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Excerpt for LARC Transmissions: Anki Legacies 0 : A Science Fantasy Anthology for Young Adults by , available in its entirety at Smashwords




LARC Transmissions

A short story collection of Anki Legacies Adventures


By S Shane Thomas


Copyright 2016 by S Shane Thomas

All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of S Shane Thomas except for the use of brief quotations in a book review. Cover art by Brhi Stokes. Sketch art by Chad Gomez.




Get a free ebook for signing up to the Anki Legacies Newsletter, plus a chapter of the EXCLUSIVE serial Shugarra Corps each month at: http://eepurl.com/cQc861



Visit www.ScienceFantasyHub.com to learn more about the Anki Legacies, watch Shane’s Book Club TV, read Shane’s reviews of other authors’ books, get his Writer Battle stories for free, and more.

There are a number of people who deserve my gratitude for their help with reading, critiquing, and encouragement. Dr. Tom Morganti offered valuable input on a handful of these stories before I even knew about writing workshops. Jon Lockett, Kino Basile, Michael Hernandez, Shanna Thomas, Sheryl Thomas, Bill Morganti, and Mer Morganti have uplifted with their feedback. Christian Roberts, Guy Riessen, Ryker Hayes, the Critters community, and the Scribophile community have helped polish these tales tremendously. I’m amazed by how many friendships have been strengthened or started within this lonely craft.


My mom and dad have been awesome fans! Handing out my promos and gifting copies of Distant Origins has really helped spread the word. I’m beginning to think they really like dig the stories too!


Jenny, Jackson, and Ronan inspire me. In fact, “Caretaker of the Virtual Utopia” and “Heads Up” are based on Jenny’s dreams. Jackson, Delilah our dog, and a black and white tv show inspired “A Dog’s Interstellar Adventure.” None of this flash fiction would have been written if I hadn’t compromised with baby Ronan over what was working time and what was his time. He was an early riser that first year!


Lastly, thank you. It’s so nice to see reviews from readers on Amazon and Goodreads. I appreciate the time spent to tell others about my stories. For an indie writer, word of mouth and a good rating and review make all the difference.


Thank you all.

Shane

Life within Enceladus

Old Familiar Visitors

A Dog’s Interstellar Adventure

Initiation

Memoirs of an Ancient Explorer

Mythical Imposter

New Package, Same Old Taste

Laundry Monster

Chasing Stars

Leech Brains

Monster in the Lift Tube- A Love Story

Bright Eyes

Antman

CAD Changed His Mind

Out on a Limb

Tongue Biter

Uprooted

Heads Up

Just Like Your Dad

Lonesome Conscious World

Macrovirus

Mechanical Man Eater

Metarhizium Anisopliae

More than Spare Parts

Rookie Reflections in the Kuiper Belt

Macroscopic Abduction

Crash Course in Magic

Asteroid Habitat

Counter-Vibration

Dark Energy Specters

Like a Sponge

Lithium Eaters

Shared Atmosphere

Chip Off the Old Block

A Pinch of Starlight

A Pork Rib for your Thoughts

Message from the Black Hole

Caretaker of the Virtual Utopia

Compatibility Issues

Diamond Star

Galactic Butterfly

Galactic Hooch Harvest

Some Big Help

Unanticipated Harvest

Rakshasa

Urgent! Dispatch Immediately

Anki Legacies Books






Life within Enceladus


Christy wondered what color the creature would be under sunlight. In the alien sea, the oceanographer’s biomechanical eyes fixed on a deep green exoskeleton mottled with vibrant blue. She glanced at Rob, who had finally taken notice of the strange animal. Rob’s synthetic gills flared open above his collarbone in a gasp for breath. Bubbles escaped his mouth as he spoke into the microphone implanted in his throat.


“That could be the biggest thing in Enceladus,” Rob said.


Christy heard through the receiver implanted in her ear.


“Those pincers could lop your leg off,” Christy replied.


Her short blond hair rippled. Christy and Rob departed before they could encounter the creature. Its fish tail beat the sea bed and sent plumes of silt up, partially obscuring features. Two knobbed thick shoulders above arms ending in pincers connected a plated lobster shell back with a rounded, neckless, head. On its belly dozens of little arms worked rapidly to capture fish to pass into a dart lined maw. The creature stretched ten feet from tail tip to searing yellow eyes, eyes that snapped to attention and locked on the two humans.


“We discovered aliens! This guy looks like a lobster on top and a dolphin on the bottom. Do you think we can talk to them? People back on Earth can talk with dolphins right?” Rob asked.


“We might be able to communicate, but it may decide we are a meal. Let’s take caution and give this thing some space. He’d be better observed from the sea rover,” Christy replied.


Rob put a hand to his laser drill. The mining tool could bore through solid rock, and it would defend against this creature’s pincers. Christy motioned for her partner to back away. They swam above the cave entrance without turning their backs to the animal. It remained motionless, and seemed to approve of their retreat.


The explorers used their synthetic fins, which connected at rib and forearm, to push away. Altered feet with long narrow webbed toes allowed Christy and Rob to double the distance between the creature and themselves in a second. Their eyes, gills, flipper feet, and arm fin implants proved necessary to live in the subterranean ocean nestled under the south pole of Saturn’s moon Enceladus. The moon’s elliptical orbit caused friction which warmed the water.


Christy had mapped a hundred geysers nearby whose temperature would spike to nearly two hundred degrees Fahrenheit, at a moment’s notice. If the unfortunate passerby didn’t boil, they got ejected onto the frozen lunar surface or directly into the vacuum of space.


Their expedition, the first, sought alien life and samples of silica, iron, and any precious metal which might be discovered. The League altered thirty men and women for the mission.


Rob and Christy continued their retreat, tripled and then quadrupled the distance, and the creature remained motionless. A shrill, rapid burst of sound resonated from the direction they headed toward. The explorers halted. A response chimed faintly to their left, and another still fainter to their right.


