While flying a kite
By: Norval Joe
Jim looked at Shelly through the corner of his eye. The stiff wind at their backs whipped bright red curls across her eyes and freckled nose and cheeks. He grinned and shouted to make his voice heard above the sound of the wind in their ears, “my kites higher than yours.”
“Maybe, but only just,” she shouted back.
Black clouds boiled up behind them and blocked out the late afternoon sun. The sudden storm was unusually violent for mid march in the central valley of California. Jim wasn’t quite twelve years old, yet, but he had been a boy scout for almost a year. He knew the dangers of an electrical storm.
“Shelly,” Jim shouted again. He leaned back into the steady blow and held tight to his spool of kite string.
“We should head in. I’m afraid there’s going to be lightning,” he continued after she looked in his direction.
Shelly, a year younger than Jim, had been his closest friend for more than half his short life. She nodded and pulled on her kite string to bring it back in.
Jim pulled on his own string. It fought back with violence; like a large fish fights the anglers line, refusing to give up.
Shelly was off first as the wind pulled her up into the air. She kicked her feet as if she was swimming, the soles of her tennis shoes just inches ahead of Jim as his own kite pulled him up into the storm. Shocked at the sight of the ground falling rapidly away, he clung to the spool of string as if to a life preserver. The wind lifted them rapidly up and away, over the houses of their neighborhood.
Jim marvelled as he climbed faster than Shelly. She weighed less than he did. It would make sense that she should rise more easily than he. Jim let the ball of string spin in his hands to play out more line. He slowly dropped back to continue up into the sky, side by side with his childhood friend.
Shelly’s arms stretched forward her knuckles white as her fingers clenched tightly on the ball of string. She smiled at Jim, her eyes bright with shocked exhilaration. Her laughter was born away on the violent wind.
Jim felt weightless as he hung from the string. He looked at his own hands. He wasn’t hanging, his body was born on the wind like the kite itself. He let go with one hand, stretched out his arms and glided from side to side.
His free hand contacted something and Shelly’s hand was suddenly in his own. Her firm, yet not fearful grip, felt hot and alive in the cold wind.
They flew hand in hand high above the green velvet foot hills to the snow crested peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountains. They soared in and out of canyons and rushed past tall snow dusted pines until the winds eased and died. They were deposited lightly on the pristine snow of a high mountain meadow.
Shelly had first blood. Jim chased her across the broad unmarked blanket of snow, scooping up handfuls to press into balls for retaliation. Near the forests edge they both stumbled head long into the powdery snow. They rose, covered with the icy powder and shuffled about, moaning and laughing like two abominable show children.
“Fool,” a voice growled from the trees.
A goblin crouched at the boarder of the forest, steaming, fetid, saliva dripped from its pointed, blackened, teeth.
“Dupe,” the goblin sneered as it straightened and inched toward Jim. The creature leaned on a gnarled wooden branch, the hide of a dead animal was clasped at his neck and hung down his back like a cloak.
“You’ve brought her right to me,” he cackled and waved his stick at the children.
Dozens more of the hunched grey scaly creatures burst from the forest around the meadow and rushed toward the two youths. The goblins in the hoard wore nothing but a leather thong tied around their waists from which hung knives in rotted leather sheaths and small cloth pouches. They screamed in wicked glee as they rapidly closed on the two humans.
Shelly formed a ball of verdant fire between her cupped hands, her body poised as if ready to fling the ball in to the air. Jim’s long sword sang as he pulled it from the scabbard at his shoulder. He stepped casually to Shelly and turned to stand back to back with her, sword held, ready to disembowel any of the fowl creatures to come within reach of the gold etched steel.
Shelly chanted a few rapid phrases and the ball of fire expanded slowly at first, then with a flash, it burst out from the two youths. The fire leveled the first wave of charging goblins. Jim rotated around his companion to destroy any of the creatures to rise and continue the assault.
Shelly began to generate a second ball of power, but hesitated as a thrum was felt as much as it was heard. Like the vibration from a giant guitar string it pulsed from the direction of the cloaked goblin. The fiend clapped its hands together. With a deafening boom it sent a blast across the meadow. Snow leapt up before the giant wave of energy as it spread out from the goblin mage. Jim, Shelly and most of the unfortunate goblems were bowled over by the snow and energy wave. Shelly’s ball of flame was blasted away before it could be fully formed.
Buried in the snow Jim heard Shelly’s call, though it was faint and sounded very distant.
“Jimmy.” Shelly’s scream sounded panicked.
“The goblins have Shelly,” he thought and thrust his arms around him to orient himself to the firmer snow beneath. With monumental effort he clawed his way to the icy surface to stand, gasping with exhaustion. He saw his friend amidst a mob of gibbering, slavering goblins, as they dragged her toward the forest and the cackling goblin leader. The hilt of his sword protruded from the snow inches from his useless, numb fingers.
“Jimmy,” Shelly screamed again through the mass of grey scaly creatures, “do you love me?”
The question hung on the crip winter air like the fragile icicles in the branches of the pines surrounding the meadow.
“Do I love you?” He mumbled the question to himself? “I’m eleven years old.”
“Jimmy,” her scream was cut off as the goblins dragged her within the trees of the dark, looming forest.
“Shelly,” he shouted, but the sound erupted from his throat as a hoarse croak. With his very last ounce of strength he grasped the hilt of his sword, and pulled it from the snow just as King Arthur of legend had drawn his from the stone. He held the blade before him, the steel now as clear and fragile as the ice from which he had pulled it. The golden inscription along the blades fuller floated as if on the air. He read the words, “On my honor, I will do my best….”
The oath, his oath, he had sworn when when adopted into the knightly order echoed in his head, “to help other people at all times…”
Shelly needed help. There was no one else. By his oath, he had to help.
Revitalized, he raced toward the forest and shouted, “Shelly, I love you.”
A fluorescent green bolt of light shot from the forest and hit Jim’s sword turning it to emerald flame. The ice melted away to be replaced by steel so white and pure the snow appeared grey as new flakes fell against the blade. As the last of the flames dripped from the renewed sword, the fatigue drained from his muscles. The words of the oath etched in the swords length flashed red.
Jim raced headlong into the forest, his only concern, the rescue of his true love. Wtihin the eves of the forest the ground was free of snow. Low ferns spread between the massive tree trunks and concealed the spongy soil. Shelly’s battle with the goblims was a frozen tableau in a globe of luminescnet greeen. Jim lept within the light of the globe. He strode forward but moved tediuously slow through the viscous green plasma.
Jim could see, now, the scene before him was not frozen but moved equally slow as his own labored steps. Three goblins had ahold of Shelly by one hand and pulled furiously on her to drag her deeper into the woods. The goblins were much smalleer than the ten year old girl and though they scrabbled and tugged, they were unable to move her from the her protective globe. With her free hand she bekoned toward Jim, a miniature replica of the green sphere floated above her upturned palm.
Jim found the eyes of his struggling friend. He was shocked to see Shelly was not afraid. In fact, she smiled at him in the most obscure way. Her smile was not one of gratitude or relief for being saved, nor was it a smile of excitement or for the thrill of battle. Her smile spoke of confidence, of knowledge, of understanding far beyond her age.
Jim reached Shelly’s side.
“I love you Shelly,” he said and clasped her hand with his own free hand, the sword still gripped in the other. For only a moment he felt the warmth of the small green ball of energy pressed between their palms. With a roar and a flash of brilliant green the protective bubble evaporated in a rush of wind.
“Jimmy,” he heard through the darkness. He dropped his sword.
“Jimmy,” he heard Shelly say his name again.
Slowly, his vision cleared and he found himself looking into the green eyes of his long time playmate, her hand still in his.
“I love you Shelly,” he said again.
“Jimmy,” Shelly said, “you’ve let go of your kite.”
The ball of string bounced across the feild as the wind carried the kite away over the houses of their neighborhood. Jim looked around, suddenly embarassed by his confession, and dropped Shelly’s hand as if it were a poisonous snake.
Shelly held fast to her own kite string with one hand as she slipped the other into her coat pocket to hide the small green ball of light. She smiled at Jim, an obscure smile that hinted at knowledge and understanding far beyond her few short years.
The Night Daddy Rode the Wind
By: Ashley Redden
Jaime Cavalier snatched another crab trap from the stack and with a heave placed it onto the bed of his truck. The truck, already laden with traps two double rows deep, six in all, rose and fell groaning with the added load. Crab traps weren’t light when they were new and dry, but when removed from the lake, each trap brought along a goodly portion of the muck from the bottom making each weigh a ton. In a couple of days, the smell would be getting pretty ripe to boot.
Jaime took a moment to breathe, and then pushed the newly loaded trap to the far side of the bed. He wouldn’t be able to close the tailgate of the truck, so he would have to be carful while pulling his boat, the arm of the boat trailer wasn’t long enough to clear the tailgate in a sharp turn, but he didn’t have any choice. Time was running short. The hurricane was coming whether he was ready or not. At least this would be his last trip. He had made three trips already hauling traps back to his house for storage in the back shed. Though this would be a full load, he would finally be through with the task and could move onto other things. Things like surviving the storm.
