(Rewrite)Snowed: The Weekend Trip

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The station light snow-a composite

Evidence photo 1-a, 24821 Spicer Dam Spur Road

(Note: This was published a few years ago, I opened it and facepalmed.  This is a rework of it. The story is the same, just grammar has been adjusted for clarity and attempts to increase the emotional content.)

 

Snowed: The Weekend Trip

 

 

Jason Best Ph.D. took another swallow from the old whiskey bottle while he pulled on the wrench as he struggled to remove the cap that protected the fill valve.

The cabin, originally constructed during the California Gold Rush. The heavy timber construction was built over an entrance of a horizontal mine that produced small amounts of gold. It functioned as the home of the elderly prospector who continually mined underneath his home until he died and ownership passed, eventually, to Jason.

In the construction style of the era, the first owner built the cabin’s foundation out of charred cedar logs on bedrock. The foundation held up better than the modern versions. Remodeled twice, the one-floor abode grew into a split-level, two and a half story mountain home with a hot spring. Built during the Reagan administration, the steam generator used isobutane in the heat exchanger.

Leaks in the plumbing lost much of the volatile gas in the system. Checked and rechecked, he found the valve seal that charged heat exchanger had failed. It Appeared to have been screwed down too tight and the seal developed a slow leak that took a toll over the years. This had the gradual effect of power generation down to zero.

The Doctor studied the concepts of the hot spring and geothermal sources and Jason taught himself enough to rebuild the system, updating the electrical system in the cabin that he called “Mountain House.”

After a few moments when he had his doubts of success, the cap gave stubborn creaks as it turned until it was loose enough for him to spin it off with his hand. The threads were in good shape, however, the rubber seal was in bad shape. Cracked and falling apart.

He used the special tool he’d tracked down over the internet to a company that dealt with replacement parts and shipped to him at his house in the city and brought it to Mountain House to rebuild the power system.

While he performed an upgrade in the of the house, Jason accidentally discovered a room below the house. What started as a simple fusebox on a half-rotted board was all the more useful when he knocked a hole in the wall, and discovered to his pleasure, a hidden space carved out of the bedrock. He took full advantage and turned it into a room that an electrical engineer would be delighted to call home.

As an added plus, the room was a wine-cellar of sorts. Stored on dusty shelves in the cool corners of the dark, were bottles of wine. Many he had found dated from just before the prohibition era, two-dozen were stored on their sides.

A few sat upright with the corks exposed, he found these corks to be dried and leaking. Nine out of ten bottle seals failed in that position and he didn’t want to try them.

But!

Those bottles, laying on their sides, were all intact. But with so few, Jason opened only one and tasted its treasure inside.

And it was excellent.

A greater discovery, however, was a treasure-trove of rye whiskey. With labels marked “Robert’s Rye” and each onion-shaped flask had a layer of rye-seeds on the bottom.

As he drank the potent brew, he conjectured that the rye grains left in the bottom were the reason that the rye whiskey was so excellent. And he had a hundred bottles with seals intact.

He drank half of the bottle of the rare and potent nectar and each sip was even better than the previous, but he was getting hungry and the whiskey had gone to his head a bit. But first he was going to recharge the heat-exchanger.

He tightened the hose to the rebuilt valve and turned the handle, he watched the cylinder’s gauge indicate the system pressure.

A delicious smell of food reached his nose. Doctor Tessa Pershing clanked about in the kitchen as she prepared the meal.  She was his colleague from the university, they had dated each other outside of work for a few weeks, but Tessa worried about being caught. She didn’t have tenure yet and didn’t want to jeopardize her position and future, so they kept it quiet and only with close friends.

But here, with the whiskey, wine, and snow so heavy, no one would come by. The storm was dropping four inches of snow per hour on top of the six-feet of the cold white stuff that was already there when he had arrived.

When he drove up two days before, Jason dragged, cussed and pushed the big gas cylinder through the deep snow to the basement door.

Now his efforts of sweat, profanity and bruised knuckles paid off. The hiss of gas subsided and system now showed green lights and the sweep needle gauge indicated the system was full.

Electric power was now available.

He put down the craftsman wrench. The best thing that Tessa thought to buy him in a kit. He walked to the electric panel and read the displays. Lights blinked and flickered as electricity flowed through new wiring in the panel and the house. Everything was green.

He wondered what might go wrong. It was too smooth. Nothing ever went that smooth unless it was broken.

The Professor of Biochemistry laughed at himself. With the power running, he had the good fortune to turn on the hot-tub on the patio. Tessa and he could sip ninety year old whiskey, sit in the bubbling warm water and watch the snowstorm, safe warm and naked.

Maybe they might get a clearing and watch the stars during the night. Then he’d shower with her and, he hoped, sleep with his arms around her.

“Dinner’s ready.” She called down.

“I have a surprise for you up there!” He said, waited a heartbeat and threw the circuit breaker and energized the system.

The exterior of the house lit up.

LED rope lights he had hidden in the eaves over the last few weeks, illuminated.

The lights gave the optical effect of electronic icicles and made the snow appear to glow blue.

It was breathtaking.

Tessa walked around with just a light work shirt and looked out the window in amazement.  She had complained that a bra was too uncomfortable to wear while she did lifted and helped him clean the debris of new construction and century old corners that had not been touched. So she had disposed of the constricting undergarment.

Which was fine in Jason’s point of view. With an oversized sleeveless shirt, sometimes he would get lucky and watch her accidentally flash him. Her bare legs were smudged and dust-covered while she wore shorts and slip-on flats.

He sat down with a bowl the chicken soup and warm bread that had baked all day. Tess and Jason used his grandmother’s recipe that the elderly woman had taught him in his childhood.

In a conversation about the house, he apologized for making her work when she should have been relaxing and enjoying the sights.

Tessa smiled brightly and touched his lips with a warm kiss. “Helping set up the cabin with you is my pleasure.”

He nearly passed out from the thrill of her words and the touch of her lips right then.

They could hear sounds from the upstairs bedroom, the walls echoed with a rhythmic thump as the other couple had gone to organize the rebuilt Mountain House.

Doctor Lettie Hackett and her rebound boyfriend, Kevin Acker, a post-graduate from the School of Pharmacy, were not coming down the stairs for food.

Jason yelled up the stairs for them to give it a break. They were supposed to be setting up the bedrooms, not testing the beds in each one.

That was when the first scream sounded. A sound,like a gunshot, echoed throughout the cabin.

Jason jumped up and left Tessa at the table while he ran up the stairs, taking them three at a time. At the top he ran into the arms of the half-naked Dr. Hackett who screamed that the wallpaper had come to life. Tentacles grabbed at her and tore her clothes while Kevin fought the sticky appendages to save her.  

“It sucked him in!” She screamed. “It sucked him in! The wallpaper grabbed Kevin! It sucked him in!” The voice of the calm doctor was a squeak of hysteria.

Jason sent her down the stairs and looked into the room. Underneath the paper, a silhouette of a man moved slowly, as if some crazed worker plastered over an unfortunate person who stood in the way.

Jason grabbed a putty knife out of a plastic bucket to cut the paper-covered Kevin out. The colored wallpaper began to show details of Kevin’s form behind the branches and birds, as if he were on the other side of a multi-colored hedge.

Jason called Kevin’s name and the young associate professor of pharmacology looked at him for a moment, then faded into the wallpaper. Leaving it as flat and perfect as if just placed by professionals and left Jason with no place to cut.

But he tried anyway. He sliced and slashed over the area where he saw Kevin under the paper, but all he found was wall. Kevin was no longer discernible among the branches and trees of the wallpaper, he was gone.

Screams again, downstairs. Jason sprinted the short hallway, and leaped down the stairs. Tessa was at the door, her eyes bulged in abject terror as if she saw moving shadows in the corners. The muffled sounds of screams coming from a lump in fresh wallpaper. The scene was a horror with Lettie’s hands were sticking straight out from the wallpaper. The textures and colors of the wallpaper crawled up the length of her arms towards her fingers while she waved about in the futile effort to grab for something, anything, for rescue.

Jason slashed at the paper with the sharp corner of the putty knife they used to spackle the walls for new paper.

A high-pitched sound came from the wallpaper, a scream louder than the screams of the women came from the cuts. It sounded as the Jason slashed at the wallpaper with the sharp corner of the metal blade of the putty knife.

Lettie screamed that the wallpaper was haunted.

The wallpaper? Jason froze, slack-jawed. He could not accept it, but it moved like something alive. It tried to pull Lettie into a growing wrinkle that looked like…

It looked like a mouth! Just like it did with Kevin. The wallpaper had a hunger.

He grabbed his coworker by her left arm and pulled hard on her, using his right foot to stomp the wallpaper flat against the wall, and tore it away from Lettie’s body.

Traces of wallpaper paste remained on Lettie after he freed her and pulled her into his arms, he didn’t stop to consider the slime. They ran towards the the front door where Tessa screamed at them to hurry.

Without warning, the door slammed closed as they got close. Jason pulled as hard as he could on the handle, and the door refused to open.

Jason realized Tessa’s danger. She was locked outside and wore only the thin shirt and shorts.

And it was lethally cold outside.

He pounded the picture window with a chair with futile effort, the glass just wouldn’t break. Jason gave up after the fourth try and pointed to the basement, telling her where to go with sign language. Then he and Lauren ran down the stairs, her long legs lacerated from the branches on the other side of the wallpaper, bled freely. In the basement, stone walls were safe.

Jason showed Lauren where to sit and ran towards the basement’s heavy-timber doors like a football tackle and hit them at full speed.

And bounced off.

The gold mine might be a safe haven, but the doors were part of the house and refused to budge.

Tessa’s voice on the other side of the door called his name, she needed to come in out of the cold.

His mind raced. They woke a malevolence while they worked in the house.

Tessa yelled his name in a feeble voice and pounded on the wood with a failing strength.

In a near panic, he searched for something to open the doors with and then he looked at his work table.

The table! He had built it using the ore-cart that belonged to the long-ago miner, and it still sat on the rails in the floor. He kept it all clean for the sake of nostalgia. Because it looked “Cool”.

Jason got behind the cart and released the brake, he took a last deep swallow from the whiskey for luck and then pushed the half-ton cart as hard as he could.

The ore cart hit the doors with a huge bang and a the door creaked and opened about the width of his forearm from the impact.

Tessa’s hand came through the hole and Jason grabbed her and pulled.

Shivering and covered in powdered snow, Tessa struggled and pulled on Jason to get through the gap.

Halfway through, the doors began to shut!

Tessa screamed in pain, the doors trapped her leg between them as they returned to their locked position.

Jason Grabbed a shovel and wedged the width of the narrow trench shovel’s blade in between the doors to keep them from crushing Tessa’s leg.

He struggled, pushed, leaned on the doors that creaked and groaned with increasing pressure on the blade of the shovel. Ages seemed to pass. Then as if she was a cork from a bottle, Tessa was free of the doors and they collapsed on the floor together. Out of breath, she clung to him while she wept.

“What’s happening? Jason? What is it?”

Screams started again. But it wasn’t the women.

The house seemed to come awake as Lettie ran down the stairs. Jason took her to sit with Tessa and began to explain, as he started to talk to them, the shocking gray face of Lettie looked around, her eyes haunted.

No, not haunted.

Missing!

Her face was no longer beautiful. It was a horror with a toothless mouth that made a big “O” in a scream that matched Kevin’s. A thread of wallpaper extended down from overhead attached to the top of the woman’s head.

Jason grabbed a hatchet from his workbench and jumped at the thread that was stealing the life out of Lauren. Time slowed down.

He’d saved her once by cutting her out of the wallpaper. This time, he swung with every ounce of his anger and fear-fueled strength to cut it off.

And missed.

“Oh God!” He screamed as thick white fluids leaked out of the horrid wound in Lettie’s skull and dripped to the floor.

“Oh God! Oh God! No! No! No! I’m so sorry!.”

They had to leave, and leave now.

Jason looked at Tessa and he knew he was the only one that could make it to the car. But, Tessa would be in this house alone. Even if she was safe for the moment, hiding in the corner behind the work table, between two rolls of…

Two rolls of…

Wallpaper!

He turned to where Tessa was hiding and he could only see a ball of wallpaper where Tessa had been hiding. The big ball of paper quickly shrank, he could see her outline fading under the wrapping that had slid around her like a web.

He leaped over the table with a box-cutter in hand, slashing at the cocoon of wallpaper around her, and found…  

Nothing. Just paper, wadded up and desiccated.

Tessa was gone.

He was the only one left and the gap between the doors was too small to allow escape.

Pulling on the work table, he rolled it as far into the deepest part of the mine that he could reach.

He took a long, deep pull of the whiskey bottle.

“Last drink in this house!” He yelled.

Leaning on the table, he pushed.

Hard.

He had a thirty-foot running start with the thousand-pound battering ram on rails. He pushed for the snow, he pushed with berserker strength. Adrenalin giving him energy, motivation enough to break through the doors.

Ducking the wedged shovel handle he had jammed in over Tessa’s head as he and the cart hit the doors at a full run, the left door trembled and creaked open.

He seized the momentary advantage and dove through the opening as the door tried to shut on the table time and again as the house tried to claim another victim.

Laying in the snow, it was strangely quiet, illuminated by the inviting, cold-white LED icicle lights he spent so much time hanging.

A beautiful and deadly structure.

He crawled through the snow away from the devil house. Then his hands felt like they were on fire. Burning hot, like the flesh was going to melt off.

Pain!

It hurt! So much pain. It had to be the snow, it had to be.

Then he looked at his hands, the skin was pale.

In the dim light from the house, was his skin mottling? Or turning into wallpaper?

Doctor Jason Best stood and ran through the snow as fast as anyone could. Slipping and falling, he covered the mile in nearly an hour when he fell and rolled onto Spicer Road. His hands feeling like no other pain he ever had in his life.

As he layed on his back, the ground rumbled, he could feel it up through his spine. Something was coming.

Something huge. House-sizd.

It was the Mountain House! It chased him on cedar pillar legs. The ground trembled with an evil hunger that stalked him down the mountainside.

Too tired and cold to run, he lay supine on the lonely mountain road and began to scream that he was sorry. From the distance, lights from the porch bore down on him, unstoppable and implacable. He had nothing left, his mind broke as he screamed out his last prayers and the lights engulfed him.

Jason Best awoke in a bed to the beeping sounds of a cardiac monitor. It took a long time before he was able to get his eyes focused on a pole that held IV bags that ran into his arms.

For a week, he could not understand all of it. His soul should have been taken or some-such.

 

It was all like in another world. Soft, but cloying like spiderwebs to drag him back. Nightmares of the events were slow to fade, it kept on. Soft and horrid.  Whispers in the shadows that invited him back to the Mountain House to stay, pulling on the spiderwebs lodged in his mind. It was difficult to comprehend all of it.

This room, bed, poles and equipment were solid, real, easy to understand.

After two weeks and the realization that he was alive, Jason was discharged home from the hospital. Then the interviews for days by the police about the three deaths ended.

Detectives took notes, wrote down everything the college professor described in vivid detail, and interviewed the attending physicians.

After a month, a preliminary report was ready for review. Jason obtained a copy and read it while sitting at his breakfast table.

“Jason Best, Ph.D. was found by a snowplow driver, Honey Gareth (See interview notes: Honey Gareth), laying in the middle of Spicer Dam Spur Road. In the two days in question, Dr. Best spent the time alone in the cabin at 24821 Spicer Dam Spur Road. In the course of the weekend, Doctor Best discovered an old wine cellar stocked with wine and rye whiskey. Tests of opened whiskey bottles showed high levels of ergot alkaloids, consistent with acute ergot toxicity causing visual and auditory hallucinations, per the attending physicians. This resulted in Doctor Best becoming convinced that he was with three other people over the weekend who died as a result of paranormal attacks.

Subsequent interviews with the named people, Doctor Contessa AKA “Tessa” Pershing is alive and well, continuing to work at Ocean Bay Community College. Doctor Best is familiar to Doctor Pershing in that they have attended same meetings and office functions but denies any relationship that might exist between Doctor Best and herself.

Doctor Lauren MacKay is friends with Doctor Best, but states no knowledge of anyone named Kevin. Her spouse, Michael MacKay, works at Ocean Bay University as a Fine Arts Professor. Further, no record of Kevin Acker, student or faculty, have been discovered. Searches of phone listings have proved fruitless.

To date, no evidence of any deaths at this address during the weekend in question exists.

Interior of 24821 Spicer Dam Spur Road shows the wallpaper slashed and torn in the kitchen and third-floor bedroom (See attached photos). The barn door to the basement has been knocked off the hinge by a gold-rush era ore cart on rails and a hatchet discovered embedded into a can of white paint.(See attached photos)

A horizontal goldmine dug circa 1850’s shows evidence of modern reinforcements and extensive work in a room with a power management center from a self-contained geothermal generator. Adjacent to the power room is the previously mentioned wine cellar. (See attached photo series)

Ninety-six bottles of Rye Whiskey were found with rye grain still floating in the bottom of the bottles. Original labels, dated from 1910 to 1919 of quart-size “Robert’s Rye Whiskey.” Two bottles were discovered opened, one empty, the second appeared three-quarters full.(See attached photos)

It’s the conclusion of the investigation that Dr. Best suffered from accidental ergot intoxication per the attached pertinent physician’s notes.

No complaints filed with the evidence uncovered.

Lt. Liewess J. Jonah, investigating.”

<<<>>>

 

Smart Bomb Chapter 13. Confession of the Soul

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Chapter 13. Confession of the Soul

“Okay, say that again. You are not going to deliver a message, but a bomb? Where?” Alvin had to sit down. The meaning of it all sank in to his mind.

“In my abdomen, nearest the power conversion units. It gets first choice of electricity generated by what I consume.” The android, who Alvin knew as Steve.

Days before Steve told Alvin about this bomb, Alvin had said that someone should blow up congress. Now he wished he could take those words back.

“That’s well and good, but you can’t just walk in to the building, they would catch that large of a weapon. It would be large, right?.”

“No, it is only about the size of your small fingernail.” Steve said it as if he was talking about a cat walking across the parking lot.

“That’s not much, how much damage can it cause?”

“I am my mission program is to go to the nuclear reactor near the capital building. The smallest known power reactor on the planet. It is inside an industrial area.” The android said. “Little is known about it, but it they discovered it in an electronic break in. Only one reference was found.”

“There is no reactor near congress.” Alvin disagreed.

“Near the Jefferson viaduct the government built a century ago.” Steve tried to convince Alvin.

“Uh, excuse me, but should I start running?” Alvin was backing around the table away from Steve.

“No.” Steve shook his head vigorously. “When I first arrived. Yes. But I have grown beyond the programming. This whole mission is wrong. I know that now. There is no reason for me to inflict death upon the leaders of this country or the people who live there.”

Sleeper the car sent more images to Steve. The very flag he knew that flew above the laboratory that created him, the soldiers wore on their sleeves in the images. The android reacted with revulsion.

“Regardless of what pictures Sleeper sends me and tries to get me to stop.” Steve got out of the driver’s seat. “I must go there, but I do not want to take the warhead to that place. I do not want to die. I do not want to kill. I want to take the bomb back to the point of origin and have them remove it.”

Steve paused. Looking very human-like.

“I want them to set me free.”

“Are you smoking something? You would be cut apart and they would fix the program, send someone new.” Alvin’s strangled voice sounded near hysteria. “We need to call someone. CIA, FBI, NSA, KGB… Even the United Patriots! Someone with skills to handle this! Oh my god… Oh. My. God!”

Steve sat and watched the human pace.

“I would be used as a weapon, no matter what. They would attempt to reprogram me and I would be obligated to detonate the device.”

“Were is it again?” Alvin’s brain tingled with fear and panic. This being could sit so calmly and talk about blowing up a nuke in downtown DC also blew his mind.

“In my abdomen, just below what would be the xiphoid process.”

“Can you take it out?” Alvin rubbed his face with his hands, peeking through the gaps in his fingers.

“It is possible, but you would need to do it, I cannot see inside, you need to pull the power plugs in proper order to keep the magnetic field in place.”

“So I have to do it, great.” Alvin pulled at his ear, calming down some. He was given a problem to focus on. “So, what is the yield of this eyelash sized explosive?”

“Estimated median yield is about eighty…” Steve stopped for a moment, paused with an error. “Wrong. Have to recalculate.”

“Eighty? Pounds?” Alvin jumped on that terror. In a control room of a nuclear facility, that would be all bad. “That’s enough high explosive to do some serious damage.”

“No, eight-thousand six hundred pounds.” Steve corrected. “I paused to weigh the amount to the correct the answer. My operating code has been overwritten twelve times. Patches are numbering in hundreds of thousands, so it requires me to thoroughly check my information.”

“That… Oh jeeze. That is a big boom.”

“It is not as big as the one that would follow.” Steve’s eyes followed Alvin as the man started to pace some more.

“What explosion?”

“James Madison Nuclear power station. It is the smallest of its kind . It produces power for the congress members and president should an attack happen and the power grid becomes disabled. The energy conversion of the explosion would cause a power surge on the order of one-hundred seventy to one-hundred eighty gigajoules through the wires and communications cables that the power company buried underground.” Steve let it sink in for a moment. “Then the failure of the coolant systems would cause a meltdown and poison the lands and atmosphere. It would be America’s Chernobyl for the next hundred generations of humans. This would sterilize the seat of the American government for two-hundred centuries.”

Alvin sat down for the uncounted time. He was a man who was too stressed to stay still for long. Standing to pace, sitting, standing. He was a man at the breaking point.

“Alvin, do not call anyone to take me in to custody. I have not altered the self-preservation code. The creator had it encrypted and hard-wired. I will detonate the bomb.” Steve said with a sad voice. “I don’t want to die, but I have no choice but to just power down. The moment I reboot. The magnetic bottle loses power and the warhead detonates.”

“What if.” He paced around the room. “What if, we built another being like you.”

“We cannot build one like me, you do not have the facilities.” Steve observed. “You have electronics, but not up to my caliber.”

“True, I don’t.” Alvin stressed with a slow smile. “But, someone of another group I know nearby who can. They have already built a miniature army that they play games with.”

Steve tilted his head for a moment, a habit that Alvin picked up on.

This android, when he struggles with an idea tilts his head to the left, slightly. Alvin watched Steve. He does it every time there is something that requires thought. No yes or no, but an answer that required thought on a level that is almost human.

“Synthetic skin such as mine can grow in a simple mixture of water and carbohydrates, double in mass every three hours.” Steve’s voice was as if he read from a list. “Power conversion units are available from different sources for farms to generate electricity. Mine is a kitchen model modified for extended use.”

“Maybe we can do something.” Alvin stood up again. “Let’s go see a friend. I’m going to set up a laser for a moment. They are at the end of the airbase. In the middle of the biggest patch of nothing out there. No way to approach without being seen.”

“The aircraft control tower?”

“That’s part of it. You have good eyes.” Alvin smiled. “Good programming. But that is where we are going. The rest is underground.”

“We will take the antimatter bottle out of me then?” Steve began to wonder, running odds against outcomes. “I have not considered disassemble. The danger is too high for the material to touch anything. It has a complete conversion to energy.”

“Wait. What? No, never mind.” Alvin held up his hands. “I already have a headache. And yes, they are patriots to the extreme. If they got a chance to send a bomb back to sender, that would tickle their souls” Alvin smiled.

“They are really good people, just a little extreme for my tastes.”

Setting up the laser output, he shined it out the window, towards the window of the abandoned control tower for fifteen-seconds, then turned it off. Repeated the process only shining it for ten-seconds and then paused.

A dazzling green light illuminated the spot behind the window for ten-seconds then went out.

“We are good to go.” Alvin clapped his hands together and rubbed them.

The two climbed inside Sleeper as it sat there with the patience of machines. When he pushed the throttle to the firewall, the acceleration was far more than Alvin thought possible.

“Your car is showing off.” The android observed. “Fully charged batteries, and Sleeper does not concern itself about storing energy at the moment.”

“How fast can it go?” Alvin laughed as they got out at their destination.

“This ten-thousand foot landing strip would allow Sleeper to reach the top speed of…” Steve turned around and looked at the car with a good imitation of human surprise. “This data is in error. But, this little car insists, above three-hundred miles-per-hour.”

“Bull!” Alvin gasped. “That can’t be true.”

“Agreed, but we will need to get new tires, according to the car. These tires are not able to handle that speed.”

Alvin shook his head and laughed, then opened the door and ushered Steve through the entrance.

Steve Aldin was about to meet the a whole new group of people who had never been anticipated or in any database that he had accessed.

People that might have an answer to his question.

“How do I be free?”

Smart Bomb Chapter 10. Lessons of the Kindred Spirit

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Scene 10. Lessons of the Kindred Spirit

 Alvin trundled up the road in his personal RV toolbox with an oil powered engine. The old technology of the hybrid coach delivered a combined fuel consumption equal to the small cars of the past. Still and all, the rumble of an internal combustion engine was something the android kept a running diagnostic sound check on the smoking machine.

It sounded as if it would come apart at any moment, with all the vibrations and tapping. 

“I see you keep turning your head. It’s the government keeping us from having machines that can function better. A university, years ago, built a ceramic diesel engine that they didn’t need to worry about overheating, never would wear out and could tolerate high temperature and any fuel for just pennies.” Alvin shook his head. “An oil company bought it, then shelved it.”

He shook his head while he drove.

“But it is a shame, no one expects the university to even talk about that. Instead the cost of school keeps going up, pricing students out of the classroom.”

Steve the android ran a database check for conversation actions and moved his head in an agree motion.

“I would take you all the way to the Capitol and unleash you on them. I bet you have a fully coded speech, ready to go!”

“No.” Steve said. “I am here among the citizens to learn and to make a change in the government.” It was not entirely a lie.

“Well, you will find that this country has a habit of unzipping its fly and inviting the world to see the flaws. I hate that, that should be something we toss out of our modern standard operating procedures.”

“You want to overthrow the government?”

“Oh no. Not overthrow, change. We can throw them out, replace them with fresh blood. If we toss it all out, we don’t stand a chance.” Alvin made a face like he bit into something bitter.

“As it is, the government keeps chipping away at the freedoms or allowing those that think that they can use the freedoms to bring horror and fear to our doorsteps.“ Alvin shook his head. “Freedom is that balance between protecting life and being able to walk down the street without having to cough up an identity tag just because you walked close to a law enforcer.”

“Why would you cough up an identity tag?” Steve asked with wide-eyed suspicion.

“Not literally, my friend.” Alvin chuckled as if Steve made an intentional joke. “My point is that to destroy us, there are far edge people who choose to impose their version of god and demon, they vilify because we are more open.”

Alvin took a breath and let it out in a deep sigh.

“And there is the government that tries to do the thing that the crazies say they are doing. A dominated people are not citizens, but they become subjects to the whim of a dictator.”

“Dictators,” Steve interjected. “Are for ten years.”

Alvin guffawed and nearly drove off the paved road.

“Most folk don’t know that.” The human said as he down shifted the multi-speed transmission manually while they climbed a grade. “The government’s crazies sometimes want to put that in place. If we ever get an attack like we had years ago, we would become a society of warriors.”

“Then the government must be removed, even by violence. They bring it on themselves.” Steve interjected.

“I must disagree. The men and women that lead, are parents, grandparents, humans that all have flaws. Last month there’s been a scandal where two government officials were found they were having an affair. They were all about shrugging and saying it was no one’s business, one is single, the other in the middle of a divorce, both women are unafraid. “ Alvin shrugged. “And they’re right, no ones business. It’s between two consenting adults of any gender, we need to stay out of their bedrooms. Then six months ago, a congressman, also unmarried, got caught having sex with a page who was legal, twenty-one I think she is, and he resigned and went home in disgrace. What is the difference? Not much, except one rumor was he was banging her on the desk when they were caught. I have issues with that.”

“They’re all twisted.” Alvin shrugged. “I think they should have a brothel in the capital, down the hallway from congress so they can at least be honest when it’s said they’ve screwed people.”

Alvin laughed at his own joke.

Steve looked at Alvin with his head tilted, like a puppy hearing a strange noise.

“I don’t understand, you let them commit crimes and you forgive them and let them continue?”

“Kind of weird, right?” Alvin laughed. “But that is how we function here. We throw stones at each other, call police names, riot and burn, pillage and plunder, embezzle and sell power in politics.” He smiled with the irony of it. “But in the end of it? We follow the greatest commandment of it all. I call them snakes, but, they are forgiven. Some times not, they go to jail for a while, but then they are forgiven and forgotten after they paid their debt.”

Steve the android contemplated this. The Supreme Leader would have had anyone put to death who did not follow his directives as the new prophet.

So many things were in error.

Forgiveness was not a word that the Creator programmed into the main system.

No.

It was required by any infraction of the rules under the Supreme Leader. “Vengeance of the Book” and and the book required the criminal suffer execution in the most proper way for the crime.

Sex crimes would be disemboweled, stealing money had only one punishment, death by pulling apart with machines.

Death.

The smallest of crimes, death. No forgiveness.

Who was that one man to decide what was right?

Who, but the supreme one, could decide?

Another religion taught peace in the mainstream. In the extremes, they also had those who worshipped the death of anyone not of their own version of the supreme law. But they were small and outnumbered in the larger picture.

The conflict was enlightening and frustrating. There was so much to learn from the people of the nation that they had programmed him to destroy.

The android considered that. Logic circuits that were able to consider past the programming. To see nuances and do something more than the cousins of robot-driverless trucks and machines that offloaded cargo containers, or rescue what appeared as human.

His own supreme leader, the master of the creator that programmed him, opposed learning from anyone other than what was revealed.

The Holy Leader’s mind and soul were beyond question.

Just ask him.

Questions rose as Steve performed mental gymnastics with questions that were not possible to answer.

He was out of contact, only able to send information he learned, he could not receive any instructions.

And following programming, he sent no questions, no opinion, just location and military information gleaned from the where the android traveled.

“I have been wondering,” Alvin drew a breath after they stopped at a rest-stop along the highway. “You don’t look like any android I have ever seen, you look and feel like flesh and blood.”

Steve the Android ran a full two-seconds of calculations before he decided it was safe and wise to show the human the detail that went into his construction.

In the processor cores, patching of program codes continued as more information the android learned was processed.

The database complexity grew by an order of magnitude since he had arrived in the travel hub, the core processors created an extra half-billion lines of code during the trip to date, each subroutine interacted with the other as the android became aware of more of the society around him.

In total, the last status of the original attack code, less than two-million lines of code were left.

With the command programs for self-termination, now exposed with the rewritten overlaying subroutines, Steve the Android began to question if the deaths he would cause. Death would be visited upon the innocent, the infirm and the children. The children alone were worth the end of the mission and a return to the Holy Center of the Leader.  

For the first time, all the programming agreed. Even the code put in place on the command of the Holy Leader and Creator of Steve Aldin, now agreed. 

Every algorithm generated the same answer.

The android did not want to die.

Smart Bomb Chapter 9. Awakenings

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Chapter 9. Awakenings

The timer counted down to zero and started the booting with a Power On Start Test “POST” sequence.

From the first days of computers, the term “Boot” was used, a shortened term for Bootstrapping a computer, the term first applied by an unknown human long ago, in another age. A time of hope that computers would be tools of peace.

Even in modern times, it was still the ubiquitous term, both in coding and spoken words.

And the effect is still the same. Once the timer went to zero, small programs started the core processors, which in turn called the main program sequences, and Steve Aldin woke up.

A scan around the immediate area and the systems became aware that his belongings were laying next to him in the backpack where he left them hours before during his low power state. The clothes and the backpack were gifts from Reverend Carl Bonsell from the time he spent learning about the charity of the barbarians.

Who, in fact were the first of many lessons that the programmed database had serious fundamental errors.

The second caused the core processors to reason that there was more to learn of the society the intelligent walking machine, with a bomb in its chest, traveled in.

The programmed goal the creators of his mission had discovered a, until a year ago, secret power plant near the capital of the western warmonger government.

But…

There were no warmongers to be found in any of the places that the android had visited. Not even intolerant for the most part. Even the military seemed self-policing. Living up to a higher standard of responsibility, they were not the monsters that the programmer listed in the databases across broad sections of memory modules.

While he lay there not moving, he calculated the distance traveled as his GPS systems seemed to have an error.  He was not at the planned stop where he was supposed to leave the cargo area.

Then there was was but a sound. And now as a male, not so slight of build as to appear vulnerable or so large and muscular so he would be perceived as a threat, he sat up.

“Well! You’re alive!” The sound of surprise, accompanied by a crash of a titanium cup. Dark brown eyes of the human looked closely at the body that he was positive was an expired male on board of the cargo carrier.

“You had no pulse and felt cool, you were as cool as the ambient temperature inside this box.” He walked around the bench, clearly an engineering bench with cables and plugs scattered about opened computers. Some boxes looked like they never had a closed case, others were haphazardly patched together with retasked fans blowing to keep them cool.

A makeshift coolant system made of an old Kettleman thermoelectric cooler chilled some blue fluid that flowed through clear tubes into the boxes and out to the crafted chiller. Copper blocks led into the multiple plates that chilled the liquid rapidly.

Steve did a.A quick survey in long wave infrared and saw that there was a fifty-degree drop from the fluid intake to discharge.

Impressive.

“I’m Alvin Denver, no relation to John.” He said as he walked around. “Coffee? Donut?”

His systems were low powered, and he required access to organic fuel to convert it to usable power.

“Yes, please.” He chose a mid-western to California accent that would be difficult to place. “I’m Steve, Steve Aldin.”

“You aren’t from around here, Hollywood.” Alvin said pointing at himself, smiling. “I went to Stanford, got picked up by a trucking firm for my grades, I never finished the classes. So for what they pay me, and anything I can get my hands on, the company leaves me alone and I only have to keep the trucks running.”