The green-blue creature lunged for Rob, pincers snapping violently. Rob dodged, but the creature continued to snap and lunge toward the man. The creature shrilled a cry in response to its partners.


“Christy, we have to swim. Maybe the both of us could take one, but I think we’re surrounded.”


Robert Mullen did not avoid a fight. A lifelong Jui Jitsu grappler and former rescue diver prior to the mission; Christy guessed that Rob had never run from anything.


“Up. Let’s go straight up and hope these bottom feeders aren’t able to get close to the ice ceiling,” Christy replied.


The pair pushed off the ocean bed and plumed a haze of silt in their wake. They stroked with every bit of strength and haste for long minutes. Rob planted an anchor into the ice roof of the ocean and the pair clipped carabiners on, allowing for a rest.


They peered into the depths for the strange creatures, and strained to hear their cries, reminiscent of dolphin song.


Tense minutes passed. Only the rapid inhalation of oxygen through gill slits could be heard. Only the glow of their own body heat could be seen. Perhaps the creature and its unseen companions did not dare to leave the ocean floor after all.


Their sea rover waited miles away, unmanned and nestled in a desolate valley on the ocean floor. The excursion had taken them farther than any group had ventured in the short weeks since their arrival.


Christy smiled at her partner. In sunlight her skin shone a deep tanned olive, indicative of her Greek heritage. Down here, with synthetic lenses, she looked a much deeper green.


He returned her grin, his paler complexion shone closer to lime. He ran a hand across his brow, a nervous gesture Christy recognized from their space journey.


Christy began to speak when multiple shrills cut in. The noise came from three sides and below them. Their respite enabled the creatures to surround them. The motion of a mottled shell and tail appeared from below.


Christy’s face froze in horror. Rob unclipped from their anchor and grasped the laser drill.


“Stay right above me,” he said, pushing off the ice roof above. He bore down upon the back of the creature not more than fifty feet under. Rob stabbed with the laser drill.


The creature screamed in alarm and a tiny stream of dark fluid trailed out from the wound. A powerful smack of its tail knocked Rob on the base of his skull. He smacked into its approaching partner, the tracking device on his wrist crunched by the contact.


Rob went limp, Christy screamed and clutched her partner under his arms. She kicked furiously and attempted to escape. She felt the grasp of a dozen thin arms embrace her as another creature pulled Rob from her grip. Christy struggled against the grip until it squeezed so tightly she lost her breath. She faded into unconsciousness.


A pincer tore her tracking device free and examined it next to Rob’s crushed unit for a moment, then both drifted to the ocean floor.


Christy dreamed of their first days on Enceladus. She heard herself murmur and the drowsed voice of Rob shared the dream of weeks past.


A shrill call kept the dreams focused upon their arrival and objectives.


She murmured that their homes came along with the explorers in vacuum sealed canisters that Rob kept calling coffee cans. They released the lids in an area close enough to a geyser for the shuttle to slip in and out, yet far enough to avoid the harmful temperature spikes and seismic activity.


Their outpost grew in an hour’s time before their eyes. The crew marveled as a small city expanded and solidified despite foreknowledge of the genetically modified lifeform.


LARC Enceladan Outpost, was the colonial league’s aquatic dwelling prototype. Scientists back on Earth had manipulated polyps to rapidly produce coral in the shapes of dwellings and to resume their natural lifespans after. The method’s original purpose preserved the coral reefs that harbor much of the life in Earth’s oceans. It not only housed the explorers but would potentially bring alien life to them.


******


Rob and Christy remained in their unconscious dream-like state for weeks. Their captors fed them a sea grass they had long used to place members of their species in a suggestive state to harmlessly hold, interrogate, and sustain them. The method worked well on these strange, soft, intruders.


The creatures listened to their deep, slow speech until they understood a few of their words, and then imitated the sounds. Others among their tribe followed Christy and Rob’s directions to the outpost and spied upon the explorers who built a strange city where their people had gathered food since time before awareness.


They relished the word for their world and took to calling themselves Enceladans when they practiced communication in the human method.


A few Enceladans became fascinated with the creatures and kept Rob and Christy beyond when their tribe determined humans posed no threat.


******


“Speak of Earth,” a shrill voice directed.


“Most of Earth is covered in oceans,” Christy stammered. In the back of her mind, the explorer harbored suspicions of her long sleep. The dolphin shrieks had changed to requests for the most mundane information.


“Men and women live on the rocky surface,” Rob put in.


Having been under the influence of sea grass for long weeks, their bodies began to develop immunity to its effects. After a long, uneventful series of questions Christy’s eyes flitted open and she watched as their captor swam off to forage.


In the desperate moments of realization that followed, her body began to slowly regain motor function. Beside her, Rob also began to stir. He reached out and grasped her hand. The pair exchanged desperate looks until able to speak to each other.


“Christy, how long have we been like this?”


“I don’t know, but it must have been a long time. I swear that thing spoke to us.”


Uncounted minutes passed while the two sat and attempted to wiggle fingers and toes. Eventually they stroked slowly to the mouth of a shallow cave. Christy pulled a slate from her utility pouch and located the sea rover in relation to their current position. The two slid quietly through the dark water, thankful to be on the outskirts of a community of the creatures.


Christy and Rob swam a few miles without break. After their long span of inactivity, neither would stop until the landscape became familiar. Muscles burned and synthetic gills pulled for ragged breath until at last a rocky outcropping provided a landmark, and hope for a return to their outpost.


The two hid within a knuckle in the formation and regained composure in silence for long minutes. When their breath rose and fell at regular intervals unstrained by exertion, Christy peered in the direction they had come from.


“I don’t see anything.”


“I swear I heard one of them speak to us. Not that high pitched whistle, but English. It asked us about Earth,” Rob shuddered as he spoke.


“I heard it too. That plant it kept feeding us must be like a drug. They must have wanted us to talk about ourselves until they understood.”


“There are at least as many of these as there are people back at the base. What would happen if they decided we were anything but an amusement? Christy, we have to warn the others before those things find the base.”


