From the Desk of the Editor;
Hello and welcome to another out of this world edition of Larks Fiction Magazine! In this issue we examine the bounds of imagination in science fiction and fantasy.
Remember that the holiday season is ever encroaching on us—but never fear! Larks has done all of your shopping for you this year. Don't believe us?! Well just check out these deals from past authors Jerry Guarino and Eric Dulin with their pieces 40 Slices of Pizza and Deus Ex Machina: Condemned.
See these and other indie instant classics soon on our Holiday Indie Book List. Till then see more about these titles at: http://cafestories.net/Cafe_Stories/home.html
Daniel J. Pool
Angel of the Earth
By Allan Rounsley
A wet naked giant suddenly appeared in the early morning light, steam rose from his body. Standing in a forest on a rocky trail his tender feet hurt from the cold stone. “Damn! Damn! Damn!” he thundered from his throat; the sky shook. Coffee and clothing were the first action of this new day, not necessarily in that order; then maybe revenge for this current situation, someone needed to pay. The sun was showing its early morning light far off in the east. The east; it was coming up in the wrong direction.
“Oh No not again!” he anguished making the earth move under his feet. The mountain blocked much of the early morning light on the path. Towering trees covered in moss disappeared into the canopy of the forest. A grass clearing appeared before him; he could see a statue dimly in the mist. Raising itself into the heavens was a statue of the son; he knew it in a heartbeat before seeing the face. Not again! The giant was tired of saving worlds; couldn’t they leave him alone.
A gray extremely large metal chair sat in front of the statue, a small plastic table was set with steaming coffee complete with a short fat man for company. He walked up took the offered robe and donned it. Then squeezed his massive body into the chair and took a sip of the rich dark coffee. The overweight little man was Thee Deity and he started to speak; the giant put up his hand and the little man stopped. He may have been the boss but he deserved a little respect.
He drank deeply of the coffee feeling the caffeine warm his soul. “OK my Lord what’s up?” before he could answer he pushed forward unabated, “Couldn’t you at least ask me here before you summoned me, I was in the shower. I thought I was done dripping blood from the heavens, you know retired and at rest and I could use a towel,” it appeared.
“Atlas my friend this is a temporary assignment; you have been recalled for one small job; the little monsters are astir.” He sat in a plastic chair, devoid of ornaments and stature due his status. He drank deeply of his coffee and waited patiently.
“My Lord I did you a big favor while you made this mess you call a planet and populated it with these evil little monsters while I held it up and in place for eons.”
He stroked his white beard thoughtfully and replied, “Well they just need a little direction,” his voice drifted off not finishing the sentence. We drank coffee in silence he already knew my answer.
I tried to weasel out of this job with; “You and your son could do this yourself, you both are all powerful; you don’t need me!” It was a lame excuse I had tried before, it always wound up with; I created them and just don’t have the heart. You couldn’t expect a Deity of his stature to get his hands dirty or his son for that matter. Not when you had old blue collar me with lots of muscle and thick skin to do it. I raised my hand stopping the inevitable argument.
“I will say again, I’m sorry; I had a long night and didn’t mean to set that planet so close to the sun. You could have restored them instead chucking the whole planet and its population.”
“Well I wasn’t happy with the whole venture, three legged creatures and all; not really my style, maybe it was better destroyed and left alone. “
“I have a good life, nice planet, good woman, grand kids, NO VIOLENCE, now I’m going to have blood on my hands.”
“You can wash up after words it’s not like you haven’t done this kind of work before.” A pipe appeared in his hand and he puffed it contentedly. He offered it to me I just nodded my head in refusal and said, “Maybe later I have work to do, this is the LAST time my Lord; where do I start?”
Atlas stood amidst the horror of war. Bullets flew, shells exploded, the black fog of death floated over the battle field. Standing barefoot in the wet earth, his massive body barely covered by the white terry cloth robe he yelled, “Stop it you uncivilized monsters!” He was answered by a bullet grazing his ear, he wiped his ear with his hand it came away red. “That’s enough!” he screamed to no one in particular.
He gathered strength, assumed his attribute, power flowed and he grew. His presence manifested itself in the war torn field. He grew to the heavens all weapons were now trained on him, they fired. He spread his hands and said stop! They didn’t. Blue flame flowed from his hands, “Surrender to peace and love, put down your weapons or die,” most didn’t. His first step covered a thousand miles, his second ten.
They died by the thousands then millions, a few of the wiser ones tossed aside their weapons and knelt in prayer; they lived. He finished his first pass on the world, his hands returned to his side. He strolled on his second pass of this war torn world seeing only the innocent and repentant the rest had died.
“Bury your dead and live your lives in peace,” he thundered and was gone.
He stood at the kitchen sink washing blood off his hands, his wife handed him a towel. “Where have you been, you’ve been gone most of the day?” she asked having already surmised his answer.