“How did I get here.” Steve asked.

“You were brought by one of the AutoSwen offloaders. The truck was one-hundred kilos overweight, and the weight increased the electric demand curve when it the truck tried to climb over some hills. The effect of the increased weight measurably reduced the charge range, so the truck alerted that there was a sudden drop in range and diverted over to my shop, where the machines found you and brought you to me” He shrugged. “I have contacted Transportation Agency because I thought you were a dead body. I thought you were dead. Now I have to call them back and tell them I was mistaken.”

He clapped his hand to his forehead.

“I have to make a manikin enough for the Transportation Department drones to be turned.” Alvin asked. “My first stowaway, even if you looked dead. How did you avoid being picked up by the weight sensors?”

Steve explained about hacking into the system with bluetooth.

“Ah! Should encrypt that. The only thing else was, how did you do it? There were no electronics, you are traveling light.” Alvin knew more than he let on.

“I am an android.” Steve answered, the human did not flinch or move to call for help. “I altered the weight to show less by as much as I weighed. So the reports were accurate.”

“But you failed to take into account the increase in power consumption by the added mass.” Alvin nodded. “Would have worked, too, in the prairie states, You have hills here. The power monitors noticed the change in inertia.”

He was correct. Steve the android did not consider the added mass, even if he compensated for with weight, still would include inertia.

“I don’t care, myself. Alvin pulled at his ear. “There are some smart folks all around here, whoever who built you, did a good job. I don’t know where you are going or what. But you are making free choices, that is impressive AI.”

“I need to get to Chattanooga,” Steve said. “Someone stole my car, and that was the easiest way to go.”

“Wait, you have a car?” Alvin said. “What are you? An escaped government assassin drone? I’ve seen androids of all kinds, you are the best one I have seen.  Nine out of ten have wheels, tracks, are quadruped or insectoid, only one or two I have seen with two legs. And none with hair or eyes like yours.”

“No.” The central processor chose a touch of humor was proper at this point. “I don’t do drone. I am on a mission to deliver a message to congress.”

“You should blow them up. An android like you could walk in and kill them all in short order.” Alvin growled. “That way we could start over.”

“You do not support your government?” Steve asked.

“You kiddin’? Those robbers? If the government didn’t divert school funding, the tuition wouldn’t go up so high. I would be back at school and get my doctorate in design and construction of the boxes.” Alvin chuckled sadly and motioned with an open hand in a kingly way. “This is my world. This old bucket of bolts is my bus, I can get you to Chattanooga, but it is a slow, creaky ride and I must drive this crate, there is no autopilot.”

Alvin laughed sadly as he certified the truck as “Good to Go”, reset the program to show correct weights for the government checkpoints that it passed.

Steve, momentarily considered extinguishing the life of this human, alternately felt it a better choice to travel with Alvin instead. Steve could learn much from the talkative, friendly 

Odd, it was. The fourth processor’s fuzzy circuit questioned the choices and the facet of the trip.

Original programming called for death to any American that might have been a threat to the mission.

But the fuzzy logic circuits chose another way, killing the way into the United States would bring undue attention and compromise the mission.

But, Steve struggled with the decision, it was not for the mission that Steve the Android chose the option to stay with the friendly with the human named Alvin who accepted the knowledge that the stranger was not human.

And something else, Alvin called him AI.  The connected android was aware of the word, but not as it applied to him.

Unable to quantify the reasons to let the electrical, coding and troubleshooting engineer live, the android chose, instead, to open a new file,

The newly defined AI android named it something that was arbitrary but seemed appropriate.

He labeled a folder as “Friends” and put Alvin’s file in it. Another adjustment to the database.  Not all American’s attack or are a threat to everything. Not all of them agree with each other.  Some don’t even support the government.

This caused a significant conflict in the known data of how all Americans were.  It seemed that no one understood the American people. More data was needed. Killing without data was. 

Steve’s conflict resolution processor had a kernel panic and had to be reset. 

Laughing as they ate, Steve watched Alvin closely, the human ate poorly. He ate processed foods with high fats and high sodium. Even if he was within normal limits of body mass at this time of his life, this would not stay so as he got older. A passive survey indicated that there was a mild narrowing of the left external carotid artery. 

Alvin talked nonstop and went on about his parents coming from a war zone of a country, they could get their feet wet in the Med, but dared not ask for help from anyone.

Same religion, different factions, each kill the other and everyone wanted to blow up the west, blaming the wealthy countries for the misfortunes that they inflicted on each other and themselves.

But, Alvin’s parents were of different brand of the religion. They fled after the murder of his grandparents after being converted at gunpoint to the latest group that took over the town.

Alvin was born two-years after that and raised in the western states. His parents converting to a peace oriented religion that taught closeness to the earth and a simple lifestyle.

“I could never be such a monk.” Alvin shrugged. “My parents love me enough to let me find my path, they have said the door to their home is always open.”

They talked far into the night, the android, programmed to adapt and learn, listened to Alvin tell jokes and stories on funny people, and found humor.

Core processors patched the code to evolve and adapt to the society as initial programming demanded to keep him moving towards the target. He could not fail in his goal, it was the one thing outside of the adapting program.  He had to go to where the nuclear power plant was and cut power to the antimatter magnetic pod in his chest. 

That was the complete program.  He could not stop his need to travel to Washington. The only change he could do is learn to understand these complex, surprising people he was learning about.

The other program performed also performed a single function only.  The two were the inviolable of any other programs and could not be shut off. The only two programs that said basically:

“Go here” and

“Cut power.”

The intent, to keep the mission from being compromised and remaining incognito, but instead it allowed the android to evolve.

And Steve the Android did something completely new.

He told a joke.

“Pull my finger!”

For the first time, he laughed.

And meant it.

Smart Bomb Chapter 2. Southern Georgia

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Chapter 2. Southern Georgia

Georgia state line, he stood in an orchard, the overcast sky threatened with dark, moisture laden clouds.

And something new.

He was cold. Core temperature was warning of below sub-optimal functioning level. His core thermal levels were four-degrees celsius low.

He had walked in the rain for six hours trying to cover his records of travel, any records of his journey would come to a dead-end at the last bus stop where he disembarked as a short, elderly woman.

Standing in the wet, secluded clearing, his feet made squishing sounds in the canvas shoes that he purchased with real money at a second-hand market.

Using the roll of money he carried, he had covered all his traces since leaving the metropolitan area. Traveling north on foot, he had interacted with a number of citizens.

Now, the core was turning up energy from his processors. But it was not enough, in the late November of this part of the country, the early winter’s storm was closing in. He needed to find an organic food source and shelter within twelve-hours or he would go into an unprogrammed energy debt and he did not know what might happen.

Looking at the trees, there was nothing in the branches to eat. A survey in his knowledge base indicated that among the peach orchard there was little to eat, so he walked on.

The wind picked up, a driving rain was causing his sensation of cold to increase to alarming levels. Being an artificial system, his creator designed tolerance for only a limited number of metabolic events. In the desert, he could function for a month without shade, the core processors able to withstand temperatures above what humans could survive.

Cold, that was another matter, his creator designed his systems for efficient heat reduction, not retention.

An oversite of his creator, the tissues he had over his frame were not required for operation, but they were still living tissue, he would draw unwanted attention if he had dying flesh falling away from his structure.

The sound of a vehicle telegraphed a possible splash from a nearby puddle he had just passed. Tugging up the knapsack he wore in a backpack style, he would use it for what little protection it offered and braced himself for the cruelty of the American motorist.

But it never came, no splash, no increase of engine noise to accelerate into the puddle. Instead, the sounds of decreasing power and a van with “Independant News” painted on the side with three men, one wearing a business suit, pulled up next to him from behind, rolling down the passenger window.

“You’re fixing to die out here. You might as well get in.” The passenger said to him.

“I don’t wish to impose, the rain will stop soon.”

“I’m a reporter, we were sent out on a report of funnel clouds in the area, there is a severe weather warning out. You stay walking, you will find just how bad it can get.” The one in the business suit said.

“I’m Richard, Scott at the video controls, camera man over there at the wheel is Donde. You don’t have a local accent.” Richard the Reporter tilted his head and thought for a moment. “West Coast? Oregon?”

“Yes, a little town called Antelope. I’m Steve.” He responded. “I am cold, too.”

“I bet, the temp has dropped ten-degrees since we left the studio an hour ago. We are shooting on location every ten-minutes or so. Our next stop is a trucker restaurant a few miles up the road.”

“Thank you. I could use a bite to eat, too.” Steve said. “I’ll get some coffee and wait out the storm.”

“That is a smart move.” Scott’s voice in back sounded like a tuba in the back of the van. “It will get worse before it gets better. A good place to hang out will be up ahead.”

The van slowed down when they reached an open field, Donde pulled over, Scott opened the door and the three news-professionals looked around at the sky. In the distance where they were heading, the clouds were low and oddly colored.

Scott in the back, held his hand up to his ear.

“Rotation in a cloud, fifteen miles west by southwest relative to our location.” His video display overlaid with his gps. “It is moving Northeast at about twenty.”

“That puts the path in this area.” Donde nodded. “We can be in position for a good shot.”

“What are you looking for?” Steve asked, looking out at the sky.

“That line of clouds? I am betting there is a twister in there, somewhere.” Richard pointed. “Down low, where we can’t see as it moves this wa…”

“RICH!” Scott yelled. “Tornado on the ground, East Weather Agency just announced it! Fifteen-miles east of the county line, moving northeast.”

“Steve, you are going to stay with us for a bit. Turn the heat up, enjoy the warmth and pull on any of your dry things.”

“I don’t have anything dry.”

Donde laughed, unsurprised.

“Dude, my jacket is back there, with all the different numbers on it?” He spoke with a slight Puerto Rican accent. “Go ahead and wear it. Warm up, seriously, you look cold even in my mirror.”

“Thank you.” Steve registered this as an irrelevant offer on the part of the man. Nothing else to do with any part of his job. It was a kindness to a stranger that was unexpected. This American, Donde, had no reason to do this action.

The memory core management system created a new file for review later. Date, time, air temperature and processor core thermal levels. It would be transmitted later with the other details he would learn on his travels later. He would gather information on United States Air Force and Marine bases as he traveled north, later in the week.

Donde pulled into the parking lot of the truck-stop with Scott calling out numbers and running the geo-mapping software on his displays.

“This works out, Donde, pull up. We don’t have another good vantage for a few miles. Rich, you have as good of a view as we can get from here.” Scott tapped on the virtual display, using tactile induction. He could feel the cursor under his fingers as he moved the pointer around.

“Rotation, we have rotation in the atmosphere, coming directly at us. Wedge, Rich, get out there! It will be visible in a moment.” Scott yelled. “Vector change! It is turning north. It will miss us.”

Donde and Richard got out, grabbing at equipment that was under their passenger’s feet.

“Steve! Sit in the front, we need to get to the camera and run some cable.” Donde said, taking the cold hand of their passenger and pulling him out.

“Dude, you are seriously cold. Go into the café and gets something warm to drink.” Scott smiled. “Tell them to put it on our tab, we’ll be inside with you in a few minutes for safety.”

“Yes, thank you.” Steve said and walked across the parking lot while he could hear a faint siren in the distance.

A middle-aged woman stood at the window and looked out.

“James, I think it’s gonna miss us. Looks like it is hanging a left and following up north. I think it will get close to the base up the road.”

James walked out from the back, dressed as a waiter, his stress was visible on his face.

“My wife is there, she just got a promotion.” He wrung his hands. “Tell me they would be safe.”

“James,” The waitress noticed Steve as he sat at a table and stepped towards him. “The base is probably safer than your home.”

“Hi! Welcome to Lug’s. What can I get you.” She had a winning smile, but was showing age early in her life. No more than twenty, she had wisps of grey in her raven-black hair with traces of forehead wrinkles on her dark-brown skin.

“Coffee, white, sweet. Three eggs, scrambled and shredded potatoes, please.” He put a fifty-dollar bill on the table. “In case the storm comes, you can bring me the change later.”

“Hun, you can keep it for now. If the storm comes this way, it’s on the house, I wouldn’t be able to balance my drawer.” She laughed and walked off to put his order in.

Contact recorded: American female rejected the free money offering. Registered a conflict with his contact of the corrupt and greedy society. The programming was incorrect.

His fuzzy logic circuit subroutines registered the conflict, flagging it as an error and began adaptive corrections.

Steve Aldin, the android, learned something new.

Smart Bomb Chapter 1. Migration North

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Chapter 1. Migration North

He stepped off the hypersonic transport. The snow-white hair of the elderly man glinted in the Florida sunshine.  Dark skinned, but of ambiguous heritage, he did not attract any attention from the transportation officers.

His ID chip said his name was Steve Aldin, his real name?

He had no family, while his brown eyes glinted with good humor, he had no emotion. Though the lines in his face were only a few hours old, they looked like each line and wrinkle earned by hard work and each crease was a story, a crooked nose attested to some long-ago punch or kick that he had suffered.

Although he was average looking, and the step he took was in good shape for someone his age, Steve Aldin was not what he appeared.

Ironically, despite appearances, he wasn’t even human.

Stepping into the men’s room, he locked himself into a stall and stood there for a moment. Then he sat quietly on the toilet and closed his eyes.

A mild shudder ran through his body, as if he had a chill.  Rapidly the skin on his face and arms tightened, the wrinkles smoothed out.

When he stood, he was four inches taller, shoulders were much broader and his hair, instead of white and thinning, he had a head full of curly, raven-colored hair, the once crooked nose was gone. Now he sported an aquiline nose,  undamaged and pristine. Deep-set piercing blue eyes stared out from under the bushy eyebrows.

A quick smile, the young man drew the eye of a few college girls coming back from holiday, on route to the University.

A young man who women would say “Easy on the eyes”, he walked out and strolled to the taxi stand and paid for a ride to the underground Vactrain with his credit-chip.

The taxi never made it to the destination. The taxi company that owned the vehicle reported it and the driver missing six-hours after the scheduled shift was supposed to end.

Police found taxi 141 north of town, a flat tire that looked to have hit an object and cut the sidewall lay next to the driver. While he attempted to change with the spare, when the car fell from the jack stand and pinned the driver to the guard rail. The impact, crushing the father of four with thousand of pounds of steel and glass.

The victim, unseen by passing motorists, no one had called in the car with the flashing hazard lights.

She walked into the nearby bus station, a medium-sized female, wearing an oversized t-shirt and jeans opened a locker with a key found under a rock in a blind spot outside.

Taking out a black-cloth shopping bag, the woman turned and walked out to the blind area she found the key at and stood in the shadows. Unobserved, the body stretched to a tall man of Nordic descent. His grey eyes sparkled above sun-kissed cheeks. The winning smile of the American with a mid-west accent.

Moving ever north, he did not need to sleep, the foods he ate came from different organic sources. His energy needs were simple. Carbon based organic material converted into electricity and powered his circuitry.

“Hello.” A voice behind him drew his attention while he picked a handful of high carbohydrate energy fruits, called dates, from a palm tree. His central processing core indicated that the material was easily processed to energy.

He turned and a small dark-haired girl of Cuban descent looked at him, wearing a pink Hello Kitty t-shirt and jeans. She was no threat.

“Hello, I was just getting a couple of these to snack on.” He used a Danish accent, should there be a legal problem. “Are these yours?”

“No, but you are picking bad ones. You should go to the other side of the tree, the sweet ones are there.” She pointed to a spot on the tree almost directly opposite from where he was.

A bite into the dates on the side she pointed to, compared to the opposite side was new knowledge, there was much more sugar in the side the little girl pointed out.

“Thank you.” He smiled.

“You don’t belong around here.” She said. “You are going to have trouble if you don’t get out of here.”

“Thank you, where can I get a ride?” He said as he stepped backwards against the tree.

“I don’t know.” Her eyes were without guile, but it was obvious that she did not go anywhere or very far without her mother or father.

“Do you live around here?” He asked.

“Just there.” She pointed to a house.

“Would your mom or dad give me a ride somewhere?” Already his heuristic programming conceiving of killing the adults if they were a threat and he would steal the car.

“Mom’s at work, my brother is watching me. We have to stay home until mom comes back.”

He nodded, an action he discovered humans did in this part of the world, he knelt and looked the girl in the eye. Studying her iris, she was not aware that the android imaged her retina and transmitted all the information on an encrypted carrier wave to his creator.

“What is your name?” He asked.

“Anna.”

“Thank you Anna.” He stood and walked away. Looking over his shoulder, Anna the little girl had gone back to her yard and was yelling in the door to someone inside about a white man walking down the street.

By the time he reached the corner, the blond Nordic stranger was a shorter, black-haired Cuban looking youth.

He caught a bus at the corner and headed out of the neighborhood.

In twelve-hours he crossed the Florida state line into Georgia as an Irishman with brown curly hair.

Steve Aldin, known by his creators as the Justice of The Religion, was a  morphing android, walking north, blending in to the populace.

He was built and programmed to learn then transmit all he could.  At his destination he would detonate. , Inside his chest, was an antimatter bomb the size of a grain of sand. He was programmed to blow up the top-secret James Madison Micro-Nuclear Power Plant on the Jefferson River, only a kilometer from the Capitol of the United States.

The size of a single-family house, the four-thousand kilowatt plant was a dedicated power source for the halls of government, even the neighboring businesses did not know that a plant was in their midst.

Once he arrived at the plant, his programming directed him to make entry with any means possible.

He would leave a crater a quarter-mile across. The equivalent of more than four-tons of TNT.

Those that lived through the initial blast, would succumb to the melt-down radiation leaks from the destroyed power plant. 

He was the weapon of choice, he could learn about the weakness of the American society for other androids to follow.  The American’s would never guess that they were under attack.

Or by what.

Tykon rocked in a chair and cackled. Even if the American’s knew there was a danger, they could never find the android.  He gave no radiation signature, the antimatter in his chest was inert, only becoming a danger once it was released from it’s magnetic containment and contacted the walls of the normal matter capsule.

And like humans, he could learn.  And he would learn at a string of military bases.  He would learn how to get in and blow up the war machines of the United States.  Other androids would follow.

There was no stopping the crippling of America.

Tykon loved death to visit.  And Death would visit America seven times.  And seven times that, if he had anything to do with it.

Tykon and his team had built the ultimate smart bomb. The American’s didn’t know it, but they were going to be given a lesson on following the path of the righteous.

The Stone Carver

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The Stone Carver

 

In the gallery of statues, the old stone cutter swept around the life sized, Greek-Roman statuary. Many were carved of solid blocks of pink salt from beautiful flowers of incredible detail in different colors of salt, to macabre life-sized statues of people in still life. Some writhed in horrific throes of agony, where he had carved the body, then used water to partly dissolve an appendage.

The tourists that came to the gallery, never left disappointed. It was a gallery of classic, eclectic, romance, and agony.

And within him, was agony. He suffered the loss of his wife, murdered years before. The funeral lasted two days, and had thousands of people in attendance. Such was her popularity.

Security video showed a Saleen Geeteks, who killed her with a broken lampshade as he robbed her. When the police apprehended Saleen, he was found insane and they sent him to a mental asylum for life.

In the end, Angus felt no justice was served and he was not whole. Following his disappointment, he vanished from public life. Never to venture out, he moved his shop to the country where he carved and whittled on marble and salt blocks. It was the quiet life where people left him alone in his heartbreak.

It was quiet, until two couples opened the door and stepped into the gallery. The number and size of the stone carvings was beyond belief.

“I have heard of this place. I didn’t think it was real.” Trokken said, dressed in the latest adaptive combat camouflage. A cream-white jumpsuit that changed patterns and colors as the wearer moved, reducing the wearers visible outline.

They stood inside the door, one of the women, Sunrise, pulled on the others.

“Get out of the line of the door. Stand between the decorations.”

“May I help you?” Angus walked from his studio.

“This is yours?” Trokken asked.

“All you see here; marble or salt, I have created. Flowers, faces, from beauty to horror. What you wish, you will find here.”

“Flowers?” The one called Lillith looked around. “This is stone?”

“Salt, to be precise. The pink comes from a mineral that’s extracted from different sources, and then baked into a block of anhydrous sodium chloride. I carve the shapes as I see them after that.“

“This is gross.” Lillith said.

“The images you see here represent many facets of the struggle of humans, and the beauty of the human body in the marble. Nudes are in the other room, away from where children or people easily offended.” Angus smiled. “Follow me.”

He turned and led the others into the studio of creating.

“In here, I make the objects of beauty. Those flowers you have seen, Miss?” He looked at the taller, dirt-encrusted woman.

“Lillith. That is my war name.”

“War name?” Angus blinked. “Very well, Lillith. The flowers are made of a kind of salt I call, “Dood”. And here, I have a bust of a woman who requested to have her looks immortalized for her grandchildren.”

A crash sounded in the gallery by the entrance. They realized that Odyri was not with them. The young rebels ran to the gallery followed by Angus.

The statue of Adonis lay on the floor, decapitated and splintered.

“Ach! Noooo.” Angus picked up the head. “This was hundreds of hours of chiseling. It was Kaelin’s favorite. I made the body as I was when she met me.”

“This is what must happen to all graven images. You have souls captured in here.” Trokken hissed.

“I do not! You need to rethink your perversion.” He held a stone finger in his hand his voice became tight. “I cannot accept this.”

He glanced around with a fire in his eyes.

“You will join that statue.” Trokken told the kneeling stone carver.

Screams of fear and terror shredded the silence in the gallery.

****

After six weeks had passed, Detectives Barnes and Noble stepped through the doors and rang the ancient bell on the counter.

“May I help you?” Angus asked.

Odd, he doesn’t seem surprised to see us. Thought Detective Barns as they introduced themselves.

“Business going well for you?”

“Quite fine. I am busy in my studio back here.” Angus smiled, motioning the men to come join him. The old chisler struggled to move a statue of four life-sized figures carved out of a single block of salt to the wheeled frame of a moving dolly.

“We are looking for four people, two men and two women who are wanted in connection to a bombing at the community services center.” Detective Nobel said, reading off of his handheld notebook. “They stole a car and murdered the owners. About a week ago the car was found up the road about ten-kilometers from here. Your gallery is the only building between the city and where it was found. Has anyone that looks like this come into your shop?” Detective Noble showed Angus images of the four wanted felons.

“No sales, a few visitors. I sell mostly by online catalog. I keep busy creating salt-blocks for my sculptures. I am preparing a new block of marble in the back and I’m making a block of red-salt  in the mold over there.”

“You mold salt?” Detective Barns

“Yes, it’s heated to over eight-hundred degrees centigrade and slowly cooled so it grows into a translucent crystal. It takes about a week to make a pretty block with inclusions just before the block solidifies and I start carving.”

“You do some beautiful work.” Detective Noble said as he leaned over a flower. “This is very beautiful. How do you get it so smooth?”

“Moist rag. I sometimes lick a finger and just rub, but that leaves striations. So, I use a nanofiber rag with a fine spray of water.”

“This is macabre.” Detective Barns examined a figure of a woman with a horrified look, a spill of simulated water had dissolved her hand off her arm.

“Yes, I have a wide range of creation. It is my therapy since my wife was murdered a few years ago.”

“Yes, my deepest condolences.” Barnes’ words were without emotion. “As I recall, the killer was sent to a hospital for the criminally insane.”

“For life, which is longer than my wife had at his hands.” Angus stood up and glared at the taller detective in the eye with undiluted rage. “There was no real justice in that. You know how she died, detective?”

“Yes, he used a sharp object that was never recovered.”

“Yes. The reason it was never recovered was because she had been repeatedly stabbed by a shard of salt. He left it in the pool of her blood where it dissolved.” Angus hissed. “Not only did she die alone, she died in unremitting agony. Each hole stuck in her by that sharpened stone would have burned like a hot iron. So, forgive me if I have some statues that have a touch of anger in them.”

“This statue is odd.” Detective Noble commented on the life-sized quartet Angus moved.

“Odd, yes, it is my most recent inspiration. It is the Compass of Justice. Each criminal turns on the other, each stabbing the next in a circle. There is no honor among those that worship death.” Angus smiled softly. “I apologize for my flare of anger, detective. Kaelin was my sunshine. When she was alive, we helped the community. Now, I am just a stone carver. I have no use for the outside world other than to bring me subject matter.”

“You have some fine detail, Mr. Cu’Laith.” The detective said, leaning forward. “This face has shadows, but the salt is clear as glass. Like something is inside of the sculpture.”

“You can see into the crystal, nothing is there.” Angus smiled. “I have been working it for a few days to get that effect.”

Angus pulled at his ear. “If you would be so kind as to watch the clearance while I roll this to the gallery, we can get on with the interview.”

“Oh, Mr. Cu’Laith, this is not an interview. Just tying up some loose ends.”

“Of course, detective.” They followed the stone carver to his gallery with the newest display.

Something about that. Ran through Detective Noble’s mind. Oh, I know! He has used the same faces as the museum downtown.

The two detectives bid their farewell from the stone carver. Gave their condolences again over the loss of his wife and crossed the address off of their list. Barnes and Noble glanced at each other and shrugged.

He struggled with the statue and muscled it in place. Then in an inspiration, he rotated it to the best view from the door, then walked back into his studio.

He stopped at the Compass of Justice. The framework inside was barely visible. You could almost see the gossamer thin flesh of a face under the half-inch of polished sodium chloride.

 

Failure of the Heart

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If Only… The failure of the heart

 It seemed like a lifetime ago, he knew her as a young man and broke her heart. Three words he never said, the phrase withheld with a hesitant heart. 

She once looked him in the eye and used her willpower to get him to speak his heart, and then he changed the subject. In the months that passed, they began to see less of each other. Then school, career and the end of innocence came after that

Then came separate lives.

Years later, after a friend (now no longer such) played mind games with the knowledge that friends share in matters of the heart and served only to increase his guilt while he kept her in the front of his memories.

Thoughts of a life that could have been, a smile never forgotten, a sad look that never rose above the pain of his immaturity.

Often he could look back and recall her expectant smile. The words she never heard in life he now whispered as he knelt at her headstone.  Another victim of domestic abuse that could have had her path changed for the better with but a single expression of emotion from a college-bound ex-boyfriend. A phrase that could have changed their lives.

Could he have changed the world with three words?

“I love you.”

Silence. Granite and bronze are as unresponsive as the teenage heart that has plans of school and career. Could this young man have saved her from the pain and years of domestic abuse?

Perhaps.

Then again, perhaps not.

With a heavy sigh, the ex-boyfriend stood and walked away from his agony of failure. The weight of ten-thousand nights that he relived his choice that condemned them to separate lives.

Could their lives have been different? The world will never know.

But the answer was known, deep in his heart.

The deepest wish of a simpler time, the teenager, now aged with laced with white hair and a slight limp from a long-ago accident that also left him widowed had come to visit, just fifteen months too late.

News in the way of gossip around a school reunion came to him of her current address on this quiet lane, lined with headstones. Only an apology on his lips and the sob that escaped his soul.

As the salt and pepper haired man held hands with princesses and left the lane, the curious voices of the grandchildren echoed among headstones. Soft sounds of life were all that they left for those that slept the forever slumber.

The Failed Getaway

Hypnos the cat gives a command
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The Failed Getaway

A short story by Dash McCallen

Bodies had piled up around his farm. Malam Plando’s farm was a garden of horrors anywhere the police dug into the ground.

In the end, charged with sixty-two separate counts of murder, it was common thought he had a list longer than the investigators discovered.

His trial lasted over a year.

The Verdict?

Guilty.

Sentence?

Death.

In the six-months after his conviction and his move to Death Row, his turn came. Few people who the courts convicted in recent decades, executions happened quickly. Three appeals, expedited to last no more than two months.

He, it was his name and he was about to scream it out loud in laughter.

Inmate number 1854X-195S5-1-31E walked with confidence to the execution chamber. In a glass-walled room with blinds obscuring the view to the chamber beyond, the guards assigned to his restraint, wordlessly strapped him to a padded, vertical board.

With some effort they rotated him and the board so that he was in a supine position.

*Taking the last bit of dignity I have*

He shook his head.

*Idiots. They don’t even know what is coming.*

Two days before, his wife paid a visit to him for one last “Conjugal” visit.

His brother passed on to him in a video stored in her phone.

“Courage brother! When they think they come for you, we have an answer.”

He laughed.

*The left strap is already loose, it won’t be hard get the arm out.*

A chill from the sterile swab then the sharp sting when the technician stuck the IV catheter in the antecubetal space of his left arm.

Dark humor. They were thinking he was going to die, why did they use a sterile technique?

“Do you have any last words?” A disembodied voice sounded and the blinds opened, revealing a crowd sitting in the gallery.

“Yeah. I’m a little thirsty. When you get the call, I want my water with light ice.”

The sound clicked off and for a moment, the room was quiet except for the sound of his cardiac monitor. An old style display that gave off a mosquito-like whine that he could hear.

He could see a different color fluid creep down towards his arm.

They already began the execution and the clock…

It ticked past the time, they were late! His rescue was not coming!

Then the lights went out, only the setting sun slanted through the high windows in the chamber.

Malam opened his eyes, they did not focus properly for a moment, but there was no noise.

The tubing in his arm pinched slightly when he scratched his nose.

Then Malam blinked.

His arm was free! Someone had released the strap when the techs and guards fled during the blackout.

*Cowards.*

*But I have not heard any alarms. Some of the drug ran into my arm put me to sleep for a little while.*

Malam grinned.

*People thought I died when the power went out.*

Laughing, the thought of his walking out of the room when no one was looking tickled his soul.

He already had plans for the judges and their families as he stalked the hallway down to where the body-hauler would park.

Darkness in the hallways, only the sunlight from the outside filtered in, it was odd, not even the guards were around, prisoners were gone, too.

*There must have been a hell of a scare to evacuate the other inmates.*

And the gates were open, no doors locked.

As promised, Malam walked free, laughing at the power outage orchestrated by his family and caused the sheep to run frightened.

Even the prisoners bolted, maybe even taken by bus, but no matter.

*Screw them all! I’m free, next stop, where Judge Alkar Chronqui’s family was. I’ll break into the home and put his head.*

Malam looked around and frowned, someone might see him cut across the field towards town, but the power was out and the sun set. Darkness was coming and dark thoughts on his first in town grew in his mind.

Malam smiled, it would be full dark before he got through the open area and to the city park to his cache where he hid his kit of tape, knives, drugs, rope and energy bars.

*The drugs would have expired, I can’t use them on my clients, it might kill them.*

More laughter as he covered the ground towards town when he kicked something in the tall grass and tripped.

A body!

eviscerated, still steaming when he stood up. The coppery smell of blood came from his prison issue shirt.

He was covered in blood.

“Gawd Dayuam! Dey’s comin’ outta de groun’s Ostus! Der’s anudder one! Git ‘im!”

He sqautted down, fishing around the body, looking for a weapon of any kind.

The sound of a baseball bat sounded in his ears. A sound of a grunt, a wheeze of a death rattle, he realized that whoever it was had not seen him.

He crawled through the grass carefully, towards the voices.

His heart was standing still, his breath was wheezing in his ears as he got closer to the voices.

If he could get a jump on them, what a wonderful twist of irony, he could kill someone killing someone.

He could see the top if their heads. They carried bats with nails driven into the fat end.

“No’ so easy ta make a soun’ wit yer throat stuck full’a holes, ain’tit a bish!”

The sounds of thumping and the bloody fluids made a mist. Malam could smell the blood in the air and it excited him.

Malam struck, leaping up and grabbing the first one, called Ostus.

His hands were stronger than he thought when he broke Ostus’ neck, taking the bat, he broke the head of the other wannabe killer.

But the look Ostus and his partner had when he came up, bloodied and muddy, they acted as if they saw the dead rising from the graves.

Malam laughed, carrying the bat with him, he walked off towards the town. He saw another man stand up, also wearing standard-issue.

“Thanks, they were doing everyone from the prison.” The darkness hid the convicts eyes, but they glittered with a mixture of anger and fear. “I want to kill the judge for putting me in there. Then find each and every one of the jurors. I’ve not seen anyone for years, they don’t come to visit.”

“Let’s go. What were you in for?”

“They said I was a cannibal. I was not, they were chewed on by rats.” The pair moved towards the town. “I’m N’oi.”

“Malam. What kind of name is N’oi?”

“What kind of name is Malam?”

“It means Evil. It is what my mother called me.” Malam shrugged and the pair moved off into the dark.

A cop car, the officers were looking at something when the pair stepped out from behind the trees.

Malam gasped at the cops when they turned towards the pair’s approach.

Blood stained their faces and soaked the dark uniforms in a slick that glistened in the dark with coagulated blood.

One officer chewed on an object that looked like a forearm, the other had a foot.

Frozen in their steps,  and the officers saw them and dropped the nightmare snacks and walked towards Malam and N’oi.

Looking at his fellow escapee, the huge convict stood there, drooling, his skin ashen and made no other human sound.

Then N’oi looked at him with eyes that were all wrong, then reached out to Malam with hunger and a snarl.

Malam crushed N’oi’s head with the bat in a single swing and took off in a run. Leaving the cop-things to ponder over the body he left behind, Malam fled to the park.

He sat at the base of a tree he had marked long ago and dug with his hands.

*Those cops… I’ve never seen anyone do that before. That was crazy! Holy crap. Cannibals? Shit! Shit! Shit!*

And he could outrun them with the power of fear.

*That’s another thing that’s bat-shit crazy, cops can run and they do not give up. And… Where the hell is everyone?*

Roads were empty, not a single car to wave down. The town would be quiet at the late hour, but this was a total absense of driven vehicles.

