Manmade Horrors Beyond Our Comprehension

Trigger Warning: Tragedy, baby loss

Aiden stared at the clouds, thinking carefully about what it might mean.

Simulation theory. Aliens. A bizarre prank perpetrated by some billionaire tech bro.

“10M Human Lifeforms Achieved! Please upgrade your membership to continue growing your civilization.” Read the script emblazoned on the midday sky.

Aiden was not a foremost scholar in physics or philosophy or any combination thereof that might hold an answer to what he saw. In fact, he was a man of meager means, who worked himself to the bone for every scrap he got. He began this life with an ‘upbringing’ in a dank foster home, experiencing neglect in every sense of the word, and the only thing he could muster as a silver lining was his very ardent work ethic. He knew that as long as he worked hard, he could make sure he never found himself in that kind of situation again– surrounded by indifferent people, with no agency to improve his life. Through hard work, he could keep himself afloat financially, and by working hard to improve his understanding of what ‘friendship’ meant, he also eventually learned what it meant to be a ‘boyfriend’, then ‘husband’, and now, any day now, ‘father’ was his latest lesson. 

Or…was it?

Aiden’s stomach began to twist into knots. What would it mean for his baby? For his pregnant wife? 

Medicine had come a long way, so old people weren’t dying at the rate they used to.

Aiden flinched. He was wishing old people would die? Even if it was to make room for his child, what kind of warped and rusted-out kind of conscience did he have, if that was his first train of thought?

Clenching his hand until he felt his fingernails draw blood, Aiden decided to stow the topic away until more information came out. Maybe it was just a prank. Maybe he was freaking out over nothing.

In two days time, it was confirmed that he was not, in fact, freaking out over nothing.

The news anchors tried to use the gentlest phrasing possible, but there really wasn’t a way to phrase mass miscarriages in a polite way. People began protesting, demanding the government find a way to meet the ‘upgraded membership’ condition. Older people hid away from the general public, afraid of what they may be asked, afraid of what they would be accused of, afraid of what might happen to them.

Society as Aimen and Sadia knew it did not last long– and with Sadia expecting any day now, Aimen felt the hardening around his heart beginning. Not the kind that comes from eating deep-fried Oreos, either.

“Don’t even think about it.” Sadia said, cutting through Aimen’s darkened countenance. He had been staring out of the hospital window as she waited for an ultrasound, trying to ensure that the child hadn’t already been lost.

“Don’t think about what?” Aimen asked, trying to put on a brave face.

“I know how desperately you’ve wanted a family, baby. Don’t. We’ll figure something out. The entire world is trying to figure this out. We’ll come up with something.”

Aimen sighed, but not the kind of sigh that was paired with relief. Instead, it felt as though the weight in his chest grew heavier. “Yeah. Yeah, you’re right. It’s…I’m just not in a good head space. Sorry. This is probably much harder for you than it is for me.”

“Not a competition.” Sadia said. Her voice was warm, but firm, almost like she was correcting a very endearing and frustrating puppy. “It sucks for everyone. We just need to keep it together and not do anything irrational while we wait.”

“I’ve never been good at waiting. I’m just going to clear my head real quick, can I get you something?”

“Apple juice, please.” Sadia said with a very faint smile. It had been her only craving throughout the entire pregnancy.

Aimen managed a half smile back, and he stepped outside.

He hadn’t made it more than ten feet before he heard the noise. The sound of a plastic pan hitting the ground, shouting, then the first scream.

Just down the hall, there was a man with all the fury in the world behind his eyes. Aimen had a very solid guess as to why.

The man was shouting, throwing things, and as Aimen approached, he saw the reflected sunlight off of some kind of metal in the man’s left hand.

Aimen rushed in, unthinking. He had never been the type to wait.

The next minute was compressed into just two moments– when Aimen tried to grapple the man from behind, and when he felt the sharp sting across his throat.

Nurses and Doctors came quickly, Security pinned the man down. Aimen didn’t feel the pain anymore, though he was vaguely worried. He realized that he was confused…and then he felt cold. Medicine hadn’t come that far after all, he guessed.

Aiden pushed open the Simulation Casket. His memories– his real memories returned to him.

The year was 2024. He wasn’t Aimen. He was a University student. He had signed up for a study. It was supposed to be about video game design.

Immediately, he threw up on the floor. The clash of what he had lived– a life that was almost as real as his own, come and passed, in what was probably just a few hours. The love he had felt for his wife. What was her name? He–

His dizzy vision slowly cleared. “What kind of Matrix bullshit was that?”

No one answered him. He wasn’t important enough to answer, apparently.

“Michael, clean up the mess. Aiden, there’s a shower just beyond that door. Please fill out the survey when you’re done.”

As reality sunk back in for Aiden, and he wrote a very precise review in the survey, he left Simulacrum Laboratories on shaking legs, and walked back to his dorm.

His neighbor was an electrician. Aiden went and spoke with him for a moment, asking to borrow a sledge hammer. Then he went to his dorm room, opened the mini-fridge, and drank a bottle of apple juice, before returning to the street, marching right back to Simulacrum Laboratories, sledge hammer in tow.

Aimen was not the type to wait.

Intergalactic Insurrection

Inside the cockpit, despite the perfect air conditioning, a bead of sweat rolled down Orion’s back. He knew he had just one shot at this. “Pull out of the warp maneuver in 3…2…1…NOW!” Shouted Lieutenant Lestrange. 

Orion pulled back on the lever, engaged rear thrusters, and tried to hold himself still as the extreme forces battled towards equilibrium. When he was able to open his eyes again, the sight was beyond what he could ever have hoped.

Life. Advanced life! There was what must have been a space port teeming with activity, life forms coming and going, in orbit around a lush green planet. “This isn’t going to be Earth 2.0, crew!” Orion announced to everyone on the ship. “Expect contact with alien lifeforms imminently!”

Orion was much more excited than he was scared. Perhaps he ought to have been more worried than he was, but there was no way the alien lifeforms were this advanced and still barbarically hostile, right?

Cautiously, Orion guided the ship closer to their airspace. He had his comms engineer reaching out through every method he could think of, but there wasn’t any kind of response yet. Once Orion had pulled close enough in that he could begin to make out details on the space port, a trio of small ships departed and began their approach to his ship. 

While he waited, he tried to learn what he could. The space port used the vacuum of space to initialize the launch of everyone departing, but only let out a few ships at a time, despite there being a long lineup. They would close the doors, passengers would load, the ships would engage their thrusters, and the door would open. Anything loose left in the bay would be sucked into space. Perhaps the reason there were only two or three ships departing at a time was to minimize the potential for impact, even though the bay could easily fit 10-15 of the standard ships Orion had noticed.

Orion pulled himself out of his thoughts as the trio of what appeared to be single-occupancy ships drew close. “Are we getting anything?” Orion called out to his comms engineer.

“Nothing I can make out.” He responded. “Various forms of short-wave, but I don’t even think it’s communication. Just noise.”

Eventually, the trio of ships pulled in front of Orion’s viewing window and slowly glided forward. Orion knew enough to figure out that they intended for him to follow.

“Lieutenant Lestrange, please get together with your choice of four of our crewmembers. Seems like we’re going to go on a tour soon. Bring me the multi-purpose suit as well. I’ll be coming of course.”

As the excited crew began to trade favors, argue, flip coins and engage in mostly-friendly horseplay surrounding the issue of who was to touch down first, Orion laid eyes on one of the new lifeforms for the first time. He set down in a bay that looked just like the departure bay he had been observing, and the door sealed behind them. From the small ships, out hopped one very tall, very lanky being whose personhood moreso resembled a spider than a human, though there were no facial characteristics visible. The second departed their cockpit, and they were sturdily built, and short. Orion would’ve likened them to a Tolkenien dwarf. They removed their helmet and their face was more akin to a Eewok from Starwars…if George Lucas was right about space after all this time, Orion was going to flip. He hadn’t attended ten years of studies and another five leading and training this crew to have been beaten to the punch in the freaking 1990’s!

Finally, Orion, Lieutenant Lestrange and five others (all of whom Orion would know by name, but their faces were covered by helmets) departed their ship.

They were greeted by the tall alien. As it approached, it vocalized a wide variety of tones and syllables. It was trying to establish language.

Orion responded. “Our warm and humble greetings! I am from a planet we designate as Earth from the galaxy we designate as The Milky Way–”

“Ah, humanoid.” The tall alien responded. “Mmm, Marcus, could you?”

“Aye.” Called out a distinctly human voice from the third ship.

“What in the…?” The crew began to murmur. 

“Welcome to the Intergalactic Community, Captain..?” Came the human voice again as he was released from the bottom of his cockpit, dropping to the deck. 

“Orion. Sorry, you’re human, like us? How are we not the first to make contact?”

“You are, sort of.” The man approached as he removed his helmet. Pale blonde hair and gray eyes accented his oddly perfect features. By his aesthetics alone he could have climbed to fame back on Earth. His build and looks were like if Jason Mamoa had impregnated an angel and he was the result. His accent was somewhat strange, nothing Orion had ever heard before, but he spoke with intention and clarity. “You are the first humans to reach us. As for myself and the others, we were…or, in my case, our great-grandparents were simply taken as samples from our original planet.”

Orion’s mouth went dry. “You’re kidnapping victims.”

