Djoric's Sandbox
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A stuffed alligator with googly-eyes the size of golf balls sat perched atop the bookshelf of Colonel Manu Avninder. The bookshelf itself was hand-crafted out of fine mahogany and contained a hundred and thirty-three books on its shelves, all of which were blank. A tangle of vines and creepers hung from the ceiling, bedecked with tropical flowers and clusters of nuts. One particularly large bromeliad had taken up residence on the corner of the colonel’s desk. Brightly colored frogs hopped around the office, clustering around in the rock-lined pool in the corner.

The colonel himself was sitting at his desk, sipping at a cherry cream soda. His lieutenant, a man who seemed to be constructed purely out of right angles, mustache grooming supplies, and cowboy boots, sat down on the other side of the desk.

“So who do you have for me, Hubert?” Avinder said.

“Five candidates.” Hubert handed some manila folders over the table. “Three internal, two on the outside.”

“Any good ones?” Avinder flipped through the folders, bothered now by the thought that he would only be able to take one into the Unit, and let the rest go fallow in the great file cabinet of missed opportunities and crushed dreams.

“The usual, it seems. Some good scores on the tests, a few minor talents. Nothing spectacular. Got one kid in Kentucky who can make liches out of roadkill.”

Avinder nodded, and felt a twinge of disappointment as he passed over the file. Kid was the right of it: not even out of high school yet. Some redneck necromancy wasn’t worth the shitstorm that would erupt from come from that decision.

The other candidates included the typical field agent who showed some promise on the psychic sensitivity tests, a woman from the Antarctic branch that had picked up on some of the local shoulderwoman traditions, a crippled, cancer-ridden vat-agent who had managed to recover from getting his head smashed in, and someone who looked to have learned the secrets of meth-magic. Avinder hated the fact that meth-magic was a thing, but such were the cards before him.

Redneck was out, meth-magician was out if he could manage it. The rest were…well, they were. More disappointment on the plate. He’d probably get stuck with the white bread agent. Eh, couldn’t be too hard on him. Probably a decent guy.

“Mm. Well, we’ll see where it goes from here. You have any preferences?”

“Vat guy or the one from Antarctica.”

“Cancerous regeneration or mending old pots.”

“Take what we can get, I suppose.”

“You know how it is.” Avinder stacked the folders in the corner of his desk. “The line between ‘valued agent of the Esoteric Warfare Unit’ and ‘living out the next fifty years in a solitary cell’ all comes down to whether or not Eight can get to them first without someone playing the Bowe card.”

“Fucking Bowe.”

Avinder pinched the bridge of his nose. The very thought of moderating his opinions on “General” Bowe made his head start to throb. “No, can’t lay all the blame on him. It was the shrapnel that did it. Shrapnel and ‘Nam, and a whole lot of bad circumstances.

Hubert nodded, tapping the arm of his chair.

“I’ve heard a theory that Bowe created Omega Seven as voyeurism,” he said. “Like, he had a weird obsession with the girl…dammit what was her name…” Hubert snapped his thick, callused fingers a few times. “Irene. That was it. Irene. One-oh-Five. Put her on the same team as Seventy-Six.”

Avinder shook his head.

“Nah. That’s just people shitting on his reputation. Omega Seven was just a regular old Cold War power fantasy. You know how it goes.” He cleared his throat, and resumed in a voice somewhere in the general vicinity of Richard Nixon. “We’ve got to get Seventy-Six operational before the Russians do it! We cannot stand for communist superiority!”

“We cannot allow a war-god gap!” Hubert slammed his fist on the desk. He didn’t have to change his voice much to match.

Avinder jerked up out of his chair, stiff-limbed and glassy-eyed, one arm outstretched in a rigid salute.

“Mein Fuhrer! I can walk!

The two looked at each other for a moment before breaking out in laughter. Avinder fell back into his chair and spun around once.

“Yeah, don’t get your hopes up,” Hubert said. “The fucks over in the Coalition would never take you.”

“Is it because I’m racially inferior?”

“No, it’s because you’re a fucking wizard.”

More laughter. When it subsided, Avinder leaned back in his chair and sighed.

“I mean, Bowe was probably the biggest fuckup we’ve had since, I don’t know, Carver shooting Deeds back in ’44, but after a while you just need to move on. He’s dead. Omega Seven lasted four months and six missions, and here we are, twenty years later, still worrying about it. You’d think we’d have learned by now.”


Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were dead.

This was not altogether a surprising development: they died with a certain regularity, and the process had become to them, and to those around them, a matter of banality. The philosophical implications of their repeated deaths fell on uninterested ears.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern returned to life.

“There you go, everything’s all updated. Should be smooth sailing for a few months.” Kramer sipped from his mug of hot chocolate as he tapped a few chitinous keys on his laptop. It chirped and gurgled affectionately. “Took the liberty of deleting some junk files from both of you, too.”

The twins sat up nearly as one: Rosencrantz was a bit faster, and stood up. Guildenstern rubbed at her eyes and rolled her broad shoulders.

“Many thanks, friend Kramer,” Guildenstern said, yawning.

“Don’t mention it.” He closed his laptop.


“I am Guildenstern, and this is Rosencrantz.” Rosencrantz motioned to himself and then to his sister. “The easiest way to tell us apart is to ask us what we think of our Mother. I wish to fuck her and then kill her. Guildenstern here wants to kill her first and then fuck her.”

Barcode took note of the recruit’s look of abject horror and stepped in to recover the conversation.

“They do this to everyone. Don’t pay it much mind. Also, they’re huge liars. Rosencrantz is the brother, Guildenstern is the sister,” she pointed to the correct twins. “They’re from the Personnel Acquisition Initiative.”

“Doctor Tabitha Foster…” they said at the same time, and paused. “Yes, I’m about to say that. Just wait, I’ll handle it.” Same time again. They paused, eyeing each other for an opening.

“Oh dear. It appears that we’re-” Rosencrantz began.

“Getting to the point in the conversation where we-”

“Start finishing each other’s sentences.”


“I think that-“

“We should keep going?”

“Of course. It is our opinion that-“

“Doctor Tabitha Foster is a pompous, arrogant windbag who is most likely going to get herself killed by doing something unimaginably stupid,” Guildenstern said, jabbing a finger.

“Her every act is little more than smug career masturbation.”

“If you were to replace every word out of her mouth with ‘Hello, I am a massive twat’, absolutely nothing about her would change.”


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