May 08, 2005

Because He's There!

Written With Dwayne MacInnes

Journal Entry for 07:14:72 by Dr. Daniel C. Hever, PhD

George Mallory - lost mountain climber.

In 1924 C.E. (in Gregorian calendar) Sir George Mallory and a team of mountain climbers including Andrew Irvine attempted to reach the summit of the mighty Mt. Everest. Sir Mallory and Mr. Irvine did not leave the mountain with the rest of the team. They were lost and presumed dead, but nobody knows whether they made it to the summit.

It had been over 100 years since the recovery of George Mallory's body. It was in 1999 C.E. However, I don't feel like doing the conversion to our current metric calendar, so we'll leave it at about 100 years for now. Mallory was well preserved on the slopes of Mt. Everest, and he had been held in a frozen state since his body was retrieved off the slopes of Everest.

We will hopefully discover the truth about his adventure when he is revived. Did he make it to the summit? What happened on those frigid slopes so long ago? The process of bringing Mr. Mallory back from his suspended animation is nearly finished and he will be awakened in a matter of hours. We have done a great deal of research on the man and his culture to make the transition for Sir Mallory a smooth one.

There have been great technical advances made since the discovery of Sir Mallory's body. I think the biggest advance is in nanotechnology. Our civilization has created processes that can create microscopic robots. This has resulted in huge advances in medicine. Surgical repairs can be made at the cellular level. With this technology, we will revive the long dead Mallory. I can hardly wait for this process to finish.

As a first phase of this experiment we revived individuals from the 20th century. Although most of these individuals died many years after Mallory, we felt that we got a sense of what the culture was back those 100 years ago. From our readings and the information from these cryogenically frozen individuals, we believed we had a good feel for what it was like for Sir George Mallory. They brought us closer to culture of his time, and we could piece together more from other sources.

We were fortunate that several individuals in the 20th century had themselves cryogenically frozen to be revived later in time. Since these individuals were expecting to be awoken at a later time, the same precautions did not need to be made to make them feel they were in their own time. Many were pleased to be revived after many years of frigid hibernation.

Sadly, some former citizens of the 20th century (Gregorian calendar) did not provide a full body, but merely a head. Some of these were greatly disappointed when no suitable biological body would be provided. The building of a body from the DNA of a patient can be done; however in most instances no provisions were made for such a procedure. Further, constructing a body was a long and expensive procedure, and many of these individuals spent all of their money on the freezing process and the storage space. Thus, if someone was revived without an existing body, they often felt they were nothing more than a curious head in a jar. Cybernetic bodies could be provided, but many had difficulty controlling this body. However, these individuals did provide a wealth of information about the culture in and around their time of life.

It was this method that my team and I developed to study a wooly mammoth that we were to revive. The method of studying a subject from afar before revival we felt was a necessary step to lessen the impact of being thrust into the future. Before reviving a creature whether it was animal or human, we studied it with the use of scholarly texts as well as with nanocameras.

Along with the medical uses of these nanobots, this nanotechnology also allowed the creation of a wide variety of useful tiny machines. One such device was a tiny camera. These cameras had a myriad of uses, and not all of them were medical. While these cameras were larger than the medical nanobots, they were still about the size of an ordinary house fly. The extra size was due to the need for mobility and storage of information. However, the manufacturer often claimed that you could now be a fly on the wall. Please note that the use of such a device is highly regulated to prevent abuses.

Excerpt from Journal for 02:06:93 by Daniel C. Hever:

We have proposed a use for several new and existing technologies. First, we will use a widely used technology that was developed by me and my team. We will use existing nanotechnology to repair and revive this mammoth. This wooly mammoth will be gradually thawed in a therapeutic bath and repaired using the nanosurgeon robots. This will be done so this particular specimen can be studied thoroughly in its near natural environment. We have several goals in mind. Many scientists here would like to learn more about the behaviors of this species of animal. We feel that by reviving this creature, she will retain those behaviors and she will be suitable for study in that regard. Also, we would like to determine if she retains memories. In this way, this process could be used to study individuals and cultures that have been dead for many years.

Second, in order to fulfill this goal, we will need to use the nanocameras developed by AOENC, Inc. The cameras in question will be used to study this long extinct mammal that has been frozen in ice for thousands of years. In order to study this mammal in its original habitat, we will need to take advantage of a brand new technology developed by a team from the University of Montana and the University of Northern Iowa.

This third technology will be used to transport this camera back and forth in time. While this process takes a huge amount of energy to perform, we will benefit by studying the exact behavior of the animal in question. Thus, we can determine if the revived subject has the same memories and experiences. Thus, we believe we can learn more about the behaviors of this mammoth from the original beast rather than a facsimile or clone.

I have spoken to Dr. D. Max Wayne of the University of Montana and to Dr. Gogi Tee of the University of Northern Iowa, and they have tested their process on the "fly" camera. Their tests show that they can indeed view images and retrieve audio from previous times. In their tests they have obtained full color video of a few historic moments. With this time shifting technology and along with the cellular regeneration techniques provided by the nanobots, we believe we can learn much about the life of the wooly mammoth.

We have contacted AOENC, Inc. to customize the appearance of their camera to appear even more fly-like. This fly appearance will have a further benefit. The time travel apparatus causes an odd buzzing sound upon entering and leaving a specific time frame. Hence, if this buzzing was heard by a subject being studied, the fly look will help explain the sound.

With our slightly modified nanocamera we have filled out the proper paperwork for governmental approval. We feel that this experiment will have no impact on any timeline. Thus, I'm sure this process will meet governmental approval. If we are successful in our attempts, we plan on reviving other subjects and perhaps even humans. However, we will wish to learn as much about our subjects before reviving them. This will decrease the stress of the strange environment.

End excerpt.

In the above experiment, the wooly mammoth that had been frozen in ice for thousands of years, was revived after studying it in its own environment in time and space. An environment similar to her last known surroundings was synthesized in which to place the mammoth and study her. In previous experiments this particular mammoth had been cloned. However, these clones did not have the same experience as the actual mammoth. Thus, no presumptions of actual behaviors could be made. This was unsatisfying to many researchers.

The mammoth that we revived exhibited the same behaviors observed from the nanocameras. Thus, much could be determined about actual behaviors of this ice age beast. It was a very successful experiment. We believe that this creature retained its memories and experiences, and several tests were performed to help verify this hypothesis. Thus, we could learn a great deal about past cultures by reviving some frozen humans. We had three specimens with interesting questions surrounding them. We are currently studying our third subject, Sir Mallory. The other two experiments involving the frozen individuals turned out less successfully than we had hoped.

Excerpt from Journal for 04:12:43 by Daniel C. Hever:

From our experiments with the wooly mammoth, we believe that when an ancient creature or individual is revived, he/she/it will exhibit the behaviors observed from the nanocamera studies. Thus, we are fairly certain that this individual or creature will retain their memories and will behave as if they never died. It was as if they just went to sleep and then woke up and continued behaving as if living in its previous environment.

In order to prove this hypothesis, we will be studying a frozen man from the late Neolithic period. This man had been discovered in the Otztal Alps between Italy and Austria in the late 20th Century of the old calendar. There was much speculation on how the man came to die on the mountain. Some speculated that this "iceman" was a ritual sacrifice to the mountain. Others believed he was running away from combat and received an arrow in the back during his flight.

This is our first chance to make use of the sound recording possibilities of the nanocamera. We don't know what language our iceman speaks. We have some rough ideas, but the years have been many. We would like to know the exact language in order to make his transition to our time smoother.

We began our research by reading all of the sources that had been collected about our specimen. He had a few artifacts that had long been lost. There was much speculation about our subject, but this was merely speculation. We needed hard facts. Thus, we prepared the nanocameras to send back to the day that he died. From the sources, we had a pretty good idea where he laid down and die. We had to guess his path to his final resting place. We wanted to follow his last several minutes. We hoped to capture a ceremony if he had been sacrificed. In that way, we could capture some of his native language. We would also be able to better replicate his clothes and equipment.

Everything was going well until they sent their camera back to view events. We do not know for sure what happened to our camera, but it was destroyed before returning. I believe that the camera was ingested by a bird and destroyed. In order to prevent any other changes in the timeline, the government has insisted that no further cameras would be allowed back to that time frame. Thus, with the lack of information about our subject, I am afraid we should refrain from reviving him. We will move on to our next subject.

End excerpt

Excerpt from Journal for 04:76:58 by Daniel C. Hever:

Our next ice mummy which we wish to revive comes to our team from Siberia. This female was believed to be a spiritual leader of her people. If this were true, it would show the influence of females of her particular group. She was found with several artifacts and the team wanted to know more about her. While this individual had less information in the archives than our previous subject, she is not as ancient. Thus, we can make some very educated guesses. We have a better idea of her language, and some more information about her culture. However, we will need to verify this information before we revive this "Ice Maiden."

End excerpt.

Once again, we were unable to retrieve sufficient information about this subject. We had painstakingly determined the best place to put the camera. We had done plenty of calculations about which way to view and where to view. However, this camera was destroyed in a massive blizzard that one of the team members forgot to note. Without proper information about this individual and her surroundings the revival process was aborted and another opportunity lost to the team.

We had one subject left. We knew a great deal about this individual. Again, he was from a time much closer to our own. We knew what language he spoke. We could greatly replicate friendly surroundings for Sir George Mallory. Once and for all, we should be able to determine if he did indeed reach the summit of Mt. Everest. Also, we should learn the circumstances of his death.

It has taken several years of paperwork and study in order for this day to come. Our past failures have made the government reluctant to issue the necessary permits to send the nanocameras back to study our subject, Sir Mallory. However, with much coaxing they have allowed us to send one camera back. However, early on it was decided to revive Sir Mallory even without any video footage. There had been much written about him that survived. We spoke a common language. While our cultures are separated by a great deal of time, we feel that this shouldn't be a great concern.

We accomplished much in our studies. We did send our fly-like camera back onto Everest and successfully retrieved some data. However, we did not see Sir Mallory or his climbing partner Mr. Andrew Irvine. All that was seen was the mountain side and all that was heard was a howling wind. While there was an eerie stillness in the area, we were greatly disappointed in the findings from our time traveling camera. We are sure that Sir Mallory will be comfortable in our provided surroundings. We should be able to determine much from him. I am heading to Sir Mallory's room now. I will fill out a full report for the University when our conversation has ended.

End entry.

"Test. Test. Is this thing on? Hello? Test. Test. This is Dr. Daniel Hever recording. Sir George Mallory is about to be revived, and we are here to record his statements as they happen. The only voices you'll be hearing are mine and Sir Mallory's. Quiet please. Let's begin?"

"Sir Mallory? Wake up. Sir Mallory?"

"Huh? What are you Yanks doing here? Where am I?"

"You're in a hospital; you had a bit of a fall."

"Bloody hell! Tell me about it mate! It was the darnedest thing! There I was at 8200 meters. Bloody thing could have been the end of me!"

"What thing? What happened?"

"As I said mate, I was there at 8200 meters hanging on for my life. Good things you Yanks came along, or I would have likely froze to death. Where's Andrew?"

"Sir Mallory, you were saying? You were at 8200 meters hanging on for your life, and then what happened?"

"Sandy's a right good chap. He must have fetched you directly. Good bloke that Andrew. Where is he?"

"Andrew Irvine? I'm not sure where he is, but please Sir Mallory, tell us what happened."

"Right, right, I was at 8200 meters. What is that? That's about 27,000 feet to you Yanks. Anyway, it was the darnedest thing! I was up in the thinness of the atmosphere, just climbing like always, and there it was. Out of nowhere! It was suddenly there! Out of nowhere I tell you!"

"What was there? What came out of nowhere?"

"A bloody fly! At 8200 meters! I was hanging on for my life, struggling with the thin atmosphere, and this bloody buzzing fly popped out from nowhere! Scared the wits right out of me. I fell quite a ways! Good thing you Yanks showed up, or I'd be dead for sure!"

"Uhhh thanks Sir Mallory. You get some rest and we'll continue this later. Turn the recorder off please!"

Posted by deg at 09:28 PM | Comments (12)

May 22, 2005

The Last War

By Dwayne MacInnes

I am the Historian of our race. I fear that I shall be the last chronicler. We are a dying people. We, to be brutally honest, have slowly been dying for eons. In fact, our fate is closely tied to that of our world. It has been know for millennium upon millennium that our planet has been dying. Our atmosphere is rarified, the seas have vanished from the surface. The only vegetation that has survived on the surface is a red creeping vine.

I suppose that is why for nearly as many years we have coveted the young blue planet next to ours. Great oceans cover this fresh world. It is alive with various flora and fauna. Alas, it has always remained tantalizingly outside our grasp. For though we are quite advanced in many sciences, space travel has only been perfected in the last couple of centuries.

I suppose some explanation is in order as to why we have not progressed as far in space travel as we have in the other sciences. Simply put we are a warring race. Martial skill is highly regarded in our culture. We have made wonderful weapons that efficiently kill our opponent. For example, we have a high-energy beam that will instantly reduce nearly everything it touches to ash. We have also created a black gas that hangs low to the ground and will kill any breathing beast that can also just as easily be washed away with a hot jet of steam after it settles.

Nevertheless, our constant warfare has done little to help our plight. So in the last few centuries our various warlords have united for the common goal of finding a way to alleviate our problem. Fortunately, we are as gifted scientist as we are warriors. There has not been a deadly germ on our world for as long as anyone can care to read these historical records. So it is of no surprise that it was decided that we would transplant our people on a new world. A world that is ripe for the picking, a world where we would thrive once again, a world that just happens to be our neighbor.

Therefore, we began our studies of this blue gem that beckoned to us in the night sky. We watched and learned everything we could about this planet. Through our telescopes we saw that the dominate species was a strangely jointed creature that resembled our own herds of food stock. These primitive creatures would be easy to subdue and it was obvious that there was a side benefit of knowing that food was readily available once we landed.

After centuries of constant and meticulous study, we began research in space flight. We developed a cylindrical capsule that was large enough to house some of our great war machines, unassembled of course. Nevertheless, assembly could be done in a matter of a day or so after landfall. After the beachhead was established, some of the capsules would begin transporting basic manufacturing tools and machines to help speed up the conquest of this new world.

A landing site was picked out on the azure planet. It was a small island off the coast of the largest land mass. It was figured that once our base of operation was established here the rest of the world would soon fall to our juggernauts. Sure the dominate species had some simple sea going vessels but it concerned us little as our battle walkers were virtually impervious to any primitive ballistic weapon.

All that remained was the perfect time to launch our assault. It had to be carefully chosen to minimize the risk of space flight. Therefore, when our two worlds were at their closest the fleet was finally launched. For days on end, we fired our space capsules into space until our atmosphere was choked with the gasses resulting from the launching process. After the skies cleared up, we started our vigil at the telescopes. It would take months to cross the great distances of space. But we are a patient people considering the hundreds of years of studies we had invested in the venture.

Finally, that fateful day arrived. One clear night we observed our first capsule land exactly where we had wanted it to. It was humorous to observe the dominate species curiously gather around the crater of our capsule. It is only fair to say that their curiosity was gratified the next day when our first walker fired its energy ray and destroyed all around it. The poor pathetic creatures vainly tried to retaliate, but their projectiles only bounce harmlessly off the armor skin of the walker before they were in turn reduced to hot ash.

The capsules began landing regularly after the first. Things were going along perfectly. Our first two assault forces were joining up to enable them to clear out all resistance and completely to subdue the world. Everything so far was going to plan. That was when the unthinkable happened. One of the projectiles from the creatures had found a weak point in one of the walker's cockpit, killing the pilot.

After that, more caution was used around these creatures. Before they could fire their projectiles, our walkers would fire off canisters of our deadly black gas wherever it was suspected that they might be hiding. That effectively put a stop to any further mishaps on land. The wretched creatures began to leave their residences in droves. They began even to flee their island home.

The walkers of course tried destroy as many of the primitive sea vessels as they could. That was when the second mishap happened. One of the vessels not only charged three of our walkers but actually attacked. The vessel had destroyed two of our walkers before being destroyed itself by the remaining walker. Fortunately, that was the last walker to be lost to the pathetic natives.

This also marked the time that consolidation of the island began. It was not long before the tools and machines began to arrive so that manufacturing could be done on this planet. The little creatures that had shown so much resistance in the first few days fighting were broken. Several were gathered up and their nutrients were consumed.

These were grand days. As a final show that we were in fact, masters of this new world the red creeping vine began to conquer the planet in its own right. Soon the island resembled the comforting red of our home world. Perhaps it was our own arrogance or maybe we were too drunk with our own invulnerability to notice the change.

It was not a major thing at first. We were still busy with making this world our new home. Aircraft and gathering machines were being built. Nevertheless, if we had maybe paid a little bit of more attention, we might have noticed. If we had just given the same care on observing our conquest as we did in preparing for it we could have seen it. The red vines were slowly dying.

At first when we did notice, we did not think anything of it. Then the death rate rapidly increased. Then the unthinkable happened. Not in time immemorial has such a thing happen to one of our kind. But it did. The assault force was getting sick. First, like the vine, it was one. Soon it was spreading uncontrollable. The germs!!! In our arrogance, we had forgotten about the germs.

We could have possibly produced some antibodies for our young budlings if we had even thought about it. But how could we. Germs were something of the primordial past. We did not even really comprehend what they could do until our entire assault force was devastated by their relentless attacks.

Nothing could stop us. We had beaten the dominate species only to be stopped at the zenith of our conquest by an organism that can't be seen by the unaided eye. Here on our planet. The planet the creatures of the blue world call Mars. We could only stare and watch helplessly through our telescopes as our forces quickly died off. Only to be eaten by that planet's scavengers.

Now the creatures (they call themselves humans), have our wrecked and abandoned vehicles and manufacturing facilities. Though it has taken them time, they are figuring everything out. What had taken us eons has only taken them a century. Now they are approaching our planet. There is nothing that we can do to stop them. For, we are a dying people.

Dedicated to and inspired by H.G. Wells

Posted by deg at 08:00 PM | Comments (3)

June 15, 2005

Terra Mortis

Chapter 1

By Dwayne MacInnes

Brady West was trying to relax at the family summer cabin deep in the Cascades. The sun was shining for a change, a nice change from Washington's usual rainfall. He often came here to get away from the busy and hectic life in Seattle. This cabin has always been a place of comfort in Brady's life and now was a time when he really needed some comfort. Especially when he would have to tell his parents that he had just flunked out of college.

Three years of aimless academic pursuit finally culminating in failure. "Yeah, the old man is going to flip over this one," Brady thought to himself.

His parents always wanted Brady to be more responsible and make something of his life. Finally, his father proposed that either he go to the University of Washington or join the military. Brady chose U of W over the military. He wasn't too anxious to be sent to the Middle East to either kill or be killed in some remote desert town. "Hell, the old man even promised to pay for everything if I would just get a degree in anything," Brady mused.

Nevertheless, after borrowing over a hundred thousand dollars for school, Brady failed. This failure meant more than just another lecture from his successful surgeon of a father, but also the entire cost accrued during those three years. There was no way his father was going to pay for his failure once again.

Well, it would be another couple of months before his parents would even notice that he was no longer at school. They seldom kept in touch save for the occasional email. In the meantime, he could stay at the family summer cabin. It was more than the usual summer retreat that most well to do families had in this area. In fact, this cabin was built by his great grandfather as a year round residence. There was an old water pump in the rear and deeper in the woods was the old outhouse. The trail occasionally had to be cut back because of the rapidly encroaching foliage. Fortunately, the cabin had been upgraded with modern conveniences such as electricity and indoor plumbing. The old wood burning stove was still the only source of heat though. The cabin offered a great deal of seclusion being off a rarely used gravel road on thirty acres of land.

Brady's grandfather had added a lot onto the original cabin after he retired from the railroad and had decided to spend the rest of his life up here away from the sprawling city. As a lonely widower Brady's grandfather found the seclusion welcoming. The cabin sported two stories. On the ground floor was the living room in front of the kitchen/dining room. Windows lined the wooden walls letting in a lot of natural sunlight. There were a set of stairs that ran up to the second story balcony. The balcony itself led to the two bedrooms and the bathroom on the upper stories. Across from the balcony high on the wall over the living room were the mounted animal heads from the various animals that Brady's grandfather loved to hunt.

This cabin had many amenities; there was a well-stocked pantry, a radio, television, and even a telephone. If he wanted to access the internet, he could use the dial-up modem for his computer. His father never believed in getting Wi-Fi or a cable modem for the cabin when one was supposed to be getting away from it all. It was quite a big deal when the television was brought into the cabin. Of course, there was no cable or satellite; there were just some local stations that he could tune in with the old aerial. It was far from the lifestyle Brady was used to but it was far better than living on the streets, which may very well be his future after he was disowned by his father. So until the time when everything came crashing down around his ears, he would enjoy one last summer as a hermit.

Being alone wasn't something new to Brady. He was an only child to a father who was always at the hospital and a mother who ran her own flower shop. Brady's mother used to bring him to the shop to watch over him before he entered kindergarten. He would always play in the back of the shop with his toys. Rarely was he able to play with the few friends he had as a youth. From grade school through high school, he tended to stay to himself. Of course, being one who tended to spend his free time reading outside or in the school library studying there was a lot of teasing and being bullied. College was better because it was very easy to get lost in the crowd. It was seldom that he would have more than one class with the same person.

The college courses weren't hard for Brady. He was actually a very bright young man. However, finishing anything wasn't something he did. The simple task of just turning in homework was beyond him. This would infuriate his professors to no end. It was obvious that Brady was intelligent from the very high test scores he received, but the lack of turned in work assignments would force the professors to give him marginal at best grades. This finally ended up with Brady winding up on academic probation and finally in flunking out of the university.

The cool breeze flowed in through the open window bringing with it scents of green leaves, budding flowers, and the sounds of chirping birds. "This is a life I could get used to," thought Brady.

Once again, he remembered the letter informing him of his being kicked out of college and he suddenly felt sick to his stomach. It was too late now to go back and turn in his homework. "If only I would have just turned in those stupid assignments," Brady thought angrily.

He shook his head and sat down on the couch. He needed something to take his mind off his problems if only it was for a few hours. Kicking his feet up on the coffee table, something that would get him a disapproving look from his mother, and grabbing the remote he flicked on the TV. There was some old sitcom on. Usually he didn't care for these shows but it was better than getting an ulcer worrying about his fate. After a few minutes, Brady found himself chuckling to himself over the antics of the unfortunate castaways on some deserted island. Brady had totally forgotten his troubles when a breaking news report disrupted the broadcast.

The reporter was an attractive middle aged woman sitting behind a desk with the image of a flame with the word "fire" superimposed on the background blue screen. She began, "Sorry, to interrupt your scheduled programming but a terrible fire is burning at the ColTech pharmaceuticals plant. We have Terry Lang on site to bring you more information."

"Thank you, Miranda," a young man in white shirt and red tie standing in front of burning complex surrounded by rescue vehicles replied. "I am now in front of the ColTech pharmaceuticals plant. Authorities have reported that the fire started in one of the test labs at around 6:00 this morning. This fire then spread quickly throughout the building and has been burning through much of the morning. Firefighters are trying desperately to get the blaze under control. Authorities haven't released any names, but they believe there were only a few people inside the building when the fire broke out. I have no information as to whether anyone has gotten out. The firefighters will try to determine the cause of the fire after it is under control. Back to you, Miranda."

The newsroom once again filled the screen. "Terry we at the news desk have heard that this lab was the target of the Animal Liberation Army. Is there any evidence that the A.L.A. may be involved?"

"There was an initial report of a possible break in before the building caught fire, but so far the police and the spokespeople from ColTech are denying this. We know that there had been many protests over ColTech using test animals in the past couple of weeks. Though ColTech denies..." suddenly behind the reporter, a small group of firefighters are seen bringing out a struggling and screaming girl in her twenties. "Just a minute Miranda, there appears to be a young woman being brought out by the firefighters. She looks to be in a lot of pain by the way she is screaming and struggling."

A police officer approaches the reporter and his crew. "I'm sorry, but you'll have to move back."

"Officer, can you tell us what is going on?"

"I'm sorry, but you'll have to move immediately."

Behind the reporter and the police officer, a fireman jumps back holding his arm. "Damn bitch just bit me!"

"Restrain her!" yelled another firefighter.

A paramedic runs over to the firefighter and starts looking at his arm. Another paramedic starts working on the restrained and still struggling and screaming woman. "Get another monitor over here," yells the paramedic bent over the woman, "this one isn't working."

The momentarily distracted police officer turns back to the reporter, "I'm sorry, but you will have to move back now!"

"Miranda, as you can see from the drama unfolding behind us, we'll have to relocate. We'll reestablish contact at our new site."

"Thank you Terry Lang," responds the newscaster back in the newsroom. "Let us recap the facts as we have them. Around 6:00 this morning a fire broke out and quickly spread throughout the ColTech pharmaceuticals plant. There may or may not have been a break in by the A.L.A at the plant at the onset of the fire. There were a few people working at the plant, but it is uncertain as to if any are now still in the building. We have just seen one individual brought out and she is now receiving first aid. She has been badly burned... what's that?" Miranda is holding a hand to her ear to help her hear the tiny earphone that is in it. "We will now take you back to the scene with Terry Lang."

The scene returns to Terry standing now much further forward of the rescue vehicles. "Well, Miranda, there is much going on now. We have been asked to move further away from the scene. But as you can see, we can still see the paramedics working on the young woman. She has just been strapped down onto the gurney. She appears to be trying to bite the paramedics and firefighters." The paramedics are seen lifting the gurney to its fully extended position and begin quickly wheeling it to an ambulance.

"Get her to the hospital immediately, these signs have to be wrong!" yells a paramedic, "Her signs are all screwy. She has no pulse and the equipment says that she is DEAD!"

Posted by deg at 12:43 PM | Comments (1)

June 22, 2005

Terra Mortis

Chapter 2

By Dwayne MacInnes

The rain lightly drumming on the roof woke Brady up. It was hard to tell how late he slept-in this morning due to the overcast skies. His hand fumbled around the top of the nightstand trying to grab his watch and in the process knocking his glasses to the floor. "Damn," mumbled Brady.

Finally grabbing his watch, he pulled it close to his face. 11:36 A.M. the watch proclaimed. It was not quite as late as Brady initially thought. He then strapped the watch to his wrist and then gently began searching the floor with his hands for his wayward glasses. If he accidentally broke them, he would be practically blind. Fortunately, it was not long before his glasses were recovered with nothing worse than some fingerprints on the lenses.

Brady took a long shower and then began scrounging around the pantry looking for something that would appeal to him for breakfast. Instant oatmeal was about as much time he wanted to spend cooking. His father absolutely refused to have a microwave at the cabin. So it'll have to be some old fashioned hot water boiled in the coffee pot on the electric range. As the water was starting to heat up Brady turned on the radio. His father loved the oldies so it was still on K-98.5 home of the 50's and 60's.

"This is news on CNN radio, the fire at the ColTech pharmaceuticals plant in Marysville, Washington has been put out. In yesterday's blaze it has been reported that six firefighters are missing and it is feared that they may be trapped inside the plant. Only one person was retrieved of the nine people reported working at the plant. She was reported as suffering from convulsions probably brought on by some of the chemicals in the plant. This is news on CNN radio."

The CNN music died out as the ads started playing. Brady found some instant cocoa and started adding water to a bowl of apple cinnamon oatmeal and a cup of hot chocolate. The CNN music piped back in and the reporter started reporting the news from around the world. After ten minutes of news, the music started playing. It was an old Stones' piece. One thing that Brady shared with his father was a love for classic rock music. They both loved the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and the Doors.

"Well, I guess something of my father rubbed off on me," Brady thought to himself.

Brady didn't really have ill feelings towards his father. He loved him very much. It was that there were so many regrets. Dr. Herbert West was always at work or on call. It was only two weeks a year that the West family got together and spent the time at the cabin. A time that with increasing frequency was spent with Brady's parents lecturing him and lamenting his seemingly lack of goals and accomplishments. They just didn't understand him. Brady really didn't understand himself.

As the last song died off the announcer started reading the news. "It is 65 degrees here in the downtown area. The rains will continue throughout the day with a 35 percent chance tomorrow. The woman taken to the Marysville hospital yesterday from the ColTech fire has been identified as a local student and a member of the Animal Liberation Army. Her name is being withheld. She is reported to be in critical condition and is in the intensive care unit.

"In other news, a family of five in Marysville has been brutally murdered. Police believe that this is the work of a cult. There doesn't appear to have been a weapon involved and the family members have been partially consumed.

"Now that is sick! We all hope that the person or persons involved are quickly apprehended. If you have any information please call your local police department or call us here at the radio station, K-98.5 your home of the 50's and 60's classic rock."

"Man," thought Brady. "It appears I got of town in time."

After finishing his breakfast, Brady opened up his laptop and plugged the modem into the phone jack. After the annoying electric handshake and the agonizingly slow dial-up connection was complete, Brady accessed his email. About twenty pieces of spam were quickly deleted without a further glance. Another email about his new status or rather lack of it at the University that was also quickly deleted. The last message was from his mother.

"Brady, how are you doing? Your father and I are doing quite well. Maybe you can drop by for dinner sometime this week. I'm sure they can't beat a home cooked meal there on campus. Well, we hope that your summer classes go well. Love, Mom and Dad."

Brady briefly responded saying that he'd be tied up all week with lab and fieldwork. That sounded official enough and should buy him some time before he'd have to make another excuse. He hoped that he could keep them from figuring out his stalling tactics until he could find some way of breaking the news of his failure to his parents without them killing and possibly eating him. "Damn, that wasn't funny," Brady thought.

The announcer's voice broke over the station again. "Hey people! this is not a joke. I've had four people call in claiming that they saw eight people, three of them in firefighter's uniforms leaving the murdered family's house last night. How sick can you be? The tragedy of the fire and this murder isn't something for you people to be joking about. So please get your friends to stop calling in. You are keeping calls with potentially real information from getting into the station. Now, here is Snoopy versus the Red Baron by the Royal Guardsmen."

Brady turned off the radio. It was getting too depressing listening to it. He was already grappling with his own personal depression without having to deal with the sad state of the world adding its own crappy load to it.

Grabbing a book in his backpack Brady started to lose himself in ancient Roman history. For some reason he had always found history particularly fascinating, especially Roman history. Brady knew more about dead Roman emperors than he did about U.S. presidents from the last ten years. Politics never interested Brady. His parents had differing opinions on this one thing. His father tended to be more conservative and his mother more liberal. Brady supposed it was because that his father came from a well off family where as his mother grew up on very little. Brady's mother every once in awhile would comment on how she got her Christmas presents from the Salvation Army or that her parents would skip a meal so that she and auntie Jane could eat.

The fading light outside made Brady aware that he had spent the last six hours reading his history book.

"I guess I should make some dinner. There should be some mac 'n' cheese in the pantry and I brought up some milk along with the other groceries," thought Brady.

As Brady was getting dinner ready he decided to watch a little TV. He grabbed the remote and hit the "On" button with his thumb. Brady stood there staring at the TV from the kitchen/dinning room while he was preparing dinner.

As the screen warmed up the image of a reporter outside a hospital and in front of a police cordon came into view. It was already dark out and the flashing lights and sirens made the scene even more eerie.

"The hospital has been sealed off," huffed the rapidly speaking reporter, "There have been tales of unspeakable horrors from within. The 911 call from the nurse's station claimed that there was a group of naked and half-clad people butchering and eating the patients from within. Two SWAT teams have taken up position around the hospital and another team has gone in to try and subdue these Cult Killers as they are being called."

Suddenly shots were heard coming from within the building. Brady could only stare transfixed to the screen. "What the hell is going on?" asked Brady. The police in the background started sending in more officers as the fire intensified. Flashes from the muzzles of the guns could be seen in the hospital's darkened windows.

T"here appears to be some sort of gun fight going on. From the intensity of it, this matter should be resolved in short order. We all pray that there will be a minimal number of innocents..." Suddenly, a group of people dressed in hospital gowns staggered out of the front automatic doors. Their arms were outstretched, all appeared to have been wounded in some manner by the Cult Killers.

"It looks like we have some patients leaving the hospital now," the reporter continued.

The gunfire in the hospital was more sporadic now as the police outside started opening fire on the patients leaving the building.

"OH MY GOD!!!" screamed the reporter. "The police have open fire on the patients. Don't they know what they are doing?" The reporter turns around and starts running towards the cordon. "Stop firing! You are killing innocent people!"

As the police begin firing into the mob leaving the hospital, it starts to become evident that their bullets are having no effect. Shortly, the patients start grappling with the police closest to them.

"Get back!" yells a police officer. "They're breaking through!" The officer is grabbed by an old man in a gown from the back. The old man's grey hands grab the police officer's hair and pull back the officer's head as the blood stained teeth sinks into the unsuspecting victim's neck.

The camera operator drops the camera as the mob overwhelms the police cordon. Before the camera hits the ground and static fills the screen, the sound of gunfire has all but stopped and the carnage is rapidly spreading.

Brady is unaware of the hissing water boiling over onto the stove instantly turning into steam as it hits the burner. All he could do was stare at the TV.

Posted by deg at 07:29 PM | Comments (5)

June 29, 2005

Terra Mortis

Chapter 3

By Dwayne MacInnes

"Damn it!" screamed Brady as he slammed the phone back into the cradle. He had been trying for the past five days to contact his parents. But all the phone lines were busy and there hadn't been an open line since the quarantine. Without the phone line he couldn't even check his email.

The TV had been playing nonstop since the hospital incident in Marysville eight days ago. The news had been constantly reporting a strange and growing number of gruesome murders by an insane mob. The latest speculation was that a terrorist organization had poison the water supply with some sort of waterborne disease that was causing its victims to go insane. The governor had called out the National Guard to help control the panic and take control of the situation. So far to no avail.

Marysville, Seattle, and even Tacoma have been quarantined. The Bremerton naval base had been evacuated. It was reminiscent of the last days before the fall of Saigon. People were trying everything to get out of the cities. The president had called up federal troops to enforce the quarantine. There had been a no fly zone instated and any aircraft that violated it was instantly shot down. Oregon and Vancouver had their borders closed down so no one could get in or out. Any ship or boat that tried to leave the coast or Puget Sound was instantly destroyed by the navy and coast guard. There would be no rescue attempts.

During the State of the Union on the previous night, the president declared the western half of the state of Washington off limits in order to try and contain the growing and seemingly incurable disease. Martial law was in full force now. All the passes in the Cascades had troops manning the blockades with orders to shoot anyone attempting to cross them.

Brady kept thinking to himself that this couldn't be happening. Not here. Not in the United States. The whole thing was happening too fast. Everything looked to be out of control.

"The governor still encourages people to lock themselves into their homes and to stay off the streets. Troops of the National Guard and the army are sweeping through the streets to clean out the diseased mob that seems to have taken over many neighborhoods. Hazmat teams are investigating the cause of the sickness and so far they have no ideas as to source or even if there is a clue to the cure. Once again please stay in your homes. If you have any personal weapons have them at hand incase the mobs start to move into your neighborhood. But once again stay in your house and do not try to confront the mobs on your own if it can be avoided."

The reporter sitting at the desk had obviously not slept in a long time. His hair was in disarray and he hadn't shaved for awhile either. His shirt's top button was undone and his tie hung loosely around his neck.

"There have been several calls to the station stating that these people are not alive. This of course, is not a substantiated rumor. But the one piece of advice that is being offered is to shoot them in the head. It appears that only head damaged will kill these diseased people.

"Remember do not try to leave the city. All people approaching the checkpoints will be shot. We are still under quaran..."

Just then the room in the cabin went completely black. It was about 11:30 p.m. when the power went out. The sudden darkness and complete silence started to work on Brady's imagination. He found himself starting to hyperventilate. Calm down, calm down. Brady told himself.

He slowly walked to the closet where he knew an oil camp lamp was stored. Brady thought for sure he could hear the sounds of someone walking around outside. What was that outside the window? "Calm down you are letting your imagination get the better of you," Brady told himself.

Brady made it to the closet and a couple of minutes of rummaging around he found the lamp and some matches. As the lamp flickered to life and the darkness evaporated so did the imaginary sounds. "I now know why man invented fire," Brady thought.

He did a quick inventory of his food stores and supplies. Brady still had plenty of food and oil for the lamp. The water could be obtained from the old pump in the back. A thing better left for the day light.

"Wait a minute!" yelled Brady, "Grandpa always had his shotgun up here." Brady rummaged around the various closets in the cabin. He found the old 12 gauge Remington in the master bedroom's closet along with a box shells. "Thank God, it was buckshot instead of bird or I'd only annoy the suckers if they ever made it this far. Let's see... it can hold five shells if I remember right," thought Brady.

Brady used to do some hunting with his grandfather when he was still alive. But Brady hadn't even held a gun in a good seven years. He sure hoped that he could still shoot as straight as he used to. The gun was quickly loaded and Brady carried it and the lamp back to his bedroom where he crawled into bed and fell into a fitful sleep.

It was the third day after the loss of power that Brady had a dream full of thunder with the earth shaking about him. Suddenly Brady woke up. That wasn't thunder! It was the sound of engines, large aircraft engines and so many of them that the cabin was shaking as if in a moderate earthquake. It was only 1:47 a.m. according Brady's watch. The sound soon receded to the west. Brady tried to turn on the light only to remember that the power was off. He was awake now but there wasn't anything he could do. The TV was out and the laptop only had the power stored in its battery. Brady tried the phone only to find out that it too was still out of commission. Brady found his portable radio and turned it on. All it picked up was static. There hadn't been anything found on AM or FM since the power loss. It was obvious this was a complete blackout.

This was total isolation. Brady felt truly alone for the first time in his life. He was quite content in being a loner and getting away from people for weeks at time wasn't new to him. But to be totally cut off from civilization against his will was not something he was used to. Brady turned off his radio and the lamp and fell asleep on the couch.

He couldn't have been asleep long when the sound of thunder started crashing down from the west. Brady ran out of the cabin not even thinking of taking his shotgun. Off to the west Brady could see that the skyline above the trees was lit up. It was as if the sun was starting to dawn in the west. The thunder still rained down in the west, northwest, and even the southwest. Brady watched until the real sun rose in the east. But the thunder still came rolling up the mountainside. This continued until about seven in the morning.

Brady stood transfixed, he hadn't moved for hours. He just watched the skyline not comprehending what was going on. Then it hit him. They were bombing the cities. "Mom, Dad... NO!" screamed Brady.

Brady ran into the cabin barely aware what he was doing. Brady emptied out his backpack and started stuffing it with boxes of food, and water bottles. The radio, lamp, the box of matches and some spare oil was also crammed into the pack. He grabbed the shotgun and his jacket and ran out to his motorcycle. He put on his helmet and jumped onto the bike and sped off down the dirt road.

The dirt road down the mountainside was empty which was not surprising. Most people were still in the cities. Brady drove like a mad man. He pushed the bike to the limits of his ability to control it. When he hit the main road Brady pushed the bike even further. He had never driven so fast. Nor was he really aware as to the speed. All that consumed his thoughts were that his mother and father were stuck in Seattle. Probably at home if it hadn't been bombed. With that thought Brady looked up and noticed the entire horizon to the west was filled with smoke.

A gas station was just a few miles further down the road and Brady desperately needed gas. He only had a quarter of a tank and that would barely get him to the outskirts of Seattle. As the bike sped down the road Brady realized that he hadn't seen a single person. Certainly he should have passed someone either going to or from the west.

The gas station was soon on the horizon. Brady started to slow down as he approached the station. He pulled up to the pumps and stopped the bike. Brady laid the shotgun against the bike as he lifted the pump and put it into the tank. He tried to insert his credit card but the machine wouldn't work. Then Brady remembered that all the power and phone lines were out. There was no way for him to get any gas short of stealing it from another vehicle. Brady quickly looked around. Damn! Not a car to be seen. He threw the pump handle to the ground, grabbed his shotgun and retied it on the back of his bike. Then Brady jumped back on his bike and sped off hoping that he'd have enough gas to make to the checkpoint at least.

It didn't even occur to him until he was miles down road that he had not even see anyone at the gas station. Or for that matter at the speed he'd been driving there wasn't even a law enforcement officer trying to pull him over. He was making good time. It could only be about 10:00 in the morning. The cloud of smoke was growing ever closer as Brady raced on.

It started to rain again and Brady had to slow down. It would do him no good to crash his bike and break his leg. The delay was agonizing. As the rain poured down even harder Brady had to slow down even further. It soon became so bad that he had to pull off to the side of the road to find shelter. Brady pulled his bike under some sheltering trees to wait out the storm. Real lightning and thunder started crashing all around him.

The wait was insufferable. Brady finally broke down as he waited. He started sobbing and sat down at the base of a tree. Brady knew that he shouldn't take shelter under a tree during a thunder storm, but he didn't care. All he could think of was for the first time in his life he realized how much he really did love his mother and father.

"Please God, let them be all right. I'll make something of myself I promise. I'll take things seriously from now on." Brady prayed.

Two hours passed before the storm finally abated. By that time Brady had finally come to grips with himself. He slowly remounted the bike and resumed his trek. Driving now more slowly Brady started thinking things out more thoroughly. He knew he had to somehow get past the checkpoints. He didn't know how. Maybe they'd let him in even if they wouldn't let him out. But he would cross that bridge when he came to it.

As the sunlight started to recede Brady realized that even despite the violent storm the horizon was still lit from the burning of the cities. Even now as the motorcycle slowly approached the suburbs he still hadn't passed a single person. Hell, he hadn't even seen a real person since he went up to the cabin.

The last of the light showed that there was a major road block on the road ahead. Brady stopped his bike. He dismounted grabbed his pack and shotgun and slowly approached the jumble of vehicles. Brady noticed that there were a medley of military vehicles blocking off all the entrances and exits from the suburban community.

"Hello?" called out Brady. "Is there anyone out there?" Only silence returned his question. Brady continued walking toward the vehicles.

He noticed that there was a tank, some HumVees, and a Bradley fighting vehicle stretched across the road. "This is strange," thought Brady. "There should be someone out here to man the checkpoint."

That's when Brady noticed a man sleeping behind a HumVee. Brady approached the man, noticed that he was a soldier and shook him. The man was drenched. He should have changed his clothes after the storm thought Brady. The man was still just lying there. Brady shook him again a little harder.

"Excuse me, sir?"

Brady shook him a third time and when he didn't respond he turned him over. That's when Brady realized the soldier was dead. The stiff body rolled over and the dead eyes stared straight up. Brady jumped back and fell onto the side of the road. As he looked past the roadblock Brady noticed miles of vehicles. They stretched endlessly down the road. The blood colored sky bathed the landscape and revealed the countless bodies stiffly lying among the vehicles. In the last couple of minutes before the sun exited the horizon for the night, Brady saw movement.

Brady just sat there stunned. His mind was overwhelmed. He couldn't think of anything. Not even to scream. He just watched as a body slowly picked itself up from the human debris spread out in front of him. The man stiffly stood up and jumbled over towards Brady. Then another body stood up and started approaching.

"Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God," was all Brady could get his brain wrapped around. "This wasn't right."

Then the stench hit him. The wind must have changed direction blowing the reek of death towards him. Brady started to gag. The smoke from the burning city started to blow into his eyes. The bodies silhouetted against the burning cities approached closer. Brady just sat there with his eyes watering. The shambling diseased bodies slowly and stiffly approached arms outstretched.

The closest reeking man was only an arms distant from Brady. Then Brady closed his eyes. That was all he could will his body to do. The man's hands started to tighten around his leg. My God he has a strong grip. "This is it," thought Brady.

BLAM! BLAM! The night air exploded with the sound of the gunshots. Brady opened his eyes to witness the head of the man grabbing his leg was blasted apart. The hand released his leg. The shots brought Brady to his senses. He stood up in time to see the second man's head jerk back as another shot echoed in the night.

As the second body fell lifeless to the road a small person ran up behind Brady. Brady took a quick glance as he jerked back in surprise at the leather clad person with a riot helmet and a smoking automatic pistol that appeared to be pink in the soft glow of the burning city.

"Come on", called a female voice "let's get out of here!"

Posted by deg at 05:57 PM | Comments (0)

July 06, 2005

Terra Mortis

Chapter 4

By Dwayne MacInnes

Brady awoke to the sound of birds chirping and the smell of food cooking. It must have all been a dream. Mom must be cooking breakfast.

"Good morning," greeted the same female voice that was in his dream last night. Brady shot straight up and opened his eyes wide to stare at the small figure of a girl cooking over a fire. It wasn't a dream there was the girl. She was a girl of Asian descent, not much over five feet tall, and dressed in black leather. On her slim waist was a military webbed belt and holster holding a pink automatic pistol with the picture of "Hello Kitty" on the handle. "Oh God! I must still be dreaming," Brady said to himself.

"Hungry?" the girl asked.

"Umm...yes. Thank you." Brady responded.

The girl turned towards Brady with a plate of food in her hand. She handed Brady the plate with what appeared to be eggs. The smell was too inviting, and without further talking, Brady started to devour the food.

"Wow! You'd think you haven't eaten for a while. Oh, sorry you may not have." The sadness filled the once cheery face as the girl remembered their circumstances. "I'm Noriko Fubuki. My friends call me Nori though I'm not a dwarf." Noriko laughed.

That stopped Brady. He looked up with a quizzical expression on his face.

"You obviously never read the Hobbit."

"Uh, no. I guess I never got around to it. I'm Brady West. Thank you for saving me last night."

"Oh, I just shot the second zombie. You need to thank Ronnie. He shot the first one. He's off with Coop gathering some more wood."

"What do you mean zombies?" Brady enquired.

"Zombies. You know Night of the Living Dead?" Noriko sat down next to Brady.

"I guess I never read that either."

"It's a movie, silly. Well, Ronnie can tell you more about that. But what I do know is that those are not diseased people walking around out there; unless you consider being dead a disease." Nori continued.

"Dead? I don't get it. I remember on TV there being some talk about that. But the dead can't come back to life."

"I hate to tell you this, but that was a dead man who had you by the leg last night."

Brady was going to continue his question when he saw a tall, stocky black man in his forties with a young boy walking from the woods both with their arms full of wood. The black man could have been a linebacker by the size of him. He was dressed in a military uniform and stood over six feet tall. There was an M-16 on his back. The boy looked to be about 10, dressed in blue jeans and a matching jacket. He had a blank look on his face and his short blonde hair was a mess.

"Hi. Look who's finally awake." Noriko jumped up.

The soldier dumped his load of wood next to the fire. The young boy did the same and then sat down staring at the flames. The soldier then walked over to Brady and extended his hand.

"Hello, I'm Master Sergeant Ronald Greene." The big man's hand grasped Brady's and pumped it with a strong and firm hand shake.

"Man, the man is strong," thought Brady.

"Uh, hi," muttered Brady. "Thank you for saving my life and all."

"No problem. Though, you did walk right into that one. You are lucky that there weren't more out there."

"Yeah, Ronnie, I was telling him all about those zombies." Nori interrupted.

Ronald looked sourly at Noriko. "Please, call me sergeant, Sarge, Ron, or even Ronald. But not Ronnie."

Brady watched the exchange and couldn't help but smile.

"Sorry, Ron. You know how I am..."

"Right, anyway what is your name, or should I call you 'hey you'". Ron continued.

"I'm Brady West, and you can call me Brady. I was trying to get to Seattle to find my parents." Brady replied.

"I've got some bad news for you son. Seattle is gone. No one is getting in or out alive. I mean that. If anything survived that fire bombing it was those creatures."

"NO! NO! They have to be alive," sobbed Brady, "they must be alive."

Brady put his face in his hands and started crying uncontrollably. Nori sat down by Brady again and put her arm around his shoulder. "I know how you feel. I cried for two days straight after I lost my family." Nori consoled.

Ronald went over to the fire and started tending it. The boy just sat there lost in the flames. After about half an hour, Brady regained his composure.

Nori looked tenderly into Brady's face. "You know Ronnie saved my life too." Nori began talking again hoping to take Brady's mind off his loss. Ronald shook his head when Nori said the name Ronnie. "Oops, sorry Sarge. Anyway, I go to, or I should say used to go to a Catholic school. Father Henderson believed that he could get us students and our families out of Seattle. So he loads us all up in these school buses. How he did it I don't know. But anyway, we left the city proper and had just hit the checkpoint. Oh, yeah, this was just before things really started to hit the fan, so there weren't too many people fleeing yet. But as we stopped, Father Henderson stepped out to talk to the soldiers manning the checkpoint. He gets no further than in front of the bus before one of those big machine guns on one of those tanks starts to shoot him. His blood hits the window and everyone starts screaming. That was when the machine gun started hitting the buses. I was near the back and the last thing I saw were my parents being shot up. The emergency exit door opened up behind me and I was pulled out. It was Ronnie...er, Sarge. He pulled me out and covered my mouth so I couldn't scream. Through the chaos he got me away, and we hid in the woods. I think I cried for the entire night. I don't remember too much after that." Noriko fell suddenly silent as she relived the death of her friends and family again.

"I was part of the army Rangers." Ronald started picking up the story, "we had orders to shoot anyone coming out of the cities because they were carrying a highly contagious disease with no cure. At first they were calling in only soldiers with no family, but as the situation progressed the Special Forces and active duty soldiers were called. We had a few skirmishes with the National Guard units. They knew better than we did of the situation and were also trying to leave the city. In any case, the night before Noriko's party showed up, we stop this black car. We do our business and send in volunteers to burn up everything that could be contagious. So I volunteer. I'm given an NBC suit and approach the vehicle. In the back seat there is this man in a business suit. He's hit pretty bad and he's clutching a brief case. He keeps saying that he needs to get out of Seattle. Well, I think he is raving from the disease so I finish him off. I was about to torch the car and everything when I decided to save the briefcase. I don't what made me do it, but I did. I tucked it under my suit and then started the vehicle on fire." Sergeant Greene began staring in the fire like the little boy.

"Well," continued Ronald, "I picked the case open when my watch was over and find all these documents and a CD-Rom. The documents are from Columbia Technologies, the parent company of ColTech pharmaceuticals. I started reading about this project of theirs that is supposed to help Alzheimer's victims by creating a drug that'll regenerate the brain tissue. Unfortunately, the drug kills the patients after it brings certain more primitive parts of the brain back to life. But not life as we know it. This tissue lives on its own. It doesn't need oxygen or anything.

"The military gets wind of this so they start funding it for a super soldier formula."

"Super soldier formula...wasn't that something that Captain America was given?" interrupted Nori.

Ronald resumed his story without paying attention to Noriko. "So now ColTech is trying to make the unstoppable soldier. Unfortunately, they can't test on animals. This drug, PZ60 only works on humans. So ColTech secretly starts abducting homeless people. Now, Washington, D.C. knows all about this and in fact encourages it. So ColTech has this room with all these people tied down on tables with the drug being tested on them. They are all dead, but the regenerated brain tissue reanimates their corpses. Imagine the A.L.A.'s surprise when they broke in to free test animals and instead find a bunch of people being tested on. You can guess how the story goes from there."

"Well, I decided I can't be a part of what was going on any more. I made my plans to leave the next chance I could. That was when Nori's bus convoy showed up. I opened the emergency exit door grabbed the first person I could find when things were getting pretty hot. Nori and I hid in the woods for two days until the military checkpoint was overrun by the fleeing people and later the zombies. It was a mess."

"Yeah, Sarge gives me this gun. A P-14 he calls it. It can hold 14 bullets and has a bit of a kick. But Sarge has been teaching me how to use it. It was kind of an ugly black, so I decided to make look better. I was going to go to art school next year after I graduated. So I painted it pink and I thought a 'Hello Kitty' would look cute on the handle." Nori piped in.

"I, uh, had some things on my motorcycle." Brady started to offer.

"Oh, don't worry! I grabbed your shotgun and backpack. I even grabbed your helmet; you may need it when we meet zombies again." Noriko replied in her usual chipper voice.

"We're going to need to get you outfitted out here if you are going to survive." Sarge started saying, "First, you need tough close fitting clothes. If one of those things bites you, you will get sick and then be a zombie yourself. So leather is the clothing of choice. Gloves, boots, and a helmet with a closed face are also a requirement. You have a motorcycle helmet and your jacket is leather. The rest we'll get when we start back to town tomorrow. You have a shotgun, that's fine. But zombies can hear and they know shooting is the also the sound of food for them. So we'll need to find you a silent weapon. Can you use a sword?"

"Ok, we'll get you a bat." Sarge continued after Brady shook his head no.

"I used to take kendo, so I also carry my father's katana." Noriko pointed to a bundle that was all wrapped up in a blanket. "Oh yeah, we went back to the bus after everything. Well, I should say Ronnie...er, Sarge did. I couldn't go back. He brought me my sword and found some of my personal effects. That's when he found Cooper." Noriko pointed to the boy who impassively stared into the fire.

"Coop was locked in a car. Somehow he had survived all the carnage that had transpired at the checkpoint. But he was catatonic and covered with filth. I got him out. He wouldn't respond to my questions so I found the car's registration papers. It belonged to a Franklin Cooper. I returned to camp and Noriko and I cleaned him up. He's better than he used to be. He'll follow orders and will stay out of trouble, but hasn't said a word since I've retrieved him." Ronald offered.

Brady then told them his story of hiding out in the family cabin until the fire bombing. How he drove his bike down here and his experience with the dead soldier.

"Well, after you and Noriko finish the dishes you both will begin training." Ronald said. "Welcome to the army."

Brady laughed for the first time in over a week. He laughed so hard he started crying.

"What's wrong?" Nori asked.

"That was something my father always wanted me to do. I went to college so I could escape the military and it looks like it found me."

Nori and Ronald looked at each other. Ronald shrugged and walked off. Nori just put a pot of water on the fire.

After the dishes were done Ronald took Nori and Brady out to the edge of the woods. He had three M-16s leaning against a tree. There were several clips lying on the ground.

"Now your shotgun will be good at close range, but if you need to get one of those things from a distance you are going to have to learn how to use a rifle. This here is an M-16A2." The sergeant stated as he picked up the rifle. "This has four settings; safety, semi, burst, and automatic." Ronald showed them the selector on the side of the M-16. You will want to only use semi to allow it to fire as a semiautomatic weapon. In other words one shot for each time you squeeze the trigger. Burst and automatic will just be a waste of bullets on these guys. We need precision. The head is a tough target to begin with so stay on semi! Now this is not just the M-16A1 you see them use in the movies where you can spray bullets until you let off the trigger. On M-16A2 you also have the burst option which will allow to fire three bullets with one squeeze. But as I said only use semi!"

The sergeant began instructing them in the use and care of the M-16 and by noon they were already taking practice shots at some targets that the sergeant had carved in the trees. Brady was surprised how quickly he was able to recall his unused shooting skills after about fifteen minutes of practice. Ronald was impressed.

They broke for lunch. Ronald had prepared an MRE for each of them over the fire. They weren't the best tasting things in the world but after all that had transpired over the last couple of weeks they tasted like manna from heaven.

"There's a small town back that way," pointed Ronald, "which must have been evacuated. It is where Nori and I have gathered some supplies a few days ago. We'll start heading there tomorrow morning and get you some stuff. We don't stay in towns because they are the most dangerous places right now. We have bombers blowing everything to bits, zombies walking all over kingdom come, and some renegades that have taken advantage of the chaos to wreak their own havoc. It is total anarchy."

After lunch Ronald started instructing Nori and Brady in martial arts. Nori was quicker at learning self-defense than Brady was. But after a long day of working out they all enjoyed a good dinner. When the sun set, Ronald kicked out the fire.

"We can't alert our presence to anyone. Your best bet is to share body heat. The three of you sleep under these blankets. I'll take first watch. Nori you take second, and Brady you have third. If you see or hear anything, I mean anything, silently wake us up." With that the sergeant walked off into the darkness.

"Now don't you get any funny ideas," Noriko whispered, "I'm a good Catholic girl and there'll be no hanky panky unless we get married. I don't think we'll find any priests out here so we don't have to worry about that either." Nori chuckled as she slid under the blanket between Cooper and Brady. It wasn't long before all three were asleep. It was the best night of sleep Brady had in a very long time despite the hard ground and the cool night.

Posted by deg at 06:06 PM | Comments (0)

July 14, 2005

Terra Mortis

Chapter 5

By Dwayne MacInnes

Brady watched the sun rise in the west during his watch. Everything seemed so peaceful. There was a light fog hugging the ground that gave everything a slightly otherworldly feel. The birds were chirping away unaware of the changing world around them. Brady contemplated waking the others up, but decided that a few more minutes of sleep wouldn't hurt. He looked back at the camp and noticed that Nori was sitting cross legged with a book on her legs. Nori looked up and noticed Brady looking at her; she waved him over to sit next to her.

"Good morning." Nori greeted.

"Good morning. Watcha reading?"

"The Bible. Remember I'm a good Catholic, but with there being no more mass or churches, so much of the burden of my religious obligations fall upon me. I've been reading the 23rd Psalm. It's very comforting, especially seeing as how this could literally be called the valley of the shadow of death," smiled Nori.

"I've never read the Bible. My family wasn't very religious. The only time I've ever prayed was when I was in trouble. I feel that God has deserted us." Brady looked down at the ground fighting off another bout of sudden crying as he remembered his parents. "How long will it be before the pain subsides?" he thought to himself.

"Oh, no! He's still with us. Maybe this is one of those tests that Job went through. But think about it, you were pretty close to becoming zombie chow if Ronnie and I didn't find you."

"Ron, Sarge, Sergeant, Mr. Greene, but please not Ronnie," Ronald said behind them. Nearly scaring them both to death. "I see we are all up. Coop and I'll grab some wood. It'll be a little damp with the dew but I can still get something going. You two can make breakfast. Oh yeah, keep an eye, ear, and nose out, especially the nose in this fog. You can smell those ripe bastards miles away. If anything smells like real bad cabbage or brussells sprouts give out a yell."

With that Sarge and Coop disappeared into the green woods. Nori started rummaging through a pack and pulled out a bag of powder eggs and a water bottle. She then pulled out a small pan.

"We've got plenty of dry goods. So we'll have eggs again today. At first they taste a bit like rubber, but when you are hungry you'd probably eat a tire and think it was a gourmet meal," laughed Nori.

It was hard to be down for long around Nori's bubbly personality. Before long, there was a small fire going and breakfast was served. Brady did the dishes and Nori repacked the backpack. As usual Sarge kick out the fire and Cooper just stared at the dying embers before Sarge poured water on them. When they were fully doused out, Sarge distributed the supplies amongst the backpacks. Sarge, Nori, and Brady each grabbed an M-16.

"Well, let's get going," ordered Sarge as he shouldered a backpack. It was military pack that was much larger than Brady's school backpack. Nori had a framed hiking pack and Cooper carried a school pack much like Brady's. They all looked a little odd carrying their weapons and packs. Brady was amazed that Nori could carry her pack, an M-16, and her sword. Sarge led them down a dirt road that didn't seem to lead to anywhere.

It was about noon when the sounds of chopping cut through the air. It was helicopters and lots of them. Sarge waved them all into the underbrush.

"Keep your face down!" yelled Sarge, "They are more than likely looking for vehicles or large groups. But we shouldn't give them any chance to notice us."

The helicopters flew over head and continued on their way without noticing them. As the sound receded the small party crawled out from under the foliage and resumed walking on the road.

"Looked like some Cobras and Apaches," Brady said.

"That's pretty good. You seem to know something about military hardware," responded Ronald.

"Yeah, I know a little. But why didn't they nuke Seattle instead of fire bombing it? I mean one tactical nuke from an artillery unit would have been easier to do than sending God knows how many B-52s with incendiaries," continued Brady.

"You're probably too young to remember Mount Saint Helens' eruption in 1980. After that explosion, enough ash was thrown into the air that parts of western Montana had to close businesses and schools. There was even some ash falling further east. So you can guess why they didn't nuke it. Radiation doesn't know or care about borders."

"Do you think things will ever be back to normal?" asked Brady.

"I don't know, son, I don't know."

They took a small break and ate a quick lunch and then continued their march. Brady noticed that his feet were starting to kill him. His backpack straps and the M-16 sling were also starting to bite into his shoulders. The shotgun in his right hand was like carrying a lead weight. When Brady started limping and fell behind the party, Sarge called a halt.

"How's your feet, son?" asked Sarge.

"I think I've got some bad blisters on them." Brady responded.

"Same thing happed to me when I first met Sarge. I think he forgets that 17 year old girls are not veteran soldiers," Nori laughed.

"Well, you seem to be coming along anyway," Ronald smiled. "We'll camp here. You're no good if you can't walk."

Brady removed his tennis shoes to see that his sweaty socks were also stained with blood on the heels. Sarge removed Brady's socks and then poured some lukewarm water onto his aching feet. The water was quite refreshing. The sergeant then began wrapping a bandage around Brady's wounded feet.

Ronald looked up at the blood red sun burning through the smoke filled sky. There were some threatening clouds starting to form up.

"I better get a shelter set up over in those trees. Coop you stay with Brady. Nori you come with me and help out."

The Sarge then pulled a tarp out of his pack and gave it to Nori. After that he grabbed his large combat knife and started hacking at some branches on the evergreen trees. After stripping the smaller branches free of the bows Ronald started fashioning a lean-to over the tarp that Nori had laid onto the ground. The tarp was large enough that Ronald was able to pull the extra length of it over the sloping side. Nori then helped Sarge lash down the tarp. Ronald then covered the new roof with the small striplings he had cut off from the branches he had used for the frame of the structure.

It wasn't five minutes before everyone was in the new shelter when another Washington rainfall had started. It wasn't as heavy as the storm Brady drove through, but it was a steady rain. The four of them huddled under the blanket to keep warm. Brady had always liked the rain. It was what made the Pacific Northwest so green and beautiful. From the ferns that covered the ground to the tall pine trees that hovered over them. But now after being in it for hours Brady was starting to see why many people didn't like it. Even though they were all in a lean-to and under a blanket they were still a bit damp and that wasn't really all that comfortable.

"Why don't you have a leather outfit like Nori?" Brady asked sergeant Greene.

"Well, these fatigues are lined with Kevlar. It won't stop a mortar, but it'll stop a zombie bite. I could have tried to have found Nori an outfit and you for that matter, but I don't think you'd like to wear something straight off a dead man. Plus, trying to find something in Nori's size would be nearly impossible," Ronald replied.

"Hey, you found this helmet," Nori pointed to the police riot helmet on the ground next to her.

"Fortunately, those are adjustable," Ronald responded.

"Is that why you cut my hair?" Nori asked.

"Well, no. The last thing you want is to give a zombie something to grab onto. The shorter the hair the better."

"Great! You'd have us all shaved bald just so we'd look like you," giggled Nori.

Ronald laughed and pulled off his helmet and ran his hand over his bald head. "Really? I think it'll be all the rage."

The rain pelted the shelter all evening. Though the lean-to kept out most of the water some still got in. "Man, I don't think I've ever been so miserable," Brady complained to himself.

There were only the three of them in the shelter after Sarge went to take the first watch. It would be the same rotation as the previous night with Brady taking the last watch before dawn.

It was about 10:00 p.m. when the rain finally stopped. The wind rustled through the trees dripping droplets of rain water from the overhead branches onto the shelter. It was much like a dog shaking himself dry. It may have been sheer coincident, but at the moment a spine chilling howl split the night.

Nori, Brady, and even Cooper all shot straight up from their various states of sleep. They looked at each other showing on their faces an ancient fear none of them knew before. The first howl was then taken up by a second and then a third. "Oh God, they are close," thought Brady.

Nori was starting to scramble for her gun when Ronald skidded around the shelter. "Everyone up!" He whispered.

With Sarge's order, everyone went into action. Nori and Brady reached for their weapons. Coop ran over behind Sarge who himself was engaged in trying to start a fire.

"Damn wood is too wet," Ronald cursed. "Brady, give me your backpack."

Brady tossed over his pack without a second thought. Sergeant Greene started tearing through it. Another howl broke into the air not far behind the shelter. Nori had her pink pistol in hand. Brady had his shotgun at the ready. Another howl answered somewhere in the woods in front of the shelter.

"Damn things have us surrounded," muttered Sarge as he continued his work.

"We need light! I can't see a damn thing!" screamed Nori.

Brady was focused on the sounds emanating from the woods around them. He thought for sure he could hear snarling and panting. Unfortunately, he wouldn't be able to accurately shoot at anything until they were right on top of them. There was the sound of movement in the underbrush near Brady. Suddenly the sound of something charging at them came from the woods. Brady swung his shotgun in the direction of the noise knowing that if he fired into the darkness he'd be lucky to hit his target even with the shotgun. He started to squeeze the trigger of the Remington as the charging beast closed the gap.

Light bathed the area around them to reveal a huge shaggy black wolf running towards them. Brady adjusted his aim slightly and fired his gun at the beast just as it started to pounce. The wolf froze in mid air as the 12 gauge's projectiles canceled out the forward momentum of the wolf. As the huge beast fell dead to the ground Nori fired her pistol randomly into the woods. The rest of the pack retreated in quick order.

Ronald and Cooper stood near a small fire. "Thank God you had that lamp oil," smiled Sarge.

"Looks like those wolves had enough of us tonight," Nori added.

Brady stood there trying to catch his breath looking at the black shaggy beast. "Wait a minute," he thought.

"There are no wolves in this area!" Brady exclaimed aloud.

Sarge stooped over the carcass and ran his hand over the neck of the dead animal.

"Not wolves," he said as he pulled off a chain with a metal tag on it, "dogs that have gone feral."

Posted by deg at 08:28 AM | Comments (0)

July 20, 2005

Terra Mortis

Chapter 6

By Dwayne MacInnes

The next morning the party resumed its usual morning routine. Nori and Brady started preparing breakfast while Sarge and Cooper gathered some dry wood. The wood gathering took longer than usual because the rain last evening had everything pretty much soaked.

"I've been thinking a lot lately," Nori started in an unusually serious tone.

"Yeah?" Brady replied.

"If I'm attacked by one of those zombies..." she stopped a moment before she resumed her thought. "If I'm bitten I don't want to become one of them."

"Understandable," Brady replied before he caught on to where the conversation was going. "Wait a minute!" he exclaimed as it sunk in.

"No, please hear me out," Nori continued. "If I'm bitten I'll die. There's no known cure. Sarge has that in writing in that briefcase. So I'm asking...No, I'm begging you that if you are able please...uh." She stopped again fighting back the urge to cry.

"I can't do what you are asking, Nori. Please, don't ask me that," pleaded Brady.

"You have to. I can't. Killing myself is a grave sin. But I'll be dead for a while before I turn. That's when you do it. No, please listen to me. It's not murder! I'll be dead. I don't want to hurt you, Sarge, or Cooper. So I'm asking you to do it because I trust you with my life... and death."

Brady couldn't bring himself to answer verbally. He kept his eyes glued to the pan he was working on as he slowly nodded his ascension.

"Thank you," Nori said as she leaned over and kissed Brady on the cheek. Brady hardly noticed as the tears filled his eyes.

After Sarge and Cooper returned with some wood, the small group finished preparing breakfast. The meal was unusually quiet. Ronald noticed how Nori and Brady couldn't look at each other. Under different circumstances he'd have different ideas, but he knew what transpired. Even Cooper looked up at the two for a second. Concern quickly flashed across his face. Sarge noticed this too. "Well, maybe he's starting to come around," Sarge thought.

It was another two days before the small band finally reached the outskirts of the tiny town. Brady's feet were starting to heal, and he found that though he was still pretty sore, things were getting easier to carry. Nori didn't seem to have any problem at all keeping up with Sarge and Cooper followed along silently as usual. The trip would have normally taken only two days, but with Brady's unconditioned body and tender feet they all had to take a slower pace.

The town wasn't really so much a town. It contained fewer than a hundred buildings including residences. There was a sign at the town's entrance the name had been spray painted off with the words "Terra Mortis - Pop: Dead."

"I don't know how correct the Latin is, but I have a feeling that it is an appropriate name for this entire region," Sarge offered.

"So everyone has been evacuated?" Brady asked.

"Everyone the military could reach in the limited time they had available. Of course, you are living proof that more remote regions couldn't be reached in time. They even drove as much livestock as possible over the passes before closing them down," Ronald answered.

"There's an outfitting store down there. We'll get as much supplies as possible. Then we can head for that cabin of yours. It's pretty remote and should be hard to find by zombies, the military, and crazies. Maybe we can hang out there until things are calmer. I just hope that they'll start letting people across the barricaded passes again," Ronald continued.

The four travelers spread out as they entered town. No one said a word as Sarge led them down the main road. They cautiously walked along looking from building to building for any signs of trouble.

Sarge walked up to a large one story building with the words "Murphy's Outfitters and Sporting Goods" painted on the side. He glanced through the dirty windows into the dark interior. Ronald then motioned for the others to stay back and low. Brady, Noriko, and Cooper crouched down in the middle of the street. They all took a different direction to keep watch.

The sergeant opened the front door to the store and then disappeared into the darkened interior. Brady kept his ear tuned for any sound of a struggle. Though the sergeant had been gone only for about two minutes it seemed like an eternity as the small group waited anxiously outside. Eventually, Sarge reappeared and waved them into the building.

After they were all inside, Ronald shut the door. The only light in the place came from the windows. It was enough to see that the store had saddles, boots, fishing poles and other sporting goods throughout.

"Everything looks clean," whispered Sarge.

The Ranger then started looking over different clothing. Brady went over to the boots. He knew what he was supposed to look for. They had gone over the plan for the last couple of days on the way over here. It wasn't long before Brady was wearing leather pants, new boots, gloves, and had a framed backpack like Nori's.

"You look good," smiled Nori.

"Thanks," replied Brady, "Doesn't it get hot wearing this leather all day?"

"Sometimes, but the alternative is much worse. Hey, where's Sarge?" Nori asked.

No one had noticed that Ronald had left the room. Coop was still there looking over some paintings of cowboys on the wall. But the sergeant had silently slipped away while Brady was putting on his new clothes.

"I'm over here," Ronald reappeared from a back room carrying a .30-06 Savage Model 111F hunting rifle with scope and a PASGT helmet much like the one Ronald himself wore. "I think this helmet would be better than your motorcycle helmet." Ronald tossed Brady the helmet.

"Why don't we get Coop something to wear?" asked Brady as he adjusted the straps of the helmet to fit his head.

"There doesn't seem to be any leather outfits in his size. His denim jeans and jacket will work fine in a pinch. Plus, if things go wrong I want him to run. We can fight effectively, but he's too small. If it comes to it, we will fight to the last in order to buy him the time needed to run to a safer place," Sarge responded.

"I also thought we could use a weapon with a bit more range on it." Ronald changed the topic. "This rifle will be better for hunting than our M-16s. Here's a P-13 for you. It's like Nori's P-14, Para-Ordnance .45, but a little smaller and has a 13 round capacity." Ronald passed the black automatic pistol in holster and two full clips over to Brady. "There are a few other things I want to get. I'll gather everything up with Coop. You and Nori head over to the doctor's office and find some medical supplies."

Nori and Brady quickly located the doctor's office. It was a smaller white building with the words "Doctor Williams" written in the window. Fortunately, the door was unlocked so they didn't have to kick it in. Brady seriously doubted that he could have kicked it in anyway. He probably would have had to break a window.

As Nori and Brady entered, they noticed that the interior was a lot brighter than it was in the outfitters. The front office appeared to be in perfect order. It looked like the receptionist had just stepped out of the room.

"I've got the list of supplies that Sarge wants us to gather. I figure everything will probably be in the back." Nori said.

Brady nodded and leaned his shotgun against the receptionist's desk. They were going to have to use both hands for this work. Nori slung the M-16 over her shoulder and then led the way into the back.

The hallway was almost pitch-black. The only light came from a tiny round window down the end of the hallway. There four doors, two on each side of the hall.

The first was a bathroom and the one across from it was a supply closet. The next two down should be the examination room and Dr. Williams' actual office. They started down the hall towards the next two doors. "Man, this place is musty," thought Brady, "it stinks. They must have forgotten to empty the trash before they left. Yech!"

Nori opened the door to the examination room. Light bathed the room from the window next to the open cabinets. Everything was in disarray. There were cotton swabs and bandages strewn across the room.

"Looks like they had to hurry before they left and just threw everything they could into a suitcase or something," observed Nori.

"I hope they left us some things of value," Brady said as he started gathering some bandages and other medical supplies. He began throwing them into his backpack.

Nori started checking things off the list as Brady loaded them into the backpack. It was obvious that the prescriptions were not stored in the examination room. After they got everything they could, Nori started for Williams' office while Brady started closing up the backpack.

Brady had just shouldered the backpack when he heard Nori scream. Brady rushed out of the examination room. In the office across the hall Brady could see Nori struggling with a dark man shaped figure. They were crashing around in the cramped office. Brady watched as Nori's helmet was knocked off in the struggle. Her hands were caught in her assailant's strong grip. Brady could smell the man from where he was. It wasn't the trash! It was him.

Brady unconsciously ran towards the figure whose back was to him. "Damn it," thought Brady as he ran. "The zombies have made it here already."

Nori was doing all she could to avoid the slavering mouth. The fear in her eyes drove Brady to a madness he had never encountered. Brady jumped onto the attacker's back wrapping his arms around the thick neck.

A strong arm reached back and threw Brady off its back. Brady slammed into the hallway wall behind him. He just sat there stunned as the foul smelling creature smacked Nori's head against the desk knocking her unconscious. Her limbs went limp as she lay across the desk with the abomination stooping over her.

Everything slowed down as Brady fumbled for the pistol at his side. He had rudimentary training with Nori's gun over the last few days. But he wasn't sure if he could remember everything. He pulled the pistol out of its holster and thumbed the safety off as the beast lowered his head towards Nori's helpless body. Brady squeezed the trigger as he was instructed. The pistol barked in his hand slightly kicking. The bullet whizzed by the creature's head shattering the window across from him.

As the beast turned its head towards Brady the gun barked again. In the fraction of a second before the bullet shattered the zombie's face Brady saw blood dripping from the mouth of the creature. "No!" Brady's mind screamed, "Oh God, no!"

Brady scrambled up from the floor and ran into the office. It felt as if the bottom had dropped out of his stomach. This couldn't be happening. She's got to be OK. Brady stepped over the bleeding body and looked over Nori.

At first glance she seemed fine except for a nasty bleeding head wound. "Sarge can fix that," Brady thought. He continued searching her for wounds. As his left hand pulled down the collar of her jacket he saw it. At the base of her neck where it meets the shoulder were a set of bleeding teeth impressions.

"NO!" screamed Brady. Then he remembered his promise to Nori. Brady looked down at the still smoking pistol in his right hand. Brady started to cry as he lifted the automatic and put it against Nori's head. His finger started to squeeze the trigger.

"NO!" cried Brady as he flung the pistol into the open medicine cabinet behind the desk.

Brady leaned over Nori and took her in his arms and started sobbing uncontrollably as he rocked her back and forth.

Posted by deg at 07:33 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 03, 2005

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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August 11, 2005

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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August 24, 2005

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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September 01, 2005

Terra Mortis

Epilogue

By Dwayne MacInnes

It was now fall and the snow would soon be falling on the cabin. The small party had fallen into a routine. Though they had never been assaulted or discovered at the cabin they never let down their guard. Watches were rigorously maintained. The sergeant continued to train them in small arms and hand to hand combat. Brady and Sarge would sometimes go hunting for fresh meat.

It was still late spring when they reached the cabin in early June. So their first priority was to plant a small garden. They had a small yield, but the next year with a proper planting schedule and larger garden they hoped to increase that.

The food supply was still good. Sarge had brought a lot of canned goods for them to consume during the winter months. These were stored in the small root cellar amongst some preserves that Brady's mother always kept down there. They even found a small stash of Herbert West's fine imported wine.

The cabin was fortified having the lower story windows boarded up. Sarge suggested that they cut down the trees leading to and around the outhouse. This meant that the outhouse would be more visible from the cabin and therefore less dangerous to use. A small palisade was erected around the lawn and the outhouse. A watch tower was added to the roof of the cabin. It could be accessed only from inside the cabin. Fire wood was chopped and stored all summer for the wood burning stove that would heat the interior of the cabin and serve as their cooking appliance.

That Thanksgiving the small group had a lot to be thankful for. The table was full of game and their own grown vegetables. A good French wine was the drink of choice. A pumpkin pie was cooling for desert. Nori read from the book of Psalms.

"You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness; to the end that my glory may sing praise to you, and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever. Psalm 30:11-12. Amen," Nori concluded

The rest of the group raised their heads and began passing around dishes of food. The sound of laughter and clinking dishes resounded throughout the interior of the cabin as snow started to softly drift down from the skies.

Posted by deg at 09:05 PM | Comments (2)

September 14, 2005

The Highest Court

By Dwayne MacInnes

"Mr. Davis?" a soft voice called, "Mr. Davis, are you ready?"

John looked around as he jolted awake. He didn't know when he fell asleep and was greatly disoriented. He found himself sitting on a white bench in a long white hallway that was filled with a pure white light. There were others on the bench with him. An old woman was sleeping to his right and a young soldier sleeping to his left. In fact, everyone sharing the bench was asleep except for him.

"Ah, Mr. Davis welcome," a rather good-looking man dressed in a white business suit with matching tie and leather shoes and holding a folder smiled at him.

"Where...where am I?" John asked as he took in his surroundings again.

"Hmmm, of course. What is the last thing you remember?" asked the man in white.

"I believe I was getting ready for work. Yes, that's it!" John said as the memories flooded back. "I remember my chest was hurting so I was trying to put on my pants before I called 911. Then...well, I guess I blanked out. Is this the hospital?"

"Oh, no," chuckled the man. "You are quite dead. Remember the near death stories you heard about with the light at the end of the tunnel?"

"Yes, so this is the light, huh?"

"Not quite. But we'll try to get you there."

"So you're an angel?"

"Well, sort of. I'm sorry, I've totally forgot to introduce myself. I'm the Advocate. In fact, right now I'm your advocate and we have to prepare your case. But please call me Lou," smiled the advocate as he shook the astonished Davis's hand.

"Now if you will follow me," Lou said as he led the way down the hall towards an office on one side. Their footsteps echoed down the seemingly endless hall.

The two men then entered the white office with the same radiance as found in the hallway. There was a white desk and two white office chairs. A leather executive chair was behind the desk and a plain white chair was in front of it. Lou offered the plain chair to John who sat down before the advocate seated himself on the other side of the desk.

"OK, let's get down to work," smiled the advocate. He then proceeded to open the file and looked over the contents. Lou then took out a form and pen out of the desk drawer and placed it on top of the desk next to the file. He then began to fill in some lines. John tried to see what he was writing but was unable to make out the script.

"It says here you were a politician. That's a tough road."

"Yeah, it was. A lot of hard hours and a big work load everyday," John said as he began to smile.

"Sorry, I meant it must have been hard to be faithful to your job and to Him," Lou replied.

"Oh, yeah," chuckled John. "But you'll notice that my party fought to uphold His word. I'm proud to be a Christian."

The advocate then scribbled something down as he nodded, "Yes, that's very good. But political affiliations aren't worth much up here. Though the being a Christian will definitely help out.

"You went to church every week and you read your Bible and prayed everyday. That's good," Lou commented as he continued to scribble on the form never taking his eyes off his work.

John smiled with pride. It looked like he'd back the right horse after all. Not just in believing but in following his convictions.

"Uh-oh," Lou looked up from the files and glared at John. "It says here you had an affair on your wife."

John turned red, cleared his throat and smiled sheepishly. He never thought about this end of it when he was cheating on his wife, but he did get caught on Earth so it was only bound to be found out up here.

"I...uh, I did repent," John finally said.

"Good, good," Lou smiled and scribbled something on the form.

The advocate then began to rifle through the papers in the file looking for something. It took only a moment for him to locate it then he sat it in front of it.

"Ah, here it is. This is where I meant it was a tough road being a politician. It says here you rallied support for a war."

"Yes, of course. We were trying to free those people that were being oppressed by their leader. It was a hard fought road and many of our troops paid the ultimate sacrifice, but it was worth it. I would like to shake every soldier's hand for their work."

"Quite," smiled Lou as scribbled some more on the form. "It can be arranged, but please there is no need for grand speeches here. We just need to prepare your case."

"Sorry, force of habit," John replied.

"I see you also have some interesting legislation that you proposed and passed."

"Uh-huh, you'll notice that I helped reduce the tax burden and I cut Welfare spending in half. So that the money went back to the people who earned it therefore they could lead a better life."

Lou wrote on the form again and smiled. "I think we have enough here. Let's meet the judge."

Lou gathered the form and files and then shoved them into a white briefcase that he pulled out from under the desk. He snapped the clasps and stood up.

John stood up and followed the advocate out of the office. They went down the hallway again. The footsteps again resonating with the click-clack of four feet walking down the long hall. Lou led them to a set of white double doors on the side of the wall.

The advocate stopped a moment and adjusted his tie. He smiled and winked at John. John now became self conscious of what he was wearing. He had on the pants that he was struggling to put on before he died and a t-shirt. Davis frowned at Lou and motioned towards his clothes.

"Don't worry He doesn't care how you are dressed. Trust me most come in with a lot less on. But please, we have to hurry," Lou soothingly said as he ushered John into the large courtroom.

There weren't any pews, but everything was the same bright white that everything else was up here. Very monochromatic John noticed. There was a large desk at the end of the room. Lou showed John to one of the two chairs behind a smaller table that was situated in front of the judge's desk.

Behind the desk was an olive skinned man. He had short hair with long forelocks, a beard and a large nose. His face showed the years of one who had lived outside and traveled a long road. But his eyes were different. They were a soft brown with a compassionate look. Their penetrating gaze seemed to strip away a person and get at their core.

"Rabbi Immanuel," Lou began. "This is Mr. John Davis recently deceased. We are here to gain admittance."

John was momentarily taken aback that his judge was a Jew, a Rabbi and not to mention a man of Middle Eastern descent.

"Please, Mr. Davis. Your reaction shows your true heart," the judge said with a soft but stern voice. "Yes, I am a Jew and a Rabbi. I was born in the Middle East, but in what is now Israel. Some call me Immanuel, you know me as Jesus."

