The Celestial Elder

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Jason Gathers looked back at the colonies being pulled into Earth’s gravity as he began to prime the small craft for a long burn.  Fire spread around the O’ Neill cylinders like fearsome flowers, orange mingling with yellow and red with a terrible fury.  The screams of millions of people burning alive went unheard as his engine spun up, and he felt a heavy sorrow grow inside his chest.

“I wish she could have seen this with me.  Who knew that revenge could be beautiful?”  Jason softly slurred to himself.  “Her hair was the same color when the sun shined just right.”  He felt a small pride that he had turned a group of exploited slave laborers into an efficient task force.  Each of their charges detonated at the right time, at all the right places.  The Earth’s gravity did the rest.

“They were good men…”  He whispered to the memory of his wife. “Friends, even.  But we all made sacrifices for this cause.”  As his engine kicked into gear and the long burn began, the charges he had secretly placed on their vessels exploded and destroyed all evidence of their involvement.  Shadows watched, pleased with the dark fruits of their labor.  Their suggestions in this universe have climaxed to this result.  A beacon he had dropped into orbit began an automatic broadcast on all channels, which had previously been completely jammed.

“People of Earth.  Escape while you can.  We are here to bring a new age to humanity.  We are here to show you that Earth is too small and too fragile a basket to put all of our eggs in.  We have played in this cradle for too long, and despite our advances the Earth cannot thrive under the weight of all of us.  Look above you, now.  See the terror the Republic and the Consortium have created.  They are destroying the colonies, and their sloppy work creates more destruction for the people on Earth, while they hide comfortably in their shelters.  They do not care for those in space.  We are expendable to them.  Rise up, and leave now.  We need your help to achieve humanity’s destiny, to spread our civilization to the stars.  Come, join us and prosper together in space.  Or stay, and die.”


Robert cried, his imagination showing him images of chaos in the major cities.  People fighting over each other to leave Earth.  Soldiers struggling to keep control and to keep their fingers from their triggers.  His wife alone in a crowd, trying to herd a group of small children.  There was almost no way for them to get out in time.  Not with an entire city trying to evacuate.  Hope was translucent, faint as a whisper in a thunderstorm.  If the colonies roaring into the atmosphere did not create the panic, then that broadcast that just played over the intercom certainly would.

In the cockpit, Jason’s accomplice cried too.  He was frustrated with his cause, knowing now that the people they condemned to die on Earth were mostly innocent.  There was no way to contact command and to call off Axis’ descent.  It probably had too much momentum anyway.  It could not be stopped.  Something else was bothering him.  Racking his brain, he could not remember why Jason ordered him to kidnap Robert James Lowman.  He couldn’t even remember the orders.  The shadows stared through him with smug, obsidian smiles.  They knew why.  Confused and isolated with his guilt, he programmed the autopilot to take Robert to the hidden fleet behind Axis, and sat back in his seat.  He stared at the blockade of ships in front of him that ignored this shuttle, turning to face the ancient celestial demon that doomed their home world.   Flashes erupted silently as he coasted above their firing solution.

“Useless.” He mouthed silently and put the small, silenced gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger.  His body recoiled, and floated up.  Blood and brain vibrated strangely in zero gravity as the shadows laughed, dancing along with the crimson bubbles.  Whispers filled the cabin as the man’s dead body floated and dreamed of another universe.  Whispers from shadows that were always watching in pleasure.

Robert had moved ahead to the front of the craft to take Omar’s body and give it some semblance of respect by covering his dead face with his coat and placing it in a seat.  Robert could hear the raspy conversation, and stifling his tears he drifted toward the cockpit to investigate.  He gasped when he opened the door, seeing the corpse floating in the same moment as the whispers went silent.

“I must be going fucking crazy.” Robert muttered to himself.  He put himself in the pilot’s seat after softly pushing the corpse down and behind the chair.  Robert had no sorrow for this terrorist, regardless of his situation.  The only thoughts he could think were of Linda, horrified on the planet’s surface as humanity’s impending doom coasted toward them.  Remembering some basic flight controls, he began to flip switches and tried to move the yoke.  It was stuck in its programming, and he was unable to move the controls.  A notice flashed on the instrument panel:

PLEASE ENTER THE PASSWORD TO ACCESS FLIGHT CONTROL.

‘Password’ did not work.  ‘Guest’ did not work.  Robert slammed his fist in frustration on the flashing screen, which also did not work.  To the pleasure of the darkness, he was trapped in this thing on its way to the last place he wanted to be.  He pushed himself back into the cabin, searching for the escape pods in the back.  Their doors had been welded shut.  Probably a preemptive move by the terrorist to stop any escape.  Without options, Robert glided to the seats on the right, resigned to gazing down at the tracers within the barrage of hot steel.  Suddenly the front of the asteroid appeared underneath the shuttle, and he could see that the U.E.R.’s attack was barely whittling away at the surface.  The explosions were probably gigantic,  but the sheer size of the asteroid made it useless.