The name of this hurricane was Jewel. Somebody somewhere was in charge of naming the storms, but Jaime didn’t have a clue how any of that worked. He only knew that the things always were crowned with a name.
Hurricanes and Louisiana went way back together. No one ever remembered the mild storms, the ones that blew through gently or changed course and dropped rivers and rivers of rain as they were downgraded to tropical storms and depressions. The only named storms that people ever remembered where the bad ones, the hurricanes that wreaked untold death and destruction on the people of the bayou state and the surrounding area. Jaime silently hoped that Jewel would be a name that was not remembered.
He loaded up the last of the crab traps and walked around the boat making sure that everything was in its proper place. After checking the traps that were strapped to the boat, Jaime called his wife, Kristy, to let her know he was under way. When he placed the cell phone to his ear, he heard a series of beeps and then nothing more. He looked at the prompt of the phone, which showed little or no signal.
Jaime sighed, “The network is probably shot.”
The service at Pass Manchac had always been sketchy at best on a good day, but with hurricane Jewel bearing down on the area in approximately 24 hours, he could only imagine how many calls were being made as people finished batting down everything that they could in preparation of the storm.
He sighed again as he hoped that Kristy wouldn’t worry. Maybe he could catch her on the way. If not, he would be home in an hour or two, but he hated the idea of her worrying whether need be or not.
Jaime got in his old truck, closed the door and turned the ignition key. The beast of a vehicle roared to life. He took another deep breath, said a quick silent prayer and pulled out of the lot, being a bit more gentle than usual on his 20 foot boat, which was packed from stem to stern with crab traps, in tow. He was taking it easy; after all, he had about fifty of his traps strapped onto the boat and in the truck. If he were to lose any, he would have to stop to recover them and time was short. Better to take it easy and avoid any problems if possible. After checking his cell a final time, he eased onto the road and headed home.
Kristy looked at her watch again then palmed her cell phone, still no signal. She had tried to call Jaime several times all to no avail. To say that the network was shot was an understatement. She rounded the north side of her house and headed for the front door. Kristy doubted that Jaime would accept that the house was ready for the hurricane. He always went behind; it was sort of his thing.
In the early years of their marriage, Kristy had resented this habit of his; his second guessing what seemed like everything that she said and did. But as the years passed and especially when the babies started popping out, she had grown to appreciate him, second guessing and all. Actually, she learned through the years that he wasn’t questioning her in what she said and did at all, it had just seemed that way from her point of view, Jaime wasn’t even aware that he had offended her. Jaime was just extraordinarily thorough in all of his endeavors. When he began a task, no matter how big or small, he always started at the beginning, the very beginning.
She could tell him hundreds of times that there was no need to go back and redo what she had already done, but no matter how much nagging she brought to bear, Jaime would simply smile and say, “I know, I know, but let’s just see anyway ok.”
He was so sweet during these little exchanges that Kristy found that, even in the early years when things like that irritated her to the point of violence, she just couldn’t stay mad at him. Without a doubt, the way something is said or done is so much more important than the actual act or words themselves.
So Kristy had swallowed hard and just walked away. The funny thing was that this habit through the years had actually endeared Jaime to her. She found that his thoroughness, his considerable caring and attention to detail offered Kristy a sense of security that she had never known.
Jaime was always going to be there, no matter what the situation, taking care of things if they needed to be taken care of. Fixing problems or mistakes with a smile on his face and forgiveness born of complete devotion and compassion in his heart. The irony was that one of the few things that Kristy had hated about Jaime, and they were exceedingly few, in the dating and early marriage years, had later made her love him all the more.
She smiled as she considered this blessing amongst so many that had drifted into her life like so many flitting butterflies arriving when you least expect it but always eliciting a smile. Kristy couldn’t have been happier or more fulfilled.
She stopped at the front door and stood facing the drive as Jaime, on cue, pulled that big old grey truck of his off the road and coasted to a stop just behind the carport his bateau just past where she would need to back her car out to leave.
She stood with her hands on her hips and put on her best ‘and just where have you been face’ but even she felt that the effort was at best half-hearted. For Jaime’s part, he just smiled all the more, his big teeth showing for anyone who cared to see.
Shaking her head slightly, Kristy sighed and dropped her hands, and grinned herself. Sometimes, it irritated her that she never really seemed to get mad at him, or if she did it just didn’t last. But she always dismissed these thoughts as silly. After all, she and Jaime had four girls, that’s what happened when you keep trying for a boy, you end up with a bevy of girl children, a dog and a wonderful relationship. So many of her friends had fling after fling that usually started with a bang but ended with a thud or worse, with the police on the front porch. Silly indeed.
She shook her head as she headed over to greet her spouse, a person in whom she had no compunction whatsoever in referring to as her better half because Kristy knew without a doubt that Jaime would do the same.
Kristy wrapped her long arms around Jaime as he came around the front of the truck and eased up on her tiptoes to peck his nose. Jaime sighed and said, “Sorry that I didn’t call. The network is a mess.”
“Yeah, I know. I think the towers may be tied up worse than when the saints won the super bowl,” she added with a grin leaning back.
“Uh huh, it’s just a shame that the occasion isn’t better.”
Sliding her arms from around his neck to his waist, they walked arm in arm toward the house. Jaime cocked his head and added, “At least this hurricane isn’t supposed to be too bad.”
“It’d be better if it would just go back the way it came.”
“Yeah,” answered Jaime. He detached himself from his wife and said, “I’m going to do a once over before we go in. If we get busy, we probably won’t have the chance again before morning when the storm arrives.” He smiled indulgently and said, “I know you’ve already been round and that everything is picked up and bolted down, but I just want to make sure, ok?”
“Ok,” answered Kristy as she gave his big shoulder a squeeze before turning toward the door. Just before going in, she glanced back at her man walking with his head on a swivel determined to check everything, to make sure that each and every little detail was taken care of to keep Kristy and the girls safe and secure. Kristy smiled, born from utter satisfaction of contentment. This hurricane was not Jaime or Kristy’s first nor, God willing, would it be their last to have to endure.
But, today would most definitely be a very good day. Breakfast, lunch and supper would consist of seafood as the family cooked as much of the really perishable frozen foods as possible. Everybody in the house just loved seafood, crabs, shrimp and most of all fish, saltwater and fresh. Yes, today would most assuredly be a very good day. Tomorrow, the family may not fare as well, but today would be grand.
The Cavaliers would spend the entire day together and everyone would eat well and not only well, but the things they loved most. What could be better than that? With a happy skip in her step, she turned for the door and entered her home.
Jaime awoke to the rattling of windows in the dark. He half rose from bed, his legs still beneath the covers and listened to the ebb and flow of the roaring wind outside. He shook his head; it was really starting to get after it out there. A glance at his watch left him a bit surprised. The time was 5:45AM. The hurricane, what was its name, Jewel, was supposed to come ashore around 7:00AM.
Usually the hurricane center was pretty accurate, but hurricanes tend to be loath when it comes to following predictions. Despite all the knowledge obtained in the previous decades, the weather guys were still guessing. Though they were making very educated guesses, the forecasts were still conjecture none the less.
Jaime rose from bed fully and put on his clothes that he had laid out the night before. A glace at the clock told the tale for the electricity. The clock on the dresser across the room shone bright red in the dark and read 5:47AM. The prompt held steady meaning that the power hadn’t surged or blinked, which was encouraging. Maybe they would be able to ride this storm out and keep the power. He sighed, hope springs eternal.
He made his way to the kitchen and started the coffee pot, which he had loaded the night before as well. Coffee in South Louisiana was right up there next to Godliness. He looked back expecting the dog, Sam, to come waddling down the hall looking for a treat and some fresh grass to go water. But Jaime was alone this morning. The dog was afraid of the wind, any loud noise really, so it wasn’t surprising that he had stayed in the bedroom this morning, probably beneath the bed.
Jaime whispered, “Pass on by Jewel, just pass on by you powerful old girl you. Please be kind to me and mine.”
The smell of coffee, rich fresh brewed coffee, began to fill the kitchen as Jaime sat down at the bar and rested his chin on his hands. He breathed deep of the hearty aroma supplied by the percolator and eased his eyes closed endeavoring to enjoy the solitude of the early morning.
As Jaime sat listening to the storm brewing outside, he frowned. Still frowning, he listened for a moment longer. The roaring of the wind was growing louder and louder. Jaime’s eyes popped open and he stood slowly but with purpose. He looked over at the window as he listened to the raging of the storm. His frown deepened. Suddenly, Jaime’s eyes grew wide and he ran to the bedroom and shook his wife.
He said quickly, “Kristy, get up and get into the closet, the one in our bathroom.”
She shook her head and asked groggily, “What’s the matter?”
