Drones

Click here for the part before.

Robert felt like he was floating for a moment, suspended in the darkness. The darkness had texture this time, grainy almost. Wafting down onto him, it was actually hair. Long, dark hair flowed around him and his eyes adjusted to see another pair of smiling eyes. They comforted him, he felt safe but did not recognize the face. It was beautiful.

The darkness turned darker and the face faded into a terrible caricature – smile pulled back painfully far to reveal larger teeth than they should have been with a terrible smell of rancid flesh steaming into his nose. He could not move and the laughter suddenly burst into his ears, his mind, and his body. The cacophony rattled his bones and he could not help but cry. No tears came.

The darkness opened to a tunnel, thousands of tiny points of light lining the walls and the floor and the ceiling. As he floated down the hall, body stuck in rigor mortis, he could hear that the laughter was coming from each hole. As the darkness enveloped him, he struggled to remember the face that brought him comfort, and he could almost remember. There was a name on the tip of his tongue, but his tongue was missing.

________________________________________________________________________

A car horn woke him up, followed by a loud shout of cursing and then glass shattering.

Robert rubbed his eyes. He hadn’t been this hungover since yesterday.

The window next to his bed had a thin layer of frost. He threw a shoe at the radiator and it rattled awake, coughing like he was.

“I gotta eat but I don’t want to cook…” Robert spoke to the air. The empty apartment listened intently to his sigh. “Another day of no work and a useless job hunt. God…” He trailed off as he opened the refrigerator, staring at the last remaining beer, a bag of broccoli, and ketchup. A holo-ad flicked on quickly and a dancing see-through hamburger stared into his soul. Opening his ration app, he saw he had enough for one more free delivery until the next week. He could either go and clean some delivery robots again today for pay or he could relax again and simply exist. Maybe sleep again before his next beer. Maybe he would have a good dream this time.

Maybe not.

A few clicks and a beep later, his phone chimed pleasantly to tell him that a large pizza was on its way, complete with pepperoni and spinach with a few slaps of diced garlic. His stomach growled as he ate a dry piece of broccoli to hold his hunger away. His dirty sink spat decently clean water into a nasty little cup he only rinsed out and never washed. He stared through the frost at the city outside, little tears of melting ice trailed down the window and pooled in the frame. He wiped his own tears from his eyes.

The dreams of his childhood were traded for this meager existence. The Great Layoff of 2040 was in full swing. If only he went to school for computer science or engineering… But he was not good with math anyways.

He sipped the water, a small chunk of something finding its way into his mouth. He swallowed without flinching as he watched the automatons flit about outside. Drones filled the skies with their lights, dancing in the early morning hours between buildings with their deliveries. On the ground, the automa-cars gently glided along, stopping for pedestrians. Sometimes the children would mess with them, pretending to jump in front of them to make them slam to a stop. Each time, the cars’ speakers would apologize for the inconvenience.

The sun climbed higher but the day grew darker. Clouds enveloped the skies as usual during this season. The shadows loved it, he imagined.

He was right.

Robert couldn’t tell, but the room grew darker just as began to hear the screams. Confused, he used his sleeve to rub frost off the window, smearing away the melting ice. Looking down the street there was a crowd of pedestrians, all talking amongst each other and gesturing down the street. He turned his head to see what they were talking about and saw another crowd scrambling around the corner. They fell in a pile, different color jackets blending together and sliding in the discolored winter slush.

A sickening sound, part crunch and part wet, echoed up the street. A automa-car plowed into those who did not make it around the corner in time, painting the sidewalk and part of the street in blood. It slammed into the opposite side of the road, which was his building. The building didn’t shake, but Robert did.

“What the fuck…” Robert breathed. The pile started moving outside as people clamored away from the dead and dying. “What a crazy malfunction… there hasn’t been a fatality from one of those autos in over a decade.”

The remainder of the crowd started piling into a cafe across the street from his window as another automa-car rocketed down the street and clipped the tail end of the crowd, creating a mist of red. Robert could see a severed hand gripping the door that swung on its hinges very slowly. He knew it was creaking, he visited that shop regularly. The neon flickered as he rubbed his eyes.

The chaos outside was complete now, people fighting to get inside wherever they could. One tried climbing into the broken automa-car, reaching into the window to unlock the door. The window rolled up and trapped them, their legs kicking frantically for a few minutes while other cars started rocketing down the road, slamming pedestrians into walls or driving over them entirely. Some even backed up and drove off to continue their rampage.

Everyone was leaning out their apartment windows now, screaming at folks to get off the street or just plain screaming in horror. Robert leaned out too, but he could not speak. He had never seen such gore and gristle, making him shake like a tree in the wind.

The shadows tingled with pleasure, watching and feeling what he felt and seeing what he saw. This channel was particularly fun. Thousands of eyes and twice as many ears.

Robert leaned quite far out the window, as it seemed this street was calming down. But cries could be heard echoing from a distance. Looking at the sky he noticed a few plumes of smoke coming from elsewhere in the city. His stomach growled, but he was not hungry anymore.

The people in the cafe stared out at the street, many in shock. An old man held an old woman closely, shielding her face. A strange sound came now, and everyone looking out the windows looked up.

Delivery drones hummed down from the clouds and started swarming the delivery chimneys for the businesses on the ground level.

“GET OUT! GET OUT OF THERE!” Someone shouted. “GET OUT!” More shouting now.

The drones piled into the cafe, and the faces turned away from the window to watch. Blood painting the windows within a minute, and no one could see what was happening. The drones, finished with their work, flew out of the chimneys again, scattering into the sky in a whirlwhind.

Windows began slamming as the drones turned to the apartments, automa-cars whooshed by on the streets still, but Robert saw one drone coming right for him, its red eye shining brightly.

“Fuck.” He spat as he tried to shut his window with icy fingers. It was jammed. He pulled so hard the wood frame splintered and a jagged edge sliced his fingers as he lost his grip and slipped down, falling to the floor and landing hard on his ass.

That moment, the drone screamed into his apartment, slamming into the wall. Robert scrambled on all fours under his bed. The drone hummed pleasantly, shaking off the impact. He could hear its delivery doors slide open, and it spat out a pizza box onto the floor.

“Your delivery, Ro-bert. James. Lowman. Has arrived!” The pleasant voice chirped.

Cold wind blew in, and he could hear the whir of the rotors keeping the drone level while it waited. It slowly started to patrol

It’sfuckinglookingforme, man.

He had to struggle to stay calm, then another drone flew in.

“We are trying to honor a customer service request. Please sign the screen.” The 2nd drone chimed happily. Both of their delivery doors were open, and their forklift-esque package-holding mechanisms clapped with the clang of steel. Not sharp, but enough force to cause some damage. They hovered around the room, and he waited under his bed.

Then someone started frantically knocking on the door.

“Please for the love of GOD let me in PLEASE PLEASE” knocking loudly now “PLEASE, PLeaAAS—-” A loud thud and the screaming turned to gargling. Robert could see two thick holes where a drone had rammed into the door. The holes were close to each other. The wood splintered and tore as the steel tips spread apart, ripping the door and causing blood and guts to pour inside onto his welcome mat.

“Have a great day!” The hallway drone beeped. “Customer served, successfully. Please rate us 5 stars.”

It whooshed away.

