Bonus: Louis; PhD, MD, Custodial Artist

Louis; PhD, MD, Custodial Artist.

A couple of soon-to-be new parents, the woman in labor, stumbled past Louis (That’s lew-iss but it’s okay, a lot of people get it wrong) as he stepped from Wayside hospital. They begged his pardon, slipped and slid past for the doors in the cold snow. Louis was scared the mother would fall butt-first up the icy steps, so “elsewhere” was her attention focused. As large as her belly was, she’d have taken her poor husband along with her for the trip. Louis even suspected, that if she fell just right, the baby would’ve popped right out of her, slid down the icy steps into the heel of his boot.

Fortunately for all parties, she kept her balance, left a trail of foggy breath from those “birth-giving” spurts she’d taken– you know the ones: he-who, he-who, he-who. There was just enough time for him to wish them luck before the automatic doors slid closed on the father’s backward, half-wave. Louis shrugged to himself, walked on through the snow, and ’round the corner to the dumpsters for his noon-time cigarette.

Louis (one last time, lew… iss) Sacker, forty-three, was a master– nay, grand orator– of the custodial arts at Wayside Memorial Hospital. Like any other hospital custodian, his job ranged from the mundane, to the gross. From mopping floors to cleaning toilets, Louis had put in his ten-thousand hours. Meanwhile, his down and off-time were spent in deep states of self-education. Over the years, these times had gathered him knowledge of everything from herbal medicines to anatomy. But Louis’ favorite subject was physics– that’s the study of forces and motions with lots of math and other stuff Louis liked. But it wasn’t the math he liked most about it, or even the interesting, sometimes daring experiments he’d read of. It was the uses of physics he liked most to know; how rockets flew, how planets orbited, and why they didn’t fall right out of space on top of him.

His job at Wayside Memorial was just another one of these personal pursuits; a job that put him in better place to learn things his way. And since the jobs of doctors and nurses were always changing from new ideas, there was always something to learn.

He lit his cigarette, and billowed out smoke from beneath his thick, black mustache. He knew he shouldn’t smoke, but it was one’a the only bad habits he had left since he’d quit biting his fingernails to the nub. He took his due of suffering from the cold air that stung his lips, signaled the coming, January snowstorm. Even with as much as he loved his job and its chances to learn, he still hoped to return home before the storm hit. The weather man had said there’d be heavy snowfall for three or four days. It had already buried cities, trapped people in their homes, and would only get bigger. In Wayside, the houses were small, even easier to bury than usual– and this was being called the “largest blizzard in decades.” From the skin around Louis’ mustache, he felt it well-named.

As Louis stood beside the dumpsters to puff his stinky tobacco, he smiled to himself at the comparison of his big brain and his meager, little work. It wasn’t a bitter smile by any means, but rather, an amused one that one gets about oneself. He was a Doctor of physics, math, and science, and learned enough to know so, but only ever mopped floors and cleaned toilets. It was even a funny thing to others that knew him (Once they learned how deep his knowledge went.) ‘Course there were those that looked at him funny too. His odd appearance and arrangement of long side burns, beard, and pulled-back hair were repulsive to certain types. It was no matter, he felt, either he’d impress them with his way, or he’d have no need of them.

He squatted to put out the stinky cigarette in the snow, made sure the fire was gone, and the cigarette was good and wet, then threw it in the dumpster. His hands slid in his pockets as he bunched up his body for warmth against the wind and started for the hospital’s front doors. A peculiar scent smacked his large nostrils, stung worse than the icy air. It was like a mix of floor cleaners and car exhaust, almost the same smell from the time his truck’s engine had caught fire.

He followed his nose to the hospital’s emergency road and entrance way, the same place the couple’d stumbled past him along. He sniffed the air, traced the scent’s origin to the road’s center. Normally, everything about the entrance was inviting, friendly, even its smell. But this foul stink made his stomach rumble. He fine-tuned his sniffer downward as far his posture’d allow, like a floppy-eared hound-dog with its nose along the ground. Several wet spots along the entrance road steamed heat in the cold air.

It was odd– Or was it? This is where the ambulances rushed the sickest patients it, and the burning engine smell made sense if it’d leaked something. Maybe hot water? Maybe it’d mixed with something, caused that putrid stench? In any case, the odor was too strong for Louis’ sensitive beak. He was forced to rush back into the lobby, unable to stand it any longer. His stomach gave a final rumble as he jogged through the doors and took a deep whiff of the inviting smell.

He sniffed his way toward the tall reception desk where Ginny– the dimpled, red-haired receptionist waited to sign him back in.

She scribbled loud scratches on her plastic clip-board, “Snowin’ yet?”

“Not too bad yet,” he replied with a friendly smile.

Louis always smiled at Ginny for two reasons; it was polite, and he liked to see her smile back.

Even though there was something sad in her voice, she smiled back as usual, “Guess there’s no hope for me gettin’ home early then.”

The smile flickered with the start of a frown, so Louis smiled bigger, “I wouldn’t worry. Storm’ll hit tonight, but it won’ do nothin’ before the mornin’. You’ll get out ‘fore it does.”

He handed back the clip-board, and she took it, “See ya later, Lew.”

“You too. But if I don’t, good luck!”

Her smile followed him all the way to big hallway’s elevators, infected him ’til he reached the top-floor Maternity ward. He wondered for a moment how the young couple’d fared. They were at the beginning of a long road, and the more he thought of it, the longer it got. The wife and new-mother would be so tired by the end, she’d probably forget the time after a few days.

He headed along the wide hallways, adorned with lots of cutesy stickers and wall-hangings, passed the reception desk, and the six rooms between it and his tiny office to the left. If Louis was honest, and he always tried to be, it was more a closet than an office. Its size didn’t bother him though; it comfy, cozy. He stepped in as the door banged a mop and rolling bucket, shut it again to sidle behind the large desk that took up half the room. He flipped on the radio to its usual, low volume, sat down to kick up his feet and lift a book from the desk top.

For a moment he’d forgot to tell the nurses he was back, but as soon as he remembered, he picked up the phone. “Suze,” He said after a quick ring the echoed outside, “Back in if ya’ need me.”

She thanked him with a tired voice. They exchanged good-byes, and he hung up the phone to lifted his book another time and enjoy more down-time. It had been in large supply these last few days, and with the snowstorm on its way, it was likely to last even longer. He read with a certain, satisfied smile. It was more physics– some he knew, and some new to him; black holes, and parallel universes, and light waves and particles. Every word in the book was interesting, and Louis was content with being interested by them.

It only took a few hours for the young mother in the ward outside to enter the final stages of birth. As the only pregnant woman there, Louis could hear her shouts from his office across the quiet ward. He readied himself for the call, placed the finished-book on the table that his brain had gobbled up with growling hunger, and grabbed his mop and bucket. He set it on a cart with a yellow garbage bag and the peculiar bio-hazard symbol on it, and pushed it out into the hall.

He held the mop’s stick so the bucket wouldn’t jostle forward and slosh dirty water around the clean floors, wheeled it to the bathroom in the middle of the six rooms ahead. He went about his usual routine of rinsing the mop in the sink, refilling the bucket with water and a few drops of stinky floor-cleaner. The water frothed and foamed with suds, the sink’s tap too quiet to hear beneath the mother’s nearby shouts.

He glanced out the window over the toilet to keep his mind off her cries, and knew there was no doubt he’d been wrong when he’d spoke to Ginny earlier. The storm had only just begun to hit, and its heavy flakes had already piled up in the parking lot outside. He watched a small pile form in the corner of the window, judged how long it took to get to a certain height. It piled up so fast, even Wayside’s plows wouldn’t be able to keep off.

Ginny had been right, the hospital would be snowed in with all the patients and workers stuck there. Louis didn’t mind, but he wished he’d brought another book. He felt better when he thought of Ginny’s smile. It infected him again, and he plunged the mop into the foamy water. A cry of pain tore through the air like paper ripped in half. Louis’ ears told him it was from the mother’s room, but it wasn’t her pain, it was someone else’s; clearly a man’s.