“Just do as I say and get yourself into that closet right now. I’m going to get the girls,” Jaime said breathlessly as he hurried from the room.
He sprinted down the hall and into the first bedroom, where the two youngest were sleeping. Jaime grabbed up the first girl, Anne, covers and all in his left hand and the other, Betsy, in his right.
As Jaime passed the front door, he could hear the glass panels rattling from the force of the wind. Jaime ran straight to the closet of the master bedroom, the closet located almost exactly in the center of the house. He bounded through the closet door and plopped both girls, still asleep, into his wife’s outstretched hands and then turned on his heels and rushed out.
Kristy called, “What is it?” The fear in her voice was palpable. Jaime didn’t slow to answer; by the time the question was asked he was long gone.
Jaime raced through the house; the deep roar of the wind was now in stereo. Even though the house was still closed, the immense roaring of the wind seemed to be all around. Jaime slammed through Kelly’s door while calling out the Jessica. He snatched up Kelly, who mumbled and struggled a bit, but Jaime held her clenched to his chest.
As he passed Jessica’s room, she shambled out and he grabbed her by the arm and pulled her along.
Jaime screamed, “For God’s sake come on. Follow me Jess.”
Jessica, instantly awake, ran after her father. The sound of the wind roared and roared. It seemed to take an eternity to reach the closet, though it was probably on a matter of seconds. But by the time Jaime and his two daughters arrived, the house was adding to the cacophony now, moaning and popping, groaning in its timbered bones.
Jaime deposited the girl into the outstretched hands of his wife and drug Jessica through the door bodily and pushed her onto floor at the far wall farthest from the door in which he now stood like a sentinel. He slammed the door and yelled at Kristy, “Get them into the far corner and all of you huddle.”
Kristy yelled back, “Jaime, what in the hell is going on? It sounds like a freight train is running over the house.”
Jaime yelled back, “Tornado.”
He looked back at the door one more time; even though it was pitch dark now in the closet and turned to move towards his huddled family. Suddenly, there was a great sound, as if all the noises of the world were mashed into one screeching roaring moment. At the same time, the house lurched throwing Jaime back against the door.
He looked up, still on his feet and his mouth fell open. There was light above. He could see, right up through the ceiling. The swirling monster above his head took his breath away in a ragged gasp riveting Jaime in place. Just as suddenly as he glanced upward, he was lashed by the wind and rain from above. As he watched rapt, the roof above his family was peeled back as if by some great malevolent hand and disappeared into the gloom.
The house bucked again as the roofline to his right lifted and fell, causing the house to pitch and sway again and great chunks of wood, of his house, to fly over him. The structure of the house to his left twisted and as if attempting to break free and escape.
Jaime almost ducked as a rafter dipped down and smoothly lifted him bodily up over the door and out of the house. He didn’t even have time to scream. Kristy looked up from the pile of children that she lay upon. When she couldn’t see Jaime, she screamed his name, once, then again, then over and over. Eventually, she hunkered down to try to protect the girls as best she could, her wails of fear and horror mixed with those of her children as that lay beneath her. The wind and rain and horrible, horrible bass roaring sound seemed to go on forever.
Eventually, though Kristy had no idea how much time had passed, the roaring stopped or lessened, but the wind continued to blow in great gusts and gales as Jewel made her lumbering way over the house. A wall had fallen and tilted over her small family offering some shelter, but the horror of exposure to one of the purest forms of the wrath of nature continued unabated.
Sometime later, the wind eased up, not subsiding, but lessening. Strong arms gripped Kristy and lifted her limp body up. She released her girls, but wouldn’t look into the eyes of her rescuer; she was too spent, too emotionally broken to even look up. A gentle hand cupped her chin and raised her face.
Kristy gasped as she stared into the bruised and battered but oh so wonderful face of Jaime, her rescuer, her provider, her one true love. She grabbed him and squeezed with all her might. Kristy looked up again into the eyes of her husband. She said nothing; words wouldn’t come to her, they didn’t exist. At that moment, nothing that she could have said would have been adequate, so she just stared up into his bright hazel eyes.
The four girls were up now hugging on both Jaime and Kristy weeping openly. Kristy looked back up at Jaime as he was speaking to the girls, seemingly one at a time. He was telling them each not to be afraid, that the wind just lifted daddy up and put him in a tree. Despite everything they had just gone through, Kristy smiled. She could just begin to picture the beginnings of a story that if the good lord willed, would be passed down to the grandkids from the horse’s mouth himself. Just hours after the event, the great tale of the night daddy rode the wind had begun to be woven. With Jaime’s silken tongue and his propensity for making tall tales taller, this story had the makings of turning into a real doozy.
Kristy smiled wider and rubbed at the side of her wind burned face and said a silent prayer for thanks. The Cavalier’s had just lost their house, but home was and is most definitely where the heart is. And as Kristy gazed at her battered but not broken family, she realized that her heart had five parts and each was standing within arms reach. Yes, the Cavalier’s had just lost a house, but without a doubt they still had a home. That home would be where ever the six of them were…together. The Cavalier’s were going to be just fine.
Hell Hath No Fury
By: Scott Roche
Mike looked through the bubble window the of the X-5400 to the surface of the earth far below. He couldn’t get over how unreal it all was. Even with a couple of hundred hours logged in the single man spacecraft, seeing the curvature of the Earth and the natural and man made features visible at over a hundred kilometers in the air gave him a thrill.
At this altitude he could make out what was left of the southern half of California, even through the pall of smoke. The ocean was broken up by a series of volcanoes called the Pleiades. the “seven sisters” started near where Los Angeles used to be and marched south and east from there.
“Begin recording.” The vocalization wasn’t really necessary. All of the Schmoo’s controls were thought activated. Named for a amorphous, white cartoon character thanks to it’s own bulbous shape, the 5400 was packed with all sorts of cutting edge gadgetry. He didn’t understand half of it, but he could fly the thing and he had the “right stuff” at least according to the Toyota-Dell collective. The mega-corp was paying his considerable salary, so he wasn’t going to second guess them, but he thought having a chip head along on the flight would have been nice. Like early twenty-first century deep sea research vehicles though, these ultra high altitude air craft didn’t have the room.
Holographic readouts, most of which he did understand, begin spitting out images and numbers. He payed some attention to them, but relied on the system to warn him if anything truly remarkable came up. His primary mission this go around had nothing to do with the Pleiades directly, but ever since they cropped up twenty years ago, they were under constant scrutiny from a number of interested parties. Losing most of one of the largest and most populous states in the union of fifty-four had that effect.
“Bring up weather.” He thought the new readout in place, moving the other screens to one side. The clouds that he could see with the naked eye where overlaid with data about conditions inside them and air currents he couldn’t see were brought into relief. He focused his attention on what he was here to look at. The super typhoon that was headed for the coast was the biggest on record. The monster covered ten degrees of latitude and according to the information currently pulled up had sustained winds that were topping a hundred and sixty miles an hour.
The white coats convinced the power that be, that experimenting on this thing would be in the country’s best interests. The number of these sorts of storms, whether you called them cyclones, hurricanes, or typhoons, had tripled in the last decade. None of them had been this big, though every year seemed to bring a record breaker somewhere in the world. That had given them both the motive and opportunity to resurrect Project Stormfury, attempting to dissipate or reduce the effects of these storms before they made landfall. When the Joint Typhoon Warning Center picked up the formation of this one, called the Jade Dragon, they decided that it would make the first vitally important field test. If their efforts didn’t succeed then the Dragon would shred the coastline, what was left of it. The greatest concern wasn’t even the population, since most folks had moved east, but the scientific installations that were a vital part of keeping an eye on the Sisters. If it made landfall at its current strength then the damage could run into the trillions of dollars.
He picked out the spot where he’d perform the insertion and began slowly heading in that direction. His payload of chemicals would seedthe clouds, dropping the temperature of the eye wall and reducing the storm’s strength and diverting it. They couldn’t kill it completely, at least not yet, but this should do the trick. This was Mike’s third such mission and he was confident that he could nail the insertion. Flying the Schmoo as close to a monster like this as he was go to have to required a greater level of confidence than any sane person should have, but those that knew him didn’t give him much credit in the sanity department.
“X5400 you’re to divert your course. Pull off and abort your mission.” The feminine voice had an edge to it, barking at him out of the speakers near his head. It surprised him because it wasn’t one he recognized and no stranger should be able to get on his encoded channel.
“Who is this and by who’s authorization are you advising me to abort?” His puzzlement had a tinge of annoyance to it. He wasn’t angry yet, but if someone was playing with him they’d come to regret it.
“We are Mother Nature and you will stand down.”
Mike swore in his head. The capital letters were audible. Mother Nature was one of those extreme environmental groups directly descended from Greenpeace and the like. The scuttlebutt was that they had interfered on a small scale with earlier seeding attempts and they were against any attempts to modify or even monitor the increasingly drastic climatological changes that were happening. “I will not.”