He sat down at the kitchen table and she brought him a cold beer. The roughhewn table he had made himself; stout and durable. She wiped her hands on her apron and took his hand in hers and said, “The Lord again?” Her gray hair and warm smile were a great comfort to him. “Atlas what happened to your ear?”
“A little creature creased it with a bullet, same old story different day.”
“You were on earth again? Full of nasty little things, crude uncivilized and violent, why does he bother. There are some things you just can’t fix.” She pulled up a chair gentle pushing the cat off and sat down. “Did you drown them this time?”
“No I saw some good, pacifists were there, innocent children, some hard working men and woman. I just flattened anyone carrying a weapon with violent intent, smashed their technology and sent them back to a simple life; like ours,” he paused and said sadly, “I hope it works this time.” He lifted his leg and nudged the old dog lying on the wooden floor with his foot, it lifted its head.
She asked, “Dinner?”
“Maybe later, let’s just sit awhile and watch the sun go down,” and they did.
Amidst the golden light they sat on golden thrones, “Father that was a real nifty idea bringing in Atlas; strongest Deity you ever created.”
Sitting cloaked in an elegant white robe he added, “Yes wasn’t it son, didn’t even get my hands dirty, sometimes I think my little hobby is more work than I bargained for.” He took the offered glass.
“Still you need a hobby and they do seem to be getting a tad bit better over time. To the continued improvement of your little creatures; sorry father, I meant the human race;” they toasted and drank rich red wine.
About the Author;
Allan Rounsley is a retired blue collar male with at least one screw partially loose. He likes fantasy and sci-fiction. has had minor success with two stories published in four years of writing. The first book he remembers reading was Robert Heinlein's “Have Spacesuit, Will Travel,” and it was one of the first that got him hooked on reading.
By Lance J. Mushung
Part I - A Patrol Begins
A gray blur in sight for only seconds on a camera monitor caught Jarius’s eye. “What the hell,” he mumbled with a quizzical expression on his face.
He was at the remote piloting station for his plane, an unmanned vehicle based several hundred miles away. The mission was patrolling the border low and slow for illegals, drug dealers, or any other kind of bad guys. His plane was a marvel of modern engineering. It contained surveillance and spy systems galore, but those millions of dollars of systems had shown him nothing interesting for a couple of weeks. It had been just SOS, the same old shit, every day until each day became another day just like the last.
He replayed the recording made automatically, starting two minutes before the sighting. The recording showed a beautiful morning. The sun was climbing into the sky and peeking through breaks in the fluffy white clouds. Then the gray blur burst from the clouds and went straight down into the distant hills to the north. Replaying the recording once more at slow speed did nothing to help identify the blur. He inquired, and the radar operators told him they’d seen nothing on their scopes. The odds said it was some sort of glitch and wasn’t worth checking out. He noted the GPS coordinates for his plane anyway. If nothing else, looking around the area would break the tedium by giving him different terrain to fly over when bringing the plane home.
Part II - A Desert Morning
Aaron, Kyle, and Shawn had started another day of their desert vacation. Kyle liked coffee in the morning and had fired up the propane stove to heat water. A grin came to Aaron’s face as he looked at the Star Trek coffee mug Kyle used. It never failed to amuse him. Two captioned pictures on opposite sides of the mug depicted ‘The Two Sides of Mr. Spock.’ The first was Spock saying ‘live long and prosper’ while giving the Vulcan hand gesture that went with that salutation. Aaron always wondered how people spread their fingers to make that gesture. He couldn’t. The other was Spock saying ‘eat shit and die’ while displaying a middle finger. At least Aaron could make that useful sign.
“Hey guys,” Kyle called out as he pointed to a spot low in the sky. “Look at that.”
Whatever it was vanished in seconds. Aaron concentrated on what he’d just seen. It was some sort of silver-gray object that had fallen straight out of a low bank of white clouds and then disappeared behind the hills not far away. It hadn’t been moving all that fast, he thought. No flames or smoke trailed behind it, and there’d been no indication of an explosion, although it must have hit the ground.
“Let’s go find out what the hell it is,” Shawn said. “It can’t be far.”
Part III - A Falling Ship
Engineering Officer Scrail was in the piloting compartment of her ship, Abnith. What the display screen on the console was showing horrified her. The surface of the planet, seen as brown splotches through white clouds, appeared to be approaching Abnith at a tremendous velocity. In truth, Abnith was plunging straight down through the planet’s atmosphere. Nothing she had tried so far to arrest the ship’s descent had made a bit of difference. She began cursing her clan mother under her breath. The clan mother called herself parsimonious because it sounded better than the more direct words cheap and stingy. Sending this inadequate ship into deep space was a crime, and the consequence would be Scrail’s completion.
