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Month: March 2015

Illusion of Choice Chapter 3

CHAPTER 3

October 25, 2050 – Streets of Chicago

“Is that the time?” Alex Mason shouted as he jolted from the bed.

“No, it’s a random number generator silly.” Sophie giggled.

“It’s almost fucking curfew, Soph!” Alex didn’t yell at her, but this was serious.

“Sorry babe. I always lose track of time when I’m in your arms.” She cooed, still tired.

“Shit, I have to go.”

“Can’t you stay here?”

“I need my computer and uniform for work tomorrow. I’m working at dawn.” Alex was dressing as he spoke.

“Be careful out there.” Sophie said in a completely exhausted voice that trailed off.

He kissed her and descended the fire escape to an alley behind her building.

Alex ran through the narrow alleyways as quick as possible with his head low. Curfew was in effect now, and the city guards shot people on sight. Their public rationale was they couldn’t take the risk of spreading the infection. Alex knew he should have left Sophie’s apartment earlier.

He saw Sophie’s smiling face in his mind and knew he’d never regret spending a moment with her. She seemed more broken as of late, and she needed him more than ever. Sophie was a trained general practitioner. She dedicated her life to helping people, but thanks to the new laws, she wasn’t allowed to touch a patient for eight hours after admission. During her shifts, Sophie had to listen, unable to provide succor, while men, women, and children screamed in pain. It was killing her.

Alex sighed as he looked for his next move. The alleyway he was running down ended on an open street. With the darkness descending like a sheet over the city, the guards would be hunting for infected. The darkness offered protection for the infected to scrounge for food as it hid signs of their infection.

“This is fucking Hollywood shit” he laughed to no one in particular. The sick weren’t monsters, Sophie always explained. They were in so much pain that they just lashed out.

The street that lay in front of him was a typical two-lane road, and Alex had to get across with as few steps as possible. When the plague hit his city, Alex was one of the few who chose not to flee. The US government claimed many of the uninhabited buildings and converted them into medical, industrial, and military centers within the dying city.

The city provided Alex with an easy job in the industrial sector as a welder. The job gave him a generous stipend, which he could spend freely since he lived rent free after his landlord fled. Though an evacuation was ordered, the city needed workers and gave anyone who stubbornly stayed behind work and money.

He stalked up to the edge of the building on the right of the alley, dashed into the street, and ran for the opposite alleyway. Once in the safety of its shadows, Alex gave a sigh of relief when he heard no shouts or gunshots.

He was almost home. All he had to do was take a right at the end of this alley, and he’d be home free. He kept his trot slow to avoid making too much noise. As he turned at the end of the alley, he ran straight into an artificial wall that was blocking the opening to the road.

Alex had heard of the guards using these walls to trap the infected. Sophia had said she’d heard of the Red Guard collecting fresh victims for a project. In his frustration, Alex turned towards the road he had just crossed and saw two people staggering towards him.

“Help me.” He knew the man on the left was a vagrant from his filthy appearance even with the sickness. “I am so hungry.”

“Stay right there. Are you sick?” Alex knew he was.

The homeless man looked to be in the advanced stages of the disease. His mouth hung open, sucking in as much air as possible. His eyes were completely yellow, and his teeth, what few remained, were sharp and broken from eating anything he could scavenge. As he lurched towards Alex, his exposed gum line showed decay. His skin was a strange mixture of grotesque yellow and bone-white.

The man next to him was less obvious in his infection. He wore a uniform so red it dominated all other colors into submission, though he was missing his helmet – something a healthy Red Guard officer would never allow. The guard looked to be a fresh victim of no more than eight hours. His stride was still strong, but his skin was becoming pale and his eyes were bloodshot. Alex had to be careful because, though these two were sick, they were prone to bouts of violence when confronted.

“Please. If you have anything, I’ll take it.” The homeless man was getting closer. His gait was weak and took a lot out of him. “I just want water.” The infection always caused extreme hunger and dehydration as it ravaged the body.

He knew healthy Red Guard would come if they heard his shouts, but he didn’t care. He refused to get infected. “Stay back. I don’t want to get fucking sick.”

Despite his pleas to stop, they kept walking towards him. Alex remembered Sophie mentioning that trauma killed the infected and saw a small brick a few feet away from him. Alex snatched the brick, took a few steps forward, and slammed it into the head of the guard. The guard stumbled, tried to stand, then went limp. Alex turned to grab another item, not realizing how fast the hobo had crept, and suddenly felt a burning sensation in his neck.

“You son of a bitch! No no no!” Alex screamed over and over again. He managed to grab the homeless man’s back and flipped him to the ground. Alex fell as his equilibrium shifted. He scooted back as the man dragged towards him.

“Why couldn’t you just give us some food and water?” He was screaming at Alex.

Out of nowhere, a rifle ended the man’s pleas, blowing his head apart.

Alex turned, lifted his head up and saw a man in a Red Guard uniform standing at the end of the alley with a rifle raised. The guard’s fire engine red suit had thick armor covering his joints and neck. The unusual color of the uniform was for identification purposes among other guards—red meant don’t shoot first. The soldier wore a gas-mask helmet. He removed a section of it covering his mouth to speak. Alex had heard of their brutality towards citizens breaking curfew, much less one doomed to turn into one of the creatures. He closed his eyes, breathed in deep, and waited for the gunshot, but instead, the guard walked to him and raised him to his feet.

“Bitten, hmm?”

“Yeah…”

“Well, you are infected. All I can do is put you out of your misery,” The guard smirked a bit. Alex never hated someone more than he did now. “However, there is another option.”

Alex remained quiet in response.

“If you come with us, we can use you to test our new vaccine,” the guard said with a slight British accent. “It will kill you, but your contribution to research will be invaluable.”

“What choice do I have?”

“Not much, really. You’ll die either way.”

Alex thought about what he would miss the most. Sophie was high on the list of things, as well as their new puppy. He would miss his co-workers who joked with him daily. He would also miss sunlight. Where he was going, he knew, lacked that.

“I understand.” Alex didn’t care what happened to him anymore. The guard replaced his mask and guided Alex towards the street where a large van, marked with the familiar ‘Daraby Pharmaceuticals’ logo waited. They approached the back of the vehicle, and the Brit banged hard on the door. It opened, revealing an interior that was so white it stung his retina. Each wall of the van had three seats. Two guards occupied the first and third seat on the left side, and a single guard sat next to the front of the van on the right. The guard closest to Alex on the left stood up and offered a hand. The guards hauled Alex inside and restrained him into the open seat between the two on the left.

“That’s for if you turn early.” This guard helping him seemed to know he was already infected. He remembered the searing pain in his neck and wondered how bad it looked.

The Brit closed the door and took a seat opposite Alex.

“All ready, Lisa.” The guard sitting to Alex’s left shouted. The van lurched forward, and Alex stared without much thought at the wall so white it gave him a headache.

“So, how are we dividing this?” The guard who helped him in asked as he removed the face part of his mask.

