A Murder On Cloud Nine

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Listen to this story narrated by master storyteller Otis Jiry

“Looks like another sunny day on Cloud Nine folks!” the weatherman said while showing a hologram of the busy city at noon.

Since the gravity-defying technology of 2993, Earth’s cities were built high in the sky to avoid the widespread pollution on the planet’s surface. Only the poor, and cast-offs roamed earth’s filthy highways to nowhere.

The rest of the people lived in Clouded Communities that required vigorous vetting to join. Cloud Nine had the most exclusive lodging and the best food and drink in the United Association of Cloud Communities in America (UACCA). Only the super wealthy and well-connected could afford to live and do business there. There were no violent crimes or murders.

At last count, there were twenty-eight cloud communities in the northern hemisphere.

Cloud Twelve had white-collar workers who were employed by the city as computer techs, accountants, lawyers, and copyeditors at publishing firms. They exported their expertise to other UACCA communities in exchange for their goods.

With the New Science of the age people were able to breathe normally at 10,000 feet in the air. The protective shield around the city was a standard model used by nearly all of the other Clouded Communities.

Cloud Seven was known for being a haven for blue-collar workers who enjoyed assembling machines from Aero Cabs to elevators. The people worked hard on assembly lines during the day, and partied hearty at night watching air hockey games between the Clouded Communities pro teams. They enjoyed being a thriving export/import member of the UACCA.

Down on the ground.

Rogun resented being a cast-off. Going from the luxuries of Cloud Nine to the massively polluted world on the ground was hard. More worrisome however, was the fact that there were no laws on the ground. Roving bands of armed thugs fought one another in the crumbling cities.

Life was boiled down to its simplest element; survival in a hostile world.

He was here because he didn’t follow the rules on Cloud Nine. Now he lived where there were no rules. The irony wasn’t lost on Rogun who now lived for revenge. Physically, he was in the prime of his life at thirty-one years-old. He hoped it would be the difference in surviving while plotting his revenge.

He was sent to “the ground” without any weapons or clothing. It took a full day of patiently waiting in hiding before he was able to take care of his most immediate needs. He set up an ambush inside of an electric station building. It was still functional and there was a chance others knew this.

He found a three-foot long steel pipe to use as a weapon in a small storeroom. He heard voices before he saw the old aero car pull up outside by the charging tower. A man wearing black leather got out of the car when it stopped. He was about the same size as Rogun. Maybe a little heavier.

He watched the man hook up his vehicle and throw a switch. There was no charge for getting the charge. The station was still functioning after one-hundred years. An impressive achievement but not appreciated by Rogun who was circling around the building to get a good angle on the man.

He waited until the man walked a few steps away from his vehicle and was relieving himself, before he ran up behind him and hit him in the head with every ounce of his strength!

There was a sickening thud and the man fell face forward. Rogan watched his body twitch a couple of times before going limp. He quickly went about stripping the body and dressing himself. Feeling a little more confident he walked over to the vehicle. He checked the meter. It read FULL.

The aero car was so simple even a kid could drive one. Inside, Rogun found a laser rifle with a scope. He rustled around the back seat and found some food and water. Famished, he greedily stuffed down the stale bread and drank the cool water. Feeling refreshed, he pushed the start button and pointed the aero car north, the same direction it was heading before he hijacked it.

A day later.

When Rogun saw the city he grinned. It appeared to be thriving with numerous merchants selling goods on the streets. Most of the aero cars he saw were parked near a large casino with a flashing neon sign that proclaimed, “The Star Humper Casino.” He parked and watched people go in and out for a while.

One thing he noticed. Everyone was armed with rifles or hand guns. He checked his laser rifle out and decided to take the scope off. There would be no need of it up close. He rummaged around inside the car until he found a small bundle under the passenger’s side seat. It was the tender used by large organized gangs who took over cities.

He peeled off half of the little bundle and stuck the rest back under the seat. He pocketed the rest. It was time to meet and greet whoever was in charge of the street. He suspected he’d find who he was looking for in the penthouse suite of the casino.

