Great Hites 54

This week we have stories by:
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By: chance I won this week. Thank you to everyone who voted for me. And Thank to Mur who gave me the inspiration.

Ashley Redden
Norval Joe
Mick Bordet
And Jeff Hite inspried by WinnerMur Lafferty’s News from Poughkeepsie series

Fido
By: Mick Bordet

I don’t know what I was thinking at the time. It was an instinctive reaction; get everybody I could find into the lifeboat and get off the ship before it went down. I couldn’t think of letting an animal suffer, so I grabbed the tiny dog and took it along with us. A chihuahua wasn’t going to get in anyone’s way or weigh down the boat to excess, in fact it was built for ten and there were only six of us on board, so I didn’t see any harm.

No, I didn’t consider that it would be lonely, pining for the mistress who had abandoned it to fend for itself, that it would be neurotic and run incessantly from one end of the raft to the other, hour after hour, day after day, and it never occurred to me that it would yap at every single wave that hit the side of the lifeboat.

It never crossed my mind that, after weeks floating at sea, becoming weaker and more despondent every day, the single pound of flesh attached to its fragile skeleton would be enough to keep us alive for the extra three days it would take for a rescue boat to find us.

I can honestly say I didn’t give it a single thought.

Not at first, anyway.

Troll
Ashley Redden

2. Ground Zero

Approximately five days prior to the arrival of the two FBI agents at the Harrison County Sheriff’s department, Dr.’s Kevin Star and Bernard Gillery were engaged in a very common activity for the two honorary members of the Potters Bluff archaeological collaboration. Day and night, the two scientists argued endlessly. Though an outsider couldn’t possibly guess, the two had become and remained fast friends.
“You’ve got to be kidding, Berney. How could you possibly believe those tunnels are full of artifacts from any of the currently known Paleo-Indian tribes?” asked Dr. Star.
“Well,” answered Dr. Gillery. “Why wouldn’t I?”
“Berney, you’re not an archaeologist now are you?”
“Well, neither are you and stop calling me Berney. You know how I hate that. My name is pronounced Bernard not Berney, okay?”
“Whatever, I just don’t see how you can think that. I mean, really, what about all the unusual artifacts we’re finding? If one was to seriously think on the matter and review all of the evidence so far uncovered, then one would surely conclude that we are dealing with a previously unknown tribe here,” Dr. Star concluded with a broad sweep of his hand.
The two scientists, both geologists by education and trade, continued their argument unabated. Though neither had any formal training in archaeology whatsoever, both had definite opinions. Star and Gillery stood in the middle of the central tunnel, some ten to fifteen feet wide and half again as tall. The walls were polished to the point of nearly being slick, though the actual methodology used to achieve this polish was as yet undiscovered. Some of the artifacts unearthed so far within the warren of caves were highly anomalous as well.
Approximately three months prior to the two scientists current argument, the Harvest Corporation, which owned several thousand square acres including the area of the discovered cave complex, had initiated preliminary lignite mining. During the first week of active exploration, the cave complex was discovered unexpectedly when the excavation equipment punched a hole in the ceiling of a feeder tunnel.
Excavation was paused, and the state was called in before continuation of the preliminary mining project. Almost immediately the government representatives established that this cave was in fact a previous habitation for semi-nomadic Paleo-Indians. The government representative’s first act was to place an open ended cease and desist order on the activities of the miners virtually shutting down the mining operation. Initially, the findings delighted and excited the archeologists that were part of the government team. All the usual suspects were present from carved bone fish hooks, needles and other tools to evidence of brown coal fires paralleling closely the artifacts found within the Stanfield-Worley bluff shelter located just some scant 50 miles away.
As the preliminary excavation proceeded, more of the cave system continued to be discovered, all previously inhabited. In these new areas, some of the artifacts discovered began to raise the educated eyebrows of the members of the Archaeological Research Association who were present and conducting the investigation. Many of the artifacts seemed to be ritualistic in use, but violent in nature. One of the strangest uncovered so far was a type of war club that had not been previously unearthed anywhere but here. Not war clubs exactly, those were well known from the other sites in the area, but more like different types of spike covered heavy balls each attached to a string. Also uncovered was a great many figurines all exclusively depicting a large worm-like being or a hunched over creature with what appeared to be four legs and three arms.
Several smallish caverns were found to be full of herbs and totems, thought to be used by prophets and doctors dealing with the supernatural. The working archaeologists were unsure what to make of these finds. They were sure, though, that this site was very important and required extensive further study and excavation.
The founding of the Potters Bluff archaeological collaboration was a direct result of the preliminary findings. The Harvest Corporation assigned both Dr.’s Star and Gillery to the collaboration as dual facilitators between the project archaeologists and themselves.
Dr. Gillery looked at his watch, frowned then looked back up the tunnel from the direction the two scientists had just come. The tunnels surface shown like glass giving the freestanding lights something of an ethereal effect. The light seemed to imbibe into the stone then diffuse out as a strange otherworldish glow.
“Didn’t Jake say he was supposed to be meeting us here at 0700?” asked Dr. Gillery.
“Yes,” responded Dr. Star frowning also. Both scientists had one thing scrupulously in common; neither would ever be even the slightest bit late if at all possible. “That was my understanding,” he finished looking at his watch also.
“Well, I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not wait here all day until Jake decides to drag himself to work.”
“So why are we waiting,” asked Dr. Star. “The lighting has already been laid so we can just go ahead and have a look. The rest will be along about nineish as usual.” He looked at Dr. Gillery and smiled, “Jake can just catch up if he likes. Do we really need him anyway?”
“Not really,” answered Dr. Gillery.
The two scientists smiled amicably at each other for the first time that morning, then turned towards the waiting end of the cave complex, near the newly discovered areas. As the pair began walking, they picked up their earlier argument as if there hadn’t been any interruption at all.
Jake Martin cursed roundly as he looked around. He saw plenty of cavern, desolate and as spooky as advertised, but no scientists. He stood in the main tunnel that led to the newly discovered areas where the archaeologists were currently concentrating. The two Harvest Corporation guys were supposed to meet him here for an escort into the new dig area this morning at 0800. Or was it 0700. Jake shook his head, the mental cobwebs stubbornly remained. He just couldn’t remember.
He figured that if he split the difference, everything would be fine. This was typical Jake Martin philosophy at work, just don’t worry about it too much and everything will eventually work out.
The extra thirty minutes of sleep had not, however, helped with his hangover. It was that cursed Tequila that the hired hands loved to swig. That stuff sure caught up with a person before they knew it. Maybe they should rename it to- kill-ya.
Damn them, those two science guys must have gone on ahead. They knew full well that they were not supposed to be going down into any of those dig tunnels without an escort, it was policy.
Jake repeated his daily curse at pulling the assignment of those two. Really though, the two science guys were likeable enough, but when it came to this here dig, they were nothing but a couple of kids. Jake glanced back the way he had come and added mentally, a couple of damn disobedient kids.
He looked around for a final time, hopeful, but there was nowhere to hide. All around him, the tunnel seemed almost to glow with the halo of the lights reflecting from the polished walls. If anything happened to those guys his boss was sure to remove a very large pound of flesh from his backside. He’d had some major butt chewing’s before, but that would not be one to look forward to.
With a deflated sigh, he cinched up his ruck sack and headed down the tunnel in the direction he was pretty sure the two delinquent scientists had gone. “Well,” said Jake out loud. “At least I got to eat the worm last night.” He headed down the tunnel wearing a smile that carried no mirth.
The two scientists argued merrily as they walked down the main dig tunnel into the bowels of the cave complex. As the walls began to close in, their chatter began to peter off. The tunnel finally narrowed to around two to three feet wide, but remained approximately six feet tall giving the view before them a bizarrely foreboding appearance.
The lights were present here as well and lit, though the spacing was more like twenty or thirty feet than ten. Up ahead, both Dr.’s could clearly see the wall were the feeder tunnel in which they traveled ended. Except for the breathing of the two scientists, the silence within the tunnel was absolute
Dr. Gillery stopped short and turning asked Dr. Star, “What do you think Star? Should we go back and get Jake or someone else before proceeding?”
“Not on your life, Berney. It just looks spooky. Let’s go to the end up there and then we can decide what to do, okay?”
“Well, okay. And Star,” said Dr. Gillery.
“Yes?”
“Don’t call me Berney, you know I hate that.”
Both scientists moved, single file now, without speaking to the end of the tunnel. Here the tunnel seemed to make a tee, one left the other right. Once there, Dr. Star noticed that there were no footprints to the left, but the sand had been disturbed. The stung lighting continued into the fork on the right, the left fork was dark as pitch.
Dr. Star pointed to the floor and said, “Berney, what’s that?”
“Looks like something was drub across the floor this way.” Both men shined their flash lights down the dark tunnel. Something farther back in the tunnel glinted gold.
“Look at that, Berney. Let’s go see what it is; it doesn’t seem to be far.”
“Wait,” said Dr. Gillery, “I think we should stay here and wait.”
“Tell you what,” said Dr. Star. “We’ll just go have a look and come right back. We won’t touch a thing, what harm can that be?”
Looking more and more unsure, Dr. Gillery said quietly, “Okay, but stop calling me Berney.”
The two scientists eased down the tunnel attempting to shine their flashlights in every direction at once. The tunnel opened up into a smallish cavern wide enough for Dr. Gillery to move up beside his companion. Sitting before them was a staff driven upright into the ground, A small coin, inlaid into the top of the staff, glinted brilliant gold with each pass of the flashlight beam.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” said Dr. Star. “Come on Berney.” Dr. Star grabbed Dr. Gillery by the arm and strode over to the staff.
“Stop calling me Berney,” Dr. Gillery got out just before the floor collapsed beneath them.
Jake was still cursing his bad luck with every step when he heard the roar from somewhere ahead. He stopped and, eyes wide, looked back. Seeing no one, he cursed louder and sprinted toward the noise.
When Jake arrived at the fork, he almost went right without slacking his pace, but noticed a haze in the air that brought him up short. He looked to the left fork, the light from his hard hat illuminating the tunnel. The haze seemed to be worse that way. “What the hell did they go in there for,” he cursed. Jake spoke aloud, but not with a yell, “Hey, are you guys alright?”
As he advanced, he heard some groans and saw a flashlight beam suddenly walk across the ceiling. He noticed that the ceiling in this room was not polished and shook his head for caring. Jake carefully walked to the edge that loomed before him and peered down into the hazy gloom, his flashlight illuminating the slowly settling dust. The floor here had collapsed into a twenty foot drop. As Jake looked down, both faces of the scientists gazed back up.
“You guys okay?” asked Jake.
“I think I’m fine,” answered Dr. Gillery coughing. “How about you Star?”
Dr. Star looked up through gritted teeth and said, “I can’t move my leg.”
Dr. Star heard Jake say from up above, “you guys just stay put, I’ll go get some help. Everything’s going to be just fine.” Dr. Star closed his eyes and grimaced against the pain. His leg felt like it was on fire. He could hear Berney scrambling around to his right and was beginning to get irritated with Jake for not going to get help now, not tomorrow, when he heard a great whooshing sound somewhere in front of him, at the opposite end of the pit. Dr. Star’s eyes snapped open.
He heard Berney say, “What was that?” Dr. Star watched as Berney’s light shone on a strange brown rock. Despite the pain, he was thinking, “What kind of freaky rock is that,” when the rock moved. Berney flung his flashlight and began screaming for Jake to get him out as he tried to scramble up the wall of the pit. Jake’s light was bathing the ledge just in front of where the rock was, when it stepped into the light.
The body of the thing reminded Dr. Star of a collection of puffed out membranes perched on two pairs of stick-like legs. One appendage, an arm maybe, came out from under the ledge and gripped the rock with a set of horny claws. Two other arms became visible beneath a great tube that opened like an iris on the end to reveal two huge moist eyes. Beneath the monster another long tube seemed to throb and pulse.
Dr. Star watched, shocked into silence, as the thing flung something on a string upwards at Jake and yanked several times. Jake’s hard hat fell into the pit and illuminated the monster completely. That’s when the thing hissed. It was just too much.
Dr. Star began screaming then. He screamed as he watched the thing grab a still scrambling Berney from the side of the pit and throw him down onto the floor. He screamed as he watched Berney land and lay still. Dr. Star screamed as the thing turned on him and grasped his throat with two of its bony hands, the claws digging into his flesh. He gasped when something was rammed into his stomach. He tried again to scream as the two great wet eyes settled within inches of his, but nothing came out. Dr. Star was aware of the coppery taste of blood, his abdomen afire with scalding pain. His vision began to darken, as if falling into a great yawning pit of darkness. Far away, the great unblinking eyes filled Dr. Star’s world. Then even the monstrous eyes became blurry, falling victim to the onslaught of shade. Finally all became black. After that Dr. Star knew no more.

