The hunt was on. Like a moon circling a planet, Djara kept a safe distance from the beast while patiently stalking and observing it’s every move for days.
In the course of her young life Djara had become a renown hunter. She was a superstar in the Milky Way Galaxy where hunters from different world’s gathered to share stories and techniques. Her reputation for bagging exotic game was well-earned. She had yet to find a quarry that eluded her and didn’t end up in her vast collection.
It was a harsh planet filled with strange creatures and endless jagged mountains surrounded by forests so thick sunlight couldn’t penetrate their canopies. Unbothered by the rugged land Djara made her way through the dense forest using her night vision glasses. All the stories she ever heard were true. The beast was eight-feet tall and had four powerful arms that sprouted from a massive hairy torso.
Hunters seldom returned after stalking the creature. There were some hunters who saw it firsthand and ran for their lives, only to be broken with fear and unable to ever hunt again when they returned. And there were those who died gruesome deaths for their efforts.
Flen’s grizzled features tried to crack a smile, but the effect looked more like a grinning death’s head than an attempt to be jovial. He was in a good mood. Someone was hunting him and they didn’t know that he knew. It was always like this. A game of life and death. Flen was exiled to the nameless planet eons ago for crimes long forgotten. Back in his world, before he ran afoul of the law, he was a bounty hunter. Some said he was the best one on the planet Druin.
Killing was a hobby for Djara. The only one she had. Because she was raised and spoiled by wealthy parents, she always got what she wanted. The best weapons instructors, and the latest high tech weapons were hers from an early age. She was sixteen when she went out on her first big game hunt. Since then she had become a skilled tracker and a crack shot.
The day finally came when she saw her chance. It was a clear shot. The beast was standing on a ridge line totally exposed 200 yards away. An easy shot. Instead of going for center mass she decided on a quick kill head shot. The laser rifle’s blue beam streamed in the same second as the quarry suddenly dropped out of sight! She wasn’t sure if it was a hit, or not. A cold feeling came over her and she involuntarily shuddered. This had never happened before.
She climbed up to the ridge line where the beast was a moment ago and looked down the other side hoping to see a body. Nothing. It dawned on her that she was in trouble. This quarry was turning the tables on her.
She would have been amazed to see how fast he moved when he plunged all the way down and into the forest below minutes before. He was already flanking her as she weighed her options.
By the time she decided to go down into the forest the sun was sitting and Flen was following her like a big cat closing in on its prey. Like a great cat, he played with his prey. He sensed she was better than most and decided not to underestimate her. It was this kind of caution that assured Flen of success since he stalked the first hunter who came seeking him for their trophy collection. He had no illusions. The hunters would keep coming until one day he died of old age, or carelessness. He was a universal target for so many years he lost track of time.
It was Djara’s hunter’s sixth sense that alerted her that she was in danger. She stopped walking and held her ray rifle closely. The beast was near. She saw a fleeting movement. The narrow space between each tree barely afforded a brief glance. But she knew the moment of truth was near.
Flen had no weapons. He always got by with his sheer brute strength and size. His speed is what made him the most dangerous. His ability to be on his prey in a blink of an eye was terrifying to his victims.
A dreadful recognition slowly dawned on Djara. The “beast” was a hunter just like her. She wasn’t facing a dumb creature who had been lucky thus far. It was a skilled hunter operating in his own terrain.
Her fate was sealed. Holding the ray rifle with one hand, she unclipped her last resort weapon – a grenade – and pulled the pin out just as Flen’s four arms wrapped around her!
Ludi’s three eyes watered under the bright sun. His tall slim body was protected from the brutal rays under a cloak with a hood. He was getting old. Mutants seldom lived more than 30 years – he was going on 60.
Ludi looked out at the assembled crowd before him. They were twisted versions of human beings. Children whose parents were exposed to the radioactive fallout from the nuclear war of 2057. Hundreds were sitting and standing around him in a semi-circle in what was once an outdoor stadium. Most of the concrete seats were covered in heavy vegetation. Their voices were humming in the scorching heat when he raised his long arms up and called for their attention.
“Brothers and sisters, heed my stories of the mighty Polis, for my time in telling them comes near. His adventures have become legend, and in retelling them you and yours will learn lessons in life.
“When last I talked of Polis he had just reunited with Min.She was recuperating from fighting and killing three warriors before being overwhelmed by the leader of the Snake Tribe, Geronimo. He let her live, but violated her body as a sign of contempt.
Polis had searched for her, eventually finding the area near her and Ord’s lair. She discovered him while patrolling outside the cave entrance. It was a touching moment for both, Ludi went on.
Min shared some of her jerky with Polis as they sat next to the campfire she built in the middle of the cavern, deep below a mighty mountain.
She was feeling oddly embarrassed after her show of tears. He was trying to process what they meant and the funny feeling she gave him when he looked at her lithe body. Polis lived by his own rules – some of which would surprise people – and one of them was not to intrude into a relationship…especially if they were friends. With Ord’s death things changed. He was in his prime and a viral male. She was a beautiful woman in her prime. They became lovers that day.
The next morning she told him what the snake warrior had done to her and how Ord died fighting him. Polis was enraged. He was going to put a Post Mortem party on for the Snake clan’s leader, but now he was plotting his death. Polis knew it was he after she described her attacker. They spent days discussing ways to get revenge.