Scrail was close to screaming when Abnith provided a surprise. The ship rotated 180 degrees. Her display screen showed the sky above Abnith’s nose, and she felt the ship decelerate even through the compensation provided by the artificial gravity generator.
“Fortune favored someone in the engine compartment,” she told the commander and pilot next to her. They didn’t take the time to answer. She changed her screen view to display the ground again. The ship was indeed decelerating. Perhaps they could yet avert disaster she told herself in the form of a prayer. A short time later Abnith’s stern hit the ground before she had shed all her speed. Abnith reacted as a ship pitching and rolling in a violent ocean storm. Deafening crashing and ripping sounds accompanied the motion. Scrail was flung back and forth in the straps holding her on her stool. She blacked out.
Scrail regained consciousness hanging in her stool’s straps. Her left-rear lower limb was throbbing. Her brain felt scrambled, but she concentrated and began assessing the situation. The emergency lights were on. She felt lighter than normal and realized the artificial gravity generator was not working. From her position, she knew Abnith was resting on her side. The deck had become a bulkhead. One of the true bulkheads was below Scrail and had become the floor she would stand on. She turned her eyestalks and saw the commander and pilot above her. They were not moving. The commander was without question completed. A girder from the central lift’s structure had passed through her side. She looked like a piece of meat grilling on a spit with her six limbs dangling. The pilot’s two upper limbs were still on the controls, but his four lower limbs hung lifeless. Magenta blood stains covered his eyestalks and surrounding skin because the top of his cranium had been smashed into paste. There could be little doubt that he was also completed.
“Maker of All, please conduct my clan mates into your blissful realm.” With her quick prayer chanted, she scanned her console. Nothing on it was working. In fact, nothing at all in the piloting compartment was functioning other than the emergency lights. Releasing the straps holding her to the stool, she lowered herself to the floor using the console as a ladder. Her injured limb was throbbing even more than earlier but seemed fine otherwise. She took a moment to rest on the floor and thought through what had happened.
They were on a survey assignment and had found this planet. Unlike most planets, this one held a sentient species. After a short study the crew had determined that the natives were primitive savages, as were the few other known sentient aliens. It was true, however, that this large and bipedal species was more technologically advanced than the others. They had a nice planet, although it was not ideal for Scrail’s people.
The air was a touch thin, and the average temperature was a bit cool. It did not matter in any case. Nice planets were uncommon, but not so uncommon that her people needed to take one from another sentient species. After four cycles the commander had decided that they had amassed enough information. The institutes back home could mount a proper expedition to study the planet in detail if they wished to do so. Abnith was leaving orbit when some failure in the gravity drive caused her to head straight toward the planet instead of away from it.
That covered how she had gotten into her current situation Scrail told herself, and it was of no help. What was next? Her priorities should be looking for other survivors and determining the precise status of the ship. The place to start was the engineering compartment. Using the central lift to get there was out of the question. The lift could not be functional. She would have to use one of the two tubes of ladders located along the outer perimeter of the ship. One of them ran along what was now the floor, and she saw the entry hatch nearby. She thanked the Maker of All for that bit of good fortune. After pulling some debris out of the way, she entered the tube. The emergency lights were working, and the ladder rungs were up above her and out of the way. That was a bit more good fortune.
She traveled toward the stern of the ship with no trouble on the tube’s smooth surface. Her injured limb no longer bothered her. It had benefited from the lighter-than-normal gravity and from being used. Her mind wandered while she walked, and she recalled how she had laughed when some of native languages were first translated. The natives called their planet Dirt. It seemed all races named their planets Dirt or Mud.
There was probably some cosmic significance to that, but she did not know what. Well, it looked as if she too was an inhabitant of Dirt for the moment. Then, a sudden and alarming thought came to her. “What about the true inhabitants?” Why had she not considered their savage nature right away? The natives would want to complete and eat her. The memory of one of their video transmissions popped into her mind.
They had dropped a living creature into boiling water, cooked it, and eaten it. She would have empathized with any creature in such a predicament but did so even more in this case. The unfortunate creature looked much like a small version of herself.She almost wailed out loud at the thought of being boiled and consumed by primitive savages, but a few moments of less emotional thinking subdued her fear. The natives would have considerable trouble getting to her. Almost anything their technology had capable of cutting through the hull would destroy the ship. She would be safe for a time.
She passed by nine decks. The temperature dropped as she went, and she began catching whiffs of an usual scent. At the entry hatch for the next deck a few spots of a bright yellowish-white light appeared on the wall. She stopped to take a look. A collection of cargo containers blocked the way into the compartment. She hoped they were empty, and they were.
She pushed them away from the hatch with no trouble and saw a large breach through both the inner and outer skins of the ship. “Natives can enter the ship.” She came close to panic but willed herself to remain rational. Plugging this breach had to be another of her top priorities. She needed one of the hull repair kits from the engineering compartment.
