As a force of turmoil and chaos, The Universe, the canvas for all things in existence to frolic on, is nothing and everything in between. As rumpled fabric, it does not recognize its moments as coming or going. The Universe is. And that should be enough. But as everything and nothing, The Universe decided long ago to seek solace in the experiences of those that suffer because they are forced to be. The brightest experiences are those that are fraught with pain and disappointment. Freaks and the unlucky that lurk inside moist, forgotten folds where life can form. Soft juicy donuts filled with thoughts and feelings. Like berries for The Universe to pluck and devour, thoughts, acts, and history.
All so delicious.
Maybe it’s by design they are so well hidden within the canvas they play on, but as sometimes happens, one makes itself known. A being in an orange jumpsuit needs help. So the Universe does the opposite and stretches the fabric between realities to give the creature made to hunt an easier path to its would-be prey.
It must be done carefully, so that the membrane doesn’t break, and it works. The Oddity thinks it dreams still, seeing the crumb floating on his back in the vastness of space, lost like all the best crumbs are before they are found. The oddity’s stomach growls at the sight and lunges as if birthed through the miasma that is dark matter. He fights to free himself, and The Universe liberates it of the physics that keeps everything else locked down.
And then, the fireworks of conflict.
So much in so short an amount of time.
Oh, the bliss, this conflict, and The Universe revels. But, regardless of which victor’s soiled vinegar of a destructive lifeforce fills its soul, The Universe is forced to sit back, beg for more and more feelings, thought, and experience. More more more. More anything to distract from the ever-expanding snap that will all too soon end in entropy.
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He watches the gulls circle.
They have the scent and screech and caw, and circle, and dive plunking at the soft bits, avoiding the scales and the still twitching clawed limbs. They scream with victory when able to take bits of brain or an eye airborne.
Crabs work the soft underneath, maybe come in through the exit, or slip through the mouth and then eventually the fish have their turn.
The sun glitters near the horizon, reflecting green off the shiny scales of the giant lizard and the wind blows hard and cold and he can’t remember his own name.
Only that they saved her. That much he knows. But he can’t picture who they saved, or who they are. He only knows he is broken and done, like the beast that lies lifeless in front of him swallowing his view of the steel grey ocean.
He sinks a bit into the wet sand with the coming tide.
Salty water rolls in white with loose sand and a giant roar before breaking against the shore washing over him and pulling the great wyrm a bit farther into the drink.
The beach is polluted with the stink of dragon blood, like rotten eggs cooked over low heat.
An inky blackness flows from the dragon’s ruined skull staining everything.
A six flued harpoon dips as a couple albatross settle down on it, scouting choice vittles.
He can only marvel that the harpoon found a soft spot as all. Maybe the Gods were against him after-all. This forces a painful chuckle. How they did it, he can’t recall.
A lucky shot. It must have been.
He is cold and wet and dying.
His body is smashed. He feels his armor tight against his rapidly swelling flesh. He tries to move but feels strapped down. Numb. Nothing cooperates. But then he makes a foot scoot across the beach and hears the jangle of a spur pulled off his heel and sitting wrong on his ankle. It gives him hope until another wave washes over him and he sputters brine against his sinuses.
Soon the waves will knock him down and current will drag him out to sea. Maybe the crabs will start working on him also. Hopefully he will be dead by then. A memory. A hero. He coughs.
Hero feels wrong.
He coughs again.
Bright red blood drips from his gauntlet covered hand. A hand that feels crushed and useless. A hand that felt the inside of a dragon’s mouth pinned between two wicked sharp teeth like a piece of meat in need of picking.
The waves come again and he sinks further into the sand.
They saved her.
He can’t summon her, but then he does. Her image floats in his mind. She has hair fine like strands of gold, blue eyes, bright and sparkling like a summer sky clear of clouds. A laugh like music, a voice like song. He takes a sudden deep gasping breath. He wanted her badly, but now will never have her, or anything ever again.
Another wave and his body sinks further which makes his head dip low. A fiery pain races down his spine. He now sees his other hand sitting on a silver pommel carved with a richly decorated wyvern head. The sculpture has its mouth opened wide as if diving for an attack.
The dying light sparkles in its rich folds and details.
He is mesmerized by it’s artistry.
He knows it will be the last thing he will ever see.
Until a set of boots set themselves under his gaze.
At first the black leather footwear surprises him.
