Married by MIstake Chapter 30. Tears and Smiles

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Chapter 30. Tears and Smiles

‟I’m glad you are out of the hospital, I couldn’t wait for us to get back to the Wizard.” Kaylee sat down on the floor, next to the chair he kept his arm on. ‟But, I signed the papers and sent them off when I was here. You had two sets, one to send and one to keep. I signed both sets so we can keep them on file here.”

With a sigh, he nodded.

‟So, we are no longer married as soon as the clerk of the court signs and stamps it. You did it how I told you to do it?”

‟I’m so sorry. But I have to get home outside of Portland, Glenn is asking for me. My sister says he is going to ask me to marry him.” Kaylee couldn’t help the tear that ran down her face as she sniffled.

‟Oh, poop.” She gave a sad laugh. “I promised myself I wouldn’t cry.”

‟Yeah.” Tom choked on the knot in his throat. ‟I knew this day would come. The month is up.”

Kaylee rested her chin on his knee.

‟If it makes you feel any better, I almost shredded the papers. You have been better than Glenn has ever been,” She took a big breath. “But I grew up with him and we have planned to marry each other as far back as I can remember. He asked me to marry him at my sixth birthday party. He wrote it in a birthday card, in crayon.”

Tom laughed. “Do you still have it?”

‟Don’t laugh. But yes.” Kaylee bit him gently on the knee. ‟It’s silly, I know. He has also been a bit of a butthead and stupid over all the years. Once he’d gotten drunk, fell into a pool,  sank like a stone and I had to save him. We have history.”

‟And we don’t?” Tom sounded more harsh than he intended. ‟In the last month, we have set new records that even newlyweds everywhere would dream of.”

‟Not fair. You have an advantage. Not many men get married and fly away on their own jet plane. Fewer still can write a children’s series like you have.” Kaylee shook her head as she named off Tom’s points. ‟You have more than most college students, and that is what Glenn is, a college student. That’s what I am. And you are a rogue, an explorer. You are a pirate! A Steam-Punk King Pirate who has stolen my heart, but I have a promise to keep.”

‟You made that promise when you were all of six-years-old. I’m not so sure that might count.” Tom nodded.

‟Does a promise have a lower age limit?”

‟Uh. No, I suppose not.” Tom was not wanting to pick a fight like that. “A promise is a promise.”

‟No. My father always told me a promise is something to keep. Things change, say if Glenn was gay or I died in a plan crash.” Kaylee gave him a  playful sock on the thigh. ‟Then that voids the promise. But we are still alive and I can assure you Glenn is hetero, fully hetero.”

‟Okay.” Tom slouched in the chair. The stress of the last eighteen-days exhausted him. ‟You have always been my first concern. I held on to the hope you would decide to give us more of a try. Even now, I see you are not sure.”

‟No… no. No, I’m not sure. You have made me mad a few times since the first morning. But it was an exciting mad. You are a maddening, wonderful, frustrating, crazy, super-smart guy that makes me want to pull out all your chest hair.” Kaylee and Tom laughed at the same time. ‟And I would love to stay here.”

‟But?”

‟But I have to at least try to keep my promise.”

‟Agreed.” Tom nodded. Upset as he was, it actually helped to talk to her.

Kaylee also nodded.

First and always she would be friends with Tom and she knew he put her first. She would always put him first, except for the promise she made Glenn.

The promise of a six-year-old girl to the boy she grew up with.

Taking Tom by his good arm, she pulled him to the bedroom in the back of the plane.

‟For now, however, I am STILL your wife and you have neglected me.”

‟Oh! Doctor Kaylee , I’ve been occupied. Perhaps you have heard of this minor wound I suffered. I had to take a stitch or three to get a smaller scar.”

‟Well, I have the cure for you to forget that ache for a while.” Winking and pulling him as she walked backwards.

In the last few days, she had not realized that the tension she had building in her was a jet engine about to blow a gasket.

Now that she thought of it, there was more than a gasket she was going to blow.

The night in the plane was somewhat louder than it had been in the last ten days.

The world would envy, and sometimes pity, the husband that night. Kaylee did things to Thomas Harrison Harte that became legend in his mind and illegal in forty states and Washington, D.C.

In the end, Kaylee laughed harder than she had in the last few days.

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Married by Mistake Chapter16. Week Three

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Chapter 16. Week Three

She sat in the morning, alone on her balcony, Melanie had left with her visiting boyfriend and went to a theme park. Sipping the tea of MariMint, a recipe of her own mixing of spearmint and marijuana teas.

*Twenty-one days! Sheesh, it has been three weeks since I woke up with this ring on my finger, happy, hung over. Only twenty days and it seems like a lifetime ago.*

She laughed at the memory while looking at her ring.

*A wonderful lifetime ago.*

Still, all had not been without problems, not that the start was smooth as satin sheets, either.

The last week Tom had spent in northern California supervising the repairs on the crash-landed Dragon. He asked her to come back up north, while they towed the plane out into a larger channel, where they could pull the flying boat up on land and disassemble its wings and put the body of the plane on a truck and move it to a hanger for repairs at an airport.

Yeah… No. Tom told her to stay on the Pacific Wizard at the Bay, that she would be bored to watch the process and be reminded of the near disaster that was their date of wine tasting.

*That plane was an accident and no one tells me what I must do. I choose my destiny. He needs a partner if any part of the computer files are true.*

She did not ask him if she could come be with him, that would be a waste of effort.  She had studies left to finish and needed to meet with Professor Manga to assure her grades were intact.

*I will not let the last two years of classes be flushed down the toilet.* She gritted her teeth. *I know more than enough to pass this years classes.*

She stopped being angry at him and had began to miss Tom’s quick wit and the curve of his shoulders where she rested her hand on him at night, when she slept.

Shaking her head, she brought herself out of those thoughts of a life with Tom that danced in her head.

*I will spend my life with Glenn.* She reminded herself, *I head home in a few weeks and we’re was cutting it close with the annulment from this drunken, Las Vegas fiasco.*

*I wish Tom was an ass, just a truly hateful person.* She shook her head while she took another sip of her tea. *Not a hero who frightened the crap out of me while avoiding a crash of the plane and made me angry. I should not have blamed him, it was an accident.*

She gave a heavy sigh. *I’m not angry over what he did, he saved our lives with that heroic effort that has my deep respect.* She began to adore this man.

*His life was a tapestry that I could paint and muse with for years.* She could feel the urge to draw and paint. He was such a large point in her life that he gave her inspiration to draw.

Kaylee sighed. *It’s not fair. I should charge Tom with taking advantage of me while I was wasted. But I thought I knew what I was doing that night. Besides, I love all that Tom has done, even saving us.*

*Love? Oh, Crap.* She began to cry again. She would be out of the mess of it all if she just walked away.

*If I did, me and Tom could date as normal people do and start over. Not this backwards, life-destroying maze of confusion.*

Except, Glenn. She needed to spend time with him and his beautiful eyes. Back to the life that she had dreamed of as a girl in grade school, that life was the one she would live. She enjoyed being married to Tom, still, it was not the life she planned.

What was she thinking? It weighed her down, heavy in the feeling, and still, although it was a burden, it energized her imagination, it gave her wings in her heart. Tom’s bright soul illuminated hers with the urge to begin drawing.

Her fingers began drawing on a paper with a pencil, working feverishly, she decided she needed her sketchpad.

Dr. Manga! She knew she required a good performance in what ever test she would need to pass, even if he had all but promised her a passing grade. She knew her art history backwards and forwards. And yet? A charcoal sketch is always subjective grading.

*Unless I draw like a first year student with crayon, and cannot say the names of Victorian era art, the Headmaster will give it a hight grade.*

Coming out of her funk, Kaylee stood up to find her phone.

*I need to call Melanie.*

 

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.

 

Married by Accident Chapter 26. Papers

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Chapter 26. Papers

Barbara had left Tom when they had taken him back to the room. He had been in a bit of pain as they gave him a bath and had gave him some medications to help him sleep.

She walked across the tar and macadam surface of the airport to the hangar that housed the Flying Sea Dragon, she could barely keep from sobbing the entire trip from the hospital. It hurt so much to even think of those papers that sat somewhere inside the plane, waiting.

She took a taxi to the airport, not wanting to ride with anyone driving who knew Tom, knew of Tom or had even heard about his books.

She had a serious need to sit and drink wine and smoke a bowl with her sister and talk.

She missed the afternoons with Sandy like they had in their teens. They had barely graduated from high school, but as the best of friends and the worst of enemies, they would fight ferociously for minutes, then would be the best of friends as they settled down for a toke.

But no one dare make either of them cry.

Woe be unto the person that faced the wrath of the Grant sisters. It would make for a biblical-bad day when both sisters would turn on the offending person with fury that sisters of family, of heart and soul have.

As they grew older, and although they attended the same university, they became closer still.

Opening the door, she looked down at the broken glass that still lay on the floor.

And saw the blood, everywhere. It was surprising the amount that soaked into the carpet on the floor. A body-trail in the glass where he crawled to the door and yelled for help at the plane’s technicans and engineers.

Stepping past the gore and glass that nearly ended Tom’s life, perhaps did end his writing life, she sat at the chair where the papers in the manila envelope that Tom filed in a cubby-hole that he told her about.

Barbara thought of Sandy, and all the fights they had, while she sat in the Flying Sea Dragon and held the annulment papers in her hands.

Tom had said she had only to sign on the lines in the document and mail it with…

With…

She slumped in the chair and a sob escaped her lips.

It was strange, this is what she wanted four-weeks ago, now she had a serious temptation to put it in the washing machine somewhere on the plane. Except she was not sure where it was, hidden behind some cabinet door.

Barbara took a heavy breath, unsure of the wisdom of her next action, she found the place to sign in the back of the document.

Slipping the papers into the manilla envelope they were paper-clipped to, she closed and sealed the package and walked out the door of the big flying yacht.

Not as large as the Pacific Wizard was inside, it was more cluttered with furniture, bulky items that seemed to make it feel close.

Still, a comfortable plane to live in.

A flying yacht, she reminded herself as she walked across the airport to the main offices.

She nearly didn’t mail it, the woman behind the counter almost gave it back because of Barbara’s facial expressions and the slumped-sad way she carried herself.

“Miss, I don’t know what you have in this, and it is not my place to say. But do you really want to send this?” She looked as if she might have known Ben Franklin when she started for the post-office. Not a trace of color in the great-grandmotherly hair. Stamping it and putting it into the slot behind her and it was finally off in the US mail and it required a signature on delivery of the package at the courts.

Once the clerk of the court received and signed for the papers, in the eyes of the government, it never happened. She was never married.

While Barbara walked out to the sidewalk she called the number on the business card that the Chauffeur Kaikane had given her, anytime she needed a ride. This time it would be to the hospital. She would tell Tom that she signed the papers, but she was not sure about how she felt.

After breaking the line with Kaikane and his peaceful voice, she hit speed-dial and called Sandy on the video app of her phone so they could see each other.

‟BARB!” Sandy was always excited to hear from her sister. ‟Where are you?”

‟San Francisco. Tom has had a good run of luck with the doctors since his accident.”

‟You need to come home quick as you can. Glenn is here and he has asked for you, he said it’s important.” Sandy whispered in a conspiratorial tone. Her eyes glittered with excitement. ‟I think he is going to pop the question.”

‟Oh.” Barbara felt a thrill of fear shoot through her soul.

‟You don’t sound excited.” Sandy became quiet, shocked at the response. Worried with the look sister gave, as if someone died. “Barbara, this is what you have waited for.”

‟I just signed the papers and sent them off to Nevada. I stop being married and never was according to the state once the papers arrive.”

‟Oh Barb.” Sandy’s voice sounded like a hug. “But this is what you want, right?”

‟I don’t know. Tom needs me.” Barbara was quiet as she waited for the limo.

‟But he was alone before he met you, and it’s only been a month.” Sandy said helpfully. ‟And you said he nearly crashed the plane with you in it.”

‟He was showing off the wine country.” Oddly defensive while she looked into the screen of the phone. “Sandy, it was beautiful, right up until we hit the birds, I think I nearly pissed myself.”

The sister laughed, knowing Barbara the way she did, for her to say something like that was oddly funny.

They talked as sisters do over the video on the phone while she waited for the contract limousine to pick her up.

‟Why don’t you take a cab?” Sandy asked as Barbara sat on a bench and waited in the shade of an Oregon Ash.

‟No. If this is my last limo ride without going into debt, I want to enjoy it as much as I can. Besides, there is a hot Hawaiian that drives it. You’d love him. Surfer type, intelligent as any professor, knows more about sensemilla than a DEA cop.”

Sandy laughed so hard she snorted, then held her hand over the lens while she composed herself.

‟Snd? You know I can still hear you.” Barbara took her turn laughing, using the nickname that they worked out as children, dropping the vowels.

This only made Sandy laugh that much harder.

Sandy Grant was the only person in the world that could make Barbara laugh when things were at their darkest.

Barbara hated her for that… Which made her laugh all the harder, she loved Sandy more than anyone else in her generation.

They were, after all, sisters.

Flee

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Flee

Fracking.

That’s what they called it, but whatever the title it might have, it was a disturbance in places long hidden from the light.

Humans dug deeply into the earth, disturbing the ancient bedrock. Minor quakes rattled places that humans had yet to explore.

Perhaps they should not. For there are places in the earth that were buried so deep as to be forgotten.

They should remain forgotten.

But not this day.

All that remained for those still standing, with all their maps and explorations, was

Flee 2nd cover

1. Brisbane

The red haired Yank drew his bow and sighted over the arrow at the horror that approached him from forty-paces away.

Taking a deep breath, he let it out slowly.

Thirty paces and closing, its breath wheezed audibly in decaying lungs. This was a fresh-dead human that could walk faster than the other undead.

Twenty paces.

His focus was a laser point as he aimed, he pushed fear of approaching death down into a small compartment in his soul.

He waited, measuring.

Fifteen paces.

The eyes of this once-human had not yet become milky. Its vision was nearly equal to the living. The Archer took a deep breath and let it out slowly, at one time this was a handsome youth.

Five paces.

Archer shot the arrow into the left eye of the walking nightmare, it stiffened and fell over backwards.

“Why do you shoot them in the eye like that?” Alexander Frobisher asked.

RCMP when he was working, he was a Sergeant and a leader of the Emergency Response Team in his section, now he was not so sure since the fall of society.

“Bone is thinner there, with luck it’ll punch through hole that the optic nerve passes. It’s less stress on my arrows and I hate trying to build new ones. I have tried build wood arrows, but I failed. Wood arrows are a challenge, even starting as dowels.” Archer said. “But, I’m learning. Each time I work one, I’m better. We need to figure out how to build these in case we cannot find any high tech arrows in stores someday.” The Archer pulled out a straight dowel of a wood that Frobisher could not recognize. It was fletched and had a tip made from a silver spoon he had pounded into shape with a discovered hammer, but was no arrow that Archer was willing to shoot. “Ah well, let’s take the food to the group. ” Archer said, as he pulled his arrow out of the head of the nightmare that had been walking at him— it was an odd moment of black-humor that struck his mind as Frobisher watched.