John looked ashamed. He knew that Jesus was a Rabbi and Jew. It was that he didn't look at all like how the pictures portrayed him. There was no long flowing hair, pale skin, or blue eyes.

"Mr. Advocate you may begin your case," Jesus said.

"Yes, sir. My client is a devout Christian which is what has guided his path in life. Mr. Davis devotedly went to church, prayed, read the Bible and tried to defend the word. He also through the power of his political career tried to help out his fellow man by easing their burden and freeing them from tyranny. These are only some of the great things he did on Earth. The rest you know.

"You will note that my client did have an affair on his wife. But he did repent his actions and asks for forgiveness. In my eyes, this is the only major stain on my client's good record.

"We formally request that Mr. John Richard Davis be allowed to be with the Father. Thank you," with that Lou sat down.

"Mr. Davis, please rise," Jesus motioned toward John.

John stood up behind the table and looked up at his Lord. He was nervous, a feeling he hadn't felt for years on Earth. He'd always been in control down there, here he felt like a third grader being quizzed by his teacher in front of the class.

"Your advocate laid out a pretty convincing case. But there are some discrepancies that we need to address.

"You are a professed Christian and you did read of my works and know of my ways. You did give donations every week and you did send money to charities. But your practice was only superficial.

"You rarely tithed. You had plenty of money, but you even held some of it back from God. Even your work showed that you chose money to be your true master.

"Yes, you gave tax breaks to help others, but those others you were helping were the wealthy. The poor remained poor and their lots were not improved by your legislation. As for the Welfare cuts you hurt more people than you helped.

"No, no, Mr. Davis, please don't interrupt," the Rabbi forestalled John's protest.

"I know you thought that most of the people on welfare, and unemployment for that matter, were lazy or taking advantage of the system. That, my sir, is not for you to judge. They too will be in front of me, but the fact of the matter is that those who desperately needed the help were denied and turned away.

"You also used your elected position to favor war. You know my stance on war. Now, I don't expect people to let genocide wipe out another race. But, I do expect those who take up my name to think three times before going to war. One of the reasons given for this war was to free the people, but that was after other reasons were given and found to be untrue. This was not a just war.

"As for your affair, you said you repented and asked for forgiveness. That is denied."

John gasped and protested, "But, but you said if one asked for forgiveness it would be given."

"That is true, but here is my reason. You repented getting caught, not the fact you cheated on your wife. If your transgression wasn't discovered you would have continued with it. True repentance is from the heart and there in lies my forgiveness. Thus in this case, it is denied.

"Mr. Davis you are not an evil man, but you are unfortunately a hypocrite and as a true follower you are held to a higher degree. You must live and follow my ways. Many people have tried and failed like you have. The road as you know is not easy.

"Yes, the Bible is confusing on some points and contradictory in others, but one thing remains the same throughout, my word. Love thy neighbor. It is easy to remember.

"All I asked was that you follow the commandments and try to help your fellow human beings out. Lessen the misery of the less fortunate and spread your wealth amongst all. This is the love of our Father.

"So it is with much regret Mr. Davis but your petition is denied. Lucifer, you may take this man."

Jesus stood up and exited out of the back of the courtroom.

John stood there with his jaw agape. He slowly turned to his advocate and looked at him hard.

"Yes, yes, I know. Where are the horns and tail? Well, to be honest there aren't any. It was just a little invention by your medieval artists to scare people. The beast and all that ... you know."

Lucifer turned John toward the entrance out of the courtroom.

"Now, hell isn't fire and brimstone you know. But unfortunately it is the absence of Him. To be truly alone with yourself I don't wish on any man."

"I know your next question too. I am just doing a job here. For the Father to find out those who truly love and accept him, he had to introduce free choice and that means 'good and evil'. Now, we angels, yes even a so called 'fallen' one like myself, have no choice in worshipping Him. We know Him and what He has done. Plus, I have read Revelations. No one can beat Him.

"But you humans are his pride and joy; He wants you to turn toward him by choice. That is the test of true love and devotion."

The two continued to walk down the hallway as Lucifer continued to talk to John as he led him towards another door. This one black.

Posted by deg at 10:28 PM | Comments (1)

September 22, 2005

Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Chapter 1

By Dwayne MacInnes

The snow lightly floated down from the heavens as Carl Rogers hiked his way down the pine-forested mountainside. Although he was an accomplished outdoorsman, he had rarely climbed as high as he had in the last few days. Finally, he was working his way back down the other side of the Cascades. The cold air bit at his cheeks and the crunching of the snow was the only noise he could hear. His frosty breath came in even puffs as if he was some old steam engine chugging its way over a mountain pass.

"If only I could have used a mountain pass," thought Carl. "This would have been a lot easier."

Nevertheless, the mountain passes across the Cascades had been shut down since the incident last summer at the Marysville ColTech pharmaceuticals plant. Soldiers now staff every possible means of passing over the mountains with the orders to kill whatever tries to pass over them. Minefields had also been laid out and the passes had been further reinforced by connecting barbed-wire and concrete barriers. Not since the Maginot line has there been a continuous string of fortifications stretching across land to barricade the rest of humanity from the threat on the other side.

Therefore, Carl had to take a more indirect and almost impossible route to get over the Cascades. Fortunately, he was familiar with the weather conditions of the Cascade Mountains. Like all mountains, the Cascade's weather was unpredictable at best. A clear summer day could suddenly transform itself into a thunder or snowstorm. The inverse was true as well. Even now during the middle of December with the temperature below freezing on the eastern slope of the Cascades a Chinook wind could swiftly swarm in and warm the air over 70 degrees.

Carl had been making his trek over the mountains for several days now. It was imperative that he get over the mountains unnoticed or he would be shot. It was hard to believe that the hardest part was behind him and yet the most dangerous in front. An odd paradox when one analyzes it, and analyze it Carl had done numerous times over the last few days.

"What's an old man like me doing out here anyway," Carl continued his inner dialogue. "It's cold and I'm hungry and I'm supposed be to be retired and done dealing with this crap!"

Carl was fifty-five years old and a retired FBI agent. He still had contacts and that did give him a certain benefit that the average American didn't have. The average American didn't know about the Marysville incident as it was called. These weren't diseased people running around out there; they were in fact the dead. They are walking dead, or zombies as those in the know are calling them. One bite and a human being is infected. There is no cure and the only way of killing one of these undead was to destroy the brain.

Carl stopped and kneeled down to make sure that his .38 snub-nosed revolver was still holstered on his right calf. Even though he carried a hunting rifle over his shoulder, the feel of the pistol strapped to his leg always comforted him. Maybe it was from the thirty odd years in the service with the bureau that made him feel naked without carrying it. It was the only constant partner he had over the years and none were more trustworthy.

Carl looked up at the sun, and it was starting to set behind the trees to the west. He stood back up, readjusted his straps on the backpack, and started to continue his trek. It wouldn't be much longer before the light was gone. He would need to find a clearing if he wanted to sleep in a tent otherwise he would be sleeping under the stars again.

The thought of waking up under a blanket of snow again wasn't an appealing one for Carl. He never cared much for winter camping even though he did relish the challenge of pitting himself against nature. It was just that freezing one's ass off wasn't his idea of fun. But then again he wasn't out here for fun.

Carl was just resigning himself to the idea of breaking out the sleeping bag and finding some form of natural shelter when he saw it in the fading light of dusk.

A small tendril of smoke was snaking its way heavenward behind a line of trees. That meant humans, living humans. Now was the moment of truth. Would they be friendly or hostile? "Only one way to find out," Carl reckoned.

Carl started to walk quietly towards the smoke. "I hope that they are friendly and won't shoot me," Carl inwardly prayed.

The sun was nearly gone when Carl broke out from the trees into the clearing. In his quick survey, he noticed that the smoke came from a lone white Ranger's cabin in the mountains. There was a green army two-ton truck and a yellow school bus parked outside. But what finally made Carl expose himself to the potential of being shot were the two smiling snowmen outside the building.

Light spilled out of the curtained windows of the log one-story building. Carl couldn't see inside, so he approached the door and knocked. As he rapped on the door, the lights suddenly went out and muffled voices could be heard on the other side of the door.

After a couple of minutes, the door opened up and a flashlight blinded Carl as it was shone into his face.

"What do you want?" growled an unfriendly voice.

"Ah, George, don't be so rude. He obviously means no harm or he wouldn't have knocked, eh?" a man's voice with a Yiddish accent responded from deeper inside the cabin.

Under the hand that he was using to shield his eyes, Carl noticed that a rifle was pointed at him.

"I was just looking for some shelter. I don't relish the idea of spending another night in the cold. But if you want I'll move on," Carl responded.

"Put the gun down George. The man only seeks shelter and we can surely offer that to another human being. There certainly aren't that many of us left on this side of the mountain," another voice added.

Carl smiled. He had finally made it and had contact with some friendly people on the west side of the Cascades.

Posted by deg at 07:15 AM | Comments (2)

September 29, 2005

Terra Mortis II

Chapter 2

By Dwayne MacInnes

Master Sergeant Ronald Douglas Greene had been walking in the woods alone for two days now. He had told the others that he needed to go hunting. Though Nori begged to go along. She wanted to learn, but Ronald said no. Brady wasn't fooled. There was plenty of game meat stored up and most of the deer had already moved to a lower elevation in order to forage for better food. But Brady never said anything; Ronald knew that Brady had suspected the real reason.

Ronald was a tall large man. There wasn't an ounce of fat to be found on his toned muscled body. He was even once asked to play on the Army football team, but Ronald turned it down. He didn't join the army to play ball. Even now in his forties, he could easily have been mistaken for an NFL linebacker.

The black sergeant looked a little odd traipsing through the woods dressed in his battle dress uniform with a large black down coat over it all. When he was deployed to staff one of the checkpoints out of Seattle during the outbreak, it was late spring going on summer. Now it was full winter and fortunately, Brady had found one of his grandfather's winter coats that fit Ronald.

Ronald found a relatively dry spot under one of the pine trees and sat down on the reddish brown needles. The landscape was white with the green bows of the trees poking out from under their blanket of snow.

The sergeant then pulled out his wallet and opened it. He stared at the picture of a beautiful black woman and a teenage girl. They were his family. Dora was his high school sweetheart and later wife. They had a daughter Julie, age fourteen. Even now looking at the picture it was easy to see how people mistook his wife for his daughter's older sister. This, of course, embarrassed his daughter to no end. It had been three years today, a week before Christmas, that they were both killed by a drunk driver.

The pain never left, but he could suppress it most of the time. However when the anniversary of their demise approached he would feel the full brunt of their loss. Sergeant Greene's eyes started to tear up. The picture's image started to get blurry as the tears began to build in his eyes. It wouldn't be long before the tear drops started to run down his cheeks and freeze somewhere on the trip down. That is when he heard the chopper.

The sergeant jumped up and shoved his wallet back into his pocket. The helicopter was flying very low and the engines sounded wrong. He could hear the turbines sputtering erratically as he scanned the sky for the chopper.

Ronald saw the stricken helicopter just before it descended behind some trees. There was the sound of breaking branches and screeching metal as the AH-64 Apache crashed out of sight of the sergeant's view. Smoke soon began rising into the air marking the downed chopper's position.

Sergeant Greene was snapped out of his pensive mood and instinctively jumped into action. Ronald nimbly ran between the trees toward the telltale signs of the helicopter's location. His first concern was to get to those crewmembers before they either burned or froze to death if they survived the impact.

It was only fifteen minutes before Sergeant Greene had weaved his way through the trees to find the twisted remains of the Apache laying slightly tilted against a tree among splintered and shattered braches. The rotors were twisted and broken from smashing into the surrounding tree trunks. Smoke was still billowing from the engines and drifting skyward. There was no fire evident so Ronald moved towards the cockpit. The canopy was cracked in several areas but appeared to be intact. The two bodies inside were both slumped forward against their safety belts.

Ronald ran up to the cockpit and searched for a release the handle. As Ronald was looking for the handle, the pilot regained consciousness and opened the canopy. Ronald was caught off guard and jumped back as the canopy opened. The pilot was visibly shaken and slowly stumbled out of the helicopter.

Ronald rushed to the man. The pilot began taking off his helmet. The sergeant helped him to the ground and assisted him in removing his headgear. Then Ronald ran over to the still unmoving gunner. Ronald felt for his pulse and found that it was still strong.

Ronald began unstrapping the gunner from his restraining belts. The pilot approached having regained most of his composure and helped Ronald lift the gunner out of the cockpit. They then laid the man out on the ground and Sergeant Greene began assessing the man�s condition.

"Thank God, it's only a broken tibia," Ronald finally said.

The pilot sat down next to the gunner and looked up to Ronald.

"I'm LT. William Jones," the pilot introduced himself. "This is my gunner Chief Warrant Officer Gregory Smith."

"Master Sergeant Ronald Greene, Army Rangers," Ronald responded.

"What are the Rangers doing sending ground troops into the quarantined area?" the pilot asked. "Once you are on this side you are here for keeps."

Posted by deg at 08:50 AM | Comments (1)

October 05, 2005

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.

Posted by deg at 09:26 PM | Comments (3)

October 12, 2005

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.

Posted by deg at 06:12 PM | Comments (1)

October 19, 2005

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."

Posted by deg at 06:48 PM | Comments (2)

October 26, 2005

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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October 30, 2005

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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November 02, 2005

Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Chapter 7

By Dwayne MacInnes

As Sergeant Greene led the lieutenant towards the door, he looked over at the gunner still sitting on the couch and staring at the floor.

"You can come along or you can stay. The choice is yours," Greene said.

"Sergeant, do what you have to. I won�t be a problem," answered Smith without taking his eyes from the floor.

With that, Ronald and William exited the cabin into the blowing snow.

Brady left Nori�s room and walked down the stairs. He looked over at Coop and Smith and saw them both sitting in silence. Neither the boy nor the gunner looked up as Brady walked into the room.

"Where�s Sarge?" Brady inquired.

"He took the pilot outside," Coop answered.

"I think he�s going to execute Bill. I wish I could be the one to pull the trigger myself," added Smith.

"We have to stop him," Nori said from the top of the balcony.

No one had heard her leave her room and walk onto the balcony. They all jumped when they heard her voice come down from above.

"I�ll grab my stuff and go after them," offered Brady.

"I�m coming along," Nori said.

"I don�t think..." Brady started to say before Nori cut him off.

"I�m sick and tired of you guys never letting me go along. I�m sick and tired of always being attacked by psychos. I�m not going to take it anymore got it!" Nori declared.

Then Nori returned to her room slamming the door behind her. Brady stared at the closed door for a couple of minutes before he started gathering some things into his backpack.

"Coop, think you�ll be alright here with Smith?" Brady asked.

"Yes," Cooper said immediately.

Brady was about done getting everything packed when Nori walked down the stairs. She was wearing her usual black leather jacket, pants, and boots. Sitting upon her head there was a riot helmet with faceplate with the words POLICE painted on the front. She had woolen glove liners stuffed into her normal leather gloves. On her back was strapped her katana. An M-16A2 was slung over her right shoulder. Around her slim waist was buckled an army web military belt that holstered a Hello Kittypink .45 P-14 with a Hello Kitty head on the grip.

Brady tossed her a green down winter jacket that once belonged to his mother and a framed backpack loaded with supplies they may need. Brady dressed himself in a similar leather outfit like Nori, but on his head was an olive drab green PSGAT helmet that he fitted over a stocking cap. He had a .45 P-13 on his hip and his grandfather's 12-guage Remington shotgun slung over his right shoulder. On his framed backpack was lashed a wooden Louisville slugger baseball bat. Brady wore his dark blue down winter jacket to protect him from the elements.

"We hopefully should not be too long," Brady said as he and Nori stepped out into the freezing morning wind.

"Be careful," called out Smith before Brady shut the door after Nori.

Brady could see that the snowfall was getting heavier and the wind was starting to pick up. As the cold bit into his exposed flesh, he remembered why he hated the snow. Being from Seattle, he could handle rain, but the snow and cold was something else, especially the damn wind.

Brady picked out Jones and Sarge�s tracks in the snow. Fortunately, the wind and snow hadn�t erased their trail yet. He prayed that Nori and he could find them relatively soon or things could get difficult.

"Stop right there," hissed the sergeant through clenched teeth.

Lieutenant Jones stopped where he was in the woods. He could tell from the sun burning through the overcast sky that it was still before noon. Jones was dressed only in his flight suit and the cold was blowing right through his core.

"Well, at least I won�t freeze to death. I just hope it�s a headshot," thought Jones as the sergeant began to take off the small daypack on his back.

"I am not going to kill you as you deserve," hissed the sergeant.

Lieutenant Jones just stood there dumbfounded. He didn�t know whether to be relieved or upset. On one hand, he wasn�t going to be killed by the sergeant. However, it was obvious that he couldn�t last for long in the elements. Jones looked up at the evergreen treetops to see the snow was starting to fall harder and the wind was even starting pick up.

"I�ve got you some things to help you survive. If you head east, you can try to cross the mountains and see if you can get back over the border. If you head west and I meet you again I will kill you," said Ronald. "Inside this backpack are also your knife and your pistol, dismantled, and one bullet. You can decide how you want to use it."

Greene then threw the pack into some brush past where Jones stood shivering. William didn�t waste any time scrambling over to the brush and retrieving the pack. Jones then turned around and noticed that the sergeant had disappeared. Their tracks were also rapidly disappearing.

Brady was rapidly losing hope that they could find the sergeant and the lieutenant as the tracks were filling in with snow. Any attempt to turn back was foiled by Nori. She made it quite obvious that she would continue with or without Brady. Brady knew if he left her alone, he was condemning her to certain death.

The snow was up to Brady�s mid-calves that was almost up to Nori�s knees. Nori was starting to stumble as she was getting more and more exhausted. The snowstorm quickly transformed itself into a blizzard. Visibility was practically nothing.

Brady went over to Nori and started to assist her along. As they resumed their trek, Brady noticed that all trace of Ronald�s and William�s tracks were gone. Then Brady turned around and noticed that their tracks were also quickly vanishing. Brady finally convinced Nori that they needed to turn around and start to head back to the cabin. If they were lucky, they would find it before it was too late.

Nori was too exhausted to protest. She just followed where Brady led. She had to lift the faceplate on her riot helmet after they left the cabin as it instantly frosted up from her breath. The snow and wind bit directly into her face. Her own tears were even starting to freeze on her cheeks. The feeling in Nori�s fingers and toes were now gone, making it even more difficult for her to move. She was starting to shiver more and more and her movements became more sluggish.

Brady had lost the trail. The snow had completely erased all signs of their tracks. With the wind howling in his ears, the snow plastering his face, and having to practically carry Nori; Brady could only hope that they were heading in the correct direction. Every once in a while he would stop and rub his and Nori�s hands to get the circulation going.

Nori just wanted to sleep. Many times, she thought that she was sleeping as she saw imaginary images flash before her eyes. Once she thought she saw Father Henderson ahead of her.

"Hi, Father what are you doing out here?" Nori asked the apparition.

Fear colder than the weather ran through Brady�s heart as Nori carried on her random and irrational ramblings. Hypothermia was quickly claiming the girl. Brady�s grandfather warned him about the signs of hypothermia and how to treat it. However, it wouldn�t be much longer before she would succumb. Brady needed to find shelter and fast.

The snow was now up to Brady�s knees and Nori�s waist. Hope and time were quickly running out for Brady. He was now completely lost and Nori was slipping even faster away from him. Brady had very little winter experience on the mountain. The closest he�d even be out here in winter was in the fall hunting with his grandfather.

Brady continued trudging his way praying all along. It would take a miracle for them to get out of this one. Nori was rambling less; it wouldn�t be long before unconsciousness set in. Brady was tired and set Nori down, and then he plunked himself next to her and rested his back against a small tree. The wind blew even harder and the snow continued to obscure his vision. Sleepiness brought on by the cold and exhaustion started to consume Brady.

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November 09, 2005

Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Chapter 8

By Dwayne MacInnes

Brady was starting to nod off when he jerked his head back to fight off sleep. His helmet hit the back of the tree and was knocked off his head. Brady picked up his helmet and noticed that his back was against a flat surface. As the thought that trees are usually round slowly registered in Brady�s sluggish brain, Brady came completely to his senses. He jumped to his feet and looked at his "tree". It wasn�t a tree at all, but instead a leg to an old Ranger fire lookout.

Brady could see the steps of the stairs rising up in front of him. He knew that he could not possibly carry both himself and Nori up the 20-foot tall edifice. Brady pulled off his backpack and fished around until he found some rope. He tied one end of the rope under Nori's arms. With that accomplished, Brady put his backpack over his shoulders and started to ascend the stairs as quickly as his frozen limbs could carry him. Every time he passed a support beam, he would have to pass the rope along the outside of the beam in order to keep the rope on the outside of edge of the tower.

Time was now the only factor that mattered to Brady. The climb up the tower seemed to take forever. Only the thought of Nori quickly dying kept Brady going. Sweat was starting to pour out of Brady. He would have to be quick or the sweat itself would freeze and kill him just as sure as the hypothermia was killing Nori.

At last, Brady reached the platform that housed the lookout building itself. Then Brady started to haul Nori�s semiconscious form up the side of the tower. He pulled the rope hand over hand as quickly as he could. Brady�s arms were burning from the exertion, but he had to keep at it or lose Nori if it wasn�t already too late.

Brady saw Nori�s slumping head poke itself up over the edge. Brady tied off the rope, grabbed Nori under her arms, and dragged her up onto the platform. Brady quickly assessed Nori�s condition. She was barely conscious; her ramblings were becoming more infrequent. A quick search of the platform revealed that they were just outside the door to the square house. The door was locked and refused to budge. It looked to be a deadbolt.

Fear and hopelessness started to consume Brady. In an explosive burst of anger, Brady tried to kick-in the door. The door shot open in a shower of wood splinters. The interior was completely dark. The shutters had been lowered over windows for winter.

Brady dragged Nori into the interior of the building. Just getting out of the wind was a great relief. Brady pulled out his compact sleeping bag and unrolled it. He then took off Nori�s gear and stuffed her into the sleeping bag. She would need to get some sugar and heat or she would die.

Brady pulled out a candle from his backpack and lit it. The candlelight lit up the interior. There was a table in the center of the 14x14 foot room, a couple of wooden chairs and very little else. Brady shut the door and pulled a chair in front of it to keep it closed. The interior was barely warmer than the outside temperature, but they were out of the wind and therefore they were warmer.

Brady rummaged through his backpack looking for some sort of candy. He doubted he had any seeing as to how that was a pretty rare commodity. Cans of food were being stacked on the table next to the candle as Brady searched his backpack for any kind of candy. One can rolled over the edge and onto the floor. Brady picked it up and noticed that it was a can of Bartlett pears.

Brady pulled out his Swiss Army knife and opened the can. He poured the sugary liquid into a metal cup from his mess kit. After heating it over the candle, Brady ran over to Nori and started to pour the warm liquid down her throat. Brady prayed that she wouldn�t try to inhale while he was pouring the liquid. Nori instinctively swallowed the fluid without mishap.

Brady then emptied the rest of the contents of the can into his mess kit and grabbed the candle off the table. Brady placed the can next to the sleeping bag and carefully inserted the candle. Brady was hoping that the slight heat from the candle would warm up the can and help warm the interior of the lookout station. The can would also help keep the candle from burning down the wooden structure.

With the first stage accomplished, Brady had to work on warming up the uncontrollably shivering Nori. Brady stripped off Nori�s clothes. He looked over her hands and feet for signs of frostbite. Other than being slightly red, they appeared to be fine. Brady started to rub them briskly to return their circulation. Then Brady stripped himself down and climbed into the sleeping bag with Nori. Her skin was literally as cold as ice as Brady�s bare skin came in contact with hers.

"God, she�s going to kill me in the morning," thought Brady.

Brady started to vigorously rub Nori to warm her up. After five minutes of rubbing to get the circulation flowing, Brady stopped from pure exhaustion. He laid himself back down and let the sleep he staved off finally take him completely.

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November 23, 2005

Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Chapter 9

By Dwayne MacInnes

Food at the Ranger�s cabin was starting to run short. Carl, being the only person with any wilderness skills, decided that he should try to find something to eat. The chances of finding deer, bear, or even a squirrel this late in the season and this high up was very remote, but he had to try.

Ten people back at the station were counting on him. The Ranger cabin itself was more like a one bedroom house. There was a bathroom, living room, dining room and kitchen along with the solitary bedroom. Fortunately, the cabin had a wood burning stove, or there would be no source of heat.

Carl figured that the Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks were the only ones who used the station seasonally, more than likely during the summer months. The small building was sparsely furnished. There was a couch, a twin bed, a kitchen table with four chairs, as well as a small desk containing some maps and writing material.

The story of its occupants is interesting to say the least. It turns out that Rabbi Rosenberg and Pastor Brown were on their way to an interfaith conference in Seattle when things started to fall apart. The Rabbi and Pastor were old friends and had decided to carpool from Spokane to the Hilton Hotel holding the meeting in the big city. They only made it to the outskirts of town when the military roadblocks were set up. The army set them away.

The two men of faith decided that they were needed here to help those poor souls trapped in the city. They thought that if they found a remote location and laid low for a while they could sneak in at some future date. That was how they missed the general evacuation.

It turns out that they were in a campground when the word was given. The five days that they spent there was enough for the military to clear out the majority of the populace and retreat back over the Cascades.

When Rosenberg and Brown returned to the roadblock, they were met with a grisly scene. There were the burnt out hulks of vehicles that still held the smoldering remains of their occupants. People who weren�t killed by incineration were littering the grounds around the roadblock. Some were obviously shot, others were crushed from the stampeding mass of humanity fleeing the cities, and yet others had been butchered as if they had been sheep descended upon by ravenous wolves.

The smell was horrific; the stench of burnt human flesh mixed with that of decay permeated the air. Both men had terrible fits of gagging. However, they decided that they needed to see if there was anyone alive. They cautiously approached the concrete barricades that still had a few military vehicles behind it. There was the occasional dead soldier, but there was no sign of life on this end of the barricade.

The two men started to climb over the concrete slabs, slabs that were in another time the barriers between the opposing lanes of traffic, when they saw them. There on the ground mingled in with the human and mechanical wreckage were the zombies and they were feasting. The sound of these ghouls shredding and tearing apart their victims and hungrily chewing the flesh was too much for the two men. They quickly retreated to their car and sped out of there.

Neither man spoke for a long while. They were nearly out of gas in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere. Pastor Brown decided that they should try to find a gas station in one of the small towns.

That was where they met the rest of the party. Brown had pulled the sputtering car into the station just before the last drop of gas was consumed. In the lot were parked an army two-ton truck and a school bus. The two men cautiously exited the car when they noticed a man in his late thirties wearing a dirty ball cap and greasy clothes come marching over to them. The name badge on his shirt said George.

This was George MacLaren, the owner of the MacLaren�s Gas and Garage. The two-pump gas station was on the outskirts of a little town that had been evacuated several days before. George was a small business owner and wasn�t about to leave his shop to the hands of looters and vandals. Therefore, despite military orders George stayed behind, he even promised several of his neighbors that he would watch over their homes until they could return. Little did anyone know that no one would be able to return to this dead zone in western Washington ever.

At first, George just looked over the two men of God curiously. The Pastor and Rabbi forgot that they were still dressed in their holy garments. It was like some bad bar joke come to life.

Pastor Brown initiated the conversation.

"Hello, I am John Brown and this is my good friend Rabbi Hershel Rosenberg," greeted the Pastor as he extended his hand.

George hesitantly extended his own grime-covered hand and started to pump Brown�s in a friendly handshake.

"George MacLaren, owner of this garage. How may I help you gentlemen?" asked the stoic faced MacLaren.

"It seems that we have had the misfortune of running out of gas. Do you happen to have any we could either purchase or borrow?" asked the Rabbi as he in turn shook George�s dirty hand.

That seemed to break the tension as MacLaren started busting out laughing, "Borrow? Heh, heh," he ejaculated. "What do I get in return, exhaust fumes?"

Both the Rabbi and the Pastor started laughing in return. It was the first good laugh any of them had had in over a week. The magic of suddenly bursting out into such genuine and heartfelt mirth lifted a great burden off everyone�s spirit.

"You may have what�s ever left in the pumps," offered MacLaren as the trio started to walk towards the station.

Rosenberg suddenly stopped in his tracks holding back his friend, Brown, when he saw the faces looking out at them from the school bus. There were about half a dozen of them. Some were even children and all had puzzled expressions plastered on them.

"Oh, I�m sorry. These are some other stragglers like you who were heading east before they closed down the passes," offered George.

As the three men resumed walking, people started pouring out of the bus. A tall man in late thirties with brown hair and a well-groomed beard walked over to the men. He was dressed in a flannel shirt and blue jeans. Behind him followed a blond woman who had to be in her mid-thirties dressed in purple scrubs. A girl in turn followed her in her late teens or early twenties with her brown hair pulled into a ponytail wearing a t-shirt and a denim skirt. The faces of four children could be seen looking out the window.

"Were you men heading east?" called out the bearded man.

"Why, yes we were, but George says the passes are closed," replied Brown.

"The military has them locked down tight like they did the barricades out of the cities. We are heading for higher ground you are welcome to join us," offered the man.

As the two parties reached each other, handshakes and greetings were exchanged. The bearded man was in fact a veterinarian called "Doc", but his real name was Vernon Stephenson. The blond woman was an RN whose name was Gloria Meyer and the pony-tailed girl was Missy Jensen.

All three and the four children in the bus had been survivors of the stampeding mass fleeing the greater Seattle area. They had witnessed the cold-blooded murder as the U.S. Army blindly opened fire on the helpless people running from the massive horde of undead following them. They were part of those survivors of the military onslaught who were able to climb over the barricades and overwhelm the soldiers just so that they could escape into the surrounding countryside.

Doc started gathering the people he found in the woods into a party. He reasoned that there was safety in numbers. In addition, the veterinarian found an abandoned school bus, loaded the refugees inside, and drove them to a garage where they met George.

George figured with the passes closed no one was going to return and proposed that they seek shelter in a ski lodge up in the Cascades. George had an army two-ton truck that the military abandoned at the garage when it broke down. The mechanic estimated that it would take him two days to fix the truck and another day to load it with all the provisions that they would need.

MacLaren had the metal drums filled with gasoline that he was able to pump thanks to his backup generator. These where then rolled into the truck along with as much food, blankets and other necessities. They were in fact, just about to leave when George heard the car chug up to the pumps.

The Rabbi and Pastor agreed to join the party. It was that night when Seattle was firebombed that the small party started on their journey to the ski lodge. It was the next day when a terrible rainstorm hit them in the mountains. Fortunately, they had found an abandoned Ranger station to sit out the storm. When the weather cleared the next morning George and Doc searched the road ahead only to find that their route to the ski lodged had been blocked by a massive mudslide. So, they all decided to stay at the station.

That was where Carl found them and became a member of their small community. He really enjoyed being with the small group and felt sadden by the prospect of having to say goodbye when the snows melted so that he could resume his mission. A mission that none of his new friends knew about. No his mission was top secret and none had suspected that he came from the east side of the mountains.

The story he told them was that he was a hunter who was living off the land. That he was on his way down following the game when he came upon their homestead. Everyone accepted that and that in of itself pleased Carl.

Now the small party was starting to run low on provisions and it was up to Carl to find something for them to eat. There had to be something out here that he could kill so that they all could survive the cold winter.

The sound of a loud crash and the smoke billowing up from the trees many miles ahead popped Carl back from his musings. Quickly Carl started off for the origin of the black trail of smoke.

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November 27, 2005

Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Chapter 10

By Dwayne MacInnes

It was the morning of the second day after Carl heard the helicopter go down that he arrived at the crash site. The wreckage of the Apache helicopter was amongst the splintered remains of the trees that once shrouded the woods in shade. Carl noticed that the cockpit was open and that both the gunner and pilot were gone. A quick survey revealed the tracks of two men leaving the site. It had to have been in the last 24 hours going by the tracks.

The FBI agent continued to look around and the story revealed itself. It appeared that there was a third person who arrived at the site. One of the crewmembers must have been wounded and the two able bodied people made a makeshift stretcher. They then headed off toward the south. The tracks in the snow, the stripped saplings, and the patch of ground where a body laid gave Carl the clues he needed in order to deduce this.

Carl went back to the helicopter to search for more clues. In the pilot�s seat there was a map that Carl grabbed and stuffed in his backpack. The FBI agent also stuffed a small untouched first-aid kit into his bag.

The morning sun was still low over the eastern peaks. That would give Carl the most amount of sunlight to follow the tracks in the snow. Carl began to hurry along after the trail of footprints. The wind started to pick up and the snow began to fall an hour after the FBI agent set out.

"Great, that�s all I need," grumbled Carl to himself.

Food was the major concern that ran through Carl�s mind. He hadn�t had any success in hunting over the past few days. If he didn�t find any game or someone willing to share their stores, his companions at the Ranger�s cabin would surely starve in a matter of weeks. Doc already had everyone on half rations. How long could those children last?

A shudder ran down the old man�s spine. The four children were the Miltons, Mary age twelve, Adam age eight, and the twins Victoria and Diane both age six. Melissa Jensen, or Missy as the kids called her, was their nanny. Missy had come to Seattle from Iowa last May at the age of eighteen. She was just out of high school when she became the Miltons� nanny. She still watched over the children like a mother. The children themselves listened to her as if she were - in fact - their mother.

Carl shook his head; Missy herself was still a child in his mind. The children�s parents were lost in the last rush over the barricades. Missy was able by extraordinary effort to keep the children together and get them safely over the military blockade and into the surrounding woods. That was where Doc found them hiding in the underbrush.

Everybody seemed to have lost someone during those two weeks in early June. Gloria was fortunate enough to be volunteering at a clinic when the hospitals were being overrun by the undead. She left the clinic as soon as it became obvious that the cities were no longer safe. Gloria tried to return to her neighborhood, but was unable to get far. It was literally crawling with ghouls. Her boyfriend, she feared, was unable to get out of their apartment as the building was burning out of control.

Doc had left his veterinarian clinic just a head of a mob of zombies shambling down the streets. He considered himself fortunate not to have any family inside Seattle. The veterinarian just headed for the city borders hoping to get out alive.

As Carl progressed along after the tracks, the wind continued to build and the snow fell even harder. Carl reckoned he had only an hour or two before all remains of the footprints were lost. He prayed desperately that he would find the men who left them quickly. There obviously had to be a house, cabin, or some other shelter nearby if some Good Samaritan rescued the crew. He also prayed that they would have some extra food and would be willing to part with some of it.

The blizzard was blinding, but Carl pressed on. He had no other choice. Fortunately, Carl always dressed in layers so that he was reasonably warm as he trudged on in the ever-deepening snow. He continued to hike for another couple hours before all signs of the men leaving the crash site were erased by nature.

There had to be a road or some other man made feature to the south reasoned the old agent. Carl had been able to keep his bearings thanks to the many glances at his pocket compass. The snowfall was as heavy as Carl had ever experienced. The cold was biting at his face, the wind howling its haunting song in his ears.

Outside of the wind, the only other noise that Carl experienced as the groaning and creaking of the pine trees overhead. Every once in a while a large clump of snow would drop down from a limb above and land on Carl. This did nothing to ease his troubled mind. He knew he had to find some form of shelter and fast.

The sunlight was nearly gone due to the overcast skies and the blinding white flakes of snow being driven by the rushing wind.

"South... I must remain on a southern course," Carl reminded himself repeatedly.

Exhaustion was finally beginning to win out over the agent. Carl wasn�t a young man anymore, and he didn�t know how much more he could push himself before he would collapse from either exhaustion or a heart attack. But push he did. The alternative was to give up, and Carl was no quitter.

Carl glanced down at his compass one more time to make sure he was still on course. He looked up to see what looked like a western fort through the break in the trees ahead. The FBI agent didn�t know if he was starting to hallucinate or not. Therefore, he approached it cautiously.

It was definitely a wooden palisade. Carl�s heart leaped with joy at the thought of finally finding some shelter to get out of this miserable weather. The blizzard was still in full force, and the snow was now up to mid-thigh on Carl.

Just as the old man was about to step into the clearing around the log barrier he heard a crack like a gunshot. Something struck him with so much force from behind that Carl was flung forward. Pain shot through his shoulder. His mind began to fog as he slipped into unconsciousness. The last thing he saw before he lost consciousness was a figure of a man running toward him in the blizzard.

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December 01, 2005

Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Chapter 11

By Dwayne MacInnes

The morning after the blizzard revealed a clear and bright sky. The sun was out and the temperature had risen to around forty degrees Fahrenheit. The few birds that stayed year around sang their greeting to the morning. There was no wind howling nor was there any snow falling.

Nori was sleeping in a light slumber dreaming of being in her warm bed back at the cabin. As she rolled around, she realized that she wasn’t in bed alone. Nori’s eyes nearly bulged out of her head as she instantly awoke with this realization.

She wasn’t in any bed, but a sleeping bag. She wasn’t in the cabin, but in some strange room lit faintly by the sunlight stealing in through the cracks in the boarded-up windows. Further, she wasn’t just sharing her bag with someone, but both of them were naked.

Nori shot her head towards her sleeping companion. Only the back of Brady’s head was visible. He was still soundly sleeping. His short brown hair was all disarrayed and his glasses lay on the floor next to their boots.

Nori couldn’t remember anything from the previous day. She felt very exhausted and panic began to consume her being. What was going on? What happened? Where are we? All flashed through her mind at once. However, what came out of her mouth was a blood-curdling scream.

Brady instantly awoke and jumped out of the bag. He managed to grab his glasses and threw them on his face as he scrambled for his shotgun. It all happened so fast that he didn’t even notice that the metal frame of his glasses were freezing as it came in contact with his skin nor that he was standing in the middle of the room holding a shotgun totally nude.

"YOU... YOU PERVERT!!!" Nori screeched.

Brady was still half asleep as he stared down at Nori who was sitting up and quivering with rage inside her sleeping bag. The puzzled expression on his face did nothing to calm her down.

"You took advantage of me," Nori said angrily before she started to sob into her hands.

"Wha...?" was all Brady got out.

The lookout station’s interior though warmer than it was outside was still cold. Brady then realized that he was standing in front of Nori with nothing on. That is when the memories of the previous day flooded back to him. Brady went to retrieve his clothes from where he had stuffed them into the sleeping bag when Nori violently pushed him away.

Brady found his coat and wrapped it around his waist. He then seated himself down next to Noriko who was still crying into her hands.

"Nori, calm down," Brady said soothingly. "Nothing happened."

"What do you mean nothing happened," she replied between sobs. "We were sleeping together in a sleeping bag NAKED!"

"Nori, what do you remember from yesterday?" Brady asked in a calm voice. "Do you know where we are or how we got her?"

Nori shook her head in the negative not looking up at Brady.

"OK. Nori, tell me what you do remember," Brady prodded.

"We went out after Sarge to stop him from murdering the pilot. It was snowing very hard and I was getting very cold," Nori started.

"Go on."

"Then we...I don’t remember. I must have fallen asleep or something," Nori finally said.

"Nori, you had hypothermia. That’s when your body’s core temperature goes below 95 degrees," Brady began.

Nori just sat there looking at the floor sniffling occasionally, but never saying anything.

"You were rambling incoherently, shivering uncontrollably and moving very sluggishly. These are the signs of hypothermia. If you body temperature drops below the mid 70s you die.

"Fortunately, for us both I stumbled upon this fire lookout and was able to get you up here. The best way to warm-up another person with hypothermia is to share body heat and that means bare skin to bare skin. You have my word nothing happened. Hell, I was so tired nothing could have happened," Brady concluded.

Nori looked up at Brady sheepishly. Then she began to chuckle, which then became a hearty laugh.

Brady stared at her not comprehending what brought on the laughter. Maybe she was still suffering from the hypothermia.

Still laughing Nori fished around in the bottom of the sleeping bag and pulled out some clothes that she flung at Brady.

"Man, you had to see yourself standing there totally naked with your shotgun in your hand," laughed Nori.

Brady’s face must have turned three shades of red as he hurriedly dressed himself in his warm clothes.

* * * * *

Carl woke up in a twin bed in a small bedroom. He must have made it to a cabin. His shoulder still hurt and he reached for it instinctively. It was bandaged, but nothing appeared to be broken. Obviously, someone must have found him.

The FBI agent looked around the room. The sunlight flooding in from the single window revealed a large black man in military BDU’s sleeping in a chair next to him.

Carl reached over and shook the man awake. The soldier came awake with a start. He looked over at Carl and then smiled.

"Good morning, Mr. Roger’s," greeted the black man.

"Uh...Hello? You seem to have me at a disadvantage," Carl returned.

"I’m Master Sergeant Ronald Greene. I found you in the snow outside the gate to the palisade. It appears that a tree limb broke with the weight of the snow and fell on top of you. Thank goodness nothing was broken," offered Ronald.

"I saw the crash and followed the trail that led me here. You did rescue the Apache crewmen didn’t you?" asked Carl.

Ronald’s face turned sour at the mention of the Apache crewmembers. Carl then saw sadness and worry flash across the sergeant’s face before it became impassive.

"What brings the FBI over the mountains to Terra Mortis as we call our new world over here?" returned Ronald.

It was obvious that the sergeant didn’t want to talk about the helicopter crew. In addition, Carl was interested in knowing how the soldier knew he came over the mountains.

"I’m sorry, I’ve been trapped on this side of the mountain like you when everything hit the fan," answered Carl.

"OK. Let’s place our cards on the table. I found your ID in your wallet nothing to hide there. But you also had a state quarter that wasn’t in circulation when the passes were closed down. So you had to come in from the other side," replied Ronald deadpan.

"That’s pretty good deduction. Looks like you are in the wrong line of work there sergeant," began Carl with a slight smirk on his face. "Things are little better on the other side as you put it. What do you know about what’s happening over there?"

"I heard from the pilot, yes, I rescued the crew, that the passes are nearly impenetrable and that we are a hair’s breath of going to war with Iran over something they had nothing to do with."

Many questions flooded the FBI agent’s head with Ronald’s single sentenced. However, he decided to paint the picture for the soldier before asking his own questions.

"First of all things are bad. You probably know that the economy is in shambles. But did you know that the draft has been reinstated? Every able-bodied boy and girl between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two is in the military. The Patriot Act has been strengthened and the CIA is acting like the president’s secret police. The FBI has been taking a shelling for this president for years and it looks like we are about to be the sacrificial lamb again.

"Martial law is the reality on the other side. The president has been hinting that he’ll have to suspend the elections until things can be returned to normal.

"What about the congress? They have given the president carte blanche on nearly everything. This is ten times worse than 9/11.

"Both parties in congress are starting to realize that they have lost their power to the executive branch. But what can they do. The people are scared and angry and they want someone to blame. The president has given them their scapegoat...Iran.

"So it is my mission to try and get to the ColTech pharmaceuticals plant in Marysville and to find some evidence that someone else was involved instead of Iran."

Ronald just sat their staring at the FBI agent for a while not saying anything. This news was overwhelming.

"Now I have a couple of questions for you. How do you know that Iran isn’t involved and what’s the story with the helicopter crew?" asked Carl.

"I can help you with your mission. I have the evidence that you seek here downstairs," Ronald said to Carl, whose jaw nearly hit the ground. "I have a CD-Rom and papers stating who was involved in the ColTech project. There is proof that Washington and this administration in particular is knee deep in this crap."

Then Ronald went into the story of the helicopter crew, their rescue, Lt. Jones attempted rape of Nori and his banishment. Then how when he returned to the cabin Coop and Smith told him that Nori and Brady had went out looking for him. Now the two are lost out there and even possibly dead from the blizzard.

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December 07, 2005

Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Chapter 12

By Dwayne MacInnes

After Ronald finished his story, Carl got out of bed and dressed himself. His shoulder was tender, and he winched as he put on his shirt. There was much to do. Carl owed Ronald his life and decided that he would try to repay the soldier by helping him search for his friends.

"Sergeant, I do have another favor to ask you," the old man began.

"Sure, whatever I can do," returned the grim-faced sergeant.

"I’m not alone. I left ten people at a Ranger’s cabin two days from here. They are nearly out of food. They won’t make it through the winter unless you can spare some of your food," Carl stated. "There are children, sergeant."

Ronald looked up at the FBI agent and nodded.

"We have plenty of food. If we can get the truck on the road, you can show me where to deliver the goods. First, we’ll spend the day looking for any sign of Nori and Brady they couldn’t have gotten too far in the blizzard."

"One last thing, Sergeant, there is a map in my pack that I obtained from the helicopter. It looked to contain the location of some munitions dump. I believe that you could use that information," stated Carl.

The two men descended the stairs to the living room. Coop and Smith were making breakfast in the kitchen/dining room. The smell of eggs and game meat wafted up throughout the house. Carl didn’t know when the last time he had meat. His stomach rumbled in anticipation.

"Morning, Sarge," the gunner said as he hopped around with his crutch.

Coop was setting the dining room table as he looked over at the sergeant. The young boy’s eyes were blood shot and his face wore a downcast expression. Ronald knew that Thomas Cooper had been crying all night long. Nori, Brady, Coop, and Sarge over the last few months had become very close. They all thought of themselves as a family.

"Sarge, do you think I could go with you and look for Nori and Brady?" asked Coop.

"Sorry son, I need you to help out Greg here," Ronald looked over at the gunner who in turn nodded understanding. It was very likely that if Ronald found the two they would be lying under the snow frozen to death. It was bad enough to think of them dead without have the young boy see their rigid bodies contorted in death.

Greg set the food upon the table as everyone started to seat themselves. The clinking of utensils on plates was the only sound that could be heard as everyone ate their breakfast. Carl felt that he was being rude as he ravenously consumed his breakfast. He didn’t realize how hungry he really was until he started eating.

After breakfast, Carl and Ronald entered the living room. Ronald sat the FBI agent on the couch. He then produced a briefcase and sat it upon the coffee table. The sergeant then undid the clasps and opened the top.

Carl peered inside with anticipation. He saw papers and the CD-Rom the sergeant talked about. A quick glance of the papers revealed all that Ronald had told Carl.

"Sarge, everything appears to be as you said. I’ll make of copy of these and take it with me; I have a laptop in my backpack. I want you to keep the originals over here. I don’t want there to be any accidents on the other side without having a backup. I believe everything should be fine here for now, let’s begin our search," the old man said.

Ronald dreaded searching for his friends, but he knew it was better to be done with it as soon as possible. The soldier got up and went over to a closet. He pulled out two backpacks and started stuffing them with the supplies. He only brought the things that he believed that they would need. Carl assisted Ronald in his packing as Coop and Smith cleaned up after their breakfast.

*****

The two figures marched through the snow. They had been walking for two hours. The snow was still deep, but because the temperature was in the forties the snow was wet, slushy, and generally uncomfortable. It clung to the bottom of their boots and got inside to turn their socks wet.

Brady glanced at his watch it was 10:45 am. The cabin couldn’t be much further. Brady knew exactly where they had been at the lookout station. On his hunting excursions with his grandfather, they had passed the lookout many times. The cabin wasn’t more than a few miles away from it.

However, because Brady had to blaze the trail for Nori to follow, their progression was excruciating slow. He was wet and miserable. This was probably the worse type of snow he’d ever experienced. The fact that he lived all his winter months in Seattle, Brady’s encounter with snow was extremely limited. Brady knew that it was just as bad if not worse for Nori.

Nori was still weakened by her recent encounter with hypothermia. Brady wanted to stay at the lookout, but she insisted that they head for the cabin. She stumbled along behind Brady. The only thing that kept her going was the knowledge that Sarge and Coop awaited them at the cabin.

Brady was weaving his way between some evergreens when he noticed two men walking in their general direction. It took a moment for Brady to realize that they were indeed men.

Nori bumped into Brady not realizing that he had stopped in his tracks. She looked up and saw the men herself. Nori bumping into Brady brought him back to his senses.

Brady raised his arms and started waving them as he yelled. The two men stopped and looked over toward them. One of them began running towards them. As he got closer, Brady saw that it was Sarge. The other man he had never seen before.

Ronald picked Brady up in a bear-hug cracking the young man’s back in the process. Then the sergeant ran over to Nori and picked her up into his arms. He could see that she was greatly fatigued and began to carry her, weapons, pack and all.

On the way back to the cabin, introductions were exchanged and stories were swapped. There was much laughing and relief. Even Nori would break out into her infectious laugh.

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December 15, 2005

Terra Mortis II

Chapter 13

By Dwayne MacInnes

The band of survivors at the Ranger's cabin had given up all hope of seeing Carl alive. Everyone believed that he had died during the blizzard. The loss was doubly troubling because Carl was also the only one amongst those at the cabin who knew how to hunt. With their food supply dwindling every day, the outlook of any of them being alive in the spring was grim.

Vernon had already cut everyone down to a minimal daily food ration in order to sustain life. Gloria was of immense help to Vernon. Though he was only a veterinarian he was the closest thing they had to a real doctor. Gloria was able to assist the vet in assessing and prescribing for humans.

Doc worried mostly about the children. The poor kids had suffered so much already and now he had to watch them slowly waste away. Fortunately, no major cold or flu outbreak had swept through the cabin. He doubted if the children would have been able to survive a sickness especially the young twins.

Doc was also impressed with how well behaved the children were. They obeyed Missy's orders without any complaint or protest. He also never heard the children openly complain about being hungry. Maybe Missy pointed out to them that everyone was starving or maybe it was just that the children had already endured such grievous conditions that no child should ever have to witness.

The dynamics of the group had already taken shape. Pastor Brown and Rabbi Rosenberg acted as the group's leaders. Their sound wisdom kept the party alive. In fact, it was probably their unpopular decision not to search for Carl that may have prevented further loss. None of them had any real wilderness skills and George carried their only remaining firearm, his Browning BLR .358 rifle. It was after a couple days that everyone came around to the holy men's line of thinking.

Doc and Gloria of course acted for the group's welfare. They had set up the location of the latrine away from the cabin and away from their water source to prevent any disease. They monitored everyone's condition to make sure that no one was ill from the lack of food. The calorie calculation was very fine. Nevertheless, even with them eating next to nothing the food supply would run out long before spring.

Missy, a mere nineteen years of age, acted as mother for the four children. By no means was this an easy task under ideal conditions. However, she took over the role naturally. The children reacted to her as if she had always been a member of their family.

The four children still acted as normal children for the most part. They played and joked around. This did a lot to relieve the tensions that everyone was undergoing. Adam was the only one who seemed to have been adversely affected by their experiences. The young boy would still wake up from nightmares of ghouls chasing him or of seeing his parents gunned down by soldiers. Missy's presence always calmed the boy back down, and he would resume his slumber usually to her soft humming.

George was the mechanic. He kept the party's two vehicles in operating condition. George suggested that if the snow should melt enough he could drive down to the nearest town, house, gas station, or whatever and find food. Everyone knew that it was risky. The weather, the dead, and even the living could all pose fatal problems.

Fortune seemed to smile on the group when the temperature had risen to over 40 degrees over the past few days. The snows had receded enough for the attempt to be made. Doc insisted that he go along with George to help with the search, loading of supplies, and help with any problems. The big decision was whether they should take the rifle or not. Both Doc and George insisted that the group at the cabin keep their only weapon. Doc and George would have to make the run unarmed.

Doc sat there at the dining room table pondering in the dark of the night. Everyone else was asleep. Missy and Gloria slept with the children in the small bedroom while the men slept in the living room area. Doc couldn't sleep tonight. So he sat in the dining room at the table worrying over their many problems.

Vernon didn't really like the idea of splitting up the group again. They had already lost one party member. But was it more of a risk to split the party again or bring everyone along? This discussion went on for a while. Finally, the decision was that it would be better just to send the two men, and everyone else would stay in the relative safety of the cabin.

Doc should really be sleeping, but he was nervous. Even after all he had endured over the last few months, he still didn't relish the idea of running into potential problems. He knew that the zombies could barely function in the cold of winter, but the gangs of the living predators were often more of a threat than the undead. There was no telling how far they have spread, or in what place they may be laying in ambush to rob and murder unsuspecting victims.

Doc stood up from the table. He really should get some rest. Maybe things would go their way. It may only take them a few hours to get to town and back with all the supplies they would need without encountering anyone or anything. Doc smiled sardonically in the darkness thinking maybe he was becoming an optimist.

The wind started to howl. The smile evaporated from Doc's face. It was apparent that their troubles weren't over. It looked like they were doomed to slow starvation after all. Doc looked over at the men sleeping in the living room to see George fly out of his sleeping bag.

George ran over to the door and flung it open. Doc stood there dumbfounded not comprehending what was going on. The crisp air flooded into the room. The other men in the room awoke in bewilderment.

"George, what is it?" asked the groggy Rabbi.

"There's a truck heading up the road," George said pulling his rifle from where it rested against the wall.

"A truck!" Doc exclaimed. So it wasn't the wind he heard. In the very least, it looked like starvation may not be what does them in, but instead raiders. With that realization, Doc ran over towards George.

"Shut the damn door. Looks like the raiders finally found us," growled Doc.

George shut the door and blocked it. Brown ran into the bedroom. The other three men went over to the window and crouched behind it. Looking out the frosted panes they could see the headlights of truck slowly driving up the tree lined road.

All they could make out was that it was a pickup. The truck stopped a few yards from the two-ton truck and bus. The beams from the headlights flooded the interior of the cabin. Doc and the Rabbi ducked down below the window. Only George continued his vigil out the window his knuckles white from gripping his BLR.

The Pastor crawled over to the men at the window.

"I told the women to keep themselves and the children low. If the raiders break into the cabin they are to get themselves and the children out the rear window and head for the woods," hissed the Pastor.

A creaking door could be heard opening on the truck. No one could see anything because of the glaring lights. George opened the window and lifted the rifle up to his shoulder. He levered a cartridge into the chamber and sighted down the barrel towards the lights.

Just as suddenly as it all began, the lights blinked out. George blinked his eyes. He was just as blind as he was when the lights were shining in his eyes. Doc peered over the ledge of the window and because his eyes were more adjusted to the dark than George's he could see a man slowly approaching them.

"Give me the gun," whispered Doc.

George obediently passed the rifle over the vet still blinking and rubbing his eyes. Doc had never fired a firearm before. However, George had given everyone lessons in the operation of the rifle. Doc lined up the gun's front and back sites onto the man approaching the cabin. He slowly started to squeeze the trigger.

"Pastor Brown, Rabbi Rosenberg, Doc, George are you guys in there?" the darkened shape called out.

Doc lowered the rifle to the floor and stood up in front of the window.

"Carl?" replied the bewildered vet.

"It's all right. I've brought help and supplies," called out the old man.

The four men flew out the cabin's door and ran up to Carl. They could not believe their eyes. Simultaneously they began to pelt the man with questions.

Carl just laughed and hugged them all in turn.

"Looks like I'm the 'Prodigal Son'. Right Pastor," laughed the FBI agent.

"Maybe you guys didn't notice that it is the 25th, so I'd say you are more of a Christmas miracle. Merry Christmas everyone!" the pastor cried.

"Maybe there is something to be said for your Santa Claus," smiled the Rabbi as he pointed out the red 1955 Dodge truck. "I guess he traded in the sleigh for a truck."

By this time, the women and the children being curious had flocked out of the cabin bringing a lit oil lamp with them. That was when they noticed the three people hanging back by the truck.

There was a tall stocky black man dressed as a soldier, a petite Asian girl with short black hair dressed in a black leather outfit with a pink pistol on her hip, and a young man in glasses also dressed in black leather holding a Louisville slugger bat. They all leaned back against the hood of the red Dodge smiling at the reunion.

"Please, let me introduce our saviors," smiled Carl motioning for the trio to approach.

"This is Sergeant Greene the man who saved me. I'll give you the details later."

Ronald started exchanging handshakes with everyone as they slapped him on the back.

"Hi, I'm Noriko Fubuki, but everyone just calls me Nori," Nori said without further prompting.

"I'm Vernon Stephenson, but everyone calls me Doc. So I guess we are both nicknamed after dwarves," laughed Doc.

Nori shot Brady in the ribs with her elbow as he groaned at Doc's joke.

After everyone was introduced, they all moved into the cabin to get out of the cold. Carl then told them his story of how he saw the helicopter crash and followed the trail to the cabin. The FBI agent finally let everyone in on the secret of what he and his mission were.

"So after the supplies are unloaded I'm heading back east. I'm sorry to leave you guys, but many lives are at stake," Carl said.

"I've been thinking that we should bring everyone back with us. We can't all stay at Brady's cabin, of course, but we can locate you guys into cabins in the area," offered Sarge.

"It would be a shame to leave our happy camp here, but you are probably right," Pastor Brown smiled.

"Of course ... that's it!" Brady yelled as he stood up.

Everyone looked at him as if he was a lunatic. As Brady realized that he was the focus of everyone's attention, he sat back down.

"Sorry, it's just that I totally forgot all about it," the young man said.

"Son, could you please let us all in on your revelation," Sarge prodded.

"Look there is this summer camp about twenty miles west of our cabin. It should have some supplies because they were getting it ready for the summer before everything happened."

Brady went over to a map on the wall and started tracing out a route to the summer camp for the group. "There's a lake, several buildings, cabins, a great lodge and it already has a fence around most of it to prevent the average homesick kid from running away."

"What's the name of our new home?" asked Gloria.

"Camp Crystal Lake," returned Brady.

"You've got to be kidding me? Is it haunted by someone in a hockey mask?" laughed Nori in her usual bubbly laugh.

Everyone else started to laugh. Brady looked around the room and smiled and then he went over to Nori and whispered in her ear, "Am I missing something?"

"Man, didn't you watch any movies?" Nori said a bit too loud.

The whole household except Brady started to laugh even harder. Brady just sat down and turned a deeper shade of red.

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December 21, 2005

Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Chapter 14

By Dwayne MacInnes

Brady sat on the water’s edge looking at the spring’s morning sunlight sparkle off the surface of the lake like a million gems. He inhaled the myriad of fragrances from the plant life awakening from its winter slumber. The birds singing and the insects buzzing with the wind rustling through the trees were like the sounds of a fine symphony to his ears.

"Life," Brady mused inwardly. "This is life."

It was hard to believe that only eleven months ago, death had taken over the land. Now with the sights, sounds and smells of spring in the air, it was hard to believe any of it had happened, but it did. In fact, death was still running rampant. There were pockets like this old summer camp converted into a safe-haven where death was held at bay.

The camp didn’t resemble a summer camp anymore. It looked more like an old colonial fortified town. The log palisade surrounded the twenty plus cabins and various administrative buildings. It looked like pictures of colonial Jamestown out of the history books.

The Pastor and Rabbi motivated their small band to begin converting the barrack like log cabins into individual homes. Doc and Gloria had found the medical building and set up making it into a small clinic. Fortunately, there were plenty of the basic pain relievers and first aid supplies on hand. Everyone ate in the dining hall of the main lodge that the Pastor and Rabbi had also utilized as a meeting hall.

Brady, Nori, and Coop were kept busy with gathering what supplies they could from the military depots on the map that Carl had picked up from the helicopter. Ronald, himself escorted Carl back towards the border so that the FBI agent could complete his task. Carl was optimistic that he could sneak back over the barricades with the information he was sent to get. The old agent figured that his chief would be surprised by how quickly he had finished his mission.

The night before Carl set off, the entire community held a going away party. There wasn’t a dry eye as Carl and Ronald departed. This would be the last time the group from the Ranger cabin would see Carl. Over the last couple of months, he had almost always been with them, and they had all become very close.

Chief Warrant Officer Greg Smith was also proving his worth. He limped around because of his broken leg, which never healed correctly due to the lack of proper medical facilities. Nonetheless, the Apache gunner threw himself into any task with full gusto. It was as if he was trying to work off any sin that may have been attributed to him because of his association with Lt. William Jones.

Over the winter as Brady, Nori, and Coop began gathering the supplies from the abandoned depots, they ran across other pockets of survivors hiding out in the wilderness. Almost all were on the brink of starvation when they were found. The scavenging party would then gather up the survivors and escort them back to the summer camp. By winter’s end, the camp had grown to over one hundred souls.

The sole exception to the starving survivors was an old farmer that Ronald came across after he returned from his escorting mission. The sergeant was now helping with gathering supplies from the military depots when he ran across a farm a few miles south of the old summer camp.

Ronald at first couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw that there were cattle and horses grazing out in a field of thawing snow. Ronald stopped the two-ton military truck and just stared for a couple of minutes. After gathering his wits, the sergeant decided to drive up the muddy road to the farmhouse.

Ronald wasn’t even out of the truck when he was greeted by a graying farmer who must have been in his early sixties with a shotgun in his hands.

"Whadya want?" enquired the old man leveling his shotgun at the sergeant.

"Whoa, slow down. I’m not here to cause trouble," Ronald responded raising his hands to show that he wasn’t a threat.

"You’re with the military and you're going to shoo me off my land," shouted the excited man as he pumped a shell into the chamber. "It didn’t work last time and it won’t this time!"

Sergeant Greene’s eyes widen in surprise as he instinctively raised his hands even higher.

"I’m not here to take you off your land. In fact, I’m kind of stuck here myself!"

The old farmer looked at Greene quizzically and lowered the shotgun a little.

"I don’t know what you're talking about," the farmer replied. "I’ve been in the dark after the power went out."

With that, Ronald quickly spelled out the situation and began to tell the tale of his and his companions’ adventures after the quarantine. The farmer in turn introduced himself as Henry Rhodes. He had refused to leave his land or let the military take his livestock when they were evacuating everyone. After that, Henry didn’t leave his land. He was pretty self-sufficient and had been able to run the farm on his own.

The two men talked and discussed their various problems well into the night. Henry confided that he was low on fuel and would likely need hands to help farm his land if he had to use traditional methods. Ronald promised him help if he would feed the growing community to the north. An agreement was struck and Henry was soon in charge of farm hands and a few men acting as security for the farm.

Now spring was in full bloom. Sarge had set up a local militia that included everyone over the age of fourteen. Every militia person had a rifle and sidearm for which he or she was responsible. Some with prior military experience were in charge of the heavier hardware. They were constantly in a state of training, which was included into their daily chores. Only a certain number of the militia was activated at one time on a rotating basis, but if there was trouble, they all could be called up in a moments notice.

By now, many of the depots that hadn’t been destroyed by the military were now stripped of everything of value. Much of it was now being stored in various buildings at the camp. However, Brady, Nori, and Coop were still being sent out on gathering missions. Now they would be looking for other supplies. Supplies one can only find in towns. Towns that could be occupied by trigger happy survivors, power hungry gangs, and/or the dreaded undead.

"Hey, Brady!" yelled Nori as she ran up to Brady as he was sitting on the lake’s bank.

"Yeah," responded the young man as he craned his head around to look at Nori.

"We’ve got work to do you know," giggled the Japanese girl. "We are supposed to head down to that town and raid the library."

Brady shuddered. That town was the very same one they entered less than a year ago. This was the same town where Brady feared that a zombie bit Nori. He came very close to killing her that day. The only name that Brady could remember was the one spray painted on the welcoming sign that said, "Terra Mortis, pop. Dead."

Brady was driving the 1955 Red Dodge truck. He was now much better at driving a stick now. He took pride in how he could now shift gears without the annoying sound of him grinding the gears. That was something that would get him a dirty look from George whenever the mechanic heard it. This was then generally followed by a lecture on how scarce spare parts were for old trucks.

Coop sat in the middle between Nori and Brady. The young boy, now eleven, was as valuable to the team as anyone was. Brady and Nori insisted that Coop be allowed to come along on their scavenging raids when at first Ronald suggested maybe Coop should stay behind. This, of course made Thomas Cooper beam with pride as he was beginning to feel ostracized when he was constantly being left behind to "baby sit" Greg at the cabin. Consequently, Coop and Greg became pretty close. Greg reminded Coop a lot of his big brother.

Nori, as usual chatted about anything that came to her head on the drive to the town. As they passed the charred remains of the old farmhouse where a large group of zombies attacked them nearly a year ago everyone fell silent. Brady unconsciously slowed down to look as they passed.

The old farmhouse had burned itself down to its foundation. The old barn still had its doors open, but the most surprising thing was what wasn’t there. There were no human remains. Brady, Sarge, and Coop had killed scores of the undead and there should have been something of their remains even now. Not even scavengers would touch the tainted remains of a zombie according to the report that Ronald had retrieved. Only humans could completely dispose of all the remains, which meant living people had been here after them.

That wasn’t surprising seeing as how they found so many people hiding in the woods this last winter. However, that meant that the town may be occupied and that called for greater caution. There was no telling what kind of reception they could expect.

"Nori, keep a sharp lookout. You too Coop."

Everyone in the truck kept his or her eyes pealed as Brady continued driving down the abandoned road. Brady slowed down so that they could spot trouble before they ran into it. He glanced down at the fuel gauge; he had plenty of gas. Gas was strictly rationed at the camp for use only on scavenging raids. Even Henry Rhodes would have to use his horses to pull the old plow he still had in his barn.

"Look over there!" shouted Coop as he pointed down the road.

Brady and Nori saw it almost as quickly as Coop. There hanging off a telephone pole along the side of the road was a person crucified to the crossbeams. Brady stopped the truck and everyone jumped out. As they approached the pole, they noticed that further down the road was another body this time hanging from the neck slightly swaying in the wind. There was another further down; this one also hanging and another. The ravens were already starting to peck the decaying flesh from their bones.

Brady was aghast as he counted about twenty people hanging from the telephone poles. Only one was crucified and that was the one above them. All the victims appeared to be young men and women all in their twenties.

"Brady this one is alive!" Coop shouted as he pointed up at the crucified young man.

Brady looked up and could see that the young man was struggling to breathe. He would eventually die from fluids filling his own lungs. Brady studied Roman history and knew all about their torture methods. Crucifixions was a tortuous death, and it could take days to die. This one must have been the leader, and he was meant to watch his companions die from strangulation by being hung.

Quickly Brady scrambled up the steel pins pounded into the pole’s side that were to help utility people climb for repairs. He doubted that any repairperson would have thought a year ago that these very poles would be used for a barbaric execution.

As Brady reached the top, he could hear the man’s laborious breathing. At least he was breathing and that meant life Brady noted.

"Everything is going to be all right," Brady consoled the man as he began to tie a rope around the young man’s torso. He tossed the other side over the crossbeams.

"Coop, Nori grab the rope and prepare to lower him down after I untie his legs and arms," ordered Brady.

After five minutes, Brady was back down on the ground next to the young man. Nori and Brady lifted the young man into the bed of the truck. Nori and Coop climbed into the bed next to the barely conscious man.

"What’s your name? What happened?" asked Nori.

"Nathan Perl," the young man hoarsely choked out. "It was the hoard."

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December 30, 2005

Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Chapter 15

By Dwayne MacInnes

Few of his companions knew Barry Vanders real name. None knew that before the Marysville incident he was nothing more than a third-rate history professor at the University of Washington. How many times did the dean of the history department remind Barry that the only reason he still had a job was because he was tenured. Few students shared his enthusiasm for Inner-Asian history, even less passed his class with an A.

The short and stocky man always felt that he was strict but fair even if his students and colleagues accused him of running off on tangents during the lecture and then testing the students on stuff that he never covered. The students would call Barry Vanders the "Barbarian Vandal" which did get under his skin. Sure the Vandals and Tar Tars had their moment in the sun by sacking Rome, but it was the Mongolians under Genghis Khan who really conquered the world. Through all this Barry persisted.

His job may have been dismal but his home life was even worse. Barry was married to a shrewish woman who hoarded every penny that was brought into the house. Granted they tended to be in debt up to their eyeballs, but there was no reason why they couldn’t splurge every now and again. The woman he used to love, if it really ever was love, had turned into some old banshee along the way. When Barry hit his "mid-life crisis," he started dreaming of being an outlaw biker. His fantasies would often include himself as the leader of a gang like the Hell’s Angels and then "conquering" one of the beautiful female students in his class.

The professor would secretly buy Easy Rider, Outlaw Biker, or any magazine dealing with motorcycles and their gangs. That’s when Barry started secretly stashing away some money whenever he could. It wasn’t easy at first, but Barry finally succumbed to the temptation that all professors eventually face: the bribe.

At first, it was just some smart-ass jock trying to buy a C. Then it was the straight 4.0 honor’s student who didn’t want a B to blight her transcript. Barry was always smart about it. He never initiated the sale, but if a twenty or fifty found itself stuck to a test or homework assignment, it would be pocketed and the student would get the desired grade. The student never said anything and the professor acted as if nothing had happened. Even though Barry had been tempted by some of his female students to sleep with them for a grade, Barry remained cash only.

The rumors inevitably began to circulate around campus that he could be bought. The dean investigated the allegations, but Barry always covered his tracks well. After all, it was common practice to give the football star a C even if he never showed up for class and an A+ honor’s student getting another A wasn’t so unusual. The research was the key. Students would receive only a certain grade based on their performances in other classes. The best part most of the students were going to get the grade assigned them whether they paid for it or not.

The payoff came when after years of hoarding and saving his own pennies that Barry could afford a Vulcan 800 motorcycle. After this point, Barry wasn’t for sale anymore. He vehemently denied ever being paid a bribe. At times money fell out onto the floor when he was gathering the papers. If this wasn’t, in fact, some scheme to get him canned he would always tell the dean.

The University could not prove anything and many students didn’t want their names involved to testify against him. Therefore, life went on as usual. A dreary day at work followed by the constant nagging and financial lectures at home. However, now Barry had a bike that he secretly kept stashed at a storage unit he rented.

Renting the storage unit wasn’t anything new, Barry had already been renting one for years to store the heirlooms, junk, and sundry of other possessions that his wife and he accumulated over the years. His wife, Betty never concerned herself with the storage unit and probably just forgot what exactly all the stuff they had stored away.

The college professor began making excuses to get out of the house for the weekends. He would tell his wife that there was some important history seminar in Spokane or Portland that he had to attend. Once free, he would don his alter-ego "Khan".

Khan was a hard-core biker. Many bikers didn’t question Barry’s other persona. He looked the part and when Barry became Khan, he wasn’t afraid to let years of restraint and frustration come through in drinking, fighting, and the occasional hooker. He started gathering a following and soon had a half-dozen friends that he would hangout with on the weekends. They started calling themselves the Horde.

So it was on his fiftieth birthday that Barry forever became Khan. Barry’s wife was planning a special birthday party for Barry while Seattle was coming under siege by the living dead. She had spent more money than usual to make this day extra special for her husband. There was going to be a few special guests and close friends and fine food and drink.

However, the curfew and the quarantine kept everyone home that night. Thus, it was just Barry and Betty sitting at a table with lots of food and drink. Betty was trying her best to make a go of it despite the situation. Barry was more grim than usual. He didn’t know if it was whether he was turning fifty or that he was stuck with a person he loathed or that the world was falling apart around them or even if it was a combination of all three.

It was that same night that their neighborhood was under attack by the zombies. Somehow, these ghouls knew where people were hiding. They would surround a house and break in either by pushing in a door or breaking a window. When their house was surrounded, Betty frantically started searching for an escape route. The poor woman was in tears sobbing uncontrollable from fear. Barry was calm. His grim mood lifted.

"Come dear, I think we can get out of here," he said in a calm voice to his wife.

Betty went over to Barry and embraced him for comfort. Maybe she still loved him, but the feeling wasn’t mutual. He started walking towards the front door.

"B-B-Barry, what are you doing?" Betty stammered between sobs.

"I have a plan to get us out of here," Barry replied in a soothing voice stroking her gray hair as they neared the front door.

"But they are just outside, if you open the door it will be suicide," she shrieked.

"Calm down, I have a plan and it’ll work. Trust me," Barry smiled as he looked into his wife’s tear soaked eyes.

As they reached the front door, the pounding became increasingly strong. The undead would soon be able to break in. Barry reached out with his free hand never losing the smile on his face and flung the door open. Then he pushed his shocked and screaming wife into the waiting arms and teeth of the undead crowd.

"You’ll go out the front, my dear, and I’ll go out the back."

Barry then ran towards the back door still smiling as zombies filed into the house through the open front door to partake in the feast. The cries and screams of his wife filled his ears as he ran out into the now cleared out backyard. Barry was too elated to feel any regret over his actions. For the first time in a long time, he felt free. He jumped into his sedan and drove to his storage unit surprisingly with little mishap. Barry was gone forever; Khan was here to stay.

Khan had driven his Vulcan through the barricade arriving just after the initial rush of humanity stormed the checkpoint and before the zombies relentlessly shambling along behind. Khan didn’t bother to deal with injured or helpless people; he just continued to drive along into the night. He had a destination in mind.

A colleague of his was a World War II professor and had over the last few years acquired and repaired an M-16 multiple gun motor carriage. In other words, he had rebuilt the famous half-track that housed four .50 Browning M-2 machine guns for anti-aircraft use. What Khan had in mind would entail a little alteration, but he knew that he would find the people who would be able to do it.

Khan found the half-track where his colleague had told him. His fellow professor either was dead or had been evacuated. Over the next few weeks, Khan began gathering a core group of bikers around him. Three were of the original Horde. The small gang began raiding the surrounding towns stealing from the dead and living alike. The half-track finally had four working M-2s and was able to lower them to aim toward the ground instead of the air.

Clashes with entrenched and armed survivors and other gangs were a given. Khan started using tactics that his namesake used so successfully in his conquest of Asia and Europe. Khan would surround his opponents send in light forces for a feigned attack, and then they would retreat as if they were broken. The defenders would often break ranks to pursue the light forces only to be caught off guard by the main force that would sweep in and wipe out the defenders. Khan was able to defeat vastly superior forces this way.

The half-track was Khan’s strategic reserve. The few times he was overwhelmed and it looked like he would be defeated, Khan would send in the WWII vehicle with devastating effect. Survivors were often given the choice of joining the Horde or be killed. In this way, the Horde grew and thus Khan’s empire was built in less than six months.

The towns under the Horde’s protection were left relatively unmolested. Khan knew that if the people of the towns feared the Horde more than they did rival gangs or the undead, there would be uprisings. So by order of Khan the people would be left alone as long as they paid their tribute and obeyed the local warlord.

The crowning achievement was Khan’s capital, Vice-City. Both punished and rewarded were sent to Vice-City. The former to work in the brothels or to partake in the various games that Khan devised, the most feared and popular was the Labyrinth. Gas generators had been set up around the small town and provided the power. Fuel was obtained from the numerous fuel-trucks that Khan had accumulated in his conquest. Cameras were set up all over the game spots so that the local TV station could broadcast the various games to the populace of Vice-City.

With Khan’s success, of course came a growing resistance force. Though Khan could easily defeat any gang or defended city or town the resistance force was very successful in using hit and run tactics. Most of the resistance force was comprised of young adults, most of them former college students.

Khan sat back in his chair watching the latest runner in the Labyrinth smiling as he thought about how he had finally dealt the resistance a deathblow. He was able to trick the resistance into an attack that netted him large number of captives including the leader. Most of the captives he had executed in public fashion leaving their remains as a warning to others. Of course, the females that caught his eye were now working in his brothel. Their spirit was subdued by keeping them drugged up. Yes, his empire would soon be completely secured.

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January 04, 2006

Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Chapter 16

By Dwayne MacInnes

Brady was walking over to Doc's office to find Nori. Nori and Cooper had been spending a lot of time over the last couple of weeks visiting the still recuperating Nathan. Brady at first joined them to learn more about Nathan's past and the history of the world outside their refuge in the Cascades.

However as Brady learned more, he became increasingly concerned. The Horde, it turned out, was a very large group of motorcyclists run by a man who styled himself after Genghis Khan. Khan, the only name anyone knew him by, had carved out for himself a sizable private empire.

Many people who had survived the initial onslaught of the undead started reforming communities. Being poorly organized they were soon conquered by gangs of motorcyclists, who in turn were then conquered by Khan's Horde. Though Khan reestablished law and security to these new communities, his rule was harsh and despotic.

At first, various groups of people would occasionally rebel against the Horde. However, either Khan would introduce all captured rebels to Vice-City to work in the many brothels or as contestants in one of the games of his own design. The most dreaded of these games was called the Labyrinth. The Labyrinth was really a maze constructed out of the old storm sewer system that was now filled with zombies. Cameras were placed strategically to catch the terror and excitement of the "contestants" running down the dark underground maze. These were then broadcast around Vice-City via the local TV station.

Naturally, revolts subsided among the populace. However, Nathan realized that the reason why Khan was so successful was that he was better organized. The young twenty-two year old man gathered similarly minded young people and started a rebel camp and for the last few months, they have been pretty successful in their raids against the Horde. That was until their last raid.

As disturbing as this was, none of this was the reason why Brady was uneasy. It was the fact that Nathan, on regaining consciousness, immediately began trying to recruit anyone he could to his cause. Sarge just blew it off, as did many of the people now living in the former summer camp. Unfortunately, Nori was quite taken by Nathan's story.

Brady didn't know if he was jealous because Nori possibly had feelings for Nathan or that Nathan had Nori's impressionable ear. She would listen for hours on end to Nathan's speech about his cause. Coop also was caught up with Nathan's tales.

It was understandable that Nori would naturally gravitate toward Nathan. Nathan was closer to her age than Brady's twenty-four years. Nathan was also handsome and a good athlete. Before the Marysville incident, Nathan was on a football scholarship at a local college. The former quarterback had a natural charisma and leadership about him that brought the more impressionable to him like rats to the Pied Piper.

Brady laughed inwardly at his last analogy, though he would tend to put Nathan in the guise of a rat. As Brady entered the room where Nathan was recovering, he heard Nathan telling the story again of his last raid before Nori and Coop. The two sat at the foot of Nathan's bed, both completely caught up with another retelling of the story that Brady had heard way too many times.

"Excuse me," Brady interrupted forcing a smile as he entered the room. "I need to borrow Nori for a minute."

"Oh yeah, no problem," Nathan responded looking over at Brady with a forced smile of his own.

"Sure, Brady what is it?" asked Nori oblivious to the two men's barely concealed dislike for each other.

"I need you to give me a hand unloading the last load of books from the truck. Sarge wants them in the library before nightfall."

"Oh, I'm sorry, I totally forgot," Nori smiled as she hopped up and started for the door.

Brady followed Nori as they left the room and exited Doc's little clinic. They then proceeded to the old red truck where boxes of books filled the bed. Nori pulled down the tailgate and began pulling out a box of books. It always amazed Brady how strong Nori actually was, surely the rigorous training program Sarge had them in helped out a lot.

"Nori, wait a minute," Brady said shyly.

Nori just looked up at Brady and tilted her head to one side with confusion clearly marking her face.

"This is not easy for me to say, but..." Brady swallowed hard. He was never good at personal confrontation. Hell, he was camped out at the family cabin when the undead started taking over Seattle because he didn't want to face his parents with the news of his being kick out of the University of Washington.

"Look, I'm worried about you getting too caught up with Nathan."

At first Nori just stared up at Brady not fully comprehending what he was saying.

"What!?!" Nori finally blurted.

"I'm concerned that you may be buying into Nathan's shtick too much and Coop is following along too," Brady said looking at his feet.

"What do you mean shtick? The guy's just been nearly crucified and is trying to remove an evil man from continuing to harm innocent people!" Nori yelled.

Brady stepped back. In the year, they have known each other Brady had never heard Nori yell at him like this before.

"Who are you to tell me what to do? What do you know about Nathan's cause? Surely you can't be so callous as to the plight of the people?" Nori's tirade continued.

"You know what I think you are jealous of Nathan, jealous that he's doing something while you just hide up here in the woods. He's had it hard while you've been living the high-life!" Nori yelled as she stormed off back to the clinic.

Brady could only just stand there stunned watching Nori's back as she stomped into the clinic slamming the door behind her. Brady looked up to see a few people standing in the road staring at the scene that had just unfolded. As Brady made eye contact with the small crowd, they shortly departed.

It took Brady a long time to get to sleep that night. He kept thinking about what Nori had said to him. He kept going over it in his mind, and that made him quite restless. He kept thinking about how Nori wouldn't acknowledge Brady's existence all day. In fact, Coop seemed obviously uncomfortable being around Nori and Brady in the same room. Sarge offered to listen if Brady wanted to talk about what happened. But Brady remained silent. After much tossing an turning, he eventually drifted off to sleep.

Brady awoke with a start as he felt the hand close over his mouth. He looked up into the dark room, the pale blue moonlight leaking in through the window reflecting off Nori's slim form.

"I'm sorry I yelled at you today," Nori whispered. "But Coop and I are leaving with Nathan tonight for his rebel camp."

The expression on Brady's face told Nori that he couldn't believe what he was hearing.

"Look, I said some things that weren't true today. You have saved my life many times over the last year, and you are my closest friend. But I can't stay here while such injustices exist. I...I want you to join us," Nori said.

Nori didn't think Brady's eyes could get any wider but she was wrong.

"I know Nathan doesn't like you and you don't like him. But you are very intelligent, and you are a very skilled woodsman and hunter. These people need someone like you," Nori pleaded.

"What about Sarge or Smith. We can't just leave them," Brady hissed.

"But we have too. They need to stay here and get this camp organized. In the mean time, we could help out the rebels and maybe help those people out as well. I'm sure we won't be gone long."

Brady knew it was impossible to talk Nori out of this. If she was going to go, Coop was going to follow as well and there was very little he could do to prevent it. Therefore, he had no choice but to nod his assent.

Brady quickly dashed off a short note to Sarge as they quickly and quietly gathered up their belongings and set out leaving the camp behind them. After walking down the road for about ten minutes Brady, Nori, and Coop met up with Nathan. The shocked look on Nathan's face on seeing Brady almost made joining Nori and Coop worth it, thought Brady.

"What's he doing coming along?" Nathan said angrily.

"He's the best at tracking and is very resourceful. You'll need him," Nori defended her decision.

Nathan turned his gaze toward Brady, "OK, hotshot you're in, but remember I'm in charge and you take your orders from me."

With that, the four rebels started on their journey back to the hidden camp.

