Sunday, July 16, 2017

TO SAVE TEUTH part 3

Copyright (c) 2017 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.


By R. Peterson

Vandens loomed like a massive burned-out firework at one edge of the universe. Keeper and the volunteer crew aboard the cigar-shaped cryonic ship streaked passed endless star systems within the E4 elliptical galaxy. All the outward planets had been charred into gaping-holed cinders by the destructive violence of the ever-advancing Swarm. So far there had been no contact with the advanced insect species. “Perhaps the Vabalas have dined and dashed,” First Officer Jeff Bland suggested, “taking a short nap before they consume another million worlds.”
“I purposely approached this galaxy from the back side,” Keeper said as he studied patterns created by colored streams of water vapor in one section of the alien control room. “Our hungry hosts are still here, and they are not finished eating. Would you like to listen?”
“Sound waves in space?” Jeff laughed. “I always believed it was impossible for particles of matter to vibrate inside a vacuum.”
“Space is not a vacuum,” Keeper said. “It is a fabric woven of dark energy that bends light, creates gravity and allows the universe to expand. There is movement in all matter even dark types … didn’t you ever jump on your bed as a child?”
“I slept in a tin-can trailer house with a low ceiling and an even lower stepmother named Tina,” Jeff said. “I would have banged my head … or she would have.”
You must learn to forgive yourself and others Junior Bill,” Keeper smiled. The way he pronounced the name sounded eerily like the fat, abusive slob who married Jeff’s father.
“Once you are able to detect dark matter,” Keeper continued. “A computer can transform any changes in its normal structure patterns into sound waves.”
Keeper handed Jeff a pair of headphones designed to fit an oversized amphibian head. “Why not just play the sound over the audio channels?” Jeff asked as he adjusted and put them on.
            “We have a hundred nervous crew members and twenty innocent students on board an alien cargo ship,” Keeper said. “And we’re going to a very dangerous place. Why give them nightmares before we arrive?”
When Bland motioned that he was ready to hear what the Swarm sounded like, his smile suddenly became open mouthed astonishment and then transformed into a look of terror as Keeper turned up the volume. Jeff ripped the headphones from his ears and flung them on the control room floor.
Keeper was quick to turn down the volume but a faint chewing sound mixed with humanoid screams coming from the headphones made Jeff’s blood run cold. “I’ve only heard something that hideous once in my life,” he gasped. “It was an audio recording the Nazis on Earth made inside of an experimental Birkenau death-chamber during one of their tests in 1939. Two hundred Polish men, women and children crowded into a tiny room took over an hour to die from corrosive Phosgene gas.”
“I wanted you to know what we’re getting into,” Keeper said. “The universe is filled with as much beauty as it is with ugliness; the important thing to remember is that there is balance in all things.”
Leika appeared and posed next to a sickened Jeff. “Like beauty and the beast!” She smiled, flashing emerald green eyes while wearing a new gown of Alurian spider-silk that shimmered with rainbow-colored diamonds.
“I’ve never seen you wear the same outfit twice,” Jeff stared. She was a gorgeous distraction. “It must cost ten thousand credits a month just to keep your wardrobe supplied. What do you do with the old ones?”
“Thirty thousand … and I burn them,” Leika sneered. “Once your slimy eyes have dripped on my garments … they are ruined forever.”
“Have you been in communication with the Centurion,” Keeper asked her.
“Yes,” Leika said. “The Aquadunans have all been unfrozen and are now swimming happily inside one of the oceans in Biosphere 3.”
“Has our guide Gogt been adapted to land yet?”
“We’re still working on it,” Leika said. “He hasn’t proven to be as compliant as Teuth and might have to remain submerged inside a water tube for some time.
Just then the door to the cargo hold opened and Gogt floated toward them inside a transparent tube filled with sea water. A group of shivering cadets dressed in warm Gordo fur trailed behind.
            “Wow! It’s cold in there,” a half-Porosities cadet named Yanadax shivered. “But we had to search all twelve storage areas for Ledos.” She took off her coat revealing a smock made from the same expensive and mildly hypnotic silk that Leika wore as she glanced shyly at the young man from Earth.
            “What are Ledos?” Jeff smiled at the female student.
            “Ledos are very tiny and very rare life-forms,” Keeper said noticing Leika’s sudden animosity and stepping between his two female crew members. “Many are so small that they resemble ice crystals when frozen. I’m afraid we don’t know too much about them. Legends say they have magical properties. Some scientists think they are dangerous.”
            “What would Ledos be doing onboard a vessel filled with seafood going to the Swarm?” Jeff asked.
            “Most water worlds are filled with very tiny life forms much like Earth’s plankton,” Keeper said. “Creatures from the same family as Ledos and sea-plants make up at least sixty percent of the Vabalas diet.”
            “Did you find any?” Jeff asked.
            “I think so,” Yanadax said. She lifted one arm high in the air and wiggled her fingers. The smile on her face was delightful. Tiny glimmering specks of white floated in the air like snowflakes. “They sing,” she said turning her gorgeous head to listen. “They begin to sing when they get warm.”
            “They are so small what good are they?” Dorg asked.
            “There is a point in infinity where the smallest of all things and the largest become exactly the same,” Keeper said.
            “Strange! I don’t hear a thing.” Jeff looked at Keeper and he shook his head. Only Leika appeared to be holding her ears. “That sound is the highest frequency I’ve ever heard,” she moaned.