“We’ve been gone a long time. I hope it’s not already too late.” Christy reached for her slate to key in a message, but a shrill call froze her.


Somewhere ahead of them, a whistle answered in reply. The creatures had surrounded them once again. The pair stared into one another’s shocked faces for a long moment before resolve hardened their features. Christy unclipped her belt knife and Rob grabbed at the empty holster for the laser drill, he had dropped it during their fight. Christy pointed and Rob grabbed a large stone near to hand.


Tense seconds passed.


The swish of the creatures sounded from two sides overhead. Rob signaled a three count and the pair launched off the sea bed toward their once and would be captors.


Both creatures stopped their approach. Rob’s blow deflected harmlessly off the creature’s raised pincer. The water’s friction diminished much of the force. Christy buried her knife to the hilt in her target’s belly between feelers. It belted an agonized shriek and fled desperately toward the surface out of sight, knife still embedded.


Rob rounded the stone back upon his pursuer and crashed down a blow on one eye, even as his opponent slashed on his shin. The creature was stunned and drifted into the outcropping of rock, where Rob and Christy hid seconds before. Blood coalesced lazily from the tear in Rob’s wetsuit. He looked ready to faint, but Christy was there. She wrapped his arm around her and they swam until she saw a small cave.


“Let me take a look at it.” Rob looked paler than usual. She hoped no predators hunted by blood scent in the lunar ocean.


“Is it bad?” Rob asked through clenched teeth.


“It cut right into your shin bone, but it would have been worse if the flesh of your calf lacerated. I think you’ll pull through, Rob.” Christy gave him a reassuring smile and opened the small first aid kit in her belt pouch. Christy smeared liquid skin on his torn leg and wrapped the laceration.


They ate nutrition bars and peered into the brine for the creatures. Rob speculated aloud that perhaps most had lost interest in them, save for the two they just fought.


Christy hoped their assault caused the pair to lose interest. In the newfound calm Christy reached for her slate, but stuffed a hand into an empty pouch. She swore and shook her head.


Rob never carried one. His pouch was lined with containers for sample collection. They had no way to pilot the sea rover remotely. Based on her best estimate, there were three miles separating them from the vehicle.


After nearly a half hour’s recuperation, Rob urged Christy to continue. The pair swam in spurts from one hiding spot to the next, and then paused to check for signs of pursuit. While it proved slow going, neither wanted to invite another skirmish. The trek continued in this manner for hours. Their method took them round about which added to the distance. Rob seemed near the point of collapse.


“We need to rest, Rob.”


“I know Christy. I’m tired too. I just don’t know if I can sleep knowing those things could be out there, still searching for us.”


“This alcove is as good a place as any. I’ll sleep for an hour while you look out, then we’ll trade.” Christy settled in without waiting for response. She didn’t know if sleep would come, but the chances of Rob resting got better if he thought she could use the break.


Rob’s eyes grew heavy. His implants remained ever open like a bug eyed specter, but his natural eyes underneath drooped in a series of slow blinks. He roused Christy and nodded off as she stood sentinel.


Eerie silence surrounded their sanctuary. Small fish grazed on local vegetation, but none made a sound. Christy strained her hearing for that high pitched call. She should have been glad not to hear it, but it would have reassured to hear it faintly and grow ever less audible. Her partner slept heavily and she let him rest well beyond the hour promised. It would not do to carry on their trek with Rob’s strength ebbing. Robert Mullen was the fighter after all. If protection could be had in the strange ocean it would be under his guard. She woke him at last when a faint whimper escaped his throat. A nightmare would not rejuvenate.


“Christy… Thank God. It must have been a dream.”


“Don’t worry Rob, it’s been quiet. Here, we’ll finish our rations now. Next break we have will be back at the sea rover.”


They shared a meager breakfast and resolved to make a straight shot for safety. Hours had passed since their skirmish, without any sign of further pursuit. Time was critical to warn the outpost against an invasion of the locals, if invasion had not already occurred. Christy dismissed the dark thought, without time for ominous consideration.


The pair stroked with a brisk pace. They passed familiar landmarks and grew more confident of safe return with every moment. The rock shaped like a turtle, a narrow canyon, and a mossy plain of vegetation indicated they were close to sea rover.


An hour passed and Rob whooped in delight. The pair swam aboard the sea rover and punched in the base’s location. Christy patched a comm link through to the base.


“Christy, Rob? We thought you two were dead! Your tracking signals went offline nearly a month ago,” the comm operator said.


“It’s been a wild ride. How about you guys fix us a warm meal, and we’ll catch up in twenty minutes,” Christy replied.


“You got it! I can’t wait to spread the news that you guys are alright. I...” the comm officer screamed, and static cut into the channel.


“They are under attack!” Rob punched keys on the console and grabbed the controls. The sea rover sped toward its base. Two blue green mottled creatures clung to its underside as it sped away.


The sea rover entered visual range of the base, only there was a massive semi-transparent creature covering the settlement. Tentacles thrashed the coral walls, men and women ducked into buildings, desperate to avoid the beast. Christy and Rob swam out and toward the colony to attempt to sneak in unnoticed.


“You belong with us,” the sound shrilled, oddly paced, and inhuman.


Tail fin flashed from above. Four glowing eyes locked on the weary explorers. “We have not finished with you,” a second alien voice said.


Rob and Christy exchanged quick glances and grasped for rocks off the seabed. The welt on one’s head and dark scab on its partner’s abdomen confirmed these two had followed them to the base.


Rob launched himself toward the nearest and screamed to preempt his assault. He hammered the wounded trunk of the creature with his stone filled fist, spurting its blood into the water.


The Enceladan shrilled in pain and wrapped Rob between pincers.


The other Enceladan dove down on Christy and she swung her rock fisted hand in a wide haymaker, connecting with a bulbous eye. She smashed against the seabed even as it wailed agony and pulled a thick lid closed.


Before the fight continued, a dozen ropey limbs grasped Rob, Christy, and the Enceladans with electrifying jolts and a constricting grip.