Geronimo tossed the corn cob aside and reached for another one as his warriors watched and waited for him to give them orders. They sat in a semi circle on the ground facing their leader. The sun slowly rose behind him burning away the night’s chill. The silence was broken by children laughing somewhere nearby. Their mothers had been up before the day’s break cooking for everyone in the compound. The smell of roasted human flesh carried on the gentle wind.
“What do you think Sarp?” Geronimo asked one of his oldest and most trusted warriors.
“I’m not sure. Polis has always been a mysterious figure and the stuff of legends. He may have just changed his mind about putting on a Post Mortem party and got involved in something else.”
“If that’s the case then I would take itas an insult,” an angry Geronimo growled.
“There’s always a chance that something happened to him. Perhaps he was ambushed by someone seeking fame for themselves?” Sarp suggested.
Geronimo grunted in irritation that Polis had not returned in three days like he said he would. He sunk his teeth into a piece of meat and savaged it.
A week later one of Geronimo’s scouts reported that a woman had killed two of his comrades and only allowed him to live so that he could carry a message back.
“What is the message?” he demanded.
The warrior shook, clearly afraid to relay her words.
“She said that she dares you to meet her in single combat.”
“Is that all?”
The warrior visible shrunk as he went on, “No…she says she’s going to enjoy cutting your balls off and roasting them over a fire.”
Geronimo jumped to his feet and grabbed the warrior with both hands and threw him like a rag doll at the compound wall. His head split like a melon and his body collapsed in a heap.
“Call his family and tell them to burn his body before I decide to eat him!” he shouted at the small group of warriors. It was a hallow threat however, because it was taboo to eat someone in the clan. No matter what they did.
He couldn’t ignore the challenge. Slinging his sheathed sword across his back he thought of the last time they had met. He grinned at the thought of her humiliation. Tucking a war ax and knife into his broad human leather belt Geronimo set off to find her and repeat their first encounter.
When he discovered her hours later, she was standing in a clearing surrounded by rocks and trees, waiting for him. She had a slim sword and knife, and held a spear. He couldn’t help admire her wild beauty and courage. In his savage world courage did earn respect. But she couldn’t be allowed to kill his warriors or to taunt him. With a sigh he drew his curved sword and slowly advanced on her. His dark eyes glittered with murderous intent.
As he closed the distance between them she calmly leveled her spear and threw it at him with such force he barely had time to evade it! Instead of panicking at the miss she smiled and drew her slim sword.
“I have a treat for you!” she shouted.
He stopped for a moment and sensed another danger near by. His instincts were razor sharp as he turned to meet Polis who had stepped out from his concealment behind a tree. He called out to Geronimo,
“You almost killed and violated my woman!” he roared.
Geronimo looked hard at his opponent. Part of him didn’t want to face Polis in a fight to the death. The other part, the savage warrior who knew no fear, took control and parried Polis’s slashing sword. Geronimo wasn’t as tall as Polis, but he was powerful and had never been beaten in battle. Sparks stung the air as their blades collided and recoiled like living things. Soon both had gashes that bled but neither seemed to notice their wounds. They kept coming after each other in relentless rage. Twice they grappled and broke away. When their swords shattered from the brute force of the blows, they both pulled their knives and moved in a circle looking for an opening. Fast as a snake Geronimo struck first and buried his blade in Polis’s right rib! At the same time Polis plunged his knife into Geronimo’s guts. The two warriors tried to break apart while clutching the other’s knife inside of their bodies. Geronimo finally backed away and pulled the knife from his stomach before staggering a few feet and collapsing to his knees. Polis pulled the knife from out of his rib and doubled over, coughing up blood.
When he looked back up Min was standing next to Geronimo with a knife in her hand. A look of horror came over Geronimo’s grizzled face as she roughly pushed him onto his back and opened his breeches. His screams echoed throughout the forest!
Ludi was finished with his mid day meal and ready to resume telling stories to his eager audience that swelled over the days. He pulled his hood on and slowly walked back to his stage of polished granite.
“Polis is a legend for many reasons my friends,“Ludi explained.
“Many of you would not be here if it wasn’t for Polis. He’s been a champion for us, as well as others in this cruel world.
There was a time back when some of you were mewling babes on your mothers teat that mutants were hunted for sport.There are survivors of those dark times among you who were older and remember the one-man war Polis waged against your attackers.You could testify to the many lives he saved and how he never mistreated mutants. Today, I will testify for you by telling how he stopped a whole tribe from hunting us.“
Polis watched the two warriors walk across the ruined road and around the rusty remnants of what was once a car, coming toward him. They were in no hurry. When they got close enough the taller one called out to him,
“Ho there! I am Zeb, and this is King Han. We are of the Bear Clan. This is our territory your on. Explain yourself stranger,” he challenged.
Neither exhibited any emotion while waiting for his reply. The tall one was broad shouldered and heavily muscled with a sculpted torso worthy of an ancient Roman god. His ebony skin was well oiled and he only wore a loin cloth. His companion in contrast was short and frail looking. He was bald and heavily wrinkled from years of hard living. Perched on his head was a highly polished wooden crown. It had two red stones embedded into the front. His tunic was made from scrapes of cloth and fur from a bear who was long extinct. It was ratty with age and made him look more like a beggar than a leader. His narrow face and delicate jaw resembled another long extinct mammal; a rat.
