Hercules

Introduction:

In the year 2567, World War IV finally came to its terrifying end.  The land had been scorched to ash, the air was filled with toxins, and countless lives had been lost.  In order to preserve humanity, all the nations that were still standing gathered together and worked on the technology needed to travel and survive in space.  After years of research, they built transport ships and developed devices that would allow mankind to travel through the stars and populate new planets.  The ships left earth, leaving behind some men and women who chose to stay and try to fix the planet, while the rest colonized new places.  In their travels, they encountered alien races, some hostile and some friendly, and after many years humanity had reestablished itself on several planets, as well as coexisting with several alien races on their planets.  Humanity was saved.

Unfortunately, this would not last and in 2852, the Galactic War began.  The universe quickly divided into two sides.  The Alliance held that some alien and human colonies had been working together to take over and rule the universe in a massive coup.  The Coalition claimed that the Alliance were the ones doing this.  Defenses have been placed, fleets have been dispersed, armies have been raised, and the battle line is drawn and negotiations are long over.

Chapter 1: Caught

Space is a very open area when you think about it.  After all, the numerous planets, stars, asteroids, and moons that spin around take up the merest fraction of a galaxy.  In one particular area though, where empty does not even begin to describe the surroundings, there were two ships.  The first was a large, triangular vessel with large gun placements clearly visible all over the exterior.  Beside it, and being drawn towards it via tractor beam, was a small frigate which boasted only a few light weapons.  On board the bridge of this frigate, a young man stood looking at a console where a stern looking man with an eye-patch glared at him through the communication screen.  The young man smiled widely, pushed up his glasses by the bridge and said cordially, “Well, if we have no other options beyond being blown up or boarded, we would be happy to entertain you and your crew.  Feel free to make yourself at home!”  The other man only nodded seriously as he reached forward and turned off the comm. unit.  As the screen faded to black, the young man turned around to the other crew members who were staring at him wide-eyed and said, still smiling,

“Guys, I think we’re screwed.”

This statements was met by a flurry of motion as everyone erupted into interjections.

“What were you thinking!?!”
“We are in SO MUCH TROUBLE!”
“Wait, maybe we could board their ship?”
“Jess that won’t work, they have at least a platoon on that thing!”
Why did you tell them we were all sick?”
“Well I didn’t think they would offer to send their medic along!”
“Do you realize how much Contraband we have on board right now?!?”
“Well why isn’t it in the secret room?”
“Because that room is already full!”
“What are we supposed to do now?”

This statement was followed by a small pause, interrupted by a slight hissing sound.  Everyone turned to look in the direction of the noise and saw that a bearded crew member had opened one of the numerous crates on the bridge, pulled out a bottle of alcohol, and opened it.  When he realized that everyone was looking at him he said, “What?  We have to get rid of this stuff somehow!”  There was another pause before a young blonde lady with grease-stains on her shirt threw her arms into the air and cried out, “BRILLIANT!  Dan!  Rob!  Start drinking!”  This statement was met with an even louder explosion of noise.

“We can’t drink 500 gallons of beer before they get on board!”
“Well I don’t hear any better suggestions!”
Maybe we could beam it all above their ship?  Where they won’t pick it up on scanners?”
“OOO!  Even better!  Let’s beam it aboard their ship!”
“You do realize they will know exactly where it came from, right?”
“Well, what if we beamed it quietly?”
“*Sigh* I’m going to try and stall them.”

With that, the Navigator leapt out of his chair, grabbed a comm-set off his desk and attached it to his glasses, and headed out the door leaving the rest of the crew to argue about what to do.  As he made his way quickly down the hall toward the airlock, he forced a smile back onto his face and stood, beaming as the door was forced open from the other side. Once it was open, he was able to see 4 heavy military soldiers, each with blasters leveled right at him, while behind them stood a stuffy looking officer in a neatly pressed uniform, a blaster pistol sheathed at his right side.  The Navigator began to introduce himself, “Greetings!  My name is Rick, welcome aboard the Herc…” He didn’t get to finish as the soldiers rushed past him towards the bridge, with the officer barely glancing at him as he passed.  “Wait!  Don’t you want the full tour?”  He yelled at their quickly disappearing forms, following this up by turning on his communicator as he ran after them, saying, “guys, they’re coming.  Look casual!”  Immediately, a voice came over his set saying, “What happened Rick!  I thought you were going to delay them!”  Rick replied, “I would have, but they weren’t interested in a full tour or in my rant about politics!”  As he said this, he heard a distinct click which at first he assumed was his headset, but then a gravelly voice spoke up from behind him, saying, “That’s enough talking little man.  Let’s join your friends at the bridge.”  Turning, Rick realized there were two marines right behind him, guns drawn and pointed at him.  He kept on grinning as he nodded and headed towards the bridge, but in his mind all he was thinking was,  “We’re-dead-We’re-dead-We’re-dead”