Warning klaxons sounded and telltales flashed on his readout. Sensors indicated that four other vehicles were suddenly in his air space. They were Albatrosses, civilian craft based on the design for some of the early extreme altitude aircraft. No legitimate transponder information was being transmitted, each only identified by the call sign “Mutha” one through four.
“You will, or we will damage your craft.”
They would do that, it was no empty threat. He had known pilots and sailors that lost their ships thanks to this group. One he knew of had even lost their life. The ships might be armed or they might have other tricks up their sleeves. The Schmoo was faster than the civilian craft, if they were stock, and he was more maneuverable and a better pilot more than likely. They had the jump on him though. Better to try reasoning with them.
“Look Mutha One, I can’t just abort on your say so. I need to call down to control and get the okay. If I tell them what’s going on thy’ll probably okay the wave off.” That was mostly true. He had no desire to do any such thing though.
“Negative, negative.” The speaker crackled again. “We’ve disabled your communications and you will adjust your course to the landing coordinates we give you. If you don’t then things won’t go well for you.”
A quick check revealed that he was indeed unable to reach out. He wasn’t enough of a chip head to know what they did to him. He was smart enough to know that if they could do that then there were other things they could do to make that promise stick. Coordinates came up on his screen. It was a place on the Bering Land Bridge. Seismic activity had reestablished the connection between Russia and Alaska and it was a notorious hideout for pirates of all kinds. If he landed this ship with its expensive cargo there it would disappear into the underground.
If, and it was a big if, he came out of that place alive, he knew he’d never have a job again. The mega-corps hired men like him because they could handle themselves in even the wildest of situations. If he just went belly up or lost company property he’d be a pariah.
“Adjusting coordinates.” He plugged them in, but also thought hard, concentrating on the series of maneuvers he wanted to execute next. There was no way he was going down without a fight. His fingers itched for a control stick to yank on and pedals for his feet. He also wished for a real gun, but part of being a good pilot was the ability to adapt and improvise.
The altimeter quickly ticked down. They wouldn’t hit proper atmosphere for dozens of kilometers yet. There was nothing much he could do until then. He know the Albatross and it’s limitations and he knew the Schmoo and its advantages. The good thing was, he was one of the few people who knew both. Until they hit real air though, none of that mattered.
“So look Mutha One.” His inner twelve year old giggled. “What’s this all about?” He didn’t really care, but anything to pass the time.
“We know what you’re trying to do here. We also know that if you do it, whether you’re ‘successful’ or not, it’s a perversion. It’s our goal to stop any such acts where we’re able to.”
He nearly sighed into the receiver. It was hard to deal with people who thought in terms of something being a ‘perversion’. In addition to not being a chip head he also wasn’t a psychoanalyst or particularly religious and these greenies were as fanatical as any believer and some seemed just plain nuts. “Stopping me won’t stop the ‘perversion’. They’ll just send up another stick jockey to take care of business.”
“That isn’t true. We know that yours is the only ship capable of carrying out this particular mission at least in the window that they have open. The Jade Dragon will consume the monitoring stations and that will set back any opportunity to further manipulate the Earth Mother’s body for a time.”
He fought to keep himself from laughing. He didn’t have to fight too hard though. These folks were serious and this was no game. Still their party line was almost laughable. “And in the meantime I lose my job.”
“Better your job than your life. Better still your job than the lives of others.”
That caught him up short. “Just what do you mean by that?”
“Our prediction is that if you succeed in your mission you will redirect the Dragon away from the west coast of the United States where it will hurt few if any people, destroying only some equipment and hampering the study of the Pleiades.”
“And what’s wrong with that?”
“According to our predictions the Dragon will be stalled out for a day, perhaps two and then it will strengthen and change course for Central America. There the storm will wipe out a significant portion of the population.”
He thought about that. It didn’t seem likely that the people in charge of this would be willing to risk that. Then again, he knew his share of white coats that cared more for their machines than they did the people they were supposed to be protecting. Still, they were people too and he had a job to do. “How is it that your data is so much better than the predictions that Toyota-Dell came up with?”
“We’re using the same data and in fact our predictions are concurrent with theirs. We hacked their system a long time ago and have been watching it. Both our model and theirs predict between a seventy and seventy-five percent chance of landfall in Mexico. There is a chance that it will simply spin out and that you will truly succeed. Ultimately, either way, the stations along the fault lines will be untouched. Come with us and you will be safe, as will the citizens of Mexico. Don’t and we’ll be forced to damage your ship, likely killing you.” The woman’s words were colder than the air outside.
He saw that they had indeed hit the true atmosphere. Should he risk it? If what they said was true then the people he worked for were just as maniacal about their beliefs as these greenies. It was all about the science. Of course hopefully they would use that science for the betterment of the planet, but at what cost? Maybe he could go with them, join them.
Ultimately it came down to his paycheck though. He wanted his job and everything that went with it. Go along peacefully for whatever motive and all that was gone. He exestued the commands that were already programmed into his console. The changes that came over his ship were phenomenal. Wings extruded from its surface. Air intakes grew as though a mouth were yawning. The metamorphosis turned the 5400 from an orbital platform into a serious airplane. Every time he witnessed it, he was amazed. He had no idea how it held together under the strain, but hold together it did.
With the sudden added maneuverability, he was able to pull away and bank down. The Albatrosses, no match for the suddenly airworthy vehicle were left in the dust. The green blips on his readout were left in his proverbial dust. He kept his eyes open for any other ships, just in case they had support.
It was then that he heard Mutha One’s voice come from his console. “You made your choice.” There was a sudden flash of light and the roar that followed was head splitting. After that there was nothing but darkness.
Mike opened his eyes. The smell of hospital filled his head. Even in the midst of the twenty-first century the smell really hadn’t changed.
“Ah, you’re awake.”
The voice of Jennifer Chow was one that he recognized readily enough. He sat up slowly. “Jen. Where am I?”
The attractive and primly dressed women stood near his bed, a tower of strength. No concern marred her features. “Honolulu. We rushed you to the nearest hospital as soon as your capsule was recovered. You were … pretty banged up.”
He felt well enough. Looking down at his hands and the body enshrouded in a blanket, nothing seemed amiss.
As if anticipating his next question, she went on. “There was a malfunction in the 5400’s systems. Thankfully the automated eject feature worked when it lost hull integrity. We weren’t able to recover the mission data past a certain point, about an hour before it went dark. What happened?”
He shrugged his shoulders. If they didn’t know about the hijacking, he’d play dumb for now. “Like you said, must have been a malfunction. The last thing I remember was heading down for the drop. How long have I been out?”
She sat on the edge of the bed. “About two weeks…”
“Two weeks?” He sat up straight and looked at the holo at the foot of the bed. The date there confirmed her words. “The storm, the mission, what happened?”
A reassuring pat on his shoulder didn’t have the intended effect. “We were able to scramble a back up unit. They were able to drop the payload. Unfortunately things didn’t go quite the way we hoped.”
The bottom of his stomach dropped out. He recalled Mutha One’s predictions. Setting aside his lengthy recuperation for the moment, he pressed. “What happened?”
The bed didn’t shift as she stood and walked to the window. “The storm faltered. At first we thought everything went as we had intended, but after twenty hours the storm strengthened and looped around towards Mexico.” There was a catch in her voice. “They’re saying that the death toll is in the mid six figures at this point.”
He had nothing to say. Mutha One had been spot on in her predictions. If she were right about that, then what else had she been right about? His brain was a turmoil of emotions. He had been spared pulling the trigger on a half million people. Toyota-Dell had their precious science stations. The only thing he was certain of was that he’d be dissolving his relationship with the mega-corp and taking a trip north as soon as he was physically able. The coordinates to the Bering straight burned bright in his mind.
By: Val Griswold-Ford
It was the absence of sound that woke her.
When Brianna had come down to the lake, her fishing pole over her shoulder and the small soft cooler bumping against her right hip, the entire area had been alive with noise. Birds called to one another from the apple trees that edged the small cove, trying to entice their mates with flowing bits of song that made her smile. The trees themselves wore their spring best, lovely white flowers that shivered in the warm breeze, scenting the air with their sweet fragrance. And the landlords across the lake had added a waterfall last fall to the small river on their side: it burbled and splashed merrily, a sparkling undercurrent of sound to the birdsongs. Brianna had kicked off her shoes and stood on the sand, taking slow, deep breaths of free air, trying not to aggravate her bruised ribs as she savored the peacefulness of the cove.
She needed the peace. Badly.
It hadn’t taken her long to set up: pole propped on a convenient forked stick she’d found on the walk in, brightly colored bobber floating in the water, can of Mountain Dew cracked open beside her as she lazed back on the warm sand. It had been a long, cold winter, and Brianna was determined to enjoy her first day off in a long while.
Alone. Without Joe.
Even basking in the brilliant sunshine, her skin had prickled and she’d shivered a little when his name had crossed her mind. Stupid, of course. Joe loved her.