Human cries and high pitched chirps rang in unison. Their scuffle had distracted the massive jellyfish from trying to pry humans out of their strong coral base.


The behemoth pulsated above them; its tentacles slowly coiling toward its center. Through its transparent skin, Christy could see a dead Enceladan being slowly digested in its belly. Tentacles coiled Christy together with her Enceladan opponent, her leg entwined with both its pincers. She desperately shoved one claw free.


“Cut it!” she screamed.


The Enceladan snipped at the limb, even as repeated jolts wracked them. Clear goo spurted out as the limb severed. The Enceladan raced to the aid of its partner, it snipped another tentacle while Christy tugged at the limb that snared Rob.


The strange oversized jellyfish billowed and flexed. It was indifferent to the loss of limbs. Other tentacles snaked toward the four.


“This way,” one of the Enceladans said.


He gestured deeper into the dead zone where geysers flash boiled the sea. Heedless of the risk within, the four swam desperately into the hot water with the hungry giant on their heels. A tremor began to rumble through the seabed.


The Enceladans led Christy, Rob, and the giant jellyfish deeper still until the water began to scald. They swam along the heat line. Christy hoped the giant would be deterred by the temperature, but the prospect of such a meal motivated against instinct.


Even as Christy felt her strength flagging she saw a dark spot on the sea bed and dove into it. The nook proved just large enough for the unlikely foursome to hunker into. Tentacles threatened to drag them out. Pincers snipped and stone laden fists smashed the grasping tentacles in defense. The ground rumbled harder still and Christy feared their burrow would collapse.


Suddenly their predator inflated like a sail in wind. The geyser burst through the icy surface of the moon, and sent the beast flying into the frozen void of space. The water temperature cooled to something a bit more bearable and the four recovered for a moment and took note of their uneasy position.


“We don’t need to fight,” Christy said, breaking the uneasy silence.


A high voice shrilled “We only want to learn about humanity and Earth. That is why we kept you after the other Enceladans knew they need not fear you.” Christy felt it was being genuine.


“We can appreciate that, and you guys did just save our base,” Rob said. “We are here to explore after all. Come and see our outpost, the others would be happy to meet you.”


“Just don’t give them any of that sea grass unless they ask,” Christy said, with an uneasy smirk.


Old Familiar Visitors


I exist to conquest worlds and control the indigenous populace. My creators intended the Nefilim for conquest. My kind dominated an entire planet’s species in combat, and then built up what remained into their first society.


We artificial beings taught the unwashed masses to till the earth, record their learnings, dwell apart from their excrement, and civilize. In return, as generations came and passed, their people began to revere my kind as their gods. Humanity never knew that I and my companions were merely tools wielded by the truly powerful.


Sumer rose and fell. Earth’s cradle of civilization became the dusty parchments in Babylon’s libraries, and the basis for Egyptian, Greek, and Aztec cultures. New gods replaced those whose dominion began humanity’s culture.


Our new assignment waited on the world of our origin. On the world where our creators developed their society. The success of my kind allowed for the creators to disperse throughout the galaxy, the hidden power behind god puppets.


None wished to remain in the place of their species’ ascension. That role had been assigned to the gods of Sumer. The loyal conquistadors of primitive Earth would stand an eternal vigil over a sacred home world.


I am among the nameless. In our order only few achieve the prominence of a name and station. Our creators had neither whim nor necessity to name the countless remainder. The Tablet of Destiny compelled us to the temple. It had been home to one of their middle class. A lonely place, yet with its beauty.


My station overlooked a river, which carved a deep canyon on its relentless path. I began to watch the water when it flowed level with the entry, I watched until it plunged underfoot. I imagined the conquest of countless people and places while the water slowly carved away.


One of the zagmuku returned. Hundreds of thousands could live within its massive hull during the voyage. Weeks passed as I awaited the Tablet of Destiny’s new instruction. Those among my kind who served a transient purpose, bore no news.


The journey in my humanoid form took nearly a month. Had I been assigned wings or an insubstantial existence it should only have been a day’s pursuit. I regarded the abandonment of post as a part of my. I undertook a surveillance mission.


It shocked me to find an entire society of my one time thralls within the zagmuku. It was eerily reminiscent of Atlantis, the vessel that arrived on Earth to relieve me of duty in Sumer. Not a single creator stood among them.


I returned to my station. Had these beings overcome their superiors? Had conquest drawn my predecessors and the creators away from Earth? I pondered the arrival and its implications in the months that followed.


They approached from the river one day as I stood at cliff side in thought. Their vessel paused to examine the steps I had etched out in the cliff face to reach the water. They wandered close enough to pose a threat, my long awaited duty arrived.


Before either man departed the boat, I dove toward them from my perch. Both humans gaped and pointed, neither with the slightest awareness of their doom. My arms stretched wide and a bone shattering crunch to either side signified that pulling them under the water’s rushing surface gave quick mercy rather than their final struggle.


I suppose more will come looking, until then I’ll be watching the water.



A Dog’s Interstellar Adventure


Black fur brindled gold on hips and back glistened in the artificial light of a colonial starship. Somewhere between small and medium, the dog’s unknown mix showed signs of bully breed and shepherd. Pointed ears laid back, chest thrust low, she let out a bark that sounded deeper than her size suggested.


“Ready?” the shrill voice of a young boy asked.


A ball sailed over the dog’s head. It jumped while turning about and snapped at the object overhead. Penny seized the blue ball and trotted back to her wiry, sandy blonde owner who watched the approach with big blue eyes. Willy snatched the ball and stuffed it into his satchel.


“Come on Penny. Dad said you can see the planet we are going to land on out the starboard ports,” Willy said.


The boy and his best friend left the recreation area and walked a few blocks down street sized corridors until the came to the city sized vessel’s outer hull. Willy pressed his face to the glass. It felt ice cold and refreshed him after their walk. White clouds drifted over masses of blue, green, and brown. He knew from his grandparent’s pictures that this planet resembled Earth, the place his colony departed twenty-five years ago.


