The Phil Phorce is a fictional periodical featuring my favorite characters from my own writing. It comes out in episodes, once every three months or so. To find out more and to read previous episodes, please go to these two pages: About the Phils and the Phil Phorce. Please enjoy and critique if possible.
“The idea is sound,” the specialist said, staring at his abacus. Quirk didn’t know what was so interesting—it looked like a jumble of colored beads to him. “Everything works out. The only explanation is humanity’s love for the fantastic.”
“That’s very true,” said Quirk. “Do you suppose there’s any chance that logic could prevail?”
“To change rules that have been around for centuries, perhaps a millennium?” The specialist set his abacus down and looked up at Quirk. He shrugged. “This game was played by the ancient Asian philosophers—who are we to change their rules?”
Quirk fingered a coin in his pocket. “I still don’t think paper should beat rock.”
The specialist stood and put his abacus into his briefcase. “Perhaps you could go back in time and talk to the ancients, find out the real reason they made it that way; and why they included scissors when they probably didn’t know what they were. From what I’ve heard about you and your men, it wouldn’t be impossible.”
“Thank you for your time.” Quirk didn’t want to feed any rumors.
“Thank you for the question,” said the specialist. “I confess, I haven’t had so much fun with the job since the agency first hired me two years ago, in 1870.”
Quirk watched the specialist leave. He didn’t know what sort of field the man specialized in, but specialists ought to be able to specialize everywhere. What was the use of a specialist if he couldn’t theorize in rock-paper-scissors?
“What did he say?” Stephen was his second-in-command, and well worthy of the position. He had held the position all his life and had first led men into battle at the age of two. He was more than twenty-five now, but his war cry had never changed from that high-pitched infantile squeal.
“He can’t do anything about it. Paper still beats rock.”
Stephen grinned. “That means I win. You owe me a big venison steak, old man.”
“I’m only four years older than you, even if I am immortal. Anyway, I had my fingers crossed.”
Stephen’s face fell.
Quirk clapped him on the back. “Don’t worry about it. When all this is over, the whole team will get a steak.”
“Of course. One steak, between you all.”
Stephen walked off, obviously trying to figure out how to get the most out of that promise.
Quirk watched him go, his smile fading. When all this is over… The hope was almost unfounded, but he wouldn’t let it go. All this could be over, if only he could find the right tools.
He fingered the coin in his pocket, rubbing his thumb over the images and words engraved in its surface. It buzzed.
He yanked his hand out of his pocket just as the door slammed open. It was a guard. Quirk recognized him from the front entrance. The guard stopped inside the doorway, and searched the room, face pale. Seeing Quirk, he called across the room. “He’s here.”
Quirk felt the coin in his pocket again. It was vibrating continuously. He drew breath to shout an order, but Stephen beat him to it.
“Evacuate! This is not a drill. Use the back entrance, through the wine cellar.”
Quirk had always known that cellar would come in handy.
An explosion shook the building, and the guard ran back through the door, presumably to his post. He was followed by a squad of guards.
Quirk grabbed Stephen. “This is a full scale attack,” he shouted over the alarms. “He’s here too.”
“The coin told you?”
Quirk nodded. “I want you to pull everyone back. Do your best to escape.”
“You’re not coming?”
“No, but don’t even think about staying to help. You’ll only get killed.”
“The same will happen to you,” said Stephen.
“I’ve got the coin.”
Stephen glared at the floor.
“Help the old lady carry her equipment.” Quirk watched him as he walked off, smiling at the absentminded old lady as she tried to carry an entire set of Encyclopaedia Britannica in one arm. She was having a little trouble with the low ceiling.
Another explosion shook the building. It was closer than before. The squad of guards Quirk had seen after the first explosion came running back through the same door, without their pistols and their hats. None made eye contact as they ran past Quirk into the wine cellar.
“Have you flipped the coin yet?” shouted Stephen. There was another explosion, closer.
“You know it only works when I can see him!” shouted Quirk back. The next explosion shook most of the lights from the ceiling, sending sparks bouncing across the concrete floor. The room was a simple workroom, full of small tables and a few bookshelves. Its ceiling was so low Quirk couldn’t stand on tiptoe without hitting his head. It had several entrances and exits, but most of the doors led to small closets or dead-ends. It wasn’t an ideal place to defend.
The door was hanging open, but Quirk heard someone call for a battering ram anyway. After the first swing, an entire team of soldiers stumbled into the room, dropping the ram in surprise. Perhaps they thought the door was invisible.
One of them raised his pistol and pulled the trigger. Quirk raised his eyebrows. “Try cocking it.”
Realization dawned on the soldier’s face as he looked at his pistol. He cocked it and pointed it at Quirk again.
Quirk rubbed his forehead. “Hold it by the handle.”
The red-faced soldier turned the pistol around and pulled the trigger. A bullet hit the ceiling and plinked to the ground near the soldier’s shoes.