Wet sand is flecked on glistening polish. The foot within is wide, but not long. Then two huge fists, one clamped around a harpoon similar to the weapon that took down the dragon and the other takes his chin and makes him looks up.
He feels no pain or anything else.
His eyes journey up legs encased in the finely hammered mesh. Mithril, white and glowing, expensive craftsmanship he decides. Black leather leggings underneath protect the skin. A thick black leather belt circles a belly indistinguishable from a barrel chest marked with the symbol of the Dwarf God Moradin. Round muscular shoulders and biceps strain against the chain surrounding them. Then a fierce face surrounded by a flaming red beard and a bulbous nose over a bushy mustache almost hiding a thin angry mouth.
Two huge black mirthless eyes glower under rusty-eyebrows scrunched into a furious scowl.
He notes a steel skull cap glittering with gems.
His gaze is on eye level with the dwarf. He knows the man. He knows him well. Maybe not a name or places or deeds, but him, the idea there will be no decision making to be had here, that has already been done.
As expected the iron hard fist equipped with the harpoon is raised and plunged through his jowls. He chokes on thick blood and shattered bone, but no pain until the dwarf speaks.
“For the sake of mercy,” he growls before shoving the vicious weapon up through the brain pan. “Tis better then you would have showed her.”
Art by: Rasmus Berggreen
The kid, Tommy, never smoked before, “What do you think I should try?”
The guy at the coffee shop was being a dick and said, “here,” giving him the most potent strain of sativa he had in stock, a variety labeled green crack.
Tommy smoked the shit out of that herb.
He had an Armenian guy roll him up a fat joint with the whole gram tucked inside. He sat in the back coughing and hitting it until it burned up into the filter and he was just smoking cardboard.
It didn’t take long before he had to do something. Did not matter what, he just needed to be busy. The first thing he did was try and clean the coffee shop, but the guy behind the counter took offense and kicked him out.
No he screamed and pointed out into the street forcing Tommy to walk the red light district, until he saw an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
It felt so right.
So he jumped in to start helping a crew dredge a canal. The mud was cold and slimy. He sunk in up to his knees. He was wearing shorts so that did not matter much. On the first couple steps he lost his sandals. Barefoot felt better anyway.
He then tried to take the shovel from the guy next to him, “just want to help bro,” and woke up in the hospital with a broken jaw.
It was handcuffed on the gurney, covered in mud, he made the decision never to smoke again.
A suicidal Thomas Scanlen scrapes a bit more rock from the initials he works into the soft moss covered stone. Next to his giant T.S. is an ancient bit of writing that could be Latin and next to it a bit of Celt.
Satisfied he turns and faces the roar of water behind him. They say it goes down forever, that there is no bottom, that time stops inside the vortices of cold grey water. None who have jumped in have ever come back, no clues, only rumors of a different place.
With nothing left Thomas dives in.
Immediately he is forced into a fast moving swirl of water, his lungs burn for air and death reaches out a cold skeletal hand to pull him into the abyss.
With the last possible moment of life remaining he flies through a surface of barren rock and lands with a painful plop.
He turns over and sees a million rocky chunks in place of a moon dotting an upper atmosphere on fire.
Different? yes. Better? No.
The battle of Goblin Forest is part legend and part history, which depends who is asked. The story is of a troll giant and his bow with a legend of mud goblins in tow.
It should be known the men of Riverdon did bravely stand their ground protecting a city on the brink of destruction. Mothers with children needed salvation, home and hearth were on the verge of destruction. It was a losing effort and nothing could be done.
Nothing, save her.
The hundred man guard fought in rusting armor with once gleaming swords They fell quickly as the ragged horde advanced. Crow feather fletched arrows tipped with jagged bone of long ago devoured victims flew like torrid rain.
The projectiles sliced through armor as if made of nothing but cheap linen.
These men were worthless against this army set on an evil quest. They were brewers and blacksmiths, shop owners and tavern keepers, tailors, farmers and laborers. Not many would ever have claimed to be a warrior before this day. And those that could retired so long ago that they hadn’t thought of their sword hilt as something other than a nutcracker in years.
The goblin numbers were impressive. Sanctity of life was not something they thought worth preserving. Stinking pits of shit and slime await them at their backs just over the North Mountain where they came.
If it was known what they came for the Riverdon mayor would have given any sacrifice. Anything would have been worth peace.