The colonial starship landed and a couple days blurred by with massive hull deconstruction efforts, and various other tasks related to converting a metal behemoth into a landed, permanent, home.


Willy and Penny instantly loved the outdoors. Any boy and his dog would. Treks started off small and supervised, Mother would walk with them around a freshly cut and trodden trail which skirted a thick canopy. Father got Willy involved in a new soccer league and held Penny off field to prevent her interference.


Time passed and Willy’s parents began to let the boy and his dog venture out unsupervised, from time to time. One such adventure led Willy and Penny down the new part of the trail on the tree line.


A noise in brush nearby elicited a growl and the ruff between Penny’s shoulders stood straight like a mohawk. A small purple creature crept out of shadow. Willy’s brindled companion turned guardian and wedged herself between boy and beast.


“It’s okay Penny,” the boy rubbed down her fur and made his way to the animal “Let’s have a look at the little…Aagh!” Willy staggered as the creature sunk claws into his forearm.


Penny crunched down upon it, which rendered the purple assailant inert. She dropped its corpse and sniffed at the wound. The odor was not simply her boy’s blood.


Willy paled and felt sleepy. He slumped back against a tree. He hardly felt his dog nuzzle him and whimper concern. His eyes fluttered and he realized the creature and Penny were gone.


Penny raced back up the trail and to the family’s quarters in the colony. It took only seconds for Mother and Father to get the brindled playmate’s message and the three raced back to recover the poisoned boy.


Their doctor synthesized anti-venom with the corpse Penny retrieved, before the poison affected Willy too deeply.


The boy awoke with Penny asleep on his feet and his parents at his side. “Mom, Dad, you saved me!”


A low rumble of disagreement came from his motionless companion.


Initiation


Pneuma guards surrounded Jaff. Spears poised, ready to thrust through the young lad who, only months ago, shared their physical appearance. Their steely blue complexions flushed a shade darker from exertion. Wedge shaped heads sat atop long serpentine necks. Tails twitched as short arms readied their weapons.


Jaff’s adolescent growth spurt turned him into one of the rare few. Something his people abhorred. Bright red skin and powerful wings gave him away the first time his hood fell out of place. Perhaps if his parents were farmers they could have hidden the lad. Living in the city, he could not remain indoors without being missed.


Jaff felt grateful he had been discovered away from the family home, conspiracy to harbor an Anki received the same penalty as simply being Anki; death.


A Pneuma thrust his spear toward the red youth. Jaff raised a hand in fear; the spear tore from the guards grip and flew backward to clatter harmlessly on the cobbled road. Jaff reeled as a guard on his other side screamed a sonic burst and left the boy momentarily stunned. The red youth felt the next spear pierce his thigh and it seared his mind back into the moment.


The boy lashed fire from his dart toothed maw and used his newly discovered telekinesis to wrap the flame about his attackers.


Screams of pain erupted as they broke rank and rolled about the ground to extinguish their uniforms.


Jaff tore himself free of his hooded robe and unfurled massive red wings. He used the powerful tail and his unharmed leg to leap into flight.


A spear rose to meet him but reached summit and fell harmlessly to the cobblestones.


The boy flew only from instinct. Never before in his months since the transformation had he tested the ability, lest he meet fate. Right then, necessity granted what might have been his last wish. The pain from his stab wound throbbed and bled. The boy brimmed with worry and anxiety but still felt awe at the sights of his city from this vantage. He flew until the scenery change to a thick wood. Jaff landed in a clearing miles from the city and his hunters.


The boy staunched his wound with improvised bandages torn from his tunic. The guards would be onto him before nightfall. Their leader King Zaetel, and his predecessors since time out of mind, hunted and killed any who matured into Anki.


The Pneuma were a species on the brink of evolution. Lore stated that once a community of Anki rose to power on Haran and treated the Pneuma as a lower servant class.


A rebellion drove the Anki to the stars and the King’s guard suppressed any new Anki from contaminating the Pneuma bloodlines.


Jaff had no idea where to go. He dared not seek refuge in any nearby farm or cottage, since whoever harbored him would take a grave risk on his behalf. His wound and the exertion of a first flight proved too much for the lad and he fell into a deep sleep.


Voices roused Jaff, but not before he had been surrounded by twice the number of guards he encountered in the city. He did not try to negotiate surrender; death alone served as punishment for his existence. He fought with lashes of flame and spent what little of his energy remained by telekinetically dropping a tree branch on two soldiers.


The butt of a spear on his temple knocked him into a daze. A guard pushed through his comrades hefting a battle axe. Another held the boy fast to the downed branch, Jaff’s neck outstretched. The axe wielder poised for the death stroke.


“Leave these woods. You have already killed the young Anki,” a voice hissed from shrouds of evening shadow.


The guards’ eyes clouded and the squad gathered their wounded and made for the city without a second thought.


Jaff tried to focus on the situation, but could make no sense of his fortune. Hours passed before he gained consciousness in a small warm room. A bent green skinned figure leaned over his thigh, stitching needle in hand. A wedge head turned to face Jaff.


“It’s nice to have some company after so many years alone,” hissed the same voice from the shadows. An old Anki smiled and returned to its work.


Memoirs of an Ancient Explorer


No other humans aside from Jennings, Hays, and I have been able to say they lived to be thousands of years old. How old exactly? I could not figure a system for keeping track of time. We got pulled through what must have been a hole in the fabric of space and time while on patrol between Nibiru and its moon. Time simply passed without a planet and its star to anchor us to the false notion of days and years. There were no meals, sleep, bathroom breaks, or anything really, except the journey.


Being lost in the vacuum of space without a starship or provisions would have spelled doom for any man without an idgeul. At times I wondered if it was only a different kind of doom.


Idgeul are the fighting machines Nibiru’s ancient inhabitants left behind. Designed to seal its pilot in stasis, it suspends all life function save for the pilot’s consciousness, which controls the machine. Silver dragons stand upright about ten feet high, a total of twenty feet from tail tip to snout. Capable of flight from a planet’s surface to the other worlds within a solar system, a sonic scream that shatters stone and flesh, agile limbs, acute sensors, and a short range communication system, these metal dragons have been our means of travel and our life support.


