Puddle Driver-a podcast novel
Summary: Puddle Driver opens in a high-alt station where Streis, a data headhunter, awakes. The last thing he remembers is sitting at a booth in a bar in Osaka. He has to find out why he's been taken, which leads him to learn that there's much more happening than he'd expected, things much bigger than his own situation. As he gets closer to the truth, he encounters a cult based in Japan and phantoms that live on networks as he faces a past that he just can't shake.
free audio novels
Written and read by ApocD.nbsp; This is the last chapter of Puddle Driver. Rachel Carter was shaking her head.nbsp; ldquo;But, what does that mean for us?rdquo; Streis was staring out one of the transport's portholes as they cruised north out of Osaka.nbsp; The land below was dark, but Streis couldn't stop staring.nbsp; ldquo;It means they'll kill you if they can get to you.rdquo; ldquo;But not you, Streis?rdquo; ldquo;That's what it said.rdquo; Reed cleared his throat.nbsp; ldquo;Look, if that's what it said, that's what it said.nbsp; From what you've said, Mister Streis, it sounds like those things are pretty honest.rdquo; Rachel Carter turned completely around in her seat beside Ito, so that she was facing Streis and Reed.nbsp; ldquo;It means Streis is protected and we aren't, which means we're in a lot of danger.nbsp; They may already be in our compound.rdquo; Ito shook his head.nbsp; ldquo;No, I would've heard if they were.rdquo; Rachel Carter glanced at Ito and then looked back at Streis.nbsp; ldquo;You should have said yes, Streis.nbsp; That might have given us more time.rdquo;
Written and read by ApocD.nbsp; One chapter remains. With the network down, it was difficult to get accurate information, but from what the communications people at Pana-Wave could get, the killing had stopped. More of the delegate's data had been decrypted. The pre-phants, while the delegate had been in charge of the program, had not only developed low-level sentience, but something else had happened as well. The details were still few, but it seemed that some communications, although mostly garbled, had come through the pre-phants, that they'd been used as transmitters. After his experience speaking with the alien baby, Streis had little doubt where those transmissions had come from. He just wondered why they had failed with the pre-phants, why the new aliens were even necessary. The transport shook as it dropped to rest on the street in front of Kitty O'Shea's. There were landing pads scattered throughout the Umeda area, but they were all on the tops of buildings, and with the power out it made more sense to just put down on the street, where it had been days since any cars had passed. Streis, Reed, and Rachel Carter stepped out of the transport. Their pilot, Ito, stayed behind, ready to take them back at the first sign of trouble. When asked, he'd told them only that he'd been busy, with no other explanation of where he had been. There were abandoned cars on the street, but not many, and there were some cars that had been in accidents. The tall buildings blocked most of the remaining sunlight; a cool breeze moved up the street. As they stepped onto the sidewalk, Streis stepped over a puddle of blood. The body was gone, though, and when he looked around, he saw that the street and sidewalks were clear of bodies. He wondered if the bodies had been taken away for his comfort.
Written and read by ApocD.nbsp; After this, two chapters remain.nbsp; Thanks! The armed guards at the door nodded as Streis, Reed, Rachel Carter, and the messenger passed through the open metal door.nbsp; It slammed shut behind them, and Streis resisted the urge to turn around to check that the door was unlocked, that he could get out if he needed to. Only one other Pana-wave member stood in the room.nbsp; The fluorescents overheard flickered, a sign that they needed to be replaced and a further sign that this room was little used.nbsp; The baby sat in a cage in the middle of the room.nbsp; The cage looked like it had been taken from a circus sideshow; there were spots of rust on some of the bars.nbsp; In one corner of the cage sat a large metal bowl, which was full of fruits and vegetables.nbsp; There was a water dish in the oppositenbsp; corner. As they approached the cage, the baby stood and walked to the side of the cage facing them.nbsp; It had grown, which Streis knew should have been impossible, but it was definitely larger than it had been.nbsp; Discarded fruit peels were scattered on the cage's floor.nbsp; The baby smiled. Its lips moved, and Streis heard a soft hiss come from the thing's mouth, but there were no words.nbsp; Its face showed frustration, a very human trait, Streis thought, and then it tried again.nbsp; It was still just a hiss. Streis turned his head to look at the messenger.nbsp; ldquo;How did it ask for me?rdquo; The messenger smiled.nbsp; ldquo;Just wait a moment, Mister Streis.nbsp; It takes him a couple of minutes to warm up.rdquo; The baby tried again, and this time the hisses melded into something resembling a word, although Streis couldn't understand it.nbsp; The baby smiled, and it's face seemed to be locked in concentration, as it tried again. ldquo;Streis.rdquo;nbsp; The last consonant hung in the air, as if I snake had spoken it rather than the baby.nbsp; Streis stepped back from the cage.