The bottom half of the door was splintered and torn. An already thin door was like a wet paper bag now, the blood soaking into the splintered wood.

“….Wow.” Robert James whispered to himself. The drones seemed to pick up on what he thought was inaudible. They whirred and hummed over above him. A jingle kicked on in the refrigerator though, the dancing hamburger causing the drones to cruise over and attack it. The fridge didn’t stand a chance, and neither did the drones as a John Brown-looking motherfucker kicked in the disgusting door, baseball slid through the guts with a shotgun and quickly pumped a slug into both drones, knocking them to the wall and the floor.

“You remember your wife yet?” The crazy man huffed as the smoke cleared, laying down while using some lower intestine for a pillow. The blood soaked his stark white hair.

Robert looked around in a slow daze. Then he started laughing. He did not come out from under the bed right away, staring up at a roach hiding in the bed’s springs.

It looked scared, too.

Thanks for reading, I will keep writing as much as I can! If you happen to know a publisher, let me know ūüėČ

Don’t Tread on Me

Click here to read the part before.

The crowd was bigger than expected, but so was the news.

The signs read a variety of slogans: Fuck the Chinese, Fuck the Government, Fuck Newsom. Basically the same as usual protests. But this was not a usual protest.

Everyone was brandishing their rifles openly, unslung. Someone even drove a technical, having converted a Dodge Ram into a badass anti-air gun. R.J. was just as quiet as usual. But behind his stoic face was a tense fear. A fear that seemed to make the shadows wet and darker than usual.

“So much for that stupid fucking stay at home order!!” Someone shouted. The crowd gleefully responded.

“They can’t tell Americans what to do! If the government doesn’t serve our interests…”

“Right! To! Revolt!” The crowd responded and cheered.

“That’s right!! It’s in the Constitution!!!” He pumped his fist in the air, spit flying from his mouth.

It actually was from the Declaration of Independence, R.J. thought to himself. But it didn’t matter. He agreed with the sentiment. The hand resting on his pistol trembled a bit, and he gripped it tighter. What if the Chinese really were invading?

“If the CHII-NEESE are invading… Why is it so quiet out here except for us?!” The crowd roared in response. One person, R.J. noticed, was not cheering, and was looking down at their phone. He continued chanting “U.S.A.” as he walked over to them. His job was to keep an eye out for Fed plants. Robert was always the observant one of their group.

“What is so interesting?” R.J. said as he grabbed their phone. They looked up in a jerk, the movement removing their sweater hood. It was a young man, maybe 15.

“I can’t tell what is real anymore, and what… isn’t…” The kid couldn’t be heard, but Robert could read his lips.

“Sorry kid, I thought… Wait what is this?” Robert looked at the phone screen, and was seeing a news broadcast of San Francisco burning. He radioed for Stephens to come over, away from his post at the edge of the protest. Stephens could barely hear his radio crackle over the din of the crowd, but he made it over.

“Probably fake.” He dismissed quickly. They all watched together as the Golden Gate Bridge slowly bent and collapsed into the bay. The kid snatched his phone back.

“I need to find my mom.” He said as he pushed away into the crowd. His own phone went off again in his pocket. So did everyone’s, apparently. Everyone stopped for a moment, the sound dying a bit as emergency alert sounds buzzed and beeped.

Warning. Please evacuate immediately. Stay at home order in effect. Barricade doors and windows. Turn on news radio.

The quiet began to give away to quiet chuckles and curses of skepticism and disbelief. But before the crowd got loud again everyone could hear it. A loud, constant whirring sound seemed to fill the air, growing louder. Men brandished their rifles in confusion.

“Everyone get behind the trucks.” Stephens spit into the radio. They set up a semi circle of trucks outside the Courthouse to protect from the cops that never came to stop their protest. Flags mounted in the back of some hung listlessly in the stagnant, hot air. “Everyone, stay calm!” he boomed. “They’re trying to scare us”.

Robert saw it first. High in the sky, a drone seemed to hang overhead. Something fell from it.

Orange. Red.

Ringing in his ears and an intense pressure in his head, he thought he would pop. His heart seemed to stop in his chest.

Black. Brown. Smoke, dirt. Red blood on a flapping yellow background, a snake seemed to spit blood.

“What the fuck is happeni-” Robert suddenly realized he was probably deaf now. He felt blood coming from his ears as he realized what had happened. Stephens strong arm stuck out from under a torn piece of metal, twitching slightly, finger on the trigger of his rifle. The gun was pointed at R.J., but he just stared at it for a moment. He could not hear, but he could smell. The smell of piss came from him. There was another smell though, something familiar.

Coppery. Blood. The area around him was a moving crater, filled with a sea of gore that twitched and moaned.

“What the fuck” Robert could feel himself crying but could not hear himself sobbing. He saw an eye floating, looking at the sky filling with dust and smoke. The cornea rotated downward to stare into blood and dirt. Robert vomited and tried to pull himself up.

The shadows were darker that day. It was not R.J.’s imagination. They watched. They were the real reason he felt so cold, it was not his terror. Not his disgust. Their eyes were innumerable, and they relished in the feast of flesh. They stared through Robert, some even using Robert to see. He felt his mind twitch inside his skull and he began shivering uncontrollably. He started to crawl away, pulling himself over a body that begged for help. Robert couldn’t hear, but he read the lips that bubbled and trembled as he passed over half of a face.


A boat off the coast of California bobbed easily in the waves.

An officer looked over the shoulder of a young man, and they congratulated each other as they looked at the computer monitor together. A greyscale view of a smoking city. Hot white flashes of white popped intermittently. Other young men at other computers were engrossed in their work. The sounds of computer fans whirring and clicking filled the room.

With a pat on the back, the officer walked briskly back to the CIC, informing the communications officer to relay the operation’s success. While the bulk of the forces made their land invasion, his detachment was already whittling away at the insurgency they knew would come after their initial invasion. There might even be a promotion, if the drones all make it back safely.

An officer in the August 1st Building in Beijing hung up his phone, smiling as he walked out of his office to relay the news. He nearly trotted down the hall, past rooms filled with personnel on computers, using Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Helping to organize more “Freedom Rallies” in the United States and disputing the facts that American news services were sharing. A rumor had already started that the massacres of rallies in California was a False Flag attack, as was the invasion itself. Naturally.

Shadows hid inside of the keys of each computer, laughing as they greased them. Helping them type faster.


“This is… Fun.” A voice echoed in the infinite darkness between worlds. “Truly… Entertaining.”

“Yes. What a terrible universe.” Another shadow mumbled and muttered. “Terrible” the void echoed.

“Can we play more here?” Others hissed in agreement.

“We have work to do elsewhere. Another scenario. Requested.” The first voice rumbled. The others hissed and hushed.

“Work is pleasure.” Rumbles.

“Work is pleasure.” Replied.

Click here for the next part!

False Flag

Click here for the part before

Cans popped off the fence quickly this time.

“Great aim, fellas.  This is what I was looking for.”  Stephens boomed from behind them.  10 men were lined up about 50 yards from the fence where the cans met their fate.

They were all a part of what they called a ‚Äėgun club‚Äô, but in private conversations they all knew that they were a quick response team in case anyone connected to them became accosted by the Feds.