“Useless”, Robert muttered angrily.  He stared down at his elder, the massive stone rolling beneath him.  Pockmarked with craters, the ancient drifted underneath the craft for what felt like ages.  He tried to look off to see the edge, but the immense rock stretched out to blend with the darkness of space.  There were abandoned structures that dotted the landscape, old mining bases probably.  Finally the end of the space boulder appeared, and he could see mammoth thrusters that were darkened and cold.  Without realizing it, Robert had been crying this whole time, tears filling the space around his face.  He was startled into a scream as the V.I.’s voice broke the silence:

“Please buckle your seat-belts and prepare to dock.  We have arrived at our programmed destination.  Thank you for flying with The Consortium, where your comfort is our priority.”

Docking clamps loudly clamped onto the side, shockingly fast after this announcement.  He looked out the window and he could see dozens of ships surrounding the shuttle.  They were older transport craft, dirty and outdated looking.  There were massive guns on each of them, and he knew that they must have been jury-rigged to become a fighting force.  He saw the space around him disappearing as the shuttle was brought into a docking bay of a much larger ship.  Steel and chrome shined beneath the lighting inside as he saw the name of the craft painted high above the deck and the walkways.  The U.E.R.’s Gwaden.  The old ship thought to have been lost over 20 years ago on a deep-space patrol now closed around him.

The shuttle’s movement ceased with an iron screech as Robert’s heart pounded in his chest.  Who knows what these rebels would do to him?  They would probably think he killed the pilot.  He floated up and hid in an overhead compartment, not able to stop tears welling up in his eyes.  He was completely hidden, but he was not alone.  His fear was with him.  The shadows were with him, keeping him company.  And he could hear their gleeful whispers.  He squeezed his eyes shut, forcing himself to fill his mind with his wife’s beautiful face.

Linda…

Suddenly he was seeing flashes of her in places they had never been.  Like lightning illuminating a darkened art gallery.  A beach at night somewhere, walking from a strange automobile that hadn’t been relevant for generations.  The same car at a 20th century drive-in theater.

What are these memories?  

He had no time to think more, as he heard the airlock start to open with a hiss and the creaking of metal.

tales of a travelling salesman final

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Dream to Escape

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anime rain

 

The lock turned on the wooden door as the rain began to fade.  A dull roar reduced to a whisper. Stepping away, he tried to control his heart’s violent thumping against his ribs, aching with each breath.    The door pushed open with horrifying slowness, opened just wide enough for the man’s words to come into the room.

“Maintenance?  Maintenance.  Sorry for coming so early but… uhhh… the water is out.  Still… uh… trying to find the problem” He trailed off awkwardly.  “Are you awake, mister?”  The door opened a bit wider so that the top of his head could poke in and look at Robert, who had just finished rumpling the bed to make it seem slept in.  Like a bed should be when one has paid for a hotel stay.

“Yes,  I’m awake now” Robert dourly spat at the handyman.  Exhaustion had whittled away at his typically affable demeanor, exposing the irritable asshole that lives within us all.  “Hurry with whatever you need to do.”  The man paused in the doorway after sliding in, looking around the room sleepily.  Robert watched this with vexation and repeated: “Hurry.”

“Fine, fine, jeez.  Sorry.  I’m still half in bed.  I’ll get out of your hair as soon as I can, buddy.”

Robert was filled with a subtle fear.  However, the bile of irritability was thick in the sea of his emotions and he could not help but think:

I’m not your God-damned “buddy”, guy.  

 Taking his tool kit along with a new found irritability that Robert gave him, the handyman moved past Robert’s grim face and crossed arms without a glance.  Getting into the bathroom, he had a passing thought about how bad moods spread quicker than the common cold.  Facing away, Robert looked through a crack in the curtains at sunlight finding its way into a new day. Warmth. A distinct pleasure spread into Robert’s bones.  But it did not last.  Relief was fleeting, as that familiar tingle of ice wormed into his body. He knew he could not stay here with the man so close by. It was only a matter of time until the shadows grew a horrible cloud in the space around the stranger, an impossible geometry of spiraling ink that spread its tendrils around whomever it needed to use to get to Robert.  The word’s of his old friend, who had been consumed by a skillful demon right before his eyes without him even noticing, crept into his thoughts again.

“We are everywhere.”

Robert James felt his stomach writhe hungrily within his gut, searching for food that wasn’t there.  He decided to leave without a word to the man who’s face he had already forgotten.  Besides, the room seemed like it was growing colder already.  Darker, even. Jingling on the end table, the room key barely came to a rest when the door slammed satisfyingly shut behind Robert and he walked out into the breezeway.  The ground was slick with a rain that now was being pushed away by the warm eastern zephyr of the rising sun.