-------2-------

The cigar shaped ship had no name. Keeper and Bland searched through the onboard computers and could only find a numerical designation. “419419 something about that number gives me the creeps,” Jeff said. “But at least it’s not 666.”
“I don’t understand you Earth people’s absurd fear of numbers,” Leika said. She thought for a moment. “If you could associate a number with my name what would it be?”
“Love potion number nine,” Keeper said.
“Ninety-six tears,” Jeff insisted.
“I don’t understand!” Leika was looking at both men strangely.
“You would have had to have been there,” Keeper told her.
419419 was leaving the burned- out solar systems and was beginning to fly past celestial bodies where vast amounts of water still covered the planet’s surface.  “Aquaduna 13 is just ahead,” Helmsman Dorg announced to the crew. A massive ocean world loomed before them with hundreds of cigar-shaped vessels plowing through deep green seas just under the surface. Each ship opened one end like a monstrous Baleen whale’s mouth and strained millions of fleeing life forms from the seawater.
            “We’re in luck,” Gogt said. “Garwon and his friends working for the Swarm won’t be able to finish loading all the remaining food supplies before Mėnulis rises.”
            “Who or what is Mėnulis?”
            “Mėnulis is an enormous moon that orbits Aquaduna 13.” Gogt said. “It passes very close to the ocean’s surface every seventy-two hours and creates massive tides that rise eight miles into the atmosphere.”
            “That sounds treacherous,” Jeff said. “How do Garwon’s ship’s ride out such a massive surge?”
            “They don’t,” Gogt said. “They return to space until the moon moves to the other side of the planet. All the transport vessels should be leaving for the safety of orbit shortly.”
Sure enough the cigar-shaped ships began to leave the water and fly back into space as a strange reflected light began to settle over the ship.
            “What about us?” Jeff said. “I don’t have my long-board and I don’t know if this giant Tiparillo can ride a wave eight miles high.”
            “We go under the water,” Gogt said.
            “Now?’ Dorg’s eyes were like tiny bright and nervous moons.
            “Also you have to spin,” Gogt told him.
            “Spin?” After seeing a nod from Keeper, Dorg had already directed the alien ship toward the surface of the water. All the hair on his arms, legs and canine tail were extended outward in excited anticipation.
            “Aquaduna’s moon generates a massive upward pull on the ocean water,” Gogt said. “The only way to move downward it is by spinning or rotating at very high speed thus converting rotational motion into linear motion. The 419419’s engines should supply the necessary torque and the curved heat-dispersing channels on the sides act like tiny threads.”
            “Then it’s like we’re turning this ship into a massive lag-bolt!” Keeper was intrigued.
A tremendous shock wave shook the ship when it plunged into the water. Jeff and most of the crew were knocked to the floor holding onto whatever they could grasp. The ship had already begun to spin and Jeff felt like he was on a wild carnival ride complete with the nausea. The only three people who didn’t seem affected by hurtling downward into the ocean appeared to be Keeper, Gogt and the Organic Science Officer. The ship’s captain had only a kind of flickering illumination where a person’s feet would have been and he appeared to float in the air while the ship spun around him. The cephalopod alien appeared stationary inside a tube filled with seawater and a giggling Leika appeared to be dancing. The space cadets were rolling around on the floor and bouncing off the walls. They all seemed to be laughing.
            “It appears to be working,” Dorg said watching the light arrays as he spun.  “We are moving toward the bottom of the ocean and we should be there in minutes.
            “Such an elementary concept,” Keeper mused. “But so effective! Converting rotational action into linear motion that moves against an opposing force!” They were so far under the surface of the water no light entered through the portholes.
            “We have another name for this on Earth.” Jeff was clinging to a support beam attempting to peer out a window and trying not to vomit.
            “What’s that?” Keeper still looked elated.
            “We’re screwed,” Jeff said.

-------3-------

Minutes later, the 419419 vessel reached the bottom of one of Aquaduna 13’s oceans. The tidal pull from the orbiting moon was pulling silt and mud off the ocean floor and it was too cloudy to see out even with the exterior lights on full magnitude. “What do we do now?” Keeper asked Gogt.
“We’ll look for the closest shelf,” Gogt said. “My people are used to these tides. During the moon’s pull most all sea life retreats under plates of bedrock undermined millions of years ago by water currents. I’m sure many had already sought refuge there when they discovered that agents for the Swarm were harvesting.”
“Sounds cozy,” Jeff said.
“It’s the closest thing we have to a home as you know it,” Gogt said. “Still I’m sure it will seem strange to creatures like yourselves.”
It was Leika’s turn to tutor the students and she gave a demonstration of getting what you want by manipulating others. She directed the cadet’s attention to one of the volunteers standing guard next to the ship’s transporter. “I’ll get his attention, then I’ll use mind control to make him give me something he values,” Leika began to hum and spin at the same time. The glimmering spines she had on the top of her head instead of hair spread outward like streamers from a maypole. The guard stared entranced. “Now for the fun part,” Leika told them. “I’ll have him give me his weapon and then grovel at my feat like a hungry Borgo hound.”
The guard stumbled toward Leika as if in a trance but just before he reached her Yanadx laughed and the guard was distracted and went reluctantly back to his post. He couldn’t seem to keep his eyes off the enchanting Porosities.
“Do you think ruining my demonstration is humorous?” Leika was furious.
“I’m sorry,” Yanadax said. “But the Ledos have formed themselves into a block with four wheels and they have been driving up and down my arm … it tickles!”
Leika was about to tell the student that the rare creatures would have to be kept in a special container when she suddenly covered her ears although only Yanadax seemed to hear the sound.
            “They knew you were going to put them away and they don’t want to go!” Yanadax called as Leika ran to another part of the ship.

-------4-------

The murky water finally cleared enough for Keeper and Gogt to find an opening beneath a shelf. They decided to leave the 419419 cigar ship behind and travel in containment bubbles so as not to alarm the creatures under the rock. The crew and the students moved through the large opening like a string of transparent pearls being pulled underwater by an invisible fishing line.
The space beneath the shelf was massive with thousands of schools of photon fish feeding just beneath the stone ceiling and sending light downward hundreds of yards above the ocean floor. A hundred square miles of ocean flora covered the space like an underwater forest complete with abundant life forms of every description. Brilliant colored flowers some as large as transport shuttles seemed to be illuminated from within. They were met by an astonished and somewhat frightened group of creatures who resembled both Teuth and Gogt.
“We detected your ship outside and thought that perhaps Garwon had figured out a way to force his way under the shelf and take us by surprise.” A creature who identified himself as Streng spoke the same language as Gogt and appeared to be very much relieved.
“We didn’t notice any defense mechanisms when we came in,” Keeper said. “What keeps the ships from moving inside?”
“The pull of the moon Mėnulis and the appetite of the Šviesos,” Streng said pointing to the photon fish swimming next to the ceiling. “They not only provide light to make our forests grow they also eat the same kind of metal that Gorwan’s ships are made of.”
“Surely with the high technology of the Swarm they could devise a way to pull you out. What keeps them from doing so?”
“We are small fish and the Vabalas are interested in much larger worlds!” Streng tried to joke but no one smiled. “The only reason the Swarm bother us is because Garwon and others offer to supply them with extra food in return for their own safety. The Vabalas are always multiplying and are always hungry.”
“We have an injured navigator aboard our own ship many light years from here,” Keeper told Streng. “He may be suffering from the effects of iridium gas radiation and we understand you might have a cure.”
“Our scientists discovered an antidote for IRD gas many years ago,” Streng told him. “And have adequate supplies in storage. Unfortunately when Garwon decided to harvest this planet the Vabalas left a small hive here as a sort of control lab to insure the food supply is up to their standards. The Swarm’s laboratory sits over an underwater steam vent in the same location as our own former facility.”
“Then your laboratory was destroyed and there is no way to get help for our navigator!” Jeff shook his head.
“The lab isn’t extinguished,” Streng said. “The Vabalas never destroy anything unless it’s a planet in the way of a large fleet. They build over it. To their way of thinking, energy is food and it must be conserved at all costs.”
“How far away is this hive?” Keeper asked.
“About ten hours travel time,” Gogt said. “But it’s useless to go there … we can’t get inside!”
“Why not?”
Gogt shook his head. “Swarm hives are made of some of the Vabalas’s strongest materials. Matter and antimatter strands woven together to create a kind of spongy dome-shaped shield that allows essential nutrients in but keeps unwanted visitors out.”
“You mentioned a sponge,” Keeper said. “How big are the holes in a swarm hive?”
“Small and interconnected at right angles, only a creature as thin and flexible as a Karilian eel would have a chance of getting inside, and then they would have to get the antidote away from the Vabalas guarding it. I’m sorry for your navigator,” Gogt said.
The space cadets all began to laugh and Keeper, Jeff and Leika all turned to see what the commotion was about. Yanadax had transformed herself into something long and thin and she looked like a snake swimming inside her containment bubble. “I may not be a full blooded Karilian eel, I’m half Porosities and I don’t have green fangs, but I did slip inside the cadet administration building on Mateusz 17 through an air-filter once to snatch a copy of the final exam test questions for reverse light transport systems!” Yanadax suddenly gasped. “Oops I promised I would never admit to that!”
“If that’s all you did in school, kid, you deserve a medal.” Jeff smiled.
“I’m sorry but you’re too young and this mission is too dangerous,” Keeper sighed.
“I’ll go with her to make sure she doesn’t get into trouble,” Leika offered.
“I thought I heard Keeper say no!” Jeff looked at Leika and then at the distraught ship’s captain.
“We don’t really have any choice,” Keeper moaned.