“Let‚Äôs go get a drink.  I don’t even think mini-me missed one today.” Stephens tousled his teenaged son’s hair, getting laughter from the rest. 

They all walked together back to the big house in the middle of his property. 

Robert was a quiet man, never really said too much.  He had always been quiet, as far as he could remember.  While the rest joked about something, he was thinking about getting back home because of the way the wind pushed the tall grass here. Like waves on the ocean.

“Whatcha thinking about, R.J.? You look troubled.”  Jacob was a nice guy, always asking if everyone was OK or if they needed anything. A hospitable man who did not need to have you in his apartment to try to provide hospitality. 

“I‚Äôm alright, just thinking about the news again.  Always some fucking bullshit.”  Robert didn’t need to say more to get affirmative grunts from the rest.  All conversations now fixed on this tender point. 

“They just make shit up.  You can’t hardly trust anything on mainstream media these days, man.  I just stick with folks I met online and YouTube.  Get the news from people who are there, instead of some regurgitated crap.  All watered down and branded with a logo and an ideology.”  Stephens practically spat the last word onto the dirt as he kicked the dust from his boots. 

‚ÄúPoliticians.  And then you have these freaks in the cities, from who knows where smoking who knows what. And voting.‚ÄĚ  Jacob huffed, rubbing his Duck Dynasty beard with a big hand. 

‚ÄúNot even Americans in those cities anymore, I‚Äôm afraid.  You seen them burning everything down just because some dumbass got shot.  People get shot all the time all over the world.  Why freak out over another one?  Stupid as hell.‚ÄĚ  Kevin Stephens spoke for the first time since he got his hair mussed up. 

‚ÄúWatch your mouth, son.  But you‚Äôre right.‚ÄĚ   His father spoke softly, the clanking and shuffling of cloth louder than his words.  They didn‚Äôt need to be loud for everyone to really hear what he had to say.  They felt it. 

Jacob broke the rustling silence of the march with a ‚Äúgod-DAMN‚ÄĚ. 

‚ÄúNow what?‚ÄĚ R.J. said, causing some chuckles.  Jacob was always getting fired up over something online.

‚ÄúSomeone said that they see someone in their neighbor‚Äôs yard who is probably an alien, but they are doing yard work.  But look at how he looks at his phone constantly!‚ÄĚ He shoved the phone into R.J.‚Äôs face, instantly causing a headache.  He hated looking at screens, but it was the only way to make it in this world.  Sure enough, the video showed a man weedeating and stopping every couple seconds to check his phone and type something in.

‚ÄúProbably just texting his girlfriend.  Quit getting all riled up over mundane shit, Jacob.‚ÄĚ R.J. kept walking.  The rest made various ‚Äúooo‚Äôs‚ÄĚ and chortles.  Jacob turned red behind all his hair. 

‚ÄúProbably your girlfriend, Jacob!!‚ÄĚ Someone chuckled out. 

‚ÄúAt least I got one!‚ÄĚ He puffed.  Everyone laughed. 

The trees watched quietly.  The bugs were quiet, but no one noticed.

California air was hot and still that night.  The bugs now danced in the moonlight as R.J. slept in his bed with the itchy sheets he loved.  They reminded him of something he couldn‚Äôt quite remember, but he always got close to the memory when he was sleeping in that bed, when he teetered on the edge dreaming.  Vibrant reality stole him away from that place tonight. He was restless for some reason.  The bugs tried to soothe him with their song, but to no avail.

‚ÄúWater.‚ÄĚ  He stood and the floor of his trailer creaked loudly, scaring something out from underneath and into the woods.  As usual. 

‚ÄúRacoons‚ÄĚ he muttered as he got some cold water from the tap.  He opened his phone and went into his app rotation.  Force of habit.

‚ÄúChinese spotted off of Alaska?‚ÄĚ  Again?‚ÄĚ He gulped the water down.  ‚ÄúThey pull this shit almost monthly now.‚ÄĚ  It is not uncommon for the Russians and Chinese to dart in and out of our airspace occasionally, testing response times.  But the Chinese have been particularly annoying recently.

‚ÄúEvery time this happens people think they‚Äôre invading.  No one reads more than the headlines.‚ÄĚ He shared an article with the same sentiment of his attached as his personal caption. 

He filled the glass again, somehow thirstier than before the first glass of water. 

His phone went off suddenly with a loud alert tone, scaring the shit out of him and making him drop the glass and shatter it in the sink.  The phone leapt from his hand and into the sink in the same moment.

‚ÄúJesus Mary and Joseph‚ÄĚ Robert whispered to himself.  He cut himself just barely retrieving the phone and drying it off, reading the emergency alert message on his lock screen.

Stay at home order issued.  Chinese invasion of West Coast. Stay at home to allow military personnel to travel unrestricted.  Turn to your local news station.  Stay at home.    

Within 30 seconds, or about the 10th time rereading the message his phone rang out into the silence. 

‚ÄúR.J.‚ÄĚ He spoke

‚ÄúYou seein‚Äô this shit?‚ÄĚ  Stephens breathed heavily on the other line.

‚ÄúYeah, not sure what I think about it.”   Smells like bullshit.‚ÄĚ

‚ÄúCall your guys and I‚Äôll call my half of the list, and we meet up at‚Ķ Rally point A?‚ÄĚ

‚ÄúYeah and I will bring the signs we made last time, plus some blank ones.‚ÄĚ   R.J. was putting his wallet and keys into his pocket as he spoke. 

‚ÄúI‚Äôll add a link on Facebook to try and get more folks to show up.  This is obviously a false flag to do something worse.‚ÄĚ  Stephens chided.  ‚ÄúWe need a better social media presence.  We need all the good patriots to show up and show the government we don‚Äôt believe this, and that if it is true we CAN HELP!‚ÄĚ

Something about the way he said the last part riled R.J. up.  He did feel sort of miffed the government did not call on the militias they knew were all over the place. 

His turtle was watching him this whole time, stretched out under his heat lamp.  As R.J. walked out the door, it slid in the water to cool off.

Click here to read the next part!

[WP] After exploring the galaxy for quite some time, humanity finally makes first contact. Turns out science fiction got it wrong: compared to the other races humans are advanced, logical, responsible, long lived pacifists and the galaxy is a massive clusterfuck.

How they managed to become a space-faring civilization was a mystery. Glarkans were a blend of reptile and crustacean with a hefty helping of aggression. I had read the dossiers. I gulped as I stepped off the transport into the musty space station. The first human here. The second through 30th humans were my security detail.

The noise level was that of a souk. A normal one, not like that of Baghdad in the early 2000s.

“No bombs here. Yet.” Chuckling to myself to forget my nervousness. I ate way too much Indian food too.

What did I get myself into?

The noise level dropped as my detail fanned out, flanking my stroll onto their promenade. Strange beasts in the midst of arguments stopped and stared. They whispered. Clicked mandibles. Something not unlike a laugh. Shops closed their windows with a familiar urgency, as familiar as the feeling of rubbing my sidearm.

A large, obviously mature Glarkan towered into view. Ducking to get through a 12 foot doorway, he bellowed an alien laugh through drooping antennae. My detail flicked their safeties off and raised their rifles, and I hissed at them with a hand, palm down.