Written and read by ApocD. The man's name was Nakai; he was the only surviving member of either of the science teams.nbsp; The area where his left arm had been was bleeding badly.nbsp; In his right hand he gripped the gun that he had used to take out the aliens. As Rachel Carter pressed the jacket she had been wearing against the open wound, Nakai mumbled to himself.nbsp; ldquo;Impossible.nbsp; Impossible.rdquo; Streis wondered if Nakai was talking about the aliens or his own ability to take down allnbsp; of them after losing an arm just minutes earlier. The arm didn't make sense.nbsp; If the aliens were trying to sneak up on him, why throw the arm into the middle of the path to warn Streis of the danger?nbsp; Streis didn't know, but it gave him encouragement.nbsp; Maybe it meant they weren't as under-control as he'd thought.nbsp; They were brutal, and with brutality came irrationality, and with irrationality came mistakes.nbsp; With mistakesnbsp; came Streis' chance to survive.
Written and read by ApocD. Rachel Carter was smiling, and Streis didn't like it.nbsp; She was giving him the same look that Ito had given him, a look that said she was talking to a child. Streis remembered why he'd once hated her.nbsp; ldquo;What?rdquo; ldquo;Our network implants.rdquo;nbsp; She paused, looked around the room, and then back at Streis.nbsp; ldquo;We took them out, of course, but we had special implants, anyway.nbsp; We don't think they would have been affected.rdquo; ldquo;Special implants?rdquo; ldquo;Unregulated.rdquo; ldquo;Oh.rdquo;nbsp; Now Streis understood at least part of the reason that Imaoka had been so good on the network; he'd had an unregulated implant.nbsp; ldquo;I see.nbsp; Well, are we ready to get started on the plan?rdquo; Reed held up a hand.nbsp; ldquo;Just a second.nbsp; Something about all this doesn't seem right.nbsp; These alien things were on our networks.nbsp; I just don't see how alien technology and our technology could be compatible.rdquo;
Written and read by ApocD Rachel Carter led the way through the underground tunnels. Ito was gone; Streis assumed he was being debriefed. Behind them walked a group of at least twenty Pana-wave; they remained silent as they walked; Streis took quick glances back as they walked to make sure they were still there. Soft fluorescents hung from the sides of the tunnels. There were no steps, only a long, slight grade. When Streis could take Rachel Carter's silence no longer, he spoke. ldquo;You going to tell me why you're here? Are you really Pana-wave?rdquo; Rachel Carter kept her eyes forward. ldquo;Yes, Streis, I'm Pana-wave. That's why I'm here. That's why I was on the lunar surface.rdquo; ldquo;And that's why Imaoka just happened to find you?rdquo; ldquo;No. That was a coincidence. We knew there was little hope of me surviving my mission. Imaoka didn't know I was Pana-wave; he just happened to be there. I should have died up there, Streis.rdquo; ldquo;What was your mission?rdquo; ldquo;Sorry, Streis, but that's classified.rdquo; ldquo;Classified? Is that why you killed Imaoka?rdquo; There were several gasps from the group behind them. ldquo;Yes, Streis, that's why I killed Imaoka. He was a liability.rdquo; ldquo;Liability?rdquo; Streis let the word hang in the air. ldquo;He was completely loyal to Pana-wave.rdquo; ldquo;He could have been corrupted, Streis. We couldn't risk that.rdquo; ldquo;Why'd he try to kill you?rdquo; ldquo;Let's just say Pana-wave isn't one big, happy group. I was supposed to die on the lunar surface. By surviving, I threw off the plans, what little plans there were. No one was ready to deal with that; it was easier to get rid of me.rdquo; ldquo;Well, this is quite a group you've gotten yourself involved in.rdquo;
Written and read by ApocD. Streis awoke. Ito was speaking, but Streis couldn't hear the person on the other end of the conversation. Streis looked to Reed, who shrugged, and then back to Ito. When his conversation had ended, Ito turned around. ldquo;They want us to do some recon before we come in. I hope you two don't mind.rdquo; Streis took a deep breath; he still felt half asleep. ldquo;What kind of recon?rdquo; ldquo;They want me to fly over Osaka and take some pictures for them. They want to see what the damage is like, maybe even see if these aliens are organizing.rdquo; ldquo;If they're organizing, don't you think they might be able to shoot us down?rdquo; Ito smiled. ldquo;I wouldn't worry about that, Mister Streis. I'd suspect they're focusing on their ground war now.rdquo; ldquo;You suspect?rdquo; Ito nodded. ldquo;If I see any danger, I'll take us out of there.rdquo;