The Price of Friendship
By: Norval Joe
 
“Mr. Baker. you appear to be semi-conscious. Can you repeat what I have just said.” Chad looked up from his book to see the teacher looking directly at him. She added in a mutter, but loud enough for the entire class to hear,” Heaven forbid that any of you could make the leap to logical correlation that it would take to explain this on your own.’
The sinking feeling in his stomach reminded him that he understood the correlation all to well.
“Mrs. Walker?” He stammered, and could see her inflating for an explosive tirade. You couldn’t show weakness in her classroom without feeling the sarcastic bite of her condescending wit. The students knew that hesitation and indecision were weakness in her mind, so Chad launched into a reply before she could get started. “You said that the term, ‘A pound of flesh’, used in Shakespeare’s play, ‘The Merchant of Venice’ has become synonymous with an onerous, undesirable debt that must be repaid.” He repeated as best he could remember.
The surprise was as evident on her face as the dread was on his own. He understood completely well what it meant to have an onerous debt. In fact the payment of his own pound of flesh would be made in just a few hours.
“Since you are so very clever,” she said, laying sarcastic emphasis on the word, ‘clever’, ” maybe you could give us an example of this kind of debt in a way that your fellow, less astute classmates could understand.” She grinned what he felt was her most evil and conniving grin, so far this year.
She obviously hated children. Chad figured that she was still a teacher, as old as she was, so that she could exact revenge for some actual or maybe only perceived childish insult, that she had received earlier in her career. Some say that she killed her husband with an especially lethal cynical jab, shortly after they were married. He was a well liked, unassuming and kindly florist, but within months of their sudden and unexpected marriage, he died mysteriously in his sleep. No cause of death was ever determined; no charges were filed. Forty years later, she remained a teacher, and alone.
He stared at the teacher as the blood drained from his face and his mouth opened and closed several times, giving him the appearance of a fish, glassy eyed and pale. He was hesitating again, but the only thing that would come to his mind as an example would be to reveal his own complex and embarrassing situation. She saw his hesitation, and added with an evil smirk, “And why don’t you come stand in front, so that the class can hear you clearly?”
As Chad walked to the front of the classroom his mind raced for an example from a movie or a TV show that the students could relate to. Then it came to him. These were 8th graders. They could all understand peer pressure to perform a dare or an act of vandalism.
“An onerous debt is like,” he began, but everyone in the class was staring at him. Some were making faces, or mouthing threats. ‘They’re laughing at me,’ he thought, ‘And why not? What makes me so qualified to tell the class anything, there are tons of kids smarter than me.’ “Umm,” he paused as his mind went blank. He began to panic, he was sweating and his vision going red around the edges. He just wanted to sit back down and disappear; go back to being nobody; then the words just poured out of his mouth, “It’s like you borrow something from someone that you know you shouldn’t borrow anything from, because if it gets lost or broken, they’ll kill you and then when you realize that its broken and they’re going to beat you up, you…” He was rambling and saying everything that he had wanted to keep to himself. He stopped, looked around at his fellow students, who stared back, blankly, as stunned by his rapid delivery as he was. He glanced at the teacher who was nodding her head in agreement. He took that as affirmation and made his way back to his seat.
A series of large oak trees formed a line from one wing of the Junior High School, past the baseball field and to the basket ball court, delineating the far end of the outdoor grassy area where the students ate their lunch. Under the protection of the spreading branches were benches forming octagons around the base of each tree.
Chad sat n his usual spot, under the tree farthest from the basketball courts. His normal group of friends arrived, one by one to eat their lunches. Amy came last and was heading to the empty place next to him. He was so absorbed by dread that he didn’t even notice her sit down. He didn’t eat, just looked despondently at his sandwich. Amy looked at Chad several times, but turned and started a conversation with one of her girlfriends, when he failed to acknowledge her sitting there.
A tal,l dark haired, boy walked up, “I hear Walker was picking on you today, Chad.” His heart froze. The boy kicked Chads foot when he didn’t respond, “What did you do to make her so mad at you,” he asked good naturedly. Chad looked up at the boy who was smiling down at him. “I don’t know, she asked me about the story we were reading. She’s just mean, and she needed someone to pick on. Besides, it just happened last period; How’d you hear about it?” The taller boy didn’t reply, he just barked a short, forced, laugh.
Amy turned to the two, and said, “I don’t think she intends to be mean. I know, she comes across that way, but I think she’s really just sad. Carol Ann was saying that she sees Mrs. Walker go past their house every Saturday morning, early, like before seven. Carol Ann said that she goes to the grave yard and visits her husbands grave.”
“Probably checking to make sure he’s still dead,” another boy, Tony, said too loudly, and laughed even louder. It wasn’t funny, but all the boys laughed along out of loyalty to their gender. Amy was about to continue her defense of Mrs. Walker, when the bell rang, ending their lunch, and said instead, “Well, I’ll see you after Choir, Chad?”
“Sure,” he said and watched her turn and walk off. He thought about how pretty she was; her wavy brown hair falling just past her shoulders. She wasn’t skinny, or sexy, the way the popular girls tried to be. She was a bit shorter than most the girls, but not fat, and she always dressed nicely. He admired her choice of sweater and blue jeans and thought about the last school dance. The night ended with a slow song, and he got to stand close to her, feeling her body against him, and breathing in the scent of her hair as it tickled his nose.
Derrick started him from his revelry, “You have my game, right?” He asked Chad, stepping in close to him. Chad tried to step back, uncomfortable at the taller boys closeness, as well as the menacing tone in his voice, but the bench was behind him and it buckled his knees, dropping him suddenly to sit on the hard wooden bench. The rest of the kids were halfway back to the school building and clearly out of hearing distance. “Yeah, Derrick, I have the game. It’s in my locker, but,” Derrick interrupted him, his already threatening eyes turning even colder, “But, what!” He said, bending over to grab Chad by the shirt.
“I don’t know,” Chad started lamely. “I never played it. When I got home, I took it out of my backpack and it wouldn’t start. It wouldn’t come on.”
“You broke my game.” Derrick said, letting go of Chads shirt and pushing him back at the same time. “My Dad’s going to kill me.” He started turning from side to side, opening and closing his hands like he was trying to squeeze something out of the air. When the color of his face had past through all the shades of red, and was approaching purple, he stopped and pointed his finger at Chad. “You’re going to pay! You’re going to pay for that game. I’m telling you.” He was shouting now, and shaking his finger.
“I can’t pay for it. I don’t have any money, and my Mom is still out of work. I don’t even have a bike! What can I give you?” He was getting frantic; it sounded clearly in his voice.
Derrick stopped, dead still, with his head tilted to the side and up, as if listening to a far off voice, its message coming to him in pieces on the wind. A smile spread slowly across his face, until he had the look of a cat that had just trapped a mouse. “I know what you can give me. Your girl friend. Bring her to the first base dugout after school.” Without waiting for a reply, Derrick turned and strode toward the school.

Mr. Johnson the Very Minor God
By: Jeff Hite

When Johnson, or Mister Johnson, as his one and only subject called him was called into being he knew two things: first that he had only one subject, Alexandra, an otherwise normal little girl, and second that he was a very minor god. Alexandra made up for being his one and only subject very well. She was always faithful, completed penance
with never a complaint, she even did extra from time to time. All in all what more could a god ask for.
From time to time he would check with the other gods and none of them had as successful a track record as he did, one hundred percent faithfulness from their subjects. He was the envy of all the other very minor gods. Not one of them even came close.
This made him proud, and in return he took good care of his faithful subject. He made sure that she never got sick, she never so much as stubbed a toe. He even gave her special powers from time to time. When that brat Thomas Middleberg pulled her hair and teased her in second grade, Mister Johnson made sure the she could catch him on
the playground that afternoon, despite the fact that he was much faster than her normally. That was why on the day that it happened it was so very devastating.
The second of July had started like any normal day for Mister Johnson. Alexandra had woken him with her morning prayer. She sang softly in the way that he had taught her, and he was very happy that her voice was starting to take on the qualities that maturity would bring. It was a soft and soothing way to wake up. Today she was going to ask
Tom Middleberg to the Sadie Hawkins Dance. She had fallen for him all those many years ago when she had chased him down on the playground. He had kissed her on the cheek that day so that she would not hit him, saying he was sorry for being rude to her. From that day forth, she had a crush on him, but he had paid her little attention. When she had found out that the school was going to hold the traditional girl asks the boy dance, she had begun to pray. Mister Johnson was all but too happy to comply, his one and only subject had always been faithful after all. He had endowed her with the gifts she had requested and prepared her the best way he could.
Today was important for another reason. Today was the day that he was going to fix the one thing about his existence that had always bothered him. He was going before the god council to present his record and get his status elevated from very minor god to minor god. But, in truth he had much higher aspirations.
“Mister Johnson,” the head of the council said. “We have seen your record, and it is positively glowing.” A round of here heres would follow. “It is in the judgment
of this council that instead of the normal adjustment from very minor god to minor god, that you be elevated to the level of major god. And because of your incredible achievements you will be given control of the entire southern hemisphere.” Clapping and cheers breaking out as he finished the proclamation.
“Johnson, Johnson,” the man with the annoying little voice broke into his thoughts. He stood up and made his way to the little barred window.
“I’m Johnson,” he said.
“I will need proof of that.” Johnson pulled out his very minor god ID and showed it to the annoying little man.
“Oh, you are a very minor god,” he said never making eye contact and shaking his head. “You will have to come back on Wednesday, the council only takes up
very minor god issues on the third Wednesday of February on leap years.”
“But I have this appointment, and a spotless record.” He said holding out his appointment slip and record.
“Let me see that.” the little man said snatching it from Johnson. As he did his dirty fingers left smudges on the nearly glowing record. Johnson felt is blood begin boiling at this. But he controlled himself. “Oh I see, you are that Johnson. Yes, yes have a seat the council will see you in a little while.”

*****

Alexandra, like her god, was not having the best of days. She had asked for and gotten the things that she had wanted from Mister Johnson, but the extra height and the extra pound or so of flesh she had been given were making her a little awkward. She did her best to compensate, but she was still having a little trouble. Oddly enough when she had prayed to him for a bit of grace he had not answered her. No matter she thought, she could go it on her own, but she had decided to put the encounter off until the end of the day when there had been more time to work on her balance.