Save for the obscured forms I see through semitransparent belly plates, I had long ago forgotten what we looked like before the journey.


The event felt like a whirlwind. Like old videos we had all seen in school, aboard the colonial starship of Earth’s weather phenomenon, the tornado. We had been battered and turned about for what could have been days.


Our unit had ten idgeul, but only Jennings, Hays, and I regrouped on the other end. Perhaps the others had been destroyed, perhaps they got dumped out elsewhere, but we hoped they never got pulled in.


Based on a constellation we recognized from Haran’s sky, we set off for the colony.


In the early stage of our journey, we were determined to make it back before our friends and lovers finished their natural lives. Then, countless generations passed. Any populated world was a welcome new home, now that we three are all that exists of our former lives, save for the other machines left by Nibiru’s ancient masters. It stands to reason that since the power systems on our idgeul have not failed under millennia of continuous use, their other devices continue to tick away and serve whoever can access them.


The star we approached looked like any other. Hayes, Jennings, and I had not spoken to one another in hundreds of years. Small talk lost context, not because of a malicious gesture, perhaps after so much time bent on a single purpose we had simply abandoned what sense of individuality we once entertained.


When we saw the blue green orb I heard three gasps of simultaneous awe. When we got closer and satellites orbited the world, relieved sobs filled the com link.


Compared to our journey, the last twenty years living as a man again seem like the blink of an eye. We never found humanity, but we did rediscover our own. My children are even half human.


I visit with Jennings and Hays about once a month. We’ve actually got things to talk about for a change. Sometimes as we grow old, one of us will joke about mounting the dragons and taking to the stars again, but I for one, look forward to the rest of my natural life.


Mythical Impostor


Before they came to steal the crops and wares, the village Hinrooth made an ideal home. The planet Haran harbored only a handful of cities, and nearly half the Pneuma lived in rural isolation. Peck, the miller’s son, loved his small town. The boy hauled bags onto a cart, bound for the granary, in the midsummer sun. Sweat beaded on the brow of his wedge shaped head. His steely blue skin glinted with the sheen of his labor. His tail twitched instinctively at the strange rumbling and his long neck tipped skyward.


Five sets of wings thundered toward Hinrooth, blotting out the sun. Their hides shone brilliant silver slashed on hip, wing, and shoulder with black streaks. The giant beasts disappeared from Peck’s sight behind rooftops in the village square.


The boy dropped his grain sack on the cart and ran to see the creatures. They reminded Peck of stories the village bard told of the ancient Anki, a winged people with magical powers. The Pneuma had killed most of them and driven the rest into the skies, in time out of mind.


Smoke began to rise from the village square even as Peck drew near. He began to fear what these gleaming marvels intended for their sleepy town.


Screams rang through the alley, and the smell of burning thatch blasted his senses. Panicked women hustled their children past Peck and blurted warnings to flee. Curiosity compelled the lad to press on.


Amid the blaze and commotion, two creatures lashed bread, cheese, smoked meat, dried fruit, and barrels of ale to a cart while the others fought back the village men. The villagers screamed their sonic blasts at the silver beasts, an assault that could stun even the largest herd beast, with no effect. Others gifted with the lighting breath surged, but the beasts seemed to shrug off the attack. The metallic beasts retaliated with spouts of flame. The skirmish ended abruptly and four of the beasts took to the sky with their prize in tow. The fifth stayed back a moment to set more of the village square ablaze.


Peck lost his wits in rage and stole through side streets out of the village after the giant marauders. As he reached the countryside, the fifth beast beat silver wings and rejoined his posse. The miller’s son ran for nearly an hour in pursuit. More than once, the monsters disappeared from view only to retake the sky after what must have been a short respite. Finally the beasts failed to rise airborne and Peck knew he neared their dwelling.


The boy scoured the forested landscape all afternoon and well past dusk before he spotted the telltale column of smoke from a cook fire. He approached the beasts’ lair silently, careful to avoid sticks underfoot and the slap of branches as he passed.


Peck’s jaw gaped as he stared at the five creatures which stood motionless, bellies slashed open to reveal empty cavities he could easily fit into. At the fire ring sat five creatures the same size as a Pneuma only long of limb with round hairy heads.


Were these the beast’s masters? Had they slain the creatures? Peck peered at the feet of the creatures for evidence of gore, but saw none.


The cart of his village’s provisions sat near the mouth of a cave. One of the creatures got up and attempted to push the cart into shelter. Unable to budge it, the being grunted a few harsh words and pulled himself into the belly of a silver beast. Its flanks knitted together and the creature came to life. It pushed the cart into the cave before disgorging its passenger.


Peck smiled broadly as he waited for the beings to enter the cave and dash out their camp fire. The miller’s son crept up to the nearest silver creature, he copied the actions of the round headed being, and after a moment of shock the boy realized he peered out the silver creature’s eyes. Peck moved the beast’s silver body with the power of his thoughts.


Screams from the cave mouth drew Peck’s attention. The beings emerged from their lair and made for the other silver creatures. Peck tried to yell and startle them, but sonic bursts sprung out and two of the men dropped in a dead heap. The flick of Peck’s tail smashed the remaining three into a wall.


It took the boy nearly an hour to articulate the silver beast’s fingers as he tied up the three unconscious bandits.


As the sun rose over Hinrooth, a silver beast pushed a cart loaded with the village’s goods and three strange creatures bound and gagged on top. With Peck’s new machines, rebuilding the village square was simple.


New Package, Same Old Taste


Ben Kieley ranked, by many measures, a success. One of the brightest scientific minds from the generation born while the colony traveled through space on its twenty five year voyage to reach their new home world, Nibiru. He kept physically fit, had a few close friends, and even became a lab assistant for the colony’s head geneticist, Doctor Zimmerman. Ben simply could not figure out how to get close with members of the opposite sex, not for lack of effort.