“Put those away!” I turned away, knowing they obeyed. The creature was already before us, and the others had vanished. Plates of organic armor were covered in scars and paint, clashing red and yellow and black. It crouched to speak, and we held out our translators to record it’s patterns of clicks and whistles. Similar to insect trills. A grunt thrown in for who knows what reason.

And we waited. It was impatient, and began stomping away the translators finally blooped at us.

“Be-gin. I wonder how you found us in this nebula. Are all of you so small? Why should we listen to you?” [[LAUGHING]] “What technology do you offer?”

I sent a mathematical algorithm in response to this first diplomatic exchange. They just managed to get space flight, so protocol dictates first contact. Easy diplomatic job for the practiced man.

“It’s a science.” I smiled inwardly. The being opened a data pad it had tucked somewhere between exoskeleton and hair. It’s 8 eyes flicked about slightly. The mandible mouth opened and closed, as if about to speak. But the response has to be careful.

“Congratulations for gaining a foothold into space. It is a major step for a civilization to get beyond their gravity well. You are now required to submit to Galactic Law. You are under the protection of the Consortium of Planets. We will be deploying a detachment of the Navy to protect you from possible pirate raids, and to prevent domestic disturbances.

We are also willing to share cultural information about our races, their poetry, art, history and characters. You may submit yours if you wish. Technology will be shared after a grace period of – 134,342 – of your home world’s solar days.

Failure to submit to the law will yield a disciplinary embargo of your planet. Our technology so outmatches yours, we do not need to take aggressive action. You will not be permitted to explore past your own solar system.”

It worked, as usual. I left vast amounts of data for them to peruse. Bylaws, and all the fun details of life within the Consortium. Taxes.

I kind of missed the days when they tried to fight back. But the only display that is needed is to steal their sun. A massive blockade of solar panels suffices to kill a world. Fairly nonviolent.

The large creature seemed to cower a bit. Then as it began to sign the line it shrieked and coiled up, appearing to pounce. The first squad shot their net grenades at the creature and the electricity has no effect on it.

The force pushed it back into the corridor and the smaller versions began to pile out of the closed up shops. Thunder of assault rifles echoed, and my earbuds muffled the sound to protect my hearing. With a thought I relayed to CENTCOM that shit had, indeed, hit the fan.

The high powered assault rifles tore into the creatures. They fell falling forward. Reaching.

The nets on the large one toggled to high heat mode as it regained its footing. Bright orange patchwork sizzled hungrily and brought screams from the alien.

I stepped up to it as the last Glarkan died bleeding green blood and my men reloaded. I placed a stasis field around it. A fine specimen. I plugged into its field a computer program that matched the beings neural waves. So to implant suggestions into it. And time could be manipulated with the stasis field. A minute could be a hundred years of whispers in the darkness.

The blue shield vanished as I stuffed the device stuffed back into my pocket. The 8 eyes of the ancient creature shuddered and were followed by a low hum with a click.

An alien “OK”.

 

Impossible. ¬†Something from another galaxy? ¬†Their technology must be —

“Sir,” A Fleuon broke his train of thought. “We are detecting strange readings from our long-distance sensors. ¬†Oscillating frequencies on radio and sub-space bands. ¬†They seem to be working to mimic neural patterns.”

“What?” I whispered. ¬†Suddenly a voice came from all around, echoing within the CIC.

“Please submit. ¬†We do not wish to rule over another dead galaxy.” ¬†The voice was deep, and resonated in such a way that shook his bones.

“Get the marines ready. ¬†Make sure all torpedo tubes are loaded to bear, and get anything that is space-worthy into the launch bay. ¬†Are communications down?”

“Yes, sir.” They all chimed in.

“Naturally.” I spat into the air.

Suddenly the Fleuons all convulsed violently, some sprayed out green fluid onto their consoles and shook so hard that their tentacles dented metal.  After several moments, they were all slumped over and dead.  I ran to the nearest, and felt that its normally soft body was now stiff.  Definitely dead.

The voice chided him. “We have destroyed your methods of control and communications by attacking the brain waves of those beings that run your ships. ¬†Please do not make us alter the wavelengths of our weapons to your neural frequency.”

I collapsed in my chair, silent.  Alarms flashed on consoles.

“Prepare to be boarded.”

I was as ready as I ever would be.

 

tales of a travelling salesman final

Thanks for reading, friend!

Should I write more about this character?

In the meantime, read this story my grandmother told me.

Probably Just a Bug-Bite

I was working late in a rural school, when the power went out. I was the night janitor, a job I had always enjoyed because of the relative solitude. I could sleep all day and relax for a bit before driving to work. I would bring my headphones and listen to some Silversun Pickups or Andrew Bird while I swept and mopped up the refuse from the day. Every day the halls were left filled with broken pencils and crumpled up papers with forgotten love scribbled inside. Sometimes I read the notes, and chuckled at their eager egos reaching for some strange ideal of romance. Sometimes I just sneaked a quick bowl and zoned out into my work and the music. Each day blended beautifully into the next. Rent was paid, snacks were bought, and small bits of my check I managed to save. I was content with my confident mediocrity.

Until the night the lights went out, I was enjoying the relaxing waves of soft rain on window panes.

The darkness washed down the hallway I was standing in like a splash of obsidian. It’s difficult to describe the feeling I had, but it was not a normal, healthy fear of the dark. I felt… Unnerved. I knew it wasn’t true, but I felt like I was being watched by the inky black that surrounded me and touched by the silence that swarmed and swirled.

I stood still for some time, expecting to hear the backup generators kick on or the clicking drone of emergency lights. But the only thing I heard was a loud metal clanging that shot down the hall and into my bones. Frozen. Reverberations shook my bones. Helpless. I stood as if locked in a dream. I felt like a child, confused. Silence finally began to echo and ring and ring and ring in my ears.

It must have been a dream. I must have fallen asleep. This must have been a dream, right? I don’t even believe myself as I begin to think of how to write this…

The lights finally kicked on as the sound ended, with a hum and a flicker. And I saw I wasn’t alone.

I caught a glimpse of a large hominid whirling away around a corner. Legs were too long, and the arms were longer. Slender. Pallid. Vein-y. I remember the veins. Thick and purple on a skinny frame. I could have sworn I saw them throb hungrily.

Next thing I knew, I was sitting in a chair in a classroom. I felt cold, and I shivered. I felt disoriented and my vision was blurry as a soft lightning flash illuminated the room with the slightest gleam. Slowly getting to my feet, my eyes noticed the room number posted on the board amidst reminders and notes. The room was in that hallway I was in, or that I thought I was in before…

I found my coworker after running outside into the breezy night rain and into another building. I must have looked wild, because he asked if I was OK. I wasn’t. I’m still not.

My partner said the lights never went out.

And it’s been two days, and I thought it was an exhaustion-induced hallucination because I hadn’t been sleeping recently. My dog has been constantly barking at the clouds and the squirrels that have moved into the roof of my home, constantly scratching and squealing.

But now I have a unusual dot where my bicep meets the forearm. Sight bruising, too. As if I had gotten stung or poked.

Now that I look closely, it’s starting to seem infected. The bruising is a dark hue, darker than even when I broke a bone as a child. And the veins are thicker around that dot. And my head… aches. Constant throbbing.

Maybe I should drive to the city hospital, an hour’s drive away. Those big-city doctors will know what this is.