When Rick entered the bridge, he saw the rest of the crew standing sheepishly off to the right, so he went over to join them, partially because he wanted to and partially because he had been vigorously shoved that way.  The captain of the other ship casually walked over to one of the crates and pulled out a bottle.  He read the label, turning it in his hands before opening it and smelling the contents.  After a few tense minutes, he threw the bottle onto the ground, smashing it into a thousand pieces.  With that, Jess yelled out, “Hey!  We just cleaned this ship!”  The man turned and glared at her coldly before asking, “You do realize that with this much contraband on your ship, I have the authority to shoot you all on sight.”  With that, the entire crew exploded.

“What?  Contraband?  We just…. Found it on a derelict ship!”
“Yeah!  We had no idea!  You had better take it from us then.  So sorry!”
“Hey, why don’t we all head to the mess hall and have some non-contraband stuff, you know, to celebrate?”
“Oh!  Good idea!  And we could…”

The commander of the military ship yelled out at the top of his lungs, “SILENCE!”  Instantly shushing most of the crew, with just a few high-pitched yelps being uttered.  With that, the captain turned while saying, “Put them in the brig and their ship in the hanger.  We’ll take them back for a fair trial.  Afterwards, we will have them shot.”

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A Bright Sunshiny Day, Ch. 8

Anastasia opened her eyes. All was white; there were no dimensions, as if she was lost in the endless fluff of a cloud.  A piano was playing somewhere in the distance.  Then Gerard walked toward her, smiling as if his heart was full of joy.  “Anastasia, it’s wonderful to see you!”

“Yes,” Karen chimed in. “I’m so glad you could make it to our wedding.”  The beautiful girl was more beautiful than usual.  Except that her eyes were sinister.

Slowly the tune morphed into the wedding march. Gerard waltzed with Karen up the aisle.  Perfect Greta Thomas flicked her slender fingers over the ivory keys.  For some reason, Anastasia knew that between Greta’s playing and Karen’s voice, Gerard had been enchanted.  This was not his free choice!  She must stop them!  Yet try as she might, she could not move.  Looking down, she saw a white sheet swathing her.  She was just as much a prisoner.  “Gerard, no!”

Then all was dark again. There was no sound, no light, no one besides her in the all too small room.  Crawl as she might, her searching fingers found nothing to grasp.  But what was that?  Something had grabbed her.  With a sharp cry she attempted to wrench her wrist away.  Yet the warm grip held her powerless.  “Who are you?”  The words echoed eerily inside her.  Then a pain pierced her.  She cried out and the grip went away.  She was left alone again.

She began to walk. Step after step, plodding along, time stretched and nothing came. Was there anything to meet?  Step, pause, step, pause, shuffle, silence, shuffle, silence: endless monotony droning with each movement that accomplished nothing.  Where was she, where heading?  It did not seem to matter, and yet it did.  Then from the abysmal black she heard Karen say, “It’s not your fault your sister is an old homely maid lacking intelligence.”  The words repeated themselves, “It’s not your fault your sister is an old homely maid lacking intelligence.”  Each syllable dragged out longer and louder, “Your sister is an old homely maid lacking intelligence.”  Thousands of voices shouted them at her, “An old homely maid lacking intelligence.”  Yes, yes, she was!  Tears coursed through her soul, winds blew them away, the dark grew hands to push and poke her.  “An old homely maid lacking intelligence.”  Yes, she was ugly!  But did that deny her love?  Was she to be a thing used, a trinket played with till broken and then flung aside?  Surely even the ugly deserved better!  “It’s not your fault your sister is an old homely maid lacking intelligence.”  Fine!  If love only meant pain and refusal, then she would have nothing to do with it!