Perhaps the new mother had squeezed the new father’s hand especially tight. But it came again, and Louis was certain that wasn’t the case. This voice was more like Doc Hawkins’, deep and old despit the high yelp. He’d heard it at the same volume lots’a times when he was mad, but this was a shout of pain, Louis was sure of it.

For a moment, Louis thought he should run and help, suddenly remembered he worked in a hospital. This was the only place in all the world where his skills in medicine were surpassed by the people around him. He shook his head, pulled the mop from the bucket to slap it on the bathroom floor in the furthest corner by the toilet. It made long, wet streaks from side to side that shined with the overhead lights.

Doc cried out again. Louis’ nerves were rattled. He couldn’t help it, he had to check in on Doc Hawkins. They were too good of friends for Louis not to. He slapped the mop back into the bucket, jogged from the bathroom for the one, closed door on the ward. Doc’s cries came louder now, repeated every few seconds. Louis hurried into the door, stopped in his path at the scene in the room.

Doc Hawkins was knelt room’s middle, dressed in his blue scrubs, face-mask, and head-cap. He clutched one hand with the other, whimpered like a wounded dog. The nurses had frozen alongside the mother, her legs up on the bed. They stared, horrified by smoke that rose from burns on Doc’s hands. The young wife fought her labor-pains with a purple and white face, the husband at her side in a constant stream of apologies.

Louis saw smoke, but no fire: It had to be a chemical that had caused it. He grab for a bottle of vinegar on his cart, rushed forward.

He popped off the lid, “Hold out yer’ hand’s, Doc!”

Doc couldn’t hear him, the pain was too bad. Louis did the only thing he could; dumped the bottle over Doc’s arm and hand until it was nearly empty. Doc Hawkins fell backward on the floor, the smoke gone, but his hand red and burned. He bent forward over Doc, pinched his cheeks and felt his pulse. For the most part he’d be okay, but his hands would be scarred.

He lifted Doc’s top half, “Nurses, I need some help ‘ere.” No-one moved. “Ladies, please!”

They snapped from their stupor, grabbed his legs to carry him to a chair in the room, lay him over it. The poor young woman still screamed, forced through birth as the attention shifted to Doc. The nurses checked him as Louis had, bandaged his hands over the mother’s shrieks.

Louis shouted, “What happened here?”

One nurse shrugged. The other shook her head, speechless. He looked to the new mother, her face more purple than ever; then the new father, whom stared at the ground in shame. Louis did the math, summed up that the mother must’ve caused it somehow..

But how? No woman could do that, ‘n why would she?

He thought of great practical jokes and jests of women whose insides were pure evil, like acid to the skin. But this, and other stories like it, were pure fiction– not real– and this was reality, real-life. The mother’s cries went silent, but her heavy breaths continued between loud grunts and groans. She was clearly ready to bring her baby into the world, but how’d that explain Doc’s hands? If she’d done this, why, and how?

Louis had a wild thought, so wild it almost made him laugh: maybe she wasn’t human, but a humanoid— something that looked human but wasn’t. The thought was wild, but somehow appropriate, and the only explanation that made sense to Louis. This beautiful young woman, a young, brown-haired, average human who didn’t look more than thirty, wasn’t actually a human.

Though it was far-fetched– outright unbelievable, even– Louis considered life outside of Earth as a mathematical given. Even the thought of extra-terrestrial life living quietly among them didn’t surprise him entirely, but it was stretch. It took a lot of imagination that lots of people his age didn’t have left, to even think of it. Fortunately for him, he did have some left, but never in a million thoughts or years had he considered they’d appear human in any respect.

He looked the young couple over, studied every line and curve of their faces and bodies. It had to be trickery, like some kind of advanced magician. Louis blinked, startled when the woman shrieked again. She was ready to finish the birth. Everything Louis knew about babies being born made him sure of it. And it wasn’t gonna’ wait for him or anyone else to accept crazy theories. The poor mother needed help, and human or not, she deserved it.

He rushed to his cart, pulled out a few pairs of acid-resistant gloves. They would’ve saved Doc’s hands earlier, but he’d have never known to use ’em. Louis always had a pair in his cart for cleaning dangerous spills, and they’d earned their weight in gold more times then Louis could count.

He pulled his gloves on, passed pairs to the nurses, “It’ll protect ‘ya. Trust me.”

An hour passed in screams and shouts as Louis and the nurses coached the mother to squeeze her baby out. Their gloves fought a good fight against the acidic body fluids, held up with nary a scratch. It was late in the evening when the child was finally freed of its mother’s womb and cleaned off to be wrapped in a blanket.

When the nurses passed the human baby to its mother, it was a perfect, newborn boy– or at least, looked like one. The mother succumbed to exhaustion, fell asleep with the child in her arms. The father took him as Louis and the nurses cleaned the room with their special gloves and other special cleaners. They were each too confused to talk, instead let the ward return to its empty silence.

When Louis finally finished, he approached the father with a small smile. He looked up from his son’s eyes to Louis’. A strange glimmer of light appeared in them, as though love and awe had mixed with something that scared him. The father stammered and stuttered a “thank you,” handed the sleepy baby over to a nurse who placed it in a cart. The father asked Louis to follow him from the room, headed for the elevator with Louis’ curiosity trailing behind him.

He stepped into the elevator and a jumble of words fell out of his mouth. The new father chuckled, and Louis took a deep breath to start over, “Where have you come from?”

The man’s quiet mix of fear and other things clung to his hushed words, “Far from here. Your people designate the planet only with numbers, and to us it’s merely called home.”

The elevator’s doors opened in the empty lobby, and Louis saw that Ginny was the only person left in the whole place. Outside, snow had piled high, already trapped the people in the hospital. He gave a small smile and nod to Ginny, her own smile already there from his sudden appearance.

Louis continued with the father down a long hallway past the reception desk. Louis whispered so he wouldn’t be heard, “So, why are you here?”

The father’s eye twitched with sadness, “There’s much to our world we wished to escape– to keep our child safe, and raise them well without fear of wars or pain from faith or otherwise.”

“How do you mean?” Louis asked quietly.

The father angled around another door for the large, empty cafeteria ahead, “Our people always fight one another. They are unhappy. It’s easy for a child of our kind to become the same way. We wish only love and happiness for our children, so we decided leave, hide away from it.”

“And you chose here?” Louis asked, rather sarcastically.

He apologized promptly for his tone, but the man laughed, “Do not apologize, friend. I understand your humor. But you must believe me when I say; even with its problems, your species is much safer and happier than mine.”

“I see,” Louis said, though really he had heard and not seen. In either case, he understood their reasons for coming, but continued to question it. “But what about your child’s future? Won’t he wish to have a wife and a child of his own one day?”

“Perhaps.”

“And what happens then? Does he have to go home?”

The father smiled, “Now friend, I never said my wife and I are the only of our kind here.”

Louis’ eyes gleamed with excitement, “There are more of you?”

“Many more. So many, in fact, we’ve begun to lose count.”

The father procured sustenance from a vending machine, as he told more of his world and its ways. Many of their people had left home for Earth. Like he and his wife, they were refugees that had come to hide from their terrible world and seek happiness. They chose Earth because, as fortune would have it, the people that fought on their world would never think to go there. The refugees could then live peacefully, pursue their dreams of happiness, family, or otherwise without fear.

The father explained that learning of his true nature was never intended, “We knew our child’s birth was inevitable. It is why we chose Wayside: your town is small, your hospital smaller still. We knew the time would come where we would have to reveal ourselves to a select few, and hoped it would go well. Apart from the Doctor’s wounds, it has. We’re very sorry he’s been injured. He’s a wonderful man, very helpful. Unfortunately, it seems our bodies are so unlike yours that parts are dangerous to you.”

“But you mean us no harm right?” Louis asked carefully.

The father smiled wide, “Of course not, friend.”

The truth was written in the strange man’s face– or what looked like a face, and that was good enough for Louis, “Well, Doc’ll recover. But.. how d’you hide yourselves?”

The father explained, “We can shape-shift parts of our form, and what we cannot hide is protected by a natural defense from our minds that fills in the gaps. This is our real form.”

