Is there an objective evil in the world? Some sinister force that seeks to enforce its will on others? Could that force take on human form bringing together a group of friends for the sole reason of killing them off one by one? I mean villians in a movie always have a motivation, at least the good ones do. Darth Vader wanted a peaceful galaxy seeing the Republic paralyzed by its bureaucracy determined to make a change. Thanos wanted to balance the scales of the Universe bringing an end to over-population and suffering. This though, no amount of reasoning could justify what was done to Jennifer’s body.
Becky’s sobs continued to echo, more for show than anything, it was selfish weeping. Kelly was right about that at least. Kelly was trying to bring her downstairs, but even I knew that type of crying only compounded irrationality. As if on que Becky ripped out of Kelly’s grasp, running down the long hall. She was gone before Kelly or I could get to her.
Kelly looked at me with disdain as if I should have done something. “Did you want to go after her?” I asked.
“No, Fuck her.” Kelly replied, “She wants to die then so be it.”
Without another word we made our way down to the living room, where we had all been before. The large vaulted room offering no comfort from the cold sinking into the lodge. I was proud at how well the boys seemed to be holding themselves together through this, but it was obvious that even they couldn’t take much more. Michelle had tears down her face, but unlike Becky she seemed sincere.
“So, why was she in the bathroom alone?” I asked.
Everyone looked around the room as if someone else would be able to enlighten me on the reason. Michelle was the only one who did, cold faced she said, “Everyone assumed it was you, so we ditched the whole wait here in place. People wandered around alone, took showers, what have you. Jennifer…”
“Jennifer had been gone for a long time, we all went looking as a group. Fucking Becky found her.” Kelly said.
“Where is Becky now?” Blake asked.
“She ran off.” Kelly said,
“Shit Kelly, and you didn’t go after her? What if something gets her?” Blake asked.
Kelly was about to rip into Blake again. It was amazing how he could just jump right under her skin without any effort. It was always so awkward being around them because of it. I decided to jump in before it completely blew.
“The killer had a mask.” I said.
Everyone was looking at me now, well at least everyone that was left. “I was going to search my room for clues, or figure a way to get out. I ended up passing out though. The stress had got to me, but I couldn’t stop dreaming about it. Each time there was always something out of the corner of my eye. Something that I had been missing each time, but I focused on it. It was a glitter bunny mask, like those ones that freshmen in the sorority wear during pledge month.”
“You’re retarded.” Kelly said, “what are you even talking about? No one would just have one of those, it’s not like it’s the best of days when you have one.”
“I don’t do Greek, what is a glitter bunny mask?” Andrew asked.
“It’s basically what pledges wear when entering into the sorority. The’re servants. They clean their sisters room, cook their sisters food, you know stuff like that.” Jennifer replied.
“Get raped by the football team…” Blake said.
If looks could kill Kelly’s would have Blake. She huffed up her chest like she was about to say something, but Jennifer beat her to the punch.
“That was Tina Tanner. It wasn’t the team but one guy, and there was no proof that it even happened. He didn’t even go to trial.” Jennifer said.
“Oh…oh I remember that. I was a freshman, she was the one who wrote slut on her chest and took a dive off the economics building. Holy shit, no one ever talks about that.” Andrew said realizing that he said it a bit too enthusiastically quickly shrinking down into the couch.
“So, what do you think Steph? Tina Tanner’s back from the dead to get her revenge on us?” Kelly asked.
“No, not Tina, but maybe someone like her. You guys know how brutal those months are, maybe someone. Most of those deaths on campus are pretty Greek related.” I said.
Andrew and I were maybe the only ones who were not in Greek life, and for a good reason. Wind River University was a rough place for the Greek life. Wyoming was pretty well cut off from most of those centralized Greek charters, and the University’s Administration policy was more of no news is good news. That left a lot of hormone ridden teens with too much time on their hands.
A loud crash echoed from upstairs. No one really knew what to do, and looks were exchanged by everyone. The crash was followed by a scream, and I ran toward it. Blake, came up from behind me on the stairs passing by me quickly. He was down the hall before before I reached the halfway point.
I rounded the hall seeing the open door, and Blake cursing coming from it. Inside Blake held Becky’s arm that was bleeding. There were just tears coming down her face, no weeping. At least none yet. Becky was shaking like she was in shock. We heard footsteps coming down the hall from the others. Each one entering the room. Kelly had a towel in hand, prepared for the worst. They began attending to Becky’s wound her eyes on the window that was shattered. The glass laid about all over the carpet.
“What happened?” I asked.
Becky not taking her eyes off the window replied, “Tina…Tina Tanner.”
I dozed off, not sure for how long. There was barely light in the sky when I fell asleep, but not completely black outside like it was now. It was restless sleep as I kept watching Angel again and again. Every time I would reach out to do something, anything to help her, but each time never being able to stop it. She just kept staring back at me blood running down her throat her eyes in horror. There was always something there just out of the corner of my eye watching me each time. I couldn’t completely focus in on it, I didn’t want to. As the events reshaped in my head again I forced myself to look. A vivid scream filled the air. I jumped out of bed, but wasn’t sure if it was real or not. I was paralyzed by the fear again, that mask what was that?
Footsteps came toward my door, as well as hushed argument just outside. It was almost comical how they thought they were being quiet enough that I couldn’t hear them. Kelly was a thick as they come. They continued to struggle with the lock as I took time to wake up feeling disoriented. The mask staring back at me, watching me now.
The door flew open Kelly quickly filling the gap coming right toward me, “You!”
“Me.” I replied.
Her boyfriend was trying to stop her advance, but a slap across the face quickly reminded him of his place to her. Kelly stopped at the foot of the bed. I made it a point not to get up or look intimidated. I wanted her to know that I didn’t care who she thought she was. It just made her angrier.
“How did you get out?”
“I obviously didn’t”
Kelly’s face turned a bright red glowing with anger and fury. It was the face I had gotten used to with her. We may have similar friends, but we never really got along. She had this constant air about her that she was the most important person the room, and I made sure she know how little I cared. Its almost came to blows before, but most of the time her boyfriend keeps her calm, maybe today was finally it. Maybe we would finally see who would shut up forever.
She pointed at me and was about to say something, but instead chose to walk off. Her lackey following closely behind like the whipped pup he was.
She left the door open, perhaps as a way of saying I was no longer a suspect. Even she couldn’t deny I was right here the whole time, she just couldn’t say it to my face. I walked out shortly after timing myself ensuring she knows it was my choice, not hers, to leave.
The hall seemed colder, but I was just under a large lump of wonderful blankets and pillows. I could hear Becky sobbing and I remembered How did you get out. Something happened, again. I followed the sobs to one of the bathrooms.
I grew up on a ranch. One particular night we went into town for a movie, a family outing. When we came back the entire heard of cows were together in one area, and the smell of blood filled the air. That sticky iron smell. My father took me out into the field. It didn’t take long to find the source. Wolves had come in tearing apart several of our stock. They didn’t even eat them they just tortured them until they had run out of fun. I would rather see that sight everyday for the rest of my life then what was before me in that bathroom. The blood pooled, the walls red, skin flayed, the suffering unimaginable.
That night when the cows died we made sure there was never another attack again. I could smell the smoke now. Wyoming girls don’t cry.
I’ve woken up to plenty of things in my life. Cats fighting, people drinking, the occasional drunk roommate vomiting on my bed. I have never woken up to a stuffed bear from another dimension with glowing red eyes choking me with a surprisingly strong grip. After the initial shock was over and fear of suffocating intensified I immediately threw the thing across what use to be my room. Used to be as my room was now traveling through space and what I can only assume is time. It’s a terrifying thing to fall through the fabric of reality, yet it happens so often especially with washing machines and socks. The landing was somewhat soft as the three thousand dollar Pure Bliss mattress, that had three payments left, absorbed most of the shock of the landing.