“The deal was each specimen we bring, we go 25%.” Alex pretended not to listen as disgust boiled in his gut.

“Well, gents, I believe I am owed a higher share. I did capture it.” The Brit said with enough smug to drown Alex.

“It? I am still alive, you son of a bitch.” Alex interjected.

An argument began. “I risked my life to get him out of the jaws of that other one.” The argument was soon cut off as the van stopped, jolting everyone in the back towards the front.

“Guys, can you come see this?” Lisa, Alex surmised, screamed. She sounded much older than him. All four guards crowded a small panel door to view the windshield.

“Holy shit, there must be at least 25 of them!” The guard who sat on Alex’s left shouted.

“So, here’s the game. We each get six shots. Whoever kills the most gets 50% of the reward for the live one, and the other three split the remainder.” The Brit guard said from the front by the slot.

Alex looked at the guard who helped him into the van. The guard’s focus was towards the front, but Alex noticed he had his side arm unfastened. Alex also noticed that all the rifles were on the floor. Thanks to his double-jointed shoulder, he slowly undid his restraints, being careful to not make any noise. The guards were still arguing and completely unaware he was free. He smiled as a plan began to form. He reached for the pistol and slid it from the holster without alerting the guard. Smiling, Alex waited to strike.

Illusion of Choice Chapter 2

Chapter 2

Several Minutes Later

After arriving early, David watched the bored citizens enter the classroom 5 minutes before the class started. David, who had been sitting for about ten minutes, scrutinized the people entering. Their ages ranged from the new workers of 18 to the retired at age 70. After 70, classes were only taken by those who wanted to learn.

“I hate that we have to be up so early just to learn about outlaws in the past” said a petite blond of about 18-years-old. “I just don’t care.” She was frowning as she spoke. She struggled to keep her eyes open.

“I know. I wish we could go back to being teenagers and not having to work” replied the tall muscular guy walking next to her. “I actually miss school starting at 0900.”

“Watch your tone.” A woman at the end of the working age limit piped up. “None of that dissenting talk.” The old woman squawked. The kids silenced and took their seats.

“Good morning, class.” The teacher walked in at the exact second the class was to start.

“Good morning, Sister,” answered the class in unison. David studied the 20-something teacher with hair bound so tight it looked like it wouldn’t move. She was still talking as she walked to place her bag down. She scanned the identification port on her wrist communicator to the computer built into the desk. David saw the identification prompt flashing on everyone’s computer at the same moment.

“This class will be covering 21st Century Mysticism. Over the next thirty days, we will discuss who the important people in ancient religions were, what the people of the past believed, and why religion was important to the world before The Catastrophe.” David scanned his ID port. The screen turned green and opened up to a digital version of the textbook. Most people never looked at the book ahead of time, but David purchased a physical copy from a dealer in Sector 9. He knew it was stupid, but he couldn’t resist the experience they offered. “Can anyone tell me some of the Pre-Catastrophe Religions?”

David saw all the names flash through his mind in an instant. His memory was always great, but he knew better than to answer too fast.

“Catholicism.” The muscular teenager stated with a confidence that could David could see. The older women shot him a glance that halted his bragging.

He could hear the quick taps of the other students looking for the answers. While the silence was unbearable, David dared to not make himself stand out. He always did so well on the tests that he brought himself a lot of attention on score days. He attempted to blend into the group by scanning the book.

“Buddhism!” The petite blond piped up.

“Correct, Sister Abburn.”

“Judaism.” Another person said.

“Right, Brother Jacobs.”

“Islam.” David finally added when a pause butted into the class.

“Yes, Thank You… Brother Warren.” He noticed she was fluid in her search for his name on her computer. She smiled when she uttered his name. He narrowed his eyes, set on alert by her action.

“Oh, I almost forgot! It’s time for our hourly mantra: I will always thirst for knowledge.” The class repeated, and David saw everyone become happy and determined. David, while used to it, squirmed when nothing changed after uttering the mantra. He pasted on a smile similar to his brothers and sisters.

“In the time before our Glorious Leader Daraby created our Confederation of City-States, humanity believed in imaginary gods and goddesses that ruled over them. The most prevalent ones were the gods of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Other religions existed, but these three were the big ones. They had followers numbering in the millions including several breakaway sects.” The tapping of note taking filled the void while she breathed. David tabbed to the syllabus and saw her name “Cindy Reed.”

A hand rose from the woman who chastised the two kids. “Why were the religions outlawed though?” She asked while scratching her grey bundle of hair.

“Simple, Sister Walsh” Cindy’s eyes checked her screen again with a practiced fluidity. “Religion caused strife. When one group of believers clashed with another group, it was more than just a simple disagreement. This was a disagreement on the absolute tenets of a person’s life, so one group would attack another group. In one region, followers of Judaism and Islam were at constant odds. The violence would dominate whole regions throughout history, so the State determined that if there were no gods, goddesses, or religions, strife would never be on such a personal level. It was never believed that removing religion would remove all war; that would be naïve, but our glorious Leaders throughout our State’s existence decided to remove a major factor for war and strife.”

“So, why did they believe so devoutly?” David saw a few heads turn his way in the back of the room.

“It offered peace even if it was imagined; to those believers, religion meant that there was more than this world and this life. It meant they didn’t have one chance but many chances. It meant hope.” David caught something in her tone. He sensed a degree of conviction hidden in her speech. He decided to probe further.

“As an officer of the State, I’ve seen individuals involved in underground cults.” He saw smiles grow on anyone who was facing him. “Nearly all the believers I’ve met were insane or stupid. Are they mentally ill and that’s why they believe in a god or many gods?”

Cindy’s eyes broke the lock he had on them. “Well, these individuals are obviously crazy to believe they can hide from our great Union Guard’s detective work.” She motioned to David and smiled a bit. “But I am afraid I don’t know much about their belief system outside of the confiscated propaganda that the WGE publishes.” Her eyes never met his again. “I actually have a few pieces of digitized propaganda. Please check your computer screens.”

David could tell she was hiding something but decided against further probing; it was drawing too much attention. The students looked down and flipped through the pieces of information. One document was several pages covering a deity that ruled the weather.

“Sister Teacher.” A man younger than David raised his hand. “I’m trying to understand this. Why would entities bigger than us care about what we do?”

“Well, Brother Reeves, take that first piece of documentation I sent covering Thorism. Thor was part of the ancient Norse mythology. People right before the Catastrophe didn’t believe in the Norse or Roman gods and goddesses, but they used lots of references to them in daily life.”

“Like days of the week and months.” David added in without hesitating. He blushed as he realized he interrupted the teacher. “Sorry for interrupting, Sister.”

“No, that’s correct, Brother Warren.” That recurring smile added to David’s blush. “They modified Thor’s name to become Thursday, for example. They would divide their years into twelve months each containing about thirty days. They also divided their months into four weeks.” She paused for everyone to finish typing. “One week comprised seven days, and Thursday was the fourth day.”