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January 11, 2006

Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Chapter 17

By Dwayne MacInnes

It was only a few days of hard marching before Nori, Coop, Brady and Nathan arrived at the hidden rebel camp. Brady's first reaction was that it was far from the military-type resistance he envisioned. Instead, the base looked more like a compound of college age kids at keg camp hidden at an abandoned campground in the woods. There was no order to the placement of tents and trailer houses. Most of the residents just lazed around in the shade of the afternoon sun drinking a beer or even harder alcohol some were even smoking pot.

"Let's see how things have been since I've been gone," Nathan smiled as he approached the camp.

They just walked into the base. Brady was appalled by how untrained and unprofessional these rebels were. There weren't any sentries, and nobody took any real notice of them until someone recognized Nathan. Then there was a shout. Almost everyone raised a head or shouted out in excitement as they watched the group enter the compound.

People started running over to Nathan and asking various questions all at once. Nathan shook many hands, patted many backs, and smiled at everyone. The newly returned leader walked over to an old cable spool and jumped on top of it. He raised his hands over his head urging everyone to quiet down. It took at least a minute before everyone became silent. Brady, Nori, and Coop just hung back from the group observing what looked like something out of a Civil War painting of General Lee addressing his troops.

"They may not be well trained, but they definitely have spirit," Brady mused to himself.

"Now, now, the rumor of my demise has been greatly exaggerated," Nathan joked with the crowd around him. Everyone broke into laughter.

"I am back and I have brought us some new recruits. I want everyone to treat them with the respect that they deserve," Nathan pointed to the three companions at the rear of the group.

Brady felt uncomfortable as about one hundred pairs of eyes turned and looked at them curiously. Brady felt Nori fidgeting next to him, obviously as uncomfortable as he was. Coop just smiled and waved weakly at the spectators.

"Here we have the young, but mighty warrior Thomas Cooper! Next to him is my personal savior the lovely, but deadly Noriko "Nori" Fubuki! Finally, and least is the new recruit Brady West." Nathan introduced the three in a cheery voice. It was hard to tell if Nathan was slighting Brady out of jest or hatred, but he had a good idea which it was.

Brady was about to say something when he heard a female voice on the other side of the group shout out.

"Nathan, thank God you are alive!"

Everyone turned in the direction of the voice to see a young blonde girl in her early twenties run up to Nathan and embrace him. The woman started to kiss Nathan when he pushed her back and pointed over to the trio again.

"You can thank them for my life. If they didn't come at the right time, I would have wound up dead like the rest. How have things been here Lisa?" Nathan enquired.

Brady noticed the glare that Lisa gave Nori as she glanced at them. It was obvious that Lisa saw Nori as a threat to her. Lisa quickly snapped her head back to Nathan.

"Not as easy as you may have wanted. With your supposed death, nobody has been in much of a mood for raiding. Morale has been pretty low. But now that you are back…"

"Come let's talk in private. I think we can bring our new friends into the inner circle," Nathan responded as he waved Brady, Nori, and Coop over to join them.

Inside the trailer house, the six leaders of the rebels and the three companions sat around the table. It was a very tight squeeze but everyone found a place to sit. A window was opened so that the air could circulate. It became obvious to Brady at how untrained these people were. The marksmanship training composed of shooting bottles off a log. There was no martial arts training, mostly everyone just brawled. Leadership was more of a popularity contest than based on merit.

It became apparent that this was a group of the popular inner crowd kids, and the fringe unpopular kids would never be allowed to join in. That was the other thing; these people were all kids. Granted that they were all around Brady's age but their training was greatly inferior to his. None had any actual military experience, and few knew how to operate a firearm before they joined the resistance. Therefore, he couldn't help but feel that they were kids. Brady wondered if this was how Sarge felt about Nori, Coop, and himself.

"I hope we can all give these guys the respect they deserve," Nathan said to his cadre of officers. "I believe that they'll be a great asset to us. They have actual military training so I'm appointing Brady and Nori instant officer rank. But even Coop here shouldn't be brushed off. He has more combat knowledge than any of us."

The group of young men and women nodded assent. The only person that didn't seem pleased was the woman called Lisa. She glowered again as she glanced over to Nori. Nori didn't seem to notice.

Nathan began to introduce his group of officers. The young woman whose name was Lisa Allen was second in command of the rebels. Brady found out later from some of the other officers that Lisa and Nathan had been living together. Nathan tended to be a philanderer and Lisa was dangerously possessive. Brady realized he would have to keep an extra eye out for Nori.

Nathan proposed that Nori be in charge of a group of rebels with Brady as her second, but Nori refused and adamantly suggested that Brady be in charge. Nathan finally assented and Brady was assigned a group of twenty people.

The next morning Brady, Nori, and Coop rounded up their new charges. Brady's initial optimism fell as he realized that he was assigned to a group of misfits. These were the unpopular and troublemakers that the other officers didn't want to deal with. Brady was about to walk out of the camp then and there when Nori pulled him away from the group and talked to him in a low voice.

"I know that you are disappointed, Brady, but you have to train these guys. Who else will do it? I also know that Nathan assigned you this group hoping that you'd leave. We all desperately need you, even if the rest of the group doesn't know it."

Brady nodded his head and approached the ragtag group of kids. There was a variety of reactions from the group as Brady returned. Some were of disdain; others looked with fear.

"OK, it looks like I'm you new leader," Brady began slowly.

"You don't say?" a slender African-American youth responded garnering laughs and high fives from his neighbors.

"THAT'S ENOUGH!" Brady shouted in surprise to even himself. The authority in his voice quieted down the group. "Look here, I don't expect you to respect me. I have to earn that. But I want you to realize that if you want learn how to fight I will teach you. There are no officers here who can teach you what I can. For that matter, they don't even want to deal with you. If you want to leave, leave now. Leave this camp and see how well you do on your own. So far, you have proven your spirit to the cause, now we will show you how to fight and fight hard and smart."

The group looked at each other deciding what to do. Brady's words had struck a cord with the twenty misfits. So in the end no one left and all looked towards Brady.

"I'm going to work you hard. Train you hard. But by the end, you will be the best of the best of anyone here. You'll prove to everyone that you are better than any ten of the other group warriors."

Brady then introduced his companions, "This is Nori and Coop and they'll be helping me with your training."

Brady noticed a young Asian man looking at Nori puzzled. "Do you have a question?" Brady asked.

"I am Akira Ifukube, I am from Japan," the young man responded in broken English. "Is your name really Nori?" he asked Noriko.

Noriko started conversing to Akira in Japanese. Brady was at first taken back, he had never heard Nori speak in Japanese before. He knew she could, after all her parents came to the US from Japan before she was born. After a couple of minutes, Nori looked up a Brady.

"Akira was an exchange student from Japan. He's been having a hard time with everything because no one will speak with him. He was surprised that you called me Nori. Nori in Japanese means ‘seaweed'. I explained that it was only a nickname for Noriko," Nori said in her usual quick and bubbly voice. "I, of course, told him that he had an unusual name himself. He said that he was named after the famous movie composer."

Brady looked at her with a puzzled expression.

"Man, you really needed to watch more movies. You obviously never watched a Toho monster flick," Nori responded shaking her head. "In any case, Akira can speak English well enough. We just have to speak more slowly so that he can understand us."

"Cool," Brady smiled.

"Kakkoui," Nori replied.

"What?"

"Kakkoui, you are going to start learning some Japanese. Your first word is kakkoui, that's slang for ‘cool' or ‘far out' if you're as old as Sarge."

Brady turned back to the group, "Now that the introductions are done I'm giving you one last night of fun. Tomorrow we begin training that means no alcohol or parties and drugs are not allowed at all. If there are any violations you are out."

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January 18, 2006

Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Chapter 18

By Dwayne MacInnes

After two weeks, the twenty kids under Brady’s training were already beginning to resemble a combat team. Their results were already good after the first week. Nathan in the beginning refused to believe that the group of misfits was anything more than that. The rest of the resistance would laugh and make fun of "Brady’s Misfits" as they were being called. Seeing the group of unpopular kids doing marksmanship drills, marching with full load packs, and practicing their martial arts while everyone else was taking it easy looked like plain foolhardiness to the other groups.

Brady was pleased to see self-confidence increasing in his Misfits, and they would now all stand-up for each other. Former gang bangers would now protect the one-time computer geeks. The occasional fight would break out between his Misfits and one of the other groups. The result was always the same, no matter how many of the drunken or high "popular" kids outnumbered the Misfits; the Misfits would always come out on top.

Discipline of course had to be maintained, and Brady could not afford to condone such actions from his group. The extra bout of push-ups or that extra mile march with the heavy pack was the extent he would go to punish his group. This was far more than what was being done by the other groups.

The division between the Misfits and the other groups was only increasing and something had to be done about it. So Brady proposed a competition between his group and all of the others. There would be marksmanship, an iron man run, and a bout of judo. The other group leaders at first resisted, until Brady mentioned to Nathan that his group was better than any of the other groups. Nathan then insisted that the competition take place.

The results were as expected; the Misfits came out on top in all of the competitions. Nathan then proposed a rigid training program for the rest of the groups with Nori leading the training. There was much dissatisfaction from the other groups. Two group leaders and twelve rebels deserted the next day.

Whenever possible Brady would try to oversee how Nori was coming along in training the other groups. It wasn’t that he doubted Nori’s experience, but rather he was suspicious as to Nathan’s agenda. That became clear one day when Brady was watching Nori give Nathan some judo lessons. Whenever they came together in a grappling move Nathan’s hands would always land on an inappropriate place on Nori’s body. Nori’s face would remain impassive, as she would then slam Nathan hard into the ground often knocking the breath out of him.

After the training bout, Nathan bowed with a smile on his face to Nori and then he left to clean up. Brady went over to Nori to hear her grumbling to herself.

"You know he’s just copping a feel," Brady said coming up next to Nori.

"I thinks he’s doing it more to try to make me angry. If I become angry, I will lose my focus. So I must remain calm and turn his mistakes against him," Nori insisted.

"You just can’t seem to see him for the pervert that he is," Brady continued.

"No, I know that he’s quite the playboy, but you don’t have to worry I can take care of myself," Nori reassured Brady.

"Well, be extra careful. Nathan is not the only one to watch. Lisa doesn’t quite cotton to you being so close to Nathan and it looks like you may be the flavor of the month."

"Yeah, I know. We both have our crosses to bear. You have to watch out for Nathan and I have to watch Lisa. But we can’t leave. These kids are coming along they really need us here."

"Tell you what, I’ll keep an eye out for Lisa and you watch out for Nathan."

"Cover each others back. I’ve got your six," Nori responded with a chuckle.

By the end of a month, the entire resistance base looked much more professional. The Misfits were no longer the only group that was on sentry duty. Recon patrols were now being organized to search out for any of the Horde.

By now, the Misfits had started calling Brady "captain". Brady decided that he would work on the ranking for his unit. Nathan had never established any real ranking system with his small army. There was Nathan the leader, Lisa the second in command, and his various group leaders.

So if Brady was going to be a "captain" he decided that Nori would be his lieutenant. He picked the most able member of the misfits to act as his sergeant. This turned out to be the same African-American kid that heckled him that first day he took command. The boy’s name was Marcus Miller. Everyone just called him M&M. Now, with Brady’s insistence they called him Sergeant Miller.

Brady also tried to get his group proper military gear. Everyone had some form of helmet, an old army "tin hat", a modern PSGAT, or a riot helmet similar to the one Nori had. The uniforms were just as eclectic, but everyone wore some form of leather jacket and pants if possible and boots were a must.

Tin Hat PSGAT Riot Helmet

Without any modern communication devices, Brady determined that he would need to rely on an old method of relaying messages. That was where he came up with using a runner. It was strange to be using an old method, one rarely used for about one hundred and fifty years in the twenty-first century.

Roger Jennings was a small pimply face kid just turned twenty that Brady chose for his runner. His glasses were as thick as the bottom of a Coke bottle, but he had two assets that a good runner needed. He was an excellent long distance runner and he could remember word for word anything that was said to him.

It was with a lot of pride that Brady and Nori looked upon their Misfits. The other groups started to accept them into their circle as Nori continued to train the other groups. Group leaders now themselves followed Brady’s example of an officer corps and they also established their own runners.

Though Nathan had a natural charisma that drew people to him, Brady had a quick and strategic mind that earned him the respect of his fellow group leaders. It was with some great jealousy that Nathan watched as Brady became more popular with the other groups.

That was when Nathan came up with an idea to deal with his rival before Brady could usurp his power from him.

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January 25, 2006

Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Chapter 19

By Dwayne MacInnes

Summer was finally beginning to wind down, and the small band of resistance fighters were now well on their way to being a professional army. Ever since Nathan was captured in their last raid on the Horde, the rebels had stayed clear of Khan’s army of thugs. As far as Khan or his Horde was concerned, the rebellion was over.

It was time to show them the teeth that Nathan’s army had grown over the last couple of months. Nathan needed to strike fast and hard against the Horde. Not only was this to avenge the deaths of those that they captured and tortured on the last raid, but also to show that the Horde was not invulnerable. Showing that the Horde could also be hurt would cause the people under Khan’s feet to rise up and join the rebellion Nathan reasoned.

Nathan was going over some of his ideas when Lisa insisted that he allow her to scout some of the local towns. The Horde needed to scavenge their supplies, and they had been moving further outward from their base of operations in order to obtain them. That would bring the Horde closer to the rebel camp giving the rebels the advantage.

Nathan smiled at the idea. This was just what he needed. As Lisa was preparing to go, Nathan insisted that she take two other rebels with her for the recon mission. Lisa at first objected but in the end, she relented.

Lisa returned to the camp after three days alone. She said that the two scouts sent along with her had taken the chance to desert when they were away. Nathan was visibly upset by this. He needed every last member of his group if his raid was going to succeed. Lisa gave her report and Nathan again started to smile. He had a plan and a good one. He worked out the last details alone with Lisa, and the next morning he called together all his group leaders.

There were now five group leaders including Brady. Each group contained about twenty fighters. The captains and lieutenants of each group crammed into Nathan’s trailer house HQ for Nathan’s briefing. There was an old road map laid out on the small table.

"I’m glad everyone could make it today," Nathan joked. "As you can see, I plan to give Khan a little taste of our new army. Thanks to Nori, and even Brady we are now in a better position to give a little payback."

Nathan took out a pencil and started drawing a circle around a small town on the map.

"This is where Khan’s scavenging force is going to be tomorrow. Lisa’s recon mission has shown that they have been scouring the other towns for any supplies they may need. They just started working on this one. It takes them four or five days to completely clean one out. So we’ll sneak in town while they are away, and when they return the next day... WHAMMO!" Nathan slammed his fist on the table with a wide grin on his face.

Everyone else in the room also smiled. They had all obviously waited a long time to exact their revenge on the Horde, and tomorrow they were going to give it.

"Now, we’ll send four groups inside the town. Everyone will occupy good defensible buildings for the ambush. One group will remain outside of town on these hills to act as look out incase any stragglers try to sneak in or out after combat begins," Nathan looked around at his group leaders noticing the eagerness on all their faces.

"OK, Nori you will be in overall charge of the four town groups," Nathan began.

"What!?! You can’t take away my lieutenant!" Brady objected.

"Shut your mouth ‘captain’," Nathan sneered mockingly. "Nori has trained all these groups and so she’ll be in overall command. Ah, but don’t worry you’ll still be in charge of your own group here on the hills outside of town, where it’ll nice and safe for your little band of ‘misfits’," Nathan chuckled.

"Um, sir," Captain Laurie Germain of Rogue group interrupted. "I think Brady is correct, and wouldn’t it be better if the Misfits were inside town where the fighting will be?"

"I’m sorry; I didn’t know this was a committee meeting. If I remember right I’m still in charge, but if any of you don’t like my plan you may leave and I’ll find a new group leader to replace you." Nathan said threateningly.

Everyone stifled his or her objections. Brady started to turn to leave when Nori grabbed his arm and whispered in his ear.

"Don’t, we are going to need you tomorrow."

"Captain West, were you leaving?" Nathan asked with false concern in his voice.

"No, sir," Brady choked out.

"Too bad."

"Sir," Laurie began again. "Where are you and Lisa going to be?"

"Good question," Nathan replied with the smile returning to his face. "We’ll keep Mr. West company. Lisa pointed out that after our last tangle with the Horde we can’t afford to lose me again."

Nathan’s smile diminished a bit as he noticed the disappointed looks on his group leaders. After all they had been through, Nathan was always there in the thick of things with his band of rebels. Now he was going to sit this one out.

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January 31, 2006

Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Chapter 20

By Dwayne MacInnes

It was very early the next morning when the entire rebel camp headed for the town. No one said anything as they hiked along the road in the predawn darkness. Brady figured they would be at the town just before daybreak. That should give everyone enough time to get into position for the attack.

Nori walked next to Brady as they worked their way down the road.

"Well, it looks like I'll have to watch both Lisa and Nathan," Brady joked half-heartedly.

"I don't like this, Brady," Nori confided in an unusually somber tone.

"It's just pre-attack jitters. You'll be fine. Remember I've seen you in action."

"It's not that. I have a bad feeling about this," Nori said quickly and then she jogged up ahead to talk to the other captains.

The small army set themselves up without a hitch. Brady watched Nori position her groups inside of the town through his field glasses.

"She definitely knows her stuff," Brady thought with pride.

The Misfits had formed themselves on top of a steep hill outside of the only road in and out of town. There were some trees for protection and Brady smiled inwardly as he noticed that all his Misfits had situated themselves perfectly and without much noise.

Lisa and Nathan on the other hand were as loud as herd of elephants and as clumsy as drunken monkeys. Brady had to keep telling them to keep their heads low or they may reveal their position to the enemy. Both would just glare at Brady for a minute before they would finally do as they were told.

The sun was just beginning to rise over the mountains behind them when they heard the sound of motorcycles in the distance. The noise of the small engines seemed odd to Brady's ears after a year of not hearing anything more than the engine of their old Dodge truck. Brady could feel the excitement build in anticipation of the ambush. He wasn't alone. 1955 Dodge Truck

Nathan stood up and before Brady could yell at him to get down the rebel leader began to run towards the town.

Lisa then shouted after him, "No, what are you doing?"

"How can I hide up here? I need to be with my troops in their moment of glory," Nathan shouted over his shoulder.

Lisa just stood there watching Nathan run towards the town. The color was drained from her face as Brady reached up and pulled her back down to the ground.

"Dammit," Brady hissed. "Are you trying to let them know we are here?"

Lisa flinched and buried her face in her hands as she began to sob silently.

Brady didn't have time for a hysterical girl. He raised his field glasses to his eyes and scanned the road toward the rumble of the bikes. The lead elements of the Horde could be seen racing down the road toward the town.

Swinging his glasses toward the town, Brady noticed that Nathan had already concealed himself.

"Thank God for that," Brady thought.

The Misfits remained in their positions as the twenty or so bikes sped past them and sped into town. There was a lone U-Haul truck following behind. This was obviously how they planned to transport their take back to their base of operation.

Brady no longer noticed Lisa's sobbing as he watched the Horde enter the town and begin to dismount. After everyone was off his or her bikes and the driver out of the truck, Brady watched as Nathan stood up from behind an abandoned red car. They were too far away to hear what Nathan was saying. "Probably something like surrender or die," Brady thought.

Soon afterwards, gunfire started to breakout. Most of the bikers dropped as the different rebel groups unleashed their weapons unto the exposed Horde. Brady started to smile. "It would soon be over. No more than ten minutes work," he mused.

That's when Brady heard another noise. A noise he had only heard in old war movies, the squeak and whine of steel on steel clattering down a concrete road.

"Cap, look over there," Sergeant Miller called out.

Brady brought his field glasses to bear in the direction Miller pointed. But he would have seen it even without them. The distinctive olive drab green half-track with a white star on the hood and four .50 caliber machineguns on a carriage on the back was racing down the road.

M16 Halftrack

"Jennings," Brady yelled. "Get to that town and warn everyone to get out."

The boy shot off like a bullet without further encouragement. Brady turned to the rest of his Misfits.

"OK, this is where we earn our keep. We have to buy the other groups some time in order for them to pull out," Brady ordered.

With that, Brady raised his M-16 to his shoulder and squeezed off a round. The rest of the group followed suit. The bullets bounced harmlessly off the half-track's armor. Nevertheless, it had the effect that Brady desired -- it stopped.

"Everybody get down!" Brady shouted.

The Misfits all hit the dirt without a second thought as the gun carriage started strafing the hillside blindly looking for the raiders. Fortunately, the M-2s were aimed too low. Splinters from shattered trees flew through the air along with the churned up clods of dirt.

"Sergeant, get the group out of here. I'll try to hold them off," Brady yelled.

"Sir, you..." Miller began to protest.

"Do it!"

Lisa then raised herself up and started down the steep hill towards the half-track. The gunner in the carriage tried to shoot her but he could not depress the guns fast enough. Brady took careful aim at the gunner through the open site on his assault rifle. Brady didn't notice Cooper and Akira next to him who where firing on the half-track to draw its attention away from Lisa.

The carriage raised the four M-2s toward the source of the bullets and started to spray forth its leaden death. Again, trees were being shattered and splinters flew through the air. If a .50 caliber shell hit Brady, he knew he would be turned into hamburger. However, he kept taking careful aim. He'd have only one shot and it would have to count.

Time slowed down as dirt spewed around him filling his nostrils with the smell of freshly turned soil. He didn't notice the short-lived scream of Akira as a round from one of the M-2s tore through his torso. Brady peered down the site onto the man behind the guns. He slowly squeezed the trigger and barely heard the ‘pop' of his round as he fired the M-16. Brady watched the man slump forward as his shot found its mark a split second before something slammed into his left shoulder spinning him around and knocking him to the ground. Before he lost consciousness Brady felt a burning sensation begin to spread through his left shoulder.

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February 02, 2006

The Curse of Agnar Sun

Part One

By Dwayne MacInnes

It was in the year of 1930 that I was working at the Metropolitan Science Museum under the curator Randal Foor. I was only one of several archaeologists on staff and the most junior at that. Yet, I found that I was able to excel thanks in large part to the mentorship of Randy. I soon found that I was on par with my more senior peers.

Randy -- he refused to let us call him Randal -- was slightly over six feet tall and tipped the scale at three hundred pounds. The curator's massive physique had more to do to his corpulent life than to any physical exertions. Yet despite this, Randy was a busy and energetic man. He was determined to find a sensation to fill his museum's hall. He wanted it to be equal to what Howard Carter had discovered in Egypt in 1922.

This search landed us a treasure of ancient Egyptian origin -- found in all places the Punjab region of India. The telegram from our field operatives informing Randy of their find, unleashed an explosion of laughter and excitement amongst us all.

"This is it!" exclaimed Randy. His face flushed red with his delight from his neatly trimmed black beard to his bald head. He excitedly waved the telegram above his head. "We finally have it. Years of searching and false leads have finally landed us the treasure of the century."

"How soon will it arrive?" I asked.

"A mere three weeks, my boy. I am having it sent by an express train and a fast steamer. In three weeks, we shall finally have the legendary treasure of Agnar Sun -- High Priest of Osiris."

The large curator danced a happy little jig there amongst his laughing staff. We were all beside ourselves with joy and excitement. Randy suddenly stopped in mid-dance and grabbed one of the graduate students from the university who had an internship at the museum.

"Quick, my boy," Randy ordered with a laugh, "to the telegraph office and send off a gram reinstating that under no circumstances shall the treasure be opened until we have it here in the museum."

"Just what exactly is it that we found?" asked my colleague Hornsby a linguistic anthropologist.

Randy laughed and reread the telegram. "It appears to be a small red chest about one foot by one foot bound by blackened iron. There is a red ruby on the top of the lid and a scarab beetle latch on the front of the lid. Nothing more is stated."

* * * * *

I at first believed that the weeks of waiting for the arrival of the red chest would linger on tortuously. However, Randy found ways to occupy our time constructively. Little did we know how much we had to accomplish before the arrival of the treasure of Agnar Sun. The museum staff had to plan and build a completely new exhibit around the high priest. Randy himself was busy building up the public anticipation for the new exhibit in the press.

The day the crate finally arrived; all work in the museum came to a halt. We all gathered in the main hall while the workmen wheeled in the famed treasure. Randy walked up to the deliverymen and began signing the papers. I found myself fortunate enough to be leading the two workmen and their freight to small workroom we had assigned for the chest. As I marched quickly down the hall, I heard the workmen whispering in hushed tones to each other.

"Did you hear about it?" asked the first.

"Hear about what?"

"I was talking to some of the crew from the ship, and they said that there were some strange things going on with this crate."

"Ah, they were just telling you a yarn."

"No, I swear that this is the truth. Couldn't you see how anxious they were to be done with it?"

"Yeah, they were a little squirrelly." The second workman conceded.

"They were saying that on the first day out to sea they could hear something banging around inside the crate."

The second workman almost dropped his load as he heard this.

"That's not all. The knocking continued on for days until it finally subsided to nothing."

A shiver ran down my spine as I heard the men talk in their muted voices. Much to my relief I finally arrived at the small workroom. The two men were very happy to place the crate next to our preparation table. The table sat in front of a small window high in the wall. The window could not be opened, but it did let in plenty of light. There was a single chair placed in front of the table, but the room was otherwise empty. Only a small vent in the far wall allowed for air circulation.

As we departed the room, I made sure to lock the only door into the room before we returned to Randy and the rest of the crew in the main hall.

"Ok, we have much work to do," Randy instructed. "We have only a few days before the public unveiling of the treasure of Agnar Sun the High Priest of Osiris."

Randy thrust two scrolls into my hand on my return. "You must have these translated as soon as possible. Hornsby, you are to stand guard over the chest tonight. You may take it out of the crate and place it on the table, but you must not open the chest itself."

I quickly opened up the scrolls to see what I had to decipher. The first was made of papyrus and had the familiar Egyptian hieroglyphics that any good Egyptologist, like myself, could easily decipher. The second was on parchment in ancient Punjabi. For this, I would have to enlist the help of Dr. Mayes. He was one of my former professors at the university. It was evening before I returned to my small office at the museum to begin work on the Egyptian scroll.

I was excited about this task, so I immediately started work on the scroll. The deciphering quickly consumed me. The hours flew past like birds on the wing, and the sun had long set before I had finished my work. In the end, I had part of the story of the treasure of Agnar Sun. It roughly ran like this:

* * * * *

In the third year of Pharaoh Set II, a strange man walked out of the desert. The man's head was unshorn and he had paintings on his face. He was in the raiment of one of the priests of Osiris. The man called himself Agnar Sun, and he demanded an audience with the pharaoh. His majestic deity reluctantly allowed the stranger into his court.

"I am Agnar Sun and I can make the pharaoh a very powerful ruler," the stranger boasted.

The pharaoh laughed and replied, "I am the most powerful man on earth! What can you do my priest?"

Agnar Sun looked over at a huge stone and raised it just with his gaze. He then lowered it gently back to the ground.

"That is wonderful!" Set II replied.

"Wait I can do more." Agnar Sun looked into the eyes of one of the servant girls and commanded her to dance.

The young girl dropped her serving tray and began to dance as gracefully as one of the dancing girls.

"This is indeed useful. Agnar Sun you are to be my chief advisor, and I pronounce you high priest."

Over the years, Set II expanded his boundaries. His enemies fled at the mere rumor of his advance. Egypt could have covered the entire world if not for the unfortunate and untimely death of Set II in a chariot accident. Agnar Sun was to join his pharaoh in the journey to the underworld.

The other priests and advisors being full of jealousy and fear of Agnar Sun decided that they would take the high priest while he slept and prepare him for the journey to the next world with the dead Pharaoh. However, Set II left a very young son to rule. It was apparent that Pharaoh's enemies would soon attack the kingdom. The young pharaoh needed a weapon. Thus, the advisors decided that Agnar Sun could still serve both the new and old pharaoh. Agnar Sun's heart would remain with Set II to accompany the Pharaoh on his journey, and his...

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February 07, 2006

Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Chapter 21

By Dwayne MacInnes

Nori had positioned the groups very well by her reckoning. They all had good concealment and cover. The main road into town lay open and led straight into the middle of the trap that the rebels had set. Now all that needed to be done was to wait for the Horde to ride into to town and to spring the trap. God willing casualties would be kept to a minimum.

Nori was sitting inside an abandoned building where the Rogue group lay concealed. Next to her was the group's captain Laurie who was peering over a window ledge to peak outside.

"I guess that if you are in charge of all of us that would make you a major or colonel or something. I really don't understand these things," Laurie said.

"No, I'm just here on loan. I'm just a lieutenant with the Misfits," Nori replied. "I don't know why Nathan sent me here instead of himself."

"Scuttlebutt has it that it was Lisa's idea," Laurie answered.

"What? Why would she suggest that? She doesn't even like me. Lisa would only send me out if she knew it would get me..."

"Runner!" Laurie interrupted.

Nori stuck her head around the door and looked outside to see a lone person running straight down the middle of the road.

"What idiot would run right down the street? Everyone knows better than that," Nori grumbled angrily.

"It's Nathan!" Laurie answered.

They watched as Nathan ran down the road and then jumped behind a small red Toyota. Nori was about to jump out of her hiding place, march over to Nathan and give him a piece of her mind when she heard it. They all heard it, the sound of a score of motorcycles rumbling down the road.

"Everyone, get ready," Nori called out.

The bikers began to pour into town. They were running right down the middle of Main Street just as planned. Nori was getting ready to yell out the order to open fire when she heard Nathan's shouting voice. Nori peered out the doorway to see Nathan standing up behind the Toyota defiantly.

"You will pay for all that you have done to us and the peaceful people you are now holding under your tyranny!"

"Great," mumbled Nori. "Open fire!"

No further prompting was needed. Close to eighty rifles and assault weapons started pouring lead into the bikers and the U-Haul that had just pulled in behind them. Nori was pleased to see the bikers fall near their bikes. It would soon be over and then she would tell Nathan what he could do with his damn ego.

The last biker fell, only a couple had time enough to return fire, but now there were over twenty bodies lying in the road. Nori called the cease-fire and prepared to exit the building. It was strange how little blood there was amongst the bikers. She thought for sure that after all the firing from the rebels the streets would literally run with blood.

Suddenly an explosion filled the air. Nori ran out into the road and looked up the street toward the hill where the Misfits were lying in support. The entire hillside looked like it was being blown apart. Trees were tumbling and a giant plume of dirt obscured the view of the steep hill. Nevertheless, it didn't hide the old World War II half-track that was firing its machine guns into the hillside nonstop.

"Dear God..." Nori began as she felt someone tugging on her arm.

Nori spun around to see Jennings there next to her.

"Message from Captain West: Get everyone out of the town now!" the winded boy yelled over the noise.

The crack of a handgun brought Nori's attention back to the bikers. There were about a dozen of them getting up from the ground drawing their weapons and firing it towards the buildings. The bikers were wearing body armor. That was why there wasn't much blood. Nori cursed herself momentarily. Nori then pulled Jennings into the building with her.

"Laurie have Rogue group cover us as we pull out!" Nori ordered.

"Yes ma'am," Laurie answered. Then the captain began yelling orders to her group.

"Everyone pull out, pass the word!" Nori shouted again.

The pull out went off much better than expected. Nori doubted that the bikers would follow them far into the woods. She regrouped her small army of rebels in a clearing not far from the town. The sounds of gunfire had long since stopped, even that of the half-track.

"Oh, my God. The Misfits," Nori thought to herself. She was about to cry when she noticed a group of late comers enter the clearing. It was Sergeant Miller. The small lieutenant ran over to her with a grim look on his face.

"Thank God, you guys made," Nori began.

"Sorry, but Captain West, Coop and Akira stayed behind to take out that half-track and save Lisa," Miller said looking towards the ground.

"We didn't want to leave, but he gave us the order. Ma'am we have to go back," Miller pleaded.

"You are right, everyone get ready to go back," Nori shouted.

"Everyone stop. We are staying put until things calm down," Nathan shouted.

"What?!?" was all Nori could choke out as she spun on Nathan.

"We'll wait a couple days, let things calm down. Then we'll see what happens," reasoned Nathan.

Nori stood there trembling just staring at Nathan as if she saw him for the first time. The rage and loathing for him finally was bubbling to the surface just waiting to explode in a burst of violence.

"Calm down now. We can't do anything for that so called Captain West. Hell, he blew the whole operation," Nathan smiled.

A red cloud filled Nori's vision. The dam of suppressed emotion inside her finally broke.

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February 10, 2006

The Curse of Agnar Sun

Part Two

By Dwayne MacInnes

Unfortunately the scroll ended here, and the rest of the papyrus had been destroyed long ago. I pushed myself up from the desk and began to rub my eyes. It was past midnight and weariness had quickly descended upon me. I kept a small cot in the back of the office for long nights like this. However, I finally resolved to walk to my apartment a few blocks away where I could get a good night's sleep. I had some important news to give to Randy in the morning and I wanted to be in top form.

* * * * *

The next morning I met Randy at the museum's door as he was unlocking it. Everyone else would arrive in the next few minutes. We were both very excited to continue our work. I hinted at my discoveries to Randy as we went to relieve Hornsby in the workroom.

As Randy began to unlock the door, I noticed that there was something slightly wrong. I could not quite put my finger on it. Maybe it was the complete quiet, but Hornsby could easily be asleep. Alternatively, it could be the strange smell of death, but that too was familiar in the workroom for we have removed the wrappings of numerous mummies. We have worked on human remains in there many times in the past in that room. Yet I felt that something was not right.

The door swung noiselessly inward and revealed a ghastly scene. The sunlight poured through the small window and beamed down upon the small red wooden chest bound in black iron bands. The red ruby refracted the sunlight into the room tinting it in a crimson light. The scarab clasp remained sealed; nothing seemed to be wrong except poor Hornsby who lay in the corner of the room ripped to shreds as if a pack of ravenous wolves had descended upon him. Whatever it was splattered much of Hornsby's blood upon the wall behind him. The remaining blood had pooled and coagulated underneath his rigid body. There was an expression of abject terror frozen upon his face. His eyes were wide and staring forward and his mouth open as if stuck in a rigid scream.

"Dear God!" I gasped covering my mouth with my hand.

"How could this happen?" Randy thought aloud. "The window is too small for admittance, and the door can only be locked on the outside and I have the only key."

* * * * *

By the time the police arrived, Randy had regained his composure. He was fuming over the senseless assassination of a promising anthropologist. Surely, someone had somehow broken into the workroom with the intent of stealing the treasure of Agnar Sun. Hornsby must have put up a good fight, and the assailant or assailants left without their intended prize. At least, this is the story Randy told the press who arrived shortly after the police.

It was noon as I was walking back to my office when the phone outside it on the hallway wall began ringing. I picked up the receiver to hear Dr. Mayes voice.

"Hello, Montgomery. I've been trying to call you all morning." Mayes cheerful voice boomed.

"Yes," I responded a bit sullen.

"You sound a little out of it," the professor said in a more subdued tone.

"We've had some rather ghastly business here."

"Sorry, to hear that. I just wanted to call to tell you that I have finished the translation. I had a student slip it under your door a few hours ago. I wanted to make sure you had received it. I don't mean to pry..."

"I'm sorry, Dr. Mayes. I must go." I quickly responded as I hung up the phone. The excitement over the prospect of the translation washed the sordid scene from my mind. I would quickly forget the scene that had previously lay before me.

I was now anxious to begin work on the translations again. I quickly opened my door to find the envelope upon the floor. I picked it up and seated myself behind my desk. My fingers rapidly ripped open the envelope and the letter inside consumed my total being. The Punjabi translation ran as follows:

* * * * *

When Alexander entered Egypt (the year would be 332 B.C. in our calendar) he heard rumor of a great weapon used by the ancient Pharaohs to help them in their conquests. He had his soldiers search for the great weapon while he occupied himself with the founding of the city of Alexandria. By good fortune, one of the soldiers had discovered the weapon and presented it to the general.

The Pharaoh's had called this weapon the Curse of Agnar Sun. Alexander put the weapon to great use. Mesopotamia, Persia and northern India all fell in short order. Alexander's power grew and so did his wealth. Armies would flee before the Macedonian's approach just on the rumor of the dreaded weapon.

By his sheer willpower and the security of knowing that Agnar Sun was on their side did his army march through the desert. The army eventually reached Susa when Alexander returned from India. It was a year later that some say he died of fever. However, a few closest to the general say it was from the cursed weapon itself. Nonetheless, Alexander's generals decided that they would have nothing to do with the dreaded weapon. They determined to dispose of the cursed weapon in a far away and secret location.

A courier took an item to the Punjab region. The item was a red wooden box bound in black iron and topped with a ruby recharger. Further, this item had a latch in the shape of a scarab beetle. It is here that he hid the evil head of High Priest of Osiris, the Curse of Agnar Sun. For this is a most deadly weapon. Legend has it that even now the soul of Agnar Sun inhabits the decapitated head. If you find this weapon, please read and take heed of this warning and have nothing to do with it.

* * * * *

My hands were shaking as I lowered the letter. This could not be true. Before I presented my findings to Randy, I had to make sure myself. I opened my desk drawer inside was a .38 revolver. I pulled it out and opened the cylinder. It was fully loaded. I pushed the revolver into my satchel and started looking for Randy. Surely, he will want to post another guard tonight. Tomorrow would be the official public opening.

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February 14, 2006

Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Chapter 22

By Dwayne MacInnes

Brady came to in the back of a truck. The U-Haul had pulled in behind the bikers. The door was open and two bikers stood guard over him. However, any idea of escape was out as he realized that he was chained to the wall. As Brady started to test his chains, fire began to shoot through his left shoulder.

"Take it easy," said a hoarse voice next to him.

Brady looked over to the speaker to see that it was Lisa. At least the blurry image resembled her; he had lost his glasses in the battle. Fortunately, she was close enough that he could make out most of her features. Her face was red and her eyes were swollen from continuous crying. She too was chained to the wall.

"I'm glad you are alive," Coop said on the other side of Brady.

"Coop! I gave you orders to fall back," Brady said.

"Akira and I couldn't leave you by yourself to take out the half-track," Coop said in a low voice.

"Where's Akira?" Brady asked before he could catch himself. He half remembered seeing him lying on the side of the hill dead. His torso all torn up.

"He took a bullet, you are lucky you just got a big sliver in your shoulder," Coop responded sadly.

"It's my fault," Lisa began to cry again.

The men at the back of the truck started laughing as Lisa sobbed uncontrollably.

"Now, now," Brady began. "It's not your fault. How'd you know that they would bring the half-track to the town?"

Lisa only started crying harder.

Brady never cared for Lisa one way or the other. He had always seen her as a threat only to Nori. So he kept a close eye on Lisa, but she was always pleasant around Brady or anyone else. Seeing her so distraught pained his heart almost as much as the wound in his shoulder.

"Please, Lisa. If it was anyone's fault it was mine," Brady comforted.

"You don't understand. It is my fault. I told them," Lisa looked up at Brady's surprised face through her puffy eyes.

"I told them where to hit us and how. It was for the greater good," Lisa sobbed out in a choked voice.

"What? I don't understand..." Brady stammered trying to comprehend what Lisa was saying.

"I had to get rid of her and his damn army," Lisa said.

Brady just stared up at her unbelieving what he was hearing.

"Don't look at me like that. You don't understand," Lisa said as she tried to wipe the tears from her eyes with her chained arms. But she had to settle for wiping them on her shoulder.

"I'm pregnant with Nathan's child," Lisa finally said.

Brady didn't think he could stand any more surprises. Nevertheless, they just kept bombarding him. His head was already spinning from the firefight, his wound, and the jarring of the truck going over the rough road. Clearly, the roads were falling into disrepair already.

"How long have you known?"

Lisa sniffled, "About two weeks."

They all sat in silence for a while as it sunk in. The truck drove steadily down the road and the guards would just watch the three occasionally cracking a crude joke at their expense.

"If I could have gotten rid of Nori and the army, Nathan would have given up his little crusade. We could have melted away into the mountains and lived out a happy life," Lisa said to no one in particular.

"Did you tell Nathan about his child?"

"I tried so many times, but all he would talk about was his army or Nori this or Nori that," Lisa sobbed again. "I was desperate to do something."

Lisa started to cry uncontrollably again. Brady could only slump his head down against his chest. The sounds of Lisa's crying, the taunting and laughing of the guards seemed to accompany his throbbing and burning shoulder in some kind of ghoulish symphony as they continued on their trip to hell.

The guards made no secret that the prisoners were going to see Khan in Vice-City. They assured Brady he was going to the Labyrinth. But maybe the kid and girl would wind up in one of the brothels. Only Khan could decide.

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February 16, 2006

The Curse of Agnar Sun

Part Three

By Dwayne MacInnes

That night I found myself standing guard with a fellow archaeologist Winston. Neither one of us was fond of the idea of being locked alone in the workroom with the small red chest. Winston worried about what could get in. I worried about what was already in.

"You know," Winston began looking up at the ceiling, "there's an air duct up there. I bet you that is how the assassin got to Hornsby."

"Possibly." was all I could murmur, never taking my eyes off the red chest.

The lone light bulb swung slightly from the long wire that hung from the ceiling. The swaying shadows that played off the walls only added to the eeriness of the small workroom. I constantly scolded myself mentally for my academic curiosity that sent me to Randy in order to volunteer for guard duty. Randy insisted that two would stand guard tonight in case the thieves returned to the scene of the crime. The company was small consolation.

The sun had set hours before and still nothing stirred in the room except Winston and me. Winston would half heartily try to joke about our situation, but he could not lift the heavy tension. My companion started to pace back and forth. Every two minutes he would look up at the clock on the wall above the locked door.

It was slightly after one in the morning when I thought I heard a distinctive click. Winston also heard the noise and spun around to look at me. I was behind the table looking at Winston over the red box. His jaw hung open and it took a second or two before he found his voice.

"Did you hear that?" he asked in a quivering whisper.

I slowly nodded my head. I could not tell who was more frightened Winston or me. Then I saw Winston's eyes slowly drop toward the box. He took a step back and the expression of fear took total possession of his face. I followed his wide eyes down toward the box.

At first, I thought my eyes were deceiving me. Was the box opening on its own? Surely, it was impossible. Yet the lid continued to lift on its own.

As the lid swung completely back, a silky black object began to rise. Winston began to open his mouth to scream. However, it never escaped his mouth it only gurgled in the back of his throat. I took a step backwards and hit the wall. The low thump was enough to make the silky object turn slowly towards me.

I could make out the profile of a face as the head of Agnar Sun spun in my direction. The disembodied head had hair that was long and black. The long leathery tan face contained blue, Pictish-style tattoos on each cheek. The slate grey eyes looked into mine and his mouth moved in the soundless speech of ancient Egypt.

I could feel Agnar Sun slowly mesmerizing me. I had only a moment in which to act. My right hand instinctively reached into my satchel and pulled out the .38. Without further thought, I began to fire at the head. The bullets bounced off some invisible barrier that Agnar Sun must have conjured up.

Fortunately, the summoning of the barrier also released my mind from Agnar Sun's mesmerism. I ran past the table as fast as I could and in the process knocked the red box onto the floor. Poor Winston still stood there staring straight towards the cursed head never moving. I fired my last two shots into the lock and swung the door open as I ran out of the room.

I looked back to see the head of Agnar Sun sink its teeth into Winston. My unfortunate colleague did not even utter a scream as the ghoul continued to gouge out his flesh in bite size chunks. How far I ran I do not remember. My memory is blank from the time I left the workroom to the time I awoke in my office with Randy shaking me.

I was incoherent until Randy was able to push some brandy past my lips. The alcohol warmed my chest and brought my senses back to me.

"Montgomery, what happened?" Randy implored excitedly.

"The head..." was all I could get out.

"Head? Is that what was in the box. Well, those assassins not only killed Winston they also made away with their prize this time."

I shook my head and grabbed the translations off my desk. I pushed them into Randy's hand as I took the brandy bottle from his and sat down onto my cot. I took a long hard pull from the bottle.

I sat there on my cot watching Randy closely. As he began to read Dr. Mayes's letter, I watched him shake his head. Randy lowered the letter when he finished and looked over at me.

"Is this true?"

I could only nod yes.

"Come we have work to do." Randy said as he grabbed my arm.

We went back to the wrecked workroom. Winston lay slumped against the wall where I left him. Blood covered his body and the surrounding wall and floor. The small red chest lay in a far dark corner on its back. However, the head of Agnar Sun was nowhere in sight.

"The head can't be far from the box." Randy stated.

I looked at Randy in askance.

"The ruby is a recharger. Agnar Sun draws his energy from Ra or the sun. It appears that the chest has been in the dark all morning so I can only surmise that Agnar Sun is low on energy and will not want to stray too far from the box."

My Egyptian mythology was starting to come back to me. Of course, what Randy said made sense.

"We need to find that head before we contact the police."

I nodded in agreement.

"But, where could he be hiding?"

I looked up at the air duct.

A thought hit me and brought me completely back to my senses.

"Stay here I have an idea and I know where -- and how we can get him." I said excitedly as I ran out of the museum.

I always fed a stray tomcat outside my apartment. The animal was big fellow easily twenty pounds and from the time I have spent playing with him I knew him to be quite frisky. I knew that this cat would be our ally in apprehending Agnar Sun. An ancient Egyptian would never attack a cat.

I was only gone fifteen minutes before I returned with the white and grey tomcat. With the help of Randy, I was able to climb onto the table and had inserted the cat into the air duct. Within minutes, we could hear a banging around in the metal duct. It was soon after that that Agnar Sun's head rolled out of the duct followed by the playful tomcat.

It thudded onto the table and then rolled onto the floor. I quickly grabbed it by the back of the head. I could feel the ebbing power as it tried to pull free. The long night had nearly drained the evil power of Agnar Sun.

Randy stood there with a grim look as he held the cat who was purring in his arms. "I believe our feline friend here deserves a permanent position here. Now I believe we need to call the police."

* * * * *

The next day Randy had set up an exhibit where the red box was contained in a glass case far away from any natural light. Further, he housed Agnar Sun's head in another glass case near the front of the museum. Visitors to the museum reported that they saw Agnar Sun winking and moving his mouth. In fact, some claimed they could feel a slight mesmerizing effect if they looked deeply into his eyes. However, we would never place Agnar Sun in the box nor would we let the ruby recharger come into direct contact with sunlight. To do so would be to invite a terrible calamity.

* * * * *

Jim finished reading from the journal and looked at the curator.

"Look here, Jim I've been over this with you before. Randal Foor was well known for his theatrics. You could say he had a touch of P.T. Barnum in him. He was always adding in the occult angle during those times to sensationalize his exhibits even more. That was how you made your museum a success seventy-five years ago.

"However, today we deal with science and facts. We will show the exhibit as it was meant to be. The head in the box and the box radiating the ruby's light in the natural sunlight as it must have done in some temple in ancient Egypt."

"Mr. Roberts even you have to admit that Montgomery's journal is independent from Foor's own journal that contains a similar story."

"Jim, I'll make this blunt. You'll either drop it or you can find work somewhere else."

Jim hunched his shoulders in defeat. He looked up at the workers moving around the exhibit. Tomorrow with the rise of the morning sun, the museum will open to large and expectant public.

The End.
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February 21, 2006

Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Chapter 23

By Dwayne MacInnes

It was already night by the time the Horde with its prisoners pulled into Vice-City. The noise was practically unbearable to Brady after a year of relative quiet. People were laughing, screaming, and singing as they drove down the main road. The flashing of a multitude of different colored lights added to the surreal surroundings.

The small gang with its human cargo pulled into a fenced-off parking area and stopped. A chain-linked fencing topped with coils of barbed wire surrounded it. The guards then unchained their prisoners from the wall of the U-Haul and led them into what was once the town's police station. Brady and his two companions were then roughly pushed and pulled down the white hallway. At the end of the hall, they were literally tossed into a cell.

The guards laughed as they slammed the cell door shut.

"Hey, sweetheart maybe we'll meet you at one of the brothels later," joked a bearded burly man dressed in black leather chaps and matching vest.

His companion started to laugh even harder. The two men then turned and exited the cellblock. The clanging of the block's main door shutting echoed down the corridor with a hollow clang.

Brady blinked his eyes. Even without his glasses, the artificial light took some getting used to. He looked around the room, but he couldn't make out too much. "I guess it's time to get a cane and dog," Brady thought.

"Welcome strangers," a man's forlorn voice said softly. "I was getting a little lonely being shut up all by myself. As you can see even the other cells are empty."

"Hi," Brady responded as he shuffled his way towards the voice and what he hoped was a bed against the far wall.

Cooper grabbed Brady's right arm and led him over to the bunk beds. Lisa retreated to a corner and continued to sob.

"Looks like you have a little wound there," the man continued. "We should take a look at that injury."

"Thanks," was all Brady could say before his leather jacket was pulled off his torso and fire shot through his left shoulder again. Brady hissed as the pain force him to intake air between his clenched teeth.

"I don't have any real tools but I think I can pull this splinter out."

Brady cried out in pain as the prisoner pulled the inch long splinter quickly from his shoulder with his dirty blunt fingers. The intense explosion of pain nearly made Brady lose consciousness. Then Brady felt real fire burn onto his shoulder.

"Now hold still I need to cauterize it. Too much blood pouring out," the stranger explained.

Soon Brady's shoulder was cleaned and patched up with bandages made from torn bed sheets. After this last ordeal, Brady felt overwhelmingly tired. He lay down on the bed and started to drift off.

* * * * *

Brady instantly came awake when he heard the block's main door creak open. The sounds of three sets of footsteps could be heard stomping down the corridor. It was amazing how quickly one started to become more attuned to their other senses when one of them wasn't working properly, Brady mused inwardly. It wasn't that the other senses became more acute it was that you now paid more attention to them.

"These are them, sir," the same burly man from before said as the new comers approached the cell door.

"Ah, excellent. So this is our little rebellious army and I see it had found another leader," mocked a voice, a voice that Brady recognized.

Brady sat up abruptly and turned toward the new voice.

"Dr. Vanders?" asked Brady.

Khan, formerly know as Barry Vanders jumped back with surprise. The two biker guardsmen and the other prisoners all noticed how Brady's question seemed to affect Khan as if he had been slammed in the chest with a heavy object.

"Wha...what do you mean?" Khan stammered off balanced.

"Yes, of course. It all makes sense now," Brady said thinking out loud. "You taught Inner-Asian history at U of W and Genghis Khan was a favorite topic of yours. You'd always seem to go on some tangent that led one way or the other to Genghis Khan."

"SILENCE!" yelled Khan as he regained his composure. "Dr. Vanders died in Seattle during the incident. Khan was born like a phoenix from the ashes of a dead world to create a new empire..."

"You still have a touch for theatrics, Doc," Brady interrupted.

The burly man quickly pulled out a short club and jumped toward the cell, "Shut-up boy, or I'll ram this nightstick up your..."

"Enough, Seth. I'm sure my former student will find that he's not so brave when he's running the Labyrinth."

"Look, Dr. Vanders I've faced death many times before and this is just one more," Brady bluffed hoping that his face did not betray his bravado.

"I am sure you are a very brave young man. But how about if you are a guest watching the show as your friends here run it. It is a shame, I was hoping to add them both to the brothels. My men's appetite for ...um, ‘pleasures of the flesh' runs the whole gambit."

Coop and Lisa both looked in horror at Brady and then Khan. They both had heard all about the Labyrinth. The best thing to hope for was that you broke your neck as they threw you down the manhole.

"We'll start the games tomorrow morning," Khan added as he and his two companions turned and exited the corridor. The sounds of the two bikers resonated down the hall in accompaniment to the retreating footsteps.

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February 28, 2006

Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Chapter 24

By Dwayne MacInnes

"Look here," began the stranger. "There is way out of the Labyrinth. I helped build it in the old storm sewers. There was a small army of us working on it, so I doubt they even knew they put you in a cell with someone with my knowledge."

"Why should we trust you?" Brady asked.

"You don't have to, but I do have information that could help you whether you believe me or not. I'm Jesse by the way," the prisoner said as he offered his hand.

Brady hesitantly reached out and shook it. He still didn't know if he could trust this man or not. "My name is Brady West."

"Good, good. Man, I've never seen Khan at a loss for words like that. You really burned him good there," chuckled Jesse.

Coop and Lisa then introduced themselves. Neither was in very high spirits but both wanted to know the secret to escaping the Labyrinth, as they would shortly be running it.

"Now as I was saying there is a way out. Many of the side passages are boarded off. We couldn't have zombies and victims just bumbling around passing each other in the dark. So Khan decided to make a game out of it. Lights and cameras were installed and as I said, many side passages were boarded up. But every once in a while a bulb will burn out, or a camera will need adjusting so we builders have to sneak in without the undead making a meal of us. We also need a way back out.

"So that we can easily find our way in and out, we have secret doors set up. Khan and the Horde don't even know about them. No one watches the repairmen doing their work, so the secret is still sound as far as I know."

"How do we find the secret door?" Coop asked anxiously.

"That's the beauty of it. It's so simple. As I said, we boarded up many side passages. Some of these are boxed in so that we can enter from a manhole above and sneak in and out. But in order to find which boarded up wall is in fact a door, all you have to do is look for a white wall. The lighting is terrible and the cameras all tend to be black and white. So it doesn't show up too well on television, but you can see it easily enough in the sewers."

"Couldn't we just climb up through another manhole in the main passages?" Lisa enquired now starting to regain some of her former self.

"Oh, no. They've been either welded or cemented shut from up above. No, the only way out is through the maintenance doors and then out the manhole. Then you better run like hell."

"Say Jesse, what are you in for?" Brady asked.

"I picked a fight with one of the Horde, and I beat him up pretty good too. But Khan decided that instead of feeding me to the zombies he'd let me sit it out for a few days here."

* * * * *

The next morning Brady, Lisa and Coop were all rounded up and escorted out of the jail. A slight rain was falling on them, the roads were damp with the collecting water, and small streams flowed down into the storm sewers. As they entered the street, Lisa and Coop were led away and Brady was taken to a casino. The guards pushed Brady past the many gamblers who rarely looked up from their card games or slot machines as Brady went by. He was then shoved through a door into a large studio editing room with a wall of monitors against the wall. None of them were on at the moment.

"You know it took me all night," Khan said as he turned to face Brady in his swivel chair. "But I remember you now Mr. West. You always did so well on your tests, however you could never bring yourself to hand in your homework. I came so close to failing you. In any event, I remember you used to have glasses. But no need to fear, you won't miss a thing. You can sit up close to that 26 inch television in the next room."

Brady was then manhandled into a side room that only housed the single 26 inch television and a single metal chair bolted to the floor. The two bikers then strapped Brady into the chair in such a way that he had to watch the TV. After strapping in their prisoner, the bikers left the dark room leaving Brady to himself.

The huge TV screen then came to life and Brady saw clear enough to recognize Vanders's face on the tube.

"Lady's and gentlemen we have a special treat today. We have two convicts found guilty of sedition that will try their luck in running the gauntlet we call the Labyrinth," Khan was smiling as the guards on a monitor in the background led the young boy and pregnant woman to a manhole cover.

"Will these be the lucky ones to escape the Labyrinth like Theseus and thus to freedom or will they join the rank and file of our undead friends."

On the screen, an image of a horde of undead milling about in the sewer system all in different states of decomposition appeared. Some were once women, some men, some children, and some old. But all were now beyond life and death.

The TV picture returned to the bikers over the manhole. The cover was now off and they started to push Lisa and Coop into the opening.

"Now let the games begin!" Khan's voice shouted with glee.

Inside the sewer, Lisa and Cooper fell into a small puddle inside the sewer. The only sound on the TV was some eerie background music. There were no undead in the immediate area. Lisa and Coop both looked around, but they were in a tunnel with concrete walls. Lisa pointed in a direction and both of them hurried down the corridor.

"Please, God," Brady prayed. His head was bound so that he couldn't turn away from the TV. He could close his eyes, but needed to see if they made it. He just hoped that they could find one of those maintenance doors.

The image now jumped to the crowd of undead. They started sniffing the air. They could smell food and they started shambling off toward the source of the scent.

The image returned to the two unfortunate prisoners. By now, Lisa had found a sturdy branch that she hefted as a weapon. Coop followed closely behind turning his head one way and then the other.

They came upon a boarded up corridor. Lisa pushed against the boards but they wouldn't budge. Coop pointed to them and said something to Lisa who nodded her head and began down the dank tunnel again.

The view changed again to the undead. The zombies silently moaned and slowly trekked their way down the tunnel. They were following the smell to the source of their game.

Again, the view changed back to Lisa and Thomas Cooper. They both looked terribly unnerved as they cocked their heads in a direction that they apparently heard moans coming from. Lisa started to gag; the smell must have been unbearable. Lisa grabbed Coop's arm and pulled him down another passage that led to another boarded up area.

This time Lisa and Coop broke into a smile. They began pushing on the boards when they suddenly turned around. A body entered into the frame shuffling toward the two. Lisa pushed Coop behind her as she started to swing the branch at the zombie.

As Lisa knocked the first zombie down with a well-aimed swing to the head, another entered the frame and another. Coop still pushed on the boards. It looked like the boards started to budge a little.

"They made it, they made it," Brady started to say over and over.

Lisa continued to swing her club as more and more undead crowded around them. She was becoming visibly tired. A zombie in a nurse's outfit grabbed Lisa's arm and sunk its teeth into her. From Brady's view, Lisa silently screamed in pain as another zombie bit into her neck. The tree branch tumbled from her open hands as more zombies began to descend upon her.

Coop was starting to slip around the barricade when a zombie grabbed his denim jacket. The young boy was sliding his arms out of the jacket when the zombie of an old man chomped into Coops exposed arm.

"NO!" Brady screamed as he watched his two companions fall underneath the crowd of walking dead.

The zombies started to feast upon the remains. Brady couldn't see much except the undead tearing clothing and bloody gobbets of flesh from their victims as they crowded and milled around the unseen bodies. Brady closed his eyes and cried, tears flowing freely from his eyes.

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March 02, 2006

Back In A Flash

Part One

By Dwayne MacInnes

"Data telemetry 95%, adjust two-seven-eight and four-two-niner," the monotonous voice advised over the radio.

"Adjusting two-seven-eight and four-two-niner," Colonel Diana Kemper replied in her British accent. Her calm voice hid the barely controlled emotion of excitement that tried desperately to bubble forth. Diana was about to be the next Chuck Yeager and she was destine to become a historical icon.

"System diagnostic nearly complete," her American co-pilot Major Thomas Barnes sitting beside her in the cockpit said over the radio.

"Data telemetry 100%," the monotonous voice of the ground controller replied.

Over all her years in the military, Diana noticed that no matter where they came from or what age or sex they were, all ground controllers spoke in the same flat emotionless tone. She found it ironic that her in-flight computer displayed more human emotion than the controllers did.

"That must have been something they learned in school. Either that, or the school searched for people with the personality of a tree," she laughed silently as she completed the thought.

"Something I missed?" Tom asked as he looked over to Diana in the pilot seat.

"Nothing," Diana replied realizing she had not laughed as quietly as she thought.

"All systems are in the green. Prepare for acceleration in twenty seconds," the impassionate voice advised.

"Roger, ground control," Diana replied.

This was it. Diana repressed another wave of excitement as she thought about being one of two of the first humans to break the light barrier. The programmed remote drone and the animal flights all proved highly successful. Now, it was the big moment for human flight. The British and American governments collaborated on this program to fly faster than the speed of light. Something thought for over a hundred years to be impossible.

Their spaceship, the Zephyr, would accelerate towards light speed. The closer they got to the speed of light, communications with Earth would become impossible. Therefore, the computer would mostly control the flight. It would fly out to a preordained coordinate and automatically return towards Earth. If the worse case scenario happened and the human crew was unable to respond, the computer would land the Zephyr back on Earth at a base outside Manchester.

"I feel like the train engineer with the dog," Diana thought to herself. From her history studies, she remembered that as 20th century progressed, trains became more and more automated. The owners of railways kept engineers onboard to reassure the public. The old joke was that an engineer and a dog would run the train; the engineer was there to make sure nothing went wrong. The dog was there to make sure the engineer did not touch anything if it did.

"Acceleration in 10, 9, 8..." the ground controller started counting down.

The flat voice brought Diana back to the present. She looked over the flight panel. Everything looked good. She glanced over to her co-pilot and flight engineer Tom sitting next to her. He was taking one last glance out the window at the stars before he returned to reading the flight computer's readout on its screen.

"7, 6, 5..." the voice continued over the radio. There would soon be no communication until the Zephyr finished its flight plan after it had decelerated from light speed and was again in close proximity to Earth. Diana tried to sit back further in her seat. The straps had already secured her to the flight seat so snuggly that she really did not move much.

"4, 3, 2..." the radio relentlessly counted down. Diana's grip tightened on the flight control. She wondered if Major Tom realized that there was a song related to his name composed one hundred years ago. Probably better if he did not.

"1, acceleration go, engines beginning full burn," the voice concluded as the thrust from the Zephyr's engines threw the two passengers further back into their seats. The g-forces grew oppressively greater as the ship sped faster through space.

If the invention of artificial gravity had not come to be in the last couple of decades, acceleration like this would be impossible. As it were, the inertial dampener took a few seconds to catch up to counter-act the g-forces from the thrust. For those few seconds, Diana feared that she would be crushed to death. Fortunately, the g's pushing her back into her seat relented as the artificial gravity inertial dampeners compensated for the thrust.

Diana watched the image of stars beginning to flash past her windscreen. If she could see behind her, she realized that she would not be able to see anything once they reached light speed. All signals from Earth were now effectively severed.

The Zephyr began to shake violently as it approached closer to the barrier. It felt as if the small spaceship was going to rip itself apart struggling to push through and past the light barrier. A quick glance down on the flight panel showed that the navigation shields were holding at full power. Another necessary space flight innovation, without the navigation shields a micro-meteor would end the flight quickly and disastrously.

As suddenly, as it began the Zephyr's flight smoothed out as if it was gliding on glass. Diana glanced down at the flight panel again. A red light flashed on indicating a problem with the quantum flux matrix. Before she could do anything, a bright flash flooded the cockpit for a nanosecond. The illuminate flash indicated the breaking of the light barrier much the same as the sonic boom indicated the breaking of the sound barrier. That was the last thing Diana remembered before she blacked out.

* * * * *

"Colonel?" a voice sounded out from the blackness.

"Colonel Kemper, are you OK?" persisted the voice with an American accent. Diana forced herself to focus on the voice. She willed herself to swim out of the blackness and into the light. As Diana regained consciousness, she fluttered open her eyes. The light burned her retina before her brown irises compensated for the bright sunlight flooding into the cockpit.

"Sunlight?" the thought completely brought Diana back to her consciousness. "Where are we?" she asked.

"According to the computer programming we should be back on Earth outside of Manchester," Major Tom replied.

Diana undid the straps and sat forward in her seat in order to get a better view outside the windscreen. The Zephyr had landed in a vacant field. Trees lined the horizon, bright sunlight flooded through the windows and puffy white clouds floated across the blue sky. They were at least back on the Earth.

"I lost consciousness just as we exited the 'flash'," the American offered. "When I came to, we were here. According to our instruments, we were out only for ten minutes."

"There was a malfunction with the quantum flux matrix. Run a complete system and subsystem diagnostic to make sure that is all that went wrong."

"Yes, ma'am. That will take about two days to run."

"Manchester base this is Zephyr do you copy?" Diana spoke into her radio headset. Nothing came back but static.

"Manchester base this is Zephyr do you copy?" Diana tried again. Again, her only response was static.

Diana made sure that the radio was on the correct frequency. She tried a few alternate emergency frequencies without any results.

"There must be something wrong with our radio. Can you get a fix with the GPS?" Diana asked her co-pilot.

Tom looked at the instrument for a second. He pushed a few buttons and again looked at the GPS.

"Colonel, this doesn't look good. I am not getting a GPS reading at all. Maybe we're more damaged than it looks," offered the major with a hint of concern in his voice.

"You said that the computer is stating that we should be at the Manchester base, correct?"

"Yes, that is its preprogrammed flight course if the human pilots are incapable of flying the ship."

"Computer," ordered Diana.

"Flight computer on line," the mechanical female voice responded in a British accent.

"How did you fly back and land on Earth without the radio and GPS being operational?"

"Radio and GPS are fully operational...my subprogram allows me to use astrogation and highly detailed topographical maps to land at my preprogrammed coordinate," replied the computer.

"Computer, how can the radio and GPS be operational if we are back on Earth and neither one works?"

"There are no signals for the radio or the GPS to pick up."

"Computer, are you sure we are on Earth?" Diana prodded.

"There is a 99.9% probability based on gravity, density, diameter, axial tilt, astrogation position and land masses corresponding to my topographical maps."

"Computer, did we go back in time?" Major Tom asked trying another track.

"Negative, based on astrogation planetary and stellar position we have not gone back in time."

Diana and Tom both silently cursed as the computer gave its analysis.

"However based on the same information," the computer continued, "we are two hundred thirty one years in the future from the date we launched."

Diana and Tom looked at each other as it dawned on them that they were in the year 2299.

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March 07, 2006

Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Chapter 25

By Dwayne MacInnes

For a week after the Labyrinth claimed the lives of his companions, Brady sat in the jail cell alone. The only time he ever saw anyone was when the jailer brought his meal once a day. Brady didn't talk and no one talked to him.

Brady couldn't erase the memory of seeing Lisa and Coop being bitten by the zombies. A pregnant woman and boy being feasted upon by the ghouls played repeatedly through Brady's head while he was awake or asleep.

He was past crying, past feeling. He was just numb. Brady didn't feel his shoulder twinge with pain nor did he feel the pangs of hunger as he waited for his next meal.

Khan had waited a week to let the torment and tortures of Brady's own mind work its poison through his system before he was also thrown into the Labyrinth. Khan didn't even know the girl was pregnant, even if he did that didn't matter to him -- not anymore.

As usual at noon, the cellblock's main door opened. But this time the sounds of two sets of feet could be heard marching down the corridor. Khan had come to finish his game.

"I'm glad to see that you are well, Mr. West," laughed Khan.

"What is wrong, Seth? He doesn't seem to have the gift for words he had the last time we visited him," Khan noted to his burly companion who just laughed.

"Well, I have one more surprise for you. The young lady who...um, past away last week, the one who betrayed you, she also gave us information about what your little community is. Camp Crystal Lake was it?" teased Khan.

"I decided that they are too much of a threat so yesterday I've dispatched the Horde to take it out. I very much doubt your cherished sergeant will be able to stop my mighty Horde and their half-track."

Seth and Khan laughed for minute at this. Brady just stared at them as if not comprehending what they were saying.

"Hmm...too bad. It looks like our friend is catatonic. Well, we have an appointment to maintain. Seth, please show Mr. West to the Labyrinth. The people deserve a show."

Brady didn't pay much attention as he was being led to the Labyrinth. It was clearly a different manhole cover than where Lisa and Coop were dropped. It probably added more sport to have the zombies hunt for their prey than to just drop it on them Brady reasoned.

As the cover was removed, the two guards pushed Brady toward the opening. He expected them to toss him down as they did Lisa and Coop. However, Brady noticed that one of them had a .38 special police revolver hanging tucked into his belt and he sprang into action.

Brady quickly grabbed the gun, but not before the other guard shoved him toward the hole. Brady stumbled backwards into the darkness and landed on a pile of wet paper and leaves eight feet down the hole. The wind was knocked from his body and he just stared up and watched as the manhole cover was replaced.

Brady thought about just climbing back up, but then he heard something heavy being dragged into place over the cover. Light from the lone lamp on the wall illuminated a wet and dirty scene. The smell of stagnant water, rotting vegetation, and flesh permeated the air.

Brady stood up and started stumbling down the corridor. He needed to find a way out like Coop almost did. The sound of water dripping and the screech of an occasional rat echoed down the sewer. It was the only sound he heard and that was good.

Even if he had his glasses, Brady wouldn't have been able to see much better. It was fortunate, that he was already used to using his ears and nose to help him out. As long as he didn't hear that awful death-moan and/or smell the overpowering stench of rotting human flesh he was OK.

Brady decided to check his revolver. He cracked open the cylinder and noticed a single bullet. "That bastard planted that on the guard," Brady thought to himself. He was at least given a choice. Go down fighting or end it all through suicide.

"Well, we'll see what I can do," Brady thought.

Brady kept walking down the corridor, on his way he tripped over something. Brady splashed into the water as his feet became entangled in something long and metal that caused him to fall. After pushing himself back up Brady fished around in the water until his hand landed on something. It was a piece of rebar. It was about two feet long and felt pretty good in his hand.

"Now I have a weapon," Brady shouted to the camera on the wall hoping Khan was noticing.

Brady continued on his way, still looking for boarded up passages. A mournful moan echoed down the chamber chilling Brady's blood. They finally had his scent, the hunt was now on.

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March 09, 2006

Back In A Flash

Part Two

By Dwayne MacInnes

Diana and Tom were both stunned into silence as the computer's remark sank in.

They both just stared at each other at a loss of words. Diana looked out the cockpit windscreen again and viewed the surrounding sylvan glade. Even if they were, over two hundred years in the future there should have been a base or some buildings.

Diana's eyes widened as a terrible thought came to her. "Computer," she said in a trembling voice.

"Flight computer on-line."

"Computer, give me a reading on the surrounding radiation level," Diana ordered hoping against hope that she was mistaken. The look of fear on Major Tom's face showed that he too was following her train of thought.

"Radiation level is higher than normal, but will not pose any immediate health concerns with a limited exposure."

Tom started looking at some of the other instruments on the panel. He tapped on one with his fingers as if to make sure the needle was not stuck.

"Colonel, the rads are much higher than normal. Instruments show that the o-zone is virtually gone and…" Tom's voice broke off in a swallowed sob.

"Please continue Major," Diana said calmly.

"Based on the half-life readings this happened over two hundred years ago. The strontium-90 and cesium-137 readings suggest that this was from a nuclear exchange instead of some natural disaster."

Diana sat there for a minute wrestling with some internal dilemma. The colonel just stared out the window watching the trees' leaves flutter in the slight breeze. It all looked so deceptively safe.

"Major, we need to find out what has happened."

"I agree, we can fly the Zephyr to some ruins and hopefully find some records. Maybe…"

"No," Diana cut off the major. "We still don't know all that may be wrong with the Zephyr. I will need you to stay here, finish the diagnostics, and make any repairs that you can. I will head towards where Manchester should be."

"Begging your pardon, ma'am, but I must strongly protest against that. You don't know the dangers out there. We cannot become separated from each other."

"We can't take the Zephyr with us for fear of destroying our only way out of here. Plus…" Diana held up her hand as Tom began to protest. "As I was saying, we also cannot afford to abandon the Zephyr for something else happening to it while we are gone. Therefore, the only option left is for one of us to head north to where we believe Manchester may still be."

"Then I suggest I be the one to go. I'm physically stronger and six years younger than you. No disrespect, ma'am."

"None taken. However, I wouldn't think that thirty-seven was old. In any case, you are the engineer and the only one who can repair our ship. I, on the other hand grew up in Liverpool just north of Manchester. I have spent a lot of time in Manchester, something I am sure you can't say."

Major Tom relented and nodded his head in agreement. Diana did not relish the thought of leaving the security of the Zephyr for a jaunt in an irradiated world. But, her mind was made up.

Fortunately, when the Zephyr was constructed it included a cabin behind the cockpit that stored two bunks, the head, and a small galley. The room behind that held the tools, space suits, airlock and other equipment for space repair.

"I'll take an environmental suit, a torch -- flashlight I believe you Yanks call it, and some food. I'll minimize my exposure to the air. I have my palm computer that I can download whatever information I come across. It only has a four terabyte hard drive. I hope that will be enough."

"I believe that you should be within range to transmit that information right to the Zephyr's computer. Keep in contact with your radio. I'll alert you to anything new that may arise here while you are away," Tom added.

"Right," Diana answered, "well then I better get ready. I should only be gone for a couple of days. Cheers."

* * * * *

Within half an hour, Diana had descended the airlock in the bottom of the Zephyr, climbed down the stairs, and had set out across the grass field towards the tree line to the north. The temperature was quite warm. Luckily, the space suit could regulate the temperature inside the suit as well as recycle the air. Diana was sure that her air supply should last seventy-two hours. At least, that was what the scientists claimed before she set out on this adventure.

A few insects flew in the air. They for the most part appeared to be unchanged by their environment. Then again, these same insects survived several natural disasters that wiped out whole species of life forms in the past. Meteor impacts, rapid environmental changes, volcanoes, etc. These tended to kill off larger species like the dinosaurs, but the simpler ones tended to survive well enough. At least, the cockroach was not the only inhabitant of Earth. There appeared to be some dragonflies and mosquitoes as well.

Diana entered the wooded area and the Zephyr soon disappeared behind her. There were no signs of squirrels, or other mammals. Though she did believe she heard a bird call somewhere inside the woods. While she was back on Earth two hundred years ago, the trees were not as tall or thick. At least, that is the way it seemed to her.

"I suppose these would be considered old-growth by now," Diana thought to herself.

The colonel continued to walk northward using her compass as her guide. The woods appeared deeper than she first suspected. Back on the old Earth, this was all buildings and roads leading to the space base. There were no signs of them at all. Certainly, even after two hundred years there would still be some sign of a road, a building, or even an automobile rusting away somewhere.

Two hours later the woods ended and she found herself in another field of tall grass. There did appear to be a mound ahead of her. It was long and continuous. It disappeared over the horizon in one direction and led to some hills in another.

As Diana approached the mound, she realized she had come across the old railway line. The occasional rusted steel rail poked through the grass covered soil. The timber ties had long since rotted away. This would greatly help her on her trek towards Manchester.

Soon Diana found an overturned train with its many passenger cars scattered about. Some were even lying across the old tracks. Diana ran over to the nearest passenger car half buried in the ground. It was lying on its side, the metal skin was tattered and twisted, the steel trucks and wheels were rusting away. There were several openings where a door or window used to be. All were long gone.

Diana poked her head into the darkened interior. Grass and the occasional small tree had started to grow inside the car. The beam from her flashlight illuminated the interior as Diana ran it across the seats on the side of one wall. She lowered the beam to a ghastly scene.

On the bottom of the car, that used to be a windowed wall, laid the remains of the doomed passengers. The skeletal bones of the occupants were now mingling with those of his or her neighbor's. Skulls with empty eye sockets and in a silent scream all seemed to look pleadingly at her. Passengers, possibly fleeing the cities had packed the unfortunate train.

Diana pulled her head out quickly and sat on the mound crying over the remains of the unknown victims. Names long lost to the passage of time. People never mourned until now.

"Colonel," the voice of Major Tom brought Diana back to herself. "Colonel, do you read me."

"I read you Major," Diana responded in her head set trying to gather herself together.

"Sorry, Colonel, you haven't checked in for awhile. I was getting a little worried."

"I must have lost track of time. I have found a train track and am following it to Manchester. I should be there before sundown."

"Very good," Tom responded, "don't forget to keep in touch."

It was just at sundown when Diana reached the ruins of Manchester. The hills she spotted as she left the woods were in fact the decomposing remains of tall buildings. The entire city appeared to have tumbled down upon itself. Plant life had taken over the metropolis. Grass, trees, and flowers now covered the streets and walkways of the city.

Steel girders, tumble stones, and piles of bricks hinted at where buildings and houses once stood. The rusted out remains of an automobile occasionally poked out of a grass covered dirt mound. Navigating around Manchester was going to be difficult. A quick scan with her Geiger-Counter indicated that the radiation was no worse than that at the Zephyr.

The sunlight was rapidly disappearing and Diana needed to find shelter fast. She scanned around and found an opening in one of the torn-down buildings. Diana ducked inside and searched it out with her flashlight. It was the entranceway of some public building. The passage of time affected the marble floor minimally. A metal stairway had at one time lead to the upper stories and still appeared to lead down to the lower floors. For now, Diana found an old bench that was sturdy enough to bear her weight and prepared to spend the night.

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March 14, 2006

Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Chapter 26

By Dwayne MacInnes

Splash, splash echoed down the corridor as Brady sped as fast as he dared through the sewer. He finally came upon a boarded up section. It wasn't the white one he hoped for, but maybe he could pry off a board or two. Brady grabbed a plank of wood and tried to remove it. However, it wouldn't budge. He even whacked on it with the rebar to no avail.

The choking smell of death forced Brady to continue his search for a way out. The zombies were getting close. Also, he couldn't exactly tell from which direction the smell was coming from. He only prayed that it was coming from behind.

At that moment, a moan from in front greeted Brady. It was much closer than the last. He had no choice; he would have to back track. Brady turned around and started running back in the direction he came. That was when he heard the explosion.

The entire sewer system shook, Brady nearly lost his balance. The lights flickered and then died. It was now pitch black.

Brady started walking as fast as he could with his left hand out against the wall to guide him where he needed to go. He could hear the moaning of the undead getting closer behind him. As he moved along, the smell was getting stronger. The hairs on the back of Brady's neck were rising. He never remembered being so scared in his life.

Then a new smell overcame him. As a child, he always enjoyed the tangy smell of gasoline. But now it was almost as overpowering as the stench of the undead. This new smell was coming from in front of him.

Brady noticed flaming liquid drizzling down through the storm grates into the sewer. What kind of game was this? Now he was to be fried with burning gasoline. Brady decided to take his chances with the zombies. He turned around again and headed toward the undead. The flaming gasoline was pouring into the sewer behind him. The only saving grace was the flickering light it provided.

Brady didn't know how long he'd be able to breath or even if the gasoline would explode down here. He did know that either way he was dead, so Brady decided to go down fighting. There was always still the chance he would find a white boarded-up wall.

In the flickering light, Brady saw the lead element of the undead. He raised the pistol, aimed as carefully as he could at the blurry target and shot the first zombie in the head. The undead dropped right where it stood as if it was a puppet that suddenly had its strings cut.

Tossing the pistol into the water Brady brandished his piece of rebar. Without his glasses, fighting hand to hand was going to be extremely tricky and dangerous. The next zombie that exposed itself, he struck in the temple cracking the thin bone. This ghoul dropped as well. Another zombie soon replaced this one. Brady had to push on forward as the flaming gasoline continued to follow him.

Again, Brady lashed out with his rebar and again he felt the sickening crack of a skull as another zombie crumpled. But the flames were now right behind Brady and the heat was becoming very uncomfortable. The young man grabbed the next zombie by the lapels, swung it around, and tossed it into the flames before the undead could bite his arm. The zombie lit up like a dry, old Christmas tree in a bonfire.

Brady didn't know how much longer he could go on. His arm was weakening, he couldn't see very well, and the flames were pushing from behind. But the thought of the results of Lisa's tiring, renewed Brady's strength a bit. He swung again and connected again. But this time as he crushed the undead's head the rebar slipped from his hands and tumbled into the water behind the next zombie.

Brady's heart slumped. He was done for. There was no way he could turn and run through the fire, nor could he push his way through the ghouls. In addition, he had already wasted the suicide option that Vanders had provided.

Brady just stood there as the zombies approached from the front and the flaming gasoline flowed ever closer from behind. This was it. This was the end of the line.

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March 16, 2006

Back In A Flash

Part Three

By Dwayne MacInnes

Diana spent a troubled night trying to sleep in a space suit. It did not help that she kept having nightmares of the skeletons in the train car and people going up in flames. At one point in time, she dreamt she heard a wolf howling in the night. However, when she awoke from the dream the sound did not repeat itself.

The morning sunlight spilled into the small lobby where Diana dwelled. She woke up shortly before Major Tom and gave him a status report. Diana removed her helmet and had a quick breakfast in the natural air of the ruined world. The experience brought back familiar smells of plants of her native England. These smells mingled with those of decay and dust.

Diana replaced her helmet and began to search around the room where she had spent the night. There were faded posters on the crumbling walls. A rotting desk lay against another wall. A quick search of the desk revealed some evidence of the building's former occupation.

By great fortune, Diana had stumbled upon an old bookstore. With a little more luck, she may be able to find some answers to her questions. She found a pile of decomposed newspapers, long faded and crumbling with decay. Most of the books she found were in the same sad condition.

Diana decided to take a chance and try the stairs to the lower level. Maybe the elements were kinder to the material down below. The stairs held her weight as she gingerly walked down them.

With her flashlight held out as a weapon to pierce the oppressing darkness, Diana started to search amongst the books. She found a few in better condition than any she found on the main level. Some appeared to be promising. She used her palm computer to take a quick scan of the books and sent the information back to the Zephyr's flight computer.

Diana was thumbing through some promising DVDs when she heard a noise in the back of the bookstore. She swung the beam of the flashlight instantly in the direction of the sound. She thought she saw something white disappear behind a bookcase.

The colonel cautiously approached the bookcase. The flashlight held out in front of her. It never occurred to her to bring a weapon of some sort. However, the Zephyr did not have any, but she could have at least picked up a crowbar or found a sturdy branch on her trek here.

The bright beam of light from the flashlight scoured the area where Diana had heard the noise. The only evidence that someone had been there was the skeleton huddled in the far corner. It was unlikely that it was the bones that she saw duck behind the bookcase. Nonetheless, there was nothing else there.

A primitive fear of the dark was starting to grip Diana's mind. Maybe the ghosts of the former residents of Manchester were now haunting the ruined city. Maybe all of the dead humanity was haunting this devastated world.

Diana tried to push her fear back down, but it was a tough battle. She went back to the DVDs. She picked a few which she would feed into the Zephyr's computer. Occasionally she thought she heard another sound, but Diana could never confirm what she heard.

A final quick search brought forth a few more promising books that Diana hurriedly scanned. The darkness was starting to become more oppressive and the colonel felt an urgent need to leave this place. She felt unseen eyes watching her. For the first time in a long time, Diana was becoming completely terrified.

Diana finished scanning the last book and quickly ascended the stairs back into the entranceway. The sun was still out and had filtered its warm rays into the small alcove. Diana rushed outside hoping that the light would remove some of the irrational fear she was feeling.