A dead-dead person.

“Stay close to the flat of the buildings, away from the bushes.” The Sergeant said as they headed out. His own weapon at the ready, made of a cricket bat and the front chain-wheel of a bicycle. An effective battle-ax with a spiked edge.

The Archer carried a bow that he had found in a house. A simple recurve bow, he shot with an instinctive skill. Always in the eye of his target with devastating effect, they always went down in a mundane, quiet fall.

You could say that they were longtime friends if you met them on the street. But they had only met three weeks prior when the world fell into ruin.

Funny how such bonds are forged in the crucible of chaos.

Chaos.

It began in the land of Oz.

In Darwin, the first news of it hit the television. A virus the newscasters said.

A jetliner had declared an emergency, crash-landed, breaking into two large sections. The walking cadavers emerged from the debris, quickly overwhelming the emergency crews and security forces.

The Archer figured out the secret with head shots. Gunfire attracted attention and mobbed those that used such weapons. The silent arrows made a path without attention.

The shuffling dead did not know or communicate when an arrow had stilled one of their own.

The pair made their way to the bank that the group had held up in. Hiding behind a blast-resistant wall, the group was a mix of people who followed the Archer after he walked down the boulevard, creating a hail of death that cleared a path through the Edgar Allan Poe nightmares pounding on the walls of their tourist coach.

Andrea St. George the tour guide and her driver Jameson Curtis were the first to join the Yank.

Rachel “Stormy” Knight, an attorney from the United States that worked for the ACLU, Zac Wood from Scotland, a student ambassador, joined the group on another of the Yankee’s forays at a bus depot. Now they stood behind the cage where they could pull the safe door shut if they needed to, while Andrea held a single-shot rifle ready.

The Archer and Sergeant Frobisher tapped on the doors to be let into the bank.

Rachel “Stormy” Knight of the ACLU opened the door, holding a shotgun she had discovered in the bank. The men stepped in while the sharp eye of the lawyer watched the street.

Behind Stormy stood, with a pump shotgun taken from an abandoned police cruiser, Gallisa “Gail” Blachere, Ph.D, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, Ed.D had a barely controlled rage in her eye, welcomed the two explorers back

“Mighty hunters bring food!” The Archer laughed and opened his bag of canned goods. “Sorry there are no fresh foods.”

Stale biscuits and beer were common in the second bag that the Canadian carried. Two jars of Vegemite he set on the counter.

“You have taste for a Yank!” Andrea laughed and picked it up. “A bit of heaven on earth you have here.”

“Maybe. I bet Al has done better with the beer and biscuits.” The Archer said. “Eat up, we need to move out as soon as we finish. There is a police station down the road with a gated fence. “

“Why do we need to move?” Zac asked.

“The bank is too soft of a target.” Sergeant Frobisher said. “A police station is more easily protected I’d say, it’s safer.”

Praise the lord and pass a biscuit.” Archer said. 

#

Chapter 2. Eating Well


“We need to move before sunset. Tomorrow we need to head down to the marina.” The archer said. “I’d say if we head south, we will head into the mess at Darwin. Sydney is the best way out of this hole.”

Aw, you don’t like my BrissVegas?” Andrea laughed.

The archer chuckled while accepting a biscuit from Andrea, who was instructing the Yankee on how to eat the Vegemite and bread before he continued.

“The boats down at the marina will allow us to sail with safety.” The archer said softly as he choked on the Aussie treat. “Damned lucky for beer.” He gasped out.

You Yanks have no taste.” Andrea laughed. “I told you to take a bite, not pop the whole muffin in your mouth. It will pull your tongue out by its root and beat you over the head with the bloody end.”

“I do have a taste, I like beer.” He winked. “And it was bite sized after all! This is saltier than ocean water.”

“We will need to fight our way to the marina.” Al interrupted. “It’s a long ways there to run and the how those creatures move about, we need more ammunition.”

“Guns equal attention.” Stormy said. “I watched it happen when they first attacked the police roadblock. Shooting our way there isn’t viable.”

The chance that saved your ass in that bus.” The archer said as he stood. “These… zombies… were going after the cops and their guns, that kept them away, they were inside the terminal going after the officers that were making so much noise. Those that were injured, turned. The others won’t be awarded medals for bravery, but they lived by running, it was FUBAR.”

FUBAR?” Zac asked. “What’s FUBAR?”

Fucked up beyond all repair.” The archer said.

Or reason.” Al injected.

Or recovery.” Gail added.

Nodding and chuckling, the archer continued. “I needed to choose, clear the coach or the cops out. I opted for the civilians, it was a tough call. But… Cops took an oath, you folks did not.”

His lowered his voice to almost a whisper describing the scene, looking at a bit of plastic on his finger.

It was a nightmare. I took down thirty of them beasts before they knew I was there. Before they knew anything, I had recovered enough arrows to cover the difference. That’s when I yelled through the door.”

Well. Let’s dash over to the police station. It’s six blocks away, but in the right direction of the marina.” Al said putting his hand on the archer’s shoulder.

Let’s walk, no tripping.” Andrea said softly, kissing the crimson-haired Yank on the cheek. “Archer, I’m glad you made the choice.”

#

3. Stepping Out

 

The door of the bank opened quietly, there were few creatures in the street, not one of them alerted to the humans.

“Okay, quiet, cover each other’s back. I’m first, Stormy to my right, Andrea and Zac in the middle, cover sides and up. Gail, Al, you have the rear and up. Keep them from dropping in on us from fire-escapes or windows.” Archer said as he placed an arrow on his bow.

“Why is the Mountie not first?” Gail asked.

“I shoot faster with my rig than he can until he gets practice.”

Al loaded up a vertical crossbow, holding it so that anywhere he looked, the arrow aimed naturally.

When they stepped out into the street, a single shabby ex-human shambled towards them from where they were going. The Archer loosed his arrow and it fell to the ground as they walked quietly towards the police station. No other of the animated dead that patrolled the area

The Archer paused as they walked past the body and pulled the arrow out of the head of the horror-come-archery target.

The Archer kept his place on point as they headed to the station, an arrow nocked, his bow ready to draw in a heartbeat if a need arose. and carefully moved forward to the gate of the fortress-like structure. It stood ajar and opened silently on high security hinges.

They dragged the body of a large Rottweiler by its thick harness, Al cried when he saw it wore a badge. The head of a half-eaten corpse of the police dog blocked the spring-loaded gate from fully closing. Toothmarks on the badge where something had chewed, obliterating the badge number. Torn bodies lay about, decaying in the concrete courtyard. The K-9 cop did not die gently, as evidenced of a furious fight by the bodies in the courtyard.

“Never thought a dog could tear limbs off of a body.” Jameson said.

“Canine officer. They teach them well and they require robust intelligence with these dogs.” Al said softly, tracing his index finger over the mutilated badge.

A bullet-proof glass and steel enclosed observation area inside the building controlled the gate.

Sergeant Frobisher, quickly figured out how to operate the lock and secured all the exits with a control panel.

“Excellent.” Al said. “Now we can relax.”

“No, now we need to check all the cells and rooms.” The Archer said. “I’m not sleeping without clearing this place from top to bottom.”

“You need to sleep, no matter what.” Andrea told The Archer. “When was the last down-time for you?”

“It has been a day or so.” The Archer nodded. “We will rest when the building’s secure.”

“Al and Zac stay here. Stormy, Gale and Jameson upstairs. Andrea and I will search below.” Archer said.

The Sergeant nodded.

“Here,” The Sergeant reached over into a locker as the groups were getting ready to leave. “I found these radios. Keep them on this channel I selected. Radio checks every five-minutes, everything is voice activated, so I will hear you the moment there’s a sound louder than a deep breath. As the Archer said, no rest until this entire building is cleared.”

Archer taped an LED torch (as the label on it said) to the side of his bow and he adjusted the beam to fill a room with the glow from the diminutive light. Andrea stood next to him loading a police shotgun liberated from a gun-rack they found. She had used a key she found in a drawer and was quite proud of her discovery that allowed all the other firearms in the station available to the others.

“Right, ready.”  Andrea said as she racked the riot gun and chambered a shell. “Buckshot and slugs. That’s what this girl is made of.”

For good measure, the Aussie filled her pockets and a bandolier with shotshells she had found while digging around the observation port. Al pointed it was not police issue.

But Andrea could not care less.

#

4. Revelation

 

The door was ajar to the training room, only tables and chairs.

Vampire Skull Northern Ondode/Nosferatu

Image of Ondode/Nosferatu type Vampire Skull.

But they were not alone.

Movement…

Weapons turned the same time and Andrea hissed at the Archer.

Stop walking.”

It was a shadow that did not fill with light — then it was gone.

Something hissed at Andrea, avoiding the lights as it moved.

It went under the corner of a table, knocking over chairs.

“Come out!” Andrea sounded braver than the Archer felt.

The shadow charged as Andrea pulled the trigger and drove the serpent-like shadow backwards for a moment, an arrow buried its tip into the head of the shadow causing a shriek of anger, a desk erupted into splinters and sawdust as a dozen pellets tore apart the pressed wood construction whilst Andrea tracked the shrieking creature that moved like a cat on crack cocaine and too much espresso.

Clawed hands gripped the arrow and pulled the shaft out of the right eye socket, the eye reforming as it did.

The Archer’s earpeice buzzed. “REPORT! Who is shooting?”

“Sorry, busy!” Archer answered as Andrea rocked the room again with her scattergun.

Archer blinked to clear his eyes from the dust fell from the ceiling. He shot an arrow at the wrong shadow and it stuck out in a stupid angle that made him shake his head while nocking another shaft to the string, tracking the correct shadow – the one with teeth.

“Call back later!” Andrea yelled into in her mic. “We’re killing shit!”

The shadow was too close this time, charging like a cat as she racked in another shell. An arrow intercepted the creature, penetrating it in the left eye and knocked the attacker off-balance.

The shotgun fired again, destroying its face and the arrow. The black creature did a back-flip, knocking over a video projector that shattered on the floor. The creature landed on all fours and its face unbelieveably rebuilt as it launched at Andrea again as a winged quadruped.

Andrea kicked a table against the wall and pinned the attacker — It was no zombie, but suddenly bi-pedal. Still, its features could not yet be determined beyond fangs and cat-like eyes— struggling against the wall, pinned in an awkward way.

However it was immensely strong and changing shapes, wriggling from behind the heavy desk that Andrea held against it.

Point-blank range, she fired another load into the inhuman face. The shotgun blowing a hole in the wall behind the attacker the size of her fists. But she might as well have spit on it for all she had done with the gunpowder and lead.

Gristle and meat, black blood and bone splattered on the wall, and then just… jumped… back to the struggling body. Then a tickle of wind and a swishing sound at her ear and would later be angry with Archer over how close the arrow was that flew past her head.

The angry shriek and gnashing of teeth stopped as the creature choked, clawing at a wooden arrow stuck in its chest, then collapsed into a pile of bones and ash.

“Wh-wh-w… ” The Archer, already nocked another arrow. “The.. Son of a… Holy… Shiiii…Fuuu… what… HELL!” His eyes as large as a car’s headlight as he searched for the best profanity.

“F’k’n oath!” She said, nodding with the Yankee. Still tracking what was left of the attacker with the pool of light that was the aim-point of the twelve-gauge.

Thundering footsteps down the hall announced that Al and company were coming as backup.

No sneaking up on a bloke with that crowd.” Andrea said to Archer as the Al kicked the door open and entered with a shotgun at the ready, followed by Stormy and Gail each with submachine guns, lasers crisscrossing, looking for a target.

You shouldn’t talk, that thing is LOUD.”

“What the hell was going on down here? Could you keep the room at least in one piece?” the Canadian Cop surveying the room and the holes in the sheetrock.

The Archer picked up a skull off the floor and walked out of the room. The skull had too many fangs in its mouth as he looked it over in the lighted hallway, then he handed it to Al.

“This is what attacked us.” Archer said. “I believe we woke it up.”

“It’s so light.” The flesh crumbled under his fingers leaving polished bone if he rubbed firmly. “It’s so dry.” Sharp teeth glinted in the harsh hallway’s light.

“Not when I first shot it. It crumbled and dried up in seconds when I hit it with my wood-shafted arrow.” Archer reported.

“Aluminum arrows had no effect.” Andrea nodded. “Neither did the buckshot from the riot gun.”

“Wood-shafted arrow? What are you talking about?” Al asked. “What the hell?”

Andrea and The Archer looked at each other and laughed.

“My words precisely.” Archer said. “We are fighting something besides a virus I would say.”

“What does that mean?” Gale asked. “You’re talking in riddles.”

“It means,” Archer said, “that skull you hold, goes into a consecrated cemetery. One blessed by someone of the cloth, toss that in a hole of a cemetery and it won’t rise again.”

“Rise? A-a-again?” It was Zac.

“That,” The Archer pointed to the skull. “is a vampire, a Dracula-like creature, I would wager. It kept changing shape while we fought it.”

“BULL!” Jameson yelled. “The news explicitly said it was a virus!  We are not fighting something so profoundly… so profound…. so… F’k’ng WRONG!  NO! You are not telling me that it’s a lie! An explicit, bald-faced LIE? THIS IS JUST A…

“Jameson! CALM DOWN” Gail slapped the coach driver so hard he fell over.

“Coincidence.”  The downed man moaned out.

There is nothing in real-life as vampires!” Zac said, echoing Jameson’s disbelief. “That is only in movies.”

There are no zombies, either. But we have seen otherwise, haven’t we?”

Is it dead?” Jameson pleaded.

No.” Gail said. “If Archer is right and the legends hold true, it is in a hibernation state, drip some blood into the skull and it will wake up. That is why we need to separate the head from the body and buried at a blessed cemetery.”

Blessed cemetery? Aren’t they all?” Jameson asked. Coming back to grips with himself. “I’m sorry about that.  Vampires terrified me as a child.”

No.” Stormy said. “Some even have consecrated and unconsecrated ground within a single graveyard. We need to choose where to bury that skull carefully.”

“Should we put garlic in it?” Zac asked.

“You brought back some garlic powder and garlic salt with the last shopping spree you and the Canadian did.”

“Stuff it, bag it and bury it.” Sergeant Frobisher said. “But where?”

“There is a church up the way.” Andrea pulled at her ear. “I don’t recall the kind of church. Catholic maybe, but I am not positive.”

“Catholic, Jewish,” Archer shrugged. “Could be a Shaolin temple for all I care, so long as it involves holy ground.”

“Let’s make it done.” Al ordered.

2 Dracul Skulls ("Noble" caste, Possibly "Royal" Ref. Van Helsing, Et al, "Identification of skulls" Copyleft 1901 Royal Underground press.) in 2 views.  Left skull buried in bag of garlic under unknown church, skul

#

 

 

 

5. Debriefing


The group walked into the cafeteria , Zac was carrying the skull, carefully turning it over in his hand as they all sat down..

