August 2005 Archives

Terra Mortis

Chapter 7

By Dwayne MacInnes

Brady sat in the old farmhouse's kitchen at the table with his face buried in his hands. He had been crying all night hardly aware of anything that was happening around him. Sarge had to pry Nori's body out of Brady's arms when he and Cooper came running over from the outfitters. The last night had been a complete blur as Sarge led them all to a secluded farmhouse outside of town. Brady did remember Sarge quickly looking over the situation and assessing Nori's wounds after he entered the office and saying that he would take care of everything and everything would be all right.

Brady was totally lost inside himself. He kept reliving the whole attack and cursing himself for not being more cautious. The "only ifs" and "what ifs" kept replaying themselves as he sat at the table. He was only able to snatch a few hours of sleep before he'd awaken from a nightmare of Nori turning zombie with her lifeless eyes locked onto his.

"Brady," a soft voice said next to him.

Brady quickly looked up thinking that it was Nori. Instead it was only Cooper. Brady started to put his head back into his hands to hide his bloodshot eyes when he shot his head up again.

"Coop?" Brady asked stunned.

"Sarge says everything will be OK," Cooper quietly replied.

Brady didn't know what to say. Cooper talking and Nori's condition were both fighting to be the first question out of Brady's mouth.

"Nori's OK," Coop said softly. "It wasn't a zombie."

"What!?!" Brady asked even more surprised.

"Sergeant Ronald said it wasn't a zombie, just some stinky crazy man." Cooper said.

Brady found he still did have tears and they started to flow uncontrollably down his dirty cheeks.

"Don't cry. Nori is going to be fine." Cooper said concerned.

Brady looked up at Cooper with a big smile on his still crying face. He reached out and grabbed Cooper and pulled him into an embrace. Cooper hugged him back.

"I'm glad to see you are coming around," Sarge said as he entered the kitchen.

Brady looked up at the sergeant smiling. Then he pointed at Cooper and said, "Sarge, I'm not the only one."

Ronald was astonished to see Cooper turn and embrace him around the waist. Then he started to laugh. They all started to laugh. After a few minutes everyone regained their composure and seated themselves around the kitchen table.

"How'd you know he wasn't a zombie? He sure smelled bad," Brady finally asked.

"Well, if he was a zombie there would be little if any blood from a head shot. The blood has to still obey the laws of gravity. Now if you shot a zombie in the foot... Well, that'd be a different matter. Plus, the blood was warm and uncongealed unlike what you'd find from a rotting corpse.

"It appears that our friend stayed behind to help himself to the contents of the medical cabinet. Nori surprised him when she walked in on him. He's probably been high the entire time everyone was evacuated. In any case, you can guess as to what his design was for Nori before you let something else enter into his head." Ronald said with a slight chuckle.

"Sorry, a little gallows's humor. Now Nori has lost a lot of blood and is still unconscious. She'll be bed bound for a few days. So we have to get this place prepared for anything. I've rounded up the supplies we'll need. Plus, I also found an old Dodge truck in the barn out back that still runs. I've everything loaded in it in case we need to make a hasty retreat," Ronald continued.

"One last question before we get started. What's your name Coop?" asked the sergeant.

"Thomas Cooper, you can call me Coop if you want," smiled the young boy.

The three of them went to work on boarding up the house after a quick breakfast. The farmhouse had shutters on the window that Ronald and Brady closed up and then nailed down. They then gathered some spare planks and doors off rooms inside the house to further reinforce the windows and back door from the inside.

The upstairs' rooms were left relatively intact. Sarge wanted the party to be able to use them for observation and defense if need be. Every once in a while someone would check on Nori. She still slept soundly in the clean bed. Her head was neatly wrapped in a bandage and color started to return to her face. Her breathing and pulse were returning to normal.

While Sarge took care of the unpleasant chore of emptying Nori's bedpan Brady went about preparing lunch with the help of Coop. They had to eat a cold lunch so as not to attract any unwanted attention that a smoking chimney would provide. With the shutters closed up, the downstairs was lit with a single candle.

After the lunch was prepared, Brady and Coop brought the food upstairs to the bedroom that Nori was recuperating in. Sunlight lit up the room from the window overlooking a large green lawn. Sarge was in the process of washing his hands in a washbasin.

"How is she doing?" asked Brady.

"Still unconscious but her vital signs are strong," Sarge replied drying off his hands.

"How is it that you know so much about medicine?" Brady returned offering Sarge a sandwich.

"Every soldier knows how to do battlefield first aid," the sergeant responded as he sat in a chair next to Nori's bed and started to devour his sandwich.

"I've taken Advanced First Aid in college and we never covered half this stuff," Brady continued.

Sarge let out a long sigh and looked down at Nori's sleeping form as he began speaking. "My wife used to be a nurse. Now, don't be so surprised that I'm married. At least I still consider myself still married."

Brady looked at Ronald with confusion clearly evident on his face. Coop just sat at the foot of the bed concentrating on eating his own sandwich.

"I suppose a little bio is in order of the Master Sergeant Ronald D. Greene. I fell in love with Dora in high school and she with me. After school we were wed. I joined the army and she went to school. It wasn't easy for her having to move all the time and transfer to a new school in order to stay with me as the army moved me from base to base. But she did. It was the type of person she was.

"She finished nursing school and was an RN. That's where I've picked up my expertise in bedside manner as well as some pointers on patching people up. It has come in handy over the years for me to know these skills.