Though the midday sunlight did comfort her a bit, Diana felt a dire urge to return to the safety of the Zephyr. She radioed Major Tom to inform him of her find. However, she left out the part about her becoming spooked. Diana started back after she had a quick lunch.

* * * * *

The trip back took less time than it did to get to Manchester. Diana did not know how far she had run to get back. She still felt that she needed to return to the Zephyr's safety.

About two hours of sunlight remained when she returned to the glade where the Zephyr had landed. Diana found Major Tom standing on one of the delta wings with his head inside an access panel over the Zephyr's engine. He had obviously been repairing the Zephyr.

Tom pulled his head out and noticed Colonel Diana Kemper walking towards the ship. He waved a greeting towards her, happy to see her back in one piece. Tom then closed the access panel and began packing up his tools.

By the time Diana was back, Tom had everything packed up and joined her at the ladder to the airlock. Neither said anything until they were both back inside the cockpit. Diana was inserting DVDs into the computer's drives when Tom sat in his seat and looked at her.

"Looks like you didn't waste any time in returning," he joked. Diana just shrugged her shoulders absorbed in her work.

"The good news is that all that was wrong was the quantum flux matrix and I have repaired that. Maybe we can have another go at it and see if we can get back to our time. I have been working on a few theories with the computer. It looks like we may have a chance of returning home."

"I was able to find out a little bit of what happened. The rest I am feeding into the computer now." Diana finally spoke.

There was a moment of silence. Tom cleared his voice and got Diana's attention.

"Something wrong? You haven't said much since you returned."

"Sorry," Diana replied somberly, "I am a little depressed by this world."

"What did you find?"

"It looks like there was a nuclear war on a global scale. The cause of it I am not entirely sure. From what I have glanced at, one nation had become like old Nazi Germany. It is the same old story of some dictator determined to run the world."

"Do you know what nation it was?" the major asked.

"I'm not sure yet. However, I believe it was from the western hemisphere, possibly Mexico or Brazil. I remember reading something about both in one the books I came across. I also know that it began as a democratic nation, but had slowly become autocratic. Something in its past slowly started to erode the individual's rights. Because of some horrible action, the people willingly sacrificed their civil liberties for the sake of security. The poor became poorer and the wealthy became even richer through tax cuts and war profits.

"Unfortunately, the books I looked through weren't in the best of conditions and I didn't read them too closely. I wanted to get out of that ruined city as quickly as possible. I am sure something was watching me."

Tom touched Diana's arm to gain her attention, "Was there any mention of the United States?"

"One of the sources mentioned that the Europe and her North American allies fought a desperate war to conquer the dictatorship. Looks like everyone perished in the fight." Diana looked down at her hands fighting to remain in control of her emotions. "I'm sorry, I haven't had much sleep. I think I will hit the bunks while the computer works on the data. I'm sure everything will be ready by morning."

Diana exited the cockpit leaving Tom alone. She climbed into the nearest bunk and let the exhaustion take control. She was asleep before her head hit the pillow.

It was nearly midnight when Tom shook Diana awake.

"Colonel, you have to see this," the major said excitedly.

Tom nearly pulled Diana into the cockpit. He sat her down in front of a monitor. Tom then took a seat next to her.

"I thought I heard a noise outside," Tom said quickly, "so I had a thermal scan done of the surrounding area."

Tom flipped a switch on the monitor and the green screen showed the image of about twenty lighter green images giving off a heat source. At first Diana thought, maybe her mind was playing tricks on her. Nevertheless, there they were the undeniable images of about twenty humans cautiously approaching the Zephyr.

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March 21, 2006

Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Chapter 27

By Dwayne MacInnes

The air was starting to get thin as the fire was consuming the oxygen. Unfortunately, the only one this would affect would be Brady.

"It’s not fair, dammit, it’s not fair," Brady shouted.

The anger built up inside him. Damn if he was going to just stand there and die. Brady was building himself up for on last charge into the undead when he saw it. He couldn’t believe it, but there it was. It was what appeared to be a glint of steel reflecting the yellow-orange fire burning behind him as it sliced off a zombie’s head.

Then without losing momentum it slice off another and then another. In less than a minute, the last five zombies lay truly dead in the water.

Hello Kitty P-14

"Come on, we have to get out of here!" Nori’s voice echoed down the chamber her katana at the ready in her hands and the pink P-14 holstered on her slim waist.

Brady instinctively started to follow her. They ran down the corridor gaining distance on the heat and fumes of the burning gasoline behind them.

"I told them to wait on blowing the yard. But I guess they were excited to finally beard Khan," Nori said more to herself than to Brady.

As they were racing down the corridor in front of the flickering firelight, Brady noticed it. A white boarded up wall.

"Stop!" Brady yelled as he grabbed Nori’s arm.

She stopped and turn toward Brady with confusion spread across her face.

"This is a way out," Brady said pointing to the white wall.

He began to push on the wall when he looked down. There on the ground half in the water was the blood soaked denim jacket that belonged to Coop. It lay amongst the gore and bones that was once their friend.

Nori sheathed her sword on her back and started to push on the wall with Brady when she noticed that he had stopped and was now crying. The wall had already moved half a foot and another good push would have it open.

"Come on, Brady I need your help," Nori ordered.

Brady looked up into her pleading brown eyes. He fought back his tears and gave the wall one more good push. It gave way and revealed a boxed-in room with a ladder that led up to a manhole. Nori started for the ladder when Brady pulled her to a stop.

"Nori, I love you," he blurted out, quickly kissed her on the lips and then proceeded to climb the ladder and lift up the manhole cover. Caught completely off guard by Brady’s action it took Nori a couple of seconds to shake off the bewilderment that left her standing dumbfounded at the base of the steps.

Brady and Nori jumped out of the smoking hole and Brady rolled over onto his back on the concrete ground. It had started to rain and the sky was overcast.

Nori reached into her jacket pocket and pulled out Brady’s glasses. She kneeled next to Brady and handed them to him. Brady solemnly accepted them and placed the wire-framed glasses on his face. For the first time in over a week, Brady could see everything clearly, as he focused on Nori standing over him.

"We found them on the hill where we lost Akira. He’s buried there now," Nori said downcast. She noticed that Brady wasn’t responding to her comments, so she went over and stood over him and looked down into his eyes. His eyes were bloodshot and puffy. Tears ran in dirty rivers down his sooty cheeks. His sadness tore at Nori’s heart; she could never remember him being so distraught. Not even the time when they first met and he finally accepted the loss of his parents.

"I think next time you could find a more romantic spot to confess your love," Nori said lying down beside Brady hoping to lift his sorrow a bit. "Granted there was a nice fire, but I’d prefer one that wasn’t toasting zombies."

"Coop is dead," Brady interrupted.

Nori stopped talking looked over at Brady and started to cry herself. Brady sat up, pulled Nori closer to him, and held her as they both cried.

He didn’t know how long they sat there, probably only five minutes. They didn’t notice that they were in the middle of a town that was in the midst of chaos. People were fleeing, guns were randomly being fired, and buildings were burning but no one seemed to notice them.

After a while, they both pulled themselves up and started to walk down the road. A slender young African-American man walked over and started walking next to them. Brady looked out of the corner of his eye to notice Sergeant Miller walking along side. Then the rest of the Misfits joined in. Then Captain Laurie Germain and the Rogue group joined in followed shortly by the rest of the groups. Nobody said a word as they walked out of Vice-City as it was burning down behind them.

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March 23, 2006

Back In A Flash

Part Four

By Dwayne MacInnes

There was a full moon out so the ambient light was good. Diana flipped off the thermal imagining and relied on the external camera. She zoomed in on the approaching humanoids. The first images shocked and amazed her.

There standing in the field were what appeared to be humans. They were humans in the basic physical form. The adults stood between five and half to six feet. As you would expect, the children's height varied by age. All of the humans had skin that was an alabaster white, which tended to reflect the moonlight with a slight luminescence. Diana looked down at her own creamy brown skin. No doubt, her skin color would seem as strange to them as theirs did to her.

Even stranger was the fact that they wore no clothing and their bodies were completely devoid of hair. Not even a wisp on the heads of the males or even the females. However, the most marvelous detail of all was their eyes.

The eyes of the queer humanoids were easily three times as large as a normal human's eyes. The irises had no color pigment, just the pink found in albinos. Diana felt a shiver run up her spine looking at the creatures that were so familiar and yet oddly alien.

"This is us?" Major Tom whispered.

Tarsier

Diana nodded her head. She knew that evolution tended to take quick long leaps based on environmental factors. Did humans become nocturnal albinos from living underground after a nuclear holocaust? Surely, the decades long nuclear winter that followed reinforced this new trait. Their faces now resembled the Tarsiers of Madagascar more than they did their own human ancestors.

"Major, raise the navigational shields."

"Yes, ma'am," Tom replied softly keeping his eyes glued to the monitor.

They watched the humanoids all night. The humanoids still communicated with each other, but their language had evolved enough that Tom and Diana could not make anything out from the recordings they took. They also tended to act more animalistic than human. Tool use was back to the basics of early man and the small tribe looked upon the Zephyr with curiosity and fear. Long before sunrise, they left the glade.

Diana and Tom went to their bunks and slept a restless sleep filled with the dreams of hairless, frog-eyed humans walking around with wooden spears. It was still late morning before Diana awoke. Even though she had less than eight hours of sleep over the last couple of days, she could no longer stay in bed. Her mind was racing with questions about how this strange world came to be.

Without waking the sleeping Major, Diana slipped out of her bunk and entered the cockpit. She sat in her flight chair and looked up the progress report of what computer had determined. Diana was surprised to find that the DVDs had faired better than she expected. The computer attained more information off them than she thought was possible after the ravages of war and time.

With a sinking heart, she read over the analysis. Diana was so engrossed in the reading that she did not realize she had been there for over two hours until Tom walked up behind her.

"Find anything out?" Tom asked giving Diana a slight start.

"Yes, Tom," Diana said sadly. "You better take a seat."

Tom sat down in his chair and looked at the colonel. If the colonel had used his first name, Tom new that something was dreadfully wrong. "This is serious, huh?"

"I'm afraid so," Diana replied and sat there trying to find the words of how to begin.

"I've got more information about that dictatorship I was talking to you about. It was not Mexico or Brazil. Tom, I don't know how to tell you this, but it was the United States."

* * * * *

"What? How? When?" Tom sputtered out the questions. His brain was still trying to grapple with the idea that the United States of America, the poster child for freedom had wound up like Nazi Germany. It simply was not possible.

"I don't know where to begin," Diana faltered.

"When did the war begin?" Tom asked straight out staring Diana right in the eyes.

"The final exchange happened sometime in the year 2075 if we base it on the last report that I was able to find."

"You are telling me that the U.S. and the U.K. became mortal enemies just a few years after we launched the Zephyr?" Tom shook his head. It was impossible.

"That's what is strange; according to the report the U.S. had been becoming more autocratic for decades."

Tom just stared at Diana. He could not form any words. His mind was at a standstill trying to comprehend the bombshell the colonel had just landed in his lap.

Diana turned towards the monitor and pointed to the screen. "According to this, the United States had set up concentration camps to take care of dissidents. They would round up troublemakers and have them just simply disappear off the face of the earth. ` "The government monitored personal phone calls and emails, and libraries and postal workers kept tabs on their customers. Neighbors would watch neighbors and anyone thought to be suspicious the government instantly rounded up and imprisoned without due process."

"When did this begin?" The major asked in a sullen voice.

"Remember the 9/11 terrorist attacks?"

"Yeah, my grandfather told me of them often. He told me of how we went into Afghanistan and defeated the Taliban. Utilizing the global goodwill that the U.S. had attained after the attacks and the combined efforts of all nations lead to the defeat of al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. We even had our national debt paid off within ten years of the year 2000. Because of that we were able fund this space program with your country."

"Major, this is where it gets very strange. History as we know it changes here. After Afghanistan the U.S. invaded Iraq."

"Why? There were no Iraqis among the terrorists in the al Qaeda bombing of the World Trade Center."

"True, but there were many reason given. Most of the excuses to go to war turned out to be false. However, they public did not find out about it until after the fact of going to war with Iraq. Nonetheless, by going to war with Iraq, al Qaeda found a new breeding ground for terror groups. Your country went in record debt funding the war. It even ran ads on the tellie supporting the war. Many people in the Middle East felt that the U.S. was going to invade them so they decided to fight back. Therefore, things escalated.

"As more terrorist attacks exploded around the world the U.S. surrendered more civil liberties for the sake of security. The president assumed more power and congress became a mere spectator. People were persuaded to vote in certain ways by using fear tactics. Before long, the American citizen had voted away their rights and voted in a dictator.

"The U.S. government also did away with the Geneva conference conduct of war. Prisoners were tortured and humiliated. Soon it just was not just terrorists; it became criminals, and then even ordinary citizens. The same thing happened with phone tapping.

"The U.S. then started to solve all its problems by going to war. Every citizen at the age of eighteen had to join the military for a mandatory four-year enlistment. The United States occupied Mexico and much of Central and South America this way, not to mention most of the oil-laden countries of the Middle East. Even a war with North Korea erupted. This is when France and Germany stood up to the U.S.

"Soon France and Germany had been reduced to nuclear cinders. The rest of Europe and Canada declared war on the U.S. The result you see outside your window."

Major Tom sat there silently looking down at his feet. This never happened in the world from where he came. This was simply impossible. Then something else hit him.

"The flash! When the quantum flux matrix malfunctioned, it did not just send us into to the future. It sent us to an alternate timeline."

"That's how I see it, Major."

"Then the odds of us getting back to our time and place are very remote."

Colonel Diana nodded her head in agreement. "But we have to try. If for no other reason that to find a better place than this."

Major Tom looked up to Diana, "Colonel?"

"Yes, Major"

"I still don't understand how it all started."

"Major, look at who the records say was the president during the first eight years of 21st century."

"That's not possible; he lost that election in 2000."

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March 30, 2006

Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Chapter 28

By Dwayne MacInnes

The small army of rebels made camp deep in the woodland clearing several miles away from where Vice-City was now burning. Brady explained about Lisa's betrayal, though he kept the fact of her pregnancy to himself, and of meeting his former history professor turned conqueror, of Lisa and Coop dying, and of how Khan sent an army out to destroy their settlement at the lake.

Nori then told how they came across the bodies of the two scouts sent with Lisa. Both had been shot in their heads while they were sleeping. She also explained that it took them a week to follow the bikers back to Vice-City. When they saw the Horde vacate the city, it gave them ample cause to sabotage the fuel depot that Khan had established.

"But how did you convince Nathan to follow us to Vice-City?" asked Brady.

"Oh, that was easy," smiled Sergeant Miller. "Nori kicked the living bejesus out of him."

The resistance fighters began to laugh as they told the story of the little teenage girl who beat up Nathan. After that, Nathan took off and no one heard from him since.

Brady stood up and started to pack up his things.

Nori looked up at him, "What are you doing?"

"We've got to get back to Crystal Lake in a hurry."

Nori pulled Brady down to sit on a log. "Look it took us a week to get here; it'll take us a week at full trot to even get to Crystal Lake. How long does it take to drive there from here?"

Brady put his head in his hands as the answer sunk in, "No more than a few hours."

Nori put her arms around Brady and talked close to his ear, "OK, I'm worried to death about Sarge and everyone too. But we have to get this army together and ready to defeat the Horde once they come back. Who knows maybe Sarge has already taken them out?" Nori smiled weakly.

"That is highly unlikely; the Horde would have had the element of surprise. Plus, they still have that half-track."

"We did pull out some pretty big artillery pieces and rockets from those abandoned depots," Nori said hopefully.

"Perhaps," Brady answered still unconvinced.

Brady and Nori didn't see Sergeant Miller walk over to them.

"Uh, excuse me sir, ma'am? But I wanted to give the captain this," Miller held out Brady's PSGAT helmet and shotgun. The captain had forgotten that he'd lost them when he was hit on the hill.

PSGAT Helmet

Brady reached out and took the helmet and his grandfather's shotgun. He patted Miller's arm and stood up. The sadness in his heart was pushed away as he looked around at their small rebel army. Pride started to pulse through his heart. After all he had lost, could still lose, at least he had gained something as well.

"Sergeant, thanks. Get them men ready for camp tomorrow we head east after the Horde. We'll decide it one way or the other."

The next morning the five groups were up and ready for their long march before sun up. So far, the casualties had been light in the two engagements over the last week. The only deaths were: Akira, Coop and Lisa. Nathan was the only deserter and only two others had minor injuries that didn't seem to hinder them. A roll call found that they had a strength of ninety-seven counting officers. Not bad after a routing defeat the week before and the stunningly successful raid the day before.

On Nori's insistence, Brady was in overall command with her as his second. No one objected, least of all the Misfits, who were pleased to see their own leaders take control of the army. The moral in the small army was very high, all were ready to exact some form of revenge upon the Horde for all that the evil biker gang had done to their loved-ones over the last year.

Brady sent a small scouting party ahead of the main group to warn them of any surprises that may be in wait for them. Sergeant Miller, Jennings, and three more members of the Misfits composed the scouting party. The whole army was marching east by the time the sun rose in front of them over the mountains.

The birds were singing, the warm morning sun was comforting them, and the still lush green foliage contradicted that they were all marching off to combat. It was hard not to tear off and frolic in the open fields on either side of them as they marched ever eastward into the mountains.

Around noon, a small rainfall pelted down on them. Being from Washington and living outdoors over the last few months the army just continued on. The rain was just a slight nuisance to what this group of rebels had already endured.

They were marching down the road between wide fields that were once a dairy farm when Brady saw his scouting party running back towards him.

"Damn," thought Brady there wasn't any cover just the ditches beside the road. The nearest building was a barn off in a field hundreds of yards away.

"Every duck down in the ditches!" ordered Brady.

The scouts ran up to Brady and dropped down next to him.

"Sir, the Horde is on its way here. They have that half-track in the lead," Miller began, but before he could say any more the distinctive sound of metal treads on concrete squealed at them down the old road. Brady looked up over the embankment and saw in the distance the old war vehicle heading straight for them.

"OK, we can't take it out with our small arms," Brady called out to his troops. "I'll take out the driver of the half-track. As long as we stay low, it can't depress its guns low enough to shoot us. We'll have to get the gunner later."

The half-track and a small army of vehicles following behind were starting to close in on the small army. "Damn," Brady cursed himself. He'd hoped that they would have found a better ambush site than this. Maybe some trees that he could put sharpshooters in to fire in on the open top of the half-track or even a hill like the one they had where Akira died. However, he had neither and it looked as if the cost of his turn of bad luck was going to be high.

Brady scanned his troops quickly he noted the grim and determined look on their faces as the noise of the half-track increased. Some were silently praying while others were readying their weapons for one last great attack. "At least, we'll take a few with us," Brady thought as he raised his M-16 aiming at the driver's window on the half-track. The head of man behind the wheel became sharper over the open sight as the half-track approached.

Halftrack
Posted by deg at 09:28 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 06, 2006

Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Chapter 29

By Dwayne MacInnes

Brady took in a deep breath and started to let it out slowly as he waited for the half-track to get closer. His finger was waiting for the signal from his brain to squeeze the trigger slowly to unleash bullet from his M-16 towards the unfortunate target. The army captain prayed that the window wasn't bulletproof; otherwise, they were all doomed.

M16

"Well it's now or never," Brady thought. He started to squeeze the trigger when he heard Nori shout out:

"HOLD YOUR FIRE!"

Brady quickly looked over at Nori on the other side of the road. She was standing up and waving at the half-track. "Is she crazy? She knows we can't surrender," Brady angrily thought.

"Look in the truck!" Nori said excitedly.

Brady looked at the truck, inside was the driver he was aiming at. Brady didn't know what had Nori so excited. He looked at the passenger side and noticed a boy sitting in that seat.

"A boy?" Brady asked.

The captain looked harder as the half-track started to slow down. It couldn't be. It was impossible! Brady jumped out of the ditch and ran over to the half-track. There inside beside the driver was Coop.

A red dodge truck with an M-2 .50 caliber machine gun on a single mount in the bed pulled around the half-track and stopped beside it. In the driver's seat was Sarge. The whole army stood up as Brady and Nori ran towards the convoy. The large African-American army sergeant jumped out of the red truck and embraced Nori as she ran up to him. Brady just stood thunderstruck as he watched Coop run over to him.

1955 Dodge Truck

"Brady, I thought you were already dead!" the excited eleven-year-old boy yelled as he hugged Brady.

Brady pushed Coop back, "I...I saw you get bitten and go down under a hoard of zombies. How?"

"I did get bitten, see," Coop rolled up his shirt sleeve to show two nasty horse-shoe shaped black and blue bruises that were starting to yellow. There weren't any puncture marks anywhere along the bruise.

"It still hurts, but I was lucky that the zombie was an old man and didn't have any teeth," Coop said. "I was able to squeeze between the door and the wall because Lisa wouldn't let any zombies past her to me. Then I climbed up the ladder and ran all the way back home."

Brady shook his head. He couldn't believe his eyes or ears. The captain silently prayed a ‘thank you' to Lisa. Coop was still alive, because of her sacrifice. Brady looked at Coop again, the boy was never big to begin with, but now he was down right skin and bones. When he meant he ran all the way home it must have been close to literal. The boy must have had very little to eat and ran as much as he could.

By now, Sarge walked over to Brady. "Looks like Coop here is quite the hero. He got to camp before the Horde and warned us about you. We were heading west on a rescue mission when he saw the half-track. I was able to snipe the driver and gunner from a large tree. The rest was pretty easy. Whatever this Khan is, he is no military man. His thugs weren't even second rate soldiers," Greene laughed.

Brady looked over at the half-track, the mechanic George MacLaren was climbing out of the driver's seat.

"Hi, kid," smiled Greg Smith from the gunner's carriage.

The two armies started mingling when it was clear that both were on the same side. They decided to set up camp in the field next to the barn. With the two groups combined, they had doubled their strength in personnel and astronomically increased it in firepower with the addition of the half-track.

The next morning with the addition of vehicles, the two armies were able to make it to Vice-City in only a matter of a couple of hours. The once proud capital of Khan's empire was now a burned out hull. The debauchery that took place there only two days before were now forever silent. Black smoke still billowed up from the sewer and several buildings were reduced to rubble.

The convoy stopped at the outskirts of the town. The wind blew hauntingly down the deserted streets. The caws from the ravens were the only sounds. Brady looked up from the bed of the Dodge truck to see the black birds pecking at the flesh of several dead people swaying in the wind hanging from the lampposts.

"Damn," he hissed. The remnants of the Horde exacted their own revenge on the people of the town.

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April 12, 2006

Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Chapter 30

By Dwayne MacInnes

"Looks like hell," Sarge said as he exited the cab of the Dodge.

"It was," Brady replied solemnly.

As the combined army started to dismount, a group of people began to pour out of the surrounding buildings.

"Look, it's them!" shouted a man.

"They're the ones!" yelled a woman.

The army looked around them confused. They gripped their weapons at the ready in case any trouble should spring up.

The crowd of people started to approach the army. The soldiers were feeling nervous. What should they do? They looked at either Sarge or Brady for an answer. Both were still observing the situation.

"Thank God, you made it," a large man broke out of the crowd and approached Brady. "I thought maybe they would have gotten you in the Labyrinth. I sent your friend there," he said as he pointed at Nori, "down a manhole to find you when I saw her and her friends sneaking into town."

Brady recognized the voice; he was never able to see Jesse's face clearly, when they were in jail together. The captain smiled, "Man, you not only saved my life, but that of Coop here as well."

"Sorry, about the girl," Jesse said with genuine regret.

"What exactly happened?" Sergeant Greene asked pointing to the hanging bodies.

Jesse began, "well, after your army here took out the fuel depot the power all over town went out. Fires broke out and for the first time in a long time, we woke up. We used to think that it was better to be abused than food for those dead monstrosities.

"Our families were forced into slave labor, or prostitution. With the majority of the Horde gone and the chaos flooding the streets in the wake of your raid we rose up. We took back our streets. We overwhelmed the remnants of Khan's band of thugs and to cap it off we got the head man himself.

"We knew the Horde would return and we wanted to send it a message so we hung the remaining Horde and its collaborators and we are holding its leader as prisoner. Now, it is apparent that you took out the Horde and we are free."

The crowd of citizens surrounding the army suddenly broke into wild exaltation as Jesse mentioned the word ‘free'. Brady, Sarge, Nori, Coop and the rest of the army looked around at the smiling and laughing faces of the town's people as they cheered on their victory. These people who for so long were victimized by a group of thugs who ruled with fear and brutality were finally free of tyranny.

"Now, now!" Jesse shouted over the rejoicing crowd. "Let's welcome our deliverers and we can kill that bastard in jail."

The people started to cry out and cheer even louder at Jesse's new speech. But before he could rally, the people to follow him to the jail Sarge shot a single shot in the air. Everyone quieted down. The soldiers looked at Sarge with a question on of their faces.

"We cannot kill him," Sarge called out.

The crowded started to grumble some shouted out questions and others told him to mind his own business. They all started to gather themselves up again to storm the jail when Sarge shot again. However, this time he fired in front of the lead civilian headed for the jail.

"You will not kill him or we will have to use force against you," Sarge cried out.

"Ah, he's bluffing," an old woman scream.

"Soldiers ready arms!" called out the old Ranger.

The two armies readied their arms as if they were one. The myriad rifles and assault weapons snapped into position and were trained on the crowd.

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April 19, 2006

Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Chapter 31

By Dwayne MacInnes

The citizens all quieted down and looked at the army as if they were the loathsome Horde.

Sarge began his speech again, "I will tell you why you cannot kill him. You cannot kill him because to do so would make you as bad as he was. Wait, wait and hear me out," Sergeant Greene said as the crowd started to grumble again. "Remember that we are still Americans. Maybe the rest of the country has written us off, but we are still Americans. This country, this state, and this town were based on a system of laws that were in place so that we all could live in freedom without tyranny. Once we discard any one of those laws, we become no better than the thugs that the Horde -- and this Khan -- were.

"It wasn't so long ago I used to think as you do. But a friend...excuse me, family member of mine reminded me of whom I was." Sarge nodded smiling toward Nori.

"I was reminded of what is best about our country. Yeah, maybe it isn't perfect but it's the best we got. So like it or not, Khan will face a just and lawful trial. If for no other reason than to show to him how much better we are than he and his flunkies were."

Many in the riotous crowd looked down at their feet. A few were moved to tears remembering better times. Some even broke out in smiles and walked back to the army.

"Well," Jesse smiled. "I guess you touched a chord in all of us. Although many of our community will suffer the physical, mental, and/or spiritual scars for the rest of our lives, we will do so with our heads held high. Maybe we've suffered rape, addiction, and beatings, but we will carry on as a community. We'll help each other, and we'll do so with justice not vengeance."

Later that day Brady and Nori went to the cell to visit Dr. Vanders, a.k.a. Khan. The man once the leader of his own empire now sat huddled in a corner of a cell rocking back and forth.

"Dr. Vanders?" Brady tentatively asked.

The man looked up at the voice. His eyes looked right past Brady and he started mumbling.

"Uh...Khan?" Brady tried again.

This time Vanders eyes focused onto Brady and an evil smile formed on his face. A chill went up Brady's and Nori's back as the nasty smile took form under the two mad eyes.

"Ah, it's the rebel leader. So where is the rebel camp?" Khan asked.

Brady and Nori both looked at him. It was obvious that Khan had lost his mind.

"I'll ask you one more time, where is the rebel base?" shouted the mad man spraying spittle across the cell.

"Come on let's get out of here," Nori said as she grabbed Brady's arm and led him out of the cellblock. After the guards closed the door, Brady turned toward Nori.

"You know I feel sorry for him. All he ever had in life was his fascination with Genghis Khan. I wonder if he'll ever know of all the pain and suffering he's caused so many people?"

Nori looked up at Brady, "I doubt it. I think he should be institutionalized, unfortunately there aren't any asylums anymore."

"Yeah," Brady said starting to laugh.

"That's not funny, you should be ashamed of yourself," admonished Nori.

Brady smiled as he waved his hand, "No, no it's not that. I just felt like I was Luke Skywalker when he kept asking about the rebel camp."

Nori for a second was caught off guard, "Did you just make a movie reference? There's hope for you after all!" Nori laughed her infectious laugh and soon had Brady laughing along side of her.

"Though you're not Luke so much as Han Solo," Nori finally said.

"How so?"

"First of all you are no Jedi knight. Secondly I'm not your twin sister, and thirdly Han gets the girl," Nori said as she pulled Brady towards her and kissed him hard on the lips.

It took Brady a few seconds to recover his composure before he put his arms around Nori and returned the kiss.

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April 26, 2006

Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Epilogue

By Dwayne MacInnes

Epilogue

Brady stood in front of Pastor Brown remembering the last couple of months after their victory over the Horde. The remnants of the Horde vacated the various towns that they had previously held while under Khan's leadership. In order to prevent a power vacuum, Ronald set up temporary local governments backed by a few of the soldiers from his army. These soldiers had the task of maintaining the peace and training a defense and police force.

Camp Crystal Lake soon became the capital for these recently freed towns. Not everything went off without a hitch. Food would soon become scarce and so a scavenging detail was set up to help stretch local food stores until crops could be planted in the spring and harvested later on. Water and sanitation were another concern as were the wandering undead that occasionally showed up. So far, different committees had been set up to deal with these and other problems. The local governments were performing well, but there was still some grumbling.

Back at Camp Crystal Lake, the Rabbi and the Pastor with the approval of the local council promoted Sarge to General. Only those closest to General Greene still called him Sarge. He was now setting up the workings of a functional army.

Laurie Germain was promoted to Colonel with Marcus Miller as her major. The five groups of the rebel army became the backbone of the new military. The rest of Ronald's army, that defeated the Horde, either went back to their jobs at the camp or joined one of the five squads.

Thomas Cooper was awarded the highest award that the new government could offer. He was granted the Gold Star of Gallantry for his run from Vice-City to the camp. It was his warning that saved them all from the coming danger of the Horde. Rabbi Rosenberg was able to find a skilled jeweler who was able to create the new medal.

However, the best thing that happened was that Nori had accepted Brady's marriage proposal. He knew in another lifetime that they would have been considered very young to be getting married. But they both had grown up a lot over the last year and a half. They both maintained their ranks in the new army, but Brady and Nori were going to try and find a different kind of life together.

Sarge and Coop decided to move into a cabin at Camp Crystal Lake in order to let Nori and Brady live at the West's cabin on their own. All felt that the area was secure enough that a constant lookout wasn't needed at Brady's cabin. Plus, scouts were constantly patrolling the area for anything from bandits, feral dogs, to undead walkers.

A lone violin began to play Pachebel's "Canon in D". Brady looked back down the long rows of wedding attendants standing in two lines in the great lodge of the old summer camp. Down the long isle he saw Nori in a white homemade wedding dress being escorted down the carpet by Sarge. Brady couldn't ever remember seeing Nori look so beautiful or Sarge so happy.

"She's beautiful," Coop said next to Brady. Brady knew that he could never have found a better best man than Thomas Cooper. They were more than companions they were brothers in every sense of the word but blood relation.

"Yes," was all Brady could choke out as he looked at a beaming Nori slowly walking down the aisle towards him. "Now you get nervous?" Brady asked himself internally.

After the vows were exchanged, Pastor Brown pronounced them husband and wife, and after the reception party was over, Brady and Nori headed for a red Dodge truck. The 1955 Dodge truck still had the .50 caliber M-2 mounted on the back as well as shoes and cans tied to the back bumper. Someone had written with soap on the sides and windows ‘Just Married'. The truck was a gift from Ronald to the newlyweds.

As the Rabbi helped the newlyweds into the truck, he gave them some sage advice. Then he waved at them and stood back with the rest of the crowd cheering as Brady and Nori headed off in the dusk through the camp's gates toward Brady's cabin.

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May 03, 2006

Mac MacKinnon and the Race for El Dorado

Chapter 1: Radio, Dan, and Mac

By Dwayne MacInnes

Rebecca Strong carried the suitcase that contained her belongings up the dirt road to the whitewashed wooden hangar situated near a yellow grass field that served as an airstrip. A tall wooden tower stood next to the hangar, as to its purpose Rebecca could not guess. The young woman continued to walk toward the opening in the 100-degree New Mexico summer. The heat was dry and stifling. Rebecca was sweating heavily; her damp chestnut hair clung to her head.

Rebecca was here to meet her father Dr. Hugo Strong, who was a rather well known archaeologist from the University of Chicago. He was currently studying some Anasazi ruins in the area. The archaeologist had requested if Rebecca was available, that she could spend some time working in the field with him during the summer. This would be the first time the two spent any time together since Rebecca's mother died nearly three years ago during the Spanish Flu epidemic.

Dr. Strong took the death of Rebecca's mother particularly hard. Fortunately, some of Hugo's close friends saved his career when the archaeologist took to heavy drinking. With the Prohibition Act, drinking was dangerous, just being in possession of liquor landed one in jail. Hardly something the University would look kindly on regardless of his achievements.

Nevertheless, Rebecca was excited to do some fieldwork with her father. She doubted that she herself would ever find anything thrilling again after her mother's death. But, then last year with the passage of the 19th amendment, the world appeared to open up for a young woman. With the right to vote, Rebecca was sure that even new opportunities would soon unfold for her. Being in the field with her prestigious father was an adventure never dreamed of before and it was just one example.

Nervously, Rebecca approached the open hangar doors. She did not know what to expect. She had only seen aircraft from a distance before. This too would prove to be another adventure. She heard a voice talking from inside, but there was only one side to this conversation.

"Must be talking to himself," Rebecca mused.

The young woman poked her head around the doublewide doorway. Inside she saw a yellow 1920 HCS Stutz Roadster II parked on one side of the huge open room. Behind the car there were tools hanging on the wall with various metal drums on the floor next to tall standup locker. On the opposite wall from Rebecca, there was a door. A sign hung from its knob that said "Gone Fishing". Across from the yellow vehicle, was a man in tan coveralls wearing headphones over a ball cap and sitting in front of what looked like the wireless telegraph she had seen once on board a cruise ship. He appeared to be speaking to it instead of tapping at telegraph key, as one would expect.

Stutz Roadster

"I roger that Sparky, over and out," the man replied.

"Uh...excuse me," Rebecca stammered, "I'm here to meet a Mr. James MacKinnon."

The man spun around in his wooden swivel chair and glared at the intruder. Rebecca felt uneasy, as the man looked her over as if she were a piece of merchandise. The man himself was in his early twenties, had short blonde hair, and wore small round glasses. He was obviously of German heritage.

He stood up and placed the headphones on the table containing his electronic device. The stranger could not have stood more than five and half feet tall and could not have weighed more than 120 pounds. If he planned to attack her, she felt she had an even chance of beating off any advances.

"I'm sorry, you must be Miss Strong," the man began. "I am Dan Edwards. I've just been informed," Dan motioned toward the electronic device on the table, "that Mac should be here in about half an hour."

Rebecca stood there for a couple of uncomfortable minutes staring at Dan. The young man just stared back at her.

"Uh...may I come in?" Rebecca finally asked.

"Oh! I'm sorry, please do," Dan rushed over to help Rebecca with her luggage as he ushered her into the hangar. He then pulled her over to a chair next to the table he had been sitting at and then he poured her some warm water from a pitcher.

Rebecca took the chair and swallowed down the water. She never thought that warm water could feel so good running down her parched throat. She then looked over at the device that contained most of the table.

"That is a radio," Dan exclaimed with obvious pride and excitement. "I was just communicating to an airfield over at Tucson which also has one."

The look of surprise on Rebecca's face was obvious. Dan cleared his voice preparing to launch into one of his favorite topics.

"Did you know that on Christmas Eve in 1906 Reginald Fessenden read the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke, played ‘Silent Night' on the violin and then wished everyone a merry Christmas in the New England area? Imagine the surprise on the faces of the ships' telegraphers at sea when they heard this over their headphones instead of Morse code." Dan chuckled before continuing.

"After the Great War a lot of us set up our own little broadcast stations to communicate with each other. In fact, just last November 2nd the first commercial broadcast station KDKA in Pittsburgh began broadcasting. Certainly, you must have heard of it?"

KDKA Radio

Rebecca nodded she had heard of it, but hearing of something and actually seeing were two different things. She looked more intently at the radio set on the table.

Dan picked up the headset and set it against her ear. Rebecca gasped in amazement as she heard voices talking to each other. She did not understand everything that was said with all the "Rogers", "Overs", "Copies", and "Outs" she heard.

Dan pointed to the microphone that sat on the table in front of the device. "It is into this that I am able to talk to my fellow ‘Hams' as they call us."

Rebecca was about to ask another question when she heard an airplane approaching from overhead. Dan grabbed Rebecca by the arm and pulled her toward the open doorway.

"That'll be Mac now," Dan said as the sound of the plane's engine increased overhead. "We can meet him out on the field."

As the two ran out to the field, Rebecca looked up to see a biplane banking toward the field. Rebecca just stared in amazement as the plane descended toward the ground. Soon the aircraft bounced as the landing gear touched the ground. The pilot slowed the aircraft as it approached Dan and Rebecca. The roar of the engine was like nothing Rebecca had ever heard before. Soon the engine coughed as the pilot shut it down.

Rebecca noticed that the plane had two seats. She thought it was strange that the pilot would sit in the furthest one back. It was not long before the pilot jumped out of the cockpit and alighted on the ground.

The man stood at about six feet tall wore a brown leather jacket and a matching helmet. He had a white silk scarf around his neck. He wore khaki pants and brown leather boots that reached over his calves. As the man approached the pair, he raised his flight glasses from his eyes revealing the pale blue irises.

Mac MacKinnon was smiling charmingly when he approached Dan and Rebecca. He pulled off his gloves and slapped Dan on the arm in a friendly manner.

"Dan, my boy, looks like our trip to Mexico will pay off handsomely if I get our cargo to Denver."

"Great Mac, what is it this time? Cerveza, Tequilla?"

"Yes, and yes," Mac laughed as he removed his leather helmet revealing his short brown hair.

"I see that our guest has arrived," Mac turned toward Rebecca who was just standing there in awe. "You must be Miss Strong, you can call me Mac. I see you already met the boy genius Dan ‘the Ham'."

"Please, I'm Rebecca."

Mac nodded and led her back towards the hangar. "Let's not bother Dan as he unloads our cargo and tinkers with the plane. I believe we have some business to conduct."

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May 10, 2006

Mac MacKinnon and the Race for El Dorado

Chapter 2: Jenny and the Roadster

By Dwayne MacInnes

Mac removed his leather helmet and jacket and tossed them onto the table next to the radio. He poured himself a cup of water and chugged it down in one go.

"When will you take me to see father?" Rebecca asked as the pilot seated himself down onto a chair near the table.

"We can leave in just a few minutes. All I need is the agreed upon payment," smiled Mac.

"I can't believe that you are charging $10 to take me to my father's camp," Rebecca said with a little disbelief. "I could buy a bus ticket for that amount or pay someone else to take me there for far less."

"Well, that is true," Mac chuckled. "But I am the only one who knows where your father is, and it is my business to transport cargo quickly and safely and that comes with a price."

"Cargo! I am just cargo to be transported quickly!" Rebecca angrily responded. Her sudden outburst caught herself by surprise. Yet she was even more surprised to hear Mac laughing.

"Not just quickly, but also safely," he pointed out. "As far as I am concerned, I've never been asked to deliver better ‘cargo'."

Rebecca blushed even though she still felt a little offended by the concept of being cargo. She was about to say something when Dan came walking into the hangar carrying a wooden crate. The sound of clinking bottles could be heard rattling around inside. Dan sat the crate down against a far wall next to the locker.

"Mac, I'll have the Jenny ready to go for your trip in the morning," Dan called over to the pilot. Mac only smiled and nodded toward Dan.

"Jenny?" Rebecca could not help ask. She knew that Mac's affairs were none of her business.

Mac laughed again, "I'm sorry. The Jenny is my plane. We used them as trainers during the Great War. It had a top speed of 75 miles per hour, but Dan wasn't happy with that." Mac pointed over to the bowing mechanic. "No, he modified her until she can do over 100 miles per hour. In fact, he did the same with my car over there." Mac pointed over to the yellow roadster. Dan just beamed with pride over Mac's praise.

Jenny Bi-Plane

"Speaking of which, I believe I have a delivery to make. But first..." Mac cut himself off and winked at Rebecca.

"Yes of course," Rebecca pulled out ten dollars and handed them over to Mac. Mac handed them over to Dan, who in turn stuffed them into his front coverall pocket.

In less than a minute, the yellow vehicle sped out of the hangar. Mac had the top down so that the air would flow over them. Rebecca felt the wind rush past her skin. It still felt quite hot, but it was not nearly as bad as when she was standing in it a few minutes before.

Stutz Roadster

Mac sped the vehicle down the dirt road at an astounding clip. Rebecca doubted that she had ever traveled this fast before. Not even on the train that brought her to Santa Fe from Chicago. The silence was becoming ominous as Mac drove along the desert road.

"How is father?" Rebecca asked watching the scrub grass and tumbleweeds fly by the side of the road.

"He appeared to be in quite good health the other day," Mac responded as he took a quick glance in his rearview mirror on the driver's side of the windshield.

"I mean has he gone back to drinking?"

"I don't believe he has."

"Mr. McKinnon, I know what your side business is. Please, I will not tell the authorities, but it is important that my father isn't involved in anyway. He almost lost his job because of his drinking after mother died."

Mac chuckled a bit, "You know I did offer him a beer once, but he turned me down. I swear I've never seen him drunk nor have a drink."

Rebecca's sigh of relief was audible over the purr of the Roadster's engine. Mac looked over at her and smiled. As he continued to drive, he looked in his rearview mirror again.

"Say, how would you like to see how fast we can take this car?" Mac asked cheerfully.

Before Rebecca could respond she was not interested in going any faster, Mac stomped on the accelerator. The yellow Roadster shot off like a racehorse leaving the gates at the Kentucky Derby. Rebecca held onto the door with a death grip. The blood completely left her face as Mac took turns at breakneck speed and shot down side roads that were merely trails.

How long they drove like this Rebecca did not know. Eventually Mac slowed the car down and his own sigh of relief became audible over the engine.

"Mr. McKinnon I thought you were to deliver your cargo quickly and safely," Rebecca commented sarcastically.

"Trust me I have your safety on my mind and please call me Mac."

It was not long before they pulled into a cavernous valley. Large pillars of rock, some with boulders on top of them, littered the landscape. The view was quite stunning and Rebecca swore she had never seen anything as breathtaking as this before. Mac pulled the yellow car up to a cliff that contained some pueblo houses inside its huge cavern.

At the base of the cliff was pitched a medium sized tent in front of a fire pit. Boxes of supplies were stacked near the tent. Shovels and pickaxes rested against the boxes. Rebecca's heart raced with excitement. She jumped out of the car before Mac had the Roadster a full stop.

A man with gray hair wearing a beat up brimmed hat stepped out of the tent. His closely trimmed gray beard made him look even more scholarly. Rebecca ran up to him and threw her arms around the old man's neck.

"Father, it's great to see you," she cried as tears ran down her cheeks.

Hugo Strong hugged his daughter tightly with a huge smile on his face.

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May 17, 2006

Mac MacKinnon and the Race for El Dorado

Chapter 3: The Map, The Key, and Sir Francis Drake

By Dwayne MacInnes

After Dr. Strong released his daughter, Mac approached him and shook his hand.

"Good to see you, Doc," Mac smiled as he pumped the archaeologist's hand in a strong grip.

"Did you have any problems delivering Rebecca?" the old man asked.

"Not at all, it was a wonderful drive," replied the pilot.

"I would have enjoyed the scenery more if it wasn't passing by at a hundred miles an hour," Rebecca shot out.

Dr. Strong looked up at Mac in surprise. Mac nodded his head.

"I have some business to conclude with Mac here, dear. But if you go into the tent I'm sure you'll find some of the artifacts on the table of great interest."

Rebecca walked over to the tent. Both men watched her silently not speaking until she closed the flap behind her.

"Were you followed?" Hugo asked.

"I believe someone was trying to follow us. I took a circuitous route to get here and lost them some miles back there. I'll stay until after sunset then I will return to the airfield."

"Be careful. My package should arrive in Denver tomorrow. Bring it as soon as possible."

"I'll have it here the day after next, Doc. You better take extra precautions as well," Mac responded.

"Please follow me to the tent. Let me show you what I've uncovered," the old man motioned for Mac to enter the tent.

The two men stepped into the tent. There were two cots at opposite sides of the room. A blanket screened one of the cots from the rest of the tent. This was obviously going to be Rebecca's "room". In the center of the tent was a large circular stone tablet about two feet in diameter on a wooden table. Strange markings covered the tablets surface. Rebecca stood hunched over the tablet studying its features.

"This is it," beamed the archaeologist. "This is the holy grail of the New World."

"I'm sorry if I don't really understand, Doc," Mac said scratching his head. The stone tablet did not strike him as anything particular.

"It looks like a Mayan calendar," Rebecca added.

"Yes, it does. In reality it is a map," Hugo responded excitedly.

"Map?" Mac took a closer look at the tablet. He just could not see how the strange symbols represented a map.

"Not just a map, but THE map."

Both Mac and Rebecca stared at the archaeologist as if he had been out in the sun too long.

"This is the map to the fabled Lost Cities of Gold."

"You mean El Dorado?" Mac asked.

"Yes, and no," The professor began. "El Dorado really means the 'Gilded One'.

"About thirty miles northeast of Bogota lays Lake Guatavita. The conquistadors used to call it 'Lake El Dorado' because the practice of the local chief who would cover himself in gold dust from head to foot. He then would float out to the middle of the lake on a raft where he would throw in golden objects to appease the spirit of the lake.

"Several accounts of this have been written down by the likes of Oviedo, the soldier-historian Pedro de Cieza de Leon, and Padre Pedro Simon. Over the centuries, several golden objects have been retrieved from the lake and there were even attempts by the Spaniards to drain it.

"Over the course of a few years the name El Dorado became synonymous with the lost cities of gold. Many famous explorers from across Europe searched in vain for the cities of gold such as Hernan Perez de Quesada, Philipp von Hutten, and even Sir Walter Raleigh.

"Over time the search for El Dorado, as you call it, became a thing of folk-lore and legend like Atlantis, the Fountain of Youth, or Camelot. However, I believe that there is some truth to the story. I believe that before the Incas, Aztecs or even the older Mayan, Toltec and Moche there was a great culture in South America. I believe that this civilization lost to history spread its culture of goldsmithing, engineering, and religion across much of South and Central America. I also believe that this civilization was the story that the conquistadors heard from the natives which led them to believe in the Lost Cities of Gold."

"Excuse me, Doc, but how does that bring you to the Anasazi? Were they part of this great lost empire?" Mac interrupted.

"No, not at all. We know very little about the Anasazi it is only by coincidence that I am here."

"I don't follow you father," Rebecca piped up.

Crystal Skull

"In my research in the archives of Madrid I came across a diary from a priest named Rodrigo Martinez de Toledo. He talks about the conquistadors finding a crystal skull in what is now British Honduras in 1578. The skull he claims is the key to the legendary city of El Dorado. This sparked a renewed interest in the Spanish searching for the elusive city. Soon in Mexico a stone tablet," Hugo pointed down at the tablet on the table, "was found in one of the temples. This tablet predated the Aztecs, but the Aztecs held it to be very holy. Rodrigo claims that this tablet was a map that would lead to El Dorado."

"That's interesting, Doc, how did the tablet get up here and what about the key?"

"Yes, two things happened that altered the course of history. The first was that in 1579 the Spaniards put the crystal skull aboard a ship called the Nuestra Senora de la Concepcion out of Peru. She was to sail west and put in at Spain. Unfortunately, the ship met up with that seadog Sir Francis Drake. Because the Spanish ship actually carried cannons, it earned the nickname of the Cacafuego. Drake soon captured the ship and transferred all the treasure aboard his ship the Golden Hind.

"Drake fearing that he wouldn't make it back to England and hoping that if he did he would be able to persuade Queen Elizabeth to colonize what is now the Pacific Northwest, New Albion as Drake named it, buried the skull and some treasure in Washington State. Queen Elizabeth burned the records of Drakes passage and forbade him to speak of it. I found the treasure last year, and fear that if I reveal my find, cutthroat fortune hunters will come after me.

"The map was lost two years later when renegade Spaniards stole the map before it could be sent with the treasure fleet to Spain in 1781. The renegades fled north as far as they could before finally taking shelter in some Anasazi ruins. The Navajo tribe soon killed them off.

"That is exactly where I found the stone map. Soon I shall have the key," the archaeologist concluded.

"You mean you have translated the stone?" Rebecca asked.

"Yes, with the help of Rodrigo's journal. I have the map memorized, but I want you, Mac to have the copy that I made for safe keeping." Hugo handed Mac a journal that the pilot stuffed in his back pocket.

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May 24, 2006

Mac MacKinnon and the Race for El Dorado

Chapter 4: Mac Is Late and The Morion

By Dwayne MacInnes

Rebecca slept soundly inside the tent. She was dreaming of humming birds with propellers on their beak as they buzzed from flower to flower. The buzzing increased in intensity until she woke up. Sitting straight up in bed Rebecca strained her ears to the noise of the buzzing. It sounded much like that of Mac's Jenny except it sounded as if there were a fleet of them.

Rebecca was about to awaken her father when the noise suddenly stopped dead. The buzzing vanished as if it had never been. Rebecca returned to bed shaking her head. Could she have dreamt the noise?

* * * * *

The next morning Rebecca arose, the sun was already up and the air in the tent was starting to become stifling hot. Her father had obviously been up for some time by the smell of breakfast cooking outside. The smell of scrambled eggs, bacon, and coffee wafted into the tent. Rebecca's stomach growled in anticipation. She quickly dressed into some khaki shorts and a light shirt and joined her father outside.

Hugo was sitting on a crate sipping at his coffee in a tin cup. He was looking up at the cave dwelling above him lost in thought. A pan of eggs and bacon sat on another crate next to him and the pot of coffee percolated on the small campfire.

"Good morning, dad," Rebecca greeted as she helped herself to the food.

"Ah, good morning," Hugo quickly turned to meet his daughter's eyes with a smile on his face. "After breakfast I thought today I'd show you around the dwelling up there," the archaeologist motioned towards the Anasazi abode with his cup of coffee.

"That'd be great," Rebecca replied excitedly. The previous day they spent in camp looking at the artifacts that Hugo had retrieved from the ruins. Though they were incredibly intriguing, Rebecca was itching to see the actual site from which they came.

"Do you think Mac will be here today?" Rebecca asked. "He did say he'd have your package here by then."

"Don't worry," Dr. Strong chuckled. "Mac knows his way around this camp. He has actually spent a couple of days up there helping me dig. So I'm sure that if we aren't in camp he'll join us up at the pueblo."

* * * * *

Dan listened to the radio gravely. His contact in Denver said that Mac had left the airfield hours ago. However, Mac should have returned by now. It was way past noon and the delivery went off without a hitch. The Jenny had been in top form when Mac took off yesterday for Denver. What could be keeping him?

Dan had known Mac since they served together in the Great War. Even then, Dan was the crew chief for Mac's Sopwith Camel. Dan took great pride in the fact that Mac's aircraft never left the airfield with a fault; the return however was always a different story.

After the war, the two began their own express courier service with the Jenny and this airfield. Business was very good. Everyone appeared to need something expedited somewhere. Trains sometimes were not fast enough or did not have a route where the delivery needed to be.

Prohibition had become a boon to their trade as well. The smuggling a crate or two of some beer or tequila from Mexico to some resort in the area proved very profitable. However, Mac was always careful to smuggle very little and to pay off the right officials. Being too greedy attracted the wrong attention. That is the attention of either the law or the mafia.

Dan set the headset down on the table. He dreamed of the day when radios became small enough to fit in aircraft. Regardless, the only thing Dan could do now was to wait and worry.

* * * * *

The late afternoon sun filtered into the cave dwelling. The buildings of the Anasazi were remarkable. The pueblos were made of adobe and the cave in which they were nestled tended to offer some relief from the blazing desert sun. Rebecca was having the time of her life.

"Now look here," Dr. Strong pointed to a pit in the floor of one of the pueblos. "This is where I found the map. You can see the Spaniard's artifacts I retrieved." The archaeologist now pointed to a rusted conquistador helmet and a broken matchlock musket sitting next to the lantern that was illuminating the interior.

Morion Helmet

Rebecca picked up the helmet and looked it over. She had seen pictures of them in paintings. She could now see in her mind the conquistadors wearing them on their heads with polished breastplates on their chest while sitting atop a horse. It is no wonder that the Incas and the Aztecs held these men in awe.

"That my dear is a Combed Morion helmet. It is commonly associated with the conquistadores though they by no means were the only ones to adopt that helmet," Hugo lectured.

Rebecca had not seen her father so lively since her mother died. She smiled at her father as he continued to lecture her on the history of the artifact that was now in her hands.

"In fact, the English pikemen commonly used the morion helmet until the mid 1500s. Edward IV ..." Hugo stopped suddenly and looked around.

"What is it, father?" Rebecca asked as her father strained to hear something.

"Quiet, dear, I believe I heard something," he whispered.

Outside the pueblo, the sound of small rocks tumbling off the side of the cliff intruded into the room. Hugo reached into his satchel by his feet and pulled out a Colt .45 Peacemaker. Rebecca gave a small gasp as she saw her father cock the hammer back.

Colt .45 Peacemaker

Hugo put is finger to his lips and sternly looked towards his daughter. "Quiet, it is probably just Mac, but you can't tell nowadays what sort of person you'll come across here in the desert.

"Just stay here and lay low. I'm going to check it out," Dr. Strong said as he left the small room.

Rebecca pulled herself back further into the room listening to her father slowly walk around the cavern. The tension was almost unbearable. She could not remember ever being so frightened in her life. Rebecca had never seen her father use a gun. She did not even think until now that her father had one.

The seconds turned into hours, Rebecca could no longer hear the footsteps of her father or the mysterious interloper outside. The only sounds that reached her ears were the thump-thumps of her own rapidly pounding heart.

Then a muffled thud followed by winded groan escaping from a man's lips reached her ears. She could hear the sound of some feet scrabbling across the cave's floor.

"Father!" Rebecca cried without thinking of the danger she could be in. She started to rush out of the pueblo and ran right into the chest of a large man in the doorway. The brute shoved Rebecca backwards who fell ingloriously on her bottom near the pit.

"Gunter, I believe ve have anozer vun een heah," the large man said in a thick German accent.

A smaller man walked up next to the brute in the doorway. Looked Rebecca over in the light afforded by the small lantern in the room.

"Ja, ja," Gunter replied, "Johann said ve only need zee professor. Kill her."

Rebecca sat there frozen stiff as the two German men stood over her discussing her fate. She could not get her mind to act. Horror had her completely paralyzed.

The larger man pulled a Luger out of his holster on his side. Smiling he pointed the gun at Rebecca.

Luger

"Sorry, Fraulein," was all the smaller man said to Rebecca as she closed her eyes and started sobbing.

Rebecca heard the sound of the large man cocking the pistol over the two Germen thugs' chuckling and her own sobbing. Any second now, she knew that she would hear the sound of the blast followed shortly by her own death. She wondered if she would feel any pain.

Rebecca tensed up in anticipation. She screwed shut her eyes even harder. She clenched her fists into a death grip by her side. She violently flinched when she heard the double pistol report explode into the small room.

Posted by deg at 06:05 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 31, 2006

Mac MacKinnon and the Race for El Dorado

Chapter 5: The Light and the Stein Ritter

By Dwayne MacInnes

"Rebecca?" a voice called out into the darkness. "Can you see the light?"

Rebecca swam around in the darkness. She tried to find the source of the voice. The voice was familiar. It was not her mother. She thought for sure her mom would have been the one to guide her.

"The light, Rebecca," the voice persisted. It was a man's voice. But, whose was it?

Rebecca searched around more in the darkness. She was surprised that there was no pain. That answered one question, she died before the pain hit, thank God. She kept floating in the darkness.

There it was a light in the distance. She willed herself to enter the light. As she approached the light, she found that there was a buzzing in her ears. She could taste the dust on her in her throat.

"What strange sensations to have when you're dead," Rebecca thought.

"Rebecca?" the voice continued. The voice was more firm and a face finally matched up with it.

"Mac!" Rebecca cried as she sat up throwing her eyes open.

"Welcome to the land of the living," Mac smiled back.

There sitting next to her with the small lantern in his hand was Mac MacKinnon. She was still inside the pueblo's room. Dan Edwards was escorting her father into the room. Dr. Strong was holding the back of his head as he walked weakly leaning heavily on the smaller man as he led the professor.

"What? How?" Rebecca began.

"It's a good thing we got here when we did. These fellows were about to execute you. Dan is as good with his grandfather's Schofield as I am with my old service piece," Mac said as he patted the Colt .45 automatic on his hip.

Schofield Revolver

Dan tipped his ball cap toward Rebecca, "I find using the revolver to be friendlier to us left-handers than the automatics." Dan was sitting Hugo down next to Rebecca.

Rebecca looked at Mac questioningly. "He means the automatics tend to eject the spent cartridges out the right side. If you are left-handed, like my friend there," Mac nodded over at Dan, "that can pump the shells into your face. Hot brass in one's face is not all that fun."

Colt 1911

"Sorry we were late. The Jenny was having some...er, engine problems and I had to set down in a vacant field and hitch hike back to the airfield," Mac apologized.

"So who are our friends there?" Mac asked looking over to the two dead men lying over by the far wall.

"I don't know," Hugo began. "They jumped me before I could see them."

"They're Germans," Rebecca said matter-of-factly.

Mac and Dan looked at each other.

"What would the German's be doing here?" Dan asked.

Mac quickly ran over to the dead men. He began searching there bodies. After awhile he looked over at the three people sitting next to the pit.

"It's worse than we thought," Mac said lifting one of the dead men's arms he pulled up the sleeve to reveal a tattoo of a shield that appeared to be made of stone. "It's the Stein Ritter."

"Ooh, that is not good," Dan replied.

"What's Stein Ritter?" the archaeologist asked.

"The Stein Ritter or Stone Knight is a secret Prussian organization. They may have been the ones responsible for the series of treaties that Europe signed that lead to the Great War. In fact, they may have been the ones responsible for assassination of Arch Duke Ferdinand in order to start that war once the treaties were set up," Mac offered.

"Why?" Hugo questioned looking intently at Mac.

"Because they felt that they could come to power and through Germany rule much of the world. It was a near done thing until we Americans entered the war," Mac answered.

"No, I'm sorry, but why are they interested in my archaeological finds? Certainly they are not treasure hunters," the professor pressed.

"After the war, the Allies put terrible reparations on Germany. The Germans will be paying off England and France for decades," Mac continued. "Therefore, if the Stein Ritter can find El Dorado they'll be able to fund there own empire."

"My God!" Hugo cried. "The map and Rodrigo Martinez de Toledo's journal are back at the camp."

Mac jumped up and started running towards the doorway. "It is worse than that. I have the package in my car. I can only presume that it is the key."

Posted by deg at 05:00 PM | Comments (0)

June 07, 2006

Mac MacKinnon and the Race for El Dorado

Chapter 6: The Looters and the Fight

By Dwayne MacInnes

Mac and Dan quickly descended from the cave and ran towards the camp. The sun was starting to sink below the western horizon. In the orange twilight, the two were able to make out the shape of a truck near the camp. There were some men rushing to load it with their spoils taken from the camp.

Mac slowed down to a trot next to Dan. Both men had their weapons drawn and ready for service.

"We haven't been noticed yet. If we hurry, we may be able to catch them by surprise," Mac said in Dan's ear. Dan nodded in agreement. After all these years together and the many adventures they had been through during and after the war, they could practically read each other's mind.

Dan peeled off from Mac at the outskirts of the small camp and headed towards the truck. Mac stealthily moved around the opposite side of the camp to try to catch the intruders by surprise. So far, the looters, who were too engrossed in their work, detected neither man.

Mac could make out snatches of German as the men talked to each other as they lifted the stone map into the back of the pick-up truck. A quick glance toward the front of the truck showed that Dan was nearly in position. Mac started walking up behind the closest intruder. The man was struggling to lift the stone into the back of the truck so he did not notice Mac sneaking up on him until Mac inadvertently stepped onto a twig.

Snapping twig was enough to cause the man to drop the stone and turn around on Mac so quickly that Mac barely had time to react. Mac raised his automatic up in order to aim it at the man. The looter reacted quickly knocking the gun out of Mac's hand before he could fire the pistol. The looter then rapidly slammed his right hand into Mac's stomach.

Mac doubled over and fell backwards landing on his rear trying to gather his breath. The German just laughed and called to his comrades who were working at gathering all the artifacts that Dr. Strong had accumulated. The other two men ran over towards the truck.

"Look vhat I have found," the German laughed pointing towards Mac.

"Hans don't play vith him. Ve haf vork to do," one of his comrades reminded.

"Ja, but ve can have zee little fun, nein?" Hans asked motioning Mac to stand up.

Mac had sufficiently gathered his breath and pulled his legs up under him. The other two Germans pulled back allowing Hans and Mac ample room for fighting. Hans stood a couple inches taller than Mac and easily had fifty pounds on him. However, Mac had plenty of experience brawling and stuck up his fists in a defensive posture.

Hans came at Mac far quicker than anyone could have thought a man his size could move with a roundhouse punch. Mac anticipated the move and blocked it with his left arm while aiming a blow with his own right hand towards Hans' jaw.

The blow landed squarely and Hans took a couple of steps back shaking his head to clear his mind. Mac knew he could not afford Hans to regain the initiative and followed up with two quick body blows to the German's midriff. The man's abs felt as if they were made of steel.

Hans now fairly recovered from the surprise shot to his jaw quickly pulled Mac into a terrible bear hug. Mac felt his back crack as Hans tightened his grip. Breathing was now nearly impossible for Mac. Mac violently clapped his hands over the German's ears causing him to release his captive.

Mac fell to the ground, swung his legs, and swept the German off his feet. Hans, still holding his ringing ears fell like an ox onto the ground. Mac regained his feet and pulled back waiting for Hans to get back up. So far, the other two Germans had contented themselves with watching the fight. They were yelling encouragement to Hans.

The big German regained his feet and warily eyed Mac. The two pugilists circled each other looking for an opening. Hans finally swung with his right arm toward Mac's head. Mac barely ducked the blow and countered by putting all his strength in a shot to Hans's stomach with his left hand. As the German doubled up Mac delivered another shot with his right hand to Hans's jaw. This time Hans fell unconscious to the ground.

Mac took a couple of seconds to catch his breath; he temporarily forgot about the two other Germans. The sound of the Germans priming their pistols behind him brought him back to the graveness of his situation. Mac raised his hands and turned towards his captors.

Dan came running up behind the Germans tackling both men to the ground. Mac wasted no time in joining in the fight. As the men struggled on the ground, the crack of a pistol shot split the air. Everyone gathered himself up and looked at the source of the shot.

Hans by now had regained his consciousness and stood with a Luger pointed at Mac and Dan. The other two Germans backed away from the two men. Hans instructed his comrades to finish loading the stone in the truck. Mac's mind raced for and idea on how to catch Hans by surprise. So far, nothing was coming to mind.

"I am so sorry. But, I will now have to kill you," Hans said coldly as his leveled the pistol on Mac.

Posted by deg at 09:46 PM | Comments (0)

June 14, 2006

Mac MacKinnon and the Race for El Dorado

Chapter 7: The Desert Race

By Dwayne MacInnes

Hans smiled as he started to pull the trigger. The other Germans had the stone map loaded in the back of the truck by now. It was amazing how these last few seconds tended to play out as if in slow motion.

Mac and Dan stood there waiting for the end. Both stared at the Luger waiting for the muzzle to discharge their death. A shot shattered the quiet desert air, a shot that did not come from Hans's gun, but by Dr. Strong's Colt. Hans fell over backwards with a bullet to his head his hand spasmodically firing the Luger harmlessly into the sky.

The remaining two Germans wasted no time in jumping into the truck and taking off into the desert. Mac and Dan stood there transfixed still not believing in their last minute reprieve.

Hugo Strong with his daughter trailing behind ran up to the two men. The Colt still smoking from its discharge.

"Quickly," the professor prompted. "They are getting away."

Roadster

Mac and Dan quickly found their weapons and jumped into the roadster. Mac cursed as the roadster reluctantly turned over. The truck was disappearing into the desert. Nonetheless, it was only a moment before Mac was in pursuit.

The truck had a good lead, but the roadster could quickly catch up with its superior speed. The two parties raced into the night. Dust clouds flying up behind the vehicles.

"What took you so long?" Mac asked Dan as he sped along.

"You had everything well in hand," Dan replied. "Plus, I needed you to distract those other guys so I could sneak up on them."

"Glad I could help," Mac laughed.

The roadster was rapidly closing the distance between the two vehicles. The occasional rock or rut the roadster hit bounced the pair in their seats. But, the two just smiled. This was just another adventure for the two.

It would only be another minute or two and the roadster would be on the truck. Dan quickly checked his Schofield as he readied for the shoot out that would inevitably begin. As if the passenger of the truck had read Dan's mind he leaned out the window and fired off a shot with his Luger.

Dan returned fire at the truck. Mac ducked lower behind the wheel concentrating on catching the truck. The bullets from the German's pistol had so far failed to find their mark. Dan for his part had only succeeded in shooting out the rear window.

Mac pulled the roadster over to the driver's side of the truck. The passenger now had to change his position to fire out the shattered rear window. As the passenger prepared to open fire, Dan took careful aim. The Schofield barked as the last bullet in the cylinder flew from the muzzle and buried itself into the passenger's shoulder. The passenger cursed in German as he dropped the Luger and grabbed his right shoulder.

Mac and Dan exchanged a quick smile as Dan started to climb out of the roadster to jump onto the truck. However, as Dan began to rise from his seat another shot broke over the sound of the racing engines. This report did not come from a gun but instead from the roadsters front passenger's tire.

The roadster pulled violently to the right roughly throwing Dan back into his seat. The yellow roadster barely missed hitting the truck as Mac fought to keep control of the vehicle. The truck sped off into the distance as Mac brought the roadster to a dead stop.

"Damn," cursed Dan. "We nearly had them."

Mac sat there silently for a while and then began to smile.

"What? Am I missing something?" Dan asked.

"If we quickly fix the tire we should be able to catch the truck," Mac replied with a laugh.

"How's that?"

"They just drove into that box canyon. There is only one way out and that is past us."

In less than ten minutes, Dan and Mac replaced the flat from one of the two spare tires the roadster carried. Mac drove the roadster cautiously toward the canyon. As they reached the mouth of the canyon, Mac pulled to a stop.

"This is where we get out and walk," Mac said.

Both men jumped out of the roadster and started walking down the dark canyon. Fortunately, there was a half-moon out to offer them light. Mac knew this desert pretty well and knew that this canyon was not very deep. In a few minutes, they would be upon the truck and with some more luck ambush the driver and recover the stone map.

As Mac and Dan crept further into the canyon the roar of multiple engines revving up to speed split through the still air. It had been a good three years the last time, either man had heard the noise, but they both recognized it at the same time.

"They didn't," Mac exclaimed as he began running towards the sound.

"I believe they did," Dan replied keeping up with Mac.

They both crested a small mound in time to see what they feared. Although the canyon was not terribly deep, it was wide. It was just wide enough to hide a zeppelin and that zeppelin was now rising rapidly into the air over the two men's head.

Dan and Mac just stared as the lighter-than-air craft flew off into the desert air.

Zepplin
Posted by deg at 05:43 PM | Comments (3)

June 21, 2006

Mac MacKinnon and the Race for El Dorado

Chapter 8: Rodrigo's Mistake

By Dwayne MacInnes

Mac took his time returning to the camp. He did not relish the idea of telling Dr. Strong that he and Dan had lost the stone map and the key, that the German's were now flying off to find El Dorado, and that they could not follow.

The roadster slowly pulled up to the crates and the tent silhouetted in the campfire. Dr. Strong and his daughter both waited with anticipation as Mac and Dan stepped out the car.

"Well, did you get them?" Rebecca asked excitedly.

"Not exactly," Mac replied crestfallen. "I'm sorry Doc, but the Germans had a zeppelin and made off with the map and key. We have no idea where they went and we can't follow them."

Much to everyone's surprise the professor started to laugh.

"Are you all right, father?" Rebecca looked at her father with a troubled look on her face.

"Quite, quite," the archaeologist continued to laugh. "You forget Mac that I have the map already memorized. Plus, I know exactly where the German's are headed. In fact, they are traveling in opposite direction of El Dorado."

"I must admit it Doc, but you have lost me again," Mac said sitting down on a crate near the fire.

"Remember I told you about the renegade Spaniards stealing the stone map and heading north?" the professor prompted.

Rebecca and Mac both nodded. Dan just stared at everyone with a puzzled expression.

"I'll explain later," Mac offered to Dan.

Dr. Strong continued, "The reason they headed north was because Rodrigo made a translation error. He translated part of the map to read ‘in the greatest river canyon'. Therefore, Rodrigo believed that El Dorado was in the Grand Canyon, the greatest canyon.

"What he should have translated was ‘in the greatest river valley." The greatest river is the Amazon and that is south instead of north. So, you see they are heading in the wrong direction.

"However, we still need the key. That is the most important artifact that they stole."

Mac felt much better and slapped Dan on the shoulder.

"Dan do you think you can get the Jenny running tomorrow?" Mac asked.

Jenny

"Shouldn't be too hard. I just need to check the prop and clean out the feathers," Dan returned.

"Feathers!?!" Rebecca exclaimed.

Mac turned a little red. Even in the firelight, Rebecca noticed the pilot blushing.

"Yeah, my engine trouble was brought on by me flying into a flock of birds. I had to land before my propeller shattered or the engine died."

"Leave it to Mac to find road kill in the sky," Dan joked.

Dr. Strong and Rebecca started laughing. Mac gave Dan a glare before he too joined in laughing.

It did not take Dan long at all to get the Jenny ready the next day. Both the propeller and the engine were fine. A quick cleaning and routine maintenance had Mac in the air by late afternoon.

Mac made to the Grand Canyon in Arizona by sundown. He stayed at a colleague's airfield while he started his search for the zeppelin. Mac made a few inquiries into whether anyone in the area had seen an airship flying in the sky. However, everyone he asked thought he was joking.

Mac had little choice but to begin to search for the zeppelin by air. The task before him was daunting. The Grand Canyon was long and deep, but the zeppelin may have landed miles away from the canyon further increasing the area where Mac would have to search.

Mac had searched the area for over a week. He had nothing to show for his efforts and everyone decided that he should return home. The Jenny was flying back toward New Mexico when Mac saw a something on the ground that did not quite fit.

At first glance, it looked like a patch of snow high in the mountains. However, the patch of snow was elliptical and rising into the air. Mac banked the Jenny around to take a closer look.

Zepplin

Mac laughed as he spied the zeppelin climbing higher into the sky. By pure chance, he had stumbled upon the airship. The German airship was about 529 feet long and 38 feet in diameter. Three gasoline engines positioned outside the gasbag powered the great craft up to 85 miles an hour. Maybe he would not go home empty handed after all.

The zeppelin began to fly off in an easterly direction. Mac increased the Jenny's speed in order to catch up to the zeppelin. He wanted to get a better look at his adversary.

Mac was almost on top of the zeppelin when he noticed the platforms on the top of the zeppelin. During the Great War, zeppelins had gunners on the top of the airbag to fight off attacking allied aircraft. These platforms were still armed and they began to open fire upon the little Jenny.

Mac pulled back on the stick to gain altitude before the gunners and their Maxim machineguns could get a fix on him. The engine of the biplane roared in protest as bullets ripped past. Mac rolled the biplane as he dove. He could hear the tearing of the fabric skin as some of the bullets found their mark. He pulled back sharply on the stick and the plane climbed rapidly into the sky once more. Mac leveled off before the plane stalled. The Maxims pursued him persistently.

German

The Jenny began to respond sluggishly as he jinked the plane. The two machinegun placements relentlessly fired upon the aircraft. Mac pushed forward upon the stick again and the plane dove. Mac flew the plane past and below the zeppelin, but not before a few rounds found their way into the engine. Although the gun placements could no longer fire upon the plane, the machineguns had done their job as smoke billowed from the Jenny's engine.

The plane did not respond to his control as it spun ever closer to the ground. Mac fought to pull the stick back as the wind screamed in his ears and the engine coughed and smoked as he plummeted towards the earth. The altimeter rapidly counted down. Mac had only a hundred feet in which to gain control of the plane as the ground rushed ever closer.

Posted by deg at 08:28 PM | Comments (0)

June 28, 2006

Mac MacKinnon and the Race for El Dorado

Chapter 9: Johann and Wolfgang

By Dwayne MacInnes

Dr. Hugo Strong and Rebecca moved into the apartment attached to the back of the hangar where Dan and Mac lived. The apartment was small, containing only a kitchen-dining room, two cramped bedrooms, and a living room housing a sofa that Dan now used as a bed. Dan had insisted that Rebecca take Mac's room and Dr. Strong move into his while Mac was searching for the zeppelin.

The three would crowd around Dan's radio in the hangar as he communicated with Mac every evening about his progress on locating the zeppelin at the Grand Canyon. Other than experiencing a wonderful aerial tour of the picturesque landscape, Mac had nothing further to report. Finally, they decided after ten days that Mac return to their airfield in New Mexico.

Dan was at his usual position at the radio when Rebecca walked into the large open room. Dan threw his headset onto the desktop in frustration before he realized that Rebecca was standing behind him.

"Oh...sorry," Dan stammered in surprise noticing Rebecca watching him.

"What's wrong?" Rebecca asked as she took a chair next to the desk.

"Nothing. I'm just experiencing some technical problems with my set here," Dan lied.

Rebecca gave Dan a piercing glare showing that she obviously did not buy his story. "Is there something wrong with Mac?"

Dan sat back in his chair and blew air out of his mouth. "Yeah, Mac should have been here hours ago. I just called McCurdy's airfield and he isn't there. In fact, Mac left in the morning as we planned."

"Maybe, Mac stopped off for dinner or something on the way back," Rebecca tried to comfort Dan.

"That's not like Mac. He is very punctual. Do you remember the last time he was late? He was lucky he was able to land the plane after he ran into that flock of birds."

"Mac is a very accomplished pilot. I'm sure he has a reason for being late. Who knows he may have even found the zeppelin."

"That's exactly what I'm afraid of," Dan replied sourly.

"Any news about Mac's whereabouts?" Dr. Hugo asked surprising both Rebecca and Dan as he walked up behind them. The archaeologist was holding a sandwich that he offered to Dan. "Rebecca and I have already eaten."

"Thanks," Dan replied as he accepted the food. Dan then repeated his fears to the doctor.

Rebecca and Dr. Strong began talking about some of the artifacts that were at the dig while Dan consumed his meal. The three were so busy discussing Dr. Strong's finds that none of them noticed the man walk into the hangar.

"Pardon me," the stranger asked.

The three companions turned around simultaneously to see a man dressed in a gray business suit and holding his hat in one hand and a walking stick in another. The man stood at about six feet tall, had blue eyes and gray hair with a Van Dyke beard and mustache that was also gray. He had to have been in his late forties or early fifties.

"I am sorry to interrupt," the man said in a British accent with a hint of German as he heavily rolled his r's. "I am Johann von Hutten, and I am afraid I need your help Herr Doktor."

Von Hutten revealed the German Luger that he had concealed under his hat. Two other large men now entered the hangar. One was armed with a rifle the other was also holding a Luger.

Dan, Rebecca, and Dr. Strong all raised their hands as the intruders pointed their weapons at them. The two thugs walked over, grabbed the archaeologist roughly, and began to lead him away.

"Wait!" von Hutten ordered. "If I am not mistaken this is Herr Strong's daughter. Bring her along. I'm sure she'll help us persuade the fine doctor to cooperate. As for the mechanic... as these American's say, 'dead men tell no tales.'"

Before long, the thugs tied up and gagged Dan in a corner of the hangar. The Germans had left with their prisoners leaving Dan by himself. Instead of just shooting him there, the Germans had cruelly set up a bomb consisting of several sticks of dynamite and a clock that sat in front of Dan.

The poor mechanic could do nothing but watch and listen as the clock relentlessly ticked off the few remaining minutes before ending his life in a violent blast. His arms tied securely behind his back around a pipe secured him to his corner. The bomb was out of reach of his kicking legs. Dan frantically twisted and struggled to loosen his bonds. However, it was fruitless he was expertly trussed up.

The zeppelin rose slowly up into the night sky. A locked crewmembers' cabin contained the archaeologist and his daughter. Johann von Hutten looked down upon the small airfield from the flight deck of the zeppelin.

The helmsman stood at the wheel listening to the orders of the captain. Johann knew the captain well; he was a very accomplished pilot and a high-ranking member of the Stein Ritter. Wolfgang, none knew his last name, had shot down over hundred allied aviators during the Great War. Now, this strange man commanded the last of the military's zeppelins that he had custom made and had remarkably smuggled out of the Fatherland without anyone knowing.

Wolfgang had come to von Hutten to offer his assistance in locating El Dorado. It was no secret that Johann was the great grand nephew of Philipp von Hutten. Like Philipp, Johann burned with a desire to find the elusive El Dorado. All Wolfgang wanted was a share of the treasure in order to rebuild Germany.

Johann smiled as he watched the airfield shrink below them. It looked like the last obstacle was about to be permanently removed. First, they shot down that pilot earlier today and now the mechanic was about to come to his end.

Johann looked up at the clock on the wall of the bridge. Any second now, the bomb should go off. Von Hutten peered out the window once more in time to see the flash of the explosion. The dampened roar of the blast reached his ears a second later.

Posted by deg at 05:51 PM | Comments (0)

July 05, 2006

Just Super - Part 1

By Dwayne MacInnes

Clark sat at his desk at the Daily Planet. He ripped a sheet of paper out of his manual typewriter and placed it on top of a ream of other papers. Clark pushed his black glasses back further onto his nose and leaned back in his leather chair.

"I've finished at last," Clark said as he let out a small whistle.

Clark watched as Jimmy Olson pulled some papers out of a file cabinet and staggered off, dropping a couple of pages as he left the office. "The poor kid must be working himself too hard," Clark thought. "Well, I better get this off to the chief."

Clark made his way through the maze of vacant desks and debris that cluttered the room. With all that had happened over the last few years cleaning the office tended to fall to the wayside. Clark whistled softly as he approached the chief's office. He gently rapped onto the glass door before he entered the room.

Perry White stood with his back toward Clark as the editor looked out the window of his office high up in the Daily Planet building. The glass tinted with dirt and smudges filtered in the bright sunlight. It was the only source of illumination since Metropolis lost all its power. Clark could not help but feel a pang of sadness as he remembered the better times now irretrievably gone.

"Chief, I have finished that project we talked about," Clark said as he cleared his throat.

The chief grunted which Clark took as an acknowledgement.

"I'll leave it here on your desk so you can proof it. As we discussed it covers all that has happened over the last ten years since the plague," Clark finished before exiting the office.

It seemed an eternity now, but there was a time when things were better. Clark would trade anything now to have those days back. Even for the times when Lex Luther held the world for ransom and Clark, as Superman, had to defeat him. Saving the world then was child's play compared to what he had to endure over the last decade.

It all began innocently enough. The Venus probe was returning to Earth with valuable data collected from the distant planet's atmosphere. It was all over the news, the world waited in anticipation for the manmade satellite to make its way back to the ground so that NASA could evaluate the information contained inside. It was the first probe of its kind.

Then without warning, the probe exploded high in the Earth's atmosphere. At first, Clark suspected Lex Luther had something to do with it. The evil genius had probably tried to blackmail the government again, but when they did not give in to his demands, he destroyed the probe. However, as Clark rethought the scenario it did not make sense. If there were a ransom demand, the president would have contacted Superman to protect the probe on its return. Therefore, he dismissed it as an accident without giving it a second thought.

Every reporter scrambled to find the underlying cause of the explosion as the images replayed repeatedly on the television news networks. As usual, Lois was the most forceful, and the chief awarded her the story. Clark would assist her if she needed it and as usual, Lois declared that she would not need any assistance. However, Perry insisted and the two reporters began work with gusto.

Hours of phone calls to every contact Lois and Clark had in the government and scientific community went unanswered. This was not the usual red tape. Lois kept insisting that there was some high-level cover up. This only made Lois that more determined to find out what was happening.

"Are you hungry?" Clark asked rising from his desk.

"No, I'm fine, Clark. Why don't you get some sleep," Lois suggested. "No use both of us being tired in the morning. You can continue if I don't get anywhere tonight."

Clark knew very well, Lois would try everything to break the story while Clark was away so that she could get all the credit. Clark did not mind, but he decided that maybe a visit to the capitol as Superman would loosen some tongues.

"I suppose you are right," Clark replied smiling as he left the room nearly running into Smitty.

"Sorry, Clark I have to get this story to the chief," Smitty exclaimed.

"What's so important?"

"There's been a gruesome murder at Metropolis General Hospital. The victims were devoured by their assailants."

After leaving the office, Clark quickly changed into Superman in the Daily Planet's upper maintenance closet. He had barely flown out the window when his super hearing picked up a familiar signal. Superman sped to the source of the sound. It could only come from one area and that was Gotham City.

Within only a few minutes, Superman had flown from Metropolis to Gotham. He alighted on top a tall gothic building. The pale moon washed the rooftop in its dim blue light. If it were not for his super hearing, Superman would not have noticed Batman move out of the shadows behind him.

"Glad you made it," Batman said in his usual soft gruff voice.

"What is the big news?"

"Robin and I have been responding to some pretty unusual calls."

"Really, how unusual?" Superman's strong voice raised a pitch.

"There has been a rash of murders across the city. We cannot keep up with all the calls." Batman stopped to note the expression on Superman's normally placid face.

"Murders? Nothing new there in the city. Do you think the Joker is involved?"

"Initially yes, except two things. First, the victims are being eaten. All the victims we have come across have been partially consumed by their antagonists." A small smile broke out on Batman's face as Superman opened his mouth in disbelief.