*****

“Johnson!” The annoying voice said.
“Yes?”
“The council will see you now. If I were you I would turn off your prayer catcher, in the off chance that it goes off in there it will reflect badly.”
“But what if my subject needs me?”
“As always if your prayer catcher is off your subjects’ prayers will go to prayer mail that you can pick up later. But emergencies will be routed through the switch board here, and we can interrupt you if it is really important. But you better hope that doesn’t happen.”
Johnson reluctantly turned off his prayer catcher, but as he did he noticed that the signal was non-existent. He wondered how many of Alexandra’s prayers he had missed. He truly felt empty without them.
He made his way to the council chambers. The two huge chamber doors were made for the much older and larger gods, and he had to struggle to get one of them open enough to get in. When he finally got in, his toga was wrinkled and his record had picked up a new crease as well. He thought about trying to straighten them but he could feel the stares of the
council upon him. He walked quickly forward and handed his paperwork to the clerk, who looked at it in dismay. She checked her paperwork against his twice before taking them to the huge bench where the nine super elevated gods sat. They looked casually at his record, passing it quickly from one to the other.
“It says here that your record is clean Johnson.” the least of the super elevated god said blandly “That is rather impressive. How have you managed to keep your subjects happy?”
“Alexandra has few demands, and I have carefully taught the proper prayers and they are coming along nicely as she grows.”
“Ahh but how do you teach that to all of your subjects with no discontent? Surely there must be some that don’t like you.” The second most elevated god said. This was not going as Johnson had imagined.
“Well that is the thing, I only have one subject.”
“One!” Bellowed a particularly large god. They all passed his record around again examining it much more carefully this time. “How did this happen?” He asked the head god. There was silence among them and some very knowing glances were exchanged. Finally the head super elevated god spoke.
“Johnson, it appears that there has been a mistake. A god, even a very minor god is normally not given the care of just one subject, that is normally the dominion of the guardian angels,” He paused looking at the record again and frowning. “Hmmm… it says here that you have even given powers to the girl from time to time. That is not normally allowed, but otherwise you seem to have done a remarkable job with her. We are going to review your case and…”
There was a knock at the chamber doors, and the Clerk obviously annoyed at the interruption hurried to answer it. There was a brief exchange that Johnson could not hear then the clerk came forward and handed a prayer mail recorder to Johnson.
“Well, you have interrupted us… Let’s hear it, if it is that important.” The head god said. Johnson, mortified of what it might be, tried to figure out how the device worked. Alexandra had never had an emergency before. The worst thing that happened to her were nightmares and he could usually take care of them before they got bad. Then he remembered Thomas and the time he had pulled her hair. Just then he found the play button and pushed it.
“Mister Johnson,” her young voice sung with obvious strain. “Why have you forsaken me? He hates me! I hate you! ” The final words came with such force that it shook the recorder in his hand.
When the echo died down the head god shook his head sadly and said, “This changes things a bit you understand.” He handed Johnson’s now considerably less that perfect record back to the clerk. Johnson looked down at it. It now had an ugly red scrawl across it, ‘Guardian Angel training needed.’ He took it and walked slowly out of the chambers. She would pay for this.

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Great Hites Prompt # 56

This weeks prompt comes from Peter S. and is:

“Missing link primate likely to stir debate.”

you can find out more about it at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/30826552/?GT1=43001.

All Stories for this prompt are due by Midnight Tuesday June 2nd. Email the text of the story and a recording if you would like me to include it in the podcast to GreatHites at gmail dot com.

good luck. And don’t forget to come out to the site and vote for your Favorite stories this week. Remember to tell all your friends to come out and join in the fun.


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Great Hites # 53

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Congratulations to Norval Joe who won this week’s voting.

Ashley Redden
WinnerNorval Joe
Mick Bordet
And Jeff Hite

Troll
By: Ashley Redden
1. Interview

Sheriff Davis recognized them right off, FBI agents. The dark off-the-rack suits, sunglasses and everyday all American hero type looks nailed them to a tee. But, hell, anyone could have guessed who these two were. They looked as if someone had dropped two young men into a couple of FBI molds and out stepped two iconic special agents, it was almost comical.
He watched as they stopped the first deputy they met, that would be Strauss, a good man if a bit slow on the uptake sometimes. The sheriff watched as both agents flashed their IDs, and asked a question of the deputy. He saw both agents dark glasses follow Strauss’ outstretched finger as it pointed unerringly at Sheriff Davis.
Sheriff Davis sighed and slightly shook his head as he watched both agents stride purposefully across the room leaving Deputy Strauss with his mouth open, finger still at point. He very seriously doubted that any good whatsoever would come of these two getting involved, but his people had hit a dead end. At this point in the investigation, he really had no choice.
The two agents stopped directly in front of the sheriff and went to pull out their brass. Sheriff Davis waved an age spotted hand and said, “Don’t bother.”
Both agents stopped, frozen with their respective right hands half inside their suit top, like something off a bad TV drama. The sheriff’s lip twitched but he held himself in check. Laughing, whether meaning well or not, would certainly not be appreciated by these two. Not that he cared much what they thought, but a little innocent giggle here might cause him problems he didn’t need later. He squinted his eyes instead and wondered where the hell the agent’s task force was. Two more guys weren’t going to help much in finding those lost scientists. Out loud he said, “I’m sheriff Hank Davis, but I guess my deputy already told you that much, you here for the missing scientists?” Both agents nodded and Davis continued saying simply, “How can I help you?”
The agents removed their hands and the lead agent said,” We’re from the FBI. I’m special agent Briggs and this is special agent Stratton.”
This time the sheriff did laugh, but Briggs and Stratton didn’t miss a beat.
“We need to have a word with the survivor of the attack. We would also appreciate access the crime scene as well. Please make available any evidence that you might have acquired during the investigation so far. Also, we expect any evidence gathered from now on, no matter how small, to be made available to our organization at the quickest convenience.”
The sheriff noticed that they didn’t say that any evidence they obtained would be made available to his people, but hell, these guys were the pros. Davis said, “You two mind if I have a look at those ID badges?” He waited a beat and added, “because of the names and all.”
Both agents withdrew their IDs and held them out for inspection. As the sheriff peered at one, then the other, Stratton said, “due to the sensitive nature of our work and the personnel with which we sometimes meet, the given names of our branch operatives are confidential.”
“Well, we did call you guys, but I was expecting a little better turn out. No offense, but just two agents to help find these guys seems a bit thin to me,” answered Davis leaning back after inspecting the proffered identification. Sure enough they read special agent Briggs and special agent Stratton. Sheriff Davis shook his head and wondered to himself, you’d think they could think up something better than a lawnmower engine for names. Out loud he said, “Branch of the FBI? What branch would that be?”
“Classified,” said the agent called Briggs wearing a thin smile. “We’re here to aid in the investigation not run a search party. If and when more help to look for the PhD’s is needed, we’ll call them in on our discretion.”
“Okay,” said Davis and sighed anew. He continued, “We called Jake back this morning; he’s over in the waiting room on the right.” All three law enforcement officers began walking to a closed nondescript wooden door.
When they stopped at the door, agent Briggs said, “We would like to speak with the witness, Mr. Martin or rather Jake you say, if that would be acceptable?”
“Sure,” answered the sheriff. “But let me introduce you so he knows what’s going on. Jake’s been through a lot these past couple of days.” The sheriff turned to the agents and said, “I would appreciate it if you guys weren’t too hard on him, Jake’s a mess. He hasn’t been the same since the accident. I think his mind keeps going back to that pit in the tunnel, but I’ll be surprised if he ever sets foot down there again.”
The sheriff looked from one to the other, “do you two need to be briefed or have you read the report?”
“We’re up to speed,” said Stratton. “One question though.”
“Shoot.”
Stratton glanced at his partner then looked hard at the sheriff. He said, “do you believe the story that’s in the report? Suffice it to say that the details border on the fantastic.”
When the sheriff didn’t answer immediately but stood looking uncomfortably between the two agents, Briggs prompted, “off the record.”
Sheriff Davis nodded slowly and added, “yeah, I’m not saying that I buy everything or that I understand any of it, but I’m sure that Jake believes what he’s saying without a doubt.” The two agents exchanged a furtive glance, the demeanors of both remaining poker faced and unreadable behind the matching sunglasses.
“Okay,” said the sheriff opening the door and standing aside for the two agents to enter. After both had crossed the doorway, Davis followed and shut the door behind him.
The room was small, stodgy, and not overly lit, decorated simply with a solitary long table running almost the entire length of the room. The sheriff opened a hand indicating for the agents to have a seat across from Jake.
On the other side sat Jake, a small disheveled man that looked as though he hadn’t slept in a week. An overfilled ashtray sat in front of the man, stuffed with ashes and butts. Davis wondered if another cigarette would even fit.
Jake sat with his head down, both hands on the table, one over the other. He looked up and acknowledged their presence with a hesitant nod. Jake had been rubbing the back of his right hand with the index finger from his left when they entered. He did not stop. Looking at the nervous fidget and the overall demeanor of the man gave Sheriff Davis a sick feeling in his stomach for the poor guy. He really did look like warmed over crap.
Sheriff Davis introduced the agents and explained their agenda. Jake again answered with a silent nod. Agent’s Briggs and Stratton took turns drilling Jake with a battery of questions while Davis sat by silently, worrying about his friend. The agents tried again and again to lead Jake and get him talking about the incident. The most they were able to get out of him was essentially affirmation to the questioning, which strictly followed the report.
Finally, both agents seemed to have had enough. It had become pretty obvious to even Sheriff Davis from Podunk America that they were getting nowhere fast. Davis cleared his throat. Both agents looked his way. One of them, Briggs he thought, nodded to go ahead.
Davis said, “Jake?” After waiting for Jake to look up, he continued, “can I ask you just one question more?”
Jake nodded hesitantly still rubbing his hand. He had not stopped since the three had entered the room. “Jake, just what was this thing that you said you saw down in the pit?”
“Well, um, see,” said Jake actively rolling his hands now looking directly at the Sheriff. “I think, well, you see, I really think that maybe it was a troll.” The last of the sentence he finished with a wilt, barely mumbling.
“I’m sorry Jake, but what was that last part?” asked Sheriff Davis.
Jake looked the sheriff directly in the eyes, took a deep breath and said, “I think maybe it was a troll.”
Davis sat back and blew slightly ruffling the hair cropped just above his eyes. Jake said gaining force as he spoke, “yeah, if it wasn’t a troll, it had to be something else I’ve never seen before except maybe in some crazy movie or something.”
“You sure Jake, I mean…a troll?”
“Yeah, a troll, I mean dammit sheriff I got a really, really good look at that thing, whatever it was. We heard this swooshing sound, like somebody opened a big trash bag, you know, with air. Then I saw something moving underneath the ledge on the other side of that hole from where those two science guys were trying to climb out. First a clawed arm came out from under the ledge and got a hold of the rock. Then, this long neck poked out, just like that.” Jake shot his arm out rigid, hand in a closed fist. “The end turns up see,” and he rotated his fist up towards the ceiling without moving his arm. “Then this face just pops out of the end, with two big wet eyes looking right at me. Two more arms came out and one flipped something up towards me, caught my leg. I looked down and saw some kind of claw or hook. It was stuck through my pants. That’s when the thing gave a yank and snatched me off my feet. I would’ve gone on over, quick as a wink, but my other leg got caught on some of the crap sticking up from when the hole collapsed trapping those science guys.”
Jake swallowed hard, looking now from the agents to Davis and back again as he continued, “that thing gave another couple of snatches and nearly pulled my leg outta the socket, hurt like hell. Finally the claw tore through my pants and the thing began hissing and pulling the claw back to it, I guess it was on a line or something.”
Jake stopped and tried to light another cigarette. He managed to get the cig in his hand and after some difficulty to light a match, but had begun shaking so bad that he couldn’t make the business end of the two meet. Finally, he put both the unlighted cigarette and spent match back down on the table. Davis noticed that there were several more blackened matches in a pile behind the ashtray in front of Jake. Boy, Jake sure was a mess.
One of the agents asked, “What happened then?”
Jake looked up, in his eyes beyond the fatigue was sadness and shock. He said, “I ran for my damned life that’s what. The whole way out of the main dig tunnel I could hear those science guys just screaming and screaming. I’m not sure when they stopped. When I got outside, I realized that I was screaming too. Had maybe screamed the whole time I was running, maybe, I don’t know. I was almost drug down in that damn hole with the science guys.” He paused and added with a shudder, “and that thing.”
No one spoke. After several moments of awkward silence, Jake stood and said aloud, “One things for damn sure. There is no power on Earth that could drag me back into one of those tunnels. No way, “he shook his head hard. Looking at the sheriff he asked, “Can I go now?”
The sheriff nodded and rose opening the door. Jake made his way around the table and out the door. As he walked out, he paused, turned partially back and said, “You three had best not go back down into those dig tunnels. They should be sealed tight, keep whatever’s down there from getting out.”
One of the agents responded, “Sir, we can’t do that. We have to find the two missing PhD’s.”
“Well, you three just be careful. I suspect that if and when you do find those two guys, you’re not going to like what you find very much.” And with that Jake was gone.
The two agents rose, gathered their paperwork and left with a nod to the sheriff. Davis lingered by the door, gathered his hat with a sigh and said to no one in particular, “no, I suspect they won’t.” The sheriff left the way he had entered, hit the light switch and pulled the nondescript wooden door closed behind him leaving the stark waiting room dark and foreboding. Just like a cave.

