Part 6


Ricky tries, and fails, to grasp the situation...

Ricky followed the surviving members of the “intervention” team down the stairs and into the convent’s strange HQ-Basement. He’d spent the ride back from Montreal trying to sort out what had happened to Eddie, while the others alternated between distraught and furious. Only Marie-Ange was quiet. She had started murmuring a prayer a couple of times but then closed her mouth into a grim line before she finished.

She’d gone to the chapel  to properly pray, Ricky guessed. The rest were gathering in the basement, explaining the loss to the team.

“I should have realized that SBO would attack us,” said Nina softly, “given that we were getting close, it fits the profile...” She trailed off as Raven turned away and kicked one of the stone pillars.
One of the men took off the earpiece he’d been using to listen to a telegraph, “What do we do now? There’s been no word from Oldie.”

“Just wait Miguel,” said Gaston, “we’ll talk it over with Marie-Ange.” The others grumbled assent and then went back to pretending to be busy. But Ricky knew they were all thinking along the same lines as him.

He hadn’t ever been a survivor of anything before. He liked to think of himself as a bit of a renegade, sure. A man that lived on the edge – anyone that had seem him drive could agree to that. But Crowbar Eddie, a guy that looked like he could chew iron and spit nails, had been taken out by some digital ghost-monster and now Ricky was on its shit-list.

He considered telling everyone that this was more than he signed up for, but he saw a few red, puffy eyes in the group and thought better of it.

After poking around and looking at the array of working antiques they collected, he resigned himself to the fact that there wasn’t going to be any cold beer and sat down.

Just then, Marie-Ange threw open the door at the top of the stairs. Still in her nun’s habit, she had a ragged fierceness in her eyes that drilled holes into Ricky. He nearly stood up out of fear alone.

“Alright. This thing is dark, and dangerous, and its sniffing at our door. It took Eddie from us...but I won’t sit by waiting for it to take someone else. What I’m asking for isn’t easy, but you know in your hearts what’s right. We need to hit StormBrainOne, and I know how.”

Ricky was jostled as Marie-Ange came down from the stairs and began making plans with her team. “Hey,” he said as they began discussing a map and where he should drive them to get at SBO, “you guys can’t just assume I’m going in for this plan”.

This was how he ended up driving Marie-Ange and part of her team to Club Stereo the next night. As they approached on the street, they could hear the thrumming of the bass inside the enormous club.
Ricky sighed at the musical trauma he’s experienced since meeting Marie-Ange and her cohorts. “So, if this thing is all digital, isn’t going into a dance club that only plays electronic music kind of suicide?”

“Only kind of,” said Marie-Ange humourlessly.

January 14, 2013

Final Encryption - Part 5


   In which we meet Nina, see the team in action, and hear some more Wurlitzer.