Probably just a bug-bite, mixed with this fever and paranoia.

Yeah. That’s it. Still gonna go check and make sure.

Make sure it’s nothing serious.

Suspicious Silence

Click here to read the part before! 

Her bony finger tapped Robert forcefully on the shoulder, snapping him out of his awe at the glorious vista before his eyes.  He turned and looked at her, and threw a glance at the bulging bag of bread she held out to him.

“Thank you, this kindness won’t be forgotten. ¬†Perhaps if we have a good harvest, I’ll bring my son with me next time I travel to your lands.” ¬†Robert smiled genuinely at her. ¬†The bread was some of the best he had ever had.

“Yes, perhaps!” The old woman replied¬†with a forced smile. ¬†Being so good at lying, it didn’t show. ¬†“Well, be careful on your travels. ¬†Better get a good start while the day is somewhat young.” ¬†Robert nodded, and turned away.

“Wait!” She burst out. ¬†Robert whirled back to her as a bird chirped. “Take this with you! ¬†Your legs are still weak. ¬†You have no horse.” ¬†She held out her gnarled wooden cane.

“I cannot take an old woman’s cane from her.” ¬†He said laughing and shaking his head.

“Please, I have plenty more. ¬†This one has no significance to me. ¬†Take it.” ¬†She held it out with both hands, and he saw that it was a very dark wood. ¬†With lines curving up the side in strange spiral stylings he had never seen. ¬†He hesitated, but took it from her. ¬†He might need a weapon in Elven lands, his throbbing head reminded him.

“Thank you. ¬†I will return this one day.” ¬†Robert lied¬†quietly. ¬†His hands tightened around it, feeling the smoothness of the staff before holding it to his side to steady himself. ¬†His legs were beginning to find their true strength again. ¬†He walked, the staff longer than he remembered it in the shade of the hut. ¬†The woman stood in the doorway watching him as he walked away through town, toward the mountains that were close to the borders of the Imperium. ¬†Before those stony peaks lived the¬†forest that Robert was found in, beaten and robbed. ¬†The old woman cackled and coughed as she went inside, closing the door behind her. ¬†The spell she cast left her tired, her bones ached more than usual. ¬†It was time for a nap.

Robert continued walking through the town, feeling the stares of all the Elves looking him up and down. ¬†A lone human in a land that despised him. ¬†Looking¬†to one merchant’s wares, some beautiful red apples gleamed¬†in the sun and Robert glanced up with a smile at the owner. ¬†The man stared back into Robert’s eyes with burning hate. ¬†Robert could see crow’s feet beginning to form around the Elf’s eyes.

Signs of aging.

Robert looked back down and continued to walk, the hateful glares urging him to increase his staggered pace.  Children suddenly appeared out of thin air, singing some Elvish taunt as they threw small bits of rotten fruit at him.  Robert understood.  This was something to be expected.  Children act on impulses that adults bury deep within their hearts.  Well, most adults.  The children disappeared as quickly as they appeared.  Robert continued to walk along as quickly as his legs would take him, both hands on the staff that steadied his steps.  A rock flew toward him from behind as an instinct from his younger days tilted his head to the left.  His right hand reached up and without looking he caught a rock that was meant for his skull with a loud slap.

The crowd watching him was more silent than before. ¬†He was quick despite his age. ¬†A reaction that a farmer shouldn’t have. ¬†Avoiding confrontation, Robert simply dropped the stone and continued down the hill out of town. ¬†Heading into the forest valley below. ¬†The people watched in suspicious silence as his head disappeared behind the road.


 

“Jah’sahn, are you sure that we should go into the Imperium again? ¬†Maybe we should just go home.” ¬†The young elf was nervous, and hungry. ¬†His hands played with the string of his bow.

“We have to.” Jah’sahn replied as he carved up an apple to share with his friend. “This is our last apple, and I am not going back to farming. ¬†I told you that already.” ¬†He took a deep breath to quell the anger he had within. ¬†Looking up at the clouds through the trees, the light glittered between the leaves. ¬†His father used to have a word for it, before he died and left him an orphan. ¬†His mother had died when he was a baby, during the Reclamation. ¬†A stupid name for a stupid war. ¬†Jah’sahn’s hands fiddled nervously with his sword resting in its sheathe.

“Fine, fine” His friend replied. “I just don’t want to beat up any old men again. It’s… not right. Human or no.”

“I understand, Brielbeh. How could we have known? After we tripped the horse up we had to follow through…” He paused for a moment in carving the apple. “But… I felt strange after that last encounter too. Even if the money we got for selling the horse kept us fed for a while. Did your sister recover with that medicine we got for her?” Jah’sahn offered an apple slice to him.

“Mostly. The fever’s almost gone, and she is talking again.” Brielbeh sighed and took the slice from Jah’sahn’s outstretched hand. “Its probably the only good thing that’s come of all this.” He muttered as he munched.
“Hopefully we can score something big. Maybe some information to give to the Ravens¬†for a price. Maybe they’ll even let us join up.” Jah’sahn mused, tasting the sweet fruit as a small bead of juice trickled into his stubble. “But probably not.”

“Yeah, probably not.” They both were sitting in a tree high over the road, looking at the dancing patterns that the sun created through the trees on the ground below.

“They say you have to be pretty skilled with magic” Brielbeh chuckled. “The only magic I’m skilled with is making food vanish!” They both laughed through their nose with a short exhale.

It wasn’t the first time they had this conversation, or laughed at this joke.
Robert was walking down the same road they were watching, his legs steadily gaining back their strength. That stew the old woman made revitalized him unlike any meal he had before. He didn’t have to rely on the cane so much now, and he carried it at his side. ¬†The birds were chirping all around him when he first came into the forest road, unfamiliar tones that made him yearn for home. ¬†Now, they were mostly silent. ¬†Robert’s hand tightened on the staff, as he felt a familiar fear creep into his body. ¬†The urge to stop and go relieve himself¬†on a nearby tree was overwhelming. ¬†Ahead of him, hidden in the trees, the two young men noticed him walking.

“Jah’sahn! ¬†It’s that man from before.” Brielbeh whispered. “What should we do?” ¬†Jah’sahn stared at him coming down the road. ¬†Thinking.

“Let’s see if we can’t help him. ¬†To make up for what we did.” They both smiled at each other and began to make their way down the tree branches, swinging and leaping with the dexterity of youth. ¬†They landed at the same time on the road, several paces from where Robert stood brandishing the staff at them.

“You two!” Robert snarled. “I won’t be taken by surprise again.” ¬†Jah’sahn moved forward, palms out.

“No! ¬†We felt bad about what we did, we want to –” An arrow materialized in his face, pushing his right eye from the socket. ¬†It hung in a muddled mass at the tip, before falling into the dirt. ¬†“Wee.. wahnt…to..” Jah’sahn slumped over and died in the dirt. ¬†Brielbeh screamed and ran toward his dead friend, but three arrows thumped into his back, one cracking through his rib cage and poking from his chest. ¬†His eyes bulged and he coughed, spewing blood over his white tunic. ¬†He fell on top of his friend with outstretched arms. ¬†Robert was mortified, glancing around at the trees and the bushes. ¬†A voice came¬†from somewhere in front of him.

