#FridayFlash: Just Enough Power

The First EpisodeThe Previous EpisodeThe Next Episode’All

Just Enough Power

by Tony Noland

Two inches of twenty year old scotch in a chipped glass. A twelve dollar cigar brought to life with a disposable plastic lighter. Aderesto "The Acrobat" Vincelli's big leather chair groaned as he leaned back. He squinted through the first clouds of gray-blue smoke at the woman in front of him. Unlike so many who had been on that hard wooden stool, she wasn't hiding utter terror with a pretense of calm. Her hands, her eyes, her neck: these told the Acrobat that she wasn't pretending. She truly wasn't scared, not of him nor of Benny's 9mm.

Which meant she was either crazy or powerful. The uncertainty was her protection for the next three minutes.

"Sounds like a load of crap to me."

She inclined her head before responding, as though he'd merely voiced an opinion instead of a death sentence.

"Oh? I'm surprised you take that position."

"Shut the fuck up. I had you scanned before you were brought in here, you know that?"

"I assumed as much."

"Then don't try to bullshit me. I know you got nothing. No weapons, either external or internal. No psi-booster circuitry, no nanotech, no artifacts of any kind. So don't tell me you're some kind of messenger assassin when you got nothing to do your killing with."

She nodded. "I see."

"Well? Is that all you got to say? Tell me why I shouldn't duct tape your face and give you to my boys for a week before I send what's left of you back to Meng-Shiu and tell him what he can do with his 'message', whatever it is."

"It's my job to deliver Mr. Tong's message. As it happens, I do have one minor native Talent."

One second later, Benny's nine was up and against her temple, pushing her head slightly to the right.

The tip of the Acrobat's cigar brightened and dimmed.

"Bullshit. The scanners would have spotted any significant concentration of native Talent organelles."

She shrugged with her eyebrows, not moving her head."Like I said, it's a very minor Talent, a rudimentary form of shielding."

Benny's finger pressed against the trigger, held taut and steady.

"Again, I call bullshit. If you had power sufficient to project a bulletproof shield, I'd know it."

"Oh, it's not bulletproof, not even close. However, it's more than strong enough for me to do my job."

The Acrobat's eyes flicked and Benny pulled the trigger. The guide rod shot forward on its spring and the firing pin struck, coming within one sixty-fourth of an inch of the round in the chamber. The impact made an echoing musical note, like that of a small bell rung at the bottom of a lake. The thug drew back his arm to smash the useless pistol across the bridge of her nose. His own momentum carried him backwards as the nerve impulses at the base of his brain met a barrier they could not cross. He hit the floor, twitching.

The woman stood gracefully, taking a moment to watch Benny's eyes widen and weep as his heart and lungs lost their coordination. To her side, the soft ringing echoed as the Acrobat pulled the trigger of the .38 revolver he'd yanked from his desk drawer. He threw the gun at her and missed. Ducking down, he stabbed again and again at the red alarm button under his desk, but the contacts would not close, the signals would not travel down the wires.

She stepped over Benny's twitching soon-to-be-corpse and came around the desk. The Acrobat had stopped moving. His head flopped over as he looked up at her.

"You're a healthy man, Mr. Vincelli. Even after I've finished paralyzing you from the waist down, in all likelihood you'll live another ten or fifteen years. Of course, you won't be aware of them. I'm also going to pinch off the blood supply to some of the more important centers of your brain. In a few minutes, you won't be able to process language, recognize faces or build long-term memories anymore. All of this will be accomplished with a single stroke, if you'll forgive the pun." She smiled.

Around a mouthful of drool, the Acrobat mumbled, "... kill me... instead..."

"I'm afraid I can't do that. Mr. Tong's instructions were quite specific about the message I'm to send."

Intelligence fading, his eyes formed the last question he would ever have the capacity to ask.

"Oh, the message isn't for you. It's for Mr. Tong's other competitors, the ones of actual significance. You are the message, one they'll be able to contemplate for a good long time. Goodbye, Mr. Vincelli."

The First EpisodeThe Previous EpisodeThe Next Episode’All


  1. TONY!

    Damn my friend, what a great story. I love that HE is the message. . . the suspense, the torture, and then the ending brings it all together. I will say this now: This is my favorite #ff that you've written yet.


  2. By crikey, that was excellent!

  3. "Two inches of twenty year old scotch in a chipped glass."

    See, I was hooked right there and the flash went on to even more awesome.

  4. Like I said before, you're lucky we're both married...

    Simply excellent.

