October 2005 Archives

The Giants

Part 2

Essdy continued his story:

When the Eacim astronauts awoke from their hibernation they found themselves a great distance from the gravitational pull of their two suns. These explorers were having difficulty adjusting to the rigors of space. However, once their ship was far enough away from any interference emanating from their suns, someone could easily pick up their distress beacon as they were in the midst of a few commonwealth systems.

Naturally, Eagle Douglass was the first to arrive. Eagle would often search for anomalies and calls for help. He picked up the Eacim signal quickly and decided to rendezvous with the small Eacim ship.

Once he was close enough to the Eacim system, he docked with the tiny ship. A distress beacon was one thing, but actual communication with a new species is a difficult task. However, Eagle attempted to communicate with this new species. It was all for naught as Eagle was no linguist, and as I have said, the Eacim were not good with languages either.

Eagle decided to lookup his old buddy Sparky Daniels. Sparky was an excellent code breaker and linguist. This Nimrov figured out the galactic standard sign language, and he deciphered the Izanian language. This friend of Eagle has had a knack for this type of thing.

Of course, the question was where to find Sparky. He had left NASA after the episode with the Thradlumites. Earth left him out to dry, and he did not appreciate it one bit. Eagle knew he was not back on Nimrov 4, so he needed to determine what he doing for a living in the Galactic Commonwealth.

Sparky was a captain of a small cargo vessel. His vessel was larger than Eagle's, but most cargo vessels were much larger than Sparkys ship was. However, Sparky had some advantages as he specialized in Earth goods. Many species in the galaxy enjoy some of earth specialties. He would trade these for various other goods. This way, he would get to spend some time on his home world, but he also has to interact with a variety of other species.

In this way, Sparky could keep his linguist skills exercised. On this particular occasion, Sparky was on this very station we are sitting in. He had run a full load of Nimrovian Chocolate. This candy is in big demand all over the galaxy. It is always profitable to make a chocolate run, and this station is an excellent trading spot.

Eagle met up with him here, and as always, they caught up on old times. Eagle had ferried the two Eacim explorers to the station, and he introduced Sparky to the three explorers. After a few days, Sparky could communicate with the Eacim on a rudimentary level. Sparky informed Eagle that an enormous invader that inhabited another continent of the explorers world was invading these Eacims home. They were looking for help.

Eagle and Sparky wasted no time in taking the Iguana II toward the Eacim home world. During the journey, Sparky learned more and more about the Eacim language. He was practically fluent when they reached the launch site. The Eacim welcomed home their three heroes. The Xer had once again destroyed crops. These enormous beings even ventured into one of the cities and toppled numerous structures.

Unfortunately, during the time of the launch and their return, the Eacim engineers had constructed their first series of weapons that they were planning to use on the Xer next spring. However, their hibernation cycle was drawing near. They gave Eagle and Sparky all of the information they had gathered on the Xer. These two outsiders from Nimrov would have several months to devise and implement a solution before the Eacim would use their weapons on the Xer.

First contact with any civilization is a tricky business. This is especially true of lesser-sophisticated civilizations. They tend to be superstitious and are generally unaware of other species in the universe or even the world. Thus, these two men had to be cautious.

Sparky studied the language carefully, but he could not get much information from the Eacim recordings. He could guess at a few words, but that is all he could get. Further, from the sounds and descriptions of the Xer, there was no way that Sparky or Eagle could utter some of the guttural utterances of the Xer.

The Iguana II had a good stock of supplies, but it was not enough to last the winter of the Eacims home. Furthermore, they were in no shape to withstand the harshness of the upcoming season. Thus, they decided that they should scout out the Xer for themselves.

With the direct observation of the Xers life, Sparky felt he could better understand the way they do things. With this further knowledge, he believed he could grasp their language. However, it was going to take some time. Thus, they were going to have to find a place in the northern hemisphere to live. The two men could leave the planet for supplies if they needed them, but they had to find a spot on the warmer side of the planet to act as their base.

The Nimrovs rented a planetary scout vehicle to find the ideal spot for their base. This vehicle was capable of flying very high in an atmosphere. In fact, it could fly high enough as to be invisible to the naked eye. That way, they could map out locations for study, and find a place to station.

Eagle enjoyed flying this craft. It had been a long time since he flew an airplane. He spent a great deal of time taking pictures of the northern hemisphere on his recon missions. He even took the time to do some acrobatic maneuvers. However, he did those on the southern hemisphere so he wouldnt be noticed.

They determined that a particularly arid and rocky spot on the southern coast would be an ideal spot for their base. The men would use a hovercraft to get close to the Xer villages. They could camouflage the vehicle and make observations. They would even attempt to get close. In the cover of night, they intended to create a hidden outpost to do close observations.

It took them several weeks to cut a niche out of a large rock close to one of the Xer villages. It was the perfect spot, and they created their observation "blind" with great care. It was virtually undetectable, and very close to a Xer settlement.

Fortunately, the Xer language was less complicated than the Eacim's language. This is often the case with less sophisticated societies. It took months of close observation to obtain a rudimentary understanding of the Xer language. The Eacim winter was about to come to an end and Sparky felt he could understand what the Xer said. The next problem was going to be how were they going to approach the Xer?

Sparky and Eagle agreed that the best thing to do was to wait until the Xer landed on Eacim soil, and try to communicate with them at that time. This would lessen the fear that they Xer may feel and the two men hoped it would prevent any xenophobic tendencies in the future.

However, the Eacim planned to attack the giants when they next landed upon Eacim soil. They had lost a great deal of food to their neighbors, and they did not want to lose any more of their own citizens. It was going to take some convincing to give Sparky and Eagle a chance to talk to the Xer.

Minor misunderstandings were the cause of many wars. These conflicts would continue for generations simply because of a failure to communicate. While the intentions of the Eacim were valid, they should have approached the Xer when they first landed upon their continent. They were partially to blame for the situation. Nevertheless, Eagle and Sparky were there to prevent war.

When the Eacim leaders awoke from their hibernation, Eagle negotiated a settlement. He promised to supply the Eacim with whatever crops the Xer damaged in exchange for time to meet with the landing Xer leaders.

As was now a regular springtime occurrence on the southern continent, the Xer landed with a boat full of their beasts. However, instead of encountering nothing, Eagle and Sparky met them at the point of landing. The two men surprised these giants, as they had never encountered anyone on their southern journeys. They were even more surprised when Sparky spoke to them in a pigeon version of their language.

Sparky explained to them that another being, the Eacim, raised the food that their beasts were eating. He told them that the Eacim were ready to use force to prevent any more destruction of their crops. He also informed them that he and Eagle were intervening to stop potential bloodshed.

The Xer were at first threatened by these men and all of their information. They stood and roared at the men in an attempt to intimidate them. After all, these giants were about 3 meters taller than these men were. They were indeed giants and their roars showed it.

However, the two men stood their ground. They had negotiated with many races, and they knew they had nothing to fear. They were there for the good of the Xer as well as the Eacim. In his broken Xer, Sparky invited the giants to tour a town of the Eacim. They introduced the Xer and their neighbors, the Eacim. They now realized that they shared their world with these tiny intelligent creatures. The northern and southern hemispheres had a lot to learn about the other.

The first barrier to overcome was the language barrier. It would be quite impossible for the two sides to communicate via their respective spoken languages. Both sides had limited physiology to speak the others language. Thus, they had a general communication barrier.

Starting from this, Eagle and Sparky taught both sides the Galactic standard sign language. In this way, they could communicate with each other. Not only that, but they would also be able to communicate with any other Galactic Commonwealth cultures that may come their way.