The human, Marcus, arched an eyebrow, and a vein pulsed in his forehead. “That isn’t the terminology I would use. Perhaps from your perspective that sounds correct, but it paints us– the intergalactic community– in a certain light I wouldn’t prescribe us. Let’s take a tour and I can explain everything. But first, allow me to walk you through our decontamination cycle.”

“Y-yes, of course. How many humans are there here, Marcus?”

“Samples are maintained at a maximum of 100 per species until they are ready to join as full-fledged members of the community. We are currently at our maximum.”

“What happens if one of you has a child and the cap is broken?”

“Let’s focus on one thing at a time.”

Orion began to get a bit of a knot building in his stomach. The crew behind him was no longer quietly chattering, they stood at attention. They were subtly scanning their surroundings.

“The decontamination process can take place just over there.” Marcus pointed to the farther end of the bay, where what looked like two sets of tents were set up. 

Orion led his crew inside. “Please strip off all your things and grab a new set of clothes. You won’t need your helmets and whatnot until you depart later, if you choose to do so.” Marcus continued. He now had the short, furry alien and tall, spider-like one at his side. While the crew stripped, they spoke quietly to one another.

“You two are the ones in charge, correct?” Marcus asked of Orion and Lestrange.

“Correct.” Orion responded neutrally. 

“In the next tent, there is another set of jump suits you two should wear. It will distinguish you for our other members.”

Lestrange looked at Orion with the question in her eyes. What are we doing? Is this safe? 

It seemed as though they would give them the option to leave if they chose to. Orion ground his teeth and moved over to the next tent. Lestrange followed.

Quietly, she whispered to him as they donned their new jump suits. “I don’t like how he referred to himself as a sample. Are we heading into some kind of evil scientists rule the galaxy bullshit?”

“Let’s not draw any conclusions this early, Lestrange.” Orion looked around the tent, showing that even if Marcus couldn’t hear them, there was no way to know that they weren’t unmonitored. Lestrange nodded. “Zip me up, please, Captain.”

Orion pulled Lestrange’s long red hair out of the way of the back of her jump suit and obliged her. As soon as they were both ready, Marcus and his two partners joined them in their tent.

“As I mentioned, we do have a population cap. I’ve been conferring with my colleagues, and we believe the best course of action isn’t to take your whole crew with you for the tour. Typically, the people who stay are the people who get the tour, you see.”

Orion swallowed, trying to measure his response. “I believe, in that instance, it may be better for us all to withdraw. What are the requirements to join as full members of the community, without the population cap? Perhaps we can return once we’ve reached that requirement.”

“Mmm. No, the community wants you to join the sample group, as you are clearly the most accomplished member to ever grace us, you and the Leiutenant. Your crew, however–” Marcus’s words were cut short by the loud *clang* of the doors being closed. The same kind of doors that they used to separate the safe zones from the ones leading out to the vacuum of space.

It all happened in an instant. Marcus swept out Orion’s legs, and the spider-like alien lunged at the Lieutenant. The bay doors opened, and Orion’s ship, along with every member of his crew who had come along with him, were sucked into space.

 Marcus was on top of Orion before he even registered the pain from his fall. 

“Welcome to the community, brother.” He grinned, pinning Orion’s arms. Orion tried his best to resist from his disadvantaged position, but he was winded. Rage boiled deep within his chest, even as he struggled to breathe.

Lestrange, however, did not have Orion’s limitation. She wrestled free from the lanky alien’s grasp and snatched what appeared to be some kind of short blade from his belt. The furry alien barked orders into his communications device while Lestrange kept the lanky alien at bay. 

Marcus was not to be distracted. He kept his infuriatingly perfect gaze on Orion, the grin on his face very self-satisfied.

**Well, no such thing as fair in a fight…’* Orion thought, and spat into Marcus’s eye.

“What the fuck?!” Marcus roared, rearing back. Orion bucked him from his seat on Orion’s stomach, and he tore Marcus’s entire toolbelt off of his jump suit. He tossed it to the side and began pelting Marcus with vicious blows.

Finally, the furry one finished speaking, and the tent-like structure they had been in lifted. They were once again surrounded by the silver-and-steel aesthetic of the inside of the space port…and surrounded by over a dozen soldier types, all armed with rifles. 

“There is no resisting the community, Captain.” Marcus said, once again grinning, though his teeth were now stained with his own blood.

“Aah…hell. Ideas, Lieutenant?”

“Awaiting your orders, Captain.” She sounded breathless, but furious.

“I spy with my little eye…” Orion said, then held his hand open. The Lieutenant tossed him her blade, and Orion struck out at a large canister that was sealed against a nearby wall. As he had hoped, it was a fire-suppression canister, and the area filled with white foam. Orion used this to grab Lestrange’s hand and kick away a nearby grate that led into something of an air tunnel. “This air tunnel is still susceptible to the vacuum, so find somewhere to hide, and re-establish communications with our ship! If they sealed the doors after letting us off, they should all still be alive!”

“And what will you be doing?” Lestrange asked.

“Causing damage.”

“Ugh, you always take the fun jobs.”

“Finish your job early and you can join me on mine.” Orion used his best sarcastic parent-like voice.

“Asshole.” Lestrange jettisoned herself down the air tunnel.

Orion knew the aliens were drawing close on him again. He groped through the foam for Marcus’s toolkit, and sprinted towards where he thought he saw some doors. The foam was beginning to dissipate, so with a little luck–

There. A keycard was on Marcus’s belt. “God bless my lucky stars!” Orion shouted as he stepped through. All he had to do was stay hidden, stay alive, and enact a little revenge while Lestrange got back into communication with his crew.

Simple. Easy…

Orion swallowed hard again and began wondering what death was really going to be like as he sprinted down the unexplored alien hallways.

Badassery & Bloodshed Redux Pt.I

The Ever-Pervading Darkness, the Goddess who turns blood to ice, the monster under every child’s bed.

Lame,’ I thought. ‘These were the titles they had crafted for me?’

I was fine with having a cult in my honor- pretty much deserved one after all the shit I had pulled off during my mortal and, later, my immortal life- but is this truly what remained of my legacy of badassery and bloodshed?


It had been a decade since I’d seen action, or interacted with my followers- maybe it was time they were all reminded of who I really was. They thought I was some stone statue, with a cruel face and a hard-on for gratuitous violence… that last part may have been true, but I was not something that demanded child sacrifices or weird sex rituals. Gods, they had gone so far off-base. Idiots.

One of the few joys I had left in my “church” was my youngest worshiper- he actually got me. Every week, people brought me gold, jewels- shit I couldn’t use- but Tiny Timothy, he brought me a PB&J that was loaded with his religious fervor. What a sweet, deranged little child.

Speaking of Tiny Timothy, isn’t it time for “service”?’ I wondered, and I pulled my mind from the Cosmos, to peer down at my “church”.

‘I really gotta start listening when people pray.‘ I grumbled, seeing my church mostly on fire and definitely, fully in chaos.

Police were outside, but no attempt was being made to put out the fire. My cultists were in chains- and a police captain was eating MY GODS-DAMNED PB&J SANDWICH?!

That was beyond the pale. I strapped on my ass-kicking boots, cargo pants, and a black muscle shirt. Oh, yeah- a bra- couldn’t go on a murderous rampage with the girls flying about left and right.

Descending to the Earth- or Ascending, depending on which way one prescribed to The Truth, I formed in a cloud of mist.

In this body, I was roughly eight feet tall, my skin made of ink and obsidian- and my eyes shone with bloodlust. Enough to make any sane man paralyzed with fear.

I looked around briefly, and spotted the police captain. “You filth!” I screamed, slapping the PB&J out of the police captain’s hand. I curled my leg up against my chest, and launched a reverse roundhouse kick with the explosive power of a small bomb.

What followed next was an eminently satisfying massacre- there were bullets, screaming, one of them even tried to flee, which was hilarious… though I could have done with some background music. Rob Zombie, perhaps?

After all was said and done, I began to free my slav-… servants.

“Goddess! Oh, thank you!” They shouted.

“Gross.” I replied, then went and knelt next to Tiny Timothy. “I like your sandwiches, little man. Keep ’em coming.” My dark hair mostly covered my face and eyes- but I could see his adorable, bucktooth grin.

I looked to my High Priest, who had been knocked unconscious at some point. I loosed some of my Obsidian Smoke, and brought him around. “Hey, dork. Who sent the cops?” I asked.

“My…lady…Intelma….” He croaked, reaching toward me with a trembling hand.

I slapped it away. “Don’t try and cop a feel just ‘cuz you got your ass kicked.”

The High Priest smirked. “Was I that obvious?” His voice wasn’t weakened at all.

“As the rising sun, yes. Who. Sent. The godsdamnmotherfucking cops?”

He scowled. “Darius, I bet. He’s the Chief of Police, and he serves the Ashen Queen.”

I rolled my eyes. “She’s been immortal for, what, thirty years? She’s practically a baby, and she’s trying to pick a fight with me?” I stood. “Here’s what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna hit back, hard, and make her forget her plans to be a pain in my perfectly-sculpted ass. But direct warfare amongst the Gods is forbidden, so looks like you’re going to lead the charge.”

Opening a portal to my private storehouse, I summoned a ride. “Here, have a weapon for your warfare, Idiot Priest. Bring it back with a full tank…and be safe.” I said, handing him my keys.

“Your will, my lady.” He said, turning his attention to the decked-out hearse she had gifted him.