-------5-------

Yanadax wandered into one of the unused cargo areas of the alien vessel while Keeper, Gogt and First Officer Bland made plans for stealing the antidote …. She wanted to be alone, and she made sure she was. A look of anticipation stole across her face as she removed a tiny very cold box from a bag she was carrying and carefully opened it. What looked like a frosty mist billowed out and Yanadax held her breath. “No one knows I’ve kept you around,” she whispered. “No one but me can hear your song … well perhaps Leika but she doesn’t count ‘cause she don’t like it.” Yanadax closed her eyes and smiled as the Ledos began to sing.
“I was ordered to leave you behind, but I’ll never go anywhere without you,” she sighed.

TO BE CONTINUED …


Sunday, July 9, 2017

TO SAVE TEUTH part 2

Copyright (c) 2017 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.


TO SAVE TEUTH
Part 2

By R. Peterson

Even at reverse light speed it would take the Centurion over forty-eight hours to reach the Vandens Galaxy where Teuth’s home planet was located. The ship’s navigator was frozen in a cryonic state of hibernation until the ship’s medical staff could find a way to save him. The crew used the time to give instruction to the space cadets on board the vessel. “Who can tell me how a gravitron device works?” Keeper asked the students.
A short, round student from the polar regions of Earth, was the first to raise his hand. “Gravitron is an adulteration of the phrase gravity turn and it refers to reversing the distortion of space time by causing selected assemblages of matter to repel each other. Alvin Sullenger did the first experiments with gravity and dark matter in the early twenty-first century.”
“Very good, Tiguak,” Keeper said.
“Excuse me,” a female student with the name badge Dee attached to her tunic spluttered, “Sullinger may have been the first Earth scientist to develop a reverse gravity device but the scientists on Mateusz 17 have been experimenting with dark energy, the force behind the Big Bang, for centuries!”
“Which proves there is nothing new under any sun,” Keeper said.
Dee shook her head, obviously mystified by her teacher’s reply.
            “It’s from Ecclesiastes - a religious text on Earth,” a third student by the name of Yanadx snapped. Her eyes darted toward where First Officer Jeff Bland was helping Helmsman Dorg plot navigation coordinates into the computer system. Keeper noticed the brilliant student with partial Porosities parenting sigh as her large green eyes became a soft powdery blue.
            ‘I see you’ve been reading up on Earth culture,” Keeper smiled. “I’m impressed!”
Yanadx seemed to be in a trance and continued to stare at Jeff.
            “He’s not worth it!” Leika bumped the young student with her elbow and then leaned in to whisper. “So point your sticky little spines somewhere else!”
            “Alvin Sullenger also did some of the earliest work on Balance Theory,” Keeper said. “Who can tell me what that is?”
            “Balance Theory states that for everything in the universe, including matter and non-matter of all types, physical and conceptual, there is an opposite-form that brings all things into balance,” Tiguak answered.
            “Balance Theory also implies that any obstruction can be altered or defeated by thinking of its opposite,” Keeper said. “Can anyone think of an object, thought or idea that has no counterpart?”
            “There is no opposite for a dream,” Yanadx whispered still staring at Jeff.
            “Wrong,” Leika said, nudging the girl. ‘It’s called reality.”

-------2-------

            Alarms sounded throughout the Centurion as the massive ship once again encountered three of the cigar shaped spaceships. They were anchored next to a vapor cloud and appeared to be transporting crew members from one ship. “They must be fleeing toward the same galaxy that we are headed to and think we are pursuing,” Helmsman Dorg said checking the remote systems scanners. “My guess is that the vessel they are abandoning was slowing them down, although it does not appear to be that badly damaged.”
Sure enough, two ships sped away leaving the third. “My sensors show there are still life forms on board,” Dorg said. “Shall we pursue?”
            “No,” Keeper said. “Let’s find out what our amphibious friend left for us … and if that ship can be repaired.”
            “Garwon is a lot smarter than you think,” First Officer Jeff Bland joked. “All he has to do to make our captain stop chasing him is offer the man a cigar!”
Keeper smiled. “I don’t smoke … but that ship might prove to be very useful.”

-------3-------

Three armed shuttlecraft streaked from the Centurion and scouted the outside of the cigar-shaped ship, sweeping all exterior surface areas and moving in opposite directions. “The shields are down and there doesn’t appear to be any hostiles aboard,” the commander of the first shuttlecraft reported.
            “Let’s investigate the life forms inside,” Keeper suggested.
            “It could be a trap,” Jeff Bland was hesitant.
            “This is one of Gorwan’s ships … remember.” Keeper smiled.
Jeff laughed. “I keep forgetting. That self-serving amphibian probably left so fast he forgot to turn off the stove.”
Leika joined them just as they were closing the doors to a boarding shuttlecraft. “Going to see if your x with the extra-long tongue left you any gifts?” Jeff teased.
            “I’m here because Keeper thinks my attraction abilities might make a difference between life and death,” Leika said, then she wrinkled her nose as she looked at the first officer. “Although I doubt anything could help you!”
            “Thank you, but I’m not perfect.” Jeff winked.  “Even I could use a little help now and then.”
            “What’s that old Earth saying … you can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear?” Leika laughed, “and they have me working with the whole pig!”