"For eighteen years our love never failed. We had a daughter, Julie who was the spitting image of her mom. They were my life. Julie would have been 16 this year. Pretty close to Nori's age," Sarge started to choke up and momentarily stopped his monologue before he continued.

"It was two years ago that I lost both my wife and daughter in a car accident to a drunk driver. Man, I miss them both."

Sarge fell silent and Brady noticed that Sergeant Greene's eyes were misting up. Silence filled the room. The only noise came from the birds singing outside, Coop eating, and Nori's steady breathing.

Brady was about to say something that he hoped would be comforting when Coop softly began to speak.

"My big brother Frank was going to get us to our aunt and uncle in Spokane. Mom and dad made us go. They wouldn't come with us. It was after all the dead people had taken over most of the city.

"Frank always said he was a good driver. He used to deliver pizzas so he knew all the back roads to take to get out of town. We had to stop when the car got a flat tire near the barricade.

"It looked like the army men had left and there were dead people all over the place. Frank told me not to look. He said I was supposed to stay near the floor of the car while he fixed the tire.

"Frank got out of the car and screamed. I looked up even though I wasn't supposed to. There were some of the dead people coming to get him. Frank opened the door and told me to get back down. Then he locked the door and slammed it shut. He started yelling and waving his arms as he ran away from the car.

"He left me alone in the car by myself. He ran away!" Coop started to cry.

"Now, now, son," Sarge said soothingly as he sat next to Coop putting an arm around him. "Your brother didn't run away. He led those zombies away from you so that they wouldn't get you. He did that so that you could live."

Coop buried his face in the sergeant's big arms and began sobbing.

The sun was in the process of setting when the sergeant walked into Nori's room that they all slept in. He walked over to Brady.

"Here's that present I promised you," Ronald said as he held out a wooden Louisville Slugger.

Brady took the bat and hefted it. He had taken softball as a P.E. course at the U. It felt familiar and good in his hands.

"Glad you like it," said Sarge "this will be your weapon of choice for anything that breaks into this house. We have too many people to be firing guns indiscriminately in here."

Then the sergeant pulled a hunting crossbow off his back and sat next to the window watching the sun dip below the still smoking horizon.

"I'll take first watch and you have second. Try to rotate between the windows of these upper rooms. You can't have any light at all. So be careful.

"Now, the door is barricaded downstairs so there is no reason to go downstairs. If you hear anything, wake me up. If those zombies get inside we'll have to tear up the stairs. We can try to escape out the east bedroom window. I have a rope already prepared for that. We head for the barn and drive like mad. It'll be extremely difficult because of Nori's state so I'm going to have to put some more pressure on you."

Brady nodded his head in understanding. Then he stretched himself out onto the blankets he had prepared for sleeping in. The room was bathed in an ominous blood red light as the twilight began to die out.

Sarge quietly woke Brady up for his watch. Brady gathered himself and stood up and quietly walked over to the window. The waning moon offered some light onto the strangely gray landscape. The stars were out and there was just a faint glow from where the city of Seattle used to be a thriving and living metropolis. It appeared that the fires were finally starting to die out. The city would continue to smolder for days yet to come.

As dawn started to approach Brady made another circuit of the rooms looking out each window. The surrounding farmland was turning from the moonlit gray to the predawn blue. A lone rooster was starting to crow. Birds were beginning their morning songs. It was as if the land itself was awakening.

Brady returned to the wooden chair by the window in Nori's room. As the sun began to creep over the mountains behind them the land started to brighten up. That's when he noticed them. First it was one then it was two until Brady made out the shape of what looked like four men walking towards the farmhouse. He peered out the window. They were soldiers. He could see their helmets on their heads. Two had M-16s slung on their backs and one held his by the barrel dragging the butt on the ground.

They were obviously foot weary. Exhaustion permeated from the way they staggered along. "Good God, how long have they been out there," Brady thought. He quickly moved over to Sarge and woke him up.

Sarge shot up instantly awake with his Savage rifle in his arms.

"What is it?" he whispered.

"Looks like soldiers approaching. I don't know if they are friendly or not. They are just out the west window here."

Ronald pulled out some binoculars and approached the window. He focused the binoculars on the staggering soldiers.

Brady smelled it just as Sarge said, "Not soldiers, zombies."

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Wow! Has it been a month already? Where does the time go? We are continuing on with the experiment. Below you will find a few paragraphs. I started the story, and I would like those of you reading this to write your own paragraph or so to add to these paragraphs. You can place it in either the comments or shoot me an e-mail. On subsequent first Fridays of the month, I will look at all of the submissions, edit and perhaps smooth out the best ones, and begin the process all over. (It'll happen more often if the response is overwhelming.) Thus, we will all be part of a collabrative story and we'll see where it leads. Let’s have fun and use our imaginations.

The Story

Trebor Oizaf wrapped his tentacles tightly around the steering apparatus of his flying machine. He desperately wanted to get home fast, but he couldn't break any laws. Yes, the laws of physics would force him to have to wait the hour left on his journey. He hoped everything at home was all right, but he would have to wait to find out.