Though this was actually his third time meeting the Goddess, he doubted she knew his name. He was one High Priest from one of the many chapters of her cult- but today, he was going to ensure she learned his name, and never forgot it.

She had given him a hearse to drive in for a reason, he was sure.

Gathering up the faithful who had balls enough, the High Priest loaded them all into their make-shift vehicle of war, and he sped across the city towards the Chief of Police’s hidden sanctuary; the Temple of Ash.

It was deep in the city’s downtown, blending itself in with the rampant crime- the drug-dealing, the prostitution, this was where the allegedly moral rival goddess was laying down her roots.

She had done it in an attempt to uproot the ‘evil’- but, ironically, all it had done is led some of her followers astray.

Darius, the Chief of Police, had been digging his greedy fingers into the illegal cash flow that took place just outside of the Temple of Ash- through intimidation and blackmail, he coerced money from the criminals, offering “protection” from his own police force in exchange for a percentage of their cut.

It was true that he used his ill-gotten gains to fund his Goddess’s temple- but how laughable that their idea of ‘morality’ involved supporting crime on their own doorstep!

The High Priest loved squashing hypocrisy. His philosophy had always been ‘If you aren’t capable of truly being good, then accept your lot in life, and don’t pretend otherwise.’ He had know since his early teenage years that he was made to be criminal, and he embraced it wholeheartedly.

Stepping out of the hearse, he realized himself and his crew made for quite the odd picture. Dressed in black robes, moving in a silent group, they pounded on the doors of the Temple of Ash.

The door opened hesitantly. A greying man stood behind it. “Can I help you?” He asked.

The High Priest smiled maliciously as I drove two firm fingers into his windpipe, preventing him from shouting. He doubled over, and brought his knee to his chest for a savage kick that sent him tumbling backwards.

Waltzing down the hall, the High Priest noted the extremely orderly aesthetic- and that the Ashen Queen must have been fond of paintings.

As he walked past, followed by his entourage, he slashed his blade through each painting, laughing sardonically as he did.

Walking unchallenged through the remainder of the temple, they reached the back of the room- where, traditionally, most temples would leave two things; the Throne for their God or Goddess, and their Crown Jewel.

Feeling that he was likely being watched by the rival Goddess, and, perhaps, his own Goddess, the High Priest laid eyes on the Crown Jewel- which, in this case, was a semi-transparent pearl, the size of his own fist, which rested on a mantle piece above a fire place. Putting on a pair of leather gloves, the High Priest took it in his hands, and smashed it upon the ground. “Erich Vanhouser!” He cried. Hopefully, the goddess would remember his name, now.

He then toppled over the Ashen Queen’s throne, and, upon exiting, announced to the assorted bums and criminals in the street “Shop’s open for business, and everything’s free.” He and his group left, thinking the mission accomplished.

I, Goddess Intelma had been watching- halfheartedly, though. In truth I was probably more absorbed in my episode of Adventure Time than the raid- However, when Erich (and yes, I already knew his name. Needy sentimental softy.) fell for the decoy Crown Jewel and failed to take at least five lives in the raid, I knew we were now on for an all-out war.

He was soft. Afraid to lose those who he cared about… I couldn’t really blame him, but that was why I specified for him to really cause damage, Gods damn it!

This was going to grow.

I began sending my traditional signs to every sect, temple, and church under my domain- arm yourselves; we’re going to war.

Aliens, Allegations, And Alligators Pt.II

I didn’t sleep that night- how could I, when so many lives were going to be destroyed in such a horrific manner?

Instead, I spent the night reading Samyaza’s guide over and over, trying to make it all make sense. I was sure that some of this terminology must have been already known by the top brass, because he offered no explanation for some of the most difficult parts to understand.

Yuliette eventually ‘forced’ me to help her warm her bed, but all that changed was that I now read by a much dimmer light while she slept with her head on my chest.

Whenever weariness began to make my eyelids heavy, I once again felt Samyaza’s cold hand resting on my shoulder, jerking me awake.

Finally, morning came- such as it was on this planet- and Yuliette finished her preparations.

“Now, to yours?” She asked.

I shook my head. “I didn’t bring any keepsakes with me. We can go.”

Military housing didn’t allow soldiers- or, in my case, military stenographers- to buy any of our own stuff, except for food. I didn’t have any furniture, entertainment units, or anything else that was actually mine to go and get. I had no reason to go back.

“Have you finished your formal resignation?” Yuliette asked.

“Well- sort of. They made it clear this job is over. If they fail to reassign me, that’s their own problem.”

Yuliette tsk’d at me. “What if they do reassign you, and you’re all the way back on Earth? They could call you a deserter. You should really do a proper resignation.”

I thought about it for a moment, but decided against it. I may need access to my high level of clearance before this whole thing was over.

I grunted in a noncommittal fashion at Yuliette, which was well understood as my way of saying ‘I don’t want to talk about it anymore’.

I had Yuliette book the flight back to Earth but paid for it myself since she had only had random blips of employment during this whole debacle.

We stored Yuliette’s vehicle, which was capable of travel through both air and land, in a commercial garage meant for long-term storage. We then took an airtaxi towards the spaceport.

The weather was behaving in a pretty typical fashion- it was constantly drizzling, overcast, somewhat gloomy. It didn’t help that the rain was slightly acidic- not enough to kill a human like me, but enough to cause painful acid burns on the first layer of our skin. That was why I always had to wear the annoying EEE, but Yuliette did not.

As we reached the spaceport, I thought about how I was going to do this. I wanted Yuliette safe, but I needed to stay here. I should’ve just brought it up earlier. I really did need to work on my communication skills.

Before I could begin to solve it, other complications arose.

As soon as we stepped inside, two security personnel began shadowing our footsteps. The spaceport was huge, and after three different turns, they were still on us. Couldn’t have been a coincidence.

Yuliette noticed nearly as quickly as I did, which was impressive for someone who wasn’t trained.

“I’m going to veer off into the washroom. You keep heading for the gate. If they follow you, I’ll come up from behind them. If they follow me, I’ll deal with it.”

Yuliette nodded, though she didn’t seem particularly happy. Made sense- Yuliette was the type to turn in two assignments and ask her teacher which one they liked better, always striving to be the best she could be for her ‘superiors’. Going up against authority wasn’t her thing at all.

That just reaffirmed my choice to send her away. This was going to get hairy.

I veered off- and, unfortunately, the two men shadowing us split up. Worst case scenario. I stepped into the washroom and angled myself behind the door- a child’s tactic, but it would probably work. The security following us looked to be simple airport guards- not military or secret operatives.

The man stepped inside, and I thought I would end our confrontation before it even began.

I did not succeed.

I tried putting him immediately into a chokehold- nothing lethal, just to put him to sleep long enough for me to get Yuliette out of this spaceport, and to find another way off-planet.

Unfortunately, this security guard was unusually wary. As soon as my hands reached around his neck, he ducked, pulled on my arms, and tossed me against the far wall.

“What the hell?!” Shouted a man using one of the stalls.

“Sorry bud. Fight going on, here.” I said, groaning as I stood.

“You tripped one of our sensors. We gotta bring you in.” The security guard said. He had a mess of dark hair on his head and an unkempt, thin beard over his jawline.

“Damn facial recognition.” I hadn’t thought we’d be on any kind of a list- did the top brass realize that I’d taken Samyaza’s book? Or had they somehow heard my talk with Yuliette?

“Come on then,” I said, putting my hands up.

My opponent was large. Taller than me by a good six inches, longer reach- but I doubted he was stronger. My best bet was to take this to the floor.

I feigned shooting a few quick jabs, then swept his legs. He was top-heavy, so it was perfectly effective. He hit the ground, and I quickly followed. From there, I disoriented him with a few blows to the head, and finally got the chokehold I was looking for.

I placed the guard inside a stall, told the other person in there that it was safe to come out, and sprinted after Yuliette.

She and I had, not long into our relationship, put tracking devices on one another. These were dangerous days, after all, and as a diplomat, she was a prime target for kidnappings.

She was nearing the departure zone, where space-faring ships would leave with their cargo.

My heart was pounding in my ears, but after the fastest mile I had ever ran, I saw her.

I saw as she was being loaded up into a Coalition Passenger Ship, with her wrists manacled.

“No!” I bellowed, running through the enameled glass corridors, trying to get to her-

Until a man with dark hair, cruel eyes, and a familiar voice stepped into my path.

“Stenographer Williams.” Samyaza said.

“Samyaza. Pardon me, I’m not on duty.”

“Don’t play coy. You have my book.”

“I merely followed orders, my lord.” Amandine said from somewhere behind Samyaza.

“Mmm, indeed. Yet we have a mess to clean up.”

“Where are you taking her?”

“She doesn’t seem to know anything about my book, so she is going to Earth, exactly where you wanted her. If you come with me, quietly, and right now, I will leave her in your brother’s care. If you resist, she will be brought to a prison.”

I lost sight of Yuliette. She hadn’t seen me following her. I hesitated a moment…


“Yes.” Samyaza agreed. “Now, we’ve involved the normal people for too long, Williams. Let’s go have a chat.”

The Draconic Domain Pt.III

I knew Pierre wouldn’t approve of my plan. I burned through another pair of his cables to charge my Gear, swiped one of his spare coats, and left quietly before he awoke.

I began heading towards the eastern edge of town- gang territory.