“That’s so confusing.” The blonde exclaimed. “Why would they break down a week into seven days instead of ten?” David smirked realizing the girl was oblivious to what life would have been like before the WGE.

“It was how it was always done, Sister Liddy.” Cindy replied in a practiced fashion. She focused back on Brother Reaves. “But, Old World citizens built nearly everything around the concept of religion.” She flashed a smile.

“That didn’t answer my question.” Brother Reeves interjected, killing Cindy’s smile.

“Sorry. A lot of humans viewed themselves as the only intelligent species in the universe. This philosophy created a massive ego complex. Since ancient humans believed that these divine powers had an intimate interest in humans, it made us special and unique. This rationality spanned every religion. They ignored the fact that while praying for their own hopes and desires, they were asking these deities to ignore the cries of others.” David saw a look that intrigued him.

The class continued to gloss over ideas of religion. In later lessons, the class would go deeper into the subject, but today and tomorrow would focus on creating an even field for everyone.

“Well, that’ll wrap up today’s lesson. Please join me in reciting the hourly mantra. I will not lie to my brothers and sisters no matter the consequence.” The class repeated, and everyone’s face went placid. “For tomorrow, please read chapters one and two. Have a wonderful day.”

David read those chapters already. He logged off the computer, packed away his educational tablet, and collected his bag. When he looked up, the room was empty.

As he was leaving the building, he noticed Cindy struggling to enter a lounge. She had a heavy bag that appeared to weigh more than she did. While trying to access the panel to open the door, her bag spilled on the ground. David ran over to help and noticed several old books slid out of her bag. He grabbed the thickest one noting the cover read “B-I-B-L-E.”

“Where did you get these?” David said in a hushed tone. Concrete books were illegal due to their waste of resources.

“I…” She hesitated. “I bought them from a dealer.” David could hear his heart pounding. “In Sector 9.” She began to cry, trying to suppress the sobs.

“You have to get rid of these immediately.” David knew protocol required he arrest her, but he couldn’t do it; he was guilty of the same. “Burn them and never let anyone know what you did.”

“But, you’re an officer.” Cindy said with her eyes open a mere sliver.

“I am, but I have compassion. I understand that your profession as a teacher requires you to suss out what is safe for the students in a sea of dangerous, radical ideas.” David handed her the packed bag as he stood back up. He helped her to her feet and opened the lounge door. “I’ll call this a lapse in judgment.” He winked with a smile.

With her eyes down, she nodded and entered the lounge without any further words.

David stood discombobulated for a few seconds before leaving the building. As he continued down the hallway, he searched for any witnesses. There were none.

He walked the ten blocks to the City-7434’s Precinct in Sector 1. The whole time he couldn’t shake the encounter with Cindy.

He entered the building and his shoes clicked on the marble of the ornate foyer. He spotted a frazzled Caroline and gave her a customary wave. He flashed the underside of his communicator at the scanner next to reception.

“Wonderful day, Sister Gleen.”

Caroline Gleen met his eyes. “Always wonderful when I see you, handsome.” She beamed at him. Her typical playful banter reddened his face.

“Thanks, you too.” He walked away with his head down, hearing her chuckle. He hated small talk.

In the locker room, he changed into his standard issue Union outfit: black Kevlar pants with a black Kevlar vest. Thanks to AID chip technology, the nanites coursing through his veins would protect him from a bullet if the vest did not. As long as his brain was intact, he’d survive almost anything. He picked up his helmet and studied it for a moment. It was a black, fitted upside-down U that tapered in the back to a point to cover his AID chip and locked on the sides to prevent it from falling off in any type of battle. A tinted, shatter-resistant glass that flipped up protected his face. The glass visor also could receive digital information such as dossiers. As long as this helmet was on with the visor down, gunfire couldn’t kill him. David learned this, first-hand, more than he liked.

David made his way through the empty locker room to the glowing assignment board. He was early for his shift, so he had time for some peace before the room echoed with chatter. He found his name on the list.

“Officer #9301/Officer #10255: Traffic Duty, East Rung Express Sector 11. Nine Hour Shift.”

After looking at the second number, he sighed at being stuck with a rookie. The locals had nicknamed the expressway in Sector 11 Lasting because it was the last place anyone from the city had any reason to go. To avoid congestion, navigation systems routed cars to this rung of the expressway in the evenings. Since the State required cars to use automatic control in the city, he just had to worry about people skirting this law, as well as doing the usual audio surveillance. He smiled as he walked to the garage where his vehicle was waiting. He began to whistle, completely carefree.

Illusion of Choice Chapter 1 Sample

Chapter 1

23.2228 – City-7434, Sector 8A, World Government of Earth (W.G.E.)

The alarm on his wrist communicator sounded at 0530 as the WGE mandated for Officer #9301. David Warren awoke with an hour and half until his State-mandated class. He stretched on his box-spring bed in a room as dark as a coffin. David glanced down at the metallic cuff enveloping his left forearm and saw the piercing green illumination change to 0531. It beeped again.

“Are you going to turn that off?” A female voice said in a soft, but harsh tone.

“Sorry.” David silenced the alarm. He forgot she was still here. “I told you I had Block 7 classes.”

“There’s a Block 7?” She mocked a yawn.

“Yeah, 0700 to 0800.”

“Why the fuck would you accept that?” The pale woman asked as she stretched. She was still nude, like David, below the small sheet that barely covered her.

“I will be working Block 9 through 19.” He explained.

“I work all Blocks, honey.” She purred as she pulled her long, jet-black hair into a ponytail. Though she dressed to look older, with her lying naked on the bed with her hair back, she filled out all 19 years of her life. She smiled with a look of primal longing. “I’m still on your dime.”

“What’s stopping me from arresting you and taking you to the Detention Center?” David asked as he met her eyes with a faux fierce stare. “You may not be legal.” He offered her a smirk.

“That wasn’t funny.” She flushed with anger. “You know I do my damnedest to stay straight.” The WGE had legalized prostitution and other vices and even encouraged their use. This leniency was done to ensure that everyone was safe as some of the worst diseases in the Old World were sexually transmitted or through the use of illegal drugs. By legalizing these practices, the WGE also made sure everyone was protected from unwanted side effects like pregnancy without proper care and services.

“I’m sorry.” He softened instantly. “I was only kidding.”

“It still hurt.”

“You know I couldn’t anyway.”

“Yeah, then, you wouldn’t have anyone.” She giggled in a way that always made him smile. “There’s that smile I love.” She stretched her arms out, and he couldn’t resist collapsing into them.

Despite her warm embrace, David felt a chill rise up along his spine and into his brain. Because the State set the temperature in the provided housing complexes, he had to learn to deal with the cold. A humming buzz signaled the piping in of oxygen to the bedrooms to shake free any sense of sleepiness. He pushed off Iliza and stood next to the bed as the lights in his apartment finished their morning awakening. Though he knew the State regulated all lights for energy consumption, David wished they would turn on faster.

“I need to get ready.” He said. “I have some new flavors in the cabinet if you want something.”