No one seemed to notice him, with his rifle slung across his back, as he stepped into an elevator and hit TOP FLOOR. Surprisingly there were no guards there when the elevator opened and he stepped into the vast penthouse apartment.

He looked around and was surprised at how nice it was. It almost looked like something out of a Cloud Nine room. It even had its own bar. That’s where he saw a tall thin man wearing a golden jacket hold up a bottle in his direction.

“Irish whiskey? the stranger asked conversationally.

“Thank you, I will,” he answered.

“Straight up, or on the rocks?”

“Straight up.”

“And what shall we toast?”

“How about revenge?

“Ohhhh..” the stranger purred. “Tell me about it.

“I shouldn’t be down here. There’s a judge on Cloud Nine who was out to get me. I’d like to personally kill him with my bare hands.”

“But how will you get back on Cloud Nine to do it? You know that planes can’t get past that security shield without authorization.”

“There must be some way to get inside,” Rogan said.

“There might be. What would you say if I were able to get you inside to extract your vengeance?”

“I’d say, why would you help me? You’re a complete stranger, and I don’t see wings on your back.”

The stranger chuckled at the comment. “For good reason, sir,” he grinned.

I need a spy on Cloud Nine. Someone who will eventually help me, and my crew outside, gain access to that privileged community. You seem to fit the bill nicely.”Β 

“But how will you get me in?” Rogan wondered.

“There’s one product that those wealthy people still want from the ground. Bodies. Apparently they make some – forgive my pun – killer compost for their beloved flowers. We quit burying our dead decades ago because they just dug them up. Now we dump all the bodies at the end of town and they take them away and leave potable water in exchange.

“Are you suggesting I lay among those foul and stinking corpses?” he asked.

“Have you got a better idea?” the stranger challenged.

A day later.

“The two-man crew of the plane from Cloud Nine wore white biohazard suits as they tossed bodies into the rear cargo hold. One of them wheeled out a fifty-gallon plastic container with potable water. It was mind-numbing work, and the men went about their duties daydreaming they were somewhere else. Somehow, Rogun didn’t scream out in horror as the bodies were thrown onto him.

The plane had no trouble re-entering the safety shield. It landed on a runway next to a public warehouse where citizens could come by and get all the rotting flash they needed. When all the bodies were transferred to a waiting area, Rogan saw his chance to slip away when the crew left.

The assembly line was turned off. He cringed when he saw the meat grinders and the massive presses that pulped the bodies. When he left the warehouse, which was located on the east end of town, he walked into the city under cover of night. When he got to the center of town, where the hall of justice was located, he broke into a parked aero car and waited until sunlight.

Rogun woke up in the morning just as the streets were coming alive with traffic. He watched pedestrians walking into the Hall of Justice for a few minutes as he woke up. When he saw his target, Judge Lee, walking up the steps he got out of the car. The judge was getting into an elevator when he came into the large lobby. He watched the floors go by and the red light settle on the sixth floor.

Rogun pushed the DOWN button and waited.

He stepped out into a hallway and looked down the corridor at the signs above the doors. He opened the door that said Honorable Ralph H. Lee. The room had a receptionist’s desk and leather chairs lined up on one-side of the room.

There was no receptionist yet. Apparently it was too early. He opened the door behind the desk and stepped into the room. The judge was sitting behind his desk, reading some paperwork when Rogun entered. Their eyes met. Fear in one. Rage in the other. Then Rogun lunged across the desk and attacked the judge!

Afterwards, he drug the judge’s body into a closet and shut the door. He was looking out the window at the view when he heard a door open. A minute later the door to the judge’s office opened and the stranger with the gold jacket entered…smiling.

“Well, you did it,” he told Rogun. “Your murdering this man has opened the gates of hell to invade Cloud Nine!”

As It Stands, the devil always gets his due.

One Last Chance

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Listen to this story narrated by master storyteller Otis Jiry.