The way I saw it- the lawmen and the Academy weren’t in a position to help me nearly as much as I wanted, nor were they in a position to be of much danger, either. The gangs, however, would be my most dangerous enemy…or my most valuable friends. Siding with one of them made the most sense.

The gangs currently had an unsteady working relationship- essentially a truce- and they were united under a shifting leadership. Amongst the city crews, there were the Blackened Bones, Heartfires, and Undercity members. A few other small gangs existed, but these three were the most powerful.

My choice was obvious- the Blackened Bones were the only crew willing to go face-to-face against the police. They were the ones pulling off major jobs, jailbreaks, assassinations. The only thing they didn’t have was drugs because it was against their code.

The Blackened Bones were only kept in check by the threat of outright war, with the police and both the other major crews attacking them at once- if it weren’t for that holding them back, they would run the entire city.

With my help, they could tip the scales- and that would land me unparalleled safety in their ranks, and comfort for my family.

Even though the sun was now up, and the sun was shining through a cloudless sky, I didn’t feel any safer. Perhaps it was the buildings that were looming over me. Perhaps it was the fact that I could feel a growing number of eyes watching me as I approached the Blackened Bones headquarters.

Everyone knew where the Blackened Bones headquarters were- it was also the city’s only gambling house.

I didn’t make it all the way to the front door before I was interrupted.

On the back of a lithe, tall, grey and black dragon was a woman with a serious scowl on her face. She was quite the opposite to her dragon’s toned-down appearance- her hair was dyed in bright stripes of many colors, and her clothes were very…punk rock.

“What do you want?” She sounded bored and peeved.

“I have a unique ability that your organization might be able to make use of. I want to trade my services for employment, and a dragon.”

The woman rolled her eyes. “Dragons don’t grow on trees. Do you know how hard it is to raise them to be tame? Your ‘ability’ better be good. Get on.”

Before I’d even taken a step she put her wrist to her mouth and spoke into it. “Tell Morris we have a visitor.”

I mounted the rear saddle on the woman’s dragon and held on while she leapt over walls and raced at the highest speeds she could- she definitely wasn’t trying to get a high rating for her guest services.

I was taken inside their compound- not the gambling hall that I had thought I’d be going to- and I was ‘greeted’ by a very disinterested-looking man with long, slicked-back white hair. He wasn’t old, not if I could judge by his skin or voice, but his hair threw me off. I guessed he was in his mid-twenties.

“So, Killanna tells me you have an ability.” He started.
When she had told him this, I couldn’t be sure.

“Yeah. I was thinking- I join your crew, I get a dragon, and in exchange, you get my ability.”

“You’re asking a lot. What are you bringing to the table?” His voice was neutral, but I could tell that if I was offering him nothing substantial, he’d probably break my arms for wasting his time.

“Let me explain it this way.” I said, subtly activating my Gear. “You have two men stationed behind me, and one in the tower over there,” I said, gesturing. “He wields the black energy of his dragon. Killanna uses red energy, and the dragon she rides is black.”

“So, you know about the energy types, but you don’t know their proper names. You sound childish, listing things off like ‘black and red energy’.”

“I have an ability, not unlimited access to ancient secrets.”

“Mmm. Okay, so you can detect energy at a distance. Can you feel the magnitude of the power as well? Or just detection of presence?”

“Your energy is the strongest here, although there is someone underground who outstrips you.” I noticed, looking down.

“Ah.” The white-haired man grimaced, as if he’d swallowed something unpleasant. “Well, if what you’re saying is true, then you and I don’t have that much time to talk. How far are you willing to go with your ability? If I asked you to use it to track someone, could you do it? If I asked you to steal, do you have the guts? If I asked you to kill, would you follow through, or cave?”


Aliens, Allegations, and Alligators (Fantasy fiction short story)

I wasn’t meant to be privy to the secret meetings that the Humanity Coalition held. I was not on their war council, their secret service agencies, or even a general in their armies. I should have had no business learning about every little dirty deal and nasty secret.

Regardless, I knew more about the Intergalactic War than almost everyone else, even including most of our leaders.

For the sake of reliable communication and historical accuracy, a stenographer of sorts was required. I had that job foisted on me, even though I didn’t want it.

Now, here I was, listening to the ugliest side of humankind being spilled out.

I heard as they debated upon targets- the enemy had vulnerable hospitals and schools that could be blown up. Their supply trains of medicine and food, those were fine to attack too- but could we steal those supplies? What even was alien medicine? Perhaps it would be more cost-effective to just burn it.

Theft. The slaughter of innocents. I had heard every despicable word coming from the people we were supposed to look up to, and it only got worse as we began to lose. It took the better part of a decade- almost seven years, to be exact, but we were losing planetary control and key spaceports every single standard earth day.

It seemed like humanity was going to be wiped out, but I shed very few tears. I had seen what we were capable of, and it revolted me. I had recorded every sin, and I hoped we would be exposed for each one. I hoped humanity wouldn’t survive. At least, not this humanity. Not under these leaders.

Finally, on what we thought would be the day humanity was due to surrender, a wicked-looking man strolled into the War Room. Every step he took made a sharp noise that echoed across the room.

Immediately, all conversation and bickering ceased, and every pair of eyes was on him.

I felt his energy. His presence. Every General straightened their back, and the fatigue left their eyes. Every politician looked like they were afraid of being spoken to by this…person.

I was not spiritual by any means, yet I was willing to bet my life that this was a true God of War.

“Everyone. General Roudon has apprised me of your situation. I trust you all know who I am.” His dark hair was long and slicked back. His movements were precise and swift. His tone allowed no room for anyone else to speak.

By reflex, I was recording what was being said, my newly-made but old-fashioned typewriter click-clacking away.

The man’s attention snapped immediately over to me. “Not another word.” He warned me.

His gaze bore an intense heat, like I was being scolded by a cruel father. I put both of my hands up, trying to nonverbally signal that I would comply.

“You seem to have forgotten, ladies and gentlemen,” the man orated, as though he were giving an inspiring speech, “the fundamentals of warfare.” He began moving again, slowly circling around the large table which hosted all of our leaders. All eyes remained trained on him.

“You have all read books written by great warriors, I am sure. The Book of Five Rings, The Art of War, the secret diary of Genghis Kahn, yes?”

A muted mumbling of agreements came from most members around the table.

“Yet all of these writers were incomplete. They had wives, children, friends. Even Miyamoto Musashi, may his stained soul rest in peace, had favorite concubines.”

Having finished his slow walk around the leaders, the man now placed himself behind me. I had a feeling he was ensuring I hadn’t continued writing in secret. Feeling him standing behind me made shivers run up my spine.

“You look to your fellow humans for inspiration, yet you should be looking towards your apex predators, instead.”

He placed one his hands on my shoulders. Though I was wearing a coat, it felt as if his hand was seeping cold into my very bones. With his other hand, he pulled free the sheet of paper upon which I had written his opening sentence.

“The Alligator, my friends. The Alligator has been almost entirely unchanged by evolution for millions of years, because it has stumbled upon the epitome of lethal hunting techniques.”

His hand lifted from my shoulder, and I fought to ensure I didn’t breathe a sigh of relief.

“Take your opponent into a place where you can breathe longer.” The man now walked, with his back to me, toward the leaders once again. “If they are stronger, manufacture a favorable environment. If they are smarter, manufacture a favorable environment. If they are winning, flood the arena, because you know you can hold your breath longer than they can. Wash away every difference in wit and skill and strength, and make it a competition of endurance. One you know you can win.”

No one dared to speak, only nod along to the man’s suggestions.

“No one wants to ask ‘how’?” I could hear the smile in his voice. It was lopsided, cruel.

“I happen to have come prepared with an answer, but you must promise me,” he said, the last two words sung in a musical tone, “that you will enact it immediately. No if, no and, no but, you do what I say and you do it now.”

I began to wonder if our leaders were in a trance, the way they nodded along.

“I have…discovered something, about the aliens. To keep it very, very simple, the aliens do not dream. They have no concept of the other realm. So, we introduce a little of the other realm into your realm, this realm, and we simply endure a few strange months while they endure losing their Gods-damn minds!” A note of excitement had begun to creep in.

I had seen enough talks by charismatic, evil leaders. People like Hitler, Stalin. This man knew exactly what he was doing. He was maneuvering himself to be their saving grace, at their darkest hour. He was inspiring fanaticism in the Coalition. If he wasn’t already in charge, he was certainly becoming the de facto leader.

The man laid out the specifics of the plan, but nothing else he said made sense to me. He spoke in terms of physics to the physicist, war to the generals, and politics to the politicians. I allowed myself to stop paying attention, until the very end, when he once again addressed the entire room.

“In order to protect ourselves from the worst of the difficulties, you will all need to learn to control your minds and spirits. You must unify them both, and have your soldiers strictly under control. While the aliens lose their grip on reality, they may become…feral. Even those that want to die will throw up a defense in their last moments. To aid in that, my assistant will provide copies of my guide to everyone in the room. Now, I must be going.”

“Y-you won’t be far, will you?” Asked the Executive Head of the Coalition.

“Have no fear, I am only ever one phone call away. Amandine, the books, please.” With that, the man left.

“Yes, Lord Samyaza.” A woman stepped out from the shadows- I hadn’t noticed her entering- and to each person around the table she gave a copy of the man’s ‘guide’.

The leaders began chattering again. They had more energy now than they had when the war began. I was, once again, sickened. Though I didn’t quite understand, I knew that if this plan worked, humanity would turn the tide- and we would win.