The Traveler
By: Norval Joe

 
The walls of his cubicle were a tribute to his travels. Post cards of Big Ben, The Pyramids, Taj Mahal, and Mt. Fuji shared space with hotel stationary in French, German, Malaysian, and Chinese. Exotic memories on the plain grey back ground of a mundane life.
“Jerry”, he heard from over the partition, “Are you there?” That was Mark on the other side. “Yeah, man. I’m here, just deep in thought.”
What a joke, he mused ‘No thought involved in this mindless job, deep or otherwise.
“The weather was cooperating and they would be ready for their final ascent the next day. The sherpa had spread all their gear on a nylon sheet, outside the tent. They inspected each piece for damage or excessive wear. They checked the gates of the carabiners, that they opened and closed freely, and looked for frayed areas of their harnesses. They flaked the climbing rope out onto the tarp, and then inspected every inch, running it between their fingers while examining it with their eyes. They felt the continuous core of nylon fibers through the woven mantle that sheathed them. Like blind men reading brail, they felt for inconsistencies in the dynamic, semi-elastic fibers that might cause the rope to fail, in the event of a hard fall.
“Jerry,” Mark said again, “I don’t think I can take this job anymore. Day after day, the same thing. How do you stand it?” There was no reply from Jerry’s side of the temporary wall. “Jerry, are you over there?”
“Yeah Mark, What do you need?” Jerry asked as he resurfaced.
“I was just wondering how you do it. You’ve been here longer than anyone else, how can you stand it, day after day?”
“I don’t know, Mark. I just try to stay focused.”
Focus. He should be relaxing his mind and getting some rest, not focussing on the climb tomorrow. The route was well known and the Sherpa well trained, there would be no worries. What he needed was his strength, and for that, he needed sleep. They would be starting their ascent at 2 am to be able to summit by mid-day. He rolled over in his sleeping bag and squeezed his eyes shut; he could never sleep when it was light outside.
They had returned to Camp 4 the day before and spent the day resting, to improve their chances of summiting. They had set up the camp previously on one of their preparatory climbs. He didn’t feel well rested; just moving around at this elevation was fatiguing.
Camp 4 was just above 26,000 feet at the edge of Everest ‘Death Zone’; from here to the top the temperature could drop so low as to cause frost bite to any body part exposed to the air. The snow above would be so well frozen in some places that death could be caused by simply slipping from the trail. And worse, the oxygen level is so low that climbing, even breathing becomes extremely difficult and the mind dull; and thus, reactions fatally slow.
 
Hours still before dawn, they roped up as they prepared to leave the campsite for their final approach. He pulled the gators over his boots and up to his knees, to keep snow out of his pants and boots, and stepped into his bindings. He stamped each foot into the snow several times at different angles, ensuring that they had properly attached to his boots, and would remain in place, under any circumstance. He clipped onto the rope and spun the lock on the carabiner, binding his harness to the life line. He checked to make sure that he had his glacier glasses in the most accessible pocket of his goretex jacket; he would need them when the sun came up. He adjusted his halogen head lamp and swung its beam back and forth across the snow in front of him. Each climber inspected one another’s harness before picking up their ices axes and headed toward the summit.
“Jerry, I’m quitting, just as soon as I can find something to pay my rent. I don’t care if its less than what I’m making now. Heck, I don’t care if it’s flipping burgers. I just need a change; some time away from this grind. I need some time to be creative again; maybe write that novel I’ve been thinking about. Time to extend myself; to climb to my potential. The potential that has been stifled by this job.
He watched the Sherpa climbing the trail in front of him, the rope between them pulling taught as he slowed and stumbled. The native climber stopped and turned to look back at his charge. Swaying slightly, he leaned on his ice axe, resting against the against the glacier where it rose to his right. On his left, only eighteen inches from his foot, the mountain dropped away, one thousand feet to a junkyard of broken rock and ice. There were the bodies of climbers down there as well. One was added just last week, as a climber lost his focus, lost his step, and lost his life. They say that for every four climber that makes the top of Everest, one dies coming back down.
‘The Traveler’
 
He could see the summit. The glacier distorted his perspective and though it looked close, he knew that he still had another 1000 feet to climb.
“Jerry? Have you really gone all those places you have the post cards from. I mean, that would be tons of traveling. China, Japan, and Malaysia? A trip like that would take weeks. Jerry? Are you there?” “Yeah, Mark, now what?” All those places you’ve been, when do you go? In my five years here, you have never taken any vacation.” There was a long silence, ” Jerry? Are you ok?” “Yeah, Mark, I’m just feeling a little dizzy.”
He concentrated on the sound of his crampons as the sharp spikes bit into the ice. Each crunch told him he had taken another step forward. Each step was more difficult, the time between each step increasing. He began to verbally command his body, to keep himself moving forward, “Lift the leg. Thrust the foot forward. Plant the foot. Now the next leg.”
He was weary. The next leg wouldn’t move, though he strained to drag it forward. He opened his eyes and found that he was leaning on his ice axe, that he hadn’t moved again for some time. The Sherpa was standing in front of him. “Mr. Caldwell,” he was pleading. “You must go back, you won’t make it now. If you don’t turn back, you will die!”
‘How pathetic,’ he thought, ‘the man wants to cheat me out of my payment.’ “I can make it,” he argued with the Sherpa, “With or without you.”
He fumbled at the lock on the carabeener, eventually opening it. He unhooked his harness from the rope and pushed past the Sherpa, his indignation giving him renewed strength. He heard the Nepalese man shouting warnings but, then, eventually following behind him.
“I’m calling it a day, Jerry. Hope you have a good night. I’ll probably call in sick tomorrow; give me a chance to check out some job leads that I have been looking up over the last couple hours. Come on, Jerry, walk down with me.”
Mark walked around the partition. The partition crowded with postcards collected from garage sales and torn from travel magazines. Hotel stationary written in exotic languages, not by Jerry, but, to Jerry in reply to his requests for hotel information.
Jerry stared blankly at his computer terminal. His bloodshot eyes, and a small trickle of blood coming from one nostril, was the only color on his otherwise, pale and lifeless face.

Don’t Mind Me
By: Mick Bordet

I blame it on the theremin. I started playing it about a year ago, after finally getting fed up asking myself “what is that weird sound?” in the Beach Boys’ song ‘Good Vibrations’. It didn’t matter that the sound they used wasn’t actually produced by a theremin, because, by the time I had found that out, I was already hooked. This strange, otherworldly sound, played without even touching the instrument, but by careful manipulation of the body’s own capacitance, had mesmerised me. Once I had one in my grasp, I practiced at every opportunity until the swoops and wails of the beginner were replaced by recognisable tunes. About three months ago I was told that I had picked up “thereminist’s stare”; that distant, slightly glazed espression that comes with trying to keep one’s body as still as possible to avoid affecting the tuning, whilst concentrating on finding the correct pitch and playing with true feeling.

A short time after that I was on the regular bus to work and it broke down at the side of the motorway. The passengers, myself included, were transferring onto another bus that ran the same route half an hour later, but as we walked from one to the other past the open engine compartment, something caught my attention. I bent down, stuck my hand into the hatch and twisted a pipe which led into the main engine block.

“Try that now,” I said to the driver, “your fuel pipe was twisted and blocked. That should be it sorted.”

He gave me a rather sceptical look, but returned to the driver’s seat and tried the ignition. It started straight away. He nodded and gave me the thumbs-up sign, surprised and impressed. Not as surprised as me, though. My knowledge of motor maintenance extends as far as filling my car up with petrol and topping up the windscreen washers once in a while. How did I know to fiddle with that particular pipe? Why was it such an instinctive reaction? It puzzled me at the time, but I forgot about it until one night, some weeks later, when my wife and I sat down to watch a film.

By the time we had reached an hour into the film, I had to switch it off, so annoyed was I with inaccuracy of several of the theories being put forth. I hadn’t even heard of Dan Brown until the week before and thought I knew next to nothing of Da Vinci’s greatest works, yet here I was, picking apart the film with comments about the Priory of Sion and the Knights Templar as though I was an expert in grail-lore. That happened the day after a long session of theremin practice and it was only the beginning. My memory is starting to fill with some of the greatest works of literature, I know the princples of aeronautics and thermodynamics, I can recite many of Shakespeare’s sonnets and have found myself watching French films without reading the subtitles.

It seems my mind has rebelled against my sedantary twenty-first century lifestyle and has taken to going to the library without me. Why that should have happened is beyond me; I can only guess that it thinks I’m holding it back. Perhaps some day my mind will read up on psychological phenomena and I will be able to explain it all, but until then I’m enjoying kicking back and letting the knowledge flow in like the tide.

I must go now; the big match is on in half an hour and I need to dig out the beers. By the time the final whistle blows I should be familiar with everything Dostoyevsky
wrote.

Rob and The Apple
By Jeff Hite

Rob opened his eyes to the new smell, and realized that he didn’t know where he was. There was a great meadow in front of him, that he knew he had never seen before. And he was standing waste deep in wild flowers. Scattered around the meadow were a number of fruit trees, all covered it ripe fruit. He was hungry, so he walked slowly through the grass toward the nearest of them. It was an apple and they were all beautiful looking. But as he reached up to pick one, he hesitated. There was another person in history that picked the wrong apple, and paid the price for it. So, he decided not to. He walked slowly to the next tree. This was a peach, it was also laden with fruit, but he noticed something else odd about it. Not only was it covered in ripe fruit, but it also was covered in blossoms.
“What a great idea,” he thought out loud. “I wonder how many times a year it will produce fruit.”
“Nearly continuously.” Said a voice from behind the tree.
“What?”
“I said it produces fruit nearly continusly.” a small boy stepped from behind the tree then with a big grin on his face. “That is how we keep Zuse happy.”
“I see.” He stood in amazement waiting for the other shoe to drop. “This has to be a dream.”
“Oh this is no dream, this is real. We have to tend the this orchard to all year round.”
“It doesn’t look that much like an orchard, more like a meadow with a few trees.”
“Well since they produce year round they need extra nutrients, so they are spread pretty far apart.”
“Well that makes sense, as much sense as the rest of this I guess. Where are we.”
“Foolish man, I told you we are in the orchard of Zues.”
“Alright, but where is that?” The young boy looked at him quizzically, and suddenly looked much older to him.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean where is the the orchard located?”
“You are strange to me. The Orchard is on the western slope, it boarders the mortals realm That is why we ocationaly loose tress as the two realms bump into each other. I have told Zues this before. You are a spy for him aren’t you? You are down here to make sure that we are not stealing any of the fruit. Who are you?” His face contored into an angry mask.”
“I don’t know what you are talking about, I just wanted to know where I was. I don’t know anything about Zeus or any other god for that matter.”
“I don’t believe you. You go and tell your master that we are producing the fruit, and that we have never stolen from the trees.”
“I believe you,” He said stammering as the little man pulled a wicked looking pruning knife from his belt.
“Be gone, get out of the orcard before I change my mind.” Rob truned and ran. He was not sure which way he should run, but he ran.
“Rob!”
“Huh?”
“Rob, did you not hear your phone ringing? I have been trying to call you for the last fifteen minutes.” Monica’s voice as a pleasant relief even if she was annoyed with him.
“No, I’m sorry I got distracted, my mind wandered. What did you need?”