“You do!” Iliza squealed and perked up. “We never get the good stuff you Unies get.” She said in a mocking pout that he knew was true. “Especially us in the Fringe.”

“You could move out of Sector 13, you know.” He offered as he started to move for the door.

“I wish, but you don’t pay me enough for that, honey.”

David headed to the tiny bathroom. Per regulations, the lights remained off, but the mosaic-tiled window offered enough light to flood the entire bathroom. There was a sink with a mirror over it, a small shower, and a closet. David looked into his mirror for a moment. He needed a haircut and a shave. As he looked at the man in the mirror, the reflection disturbed David. It was foreign and outside of the norm. His eyes, blue as opposed to the typical brown of people with his hair color looked back at him mockingly. He was different in an obvious way and despised his eyes. He turned from the mirror to his shower without any further hesitation and pressed the button below the shower head. The water began with a timer counting down from ten minutes. He showered as fast as he could while clenching his teeth from the cold water.

The cold water, like the slow lights, was another result of rationing. Using excessive amounts of hot water would deprive others of even lukewarm water. David understood the reasoning, but he hated it. The trained part of his brain kicked in and chastised him for dissenting.

He pulled a towel out of his bathroom closet instead of standing in front of the dryer in his bathroom. David always found the air from that dryer to be too cool for him when he was soaking wet. After drying, he fed the towel into a slot next to the closet. A series of grinding sounds emanated from the slot, and the towel appeared on the shelf where David pulled it, folded and dry.

He headed, nude, to his bedroom, and a wave of self-consciousness hit. The State encouraged one to ignore modesty and indulge in every physical desire, but to David, a part of him never acquired that mentality. Except with Iliza. Though he knew she would leave his life the second he couldn’t afford her, he felt a deeper connection with her than he did with most Working Ladies. He retrieved his clothes from the closet and placed them on the bed.

He walked from the white cube that was his bedroom to the white cube that was his living room. Padding over to the cabinet, David removed a syringe labeled “Chocolate Cereal.” He injected the dark, metallic brown liquid into the back of his neck where it melted into his shoulders. The neck location would never heal from the constant injections, yet it caused no scar tissue.

As the liquid entered his Augmentation Implementing Dispenser (AID) chip, David waited to taste the cereal. Since the implanted chip satisfied all needs for food and water, the State simply provided the flavor injections to make the transition easier. Its use was popular, so the WGE, in an act of utter generosity, never did away with it. Today, only workers for the State in high positions got them delivered for free. Everyone else had to buy them, and they weren’t cheap.

“Yes! I am Queue Number 10!” Iliza shouted, snuggled on the couch. He had forgotten she was there.

“Few later risers today.” David said with a shrug. “Which one you got?” David asked, placing the used syringe in a special container for recycling.

“It said Strawberry.” She looked back at him from the sofa, with the numbers 0-2, emblazoned on the screen displaying her queue number. “It tastes sweet!”

“It’s pretty good, but you should try Orange.”

“Next time.” She turned to the TV. “We are 0-1! You think it’ll be cartoons?” Even though he had been her regular for over 100 days, she was still amazed by the perks, like flavor vials, that he received as a Union Guard. It amused him.

A taste entered his mouth that David identified as “cheap chocolate.” The flavor paled in comparison to a small taste he could remember as a child. It wasn’t perfect, but it gave him a connection to his childhood. He wasn’t sure when he had experienced it, but the memory was vivid in detail.

David saw a woman with hair colored like leaves in autumn. When he had this vision, he always called her that—Autumn. Even in memory, her smile lit up any darkness that lingered in his heart. As she pulled him close and embraced him, his tiny hands fondled the treat she gave him. The world melted as the flavor of the chocolate piece enveloped him. The mental image dissipated as Clark Wallace introduced WGE News.

Iliza groaned. “The news is always so boring.”

“We at WGE News Network would like to wish a congratulations to Sister Marilyn Winthrop and Brother Adam Gino as they have announced their union in the eyes of the State. While the Winthrop name is synonymous with the WGE Film industry, Brother Gino comes from a long line of public servants including his father, John who serves on the WGE Council. Let us wish our brother and sister well.

“Who the fuck cares about them?” Iliza said with an expression that mirrored her distasteful tone. “Sorry, but I never got the celebrity worship. It seems to counter to everything we were taught.”

“It does, but think about it.” David teased. “Two of the most well-known names in WGE service have joined. Winthrop-Gino will become a dynasty for the WGE.”

“That’s true. Just seems weird.” David shrugged.

“Union Officers scored a glorious victory in Sector 12 after an extensive firefight with insurgents hiding in the slums.” The TV stated.

“He’s lying again, isn’t he?” Iliza asked.

“Embellishing.” David corrected. “I’m sure there was a firefight, but I doubt it was the terrorists.”

“Sounds scary. Have you ever met any?” She resembled a child with her curiosity about his work. It enamored David that despite her line of work, she was still curious about the world unlike other women.

“I would bet few were true CLOC insurgents.” David pronounced it as “cloak.”

“What’s CLOC?”

“The Coalition for the Liberation of Oppressed Citizens.” David explained. The WGE rarely acknowledged their formal name. They were always “the terrorists.”

“Were they dangerous?” Iliza asked, but before David could respond, Clark Wallace said something on TV that froze them both.

“Join us, brothers and sisters, in a mantra for the hour. Repeat: I will work for one reason today: solidarity.” The smile on Clark Wallace’s face looked like it would touch his eyes if he pushed it a bit harder. David and Iliza recited the mantra. Iliza’s face mirrored Clark Wallace’s, but David, as usual, forced a smile onto his face.

“We are fortunate to live in City-7434, Brother Warren.” He hated when she called him that, as she always did after the mantras.

“Indeed we are,” David pushed the awkward address out. “Sister.”

“Can you imagine life outside in the Wastelands?”

“Not in the slightest.” Excluding his chocolate memory, David only remembered living under the World Government of Earth’s regime. They fulfilled everyone’s needs, though some received more perks than others. All citizens received the same stipend; however, the doctors, scientists, and teachers also received the top-notch goods, such as better food flavors, bigger apartments, and nicer cars. He, as a Union Guard Officer, received this tier of perks with a few hidden extras: liquor and real foods. In the poorer sectors where people worked more menial jobs, the citizens only received the basic income. It forced them into abject poverty to just get a car. Most in Sectors 10 to 13 tried to live the illusion of wealth and went into severe debt to buy the cars that David’s class drove.

“The Fringe is scary enough.” Most people called Sector 12 and Sector 13 the unkind nickname since the poorest congregated here. Most moved there for the relaxed laws from the WGE police, but they found that it was hard, if not impossible, to move back.

“Like I said before, move here.” He held her face and looked at her. David thought for a second she would greet him with a kiss, finally ending their business arrangement for something more tangible, but a loud pounding on the front door interrupted their moment. Grabbing his gun off the end table, he ran to the door, chambered a round, and checked the view screen on the door.

“Fuck.” He said loud enough for Iliza to hear.