A trio of men in white lab coats were talking earnestly with the president of the United States. Nearby, a man reclined in a chair surrounded by a clear glass wall. He was semi-conscious.

The scene was unfolding in an underground bunker below the White House. The country was in a state of chaos. The government was fighting two wars on different continents and was running out of money trying to maintain supplies for its beleaguered military. The economy was staggering, and sinking into an irreversible depression.

The world was at war. No continent was spared. Local, national, and international wars were being waged with no end in sight. Thus far no nukes were used, as all parties knew that it was an endgame move with little chance of survival for anyone.

That could change at any moment as China was becoming more unpredictable…threatening the US with a nuclear holocaust. It was during these desperate times that a secret government project was being developed; a time machine.

The lab, a mile beneath the White House, was so secret only the president, the vice president, and the Speaker of the House knew about it. The dozen scientists involved were all sworn to secrecy and were monitored by a special FBI unit created for the purpose as a backup. There were four people in the covert unit. Two men, and two women.

“We can’t wait any longer Mr. President,” the vice president said.

“Has this time machine been tested yet?” the president asked one of the scientists.

“Not with a human, sir,” the scientist admitted.

“With what then?” the president pushed.

“A monkey. A chimpanzee to be exact, sir,” said the scientist.

The president, who was a compassionate, but realistic man, asked, “Does Major Reed know this?”

“Yes, sir. He still volunteered.

“Why does he look so sleepy?” the vice president wondered.

“He’s on a little twilight to calm his nerves and relax him before the journey. We have to put him completely asleep when it’s time for him to travel. My colleagues and I believe that the sensory shocks that would come from being conscious might drive him crazy. We’ve calculated that he only needs to sleep for forty-two minutes during the time slippage and he’ll wake up in the year 2035,” the scientist assured him.

“Plenty of time to reverse some bad things,” another scientist spoke up.

“Does Major Reed have his hit list?” the President asked.

“All programmed into the mini-computer implanted in his skull,” the first scientist said.

“Would you like to say a few words to the major, sir?”

The president went up to the glass and looked at the major who was hooked up to various tubes leading into what looked like a round steel ball encased by clear digital components that blinked on and off rapidly. The chair he sat in was equipped with a safety harness and had an electronic keyboard that popped up in front of him when he hit a button on his arm rest.

“Good luck Major Reed” the president said into an intercom. “Your country will never forget what you’re doing here. Your service, and sacrifices, are beyond the call of duty. You are a true patriot.”

“Thank you, sir...” Reed responded. “An honor…” His head dipped down for a moment. It popped back up. “Sorry, sir…sleepy.”

“No problem major! Thank you!

He turned away and looked over at one of the scientists who was standing by a large control panel. By the look on his face he was ready to go. First he typed something into a master computer and they all watched Major Reed fall asleep.

A beeping sound in major Reed’s right ear woke him up. His eyes snapped open and he looked around the room. He was still encased behind thick glass and sitting in the chair. As he unbuckled his safety harness he noticed a pile of bones near the main computer panel.

After entering the code with the help of his personal computer, an opening appeared in the glass. He went over to the pile of bones and scrapes of clothing. He guessed it was one of the scientists. But what happened?

As per his instructions, he went over to a small closet and opened it. Inside was an assault rifle and automatic pistol, boxes of ammunition, a k-bar knife, a field First Aid kit, a canteen of water, and vacuum-sealed food packages. There were also a pair of jeans, underwear, a t-shirt, a heavy long-sleeve shirt, and black watch cap.

Following the program in his head, he opened a door that led to a long tunnel. Instead of going up the elevator and alerting authorities when he came out in the south lawn of the White House, he took the tunnel. It was big enough to stand upright in, and there were LED lights strung in the ceiling, casting an eerie glow on the concrete and steel walls.

The tunnel was ten miles long and came out in a wooded area of a community forest and park. As Major Reed walked along he couldn’t help think something was wrong. It was the bones. They didn’t add up.