-------4-------

The entry hatch on Gorwan’s vessel was sealed but not locked. Keeper and the boarding crew found themselves inside what looked like a huge cargo ship. “Brrrr it’s cold in here!” Leika shivered. She made her eyes turn baby powder blue long enough to remove a coat from one of the security officers and put it on herself. He offered no resistance and gaped at her with a puppy-love face as her eyes turned back to green and she ignored him. Keeper ordered a search of the entire vessel and made sure the jacketless officer left with them to get him away from the troublesome Porosities.
The inside of the ship was like a dozen stadium sized meat lockers stacked end to end. Frozen aquatic bodies hung upside down from hooks attached to hundreds of horizontal rails that ran the length of the cargo area. “There must be a million pounds of seafood in this section alone,” Jeff gasped, “and still it’s not even a quarter full.”
“They’re not seafood yet,” Keeper said. “These creatures are alive, frozen by some type of cryonic technology almost the way Teuth is inside one of our biosphere oceans.”
Thirty minutes later a medical team from the Centurion had succeeded in bringing several of the creatures back from frozen hibernation.
            “You’re lucky to be alive,” Keeper told a cephalopod who resembled Teuth. The ship’s communication system translated his words into twenty-three different versions of Teuth’s home planet language before they got a response.
            “I thought when I awakened it would be when I was dropped in a pot of boiling soup,” the creature said. He swam leisurely in the transparent tank filled with sea water that the medical team has supplied for him. “My name is Gogt and I thank you!”
            “I thought the invaders were ravishingly hungry,” Jeff said. “Why weren’t you devoured as soon as the Swarm opened its ugly mouth?”
            “Most all life forms, plants and animals are ground into a paste which is dehydrated and made into a powder,” Gogt said.  “When the powder is reconstituted it becomes a soup that feeds 99.99% of the Vabalas. The other one-hundred of one percent, the high ranking officers and elite, enjoy devouring living flesh especially aquatic creatures. Live species such as ourselves are frozen and transported to the most elegant kitchens of the Swarms many conquered galaxies where we often are sautéed in Garma blood and nibbled on slowly, an eye here a tentacle there, sometimes taking a week or more to lose consciousness.”
            Jeff blanched, and cradled his stomach. “Vabalas? Is that what the Swarm call themselves?”
            “Vabalai, kurie užkariauti … it is what we call them,” Gogt said. “The insects who conquer!”
            “Our navigator Teuth has been infected by a poison gas that a dying member of your species named Blad said you had developed an antidote for,” Keeper said. “Do you know if anyone is left on your world that could supply us with a sample?”
            “There were almost twenty billion of our species on our water world before the Swarm came,” Gogt said, “too many to process even for the Vabalas. We were pushed to one edge of the largest ocean and fenced in like milking dolphins. Both ends of these cigar ships open and living creatures are strained through filters before being sorted and frozen.”
            “Just like baleen whales back on Earth,” Jeff commented, “without the freezing.”
Gogt did not know what a whale was. “I would estimate that at least half of our species remains although thousands are processed every hour. I’m sure someone there can help your navigator.”
            “This will be like cows  breaking into a butcher shop,” Jeff scoffed.
            “You already know what I’m thinking?” Keeper looked approvingly at his first officer.
            “Yes,” Jeff said. “We can land this cigar ship on Gogt’s ocean world and pretend to be harvesting food while we search for someone who can cure Teuth … there’s just one thing I want to know.”
            “What’s that?” Keeper asked.
            “Do the Swarm consider human meat a delicacy … or will I be turned into powdered soup?”
            “Only time will answer that question,” Keeper told him.

-------5-------

            Keeper ordered all the life-forms aboard the cigar ship re-animated and transported into one of the biosphere oceans inside the Centurion. It took almost seven hours for the engineering staff to make the necessary repairs to the cigar ship and Jeff asked a hundred men to volunteer for what was likely going to be a suicide mission.
            It wasn’t until Garwon’s former ship was well on its way that Leika appeared leading the entire group of space cadets. “What do you think you’re doing?” Jeff was furious.
            “Insuring your safety,” Leika said. “I may not be able to help you … like I’ve always said … you are beyond that …. but dangerous situations often call for new faces and fresh ideas.”
The cadets all smiled proud to be considered stowaways on a dangerous mission.
Keeper shook his head and tried to look stern … the situation was too damn dangerous to smile about .

TO BE CONTINUED …

           



Sunday, July 2, 2017

TO SAVE TEUTH

Copyright (c) 2017 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.



By R. Peterson

The massive starship Centurion had just streaked through an iridium vapor ring seventy-two light years from the Cationic Galaxy when Systems Navigator Teuth, a land adapted cephalopod, fell to the floor of the control room and began to flop like a fish. “Send a medical team to control level one immediately!” First Officer Jeff Bland ordered, although the bio-transmitters that all crew members wore had probably already summoned help.
“Something wrong with his environmental conditioning?” Helmsman Dorg, a species of Canidae who resembled Earth foxes, took two steps back and stared at the eight thrashing tentacles. The student he was instructing looked horrified.
“Teuth has been working in an oxygenated gas environment for thirty-nine months,” Jeff said as he knelt on the floor and tried to make sure his alien friend didn’t harm himself. “The Centurion is dysprosium shielded but we might have picked up some kind of immune radiation from that gas cloud we just passed through.”
The inner-ship transporter door opened and Keeper rushed in followed by a team of medics. “His life functions are failing,” Ging, the chief medical officer, said as his assistants held the tentacles and he performed an internal scan. “But we don’t as yet have an origin.”
“Perhaps if Teuth were placed in his natural environment it would help with your diagnosis,” Keeper suggested.
“I’ll have him submerged in one of the Biosphere oceanic control tanks while we do our testing.” Ging and the medical crew had already lifted the injured crew member with a Graviton beam and were floating him toward the gyro port.
“Teuth is fond of dining on Gesperian horn-pods” Jeff Bland said. “He claims they are a health food. I don’t suppose we have any on board?”
“We have a few, but only the non-radiant ones.” Leika appeared beside Keeper. The Organic Science Officer wore a shimmering gown made of transparent Alurian spider-silk. The lavender spines she had instead of hair were waving hypnotically and her flashing baby-powder blue eyes made one of the younger medical technicians transporting Teuth go temporarily blind and stumble.
“Easy Leika,” Jeff said. “Most of these younger cadets are still virgins.”
“Give me a break, lizard lust,” Leika said. “When there’s a Porosities Species on board every stubbed- toe gets blamed on her sexual attraction.”
“I’m tempted to return to that gas ring to see if we can determine if it contained anything that might have caused Teuth’s problems.” Keeper ignored his crew members’ constant squabbling. He flicked open a communication port  to the medical level explained his theory to Ging and adding. “ if we do go back, is there any chance that our ship’s engineer might be hurt by more radiation?”
“Officer Teuth’s condition was deteriorating so fast we had to place him in a cryonic storage tube,” Ging said. “No vapor radiation can pass through a foot of solid ice and remain a gas.
“We’re not due in the Cationic Galaxy for the Deep Space Exams for another seventy-two hours,” Jeff said. “I guess we could call this diversion a field trip.”
“Turn around,” Keeper ordered Helmsman Dorg. “Let’s find out what the Hell we stepped in.”
“Lizard lust?” Jeff Bland was staring at Leika but holding tight to a very expensive Nuvarian equalizer purchased on Mateusz 17 for 16,000 credits. It supposedly rendered him immune to her slave-creating sexual attraction aura.
“The reptiles on Junaro 4 often take up to three years to couple,” Leika said. “Even at that glaciated speed I doubt you could keep up with them.” She laughed when she saw the amulet that Jeff was gripping tightly. “That’s a piece of woocoo!” She closed one eye, stuck out her tongue and the equalizer banged into a cloud of foul smelling dust just before she followed Keeper to the analysis arrays. She was laughing hysterically now and even Keeper was trying not to smile. “If I wanted to waste my time with a squamation like you … a ball of Gordo dung with chicken-wire wrapped around it wouldn’t stop me!”