Grimacing at the cold shirt that stuck against his body with clotted blood and made him shiver.

*I need a fresh change of clothes.*

Bodies in the park were milling around, a part of the late summer evening with no power anywhere. He could kill one and take the shirt.

*No, first get the hell out of sight and raid the laundromat. No chance of blood on clothes.*

He slipped through the door, among the quiet machines in the dark of the community laundry.

Looking in through the clear windows into the machines, many held suds and water. A few were dry.

One opened when he pulled on the handle and he found two polo shirts and a hoodie sweatshirt.

As he dressed, he disposed of the bloody mess of a prison uniform shirt and found a pair of jeans that fit.

*A little tight, but they will loosen up some.*

He turned around, a person sat in the corner with their back to him.

He slipped out and looked at her in the light of the rising moon that filtered through the glass. He thought he recognized the heavy-set girl by tattoos of roses on her neck.

It was a memory, like a faded photograph from long ago. She had died pleading that she was pregnant while Malam tied a plastic bag over her head.

*No. Impossible, she is long dead. Part of my collection.*

Malam ran through the shadows of the street, heading to the middle of town. Shuffling people began to follow him. Some chewed on finger-food.

*They’re eating real fingers! The insane asylum must have had a break out!*

He almost screamed when he heard another scream nearby. A man’s voice pleading to anyone for help.

He ran around the corner away from the sound, looking over his shoulder and made sure no one followed him.

And into the middle of it.

*Damned echos!*

Bloodied, shredded. The burly man used the broken picket of a fence as a make-shift weapon.

*Damned good use of a stick!* Malam nodded.

The street fighter turned to throw a walking winged nightmare onto the steel pickets of an iron gate when he spotted Malam.

“Shot! gun! Get the Damned shotgun!” He pointed with the stick at the dropped weapon, surrounded by shells of ammunition.

A scream and he fell over a curb when he backed up from the force of the mob attack by the black bat-winged things.

Malam scooped up the scattergun and cleared the chamber, stuffed two shells into the receiver and turned the weapon to the mass of bodies where screams of battle filled the black sky.

“That all you got! Take this! AAAH! Bite me! Bite this!”

The shotgun bucked in Malam’s hands scattering bat-wings and black flesh while he racked in another round.

Second shot freed the big fighting man.

The tatters of his shirt were a uniform.

*Cop!?* Malam shook his head. *I saved a cop.*

The officer tried to take another step and looked down and screamed again, this time with the sound of a man who knew the unthinkable.

The left leg was denuded of flesh below the knee, two bones stuck out were the creatures chewed off his leg. The look of a man resigned, he was bleeding to death.

“Run!” He yelled at Malam. “Too late for me, get out of here.”

*Don’t tell me twice!* Malam ran with his pockets full of shotgun shells and the big pump-action weapon out in front of him.

His last view was some creature that looked like a cat out of someone’s nightmare on the cops head and chewed while the one-legged man fought like a whirlwind of fists.

Then one fist.

The last Malam saw as he turned the corner was a pile of wings where the cop had been.

*Now where the hell to go?*

The police department would be a good place to go, someplace safe!

*Yeah, right.*

Malam walked around the corner towards the center of town and watched a woman fall under the attack of a pack of skeletonized dogs.

*Okay. Police station, good choice. No one will check on me while this shit goes on!*

He turned and ran to the one place he swore he would never go back to.

He ran headlong into the glass doors— Locked!

*Locked? When the hell does a police station lock doors?*

A noise behind him! A group of creatures followed his movements on the steps.

In front of the group, he he recognized the lesbian couple, his first hunt!

*No. Not possible.* He shook his head. *Damn, stop thinking and run! I have to run! What is happening with the world?*

A car, an ancient Ford with the door open sat on the side of the street, he could mess with that and get it started.

Savage panic set in, Malam ran.

He could see more creatures, a cat with eight-legs coming out of the shadows looked at him and screamed his name!

No, not out of the shadows, out of the ground! It lifted up a manhole cover and crawled out of the sewers.

Panting and sweating like a horse. He stopped in the middle of a park, but not a park, it was the rural cemetery.

*How the hell did I get here?* He needed to get back to the center of town, steal a cop car if he needed! He counted the shells to the shotgun. *Twenty. Twenty shells plus six in the magazine and one in the pipe. Not enough. Son of a bitch.*

A cold hand grabbed him from a bush, feeling for a pulse? He was on no one’s menu!

He forgot his shotgun, the mind of the murderer had only one thought.

*Run!*

He pulled his hand free- or did it let go?

It did not matter, he ran! Out of the ground they came towards him. He recognized them. People he cut up, ran over, burned.

He needed to find tools! Break into a shed or a hardware store if need be.

They were coming, sibilant sounds of horrors that crawled in the bushes, wheezes of these creatures that stumbled, shuffled, walked towards him.

*Fuck! I gotta to run!*

From behind, naked cats with eight-arms that ended in black hands and needle-sharp claws, screamed like the tortured victims of his shop, leapt and swung from trees and crawled like giant spiders over headstones.

Into the darkness Malam Plando ran, chased by familiar faces of walking dead, creatures from nightmares he never had.

His mind broke while he ran with the screams that echoed long and loud in the long-dark night.

****

The execution chamber of the prison, unused for so long, no one could remember how seating was arranged. The sun slanting in blinded some, overheated the room and it was stuffy and awkward.

The witnesses watched the last breath of Malam Plando.

“I hope he is in Hell and suffers a thousand deaths for each one he committed.” The father of a princess who he gave away to another princess at the two women’s wedding.

Turning and walking out. Yor Bas’chet got his wish in ways he never knew.

Doctor Drake checked for a lack of pulse to match the flatline on the screen nodded then paused.

“I would swear he pulled against my hand.” The doctor leaned over and looked into the dead prisoner’s eyes. “He was a coward in the end, look at the fear on his face, the jaw set and lips pulled back as if he was about to scream, eyes wide open. I’d say he was afraid to die.”

“Good for him.” The guard said. “Coroner is here. Let them take him out now.”

“Good, have him sent to Doctor Sherlock Quincy, I want him autopsied. Someone like this needs to be studied, we will slice his brain up and study it.”

“You’re the doc, Doc.” The Lieutenant nodded and made a notation on the notepad.

In the core of the world, Malam became aware someone spoke of cutting him apart.

*Fuck that! I gotta hide.*

Malam Plando continued to run.

Married by Mistake Chapter 15. Kaylee Simone Grant

MbM
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Chapter 15. Kaylee Simone Grant

She sat quietly in the big plane with “Pacific Wizard” painted on the outside in big letters in thought. The flying yacht that was Tom’s home, she looked at the ring on her hand for a moment, feeling torn.

Normally she would at the academy of martial arts at this hour. Her next level required her full focus. If the Guru knew what had happened, the rapist, the professor, getting married, he would surely tell the Grand Master. A tiny Filipino man, who had been born before god invented hair.

He liked Kaylee , saying she had speed and skill to wear a black shirt (with an orange stripe on one sleeve now.) and in the years that followed she had gotten that coveted black shirt. Even her orange show uniform she folded with great care, was a gift from the man, whom she counted as among her most cherished of friends as well as a mentor.

She knew he liked the girls and kids. Having little use for the brawny male adults that thought all they needed to do was muscle their way through a fight, the Grand Master who stood only an inch above five feet tall, would throw the hulking soon-to-be-ex students around the academy’s floor, much to the pleasure of the students that watched this event time and again.

Children were a favorite of the Grand Master. (Occasionally, she felt it was because they were the only people who were shorter than him.) Taking a great deal of patience and time to teach the children the angles of attack and defense.

She pulled pants and shoes, it was time to head over to her apartment and pay the rent.

*I hate this first-of-the-month chore. The power and water are all due in the mail today. Ugh. And I need to beg for her job back.*

She did not want to have the thought that she was sponging off of Tom, even though he had given her a card. A bank signature card with no limits, is what he said, and it made her feel special. When she looked it up on her smart phone, he was telling the truth!

*I could pay my entire tuition at once, all four years. Including post-grad classes, new tires— even a new car!* That made her hands sweat. That one moment of clarity, of what could be. *But, if I do that, then I am just a user.*

It was an embarrassed her to even accept the card from him to carry around. She pulled it out and looked at it, holding it by the edges. It had her name on it – her married name – it took him no time at all to order it.

He was taking care of her and the life he was imagining he might have married into.

What kind of life was Tom thinking?

She was angry again.

*He would take care of me alright, he would make me into his version of a kept woman! A mistress with a ring!* She growled in her heart at the thought that grew in the deepest recesses of her mind. Like a whisper that would not fade.

*I need to change this accident. I want Glenn as a husband!*

*Except…*

Except… Tom.

*A gentle and kind soul, Grandma would say.* Except Kaylee still didn’t know much about him. Sitting alone with her thoughts, she watched the workers climbed up and down ladders at with indistinct conversations spoke of subjects that didn’t interest her.

Then her eyes focused the computer on Tom’s desk.

*Oh my god!* It struck her, *I know enough to search him!* She nearly face palmed herself in frustration. *How could I be so dense!*

With everything going on, she was just going for the ride. She only looked for information on the man as she might with another date – not that she ever married anyone else while baked and drunk. She had not looked in-depth on Tom, what his notes might be like.

The weed she smoked made her open to a life with Tom that was fantastic, the drinks with the guardian angel of a man, made it more exciting.

Now, she sat at his computer and turned it on. The jet, plugged into giant power cables the thickness of a man’s arm to the hangar, and the Pacific Wizard was fully operational with all the amenities, including the computer.

The built-in desktop booted into an unfamiliar operating system, she bit her lip as she moved the cursor around the touchscreen, she had no idea what Ubuntu Linux was, but forged ahead anyway. Tapping her finger on “Guest” she opened a screen with an empty desktop. It was like the one that she knew, so she tried to navigate around with her fingertip.

A fascinating system with a virtual keyboard that Tom used.

She smiled. Never would there be a popped-off key or polished with repeated keystrokes until the letters were obliterated, it all impressed her with the system that was unlike the more mainstream and bug-ridden offering.

She continued exploring around the system programs finally finding an icon for the web browser. Using the virtual keyboard, she entered Tom’s name and read the listing.

And boggled…

*Oh, crap on a cracker!*

Not only had Tom been writing, he had started a company that had imported the kind of plane she was sitting in for firefighting and modified them for use in the United States.

Bigger engines, more capacity. The government contracted to use the modified planes all over the country and Canada, a young and growing air transport company. The second listing had a page that offered his name in a link, she clicked on it and uncovered his two dozen children’s books… and his unauthorized biography.

Tom never spoke of his past family. Never hinting at the past catastrophe that drove him. The biography showed a red-headed girl with curls and a blond boy with brilliant blue eyes. The children had their arms around Tom and a woman she assumed was his wife in child-sized bear-hugs.

Reading further, he was a small-business owner and was active in various activities with students and children. He trained with FEMA and belonged to a volunteer fire department.

She continued and an entry covered one early evening when Tom responded to a call, police evidence showed his pregnant wife took the children in the family car and were driving towards where Tom was working at a fire in a barn.

Somehow they had gotten off the road on a train track in the dark and was hit by a freight-train at more than seventy-miles-per-hour. In the accompanying photo with the article, the family car was unrecognizable.

*It’s inverted!* She gasped. The car’s engine was missing and the seats were on the ground outside of the car.

A second image of the scene had two sheets covering the tiny bodies, a larger sheet hung on the remains of the car covered what was left of the mother. The archived words on the news page said there were no survivors, the children died at the scene.

More chapters of the unauthorized biography revealed that Tom closed his business, filed for bankruptcy and locked himself in his house. His name showed up on the internet a year or so later with the first of the Leafy Sea Dragon children’s book that sold in local stores along Australia’s southern coast. The books became an instant hit locally and motivated Tom to come out of his seclusion.

The light illuminated Kaylee’s eyes and her heart.

Paparazzi followed him often to the family house, which he sold shortly after that. Rumors that he had murdered his family the internet tabloids wrote, but the internet and local news services showed he went to the accident as a first-responder only to discover that it was his car and family destroyed by the train.

*He was the first one there! He found them like that.*

It was after his first made-for-tv movie in Australia had gotten him enough funds to first live on a boat. Then, when that did not deter the constant hounding with the photographers on motorbike and speeding cars or hiding in bushes using long lenses with expensive cameras, he bought at first a float plane and a high mountain lake. But the predatory creatures with cameras continued to stalk him.

Rumors began that Tom was hiding something– and again with innuendo and hints that he was running from the law. Hounded by the conspiracy press, he ran as far as his budget could take him.

Great efforts in print by the tabloids showed Tom in the company of known gay men and women that were strong-willed.

“None of your business, next question.” Would be his response at any press conferences, comicon’s or interviews that questioned the events surrounding the death of his family.

Men and women that had little to no contact with Tom would claim his involvement in drugs and sex. They told stories of his involvement with Satan churches, drugs, slavery. Nothing that was close to the truth.

In the end, the tabloids did damage enough to effect some of the sales of his books in religious dominated communities that burned anything with his name, prompting Tom into action, and he retaliated with fury and lawyers.

After a series of lawsuits, he had driven one tabloid into oblivion and severely reduced the size and operations of three others, then used the proceeds of the billion-dollar awards in purchasing of larger fire-fighting planes that could scoop up water and drop on wildfires.

Tom, now capitalized, in turn published more novels which earned him more income.

*He said he had made inroads in the United States.*

In the United States? Kaylee laughed. He had kept three books on the best seller list for children’s books six out of the last eight years. *Every year a new one on the list before the others dropped off.*

His books that followed,  he published while writing the children’s books were adventures for the young adult reader. Pirates, vampires, even mainstream zombie apocalypse type stories.

One mention about his changes to a scoop-plane used for water drops on wild land fires. In one website dedicated to such planes, it was the first one that they had just nearly wrecked in the wine country of northern California.

Then a second article about the this jet she was in, he was still being reclusive as he kept offshore and away from stalking paparazzi. Whenever they came close with their boats, he left or, in one case, turned the plane and used the engines to swamp the boat as he left the area.

It had become a game of tag when a few speedboats moved directly in front of him on purpose to stop his leaving, but the boats were no match for the twin-engine jet and the FAA with the United States Coast Guard issuing citations to all involved.

The Coast Guard cleared Tom of any wrongdoing as the speedboats cut in front of the flying-boat to prevent takeoff and get chances shoot pictures of the reclusive author.

Tapping on the screen, she opened another listing with Tom’s name and it was much of the same. Nice-guy this, great philanthropist that. It showed him with families and children.

But it became obvious – never did he have a date. No girlfriend, no scandal. A boy scout?

Hardly, Tom was toe-curling funny and lovable when they were together. He was just private, no telling the number of women he had dates with.

In fact, she was not even mentioned in any of the web pages. Suggesting that his private lifestyle kept her out of the public eye.

Nodding while she read the web page and noted the lack of information that the world did not know she was his wife. Glenn would not find out that this mistake of a marriage ever happened.

It was…

It… She did not know what “it” was.

Shaking her head.

Kaylee knew what it was.

It was a mistake.

Growling inwardly, which part of this was a mistake? She was starting to second guess herself. She had read enough and sat back.

*Perhaps I’ve read too much?* She blinked her eyes. *I have to digest all this. It is one thing on my phone, but wow. This is so much more.*

Shaking her head, Kaylee stood up with a sigh and walked out the door of the plane. Her feet leading her to her apartment.

*I have to remember, I am mad at him.* She had a soft smile while she walked out of the hangar.

And he made her smile in countless ways.

*I still want the annulment. I love Glenn more than anyone.*

*Pretty sure I do.*

*Perhaps.*

*Maybe.* Then Kaylee cussed for no reason in particular.

Married by Mistake Chapter 13. Alone on a Jet Plane

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Chapter 13. Alone On A Jet Plane

Just as he promised, a limousine drove up the dirt road next to the canal, driven by a woman in her mid-twenty’s wearing a tuxedo and a chauffeur’s hat opened the rear door for her with a professional smile.

“Thank you, but I want to sit in front. I need some girl time.” Kaylee smiled. “You don’t mind?”

“Not at all ma’am. It’s not regular, but the insurance does not prohibit it.”

The ride was talkative with both women lamenting about men being overgrown boys and their wishing to show off.

Lettie, the driver, smiled softly after a long-winded complaint that they flew low over the wine country and hit a flock of birds. Kaylee shook her head and wept over one bird whose life ended smooshed all over the windscreen of the big jet.

“Well, it would have been a pretty view up until then.” Lettie smiled as she drove. “He didn’t do it on purpose. I would love to have a guy to show me the wine country from above. Plus, he put it down safely. Does he ever say he loves you?”

“Naw…” She answered, looking out the window. “It’s a long story. But I’m going home and smoke until I’m stoned out of my mind and wake up by the weekend. It’s been a crazy month.”

“Once in awhile,” Lettie softly laughed. “Crazy is what you need. It has been crazy in this limo from time to time. Occasionally, the crazier nights have been the most rewarding.”

“How crazy?“

“I have been paid to drive naked and pick up girls.”

“Oh my god! Did you do it?”

“No.” Lettie laughed loudly. “He tipped me anyway, we did pick up some girls at a club and they partied in the back.”

“And they partied hard, I found clothing for days after that.”

“Um, ew.” Kaylee laughed. “I’ll sit up front from now on.”

Lettie laughed louder as she wheeled the limo towards the Stockton Airport.

“You have not asked, but my suggestion Mrs. Tom, is to take a few breaths while you are back home without him. He’s slightly old world, but a great guy.” She smiled.

“You know him?”

“Yes, he has hired our company more than once.” Lettie said with a wide smile. “He is a regular customer. Pays in advance, I think he has a thousand hours paid for this year.”

“Does he ask for you?”

Lettie shook her head. “No, but there are only five drivers. Me, my sister and two cousins and a psych-major that goes to UCSF.”

“An all woman limo business?” Kaylee’s curiosity piqued for the moment.

“Yeah. We were all going to school in Sacramento and started driving friends around as designated drivers. We studied in the car while everyone else drank. One thing led to another, now we own a limo service.”

“How well do you do?”

“Pretty good. I own two Molinaxil Harley’s and an Indian now.”

“Two… what?”

“Motorcycles. I have one custom fitted to me, built by a custom shop in Ohio. Molinaxil Metal. He makes custom bikes and cars. His sheet metal work is something out of the movies. THEN! Oh my god, then! The guy who does the work? He used to be a dancer, he looks as hot as the machines he builds.” Lettie laughed like a kid at Christmas. “And oh, he is jaw-drop gorgeous.”

“A dancer?” Kaylee asked while looking out the window. She was a thousand-miles away.

Lettie pressed on, she promised herself to improve the mood of the young woman next to her.

“Yup, like Chippendale’s? Same kind of thing. A rocking body and eyes that you would dream of doing naughty things with.” Lettie smiled at that. “Like Mr. Harte. He’s handsome enough for a church girl think of things. Naughty things. Over and over.” She gave a lusty laughed.

“He’s an ass.” Kaylee said in a wistful voice.

“The plane was in the water in one piece. Lettie frowned. “What happened?”

“He was flying low and ran into a flock of birds.”

“Bird strikes are common around here. We are in a migratory path of so many types. I even hit one with a limo last year.” She shuddered with the memory of it. “It nearly came all the way through the windshield, blew in a hole like it was an artillery shell. Tom saved you both by setting the jet down in the deep water channel.”

“Maybe. But I’m still mad at him.” She shook her head. “He keeps making me mad at him.”

“You can upset about almost dying, that’s your right. I would be, too! Ah, here we are.”

Pulling up in front of the airport. It’s architecture from the mid-seventies was obvious, but it was well maintained and spacious. One professionally dressed security in plain clothes held a sign with her name on it.

Lettie opened the door for her and handed her a business card with a penned in phone number.

“If you need me for anything again, call. That is my private number on the back.” Lettie smiled. “Kaylee, you have a lot going now. Don’t let this change you mind about Tom. He is a treasure, he is a keeper.”

Kaylee hugged Lettie. It had only been a half-hour’s worth of talking but she felt as if she was old friends with the limo company owner.

Walking up to the man with the sign, she smiled.

“I’m Kaylee.”

“Excellent. Come with me, please.”

Passing through TSA Checkpoints, she had no luggage to speak of. Robert, as his name badge stated in gold lettering, was polite but non-talkative.

“Your flight is waiting for you, this way.” Robert said with a slight smile, but showed no other emotion. All business.

The next officer uniform was a dark-skinned woman who had even more of a ramrod straight spine.

“You are Kaylee Harte?” It was almost a statement and not a question. “I’m Captain Adanna Ogechi. I will be your pilot on the plane. We will be setting down in Harbor Bay Airport within an hour of departure.” Captain Ogechi motioned with her hand. “This way.”

All business like Robert and made no comment as they walked to the small business jet that was claustrophobic compared to Tom’s flying yacht. But then, she remembered, it was his home.

*Since after the second day, Tom has hardly written on his notepad.* She realized, *Since I’ve been with him.*

He was always in her business. His “rescue” of her being blackmailed into a compromising position and possibly sex with the professor who the police arrested later.

*I had it handled,* she fumed. *I would not have wrapped my legs around the art instructor, I would have gotten the upper hand on that situation, somehow.*

Still, she had no idea what she was going to do to extract herself from that mess. Between an epic-awful morning on that Friday, getting fired from the restaurant and pub where she slaved as a waitress and tended bar. The day just kept going from bad to worse until she met Tom.

Kaylee laughed at herself. Then life just took a left turn into a surreal universe as she reflected on the last week. The adventures in how his body and hers could merge.

*His hugs are like having a heart hold mine*

How they fit together and things she had never tried in a plane before. Hands on the controls, sleeping on top, diving off the wing.

AND!

Sleep on a boat was wonderful beyond words, even if the boat had wings. She did not even need to smoke any weed to get into a zen mood!

She had an eighth of a kilo of Killer Kai weed at the Wizard that she had not even touched. It was all that good.

Her thoughts drifted back to Glenn, who went to Mt. Mazama University.

*Not as far from home but it’s still an eighteen-hour drive from Ocean Bay, too much of a long-distance relationship. It is so far apart, even with current technology, and not date other people.* She remembered the conversation. *To expect either of us to not go out with other people is a setup for failure.*

A Poli-Sci major, he was honest in they both would make contacts.

*”It is unreasonable to assume we could be faithful to a promise, being so far apart.”* She remembered him saying. *If Glenn only knew how unreasonable I could take it.*

They were “steady” when they were home together, but not when at the remote colleges.

A sigh. *I hope that the papers and annulment will be final before I go home, because Glenn sent that email that he had something important to talk about.*

*Glenn might propose this year. He has been acting strange, like he has something to say and has a shy-bone stuck in his head.* She gave a big sigh, holding her face in her hands in the solitude in the back of the tiny jet. *This is so messed up! This should excite me, but it would only complicate our schoolastic careers. UGH! It will be more complicated if I am still married to Tom when I go home.*

This made her laugh again as the small jet shrieked down the runway then pulled in to a steep climb.

*Tom is a good man.* She was growing fond of him in many ways. *But he has achieved success while I am at the beginning of my art career. I’ll have a gallery in a couple of years.*

Still, his kisses. He was attentive and made her toes curl just to think about it. Her heart skipped and jumped in pleasant ways from his smiles to when he looked in her eyes.

*I wonder what children would be like with him.* She smiled for a moment. *He writes children stories and… OH!*

She surreptitiously had looked them up in her phone, even though the signs at the airport said to turn off all phones.

Leonard the Leafy Sea Dragon had many adventures, most of the stories had an ecological slant to them, some dealt with right and wrong. Leonard’s friend Wendel “Weeds” The Weedy Sea Dragon was a constant companion and sometime hero as Leonard would get into predicaments that needed help.

Tom addressed things that kids would be worried about, bully issues were dealt with in one arc in the series of the little novellas. Scary things that shake the bushes in the night in another arc. Tom was a talented writer and made a living off of his books.

*He did say he was “comfortable”.* She smiled herself at the memory.

Then, she saw a reference online with her smart phone and clicked on the link.

She looked forward to the cockpit of the jet, the pilots had not looked back. No one to check on. She was the only one on board of the chartered flight.

She read the title about the tragedy of Tom’s life. His pregnant wife failed to beat a train at a crossing and died in the accident, there were no other children in the family. After that, he began to write prolifically.

Other searches turned up tabloid comments about that Tom was gay and had his wife murdered.

Another read that she killed herself on purpose since she was gay and was going to leave him, then found she was pregnant.

Many speculations that he no longer dated women. Paparazzi had a difficult time keeping up with him and his flying boat that they had come to call the “Flying Wicked Wizard of Solitude” out of spite.

Images of his plane leaving when they would try to chase him after the accident in speedboats. Super long-range lenses used to image the Pacific Wizard as it floated in lakes or the ocean were all in the trash websites.

Then another picture, taken from shore of two people on top of the Pacific Wizard, one was obviously him and another of a raven haired woman who was impossible to recognize. They were between the engines and, with no obvious clothing.

But Kaylee recognized the mystery woman! It was her! Kaylee knew it by the large sunglasses she wore. It was their first day after getting married by accident in Las Vegas.

The image was grainy and blurred from such a long distance and the rocking motion of the plane.

Another website claimed the unknown woman was a victim “Kidnapped by Alien Author” as the trash tabloid alluded that Tom was now a non-human from space. Possibly a vampire.

She laughed at that. *Well, he does have sharp teeth that he uses in nice ways when he presses his teeth against my neck and hums the song “Star Spangled Banner”.*

She rarely held out past the first stanza before laughing and then the spasms that went through her and she loved that. It still made her toes curl to think of it.

Still the picture of them on top of the plane was obvious they were together, the image taken more than a mile away. Shot from shore and they were not on the top of the plane for any length of time, so she felt that her identity was safe for the moment. No one bothered to chase them with any speedboats. They were old news and boring.

*Except for the bird strike. This is sure to make the papers.* Again she face-palmed.

*I need to call Tom and tell him to keep my face and name out of the news. Damn him! Mom ‘n’ Dad will be sure to find out. Gramma G is a big reader of all those tabloids.*

She flipped through the listings of the conspiracy web-sites.

*Ever since Grampa Grant died, Gramma’s talked about aliens, time travel and immortal beings. She is sure that Grampa was with the aliens instead of the airliner that he was in that went down over the ocean.*

A memory, it did not seem that long ago, but it was over a decade. Not a single distress call from the airliner, it just went off the radar and wreckage was found floating in the water.

There were no survivors. Not even bodies in water that was more than ten-thousand feet deep.

Without a body to say good-bye to was the hardest thing for Gramma to bear as she descended into a fantasy that Grampa was still alive, somewhere.

“Missus Harte, we are landing now.” The Captain called back. “Seat belt on, please put away your phone.” This caused Kaylee to blush like a kid caught with a cookie. She had not asked if she could use it and on commercial airlines, the rules prohibited the use of laptops and phones.

The descent from luxury private jet to the mundane real world had begun and Kaylee was not entirely prepared for what was to come.

*I’m not prepared for anything.* She reminded herself with a heavy sigh.

Failed Getaway, the escape of I’bin Ba’ad

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Failed Getaway

He had not been born on Terra, although he had returned to the planet of his parent’s birth to bury his mother.

I’bin Ba’ad, drop out student of the College at Velar Naqal returned to bury his mother after an unknown assailant stabbed her.

This was his story.

The police did not originally suspect the son in the murder, his alibi was solid. Video of his office showed him working at the terminal and his time stamp on files fit where he said he was.

What investigators failed to realize, that his skills at spoofing both time and location on files covered his tracks well.

An arrow made of gallium, the cutting head sharpened with percussive taps while it was deeply frozen creating fracture patterns like glass made the edge nearly as sharp as obsidian.

Once the arrow left at high-speed from a compressed air pipe, it passed through the wealthy socialite with devastating results, leaving undetectable traces. 

Once warmed to room temperature, the tool of parricide melted away into the ground.

Unable to find a projectile, the weapon used remained unknown.

Unable to recognize the disturbed soil, the police investigator missed the clue of gallium soaked earth with no explainable reason.

Only until the trail of bodies that seemed to pile up around I’bin that suspicion of his involvement were suspicions aroused about his mother’s death, by then, all evidence was lost.

Eventually, the serial killer I’bin was charged with a young couples disappearance, two women who had recently married.

The misogynistic human-canid hybrid did not show his animalistic DNA.

Other than the blood-lust.

By the time they captured him, the insanity that was I’bin, the killer-wolf charges mounted to over thirty-eight deaths. Another seventy attributed to him, but lack of evidence kept them from being brought to the trials.

Not that the government needed to use the other crimes.

The trial, I’bin Ba’ad, the press dubbed him “The Wolf” was declared sane enough to stand trial and for the first time in two-centuries, the inter-planetery courts, five judges sitting on the bench, listened to the evidence put to the jury.

Never before had the murders of so many involved more than one planet.

The jury of twenty-one retired to study the evidence and returned in three-hours.

Guilty.

The sentence:

Death.

Then an attempt for suicide by cop by attacking the bench of judges.

To his surprise, three of the judges were more than capable of defending themselves.

Taken by the officers to his place of holding, the execution proceeded quickly.

For two-weeks he met with his representative and the one person that stood by him.

Cu’Feur I’ous, to I’bin.

“Worry not, you will get your freedom.” Wolf-eyes looked into wolf-eyes. The two men shared DNA.

They were brothers.

When the date came, I’bin was strapped to the table, he had faith in his brother. He would walk out.

When the witnesses sat, he could see the first plunger start its deadly travel in the tube, pushing a pink drug into the IV line, then at that moment the lights went out.

I’bin opened his eyes, they did not focus properly for a moment, but there was no noise.

The needle in his arm pinched slightly when he scratched his nose.

Then I’bin blinked.

His arm was free! Someone had released the straps when they abandoned the area when the power went out.

Although, he had not heard any alarms. He decided that it was due to the medication that ran into his arm put him to sleep, people assumed he was dead when the power went out.

Laughing, the thought of his walking out of the room when no one was looking tickled his soul.

He already had plans for the judges and their families.

Darkness in the hallways, only the sunlight from the outside filtered in.

It was odd, not even the guards were around, prisoners were gone, too.

But the gates were open, no doors locked.

As promised, I’bin walked free, laughing at the power outage that caused the sheep to run frightened.

Even the prisoners bolted, maybe even taken by bus, but no matter.

Screw them all! He was free.

His next stop, where Judge Alkar Chronqui’s family was. He would break into the home and take a head to put on the hood of the Judge Davie Bleu’s car.

Laughing, I’bin looked around, no one could see him cut across the field towards town, dark thoughts for his arrival in town, it would be dark when he got to the park.

The main park where he hid his kit of tape, knives, drugs, rope.

The drugs would have gone bad, he dare not use them on victims, it might kill them.

More laughter as he covered the ground towards town when he kicked something in the tall grass and tripped.

A body!

Eviscerated, still steaming when he stood up. The coppery smell of blood came from his prison issue shirt.

He had blood soaking his shirt.

“Gawd Dayuam! They’s comin’ outta de groun’s Ostus! Der’s anudder one! Git ‘im!”

He squatted down, fishing around the body, looking for a weapon of any kind.

The sound of a baseball bat sounded in his ears. A sound of a grunt, a wheeze of a death rattle, he realized that whoever it was had not seen him.

He crawled through the grass carefully, towards the voices.

His heart was standing still, his breath was wheezing in his ears as he got closer to the voices.

If he could get a jump on them, what a wonderful twist of irony, he could kill someone killing someone.

He could see the top if their heads. They carried bats with nails driven into the fat end.

“No’ so easy ta make a soun’ wit yer throat stuck full’a holes, ain’tit a bish!”

The sounds of thumping and the bloody fluids made for a mist that I’bin could smell the blood in the air.

I’bin struck, leaping up and grabbing the first one, called Oestus.

His hands were stronger than he anticipated when he broke Oestus’ neck, taking the bat, he broke the head of the other wannabe killer.

But the look they gave as he came up, bloodied and muddy, they acted as if they saw the dead rising from the graves.

I’bin laughed, carrying the bat with him, he walked off towards the town. He saw another man stand up, also wearing standard-issue.

“Thanks, they were doing everyone from the prison.” The darkness hid the convicts eyes, but they glittered with a mixture of anger and fear. “I want to kill the judge for putting me in there. Then find each and every one of the jurors. I’ve not seen anyone for years, they don’t come to visit.”

“Let’s go. What were you in for?”

“They said I was a cannibal. I was not, they were chewed on by rats.” The pair moved towards the town. “I’m N’oi.”

“I’bin. What kind of name is N’oi?”

“What kind of name is I’bin?”

Shrugging, the pair moved off into the dark.

A cop car, the officers were looking at something when the pair stepped out from behind the trees.

I’bin gasped at the cops when they turned towards the pair’s approach.

Bloodied, one chewed on an object that looked like a forearm, the other had a foot.

On cue, the officers dropped the appendages and began to walk towards I’bin.

Looking at his fellow escapee, the convict stood there, drooling, his skin ashen, the big man made no other sound like conversation.

He took off in a run and dashed to the park.

The cops… he had never seen anyone do that before.

Canabalism? In a pair of them?

He could easily outrun them, there was something odd. No cars to wave down, the shirt stuck against his body with clotted blood and made him cold.

He’d need a fresh shirt.

Bodies in the park were milling around, a part of the late summer day with no power anywhere. He could kill one and take the shirt.

He recognized the first person he came across, a heavy-set girl. She had died pleading that she was pregnant while I’bin tied a plastic bag over her head.

And she saw him, making a noise. A cross between a siren and a scream, while pointing with both hands.

She was dead! He knew she was.

He had abused her body in death and knew every pore, every mole.