“The muzzle goes parallel to the ground,” said Quirk, motioning. “You pull the trigger with your finger, not your thumb.”
The soldier nodded, turning the gun around. He showed his companions, and they followed his example, turning their pistols around and cocking them. Then they pointed them at Quirk.
“Oops,” said Quirk. He fell flat.
The pistol shots never came, however. Instead, a baby’s scream echoed through the room, followed by wet impacts, like a hammer hitting a wet paper towel. When he scrambled to his feet, he saw Stephen in the middle of the soldiers, dealing out blow after blow with a sopping wet boot. Heaven knew where he got it.
The soldiers fell back, many exclaiming in horror at the water stains on their uniforms. None looked eager to give Stephen another round. Stephen squealed again, raising the boot high above his head in victory.
Someone tapped him on the shoulder and he whirled to face the doorway.
Quirk’s heart sank. It was him.
Stephen turned, a look of panic on his face. “The coin! Now!”
Quirk dug the coin out of his pocket and threw it at Stephen. It fell short, but it bounced into Stephen’s hands. He swung it upward as it changed and grew into a heavy spiked war club.
The man in the doorway chuckled and batted the club away, then touched Stephen on the ear. Stephen crumpled, lifeless.
Quirk dove for the coin. It had changed back as soon as it had left Stephen’s hand, but it would do it again if he could get to it.
The man in the doorway laughed again. “Quirk, I didn’t see you,” he said. “Your pathetic sidekick was in the way.”
Quirk grabbed the coin, but it buzzed against his hand so violently he almost dropped it. He raised it toward the man in the doorway, but it remained just a coin. He balanced it on one hand, then flipped it into the air.
The man in the doorway paled. “Shoot it! Don’t let it hit the ground!”
His soldiers raised their guns. Half of them had already forgotten Quirk’s lesson, but enough fired to force Quirk to duck again. Glinting in the half-light, the coin dropped to the ground, bounced once, and lay still.
On its surface was a sword, pointing straight for the man in the doorway.
“No,” said both Quirk and the man at once, but Quirk was up and running before he had time to think about it; running straight toward the doorway, the soldiers, and Stephen’s prone body.
Then he woke up.
Quirk rolled to his feet and ran to the writing desk, fingers scrambling to pull the small notebook out of the loose-leaf binder lying there. The rest of the binder held a hard copy of Quirk’s story, as written by the late Head Phil, Liam. The small notebook held Quirk’s notes on his dreams.
They weren’t just dreams. They had something to do with his story. In his final letter, Liam had written, “As you read, I have no doubt that your memories will fill in and confirm what I have written.”
It was Quirk’s best guess that the dreams were his memories. They scared him out of his mind.
It was just his luck that he got the creepiest story Liam had ever written. He might call it the Head Phil’s magnum opus, except he didn’t know what that meant, and he was too shaken to mention his story, whether in a language he knew or not. It was a story Liam had kept secret until his death, and part of Quirk wished he had stabbed him a bit sooner.
But the other part wanted more. The story was tantalizing, something he had always wanted. He was finally equal with the rest of the Phils now. He wanted to know it all, every last part, even if it was creepy. Knowing was a good feeling.
Reading about himself, however, was the worst part. It was detached, forcing him to admit there was a godlike hand in all of it. Once the dreams started coming, he felt like he was experiencing things firsthand instead of watching a movie about himself. They were disjointed and often out of sequence, but with the help of his notes he managed to put things together.
He crossed the last I and dotted the last T, and put the pen down, staring at the notes. They made no sense. That coin—he had never seen it before. How it had changed into a weapon—how he knew it would change into a weapon—he didn’t know. What happened when he had flipped it? Where was it now?
Then there was Stephen. That coin had gotten the man killed. Who was he really? How had they known each other all their lives, in 1872? How was Quirk alive over a hundred years ago?
Someone knocked on the door. Quirk hurriedly closed the notebook and stuffed it back in the binder, then slipped the binder into a wide drawer in the desk. Closing the drawer, he stood. “Come in!”
Percival opened the door and looked around. Seeing Quirk, he beckoned. “Phume called a meeting, and I thought the Head Phil should be in attendance.” He said the title with something approaching disdain, but he was loyal to the title. Quirk hoped so, anyway.
“I’m coming,” said Quirk, extricating himself from the desk.
“Listen,” said Percival, stopping him before he could leave. “You spend too much time alone. No one truly believes Liam made the right decision when he appointed you Head Phil, but you’ve never shown a good reason for them to believe. If you stay alone like this, it only confirms the rumors. You have a choice: give up, or live up to everyone’s expectations.”
Quirk nodded. Percival was known to give wise advice every so often.
“I suggest you give up.” Percival clapped him on the shoulder and walked away.
This was obviously not one of those times.