Archer poured himself a coffee in a styrene cup from a stack he had found in a cabinet, handing one to Andrea and to Al.

So what happened down there?” Al asked.

Archer took a tentative sip of the steaming black water while Andrea spoke.

“We entered the classroom and I would hazard a guess that it was asleep and we surprised it. It wasn’t even aware we were in the building.” Andrea said to Al as she sat with the others in what was once a cafeteria.

“If Andrea had not seen it and fired first, I’m not sure we would have survived. It came straight at her and my aim was not on. I shot the wrong shadow.”

Stormy found some herbal tea in a cabinet, saying it would be better for Archer, she took away his coffee.

You sure I can’t have the coffee?”

Stormy gave Archer an icy look and shook her head. “I’m worried about your caffeine intake.”

“I was lucky, it happened to come over the table where I was pointing the riotgun, I pulled the trigger when it startled me.” Andrea said.

Al chuckled and turned to the Archer.

“How did you decide to shoot it with that arrow you made from a dowel? I know you carry that one you keep fooling around with. What made you think of that?”

“Well, I wasn’t sure, but if I was wrong, we were in for a hell of a fight. But, one way to destroy a vampire is to run it through the heart with a stake.”

“Okay,” Al pulled at his ear. “What you are getting at?”

“Okay, wooden stake in the chest. Can it be thrown? Could it be larger? A spear? Wooden shafted and driven through the chest?”

“Um, yes, it follows.”

“Okay then what is the difference between an arrow and a spear? A javelin and an arrow? Size? So, I used that wooden arrow that I have been working on.”

“You thought that during the fight?”

“Well,” Archer chuckled, “A significant deal more than that, but I’m being succinct about it.”

“Heh, my friend, if you think that fast after you drink your coffee, don’t you ever quit.”

Everyone except Stormy chuckled, who failed to appreciate the humor in Archer living on caffeine.

#

6. A Good Night


“Okay, we are cleared, top to bottom. Windows are secured, we have a room for us to sleep in. Who will take the first watch?” Al asked.

The Archer raised his hand.

“I’ll take the night half.”

“No.” Stormy, Gale and Andrea made a harmony of the word.

“Sorry, you need some sleep.” Gale said.

“Besides, you reek.” Andrea pointed out. “If I wake up and you are standing there, I will shoot your Yankee arse for one of those walking dead.”

“Okay, shower. Then I will do the watch.”

“No,” Stormy Knight argued. “Is it true that you have not slept at all? Then you need to sleep.”

Archer shook his head.

“Okay, just lay down for awhile. Rest.”

“Oh, all right. I’ll relax and recuperate for a bit. Al could you do first watch?”

“Naw, right now I need some shut-eye for a couple hours. I’m beat. I’ll volunteer Jameson. He’s slept quite well the last few nights.”

Jameson cleared his throat.

“Archer never woke anyone for the next watch, he did the whole shift!”

“No matter.” Andrea said. “You have first watch. Archer has a night off.”

The Archer shook his head slightly and winked at Jameson.

“YOU!” Stormy pointed a finger at the Yank. “Gingersnap, off to the showers with you. The men’s side has a shower system. I looked it over when checking out for any nasties that might be lurking there. You wash up and then lay down.”

“Your clothes, too, deposit them outside the door of the showers. There is a laundry . We’ll need to wash all our clothes.”

Heh.” The Archer said without trying to hide the humor. “Lawyers will always take the shirt off your back.”

The look from the attorney of the United States was enough to for the fearless Archer to move quickly at her command.

Archer spoke loudly as he walked down the stairs, “Clean mind, clean body; pick one.”

Anyone else want to cross swords? I will send them to the showers, too.”

Gail raised her hand. “With him?”

Andrea laughed and raised her hand. “Community shower?”

Oh hush. I’m first in that case.” Stormy laughed. “I like the redhead.”

We all do.” Andrea and Gail said in chorus.

#

7. Morning’s Early Light


Stormy nudged Andrea before dawn.

“Mm- mmph.” It was Andrea’s wittiest conversation she could have before morning coffee— her “Cuppa”.

Looking around Andrea nudged Gail.

“Wh’.” Was the best that the petite, muscular blond woman could verbalize as she stirred out of the best nighttime hibernation in a long while. She sat up, rubbing her eyes.

“The Archer is gone. Jameson is asleep.” Stormy said, matter

“Jameson!” Andrea threw a pillow at the coach driver with uncanny accuracy. “When did you come in?”

“Not long after Archer finished his shower. All you shelia’s went to bed, Al was asleep, he was up and said he was my relief and you were okay with it.”

In the control room, Al and the Archer were talking.

“ARCHER!” The women yelled as they came down the hallway.

“Uh-oh. Busted.” The Canadian chuckled. “You violated curfew.”

“Better to apologize than to ask permission.” Archer winked.

“You’re supposed to be sleeping.” Rachel said.

“You said to rest, and I did. I rested for an hour but could not catch any luck on sleep, so I came up here so that I would not disturb anyone.”

Stormy grumbled like distant thunder with lightning flashing her eyes, living up to her nickname.

“Men and children, the only difference are their sizes.” She said to Andrea.

Andrea laughed, looking at the two men that continued to gaze out the window at the outside world.

“What are you blokes looking at?” Andrea asked.

“Well,” Al said and looked out the window. “Birds.”

“Listen.” The Archer opened the heavy, armored-glass door to the outside courtyard.

The sounds of birds singing in the early morning light.

“I have not heard that in over a month. Birds stopped singing when all this happened.” Andrea said as she walked to the door listening to the music of nature’s composition for the first time in a long while. “What’s changed?”

“I’ve been standing watch for the last four hours. ” Archer said, Stormy sighed at this news with fire in her eyes. “There has been not a single shuffler meander by. Not one.”

“Are they gone?”

“I couldn’t know about that, just that I have not seen them from the observation area. The only change is that we destroyed that vampire yesterday. After Al and Jameson ran down the street and took it into a church. We can rest assured it is not in control of anything at the moment.”

“Control?” Jameson yawned as he stumbled in. “Y’all disturbed m’ sleep.”

“I’ll do more than just disturbing your sleep.” Gale was dangerous sounding. “I should kick your arse down the hallway and back for not finishing your shift.”

After my run down to the church there and all.” Jameson said, sounding a little more awake.

Shut it!” Gail said, then turning to the Canadian. “Taking it into a church killed it?”

Zac, Jameson and I took it down the road to the church— Catholic by the by— and when Jameson dropped it into a baptismal tub full of water. It bubbled and then burst into a flame, it was quite impressive.” Al said. “You’d think we dropped it into a vat of acid and gasoline, eh. It was quite exciting for a moment.”

“Yes, I would venture a guess that that did it.” The Archer continued. “I’m not positive, just a theory. Now that it is lighter, there are bodies are visible, lying all around out there. Those bodies— over there and there — we didn’t shoot them. It looks like they collapsed suddenly, what ever it is that energizes them was abruptly cut off.”

“The vampire?” Stormy’s asked. “Are you saying the vampire controlled these zombie creatures?”

“That is what I’m supposing.”

“So you think it was controlling them.” Gale asked.

“I cannot say that for sure. It could just be motivational. A bit like saying ‘rise up and walk’ and then just let them shuffle around, aimlessly. No direction, just setting them loose to put pressure on the humans.” Archer shrugged. “It is a hypothesis based on the scantest of information.”

“So.” Stormy’s logical side took over. “You are saying that it is not a virus?”

“In the way it appears as of now. The jury is still out. If you excuse the term.” The Archer winked. “It could be a sort of, I do not know, a sort of control that is passed on by senescence – death. You become dead, your systems are inert and are open to control. A frog’s leg, for example, can move even though the frog is dead or even if the leg is amputated. That could explain why those shufflers out there are not something to be reasoned with. There is no mind. Just a power control.”

“That kind of power is unknown, nothing I have ever heard of can do that.” Gale said. “And it is spread by contact with the zombies, not vampires. That makes no sense.”

“Yes, and true.” The Archer answered, nodding. “But it is all I have for now. Bigger brains than mine will need to think it over. One more reason to find a military center where they may have a fortress and are holding out against this. This started in Darwin, Sydney is the largest city, it should have a military base somewhere around the water.”

“Yes,” Jameson nodded. “There is a naval base on Garden Island there.

“Perfect. An island is easily protected!” Al said. “That’s our destination.”

The Archer nodded. “Agreed.”

“No, it is not what you are thinking. It’s an island, but has been connected to the mainland by bridges. Like your Manhattan island, for example.”

“Still.” The Archer said slowly. “It is a base, it will be defended, I hope, and a place we can dock a boat to without walking across land with those flesh-eaters hunting fresh meat.”

“Okay, then prepare to leave. Pack light. We leave at sunrise.” Al said.

Archer agreed.

Archer.” Zac said sleepily. “You were in the showers when we came back. I wanted to give this to you, but I was asleep before you were finished. The mum’s would not let me stay up.” Zac pointed at the women as he held up an exotic shape of limbs and string.

Where did you find that?” Archer’s eyes widened.

I found this in a shop, it was in a glass case. The Sergeant said you would like this.” Zac smiled.

Thank you,” Archer smiled as he ran his fingers over the four limbs of the bow. “You have any idea what you have here?”

A bow. It is unusual, I have never seen one like it.” Zac said, his eyes glittering with glee that the face of the redhead lit up with a rare smile. “I never saw one with forked arms before.”

This is a Penobscot style bow, it is custom made by White Wolf in the United States. Look at this here. It is called a Wind Warrior. And here? This is the number of the bow, the boyer’s name and the draw it has. This one goes up to seventy-pounds. I don’t think I have heard of one that went that high before, the name etched into it here “Midnight”. I don’t know if that is the color or the name of the bow.”

Name?” Zac asked.

A few shooters named their bows. I was one, but I’m considered a bit eclectic. My favorite bow was the Gertrude. But this one is my favorite now, she is beautiful.”

She?” Andrea laughed lightly.

Beauty, thy name is woman.” Archer said, looking again at the four-limbed bow as he held it up to the light. “The name of the bow is Midnight. Thank you, Zac, this is a wonderful gift.”

Oh! You could use your nickname with it and call it Midnight Thunder!” Zac was pleased with his thoughts on the subject.

Archer chuckled and looked down. “Maybe. We’ll see.”

“Now if someone can point out the direction to my clothes, I have gotten chafed wearing this prisoner’s jumpsuit. It rides up a bit.” The Yank said, changing the subject.

Quiet snickers could be heard as he disappeared with Stormy down the hallway towards the laundry room, pulling at the prisoner garb uncomfortably.

I keep getting a danged wedgie.”

#

8. Recognition

The Archer came back out after he pulled on his pants and socks. His shoulders were a testament to the skills he had with a bow as he carried a dark-gray polo shirt over his right shoulder.

He sat down by the armored glass and looked out, pulling on heavy black boots.

“Any changes outside?”

“None.” Al said as he surveyed with a pair of binoculars he had found. “It has been quiet, what can be seen, however, there is some movement six intersections distant heading away from the water, but I don’t have a view down towards the marina, it could be a Grateful Dead party down there for all I know.”

The redheaded Yank chuckled grimly and started to pull the polo shirt on over his head.

“Archer?” Stormy asked. “The tattoo you have on your chest? I recall seeing it before. I needed to think about it for a moment, but I remember you.”

“My tattoo?” He touched his chest. The Celtic heart with the black lightning bolt across it had been there so long, he had forgotten about it.

“You are T.H. Harte. The U.S. Olympic Archer that took the team to the finals, they said your form was all wrong, but it kept working for you. I helped sponsor you. My firm bought you equipment and some bows. Three of them if I remember.”

“He is… you are Thunder Harte?” Al blinked, looking from Stormy to the Archer. “He wrote a few books and is the host of the outdoor channel’s show “Against all odds”. Wow!”

Archer looked down and gave a heavy sigh. The sound of a man haunted by ghosts and tortured by a shattered soul.

“Yes, yes, and yes, I was Thunder Harte. But I cannot use that name anymore. I’m no longer that man.”

“You have a family. Your son is supposed to be one of the youngest to ever qualify for the U.S. Olympic Archery team.” Rachel said. “There was a legal challenge about minors in the sport.”

“Yes, I opposed him being pushed to be an archer on the team by the media. Their attitude was beyond the pale and I filed the suit for an invasion of privacy. It was his choice and his choice alone.”

“You keep talking about him in the past tense.” Al pointed out, his three-decades of police skills coming to the fore.

“Yeah,” Archer said softly, as if he did and did not want to talk about it. It was a wound that still made his soul bleed and began to pour out of him as if he could not stop his words. “We were overrun by those shuffling nightmares. So, my wife and son took shelter in a quiet, dark house and I drew off the mob by using fire bombs and a shotgun. There was a minor problem, and then my son came out to help, the courage of a pre-teen. ” Archer sighed. “They caught him and began to drag him off. My wife ran out with a stick to beat them away and they grabbed her too.”

He choked and his knuckles turned white as he squeezed the edge of the desk, the veins stood out in his forearms and neck. A man about to scream in agony.

I was a half-block away, semi-auto shotgun was stovepipe-jammed and I had the bow and four jars of turpentine.” The deep sound of a heart breaking sob came out of the one they called Archer. “It took too long to clear the jam, the shotgun wouldn’t cycle so I could clear a path. Then I finally cleared the jam and needed to eject another shell before I could jump back in the fight. But I was too late.”

He took another deep sigh as he pulled himself together.

“I shot them both.” He said quietly, almost inaudibly. “It was the best I could do. They were both bloodied already and I believed it was a virus at the time.”

“You didn’t know about the vampires.” Rachel said, showing her less stormy side.

“No. I could have saved them.” Archer drew a breath and looked out the window. “I failed them. I killed my family and there is no deeper Hell than what I’m in. I couldn’t even bury them.”

“I’m no longer a Harte.” He said in a strangled voice, anguish showed his face as he covered his eyes as if to blind himself to a vision remembered. “I have no name. Just… Archer. It is well enough of a name.”

You will need to forgive yourself, you will need time to find your way.” Gail said, putting a hand gently on his shoulder. “You need to put this behind you, the world has nearly come to an end.”

Forgive?” Archer shook his head. “No. I should live with this forever. There is no forgiveness for what I did.”

From his quiver, he pulled a plastic baggy that contained locks of hair.

“I cut some hair from their heads after I drove the zombies back. The blond is his and this, ” He reached in the bag and touched a lock of red hair. “Is from my wife.

Compared to my hair, she is more of an orange color, but she was a warrior from the north of Glasgow. By the time I got to her, they had bitten and severely tore her up, but she had given better than she taken. There were bodies with their heads stove in all around her.” Archer stroked both locks of hair as if there was some magic in them. Magic that he could not unlock, but refused to let go.

He rolled the plastic baggy up and put it back into a pocket in his quiver and closed the flap.

“Let’s hunt up something with working radios that won’t draw a crowd.” Gail said softly, taking her hand from Archer’s shoulder and stroking his hair. “Down by the marina, we can put to sea, zombies are not able to sneak up or mob us. I would bet the long dead ones would sink anyway.”