The two sides averted a war and a communication channel was established. The omnivorous Eacim could share the bounty of the Xers massive cattle. Thus, they allowed limited grazing upon Eacim farmland. Further, Sparky had established a new trading partner. He could trade Xer and Eacim goods for Nimrov and other goods. This was another source of foodstuffs for these neighbors.

These giants are a long way from exploring space, but they have made the first step. They have begun to explore their world. They know there are others out there, and they are not frightened to encounter other beings. Hopefully, they will live in peace with their neighbors.

"Thanks Yarnspinner. I'd be interested in seeing some of the goods these Xer produce."

"Oh, well I have a manifest from Sparky Daniels with me that I'll let you borrow. I was thinking of getting something myself. If you see something you like, I can pass along the info."

"Tender fix up my friend here. I'll check out the manifest as quickly as I can. Some of my customers may be interested as well. I'll let you mediate any deals Yarnspinner. Now, let me see what they have."

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Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Chapter 3

By Dwayne MacInnes

Ronald started to splint the unconscious gunner's leg with some branches as he began his story.

"I was here with the initial deployment of troops to contain the spread of the zombies..."

"What! Zombies? Are you kidding me?" interrupted Jones. "I think you've been watching too many horror movies."

"It is exactly as I am telling you...zombies. It appears that they are still feeding the line about the disease back home," continued Ronald. "Anyway, the dead are coming back to life and eating other people. Once a person is bitten, they too will die and come back to life."

Ronald could see the disbelief in the Lieutenant's eyes.

"Look here. I've been fighting these things since early June. I believe I have a little more experience in this than you do," the sergeant shouted.

"OK, OK, I believe you. But why didn't you pull back with the other units?"

"I became separated from my unit before it was overrun by fleeing civilians who in turn were followed by our undead friends. It was a mess. So I've been out here with some companions surviving in the mountains. Which is fortunate for you, otherwise you'd still be lost here in the woods."

"I'm still lost in the woods. However, I'd be happy to find some reasonable lodging and get out of this cold. So Sergeant, I guess we're stuck with each other seeing as how we are now stuck here as well."

Ronald didn't like the way Jones put the emphasis on sergeant as if to remind him that the lieutenant outranked him. Nevertheless, this was not the time nor place to remind him that they were not in the military anymore.

Jones and Ronald had a stretcher assembled in a few minutes and began carrying the gunner to the cabin. The trip back would not take as long as it took Ronald to get out this far into the woods. Before, Ronald was just wandering slowly through the woods to be alone. Now he had a wounded man to get back to the cabin.

"So what's the news on the flip side? We've been in a total blackout since June," Ronald asked just to make conversation.

"Blackout, huh. I guess they are still jamming communications here. I never did understand why. Anyway, things are a mess at home as well. The economy is in shambles with the loss of Western Washington, Vancouver Island, and Northwest Oregon. Man, you thought what happened to the Gulf States with Katrina was bad."

Ronald stopped and looked over his shoulder towards Jones. "I thought they had the area contained before it spread to Canada and Oregon."

"Your checkpoint wasn't the only one overrun. Many fleeing civvies made it to Portland with the disease...uh, zombies so a new line of defense had to be drawn. Some drifting ferries and ships had floated to Vancouver Island across the Sound with their deadly cargo. But as I was saying, the economy is in bad shape. Plus, the president is pretty close to going to war with Iran for poisoning the water supply in Seattle."

Ronald almost dropped the stretcher when he heard that. "Iran had nothing to do with this. It was ColTech and our own military with the president's approval that started this," the sergeant's voice started to rise.

"Whoa, there. Sergeant, maybe you didn't vote for the man, but you don't have to blame him for this. The CIA has irrefutable evidence that Al Qaeda terrorists with Iran's backing poisoned the water supply," the lieutenant responded with more authority in his voice.

Ronald stopped walking again and slowly put down the stretcher. Then he turned towards the lieutenant.

Ronald started talking slowly and in a low but firm voice as he faced the pilot. "Listen here, son. You may have outranked me on the other side; however, that doesn't mean crap here. Secondly, this isn't the first time evidence has been made up to validate war. Remember the Iraqi thing a few years ago? Never did find those WMD's did we. Thirdly, I have evidence from ColTech itself pointing the finger squarely at themselves, the military and the president and his administration."

William just stood there dumbfounded staring at the sergeant. Finally, the pilot looked away and mumbled an apology. Then they both stooped down and picked up the stretcher and began walking again.

It was near midnight by the time they reached the palisade surrounding the cabin. Nori was on watch and recognized the sergeant carrying the stretcher into the clearing. She ran downstairs and woke up both Brady and Cooper to help her with Ronald. Light filtered out into the night from the upper story windows as the trio ran out of the cabin to open the palisade gate.

Ronald and Jones had set the gunner down when the gate opened up. Brady went over to the unconscious gunner while Coop and Nori went over to Greene.

"What's going on Sarge?" asked the Coop.

"I found some friends in the woods," replied Greene as he looked down at the young boy. "Looks like we'll be having guests."

"You guys better get inside it is cold out here. I'm amazed you haven't frozen to death already," Nori said.

Nori's female voice brought Jones out of his internal brooding. He looked at the young woman and smiled.

"I can see why you stayed after all, sergeant," the pilot said cheerfully.

Ronald was too exhausted to notice that Jones was leering at Nori as he said this.

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Iapetus Saves Manhattan

Chapter One

It was spring break and where did this Floridian academic go during spring break? Certainly he wasn't about to go anywhere near Ft Lauderdale. No, Dr. John Maland went to a far more exotic location. He was on board his small wooden sailing vessel somewhere between Miami and Bermuda. His destination wasn't on the map, which is very unusual for inhabited islands. However, this was no ordinary island.

What initially drew this island to the attention of Dr. Maland was the fact that their culture was unaffected by the "Age of Discovery." The pirates that lived around the Caribbean did not touch the inhabitants of this island. There are no records of any encounters with the islands natives. All of the sailors left this island alone. It had no contact even as explorers were exploiting surrounding islands. In his research, Dr. Maland was trying to discover why this island was so special during this period.

When he considered this aspect, another question would occur to him. Why did this tribe allow him to research them? Surely, other scientists tried to study them. He couldn't be the only scientist to wonder about this tribe. Certainly, there must have been other anthropologists and others that had stumbled upon them through the course of history. Why didn't any of them write anything down?

Of course, the island being in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle may have had some impact. In recent times, this fact could have scared off many would-be scientists. The mysteries of the Bermuda Triangle could have kept some scientists away, but would it scare off all of them? Was he missing something? Was he getting himself into deep trouble?

Nah, he felt that the Bermuda triangle stuff was all nonsense anyway. "Margaret Mead does her studies in Samoa and New Guinea and she's labeled one of the most ground breaking scientists of all time. My work is in the 'Devil's Triangle' and I get labeled a pseudo-scientist!" he would often lament. However, this group was very interesting and that took the sting out of most of it.

In his first few encounters with the inhabitants of the island, he discovered a few interesting facts. The tribe of this island had adopted "Iapetus" as their protector and major deity. They claimed that Iapetus would rise up from the water and smite their enemies. They claimed that this deity was also responsible for their isolation. They informed John that he was allowed to study them by the graces of Iapetus.

John thought this was incredible. He did some research and discovered that Iapetus is the name of a Greek Mythology Titan. According to Greek myth, Iapetus was the father of Atlas and Prometheus. When Zeus overthrew the Titans, he banished them to Tartaras. There was no reason for the island inhabitants to single out this rather obscure titan.

"Why not worship the titan Oceanus?" Dr. Maland often thought. "Wouldn't that would be a more fitting deity?"

It was incredible that an ancient Greek myth could be transformed and adopted by a far off island culture. When this was first published in an anthropological journal, some pointed that this was more evidence that Atlantis was in the Bermuda triangle. The question remained, why would this titan be the object of worship for this tribe? Even if Atlantis was in the Bermuda triangle, wouldn't they be worshipping the same gods as the Greeks of a comparable time?