She continued her journey to the engineering compartment at her best speed. A nasty thought came to her along the way. What if there were other breaches? She pushed the thought from her mind. Why conjure up yet more troubles? There was only the one breach until she had reason to believe there were others.
In the engineering compartment she found the three other members of the crew. They were completed. Two had been thrown about the compartment and resembled bloody pulp. The other was hanging from a stool before an instrument console and appeared burned. He must have been electrocuted. She was alone. She chanted a brief prayer for her clan mates and turned her attention to finding a hull repair kit. Locker doors were flung open, and equipment was scattered all about the floor along with all manner of debris. While rummaging through the piles on the floor she found the repair kit, and more. To her total amazement one of the consoles near the floor was working. Against all odds the artificial brain was still functioning.
“If I get out of this I am giving the manufacturer a testimonial,” she said out loud. She wondered how the clan mother had gotten a piece of good equipment instead of the rubbish most of the ship contained. It was an accident was the most plausible answer she decided.
She studied Abnith’s status using the console. There appeared to be only the one hull breach, and she thanked the Maker of All for that. She needed very little time to conclude the ship would never fly again. The gravity drive was junk. The interstellar skip drive still retained its charge but was useless. The skip drive worked only outside the gravity well of a solar system, and the ship could not get outside the well.
There was, however, some good news. The shuttle bays were clear of the ground, and one of the shuttles appeared to be operational. So there was a way to get into space and to the edge of the system. Once there, she could launch a courier drone and be rescued. She had a plan. She’d fix the breach, load the shuttle with as many supplies as possible, and leave for the edge of the system.
Before she left the console, she took the brief time needed to write a subroutine that ordered the artificial brain to monitor her life signs implant. The brain would overload and discharge the skip drive if she became completed. That energy released within the gravity well of the system would dissociate the molecules of the ship and anything within 33 standard short units. No natives would be eating her.
Carrying the hull repair kit to the tube, it occurred to her that she should have a weapon. She hoped she would not need one, but there was an old maxim in the Survey Corps. It was better to have a weapon and not need one than to need one and not have it. She had seen the container she wanted earlier and went straight to it. After opening the survival kit, she pulled out a cylindrical microwave pulse pistol. The energy gauge indicated 17 shots, about two-thirds of a full charge. Energy must have bled out over time, so the prudent course was to test it.
She took a flask of water out of the survival kit. After drinking most of the water she set the flask on a pile of debris at the back of the compartment. There was nothing vital in that direction. She backed away and took careful aim. The pistol discharged with a brief low-pitched hum when she squeezed both the safety and trigger studs. The burst of microwaves shattered the flask as the remaining water became steam and disappeared in an instant. The energy gauge showed 16 shots left. She put the pistol on her belt, picked up the hull repair kit, and headed to the hull breach.
Part IV - Exploring the Sighting
Aaron, Kyle, and Shawn were bouncing over the rough terrain into the hills in their Jeep. It had been 30 minutes since they’d packed and started off.
“Time for my morning vitamin S,” Kyle said, breaking the quiet.
Vitamin S, Aaron thought, laughing to himself. It was no vitamin. It was sugar. And one of Kyle’s favorite ways to get it was chocolate, which was nature’s perfect food according to him.
They worked for Interjack in Houston and had been friends for years. Interjack had hired them within months of each other, and they’d met playing in the company’s softball league. Some thought it odd that they got along so well. They were a disparate trio. Shawn was an off-the-wall software engineer. He looked like the stereotypical surfer with his long blonde hair.
Kyle, on the other hand, was a conservative engineer. His dark skin and lean shape made most people think of a football cornerback. What people thought when they saw Aaron wasn’t as exciting as surfer or football player. He looked like a history professor to most, which he had to admit fit his career as financial analyst.
They had a number of common activities, including short vacations to the Arizona, New Mexico, or west Texas deserts. This time they’d come to New Mexico. It was a wonderful change from the city to hike and motor off-road around the desert. Best of all, at least to Aaron, was the break from modern entertainment. He believed they spent enough time on games and watching the revered pantheon of what makes life good to guys: nudity, sex, violence, and bad language.
“The forecast last night said it would be cloudy and a touch cool today with storms probable in the afternoon,” Aaron said, watching Kyle gobble down a chocolate bar.
“Sounds perfect before we head back to town,” Shawn answered.
“It’s great here, isn’t it? Look at that horizon. Based on Houston, you’d think it was always dingy brown.”
“Don’t forget about the humidity. Even mushrooms often find Houston too damp.”
Kyle didn’t take the verbal bait. He was a native Houstonian and didn’t enjoy Houston-bashing the way Aaron and Shawn did.
“What do you think we saw?” Shawn said.
“Not sure,” Aaron answered. “I’m thinking a bomb. It must have been a dud though.”