He loved her. Then again, they’d always loved her. That was, after all, part of the problem.
She’d put those thoughts aside and concentrated on enjoying the day, tired though she was. Which had meant, of course, that the warm sun and birdsong had lulled her into a drowsy half-sleep quickly.
Now, though, she sat up, suddenly aware that the sun was gone, hidden by grey clouds that had boiled up out of no where. The birds were silent, huddled among the apple blossoms in their nests, waiting for the rain that they could all smell on the still air. Brianna took another deep breath, feeling her chest tighten, feeling the burn as her ribs protested, and decided that rain, even late April rain, wasn’t going to cut her day short.
“I’m going out to the cove,” she’d said, and Joe had smiled.
“Come straight home when you’re fished out,” he’d said. “I’ve got a surprise planned.”
Brianna wondered if it would be one of his good surprises. She hadn’t been able to tell, and she wasn’t yet recovered from the last surprise. But there was always hope – it had been a good week for him at work, and he’d seemed chipper enough when she’d left. Maybe it wouldn’t leave marks this time.
She leaned back on her elbows and regarded her toes somberly. It was time to be moving on, really, but she hadn’t figured out how to tell Joe that yet. He’d pitch a fit, of course, but it couldn’t be helped. Brianna needed to be away from here – it was all getting too familiar, too easy, and she couldn’t live like that. She needed adventure. Needed new things, new people, new sensations.
Not that she wouldn’t miss Joe, of course. Even if he did leave bruises and cuts when he was angry. Brianna could live with that, she supposed – she had for nearly three years, after all. But she’d never stayed in one place more than four years, and by then, she’d been crawling out of her own skin to get away. She’d loved that small town in Texas, loved Michael with all her heart, or so she’d thought. But she hadn’t been able to stay. Her feet itched far too much, and there was always Brendan, calling to her. And he’d been calling lately – she’d felt it in her blood, the deep rumble of his presence. Despite everything, she couldn’t ignore him, any more than he could ignore her. And if Michael hadn’t been able to hold her, keep her from returning to Brendan, then Joe definitely wouldn’t.
“I should leave from here.”
Her voice broke the stillness, rippling across the water and splashing gently on the farthest banks. This, this she would miss most. Not Joe and his painful love. Not the small cafe where she bused tables and chatted with grandmothers and would-be bestsellers. Not even the little cottage she’d lived in, with Joe and his beagle. But here, at the cove, where she fished.
The more she thought about it, the more Brianna realized that yes, leaving from the cove was her best option. There was nothing in the cottage she would miss. Brianna believed in traveling light – sometimes, even memories weighed too much.
The first drops of rain hit the gently rolling surface of the lake, each drop a distinct sound. She raised her face up to the sky as it let go, water falling faster and faster around her, drenching her. Underneath the steady downpour, Brianna could faintly hear the twittering of the birds as they complained from their nests. No complaints from her, though – Brianna loved a good rainstorm.
She stood and stretched slowly, feeling her body ache in response. Last weekend, Joe had been in one of his moods, angry at the world, and her skin had been the canvas upon which he painted his revenge. For the last time, although neither of them had known it at that point. Brianna wouldn’t miss the beatings, but she would miss his guilt; he was always so tender afterwards, caring for her, easing the pain. She would miss his kisses. For a while, anyways, until she found someone else.
There was always someone else.
Her clothes hung wet and heavy; Brianna frowned and then looked to the far shore. Occasionally, there were picnickers that camped there, but it was early in the season yet and the area was empty, as far as she could tell. The rain was steady but not blinding, a determined rain, but not a harsh one. And she was alone.
Brianna pulled her tee shirt over her head and dropped it on the sand, then shimmied out of her jeans and kicked them over with the shirt. Her bra followed, and then her underwear. She stood on the beach, a bare goddess, letting the rain wash her sins and her memories away.
She turned slowly, her dark eyes wide in surprise. There had been no one else there. No one. And yet, she’d clearly heard her name. Thunder rumbled, off in the distance, low and deep. Had he found her already?
“Who’s there?” It came out slightly high and squeaky, as one hand came up to cover her breasts, but other than a slow, creeping fog by the waterfall, there was nothing she hadn’t seen earlier. “Come out where I can see you.” Had he found her again?
Nothing moved for a moment, and the only sounds were the rain and her own breathing. Then thunder rumbled again, and she heard again in the aftermath, “Brianna.”
No, not Brendan, she decided, the cool rain drummed insistently on her wet skin. But definitely male – and familiar.
Her lips pulled back in an unconscious snarl as she glared in the direction the voice had come from – the apple trees she’d walked by earlier. “Get out here now!” she shouted, fear melting into anger as she waited for Joe to appear. When he didn’t, Brianna dropped her hands to her sides and stamped one bare foot angrily. “Dammit, Joe, stop playing around and get out here!”
Still no one appeared. Thunder crashed, a bit louder than before, and the rain picked up a bit harder, beating the surface of the small lake with large drops. Brianna clenched her fists. “Get out here NOW!” Lightning crackled on her final word, as if emphasizing her anger.
One of the trees began to shiver, shedding white petals like a flower girl in June, and there was a dull thud as Joe slid into view, a slightly sheepish grin on his face. “Hey, Bri, nice outfit.”
She crossed her arms over her chest and snorted. “What are you doing here?”
“I wanted to see you. I missed you.” He stepped onto the sand. “I wondered why you didn’t come home when it started to rain.”
“It just started to rain,” she said. “And you didn’t just show up. Why did you have to come here? This is my one place to myself! Why did you have to come and ruin it, when I won’t be coming back anymore?”
He blinked, obviously surprised at her reaction. “I…uh, what?”
“This is my last day here, Joe! And you had to spoil it!” Anger was turning to rage – how dare he invade her territory? Lightning sparked again, closer this time, and she could smell the ozone in the air. The boom of the thunder was barely a minute behind the flash. Brianna wondered if the sky was darkening – how late was it? Too late, she realized. Too late for both of them.
“What do you mean, your last day here?” Joe stepped forward again, frowning. “Where are you going?”
Brianna glowered at him, refusing to back up even as she saw the anger ignite in his blue eyes. “I’m leaving.” This wasn’t the way she’d wanted to do it, but he’d given her no choice.
“What?” The word burst from him. “Why?”
“Because it’s time for me to go, Joe.” Fury burned along her veins, lightning anger that threatened to burst through her skin as he continued towards her, encroaching further on her territory. “I can’t stay with you any longer.”
“And since when is that your call?” He was almost close enough to touch her, and she smelled ozone again. Brianna raised her chin.
“You don’t own me. I’ll come and go as I please.”
“No, you won’t.”
Joe grabbed her arms, hard, his fingers digging deep into her flesh, and she closed her eyes to avoid his furious gaze. Normally, when he got like this, Brianna went quiet, but that was at the cottage. Not here, with the thunder and lightning dancing around them and the rain now falling hard enough to hide the farther shore. She snarled at him again, an animalistic noise that ground its way up from her belly, and squirmed.
“Let me go!” She uncrossed her arms and threw them outwards in an attempt to break his hold, but Joe’s fingers simply tightened even further. “It’s over!”
“It’s not over until I say so!” he snapped, and those words echoed in her head, repeating louder and louder, mixing with the pouring rain until the sound threatened to drown her. The fire in her veins ran hotter and hotter – Brianna couldn’t hold it in any longer.
The smell of ozone surrounded her, followed by the loudest boom of thunder Brianna had ever heard. It vibrated through her as if part of the fire, and the ground shook. Joe’s hands tightened even more around her upper arms and she cried out, partly in surprise and partly in pain.
When the last rumblings of the thunder faded, she opened her eyes again. Joe still held her tightly, his eyes wide – not with anger, but with fear. Rain hissed when it hit his skin; smoke rose from him, and steam, and Brianna realized how very, very still he was.
“I thought you promised not to kill this one.”
She glared over Joe’s shoulder as Brendan stepped out from the tree, but there was love, not anger, warming her at the sight of him. “I thought you promised not to be late anymore.”
“It’s not like you sent out invitations, Bri. I had to find you when you didn’t answer my call.” His dark eyes twinkled at her. “Nice outfit.”
Brianna grinned, unable to resist him. “I’m glad you like it.” She nodded at Joe. “Help?”
Electricity danced along her skin as Brendan’s fingertips brushed against her. “Always.” She stood still as he peeled the dead man’s hands from her, waiting until he’d lain Joe down next to her abandoned fishing pole. “There,” he said finally, standing up and dusting wet sand from his hands. “Now they’ll think he was fishing, and got hit by lightning.”
“The truth,” Brianna agreed, twining an arm around Brendan’s waist and laying her head on his shoulder. “I was coming to find you, you know. After the storm.”
“I know you love a good storm,” Brendan said. “Shall we?”
She nodded, rubbing her cheek against his shirt. “Let’s.”
They walked out through the rain, lightning flickering over her skin and thunder booming with each of his footsteps, together again. At least, until she felt the urge to leave again.