  5. Jim, Sam, Anthony, Emma - I'm so glad you all liked it!

    I've been kicking around this idea for a while, that of a seemingly useless little superpower that is quite effective in the hands of the right person. Nothing feels better than to have someone be underestimated in so deeply mistaken a fashion.

    I believe this is what is known as a strong female character.


  6. Top-notch, Tony, really. Great detail, great pacing, and great character development in such a short amount of space. Rich and gritty.

  7. Oh, Tony. That was brilliant. Noir and scifi and all around gorgeous storytelling. I loved this. One of my absolute favorite flashes. Bravo!

  8. Awesome story, and I particularly liked this line: "The tip of the Acrobat's cigar brightened and dimmed."

    I though it helped set the scene and create a great visual with a minimum of verbage.

    Very nicely done. I think this is perhaps one of the best stories in terms of a world you can use in stories as well. A nice mix of good old fashioned guns, drink, and tabacco, but mixing in future tech.

  9. Absolutely great story. TWO surprises. Strong female with awesome Talent that more than does the job.

    And that Acrobat is the message.

    Terrific, Tony!

  10. This is a fantastic story! I applaud you and giggle with delight!

  11. Thanks for reading, everyone! And megdreams, my goodness, you must REALLY have liked it to comment three times!

    I was trying for restraint and economy of dialogue here. I think I'm starting to get the hang of it.

  12. A really enjoyed this superb piece of writing. Great characters and tight world building.

  13. Good enough to ensure the reader in me was able to be taken for a wild ride without the editor wanting to pop her head out and spoil the party.

    Economy of description is a boon here - a man who can enjoy 20 year old whisky but drink it from a chipped glass?

    You get in early (but not too early) to let us know we're in a spec-fic realm and pique our interest in how it is all going to be played out - because knowing we're in an alternate realm we can believe she has the power to not just protect herself but effect some damage.

    My only crits - a tiny ones.

    1.I wasn't originally aware the Benny was in the room too (just his gun) - so I had to go back and re-read the lines again where Benny jumps up to put the gun to her head.

    2. In this piece of dialogue:
    Well? Is that all you got to say? Tell me why I shouldn't duct tape your face and give you to my boys for a week before I send what's left of you back to Meng-Shiu and tell him what he can do with his 'message', whatever it is."

    I assumed Meng-Shui was the bad guy who had sent this hit-girl. I suggest you insert Mr Tong's name in here to clarify it.

    Taking editor's hat off now... bravo! And grand to see a strong, powerful female character who had hold her own among thugs. Shame she wasn't working for herself though - rather than another goon.

  14. Excellent stuff Tony. I particularly liked the powers you ascribed to her in all their gory detail. But this is superbly complemented by her level tone which increases her inviolability. She knows she can't be beaten. I just wonder how Mr Tong controls her?

    marc nash

  15. Great story.

    I love stories about tough women that don't take crap from anyone. Well done.

  16. I loved her calm demeanor. Excellent story, Tony! Yeah, they'll most likely pay attention to that message.

  17. wow - great story
    So well written

  18. She's a strong character, all right. I wonder what her name is? Or is she one of those people who can do without one?

    Thanks, guys!

  19. You're eating your Wheaties these days, friend. Top notch: the pacing, the characterization, the dialogue. Only glitch for me was what jodi noted re Benny. Love the calm and cold demeanor of the assasin. Well-played.

  20. Damn Tony, you're a goddamn genius. Stop underplaying your talent. You are amazing. I want to see you get serious. You're so ready for it.

  21. This has one of my favorite openings you've written in a while, Tony. There's just enough unique wording, like scotch being measured in inches, to lend body to raw description and setting up of items and details. Detached item description also just works there.

    The ending confused me. He refuses to kill the Acrobat, but the second to last paragraph says, "Intelligence fading, his eyes formed the last question he would ever have the capacity to ask." That sure sounds like the Acrobat is dying, in which case, "Kill me" was granted, just slowly. Feels dischordant, like I'm missing something but I can't pick it up on re-reads.

    Also, "The Acrobat" is a neat name.

  22. I dig strong females that act with aplomb, even when naked and at a disadvangtage.

    Great story.

  23. Don't take this personally, Tony, but your ability to churn out brilliant stories week after week is seriously getting on my nerves.

  24. One of your best if not the best - submit immediately for publication

  25. Cool - excellent superpower!

    I will shock myself by disagreeing with John W, I thought the part with the last question he would be able to form made perfect sense

    Like Marc, I too am wondering how Mr Tong controls her - cool character

  26. Linda: Raisin Bran, actually, but it has much the same effect.

    Carrie: Your comment thrills me almost as much as it terrifies me. It's a complicated response, which deserves a blog post of its own to discuss.