-------2-------

Keeper took Teuth’s place instructing a group of space cadets while the Centurion journeyed back to the gas ring. “Since our land adapted navigator is temporarily under the weather I’ll go over the basics of interstellar travel and geography,” Keeper told the wide eyed youths.
“Is Teuth going to die?” A sad looking member of a reptilian species named Denz asked as he glanced around nervously.
“No,” Keeper said. “Teuth has been frozen like a fish filet and we’re going to thaw him out when we know how to fix him up properly.”
“Are you going to eat him?” A girl named Nora who resembled an earth gazelle looked ready to cry.
“Not unless he gets us off course,” Jeff Bland told them.
Keeper smiled and shook his head and then asked. “Who can tell us how planets are named?”
A bright eyed girl who looked like she might have at least some Porosities blood in her stepped forward. “Almost all planets are named for the star they orbit and for their orbiting number. For example Maltese 17 is the seventeenth planet outward from the star Maltese.”
            “Very good, Yanadx,” Keeper said. “And in the event that the star is not named, and most stars are not, the planet has two numbers one for the star and one for the orbiting location.
            “The same rule applies to moons,” Nora said trying to compose herself. “For example the fourth moon of Jasphere 2 or the seventh moon of Mendorean 13.”
            “Then why isn’t First Officer Jeff Bland’s home planet named Sun three?” Denz asked.
            “We have to remember that the names we choose for stars and planets are for our own use.” Keeper said.  “The inhabitants of these worlds most assuredly have their own names for everything.”
Helmsman Dorg announced that the Centurion was approaching the troublesome gas ring. “That’s all for today,” Keeper said.
            “Can we ride Ardovian Whales in one of the biosphere oceans?”Yanadx asked.
            “Only if you can hold your breath for at least three hours,” Keeper told her.

-------3-------

The iridium vapor-ring that surrounded the Cationic Galaxy was deep, at points nearly ninety light years across. The Centurion’s analyzing sensors were picking up abnormalities in the strange gas and the holographic display above the control floor was flashing pages of data readouts and pulsing red warning messages. “We’re approaching a density cloud within the ring that our onboard devices cannot penetrate,” Dorg, announced. He had assumed Teuth’s duties as well as his own. He now stiffened his normally relaxed tail, a species trait that showed the Canida had detected danger lurking in the unknown.
“Launch three visual probes,” Keeper ordered. “Two around the outside and one through the center.” He smiled as he gazed at Dorg’s flag-waving appendage. “If there’s quarry in there we’ll flush them out!”
The crew watched the three probes launch from the ship like torpedoes and within seconds disappear into the cloud. The hologram overhead became multiple screens showing a three hundred sixty degree view from each probe. Suddenly a beam of red orange light struck  the probe running along the left side of the cloud and the robotic sensor was vaporized in an explosive ball of fire; within seconds the other two probes were also destroyed.
            “Use a photon burst to disperse the cloud!” Keeper ordered.
            “Someone thinks the neighbors are getting a little too nosey,” Jeff said as he fed the data into an analyzer. He glanced at the organic science officer and grinned. “I think it might be one of Leika’s numerous stilted-beaus.”
            “Beaus?” Leika spun viciously on the first officer. Her normally dream inducing aquiline-green eyes had become a shade of fiery volcanic-red. “I have no suitors! If I desire any species they are mine … if not, they die.”
            “The last time we saw Garwon he was floating in deep space,” Jeff said, “after you ordered him to jettison himself. But that sure looks like his ship. And it also looks like your amphibious friend and his companions are about to feast on a helpless Octopodian bivalve ship!”
As the gas cloud dispersed the holographic display now showed a dark, ugly cigar shaped vessel holding a ship that resembled a giant clam shell captive with a spider-web of pulsing high energy beams. Suddenly the two halves of the ship opened and a stream of wiggling aquatic creatures were sucked into the larger vessel. “Dinner is served!” Jeff tried to joke but he was sick to his stomach.
            “Looks like we arrived a little too late,” Keeper said.
            “But not for those!” Jeff pointed at the upper part of the hologram where the dispersing cloud showed at least a half dozen bivalve ships fighting for their lives against a dozen more cigar shaped attackers.
            Keeper ordered all crew members to battle stations and within minutes the Centurion was blasting away at the enemy ships. The largest of the cigar-shaped vessels caught fire on one end and then sped away. “He must have realized this is a no smoking area,” Jeff quipped.
The Centurion listed to starboard as a barrage of Niobium torpedoes exploded on the starboard side and vaporized the graviton stabilizers. For a moment it looked like the Centurion might be in trouble but Keeper ordered all power onto the shields while the vessel’s Gadolinium Cannon was charged. Radiant beams of light criss-crossed a light-year wide battle area and made it look like a giant energy blanket of destructive power was being woven.
            The return fire from the enemy vessels was formidable but the Centurion’s energy shields held until the GC spread outward like an exploding star and within minutes all the remaining enemy vessels were streaking away at light speed.
            “Let them go,” Keeper ordered. “Prepare to assist any survivors.”
Of the six bivalve ships only one held living life-forms and only a few of the aquatic creatures were able to communicate.
            “Garwon and his murderous crew members have been supplying food to the Swarm,” a tentacled crew member named Blad gasped as he lay dying in the control room of the Centurion. “Our Vandens is the ninth galaxy those insectosodals have invaded and left in ruin.”
            “Our navigator Teuth was poisoned by this gas cloud when we passed by,” Keeper said. “He is from the planet Densalt 4 in your galaxy and looks to be very similar to your species. How is it you escaped and were able to put up a fight?”
            “The oceans of Densalt 4 have been drained and replaced with blood. Our scientists developed an antidote for the gas radiation but our entire planet is being consumed by the Swarm,” the dying creature said. “We were part of a convoy that fled our stricken world and then we were ambushed by Garwon.”
Several of the survivors had already died and the crew member talking to Keeper took a last gasp and then seemed to wither. “Get this man to the cryonic chambers!” Keeper ordered. But it was too late. By the time a medical team arrived, Blad and the others were no more than dried seaweed on the floor of the control room.