She always left. Which was fine, since they both knew he would always follow her.
By: Jason A. Stevens
Daniel knew this was wrong. He’d known even before the residents of the nearby village had fallen gravely ill, many dying. Fascinating as the energy field was, no one could deny the connection between it and the natives. They could do amazing things, and when his superiors had noted the corresponding deficiency in the field (which itself had taken over a decade to detect), they wasted no time in taking strides to obtain similar powers for themselves. None even bothered to think of the obvious consequences their research might have.
As the research had commenced, only a generalized malaise had settled over the villagers. That first tentative boring into the earth towards the concentration of energy had yielded a wealth of data, but nothing of immediate use. Those in charge had demanded results quickly, missing the comforts of home and wanting to return to their pampered lives. As they had the ultimate authority over this expedition, they’d overruled the protests of the scientists and had brought in the heavy mining equipment, which had caused quite a stink with the established colonists at the perceived theft of their resources.
Only when the mining had begun in earnest had the villagers begun to suffer, their cries of dismay and agony long-lasting and loud. That was bad enough, but Daniel feared that relations between the established colonists and the natives, already strained, might soon be pushed past the breaking point. General Roth had no compunctions about gunning down the group of villagers resilient enough to march over, demanding they stop, and only the intervention of Daniel and a handful of the other researchers had stopped them from doing so. Even the Intergalactic Terran Confederacy wasn’t free of the cold, self-absorbed attitude so prevalent throughout the ages.
Most of the actual colonists shared Daniel’s way of thinking. They didn’t want to cause conflict, just wanted to coexist peacefully and learn about the unique properties of Phena in their own time. The leadership did have a few noteworthy breakthroughs, but in large part didn’t care to build partnerships with the natives. It wouldn’t surprise Daniel if their leadership soon fell. The treatment developed to protect the neural synapses from being confused by the unique energy signature prevalent on Phena could only get them so far. While it had allowed those sensitive to the field to remove the cumbersome biosuits, not everyone had needed it, and those who had received it lacked the perpetual state of wonderment those who hadn’t felt with each passing moment. Bitterness and resentment could make a potent brew. As a psychologist and anthropologist, Daniel knew that quite well.
With a sigh, he looked towards the monitor showing the gaping pit in the ground and the long mechanical shaft piecing ever deeper towards one of the planet’s many foci. Wrong, ugly, and unnatural. A number of cables led from the top of the drill to a specially designed containment unit, which showed little sign of storage. They’d already drilled so deep, and had nothing to show but numerous pieces of broken equipment. Those breakdowns had continued at an increasing rate the deeper they’d gotten, and they now faced a shortage of of parts.
The drill started again, and Daniel winced at the screech it made before pounding its way deeper. The noise grew ever more labored as black smoke started pouring from the top of the machine, and while all present knew to stay well back, it was only sheer luck that prevented Daniel’s friend from being impaled by a gear that had gone flying. Said gear now lay buried in the ground, only its top few teeth showing, almost half a mile from the borehole. Over the comlink Daniel heard his friend cursing in awe, and with good reason. This had been the most intense reaction yet.
Even so, Daniel knew General Roth wasn’t about to give up, especially when he noted that the storage unit had seen a brief spike of activity. Perhaps the drill had broken irrevocably, but the engineers had quite a bit of talent. He decided he didn’t want to be present for the drill’s last hurrah, especially given the migraine that had taken hold when the gear had blown free. Only worse could lie in wait, and General Roth surprised Daniel by granting his request for three days leave.
Daniel had no desire to question the decision, though, and headed off to the nearby village to put at least some distance between himself and what he felt sure to come. Maybe he could even convince the residents to retreat to safety. He, at least, had a decent relationship with them, as did his friend Frank, who Daniel was glad to see a short distance ahead of him. He called out and the two walked to the village together.
General Roth didn’t feel any sadness over letting the two cowardly men go. Neither provided an essential role to the operation at hand, and he knew that they wouldn’t try anything stupid to stop him. This operation had swelled to greater import than either of them knew. Communications with the ITC had grown virtually nonexistent, with little word reaching this remote outpost. What news did reach his ears was quite disconcerting. Rumors of rebellion and invasion. The loss of once-strong sections of their domain. The last direct communication had come over a year ago, and that had only contained the faintest trace of concern for the Confederacy’s well-being.
Since then, it seemed the Phena colonists had faded into obscurity, forgotten. The fleeting news they’d received had come from standard news channels, which out here had always been spotty at best. It appeared ever more certain that Roth would have to spend the rest of his years on this God-forsaken planet with its blasted energy field that interfered with the operation of their machinery. The locals could keep their ‘magic’ and shove it. Roth just wanted off this rock, which he’d been sweet-talked and deceived into coming to, where he’d been stuck for the past seventeen years.
So if he pushed harder than he should, so be it. Anger could drive a man, and Roth certainly wasn’t the kind to try and rein it in. He’d get home if it killed him, even if home no longer rested under the hand of the ITC. He watched the monitor, seeing the mechanics scuttling around, doing their best to repair the damage. He hit the comm.
“What’s the ETA on the repair?”
“The gear doesn’t seem to have taken much damage, but we lost more wiring.. Should have it up by sundown, sir!”
“See that you do.”
He ended the commlink and headed down to his quarters to wait for the evening. The storage unit had finally shown a spike of activity, and this next time, he’d push the drill past its limit if necessary. Just a number of hours to wait, then he’d finally breach this damned foci, and God willing, a way off this pathetic sphere.
When Daniel and Frank reached the village, they found it already nearly deserted. Given the migraine he still suffered, Daniel figured the last drilling must have hit the residents hard. They could hear the cries of those left behind in a number of houses, and those few they’d entered to investigate were in no condition to walk. The two of them gave what comforting words they could and proceeded onwards. At the edge of the village they came across a lone elderly man struggling along, obviously in great pain. Daniel recognized him.
The man glanced around before meeting Daniel’s gaze with eyes that clearly no longer saw. Just a day ago, Grean had possessed the benefit of sight, and even been quite spry for his age.
“Ah, young Daniel. And Frank, I assume? The breach occurs soon, then?”
Daniel nodded. “The reaction this time was strong.”
“Always probing what doesn’t need to be understood…like so long ago. Were there time, I would tell you the story.”
“You know we agree with you, Elder, but we really ought to be moving, get as far from the drill as we can.”
Ignoring Frank’s prodding, Grean continued. “Nature is not a mistress to trifle with. Have you not seen the fury of her wind tunnel, the anger of her floods? Her wrath is not something to seek willingly.” He cocked his head, turned towards Frank. “Not so far as you might think, Frank.”
“Shhh,” Grean placed a finger to his lips and closed his eyes, remaining motionless for nearly two minutes before opening his eyes and pointing towards the north. “Just about a league that direction should do, I would think. If the two of you would be so kind as to assist?”
Daniel and Frank shared a puzzled look, but took Grean at his word, lending him their arms and travelling the distance in short order. There didn’t seem anything special about where he’d stopped them, but after spinning in a slow circle, he nodded. He took a few deep breaths and then began moving his hands through the air, as if tying a giant, invisible knot. The actions were familiar, yet different from the way Daniel or Frank had seen the other natives enact their spells. Once Grean had finished, however, nothing happened, aside from leaving him visibly shaking. Still, he smirked and turned towards them.
“Hmmph. Not enough.” He held out his hands, palms open. “With your permission, might I borrow your links?”
“To the foci, of course, young Daniel.”
“But you can’t use our magic? Nonsense, Frank. I can tell the two of you haven’t been deadened or Separated.”
He bounced his waiting palms again, and each of the two men gripped one. Almost immediately, their vision blurred and they fell to their knees, suddenly unable to remain standing. Grean, meanwhile, had straightened and maintained his grip on their hands as he thrust them forwards with a great cry. They both felt a rush of euphoria, which was followed by a bright light, and then both sensations were gone and Grean released their hands. A few blinks brought back their vision, though both felt immensely exhausted. Grean, on the other hand, appeared restored to his usual spry self, eyes unclouded once more.
“That’s more like it, such a strong link. I thank you for your strength,” To this, Frank muttered a number of unkind words under his breath, to which Grean merely laughed good-naturedly. “You’ll be fine, exhaustion is normal after the expenditure of magic.”
Daniel smirked and looked around in surprise at their surroundings, which had changed drastically. Rather than being on the open plain, they were now in a large cavern, the rock of which seemed unnaturally polished. The other villagers had begun to gather around them as well.
“Elder, will there be others?”
Grean cast his eyes downward. “They were too weakened to leave the confines of the village. We will ride out the storm as best we can, protected from the reactions of the foci by the escud rock contained within the walls, with our friends from the outside, Daniel and Frank.”
“This certainly beats the atmosphere of the barracks, eh Daniel?”