Written and read by ApocD. Market Street was a warzone. Broken bodies covered the street and sidewalks. Most bodies had eyes missing. Streis wondered if he'd ever known any of them; with the condition of the bodies, there would be no way for him to ever know. They saw no one else alive as they ran toward the Embarcadero. The makeshift clinic was gone; all that remained were scattered strips of the canvas that had served as the clinic's walls and roof. Streis wondered what had happened to the homeless man. He had seen the phantoms, which meant he had a network implant. He was probably dead. They stepped over bodies and found an open area beside the water. Reed doubled over, gasped for air, and was sick. Streis turned; he was afraid seeing Reed would make him sick as well. Ito, who seemed comfortable with the carnage around them, looked to the sky. Streis looked up and saw sunlight dancing off a distant object. The object grew until Streis could see that it was a transport. Reed joined them. ldquo;Sorry about that. I've never seen anything like this.rdquo; Ito kept looking up. ldquo;Not many people have ever seen anything like this. Probably just the people in the great wars. No one in our generation.rdquo;
Written and read by ApocD. I've finished writing the story, so now I just need to record it. There will be 36 chapters total. Thanks for listening. The phantom was gone. Streis looked to Reed. "Do you know when it disappeared?" "No. I got so used to it, that I didn't even notice when it was gone. You have any idea?" Streis shook his head. "It was on the sidewalk outside, at least for a while. I don't remember seeing it in here, though." "It has to be the network implants, then. Those phantoms must only be visible to people with implants. When we took ours out, it disappeared." "But, I could see it even when my implant was turned off." Reed clicked his tongue. "I don't know what to tell you, Mister Streis. I'm just telling you what I think." Streis knew Reed had to be right. "But, if they're just put into our minds through out implants, then how do they kill people?" "You saw those people out there, Mister Streis. They were going at each other, and when there was no one else around they hurt themselves. I'm guessing they had implants and they thought they were fighting with phantoms, when they were really doing it to themselves." "Then if everyone still with network implants is dead, that means there are no more phantoms." "That's what I think, Mister Streis." "Then do you think we're safe?" "No, Mister Streis, I don't. If we're right, then half of the people in the world are either dead or almost dead. They must have a plan for the other half.rdquo; ldquo;What if one of those half with implants had access to some weapons?rdquo; ldquo;Like that fighter jet outside?rdquo; ldquo;No, bigger. Like nukes. It would just take one of them to take everyone out.rdquo; Reed shook his head. ldquo;I don't think that will happen. If they wanted to just destroy the planet, they could have gone about it some other way. If they're just taking out the people, then that'll leave the planet intact for them. Anyway, the people with implants didn't have any control over themselves; there's no way they could work the controls to launch a missile.rdquo; There was a metallic sound from the front of the store. Reed went to the office door and cracked it open. He turned to Streis. ldquo;I can't see anything, but it sounds like someone's coming in.rdquo; Streis stood. Reed kept his face pressed against the crack in the door. There was a crash; it sounded like a metal clothes rack had fallen over. Reed closed the door, locked it, and turned to Streis. ldquo;I heard a growl.rdquo;
Written and read by ApocD. Sorry about the delay. The street smelled like gasoline. The heat pressed against Streis' face as he stood and watched the burning military jet. He scanned the street to see if the pilot had ejected, but saw only random people either tearing at themselves or each other. Reed grabbed Streis' shoulder and turned him around. His nose was bleeding from the kick that Streis had given him, but he didn't seem to notice. ldquo;Mister Streis, we need to make a decision. We can get inside and hide out, but if we do I don't know when it'll be safe to come out. If these people on the street see us, they'll come after us. You ever killed a man?rdquo; Streis shook his head and stepped closer to the clothing store's door. The sign in the door read Closed. ldquo;Me neither, Mister