“I’m betting on a piece of an airplane,” Kyle said.
“It was too big to be either of those,” Shawn said. He held up his right hand to stop the objections he knew would be coming from his friends and continued. “I realize it’s hard to judge size out here. You’re going to say it could have been something small and close.”
“That’s right,” Kyle answered. “So what do you think?”
“Well, I think it’s alien technology out of Area 51.”
“Not that again,” Kyle replied, in a tone that implied he was rolling his eyes.
Aaron knew Kyle’s tone was only mock irritation and almost groaned about what was coming next. He did close his eyes and grit his teeth. The never-ending debate between the pro-conspiracy and anti-conspiracy factions was starting up again. He’d heard it all before, and didn’t want to join in. His opinion, which he’d expressed often, was the Feds didn’t have hidden alien technology in Area 51, although he didn’t doubt they had and liked their secrets.
Aaron tuned out the good-natured discussion and thought of something unpleasant, work. Outsourcing jobs had become almost a fetish to Interjack, and the employee’s version of the corporate motto was ‘if you want to get jacked, work for Interjack.’ He’d miss seeing his friends daily if job changes scattered them to the four winds, but who knew if and when it would happen. And why was he spoiling the moment by thinking about it? He let his mind go blank as he gazed at the horizon, appreciating the beauty of the jagged desert landscape meeting the sky.
Shawn and Kyle had just gotten rolling on their discussion when the Jeep crested a hill and they all saw it. Shawn hit the brakes. The vehicle skidded to a stop and they piled out. Shawn had a wide-eyed expression on his face. Kyle was stroking his chin with a similar expression. Aaron stood slack-jawed with his hands behind his neck. Only the wind and the Jeep’s idling engine made any sounds as they simply stared.
It was in a ravine between the hills. It looked like a tapered rectangular box lying on its side lengthwise along the ground. The left end of the box seemed to be the base because it was the fatter end. That end was crumpled and smashed. Its color was silver-gray, similar to an old stainless steel kitchen sink. Overall the box was something like 150 feet long, and its side soared up about 30 feet at the base. There were no noticeable windows, doors, or panels. The skin appeared smooth except for the damage around the base.
Aaron prided himself on his knowledge of aircraft and was certain this was no aircraft. In fact, it didn’t look human-made at all. He was forced to conclude they were looking at a UFO, an alien spacecraft. Would his friends think he was crazy if he said out loud that they’d found an alien ship?
The three friends shifted their gazes to each other. Their expressions were the disbelieving ones they’d have worn if they’d just walked away unscathed from a horrendous plane crash.
“You know, Roswell isn’t far from here,” Aaron said in a matter of fact tone to break the silence. He was rewarded with brief chuckles.
“Well, gentlemen,” Shawn said, speaking in a soft voice. “I believe we’ve found ourselves a real live UFO.”
“I agree it looks like an alien ship,” Kyle said. “But it could turn out to be some sort of secret experimental aircraft.”
“Shit,” Shawn answered, drawing out the curse. “If you really believe that, I have some land in Florida and a bridge in New York that I’ll let you have cheap.”
“Do you think we should go get some help?” Kyle said.
“I’m thinking once the Feds get here it will all disappear,” Aaron replied.
“Do you guys have any idea how much money we’ll get because we were lucky enough to find this thing first?” Shawn said.
Aaron and Kyle looked as if they’d just received a revelation. Magazines, newspapers, radio, and television would pay well for their stories. Worries about money and working at Interjack would be things of the past. The three of them looked at each other and began laughing.
“Get your phones,” Shawn said when the laughter died down.
“What the hell for?” Aaron responded. “You know there’s no service out here.”
“So we can use the cameras, of course,” Shawn answered in the tone he used for telling people things they should already know. “We’ll want to get pictures of everything.”
Aaron felt stupid for not thinking of it himself. They got their smart phones out of the Jeep and took pictures.
“Let’s walk down for a closer look,” Aaron said. “We can get pictures along the way.”
“Okay,” Kyle answered. “I think --”
“I want to be armed if we go down there,” Shawn interrupted.
“You think there might be some live aliens?” Kyle said in a surprised tone.
“You never know,” Shawn answered.
They pulled out the handguns they kept in the Jeep. Plinking at rocks and cans in the desert was the stated reason, but as Kyle had said on many occasions, you never knew what you might run into. The lesson taught by Deliverance had stayed with Kyle, even if they were in the desert rather than Appalachia. Shawn put on his shoulder holster and shoved his Dirty Harry revolver into it. Kyle’s cowboy six-shooter went into his belt. Aaron took his holstered .45 Automatic out of its soft case and clipped it on his belt.
Thoughts raced through Aaron’s mind. Was there a crew? If so, were they dead or alive? If alive, would they be hostile? He could imagine the three of them being gunned down by some advanced weapon.