Dr. Maland concluded that the name of Iapetus was probably just a coincidence. The constant link to fringe groups was a minor annoyance to John, but he was sailing in the Caribbean on a beautiful spring day towards an island paradise. He will take some criticism from mainstream scientists for several days in the tropics.

These Iapetian's, as they call themselves, began trading around the Caribbean a few years earlier. They were trading their exquisite handmade jewelry for cloth and tools. Dr. Maland was studying how this sudden interest in the outside world was affecting their culture. They were remarkably resistant to the lures of much of the new technologies. They still used their dugouts rather than the newer fiberglass boats available. They used paddles and sails rather than motors. The group adopted some technologies and ignored others. Their pace of life was still slow compared to the hustle and bustle of American life. That was why John used a wooden sailboat to get to the island. Well, that and the fact that he loved to sail.

As he approached the beach with the huge statues of Iapetus, he saw a small group of Iapetians waiting to greet him. Many of the tribal members looked forward to his visits. They liked his stories as much as he liked theirs.

"This tribe has an incredible ability to learn," noted John. "In the few years of trade, the entire tribe has learned a great deal of English. Nearly every member of the tribe can speak some English."

Dr. Maland was hesitant to teach them more, but they could be very insistent. While their English skills helped with his research, but Dr. Maland was much more interested in their language. If he could, he wanted to link it with other languages. Perhaps a link to Greek would give more credence to the Bermuda -- Atlantis link. However, the islands inhabitants were quite eager to practice their newly found language skills.

As a form of entertainment, the tribe would gather around the fire and the storytellers would tell their stories. Mostly these stories involved Iapetus and some outsiders. Rarely did outsiders get to hear their stories. In fact, the tribe had never invited John to one of their story telling sessions.

This time after the typical greeting ceremony, the group invited Dr. Maland to join them. The tribal elders had discussed it before his arrival, and they were going to let him join them as they gathered around the fire for their story. Further, since Dr. Maland was there, the storyteller was going to tell his story in English.

* * * * *

"In the time before the motors," the story began. "We were a peaceful people. We did not interfere with the outside, and we expected them to do the same. We meant no one any harm, but we had a capable defender. So, many ships would pass, and leave us unharmed. However, one day a large wooden monster came upon our island. It bore some symbols." The story teller wrote 'PICKERING' in the sand. "This creature had short stubby arms coming out his sides. This monster had large fins on his back to propel him along the water with the wind. Men sat on his back and went along for the ride. The men slowed the great monster and rested with him near our shore. Men shouted and yelled at our people, but none could understand. They shouted and yelled some more, but none could decipher the words. The men became angry and released the fury of the beast upon our island. The arms of the monster boomed and caused great destruction from afar. The people fearing the worst called upon the priestess to ask Iapetus to rise up from the depths and save his people. The men on the great beast laughed at our priestess. They pointed the arms of the beast at her, but they did her no harm. Upon hearing the prayer, the mighty Iapetus arose out of the depths. The men on the monster fell silent with fear of our mighty protector. The beast they rode grew quiet, but did not flee. The men pulled and worked their harnesses, but Iapetus got closer. Their great monster was paralyzed with fear. The men ran, pulled on ropes, and shouted but their transportation would not move. As our protector got near to the fiend, the booming started again but Iapetus was not affected. Our protector lifted the booming monster over his head and smashed in on the reef. The beast broke into many pieces and the men that rode her were killed. We thanks Iapetus for his aid, and the priestess offered some food to our mighty protector. After eating the offering, our protector returned to the depths. He was greatly saddened by his destruction. He did not like to kill, but he did when he was forced. In his anguish, Iapetus caused a great storm to rage to mourn the loss of those men. When the storm left our people gathered the remnants of the beast and created a great fire. Upon the flames of the fire much food was prepared. All of the people of the tribe thanked Iapetus for his help. They also apologized for causing his anguish. Iapetus appeared and ate more of the food, and all was right again. The only reminder of that day is this part of the beast." The storyteller takes out piece of wood with 'Pickering' engraved upon it.

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Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Chapter 4

By Dwayne MacInnes

The gunner was set up in the master bedroom that the boys used to occupy. Ronald, Brady, and Coop all moved downstairs with the Lieutenant. Nori remained rooming in the spare bedroom. Being the only female Sarge had established that she be allowed more privacy. The arrangements would have to do until something better could be figured out. As it was, it was more important that Gregory Smith who was still unconscious occupy the master bedroom with someone always keeping watch.

Ronald was able to set the gunner's broken right leg and place a rough cast on it. It was a good thing Smith was already unconscious for certainly the resetting would have made him pass out. Ronald took the gunner's pulse and was relieved to find that it was still strong and steady.

"The poor man must have suffered a concussion when they crashed," thought Ronald.

There wasn't much that Ronald could do for a concussion. Normally, you kept someone awake for a day or so, but Smith was already out. Hence, either Smith will have to pull out of it himself or he would probably die.

Ronald never mentioned the latter to Jones who never left Smith's side.

"You know they used to call us Alias Smith and Jones from that old TV show or the MIBs from the movie," William started to speak. "We've been through a lot together, even a tour of duty in Iraq."

"So what brings you guys to our side of the mountain?" asked Ronald.

"We left a lot of hardware when everyone evacuated. There are many tanks, HumVees, APCs, ammo depots. You name it.

"Well, we couldn't just leave that hardware out there for anyone to pick up. Did you know that there are people who are crossing over here just to get some military hardware?" asked Jones.

"I guess I shouldn't be surprised. Some biker gangs out there have been causing some trouble. That was one of the reasons we came up here."

"That's not even half of it. The Neo-Nazis have crossed over as well as many Freemen groups and a couple of Indian tribes.

"The Chinese were even sending their prisoners here. They were originally sending them in through the Sound, but after Vancouver, it has been mined. Now they just set the poor souls adrift in a row boat with no food within the sight of land," Jones continued never taking his eyes off Smith.

"So your job is to destroy all the toys we left outside?" asked Ronald.

"That's it in a nutshell. The more visible hardware is to be taken out first. Tanks and armored vehicles have the highest priority. We don't want any of them dissident groups forming their own army and causing us more problems."

Ronald started to say something when Smith started to stir. At first, William didn't notice, but when Smith started to moan William broke out in laughter.

"Oh man, my head," groaned the gunner.

William gripped the gunner's hand in his, "Take it easy pal, we had a rough landing."

Gregory started to lift himself up before the sergeant gently pushed him back down into the bed.

"You need your rest. As the Lieutenant said, you need to take it easy," Ronald said soothingly.

"Wha...? Who are you?" the gunner asked now fully awake.

"Later pal, you just relax," smiled Jones.

Ronald stood up and started to leave the room.

"I'll leave you two alone," the sergeant said before he left the room and closed the door behind him.

"Welcome back to the living," the pilot said.

"Where are we Loot?" asked Smith.

"Unfortunately, in the land of the dead. But, hey, relax we landed in some friendly folk's backyard and not all the company is unpleasant either," the pilot winked to his gunner.

"Loot, don't be starting any trouble. You are always getting us in some hot water with you chasing anything in a skirt," Gregory said with genuine concern on his face.

"Don't worry. There is no law over here, but why are we talking about this? We should be celebrating," laughed the pilot as he pulled a steel hip flask from his pocket.

The two helicopter crewmembers talked and laughed late into the night. Ronald brought them some dinner and left them alone. Then Ronald took his usual watch in the tower on the top of the cabin. Nori retired to her room and Coop and Brady went to sleep in the living room.