“Aww, look at them. ¬†Two little lovers.” ¬†The words were laced¬†with an audible sneer. ¬†Small laughs came from the foliage to Robert’s left and right. ¬†The voice was familiar enough to put him at ease.

“Omar! ¬†I knew you and your men would come sooner or later.” Robert called out, placing his staff at his side again. ¬†“Come forth, and have my thanks!”

Hooded figures¬†came from the shadows, bows slung over their shoulders. ¬†The curved blade of the Halharken¬†Order rested on their hips. ¬†The Imperium’s best trackers. ¬†“I do think that these young men were going to help me… But…” Robert spit on their corpses as blood pooled underneath them, turning the dirt to mud. ¬†“They also got me into this mess. ¬†Stole my horse and everything.”

“Lucky you didn’t have¬†this” Omar appeared above him crouching on a tree branch. ¬†He tossed a sheathed sword to Robert. ¬†“Or they would have known who you were straight away!” ¬†It was Robert’s sword. ¬†Shorter than a longsword, greater than a knife. ¬†Forked at the tip like a trident. ¬†Carvings along the blade, runes that no longer worked. ¬†The pommel was resolved with the face of a bear. ¬†Emerald eyes.

“Yes, that would have been extremely unfortunate.” Robert whispered, strapping it to his waist. ¬†“Are you and your men hungry? ¬†I have some bread for us.”

tales of a travelling salesman final

Click here to keep reading! 

Heedful Hospitality

Click here for the part before.

“Elven…?” Robert repeated groggily. ¬†His memory was still fuzzy, and his head burned as if it had been set out to bake in the sun. ¬†Despite the pain in his body he pushed himself into a sitting position and let his eyes adjust to his surroundings. ¬†It was a modest hut. ¬†A once colorful rug covered the dirt floor with intricate patterns, the walls were the dark color of a local wood. ¬†A small fireplace was across the room, with a black kettle bubbling over the flames. ¬†It smelled pretty good, and his stomach rumbled into the quietness.

“Let me get you some food. ¬†This was¬†my Grandmother’s recipe. ¬†So you can guess that it’s an old one.” ¬†She cackled cheerfully like the elderly tend to do. ¬†She turned and hobbled away, a gnarled wooden cane steadying her gait. ¬†Her silver¬†hair was pulled into a bun and Robert could see that her ears were longer and drawn into a pointed tip. ¬†All at once completely alien and somehow familiar. ¬†Robert rubbed his temples, taking the edge off of¬†his throbbing skull.

Robert James Lowman. ¬†My name. ¬†But who… am I?¬†

“Here you are.” The old woman smiled and handed him the bowl. ¬†Her hands shook way too much, yet only a small bit spilled out. ¬†A thick brown stew steamed before him, carrots and potatoes and beef urged him to feast. ¬†Raising the first spoonful, he smiled as his mouth filled with saliva. ¬†Closing his eyes as he chewed, he gave a small moan as he turned the only-slightly tough meat between his teeth. ¬†The smell filled the air around him, and suddenly he felt emotional. ¬†He was missing someone. ¬†Someone who used to cook like this.

“Linda!” He burst out with a full mouth. ¬†He gulped down the bite and stared ahead, eyes pulled wide. ¬†He knew he was married to a beautiful woman, one he was blessed¬†to even know at all. ¬†Robert remembered some of who he was. ¬†They lived in a manor house far from here.

Nearly the other side of the world.

His heart beat faster in his chest, and he fought to keep the blood from his face. ¬†Robert was lucky these Elves didn’t recognize him, but that’s about as far as his luck stretched. ¬†His legs felt as if millions of needles were slowly prodding into them. ¬†He must have been thrown from his horse.

Why am I so far from the border?  Why did the Crown send me here?

“Linda? ¬†Who is she? ¬†A lucky woman to have such a handsome man worry for her.” ¬†The woman grinned at him with twinkling eyes, thinking of past times when Elves were forever young. ¬†When she still had her husband there to keep her warm during the long winters.

“I am the lucky one, truly.” Robert replied.

I can’t¬†let her¬†know I am from the Capital.

New memories were swirling into existence on the canvas of his mind, painted with an eldritch brush held by the skilled, long-fingered hands of ancient shadows.  They enjoyed using this world.  It was more diverse than the traditional universes they sculpted to lure their captives into false memories.  So many opportunities for chaos, so many shadows that could grow and tangle and twist the minds of corporeal beings to their hateful desires.

So many variables.

¬†“You’re a sweet man for saying that” The woman continuing to smile. “So I know your wife’s name. ¬†Who are you?”

“My name is R…Roger…” He trailed off and stuffed his face quickly with a heaping spoonful of the delicious stew to buy him time to think. ¬†His name was infamous¬†enough that he knew to¬†hide it from even this frail woman. ¬†And she was so pleasant! ¬†The only Elves he had ever met were on the battlefield as a younger man or in the secret laboratories under the Citadel, unknown to even the nobility¬†of the Imperium.

“Roger Theregin.” He said after swallowing his bite. ¬†He could feel it travelling all the way down into his gut. ¬†As if the potato was wrapped in guilt. ¬†Rubbing his head with one hand, he used the other to place the bowl on the table next to him. ¬†He knew he had to get back to safety. ¬†His mission was a failure, but he gleaned¬†some important¬†facts that he had to get back to the Council.

“Ohhh, a name from your East! ¬†You must be a farmer?”

“…Yes. ¬†My wife and I have a small farm right on the border of the Imperium.”

“We both know the Imperiums’ borders reach much farther than the lines on the map.” ¬†She laughed softly and shook her head. ¬†“Ever since that one¬†day all those years ago, we Elves have always lived in fear. ¬†Mortality such as humans know it truly is a burden to us like we have never borne before.” Robert nodded silently, as he slowly began to swing his pained legs over the side of the bed. ¬†He winced as the woman put her hand¬†softly on his shoulder.

“You should rest. ¬†Forgive the ramblings of an old woman.” Robert rubbed his thighs, urging the stinging away as best as he could. ¬†He must have been here for days. ¬†Feeling weak, he pushed himself up to stand. ¬†He placed his hands on his lower back and stretched.

“I am strong enough to relieve myself from your care. ¬†I wish I had some way to pay your hospitality, you were far too gracious to a stranger you scarcely know.”

“Nonsense” She waved her hand and shook her head with a solemn smile. “You are in an Elven home. ¬†We may be poorer than we were before, but these traditions of hospitality will never die. ¬†Even if we do.” ¬†He nodded with silent respect, and stretched his hand out to take hers, she smiled and gave it freely — almost blushing¬†as he kissed it.

“Truly, thank you” He said with real¬†respect. “I will come back one day to thank you for this kindness. ¬†For now I must¬†leave.” ¬†She grabbed his hand with surprising strength as he tried to release hers. ¬†He was startled, and looked into her eyes. ¬†Hazel, but darker. ¬†He felt a small fear grow within him before she smiled and spoke, reminding him of his own grandmother.

“Not before I pack you a bag of bread to keep you going!”

He laughed as he walked to the door, opening  it.  Looking outside as she prepared his bag.  The land was lush, clouds flew along on the breaths of cool wind.  People РElves Рwent about their day, some carrying water to their homes.  Some tending their modest shops.  Mountains watched in the distance.  He listened to the far Eastern birds sing their foreign songs.  Unheard to him, the old woman muttered to herself inside.