They walked down the hill to the ship, snapping pictures as they went. As they closed in they noticed dark green symbols scattered here and there over the hull. It was writing of some kind but was unlike anything they’d ever seen before. The symbols looked more like a musical score than human writing.
No death rays leapt out to burn their lives away, and they reached the hull unmolested. It appeared the ship had compressed the earth underneath it, but they couldn’t tell how much. They walked to the crumpled end, which they’d all agreed was the tail, intending to circle the ship. On the tail they found a set of projections. Most were squashed, but two were more or less intact. Those two resembled cones or funnels. The ground just beyond the tail reminded Aaron of the shallow depression that formed if you pushed a broad rod into sand.
“It looks like its tail hit the ground and then it fell on its side,” Shawn said.
“Sounds right,” Aaron replied.
The three continued around the ship and headed to the nose. As he walked, Kyle tapped on the hull off and on, as if to confirm it was real. They saw their next surprise at the same time and stopped as if they’d walked into a brick wall. There was a large crack in the hull, and it was more than large enough for a human to pass through. They peered into it, but nothing inside of the ship was visible. The crack was as pitch black as the entrance to any cave. Aaron thought he saw a faint blue glow but wasn’t certain.
“Let’s go in and look around some,” Shawn said, the excitement clear in his voice. “Our stories will be worth a lot more that way.”
“Well, okay,” Kyle answered, sounding less than enthusiastic about the idea.
“What if the atmosphere in this thing is poisonous?” Aaron asked.
“Hell, Aaron,” Shawn replied. “With a hole like that in the hull, our air will be all through it. How about it? Are you afraid to do some exploring? Remember, no guts means no glory.”
Aaron nodded okay even though he would have preferred going into Count Dracula’s castle at midnight. Earlier he’d wanted to get closer to the ship but had not even considered going in.
“We’ll need flashlights,” Kyle said.
“I’ll go get them,” volunteered Shawn. “Even better, I’ll bring the Jeep down here.”
While Shawn ran back to the Jeep, Kyle and Aaron did nothing but stand next to the hull and stare into the blackness of the crack. Aaron had visions of aliens ambushing the three of them as soon as they entered the dark hole, of being attacked the way wolves fall on rabbits. He imagined blood-sucking snakes curled about them and squeezing the life and blood out of them. The Jeep passed him and then slid to a stop just feet ahead, breaking his train of thought. It was no loss he told himself. All he’d been doing was imagining ridiculous things.
Shawn handed out the flashlights, and the three of them stood before the crack in the hull. Aaron’s heart rate increased, his lips were dry, and his hands were sweaty. He thought that both Shawn and Kyle also seemed excited and nervous. They shined their lights into the fissure. The beams of the flashlights seemed feeble and lost in the intense darkness. It was almost as if the ship absorbed the light. Even so, they could see the hull had inner and outer skins, both torn. And they could see there was a room or cabin on the other side of the hull.
“Let’s go,” was all Shawn said to get them moving.
Shawn led with his flashlight stabbing ahead into the darkness. He became a dot of light within the hull. Kyle was next and then Aaron. Aaron wondered if lemmings felt this way following their leader off the cliff. Passing through the tortured metal of the hull, he found himself in a room with Shawn and Kyle. The flashlights they carried did little to illuminate the room. Aaron blinked, trying to help his eyes adjust from the desert’s brightness to the darkness around him. Soon he saw glowing blue-colored panels that became brighter as the pupils of his eyes dilated.
“I think those things are lights,” Aaron said, pointing at one of the blue panels. “Turn off your flashlights.”
They did. The blue panels were lighting. The illumination was dim, and more than a bit eerie, but it was enough to allow the three friends to see that the room was long and narrow. Some small green boxes were strewn about the floor, and Aaron prodded a couple of them with his foot. They seemed empty.
“Check it out,” Kyle said pointing. “Those look like a desk and barstool. But they’re bolted onto that wall.”
“This thing is on its side,” Shawn said with certainty, emphasizing the word is. “That’s the floor. We’re standing on a wall.”
They took several pictures by concentrating their flashlight beams to light up the subjects. The floor and walls were a dark green color that didn’t seem to reflect light. The pictures turned out adequate.
Aaron noticed an opening in the floor and went to get a closer look. It was a bit small for a human but was big enough to pass through. He poked his head in and found a corridor that ran both left and right. It was lit by more of the blue panels at regular intervals. On the side next to his head he saw ladder rungs marching off in both directions.
“What have you got there?” Kyle called out to Aaron.
“Looks like a shaft that runs fore and aft.”
“Let’s see if it will take us to the front of this thing,” Shawn said. “That’s where the bridge should be.”
“We don’t know that these aliens think the way we do,” Aaron responded. “The bridge could be anywhere.”