He touched Louis’ temple and was instantly changed. The man was almost orange, with a long, curvy human-like form beneath an oblong face and head. His eyes were like giant, black-metal eggs with glows of yellow at their center. One hand kept a finger at Louis temple as the other waved at him with its fingers and palm twice as long and stretched as Louis’ own. The other hand left his temple, and the shape morphed back to the man he’d seen before.

Louis was alight with joy, “But your child! How’d he look different?”

“Our children are sentient at the moment their birth begins, and are born with all of the intelligence and knowledge of their parents. He knew to change himself before he ever entered the world.”

It was the perfect image of life, Louis thought, but he spoke his fears aloud, “But soon others will know! There will be more births, right?”

The father nodded, “Yes, of course. They will be handled in much the same way as this– or perhaps better, I hope. We are fortunate enough as a species to have been gifted with foresight. That is, we can see a short way into the future, enough to know if there will be problems.”

Louis face glowed excitement and happiness, “Really?”

The man gave a nod, “My wife and I knew that bumping into you as we walked in would help us later on. Otherwise, more people may have been injured. The others here respect you though, and you can explain to them that we mean no harm.”

Louis was humbled at his importance, promised to do everything he could to keep them safe.

And in time, so it went. The two talked more, finished their snacks, and returned to the mother’s side. Questions began then, and Louis lined up the nurses beside the doctor– who was now awake– to answer them as they came. At first, they refused to believe him, but the new parents revealed the family to them and Louis explained what he’d been told, convinced them the family meant no harm. A curiously giddy joy spread through-out the room. Even Doc, with his bandaged hands, was alight that he’d delivered the first alien baby on Earth.

They agreed to keep the family’s secret, to protect them until they were ready to reveal themselves to the world, then celebrated the birth into the night. Life returned to normal not long afterward– or at least as normal as it could be after that night. A week before it was one year since the birth, Louis stepped to the door of his home. He blew Ginny a kiss good-bye, shut the door, and checked the mail before he headed off to start the night shift. He found an envelope with no return address, but a picture inside of a light-haired, baby-boy, with words scribbled on the back: Louis “Doc” Smith Invites you to his 1st Birthday.

Louis smiled at the scribbles beneath that told the date, time, and location, and requested an RSVP with a phone number beside it. He skipped to his truck, ready to call the number as soon as he got to work. It was, after all, the first birthday of the first alien child born on Planet Earth.

For Erin: Happy Birthday

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Bacatta, Michigan; Where Old Meets New

Bacatta, Michigan

“Where Old Meets New”

Bacatta, a city in the lower peninsula of Michigan, sits less than a hundred miles Northeast of the Indiana-Illinois-Michigan border. Originally inhabited by the Pottawatomi Tribe until the Treaty of Chicago, the land was formally annexed with the rest of the Michigan Territory between August 1821 and March 1822. The still-juvenile US government negotiated with the Pottawatomi, Ojibwe, and Ottawa tribes to seize it and the rest of the groups’ land and force them South along the Trail of Death.

In 1830, nearby Detroit and Grand Rapids’ growing demand for both lumber and agriculture saw the initial formation of Bacatta County. What was little more than a few, massive plots of plains and even greater forests, were quickly cleared and felled to create usable farmland. While the lumber-industry eventually secured itself elsewhere, the empty land it had left behind made for wide, open fields through-out Bacatta County’s borders. By 1835, when Bacatta was officially designated a settlement, the few land-holders there had already sown fields for half a decade. The possibility of high-profits from major tracts of sow-able land incentivized others to the county. The first settlers’ numbers were soon doubled.

By the beginning of the 20th Century, Bacatta’s municipal government had been established in a small, central plot of land between the largest farms on little more than a dirt path. This trodden grassland later became the first, official seat of Bacatta’s government; little more than a few, rickety shacks of mud and fresh pinewood. However, after the downward spiral of the Great Depression, and the resultant, upward rise thereafter, a decades-long industrial-revolution took place. By the middle of the 40’s, industry had taken residence in Bacatta, helped the town expand to those few, unfortunate souls’ land the Depression had claimed.

Not long after, agricultural equipment manufacturing became the town’s mainstay. For the first decade, growth was unprecedented. To support the County and town, more and more land was bought, built on. The rickety shacks turned to brick and mortar buildings, dirt-roads to gravel and asphalt, and settlers to villagers and citizens. While World War II ground the growth to a halt as Bacatta’s multiple, machine-run factories were seized for the war-effort, employment rose sharply. However, the town’s return to normal operations after the war left many unemployed.

Despite this, Bacatta continued to grow. Still more land was purchased from its tillers. Towering pines were felled in swaths, used to build homes and businesses along the stretches of reaped plains that formed its center. Unfortunately, Bacatta’s dwindling farmland also shrank its available pool of farmers, wounding the industry that helped to build it. By the early 70’s, the town’s growth had plateaued and only a single, industrial company remained: Agri-Plus had survived the onslaught by exporting goods across the country, making deals with various, distant hardware and department stores, and offering discounts to local farmers to drive up its reputation.

Though Bacatta began to shift from an industrial economy to a more diverse, functional one, it remained incapable of long-term survival without drastic change. Unemployment crept ever-upward. Homelessness infected small areas of the town, built-up since the war. Civic leaders scurried for answers, solutions, and Bacatta Times’ headlines ranted about a nigh-end to the town.

From the mid-70’s to the mid-80’s the plateau trended downward. The trickle of new-arrivals to dried up, effectively bolstered rumors of the city’s inevitable demise. Bacatta’s already sparsely populated lands watched its inhabitants turn away one-by-one, seek work and new-lives elsewhere. Then, in 1986, Pharmaceutical Solutions arrived with a promise to help bolster the economy. Abbreviated Pharma-Sol, the company set up shop to manufacture and research medicinal drugs near the center of town. Its thousands of vacant positions offered refuge for those hurt by the economic downturn. Various incentives, tax-breaks, and closed-door deals, bribed Pharma-Sol to use its third-party realty and rental corporations to purchase and lord over the land as its benefactor.

Despite these often-seedy deals, Bacatta once more boomed. The sudden growth caused waves whose effects would be felt for decades, but not all of them were positive waves. The next decades left certain, characteristic scars on the land and people, both figurative and literal. The proverbial knife had come down during the ’90s and forever scored the beautiful face of the town.

The cut first pierced skin with an influenza epidemic that spread through the town and outlying areas, crippled Bacatta’s earning power. As per their supposed goodwill, Pharma-Sol responded with a variety of high-priced vaccines to safe-guard the still-healthy. It was hailed as the proverbial, armored-mask against the knife. In truth, Bacatta’s government and health-care providers were given no choice but to pour their last resources into Pharma-Sol’s vaccines. The subsequent, massive financial debts to State, Federal, and Private lenders only further worsened the town’s economy.

Mere months after the fiscal catastrophe, and spurned by an anonymous tip, the FBI began to comb through Pharma-Sol’s operations. The mask it seemed, had been little more than a poorly-applied placebo. Already concerned with the possibility of foul-play, the FBI used the death of one of Pharma-Sol’s head researchers as motive to sleuth through its records, employees, and dealings. The wound left behind was only fully revealed once court transcripts were publicized. Media-fueled lynch-mobs appeared in protest, outraged by the revelation of a conspiracy and scandal that spelled disaster for both Pharma-Sol and Bacatta.

As evidenced by both court testimonies, and recovered information, the aforementioned researcher had been ordered murdered by Pharma-Sol’s CEO, and Board of Directors. The killer was never caught. However, many parties testified openly, assured the court that the man’s death-warrant had been signed by his discovery of the influenza epidemic as a hoax– one engineered by Pharma-Sol’s executives to increase quarterly profits.

In less than a month the scandal shuttered the company. Its CEO and Board of Directors were either jailed, executed, or committed suicide in fear of the repercussions. Investor confidence dissolved overnight. The company’s veinous tendrils, that had snaked beneath all of Bacatta’s economy to nourish it with fluid, green life, withered and died. Bacatta declared bankruptcy months later, and Pharma-Sol’s assets were seized as evidence, and either dismantled or auctioned off for small, Federal gains.