I prayed that I was dreaming, drugged, or lost grip of my sanity. Any combination would have been better than the reality that faced me now. It wasn’t so terrifying at first. I appeared from my trip in a shiny white walled room with no noticeable exit. The terrifying part came with a horror realization that the bear had also made the trip, and was now making its way toward me. It didn’t utter a sound, but the look upon its face screamed death (my death). With my quick thinking I punted the bear across the room. Unfortunately it didn’t let go but rather bit deep into my skin. Its cotton tooth bent at the bite, but I had no way of knowing that. I let out a scream a terrified scream not knowing for sure if I felt pain.
At that moment the door opened as two men entered in wearing large hazmat suits. I took the bear off flinging it at the first one who enter. It latched onto his face causing him to freak running right into a wall. The second man shot what was possibly a taser at me, hard to tell at that moment. It was confirmed as I fell to the ground in a heap of shaking flesh with large amount of volts flowing through my veins. My last thought before passing out was: try not to pee.
I awoke tied to a metal chair with my head covered by a burlap sack that smelt like sweaty feet. As my senses slowly returned to me I became aware of two distinct voices in the room. The female one ripped the bag off my head and my eyes were greeted by a blinding light. The woman wore a suit that looked a size too big for her, and the man’s suit was tight and stretched out he also had a large and distinguished mustache. I don’t mean like it was large, I mean that it was supersized. It’s like when you go to McDonalds and you ask for some fries. They ask how many, you point to that man’s face and say As many as that stash can handle. They will inevitably tell their co-workers We need all the fries.
“How did you break containment?” The woman asked, “Don’t attempt to lie. Each lie delivers a high voltage right up to that bug friend of yours.” The man lifted an eyebrow and pointed at his skull. It looked like a routine they had spent some time on. I won’t lie, I was kinda diggin’ it.
The silence filled up the room as they awaited my answer, I was still impressed with the whole routine, “I…I’m not entirely sure.”
We all awaited the shock that was sure to come. They gave each other a look, and then looked at the one way mirror. The man got up leaving the room obviously to check to ensure that the system is in fact working, and that they would get to electrocute me. Glorious stash and all.
The woman, not wanting to waste any more time, continued her line of questioning, “When did your overlords discover sanctuary?”
She sighed pulling out a handheld taser shocking it in front of me before putting it on my crotch, Which since I was previously asleep and only in my pajamas, just a long shirt, the whole taser on my crotch was terrifying to say the least, “I’m done fucking around answer the question. How did you get into sanctuary?” she asked oh so politely.
I could feel my testicles climb to my throat. Is this what happens to good people? But, that thought led me to a whole new series of thoughts like are you really a good person? After the awkward silence I responded. “I promise you I was just sleeping in my bed. I awoke to being strangled by a bear, and landed in that room where I was zapped be you people. I have no idea who you people are or what you want.”
A knocking came on the glass. Apparently it was her turn to walk behind the glass. The ball in throat feeling didn’t recede until she left the room. After a hushed argument, and her kicking in the door the feeling quickly returned. She cut off the binds holding me, and picked me up out of the chair. We walked past mustache man who apparently after checking on the machine got a coffee and a doughnut. That man had elegance and grace reserved only for kings.
We crossed down the hall toward another series of doors, passing through revealed what best can be describe as a nerve center with people on computers, making calls, and a large map of earth with flashing dots all around. Imagine a cheesy spy movie nerve center with more coffee, and doughnuts. Oh and imagine me with JUST a long shirt on.
I was pushed into a chair, by taser girl, and wheeled in front of the giant screen. A series of photos were on a loop. Cameras, from around the world showed that something was definitely different. People weren’t in the streets, cars weren’t driving. There was just large groups of people all in orange. They just stood there like they were waiting for something.
A man who looked very official climbed the stage, and began yelling to the crowd. “We just got these images from France, Belgium, and the damn United States. What your seeing is a gathering of infected. Some of you remember the same type of gatherings when the first planes left from the quarantine. We knew they were planning something, but we weren’t sure now with this man…” A long finger pointed at me kind of aggressively which made me completely aware of how naked I actually was, “…We are sure. They are planning to jump dimensions.”
There was hushed voices, and whispers as everyone was looking at me. The man spoke up again, “I want solutions yesterday. We need to contain this now.”
The man wore a red beret in a camo uniform. He marched right toward us staring me down, and then looked to the woman. He pointed really aggressively at me again. It was excessive I was like Jeeze man. “We need to know where the portal is, the big one. This guy should point it out like a beacon.”
“Oh no no… Ha ha see I don’t know where that portal is.” The man looked irritated walking off.
The woman rubbed her head, “Are the people from where you’re from dumb as you?”
“No…?” Apparently that was not the correct answer, or maybe it was. It’s hard to tell when people here are sarcastic assholes. That’s what dimension I landed in sarcastic asshole land.
We began walking to another part of the sanctuary, but I wasn’t told exactly what that would be. I decited to ask “So, what happened to earth? Those people don’t really look infected.”
“They don’t do they? That’s the issue, a parasite that doesn’t destroy the world by creating a shambling body of flesh hunting for fresh meat. They look like us act like us. They subtly spread their infection through love, and friendship. Started out as a cult. Groups of people meeting up talking about love, and generosity. Grew into an international movement. That’s how it all ended. Not a nuke, disease, or famine. It ended through world peace.”
She continued on, “It all started when Dr. Ellis started digging in the Arctic. They were doing research on global warming. Something was pulled up from the ice, something ancient, maybe alien, maybe it’s from Satan’s asshole. Either way a few months later Dr. Ellis was in Greenland leading a cult that spread across the world in a matter of months.”
It would sound crazy, even impossible, but I remember an article where Dr. Ellis couldn’t secure funding from congress. Tazer girl stopped in the hall looking at me, “We are all that’s left. Everywhere else is….infected. They just worship the worm, life carries on the same, except there’s no war, and lots of worm worship.” She sighed thinking of something, “When people take on the worm they become sterile the worm doesn’t know how to reproduce, but it wants to. We thought for a while when they couldn’t find any more sanctuary outposts they would try to jump dimensions continuing to spread the worm.” She pointed at me, “You’re a beacon because when you traveled you brought particles with you. They will want to return to where they came. You will know where we need to go when the time is right.”
When the time is right is when my head is about to explode from the pressure of every particle in my being wanting to return home to prevent a paradox. Most likely killing me in the process.
We continued to move as the white walls slowly faded to a grey stepping into an elevator. The woman continued to lead. I realized at this point I had no idea what her name was, “Do you have a name?”
We walked out of the elevator (quick trip indeed, or did she not talk the whole way up? The world may never know) “DD44, we are stripped of traditional names as they are unorganized, and useless. Humanity had to pick between two utopias. The peaceful non-violent one, and the structured to a fault one. Both force cooperation, and ensure compliance. When we are finished with the bugs then we can return to freedoms but not until that moment though.”
As we walked out of the elevator a large hanger erupted before us. People were running supplies, and getting ready for what looks like an assault, maybe people here just ran around a lot. DD44 was handed equipment from another person, and began putting on a bullet proof vest. Funny name as they really only stop one bullet. It made her look even funnier with her over-sized suit on. Next was my turn. I want to still remind you that I am in JUST my long shirt as they handed me a vest. I yelled, because it was louder than shit in here, not because I’m an asshole, “Can I get some pants, and a normal shirt.” The two who brought my clothes gave each other a funny look, and left. Hopefully to get pants.
DD44 laughed, “We thought that’s what people in your world just wore. We were taught not to judge anyone who comes from the other side. Different cultures, and everything.”
I ended up with some tight combat pants, a vest, a helmet, and a ton of other stuff that had to add another fifty pounds to my body. We were ushered into a helicopter, and strapped in. “Is all this necessary I mean aren’t they peaceful?”
“Peaceful in the same way a group of Triggers are peaceful. They breed till their numbers swell, and kill anything not theirs. Some of the last countries with a functioning military were overrun, and killed. The whole National Guard from the state of Wyoming was crucified.”
Triggers ,as I would learn later, are a genetic creation that went really wrong. A Dr. Ron Albert was working on the perfect killing machine when his lab was raided by a bunch of starry eyed college students who believed in world peace things, pre-worm. The triggers killed them all and bred like crazy. Eventually Russia, because who else would make something like that, surrender an island to them. I would learn, through some illicit means, that Dr. Ron Albert was still working on his animal in my world with the kids who broke in and tripped an alarm, and now they are in a gulag somewhere. What is with evil people having Ph.D.’s?
