It’s time for a Grammaria lesson from Colonel Comma and his grammatical compatriots. Have fun with this one.
“Colonel Comma, sir. It’s time.”
The communicator on his wrist crackled, his new orders barely cutting through the static. Being embedded in Grammaria for six months had taken its toll, both on his device and himself. New scars covered the old, and the pain of what he had lost burned deep underneath his skin. Days blended together, and the stream of time was darkening the longer it flowed.
But with this last job, he’d be out.
He stepped off the road, out of the overhead streetlamp’s wide gaze, and squatted in an alleyway before letting his communicator continue. “Agent Joseph Period. Nasty piece of work. But you already knew that. He put an end to Deus know many Diagram agents. It’s time to erase him.”
The Diagram. A little too keen on planning and structure for Comma’s taste. But its agents were good, completing complex missions with ease. Before Comma had been embedded in Grammaria, Period had been one of the team, kept it fast and loose, letting agents run on and on.
But something flipped. He started ending fellow agents, one after another, until missions had to be reduced to short and simple assignments. That’s when Comma got the call.
Joe had been like a brother to Comma, dragging him through training, showing him the ropes. Maybe that was why the Diagram selected him: this relationship, whatever it had devolved into now, still held some sway over them both.
The Diagram sent to his communicator the dossiers on two agents who were waiting for him several blocks down the grimy street. His walk was short but tense, as he kept his eyes peeled for any sign of movement.
The first motion he saw was the fetching starlet leaning against the dingy brick wall and tapping her heel four times. Perhaps that had been the signal for their rendezvous, but Comma couldn’t think of anything but her legs.
She shook her head, and Comma swallowed hard.
“Emily Marie Dash.” An alias, most likely; she had the seductive looks of an Evelyn. “But I prefer Em.”
Around the brick wall’s corner came another agent. They were twins. So close in appearance, but this one was just noticeably shorter, though no less striking than Em. “Nadine Dash. I let my friends call me En.”
Comma felt it best not to waste time, even if he wanted to let his eyes linger as long as they could. “So, you know who I’m looking for.”
En nodded, slow and deliberate. “He’s proven…elusive.”
Em smirked. “But, we found an associate of his. You’ll enjoy this one, Comma.”
She sported a similar communicator device on her wrist. She tapped hers to his and transferred a new dossier. As he browsed, the agents continued.
“Take the road running north–south, up a few blocks, and you’ll find him soon enough.”
“He’ll be waiting for you, I’d imagine.”
He spoke while he finished reading the new dossier. In retrospect, he really should have looked up first. “Thank you, En.”
He hoped his gulp wasn’t too loud. “I’m sorry, I couldn’t tell.”
En gave him the kind of head shake that became condescending only when walking away from it. “Forget it. People mix us up all the time.”
Even so, Comma shied away into his communicator. He knew who he needed to find. And as he mulled, the heel was tapping again, but the sound was diminishing. He broke away from his communicator to the most heartbreaking sight. “This is it? You’re leaving?”
“So sorry to leave you hanging, but you’re on your own, Colonel.”
“We have other fish — bigger fish — to fry.”
Even as they disappeared into the dark, he still couldn’t tell them apart.
“Still abandoned.” Nobody had touched the Participle Club since Joe had burned half of it down. A derelict building, but enough to house the shadiest of former agents for a short stint.
The old steel door, stained by fire, gave way, and Comma slunk inside. He quietly crossed broken beams and charred tables, listening intently for his quarry.
Fortunately, his quarry was noisy.
Comma whipped around the only freestanding corner and found his mark. “Aldus Semicolon, long time.”
The coward didn’t even turn around; he bolted for the rickety stairs. But Aldus had been slow before, and time had done him no favors. He had enough of a head start to get to the roof before Comma nabbed him close to the ledge. The whole structure groaned under their weight.
With a hand wrapped around his shirt, and a piercing gaze boring into his soul, Aldus found the nerve to speak. And it was like he knew exactly what was on Comma’s mind. “H-honest, man, I-I just…I knew Joe was nuts, but he’s…I didn’t know if I should stop what I was doing, or go with him, I just…I didn’t know what ta do!”