Streis, but we have to understand that these people are lost. If they have network implants and those implants have been compromised, then there's no saving them.rdquo; ldquo;You saved me.rdquo; ldquo;You were looped in all the way, Mister Streis. None of these people walking down the street are looped in.rdquo; ldquo;We should get inside and hide.rdquo; Reed nodded. ldquo;Yeah, that seems like the best idea, but we don't know when we'll be able to go out again.rdquo; ldquo;Look, Reed, it's not going to do any good for us to run somewhere and kill people along the way or get killed. If these people are really lost, then we should let them take care of themselves, just hide out in this store for a while and wait for things to calm down, maybe come up with a plan.rdquo; A woman on the opposite sidewalk spotted them. With her left hand she was scratching wildly at her face. Bright red stains covered her white blouse. Her right hand hung limp at her side. She seemed to consider them for a moment before she started crossing the road.
Written and read by ApocD. A shadow glided up Market Street, dancing off the abandoned cars as it moved toward Streis. Debris flew around on the street as the giant wings flapped up and down. People stared up into the sky with wide eyes. Blue scales covered the dragon's skin. Fire seeped from its nostrils as it drew breath and then blew rivers of fire onto the streets. People ran and screamed as the fire devoured their bodies. Streis looked to Reed and then down the street, where he saw two people fighting just meters away. A man with facial piercings and a woman in a red Stanford sweatshirt were rolling on the sidewalk, tearing at each others' eyes. He turned to Reed again and saw that Reed's eyes were closed, saw that he was focusing on something. The dragon continued toward them.
Written and read by ApocD. The man was Asian, probably Japanese, but Streis wasn't sure. There were bruises on his face. His eyes were gone; they had been ripped out. Blood covered his hands and most of the top of his white jumpsuit. It looked like a suicide. Streis felt sick to his stomach. He turned away and knelt. He took deep breaths, stared down the empty hallway, and felt better. He stood and without looking at the man's injuries, he pulled the body out into the hallway. He stepped over it and entered his apartment. He closed the door behind him and turned on the lights. There were blood stains on the carpet near the door; he went into the bathroom, picked up a towel off the sink, and used it to cover the blood. Streis looked up at the phantom, which was floating near the door. ldquo;Did you kill him?rdquo;
Written and read by ApocD The only moving vehicles they saw were motorcycles and bicycles; the streets were too cluttered for anything else. Streis knew that neither would be an option with the homeless man, so they walked. They passed decrepit apartment buildings with sets of eyes in the windows, people who had been lucky enough to have been inside when the pre-phants came, people who would start wondering soon how they would get food, how they would live. The people on the streets looked confused. They were either walking aimlessly or running, as if they had somewhere to go, somewhere to hide. They saw no guns as they walked; they only heard occasional gunshots in the distance. The phantom followed close behind them. About half of the people on the streets seemed to see it; the other half either ignored it or didn't see it. Those who did see it eyed it as if they'd seen one before, as if it was nothing new. Streis wondered how many phantoms there were in the city now, how many pre-phants had been taken down with gunshots. He wondered where the military was in all of this, that group of heroes was conspicuously absent; perhaps they were still cleaning up the mess at Ocean Beach.
Written and read by ApocD. The first pre-phant, the one that had saved Streis' life, looked down at the hole in its chest and then fell to the road. It curled into a fetal position; the colors moved rapidly across its skin. There was shock on its face. Streis heard the footsteps of someone running up behind him and turned to see a large man with a long, thick beard. The man held a handgun in his right hand; it was pointed at the ground. Streis didn't know anything about guns, but the gun the man held was big. The man smiled at Streis. ldquo;Got me two of 'em.rdquo; Streis nodded. He knew explaining that the first pre-phant had tried to help him was useless, and arguing with a guy with a gun was never a good idea.