“Forgive me! I saw no signsor markers,” he politely replied.
“Everyone knows this is our tribes land,” Zeb said in a deadpan voice.
Suddenly Polis saw warriors stepping out from behind buildings on all sides of him. They silently took up their positions, encircling him and waiting for a signal.
“What is your name stranger?” the King asked in a shrill voice that carried well in the silence.
“Your name means nothing to me. Why should I let you live?” the King’s squeaky voice demanded.
“Because I’m the mightiest warrior in the land” he boasted, “…and a good person to have as a friend.”
King Han liked his answer and squealed with delight, “We must test you right away! Show our mightiest warrior Zeb how skilled and powerful you are braggart!” he taunted Polis.
Polis tossed his sword and knife aside in order to meet his opponent on equal terms. Zeb was on him in a flash! He gripped Polis in a stranglehold for several seconds before Polis wedged his leg into Zeb’s and threw his weight to one side, throwing him to the ground. He didn’t wait for Zeb to recover and kicked him in the head as he tried to stand. Blood was pouring from Zeb’s broken nose as Polis bent over and throttled him to death with his bare hands. It was over so quickly everyone was stunned. Zeb never lost. But there he lay at a stranger’s feet like a broken doll. King Han blinked in surprise but recovered quickly,
“So it seems you are right. There is no one mightier than you. Come. I’ll lead you to our village and we’ll have a feast tonight.You must tell me more about yourself. Come, join us.”
Polis picked up his weapons and followed. He wasn’t surprised at all that he was tested. It was the way of the world. Man eat man. He knew he’d be having Zeb steaks tonight. The others couldn’t because it was taboo to eat one of their own. They already had caught their dinner earlier in the day after killing a couple of wanderers that had strayed into their hunting grounds.
The sun was retreating into the horizon as Ludi continued his story. His audience increased since he resumed speaking in the afternoon.
“And so it came to pass thatPolis stayed with the Bear Clan for a week until an incident came up that changed their relationship. Three warriors approached Polis one day and asked if he’d like to join them for some sport?
“He agreed to join them for a chance at some excitement. It took several hours of going through a dense forest before the group came upon two mutants – a father and his son.Before Polis could do anything his three companions fell upon the terrified duo and slaughtered them! It was a senseless act that didn’t result in getting meat for the clan, because no one ate mutants for fear of being poisoned. It was murder.
“Sickened by what he saw, he pulled his sword and slew all three warriors in a blind rage.He suffered numerous gashes and was weak from loss of blood when a mutant came upon him as he sat with his back to a tree trying to stay conscious.A gut wound from his last battle was just healing but now was seeping blood onto his lap.
“The mutant look around at the carnage. One warrior had killed the other three for some reason. Then she found two members of her family hacked to pieces nearby.She knelt down by the wounded warrior and asked him what happened? He had passed out from loss of blood. Later, after she treated his wounds he told her.
“Thus Polis became the bane of the Bear clan and lived among the mutants for a year. He ambushed hunting parties that came looking for mutants so many times that the clan finally decided they had enough, and agreed not to harm the mutants anymore if he’d stop stalking and killing them.
“This is just one of the many adventures that have led to Polis’s fame. Come back again tomorrow, and I’ll tell you another,” Ludi told his rapt audience as the cool night settled in.
Polis and Min sheltered from the merciless sun beneath an evergreen tamarisk tree. It was too hot to travel during the day.
The white dunes around them seemed to go on forever. A few hearty plants like succulents, cactus, and mesquite sporadically dotted the bleak landscape. They were lost. Hopelessly lost.
Polis stared out across the smooth undulating dunes, straining his eyes to search for any movement. They had run out of human jerky days ago and were surviving off the land. The only types of cactus that offered water they could safely digest were the prickly pear and one species of the barrel cactus – the fishhook barrel.
If not for a traveler they met before setting out across the great desert, they wouldn’t have known which cactus was safe to eat and get moisture from. He was a good story teller and minutely described the two types of cactus they could depend on if necessary.
It was Polis who wanted to see what lay beyond Death Valley, as the locals called it. He’d heard rumors of strange new people who were so far advanced that they created marvels and lived in paradise. It would be an adventure worthy of his fame. That he had a woman with him made it even better. He enjoyed companionship in this stage of his life. He’d been a loner for a long time. He wasn’t even sure how old he was, but guessed he was in his fifties based upon his fragmented memories. Min was a talker and he enjoyed listening to her.
Neither felt much like talking as they sat in the shade of the tree. They were conserving their energy so they could travel at night beneath the moon’s light.
Ludi tried to stand up, but couldn’t. His frail body was giving in to age and a hard life. His vision was blurry but he could still see the mutants who surrounded him and felt a measure of satisfaction. He had passed on all of his wisdom and kept Polis’s legend alive. The one thing he never told his audience was that he was the father of the man who was ruthlessly murdered with his son by the Bear clan.