Without thinking, Anastasia ran away back to the corner from which she had come. She curled up expecting a harsh coldness, but instead found a warm softness.  It took away her tears, it removed her pain, it whispered “I love you, Anastasia!”  Slowly, as calm returned to her, sleep conquered.

Gerard watched as her breathing slowed; perhaps now she could sleep. Slowly he released her head and tucked the covers under her chin.  Her collapse had given them all quite a scare, but Gerard felt constrained by a worry that he could not show.  He had not told his sister and father just how he felt about Anastasia, yet he knew they had guessed it.  Sighing he sat back into the chair.

His eyes became fixed on the window pane mottled with raindrops. It would have been a new moon that night anyway, so the clouds probably did not matter.  For some reason clouds covering the moon had always disturbed him, why he could not say.  But they did not disturb him now.  Perhaps it was because he was already too disturbed to notice them.  How could a mother react so?  After sending word to Mrs. Bulfinch asking her to come since her daughter was suddenly taken ill, the woman had replied that she was certain all would be taken care of and her presence therefore unnecessary, just send her the doctor’s note.  How cold and uncaring!  Gerard knew that he was being unjust, that she was most likely allaying Mr. Bulfinch’s reaction.  Anastasia had never told him, but Gerard somehow felt he knew that the merchant thought little of his stepchildren.  Perhaps he had deduced this from observing the family in the pew on Sundays.

He sighed again and rubbed his eyes. He was not tired; in fact he could not sleep which was why he was sitting there now.  He figured seeing her calm and peaceful would soothe him.  Yet he had found her tossing and mumbling, tears slowly trickling from under her closed lids.  At that moment he had felt his heart rend immendable.  Somehow the words “I love you” had escaped.  They had comforted her enough to dispel the storm inside her dream.

Suddenly his heart pace quickened. If his admittance of love had settled her soul, could it be she loved him?  It was too fantastic to believe.  Surely she had remembered her mother crooning over her as a sick child; or more possibly it was some hero from her novels, Sir Gawain or Henry V perhaps.

Oddly enough, Gerard could not dispel this thought. All her actions that day had shown something: first ecstatic joy when he had greeted her, then cold sorrow as Karen spoke, and now this.  But one day was not enough; after all had she not declared with her own lips that he meant nothing to her?  His heart felt the stab of pain as if it had been a blow received only that instant.  A third sigh escaped him.

“So you can’t sleep either?”

Gerard jumped at his father’s voice. “I thought I heard her call out.”

The elderly man chuckled. “Now, Gerard, don’t give me that.”  Seating himself opposite his son, Mr. Thomas asked, “You love her don’t you?”

Gerard helplessly nodded.

Studying the distraught face of the younger man, he knew something was hurting inside, and it was not simply fear for her health. “Does she return your affection?”

He watched as the one he had raised from childhood swallowed hard, every muscle straining in his face, neck and hands. “I don’t know,” he replied somewhat huskily.  The elder man waited, knowing the rest of the story would slowly pour itself out.  “She said she didn’t care.”  Nodding, the father looked down at the ground.  “But then, she had been pushed by others.”

“Hmmm.”

“Her face showed she was happy to see me again.”

“Oh?”

“I don’t know. Father, how did you know mother loved you?”

With that proverbial smile that only a parent gives, Mr. Thomas chuckled softly under his breath. “Your mother was not like Ms. Bartle.  She told me openly and honestly what she thought.  One might say she proposed to me.  But that is not what you need to hear.  Gerard, my boy, look at her actions: what do they tell you?  She may say one thing and believe another.  Most people rarely say what they mean, but you can always tell by their actions if they do or not.”

“But she is so sincere! Every time I’ve talked with her she has told me plainly what she thought.  How do you know that she did not mean what she said?”  The eager eyes searched the sedate father’s.

“Just because she is honest intellectually does not mean she is with her heart. Some people are afraid to admit when they love.”

“Why?”

“Why? Well, that is the simplest answer: because they fear.  Son, to love someone is to no longer be your own.  In love you are totally poured out for the other, completely lost in the tide like a drop of water.  In love you sacrifice all with a ready smile, you hold nothing back of your heart and soul.  It is difficult to do, but when you lack trust it is impossible.  And from all that you have told me, Ms. Bartle does not want to trust.”