Zaf's frustration mounted as his three most anterior appendages cramped. His vehicle's manufacturer would be receiving a nasty letter about the speciesism implied by the fact that they didn't make a single model suitable for tentacled beings, that's for sure. Tentacles weren't designed to be so tightly coiled for any length of time. He wondered fleetingly whether he'd be able to sue if his tips suffered permanent loss of dexterity, then forced himself back to alertness when he realized how tired he must be if he'd thought of himself as desperate and his thoughts as fleeting. He'd never get published indulging in such clichés . . . but again he was drifting. He felt vaguely guilty for not keeping intently focused on what awaited him at home. He set his face as if looking grim and determined would direct his thoughts straight ahead, but he still had more than three-quarters of an hour left to his flight, and he knew himself well enough to know that his mind roamed as it would.

He knew he should concentrate on his driving, but he let his mind wander some more. There was much waiting for him at home. Suddenly he realized that he had missed his turn. Instead of whisking along the Orion Beltway, he was somewhere he didn’t recognize. Where were the intergalactic traffic signs when you need them? How long had his mind roamed? Did he fall asleep? Which way should he go now? Which way was back? Traffic was getting thick, so he must be near something important. Here he was in an intergalactic traffic jam with no "tentacle" express lane towards home.

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The Bounty

Part 1

"Alright Yarnspinner, I've been following you around the galaxy, and now that I have caught up to you, I want answers!"

"Sorry Pal, I don't have to answer any of your questions."

"I'll make it worth your while."

"How so?"

"I'll pay you a weeks worth of supplies."

"Wow! This must be important. I'm listening..."

"I'm from Thradlum. Have you heard of it?"

"Indeed I have, I have a story about that very planet."

"Excellent! I would like to hear it in a moment. Anyway, this Eagle Douglass fellow has made many trips to our fair world. He knows and follows our customs better than I do. Our leaders have given me the job to find out as much as I can about him. You seem to be the foremost expert on him. Thus, I can offer you much in the form of compensation if you give me as much information on Eagle as you can."

"All the information I have on Eagle is freely accessible at the various information outlets. You don't need me to interpret this data, and I won't put Eagle's life in jeopardy."

"It is not about that. As you may have heard, our civilization is very xenophobic. We do not particularly care for outsiders."

"You do have some odd customs, but no more so than any other member of the Galactic Commonwealth."

"That is kind of you to say, even if I don't particularly believe it. Eagle has several technologically advanced devices on board his ship. Perhaps he has access to even more advancements. It has come to our attention that access to other cultures could be quite beneficial to us in a technological way. Getting to know how Eagle obtains some of these technologies is our goal. We are very interested in pursuing this. We would also prefer that he not hear about our pursuits."

"Well Mr. Thradlumite, as I stated earlier, everything I know is publicly available. While your offer is quite tempting, and somewhat justified, I decline the offer. I will tell you my Thradlum story for the usual price, but I'm not going to do any more than that. I'm in the story telling business, and not the spy business."

"I'm sorry you feel that way. Tender, fix Mr. Yarnspinner up with his usual fee. I will hear your story."


Essdy begins his story:


Captain Nigel Caruthers was the commander on board the UNSS Connelly. They were navigating through the asteroid belt surrounding the planet called Thradlum. It was several days of tricky navigating, especially for the primitive Earth vessel. He did not want to do again anytime soon. However, these Earth people were gradually making contact with other members of the Galactic Community. The Galactic Commonwealth built gate GC12:25:65 into the Nimrov solar system. Systematically, these Earth dwellers were visiting the Commonwealth civilizations that centered on the far side of that gate. They were now going to visit Thradlum.

As was the custom of the humans, they studied the literature of the place during the long space travel times. They were gradually learning the Galactic Commonwealth's standard written language. Furthermore, these Earth people's gestural vocabulary was increasing rapidly with each trip. They believed they were ready for any incounter.

As was stated earlier, the Tradlumites have some somewhat peculiar customs. The Captain believed that they were completely prepared to be compliant with their strict code of conduct.

Upon finishing their first contact with the Thradlumite Captain Caruthers bid farewell to the leaders and return to his ship with his landing party. He was quite confident that the mission was a success. The UNSS Connelly was making its way out of the system towards hypergate GC12:25:65. After several days, they successfully navigated their way through the asteroids and were on their way home.

Among the members of the landing party was David Daniels. He was Captain Caruthers's first officer. He was operating the sensors when they picked up a distress call from a small craft. He determined that it was just 100 km off to their starboard and asked if they would respond to the call. 'Plot a course Mr. Daniels and let’s make a difference,' responded Captain Caruthers.

From their sensor scans, they determined that it was a small single occupant craft with very low energy output. It looked like a small cargo ship. It was a somewhat standard Commonwealth design, and from the Connelly's sensor report, they guessed that it was running with life support only. It appeared to have some sort of plasma leak; if they did not hurry it may lose even life support at any time. They decided to dock with it as quickly as possible as it was simply drifting in space.

"Prepare docking ring," ordered the captain.

"Docking ring preparation, aye! Prepare Docking Ring," echoed the first officer. After a slight pause, he responded, "Docking ring ready sir."

"Close in at 10 kph," ordered Captain Caruthers.

"10 kph Aye! Slow to 10 kph," echoed Commander Daniels.

"Sir! Izanian vessel at 110 mark 60. 2500 km and closing fast," Lt Spahn shouted.

"How much longer until docking is complete Mr. Daniels?"

"2 minutes sir."

"We should have time, proceed with docking. Mr. Daniels please go to the docking ring, and take a security team with you."

"On my way sir. Ms. Lawson, you have the com."

Mr. Daniels left the bridge and gathered his security team. This group of security members made their way to the docking ring. With little difficulty, the UNSS Connelly docked with the disabled vessel and reported it to the bridge.