“And so it was a time of great peril for Polis and Min as they struggled to get out of the valley of death. After losing count of how many days they traveled Min saw a mountain range and they realized the landscape was changing. It was getting a little cooler. They spotted a strand of trees and green grass at the same time. It meant there was water ahead. The moisture from the cactus gave them both problems with their guts, but it at least kept them alive. The chance people might be around was good considering how lush the country appeared to be. Neither had any meat since they ran out of their jerky weeks ago. Weak from hunger and relief they walked through the night untilthey reached the edge of the forest.“
Ludi closed his eyes for the last time. His grieving followers gathered closer to bid him farewell. The sun set slowly in the west with his now free soul.
Min and Polis had no way to boil the water from the stream but they didn’t care, and kneeled down on the bank drinking the cool water from their cupped hands. After quenching their thirst they stripped down and went into the shallow stream, soaking their tired bodies for an hour before getting out. They were exhausted and found a tree to climb up and sleep in. Both fell asleep dreaming about food.
When they woke they saw a fantastic sight in the horizon. It looked like a thriving city with humans riding in cars, trucks, and motorcycles. Polis had once seen these wonders in a book when he was young, but still stared in awe. Min’s jaw dropped at the sight of wonders she never dreamt of.
Before Polis could tell her what little he knew about the wonders a loud voice boomed below them.
“You there! Come on down! What are you doing in our forest?” a strangely dressed man demanded. He was surrounded by other men and they were all pointing strange weapons at them.
“We come in peace,” Polis reassured them as he shimmed down the tree trunk. Min joined him and the two held hands facing their interrogator.
“Welcome to New Atlantis,” their interrogator said. “I’ll need those weapons first, before we take you to our king.“
Author’s note: I’m considering another trilogy featuring Polis, Min, and a new cast of characters in a world that is the exact opposite of what they lived in.
Woz waited by the doorway to the labyrinth for the green light to come on. He was a professional gamer who traveled around the galaxies taking on challenges created by the Game Changer. The challenges always incorporated alternate realities, and reality.
The red light was on a timer. When it changed Woz entered the maze of dimly lit tunnels and followed the directions written in laser lights on the smooth metal walls. This challenge involved finding a crystal key to open the door to eternity.
When Woz encountered a door he went in without hesitation. The inhabitants inside bowed and called him an angel. He ignored them and went back to the endless passages seeking the crystal key.
Eons passed in the lonely search. Worlds were created and destroyed. Civilizations rose and fell into dust. Woz wandered from one dimension to the next, always re-appearing in the luminous tunnels. Never losing sight of his goal to find the crystal key.
During a time of solar systems defying gravity for gamers like Woz, he emerged from the maze to witness the birth of a dwarf planet and discovered a crystal cave. Inside, there hung hundreds of identical crystal keys swaying to gentle hidden melodies. They were bathed in a blue light.
Because the Game Changer doesn’t play by any rules, he had nothing better to do than make fools of gamers like Woz, who saw the challenge for what it was, but still played the game. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Terence adjusted the dial and listened breathlessly…
As the leader of the NASA team that designed the special instruments that could record electromagnetic vibrations in Space, he was given the honor of being the first person to activate the scanner. The team then transferred the vibrations into sounds their ears could hear.
There was no doubt it was a major scientific breakthrough and the highlight of Terence’s career. It took his knowledge and skill to take the recorded sounds, a complex interaction of charged electromagnetic particles from the Solar Wind, ionosphere, and planetary magnetosphere, and make sense of them.
He listening long into the night and went home dreaming about making contact with an alien civilization. The team all took turns monitoring the devices in 24-hour shifts which meant he didn’t get to go back for four more days.
When Terrence’s turn came up again he eagerly relieved his fellow team member who was noticeably yawning. “Maybe tonight,” he thought while putting the headphones on and pushing a row of blinking buttons on the display dashboard
As he waited to hear strange repetitive sounds he was stunned to hear a high-pitched voice speaking English!
“Surrender and we will spare you…surrender and we will…”
Terence’s mouth hung open in shock. What the hell was going on?
“…we will spare you…surrender and…”
There it went again! It wasn’t his imagination taking a sanity pause. The message was a dire warning coming from deep within space!
His first thought was, “Who’ll believe me when I relay this message?“
After a couple of hours the message went silent. Terence was afraid if he told one of his colleagues they think he was nuts. Then he calmed down and realized the whole thing was recorded He felt sheepish and vindicated. It only took minutes before he rewound the machine and played it back.
He listened. And listened…and there was no message. He played it back and began panicking. No! He knew what he heard. There must be a malfunction with the recording devices he told himself as his sanity slowly slipped into a dark place.
When his relief, Dr. Olsen, arrived the next day he found Terence huddled up in a corner of the lab speaking gibberish. “Their coming! The aliens are coming!” he babbled.
“They want us to surrender…” he went on.
Dr. Olsen went to the display panel before even trying to talk with Terence. He activated the program from the last 24-hours, turning the speakers up to loud, and then went over to Terence.
The project team covered up Terence’s insanity. No one heard threatening messages from space and concluded he just cracked up.
Somewhere in space: “I want to know who the idiot was that ran that surrender message before we were ready to invade?”
As you’re my witness, this is my letter of intent:
“I, Thane Greyson, being of sound mind (regardless of what they say) and body, do hereby declare war on the extraterrestrials hiding all over earth. I won’t stop until I die, or win.” – March 15th, 2028
Breaking News – Reuters – March, 19th, 2028
SERIAL KILLER STRIKES AGAIN
“Another mystery murder in trendy Terracotta Towers in New Wyoming, has residents leaving town for parts unknown. Local authorities have no clues to what is motivating the murderer. Three homicides in three days overwhelmed the local police force, who actually welcomed help from the FBI. One of the victims was a tourist from Japan. The other two were roommates living in the Terracotta Towers since the building opened. More on the local Six O’ Clock news.”