We did not deserve to win.

The woman- Amandine- stopped at my table, and placed a book down.

“For me?” I asked.

“My Lord instructed me to provide one for every person. You are a person, correct?” Her tone was perfectly polite but entirely void of character. Without waiting for a response, she now followed the man’s- Samyaza’s- path out of the building.

It felt like a spell had been lifted, and my hands began to tremble.

I looked at the book across the table and wondered- did I want to know what that…thing had written? Would the knowledge corrupt me, somehow? Or would it help me protect the few people I cared about?

“You’re done, now, Mister Williams.” Called out one of the Generals as she approached my table. “We won’t need you for the rest of the war effort.”

I scooped the book up and held it against my back, with my other arm snapping up into a smart salute. “Yes, sir!”

“Very good.”

I walked a longer path than I needed to to leave the room- but I knew this way, no one would see me leave with the book.

I felt ill. I felt stressed out. I felt tired. But I knew there was much, much more I needed to get done before I could rest again.

As soon as I left the compound, I went through the laborious process of putting on an External Elements Equalizer suit- also called the EEE, and made a phone call from a booth, instead of my personal device.

“Hello?” Responded the sweet, smokey voice I had grown to love.

“Babe. I’m…done work early. Want to swing by?”

I was quiet on the ride back. Yuliette tried several conversation starters on me before I silently put my finger to my lips to pantomime a “ssh”.

She understood.

As soon as we arrived at her apartment, I powered down every device I could find. Yuliette caught on and even brought all the mobile ones into her washroom.

Finally, as secure as we could be, I sat her down.

“We aren’t going to lose this war.”

Relief washed over Yuliette’s face. “Oh, thank God-“

“No. The means we will use to make this win happen are… well, I can’t pretend I understand fully, but they will be monstrous. Every single alien is going to die, and it won’t be a swift death. It’s like some kind of…psychological genocide. You and I need to get off-world immediately, back to Earth-“

“You always want to go back to Earth.” Yuliette objected, a slight grin on her face. It wasn’t that she didn’t understand the gravity of what I was telling her- it was that she was trying to comfort me.

“I’m serious, baby.”

Yuliette chewed on her lip for a moment. “I wish this was just a silly ploy to get us to move in together.”

“Afraid not.”

Yuliette and I had met each other when this job began- I had just graduated from the Military Academy, with the intent to become a staffing officer. No front-line work, just clerical. Approve paternity leave, sign off on medical forms, stuff like that. However, just when the big brass at the top needed a stenographer, they noticed my file.

I was brand new, which they needed. No chance of bias or prior affiliations amongst the Coalition. I had been accepted for full clearance on personnel files, which meant I had passed the psych evaluations for keeping confidential things confidential, which they needed. I could also type at 200 words per minute, which they said was great. I wasn’t told the details, I was just assigned the new position off-world without the opportunity to say ‘no’, and there I was, a few weeks later, on the very edges of humanity’s intergalactic reach, penning every word of their deliberations.

Yuliette, however, had been born on this planet. She wasn’t even entirely human, though the DNA tests had been inconclusive about how much of her was alien. She had been working on inter-species diplomacy before that ship sunk. She went to a bar to drown her sorrows the day the fighting started, and I had done the same. Since that night, we had been inseparable. As each day grew a little darker, we grew a little closer. Now, I couldn’t imagine being without her.

…And the thought that she was even the slightest bit at risk of this new plan of theirs made me sick with rage.

“So, you want to fall back, in case this new weapon of theirs can hurt me, too?”

“Yeah. I-“

I thought about telling her about the book, but Yuliette was a stickler for rules. She’d want me to return it, or throw it out at the least.

“I’m worried. Besides- we’re both out of a job, and you should meet my little brother, and see Earth for the first time. There’re lots of reasons to go, and none to stay.”

Yuliette had lost most of her friendships when the war began- most of her alien friends saw her work as a diplomat to be traitorous, and most of her human friends were now deployed on the front lines. She had no family that she knew of.

“Alright, Mercy. I’ll pack up.” Yuliette said, after a long pause.

Mercy. Her nickname for me. My proper name was Mercurio Williams, but Yuliette never used it.

As she packed, I cracked open the guide that Samyaza guy had written.

I learned three things, all on the first page.

Firstly, dreams were a function of our spirits interacting with the real world. Most of them made no sense because our minds did not hold proper control of our spirits.

Secondly, Samyaza was not human. Nor was he alien. He was something that came from before. He was one of seven of his kind.

Thirdly, this ‘collision’ of the ‘other realm’ and our realm meant that we were, in essence, employing demons to torture all alien life to death.

The fourth thing- it wasn’t something I learned, but something I realized. No way in hell was I letting that slimy bastard Samyaza do this. I was sending Yuliette to Earth, and I was going to stop this, even if it killed me.

The Draconic Domain Pt.I

Human society was a cautionary tale of arrogance. After millennia of progress, everything became possible for them. They conquered the concepts of resource scarcity, climate change, illness, economic trouble, war- and they continued to push. Through science, they pioneered magic- or, some still argue, they discovered the magic that had always been there, waiting. Through the combination of science and magic, they created sentient life that they intended to make their slaves…well-kept slaves, but slaves nonetheless.

The foremost pioneer for creating this new form of life decided on beasts of burden with greater intelligence than horses and donkeys. He wanted them faster, stronger, smarter, and above all, subservient. He chose to model his new lifeform after dragons- though only a select few were true to the dragons of mythology. Mostly, these dragons were flightless, more akin to horses than wyrms, and they did not typically produce fire.

They did possess magic that was capable of affecting the external world, as per the creator’s design. Beams of energy could be produced that had an effect almost like magnetism, to help them with their labor. They could push, pull, levitate, and cause certain changes within the objects their energy could reach.

They served mankind for nearly one hundred years before one was born amongst them that became indignant at the deal they had been given. This dragon was exceptional- it had a certain grit, fire, and steel in its blood that its kin did not. The magic it wielded was immense, and shortly after it departed from regular society, it dominated and enslaved a human to be its rider- not so that the human could control it, but for the dragon to be able to use human magic and access human knowledge. With the combination, the dragon had the human craft mind control devices- because while human magic was powerful, it could not affect the external realm, only internal, and dragons could only affect the external realms, never the internal. In combination, everything became possible.

The dragon became a symbol of legend. It took the name Volunmuun, and with its ability to enslave multitudes of humans, it grew an army. Each human came with their enslaved dragon, and their relationship was forcibly reversed- the once docile dragons awakening to their true power, and controlling the human it once served.

A war began. Volunmuun was brutish in strength, but it was also sharp and clever- it did not try to engage in the field of battle immediately. It spread dissent between the humans and dragons, manufacturing problems where none had existed before. Crime surfaced as a significant problem, which humanity hadn’t needed to face in a very long time. Factions were born- some humans who grew prejudiced against dragons, some dragons who sought to eliminate all humans, and many variants in between. Others still departed, choosing friendship with their human or dragon counterparts over participating in the growing tensions.

Then the war began properly. Volunmuun took his strength against that of the remaining enslavers- and their struggle lasted for nearly as long as dragons had even existed until then.

Much of the science was lost. Much of the magic was lost. What remained were artifacts, uneasy understandings, and a shattered society nestled into the cracks and crevices of what once was.

I was often taught this perspective of events- but in the end, it was just as reliable as anyone else’s, since no one remained from those days to recount it all. Though hundreds of years had passed since this war was told to have taken place, things hadn’t improved much, and all that served as ‘proof’ were the powerful weapons and artifacts that were rediscovered every now and then.

Several other conflicts had taken place since then as well- and the balance of power seemed to have finally been struck.

I was raised in the wreckage of these wars, my family scraping by on my father’s wages as a laborer. Most of the time, his work revolved around salvaging the ruins of skyscrapers, harvesting reusable materials, and selling them for a modest income- until the day came when he uncovered one of the ancient technologies.

That day was today.

“I’m not sure what to do with it.” He said in an even voice- but I knew that tone. He was trying to keep his voice calm and low, but inside he was worried.

“Throw it into the Abyss. That thing could cause a lot of trouble for us. If one of the local gangs finds out we’ve even seen it, they’ll be paying us a visit.”

“Yes, true- but we could also use it to turn our situation around. If we could secure it, we could try anonymously getting bids for it. Auction it off- the Academy would want it, certainly, and so would the gangs. If we could keep it a secret and still sell it…”

“We don’t want to get mixed up in all that, Moor.”

My parents discussed it late into the night, as I listened to every word.

Dad’s idea wasn’t terrible. The money from that sale would save us from hardship- and his body was beginning to fall apart. He had labored so much, and age was beginning to catch up to him. I was seventeen, and though I didn’t despise hard work, I didn’t relish spending my entire life following in his footsteps either. I couldn’t let this opportunity slip away.

I needed to take this matter into my own hands- because, after all, it would end up being more about my future than theirs, in the end.

NOTE: This is a ‘Vote on Your Adventure’. Follow THIS link: to vote on what the Main Character does next!

Voting closes tomorrow evening!

As Above, So Below, Pt. I & II

Superhero society was small. Turns out, all the movies and comics got one thing wrong- the average person, endowed with special abilities, used it almost exclusively for their own gain, and they clung to anonymity carefully, lest they be manipulated into servitude.

I wasn’t aware of all that. In fact, I, like most people, wasn’t even aware that ‘super powers’ even existed, until it was too late.