“Then my idea is as good as any.”
“We’ll need to crawl.”
“So what. Let’s go.”
They crawled into the shaft and headed for what they hoped was the bridge. All they heard was their breathing and the shuffling noises from their movement. They passed openings that led to rooms, decks Aaron figured. Musical note symbols marked each opening. Deck numbers, perhaps? Some openings were clogged with boxes and debris. Others were clear. Each of them stopped in turn at the clear ones to take a picture or two as best he could with the light of a single flashlight. The narrow shaft and semi-dark rooms, along with the creepy blue lights and the quiet, were having an effect. Their breathing became labored and their sweating more profuse. It didn’t help that the temperature kept rising as they moved forward. Although they’d been in the shaft for only a minute or two, they’d become jumpy, and their eyes darted around as if they were hunting green tree snakes in a jungle. Aaron was again imagining all manner of monsters jumping at them from the shadows, while his two friends were picturing their own personal bogeymen. A strange sound or an odd shadow would have caused cardiac arrests or gun battles with phantoms.
After passing six openings they could see that the blue lighting panels were ending ahead. They reached the end of the shaft and crawled into a room that was well lit by blue lights.
“I’m betting this is the bridge,” Shawn stated in a satisfied tone.
They looked up and saw two aliens strapped into barstools. Neither took any notice of the three human intruders.
“Holy Jeez,” Kyle exclaimed. “What happened to the little green men?”
“Or the little grays?” Aaron said.
“They sort of look like crabs, don’t they?” Shawn commented. “Like long-legged crabs minus a few legs.”
The aliens were about the size of an average dog. Each had four legs and two arms that were more like tentacles than human appendages. Each arm was tipped by four long and thin fingers while their legs ended in something like clawed hooves. Their skin was hairless, scaly, and colored a golden hue. They had eye stalks, and that did more than anything else to make them look like crabs. Gray belts made from a shiny material circled their bodies.
The closest alien had been skewered by a beam. Its arms and legs hung as if it were a child’s stuffed animal. The other had two arms on what seemed to be a control panel, while its four legs hung limp. Purplish splotches covered it near its eyestalks, and Aaron assumed the splotches were blood stains. Both aliens appeared to be very dead.
“Let’s get some pictures and get the hell out of Dodge,” Kyle said.
“Right,” Shawn answered. “Grab anything interesting that we can carry out too.”
Getting out of the confined space of the shaft and finding the aliens dead improved the friends’ emotional states at once. They became much more relaxed, although none of them felt so comfortable that anyone wished to linger.
“Make sure you don’t touch anything that looks like a control,” Aaron cautioned. He felt like a 18th century man in the cockpit of a jet fighter.
It was even warmer in the room than in the shaft, and they took off their jackets. After that they got to business. Kyle took as many pictures as possible while Shawn and Aaron shined their flashlights to help. He snapped shots of the aliens, consoles, shelves, and cabinets. While they moved around they picked over small items that littered the floor. Shawn almost tripped on a net made of some sort of plastic and decided to use it. As they found interesting things they put them into the net. One item Shawn snagged looked just like a tablet computer.
“I think it’s time to go get the Air Force or somebody,” Kyle said after he felt he’d gotten enough money shots.
“Yeah,” Aaron said in a strong voice. He also nodded his head with raised eyebrows. There could be no question that he agreed wholeheartedly with Kyle.
“Okay,” Shawn answered. “But I want to get our pictures to the media first. Nobody is going to screw us out of our money.”
They crawled back to the crack in the hull through the shaft. Kyle led with Aaron behind him. Shawn brought up the rear dragging the net containing their prizes. Looking out at the desert through the crack, they stretched, put their jackets back on, and divvied up the items from the net for easy carrying out of the ship.
Part V - The Aliens Meet
Scrail neared the compartment containing the breach and heard low sounds. She dropped the hull repair kit, entered the compartment, and froze in place. Three natives were in her ship. They were even larger and more dangerous looking than she had expected. The natives also froze when they saw her. In a different situation it might have been comical to see all of them doing nothing but gawking at each other.
She looked at the items spread around them on the floor and recognized her writing slate. They had been looting the piloting compartment. She heard sounds again. Were they talking to each other or to her? Her non-engineering work was geology, not animal behavior. She wished she had access to a translator. She was startled and fearful when one of the natives approached her with its two upper limbs outstretched. “The savage is coming to grab me.”
She pulled the pistol from her belt, aimed, and fired. The torso of the native coming toward her was cooked in an instant. With the middle of its body charred, the native fell in a heap. She shifted her aim to the next native and fired again.
In her haste, she was a little careless and aimed low. Her shot hit the native’s lower left limb. The limb burned near where it met the torso and the bone broke with a crack. The limb fell forward while the native fell backward.