“Never before have I felt such smooth hands on a farmer.” She scoffed. ¬†“Roger Theregin? ¬†More like Lord something-or-other.” ¬†Placing the last bit of bread into the bag, she tied it shut with a bit of twine. ¬†She flicked her eyes¬†over to Robert, and seeing his back still turned she began to hold a hand over the bag. ¬†The smallest glow emanated from the tips of her fingers as she whispered words that twisted her tongue around in her mouth, and made the space within the hut darker. ¬†Even a skilled mage like her could not sense the devious pleasure of the shadows. ¬†The fire shrank and sputtered, almost going out as she resolved her incantation.

“Foolish human. ¬†To think that I would believe such a poor lie. ¬†And for him to believe my own!” Her lips pulled back in a toothy smile as she unconsciously ground her teeth. ¬†Even if this spell took time from her own life, it was worth it to help her son’s cause. ¬†The last hundred years left Elves mistrustful of humans. ¬†This ‘Roger’ was certainly an Imperial spy, sent to gather information on her family. ¬†The old woman began to shuffle toward Robert’s turned back, the smile transforming from the conniving grin to a pleasant beaming. ¬†Resisting the urge to take the large knife from¬†her left and cleave it into¬†his spine, she reassured herself with thoughts of her talented¬†son. ¬†So gifted with the arts, and with many friends he had spirited away into different parts of the world. ¬†Even the Capital of the Imperium itself. ¬†Reaching to tap Robert on the shoulder, she thought to herself:

“We are everywhere.”

tales of a travelling salesman final

Click here to keep reading! Don’t forget to subscribe!¬†

Candescent Clarity

Click here for the part before

 

His heartbeat thundered painfully in his ear, mixing with the strange whispers that came and went like a terrible breeze between rotting trees.  He swore that he could feel spit spewing from empty space next to him as the strange language dripped into his ears.

Ko’se lano makora kojani noss’e

He shivered so hard he thought his back might spasm.

Robert knew that his wife would never make it off the planet, like most of those on Earth. There were only so many shuttles that were capable of escaping the gravity-well.  Not nearly enough.  They never made enough.  A terrible case-study of financial Darwinism.

He heard the airlock open, a whooshing creak accompanied by shouts and boots thumping into the passenger cabin.  Voices other than the ones from the darkness trickled through the flimsy plastic door to the suitcase compartment he crammed himself into.  A thin line of light gave him the air he needed to breathe and allowed him to hear his soon-to-be captors.

“Well, looks like Brillby finally offed himself. ¬†Poor bastard.” A gruff chuckle.

“Have some respect, Clark. ¬†The man lost more than most.” A¬†reverent voice said.

“Hey — I said ‘poor bastard’. ¬†Just… keeping it light.” Clark grumbled. ¬†Slow, heavy footsteps.

“Jackson, what do you think?” ¬†Silence. ¬†Boots thumped around, and he heard the steel click of a rifle loading a bullet into its¬†chamber.

“There will be no need for that, Clark. ¬†Robert and I know each other.” ¬†Robert felt frost spread within his gut.

Who is Jackson? ¬†I don’t know anyone named —

The compartment clicked open and light flooded fiery fluorescence into his retinas. ¬†Squinting, he saw the familiar sight of a gun barrel leveled at his face. ¬†A man’s eyes came into focus, eyes dark as coal looking furiously at him. ¬†A large hand came from the side and pushed the gun barrel down.

“God, Clark. ¬†You still can’t listen. ¬†You want to be stuck on sewage duty again?” ¬†The older voice chided like an irritated father.

“No, sir.” Clark still stared¬†at Robert with hateful daggers, unblinking. ¬†He backed away, and allowed the older man to step forward and stare at Robert. ¬†A shock of white hair on top of his head was contained by a small black beanie, a large and regal white beard covered his face and went down to the center of his chest. ¬†The bluest eyes Robert had ever seen. ¬†Like clear ice over a frozen lake. ¬†He had seen this man somewhere before. ¬†Somewhere. ¬†But where?

“Robert, get on out of there. ¬†Out of the shadows.” ¬†Robert sheepishly climbed down with the awkward movements of an older, out of shape man. ¬†A foot down onto the chair below – with hands still in the luggage hold – he began to slip and the artificial gravity caused him to fall — but Jackson caught him. ¬†Strong despite his age and taller than he expected, Robert was set down onto his feet by Jackson holding him under his arms. ¬†Like a parent sets up a toddler. ¬†He felt the blood rush to his face. ¬†Recovering quickly, Robert spoke:

“You said you knew me. ¬†Explain.” The men erupted in laughter around him.

“This one has balls, lieutenant.” ¬†Lee giggled.

“Leave us.” Jackson whispered. ¬†The two guards exchanged glances.

“Sir?” They both said together. ¬†Jackson remained silent, simply looking at them from the corner of his eyes. ¬†They both looked at each other and shrugged in unison, walking toward the airlock.

“We’ll be right outside, sir.” ¬†Jackson waved his left hand at them, his right on his sidearm.

“I know why you’re here, Robert. ¬†Do you?” ¬†Jackson asked as he stared¬†unblinking with wolf-eyes. ¬†Robert replied with silence and a stare.

“I finessed my way into this universe. ¬†I followed you from outside your real home, back on Sedgebrook Drive. ¬†You fell through quite the rabbit hole. ¬†Again. ¬†Do you know what’s happening yet?”

“What are you talking about? ¬†Sedgebrook? ¬†I lived outside of the city, within view of the Great Elevator. ¬†What do you mean, ‘this universe’? ¬†Who are you!?” ¬†Robert said.

The older man shook his head.

“When you think of your wife, what memories do you see?” ¬†Robert’s heart skipped a beat. ¬†Those strange memories of a different timeline flashed again into his vision as he conjured the image of Linda’s face. ¬†Something was horribly wrong.

“I… I don’t know what’s happening to me. ¬†These memories aren’t –”

“Those are your true memories, Robert. ¬†Each time you slip between worlds, they become harder to see. ¬†Given enough time, they will vanish completely. ¬†You have to focus, focus on your love. ¬†That’s the only thing that they don’t understand.”

A thunderous explosion shook the Gwaden, and they both lost their footing and fell into seats across the aisle from each other. ¬†They locked eyes and Jackson stood remarkably fast for someone his age. ¬†He leaned over Robert and put his left thumb in the middle of his forehead with a soft force and his right thumb into the skin over his heart. ¬†An electric current rushed through Robert, and memories he had forgotten about rushed back to him in an instant. ¬†The cold forest. ¬†The sands of post-war America. ¬†The lights flickered and died inside the shuttle as another explosion rocked the Gwaden, and the red glow of emergency lights filled the cabin. ¬†Whispers violently hissed, forcing fear to flow into Robert’s body. ¬†A fear laced with anger. ¬†He remembered everything now.

But for how long?

“They hate me, Robert. ¬†I try to save the souls they keep. ¬†You are not alone in this game. ¬†Millions of people over the course of human history have become trapped in their game, replaced by the elites of their malevolent society…”

A blast rocked the ship, cracking a hole in the hull of the Gwaden.  Air began to rush out of the docking bay, and he could hear the screams of Lee and Clark as they were sucked into the vacuum of space.  The artificial gravity created by rotation was stopped as the frigate lost power, and Jackson skillfully glided over to the airlock and pounded his fist on the emergency seal to force the door shut.