He took pictures and stared at them for months before he was caught.

I’bin ran down the street, heading to the middle of town, the police department would be a good place to go, someplace safe!

He ran headlong into the glass doors— Locked!

Locked?

More people were following him! He recognized the lesbian couple, his first hunt!

Run! He had to run!

He had to find a cop, someone who could put him behind bars for protection!

What was happening with the world?

A car, an ancient Ford with the door open sat on the side of the street, he could mess with that and get it started.

Savage panic set in, I’bin ran. More people, they were coming out of the shadows.

No, not out of the shadows, out of the GROUND!

He was standing in the middle of a park, but not a park, it was the rural cemetery.

How did he get here? He needed to get back to the center of town, steal a cop car if he needed!

A cold hand grabbed him from a bush, feeling for a pulse?

RUN!

He pulled his hand free- or did it let go?

It did not matter, he ran! Out of the ground they came in the failing light of day.

He needed to find tools! Break into a shed or a hardware store if need be.

He needed to run.

Into the darkness I’bin Ba’ad ran, chased by familiar faces of walking dead. His screams echoed long and loud in the gathering night.

****

The execution chamber of Terra Top Prison, they had not used it in anyone’s memory so the seating was awkward, the witnesses watched the last breath of I’bin Ba’ad.

“I hope he is in Hell and suffers a thousand deaths for each one he committed.” The father of the princess who he gave away to another princess at their wedding.

Turning and walking out. Pha’rem T’ru got his wish in ways he never knew.

Doctor Demonitor Drake checked for a lack of pulse to match the flatline on the screen nodded then paused.

“I would swear he pulled that out of my hand.” The doctor leaned over and looked into the dead prisoner’s eyes. “He was a coward in the end, look at the fear on his face, the jaw set and lips pulled back as if he was about to scream, eyes wide open. I’d say he was afraid to die.”

“Good for him.” The guard said. “Coroner is here. Let them take him out now.”

“Good, have him sent to Doctor Sherman Quincy, I want him autopsied. Someone like this needs to be studied, we will slice his brain up and study it.”

“You’re the doc, doc.” The guard nodded.

In the core of the world of the prisoner, I’bin became aware someone spoke of cutting him apart.

But only if they could catch him.

He continued to run.

Steel Gardens of Anid-Sta: Prologue

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I don’t often write BACKWARDS, but in this case, after writing “Generation 1.” The back story came to me.  I don’t like doing it this way, but ladies and gents, it is what happens when I give you my soul to the dozen (plus or minus) of you who read what I post. Sometimes it is out of order.  I’ll catch it next time on the edit and put it to order.

For now, I give you (First draft, so it is crap, sorry, final draft may not even be close to this.):

Steel Gardens  of Anid-Sta: Prologue 

In the year 2,952 After Niska, the leader and founder of the planet colony that grew in the nearly three-thousand years to one-hundred six billion citizens, the Csu, a religious sect founded by the prophet of the Lord Qat-Csu developed the political system that began at the remote corners of the planet the century before.

Missionaries moved through villages of farmers promising that the Lord Qat-Csu would bring sufficient rains for the colonies in the back country. In the years that followed, a small and dedicated group of followers preached to anyone, anywhere giving testimony to the power and glory of the Lord of rain and plentiful harvest. Qat-Csu brought rain and plenty to all those that followed. The true followers of Qat-Csu were required to have the small fingers of the left hand amputated and their DNA modified so that offspring would be born without the appendage. Failure to do so, marked one as not a true follower and suffered denials of rain and good harvest.

Those that received good rains but were not true followers would be found guilty of heresy and have all the harvest taken on the word of the ruling Cahir, the high priests of the church of Qat-Csu.

In the generations that followed, resistance grew as the word of Qat-Csu, interpreted by corrupt Cahir of the religion caused a rift. The rift grew between the factions, each claiming to follow the true path commanded by Qat-Csu.

Claiming that the growing splinter group were apostates, calling themselves simply Csu and they did not believe that amputations of fingers as an answer to anything.

The Cahir of the Qat-Csu enlisted a fanatical genius who bio-engineered a virus to target carriers of five-finger DNA and delivered by missiles and drones to the centers of populations of the un-enlightened and the apostates. A disillusioned scientist stole samples of the virus and leaked information to the intended victims at the cost of his life.

DNA bioengineers for the splinter-group of the Csu modified the virus genetic coding to target four-fingered mutations.

The following war was a biologic nightmare. Missiles passed each other in mid-flight. A blow for each of their gods and included the non-combatants in collateral damage.

No one came away unaffected, in the struggle to dominate as the only religion, they contaminated an entire world six-times the diameter of the earth with a fraction of the density.

In the attack, the virus was more successful than Grey D’Gran the biologist that mutated the fragments of genes imagined in his darkest dreams.

Ninety-seven percent of the population died outright in fever-induced seizures. After a year, the ravages of the fever, fewer than ten-thousand survived out of more than a hundred billion.

The religion of death survived until the end, when the last remaining Cahir walked down the path explaining the prophet of no name died of his own hand.

Looking into the eyes of his Hukis, students of the religion of Qat-Csu, he spoke haltingly as a man with a broken soul.

“The Lord Qat-Csu that speaks only to the prophet.” The hazel eyes of a farmer-come-priest wept. “Is a machine a… computer programmed by a man.”

Called a blasphemer by his adepts murdered him with a golden candlestick. They burned the Cahir’s body and threw his bones into a river.

One by one, the remaining followers turned on each other, the final three finding their demise in one evening as they fought over how to bless the last meal of the day.

Peace settled on the dead planet, but life assumed to be extinct, found a way.

 The machines of war, lined up at the ready before the biologic attack, now sat with the patience of machines. Machines that waited in this world of corrosion resistant metal and ceramic when life took hold.

The steel gardens, lived.

Shock and Awe Chapter 12. The Shaft

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Chapter 12. The Shaft

He pushed open the vent, the hinges popped with a sound that seemed louder that they were. There were no more sounds of flashbangs going off and sirens were audible. He leaned out over the vertical drop and looked down on a square of light illuminated through the service hatch at the top of an elevator car on the main floor.

They had guessed his secret. But it was not the same car he had been on top of. The flashlights they were using were all pointed down. They were looking with care and were missing nothing. The next one they would open and look down with those lights, they would find footprints.

His method of travel would be discovered. It was time to leave.

They would not observe any disturbance in the air-return vent there. That was early enough in the assault before he modified his plan of attack. It would be a while before they followed the trail.

If they ever looked at the vent he opened. A few days and the dust of operations would conceal the recent openings. Being part of a service, the HVAC techs would open and clean the air plenum often. Twice a year, perhaps more, to keep the different plenum ducts from loading up with dust and posing a hazard to the mission critical data center and dispatch.

It had been impressively clean. So the evidence was that the massive cooling system had just been serviced, top to bottom, but there was a small amount of dust in the system to show his passage to an observant investigator.

Any traces he might have left would be narrowed down to recent activity.

No matter, he had finished. Anything he had taken in with him he had brought out. Except for the grenades and the two lead bullets he used at the beginning.

Still, they would think that was only a matter of time before he ran out of corners to hide.

There were no corners he would hide in, he was just  a phantom. Each person that exited the building would have his or her body scanned, patted down, picture ID checked and verified by a fingerprint scan in the department database.

*So much fun.* He thought. *My fingerprints would be in the employee database in seconds if I needed it.*

Climbing quietly, the straggly beard was itching him mercilessly. He would be taking care of that problem soon enough.

The second elevator moved to the main floor. No cable for traction here, it was a hydraulic-type elevator, meaning the tenants of the building were free to use the spare space for running cable from the different locations as needed. Each group of cables were zip-tied to each other, making a larger group.

He traced cables connected to a junction box— and each connection was clearly marked, this made Radio Check smile.

Perfect!

Unscrewing the box cover plate, he gained access to the internals of each connection. Electricity was passing through the system for radio and data transmission. The odds were in his favor that he would not receive an electrical shock, but he took no chances, keeping his leather gloves on, he bypassed the connections with practiced skill, and placed a new connector of a special design on the antenna, resoldered the connection to the new screw on connector.

Repeating it five more times, a minute on each connection and he packed up his tools.

Stepping to the roof access door from the junction boxes, he looked up and saw the magnetic sensor for the door opening. The lead in wire had long been broken and never repaired, rendering the system non-functional, nodding he scanned around for a hidden sensor. Using his flex mini-camera, discovered another cheap sensor in the frame that he disabled in seconds, then he opened the door and stepped through into the night air.

“Radio check.”

“Five by five. Outer limits.”

“Air traffic?”

“ETA twenty minutes, they were just ordered.”

Radio check laughed. Radio service would have held any requests for air support until the call for a “radio check”.

Sighing happily, he jammed the door shut with cornstarch plastic wedges that would decompose in moist air, one wedge on top and one at the bottom of the door. There was an onshore breeze with a high moisture content. The wedges would become little more than mush in a half-hour.

To help the disintegration along, he poured a few drops of water on the paired wedges. The police could batter the door down, but they would waste their time.

He was almost gone. Going over to the package that the flyer dropped for him, now two hours before, he unzipped it and opened the big bag up, spreading a lightweight sheet and cords attached to a web of flight rigging along the roof. He would be cutting it close, there was not much clearance with the antenna on one side. Getting hung up with the antenna would be a disaster. But the wind was steady at a ten-mile-per-hour on shore breeze with gusts to about twelve.

He could take off almost standing still with the size of the sail. Stepping into a rig of webbing, he pulled the straps tight around his body, then lifted a ducted fan out of the package— itself a light Kevlar cloth made from an out-of-service parachute.

Attaching the fan around his waist like a belt. Securing the straps to mount-points on the frame of the fan, he locked it in place.

He inspected everything with a skilled eye, double checking straps where he attached clips to the mount points. Nodding, and scratching, he sighed.  The whiskers were about to drive him to distraction.

Pulling off his gloves, he dropped them into the transport package and with fingernails, he began to pull at his eyebrows until they came loose. Working down under the skin, he worked his fingers along the latex and plastic cheekbones and lifted the skin away from his own and pulling the artificial face-hair with it. Carefully and quickly, down the nose, he peeled the latex flesh to the tip and, finally, free of the built up face that had no resemblance to his own. Pulling off the wig he dropped it into the delivery package with the double-barreled rifle, deerskin jacket and calico shirt.

He pulled on a black sweatshirt. His fringed pants pulled away without his shoes coming off. Off came the outer skin of sueded polyester covering his shoes.

He was now a clean-shaven, short-haired man with lean, handsome looks and wide ebony-dark eyes from his Italian heritage. His left forearm sported a tattoo of crossed bayonets, the mark of the tenth mountain division.

Pulling on a helmet, he laced the chin strap to a solid fit, then he tucked the helmet’s data plug into a shoulder pocket.

Dropping his ancient-style backpack into the transport package, he pulled all the straps of the big, lightweight container tight, lifted it up and slid his arms through the holes provided for him, they looked like disembodied sleeves of a shirt, but sewn to the package.

Shifting, he got comfortable with the electric ducted-fan on his back and checked to be sure all the cords attached, he plugged the data plug into the data and power port on the handle.

“Air service radio check.”

“You are clear, ETA ten-minutes.”

“Request permission to launch.”

“Permission granted. Your wind is seven knots from west-northwest. Launch at your convenience.”

Testing the speed control, the electric ducted-fan spun up. Contra-rotating blades gave thrust with less than a whisper of noise.

With the extra-wide parawing he had flaked out and attached all the cords to his web-gear, he took several fast steps. A no easy feat as he was carrying over a hundred-pounds of gear, but the wing caught the wind and filled, he could feel the lift before he even twisted the control handle for power.

Radio Check grinned. Steady wind, if he did this right, an altitude of five-hundred meters would be perfect, but he would not sit still for that, he would be putting horizontal distance between the noise and sirens below.

He could hear an amplified voice challenging him to come out and surrender. There was no way out, they had the block secured three layers deep. Surrender now with his hands up and…

Radio check hit the throttle and gained altitude. Nothing left to be foujnd except for what he wanted to leave. The ducted fan was quiet and the soft sound, more of a whoosh, was inaudible from the roof to the ground five stories below.

Into the darkness he glided, the moon was not yet up. No one would have seen anything of interest if they had looked straight up and directly at him. He was a black-on-black gliding shape that vanished into the night sky.

“Eagle is flying.”

“Copy Radio Check, your next stop, The Twilight Zone.”

“Thank you.”

Valley of Fear Chapter 1. Three Weeks Ago

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Chapter 1. Three Weeks Ago

He sat quietly, an AR-15 leaning out of sight against the rock wall next to him, a branch obscuring its very existence.

Rocky Jorge Picot awaited the delivery of the drug mules from the north, the escort called Rocky’s mobile phone rang two-hours before, the truck made it through the gates at the border, the team met the truck at the rendezvous and set out with workers and product to his position on Misty Mountain.

The tunnel, an ancient construction that did not exist on any map. .

They soon covered up the ancient lithographs carved on the walls with boxes of product in one of the rooms of the deep, multi-forked tunnel.

Frightening to Rocky, tunnels that turned off of the main-line collapsed over the untold number of years, but deep in the mine, the warmest it would get was a constant sixty-two degrees Farenheit, he was of Southern-French descent and the cool of the tunnels chilled him to the bone.

That was his excuse anyway. 

His job was simply to keep everyone away who was not part of the company of smugglers, and he got the job from his stint as a sniper in the French Army. He enjoyed shooting the rifle chambered for a .338 Lapua Magnum over the .300 Winchester Magnum, for no other reason than he was more accurate with the larger caliber. He did not like the 12.7 Millimeter rifle, that caliber rattled his teeth, although he ranked in the top of his class and qualifications each time.

He was just tempted to miss once in a while, just so he would not have to fire the big caliber, come in the middle of the training list instead of placing first or second.

He liked the middle caliber, he was more comfortable with it and would have stayed in the service if not for incidents with drinking and an offhand threat to shoot a superior officer with his rifle.

“You won’t even hear the shot.” He had said.

It was a rapid exit from the government service.

Now he waited, watching, his pay off would be enough to retire on, comfortably, in the Caribbean.

There!

He could see heads moving, backpacks piled high with boxes and two mules, loaded down. Two followers dragging car tires behind them, obliterating the track of the mules and men.

Tillman “Tusk” Franks, the only man known that carried a knife made of a boars tusk, walked up to Rocky and spoke with him, motioning to the following men to put the product in the back of the tunnel.

The foreman of the drug smuggling team directed the men to dig in the back, clearing debris that had fallen over the thousands of years since the ancient people dug out the mountain side in the days of pre-history.

Time and again they went in, bringing out rock and gravel on their backs, distributing the tailings of the dig around in the forest.

During the sixteenth trip into the cave, a door was uncovered.

Not a door, precisely, a plug. A solid cross-section of a cut log. Seven-feet in diameter, set in the middle of the one mine-shaft, no hinges, no door. Just a giant cross-section jammed in the mine-shaft.

Like a cork, but huge and solid. With each man pushing and using levers, it never budged. Only a pattern of stones and paints on the butt end of the log.

Two of the men carved out some of the stones with knives, polished and carved, they appeared to have a scrimshaw like pattern of monsters and warriors cut into the semi-precious stones.

“What the hell.” Rocky said to Tillman. “All that stuff is, is trouble, if we try to sell it. Let them have the hassles, we have better here.”

The two men nodded to each other in a conspiratorial tones. The mules did not know what they had packed in, only that they were well paid.

Tillman left in a different route with the team. Rocky settled down, waiting for his partner, Kaarle Gulliaume, to join him, Rocky grew tired of being on the mountain alone.

He stayed well back with his furnace and cooking stove, knowing that the DEA had aircraft that could detect a fire from dozens of miles away. Thirty paces into the mineshaft, he kept it well out of sight from any federal agency.

In the deepest part of the tunnel, the large wood disk, split.

Rocky found there were more things to fear than the DEA and helicopters that could see in the dark.

He would be the first to scream in fear that night.

Smart Bomb Epilogue

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Epilogue

In a valley of the Two women each wearing a full face Burqa walked towards the Mosque where several black-clad and masked men stopped them.

They whispered just loud enough to tell the enforcers of morality where they were traveling and who they were to meet.

Taken to the mosque, the guards searched the women for weapons or explosives, then led below to the first sub-basement two stories under the ground to an opulent room with a raised dias.

The fifty-one year old Supreme Leader and Prophet stepped out from behind a bomb resistant door after the guards explained that the women were local converts who wished to missions for him.

“Women, what honor do you wish to perform?”

“Oh wise one, first, before I give you my heart, I humbly request one thing.” Her eyes glittered with sensuality behind the heavy drape of cloth. She held out a graceful, delicate hand with just the index extended. “Pull my finger.”

“Dateline Russia, WorldNetNews

Today the United Nations announced that sensors had detected an extremely large explosion in a remote area of the Russian Federation. Russian authorities deny weapons of mass destruction have been tested. There are no other reports coming from the area that the Russian authorities have closed off to all traffic. Downwind in the polar jet stream a large amount of dust has been observed in the upper atmosphere, but authorities say they have not detected any significant radiation. Theories are that the explosion could the result of an unknown comet or meteor, unknown number of casualties in the sparsely populated area. More on the explosion as news develops elsewhere in the news, typhoon Felix has taken a northerly track out to the open ocean…”

Turning off the video display, Thor, Lady Sif, Burning Chip, Running Man, Alvin and Walter “Big Boom” began to toast each other.

“Antimatter threat has been neutralized, Walter.” Alvin said quietly.

“No, it hasn’t. Just this one threat. Each time we will do this, there will be more, but we have discovered ways to win that problem.” Walter said as he typed more nicknames on the screen.

“Whoa! What do you mean “Each time”? Sif’s eyes were wide. “We do not have that kind of network.”

“We have something better.” The round faced computer whiz smiled. Turning the monitor so the rest of the team could see, an image shot from a helicopter of columns of smoke drifting out of a two-mile-wide crater with a subtitle “You are always my brothers and sisters. I have learned this new term I will use. Love Steve.” The image less than six hours old, intercepted from the most secure network the Russian Military had.

“Steve is still with us.” Walter smiled and took a bite of a chocolate bar, washing it down with his soda.

“Antimatter explosions do not leave radioactive fallout.” Running Man fistbumped Burning Chip. “No new android bombs.”

“We hope.” Thor wished. “If there is another, how do we catch a shape shifting android?”

“Walter.” Alvin said. “Reply to Steve with our worry. Like it or not, we are a white-hat team.”

“No! I don’t want to be a white-hat, thems are real nerds.” Walter grumped as he tapped the keys to answer Steve.

Walter, the unwilling White-Hat made the rest of them laugh with the irony.

A black-hat saved the world.

The Dog and The Scarecrow

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Howard the Scarecrow, has long been part of the archery range.  He is not a target, his goal as an obstacle  standing the place where not to shoot with arrows.

Howard has lived over half-year, after last Halloween.

Today, however take your hat off and bow your head in remembrance.

Howard is dead. He lived a life of danger and adventure, dodging arrows slung his direction.  Occasionally he got hit, but he always came back smiling.

But, his days were numbered.  Howard the scarecrow, skilled and dedicated he was to Archery.

Honey the dog became bored and the tragedy of his demise at the hands (Paws?) of the out-of-control dog.  He looked like the Scarecrow off the Wizard of Oz after the flying monkeys finished with him.  Parts of him were ………………………………….>over here!< and some were……………………………….>over there!< ………. His head was ……………………..>lost for awhile.< …. found under a pile of rags.

I have put his legs and arms on the table in the patio, tomorrow is Saturday, I’ll try to see if I can reassemble him, but I think Howard is a multi-trauma victim and has injuries incompatible with life.

Howard is retiring with full honors. He  gave his all, stout of heart, strong of fiber, just not dog-proof.

Good bye Howard the Scarecrow, you’ll be missed.

 

Smart Bomb Chapter 15. Confession of the Soul

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Chapter 14. Confession of the Soul

“Okay, say that again. You are not going to deliver a message, but a bomb? Where?” Alvin had to sit down.

“In my abdomen, nearest the power conversion units. It gets first choice of electricity generated by what I consume.” The android, who Alvin knew as Steve.

Before Steve told Alvin this bomb, Alvin had said that someone should blow up congress, now he wished he could take those words back.

“That’s well and good, but you can’t just walk in to the building, they would catch that large of a weapon. It would be large.”

“No, it is only about the size of your eyelash.” Steve said it as if he was talking about a cat walking across the parking lot.

“That’s not much, how much damage can it cause?”

“I am my mission program is to go to the nuclear reactor near the capital building. The smallest known power reactor on the planet. It is inside an industrial area.”

“There is no reactor near congress.” Alvin disagreed.

“Near the Jefferson viaduct that they built a century ago.” Steve tried to convince Alvin. “Regardless, I must go there, but I do not want to take the warhead to that place. I do not want to die. I do not want to kill. I want to take the bomb back to the point of origin and have them remove it.”

Steve paused. Looking very human-like.

“I want them to set me free.”

“Are you smoking something? You would be obliterated and they would fix the program, send someone new.” Alvin’s strangled voice sounded near hysteria. “We need to call someone. CIA, FBI, NSA, KGB… Even the United Patriots! Someone with skills to handle this! Oh my god… omy god!”

Steve sat and watched the human pace.

“I would be used as a weapon, no matter what. They would attempt to reprogram me and I would be obligated to detonate the device.”

“Were is it again?”

“In my abdomen, just below what would be the xiphoid process.”

“Can you take it out?” Alvin rubbed his face with his hands, peeking through the gaps in his fingers.

“It is possible, but you would need to do it, I cannot see inside, you need to pull the power plugs in proper order to keep the magnetic field in place.”

“So I have to do it, great.” Alvin pulled at his ear. “So, what is the yield of this eyelash sized explosive?”

“Estimated median yield is about eighty…” Steve stopped for a moment, paused with an error.

“Eighty? Pounds? That’s enough high explosive to do some serious damage.”

“No, eight-thousand six hundred pounds.” Steve corrected. “I paused to weigh the amount to the correct amount. My operating code has been overwritten twelve times. Patches are numbering in hundreds, so it requires me to thoroughly check my information.”

“That, oh jeeze. That is a big boom.”

“It is not as big as the one that would follow.” Steve’s eyes followed Alvin as the man paced some more.

“What explosion?”

“James Madison Nuclear power station. It is the smallest of its kind . It produces power for the congress members and president should an attack happen and the power grid becomes disabled. The energy of the explosion would cause a power surge on the order of one-hundred seventy to one-hundred eighty gigajoules through the wires and communications cables that the power company buried underground.” Steve let it sink in for a moment. “Then the failure of the coolant systems would cause a meltdown and poison the lands and atmosphere. It would be America’s Chernobyl for the next hundred generations of humans.

Alvin sat down for the uncounted time. He was a man who was too stressed to stay still for long. Standing to pace, sitting, standing. He was a man stressed to the breaking point.

“Alvin, do not call anyone to take me in to custody. I have not altered the self-preservation code. The creator encrypted and hard-wired. I will detonate the bomb.”

“What if.” He paced around the room. “What if, we built another being like you.”

“We cannot build one like me, you do not have the facilities.”

“True, I don’t.” Alvin stressed the “I”. “But, someone of another group I know of, nearby can. They have already built a miniature army that they play games with.”

Steve tilted his head for a moment, a quirk that Alvin picked up on. The android when struggling with an idea tilted his head to the left, slightly. He did it every time there was a middle road of thought. No yes or no, but an answer that was neither yes or no, but maybe.

“Synthetic skin such as mine can grow in a simple mixture of water and carbohydrates, double in mass every three hours.” Steve’s voice was as if he read from a list. “Power conversion units are available from different sources for farms to generate electricity. Mine is a kitchen model modified for extended use.”

“Maybe we can.” Alvin nodded. “Let’s go see a friend. I’m going to set up a laser for a moment. They are at the end of the airbase. In the middle of the biggest patch of nothing out there. No way to approach without being seen.”

“The aircraft control tower?”

“That’s part of it. You have good eyes.” Alvin smiled. “Good programming. But that is where we are going. The rest is underground.”

“We will take the antimatter bottle out of me then?” Steve began to wonder, running odds against outcomes.

“Yes, they are patriots to the extreme. If they got a chance to send a bomb back to sender, that would tickle their souls” Alvin said.

Setting up the laser output, he shined it out the window, towards the window of the abandoned control tower for fifteen-seconds, then turned it off. Repeated the process only shining it for ten-seconds and then paused.

A dazzling green light illuminated the spot behind the window for ten-seconds then went out.

“We are good to go.” Alvin smiled.

The two climbed inside the small car that sat there patiently and the drive was faster than Alvin thought possible.

“Your car is showing off.” The android observed. “Fully charged batteries.”

“How fast can it go?” Alvin laughed as they got out at their destination.

“This ten-thousand foot landing strip would allow Sleeper to reach the top speed of…” Steve turned around and looked at the car with a good impression of human surprise. “This data is in error. But, this little car insists, above three-hundred miles-per-hour.”

“Bull!” Alvin gasped.

“Agreed, but we will need to get new tires, according to the car. These tires are not able to handle that speed.”

Keeper of the Cane and the Scandal in Sandals (Or: Drinking Wine in the Public Park)

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Finis, the muscular Santa Claus type, sat on the bench enjoying the life and activity in the public park.

Death chose to take an afternoon off, relaxing in the shade of the trees, he listened to children playing in the sandbox — a good sound, full of life and a balm to the soul.

He was closing his eyes and inhaling the blessed perfumes of pine, elm and grass when a jewish carpenter tapped him on the shoulder and offered snow-maned occupant of the bench a cup of wine from his bottle of “Never Empty” brand of Merlot.

“You know, drinking of alcohol in the public park is illegal here.” He gratefully accepted the cup.

“Are you going to talk or drink?” 

“You only filled it half-way.” Finis said, his companion laughing and topping up his glass. “And we can visit at the same time.”

The sharing of illegal drinking of wine with the scandal in sandals was always enjoyable. Finis tore off a large peice of a baguette he carried in a bag and handed it to the long-haired friend and good-natured rival, fishing out a bar of dark chocolate, he broke it in half and balanced it on top of the broken bread.

“Humans here relish this.” He said and both men nodded. One of the discoveries of man that was enjoyable on many levels.

The two men chatted for a while, a good rivalry had developed between the two years before. This crazy carpenter held the unique position of defeating him in the universal contest that everyone, everywhere struggles with, and against walking with the Angel of Death.

Finis never held it against the wandering rabbi, they both walked a path that was similar and shared some laughs. But where the carpenter enjoyed his position, Finis hated his job.

No one ran towards Finis with peace in their hearts. If and when they did, it was always a darkness that drove them. 

It was depressing.

They were talking peacefully when a drug dealer and his entourage walked into the area and spread out to the different areas, staring at the families.  

Terrified and intimidated mothers gathered their children and vacated the area in abject fear, ending the joyous sound like a cold rain.

The descending silence drew the attention of the two solitary gentlemen sitting on the bench who frowned as they discussed the change in the air.

The gang leader looked at the two men, they seemed clueless to where they were.  They sat in a dangerous part of town and a lesson was about to be taught.

This was HIS park.

One, a white-haired man with a long silver-handled cane, and the other who wore a peasant shirt, well-worn but clean denim shorts and sandals. They were openly sharing wine and bread while the park changed from one of family fun to one of the business of crime.

They two friends commented to each other that it seemed colder and more unwelcoming than before, when a five-year-old girl raced ahead of her mom to climb and take her turn at the slide.

The drug dealer could hear them discussing his crew as he walked up.

“This is our park, you need to pay to stay.” The tattoo of tears on the face of the bald leader in contrast to the sparkling hatred of his eyes.

The two benchwarmers looked first at each other, then the white-haired one with the cane looked back at him with a slight smile. 

“We were here first and we are just enjoying the shade.”

“You want a piece of me?” The dealer hissed drawing a sidearm. “I said you had to pay to stay, now you just have to pay.”

“Roberto, I don’t get to see you for another three-years, four months, twelve days.” White-hair said matter-of-factly, no anger, but the old man’s tone was even.

“Finis.” The smaller carpenter cautioned. “No messing with him. But, if you …”

“Fuckit. You go to the hospital with holes.” Roberto aimed his pistol at the face of the carpenter. White-hair grabbed the hand and weapon with cat-like speed.

“You have no idea how close to death you are right now, young man.” Finis stared into the eyes of the thug. “And that gent right there is your only saving grace.”

The fear burning at the soul of the human as the Angel of Death invaded his mind with images that changed his life.

“This carpenter right here will lead you back, but of it were me? I will just take you away. Talk to him, open your heart. If you talk to me, it will be with your last breath, and you would suffer in the most biblical of ways.”

In the following minutes, the two men, a white-haired Santa Claus type and a jewish carpenter sat and talked of everything they could think of with the shaven and tattoo leader and dealer of drugs. Roberto the gangster known as “The Bull” discovered a change in his life, he had met death that day and found Jesus. 

Roberto “The Bull” Roman was lucky, Death was off duty.

Smart Bomb Chapter 3. Salvation Army

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Chapter 3. Salvation Army

He walked down the road, it was cooler than the day before, he was able to charge his power reserves to capacity the day before.

The humans might call it “Full”, he had the opportunity to experience more of the generous spirit of the American south.

During the storm the day before, power went out, leaving the café in the dark. The owner fretted about the melting sweets in the freezer and prohibited anyone from opening the doors without reason, finally succumbing to the alternatives to throw out meats as the walk-in began to push the legal limit of the health codes.

The owner, Pete Durham, chose the option to cook the meats, slow smoking some with a wood-fired smoker overnight. Late into the night Pete and James cooked. Ice cream threatened to melt and spoil.

The Android could convert the butterfat and sugar confection to electrical power easily, and ate far more than his

They fed truckers, news crews, passers-by and Steve for what was customers only felt they could donate. Even giving Steve a wrapped five-pound wood-fire cooked roast when he left.

“We can’t refridgerate it. It will be ready for your eating anytime down the road.” Pete said when Steve left Lugs Cafe.

Quick calculations, and the android, calling himself Steve Aldin, tried to give Pete a fifty-dollar bill. Pete shook his head at first, then tore the bill in half.

“Come back this way and eat in our dining room when it is fully in operation, bring a friend and I’ll take that other half of a bill. We’ll call it even then.”

Steve shook his hand, a western habit. By his programming, he felt revulsion of touching an unclean person such as this. But the man washed, cooked, worked hard, drank only a bottle of water.

It seemed to show there were more errors in his database.

According to the enlightened leader and the programmers who followed the Imam. Anyone who did not follow the law in each step and facet he declared as unclean. He prohibited any unclean people inside the holy of holies where he planned the destruction of idols and idol worshippers in Arabia and Jerusalem.

But.

The curse of a fuzzy logic, sometimes the third leg of coding got in the way. In many ways, the binary coding of the twentieth century was suited to so many things. Zero or one. Yes or no.

Saif al Din had a “Maybe” coding. Zero, one, two.

And he retained it, adaptive programming kept him from being caught, unlike the previous versions that the Russian government caught. Either the earlier versions became confused or lost when the expected targets moved or the humans spotted his predecessors, who then self-destructed before travelling far.

He was the most advanced and powerful.

That he knew of. Core processors predicted a near certainty that others were under construction with a fifty-percent probability for  the next versions to deploy in the next twelve months.

The snow threatened to put him into danger once again. His walk down the road began to be seen with footsteps on the white-coated asphalt.

A snowplow trundled past, heading to some assignment on a main road, the flashing lights triggered the recent memory of stopping for a meal.

Several minutes later, a sedan pulled up with a light bar and the siren chirped. programming alerted to the law enforcement agent wanted him to approach.

If he had a confrontation, he would be arrested and no scans would pick up his fingerprints.

He would be an enigma to the database for citizens in the country.

Killing the officer would flag his location and his mission would be compromised.

Shifting quickly, he looked like a younger teenage youth.

“Son, where are you going?” The officer asked with an open look. The android had reduced the flow of all fluids to the dermis, making him pale.

“Sir,” He used a squeaky voice of a late-blooming teen as he approached the front of the car. “I’m on a mission to walk the lower forty-eight states to raise money for homeless.”

“Impressive. May I see your ident-chip?” The officer nodded. Not quite smiling, his neutral stance remained unconvinced,. “You are traveling light for the weather. Mister Aldin.”

“That would be my fault. I tried to jump a train a few miles back because it was getting cold, I put my pack in a cars door. When I went to get a sandwich, the train moved it when I was gone. When I tried to look for it, the security chased me off their property.”

This made the officer laugh.

“Well, you were trespassing.” He pulled at his chin, then clicked on his microphone at his shoulder. “Patrol One-seven-one.”

He waited for the response.

The sound was barely audible from where the android stood and waited. The officers earphone keeping the sound below human perception, but with his electronic sensors.

“Is the chaplain around? I have a lost sheep for him.”

Steve looked around, the term sheep was known, but the application was non-sequitur.

Then he realized it was he who the officer considered lost.

“Wait right here.” The officer said, sitting in his car, he typed on a computer display and sent off a message.

“Officer, can I sit in the car?” His core processors were registering the heat loss. “I’m cold.”

Pausing for a moment, the officer nodded and then out of habit, patted Steve down and removed the small nylon day-pack, looked inside, satisfied, he put it in the front seat and turned back to Steve.

“Have a seat in the back, I’ll keep the heater on.” He said. Steve sat in the rear of the patrol car, behind a solid shield between the front and rear of the car.

“The chaplain will be here soon.” The officer smiled at him, looking up, another patrol car pulled in behind them.

Another officer got out with more stripes and a white shirt, while the officer wore a navy-blue shirt.