The hanger opened up, and we lifted off. I could feel my body sweating, as I shook. DD44 held a large scanner. She had put sticky tabs on my head, without asking, and kept cycling through numbers.
“What the hell is happening to me?” I asked.
“Your body want to go home.” DD44 replied.
We left the hidden structure that was just a hollowed out mountain. I could feel my body ache more. My sweating became more profuse, dripping off my head. I clinched my eyes closed as my head exploded in pain. “Don’t worry, you will cycle like this. It tells us where the portal is.”
DD44 scanner was flashing, and buzzing. She collected the sweat off my skin, as it was floating in the air. It was literally floating like zero gravity style. Her scanner began creating a readout, a longitude, and latitude of the large portal that would open releasing billions of these worms into my world. Conveniently, the spot was easily reached by helicopter, and only an hour away, however it was filled with a million (not literally) of these things awaiting their new homes.
We entered under the cover of darkness. We were set down several miles outside of the city, and began the hike in. The entire time I kept trying prevent the pants from riding up. My legs were thoroughly chapped as we closed in on the city. What was strange to me during the hike, and I am sure that you were able to pick up on it as well was how the bug made the people sterile, but was capable of inter-dimensional travel. It didn’t change any of their body chemistry, it only latched onto their brain controlling the human like a sugared up tween playing X-Box. People kept all of their memories, wants, and needs. Just the bug took over. So, how did a bug that was able to build an inter-dimensional rift through space time not figure out the basics of human breeding? It goes back to when the bug first arrived on earth. An asteroid hit throwing ash high into the air, and carrying the bug across the planet for the first time. The problem with these bugs is they are designed to learn the anatomy of the largest animal group on a planet, which happened to be dinosaurs.
So when the first humans became infected there was enough shared DNA that the bug could make corrections allowing for full control of the human, but not enough knowledge of the human to breed. The bug had an idea of what sex was, and tried many times for it to work. The problem always came back to the same issue, where are the eggs? This tiny error made it so that an entire population of people in this dimension were unable to reproduce leading the bugs to attempt to find a way to breed into another existence. The next terrifying part is that there is probably another universe where they successfully breed enslaving all of humanity.
The city, if you could really call it that, sat in a valley surrounded by mountains. We worked out way up from the South. There was five of us. The agent, myself, and three guys with really big guns. I kept thinking even if they had the numbers we had the guns. Why even bother just end them with a few nukes, and by the time the human race is ready to spread again the radiation should be down.
“Can’t you just bomb them, or shoot them.?”
Apparently that was the wrong solution as everyone looked at me like I was stupid. It was one of the big dudes with the biggest gun that responded. DD44 obviously was tired of answering my questions.
“We tried guns, but they had bigger. We weren’t the only people who went underground. In fact we were the smallest colony, with almost no arms. The bigger sanctuaries, were overrun, nuked, or starved out. The infected are one large hive mind with the ability to accomplish anything, expect breeding.”
I felt my body shaking, and my head beginning to explode again. The pain was blinding I puked all down my vest which wasn’t the coolest thing I’ve done today. I really wanted to go home. DD44 and the others waited until I was done “being a whiny bitch” before we moved again. The after effects felt like a hangover, but as we proceeded getting closer to the rift the cycling illness would come more often.
If you were to look at the history of Jesup Wyoming you would find that it doesn’t exist in our world. That’s the thing with multiple universes each one has subtle changes that could affect others in a big way. Jesup exists because a woman by the name of Carter Jesup found gold, and murdered her entire camp party. She created a town over their buried remains, and advertised the place as a lifetime find. What followed was a large rush, and the creation of the biggest city in Wyoming in this universe which is still small relative to other cities.
A large gathering of orange could be seen far off. It was like a sea of infected all standing facing the same way, waiting. In the middle of this large wave smack in the center was the portal. Or at least that is what we were thinking its impossible to see through the walls of the building they surrounded. From here they would sent the first wave through setting up a beachhead for the rest of them to follow. Our idea was that the main force that came with us would fire at the mob from the mountains, slowly working their way back hopefully bringing with them the bulk of the mob. They would leave another group to assault the rest in the city, and finally us working through the chaos to our lovely portal where we all hoped could be destroyed by bombing the hell out of it. With any luck we wont have to resort to nuclear hand grenades, an actual thing that existed in this world. They were a fun little thing cooked up by infected who fought against the worlds army’s. They would sneak to camps, and light them off taking out whole bases at a time.
The night kicked off as several rockets pounded the city. We were far enough away that we couldn’t see the carnage, but could hear it. DD44 listened in on the radio nodding as information traveled to her, and only her. The rest of us just sat there waiting for her to give up something. The sounds of rifles followed. DD44 with all her high tech crap watched from a drone above as a huge group of the infected moved toward the shooting following them out into the mountains. Next came the assault from the flank as more rockets hit. It was our turn now to sneak in now that the area was clear. She put down the headset, “Infected are coming toward the city we don’t have too much time.”
One of the men asked, “How many.”
“All of them.”
All of them, that would be the five billion people infected. That was all the motivation we needed to work our way through the buildings. Bodies of the rocket victims laid about. Some killed by the shrapnel, others the blast. We moved quickly not slowing down as the sounds of bullets could be heard, and screams of the dying.
The best part of a zombie is that it’s a dead human. Anything that was that person is gone in a zombie. It’s a walking heap of flesh that forgot to stay dead. When killing it, its more like we are doing the thing a favor really. Why of course I will shoot you Mr. Zombie there’s nothing left for you in there. These people they weren’t dead, and they don’t understand why they are dying. One mans freedom fighter is another’s terrorist. Or one mans freedom is another mans brain bug utopia. They crawled, and cried over each other. I had to stop running. I had to help.
DD44 slapped me, “The worm already took them. Let’s go.”
I still debate that in my head even now. Imagine if we could have world peace, but sacrifice our freedom. Wouldn’t that still be worth it? Everyone collectively working toward the same goal, and being unable to deviate from that life? Even the people of the sanctuary had to give up freedom for their peace. Constantly under surveillance living in a glass house, even the leaders. I always come to the same answer, Better to be free and dead then alive a slave.
I could see parts of the worm on the ground. Some of the dead people had the thing crawling out of their ears, eyes, other holes that were not meant to have things come out of. The bright orange bug screamed, literally screamed as its host was dying. The hive could hear it around the world. They all could react to it, and they were on their way.
We reached the house with little resistance just mostly dying bodies. The bug wasn’t a tactician it was a hive. The hive’s response to a threat is to kill the threat. If we weren’t the threat then it didn’t want to kill us, but I had a feeling that would change as soon as they learned of our mission.
The portal was housed at the center of Jesup in Carter Jesups house, the lady who murdered her whole family for gold. I can’t tell what was worse, that she murdered her children, or that they were the first thing on display when we walked in. There was even a facial reconstruction imagine next to the protected pile of bones that was done by the University of Southern Wyoming. Which if you look the University up you will find that it also does not exist in our world.
The house has the whole western touristy thing down. At the entrance was the gift shop full of those huge cowboy hats, and fake six shooters. There was also some rock candy. I wont lie I took a hat, I mean why not? Next to the gift shop was the portal. Yep, I know small place I was just surprise as you. Figured there would be some climatic action scene where the heroes (us obviously unless your an alien parasite) would sacrifice their lives in a last ditch effort to save the world. Yeah, nope looks like for the first time in history no snags to an otherwise great plan.
At least I thought so until I heard the inhuman screaming. The first bugs to infect humans were eggs that went right in the persons nose. It could take days, or weeks even to incubate, and grow. Pretty soon you, and the bug want the same thing. Share the love, and spread. You don’t even realize that your entire existence, and the feelings you have are manipulated by the bug. It just takes control. When doctors first tried to remove a fully formed parasite they found that of those subjects who lived couldn’t even perform the most basic of functions. Some completely forgot how to breathe, there was no point to anymore. Without the worm they lost all will to live. The worm, however, only needed us to have the ability to move freely about the planet. To build a slave army for it. It could exist completely separate from us.