“Let’s pack up.” Archer said. Anything to draw attention away from him.

They were ready in moments and formed up under the watchful eye of Al.

The group headed out in the practiced cover pattern that Sergeant Frobisher had taught them to do.

#

9. Out On The Docks

For the first block where birds sang, streets were eerily empty of the walking horrors as they headed to the marina. The death of the vampire seemed to have a chilling effect on the animated dead. Decaying and partly mummified bodies lay everywhere. The presence of ravens feeding on the dead was oddly reassuring to the group. Where the dead walked, birds were absent and silent. Everyone considered the ravens to be a good sign.

The closer they approached the marina, the air seemed to change. Like a heaviness in the atmosphere they had not noticed before, it suffocated the mood of the armed human centipede. They had started their walk to the marina in the best spirits they had been in days, but the farther they walked, the more melancholy the group became. It was as if the soul of the land they walked on was dying.

Moments later, another group of tattered, half-rotted bodies appeared from around the corner of a cross-street and began to approach the heavily armed group.

I thought we killed the vampire.” Zac said in a frightened whisper.

There must be more than one.” Al answered quietly as he walked backwards, protecting the rear of the group as he scanned back and forth with his vertical limbed crossbow. “There ain’t any of those shufflers following us.”

A range? Like with a cell phone?” Archer asked.

By deduction there is more than one kind of vampire.” Stormy said, keeping her sound suppressed weapon against her shoulder. “Some more powerful than others. Foot-soldiers, like Renfield in the classic horror novel. You might have some vampires that would be the generals, they would… maybe… channel the power to the lower caste. Then the zombies are the shock troops that are unstoppable.”

Stormy?” Archer asked.

Yes, love?”

You are giving me a panic attack, please talk about something else, something nicer, like how lions eat baby zebra.”

You killed one vampire already.” Stormy nudged Archer with her hip.

You weren’t down there with the Yank and me.” Andrea said. “That was a serious piss-fight brewing.”

They began to use the arrows to take down the mob of horror that was approaching as they headed to the marina in a controlled pace. Sound suppressed, special weapons did their jobs brilliantly, but the tinkling of spent brass on the ground rang loudly in the silent area that no bird song could reach their ears or any winged life flew. Even the insects had abdicated flight in the area.

As they approached the marina, Archer pointed out a large ketch with sails rolled up on the booms, well tied up. It would be easy to prepare the boat for departure.

Al jimmied a lock of a barred gate that stood as a silent sentinel across the dock. It opened with a loud shriek of partly rusted hinges and closed with the sound of a steel drum full of marbles.

Looking back over the way they had come, several of the animated dead had heard and were drifting in towards the marina as if they were not sure where the sound came from, wandering aimlessly with ever more gathering in the street between the buildings.

Okay, it’s safe.” Gail said. “They are not coming at us directly. We need to walk carefully on the dock to keep the noise down, or we will bring all of Brissy down on us.”

Walking down the dock to the sail-yacht, a large man with a side-by-side shotgun stepped out into the open deck of a tour-boat.

“Hey!” He yelled.

Archer and Al stopped and drew their bows. Andrea, Zac and Stormy pointed their own weapons at the armed man, Zac’s shotgun now loaded with sharpened dowels.

“Ahoy.” Called Archer. “We are seeking safety only. We are not looting. Just need to listen to a radio and find a way to travel south.”

“You are under quarantine. Don’t c’me closer, you are no going to pass on dat virus to me.” He shouted.

“We are alive and breathing, when was the last time you saw one aim weapons at you and hold a conversation?”

The skipper paused.

Archer took advantage of the pause and spoke again.

“There is no virus. All this? It’s vampires— They are using the zombies as war dogs.”

“Bah! There are no such things as vampires!”

“There are no such things as the dead zombies that walk, either! But there they are!” Archer pointed at the bodies that ambled up and down the street. Still milling about trying to find the source of the sound that the gate had made.

The skipper swore under his breath.

“C’me ab’ard befer any of doze still walkin’ sees ya. Git below.” He lowered his shotgun. “I didn’ wanna to shoot an’way. I’m down to whut gravel, nails and bolt-heads I c’n scrape up off teh ground. I has lots o’ powder, but nothin’ fer shootin’, I has ta make do with scraps. Bloody awful whut it is.”

The group sat down around the inside of the cruiser. It was medium sized, but well appointed.

“I chartered until two months ago. The damned demon-things put an end ta dat overnight. I usually walk ta town ta live, but dis is my home now. Dis is de Maribeth an’ welcome ab’ard. She don’ run, though. The engine is farked fer awhile, I ordered a new fuel pump and have been waited fer it fer six weeks before dis all started. I don’ think I’ll be gettin’ it in now.”

“What if you took parts from the other boats around.” Andrea asked.

“I dun’ thin’ the other owners would appreciate it, besides, tha’s stealin and what good would I be if’n I were in jail? They’d bust me for sure an’ take me boat.” The skipper nodded. “By da way, me name’s Roberts. Abraham John Roberts. I’m cap’n of this vessel, whut’s left of ‘er an’way.”

“There are no police to arrest you. And the owners of the boats around here are gone. You are not stealing. You’re salvaging.” Archer said slowly.

Captain Roberts looked at Al, then Archer, then to the ladies for a moment.

“Whut are we waiting fer.” He chuckled. “Damn, I is getting old, I could ha’ been salvagin’ all dis time!”

“We would like to listen to the radio, too. Everywhere on the land most power is out and no radio is working on land.” Rachel said.

“Aye, we can do dat. Marine radio and I has a world short-wave radio set built in. Digital radio is available, too.” The Captain said. “I ha’ no listened to it much. I worry that de sound would bring them, so’s I just walk in ta town ta de stores, avoidin’ them ta hunt up food.”

The women turned it on low and sat drinking the Captain’s coffee. Andrea offering “a cuppa” every few minutes. Captain Roberts told stories of how the world changed from the south up north to the marina. How the changes came from tourists to the biters that came later.

“We get the parts in the morning. This will be hell of a better watch than being here alone.”

“Then we put into Sydney or some other town with an enclave or sanctuary?” Al asked.

“Aye, we can.” Captain Roberts answered. “But fer ta-night? We DRINK!”

“Here here!” Andrea laughed.

Archer, atypically quiet, just sat at the top of the steps. Dusk was more than two hours away.

“Once it’s gone dark, w’ pull all da tarps over de glass and git below. I keep lights ta minimum. I ha’ LED lights that adjust low.” Captain said. Then coughed. “We needs fuel, too, for such a trip. We will need to take on at least three-thousand liters of fuel or we run a chance o’ rowin’ b’fore we get ta where we wants ta be.”

“Hey, what if we just take a boat?” Al asked. “There is a whole fleet of vessels out there that have no one to claim them.”

The Captain stopped talking for a moment.

“Well, I don’ know de other boats as well, but it’ll sure’n satisfy a few cravin’s. We kin upgrade. I never thought about takin’ another boat. Hum…”

Unpacking the maps from the Maribella, the group now including the Captain walked down the moorings assessing each yacht. Finally settling on the Calliope. A luxurious world-class sixty-meter yacht that showed full on all six tanks. Checking the staterooms confirmed the crew was alone on the yacht.

The Calliope, secured and they moved slowly to the unplug the yacht’s power cables from the end of the marina.

“The radio is broadcasting that the area north of Sydney is under quarantine, they are blocking all roads.” Rachel said as the Captain had started the engines warmed them up.

“Here comes the farewell party.” the Sergeant shouted. Shuffling dead were attracted to the sounds of the vessel powering up.

“Dey’ll hold up at de gate.” The Captain said.

“Yeah… no. They have pulled the gate down already.” The Archer said, the sounds of rending metal attracting more walking horror. “Captain, we need to leave.”

The redheaded Yank looked back out the window at the failed gate. “As in now.”

“As in… We has ta get de fark outta here,” Captain Roberts said.

“Agreed,” The Al said. “Forget leaving on the turn of the tide. Let us just cast off now.”

Bloody hell! If yer’n not cast off now, just cut lines. Theys not organized, theys keep fallin’ off into the water, but I won’ ‘ave any o’ ya out dere as bait.”

Casting off, the sixty-meter yacht pulled away from the dock slowly. The motion was not missed by others on the edge of town. The dead, under control of their masters began to walk down towards the marina stopping only at the edge of water.

“Set a course,” The Captain ordered. “Use dat GPS dere, and indicate Sydney.”

Archer gave a rare smile to Stormy, putting down an arrow from his bow, Midnight.

You were going to make a stand?” Stormy frowned.

Stand? Hell no. I was going to shoot that transformer on the pole over there and drop the power line into the water. I’m sure we would be safe, but anything standing in the wet areas would have an exciting moment or three.” Archer winked.

Wi’ one o’ da li’l sticks?” The Captain asked. “F’k’n’ Bullshit.”

Captain.” Al said. “With all due respect, that man could do it. I have seen him do things a hundred paces away with those “li’l sticks” that should be impossible.”

The Captain shook his head land laughed.

Den I’s glad ta has yer on my side, Yank.”

#

10. Ocean and Freedom

The Calliope gathered speed, passing ten-knots and they turned south. Following the shore with the land on the right, they sailed into the gathering darkness.

Captain Roberts sat back and sighed.

“We are clear. Radar shows us with no traffic near and sonar shows that the water depth is increasing nicely. We are in the channel.” The Captain nodded. “Now… I have something to celebrate our escape.”

Hopping off his seat Captain A. J. Roberts opened up a trunk he had lugged from Maribella without a word on what he had inside.

Bottles and bottles of exotic liquors. The largest of which he pulled up.

“RHUM!” He laughed. “All the way from the Caribbean! I bet you have not seen the likes.”

The Archer laughed.

“Actually,” Archer said softly to Rachel, “I have been drinking that brand for years.

Rachel laughed. “I have a bottle of that in my house now.”

The drinking went on for some minutes, The Archer was working on his second cup over ice to the Captains third. The two were seemingly getting into a race.

Suddenly the radio crackled and the Captain choked on his fourth cup of the dark liquor.

“Emergency channel is working! Huzzah!” He grabbed the microphone and called.

“Emergency caller, this is the Calliope out of Brisbane bound for Sydney. Go ahead with your traffic.”

“This is Royal Australian Navy Destroyer Guardsman. Reverse your direction return the way you came.”

“Negative, Guardsman, we are out of Brisbane, all on board are healthy and are seeking asylum from the chaos of the area.”

“Calliope, this is your last warning, the quarantine has been extended to Brisbane, come about now and return to your point of departure.”

“Guardsman, we have women and children on board, we cannot return. Do you wish to condemn them to deal with the collapse of government there?”

“This is Captain Monroe of the RAS Guardsman. Calliope, please reverse your course, I do not wish to fire upon you. Heave to and prepare to be boarded.”

“We are making our way to Sydney. Board us there.” The Captain Roberts replied to Captain Monroe.

“Heave to, or we will fire.”

“Captain.” The Archer was looking out a window. “We have a problem.”

In the air, a heavily armed helicopter suddenly lit up with navigation lights in the failing twilight of the coming evening. Already airborne, missile pods were visible on the sides of the rotary-winged gunship.

Captain Roberts looked out.

“Oh f’kn’ bloody brass nuts.” The Captain said loudly. “If you folks believe in a hell, you might wish to call ‘em an’ ask if they have exchange programs, it is about to become worse than that here. Guardsman is a Hobart Class ship, that there bird be one o’ its hammers.”

“What are those?” Stormy asked as two, then four pinpoint lights seem to move towards them from a mile out.

“Archer?” Andrea asked, pointing out at what Stormy saw.

Incoming! They’ve opened fire!” The Archer yelled. He reached down to his quiver and pulled out a rolled up plastic bag. Holding two locks of hair close to his heart, he watched the missiles track towards them at unimaginable speed.

“I”m sorry.” He whispered to the last remains of his family as he dropped the baggie over the rail of the yacht. “I’m so sorry I failed.”

OUT! Abandon ship!” Al was like a bull shoving everyone he could reach towards the railing. The only time in his life he used his hand to hand training to shove a group.

“Abort! ABORT! Do not fire! ABORT! ABORTABORT! We are…” The Captain screamed into the microphone.

It was his last conscious thought as the missiles impacted into the bridge of the Calliope. High explosive warheads sent shockwaves through the vessel. Air heated to thousands of degrees shattered doors and bulkheads as the yacht disappeared in a fireball of continuing weapons fire as the helicopters their weapons repeatedly.

Only after the Calliope’s shattered, burning hull slipped beneath the surface of the water the gunships returned to base on shore.

The haze and smoke slowly dissipated as the killing machine moved off, returning to the carrier.

There would be no rescue boats launched as the Guardsman followed orders and turned away back to its patrol.

#

Epilogue


Radio transmission on shore after the military radar had detected the contact:

Captain Michael Monroe made his report to the base. “Contact made. Illegal threat neutralized. No spread of infection or contamination. End of report.”

Rear Admiral Shyldon Gillette, Commander of the Royal Australian Border Protection Command read the electronic report out loud and turned towards a shadow in the corner with red eyes glimmering in the dark.

“The secret remains safe, my Lord, the operation will be able to continue to relocate the human blood sources into the feeding reservations.”

“Excellent. Keep the fear up. Any human that finds clues to the real source of the undead slaves, kill them. The living cannot know what is happening until the whole of the world is under our control.” The lips of Lord Maldark’s ghostly face barely moved to create a voice that sounded like it came from the depths of a muddy tomb. “Tell the lower caste to increase the numbers of the risen and to drive herds of the food towards the reservations, do not give them a chance to contemplate their position in the food-chain. That is key to our success.”

Yes, my Lord.”

The face that appeared to float in the shadow twisted unnaturally into a grin, long fangs glittered like glass in the subdued light, but the admiral was under the ancient one’s control now and was no longer afraid as he was the first night.

That night, over a month ago.

Out on the water near the sunken Calliope, a plastic sandwich bag floated on the water stuffed with two gently cut locks and five hastily pulled blood-red strands of hair sealed inside.

Together the hairs drifted towards the land of Oz in the prevailing current with wreckage from the destroyed yacht.

A bow floated on the wreckage, an unusual penobscot bow made of exotic woods. The bow lay on a raft of floatation devices, hastily lashed together, clear of the water with a quiver of arrows as the land grew closer with each passing moment.

<Finis?>

2 Seconds… T-Minus 2 Seconds

Standard

T-Minus 2 Seconds

Passing through the atmosphere, photons interacted with the oxygen and nitrogen, but still straight on to the stalled dark blue car of LucilleMay Sprecks who was frozen in fear.

Photons struck the paint and chrome of Lucy’s car. Instantly redirected by reflection, the photons passed through the air at ninety-thousand kilometers per second slower than in a pure vacuüm. Some colors absorbed by the paint and then reflected the remaining color of dark blue.

Engine 2315 self-dispatched, rolled down the driveway, already the crew had dropped paintbrushes and rakes, running towards the engine. The seasonal firefighters did not know the nature of the call, but the Captain was waving frantically. The Engineer already on the radio. The two men, from years of experience, knew of the impending accident was just seconds from happening and called for a dispatch of a paramedic unit.