Unemployment, debt, and homelessness quickly ran rampant. Until the early 2000s, large swaths of the town were abandoned, eventually splitting it into two parts; Old Bacatta, and New Bacatta. Though more recent restoration efforts helped to revitalize Old Bacatta, those years saw its red and white-brick buildings tarnished with the dust and grit of a seedy underbelly. The once-strong town remained largely abandoned until early 2004, when Biological-Conventions (aka Bio-Con) opened its doors.

Bio-Con’s CEO, Ronald Jorgeson, a former Navy SEAL turned businessman, unfurled his own tendrils through-out the town and surrounding County. Through Bio-Con’s third party subsidiaries, he purchased, renovated, and reconditioned the land, and continued urban development that had been stalled for more than twenty years. In short, he fought to breathe new life into the city. With Bio-Con’s reputation, soaring stock-prices, and Jorgeson’s own, personal promise to resurrect Bacatta, investor confidence leaned sharply in his favor. Like Pharma-Sol, the supposed pharmaceutical company had brought jobs, hope, and direly-needed money to the near-dead town. However, unlike Pharma-Sol, Jorgeson used effective, economic stimuli to help the town regain its footing and blossom into a full-fledged city.

With his land holdings and subsidiary contractors, Jorgeson built office-buildings, shops, and suburbs, then leased them out or sold them off for low-ball offers to encourage emigration. Through a series of donations and arranged task-forces, Bacatta’s Police Departments were bolstered, began to chase the less-desirable elements out. As Bio-Con grew, Bacatta outpaced it by a wide margin. A new population, attracted largely by the increase in employment security, education, and public safety, formed a cosmopolitan city whose sole industry was diversity itself. In less than a decade, the town that had gasped for air, breathed, once more invigorated.

With most of the gang activity and vagrancy driven from town, the landscape reformed. In only a few, short years after Bio-Con’s initial appearance, large tracts of abandoned buildings were bulldozed, demolished for new, tan-concrete boutiques, shops, and parlors that sprang up through the center of its uptown district. Downtown, municipal and private office-buildings rose behind the height of North Main Street, its rear-half long-since the sole home of the city’s government.

Though certain areas of farmland, and former-businesses, remain abandoned along its outskirts, Bacatta has once more risen from the ashes. With wise investment and cautious remembrance, Civic leaders continue to secure Bacatta’s future. Its people live mostly happy, healthy lives, completely oblivious to its largely sordid history and shadowy benefactors. And, as per its motto, “Where Old Meets New;” Bacatta is where an old world and an new one converge to ensure a long, healthy life for an assuredly interesting future.

Short Story: Deadman Part 3

Deadman

Part 3

The five stepped into sunlight, the world around magnificently colored with a plethora of verdant and earthen hues. The trees, regrown through centuries that had passed, threw shadows over the ruins of once prominent sheet-metal warehouses that had decayed to rusted out skeletons. The sun shone through a missing section of roof around ivy and tall grasses that had reclaimed it and the concrete floor their boots resounded echoed with. They rubbernecked their way forward to a metal door, emerged into full-blown day.

Their radiation suits, of a thick plastic, and yellow and red in color, were hot, chaffing. A member of the team lifted an instrument to measure the atmosphere. It returned normal. The few, small bounces of needles no doubt came from the sun itself. He gave the signal– a thumbs up– and the others pulled back their plastic helmets, switched off small re-breathers on their backs through devices at their wrists. They looked upon the world with renewed eyes, saw now that the complex of rectangular warehouses, covered in green ivy, was flanked by trees that threatened to topple them. All around were high rock-walls that formed a horse-shoe ’round the warehouses. They stepped for the shoe’s center, looked westward toward its open face.

A small path led outward, wound down and around the mountainous cliffs. They took in the spectacular sight, breathed deep to inhale fresh air that lightly stung their chests. In the untold centuries that had passed, their subterranean lifestyle had only afforded them the fruits of reclaimed and carbon scrubbed air. Here, it was an adjustment just to breathe, but a welcomed one.

A renewed vigor infected the Five and their mission; they must find somewhere not far to establish a settlement. One team member elaborated on the benefits of following the path down the mountain in search of an old settlement, but stayed himself when reminded of their current location: they were atop a range, likely a few thousand feet from the region’s average sea-level. The road could twist and turn for days. The man understood. It would take far too long to blindly follow the road, when there might be a more than suitable expanse on the range itself. They did however, elect to follow the road for a time, and in keeping with the ways of their utopian society, each one agreed before any of the others would leave. They set off.

The road sloped a short way then leveled off, still far above sea-level. An exploration into a mass of plains between two tree lines that spanned yielded measurements of roughly a mile in each direction. At the furthest edge forward, a remarkable sight appeared. The ground dropped away abruptly, where the Five stopped and sat upon its edge. They looked out on the profundity of what lay below.

The cliff side was staggered, the path winding down for miles. It became smaller and smaller, until merely a line that wound beneath canopies, around forests, and onward into oblivion. The team remarked to one another. This was once their domain; Humanity had claimed it as its own, and when the bombs fell, were whisked beneath it. As if man had been a pile of dust swept beneath a

rug, there was no trace from this point, but the path that had once been a road. It was doubtless that by exploring the nethers of the proverbial rug, humanity’s final resting place would be uncovered.

For a moment, the team was contented to remain and dine on the first meal taken in the reclaimed world. The others in the utopian complex would enjoy the sight, its borders large enough to house a collective. There was a matter, however, of finding suitable agricultural land. And so, planting a tracking device, linked electronically to their wrist devices, the Five set out to find suitable land.

The path curved around to a second clearing, hidden from them by the orientation of the first, and of a lower elevation. It looked out upon a ruined landscape where, clearly, had been one of the bombs’ striking points. A team member examined the ionization, as the others looked down upon a massive crater, miles wide from end to end and more still from side-to-side. It was as if a large meteorite had struck the ground. Dirt welled up around its perimeter, such that it gave

the appearance of dunes, or waves breaking in a dirt sea. Its inner perimeter, along sloping ground, still scorched over eons from the intense heat that had been released when the missile struck.

In the center of the pit, was a clearly discernible ivy that grew in distinct, unnatural shapes. It hid beneath it, ruins of a man-made structure while the craters outer-banks were much the same as before; charred dirt that morphed into green grasses. Bushes and foliage came next, that towered over the pit. Then, a mass of sprawling trees, roughly a hundred feet high, their girth a fifth of their height.

The Five took measurements, concluding this would be a more than satisfactory place to begin their agricultural pursuits. They planted a tracker, and moved on.

So it went for days. The Five would travel a short way, find a clearing, and once satisfied, plant specific tracker for different tasks. In time, each who spoke were satisfied. The “Common-man’s” advocate found peace in the beauty of their proposed residential land. The “Agriculturist” found suitable land marked to meet their people’s needs, and when the bottom of the cliff-side seemed much nearer than before, the “Business” advocate put forth an idea. Perhaps it would be best to keep their district nearer the complex and their manufacturing equipment within. The “Security” advocate agreed; to mount any defensive encampment much further from the complex, did indeed endanger their ability to defend their industry. This was of course, in speculation that defense might be needed, as save for their underground home and themselves, they’d yet to see a shred of humanity.

When the Five returned bearing news of a beautiful world awaiting them should they choose to nurture it, the utopians obliged. They moved outward to their assigned areas, began their reconstruction. They re-fertilized the soil, cleansed from its minute contaminants with artificial, microbial life; and planted their crops. They built homes among trees and plains, cleaning and replanting the soil around them. They dismantled a few of the skeletal warehouses, used their components to repair the others, and set about matters of business and defense.

In the years that passed, they were contented to stay upon the mountain. Their harvest traditions, though no longer necessary, were upheld with even greater zeal. Their views, for the first time in the span of Humanity, worked out its flaws to incorporate the compromise of few among many, and vice-versea. While a few did leave to start anew nearer to sea-level, their spirit of cooperation lived on. If one were to wish, in any of their days, to see true paradise, they need only visit the people upon the mountain, and indulge in their way of life.