The scream came from above, the one place we weren’t looking. Not that we hadn’t glanced up there before, but this time it was full of these parasites. The creature was a thick worm that was about the size of a fist and bright orange. It has long mandibles that latched onto surfaces, and was how it controlled humans. One of the ones from the ceiling fell down right onto one of the guys (whose name I didn’t bother to learn) face latching on working its way inside. It was a less effective way of infecting someone, but hey what can a bug do?
The rest began to fall. Our side, having just recently learned from dude with latched on parasite face, ran out of the room mostly it was just me who ran out of the room. DD44 began firing wildly at the parasites, while the other two guys kept working on getting the portal set up to explode.
At this point I wasn’t entirely sure it was so much safer out here, especially since all of those infected people were suppose to have been lead off into the mountains, not surrounding the Jesop House full of dead children. They didn’t look mad, or upset that we just killed several hundred of their fellow bugs. They just stood there, like the moment of salvation was at hand.
The shooting stopped in the inside as the three busted out of the room ready to send Jesops house straight to hell. They all too stopped and stared dumb founded at the horde before us. I assumed from the continual streams behind us that the third guy was still struggling with the bug. The bug leader, I assume he was the leader as he was wearing a orange robe with a crown made of the bugs. I was trying to think what we were going to do, but I didn’t have long to think as DD44 blew the house up. She didn’t wait for a monologue, or try to help get us out, just hit the button like the asshole she was.
Movies are dumb, because they make people believe that they can stand a few feet from a bomb, or explosion and walk away. The dude that was made of nothing but muscle and bone blew a part in the blast knocking me down. I could feel the heat as it burned my back blistering it instantly. The whole world was drowned out by the ringing in my ears. I didn’t see DD44 anymore, not that I think much would be left of her. The explosion knocked down several of the infected, and well they didn’t seem too upset that their portal was just destroyed either.
As they cleared I could hear them saying, “All hail the savior. He arrived, just in time for us to open the portal.” The man pulled out a dagger, and began to approach me, some of his infected held me up as he brought the knife above his head. My body shook, and my head exploded in pain. I stared death in the eye, and was ready to take my fight to him. That was until you showed up.
Jasper set down his official statement looking at Agent K and Agent J, “When you shot the gun out of his hand, and stormed the area. Pulling me out.”
Agent K laughed some, “That last part you failed to include how you were crying in the fetal position when we got there.”
“What is going to happen to all those people? What is going to happen to that world?” Jasper asked.
“The FPI’s stance on that is neutral. They are experiencing a level G event, and if its not affecting other universes there’s not much that we can do. Besides sounds like you did your job, stopped the portal, and kept them from spreading. Also sounds like you spent some time in the library reading up on it.” Agent J said.
“Yeah, I mean wouldn’t you? Whats going to happen to me? I mean can I go home now? Its been a few weeks”
Agent K smiled, “Yes Jasper, you can go home.”
Agent K knew that Jasper could never really go home. He would think he would have though, and ethically that’s all that mattered. The kid does have a freaking portal inside of him, not like they could just drop him off back home waiting for the day he accidentally gets in a car wreck, opening him up, and bringing in the bug monsters officially creating a level H event. They already had to destroy the portal that came from that damned bear. No, one earth was enough to lose in a day, they didn’t need another hive on the loose spreading across time space.
She wondered if Agent J knew what processing looked like, or if they just skipped over that part in training nowadays. Jasper was in for one hell of a ride as they uploaded him into the fake reality MindSpa. His physical body would be disintegrated, and introduced to a world so similar to his own he shouldn’t miss a beat. His family, his real family, would mourn his disappearance, and in time learn to just accept him as dead. Just like everyone else who comes here. Or maybe they’ll drink themselves to death. Agent K stopped herself from thinking that way, her job wasn’t over yet.
Things were in motion now like they have never been before. Something was coming, but she couldn’t be sure of what yet. All in time she thought, but right now she still had a haunted house to fight.
I sit in a circle of men for a special gathering that occurs once a month for the Kilcatar. Like many of the other intelligent life in the galaxy the Kilcatar consist of a humanoid body structure. Their skin in an oily black that shines in the sun like water during the sunrise. The men’s teeth are sharp, and have been cut this way at a young age as a symbol of manhood. Kilcatar eyes vary but most men have yellow eyes while the women, who are only seen through a veil by off-worlders, are red. The only woman permissibly seen by off-worlders is the Queen of Rein who first greeted the Federation Officers who made contact here only 50 units of time (UOT). Largely still unknown, this planet’s history and culture is mostly cut off from the rest of the galaxy as the Kilcatar are suspicious of anyone not part of their clan. Their entire planet is a large desert with some small oasis’s providing faint relief. It is incredibly hot here as there are three suns that shine down on Rein.
The tent is full of a blue haze as coals burn on top of an old ceramic hookah said to be as old as the village (my guide states the village is fairly new only spanning 5 UOT). Inside of the hookah holds the most lucrative drug to hit the core planets, Silweed. Traditionally smoked for religious purposes Silweed has become one of the most popular exports of the Kilcatar alongside precious uranium used to fill star ships.
Haj, leader of the group, takes a drag from the pipe exhaling the blue smoke that has become a pop icon for many in the Central Galactic Core. Haj like all others in the tent today are hoping to receive a vision from the Three Suns, gods of the people. He lays back into his cushion passing the pipe to his right. It is largely a ceremonial process that is taking place. It both excites and confuses foreigners who visit the planet Rein.
Most explorers, and experts have agreed on the importance of the ceremony. However, the Federation still does not completely understand the specific meaning, or historical roots. This is mostly due to the incredible language barrier. Kilcatar speak in a poetic way that doesn’t have a clear meaning to off-worlders. This language barrier exits between other clans separated by history. Where we would say “Go to the store and get some milk” Kilcatar would say, “If the three suns are willing haste yourself to find the substance of life used to feed babies that nurture them to adulthood.” A simple conversation of asking where to eat is a literary endeavor involving the call upon different heroes, or deities of their history.
All week farmers of the village have been preparing for the ceremony that is common place with the Kilcatar religion, which does not have a simple language translation. The closest interpretation for the religion’s name is Valley of the Three Suns. Today’s celebration is for the three suns that the planet orbits, and the one day each month that there is no darkness anywhere on the land.
Silweed, unknown until recently has been farmed here long before the Federation discovered the planet, and it’s people. The language as well as the culture are still unfamiliar to most people in the Federation, and almost all of the people on Rein still do not understand basic (The language used by the Federation). This barrier though has not stopped many corrupt officials, and smugglers from taking the drug off world into the black market to be sold to billions in the core worlds.
The pipe comes to me, and is passed on as I have not completed the Kilcatar trials. A sort of coming of age that all of the Kilcatar youth must pass before smoking the weed. Haj’s son Rey is currently on a journey for the right of passage that includes walking to the nearest Holy Place and fasting for 40 days under the care of the sisterhood. The sisterhood is made of girls who have hit puberty, and are sent away to live in the monastery for young men like Rey to fast at. With any luck Rey will marry one there and bring her back to live with their family as his wife. Haj’s wife, Tumita, grew up almost 2000 units of measure (UOM) from her home now. For Rein that is incredibly far away with the primitive technology that surrounds the planet. .
All week I have been following Haj and his group of farmers as they cultivate the crop. Large rows of Silweed grow around the small village. It’s a simple looking plant, it starts with a green stem with blue veins running up from the ground. At the top is a red flower that has yellow specs around it. It can grow to be as large as an average human male (6 UOM). I watched as the farmers hacked away at the stem, and throw the weed into a cart pulled by Yush, the work animal of this world. The Yush are smart enough to pull the cart by themselves back to facility where the women cut away the leaves and mash the stems into a paste used for smoking. Along the rows of the crop are the metal hoses used to hydrate, and fertilize the plants. The crop traditionally takes 1095 DUOT to grow. The technology introduced to Rein by the Federation in order to help other produce grow has been modified to grow Silweed, causing Silweed to mature at a much faster rate.