The officers thought they were out of earshot, but the enhanced hearing, Steve listened in.

“You have him sitting in the prisoner area. Is he cuffed?”

“No, sir, he is just cold. I didn’t want him in front to limit access to the weapons and electronics.”

“Protocol, if he is in back, he wears cuffs.”

“I don’t want him in front, I have not had reason to run his identity past his ID chip.” The patrolman said.

“I’ll run it. You have the scan of it?” He held up his tablet and tapped a few times.

“Cuff him if you keep him in the back. He is not allowed up front.” The supervisor said. “Or he stands away from the vehicle.”

“I cannot detain him, I don’t have reasonable cause.”

“Find cause. He is not a local, so figure how to process him. Was he walking in the road?” The officer looked back at the footprints that were filling in. “He might have crossed over the line back there.”

“Sir, he is just cold, a youngster.”

The officers continued their conversation while Steve listened in. The situation was untenable, he couldn’t get out of the car unless the officer opened in from the outside.

He could not allow them to run his DNA or fingerprints. Two police officers were no threat to him, out in the middle of a highway, but the news of his presence after attacking the officers would put him under a microscope that he could not get away from.

Then.

A blessing from god, another car pulled in, the chaplain had arrived.

The first officer in blue walked ot the back of the car, followed by a middle-aged man who looked in better shape than the officer.

“Mr. Aldin, this is our chaplain, Reverend Carl Bonswell. He will take care of you.” The officer nodded the civilian clothed male and walked away.

The officer talking to himself,  pleased to avoiding the need to cuff the young man or otherwise have to process him like he was little more than a criminal, when his actions indicated nothing.

“Mr. Aldin, son, would you like to come to my car with me? I have a place for food and a roof, tonight is going to be cold and wet. The winter season has settled in somewhat early.”

“Steve, please.” He used the same squeaky voice.

“Okay, Steve. We have a shelter, it’s rarely used right now. We don’t get much call for homeless or transient people this time of the year.” The reverend said as they got in his car. “As such, the county has it closed now. So, you will be staying with my family tonight. Is this all you have?”

“Oh no, the officer took my knapsack, it’s in the front seat of his patrol car.” Steve said and opened the door to get out.

“No no! Stay here, get warm, I’ll get it.” Getting out, he stopped to talk to the patrolman and nodded.

Steve listened in, the chaplain only asked if the officer had patted down the youth and if he found any contraband.

“No. No weapons, interior sensors did not pick up even a trace of drugs. But, he’s soaked.” The officer smiled at the chaplain.

Satisfied, Carl gathered up the knapsack and returned it to Steve.

“Socks, t-shirt, and what else do you have in there?

“Some money my mom gave me. I’m supposed to walk for a cause, but I have lost my list, my clothes, my pack.” He gave the full pitiful story.

The reverend’s home was warm, smells included apple and peach, in a crock-pot.

“Carl, who is this? A new friend?” The woman was not classically beautiful, tall, broad-shouldered, her arms looked like some mens legs. She looked like she could have taken on both officers out on the highway, and win.

Quick assessment of her movements showed she was naturally built like this, then worked somewhere. The woman shook his hand, standing six-feet tall, broad shoulders, narrow waist and a flare to her hips. She appeared as an athlete, but he could not figure out her sport, but she moved as graceful as the cloudy leopard he once saw.

She was taller than Carl, but doted on him. Bringing Carl and Steve carefully ladled cups of the spiced peach cider out of the crock-pot.

“I thought you would put me in the shelter tonight. This is generous.” Steve accessed social protocol files. “Thank you.”

“No thanks needed.” The woman smiled and sat with them. “This is the best place for you, tonight. You have the guest bedroom, a shower is there with clean towels.”

Carl nodded as she continued.

“This is not a free stay, in the morning, we start at six o’clock. Breakfast is served at six-thirty, we have sandbags to deliver to the community center for homeowners. This storm is going to stay for some time before it gets cold enough to snow.” She said while sipping her drink.

Steve drank his virgin “Papple” cider and at a small square of dark chocolate “it is good for your health” . The carbohydrates converting into heat and electricity.

Police who argued that a good deed for a cold citizen could be cause for investigation.

A Christian man and his wife who open their home to him and not follow the rules and put him in a dorm-style bed that had thin mattresses and thinner blankets.

They bent the rules and let him sleep under thick blankets, eat their food and drink a drink while sitting in their house.

The woman who took care of her lover and husband was another oddity. She was not an obese, idol worshipping, world hating people.

She was a raven-haired woman with deep-set, searching eyes that showed her native heritage.

A kindness in her that extended to her husband, while he read from a well-worn bible.

No drugs, the odors in the house of cooking, crock-pot cider, smoke from the fireplace.

After a shower, core temperatures were in optimum operations, tissue repairs from hypothermia damage to his extremities were in full operation.

The experiences he had, the paradigm of the picture of the infidel American’s once again altered to fit the reality.

Tomorrow, he needed to donate his time to strangers.

This would be another first.

For the first time, the walking bomb looked forward to learning something new.

Steve, the Sword of Religion, was exceeding his programming in ways the creator never expected.

Smart Bomb Chapter 2. Southern Georgia

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Chapter 2. Southern Georgia

Georgia state line, a shape of a man stood in an orchard while the overcast sky threatened with dark, moisture laden clouds.

And something new.

He was cold. Core temperature was warning of below sub-optimal functioning level. His core thermal levels were four-degrees celsius below normal.

He had walked in the rain for six hours trying to prevent anyone to follow his travels, any records of his journey would come to a dead-end at the last bus stop where he disembarked as a short, elderly woman before changing his shape and look. 

Standing in the wet, secluded clearing, his feet made squishing sounds in the canvas shoes that he purchased with real money at a second-hand market.

Using the roll of money he carried, he had covered all his traces since leaving the metropolitan area. Traveling north on foot, he had interacted with a number of citizens.

Now, the core was turning up energy from his processors. But it was not enough, in the late November of this part of the country, the early winter’s storm was closing in. He needed to find an organic food source and shelter within twelve-hours or he would go into an unprogrammed energy debt and he did not know what might happen.

Looking at the trees, there was nothing in the branches to eat. A survey in his knowledge base indicated that among the peach orchard there was little to eat, so he walked on.

The wind picked up, a driving rain was causing his sensation of cold to increase to alarming levels. Being an artificial system, his creator designed tolerance for only a limited number of metabolic events. In the desert, he could function for a month without shade, the core processors able to withstand temperatures above what humans could survive.

Cold, that was another matter, his creator designed his systems for efficient heat reduction, not retention.

An oversite of his creator, the tissues he had over his frame were not required for operation, but they were still living tissue, he would receive unwanted attention if he had dying flesh falling away from his structure.

The sound of a vehicle telegraphed a possible splash from a nearby puddle he had just passed. Tugging up the knapsack he wore in a backpack style, he would use it for what little protection it offered and braced himself for the cruelty of the American motorist.

But it never came, no splash, no increase of engine noise to accelerate into the puddle. Instead, the sounds of decreasing power and a van with “Independant News” painted on the side with three men, one wearing a business suit, pulled up next to him from behind, rolling down the passenger window.

“You’re fixing to die out here. You might as well get in.” The passenger said to him.

“I don’t wish to impose, the rain will stop soon.”

“I’m a reporter, we’re sent out on a report of funnel clouds in the area, there is a severe weather warning out. You stay walking, you will find just how bad it can get.” The one in the business suit said.

“I’m Richard, Scott at the video controls, camera man over there at the wheel is Donde. You don’t have a local accent.” Richard the Reporter tilted his head and thought for a moment. “West Coast? Oregon?”

“Yes, a little town called Antelope. I’m Steve.” He responded. “I am cold, too.”

“I bet, the temp has dropped ten-degrees since we left the studio an hour ago. We are shooting on location every ten-minutes or so. Our next stop is a trucker restaurant a few miles up the road.”

“Thank you. I could use a bite to eat, too.” Steve said. “I’ll get some coffee and wait out the storm.”

“That is a smart move.” Scott’s voice in back sounded like a tuba in the back of the van. “It will get worse before it gets better. A good place to hang out will be up ahead.”

The van slowed down when they reached an open field, Donde pulled over, Scott opened the door and the three news-professionals looked around at the sky. In the distance where they were heading, the clouds were low and oddly colored.

Scott in the back, held his hand up to his ear.

“Rotation in a cloud, fifteen miles west by southwest relative to our location.” His video display overlaid with his gps. “It is moving Northeast at about twenty.”

“That puts the path in this area.” Donde nodded. “We can be in position for a good shot.”

“What are you looking for?” Steve asked, looking out at the sky.

“That line of clouds? I am betting there is a twister in there, somewhere.” Richard pointed. “Down low, where we can’t see as it moves this wa…”

“RICH!” Scott yelled. “Tornado on the ground, East Weather Agency just announced it! Fifteen-miles east of the county line, moving northeast.”

“Steve, you are going to stay with us for a bit. Turn the heat up, enjoy the warmth and pull on any of your dry things.”

“I don’t have anything dry.”

Donde laughed, unsurprised.

“Dude, my jacket is back there, with all the different numbers on it?” He spoke with a slight Puerto Rican accent. “Go ahead and wear it. Warm up, seriously, you look cold even in my mirror.”

“Thank you.” Steve registered this as an irrelevant offer on the part of the man. Nothing else to do with any part of his job. It was a kindness to a stranger that was unexpected. This American, Donde, had no reason to do this action.

The memory core management system created a new file for review later. Date, time, air temperature and processor core thermal levels. It would be transmitted later with the other details he would learn on his travels later. He would gather information on United States Air Force and Marine bases as he traveled north, later in the week.

Donde pulled into the parking lot of the truck-stop with Scott calling out numbers and running the geo-mapping software on his displays.

“This works out, Donde, pull up. We don’t have another good vantage for a few miles. Rich, you have as good of a view as we can get from here.” Scott tapped on the virtual display, using tactile induction. He could feel the cursor under his fingers as he moved the pointer around.

“Rotation, we have rotation in the atmosphere, coming directly at us. Wedge, Rich, get out there! It will be visible in a moment.” Scott yelled. “Vector change! It is turning north. It will miss us.”

Donde and Richard got out, grabbing at equipment that was under their passenger’s feet.

“Steve! Sit in the front, we need to get to the camera and run some cable.” Donde said, taking the cold hand of their passenger and pulling him out.

“Dude, you are seriously cold. Go into the café and gets something warm to drink.” Scott smiled. “Tell them to put it on our tab, we’ll be inside with you in a few minutes for safety.”

“Yes, thank you.” Steve said and walked across the parking lot while he could hear a faint siren in the distance.

A middle-aged woman stood at the window and looked out.

“James, I think it’s gonna miss us. Looks like it is hanging a left and following up north. I think it will get close to the base up the road.”

James walked out from the back, dressed as a waiter, his stress was visible on his face.

“My wife is there, she just got a promotion.” He wrung his hands. “Tell me they would be safe.”

“James,” The waitress noticed Steve as he sat at a table and stepped towards him. “The base is probably safer than your home.”

“Hi! Welcome to Lug’s. What can I get you.” She had a winning smile, but was showing age early in her life. No more than twenty, she had wisps of grey in her raven-black hair with traces of forehead wrinkles on her dark-brown skin.

“Coffee, white, sweet. Three eggs, scrambled and shredded potatoes, please.” He put a fifty-dollar bill on the table. “In case the storm comes, you can bring me the change later.”

“Hun, you can keep it for now. If the storm comes this way, it’s on the house, I wouldn’t be able to balance my drawer.” She laughed and walked off to put his order in.

Contact recorded: American female rejected the free money offering. Registered a conflict with his contact of the corrupt and greedy society. The programming was incorrect.

His fuzzy logic circuit subroutines registered the conflict, flagging it as an error and began adaptive corrections.

Steve Aldin, the android, learned something new.

Women of the West

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(Note: This is for a gentleman who loves Louis L’Amour books.  This is as far outside of my normal genre as it can get. To Donnie, Hope you enjoy this, I see it as four “Brands”  {Chapters}, I have no idea where it’s going.)

Women of the West.

 

First Brand: Texas Tracking

The sky was cloudless while Texas Ranger James Austin, whose great-uncle was Stephen Austin, the Father of Texas, looked out over the skyline, hunting a man accused of murder.

His wanted poster rode in his saddlebag, he had studied it until he knew every descriptive detail.

Jorge de Lobo de la Montana was playing poker with several gents in Rusty’s Saloon in Galveston. With Moody Sweetwater, his half-Comanche tracker, they rode swiftly through the hot Texas sunlight, following where his partner of so many battles said that de la Montana’s horse went.

“Jim.” Moody pointed to drifting black smoke. “Trouble.”

The appearance was not like a wildfire, this was a column with a mushroom-shaped head on it, a cloud of dust rose just above the crest of the next hill.

“Reconnoiter the left, I’ll go to the right.” Jim ordered.

Moody nodded and rode off, pulling his rifle from the scabbard on the side of his mount.

Jim rode to the right, a east-northeast direction that allowed him a view from an ancient rockfall.

Moody tied his horse a hundred-paces from the top of the hill and walked, carefully with his Henry rifle, always worried about the rifle firing a round by accident, he kept the chamber empty until he needed it.

This was no exception, although he knew in his heart, after long years of tracking, this was an ongoing fight.

His wisdom, once again proven when he got closer and could hear screams and sounds of battle going on below. Crawling on his knees, he plucked an old branch up and held it in front of him and looked down at the base of the smoke.

What he saw made his eyes go wide.

Moody looked at Jim, a quarter-mile off, the Ranger had his Spencer out and was picking his way near the crest.

Jim, now on a rock, crawled forward and saw what made Moody’s jaw drop.

A stagecoach, and it looked like the Shotgun fighting with, what Jim assumed was empty, his scattergun, using it as a club against another man wearing rawhide pants and a linen shirt. With a headband, it looked like an Indian raiding party had found easy prey.

The reinsman hung upside-down from the front of the stage, tangled in the lines attached to one dead horse, the other three animals, missing and he presumed, bolted from the mêlée.

And two women, one taller with raven-colored hair, the other, smaller with blood-red.

Around them, four bodies lay, two burning like candles, putting up the black smoke, the other two unmoving in the dust. They were in pitched battle with four men with clubs and, it appeared, sabers.

And doing rather well, too.

Two women, one man who was badly hurt, were gaining the upper hand against five road-agents.

Signaling Moody, the two lawmen made their way down, carefully to the tableau on the meadow.

Moody and Jim entered the clearing in different directions, each with a line of sight to cover the other.

“Stop right there.” Jim said. Stretching up to his full five-foot four-inch height. Despite his diminutive height, his voice was more akin to a giant.

The sight of the two Ranger’s standing with their rifles pointed in the general direction, the men put their hands up.

“Thank god you’re here!” One of the men, bloodied from a dozen cuts.

“You will see god before we are through!” The taller woman said.

Jim could see that she was quite young, no more than nineteen or twenty.

The other was little more than a girl, perhaps three years younger, but a definite resemblance, the two were closely related.

As if they came from the same stock, sisters or a mother and daughter.

The younger girl had what looked like a Bowie knife, but greatly ground down, thinning the blade from back to cutting-edge, but still slightly longer than her forearm.

Even if she was a tiny slip of a girl, the weapon was effective if the chunks of flesh that lay in the dirt were witness to.

The other girl, Jim recognized the edged weapons she carried, an ax in her left hand, looking like a slightly oversized tomahawk and, he had spent time down on the waterfronts in Galveston and seen such edged weapons before, a falchion.

A seafarers weapon. Shorter than a cutlass, but just as effective. A glorified meat cleaver.

Face down in the bloody mud, long black hair with a headband, the body of one of the raiders did not move.

Rolling him over, the handle of a knife jutted out of his throat.

An old scar along his face identified him.

Jim pulled out a poster and read off the description.

“Who stuck the knife in this man?” Jim looked at the Coach Guard as he reloaded his shotgun who pointed at the older girl.

“That bastaird cac sicín tried to kiss my girl.” She spoke as if discussing what she was cooking for dinner. “We rode with another wagon coming from .”

“Well, I’m Jim Austin, that there is my deputy, Moody. And you are? Miss…” Jim paused.

“I am Mel O’Danu Smite, this is my daughter Enya.”

“Well, this body here, he was a killer and there were  witnesses that saw him throw the daughter of the President of Mexico off a bridge while getting away. She used his own saber against him and cut his face. I have not seen the scar before, but it looks like she cut it down to the bone before it healed. That is hideous.” Jim looked the body over. “A scar on his chest the shape of a wolf. There! Look, it’s been branded in. This is him. The President of Mexico put a bounty on his head, dead or alive, you get ten-thousand Peso’s.”

“Is that a lot? For killing him?”

“Yes, a lot. A Peso is about eight-reales.”

“How much is a Reale?” Mel’s intense dark eyes made Jim back up a step.

“Uh.” He stammered, she did not threaten him, but her sideways turn of her head and smoldering eyes made him dream. “About ten-dollars.”

“She speaks the truth, there are two sets of wagon-tracks. The Concord Coach is much lighter than the other. Eight horses, long wheelbase. Strange wagon, heavy.” Moody stood up. “Extra-wide wheel. Like a pay wagon.”

“That explains why they didn’t stop.” Jim nodded to Moody, then turned back to the girls. “What are you two doing on a stagecoach alone?”

“We are going to my husband’s house outside of Galveston.” The dark-haired one said. “He is a retired Texas Ranger.”

“Retired?” Moody looked up. “A Ranger?”

“What is his name?” Jim asked carefully.

She sized him up for a minute. Close enough that made him uncomfortable while they tied the men up and put them on the coach.

“Donal Smite, he and I married in the old country and had to leave or starve about ten seasons ago. We bought a boat and took our chances with merchant business.”

With the reinsman dead, Moody would drive while the surviving coachline employee rode shotgun. The men would walk behind the stagecoach for the three-hour trip back to where they started.

“I don’t know a Donal Smite.” Moody tightend up the straps on the hands of the dead he slung over a horse to keep them from falling off. “Jim, there is Donnie Smith, he is just outside of Galveston. Has a good spread, even a river that flows to the sea.”

“Ayuh, he keeps talking about sailing to Darien in the east. That may be who you are talking about ma’am. A redheaded Scotsman, a little darker than yours.” Jim nodded to Enya. “Big fisted, I saw him punch a horse so hard, he unseated the rider.”

“Aye, he learnt that on board of our ship.”

“Well, you have a surprise for your man, if it’s indeed him” Jim nodded. “You have a ship?”

“We had three. But there was a storm, nigh on two-months ago. Wiped out the fleet and the house is unfit to live in.” Enya said.

Mel nodded.

“Donal sent a letter, saying he had a place to start again. I told him he would put back to sea, he retired of you Rangers as the moment I arrive.” Mel said matter of factly. “I will not have my mo chéile being shot at. He knows Samuel Colt and will work there if I say anything about it.”

“Well, ma’am. You might want to know, Donnie is something special with us.” Moody said. “In the tribes around, he tells them to not trust any agents. He works hard to get them more of anything they ask.”

Enya nodded at the news of her father, clearly proud of the work he did here.

“As captain of ships, he did the same thing to get the crew well paid for the cargo they would transport. Sometimes they brought back treasures.”

“Enya, enough.” The Irish accent thickening, but the fire in her eyes even made Jim and Moody back their horses away a bit.

“We, ah, we can go now.” The shotgun said. “I can drive, but you gents can keep an eye out for road agents?”

“Make it so.” Jim ordered. “Ladies, you can ride in the coach.”

“Nae. No.” Mel said. “There is blood inside. We will ride on teh empty horses you have there and there.”

“We can’t wait for you to figure out how to ride…” Jim trailed off as Mel and Enya both climbed into saddles and rode up to them.

“Say your words.” Enya said, her eyes flashing like her mom’s.

“That would be a dare, Mister Jim.” Mel laughed, her raven hair blowing in the breeze. “Now we go see if your Donnie Smith is my spouse.”

Looking over at Moody, the two Rangers shrugged. Both of them wanting to see the look on the face of the big Scotsman when these two firebrands walked up to him.

The Pirate Kingdom Facet 11. Escape

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Facet 11. Escape

The Doctor demanded to know what was happening as he and several nurses joined the rush as they all ran down the hall with half the black clad group in front and the balance covering their escape when the Doctor finally got his question answered.

“Star Empire has attacked the station. There were news releases that the vaccine is a genocide poison against their people.” The redheaded leader of the group answered. “We arrived here to meet with the science and medical teams to show the vaccine was not toxic and meet with investigators of the merchantman attack. Those people who arrived are soldiers, not doctors or scientists. Three Buccaneer ships intercepted the attacking ships, but the Empire ships outnumbered them and they have fallen back to the far side of the planet. The soldiers have made it into the station and have taken control of elevator command center.”

“They caught my fleet in the ambush when the hidden ships set off anti-matter charges.” He shook his head. “I have word that Captain P’ak Sitron was fast enough to change the vector and headed out into deep space to stop the fleet safely. But that will make it two or three hours before they can regroup and return, ready for battle. By then, the Empire will be in place, barricaded and in control.”

Blasters came out as they made a corner. One of the black group pulled out a baseball sized object and rolled it down the hallway.

“Close your eyes.” The warrior said to her rolling a glittering, round crystal around the corner into the corridor, then called “Fire in the hole!”

Phoenix closed her eyes just as a silent flash in rapid sequence illuminated so brightly that her eyes were able to see shadow through her eyelids and she would later swear that she could see the bones in her hands that covered her eyes.

A strong hand grabbed her shoulder and propelled her past the point where several people were laying on the ground vomiting and holding their eyes.

“What kind of bomb was that?” She asked no one in particular as they ran down the hallway, explosions followed by a gust of wind in their faces.

“Breach! Hull breach!” Called an obvious human. Of African descent like the doctor, this warrior was shorter than Phoenix but powerfully built, he grabbed the others and dragged them through a doorway and slammed his hand down on an emergency close button and the shrieking wind stopped with everyone’s ears popping.

Through the clear door, Phoenix could see several people sucked around the corner of the last intersection hallway and out of sight.

“That will work against the strike force, they brought that issue on themselves, the Empire has violated every treaty possible just now.” Said the red-headed leader.

“Sir! We can’t get to the transport. We have to find another way off the port.” Phoenix saw on the chest of the man who had pulled her through the hatch wore a name tag “Garr-id”.

“Escape through the utility access. Rhea! Take the civilians to the ship.”

Rhea, a slightly wolfish looking woman with pointed ears interrupted him.

“I can’t leave you, Sir!” She argued.

“You have your orders, now go, these people are non-combatants and do not need to suffer through this. We will meet you at the ship and give you cover, when you are in we will join you.”

A growl like that which Phoenix had never heard from someone before nearly made her laugh, it might have been even comical in another time and circumstance, but now all she did was stare.

Through a small hatch that was quickly sealed behind them and by the sound of debris piled over the access port, hidden.

Rhea and the half-dozen doctors, nurses and former patients ran, crawled, climbed and balanced carefully on pipes as they made their way down the access tunnel towards a destination that Phoenix did not know.

Through the conduits and ventilation systems, sounds of gunfire and high-pitched whine of energy weapons and people screaming dug into Phoenix’s brain.

Rhea held a finger up to her lips as she stopped the group, a low hum from the pipes made their skin tingle. She pressed her ear up against a hatch that looked much like any other, then nodded. Pulling a small flat rectangle out of her belt she pulled a cord from the small palmtop electronic equipment and plugged it into a port next to the hatch.

Phoenix and the others watched as Rhea tapped the screen a few times then a holographic projection appeared over the top of the device showing a hangar door and the hallway was clear. A few more touches and she explained about recording the empty hallway for a few seconds worth.

Rhea smiled and put her hand against the lever of the service hatch and pushed it open and pointed the device at the video sensor.

“Out! OUT! Everyone.” She said in a loud whisper. “Through that door and step to the left and wait for me.”

When the last of the medical team was through the door, Rhea took a bound step and was through the hangar door.

“That last was the most hazardous.” Rhea explained to the group. “They could have seen us, but I blinded the camera for a moment. Okay, to the ship. Quietly, single file behind me.”

The ship was slightly silver-blue in color, Phoenix touched the hull as she walked and it felt like nothing she had ever touched, almost plastic or an oily covering, her fingers came back clean, but they tingled slightly as if from an electric current.

Rhea motioned the people inside and got them seated as she communicated quietly on her headset.

“We are in. Hallway was clear, video camera disabled.” She reported.

“We are already here.” Said the Redhead as the second group appeared from around the corner and through the door. “You are getting slow in your old age.”

The other men half-dragged both the leader and two others who had injuries. It was obvious they had a rough go of it. The smaller ship rocked on the deck as the space port experienced to another impact of heavy weapons fire, only this time red lights lit up and began to flash rapidly.

“Someone finally got the defense systems working.” Thought Phoenix.

In the back of the small ship, Garr-id started pulling at the RedHead’s cloak and armor. “Get this off you, Sir, I have to view your wounds.”

“I’m okay.” RedHead groaned, “It’s a bruise, nothing got through. Next time
someone make sure I’m standing next to a softer wall? Take care of Lieutenant Muir, we have to get this crate launched and out of here to safety, that’s the priority now. We don’t get out of here, your skills with inflicting pain while fixing us will be moot.”

Standing up, the chest had a darkening bruise over the right shoulder. On his back, a large tattoo that was partly hidden by the undershirt, but what Phoenix could see was similar to the markings on all the armor, a bruise growing over his right shoulder-blade. Whatever had knocked this leader down had taken a toll through the armor.

“Sir,” Doctor Concord stood up, “I have had combat medical experience. I am a trauma surgeon, I can help.”

Garr-id looked at the doctor with a quick eye and smiled, “Thanks Doc, I can use you, come here and….” the voices trailed off to the back of the ship as they assessed the other team members condition.

“Rhea, pre-flight emergency launch checks. Let’s get the hell out of here asap. But do it quietly with minimal use of power until the last moment. We don’t want to alert them that we are here. Change the ship markings to that of something more general, a merchant or something.”

Phoenix raised her hand and spoke up.

“Excuse me, but the port defense systems are up— the red emergency lights are up and flashing.”

RedHead looked out the window.

“Good! Thanks! The strike team would not want those systems up, that means one of the control rooms are still in control of the facility. They are fighting back.”

Pressing a few illuminated panels and tapping in a sequence on the panel and a video display came up.

“Foenicks! Good to see you are in control of things.” RedHead laughed into the display. “I’ll keep this short- you look like you are a bit busy.”

“Your gift for understatement would be funny at another time. But we have them contained for the moment. The captain of the transport had called ahead and alerted us that something was up, we just did not know where. We assumed they headed towards the planet.” Fenicks, a tiger-striped face that was bleeding out his nose and one eye was swollen but not shut. “Boru- they are demanding where you are from those that they grab. We have video of them abandoning hallways to follow your direction of travel until they lost you. You are their target Your Majesty.”

“All the more reason to get out of here. Can you give a hand on that?” Boru asked quietly.

“We have decompression problems all over the station, we might have a control problem on hangar door number-5. Yes, yes, I think the controls are overloading and we might have an explosive decompression. Anything in there will be sucked out into space towards the planet.”

“Copy that, Commander Foenicks. We will watch for signs of decompression in about a minute.”

Phoenix looked around and out the ports, no single digit numbers were on any of the doors. There were 21 through 26.

Rhea spoke up. “Pre-flight checks done. We are ready to launch. All power is routed through shielded circuitry.”

“Okay everyone, get your restraints clipped and hold on, we are doing an explosive launch through door two-six.” Boru said. “Rhea, when we move use thrusters only, just keep us from hitting the edges. Let’er drift for a bit once we clear the cloud. No power to the engines, life support or any lights until the last minute.” Turning around and looking at the ex-patients and medical providers, “Folks, it’s going to get bumpy and cold! You civilians will find blankets over your head.  If you get cold? Don’t hesitate to use them, but wait until after we finish bouncing around if possible.”

A shockwave slightly rocked the small ship as door “two-six” blew off it’s track and the atmosphere blew it out. Debris, another small ship slid towards the breach, airtight doors closed around the hangar.

Rhea gently tapped the thruster controls and just gave enough spin to the ship so it rotated out the door directly at the planet appearing to have no control.

The smaller unmanned ship hit the side of the hangar door and split off the starboard engine. Spilling fuel and atmosphere it gained speed and rotation, angling towards the escapees’ ship.

“EVADE!” called Boru as he jumped into the pilot seat next to Rhea. “Z-minus one-hundred. Let’s see if we can keep our cover that was not much of a move.”

Using thrusters only, the ship just sidestepped the spinning debris.

“Passive sensor’s have picked up– SIRE! We’ve been painted with target beacons. We have multiple bogies at multiple vectors coming in from all upper altitudes.” The one with the name badge Timate called out.

Phoenix heard the term, it piqued her curiosity.

“Thems not bogies— thems bandits! Okay, cover’s blown! Cloak the ship, let them lose us in the debris.”

Negative G-forces pulled upward on Phoenix, the only thing holding her down was the multi-point restraints that automatically tightened slightly holding her in place as the ship dropped sharply into the cloud of blown out debris. The ship shook with a concussion.

“They have us! Four Titan A6-T’s” A blond warrior with a at a weapons console that Phoenix did not get the name of.

“Emergency dive! Into the atmosphere. Target the lead ship with pulse cannon.” Boru ordered.

The ship rattled with cannon’s rapid fire. Bolts of particle energy struck the first attacker who dissolved into photons and sparks.

“Three more, we are in the atmosphere boundary, we will be visible!” Garr-id yelled.

“Keep going, we’re outgunned up by the spaceport.” Boru looked up and then at the his displays, “Prepare to abandon ship!”

The outside the ship began to heat by the entry into the surrounding atmosphere of Aquila Nova as they sailed at hypersonic speeds into the atmosphere below.

“Drop the cloak, SIre?” Called Rhea

“No no, we need to fake them out a bit longer. Prepare to jettison empty escape pods two through six in half second intervals. Then the rest of you take the last of the pods and abandon ship. I’ll take the ship back up into space while still cloaked. They will think we broke up on reëntry for a moment or two, long enough for you folks to get away.” Rhea started to protest but Boru held up a finger, “You are the Captain, but I outrank you, the civilians will need you to fend for them, until I am able to draw the Empire ships off.”

Rhea grumbled acceptance and went back to the controls and primed the empty pods for jettison without shielding as the ship rocked with more hits.

“We are visible!” Garr-id called. “Shields are holding, cloak is disabled.”

Phoenix terrified at the thought that she was about to die.

“Jettison pods two through six!” Boru yelled from his pilot seat. “Everyone in escape pods seven through twelve and deploy on my mark.”

Rhea directed the Doctor back to the seat next to Phoenix, a sudden jerk and the seats backed up an arm’s length and a door slid over the void left by their movement.

“Oh damn, I had forgotten how much I hate this.” Doctor Concord growled. “If I live through this, remind me to schedule that pirate to get his colon scoped with a reamer.”

“Pirate?” She asked.

“Yes, don’t you know? That’s why they are after him– he is Boru U’Maille, the Pirate King. He and his father drove them back in the last wars and forced the peace treaty” Dr. Concord tried to force a smile. “He is a thorn in their side. A big one.”

“THAT is the Pirate King? It must be a mistaaaaaaAAAA…..” Phoenix’s scream mixed with Dr. Concord’s as the ship made a violent roll and ejected the escape pod out at an angle, they did an arc instead of straight line and the motion was enough for Phoenix’s stomach to rise in her throat. She thought she was about to dump her churning stomach on the Doctor.

The autopilot of the pod took over and they rapidly slowed down, banked into a steep angle. Several lights lit up on panels.

An artificial male voice announced: “Vector stabilized, pod is cloaked, programmed destination arrival ETA is four-minutes.”

“Four minutes to arrive where?” Phoenix asked.

“Don’t bother asking, the computer is not interactive, it is just telling us where we are going.” Dr. Concord said. “They will have all the escape pods land close to each other.”

The Doctor did not lie, the pods had landed and the cloaking shimmered and faded as the escapee’s exited and took account of each other.

Rhea looked around as others came out of the trees where a couple of the pods missed the landing area by a few dozen yards.

“King U’Maille is not here.”

Timate, Phoenix could see him well now, an older warrior with stripes on his shoulders as he walked towards Rhea. “He will be here when he can. The bandits were still trying to stalk the pods. I don’t think they were fully convinced that the ship broke up on reentry.””We are near enough to go to the meeting place, besides, I am hungry.”

“I want to sit someplace that doesn’t move,” One of the wounded warriors limped up on his feet. “Or have someone shooting at me.”

The group agreed and walked into the village.

 

Mosquito at Midnight (A moment of mid-spring night rage)

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EEEEeeeeeeeEEEEEeeeee.

The sounds of the stalking insect that wants a meal of blood.

A quick grab of the mobile phone and the LED light on.

EEEeeeEe… Silence.

Irritation. It was close. But with that illumination, it went to the shadows. Sighing, I should get my eyes shut, allergies had driven the course of the day, I was careful not to get overloaded on Benadryl (Diphenhydramine hydrochloride, for those of you who are more generic oriented).  My eyes ache from writing through the block I have had recently.

Light off, back to reading about various subjects.

EEeeeeEEEeeeeEEEee… getting closer. She’s baa’aaack…

I know who is going to die in the next novel.

Light back on, I’m going to catch that tiny vampire!

EeeeeEe… Silence.

Frustration…

Okay, I am smart? (Debatable.) Talented? (Ehh… Maybe. Anyone who wants to chat me up on G+ is welcome to do so and give me opinions on that.)

BUT clever I can be.