“Who is it?” He motioned her to keep quiet and go to the bedroom, which she did without hesitation.

“Brother Warren, please, open up, I need your help.” The pounding was as wild as natives of the Wastelands. Peter Richardson, David’s neighbor, looked like an uncivilized man.

“What you need, Brother Richardson?” David shouted through the door.

“I’m in trouble, man. Open up!” His voice rose in timbre.

David disengaged the electronic locks. Peter stormed in without invitation looking like he was homeless. The dirty-blond hair that clung tight to Peter’s scalp was slick with sweat. Red worms attacked his greenish irises, and bleeding wounds riddled his lips. Through his training, David kept his gun at the ready.

“I fucked up last night.” Peter said with a sigh. “Gambling.” He replied, embarrassed to admit his crime.

“It wasn’t State-sanctioned, was it?” David paused, hoping his instincts were wrong. Peter’s eyes told him they weren’t. “How much?”

“More credits than I make in a month.” Tears filled his eyes magnifying the intense green. “I was on a roll.”

“Fuck, Pete.”

“I also skipped work this morning.” He mumbled as if he didn’t want to feel the words come out. David heard them anyway. David’s eyebrows arched high, trying to reach the bangs of his too long brown hair.

“What? Are you fucking crazy? Don’t you work 0000 clean up?”

“Yeah.” Peter melted into the couch.

“You are six hours late. They will notice that.” David was growing panicky.

“I was too scared to leave.”

“Well, I suggest you get out of my apartment before I have to use this.” He motioned to his gun, without much meaning. He was too tired to be tough with Peter. “But, since that would give me a headache with paperwork, I’ll skip that idea. You are in a bit of trouble, but I guess it’s nothing too serious. Maybe a week or two in Union detention. I think turning yourself in would be the wisest thing.” David’s mind began to betray him. Peter wouldn’t last the full sentence. Interrogations demolished people like Peter the first day.

“I… can’t do that,” stammered Peter. “What if I leave the city?”

“The WGE’s jurisdiction ends after Sector 13, so you will be out of their realm of persecution. But remember, you’ll also be out of their ring of protection. Can you handle what’s out there?”

David looked out the window, hoping to ground Peter into the hopelessness of escape. Beyond the concrete and steel labyrinth, he could see the whispers of trees and wilderness. “The terrorists will likely kidnap you and try to ransom you off, or the bandits out there will just kill you on sight.” David hoped these clichés would scare him into going to another Union Guard Officer.

“Can I crash here for a few hours at least? I haven’t slept all night, waiting for them to bust the door in, and…”

“Have you been using?” David had to get Peter back to his place before he found Iliza.

“Fuck no, man, I’m in enough trouble that I don’t need illegals in my system.” Most non-State upgrades were minor enhancements of State variations. Some enhancements were benign like the sleeping upgrades that would knock you out for a week. Others allowed for temporary bursts of speed and strength. The scarier ones were like the drugs of the Old World.

As with prostitution the State was fine with most that didn’t interfere with one’s responsibilities. The drugs like Adrenall, Blue Velvet, and a few others that caused increased aggression and rage gained their ire.

“I have a friend in Sector 9.” He thought of an innkeeper who he helped out once. “I have a Sleeper in the cabinet next to my flavor vials. It’s straight, so it will only give you two or three hours. Head to this address.” David typed it into his communicator and pointed it to Pete’s. Pete’s communicator dinged. “Take a Sleeper, shower when you wake up, and then, get to Sector 1 and turn yourself in. Deal?”

“Yeah, man. Deal.” Peter stared off into space with a placid smile before ambling out of the apartment. David didn’t believe him for a second.

“You are smooth.” Iliza said from the hallway. “Is he going to be okay?” She looked worried for him.

“I love that you care.” David said without choosing his words. He saw her cheeks turn a shade of red. Unlike most citizens of City-7434, Iliza seemed to relish the praise. That reaction reaffirmed that she was different like he was. “But, I don’t know. He’s on his own now. Shit,” David recalled seeing the time on his communicator. “I have to go.”

“I’ll be gone soon.” She said without much thought or emotion. “Bye… David.” She smiled.
To not ruin the moment, David left without another word. He grabbed a tan button-up shirt and his bag, packed his gun away, and headed out. He hoped Peter would regain some of his senses after a few hours of sleep.

He finished buttoning his shirt as the elevator arrived at the ground floor. Outside of his building, the sky was a perfect blue. Somehow, the color still amazed him while most didn’t even take notice of it. Everyone on the streets looked forward as they walked or down at the glowing device attached to their wrists. The wrist communicator had many useful tools, such as a clock, a phone, and a wallet into one device. David’s Unie communicator had many extra features. One tool he used the most was the ability to scan anyone’s identification port and learn their past transgressions. It allowed him to assess anyone at a glance.

David queued behind others waiting for the transport. The large transport vehicle arrived on schedule as always. The vehicle looked like one of the buses he had seen in his Old World History class but with the armor of a tank. He passed the driver and flipped his wrist up. The red laser next to the driver scanned his identification port eliciting a ding. David found a seat by the window. The hum of electrical current rose with a slow crescendo. The vehicle lurched forward following a track of radio signal, accelerating to the speed of the rest of traffic. Over the seat, he could see the driver writing in his log as the vehicle drove itself. State Drivers weren’t essential to typical vehicle usage, but they were the only ones sanctioned to drive with manual controls. If an emergency came up, like being behind schedule, the State Drivers were ready to put their training to use. Because of the efficiency of the State, most never had to do that.

David opened his satchel, removed his educational tablet, and began flipping through his notes on the digital pages. He scanned the syllabus to confirm it: 21st Century Mysticism. Religion, outlawed by The Rules, always intrigued David. He had once arrested some who were practicing religious sacraments, but most were strung out users who had “epiphanies” after binges. Still, he tried, against all logic, to question these people in their cells; they revealed nothing of interest except a look that David would never forget—a look of hope.

The transport groaned to a stop, and the intercom burst with sound. “Sector 3 – Public Education Center #23.” David flipped the book off in a hurry and got in line to exit the vehicle.

Outside in the warming air, he stood in front of a plain building. Other than being a giant copper rectangle, the building was a monolith of monotony—the epitome of the State. Besides its color, only a sign reading PEC #23 adorned the building. Following the crowd pouring into the building, David tried his best to contain his excitement. Most citizens didn’t enjoy these mandatory classes.

Window Shopping – Free Short Story

Kelly soaked in the warm bathwater without a care. The bubbles’ sweet scent placed her back in her childhood as she leaned her head against the tub’s edge. No more exams, no more homework for three months, she thought. When her freshman year had come to a close, she declined both the summer job her mom offered and summer classes; she worked herself to a breaking point and needed the time off. She could earn money with a job during the fall semester, and she would take more classes later, but for now, she had to enjoy this time.