“Copy, medics Code-3 to your location.” Dispatch responded.

The photons traveled the distance between the sudden obstruction and passed through the iris of Russell’s eye in twenty-five nanoseconds — 0.000000025 — striking the light-sensitive membrane in the back of Russell’s eyes. Neural pathways reacted to the absorbed photons and processed it to his occipital lobe, in the back of Russell’s head.

T-1.9999955 seconds. Photons streaked past Russell’s head and entered the lens of Lulu’s eyes. The nervous system transmitted the image at two-hundred miles-per-hour to the brain of Mrs. Fletcher.

Russell’s brain transmitted the image to the frontal cortex. One-point-six seconds it took to have the one-hundred billion axioms to recognize the threat, the mind of the skilled rider tried to organize a reflex action.

T-1.99925 seconds. Fifty-miles per hour they traveled towards the immobile car. More than seventy-three feet per second — Already they had covered more than a third of a football field.

T- 1.5 Seconds. Lucy saw the collision coming, her eyes processing the closing motorcycle and her mind locked up. All she needed to do to avoid the impending collision was move her foot to the gas-pedal. But in that moment, she did not know what to do. There were no answers for the panicked soul that only wanted a glass of wine and to save the soul of a lady Druid.

Russell’s brain processed information at the speed of three supercomputers.The most intelligent man on earth was not needed to know that the exit routes were:

Oncoming traffic in front of the stopped car — rejected as death was all but certain.

Forest with big trees, bushes and large pointy rocks: – rejected. The outcome would be equally bad.

Hit car — poor choice, but the debate was moot with the outcome defaulted while the mind of the man searched for safe exit to this disaster. He was out of time for evasive maneuvers.

T- 1.25 seconds. BRAKES! The mind screamed! Russell took a deep breath.

T- 1.20 seconds. BRAKES! The mind begged. The entire world was silent, his soul was deaf to all sounds. All the world was mute.

T- 1.1 seconds. BRAKES! The mind commanded. No bumps, no sound of wind. Silence was louder than a rock-concert in a steel warehouse.

T- 0.9 seconds. BRAKES! The mind ordered. The engine was inaudible.

T- 0.8 seconds. A pleading voice sounded through the earbud of the motorcycles comm system.

“NOoooooo!” It was Lulu.

T- 0.5 seconds. BRAKES! The foot finally responded and jammed down on the rear brake and the hands grabbed for the front brake lever.

T- 0.4 seconds. The brake pads built up pressure. Years of riding, he closed his hand into a fist and crushed the front brake lever.

T- 0.15 seconds. The friction pads moved into contact with the rotating mass of the brake disc and began to engage at fifty-one feet away.

In an instant, Russell did calculations in his head, estimating he needed an extra twenty feet to fully perform an emergency stop.

Twenty feet he did not have.

T- 0.10 seconds. Russell tensed up. Impact was imminent. Pressure in rear brake built up enough to stop rotation of the rear tire. Seventy-percent of the weight of the motorcycle shifted to the front tire.

The shock absorbers on the motorcycle compressed as the big bike did a nosedive. On two tires, patches of rubber the size of a hand of a large man tried to stop a half-ton of steel, rubber and human flesh and bone.

The rear tire of the motorcycle began to skid, the tire locked up and melting from friction with the highway, liquid rubber now lubricating the tire which began to yaw to the right, the front tire slowing faster than the rear. Lulu, sat farthest away from the center mass of the motorcycle and adding more weight to the pendulum. Out of control with the dynamic forces Russell valiantly struggled to stop the inevitable.

Unstoppable, moving towards the immobile car, “Crossed up” as Gertrude the motorcycle yawed and slid sideways, they moved with Lulu making prayers, begging that it would be all right.

“Please don’t let it be bad, Lord, please let it be all right.”

It would not be all right.

T- 0.05 seconds. Russell could see over the top of the car, his mind processed information at a phenomenal rate, he could see the road was clear on the far side of the obstruction.

If only… Was his sole thought.

He could see the eyes of the little old lady, they were wide like a deer in the headlights, with plate-sized pupils.

T- 0.02 seconds. Photons made shadows on the ground. Shadows that merged as the front tire was bound down as tightly as it could be without locking up as the rear brake did. Speed was dropping rapidly, if it was on a graph, it would show the line of the deceleration as nearly vertical on a second by second chart.

T- 0.01 seconds. Russell could calculate his speed was still greater than…

T- 0.00 seconds. Impact! The photons that made shadows, now only made one as the front tire hit slightly ahead of the rest of the hog.

The force of the energy ripped the big bike’s grips from Russell’s hands. The husband’s body became a missile of kinetic energy launched by the impact of the vehicles.

Russell hit, bounced and flew over the top of the car, breaking the windshield with his helmeted head as he went by and landed partly on his face. The open-faced helmet affording him little protection, sliding and rolling down the asphalt. Russell came to a rest on his back. His face hurt, but he was awake.

T+ 0.50 seconds. Russell laid there, taking stock of his limbs. Pain was not overpowering but there was no question he was hurt. Movement at the periphery of his eyes made him turn his head.

The car was on the move. The little old lady was leaving! He could see her tail lights getting smaller as he tried to read the license plate from his awkward position.

Then, he saw his best friend’s body.

She was alarmingly still. Still as death.

T+ 1.5 seconds.

“Lulu…” He whispered a plea. “Lulu, move.”

She lay on the ground, partly under the motorcycle. Unmoving, silent. She lay there with her leg bent in way that was unnatural. He tried to crawl on his arms, leaving a bloody trail back to where his wife, his copilot and his best friend and lover, lay. Russell’s vision became blurred with agony as the pain set in. Blood dripped off his face where the road abraded his skin away with the rough black top.

T+ 5.0 seconds. Pounding of feet and a heavy “Thump-thump” of a huge motor pulling up next to him. An enormous chopper with an even larger rider looking down at him through goggles. A tattoo of the 82nd Airborne division on his forearm oddly was in focus to Russell’s eyes.

“We caught her, brother. We caught that old lady before she got very far. Hang in there, help is on the way.”

“Lulu?” Russel moaned. “My wife?”

“Your old lady’s alive, bro. Hurt bad, but alive.”

“Call 9-1-1.”

“Station is right there, they are coming now.” The giant biker told Russell with a slight Norwegian accent. “They’ll be here in two seconds.”

Two seconds, if only he had seen the car two seconds sooner.

FINIS

2 Seconds… T-Minus 3 Seconds

Standard

T-Minus 3 Seconds

Twice the moon’s distance from the earth, photons closed the distance to the growing blue and white sphere that destiny had chosen for them. Of the many photons that left the photosphere of Sol, dust, satellites, Van Allen Belt and the associated atomic debris entrapped around the earth’s radiation belt, while many photons reflected off or absorbed by alpha particles, more than half passed through the region.

Alongside the highway, Lucy saw the opening in the traffic and took her foot off of the brake of her German engineered car and pressed on the throttle. Turning the wheel she pulled out across the lanes in an illegal U-turn. It was perfect, a godsend to get on her way.

The big car spoke with its authority and crossed the lanes of traffic…

AND STOPPED! Jamming her foot down on the brake pedal, narrowly missing a car that turned in, she had not seen the turn signal on the old pickup truck driven by an even older man. Then Lucy took her foot off the brake and began roll forward again more slowly, crossing the lanes midway and trying to figure out if she still had enough space to merge it, Looking down the lane of traffic, not enough room, she looked back and realized the headlight of a motorcycle was close.

Too close!

Station 2315 still had the garage doors open, two bays, two type-3 engines with fully stocked first aid sat, now warmed up with the daily checks. Two full crews did maintenance around the property while Captain Thomas watched the disaster set up.

He didn’t wait.

“Hank, hit the alert button!” He yelled at the engineer sitting in the driver’s seat. “There’s an accident going to happen!”

“Where?”

Hank’s eyes followed the captain’s pointing finger as his hand automatically moved to the control panel.

“Ohshit.” He said it as one word. His right hand mashed on the siren button, not pausing to switch the dial to any other setting.

A hundred-yards behind, “The Hammer” Erikssen saw that the rider in front of him did not seem to react to the big German luxury car that pulled out and stopped in front of him. Even from here, he swore he could see the saucer-wide eyes of the little-old-lady that was piloting the rubber and steel cage on wheels.

He yelled a futile warning to the rider and his passenger. But no matter how loud he could yell, it was not humanly possible for Russell to hear the big Norwegian.

A string of Norwegian profanities issued forth while Stonn helplessly watched what was to come.

Lulu spoke of what she planned for dinner, later with the children and pondered what she had in the ice-box. They would sit on the patio after Russell cooked up the chops she had to get cooked or throw out. Russell agreed that it sounded like a good plan and mentally mapped his route home.

Russell turned the throttle up on Gertrude, preparing to change lanes, just checking his mirror and glancing over his shoulder making sure the lane was clear, he noted a large group of riders was behind him. At least ten riders judging from the headlights. Looking ahead again to see the…

CAR!

2 Seconds… T-Minus 5 Seconds

Standard

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 15 Seconds

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T-Minus 15 Seconds

 

“Next time we come, let’s stay the night at the village?” Lulu asked. Russell knew the place she was referring to. A bed and breakfast house with a claw-footed tub in the room. A huge fireplace with wood stacked by the workers and an expansive view of the lake.

A hot tub on the balcony to watch the sunset over the crest of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It was the perfect spot to spend time away and to themselves.

The very thought of it made him smile.

In space, photons were leaving the orbit of Venus behind and approaching the orbit of the moon. A this distance, the moon would be barely more than a bright spot on the edge of the Earth’s blue disk,  the shape and distance became clear as the seconds ticked by.

Four-hundred meters ahead, a quarter-mile away, Lucy Sprecks, irritated and frustrated with the traffic, moved her right foot off the brake, moving it to the gas pedal, while doing the trick that her husband showed her years before, to use the left foot on the brake, letting her have a quicker dash if she needed.

Lucy had picked up a few tricks over the years, she was an expert driver, no matter what the Motor Vehicle Nazi’s said. She had more years driving than the testers had been on this earth. She was not about to listen to the young’uns about changes in rules that had worked for years.

Seat belts! Heaven’s sakes. She never had seat belts as a child and she lived. But now, even that kindly State Patrolman who talked to her at length, even if it seemed that he and his girlfriend partner camped out at the corner down from her gated driveway. He would pull her over before she even got to the stop sign down at the end of the street and lecture her.

Once again, she would put it on at his goading. Even the cute little girl who carried more equipment than Lucy felt the officer needed, lectured her on a few occasions when her man-partner was not there.

“Are you two married?” Lucy asked once, “You should be, you make a cute couple.” She added when the young lady answered “No.”

One late afternoon after Lucy got another lecture from Officer Karen, Lucy sat at the stop sign an extra hundred feet down the street with the police car right behind her when a man from the place she had fled long ago with Joshua after the death of her children, had a seizure at the wheel while coming to the intersection that Lucy waited at.

Drifting over the line, the pickup truck with the big camper on the back went through the intersection without slowing down and hit Lucy head-on as she sat still.

With air-bags and seatbelts, Lucy walked away from collision with nothing more than a skinned nose.

And she walked quickly! The smoke from the airbags made her think that the car was on fire, her knees hurt, but she would have walked barefoot over chilren’s toy blocks rather than to burn to death.

Ever since that day, she had panic reactions when something came at her from any direction. She even became unable to watch the news when it showed car crashes on the TV.

Ten times the orbit of the moon away, photons closed the distance to the earth and moon had separated into two points of light, the brightest points at this distance, other than the sun that was falling behind.

On the back of a rumbling Harley-Davidson, Lulu talked into the microphone of plans with the children and a weekend on the lake with the entire family as they cruised along.

A spluttering sound and a complaint from Russell interrupted Lulu, Russell suffered a direct hit by a butterfly to his shoulder that spread to his chest and cheek. He would need a shower.

Lulu offered to help, after the children when to bed, the tip of her finger playing with the back of his neck, below the helmet.

Nevada Douglas County Fire Department Station 2315, Engineer Hank Kettleman stood up and looked at the Captain.

“That will not leak again this summer. All new parts.” Hank smiled, pulling off nitrile gloves and throwing them into the can in the corner.

Captain Thomas nodded and looked down the drive as it opened out on to the highway, the sounds of a deep rumble, like an earthquake, but constant and growing louder.

A group of motorcycles, Robert Thomas owned his fair share of iron horses and would never miss an opportunity to watch a club ride by.

As Bob watched the highway, he noted a late-model Mercedes sitting to the right of the fog-line with its turn signal on, but it was not in a turning lane, nor was there an intersection.

Bob had seen this before, a triple-fatality accident a few years before, teenagers in an old VW Bus pulled an illegal U-turn in the highway after a missed corner, the broad-side impact from the delivery truck split the teen’s car in half, spilling bodies out on to the pavement.

Two died at the scene, and the third, the driver, gave up and willed himself to death a few days later. No amount of medicine would save the soul who felt responsible for the death of his own brother and girlfriend.

The length of a football field away, Russell and Lulu enjoyed their conversation while they drove the hour’s ride home with plans about dinner and a shower later.

It was Saturday night, after all!

2 Seconds… T-Minus 60 Seconds

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T-Minus 60 Seconds

Lucy was getting impatient, traffic lined up and unbroken for a few minutes — too many. She was getting impatient and irritable. Not for the first time she swore at the numbers of people around the lake that Joshua loved, and ultimately died in while fishing. She longed for the days where you could drive for an hour and not see a single soul.

A break in the traffic in the opposite direction showed itself. Lucy was going to take it. Coming at her from in front, she timed the arrival of no cars in the direction she wanted to go.

Space – Photons crossed the orbit of Venus, speeding on the way to Earth. Many of the photons would be absorbed by dust, debris and even reflected away by satellites before entering into the atmosphere of the only planet to have been absolute in the discovery of life on its surface.

One-thousand one-hundred meters away from Lucy and her new Mercedes that all the women were jealous of, Russell and Lulu laughed over the intercom when she slid her hands under his jacket, running her hands over the chest she knew so well and always enjoyed her husband’s body and any chance she could touch him, she would.

Especially if it was an inappropriate time and place, she enjoyed his reactions ever the more.

As a wife, she would walk arm in arm with her husband, often with her hand in his back pocket just so she could squeeze anytime her hand had a need.

As a mother, she loved her children more than life itself. Lulu was known to run over rattlesnakes with her truck if there were any in the areas of the hundred-acre desert backyard that served as the children’s playground.

Russell had his own fun with the girl of the dark eyes and black hair that moved in with him, taking his last name and giving him children that he loved most in this world.

Even more than his big v-twin motorcycle that he bought before he married Lulu. It was the ride, he felt, that Lulu fell in love with him for.

Lulu had other ideas, mostly on how Russell’s jeans fit around his hips.

But what ever the causes of the two soul mates to find each other, neighbors and family knew it was a love affair of legends.