Superman quickly regained his composure, "You mentioned two reasons why it is not the Joker."

"Arkham Sanitarium burned down tonight, there were no survivors. I personally pulled the Joker's body out of the debris along with the Penguin and the Riddler. Clark..." Batman stopped.

Superman paid closer attention. It was indeed serious if Bruce used Superman's alter ego.

"They too were partially consumed."

Superman's mouthed again dropped open in surprise. "Bruce, just before I left one of our reporters brought in a story about a similar incident in Metropolis."

"That's what I thought," Batman replied. "I had just finished talking to Diana before you arrived and a similar outbreak is happening on the west coast. So far, I have been unable to contact any of the others."

"I'm off to Washington to get some answers," Superman said grimly. "They must be covering something up. Lois and I are being stonewalled at the Planet.

"I'll let you know what I find. Be careful, Bruce."

Posted by deg at 06:49 PM | Comments (1)

July 12, 2006

Just Super - Part 2

By Dwayne MacInnes

Superman anticipated having no problem seeing the president. None had ever denied Superman access to the Oval office on a moments notice. They knew he would never disturb them if it were not something of utmost importance.

However this time as Superman's feet touched down on the front lawn a squad of marines ran up to him. The men were still in their dress uniforms carrying their M-16s at the ready.

"Sorry, Superman, the president is not able to see anyone right now," a sergeant said in a stoic voice.

"This is of extreme importance. I need to see the president now, sergeant. I am sure he will allow me in if you will just ask him."

"I cannot do that, Superman," the sergeant shot back.

For the first time in a long time, Superman felt his frustration level rising as he became embroiled in governmental red tape. Usually, his blue and red suit magically abolished bureaucracy allowing Superman a certain freedom few possessed.

"I'm sorry sergeant; I have no time for pleasantries. I am going to see the president," Superman said as he began to push his way past the marines toward the White House.

"That'll be impossible," the sergeant said barring Superman's way. "The president and all available congressional members have been evacuated from the city to a secure area."

Superman knew exactly where the top government leaders were hiding out. The fact that they were hiding informed him of how serious the problem was. Superman flew toward the large hotel resort in Maryland. Underneath the structure, there was a secret bunker so that the U.S. government could continue to function in the case of a nuclear holocaust.

Superman knew that there was no way he could enter the bunker without seriously damaging it. Even though the thought of the U.S. government exiling itself and leaving the rest of the country and possibly the world to fend for itself revolted him, Superman could not bring himself to cross the line to break into it. However, he knew a "red-phone" had direct access to the bunker inside the hotel.

Superman marched into the hotel. The hotel manager approached Superman with two bellhops following closely behind. Superman smiled. The secret service members were playing their roles well.

"Can I help you, sir?" the manager offered.

"Yes, you can. I need to speak to the president," Superman replied.

"I'm sorry, he is not here. Have you tried the White House?" the manager said in a flat voice.

"Look, I am not here to play games," Superman's voice began to rise. "I can see the congress and the presidential staff including the president himself below us. Maybe you forgot about my x-ray vision. So please point me to the red phone now or I'll simply break in."

The secret service man/hotel manager cleared his throat, "I'm sorry sir. I did not realize you just wanted to use the phone. Just this way."

The manager ushered Superman to an inconspicuous black phone that sat behind the desk. Superman picked up the receiver and heard a buzz on the other end. "Hello," the familiar voice of the president finally answered.

"Mr. President, this is Superman. What is going on?" the man of steel asked.

There was a long pause before the president began to speak. "Superman, we have a crisis of global proportions. It appears that the Venus probe was carrying a deadly virus. We found out about it too late. That prevented us from destroying the probe before it entered the atmosphere. The resulting radiation and virus have been bringing the recently deceased back too life.

We have our all our top scientist working on a cure. Until then, we have to protect the integrity of this country's leadership. The rest of the world is taking similar actions."

"Mr. President, it is not for me to dictate policy, but you need to mobilize FEMA, the military, and all emergency services if you want to protect the American people."

"We thought maybe this could be handled quietly," president said demurely. "We don't want to create a panic that could result in riots."

"Sir, the situation is worse than you may realize. You have to act now before it is too late," Superman nearly yelled into the receiver.

"You are right, Superman. I'll get on the mobilization right away. Do you think you can rally the rest of the Supers to contain this?"

"I'll do my best Mr. President."

Superman passed the information onto Batman. Batman then passed the news onto the rest of the world's superheroes. Even with the help of the military, the superheroes had a hard time containing the spread of the plague. No one appeared immune to the plague, even those born on other planets bitten turned into the undead. The first few days it appeared all would be lost until Superman received a strange request.

An ultra-high frequency whined into Superman's ear as he was rounding up the undead. Fortunately, his dense skin protected him from bites and scratches the diseased undead could inflict on others. These were always fatal to others which resulted in the now newly deceased in becoming zombies as the public at large called them.

"Superman, you are the only being with less than four legs who can hear this," a familiar voice stated. "We are faced with a grave crisis indeed and it affects us all. Therefore, I propose that we join forces. Until the situation reverses, my cohorts and I agree to help you fight the undead menace facing us all. If you find this proposition agreeable meet with me alone at the Metropolis Public Transportation office tonight at midnight."

Superman noted that this gave him only four hours to meet with the other superheroes and give them Lex Luthor's message. They only had a few hours in which to decide whether these villains could be trusted to help them. If the Supers believed they could not trust the villains, would the Supers be able to fight the hordes of zombies and combat whatever the villains could be planning?

Those valuable four hours that could be used combating the growing army of undead was instead used in heated debate on whether Lex Luthor's offer was genuine or not. Finally, Bruce broke the stalemate by pointing out that the disease did not discriminate between good or evil. It affected all of them. Finally, he pointed out that even their numbers were shrinking and any help at this state could turn the tide in their favor.

Finally, the Supers decided that Superman would meet with Lex Luthor at the Metropolis Public Transportation office at midnight. Superman scanned the area before he landed for any hidden threats. He paid particular attention to anything that was lead lined that could be concealing kryptonite. Superman finally landed after he felt reasonably sure that the area was secure.

Lex watched as Superman landed a few feet from his position. "I'm glad you could make it Superman."

Superman pushed down the desire to punch the smirk off Lex's baldhead. The strain of constant combat was taking its toll. "Look here, Luthor, I am not here for idle chatter. I have a lot of work to do."

"Very well, let's get down to brass tacks. I know we haven't been very trust worthy in the past. But, we really need to work together in order to resolve this thing. I know you do-gooders have been losing some numbers in fighting the menace, as have we. Therefore, we need to coordinate and work together or we will all lose."

Superman hated the reminder of the loss of some of his close friends in the superheroes business. The Flash and Hawkman were lost that day. Fortunately, the dead did not retain their powers after dying. The Supers learned that when the Green Lantern fell in the early stages of the fight. Superman personally eradicated the undead Supers.

"Luthor, my fellow ‘do-gooders' as you call us, reluctantly agree to your terms. We need any and all help," Superman conceded.

"Very well, we are at your disposal. However, do not think that once things get back to normal we will be buddy-buddy," Lex replied the smirk returning to his face.

Posted by deg at 08:42 PM | Comments (0)

July 19, 2006

Just Super - Part 3

By Dwayne MacInnes

Even with the help of the super villains, the fight against the undead army was a tough one. More Supers and more villains fell, as did an untold number of soldiers and civilians. After months of steady combat, finally the living gained the upper hand. The combined forces of the superheroes and villains were able to barricade the area from Metropolis to Gotham to Washington, D.C. and much of the Northeastern seaboard from the outside threat of the undead.

The Gotham Nuclear Power Plant ensured that the barricaded "safe-zone" had power. The combined team of Supers and villains began the task of transporting the few remnants of living to the safe-zone. Superman found himself working around the clock, only he among all the Supers could work nonstop for days on end.

However, the mental strain began to show in many of the survivors. Denying access to the safety-zone to any wounded and ill weighed particularly heavy upon Superman's mind. The Man of Steel became more and more morose. Not even Batman could elicit more than a few words from Superman's mouth.

It fell upon Wonder Woman to set the surviving humans inside the safe-zone on the task of restarting civilization. She motivated the survivors to begin the tasks of planting fields, fixing and maintaining utilities, emergency services, and law enforcement. Slowly morale began to increase as more and more survivors trickled in and less undead were roaming the continent.

Bruce Wayne worked side by side with Lex Luthor to find a cure or an immunization for the plague. Many theories were put forth and all failed. So far, the spread of the disease appeared checked. An occasional outbreak would happen, but the new emergency response teams were quick in putting it down.

Finally, after over a year of constant combat the combined forces virtually eradicated the undead menace from North America. There were only fifty million living humans, four superheroes; Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman and Robin, and three villains; Lex Luthor, Metallo, and Solomon Grundy.

Superman began to take a long deserve rest. He had not been to see Lois Lane in months. As far as she knew Clark Kent had disappeared, and she presumed him dead. Therefore, it was with much surprise to the staff of the Daily Planet when Clark suddenly returned to work.

"Great Caesar's Ghost!" Jimmy Olson exclaimed when he saw Clark enter into the main office. Everyone in the room suddenly turned to see the return of a man they all assumed was dead.

Lois ran up to Clark, "My God, Clark! I thought you were dead...or, well you know."

For the first time in a year Clark Kent smiled. Seeing his old friends alive and well greatly warmed his heart. His love for Lois had only increased during his absence. It also appeared that Lois's affection for Kent had also warmed. He grabbed Lois into an embrace and shook hands with Daily Planet staff. Whenever they asked what happened to him he would say that he was helping with the cleansing of the safe-zone.

"Lois, I need to talk to you tonight," Clark whispered.

"Sure Clark, you can drop by my place after work," Lois replied.

* * * * *

Clark was genuinely nervous when he knocked on the door to Lois's apartment. It reminded him of better days. The mental stress of the past grueling months was starting to wash away. Lois opened the door happy to see the geeky looking reporter wearing his usual dress suit and hat in hand.

"Come in Clark. I'd like to get an exclusive of your exploits," Lois said as she ushered Clark into the room.

Clark sat down on the couch Lois offered him. "Sure Lois, but first I need to let you know something."

Clark noticed the look upon Lois's face. It was one of fear and puzzlement. "Clark, I know what you want to say, but..."

"Wait, hear me out first please and then you can say what you will."

Lois sat in a chair across from Clark. She forced a smile as she prepared to listen to Clark.

"I've done a lot of soul searching over the last year. I have been through a lot. Many things I saw and endured still haunt my dreams. Sometimes I even believe I can hear the dead talking to me. Therefore, I feel that I should let you know some things about me.

"First, I am madly in love with you," Clark blurted out, his heart racing in anticipation to Lois's answer.

"That's...uh, nice Clark. But..."

Clark held up his hand to stall her, "Secondly, I believe you should know my secret." Clark removed his glasses and deepened his voice.

"I am Superman."

Lois let out a shocked squeak. She realized that deep in her heart she knew it all the time. The glasses and slouched posture really was a poor disguise.

"Having said that," Clark/Superman continued, "I want you to be my wife."

Lois laughed and launched herself into Clark's arms, "Of course, I accept."

* * * * *

Clark was returning to his apartment after breaking his news to Lois. He felt better than he had in eons. Finally, he was going to join his life with his true love. Maybe in this safe-zone, humankind could flourish again.

As Clark climbed the steps up to his apartment, the familiar signal, of Batman contacting him, reached his ears. A quick change and flight brought Superman to the rooftop to face Batman.

"Clark, good to see you looking so good," Bruce began.

"I'm going to get married next week, and I actually needed to see you to be my best man," Clark laughed.

"I'd be honored. I wish I had good news to give you," Bruce's somber tone alarmed Superman.

"OK, what is it now."

"First, Lex and I have determined that you can't spread the disease because we all carry it."

"How's that?" Superman queried.

"I mean that we are all infected. So, when we die we will turn into one those ghouls. I'm sure that even goes for you. Clark, we need to warn other species to stay away from this planet."

"Damn," Superman cursed under his breath. He sighed deeply, "I can alter some of the surrounding satellites as a warning beacon."

"That is good; however, I have more bad news. The president has not been heard from in days."

Superman's expression belied his sudden concern. Without another word, Superman sped off toward the Maryland hotel. Superman did not even land as his x-ray vision confirmed his fears. The entire exiled government of the United States of America was now a bunch of roaming zombies stuck deep in an underground bunker.

The heavy burden of depression resumed its place on Superman's shoulders. In just a matter of one hour, Superman had descended from the heights of happiness to the depths of darkest despair.

Superman shook his head. There was no way they could change the past. Therefore, he had to focus on the future. His first order of business was to prepare the satellites orbiting the doomed planet.

Posted by deg at 07:57 PM | Comments (0)

July 26, 2006

Just Super - Part 4

By Dwayne MacInnes

Preparing the satellites took little time. Soon several different satellites were broadcasting interstellar warnings in all know languages. The messages stated for all to stay away from the Earth at the risk of spreading the plague to other worlds.

Superman's return to Earth brought the news that Luthor and his cohorts had seized the Gotham reactors, and they were holding them ransom. If the safe-zone acknowledged them as the new rulers, power would return to all.

Superman touched down outside the nuclear power plant to land next to Batman and Robin. "Where's Diana?" Superman asked.

"Before Luthor took over the reactor, Wonder Woman needed to see if Paradise Island survived the plague. You know she hasn't been home since before the plague."

"Should I just fly in and finish them off before they damage the reactors?"

"Superman wait," Robin grabbed the Man of Steel's arm.

"They have Lois," Batman said flatly. "Robin and I may be able to sneak in..."

However, before the Caped Crusader could finish, Superman had already flown through the steel door barring the entrance to the power plant's interior. The thunderous clap of the steel door busting off its hinges reverberated throughout the power plant.

As Superman entered the power plant's operation room, he saw Luthor and Solomon Grundy holding some kryptonite.

"How predictable," Luthor laughed. "I knew you'd charge in without care."

Waves of weakness washed over Superman's body as the radiation from the glowing green kryptonite reached him. The Man of Steel dropped to his knees; he no longer even had the strength to carry his own weight.

"Solomon Grundy found pretty rock," Solomon Grundy said in his Cajun accent. Grundy was a different sort of zombie from his undead cousins. He could more or less think, react quickly, and move about freely. However, rigor mortis, slow decay and virtually no mental faculties restricted the plague zombies. Nevertheless, many of the undead mimicked duties they did in life, such as trying to drive a car without knowing how to start it.

"Before you die Superman, I want you to notice that Metallo -- even now -- is holding your girlfriend over a catwalk. If you somehow overpower us, you could never reach Lois in time," Luthor laughed again.

Superman looked over Luthor's shoulder to see that Metallo did indeed hold Lois Lane off the edge of the catwalk. It was obvious that he was to die or Lois would die.

Superman lowered his head onto his chest as his strength continued to wane. He gave one last glance up at the laughing Luthor. That was when he noticed the movement behind Metallo.

Suddenly, an object whistled past Superman's head and a batarang embedded itself into Luthor's hand. Lex dropped the kryptonite as he screamed in pain. Before Solomon Grundy could react, Batman burst into the room and slammed his shoulder into Grundy's chest momentarily stunning him. Without slowing down, Batman grabbed the kryptonite and flung it out the window and down the deep cavernous opening the led to the reactors.

Before Metallo could drop Lois, Robin had already flung a rope around her with his batarang. A quick blast in Metallo's face with a gooey compound from his utility belt blinded the cyborg.

Lois hung suspended over the catwalk as the Boy Wonder and Metallo danced around each other. Both swinging at each other, Robin was at a great disadvantage for the robot's steel fists would instantly crush him if any of Metallo's blows landed.

Superman's strength quickly returned and he launched himself into an attack on Metallo. He had to save Robin and Lois before the steel monster killed either or both of them. The Man of Steel flew out the window past the Caped Crusader fighting both Lex Luthor and Solomon Grundy.

Metallo finally grabbed a hold of Robin. He was in mid throw when Superman grabbed his arm. Metallo dropped Robin unceremoniously onto the mezzanine catwalk stunning him. Metallo turned onto Superman both locking each other in a death grip.

Batman continued his attack onto Solomon Grundy. The hulking man was the greatest threat and Batman had to neutralize him quickly. Lex Luthor pulled out a small canister that he sprayed into Batman's face.

The Cape Crusader felled to the ground coughing. Grundy and Luthor quickly left the control room and ran out onto the catwalk. Superman and Metallo were slamming each other into the wall. Huge chunks of concrete showered the room.

Luthor tripped over the cord suspending Lois. He gave an evil smile and produced a knife. He motioned for Grundy to reel in Lois. In a matter of seconds, Luthor held Lois in his arms with a knife to her throat.

"Superman!" Luthor yelled.

Everyone stopped and looked toward Luthor and his hostage. Metallo and Superman released each other. Robin started to rub his head and Batman's cough still echoed from the control room.

"I see once again the advantage is mine," Luthor laughed. "Metallo, finish him off."

The steel grin on Metallo's face opened into an electronic laugh. "Gladly, Luthor."

Superman felt Metallo's metal hands dig deeper into his throat. Superman knew he could not react fast enough to stop Luthor from slitting her throat. Grundy was now trussing up Robin.

"Oh, the hell with it," laughed Luthor as he began to slice Lois's throat. However, before he could begin the cut a black gloved arm reached out from behind him grabbing his arm. Luthor felt pain shoot through his wrist and he released the knife. In a last desperate attempt, he shoved Lois towards the railing of the catwalk.

Lois bounced off the railing and fell onto the catwalk driving the knife into her stomach. Superman watched in horror as Lois pulled her hand away from her belly to see blood flowing from her wound.

A red cloud filled Superman's vision and a manic scream escaped from his lips. In a mad rage, Superman grabbed Metallo's arms and he twisted them off the robotic giant. Before Metallo could register the loss of his appendages, Superman grabbed Metallo's head and he squeezed with all his might. The steel cranium exploded.

Robin quickly took advantage of Grundy's short lapse of attention and kicked him away. Before Grundy could swing around on the Boy Wonder, Robin had already launched into the air aiming a kick towards Grundy's skull. The vegetation-covered zombie grabbed the Boy Wonder out of mid air and slammed him into the concrete wall. The snapping of bones shot through the air.

Batman grappled with Luthor. The Caped Crusader kept one eye on Superman and Robin's conflict as he tried to subdue Lex. It was out of the corner of his eye that he saw Robin, his ward flung against he wall and slide off with a sickening crunch to the ground.

Unconsciously, Batman tossed Luthor over his shoulder and accidentally tossed the bald man over the catwalk and into the reactors below. Luthor screamed until his body landed with a broken thud onto the concrete below. Before Batman could reach Solomon Grundy, Superman flashed over to the last villain. Before Grundy could react, Superman had his head between his hands. With a sickening crack and a shower of splintered wood Superman twisted Grundy's head off and tossed it over the catwalk to join Luthor's broken body below.

Superman lowered himself down to Lois's unconscious body. He held his hand over the wound of Lois's stomach to staunch to flow of blood.

Batman held the Boy Wonder in his arms, tears streaming down his mask.

"Clark, we have to get them to the Bat Cave immediately if we hope to save them," Batman choked.

Superman silently picked Lois's body into one arm and lifted Batman into the other. In no time, the superheroes were back at the Bat Cave. Batman worked feverishly to tend to Lois and Robin's wounds. Superman paced back and forth in the mansion above.

It was hours later when Bruce entered into the darkened library. There still was not any power.

"Clark, I don't think there is anything I do for either one of them," Bruce broke the silence.

"Bruce, you have to!" Superman cried.

"Even I can't bring the dead back to life. For now they are both conscious and Lois has asked to see you."

Superman lost no time in rushing down to the Bat Cave. He was at Lois's side. Lois turned her head towards Superman and a smile broke across her face.

"Clark, Batman...Bruce, Bruce Wayne," Lois said still trying to grasp Batman's alter ego was the famous millionaire playboy.

"Shhh...don't talk. Rest, you need to rest," Superman said soothingly.

"Clark, I'm going to die. But, before I die, I want to marry you. Please hurry and grab a priest," Lois pleaded.

Posted by deg at 05:00 PM | Comments (0)

August 02, 2006

Just Super - The End

By Dwayne MacInnes

Within an hour, a priest entered the Bat Cave with Superman, and a wedding ceremony took place. Robin moaned in agony with Batman keeping vigil at his side. The priest married Clark and Lois, and then he presided over the last rites of Robin.

"Clark, thank you," Lois whispered before she expired.

The priest then performed the last rites for Lois. Superman and Batman escorted the priest out of the mansion. As the holy man left, Batman put a hand on Superman's shoulder.

"Clark, we fought till the end. I'm going to give those two a proper funeral. This mansion shall be their pyre. We have to do it before they reawaken as the undead."

Superman nodded his head in silence.

The huge fire licked the sky as Wayne Manor burned furiously. The two superheroes watched the inferno consume the mansion.

"Clark, this world has no room for us anymore. I nearly lost it when Alfred succumbed to the plague in the early days. Did you know I saw Salina Kyle devouring commissioner Gordon? I even saw Batgirl fall to a horde of undead. I have to leave the safe-zone. Maybe I'll head west, roam the land. You can join me if you wish."

Superman just shook his head. "I have to stay. You think Diana will return?"

"Maybe, if Paradise Island is safe. But, I have a feeling that even it was hit by the plague. You know we are probably the last living humans -- well you know what I mean... The last humans are those of us in the safe-zone."

Superman just nodded his head.

Sometime during the long night, Batman slipped away. Superman did not notice that he had left. The Man of Steel just continued to watch the flames.

In the morning as the collapsed mansion continued to smolder Superman walked through the ruins. Superman walked unconsciously and found himself at the Bat Cave's secret entrance. The one used by the Batmobile.

The Man of Steel was making his way back up the hillside when a noise reached his ears. It was the sound of someone rustling in the undergrowth.

Superman spun around to see Lois shambling out from the cave's entrance.

"Lois!" Superman yelled. "You survived after all."

Superman pulled the undead Lois into his arms. As he hugged her close, she tried to bite the Man of Steel's neck. Superman took this for a kiss and began to kiss his wife.

* * * * *

Clark was preparing to return home when he watched Lois stagger into the Daily Planet's office. Her skin was mottled and rotted. Her teeth showed through where her left cheek used to be.

"Hi, honey. Glad to see you made here," Clark said. "I'm just going to say goodnight to Perry."

Clark Kent rapped again on the glass door and entered the Chief's office. Perry White was still looking out the dirty window.

"Hey chief, Lois is here we're going to knock off for the night," Clark looked down upon the loose sheaves of paper on the desk he placed there early that day. "I see you've read my report. I hope you liked it."

Clark turned and left. As the door closed behind him, the blank pages of white paper fluttered off the table and scattered upon the floor. Perry White continued to look down upon Metropolis as the sun was setting. The zombie chief let out a grunt as he vacantly stared down upon the undead citizens of the safe-zone shambling about in the twilight.

Posted by deg at 05:00 PM | Comments (0)

August 09, 2006

Mac MacKinnon and the Race for El Dorado

Chapter 10: Back from the Dead

By Dwayne MacInnes

Dan knew he was a dead man. He had been expertly tied-up with a bomb counting down the last few minutes of his life just out of his reach. His struggling to loosen his bonds had only resulted in rope burns. Regardless of the pain in raw wrists, Dan continued to frantically struggle. He could not scream because of the gag in his mouth. Not like there would have been anyone to hear him in the desert.

The clock's rhythmic ticking pounded into Dan's ears. It was the only sound outside of Dan's violent and futile attempts to free himself. There was only half a minute left before Dan resigned himself to his fate. He closed his eyes and relaxed. At least he would die peacefully.

Dan heard a noise. He opened his eyes to see a man run out of the hangar with the bomb. The man then ran back into the hangar and slid behind the wall just before the dynamite sticks exploded thunderously. The hangar rocked and dust flew in through the open doors.

The mechanic watched as a figure walked towards him through the cloud of dust. Dan recognized the man as he approached closer. It was Mac and as usual, he was there just at the right time.

"Looks like you've gotten yourself tied-up," Mac said dryly.

All Dan could do was groan through the gag in his mouth. Mac removed the gag and began to untie Dan's arms and legs.

"What took you so long?" Dan asked.

"I ran into the zeppelin. They nearly shot me out of the sky. I had to coax the Jenny back home. Even then, I land a couple of miles shy of the hangar and I had to run back here," Mac explained hurriedly. "I'm sorry I didn't get here in time to save the professor and Rebecca."

"Yeah, a man named Johann von Hutten kidnapped them and took off with them after trying to blow me up," Dan replied. "Looks, like they now hold all the cards. We can't even follow them."

Mac finished untying Dan who began to rub his raw and bloody wrists. Mac reached into his back pocket and pulled out a book. "Not exactly... I had some time to read Dr. Strong's journal. He wrote everything down including the exact route to the location of El Dorado."

"But they have the key and we don't," Dan pointed out.

"That's true, but maybe we can head them off," Mac said. "Von Hutten, did you say?"

Dan nodded his head.

"Our friend Johann must be a relative of Philipp von Hutten. I suppose he wants to carry on the family tradition."

* * * * *

"Now you will notice that this zeppelin has certain amenities that our military airships didn't have during the Great War," Johann pointed out as he had breakfast with his guests. Dr. Strong and Rebecca both sat at the table in the cramped dining room eating sausages and eggs alone with their captor. Johann pointed at the room with his fork, "You'll notice that this gondola is completely enclosed and pressurized. This allows us to heat it up and keep it comfortable even though we are now flying over 20,000 of your feet in the air."

Both the professor and his daughter sat their in silence reluctantly eating as Johann continued to lecture on about his airship. The one sided conversation even began to tire the German.

"Please, you both are so glum," Johann began. "You must have some questions about our ship. Or, perhaps we can talk about El Dorado?"

Dr. Strong cleared his throat before he quietly began speaking, "Surely, you don't expect hostages to carry on with their jailers as if they were on a holiday, especially, when you are more than likely going to kill us after you get what you want."

Johann began to laugh, "I'm sorry, but you couldn't be further from the truth. We have no desire to kill you and your charming daughter. We just need you to correct our course. It is obvious that the Grand Canyon is not the correct location."

"Just like you didn't kill Mac and Dan!" yelled Rebecca as she stood up pointing an accusing finger at Johann.

"Yes, unfortunately, they were an impediment to our plans and had to be dealt with in a more permanent fashion. But, I assure you that we have no such plans for you just as long as you cooperate."

Dr. Strong pulled Rebecca back down into her chair. The young woman's eyes blazed with hatred as she stared at Johann.

"To prove my point you are free to walk anywhere you want in this gondola. You may not access the airbag or try to reach the control gondola. Just one word of warning though, you cannot smoke. The hydrogen that fills our airbags is highly flammable. I also warn you against sabotage. For your life depends on our reaching El Dorado alive and well."

"You shall have no problem from us," Hugo promised.

Rebecca turned her glare upon her father. The professor only sternly looked into her eyes as he continued to speak to Johann.

"As long as you treat my daughter well, I shall be fully cooperative."

Posted by deg at 09:07 PM | Comments (1)

August 16, 2006

Mac MacKinnon and the Race for El Dorado

Chapter 11: Escape

By Dwayne MacInnes

Zepplin

Hugo Strong was as good as his word. He soon had the zeppelin on the correct course towards El Dorado. Johann for his part was also as good as his word. Both the professor and Rebecca had full run of the gondola where they were residing. Unfortunately, a jail, no matter its size was still a jail.

Rebecca had fully explored every inch of the gondola. The crew slept in small cabins containing two sets of bunk beds. Dr. Strong and Rebecca had one to themselves, thanks to the recent passing of some of the crew at Mac and Dan's hand. Two tiny restrooms that contained a shower sat at the end of the hall with the crew cabins. The shower had a timer to limit the amount of water used. One restroom had been set aside for Rebecca's personal use. The poor crew now had to crowd into the remaining restroom.

The gondola also contained a small mess hall that adjoined a tiny galley. Nonetheless, the food prepared by the cook was first rate. Johann certainly enjoined the good things in life. Two large storage rooms stored crates and barrels of various supplies. The access panels to the airbag and the flight control gondola were constantly under guard to deter Hugo and Rebecca to leave. Finally, there was a small observation deck.

The view from the observation deck was stunning. As the zeppelin floated above the clouds, Rebecca could not help but feel as if she was an angel looking down upon the Earth. The land and sea that flowed below them looked surreal. Rebecca had never flown in her life and this experience astounded her.

However, after two days of watching the planet pass below her Rebecca began to get bored. There were no books in English for her to read, and she never learned any German. However, if she did, Rebecca doubted that the books available to her were nothing more than technical manuals.

Rebecca wandered the gondola looking for something new to occupy her time. As she walked past one of the storage compartments, Rebecca noticed a crewmember dumping some trash out an access panel to the ground. There was a coil of rope next to panel. The rope must have been for mooring the ship to the ground. An idea passed into Rebecca's mind.

Whenever the airship encountered too much turbulence, it decreased its altitude. If the airship lowered itself close enough to the ground, Rebecca and her father could possibly escape through the access panel. Granted, the plan was fraught with peril, but Rebecca reasoned that it was worth the risk.

That night Rebecca proposed her plan to her father. At first, Dr. Strong was against the idea. However, Rebecca was relentless and her reasoning was flawless. They both knew that there was no guarantee that Johann was not going to kill them after he got what he wanted. Thus, she was able to persuade her father attempt the escape.

The opportunity that Rebecca was hoping for presented itself far sooner than she expected. It was the morning of the morning after she presented her plan to her father that the zeppelin lowered itself down to treetop level. Rebecca quickly grabbed her father out of their cabin and led him to the storage room.

The room was deserted and the two captives quickly rushed into room. Rebecca lifted the door open on the access panel. She watched the trees slowly pass along below the airship. This was even better than she had hoped.

"Come, dad you go first," Rebecca motioned to her father as she began to uncoil the rope. Hugo started to approach Rebecca when suddenly the door opened behind them.

A German crewmember surprised the two prisoners. Both parties stared at each other for a minute. It took only a second for the German to find his voice and he started to yell at Rebecca and the professor in German.

"I'm sorry, this doesn't look..." Hugo began as the German roughly grabbed his arm.

The archaeologist began to struggle with the German. Both men started to toss each other about in the storage room. They would crash each other into boxes and barrels oblivious to Rebecca who just stood there shocked to see her father fighting. The older man was doing remarkable well against his younger opponent.

The German crewmember finally shoved the professor against some sacks of flour breaking their hold on each other. As the German approached to continue the fight against the older man, Hugo kicked out violently with his right leg. The German caught the blow to his stomach, which sent him staggering backwards toward the open access panel.

The German flailed his arms as he stepped onto the empty air. In a final desperate attempt, he grabbed onto Rebecca with his left arm pulling her along with him. Hugo lunged to grab his daughter as she fell through the access panel. Hugo's fingers narrowly missed Rebecca's outstretched hand. The last thing he saw was the look of fear as Rebecca plummeted towards the earth.

Posted by deg at 08:02 PM | Comments (0)

August 23, 2006

Mac MacKinnon and the Race for El Dorado

Chapter 12: Major Roger White

By Dwayne MacInnes

Rebecca felt the hand of the falling German grabbing onto her arm. Rebecca lost her balance and started to fall through the open access panel as well. Desperately, she reached out towards her father who was rushing over to grab her. Their hands barely missed each other.

The German's grasp slipped off Rebecca's arm, and she thought she heard him scream as he fell. She could not be sure for she was screaming as well as she too plummeted towards the ground. The bottom of the zeppelin fell away as she plunged backwards.

Rebecca closed her eyes as she continued her downward descent. She continued to scream as the wind rushed past her ears. Suddenly, something grabbed her left ankle jarringly and painfully halting her fall. Rebecca opened her eyes to see that by some miracle the mooring line entangled her foot.

Rebecca hung upside down, for how long she did not know before someone began to pull her back up to the access panel of the zeppelin. After a few minutes, Rebecca found herself back inside the storage room. Johann von Hutten stood next to her father with his arms crossed. He did not appear pleased at all. The two crewmembers that had retrieved Rebecca stood back as another man approached from the back of the room. This man was obviously the zeppelin's captain. Neither she nor her father had seen the captain before as he was always on the flight deck. He was wearing a navy blue uniform and a matching officer's cap. On his jacket, braiding encircled his cuffs that matched the color of his gold buttons.

The captain walked up to Rebecca and Dr. Strong. The scowl on his face made Rebecca's blood run cold.

"Mr. von Hutten has been entirely too civil with you. I have already lost four men because of you, and I will not lose another. Is that clear?" the captain said in a stern voice with a near perfect North American accent. "If either of you cause me any further problems, I will have you eliminated."

The captain turned on his heels and marched out of the storage room.

"That was Captain Wolfgang. I am sorry, but I am afraid that your movements are now restricted. You shall be locked in your cabin until you are summoned for," Johann added before he motioned to the two crewmembers.

The German crewmembers were now shouldering rifles and led the Strongs back to their cabin. One of the Germans stood guard outside the room after he securely locked in the hostages.

Meanwhile, Mac and Dan managed to make it to British Honduras by fast train. They had also hired bush pilots to help them get through Central America. Mac reckoned that they could not be too far behind the zeppelins trail. He had a contact here and Mac hoped that he would be able to call in some markers to get a floatplane.

The two men walked into the dark cantina. The humid and dimly lit interior reeked of unwashed bodies mingled with the strong smell of alcohol. The smell brought Mac and Dan back to their days on the western front in France during the Great War.

Seeing Major Roger White sitting at a table with another man further reinforced the memory. It felt as if the two men had stepped back in time to four years earlier. Mac nudged Dan and both walked up to the table.

"Why if it isn't Captain MacKinnon and Sergeant Edwards," laughed retired British Major. Roger twisted the end of his mustache as he stood up and offered his right hand in greeting.

Both Mac and Dan accepted the handshake in turn before they sat down at the table next to the stranger who the major had been conversing with moments before.

Roger nodded towards the stranger as he resumed his seat. "Gentlemen, I would like you to meet a fellow countryman Dr. Frederick Mitchell-Hedges. He's an archaeologist here working on...what was it again?"

"I am working on the Mayan ruins in the city of Lubaantum," the archaeologist offered. "I'm spending some time here with my daughter Anna."

"Sounds remarkably familiar," Dan said off-handedly.

"Excuse me," Dr. Mitchell-Hedges replied. "I'm afraid I don't quite follow."

"It's nothing," Mac said. "I've looked up the major here to see if he could help us find some transportation on an expedition we are mounting."

"Well, it looks like you gentlemen have some business to attend to. I have to find a birthday gift for my daughter so I'll be leaving," Frederick said as he stood up and bowed towards the three men. "Cheers."

The major sat back and continued to play with his mustache until the archaeologist left the cantina. "I received your telegram two days ago. I have the plane ready down by the lake. All we need to do now is conclude the rather distasteful task of payment."

"Do you want that in dollars or pounds?" Mac asked.

"Pounds if you would be so kind."

Mac nodded over to Dan who in turn reached into one of his many pockets and produced a roll of British pounds. Dan tossed the wad of cash over to Roger. The major snatched the money out of midair and quickly secreted it away into his own pocket.

"I'll count it later. I'm sure you haven't shorted me. Now if you will follow me I'll show you the floatplane you requested," Roger said as he stood up and ushered the two men out of the cantina. "Do you need any other...um, provisions?"

Mac smiled, the major had not changed much after the war. Even then, Roger White ran a small black market. If you wanted it, he could get it. It was all just a matter of money. "No, we've brought our own," Mac replied.

Posted by deg at 10:21 PM | Comments (0)

August 30, 2006

Mac MacKinnon and the Race for El Dorado

Chapter 13: The Key

By Dwayne MacInnes

Mac flew the floatplane over the Amazon jungle. Dan sat in the front seat of the biplane checking the weapons they had packed. Mac brought along his newly purchased Thompson submachine gun, and Dan brought his old Lee-Enfield rifle. This would augment their sidearms that they always carried.

Thompson Sub-Machine Gun

Mac was half searching for the zeppelin as well as looking for a reasonable landing place near where he believed the entrance to El Dorado lay. The professor’s journal was very explicit as to where he believed El Dorado could be located. So far, all Mac could see was dense jungle below.

Mac dropped the floatplane lower to the jungle canopy. The thick foliage hid everything inside its interior. Mac circled a few times and then started to bring the plane in for a landing on the wide Amazon River.

The plane landed smoothly on the river’s surface. Mac pulled the aircraft up to the riverbank before he cut the engine. Dan did not waste a moment jumping onto the wing and grabbing the mooring line. He walked the wings length and landed on the solid riverbank where he secured the plane to a nearby tree.

Mac was not far behind unloading their equipment. Dan grabbed a backpack and his rifle while he helped Mac to the ground.

Lee-Enfield Rifle

"How far do you think the Temple is?" Dan asked.

"I don’t know, but if Dr. Strong’s journal is correct it can’t be too far," Mac replied. "The temple may easily have become overgrown over the last few hundred years, but according to the journal it is the entrance to El Dorado. If we can locate it before the Germans we may be able to enter after they use the key."

"Which way do we go?" Dan asked as he shouldered his pack and loaded his Lee-Enfield.

Mac put on his own pack and loaded the fifty-round drum. "It should be northwest of here. With a little luck, it should reveal itself once we enter the interior. The foliage is always thickest by the riverbanks. Things will tend to thin out once we get inside."

The temperature was only in the high seventies but the humidity made it seem much worse. The heavy rainfall did little to cool either man down as they marched into the jungle’s interior. To add to their discomfort, swarms of biting insects found their flesh and blood tasty.

The sound of monkeys and birds incessantly echoed throughout the jungle. Once they heard a jaguar cry out. Dan readied his rifle after the jungle cat’s roar subsided. Mac continued to slash his way through the jungle with his machete.

"How much further do you figure?" Dan asked for about the hundredth time.

Mac stopped his march and leaned against a tree. He lifted his canteen to his lips and swallowed heavily. After wiping his mouth Mac turned towards Dan, "I’m afraid I don’t know. I was hoping to see something by now. What I would do for some divine intervention right now."

Dan looked up at Mac and smile weakly. Just then, a rifle shot cracked through the jungle. Both men looked up in surprise. Dan smiled more strongly in mirth, "Ask and ye shall receive."

Crystal Skull Key

The Germans landed the zeppelin on a lake inside the jungle’s interior. A boat transported the Strongs across the lake and to the jungle accompanied by Johann von Hutten, Captain Wolfgang and a dozen crewmembers.

They had many miles to march and only a few hours in which to do it if they wanted to get the key inserted in time. Professor Strong pointed out the route they would need to follow. By a quick glance at the mountains and a map drawn from the ancient stone map, the archaeologist was able to gain his bearings.

The outskirts of the jungle were thick with underbrush and foliage. As the party continued into the interior, the passage became easier. Sunlight filtered through the heavy foliage in the treetops in small patches. Because of the tall trees cutting out much of the sun light, a lot of the plant life grew high above the ground in the trees. Therefore, there were few plants growing on the ground, however the various plants high above left long sinewy vines leading from the treetops back down to earth.

The Germans hacked their way through the tough vines. As one man’s arm grew tired, another would take over. Thusly, with the professor’s guidance and the Germans’ doggedness, the party made good time. They found the temple quicker and easier than any of them anticipated.

Under the green canopy, a step-pyramid much like those constructed by the Mayans sat covered in vines. The grotesque faces of ancient gods glared at the party as they climbed the steps to the top of the pyramid. The top of the pyramid presented a flat platform on which sat a pedestal with a grooved indentation. Sunlight blazed down on the exposed top.

The party stopped to rest and to have a quick lunch. Everyone sat in silence as the awe of the spectacle that they were experiencing consumed them. The jungle sounds were the only noise the party experienced. The calls of monkeys and the chitterings of other animals floated through the air. The sudden cry of jaguar sitting nearby startled the party. A sentry quickly fired his rifle into the jungle. As the report echoed through the jungle, the party could hear the crashing of the jaguar beating a hasty retreat.

Johann looked at his pocket watch and looked up at the sky. "Dr. Strong, I believe the time approaches."

Dr. Strong nodded his head and slowly pulled the crystal skull out of his satchel. The sunlight sparkled of the natural glass surface. The empty eye sockets flared with brilliance. The archaeologist turned the skull in the sun admiring its beauty.

Johann cleared his voice bringing the professor back to his senses. Dr. Strong then gingerly placed the skull onto the pedestal. The crystal skull fit perfectly inside the groove.

The sun appeared high in the sky as it slowly continued on its trek across the globe. When the sun was straight above its rays beat straight down upon the skull. The light flared more brightly inside the skull. A low hum resonated from the skull and began to grow to a higher pitch. The sound grew to a piercing scream causing the party to cover their ears. Far below at the base of the pyramid a grinding noise of stone grating on stone made its way to everyone’s pounding ears.

Posted by deg at 06:00 PM | Comments (0)

September 06, 2006

Mac MacKinnon and the Race for El Dorado

Chapter 14: El Dorado

By Dwayne MacInnes

Mac and Dan could not believe their eyes. There in the middle of the jungle stood a tall stone pyramid. They wasted no time in following the sound of the rifle shot to its source. They arrive in time to see a brilliant light glaring from the top of the pyramid.

The piercing high-pitched screeched originating from the pyramid's top was a minor irritant to Mac and Dan at the foot of the structure. Therefore, they had a front row seat as a concealed door slowly swung inwards. As the stone door opened, it pulled the vines attached to it until they started to snap apart one by one.

Mac nudged Dan with his elbow before he ran into the pyramid's interior. Dan was right behind Mac as they disappeared inside the darkened depths of the ancient temple.

* * * * *

It had happened so fast that Rebecca had no time to scream. She had just clapped her hands over her ears when the piercing whine ended just as suddenly as it began. The skull had now stopped glowing. No one dared touch the crystal skull because of the electrical energy that appeared to radiate from it.

A few of the Germans had fallen to their knees as the noise overcame them. The stony expression on Captain Wolfgang's face belied the fact that he appeared unaffected by the sudden noise. He alone stood erect and looked down the steps of the pyramid.

"I believe we have opened a door," Wolfgang said in a matter-of-factly tone.

Johann shook his head and quickly joined the captain on the pyramid's edge also peering below.

"Men, get ready to move out," the captain ordered.

The men gathered their supplies and began to climb down the stairs. At the pyramid's base stood an open doorway. Johann slowly approached the darkened interior and peered inside.

"Light the torches, we are on the doorsteps of El Dorado!" Johann exclaimed excitedly.

* * * * *

Mac held the flashlight in front of him. The beam of light illuminated their passage down the stone hallway. The roaring sound of a river filled their ears. The engineering of the temple amplified the sound of the rushing water to loud crashing. Mac was sure the design was intentional. It no doubt added to the mysticism of the temple priest.

With it now covered in dirt and roots, the ground in its heyday, would have been bare stone like the walls of the long hallway. The frozen stone faces of ancient gods grimaced as the two walked further down into the bowels of the pyramid. The musty humid heat was nearly unbearable. Sweat soaked through both Mac's and Dan's shirts. The only redeeming feature was the absence of the biting insects that had plagued them in the jungle.

Dan tapped Mac's shoulder. Mac looked back and noticed Dan pointing over his shoulder. In the distance, a flickering light was on their trail. Mac did not need to be psychic to know that the Germans were on their way into the tunnel. As long as Mac kept his flashlight aimed forward, they could remain unnoticed. Just to be safe Mac increased their pace to slow trot.

* * * * *

"Just think," Johann gushed excitedly, "we are the first people to walk these halls in hundreds of years."

Johann's voice echoed down the stone passageway as the party slowly descended further into the pyramid's interior. Occasionally, a German would catch his foot on an exposed root and stumble. The growing roar of the subterranean river forced Johann to speak even louder.

"The temple priest certain knew how to create awe amongst their parishioners," Johann continued.

Throughout, Rebecca and Dr. Strong remained silent. Both of them did not want to draw any attention to themselves. After Rebecca's escape attempt, neither Rebecca nor her father wanted to tempt the stoic Captain into carrying out his threat of killing them. The two armed guards escorting them only encouraged their silence.

"Not even my great uncle made it this far. We have attained the goal of thousands of Europeans over the past four hundred years. We shall all be rich."

Captain Wolfgang suddenly pulled up to a stop and turned on Johann, "Herr von Hutten, please compose yourself."

Von Hutten sheepishly cleared his throat, "Sorry, Captain I was momentarily lost in emotion. Please carry on."

The party continued on its journey in the flickering light of the torch carried by the lead German. Dr. Strong whispered to his daughter that they had long since left the pyramid behind and that they must be on the passage to the legendary city.

It felt like they had been traveling downward for several hours. However, it was only two when they finally came to large opening. This was the doorway to a huge natural cavern. Inside the cavern were the remains of several stone buildings. Most of the structures were single storied, but a few were as tall as three stories. In the center, there was a large pyramid, and in the back of the cavern, a waterfall crashed into a subterranean river. The river flowed out the opposite side of the cavern. An opening in the ceiling let the sunlight enter into the cavern.

"Gentlemen, and lady," Johann's voice boomed with excitement, "I present to you El Dorado."

Posted by deg at 07:00 PM | Comments (0)

September 13, 2006

Mac MacKinnon and the Race for El Dorado

Chapter 15: Treasure of El Dorado

By Dwayne MacInnes

On entering the city, the Germans fanned out. The deafening roar of the river died down to quiet rumble. A few birds flew from the buildings as the Germans approached. Apparently, the fowl must have fallen into the hole and have taken up residence here.

Dr. Strong noticed the dark shapes hanging from inside the opening of the cavern's ceiling. These were bats, which were another of the residents of the subterranean city. They would become livelier as the sun disappeared behind the mountains to the west.

Johann ran from building to building in excitement. The stories where the city had its building's walls encrusted in precious stones were obviously false. So to were the rumors of streets being lined in gold and silver. Nonetheless, the Germans ran from building to building looking for any riches.

All they turned up were some pottery, woven sleeping mats, and a few stone utensils. The closest thing to any precious metal returned to the feet of Captain Wolfgang was some copper rings. The captain coolly looked over at the feverish von Hutten.

"It must be here somewhere," raved the anxious German.

Johann grabbed Dr. Strong by his collars, "Where? Where is the treasure?" Johann screamed in the professor's face splattering it with spittle.

Dr. Strong slowly wiped the spit from his face and composed himself. "This city is itself the treasure. The things we could learn from it are incalculable..."

"Save me your speeches," raved Johann. "Every South American empire was built upon gold. This is no exception and you know it."

"Very well, the gold you seek is more than likely inside that pyramid," Dr. Strong waved his hand over towards the stone structure.

Captain Wolfgang whistled and motioned for his men to search the pyramid. Ten crewmembers and Johann von Hutten ran towards the pyramids carrying their tools. Captain Wolfgang and the two armed guards remained with Rebecca and Dr. Strong.

"If you are correct Herr doktor," Wolfgang said stoically, "you and your daughter will be left at some local village. Provided there are no further escape attempts."

Dr. Strong nodded his head and wrapped his arm around his daughter. Rebecca felt exhaustion overcome her body and sat on the street. She could not believe that one way or another they were at the end of their journey. She just prayed that her father was correct about the treasure being in the temple.

Suddenly, the screams and yells of the German crewmembers escaped from the pyramid's interior. For the first time the Strongs noticed some signs of emotion pass across the face of Captain Wolfgang. He took a few steps toward the pyramid when Johann came running out.

"It's there! It's all there!" yelled Johann as he thrust a golden statue into Wolfgang's hands. The captain studied the scowling expression of the ancient god. The small statue easily had to be twenty-five pounds. A smile spread across Wolfgang's face. The sight of the smile filled the Strongs with dread, for it was cold and lifeless.

"Load the packs and return to the zeppelin," Wolfgang ordered.

Johann smiled broadly and saluted the captain, "Ja wohl, mein herr."

Johann returned to the interior of the pyramid. Wolfgang then motioned for the two guards to join the men already at work within.

"I take it I don't need to waste any men on watching you two. Nonetheless, I'll keep watch over you," Wolfgang said.

* * * * *

Mac and Dan had taken cover inside a two-story building waiting for the Germans to enter the city. The plan was to ambush them as they walked down the main boulevard. However, when Mac noticed Rebecca and Dr. Strong amongst the Germans he held his fire. They needed a new plan.

Mac and Dan held a quiet council as the Germans ran from building to building. They decided to wait until the Germans left the Strongs unguarded. Until then the risk was too great. When Johann violently grabbed Dr. Strong, Mac felt he might have to risk confrontation. He had the Tommy gun to his shoulder aiming at von Hutten when he suddenly let the professor go.

They watched as the Germans ran for the pyramid. Even with only two guards and an officer Mac held his fire.

"Mac," hissed Dan next to his ear. "Look at the officer."

Mac gazed through the dusty air at the officer. At first, he did not see what Dan was getting at. Then he nearly gasped aloud when he realized who he was. Captain Wolfgang, the supposed leader of the Stein Ritter and a German top ace during the Great War. Mac had never confronted the German personally, but all his friends who did never returned alive. He owed Wolfgang a blood debt.

Mac knew Wolfgang by sight because he worked with the British and French secret service trying to hunt the pilot down. He was more dangerous than even the Red Baron. Now after all these years Mac might just have his revenge. Mac put the Tommy gun to his shoulder again and slowly began to pull the trigger.

Dan put his hand on Mac's shoulder forestalling him from firing. "Wait!" Dan whispered loudly.

Posted by deg at 08:03 PM | Comments (0)

September 20, 2006

Mac MacKinnon and the Race for El Dorado

Chapter 16: Ambush

By Dwayne MacInnes

Mac watched as von Hutten ran out of the temple and presented something to Wolfgang. Johann was obviously excited about something. Wolfgang ordered the guards watching over the Strongs to enter the pyramid along with Johann.

Mac and Dan again held another quick planning session. Mac would provide cover while Dan grabbed the professor and his daughter and escorted them to safety. For the third time, Mac raised the Thompson waiting for Dan to signal when he was ready.

The birdcall alerted Mac who sighted low in front of Wolfgang. He could not risk hitting either of the hostages. He had to make the captain seek cover.

The Tommy gun opened up. Shards of stone flew up from the street as the rapid burst of .45 bullets ripped into the blocks. Wolfgang instinctively ducked into the cover of a nearby building.

Dan did not waste any time running out and grabbing the archaeologist and his daughter. He pulled the pair into the building where Mac and he were hiding. After he pulled them to the second story room where Mac was firing burst after burst, Dan began to fire at the Germans running out of the pyramid with his Lee-Enfield.

Thompson Submachinegun

Rebecca sat on the cold stone street with her father holding her in his arms. They had both been through quite a lot in the last few days. They still mourned the deaths of Mac and Dan. They still did not know if they could trust the captain.

Surprise gripped them when the street suddenly appeared to explode in front of Captain Wolfgang. Bits of rock and dust showered the Strongs. They watched as the captain ducked inside a nearby stone structure.

A stranger ran up to them and grabbed them. He led them inside a stone building and up to the second story. There they saw a man firing a gangster's submachine gun into the street below.

Rebecca let out a gasp when she realized that the men were indeed Mac MacKinnon and Dan Edwards. For the first time since her abduction joy returned to her heart. She could see that her father also recognized their saviors.

Bullets began to slam into the walls next to them as the Germans began to return fire. Rebecca and Hugo Strong ducked down onto the floor seeking what little cover they could.

Lee-Enfield Rifle

Wolfgang was only momentarily caught off guard when the submachine gun opened up on him. Without a second thought, he jumped into a nearby doorway. Somehow, someone had followed them into the cavern and was now firing upon him.

He reached for his Luger and cocked it. Wolfgang noticed that the Strongs had disappeared. More than likely, the men in the building across the street had rescued them. Wolfgang could not make out anyone inside the building, but he could make out the muzzle flash of the automatic weapon.

By now, the crewmembers were pouring out of the pyramid carrying their cargo as well as their own weapons with them. These unfortunately, were only two rifles and eleven pistols. Nonetheless, Wolfgang surmised that there could only be two assailants in the building.

Wolfgang started firing at the muzzle flashes in the second story room. He did not know if his bullets had found their marks or not. He did not have time to find out.

"Johann," Wolfgang yelled, "return to the zeppelin with the treasure now!"

"Ja wohl!" Johann replied from near the entrance of the pyramid.

German Luger Pistol

Mac ducked back into the room as a rain of bullets pelted the small room. Mac dug into his backpack and produced another fifty round drum that he fitted into the Tommy gun. Dan continued to work his bolt-action rifle.

Mac returned to the window just in time to see the Germans by the pyramid begin to run for the cavern opening. Only two riflemen remained concealed to pin Mac and Dan down as the rest of the Germans made for the exit.

Dan dropped the two riflemen in a matter of seconds. Mac for his part, fired into the crowd as they ran out of the cavern. Most were loaded down with packs of gold. Ironically, the gold saved many of their lives as the .45 pistol rounds fired by the Thompson bounced off the precious metal in their packs.

However, Mac did manage to drop three men before they left the cavern. The men lay still on the ground as their life's blood pooled beneath them. The rest of the Germans including Johann and Wolfgang had managed to escape the ambush.

Not bad Mac smiled inwardly. They at least had saved the professor and Rebecca.

Posted by deg at 05:02 PM | Comments (0)

September 27, 2006

Mac MacKinnon and the Race for El Dorado

Chapter 17: River

By Dwayne MacInnes

Mac and Dan searched the bodies of the dead crewmembers. Dan stood watch by the cavern entrance in case the Germans decided to return. In the mean time, Mac explained to the Strongs how he and Dan made their daring escapes from the clutches of the Germans.

It was obvious that after two hours the Germans were not returning. To pass the time, Dr. Strong searched the pyramid and collected a few clay tablets and figurines. Mac forbade anyone from taking any gold. The weight could be deadly if they needed to run once they made their way back to the surface.

Mac led the way back up the passageway as they began their return trip. He had the Thompson in one hand and his flashlight in the other. Dan was close behind holding his Schofield; he had surrendered his Lee-Enfield to the professor.

The roar of the river again drowned out but the loudest voice as the party continued on their way to the surface. Mac was becoming more uneasy as they continued on their way to the surface. Certainly, the Germans would not let them get away so easily. They must be laying a trap or waiting in ambush somewhere ahead.

They were only a half a mile from the surface when they heard the explosion. The passageway shook and dust rained down on them. Fortunately, the ancient architects were superb builders and the passageway did not collapse upon them. Mac waited a few minutes for the dust to settle. Then he ran ahead leaving Dan with Rebecca and Dr. Strong.

A few hundred yards ahead confirmed Mac's worst fears. The Germans had sabotaged the passageway. The entire length of the passage from here to the surface had collapsed. The small party had no chance of escape by going this way. So they returned to the cavern.

Mac looked around for a back door. Unfortunately, there was none. Even the ceiling opening was beyond their reach. The sun was rapidly disappearing behind the Andes. Soon darkness would envelope the cavern.

How long could they survive with no food? They had plenty of water…

Suddenly, Mac jumped up.

"I've got it!" Mac exclaimed.

"What is it?" Dan asked excitedly.

"Quickly, before we lose the light. Gather any wood you can find. We'll go out down the river."

"We don't know what is down the river," Dr. Strong pointed out.

"But we know we'll die if we stay here," insisted Mac.

* * * * *

Just before the last rays of sunlight exited the cavern for the night, the small group had manufactured a small raft. It was not large enough for them to all sit on, but they could hold on to it to keep them afloat as they flowed down the river.

Mac and Dan lashed the packs and weapons onto the raft. Once the small party was ready, they grabbed onto the raft. Each had a vine wrapped around a hand. If worse came to worse and they need to escape the raft all they had to do was unwrap their hand.

The four companions then pushed off from the riverbank to the center of the stream. The water was refreshingly cold. Even now in the night, the jungle heat and humidity was stifling. However, Mac knew that any prolong exposure to the subterranean water could lead to hypothermia and then death.

The current was strong and before long, the raft with its four passengers was rushing downstream. There was barely enough headroom as the river exited the cavern out the small tunnel. Mac had his flashlight strapped to the top of the raft to provide any light. How long it would last, he did not know. The batteries could die or the water could short it out. Mac did his best to water proof it by wrapping wet clay around the flashlight.

The tunnel appeared to stretch on endlessly. The twists and turns would occasionally bash the occupants against the wall. Fortunately, the walls were smooth and the channel was deep. They had to avoid the occasional stalactite as a sudden surge upward could leave one impaled upon the sharp protuberances.

Mac figured that they had already covered several miles in the few minutes they were in the river. By good luck, the river never submerged its occupants underwater for any prolonged time. That was another fear Mac had, but he felt best not to mention it.

As the raft continued to flow down the watery course, the flashlight began to dim. When the light went out their chances of survival also lessened. They could no longer see the dangerous stalactites nor prepare for the turns.

They sped along even faster now. The channel was narrowing. Before the flashlight died, Mac notice that there was light coming from up ahead. His spirits raised considerable. Then they dropped just as suddenly when he heard the roaring of a waterfall. There was no escape; the river pulled them at an alarming rate towards the watery cliff.

Posted by deg at 07:47 PM | Comments (0)

October 04, 2006

Mac MacKinnon and the Race for El Dorado

Chapter 18: Journeys End

By Dwayne MacInnes

Mac took a deep breath as they exited the tunnel and began the plummet over the edge of the waterfall. Mac tried to unwind his wrists from the raft but as they tumbled repeatedly, it became impossible. The passengers bashed and banged either into each other or into the raft as they plunged downward.

Then the river drove the raft underwater as they splashed down into the pool at the waterfall's base. Remarkably, the raft had remained together and its passengers, though battered, bruised, and waterlogged were all alive. The moon was high in the night sky.

The four companions had found themselves in a lake. They began to swim to the closest shore and pulled the raft behind them. Soon they beached themselves upon the sandy bank. The jungle foliage reached out to envelope them.

Rebecca coughed and sputtered. Dr. Strong stood up and stretched his bruised limbs. He was looking out onto the lake when a gasp escaped his lips.

"Well, doesn't that beat all," the archaeologist said.

Mac looked out onto the lake to see what Dr. Strong was looking at. There parked in the center of the lake sat the zeppelin. The giant aircraft was beginning to lift itself up from the water. Mac quickly began to untie their possessions from the raft.

The airship was too far out for his Tommy gun to be any use. Therefore, Mac grabbed Dan's Lee-Enfield. He ran a few yards up the lakeside to gain a better perspective on the zeppelin and in the case the Germans returned fire they would not inadvertently hit the professor or his daughter.

The airship was now above the treetops. It was soon pulling away. The moonlight did not make for the best of shooting conditions; however, Mac had to try to stop the Germans from escaping. The zeppelin was almost at the extreme range of the British rifle.

Mac took careful aim. There was very little chance he would be able to ignite the highly combustible hydrogen gas with a simple rifle round. At best, he could only puncture the airbag. Even then, the Germans could repair it before the ship lost much gas. During the Great War, the attack aircraft were loaded with incendiary rounds. Something he did not have for the Lee-Enfield.

However, Mac needed to do something. The zeppelin was rapidly increasing its speed. Mac squeezed the trigger. If he hit, he did not know. He fired repeatedly. Mac fired his last bullet before the zeppelin pulled out of range. Mac could not be sure but he thought he might have seen a flash on the zeppelin.

As the zeppelin pulled beyond their view Mac knew that against all odds he must have hit a girder, causing a spark that ignited the hydrogen gas. For the skyline was beginning to brighten over the horizon.

Lee Enfield Rifle

The next morning Dr. Strong led everyone back to the pyramid temple. Just as Mac had feared, the Germans had permanently sealed off the entrance to El Dorado.

"What a pity," Dr. Strong lamented.

"I can't say it was all a loss," Dan replied.

"How so?" Mac asked arching one of his eyebrows.

"You said not to take any gold but you said nothing of precious stones," Dan said as he began emptying his many pockets filled with emeralds, sapphires and other stones.

"There was more than monetary wealth contained in there," Dr. Strong continued.

"I'm afraid the few artifacts you packed away will have to suffice. But, I believe that the world is not yet ready for El Dorado. Maybe it is all for the best," Mac said.

Dr. Strong nodded his head, "Perhaps you are right. I believe you know the way to your plane from here."

"Just one minute," Mac replied as he ran up the stairs of the temple. In a few minutes, he returned with the crystal skull. He handed it over to Dr. Strong.

Chrystal Skull

As they were flying back to British Honduras, Mac searched the jungle for any signs of the burning zeppelin. After a few minutes, Mac sighted the burned jungle near the river's edge. The burning aircraft must have crashed into the deep river where it sank.

Mac returned the floatplane to Major Roger White who was again sitting with his colleague in the cantina. Mac introduced Rebecca and Hugo Strong to Major White and Dr. Frederick Mitchell-Hedges. The major and the British archaeologist looked over the four adventurers. They all appeared the worse for wear.

"I'd love to know what you've been up to, Captain," the major said.

Dr. Mitchell-Hedges started a conversation with his American counterpart. Dr. Strong only commented that he was on another futile search for the Lost City of Gold.

"Speaking of futile searches. I've been searching for the perfect gift to give my daughter Anna for her birthday. I'm afraid I too have ‘struck out' as you Yanks say," Mitchell-Hedges said a little downtrodden.

"Perhaps, I may help out," Dr. Strong offered. "I did find this on our trek why don't you give it to your daughter." Hugo pulled out the crystal skull and handed it to the British archaeologist.

Mitchell-Hedges smiled and looked at the crystal skull, "Beautiful, just beautiful. She'll love it. How can I repay you?"

Dr. Strong laughed as he pulled Rebecca over, "Let's just say that I too understand how important it is to present the perfect gift to a daughter."

Rebecca blushed, "Oh Dad!" Rebecca then kissed her father on the cheek.

THE END

Posted by deg at 06:00 PM | Comments (1)

October 11, 2006

Vampire Confessions

By Dwayne MacInnes

You may call me Nicodemus, for that is who I have become. To know where I came from and how I got here, you must first have a little background. It all started out as a fascination with vampires. I have read everything from Bram Stoker to Anne Rice, though I must confess I found much of the older writings dull. I also loved to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I cannot explain the magnetic draw I felt towards vampires, but it was there and it soon consumed my very being.

With some friends, I started playing a vampire role-playing game. It was Vampires against the dreaded vampire hunter who counted the ubiquitous wooden stake, some holy water, and a cross as part of his arsenal. It seemed silly that weak mortals, who vampires considered mere cattle, could so easily overcome the mighty nosferatu. In any account, as we continued to game my character, Nicodemus, gained the upper tier of the tenth level.

Yet, I was not satisfied. My compulsion drove me further into the dark world of the undead. I started to dress in gothic garb, it seemed natural that I should wear black clothing and display a somber demeanor. I began to take my role-playing to the next level, LARP or Live Action Role-Playing.

Still, my compulsion was not sated. I needed more. I joined a group of self-proclaimed vampires and we started to consume each other's blood or hematophagy. The iron after taste of human blood lingered on my palate and I loved it. It felt as natural as you eating a hamburger or drinking a glass of water.

This did not completely quench my desire but it sufficed. For many years, I lived the life of a mortal living as one of the undead. I built my own coffin that I slept in throughout the day and I would arise with the setting of the sun. I started up a webpage dedicated to the myth and lore of vampires. Discussions in the forum covered issues from whether technology would help real vampires to their little known history.

One day I received an email from someone calling himself Mordecai. There was nothing unusual about the email in of itself except the brevity and directness of it. Mordecai simply asked, "Do you want to become a vampire?"

Often, I have been asked if I wished I were a vampire, but never if I wanted to become one. I felt that there was more to Mordecai than just another person asking me a question. I instantly responded with one word, "Yes" and before long, we were involved in a lengthy correspondence.

Essentially Mordecai stated that he was a real vampire and that if I truly had the desire he would help me to obtain my goal. His revelation did not surprise me. I always knew that vampires existed. The legends of beings of the night and drinking the life's blood of mortals, span the globe from Europe to Asia and to the western hemisphere.

I asked if Mordecai could send me a picture for I have never seen a "living" vampire. Mordecai laughed in his response reminding me that a nosferatu's image could not be capture by film or even digital cameras. I read such things but I never quite believed it. It was not scientifically possible, and yet, I still believed in vampires who also were not scientifically possible. The hypocrisy never entered my mind until that moment.

I finally asked if I could meet him in person. Mordecai responded that it might be better if I invited him over to my place. Without a second thought, I responded that he was welcome to my home anytime he wanted. I did not realize the significance of this until later.

I knew that once I met Mordecai I had the chance of fulfilling my lifelong dream. I would ask -- beg if needed -- to become a vampire. Visions of being one of the vampires seen in the movie Blade ran through my mind. With my superhuman strength, my fellow nosferatu lords and I would harvest what we wanted from the human kine. I would be able to coat my body in sunscreen and roam the world during the day if I desired. I would have the natural magnetism, which would lure any woman I desired to me. The world would be at my feet.

I did not know how long I had to wait before Mordecai showed up at my home. It appeared that I did not have to wait long after all. For, at the stroke of midnight I heard a rapping on my front door. I quickly answered the door. I knew who it was before I opened it. His briskness surprised me. It appeared I still had a thing or two to learn about vampires.

I nervously opened the door to see a tall thin pale bald man on the porch. He rubbed his long boney fingers. His eyes showed no spark of life. They were just plain black. He smiled and his sharp canines reflected the dim moonlight.

"Greetings, Master Nicodemus," Mordecai said in low breathy voice. "May I enter?"

"Y-yes," I stammered still caught off guard my visitor.

In a rapid and fluid motion, Mordecai stepped into my house. He seated himself down on the couch and awaited my entrance into the room.

"There is no need to be nervous Master Nicodemus, I will not harm you. I will gladly answer your questions, and I offer you the gift of immortality. If you so desire it."

I sat down next to the vampire. I noticed that he was dressed in the gothic clothing much the same as mine. He never lost his smile.

"I have been enjoying your website, Master Nicodemus. You tend to favor the modern interpretations over the folklore I notice."

"Yes, some things in ancient folklore do not make much sense or contradict each other. For example, was there a Count Dracula?"

"Of course, but Vlad Tepes III Draculea son of Vlad II Dracul was never a vampire. He was just a Romanian prince who fought deadly and terrible battles against the Ottoman Empire," breathed the vampire. His breathe smelled like an old dusty basement.

"Who was the first vampire? Is it Lilith of the Jewish legends or Lilu of the Babylonian legends?" I continued my line of questioning.

"You might as well ask ‘who was the first human?' Is it Adam? Or are humans the spawn of Lucy from the Oldevai Gorge."

I pondered what Mordecai said. It was obvious that I had a lot to learn about vampires. Yet my impatience to ask the long waited for question grew with each passing minute.

Finally, Mordecai leaned closer to me, "Master Nicodemus," he said in his musty breathy voice, "I know what you want to really ask me. I see the desire in your eyes and I will grant it if you truly have the courage to accept it. However, you must realize that once given it can never be returned."

Without further thought I blurted out, "Master Mordecai I am destined to be a vampire. Please, grant me the gift of immortality."

The smile on Mordecai's white face grew larger. His fangs glistened in the light of the living room lamp. He opened his mouth and sank his teeth into my jugular. Oddly enough, there was no pain. I must have passed out for I awoke inside my coffin that I kept in the basement.

I learned many lessons about vampires from that day. It is true that vampires are immensely strong and can only subsist off the blood of mortal humans. However, the sun block theories are false. It turns out that vampires came into being by rejecting God. It is ironic that I never believed in God while living now I know he exists now that I am undead. Because of the curse, any natural thing made from God and not man will harm a vampire. That is why wooden stake is fatal, though a particleboard one will be painful but not lethal. So too is iron, but not steel. That also goes for sunlight.

Sunlight is pure; it was fashioned by God in the beginning. Ultraviolet light does not mean a thing one way or the other to vampires. During the daylight hours, vampires are as weak as newborn babies are. They cannot move a finger to save themselves if the need arises while the sun is still above the horizon. Crosses and holy water are also lethal for the same reason (though for crosses to function the holder must have faith). It appears that Christ exists after all and is the son of God.

I also learned that vampires have no magnetism. In fact, we are impotent. The blood that was in our bodies no longer flows and so certain organs cannot simply function. Vampires also do not simply drink blood for food. Blood is sacred, and by turning from God, vampires must drink blood in order to drain the life essence from it so we can exist. The blood must come from a living human. Virginity is not a factor.

Finally, humans are not cattle waiting at our disposal for slaughter. We cannot simply enter any house we want. We need an invitation in order to enter. Garlic indeed is a deterrent and is all too common in the modern household.

We vampires are loathsome creatures that can only hunt at night. We are parasites and not hunters. As for vampire hunters, they do exist leading as secret a life as we do. They are potent and all too worthy of adversaries. That is why there are only a handful of vampires in existence around the world. We are hunted and must constantly move to find new hiding places.

I now know why Mordecai smiled when he turned me into a vampire. He must have found a perverse pleasure in giving me what I always desired and yet be able to teach me a valuable lesson. Now, I am cursed to roam the earth as the undead and when my end does come, I am doomed to damnation for all eternity.

Posted by deg at 06:59 PM | Comments (14)

October 18, 2006

J.D. Stone and the Case of the Bloody Knife

Chapter 1

By Dwayne MacInnes

I suppose I should lay out a little background for you. I am Sheriff James D. Stone of Swimmer's Lake, Montana. I will bet you have never even heard of Swimmer's Lake, Montana. That is of no surprise because the town is not all that big. Usually a lake next to your berg means a resort town teaming with tourists looking for some good swimming, fishing, and boating. The sad truth is that our "lake" is not so much a lake as a big stagnant pond infested with mosquitoes and leeches. In fact, the town's original name was Swimmer's Itch Lake, but sometime ago our Chamber of Commerce thought that dropping the offending word may help increase our tourist revenue. It did not.

I will not bore you with the results of the last census taken of our small town, which is nestled between the peaks of the Rockies. Suffice it to say that between me and my score of deputies we can maintain the peace in our little hamlet and the surrounding Summit County. Nonetheless, I have been witness to some mysteries as puzzling as one might expect in some of the bigger cities.

Unfortunately, we don't have the same resources as one would find in more populated areas. It can take weeks or even months to obtain the results to a piece of evidence sent to the crime labs in either Missoula or Great Falls. Therefore, in order for us to move quickly on a crime, we are encouraged to rely largely on old police methods of investigation and our own small crime lab.

During the day there are usually only myself and two or three deputies on duty at one time. My deputy sheriff is Dan Easton, a young man still trying to find his calling in life. He owes his position to the fact that his mother happens to be our town's mayor. I'm not saying Dan does not exhibit some good qualities as a law enforcement officer. He is a crack shot on a nonmoving target and hotshot driver on straight-aways.

However, Dan's main flaw is that he needs a hefty dose of self-confidence. He tends to chose flight over fight and that is not good in a pinch. There was this time when the two of us responded to breakup a bar brawl at the Stockman's. Dan and I entered the smoke filled room to find men and some women punching, throwing bottles, and cursing at each other.

"Hold it right there!" I yelled at the top of my voice. The barroom quieted down and everyone turned towards me. "Now let's settle things down before my deputy and I have to run you all in."

Everyone started laughing at this moment. Unknown to me Dan had discretely made himself scarce leaving me alone with two dozen angry drunks. Fortunately, the levity of the situation pacified everyone's mood. However, it is still the humorous story told around town, and it does nothing to inspire confidence in the department.

Now I am going off on a tangent. To bring us back on course I was explaining that even though we don't have a large population we still get our share of some real puzzlers. One case comes to mind that really had our department stymied. 7B973 is the case file's official name; unofficially it is the Case of the Bloody Knife. The name will make sense as I tell the story.

It all began one June afternoon. Dan called in saying that he found Brent Underwood covered in blood and staggering along side Lower Country road. According to Brent's initial statement, some unknown assailant had beaten him up. Dan was now taking Mr. Underwood back to the station to get a more detailed report.

Being that I was on Upper Country road, which is just a few miles up from Lower Country road, I was about to radio in that I would join Dan back at headquarters when our day dispatcher Jeanie Carson broke in suddenly.

"J.D. you better get out to Victoria Drummond's place. There's a body out there."

"I'll be there in five minutes Jeanie."

Yeah, you probably noticed that our radio protocol is a little informal. But, as I said, we are a small department. We tend to be more like an extended family.

In less than five minutes I had my black and white Blazer pulling into the gravel drive of Victoria Drummond's little house nestled in the trees just off the mountain road. I saw Johnny Blake sitting on the front porch with his head in his hands. He looked up at me as my truck pulled to a stop. The man's face was ghostly white and his eyes were bloodshot.

"Johnny, you alright there?" I said as I stepped out of the Blazer.

Johnny weakly rose up from the steps, his body was shaking uncontrollably as I approached. "I dunno Sheriff," He stammered. "I…I was just doing some fishing in the river there when I thought I heard some arguing from Victoria's house."

Johnny used to run the local hardware store before he retired a couple of years back. Now he spends all his free time fly-fishing the local rivers. He knows everyone along the riverbanks and though he is mainly catch and release, he will share his occasional catch with whoever's land he is fishing.

"Just sit down and take it easy," I consoled Johnny as I eased him back down on the top step. "I'll need you to tell me everything you know. But first I need to see what's up in the house."

Johnny nodded and returned his head into his hands. As I approached the screen door, I noticed Johnny's rod and gear lying on the porch. The flies where buzzing around the basket containing his catch. There were a couple of bloody footprints leading out toward where Johnny sat.

The screen door opened with a screech of rusty hinges. I walked through the dining room. The table and chairs lay strewn across the room. Broken dishes littered the floor. I saw a few spatters of blood on the floor along with some bloody smudges and footprints leading from the kitchen.

The next room I searched was the kitchen. The window above the sink had been broken out. More smashed dishes were scattered across the countertops and the floor. However, the worse mess was the blood. Blood covered everything. Splatters of it covered the cabinets' doors and even the ceiling.

On the floor, lying in her own pool of congealing blood was the butchered body of Victoria Drummond. Her tangled blond hair matted in places with blood, her dead gray eyes stared at the ceiling, and the flies were thick around her throat that someone had savagely sawn through.

Posted by deg at 06:04 PM | Comments (5)

October 25, 2006

J.D. Stone and the Case of the Bloody Knife

Chapter 2

By Dwayne MacInnes

Victoria Drummond was the daughter of Victor Drummond, the Victor Drummond of the Victory Lumber Company. Victor had made his fortune by cutting and selling logs from around the area. Besides agriculture, timber is Montana's chief industry.

Now Victoria was a bit of a floozy. She tended to sleep around with anyone she fancied. As you can guess this didn't sit too well with her father. He threatened to have her removed from his will, sent away to a boarding school and such. Alas, none of it worked to tame the young girl's wild ways.

Finally, in an act of desperation after Victoria graduated from high school, Victor decided to remove his daughter from the temptations of town by buying her a small house in the mountains and granting her an allowance that exceeded my annual pay. The results were not exactly what Victor wanted but at least now, her trysts were discrete and removed from the public eye.

Victor also has a son, Victoria's younger brother, Victor jr. or just Vic. Vic had a gambling addiction. He would spend all he had in the casinos. It wasn't long before Vic had run up some sizable debts. There is a rumor, which Vic, who at the time ran one of Victory Lumber's smaller operations, started to embezzle money from his father's company. The rumor continues that Victor quietly removed his son from the company and enrolled him into a gamblers recovery program.

It must have broken Victor's heart to have two children fall so far from his high expectations. Now, one of them lay dead in her own home.

After making a quick survey of the house, I called in two more of my deputies and began to question Johnny.

"Now Johnny, I need you tell me what you heard and saw." I said to the still shaking fisherman.

Johnny nodded weakly. He stared off into the trees as he began his tale, only occasionally looking up at me. "I fish Miss Drummond's place every Monday. She doesn't...ah, didn't mind. I would always share my catch and she'd happily accept it. Sometimes her latest boyfriend would be here. They would argue sometimes over stuff. I never paid attention to what it was they argued about. None of my business, I'm just here to fish.

"I got here early this morning. I had caught a couple of nice rainbow when I heard arguing coming from the house. Nothing new I figured. Her boyfriend was probably here again. So I continued my fishing."

"About what time was that?" I interrupted.

"Oh, I'd say about two hours ago, maybe eleven." I nodded for Johnny to continue as I scribbled notes down in my notebook. "Then I heard some really loud screaming. I didn't think anything of it at first. She and her boyfriend always argued.

"You know her father didn't like her boyfriends. She being the heir of the lumber tycoon in these parts, her father didn't think it was proper for her to be cavorting around with such men.

"I guess that is what finally made me decide to see what was going on. Her boyfriend hadn't been around for weeks and suddenly he shows up. Plus, even when they did argue she never screamed like she did today.

"I probably thought it over for ten minutes before I went up to the house. By this time the screaming had stopped.

"I saw the kitchen widow had been busted out. It was fine this morning. So, I stepped up to the door. I could see through the screen door the mess in the dining room. I knocked on the door, but there wasn't any answer. I called out for Miss Drummond and still only silence.

"So, I stepped into the dining room. I remembered the window in the kitchen so that was where I went next and...Oh God! The brutality of it all."

"That's quite alright. Did you see anyone else enter or leave the house?"

"No," Johnny shook his head, "Not a soul."

"Did you recognize any of the voices in the argument?"

Johnny sat straight up as if shot through with an electric bolt. "You know sheriff. I remember only hearing her voice."

"Did you hear anything she said?"

"No, I just remember her yelling at someone."

"Did you remove anything from the house?"

"No, I just used the phone to call you guys and I came back out here."

"Johnny, do you remember who Victoria's boyfriend is?"

The older man sat there and scratched his chin. "I was never properly introduced. But, I've seen him around town. Let's see I believe his name was Bart...no that's not right. Brent...yeah that's right Brent Underwood."

Posted by deg at 08:09 PM | Comments (0)

November 01, 2006

J.D. Stone and the Case of the Bloody Knife

Chapter 3

By Dwayne MacInnes

I immediately called the station to ask Dan to arrest Brent. After I gave the order, I waited until the coroner and Deputies Ed Douglas and Lars "Sonny" Thomas arrived. Both deputies quickly contained the crime scene and were thorough in gathering any evidence at the scene. I had a few words with Mike Harris, the coroner, and some last minute instructions for my deputies before I headed back to town.

Back at the station, Dan had Brent locked away behind bars. Our jail is not large, so there are only three cells that sit behind the main desk. Dan sat behind the desk leaning back in the wooden swivel chair resting his feet upon the desk's large top. Jeanie sat across the room from Dan at her dispatching station. The two were in conversation when I walked in.

Dan nearly fell backwards trying to compose himself. He knew I did not care for him having his feet upon the desk. In any case, he managed to regain his feet without killing himself. I hid my smile with a rough smirk.

I looked over to the first cell to see Brent Underwood in the blue jail digs sitting on his bed at the far side of the cell. He had his head bowed low, so I did not immediately see the bruises and scratches on his face. When he looked up at me, I then saw the beaten Brent had taken. His left eye was nearly swollen shut, a butterfly bandage held a cut above his right eyebrow together, and there were a series of five parallel scratches on his left cheek.

"Did you find anything on Brent?" I asked.

"Yes sir, in his backpack I found a letter from Victoria. You can read it. It is on your desk and this bloody hunting knife," Dan pointed over to the knife sealed away in a baggie on the desk. The knife was the standard hunting knife one could find in any outfitting store. Except it had a nice polished bone handle with B.U. engraved on the pommel.

"I assume you gathered the suspect's clothes as evidence as well?" I usually don't second-guess my deputies, but with Dan, I had to make exceptions. The boy was still learning. Once he almost had a suspect's clothes cleaned, fortunately we retrieved them before we lost the evidence on them to the washing machine.

"Sheriff, I have them separated and sealed up nice and tight."

"Have you read Brent his rights?"

"Yes sir," Dan smiled in his youthful and a naïve way.

"Have you questioned him yet?"

"Just his initial statement. He claimed that some unknown jumped him on Lower Country road while he was out for a walk. I had just finished it when you called to have me place him under arrest."

"Good Dan, we may make a lawman out of you yet," I didn't think Dan's smile could get any bigger. "Take the evidence down to the crime lab, have Floyd look it over."

Our crime lab would have many other departments laughing. It was more of a garage run by Floyd Jenkins. Nevertheless, he and his two assistants ran an efficient operation. He was good at taking fingerprints, typing blood, and a lot of science stuff that I could never comprehend in school.

Dan trotted off for Floyd's while I pulled a chair up next to the cell containing Brent. He looked up at me with his one good eye. It contained all the sorrow and misery of the world.

"You know why you've been arrested right?"

"Yes, sheriff. Dan said there was a murder on Upper Country road and he found a bloody knife in my backpack. I don't know how..."

I held up my hand to forestall him. "Before I ask you a few questions I want to make sure of a couple of things."

"Sure."

"Did Dan give you your one free phone call?"

"Yes, sheriff."

"I hope you called your lawyer. Because my second question is whether you want to talk to me now or with your lawyer present. It would really speed things up if he was on his way in either event."

"No, I called my girlfriend."

"Dan told you who was murdered right?"

"Well no, he just mentioned something about a murder on Upper Country road."

"Did he mention that it was your girlfriend who was murdered?"

"That's impossible; I just talked to her ten minutes ago!"

Posted by deg at 07:31 PM | Comments (1)

November 08, 2006

J.D. Stone and the Case of the Bloody Knife

Chapter 4

By Dwayne MacInnes

It took me a couple of seconds to regain my composure. The last thing I expected to hear from Brent was that he had just spoken to the deceased. I cleared my throat before I began again.

"I think that we need to clear something up. Who did you call?"

Brent's face reflected the same confusion that I'm sure I wore on my own. "I told you sheriff I called my girlfriend, Betty Vermont. Please, tell me she's alright!" his voice pleaded.

I let the air out between my lips, "I owe you an apology, as far as I know Betty is doing just fine. It was just a case of mistaken identity."