William had drained his flask dry of the alcohol. Gregory just took enough to lessen the pain in his throbbing head. Feeling that the party was just starting William snuck downstairs looking for something to drink. He noticed the boys sleeping soundly in the living room. He worked his way over to the kitchen/dinning room area where the wood burning stove still consumed its wooden load.

In one of the cupboards, William found a bottle of a California wine. He then snuck back upstairs and rejoined the Gunner.

"OK, let's get this party going pal," the pilot said pulling the cork out of the bottle.

"Not tonight, Loot. My head still hurts and my leg is really starting to bother me."

"Well, then you won't mind if I celebrate on my own?" the pilot began drinking straight from the bottle.

"Loot, why don't you take it easy yourself? You know how rowdy you get when you've been drinking. We shouldn't upset our host," said the gunner.

"Ah, you worry too much. But you probably should get some rest. I'll stay right here," William said soothingly.

It wasn't long before the gunner went back to sleep. It wasn't too much longer after that William Jones finished off his bottle of wine. He dropped the bottle on the floor and blew out the candle next to Gregory's bed. The pilot then staggered over to the door and exited the room.

As Jones was drunkenly walking across the balcony to go downstairs, he stopped outside Nori's room. The moonlight spilled its pale radiance through the upper story windows filling the interior with a soft blue light. The trapdoor to the guard tower was closed.

"We all have to get acquainted anyway," the pilot thought to himself.

William slowly and silently opened the door to Nori's room. He poked his head inside to hear her steady breathing. A quick scan around the room found her in a sound sleep under the covers of her bed. The pilot then staggered into the room shutting the door quietly behind him.

The helicopter pilot then pulled a knife out from his boot and approached the bed. The moonlight from the small window aided him in navigating across the floor. There lay the young Asian girl her short-cropped hair unkempt from hours of sleep. She rested her head upon a pillow that lay upon her right hand.

"This'll be easy. She can't be more than eighteen and I'm sure she's been sharing herself with her companions," the drunken man thought lecherously.

With surprising agility, the inebriated pilot threw himself upon the unsuspecting girl. The knife he put against her throat. Nori was instantly awake, but before she could utter a scream, the pilot slapped her with his free hand knocking her senseless.

"Come now sweetness let us get a little better acquainted," sneered Jones in a low hiss as he started clawing at Nori's flannel pajamas.

Nori just laid there stunned unable to do anything as the drunken pilot roughly tried to pull her clothes off.

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Iapetus Saves Manhattan

Chapter Two

"This iceberg is enormous, and that is just the tip of the iceberg," Dr. Claude LeFleur joked to himself.

With the global warm temperatures, this iceberg had broken off the arctic ice shelf and was floating south towards Canada. Many icebergs had done such things in the past, but this one was very special. Some Canadians on their fishing boat were trawling between the icebergs, when they spotted something unusual about this particular iceberg. When they approached to investigate, they were astounded at what they saw. They immediately contacted authorities. This is how Dr. LeFleur got involved.

Dr. LeFleur was at the top of his field. In his younger days, they scoffed that such a young man could not be so competent. However, he proved them all wrong with finding after finding. Now, at age 50, he was at the forefront of another major discovery. He was in charge of researching this iceberg. He was onboard the tugboat that was towing it into the Hudson Bay.

A research station was set up on James Bay on the southern tip of the Hudson Bay. That was the only location large enough to handle this special iceberg. It was an unusually warm spring, and the ice was melting quickly. The more the ice melted, the more excited the crew became. This iceberg had an enormous creature trapped inside. The fishing crew, who discovered it, dubbed it an ultra-yeti.

The creature was pure white and was enormous. This ultra-yeti was reminiscent of the legendary creature thought to roam the Himalayan mountain range; however, this beast was much bigger than the legendary "Abominable Snowman." It was quite a fierce looking monster. From Dr. LeFleur's initial examination, he deduced that the creature was pregnant. Thus, they all agreed that she was female. They named her Casiell, which is Latin for "Earthy Mother".

As the tug slowly pulled the ice entombed creature south, more and more ice was melting away. "This had better not take too long," thought Dr. LeFleur. "Otherwise, all the ice will melt, and she'll go sinking to the bottom of Hudson Bay. However, she is gigantic. Even on the bottom, she may still be above the water."

The creature entombed in this block of ice was indeed gigantic. It would make many dinosaurs look like small dogs. When Cassiel roamed the earth, she would have stood 250 meters tall while standing on her hind legs. "This animal was half the height of Canada's tallest building," thought Dr. LeFleur. "It would dwarf many buildings in the North America. I'm one of the luckiest people alive, because I get to study her!"

Dr. LeFleur's research team was waiting for them to arrive at their small research station on James Bay. The team notified several prominent biological scientists, and it was the talk of the many blogs on the internet. There was a lot of talk about the ultra-yeti. Many biologists made their way to the research station. Many curious people also made their way to the remote area of Canada. The research team had to establish some security to make sure that nothing got out of hand.

The unusually warm weather melted much of the ice and exposed much of the ultra-yeti's fur before they reached the research station. However, there was still enough ice under her to keep her afloat. However, Dr. LeFleur was worried about decay. He was hoping for much cooler weather to keep her from decaying, but there would be many opportunities to get good data.

Dr. LaFleur's team obtained some of the fur for analysis. Furthermore, the team was able to obtain some blood and tissue samples. With these samples they were able to do some DNA and chemical analysis on the creature. In their analysis of these samples, they quickly confirmed that she was pregnant.

There were many exciting discoveries. Clearly, this creature was not the sole member of her species unless her species was born pregnant. "Who knows how many of these creatures once roamed the earth?" thought Dr. LeFleur. "What caused this unfortunate creature to become trapped in the ice? Are there others to be found in the melting arctic ice?"

Dr. LeFleur's team studied the gigantic creature very thoroughly. Claude was anxious to get more information from Cassiel's baby. The weather was cooperating and melting much of the ice that trapped her legs. From what they could tell, she would have delivered just as any mammal. Once her legs were free, they would attempt to access some tissue and blood from the baby through the uterus.

When the fishing vessel first discovered the creature, she was in an odd position in the ice. Her legs were near the top and at an odd angle; her head was much farther down. While they were towing her through Hudson Bay, they would rotate her as much as they could so she would lie down at a more convenient angle as the ice melted. At present, she was lying mostly on her back but slightly on her left side.

The team's plan was to free the child if possible. Once freeing the child, the science team could then get to the mother's stomach. This would allow them to analyze her diet. "How much could this creature eat?" wondered Dr. LeFleur. "What did she eat? Was she a scavenger? Was she herbivorous, carnivorous, or omnivorous?"

They managed to get some ultrasound equipment to their isolated site. They used the ultrasound to give them a great deal of information about the baby. The baby was male, and appeared to be almost ready for birth. The team theorized that she was about to give birth when she died.

"Perhaps," one scientist theorized. "She broke through the ice and could not get free."

"She may have been searching for her last meal before giving birth, and perhaps she starved before she delivered," guessed another.

"If she ate fish, she may have gotten caught in a sudden freeze while fishing," another thought aloud.

"There are no signs of trauma, so we know she wasn't injured," included another scientist. "She may have just gotten trapped too far north and simply died of exposure."

"Like some bears, perhaps she was going to give birth while hibernating," noted one scientist. "Maybe her cave or resting place was extremely wet and cold, and she didn't survive long enough to give birth."

"Perhaps whatever it was she fed on ," another scientist added. "Maybe they were scarce that year, and she didn't get enough to eat."

"These are all possibilities," added Dr. LeFleur. "We'll have more information once we can analyze the contents of her stomach."

They had all kinds of questions regarding this enormous mother, and they were getting close to getting a good look at the child. The quickly melting ice was revealing more and more of the creature. With each new discovery, the information made its way across the internet. Pictures and speculation was rampant, but the team of scientists managed to get plenty of good science done.