On the night of my eighteenth birthday, I was celebrating in the traditional fashion. Going to the bar, to have my ‘first drinks’. Of course, I’d already had a few beers in private with my friends- but my parents didn’t know that.

While my Dad secured us a table, Mom and I read over their menus- I was in charge of selecting the booze, and she, the food.

“You like soft shell tacos, right?” Mom asked.

“You bet. Messy, though, if we’re all going to be drinking.”

“Good point.” She replied, and looked over the menu again.

I’d made a deal with Mom and Dad- if I stayed sober until my 18th, they had to keep up with me, drink for drink, and drinking whatever I was drinking. I was in the mood to mess with them a little bit- I was thinking I’d start with a G&T, then rum and coke, then beer, and, if I was sure I wanted all of us to be ill, I’d add wine somewhere in there.

Not that they’d done anything to annoy me- I just thought it’d be funny.

Dad came back and showed us to our table.

“Why is it so busy?” I asked.

“Turns out it’s a trivia night.” Dad replied.

“Oh.” I thought about it for a moment.

“Should we find somewhere else?” Mom asked.

“Nah! It might be fun.” I responded as we took our seats.

The night began, and my parents gave me mockingly scolding looks as my drink selections got progressively stranger.

Finally, after we finished our third round, the trivia started.

Table 1 was asked random trivia about Harry Potter- which they got wrong, but I stole the answer right after. Didn’t everyone know Cedric Diggory’s dad’s name? I thought that was pretty common knowledge.

They came to us, Table 2, and asked what the basic needs for achieving flight were. Dad was a pilot, so he answered- but I mouthed the answer right along with him.

Mom looked at me with an arched eyebrow.

Table 3 got their answer right- one of them must’ve been a marine biologist to know that one.

Why were these questions so difficult?

Our fourth round of drinks arrived, and I nodded gratefully at the waitress.

“What’s in this?” Dad asked after the first sip.

“This is the Brown Sugar Grapefruit Whisky Smash. Brown sugar bourbon, a quarter of a grapefruit, simple syrup made from cane sugar, mint leaves, ice cubes, served in a julep glass.” I responded without thinking.

“Did you take a mixology course or something?” Dad asked.

“Nope. I mean, you can taste it, can’t you? The flavors are pretty obvious.”

“Hmm.” Dad said.

The trivia came back to us- except, while we were distracted, the host had changed. There was now a very tall, lanky man asking the questions.

“Where were you when the lines were drawn across the Universe?” He seemed to be addressing me moreso than the whole table.

“I was but scattered energy, coherent of nothing, wanting for nothing.”

The lights seemed a touch dimmer now than they had been a moment ago.

“Who is it that gives the orders to the ocean, instructing when it can rise and fall?”

“Baalschepsuit, the man who usurped God.” The answer came out of me automatically, as though I was required to speak.

“And where is Baalschepsuit now?” The man asked.

“He is with you now, is he not? He stands behind you.”

The lanky man whipped around, shock and fear plain on his face- only to be met with a powerful fist.

The lanky man crashed into the crowd, who had been, for some time, completely motionless. I hadn’t really registered that until now.

“Yours is a most interesting ability, young man.” Baal stepped out from behind the darkness. “These people you were speaking with, they meant to recruit you. They had discovered your power. But- I think I can offer you a better deal. Come serve me, and you will want for nothing. Refuse, and I will render your tongue into scalded ash.”

This man radiated power. True power. I had met high profile people before, Dad often piloted for them. Some of them had charisma, or an intimidating presence.

This was something else. I knew it was his power that bade me to speak, that had frozen the crowd. I was helpless before him- and there was no sense in dying for a cause I didn’t even know existed.

I stood, and approached Baal, though my legs trembled with fear.

“Where are we going?” A small part of my mind continued to be aware that my responses may have been…compromised, as though Baal controlled not only time, and immense power, but also some element of mind control.

Baal smiled, and rows of crooked, sharp teeth revealed themselves- rather like a shark’s mouth might have, if it was forced into human shape.

“Heaven. As you know, I am in command up there. You will find it…somewhat different than you have been led to believe.”

With that, Baal and I left the bar, and Earth, behind.

The lanky man was known as Ibis. He had discovered his own power many years before- the simple ability to detect and concentrate energy. This was the same ability that led to the emergence of the human race- though it was not Ibis who had done it, but Ibis’s predecessor, who had served the original God.

His jaw was broken- twice, if he was not mistaken. The pain clouded his thoughts. How had he not detected Baal’s presence?

“Mistrah, help.” He called into his radio, hoping she was close enough to hear and respond.

Ibis waited, trying to clear his thoughts. He may have been internally bleeding in his brain. He needed a hospital.

Mist showed up before long. She was nearly as tall as the man she came to save, but instead of Ibis’s own characteristic jerkiness and awkwardness, her every step was fluid and graceful. “Another failed recruitment?”

“Not like other time. Found new power, looked. Baal came.”

“Oh, Gods above.” Mist pulled her dark red hair back from her face as she saw Ibis’s jaw. “Well, he didn’t outright kill you.”

“New recruit young.” Ibis said.

“Didn’t want to scare him too badly. I see.” Mist pulled Ibis from his spot on the ground. “Let’s get out of here before the Humans wake up.”

“Gotta help him. Just little kid.” Every word hurt to form, but Ibis knew once he was in the hospital he wouldn’t be coming out for a while. “Big threat. Knows everything.”

“He knows everything?” Mist asked.

Ibis nodded.

“Well…if we can’t save him before the week is out, then we’ll have to kill him. He could tell Baal where we’re hiding- or where God is licking his wounds, waiting to return.”

“Don’t kill.”

“I will if I have to, Ibis. Let’s pray that it doesn’t come to that.”


Mist didn’t bring Ibis to a regular hospital- regular hospitals wouldn’t have been able to endure a long-term stay with him.

Ibis was aware of this, of course. Whenever he needed to heal, whenever he slept, Ibis drew energy in from the area around him. If he wasn’t in one of his special sleeping pods, he could easily have killed the people around him by drawing on their power.

Luckily, the Grey had prepared for people like him.

The Grey were an underground movement trying to oppose Baal- they weren’t large, well-organized, or even especially powerful, but they had managed to hide from Baal’s sight for a long time. That was more than any of the other opposition had managed.

Hell, they were doing better than God’s own angels had managed to do- assuming the angels were even trying to save God in the first place.

Upon reflection, perhaps it was because the Grey were weak that they had survived.

Mist followed her usual route towards their underground safe house- it was disguised as an abandoned skate park, and was surprisingly large. Most of their actual equipment and services took place three or more stories deep, far away from any mundane prying eyes.

Mist kept Ibis in her purse. Reshaping people’s structure wasn’t easy, per se, but she had become quite good at it. She could hear him trying to keep cool, but his jaw must’ve hurt a lot. Ibis wasn’t one to complain…yet he was definitely complaining.

Eventually, Mist reached her destination. Four floors underground, there was a peculiar disbarred doctor who was somehow intimately familiar with the supernatural beings she surrounded herself with- she understood the scope of their abilities and how to effectively treat around them.

“Good evening, Doctor Rochelle.”

“Ibis?” She asked, indicating Mist’s purse.

“Indeed. You knew he was here?”

“I have sharp ears.”

“He got punched by… a tremendous force.” Mist said, as she pulled Ibis free from her purse.

Ibis, in this scale, looked very much like a pen.

Mist allowed Ibis to return to his original shape, slowly, so he wouldn’t become ill from the process.

“Jesus, Ibis…” Doctor Rochelle said as she palpated along his jaw. “The whole damn thing is pretty much shattered. Gonna have to test you for concussions and brain bleeds, too. We have your special sleeping pod prepared, as well.”


Mist prepared to leave, only to find herself hemmed in by six of the other Greys.

“Mist, we’d like to speak with you.”

“No.” She said neutrally, and walked through the group.

“Please, Mist!” One of them called out to her. Tijn, this one was called. He was a young man, perhaps seventeen, a bit short for his age, earnest and hardworking.

“I know what you want, Tijn, and the answer has not changed.”

“We’re bleeding members, Mist. We will never make any headway without you.”

Mist could feel every pair of eyes on her back as she walked away.

The Grey had been hunting for a leader for years. Some had tried to fill the role, but it wasn’t the kind of task you could simply slide into. Mist had…relevant experience. She also had a firm desire to never put someone else’s life at risk ever again. She’d lost friends, people who were practically family-

Mist had done enough. She was not willing to become a leader again.

She reached the elevator without further disturbance, only to find someone on the elevator, going up.

It wasn’t a coincidence.

“Fence.” Mist greeted casually.

“Mist. Going up?”

“You know I am.”

“I do.”

Fence was perhaps the only other superhuman who was in the same caliber as Mist. His abilities lent themselves to combat in a way that made him unstoppable against even dozens of regular men. He looked the part, too- his dark hair was cropped short, his beard did its best to hide the many scars on his neck and face, and his nose was crooked from one too many breaks. In a rugged way, he was handsome. To normal women, he probably only looked dangerous.

“I have a proposition.” Fence said, pushing the ground floor button.


“Shut up, Mist. You don’t even know what I’m offering.”

“Don’t really care-“

“Even if it has to do with the Sechelt Corps?” Fence asked, a grim smile on his lips.