"Sir we have successfully docked," Lt Spahn told the Captain.

"Shields up!" shouted the captain.

"Shields up aye! Raise shields!" barked Commander Lawson.

"Sir! Some strange gas is being emitted from the craft..." came a call from Commander Daniels.

"Sir! The Izanian are firing."

"Evasive maneuvers! Down 30 degrees, 12 meter arc port!"

"Aye sir!"

"Sir they are targeting the docked space craft!"

"Mr. Daniels! Can we release the craft?" asked the captain. "Mr. Daniels respond!"

"Sir, we cannot fully maneuver docked to that ship! We must release it!"

"You must give our men more time!"

"Sir it is a direct hit! The docking clamps are not holding! Sir we must release that ship or it will tear that section of the ship right off! The Izanian are preparing to make another pass!"

"Mr. Daniels! Get out of there NOW! Mr. Spahn, release that ship!"

"Aye sir! Release the docking clamps!"

"Sir! The Izanian have broken off their attack! They are firing upon that ship... It is destroyed... The Izanian are heading 115 mark 30, shall we pursue?"

They decided not to pursue. They were going to assess their own damages and cut their losses. Surprisingly, there was little damage to their ship. There was some stress on the docking ring, but no other damage was reported. However, the security team was knocked unconscious when the opened the craft. Commander Daniels was missing and presumed dead. They believed he was on the ship that the Izanian destroyed.

The Captain ordered a salvage team to examine the wreckage, but they could find no wreckage. The crew discovered several clues to what may have happened in the computer logs. It was determined that the destroyed ship could have been a Thradlum ship. The planet they had just left 5 days earlier. Captain Caruthers plotted a course back to the planet. They wanted to know about this ship and perhaps learn why the Izanians may want to destroy one of their ships. They wanted to determine if Commander Daniels died in vain or if they could at least give them more information. They had to undertake the arduous task of navigating the asteroid belt once again. They were not happy about it, but they determined that this was the wisest choice of actions.

Captain Caruthers ordered that his crew thoroughly study the logs to determine what could have been done that would have prevented Mr. Daniel's death. He wanted to know every detail of what went on. He did what he believed he had to do, but he wanted to be sure in his report to NASA. Another Earthling had been killed in space, and the high command were not going to be happy.

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Terra Mortis

Chapter 8

By Dwayne MacInnes

"Give me the crossbow. If we stay quiet we may be able to dispatch them without attracting attention to ourselves," Sarge said.

Brady pulled over the crossbow. Ronald set it on the floor next to him as he began to open the window. The smell was now even stronger. It filled the entire room. "Thank God no one had breakfast," thought Brady.

Coop shot straight up from his bedrolls and looked over at Brady and Ronald. He knew what was going on and crept over to the window's edge. Then Coop retreated to Nori's bed.

"Coop, get all our stuff gathered up. Brady, there are some Molotov cocktails I made in that closet. We'll use them as a last resort," the sergeant said in a cold calculating voice.

The sound of a low moaning now could be heard emanating from the undead soldiers. The noise was very disconcerting. Brady pulled the Molotov cocktails over to Sarge.

"Brady, get Nori to the east bedroom. That's the one closest to the barn," Sarge ordered.

Brady went over to the bed and wrapped Nori in a sheet and lifted her up. He had never actually carried anyone. She was a lot lighter than he expected. He then carried her to the room as he was ordered. Afterwards Brady returned to Sarge.

Ronald was crouched in front of the window with the crossbow against his shoulder. The sergeant was taking careful aim at the closest zombie. Slowly the sergeant squeezed the trigger. The twang of the released string reverberated in the room. Brady watched the lead zombie crumble to the ground with a bolt sticking through its head.

"Got him!" Sarge exclaimed.

Brady smiled. There were only three more of them. Maybe they could just finish them off or leave now and avoid them all together. Certainly, the latter choice would be the wiser one.

Coop came running into the room.

"Sarge, we're surrounded. They are all around us."

"How? There were none when I last looked," Brady asked.

"I think their moan alerted every walking dead in the area," the sergeant said with a forced calm.

"But how did they know we were here?" Brady continued.

"Same way we know they are there. We smell their death and they smell our life. It was one of the theories in the briefcase," Sarge said as he got up and started heading for the other rooms.

The situation was worse than the sergeant had hoped. There were about thirty of them around the house. Unless, they could clear them from the east and keep them occupied no one would be able to make it to the barn.

"Brady, break out the guns. We no longer need to use stealth. Coop, you are getting your first lesson with an M-16."

Brady did as ordered. Sarge showed Coop the fundamentals of using an M-16. Brady went to a window and took careful aim at a zombie's head. The first shot was right on. The zombie dropped as if it were a puppet that suddenly had its strings cut.

The small band started firing from their improvised fortress. But the number of zombies grew. They couldn't drop them fast enough. It wasn't long before the undead were beating at the walls and trying to pry the boards off the window.

"Conserve your ammo," Sarge ordered. "We'll need it later. Brady, start tearing apart those steps."

Brady grabbed a nearby crowbar and went to work on the bottom step. It was very unnerving to be working downstairs as the sound of the dead moaning and banging on the walls filled the darkness. After the first step was removed, Brady worked on the second slowly retreating up the stairs. What felt like hours was actually only fifteen minutes of work.