Just ahead he could see a row of yellow lights and a stairway. It led up to a trap door. He took a deep breath and tapped out the code to unseal the door. A bright shaft of light blinded him as he crawled out. A foul stench hit his nostrils and his stomach heaved involuntarily.

“What the hell“, he grumbled.

As his eyes adjusted his jaw dropped in growing horror. The devastated landscape before him looked like a photo of Berlin in WWII after the allies reduced it to ruins. The bleak and rugged horizon in front of him looked endless.

There were no signs of life as he walked through the debris. He walked for two days without seeing a trace of life. Man, nor animal. The blazing sun burnt the wounded land and the remnants of a once great civilization.

Finally, Major Reed sat down on a pile of rubble. He realized what must have happened. His trip wasn’t successful, and this is what the planet would look like in the future. He went forward, instead of back in time. His sacrifice was in vain.

He looked at the bleak tortured landscape around him and sighed. He only had enough food and water for a week – if he stretched the water. There was nothing left to do but keep walking…hoping for one last chance.

As It Stands, like Alexander Pope once said, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.”

The Quest For The Key To Eternity

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Kurt woke up from a deep sleep enlightened by a vision.

He slipped out of his sleeping bag and stirred the ashes in the crude fire pit until a faint glow suddenly appeared. Taking a piece of wood from the small pile of wood scraps next to where he lay, Kurt tossed it onto the glowing embers. Moments later it caught on fire and a small tongue of flame pierced the darkness.

He was living in The Aftermath – after men and women nearly succeeded in wiping Homo sapiens off the planet. The survivors were scattered throughout Earth’s ravished continents. Kurt, who traveled alone, was somewhere in North America.

He had no sense of history. Or family. He was an orphan who managed to survive in a cruel world by using his wits, and getting help from kind people. With no formal education, he learned to speak the broken English that people used in the region, by listening to them very carefully.

Kurt’s vision involved finding a key. Not just any key however. The Key to Eternity. It would offer answers to all the questions he asked. His quest was set, giving life to his vision. The next morning he packed up his little camp and set out for some ruins he noticed yesterday when descending into the big valley.

Ruins usually had inhabitants. He needed to enlist the help of others to help him find the key. Along the way he came upon a pond. He walked over to the edge and peered into the clear water looking for signs of fish.

His rugged face and long scraggly beard and hair stared back at him. No signs of fish. He wasn’t going to drink the water from the pond. Or eat the fish if there were any. He made a habit of drinking water from flowing rivers. It was something everyone had to learn if they wanted to survive.

Kurt traveled light. He carried a rucksack with a bed roll and his few belongings. His crude clothes were mostly made from bear fur. His jacket was made from fur and skin. He had a leather sheath for his knife and a leather lined canteen that hung from the broad leather belt he wore. His leather moccasins were supple and warm with fur linings. But his prized procession was his hat. It was a Cordova Stetson that he found in the debris of a museum a few years ago.

When he got to the outskirts of what was once a city, it was getting dark. As he walked down what use to be a city street he surveyed the blackened buildings with his sharp eyes. He thought he saw fleeting shadows on the top of a two-story building. He listened carefully.

A smile cracked his sun-drenched wrinkled face when he heard the voices. He followed them to what was once a sports stadium in another century, where he saw people building a bonfire. Small groups of people were quietly coming out from the shadows of the ruins. They gathered around the bonfire and threw pieces of wood that they brought with them into it.

Men and women’s voices carried lightly in the night, nearly mesmerizing Kurt until he remembered his quest. The city dwellers who wore remnants of factory-made clothing made generations ago, were increasing in number.

Kurt looked around until he found a wooden bar stool buried under some light debris. He carried it to the bonfire and tossed it in with the rest of the people’s offerings. Then he walked away from the bonfire and looked around. Small groups were morphing into larger ones until a crowd had gathered before an elevated stage. He worked his way closer and was able to make out the fine features of two women as they asked the crowd for silence.

After a dramatic silence, there was a puff of smoke between the two women and a tall man clad in black appeared. He took his top hat off and bowed. Murmurs of approval rippled through the crowd.