Mist felt a chill crawl up her spine, drawing her to her full height. “If you’re fucking with me, Fence, I will kill you, regardless of how many Greys they put in front of you.”

“I have a lead. It isn’t a lot, but it’s something.”

“In exchange?”

“Leadership. These morons don’t know battle tactics from their own backsides, and they’re supposed to take down Baal? Bullshit. It’ll never happen. With you, though, given some time, a pissed off Ibis, and what’s left of God?”

“Leave Ibis out of this.”

“He’s our best weapon.”

“He isn’t a weapon, you ass.”

“Well, I guess that’s for you to decide, O Leader.”

They arrived at the ground floor.

“I have a better idea. You’ve been wanting to see for years who’s the better fighter.”

Fence arched an eyebrow. “Yeah?”

“We fight. Winner takes all.”

“How long?”

“Two weeks.”

“Two weeks of servitude for me, and permanent leadership from you?”


“Too sweet of a deal. You that confident you can win?”

“You won’t land so much as a scratch on me, Fence.”

“I may have gotten a little rusty running goods for these sloppy pricks, but do you really think it’ll be that easy? You’re on.”

“Take us there, then.”

With a wolfish grin, Fence touched the B6 button- the basement of the Grey headquarters. The arena.

The Black Company

My original designation was barely above entry level. My importance was roughly equivalent to that of a janitor- and even then, a debate could have been had about it.

I knew that climbing the ladder within an intelligence agency wouldn’t be easy- I would need to produce consistent and stellar work, and always be ahead of my counterparts, if I was to last within the Black Company.

The Black Company was a uniquely privileged organization- though we technically did not belong to any particular government, we were often contracted out by the big names- the CIA, the KGB, the ones everyone had heard of.

But no one in the regular world had ever heard of the Black Company, and that was because they were a last resort. Their affiliations were unknown, the leadership was unknown, their agents simply took payments and performed tasks. They had a nearly perfect record, regardless of how difficult. Only three missions had ever failed, after almost ten years of operation.

I wanted, so badly, to be a part of the agent squad. I wanted to know the kind of person you had to be to keep up with them- and I wanted to become that person.

Yet, here I was, as a basic-ass intern, probably only hired on because of my proficiency with languages. I’d demonstrated fluency in seven languages and a rudimentary understanding of three more. Definitely above par- but that didn’t mean anything for getting me out from behind a desk and into the field.

Orientation had ended a week ago, and thus far, all we had done was sort files. Digital files were used- but technology evolved every single day. Sometimes, an old-fashioned vault and paper files were the most secure option.

We weren’t allowed to read the files, of course. We simply stored them in order of what language the file was written in (determining that was my job), then by when the occurrence within took place- whether it was hiring personnel, or an operation, or an experiment, it was all mixed together. I imagined the reason why was so that finding a particular file would become more difficult than if there were more subsections- in the event of a theft, it would give us more time to stop them.

Then, on the seventh day of active duty, I heard a fellow intern cuss.

The entire floor was always whisper-quiet. This was the first instance of an interruption to regular activity I had seen.

I wondered what would happen- would they be fired? Would they be disciplined?

I kept an eye on that coworker for a few hours, but nothing seemed to happen.

Disappointed, but now with my curiosity piqued, I waited until my lunch break and began to explore a little. The building itself was actually below sea level, perhaps a dozen meters below the surface of the ocean, and designed in extremely odd geometry. None of the rooms were square, circular, or even really euclidean, as far as I could tell. The decorum was sparse- only occasional trees in deep grow beds, and the dark walls and high-vaulted ceilings…which were also dark.

The boundaries of where we were ‘allowed’ to go within this strange place had been pretty clear- but there was very little oversight. In fact, I didn’t think we had seen so much as a single supervisor since our training. Perhaps looking around wouldn’t hurt- and if someone did notice me, I could play dumb. They’d forget the incident before my internship was up, and perhaps I’d still make it for a long-term position.

I had learned how to spot the cameras they used- they were almost imperceptible, and they were never in the roof like you would see in a normal situation. There were dozens of them, but they were the size of a pin, and they lined the walls at irregular intervals. It was easy to see- just shine a light in their general direction, and even when they were dark against a dark backdrop, they could be spotted.

Exploring the long hallways, I finally came to an open room. I listened for a moment, then entered, with the energy of someone who knew where he was going.

I was immediately greeted by the sight of a very large, bear-like man sleeping in a hammock.

Oh, fuck.

I hesitated a moment, then tried to back out of the room- but, as I suspected, he’d already noticed me.

“You aren’t supposed to be here.” The man said. His voice was deep, and there was a faint hint of a Russian accent.

“Ah, sorry- I must be lost. I’m new.”

“You are not lost.” The man finally opened one of his eyes. “You were exploring.”

“Sorry.” I said- not admitting to anything, but also not denying it.

“Stay put. We will need to examine you.”

“Examine…me?” I asked.

“You leave your duties, you sneak through the halls very quietly, and you enter the room of a sleeping agent. Most suspicious. Stay still until the others arrive.”

My body told me to run- but even with him on his back, I knew he’d catch me in mere moments. His leg was practically as large as my entire body. Three of my steps would be one of his.

I remained still- but I figured that talking was probably in my best interest. “What do you do for the Black Company?”

“The Black-? Oh, yes. Yes, the Black Company. I do…missions.”

I was about to respond, but was interrupted by an arrival. “You’re sloppy, Bortrech.”

Behind me stood a woman- she was as tall as I was, but every single thing about her radiated danger. Her eyes were serious and disapproving. Her every step was smooth and silent. She was the assassin of assassins, I was sure of it. Having her stand behind me made the hairs of my neck stand up.

“What is the big deal? I take naps. Everyone knows this.”

“You know what I’m talking about.”

The man- Bortrech- merely grunted.

The room soon filled with three other agents- one was a shorter man with dark eyes, like he hadn’t slept in days, another was an extremely distinguished looking man who’s accent made me think he may have been Somali, and another woman, who was deceptively normal-looking. If I had to bet, I’d have said she was the most skillful of all of them.

“So, Bortrech caught a wandering intern.”

“‘Caught’ is too much credit.” Bortrech said with a half smile.

“Enough, Bortrech.” Said the assassin’s assassin- I mentally labelled her Queen, for convenience.

“Yes, yes, I’m sorry.” Bortrech said.

The normal-looking woman took over. “Faadumo, bring me his file, please.”

“Why were you away from your designated area?” The woman asked me.

“I was…looking for something.” I was desperately trying to think of a reasonable cause.

Faadumo returned with the file.

“That took…no time at all.” I said, puzzled.

“Faadumo is very fast.” Queen said, with a smile I could only describe as hungry.

The normal looking woman opened my file.

“What the hell is this?” She asked.

Everyone peeked at the papers as she held them up. They had been covered in ink- every single thing except for my name and hire date was redacted.

…or, looking at how fresh the ink was, I figured it wasn’t redacted so much as accidentally destroyed. So that was what the other intern had cussed about.

I thought very quickly- if I lied, and lied well, I could very well come out of this. I could claim to be someone important’s kid. I could claim to be an internal investigator-

but, in the end, even if they believed me, I’d have to flee before they found the real answer, and my shot at working here would be gone.

Defeated, I told them what I thought. “I think an intern accidentally spilled an ink well on those earlier. I’m not anyone special. I’m just an intern who was hoping to catch a glimpse of what the next tier of employment might look like.”

Everyone sat in stunned silence for a while.

“Bhaaha!” Roared Bortrech. “That throws a big old wrench in the plan, doesn’t it?”

“Shut up, Bortrech!” The Queen snapped.

“No, Bortrech is right. There is no recovering this.” Faadumo said.

“Fuck. Fine.” The plain woman said. “Intern, this was a test. All of your co-interns are permanent hired actors. We’ve had the same batch of ‘interns’ for three years. Normally, we use this as a psychological profile. If they lie and say they are something they aren’t, we ‘fall’ for it, for a while. We put them on a fake mission, and we test to see if they are honorable in a tight spot. We see if they are physically apt for the position. We learn many, many things about them…but you’ve just told us everything we need to know.”

“That I’m an idiot?”

“No. You’re curious, which is good. You’re honest, which is incredibly rare, and you aren’t stupid, which is more than I can say for ninety percent of our other candidates. You knew that the charade would fall apart eventually, so you didn’t even try.”

“What does this mean?” I asked.

“Well- it doesn’t mean you’ve got the job. But it does mean we’re going to have do deal with you honestly, as you have with us.”

“I like the sound of that.” I said, quietly.

“You won’t by the end of the day. First thing’s first: stress test!” Bortrech said, enunciating every syllable of ‘stress test’.

“The what now?” I asked.

Bortrech and the others stood.

“We’ll need to see where you’re at, physically, before we continue. Simple as that.” The plain woman said.

Before I knew it, there was nothing but Bortrech and I in a room, each of us wearing athletic outfits.

“Don’t let me pin you for three minutes.” Bortrech said with a cold smile. “Then, ok. Anything less, fail.”

Tough, but simple I thought…before the ground began to move.

“Do you like it?” Came a voice from the intercom. It was an unfamiliar voice- probably the man with the dark rings under his eyes. “This room is like an omni-directional treadmill. The direction will change randomly and without warning. Do not- and I repeat- do not let it take you to the edge, unless you love getting your skin ripped off. Begin.”

Overhead, a large clock started, with three minutes on it.