Just a thousand yards ahead, LucyMay clenched her teeth in frustration, she hated traffic. Unwilling to admit that driving was becoming more difficult for her, she would argue with everyone and anyone over the subject that her mind was as acute as it ever was. Which was true, but her body suffered from greatly diminished reflexes.

It was times like this that she never thought about the size and speed of oncoming traffic. She felt that her car was the speediest and safest on the road for a hundred miles in any direction.

An intersection on the highway nearly nine-hundred yards away, a dozen Harley-Davidson motorcycles waited to turn and merge with the flow of traffic. Riders waved at the couple and Russell waved back in the common show of solidarity of two-wheeled riders have everywhere.

Destiny awaited the players who were in play.

In space, from the photon point of view, the earth separated from a blueish speck to two specks of the moon and earth.

Time: T-Minus 35 Seconds.

2 Seconds… T-Minus 300 Seconds

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T-Minus 300 Seconds

Riding along at the speed limit, Russell and Lulu talked of having lunch at the North shore of the lake, Ian had done an extra good job this time.

Russell had his open-faced helmet on so the conversation was easier for him. Lulu wore a full face helmet with a stout chin guard with a gem-light just above the eye line. The light allowed Lulu to read map sections at night when she would tape to the back of Russell’s helmet. A very expensive and light-weight helmet, made from such materials that a fighter pilot or NASA would be envious of.

Laughing at a joke, they passed a state patrol car that sat on the side the of the road, the officer inside doing paperwork of a recent citation. Russell like everyone else on that section of road checked their speed at that moment. Lulu laughed at her husband, he was just doing the speed limit anyway, and yet he still backed off the throttle slightly.

“No need to slow down old man!” Jabbing him in the side with her thumb. “You drive like a grampa anyway!” Her voice clear in the electronic mini-earphone built into the helmet that then in turn connected to the motorcycle’s audio system.

Two miles ahead, Lucy found her bible. She had tucked it into her blouse pocket. She did not have to make the ten-mile trip back home and be late for lunch after all! Now, Edna would not have wait to have her soul saved.

Or at least Lucy would TRY to save Edna’s soul –again.

Pulling over, Lucy let the big trucks pass. The next place to turn was another three-miles, this spot would be good enough for a U-turn if she just did it quick.

Traffic was a pestilence as Lucy waited, she remembered the days when her husband would drive them in their old car – then itself was a jewel, a Darrin. Sporty, windy with the top down and it was the most expensive thing that Joshua bought. She brought herself back from the distracting thought as the wine was waiting for her in large enough amounts to improve the day for even the dour Katarina Kurk, the German woman who was hysterically funny when she had a half-bottle of wine in her.

Katarina, once an actress and comedian in her old country, Kat had retired to California, then to the Nevada side of the lake. Hating everyone that was not her friends, it would take her many meetings to warm up to any one person.

Katarina would not even crack a smile, even with watching reruns of Abbott and Costello on the newest television she could afford. Although the woman had long retired, she had a habit of buying new household items every-other year. Nothing in her house was more than two years old. Kat never batted an eye for spills on her sofa or chairs, she just would replace everything.

Rumor had it that her most loved furniture remained in a house in Los Angeles for when she wanted to entertain her old friends in Hollywood.

Here, in the high-mountains, she was a party animal from the old-school ways. Able to out-drink many men.

Few tried, most felt a great fear of Kat, she was a giggly drunk, but her temper flared like a volcanic blast if she was ever pushed. Katarina was famous locally for beating a would-be armed robber that raided a grocery store where she was shopping. One of the pair put a machete in her face and she proceeded to beat the young man unconscious with a stick of dry salami. His partner ran up to assist, Kat used the same salami stick to crush the other bad guy’s testicles with a blow that security cameras recorded that the shop owner released online.

A late night talk-show host invited Katarina to sit and talk, leading to more movie offers, most of which she turned down.

And then, there was the rogue-ish secretary that worked for Katarina.

Tall, rugged, the redheaded assistant played winemaster when the women met, and had arms that both Edna and Lucy loved to touch. He never complained and always kept their glasses and bottles fresh and full.

If ever he complained about sexual harassment, Kat never said.

The women’s coffee klatch was Lucy’s favorite time of the week.

All five of them.

And then Sunday, too!

It was a great day, Lucy thought and smiled.

2 Seconds… T-Minus 500 Seconds

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T-Minus 500 Seconds

Energy.

It boils and seethes on the surface of Sol, the solid calcium ferrite surface heated by the energy of the high energy photons that kept the oceans if neon plasma lit with the glow of seething heat from the core of the sun. Energy generated a hundred-thousand years before this day, slowly making way outward in the slow, random walk, transferring heat to the surrounding material along the way.

On the surface of the sun, photons finally freed from the surface traveled through space at full speed. A blue/green and white marble that orbited Sol was just a small speck at this distance as the photons sped away from the star that had given them birth. The electromagnetic packets of energy quickly reached full speed of nearly three-hundred thousand kilometers-per-second after passing through the photosphere.

While the photons sped their way towards the only planet with life and a loving couple on the back of a rumbling motorcycle, Lucy Sprecks got into her car. She was now approaching ninety-years of age. Joshua, her shining star of her life, had passed away years before. These days, Lucy just went and donated time to charity work and her church.

Sharing the love of the good book became the only reason she left the house these days. Her own child rarely visited, busy with his own life.

Long passed her addictions of prescription medications, Lucy now drank her bottle of wine each lunch time and was looking forward to today’s lunch with her friends. Edna supplied more wine than any of the Society of Lady Druids.

Lucy was certain she would convert the heart of Edna to the true path of Christian religion. Then a sudden memory!

“I forgot my bible!” Sighed Lucy. She pulled over and double checked in her oversized purse. It was not there, nor was the passage she had copied out for Edna to read. She neededd to turn around and go back home. She loved her big car, the Mercedes made her feel safe, but it was difficult to do tight maneuvers with Lucy barely able to look over the steering wheel of the powerful turbo-diesel German-built car.

In space, waves of EM radiation, the photons given birth tens of thousands of years before, now closed the distance at the cosmic speed limit speeding to the destination on earth.

2 Seconds… T-Minus 14,400 Seconds

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T-Minus 14,400 seconds

 

One summers day, on his beloved Harley-Davidson, Mister and Missus Fletcher enjoyed the weather of the midsummer’s offering. The neighbors watched the children as they spent their anniversary on the back of an iron horse and freedom in their hearts.

At the dwarf-yellow star that human now call Sol, photon packets that spent the last thousand-centuries in the random walk from the core of the sun had now lost much of their energies.

Frequencies, randomized now into what had become known as visible light began to move faster as the compressed and glowing hot gasses reduced to a density to allow the photons to reach speeds commonly associated with light. Ten percent, then twenty, fifty-percent of the speed of light moves in a vacuum, the EM radiation began to move.

T-minus 10,800 seconds.

On earth, the eighty-cubic inch V-twin engine rumbled in good tune. A header pipe that Russell had routed into a high-efficiency muffler improved the fuel consumption while giving more power— and less noise— was the song of freedom for the couple that rode on the full-dressed motorcycle.

The sounds of the wind, the intercom they used to talk with while wearing their helmets. All the details that represented their closeness.

It also gave Lulu, the beautiful wife, teacher and mother, a titan in a tiny body, reason to hold on to the man that she called “Husband”.

Not that she ever needed a reason to hold him close, it was just a perk of riding on the back of their favorite steed.

The midnight-blue of the paint glittered with faint scratches that were long earned with thousands of laps around the blue of the mountain lake.

Russell once estimated they had driven around the earth’s circumference, just on the mountain roads that circumnavigated the twenty-two mile long lake. It was a trip the happy-camper couple made often. Camping along the shores of the lake in the many campgrounds maintained by the Federal and State Agencies.

The sky was blue with broken clouds, the chill of the mountain air tickled the souls of the couple that escaped the daily grind and pain of the wife-come-teacher and the business-creator and owner husband that was their work week.

Winding their way through the forest, following the black strip of asphalt and the dashed lines, Russell told a joke about a mason and his union, but the mason got stonewalled.

Lulu laughed into the intercom like a dutiful wife, but rolled her eyes and shook her head at the stupid joke.

Lunch at their favorite stop, “Ian’s”, seafood grilled over an open fire, the perfect break for the mid-day meal, sitting on a balcony, overlooking lake waters so clear, that it could give cause for acrophobia- a fear of heights, looking down through the water to the bottom of the jewel of the Sierra Nevada.

An hour and a quarter of fresh bread, fish, grilled red baby potatoes and wine by Ian Mehretu, the owner and cook in the tiny, lakeside eatery.

Russell paid the bill and the two walked out of the restaurant holding hands as they headed to where Harrison the Hog waited for them with a machine’s patience.

Helmets on, the intercom plugged in, the big engine rumbled to life and the day held fewer clouds in the sky as they merged into traffic of the high-mountain community main road.

They had a long trip ahead of them to their favorite mountain lookout and then back home.

Time was T-Minus 6,300 seconds.

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.

2 Seconds… T-Minus 3,437,424,000 Seconds

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T-Minus 3,437,424,000 Seconds

 

Harley-Davidson Motorcycles was born of little more than a handshake, and a gentleman’s honor between two best friends, than business partners. To this end, they achieved both respect and honors of those that worked for them over the intervening years of two world wars and into the future.

In the war with Pancho Villa, the military purchased some of the boys’ (Now grown to men.) Machines. A colonel who rode with his troops was greatly impressed by possible uses of the motor-powered bikes to get messages from one site to another in a promptly.

World War I — the Great War, came to the fore. The military with its long memory ordered thousands, eventually numbering more than fifteen-thousand of William and Arthur’s motorcycles with the new V-twin arranged engines.

Life improved as the employees respected the owners and the employees worked the best that they could to build products that they would want to own themselves.

World War II, the war that followed the War-To-End-All-Wars and the government called upon Harley-Davidson once again to produce the legend they had before.

William and Arthur were more than capable and happy to oblige. They increased the power of the V-twin time and again, the iron horse was no longer on rails, but rubber tires and now could be ridden.

Sadly, William did not live to see the end of the war. A conflict that both saddened him and made his company famous.

After a long hard year of making contracts and sure that they filled all their obligations. William went to play golf and relax after a stressful day in the weeks following the attack on Pearl Harbor. William Harley never came home, dying of a cardiac arrest that evening.

William Harley was 1,996,444,800 seconds old and the time was T- Minus 2,175,984,000 seconds.

The company’s reputation spread as the power of the engines grew and the nickname of “Hog” that had begun as a racing team now became common reference to the large motorcycles.

Returning soldiers found that the freedom of the road was ever more pleasant with the powerful and dependable motorcycle from the once best of friends that dreamed of machines were best of of friends as business partners. Harley-Davidson Motorcycles were the most desired of all the big machines by a generation that had lived with horrors of death,  horror and destruction unmatched in history.

T-Minus 1,923,696,000 seconds

Mourning his friend for years after Bill had passed away from a heart attack, Arthur had stayed the course of his motorcycle company on the same track as he, William and the rest of the Davidson crew chose, together. Bill lived to honor his best friend, increasing the depth and breadth of the company that they had started so long ago.

Five days after Christmas 1950, Arthur and his wife, Clara, left the house in the car. Ice covering the roads had melted, in the shadows of trees it was still below freezing, the entire countryside was in the dead of winter. While Arthur was a careful driver, not so the driver of the pickup truck that slid around the corner on the icy pavement and hit them, driver side headlight to driver side headlight at less than twenty-five miles-per-hour. Arthur’s car careened off the road and came to rest against a tree. Hard interior surfaces with sharp objects did more damage to the human occupants than the impact of the accident and the untimely death of Arthur Davidson was felt throughout the motorcycle community.

Arthur was 2,201,904,000 seconds old.

In 2008, Harley-Davidson produced motorcycle number 1HD1DJV131Y 584344, the skills of the company were not wasted on the powerful machine. It was perfect only when the thirty-year old inspector, David Oliver “Papa DOK” Kraig deemed it so. On the computerized display, the power curves that the engine put out were not just within limits, but perfect.

After a brake-check and this newest of additions to the H-D family received the pronouncement “Perfect” by Chris “Eliminator” Thanatos. Six-foot four-inch frame that was always in a dark mood, he was without mercy as he place a red-tag of rejection on anything that was even marginally inside of the test limits. A strict personal need and a meticulous eye for flaws made for many employees on the assembly line to flinch. When it came to this OCD employee doing inspections – It was perfect or it never saw the light of day.

Passing with flying colors, one of the names that the employees labeled this new chrome and painted horse was “P.H.” or “Perfect Hog”.

Shipped with care out west. It sat on the sales lot until a young man who William would have been proud of sat astride it and smiled. Russell Fletcher’s dark eyes looked over the chrome that William and Arthur’s old company had given birth to.

Before the hour was up, Russell was on the road with his prized new possession.

A life of glory on the most glorious machine of the year, Russell laughed every night he rode.

And Russell rode a lot.

T-Minus 3,696,000 seconds

 

Dear Universe: Letters from the Past Chapter 1. A Letter from Dad.

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Dear Universe:

Letters from the past

Dash McCallen

1. A Letter From Dad

“I don’t know yet if you are a boy or a girl, but WELCOME to the family. I apologize for all the mistakes I will do and I will say it here and now– You don’t have an instruction book. I have asked your grampa a few things and all he has done is laugh that I will find out!”

She read on, the words written in business like block lettering with a pen on a notebook that looked as if it were written on a vibrating surface of the helicopter that he rode in.

“Right now, we are flying into the back country for a fire spotted by a mountain lookout. I am in a helicopter with eleven other firefighters, the person next to me is Linda Martinho and she says “Hi from the past!”. A nice lady, quite, pretty and tough as they come. (A secret, she is tough, but smallish, about the size of your gramma Ida). We are flying in to the fire lines, we have to cut lines around a big burn and… Will have to finish this later, we are landing now.”

The smell of smoke was still on the paper that was also stained with his perspiration after riding in his pocket for an unknown amount of time.

She held the paper to her nose and close her eyes. Imagining her dad young and strong. Appearing as he did in the pictures. Broad shouldered, smiling and covered in soot, ash and what looked like pink paint. He was handsome as they could come. Her mom always talked about how he looked in the cut-off jeans he wore in lieu of swim trunks, she almost always blushed and giggled like she must have when she was only eighteen.

Tall and red-headed. Her dad often told her stories about the history of their family with the joy of the legends of the O’Danu family dancing in the glittering green eyes. As she grew, his red hair became laced with white.  There was no middle ground with her personal hero.  Like him the hair would not find an in-between color of fading red. It was either red — or white.

Words on paper, really it was all she had now. The letters and the ash that the man in uniform gave her in a small jar.

The ash where the government suspected that everyone died and their bodies immolated in the fire that followed.

Cassie refused to believe it, she could not believe it!

NEVER!

Dad had promised her, and dad’s don’t break promises lightly.

World’s end, the universe would explode, but a dad making a promise to their child?