    John: I'm glad you liked the scotch. Often, noir will use the old saw about an ill-fitting suit to sketch a character. This was a bit of a twist on that. Re: the ending, she said that she was going to leave him alive, but destroy his language processing ability. This will be the last question he'll ever be able to formulate because in a few moments, he won't be able to use words anymore.

    Ali Fraser: Sorry, man. There are so many ways I can annoy people, I'm just trying to cover all the bases. 8-)

    Michael: Thank you! I'll start hunting around for an appropriate venue.

    Mazzz in Leeds, Marc Nash, Jodi Cleghorn: She works for him, but he doesn't "control" her. For that matter, although she's a conscientious employee committed to quality workmanship, that doesn't mean that she's *happy* working for him. As it turns out, Tong is not really a very good boss; he tends not to reward his top performers commensurate with their demonstrated ability. He fosters interpersonal competition, rather than teamwork. As you might suspect, this lowers morale among his staff.

    I will reveal the consequences of that management style in a future story.

  27. Excellent story. Great action and description. Well done!

  28. Ooo neat. Well-written and good pacing.

    I'm not entirely clear on exactly what her power is, though. Minor telekinesis?

  29. Eric, Icy, Dana: Thanks for reading, glad you liked it!

    Dana: I'm reluctant to dig in and explain what I meant (I hate it when stories can't stand on their own), so let me quote instead:
    "Like I said, it's a very minor Talent, a rudimentary form of shielding."


    "Again, I call bullshit. If you had power sufficient to project a bulletproof shield, I'd know it."


  30. Great job, Tony! I wouldn't call her talent "minor," although she has obviously been well-trained in it. I like the idea of scanners that can pick up on structures in the brain that produce it. Your imagination never ceases to astound me. :)


  31. Calm, naked, and dangerous. Reminds me of...nevermind. Nice tight story arc, and well paced reveal.

  32. Wow. First of all, nice job showing what kind of character this joker has with the chipped glass and plastic lighter. I suppose when you're dealing with people that could send that kind of assissin after you, it would be a good idea to pay attention and care about the details of life.

    And second of all...wow! I want to read more about this girl and what she's got up her sleeve. She's obviously too smart to be doing this kind of work without her own motives.

    This is screaming to be more than flash! Wonderful job.

  33. WooHOO! Another one for the badASS chicks!

    Love it!

  34. Cecilia: That's interesting, as I thought about these cellular structures, I don't see them as being localized in the brain. More organelles than organs. As for my imagination, well, the more jury-rigged the machine, the more interesting sounds it makes.

    Trev: Now, now, keep it clean...

    Tomara: She is fairly substantial in the "kick-ass" department, isn't she?

    Shannon: Those details sketch the whole man, don't they? You have no idea how long it took me to write those two lines, btw. Well, no, the scotch in a chipped glass was easy, but the cigar was HARD. I kept bumping up against "a cigar lit with a lighter", a tautology. It took me FOREVER to come up with another verb form to express lighting a cigar. I'm pretty happy with the result.

    I want to read more about this girl and what she's got up her sleeve. She's obviously too smart to be doing this kind of work without her own motives.

    This is screaming to be more than flash!

    I am occupied today with considering the details of exactly how to do this.

  35. Well written and enjoyable story!

  36. Wow! Tony, you are smokin' That was amazing in detail & suspense - definitely a strong female character! Reading the comments was interesting too.

    You really have something here!

  37. Meaty, full of intrigue, great visuals and not too much fat to be trimmed. I think this is the best thing I've seen you produce for #fridayflash.

    Well done.

  38. Amazing story I love the interplay between the two characters and could literally hear the fear in his voice when he begged to be killed.

  39. Oh my goodness, anything like this that has to do with the brain creeps me out, so this certainly will be with me for a while! Enjoyed, Tony.

  40. Oh, Tony. This was good. This was very, very good. My favourite line: "The tip of the Acrobat's cigar brightened and dimmed." Such a small detail, but it goes a long way in creating mood and keeping the pace. Bravo!

  41. Oh yes - this is good! And what a lovely lady, so polite and gracious in executing her orders. Great stuff, Tony.

  42. Thanks, everyone! The cigar tip caught the attention of several people, almost as many as the glass of scotch. That was a fun detail to write, to show the Acrobat thinking for a moment about what she just said.

    I'm kind of pleased with this story, y'know?

  43. Nice way to start a fiction- bloody from jump!


Thank you for leaving a comment. The staff at Landless will treat it with the same care that we would bestow on a newly hatched chick. By the way, no pressure or anything, but have you ever considered subscribing to Landless via RSS?