Throughout high school, Kelly overworked herself. While it earned her the title of valedictorian and several high paying scholarships, Kelly felt cheated by her high school experience. Though she managed to meet her long-time boyfriend, Russell, she had missed out on the tight friendships that she admired from a distance. She craved to have a close girlfriend she could share her thoughts with, or even a couple with whom she and Russ could double-date. Normally, they went out with Steve and Karen. Kelly hated Karen. Since Kelly was attractive in her own right, she felt no jealousy towards Karen, but Karen was just plain stupid, almost as if she were doing it as an act. Kelly couldn’t relate to the girl, but Russell and Steve went way back, so she kept her mouth shut and played nice.

She stopped these thoughts and let her mind wander towards nothingness. She didn’t want to think about school, work, or anything stressful. Just relax. With her parents gone for the weekend, Russell would be over after work. Her head began to sag as Kelly fell asleep in the bathtub.

The sound of scratching woke her from the sleep. The sound was coming from the lock, and it reminded her of when Russell would pick the lock to surprise her.

“Russell?” She called out. No answer, but the scratching continued.

Kelly leaped out of the bathtub spilling water on the floor and rug. Bubbles clung to her naked body. She swiftly wrapped herself in a baby blue robe.

“Who’s there?” The scratching continued. “I have a weapon!” The scratching suddenly stopped. Kelly grabbed a pair of scissors from the side of her sink. Kelly grabbed the door knob. The handle shook like a pair of dice in her hand. She twisted. The bark of Paxton, her bulldog puppy, startled her. He looked up at her with his mouth agape.

She listened in the dark house but heard nothing. She tried to shake it, but the electricity of fear pulsed in and out of her. Something was wrong.

Kelly glided along the wall of the hallway. A bedroom was approaching directly in front of her on the side of the wall she was sticking to, while on the opposite wall, there was a closet. In a flurry, Kelly jumped to the opposite wall, holding close to the closet. The wood panels created a shuffling sound as she walked fast past the open bedroom door. She rushed to the end of the hallway to hit the light switch.

After a few seconds of adjusting to the light, Kelly could see the hallway to the old house was empty. The 14-foot ceiling remained its bland white. The high 10-foot doorways remained flanked with old wood. There was nothing to fear in front of her. As Kelly turned around, something in the window sent her heart pounding. It was a face.

In the window that opened to the backyard of the house, a man of no discernible age stood looking at her. His jaw was slack, and from the heaving, she could tell he was breathing strong. The man had a black and white beard that looked like a dog with mange. His left eye never broke from hers. His right eye was staring towards his ear. The man revolted Kelly. A sound caused her to break her gaze. It came from her left in the kitchen. When she looked back at the window, the man was gone. She shuffled to turn the kitchen light on and found her phone twitching on the counter. The number was private. She slowly raised the phone to her ear after pressing “answer.”

“Hello?” She said. She heard what sounded like moaning. “Who is this?”

“You’ve been a bad girl…” she heard a deep voice mutter through moans.

“I’m going to call the cops if you don’t leave me—”

“Looking so bad with that short blue robe… you tease…” He groaned. She nearly collapsed. Two possibilities blossomed in her head: either the man outside had her phone number, or someone else could see her. She hung up the phone and called Russell. He answered on the third ring.

“Hey, babe, what’s up? Kinda busy.”

“Please come over now,” she shrieked into the phone. “Someone is outside… I saw him… he was at the window.”

“I’m on my way. Call the cops… now!” A loud bang echoed from the hallway before she could reply to him. With the scissors in hand, she walked into the hallway and looked towards the window. She began to scream as she saw a message, in blood, written from the inside.

“No cops!” The blood dripped down the window towards the floor where Paxton lay dead. Kelly began to lose her ability to breathe regularly as she realized the enormity of the situation.

She wasn’t alone in the large, old house. Russell was on his way, but he had miles to drive. Her parents were as good as another planet away. She knew the safest room to wait for Russell was the bathroom: one door, one shallow closet, and one high window. Before hiding, she ditched her scissors in favor of her mother’s butcher knife. With all the courage left inside of her and knife and phone in hand, she stormed down the hallway to the bathroom. Inside, she yanked the closet door open. Nothing. She pushed the shower curtain aside. Nothing. Finally, she pushed the bathroom door closed all but a small bit to hear for Russell.

The wait seemed like hours. Her phone shuttered in the palm of her hand. The number was private. She bit her lip to stifle the sobs.

“He won’t be here in time.” The mirth in his voice was sickening. “As you saw, I have a key.”

“Who are you?” She whispered as her strength was sapped.

“I’m almost at the door. Here we go. Inserting the key.”

Kelly listened and heard a key enter the lock. Without hesitating, Kelly sprang from the bathroom and charged down the hallway.

“Knob is turning.” The knob turned. She kept her pace, knife cocked and ready with the phone pressed hard to her head. As the door opened, her hand came down like a bolt of lightning. The knife found bone and stuck. In the house lights, she saw Russell’s face begin to go flush.

“I knew you were a bad girl. Now, I get to punish you.” He let out a cackle that sounded infinite. The voice wasn’t from the phone anymore but behind her.

As Russell bled out from the knife wound, his eyes grew wide as an owl’s. Kelly started to turn, but before she could, she felt a wet, sweet-smelling cloth pressed on her face. Then, she felt nothing.

End.

Short Story Commentary: Window Shopping


When I first started a writing project in 2010, I had no idea exactly where I wanted to go with it. I knew the short stories would be lacking at first, but as I wrote, I hoped that the story quality would step up.

I decided to restart my project with my first completed short story “Window Shopping.” Pacing-wise, it is a bit lacking. Some of my typical elements are there (unseen force of evil; blacking out to death; etc.), but I think this was my first attempt to succinctly build a scene with lots of tension. The character is completely innocent and naive, so like the stranger who is watching her, we are given a candid look into her thoughts and actions. The only gray area for us is we have no idea what the stranger is thinking, planning, or why he targeted this character.

I got the inspiration of this story, much to my wife’s chagrin, by writing by a window near my computer desk. I started to think how terrifying it would be if I would walk into the perpetually dark room, which isn’t helped by the hunter green walls that absorb all the light, and see a second of a face in the window that moves when we make eye contact.

I took that fear and modified it; instead of fleeing at being caught, the stranger was excited and enticed. Kelly, without realizing it, had willingly accepted to join in his game. The results were obvious from the start.

I think if I had to go back and flesh this story out, I would have made the death of Paxton a little more organic. How did the stranger get in the house? Later, it’s revealed he has a key. Why isn’t Kelly more startled with the fact that he would have had to enter the house to do what he did? I guess I can attribute that to shock, and she did act within her means. Running outside wouldn’t have helped her.

The conclusion to the story is something I planned pretty early on. How horrific does her ordeal become when she suddenly kills the only person who can save her? Not letting her mull this over in front of us, I have the stranger knock her out with ether or chloroform and drag her for his own unearthly plans.

The elements of this story will appear in others. I do have some form of justice in mind for the stranger, as well as the appearance of Kelly and Russell. Hopefully, this entry was done well enough to whet your appetite and give you impetus to watch me improve.
Thanks for your time.