The hours had seemed interminable to General Roth, but the engineers finally reported that they’d completed the drill repairs. Now he stood smiling coldly at the controls, closing his eyes and visualizing his will imposed upon the troublesome field. The engineers had stressed that any further damage would be irreparable, but Roth had no intention of stopping until the foci was pierced. To that end, he’d ordered a number of soldiers into heavy armor and sent them out to make sure nothing came undone until they reached their goal. Those he’d sent had gone willingly; they shared his eagerness to return home, even if they remained unaware of the ITC’s predicament.
Time to begin. Roth initiated the startup procedure and slowly brought the drill to life. It wouldn’t do to break it before it could do its job. He acknowledged the reports coming though the comm from his men, who reported that all remained stable, and shifted to the controls that drove the drill ever deeper. Almost immediately, warnings populated the panels, but a simple voice command dismissed them. Over the monitor, he could see the machinery shaking, smoke beginning to issue from numerous joints. He could also see his men moving around and stabilizing or sealing the troublesome areas. The engineers must have been livid at what the actions were doing to the equipment, but this was Roth’s project now.
He increased the power to maximum, and the terrible screeching from before resumed, louder even than earlier. There remained no activity on the containment unit. Roth cursed. The drill was going to blow again and he’d have nothing to show for it.
He focused his attention on the monitor, fully expecting to witness the drill’s self-destruction. The screeching continued, but the numbers on the screen grew: fifty feet, seventy-five, more progress than they’d made all week. It couldn’t have shifted off-target, as the foci simply occupied too much space.
The progress continued until the drill reached a hundred and twenty, at which point the containment unit’s sensors detected a surge of energy. Roth allowed himself a fist pump and then input the command to terminate the boring, but the energy surge continued unabated. He keyed in the sequence again, but as he did so, the terminals darkened. Their facility’s lights followed soon thereafter, and he dashed outside, grabbing a pair of binoculars as he went.
Looking down from his vantage point through the binoculars, it was clear that while the drill still ran, it did so with a power source other than that it should. A glow surrounded the entire apparatus, and even as Roth watched, the anchors holding it in place ripped free and it sank into the hole. His men had anchored themselves to the exposed rock face as far from the borehole as possible, but he watched as one by one, their equipment gave way and they found themselves sucked in as well. Soon, all that remained in sight was the gaping borehole, with no trace of the drill or men.
In the absence of the drill, an unnatural silence descended over the area. It was soon broken by cries of mayday over his personal comm, but Roth just stared in shock at the empty expanse below. The cries grew more intense as Roth’s skin began to prickle and then turn to outright gooseflesh. He shook his head and raised the comm to his lips to respond, but before he could, he found himself thrown backwards as if from an explosion, though no heat or visual stimuli accompanied the blast.
When he regained his feet, the comm gave only static, and walking back up to the ridge, he could see electricity dancing from the ground around the borehole to the sky, though not a single cloud resided there at the moment. What did, though, was a looming dark shape that Roth quickly recognized as their orbiting support ship, now sadly crippled and being brought down towards the borehole.
The descent appeared stately, but to Roth’s trained eye, he could tell it was anything but. Among his last thoughts were of the archival cartoons of Old Earth, notably the coyote who found himself suspended in air, holding a sign pleading for help as the bird laughed and ran away.
The impact itself lacked any sort of splendor, though had any scientists witnessed it, they would have found that same dullness fascinating. The plume of dust, dirt, and debris did not go as high as it should have, nor did it spread beyond a very small radius. In fact, it seemed drawn back towards the borehole even as the ship forced itself further into the ground. Even that action stood in opposition to expectation, as the ship’s momentum had slowed quicker than it should have, stopped, and then resumed its motion deeper into the ground, pulled inexorably inward by the foci.
While the foci may have dulled the visible effects of the ship’s fall, those effects not directly visible found themselves amplified considerably. Earthquakes shook the land for miles around, devastating numerous villages and causing significant damage in others far removed from the borehole, thanks to the very structure of the field of such interest to the late General Roth. Volcanoes that had long lay dormant burst to vibrant, destructive life, raining lava and ash. Tsunamis formed at sea, wreaking havoc along coastlines.
The damage did not limit itself to that of a geologic nature, either. Birds in flight plummeted to the ground; animals appeared to lose their senses, running confused into clearly visible obstacles. Most people found themselves violently ill at best, though many perished as a result of the foci’s reaction to the drill’s incursion.
When the turmoil ceased, only 200 feet of the ship’s more than 1000 remained above the ground, the magical field for two miles in all directions completely obliterated, only returning to full strength twenty-some miles from the epicenter. The smaller animals recovered quickly, and it was the native Phenans who took longest to return to their previous quality of life. Those lucky enough to have the shielding of naturally occurring escud or those who had retreated to its shelter were largely spared ill-effects. Many found themselves in leadership roles in the months that followed, doing their best to guide those affected through their hardship, and most did an admirable job.
Relations between the natives and the ITC colonists, however, soured quickly, and each group withdrew into themselves, fostering animosities that continued even after the ITC had been forgotten, hundreds of years later. Only the conflict remained, with nothing but a distorted and vague history remaining to back up the senseless animosity.
Nature’s wrath personified.
Feedback by Jason A. Stevens is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Every Snowflake is Unique
By: Jeppe Holm
To Peters dismay it had starting snowing again. Cursing under his breath at the snow and the wind that blew it into his face, he starting walking towards Muhammeds pizzeria. A couple of kids where playing in the snow. Two boys where placing a carrot nose on their snowman and a small girl was catching snowflakes on her tongue. Reaching the pizzeria Peter ducked inside, brushing the snow from his leather jacket. “Hi Muhammed, I ordered a Capricciosa pizza, is it done?” Muhammed looked up and said, “Yep.” He took the pizza from the top of the oven and placed in on the counter. “That will be 55kr.” While waiting for the credit card to process his payment Peter asked, “Can you believe all the snow we are getting this year. Spring can’t come soon enough.” Muhammed answered, “I like the cold, it’s a nice change when leaving the hot oven after work.” Opening the door Peter said, “To each his own, see you next time.” He started his short trek home enjoying the warm feel of the pizza on his hands and the smell of the sauce in his nose. Halfway home the small girl, still catching snowflakes, was blocking his path. She smiled up at him and said, “Hi mister, did you know that every snowflake is unique?” Peter scoffed at her and said “They all look the same to me; small, white and wet.” Peter sidestepped the girl and continued home. While fumbling with his key, Peter was hit on the head by a 560 pound snowflake. Next days paper read: “World record snowflake kills local man!”
By: Jeff Hite
Nature stood her arms to her sides on the edge of the field and waited. This was the third time in a month she had been called to the field and she was getting pretty darn tired of it. It was not like she had all the time in the world. She really did have things to do, papers to write and articles that her couluges were begging her to read and get back to them about. It seemed unfair that she had to keep coming out here.
“Ah my dear you have come back.”
“Of course I came back you moron, you didn’t give me a lot of options.”
“Well that is the way the ball bounces isn’t?”
“If you say so, look could we get on with this, I have a lot of work to do and, if you don’t mind would you quit calling me, my dear. I don’t really like it.”
“What ever you say Nature, but I refuse to call you mother.” The dark little man spat the last word out with enough bile to make a grown man rectch at the sound.
“That is fine with me. I would not claim you even if you were my child. Now, shall we.”
“Of course, of course my dear, I mean Nature. here is what I want.”
“Wait on darn second, you are assuming that I will lose, and putting demands on the table even before we begin. I don’t think so.”
“But my, I mean Nature, I want you to have all of the facts before we begin. I don’t want you to go into this without knowing what is going to happen if you loose, and you will My dear, you will.”
“I told you about the my dear garbage, lets just get on with it. I have won you last few challenges, What makes you think that I am going to lose this one.”
“True you have won the last few, but before that there were so so many shall we say bitter sweet endings.”
“Alright, I get your point, I don’t always win. What is it that you want this time?”
“Come closer and I will tell you.”
The idea of getting closer to the little man made her sick to her stomach, but she also knew that if she didn’t play his game the way he wanted, he would find some way to cheat and make this contest completely unfair. She could not handle another loss, not right now, not with her project so close to being ready.
“This is what I want,” he said leaning in to whisper into his ear.
“You have got to be kidding me. There is no way I am going to risk all that. You give me nothing, no mater if I win or loose your stupid little challenges. This is totally unfair.” His shrug said it all, but he felt it necessary to say what was on his mind anyway.
“Life is what it is my dear Nature, it is not fair, and has never pretented to be. You do what I say that you must or you will lose everything anyway.”
“This just sucks.” She kicked at the ground in a childish gesture.
“Now now, we mustn’t be hasty. And this time I have brought you something if you should win the contest. It was quite difficult for me to find, but I think you will like it.” From the folds of his cloak he pulled a small box. The box was about the size and shape of a shoe box, but it had holes along the side, just big enough for whatever was inside to breath, but not enough for it to been seen or escape. The creature inside released a deafening scream, and rattled around in the box, nearly shaking it our of the old man’s hands.