Short Story: Deadman Part 1

DEADMAN

Part 1

The missile silo’s outdated radar screens glowed with small, green waves. Before them sat the Lieutenant with his morning coffee, as he checked the bank of monitors above that read out telemetry for inflight ICBMs. Though useless in the absence of nuclear dispersal, a perpetual watch was posted at the ancient machines.

The Lieutenant relaxed in his chair to sip coffee, kicked up his feet on a second chair before him, and flipped-on a portable television in his lap. The news droned on that the snowstorm above the base was gathering strength. Roads, railways, and airports would be inaccessible for days. He sighed, flipped the channel.

They’d already been trapped for three days, the outside world further away for secrecy’s sake. Even with a full crew on-base, duties kept them from engaging one another. Only briefly did anyone see each other on their ways in and out of the commissary. In most senses, the Lieutenant was completely alone.

A beep sounded from the console. A button in arm’s reach depressed with an uninterested, habitual motion. Moscow’s confirmation required a physical response to relay that someone still lived to watch the screens. Everything was handled electronically, save for this job. Despite forty-odd years of Cold War terror descending into the schizophrenic creation of imaginary lines, every half-hour confirmation was still required.

The signal originated from the main missile-tracking computers beneath the Kremlin, and simultaneously pinged all silos in Russia. The operators then had five minutes to respond, before an alarm sounded. In war-time, confirmation was required every five minutes with only thirty seconds to spare. Any longer might signal a silo had been compromised. Likewise, if a silo registered something, the Kremlin’s technicians would call for on-site verification while alerting military leaders.

But it was peace time. In retrospect, it always had been. The war between nuclear powers had never come. The nuclear holocaust had never engulfed the Earth in the fires of Hell, and now the once-great, Red Republic’s relics simply kept people employed.

It was boring, but the Lieutenant still preferred it to Moscow’s drudgery. Working as a political door-guard was never as glamorous as it sounded. With the general contention between the people and the government in the post-war age, the ignoble politicians felt threatened; even minor ones had four flank guards in each room. To him, it was astounding that such cowards were even allowed to grace those prestigious offices– but such was the way the world turned.

He drained his cup. Stood for the far end of the room and the table there beside the data-analogue recorders whose tapes revolved with lazy, languid repetitions as pointless as his own. He poured himself a second coffee, returned to his seat to reposition the TV.

The confirmation signal flashed again.

Had it already been a half an hour? He pressed it mindlessly, adjusted his feet, lifted his coffee to his lips. The phone beside the console rang. Half-irritated and half-curious, he leaned forward to lift it, carefully juggling the cup and TV.

“Silo 193, data-sector, we need confirmation on bogey at grid 712,” a voice said.

“Bogey?”

“Bogey, will register on your screen in 3…2…1…now.”

The Lt. saw it. A series of grids beeped in succession from the right screens. They glowed brighter as a dot inched leftward over them, designated RU:1289H-YnD. Cold-war terror was a feeling renewed; launched from silo 128, pad 9, carrying high-yield nuclear ballistics.

“Silo: requesting confirmation on designation RU:1289H-YnD,” the voice stated.

The LT. responded mechanically: “Moscow: Confirming designation RU:1289H-YnD at 19:30. Trajectory: West bound. Acquiring target… thirty-eight degrees, fifty-three feet, fifty-three point three inches North by Seventy-seven degrees, two feet, nine point nine inches West.”

“Silo: requesting confirmation of time to target. One hundred sixty minutes. ETA approximately twenty-two thirty.”

He couldn’t believe his ears or eyes. Was it another test? It couldn’t be, their tests were scheduled for once a month and this month’s had been recently. You never knew when they might drill but–

He stumbled over his words, “Uh… M-Moscow: Tar-target time confirmed: one hundred eighty minutes; twenty-two thirty.”

“Silo: confirmation received.”

The Lieutenant’s terror oozed through the phone in his sweaty palm, “Moscow: requesting interrogative.”

There was a pause. The Lieutenant swore he heard a fearful sigh.

The technician responded, “Go ahead, Silo.”

“Are we at war, Moscow?”

The technician spoke carefully, “That is… uncertain, Silo.”

More than a few thousand miles away, in NATO’s Cheyenne mountain complex, the General’s red phone was relaying a similar conversation. A fearful Master Sergeant stood nearby petrified. Maybe he had misread the radar, or perhaps the instruments had malfunctioned.

In the last fifteen minutes a dozen launches had appeared, each strategically aimed on American soil to decimate key military installations. Missile interceptors were launched with the entirety of the Air Force and Navy. Marines and Army Rangers were already working in co-operation with the Navy’s SEAL division to plan surgical strikes should the missiles reach their targets. But the President and several, high-ranking, military officials, were fearful of retaliation at this stage: It could be an instrumental malfunction, a sub-routine to test readiness, unintentionally triggered by someone or something. But action still had to be taken, the general population ignorant until zero-hour.

The General lifted a second, black phone to speak with the leader of the Russian armed forces, a man he knew well. He explained the situation, questioned an attack.

The Russian’s earnesty implied no malevolence, “We are reading the same thing on our screens, General. I assure you however, no-one in Moscow has given the order.”

The General replied formally, “I am required to pose this question; Are you being intentionally deceptive?”

He replied with a sigh, the sweat beading audibly on his forehead, “I wish that were the case. It would mean we know what is happening. Unfortunately, all we know is that there have been a dozen, unauthorized launches confirmed.”

“What the hell’s going on over there, Uri!”

“I… do not know, Jack.”

The Master Sgt. interrupted the General, “Sir, we have confirmation of twenty-more simultaneous launches.”

“Uri, what the hell’s going on?”

A second silence, and a remorseful sigh.

In a labyrinthine fallout-shelter, a console spanned a twenty-foot section of wall, divided in two, with large, flat-screened televisions that tracked the number and trajectory of launches. At the right, the Russian’s nuclear battery was zoomed to track across a global view. The other side, blank so far, had “United States” stenciled above it.

A young man in shabby, black fatigues approached an older man, “Mr. Niculescu, we have confirmation of all two hundred and thirty four launches from the Russian side.”

“Good,” Niculescu nodded.

A man appeared behind him, spoke with an American accent, “Alexi, this is a momentous day.”

“Da, it is John,” Niculescu said flatly.

“Deadman’s effectiveness is par-none. I must say; your Soviet predecessors did have us beat.”

“Ah yes, I believe they did,” Niculescu said, once more emotionless. “Soviet ingenuity always triumphed in the face of progressive adversaries. Though I must admit, setting it off was matter of American mischief.”

John smiled, “It was only a matter of a fly-by really. Low altitudes to avoid the radar, and a special package to trigger Deadman’s radiation and seismic sensors.”

He handed a glass to Niculescu, cast a glance around the room at the hundred or so young, shabbily clad men and women there.

“People, gather with me,” He requested. They formed lines before him, distributed expensive champagne into their tin cups. John waited, then, “If I may have a moment.” He cleared his throat, prepared them for his speech. “In the depths of the Cold War, a most marvelous means of destruction was created. Until this day, it went unused but maintained. Codenamed Deadman, this device was integrated into each of Russia’s nuclear-missile launch computers, designed to unleash an unstoppable counter-attack upon American soil should Moscow fall to a first strike.”

His eyes met each of those assembled in turn. “Until today, this system was largely considered a waste of time. But with your help, we have taken the first steps into a new era. Russia will fall once the American’s realize their imminent defeat. The Russians will be compelled to reveal the existence of Deadman in the last moments before America’s destruction, and when this occurs, a fury of retaliation will launch from America’s own soil. The world will wither in the nuclear winter that follows.”

He smiled, reassured, “However, with a million miles of underground complex in place, we will remain unaffected. Soon, we will descend to meet with our families and carry on our lives as the generations continue through the fallout. With the thousands of us here, it should not be entirely different to our lives now.”