-------4-------

            ‘What’s a Swarm?” Jeff asked Keeper as the medical crew placed the remains of the bivalve crew members in transparent storage bags.
            “The Swarm is a slang name for an insect species as large as an earth cow,” Keeper said. “Each female lays over a million eggs every twenty-eight days and the young are ready to reproduce in less than a year. Every one-hundred million years or so the insects begin to migrate across the universe … destroying every living thing in their path. I believe it was the Swarm that consumed all life on Earth and not a meteorite when they passed through the Milky Way Galaxy sixty-five million years ago.”
            “Looks like if we don’t want to end up like the dinosaurs we better stock up on Raid,” Jeff said. All the Centurion Crew members except Keeper looked hopeful.
            “Is this some kind of advanced Earth weapon?” Leika asked. For once her eyes were a hopeful blue and she was looking at Jeff with a kind of hesitant respect.
            “It’s something we use on Earth to kill insects,” Jeff said sheepishly. “But the ones that we kill are smaller … much … much smaller!”
            “It’s not just the size that makes the Swarm dangerous,” Keeper explained. “They have an advanced technology that has the scientific minds on Mateusz 17 looking like Earth’s Bobblehead Dolls. The Swarm will often destroy entire planetary systems once they have exhausted all the resources. A preservative is often injected into their food supplies to keep the suffering victims fresh and alive … often for centuries. Whole stars are extinguished when they dump their waste. Their ships are faster and more powerful than ours and their numbers are approaching infinity. They kill without remorse or pity and they fear nothing in the known universe.”
            “So how do we stop them?” The enormity of the killing and destruction was something new and terrifying to Officer Bland.
            “That’s what we’re going to find out,” Keeper said.
            “You don’t mean you’re going to fly the Centurion to Vandens!” Jeff stammered. “You heard what Blad said … the oceans in that galaxy have been drained … and filled with blood!”
            “Mud, blood, Swarms or fear,” Keeper chanted. “Nothing you say can keep us here!”
Leika smiled but Dorg and most of the others looked stricken.
            “I don’t want to be hung-up twitching in some smoke-house for a few hundred years,” Jeff gasped. “We have to keep a positive attitude about this! We’ll most likely be captured and eaten immediately … won’t we?”
            “Possibly,” Keeper said looking at his shaken crew members. “If the part of the Swarm that catches us is especially hungry … but Teuth is our friend and if there’s any chance we can save him … we’ll take it.”

TO BE CONTINUED …


            

Sunday, June 25, 2017

WHEN the DEAD KNOCK part 3

Copyright (c) 2017 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.



By R. Peterson

June Swafford turned off the television as soon as the end credits for The Lawrence Welk Show rolled. The program was of course a re-run but it brought back delightful memories. She and Elmo had often danced in the living room along with Bobby Burgess and Cissy King or while the Lennon Sisters sang. In the distance dark clouds rumbled as she closed and locked the front door, probably a storm brewing in the mountains above Motha Forest and set to fall on Comanche County during the night. It was a good thing the cows were in the barn and the chickens had been fed earlier. A tear stung the corner of her eyes when she said goodnight to Elmo’s picture propped on the top shelf of the bookcase just before she started up the stairs to her bedroom. He was too young to have died of a heart attack at age fifty-nine.
June awakened from a dream in which she was riding in a hay wagon with a group of other sixteen year old girls, they were going to a Christmas party at the Comanche County school house. Elmo was singing Somewhere My Love before he began to pound on the door. “Let me in woman. You promised me the next dance!” He’d of course been to Bingo and hadn’t gotten home until after dark … must have forgotten his key. He sounded drunk. She bet every beer in his bag was gone and hoped there would be at least one prize.
Still half wrapped in her dream, she slid open the bedroom window and called down. “You know where the spare key is you noisy old fool. Are you trying to wake up the neighbors or just Hicks?” It wasn’t until she heard him pull the lid off the milk can and then open the front door that full consciousness kicked in: Elmo was dead. She turned on the lamp next to the bed and stared intently at nothing.
He dropped something heavy on the kitchen floor and it fell with a loud thump that shook the house. Her breathing came in quick ragged gasps. She could hear him as he turned the water on at the sink and washed his hands. Next footsteps started up the stairs and the bed began to shake along with her arms and legs. This can’t be happening! Her mind continued to slap her - trying to make her wake up. I was at his funeral. I stood in Black Rose Cemetery and watched as that six-thousand, seven-hundred and eighty-five dollar coffin … “Would you want your loved one resting for eternity in anything less?” Egbert Callahan had insinuated. …was lowered into the ground and covered with dirt. She could hear Elmo’s footsteps on the landing now. There was a smell like damp ground plowed for the first time. She thought about jumping out of bed sliding the dresser in front of the door, anything to stop whoever or whatever was in her house. It couldn’t be her loving husband returned to life even as much as she wished it could be. He had been dead for over nine years. Her pulse revved like an old tractor with a broken piston. “Did you win anything?” Her voice sounded like gravel sliding to the bottom of a well but it was the only way she could keep from screaming. She was shaking so bad her teeth were chattering against each other.
“Not a damn thing!” His voice suddenly sounded low and ugly the way it had when Fred Hicks had driven a steel pipe into their hay field and irreparably damaged their swather (windrower) during hay season because Elmo refused to sell him, ridiculously cheap, forty acres of rich ground that bordered his rock and weed patch.
June watched the knob on the door turn as the light in the room dimmed but she was gone before the door opened - off to join her beloved Elmo in the next world.