Haj, and the other farmers have become quite wealthy in recent years due to the demand of the crop. He says things have changed rapidly since the growing popularity, and perhaps for the worse. Normally a village like Haj’s is closed off economically making only a few units at nearby cities by selling off extra meat, or produce. Since Silweed’s rise this village like many others has been contracted (extorted) by the Khans, warlords of the planet who work along with smugglers to produce Silweed in massive quantities.
Haj’s worry comes from the land that he believes still belongs to him, and his sons. He fears once the demand for the weed ends the Khan of the region will use his sons to fight for uranium. The Khan’s do not recognize local land owning, and in the past when a village has had a bad Silweed production the Khan lays waste to the village. Haj’s, and the Khans claim to land are also disputed by the Royal Family who have stated all of the land belongs to the three Suns. The Royal family appears to align themselves closely to the Federation, but have little control outside the major cities.
Once the harvest is completed Haj and the farmers had produced 100 units of weight (UOW) of the weed. Far more then what would normally be needed to use during the Three Suns Celebration. The excess paste is packed into ceramic jars, and stored in a cool shelter made of mud. It is the only permanent structure in the village, and the one structure that the village is protective of. The guide tells me that it is a fairly new structure built by the Khan of the region to protect his investment. If he finds the hut damaged, or Silweed missing then he may take out its worth on the village called a blood payment.
The weed sits inside of the hut for several days before three land rovers baring the marking of Khan Tal arrive for the pickup. The exchange is a humorous one as the people believe selling Silweed is religiously wrong. The Khans men gift to the farmers meat, produce, and building supplies along with a hefty sum of Federation Units. The farmers then gift the Khans men the Silweed paste as thanks for their generosity. Silweed may only be given away as a gift, and not sold. The Khans men make sure that they announce loudly to the village that they have come baring gifts, and in return need nothing.
My guide and I talked with the Khans men in hopes that we could follow their caravan to the water palace, Khan Tal’s home, famously known in the region. They agreed to take us without pay for the Khan was very interested in off-worlders and often dines with them to learn of the worlds beyond Rein. My guide also tells me there is a chance that these men would be rewarded for their efforts.
Before the Federation, this planet relied mostly on beasts for transportation. A part of becoming a member of the federation allowed companies like Atlas to integrate into the society introducing new technologies. While considered old by many core worlds the land vehicles in Rein are a status symbol of wealth. The Atlas logos have been painted over with Khan Tals, and have been outfitted with weapons that are illegally smuggled in for protection of Silweed.
The water palace lives up to its name. As we approached a massive marble structure shot out of the ground in was decorated with blue paint and furnished with modern appliances. It was the closest I had been to inner core lifestyle since landing in Rein. The palace was surrounded by huts and tents common of Kilcatar poor. Closer to the palace were shops made of stone, and marble. Inside of the walls of the Palace the culture, and ceremonies of the Kilcatar are quickly forgotten. Women walk openly among the men, some without veil even to off-worlders. Men of the Khan went shirtless and at times and slept in the grass, a rare sight for this planet as sleeping in the grass is a sin. All of this water in the palace was imported from other planets. In Rein water is very rare and difficult to come by. Most of the villages have to dig deep to find a small sliver of water. The people of this planet have evolved to the point where they only need a small amount of water to survive. There was even a shared bath house.
Khan Tal is one of 12 Khans who produce Silweed for smugglers. Once the Khans fought over uranium territory, stealing the mineral from the Atlas corporation. They sold it for a lesser price to merchant’s in the outer and mid rim. Khans would team up fighting Atlas, but soon betray one another to steal the uranium for themselves. With the rise of Silweed, uranium has stopped being the best product to sell. Better priced and easier to sell the Khans found it the best way to make a lot of money quickly. In an interview with Khan Tal he stated in broken basic, “Before lots of war with Khans, and Atlas, many solider dead, not enough money or guns to keep fighting. With drug, no Atlas problems, no fighting, and too far from the Federation for interference.”
The Khan a big man by Kilcatar standards sits at about the size of 8 UOM. He tells me that his Palace rivals that of Prince Alkadim the third son of the Royal Family in beauty, and style. I had to admit that it was a lavish place, home to many products and stylings that resemble life in the wealthier central core. Some parts of his home one can see posters of pop musical icons, movies, and actors. I ask the Khan if he knows of these people, he tells me he just likes to trade those trinkets with smugglers.
Khan Tal even has two luxury star ships capable of interplanetary travel. “I don’t dare venture far for I know the Federation is stronger there, but I have a great life here.” A great life indeed the Khan brings in over a million units monthly, almost more than then some of those in the Royal family, and more than some entire planetary systems.
The Khan greeted me, and my guide with a large feast. It was lavish, and resembled a party similar to the inner core. The guide tells me that most of these people are the Khans friends and family. Others were brought here by their parents as a gift to the Khan in hopes their children will grow up better than in the “Wastes”. Children given to the Khan come from the poorest of the poor. They will grow up most likely in some service to the Khan. Sometimes as a solider, or a slave. However, even being a slave for the Khan is better than the life in the waste.
The Khan talked to me as he tested out the Silweed freshly brought from Haj’s farm. He talks for hours about many topics, and his interest in foreigners. “My land is a good land, and I am merciful. The three Suns yes they blessed me and I have blessed all of these people. The Royals are suspicious of you and your Federation, but I tell you one day Rein will rid themselves of them. They should embrace the federation for all the gifts.”
I asked him if he understood that the Federation wanted to end the sale of Silweed. He responded in broken basic “I know I know, Federation is mad about Silweed, but they have not seen what else the 12 can bring. ”
For all of the prosperity that we witnessed at the water palace much was hidden from me. I was told by my guide that while we were staying there several men who were guests inside of the palace refused to use the shared bath house. In their eyes it was an abomination for a unwed man and woman to see each other naked. They were beheaded and their wives forced to eat of their bodies. A humiliation in Rein worse than death. The women killed themselves after in shame.
My guide, a Kilcatar who studied basic, and contracts with the Federation tells me, “These things are not uncommon here. The Khans want more from your Federation because it will give them more power over the Royals. They act like they are gift givers, but they have always gifted with a knife.”
The government officially complies to the Federations laws of drug smuggling, and states that Silweed smuggling is being cracked down on. However, many people like Khan Tal say something completely different. “Before the government had to help Atlas fight us off from the uranium mines, but with Silweed there is less violence. The customs officers make more, and it is good for our people.”
The truth of the matter is more difficult to understand. Just outside of the Government Capital is one of the largest Silweed fields producing around 10000 UOW every month more than anywhere else on the planet, and it is in eyesight of Rein’s customs building. The Federation Customs cannot burn these fields or alter them in anyway because of the significance Silweed has on the people. Burning them would be a mortal sin, and the people would rise with the Khans to fight the Royals.
Silweed in its original form is a very harmless drug with some hallucinogenic affects, and an overall feeling of euphoria. However, smugglers and criminal organizations in the mid and core have found that by boiling it down into a concentrate can be extremely addictive and give the users a powerful high that can last for an earth day.
It first arrived on the scene two years ago. As soon as it hit, hospitals began to become overrun with a new drug known as rush. Overdoses became common, and addiction went on the rise in planets that usually have low drug problems. In the last two years the drug has killed over 15 million in the mid and core worlds, and hospitalized over 100 million. Over a billion are addicted.
After spending several days with Khan Tal he begins to make contact to several smugglers, and arranges for a pick up for his Silweed. The meeting place is not at the Water Palace, but several hundred UOD away in what locals call Valley of a Thousand Skulls. This abandoned area was once an Atlas uranium mine. Cracked and broken buildings now dot the area. Several ships land and take small amounts of the Khans Silweed away at a time. My guide explains to me that this is done to preserve the payment. A federation cruiser can realistically only take, and search one ship at a time.
