Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained

250 words –

Woz waited by the doorway to the labyrinth for the green light to come on. He was a professional gamer who traveled around the galaxies taking on challenges created by the Game Changer. The challenges always incorporated alternate realities, and reality.

The red light was on a timer. When it changed Woz entered the maze of dimly lit tunnels and followed the directions written in laser lights on the smooth metal walls. This challenge involved finding a crystal key to open the door to eternity.

When Woz encountered a door he went in without hesitation. The inhabitants inside bowed and called him an angel. He ignored them and went back to the endless passages seeking the crystal key.

Eons passed in the lonely search. Worlds were created and destroyed. Civilizations rose and fell into dust. Woz wandered from one dimension to the next, always re-appearing in the luminous tunnels. Never losing sight of his goal to find the crystal key.

During a time of solar systems defying gravity for gamers like Woz, he emerged from the maze to witness the birth of a dwarf planet and discovered a crystal cave. Inside, there hung hundreds of identical crystal keys swaying to gentle hidden melodies. They were bathed in a blue light.

Because the Game Changer doesn’t play by any rules, he had nothing better to do than make fools of gamers like Woz, who saw the challenge for what it was, but still played the game. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

First Contact

500 words –

Terence adjusted the dial and listened breathlessly…

As the leader of the NASA team that designed the special instruments that could record electromagnetic vibrations in Space, he was given the honor of being the first person to activate the scanner. The team then transferred the vibrations into sounds their ears could hear.

There was no doubt it was a major scientific breakthrough and the highlight of Terence’s career. It took his knowledge and skill to take the recorded sounds, a complex interaction of charged electromagnetic particles from the Solar Wind, ionosphere, and planetary magnetosphere, and make sense of them.

He listening long into the night and went home dreaming about making contact with an alien civilization. The team all took turns monitoring the devices in 24-hour shifts which meant he didn’t get to go back for four more days.

When Terrence’s turn came up again he eagerly relieved his fellow team member who was noticeably yawning. “Maybe tonight,” he thought while putting the headphones on and pushing a row of blinking buttons on the display dashboard

As he waited to hear strange repetitive sounds he was stunned to hear a high-pitched voice speaking English!

“Surrender and we will spare you…surrender and we will…”

Terence’s mouth hung open in shock. What the hell was going on?

“…we will spare you…surrender and…”

There it went again! It wasn’t his imagination taking a sanity pause. The message was a dire warning coming from deep within space!

His first thought was, “Who’ll believe me when I relay this message?

After a couple of hours the message went silent. Terence was afraid if he told one of his colleagues they think he was nuts. Then he calmed down and realized the whole thing was recorded He felt sheepish and vindicated. It only took minutes before he rewound the machine and played it back.

He listened. And listened…and there was no message. He played it back and began panicking. No! He knew what he heard. There must be a malfunction with the recording devices he told himself as his sanity slowly slipped into a dark place.

When his relief, Dr. Olsen, arrived the next day he found Terence huddled up in a corner of the lab speaking gibberish. “Their coming! The aliens are coming!” he babbled.

“They want us to surrender…” he went on.

Dr. Olsen went to the display panel before even trying to talk with Terence. He activated the program from the last 24-hours, turning the speakers up to loud, and then went over to Terence.

The project team covered up Terence’s insanity. No one heard threatening messages from space and concluded he just cracked up.

Somewhere in space: “I want to know who the idiot was that ran that surrender message before we were ready to invade?”

A God Among Men

600 words –

As you’re my witness, this is my letter of intent:

“I, Thane Greyson, being of sound mind (regardless of what they say) and body, do hereby declare war on the extraterrestrials hiding all over earth. I won’t stop until I die, or win.” – March 15th, 2028

Breaking News – Reuters – March, 19th, 2028

SERIAL KILLER STRIKES AGAIN

“Another mystery murder in trendy Terracotta Towers in New Wyoming, has residents leaving town for parts unknown. Local authorities have no clues to what is motivating the murderer. Three homicides in three days overwhelmed the local police force, who actually welcomed help from the FBI. One of the victims was a tourist from Japan. The other two were roommates living in the Terracotta Towers since the building opened. More on the local Six O’ Clock news.” 

Thane stretched out on the couch and flicked the channel changer, mindlessly letting the images in the channels roll by like an endless stream of chaos. He listlessly chewed on a piece of spicy beef jerky and listened to the unintelligible noise emanating from his flat screen TV. Part of his lizard brain was working on his next victim – a computer programmer he saw several times at Starbucks. He was an alien. Thane’s uncanny ability to uncover space visitor’s identities – no matter how cleverly disguised – was a trait he was born with.