"Thank God," Brent sank back down on his bunk.

"Now, I must ask you again if you'd like to waive your right to have an attorney present during questioning."

"Sure, I have nothing to hide. In fact, I'm the victim here. I was the one attacked."

"Do you know Victoria Drummond?"

The shock on Brent's face told me he did. "Vicky? What happened to Vicky?"

"Miss Drummond was found dead at her residence. How well did you know Miss Drummond?"

Brent's face now turned a deep red as he turned his face away. "We were...lovers I guess. You know how she was. I was her latest fling. Anyways, I was until I broke things off weeks ago. Look sheriff, Betty doesn't know any of this. But, we are engaged now. I broke up with Vicky when I realized Betty was the one. Please don't let her find out."

"I'm sorry, but she's going to find out once the press gets a hold of this story."

Brent buried his face into the thin mattress of his bunk and began to sob uncontrollably. I left the young man to his inner demons and walked over to the desk.

It was not long before Betty walked into the station. I approached her before she could ask about Brent.

"Miss Vermont," I said as I ushered her to a bench at the far end of the room. Jeanie's desk was far enough away that we could talk in confidence.

Betty sat down on the wooden bench and looked up at me as I took a seat next to her. Concern and anxiety fought for control over her facial expression. "What's going on? How's Brent?" she finally asked.

"He's alright, but I need to talk to you first. Do you know anything about Victoria Drummond?" A dark cloud passed over Betty's face at the mention of the victim's name.

"What has she gone and done now!" Betty said in a harsh whisper as she looked around to make sure that no one could hear her. Before I could say anything, Betty started whispering in an angry voice. "Yeah, I know her. I also know about her and Brent. Brent doesn't know that I do and I don't want him to find out if you know what I mean.

"She's been calling around for him every since he picked me over her. I think I've intercepted all her calls so far. Just last week she called a couple of days after Brent proposed to me. To tell the truth sheriff, I don't think anyone has ever dumped her and it hurt her pride. Anyways, she just calls and demands that I let her talk to Brent. We get in this yelling match on the phone. Fortunately, Brent had to go into work for an emergency job. You know he's the top mechanic at Ace's Garage. But, she won't take no for an answer. I finally tell her that if she ever shows her face around or even talks to Brent again I will personally kill her. Well, I really took care of her she'll never bother us again."

Posted by deg at 09:45 PM | Comments (0)

November 15, 2006

J.D. Stone and the Case of the Bloody Knife

Chapter 5

By Dwayne MacInnes

"You do realize that Victoria Drummond is dead." The shock of my statement took the fury out of Betty. She appeared frightened and took a couple of minutes to find the right words.

"I didn't kill her, honest sheriff. It was just a threat to keep her from bothering us." Betty looked on the verge of tears when finally it all sunk in. "Wait a minute. Is that why Brent is here? You think he did it! That's impossible. He...he..."

I stood up and looked towards the cell. Things were starting to look less cut and dry than they did in the beginning. Brent was still sobbing in his bunk oblivious to Betty's and my conversation. I looked over towards Jeanie; the dispatcher was currently on the phone. I returned my attention to Betty who had been studying me the whole time. Her face told me she had many questions to ask me. Unfortunately, I didn't seem to have any answers.

"Now, now, why don't you compose yourself and I'll let you talk to Brent. It looks like he could really use some cheering up." I escorted Betty over to the cell. I gave her a chair so that she could sit next to her fiancé. Of course, I had to make sure she didn't have anything she could pass to him. The file in the cake may have gone out of style, but you never know when someone may try a variation on the theme.

It was just the tonic Brent needed, the young man perked up when he saw Betty. He dried his eyes and slid down the bunk toward the bars. They started to talk in low voices through the cell. I went over and sat behind my desk. I read the letter written to Brent by Victoria. It pretty much said that he was making a big mistake by getting engaged to Betty and that she still loved him. I leaned back in the chair deep in thought. I absently watched Jeanie on the phone. She hung up the phone and looked over at me. She started to say one thing and then she stopped.

"J.D. what's the problem?" It was clear I must have been advertising I had a lot on my mind.

"The water just got a little murkier," was all I replied. "You have a message for me?"

"Sonny just called. He delivered the unfortunate news to Victor Drummond. I guess the old man took it pretty hard. Mr. Drummond would like to talk to you as soon as you can.

"Also, Eddy called to say they were wrapping things up at the crime scene and was heading back to the station."

I smiled there was only one person in the world that got away with calling Ed Douglas, Eddy outside his own mother and that was Jeanie. Jeanie was a young woman right out of the academy. She was cheerful and got along with everyone. It was well known to everyone that she had eyes for Dan, well known to everyone, that is, except for Dan.

As if I had conjured him up by thinking about him, Dan walked through the door. Jeanie immediately flashed a smile that she reserved only for Dan. Dan smiled back in his own goofy way and gave her a little wave.

"Sheriff, Floyd typed the blood found on the knife and it is a match for Victoria Drummond," Dan said a little too loudly. Fortunately, Brent was too engaged in his conversation with Betty.

I walked over to the Deputy Sheriff and talked in a low voice. "Keep it down a little, okay. We don't want everyone to know about the investigation until it is complete."

"Oh, sorry sheriff," Dan said sheepishly.

"Did you get any prints to tie this thing all up?"

"Sorry, but Floyd said that there are none on the knife. He thinks that they may have been wiped off."

Posted by deg at 05:20 PM | Comments (0)

November 22, 2006

J.D. Stone and the Case of the Bloody Knife

Chapter 6

By Dwayne MacInnes

"Wiped off?" I said to myself more than to anyone else.

"Actually sheriff, I believe maybe Brent was wearing gloves so maybe there were never any fingerprints," Dan offered optimistically.

"Did you find any gloves on Brent?"

"No, but I bet he threw them away."

I walked around behind the desk and sat down. I looked at the letter again. Things were not adding up here. Dan just smiled at me from across the desk holding his Smokey Bear hat in his hands. After awhile he started to brush some lint off the front of his brown shirt, and then he started to polish his badge when a thought struck me.

"Was there blood on Brent's clothes?"

"Yeah, there was a little on his sweatshirt, but that is all I noticed. Floyd is looking into that now."

"Nothing on his pants?" I probed.

"No sir, just on the sweatshirt."

"This doesn't make sense," I said thinking aloud.

"How so sheriff? He had the knife in his backpack, he was fleeing the scene of the crime, and he had blood on his sweatshirt." Dan pretty much tied everything up. It looked good. However, only on the surface, when everything was examined more closely it started to unravel.

"Why would Brent wipe prints off a bloody knife and then throw it in his backpack?"

"I told you sheriff, I believe he used gloves. I bet if we looked around the area we'd find them," Dan said smugly.

"Maybe, but why throw out gloves and then keep the knife?"

"I dunno? Maybe he forgot to throw the knife away?"

"Perhaps, people get absent minded. But, if he didn't have gloves and he wiped off the prints, why didn't wipe off the blood also? He could have done both at the same time."

Dan just shrugged his shoulders, "Maybe he was in too much of a hurry and forgot?" The excuse did not sound very likely.

"Plus, I saw the crime scene and it was covered in blood. It was all over the place including the ceiling. Brent's clothes should have been covered in the stuff." I continued.

"I think he changed his clothes and tossed them with the gloves. I tell you sheriff they are out there, probably on the side of the road."

"Dan, did you notice the scratches on Brent's face?"

"Yep, right down his left cheek. Probably when they were fighting, Victoria scratched him. You know how women tend to claw in a fight," Dan smiled and folded his arms across his chest. He believed he had me on this.

"You read Miss Drummond's letter, correct?" I shot back.

"Yeah, so what does that have to do with anything?" Dan queried.

"When most people write, the letters in their words tend to slant to the right; Victoria Drummond's don't because she is left handed. If she were to scratch Brent he should have the wound on his right cheek."

Posted by deg at 05:52 PM | Comments (0)

November 29, 2006

J.D. Stone and the Case of the Bloody Knife

Chapter 7

By Dwayne MacInnes

Dan was about to come up with another excuse when Ed walked into the office. He smiled over at Jeanie who was working on the daily paperwork that comes with the job. She flashed a smile back.

"Well, sheriff I'm sorry I took longer than expected to get back. Mike Harris wanted me to give you his preliminary autopsy report. So I had to wait around the coroner's office until he was done."

Ed Douglas was a little older than I was. In fact, he was the oldest deputy I had on staff. He was tall and stocky. You could tell by his height and build that he used to play football during high school many years ago. He used to be darn good too. If he wanted, he could have probably gone off to play for a college team. However, instead he went to the academy and pursued a career in law enforcement.

Ed made a great deputy. He got along with everyone, was easy going, and he rarely lost his cool. The only times I have ever notice Ed to lose his temper was a couple of times around Dan. For some reason Dan would occasionally get under his skin. Like the time Dan started banging around the coffeemaker Ed brought from home. Dan could not get it to work and when he can't get things to operate for some reason he thinks banging them around will fix the problem. Well, Ed said a couple of harsh words and then proceeded to plug the coffeemaker in. It has worked great since.

Don't get me wrong. Dan and Ed get along great, most of the time. They even spend a lot of their off time together.

"Well, what do we have?" I asked Ed as he slapped a file folder onto my desk.

"Miss Drummond died from someone slitting her throat with a sharp instrument. Most likely it was a knife of some sort."

I was paging through the report looking for anything that might catch my eye. "Ed, did Mike find any skin scrapings under Victoria's fingernails?"

"No, none. In fact, Doc Harris believes that there wasn't even a struggle. She has no signs of bruising or lacerations. It looks like she was caught by surprise."

"This case is getting stranger by the minute. You saw the crime scene. The place was busted up. You think it was staged?"

"I don't know sheriff? Johnny said there was a lot of yelling."

"In all that blood did you find any footprints?"

"The only footprints or fingerprints for that matter we found around the crime scene were the ones belonging to Johnny and you and of course the deceased. Everything else was smudged."

Dan's eyes widen. You could almost see the 15-watt light bulb blink on over his head. He snapped his fingers and then started to wave it around. "I got it sheriff!" he blurted out excitedly. I motioned for him to lower his voice. Even Brent and Betty looked over at us. We waited until they returned to their conversation then I motioned for Dan to continue.

"It's so obvious," Dan moved in closer to Ed and me before he began to share his revelation with us. "I think Johnny and Brent were working together. Johnny kills Victoria with Brent's hunting knife. He wipes off the handle in a hurry, but forgets to wipe off the blade because he's in a rush. He breaks up a few things inside the house. Runs out and hands the knife to Brent. Brent tosses it inside his backpack and starts off down Upper Country road not paying attention to the bloody blade.

"Johnny waits a little while so Brent can get down to Lower Country road before he calls in the body. I find Brent. He makes up this story of being assaulted and you respond to the call. You find Johnny and he tells you some story. Therefore, you never suspect it's him. You'll dismiss his footprints because you think it's someone else. Pretty cleaver right?"

"Dan, you amaze me," I said looking at Ed who was rolling his eyes. Brent started smiling his goofy smile again. "You absolutely amaze me. I don't know where to begin. Your story is so full of holes and is pure speculation."

Dan's smile disappeared from his face. "Well, I uh..." Dan began to stumble for words. "I was just brainstorming."

"Yeah, that was a real cloud burst," Ed started to laugh.

I stood up and grabbed my hat. "Dan, I want you to check out everything about Brent Underwood. I want to know about his daily routine. I want his work records and I want you to interview his coworkers, friends and family."

"Where are you going sheriff?" Dan asked.

"I have to talk to the grieving family."

Posted by deg at 07:31 PM | Comments (6)

December 06, 2006

J.D. Stone and the Case of the Bloody Knife

Chapter 8

By Dwayne MacInnes

I pulled up to the Drummond Mansion on the outskirts of town. For a mansion, it really wasn't too ostentatious. It was still twice the size of your average large home, but Victor didn't like to show off his wealth. He loves his job, the wheeling and dealing is what really gets his heart thumping. Of course, naturally the man was going to accumulate some wealth.

I pulled the Blazer up the brick paved driveway. The sun had half an hour before it would dip behind the mountains so I still had plenty of light. By the time I was done with interviewing Victor, it would be dark out and the night crew would be starting their shift at the station.

I noticed the new red Mercedes convertible parked outside the mansion. It wasn't like Victor to own an import. He tended to love to get around in his old '78 Ford F-10 pickup truck. I stepped out of the Blazer and started to approach the mansion. I noticed two auto ramps placed parallel to each other by the garage. Being naturally curious, I sidetracked over to the red ramps. A small stain covered the bricks at the base of the ramps and a small trail trickled up between the tops of the ramps to a large leak stain. There was a toolkit sitting next to the ramps. Its top was open and tools lay scattered across the drive in front of the garage. Next to the kit, there was a Haynes repair manual.

I turned away from the tools and headed back to the front door. Before I could knock or push the doorbell, it opened. Vic, Victor jr. stood in the doorway. "Good evening sheriff."

"Vic, I'm sorry. How's your dad doing?" I held my hand out and took his in a firm grasp. I noticed Vic wince in a little pain as we shook.

"I'm sorry sheriff; I kind of bruised my knuckles working on my car." Vic pointed out towards the Mercedes parked next to my truck.

"My apologies Vic, you know you may want to pick up those tools before it rains."

"Yeah, I'm learning I'm not much of a mechanic," Vic said as he escorted me into the house. "A week ago my transmission started leaking fluid. I thought I could fix it on my own. I think I made it worse, had to take it into town to get it repaired."

Vic led me to his father's bedroom and stopped outside the doorway. "Ah, sheriff it is not common knowledge, but my father is very ill."

"Oh, I hope he recovers soon," I offered.

"I'm afraid it's cancer -- terminal. I fear this latest bad news isn't going to help father out," Vic said solemnly.

Vic opened the door and ushered me into a large bedroom. A nurse sat next to Victor monitoring his symptoms on the myriad of machines registering his body signs. The old man (strange to say but, Victor never looked old until now) lay in his bed. Wires and tubes led from his body to the various machines beeping and blinking alongside him.

"Sheriff," Victor said weakly as he feebly waved me closer. "I wish I was in better shape to receive you."

"Don't worry about it, Victor. You just get well you hear me," I said as I walked over to the bed.

"Lisa," Victor looked over at his nurse, "Vic, I want to talk to the sheriff alone." The two quietly left the room leaving Victor Drummond and me alone.

As soon as the door closed, Victor looked over at me. Fury burned in his eyes as he looked over at me. "Sheriff, I want you to nail that bastard to the wall." It must have taken all his strength to spit out all that anger. The heartbeat monitor sped up as his pulse quickened. "They say I don't have much time left. But, I am going to live until I see justice done for my little girl," Victor vowed. Then he slumped back into his pillow and started to weep.

Posted by deg at 07:25 PM | Comments (0)

December 13, 2006

J.D. Stone and the Case of the Bloody Knife

Chapter 9

By Dwayne MacInnes

I didn't get too much new information from Victor or Vic Drummond. They both knew about Victoria and Brent's affair. Neither much cared for the mechanic, the shame of having a Drummond cavorting around with a person of such lowly status brought shame upon the family name.

Victoria did confide to her brother that Brent and her relationship was fiery in and out of bed. Their passions ran hot in both directions. Often after a passionate roll in the sack, they would both be at each other's throats. The two would often scream and throw objects at each other before Brent stormed out of the house.

The two met because Brent loved to hike up and down the Country roads nearly every day. It was his way of burning off steam and relaxing after a hard days work at the garage. Every day Victoria would see Brent hiking past her house in his sweat suit with the small backpack on his back. They started talking one day and one thing led to another.

Brent claimed that he always left his clothes and backpack in his truck. He never locked the doors because he believed nobody would break into someone's property in a small town like Swimmer's Lake. He worked everyday except Sundays and Mondays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the garage. Occasionally, his boss called him in if there were an emergency because he was that good and fast.

Brent's friends and neighbors did not add too much more about Brent and Victoria's relationship other than what Vic had offered. They did mention that recently Brent proposed to Betty. Betty had a jealous streak in her that could lead to violence. She had a couple of assault charges on her record while she lived in Missoula when she beat up her rivals to former boyfriends.

After that, everything rather dried up. Floyd did not have any new evidence other than the blood found on the knife was definitely Victoria's and the blood on the sweatshirt belonged solely to Brent. Harris was unable to find any new evidence on Victoria's body that could help things out either.

We were pretty much at a stonewall. I had to keep Brent behind bars because the evidence, no matter how strange and circumstantial, still pointed to Brent as the prime suspect. The judge did offer bail at $500,000 but the only people with that kind of money were the Drummonds, and they had no desire to see Brent walking the street.

After a week of nothing, Dan rushed into the office. He was excited as he nearly flew over to the desk. The excitement nearly burst the poor boy. However, he did keep his voice down when he spoke to me.

"Sheriff! I found it!" he pumped his head up and down with that goofy smile on his face. His hat nearly flew off his head as he spoke. "I've got the evidence we are looking for."

My jaw dropped in disbelief. I climbed out from behind the desk and led Dan further away from the cells. "What did you find?" I asked in a low voice.

"Follow me," Dan waved for me to follow as he took off like an excited puppy out the door. I had no choice but to follow. Dan led me out to his patrol car.

He opened the back door to his black and white and pulled out some clothes. "Look sheriff. I found these alongside Upper Country road. They were hidden in a tree, but I found them."

"Are you sure they are what we are looking for?" I asked skeptically. Dan wasn't known for his abilities to sniff out clues.

"Yes sir, look they are covered in blood." I looked more closely and I noticed dried blood all over the clothes. "And sheriff look." Dan reached into the backseat again and pulled something out. He nearly waved them under my nose in excitement, "Gloves!"

Posted by deg at 05:10 PM | Comments (0)

December 20, 2006

J.D. Stone and the Case of the Bloody Knife

Chapter 10

By Dwayne MacInnes

I hated to admit it, but it looked possible that one of Dan's hairball schemes may be true. The bloody work shirt and pants were the same size and color that Brent wore at Ace's. The bloody driver's gloves resembled the ones you could find in any gas station. Just like the one Brent worked at. The most telling evidence produce was a pair of bloody socks. It was apparent that the killer wore them and slid his feet across the floor leaving the tell tale smudges on the floors. However, in doing so they left nice bloody impressions of the killer's feet on the socks.

I immediately had everything sent off to Floyd's for analysis. Within a couple of hours, Floyd sent over one of his assistants, Judy McCall to trace Brent's hands and feet. She also spread ink over the bottom of his feet and had him stand upon a sheet of white paper leaving behind some nice black feet impressions. Brent by now started to take everything in stride. Floyd had already collected samples of Brent's blood and DNA. If Floyd could find any samples on the clothes he would send them off to either Missoula or Great Falls for analysis, depending on which lab had the smaller workload.

Judy finished her work in a businesslike manner. When she finished she gathered her evidence into a briefcase and then left the station only nodding a goodbye on her way out. Sometimes I felt Floyd hired robots instead of people to work for him. But, I figured the people who excelled at this kind of work tended to be very methodical and down to business. They were the, sorry to use the cliché, "Just the facts, ma'am" type.

I don't know who the waiting bothered more me or Brent. I suppose it had to be Brent, after all it was his future on the line and not mine. Nonetheless, time just crept on in tedious beat. The deputies, David Scott and Manny Kitter would drop by occasionally to check in with me. Though they could have done it over the radio, they still stopped in. They too were curious as to what Floyd would glean from the evidence. Even Sonny and Ed, who had the day off, stopped by.

Probably the most annoying though was Dan. He was excited to see if his pet theory paid off. He could barely contain himself, he was sure he had single handedly cracked the case. I suppose I couldn't blame him. This was his first big case and his efforts did result in some vital clues. Nonetheless, his grin and the "I told you so" look in his eye were starting to wear on my patience.

Finally, after what felt like an eternity Judy brought over Floyd's labs results. It was nearly sundown and though it was half an hour after the shift change, everyone gathered in the small office. I anxiously opened up the file that Judy had placed on my desk before she left never uttering a word.

As I read along a smile broke out across my face. I slapped the file down on my desk, "Hot damn, I believe we broke this thing!" I exclaimed. Brent rushed towards the bars.

"Am I free sheriff? Who did it?" he exclaimed while Dan yelled, "Did I break it sheriff?"

I patted Dan on the back, "I think we'll make a lawman out of you yet." Dan's smile spread even further across his face. "I'm sorry, Clyde and Bill, but you guys have to go on patrol. I'll fill you in later. Dave, grab Mr. Underwood. Manny get Miss Vermont."

Scott and Manny looked at me questioningly. "This is highly unorthodox, but I want everyone involved in this case to hear this at the same time. We are heading for the Drummond Mansion."

Posted by deg at 05:10 PM | Comments (3)

December 27, 2006

J.D. Stone and the Case of the Bloody Knife

Chapter 11

By Dwayne MacInnes

I had Jeanie Carson call ahead to the Drummond Mansion to okay my request to gather all interested parties into Victor's bedroom. Vic was at first apprehensive, but his father overheard us and overruled Vic's decision.

As expected, I was the last one to arrive at the Drummond Mansion. It was important that I make a couple of stops first to double check some theories. As I pulled up onto the estate, the sun had long since dropped behind the western Rockies. I noticed Dave was reclining against his patrol car with Brent Underwood still sitting in the back seat. Manny's patrol car and Betty's Camry were also on the brick drive.

I jumped out of the Blazer and walked over to Dave, "You can bring Mr. Underwood in with us." Dave just nodded and opened up the rear door and escorted the handcuffed suspect up to the Mansion.

I rang the doorbell, and was surprised on how quickly the door flew opened. "Gee, sheriff it sure took you long enough," Dan said as he greeted us at the door. "Everyone is waiting for you. Did you get a flat?"

"Naw, nothing that dramatic. Is everyone in Mr. Drummond's bedroom?"

"Yes, sir," Dan was excited. He nearly ran up the stairs to the upstairs' bedroom.

Everyone was assembled once Brent and Dave walked in behind me. The glares that Victor and Vic gave could have killed. Victor's heart rate increased rapidly, he pushed himself up higher in bed and was about to yell and curse at Brent. However, I held up my hand to stop him.

"Please, if everyone will please calm down," I said looking at Victor, but I meant it for everyone. "Mr. Drummond, I believe you wanted justice for your daughter's cruel murder. I will now administer that. First, everyone please have a seat. Deputies please remain standing and alert."

I couldn't help but smile to myself seeing everyone taking seats around the large room. The deputies stood near the door keeping an eye on everyone. I started to pace back in forth as if in thought. I could not resist being a little theatrical at a moment like this. Hell, this was right out of an Agatha Christie novel.

"I know for some of you this will be very hard to hear. However, let's go back over the facts. A few weeks ago, Dan Easton found Mr. Underwood staggering along Lower Country road. It was not long after that when I got a call about Miss Drummond's body, which had been found dead on Upper Country road.

"Mr. Underwood claims that he was jumped by someone and roughed up. On further examination, we find a hunting knife belonging to Mr. Underwood in his backpack that has the victim's blood all over the blade. There is no denying the knife is the crime weapon and that the weapon belongs to and was found on Mr. Underwood.

"A witness claims to have heard some screaming coming from Miss Drummond's house. He only heard her screaming, but no other voices. He never saw anyone enter or leave the house of the victim.

"This same witness pointed out Mr. Underwood as the victim's lover." I noticed Victor Drummond physically flinch when I mentioned this.

"However, there were no fingerprints on the weapon. Neither, were there any fingerprints nor footprints of the suspect near the body of the victim. The assailant thought they did a good job covering their tracks.

"But why would Mr. Underwood keep a bloody knife in his backpack? Why weren't there any fingerprints? These questions have been bothering me.

"Now, my sheriff deputy Dan Easton had some crack pot story about Mr. Underwood wearing gloves and changing clothes and conspiring with another person. I even thought at the time it was crazy.

"Miss Vermont even admitted that she threatened to kill Victoria and has a police record to back up some of her previous jealous behavior." Betty let out a loud gasp and was about to protest. Once again, I held up my hand to forestall any interruptions.

"Please, let me continue. Thanks to the help of my second in command," I pointed over to a beaming Dan Easton, "who continued to look for clues when the rest of us gave up. He found something quite interesting. Some gloves and some blue work clothes." Brent's head dropped even further as I mentioned the clues.

"But one of the most important clues he found were some bloody socks. By the assailant dragging their feet across the floor, all they left were some smudges. However, on the socks they left a nice set of footprints.

"I had Mr. Underwood's hands and feet traced. The gloves will fit, sorry Mr. Underwood." Brent even sunk lower; Victor's face broke out in a smile.

Posted by deg at 12:00 PM | Comments (0)

January 03, 2007

J.D. Stone and the Case of the Bloody Knife

Chapter 12

By Dwayne MacInnes

"However the socks won't. At least the footprints won't. I started checking some things out a little more closely. Brent's feet are too big he wears a size 11, and I know Miss Vermont's feet are smaller than the men's size 9 1/2 of the socks' impressions.

"Also, at first glance, the gloves appear to be your common driving gloves you pick up at your local gas station. But, if you look on the inside cuff you see that they are Berletti's an imported glove. In fact, the only place you can get them are at Andy's Imported Luxury Cars. There is only one person here who drives an imported luxury car, isn't that right, Vic?"

Vic looked around the room shocked; he started to laugh, "Surely this is a joke sheriff. Why would I kill my own sister? That's a terrible thing to say."

"Is it Vic? You only bought your Mercedes a couple of weeks before the murder. I have a sales receipt showing the purchase of one Mercedes and one set of Berletti driving gloves."

"This is absurd, sheriff. Brent had the murder weapon not me."

"That is true, but I notice the week before the murder you had to have an emergency transmission repair done at Ace's Garage."

"What the hell does that prove? I told you I had transmission problems!" Vic was starting yell. Sweat started to bead on his brow.

"Your car was under warranty, but you didn't take it back to the dealership. No, Vic you needed an excuse to get to Ace's Garage. If you pay close attention to the ramps, you left out the majority of the transmission fluid spilled between them at the top. You punctured your own transmission pan and then pushed the car off the ramp. If you did it in reverse, you would never have been able to get the car onto the ramps. It's pretty hard to get those cars pushed up those ramps by yourself."

"It was a small leak sheriff. I accidentally punctured the pan trying to fix it, so the dealership would not cover something that was my mistake," Vic said condescendingly.

"Perhaps, but here's what I think. You had to get to Ace's Garage. You knew from talking to your sister that Brent was the top mechanic, and thus, he would be the one to do the emergency repair. Furthermore, we live in a small town and few people lock their doors. In addition, you knew he kept his hiking stuff in his truck.

"You went into his truck and borrowed his knife. From talk around town, you figured out what Brent's hiking schedule was, so all you had to do was visit your sister. She must have been surprised to see you dressed up like Brent. She started to yell at you. You killed her before she knew what was going on. You broke a few things up and smashed out a window hoping to attract Johnny's attention. In the process, you found a letter that Victoria wrote but never delivered to Brent. Unfortunately, Johnny didn't see you flee the house in your work clothes.

"Nonetheless, you proceeded with your plan. You stashed your bloody clothes in a tree and then you drove down Upper Country road and hid in the woods along Lower Country road. You attacked Mr. Underwood, that was how you bruised your knuckles and after knocking him silly, you scratched his face and hid the knife in his backpack.

"I think you forgot that your sister was left handed. Anyway, you planted the love note in Brent's backpack as well and then you took off. By the time Brent recovered his wits you were long gone and he unwittingly carried the evidence needed to shift the blame to him."

"That is a nice story sheriff, but it'll never hold up. Why would I need to kill my sister? I am quite wealthy and her death doesn't help me out. I am appalled at your accusations and you will hear from my lawyers."

"I am sure I will. But you are wrong about something," I paused and waited.

"Ok, I'll bite. What am I wrong about?" Vic said sarcastically.

"You are not wealthy; in fact you are in a lot of debt. Just from the few inquiries I made into your favorite gambling spots, it looks like you owe millions. I have a feeling you owe even more to loan sharks. Your debt is higher than many small African nations. No, you needed an inheritance and bad. Your father has only a few weeks to live and you could not afford to share your inheritance with your sister. You needed the whole thing."

Vic looked at me with rage and hatred burning in his eyes. "I'm afraid you will have a hard time proving this when I get my lawyers in court."

"Again you may be right. But I have a feeling that once Floyd makes an impression of your feet they'll fit into those socks like Cinderella's did in a glass slipper."

Posted by deg at 06:09 PM | Comments (0)

January 10, 2007

J.D. Stone and the Case of the Bloody Knife

Epilogue

By Dwayne MacInnes

I had Dave and Manny arrest Vic. Victor Drummond Sr. lay in bed, he looked worse than he did before. I felt sorry for him, but he needed to know the facts first hand and not second.

After Dan removed the cuffs from Brent, the mechanic ran over and gave Betty a huge embrace. "Thank you, sheriff," Brent said never taking his eyes off Betty.

"Don't thank me, thank Deputy Easton. If it wasn't for his determination, we would never had found those last clues."

Both Brent and Betty looked over at the deputy sheriff and smiled. Dan just presented them with his usual goofy smile. Dan was puffed up with pride. Though his theory was wrong, his doggedness was what saved the day.

Well, Brent and Betty got married soon after the whole ordeal. They act like other married couples; sometimes they get along great and at other times, they fight. However, so far, they still seem to enjoy each other's company.

Vic was true to his word in making it hard to prove things in court with his expensive lawyers. However, Floyd's forensic work was what turned the trick. There was just too much evidence placing Vic at the scene of the crime. His 9 1/2 sized feet fit perfectly in those socks.

Vic is now down at the Deer Lodge State Prison serving a life sentence. I have a feeling he has to keep a sharp eye out. He owed the underworld a lot of money and was unable to deliver.

I like to say that after Victor Drummond died from his cancer he wanted to make up for the time and suffering Brent Underwood spent in jail and made him heir to his estate. I would like to say that, but that is not what happened. Victor Drummond died the day after Vic's sentencing. His estate was sold off by the state to cover the debt accrued by his son's gambling debts.

After that, things returned to normal in Swimmer's Lake and Summit County. Dan still hasn't figured out that Jeanie is after him. I still have to break up the occasional barroom brawl. Last time it was at the Mint. But all in all it is a pretty quiet area.

Posted by deg at 06:45 PM | Comments (9)

January 17, 2007

The Haunted Mines of Krator

Part 1

By Dwayne MacInnes

Gwendolyn is my name and I am a Wood Elf by birth. You may say that I am a thief by trade. However, I personally do not like to think of myself as such. I prefer the title, scout or wealth adjuster. Granted, after I left my home in the Great Forest to try my hand at a living inside the Empire, I may have had to resort to finding some coinage in a stranger’s pocket. I figured that they would have given it to me after they heard my plight anyway, so why waste both our time with a needless story.

But then I found that I could make larger sums of money by fighting in the Imperial Arena. There is a lot of coinage to be had if you can fight well. Now, do not think I am one of those muscled bound low intelligent Amazons. Nothing could be further from the truth. First, of all I mentioned that I am a Wood Elf. We Wood Elves tend to be extremely nimble and very gifted with the bow. Even a young Wood Elf could teach that famed human bandit Robbing Hood a thing or two in the art of archery.

Now, let me interrupt myself to mention that many humans think of elves as stuffy and aloof. They would be correct if they were referring to our cousins the High Elves. High Elves are very intelligent and love to study. That is why many become mages; however, they are boring, I am sure the High Elves would probably put it as pleasantly dull. High Elves have no sense of adventure (or humor for that fact) and do tend to believe that they the most superior form of all elves not to mention sentient life forms. After all, they are the ones who named themselves the **High Elves**.

Anyway, as I was saying about the arena, I could never be able to withstand a toe-to-toe fight with your average fighter. Remember, I am a wealth adjuster (said thief) and my skills lie elsewhere. The short sword I carry is my backup weapon; my weapon of choice is of course my elven bow.

Now, a bow is hardly a good weapon to use in the arena. Not a lot of places one can hide to fire off a succession of arrows at one’s opponent. However, the construction of the arena does have its advantages to one such as me. I was quick to notice that there were a series of buttresses on the arena’s wall. These buttresses would normally be inaccessible to your average heavily armored and heavily muscled warrior. Fortunately, I am none of these. I found to my great relief that I could leap to the top of the buttresses and fire off an arrow at my opponent. As anyone who has read the military treatise, Mixed Combat Tactics will remember that you should always take the high ground. However, it would hardly be sporting to sit there on top of the buttress and kill off my adversary. Being a Wood Elf I have a streak of theatrics ingrained in me. Therefore, of course, I need to win the audience over to my side.

I could stir up interest by jumping over my opponent; sometimes I would do a flip, land behind him or her and kick them behind their knees. They would then fall over and after they regained their feet, I would then jump upon another buttress just before they could reach me with their sword. It was not long before the audience started calling me the “Black Arrow?.

An interesting thing about the arena is that all fights are to the death. There is no mercy inside the pit. Now, you know why it pays so well. Unfortunately, arena rules forbid you to loot the bodies of the fallen.

However, once the body leaves the arena it is no longer under arena rules. Well, that is how I feel anyway. Plus, I felt it was unfair that the guards and physicians would loot the bodies long after the bout was over and take what was rightfully mine. They say, “To the victor go the spoils? and I agree. It was no problem to gain entrance into the “red room? to pay my last respects to my worthy opponent. I would go into a sacred elven prayer ritual (one I made up myself) and help myself to whatever items looked interesting. That is how I got my shield of magic warding.

I usually do not carry heavy armor, especially a heavy shield. I prefer something light. Maybe, even elven by manufacture. However, this shield I have found to be indispensable. By some powerful magic, the shield absorbs all hostile spells aimed at its possessor. That has proven to be a very useful thing to one in my profession.

Now, that we have some background let me tell you about the time before I was the Grand Champion and was the rising sensation in the arena that the town of Krator commissioned me to help them with the problem with their mines. It is a well-known fact that Krator has the richest silver mines in the empire. The capitol is the only city actually wealthier than Krator. However, Krator’s wealth is due strictly to the success of its mines.

It appeared that some months before my commission the silver mines had a terrible cave-in. Inside the mine’s dark dank bowels many miners lay trapped. It was weeks before rescuers cleared the rubble and stabilized the shafts that they retrieved the trapped miners’ long dead bodies.

It could not have been longer than a week after the mines reopened before the first stories of strange events happening in the mines began to surface. First, it was just someone thinking that they saw one of their dead comrades who died in the cave-in walking the shafts. Then strange accidents began to happen. Miners would sometimes find that the oil in their lamps had mysteriously vanished. Alternatively, a miner would just disappear forever into the inky blackness without a trace.

The elders of Krator petitioned the local garrison to investigate the problem. The garrison commander dispatched a small group of ten legionnaires to the town. The ten soldiers entered the mine one morning and never exited. The town elders petitioned the local garrison again, however the commander flatly denied them this time.

Thus, the town elders petitioned the emperor himself. Given the importance and wealth of Krator’s mines, the emperor ordered the garrison commander to look into the situation personally. Now, the commander had one more and legal trick to play. He told the elders of Krator that in order for him to send a cohort of legionnaires to look into this little problem, they would need to pay a high fee of one thousand Gold Eagles per soldier in order to compensate the Empire for the movement, logistics, and sheltering of the troops.

Krator’s mines by this time had been out of operation for at least two months. Miners were unemployed and had already spent what little savings they had. Hence, a great emigration had already taken place. Until the mines were operational again, the town would be unable to pay its taxes let alone a hefty service fee.

That is how, one day after a rather successful and amazing arena bout against a Dark Elf mage, I found myself reading a letter from the town of Krator. The elders had heard of my success in the arena, they could not afford the Grand Champion (it is highly unlikely he would have helped them out if they could) but they did offer me a thousand Golden Eagles if I took the job. Usually I earned five hundred Silver Crowns for a successful bout; I still had a long way to go to be Grand Champion. So of course, being the entrepreneur that I am, I accepted.

Posted by deg at 05:00 PM | Comments (0)

January 24, 2007

The Haunted Mines of Krator

Part 2

By Dwayne MacInnes

You may have heard the old verse: How much wood could a Wood Elf shelf if a Wood Elf could shelf wood. The answer of course is as much wood as a Wood Elf could if a Wood Elf could shelf wood. It is a silly little human rhyme, for of course Wood Elves can shelve wood. Furthermore, if I were a High Elf I am sure I would have taken offense if the rhyme were about High Elves. However, I am not -- and it was not -- so I recited the little rhyme as I rode along the road towards Krator.

I received many strange looks from humans as they witnessed a Wood Elf upon the back of a fine black mare singing a silly children's song. That was not something you see every day in the Empire. It only took me three days to reach Krator upon that fine steed.

The citizens of Krator were a bit surprised to see me ride in alone. I guess they figured that I would hire some fellow adventurers and then share the reward amongst the party. The thing about being a wealth adjuster (or as you may call it, a thief) is that we tend to work better alone. Your typical warrior, mage, or priest can make enough noise trying to be stealthy to wake the proverbial dead. That is not including the times when they are not trying to be stealthy. In addition, many of the above are a bit clumsy.

Which reminds of the time a warrior, mage, and priest walked into a bar. The thief nimbly tumbled beneath it. Sorry, that really gets them at the taverns.

As I was saying however, it is far better for a thief, if you will, to operate alone. Parties tend to bicker over wealth distribution and frown on service fees for unlocking locks and disarming traps. I have also heard of thieves being turned into beastly creatures like lizard-men by getting themselves involved with parties.

It took a little convincing of the elders to prove that I was indeed the arena rat they were looking for. I provided a poster of myself. Of course, it was more stylized and the artist took a great many liberties with my body. I certainly do not have large breasts nor do I ever fight that scantily clothed. I do not know what humans have for large breasts but such things would be a great hindrance to successfully firing a bow. Secondly, it is a little ironic to have "The Arena's Acrobatic Archer, The Black Arrow" emblazoned across the poster and then show me (big breasts and all) holding a severed head in my left hand and a gore covered sword in the other.

Fortunately, a few miners had been to the arena and they knew me by sight well enough to vouch for my authenticity. I suppose I could have just jumped from my mare, done a flip over an elder's head, and kick him behind the knee. Nevertheless, I feel that that would not have made my case for me.

Once the elders were convinced that I was the genuine article, they took me to the entrance of the mines. It was a heavy wooden door with the words "Mine closed" and "Danger" written all over the surface. A sturdy lock sealed the entrance. I waited while an elder fumbled for the right key to open the door.

He looked rather embarrassed as he examined every key on his key ring. He could not figure out how he could have misplaced that key. Well, it was easy for me to figure out because I had already lifted it. Now, to say I knew what key to lift would be a lie. The fact I lifted the key in the first place was mere coincidence. I had helped myself to the elder's money pouch (I do have to stay in practice) and amongst the ten Silver Crowns, I found the key.

Things were not starting too well; the elders and the crowd were becoming uncomfortable. It did not look entirely well to hire a hero to fix your problem and then be unable to facilitate said hero toward the said problem.

"Excuse me your grace," I said as I bent towards the ground and produced the key. "I believe this fell as you pulled the ring out of your pocket."

Relief broke out upon everyone's face. I had already proven myself a hero in one small regard. That of being able to find the missing key to the locked mines of Krator.

Soon the heavy door was unlocked and I found myself inside the cavernous maw of the silver mine. The town provided me with an oil lamp before they quickly slammed the door shut behind me and proceeded to lock it.

It had never been discussed how I was supposed to get out once I finished my job. But these tended to be simple folk, and spooks -- real and imagined -- play upon their minds. I can only suppose that they had as much faith in me succeeding as I did. After all, I came to rid these mines of ghosts and ghouls. The fact, that it was the most successful silver mine in the empire had nothing to do with it. Well, maybe it was not quite nothing.

My first official act as hero was to extinguish the lamp. A thief with a lamp is not much of a thief. Now, it is well rumored that elves can see in the dark and to a certain extent, it is true. High and Wood Elves can see in low light and our subterranean brethren the Dark Elves can see in pitch-blackness. However, the interior of a mine favors pitch-blackness to low light.

Fortunately, I had learned a simple spell for seeing in the darkness. A few whispered phrases and *presto* night sight for one minute. Thankfully, it was a spell that did not take a lot of energy to cast. Imagine trying to cast that every minute for an hour. As it were, the routine of reciting the whispered phrases were tasking enough.

Shortly after gaining my dark sight I began to make my way stealthily down the mine's shaft. The town was at least kind enough to offer me a map before they locked me in. My bow with an arrow readied was in my hand.

Now, you are probably asking what good my arrows would do against a phantasm. Well, the fact that immediately after casting my simple spell the tripwire I spied stretching across the tunnel ahead of me told me that these ghosts were more corporeal than anyone suspected.

Posted by deg at 08:53 PM | Comments (1)

January 31, 2007

The Haunted Mines of Krator

Part 3

By Dwayne MacInnes

Traps come in different shapes and sizes depending on who made them and where they placed them. In many dwarven establishments, you will find that the little dour faced people favor pressure plates in the floor. To detect these just look for the tiles with worn surfaces from usage over the ages. The difference is subtle but can be lethal, especially if you step on an unworn tile that happens to be a pressure plate. Some High Elves of old loved to have darts that shoot out of the wall once a beam of light was penetrated. Here you had to be observant to the tiny holes in the wall and natural light filtering into the area. However, in places like mines or natural caves where occupancy has been relatively short you find the ever-popular tripwire.

Tripwire traps are some of the most common, easiest, and cheapest traps to rig. Break a wire and a weapon from above crashes into your noggin. On the other hand, maybe a boulder topples into you from the side knocking you off a ledge. Regardless of their simplicity, tripwire traps are just as effective as any other trap. Dead is dead, unless of course you are on good terms with a high-ranking priest or a Necromancer. Priests are very expensive to employ in order to bring you back from the dead and even though a Necromancer is a lot easier on the money pouch, very few people want to return from the dead as a zombie or an animated skeleton.

Once a tripwire is located, the next thing is to figure out what it is on the other end of the trigger. In this case, it was some large stones nicely concealed in the roughly hewn ceiling. Having a half ton of rocks falling on you would make a quick end to any adventure. Now, that I had established what the tripwire was the trigger for I had to make a decision.

You are probably saying to yourself "what decision, disarm the trap." Yes, in some cases I would disarm the trap. Say that for example I had a couple of fighters, a mage, and priest bumbling around in the darkness behind me. However, as I established before -- I work alone.

There are two very good reasons why I would not disarm the trap. First, is that I do not want some unfriendly stumbling around and noticing that their trap has been discovered. Not good for one in my profession to alert the occupants of a dwelling that I am on the premises.

Secondly, a trap meant for me can be just as effective against the ones it is supposed to protect. You would be surprised that in the midst of a chase that the person who laid out a trap will completely forget about it. That is why it is of utmost importance that I memorize the location of traps. Many people do not realize that a thief's most important attribute is her memory. The thief that forgets something vital ends up either in prison or dead.

I avoided the trap by simply walking over the tripwire and proceeded down the mineshaft. I slowly and stealthily crept down the tunnel on the look out for other traps. I spied the occasional silver nugget lying on the ground and since I figured, the town would not miss it I kept them as souvenirs of my trip.

I had traveled down the winding shaft for about fifteen minutes (after having to stop and recite my spell every minute) when I noticed a flickering light in the opening ahead. A flickering light meant two things to me, first that I would no longer have to keep reciting that spell and secondly that there was a fire ahead.

The ghost story of a haunted mine was starting to unravel. The last I knew ghosts did not need fires to help them see or to warm themselves. I used extra caution as I approached the fire. Light is not the thief's best friend. However, shadows are and I became very close friends with the shadows.

As I drew closer to the light emanating from the opening at the end of the shaft, I started to pick out two voices in conversation. This was even more evidence that I was not dealing with the dearly departed. I have never in all my experiences encountered a ghost that needed to converse with another ghost. Hell, ghosts generally do not converse with anyone. They tend to moan and wail nonstop, which is more of an irritant than actual communication.

I slid stealthily up to the opening and peered in from behind some large rocks. There on the ground, inside a huge natural cavern with a high ceiling, burned a small fire. Around the fire were two bedrolls and on the other side of the fire sitting at a table were two living humans deep in conversation.

I listened to their conversation for a while. Listening is another trait that a good thief needs to have. It is the best way of learning about people and places. It is also a great way to discover what may lie ahead.

A fighter would storm into the room. Kill the first person and then proceed to subdue the second and then waste valuable time torturing the poor victim until he "volunteered" the information the fighter wanted. This is not a very effective and trustworthy means of gaining intelligence. Then again, intelligence and fighters do not mix.

Posted by deg at 07:19 PM | Comments (0)

February 07, 2007

The Haunted Mines of Krator

Part 4

By Dwayne MacInnes

I listened to the two humans speak to each other for a good ten minutes. I learned that there were about five or six of them and that they all used to be miners except for the hedge-wizard they hired. The leader, as usual, had his dwelling furthest in the mine.

It does not matter on the species or race, but one thing always stands out. The leader is always furthest from the opening in any dungeon. How I would just love one day to sneak into a dungeon see the leader of the group taking a snooze on the doorstep. I could kill or subdue him collect my reward and leave town. Most bands of ne'er-do-wells tend to breakup after their leader is out of the action. Very few actually vow revenge and try to hunt down the do-wells who had taken care of their leader.

However, I digress. It also turns out that this little party of miners had used the tragedy of the mine collapse as a means for smuggling out silver that they were still mining. The best way to ensure that no one would bother them was for the mines to become haunted. The fence, to whom the miners smuggled their loot, was one of the townsfolk. In fact, he was a former miner by the name of Gunter.

The small party had hired a hedge-wizard from another town to help conjure up, literally, the ghosts and ghouls the other miners saw. The poor legionnaires who were to investigate the haunting fell victim to the traps that lay scattered about the mine. The miners were so kind as to dispose of the legionnaires bodies by tossing them into a deep chasm.

A funny thing about the Mages Guild is that they do not tend to care about the evil schemes in which their members may partake. Their only rule is that members cannot kill one another. Say what you will about the Thieves Guild, but at least there are strict rules for its members. The first is never to kill anyone you are robbing unless it is in self-defense. Another is -- it is strictly forbidden for members rob the poor or other guild members. In fact, it is highly recommended that members help the poor, after all the paupers and beggars are the best informants around. Now you know why I prefer the title 'wealth adjuster' to thief.

I knew that I had gained all the information I was going to get when the two sentinels started to talk about arena bouts. One of the louts even had the audacity to say that my tactics in the arena were not fair and that if he were in the pits he would know how to put an end to me. The second came to my defense, so I killed him first with a clean shot from the shadows.

The first human rose up from the table when his friend slumped forward with an arrow in his back. At first, he just stared in surprise. It took a couple of seconds for it to register that there was a trespasser on the premises.

I had plenty of time to kill off this man, but I stayed my hand. It was a matter of pride. For this human to state that my tactics were unfair really riled me. Did I not go up against adversaries who were not only better armed and armored than me, but also two to three times my strength?

Many would consider the following very poor judgment and I would agree. Except that, I had already spied out the terrain and laid out my plan. This was not just some revenge for an insult. No, I did plan to let this man attempt to prove his point.

I stepped out from the shadows. The human now had his sword drawn and was rushing to meet me. I waited for his advance and at the last second, as his blade swung towards me, I simply sidestepped and kicked the man behind the knee. The huge lug toppled as his leg gave out -- leaving him sprawled out on the floor. Further, his sword went sliding away across the rough floor.

I simply smiled at the man as he regained his feet and then I did a back flip onto a tall rock outcrop. The man's eyes nearly popped out of his skull as realization struck.

"Y-you're the Black Arrow!" he exclaimed in disbelief. I smiled and nodded.

The man recovered his sword. I was now waiting for him to recover his nerve. I also kept a close eye on him just in case he wanted to cry out an alarm. Before he could draw in a deep breath for a yell, I would have an arrow through his throat.

The man must have realized this and composed himself. He screwed himself up for the fight and a mask of rage broke out upon his face.

"Okay," he said silently as he waved for me to come down. "Let's finish this."

I watched the man closely and studied his stance. People rarely realize that they signal their intentions before they actually do them. This man had seen some of my bouts, and he knew about my leaping attack.

It would have been folly for me to leap over his head and kick from behind when he clearly intended to skewer me in mid-flight. So, I did the only thing I could do. I leaped. However, I aimed for ground in front of him. I tucked and rolled behind him and then as I quickly regained my feet I turned and fired an arrow that caught him square between the eyes as he turned to meet me. The expression of surprise froze on his face as he fell backwards; the sword fell from his limp fingers and clattered to the ground.

I helped myself to some of the miners' possessions before I hid their bodies and resumed my "ghost hunt". Unfortunately, all they had on them was a couple of cheap swords and worn armor. The sixty-seven Silver Crowns did not seem worth the effort, but I took it anyway.

Posted by deg at 06:20 PM | Comments (0)

February 14, 2007

The Haunted Mines of Krator

Part 5

By Dwayne MacInnes

It was not too hard to track the shaft the miners were using. With the dust so thick after months of disuse, it was obvious down which tunnel I should proceed. I knew I would have to be quick before someone notice that the men I had just dispatched were missing. They certainly would send a search party to find them.

The mine at this point had some mining cars and tracks. This was a welcome obstacle because it made it easier for me to hide; especially now, as the tunnels were lit every few yards by a torch. I moved quietly behind the cars down the track. There is a saying that a leaf falling from a tree makes more noise than a Wood Elf moving stealthily. Now, that may not be exactly true but it is pretty close to the mark.

On the other hand, a saying should go that a human moving in a semi-dark mine on patrol is as loud as a dragon that has had its keister pierced with a ballista bolt. That was how I came upon the third miner.

It appeared that this individual was patrolling along the track near a ledge. Why he was doing so I never found out for I put an arrow into his shoulder. This proceeded to propel the unfortunate victim over the side of the ledge. I guess it was not too deep because before he could get a scream off I heard the sickening crunch of his body as it impacted upon the unforgiving rock.

There was not much to explore or find on this stretch of the road. There was not even a silver nugget or a tripwire. Although it was highly unlikely, the miners could have laid a tripwire over the line of track they were obviously using.

I continued my hunt down the shaft before it opened into another large cavern. There working alone chipping away at a vein of silver was a lone human swinging his pickaxe. Not exactly a formidable weapon, but a weapon nonetheless. I waited and watched the man continuously swing his pickaxe onto the silver. Nuggets fell to the ground in a pile. The man finally stopped and started to load the nuggets into a bucket. After he loaded the bucket, he wiped his sweaty brow with the back of his grimy hand. Before he removed his hand, I had it pinned permanently to his forehead with an arrow.

I moved quickly and helped myself to some more "souvenirs" from the bucket. I almost considered ignoring the three Silver Crowns in his pockets. However, money is money no matter how small.

I noticed a side tunnel that led off from the cavern. There were some footprints in the dust on the path. However, it was not as heavily trafficked as the shaft that led up to here. It was obvious that this was the domain of our leader. After all, I had dispatched the bulk of his minions. By process of elimination, this left one hedge-wizard, one leader and maybe another miner.

It became apparent that our glorious and brave leader either did not trust his own minions or wanted a fall back position by the tripwire I found stretching between the two support beams at the entrance of a small cavern. This one too I just simply walked over. A quick investigation revealed it tied to a pile of logs braced above the entrance. Having one roll over on you would be fatal enough without the other five.

I must have been too engrossed in the trap because I did not hear the miner approach behind me. Now, this miner could have easily just have killed me by running me through the back. However, all she did was yell, "HEY!"

I turned towards the voice and the woman ran towards me with sword drawn. I gauged her distance then I headed back down the shaft after I tripped the wire. The logs tumbled from their support and proceeded to roll over the poor miner in the process blocking most of the entrance. The gaps between the logs were wide enough for me to see the crushed miner on the other side, but I could not squeeze through it.

Now, if I were a fighter I could use my brute strength to remove a log or two so that I could reenter the cavern. However, I am not a fighter so I had to spy out another route. Fortunately, there was a gap between the right support beam and the wall to allow a lithe figure such as myself though into the cavern.

I quickly searched the body of the woman and found a Golden Eagle and a silver necklace with a ruby centerpiece. That was a little better than I had been finding so far, but only a little. So far, none of the miners had much in the way of weaponry or armor that would make it worth my while to carry these heavy objects back to town.

A narrow tunnel led away from the cavern and I started down it when I heard footsteps running up the shaft. Apparently, the noise of the logs alerted the rest of the group down the tunnel. With no time to spare, I squeezed back through the beam and wall and waited on the other side of the logs.

In the low light, I made out the forms of the hedge-wizard and another person who could only be the leader. The leader wielded a bow and he let a couple of arrows fly towards me. Fortunately, he was not the sharpshooter I was. Unfortunately, I would have to deal with him after I dealt with the hedge-wizard.

I reached behind my back and grabbed my shield just before the wizard shoved his staff between the logs and released a fireball. As I have previously stated, my shield is quite useful in protecting me from adversarial spells. The heat of the fireball washed over me as I ducked behind the heavy shield. But, that was the only effect I felt.

The hedge-wizard fired fireball after fireball at me as I hid behind my shield. I could tell he must have been getting angry from the curses he released at me as well. The leader took this time to fire a couple arrows at me too.

The steel arrowheads tended to bounce off the enchanted shield with nothing more than a spark. This was more damage than the fireballs did.

I do not know for how long I waited behind my shield until the wizard finally threw his staff down and began to chant his own spells. First, he fired off a lightning spell. The blue electric bolts hit the shield and did nothing. Then he fired off a frost spell and the air cooled noticeably as the artic blast collided with the shield. Then he fired off a flame spell. Two long trails of fire sprang from his fingertips and washed over the shield.

Fortunately, these spells take a lot of energy. After the mage exhausted himself, he pulled back and sat against the wall panting. However, the leader now had me all to himself. He fired another arrow that bounce harmlessly off my shield.

I quickly dropped the shield and grabbed my bow. In one smooth motion, I plucked an arrow from my quiver and fired it towards the leader. The arrow stuck in his left shoulder. Not a lethal wound but I was in a hurry.

The leader grunted and fired off his arrow. It did not even make it past the log barrier. I took better aim with my second shot and the leader fell against the panting wizard with an arrow protruding from his left eye.

The hedge-wizard looked up at me with a mixture of fear and fury in his eyes. With amazing speed, the mage drew his short sword and found the same opening I had used. In surprise, I fell back just barely staying out of reach of that lethal blade. I dropped my bow and drew my own short sword.

I am not the world's greatest swordswoman, but I was better than the hedge-wizard. As he brought his hand back for a deadly chop to my head, I just thrust my arm forward and managed to pierce the blade between his ribs and into his heart. The mage's sword clattered to the ground behind him before his corpse followed suit.

Posted by deg at 05:00 PM | Comments (0)

February 21, 2007

The Haunted Mines of Krator

Part 6

By Dwayne MacInnes

I searched the bodies of the leader and the wizard. The only thing of worth was the hedge-wizard's staff. Even a wizard's staff that is exhausted of its charges was worth a lot of money.

The narrow tunnel led to another small cavern that had been the dwelling place of the leader and the hedge-wizard. There were two bedrolls around a fire and several crates and one chest. The crates unfortunately, only contained foodstuff and the like.

The lock on the chest was very expensive and of very good quality. I smiled, now this was a challenge I would enjoy. I was still new to lock picking so I broke a couple of picks before I managed to free the chest from the evil constraints of the lock. Inside, I found a few potions of healing and some fine jewels.

These I kept. Obviously, this was a silver mine and jewels would clearly be out of place in this setting. I figure that if the town elders knew about it they would thank me for cleaning up such clutter.

The trip back to the mine entrance was uneventful to say the least. I remembered the first tripwire I came across and I disarmed it for the townsfolk. I did not even bill them a service fee. I felt it was only fair after they let me gather some "souvenirs". I had all I could carry in my pack when I finally reached the huge oaken door.

The lock on the door was a lesser quality construct than the one used on the leader's chest. I did not even break sweat let alone a pick opening it.

The look on the guard's face as I swung the door open was purely comical. His jaw dropped, as he stood there dumbfounded holding his spear in one hand.

"The mine is cleared," I said to the amazed guard. I never found out if he was surprised to see me or just surprised to see me open the door without a key. I am sure it was the former. It is well known how comely elves are -- especially Wood Elves. I think High Elves tend not to be as attractive because of their attitude. Did I ever mention High Elves have no sense of humor?

I smiled at the guard and motioned towards the town of Krator. "You may want to alert the elders to the success of my mission." The guard just stood there and stared. Maybe he thought I was ghost.

"You might want to do it before sundown," I continued.

The guard with jaw still agape only nodded.

There was only about an hour and a half before sundown and I figure it would take three to convince the guard to alert the elders. Therefore, I decided to do it myself. You want something done right; have a Wood Elf do it, or something like that.

Fortunately, as I first stepped into town, news of my approach spread like wildfire. Before I even reached the town square, a large crowd was swarming around me. Everyone was asking me questions. "Did you get rid of the ghosts?" "Do you need to find some help?" "How did you get out?" "Will you marry me?"

Yeah, there is always one of those around. In any case, before long the elders where gathered in front of me. They were no less surprised than the crowd was. Before they could ask me how I managed to make my way out of the mine, I told them about the little setup the brigands had established.

Imagine their surprise when they realized that those miners who disappeared were actually smuggling silver out of the mines. I told them about their outside contact named Gunter.

The crowd hushed and looked around. This Gunter was nowhere in sight. A thorough search by the town guards and a mob of angry citizens with the assistance of a few pitchforks finally flushed Gunter out of his hiding spot underneath a haystack.

What happened to Gunter I do not rightly know. I am sure that if he did survive his ordeal it was not without a longer neck. In any case, I took my reward and returned to the arena. Sure, the mine job paid well, but the ghost hunting got rather dull after awhile. Maybe that is why vampire hunters tend to be humans and High Elves and they are welcome to it.

I sold many of my souvenirs to the local merchants and with its proceeds bought myself a modest house. I continued my rise in the arena until I became the Grand Champion. I even started to take on some real work in the Thieves Guild. But these are tales for another time.

Posted by deg at 07:07 PM | Comments (0)

February 28, 2007

Tiberium Letters

Part One

By Dwayne MacInnes

Hail and well met! I am Gwendolyn a Wood Elf. I pray you do not confuse me with my stuffy High Elf cousins. There are many differences between us if you take the time to learn them. Firstly, High Elves are very pale, probably because they spend most of their days inside dark mansions reading. A Wood Elf actually runs the same color spectrum as humans. Some have a dark brown skin; where as, others do run closer to the alabaster you will associate with the High Elf. My skin tone is closer to that of a medium brown walnut. We Wood Elves are also more down to earth, and we love and crave adventure. Like all elves, we are born with natural magical abilities. Further, being a Wood Elf, I was practically born with a bow in my hand. Because of our home in the Great Forest, Wood Elves are also very dexterous. I suppose that is why many of us become thieves.

Ah yes, I am what you would call a thief, and I suppose the word means different things to different people. The beggar in the street will see us as heroes of the downtrodden. The wealthy see us as a menace. After all, if you are wealthy and you flaunt your status and riches, you probably are not giving all you should to charity and/or to the government. So, we thieves help restore some of the balance. Of course, we have a service fee we must charge.

Some thieves do not belong to the guild and tend to give all in our profession a bad name. I assure you that the Thieves Guild hunts these rogues down and will convince them to join and adhere to our rules. Otherwise, we will help them find a nice home in some local dungeon or prison camp.

Because of this, the word ‘thief' has a negative connotation. I myself prefer wealth adjuster. After all, guild members have strict rules governing their conduct. For example, we are forbidden to steal from the poor or fellow guild members. Any good thief will tell you that it is also not profitable. The poor generally do not have anything worth stealing. You also do not want to have the guild turn against you because you pilfered another member's goods. We also do not kill our victims if at all avoidable. The worst thing a thief could be associated with is the Assassins Guild. No other guilds have such hatred for each other than the Assassins Guild and the Thieves Guild.

The Thieves Guild actually performs many useful tasks. Though most governmental types will publicly disavow any knowledge of our organization, they are however quick to use our services. They know we honor our contracts and because of our unique abilities, we make great spies. Of course, the guild must charge appropriately for our services.

I know the guild is probably just a mysterious organization wrapped in secrets to you. Of course, we culture some of that. However, some things about the guild are mysterious even to us members. The greatest naturally is the Shadow Fox. Yes, we all wonder if there is some lone mysterious figure that runs the guild. Most members are not even sure and if you ask the local guild leader, you will just get vague answers shrouded in enigmatic ancient lore.

The story states that for the last five hundred or so years a mysterious and mask covered being has been running the Thieves Guild. My first thought was that the Shadow Fox is a Wood Elf; elves in general live for over a thousand years. However, the more you delve into the history, the more obscure it becomes. The Shadow Fox is a woman in some stories -- a man in others, tall in some -- short in others. He is a human, she is an elf, or even it is a lizard-man. One thing however is the same in all the stories, the Shadow Fox wears a black mask that hides his, hers or its face from the nose up.

You are probably saying, "A thief with a mask, big deal." I will point out that firstly, most guild members do not wear masks. There is no better way to advertise that you are a thief than to walk around town in a mask. Secondly, even heroes sometimes wear masks. Look at that Ranger from the Fighters Guild, D'Lowen. He goes around shooting his silver-headed bolts from his crossbow in the name of justice and he obscures his visage with a mask. On a side note, it was probably not such a great idea to use silver on his bolts. I hear that the poor are deliberately trying to get him to shoot them so that they can get at some easy silver. Plus, it does not work in his favor that he refuses to fire a lethal shot.

Now this story takes place after I had achieved the rank of Grand Champion in the Imperial Arena. There was no more advancement for me there. I occasionally would show up for a special show, but for the most part, the "Black Arrow" was officially retired. Therefore, I now dedicated myself to working for the guild full time. I had quickly advanced through the ranks. In fact, I was to the point where I was on the cusp of having my own local guild chapter when I received a special summons.

My guild leader told me that I was to meet someone in Jermaine Gilvus' house inside the town of Lissia in one week's time. No more information was forthcoming. Lissia is an easy ride from the Imperial City so I arrived ahead of time and did some scouting around while I stayed at the local inn. I knew of Jermaine from reputation, the man was a known and trusted sympathizer of the guild. Years before, we had once rescued his daughter from a band of brigands. Since then, he has given any help he could to the guild.

On the appointed time and date, I easily found Jermaine's house. I met the man outside and as I approached, he said in a low whisper, "He's waiting for you inside. Look in the basement." This naturally piqued my curiosity. However, there is that old saying, that "Curiosity killed the Wood Elf", but I paid it no heed as I entered the old wooden house.

It was a small house. The only room spread out in front of a burning hearth. The dining area lay in the center and a bed sat on one side of the room. Off in a corner laid the stairs that led down to the basement. I crept down the creaky wooden steps into the dark interior. On the far side of the subterranean room, a lone torch flickered. Barrels, crates, and various sacks lay stacked against the walls, but in the center stood a single table and two chairs. One chair was unoccupied the other sat a figure and as I descended he raised his face towards me with a face shrouded in a black mask. I was about to have my first meeting with the Shadow Fox.

Posted by deg at 07:22 PM | Comments (3)

March 07, 2007

Tiberium Letters

Part Two

By Dwayne MacInnes

I walked over and took the worn chair that the Shadow Fox offered to me. I think the surprise was still on my face as I sat down because the Shadow Fox softly chuckled. I was about to ask him some questions when he held up a gloved hand to forestall me.

"First of all, yes I exist. Now, you are probably wondering why I summoned you," the Shadow Fox stated. I merely nodded my head. I seldom am at a loss for words; however, my tongue was tied in a knot that few sailors could match.

The Shadow Fox leaned back in his chair. The smile on his lips was his only facial feature, save his sad looking eyes, that the mask did not obscure. "I have been monitoring your advancement with some interest. You are the Black Arrow, and you are also an associate member in the Mages Guild."

"Yes," I said hoarsely, the knot was starting to untie.

"Good, good!" the Shadow Fox laughed as he slapped his thigh. "Few members have taken the initiative to better themselves. They tend to shy from other guilds and focus only on their tasks in the Thieves Guild.

"But you started out in the arena. Only after you became the Grand Champion did you focus most of you energies on the Thieves Guild. I feel that the skills you learned in the pit have helped you in your career with the guild. You also show that you research your job ahead of time. I'm sure you were able to use your associate membership in the Mages Guild to gain access to their libraries. Smart thinking."

I did not bother to correct the Shadow Fox that I had joined the Mages Guild primarily to find better and cheaper spells. I still needed to find something that worked better than my simple dark sight spell that only lasted a minute. Sure, I could find cheaper spells from some traveling thaumaturgy vender. However, they tended to be shady scam artists. I remember the time an associate thief was looking for a spell to cast a low light. He bought the "moon-shine" spell dirt-cheap, but the first time he used it in a dungeon he conjured up some jugs of powerful whiskey. Fortunately, the ogres took to the drink instead of him.

The fact, that I did use the Mages Guild's library was true. Many people believe that we Wood Elves are capricious and just flippantly fly off on some adventure. For the most part, they are correct. However, these same Wood Elves do not last long as thieves. I have stated in other publications that a thief's most important attribute is her intelligence.

"I am going to need these skills from you on your next assignment," the Shadow Fox continued. "This is a matter that is most delicate and I need someone that utilizes your care and has your resources to help me out.

"This is an imperial matter you may say. It goes straight to the top," the Shadow Fox leaned back in his chair and folded his arms across his chest as it sunk in.

"You mean..." I started to say, my faculties were now awakening.

"Yes, the Emperor himself, Servanius Tiber," the Shadow Fox now leaned closer to me. "It appears that some letters belonging to his wife the Lady Tiber have been pilfered from her room. Now the only reason the Emperor doesn't suspect us is that the criminal here was indelicate enough to demand an extortion fee from the woman.

"I believe it is best that I start from the beginning. The Emperor noticed that the Lady Tiber has not been her gay self lately. She has been dispirited and she has been keeping to herself of late. The Emperor had some of his more trusted, tactful ministers investigate the matter, and it appears that her Ladyship has been secretly selling her jewelry.

"One of the ministers overheard a handmaiden mention something about some of her Ladyship's documents being stolen. On further examination, the handmaiden refused to mention anything more on the subject. Save that, her Ladyship does not want the Emperor to know and that she has to pay a ransom.

"The Emperor loves his wife very dearly and would never do anything to harm her. He knows that if her Ladyship does not want the Emperor to know the details of the letters, it is for a good reason. Nonetheless, the Emperor cannot be placed in a position where his family is at the mercy of some unknown malefactor. Therefore he has contracted the guild to solve this little mystery."

"Sounds like a real puzzler. I suppose you'll want me to start at the palace and see what I can find out," I offered.

"No, I want you to head for Giland," the Shadow Fox returned.

Posted by deg at 06:09 PM | Comments (0)

March 14, 2007

Tiberium Letters

Part Three

By Dwayne MacInnes

Again, the smile spread across his face. I must have shown my surprise once again. I could tell the Shadow Fox was enjoying our exchange.

"Countess of Giland, Lady Aversfield, has a minister named Brunis. It is he who has the letters."

I shook my head, "But how did you find that out?"

"I'm the Shadow Fox for a reason," the master thief laughed. "Plus, in my investigation Brunis was at the Imperial Palace recently and left shortly before her Ladyship started receiving her extortion demands.

"Furthermore, you really don't think you are my only thief do you? I have had the greater resources of the guild investigating all who have been at the palace recently. The only likely suspect is Brunis."

"In any event, you may have heard of Brunis. He is quite the accomplished wizard with the Mages Guild. He has a very important post as Lady Aversfield's most trusted advisor in Giland on the Imperial border with the Black Swamp."

"Yes, I have heard of him. I also know that there is a rumor that he doesn't like Lizard-men who live in Giland or in the neighboring Black Swamp. The rumors go on to tell of secret chambers underneath the castle where Brunis carries out his experiments on those unfortunate creatures," I added with some distaste.

"Giland is an important post and we cannot overtly insist that Lady Aversfield hand over one of her ministers. Due to the ticklish situation, I am removing the ‘blood-price' on this mission. You may use lethal force, but it is imperative that it does not happen in the castle. It is one thing if Brunis' body is found along a road, quite another if it is inside the castle."

"How do you want me to handle it? Break in and search? It'll be difficult with all the guards, but I think I can do it," I offered.

"I've got a letter from the Emperor stating that you are his personal inspector. This will allow you access to all the public areas on the castle grounds. You will have to sneak into the private areas if you need. If you are caught, I do not need to remind you that this conversation did not happen."

I nodded my head. The old cloak and dagger routine, in the event of your capture the Emperor will disavow any knowledge...etc, etc. Therefore, I was on my own on this one. That was good because I like to work alone.

I started to rise to leave when the Shadow Fox grabbed my arm. He pulled me close and sternly looked at me with those sad blue eyes.

"This is a very serious situation. You must not fail. A man like Brunis is a grave threat to us all. Especially, if he can control the Emperor."

* * * * *

The ride to Giland was uneventful. It was nice for a change not being attacked by a group of goblins or awakened in the night by a marauding pack of wolves. The Imperial Legions patrolled this stretch of road regularly. As was stated before, Giland was an important post on the border with the Black Swamp. Any brigand or highwayman would have to be suicidal to try to hold someone up on this length of the Imperial Highway.

Black Swamp, now there is a nasty sounding place and it lives up to it as well. Only the Lizard-folk would call it home. It is a rather muddy, marshy area with giant black mangrove trees thrusting upward in such thick quantities that the sunlight in most areas never reaches the ground.

No need to describe the various insects and diseases one can meet in such areas. Even though we Wood Elves have a high tolerance against disease, we do not like to remain in such areas for long. That is one reason why the Empire has never been able to conquer it and absorb it into the Empire like the surrounding areas.

The Lizard-men of the Black Swamp are tribal and their forces would never stand a chance against the Imperial Legions. It is only their kin, who were conquered in the surrounding areas hundred of years ago, that can be called "civilized". There exists to this day an uneasy truce between the tribes of the Black Swamp and the Tiberium Empire.

Now, unfortunately there is still a lot of prejudice against the Lizard-folk. Those who have been in the Empire for generations are full-fledged civilians and have the same rights as any citizen under the Empire. They are just as intelligent as any other race, but because they look the least ‘human', they are thought be a barbarous race.

I think there is also the primitive human fear of reptiles. Too bad, in the Great Forest, there are many kinds of reptiles and a lot of them make great pets. Nevertheless, humans mostly populate the Empire and in many of the more remote areas, human prejudices remain.

Posted by deg at 06:29 PM | Comments (0)

March 21, 2007

Tiberium Letters

Part Four

By Dwayne MacInnes

I entered the city of Giland with no problems, and I quickly found my way to the castle. Castles in cities are not hard to miss, just look for the largest structure made of stone, boasting many towers, and you have found the residence of the local count, duke, or lord.

If all went right, a post-rider was supposed to deliver an announcement of the Imperial Inspector to her Ladyship Countess Aversfield. That of course, would be me. I wore my usual light elven armor and my heavy shield. The shield, repainted to look imperial, was going to be of utmost importance in this mission if I were to have a showdown with Brunis.

I have stated previously in other publications about the nature of my shield. By some powerful magic, the shield absorbs all aggressive spells cast against its possessor. I learned through some research at the Mages Guild that this shield is actually a holy relic from the earliest days of the Empire named, The Spell-eater. As much as I would love to boast publicly about my shield's ability and fame, such an action would be stupid.

A thief, who advertises, tends to lose many things. Sometimes she is lucky and it is only her possessions, sometimes it is her freedom, but most of the time it is her life. So the less a thief says the better off she is.

I approached the castle gate. The guards were on sentry and alert. Now, the thing about a border town, like Giland, is that in addition to the Imperial Garrison outside of town at Fort Bleakwater, the town itself boasts of a sizeable number of city guards.

I steered my black mare up to the closest sentry and halted as he grabbed the reigns. "What's the nature of your visit?" he demanded.

I reached into my pouch and produced my official document with the Imperial seal. "I am the Imperial Inspector, and I have an appointment with the Countess."

The guard holding my horse looked over the papers. I noticed out of the corner of my eye the other guard studying me. I looked over at him and recognized him as a former member of the Imperial City guard. His name is Reyn Braxis and he is a very astute investigator.

Reyn was getting very close to uncovering the Thieves Guild. It is highly doubtful that anyone in the government, no matter what services we had rendered in the past, would come to our defense once Reyn blew our cover. So, we had to take measures in our own hands. In this case, I personally had to get documents transferring Reyn Braxis to a remote area where he would not be of any trouble to the guild. That would be here in Giland.

We never found out how much Reyn knew or just suspected about the guild. Some believe he knew about certain members and had them under his surveillance. I do not know if I was one of them or not, but I could not afford to take any chances when I was involved in such an important case. Before he could get a good look at me, I quickly turned back to the first guard.

"Everything looks to be in order. Hand your horse over to the livery boy and he'll take care of it. The Countess is expecting you in the audience chamber."

I nodded my thanks and followed the guard's instruction.

* * * * *

I made way into the audience chamber before the throne of her Ladyship the Countess Aversfield. Much like the surrounding countryside, Countess Aversfield's face was a somber affair. Rumor has it that she never smiled after the mysterious and tragic death of her husband over fifteen years ago. Next to her sat the empty throne the Count would have occupied.

I glanced quickly around the chamber and took in the decor. Many black shrouds hung everywhere and a portrait sat on the wall behind Countess Aversfield. It was of a hound-dog faced man who must have been Count Aversfield. The man's drooping sad looking expression fit in well with the dreary castle's interior.

The man off to the Countess's left could only be Brunis. He wore a black velvet outfit trimmed in gold. He held a gnarled wooden staff in his right hand. The staff did not fool me; I knew it was not a symbol of his office, or a crutch to help him walk. That was a mages staff, and I really did not want to find out what spells it could unleash. I am sure it would be nasty.

As I approached the Countess, Brunis walked down and bowed. "You must be the Imperial Inspector."

I smiled and presented Brunis the same official documents I had shown the guard. "Yes" I said, "I believe I have an audience with the Countess."

Brunis only bowed again. A little wicked smile played on his face. "Of course, the public grounds are available for your perusal."

I did not need any special hearing to notice the emphasis on the word ‘public'.

I continued my approach and as I neared the base of the raised throne, I knelt before the Countess. "I am Gwendolyn; the Emperor has assigned me to inspect the castle's public areas."

"Yes, I have been expecting you. I have a room in the guard's barracks prepared for your stay. I pray that you will have time to dine with us tonight. I would love to hear news from the Imperial City."

"It would indeed be an honor my Lady, thanks for your hospitality," I looked over at Brunis. The minister gave me a hard calculating look. I did not need to have any special sight to know that Brunis suspected I was not just here just for some random inspection. The games were about to begin.

Posted by deg at 06:42 PM | Comments (0)

March 28, 2007

Tiberium Letters

Part Five

By Dwayne MacInnes

"It'ss a sshame what happened to the Count," Kreel, the Lizard-folk cook said as I pretended to be inspecting the contents of the kitchen's larder. Her face was greenish brown with a nice coloration of blue around her gold eyes. Her forked tongue would often flick out between the hisses in her conversation. "He wass ssuch a good man."

"Hmm hmm," I said as I continued to search the bags of millet. "What exactly happened to him?"

"It iss ssaid he wass invesstigating ssome rumorss about sstrange thingss happening in the ssurrounding villagess," Kreel said as she continued to prepare tonight's dinner.

"Interesting, what exactly was it he was investigating," I tried to sound halfway bored and interested. I wanted to hear the rumors Kreel would divulge but I did not want overplay my hand by being too interested. Therefore, I continued my inventory and writing miscellaneous and useless data into my logbook.

"It iss no ssecret that many do not like my kind here in Giland. However, the Count and Countesss they are fair. They treat all their ssubjectss well. The taless of my folkss dissappearing in the nearby villagess prompted Count Averssfield to invesstigate. It iss ssaid he wass ambusshed by banditss, and hizs body thrown into the sswampss."

"Certainly you do not believe this," I acted surprised.

"Of coursse, I believe it. My peopless are sstill dissappearing! I would leave here if I could, but I have to ssupport five hatchlingss. The Countesss payss well," Kreel hissed in agitation as she slammed a pot onto the counter top.

"Sorry, I meant you do not believe Count Aversfield was actually ambushed by bandits and his body thrown into the swamp," I corrected.

"No, that iss a ssilly tale. With all the guardss and ssoldierss, there are no banditss. But there are taless about him," Kreel said her eyes darting around the room to make sure we were alone.

"I'm sorry," I said acting somewhat confused.

"The minisster," Kreel literally hissed in my ear. "Rumorss ssayss he hass a ssecret chamber where he torturess and killss my peopless."

"Hmmm, interesting. I may have to investigate this," I nodded. "Any ideas where I should begin?"

Kreel looked again over her shoulder, "Hizs room."

* * * * *

Dinner was a nice affair. Many of the well-to-do attended. If I did not have an urgent mission to accomplish, I would have loved to help myself to some souvenirs. Alas, duty calls. Countess Aversfield still somber and wearing her usual black mourning gown sat at the head of the table. Brunis, as always, was sitting at her side. Captain Morgan of the city guard stood at attention behind the Countess.

Fortunately, Giland is far enough away from the pomp and circumstances of the more urbanized settlings. The occasional elbow on the table or the napkin tucked into the shirt collar could be seen around the table. I knew enough courtly etiquette to hold my own without looking too much like a country bumpkin.

The food was magnificent. The servants placed large platters of mutton and beef on the table. Salads of fruits and vegetables abounded. I did have to pretend that eating the meat from a goat's head was against the Wood Elf religion. I find it ironic that humans accuse the Lizard-folk of being barbaric when they themselves find eating an animal's head a delicacy. Nonetheless, I did not go hungry that night.

The drink, too, was exceptionally fine. The vintage of the wine passed around was a very good year. I had to remind myself that I had work to do. Although, it takes a lot to make an elf drunk; it is wise not to dull the senses too much. Especially, when there was a viper like Brunis around.

I was listening to a boring dissertation from Lord Calvert about the futility of civilizing the Lizard-folk when Brunis spoke up. "Miss Gwendolyn, I hope you have been finding the contents of our larder within the Emperor's expectation."

It was a taunt and many around the table chuckled. "You would be surprised what I can find in just a bag of millet. Why I would love to discuss all that I found missing."

I looked at the minister with a cunning glare. His icy stare probably could have frozen the fiery pits of the nether-realms.

"Missing?" the Countess chimed up. "Why what has turned up missing?"

"Oh, your Ladyship. Nothing in the castle yet, but I have learned of things in the surrounding villages. I will give you a full report when I am done."

"Please, don't overstay, "Brunis said with his jaw clenched. "We don't want the Emperor to pay for more than he needs."

"That, my dear minister, is exactly why I am here."

Posted by deg at 06:32 PM | Comments (0)

April 04, 2007

Tiberium Letters

Part Six

By Dwayne MacInnes

After our evening meal, I went to check out my quarters. Fortunately, the guard's barracks are part of the castle. That would make inspecting the castle's interior easier after most of the residents had fallen asleep. My room in the barracks was on the wall opposite the door. Rows and rows of guardsmen's bunks lay between my room and the door. Just inside the doorway, there were some tables and benches where the guards could relax and/or eat.

The room I was staying in was very spartan. I had a small bed and a side table where a single candle flickered. At the foot of the bed, there was a chest to stow my gear. I did not have much gear so I hardly used it. On the wall opposite the door, was a single small window. The shutters were open, and I could see that it opened onto a narrow ledge. The ground was a good two stories down and that was actually a murky slimy moat that reflected the gray moonlight.

I sat in my bunk for a good hour. I could easily hear the guards entering or leaving the barracks most were entering and preparing for bed. I cracked my door and peered outside. There on the table next to the door leading to the castle's interior sat Reyn and two other guards. They were heavy into their drink and just conversing.

"Why do you think Brunis wants us to sit at this door all night?" the younger guardsmen asked.

"Easy, to guard her," Reyn replied nodding his head in my direction.

"Well, I don't suppose he could blame us if we had to partake of this good mead while we waited," laughed the second guard. "After all, this is thirsty work."

All three laughed at this and each took a long chug from their wooden mugs. Reyn wiped his mouth with the back of his hand as he sat the mug down onto the table. "You know I almost had the Thieves Guild revealed," Reyn started.

"Yeah, yeah, you told us before," the second guard replied in a bored voice.

"I would have had it too if I did not get this transfer," Reyn replied hotly.

"Well, you must have upset someone," the first guard supplied, "nobody gets assigned here if they did not make some enemies."

Reyn looked towards my room again, "You know I also know about her."

"I wouldn't mind getting to know her," said the first guard, definitely the youngest of the three.

"You have a thing for older women, eh?" the second guard jibed.

"Whadya mean? She can't over twenty."

"She's a hundred if she's a day," the older second guard responded. "She's an elf and they live ten times as long as men." They were both right -- in a way. I was of one hundred and twenty years. "Even if you two got married she'd still look the same by the time you are having someone chew your food for you."

"Not so bad by my reckoning," continued the first guard. Reyn just continued to drink and stare at my door.

"Are you kidding, she'd leave you and take everything you own by the time you started to lose the bloom of life. No, sir, stay with your own kind."

The first guard was about to respond when Reyn started up again. "Neither of you know what you are talking about. She's not the usual Imperial Inspector. I know what she did before. I know who she really is."

The two other guards looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders. "I think you've been into your cups too long my friend," the second guard said putting a fatherly arm around Reyn's shoulders. "Now, take Jern here. He thinks he knows everything about using that toothpick he calls a sword…"

I closed the door tightly. I learned a few things. First, I was not going to get out the barracks door. Secondly, I had better keep a closer eye on Reyn. He obviously got a good enough look at me down at the gate.

I blew out the candle and approached the window. It was a small window as I stated before, but it was wide enough to allow me to squeeze my lithe frame through and onto the ledge. I pulled my shield and bow out after me. It was not easy equipping myself piecemeal while my toes were the only thing keeping me from landing into the manmade swamp below.