This was the end of my journey with the Khan, and my guide. I begin looking for a crew willing to take some extra Federation units to give me a ride to their next location. I found a beat up intergalactic shipping freight. The kind that is used normally for colonization efforts, or agricultural shipments. The Captains name is Black Jane a title that she gives instead of a real name. After trading some units I get the green light, and ready to leave Rein. On-board I am given the extra bed in the Captains room. While a far cry from the Water Palace it has a nice smugglers touch to it. When we are airborne, and in warp Black Jane comes back with food and I get a chance to sit down and interview her.
Black Jane tells me she was an orphan of the Rus Empire. Like many of the Rus youth she grew up in the paramilitary socialist academies. She began smuggling after getting her piloting license. I asked her “Why Silweed?” Jane tells me that the drug is too perfect of an enterprise to simply stop. “I used to smuggle people from the outer rim. From newly colonized, or discovered places like Rein. You know the real shit holes. That could make some money, but most people wanted me to do it for charity. I tried some work with uranium, but that got really risky when companies like Atlas started their kill policy. Any ship even believed to be holding their uranium gets docked, and searched. Even in a Federation Space. Rush is the perfect product to smuggle. You don’t have to feed it, or shelter it. Best part of it all is that the only people who seem to want it stopped is the Federation, but small time like me doesn’t interest that billion unit bureaucracy.” Jane isn’t wrong. Khan Tal had over a hundred smugglers transporting his Silweed, and taking into account all the other Khans doing the exact same thing makes it hard to regulate.
Jane and her crew of ten have been smuggling out Silweed to the midrim for several galactic months now. Their destination is the Aldramaton moon where crime is all too common. “Aldramaton is a scummy place full of people willing to do some serious crimes for a few units. We work with several crime families they’re mostly the Nuvil. They’re the ones who are making Silweed into Rush.”
Aldramaton is a moon entirely covered by city. Both the moon, and the planet below Quin have historically been separatists from the Federation. However, recent aggression from the outer rim Empire Rus toward the mid-rim planets have caused Aldramaton to re-petition enrollment into the Federation. The Federation agrees to the petition only if Aldramaton takes care of its slaving, and drug smuggling. Black Jane, and other smugglers traveling from Rein bring their cargo here where slaves are responsible for transforming Silweed to Rush.
Black Jane’s lands off onto a false death strip (Death strips are landing pads that are not regularly serviced, and dangerous to land on). In areas like these the Federation control is weak, and the crime family large. As I leave the ship about twenty-five collard Nuvil slaves approach to off-load the cargo. There is one overseer. He had the look of a Nuvil captian. His skin is a glossy blue like those of Arumenda. His face is tattooed, and pierced. He wears thick glasses, and a leather duster. An exchange of money is made to Black Jane after the Silweed is accounted for. I make my exit before too many questions about me are asked. It is not unusual for travelers here to be taken and forcefully enslaved.
I make my way to a Federation controlled sector. The Federation has had to resort to going by sectors to control the crime population. Aldramaton is an endless city with towers thousands of UOM high, some reaching out into space. Going through one tower to control crime is a monumental task. Each person entering into the zone must show a valid ID to be there. I scan my Intergalactic Geographic badge. An alarm sounds, and the Sergeant on duty pulls me into questioning.
I sit in a white room for a short time until Federation Naval Customs Officer Kalil enters. He wears a sharp suit that the naval officers wear, different than the customs agents that pulled me in. Kalil overseas a specialized group of police who work capturing the Silweed shipments as they land. I gained the chance to interview Kalil after I told him about my article of pursuing Silweed to Rush.
Officer Kalil like many other government officials are hitting a wall when it comes to stopping the production of Rush, “In Aldramaton we have four major crime families. In the past they competed with each other over territory, and money. Since Rush’s large success each family is fine with making only a portion of the profit instead of controlling it all. This makes our job harder because now they are more unified against us than ever before. We are seeing labs pop up all over the moon, and we have a hydra affect. Shutting one down only creates two more. While the long term solution is to dismantle the family the short term is to contain the flow.” Kalil, like many in the Federation were optimistic that Aldramaton can become free from the crime families, but after Rush’s creation the hope of stopping the drug production have quickly fallen.
My journey to understand the powerful drug Rush has ended with some answers. Most ended with Federation red tape and cultural suspicions of outsiders. While there is no clear answer in the stop of Rush smuggling many experts have agreed the best way to reduce issues is to target the population and run anti rush advertisements as a way to show its dangerous affects. The most long term solution is for the Federation, and the separate government entities working together to crack down on organized crime. Many far right, and far left politics have suggested the real issue is Rein. There have been bills to kill the entire crop of Silweed, replacing the Khans over the royals. Currently sessions have not revealed any clear answer to stopping the drug.
The dark, damp, dreaded, really messed up why are we even here hallway awaited me. It was one of those moments when life goes from puking on your first kiss to having said kiss go viral online collecting a million views. Both of which happened to me. You might say, “David, why are you walking down a big scary hallway that is most likely full of monsters?” I would answer “because that is my job.” Not the walking down terrifying halls part, but “ghost” hunting. Big emphasis on “ghosts” as it’s usually just props, and subpar acting. However, after years of desecrating graves, and messing up old houses the universe decides to take a large steaming dump on me like last night was taco Tuesday.
Truthfully, there really is a killing to be made online for scary stories posted on a site called Paranormal Nights, shot in grainy footage, with hot young people running away in fear. Every tween goes crazy making reaction videos of our videos where their screeching becomes like a banshee striking its kill. At most it takes twenty minuets to get enough footage to last a week. We get in, fake it, tape it, then bank off it. As you can obviously tell that wasn’t the story this time. Nope, instead of fake blood and cheap rental costumes, we walk into some other worldly nightmare bullshit that now involves me walking down a hall that looks eerily similar to every horror film.
The wallpaper was peeling off revealing the rotted wood behind it and the strong smell of decay. Hung on the walls was a collection family memorabilia letting anyone who came to visit know how batshit crazy they are. Family pictures with eyes crossed out. A horse race with mutilated horses screaming out in pain forced to run. Who the hell even paints something like that? All the way past the dimly lit hellhall stood a glossy red door that for some reason was lit up by a beacon of light from a source I couldn’t find. Hope, was the word that an optimist would use for what was being held behind the door. Certain death, and dismemberment were the words I thought of. Either way I had to go down it (Other choices were made prior to this).
I Gripped my axe the blood now dried from where I pulled it out of Lenny’s head (one of the pretty ones), I marched forward. Everything becomes so clear at times like this. Its like the entire body goes into overdrive. Hearing becomes clear, eyes pick up every moment, every painstaking movement done with the upmost precision all in the hopes that one could somehow sneak through the house unnoticed by the devils whose one job is to torment people who try to sneak down scary halls.
The floor creaked under each of my steps, even trying to slide my foot made a long squeaking noise. Obviously, I thought about running, but that seemed wrong somehow. Like if I tried running down the hall the beast would come out and kill me for running. Not that I believed for a moment it wouldn’t do that while I was sneaking. A giggle came from behind me, a million invisible ants crawled down my back. Oh shit.
There are two people in this world. The ones that when a monster knocks over the lamp in their room they stay under the covers pretending the monster didn’t want to be heard, the other kicks open the door greeting death with arms open wide. I turned to face the giggling sound hoping it didn’t want to be heard, but instead saw the door close. Was that a clown?
I walked backwards now a bit quicker the wrongfulness of sneaking worn away by whatever new horror awaited me.
“I’m right here.”
Oh no, nope nope nope. I didn’t want to look. There came a sound of what I can only imagine as a knife scraping against the carpet inching toward me. Hit it with the axe. Just swing and run. The sound of the dragging stopped. I slowly counted in my head. One…Two…Three I turned quickly bringing the axe down where I heard the noise. Nothing. The axe hit the ground splitting the rotten wood below.
“Oh no, you missed me. That’s ok I won’t miss you.”