Thane knew that one day people would realize he was saving mankind by hunting the aliens down. They’d worship him and treat him like the god he was. Unfortunately that time wasn’t now, so he had to be careful and not get caught before his mission was accomplished. This required careful planning, which his lizard brain was very good at.

His choice for execution was a hypodermic needle filled with the deadliest poison known to mankind. The victim’s body turned a livid purple with seeping cracks everywhere. It took 30-minutes before the victim felt sick, dying shortly thereafter. He thoroughly researched the poison and was confident it killed aliens and humans alike. No use taking chances with hybrids. A half breed could still be a threat.

The only thing that gave Thane any doubt was he didn’t know how many aliens were on earth. He realized that his goal to become a god may take years. Still, it would be worth it he convinced himself. He’d be Lord Thane. There wouldn’t be a need for a last name.

His plan for the stranger at Starbucks was finalized in his lizard brain. It was time to go get a cup of coffee. The place was packed. As usual. Thane approached the stranger who was talking with another man. As he was slipping the hypodermic needle from his coat pocket the two men suddenly looked up at him. Their combined stare froze him. The next thing he remembered was waking up in an alley with the two strangers hovering over him.

“You didn’t think you’d get away with this?” one of the men asked.

Thane was laying on his back and couldn’t move a muscle. He sighed with the knowledge he wouldn’t be a god after all. He would become dead meat.

“You’re not the first to have dreams of ruling mankind,” the second stranger said while showing his real face to Thane.

The confederation of planets in our galaxy agreed a long time ago on how we’d infiltrate the human race. Representatives from all the planets sent early advance teams. How you managed to get on earth alone is a matter for the federation to take up.”

The two aliens backed away when the transport beam covered Thane and carried him to his judgement.

The Blood Plains of Nusa

500 words –

Stit stood still when he saw the rippling movement beneath the ground. His well-trained hunter eyes stared at it, determining the length and approximate width.

A big one.

Hunting the deadly Stuners for their hides was a desperate way to make a living, but Stit had no choice. It was all he knew. One bite would stun it’s victim, regardless of it’s size. Then it swallowed it’s prey whole. The underground terrors topped out at 60-feet long with six-foot wide bodies that glistened like diamonds when exposed to the suns of Nusa, a dying desert planet.

Stit’s home.

He was among the last of the bipeds on Nusa. The rest of the survivors walked on four, or more, legs. His species was once dominate before the nuclear wars and the resulting mutations that led to fierce predators like the Stuners.

Because of climate change over the centuries, the Blood Plains red sands crawled across the planet like an infection. It was there brave hunters sought the Stuners for their valuable hides. Their meat was vile and poisonous.

For a hunter to be successful he had to pierce the beasts’s eye to strike the tiny brain behind it that kept it alive. Any other wounds were useless. It didn’t feel pain. It was the ultimate killing machine on Nusa.

Feeling confident that he knew where the head was, Stit held his 10-foot long steel spear at the ready as he approached. Suddenly the head thrust through the ground’s cover and burst out into the glaring suns, it’s majestic and deadly worm-like head raised to strike at him. At that moment, Stit threw his spear at the monster’s right eye!

Skinning a Stuner is almost as hard as killing the creature because of it’s enormous size. Stit spent two nervous cycles stripping the shimmering scales and praying to the dark gods that another one wouldn’t show up before he finished. They ate their own kind.

It took all of his strength to load the skin onto the sleigh he brought with him. He slipped into the harness and began his trek to get off the Blood Plains before his blood mingled with the burning sands. After two more grueling cycles he finally saw the caves. Home. With each tired, but victorious, step he could hear his heart beating. His prize would keep him fed and entertained for 100 cycles before having to return to the Red Plains. The hide glowed brightly in the dark tunnels. Not that he needed it to see. His eyes, like the others were adapted to the dark tunnels.

By the time Stit got to the great community hall he was exhausted, but elated. As he watched the officials unravel the hide to measure it, his stomach growled. He was hungry. His rations were used up a cycle ago.

Watching the judges smile he sighed in relief. Good times were ahead. The hell with the Red Sands!

He tried not to think about returning to the Red Plains.

War of the Worlds

Raymond turned away from the radio in time to see his Mother’s worried eyes. 

“Don’t worry,” he assured her. “This is just nostalgia radio with Orson Wells narrating War of the Worlds.”

Suddenly static. Sounds of people panicking. A man’s voice “This is not a drill” Fading. Static.