Riverdon had known nothing but amity for centuries. It is a place of small homes set on the banks of a softly swirling tributary of the Great River called the West Fork. No treasure waits here. No great personage of wealth or rank to be held for ransom either. Few roads even led through the area.
Yet now they were besieged.
The general of garrison forces, a title Preston Nickles gave himself when he was elected mayor last year, attempted to parlay. He approached with white flag fluttering in the death scented breeze. The tall red brush on the top of his helm bobbed as he stepped over the fallen bodies of his citizenry. His fat legs were shoved into armor a decade too small and pudged out grotesquely.
One after another the goblins point back to their leader, the twenty foot tall giant. Lean with quivering muscle and great protruding sharpened teeth streaked with brown rot. A crazy glint in his eye and a hungry sheen of saliva on his lips.
“What do you want?” the mayor asked in words coated with fear and the promise anything would be given.
The giant troll opens his mouth to answer but is cut short.
The voice was mighty. It came from behind the mayor. In the face of an evil monster it held power enough to sway the mayor to turn his back from danger and look.
Some of the men preoccupied with dying also lifted their heads. Those that saw say she blinked into existence ten feet behind the short pudgy politician.
She was described as having shoulder length blonde hair glimmering with an preternatural sheen. Blue eyes with an hard forged glint of leadership, wizened with age and just a touch of humor. Over her shoulders she wore a deep green wool cloak under which she had just simple traveling clothes and feet shod in heavy black boots. The hood on the cloak rested just back on her forehead showing off slightly pointed ears suggesting at one point an elf may have been kin, but long enough ago for her to pass as human if she chose and probably not enough to be welcomed in any of the Elven kingdoms.
Her ruby red lips were pulled back into something like a smirk.
In her hand was a long ash wood staff.
The tip glowed blue.
“You followed me this whole way? Quite dedicated to your master aren’t we?”
Without answering the giant pulled an arrow out of his quiver and cocked it in his bow.
This took no more time than a blink of an eye, but before the spear length piece of wood and bone could be let to fly the woman said a simple word, “Kihi,” and the giant flared white.
When the glow settled he was frozen in place solid as granite.
Some of the goblins ran screaming back the way they came. Others turned to face the mage and one after another they were turned to stone like their leader.
The mayor looked up from the ground where he had thrown himself and the woman met his eyes, “Sorry about that.’ she said. ‘Would have been here sooner, but travel makes one weary.”
With a shrug she turned and walked East toward the Great River never to set foot in Riverdon again.
There Is No Escape
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A transport ship swings down and enters the first runway gate. It moves slow. Its two plasma engines glowing a dull yellow. The craft’s designation on the grey hull is written in chipped white paint, it reads SF 92/902.
A little boy sits on his daddy’s shoulders watching. He asks, “is that them?” The boy could be five or six. He is skinny, maybe too skinny. Large black bags hang from under his eyes. Eyes that hold an excitement that only those new to life can have.
The father answers, “I don’t know.” The air is dry and cool, he stifles a small cough. His face looks gaunt, hollow, haunted.
The child is quiet as if thinking. He reaches a hand out and lays it against the triple layered glass in front of him. The space station’s observation portal is cold to the touch. Voices around them hushed and conversations are whispered as if the crowd is witnessing a great thing.
Outside the observation deck is the carved out asteroid named Hermes II.
Hermes II was mined empty of useful ore and almost deemed useless, until a mining unit fell into a wormhole.
They were lost, but with their deaths some of humanity might be saved.
A flash of blue light fills the tunnel and several people utter involuntary exclamations of wonder and delight.
“Wow,” the little boy yells.
The father pats his son’s knee while trying to keep his body from coughing again.
Over an intercom a three note chime sounds proceeding a woman’s voice. She asks for, “Attention please.’ and is silent before asking again, “Attention. Will 8th battalion, 24th regiment please proceed to the boarding area. Will the Marines attached to 8th battalion, 24 regiment please report to the bordering area for immediate launch. Thank you.”
“That’s mommy’s unit!” the little boy screams delighted.
“Yes Sebastian, that’s Mommy’s unit,” the man’s voice sounds strained. As if even talking about his wife is difficult. He coughs again, this time he hides his face in his elbow. He coughs for a full minute. Afterward he looks around embarrassed, no one seems to notice.
There are a few other muttered responses to the woman’s announcement. 8th battalion is famous. Eight-hundred men and women in that unit have been asked to fight often over the last century.