She had the teeth similar to a bear. They surmised that she was a part of the bear family. She did have several traits of bears. Grizzly and polar bears can get quite large. However, they normally do not exceed 4 meters. A bear that large is quite a rarity. This animal was 80 times that size, which led to lots of questions about her origins. Without more information, they could only guess about these things. Once the DNA analysis was complete, they would have answers to a lot more questions, but that would be months away.

After diligently studying the creature for a couple of weeks, something happened that was completely unexpected. It was 4 AM when a research assistant made her way into Dr. LeFleur's tent. "Dr. LeFleur!" she stated anxiously. "Wake up professor! There's trouble!"

"What?" asked the doctor sleepily "what has happened?"

"He's gone..." the RA stated sheepishly.

"Who's gone?"

"Cassiel's baby," replied the RA.

"What?" asked Claude as he jumped out of bed "how is that possible?"

"The ice had melted enough..."

"Are you trying to tell me that the baby just fell out?" asked the Dr. LeFleur as he put on some pants over his pajamas.

"Well sir," stuttered the RA "It was more like a birth."

"But you said he was gone, did he fall into the bay?"

"Um, no sir, after he was born he walked away."

"What?"

"I know it is hard to believe, and I wouldn't have believed it either if I hadn't witnessed it."

"The baby was born alive?"

"Yes sir, we tried to follow him, but even on those baby legs he moved pretty quickly."

"Which way did he go?"

"Ur South..."

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Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Chapter 5

By Dwayne MacInnes

Nori was sound asleep. She was dreaming of being back in St. Anthony's Catholic school when she was suddenly attacked. The girl was instantly awake when she felt the cold steel blade of the combat knife against her throat. A man's shape was outlined in the moonlight sitting upon her. Then the heavy slap across the face stunned her.

"Come now sweetness let us get a little better acquainted," the man's voice hissed as the smell of alcohol carried on his warm breath filled her nostrils.

Nori couldn't move, couldn�t react or anything. Her head was still reeling from the hard slap across her face. She could taste the blood in her mouth. She could feel the man rip the flannel top open on her pajamas. She could hear the buttons of her top clatter upon the wooden floor.

His rough hand was working quickly to undress her. Horror filled her mind as the man started to kiss her sloppily. His other hand was working on undoing his flight suit. She was now paralyzed with fear. Her right hand was pinned under her pillow. Suddenly she was instantly alert.

The pilot was working furiously. It had been a long time since he�d been with a woman. Since the whole ordeal in Seattle, he'd been on active duty and very few people hung around the bases in eastern Washington. He was trying hard to make his drunken hands work properly. William had the girl completely pinned down. At first her eyes were unfocused from being suddenly awaken and then from the stunning blow. Then he recognized the fear he'd seen several times before. She was now completely frozen with fear.

"It'll be easy now," Jones laughed inwardly.

All of a sudden, Jones saw stars as something hard slammed into the side of his own head. Now it was the pilot who was stunned as he fell from the bed onto the floor. He could barely hear the girl screaming as he drunkenly rolled over onto his back. William could see Nori standing over him holding the pajama top close with her left hand and holding a pink automatic pistol in her right pointed straight at him.

Sergeant Ronald was keeping his usual watch in the tower when he heard Nori screaming.

"Dammit!" thought Ronald angrily. He was quick to figure out that the pilot was paying Nori a visit. The Ranger was even quicker in dropping through the trap door and was in Nori's room.

When the sergeant entered the room, he saw the small Asian girl barely over five feet tall holding a torn flannel shirt together Hello Kitty with one hand. She was pointing her pink .45 P-14 at the drunken pilot who was lying on his back. At this sight, red filled the Ranger's vision. In a berserker's rage, the muscular man picked up the pilot and flung him across the room.

Ronald was barely aware of what he was doing. It was as if he was outside his own body watching himself beat up the helicopter pilot. Ronald couldn't hear the sobbing Nori crying out for him to stop. Nor did he notice the lantern light up the room as Brady and Cooper entered. He didn't even notice the gunner hop over and try to pull Greene off Jones. The sergeant�s massive fists continued to pummel and slam into the drunken soldier. It took Brady, Smith, and even Coop to pull Greene off from the now unconscious and bleeding pilot.

* * * * *

The birds were chirping outside and the sunlight beamed in through the upper story windows. The light was bathing the living room with its radiance. It was only then that William regained consciousness. The pilot was very much the worse for ware. One eye was swollen shut; his lips were swollen and split. He could feel that he was missing at least three teeth and a couple of ribs were cracked. Jones found that he couldn't move his hands; in fact, he couldn't even feel them. That was when he realized that he was securely bound to one of the log support beams for the balcony.

William scanned across the living room and found the sergeant glaring at him from the couch. Smith was sitting next to Ronald, and Coop was sitting on the floor in front of the coffee table.

"You can thank your friend here for your life. You've been given a brief reprieve. You'll be lucky if I don't kill you," hissed Ronald through clenched teeth.

Jones could only slump his head to his chest. He was in no condition to argue or even to listen to the sergeant. His head was pounding from his injuries as well as his excessive drinking the night before. He remembered attacking the girl, and he remembered her smashing something into his temple that stunned him. The rest was a blur.

Meanwhile, Brady sat in the bedroom with Nori. The sergeant put him on watch over her. She hadn�t said anything all night; she cried and curled herself into a ball on top of her bed. Nori only had a few moments of fitful sleep. Every time Brady tried to comfort her by putting his arms around her, Nori would just start sobbing again and push him away.

No one knew what to do, not even Sarge. He just told Brady to watch over Nori so that she would not harm herself. When the sunlight broke through the bedroom window Brady saw that Nori's eyes were swollen and bloodshot from crying all night. Her short black hair was unkempt and she hugged the blanket like a five year-old child seeking security.

"Nori?" Brady asked softly.

Nori just sat there staring off into space. Not even acknowledging she heard Brady.

"Sarge says that he�ll shoot Jones. He'll be like Judge Dread. You know judge, jury, and executioner," Brady said, hoping that a comic book reference would snap her back.

Nori finally looked up at Brady and whispered one word, "No."

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Iapetus Saves Manhattan

Chapter Three

Dr. John Maland spent the entire spring break with the Iapetian people. He heard many stories and learned more of their language and their legends. It was good to get away from the hustle and bustle of big city life, even if it were a working vacation. However, no story was as consequential as the story of the ship entitled the Pickering. Thus, Dr. Maland decided that he needed to research the Pickering upon his arrival home.

However, before he got back to work, like many, he became entranced with the stories of the giant creature in Canada. He read as much as he could about the enormous ultra-yeti. He visited blogs and news organizations. He discussed the situation with colleagues. For a brief time, his own work took a back seat to the buzz of Cassiel.

After catching up on the news around the nation, he had to go to work. He taught his regular schedule. He wished he did his pressing research rather than bothering with current events; however, having up-to-date information was important to him. He was a bit disgusted with the sensationalization of Cassiel, and the lack of good information from the news media. Thus, it took him longer to get the information he thought he needed. This was the truth about his anger about being slightly behind.

Eventually he got to the library to research the Iapetian story. The U.S.S. Pickering was a US war ship. She was a two masted sailing vessel. Weight and configuration made her a brig. She was not the largest vessel in the fleet, but she had 14 guns with a regular compliment of 105 sailors onboard.

The ship and crew had some experience in Naval battle. They had been patrolling against French privateers. The most notable engagement was against the L�Egypte Conquise. This privateering ship was slightly larger and had more firepower. Nevertheless, the Pickering managed to capture that ship named for the French conquering of Egypt.