Gerard looked down at his bare feet on the sage carpet, a burgundy flower curling above his toes. “Then I am not trustworthy?”

“No,” Mr. Thomas whispered. Such words disturbed deeply his heart.  “She must have been hurt as a child that she is so wary of trust and love.  Yet, the mere fact that she considers you a friend tells you she trusts you somewhat.”

Gerard sighed. “I suppose so.”

“Come to sleep. In the morning things won’t seem so dismal.”

Smilie’s Coffee

There is a place somewhere along the miles of interstate which traverse the middle of the country; a place safe from everything – alien attacks, zombie hoards, armies, and bounty hunters included. From the outside it doesn’t look like much: a ghost town like the hundreds that sprinkle the boom-and-bust west. The only thing that anyone in their right mind would stop for is a run-down coffee shop staffed by a single tired barista. The sign advertises the best coffee in the county, but seeing as it is one of the only coffee shops in the county, the claim isn’t worth arguing. Except for the occasional highway patrolman and badly lost tourist, most of the people who enter the coffee shop are the kind who cast a furtive glance over their shoulder, check the parking lot three times for hidden enemies, and only enter when they are positive that the cost is clear.

The inside looks just the way one would expect after seeing the outside. Three round metal tables pin the floor to the ground while an assortment of chairs huddle around them as if for warmth and companionship. A cracked marble counter is kept in spotless shine by the barista. The counter often looks cleaner than his faded green apron and plaid button-down. He wears a perpetual depressed look which only briefly lifts when the bell on the door rings. As soon as he realizes that it is not a man in a white coat come to take him to an asylum at the door, the depression falls back over his features. He speaks only in monosyllables, as if he has forgotten how to have a real conversation.

However, if the patron is one who knows, one who can give the correct pass phrases, he is taken to the back room. Crates are swung away from a false wall and within moments the world shifts. A building with secrets, a match for those who call it home.

C.Angelina

A Beginning in the End pt. 20

Arabella                                                                                                            2020/1/15

I decided I needed to do something today. I can’t just do nothing all of the time. I can’t become complacent or I will inevitably die though it may take longer here than out there. The thing is that I’m not really sure what to do.

I have the feeling that I am here for a reason, that I have to stay here until I figure out what that is. I feel as if I have landed in a sort of strange stasis. I am in a bubble here, a surreal sphere containing me in illusionary safety.

I wandered out into the town today, savoring the air and sunshine. The dead moaned outside but I couldn’t hear them within the barricaded town. The smell of rotting flesh has mostly cleared from my senses. I don’t think the smell will ever vanish entirely because of how rooted in memory it is but – hold on. I see something across the square. What in the world?!

Logan                                                                                                                2020/1/15

I can’t believe it. It can’t be, not after everything that’s happened to me and the long years of near hopelessness. I saw something today that I can’t believe no matter how much I want it to be real.

I moved out into the town today, exploring the strange and surreal environment. As I entered the square I saw something that at first I assumed was just my tired imagination and wishful thinking. There appeared to be a young woman standing on the other side. She didn’t notice me at first and I found myself helplessly staring in disbelief.

She had sun-bleached blond hair, was about average height and her build was all lean muscle. Her clothes were bedraggled but appeared clean and her overall appearance was well kept considering the world she was forced to inhabit.

I just stared not believing that I could actually be looking at another living human being. She didn’t notice me at first. She seemed lost in her thoughts, staring at the silent town surrounding us both.

In a moment she caught sight of me. Her eyes grew wider than I had ever seen a person’s go. She just stared at me for one long instant, her eyes startled and afraid. Suddenly she turned and ran, fleeing back into the town. I instinctively took off after her but she was too fast for me and I lost her in the maze of residential homes and streets.

I went back to my house feeling like I was, and still am, in a dream. I wonder if I actually saw her or if maybe I am finally losing it completely. I want to go search for her but I am held back by the fear that she is not real. I feel as though I won’t be able to go on if I find out that she isn’t anything more than a figment of my imagination.

Tomorrow I’ll go back to the square in the hopes of seeing her again. For now I do not have the courage to know if what I saw was the truth or my crazed psyche.

 

Dymphna.