“What magic was this?” Kurt asked himself. “Did this man have the Key to Eternity?” he wondered. He worked his way a little closer to hear the tall thin man’s every word. He had to keep his mind open to all possibilities.

“All you have to do is believe in me,” the man in the black clothes and red cape shouted out to the gathering. “Bring me your little treasures and feed me well, and I can assure you that you’ll never go to hell!” he roared in a mighty voice for a thin man.

The gathering swayed in unison chanting, “Where will we go? Where will we go?

“To Eternity!” the tall man shouted happily. “You’ll reside forever in a garden of delights when you follow me into Eternity!”Β 

Kurt was a skilled survivor with the ability to sense a con from a mile away. His bullshit meter was ringing off the charts right now. “This man was a fake! Why did the gathering even listen to him? Couldn’t they tell?”

He’d run into this situation before with other false prophets. He knew the followers wanted to believe in something. No matter how absurd. He needed to find some people to help him in his quest, but it was proving impossible. How could his vision have been so wrong?

That night he had the vision again. When he woke up he knew what to do. He went out and found the tall man in black clothes and cut his head off with his knife. He mounted it on a pole and carried it to where the bonfire was the night before. He planted the pole in front of the empty stage. Then he went about building a new bonfire.

The first person to bring wood was a woman. Soon, she was followed many another woman. Then a man. Then groups of people until the gathering was as big as the night before.

Kurt got up on the stage and raised his hands over his head. The crowd grew silent.

“Listen children, he began, ” you will rest in eternity if you go through me. I’ve been asked to lead you to righteousness. God has granted me the key to eternity to share with you!”

A growing buzz in the gathering turned into shouts of joy as the people called out to him for deliverance.

As It Stands, false prophets in a dystopian future…why not? We have them now too.

Don’t Forget To Read The Fine Print

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1636 – south-western France

“Your first target will be released at sunrise on this open plain. There are rules to this game. One of the first, and foremost, is you have to count until 25 the moment you see your target, before going after him.”

“What other rules are there monsieur?” Demonte Thomas asked as he strung his bow.

You can’t go after your prey if he makes it through the forest and to the other side of the valley.”

“So many rules,” Chauncey Girard grumbled, “I hope there’s no rules against taking souvenirs, if you know what I mean.”

“No. You may dispatch of your prey as you see fit. After all, it’s one of the things you’re paying for. Just a reminder, you have to use bow and arrow, and one knife. Guns are forbidden.”

“We’re ready to play by the rules. After paying for transportation here from the Year 2018, the last thing we want is to have this hunt called off,” Avellino Lefevre said.

“One more thing,” the guide added, “Just a reminder. Our company cannot be held liable for whatever happens on these hunts. You all signed contracts to that effect. I hope you read them carefully.”

The three hunters assured their guide that they did.

“Why did you pick this time and place?” Demonte asked Girard who was testing the pull on his bow.

“Because of the novelty it presented,” he explained.

“Novelty?” Demonte asked.

“This is the year when French peasants who called themselves croquant’s (literally, “crunchers”) revolted against their masters. It’s an extremely bad time for the French nobility who found themselves scurrying around for their lives.”

“I don’t follow?” Avellino injected.

“Our guide mentioned an option for hunting nobility during his pitch for this place. I don’t know if you were listening closely, but this is a very rare hunting opportunity,” Girard said.

After the three men drew straws to see who would go first, Girard won the honor. The guide led them to a hunting lodge where they would spend the night.

The next morning.

As the sun struggled to break through the fog on the plain, Girard was taken to a spot where he was told to look for his prey who would be released in minutes. When he finally spotted a well-dressed brightly colored man whose clothes were torn and dirty, he raised the bow and starting counting to twenty-five.

Before he could send the arrow on its way however, the man disappeared into the thick fog. Irritated, Girard lowered his bow – it would have been a shot of about 50 yards – and cautiously headed towards where he last saw him.