“Hey Brenda,” Ben greeted his colleague and latest crush. “Now that the travel ban around the colony is lifted I thought maybe you’d like to take an afternoon and explore the woods with me.”


The brunette took a large step back. He wondered why women often backed away while he spoke. It’s not like he was spraying today. Once he got spittle on Zimmerman’s face during a discussion.


“Sorry Ben, I’ve got plans.”


“I didn’t say when,” Ben said, leaning in.


“I know. I’m a busy girl, always busy.”


Ben focused on his projects the next couple days until the rejection stung less. Doctor Zimmerman had been in the field and retrieved a number of strange gems stones from the long deserted planet’s original inhabitants. Zimmerman assigned Ben to inventory and catalogue the stones. He’d met the two strange children who had undergone changes from contact with the gem in the months prior.


As he worked in the same lab with yet another woman who had spurned his affection, Ben began to wonder if a drastic physical change would really be a bad thing. One of the orange gemstones had been drilled through large enough for his necklace to slide through. Almost unconsciously, he slid the new pendant under his shirt. No one would miss what had never been counted anyhow.


Days passed uneventfully. Ben Kieley forgot about his charm and about the situation with Brenda, who would smile so long as he didn’t cross the room to her or speak more than a greeting.


Zimmerman brought Ben along to a colleague’s laboratory on the south continent for a month long study and by the time the Doctor and assistant returned, Ben felt like a new man.


He recalled his theft while he shaved scruff from his cheeks in front of the bathroom mirror in his quarters. The orange pendant glimmered. Ben rinsed his face and stared hard in the mirror in attempt to discern what changes the gem had initiated. Disappointed to see the same features, Ben imagined the bulky muscles and stoic expression from a movie actor.


Ben gasped as his skin began to swell, shrink and contort. The actor he imagined stood before him, skin tone slowly changed to fit memory. Ben’s close cropped hair dissolved into the shaved head from the films. The gemstones had turned Ben into a skin changer.


Ben spent evenings perfecting the image of his new persona. Then he found Brenda at a café he overheard her talk about with friends. The new Ben settled in for a coffee and sandwich at a seat where he and Brenda could make eye contact. As he finished the meal she got up and made for the door. Ben panicked and leaped at his chance to speak with her.


“Hi, I couldn’t help but notice how lovely you look this evening,” Ben said and beamed with confidence.


A look of disgust flashed across her face. “Thanks guy,” she said as she took a half step back. He leaned in close and felt the spinach caught in his teeth for the first time. She turned to depart.


“Wait I…”


“I’m busy that day,” she said over her shoulder through the doorway.


“I guess it’s not my looks,” Ben said, to no one in particular.


Laundry Monster


Sam Martin stood upright after countless hours spent hunched over his work station. His spine clicked and popped, the man rubbed his eyes for a long moment before untwining a cable connecting his computer to the microprocessors in a shimmering silver cloth the size of a handkerchief.


The LARC1 colony’s lead scientist for reverse engineering felt on the verge of a major breakthrough. The smart cloth, as he had referred to the project, attempted to recreate the textile armor that shugarra were made of.


During the conflicts with the Nefilim, shugarra became one of his favorite Anki relics. If Sam could perfect the technology, and every citizen could augment their physical strength, fly, breath underwater, and even tunnel through solid rock, then not even a returning Anki and Nefilim invasion force could stop them.


Sam draped the cloth over an open fist and imagined a gloved hand. The textile received his mental cue and wrapped itself around palm and fingers, forming a gauntlet. Remembering Gilgamesh’s boxing lessons, Sam landed a clean right cross into a pad of impact clay. The indentation went clear to the back of the pad. His bare fisted attempt hardly left knuckle marks.


The engineer’s eye caught a glimpse of the time on his wall clock and the man swore. Inana, his girlfriend would be meeting him for dinner at Rick’s Diner in just a couple minutes.


He stuffed the experimental smart cloth into his pants pocket to show Inana. Seeing no alternative than keeping the Middle Eastern beauty waiting, Sam hurriedly donned his shugarra, withheld from the Colonial Security Forces for study, and in a streak of silver, took to the sky.


Sam had just enough time to disrobe the shugarra before his date arrived. Inana swept his mind free of work in an instant. She and her brother Gilgamesh’s shugarra corps patrol had located another pocket of Nefilim in a previously unknown entrance to the Underworld.


Not until the couple ambled through the moon lit streets of the colony toward Sam’s quarters, that the topic of his research came up. He gave her the briefest description of his progress, the smart cloth itself, still buried in his pocket, completely forgotten. Inana’s evening attire typically had the effect on him. Inana prided herself on being the only thing that kept the workaholic social. His friends all considered her a charity worker for the ability.


Getting ready for bed, Sam tried casually sneaking peeks through the door, left slightly ajar while Inana brushed her lush black hair. Pants around ankles, Sam stumbled on yesterday’s discarded laundry, swearing as he fell headlong into the heap.


“Are you alright out there?”

“This laundry monster is taking on a life of its own,” Sam replied feeling sheepish.


“You really ought to make time for that before it takes over the room.”


******


That night the smart cloth’s experimental AI puzzled over Sam’s last command. At last, it located and cannibalized the electronic components from Sam’s closet necessary to complete the order.


Wires, circuits, gears, and small motors formed a network from the smart cloth to the pants, socks, briefs, and shirts cluttering Sam’s bedroom floor while he and Inana slept peacefully. Having assimilated Sam’s heap, the smart cloth realized it had a greater capacity and wires snaked through duct work to other citizen’s quarters, returning with soiled garments for its textile carapace.

******



Inana awoke far earlier than normal with a strange apprehension. She lifted her head gently from Sam’s shoulder and spotted a giant, lumpy figure looming over them. It smelled unwashed, and crept on a dozen limbs to the foot of the bed. As one limb touched, the sheet slithered off the couple and enmeshed itself into the creature.