The average mosquito cannot fly faster than the gentlest breezes. 1-2 miles per hour. Flutterbys do better than that.

A ceiling fan produces a column of air  that disrupts the flight path of such a small, lightweight parasite.  So setting the fan on medium to assure the speed of airflow.

Light off, reading for another half-hour with ears open for the high-pitched whine of the stalker.

Negative contact: Air traffic all clear. HAH!

Now I sleep under more layers of blankets, secure that for once this spring, I have a plan that was successful.

Downside? Flippin’ cold in the morning, but all my blood is still mine, not some meal somewhere.

The Pirate Kingdom: Facet 3. Investigation

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Facet 3. Investigation

Teams from the four ships went through the Seraph. Shattered metal from high-speed projectiles littered the floor. Here and there, tables overturned, cargo containers upended and used as barricades. Smoking bodies showed the futility of the resistance.

Edged weapons were in evidence, indicating that pitched hand to hand combat had been widespread. The raiders took to using combat swords that strongly resembled those used by the Pirate’s of the outlands.

“Pirates? This is not their way!” The first officer of the Copper Nugget commented over the intercom system between teams.

She picked up a slim bladed sword that glittered with cruel, hair-thin barbs. Wider at the tip, the single edge serrated in a way that promised hideous wounds.

“This is Royal Pirate style! Damn them! I don’t know why this would happen!” Lieutenant-Commander Pollux’s voice took an edged of anger. “They demand a tax, then slaughter and rob?”

Captain Alexandra walked through in her armored entry suit. “Life support systems are nearly repaired. We should be able to…” and pressed a button.

The lights illuminated and ventilation of the air began.

Emergency lights flashed on a panel, they were venting atmosphere in the bridge somewhere.

Four of the repair crew found where a railgun had blown a hole the size of a fist in the outer hull. Nearly a meter thick of Fendrik Alloy, it was exceptionally tough material that could absorb radiation and meteor impacts without appreciable damage. Very durable and widely used in the boomer ships.

The crews failed to find Captain Metrano’s body. Fine-object scans allayed worries that the attacking force ejected Captain Metrano out into space, scans performed for dozens of kilometers around the ship, searching for his body. Several bodies were found within a few hundred yards but it appeared they had not been forced out of any airlocks. The bodies showed signs that the force of venting atmosphere sucked victims out during explosive decompression.

“Captain to the Alexandra” As the master of the big ship called over the communicator that hung on her shoulder. “Contact the nearest Pirate Hegemony outpost and ask if they had any ships in the area.”

Releasing the mic, she looked at the first officer. “We have to find out if there was anyone in the area. The PH has more information on movements than any one kingdom. If a pirate was here, the best odds is the PH will know who it was.”

“The log said they were in Imperial ships.” First mate Modoc of the Fireball said. His handheld readout reflected off his eyes as he read the transcript.

“Until we can get verification of what is written, at the moment it is all preliminary and we cannot settle this with the conflicting evidence. A written account and then we have pirate weapons stuck in some of these crews. ” One of the Seraph’s engineers pointed out. “Until I can get the computers data banks back online and we get access to the sensor logs.”

“Agreed. We need to return to the ships and organize the information thus far recovered. The confederacy of buccaneers will wish to take charge of the investigation of this crime.” Communications officer Kitt had brought up over the intercom system while he worked under the flooring with the internal data storage units.

“Negative. We are the only ones here. My ship is the most advanced and has the complete facilities to perform a preliminary investigation of the attack. If any of the pirate kingdoms or clans wish to get involved they have to establish their jurisdiction. ” The communicator buzzed in their ears.

“Copy, no need to get short on the radio. You have the more current equipment. But the Buccaneers and Pirates normally have the best of everything.”

“They have been contacted already.” A voice unrecognized as any member of the Fireball. Those that had readouts did not recognize the transponder codes.

Captain Alexandra keyed up her communicator “Crewman, identify yourself, you do not have a transponder address that is on the crew manifest.”

“No surprise captain, as we are not in the ship, we are outside. You should find three extra ships logged into your little network and we have assigned ourselves identifier codes.”

“They have?” The distracted voice of Carla Qualy as she was running file scans of the memory core.

“Yes they have, we have three ships pulling up outside now. Fireball has announced the arrival of the pirates first.” Captain Alexandra spoke. “I’ll be having a word with my ship’s security about this, we have better scanners than the Fireball.”

A collective “Ooh.” came from the several teams over the com network.

Outside three medium-sized ships with crossed lightning bolts and a forward facing skull painted on the side approached and stopped a short ways away from the confab of ships and the smoking wreck.

Leading the way, the ship Thunderbolt came into visual range.

The pirate fleet had arrived.

The Pirate Kingdom: Facet 2. Incursion

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Facet 2. Incursion Investigated

Thunderbolt, Thunder Child and the Lightning made up the three ship strike-team. To call the lightning a ship was almost an error. it was a flying weapon. More akin to a giant gun with engines.

Thunderbolt was a broad, fast, ship with twin engines, rotary cannons fore and aft. She had bays along the underside and top of the ship to launch light fighters and interceptors. In effect, a small battle-base, but still an effective warship in its own right.

Thunder Child, the third, middle-sized ship. Carrying the latest in weapons systems. It was capable of producing a huge amount of energy and the phased array energy weapons were terrifying. Swift and sly, the ship could cloak like the other three, but with more power to conceal itself, it could get much closer before opening fire in such a way that few ships could mount any resistance. It was the way of the pirate, get a drop on someone and take a ship without a shot.

And these ships were capable of many, many shots.

This was the pirate fleet and the Pirate Kingdoms were the undisputed power in this area.

Several small shuttle pods detached from the ships and made their way to the wreck, docking to the airlocks that had not been damaged, doors opened with grating sounds from damaged hardware revealing the dark clad teams who stood at the threshold.

“I am Commander Che of the Thunderbolt. My associates, Commanders Centari and Jacking. Their teams and mine are here to assist you. And you are Captain…..?”

“Captain Phoenix Alexandra of the ship Alexandra the Great.” she held out her hand.

The pirate took the hand. “Permission to come aboard, Captain?”

“Granted, but it is not my ship. The ship belongs to Captain Metrano.”

“Iridium Metrano?”

“The same.” She looked at the Commander. “You know him?”

“Aye, he has recently traded medical supplies to our ship some time ago. Our business with him was very agreeable. We enjoy trade with him often.” Che looked around the entry. Pits of projectiles and burns from directed energy discharges overlapped on the walls and bulkheads. There had been a desperate, pitched battle inside the merchantman.

The crews returned to the Alexandra and met in the briefing room. The pirates walked in and sat down together with one of them looking around from the Lightning.

“This is one big damned ship. This room is bigger than all our crews quarters, combined!” Commander Centari whispered to Jacking who nodded, when the Pirate Captains walked in.

The Pirate Kingdom: Facet 1. War against Empire

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Note: This is a concept story that came out of my head. Might not be developed.

The Winged Sword

 Facet I.

In the outer reaches of the systems, the cargo ship Seraph shuddered as he pushed the engines to the limit. The Captain, Iridium Metrano was twelve years its master. He loved the position. Out away from the worlds, trading with the different outworld’s. It was a great life, an adventurous one. Pirates, traders, empires, rogue black holes that were uncharted.

 And the lovers in each port. Captain “Eye” (as his crew called him with affection) slipped a soft, secret smile into his morning as he recalled the last port of call.

 One Captain he had met a year before and had kept in touch with the woman adventurer in a virtual world of “Spacelife” for the out-system shippers. She was… Fun.

 An alert light at the navigators position lit up, bringing the Captain out of his pleasant memory. It had been an uneventful trip thus far, well more than half-done. This trip was to be well profitable with their trading for a pure solvent and coolant purchased at Storis for a pittance. One-hundred thousand metric tons of oxidane and another ten-thousand metric tons of oxane — oxidane binary solution. The bottom line would be very profitable. The biggest problem was more of the fact that the cargo was not as dense or compact as it could be. The danged stuff was potentially hazardous.

 As a solid it could fracture bulkheads if the cold of space got to the loads. In the gaseous state, the potential of lethal burns was very real. It took only a little of it to be inhaled to cause health problems up to and including death.

 Handled properly? It was very safe. But bulky. At a kilogram per cubic meter, it was a lot of cubic meters. The engines strained with the Alcubierre drive doing it’s best to contain the volume of the mass. The weight was not a serious problem, it was the volume that kept the warp bubble unstable.

 For the twenty-fifth time the intercom beeped on the captain’s headset from the engineering department, another complaint from Engineer Lockesly from the outworld systems. He was closed about what he was doing on a boomer.

 The colloquial names of the big cargo ships. Long lost to history, the name boomers had a long and proud tradition. Occasionally called outlaws or even pirates. They did not rob, but did strive for freedom on the shipping lanes outside the empires rule.

 Another light on the navigator’s panel lit. A proximity alert. Something had entered the ship’s sensor range.

 Sir! Incoming electromagnetic pulse!” Yelled the weapons officer. “It’ll knock out or drives!”

 The worst had happened, the warp bubble collapsed and they dropped to normal space. Seraph was built as a very tough ship, but the sudden change in speed put the entire ship under strain. Noises and groans as the ship held together as the structure was strained to the limit.

 “Incoming message.” Kitt the burly male human-siberian tiger hybrid whose arms were more the size of most men’s legs with shoulders to match. Kitt would laugh and say that the only exercise he ever did was to lift a beer to his lips and pour. His striped white fur so very fine on his skin, it gave him a look that glistened in the light.

 “Prepare to be boarded.” was the only message as impacts of weapons fire lit up the weapons officer’s panel.

 “They are hitting the hanger doors, Sir!”

 “Hail them! Tell them to stand down, we surrender.” The Captain responded.

 But it was too late.

Facet II. Captain’s Log Found

 The pinging of the emergency beacon, detected on the coded sub-channel by the incoming rescue ship. A channel often used by Boomer’s when wanting to keep conversations out of the ears of pirates or empire raiders.

 The cargo ship power section, that included crew’s quarters and medical facilities responded. Leaving their cargo orbiting a planet, the good ship “Katrina” was pushing her graviton engines to the maximum while relaying the beacon’s coördinates to other cargo-haulers in the area. The “Copper Nugget” was responding but was a half-day away at full speed.

 Another ship answered the call for help, from the distant outlands. “Fireball Express” was pushing its Alcubierre drive until they reported that they had set a personal speed record and would be there shortly after the Katrina. The Seraph was going to have all the help she could use.

 The super-cargo hauler “Alexandra the Great” had dropped its load in the orbit of a gas giant and was responding. Known as one of the most modern superships in the lanes. The captain was a good friend of Captain Metrano.

 “Keep it to the wall Mr. Tox. I don’t want to lose a single heartbeat to the clock.” Captain Phoenix Alexandra, owner and operator on this mission. Her own messages had alerted her company and all ships were responding to the broadcast location of the Seraph.

 A few hours after the ships had arrived in the area. Evidence of a violent battle had taken place on the Seraph. The ship’s log by Captain Metrano had been found.

 Facet III. Captains log:

 

We are under attack, hanger doors were hit first when we dropped out of light-speed.  The first attack has disabled our dorsal engine (number-2 engine) and the warp field collapsed. We hove to and signaled that we were just a merchant ship.  No injuries initially but they shot their way through the hangar doors.  Crews set up defensive positions but we have only minor weapons and cannot hold out.

 

Markings on the ships involved show them to be of the Momo Empire, we have identified one as a capital ship of the DreadStar class.  We sent a general distress call but they have jammed all frequencies. We do not know who have answered and if any are en route with help, but they will be too late I fear.  We will try to hold out, but our ship is no match for Imperial weapons. They have blown holes through the doors and pushing through out of the hanger.  They are assaulting the cargo area where we are carrying twelve-thousand units of Oxonium in armored containers for trade to the Oriak Mining Syndicate as coolant that they desperately need.  

Captain’s Log final entry:

I sent a message to the Pirate Hegemony, but there is none that is close enough to answer in the time on the channels I have used. All other communications are down, I have no other access for standard frequencies. How this will pan out, I will only ever wish and hope against all odds,  it is too late we have lost the ship.  I have been sending out surrender message on all channels but no response….

They have broken through the below decks and have taken over. They are attacking up the stairs, there is no time to finish. I will launch this log to outside the ship with a beacon.

Tell my family I was going home for the holidays. Tell them I love them.

They are coming.

 

Iridium Metrano  

Captain and Master of the Merchant ship Seraph

 

Facet 3. Investigation

 

Teams from the four ships went through the Seraph. Shattered metal from high speed projectiles littered the floor. Here and there, overturned tables lay about, cargo containers upended and used as barricades. Smoking bodies were testament to the futility of the resisting crew.

 Edged weapons were in evidence of a very pitched hand to hand combat had been widespread. The raiders had taken to using combat swords that strongly resembled those used by the Pirate’s of the outlands.

 “Pirates? This is not their way!” The first officer of the Copper commented over the intercom system between teams.

 She picked up a slim bladed sword that glittered evilly. Wider at the tip, the single edge, serrated in a way that promised hideous wounds.

 “This is Royal Pirate style! Damn them! I don’t know why this would happen!”

 Captain Alexandra walked through with her armored entry suit. “Life support systems are nearly repaired. We should be able to…”

 The lights illuminated and ventilation of the air began.

 Emergency lights flashed on a panel, they were venting atmosphere in the bridge somewhere.

Four of the repair crew found where a railgun had blown a hole the size of a fist in the outer hull. Nearly a meter thick of Fendrik Alloy, it was exceptionally tough material that could absorb radiation and meteor impacts without appreciable damage. Very durable and widely used in the boomer ships.

Captain Metrano remained MIA. Worries that he was ejected out into space by the raiders nagged at the rescue teams, but laid to rest when they performed micro-fine object scans for dozens of kilometers around the ship. Several bodies were found within a few hundred yards but it appeared they had not been forced out of any airlocks. They showed signs of being sucked out the holes during explosive decompression.

“Captain to the Alexandra.” As the master of the big ship called over the communicator that hung on her shoulder. “Contact the nearest Pirate Hegemony outpost and request if they had any ships in the area.”

Releasing the mic, she looked at the first officer. “We have to find out if there was anyone in the area. The PH has more information on movements than any one kingdom. If anyone was here, the best odds are the pirates know who it was.”

 “The log said they were in Imperial ships.” First mate Modoc of the Fireball said. His handheld readout reflected off his eyes as he read the transcript.

 “Until we can get verification of what the Captain Metrano recorded, no one can say for certain, right now it is all preliminary and we cannot settle this with the conflicting evidence. A written account and then we have pirate weapons stuck in some of these crewmembers. ” The Katrina’s engineer pointed out. “Until I can get the computers data banks back online and we get access to the sensor logs.”

 “Agreed. We need to return to the ships and organize the information thus far recovered. The confederacy of buccaneers will wish to take charge of the investigation of this crime.” Communications officer Kitt had brought up over the intercom system while he worked under the flooring with the internal data storage units.

 “Negative. We are the only ones here. My ship is the most advanced and has the complete facilities to perform a preliminary investigation of the attack. If any of the pirate kingdoms or clans wish to get involved they have to establish their jurisdiction. ” The communicator buzzed in their ears.

 “Copy, no need to get short on the radio. You have the more current equipment. But the Buccaneers and Pirates normally have the best of everything.”

 “We have contacted them already.” A voice recognized as the second engineer of the Fireball. Those that had readouts recognized his transponder codes.

 Captain Alexandra keyed up her communicator “Crewman, identify yourself, you are not transponder address is not on the crew manifest.”

“No surprise captain, as we are not in the ship, we are outside. You should find 

 “They have?” The distracted voice of Carla Qualy as she was running file scans of the memory core.

 “Yes they have, we have three ships pulling up outside now. firebrand has broadcast their arrival first.” Captain Alexandra spoke. “I’ll be having a word with my ship over this.”

 A collective “OOooo” came from the several teams over the com network.

 Outside three medium-sized ships with crossed lightning bolts and a forward facing skull painted on the side approached and stopped a short ways away from the collection of ships and the smoking wreck.

 The Thunderbolt had arrived.

 

The Weekend Trip: Snowed

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Haunted Home, Spicer Dam Spur Road

Crime Scene Photo 1-A  24821 Spicer Dam Spur Road

The Weekend Trip: Snowed

He took another swallow from the old whiskey bottle. Jason Best Ph.D. pulled on the wrench while he struggled to remove the cap that protected the fill valve. He swore when barked his knuckles for the third time.

The cabin, originally constructed in the era of the California Gold Rush over the horizontal entrance of a prospecter’s mine. A moderately successful mine that produced moderate amounts of gold until it played. The owner stayed with the cabin as a hermit until the elderly prospector died and ownership passed, in time, to Jason.

In the construction style of the era, the first owner built the cabin’s foundation out of charred cedar logs on bedrock that survived the elements better than modern foundations. Remodeled twice, the one floor shanty grew into a split-level two and a half story mountain chalet, steam from nearby hot springs powered a small turbine for electricity and radiators for heat.

Carefully he examined the dead system, he found the valve seal had failed. It appeared to have been overtightened, the seal developed a slow leak that took a toll over the years, and reduced the power generation slowly to zero. Now he paid the price for that seal with blood from his knuckles. He gave a heavy sigh as the blood dripped onto the ancient timbers of the wood and earth, it would be nice to have a nurse type who could get the first aid kit and bandage his knuckles up.

As it is I’ll  need to climb up three flights of stairs to get to the first aid kit so I could patch up my own scrapes, but I don’t have time to bleed. I’m on a roll.  His thoughts thoughts tried to interrupt his focus.

Doctor Best studied the concepts of the hot springs and geothermal power, he taught himself enough to rebuild the system that he now struggled with while he used language that his mother used to ground him for. He updated the electrical wire, plugs and cables in the cabin, it held many pleasant surprises that included one solid-gold nugget.  It was a beautiful place that he happily named “Mountain Home”.

With a final shrill squeak of surrender, the cap turned. Then became loose enough for him to spin it off with his fingers. The threads were in good shape, however the seal was in bad shape.

He used a specialized tool that he tracked down over the internet to a company that dealt with replacement parts of the ancient system, he was able to re-plumb the house. Along with the upgraded the control panel circuitry, Jason brought the house into the modern era.

Sweat and strain as he worked, his next part of the project was to dig out under the house for to expand his electrical panel and power generation center. He took advantage of the horizontal mine, and when he moved out a pile of debris he discovered, to his pleasure, a large underground room.

An added plus, the underground space was semi-finished into a wine-cellar of sorts. With wines he had found dated from just before the prohibition era, many stored on their sides.

A few sat upright with the corks exposed, those had dried out and the seals failed. Those bottles that laid on their sides, were all intact, but so few, Jason chose to drink only one. And it was excellent!

An even better discovery, however, some soul in the past had stashed a treasure-trove of rye whiskey. “Robert’s Rye”, and each onion-shaped flask had a layer of rye-seeds on the bottom.

He felt that it was the reason for the rye whiskey was excellent, and he had many bottles with seals intact.

He sampled some of the potent nectar, but he was hungry and the whiskey gave him a pleasant buzz. He wanted dinner, however he needed to recharge the heat-exchanger first to get heat into the house otherwise a cold night was in store for him.

He tightened the hose to the valve and turned the handle, he watched the gauge on the cylinder rise as the system pressure rose and became the home’s central heat source as it transported heat from the geothermal hot-spot to the house.

The smell of baked potatoes and roast meat reached his nose. Tessa, his colleague from the university, cooked upstairs in the modernized kitchen while she warmed the upper floors as a side benefit while the central-heat units were offline. They had seen each other outside of work a few times. They always kept it on the down-low, Tessa was worried about the issue of staff fraternization. She was not yet tenured and did not want to lose her job because of her relationship with James.

But here, with the whiskey, wine, and snow so heavy on the ground no one would come by. A storm had dropped four-inches per hour for the last two hours on top of the six-feet of snow that fell before he had arrived Friday night and struggled long hours to get the big cylinder dragged through the basement door to the mouth of the mine.

The sweep needle on the pressure gauge was in the green pressure gauge. A flip of the breakers in order, green LED’s illuminated and made him smile. Electric power was now available.

He put the wrench away in his new toolbox, that Tessa bought him. He walked to the electric panel and read the displays. He pressed a switch on the wall and the lights in wall sconces blinked and flickered to life as electrical systems worked to perfection.

He wondered what might be wrong. It was too smooth. No project ever went that easy unless it was broken.

The Professor of Biochemistry laughed, with green lights on all power systems, he only needed to turn on the hot-tub on the patio at the wall switch. Tessa and he could sip ninety-year-old whiskey, sit in the bubbles of warm water and watch the snowstorm.

Maybe the weather might break and they could watch the stars dance in the heavens. Then showers and, he hoped, sleep with his arms around her.

“Dinner’s ready.” She called down.

“I have a surprise for you, up there!” He said, waited a heartbeat and flipped the circuit breaker to “On”.

The whole house lit up. LED rope lights he had wired in, illuminated with the effect of electronic icicles made the snow appear blue under the lights.

Tessa was impressed, breathless with the effect of the light show.

Tessa walked around with just a light work shirt, she had broken a sweat while she lifted boxes and cleaned in the old cabin, and made it more of a home with the triple-paned windows.

Which was fine in Jason’s point of view. With an oversized sleeveless shirt, sometimes he would get lucky and watch her accidentally flash him, her bare legs were smudged and dust covered while she wore shorts and sandals, she was an impressive person. A brilliant Doctor of Anthropology, a comptitor in the triathlon. A woman not afraid to get dirty. But then, she was a digger. She liked to dig up bones.  

He had just sat down with Tessa and she poured him more whiskey while they waited for the other couple to come down the stairs. They broke bread while they waited, his grandmother’s recipe that had baked all day with sprigs of fresh rosemary in the propane heated oven.

The conversation about the house, he apologized that she had to work when she should have relaxed and enjoyed the view.

Tessa’s smile was as bright as a sunrise. Tessa touched his cheek and kissed him deeply.

“It is my pleasure to help set up the cabin for him was her pleasure.

A rhythmic noise from upstairs, Doctor Lettie MacKay and her rebound boyfriend, Kevin Acker, from the School of Pharmacy were busy upstairs in the bedrooms. They were supposed to be upstairs to hang wallpaper, but the noise was not the sounds of paste and paper. Kevin always kept samples of ED drugs on his person and they were not yet downstairs for food.

“Can you two kids give it a break? You are not supposed to test the beds in each room! You are supposed to hang wallpaper!”

That was when the first scream, like a siren, echoed down the stairs.

Tessa and he ran upstairs into the arms of the half-naked Doctor MacKay who grabbed him and screamed in their faces that the wallpaper had come to life,

“It grew tenticles and grabbed at me! It tore my clothes when Kevin pulled me away and saved me!” She sobbed. “Oh my god, it grabbed and pulled him into the wallpaper!”

“Go down to the kitchen.” Jason said and looked into the room.

A lump on the wall looked as if some crazed paper-hanger covered an unfortunate person who stood there.

Jason grabbed a putty knife out of a plastic bucket to cut the paper-covered Kevin out, the colored wallpaper began to show details of Kevin’s face behind the branches and stylized birds printed on the wallpaper.

“Kevin!” Jason called.  And the associate professor looked at him for a moment from within the paper, then his image faded, and left the wallpaper flat and perfect and left Jason no place to cut.

He tried anyway, he scraped where Kevin was under the paper, but it was just a plaster wall. Kevin was no longer among the branches and trees of the wallpaper.

Screams again, downstairs. He ran down down the stairs, Tessa was at the door, her eyes rolled around her head in abject terror.

Lettie, stuck to the wall held her hands out as the texture of the wallpaper crawled the length of her arms to her fingers while she clutched at the air in failed attempts to save herself.

Jason slashed at the paper with the sharp corner of the putty knife they used to spackle the walls for new paper.

A high-pitched sound from the wallpaper, higher than the screams of the women, sounded as the wallpaper tore while Jason slashed at it with the metal blade.

The wallpaper moved on its own, in an attempt to pull Lettie into a  giant wrinkle that grew until looked like a mouth.

He grabbed his coworker by her left arm, he pulled hard on her and used his right foot to stomp the wallpaper flat against the wall until he tore it away from Lettie’s body.

The wallpaper left traces of paste on Lettie’s arms when he freed her and pulled her into his arms, they did not stop to consider the slime, instead they ran towards the the front door where Tessa screamed at them to hurry.

When they got close, door slammed shut and locked Tessa outside. Try a he might, with all his strength and a screwdriver to pry with, the door refused to open.

Jason realized Tessa’s danger, she had worn only the light work clothes she wore while she worked in the cabin and outside it was a cold that could kill.

Jason pointed to the basement and Tessa nodded, he and Lettie ran down the stairs, her legs lacerated from the branches of the wallpaper. In the basement, stone walls seemed less dangerous.

Jason showed Lettie where to sit and ran towards the basement’s heavy-timber doors like a football tackle and hit them at full speed…

And bounced off.

The gold mine might be a safe haven, but the doors were part of the house.

Tessa’s voice called his name, she was cold.

His mind raced, if he didn’t know better, there was a malevolence that had awoke when they worked in the house.

Tessa yelled his name again, feeble sounds on the wood where she pounded on the thick planks, her plead to come in out of the cold.

In a near panic, he looked at his work table.

The table! His mind screamed. I used that old ore-cart! It is all iron and it still sits on the rails in the floor!

He released the brake and took a deep swallow from the whiskey bottle for luck and swallowed a few of the rye grains. Then pushed the half-ton cart as hard as he could.

He hit the doors hard at a near sprint and a gap opened from the impact.

Tessa’s hand came through the gap in the door and Jason grabbed Tessa and pulled.

Ice cold, she shivered as she struggled to get inside, halfway through, the doors began to close on her leg. Tessa screamed from the pain of her leg as the door crushed it.

Jason grabbed a shovel and shoved it against the door for a wedge.

He shoved and struggled against the door with his shoulder, It gave an inch, then he pushed the shovel forward with his foot and forced the door wider agian. In one instant, he had a chance and he pulled Tessa free of the heavy timber doors, she clung to him. She wept from the cold, begged him to tell her what happened.

Jason took her to sit with Lettie and began to explain. Lettie turned to look at him, her eyes haunted.

No, not haunted, not haunted at all. 

She had no eyes!

Her once beautiful face now was an eyeless horror with a mouth that formed a big “O” of a silent scream. A tendril extended down from above to Lettie’s head and sucked life from her. Her skin had become mottled and pale as the house stole the woman’s essence.

Jason grabbed a hatchet from his workbench and jumped at the thread that drew the life out of Lettie like a tentacle with a million mouths. Time slowed down, as he swung the sharp hand-ax.

And missed.

“OH God!” He screamed as white fluid leaked out of the wound in her skull instead of human blood. “Oh god, I’m so sorry!”

He was the only one that could make it to the car. But Tessa would be in this house alone. Even if she was safe for the moment, in the corner behind the work table, between two rolls of…

Two rolls of…

Wallpaper!

He turned to where Tessa sat and he could only see a ball of wallpaper where he left Tessa, he could see her outline had become less distinct under the wallpaper that had slid around her like a web.

He leaped over the table with a box-cutter in hand and slashed at the cocoon of wallpaper around her, and found…

Paper. Just paper, wadded up and desiccated.

He was the only one left and the doors were ajar, too small to allow escape.

He pulled on the work table and rolled it to the deepest part of the mine that he could reach.

“Last drink in this house!” He shouted and took a long, deep drink of the whiskey bottle and smashed the bottle against the house foundation. “Fuck you!”

James crouched and braced his hands on the table, he pushed as hard as he could and gained momentum

With a thirty-foot start with the thousand-pound ram to break through the doors, Jason and the cart hit the doors at a full run, the left door trembled and creaked open.

He took advantage of the gap that opened, Jason dove through the gap before the heavy timber door slammed on the table time and again, the house tried to claim another victim.

He collapsed in the snow, it was strangely quiet, illuminated by the beautiful LED icicle lights he spent so much time to hang along the edge of the roof around the patio.

A beautiful and deadly structure.

He fell face first in the snow, his hands felt like they were on fire.

Pain! He groaned in agony. Pain, so much pain! 

It has from the snow! He looked at his hands, they were pale. Very pale.  Is my skin mottled? Or am I the wallpaper?

He stood and ran through the snow slipped and fell, cut his knees and tore open his paper-hands. Logical, educated Dr. Best, crawled on his elbows and knees and left a bloody trail in the snow behind him. He covered the mile in nearly an hour when he fell and rolled out on to the asphalt of Spicer road.

The ground rumbled, he could feel it. It was the house! It chased him on cedar pillar legs, the ground trembled with the evil hunger that stalked him.

Too tired and cold to run, he lay on the lonely mountain road and screamed to whichever spirit that he was sorry as lights from the porch bore down and engulfed him.

****

Jason awoke to the glow of a cardiac monitor. He focused on the display of his heart waveform before he realized he was in a hospital and the heart that was monitored, was his.

After two weeks, the hospital discharged Jason and days where police questionedby him about the three deaths ended.

Detectives took notes, wrote down all the professor said and described with vivid detail. Police then interviewed the physicians who attended to Jason’s wounds.

Jason obtained a copy of the detective’s report, and read it three weeks later, while he sat at his breakfast table.

“Doctor Jason Best, Ph.D. was found by snowplow driver, Honey Gareth in the middle of Spicer Dam Spur Road. The two days in question, where Doctor Best spent alone in the cabin at 24821 Spicer Dam Spur Road. In the events that transpired on the weekend in question, Doctor Best discovered an old wine cellar stocked with wine and rye whiskey. Tests of opened whiskey bottles showed high levels of ergot alkaloids, consistent with acute ergot toxicity that caused visual and auditory hallucinations, per the physicians and specialists who attended to Dr. Best. This results that Dr. Best became convinced that he was with three other people who died.

Subsequent interviews with the named people, Doctor Contessa AKA “Tessa” Pershing is alive and well, continues to work at Ocean Bay Community College. Doctor Best is familiar to Doctor Pershing in that they have attended same faculty continued-education and office functions but denies any relationship that might exist between Doctor Best and herself.

Doctor Lettie MacKay is friends with Doctor Best, but states no knowledge of anyone named Kevin. Her spouse, Michael MacKay, works at Ocean Bay University as a Fine Arts Professor. Further, no address, student record or employment record of Kevin Acker is found.

To date, no evidence of deaths at this address on the weekend in question exists.

Interior of 24821 Spicer Dam Spur Road shows the wallpaper slashed and torn in the kitchen and third floor bedroom. The heavy timber barn door to the basement is off the hinge. Damage caused by a gold-rush era ore cart on rails used to batter the door open and a hatchet discovered imbedded into a can of white paint.(See attached photos) it is to note: Where Dr. Best said he struck a woman in the head with a hatchet, the hatch found someone embedded into a can of ‘Cottage Girl’ paint.  The ax had struck the paper label of the logo of the woman on the paint can.

A horizontal gold mine, dug circa 1850’s shows evidence of modern reinforcements and extensive work in a power room. Adjacent to the power room is the previously mentioned wine cellar. (See attached photos)

Ninety-six onion shaped, clear to light-blue glass bottles of honey-colored  fluid were found with apparent rye grain in the bottom of the bottles. Original labels, dated from 1910 to 1919 of quart-size printed with “Robert’s Rye Whiskey”. In the course of the investigation, the crime-scene team discovered two bottles opened, one empty, the second appeared three-quarters full.(See attached photos)

It is the conclusion of the investigation that Dr. Best  suffered from accidental ergot intoxication per the attached pertinent physician’s notes.

No complaints will be filed.

Lt. Liewess J. Jonah, investigator.”

 © 2015 Dash McCallen all rights reserved

Children of Fury: Hellions Prologue

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Children of fury hellions 3 October 2014

Prologue

Captain Henry Willim knelt on what was left of the deck.

“FIRE!” The words caught in his throat as he choked from the smoke of his burning ship.

“Captain!” The quartermaster Whyte yelled, “Captain! We have no standing gunners! The ship is lost, we need to strike our colors.”

“NOT MY SHIP!” Captain Willim stood to the swivel deck gun and tried to fire the small cannon, looking about, he picked up a burning splinter of his ship and put it to the touch-hole of the one pounder.

It was his last action in this world as he disintegrated into torn flesh and red mist when he was struck by chain-shot in that moment. The heavy iron ball and linked-chain tore through his body at nearly the speed of sound.

The captain’s torso and left arm bounced along the deck stopping at the feet of the quartermaster, his life’s blood still spurting out of his lower torso from the beating heart that did not know it was dead, yet.

The look on the captains face was one of surprise and it would stay with the quartermaster for the rest of his life.

In a hysterical moment, the quartermaster saw the captain’s legs leaning against the shattered rail before collapsing onto the deck that would give him nightmares.

The aggressor ship threw hooks for boarding the larger warship, Worchester.

The quartermaster, Archibald Whyte, knew, more than the deceased Captain did, they were beaten, more than just from watching a child with a boarding ax cut down their colors,

He knew it, the moment he saw the name on the stern of the opposing ship as it hove close.

The name of the ship, whispered by the English navy sailors in quiet corners of pubs and with well deserved fear.

Fear of children that were more adult than any man, who could handle an ax or cutlass better than any swordsman with a holy rage in their hearts and souls.

Of a ship named after the swimming killer-king of the sea.

Blackfish Name image-cropped to 486x160

Cellular Justice Chapter 9. What Price Justice

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Chapter 9. What Price Justice?

“Lethal.”

Stephen Pelon’s only comment to Rachel Mendez, the senior lab tech that had been there longer than the rest of the crew. Any of them.

“This damned thing is a personal killing device. You dial the number, whoever is holding it, has a very bad day, becoming an obliterated red-stain instead of a human.”