Disclaimer

The ideas, words, and works are solely the creation and representation of me, Eric Ponvelle.

None of the opinions, beliefs, and values of my content represents any other companies, individuals, and enterprises other than my own.

“Bows and Internets” by Eric Ponvelle

Originally published on The WiFiles

An’ki woke with a slight throbbing in his head. He sat upright on the fur covered ground. He looked down at Sul’ki, looking tiny and peaceful as she slept. He hated to wake her, but she panicked when she woke up without him near.

“Sunny,” An’ki whispered in a language unlike anything in modern society. “I am leaving now.”

“Ok, Annie.” She smiled and went still without opening her eyes. An’ki brushed the black hair that had fallen on her midnight-hued skin. She had taken fourteen years to get this beautiful, and every day she wowed him more.

An’ki stood at the entrance of the hut he built years ago while courting Sul’ki, when she was known as Sulia. The sun illuminated the valley below the village’s cliff with a sheet of gold. In the distance, An’ki could see a smoke serpent rising to the sky near a glowing, golden tree. Above this distant village, a Flyer fluttered. An’ki knew it buzzed like a dragon fly. Like the one in An’ki’s village, its wings and tail moved rapidly to keep it afloat. It made hunting and exploring easy.

An’ki smiled at the village his brother, Wyn’ki, built. He missed him greatly. At that thought, An’ki decided he would head to the Dome.
An’ki set himself for the community pantry to prepare for the experience. The tightly bound hut of leaves and sticks was guarded by two men, one older than An’ki and one younger.

“An!” The man on An’ki’s left shouted, becoming animated. “How are you?”

“Good, Kull.” An’ki looked over to the other man. “Ja’ki.” His younger brother tried to steel his expression. A smile broke through. Kull looked at him, resetting Ja’ki back to stone.

“What do you need?” Kull’s tone remained light and friendly.

“I am going to speak with Wyn’ki in the Dome.” Kull stiffened and nodded. He grabbed the door and said nothing more.

An’ki entered the pantry grabbing dried fruits and collected nuts from various shelves and baskets. He knew how much was needed for the “connection” he was about to undergo. He left the pantry and headed towards the Dome.

Kull’s reaction was typical with the older generation. They feared what the Dome provided, but they were compelled to stay near the Tree.

An’ki descended a small slope from the cliff where his village was. In front of him, a large building sat next to a golden tree, like the one near Wyn’ki’s village. The Dome looked like a large bowl, down turned, and placed on the ground. From the tree next to it, glowing yellow tendrils fed into the top of the Dome. An’ki ate his snacks as entered the Dome. He didn’t have to stoop.

Inside the Dome, six other people sat in the dark with golden tendrils in their mouths. An’ki finished eating and withdrew a free tendril from the cluster in the center. Sitting in a corner by himself, An’ki let his breath out slowly, emptying his lungs. He placed the tendril in his mouth, pulled deep, and within seconds, he went blind and could hear voices of everyone around him.

The chatter of his village’s residents merged with the voices of every other village that connected to their own trees. He began a slow, mental chant of “Wyn’ki.”

“Brother?” An’ki heard a monotone voice that matched his and everyone else’s. “Is that you, An’ki?”

“Yes, Wyn.” He could not sound excited. “I see your village is growing.”

“It is.” An’ki knew how proud Wyn’ki was for this achievement. His village was growing faster than An’ki’s.

“I saw the flying ship. Was that yours?” His voice held no inflection of a question. This lack of emotion frustrated An’ki.

“I learned of the design from the northern villages.” There was a pause. “Since you wouldn’t share.” An’ki knew Wyn was laughing to himself.

“Do they bring anything else?” An’ki could hear voices mentioning being from the north. He blocked them out and focused on his brother.

“A bad storm is coming. It passed them yesterday.” An’ki knew Wyn’ki was afraid of the northern storms.

“We’ll be okay. What about the southern villages?” An’ki listened, but no one from the southern villages mentioned anything. Both An’ki and Wyn’ki had sent several men and women to the south to find more trees and establish more villages.

“Yes. They are experimenting with one of the trees in the south. They have broken pieces of it to attempt mobile connections to the mind hub.”

“Any success?” An’ki was shocked and horrified that they would destroy the trees.

“I have heard words here and there.” That development intrigued An’ki. “But they still must bury the broken pieces for now.”

“Keep me informed. Goodbye, brother.”

“Goodbye, An’ki.”

An’ki stayed connected to the mind hub asking questions to anyone who could answer. After several hours, he was jolted by a tap on the arm. In his shock, he spat out the tendril. His vision slowly returned.

“I’m sorry, Annie.” It was Sul’ki. She looked groggy. “I’m hungry.” An’ki stood from where he connected to the tree. He picked the tendril off the ground and returned it to the cluster. He was towering over Sul’ki and smiled at his young bride, twelve years his junior.

“I’m sorry, my love. Let’s find you something to eat.”

“I want deer.” She smirked as his eyes enlarged. “Is that okay?”

“I will get you one. Wait in the hut.” She hugged him tightly and ran off. After leaving the Dome and ascending the small hill to the village, An’ki headed to the hunters’ lodge. Their hut was close to the trees.

When their hut came into view, An’ki was relieved the village Flyer was docked and ready for use. He would finally be able to use it.

An’ki looked at the vehicle. It had a large circular hull, divided into an area where the pilot sat in front. The back had seats for up to five people: two on the wall the pilot shared and three on the opposite side. The outside of it had four large wings that were circular shaped, two on each side. In the back a flat tail would spin to propel the vehicle as a burst of energy would speed it forward. The device ran nearly silent, making it ideal for hunting.

“An’ki! Welcome.” A man somehow taller than An’ki broke the chatter in the hut as An’ki entered. “What can I do for you, friend?” Thull’s voice boomed in the hut.

“I need a deer.”

“Excellent! We were about to head out for a quick hunt. Do you want to join us?”

“If I may.” An’ki, unlike the other village Elders, enjoyed hunting. An’ki was the youngest of the Elders because his father had died recently. He knew eventually he would become sedentary like the rest of the Elders.

“Let’s depart now.” Thull charged out of the door, bursting with excitement.

Thull and the other two hunters loaded spears and nets into the hunting vessel. A fourth hunter was starting the process to fly the vehicle. The pilot began to pump his legs, charging a propulsion unit in the back of the vehicle. At a much faster rate than he pumped, the wings began to flap quickly and produce enough wind to push An’ki back. He laughed at the sensation. The wings began to flap harder pushing the vehicle off the ground. Once in the air, the wings would expand out, and the vehicle would hover down. Ropes kept the gliding vehicle from straying from the launch pad. This stage was when it was possible to board.

“Ready, An’ki? I’ll go first.” Thull jumped in right as the Flyer set down. The wings flapped seconds after he sat down and locked his arms in his seat. It shot up high above An’ki and the two hunters.