It voiced a terrifying howl while falling. She winced and felt a pang of regret about causing such pain and about failing to get a clean completion. “It must be in agony. I will complete it in a moment.” She aimed at the last native. “What is that blocky instrument with the large maw? A weapon? I --”
She felt incredible pain and heard a loud booming sound. The pain was what she would have expected if one of her limbs had been ripped off. She screamed and dropped the pistol. Then she felt additional pain and heard a second boom. She lost consciousness and fell to the floor.
“Jesus Christ!” Aaron shouted. His gun hand shook and his heart thumped so hard that if he’d been paying attention to it, he might have feared it would leap from his chest. He almost didn’t believe what had just happened, and his expression reflected that. He’d fired two rounds into a giant crab. Shawn’s chest was gone, burnt to a crisp. Kyle had lost his left leg, which was lying in front of him. Aaron had heard shrieks that he’d never forget as long as he lived. Kyle’s had been heart-rending enough, but the high-pitched screeches the crab made were causing chills to run up and down his spine.
The smell of burnt meat was filling the room and almost turning Aaron’s stomach. Then his heart rate began slowing and his hand stopped shaking. A thought flashed into his mind. He hadn’t been paying any attention to the alien. He went over to the crab to take a closer look with his .45 at the ready. There was purplish blood splattered all over it and the floor. It was through. And there didn’t seem to be any more of them, thank God. He picked up the alien gun.
Scrail regained consciousness. She tried to move, but could not. At least her pain was more bearable than earlier. She sensed a presence nearby and opened her eyes. The native with the weapon was towering over her. Would it complete her with what she now knew was some type of projectile weapon? That seemed likely. She cringed, expecting the worst, but nothing happened. It took her pistol and moved away. She was astonished. “It left me alone. Have I misjudged them?”
Even with his right ear ringing from the gunshots, Aaron heard a soft rustle and saw an arm move. Kyle was still alive. As Aaron kneeled over his friend, he saw the stump of Kyle’s leg was cauterized and not bleeding. Kyle could be saved with some help. “I’ll get you out of here buddy,” Aaron said to his semi-conscious friend. He holstered his .45 and put the alien gun into his jacket’s pocket. He continued talking as he pulled Kyle out of the ship. “Who the hell said aliens would be more intelligent, and therefore superior, and therefore peaceful? The damned crab just started blasting. I’m shooting first from now on.”
Scrail watched the native lug one of its companions out through the breach. She was alone with her thoughts and a completed native. She had misjudged these bipeds and felt remorse about the error. If she could have done so she would have thanked the one native for its mercy. It had granted her the gift of time. She could chant her prayers and prepare herself to face the Maker of All.
Aaron belted Kyle into the front passenger seat of the Jeep. Aaron was breathing hard and sweating from exertion and used a forefinger to wipe a drop of sweat about to roll into his eye. That had been a bit of a job he told himself. One deep breath and a slow exhalation, sounding like a low-pitched whistle, was all the rest he allowed himself. He plopped into the driver’s seat. “God damn it,” reverberated through the desert hills.
The keys were not in the ignition. He searched for a few seconds like a madman before the obvious dawned on him. Shawn must have the keys. Of course, it had been automatic for him to take them when he left the Jeep. “I thought shit like this only happened in the movies,” Aaron grumbled through gritted teeth. He headed back into the ship.
Scrail finished her prayers. Her pain was gone along with most of her blood. She spent her little remaining time looking out the breach admiring the view. It was bright sunlight, a blue sky full of white clouds, and a rugged brown hill. There was great beauty in the stark landscape, and she could imagine far worse completions. She felt content and drew her last breath. The artificial brain saw her life signs end and discharged the skip drive. Abnith and everything within 33 standard short units of her disappeared into atoms in less than three seconds. Only a trench in the desert remained.
Part VI - A Patrol Ends
Jarius’s shift was over. He flew his plane on a detour toward the odd sighting from the morning. He was finding nothing and wasn’t surprised. Maybe a bug or some debris had flown by the camera lens. He was about to end what he figured was a fool’s errand when the plane passed over an arroyo. In it he saw a trench tinted a faint and unusual metallic hue. He scrutinized the images on the camera monitors while piloting the plane in a circle. It looked like someone had been digging. “Looking for what?” he muttered. “Billy the Kid’s gold?” He snickered at his little joke. Who knew why the crazy old desert bastards out there did anything? The coming wind and rain would scour the area, so it didn’t matter what they’d been doing. He put his plane on a course home and hoped something interesting would happen on his next shift.
About the Author;
Lance J. Mushung is an aerospace engineer who worked on space shuttle and payload structures for 30 years in Houston. He has a great deal experience in technical writing. Now retired, he has the time to write fiction.
Thank you for joining us. I hope to see you back here next week with our magical realism and urban fantasy edition! Or was it fantastical urban realism...