Eventually, officials permanently assigned it to the US Naval department. Its orders were to join patrolling the waters of the West Indies. However, she was in the northeastern part of the US at the time. Thus, she needed to sail toward Guadeloupe. The Pickering and crew left Newcastle, Delaware in late August of 1800 and never arrived in the West Indies.

Most reports suggest a gale in September caught the naval ship and destroyed it somewhere in the Sargasso Sea. It was part of the voluminous number of legends about the Bermuda triangle.

It seems that there were true aspects of the Iapetian legend. However, instead of a giant monster, their Iapetus was like many of the ancient gods. It was nothing more than a fortunate coincidence. The legend was only series of events that saved the people. A storm that arose just at the proper time and destroyed the ship that was firing upon the island's inhabitants.

"The ship's crew perhaps asked the islanders for help, but none of them spoke English," conjectured John in his journal. "The crew likely fired a warning shot, which is the basis of the 'booming arms' of the 'beast'. When a storm came up and destroyed the ships, it added to the legend of Iapetus."

After Dr. Maland entered the information about the U.S.S Pickering into his journal, he read the events of the day. He discovered in the news that Cassiel had given birth to a live ultra-yeti child. The child had wandered away from James Bay research facility. Information was sketchy on what happened to the child after birth. "Perhaps this is more exaggeration by the media," thought John. "Perhaps they got their facts wrong or misquoted someone."

However, shortly after catching up on his work, he received a call from Dr. LeFleur. "Dr. Maland," the Canadian professor began. "I have been following your reports on Iapetus."

"I am flattered," replied Dr. Maland. "I too have been following your reports. Is it true that the ultra-yeti gave live birth?"

"All evidence leads to this conclusion, but I didn't see the birth myself. Be that as it may, the baby ultra-yeti is not anywhere to be found at the research station."

"So, you don't know where the baby is?"

"That is correct," replied Dr. LeFleur. "The reason I'm calling, is to find out more information on your giant beast."

"I beg your pardon?"

"I read about the legend of Iapetus, and I am curious about your beast."

"From my research," started Dr. Maland. "I have determined that Iapetus is not a beast at all. It is just a series of coincidental storms that have occasionally protected the inhabitants of that island."

"Are you sure on that?"

"As sure as I can be I suppose. Why the sudden interest and the urgency of this phone call?"

"I thought that since many legends have the basis in fact, that Iapetus may help us out should the need arise. If this god was the basis of an actual creature, we could use its help."

"Is the situation that bad?"

"I wouldn't say it is, but should Cassiel's baby head for the metropolitan areas of Canada or the United States, he may do some major damage. We would want to prevent that from happening in any way we could."

"I wish I could help," explained Dr. Maland. "However, I am fairly certain that Iapetus is not an actual creature."

"Thanks for you time then," a dejected Dr. Lefleur stated. "It was just a stab in the dark. Good bye."

"I'm sorry I couldn't help, and I will look forward to your further reports. Good bye," replied Dr. Maland as he hung up the phone.

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Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Chapter 6

By Dwayne MacInnes

Brady didn�t know if he heard Nori correctly at first or not. He didn�t really expect her to respond to his half-hearted joke. Of course, joking at a time like this was in poor taste Brady realized too late.

"I�m sorry. I guess I should not be joking," Brady said lowering his eyes.

"No," Nori continued, "Sarge cannot kill Jones."

"What do you mean?" Brady said still confused but now looking Nori straight in the eyes.

"He cannot kill a living man for my sake," Nori responded.

"But I killed a man attacking you," Brady countered.

"That was in self-defense. Jones has already been subdued. It�ll be murder now."

"It�ll be justice, after what he did to you." Brady argued.

"NO!" shouted Nori, "I won�t have it done. It is against my beliefs."

Sergeant Greene heard the shout come from upstairs. He jumped to his feet and started to run upstairs. Coop was also on his feet.

"Coop you stay here and make sure nothing happens to Jones," ordered Greene.

Then Ronald flew up the stairs and across the balcony to disappear into Nori�s room. Coop sat down on the couch and watched over Jones, who was still slumping forward from the beam.

"Bill, why did you do it?" asked Smith.

"Greg, you don�t understand. You�re too soft," William said through his cracked lips.

"You are right I don�t understand. You�ve never done anything like this before. Yeah, sure you were always a womanizer, but you never attack a woman - let alone a girl."

Bill started to laugh. He raised his eyes up to lock onto Greg�s eyes.

"Remember that time we were in Iraq, and I went to that checkpoint with Captain Tanner and his boys?"

"Yeah, you were off duty, and Tanner invited you to stand watch with him. You got a purple heart when you guys stopped that suicide car bomber. You were lucky that the colonel didn�t send you to the brig," the gunner replied with a confused look on his face.

"You are such a Boy Scout, Greg. Everything isn�t black and white or red, white, and blue for that matter," laughed the pilot.

Greg shook his head not comprehending.

"Look, Greg, Captain Tanner and his boys abducted this young teenage girl from her village," the pilot smiled his face turning evil as he saw the shocked expression on Greg�s face.

"They were the enemy. They were inferior. Don�t you get it?" William prodded.

"No, it�s not true. We were there to protect those people. Every soldier I�ve worked with and every soldier I've known felt the same," countered Greg.

"That�s why it was just Captain Tanner, me, and a couple of his boys. You sissy little Boy Scouts like our sergeant here would never understand," William said no longer aware that there was a ten year-old boy listening in.

"When we were done, we knocked her out and put her into a car. Then we blew it up. I didn�t duck like the rest and caught a piece of shrapnel," laughed William.

The gunner turned his face away from the pilot. The man he knew or thought he knew was no longer there in that room.

"I hope they kill you," Greg said under his breath.

Coop looked over at Greg. Only he heard the pained gunner�s last remark. The pilot just continued to laugh. William was no longer in his right mind.

Sergeant Greene ran into the bedroom to see Brady standing and Nori sitting on her bed holding a blanket. They were both silent. Nori was no longer crying as she looked over at the sergeant.

"Don�t do it, Ronnie," Nori pleaded, "please."

Ronald flinched when he heard her say Ronnie.

"I can�t let him go unpunished, nor can we keep him around," Greene said gravely.

"I was the one attacked. I believe I have a say in this. You cannot kill him," Nori said.

Sergeant Greene stood there not saying a word. He didn�t know what to say. Nori then began crying again as she saw the stony expression on the sergeant�s face.

"You have been like a father to me. Please, don�t do something that we�ll all regret," Nori sobbed.

"I�m sorry, kid. I�ve already done that," Ronald replied as he turned and left the room.

Ronald went downstairs, opened the door, and stared out into the frosty morning. Snow started to slowly fall. Ronald shut the door and went over to the closet. He pulled out a small school pack and started throwing some things into it.

Greene then dismantled an automatic pistol and threw it into the backpack. Ronald pulled out a single bullet. He stared at it for a while and then he looked over at Jones who was watching everything impassively. Ronald then shoved the bullet into the pack.

The sergeant went over to the pilot and untied him from the log support. Then Ronald retied Jones� hands behind his back. The sergeant lifted Jones to his feet and pushed him towards the front door.

"OK, Lieutenant. We are going for a walk that you are not returning from," the sergeant said coldly.

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Good Land

By Dwayne MacInnes

Phil Hayden knew that the old farm was somewhere around the area where he was riding. They had just passed by it yesterday on their way into town. His horse had been running hard for several miles and was beginning to get exhausted. A quick glance over his shoulder revealed that the four other men riding with him were in a similar state.

Phil pulled back on his reigns and brought himself up to his brother Tony. The young man was four years younger than Phil but was new to this business. The other men slowed their weary mounts as Phil fell back.

"Tony, your eyes are better than mine in the dark, especially without any moonlight to help us," Phil stated. "Can you see the farm?"

"We�re on the right road, should only be a mile or two more."