The party remained upstairs as the zombies continued to hammer on the walls outside. The sun rose to its zenith and then started on its way back down. Sarge kept the boys busy with different orders to help them get their minds off the zombies. Nori lay unconscious throughout the ordeal.

There had to be close to one hundred zombies as the sun was setting. They had been under siege all day. There were zombies outside each window effectively cutting off all escape routes. Sarge couldn't think of any way to get the zombies away from the east window facing the barn but one.

"Brady, give me a couple of those cocktails," Ronald said as he shouldered his Savage. He then grabbed another rope from his backpack.

Brady handed two bottles with the volatile liquid to Ronald who stuffed them into his belt. The Sarge tied the rope off on newel post at the head of the stairs. He then grabbed the crowbar. Before Brady could stop him Ronald had jumped down the demolished stairs to the ground floor.

"Get ready to get Coop and Nori out of here when the way clears!" shouted Sarge.

Ronald then ran to the front door and pried off the boards. The door began groaning in protest as the zombies pushed on it from the other side. The sergeant then retreated to a back room.

Brady lost sight of Ronald and watched as the door finally burst in with an explosion of slivers and splinters. The downstairs flared into light as Ronald lit the first cocktail and threw at the lead group of zombies. The undead instantly flared up. Some of the closest zombies to the inferno tried to retreat from the fire but still others continued to push their way in, shoving more zombies into the spreading flames. The other cocktail flew into the burning room adding its fuel to the fire. Flames spread across the floor and up the walls. Yet, more zombies pushed their way into the burning building. Their moans filled the house with the sound of the crackling fire.

Brady ran to the east room. He glanced out the window. The zombies were all gone. Brady didn't know how long Sarge could hold off the zombies, but he had to take charge. Brady quickly lowered the rope to the lawn outside the open window. He motioned for Coop to go down first.

"Keep a good eye out Coop. If you see anything heading towards us you run towards that barn and get into the truck, OK?" Brady explained.

The small boy nodded. Coop scrambled down the rope and crouched low with an M-16 at the ready. He then looked up at Brady and gave the OK sign. Brady quickly tied the rope around Nori's arms. He tried to secure the sheet onto her as best he could but this wasn't a time for modesty. Nori then was lowered down the side by Brady. Coop instantly went to work of untying Nori and dragging her away from the wall.

The smoke now filled the upstairs. Brady could hardly see and began coughing. Working by feel he hefted his backpack onto his back. With one last glance toward the hall he saw flames starting to scale the walls. Brady started his climb down the rope. He could see flames seeping out between the boarded up windows on the ground floor. The climb down was actually more of a barely controlled fall. Thankfully the gloves he had grabbed at the outfitters kept him from getting rope burn. As he hit the ground he motioned for Coop to run towards the barn. Brady quickly grabbed Nori and picked her up. Then he threw her over his shoulder as he ran with the shotgun in his other hand. He didn't even look back as the fire lighted their path towards the barn.

Brady ran through the barn doors and grabbed Coop's pack and ushered him into the old red truck. He then deposited Nori onto the seat next to Coop. Brady then added his backpack and guns to the already full truck bed. He jumped into the driver's seat slamming the door shut beside him. "Damn," Brady thought, "a manual. I've never been good at driving these things."

Brady tried to start the truck, but it wouldn't turn over. Coop and Brady were so concerned with starting the truck that they didn't notice the arm that reach out of the darkness and pulled open the door. Brady turned in surprise. Coop screamed as he tried to bring his M-16 up.

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Terra Mortis

Chapter 9

By Dwayne MacInnes

"Stand down, Soldier!" Sarge yelled as he climbed in and took over starting the old truck.

Brady put Nori in his lap and Coop rested his M-16 on the floor in front of him.

Out of the windshield flaming figures began shuffling out the backdoor and towards the barn. The old farmhouse was now completely engulfed in flames. The truck still refused to turn over. More zombies started walking in from the field toward the barn. Brady could see the rotted faces of the dead. Their mouths open, their lifeless eyes staring at them. It was if they could see right into their souls.

Finally, the truck roared to life and Sarge stomped onto the accelerator. The venerable Dodge rocketed out of the barn hitting two flaming zombies. Sparks flew into the air along with a limb or two. Sarge turned out onto the main road leaving the rest of the moaning zombie herd behind them.

"What's going on?" Nori moaned softly as she regained consciousness.

Despite their very close brush with doom; Brady, Sarge, and Coop began to laugh.

Sarge drove the truck through the night on the deserted road. He risked using the headlights figuring it would be better than smashing into a tree. Brady gave the sergeant the directions to the cabin.

Rain started pelting the windshield around midnight. The moon disappeared behind some clouds. It was eerie driving down the deserted road with the rain splashing onto the windshield. The even rhythm of the wipers added their own music to the night. Occasionally, the eyes of some unidentified animal reflected the headlights' glare from the woods.

Coop was sleeping with his head against the door's window. Nori had resumed her sleep in Brady's lap. Sarge just stared ahead into the darkness looking for road signs that would lead them to the cabin. Brady felt his eyelids get heavier with each passing second. His head would begin to drop and he's snap it back up awake again. But sleep would not be deterred. Brady started snoozing with his chin on his chest.

The truck pulled up to the cabin in the early morning. The rain had finally stopped. As Sarge opened the driver's door the fresh clean smell of the forest rushed into the cramped truck.

"Looks, like we made it," Sarge pointed out.