-------2-------

            The fire was going down just outside the tent otherwise Jim Hunting would have stayed in the sleeping bag. A light breeze had blown across Mawkat Lake just before sunset but everything was calm now. He didn’t mind sleeping in a forest … he just hated the dark. In the American Army compound just outside of DaNang all the lights were run by a portable generator. It was the first thing the Viet Cong knocked-out just before they attacked. Flames flashing from the barrels of M16’s and the constant welding torch fire from M60’s mixed with the screams of the dying and the shouts of those doing the killing to create the musical score to the first act of Hell if insanity were ever to take the stage.
            Jim had been up for three nights smoking Vietnamese shake and loading a needle. Suddenly he was on guard duty at one of eight towers surrounding the compound and a mountain of stacked beer cases. Endless long hours spent staring into the darkness. The things that were hiding could kill you … the things that weren’t there attacked your mind. He couldn’t keep his eyes open. The first time it was less than a minute and Jim slapped his face hard half a dozen times and swore it wouldn’t happen again. The second time was more than ten minutes. He’d burnt his fingers with a Bic lighter until they blistered and bled swearing he’d die before he closed his eyes again …
            `He’d woke up blind in one eye in an army hospital in Japan. One leg was mangled the other broken. He was expected to walk again with braces but one half of his face looked like pancake batter that had hardened during the bubble stage. He’d never marry unless the girl happened to be blind and in love with guilt. The VC had attacked from his corner of the outpost. Charlie Company lost thirty-five men including his best friend from school Brad Stevens. Jim looked at the photo taken outside a bar in Tokyo just before their arrival in Viet Nam every day. It always put a pain in his heart like cardiac arrest but he looked anyway. It was punishment like slapping his own face or burning himself with a lighter. Brad was to his right along with several members of Charlie Co. They were all smiling. Of the eight in the picture three were dead but it was Brad who seemed to stare directly at him through the years always asking the same question … Why?
            Jim had arrived home from Japan just in time to attend Brad’s funeral in Black Rose Cemetery. Jim stayed back in the trees and didn’t mix with the family members. Guilt made him a prisoner and he headed for the incarceration of Motha Forest whenever possible.
            Jim put another log on the ire and a shower of sparks rose toward the stars. The only sound was the chirping of crickets and the soft lapping of water on the shoreline. He was just turning to go back in the tent when he saw a rippling of water far across the lake reflected by the moon. He squinted his good eye to make out what looked like a dark figure in a canoe paddling toward him.
            Jim was suddenly sleepy. All he wanted was to crawl back inside the tent, but someone was coming … Jim was sure of it. The first time he felt his eye close the canoe was halfway across the lake and Jim slashed three lines down his arm with a hunting knife honed to a razor edge. Never again! The pain was excruciating but two minutes later he opened his eye again and the boat was now close enough for Jim to see strong arms pushing a paddle though the water. Jim stuck his hand in the hot coals from the fire leaving it there until the smell of burning flesh and sizzling blood made him wretch and gag. Never again!
            The canoe was closer now. Jim could almost see the face of the man paddling. He fought to keep his eye open but it was as if a weight were attached to his eyelid. Jim stumbled into the tent and searched through his duffle bag. The canoe was sliding onto shore and the smiling face of Brad Stevens shown in the moonlight as he stepped onto the bank.
            Jim felt his eyelid begin to droop again as he lifted the M1911 pistol to his head and pulled the trigger. Never again!

-------3-------

            It was still an hour before sunrise but the employees of the White Apron Bakery did their baking at 4AM and already a crowd of homeless people were forming in the alley for breakfast.  At any minute, the big man with the scowling face would open the back door and toss yesterday’s unsold baked goods into the dumpster. “Wow! Look at how much she’s grown!” Antonio James Custler approached a ragged woman holding a bundle in her arms. He’d spent the last two weeks in jail for vagrancy.
            “She gets a little bigger every day,” Beth gushed as she un-wrapped the blankets showing a rag doll with blue-button eyes and a red-stitched mouth.
            “She sure does,” Tony said, taking the doll and rocking it gently in his arms. He scanned the crowd of hungry people. “Anyone seen Clarence Brown?”
            “Clarence drowned in the Cottonmouth River while you was locked up,” Beth hung her head. “He went looking for that ring o’ keys you told us about, and fell into the fast current near the Townsend Bridge!”
            Tony had inherited a small house from a rich man he didn’t know. A large ring of different keys all fit the lock on the front door but each key created a different life for the person who used it. It had been too much for Tony to handle and he had finally tossed the key ring in the river.
Tony shook his head. “Why the heck did that big, ugly, black, bear go and do something stupid like that?”
            “He was looking not so much for a better life just something different,” Beth said. “life on the streets gets too predictable after a while.”
The crowd behind White Apron Bakery suddenly grew quiet when the back door to the business opened. “Damn mangy bunch of dogs!” a heavyset man complained as he lugged a huge tray filled with day-old donuts, bear-claws and cinnamon rolls to the dumpster. He scowled at those who looked hungrily at his tray. “Why don’t you all get jobs? I work for my meals … so should you!”
            “There’s a reason these people are on the streets and it has nothing to do with jobs!” A huge man stepped from the shadows with a face like bloody hamburger. The crowd gasped, it was Clarence Brown! Most of his facial features had been rotted away by the river and there were clumps of moss where his ears should have been. His eyes were milky white with tiny unmoving pupils in the center. He was dripping wet like he’d just came up out of the water.
The terrified big man dropped the tray of day old breads and turned to run back into the bakery. Clarence grabbed him by the back of the neck. “These people are my friends, Clarence said as he slammed the man into the concrete wall. “These donuts are bound to be a little dry … how bout you bring out some milk to wash ‘em down with?”
The man was too terrified to talk. He nodded his head instead.
            “I’ll be expecting you back out here in two minutes,” Clarence said. “Don’t make me come in after you!”
When the White Apron employee went back in the bakery Tony approached Clarence. “What are you doing here?” he gasped.
            “I went looking for that key ring you tossed in the river,” Clarence said. “There’s a lot of mud on the bottom of the Cottonmouth where it runs through the city… it took some time to locate them.” He tossed the keys to Tony.
            “But how?” Tony caught the keys. He was astonished to see his long dead friend walking the streets.
Clarence smiled. “When you’re dead …you can hold your breath for a long long time!”