And Bortrech was looking me dead in the eye, chuckling, and stalking towards me, like a lion might stalk a gazelle.

David and the Gigantic Asshole Pt.II

The night ended with Dave curled up among a bunch of the bird’s eggs. Luckily, Dave’s warmth was considered enough to keep his three bed mates held over, so he was not being perched upon by his carnivorous ‘friend’. The storm came, but the bird’s large nest- roughly the size of a car- held together just fine, and the rain was warm.

Dave eventually gathered his wits, and scanned the bird using the gun he’d been gifted by Jasmine. Based on what the scanner could glean, the bird was warm-blooded, which was pretty standard, carnivorous, and showed signs of having high social intelligence. Nothing about that was news to Dave, really, but at least he’d begun working on his database. 

Dave did manage to sleep a little, and as the sun rose, so did he, feeling…mostly okay, all things considered. He did need to get to work, though.

The momma bird wasn’t around- probably hunting again. Dave wondered how safe it was to continue to be around the momma bird- after all, if an egg hatched, maybe he was the most convenient meal, like a ready-made burrito from a gas station, compared to having to actually go out to get food.

Dave shuddered at the thought.

He began walking, unsure exactly where he wanted to go- if predators were both on the land and within the water, maybe building a treehouse was the best option. Then again, if his house wasn’t sturdy, a storm would tear it to shreds. Dave debated on this for a while, before finally deciding- with a shrug- that since he was still likely to die, he may as well get to try living in a tree house like he always wanted.

The Maker would only have so much energy in it- certainly enough to last him a few weeks of work, but Dave also needed to consider that the scanner might not have enough juice to last him.

“Ugh. I miss paperwork.” Dave grumbled half-heartedly as he made his way deeper into the bush, further from his bird ‘friend’.

Eventually, Dave found a cluster of trees that were all very wide, very tall, and looked as though they had weathered the previous night’s storm very well.

Dave set to work- though the Maker couldn’t directly work with wood, he could use it to turn plant fibers into rope, and if he was very lucky he may even find some bog iron he could use to make a bow saw or an axe with.

Dave labored under the hot sun for a few hours, uninterrupted, before he began to get hungry.

“Oh, right. I have flesh. Flesh has needs.” Dave sighed, and finished his project as best he could- he didn’t have anything to protect him from the cold, but he did have a fairly secure space that would protect him from wind, birds, and land-bound predators.

Dave decided that starting small would be best. In areas like these- almost jungle-esque, his safest bet would be bugs.

His stomach was already roiling in protest- but he couldn’t hunt without weapons, and he needed calories soon.

Actually- shouldn’t safe water be his priority first?

Dave wasn’t sure. He may have been capable of designing and coding nanobots, but he was absolutely in the dark when it came to the basics.

He continued to debate this for a while, as he walked towards an area with more fallen trees- ideally, there would be grubs of some kind underneath, and his scanner could let him know if they were edible.

Then he saw it- for just a brief moment, out of the corner of his eye, there was a red flashing light. Dave had seen this plenty of times, and, somehow, his homebody reflexes served him well enough to save his life.

Dave dropped to the ground, then scrambled to get behind a tree, all the while, bullets shot off towards him in a staccato rhythm. 

It was a Hunter-Killer Droid. A three-foot tall, hovering death machine. It had the equivalent of an automatic rifle for its left hand, and a laser cutter for it’s right. HKD’s had very, very few functions. They hunted, killed, and sometimes could be used to deliver messages.

If that message was ‘eat shit and die’, at least.

“Damn, damn, damn.” Dave complained. The HKD alone was a threat- but all the noise he was generating, and so close to his house- he was going to attract other predators. 

Dave thought as hard and as fast as he could. He knew exactly where the HKD’s emergency turn off switch would be. He knew exactly what it was made of, and what senses it used to find its prey- he also knew that if he kept the memory core intact, he could use the fact that it had been programmed to hunt him as irrefutable proof that this Judge was a clandestine dickhead and needed to be sent to an outer-orbit prison.

Dave thought for a few more moments- then the bullets stopped. The HKD could see that his heart was still beating, and it must have come to the conclusion that the bullets wouldn’t pierce through the thick wooden tree he was hiding behind.

Which way would it pivot around? If Dave guessed wrong, it was over.

Taking a deep breath, Dave circled back, trying to get a peek- then, seeing the back of the HKD unit, he sprinted deeper into the woods.

He had only one option, at least that he could think of- if he could sneak behind the HKD, he could use his Maker to melt it down- he’d need about three seconds of uninterrupted access to do so. How could he make sure the HKD wouldn’t react during those three seconds? Some kind of direct magnetic interference might do the trick-

As Dave’s feet carried him into the jungle, he heard the HKD reloading- it must’ve spotted him.

Another shot rang out, the harsh noise slightly suppressed by the dense foliage- but the bullet wasn’t even aimed at Dave.

Had a predator already arrived?

Dave turned back to look, and was horrified by what he saw.

Dragons had always been a myth. Dragons continued to be a myth, since there was no evidence that this dragon-like beast hoarded gold or kidnapped pretty princesses- but in the moment, Dave couldn’t help but squeal in terror “Is that a fucking dragon?!”

The massive reptilian beast absolutely resembled a dragon. Scales, horns, roughly the size of a three-bedroom house plus the backyard- the kind anyone back in Old York would’ve been jealous of.

At least it didn’t breathe fire.

Dave crouched once again, finding another tree to hide behind- only to discover that the dragon and HKD were not his only problems. As he slid behind the tree, he felt a sharp pain just above his ankle- and screamed as he found a snake’s jaw wrapped around his lower leg.

‘Do I force it off me or leave it? Which way is worse? How do I concoct the antidote? Can the Maker-’ Dave shut off his thinking brain and yanked at the snake, trying to dislodge it, succeeding on his third try. In a moment of savage inspiration, he turned the tables on the snake by biting it- severing the head clean from the rest of it’s nearly five-foot long body.

With the scanner, he learned that the antidote could easily be synthesized- it only needed a bit of water, and it had to be injected near the wound, or he’d start forming blood clots and die in less than ten minutes.

His heart had beat hard before. It had beat hard when he’d perfected the previously-neglected Nanobot technology, and was given awards and promotions and forced to give speeches. His heart had beat hard when he’d been in a car accident, and the first time he entered space. His heart had beat hard when he was sentenced to be sent down here- but for the first time in his life, Dave felt like his heart was genuinely going to explode from sheer pressure.

Water. He needed water- and a syringe.

Syringe- from the HKD. The Maker could do it. It’d probably be less comfortable than a mosquito bite- but his options were nil.

Forcing his trembling body to obey, Dave marched towards where the ‘dragon’ and the HKD unit were battling- dancing back and forth, neither quite able to harm the other. The dragon’s thick scales prevented bullet damage, and the HKD stayed out of reach of the dragon’s claws- but, with the HKD distracted, Dave had a chance. He only hoped the dragon wouldn’t take offense to his presence as well.

Allfather, Jesus, Buddha, Oprah, please anything that’ll listen, help me through!

Dave’s leg was throbbing, but he kept his movements as stealthy as possible- until he came within two feet of the back end of the HKD. From here, he could start disassembling the unit. If he melted it down, it would register as ‘damage’, but the Maker had a mode for disassembly that would not trigger the HKD’s awareness protocol.

Dave had managed to strip off only the back panel when the dragon made a furious move, swatting the HKD unit to the ground, and swallowing it in one swift movement.

For a moment, Dave was devastated- but then he realized that that may have been one of the best options.

With the back panel in his possession, he needed only to synthesize it into a needle, and to get water within a few minutes-

The dragon roared triumphantly. Then the note of triumph soured- and turned into a howl of agony. From within, the HKD had initiated a non-standard self-destruction… the HKD had been equipped with a bomb. Dave could tell, because he had helped with the design of that option for the HKD, and he knew what it looked like when it went off. A series of concussive blasts, each more powerful than the last- and he could hear them going off from within the dragon.

The dragon was extremely sturdy, however- even though its insides had turned into a foul soup by now, none of the explosions broke through those scales.

The dragon collapsed, blood pouring from its mouth, snout, and eyes.

Dave knew what he had to do.

Using the Maker, he created the receptacle that would hold his toxin cure- and he filled it with the dragon’s blood. The Maker purified the blood, discarding all of the heme iron, plasma, and every other ‘contaminant’, until pure water remained. Using the venom, the Maker then produced the anti-venom. Dave shoved the needle in, and plunged away.

There was no breath of relief. There was no patting himself on the back. If it hadn’t been for Jasmine’s interference by giving him the Maker and the scanner, he would’ve died so many times now.

Dave folded in half and retched- not that there was much in his stomach to retch, apart from stomach acid, but he retched anyway.

There was a new kind of fire within Dave. He knew his place in this world- it was at the absolute bottom of the totem pole, and technology was his only way to ascend. With a cruel, determined, fake smile, Dave approached the corpse of the dragon.

“Thank you.” Dave said, then began to use the Maker to sheer off the skin and scales.

The skin would become leather, the scales would adorn the leather as armor. He would dig inside the messy internal organs of the dragon, and the HKD would provide him with enough metal to begin fastening the tools he needed.

For a moment, that satisfied Dave- but he realized he was being wasteful.
With the Maker, he drained all of the blood from the dragon, and harvested the heme iron from its blood, turning it into a short sword. This would be the last time Dave would be helpless on this gods-forsaken planet.