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He stood for a moment looking at the parking lot, as steam began to twist off of the gray asphalt, curling between a few cars that braved the storm from the night before.  One in particular caught his eye, a dark blue sedan with a white top. and white-walled tires.  A real looker of a vehicle.  Robert gave a long and admiring gaze at that car, as the sun almost made it glow with an aura.  One imperfection caught his eye though.  A cluster of thin parallel lines ran along the length of the car; a light color against the dark blue.  Like scratches in the paint.  From claws of onyx.

His stomach groaned again and he turned to the diner, which was surprisingly open at this early hour.  Eggs and coffee and bacon wafted into the warming air, and Robert walked in again to see the same bubbly brunette with the shining smile.

“Good mornin’ mister!  What can we get for you?”

“Cupocoffee” Robert mumbled, with a weak smile as he looked around him at the counter.  Mostly clean, a few big stains that surely had been scrubbed hundreds of times to no avail.  The main faded hue was a sad-looking tan.  It was a shame, Robert mused, when a business either doesn’t care or can’t afford to keep up appearances.  Glancing at the mostly empty restaurant, his eyes found a sight when they came upon an aged man with a shock of white hair on his head and a long white beard; An over-sized, worn and torn brown jacket covered his broad body. Blue eyes staring right at him.  Robert sat up with a start as he stared back at the frozen eyes staring ice through him.  Into him.  A blink and the man had vanished.

Robert whipped his head around at the waitress, who was grabbing creamer from underneath the counter.  She obviously didn’t see what happened, and he asked:

“MISS! Who was the man sitting in the corner over there, just a moment ago?!”  She stood up quickly in surprise and looked at Robert’s wild eyes and tired face.

“Man? Which man?” She pondered, putting a finger to her chin and looking around the place.  “Him?”  Robert turned to look at a different man, a much younger one who was clean shaven and was actually Jim from the repair shop, face down gobbling up a plate of eggs and hash browns with a ridiculous amount of ketchup.  It was as if he actually added hash browns to a plate of ketchup, instead of the converse.  Strange.  Robert turned and shook his head, sipping carefully the cupocoffee that the nice young lady gave him.  She apologized for her memory and shrugged, going about her duties.  He gulped the hot liquid down painfully, a fire brewing in an empty stomach, and he realized he should eat something too.

“Miss, sorry, but could I also have a bagel with cream cheese?” He said sheepishly.  Jim had paid and waved as he stood to leave.  The waitress went to prepare the modest breakfast and Jim walked over.

“Hey, R.J.!  Should have gotten the eggs scrambled with onions and peppers!  Real good here.  Anyway, that starter of yours should be coming any time now, them boys out west get up earlier than me!”  He gave Robert a pat on the back, and they smiled at each other.

“Great!  Thanks again for helping me out, Jim.  I’ll be around here somewhere, maybe I’ll find a nice spot in the shade to slee — er —  sit in… for a while.”  Robert’s eyes were still heavier than anything he had ever lifted before. Despite the coffee.  It takes a while to kick in, really.  A bagel magically appeared before Robert, along with a smiling waitress telling him to enjoy it.  It quickly began to vanish as Jim disappeared out the door and into the waiting day.  It was going to be a big one for Robert, and one filled with mystery.  The darkness waited for him out there, in the hot sunlight.

It hid between molecules within the air, hoping to snare him around the throat and whisk him into itself.  Pushing the empty plate away and putting money on the counter, Robert thought of the darkness as a horrible, amorphous mass of squirming serpentine shadows, red eyes appearing and disappearing all over the quivering horror.  It grew, and pulsed.  The air swirled colder inside the diner, the curls of the young woman’s hair suddenly appeared darker under the fluorescent light that flickered above.  She was wiping the counter, and Robert stood to leave with his eyes locked on her as she suddenly froze during her cleaning rhythm.  He whirled around to leave, thinking that he saw her eyes flick up at him as he turned.  The door was heavy as he pushed his way out, and he turned to his right walking along the side of the restaurant.  As he walked past the last booth that was by the window, he turned to look in at a single coffee cup resting on a barren table.  The place where that strange man sat, eyes blazing cold fire into Robert’s mind.  Some strange sense of… urgency?  Staring from the corner of his eye was a new gaze.  He looked over his shoulder as he walked away, the waitress stoically stared after him as Robert fled from her sight.

He trotted a fair ways behind the diner, the dirt giving way to taller grass and the trees stretching to the sky.  The shade was still a bit wet from the night before, but not as hot as the sunlight.

This will be a good place to wait.  