Thane stretched out on the couch and flicked the channel changer, mindlessly letting the images in the channels roll by like an endless stream of chaos. He listlessly chewed on a piece of spicy beef jerky and listened to the unintelligible noise emanating from his flat screen TV. Part of his lizard brain was working on his next victim – a computer programmer he saw several times at Starbucks. He was an alien. Thane’s uncanny ability to uncover space visitor’s identities – no matter how cleverly disguised – was a trait he was born with.
Thane knew that one day people would realize he was saving mankind by hunting the aliens down. They’d worship him and treat him like the god he was. Unfortunately that time wasn’t now, so he had to be careful and not get caught before his mission was accomplished. This required careful planning, which his lizard brain was very good at.
His choice for execution was a hypodermic needle filled with the deadliest poison known to mankind. The victim’s body turned a livid purple with seeping cracks everywhere. It took 30-minutes before the victim felt sick, dying shortly thereafter. He thoroughly researched the poison and was confident it killed aliens and humans alike. No use taking chances with hybrids. A half breed could still be a threat.
The only thing that gave Thane any doubt was he didn’t know how many aliens were on earth. He realized that his goal to become a god may take years. Still, it would be worth it he convinced himself. He’d be Lord Thane. There wouldn’t be a need for a last name.
His plan for the stranger at Starbucks was finalized in his lizard brain. It was time to go get a cup of coffee. The place was packed. As usual. Thane approached the stranger who was talking with another man. As he was slipping the hypodermic needle from his coat pocket the two men suddenly looked up at him. Their combined stare froze him. The next thing he remembered was waking up in an alley with the two strangers hovering over him.
“You didn’t think you’d get away with this?” one of the men asked.
Thane was laying on his back and couldn’t move a muscle. He sighed with the knowledge he wouldn’t be a god after all. He would become dead meat.
“You’re not the first to have dreams of ruling mankind,” the second stranger said while showing his real face to Thane.
“The confederation of planets in our galaxy agreed a long time ago on how we’d infiltrate the human race. Representatives from all the planets sent early advance teams. How you managed to get on earth alone is a matter for the federation to take up.”
The two aliens backed away when the transport beam covered Thane and carried him to his judgement.
Stit stood still when he saw the rippling movement beneath the ground. His well-trained hunter eyes stared at it, determining the length and approximate width.
A big one.
Hunting the deadly Stuners for their hides was a desperate way to make a living, but Stit had no choice. It was all he knew. One bite would stun it’s victim, regardless of it’s size. Then it swallowed it’s prey whole. The underground terrors topped out at 60-feet long with six-foot wide bodies that glistened like diamonds when exposed to the suns of Nusa, a dying desert planet.
He was among the last of the bipeds on Nusa. The rest of the survivors walked on four, or more, legs. His species was once dominate before the nuclear wars and the resulting mutations that led to fierce predators like the Stuners.
Because of climate change over the centuries, the Blood Plains red sands crawled across the planet like an infection. It was there brave hunters sought the Stuners for their valuable hides. Their meat was vile and poisonous.
For a hunter to be successful he had to pierce the beasts’s eye to strike the tiny brain behind it that kept it alive. Any other wounds were useless. It didn’t feel pain. It was the ultimate killing machine on Nusa.
Feeling confident that he knew where the head was, Stit held his 10-foot long steel spear at the ready as he approached. Suddenly the head thrust through the ground’s cover and burst out into the glaring suns, it’s majestic and deadly worm-like head raised to strike at him. At that moment, Stit threw his spear at the monster’s right eye!
Skinning a Stuner is almost as hard as killing the creature because of it’s enormous size. Stit spent two nervous cycles stripping the shimmering scales and praying to the dark gods that another one wouldn’t show up before he finished. They ate their own kind.
It took all of his strength to load the skin onto the sleigh he brought with him. He slipped into the harness and began his trek to get off the Blood Plains before his blood mingled with the burning sands. After two more grueling cycles he finally saw the caves. Home. With each tired, but victorious, step he could hear his heart beating. His prize would keep him fed and entertained for 100 cycles before having to return to the Red Plains. The hide glowed brightly in the dark tunnels. Not that he needed it to see. His eyes, like the others were adapted to the dark tunnels.
By the time Stit got to the great community hall he was exhausted, but elated. As he watched the officials unravel the hide to measure it, his stomach growled. He was hungry. His rations were used up a cycle ago.
Watching the judges smile he sighed in relief. Good times were ahead. The hell with the Red Sands!
He tried not to think about returning to the Red Plains.
King Sith lit the funeral pyre and watched the smoke waft heavenward joining the gray sky in a sad goodbye.
Without his wife he had no taste for life. His was devoted to her, and although they never had children, they were happy. Like him, Astoria was a warrior of renown. They ruled the small kingdom of Dashtorium on the coast of the great Sammian Sea. Under their benign rule there was prosperity and no wars. People of all races mingled peacefully in the busy trading port.