I looked back, yep it’s a clown. It had the clown makeup, the clown suit, and terrifying clown smile that showed razor sharp teeth. It stood at two feet tall with a knife half the size of its body. We made eye contact. I was trying to calculate how many steps it would take to get to the door. The little clown lunged at me before I could get an estimate. It was difficult to tell who was screaming at the time. I sprinted down the hall occasionally taking a moment to chance a glance behind. The little bastard was running hard, its stubby legs pumping so fast almost tripping over the knife. It would have been a kind of funny sight if it wasn’t happening to me. Reaching the door, I turned the nob throwing my whole weight into the door without it so much as moving an inch. I kept pushing and hitting hoping that it would move somehow. The clown was closing the gap fast.
Fight or flight only works if you have the choice of flight. If not it’s only fight or die. I was left with no choice but to take the axe and charge. Overall, I felt pretty confident. I was larger and had the bigger weapon. I ran toward the tiny clown bringing that axe across my body to cut it in half. At the last moment it jumped past my axe as I brought it across flying right onto my check stabbing my shoulder. There was no question who was screaming at that point.
I dropped the axe yanking the clown off me it still holding onto the bloody knife that was stabbed into me multiple times. I threw it down into the ground immediately began stomping on it until I was completely out of breath. Looking down should have revealed a mangled clown body not a stuffed doll with a plastic knife. The knife wound was still there burning away at my body. I had to get out of there.
There was nowhere left for me to go in the house but that red door. The whole house was completely ruined complete with shattered windows busted doors, and a gaping hole in the side. It was when we tried to leave that everything became blocked. Literally every exit that we saw on the outside was filled with bricks. We were all in different rooms waking up and we couldn’t remember how it all went down. How the hell does that happen?
The massive expanse took hours for me to go through looking for some hope of escape other then that door. Each person I came in contact with were dismembered, and killed in increasingly creative ways. Like some sort of scrapbooking of human limbs. Everything leading back to this damn red door.
I took the nob of the red door in hand about to shove my way in then I took notice of the hinges. I pulled opening the door right up. Damn it. The entrance was completely black. Not the normal its dark or hard to see. The door was literally absorbing all light sucking it into an infinite void. I started to miss the little clown.
I put my hand in first because that was better then losing my head. The darkness was powerful like it was an actual substance with a living mind. It began pulling me in because why not, and immediately all was lost.
There really isn’t a way to explain what I saw going through the door. The only proper way to describe it is the spinning sensation when you get really drunk, and go on that ride that pins you against the wall turning so fast the vomit just goes right back into your face fast forwarding you to the moment you wake up full of regret and lost memories of cleaning up the vomit.
I awoke in a daze. The room had shifted around me. Instead of molded walls full of disturbing images of incredible abuse I was greeted with a giant pulsating blob of flesh stuck to the ceiling like gum. It latched onto the gray dungeon like walls, and moved in and out as if it was actually breathing. The walls had lines of flesh latched onto them similar to an ivy plant growing. In the distance I could hear a faint chanting, but was too far away to determine any of the words. I assumed that the blackness absorbed me taking me to hell. I learned that it would have been better if it did.
There was, at the present, a need to move with purpose. Had the Tashania arrived when they said they would, or the border guards taken the bribe then Deva could relax. Since that was not the case purpose was to be expected. The Galactic Federation taught her that, move with purpose. If you could then impossible becomes possible. As it stood now customs would be tearing down the hanger doors any moment, if they survived that then the planetary defenses would tear their ship down from orbit, and if they survive that then the largest trade blockade since the Federations Civil War would tear them to shreds. It was all for silweed the most lucrative drug in the Galaxy. Billions where being made off of getting people high.
Deva shoved Rickshaw off the pallet jack, “Forget the decoys move the silweed. We’re leaving hot.”
Rickshaw gave a huff, but Deva made the message clear, they needed to shit or get off the pot. Deva clicked on the cockpit communication link, “Silvia, we’re leaving now.”
“Sorry Captain, the cartel hasn’t given us the go ahead.”
Deva clinched the com tightly cracking it. “Tell that slimy alien that he is about to make a huge donation to Customs.”
Deva didn’t wait for a reply clicking off the com. The cartel had hundreds of pilots flying silweed off world to the core planets. If caught, they were an acceptable loss and would be disposed of in prison. It’s better to be dead in the sky then a Tashanian prison, even better alive on a pleasure moon.
As if a prophetic sign from above the hanger doors blew open. Custom agents filled the gap aiming large deadly rifles at the crew. The law was only fire when fired upon. If the Galactic Federation had any balls they would just kill them all right now and glass this hellhole stopping the cartel. Today bleeding hearts would save the crews lives. Before they could demand anything, Rickshaw opened up on them with the ships rear turret cutting down the customs agents. Deva pulled out her handgun looking down the sights. Move with purpose. Deva pulled off four shots hitting three plus the officer. Customs open fired back, but most were under cover now. Deva ran up the ramp toward the cockpit. Silvia launched off two rockets into the blast doors blocking their escape out.
“Do we have permission now?” Deva said.
Chariot, the ship, lifted off out of the hanger into the Capitol skyline. Rickshaw kept firing at the fading custom agents till they were out of sight. Silvia kept them low weaving in and out of buildings staying lower than the anti-aircraft towers. All it would take is one of those homing missiles to bring Chariot down killing them all. No ships followed them in the city, collateral damage would make the Federation look back turning what little support they had here with the royals. They would wait for them to clear the city to pursue. Plenty of desert in Tashania. The three suns of the desert planet shined off the glass buildings blinding Deva. The ships view screen adjusted.
In past runs they wouldn’t have to weave in between the buildings. They were in and out with clearance without so much as a shot being fired. Customs either got smart, or they got sold out. Deva knew what her gut told her. The city walls were ahead, and Deva could see the sweat on Silvia face. They were about to be in a case for their lives. Deva clicked her communication link to the ships encrypted battle frequency.
“Who is not at their post.” she said.
It was always better to ask who wasn’t doing their job rather than listening to kiss-asses. The all clear came back from each of the turrets. All signs where green, they wouldn’t die from lack of preparation. Deva gripped Silvia’s shoulder.
“I don’t want to die today.” Deva said.
“I’ll do my best captain.” Silvia replied.
Chariot would be a sitting target flying straight up. The G-force would blow off any unlocked turrets sending them back down planet side. They would have to fly at an angle slowing them down substantially but giving them a better chance to protect the ship from the pursuit of customs ships.
Deva opened the hatch just behind the cockpit and jumped down. She belted herself in the 360-dual gun turret. Her crescent moon necklace hung around the trigger. Move with Purpose. Looking down she could see the custom ships launching off and going into pursuit. All of Chariots turrets opened fired casing falling back planet side. Deva couldn’t see any of the ships, yet they were still too low for any of them to sneak under their belly. On the COMS she could hear the other crew members.
Deva was white knuckled waiting in anticipation. This was the most dangerous position to be in as it was just her verses anything coming underneath. Deva took it because she didn’t trust anyone else with the job. Chariot picked up altitude and three custom ships slipped under and opened on their belly. Their guns where still hot from firing. She pulled the trigger unleashing a stream of bullets. Most ships don’t have a belly turret, so the first ship was an easy target, they never knew she was there. Once the other pilots released they opened fire on her.
It was harder for them to hit her then for her to hit them. They had to line themselves up. Deva opened on the next ship setting fire to its wing she cheered to herself in a small victory. The last ship had her lined up in its sights firing a bust into the turret breaking the seal that held her in. All the air was sucked out and as the speed of the ship prevented her from catching any breath. This high up there wouldn’t any air to breathe anyways. She opened her mouth panicking from the shock. She pulled off the emergency kit in her turret pulling out the rebreather. She set it in her mouth regaining some sense. The custom ship kept firing putting more holes in the belly. Deva could hear over the coms that the top wasn’t doing any better. They had lost two turrets, and engines where critical. Bad news turned worse as Silva screamed over the coms, “Nuke.”
Deva kicked on the coms sill out of breath, “Silvia lock up, everyone, we’re diving.”
Ships like Chariot are too small to have escape pods. The only alternative is a drop suit. Used by Federation special forces they had a poor survival rate when used properly. Jumping from a ship this high was suicide for most people, the alternative was getting nuked.