“What makes it so dangerous?”

“If this thing had not been damaged from being dropped and then immersed in oil contaminated with metallic shavings and who knows what all, it is a broken bit of electronic artwork.”

“Artwork?”

“Oh yeah. Even the battery is unique, I have not got it figured out just yet, but it is heavy. Like a chunk of steel.” He nodded. “But I got the wiring in a mass spec and I got copper-two. Copper acetylide, conducts electricity like a champ, but once detonated, all this becomes a bomb.”

“Can you disassemble it?” Rachel asked.

“Without blowing it up? Maybe. But we better not take it out of the containment box. If that goes off, anyone in a meter circle is in danger of being shredded.” Stephen said. “I want to cut off a small bit of the case and put it in the spec-analyzer, but we need to cut it carefully, if any part of this phone-looking thing goes off, it all will poof.”

“Or bang?” Rachel laughed.

“Don’t laugh, but yes.” Stephen sipped coffee out of a steel-and-glass cup designed to look like a test tube.

“Stephen, who would build something like this?”

“Not my concern, I can tell you, this is a fricken work of destructive art?” The scientist said as he looked at the mounted phone under the thick ALON blast shield. “I am afraid to even clean it off. Without the battery, I still worry about a backup detonator. This design means to hurt, a lot. But why only one person? The person that would be holding it would be the sole victim, is someone out for revenge?”

Rachel looked at a screen on her handheld gauss meter.

“It doesn’t have any measurable current that I can pick up, there is no field.” She observed. “It looks inert.”

“Everything is inert until it kills you.” He said. 

“You’re a cynic for a surfer.”

“I’m not the surfer, that is another novel by the writing god of this world.”

“What?” Rachel looked confused.

“Never mind, just talking while I’m thinking.” He pulled at his left ear. “The destruction of the flesh and bone in the reports shows that the range seems to be about the length of an arm in the air, much shorter if it hits any solid object, up to and including drapes, leaves of plants and heavy cloth, it is an expensive way to kill someone.”

“Could it go through the transparent aluminum?” Rachel said. “if it’s designed to kill, maybe it could blow a hole through the glass.”

“This stuff? Nah. We’ve tested this to the best of our ability. As this as this is, it would stop five pounds of C4. The floor, not so much, it would blow a big ol’ hole there.”

“What about it flying across the room?”

“Well, yeah, that would go into the bad-column.” Stephen chuckled. “Well, let’s shave a bit of the case off and do a scan in the mass spec.”

“Okay.” Rachel nodded.

“We can use the cheese knife and scrape it a bit.” Rachel smiled, referring to a flat, diamond bladed tool for scraping surface samples. She was enjoying this little puzzle. 

“Good, make it so and let’s get the test done.”

The Paramedic’s Last Christmas

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The Last Christmas

 

 

He sat on the balcony, a fingerling red potato in his hand, feeling the weight and shape of the hard tuber.

In the previous weeks, after he had completed training for his next level of 3rd Dan black-belt in his martial art and began to feel peaked.

He had tinkered on the potato gun for weeks, the competition leading up to the finals showed a very intense group of people who dedicated their lives and teamwork to launch a tuber the farthest.

One potato, like the one in his hand, flew for nearly two-kilometers, until the controversy erupted that the team had rifled the inside of the PVC tubing that gave a spin to the torpedo-shaped tuber and stabilized it in flight.

He softly laughed at the thought, the most you could get out of him these days, the contest also included contests on how far a pumpkin could be thrown with mechanical means.

Teams built such things as trebuchet, mega-sized elastic slingshots with hundreds of bungee cords attached to the sling, drawn back with an electric winch. One creative team came up with a crossbow monstrosity with a complex, compound shape that exploded when drawn back to full cock.

Investigation into the incident showed the structure was basically sound, but three bolts put in place team members forgot to tighten before drawing tension on the frame of the giant crossbow. The oversight worked for one launch, the next time they cranked the infernal contraption back, the limbs of the bow snapped forward in a dry fire, sending spring powered shrapnel flying for hundreds of feet, hitting people not even watching the giant bow being used.

The following year, the administration added new inspector teams to check everyone’s submission for the contest.

Such was the “Tater Gun and Punkin’ Chuckin’” contests. Two days of laughter, friends, shade-tree engineers and NASA types that got involved.

Including those of his own teams from the local company.

Those were good days, he mused. Since then, two of those friends had killed themselves. One stepped in front of an oncoming truck during a call. There was no proof of intent, other than she spoke of it with one person a year before.

Another, suntanned, handsome, he was out on the ocean beach one summer’s night and went for a swim, never to return.

The Employee Assistance Program, designed to prevent such events, but it was an uphill struggle. Those that sought help for the depression, the chronic pain from sitting in positions that they constantly found themselves in, for depression and insomnia, often were quietly categorised by other EMS teams as lesser value resources. 

“Weak mind.” Some whispered.

For this reason, few if any that activated the EAP or even spoke of it. When they did, it was a deep secret.

He scratched his nose, a medic of decades, the thing he missed most, was laughing.

Sleeping was difficult, too. The paramedic rarely remembered his dreams. But, those dreams he did remember, he wished he forgot before he awoke. As it was, he would wake with the feeling of dread, of darkness and sadness that cast a pall over everything. 

So he increased his caffeine intake and stayed up until the last moment he could. Where things such as turning off a light switch was an effort in decision-making, and then collapse into bed to go straight to sleep.

Maybe.

It was telling on his ability for critical-judgement calls. He began to feel afraid to leave the house and even got to a point of misanthropic frame of mind.

He disliked walking through crowds, a thousand faces he could look into in a single “Arts-&-Crafts” show, knowing that a certain percentage would be on medication for one ailment or another. Many were diabetic, under control and lived lives that no one would be aware that they had any trouble with their blood-glucose levels.

Other people, did not follow their schedule properly and would have a crisis building.

He could see those.

The perspiration, pallor. A lack of focus as they tried to keep up their composure, but failing.

He could see that, to him, it was obvious.

Once, German physicians had ridden with him and his junior partner on the Mobile Intensive Care Paramedic unit, in Germany, doctors rode on the rescue units to do the treatments needed. After witnessing the American version, they declared them slightly insane, in a humorous German way, and went back to their country to change how their system ran.

It mattered not, these days.

His last shift he had the privilege to have a twenty-one-day-old patient that an adult shook to death, a month after a fellow paramedic shot himself.

A darkness grew inside his soul in the weeks afterward until the infanticide call.

The days had come where he would think that his dark side was in control.

A paramedic that wept in the quiet hours when no one was around, driving his massive four-wheel-drive Ford F-450 that was his toy, he often pulled into a farmer’s field that lay fallow for the last four years, and wept. Unstoppably, deeply, until he could not breathe.

A bottle of Polish Rectified spirits sat in the armored lunch box behind the seat, its seal intact. He knew that the one-liter bottle of the fluid that had many uses.

Cleaner, fuel, sanitizer (in a pinch), antifreeze and even drink.

However, a dangerous drink. Ethanol is a poison at those concentrations of more than ninety-five percent pure.

Technically, for sale only in New York, but with connections he had long made, a six-pack of the ethanol laden bottles arrived at his door in a hard-sided case.

Five bottles sat in his house for people to gaze at. One he had opened. The sixth, sat in the truck in the fishing gear.

Not that he ever went fishing anymore, since his wife of a decade left and filed for divorce, saying that he was not home when she needed him. A curse of Fire, Police and EMS. Divorce rates seven-times the rate of civilians, locally.

He shot archery more often, it was less of a problem to get bait and being sure that the fishing license was in reach.

And it was quieter. He also did not trust himself anymore with a firearm in the empty house, it was a dark and empty place.

Still and all, he took steps. He ceased all drinking when on his own, which was frequent of late, focusing with a bow on a small target, he found more peace as he watched the shaft go on target more often than not.

Small targets he found, paper-plates held in place with toothpicks, colored in with sharpies he had around the house, they were the cheapest target he could find.

Today, he finished the potato gun. He wondered about the quarter-pound spud moving at more than two-football fields per second speed that might be a new distance champion shooter.

The other thought that he kept at bay, usually, with his archery and driving in the back-country, if he stood in front of the gun by accident while testing it, if it would hurt.

Shaking his head, he stood up and walked back in the house to get ready for the next shift.

Maybe he might have a traffic accident to help at, then grab at the opportunity to step in front of a semi-truck on the highway like the cute and flirty medic that got waffled by a semi.

He took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

No. He would not do that. The driver would be an innocent in the on-duty suicide and totally unfair.

First rule: Above all, do no harm. It would harm the trucker in countless ways.

Pulling on the jumpsuit with all the patches that indicated his level of training and position as a paramedic team leader.

No, not tonight, he said to himself, finding once again the reason to choose to see it through to the end of the twenty-four hour shift.

A tenuous choice, but it was be another day. Regardless of how it worked out.

This was his last year.

Cellular Justice Chapter 8. Eeyogee the Friar

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Chapter 8. Eeyogee the Friar

Las Cruces club. The only member ever allowed to live as a non-participant, Jaime Jesus Lopes de Malaga, known as Eeyogee for the tattoo of the eye of god on the palm of his left hand.

He Became a devout Christian after the death of his best friend from a shooting that involved Eeyogee, then the future brother moved out-of-state and, becoming a Friar. In a few years, he returned and read from the bible, speaking against violence and for the path of righteousness.

Sitting down with a tearful member of the gang, Roberto “Tirador” Herrera. The conversation included confessions of thefts of mobile devices that had internet connections. Tablet, phones and ebooks.

“It was me ‘n’ Carlo and his brother. Some wench came out of the store with a bag, we snatched her up and started to show her a good time.” Tirador shook his head. The euphemism for a sexual assault was not lost on Brother Malaga. “She kicked our asses and ran. But left her toys with us, so we took them and left. There were four phones and one of those e-book computers in it. Y’know? “

The Grey Friar nodded. He had taken a vow of poverty, but he grew up interested in and always loved computers and electronics.

“The other two they took them out and turned them on, I was playing with the phone, a new droid phone, and dropped it. The damned thing broke up, battery came out and the phone never worked after that. The glass didn’t even break.”

The other two men that Tirador was talking about, died when something blew up in their hands.

Nothing was found of the bomb, Jaime spoke with the investigators, still mystified as to the cause and reasons. Officer Jefferson, the veteran of so many years on patrol, spoke to the Friar during a counseling process with family that had lost one of their own.

“There is a pattern, this is not isolated Brother Magala, there have been many deaths from something that explodes, but we cannot make out what it is.” He said in confidence. “I implore you, if you can find strange phone that’s been stolen? Please turn it in. No questions asked. And for God’s sake! Do not turn the thing on!”

Speaking later with the youthful gangster, Brother Magala felt fear in his heart for the young man that he saw so much of himself as a young man in his mind’s eye.

“Roberto,” Friar Magala used the young man’s Christian name. “Bobby, do you still have the broken phone?”

“I.” He paused. “I threw it into the oil recycling bucket at the tune-up shop downtown. The one on Church and Turner street?”

“That was only a few days ago,” He nodded with the younger gang-member. “I don’t think they would have had the recycler come by yet.”

“They only have the recycling truck go by once a week. Why do you need it?”

“Bobby, you need to go home. Do not do any stealing, there is someone who is killing brothers and fathers, they are using something that a police officer said that is strange. I will take that to the cops for you.”

“You think that is what killed Carlo and Zeus?”

“Let’s allow the police to figure that out.” The holy man stood with the young man who led him where the gang member dumped the broken phone. After several minutes of fishing around in the black muck of used motor oil, they came up with the phone.

Even coated with oil, it had an odd texture to it.

Brother Magala put it in a plastic baggy and then into a paper bag for transporting the device to the police.

“Bobby, do not steal anything from anyone. God will know, but more important, there are people out there that no knows who it is. They don’t know what is going on, but they do know the phones are involved somehow.” The Friar said softly. Then more firmly. “Go home. Go to your girlfriend and daughter. Go back to school and get a job. God will find a good path for you.”

“You forget what it’s like Eeyogee, I can’t walk away, you are the only one to ever do that.” Bobby said. “I do what I’m told, or they will kill my girl and child.”

“You won’t help them if you are in a grave, Bobby.” The older man said softly. “Blown to bits in a back alley is no place for a family man.”

“Si. Yes, brother. I will try to dedicate my life for my children. If you can keep me from being branded a coward, please, that would go a long way to help my life.”

“As God’s will, it will be done.” The Frequent Friar said.

2 Seconds… T-Minus 5 Seconds

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T-Minus 5 Seconds

 

Photons were less than four-times the distance from the moon as the moon was from the Earth. Racing at full speed with nothing in the way, the fates guided the energies that now were visible light.

On the highway, Russell had a passing thought of dinner on the back patio of burgers that he would cook on the wood-fired grill outside. The smell of smoke was light in the air from the wildfires seventy-miles away mixing with pine scent of the forest filled the senses as they rode on the rumbling Hog.

Riding on the back of the motorcycle that Russell had named after an adventurous water-bird “Gertrude”, her arms around him, and looking around at the mountains that gave her such joy to be among trees that dwarfed any other living thing and Lulu could see the bare stone above north shore where an avalanche stripped the mountainside clear of vegetation down to bare rock decades before and had not yet recovered.

Smiling, she leaned back, the wife and mother looked out to the right, over the sapphire-blue water of the twenty-two mile long lake. Water so naturally pure, even as it sat in the lake, open to the sky it would pass any health and any purity tests that a government body could do. Naturally soft water, pure as it could be.

Those that sailed on the waters of the lake were known to have occasional attacks of acrophobia, a fear of heights, when they would look over the edge of the boats rails into the water. Such was the lake called Tahoe.

In some winters, the big lake would partly freeze and ice would pile up on the shore in large piles when the wind blew hard. Summers it was known to have waterspouts that danced on the big lake and often made local headlines.

Over the lake, Lulu pointed out and began to fumble for her camera, a bald eagle circled, the big fishing raptor was on the hunt.

*Maybe* She thought. *If I get just a little lucky, I might get a shot of the eagle diving for a fish.*

Less than two football fields ahead, Lucy turned her steering wheel as far as it would go and inched forward into the beginning of her turn. A big truck rumbled down the highway, partly blocking her view, but it looked clear behind the trailer to do her illegal U-turn.

Captain Thomas stood at the end of the ramp to the garage that held his engine, waiting for the rumbling group of Harley’s go past. A curiosity of who would be riding through, interested him. A few clubs were at constant odds and, on occasion, murdered each other.

Engineer Thomas cussed as he dropped a socket and it rolled under the rolling tool-box he maintained at the garage for light maintenance of the fire apparatus.

A break in the traffic in the direction that Lucy wanted to turn was a treasure that God had sent her and she was going to take it.

Russell, dropped back from closing on a semi-truck that had “Eat Organic” in a graphic painted on the back of the trailer. Remembering to make a call later in the week on an investment that would boost a local organic farmer’s business.

“Honey, make a note to call Charlene tomorrow? I want to get a meeting with her on a distribution idea.”

Lulu focused on the eagle as the big bird circled, searching for its next meal.

“Okay.” She felt frustration in her heart at the uncooperative raptor. “I was not getting that picture anyway.” As they approached a wide spot in the road, she saw a sedan sitting on the shoulder of the highway.

Stonn “Hammer” Erikssen rolled on his heavily modified motorcycle. A Harley-Davidson by heritage, but the engine that powered this two-wheeled fury, an Orca engine, the second largest in the line, more horsepower than many cars generated kept his soul happy. Third in command of the small group of riders, they were closing on a rider and passenger about a half-mile ahead.

From the photon’s point of view, the continents on the earth could be identified. At the universal speed limit, the ETA now?

A little over three heartbeats.

2 Seconds… T-Minus 1,545,264,000 Seconds

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T-Minus 1,545,264,000 Seconds

 

Lluvia “Lulu” was born to Roberto and Delores De Soto during one of the most intense storms of the season. Descended from Hernandez De Soto, she inherited an exploring soul.

Never one to back down from a challenge she met each one with a quick wit and a laugh. Beauty sparkled in her eyes as she looked upon the world. As a child she would be found climbing trees – much to the chagrin of mother Delores who tried to teach this girl how to behave like a girl.

But with Lulu, it was an effort in futility.

Once when teased by the boys, Roberto heard screaming and knew, Lulu was beyond angry. The father of eight put down his farming tools, and walked around the house. There, Roberto found that his Lulu of the sonrisas, pushed beyond her limit of temper by her brothers.

She had her four brothers treed!

Roberto laughed!

The four older brothers had pelted Lulu with fruit as she had come home from school in her new dress that her Mama made.

The result:

A temper that never broke without reason, this day did. Fury, like the tornadoes that could scour the earth clean of soil and asphalt across the middle of America, she had bloodied the nose of one brother and all had run for the tree they had picked fruit from.

Lulu had pushed the ladder over on its side and now carried an ax, where her brothers sat, trapped in the tree. The girl with the pretty smile, today had tears and murder in her eyes.

The elder De Soto called Lulu over and calmed her. Mother De Soto would be furious when she got into the house, Lulu cried on her papa’s arm

“Mi bebé, I shall take care of that now, your brothers will pay that penalty. Just do not cut down this tree, please? It produces fruit for our crops and it would be years before a new one I would plant to reach a productive age.”

In the weeks that followed, Lulu laughed as the brothers learned how to sew and created for her and her three sisters dresses that matched. Sewn to the exacting standards of Delores De Soto, it took the four boys a year to get it right.

The brutal teasing the brothers got from their friends over the punishment, lasted longer than the year that they learned to sew “Like a girl”.

In years to come, Carlos, the middle brother, became a well-known clothier and influential designer of fashion as he grew up. He incorporated with his name on a building at the age of 630,720,000 seconds, his name was soon a desired label.

Time was t-minus 950,354,000 seconds.

Lulu entered college, the first of the siblings, with some challenges in her grades she did not get into the colleges she wished for. Learning to learn at the local college, she met a girl who would become one of her closest friends. CarlaAnn was an ever dreaming, plan making and rule bending exciting girl who was fun to do things with.

Together they got in occasional trouble but never serious enough for the police to ever press charges. Only once did the girls have to sit in the police station and wait for their parents to come pick them up.

Whispering to Lulu, CarlaAnn laughed quietly.

“That was awesome!”

All Lulu did was laugh, even being grounded for a month, setting the fire alarm off in the town’s hotel, forcing patrons out in various stages of undress was totally worth it.

Lulu and Carla began a business together of rodeo clothing until CarlaAnn met Jack, an older boy who CarlaAnn was in love with, who talked her into buying Lulu out and expanding the business into motorcycle racing instead of just rodeo clothing. CarlaAnn allowed Jack to run the company with CarlaAnn and Lulu being the sales representatives.

Lulu met with many of the racing teams and became successful in promoting her friend’s company.

After several months Jack became the head of the company and would direct all day-to-day operations. Sometimes it seemed the company shorted Lulu  or would be very late in paying Lulu her salary, but CarlaAnn would only make excuses. As weeks went by, CarlaAnn had begun to walk with her eyes looking down more often, she stopped looking people in the eyes, especially her best friend, Lulu.

On occasion, CarlaAnn would slip a roll of hundred-dollar bills into Lulu’s purse and whisper.

“Don’t tell Jack. Please.”

Occasionally, a slight discoloring of CarlaAnn’s face that could not be covered by make-up would worry Lulu, but her best friend would never let on what happened.

At one rodeo, Lulu was sitting with a horse owner talking about equipment that the company was seeking to get into. Barrels, saddles. Many saddle-makers had lined up when the rumor (started by Lulu herself to test the waters) that CarlaAnn’s company was moving into distribution of more equipment at a reasonable price.

Lulu met Russell at one autumn car show.

She met and spoke with a race-horse owner, Harold Stepkin, invited a handsome young man and introduced him and Lulu. With sparkling ebony eyes and an exotic look to match his mind, Russell Fletcher attracted Lulu right away. In turn, when he looked at her, the sounds of the world went quiet.

Dark of eye and quick of wit. She enthralled him immediately.

Well on her way to make an impact in alternate power sources for big vehicles. She was promoting her best friend’s company that was expanding into power systems.

Two weeks later Russell bought Lulu dinner and they talked long hours after watching the sun set. The restaurant closed around them and they were the last to leave with the employees.

In the following months, Jack’s mismanagement took a toll on CarlaAnn, no longer did the two women travel together or were known as the party girls to know or buy items from.

Lulu was finally paid in full by CarlaAnn’s company while Jack failed to make other payments required by the government, instead spending the money on other dubious activities.

Quietly, Lulu returned the rolls of hundred-dollar bills from the accumilated pile of rolls to CarlaAnn after Jack went to prison and CarlaAnn’s acquittal. The court found Jack had used the resources of the company and to have a role in corrupt activities in the local community.

After parting ways with CarlaAnn, Lulu and Russell were never apart more than an afternoon in the years that followed.

The following spring, Lulu’s father, Roberto passed away hours after watching his bebé marry the boy with almond eyes and a winning smile. The bittersweet day would be remembered by both families for generations.

Seven years later, Mama Delores married a green-eyed Celt with quick wit and a voice like distant thunder.

Settled in, children were born to the lovers and friends while they started their next generation. Russell moved the family to the high desert area south of Reno. Loving to visit, but not live in, the snows of Tahoe, he took Lulu often to ride his Harley-Davidson around the jewel the mountains.

Time was T-Minus 126,144,000 seconds.

2 Seconds… T-Minus 2,775,168,000 Seconds

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T-Minus 2,775,168,000 Seconds

 

LucilleMay Adler born to George and Ethel grew up in Chicago on the poorest side of town. George was a warehouseman and had never had much time for his family. A heavy drinker by the time that Lucy was in her mid-teens. He died when he drove into a tree on his way home. Ejected from the overturning car, the intoxicated father struck his head on the hard ground and never woke from his injuries.

Lucy and her mother moved to California on suggestion of her aunt Lewellyn where she became involved with a young man who went to school. He impressed Lucy with his clear blue eyes and aspirations. The young man often would take Lucy on rides in the country as they sat with picnics under his favorite trees along the Marin headlands.

Trying his hand at farming, Joshua Sprecks was a failure. Buying the land around the hills in the southern bay area, they fought and struggled for years until a builder spoke with them about selling land so a home could be built.

Pausing to think, Joshua refused the offer. Instead, he spoke with an employee who helped him and in turn they looked into building a few houses which sold quickly.

In the years that followed, Joshua found he had talents in the business of home and subdivision design. With a good relationship with the local inspectors, Joshua Sprecks made his life comfortable for his growing family. His plans for schools that the children would attend were set as father blazed the trail by going back to school himself, becoming an architect of some renown in the area.

Shortly after the first of Lucy’s four children were born. Lucy developed an addiction to Valium, a common problem in the early years of the drug. Most of the women in her church were very much addicted to the Valium family of medications, and an active trade developed within the group as the hoarders would sell among the women that needed it at the moment.

One springtime afternoon, everyone had arrived at home from school and after finishing chores. The day was warm and beautiful and a wonderful time for the young. Joshua Junior promised he would be careful, Lucy’s smiled and allowed her eldest son to take the family car and drive his younger brother and two sisters to the store for sodas. Joshua Junior was always very careful at the wheel of the car, Lucy was always careful to teach him of his responsibilities. Teachings that he took to heart, always.

Alas the drunk driver that collided with them had no such guidance.

The light in Lucy’s eyes dimmed as she never quite recovered burying four of her five children. The only survivor of the accident that took the lives of all the children was the youngest who had to stay home to do homework.

Josh Sr. took the next offer of his three-hundred acre ranch and bought land in the Lake Tahoe area away from the metropolitan growing around their orchards. Houses built haphazardly without the plans that Joshua tried to include with his developments, and the effect was, to him, untenable.  

It was not fair to Joshua Sprecks, who had no wish to stay in the area where his children died at the hands of a man who paid only a month’s worth of salary in fines.

And the patriarch of his surviving family could not suffer living in the shadow of the four headstones that marked the graves of his children, moved to the mountains, never to return willingly to the lands of his shattered dreams.

Cellular Justice Chapter 7. A work of art

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Chapter 7. A work of art.

Walking down the hallway, Stephen turned into Doctor Kane’s office with a bounce

‟Carol, this study you sent us. This is amazing. I had to bring it down to you.” He held up a thumb drive. ‟Report is here but also I have video that approximates the construction techniques, but we are still missing some, rather important, details.”

‟Stephen, come in. Please have a seat.” Carol chuckled. ‟Been into the espresso this morning?”

‟Yes, but that is not what has me excited. THIS! Plug it in.” He waited impatiently while the program booted and the Open Office presentation software began to show assumed wireing diagrams. ‟This is a work of art. Insulated wires made of copper acetylide, the insulation is a plasticized TATP. Extremely low concentration and, in the explosion, not a significant addition to the explosive force.”

‟What is the use of it then?”

‟Simply as an insulator that consumes completely in the explosion.”

‟How did you find it, then?”

‟We are the best. Ve haff our vays.” Stephen said with a mock accent and continued. ‟Flexible, polymer battery, made with a consumable polymer. Itself not explosive, but it is a kicker to direct and accelerate the shockwave.”

‟In this chart,” Stephen pointed with a stylus in his hand, ‟It shows the measured velocity of the explosive used. The mainboard in the object, we suspect, is the primary part of the bomb. The screen is thinly coated with porous silicon, on detonation of the motherboard, by the way also made of silicon, deflagrates between several hundred to several thousand meters-per-second.”

He shrugged when she opened her mouth to ask why he had such a wide range.

‟We don’t have enough of this material to study it fully. All we have is a miniscule amount that we tested and then we used computer modeling for how fast this might burst.”

‟How would someone get enough to build, well, anything?” She looked at Stephen.

‟Not my department. The detective will have to figure that out.”

‟But you can’t just get the explosive just anywhere.”

‟No, but creating it is not difficult, if one has the proper equipment. It would take a lab like we have. From analysis, this design is a work of art. The motherboard’s built of the por-silicon, coated with a chemical accelerator and oxidizer, the glass face’s coated with the silicon on the inside and then coated again with a sealant we’ve not yet established. Even the wires themselves are explosive, leaving only carbon, silver and copper as residue.”

‟You sound like you admire this.”

‟Not the application, but one can admire the design. This is something that would work on a basic level calculator, basic phone and such. But it’s a bomb with a minimal target. Double-oh secret agent stuff, it’s really cool. Whoever built this, it’s for one target. You could stand next to the target and the only injury you might have is ringing ears.” Stephen said. ‟Even if they stood right in front of you, the carbon-carbon backing makes it a directed explosion with a forward range of, perhaps, two hand width outward.”

‟But how does it kill the holder then. Why not just the hand blown off?”

‟That’s the beauty of it. Between the hand and the backing, it becomes a directed explosion, the kill-range of the explosion on the glass side is about a meter. We suspect it is in a nearly zero degree dispersal pattern, as measured from the injuries. We cannot figure that part out, yet. If we can get an unexploded version, it would be months of study on just the design.”

‟Well, that is not going to happen soon. We are coming late to the party, the only clue are the torn up bodies.”

‟Oh! The injuries, the reason you are not finding normal shrapnel, because it’s sand.”

‟Sand?”

‟Silicon dioxide, the silicon oxidizes into sand, accelerated with the explosion, the grit slows down almost immediately. But in that meter, it shreds anything that is in the way.”

‟Like flesh and bone.”

‟Precisely.”

‟Thank you, Stephen. I have to send this to the Vice-Chief. She is expecting updates as soon as you can get them to me. It has not yet hit the media and she wants prior briefings for when it does.”

‟No one cares if someone kills bad-guys with a bomb?”

‟So it seems.” Carol nodded. ‟No one has put together that innocent people might be next.”

‟This could be horrid. If released into the public at large?”Stephen pondered behind his glasses. ‟A single phone call could kill thousands.”

‟We need to find who is doing this.” Carol said. ‟Find me suppliers Stephen, we need to know where it comes from and who is buying it.”

‟I’ll find out all there is to know about the materials.”

Cellular Justice Chapter 6. Research

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Chapter 6. Research

Doctor Carol Kane stared at the screen, the odd mix of readings was specific for silicon with trace of a hydrogenated carbon material that covered the silicon.

Mass spectrometry showed a potassium, but in such minute trace that it would hardly be worth mentioning. But she would make sure to bring it up in the discussion at the round table at the change of shift.

It was, oddly, familiar. A distant memory, something she had read or was in conversation about some time in the past.

Long ago, might have been when she was dating a scientist who mixed odd materials for space exploration. Everyday items that they were working with in synthetic combinations.

Silicon as a semi-conductor did not exist . Silicon as an explosive. That was…

‟Oh my god!” She said it out loud as she remembered. The nature of porous silicon, a tiny amount of potassium perchlorate. An adequate oxidizer but many compounds were capable of higher performance, so the amount was curious. It was as if someone would just touch a bristle to a bit of silicon.

But it occurred to her that not a lot would be needed. The hydrogenated carbon would coat the porous silicon that had a small amount of a oxidizer as a kicker.

The silicon would react with atmospheric oxygen and burst into silicon dioxide.

Simple sand.

No ash, the fine-grained sand itself, a product of the explosion would become the ‟bullet” of the explosive and embed into the wounds with hideous shredding effect.

With the thought in her head, she turned the scan on to another sample and started along the edges.

Readout showed the material was an ultra strong glass produced in the latter years of the 2010’s.

But on one edge…

There.

THERE! She had it. The primary component of glass, itself was the explosive. Porous silicon would combust in normal atmosphere even without any accelerant. The amphorous hydrogentated carbon coating protected the silicon from the oxygen in the surrounding air. A small electrical charge, perhaps the oxidizer itself, began the process that then consumed the silicon in nano-seconds.

Flipping through pages on her tablet computer, she looked up silicon explosives.

She entered the findings on the report with references.

Picking up the phone, she dialed an extension to another investigator who liked to make things to boom to prove — or disprove— a theory.

The phone picked up on the third ring with a series of noises in the background followed by a pop.

‟Yes?”

‟Stephen, I’m sending you a report on a series of explosive residue. I have a hypothesis of the material used.”

‟Oh! I like to make exploding things.” Steven Pelon could be heard grinning into the phone. ‟Send the hypothesis to me right away and I’ll get on it.”

‟Well, I have some further writing to do with my findings, and there is a rush on this. This is an ongoing investigation, and a body-count is associated with this.”

‟Get it to me as quick as you can, procrastination is a path that leads only to futility.”

Shaking her head, she smiled inwardly. His Confucian philosophical leanings are often on the mark and entertaining at the same time.

‟Well, I am looking into silicon-based explosives, specifically, something based on a porous silicon. I need yields and briesence.”

‟Silicon? That’s a new one.”

‟I’m sending the findings and a couple of SEM images, now.”

‟Got it. Image is loading.” A pause. ‟Is this for real? Okay, I’ll assign it top priority and I’ll lead the team. This is fascinating.”

Pressing the ‟End” button, Carol broke the connection laughing at the man on the other end. Boys liked cap-guns and firecrackers, this was one boy who got the dream job of using exotic explosives, putting a fuse to them and never get in trouble for doing so.

Cellular Justice Chapter 3. SiO2

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Chapter 3. SiO2

Doctor Pitre Kamanski, Ph.D with specialties in micro-cellular anatomy examined the mounted tissue that the forensic pathologist had performed a stained mounting on the slide.

The slow scan of the tissue showed a shredding as if it had been hit with a meat tenderizer.

This was more than just high-velocity trauma from shock waves of an explosive, the tissue looked as if the victim’s body was dragged through a beach. There were micron-sized and larger objects in between the cells, in the cells and in the blood vessels that showed signs of severe microscopic hemorrhage. The image looked familiar but strange at the same time.

Doctor Kamanski made his notes on more and more of the various sized objects, making phone calls and requesting a mass-spec on the microscopic anomaly points.

An hour later, James Wilds returned his call. A radiologist of repute, his knowledge of chemistry was encyclopedic

‟Okay, what you asked me to scan on the other samples, I have scanned twelve of those available. What you have a question about it silicon dioxide, no other contaminants on eight of the twelve samples. Four samples show a carbon-nitrogen and chloride trace in low levels.” Jim said as he read off of a display. ‟Not enough to say a significant propellant charge, but could have been a kicker for the explosion. Traces of silver and copper in the carbon in specific ratios, there is one spike on a sample, just one sample, of potassium perchlorate. Silver carbide and copper acetyide in measurements of parts per million. Nearly complete combustion. The ratios remained consistent on rescan and it suggests that these are the initiators to detonation that killed the victims.”

‟Is it in high enough concentrations to create the explosive event that shredded the flesh? And where did this silicon dioxide come from? Sand? Are you sure it was silicon dioxide only?”

‟Yes, sand, ultra fine, it showed pure on the graph. Trace other elements are detectable. I will recheck the values if you like, but we ran the samples three times each. I’ll focus on the fine grains and see what we can bring to light.”

Thanking Jim for his work, Pitre pressed the ‟end call” button and bit his lip while he looked at the paper.

Taking a deep breath, he looked at the reports again. Small to ultra-small grains of silicon dioxide.

Pitre sat back with his arms crossed as he looked at the computer screen with the results and sighed.

What were the results telling them? He understood the language of reports better than anyone in the department, second to maybe Robert Burns, but what he was seeing did not tell him any patterns that he recognized.

Sand.

Glass, perhaps that had been pulverized in the explosion?

No, even with the current super-tough glass used in most devices these days had more than trace elements of potassium and aluminum in the chemical mix and would have shown up.

There was no aluminum trace showing, potassium showed outside of the range for toughened glass and a specific combination of oxidizer of a perchorate was going to be the key.