GreatHites Prompt # 55

This weeks prompt comes from me and is:

“Robots, they are all robots!”

Don’t be afraid to stretch this and use any definition of robot that you like.

All Stories for this prompt are due by Midnight Tuesday May 26th. Email the text of the story and a recording if you would like me to include it in the podcast to jeffrey dot hite at gmail dot com.

good luck. And don’t forget to come out to the site and vote for your Favorite stories this week. Remember to tell all your friends to come out and join in the fun.


Download

Nina Kimberly Available in PDF

Great Hites is proud to be one of the few, the proud, the cool ones that is going to be offering Nina Kimberly The Merciless the PDF.

We unfortunately don’t have Nina Kimberly the Flame Thrower. We understand from her Marketing Department, that they have pulled that from the shelves for legal reasons. We think that it is odd that she would do this, since she has a habit of lopping peoples heads off. With all that aside;

Enjoy the PDF and even better go to amazon and buy a copy. Then you can have Nina Kimberly the Merciless in your hot little hands.

Greathites # 52 Bonus Episode # 4

365 Days and Counting
Ashley Redden

Download

Josh Starsky halted, still as stone, at the base of the mound. After a furtive glance left, then right, he began to climb. As he prowled up the mound, his shoes made a slightly hollow ping sound with every footstep despite the heavy sound dampening screen surrounding his person. The mound upon which he climbed was composed entirely of metal, not shiny exactly, but neither was it dull. But color was not absent. Contained within the molten metal beneath his feet was every hue imaginable changing constantly, dependent upon the angle of view.
When Josh reached the summit he paused. The land that spread out before him reaching from horizon to horizon was alien in the extreme. Mound after metal mound like so many oblong fingers sat upon the sterilized land. Some mounds came larger, some smaller, but most relatively the same size. All, however, were exactly the same shape. In between each mound the ground had a black and parched look. Sterile. Burnt.
The first time he had entered this strange land, he had been awe struck by the view and the significance. Though the mounds had been quite beautiful that first time, the visage had also been exceedingly strange. Josh had since come to appreciate strange sights, and resent them. After all, this had once been a great city subsequently reduced to something out of a comic book. The city that had stood proud upon this land was named Atlanta.
Josh glanced down searching for Hutch. As if on cue, Hutch strode into view at the base of the mound upon which Josh stood. As he watched, Hutch seemed to shimmer with a haze that lingered at the edges of Josh’s vision. This haziness was the shield affect. Josh carried the same shield, but silently guessed that Hutch could see him far more clearly. He had thought about asking, but experience had taught Josh that seemingly innocent scientific questions like that could and would lead into terribly technical and lengthy answers from Hutch and his ilk. So Josh almost never asked, but often wondered.
He looked out again at the myriad of metal mounds in contemplation. No matter how many times Josh saw this sight; he was still astounded that this used to be a city. No matter the changes that he underwent, some things would always be difficult to reconcile.
The city had been slagged completely from close orbit. Hutch had explained that the weapon used on this and Earth’s other cities had actually changed the chemical composition of the metals and plastics and people and everything else that was part of the building when attacked into the solid, hill-shaped mass he now stood upon. Some were bigger, some smaller in direct relation to the size of the building prior to the attack. Mass was mass no matter what the composition, or so it had been explained. But the greatest tragedy, Josh had come to understand, was that the current state of the metal mounds was that their makeup was no longer susceptible to terrestrial chemical or physical decomposition. These mounds would stay this way forever, or long enough to make it seem so. Then again, these mounds were, after all, grave markers of a fashion. Their endurance would forever remind the survivors of the price paid by humanity when unsolicited death rained down from the heavens. The Killing of Atlanta had been the work of BPs, as had the complete destruction of every city-like structure on the planet.
As Josh began his descent, he glanced down again and smiled, good old Hutch. Of course, Hutch wasn’t his companion’s real name, but a private joke that belonged to Josh alone. Hutch wasn’t even human, but a Pip. The surviving humans called Hutch’s race Pips because the name started with that sound then slid into something gravelly and scratchy that nothing yet sprung from the bowels of Mother Earth could pronounce. But people could say Pip, so that was that.
Pips were mainly humanoid in structure, though they looked more like one of Star Trek’s Borg had stepped out of the screen and began assimilation. As a species, they had altered their biology so that perhaps as much as fifty percent of their mass was integrated electronics.
Pips came in a myriad of colors, mostly different shades of green or blue, though all were muted.
Their bearing was aristocratic in stature and approach. Pips were a study on measured deliberate action. They absolutely never jumped the gun.
“Yeah,” he thought, “Me and Hutch make a great team. All that’s missing is the red and white Gran Torino.” But there were no gas combustion engines on Earth any longer. Just cranking one up would get a person fused. Fused being short for fusion bomb, which was short for signora sister hope your friends enjoy the fallout. The joke remained private. Josh doubted that there was still anyone left alive that even remembered the antiquated television show much less appreciated the joke.
Hutch never went onto the mounds unless absolutely necessary. He would never break cover as Josh did with such frequent abandon. When asked, Hutch always said something about detection from above and being fried. He was right of course, but humans weren’t known for always making rational decisions. That was why Josh was at the top of the mound and Hutch was at the bottom. The human component of the team took chances, Pips didn’t. They were like a yin and yang balancing act. Besides, Josh climbed these mounds every chance he got and the fire had still not rained down from the sky. Personally, Josh strongly suspected that if there were any chance at all of detection; Hutch would never let him climb to the top of even one mound, much less hundreds. More likely, Hutch stayed at the bottom to conserve resources. Pips were pragmatic that way, humans not so much.
Josh and Hutch had become elite among the operative teams. They were very good at what they did, searching out and eliminating threats. Almost exclusively BPs were the target. The BPs made frequent forays into the allies’ territory. Humans, along with their Pip allies had claimed and now defended what used to be considered the old south of the United States. As matter of point, the allies’ territory was still referred to as the states. The BPs, which stood for Bad Pips, held the ground above the old South and on up.
As Josh reached the bottom of the mound and strode purposefully to the next, he remembered the end of the world as he knew it. About a year ago, the population of the Earth had been bumping along pretty good. Humanity was just coming into stride in the twenty first century and preparing to march into the twenty second when the BPs arrived. The first documented interstellar visitor to the third planet from the sun came with no warning or fanfare.
The BPs popped into the orbit, silent and loathing in their sleek symmetrical craft. Then within one standard day of detection, they began to annihilate the populous areas of the planet. Three weeks later the rest of the Pip fleet showed up and all hell broke loose, full fledged galactic civil war. The pitiful human survivors of the BP’s initial eradication campaign were like ants scurrying beneath the feet of brawling titans. Though bitterly contested by both sides, the war lasted about one week.
All the Pips, good and bad, had made a one-way trip and neither group was willing to risk extermination. The Pips don’t volunteer much information on where they came from. The ships they were on were something of generational vessels.
The Pip fleet had been in transit so long that their origins had become something of a religion to them either by accident or intentionally. The actual facts had been lost or obscured into more of a fairytale form. One thing was for certain, the Pips were here to stay.
Society on the fleet had split into a dual class system during their long voyage. One group was fanatical, elitist in their strict and severe beliefs. The BPs would have the Earth for themselves, period.
The other group, humanities allies, was made up of more moderate thinking individuals. This group contained almost all of the artists and Pip philosophers within the fleet. Eventually, the two separated to different ships alienating the population further by not only beliefs but physicality also. It turned out that Pips were a lot like humans, some come equipped with conscience, and some don’t.
The BPs managed to arrive at Earth earlier than our Pip allies. Our Pips have never explained how the BPs managed that, but whatever it was that the BPs did seemed to seal the breach between the two separate societies. Humanity learned these facts only after the pro-humanity Pips had contacted and joined the remaining humans. Had our allies been even one to two years later arriving, humanity may well have slipped into extinction quietly without ever seeing the face of our murders.
South America was a wash, being too irradiated for human or Pip survival. This continent was heavily damaged during the first days of the Pip civil war. The BPs had set up command deep in South America initially after arriving on planet. Our Pip allies had launched a preemptive strike not long after which led to open war and the fouling of that great land. In the end, an uneasy, unspoken truce had been established but not before irreparable damage to the Southern American Continent had occurred.
Eventually, Josh knew they would have to make contact with any surviving members of the human race holding out elsewhere on the planet, but for the time being, securing and holding the Southern United States was enough of a challenge.
The primary mission of the operative teams was to locate and destroy any BP infiltrators into the States. The land was vast, but the pro-human Pips were expert at detection of their erstwhile brethren.
“Can it have only been one year since the BPs arrived,” thought Josh shaking his head as he topped the next metal mound.
He sighed audibly while thinking, “what a year this has been.” Josh thought of how different humanity and especially himself was now after just one year of occupation. He remembered most of the movies made in the last decades depicting invasions by aliens where the populace of Earth would rise up heroically and crush the galactic invaders through some magnificent technology or sheer chutzpah. Pride, it seemed, was a very bitter pill to swallow indeed. Still shaking his head, Josh headed down the mound towards the red blip that blinked in the virtual map haloed in his right eye.
Hours later, Josh and Hutch had eased into an overgrown thicket and taken cover, some forty or so feet from the enemy. Three BPs were busying themselves with several pieces of equipment unknown to Josh in a small opening within the thicket near a dry streambed. Josh and Hutch watched, prone on a slight rise above the natural bank of the washed out dry creek. They waited patiently for the team to split up, neither spoke, neither needed to. Pips were anything if not predictable, though Hutch’s people were becoming much less so with the help of humanity whether they wanted to or not. One cannot sleep with the dogs and not get fleas as they say.
Shortly, one of the BP crew picked up a piece of equipment, a bulbous matte green device, rasped something at his fellows and walked across the creek, over the bank and out into the woods. Though still somewhat thick, here the original forest had been ignored when the thicket area had been cleared, perhaps several years ago. Josh and Hutch watched him go. That left two BPs, a number much more manageable for the team.
Josh made eye contact with his companion, and then watched as Hutch closed his eyes and frowned in concentration. It had taken Josh some time to recognize any expression upon the Pip’s aquiline features. Unlike humanity, Pips had very little muscle mass on their faces. They made the absolute best poker players. Josh knew that Hutch was siphoning off and cancelling the BP’s shields, though he had absolutely no idea how such an act was performed. He had found out from other Pips that Hutch was considered something of a great artist at removing shielding without the owner’s knowledge.
Hutch sat frowning for perhaps two minutes before again making eye contact with Josh. This was the preordained signal that the enemy was without personal protection and, more importantly, unaware of their current predicament.
Carefully, moving with the caution and care of an alert predator, Josh raised one of two loaded crossbows. These were the only weapons taken by operatives within a klick of the enemy. The crossbows and bolts were made the old way, by technicians that had the knowledge and skill to craft such a simple deadly weapon. A group of medieval weapons junkies had been out of pocket during the attacks. This simple occurrence had been a tremendous boon to the allies while seeking undetectable weaponry.
The BP’s technology was awesome in itself. And though they feared and loathed Hutch’s people and their talents, the BPs looked upon humanity with considerable disdain thinking them little more than animals.
Josh leveled the crossbow sight upon the farther of the two BPs, calmed himself and squeezed the trigger. The BP in the crosshairs looked down in disbelief as a feathered stick seemed to spring from his abdomen. He blinked twice then fell dead. As the dead enemy’s companion gazed down dumbly, Josh brought up the second crossbow with a quick steady hand, aimed and fired. The second enemy looked at his side, directly in the Pip equivalent of a human heart, and was able to move his left hand to the bolt before he too fell like a stone, dead when he hit the ground.
Josh quickly reloaded the two crossbows and waited. Hutch sprang up, ran down the bank, leaned over what looked to Josh to be a square table and dropped a small cube into a machine resting there. He then grabbed both the dead BPs by their perspective legs and moving with the quick efficiency that Josh had come to associate with his partner, pulled them up to and past his previous position. Pips, BPs and allies alike, had augmented much of their physical form giving them considerably more strength than their human equivalents.
Hutch returned and after again laying down, pulled another cube out and began to rasp into the device. Josh heard a rasping reply, but Hutch spoke no more. He immediately closed his eyes, the frown was back. Josh wasn’t sure how close Hutch had to be to strip the enemy’s shields, but he’d watched enough to know that it worked at some distance. The third BP reentered the small clearing, crossed the creek and walked straight to the square table. Once there, he picked up the cube and concentrated. Hutch opened his eyes; Josh caught the look and let loose another bolt. The third enemy fell just as quietly, and dead, as the two previous. The same procedure was applied to the BP captain luring him from the ship to the small clearing again with the same result, clean and efficient.
Within hours Hutch’s people were on the scene destroying the evidence and securing the ship. It was of the upmost importance that the BPs not discover the current strategy of the allies. They would probably wise up eventually to the scheme, but for now mystery was power.
Hutch spent several minutes in raspy chatter with the work crew leader, and then approached Josh.
“Very good job Josh,” spoke Hutch with only a slight gravelly tone.
“Thanks,” responded Josh. “You did a pretty good job yourself.”
Hutch nodded one time then moved off, back the way they’d come. Josh wasn’t sure how much language was exchanged when the Pips got to rasping and snarling at each other, but when they spoke an Earth tongue; their verbiage was almost always to the point and brief.
The crew would go back in their ships, the one they brought and the one that Josh and Hutch had just procured. The operatives, however, would still hoof it back. Such was the life of a grunt. Josh smiled. It was after all a life, something now appreciated above all. Possible extinction tends to open one’s eyes to gratitude for present.
Josh would be turning fifty-five next week. Though unsure how far he would go forward, figuratively speaking, he was quite sure of how far he’d come. And to think, it’s been only one year. With this thought lingering in his fore brain, Josh set out after his alien companion. Even though Josh and Hutch may have been born beneath different stars, come what may, they would remain brothers-at-arms for as long as he had the strength to go on.
Still smiling, Josh Starsky caught up to his Pip companion and together the operative team made their way back towards the once great city of Atlanta and to home beyond.