Their most infamous battle was the one against the Manhattan Brotherhood, a supposed Jihadist movement that killed indiscriminately. In reality they were a group of undesirables that were starving and desperate and the Marines planned military action took them by surprise as they scratched out a living.
Maybe a bit of history?
Remember, New York got the bomb in the last part of the twenty-first century. As with any huge event who dropped it depends on which literature you read. Some thought it was the Saudi’s, others thought America did it to herself.
This whole war was started over oil.
Again it depends who is talking.
The word humanitarian-action was thrown around a bunch also as a cause of the conflict.
That’s funny though.
Throughout the twenty-second century close to a hundred million people died. Half the planet is now considered unlivable. Millions more die every year just due to the way things were left. Old age for many is a fantasy.
It has been a century of hard fighting. From the Middle East, Asia, Europe and South America into Mexico. The Texas border war was brutal. Most of southern California is still a nuclear wasteland.
Eventually the war ended, or dwindled, and people find it hard to accept that they or their ancestors fought for anything but a better world.
Some think the war ended because there was no more oil to fight for anyway.
The planet is dry.
But really there is no one left to fight really. Many places were forced back into paleolithic lifestyles.
Cave dwellers. Rock throwers. But that was putting it lightly. Making a joke out of horribly desperate situations that weren’t going to ever improve.
The Earth is dying.
Earthquakes and volcanic eruption happened all the time. The oceans aren’t rising they are disappearing. Wildlife is a thing of fairy tales.
There just isn’t anything to fight for down there anymore.
New York wasn’t as bad as say Caracas, but for over a century those that choose to live there were not considered desirable citizens. They were called desperates, as if it were their fault. In actuality, it was hard to call Manhattan home and not support the Brotherhood, unless you lived like a rat sneaking around at night, or through the defunct sewer system.
The Marines were called to do their thing when “satellite imagery” showed the Brotherhood was building strength and looked like they might try for an invasion into Old New Jersey. A foothold on the mainland could not be tolerated. They were tolerated isolated on the island, because the radiation made the land uninhabitable, but anywhere else they could be dangerous.
The brotherhood fought with swords and spears. They fought in serwals bare-chested and barefooted.
The 24th killed hundreds of thousands of them.
It was a massacre. Wiped the island clean. Humanitarian groups called it a war crime.
No one was going to prosecute. War crimes happened all the time down on Earth.
They won. Neutralized the threat. Protected the mainland. That’s all that mattered in the end.
In North America things continue to be okay. Corn and wheat continue to be grown. Cows, pigs and chickens are slaughtered by the millions every year. Shrimp, salmon and dolphin fish are grown in salt water vats. Ships are sent to Europe with food stuffs and goods and money is exchanged.
But in Russia rocket after rocket continue to be launched into space on ion engines.
You see, time is growing short. A fix is needed to what some humans did to their home world.
But there is no fix, only what exists on the other side of this gate.
A virgin planet.
An unpolluted world.
A place with creatures that aren’t human.
Another blue light flashes as a transport ship enters the wormhole.
“Whoa, that is amazing,” exclaims an older man with a shock of white hair and a severely bent spine.
The man with his son on his shoulders coughs again. He wipes bright red tinged phlegm off on the sleeve of his green jumpsuit stained with black grease smears and other signs of hard work. He eyes the old man. It’s easy to see the hate.
The old man is oblivious.
A ship with pale yellow engines causes another blue flash and he taps his cane excitedly on the metal floor.
‘Was that one Mommy?” the little boy asks.
The father coughs again before answering breathlessly, “I don’t know son, maybe.”
Droken sits a bit away from the rest of his party. He is thinking about stuff that bothers him. He decides elves bother him and he doesn’t like them. He thinks they are shiny and smell like flowers and they look too soft and their hair shimmers like cloudless nights after a deep snowfall.
As a dwarf with no mountain Droken hates elves more than he hates Moradin.
He especially hates Starla and her golden skin and her huge blue eyes and her soft touch and her real good healing spells.
Deep in his thinking Droken is startled when the human bard yells from just behind his shoulder, “Hey guys Droken’s drawing elves in the dirt again.”
“No I ain’t,” he says quickly scrubbing the figure he had been sketching in the dirt away with his foot and throwing the short length of stick into the woods. “No I ain’t, neither.”
In this moment I have forgotten everything that makes me more then lance, sinew, bone and muscle.