The waitress never emerged from the restaurant.  The imagination plays terrible tricks on a tired mind.  But the coffee cup… That stood out to Robert.  The bubbly young lady said that she did not remember, but how do you forget someone as distinct-looking as he was?  And how did he vanish?  He thought hard about what he saw, and he rushed back into the restaurant.  There was a napkin there, by the mug.  Something was written on it.  His feet flew over the ground and into the diner again, breathing hard he moved to the booth where the waitress was finishing cleaning up.  The napkin was on the tray behind her, resting on a table while she worked.  He took it and read it to himself.  The short chortle of disbelief came from his mouth, and he crumpled it up and threw it back down.

“Dream to escape.”

Tell me something I don’t know.  Waste of — wait.  

The man had vanished into thin air like demons had.  And had an obvious interest in him.  Who was this man?  He left something behind – a message – to reach out to Robert James… What could this mean? Why did he stare so coldly, with such ice?  Robert shivered as the shade of the trees fell over him once again.  He stood with his back to one, and crossing his arms he looked at Jim’s place.  This would be a good place to wait.  Clouds slowly wafted overhead as the sun continued its march higher into the blue sky, a grand illusion.

~*~**~**~*~*~*~**~**~*~*~***~***~**~*~*****~*~*~**~*~***~**~***~**~*~~*~

It wasn’t long before a truck rumbled into the parking lot of Jim’s.  Robert stared as the dust cloud that once trailed behind the hauler now filled the air around it coming to a rest.  One man hopped out of the large truck while the other stayed inside with it idling.  Jim came out to meet them, a handshake and a smile produced a signature on a clipboard and a wave goodbye.  A sequence of actions as old as commerce.  Starting slowly, the giant truck lurched forward and gained speed away from this glimpse of a town.  Jim was unaware that Robert stared from afar as he rolled his tool box out by Robert’s new truck.  The starter is easy enough to replace, since he was done faster than Robert expected.  30 more minutes in the shade alone was almost therapeutic to him; the air idling between trees and leaves was clean tasting and invigorated his spirits.  The long walk across the grass made him think of childhood gambits as a knight, cardboard shield poised to defend.  His eyes were achingly tired and Robert had to consciously focus on holding them open sometimes, but he now felt a kindling of small fire within his soul.  He was this much closer to his wife, and he knew that he had no idea how to protect her, but maybe he could keep her safe somehow.  Move her around from town to town, give her a bit of excitement.  He stifled a chuckle and began to walk inside of Jim’s cluttered office, greasy footprints lining the concrete floor.

“Hey!  Thanks again, Jim.”  Robert shook Jim’s hand as he rose to greet him.

“No problem at all, R.J.!  Be safe out there!”

“You too!”  The door shut behind Robert and he nearly sprinted to the black truck.  It was pretty clean on the inside, despite some usual wear and tear.  The engine started and he rolled out back onto the road, pulling the motor for all that it was worth.  A new exhilaration found its way into his body, forcing a smile of clenched teeth to appear.  The highway stretched itself before him again, and he flew down it toward his home, to his great love.  He had to get back and he knew he would finally be where he belonged.  To the woman who – for whatever strange reason – accepted him.  Loved him.  Believed in him and supported him for no reason other than love.  He could never repay her for all the support she gave.  He had once found her platitudes about finding a new job obnoxious and annoying, but he knew she was doing all she could to support him through his overwhelming depression.  Love.  They say it makes the world go around, and that may be true.  But love undoubtedly was the reason for Robert’s life.

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Someone once said that we live life in the pursuit of beauty, and all else is just a form of waiting.  Robert knew all those years ago, when he fell in love with her, that he did not have to wait ever again.  Not as long as she was there by his side.  The fire burned strong in his soul again, like it did when he was a younger man under the stars on a beach at night.  The truck barreled down the road, passing cars fast and pulling the world underneath it.  A billboard stretched out on the right up ahead, and Robert stared with disbelief.  Alone, framed by a piercing clean white, were black letters that read:

Robert, go to sleep.

The cycle must continue.

Fury forced the truck faster down the road, and soon he passed another billboard, reading:

We will find you.

His chest was burning with tingles of love that quickly caved to the overwhelming fear. A fear that comes from facing a universe filled with a vile darkness permeating the physical world with its evil will.  A darkness that defies logic and reason, a darkness with intelligence. A darkness that has hunted Robert.  Stalked him.  Anger brewed again.  The anger of being toyed with by something beyond your control.  Imagine being an ant that is being fried by the magnifying glass of a horned demon-child with the shadowy cheshire smile of madness.  A siren came up from behind him along with the red and blue flashes of a police officer.  He was being pulled over, and looking in the rear-view mirror he saw red eyes and fangs that stretched over darkness.  A blue hat rested on its head.  A blink and a glance brought a normal human into frame, motioning to him to pull over.  Robert’s hands gripped the wheel and he squeezed them as hard as he could, knuckles growing whiter with each passing moment.

 

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