It was law, it was so.

Whispering to the universe, willing her dad to hear her voice and her heart.

Cassie poured the ash from the burned out helicopter into the waters of the outflowing bay while reading an old Druid chant of protection and return.

A chant she finished with a tear that dripped off her chin.

‟Dad, come home.”

 

Dragon Master University Chapter 19. Team Training

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(After NaNoWriMo, I now return you to the regular programming already in progress)

Chapter 19. Team Training

Jona walked down the stairs of the spire, the circular stairs were enough to make him dizzy, what was once a good place to visit now was a dizzy walk down the stairs, Each floor had its own landing for dragons and creature comforts for humans and drake alike.

Pausing to look around, an older student stepped out of the hallway into the circular common room and yelled at Jona.

“WHAT are doing here, slug? You are trespassing! Your kind does not even earn the right to breathe here! This is upper class area, we allow your years only in the cellar or lower.” Yelled the otherwise pretty girl. “Get out of here, what are you looking at, worm?”

She looked Jona up and down with the look of someone who had smelled something unclean.

“Not much, that’s for sure.” As he walked down the stairs, the girl had paused for a moment then began to yell at him and as other students came out she explained, loudly, how a lower class student violated common room’s sanctity.

Finally! He made it to the courtyard.  Jona spied a friendly face and relaxed.  The steps of following older students had stopped after a few flights. Jona had not hurried, unafraid of the other students, but the sun on his face outside made the nasty faced girl seem much farther away.

Kolo was across the court-yard and waved at Jona, with a wide smile on her face. She seemed pleased to see him.

“You are going to practice now? I’ll go with you, there is something that the teams are needing to do, they need to practice racing together.”

The troubles seemed so far behind him as they walked out of the volcano and into the brisk early winter’s sunlight. Fresh snow had fallen on the ground, the meadow sat Eva and surrounding the meadow were all the dragon racers and most of the riders. In the saddle of a yellow and black tiger-striped dragon, sat the girl who yelled at him, she had not noticed him, laughing and talking with a rugged looking muscular rider next to her and the ride as he kicked the ground and laughed at what the blond human girl was saying.

Jona stood on the far side of Eva and patted her shoulder. Eva turned and said quietly, “You are just in time, the captain is about to explain what we are doing today.”

Jona looked around to the riders, each one wore a leather cap with goggles, all decorated differently, different colors but all had the crest of the school on the front. Each cap seemed to match the rider to the ride. Scale colors and caps were very similar.

“Attention” Teva called, “Today we have Eva back with us as a racer, this is her first full team practice and her rider is also new to us. Chosen by dragons to attend our school and found by our own Kolo as a rider.” Teva smiled and clapped at Kolo.

“Jona would you come here, please? I have something for you.” Teva waved Jona over to him in the center of the meadow.

Jona stepped out from behind Eva and the blond girl stopped smiling and just stared with her mouth in a big “O”, frozen in mid sentence. Then leaning over to the large rider, she pointed at Jona and began to whisper and point.

Teva took no notice.

“I formally welcome you to the team of Dragon Racers.” He said loud enough for all to hear. ‟Jona, you have learned well under the skilled tutelage of Kolo and Eva — and me of course.”

With this cap, wear it while you fly, it serves to protect that head of yours, bird strikes hurt, and your eyes. You are the hind eyes and co-pilot of the ride as they fly. Decorate the hat as you win to match your tastes, but keep the colors with that of your ride so it marks you not only as a team of our school, but as a team of a ride and rider. Jona, I welcome you.”

“WAIT!” The blond girl yelled, “HE cannot be a rider! We have to vote on it and he has not been here long enough.”

“Votes have never mattered, you only suggested it last year and it was never agreed, Kelly, you have no say in this, I am captain and I will decide who is on our teams. Jona here is looking good enough to join the team, he rides fast and keeps eyes out and has a great balance and relationship with Eva.”

Kelly looked as if she had a bug fly up her nose and turned away, speaking quietly and quickly to the big rider and his huge ride.

Jona bowed slightly to the clapping as he put on the cap, several cheers went up and a few roars from the dragons. Kelly’s dragon started to hoot in a cheer but Kelly pulled the reins she had on him tight, cutting off his honoring sound.

Jona returned to Eva, and Big Rider stepped up behind him, “You do not belong here, should not even ride, you have no business in this race. You get up there, we will have issues. Do you understand me? You are the baby waste that was on our floor and stunk it up? Well, you will find that there is payment due for that trespass, maggot.”

Big Rider backed off when Eva turned around, and stared at him.

“Just remember, you don’t belong.” as his ride stepped up, an equally huge, twice Eva’s wing span and half again as tall with smoke curling from the big males nostrils. “Eva, you should not have come back after your accident if this is what you think of as quality rider material.” With that, he climbed up and the ride and rider flew off.

“Do not fret about him, Jona,” Eva said, “We have our own practice to do still. The rider is Stixx, the ride is Kanus. Kanus knocked me out of the sky last year and caused my crash. He said it was an accident, but the judges ruled it an intentional fault by the rider. The judges suspended them for two races for overly aggressive racing. We have to keep an eye on them, but so long as I know where they are, they won’t  pose a problem.”

Jona nodded. “I’m also worried about the blond girl who is a rider.”

“Her?” Kolo had walked up after talking with Teva, “Kelly is insane. Insane and stupid, when she chooses to dislike someone, she uses every chance she can to complain and whine. She is a problem, but not a good rider, she treats her ride like a common horse or burro. See the reins?”

“You ever think to put reins on me, Jona, I will teach you the meaning of fire-breathing and a rough ride.” Eva interrupted.

“She abuses her relationship with Sol, her ride.” Kolo said. “They are not friends, Sol is a good dragon, fast, smart but never gives all because of her.”

“Why does he race with her then?” Jona asked.

“I don’t know, there is gossip, but nothing proven. I think it has to do with he was failing a class and she caught him cheating one time. He is very smart — and proud. It would be a disaster for him if he had cheating come to light.” Eva said.

Jona shook his head, saddened that extortion was something he had to put up with in school. Kola climbed on his ride, Zerksees. With all the riders on the backs of the rides, a cheer from most the dragons stood up as tall as they could and roared.

“This map I am handing out to you is this years route. I propose we follow the route and time ourselves, this will be a real race, let’s see who can cross the finish line first, regular race rules apply, we race against ourselves. Try not to bump each other! We don’t need injuries before the inter-school races.” Teva said chuckling, “We are all on the same side and all.”

Captain Teva yelled “Launch!” and they all shot into the sky.

Eva banked down into a canyon around a butte, Jona was guiding her with his voice as he read off the map and with body language.

“Above!” Jona yelled as Sol dove and passed them in a tight bank, to which Eva had turned to the inside. Down the canyon they sailed and soared, out into a large valley, Kanus easily outdistancing the group, all except for Eva who had kept up without straining herself, Sol was fifth in line, three rides back with Kolo and her ride, Qo’noS, behind Jona.

“Hang on, Kanus is going to use his speed to get ahead, but we don’t have to stay close, just close enough until we get into the canyons for the return trip. To turn, Kanus has GOT to bank and with those big wings, he has to slow down, so he can pull them in.” Eva said in a rumble.

Faster they flew, paralleling the mountain range in the flat lands of the desert. Kanus began to dig deep with great rapid beats of his wings, Eva pushed with more energy than Jona had seen so far, she was not overheating, but he could feel the muscles strain and stretch under her scales and flesh.

“Keep your head down, Jona, we are going for more speed, Kanus is overconfident, he has not looked back.”

Jona looked back. Kola was trying to keep up and he was a distant third, Sol and Kelly were so far behind he couldn’t see her. Faster than the sun they traveled, it appeared to move backwards to the east. Jona could see that Kolo’s ride was fatiguing and slowing slightly but staying directly behind Eva, using her to break the wind as was their plan. The sound of the wind was the familiar hiss with an opaque cataract seem to follow Eva’s shoulders. Jona could see that Kanus was pushing a larger shock-wave and had the disadvantage to being unable to look back at this speed.

“Jona, I can smell Kanus, Stixx is pushing him and Kanus is overheating. I can smell the body heat that his scales are trying to expel.”

“What happens if he gets too hot from exercising? Do Dragons sweat”? Jona asked.

“We do, but not like humans, if it gets very bad, you will see him start to lose scales, we shed hot scales and bare flesh is open to the air and he will grow new ones later.” Eva said. “But he will lose the smooth flow of air over his body and it leave him open to injury.”

“How are you doing?” Jona was running his hands under Eva’s scales, looking for any  overheated spots. 

“Two things, ONE, I’m okay at the moment, the practice runs out to the continental divide have really helped. TWO , stop that! You are tickling me.” Eva giggled in a way that only a dragon could.

A few minutes later, as Jona was looking on the map, telling Eva that the turn into the mountains was over a pile of old rock lava flows.

“I know where those are, just a few minutes more, Kanus is slowing down a bit and I am not even that tired. I didn’t have to race that hard, just stayed in his wake.” Eva laughed as her flight plan was working, no other dragon had yet used drafting from a distance like she had done.

“The draft is a new idea?” Jona wondered.

“Drafting is not new, but from this distance it is, it is not a big boost like if I was right on his tail, but I don’t have to engage him in combat this way and still get a tiny boost. Kola, Kolo’s brother thought of it.”

Banking over dry and rocky ground, Eva and Jona sailed through the peeks over a plateau into the high mountains. Banking hard, they were in a small canyon that snaked back and forth from millions of years of tributary erosion had made the tortuous small canyon tight. No longer lagging behind, Eva was closing the gap as Jona grinned and looked behind, Kolo was also getting closer.

“We’ve been seen.” Eva said.

Stixx had looked back and his eyes widened in surprise behind his goggles as the two dragons had caught up as they banked in and out of the mountains. The rest of the group was closing up , but were still far behind. The large dragon could not bank around the small twists and bends of the mountain peaks.

Forests began to get more lush and deeper, down sheer cliff walls as they followed a waterfall, then a stream along a rapids. Then banking and out into a wide valley, where in the clear air that Kanus pushed and pushed by his rider. Kanus had tried too hard and fatigued, unable now to shake the neck and neck dragons, they went into the next canyon three wide. Kolo and Qo’noS ducked down, using her ride’s slightly smaller wingspan to bank more tightly and gaining more points, Eva and Jona went closer to the mountains using compression of the air to help get them around corners.

Stixx was unable to get his ride to bank tightly enough and missed one turn, having to pull up and return to it, falling back six spots in a single overshoot of the corner.

Jona looked back and could see Stixx shaking a fist at his ride as he pushed the dragon back into the race. Along the spine of the mountains they climbed and dove, Kolo was ahead, then Jona, both Eva and Qo’noS were enjoying themselves without exerting too much.

Then Jona yelled a warning, “Bank and climb! We are gonna hit!”

Eva had little time to react, but with the training done, Jona had given her just enough time as she extended one wing and folded the other, going into a spin and then both wings out and up, a huge shadow blew past them and went into the canyon.

“Stixx! He tried to bump us, but he has more turns coming. ” Eva said.

Teva and his ride Tron had seen, nearly catching up to them as they yelled at each other encouragement and ignored the cheat by the fellow team, they raced on.

In and around the canyons they went. Stixx slipped further behind, charging forward. Two rides, bumped by the older students, had to fall back for missed turns, leaving three racers with Stixx that were his friends. Kelly, Stixx, Robert and Lyster flew in formation and gained on Teva, Kola and Jona.

They raced through the mountains, suddenly bumping and bruising each other in this practice race, the following racers were afraid to continue. Lyster, a small pale senior rider with blue cat eyes rode his ride Muon and brushed up against Teva and then went straight at Eva as they went into a corner, Muon was moving far to fast at the wrong angle for the corner coming up, and with a warning, Eva dove, followed by the excessive speed of Muon and Lyster.

Pulling up, Eva knew what was coming, Stixx and Kanus were moving in from the other side. Eva flared out her wings and hit the brakes. Stixx and Lyster collided and went down into the river as Eva dug deep into the air currents to catch back up to Kola and the backwards looking Teva who had seen it all.

On they raced, Stixx and Lyster were out of the race, Kelly and Robert were trying to close in, but Sol was of no mood for games and Robert had not practiced, both falling behind the three leaders as they finally crossed the finish line at the meadow, dismounted and were talking before the others pulled in.

“I want to file a complaint! This newbie here caused Stixx to collide with Lyster and they went down into the water.” Kelly complained, “They were not doing it right!”

Teva looked at her impassively. “Like be knocked from the sky by your boyfriend? No, Kelly I saw what happened, if I see it again, as captain I can and I will take them off the team, that is not a racer’s way to win.” Teva looked steadily at her, “Besides, they have not been practicing and neither have you, Sol here is unwilling to put himself out on a limb for you because of your attitude. Fix it, or Sol will find himself a new rider on my recommendation. “

“First he is not my boyfriend, I am engaged to Hortense the Honorable. Second. Only so long as you are Captain, Captain.” Kelly said. “If you ever drop out, Stixx is next in line and he follows fraternal law.”

“You should not worry about that, just ride like a racer is your concern.” Teva said mildly.

As the other racers pulled together. Robert standing shyly back, clearly not enjoying the fracture of the team. Stixx making noises to Teva about how Jona fouled him in the corners and he collided with Lyster and his ride.

Lyster looked around as Teva and Stixx were arguing and walked over to Jona, “If you ever knock me out of the air again, I will break you and your little dragon rider over there, too.”

Kolo had heard that and walked up to Lyster, “Try it, you will find yourself being a walking racer, we can find other riders or dragons. You have a good dragon that likes to race, but instead you try to use him as a weapon instead of a partner for a race.”

Lyster blinked, he was larger than she was, but he was not about to cause a scene so close to the captain of the teams, he’d be removed and he did not have Stixx as a backup. Lyster backed away, with a muttered threat that was nearly inaudible as he walked back to his ride and rode away to the dragon’s aerie.

Teva returned from his animated discussion with Stixx and Kelly looking over at the departing Lyster, “What was that about?”

“Nothing, just a show of his bruises.” Jona said as Kolo giggled. “We weren’t impressed, I have seen much better.”

Teva nodded, looking sideways at Jona, not believing him. “As you wish, I won’t have bullying and infighting with the teams, if we are to win the world cup this year, we need a focused team. We will race the dirtiest racer school if we get past Drakensbergs’s and Lord’s.”

“Other racer schools? And dirty racing?” Jona said, surprised at the news of so many more others. “Are there not judges?”

Teva nodded, “Yes, there are judges, but they cannot be in all corners always, bumps happen, accidents happen, but a dirty racer — well, like today — can cause an accident without being observed by judges. Schools like Dragon Lance and ‘kind first are very physical racers, they are known to rub and bump — that is regular racing, but they take it to the point of trying intimidate the other racers into letting them win. That’s not racing, that is bullying. So, we must practice and have aggressive and skilled racers of our own.” Teva paused, “Without trying to bully our way to the winning circle.”

Eva looked around speaking softly, “Qo’noS and I are going to rest and clean at Dragon house, practice again in a few hours?”