Great Hites Prompt # 54

This weeks prompt comes from the William Shakespeare play “The Merchant of Venice” and is:

“A pound of Flesh”

Thanks to James Durham For suggesting it.

All Stories for this prompt are due by Midnight Tuesday May 19th. Email the text of the story and a recording if you would like me to include it in the podcast to jeffrey dot hite at gmail dot com.

good luck. And don’t forget to come out to the site and vote for your Favorite stories this week. Remember to tell all your friends to come out and join in the fun.


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Great Hites 52

This week we have stories by:
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Anima Zabaleta

Mick Bordet
Guy David
Norval Joe,
Justin Lowmaster
Scott Roche
and
Jeff Hite

This week’s winner was “To The Clouds” By: Mick Bordet

Promo for: Nina Kimberly
Link to Podiobooks – Podiobooks pro
Editing service By: Shawna Noble

This week is sponsored by RMSComputerSystems.com where I go when I need computer help.

NARY A DROP TO DRINK
By:
Anima Zabaleta

“Man it’s hot, Jeff… Hold up, I need a break, and this pool looks like a good spot. I need to refill my Nalagene. Funny, its not marked on the trail map. I thought all the water sources were marked on the trails here in Grand Canyon…”

“Don’t look a gift horse, or rather spring in the mouth, Linda. Just enjoy your good luck and pass me that bottle before you finish it all, will ya?”

“Whadja find there?”

“Not quite sure… I’ve never seen anything quite like this…”

“Whoa!”

Log date 2020.5.6 2700 cycles

If you are hearing this, it means I was not successful. I have spent the last 20 megacycles searching the outer planets for a culture, any life form really, that hasn’t been infected with Lleweraf virus. The known universes as I know them have turned into water.

It took the scientists too long to identify the plague. The best hypothesis they were able to come up with is that water supplies were infected in the Xenab district, and from there it spread across the galaxies, creature by creature, one planet at a time.

They think that once ingested, the virus lies dormant in the body for an unknown number of megacycles, until the virons have integrated throughout the host. The body then turns to hydrogen oxide, splits the skin and pools on the ground. Cities have turned to lakes, planets into continuous oceans, marred only by the occasional empty landmass. I have found only pockets of civilizations, and they are slowly leaking away.

My crew and I were thought to be uninfected, having been on a 7 microcycle journey at the time of contagion; we tried our best to not consume any water outside of what our body fluid reclamation systems could provide. However, the temptation for a long cool drink proved too much for Caine, the first crewmember to “puddle out”. After a few megacycles, it became evident that I was the last one to resist. Maybe resistance is futile. All I know is that I long to swim in the ocean, and that is no longer an option.

It has been 3 megacycles since my last landing. Interstellar communications died out around that time also. My resources are running out, and I am forced to make one final landing on this nonconfederation planet, 3rd from the local yellow star… As I have not noticed the illness in myself yet, maybe there is hope…

“What are we going to do, Jeff?”

“To The Clouds”
By: Mick Bordet

I threw the door open with such force that a cup jumped off the kitchen shelf, but the damage didn’t even register with me at the time. Before my father could even get his mouth open to shout at my misdemeanour, I was already spilling my news out in between breathless gasps for air. I had been accepted back into the Air Force and wanted to tell everyone that I would be flying in an airship. They nearly all shared in my delight; my sister Brenda hugged me and squealed with joy, Mum grinned and ruffled my hair as she tried and almost succeeded in covering up a hint of worry. The dog ran around my feet in tighter and tighter circles that would surely have toppled me had I not stopped him with a rub of his head to acknowledge his excitement. Only Father sat, unmoved by the whole scene playing out in front of him, waiting for his moment.

“It’ll never last,” he said, with not a glimmer of emotion. “Aeroplanes are faster and they don’t burst when they get shot at.”

That was the typical response he gave to just about everything. He was never the most animated or emotional man before the Great War, but by its end he had grown a layer of cynicism thicker than the shell of an armoured tank. It was quite pitiful, the way he seemed to be so unsatisfied with his own misery that he could do no more than drag the rest of us down. Not this time, though. I was too happy to be affected by the touch of his despair.

It was a rare event to be accepted back into the forces, but these were unusual times. Only a few months earlier, the war had ended just days after I completed my basic flight training. Fresh-faced and naive, I had rushed to sign up as soon as I was of age, despite the protestations from my parents. I wanted to fight for my country, but more than that; I wanted to be off the ground, speeding through the clouds, chasing the Red Baron with the wind on my face. The Air Force didn’t know what to do with their sudden excess of eager, but inexperienced, young pilots and I found myself back home in Edinburgh before I had time to realise that my dreams had come crashing back to Earth.

Wings clipped, I shelved my ambitions of flight and resigned myself to a more sedate life working on the buses. Not even as a driver, mind you, I had to start as a lowly clippy. Nothing wrong with that, but I thought I was destined for loftier pursuits; rattling up and down Princes Street on a daily basis had never been part of the plan. I knew there were plenty of people who would have been thrilled to do the job, in many ways I enjoyed the more sociable aspects of it, but the worst thing about my situation had almost nothing to do with the job itself. There were a couple of occasions when I could have sworn that I saw my father smirk on my return from a day’s work, as though he was actually glad that I was stuck in a more mundane and down-to-earth job than he was. It was only visible for a fleeting moment, of course, but his disapproval acted like a magnifying glass on my own dissatisfaction, making me feel worse than I had any reason to.

It was my sister who changed my life and set me back on the course I had once dreamt of. She was going out with a lad who’s father worked in the Air Ministry and he put in a good word for me. Within a week I had a letter calling me for interview, and the next thing I knew I was back on course as apprentice rigger on the newly completed His Majesty’s Airship R34. That was a job I was made for. I knew it before they even had the chance to explain what it entailed; it simply sounded wonderful and that was enough for me.

I worked at the East Fortune airship base, about an hour East of Edinburgh, starting off by learning the ropes on the older R29, before travelling with the rest of the crew to Glasgow to familiarise ourselves with the R34 in all her magnificent glory. Taking her out on her initial trials was my first real experience of flight, after which there was no going back for me. My father referred to my job as being “a glorified patch repair man”, which at its most basic level was not too far from the truth. What he missed from his snide observation was the breathtaking wonder of looking down at the beauty of the World in miniature below, the freedom of sliding out of view of the ground into a cloud and the camaraderie of the riggers and engineers working together in defiance of nature. All of this alone would have made my life worthwhile, as far as I was concerned, but even on my first day at the aerodrome, there were rumours and hushed whispers of greater things.

Word had it that the R34 was to be the first craft to cross the Atlantic by air. Excitement grew at the thought of meeting such a challenge, but unfortunately it was to be a prize won by an aeroplane, rather than an airship. Our girl sustained some minor damage during a test flight which laid her up for repairs and delayed our departure. At least it was two British lads, Alcock and Brown, who made the non-stop crossing successfully a couple of weeks before we finally set off. An American crew had made the crossing about a month before them, but they had several stops on the way, so we all overlooked that. We were the first to attempt it from East to West, though, against the prevailing Atlantic winds, and ours was to be a return journey.

The whole family came to see me off on that dreich July morning at the aerodrome, dressed as though for church and filled with a heady mixture of pride and trepidation at the thought of waving me off into the sky, possibly never to return. We said our goodbyes, with me promising to return safe with souvenirs from New York whilst they fussed over details, “have you got your toothbrush?”, “make sure you eat your vegetables” and a dozen other queries that served to distract them from the fact that I was about to embark on a unique journey. This was to be an epic ocean crossing of a crew held aloft by an inflammable gas that presented only one of hundreds of ways we could meet our maker before reaching our destination.

As I joined my crew-mates and boarded the airship towering in the dark above us, I saw my parents hug in a way I hadn’t seen before. Mum was holding Father like she used to when comforting us as children, following a fall or some other minor accident. I don’t think I had ever seen him need her support before.

The voyage was hard work, but mercifully free of major incident. We had to repair one engine with chewing gum and lost another due to over-revving, there was only enough fuel for another two hours of flight when we finally arrived and some of the meals were pretty poor, but those all paled into insignificance as we approached our destination. I’d seen pictures of New York, of course, but nothing could have prepared me for the size of it. We filled the sky wherever we went, but in New York it seemed like the ground was reaching up to try and touch us. Our welcoming American hosts told us the tallest of the skyscrapers was the Woolworth Building at over fifty floors, which explains why they are so impressive as I don’t know of any building over five floors in Edinburgh. We were treated like royalty for our short stay to refuel and prepare for the return trip, meeting everyone from local dignitaries to President Wilson himself, tasting strange new foods and making many new friends so far from home.

Heading back East was faster with the weather behind us and, just over three days after setting off from the States, we arrived back to a heroes’ welcome. The papers were full of the story of our success for several days, though things have been a little more quiet over the last couple of weeks as the ship gets a refit. We’re all hoping our journey will open up the airways to a whole fleet of long distance airships like our “Tiny”, maybe even bigger and better.

For this time-served rigger, it’s been the most incredible year of my life. My dreams didn’t work out as expected, but I could never even have imagined the spectacle of my reality. Strangely enough though, the most important moment of it all was that fleeting glimpse of my father overcome with pride. That image is etched forever in my mind alongside the skyscrapers and those vast Atlantic clouds.

The Widget
By: Guy David

I got the replicator in January. It was a present from my girlfriend. The day after that I gave my resignation letter to my former boss. With the replicator being able to use precise blueprints downloaded from the internet to create just about anything, no job salary was necessary. That was a year ago. It started out nice, nothing but loafing around, doing nothing, but after about a month and a half I got bored. Sure, hanging around with my girlfriend all day had it’s charm of endless conversations about anything in the world and we where getting to know each other in a whole new way, but there’s just so much you can do together until you start getting on each other’s nerves. I needed something to occupy my time, some hobby.