I was able to shimmy sideways along the ledge until I found another window. I took a quick glance inside. It led to a small utility closet. I reversed my equipping process by silently placing my bow and shield first into the small room. I then squeezed my way through the window. Fortunately, the door did not contain a lock so I did not have to waste time picking it.

I listened at the door for a while to ensure that there were not any guards nearby. I slowly opened it and found myself looking at the throne room. There were stairs around both sides of the room that led to the private quarters.

In a matter of a few seconds, I had gained entrance into the private quarters of the castle. Here I would have to use even more care, for sentries patrolled the upper areas. Fortunately, if one is patient enough and there are enough shadows to hide you, one is able to learn where the holes are in the patrol pattern. This I did.

I quietly crept along the carpeted hallway. I did not have any plans of the castle's interior so I did not know were Brunis's room would be. So, I just went from door to door and peered inside. Most of the doors were unlocked and those that were not proved easy to open. I was able to observe -- undetected -- many of the most notable of the castle's residents sleeping, reading, or otherwise occupied with each other.

I finally found the room I was looking for. I used extra caution because it is well know that wizards love to use magical traps on their doors. I guess Brunis did not feel that he needed any because there was none. The door itself proved easy enough to pick. I quickly glanced inside the darkened interior expecting to hear snoring or to find the minister either reading or maybe entertaining a chambermaid. However, the room was vacant.

I slipped inside and began a thorough search. I could find nothing just a book on his nightstand by the High Elf Elrond Hubbard Dire-netics: Controlling your Personal Demons. I guess Brunis's mother did not love him. That would explain many of his problems.

Still I was not happy with my results. There had to be something in this room other than a book. No mage stays in a room for long without storing away some magical do-dads. I studied the room again. This time I was looking for anything out of the ordinary and I soon found it. Against the far wall there were two posts rising towards the ceiling. Normally this would not mean anything, but in a wizard's bedroom, this could mean only one thing…secret door.

Posted by deg at 05:45 PM | Comments (0)

April 11, 2007

Tiberium Letters

Part Seven

By Dwayne MacInnes

It took me but a moment to find the hidden catch behind one of the posts. Before I triggered it, I listened to the door closely. It would be greatly embarrassing to open the hidden door just to find an enraged mage behind it. Only silence greeted my sensitive ears.

I released the catch and the wall between the posts slid silently upwards to reveal a small room inside. I quickly dashed inside and shut the secret door. I muttered my spell for dark sight and the interior revealed itself to me. At least, for the next minute until I had to mutter the spell again. I really prayed that I would soon find a longer lasting spell.

A quick survey did produce a few objects of worth. First, I found about one hundred Silver Crowns. I am sure that Brunis did not obtain them lawfully so it was my imperial duty to confiscate them. I also found a magical wand. It was made of gnarled black wood.

Anyone can use a magical wand if she knows the correct triggering word. The Mages Guild keeps this a secret because they make a lot of money charging farmers to enchant their fields against pests. Imagine the chaos that would ensue if a farmer just bought a wand for a few tens of Silver Crowns and did the same thing year after year.

Most mages just use the default setting on the wands and depending on the manufacturer; it can be as simple as ‘abra cadabra’ or ‘klaatu barada nikto’. However, Brunis was smarter than that. He had had it reprogrammed. Thankfully, he was not too smart because I found the command written on a piece of paper next to it. It said simply, “to operate fireball wand say ‘domo arigato mister roboto’?.

However, the next two objects were of more significance. The first was a book about the tragic murder of Lady Tiber’s father. It is a well-known tale of how when Lady Tiber or Lady Rhem as she would have been then, was a young lass of twelve when she was playing with the scullery girl of the same age in the throne room. They were behind the large tapestries when an assassin attacked and killed widower Baron Rhem while he was on the throne. One of the girls let out a shriek when she witnessed it. The scullery girl ran for a nearby balcony and the young Lady Rhem ran for the stairs. The assassin would have killed both girls if he was not surprised and the girls did not run in two different directions. At the very least, he would have killed Lady Rhem, but he could not tell the difference between the two girls for they were of similar appearance.

The scullery girl tripped and fell over the edge of the balcony and plummeted into the lake that lay below her body disappearing beneath the lake’s surface forever. A month after the tragedy some fishermen found a tattered and soggy dress snared in some snags on the lake’s shore. The Lady Rhem ran upstairs and hid inside one of the closets. Only after the guards captured the assassin did they find the girl. By this time, she had lost her memory and only a slow convalescence at a local temple restored her to her right mind. However, she never remembered anything before that horrible day.

The sad conclusion is that after interrogating the assassin it was learned who had hired him. It was the Baron’s own brother. It is the same old story of the younger sibling craving the power of the elder.

The last object or actually objects were the millet seeds found on the ground. There are only two places I could think of where Brunis could encounter millet seeds. One was the kitchen, but Kreel practically lives there and she would have gladly told me if she had seen the minister skulking about there. So, that left the storage cellars where the foodstuff was stored in large quantities.

I pocketed my findings and made my way out of the private quarters. Getting to the cellars was no problem at all. Other than the sentries at the front door to the castle, the only other guards on patrol in the castle were in the private quarters. I should let the Countess know that she may want to beef up her security.

In any case, I found myself deep inside the dank cellar. There were huge casks of wine and other alcoholic beverages against one wall. There were crates, barrels, and bags of foodstuff against another. A single torch sat in its sconce and burned away illuminating the cool and musty interior.

A search of the ground revealed that a sack of millet had a tear. Most likely, with the help of the ubiquitous rodents that one can find in such dwellings. A closer scrutiny produced faint footprints that I followed to a wall. I quickly discerned the faint outline of a hidden door. I just now needed to find the trigger to open it.

Secret or hidden doors always have some kind of panel or lever to open it. It is common for them to look like common objects. It could be a torch on the wall, a book in a bookcase, or a stone panel in the wall. However, it was none of these, particularly not a book due to the lack of bookcases in the cellar.

I studied the wall carefully again. I know it had to be something obvious I was missing. Then it hit me. One of the barrels of foodstuff was not with the others. I opened the top and found it contained wheat. I felt around in the wheat but I could not find any lever. I was about to give up in frustration when my foot kicked the bottom of the barrel. It made a hollow noise. That was odd for a barrel brimming with wheat.

A quick search produced a loose panel. Inside the panel was a lever. Soon I had the hidden door open. A long dark tunnel wound its way down on the other side of the door.

Posted by deg at 06:30 PM | Comments (0)

April 18, 2007

Tiberium Letters

Part Eight

By Dwayne MacInnes

I entered the tunnel and shut the door behind me. A lever on the wall opened and closed the hidden door. Fortunately, I would not have to rely on my dark vision spell in this tunnel because someone had been kind enough to leave an occasional lighted torch on the wall.

I silently crept down the stone corridor, there was nothing interesting to note. The path was long and winding, but there were no divergences so I did not have to make any big decisions like should I go right or left. I just went forward.

After about half an hour, the tunnel led me to a set of stairs. I looked up and the stone steps ascended upwards for what looked like eternity. There was no other way, so I began my ascent. Even here, there was the occasional torch burning away in a metal sconce.

I would really hate to be the one to make sure those torches were lit and replaced once they burnt down to nothing. I could not tell you how many torches I had already passed, and I cannot imagine that even these torches would burn indefinitely. Nonetheless, I proceeded with the utmost caution. After all, I could unexpectedly meet the caretaker of those torches.

The climb up the stairs was just as uneventful and monotonous as the trek down the tunnel. Eventually I reached the top to find the tunnel resumed its twisting path forward. I was about to take a quick breather after the long climb when I heard a blood-curdling scream.

My instincts told me that something was not quite right down the tunnel. Actually, you do not need instincts to tell you something bad is down the road when you hear a blood-curdling scream like that. In fact, you should probably consider one of two options. The first is to run away from the source of the scream. The second is to proceed forward with the utmost care and caution. Therefore, I split the difference. I ran forward with some care and caution.

Though the hallway was more or less straight and narrow for most of the way, I drew my short sword. The tunnel was winding enough that it did not favor the use of my bow. I did not know if the next boogeyman was literally around the next bend. Furthermore, trying to ready a bow on the run does not facilitate a good shot, not even for an elf. In addition, on my climb to Grand Champion of the Imperial Arena, I had become more proficient with the blade.

I heard the scream again. The hairs on the back of neck began to rise. I am sure that if anyone saw me from behind, he would have thought I had a frightened black cat on my head. For, the fears that rain through my body would have made my trademark ponytail shoot straight up behind my helmet.

Nonetheless, I continued my journey down the tunnel. I soon found a wooden door on my left hand side. The smell emanating from it was almost overpowering. Blood and decaying flesh were behind that door. The next scream told me, so was the person who was either in agony, fear, or both.

I checked the handle on the door. It was unlocked so I slowly opened it up. I poked my head around the door to see the prostrate form of a Lizard-man strapped down on a table. Between him and me, there was a short hunched figure in dark robes. The figure was obviously torturing the poor Lizard-man. I could see blood funneling off the table into several buckets on the ground around it. The hunched figure had already plucked out the left eye and chopped off the corresponding hand. The scales on the Lizard-man's upper torso had been flayed back to expose the still functioning organs to the air.

The poor creature panted in pain. I witnessed the rapidly beating heart and inflating lungs under the exposed ribs. The torturer was a professional to keep one still alive and conscious under such treatment. I am sure some form of magic was involved.

I cannot ever remember seeing such a gruesome and malevolent sight before. I knew that if I did not act soon the Lizard-man would die. He did not have much longer to live. I was also on the verge of becoming violently ill.

As the dark figure raised the dagger in his right hand in the air for another chop, slice, or plunge into the helpless victim I instinctively yell, "STOP!"

The figure jerked his head around and glared at me maliciously. I was staring eyeball to eyeball with a goblin. His beady black eyes stared at me from his mottled green face. A wicked grin revealed his yellow sharp teeth underneath his long hooked nose.

I turned and fled. I know what you are saying, "The Grand Champion ran from a goblin?" Yes, I ran. However, I did not run in fear. I ran to draw the nasty creature away from the Lizard-man. Even the Grand Champion can accidentally miss her target and hit an innocent bystander. Notwithstanding that, the sadistic beast could kill the victim in an act of spite.

I paced myself to keep the goblin just a few feet behind me. I was tantalizing close but still out of reach of his dagger. I am sure if he wanted, he could have thrown the little blade. However, I am sure he realized that even if he hit, it would more than likely bounce off my armor.

As we approached the stairs, I suddenly fell to the ground and pulled my legs in close to my torso. The goblin, caught off guard, tripped over my balled-up body before he could slow down. He sailed over me and proceeded to bounce down the stairs at full speed.

After the first few bounces, he stopped screaming. I could have made my way back down the stairs to ensure that the goblin was indeed dead. But, I had to return to the torture chamber immediately if I had any hope of saving the Lizard-man's life. In addition, I did not relish the idea of climbing back up those stairs.

As I ran into the torture room, I had thumbed the cork off a healing potion I pulled from my haversack. I was relieved to see that he still lived. I poured a little of the draughts down his gullet, enough to give him some strength. I then started to repack and replace his cut muscles and organs inside his chest. I am not a physician so I am not an expert on anatomy, but I made my best guess. I poured a little of the healing potion over the muscles to help them knit. Then I pulled the skin back together and doused it with the remaining healing draught.

I watched as the skin magically reunited. A raw pink scar ran the length of his brown torso. The Lizard-man started to relax. I could see that he was still in a lot of pain and very weak. So, pulled out another healing potion and made him drink it all. The gaping wound of his bloody eye socket and his severed left wrist instantly healed up. I would have tried to reattach his hand and/or eye but I could not find them. Moreover, the Lizard-man did not have the luxury of waiting while I searched the blood-filled buckets for them.

After the Lizard-man regained his strength and seemed to be out of pain, I cut his bonds. He sat up and looked me over with his good eye.

"I am Sleestak and I thank you," he said as he sat up and rubbed his stump.

"Gwendolyn, at your service," I bowed, "what is going on here?"

"Look friend Gwendolyn," Sleestak motioned for me to look around the room with his right hand.

I turned around and realized I was not so much in a torture chamber as much as a butchers shop.

Posted by deg at 07:02 PM | Comments (0)

April 25, 2007

Tiberium Letters

Part Nine

By Dwayne MacInnes

The bodies of Lizard-folk and, by the looks of it, a couple of humans, hung from the ceiling like the carcasses of cows and pigs one sees in a butcher shop. The bodies were skinned and in various states of decomposition. Goblins love their meat a little rancid.

I turned back to Sleestak, "I think you better get out of here and alert the city guard."

"No!" he shouted with fear. "It was Captain Morgan who brought us here. He works for Brunis. They are building an army of goblins."

I began to search the room as I lost myself in thought. So, Brunis is looking for more than extortion and maybe running the Empire from behind the scenes. It looks like he wants to establish his own empire and Giland was as good a place as any other city.

I did not know how many of the city guards were involved with this. I had to proceed with even more care than usual. Even if I defeat Brunis and retrieve the letters Captain Morgan and some of the local guardsmen, may try to settle accounts with me.

I found some dirty clothes that I tossed over to Sleestak. "Here wear these."

"Why are you here?" the Lizard-man asked as he dressed.

"I'm on a top secret mission. I cannot say more. But, I need you to get out of here and tell no one about my presence here."

Sleestak found a rather long and nasty blade (obviously some torture implement) that he tucked into his belt. "How do I explain my escape?"

"Just tell them you broke free and overpowered the goblin," I offered. I was about to leave the room when a thought struck me.

"Are there others I should free?"

"No, I was the last. Morgan and his men rounded up many people from my village and they sent us here. I watched my people be tortured before they were butchered. Their blood collected in buckets for goblin stew," Sleestak spat.

"Do you know where Morgan and Brunis are?" I enquired.

"Yes, this tunnel leads to an old ruined fort. Fort Abysmal, there you will find them. But, I caution you. There are more than goblins in this tunnel. I have heard...strange noises. I am sorry that is the best I can do. If you want, Sleestak will fight with you."

I shook my head, "No, you must escape, go down the stairs and the tunnel there is a lever that'll lead you to the basement of the castle. You will be able to find help from Kreel the cook. I am sure she'll find a way to get you out of the castle without the guards knowing."

I resumed my travel up the tunnel after Sleestak descended the stairs. I grasped my sword even harder now. No sound escaped my acute hearing -- not the skittering of rats scurrying out of my way, nor the plunk of water dripping into a shallow pool somewhere into the distant.

Thankfully, I wore gauntlets for my sweaty palms would have lost their grip on my blade. I did not relish the idea of taking on an army of goblins in addition to whatever else there may be down here, plus the original task of Brunis and now Captain Morgan thrown in. All I know is that there had better be a rather hefty reward after I was done.

The passage began to slope upwards. There were no stairs just a ramping floor that continued to climb steadily upwards. After awhile it finally ended at another wooden door.

I pressed my ear against it. There were not any sounds. There were also no traps of either mechanical or magical nature. However, there was a lock, which proved easy to pick.

I slowly opened the door and peered around it. All I saw was just more tunnel and more torches. However, the passage was now level.

I continued to creep down the tunnel when I suddenly came upon two goblins on sentry. I did not hear either of them for they had been sleeping in the passage and they did not hear me as I stole upon them. I left them to their dreams...permanently. I slit their throats so silently and efficiently that neither one awoke. I placed their bodies back in their sleeping repose and continued on. I am sure if anyone came upon them that at a distance they would look like they were asleep. However, closer examination would reveal a large puddle of blood on the ground.

The worse part of this was apparently Brunis did not pay his goblins very well. I only found three Silver Crowns between them. Their rusty blades were not even worth the effort to cart out and try to sell to some vendor.

Onward and forward, the tunnel wound. I did not happen upon any more goblins when I came upon another door in the right hand tunnel wall. Again, I listened and searched for traps -- again nothing on all counts. This time the lock was of good construction. It took me about thirty seconds for me to pick it.

The door swung open on its own and revealed a dark room. The little light that shone in the room revealed little except a stone floor. I stepped in and the door slammed shut behind me. I instantly felt my hackles rise as they did when I heard Sleestak's screams.

I silently uttered my dark sight spell and there at the end of the long room sneaking towards me as silent as a cat was a demon.

Posted by deg at 08:00 PM | Comments (0)

May 02, 2007

Tiberium Letters

Part Ten

By Dwayne MacInnes

The demon was unaware that I could see it in the darkness. I grabbed my sword in a reverse grip. I acted as if I could not see the hell-spawned beast approaching me.

The room had many glyphs of warding on the walls around it. Obviously, they were for containing the demon and not me. I tried the door with my left hand. It had locked as it closed, much as I suspected. I did not have the time to try to pick a lock with a demon sneaking up on me, and I had less than a minute of sight before the spell failed. I would have to act soon.

I turned my back to the demon as if I was going to try the door. I heard it take in a breath of air as it started to lunge for me. At the last moment, I dodged to the right in a tumble and sprung up as the demon smacked against the wooden door. The door shook and threatened to splinter and the demon took a couple of dazed steps back turning towards me.

I stepped into the seven-foot tall beast and slashed upward from right to left with my reversed gripped short sword. Before the demon could grab its bleeding belly, I now slashed the beast's throat from left to right. Hot red blood spurted out from its new wound while I tumbled between its spread legs.

As I jumped up behind it, I changed my grip to the standard form and jabbed upwards striking the demon in the exposed back. An enraged and gurgled roar shook the room. I thought my head would explode from the agonizing scream of pain the beast from the netherworld released.

The beast fell to its knees after it turned towards me. I backed away staying outside the reach of its claws. With one hand, it held its gaping throat with the other it weakly tried to swipe at me.

I crouched low before I vaulted myself towards the demon. As I passed over its left shoulder, I swung my sword from left to right severing its head from its torso. I landed on the blood slick floor and tumbled to a stop as my spell ended simultaneously with the head dropping onto the floor.

I quickly uttered my spell again and my sight returned. There on the floor flopping in a pool of its own blood lay the headless body of the demon. The head had rolled to a far wall and now stared sightlessly at me.

Still amazed by my victory I nearly jumped out of my skin when I heard a loud pounding on the door.

"You keep quiet," the gruff voice of a goblin shouted, "or the master will teach you to keep quiet."

It was no surprise the goblin was not about to check in on a demon in a containment cell. The bad thing about demons and containment cells is that they contain nothing of value. Sure, I could have harvested the various organs and horns of the demon, but I saw enough butchering for one night.

I listened intently until I heard the goblin walk away. I returned to the door and had it picked open before my spell failed again. I finally expelled the breath I had been holding. I was now alone in the tunnel and I started to think again.

That was when it hit me. Trumpets blared in my head alerting me to my stupidity and I anxiously pulled a book out of my haversack. The Hubbard book Dire-nectics was not about helping you move past your problems. No, Elrond Hubbard according to the back of the book was a conjurer of the dark arts and not a self-help guru as I initially suspected.

To add to everything else, Brunis was also trying to control a demon. I prayed there were no more demons that Brunis had socked away. I also vowed not to enter dark rooms where the doors opened of their own accord again.

Cautiously I continued my travel up the tunnel, there were no more side doors and there were never any connecting hallways. It finally ended at a large portcullis. The large iron gate sealed the entrance and on the other side were the remains of Fort Abysmal's cellar.

I tested the portcullis for any signs of weakness. A heavy coat of rust covered the gate and the sturdiness of it was in doubt. I pushed and pulled upon the various bars all but one resisted my efforts. Although the one iron bar I could move did not pull free from the gate it did bend enough to allow me to pass through.

A large waterfall had broken its way into the cellar and the lower chambers were now the source of an underground river. The thundering of the fall obscured any noise I made while exerting myself on the gate. However, it also hid any noise that may alert me to danger.

I snuck around the cellar's interior, there were many doors and passages I could take. But, I knew that if Brunis was the wizard of any worth he would be found in a tower. So, the only logical choice would be up.

I was about to head for the only set of stone steps that led upwards when my ears picked up a rhythmic beat against the thunder of the waterfall. I quickly jumped behind a fallen column and watched as a squad of goblins marching in formation exited a side tunnel, and entered the cellar heading in my direction.

Posted by deg at 06:21 PM | Comments (0)

May 09, 2007

Tiberium Letters

Part Eleven

By Dwayne MacInnes

There were six goblins, and they were heading in my direction. I ducked down behind the pillar again. I could hear their clinking iron boots and their armor rattling as they marched into the cellar. In my quick glance, I noticed that they all were armed with a sword on their left hip and had a spear resting on their right shoulder. Their armor was motley but they all had some sort of helm and a shield.

I listened as they advanced ever closer to my position. The column I hid behind was large, but if they were to look over it, they would easily see me trying as hard as I could to blend in with the shadows. I silently pulled my bow from my back and readied an arrow. I know I could have taken out three of them before the rest fell upon me. I hoped that I would have enough time to ready my sword.

Then quite unexpectedly, they changed course. I snuck a quick peak over the collapsed column. The goblins were now heading for the stairs I was about to make for. They were also now marching more or less perpendicular to me.

I smiled; this was an unforeseen opportunity. I fired my bow. I hit the first goblin, or more accurately the last goblin for he was the last in line, in the back of the head. Before he could squeak, he tumbled off the steps and landed into the pool. The waterfall masked any noise the goblin made as he died.

I fired off another and another arrow, each finding their mark under the helmet and through the head. As expected, every goblin fell off the steps and landed in the pool beneath the waterfall. In this manner, I worked my way from back to front killing every goblin before the leader made it to the top step.

Unfortunately, the weight of their armor pulled every goblin beneath the surface of the subterranean river. Therefore, I could not search their carcasses for any loot. However, I figured that with the paltry amount I have been finding on these goblins and the fact that any trace of what I did, lay at the bottom of the river -- in the end -- balanced out.

I resumed my trek up the staircase. When I reached the landing, I was at the entrance of some sort. The fort had definitely seen better days. Stone bricks and wooden beams lay collapsed upon the ground. Weak moonlight filtered in from the gaping holes in the ceiling. There were no more stairs upward but there was a doublewide wooden door in front of me.

Again, I did my standard check at the door. Again, I heard and found nothing. To my relief the door was unlocked. It did not open or close of its own free will when I exited it and found myself outdoors. Well, I was sort of outdoors. I was actually in the middle of the crumbling and hollowed out remains of a tower. There were stairs leading upward and a set of doublewide iron doors that sat upon the far side of me. I assumed they truly led to the open outdoors.

By deduction, I knew my way led upwards. Well, I should say deduction because of the fact that I heard Brunis's laugh somewhere above me. I made sure that I was so far undetected. I could find no guards or sentries, so I started my way up the stairs.

It was dark and though there was a full moon, the shadows were deep. The occasional torch flared upon the wall. The smell of fresh air was the sweetest scent I ever experienced especially after the offal I encountered in the butcher room.

Brunis was in conversation with someone, I could hear his end of the conversation as I crept stealthily upwards bow ready.

"Soon, very soon my plans will come to fruition," he laughed.

"What's that? Of course, you'll be at my side," he reassured someone.

"With the Empress bankrolling us and the goblin army growing everyday I'll soon be in position to take over Giland."

I do not know why these villain types feel the need to reveal their nefarious plans but they do. Maybe it is because they are all secretly insecure. Nonetheless, it makes my job easier and I appreciate it.

Brunis's jubilant voice continued, "I am sure I can even assert some power through the Empress over the Emperor to facilitate things. Plus, my demon is almost fully trained."

I was near the top of the stairs when I saw Brunis on the opposite side of the room. He stood in the doorway perfectly framed in the moonlight and I quietly drew back my bowstring. However, before I could release my arrow someone yelled, "HALT! ASSASSIN!"

Posted by deg at 06:33 PM | Comments (0)

May 16, 2007

Tiberium Letters

Part Twelve

By Dwayne MacInnes

My arrow flew erratically through the air as Brunis ducked safely behind the wall. I then notice Captain Morgan of the city guard also in the room. The good or more accurately ‘evil' captain noticed my silhouette at the head of the stairs and warned Brunis in time.

I had hardly any time to drop my bow and draw my sword before the captain fell upon me. I blocked his initial swing with my shield. I tried to push the captain's long sword away so I could expose his vitals for a thrust with my short sword. However, the guardsman had been practicing and knew my tactics.

The long sword disengaged and Captain Morgan stepped back. This gave me the time I needed to tumble past his next swing. I was now behind the captain. Unfortunately, I was now between Morgan and Brunis.

I caught the sight of the mage leveling a staff at me. I turned quickly in time to catch the electric bolt upon my shield. Brunis swore an oath as my shield absorbed the bolt without any ill effects. I dodged to the side as Morgan thrust his sword at me barely missing.

I was not in an enviable position. I needed to find some defensive position. Alas, none was forthcoming. Therefore, I worked my way backwards so that now the wizard and the warrior were both in front of me.

Things improved a bit, but only a little. For I now did not have to watch my back and front simultaneously. However, I now had both an angry mage and guardsman attacking me. They worked quietly as a team.

Captain Morgan would try to expose me to a blast from Brunis's staff. I would block or dodge his sword swing, but I always kept my shield in front of Brunis. For my part, I would try to maneuver Morgan in such a way as to place the guardsman in front of the wizard.

We jockeyed like this for some time before Brunis pulled back. I tried to double my attacks on Morgan in the hopes of dispatching the guard before the mage could conjure up some nasty new spell.

Unfortunately, Morgan was a good swordsman and even worse Brunis conjured up a spell my shield could not prevent. He summoned a stone demon from the netherworld. However, worse still was that the demon materialized behind me.

The stone giant stood ten feet tall. His body was completely made of rocks. One smash with his rocky fists and it would be like having an avalanche pulverize you. You have heard the expression "He came down on me like a ton of bricks." In this case, it would be far too literal.

Two other things to note about summoned stone demons. The first is that they do not rely solely on their fists. No, for some insane reason they can also shoot blasts of electric bolts at you. Secondly, is that the summoned beast lasts as long as the summoner wants or until the beast or the summoner dies.

Suddenly there descended upon us one of those uncomfortable pauses in combat. It is the same as often happens in conversations. Everyone is talking until all at once everyone forgets what he or she was going to say or just has nothing to say. Everyone looks at everyone else uncomfortably until someone restarts the conversation.

The only difference in this case was that I was the only one uncomfortable. For, as I glanced around I noticed the evil smiles on Brunis and Morgan's face. The stone demon just looked at me impassively, which by the way is their only expression.

"Well, my dear inspector it looks like you were unable to finish the task the Emperor commissioned you for. But, do not fear he will still pay. Just not in the manner he was hoping. Bwa ha ha ha!"

Oh, great I was about to die and one of the last things I would hear is a clichéd evil laugh.

Posted by deg at 06:59 PM | Comments (0)

May 23, 2007

Tiberium Letters

Part Thirteen

By Dwayne MacInnes

Combat resumed shortly after this. I tried to remain out of reach of the stone demon and still block whatever Brunis and Morgan threw at me. The lightning blasts flew through the air like some kind of AC/DC concert.

In case you have never had that experience, before the Alteration College and the Diviner College at the Arcane University, there is a get together once a year in Imperial City for a concert. The music is great. However, the lightshow at the AC/DC concert you cannot miss and I mean that literally. You can be in any neighborhood, in a surrounding district, or even in the village. You can see the lightning and colored flashes shooting into the sky.

Anyway, as I was relating, lightning was shooting back and forth and both the stone demon and Brunis had one object in mind and that was me. I did learn a couple of important things in this exchange. First is that it is impossible to dodge lightning. It is extremely fast. Secondly, I do not need to block the blasts with my shield.

What no one has ever chronicled about my shield, Spell-eater, is that merely having it on your person protects you from hostile magic. Imagine everyone's surprise when the stone demon fired off a blast and hit me square in the back and the bolt fizzled away into nothing. I can assure you no one was more surprised that I was.

Again all combat paused. However, this time I was the one smiling. Sure, the advantage was still in Morgan and Brunis's favor. After all, I still had the stone demon at my back. However, my shield nullified the effect of magic.

Captain Morgan took the initiative and restarted the melee by charging at me. However, it was not quite what he had anticipated. As the guardsman flew at me with his sword flashing in the moonlight, I simply stepped to my right and tripped the captain as he ran harmlessly by. I should not say harmlessly because he had the misfortune of colliding with the stone demon.

There is one other thing about stone demons I forgot to mention. They are extremely stupid. I mean there simply is no other denizen of the netherworld that is literally as dumb as a box of rocks. Not iron demons, not imps, I mean nothing.

Sadly, for Morgan the demon felt that the captain was attacking it. Even sadder for the captain was that he did not have a shield to protect him from the electric bolts. Still even sadder was that all the steel the captain wore only made things worse.

The stone demon fired off a blast of electricity at the poor captain. The lightning literally fried the captain to a blacken crisp. Steam and smoke poured out of his armor before his blackened sword clattered upon the stone floor followed shortly thereafter by the recently deceased captain of the guard.

While this was happening, I flipped my short sword in the air, grabbed it by the blade, and in one fluid motion threw it at Brunis. It is unwise to throw away one's only weapon unless of course it is in a time of desperation. Desperate the times certainly were.

I watched as if time had slowed as the short sword tumbled end over end flying towards Brunis. I watched the mage slowly recognize what was happening, the surprise break out upon his face, and his attempt to try to turn. However, before he could turn completely around the short sword found his chest and buried itself up to the hilt.

There was a puff of smoke as the stone demon dematerialized behind me. Simultaneously, the mage collapsed upon the flagstones in dead heap. I slowly walked toward the mage. Slowly was the only speed I had available at the time as the adrenaline started to wear off. I was completely exhausted.

It took some effort but I was able to tug my short sword out of Brunis's carcass. I was just going to leave him there when a thought occurred to me. I ran over to Morgan's still smoking and disgustingly smelling body and grabbed his long sword. I returned to Brunis and placed the long sword into his wound. Now, if anyone came upon the bodies it looked like a falling out between wizard and warrior.

Unfortunately, that meant I would have to leave the lightning staff still clutched in Brunis's dead hand. But, I figured no one really knew what Brunis carried on his person so I searched him. I found a couple of rings, two keys, fifty Gold Eagles and a small object that resembled a green icicle about three inches long.

There was no way I was going to return to the barbequed guard and search his remains. I figured all the gold and silver he may have had on him would have melted and fused with everything else in one nasty mess. I could still hear the sizzling and popping of the cooked Morgan.

With all the lightning flashing, I figured I had a limited amount of time left. I ran into the room that Morgan and Brunis came out. Inside the room were a bunk, a table, and a chest. It appeared the wizard would occasionally sleep here. The ceiling was still whole above. Further, the door still opened and closed on its hinges on the doorframe. In this case, it was open.

I quickly searched the chest. One of the keys I found on Brunis's body opened it with a click (I learned later that the other key was to the castle, so I kept it). Inside I found a bundle of papers.

Posted by deg at 07:10 PM | Comments (0)

May 30, 2007

Tiberium Letters

Part Fourteen

By Dwayne MacInnes

A quick glance at the papers revealed that they were what I was looking for. It is interesting to note that Brunis was not blackmailing the Lady Tiber for anything she had done wrong. In fact, it was the opposite.

The story about the Lady Tiber's father's assassination turns out not to be completely correct. The Empress hired an investigator so that she may try to remember her youth. The investigator succeeded far beyond anyone's imagination.

The papers I held in my hand are the correspondence from the investigator to the Empress. I have already related the well-known tale of the assassination of the Baron Rhem decades ago by his ambitious younger brother.

However, there are corrections and additions to the tale. The Baron had a loyal minister. The minister was the one who insisted that the young Lady Rhem remain in the temple under the care of the priests in the hope she may remember her past.

The minister would come in, relate the family history, and teach her on whom her relatives were. She started to learn about courtly manners and practices. Essentially the minister was teaching Lady Rhem how to run a barony.

Meanwhile, the story of the scullery maid is not complete either. It turns out the young girl survived her plunge into the lake. She stripped off her dress in order to help her swim to shore. On reaching the shore the young girl clothed only in a wet and dirty shirt climbed into a hay cart to warm-up.

Unknown to her, the cart belonged to a poor farmer who was traveling back to his village. It took two days before the farmer returned to his village with his hay. Imagine his surprise when he started to unload it and he found a half-clothed unconscious girl.

The farmer woke the girl up, who had been sleeping two days, but she could not remember her past either. Further, she did not even know how she climbed into the cart. The farmer had no idea where his stow-away came from it could have been a dozen hamlets or villages he passed.

The girl begged the farmer not to turn her out. The kindhearted man had neither wife nor heir but he took pity upon the lass and adopted her as his daughter. As she grew to maturity, the young woman wed one of the villagers that had land adjacent to her adopted father's farm. When her adopted father died, her husband inherited the small farm willed to him by her adopted father.

The two prospered on the combined farm and had five children. This is where the investigator found them.

Now that I have filled in the gaps, I will now correct the story. I am sure some of you have already guessed it. When the investigator presented his tale to the young farm wife her memories unlocked immediately. There was something wrong.

She -- not the woman running the barony -- was Lady Rhem. She remembered her fall over the balcony and the gown that she shed which was of the finest quality and a gift from her late father. Nonetheless, she was happily married to the farmer. Her children were happy and content she felt a sense of accomplishment and did not desire to rule a barony or an empire.

Surprised -- the investigator presented his evidence to Lady Tiber. Again when presented with the evidence, the Lady Tiber's memory miraculously reappeared. She corroborated the farm wife's story. Lady Tiber felt unworthy to be the Empress and wanted to confide the truth to her husband. However, the investigator pointed out that by doing so would move the farm wife from her content life to a place where she knew little and the reverse would happen to Lady Tiber.

The two women began a correspondence and the two agreed that Lady Tiber would remain as the baroness and Empress. It was because the loyal minister feared bloodshed by civil war that he put a pretender (albeit unknown to Lady Tiber) onto the throne. First, he destroyed the tattered remains of the dress found on the lakeshore. The girls looked remarkably alike and after a few years in the temple away from the public, no one would know that the Lady Rhem was actually a scullery maid.

Unfortunately, the mage Brunis somehow learned about their secret. He stole the letters he needed to blackmail the Empress. He threatened to reveal the truth and ruin both women's lives if the Lady Tiber did not pay his ransom demands.

After reading the papers, I shoved them into my haversack. I was about to check the other contents of the chest and table when I heard the chinking and clanking of a troop of goblins running up the stairs. I looked at my sword and realized in all the excitement I left my elven longbow on the stairs outside the room.

Posted by deg at 07:49 PM | Comments (0)

June 06, 2007

Tiberium Letters

Part Fifteen

By Dwayne MacInnes

The rushing horde was running up the stairs. I would not have time to run out and grab my bow. I briefly toyed with the idea of jumping out and grabbing Brunis's staff, but I did not know if it had any charges left. It looked like I would have to use my short sword after all. I may be able to take a dozen down if I held the doorway, but they would eventually overwhelm me with pure numbers.

I started to pull my hand out of my haversack when I felt something. Then I remembered the wooden wand I found in Brunis's secret lair in the castle. I pulled out the twisted black stick that was about six inches long. I crept to the door and shut it most of the way, but I was in time to see the first score of goblins reach the top of the stairs.

I thrust the wand out of the room and shut the door until only a crack remained and I yelled, "Domo arigato mister roboto!"

There was a flash and I felt the backwash of heat as the fireball launched itself towards the goblins rushing up the stairs. I watched through the crack between the door and the wall as the fireball collided with the first rush of goblins.

There was an explosion of fire. The lead goblins burst into flame; some flew backwards from the impact of the spell and landed on their comrades. Still the goblins rushed on. Either they did not know what was happening ahead of them or they did not care.

"Domo arigato mister roboto!" again another explosion and again another wave of goblins went down in flames. Still they tried to push their way through the burning wreckage of their comrades.

"Domo arigato mister roboto, domo!" this time I thought for sure I could hear in a strange voice from the wand say, "Domo! Domo!" The wand released its fireball a third time and like before the tormented screams of immolated goblins filled the air, not to mention the stench.

I have to say something for goblins, when they get their blood up, they are tenacious. Wave after wave of goblin hordes rushed up those stairs and repeatedly I released a fireball. I did not know how many charges the wand had, but it could not be very many. The smoldering bodies started to form a wall that the oncoming goblins had to overcome. There were flames burning all over the place, the old fort's stone walls blackened and cracked from the blasts of fire.

Still the goblins rushed onward, I started to let them mass up once they climbed over their dead comrades so I could make the most of my remaining spells. Another blast sent the goblins flying in all directions. Finally after what felt like an eternity, but could not be more than half an hour the surviving goblins ran off in terror.

I cautiously poked my head out. The stench was overwhelming. I did not think anything could be worse than the butcher shop. Then I remembered the smell of the crispy Captain Morgan. I thought that was probably the worse smell ever. Again, I found myself corrected when I smelled the charred remains of over one hundred goblins scattered around the tower and down the stairs.

I did a quick search of the chest and table in the mage's room and only produced a flawless diamond and two sapphires. Not bad, but hardly worth the trouble I have been through. I returned to the open tower and surveyed the carnage. Fires still flickered here and there. Black corpses beyond recognition lay twisted upon the scorched and cracked flagstones. Some of the iron weapons and armor were still red from the intense heat from the repeated blasts from the wand.

I traversed my way through the rubble and charred bodies toward the stairs. I started to descend them when my foot kicked something. There on the ground and by some divine miracle sat my bow where I had dropped it. It needed a good cleaning but otherwise it was unharmed.

This little discovery put me in better spirits. I started to whistle as I made my way back to the castle.

When I reached the waterfall in the fort's cellar, I took a few minute to wash the grime and grit off my equipment and myself. I felt refreshed and renewed. I also took the time to open the portcullis.

I had no further adventures on my return to the basement inside the castle. I would occasionally see a goblin scurry away as he heard me whistling down the tunnel. But, that was the extent of my encounters. I would have to advise the Countess to contact the local Fighters Guild to exterminate these pests.

It was just after sunrise when I found myself back in the cellar. I had just finished shutting the hidden door and closing the false panel in the wheat barrel when I heard someone approach behind me.

"Halt right there! I have finally got you and I know all about you," said the voice of Reyn Braxis. I turned to see the predatory smile on his face. I could not fight him here; the Thieves Guild would dismiss me if I did. My heart sank as I looked at the guard.

Posted by deg at 06:40 PM | Comments (5)

June 13, 2007

Tiberium Letters

Part Sixteen

By Dwayne MacInnes

"That's right," Reyn said as he closed in on me. "You are no Imperial Inspector, or at least you weren't always. I know all about you."

I forced a smile upon my face, "Reyn, heh heh, let me explain." I was stalling for time. *Maybe I could bean the guardsman over the head with a piece of wood or something and make my escape before he regains consciousness*, I thought. Unfortunately, there was nothing at hand.

"Oh no, you are not escaping me this time. I recognized you at the gate," Reyn appeared to be gushing. I suppose I would too if I had just caught one of the top operatives of the Thieves Guild.

Reyn reached into his belt and thrust his arms at me. I was so exhausted from my ordeals over the night that my reflexes were slow. It took a whole five seconds to see that Reyn did not have a sword or dagger pointed at me but, instead a quill and a piece of parchment.

"Oh man! I'm like your biggest fan. The Black Arrow here at this castle I can't believe it. Please, I must have your autograph," Reyn implored.

I smiled, some of it genuine, most of it was relief. Reyn just knew me from the arena he knew nothing about my ‘other' job. I looked at the parchment and sighed. It was one of the last promotional posters made before I retired.

The arena loves to embellish its pit rats. The higher you rise in rank; the liberties taken with your body also grow. Males will find, the higher they go, the image on the posters will show them with bigger and bigger muscles despite the reality. Females on the other hand gain bigger and bigger, uh well you guessed it, breasts. But, that is not all in both case you find that the posters show you in less and less garb until you are the Grand Champion standing over a pile of bodies wearing nothing but a smile.

I would have been better off to pose for a woodcut center spread in a Pageboy circular. Fortunately, the statue in the Hall of Heroes was accurate. Granted, all the statues of the Grand Champions are nudes. It is supposed to glorify the body in an artistic way, like the statues of the gods and goddesses you find in the temples. Plus, the dwarven artists are masters and have an acute eye for detail, not for embellishment.

I took the poster and wrote, "Warmest regards to my biggest fan, Gwendolyn the Black Arrow." Reyn smiled as he read my message.

"Well, I have to return to my duties, looks like these barrels are okay," I tried to sound official. I really wanted to be off when we heard a crash.

Both Reyn and I turned in time to see Sleestak tumble out from behind some crates. He was still wearing the ragged clothes I gave him in the butcher shop. However, now he had a rag wrapped around his head to hide his missing eye. He looked very roguish.

"What are you doing here?" Reyn asked.

Sleestak looked at me, "Sleestak was waiting for..."

"I'm sure your secret will be in my report," I hoped Sleestak caught my emphasis on the optimal word.

"Uh, yeah...I was, er..."Sleestak stammered as he remembered his pledge and still tried to find a good excuse.

"Well, out with it!" snapped Reyn.

"It's not like there's a hidden passage down here," I said sarcastically while I nodded towards the hidden door. Sleestak eyes lit up. Lizard-men cannot really smile so most of their expressions register in their eyes.

"Yeah, Sleestak has just escaped from a torture chamber on the other side of that wall," Sleestak replied.

"I find that hard..."Reyn started to say as I kicked the false panel on the bottom of the barrel.

"Hello!" I exclaimed before Reyn could finish his sentence. "By Jove, Reyn! Look at this."

The guardsman looked down on the open panel; he reached inside and pulled the lever. We all watched as the door slid open.

"I had better get Captain Morgan!" Reyn exclaimed.

"NO!" yelled Sleestak. The Lizard-man grabbed Reyn with his good hand. "It is he and that minister Brunis who took Sleestak down here."

"I don't think I am going to believe some Li..." Reyn started to say with disgust.

However, I interrupted again, "Of course, excellent discovery, guardsman."

Reyn stared at me in confusion.

"It is obvious those two had to know about the entrance. Who knows how many guardsmen are involved in the plot. I will have to write your discovery down in my report," I continued.

Reyn started to perk up as it sank in. I always felt bad about what I did to Reyn and now, that I learned he did not suspect me as part of the Thieves Guild I felt even worse.

"Well, my good Lizard-man, I think you should lead us on to this torture chamber," I offered.

We followed Sleestak to the torture/butcher room. Reyn started to become sick by what he found inside the room. On my subtle advice, we continued down the long tunnel. We found the demon room and the waterfall cellar beneath the tower. The smell of burnt flesh now permeated the chamber and I did not need to lead Reyn upwards. He rushed up the stairs on his own.

He witnessed the carnage above in the tower. The bodies were still smoldering, even that of Morgan. The captain's long sword was still in the chest of Brunis.

By know Reyn was starting to get into his own. The little self-confidence I had reestablished started to take hold and flourished.

"Looks like some sort of falling out between the mage and the captain here," Reyn observed.

"Amazing deduction, guardsman," I said in feigned awe.

"Elementary, my dear Inspector. Elementary," Reyn responded smugly.

Posted by deg at 08:25 PM | Comments (0)

June 20, 2007

Tiberium Letters

Part Seventeen

By Dwayne MacInnes

I made my official report to the Countess Aversfield. On my advice, she promoted Reyn to Captain of the Guard and she made Sleestak her new minister. An investigation into the disappearance of the Lizard-folk in the surrounding area began and many a guardsman found himself off to an imperial penal colony.

The Countess had the tunnels beneath the castle cleared out of any remaining goblins. Giland started to look like a model city in the Empire. However, I was unable to stay long before I had to be back at the Imperial City.

On my return, I was surprised to find the Shadow Fox inside my house waiting for me. He was sitting next to a crackling fire in my hearth. He motioned for me to take a chair next to him.

"I hear you did some mighty fine work for the Countess. How successful were you with your primary mission?" the Shadow Fox asked.

I looked at him closely, for some reason he looked familiar. No, not because I saw him previously, I know that somewhere I had seen him without the mask. Anyway, I shook my head to gather my thoughts.

"Sorry, it has been a long and exhausting trip," I reached into my inner pocket of my cloak and handed over the letters. "Here you go. Every last one I could find."

"Good," the master thief said, "You made sure they were authentic right?"

I nodded my head.

"Good, good," the Shadow Fox responded and he tossed the letters into the fire. "I do not know what was in those letters. But, I do know the Lady Tiber confessed everything to the Emperor and he has ordered them destroyed. They are too important for anyone to get their hands on again."

"Was there anything else? It appears that Brunis had his fingers in a lot of pies and nothing should be overlooked."

"The only thing I cannot identify is this," I said as I pulled the green icicle out of my haversack.

The Shadow Fox stared at it in amazement, "Do you know what you have there?"

"Um, I think I established that I did not," I replied a little irreverently. I was tired and maybe a little short tempered.

"That's a memory stick."

"Huh?"

"Powerful mages can capture someone's entire memory within it. The person gets amnesia, but will never recover because his memories are trapped inside a memory stick."

"I wonder who was unfortunate enough to have their memory trapped inside this thing," I wondered aloud.

"There is no telling. The only way to restore the memory to the person is to break the stick," the Shadow Fox continued.

I shrugged my shoulders and placed the icicle-like object between my fingers. I started to apply pressure then I stopped.

"How will the memories find their owner?" I asked.

"Memories are part of their owner; as soon as the memories are released the person who lost them will suddenly find them regained."

"Hmm," I said and snapped the green icicle but nothing happened. "I guess it was empty."

"No it wasn't," the Shadow Fox replied. He stood up and headed for the door.

I stood up and cleared my throat, "Um, not to be rude but I thought there was supposed to be some payment for my mission."

"Sorry, it slipped my mind," the Shadow Fox undid a pouch at his belt and tossed it towards me. "This is from the Emperor. The guild will send you its payment later."

Before I could open the pouch, the Shadow Fox had disappeared out the door. Inside the pouch were ten perfect rubies and six large black pearls. It was obvious the Emperor knew something about transferring large sums of wealth discreetly. Coinage makes a lot of noise and is heavy for delivering hefty payments. Gems and jewels were lighter and quieter.

I was beaming with excitement when I heard the knock on my door. I hid my new wealth under a seat cushion and opened the door. On the front step two well-dressed men stood.

"Are you Gwendolyn?" asked one of the men.

"Oh, I'm sorry I belong to a church already," I said reflexively.

"I'm sorry we are not here from any temple. We have the unfortunate business to tell you that the Mages Guild is suing you," one of the men said as the other thrust the summons into my hand.

Posted by deg at 06:13 PM | Comments (0)

June 27, 2007

Tiberium Letters

Part Eighteen

By Dwayne MacInnes

I sat down in my chair and read the subpoena, the gist of it was that the Mages Guild was suing me for breaking one of its tenants, that of killing another guild member. Somehow, the guild has the power to divine that I was the one who killed Brunis, but was unable to figure out that I did so in self-defense.

Yet, the thing that really burns me is that the Mages Guild will allow its members to partake in any evil scheme out there in the Empire except necromancy. I actually do the Mages Guild some good by removing this blight from their rolls and I am the villain.

Fortunately, I had lawyers already. When you are the Grand Champion, you need good lawyers to protect your good image from slander, libel, and the paparazzi. I know that two Orcs and a Minotaur run the Blud, Gutz, and Gore law firm. Nevertheless, they get results.

I met with Gore; he was the Minotaur in my living room. The large half bovine, half man sat in a large chair. He was immaculately dressed in a black business suit and red silk tie and he was reading the subpoena through his square wire-framed glasses.

"Hmmm, yes I see where they are coming from. You broke one of their rules and they want monetary compensation for the victim's family," he said in a deep calm voice.

"Are you kidding me? Brunis has no family. The jerk was trying to take over the Empire -- well at least Giland," I started to say in a loud voice. "If anything I did the guild a favor by removing this poor excuse of a mage."

"I assume you have proof of this?" Gore said in a calm voice.

"Well, it was kind of a top secret mission from the Emperor which I received through the Thieves Guild," I said sheepishly.

"Yes, that is going to be tough. I doubt the Emperor will involve himself and you know the Thieves Guild has to remain anonymous," Gore sat back in the chair that groaned in protest to his large frame as he stretched out his long cow-like legs. The Minotaur pushed his glasses back up his long muzzle. "But, don't worry. We have dealt with this kind of case before. In the case of Mordor vs. Baggins we were able to get the charges of trespassing dropped."

"So do you think this will have to go to court?" I asked.

"I am pretty sure we can settle this discreetly outside of court," Gore said as he rose from the chair. The Minotaur bent low in order to keep his horns from snagging into the ceiling. He packed up his briefcase, "I am sure we can get the charges lessened if not dropped."

He turned towards me as he headed for the door. "If worse comes to worse we'll say the devil made you do it."

I stared at him for a beat, "How's that going to help?"

"Possession is nine points of the law," the Minotaur's bellowing laugh shook the room. "Seriously, it'll be okay." Gore smiled and exited the house.

I smiled also relieved; very few attorneys will make house calls. Then again, I pay them well and I am the Grand Champion.

Blud, Gutz and Gore were as good as their word. The Mages Guild dropped their lawsuit. However, they still suspended me from the guild, although I could regain membership if I produced ten vampire hearts.

While this nasty business was going on, I was still waiting for my payment from the Thieves Guild. I was starting to worry that I may have to sue the guild, which would probably lead to my expulsion from that as well. I was having a lousy week.

Then one day I received a message from the guild. I was to meet at the secret guildhall down by the docks at midnight. The guild always favored dark for its official business.

Needless to say, I was present at the appointed time. I entered the hall after saying the secret password: Peekaboo. It was strange that the guard and I were the only ones present. The door guard pointed to a room and said, "He is waiting for you in there."

I entered the room to find the Shadow Fox sitting behind his desk. He waved for me to pull up a chair.

"I hear you've been having an interesting week," the Shadow Fox said.

"To say the least, but it is all right now," I answered.

The Shadow Fox sat back in his black leather chair, "You have been probably wondering about your payment."

I nodded my head.

"Well, before I give you that I should tell you that there is a bonus involved."

I sat up straight. A bonus was rare in the Thieves Guild; we usually gave ourselves "bonuses" from whatever we found of use on the missions assigned us.

"We have found the person you restored the memory too and he is most grateful," the Shadow Fox said with a smile.

"You mean it really worked. Out of curiosity who was it?" I asked.

"Haven't you guessed?" the Shadow Fox pulled his mask off to reveal the face of Count Aversfield. "It was me."

My jaw must have dropped into the basement.

"Yes, you are probably wondering about how I came to be here. Let me start from the beginning. I was investigating the rumors of some disappearances in the surrounding villages. My minister Brunis and I were personally looking into it. Brunis, as you have probably discovered was a devious snake.

"Before we reached the first village he hits me with his memory trap spell. I fell from my horse and blacked out. The only thing I remember when I came to was that I was sure I was fully clothed.

"That's right; the villain stole my belongings and left me naked in the wilderness. I walked for a while until I found some rags hanging out to dry. I stole the clothes and was about to leave when an elderly man accosted me.

"'By what right are you stealing my clothes?' he yelled at me. ‘Who do you think you are?' I did not know myself and just told him that I had somehow lost my memory.

"The old man looked at my hands, "Your calluses show that you know how to use a sword. However, the manicure says you are, or I should say were, a man of some wealth.

"It turned out I had stumbled upon the home of one of the former Shadow Foxes. Yes -- that is right -- there have been multiple Shadow Foxes. In any case, the old man taught me the trade. I had little trouble rising through the ranks until I succeeded the last Shadow Fox.

"For the last ten years I have been the master of the Thieves Guild. Now, that my memory has been restored to me in payment I pass the mantle onto you."

I think my jaw dropped into the sub-basement.

The Shadow Fox laughed, "Don't worry the only ones who will know about the transfer of power will be the local guild leaders. They will maintain your secret. Plus, it is time I went home."

I stood up, "How will you explain your absence?"

"Easy, I fell off my horse and got amnesia," the Shadow Fox laughed.

So, that is how I saved the Empire and became master of the Thieves Guild. I did eventually regain my membership into the Mages Guild and save the Empire again from evil, but that is of course, another tale.

Posted by deg at 05:00 PM | Comments (1)

July 04, 2007

Land of the Damned

By Dwayne MacInnes

James briskly walked up the stone path where Peter was waiting. Peter appeared lost in thought as he stroked his long gray beard and did not notice the tanned faced man approach.

"Peter," James said softly. Peter jumped, as he was startled out of his reverie by James's voice. "I have returned from the horsemen. They are ready."

Peter sighed, "I suppose I shall tell him. Maybe I can ask him to postpone the attack. The time is not yet nigh."

James nodded, "You may try. But remember his ways do not always make sense to us."

With that, Peter walked along the cobbled path leading him to the stone walled garden. The wall was low and Peter could see his Lord sitting on a bench staring into a pool surrounded by colorful flowers. The wooden gate opened noiselessly as Peter entered; nonetheless, the sad brown eyes of his Lord looked up and watched Peter approach.

"Messiah, all is ready. But it is not..." Jesus held up his hand stopping Peter in mid sentence.

"I know, Peter, it is not yet our time," the Lord looked again into the still surface of the water.

"Yet these mortals believe they can hasten my return by making prophecies come true. They are mistaken. They do not control events but instead the Father does. They believe they have a place waiting for them in paradise. Yet in their own arrogance, they have forsaken all that I have taught.

"They claim to know my words, yet they do not heed them," Jesus sighed.

"Did you know Peter, I cried when those terrorists flew the planes into the towers and their Pentagon killing thousands of innocent people. Instead of stepping back and trying to bring peace to the world, they said I did it to punish those in their country who did not agree with their politics. Then they went on a rampage of war attacking countries saying it was their fault and they were trying to forestall a second attack."

Peter chuckled, "Lucifer sure was pleased to take the terrorists. Imagine their surprise to find that they were not going to a heaven full of virgins."

"Peter, I cried for them too. They too could have done more to bring peace amongst the world. However, the sword is always easier to wield than the olive branch.

"No, no Peter. These Americans need to have their arrogance revealed. They take pride in their faith. They claim to be the most faithful nation on Earth. They try to make their country a theocracy.

"How do they prove their faith?" the Lord asked rhetorically. Peter knew that he was no longer involved in a conversation. Jesus was now revealing the fiber of which the American cloth was weaved.

"They start wars in my name. My name! They forget I said, 'Love thy enemy'i and 'He who lives by the sword shall die by the sword.'ii

"They say, 'God is with us' when they should be saying, 'We are with God'."

Jesus' voice raised as anger began to burn inside him, "Look at how they treat their poor." The Lord flung his arm out towards the pool. Images of people, some composed of individuals and others were of families, all lined up at shelters flashed upon the watery surface.

"They cut programs to help the needy and give tax breaks for the wealthy. They claim the poor are 'lazy' and should not have any assistance at all.iii They want social programs cut or abolished because it takes too much of their precious money. THEIR money! All things belong to the Lord God."

"They have forgotten I am the Living God. I still walk amongst them though they do not know it. I will show up as poor person asking for change only to be denied. Alternatively, I become a homeless person trying to gain admittance into a church only to be turned away at the doors.

"I have dwelled in their shelters, I have stood in their welfare lines, and I have attended their churches.

"I once became an AIDS victim and I approached a Televangelist. The man said my disease was a curse from God.

"I then went to a preacher in a conservative church. He turned me out and said the Father hated my kind.

"I finally went to a homosexual man and he took me to the hospital. He made sure I received the proper care and even paid for my treatments.

"The first two only saw a person who they reviled. They did not know nor did they care how I came about my disease. The gay man showed true compassion and took pity upon me. I ask you to whom will the Father show his love.

"Peter, they build mega churches in my name. Then like the Temple of old, they have shops inside to make money.iv It is quantity and not quality with them, in riches as well as souls.

"Their church leaders teach that I want them to have money. It is my blessing that they should have a new car every year. Their treasures on Earth are my reward for a pious life.v

"Pah! These hypocrites. These modern-day Pharisees! For that is what they have become. I do not care for golden statues made of me. They will learn that the seats in heaven are not built on the works of gold but by deeds.

"They are the wealthiest nation on the planet and yet they have the worse social welfare system. A person needs to have insurance to seek medical attention. The poor elect to stay home and die because they cannot afford to go to a hospital. If they do go, their families are burdened with the cost of their care.

"Peter look at what they are doing to the planet. To their mind, it is of more importance to maintain employment or financial gain at the expense of their environment. They do not look at the long term that when they have finally ravished the planet no amount of money is going to save any of them."

Jesus returned to the bench and looked long into the pool. Peter stood silently off to one side patiently waiting.

"They seem to have a firm grasp on the Old Testament and Revelations, but somehow missed the Gospels and the letters of Paul. They think they can bring about my return by 'fulfilling' the prophecies in Revelations. They are mistaken.vi

"I shall send them a sign. We will see how they will interpret it. If they expect The Rapture let me see how they will react when I begin with the smallest and most insignificant.

"Maybe, just maybe they will turn from their conceited and evil ways for they would all be condemned if I came today."





i Matthew 5:43-48

ii Mathew 26:51-52

iii Proverbs 21:13

iv Mark 11:15-17

v Matthew 6:19-21

vi Matthew 24:36-51

Posted by deg at 06:06 AM | Comments (1)

July 11, 2007

The Scout

Chapter 1

By Dwayne MacInnes

Scott sped his dirty black muscle car down the battered pockmarked road that used to be Interstate 94. Dirt swirled in the air behind him leaving a telltale cloud resembling smoke from a burning vehicle. A destroyed and burning vehicle was a sight very familiar to Scott. Many of those vehicles were ones he destroyed; others were the victims of the roving packs of wasters.

The sun was high in the sky and its heat beat mercilessly down upon the parched wasteland. Over a decade ago, this all would have been part of the American Breadbasket. Now, it was the Great American Desert or as most people called it -- The Wastes. Scott took a sip from his water bottle as the car bumped down the rough highway. The warm water felt great washing away the dust and dirt coating the inside of his mouth, which was brought on by days of traveling through this sun baked and weathered land. The dead gray skeletal trees passed by in a vast sea of hard packed earth, most of the loose topsoil had blown away long ago.

1970 Dodge Charger

A quick scan of the monitor mounted in the dash told Scott that he had company joining him from the rear. Boiler plating now replaced the rear and side windows of the 1970 Dodge Charger. A modest slit in both the driver and passenger's side steel plated windows allowed Scott to scan his mirrors. The windshield was reinforced bulletproof glass. Other modifications included the steel armor that encased the former muscle car, bulletproof tires, a beefed up suspension, an enclosed environmentally controlled cab, and a larger more powerful turbocharged engine to pull the heavier car. Two huge fifty-gallon self-sealing gas tanks took up the rear seat. There were no fears of gas shortages anymore. Not since the Big Bang that is. Nestled between the tanks were Scott's provisions and his .30-06 hunting rifle.

The camera mounted in the trunk revealed a gang of bikers closing in on Scott's Charger. Chances are that this meant trouble, but there was always the chance that these were Light Scouts escorting a convoy. Scott readied the two .30 caliber machineguns mounted inside the front fenders. The two .50s mounted outside the fenders Scott kept in reserve. He did not like to waste the ammo if he could avoid it. Being a Scout paid well, but .50 ammo still tended to be pricey.

Scott had been driving close to 100 miles per hour before he noticed the bikers. His car could easily do 120 or even 130 if he pushed it. Even with the problems of maneuvering a heavy car like this at high speeds, it would not be a problem on the old straight North Dakota highway as it bisected the horizon, diminishing in the distance. However, Scott did not want to run, he gradually slowed the Charger down. The roar of the engine relaxed to a purr as the vehicle reached 80. The bikers rapidly closed in.

Ding! Ding! Bullets from the light rifles (probably .30-06 hunting rifles) on the bikes told Scott that these were not friends. The small caliber rifle fire could not penetrate the Charger's armor; nonetheless, Scott did not like the idea of someone shooting at him. He waited until the bikers were close to his rear before he slammed on the brakes.

The bikers were caught by surprised. They evidently had never dealt with a Scout before. Two of the cyclists slammed into the trunk crushed between their bikes and the rear armor. Four others shot around the Charger and regrouped in front of it. Scott smiled behind his helmet; these wasters were obviously new to the game. He accelerated and depressed the finger trigger mounted behind the steering wheel. The .30 guns opened up tearing one biker to shreds before the Charger pounced upon the motorcycle's wreckage like a tiger on a deer. There was a slight bump inside the cab as Scott drove over the waster and his bike.

Two bikers peeled off in opposite directions and headed for the open land, the third tried to outrun the Charger on the road. The lighter motorcycle was pretty much stock from its original construction. Whatever modifications done to it was the mounting of a rifle to the front and maybe some engine work. Therefore, it took off like a jackrabbit before a hound.

The bike may be faster and more maneuverable than the modified Charger. However, there is one thing it was not. Scott depressed the trigger again. The .30 guns spat fire and steel at the fleeing waster. Within seconds, driver and cycle were just another smoking pile of broken wreckage on the highway.

These wasters were inexperienced; then again, no one since the Big Bang had decided to scout out the northern roads before. The wasters were more than likely used to preying on helpless nomads or the occasional lightly guarded convoy trying a new and unsecured route. However, once this road was open to trade the Twin Cities could join the rest of the recuperating United States.

Posted by deg at 06:35 PM | Comments (3)

July 18, 2007

The Scout

Chapter 2

By Dwayne MacInnes

Two months before, the U.S. was surprised to hear a message from St Paul, Minnesota. The atmospherics were just right for the message to make its way west. After the Big Bang, the upper atmosphere had dramatically changed. Super windstorms ripped through the air. The raging winds tore planes that flew too high to shreds. Rock storms occurred after the winds ripped stones and boulders off mountain peaks and tossed them to the earth below.

The message was short but it indicated that St Paul was alive and was looking for fellow survivors. The U.S. government desperately needed a secure spot in the Midwest to secure a northern trade route to the eastern seaboard. Scott's job was to secure that route.

Abandoned and wrecked vehicles choked Interstate 94 just before Scott reached Minneapolis. The short radio conversation the new government had with St Paul warned of the various gangs and warlords who now ruled the city west of the Mississippi. Scott had no choice but to turn off and make his way through the unfriendly territory. Years of being a scout trained Scott to be extra cautious in cities. Wasters on the open highway were a lot easier to deal with than combating hostiles in a labyrinthine city. Old maps were of little use as the gangs would have changed the landscape significantly to lure the unsuspecting into a trap.

Scott was not new to this, but he still had very little knowledge of the current layout of Minneapolis. What roads were unblocked? Which one led to St Paul? The map on his monitor was at least twelve years out of date.

The black ‘70 Dodge Charger slowly wound its way through the wreckage and debris of Minneapolis in the morning twilight. Although, the missiles had overlooked it, the plague had done some of its own work here. That fateful day over twelve years ago released the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse upon the Earth. No country no matter how remote was unscathed. If the nukes did not get you, the biological and chemical weapons did

The warring gangs had left Minneapolis a burned-out and shattered city. The ravaged IDS building resembled a mangled and blackened skeletal hand clawing its way up towards the heavens like a drowning person desperately reaching for help. It was as good a representation of the dead city as any monument could ever be.

Scott was surprised that he had made his way onto University Avenue inside Dinky Town without encountering any of the gangs reputed to dwell inside this debris-filled metropolis. The trek here had taken the scout past the destroyed buildings of the University of Minnesota and he spied the burned out husk of the Metrodome in the distance.

Suddenly fire spread across the windshield. Someone had tossed a Molotov cocktail onto the hood of the Charger. Scott instinctively hit the switch for the camera mounted under the hood. The black and white image on the monitor was not that easy to navigate with, but it was a lot better than trying to see through flames.

Nonetheless, Scott put his foot down on the accelerator. The old car rapidly picked up speed. The flames flew backwards over the windshield with its flammable liquid trailing behind. Next, a heavy foam shot onto the bulletproof glass as Scott flipped another switch, dousing the flames. The wipers made easy work cleaning the rest of the mess off the windshield.

A flip of yet another switch returned the view from the trunk-mounted camera onto the monitor. A small red Toyota truck with a half-dozen gang members was trying to catch up with the Charger. Scott smiled, now the cat was out of the bag. Bullets fired from small personal arms dinged off the rear armor inflicting no more damage than some scratched paint.

Scott scanned the road ahead looking for anything that might help him turn the tables on his pursuers. Then he spied the old pitted parking lot outside a burned out Baker's Square. Scott hopped the Charger over the sidewalk and onto the lot, he drove the car past the burned out restaurant and back onto a side road. Without losing speed, Scott pulled the car back onto University, but this time he was heading back towards Minneapolis and the beat-up red Toyota truck.

Red Toyota Pickup

The driver of the truck was clearly surprised to see the Charger now coming towards him. His fellow gang members opened up with everything they had as the muscle car approached them in a high-speed version of "Chicken".

Scott was not interested in playing games with these guys. He did not hesitate to open up with his valuable .50 machine guns. The solid rounds punched through the red truck like a sharp pencil puncturing a sheet of paper. The truck swaggered and black smoke poured out from under the hood. Many of the gang members dropped down inside the truck bed to escape the putrid and oily smoke.

Scott swerved his car onto the sidewalk on his right as he shot past the speeding and nearly out of control truck. As the red vehicle sped past, Scott wrenched the steering wheel hard to his left as he hit the breaks. The Charger's tires squealed in protest as he swung the car behind the truck.

The surprised gang members in the truck bed started to pound on the rear window of the Toyota's cab. The driver, who had remarkably survived the onslaught of .50 bullets, took a quick glance back to see Scott hot on his tail. He tried to make the truck accelerate, but he engine was all but dead. Only more black smoke belched out from under the hood. He then tried to swerve the truck out of way of the Charger's guns.

More deadly projectiles spat out of the .50 guns as Scott depressed the thumb button on his steering wheel. Only a short burst was need to chew up the truck. The speeding wreckage soon lost all control and flew off the road and into a building on its right. Flames shot into the sky as the truck impacted into the side of the old brick building.

Posted by deg at 07:35 PM | Comments (0)

July 25, 2007

The Scout

Chapter 3

By Dwayne MacInnes

The black 1970 Charger slowed as it approached the checkpoint on University Avenue leading into Minnesota's old capital. The barricade's construction composed of an old MTCO bus some cement highway medians and two menacing M-2 Browning machineguns each mounted on top of a military humvee.

The soldiers looked in half disbelief to see the modified black muscle car approach. One soldier wearing sergeant stripes on his arm held his hand up ordering Scott to halt. Scott complied and slowly climbed out, took off his helmet, and tossed it onto the driver's seat. His short brown hair was greasy from days of living in his car. Gray dust covered his black leather jacket and pants. A steel star badge with the words U.S. Scout was pinned to his left side of his chest. On his right hip rested a holstered .357 Magnum revolver

"You the scout sent from out west?" asked the sergeant with incredulity.

"That'd be me," Scott smiled. He remembered getting a similar reaction about two years ago when he reached St Louis, Missouri and five years ago when he entered Austin, Texas.

"The governor and his deputies will be waiting to see you at the capitol. Just follow University Avenue you can't miss it."

"Thanks," Scott smiled as he reentered his car. One of the soldiers drove the bus back to allow Scott to pass. The other three soldiers watched in surprise as the scout passed them.

It was before noon when Scott pulled his Charger up to the Capital building. It took him a couple of minutes to drive around the curved road that led around the structure. When he drove up to the front, Scott parked his car in front of a battered "No Parking" sign. Scott chuckled to himself as a small delegation approached the Charger.

The scout climbed out of the car and waited for the small group to approach. He was happy to breathe fresh air again. However, technically the air in his car's cab was more pure than what he could breathe outdoors. There were still traces of radiation and other pollutants floating around.

"Mr. Malice," a smiling older thin man approached with his hand extended. "We are very glad to see you."

Scott accepted the man's grip and pumped his hand in a firm handshake. "Governor Trimble I presume," Scott replied.

"Yes, and these are my chief advisors," Trimble motioned to the men behind him. "The man in the uniform is Security Chief, Lieutenant Reynolds," the man in military battle dress uniform or BDU nodded. "This is my secretary Mr. Malcolm," Trimble pointed to a young man wearing a suit similar to Trimble's suit. "And finally, my economic advisor, Mr. Mitchell," the governor introduced the short round man that appeared a few years older than Scott did.

"Is Malice your real name?" Reynolds asked after the introduction.

"Does it matter?" Scott replied.

"I suppose it doesn't," Reynolds chuckled to himself.

"Anyway, it is the name that was on my birth certificate before it was consumed in a mushroom cloud that destroyed Seattle," Scott said grimly.

The Governor was escorting the small group back towards the capitol building. Two men wearing army fatigues and shouldering M-16s guarded the entrance. "They got Seattle too," Mitchell said sadly.

"Yep, most of the big cities were nuked. The smaller ones were hit with the plague bombs or chemical weapons and those that escaped all of the above felt the effects of radiation and/or the flu. No one got away unscathed," Scott replied.

"We've been mostly in the dark this last decade," Reynolds offered. "We are isolated from the rest of the United States stuck here in the middle of the Wastes. Hell, the only reason we are still here is because we can get some farming done down by the Mississippi and in the surrounding areas close to the cities."

"How about Washington, D.C?" Malcolm asked.

"It got the trifecta, nuclear, biological and chemical. Portland, Oregon is now the Capitol of the United States. It is the largest city still intact to boot."

"Son of a gun, Oregon," Mitchell pronounced the last syllable of the state's name as ‘gone' instead of the correct ‘gen' with a hard ‘g'. Scott would have thought the economic advisor was mocking him except for the astonishment in Mitchell's voice. Scott let it pass, more than likely it was just a local dialect.

"How'd it start?" Reynolds asked grimly.

"Beats me," Scott shrugged his shoulders. "I was a pizza delivery boy trying to make my way through the Vo-Tech when it all came down."

Scott remembered the day. He was in Missoula, Montana driving a delivery for Domino's Pizza when the emergency air raid sirens started to blare around town. Scott did not even know Missoula had such sirens until that moment. The news on his radio reported that a nuclear explosion occurred in Great Falls. The last piece of news was that Spokane went up in a nuclear fireball. Then that was it. All communication across the country broke down.

Fires burning around the world, from both forests and cities, threw enough debris into the air to block the sun out for months. People came down with a mysterious flu that swept through the cities leaving more dead than alive. Those poor pathetic few who survived the Big Bang now had to endure the cold of a nuclear winter and starvation.

It was a good two years before the first scouts reached Missoula. Portland, Oregon was the new seat of the reemerging U.S. of A. Through the efforts of the scouts, they secured routes all along the western coast, through the southwest and on to the eastern seaboard. The ties reuniting the country were tenuous.

Wasters played havoc through the interior of the nation. They would raid and destroy precious convoys of fuel, food, and medical supplies. Many outfits now traveled in convoys escorted by Light Scouts and heavier defensive vehicles.

Scott had joined up with the U.S. Scouts over five years ago. It is one of the best paying jobs out there. Unfortunately, the life expectancy of a scout was a little over one year; the only job that could arguably be worse was being a salvager, they tended to last only a few months. Scott fit naturally into the role. He personally modified the Charger he now drove, he could automatically calculate his gas mileage in his head, handled his guns as if he was born with them in his hands, and he was a loner by nature.

To many, he was a legend and a hero. Wasters had bounties out for him. Many Scouts tried to copy Scott and few succeeded. He was the best there was and that was the reason why the president personally chose him to open up the route to the Twin Cities.

Posted by deg at 10:24 PM | Comments (0)

August 01, 2007

The Scout

Chapter 4

By Dwayne MacInnes

The popular joke that passed around from city to city was, "What's the best way to stop Global Warming? Answer: A nuclear winter." It seemed that no matter the number of people who had died, or the tragedies witnessed by everyone. Not even the threat of starvation, wasters, or muties could quash man's desire to crack jokes about his predicament. Scott figured as long as people could still joke and laugh they had a fighting chance for survival.

The governor and his advisors sat around a large table in a conference room. Scott Malice was standing in front of the group. He was not much of a public speaker, but he tended to get the job done in his own frank and honest way.

"Gentlemen, St Paul is of utmost importance to the new United States of America. Other than St Louis, no other Midwestern city survived the Big Bang. We desperately need a northern trade route to the east, and St Paul is the key." Scott looked around the room. Until now the men in the room only thought that they needed the U.S. not that the U.S. needed them.

"You have several factors here that make you one of the most important cities not only in the Midwest, but also in the new United States. Obviously, as I said you are one of two surviving cities in the region that will help tie the two coasts of the country together. However, of great importance is the Ford assembling plant you have. We are hoping that the plant and the hydroelectric dam that operate it are still operational." Scott paused to look over at Mr. Mitchell. The plump man nodded his head in an affirmative gesture.

"Good, you also have some factories in the surrounding area that manufactured mid-caliber ammo that we also hope is operational."

"Yes, they are Mr. Malice. In fact, they are being operated now in order to keep our defense forces armed," Mitchell offered.

Scott resumed, "That is excellent. Another major point is the Prairie Island Nuclear Power Plant and the Monticello Nuclear Generating Plant. I'm assuming that because you still have power one or both of them are still functioning."

"Yes sir, we have military outposts manning them. The warlords would love to get their hands on them," Lt. Reynolds replied. "Prairie is about fifty miles southeast of us so we have the logistical advantage over Minneapolis. However, they still occasionally make raids.

"Unfortunately, the Monticello plant is 40 miles northwest of the Twin Cities so the warlords have the advantage there. Our hold there is tenuous; fortunately the warlords tend to fight more amongst themselves than against us."

"Mr. Reynolds," began the scout "neither of those plants can fall into hostile hands. We'll be able to help you clean up Minneapolis as the trade routes become more secure. However, we cannot allow hostiles to control the power."

"Mr. Malice, I appreciate your admiration of our city," replied Mr. Reynolds sincerely. "However, what you ask cannot happen. We do not have the combat vehicles we need to support both outposts and to secure our borders from the wasters and the warlords."

Scott smiled, "Not yet, but you have the means. You've seen my car. Gentlemen, you have to use your imagination. I know you have several fine engineers in the city let them loose, let them modify some of those cars sitting alongside the road into something formidable.

"Modify that Ford plant so that it can fit armor and weapons onto those vehicles. Make those guns and ammo, and then unleash them onto your opponents."

Governor Trimble jumped up from the table. A laugh broke out from his mouth, "By God, you are right. It won't be easy, but for the first time since the Big Bang, I feel that we can start moving forward."

After the meeting, Scott found a nice room in a local hotel to sleep in. How long was it since he slept in a bed? Scott could not remember. There was even hot water another rare commodity, if only they had some soap. Well, you couldn't have everything, Scott reminded himself.

Although, St Paul did not have any of the new currency consisting of gold Sacagawea dollars or silver Eagle half dollars to give Scott for his services they did offer him food and reloads for his guns and gas for his car. He would soon be heading back toward the west to announce his findings to help secure the new trade route. Scott told the governor that in a few weeks another scout should be heading in from the east to help secure the route that way.

It was only a week after his arrival to St Paul that Scott found himself heading back west. Warlords and wasters would be more alert now. The return trip was always the hardest.

Posted by deg at 05:00 PM | Comments (0)

August 08, 2007

The Scout

Chapter 5

By Dwayne MacInnes

Once again, Scott weaved his way through the labyrinthine streets of Minneapolis. The gangs had obviously moved a few things around since Scott's arrival.

Wrecked vehicles now blocked roads that were once open and roads that once obstructed were now clear of obstacles. His guns were primed and Scott was prepared to meet any car, truck, or van that the warlords decided to send against him.

During his week stay, Governor Trimble and his advisors informed Scott about the local warlords. The several small gangs tended to be more interested in small turf wars amongst each other and posed no real threat to St Paul. However, three major warlords had established clear defined territories in Minneapolis.

The largest was the "Killaz"; they controlled the center and were notorious for exacting revenge on anyone who crossed their path. They had a large cache of military grade arms. A smaller but almost as effective group was the "Death Heads" they favored smaller more maneuverable attack groups. They had a dedicated suicide squad made up of bicyclists that could easily make their way through the debris-ridden metropolis. The third and final group was the "Mikaz". The Mikaz, unlike the Death Heads, favored larger vehicles. They owned several large garbage trucks that they had modified so that they could quickly remove barriers to allow the smaller vehicles to pass by any obstacles. These trucks were also most effective in using their hydraulic forks to lift up the backend of vehicles, either tossing them into the back of the truck or upending them.

Scott hoped that the warlords were still more interested in each other than they were in his small armored vehicle. It had been a week since his surprise entrance so it was possible that the warlords had forgotten him. On the other hand, the warlords had a week in which to prepare a trap for him.

The scout wound his way through the debris and obstacles. Scott itched to get back on the open road where he had room to maneuver, and he could bring the Charger up to a faster speed. As it were, Scott felt that he could make better time if he just got out and walked. Of course, the scout would last about as long as that proverbial snowball in Hell if he did leave his vehicle.

Scott was lost in thought and had been to listening to the droning engine when a loud ‘thump' echoed off the passenger door. Scott quickly glanced out his passenger side port to notice that a bicyclist had smacked his rearview mirror as he passed by. From the way the cyclist held his hand, the reward for his action against the reinforced mirror was a broken hand.

Anger exploded inside Scott's head. He took it very personal when someone tried to damage his car. The scout slammed his foot down onto the accelerator and the Charger leaped after the fleeing cyclist. The white skull on the cyclist black hooded sweatshirt and the bike he rode told Scott whom he was dealing with.

The cyclist weaved back and forth and rode the mountain bike over piles of debris with little problem despite a broken left hand. Scott tried to bring his guns to bear but the small target proved too maneuverable. However, the distance between the bike and the car were quickly evaporating. In a matter of seconds, Scott would feel the satisfying crunch of cyclist and bike under the wheels of his vehicle.

Just before the front bumper could touch the bike's rear tire, the Death Head member sharply turned the bike and shot down a small alley before Scott could react to follow.

Cursing to himself Scott fumed shortly about the cyclist before he glanced down to his monitor to see a large green Waste Management truck barreling down on him from behind. Normally Scott would just accelerate away from the large truck. Unfortunately, the obstacles in the road would not allow that. His second choice would be to wheel the Charger around so that he could bring his weapons to bear. But, the roads were too narrow. As it was Scott was doing everything he could to keep the distance from the garbage truck.

Suddenly, the road in front of the Charger exploded, filling the air with chunks of concrete, smoke, and fire.

Posted by deg at 05:00 PM | Comments (0)

August 15, 2007

The Scout

Chapter 6

By Dwayne MacInnes

The chunks of concrete bounced harmlessly off the three-inch thick windshield. The fireball hid from view the road ahead and Scott felt the Charger slam into a large crater. Fortunately, his forward momentum was enough for the car to plow through the crumbled road to resume its flight from the garbage truck. The green truck had no problem driving over the new pothole.

Scott glanced up through his windshield to spy a person on top a blackened brick building aiming a LAW rocket at his car. A shiver went up his spine. The Charger could withstand small arms fire with no damage and could survive medium arms with slight, but a rocket could very well destroy the vehicle. At the last second before the LAW fired, Scott veered his car onto the sidewalk closest to the rocket armed gang member. The rocket flew past the Charger and slammed into the road where the Charger would have been.

Consequently, the exploding projectile was close enough to blow the front right tire off the Waste Management truck. The huge truck suddenly lurched forward and down as the missing wheel flew in the air. The inertia of the huge vehicle flung the rear of the truck into the air, flipping the vehicle down the road.

The large green truck smashed into the street right behind the fleeing Charger. Steel, concrete, and glass exploded into the air. The ‘ping' of small debris ricocheted off the rear armor of the black muscle car.

Scott was about to sigh in relief before he saw a yellow school bus several yards in front of him suddenly pull out and stop blocking the road. Scott knew that even if he punched through the thin metal skin of the bus the heavy steel chassis would ensnare his car. The Charger would suffer entanglement as effectively as if the LAW had blown away his front tires.

There was only one option left to the scout and it was a long shot. Instead, of slowing down Scott punched the accelerator and the Charger responded like the spurred steed it was named after. The black car leapt forward and the engine roared as if in anger.

Scott aimed the vehicle toward an area of the road where the hot summers had buckled the concrete. With any luck, it would give the heavy scout vehicle the lift it needed.

The front tires bounced up on the concrete and the rear tires dug as for a final leap off the natural ramp. The armored muscle car did not exactly fly through the air, but it did attain enough lift to carry it four feet above the ground before it slammed into the side of the bus. The Charger was heavy enough that its momentum carried it through the side of the bus. Scott fought for control as his car smashed through the yellow metal side and through the green chairs inside. The front of the Charger protruded from the opposite side of the bus as the rear tires came down onto the bus's floor. This gave the car one last spurt of speed to carry it the rest of the way through the wrecked bus.

The Charger bounced as it regained its treading on the road past the bus. One last explosion filled the air as a LAW rocket exploded into the side of the bus. More steel and glass rained down onto the armored vehicle causing no more harm than scratching the black paint on the roof of the car.

The rest of the trip was uneventful as Scott finally reached the open road outside of the Twin Cities. He knew he would need to inspect his .50 machine guns for any damage. Even if both guns suffered damage, it would be a small price to pay for his survival. The escape from Minneapolis was one of the worst gauntlets Scott had ever run.

Posted by deg at 05:37 PM | Comments (0)

August 22, 2007

The Scout

Chapter 7

By Dwayne MacInnes

Once the Twin Cities were far behind him, Scott pulled the Charger over at an abandoned rest stop. The neglected buildings where weathered and battered by time and the elements. The roof of one building was missing; either it had been torn off by a tornado or collapsed from heavy snow. Scott did not bother to investigate; he was more concerned with the state of his vehicle.

A scout's car was his life. It was reminiscent of the days of the old west, where if a cowboy's horse turned up lame while out in the desert his chance of survival were seriously diminished. That was a major reason why cars from the sixties and seventies were preferred to newer cars by the scouts. It was paramount to have a car that could survive a lot of punishment.