“Sam, wake up. Your laundry monster needs attention.”


“Right, I’ll get to it on Saturday, I just…” Before he could request another hour’s rest, the laundry monster grabbed his night shirt and pulled it violently over the man’s head.


Inana launched herself at the creature and they tumbled across the floor. The living threads uttered a sour cry and pulled Sam’s curtains into its bodily bulk. Massive, looming heaps of laundry menaced Sam and Inana, swiping denim arms, and grasping with sock fingers. Sam motioned for Inana to follow and the pair bolted out the bedroom door, through his quarters, and into the street.


The laundry monster galloped after them moving like a drunken centipede.


“Where are we leading it?” Inana asked, pausing to let Sam catch up.


“I’ve got to get it back to my lab. Only one weapon can stop it.”


They raced down the predawn streets until they reached Sam’s lab. The engineer punched the key code and they bolted through the entry, their stinking predator seconds behind them. The creature rushed headlong at them through the dark room until it banged into something solid.


Sam and Inana stuffed its rear limbs in behind its bulk and slammed the door shut. He quickly mixed a few compounds at a workstation, producing detergent, and risked the monster’s escape by splashing it inside. Sam activated the centrifuge, which he occasionally used to launder large items recovered from Anki strongholds.


The pair did not leave Sam’s lab until past noon. The smart cloth safely deactivated and Sam’s laundry stowed in a basket. They accompanied one another going door to door, returning articles of clothing with excuses and apologies to Sam’s bewildered neighbors.


Chasing Stars

I wasn’t aware at the time, but our childhood was anything but ordinary. Most kids aren’t grown by scientists on a ship the size of a city and haven’t been hurled through space for hundreds of years. Dr. Jeffries said that most kids she knew had grown up on Earth and only dreamed about space when they squinted through bright city lights to see a few stars.


Most kids hadn’t been modified from the cells of the invincible tardigrade either. She said most kids have parents who never let them take adventures like we were about to have. Not even all of us would make it through the adventures, taking care of our ship, the LARC3.


Dr. Jeffries said that not all of our bodies accepted the tardigrade’s cells. That was the reason that fifty left through the hatch, and forty three returned.


“I’m going to catch one of the stars,” Eric said. He and I had been born in the same batch, along with all the other kids who were crowding around the ports and gazing out into inky dark, pricked with brilliant light.


“Better get your share of the work done first,” I replied.


“Leave it to me, Walter. I’m going to clean my patch faster than anyone,” he said. His dreamy brown eyes and freckled face pressed against the glass so hard, that to anyone on the outside looking in, he would have looked like a pig.


Standing at the hatch was the last time I saw Eric. His thin jumpsuit clung to his shoulders and hardly made its way to his magnetic boots. He kept pretending his oxygen tank and mouthpiece were a jet pack. If his mouth weren’t covered by the breather Eric would have been ranting about flying to the nearest star and catching it. He kept mixing them up with fireflies, which we had recently seen in an Earth habitat area onboard.


I shoved his scraper into his hand and we all crowded the hatch, eager to be the first to help the ship.


Dr. Jeffries stood behind the crowd. “Children, please give me your attention for a moment.” Her thinning white hair was cut close to her scalp and her back was bent so that she was hardly taller than any of us.


“If you are one of the poor dears who cannot thrive outside the ship, just try to relax and you’ll sleep soon. For the rest of you please stay together and follow the glowing green guide lights until you see the asteroid fragments. All you must do is to scrape the bits of rock off the hull so our maintenance engineers can patch any holes in the outer layer.”


I was so excited to help. When I got to where the asteroid had crashed into the ship and looked back, Eric and four others were floating away. He only made it a couple steps clear of the door. Tiny dots, fading from view behind the ship. A tear froze to my cheek and I returned to the mission.


The bits of rock that had smashed into our ship were glowing and hot. Anything was hot compared to how chilly I felt out in space with nothing more than a thin jumpsuit. I scraped at some small bits, dislodging fist sized red hot coals. My face, chest, and hands were so warm while my feet and back felt nearly frozen. I almost laughed- where hot and cold met it felt like a million little worms tickling me.


One of the girls near me couldn’t take the heat from the rocks and her face darkened from white to brown, gray, and then a swollen black before her boots clicked off. She drifted away with a boy from the other side of the work zone. The unfortunate pair floated off to join Eric and the rest who hadn’t withstood the cold.


I wondered where the kids who couldn’t work outside would finally end up. Part of me knew they died, but another part imagined Eric wrapping his arms around a little star the size of his head. He would grin until his cheeks hurt.


“It’s alright to miss our little darlings who floated away into the stars,” Dr. Jeffries said when we returned through the hatch. “They never would have lasted to see our new home.”


A couple more months passed before Dr. Jeffries gave my group one final test. The type of test not everyone comes back from. We entered a special room, with thick walls and no windows. When the door sealed, a hissing noise began and the air felt heavy.


“Are you scared, Walter?” asked Angie, a girl who lay reclined in the bed next to mine.


“I don’t think so Angie. Are you scared? We don’t have to leave the ship this time.” I flashed my best smile. I wanted to make her feel better because she cried for Eric and the others for days after they floated away.


“Some more of us are going to float away today,” Angie said in a little sob. She swallowed hard and sniffed.


“Hey look,” I said reaching over held her hand, “We get to watch a cartoon.”


She looked at the screen glowing on the wall in front of us. After a couple minutes she giggled as a black cat turned a yellow bag into an air plane and flew over a city. I tried to sit up a bit to look over at her but the room felt so heavy. Even breathing felt like someone was sitting on my chest.


Later on, Dr. Jeffries told us that we endured pressure greater than anything on Earth. She told us that nothing would ever crush one of us, but humans from Earth would be flat like pancakes from being in that room.


That night I dreamed of the children who were missing, flying away with Eric to catch stars, but they were thin like sheets of paper with children drawn on either side. That was the last time I dreamed about anything except becoming a doctor. Except then, the dreams weren’t dreams.



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