It was in mid February that I decided to pursue this old dream of mine. I was a teenager when computers and the internet became so important that it started changing the human race into something new. People became nodes in a communication hub. It was during that period that skilled programmers came and programmed little entertainment widgets and games into websites such as FaceBook. For a short period I dreamt about programing such a widget, but I was too young, too lazy. Now I had all the time in the world.

I opened a connection with my mind, using the in-head interface and connected to eBay. Searching, I found a vintage computer, a 2012 MacBook Touch. A few minutes later the computer materialized in my replicator. I connected it and reached again through my in-head interface, searching for the necessary skills. Waves of code washed through my head. In about an hour I was fluent in PHP. Now came the fun part. I had a vogue idea of what I wanted to do, but as I started writing things on a blank virtual page and storing it in the in-head interface, things became much clearer. What I was aiming for was the creation of a new world in two dimensions. A world based on surreal drawings and old fashioned web connections.

I wanted to do this the old fashioned way. I used the replicator again to materialize an old scroll and a calligraphic pen, then I started experimenting, drawing line after line of a strange and surreal land. I used the replicator to materialize a scanner and scanned the images into the old computer. As I did that, all the years of my younger self came back floating from my memory. I remembered a life of endless office hours in front of the computer with my coffee in one hand and the keyboard under my other hand. I remembered coming home to an empty house but never being alone, always a node in the endless sea of social connections. I met my girlfriend that way, in one of those early virtual worlds that I frequented, worlds that are so much a part of our life now that we sometimes forget what is real and what is simulated.

As I switched on the computer a wave of nostalgia washed over me. I started planting lines of code, building my little virtual two dimensional country from scratch. I didn’t connect to any data base to learn how to do this. All the knowledge I needed was already in my head. All I had to do was to put the code together. It took me about a year of challenging work. It was amazing to see this come together. It was the most fulfilling year I had in my life since I left work. I was exhausted when I finished, but I knew the interesting part of my life was only beginning. All the paths of a bright future where open to me. I rested.

A Slice of Life
By: Norval Joe

Veronica raised her 32 oz cup of Cherry Cola, and he his Dr. Pepper, in a toast to the future. Still holding her cup in the air, she asked, “Does this mean we’re not newlyweds anymore?”
MIke looked into her dark, almost black eyes. Her face was framed by long, straight, hair, that fell to the middle of her back like a glistening obsidian veil; equally as black as her eyes. He was as awed by her beauty, this evening in the pizza parlor, as he had been a year before. However, he felt like he knew her even less, now, after a year of marriage, than he had when he proposed. If knowing about your spouse was a sign of no longer being considered, ‘newly wed’, then they would likely carry the title for quite a while longer. “I guess we can call ourselves newly weds as long as we want, it’s not like you love a person less, after a year.” He was rambling and stammering. Typically, their conversations were light, and somewhat shallow, but tonight there had been something in her tone that unbalanced him.
She picked up her slice of pizza and nibbled off the tiniest bit at the end, which she mashed between her top and bottom front teeth. She had done the same on the night that he had proposed, one year previously, in this very booth. At the time, he thought it was cute, endearing, but watching her picking at the pizza now, he wondered if she ever ate more than one tiny bite. He tired to picture her taking a big bite, filling her whole mouth, or even eating the crust, but such a memory couldn’t be found.
“It’s been a whole year. Look at how far we have come.” She said in a misty romantic way. Mike was glad that he hadn’t been drinking his Dr. Pepper when she had said it, and that it was noisy enough in the pizzeria to disguise his inadvertent snort.
He couldn’t think of any comment that was more diametrically opposed to how he was feeling right then.
They had dated on and off for just a few months, until one night when he found himself staring into those deep black mysterious eyes. He could almost see himself reflected in them. He heard himself say to her, as if he was in a dream, or like thoughts spoken out loud, without breath, or without moving his lips, “Let’s get married.” He had barely murmured it, then as if suddenly becoming aware of what he had said, and recognizing the true depth of his love and commitment to her, he declared with more animation, “Veronica, marry me!”
“Oh, Mike,” she cried, her enthusiasm, sudden, overwhelming, and contagious. “Yes,” she said, taking his hands in hers and tipping her head to the side and down, so that she looked at him out of the corners of her eyes, and smiled coyly. His heart nearly stopped as she smiled the demure smile, that had an almost magical hold on him. She leaned across the table and kissed him.
“Let’s go,” she laughed and got up from the table, pulling him to his feet as well. He followed her, laughing, his heart lighter and more at ease than any time he could remember in his life. As they approached the door to the parking lot, he paused, “Where are we going?” he asked.
“To get married,” she said, her brow furrowing slightly, and just the slightest hint of annoyance in her voice, though maintaining a winning smile throughout. She shook her head, slightly, as if clearing it, and said, “Come on, I’ll drive.”
Before he knew it, they were in her black 280ZX, on the fastest trip from the San Francisco Bay Area to South Lake Tahoe, he would ever take. At times he squeezed his eyes shut to ease the vertigo from the blur of pine trees flying past his window. He gripped his knees as she sped the little car around the sharp turns of the two lane highway through the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
They were married, and they lived together in an East Bay apartment. That was almost the extent of their relationship; that, pizza, and soda.
On the rare evenings that she wasn’t working late, she was apathetic about cooking anything in their tiny kitchen. With their entry level jobs they had barely enough to pay their rent and the transportation costs to get them to their jobs across the bay in The City.
If he complained that they didn’t have the cash to eat out, she would magically produce a $20 bill. Not enough to eat at a fancy restaurant, but always enough for pizza and a soda. If Mike would reply with, as he did several times in the first few months of their marriage, “We have pizza all the time, let’s have a burger, or something,” she would tilt her head to the side, in her endearing way, smile a small smile and say, “No, I really want pizza tonight.” He couldn’t help, but give in.
Her phone pinged indicating a text message. She put down her pizza to thumb the buttons on her phone in reply. “Jenny,” she said, rolling her eyes, but smiling as she replied to her friend. Mike had never met the only friend that Veronica ever spoke of, but was well accustomed to the text message interruptions. An evening never went by, if they were actually together, that their short conversations, or more likely, the ubiquitous silence, wasn’t regularly interrupted by the ‘ping’ of Jenny’s text messages.
She set the phone down on the table, next to her soda, and was picking up her pizza when the phone pinged again. She did a double take when she looked as the short bit of text on the phone. Mike had to look closely at her face to see it, but she was surprised. Not once during their year together had Mike seen Veronica appear the least surprised. She spent every moment of the day with an expression of confident understanding that the world was turning just as she had expected it should. Though she appeared happy, there was something about the message that had caught her completely off guard.
“Ronnie, what,” Mike began, but stopped abruptly as she stood and said, “I have to go to the bathroom.” She walked off with out further comment or waiting for a reply. He watched her walk, her long silky hair flowing from side to side, opposite the sway of her slender hips. He watched as she disappeared into the women’s room, and thought that tonight they should celebrate their anniversary in a more physically romantic way.
He thought about the many times that they had made love, the memories of their passion, and of times when they quietly held one another in their arms. As he thought about these times, a feeling of unease grew within him. He had these memories of their love making, but couldn’t place from this memories when the specific events had occurred; not within the last month, or, for that matter, the month before.
When she did come home from work before he was in bed, there was always the pizza parlor, and afterwards she would walk straight from the front door to the bedroom, declaring, “What a day! I’m worn out. Make sure I don’t oversleep.” By the time Mike would catch up to her, she would be settled into bed and, apparently, asleep. No matter how he teased and cajoled, prodded and pushed, she was no more responsive than the mattress itself.
He picked up his slice of pizza, never taking his eyes from the door through which she had disappeared, and took a bite. He was surprised that his pizza was cold. He looked at his watch; it was half past eight; Veronica must have been in the bathroom for more than a half hour. He was sure that he hadn’t taken his eyes from the bathroom door and hadn’t seen anyone enter or leave.
A slice of life.
He quickly approached the counter and spoke to the woman behind the till, “Excuse me, Ma’am, but my wife went into the women’s room a half hour ago, and hasn’t come out. Could you go in and see if she is alright?” She said, “OK,” but looked at him like he was a pervert, in the way that only the truly self absorbed teenagers can. She leaned in through the door to the women’s room, then stepped inside. Before the door could close completely, she was coming back out and shaking her head. “Sorry, but there is nobody in there. Are you sure she didn’t leave?”
Mike had a sudden overwhelming feeling of bewilderment, his head spun and if was difficult to breath. He felt like he really couldn’t be sure of anything. He could see the ZX through the window, parked along the curb so she hadn’t slipped out and driven off. He sat back down at their table; her phone was there, where she had put it down.
A thought occurred to him; her text messages would show the times that they were sent. Maybe that would give him a clue about how long she had really been gone.
The first message from Jenny was at 7:46 PM. He went ahead and read the message that followed, more out of habit than out of a desire to pry. It said, ‘Checking in for status report.’
Veronica’s reply followed two minutes later. Mike read the baffling message several times, trying to fit its meaning into his stuttering mind. She had sent, ‘Status same as yesterday and everyday. It’s been a year, look what I’ve done with myself. Get me out of here!’
The final text was sent from Jenny at 7:49 PM. ‘Boss says, Good Work. Come home. Transcendsion shift in 5 minutes. See you soon.’
Mike finished off the last of his Dr. Pepper, and stared sadly at her phone, an aching sence of loss gradually gowing in his chest. She was gone from his life even more suddenly than she had entered it. All he had left of her was her phone, the ZX, and a years worth of memories of their times together, that probably didn’t even happen.

The Asylum
By: Justin Lowmaster

Dr. Danson has signed my release papers. I have been declared sane. I’m holding an envelope of some cash. The asylum’s crafting program allowed me to learn trade skills. The profits made from the cabinetry building are mine to keep. In my pocket is a list of places of employment and residence that are friendly to the asylum. My old life forgotten, my hopes are high that I can begin life anew.

I’m walking among all the regular people on the sidewalks of Chicago. I shade my eyes. I don’t want to look up for some reason. A Model T drives by. The bright sun glints off of the metal spokes and into my eyes. My eyes track it as the bright ball of light dissipates as the car moves on. I pitch forward a bit.

“Hey, watch it!”

“Sorry”

I realize I had stopped walking.

The man has already walked off. That bright light, it reminds me of something. If I could just remember … no, I should not try to remember. When the doctors tried to get me to remember I got worse. I should let my hidden memories stay in the shadows of my mind. Both my life before the incident, the event that drove me insane, and after are hidden in secret places in my mind. I begin walking again. I must keep my mind away from the past. I need a job, something to occupy me.

The cheerful bell jingles as I walk into Ben’s Groceries. I have Dr. Danson’s card in my hand. I’m fidgeting with it in my pocket. I pull it out to look at it. The corners are bent. I push it back into my pocket and keep my hands in the open. A young redheaded boy is totaling the price of a customer’s goods and a middle-aged woman is arranging cans on a shelf. I don’t think either of them is Ben. I walk deeper into the store. The soft smell of fresh fruits calm my nerves. I walk down an aisle of pasta and sauces towards the back of the store. Perhaps Ben’s office is there.

I spot a door marked ‘manager’. I make my way towards it. It opens. A tall man with light brown skin steps out. Long black hair hangs behind him in a braid. He turns to me and smiles.

“Welcome! I haven’t seen you in my store before, how are you?”

I freeze and stare. On his left cheek is a tattoo of the sun. He looks at me quizzically.

“Is everything alright?”

“I, I, I shouldn’t be here.”

“Can I help you with something, are you in need?”

I turn and rush out of the store.

I unlock the door to my basement apartment. The door opens, revealing darkness. I hesitate a moment then dart my hand into the blackness and strike at the light switch. The lights turn on and I exhale a breath I didn’t know had been locked up in my lungs. Inside I take off my jumpsuit from the warehouse I work at. Thankfully it is well lit but has few windows. I shove the jumpsuit into the sink and fill it with water. I have a memory of making music with washboard, but it just isn’t in me anymore. Perhaps I need to spend a night out. Not in the dark, though, somewhere well lit. Maybe I’ll go see a show.