Brady just nodded his head as he helped a weakened Nori out the driver's side. Coop opened his door and jumped to the ground. Brady then slid out next to Coop. Everyone took a minute to stretch-out their tight cramped muscles.

Brady fumbled in his pockets for his keys. He couldn't remember if he had locked the front door or not. After fishing out the keys Brady walked up to the cabin's door. It was already partially ajar. "Great," he thought, "I forgot to close the door. There are probably raccoons all over the place."

Sarge and Coop began unloading the truck. Nori sat in the driver's seat smiling at everyone.

Brady pushed the cabin's door completely open. The inside of the cabin was dimly lit by the light shining in through the windows. Brady stepped into the interior and walked over to the couch. Everything lay as he left it. The laptop was still on the coffee table, as were the remote and the phone.

A door creaked open upstairs. Brady quickly turned his head looking up to the balcony. That's when he saw them.

"Mom! Dad!" Brady yelled.

He ran up the stairs to their outstretched arms. He was so happy that tears started to flow down his cheeks. They had somehow gotten out alive. He couldn't believe it.

As he hit the top of the landing it hit him. The smell of decay shot through him like a bullet. He stood there stunned as the two undead parents grabbed their son. Their moaning echoed through the cabin. They drew Brady ever closer to their awaiting yellow teeth. "No!" Brady thought, "this cannot be happening."

"NO!" Brady screamed as he jumped up in the seat.

"Whoa, take it easy kid," Sarge advised as he started shifting down with the gears between Nori's and Brady's legs.

It was still night. The rain had stopped and they were now on a gravel road heading up a mountain. Coop and Nori were both awake now.

"Pretty bad dream, huh?" stated Sarge.

"Yeah," Brady responded.

"Well, if I followed your directions correctly we should be at the cabin in about an hour. That should bring us in about the time the sun rises," continued Ronald.

"I can spell you if you want. I can get us there," offered Brady.

"Nah, I'm alright. After we scout out the cabin and make sure it's secure then I'll take a nap."

"Sarge, how was it that you escaped anyhow?" Brady asked.

"I almost didn't. We sealed up that back door pretty damn tight. Thank goodness, we only boarded up the interior or I wouldn't have been able open it. As it was I only made it out a step or two in front of the zombies. Man, a burning zombie is something no one should every have to smell," smiled Ronald.

"Brady?" Nori asked weakly.

"Yeah?"

"Thanks."

"It was nothing. I did come pretty close to killing you, you know," stated Brady sadly.

"Sarge told me all about it. First, of all you didn't and secondly, you were only following my last wishes. But please next time check to see if it is a zombie first that bites me," Nori laughed.

Her laugh was still fresh and bubbly. Brady couldn't help but laugh himself. Even Cooper and Sarge started laughing.

The sun had already broken over the mountain top as Sarge started pulling the truck up the private road to the cabin. Trees lined both sides of the road as it slowly wound its way to the secluded dwelling. Before the cabin came into view, Sarge pulled the truck to the side of the road. As the brakes squealed a bit, Sarge turned off the engine.

"I'm going to scout it out. No use walking into a structure that may be already occupied," Sergeant Greene said as he climbed out of the truck.

"Brady, you are in charge until I get back. If I'm not back in say an hour. Take this truck as far as possible from here."

Brady nodded and climbed out after Sarge. Nori and Coop were both out of the truck soon afterwards. Everyone started stretching and trying to bring life back into their legs that had fallen asleep from poor circulation.

Sarge reached into the back of the truck and pulled out the crossbow and Brady's bat. It was the first time that Brady really looked into the back of the truck. It was loaded with various boxes of supplies. There were lots of canned goods, ammunition, and medical supplies. There were also some books, games, and tools. A couple of jerry cans obviously filled with gasoline and other crates, boxes, and bags of stuff that Brady could only guess at. It looked like Sarge had tried to haul as much of the little town away as possible.

"I believe that stealth will be in order for this operation," Sarge smiled before he disappeared into the woods.

Brady grabbed his shotgun out of the back as well. It had been rained on all night. "I better clean it as soon as we get to the cabin," Brady thought.

Then he remembered his dream. What if it wasn't as secluded and secured as he had hoped? What if Sarge didn't return to the truck? That would mean the mantle of leadership fell upon him.

Brady looked over at Coop and Nori deep in conversation. He smiled to himself. "Well," he thought, "if he had to be a leader he couldn't have had a better group."

Coop did exceedingly well last night and Nori had saved his life at the roadblock. They knew their stuff and with Sarge's training over the last week Brady felt comfortable enough to know that he could do it. He did have a great example to follow.

Brady watched as Nori approached with the sheet still wrapped around her small frame.

"I have one question," Nori said as she walked up to Brady.

"Yes?"

"In all of the commotion that went on last night did you happen to bring me any clothes or was I to just dance around the rest of my life wrapped in a sheet?" she laughed.

Brady smiled and pointed to her backpack in the back of the truck.

"Everything should be there."

"Good if you don't mind, I'm going to change into something a little less comfortable." With that Nori grabbed her pack and climbed into the truck's cab.

"Now you peeping toms just keep a look out and not in while I'm changing," Nori yelled out the open door.

Nori jumped out of the truck just as Sarge was returning. She had her usual pink .45 belted around her waist and was in the process of strapping the katana to her back when Sarge walked up to the group.

"It looks all clear. I couldn't see much through the windows and the doors were locked so I could get a good look inside. But it looks pretty good," responded the sergeant.