Teva nodded, “Sunset after classes, Eva. We do a team race practice again.”

Off Eva flew, in the light of the day, still needing to clean up, all the remaining riders went to their houses and rooms. Jona looked forward to the coming races, the challenges of a race like this would make his parents proud, but he would have to wait until he had done it before he would tell his mother.

“She would have apoplexy if she knew what I was doing on the back of dragons” Jona thought to himself.

Arrows of Time: Short story rewrite.

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Section 1. Rough Landing

The energy wave came out of deep space. At one time it was a gravity wave and it registered as such, except that it was beyond the ability for read-outs to display properly. Only using arcane exponent figures, it was not difficult to decide — after the curiosity factor spiraled into…

Screams…

“Shields!” Captain Soofy yelled before the wave hit. “Shields!”

But the shields, strong as they were, were woefully inadequate for the gathered energy being pushed in front of the wave. Warning alarms blared.

“Hold on to something, this is going to hurt!”

Impact!

Then pain, darkness and silence.

His Royal Highness, Prince Bren U’Maile of the Pirate Confederation could hear nothing. He was numb in his face, but pain crept in, waking him from a dream.

An alarm klaxon blared…

Prince Bren hurt in his shoulders as when his bigger cousins had tried to pull out his arms when he was very young.

Bren opened his eyes, a sticky goo covered his right eye and he touched his face.

Blood. He was injured.

No. It was Nician’s blood, his best friend and cousin, they had struck heads and Nician’s nose was broken, bleeding like a hose.

Captain Soofy had grabbed Bren and was holding on to him as they tumbled, Nician Soofy was badly hurt but was hanging on to Bren U’Maille with an inhuman grip powered by his surge of survival instinct.

They tumbled across the ceiling of the bridge towards the nose of the warship.

Bren could see Nician’s lips move but he could not hear any sound in his numbed brain, the sound slowly began to register.

“…spin! We need to get control!” Nician was shouting. “Bren! We are in an inverted flat spin!”

A flat spin, in space it was a minor inconvenience while they would gain control.

This could not be that easy. Struggling to waken from his concussion, Bren could see the horizon of the planet they were near was spinning in and out of view— they falling into the planet’s gravity well.

“Flat spin! Bren, wake up! I cannot hold you!” Nician yelled. “Bren!”

“I’m awake. I have a rail, get to the helm!” Bren said. “Computer. Emergency stabilize.”

Silence.

“Computer systems are down.” The bloodied navigation officer Lt. Yoa said. A member of the elite Pirate Raider force, she rarely raised her voice. Some said to get her to smile was an accomplishment. To get her to panic was impossible.

“We have lost power to critical systems!” She was yelling now, and not because it was loud in the bridge.

“Need to get to a hardline.” Nician said. “Independant power.”

Prince Bren began to climb up the floor. The flat, inverted spin of the big ship made floors into walls. The crazed world, altered by centripetal forces made the climb a challenge.

Klaxons shut down suddenly and the silence was deafening. If the crew was not struggling for footholds on floor and ceiling, all would be quiet and calm.

Profanities and grunts as the command and navigation crews struggled to get into position. The helm officer dangled from his seat restraints limply. No one could tell if he was unconscious or dead.

While he climbed up, Captain Soofy grunted and pulled on the Prince as they leapfrogged along the vertical floor-come-wall.

“It’s only about six-tenths gravity, we are lucky it’s not more.” Bren said.

“Yup. But the rotation rate is increasing. We are going to fly apart if we don’t stop her from spinning.”

“Agreed..ugh! That’s my face.” Bren said as they used each other to climb on.

“Sorry. Next stop, helm.” The Captain said. “Looks like you will be up, I’ll crawl over to navigation.”

“Aye.”

The two cousins struggled with climbing over each other, Bren finally grunted over the edge of the navigation station.

“Ensign Wills! Wake up.” Prince Bren shouted and shook the helm officer. “He’s alive, but he has a nasty head injury.”

“Right. Let’s get him in a spot where he is safe.” The two men struggled with limp officer and finally got him wedged in place.

The prince tapped the communications button on the panel in front of him. Prince Bren bent over awkwardly with the increasing spin making the nose of the big ship “Down” from their position.

“Engineering! Flat spin, we are in an inverted flat spin. Helm is not responding.”

“Engineering here. Bridge apologies! All systems have rebooted, we have another two minutes to get the core computer online before we can reset anything from down here.”

“We are out of service for another two minutes? We will be in the stratosphere in thirty-seconds!”

“Bridge. You can reset systems locally there. Each system is independent. You have reset options on the command chair, helm and navigation.”

“Copy, what is the sequence?” Bren yelled. “We have to do it quick, we have increased our felt G’s to double normal gravity.”

“Afirmative bridge, we have it showing here. We are increasing felt gravity by zero-point-eight G’s per minute.”

“Yeah. I feel it, we are over two-point-zero now.”

“Sequence on reboot. Press the red button and hold for four-seconds all the buttons will illuminate then blue-blue-red, it will ask to confirm then green.”

“Engineering, this is Soofy, I have it up, I will code the reboot.”

“Acknowledged Captain.”

“Seriously? We don’t have that much time. Who the hell designed four-seconds?”

“Your dad.” Soofy answered with a flat tone.

“Oh great, I am going to have a talk with him if we survive.”

Tapping in the code into the illuminated console, lights came back on and gravity systems reset.

“Okay, gravity and inertial damper are online at zero-point-two gee-per-second.” Captain Soofy said.

“Excellent.” Bren said, as he  stood on the floor, then sat at the helm control and began to tap commands into the console. “Helm is responding, I am stopping the spin with reaction jets. We are still without power and are falling, but everyone will have command with their area’s.”

“Engineering to bridge.” The familiar voice of the Hawaiian chief engineer. “Whoever stopped the spin, good job! Our life just got easier down here.”

“We still need power, we’re inverted and falling into the planet still but at least we are not in a flat-spin. I am rolling into a conventional flying attitude and I’ll deploy landing gear.”

“Uh sir, with all due respect, but this ship is not really built for performance in an atmosphere.”

“Understood, but we taken a hell of a beating and if you cannot give me engines, we are not going to get to escape velocity and out into orbit.”

“Copy that, I cannot promise you engines in the next few minutes. We have all other systems coming online. Engines have been reset as well.”

“We are in control, just out of power. Why did all systems reboot?” Ensign Robert Wills asked as he got unsteadily to his feet.

“That gravity wave had a charge to it. The computer shut down to prevent damage.” Bren said. “I remember that from some plans of the designs that. We could have had a reactor overload.”

“Request permission to return to my post.” A bloodied Ensign Wills stood up.

“I stand relieved, but let us get you a replacement and you report to sick-bay as soon as possible. Dude, you were out like a light.” Prince Bren chuckled.

“Yes, sir.”

“Bridge to engineering,” Soofy called. ”We have attitude control but no directional navigation. We have stopped the spin, but we are going into the atmosphere. ETA on Engines?”

“Engineering to bridge. Cold restart procedures are in effect.”

“Okay, how long, chief?” The Captain asked.

“Five minutes, tops.”

Captain Soofy leaned over to the bleeding but recovering helm officer.

“How long do we have?”

“I figure three minutes.” Ensign Wills said. “Tops.”

“Chief, you gave a power ETA about two minutes longer than we have. Can we get partial power?”

“Nician, I just don’t have it.”

Prince Bren tapped on a calculator and nodded to himself.

“Nician, we can slow our fall with reactive thrusters at emergency override maximum.” Bren read his figures. 

“Bare enough power. I would be happier with a zero point 5 better thrust. But these units are not built for that.” The Captain was ahead of his cousin.

“Can they produce it? It is not like we have a lot of choices, they produce it, or near. Or… Or… we crater.” Bren was looking for a way to not sound hysterical. He stood there with his black ceramic armor on, looking heroic, but in his head, he was in a panic and ran in circles.

“They can produce it but for a short period, we would have to replace them.”

“We will need to replace them anyway with emergency override.”

“Aye, true enough. Okay, helm, I am giving you the override codes.”

“Override’s got a hell of a workout today.” The helm officer said without humor.

“Speed?” Bren asked.

“One-twenty meters per second and slowing.”

“Nician, safe landing speed?”

“Maximum of twelve meters per second, we are one order of magnitude over that.”

“Well, that is just about to ruin my whole day. Set the reactive thrusters and engage, keep them going until they burn out and we crash or land.” Bren said.

“Already below the triple digits in descent. Ninety meters-per-second.” The navigator said

“Captain? Time to impact?”

“Well, with the rate of deceleration it is not a straight…”

“Time to impact?” Bren interrupted.

“Three point five minutes.” Captain Soofy answered. “Subject to change.”

“Time to safe landing speed?”

“Three point two minutes.” The helm answered.

“Pfft, we are all over this.”

“Selected land looks like a shallow grade to a body of water three-thousand kilometers across, sensors show a high salinity and depth exceeding one-hundred meters near the shoreline.”

“An ocean.”

“Aye, sire.” Ensign Wills said. “We are in a trajectory to set down about one kilometer from the water, plus or minus six-hundred meters.”

“Why such a wide field?”

“Deceleration is not a constant.”

“Copy that.”

“Speed?”

“Fifty meters-second and decreasing.”

“Altitude?” Bren asked from his command chair.

“One-thousand meters and falling. Sir, the braking has dropped off.”

“Captain?”

“We have burned out ten-percent of our thrusters. The deceleration is not a constant.”

“Damn.” Bren was no longer smug in his assessment of being “All over this.” He was worried. “Can we compensate.”

“Negative, there is no more to give.” Soofy tapped on his command panel.

“Sirs, we have sensor data,” Orion said from the helm. “The ground we are approaching has a high water content. It’s a delta marsh.”

“Change vector, find some solid land.” The Captain ordered.

“Aye-aye.”

“Bren, divert power from life support to ship integrity field. Take all power you can find and brace up the ship for impact.” The Captain turned to the helm. “Eta to ground.”

“Twenty seconds.”

Pressing a button on his headset for ship-wide communication, it failed to connect to the central computer that was still down, causing Nician Soofy to cover his face with the palm of his hand while he growled, then the Captain jumped to his command seat and press the button on the speaker built into the command panel.

“All stations all stations, prepare for a hard landing, impact fifteen seconds.”

“Bren to engineering, ETA on power?”

“Longer than we have, Sire.” The chief engineer answered. “At least ninety seconds, I can get you power for hull and frame integrity. Diverting power now. I have increased power to dampers with what we have.”

“Impact five seconds.” Helm called.

“Anything you can get us, engineering.” The Captain interjected then asked. “Helm, speed?”

“Eighteen meters-per-second. Four seconds.”

“Bren, anything else you can do, burn them out.”

“This is going to be hard. All stations, all stations, brace for impact.” The Captain’s voice echoed into every corner of the Peacemaker.

“Two seconds!”

“One…”

The impact of the struggling ship overwhelmed the systems, in a tail-low approach, the right-rear landing gear touched first, sinking into the soft marsh of the delta, compressing the wet, springy soil underneath. The nose gear touched second on firmer soil. The roll of the ship, worsened with the rebound, throwing the right side of the ship high while the left of the ship sank into the soil.

The Peacemaker was rolling over with no life-support or artificial gravity. Screams of the unrestrained  echoed in the bridge as they tumbled around inside the ship.

The only ones wearing a seat belt of any sort was Captain Soofy, the Helm officer Yoa and Ensign Wills. Lieutenant. Sifa Yoa had already been injured once and was not taking another hit if she could help it.

Prince Bren not so restrained, thrown out of his seat, hit and tried to hold onto a strut, cursing the high quality of the ship’s finish, he had no corners to hang on and then thrown as the Peacemaker continued to roll. Thrown to his back and lights sparkled behind his eyes when he hit his head on a control panel that tore free and his consciousness faded.

Darkness came as the Peacemaker continued its roll, ending back on the landing gear with one last, violent, impact.

Blessed oblivion held the prince in the arms of darkness.

Nician was less fortunate, he stayed awake during the terror of the ground coming up and hitting the football-field long warship.

Thrusters were pushing two-hundred percent of maximum, Nician reduced thrust on the starboard thrusters to level the ship— but it was not enough.

The shock of the sight of his cousin and prince sailing across the bridge as they inverted during the roll. Bren hit and bounced off the ceiling with a yell and hit a panel as the big ship continued to turn over, the prince’s ceramic armor clattering has he tumbled around the ship.

The Peacemaker gave one slow-motion pause as they tilted three-quarters through a full rotation, Bren’s only purchase with his fingertips was not made to hold against any weight, broke loose and dropped Bren on the floor. A heavy section of the broken panel that landed on top of the prince with a sound of a loud thud under the sapphire-glass display.

For the longest second in his life, Nician hung at an awkward angle out of his command chair— this was worse than if they were at any of the ninety degrees, even upside down would have been…

“HOLD ON!” Orion shouted. “She’s not finished moving!”

Peacemaker gathered speed as it continued her roll, landing violently right side up.

Alarms blared as bodies struggled to stand. Displays flickered for a moment, listed damage to different systems and sensors, then went dark.

The alarms went silent the same time as all lights went out and once again, emergency lighting illuminated the interior of the warship with a ghostly light.

“Report.” Nician moaned, wrenching his back at the last impact.

“All systems are dead. Starting reboot sequence.”

“Thank you Lieutenant.”

Looking around, Bren lay ominously quiet under the heavy, detached display with a growing pool of blood leaking out from his head.

 Then he groaned out a profanity while Nician lifted the panel off his cousin. 

“Remind me to talk to dad about that time-delay.” Bren whispered. Profuse blood coming from his earlobe. 

“Bren, you have an injury.” His cousing pulled up a bandage from the first aid kit. 

“That reminds me, mag-boots on your bridge from now on. I’d rather be stuck than bounce around inside your ship.”

“You are so not hurt. Let’s get you to sick-bay to confirm that.”

Another alarm sounded. On the panel an engineering display came up, the reactor core illuminated in red with the words “Containment Breach.” flashing.

“Oh no. Not now, what else…” Bren said, while reading the words.

“Shut it.” Nician said. “You’ll jinx us.”

The alarm went quiet.

“Engineering to bridge. We have a proper shutdown. Disregard the alarm.”

“Bridge to engineering, you have some folks turning blue up here. We all stopped breathing for a minute.”

“Apologies, Captain. We have some cleanup to do and shutdown procedures to perform. Engineering out.”

“Sickbay for the injured.” Bren adjusted his own bandage.

“We need to inspect my ship for damage from that rollover.”

“The rest of us, too.” Bren nodded. “At least the ships back is not broken.”

“There’s a lot of other things that will keep us grounded. But yes. That is a positive note.”

“Well, let’s get her to rights and get our area surveyed. Whatever we hit that turned us over might also have other surprises.”

“First, you go to sickbay to check that head of yours.  You should’ve been wearing a helmet.”

“Now you turn nanny. Where were you a little while ago?”

Nician laughed and slapped his cousin on the shoulder as the prince walked out.