"Ok, boys," Phil ordered, "we�ll hole up at the farm. The posse will be hot on our trail by morning. Maybe we can plan a surprise for them."

The other men all nodded in approval as they continued trotting down the wagon-rutted road at a slower pace. Their horses panted and snorted into the dark night. Some chirping crickets accompanied those sounds as the five men rode on silently. It was now early July so the temperature was warm and everyone was sweating from his exertion.

"There, Phil, I see the house," Tony pointed into the blackness.

Phil squinted his eyes until he could make out the silhouette of the two-story structure off the main road. The farmhouse sat in front of a full field swaying of golden wheat. A barn stood off on its own across from the house. No one seemed to be awake. That was perfect for what Phil had in mind.

* * * * *

It was just the day before when the five men were riding past the farm on their way into town. The fields of wheat rippled in the wind as if they were golden waves. Phil noticed a teenage boy wearing faded bib overalls mending a wooden fence. The tanned skin boy with sun-bleached blond hair and blue eyes could not have been over eighteen. Phil also noticed that the teenage boy did not wear any shoes or a shirt. All that seemed to cover his slim yet well-toned body was his worn blue overalls.

"Howdy son," Phil greeted as he rode up to the boy.

"Hi," the boy smiled, "we don�t get too many visitors."

"Really, that�s interesting."

"Most folks tend to leave us alone."

The other men rode up along side of Phil. �Shotgun� Larson leaned over towards the lad. The creaking leather of his body shifting in the saddle brought the boy�s attention to him.

"Looks like yer gonna have a good yield. I betcha gonna start harvesting next week," Shotgun said as he spit his tobacco juice onto the dusty ground.

Shotgun used to be a farmer before he joined the rebellion in the war sixteen years ago. After the Confederacy fell, Shotgun found that being a thief and rustler suited his style better. Phil needed the burly man on his team and there was no better shot with a double-barreled Remington than Shotgun.

"Yes sir," the boy smiled with genuine pride. "Pa says we have good land. We always get a good yield. Pa says that whatever you plant on our land will grow. I think he is right. We also get large corn harvests too."

The boy studied Shotgun�s faded butternut jacket with light blue sergeant stripes on the arms. Then the lad looked up at the matching cap upon Shotgun�s head.

"Were you a rebel?" the boy naively asked.

Shotgun broke out in a big laugh, "Yer a smart one. Yeah, I fought in the war."

"I remember some Rebs came to our farm during the war. They locked Pa and me in the cellar. But Ma took care of them."

"I�m sure she did," Shotgun laughed as he winked at the boy.

"Killed every one of them by herself," continued the boy. "Then she secretly buried them out in the field."

"I�ll be sure to stay away from yer ma," Shotgun said with a smile.

"Oh, she�s dead," the farm boy said with a hint of sadness in his voice. "Pa buried her behind the house."

"Joshua!" yelled a man exiting the barn near the farmhouse up the road behind the boy. The lad turned towards the voice that called his name. The man was obviously Joshua�s father. They both looked alike except the man was older and grayer. They both even wore old overalls, though the father had his pink undergarments on underneath and a pair of worn leather boots on his feet. A muzzle loaded Springfield was in his leathery hands.

"Pa, I was just..."

"We have a lot of chores to do and here I find you talking to strangers," the man continued yelling. "Junior, get back to work now."

Phil looked over towards the man stomping towards them. As the mounted men started to reach for their weapons Phil motioned them to stay put.

"I beg your pardon sir. We were just asking how far it was to town," Phil smiled.

"You�ll find it about twenty miles that way," the farmer pointed down the road. "Now if you�ll forgive us we have a lot of work to do."

Phil nodded and turned his horse back onto the road. The rest of the gang joined him. As the men trotted down the road, Shotgun rode up beside Phil.

"Why didn�t you let us plug �im?" grumbled the big man.

"We have more important and lucrative business to take care of than killing a dirt farmer," Phil replied.

* * * * *

The gang�s business turned out to be very lucrative indeed. Phil�s well thought out plan went off without a hitch. Shotgun, Dan Jackson, and Billy Davies all headed towards the bank while Phil and Tony took off for the railway station. Everything worked out just as Phil had figured, even the train was on time.

As the station�s big clock chimed twelve noon the trio at the bank caused as much ruckus they could. The sheriff and several armed men ran off towards the bank. Phil and Tony waited five minutes before they calmly walked over towards the conductor helping unload a large lockbox. It was as Phil had figured with the bank being robbed any man with a gun would head towards it leaving the real prize unguarded, the railway payroll.

Phil quickly shot the unsuspecting conductor in the back of his head with his Colt Peacemaker. The .45 bullet exploded the conductor�s face onto his comrade�s face. Before the other man could even open his mouth to scream, Tony fired his Colt into the man�s torso several times. As each bullet ripped into the man�s body he would jerk backwards as if in some strange dance before he crumpled dead against the boxcar.

Phil shot the lock off the payroll�s box; Tony then opened the lid and began shoving the money into large sacks. The two men made quick work emptying the contents of the lockbox before they mounted their horses and galloped out of town.

Just as Phil had figured, with the chaos of both robberies happening simultaneously, the local law became paralyze with inaction. That gave both parties enough time to leave town and meet at their rendezvous. Phil was pleased to find that no one had gotten himself shot and that the diversion at the bank had turned out to be profitable. Shotgun hefted two very full bags as Phil and Tony rode up to the three men. Everyone had the big smile of satisfaction on his face.

"Everybody, mount up," ordered Phil, "We have to get some distance between us and town."

* * * * *

The five men silently dismounted their horses in front of the farmhouse. There was no moonlight so it was difficult for them to see each other. Phil gathered his small band around him.

"Shotgun, you come with me. Dan you get up in the hayloft of the barn with your Winchester, Tony you go with him. I want you guys to keep a close look out until morning. Billy, watch the back door to the farmhouse."

The five men parted and headed towards their assigned positions. Phil and Shotgun walked as quietly as they could up the wooden porch to the farmhouse. The creaking boards sounded like screaming banshees in the still night air. Phil noticed a lamp flicker to life in the upstairs window.

"Now," whispered Phil into Shotgun�s ear.

The big man lowered his right shoulder as he rammed it into the locked door. The impact of the bull-like body hitting the wooden door shattered the frame as the entrance exploded inward. Phil rushed past Shotgun and ran up the stairs. At the top of the landing stood the stunned farmer holding the lantern in one hand and the Springfield in the other.

Phil slammed his pistol into the side the farmer�s head knocking the man unconscious to the floor. The lamp clattered to the wooden floor. The floor would have burst into flames if Phil had not picked the lamp up before it could cause any damage.

"Pa! Pa!" screamed the lad as Phil turned around to see Joshua struggling in Shotgun�s beefy arms on the first floor.

"Tie them up and throw them in the kitchen. Then get Billy in here," Phil called down to the big man.

"Shouldn�t we just kill �em?" asked Shotgun.

Shotgun�s philosophy had always been �dead men tell no tales�. In many cases that was true, but Phil did not kill �little people� as he called them. He did not know why, but Phil could not bring himself to kill the farmer and his son.

"No, Shotgun, just tie them up," Phil replied calmly, "if they behave themselves we�ll even pay them for their services."

That brought a smile to Shotgun�s face. He knew that poor farmers often did not look a gift horse in the mouth and by making them accomplices their silence could be bought.

* * * * *

Shotgun stood in the kitchen staring out into the darkness outside the window. Billy went outside to secure their horses inside the barn. Phil sat on the chair backwards as he looked over at the farmer bound to the chair opposite the table from him. The farmer had a large gash on his head from where Phil had pistol whipped him. Shotgun had fashioned a crude bandage over the wound but the blood had soaked through the rags.