“They are going to kill us both, Robert. ¬†Fill your mind with thoughts of your wife, and your life. ¬†Maybe they will be strong enough to –”

Another explosion rocked the ship and there was the monstrous sound of steel being ripped apart, violently tossing the shuttle out into space.  Crashing and tumbling, Robert was bounced around inside the cabin along with Jackson.  He protected his head the best he could, and pissed himself only a little bit.

“Dream of her to escape, Robert. ¬†You must dream of ¬†-”

A stray slug of iron tore into the shuttle, tearing it in half like a wet paper bag. ¬†Robert’s eyes dilated from fear. ¬†Remembering the first time he was knocked out by the vacuum of space, he could not help but let fear wash over him. ¬†There were no happy thoughts to be had. ¬†Clutching at his throat, his lungs burned as the air was pulled out of them. ¬†He felt his eyes bulge, and begin to pop.

Stars looked on, devoid of emotion.  They had seen this all before.

And they would see it all again.

 


 

A washcloth woke him, icy on his steaming head.  Comforting.  Soft.  A skillful hand dabbed his fevered skull with the caring touch of a mother.  Almost settling back into the pillow, Robert began to sit upright and pain shot through his body, driving him back into the bed.  His legs were like hard, dead rubber.  Forcing his eyes open, the natural light made him squint.

“Hush now, don’t try to move. ¬†I found you in the dark wood. ¬†You should know better than to go there. ¬†Bandits love to ambush travellers. ¬†You had nothing but the clothes on your back when I found you.” ¬†Robert’s eyes had adjusted and focused on the elderly woman who was tending to him. ¬†The corners of her mouth were tilted ever so slightly upward, the tiniest smile.

“Where -” A cough thundered from his chest, labored. ¬†He felt exhausted and weak. “Where am I?”

Who am I? 

This thought he kept to himself.  Robert knew his name, but his mind was a terrible mixture of shadows and fog.  He was scared, and tired.  So tired.

“You are far from home, ser. ¬†Human land is a week’s ride from here, with a fast horse. ¬†And we don’t have any of those left.” The woman sighed. ¬†Something about the sighs of the elderly make one feel an existential despair, and it weighed on Robert’s fragile psyche. ¬†Tears began to form under his eyes.

“Shhh. ¬†There, there… ¬†Don’t worry. ¬†You have surely heard tales of Elven hospitality?”

 

tales of a travelling salesman finalClick here for the next Tale!

 

Calcutta, 1946

This is a story recounted to me by my Indian grandmother, who is now in her 80s. She lived in Calcutta through the late 1930s to 1947, when her family moved to England to escape the violence in the region. She was about 9, according to her memory. This period was just before the British Partition of the region based on religious population, where Pakistan and modern-day Bangladesh were created as a separate country for the Muslims, and India was made to be solely for Hindus and Sikhs. This action created the largest population exchange in human history. The story takes place on August 16th, 1946. A day that first was supposed to be known as Direct-Action Day, but became known as the Great Calcutta Killings. Within a short time, over 4,000 were left dead. Even more homeless after the fires died down. This event sparked several days of violence across India, with Hindus attacking Muslims, and Muslims attacking Hindus — the “Week of the Long Knives”.
My Grandmother’s family was upper-middle class, and their home stood tall and clean. They were able to hire housekeepers and pay them well enough to provide for their own families. She was raised Catholic, since the family was close with the British and wished to remain so, but the city itself was predominately Hindu and had a large Muslim population. The Direct-Action day was supposed to be a Muslim-organized peaceful protest to show defiance to the British rejection of the proposed 2-state solution, but quickly turned violent after the heat and fiery speeches turned the hearts of men darker than coal. There are conflicting reports on who started the violence, but both sides were guilty in participation of slaughter and ethnic-cleansing. Skirmishes lasted for days. Factories where Hindu workers lived were invaded and the walls coated in blood and gristle. Homes where Muslims lived were chained up and burned to the ground.
What she remembers is being on the roof of their home with her sisters, taking the day off because of the planned protest scaring her family into isolation. They had a milkman, whose name she could not remember, coming down an alley delivering his goods as usual. He was a young Muslim man, probably no more than 18 years old. Door to door he went about his rounds, and as he drew closer they waved to him. He smiled and waved back as several Sikh men appeared from the shadows and stabbed him with their knives and sliced with their kirpans, each taking their turn thrusting the young man between his ribs, back, and eyes as his screams turned to gurgling noises and silence. They continued their stabbing even after he was dead until they were exhausted and blood filled the alley. The sisters were frozen in horror on the rooftops, as one of the men noticed them and spoke:
“Sorry to have let this filthy Muslim get so close to you, friends!” They dragged the man’s corpse and shoved him down a nearby manhole and left cheering to themselves. About this time, smoke could be seen from the downtown area, as fires were being set to businesses and homes. 

Her and her sisters finally broke from their shock and ran inside, horrified. Luckily their father had the foresight to prepare for this. A detachment of British guards had been sent to their home to protect the family, and all day they remained inside. Screams and crashes mixed with crazed laughter and chanting echoed outside in the city, and crept through their windows. They were inside all day, mortified of what was happening outside.
As night fell, the violence subsided slightly. Every night she would go outside to look at the stars before bed, and out of habit she snuck away from her parents and sisters to go to the roof again. Smoke made the stars blurry this night, and fires burned creating strange shadows that flickered and danced to the music of chaos. She heard the awful sound of metal scraping against concrete, and ducked down behind the low wall that ran along the border of the roof. With the curiosity inherent to a child, she peeked over the wall to look down into the alley where their acquaintance was brutally murdered earlier. The manhole was being pushed aside from below, and when the creaking stopped there was a terrible silence for a moment. A man, clothed in shockingly white robes, came from within the man-hole. He climbed out, and looked around for a while. She recognized the young man from earlier, the milk-man.
“Impossible” she told me. “It was impossible for him to have survived that attack. And his robes were so white and clean, even coming from the sewers of Calcutta! But that was when he looked at me. I felt cold, but not the type of cold from an icy wind from the North. This cold came from my heart — no — my soul! I felt frost inside of myself, and I could not help but cry. I felt so scared and alone then, in that moment. And then he nodded to me, and began to walk away. Something was off, and I couldn’t figure out what! And then I looked closer. His feet appeared beneath his robes as he moved slowly away. They were twisted backward, completely opposite of a human’s feet. He walked toe-to-heel, as we walk heel-to-toe. My father always told me of bhoots, mostly as stories used to entertain us. But now, I have seen one. I rubbed my eyes to clear my vision of tears to get a better look. But he was gone. The silence was broken again and more screams came from up the alley. A woman’s scream, and men’s laughter. I ran back inside to be scolded by my Father. I never told anyone in my family this, for fear they would think I was crazy. But the next day we left the city under British escort, and my sisters protested as they complained about leaving their friends alone. But me, I just wanted to get away from that alley. From that angry, lost soul.”

 

tales of a travelling salesman final

Click here to read something strange

The Celestial Elder

Click here for the part before.

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

Click here for the next part. ¬†Don’t forget to subscribe!