“You go next, sir.” One of the other hunters spoke to him. An’ki tasted adrenaline pumping. The device was gliding back to its starting position. As soon as it touched down, An’ki dove inside to a chair on the same side as Thull. No sooner did he drop into the seat did he feel his stomach lurch as the device bounded skywards, much higher than before.

“This will get higher before we start moving. Lock your arms.” Thull yelled over the blasts of wind as they got higher above the village. An’ki’s long black hair covered his face like a mat of fur. Sweat, despite the cool wind, drenched him. The wind pulled at the only cloth An’ki wore around his waist.

“When everyone was boarded, they will close the hull’s doors,” shouted Thull.

As they glided down, much slower than they ascended, An’ki let out a breath. “Have you ever flown before?” Thull shouted despite the reduced noise pollution.

“No.” An’ki could feel his stomach and head spinning.

“You get used to it. Anytime you want to come out with us, feel free.” Thull was smiling, but An’ki couldn’t imagine ever returning.

An’ki jolted in his seat when the device hit the ground. Both remaining hunters entered from opposite open sides. He saw the tethering ropes, loose on the ground. The Flyer shot up once again, even higher and faster than before. The two hunters stood up and grabbed small flaps that extended outside each opening. They were holding their chairs tightly with a free arm. If they fell out, they would surely die. An’ki closed his eyes. When the flaps were closed, An’ki was shocked by the reduction in noise from the wind.

“Hold on tight!” Thull shouted. An’ki wanted to question it, but a loud boom from behind the other two hunters muted him. The Flyer shot forward. An’ki heard a buzz as the back tail began to spin to propel them forward. The wings outside were flapping quicker than before to keep it moving. “You can stand up now.” Thull laughed, hovering over An’ki. “It will be pretty stable now.” An’ki tried his legs, but they weren’t working. He shook his head. Thull laughed again and yanked him up.

On his feet, An’ki could feel that the vehicle was shaky, but it was more stable than he expected. An’ki looked out the open window in front of the pilot. He saw the contours of the trees and landscapes. His mouth hung open as he saw various animals roaming and plants in full bloom.

“It’s beautiful.”

“It is.” Thull sounded vulnerable and happy. “I would never give this part up for anything.” An’ki wanted to leave the Elders and fly for the rest of his life in this moment. This was worth the discomfort of take-off. “That’s where they the deer will be.” Thull motioned to a clearing of woods. It was a little higher than the areas surrounding it.

The hunting vessel tilted to the right and quickly turned to the left. An’ki braced himself against the opening to the pilot’s area. An’ki saw the other two hunters fastening themselves to the frame of the left side opening. Suddenly, they opened the covering flap exposing the left of the vehicle to air and the clearing. Thull walked carefully, using a guide pole in the middle of their seating area’s ceiling and handed both hunters spears. The pilot flew below the tree line. An’ki began to fear his tight grip on the cockpit’s frame would fail him. He could see deer starting to flee from the passing vehicle. Both hunters threw their spears hard. Both spears impaled deer through their necks perfectly. A loud pop from where Thull was standing startled An’ki. A net exploded from a device in Thull’s hand that grabbed both of the impaled deer together. Thull removed the rope that was attached to the device, tied it to the guide pole, then began to pull the net up with the aid of the hunters. Both deer made it inside.

“Are these big enough, young Elder?” Thull laughed. An’ki was shocked at how big the deer were up close.

“More than enough.”

“Get two more.” Thull shouted to the pilot. The repeated the same process, and without mistake, the hunters collected two more deer. As the net containing the last two entered the hull, the hunters tied to the open frame and closed the flap. The change in the air made An’ki’s ears hurt slightly.

“Thank you, Thull. I appreciate it.” Thull was beaming at the praise.

“Let’s get back to the village.” Thull struggled to reply.

As they flew back, An’ki noticed a speck off the coast, not far from his village.

“Do you have a scope?” He asked the pilot who never ceased pumping his legs. He looked exhausted. Automatically, the pilot reached and handed him a tiny monocular scope. An’ki held it to his eye.

The speck enlarged to reveal a very big ship. An’ki saw the ship had white pieces of clothes with barbed Xs the color of the setting sky. These were not ships of the tribes. An’ki felt a nagging sensation.

The Flyer touched down, and An’ki helped unload in silence. He needed to get back to the Dome.

“Here’s your deer.” Thull smiled.

“Thank you.” An’ki was too preoccupied to show much gratitude. He lifted the deer onto his shoulders and started for the Dome. He knew he should eat first, but he also knew he wouldn’t be long. Inside the Dome, An’ki dropped the carcass near the center where the tendrils remained. He remained standing while he sucked on the tendril. The world faded to black and voices rose around him. An’ki spoke quickly, but the limitations of the connection showed no change.

“Is anyone sailing off the Eastern shores?”

Chatter continued, ignoring his question.

“If anyone is sailing off the Eastern shore, please say yes.” An’ki wanted to scream this at the top of his lungs. His fears were growing. There was no response.

He spat out the tendril and ran to his hut. Sul’ki greeted him.

“No deer?”

“I need the scopes.” He saw his panic scared Sul’ki. She ran inside and came back with two scopes like the one from the pilot. He held them both up to his eyes. The ship was near to shore now. He could make out individual people. They were pale men dressed with heavy clothes. He could see they had fat spears in their hands. An’ki dropped his scopes and ran back to the Dome. He grabbed a tendril, sucked hard, and began to repeat Wyn’ki’s name.

“Is something wrong, brother?” An’ki knew his brother was much more frantic than his voice sounded.

“Burn the tree. Tell everyone to burn the trees.”

“Burn the trees?” There was a pregnant pause. “Why?”

“Invaders are coming. We must protect the other villages. Burn the Flyers too.” An’ki spit out the tendril. He left the Dome and bounded up the slope to a fire that cooked various meats. With a long burning log, An’ki returned to the Dome and threw the burning log at the glowing tree. It ignited instantly. Returning to the fire, An’ki grabbed a second burning log, ran to the now empty hunting vessel and with great sadness, ignited it.

Residents of the village walked out of their huts in shock. Before anyone could speak, An’ki raised his arm and pointed to the shore. Men in heavy closes with fat, hollow looking spears began to march towards the village. An’ki prepared for the battle that was coming.

An’ki walked towards the fire that produced the logs he used to burn the tree and the hunting vessel. He reached into it and produced a scalding hot rock that was larger than his head. His survival instincts let him block out the pain. As the war party grew near, they spoke in a language that flowed together quickly. An’ki, hand in pain, looked at the terrified Sul’ki. He stepped forward the flung the hot rock at one of the closest men. It slammed into his head and dropped him instantly.

An’ki waited for the war party to retreat, but instead, he heard them shouting louder as they approached their dead comrade. An’ki moved to the fire to retrieve more burning rocks when he heard several loud pops from their fat, hollow spears. Smoke and fire flashed out of the end of them. An’ki felt strings of searing pain travel through him. An’ki heard another pop from a spear aimed higher at his head. The world turned dark. As his body fell to the ground, the last thing An’ki heard were the shrieks of Sul’ki. He died feeling helpless.

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