But a sudden chill took his darling wife Astoria one day to the kingdom of the dead. The people grieved with their ruler, as she was universally loved. Sith was so distraught that he stepped down from his throne and urged the people to find another ruler. He was committed to wandering all of Tanus in search for a meaning for his now empty life. Taking his staff, sword, and a small bag of supplies he mounted his favorite gray Stallion “Thunder Walker,” and went east into the unexplored world beyond Dashtorium’s boundaries.
With no kingdom to look after his thoughts turned to subjects he seldom spent time on before. He recalled stories of mysteries like the singing trees of Lastoic and enchanted forests where men disappeared, never to be heard from again. Of the endless deserts of Terrost, where strange creatures survived in the blazing temperatures and would eat anything that moved. And the frozen mountains of Airon where giant hairy creatures walked upright and formed communities in the frozen tundra.
He rode until the sun grew weary and started its descent. He stopped just short of a dense forest in a grassy meadow. Dismounting, he saw something slide through the tall grass parting it slightly, as it moved away from him. The mages told him of many fantastic creatures on Tanus that no man had yet encountered. Through their magic they conjured images of them for him. One was massive creature than slithered on its belly and had no legs. It’s diamond-shaped skull was packed with rows of sharp teeth used for tearing apart its victims. Sniviets, as the mages called them, could get up to 20-feet long and their body was thicker than a man’s torso.
Sith watched the blue grass ripple in the opposite direction with relief. He suspected that he almost got to meet a Sniviet. Getting back on his horse he rode around looking for a clearing. Darkness had almost settled on the land when he found what he was looking for. A defensible position with a clear view. There were several large boulders and he made his camp with them to his rear. Nearby there was a small river that flowed south. He led Thunder Walker to it and dismounted. As the horse drank he stood there with his staff of light scanning the banks looking for any movement. After both were refreshed they went back to the camp. Sith slept lightly with his inner senses on alert. He woke up twice during the night after hearing blood-curdling screams come from the direction of the nearby forest.
Sith was awake before the sun rose. By the time he ate some bread and cheese, darkness was in retreat and a glowing red and orange ball was climbing upward into the gray sky of the new day. Thunder Walker was nibbling on a patch of grass when he mounted him and headed for the forest. Once they were under the full canopy of trees he dismounted and walked. The forest floor was uneven with scattered rocks, thick undergrowth, fallen trees, and unexpected depressions disguised by blankets of colorful leaves.
The further they went the darker it got until no sunlight could struggle through the dense canopy overhead. Their only light was his staff that glowed brightly, its aura surrounding them in a protective yellow glow. Thunder Walker snickered nervously as they plunged further into the unknown. With his staff pointing the way they carefully made their way into the soundless interior. Hours passed before they heard a strange melody above them and a gentle breeze whispered between the trees. Voices sang his name softly…invitingly.
A warning went off in Sith’s warrior brain, and he held his staff over his head and spoke the spell of protection. Just in time. The tree limbs that were wrapping around him and Thunder Walker suddenly uncoiled and retreated back to their source. A screech of anger split the night! They wasted no time and left, eager to get beyond the deadly embrace of the trees of Lostoic. Hours later, Sith saw the light at the end of the forest and his spirits improved. It was past the days zenith, but still light enough to look for a place to camp in the valley before them. Thunder Walker sensed his mood and eagerly picked up his pace.
A riot of color greeted Sith’s eyes as he marveled at the shimmering red, green, blue, and purple plants and ground cover before them as far as the eye could see. Gentle hills covered in orange flora with small caves surrounded the valley. The sky was still a bright blue in spite of the gathering dusk. A sweet scent wafted on a gentle breeze as they ventured forward. With night rapidly descending Sith sought out a campsite and settled on a cave tall enough for them to stand in. Being new to the area he wasn’t going to let Thunder Walker out of his sight. After strapping on his feedbag with a ration of grain in it, Sith dined on a hunk of spicy Curbra jerky. He washed it down with water. By that time Thunder Walker was done and he took the bag off.
“Stay alert tonight, my friend,” Sith warned him while petting him affectionately. “I too, shall sleep with one eye open.” Wrapping his great cloak around him, Sith lay down on the hard ground and quickly fell asleep.
The morning light was accompanied by birds happily singing about the new day. They came out of the cave and into the blue sky blinking at the brilliance of the morning light. As Sith looked around he felt a presence. Then he saw them. They were half his size. Little naked humanoids. Male and female. There were thousands gathered outside the cave. All patiently waiting for Sith and Thunder Walker. One of the little people stood in front of the assembly. This spokesman tried a couple of languages before settling on Sith’s native Orzath. He was slightly taller than the rest and a darker green.
“Greetings Lord, we have been expecting you,” he said while bowing before him.
“Who are you?” Sith inquired.
“The Amsoest. We are the last of our kind and live peacefully in this valley of our ancestors. We have been waiting for you to deliver us from our enemies mighty lord!”
“What enemies? Of whom do you speak?”
“Everyone who comes into this valley to hunt us for sport. In recent times we’ve suffered terrible casualties as they kill and enslave us for their amusement. Our elders have been predicting a champion for many years. When they sensed your noble and honest aura, they also sensed your sadness.”
“This is so?” Sith wondered.
“It was ordained,” the speaker solemnly said.