In the last couple of decades of the twentieth century, automobile manufacturers started making cars that would purposely absorb the damage with crumple zones so that the passengers would survive while the car would not. That was not the case nowadays. If you lost your car in the Wastes, you were lost as well. It was better to die in a good car than to survive a wreck in a ruined car.

Fortune smiled upon Scott once again. By some divine miracle, his .50s had survived without a scratch. Other than scraped paint, the Charger was in tiptop condition. The scout jumped back into his vehicle and proceeded down the old battered highway.

Rest of the trip through Minnesota was relatively uneventful. While crossing into North Dakota, Scott had to take a wide detour around the ruins of Fargo. His Geiger-counter clicked madly indicating that the radiation from the nuked city was still dangerously high.

On the far side of Fargo as the sun was starting to set, the sky suddenly began to turn green. Scott knew the signs of a tornado well enough. The wind started to pick up and a smattering of rain began to fall. He had once seen a noonday turn as black as moonless midnight as green clouds blocked the sunlight before a tornado ripped through the area. He knew he needed to find shelter quickly before he was caught in one of nature's furies.

Scott quickly scanned the horizon for a depression or an overpass where he could hide. All that he saw was smoke blowing up and rapidly dissipating in the rising wind. Scott inwardly groaned at the sight. It went against his better judgment. Hell, it went against the rules of being a Scout. However, Scott still had a conscience, and he needed to investigate the smoke.

Scott accelerated towards the smoke rising from the ground. As the distance closed, the scout noticed the wreckage of some kind of vehicle burning on the side of the road. This could be a trap by wasters to ambush a scout; it had happened so much in the past that the government did not allow scouts to investigate wrecks. However, Scott could not live with himself if did not try to at least help someone who was in need.

Plus, this was highly unlikely to be a trap. What waster would hide in ambush while a tornado was brewing in the Wastes? As the Charger approached the wreckage, Scott recognized that it was a Subaru Outback lying on its side in flames with a smashed camping trailer burning behind it.

Subaru Outback

Scott pulled the Charger over behind the wreckage. The natural light was rapidly fading and the flickering illumination from the fanning flames revealed the bodies of two adults on the side of the road. Scott ran over to them, but they were now beyond his help. The man and woman thrown from the vehicle left mangled bodies twisted upon the hard packed and uncaring earth.

The scout started to trot back to his car when a muffled noise reached his ears above the rising wind and rain. At first, Scott thought it may be a trick of the wind, but he heard it again. It sounded like a moaning. Not the moaning one heard from a mutie caught in mad fury and agony, but the sound of a person in pain. Scott quickly ran towards the source of the moan.

He was having a hard time locating the source in the little light reaching him from the burning wreckage. The rain pelting him now mercilessly turned the unrelenting ground into a slick surface. The mud sucked his feet into the mire threatening to rip his boots off; fortunately, Scott had securely tied them to his feet.

Scott was about to face the inevitable and leave the poor victim to his or her fate if he could not find him or her. The storm was brewing itself up into a ferocious state and Scott would have to return to his car and find shelter fast.

Then there was one last moan and Scott looked over in the direction it came from. There lying on the ground appeared to be a boy of about ten or eleven his blond hair plastered to his head by the rain. He was unconscious and a quick examination revealed no broken bones. In another time, it was best to leave a victim lay until help arrived. Those days were long gone now.

Scott scooped the boy into his arms and, as quickly as he could in the driving wind and rain on a slick and sticky surface, made his way back to the car. Scott lowered the passenger seat as far back as it would go and laid the boy upon it. Then he quickly jumped into the driver's seat and raced the Charger down the old interstate, hoping to find shelter.

The sky was now completely black; the rain fell upon the vehicle as if it was caught in a waterfall. The wind tried to force the car off the road. Scott turned on the front camera with its low-light amplification. The monitor's black and white image was all Scott had in which to navigate.

Then two things happened almost at the same time. The thump of a small stone fell upon the roof the car and the clicking of the Geiger started to increase. If Scott did not find shelter fast, he would find himself caught in the middle of a radioactive tornado storm.

Posted by deg at 05:00 PM | Comments (0)

August 29, 2007

The Scout

Chapter 8

By Dwayne MacInnes

The clicking rapidly increased and the stones started pelting the car from above regularly. The black and white image on the monitor only revealed empty road ahead. Nonetheless, Scott continued to race down the interstate. He fought for control of the car as the wind and rain slicked highway tried to force him off onto the muddy earth alongside it.

If Scott lost the surface of the battered highway and wound up in some abandoned field, he was as good as dead. The car's massive weight would sink her into the mud. Scott and his passenger would likely be stuck inside, as the car would sink up to the doors. The scout did not worry about wasters apprehending his vehicle because he had a self-destruct or dead man's switch installed. He just had to push the right combination on the toggle switches below the dash and small explosives would detonate on the huge gas tanks. No, that was not his main worry. But, the slow starvation and dehydration inside his steel coffin would be his main concern, because there would not be any chance of rescue out here.

Then an eerie glow began to manifest itself off into the distance outside the windshield. Fluorescent green lightning flashed and illuminated a sickly green funnel cloud, which was streaked with gray debris, was miles ahead on the horizon. The deep rumble of the thunder forced its way over the thumping rocks and the ferociously clicking Geiger-counter. Scott's situation just got even worse.

The funnel raced toward Scott as if it had a single objective and that was to swallow the small car inside its huge and hungry form. The green lightening flashed angrily around the malevolent funnel cloud revealing the debris swirling maddening inside it.

The rocks pounding on the car were starting to become larger as the storm flung boulders in its fury. The stones were now becoming serious obstacles on the rough road. If one of the larger stones hit the Charger there was a great chance of it doing serious damage. Occasionally a stone the size of a man would crash into the road ahead showering the air with smashed concrete.

Sweat beaded on Scott's brow, he cursed under his breath as he fought for control of the car. He needed to find shelter. There was nothing behind him for many miles. A boulder ripped from a distant mountaintop and the size of the vehicle itself plummeted into the side of the road as the Charger passed. The momentum of the huge stone caused it to bounce over the vehicle as the Charger sped down the rain soaked and debris-ridden road. Mud and dirty water splashed against the passenger's side of the car. The unrelenting rain made visibility out the windshield a near impossibility forcing Scott to rely on the black and white imaging on the monitor.

Lightning struck an old withered tree in front of the Charger on the left hand side of the road. The dead tree quickly flashed into flames as it started to tumble onto the old interstate ahead. Scott accelerated even more in order to beat the burning tree before it blocked his path. The Charger started to fishtail yet Scott continued on his race. The black car shot underneath the tree just before it hit the ground. Its burning branches screeched eerily and snapped in protest across the roof. Orange and yellow sparks rained down upon the windshield and the top of the car.

Scott could not relax, for he was still racing the relentless funnel cloud as it continued onward towards the Charger. The malignant green monstrosity was a combination of nature and manmade fury. Though, the Charger would protect its inhabitants from some radiation it would not help if the funnel cloud approached too close. The radiation level would be deadly even behind these steel encased doors.

The scout glanced down at his monitor once more and noticed the object he was looking for. Up ahead lay an overpass. Scott drove towards it attempting to avoid the debris falling around him. He slowed the car down and pulled it to a stop underneath the overpass's concrete protection.

Scott looked out his windshield to monitor the funnel cloud's progress. By a miracle, the funnel cloud changed direction as if it had lost interest in the little black car. The Geiger-counter started to click less incessantly as the radiation started to lower with the storm moving away.

Scott turned off the car and laid the seat back. He wiped his brow and finally let the sigh trapped in his lungs escape. Exhaustion took hold of Scott and he let himself succumb to its embrace.

Posted by deg at 07:46 PM | Comments (0)

September 05, 2007

The Scout

Chapter 9

By Dwayne MacInnes

A muffled sob brought Scott back to consciousness. On the seat next to him was the small boy. He lay curled in a fetus position with his back toward Scott. The boy shook with each sob.

Scott rubbed the sleep from his eyes and noticed that the morning sun had risen behind him from the East. With any luck, he would be back in the restored United States by nightfall or the next morning at the latest.

The scout reached out to the boy and touched him. The boy instantly became aware of his surroundings and jumped back against the door. The fear in his wide tearful eyes told Scott that the lad did not trust him.

"Easy kid, I'm one of the good guys," Scott said with a smile.

The boy just stared at Scott and shook with fear. He sniffed a couple of times, wiped his nose, but he did not respond in any other way.

"Look here, I'm a scout," Scott said as he showed the young boy his steel badge.

The expression on the boy's face instantly changed. Awe and wonder replaced the fear in the boy's eyes.

"No Fooling?" the boy finally said in a small voice. "I heard of you guys. But, I always thought it was just a story."

"Yep, I'm the genuine article," Scott continued with his smile still intact. "So, what is your name? Mine is Scott."

"I'm Sam."

"Well Sam, how about a little breakfast?"

The boy nodded his head. Scott noticed how thin and dirty the boy was. There were not any showers around and he could not afford to waste water on cleaning up Sam. But, he could at least feed the kid. Scott rummaged through his supplies next to the fuel tanks in the backseat and produced an MRE.

"Looks like spaghetti and meatballs," Scott tossed the boy the Meal Ready to Eat package. The boy wasted no time in opening the brown package and devouring the contents.

"When was the last time you had something to eat?" Scott asked as he observed the boy licking the remaining sauce off the packaging.

Sam just continued licking as he shrugged his shoulders. Finally, after he consumed every morsel he began to talk.

"Ma and Pa were traveling from our old home in Wyndmere to find a new one somewhere else. We were low on food and Pa heard that one of the other towns may have some to spare. Sis and I hadn't had anything to eat in a couple of days and for Ma and Pa it was longer."

Suddenly, Sam stopped speaking and began to cry as the memory of his ordeal replayed itself in his memory. "We…we were attacked by wasters. They shot up the car real bad and Pa crashed," Sam choked out between sobs. "We were all thrown out of the car in the wreck. Ma and Pa didn't move and looked real bad. I heard the motorcycles coming so I…I crawled out into the field to hide. I noticed Mary, that's my sister, getting up.

"I was going to tell her to hide too, but the wasters saw her and grabbed her. All I did was hide. I should have done something but I didn't know what to do. By that time I lay down on the ground and I don't remember anything else."

"You took a nasty spill. I found you just before a radioactive storm hit."

Sam's eyes nearly bugged out of his head hearing this. Everyone knew that exposure to a radioactive storms turned people and animals into muties. Hair would fall out of the body from the severe radiation sickness. Skin would blacken and crack from the radiation cooking it. Open, bloody sores would instantly cover the body and the mind would become twisted in a mixture of madness and pain. Muties tended to live short but violent lives. They would wail and moan in torment and any living thing crossing their paths would be the focus of their fury. If a pack of muties did not finish you off, their radiation would either kill you or turn you into a mutie as well.

Sam looked down at his feet thinking. Scott did not disturb the boy. Instead, he took the time to eat an MRE himself. Scott was nearly finished with his breakfast when the boy looked over at him.

"Mister, I know Ma and Pa didn't make it, but do you think you could help me find Mary?"

Scott nearly choked at he boy's request. "I wouldn't know where to begin, kid."

"They took her to Sturgis. That's their main camp, and they sell everyone they capture in the Wastes there as slaves."

"Sturgis? Sturgis, South Dakota? Look here kid I'm on an important mission and I need to get back to Montana. I can't go down to the Black Hills."

Sam began to open his door. "Fine, I'll go myself!" he shouted as he began to climb out.

Scott reached over and pulled Sam back into the car. "Ok, kid. It is against my better judgment and it will probably land me in hot water back at HQ. But, I will help you find your sister."

The Geiger began to click again. "Sam shut the door looks like there are some muties heading our way."

Before Sam could slam the door shut, Scott already had the Charger started and heading down the ravaged road.

Posted by deg at 07:18 PM | Comments (0)

September 12, 2007

The Scout

Chapter 10

By Dwayne MacInnes

"How did you survive in Wyndmere?" Scott asked the young boy.

"We still had some areas that weren't completely blown away. We could grow some crops and the water wasn't bad either," Sam replied distantly looking out the windshield.

"I guess I never made it to your neck of the woods. I just assumed all of the land was blasted and blown like here."

"Most of it is. That is why it is important that we grow what food we could. The wasters wouldn't bother us if we gave them some of our food."

"I never thought of that. I guess that explains why the wasters survive so well up here. Normally the parasites like to live in warmer climes and just raid the communities that survived the Big Bang."

"Pa said they used to do that, but many people started to leave or were killed so raiding wasn't so good anymore. Then the wasters made many people move to the towns and start to farm. As long as we had food to give them, they wouldn't bother us. But, if we didn't they would sell everyone off into slavery."

"Is that why your family left? Because the crops failed," Scott continued.

"Yes, but the wasters don't allow people to leave towns. Pa was hoping to find a new home somewhere else without the wasters noticing. Other people have done it," Sam became quiet and withdrawn after this. Scott knew that the wounds of losing his family were still too fresh. Even in a time when losing loved ones was common it did not lessen the pain.

"So you ever hear of the ‘land piranha's'?" Scott asked changing the topic as he drove southwardly down the rough road formerly known as Highway 8 towards South Dakota.

"Yeah, I heard of them. But, I never seen them. Aren't they a bunch of squirrels?" the boy responded.

"You're close they are actually roving packs of Chihuahuas," Scott glanced over at Sam noticing the question in his eyes. "Small dogs, they were annoying before the Big Bang. Now they are deadly. I don't know what, but something changed them. So now, down in Mexico and Arizona you have these packs of dogs…packs of over a hundred little mean dogs that can devour a buffalo in a matter of sixty seconds."

"Yeah right, mister," Sam snorted in disbelief.

"No really, I've seen it myself. Hell, I didn't even believe in muties until I saw one myself and you know they are real."

Sam nodded in agreement.

Ping! Ping! Ping!

Scott shot a glance at his monitor. Following behind the Charger was a two-person dune buggy. The driver was accelerating and weaving the light vehicle through the wreckage on the road. The passenger was firing a .30 machinegun mounted in front of him. Fortunately, the ammo was still of a small enough caliber that as long as it hit the armor the Charger would be fine.

Nonetheless, a lucky shot from the automatic weapon could still seriously damage the scout's vehicle. Scott was not about to let that happen. He stomped on the accelerator and the Charger surged forward on the torn-up highway as the M-60 chewed up the concrete behind the car.

Sam's face paled, his last run in with the wasters had left his parents dead and his sister abducted. The young boy gripped the dash with white knuckles. His jaw clenched tight in fear.

The scout started to weave the car back and forth in hopes of throwing off the pursuers' aim. However, the buggy was a much more maneuverable vehicle and could easily keep up. An occasional ping off the armor audibly reminded Scott of that fact.

Scott also knew that trying to turn the Charger around to face the buggy would be futile. The buggy could easily stay on the muscle car's tail and fire away at its rear armor. Alternatively, the buggy could just also drive off road with ease and snipe at the Charger's side. No, Scott's plan of attack would need to rely on something in the Charger's favor. In this case, the scout figured it would have to be its weight.

Scott started to aim for debris and wreckage on the battered road that he could plow through that might ensnare the buggy. Unfortunately, what large obstacles Scott encountered would just explode or fly away once the Charger smashed into it. The net result was that Scott was actually clearing a path for the buggy that was still firing burst after burst at the car.

The scout desperately searched for something that would work in his favor. So far, the buggy had the advantage. The only redeeming thing was that the gunner still had not been able to get that lucky hit to incapacitate the Charger. Thank God, the buggy did not have an M-2 or a grenade launcher or the battle would already be over

Sweat was starting to stream into Scott's eyes; he wiped his brow with his left arm while wildly cranking the steering wheel left and right. Scott scanned the horizon for anything that might work to his advantage. Then he saw it, an old off-ramp leading to some small dead town.

The Charger was easily doing 120 miles per hour with the buggy keeping pace. The engine on the light off-road vehicle was definitely not stock. The horsepower on the small block engine may just be too much for the dune buggy Scott figured.

At the last minute, just before passing it Scott quickly cranked the wheel hard to right. The Charger barely managed to make it onto the off-ramp. Caught off guard the driver on the buggy tried to correct his mistake in anticipating the scout's move. Unfortunately, the buggy was a second too late in matching the Charger in reaction. As a result, the fast but light vehicle caught the left embankment of the off-ramp flipping the buggy into the air.

Scott watched in amazement as the buggy corkscrewed in the air towards the Charger. Just before the unguided projectile hit the muscle car, Scott made a hard right turn onto an intersecting road. The buggy instead plowed into the ground and now started to flip end over end down the off-ramp kicking up a cloud of loose concrete and smoke. The buggy finally came to rest as it slammed into the wooden front of an old store.

The scout slowed down his Charger and started to head back towards the wreckage of the dilapidated building that was now billowing smoke. Sam looked over at the driver and began to pant. He was now just remembering to breathe again.

"What are you doing?" the young boy asked between breaths.

"If we are lucky I think I found our ticket into Sturgis."

Posted by deg at 06:14 PM | Comments (7)

September 19, 2007

The Scout

Chapter 11

By Dwayne MacInnes

Scott removed wooden plank after plank. The buggy had done a great job of burying itself inside the partially collapsed building. After a few minutes of hard work, Scott finally reached the buggy. The vehicle laid upside-down half immersed in rubble; the occupants were bloody and torn remnants of human beings. The scout cursed to himself as he did a quick survey.

For the most part the buggy was still intact. The engine was relatively undamaged, just a thrown belt and some loose hoses. The frame was a little twisted and a few of the welds on the roll-cage were broken. Scott could fix these minor things in a day or two with the proper tools. However, the rear axle was broken and the driver's side rear wheel had completely broken off.

Time was not a factor on their side if Scott hoped to get to Sturgis in time to save Mary. It would take just a few days alone to repair the axle and replace the wheel by himself. Again, that was if Scott had the proper tools, which Scott did not. There was always the small chance that some tools remained in a garage or gas station. However, that was unlikely for the wasters immediately would have looted the town for such equipment.

The scout had really been hoping to use the buggy to get into Sturgis. Going in with the Charger would have been suicide. It was clearly a scout vehicle and though it was better armed and armored than the wasters, the gang of thugs could easily overwhelm Scott with their sheer numbers.

Sam reached out and placed a hand on Scott's shoulder bringing the scout out of his musings. Scott looked over at Sam with a reassuring smile. Scott hoped that he could project some hope into the boy. Sam's face suddenly took on a look of horror. Scott twisted his head in the direction of whatever was scaring Sam.

Six large men with long beards and assault rifles aimed at the pair were standing in the open wall. They looked like hillbillies with their unkempt beards, dirty overalls, and menacing looks. The only thing out of place was the fact that they carried M-16s and AK-47s instead of muzzle loading rifles.

"What do we have here, Brent?" asked one of the men.

"I'd say we found ourselves some lost souls," replied the man supposedly called Brent.

"One of ‘em looks like a scout," said the first.

Brent sniffed and looked coolly at Scott. "Well, I guess we better take care of them."

Scott was about to launch himself into a suicide leap at the one he perceived to be Brent and therefore the leader when he heard him say:

"How can we help you boys?"

Scott blinked his eyes and his mouth dropped in surprise. This was the last thing he expected to hear.

Brent broke into a loud laugh that instantly infected the other five men. "Who'd you think we were, wasters?"

Scott relaxed and started to laugh himself. By some divine luck, he stumbled upon some friendly people.

Brent held out his hand and grabbed Scott's in strong firm handshake. The big man continued to talk as he nearly pumped Scott's arm out of his socket. "We're Anderson Brother's Salvage. Finding a scout out here was the last thing we expected to find."

Scott relayed his story about opening a path to the Twin Cities and that now his quest was to help Sam rescue his sister. The six men eagerly agreed to help the scout fix up the buggy and offered to hide the Charger in a nearby Post Office.

What would have taken Scott a matter of days or a week by himself they accomplished in only few hours. The six Salvagers had all the necessary tools packed in the back of the two full ton pickup trucks that they used for their scavenging. Soon the buggy was nearly as good as new. They even painted the buggy with a gray primer to help disguise it. Scott transferred some .30 ammo to reload the almost empty M-60 and then placed his .30-06 hunting rifle in the back of the buggy.

"Yeah, it would not do you any good to walk into the Anarchist's camp with one of their patrol buggies," Brent said while they ate a light dinner.

Scott looked at Brent questioningly, "Anarchist?"

"Yep, that's the name of the wasters who run this part of the area. A dangerous lot they are. We saw that buggy drive by on patrol yesterday. With the storm last night, it is possible that the Anarchists will think it was lost. Plus, with that patrol out of commission we can extend our salvage operation another day before the Anarchist send out a search party."

"What are Salvagers?" Sam enquired of the large man.

"We are. That is to say, that is how we make our living. With the world gone to pot a few of us more adventurous entrepreneurs will scavenge the Wastes looking for things they can use back in the U.S."

"But you guys have factories, right?" the boy asked.

"Sure we do. But, production still isn't what it was and the demand outstrips supply. This makes many things very expensive. We are able to help with the supply by salvaging things out here and selling them back in the States at a slightly less cost than a new one from a factory. There are big profits to be had out there if you are willing to take the risks.

"Anderson Brothers Salvage is the most successful salvaging operation out there. We use our wits and avoid the wasters as much as we can. Part of that is to study and know who those wasters are."

"Why are you hiding Scott's car in a Post Office?" Sam asked taking on a new line of thought.

Brent laughed, "Easy there isn't anything in those Post Offices that a waster would want so it's the perfect hiding place. Now it's my turn to ask a question," Brent turned his attention to Scott. "When do you expect to take off?"

"Right after we finish eating," Scott replied.

"Then you better take this," Brent tossed Scott a dirty, faded, and worn denim jacket that said, ‘Anderson's Garage' on the back. "Wouldn't do to have you walk into Sturgis looking like a scout would it?"

Posted by deg at 06:48 PM | Comments (2)

September 26, 2007

The Scout

Chapter 12

By Dwayne MacInnes

The engine of the buggy purred as Scott prepared to drive out of the ghost town. Brent leaned over the driver's side.

"Look, I can take the kid back with us over the border."

Scott smiled and replied, "I don't think he'd go. Plus, I'm going to need him to I.D. his sister."

Brent slapped the roll cage and laughed, "Good luck to you."

Scott pulled the buggy back onto the pothole filled highway. The ride tended to be smoother as Scott was able to maneuver around debris better than he could in the Charger. Still Scott would have preferred the muscle car's thick skin to the smooth ride of the buggy.

As the buggy drove down the highway, Scott noticed that Sam sat hunched over working on something. "What are you doing there kiddo?" Scott asked.

Sam just shrugged his shoulders and responded in a small voice, "Nothing."

Scott returned his attention to driving. Sam was probably just thinking over his recent tragedies again and would like to spend some time alone. There was still a couple of hours of sun Scott figured.

Scott noticed that the wasteland was slowly giving way to grass. Here and there, clumps of tall yellow grass waved in the wind. More commonly however was the scrub grass that tenaciously clung low to the ground. Life was slowly returning to the blasted hard-packed wasteland.

The sun was starting to dip below the hills on the horizon and Scott figured it would be best if he found a place to set up camp. The boy and he could sleep under the stars. Everything would more than likely be all right as long as Scott kept his .30-06 rifle and his .357 Magnum ready.

The scout pulled the buggy off the road and parked it behind an old dilapidated barn at the base of low hill. Scott and Sam grabbed some blankets and a couple MREs. With the sun starting set and the barn between them and the old highway Scott figured it was safe enough to risk a small fire.

The two were comfortably eating their evening meal beside the low fire when Sam twisted his head toward the hill.

"Did you hear that?" the boy asked in surprise.

"Sorry, I guess you ears are better than mine. It is probably nothing," Scott replied before shoving another spoonful of mashed potatoes into his mouth.

Sam looked again towards the hill. This time Scott too thought he heard a low wail. The scout really wished he had his Charger now; the Geiger-counter would really help as an early warning against muties.

Scott picked up the hunting rifle and scrambled up the hill in the receding daylight. When he reached the top, he fell to his stomach and put the rifle to his cheek. The scout peered through the scope and surveyed in the direction he figured the wail came from.

It was not hard to locate the source of the noise. The only feature in the bleak landscape was an old twisted high-tension power tower. Near the top on the steel crossbars was a man; below him was a party of five humans furiously beating against the tower. The inhuman wails emanating from the people at the base left no doubt that Scott was looking at some muties.

"Damn," Scott cursed under his breath. Muties did not have to kill you by tearing you apart their radiation soaked bodies could do it if they got too close. If the man at the top had been quick enough, he may have put enough distance between himself and the muties to forestall him sharing their fate.

Scott prepared to fire on the first mutie when he cursed again a little louder.

"What is it?" Sam asked. Scott had forgotten about the boy who now sat next to him straining his young eyes to make out the forms near the tower.

"It's muties. They have a man trapped in that tower and if I shoot them, they will die near the base and the man will still be stuck up on top the tower. I don't think that man has weeks for the muties to decompose and the radiation to dissipate," Scott replied never taking his eyes off his target.

To make matters worse the sun was nearly behind the hills and Scott would lose his target once the light faded completely. Scott figured maybe he could fire the rifle and the muties may come towards him. It was definitely very unlikely, muties did not respond to firearms. They only tended to care about venting their insane rage on the living.

Scott took closer aim and was about to send a shot past the first mutie when suddenly the mutie turned towards the scout. Surprise stunned Scott for there was no way the mutie could know he was there. Scott had been silent and it was impossible for the mutie to see Scott unaided on top of the hill.

Then surprisingly the mutie let out a mournful wail and started towards the hill. His four irradiated companions also turned toward the hill and started to shamble towards it. The pain and rage filled cries sent a shiver through Scott's spine. The form of what had once been a man but now resembled a hotdog overcooked on the campfire made Scott's hair stand on end. The mutie had charred black skin; that cracked revealing the red and pink tender flesh underneath. He had pustules and blisters, which burst releasing its pent-up blood and pus all over his body. A milky film covered the mutie's left eye, but the rage and pain manifested itself in the right. As the abomination exhaled another wail between his blackened and cracked lips, two teeth bubbled out with bloody foam from his ruined mouth.

Then he heard it. Above the wails, Scott heard the noise of a boy yelling. Jumping to his feet Scott saw Sam at the base of the hill running towards the muties screaming to grab their attention. Without further thought, Scott brought the rifle to his shoulder and peered through the scope.

Sam was keeping his distance and drawing the monsters toward him. Scott did not know whether to be happy or angry with the lad. That was something to he would deal with later.

The blast of the .30-06 shattered the twilight. The first mutie's head exploded, the body stopped and stood still for a fraction of a second before it toppled backwards. Without missing a beat, Scott smoothly worked the rifle's bolt to eject the spent shell while it simultaneously chambered another cartridge. Within half a minute five radiated corpses littered the field between the hill and the tower.

The man in the tower worked his way back to earth and took a wide path around the corpses. He wore some faded denim jeans and a flannel coat that was patched in many places. His boots were worn and dusty. He met up with Sam and the two of them marched up the hill.

The stocky man was panting by the time he and the boy reached its top. The man's face burned dark by the relentless sun; his black hair matched the thick mustache on his round face. Scott was still fighting internally whether to rebuke or reward the boy and he was surprised when the stranger stuck out his hand.

"That was mighty fine shooting. I want to thank you and your son for saving me," the man said. Scott looked at Sam and the boy winked at the scout. "My name is Wade Benson. I was on my way back to Sturgis when my bike broke down. Those damn muties had me treed.

"Anyway, thanks. Your son says you are on your way to Sturgis to sign-up with the Anarchists."

Posted by deg at 07:01 PM | Comments (0)

October 03, 2007

The Scout

Chapter 13

By Dwayne MacInnes

"So what brings you guys to Sturgis?" Wade inquired.

"The boy and I were put out of business working for the Reavers in Kansas when the scouts established the route to St. Louis," Scott replied as he sped the buggy down the old highway. Scott lashed Wade's bike to the back of the buggy. Sam sat in the small compartment between the seats and the roll bars that were perched in front of the rear mounted engine.

"Yeah, things aren't going to be the same. Scouts have been establishing routes all over the country. Soon it'll be like it was in the old days," Wade sighed. "There won't be any room for people like us anymore."

Scott just grunted noncommittally.

"You know, the old days weren't so bad. I miss watching TV or just having a Big Mac whenever I wanted," Wade continued to muse aloud.

"Do you know what I was before the Big Bang?"

Scott shook his head. The question was rhetorical for Wade soon provided the answer himself.

"I was freaking unemployed. Sure, I had the occasional odd job. But I never found something I really liked.

"Then one day the world explodes, it seems like everyone was dying off except for me. After the long winter and the initial chaos, I found my niche. I was good at surviving."

Wade suddenly broke into a long laugh, "Not like this is really surviving. I mean we are parasites living off the labors of the oppressed. But it is better than being one of the oppressed, right bro?"

Scott sat in silence for a couple of seconds as the rubble-strewn road passed under the buggy.

"Why don't you go to the other side?" Scott finally asked.

"I hear they put you in a work camp for a year somewhere on the coast before you can become a citizen. How is that better than being one of those slaves I was talking about?"

"You eventually get your freedom," Scott replied.

Wade nodded his head in silence.

"You know it is going to take more than rescuing me to get into the ranks of the Anarchists," Wade changed conversation tracks.

Scott stared out on the highway occasionally twisting the buggy around some large debris or rock that jutted from the surface of the crumbled concrete.

"Well, I guess I'll just have to present my references. I really haven't had time to get my resume in order."

Wade broke out in a genuine laugh that rocked his stocky frame. "Well, you can count me in for one of those references. Not that it'll do you any good. I have a tendency to spout my mouth off, voicing my opinions when I should keep my trap shut. You may have noticed that. I can't say I'm the most popular man in the group. But I'm still useful otherwise I'd have been a slave or dead long ago."

The sun was nearing its zenith when Scott noticed small-inhabited communities dotting amongst the hills. Men, women, and children worked in the fields wearing nothing more than rags and hacking at the ground with crude farm implements. Occasionally, a lone man with a rifle stood by overseeing the farming. As the buggy passed, everyone would momentarily stop and watch it as it sped down crumbled road.

Wade muttered under his breath. His face darkened as he looked upon the fields. "Still better than being one of those poor bastards," Scott barely heard Wade mutter over the hum of the engine.

"Up ahead is Fort Meade, just drive casually and don't get itchy. There'll send out a couple of escorts," Wade warned.

Soon a couple of motorcycles pulled up beside the buggy as they drove past the old Fort Meade Veterans Hospital. Wade quickly broke into a smile and waved at the men in hopes that they would decide not to open fire.

"You'd do well to let these men escort us to the gate. Sturgis should be only a few miles up the road," Wade offered.

The motorcyclists broke up their formation letting one lead in front of the buggy and the other trailing behind. Wade was good to his word for soon the small party approached a battered town. There were guards standing in front of a chain-linked gate that separated the town from the grasslands without.

The motorcyclists pulled behind the buggy as Scott brought the small vehicle to a stop in front of the gate. One of the guards dressed in a mishmash of clothing approached with an M-16 on his shoulder.

"Wade, good to see you," the guard said. "I see you brought some friends."

"Well, my bike broke down some ways back and these gents were kind enough to save me from some muties as well as give me a lift home."

"Where do you hail from?" the guard asked Scott.

"We used to belong to the Reavers down in Kansas until our operation was ended by those damned scouts. I heard there was some work for my type up here so I grabbed the boy and headed north."

"Hmmm," the guard nodded. "Not many Reavers survived that I hear. You're the first I've seen. But we have strict rules. I can't let you in. You'll have to work the fields for a time."

"Oh, come on Joe," Wade smiled, "the man's good. I swear by it. I've seen him take out five muties in rapid secession. We could really use him."

The guard stroked his stubbled chin. "I'm sorry Wade, you know the boss. I need more proof than his and your word."

Scott's stomach started to churn. Things could not get much worse he figured.

"If you need proof," Sam shot up from the back of the buggy. "How about this?"

The guard's jaw dropped and his eyes nearly popped out of his head. Wade muttered a small curse and Scott's stomach churned even worse as Sam presented in his outstretched hand, Scott's Scout badge to the guard. Scott was wrong -- things could get worse.

Posted by deg at 06:20 PM | Comments (0)

October 10, 2007

The Scout

Chapter 14

By Dwayne MacInnes

Scott watched as if in slow motion the guard start to bring his assault rifle to bear on the scout. He knew he could not hope to pull his .357 Magnum from his holster in time. Not to mention killing the two guards, Wade, and the motorcyclists. They were in dire straits.

"My dad shot one of those bastards down in Wichita. He gave me this as a souvenir," Sam said to the guard.

Scott now noticed that his once shiny steel badge was now worn and dirty. He realized now what it was the boy had been working on when they first set out in the buggy.

The guard's face nearly split as he whispered, "Holy sh..."

"Damn, you are one useful S.O.B." Wade laughed.

"Now Joe you have to let him in," Wade continued. "Good against muties and U.S. Scouts that is something you don't find everyday."

The guard caught in a moment of indecision blurted, "How do we know he's not a scout?"

Wade broke into his infectious laugh again, "Are you kidding? It would be suicide for a scout to march in here. Plus, a scout would have no reason to save my sorry butt."

"I suppose you are right. OK, you may enter, but he's your responsibility Wade. Anything, and I mean *anything funny* happens and it is on your head.

"You better to take him to Taylor. He'll decide whether to sign him up or not."

The guard returned to the gate and pulled it open. Scott restarted the buggy and pulled it into the battered town.

Wade acted as navigator as Scott attempted to negotiate the broken roads. The town that once housed over 6,000 people before the Big Bang now was a former shadow of itself. Since that fateful day over a decade ago, it had fallen into decay. Several wooden structures had burned down, and some brick buildings had collapsed. However, it was evident that some urban renewal was taking place. The roads were clear and those buildings that had withstood the test of time were in good repair.

After a few minutes of driving, Wade had Scott pull the buggy into a parking lot on the north side of town. The lot belonged to an old warehouse that sported several rough looking guards. Scott noticed many motorcycles, buggies, and various automobiles parked in the lot.

Wade climbed out of the buggy after the engine died and stretched his thick limbs. Sam scampered out of his cramped area and seemed no worse for wear as he scanned the surrounding area in awe. Scott walked over to Wade patting some of the road dust off his faded denim jacket and leather pants.

Wade smiled as Scott neared, "This is where Taylor will be found. I have to warn you of a couple of things first. One is that Taylor is second in command; Moose Van Dyke is the real leader here. But Taylor is in charge of recruiting so try not to ruffle his feathers. Secondly, you may want to leave the boy near the buggy. This building is a slave pen. I don't think your son will want to see what happens inside.'

Scott thought about it for a second, "No, Sam comes along. I want him with me until...I'm more comfortable with our situation."

Wade chuckled, "Fair enough."

The trio walked across the broken asphalt toward the large building. There were loading docks off to one side and a doublewide door off to the other. Two burley guards, who resembled Hells Angels, stood in front of them with their M-16s at the ready.

"What's up Wade?" one of the large men grunted.

"I've brought a recruit for Taylor," Wade smiled.

"It may be a little while before you can see him. The auction is about to begin."

"That's fine, maybe I'll find something I like," Wade laughed.

"Yeah right," sneered the other guard. "You never bid on anything. Some folks say you don't like slaves."

"Well, that's my problem," Wade said instantly going from jovial to gruff. "Nothing says I have to like it and nothing says I have to own any."

"As long as it remains nothing," warned the first guard. "You and your friends may enter."

The interior was dank and dusty. The only light came from torches and lanterns situated inside. There were some pens made of chain link fencing at the back of the warehouse. In front of the pens was a large stage where a man stood describing the bidding rules in a loud voice to the audience of over hundred people between Scott and the stage.

Scott sucked inwardly as he noticed the people in the pens. The pens appeared to separate the slaves by age and sex. All wore only a sheet or robe. The gaunt faces looked forlornly out from behind the metal barrier.

"Today we have three beauties up for bid," the auctioneer bellowed from the stage. Scott was not paying too close attention he was busy scanning the cage containing a small group of girls running in ages from about five to eighteen. He was about to nudge Sam if to see if he recognized any of them when he felt a tug on his arm.

Scott looked around and noticed Sam. His face was red with rage and he was staring at the stage. "It's Mary," he hissed between clenched teeth.

Posted by deg at 07:36 PM | Comments (3)

October 12, 2007

Nothing Doing

By Dwayne MacInnes

Dayton, Ohio. October 23, 1954, 2:53 PM. Ranson Research Labs

Dr. Reeve rapped his knuckles lightly on the closed door. The plain white door in the plain white wall was similar to the one belonging to Dr. Reeve's laboratory except this one had "Dr. David Poole" stenciled in black on the opaque window.

"Enter, enter," an excited voice answered from the other side.

Dr. Reeve swung the door open and entered the sterile room. The lab also resembled Reeve's lab. Worktables cluttered with a medley of apparatus pertaining to whatever the researcher was currently working on. On the walls were attached various charts and clipboards holding sheets of data.

Like Reeve, Dr. Poole was wearing the ubiquitous lab coat covering a white dress shirt, black tie and black slacks. The coat's pockets stuffed with pens, markers, slide-rule and a sundry of various small implements made Dr. Poole look like a walking advertisement for an office supply store.

"Dave, I came as soon as I could break away," Dr. Reeve said. "By your message I assume it is something important."

"Yes! Yes, very important, Frank," Dr. Poole replied. "Here take a seat."

Dr. Reeve sat down on the metal folding chair that Dr. Poole offered. The excited Poole then walked to the wall and flipped the light switch. Darkness completely enveloped the room.

"What do you see?" Poole asked his excitement barely contained.

"I can't see anything, Dave" Reeve responded.

"Of course not!" snapped Dr. Poole. "That is what Jenkins is working on next door."

"OH!" exclaimed Reeve. "I see it now. You did it! I see nothing."

Dr. Poole flipped the lights back on. Then he snatched a clipboard off the wall.

"Look at these figures," Poole gave the clipboard to Dr. Reeve.

Dr. Reeve pulled his black framed glasses out of his shirt pocket unfolded them and placed them on his face. He then meticulously flipped through the white sheets one after another. Not a page had anything written on it.

"Nothing. Absolutely nothing," Reeve responded.

"Years of research and thousands in grant moneys well spent," beamed Dr. Poole. "You know it was Arthur Jenkins who put me on the right path."

"What's he working on again?" asked Dr. Reeve.

Poole snorted, "He's working on anything and everything. Of course he hasn't found anything yet."

"Well, I'm afraid I'm still searching for something. Looks like you've got us beat Dave."

Dr. Poole again started to get excited, "Just think of it. The blind can see it. The deaf can hear it and the dumb can speak it! It's truly an amazing breakthrough."

"Are there any negative effects?" probed Dr. Poole.

Dr. Poole took on a downcast look, "Well, Frank. It is stronger than God."

Dr. Reeve sternly looked over at Poole. "We better be careful to whom we give it to."

"Quite, quite," Poole said thoughtfully.

Dr. Reeve stood up and shook Poole's hand. "Congratulations, Dave. I assume you'll be a very wealthy man now."

Poole looked down at the floor, "Yeah, there' been a snag in that."

"Oh, I can't believe that. You know the lab allows you to patent any discoveries from your research as long as it gets exclusive distribution rights," Reeve consoled Poole.

"Yes, I've already looked into that," Poole said somberly. "That's why I've asked you over today."

"I'm afraid I don't quite follow." Reeve said scratching his head, "You've already found nothing. I'm still working on something and Jenkins is still looking for anything and everything."

"Well, I'm afraid I got so wrapped in the research of nothing I neglected to check out certain patent rules," Poole said forlornly. "I went down to the office to patent my discovery and the clerk asked me if I hand anything to patent. I snorted at that because he must have thought I was Jenkins. Anyway, I replied I had nothing. He then said I must at least have something."

"Hmmm...that is a setback," Reeve said.

"Yeah, I have nothing to patent and it cannot be patented. So I was wondering if maybe..." Dr. Reeve looked down at the floor.

"Yes?"

"This is a bit embarrassing, and I rather ask you than Jenkins -- but -- would you -- um -- like some -- er -- help looking for something?"

Posted by deg at 05:00 PM | Comments (1)

October 17, 2007

The Scout

Chapter 15

By Dwayne MacInnes

Scott followed Sam's gaze up to the platform where the auctioneer was standing. The man was holding the sheet that once covered the young woman who stood next to him. She had to be in her early twenties, but the resemblance to Sam was almost uncanny. The beautiful nude woman stood there in front of the crowd shivering in shame and fright.

"This lady here will make a good maid," the auctioneer bellowed. "She is young, strong and healthy."

The auctioneer forced Mary to turn completely around for the audience. Her long black hair swirled in the air as she turned. "I am sure I do not need to describe her other qualifications," the auctioneer laughed. "I shall now begin the bidding at five rounds or one can."

Wade leaned over to Scott and whispered lowly in his ear, "Money's no good now days, so everything's price is determined by bullets or food. Rifle cartridges and human canned goods are the highest form of currency. Pistol rounds and pet food are lower. One can of human food equal five rounds of rifle ammunition."

"I bid five rounds," one man yelled.

"I have five rounds here," hollered the auctioneer.

"Two cans and five rounds," another countered.

"Those better be two cans of human not pet like you did last time, Burke," warned the auctioneer.

"Two cans human, and five rounds rifle," the man named Burke clarified.

"Twenty rounds," a third man offered.

"I have twenty rounds for this beauty. Are there any other takers?" the auctioneer worked the crowd.

"Four cans and five rounds," the first man shouted to regain the bid.

"Six cans," a big man sitting at a table near the stage bellowed before the auctioneer could acknowledge the previous bid. The crowd hushed. Scott figured that this was a rather large bid.

"I have six cans, do I have any other offers?" the auctioneer asked. The crowd remained mute.

"Will anyone give me six cans, five rounds?" the auctioneer queried the crowd.

"It is too early in the auction for me to blow money like that," a man yelled to the auctioneer. Many of his fellows nodded their heads in agreement.

"Very well, six cans going once...going twice...sold for six cans," the auctioneer concluded by draping the sheet back onto Mary's shoulders before she was escorted off the stage.

Scott marked the man who had purchased Mary before giving Sam a reassuring squeeze. Wade stared ahead towards the stage. Scott thought he heard a low throaty groan come from the stocky man.

After two and half hours of bidding, the auctioneer sold the myriad of slaves. Many of the young strong men were to be field workers, as were some of the more stout females. Most of the women however were termed 'maids' and were sold obviously to add to one's harem or as breeding stock.

What sickened Scott the most was that some of the young boys were sold to become eunuchs to serve as personal guards as they matured. He did not want to dwell on what would happen to the young girls. Scott felt an unbridled rage building in his gut. It took all of his effort to force it back down deep inside of him.

"I guess it is time to introduce you to Taylor," Wade said with a little remorse in his voice.

Scott nodded and gripped Sam's hand tightly as Wade led them forward. Scott did not want to risk losing his grip on the boy for the fear of becoming separated from him. If that happened, one of these people could mistake him for a slave.

The crowd of bidders stood around talking to each other in small groups as Wade made his way through the throng. Finally, the three made their way to the base of the raised stage where there was the table Scott noticed earlier. A small lamp burned on its surface giving off scant light. A group of four men was in deep conversation on the other side of the table when Wade approached.

Wade cleared his voice and the four men turned towards him.

"Mr. Taylor I have found a man interested in becoming one of the Anarchists," Wade continued.

Scott stepped forward and tried to make out the faces of the men in the dim light. It was difficult to see in the deep shadows.

"Very well," one of the men replied as he stepped closer to the table. "What are his qualifications?"

"He's a former member of the Reavers down in Kansas, he saved my life last night when my bike broke down on patrol, and he has personally killed a United States Scout," Wade replied.

"Wade, I need more proof than that. I am sure he saved your life, but how do I know he isn't lying about the other two?" the shadowed man named Taylor asked.

"I figure lying is a quality you would appreciate," Scott interrupted Wade. The once boisterous crowd silenced and turned their attention to the exchange between Scott and Taylor. Taylor took a step back, obvious surprised by Scott's response. Before Wade could remind Scott not to ruffle Taylor's feathers Scott added, "I cannot prove my first claim however I can the last." Scott tossed the worn steel badge at Taylor.

The dark man grabbed the badge in midair and studied it. Everyone was now paying attention to the two men. Low whispers broke out from the crowd as Taylor weighed the evidence presented to him.

"Son, I like the way you do business. Welcome aboard," Taylor said as he shot his hand out. Scott grabbed his hand and pumped it in a firm handshake.

Taylor bent forward and the light from the table revealed his broad grinning face, "I think we are going to get along just fine."

Scott hid his surprise as he stared into the smiling face of the man who had just purchased Sam's older sister.

Posted by deg at 06:47 PM | Comments (0)

October 24, 2007

The Scout

Chapter 16

By Dwayne MacInnes

"Wade, I need to talk to..." Taylor paused.

"Scott Duncan" Scott replied.

"Yes, thank you Mr. Duncan. Wade I need to check Mr. Duncan's credentials myself. You may want to show the man's son where they will be bunking and give him a tour of the town while we consult on some business."

Sam shot a frightened look up to Scott. "Don't worry son, I'll take good care of you," Wade reassured the boy.

Scott looked into Wade's eyes and then he looked down at Sam, "It'll be OK, Sam." Scott looked back into Wade's eyes sternly warning him that it better be OK.

"Nothing to worry about, I owe you my life," Wade laughed.

Scott watched as Sam and Wade disappeared in the crowd as Taylor relayed some last minute instructions to a subordinate.

"Take my acquisition to my chambers; I'll be there later tonight." The subordinate bowed and left the two men alone.

"Well, Mr. Duncan I need to see if you are indeed Anarchist material," Taylor finally said as the two men started to exit the warehouse. He led Scott a few blocks past the warehouse to an old abandoned strip mall. In the parking lot, in front of a brick wall -- riveted with bullet holes -- stood some woodened cutouts in the shape of people. There were various lines painted on the concrete at regular intervals from the targets.

Taylor stopped Scott a few yards from the farthest line before the target and motioned towards the shooting range. "You may show me your stuff."

"Will this be on your dime or mine?" Scott asked the recruiter as he hefted his .357.

"Well, I don't expect you to come loaded for bear, especially if you just made your way north through the Wastes. Here take mine," Taylor said holding out a black Colt M1911-A1.

Colt M1911-A1

Scott smiled and took the automatic pistol, he ejected and checked the clip and when satisfied slapped it back into the handle. Scott pulled back the slide chambering a round.

Taylor stepped back and waved a hand towards the wooden targets. "You can fire from any one of those lines..."

Before Taylor could finish speaking Scott fired off the entire seven round magazine in quick succession at the targets from where he originally stopped. The gunfire ripped through the air with a deafening blast. Smoke and the smell of exhausted gunpowder emanated from the spent pistol. The brass shells fell to the ground with a light tinking noise.

Scott looked over at Taylor. The big man smiled smugly back. "You know you may have wanted to get a little closer. You are about 75 yards from the targets. I doubt you could have hit anything from there."

Scott just shrugged his shoulders and returned the pistol to Taylor handle first. Taylor accepted the automatic and then marched up to the targets as Scott started collecting the spent shells. It was common practice to pick up any loose brass shells. Finding bullets and reloading rounds were two different things. After the Big Bang, almost everyone knew how to reload rounds because the likelihood of one finding the right caliber round for one's weapon was remote at best.

After Scott finished he walked up to Taylor who was standing in front of the targets. He was shaking his head and speaking to himself in a low voice.

"Impossible," was all Scott heard as he stood next to Taylor.

"Well, did I pass?" Scott asked.

Taylor shook his head to bring himself back to the present. He looked a Scott in amazement and then pointed towards the targets. "You hit every one of them."

Scott smiled and looked at the seven targets he shot at. Just as he knew, every target had a bullet hole where their hearts would have been if they were living human beings. Scott shoved the casings into Taylor's hand.

"I think it is about time you meet Moose," Taylor said with obvious awe in his voice.

Taylor then led Scott to an old retail building that belonged to the vacant mall. The door swung open with ease and Scott was ushered into the middle of the store. What little light penetrated the interior issued from the glass doors they had just entered. Scott peered around the old store. Old mannequins were scattered about the store casting eerie shadows. Empty clothing racks and boxes littered the interior.

"You stay here, I will get Moose," Taylor said before he marched away into the darkness. Scott heard him open a door and then close it behind him.

Scott stood where he was for a few minutes. The naked mannequins were his only companions. The store was silent and still. Scott did not know how long he was supposed to wait there in the middle of the store alone. He was about to go and try to find Taylor when he thought he heard a noise.

At first Scott thought, maybe it was Taylor returning. However, the big man did not materialize. Then Scott thought he noticed movement. Maybe it was the trick the light, for he was sure he saw one of the mannequins move. Then he felt a presence approaching behind him.

Posted by deg at 05:00 PM | Comments (0)

October 31, 2007

Breakdown

By Dwayne MacInnes

T'mai felt the shudder as the propulsion unit's fuel-line ruptured. Alarms and lights flashed inside the cabin alerting T'mai that he would need to take immediate action to shut down the main engines before the saucer-shaped spacecraft exploded into a small nova. Almost unconsciously, the space traveler flipped switches, pushed buttons, and visually scanned dials.

T'mai whistled in dismay. The damage could have been a lot worse and the back-up batteries were unharmed and fully charged. However, the location for such a breakdown could not have happened in a more unsatisfactory area of space.

This part of the galaxy was in the fringe area and hospitable planets were far and few between. Most of the habitable world's populations comprised of wild and dangerous life forms. Rumors of survey parties visiting such worlds and never returning were standard warnings against traveling through such remote and perilous areas.

Nonetheless, T'mai felt the risks were worth the gains if he could take the shortcut through the fringe and reach the Consortium's semi-rotational speculation meeting early. Unfortunately, the equivalent to a tire blowout left him stranded in the cold remorseless vastness of space.

Sure, the saucer could limp to a planet, but the chances of finding any help were remote and fraught with danger. Few of the worlds in the sector had reached sufficient technical skills to offer the rudimentary materials T'mai would need to repair his ship. None would be forthcoming with help to launch his damaged craft back into space. The curious inhabitants tended to kill those they did not understand or worse yet kept their forlorn captives caged up like a wild zoological specimen for their own primitive studies.

T'mai scanned the dials and digital scanners again. The fuel-line's rupture had damaged the food stores. The lack of rations would further limit his options of possible planets on which to land. The readout from the navigational computer listing those worlds only made T'mai's situation worse. The only possible candidate for T'mai to limp his crippled craft to was the worse of the lot. A place the primitives of the planet called Earth.

With the lack of the navigational shields, the saucer-shaped craft would be visible to the various RADAR units. These units the locals used to keep an ever present vigilance against each other. This sad and inhospitable world had not even evolved to the point where they were not a danger to themselves. T'mai shuddered to think of the approaching day when these primitives ventured beyond their own solar system.

As the shiny saucer fluttered out of the sky in a barely controlled descent, T'mai recalled the story of the survey vessel crippled by a similar incident as his. As the survey vessel descended during one of the planet's electrical storms, a primitive's aircraft fired its rockets and shot the vessel down near a habitation they called Roswellnewmexico. No one ever heard from the craft or crew after its hasty mayday and warning.

Saucer Ship

T'mai noted with some satisfaction that though he was on the same continental mass he was far from the reported location of the lost survey vessel. With careful skill, the saucer landed behind two wooden structures on the outskirts of a local habitation center.

T'mai exited the craft and visually scanned the damage. The local star by now had descended below the horizon .T'mai used a small light to illuminate the damaged area. Fortunately, if T'mai could obtain the correct material and food stores he could easily repair the fuel-line. It would take only a few moments to patch the rupture and have his craft safely spaceward.

The main concern was; could T'mai finish his work before the locals located his craft and made him one of their specimens. T'mai stifled a shudder, he had work to do and such thoughts would not assist in his need to find the materials he required.

T'mai grabbed his dimensional carrying case and donned his standard exploratory kit. He quickly scanned the structures for some forms of life. It appeared no locals resided in the domiciles. A quick survey around the perimeter, T'mai figured would be all he needed before he began his exploration of the interiors.

The small spaceman was halfway through his circuit when he heard a small party behind him call out to him. T'mai froze as his translator crackled in his hearing orifice the word "Hey!" being shouted from a local behind him.

T'mai slowly turned around. More than likely the Earthlings would have their primitive, yet lethal weaponry trained on him. T'mai knew that he did not stand a chance for survival on such a remote and dangerous world.

"No one lives there kid," the translator crackled again. T'mai turned to see that one of the Earthlings was addressing him. The primitive was a third again taller than T'mai though most in his group were about the same size as the space traveler. What astounded T'mai the most was that all the smaller Earthlings wore various disguises. Was this a ritual for greeting strangers?

"That's a neat costume you have there," the taller Earthling continued. "I'm surprised your parents are letting you out alone. You should join us."

T'mai stood there silently as he slowly tried to digest all that was happening. Apparently, the tall Earthling, the leader, must have figured T'mai as another disguised smaller Earthling. Some sort of child.

"I'm sorry kid, what is your name?"

"My name is T'mai," the translator responded from his chest.

"Man that is a cool costume. Voice box and everything" the Earthling sounded astounded. "Timmy, I am Dave and you really should join up with us for safety."

"Yes, Dave, you have made a good point. There is safety in numbers and I shall be happy to join your party," T'mai responded.

"Wow you really know how to play the part," Dave said as he herded the crowd down the street towards a structure with the lights on.

T'mai noticed one of the Earthlings donning a bed sheet kept up a constant wail. The concerned alien tugged on Dave's jacket.

"Pardon me, Dave but it appears one of our party members is in some pain."

Dave gave off a bark of laughter, "That's good. It is just Simon he is pretending to be a ghost."

T'mai continued walking with the group towards the house as he momentarily thought about the strange belief system where one becomes linen in the afterlife. Surely, these Earthlings must hold their bedding in high esteem.

As they reached the domicile, one of the smaller Earthlings approached the door and pushed a button. The ring of the summoning bell chimed through the house and as the door opened, the entire group as one recited a greeting, "Trick or treat."

T'Mai

The elderly Earthling at the door held a bowl brimming with what appeared to be different kinds of sweet snacks in colorful wrappers. "My, what a wonderful group of spooks we have here," the old female responded as she parceled out some snacks to each costumed Earthling. Even a few snacks found their way into T'mai's carrying case.

After each received their gift, Dave herded the Earthlings towards the next domicile. Again, some one depressed the summoning bell and again the same ritual greeting, "Trick or treat" recited. This time it was a man a little older than Dave who answered the door and he handed out little copper discs. T'mai looked at some closely. On one side, there was the profile of an Earthling's face and on the other a building of some sort. Before depositing them into his carrying case, T'mai scanned them with his composition matrix scanner on his hand.

"A few of these discs are composed of 95 % copper and 5 % zinc. However most are 97.5 % zinc and 2.5 % copper," T'mai said aloud.

Dave again broke into his barking laugh, "Or as we Earthlings call them 'pennies'."

"Pennies," T'mai replied. "Interesting things. What do you use them for?"

"Well, E.T. these are the smallest unit of money used in this country," Dave replied with a smirk.

"Ah, I see a monetary unit," T'mai said before dropping the last disc in his case. He did not know what eetee meant, but perhaps it was a term of endearment. Regardless, his foraging was proceeding along well. Before long, he would have enough snacks and discs to repair his ship sufficiently for its continued trip through space.

It indeed was not very long after that the group was returning down the street where they met up with T'mai. The night's foraging was most lucrative. The smaller Earthlings' bags were full of sugary foodstuff and some metal discs. T'mai puzzled over the ritualistic greeting "Trick or Treat" but he could not make any sense of it. However, the greeting apparently compels the occupant of a residence to offer gifts of either food or money. Because of this adventure, T'mai would recommend that there be further studies of the planet. Though such work was perilous it was worth noting that the inhabitants were interesting and not as deadly as T'mai believed.

As the group walked past the buildings that T'mai had landed his craft behind, the spaceman pulled away from the group and made his way to his stricken craft. As he figured, it did not take long before he repaired the fuel-line and replenished the food stores. The small saucer shaped spacecraft once again resumed its interstellar trek as it shot into space with a flash.

T'mai never realized that only moments after he vacated the planet, police cars and FBI vehicles descended upon the scene of his landing. The next morning as Dave read about the reported UFO sighting in the morning paper he scratched his head wondering about that strange kid he took 'Trick or treating' the previous night.

Posted by deg at 06:41 PM | Comments (1)

November 07, 2007

The Scout

Chapter 17

By Dwayne MacInnes

Scott's instincts took over. He swung behind him with his elbow to be rewarded with a man exhaling violently as he struck home in his assailant's stomach. As the man doubled over, Scott grabbed him around the neck and flung the man into some wooden crates. The man crashed into the boxes breaking the brittle wooden boards.

The Scout recovered in time to catch another man armed with a knife running towards him. Scott latched onto the upraised arm with the weapon and as the man continued his forward rush, Scott used this man's own momentum to flip the man onto the ground. With the wind knocked out of him the attacker just laid on the ground momentarily stunned.

Scott easily wrenched the knife out of the second man's hand. He backed up as still another man materialized out of the shadows and swung a long metal bar at Scott. The bar passed in front of Scott barely touching his denim jacket as Scott hopped back out of range.

The new attacker stepped in for another swing when with lightning reflexes Scott ran towards the man and before the attacker could ready his bar again the Scout was behind him with the knife to his throat. The assailant dropped the metal bar with a loud clang to the ground.

Scott was surprised to hear someone clapping from behind him. Scott turned towards the new sound as he tossed the third attacker from him.

"You are a very resourceful man Mr. Duncan," a strange voice addressed Scott. Scott could barely make out two shapes in the dark shadows. One he recognized as Taylor.

"The test is over," the stranger said loudly. Suddenly, some men removed a cover from above and light poured into the store's interior through a skylight in the roof.

Scott shielded his eyes from the bright blast of illumination. He watched as the three attackers slowly recovered themselves and walked over to Taylor and a thin man with short-cropped gray hair.

"Thank you gentlemen, you may return to your posts," the thin man said. The three assailants left the store.

"Mr. Duncan I am Moose Van Dyke," the thin man said as he extended his hand towards Scott.

Scott accepted the firm handshake, "So this was just another test?"

"Why yes," Moose replied. "Taylor has told me about your shooting, and from what I've just witnessed you would make a fine addition to the Anarchists.

"But please, Mr. Duncan, let's step into my office and we can talk in private. I may have a special opening available."

The two men led Scott into a large room that at one time must have been the store manager's office. A skylight let the sun's rays illuminate the room. Scott notice various maps tacked to the walls. An executive desk sat against a far wall that nearly drowned in scattered papers.

"Please have a seat Mr. Duncan," Moose offered a leather chair for Scott to recline in. Moose shifted some papers on the desk and as he sat on the corner, something fell to the ground.

No one seemed to notice the small object except Scott who only glanced at it shortly. Taylor started for the door, "I take it you will conduct this interview in private."

"No, please stay Taylor," Moose said.

"Well, sir I did make a purchase today and I would like..."

"I said stay," Moose responded in a stern commanding voice, "Your trollop can wait until we are done here."

Taylor walked back into the room like a chastised dog. He found another leather chair and pulled it up next to Scott.

"Well, now Mr. Duncan. Were you ever in the military?" Moose asked.

"I was in ROTC before the Big Bang," Scott lied.

"Hmmm, I could tell you had some combat experience that the average waster doesn't possess.

"Now, as I said before I may have special position for you," Moose continued.

Scott's eyes glanced down towards the floor again. He noticed that small object again. It appeared to be a nametag. Scott tried to decipher the letters as Moose went on talking.

"But first I must say, you kind of stepped into the middle of something. It really is regrettable. However, it looks like it may be possible for you to rectify to situation." Scott only was half listening. He almost had the nametag worked out. The last name on it was definitely Van Dyke. Obviously, it belonged to Moose.

"If you are truly interested in joining the anarchists I just need you to perform one last little test," Moose droned one.

Scott finally worked it out and his surprise at the revelation matched the timing of the point Moose was laboriously coming to. As Scott read on the nametag 'Col. Chris Van Dyke' Moose said, "I need you to kill Wade Benson."

Posted by deg at 05:13 PM | Comments (0)

November 14, 2007

The Scout

Chapter 18

By Dwayne MacInnes

"I'm sorry to have to involve you in some of our politics so soon," Moose continued. "But, you see Wade's accident in the waste was no accident. We tampered with his bike so that it would break down in the middle of nowhere. The muties would have been a nice touch until you inadvertently interfered."

"You see Wade asks too many questions. He doesn't fit in," Taylor added.

Moose gave Taylor a stern look and the big man shrank back into his chair.

"Sorry, sir," Taylor offered meekly.

"As my second in command has put it, Wade is a trouble maker. We cannot afford to have trouble makers in the Anarchists," Moose continued.

"So you need me to be your hit man is that it?" Scott interrupted.

"That is one way of putting," Moose replied. "You are close to Wade and if he was to have another accident or if you were to get into a fight leaving Wade dead no one would ask any questions."

Scott stood up and walked over to one of the maps on the wall as if in contemplation. "You can't dirty your hands because it would be bad for morale if you started killing off your own men. You can't use one of your own men for fear of them talking.

"But you can use me. I'm new, I'm a stranger and if I point the finger at you who would believe me anyway."

"You are very astute Mr. Duncan," Moose smiled.

"Please, call me Scott. However, I believe it would only be fair if we laid our cards on the table Colonel."

Taylor shot out of his chair and Moose looked at Scott in surprise.

"How..." Moose began.

Scott pointed towards the nametag on the floor. "I think you could use a better secretary."

Moose chuckled and motioned Taylor to resume his seat. "I guess I did not appreciate how astute you really are Mr....ah, Scott."

"Look, I used to be military, you use to be military and if I am correct Taylor used to be military," Scott said. "So we belong to an order few out there can still claim."

"Captain Barry Taylor," Moose nodded towards Taylor, "and I belonged to Ellsworth Air Force Base before the Big Bang. We were there when everything hit the fan.

"The best scenario we could figure out was that nut job in North Korea smuggled a mobile missile launcher into China. They launched on Russia and before anyone knew what was going on, everyone's automated defense system kicked in. Nuclear, dirty, chemical and biological bombs are flying across the globe.

"Fortunately, Ellsworth was untouched. We lived in those underground bunkers for as long as our food held out. What was it Captain, six months?"

Taylor nodded in affirmation.

"When we popped up to see what was left there were only fifty-three of us alive. We didn't have much trouble establishing our own little empire here in Sturgis. We had the weapons, we had the vehicles and we had the tactics.

"Sure by the time we finished establishing the Anarchists and had established our borders across North and South Dakota there was only me the Captain and five other soldiers left. You fought three of them today."

Scott pointed towards the maps on the walls. "It looks like the restoration of the United States could really put a damper on your empire building."

Taylor nodded again, "Yes, they could. That is why we are digging out the Minuteman..."

"Captain!" roared Moose.

Scott nodded his head, "That is why you are digging out a nuclear warhead."

Posted by deg at 05:31 PM | Comments (0)

November 21, 2007

The Scout

Chapter 19

By Dwayne MacInnes

Before the Colonel could say anything, Scott broke into a smile, "Colonel, Sir I like the way you think. With an unfired nuclear warhead, you could negotiate your own country. The last thing the U.S. needs right now is another nuclear war."

Moose Van Dyke was scowling. He did not like to have his plans revealed. Scott continued to play his part.

"Colonel, you have nothing to worry about from me. I'm in. As proof of my loyalty I will 'take out' your troublemaker -- tonight."

The Colonel broke into a smile, "Please, call me Moose. I don't like to flaunt my military credentials around. It's not too wise nowadays after the Big Bang and all."

Scott smiled towards Taylor, "Moose, Taylor, it is going to be wonderful relationship. Too bad we don't have anything to celebrate with."

Taylor pulled out a metal hip flask, "It pays to be prepared."

"Captain, that wouldn't wet my whistle," Moose replied as he pulled out an old bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey from his drawer.

"I've been saving this for a special occasion and I think it has arrived," the Colonel laughed.

Taylor and Scott joined in.

Moose took a long swig from the bottle before he passed it to Taylor. Taylor followed suit. Scott took enough to make it look like he was drinking and passed the bottle back to Moose.

The three men joked and passed the bottle around until it was almost empty. The sun was starting to set when Taylor fell unconscious into the chair. Moose laughed and pointed towards the Captain.

"That is why he's only a Captain," Moose slurred. Scott laughed and pretended to stagger towards the door.

"Colonel, shir," he slurred. "I have a mission to complete."

"Very well, but pleashe call me Mooshe."

Scott gave a drunken salute and staggered out of the door and across the store. Once outside Scott gave up his drunken persona. He had little time if he wanted to get Sam and rescue his sister before Taylor came to or Moose started to have second thoughts.

Fortunately, from the time he spent at the maps, Scott learned where Taylor and the new residences lived. The sun dipped behind the horizon and Scott hurried down the street.

He soon found the building where Taylor resided. It was a two-story brick building. There were guards posted on the outside and metal bars on the windows. Scott ducked down the alley and surveyed the buildings exterior.

Fortunately, the old fire escape was still intact and the steel bars fastened to the windows from the outside. Obviously, Taylor did not want people to get out. Scott cautiously crept his way up the metal steps of the fire escape. Other than a couple of groans from his weight on the weathered stairs, Scott made little noise.

The scout peered in through every window he could. The first story ones just revealed a kitchen, dining room, and some guard barracks. The second story windows were dark except one. Scott made his way over and looked through the window.

Inside Scott noticed a large bedroom. There was a lamp burning on a stand across the room from the bed. On the bed, a figure in diaphanous clothing shook as it sobbed. Scott knew he found the room he was looking for.

Scott pulled out his Swiss Army knife and began to unscrew a couple of the bars off the window. Recently installed, the steel bars' screws contained little rust to hinder his work. Within five minutes, Scott had the bars removed. He tried the window and it opened with ease. Taylor must have figured that locking windows would be useless when there were bars on them.

Scott stepped through the window and crept over to the sobbing girl. He knew it was Mary from her raven black hair. As quick as a cobra Scott wrapped his hand over the girl's mouth to prevent her giving alarm. The girl struggled fiercely in his arms.

"I came with Sam, we are here to rescue you," Scott whispered in her ear.

Mary suddenly became limp and she looked into Scott's face. She saw the kind and sincere look he gave and nodded that she understood. Scott pulled off his denim jacket and gave it to the shivering woman. Mary quickly pulled it on as she studied the scout in his black leather pants and his grimy white t-shirt.

Scott ushered Mary out the window and step through again into the night onto the fire escape when he suddenly heard the unmistakable sound of a cocking revolver behind his head.

"That's as far as you go Scout," a voice hissed behind him.

Posted by deg at 05:00 PM | Comments (0)

November 28, 2007

The Scout

Chapter 20

By Dwayne MacInnes

Scott could feel the cool metal of the pistol pressed into his skull and the warm breath of his assailant as he hoarsely whispered into Scott's ear. Scott could not see the man with the gun as he stood behind the scout.

"Well, Scout what brought you here in the first place?" the voice grunted. Scott looked over to Mary the young woman just stood there clutching the jacket to her small frame. Her face frozen with horror and drained of blood appeared luminously pale in the moonlight.

Scott found himself in a perilous situation. In a fraction of second, the debate in his head took two forms. He knew he could tell the truth, but there was no telling if his captor would believe it. On the other hand, he could lie, but again there was no telling if the man with the gun to his head would buy it. Either way he could wind up dead.

Scott gambled and determined to tell the truth. It was just implausible enough to be plausible.

"I came to rescue the boy's sister over there," Scott said with a forced steady voice. Anyone who ever said that they did not feel fear when a gun was to their head was either a liar or insane. Scott was neither and it took every ounce of reserve to keep the quiver out of his voice.

"So the boy isn't your son after all?"

Scott slowly shook his head. He tried to steal a glance behind him but all he could make out was a dark silhouette.

"You are not here to destroy the military grade materiel at Fort Meade's Veterans Hospital?" the voice pressed.

"I didn't know anything about until just now," Scott replied.

"Damn," the voice cursed into Scott's ear.

The gun left Scott's head and he heard with relief as the man eased the hammer back into its rest position. Scott spun around and finally received a good look at his assailant. It was none other than Wade.

"I suppose you saw Moose Van Dyke?" Wade asked.

Scott just nodded his head.

"I suppose those bastards were surprised to see me weren't they?"

Scott looked into Wade's eyes. He noticed the sadness and disappointment that registered upon his face as Scott told him about how they sabotaged his bike.

"I suppose as a test of your loyalty -- you are to finish me off, eh?" Wade asked forlornly.

"Yeah, that was the gist of it," Scott replied. "However, I'm just here for the girl and as soon as I get Sam, I'm out of here. You can join us if you wish."

"The boy is at your buggy, and I recommend that you join him ASAP. I have some unfinished business here," Wade said.

Wade stuck out his hand and grabbed Scott's in a firm handshake. "Well, pal. Thanks again for sparing my life. I hope you make it back to the States safe and sound."

Scott nodded and then quickly ushered Mary down the fire escape. As they reached the alley, Scott stole a glance up to the landing. However, Wade was now long gone.

By ducking down alleys and hiding behind derelict automobiles, the pair finally made their way back to the buggy undetected. Sam nearly yelped in surprise to see his sister safe and sound. The two siblings embraced each other and tears fell from their eyes from the reunion.

Scott allowed them a moment to themselves before he interrupted. "Okay, kids we need to get out of here and quick."

"How do we get passed the guards at the gate?" Sam asked. The boy was once again wedged between the seats and the buggies frame positioned in front of the engine.

"Mary, do you think you can operate that gun in front of you?" Scott asked as he fired up the engine.

"Yeah, if I have to. I have no love for these scum," the young woman said vehemently.

"Good," Scott said as he pulled the buggy onto the road. "We may need to shoot our way out."

Scott weaved his way through town and approached the gate that blocked the road exiting town without any opposition. However, the gate appeared closed and locked and there stood two guards with M-16s at the ready.

As Scott pulled the buggy to a stop in front of the gate, two more guards appeared from behind.

"No one leaves town after sundown," one of the guards yelled. "You better head back to town now or we will be forced to open fire."

Posted by deg at 09:40 PM | Comments (0)

December 05, 2007

The Scout

Chapter 21

By Dwayne MacInnes

Scott looked over to Mary. The young woman shook with fear. Her hands frozen beside her body were useless and Scott cursed to himself. He forgot that these people lived in fear; they did not have the combat reflexes that he had acquired over the years.

"Hey buddy, are you going to turn that jalopy around or do we have to riddle your bodies with lead?" exclaimed the lead guard.

The scout revved the engine resigned to ram the gate when suddenly a flash of light flooded the sky behind them. A fraction of a second later a loud explosive blast followed.

Everyone including the occupants of the buggy turned to see what was amiss. Yellow and red flames licked the sky and the occasional crack of small arms fire punctuated the night.

"What the fuh..." the lead guard ejaculated before some one back in town started yelling.

"Uprising! Everyone to arms the slaves are in revolt."

Another guard exclaimed, "They must have reached one of the weapons cache and then destroyed it!"

Scott quickly took advantage of the situation. "Dammit man, open the gate. I need to alert the veterans' hospital. Then you must block this gate so no one can escape."

The lead guard quickly fumbled around with his keys before he found the correct one. The gate flew opened barely seconds before the buggy leapt through them.

The small buggy flew down the road as men from Fort Meade's Veterans Hospital ran towards town. A few vehicles also started to make their way onto the road. Scott just weaved his way between them before an M113 armored personnel carrier forced him to halt by blocking his way.

M113 APC

The gunner looked down from the M113 onto the buggy, "Hey, were the hell are you guys going?"

"Umm, we were sent to dispatch the garrison to put down the slave revolt in town," Scott replied.

"Well, consider it done. Now turn that buggy around and get back to town or you will be shot," the gunner yelled back.

The explosive rumble of a machine gun tore through the chaos. Scott watched as bullets pounded into the side of the APC as it stitched its way up to the gunner. The Anarchist tumbled backwards as bullets perforated his body.

Scott glanced over to the source of the noise to see Mary had the M60 machinegun elevated as far as it could go. Smoke still streamed from the barrel.

"There's no way in hell I'm going back," Mary said in a stern angry voice.

Before any of the Anarchists on the road could determine what was going on, Scott had the buggy swerving around the APC and disappearing down the battered road. A few rifles and pistols opened up on the buggy before the three escapees vanished into the night.

The sun was rising over the eastern horizon by the time Scott pulled the buggy off the highway and into the city that Sam and Scott had met up with the Anderson Brothers Salvagers. The scout stopped the buggy when he reached the post office that contained his Charger.

As he stepped out of the vehicle, he noticed that Mary and Sam were both sleeping. No one had bothered with conversation during the night. The only thing that mattered to them was escaping the Anarchists.

Scott stretched his limbs and released a yawn as he looked upon the two sleeping figures. Sam wedged in the cramped compartment behind the seats had curled himself up like a dog. Mary's head rested upon her chest.

That was when Scott noticed that the denim jacket was soaked in blood. "NO!" Scott yelled as he rushed to the passenger side of the buggy.

Sam shot up from his curled up position and looked towards the scout. As he followed Scott's gaze to his sister Sam quickly reached out to Mary and shook her still form.

"Mary! Wake up, Mary!" Sam cried with tears flowing down his cheeks.

Scott lifted the woman out of the seat and laid her upon the litter-strewn road. He quickly searched her body and found the bullet wound. One of the Anarchists weapons had found its mark. The bullet had entered from just under Mary's right arm and exited just above her right breast.

The scout was able to register a feeble pulse. Quickly he removed the denim jacket and tore off the upper right part of the nightgown. Then Scott tore off the lower hem of the nightgown, being the cleanest material around he used it to bind Mary's wound.

"Is she going to live?" Sam sobbed.

Scott looked into Sam's watering eyes. The sorrow there nearly floored him. Scott returned to attending to Mary, "Sam, go get the first aid kit out of the Charger."

As the boy ran into the dilapidated building Scott finally answered, "I don't know."

Posted by deg at 06:19 PM | Comments (0)

December 12, 2007

The Scout

Chapter 22

By Dwayne MacInnes

Sam promptly returned with the first aid kit. Scott undid his makeshift bandage and cleaned the wound. Finally, he rebound it with sterile bandages from the kit. Unfortunately, that was all he could do.

Sam sniffed. "Mary, please don't die," he begged his unconscious sister, "Please!"

Scott gingerly lifted the woman and took her inside the post office. He laid her upon the floor. Her pulse was weak, but her bleeding had now stopped.

"She's lost a lot of blood," Scott said more to himself than to Sam. "If only we could give her a transfusion."

Alas, the lack of proper equipment and knowledge prevented Scott from administering something that was routine in any ambulance or clinic before the Big Bang. The closest hospital was probably in Billings hundreds of miles away.

Scott did everything he could to make Mary comfortable. His leather black jacket covered her torso. The old worn denim jacket was now serving as a pillow. Sam kneeled by her side and kept a tearful vigil.

Fearing that a patrol may be on their trail Scott pulled the buggy into the post office and parked it next to his Charger. As he waited for any sign of improvement in Mary, Scott removed the .30 machinegun from the buggy and stored it in the black muscle car.

Scott no sooner returned to Sam's side next to Mary than the woman gave out a loud gasp. Her eyes fluttered opened and she hastily searched around the room with her head. "Sam. Sam," she said hoarsely.

"I'm here," Sam replied as he squeezed Mary's hand. Mary looked over at Sam.

"I can barely see you Sam," Mary said weakly.

"Mary, it'll be all right. You'll see," the boy offered in a tear-choked voice.

"Thank you, for rescuing me," Mary whispered. "I could never have survived there."

"You just rest and get better," Sam choked out tearfully.

"Sam? Sam, are you there?" Mary asked.

"Yes Mary," sobbed the boy.

"Sam, I see Ma and Pa. They look well," and with that Mary expelled her last breath.

"NO!!!" Sam screamed. The young boy threw himself prostrate over his sister's form and let grief overcome him. Scott wept as he watched the boy shake as deep sobs racked his small frame.

* * * * *
1970 Dodge Charger

The scout allowed the boy an hour of grief before he tore the listless boy from Mary's body. Sam offered no resistance as Scott led him to the Charger and then lifted him inside. Scott recovered his leather jacket and used the denim jacket to cover Mary's dead form.

The Charger roared to life as Scott started the vehicle. The engine's rumbling purr shook the walls of the post office. The scout drove the black car outside and parked it across the street. Scott then climbed out and ducked back into the post office.

Not paying much attention to the outside world Sam half watched the scout disappear into the building. As Scott returned, black smoke started to emanate from the structure.

Scott slowly drove the Charger back towards the highway. Within three minutes, flames engulfed the post office. The telltale black smoke rose into the horizon as Scott drove north back towards North Dakota.

* * * * *

Sam grieved in silence as the muscle car once again sped down the worn road. Given all they had endured in the last twenty-four hours Scott was relieved to be back in his scout vehicle. The thick hide surrounding them would have stopped the bullet that killed Mary.

Scott pushed the thought from his mind and drove along the highway in silence.

The roar of the Charger's engine was its own music and Scott never tired of hearing it. With any luck before nightfall, the two would be within the safe confines of the United States.

Scott could only hope that the Anarchists would see the trail of smoke and investigate. That would leave his route open to the borders of Montana. An uneventful passage was all Scott prayed for now.

Unfortunately, the rapid pinging off the back of the Charger let Scott know that God was not answering his prayers today. A quick glance at his monitor brought a score of buggies and bikers approaching from his rear.

Scott stepped onto the accelerator. The Charger lurched forward in unrestrained power. The rear tires spat out dirt and small stones as they dug into the crumbling concrete.

As the black vehicle flew down the road, the buggies and bikes matched its speed. The small arms of the motorcycles did not bother Scott. However, the medium arms of the buggies could do some serious damage if they found the right spot.

The muscle car weaved back and forth, as bullets whizzed by or impacted into the rear armor. The Montana border seemed to creep closer ever so slowly. Scott reached for his long-range radio if the atmospherics were right and there was someone close enough he could radio for help.

"Mayday! Mayday! This is a United States Scout vehicle asking for any assistance," Scott screamed as more bullets pounded into the back of the Charger.

The chase led them through the small hills and steep cliffs of the badlands. Scott kept repeating his message. The bikers and buggies also kept up their fire.

M1A1 Abrams Tank

"Okay, Scout stop your vehicle now!" a voice crackled over the radio. Suddenly five Abrams M1 tanks crested the hills in front of Scott and above two Cobra AH-1s flew. Scott slammed on the brakes and the Charger reluctantly slid to a stop.

"Damn," the scout cursed. It appeared Van Dyke and company finally had them.

AH1 Cobra
Posted by deg at 01:43 PM | Comments (0)

December 19, 2007

The Scout

Chapter 23

By Dwayne MacInnes

When the tanks reached the top of the hills, they open fire. Sam stared in awe as the mighty guns exploded. Scott was amazed as the first salvo screamed overhead and smashed into the ranks of Anarchists.

The motorbikes and buggies flew into the air in twisted burning wreckage. Then the helicopters opened up with their machineguns. The 20 mm rounds fired from the M197 tri-barrel chewed up what the tanks did not destroy. In a matter of half a minute, the entire Anarchist patrol laid destroyed smoking and burning in the late afternoon sun.

Scott now noticed the white stars and American flags painted on the vehicles.

"Looks like you are in the clear, Scout," the mysterious voice crackled over the radio again. "Welcome back to the United States of America."

* * * * *

General MacKenzie paced back and forth in the briefing room. He had just finished debriefing Scott and the report of a petty dictator trying to carve himself an empire out in South Dakota greatly troubled him.

"We've dealt with crazies styling themselves after Napoleon before," the large general said. "But we never had to deal with one who wanted to play at Armageddon. Hell, you'd think we all would have learned something over the last twelve years."

Scott just sat behind the table watching the general march back and forth before the dry erase board. The military base situated just outside of Billings represented the farthest eastern reach of the United States in the north.

"You know general, we may need your fire power to help us get to the Twin Cities," Scott finally said.

"Impossible," the general barked. "We are all that stands between this fried-out colonel and the rest of the United States. You know how hard it is to get five M1s not to mention those two Cobras?"

"General, we don't stand a chance if we send our usual convoy east. How about that Apache you've been working on? I also know you have some of those old Pattons."

AH64 Apache Helicopter

"The AH64 is nearly repaired. However, it is a moot point. There is no way the president and the congress is going to allow me to loan you that helicopter or those three M60s."

M60 Patton Tank

The general groaned, "Ah hell, we have a month to ready the convoy and fix up your car. Who knows maybe I can work some kind of miracle. You didn't happen to see what all they had there at Fort Meade did you?"

"Sorry general," Scott replied. "I only saw one M113 APC. In fact, I thought they caught up to us when I first saw your forces. Thank God, we started painting the white stars back on our equipment."

The general laughed, "Yeah, it has been about half a century since we did that. But, things have changed and now more than ever we need to be able to tell us from them.

"Not to change the subject. But, have you decided what you'll do about the kid?" the general asked with genuine concern.

"I guess I haven't really thought about it," Scott said. "I suppose I'll have to adopt him otherwise he'll be sent to a coast detention center. That would be pretty cruel after losing all of his family."

The general groaned, "You know that there are regulations about that."

Scott scratched his chin in thought before he finally broke out in a smile, "Unless the refugee from the Wastes has a special talent that would greatly benefit the United States."

The general stared at Scott for a while, "What in the hell could that kid offer us. He's hardly a mechanic or an engineer."

"No, but I could definitely use a top gunner for my car," Scott countered.

"WHAT!?!" the general exclaimed. "I doubt that kid even held a gun before he met you. He's no top gunner."

"Yet -- General -- he's no gunner yet. I was kind of hoping you'd help out with this. After all, we have a month to scr