Niculescu’s rigid demeanor relaxed as he picked up, “The greatest care and planning has gone into this decision. The most technologically knowledgeable and fore-thinking minds have been added to our population. They will stimulate growth through priceless, expansive research and development labs. We will live off cultured foods, and though there will be little meat at first, in time our cattle programs will thrive. We will be entirely self-sustaining, and in the days when we begin to emerge, each our future relatives will live as kings and queens.”

The two men at the front of the group raised their glasses, chorusing together: “To the future!”

The others echoed the toast at the resonance of their tin cups.

Band of the Red: Part 3

3.

THE EINHEIT

To those allowed to know of it, it was called the Einheit. There were only five of us as too many attempting sabotage or subterfuge is easy to discover. As a precaution, each of us was to join the Band of the Red through separate systems. We required the utmost secrecy, our role vital to the survival of Billions. It was a harsh thing for spirits, but there was little choice in the matter. Our only Commanders were the needs of the Federation. But we received orders through dozens of hidden channels, forced to decipher layers of code.

Only as a group could we decode a full message, but our messages were our own. It forced us to work in shadow, hone our evasion, and disregard the whole for the sake of our own progress. We were one men splinter-cells.

This is where the Einheit’s infamy was gained. Nobody, save a select few that cobbled together our orders, knew our identities. Everyone we met as individuals assumed we were green, draftees, inexperienced in combat. It was a dangerous ruse to uphold considering our skill.

When the first of the Einheit infiltrated the Band, he held himself well. Though never discovered, he was highly suspected of treason. Such was his skill that he could disappear and reappear with the wind, but even still the Band distrusted him.

The reason? From the start, we had one, crucial piece of information to be used against us; we were known, Federation draftees. Anyone could find our names in public records over Gal-net, see that we had once been pulled to the fray, but we each used it to our advantage. If questioned, the rebuke was simple; we had families we wished the best for, and were willing to do whatever it took to protect them and end this damnable war. It was clever, obvious, but enough to allay suspicion. There was no shortage of former-loyalists– defectors from the Federation and Mustela’s militaries– that begged ging for aid or surrendered en-mass. Only five of us however, were under orders.

Reluctant to bestow First his Acolyte status, The Band assigned him several tasks to prove his worth; sabotage shipments of D-335 and shipbuilding facilities, while reporting extensively on the movements of the Federation and Mustela’s militaries. The Gal-Net could not report the latter of these, it surely showed the vids of Federation facilities exploding from afar as they took possession of D-335 shipments from Mustela freighters. Ignorant to the greater scheme of things, the vids called the attacks “monstrous,” “atrocious,” all the while unaware that their own Council had ordered it.

I remember watching the approach to Mustela-Four on the Intranet during chow. Mustela-four is a simple moon of the systems home-planet, but with an ionosphere that regularly exudes nebulous, electrically charged gas. I smelled the hint of First’s leaks to the Band in that attack: the way the Federation’s cruisers approached Mustela only to be met with an entire fleet flanking them from the rear. Verbero ships had come from the far side of the moon, so close to its powerful ionosphere that they’d been cloaked to the Federation’s sensors. They never saw the Verbero coming.

When the Verbero fleet took position, they unleashed batteries of particle-beams that lit space with waves that no ship could avoid. The fighting was over in moments, every ship flanked, destroyed. It was the first time an entire, Federation squadron been eliminated en-route. And it was First that had done it– on orders from the Council.

The massacre proved First’s loyalty, and Sharok bestowed him the title of Acolyte. She trained him herself, sensing his promise. It was this personable nature that eventually led to a cataclysmic event, of which I will speak later, as well as the Band’s suspicion of First.

With First as an Acolyte, Second made her way to a recruiter in the Mustela system. Her ruse was the most clever of all, mired in a lore of the people whom did not directly know her, but rather stories that she took claim to. It was, therefore, easiest for her to infiltrate.

She was known as a defected draftee, but then came the lore: Many defectors had hidden themselves on the planets of the contested-zones, knowing that they would be secure until the Federation began its ground wars. Until then these defectors, were willing to sell information to the Band and the Verbero to remain out of harm’s way.

Second’s information was highly-valued, though none of us were aware of its contents. Her reward, and the only way she would hand over the intelligence, was to join the Band at Sharok’s side. She wished to strike against the order’s oppressors with a vengeance fueled by past sufferings of prejudice. Either this attitude struck a soft spot in Sharok, or Second’s information was so valuable as to warrant it, that she was recruited outright.

Now, both first and Second had joined Sharok’s ranks. And it seemed, were perfectly poised to decimate the Band. However their orders seemed, unequivocally, to be watch, learn, and wait.

It then came time for Third and Fourth to join, but they took a rather foolish approach. It was summarily rewarded with some of the greatest atrocities witnessed by the Einheit.

Third and Fourth allied themselves with the Verbero fleet, staying close to one another, but not so much as to garner suspicion. The Verbero fleet immediately engaged in attacks and raids on Federation planets the savagery of which we knew not could exist. Gal-net soon revealed what little civilian footage they could of countless bombardments, but the Intranet showed it all.

The Verbero fleet directly targeted defenseless planets for hit and runs, with no more aim then to decimate morale. I remember the distant flames of Vermeer-six as the particle-artillery rained like white-rain, only to meet the ground with immense explosions of black and red. Just before the civilian vid cut-out, deathly wails of mourning and pain stung our chests. The screen surged white, then went black. We all knew then what had happened.

But for Third and Fourth, the worst had yet to come. What became known as the Blackmane Massacre took place, and the Einheit simply sensed Third and Fourth’s involvement. It began with Verbero’s fleet positioning themselves upon the surface to seek out companies in need of assistance in gaining a foothold. Blackmane, once a mining colony, had been terra-formed to an industrial world with several metropolises once its mines ran dry.

As the Verbero landed, nearly the entire planet was immediately overwhelmed by sheer barbarism. In training, the Band of the Red neglected to pass over their style of honor to the Lord’s army, and the result was the literal rape of the planet’s settlements. The Verbero slayed any one they found, advanced a burning trail across the planet, and stood up the ruins to rape women and children. In the middle of it, Third and Fourth were forced to were forced to join, hoping in time they would find sanctuary in the Band.

Stories surfaced from the Einheit’s classified-files regarding Third and Fourth’s time in with the Verbero, but most are too horrific to repeat. But for the usual coded, exchanges I have had little contact with them, and as such, can neither confirm nor deny anything. Of Third and Fourth’s journey, I know only what I have told until their appointment within Sharok’s ranks. I do, however, know that no war before or after could damage a man as this one has undoubtedly damaged them.

Finally there is but one Einheit member whose introduction into the band I have yet to; my own. Elements of this story may appear plagued by embellishment. This is not true. I have no use for lies outside of the Einheit, and will impart the most detail admissible to the events of my recruitment in the Einheit, and training with the Band.

And we’re back! Short Story: The Governors of the Universe

Thank you to everyone for waiting patiently for the next story, and sorry it’s a little late today. Enjoy!

The Governors of the Universe

Part One

In the midst of the cold blackness of space, beyond quasars, pulsars, and novae left behind from the poignant Big Bang, stands the Blue Sphere. Half illuminated at all times by its massive star, and with it’s orbit elliptical, and fused with a rotation all its own. Its axes, tilted twenty-odd degrees, shift ever slowly over aeons while its poles magnetically transfer by micrometers with each rotation.

Known to it’s inhabitants as Earth, the planet stands as a silhouetted, blue marble, suspended almost majestically in space. It is the third in-line from its mother-star, eighth in planetary order, and the only inhabitable by its unique form of life.

It seems, one day, hundreds of millions of years ago, life crawled from its seas to stand upon bi-pedal vestiges to harness the land around itself. Shortly after, the warring began. This planet, billions of years in the making, and having graced its inhabitants with a stellar dust all its own, motioned to them. The wars ceased abruptly, though for only a short time. The inhabitants looked skyward, to the stars. They built ships– large and sluggish though they were– and sent them high. Leaving their planet behind, albeit briefly, they stepped forth into the machinations of a cosmic infinity to place their feet firmly upon their revolving satellite.