   It was a fancy hotel of the kind that caters to rich tourists and business travelers, and can be found every three feet in Old Montreal.  Through its front windows, Ricky could see a pleasant lobby with dark, classic furniture and old, bare stone walls.  A man in an elegant suit sat in a leather chair and typed on a laptop.  A black briefcase lay by his feet, on a plush, persian carpet.
   The team was suiting up, which involved, as far as Ricky could tell, putting on canvas vests and what looked like WWI aviators’ leather helmets that covered the ears and made everyone look insane, except the grey-blond lady, who didn’t wear one.  Bare copper wires protruded from both pieces of clothing in several places.  Each team member then put an old, ebonite laryngophone over their necks.  The old blind man took a seat in the back of the van and switched on an old short wave radio.
   “Testing,” he said.  “Marie-Ange, can you hear me?”.
   “I hear you, Gaston,” the nun answered.
   Gaston, since that was his name, proceeded to test the connection with every team member.  Then Marie-Ange unfolded a strange map of the city marked with hundreds of coloured dots.  Waving her finger around Old Montreal, she gave her orders
   “Ok,” she said, “what Aurélien has given us is coordinates to this place, and a time.  This means that StormBrainOne will strike someone here, in eleven minutes.  We don’t know who, and we don’t know StormBrainOne’s reason’s for choosing that person.  We have analyzed its previous hits, and we think we’re seeing a pattern emerge, but we’re unsure.  That means we have to find out who’s the target.  Nina, that’s your job.”  
   The grey-blond lady nodded distractedly, her gaze lost in some faraway though.  
   “As usual, we can expect StormBrainOne to be watching, and we have to assume it can hit us too.  So we have to make it blind.  There’s two main signals to disrupt.  One’s on the roof of that building across the street, the other at the back of the souvenir shop on the corner.  Eddie, you take the roof.  Raven,” she turned to Crew Cut, “you take the souvenir shop.”
   Ricky frowned at Crew Cut.  “Raven?” he mouthed.
   Raven shrugged.  “Hippy parents,” he said, as he hopped out of the van and ran towards the street corner.
   “Gaston,” Marie-Ange went on, “you stay on the radio and listen.  Oldie will likely try to give us more info on the target, we need to be ready.  I’ll run point from the van.  Nina,” she finally said, turning to the grey-blond lady, “as usual, you go in.  Good luck, and God be with you.”
   Nina gave an enigmatic little smile, said “I don’t believe that God is anything else than a fluid power that rests within the human self and creates itself constantly through the collective unconscious and the universal human experience,” then climbed out of the van and walked to the hotel with careful little steps.
   “And me?” Ricky said, “What do I do?” 
   “You stay here with your foot on the gas.  We may need to get out in a hurry.”
   Ricky watched Crowbar disappear into an alley, heading for a fire escape.  “Fine,” he said.  “Now, can you tell me why we’re here?”
   “Not sure yet,” Marie-Ange said, “but Oldie sent us those coordinates over the telegraph.  That means that StormBrainOne, the digital entity, will strike here.”
   “Oldie?”
   “The Analog entity.  Its communications are imprecise, and it’s slower than StormBrainOne, but it sees a lot, and StormBrainOne has no access to it.”
   “And how will that StormThingaling strike?”
Marie-Ange shook her head and looked worried.  “It used to be it would steal money or hack into databases, that kind of thing, but as I said, recently it’s started to kill.  We’re not sure why.”
   “But you have an idea?”
   She nodded.  “We believe it’s eliminating witnesses.”
   “You mean people who know about it,” Ricky said.
   “Yes.  But we don’t know much more.”
   “How does it kill?”
   “Unknown.  Several victims seem to have just disintegrated.”
   Ricky’s heart skipped a beat.  “Just like Hans,” he said.
   Marie-Ange nodded.  “All we know is, it acts better if there’s strong digital signals in an area.  That’s why Raven and Eddie are disabling the cable boxes.  Gaston is also jamming cellphone signals.”
   “Ok.  Now please tell me why you sent that sweet, small, older lady into danger.”
   Marie-Ange smiled.  “She’s the one of us whose the least in danger, Ricky.”
   Ricky was about to ask why when the line crackled.
   “Ok, Angel,” said Crowbar’s voice.  “I’m on the roof.  Opening the box.  I should have the thing down in a minute.”
   “Good work, Eddie,” said the nun.  “Raven, what’s your status?”
   Raven’s voice came on the line, sounding tense.  “The box is behind a fu… frigging dumpster full of cinder blocks.  I’m trying to get to it, but I don’t know how long.”
   “Alright,” Marie-Ange said, keeping her voice calm, even as her face betrayed her worry.  “Nina?”
   “The front desk clerk just told me his life story,” Nina said over the line, “but I don’t think he’s the target.”
   “Understood,” Marie-Ange said.