The fog was slowly dissipating when he caught another glance of his prey. He was almost at the tree line. Girard knew it would be more difficult to get a good shot once in the forest, but welcomed the challenge. It was what he paid for, after all. He picked up his pace.

Girard was a seasoned hunter and tracker. His prey was a terrified nobleman who was use to a life of luxury.

When Girard inevitably caught up to him he was hiding behind a fallen tree. He’d dug his way in among the leaves and broken limbs and was out of breath and panting heavily.

“Pas!” he gasped in horror when he saw Girard.

It was still daylight when Girard returned carrying a bloody scalp and two ears in his leather hunting pouch.

His comrades toasted him at the lodge that night for a successful hunt.

The next morning.

Avellino paced back and forth eagerly looking for his prey as the sun climbed up into the sky. The plain was clear with a strong wind blowing through the wildflowers and tall grass.

He spotted movement out of the corner of his right eye. Seconds passed. Then he saw his prey. His colorful clothes made him an easy target. Avellino starting counting…one…two…three…” as his target ran full-out for the forest.

“Twenty-five!” he shouted while notching the arrow.

The man was almost to the tree line when he let the shaft go. It arched high in the sky and came down into the running man’s back! A couple of seconds went by before the man rose up from the ground, and resumed running!

Cursing, Avellino broke out into a full run towards the forest. If there was one thing that really irritated him, it was a sloppy kill. He prided himself on “clean” kills. He built a reputation on being a one-shot hunter.

It didn’t take long for him to find a blood trail. A drop here, and there, and soon he saw his prey. His was standing next to a tree, one arm leaning against it for support. He was panting heavily, trying to take a full breath of air when he saw Avellino.

There was no fear in his eyes. He stared at Avellino disapprovingly. The men’s eyes locked. Frozen in the moment.

The next morning.

Demonte had a hard time staying focused on the plain. He was wondering why Avellino didn’t come back from his hunt yesterday. Girard was on a two-day drunk and didn’t even miss Avellino at the lodge last night. The guide didn’t seem concerned.

Suddenly his prey popped up in the center of the plain. He made a perfect target with his bright gold chemise, broad white lace collar, and voluminous sleeves. His scarlet breeches contrasted sharply with the gold that now seemed to shine in the sun as he ran for the tree line.

Demonte took his time counting. He watched, fascinated with the bright colors and the pace the man was running at. He was loping along easily. Not running in a panic. His lizard/hunter brain took notice as he notched his arrow and let it fly.

At almost the same time, the man suddenly stopped running! He came to an abrupt halt and looked back at Demonte. The arrow flew over his head by a mere five yards, sinking safely into the grass. This quarry apparently knew something about archery and hunting.

Demonte ran towards the still standing figure. As he got closer the man turned and ran into the forest. Alarm bells were going off in Demonte’s head. He had a bad feeling this wasn’t going to be a one-sided hunt. He slowed down when he got to the tree line and cautiously stepped into the dense forest.

He decided to put the bow over his shoulder and pulled his hunting knife. As he passed a particularly large tree his quarry stepped out while swing a thick tree limb like a club! He caught Demonte on the side of his skull, bashing it in like a pumpkin!

The next day.

Girard woke up from his monumental drunk and packed his bag. It was time to meet up with the guide and to go home. When he arrived at the pre-arranged spot the guide was there waiting. His friends were nowhere to be seen.

“Where Is Avellino and Demonte?” he asked the guide.

“They won’t be leaving. Avellino no longer exists. He killed his own ancestor. The possibility of that happening was in the fine print that I asked if you all read. Whenever a hunter chooses to hunt in the country of their origin they take that chance.

“What about Demonte?” he asked meekly.

“He met up with another hunter from this time period. He was a nobleman known for his passion to hunt. This possibility was also mentioned in your contract. You hunters are always so eager to get on with things you don’t read the fine print. Or else, you do and don’t care.”

“I’m ready to go home now,” an unnerved Girard said.

As It Stands, it’s always that fine print that catches you.