“What is it?”
“It is called a human, and I have never seen one before. I have seen the concepts, the apes and the monkeys but this one is quite different. I think it will go very well in your little project.”
“Can I see it.”
“Oh I think that we will wait until the end. Even if you loose, I might give you a little peek. Maybe it will make you more interested in playing our little games in the future, if you knew what the reward was going to be.”
“Alright, alright enough of this. I really am busy today. I don’t have time to.” She cut herself off, before she could finish. The Human was just what she needed to finish her porject, and all of her attempts at making anything like it had failed miserablly. She needed this human. “Let’s just get on with it. What is the game this time?” She finished.
“I have a simple game for you this time. I want you to use your powers, and not your body to move some object around for me. If you can do everything that I ask, you will get the human, if you fail, you will give me what I want.”
“OKay, what do you want me to move?”
“This is a progressive game, and it ends when you have moved the 10 objects that I have choosen.” That usually meant that this was a test to see how strong she was and that she was going to loose, because, even though he said he had alrady choosen the objects, it was more than likely that he would pick them as they went a long. It didn’t matter, she had been working on her skills lately and she would surprise him. The strength had grown a lot in the last few months.
“OK what’s first?”
“First I want you to move the rocks over there. Don’t touch them, but you have to move them at least twice their length.” This was going to be easier than she thought. If he was starting off this easy. She waved two of her fingers in the air and a small rain storm began right over the rocks. The water feel so quickly that it washed away the soil underneath and, the rocks tumbuled end over end down the side of the hill.
“That was pretty well done, Nature. You may win this challenge after all.” This made Nature even more nervous then she already was. If there was one thing about the little man, it was that he very rarely meant what he said.
“Very good, I believe that we are ready to move to the next, one. You need to return all of the water that you just used to moved those boulders to the sky.”
“that should be easy enough,” she said smiling her best smile, though she carefully watched the old man. With a wave of her hand the clouds in the sky dissappeared, and the sun came out quickly drying out the water, return it to the sky.
The challenege continued in this manner until it they reached the last challenge.
“You have done well my dear, and you have improved greatly in your powers. You are very impressive indeed. He said licking his lips.”. This last challenge is going to be the hardest of all Nature, are you ready?”
“I don’t have much of a choice Death, you summoned me here, to play your game, you tell me I must give you dominion over one of my planets if I loose. You tell me you will give me man if I can comeplete your tasks. It is not like I can resist your summons.”. Without realizing it she had riased he hands above her and was shouting. “You have never given me a choice, you take and I have never known you to give and one anything.”. The screamed the last word bring her hands down in fists.
Great streaks of lighting Criscrossed the sky, hail fell all around them and the earth beneath them shook.
“Well my dear it appears that the saying is true, there is no furry like a woman scorned.”
Nature lowered her hands and attempted to control the tremors in the earth before the got out of control. The storms she had created would quickly blow themselves out without her power to sustain them, since she had done nothing to prepare for them. He was right of course she was a power to contend with, there was no doubt about that. She had wielded power on all twelve of the planets in the system, and her anger had destroyed three of them. She had smashed two of them together, when she tried to move one in closer to the sun, because it’s rays were not strong enough to make it’s frozen layers of hydrocarbons melt and make an atmosphere. Now the there were only 9 planets, and one of them was so small that it could barely be called a planet, more of a dwarf. But, because of her mistakes she had learned. There were now two fields of astroids, that one day some creature would be able to explore, though she doubted that any of the one living on the two planets that currently held life would be those creatures, not unless there were some pretty drastic changes.
“Are you ready to begin my love?” Death asked, obiously growin impatient with her.
“Yes, I am ready, what is it you want me to do?”
“This one as I said will be very difficult. I do hope that you didn’t use to much of your strength on you little display of anger there.”
“Come on, lets get on it with.”
“Alright, Alright. What I want you to do it move, the largest planet in toward the sun and it’s rival Saturn out into it’s spot. I know that you tried this once before, and well the results were less than you had planned. But I think you have learned something from that. Didn’t you my love.”
“I am not your love!” She said stomping her foot, Death seemed to ignore the minor tremor seeming more interested in her reaction.
“Can you do it, or shall we call this one my victory?”
“Give me a moment while I look at the two planets.” She said not looking at death, not wanting him to see the fear that she knew showed in her eyes. Jupiter and Saturn were the two largest objects in the sky, next to Sol. She had never even attempted to move either one of them before, or anything even remotely their size. The two small planets that she had moved, she had accidently crossed thier gravitational fields and they had ripped each other apart. It had been scary. But these two were giants. If she shifted them at the wrong time, they could miss align Sol, and cause damage to all the life that was currently in the system. She might even unbalance Sol enough that it might even rip the whole system apart. She would have to be very very careful, and at the same time use all of her powers.
“Come now Nature, if you are not going refuse my challenge jsut say so.”
“I can do it. I need the planets to be in the right alignment otherwise I will destroy the whole system. We will have to wait…”
“You will move them into the allignments that you need. “
“But, that will take a lot more power. You have asked me to move moons and, oceans that mountains, and now you want me to move planets and I can’t even use their natural motions.”
“Oh I know, life is not fair not is it. You will move the planets where they need to be and then you will move them and thier moons.”
“And their moons? You are asking the impossible.”
“If you can’t do it, I can just take the planets away from you.”
“Fine, Fine I will do it.” She stood for a long time without moving, thinking about the planets and their systems. Trying to get a picture all of the bodies in her head. Trying to make sure that she forgot nothing. Then finally raising one hand and then the other she began to push. First the Pushed Saturn, further along it’s orbit, until it was on the oposite side of the system from Jupiter, and then she began to move it out to nearly the same orbit as Jupiter, using it’s own gravitational fields, to gently pull it’s moons along. She had to be careful and move things slowly to that the moons would not crash into each other. She was doing well and started to pull Juipter in toward Sol, She knew that the extra heat from the star would make the planet swell, in the same way that it was making Saturn shrink, only a little of course, but it was shrinking.
While she was thinking about it, it happened. two of the smaller inner moons of Saturn came to close to each other. They continued to Obrbit thier parent, but now they were orbiting each other in a death spiral. There was nothing she could do, not with trying to hold the two giants in place, and no jerk the star out of it’s orbit. All she could do was watch as they smashed into each other. There had never been the potential for life on either, but she was worried about the effect. The Dust cloud that resulted slowly spread out into a set of rings around the great planet. It would be a perment reminded to her mistake, if she didn’t destroy the rest of the system.
She gave one more small nudge and Saturn was in place, in the sixth orbit from the star. Now, she just needed to finish pulling Jupiter in toward the sun. She pulled on the giant slowly and felt her strength beging to wain. The Debris field that had been created when she tried to give Mars another couple of moons, from Saturn , had begun to drift in odd patterns, with no large body to keep them steady between Mars and her Blue neighbor. But As Jupiter Neared they began pleting the gaint. It would not matter, Jupiters thick Atmosphere, could handle the colisions, and if he picked up a few extra moons, so be it.
“Well done nature, but you might want to stablize the rest of the system before, somthing terrible happens.”
She turned her attention toward the inner planets, first fore their small size meant they could not handle as much abuse, but for two of them it was already too late. The smallest one, was already so close to the sun, than it would be forever a barren rock hot and lifeless. The other Venus, the twin to earth had also floated too close to the sun, and although it had not fallen far enough to burn off it’s atmosphere, it was now too close to ever beable to support life. It would suffer out of control climate change that would forever posion the planet. She watch for a moment more attempting to keep the tears from her eye before turning her attention to the third and fourth planets and beyond. He noticed then that the forth planet was slowly drifting out away from her star. It was heart wrenching to see it, slowly freezing as the temperature dropped. The life that had been on the planet she knew would die. This time she had not only destroyed a planet, she had ended all life on it. This time the tears would not stay away, and they ran down her face as she watched the lives on the planet freeze to death.
“You still have your project planet. Earth is still where it belongs.” Death said a wicked smile on his face. “You have completed my challenge after all. I did not think that you could do it. I will honor my word.” He pulled the box out of his robes and placed it at her feed. “This is a great day for you. You will be able to complete your project now. Don’t you think.”
She did not answer, she could not. Her heart was breaking. She had done what he ask but she had been tricked as normal. Death had known that if she tried to move the outer planets that she would effect the inner ones. She would destroy three planets making them unsuitable for life.
“I think I will leave you alone for a while, as you seem to need some time alone.” He said laughing and shuffling away.
She watched him go, for a while before she even moved. When she did it was quick. She brought her hands down on the ground so fast she could not see even see them move, and they split the Earth before her sending a large crack chasing after death. Moments later a huge casam opened below his feet and he disappeared from view. Then with both hands she pulled the crack back together, trapping him inside.
She knew it would kill him because, for death there was no death, but it would take him a long time to get out. She had shown him the limits of her strength, not he would understand the depths of her wrath.