Too shortly these few men, as they call themselves, left their satellite and returned to their Earth. For a short period, these strange creatures, infatuated as they were with the skies, launched innumerable artificial satellites. Though none were so magnificent as that of their planet’s own, natural one, they had looked deeper into the recesses of nothingness than any of their world’s other inhabitants. For what must have been, even to them, the briefest of periods, they built more machines to thrust themselves upon the blackness; more machines still to rest there outside their fragile atmosphere, and look further from themselves.

Then came a period where, one-by-one, they felt fulfilled in the minute faculty of what they had seen, accomplished. One by one, their eyes turned once more upon their lands. One-by-one, they resumed the in-fighting and warring among themselves. And one by one, and little by little, the artificial satellites filled the skies with nary a “man” to be found. With each new satellite, another was abandoned to the cosmos. Litter and debris filled the orbit of that once majestic blue marble.

So here we sit. The first regiment and invading party of– what to them– is an invisible civilization waiting for their ascension beyond pettiness of their own differences. Their wasting of time and littering of space have angered our leaders. The Federation that would have welcomed them with open arms, now only wishes destruction upon them, and so has thrust my Company and I marble-ward. No doubt our weapons and tactics will be merciless to them. Some will attempt surrender: they will be equally as crushed beneath our might. Once more, My company and I will wipe from the universe, this galaxy, and existence, another of the seemingly infinite plagues.

For you see, there is an unending supply of pests such as these. They are allowed to mature, for either way they stay contained, until they look heavenward. Following there first forays into the inter-spatial voids, they are kept under close watch– For it is much easier to exterminate the hive, than it is to hunt pests individually. This is what my Company and I are; Galactic Exterminators, for someone must keep in check that which is as hell-bound, destructive, and wasteful, as these beings.

With knowledge comes responsibility, and all pests follow the same course in their leanings. Once their flights of fancy begin, it is only a short time before again they look downward, resuming their transgressions, eschewing the responsibility of evolving, maturing, through what they have learned and seen. If the universe is to stay at peace, such aggression must be stamped out at its source. So we will drift down into their atmosphere, lay waste to their settlements where millions dwell in frenzy. We will destroy them en-masse, push them back from the brinks and into the recesses of their habitat. And when it is through, never again will they be capable of mounting ventures outward.

For this is what we do, my Company and I. We are exterminators, carefully keeping in check the parasites that emerge in the universe. We leave civilizations in ruin, imparting to them the utmost profitable of all lessons: Humility.

The signal resounds that their atmosphere has been breached. We shall take our positions upon the ship’s weapons, and above their greatest masses, commence the slaughter. And Slaughter we will, my Company and I.

Part Two

They came with disinterest, indifferent to all but wiping us from the Earth, in their ship and on a sunny day. Strolling through Central Park, I found myself caught in the fervor of natural beauty around me, unaware of the news that their ship had descended with a fierce predilection. We learned all too soon what I had missed.

They began with the largest cities, laid waste to them one-by-one with terrible weapons like something out of Wells. Invisible heat-rays burst forth with unimaginable speed, left swaths of destruction in their path. I have a mind to say, perhaps Wells saw forward to our own time, or rather was thrust into it by his machine. In either case, his vision was near complete. Though they did not come in tripods, nor cylinders, nor so far as we know, from Mars; the destruction was total all the same. So far as we know, they did not show themselves– that is, there is no account beyond that of the ship.

In itself, it was truly a spectacular sight, if not the most violent and frightening one I might ever lay eyes upon. Wide as a city, tall as Everest, it stretched star-ward with reckless abandon; constructed of several sections, and obliquely spherical. Though we never truly saw its topmost sections, I am inclined to believe it was merely a space-fairing bubble of some strange viscous material. Within, its commander stood, pridefully gazing at the wonton destruction reigned forth. Its lowest sections housed Wells’ heat weapon, though it was far superior to what he had envisioned. Where his Martians held it in their tripod’s arms, our invaders’ weapon encompassed the whole of the bottom of their ship.

They struck without mercy, unhindered by our greatest feats of modern life. They came fast to their position, halted long enough to charge and fire their weapon. From all directions, the heat emitted in a massive dose akin to that of a Sun. It laid waste to cities in mere seconds, sweltering miles of their outskirts.

When I first heard of the attack, I immediately removed myself from New York. The radios were filled with reports from all over China, Russia, and Europe. The attacks, only seconds long, bore a heat and destructive force that has caused a global rise in temperature. It has since thrown our environment into chaos. The invaders hovered overhead for a brief moment, long enough to target their foul weapons (or perhaps, long enough for those below to recognize their defeat), fire, and disappear.

We attempted defense once our eradication was evident. Like Wells’ English cities, we laid massive guns in hiding. Though in the years passed since War of the Worlds, our defensive technology has grown by bounds, still our weapons were useless. Bullets rebounded from the ship like rubber off steel skin. Bombers dropped the highest yields of explosives ever concocted upon the ship’s exterior, yet no damage was done. The ship’s materials, we knew, were immensely strong. Perhaps for a dual purpose: both intergalactic space flight, and defense. I believe, though I can not be sure, that the ship eventually left our atmosphere in the same pristine condition it had entered.

As the beast descended swiftly upon Canada to work its way downward, hope for humanity was lost. True though it was, that many minor cities still remained, there was already unanimous agreement that the human race could never recover. Billions had already been wiped from existence in a small matter of hours; their fates predetermined by a higher intelligence within the ship’s theoretical, viscous bubble, extinguished amid the most formulaic indifference man has seen.

Some argued rigorously– until their own demise– that these invaders were intelligently-minded. Enough even, to recognize a surrender if one were presented. Conversely, others cried to repent, for this was His work; an apparition of a modernized horsemen for our own bemusement. In equal parts they were struck down without regard.

I, for one see it for what it is: we have been systematically eliminated as a species. For what could naturally occur in that short chaos that would so fully hide massive numbers– allow us to survive, rebuild? Nothing. That they knew. They were exterminating us. Our species and its greatest endeavors were as pests to them. They moved swiftly from one nest to another to eliminate our largest swarms before targeting the left-overs.

And that they did. Only mere hours after the attacks began, the largest cities upon Earth had been utterly destroyed. Yet unsatisfied, these intergalactic exterminators reversed their movements, started to lay waste to every remaining city. Attempts were made to contact them. Scientists and mathematicians, soldiers and politicians, radio astronomers, even HAM radio enthusiasts, searched dutifully for the cosmic frequency to raise the white flag. Until their final moments, they fought with valiance. In the dejection afterward, true white flags rose by the thousands. Every Human, feeling threatened, stopped amid the confusion to cast out their pride and surrender without contemplation. Still the invaders plundered us; cosmic bullies in our own yard.

When it was over, the few left were driven into hiding under the ground, and back in caves like the pests we were seen as, treated like. New-found humility has ebbed its way through the survivors; if, in fact there are any. There can be no doubt of it either way. No man, woman, nor child, no matter their arrogance, could miss the point of this event. Though I may be the only human left, and have been wandering for days, I know it to be true. How many days? I cannot count. I have succumbed every night to utter exhaustion, suffered by an insurmountable hunger. In the rising global temperature, I am quite literally dying of thirst, but have yet to come across a clean stream of water– though I would take a dirty one at that.

My bones and muscles grow weak, weary. I fear the end may come before I find another living soul. In a day, our species has been targeted, attacked, left to whither and die painfully. Futile attempts will be made, I’m sure, to rekindle the flame of our species. It is doubtless our numbers will increase to sustainable once more. At that, should we venture anywhere into the near, observable space beyond our great, Blue Marble, we shall likely be smote down once more.

I will attempt to recollect more soon, but am too weary now and require rest. The next days shall be spent in search of food and water. Perhaps the futile nature of pests is among us. We push ourselves so futilely to live on in caves, beneath rocks, and underground in search of simple sustenance. All the while we crave to preserve ourselves, persevere for some primal reason unknown to us. I for one, believe that was the reason for the attack– though belief now seems superfluous. We took more than we gave and someone took notice. The notion of our species as a parasite is not new, and with this development in our history, it is safe to say it is correct enough.