"Now your son will remain in the cellar until morning. If the posse doesn�t show by then we�ll be on our way and you will find me appreciative for your services," Phil spoke to the stone-faced farmer.

"You aren�t the first to invade this house," hissed the farmer between his clenched teeth.

"Yeah, yeah, I know. Sometime during the war some bushwhackers attacked your house, threw you and the boy into the cellar and your wife took care of them," smiled Phil.

"What are you talking about?" asked the farmer.

"You know what I�m talking about; your son told us all about it."

"He was only four at the time and has probably made some of it up. Yes, some Confederate deserters broke into our house many years ago. There were three of them. They did lock both of us into the cellar. But, when I awoke in the morning, the door was open and Joshua was already upstairs looking out the window saying goodbye as he did everyday to his ma. All the rebels left were their rifles. They must have forgotten them."

"You mean they just left and your wife didn�t kill them?" asked Phil with a smile.

"Of course, my wife could not have killed them. She died in child birth; her grave is behind the house."

Phil started to laugh aloud. Shotgun joined in with the merriment until he suddenly stopped. Phil looked over towards Shotgun who had his Remington in his hands.

"What is it?" Phil inquired.

"I saw something move out there."

"OK, get out to the boys and warn them," Phil said as he pulled his Peacemaker from his holster and took over Shotgun�s position at the window.

The big man ran out the front door. Phil peered out the window into the darkness. The old cottonwood tree stood alone in the empty yard. There was not anything Phil could see, his ears strained for any sounds. All he could hear was the barn door creaking open and shut as Shotgun went inside. Then there was nothing but silence. The crickets had even stopped their chorus.

The blast of Dan�s Winchester startled Phil. The rifle continued to fire as he ran toward the broken front door. As Phil ran out onto the porch, he saw the barn door slowly shut. It was not long after that pandemonium broke out inside the barn. Animals screamed in fear as pistols, rifles, and the shotgun blasts fired from within.

Phil could not bring himself to move toward the barn. He stood there on the porch rooted in place. Chills ran up his spine as he listened to the chaos commence inside the barn. The sound of men screaming soon filled the night air. The noise from the firearms started to fall silent one by one as did the screaming. The sound of the last screaming man brought Phil back to his senses as he recognized Tony�s voice gurgling in a death rattle.

Phil ran back into the house to retrieve the lantern. The farmer�s eyes were wide in fear as he looked up at him. Phil pulled the lamp from the table and headed back out of the farmhouse. Phil stared at the barn. The outbuilding just stood there quietly. All noise from within had died out. Slowly Phil walked toward the large barn door. He had never been so scared in his life. "Looks like the posse had found us," Phil thought to himself. Phil tried to comfort himself as he silently strode over towards the barn that the absence of sound meant that nothing inside was alive. Not even the lawmen that had obviously tracked them down to the farm. Certainly, the posse would be rejoicing in their victory. He looked around the farm�s yard. "Odd," thought Phil, "I don�t see or hear any horses." As he reached the barn door, Phil listened for any sounds inside. All was quiet, not even the sounds of the animals reached his ears. Phil pulled the creaking door open a crack and pushed the lamp inside first. Then he poked his head into the interior. The horses all stood frozen in their stalls so paralyzed with fear that they could not even neigh. There was no sign of anyone on the ground floor. Blood lay on the hay covered floor and bullet holes riddled the floor and far wall. Phil willed himself to continue into the barn. He shuffled along inside with the lamp in his left hand and his trusty Colt in his right. He fully cocked the hammer of the pistol. The smell of horse sweat, manure, gun smoke, blood, and death filled the interior. Even though Phil had smelled death several times before this time, it was different. It was like there were two types of death smells. The familiar smell of the recently dead and the odor of decay of the long dead both played in the air.

Phil looked up toward the loft. The lamp�s light could not penetrate the silent blackness of the second story. He noticed the small trickle of blood steadily dripping from the loft into the pool at the foot of the ladder that led to the upper level.

Phil pulled himself up the ladder with agonizing slowness, fighting desperately with the fear that was trying to dominate his being. So far, his willpower continued to win out. Phil brought his head up over the loft�s edge and peered at the carnage before him.

The bodies of four men lay upon the floor. Their faces contorted in fear, their eyes wide staring into nothingness. Blood covered their bodies from their ripped out throats. As Phil noticed his little brother lying near the far wall, he quickly pulled himself up into the loft.

Phil hung the lamp on a nail protruding from a nearby beam. He went over to Tony�s dead body. The same fearful death expression lay upon his face as those of the other dead.

"Tony? Tony you can�t be dead," Phil began to cry.

Tears flowed down Phil�s cheeks and landed onto Tony�s white face. He hugged Tony closely to his body rocking him back and forth sobbing into his dead brother�s shoulder.

The shuffling from behind a bale of hay alerted Phil that he was not alone. The bandit grabbed his Colt that was lying on the floor next to him. Phil swung the pistol in the direction of the noise. The surviving lawmen were going to pay for what they did to Tony.

In the shadow of the barn, Phil watched as a shape slowly approached him. Phil�s finger tightened its grip upon the trigger when he noticed the dress. Phil looked up at the figure approaching him. It was a woman.

However, the woman looked wrong. Her distorted and shriveled face with cold dead eyes peered at Phil. Phil squeezed his Peacemaker and fired a shot into the woman�s face. Her head jerked back shortly. Then she brought her head back up, the expressionless look on her face was still in place, the wound that should have sprouted where the bullet entered her head was nonexistent. He thumbed back the hammer and taking careful aim fired again. Again, her head jerked back only to return as it had before.

Phil then noticed three men walking slowly behind her. Three soldiers in the butternut uniform of the Confederate army. All three had their throats ripped open. All three slowly followed the woman towards Phil all with their talon-like hands stretched out towards him.

Phil cried out and began randomly firing at the wraiths shambling towards him. Even after Phil fired the remaining four bullets, he continued to thumb back the hammer and squeeze the trigger without any further results as the hammer fell on the empty cartridges. His last thought before fear finally overtook his body was the boy saying that anything planted would grow on this good land.

* * * * *

The sheriff rode up the road to Joshua Murdock�s farm with the posse of ten men behind him as the morning sun rose in the eastern sky. They had tracked the Hayden gang here. Four men lay dead back in town and the posse were close to getting their perpetrators.

Sheriff Fremont reigned in his horse and dismounted the posse followed suit. They would walk the rest of the way to the farmhouse. Everyone had his weapons ready.

"Half you men come with me the other half check out that barn. Spread out and be careful," the sheriff instructed his men.

Fremont and five men cautiously approached the house. As the sheriff stepped onto the porch, he noticed that the kicked in door lying in the entranceway. Fremont stepped into the house, and the five men fanned out behind him.

"Meyers and Culper, check out the upstairs. Grant and Peele check out those back rooms," Fremont ordered.

Sheriff Fremont crept into the kitchen with his pistol ready and found Joshua Murdock tied to a chair with a bandage on his head. The man was sleeping when Fremont stepped over to him.

"Joshua," Fremont said as he shook the farmer, "you ok?"

"Yeah, yeah," Murdock replied groggily. "The men you are looking for should be in the barn."

The sheriff began untying the farmer as he asked him, "Where�s Junior?"

"They locked him in the cellar."

"Sheriff! Sheriff!" yelled a man as he ran into the kitchen.

It was Benson Fremont noticed.

"Calm down son, what is it?"

"The barn is a wreck, bullet holes, blood all over the place," Benson panted.

"How many bodies?" the sheriff asked.

"None. We can�t find anyone inside the barn."

"Great," grumbled the sheriff, "get the boys together and we�ll set out after them again."

"That�s just it, sheriff. The money, their horses and all their equipment is in the barn. But there is no sign of the Hayden gang."

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