Sith looked up in the sky and saw white puffy clouds appear directly overhead. As he watched the clouds formed into a figure he recognized, Astoria! She smiled down at him and her lips parted in greeting. Thunder Walker pawed the ground as Sith smiled back and shouted, “I love you!”
The people looked on in awe.
When the cloud melted away and the sky was clear again, Sith addressed the people. “You’re right. This is my destiny and I gladly accept it. Henceforth, a long as I live, I will be your protector against those who would do you harm.”
And, so it was.
As It Stands, we all need to have some meaning to our life.
“Help! A static-riddled voice pleaded in the darkness of the laboratory.
“This is Professor Dean Tucker. Can you…” the words dissolved in a steady stream of static coming from a speaker in a cubicle in the center of the room. Everyone was gone for the day and the night janitor was slowly making her rounds when she thought she heard a voice.
“Is anyone there?” she meekly inquired. “Hay alguien alla?” she repeated in Spanish.
She heard a crackling sound and walked over to the cubicle in the center of the lab. She stood there for a moment listening, then heard, “I’m stuck! Help me…” The suddenness of the unexpected voice made her jump in fright. When she couldn’t see anyone she decided it was time to get out of the room. It was obviously haunted. Like a good Catholic, she crossed herself and hurried out.
Dean watched her leave – as dimensions opened and closed – and his heart sunk. He did this to himself. He should have waited until the next day when his fellow researcher and he could have tested the Dimension Splitter together. He would have had a backup. Someone who would have been there to help him in the case of an emergency. Like this one.
There was no time to dwell on that. Dean started walking and there was a flash as his surroundings disappeared and he reappeared in a primeval jungle. As he looked around a Brontosaurus came into view. The gigantic quadruped sauropod didn’t even seem to notice him although he was less than a hundred yards away. He ducked behind a tree and felt dizzy. Thunder and lightning. Day and night. Dinosaurs. He felt like he was drifting and woke up in the middle of a battlefield. Corpses lay putrefying in the unrelenting sun. Miles of trenches packed with bodies. Some alive. Most dead. Dean stumbled through the thick muck and mud before climbing out of the trench on a blood-soaked rope ladder.
He thought about the laboratory. Then he was there again. Sitting on the chair inside the cubicle. He glanced over at the wall clock across the room. It was 2 a.m. He started to rise from the chair and…
The world exploded! He was floating in some kind of clear bubble and could see scenes of mass destruction below him. Wildfires raged across mountains and coastal shore lines disappeared beneath the wild waters of the ocean. Buildings were crumbling under seismic shocks. Volcanos erupted. And people all over the earth were trying to survive the cataclysmic events he was witnessing.
The whole terrifying panorama turned black and he looked up and saw stars and planets overhead. He was sitting beside an ancient oak tree located near a simple cottage. He got up and walked over to it and noticed a well just a few yards from the cottage. His mouth felt like cotton and an urge to get a drink of water overtook him. As he lowered the wooden bucket down the well, someone stepped out of the cottage. The glow from a lantern inside the cottage framed the old woman as she hobbled over to him.
“What are you doing here human?” she abruptly asked.
“I don’t know where here is. I’m lost.”
“Another one,” she sighed. “When are you foolish mortals going to quit poking your noses where they don’t belong?”
“I don’t know what…”
“Oh, forget it. You’re here now. Have a drink. You weren’t just messing with science my boy, you were messing with magic too.”
“What can I do?” he pleaded.
“I’ll tell you what I told the rest. You’re going to have to go on a quest.”
“Yes. You know what that is, don’t you? Of course, you do. You’re an educated man. You’re going to have to find your way back to the real world. You’ll need a special key to do that. Hence, your quest.”
“Where should I look?”
The old woman and the cottage were gone. He found himself standing on an old cobblestone road that could have been built by the Romans during the height of their power. He chose a direction and started walking. Soon he came upon a man sitting on a large rock. Something about him looked familiar.
“Hello” Dean called out as he approached.
The old man looked up from his book and nodded.
“I’m looking for something. Perhaps you can help me?
“I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think,” the man cryptically replied.
“Do you know where I might find a special key?”
“One thing only I know, and that is that I know nothing,” the white-haired oldtimer claimed.
“Wait a minute! I know who you are! You’re Socrates!
“Now it is time that we are going, I to die and you to live; but which of us has the happier prospect is unknown to anyone but God,” he said.
As Dean watched in awe, a cloud enveloped them and he thought he heard music. The cloud soon grew so dense he slowed down and put his hands out in front of him. It was moist and smelled like the ocean. A seagull cried out as it spotted food on the tiny stretch of beach that opened up before him. Sand crabs scuttled out of his way as he walked over the white sand and up to the breakers and looked out at the vast sea. It was calm and undisturbed by ships. A few seagulls glided lazily in the mild wind currents searching for food in the crystal clear waters below.
Without questioning why, Dean had the urge to swim out past the waves and slip into the deeper waters. Rays of sunlight sent slivers of luminescence into the depths as he reached a bed of coral. He felt like he could hold his breath forever, but something inside him reminded him that he couldn’t. He was a human. Not a fish. After a short search he found a small metal box. A sense of sheer joy made him smile as he grabbed it and started for the surface. Once he was back up on the beach he eagerly opened the metal box.