Perhaps, on a rock somewhere in space, or in the great void between rocks, rests a civilization that is always watching. They observe growth until critical mass is reached, then send their envoy to teach the pests of humility by swatting them back from the brinks. When they are done, those left, too fearful of retribution, reconcile themselves to a better way or none. For they are the Invaders, the Galactic Exterminators, and the Governors of the Universe.

Band of the Red Part 2

2.

THE FIRST DAYS OF WAR

In the days and weeks that followed the resolution, many were drafted. Gal-Net’s reports of the numbers hit home with vids of lines of men and women that filed in to report for training. These outposts had, for security reasons, remained unnamed, but even so, their lobbies and ports were filled with civilian shuttles and masses of bodies whose fear and confusion were obvious in their wanderings. Until my shuttle arrived, I was merely an on-looker. That changed as my body was jolted outward and into the port’s shielded hangar. Then, I simply became one with the mass.

The military’s intranet, their own version of Gal-Net, said that the senior recruits had gone to war while they awaited their reinforcements to complete training. Never have I had such confusion underpinning depth-less hatred as when I was shoved to a desk with little more than a number card and the clothes on my back. It was undignified, humiliating– for myself and our species as a whole.

It took several months to train a company of a hundred or so men and women, and at first, only three companies were trained. This gave those higher-up strategists pause; if many too companies fell at-once, few could replace them out-right. It was therefore of the utmost importance that more effective training be devised and completed. The first wave of draftee’s training shifted from simulated-battles and tactics to Officer’s corps training.

As I was trained, so were two-hundred and ninety-nine others. We spent day and night drilling in simulators, strategizing as mock-fleet commanders, and practicing scenarios where-by, having simulated the loss of others in our squadrons, we were forced to take command. Only the best of us, with the most formidable skills were chosen to continue as commanders.

We had little time to indulge in personal pursuits. Each day was a mere few hours to recuperate, a moment to eat, then training. More than a few recruits were rushed to the infirmary after collapsing in a heap, but after revival, were immediately sent back in to complete training.

After our basic training, Commanders like me went straight to overseeing others as we had been. Where once there had been only two to three companies, now there were dozens. Each of us ran our companies through the same exercises we had practiced– until their limbs ached and their minds cracked. Time and time again draftees and recruits alike were forced past failure to sustain the Federation’s lust for new bodies.

Though they learned well and fast, something was unnerving about the training. All of it was being done in simulations, and almost none in physical respects. As most battles are carried out through the use of operator-guided weaponry, it appeared a sensible stratagem to the higher-ups. In the Officer’s eyes, it was not. We had not faced an adversary in thousands of years, but we knew our weaponry was more than sufficient. As operators at the controls, we were nigh-on perfect. But we had, in no way, been prepared for physical confrontation.

At this revelation, had there been a debate on which side to choose for combat-merit, regrettably, I’d have chosen the Verbero. Verbero caravan-guards were shrewd and vicious but combat experienced, pinned as a devastating threat far before the war had ever begun. Their experience was ten-fold that of any Mustela or Federation draftee. This made them a pendulum on which the battlefield might pivot. It also, however, made them a prime target if handled delicately: If the Verbero’s mercenaries could be infiltrated or eliminated outright, the Federation could level the playing field. This had seemed a futile proposition to even dream of, as just as The Federation and Mustela were building their armies, so were the Verbero. The difference? Training. The Federation’s training, while sufficient in defensive-weaponry operations, did not prepare its recruits for offensive combat, nor a style of warring unknown to us for thousands of years; Guerrilla combat.

Verbero’s mercenaries were guerrilla fighters, and damned good ones. If they hadn’t been, The Federation would have put Lord Verbero down for hiring them to protect the trade routes. But the specific Order the mercenaries were hired from was infamous, even in the furthest reaches of the Galaxy.

Gal-Net had done exposes on them along with the Intranet. Both showed vid-evidence of their protection of the former trade-routes against pirates and slavers. In all cases, vicious, skilled fighters, used ancient weapons and styles to cut literal swaths through their enemies. Each one it seemed, was also an expert marksmen with extreme agility. This was witnessed in one member whose primary blade-weapon lodged itself in an enemy. He seemed not the least bit impeded. I still remember the speed with which he hurled himself sideways, retrieving a plasma-blaster mid-roll to rise and clear the rest of the pirate scum from the room.

This was our most dangerous enemy: deadly no matter the engagement, and always– for a reason unknown to any– bearing a red cloth tied ’round the bicep of their right arm.

Known as the Band of the Red, the Order was infamous, deadly. But for as long as we cared to remember, the Band of the Red had been diplomatic to The Federation– at their worst, simply indifferent. Though blamed for the D-335 raids by some, evidence suggested it was solely the Verbero wreaking havoc while the Band was present. As far as any could tell, the group never took more than their share. Their price was firm; in exchange for protection from pirates and other, anarchic scum, The Federation over-looked the droves of illegal activity on the dozens of planets they called home.

This last point requires elaboration. There was certainly corruption involved in the Federation’s dealings, though its intent was purely altruistic. Gal-Net never bothered to say it, nor investigate it, but yes, murders and drug-trafficking were overlooked. But no-one in their right mind crossed the Band. It was suicide. If one had found themselves in so deep a debt that they could not repay, there were other agreements to be reached. The Band’s leader, Sharok, was said to be a reasonable, logical woman, fair in her dealings. She killed anyone that would dishonor her by saying otherwise. Though few reports were ever released on the Band, those that were, revealed Sharok would parlay any indebted. What happened afterward was a private matter, but it was said any debt could be repaid with service to the Band.

The Intranet exploded suddenly after I began training my company. Vids of Verbero armies training by the hundreds, as we were, were led at the front of each company by a single person, a single, red band at each of their right biceps. We knew then that this war would become more than our mere simulations could handle. The vids never reached Gal-Net. The Council had barred them from releasing the evidence. The reason was obvious; if the Federation’s general populous learned they would be fighting Band-trained enemies, the number of defectors would reach new heights. Our army would be unsustainable.

Secret talks began then between the Officers, myself included, positing that the Federation might seek out Sharok to attempt to reason with her. I still remember my own disbelief that such an action would merit the desired effect: with all of their indifference, they were still weapons for hire to the highest bidder, and held their contracts to the highest honor. Perhaps then, some said, The Federation could buy-out Lord Verbero’s. This too was a futile notion, I knew. The matter of coin was substantial, but Verbero had undoubtedly promised much more than Sharok would willingly speak of. Thus she would hold a silent card against us in negotiations, its face impossible to read. Inevitably, she bluff to gain more than she Verbero had offered. The only possible course then, would be to engage the Band-trained men in combat.

But again, this was only so simple to the non-combatants. I was not one of them. I saw the path the war was taking, and it appeared to have more than one phase. In the first, battles had occurred in space over contested regions of the Mustela system. But everyone, the Band included, knew this was our field. There was no way to level it unless a paradigm shifted. I saw phased two before it ever began.

The battles would turn from space to ground fighting, as the Band and Verbero’s military would place the system’s planets in a foothold not easily dislodged. This speculation ran rampant through the Officer’s ranks until it broke free, reached Gal-Net’s civilian forums, then its vid-casts. Many from the Federation and Mustela’s support circle silently withdrew there support. Rumors of private conspiracies abounded. One-time loyalists now hoped to bring about the downfall of The Federation and the Mustela, and end the war altogether. The reason was obvious; fear.

Coupled together, the fear and rumors led the The Federation to conceive of a special military unit for one purpose alone: To infiltrate the Band of the Red. When it leaked from the Intranet that a new, classified unit had been formed for an even more secretive purpose, outcry flooded the civilian and military sectors alike. Though the unit’s soldiers were unknown to all but a few, they had been hand-picked for a certain set of specialties. Espionage would be their tool, subterfuge within the Band’s ranks their game. As I speak now in confidence, I have no reservations in saying that I was part of this unit.