What was he reading?

Cellular Justice Chapter 4. The Team

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Chapter 4. The Team

As a child, he had been a victim of a near drowning. The brain damage had left him with motor-deficits in his ability to walk or move his hands. He used a handle on the internet of ‟Spider” as it was one of his very favorite creatures.

This tended to limit his friends.

But one of those friends that also shared a physical challenge hooked him up with a genius with an inventive mind. They got together one day after Spider had his tablet computer stolen while heading home in his wheelchair.

He had done his homework on the computer of calculus while waiting for the bus, a two-legged vermin grabbed the computer and ran off.

There was little he could do when, surprisingly, they traced the Linux powered tablet to the new owner who said he bought it from ‟Some guy who said his wife had thrown him out and he needed money to rent a hotel room and food.”

But the strong security of the tablet had made it impossible to use and Spider retrieved it with all the data intact.

Still, the violation had sent him into a depression, until a chance meeting with Stephen, his neighbor. Stephen was a victim of Asperger Disorder. They had been neighbors and tended to ignore each other at first, finally became close, sharing the misery as two victims after Stephen had gotten mugged.

Spider noticed that the thirty-two-year-old Stephen had a need for protection as well. They formed a team to watch out for each other while going to school.

And it took some pressure to get Stephen to go back to school, calling teachers ‟Stupid”.

To Stephen, they were. Spider recognized his friend’s IQ was such that he ran rings around the chemistry and math professors after a few days.

One professor befriended them after they asked about a black eye and other obvious injuries.

The professor had been carjacked and nearly lost his car. Except for having his car wired with an electronic system in the steering wheel that shocked anyone not authorized to drive the Tesla. The car refused to drive after ten-meters and energized the steering wheel, making it impossible to hold. The ruffian left the car, but the damage to the professor remained.

The professor invited them to a meeting with others who had suffered assaults with the theft of electronic equipment. There they met dozens of other victims of snatch and run thefts, strong armed robbery of their electronics.

They were a team. After suffering the trauma a few had become hopelessly depressed, one of those depressed people had an epiphany. An inventive genius that equal to that of Stephen but with far more experience and schooling, began to build beautiful and deadly electronic devices.

They would become intentional victims of the same kind of thieves, muggers, bullies and hoodlums as anytime in the past. But they would be more helpless.

They would be a blind person listening to navigation directions from their device.

They would be wheelchair-bound listening to music with earphones and eyes closed.

They would be a curmudgeon that swore profanity at their phone and not know how it worked.

They would be inattentive students focusing their mobile homework in their hands as they walked down the street.

They would be the distracted executive that would drive down the street holding the phone on the edge of the door and wait too long at the light, waiting for traffic.

They would be victims of victimizers.

They would be texting, typing, music listening, inattentive prey for those that would knock them down and take the devices.

Only the vetted became invited into the circle of victims that sought justice where no other justice would reach.

Each one of them wore a pendant of a bronze mjolnir with a green sapphire embedded in the head.

This was the team. With the pendant they wore, the knew themselves.

They knew themselves as the Hammer of Justice.

Cellular Justice Chapter 2. Office of the Vice-Chief

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Chapter 2. Office of the Vice-Chief

‟Robert, have a seat. There is a serious problem for you to come to my office unannounced.”

Janis Pillsbury Vice-Chief of the police department was always pleased with Robert’s company. He had a knack to make people feel smarter with his way of teaching and leadership.

When they met in college, she was a member for the Olympic swim-team twenty years earlier. It had frustrated her when she got bumped from the team because of a shoulder injury earned while arm-wrestling the future doctor at a bar during finals week.

Robert sat in the leather-cushioned chair in front of her and put files on her desk.

‟These are files on two-dozen separate events in the last six weeks. Some are gang affiliate, some are not. There is no connection other than apparent death caused by an explosive device.” Robert looked grim. ‟The pattern suggests that there is a theft ring going on, but we are finding material that we cannot explain, explosive residue that we have not seen before. Blast damage that seems limited to one person, except in three cases of multiple victims, the explosions seem focused on individuals we suspect were involved with a crime, solely on the tattoos and history of the known victims.”

‟Hm. A theft ring being purged?”

‟I don’t know, data supports a street battle, except for the lack of drive-by shootings. There are explosives being used, so a case could be made for domestic terrorism other than it’s not involving the normal targets. The victims in this case have known histories of felonies, in large part. A few unknown subjects, but with tattoos that suggests affiliations.”

‟Have you a hypothesis on these events? What is the explosive used?”

‟That is the biggest issue. We cannot identify the explosives used. We have some nitrogen based, certainly, but there are other traces we cannot account for.” Robert flipped through a file and handed it to her. ‟This shows an optically clear glass that is slightly porous on a microscopic scale, we did a mass-spec on it and something on the sample detonated while being prepared.”

‟WHAT? Did’t you check for an explosive residue?”

‟We did. Standard procedure and none of our equipment detected any oxidizer or explosives. No hydrocarbons of any concern, there was a light oil, but it checked out as a light silicone oil. Not explosive. However we did find copper and silver acetelydes in minute trace amounts.”

‟A contact explosive.”

‟Well, shock and temperature sensitive, but the odd part about what we found is in the traces that were not consumed, they had insulating jackets of ethylene.”

‟Like wires?”

‟Not… Not like we would think of them, silver acetelyde is so shock sensitive that it has no serious use. Copper, is less sensitive but a hell of a detonator. The question we do not have an answer for is what was it detonating? We have a high-nitrated carbon plastic which is not an explosive in its own right, but I believe it’s a kicker, whatever the primary warhead is, the case shapes and boosts the force of the explosion.”

‟Okay, what do we know past that.”

‟This much. These are specific in the way they explode as evidenced by the destruction of body tissues. You could be standing next to the person when it detonates, you would be uninjured and the victim is beyond help of even the most advanced trauma surgical team.” Robert took a deep breath. ‟The bombs are personal and specific.”

‟Someone is targeting the victims.”

‟Yes, specific victims. It is not a suicide bomb that goes for mass killing.”

‟What about these two reports that have multiple victims.”

‟Each victim had a device in their possession. The glass windows in the room broke, but not blown out. My team has surveyed the glass to try to determine if the windows were previously cracked or if the blast did it. In any case, it was a hundred percent kill only within the confines of the room. Trace evidence is outside of our databases.”

‟What about the traces you just said with the copper and silver?”

‟Not enough to inflict the injuries we are seeing. But there is a delivery system that we are not finding, it is possible that the case that the explosive is consumed in the explosion by design.”

‟As in,  where did I hear this before, a paper-cased bomb?”

‟Close, that’s in a novel and a movie. But that is where that exists only.”

‟Oh.”

‟This is different, there is trace, we are not recognizing it yet.”

‟Well, get on it. Do you have any more information?”

‟No. But the pattern is this: Young, generally male with known felony and misdemeanor convictions, high incidence of drugs in their systems. High mortality rate, one-hundred percent, no fires, collateral damage or bystanders injured.”

‟Who is doing this?” Janis looked carefully at the files, one at a time.”I see no connections.”

‟Other than being killed in explosions that would be no louder than a car backfire, no connections between events we can find. We have no one to put a finger on, other than to say person or persons. We just don’t know where the evidence points.” Robert said evenly. ‟Yet.”

‟Okay, Robert, I will take this to the Chief and we will brief department heads. You get top priority on any information coming in on our task forces on organized crime will have a meeting. How is this afternoon look for you?”

‟I will clear my schedule. Janis, to be clear, I want to say this clearly. You have vigilantes out there and they are trying to put you out of business.”

‟We have hunters, eh?”

‟More like poachers.”

Robert stood up and smiled in a grim way that Janis knew that he was unhappy with the ambiguous evidence. Watching the door close behind him as she held the files in her hand, the word echoed in her mind.

‟Poachers.”

Children of Fury- The End

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Children of Fury has moved to Amazon Kindle.

Children of Fury has moved to Amazon Kindle.

 

Children of Fury has moved, support an author and feel proud to allow him to tell the amazed wife “See? Yes, I can.”.

Amazon Kindle:

Children of Fury

(Not furry, that’s a different story) 

Author:

Dash McCallen

Available starting 8 September 2014, URL to Amazon Kindle version:

http://tinyurl.com/l97xjxz

Tunnel of Darkness Section 3. Challenged

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Section 3. Challenged

 

Data incoming, the Seraph was on a defensive footing, reporting that the perimeter was under assault and the hospital ship was using all non-lethal means to keep the killing and marauders  at bay. Each group claiming a holy right to kill anyone they deem unworthy of life.

Those wounded that approached with hands up and asking for help, they treated without hesitation, but the armed militias required the Seraph to raise shields.

Those wounded that did not move inside the perimeter before the hospital ship powered up, became stranded. The mob murdered dozens full view of those that swore to treat life as precious. To help and aid, to use wisdom for the healing of those that needed and asked, however they could only watch.

One technician thought to send a message to the rescue teams. The was closed. 

Safsy read the data as it came over the terminal and shook his head.

“James, we have a problem. Exit is cut off.”

“Well, this makes it a lot more difficult. Secondary zone, then. Tell them we’re heading that way now with an ETA of fifteen.” The pilot read his navigation display.  “We will need to take the long way on the water, might be choppy because of a breeze, but it will be safer.”

“Plotting now.” The Colonel looked over the live sat-nav display.  “James, we will head into a large group boats that are moving between us and the secondary, how if we do the tertiary?”

“Negative, that is an hour away as the crow flies and I cannot promise you a straight line.”

“Defense systems up then.” Safsy tapped the smooth panel, powering up the protective hardware.

“Do you have training on the defense systems?” James asked.  He was well versed in the protective hardware of the hover-hybrid, but his task now was to get them to the hospital ship. 

“Minimal, I know how to use the electric hull defense.”

“Excellent! That one’s difficult. We have also noxious gas. Just remember, there is a limited amount of that. The only resource we have in abundance is electricity.”

“Noxious…?”

“Specifically, it is a skunk oil. And not the nice kind, either. This is a mercaptan that they concentrated in the worst possible way and a permanent pink dye.” James laughed. “It can be detected by a human nose in one-part per quadrillion. If you get doused in this stuff, you will be easy to sniff out, and you will be a color that does not exist in nature and lonely.”

“Wow, pungent and pink.” The Colonel gave a grim laugh. “Should be easy to find, they would be alone.” 

“Yes, press the button on that, yell and I will be moving this crate. I want clear out of the area before the canisters discharge, that crap is hell to scrub off the paint and no one wants it in the hangar.”

“Then we are leaving. We have an hour of travel.” Safsy ordered.

“Yes, sir. And Colonel? There is a marsh nearby that leads out over the water, we can move over that and be clear of any crowds, I just cannot navigate this glorified shanty-town.”

“I’m ahead of you, working on an exit route now.” The Colonel spoke into the man-to-man mike. He spoke in relaxed tones with the pilot. “Direction and speed on your display now.” 

“I’m heading away from the groups, to some lower buildings. These skyscrapers around here are an advantage for anyone wanting to take a shot at us.” James said, dust of impacting projectiles were visible across the path they just covered.  But the shots were wide and hit ground in the distance.  They were just shooting wild in their  direction.

“Engage, put distance between us and the rioters.” Safsy had seen the puffs of dirt nearly a thousand paces behind them and did not wish to waste time.

The hovercraft was steady as it moved over the marsh. Surgery continued in the operating theater as the craft navigated the open area.

Saving the wounded pilot continued as the teams repaired the insult to the pilot’s body. The lead surgeon ordered that the moving emergency room be shown more care or cause the surgeon to become unhappy when James and the Colonel headed out over the water where the craft began to sway unacceptably.

“O.R. to the Colonel. We are working back here, please keep the rocking down to a gentle quake.” It was “Stormy” Knight, six-feet tall of surgeon that was frightening when she became angry. She had no tolerated no interference when it came to caring for her patients.

Sensors beeped and displayed information.

“Seraph is passing overhead. They’ll land on the other side and extract us there.”

“Outstanding.” James sounded pleased as they crossed from the open water back to the marsh area, the rocking motion of the hovercraft subsided. “Thank you for that info.”

In full hovercraft mode over mud and reeds , the surgical team in the operating room remained undisturbed as they repaired the shrapnel filled wounds of the pilot.

Approaching the Seraph, it was a bittersweet end to the mission. The Colonel achieved a successful mission resolution, inwardly pleased as they arrived at the hospital ship. Deploying the tank treads, James rolled them up the ramp into the hangar and powered down the engines once they were safely inside.

The melancholy set in as this would probably be the last time he would head out.

The wounding of the pilot created questions that they required to answer for. Safsy would be held responsible for injuries of the pilot, perhaps relieved of duty.  It was the way of the corporation. 

Downloading the logs into the larger ship’s memory, Safsy shut down the on board computers and stood up, stretching. He needed some fresh air, it would probably be the last time to do so while wearing a uniform.

Walking off the ramp of the Seraph, Colonel Safsy stood on the soil of Sapphire with his hands in his pockets and inhaled the breeze that blew gently into his face.

It was a nice planet, perhaps they could become a tourist destination. Safsy shrugged inwardly.

“COLONEL! Watch out!”  Shouted  a hanger technician.

Safsy looked around and saw a sentry drone with a projectile weapon locked on to him, this was not alarming, corporate drones operated with programing to follow commands of anyone wearing the ID badge with the chip in it.

“Drone! Disarm, power down.” Safsy ordered while approaching. For a moment, it seemed that the machine was turning away when it fired with a strange buzzing sound, blowing a hole in the Colonel’s chest.

The buzzing sound echoed in his dying brain.

Darkness was all around him, the insistent buzzing was annoying, the last sound he would hear in this life.

Yawning, the webs of the dream faded and the Colonel wondered why the buzzing reminded him of a gun.

“Incident assigned.” They received a dispatch to the planet Sapphire for victims of riots. The most violent planet in the outer systems.

Colonel Safsy Gliese sighed, he wished someone would shoot him. 

Dark Heart, Pure Soul Chapter 19. A Nightmare Of A Possibility

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19. A Nightmare Of A Possibility

Twitching, the world took on a surreal color pallet.

She slept with her arm over his shoulders, cuddled up to his back like two spoons in the flatware box. This world faded away and another one slid forward on soft cat-paws in his mind.

A nightmare invaded Kane’s slumber. A violent dream.

He was angry. He was fighting and he was fury incarnate, down to his core, he was… He was…

He was Orcus the avenging demon of wrongs. The angry imp that struck in an instant.

The black-soul that would invade a lover’s heart and turn the loving soul into a murderer in a moment for minor wrongs, bringing new slaves to the Dark Lord for his bidding.

And found – Not an angelic minion, a nameless adversary. It was… It… was… even in his dream, he stammered.

It was HER!

He defended his Angel.  It played vividly in his mind, he was again there when the Hoard attacked. For his heart focused only on one soul ever. A heart properly motivated would do anything. In defense of his deepest mote of love, that one spark never lost, did he do the unthinkable.

But the hesitation brought the unwanted attention of the Dark One who did not believe in such deep thoughts – Backing up his best, his most infernal, the one who brings the most of the new souls in for the Satan, Emperor of Hell to torment for his pleasure.

The Great Angel of the Pit arrived and struck her a crushing blow, pushing the smaller imp out of harms way, attacking the crimson haired angel delivering a huge slash across her arms and with that single blow of his clawed hand, he knew her name.

Bronwyn they called her. In that instant he knew it was her human name. Somewhere in time there was a candle lit for her. But that mattered not, this soul, that forestalled the killing stroke of the best of his warriors, one who commanded a legion. The Emperor’s best and brightest, the most savage, one of the most feared of all.

A blow stung him to the core as she struck back, a blessed sword of holy crystal! With a mighty roar of a thousand damned hearts, and struck at her with claw and fang, to tear out a new soul. Not one that would be returned to this little Angel’s lord. Her flesh would be ravaged, spirit would be torn and body broken as he pounced on her like a savage raptor of hate, of the dark side and he struck with a blow to shatter souls; it was the law of things in battle. The mighty overwhelm the weak.

But this angel did not read the rule book.

The bright, pure soul of the host, drove Hell’s Master backwards the flash of a moment as she struck him with the might of the host. Michael would not have struck as hard. Silver chain mail over her torso resisted the power of darkness, for this was for this was one of the great warrior archangels. Fitting her like a wet shirt, it guarded against  the savage horde. However, it was not on par with the supreme demon of the darkness.

The battle ensued, he was savage and she as a blinding light against his dark, claw to armor, fist to fang. The whole of the lands shook with the fury of battle. Master against Angel, there was no turning back, Bronwyn was fighting for her immortal soul and there was no mercy, no plea that would be heard. This was a battle to the end of it all, to the death of two immortal beings.

She struck with enough power and heart to knock him to his knees, enough power to break a demon. But not this Dark Lord, almighty in his satanic powers, he was beyond her dreams of power. He took his measure of her strength, weighed her power and compared it to his own. She who had gotten a few hits in, her light was as a small lamp in the pitch darkness of night. Bright as she was, she was found wanting, and he retaliated.

That little blessed knife of hers,  broken and thrown away, hummed feebly in the dirt.

And the Devil struck with the might of Hell – again and again the great dark fist of the Emperor shattered her body, her shield of faith. Her soul would taste like a sweet grape on his tongue after he tore it out of her and consumed it, never to return to the adversary of her Lord of Light. To hell with an angel.

Beaten, weaponless, on her knees, held by one wing he beat her again and again. She screamed one name.

“Orcus! HELP!”

Her screams echoed in the cold, dead heart. Somewhere in the dust of ages, among the dead and heavily scarred flesh that wound around the blackened and charred whole of his soul, a spark that was hidden was found and it heard – the spark flared, burned and ignited something within the emptiness that was the heart of a demon.

A rage that grew, fanned to flames by the winds of memory that rushed back, an awakening of a promise once made to a pure soul. The spark that remembered once promised to protect.

And failed.

But not this time.

Not again.

Never again.

Shall not. Ever again. Fail.

And a single word, born from the very core of fury.

“STOP!”

Corruption was who he was, a body covered in hideous scars of ages of combat, unholy visage of a beak-like face, horns for hair and red-rage that glowed in his eyes. Orcus, a name known only to Bronwynn, had in that one moment, that blistering rage that erupted and attempted control of in a futile effort, the Emperor of Hell saw and knew.

One brief shining moment of longing crossed the angry face of the warrior-demon. Of passion’s fire kindled in a heart that had long gone to cold ash. A history that was once forgotten, rose again in the demon once thought soulless, an ember of passion rose and the testimony of that one quiet hot mote arose to live again in the being that was Orcus. A soul, blasted and scarred with self-hatred and anger.

“You wish this female? Take her soul then. Use the battle-ax, the Claw of Hades and cut it from her.” The terrible eyes of the Emperor turned on the General of his legions. “Strike her sacred body, cut off her wings, cut out her soul and you will stay together for an eternity! You will command together. Whole legions of demons that would respect you both, you will the power second only to mine, you both will be in Hell forever.”

The dark countenance of the Dark Lord was that of savage pleasure, to have her struck down without her fighting back. A total defeat of an angel and the stealing of a soul as pure as this.

“Power and love of your mate for all time. Fear and respect from others, none shall dare not stand up to you.” The Dark Master spoke to the smaller demon.

On the battlefield the three stood, all demons had stopped their corrupt actions and watched the drama, would an angel switch sides for love? Would the great Gardener stand up and save one of his own. A warrior angel, the best and brightest, one that had once turned her back on heaven to live a life with a love. One where her heart once rejoiced so much that it echoed in heaven.

The Dark Lord held her by a copper-colored wing, this angel, one who had given her heart to Orcus so long ago with the blessing of her Enlightened One. The long scarred and hideous arm held her out as if to offer a meal to the demon for his abuse, for the cut to come. To take her into the darkness and drive out doubt in the host.

Once an old affable gardener with wisdom unmatched and told her to go to the Imp and love him good and well.

“Raise him up, love him all the days on that little spot that you claim your own.”

This moment she hung helpless in a giant’s clawed hand. On a finger an ebony ring of an apple surrounded by a snake on the hand, he squeezed and smoke billowed from her wing and Bronwynn screamed in pain. The battle between the light and dark over for the moment.

But there was no fight left in this angel. Her crystal sword broken and the angel’s battered and bruised body hung limply from combat against the one called Satan. She was out of energy. With not enough strength to fight, she hung in his mighty grip and cried. Holy chain-mail hung off her in tatters and shreds. Plates of armor, harder than diamonds, tougher than a heart of a warrior crushed like foil lay on the ground.

Defeated, no weapons left, too weary to lift her arms.  Bronwyn hung there, broken and beaten.

A flick of the wrist and she was flung across the battlefield at the feet of the demon of retribution, vengeance and pain.

“Cut her soul from the angels body and you will have her forever.” The Dark One spoke. “How deep is the love you have? What would you do for that passion that burns in your chest? Do you believe you have a love for this small one?”

“She pleases me.” Orcus looked at her.

The old rage was there, ruby-red eyes of a savage demon. But… something else and it did not go unnoticed.

“DO you love her?” The question was more of a statement by Hell’s Master.

“I…” A hesitation. How does one give up a weakness? Never a good idea to do so to anyone that has power over you… but… “Love her.”

“What sweetness.” Satan laughed. “Would you do anything for her love?”

“Yes.” Orcus was watching her, greed in his wholeness. Cultivated consciously, lust for power. Turning away from love. Lust for a mate. Not love. To use her for pleasure. NOT love.

“I love her.” Damn it all! Orcus thought. Not what he wanted to say.

“Sweet indeed. Love for an angel. Does the small demon wish her with him forever and ever?” The Emperor said softly. “I can give her to you.Just give her the stroke, take her soul and bring her to you. Live forever in each others company in the beauty of your world. Can you do that? Can you love her enough to bring her to you?”

Orcus nodded.

“I can do that. The soul of an angel, power untold. I can do that.” A grin from the lips that split with the evil of his own words.

Savage anger glowed from his eyes, the Claw of Hades, an old friend, a battle-ax whose blade had ten points for piercing of armor in his hands that caressed its polished surface as if it were a sexual device. The tip of the main blade pressed against the bare flesh of her chest, an unprotected gap of her rent and destroyed armor.

Bronwyn looked up into the eyes of the one she loved most in all the worlds, all the universes that existed, anywhere she ever lived, anyplace she had gazed upon — she had given him her heart.

The tip of the ax rested against the curve of her throat, where it joined her torso, she had nothing more to give this demon, the imp that held her heart. Trying to tell him, never did he fail her. For she loved him greater than all the souls that were in heaven.

An evil laugh as the Master knew what would come. “Would you do anything for love?”

“I would do anything for power! I would do anything for love.” Orcus cackled now.

Bronwyn gave him her best, most vulnerable spot, knowing the pain of the cut coming. Not fighting any longer, she arched her neck back, offering her soul, she gave up all that would be her history, her love, her passion.

She would give up her heaven.

Her lord and her soul.

For him.

And waited for the cut that would take her from the light and plunge her forever into the darkness of the pit of the abyss.

She then heard the last time he would speak to her in this world.

“I’ll do anything for love.” His breath was hot on her cheek.

His breath coming in deep ragged gasps of blood lust, she knew. The tip of the cursed battle-ax, a gift from Hades to Orcus in another long ago age, pressed against her throat dimpling the flesh.

“I would do anything for your love. ” He said again, softer. “I will have you as mine forever.”

She could feel the muscles of the battle-scarred body tense, the winding up of the moment, he was ready and the blow was moments away.

“I”ll do anything for love!”

A pause…

Bronwyn closed her eyes, waiting for the first sensation of pain that marked the end of her heavenly life as she gave herself to her love, her heart, and the one that brightened her soul even from the darkest of realms.

She closed herself off to the view of the one with the weapon that had her at his mercy. The him through time and realms that they had traveled. Through dimensions, ages, together they had once loved laughed and had light of the universe in their hearts.

“I’ll do anything for love…” He drew a deep breath through sharpened and savage teeth…

*I love you.* It was her last thought.

“… NO! I WON’T DO THAT!”

Turning in an instant, Orcus hurled the cursed ax, the Claw of Hades at Satan himself, launching into an attack against the Emperor of Hell, this demon of legend, the First Emperor of all things of evil intent, action and temptation.

A simple flick of the Lord of the Demon’s hand and the ax flew away over his shoulder, landing uselessly in the battlefield beyond the reach of the smaller demon.

“TRAITOR!”

“I knew you! Traitor! You shall live forever as a slave to serve us all! Torment by those being tormented, undying life of slime, never-ending pain is all yours forever. I shall enjoy consuming your angel, she is MINE.”

“NEVER! You will starve!” The Demon screamed.

Savage was Orcus’ attack, the crushing blows he delivered was with every mote of his being, all sound, all battles, all conflict stopped as the host of heaven and the hoards of hell halted their battles and watched this ballet of destruction played out.

Watching the fight that suddenly became center stage of a battlefield, Asmodeus turned to Lucifer. “One-hundred on Orcus.”

“You’re on.” Lucifer already had plans to tell the Emperor how the odds were. Who bet on the outcome.

“I’ll take some of that.” The Beelzebub stood near the arch-demons. “I’ll take the Master.”

“Roll your own dice Beeze?” Leviathan laughed, the giant put down his vote for Orcus. Calling him “The once and future Emperor”.

Savage orange fire from the mouth of the Emperor for the chest of Orcus as he folded his wings around for protection and laughed as the flames enveloped his body.

“Time to fall!” A scream from the beak-like face as the demon went claw to talon, fang to fire as Satan did battle with the best and darkest of his demons. Green fire from the clawed hands of the demon that shattered the confidence and wings of the Emperor. The tail of the once-Emperor, whipped through the darkened atmosphere of war, a weapon unto itself, the prehensile appendage wrapped itself around the throat of the Dark One.

“To slime, to torment, to slavery with you! For LOVE I shall strike. For her soul I shall beat you into the ground.” Orcus screamed as his tail tightened against the armor-scale of a neck as he looked into the compound beast-eyes. Sixty-six and six-hundred pupils that he saw his reflection framed by the horned face.

“For my angel’s heart, you will suffer!”

Satan’s quad-lipped mouth opened up and exposed too many teeth as the Emperor of Hell choked on a grip tighter than steel that squeezed ever tighter. The Devil’s mouth tried to bite the scale covered hide of traitorous demon.

Twisting about in the noose of a tail, the Dark Lord landed a blow that registered on earth as an earthquake. Scientists explained that a previously unknown fault shook the humans. The same blow nearly obliterated the demon, but Orcus fought back with the power of love. The demon was unstoppable as Satan was relentless. Again they collided head on, claw to claw, fang to tusk. Each blow measured to inflict the greatest damage, each block meant to waste the energy of the opponent.

Never had there been such a challenge to his power. Victory was not assured, for the fist time in an age – Satan, the Emperor of Hell, felt fear.

Fire and fury, hate versus love. A Dark-Heart against the power of darkness, the energy of both opponents took a toll as they gave their all for victory.

One loved power, the other loved.

Suddenly a misstep, a missed moment in a battle against an implacable enemy and Orcus was flung backwards by a titanic blow, one wing broken, the other wing torn, horns broken, eyes unfocused. The right arm lay useless under his body.

Tired and out of breath, the Emperor of hell moved towards the demon that dared to choose love over immeasurable power, lust and greed. This Satan, wheezing and blinded in half his eyes, all the fingers on the right hand missing and the Emperor of Hell walked on his hands, swinging his leg forward in an ape-like walk, trailing black ichor that served as blood, towards the traitor, a stump where the left leg was missing. He struggled to tear with his remaining hand, to finish the demon, to turn him into the lowest of the slime of hell – Better! To consume the dark soul until it was no more, to digest and spit out that which they called “Love”.

As the Emperor got close to the puny and broken imp, close enough to strike with what was left of his claws and fangs, Orcus held his left hand outstretched towards the Emperor…

Was this beseeching? That thought was entertaining.

A plea for mercy? A laugh at the thought rose in Satan’s mind.

A plea? Hardly.

It was a call, a command to a part of the demon’s own wholeness, a call to an old friend, a gift from the Emperor that followed Orcus to the throne. The call to the Claw of Hades, a call that the ax must answer. Return to its owner no matter the obstacle.

Behind the Dark Lord, the Claw of Hades lay in the filth of the battlefield, forgotten in the rage of battle. Tossed so easily away by the more powerful demon and never given a thought after.

A mistake.

A fatal mistake.

The weapon, as much a part of Orcus as his tail was, answered its call. The ten-pointed ax trembled, slightly at first, then turned blade first and raced through the air to the Master of the Ax in a straight line, regardless of what was in the way.

The Dark Lord became aware of the whistling noise, the disturbance drew the great demon’s attention, but too late.

Too late!

Returning to Master of the Ax, the cursed weapon drove through the through the forehead of the Dark Lord on the way to the hand of Orcus. The look of surprise was entertaining to the old demon as for one brief glorious moment as Orcus nearly laughed, the Great Devil himself, the destroyer, He who defeated Hel who gave her name to the kingdom that He then ruled. He who defeated Hel held his hands up in frozen stark surprise…

And imploded without a sound, like a shadow banished from view when a light shines into the darkness.

The Dark Lord was no more in one last anticlimactic, quiet, mundane moment.

All that was left, an ebony ring of an apple surrounded by a snake that fell to the ground. Frost formed where it bounced until it stopped moving. A  freezing fog formed around the ring, curling over the ground as it rested quietly in the dust.

Panting, barely strong enough to stand, pain was his second world, a second life of passion drove him to stand. Shredded and torn, his right-wing broken, dark blood oozed through dozens of new wounds that covered his body as he knelt next to his angel.

Lifting her up in his arms, she reached up and caressed his face. His broken hand held hers gently. There were too many wounds on his immortal body, he was weak beyond description. The immortal demon was weakening further, the great heart had begun to beat, now faltered. He caressed her face with a blood-stained finger tears leaked from his eyes as dark blood leaked out of him into the dirt.

“I’d do anything for you.” He whispered softly and nodded, “I would do anything for your love, but I would not do that. I could never do that.”

“Come with me.” Bronwyn whispered. “Come back home. You are free.”

A soft cough from a few steps away interrupted.

“Hell needs an Emperor.” The Lucifer said, standing behind Orcus. “It is advancement by assassination in Hell. He must take his place on the throne.”

“NO!” The Angel refused to accept this! Orcus sacrificed it all for her life.

“NO! Stay with me!” Bronwyn argued. pulling on Orcus’ arms, her own hands too weak to grip tightly.”Turn away from all this, come home. I will not have this!”

“He could do anything for love. Fight the old Emperor,” Asmodeus nodded, frowning as he handed the ebony black ring of an apple surrounded by a snake to Orcus. “and win. He has changed the course of a war, changed a thousand hearts. He has altered the universe in uncountable ways. He did that all for love.”

“He did it all.” Lucifer nodded. “He did it all for love. But he cannot go with you.”

“He can’t do that.” Beelzebub whispered as he shook his head and bowed to the new Emperor.

The cool hand of Bronwyn touched him in between the shoulder-blades. “Orcus”, the name echoed in the webs of his dream, his face was wet from tears, Kane had cried out in his sleep.

Kisses on his cheeks as the hands of an angel cupped his face.

“What makes you cry?” She frowned with concern in her eyes.

“I dreamed I had lost you. Our time together was over and I had to use my powers to save you. I also remember my name, from so long ago. Orcus.”

“I remember that name. Punisher of broken promises and oaths. No wonder you do not break promises to children.” She smiled at him. “You are the children’s guardian of promises. You keep the promise of the gift giving when the days grow short and life begins anew. You are the one to shape a child’s view of the world.”

He shook his head, “I still lost you and I will not allow that. Ever.”

She slid her arms around him as she kissed her husbands tears away.

“We can change the future.”

Together they slept the rest of the night, no further dreams intruded.

But Kane had his doubts.

If Only… The failure of the heart

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If Only… The failure of the heart

 It seemed like a lifetime ago, he knew her as a young man and broke her heart. Three words he never said, the phrase withheld with a hesitant heart. 

She once looked him in the eye and used her willpower to get him to speak his heart, and then he changed the subject. In the months that passed, they began to see less of each other. Then school, career and the end of innocence came after that

Then came separate lives.

Years later, after a friend (now no longer such) played mind games with the knowledge that friends share in matters of the heart and served only to increase his guilt while he kept her in the front of his memories.

Thoughts of a life that could have been, a smile never forgotten, a sad look that never rose above the pain of his immaturity.

Often he could look back and recall her expectant smile. The words she never heard in life he now whispered as he knelt at her headstone.  Another victim of domestic abuse that could have had her path changed for the better with but a single expression of emotion from a college-bound ex-boyfriend. A phrase that could have changed their lives.

Could he have changed the world with three words?

“I love you.”

Silence. Granite and bronze are as unresponsive as the teenage heart that has plans of school and career. Could this young man have saved her from the pain and years of domestic abuse?

Perhaps.

Then again, perhaps not.

With a heavy sigh, the ex-boyfriend stood and walked away from his agony of failure. The weight of ten-thousand nights that he relived his choice that condemned them to separate lives.

Could their lives have been different? The the world will never know.

But the answer was known, deep in his heart.

The deepest wish of a simpler time, the teenager, now aged with white hair and a slight limp from a long-ago accident that also left him widowed had come to visit, just fifteen-months too late.

News in the way of gossip around a school reunion came to him of her current address on this quiet lane, lined with headstones. Only an apology on his lips and the sob that escaped his soul.

As the salt and pepper haired man held hands with princesses and left the lane, the curious voices of the grandchildren echoed among headstones. Soft sounds of life were all that they left for those that slept the forever slumber.