The curtains are lifting. The set is a backdrop of trees. Dancing fairies adorn the stage. They whirl and twirl. A man wearing green walks onto the stage. He is standing in the middle. A brilliant light beams down from above and envelops the man in green. I squeeze my eyes shut. I enjoy some of the dialog and the music, but the memory of that light, it reminds of of the sun, but of something more. At the applause, I open my eyes. I make for the exit right away. As I walk home I am trying to stay on the edge of streetlight and shadow. I unlock and open my door and dart my hand for the switch. Terror overfills my stomach when nothing happens. My fingertips talk through the screaming fear in my mind. I can barely hear what they are saying. I missed the switch. I try again. The lights turn on. I nearly faint with relief.

I haven’t left my apartment for days. My sleep is fitful. I dream of huge lights and of vast darkness. But, the darkness is not empty, there is something inside it, something terrible. I need food, I need to work, my mind is cracking again. Gathering up as much resolve as I can, I stand up and walk out the front door. I will go to the asylum. It is early evening. The sun is sinking over the edge of the horizon. I ignore it as best I can, but I feel it there, peering at me. This is the worst part of the day, light and darkness mixing together. I shiver but move steadily onward.

Just like when I left the asylum, the streets are busy. Crowds of people adorn the sides walks in the fading evening light. They ignore me and I them. I just want my mind to work again, I want it to be like … before what? What made me this way? Why does my own mind plague me with terrors that are just beyond conscious thought? What are these things that …

“Hey, watch out!”

I stop, but realize the shout was not directed at me. Two men are carrying a large mirror from a truck towards an alleyway. Someone had nearly run into them. The alleyway is dark, dark like, a cave? Why does that … The men turn and the orange sunlight strikes the mirror and a beam of light shines into the alleyway. In a flash, I remember.

In the darkness it sleeps. If the light of the sun ever reaches it, it will awaken. When it rises from the deep black of the earth it would remove the taint from the earth, remove those who do not understand. Those who do not understand that everything else is meaningless. The sun hangs in the sky at the right time only once a year. I realize that in the next few days the sun will be right in the sky. How do I know this? I studied it. I was a professor of astronomy. I found a book on worshipers of the Sun. More study led me to a group that searched for an ancient being, a sun god, who was deep below the earth. They wanted to wake it. In my studies I found them. I spent time with them. I found it all entertain and fun. I didn’t believe in there traditions superstitions. I really wanted to know what they would do when no great event occurred after their ritual.

Something happened, something went wrong. The day had come, the sun was right. Mirrors were installed in the caves and the light would shine deep into the earth, and it would waken. Someone had stopped it, broken the mirrors. Shots were fired, many dead. But, not before a brief flash of light had shone on it, on the sleeping … thing. It had opened its eye for just a moment before it went dark, and in that moment before something knocked me unconscious … that thing, its eye. In the briefest moment it had seen, it had looked, right at me, and then …

I’m running right for it. I crash headfirst into the mirror. The thing looked at me then I heard it, not with my ears, but, I know what is whispered to me. People yell and scream but I hear them from far away. It told me my name, and it told me my fate, and the fate of the earth. I fall to the sidewalk cut and bleeding, my life pouring out onto the ground amidst broken glass and sunlight fading to darkness. It told me, everything. When I awoke, I had forgot, but, like me, one day, it will wake, and it will remember.

Magic Quadrant Part 7
By: Scott Roche

The whole conversation between the Captain and the aliens played itself out in the nearly invisible ear piece that the saboteur wore constantly. It allowed him to monitor any internal or external communications merely by focusing his thoughts. Section 31agents had all manner of fun toys that average Starfleet personnel knew nothing about. Sometimes he wondered what things were out there that were mysteries even to him. There was no way his bosses told him everything.

The conversation was a good example. He knew only the part he was to play in this and what contingencies he should be ready to bring to bear. He didn’t know if there were any other agents on board this ship or what the nature of the aliens on the enemy vessel was. Even those things he felt he knew for sure were suspect.

It was crucial to just keep his head down and perform his cover job with the professionalism expected of anyone in the Fleet. He was to neither excel nor under perform. Either action could result in him being brought up before his superiors and scrutinized. His identity was nearly impenetrable, but it was that word ‘nearly’ that kept him sharp. If he were captured then he might be neutralized by another agent or called upon to eliminate himself. As much as he was willing to die, doing so because he had failed his mission by blowing his identity was no way to go out.

Spending a year as a low level member of the security force on board the Kongo had hardly been his first choice of assignment though. In that entire time he felt he had accomplished practically nothing. Here he was, a man trained in espionage and infiltration, one of the tops in his field and he was a glorified security guard. Those were dangerous thoughts though. To combat them, he sank further and further into the layers of the person who had been created out of whole cloth by the geniuses at HQ, exploring complexities and nuances of the person he had become.

His name, at least the only name he would answer to these days was John Wilkerson. The lieutenant had graduated from the Academy with little distinction and had served on a remote Starbase for six months before being assigned to the Kongo. There were no pesky siblings or living parents to worry with. He had been a loaner all his life, not so much as to interfere with a clean psych eval, but enough to make a lack of close friends not all that unusual. The first few months on board had been lonely because of that.

He dealt with it well enough. In his life before all this he hadn’t exactly been a social butterfly. There were people in his past that he missed though and like anyone else, he needed an outlet. Over the last few months he started hanging out with people off duty and went so far as to get into a regular poker game. A few co-workers and people form other departments considered him a good friend and he was beginning to think of them the same way.

Thankfully he had avoided any romantic entanglements. The cute redhead that worked in engineering had been making eyes at him recently, but so far though that was it. Maintaining that discipline became more difficult with every passing day, though. Fortunately, the mission was upon him now and it appeared that he wouldn’t need to keep up the charade much longer. Based on what he knew, once the ship returned to Federation space there would be some event that called him away and no one would ever hear from Lieutenant Wilkerson again.

He broke his reverie to return to the matter at hand. Once they entered the unknown quadrant the Security Chief decided that all of her people needed to be out on shipboard patrol. She figured that given the circumstances, seeing some red shirts around would help calm everyone’s nerves. That was why Wilkerson found himself patrolling the decks with Lieutenant Avilla and thinking on the past year. He liked working with her. She was a bit chatty, but that let him mull things over. There was never much pressure on him to keep up his end of the conversation.

She was in mid-sentence when they both heard the tell tale sound of transporter beams. Someone was materializing in the hall just around the corner from the sound of things. That was alarming mostly because as far as he knew, the shields were still up. That meant that either someone was transporting within the confines of the vessel or someone was able to go through their shields. Neither option meant anything good.

Chatty though Avilla was, she was still a professional security officer. Both red-shirts had their Type II phasers out and ready in an eyeblink. Almost in unison they checked and ensured that the power settings were set to maximum stun and wide dispersion. Between the two the beams would cover the whole hallway and would put even the largest known humaoids down for a half hour at least.

Wilkerson crouched low as did his partner, each hugging a bulkhead for support. The noise of the transporter beam had been replaced by a quiet chittering sound. The volume was just below what would be normal conversation for most humans , but he couldn’t make out any words.

A movement out of the corner of his eye caught his attention. Avilla gestured at a communications wall panel. He shook his head. Calling in reinforcements would be nice, but using that or the communicators at their belts would make enough noise to alert whoever it was up ahead. It was good to know that there was one close though, just in case.

He thrust his chin up ahead and they continued the crouch walk towards the intruders. Once around the bend the Wilkerson and Avila saw the creatures that had boarded the Kongo. Neither of them had seen the interaction Captain Thornton had had. So they weren’t prepared for what awaited them. The creatures were somewhat spider like from the waist up, Sean had got that right. From there down though, they were more like centipedes.

A segmented body at least two meters long with legs sprouting off every decimeter or so, flowed out form the bristly torso. Thee three creatures wore no clothes and were hard to tell apart, due to the subtle differences in color and the alien nature of their bodies. With time their individual characteristics would be plain enough. Right now all the two could focus on was the notion that the Kongo had been invaded.

The high pitched whine of phaser fire echoed off of the walls. Their training served them both well when it came to the timing and coverage of their shots. The energy did overlap as desired and all three targets were bathed in the brief flash. Instead of falling over as expected though, the trio turned, each clasping what were unmistakably weapons in one pair of segmented arms.

What have I Done
By Jeff Hite

It has been along time since I wrote something down by hand, but it seems appropriate now. In the last year since I started as captain of the Columbia a great many things have changed. Although it is not the case, it feels like the galaxy is changing around me as I stand perfectly still. Standing still is something that I cannot do. Even if I wanted to, the ship moves all the time, even when we are parked around a planet, we are moving faster than most people who are earth bound will ever travel. But, it is not the physical standing still that I fear, but the inability to change, and that inability that might cloud my judgment and prevent me from acting in the way that best protects this ship and her crew.
Ten days ago we encountered a ship from Earth’s past. A relic of the past that I thought we had left behind. The captain of that ship could not see past their need for urgency because of dwindling supplies, to prevent the deaths of most of his crew. I hope that at least I have not become that inflexible.
When we found the Molly Brown, she was in an unstable orbit around a mostly ice covered planet, and her orbit was decaying. Had we gotten here two or maybe three weeks later, we would not have found her. As it was we used the transporter device to send a team over and recover what they could before she burned up in the atmosphere. They found one survivor in suspended animation and were able to recover most of the computers records before the orbit became too unstable to safely have people on board.
The one survivor has still not communicated anything coherent to us, but from the records it appears that most of the crew was lost when they were hit by massive storm on the ice planet’s sister’s surface. The two planets are tidally locked and cause not only surface quakes, but also large storms that can cover a hemisphere at a time. It was one of these storms that killed most of the crew and stranded the rest as their shuttle craft was damaged and crashed.
If we have pieced that data together correctly, it looks as though they made a decision about which planet to land on before they had all the data they needed and it turned out to be fatal to all but a very few of them. We believe that it is possible though unlikely that there are survivors on the more arid of the two planets. If they are there, they would be the grandchildren, maybe even the great grand children of those who first landed there. To that end we are scanning the planet below, but it might be a slow process with large number of caves and tunnels.
I wonder what choices drove these people to this point, what things happened in their last year of life, that drove them to steal a ship, and take a desperate leap across two the stars, with no sure destination. Then to make a decision about where they would settle with little or no data, that ended in a fatal error. What things would have to happen in my life that would drive me to do that.
Captain Hernandez put her pen down, and looked around her cabin. What had driven her to this point. What had brought them to this place in the galaxy, that they might discover this failure of the human endeavor. She looked at her screen again and at the slowly scrolling data that was being pulled from the ancient data tapes. She smiled at the memory of the look on the engineers face when he saw them, and then the frustration that he had trying to rig something up to read them. The data they had gotten so far had been only the most basic. She was hopping that eventually they would get to the personal logs, the messages home, or even some personnel information so they could know more about who these people were. What she did not want to do is leave these people with no history, with no record of their passing. That their sacrifice, their lives would come to nothing seemed unfair. Then she remembered a quote that she had read, in one of the early academy classes, “A man said to the universe: ‘Sir, I exist!’ ‘However,’ replied the universe. ‘The fact has not created in me A sense of obligation.'”
She would make sure that since chance had brought them to this point in the universe, these people would not be forgotten, even if the universe felt no obligation to them. She stood and walked to the bridge then. Her life over the last year, had one effect that would change the way that she looked at life forever. Every life, though it may feel small and insignificant at the time, means something, and deserves to be remember by the universe. The Crew of the molly brown, may all be dead by now, but they would not be forgotten. She could only hope that every star ship captain that came after her would take this lesson with them. Never forget those whose lives come before you. You never know when one of those lives will effect you in the future.