   “How the hell does she know that?” Ricky asked Marie-Ange.
   Nina’s voice came on again.  “Same way I know you’re the second of three children, have an older s sister who’s a nurse or a lawyer, have lost both your parents when you were between sixteen and twenty-three, like to watch car movies and romantic comedies (which you’re ashamed of), and… no I’ll stop there, I believe that last part you don’t like people to know.”
   Ricky tried to prevent his jaw from dropping and failed.  
   “Nina was a police psychologist for thirty-five years,” Marie-Ange said.
   “Ah, profiling criminals,” Ricky said.
   “No, the cops,” Marie-Ange said.
   “The psychopathologies are very similar, in fact,” Nina said over the com link, “especially regarding ego weaknesses and the pathological detachment from the self.  Jung actually wrote that…”
   “Nina,” Marie-Ange said gently, “Please focus.  Who else is in the lobby?”
   “Ah.  Yes.  The lobby.  A man by the window with a laptop.  A janitor mopping the floor in front of the elevators.  A chambermaid with a cleaning cart.  A piano man playing music in the bar.  A mother and her two kids.  A couple of customers in the bar too, I can’t see them well.  Marie-Ange, there’s no way I can get sort through them all.  There’s no time.  I need more data.”
   Gaston was turning dials and flipping switches on his machine, shaking his head and frowning.  “I have nothing,” he said.  “Sorry.”
   Raven’s voice broke in over the com link. “I can’t get to the box.  That dumpster’s just too damn heavy.  How much time left?”
   Marie-Ange looked at her watch.  “Three minutes.  Keep trying.”
   Raven’s only answer was a strained grunt, probably as he gave the dumpster another push.
   “It’s not the janitor either, I just talked to him.  I don’t think he’d be a threat to StormBrainOne.  I’m moving to the man with the laptop.  Marie-Ange, you have to give me more time.”
   “Raven,” Marie-Ange said, “you heard her.  We need that box taken out now.”
   “I’ll go help him,” Ricky said suddenly.
   He opened the door and ran to the corner.
   “Wait!  You don’t have your protection suit,” Marie-Ange called after him, but he was already in the alley.
   Raven was wedged between a massive blue dumpster and a brick wall, pushing hard, face red and veins swollen with effort.  The thing wasn’t moving.  Ricky ran to the other end of the dumpster and started pushing too.
   “You shouldn’t be here,” Raven said.  “It’s not safe.”
   “Just push, Van Damme,” Ricky said.
   The dumpster was made of steel, and filled with concrete blocks.  It had wheels but they were caked with rust.  Sweat poured down Ricky’s forehead.
   “It’s not the laptop man,” Nina said over the com link.  “He’s too normal.”  
   “Gaston, do you have anything?”  Marie-Ange said.
   “I got music,” Gaston’s raspy voice said.  “Some Fender Rhodes track.  Or Wurlitzer.  Nothing we can use.”
   “Wait,” Ricky said through clenched teeth, “Wurlitzer? As in that shitty music Marie-Ange made me listen to on our way to the convent?”
   “I…  yes,”  Gaston said, puzzled, “we found that some specific pieces keep StormBrainOne away somewhat but…”
   “Nina, check the piano man,” Ricky said between grunts.
   “He’s right,”  Marie-Ange said.  “It’s the only lead we have.”
   “I’m on it,” Nina said.
   “Raven, Ricky, any progress?” Marie-Ange said.
   The dumpster was moving, inch by inch.  In a minute, they had enough room for Raven to wiggle behind it and get to box.  “We’re in,” Ricky said.  “Van Damme’s opening it now.”
   Nina’s voice came on again, this time a whisper.  “I’m with the pianist.  I don’t think it’s him either.”
   “Too late.  Strike time is now.  Stay with him and protect him.  He’s our best bet.”
   “Understood,” Nina said, her voice strained.  “He was just telling me about how he lost his cat three years ago.”
   “The box is down,” Raven said, as he ripped out a fistful of wires.
   “Good work,” Marie-Ange said.  “Now you and Ricky get yourselves back in the van.”
   “Marie-Ange?”  Gaston said.
   “Not now Gaston,” Marie-Ange said.  “Strike time’s in three… two… one…  Nina, brace yourself.”
   Ricky climbed back into the van.  There was a long silence over the com.  Strike time came and went.  After what felt like an eternity, Nina’s voice came on again.  “Marie-Ange.  Nothing’s happening.”
   Marie-Ange frowned.  “Nothing?”
   “Marie-Ange,” Gaston intervened.  “I’m listening to the Wurlitzer track again and…  it’s not the real thing.”
   “What do you mean?”  Marie-Ange asked, worry in her voice.
   “It’s digital.”
   “Oh shit,” Marie-Ange said.  “It’s a trap.  Nina, Eddie, get back to the van, we need to get out of here now!”
   “I’m on my way,”  Nina said.
   “Eddie?” Marie-Ange said.  “Can you hear me?  Get back to the van.”
   Nothing.
   “Eddie?”  Marie-Ange called again, her voice weaker.  “Crowbar?”
   Still nothing.
   Raven tried to hold Marie-Ange back, but she was already out of the truck, running towards Crowbar’s last position.  Ricky swore and followed.

TO BE CONTINUED.