"I guess I did lock the doors," Brady murmured to himself.

"What was that?" asked Ronald.

"Nothing, just thinking to myself."

"Say son, how is that a cabin? The thing's two stories tall, hardly the one room structure that Lincoln grew up in," Ronald joked.

The truck pulled up to the front of the cabin. Everyone bailed out of the truck anxious to set up a more permanent residence Brady fished in his pockets for his keys and handed them over to Sarge. The sergeant walked up to the door and unlocked it. He motioned for them to wait outside while he checked the interior.

Ronald slipped into the cabin. Brady watched through the door and could see Sarge move around inside as he searched the premises. Ronald disappeared from view as he entered the kitchen.

Suddenly Brady smelled it. It was the smell of rotting death coming from the cabin. He was at a dead run for the doorway when he heard the sergeant yell out.

"OH MY GOD!"

Brady ran through the doorway and into the living room. He looked over into the dining room/kitchen area to see Sarge closing up the freezer on the refrigerator.

"Son, the next time the power goes out throw out the meat."

Brady started laughing. In all the excitement he had totally forgotten about the two pounds of hamburger that he had brought with him to the cabin.

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The Bounty

Part 2

Essdy continued:

Unbeknownst to the crew of the Connelly, Commander Daniels found himself strapped to a chair on the command deck of a ship that was unknown to him. A beautiful young woman was at the command console. She seemed familiar. She looked like... But it could not be because she was dead. A door opened and in walked a man. His straps prevented him from turning to see him.

"Hey!" he shouted, "Turn me loose!"

"Those restraints are for your own good," replied the man. "We were in a bit of a rough stretch there, but I guess we could remove the restraints. What do you think Miss?"

"It is difficult to say what lies ahead. To be safe, you should always be strapped in."

Those voices were very familiar to Commander Daniels, and he knew he had heard that phrase many times before. It could not be her; she is dead. "Where am I? How did I get here?"

"You're pretty slow on the pick up there Sparky."

"Eagle? Is that you? Then it is 'L' at the controls!"

"Not quite, she is no longer with us; may she rest in piece. The 'L' hologram is one of my on-going projects. The only part of her voice I could get was her buckle up spiel she used to give. I recorded it once. But that is the only thing my computer can get exactly right, it gets some near misses, and some dead wrongs. I'm working on it."

"What is going on? Why will not you release me?"

"Relax; we're not holding you prisoner. You were unconscious, so we strapped you in for your protection. I was just checking the controls. We've got a tricky bit to navigate through."

"Where are we going? Why am I here?"

"You are quite the inquisitive one aren’t you?"

"He is impatient too," a mechanized sounding voice stated.

"Computer, turn off voice responses," stated Eagle while releasing Sparky from his restraints. "See what I mean, not quite 'L's voice."

"Well..."

"I guess the easiest thing to say is that you're headed back to Thradlum. One of the royal family claims that you used your voice in her presence. That is a big no no, and they offered a fair bounty for you."

"You're a bounty hunter?"

"Oh... well... not anymore. I took this one so we could talk about old times."

"You're going to sell me up the river without a paddle for a handful of magic beans?"

"I hate it when you mix your metaphors. You have nothing to worry about. Captain Caruthers is a bright man, and I left him several clues that even YOU could figure out. He will be there on Thradlum in a couple of days after we arrive. He'll be able to clear up this situation when the Connelly arrives. That is, unless you DID use your voice in the presence of the princess."

"I did not!"

"Then you have nothing to worry about. So how is your mom?"

"Fine. She's fine. She recently remarried... I do not want to talk about that. I could spend some time in prison there."

"Hey that's great. I hope she's happy!"

"You're not listening to me!"

"No, you're not listening. I told you that I took the bounty so we could talk about old times, and you're certainly not cooperating on that aspect. Also, Earth is not going to allow this to escalate into a galactic incident. If your ship puts up a good front, and demand your innocence and immediate release, you will be heading home within the week. So, how are things on Earth?"

"This is just too much to absorb."

"How do you like working for Captain Caruthers?"

"He's fine."

"Remember when he was our TA. We used to torture him something fierce. Is he making you pay for those days?"

"There were some interesting times at first, but we worked through them. You on the other hand, would have to work pretty hard."

"Why? He wouldn’t hold a grudge just because I totally showed him up in his computer security class, would he?"

"'Hey! You should change your password Freak boy!' He still has not lived that one down."

"Well, if you're a Teaching Assistant for a 'Computer Security' class, you should not have the password of 'password1.' It took me all of 5 minutes to break into his account and change his prompt."

"I still do not know how you kept breaking into his account."

"Really? It was simple. When I broke into his account, he had system administration rights. So, I created a new account with the same rights. Thus, I did not have to break into his account. I would just use this new account to do whatever I needed to do."

"You had him so buffaloed. You're lucky you did not get expelled."

"Don't tell anyone, but I was expelled. However, the notice got lost somewhere in the computer system."

"You did not!"

"I had to. Nigel was trying to ruin my career. I went to the professor and explained that I was having problems with his TA. I explained that Nigel would challenge me and I would show him up every time. He was taking offense to my skills, and he was going to hold it against me."

"So, he dismissed the notice..."

"Yes, but it inexplicably took a day to come to him. When I saw the notice one night, I delayed it so I could talk to Professor Miller about the situation."

"You did earn your grades didn't you?"

"Of course, I showed my stuff on that Izanian ship. I deserved my grades. Professor Miller gave the grades, and I showed him my stuff."