Even as an agent, Aldus had lacked the resolve to get the job done. He had always been unsure of everything and everyone. It left him in some bad places before, but Comma scoffed at what Aldus had become.
“Not good enough. You were a part of it. You still are.”
The shirt was moistening in Comma’s hand. Aldus’s eyes darted as he pleaded. “Ya gotta believe me; there’s no way I coulda known about Joe, what he’d do.”
More persuasive tactics would be necessary for Aldus. The ledge was two feet away, and so long as the building held up for a couple minutes longer, Comma could put it to use. “Fine. Then redeem yourself.”
Maybe some shred of decency lived within Aldus. Or maybe dangling off the Participle Club’s ledge would shake loose something of the agent Comma once knew. Though time had not been kind to his waistline, Aldus was light in Comma’s grip as he foisted him over the ledge. “Where is he, Semicolon?”
That did the trick.
He had left the door open. Joe had a way about himself that was hard for Comma to put into words. Not carefree — Joe was fastidious with just about every damn thing. More like he was suave about it. He accomplished his tasks with panache. Comma couldn’t wrap his head around how to do that; he just wanted to get the job done.
He found his old friend hunkered over a device, a tablet maybe. He still dressed prim and proper, an outfit that left a mark everywhere he went. It was hard to believe how much that bespoke suit could hide.
Comma struggled to stop his voice from cracking. “Hello, Joe.”
“Mmm, Colonel.” Period was disgustingly fond of titles. “I had a feeling they’d be sending you. Part of me is crushed. And a little bit is…thrilled.”
Joe wouldn’t run. He would want to put an end to it. Comma was happy to oblige.
Joe’s silk shirt nearly slipped through Comma’s fingers, but it served as an anchor while Comma pummeled Joe. His old friend, his mentor. And the one who had betrayed so many. Comma expected more of a fight, but Joe only laughed as he hit him harder.
“Look…what they’ve done—done to you, Colonel,” Joe gasped between strikes. “How long has it been? Do you think…oof…that they’ll let you come home?”
He held back his fist long enough to bark his question. “Whadya mean?”
Joe panted, sweat and blood trickling over his lips. “…You’ve been gone too long, Colonel. You’re feral to them now. You won’t belong there. Hell, they may leave you here to rot, just like me.”
Comma’s blood was boiling. “You’re the one who left!”
“That’s what they told you?” Comma was loosening his grip around Joe’s shirt, and his old friend was sliding away. “They pushed me out, Colonel. Drove me out of their system. They wanted a finisher, and that’s what I delivered. But they got tired of me, and threw me away.”
Joe spat and twisted in Comma’s grip. “After that…it was chaos, Colonel. I needed to restore order. Put an end to things.”
He couldn’t believe that. He wouldn’t. “So many of our own, Joe. How could you….”
“It needed to be done! But you always followed along, didn’t you, Colonel? Right in the middle, never could close. That’s how you always were.”
Joe leaned back, and Comma tensed. “Always the good student. But now, I have one more lesson to teach you.” Joe shot forward. And Comma reacted.
The uppercut connected cleanly, and Comma felt something in Joe’s jaw shatter. He dropped like a stone, his shirt tearing out of Comma’s clenched hand.
Joe could play dead well. Come to a complete stop, halt everything, a trick learned in training. Comma paused, waiting for Joe to speak, to pop up and surprise him. Comma took three minutes before checking Joe’s pulse.
His raw knuckles glowed as he turned away from the body. Joe had lost himself in this place, gone feral. Comma stared ahead, feet plodding without thought. Joe had given Comma one last Grammaria lesson.
And he was out. Period.
Thanks for reading!
And a big thank you to my sister, Alyssa, for continued editing support. She had a lot of…good pointers on this one. And my family for their backup as well.
And thanks as always to an awesome dev team: EEsDoNotItNow (who simply adores grammatical puns), Pompílio, YFWE, DrummerMax64 and Berserker88.