-------4-------

            “Get us out of here, Jimmy!” Sheriff Walker retrieved a flashlight from under the seat and shone it in the deputy’s face. Outside the County police car throngs of the recently unearthed dead were trying to smash out the car windows. Jimmy Wong was in shock staring with eyes as big as two rickshaw wheels at the horror which was smothering them. “Let’s move now!” The sheriff reached over, jammed the automatic shifter into reverse and pushed down on Jimmy’s leg. The car groaned for a moment and then lurched backward. The arms, legs and other parts of the dead that didn’t slide off the hood and roof became caught between the tires and wheel-wells. Dried-blood, gristle and bits of rotted flesh sprayed the windows as the car backed onto the highway. The sudden shift from total dark to squirming nightmare brought Jimmy back to his senses. “Awwwggggaa,” he screamed as he found drive, jammed his foot on the gas pedal, and the car lurched forward.
            Both sides of the highway were crowded with dead people come to see an automotive game of chicken. Enough bodies had fell away from the car for the sheriff to see they were between two cars hurdling toward each other at ninety miles per hour. There wasn’t time for anything else; Sheriff Walker unrolled his window and drew his Colt 45.

-------5-------

            It was smoke burning his eyes that made Julio awaken. The tiny trailer just north of Black Rose Cemetery was shaking and bouncing. Maria was picking herself up from the floor. It felt like they were in the middle of a stampede but those weren’t cows outside they were bodies , a few recently diseased but most rotting flesh clinging to old bone. Julio could smell propane and could hear the hiss from the tank mounted on the front of the mobile house. One of the marching dead must have broken the line and a spark from something must have ignited the gas. “Tenemos que salir de que la casa va a estallar!” Julio screamed.
            “It’s my fault,” Maria said. “I should have kept you awake!”
Julio grabbed his wife and forced open the door. Most of the risen dead from the cemetery had passed by the trailer and were heading toward the desert in the west. He tried to pull her outside but she resisted. “No sin la madre!” (Not without the holy mother) she insisted. She turned and dashed back inside the trailer picking the broken-glass portrait of the Virgin Mary from off the floor.
            “This is my fault!” Julio put his head in his hands. “No one is safe as long as I’m alive!”
The glass frame in Maria’s hand crumpled and she struggled to catch the paper print before it hit the ground. There was not just one portrait under the broken glass but two. The first was a painting by Raphael of the Madonna but hidden behind it was another … a gruesome, fleshy rendering called the Mask by Pedronunez .
Maria was staring with such horror at the second print she didn’t notice Julio with the gun to his head until she heard the hammer click. “Wait,” she screamed. “We’ve been praying to the blessed mother … and to the Devil!”
Julio stared at her and the two prints as the house on wheels behind them exploded in flames.

-------6-------

            “Are you crazy!” Jimmy Wong screamed as the sheriff leaned out the window with the high powered pistol. “Those people are dead!”
            “Maybe so … but that damn Ford isn’t!” The sheriff fired three times in rapid succession before Hick’s black Falcon skidded sideways with a blown right front tire, rolled once and then became airborne. It bounced once coming down just in front of the bumper and a jagged fender tore out the radiator and half the engine before it flew over the hood scratching the roof with both tail fins and exploded into the car hurtling up behind them. Bits of torn metal and car parts blasted outward in all directions like shrapnel.
            “That was close!” Jimmy was gasping for breath.
            “Not close enough,” the sheriff said. He gestured towards the shattered windshield.
            The walking dead began to move toward the sheriff’s demolished car as Jimmy tried to start the engine.

-------7-------

            Maria tried to tear the awful image of the Devil but when it wouldn’t rip she walked toward the fire. With a flash as bright as lightning a goatish face appeared in the flames coming from the trailer. “You asked for my help many times and I never refused … is this the way you repay me?”
            “Jesus is our only God … if we prayed to you it was by trickery,” Maria said. She halted her steps for only a second.
            “I’m willing to make a deal,” the image said. “Place the painting back in the frame … this time with my image out and I’ll give you what you’ve been searching for!”
            “You don’t have anything that we want!” Julio was furious as he pointed the gun at the flames.
            “Look behind you …. I can make you a family again!”
Julio and Maria both turned. Jose was walking across the cemetery he looked as normal as they did. “Mama! Pappa!” Jose cried “I’ve been looking everywhere for you!”
Julio covered his eyes with one hand … as he raised the gun with the other.

-------8-------

            Bony fingers were reaching through the broken windows on all sides when Sheriff Walker checked the rounds in his gun. There were two bullets left. There were more shells in a box under the seat but there wasn’t time. “I don’t feel right about shooting you … first,” the sheriff said looking at Jimmy. “But it’s better than being torn apart by a bunch of zombies.”
            “Do it,” Jimmy said closing his eyes and gritting his teeth. “I hate long drawn out goodbyes.”
Sheriff Walker cocked the gun, hooked his finger round the trigger and began to squeeze. There was a blinding flash of light along with a strange intense cold. Everything in the world began to slow and then turn black.

-------9-------

Maria heard the blast from Julio’s pistol and watched him slump to the ground. There was no time for pain … only for shock. She turned toward the flames; the demon was smiling. “Don’t forget your son,” he pointing to the young man walking toward them. “You still have your son!”
            “I can bring father back to life,” Jose said. He was now running toward her. “We can be a family again!”
            “I would rather spend one second with God than an eternity with sin,” Maria stared at the image of the Devil … and then she flung the portrait into the flames.

-------10-------

            Sheriff Walker and Jimmy Wong opened their eyes at the same time. They were parked behind the large billboard advertising Conoco gasoline near highway one and Cass Elliott was crooning Dream a Little Dream of Me on the radio.
            “What the Hell!” Jimmy said. “One minute we’re ready to be eaten alive by zombies and the next thing you know we’re trying to trap speeders jumping off the interstate!”
Sheriff Walker shrugged his shoulders and reached for the thermos filled with coffee on the seat between them. “This is Cloverdale,” he said. “You’d best learn to roll with the punches.”

-------11-------

            “Bendecir a nuestro Dios en el cielo!” Julio burst through the door of the little house in Juárez Mexico. “The papers have been approved and we have the permits to immigrate to America!”
            “But how?” Maria gasped. “I thought it would take many years and a fortune in bribes.”
            “Sometimes miracles happen!” Julio took the portrait of the Virgin Mary off the wall and kissed it. “We must always believe that God is on our side.”
            “What part of America will we live in?” Maria could hardly contain her excitement.
            “In the northwest … in the state of Montana …” Julio picked up his ten year old son Jose and tossed him into the air. “We will both have jobs working on a ranch and Jose can learn to ride a horse!”
            “Will we have to fight Indians like General Custer?” Jose’s eyes were wide.
Julio laughed. “Our troubles are no more. Cloverdale is a sleepy little town where nothing much ever happens!”

THE END?