"Because of you, security is much better now."

"If you say so..."

"What?"

"Security is only as good as its weakest link. Admiral Jensen is the weakest link. He has not changed his password EVER. I still know it. I think his dog has long since died, but the password in his name lives on! I think half of NASA knows his password. It is like securing all the doors of a building complex except one. Once you're in, you're in. But, I do not have to worry about that kind of thing now."

"Hey! How did you get me here?"

"Oops! I've given out my big secret. I used Admiral Jensen's credentials to run a program that would fool your ship in several ways. False distress call, fake Izanian attack, among other things. Earth and other space going races depend on computers to tell them everything. Sensors connected to computers to tell them about incoming vessels. Computers are involved in communications. You get into the ships computer, and you can make them see and hear anything. If I can get access to a ships computer, I can essentially become invisible or can become another vessel. It's a piece of cake."

"You know I cannot keep this to myself."

"Tell anyone you wish. You cannot make Admiral Jensen change his password, and you cannot restrict anything from his access. So, until he retires or leaves, I will always be able to walk all over any Earth vessel."

"There has to be something we can do."

"Hey! It is not like I make a habit of it. This is the first time I've done this to an Earth vessel. I'm not the enemy. I did not kill one person. It was a tool that I took advantage to preserve life and property."

"Our ship was disabled, how can you say you preserved property?"

"Ahh! There is my point. Your computer told you of damage. Your captain has likely discovered that no damage was done to your vessel. Other Bounty Hunters do not care about property and life."

"The great humanitarian you are!"

"For a person with your language skills, you don't understand what I'm saying. You never did understand many of the subtleties. You are good with vocabulary, but you miss much of the meanings of some things. On the bright side, you did turn out to be a pretty good flier. "

"You underestimate me."

"Ha ha ha! Just like old times!"

"I miss Laura."

"So do I."

They talked until it was very late and they were very tired. The Laura Hologram awakened Eagle. A Thradlumite ship was on an intercept course. Perhaps friendly, perhaps not, Eagle had to be ready. "Thank you 'L'," Eagle told the computer. "Prepare to execute 'CC-Alpha' on my command. Hail the Thradlumite ship on their standard frequency."

"OK EJ!" responded the computer, which made Eagle reminisce briefly. "EJ, they do not respond to our inquiry."

"Very well then," stated Eagle, "execute 'CC-Alpha.'"

"What's going on?" asked Sparky.

"Oh nothing really," responded Eagle. "I think they may be trying to renege on our deal. They've got a warship out looking for us. We will make it through OK."

"EJ," interrupted the computer, "'CC-Alpha' is engaged and appears to be functioning normally."

"Thank you Laura," quipped Sparky. "What is 'CC-Alpha'?"

"CC is a computer cloak," remarked Eagle. "We're basically invisible. We will fly right by."

"You did not say this was dangerous..." worried Sparky.

"Unfortunately, it is the nature of the business," replied Eagle. "No one really wants to pay for these types of services. So, they always try to find ways out of paying. It is largely why I got out of the business. 'L', CC-Alpha goes for any Thradlumite ship you encounter."

"OK EJ," replied the computer.

"You are leading me to my death aren't you?" Sparky remarked nervously.

"You have my word that nothing will happen to you," assured Eagle. "You will be joking with Nigel in no time. They are probably on their way to Thradlum now."

"How can you be so sure?" asked Sparky.

"'L', Where is the UNSS Connelly?" asked Eagle.

"They are making their way through the asteroid field," replied the computer. "It appears that they have plotted a course for Thradlum."

"How do you know that?" asked Sparky.

"On board my ship," started Eagle, "I have assembled some of the most advanced tools. These allow me to gain access to various pieces of information. One piece of information for which I can gain access is the location and direction of any Earth vessel."

"You are dangerous!" exclaimed Sparky.

"I suppose from a perspective you are correct," Eagle said calmly. "Information is power, and power corrupts is that your meaning?"

"You know it is!" Sparky declared. "With this technology, you could sell us out to the highest bidder!"

"Well first of all, I AM an Earthling," responded Eagle. "I may not be one of the 'us' that you're referring to, but I do have some allegiance to Earth. Furthermore, I have access to this type of information for hundreds of worlds. I can get into other ships, not just Earth ships. Any power wishing to get a hold of this type of information will always wonder if I could gain access to their strategic secrets. I would never be trusted anywhere in the galaxy. Thus, it is in MY best interest, to keep this information confidential. After all that you and I have went through in the past, you still do not trust me. Me! I was the guy that stood up for you when you nearly burnt down the EE wing of the University. Me! The guy who taught you everything you know about Quantum Mechanics! Me! The guy you came crying to when Kylie LaCher dumped you. 'L' let me know when we're through this asteroid belt!"

"OK EJ," replied the hologram of Laura. "The Connelly is taking the long route to Thradlum. They will be 3 days behind us."

"Understood," replied Eagle as he left the room.

"Eagle wait..." started Sparky but Eagle had closed the door behind him. "'L' open this door please."

"Sorry! Your access has been denied," came a very strange computer voice.

It was not Laura's voice at all. All inquiries that Sparky made also resulted in the same 'Access Denied' message. So, he sat in the chair wondering if Eagle was ever going to speak to him again. That wonder came to an end when Eagle came with lunch. He asked his computer for a status report, and he set up the lunch table. They began talking about old times again.

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