It took Dean a few minutes to adjust. He was sitting in the cubicle again. It was still dark in the laboratory. Gingerly, he stood up, expecting something to suddenly change. He walked over to the control panel and stared at it as the first rays of sunlight snuck through the shades in the laboratory. He was back. And, he learned a lesson. Without hesitation he picked up a metal stool and brought it down hard on the control panel! He didn’t stop until he was out of breath.
As It Stands, who knows where the line is between magic and science?
Truman’s dream came from an ancestral memory of when humans walked the earth. Before the great morph, and the changes in their anatomy that forced them to live under the sea.
He saw people walking in deserts, forests, mountain trails, and paved streets in massive cities. They were all able to breathe the sweet air they took for granted. It was before the gills started showing up in babies. Before fingers and toes were routinely webbed. It was in a time before mankind unleashed dooms-day bombs that nearly destroyed the planet and it’s inhabitants.
He didn’t question his dream. As usual, he just wished it was longer.
The ocean was a dangerous place, but twisted evolution made it even worse. When the first humans were forced to be water-dwellers they were confronted with monstrosities in the dark depths and quickly preyed upon. But as millions of humans morphed and banded together, they learned how to survive the terrors in seas across the planet.
Truman’s job in the colony he lived in was to provide food. He and many other “gatherers” constantly sought plants, and small forms of sea life, like crabs, lobsters, and oysters to feed the colony’s five thousand inhabitants. It was a daily job. A way of life. Part of the tapestry of their city under the sea.
After bringing back his daily quota, Truman spent most of his time exploring. Sometimes his friends came with him and they found ancient shipwrecks replete with artifacts in gold, silver, copper, and precious stones like diamonds and rubies. They would study them and admire how light danced through the diamonds as the lighting above beamed down through the depths and passed through them. They’d spend hours trying to figure out what the corroded pieces of metal were. Especially the massive metal tubes scattered near some wrecks. Without disturbing the artifacts they’d go back to their city. They were useless in the world Truman lived in.
The dreams started when he was eighteen years old.
The early dreams were like going to a school and learning simple lessons. As the years passed by, the messages became more complex and would puzzle him for days afterward. In the last year his dreams became a tour of another age. He saw humans with varied skin colors, but without scales like his. They built fantastic machines that flew in the sky and rumbled across the earth. They erected architectural wonders all over the world.
Truman jealously guarded his secret dream life. It was a wonderful escape from his dull existence. People would just laugh at him, and he didn’t want that. His temper could lead to getting him kicked out of the colony. That was a scary thought.
In the dream a man appeared and asked Truman questions. The odd thing was he was able to answer him! He temporarily felt a wave of nausea and then they were both standing on a beach. Truman started to panic when he realized he was out of the water, but the strange man reassured him it was okay. And, it was. Somehow he was able to breathe. He looked up and down the beach. It seemed endless. Turning away from the water he saw sand dunes leading to a garden. He knew what a garden was. He learned that lesson early on in his dreams.
“Do you want to explore?” the man asked.
“Can, I?” Truman hesitantly asked.
In spite of himself Truman woke up. His heart was still beating fast with anticipation. “Damn!” he muttered out loud.
Picking up his corral spear and knife, he slipped out of the common sleeping room and went in search of food. He was daydreaming and not paying attention when the mega shark appeared directly ahead of him! As fast as he was, there was no way he could out swim the massive creature. It’s four eyes, and the two tentacles that grew from its misshapen head with eyeballs on their ends, looked at him hungrily. He’d never been cornered before by a monster this large before. It’s sheer size was a horror to behold. He cleared his hunter’s mind and held the spear up and planted his web feet firmly. He held on as it pierced the largest eye on its head! The beast thrashed in agony and churned the water around so strongly he was flung to one side. His survival instinct urged him to swim in the opposite direction as fast as he could. It was an hour before he felt it was safe to come out of the cave he found in his flight. Despite what happened, he couldn’t go home yet and began looking for food.
The stranger came to him in his dream that night.
They were on the beach again. He was able to breathe air again. “How?” he asked.
“Those plugs in your nostrils and ears.”
“Can we go to the garden?” Truman wondered.
“Yes, of course. Follow me.”
As they walked through the beautiful garden with lush fruits hanging from trees, Truman asked where the animals were? The stranger smiled and said, “The construct isn’t complete yet. I have a lot of work yet to go. I’m reconstructing another age.”
“Where is this?”
“Somewhere between reality and the renaissance of the earth,” the stranger explained.
“Have I died? Or, am I still dreaming?”
“Dreaming…but some day…”
Truman bolted upright and looked around the room. It was almost empty. Only a few sleepers remained. Once again he was disappointed that he wasn’t still dreaming. The stranger sounded so encouraging. He knew something special was happening and wanted to be part of it. Sighing, he got up and started his day.
Months passed by without The Dream. Truman was distraught. He no longer explored or hung out with his friends. He gathered his daily quota of food, then went off to be by himself.
The dream came back one night.
The stranger, whose white beard was longer than the last time he saw him, appeared weary, but satisfied.
“The construct is nearly finished. Are you ready for a new life?”
“Yes!” Truman quickly answered.
“You still have the blood of the first man I created. And the soul of a good man. Now I give you the body of a true man,” the stranger said. “Welcome to paradise…Adam II.”