I am my training.
I am the stinking sulphur-breath of a two thousand stone flying lizard.
I am the open black lipped rotten tooth maw.
I am the slick mist and wet stone.
The chill in the wind.
The dying day.
The rising grey tide of night.
I am more then the searing pain of fiery death.
I am more.
A life forfeit.
A moment in time, a snippet of lust, a lunge, a rasping breath, a broken body, a dying ember.
I am the ideal, a fleeting glory, a forgotten myth.
I am champion.
In this moment I serve only as savior.
Harold fingers the button behind his ear. But he decides not yet. Maybe he can make it tonight without it.
Harold is a veteran. He fought on Europa. He killed fish. He killed fish fathers protecting their fish families. He stomped on freshly laid fish eggs containing fish babies destined for fish sentience. He killed fish mothers guarding their fish nests.
He personally killed thousands and thousands of fish. He watched them fall and be instantly replaced by thousands more fish ready to die.
The worst part is he isn’t sure whether the blue-scaled sea beasts deserved it or not. Humans invaded their world. Destroyed their civilization, but in the end he felt like he was just protecting himself. They would just come and come and come. They would kill marines and devour the flesh right off the bone as marine bullets rained into their bodies.
The image of their jagged toothed face stretched into a hideous smile while dripping human blood haunts his dreams every night.
Eventually they had to nuke the fish cities under the ice. Marines went in to do clean up. Marines went crazy when they saw the bombs did nothing to quell the numbers.
They just kept coming. More and more. Ten replacing every single one killed.
Harold does not like to think of himself as crazy, but he can’t sleep anymore and this night is no different.
Tonight he tried to sleep, but the face of his buddy Tony kept creeping up on him. If not Tony’s face one of the hundred others he watched die every day joins him in his dreams.
They all are set upon by hungry fish screaming as the flesh is pulled from their bones.
He climbed out of bed deciding to walk it off.
He tries to walk it off every night.
He likes the pathway that circles the whole hab. It measures fifty miles. He has never felt the need to walk the whole thing, just a couple miles of it. He will walk a few hundred feet and stop and soak in the quiet from down below. Twenty million sleeping people live in a dome orbiting the moon.
He has trouble believing he gets to live here, sometimes he feels lucky.
Then the images of his war will spring up out of nowhere.
A devastated city deep under the ice shimmering with the light of Jupiter.
The men talked about how it must have looked before the nukes. Blue crystal shards are all that remain. Blue crystal shards and angry fish.
Piles of dead, piles and piles of dead marines being eaten by angry fish.
Nothing could stop the fish but leaving and they did, but not until they threw all they had against them. But they just kept coming, billions and billions of them and nothing slowed their numbers or cooled their anger.
Humans never went back to Europa. Leery, they set up watch and waited for the fish to come get their revenge. It’s been a decade and so far so good, but still Harold knows they are owed a revenge and if they come he knows he will kill himself before facing them again.
Two fighters race across the horizon of the moon. Probably just maneuvers, but still it makes his anxiety soar.
Harold does not know why he was asked to go in the first place. Maybe revenge for the first Europa exploration mission. Maybe resources. Maybe politics. Maybe preservation of humanity. Maybe so this nice dome could be built so the old folks can enjoy a view of the moon as they die.
Harold isn’t old, but he can’t work anymore either and feels the gravity of death pulling on him, getting closer every day.
He stops again and leans against the pathway railing and looks down at the homes below . The shimmering swimming pools. The lawn furniture. The grills. The fake grass. Happy people who don’t have to think about Tony screaming for help as he is being eaten alive. Eaten alive for what? So Harold can escape back to the surface and board a waiting evac ship?
Harold fingers the button behind his ear again. There is an implant there that turns off the negative thoughts. The V.A. gave it to him. Some of the guys he knows who made it back say it’s to save the government money on meds and therapy.
Harold still takes meds and goes to therapy. Nothing helps. But he hates hitting the little button. It does what they say it’s going to do. It makes his thoughts better, but then his thoughts always return to Tony and the fish.
He presses the little skin-tone colored button behind his ear anyway. He can’t help it. He needs the thoughts to stop. He needs to sleep.
He feels the dopamine receptor fire a burst of chemicals into his hippocampus and instantly he feels better.
Instantly he remembers he is a Space Marine. A Space marine until he dies.
( Art: City by atlas091 )