Deva locked the turret kicking the hatch open to the ship. Silva had already locked the coordinates in to fly straight up. It was their best bet to get a clean jump and get as far away from the nuke as possible. She jogged down the hall to the cargo hold putting on her jump suit, and emergency bag. Clicking her helmet in place she ran toward the edge of the hold past the silweed meeting the rest of her crew. She counted heads and clicked on.
“Goon, and Furrow.”
Good no one important. “Survive the jump, we will find each other planet side. Let’s go!” Deva said before jumping out of Chariot as it took its vertical assent.
Immediately air rushed passed her as they made their return decent planeside. She had to get far enough away to survive the heat radiation from the nuke. Custom ships had already peeled off. A locked-on nuke to an old school freighter like Chariot was sure destruction. Deva watched the nuke as it flew up passed her. The air current knocking her a bit off course. Just a moment later a bright light blinded her followed by an incredible heat on her back. The suit should hold, but if it melted…
Tashania’s red and brown surface grew in front of them. The drop suits were made to withstand orbital drops behind enemy lines completely undetectable. The speed of the fall was dangerous if even one finger slipped its place she would send them into a death spiral rupturing every organ bleeding out of the pores in her skin. Deva saw it more than once. Even the most hardcore panic with anti-air cannons firing at them. At about a mile from the surface the suits kick into a slowdown mode allowing for a smooth descent. It was impossible to talk on the fall, and impossible for Deva to turn her head without snapping her neck. She would pick a spot to land, some of the crew may land nearby. Or maybe they were all dead from the blast. Either way she wouldn’t know where they landed until she had.
Deva’s landing was graceful, and silent. She came in hitting the ground, but not so loud that it would be heard more than 100 ft. It took practice to accomplish a feat such as that. She unloaded her emergency bag taking inventory of her supplies. Two pistols, a rifle, med kit, water, food, and a million Galactic Federation units. Everyone had an account tied their name to buy and sell just a matter of using a finger print. Deva had several accounts protecting her money, but if her suspicions where correct this mission went to hell for one reason alone, someone sold them out. If she was right all of her accounts would be depleted, and without at least some money getting off world would be impossible.
Each drop suit would have a beacon to bounce off the others. Deva had rewired her suit beforehand to just seek, and not ping. Paranoia, had always been a close friend, but it was the wisest choice she had made. Each crew that smuggles silweed is different. No two crews have the same members after meeting for the first time. This was done to prevent anyone from ratting on each other. Too much unpredictability for her, but silweed smuggling paid more than slaves. A lot less sad too. She opened her seeker looking for pings. She found one a few miles from her. Move with purpose.
Deva hiked the mile cautiously taking extra time. Tashania had three stars orbiting the planet creating constant light, that mixed with an incredible spanning desert made it difficult for anyone to hide unless they were using a cloaking device.
Deva crawled up a mound of dirt to peak over the other side where the ping was coming from. She cradled the rifle in her arms careful to watch her six. At the peak she covered the scope to prevent a glare and looked down at the basin. A figure was there sprawled out and unmoving. It didn’t look as if anyone had left the suit, and this had been the only ping not moving since landing. Deva picked up after a while and hiked down to the body.
It didn’t move an inch as she worked her way down. Coming closer the body lurched up, Deva quickly shouldered the rifle. The body held up its hands.
“Whoa whoa, chill it’s just me.” The body pulled off its helmet revealing Gavin.
Gavin was one of the ships engineers and not much else. He helped with the loading of the silweed, and repairs of the ship. However, Deva knew that anything could be under the surface. Gavin could be truly capable of anything, but if he thought he was going to fool her he was wrong.
“Why did you set us up Gavin? Was it the Cartel paying you or the Federation? Better answer quick traitor.” Deva said.
She watched as Gavin attempted backing up still sitting in the sand putting his hands up, “Whoa Deva that’s not true. All I know is ships. You’re looking at the wrong guy.”
Deva kept the rifle shouldered for a moment studying Gavin. He looked afraid, and legitimate. Her gut had another idea. Just kill him. At least dead he couldn’t hurt her either way.
“I can blow your head off right now Gavin, and I can do that to anyone who comes in my way. What’s something you can do that would make it, so I don’t want to?”
“I know Rome, personally. He will come, I just have to contact him.”
Rome was a Tanashian cartel. Instead of silweed selling he was a pirate of the ships smuggling the drug. Rome was obsessed with human culture and earth. Naming himself after the ancient empire he believed he could ascend to its legacy. If Gavin knew Rome then Gavin was a leak, but not the one that she was looking for.
“I should kill you Gavin, you are a traitor.”
“True, but my plan never actually happened. Enemy of my enemy and all that.”
“You got a gun?” Gavin shook his head, “You still don’t get one, let’s go.”
Deva wasn’t against Rome, and from others accounts he’s open to negotiation. Rome would be much more open to negotiation if she had the person who lost him a profit, whoever brought the ship down. They would have to find a way to contact Rome, and avoid the Federation. The only way for that was a signal scrambler. Those could be found out in the desert in silweed farms used by the Cartels. Deva checked her tracker for nearby structures finding a couple of clustered huts a few miles off. If they were lucky they would find a farm.
Deva checked the tracker for the other pings. She couldn’t be sure if others had altered their suits in the same way preventing it from pinging. She also couldn’t be sure who died in re-entry. About fifteen souls were aboard the Chariot. When she first landed eight of those souls remained. She found one, and now only five were left. A couple expired since her confrontation their lights no longer flashing. Gavin’s suit would still be pinging a beacon to the person hunting them down. The only way for that to change was to kill him or hack the suit. The former actually doable in the desert. It was time to move.
The hike to the farm would be unbearable without the jumpsuits. Temperatures could reach upwards of 54 C able to melt the paint off a ship. The suits were cooled for re-entry making it the perfect option for the hike. However, the walk through the desert was boring made only worse by the constant anxiety that at any moment she could be fired upon. That was the curse from years of dropping into war zones, everywhere was hot. Gavin walked nonchalantly compared, almost a skip to his step. It bothered Deva.
The last of pings, what was left of Chariots crew, met together just as they came up to the farm. A field of burnt silweed spread out from demolished huts. Deva shouldered the rifle sweeping the area. Gavin close beside her. She could feel his panic rising. By the time they reached the huts the other pings had vanished from the tracker, dead most likely.
Inside the were just charred remains of the Tashanian who worked the fields. Most likely the victims of an aerial bombing from the royal family. Unlike the Galactic Federation the Royals bombed first, and never asked questions. Deva sat against a wall facing the door holding the handgun. She took out her water drinking it quickly. The next town would be too far away for a hike. They would have to open a communication link revealing their location. The only people monitoring the links were Federation, and unless they took a bribe it would be prison time. Gavin was across from her vomiting.
He looked up at her, “How can you handle this?”
Deva looked at the charred body next to her studying its face, “Move with purpose.”
“What does that mean?”
“Means you get brainwashed into thinking your fighting for something bigger then yourself. Like somewhere out on the rim there’s a family thankful that you where there killing the terrorists.”
Deva smiled wrapping her arm around the charred corpse, “Just ask her yourself.”
Gavin would never get the chance. Suddenly his head exploded all over Deva. Move with purpose. Deva had an idea of where the shot came from. There was nothing left of Gavin’s body, large caliber. Whoever shot him was far enough away. Deva dropped the handgun taking up her rifle. She crawled toward the exit door twisting out getting cover on the wall. She popped her head out quickly checking for the killer. Deva pulled her head back just in time as a bullet hit the ground next to her. A com kicked on,
“Captain the cartel has cleared you for takeoff.”
Deva laughed, “Silvia, I figured you for dead. What made you want to give up a fortune to screw us all over?”
“Isn’t like that Captain, Federation smuggles more silweed to the core planets in a day then the cartel does in a year. What the Federation can’t take is a traitor. It’s time to answer for your crimes on the rim.”
Custom ships flew in surrounding Deva, hovering just above the ground kicking up dust.
“Give it up Captain, come on home, and stand trial. Do the right thing.”
“Silvia, I’ve been doing the right thing all my life.” Move with purpose.