“It’s not for real, Mom. It’s from a 1938 broadcast.”

Static stops. A man’s voice. “The president was able to flee in Air Force One when…”

“Son! When Franklin Roosevelt was in office in 1938 there was no Air Force One!

They both turned to the window in time to see the mushroom cloud.

The King’s Search For Meaning in Life

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King Sith lit the funeral pyre and watched the smoke waft heavenward joining the gray sky in a sad goodbye.

Without his wife he had no taste for life. His was devoted to her, and although they never had children, they were happy. Like him, Astoria was a warrior of renown. They ruled the small kingdom of Dashtorium on the coast of the great Sammian Sea. Under their benign rule there was prosperity and no wars. People of all races mingled peacefully in the busy trading port.

But a sudden chill took his darling wife Astoria one day to the kingdom of the dead. The people grieved with their ruler, as she was universally loved. Sith was so distraught that he stepped down from his throne and urged the people to find another ruler. He was committed to wandering all of Tanus in search for a meaning for his now empty life. Taking his staff, sword, and a small bag of supplies he mounted his favorite gray Stallion “Thunder Walker,” and went east into the unexplored world beyond Dashtorium’s boundaries.

With no kingdom to look after his thoughts turned to subjects he seldom spent time on before. He recalled stories of mysteries like the singing trees of Lastoic and enchanted forests where men disappeared, never to be heard from again. Of the endless deserts of Terrost, where strange creatures survived in the blazing temperatures and would eat anything that moved. And the frozen mountains of Airon where giant hairy creatures walked upright and formed communities in the frozen tundra.

He rode until the sun grew weary and started its descent. He stopped just short of a dense forest in a grassy meadow. Dismounting, he saw something slide through the tall grass parting it slightly, as it moved away from him. The mages told him of many fantastic creatures on Tanus that no man had yet encountered. Through their magic they conjured images of them for him. One was massive creature than slithered on its belly and had no legs. It’s diamond-shaped skull was packed with rows of sharp teeth used for tearing apart its victims. Sniviets, as the mages called them, could get up to 20-feet long and their body was thicker than a man’s torso.

Sith watched the blue grass ripple in the opposite direction with relief. He suspected that he almost got to meet a Sniviet. Getting back on his horse he rode around looking for a clearing. Darkness had almost settled on the land when he found what he was looking for. A defensible position with a clear view. There were several large boulders and he made his camp with them to his rear. Nearby there was a small river that flowed south. He led Thunder Walker to it and dismounted. As the horse drank he stood there with his staff of light scanning the banks looking for any movement. After both were refreshed they went back to the camp. Sith slept lightly with his inner senses on alert. He woke up twice during the night after hearing blood-curdling screams come from the direction of the nearby forest.

Sith was awake before the sun rose. By the time he ate some bread and cheese, darkness was in retreat and a glowing red and orange ball was climbing upward into the gray sky of the new day. Thunder Walker was nibbling on a patch of grass when he mounted him and headed for the forest. Once they were under the full canopy of trees he dismounted and walked. The forest floor was uneven with scattered rocks, thick undergrowth, fallen trees, and unexpected depressions disguised by blankets of colorful leaves.

The further they went the darker it got until no sunlight could struggle through the dense canopy overhead. Their only light was his staff that glowed brightly, its aura surrounding them in a protective yellow glow. Thunder Walker snickered nervously as they plunged further into the unknown.  With his staff pointing the way they carefully made their way into the soundless interior. Hours passed before they heard a strange melody above them and a gentle breeze whispered between the trees. Voices sang his name softly…invitingly.

A warning went off in Sith’s warrior brain, and he held his staff over his head and spoke the spell of protection. Just in time. The tree limbs that were wrapping around him and Thunder Walker suddenly uncoiled and retreated back to their source. A screech of anger split the night! They wasted no time and left, eager to get beyond the deadly embrace of the trees of Lostoic. Hours later, Sith saw the light at the end of the forest and his spirits improved. It was past the days zenith, but still light enough to look for a place to camp in the valley before them. Thunder Walker sensed his mood and eagerly picked up his pace.

A riot of color greeted Sith’s eyes as he marveled at the shimmering red, green, blue, and purple plants and ground cover before them as far as the eye could see. Gentle hills covered in orange flora with small caves surrounded the valley. The sky was still a bright blue in spite of the gathering dusk. A sweet scent wafted on a gentle breeze as they ventured forward. With night rapidly descending Sith sought out a campsite and settled on a cave tall enough for them to stand in. Being new to the area he wasn’t going to let Thunder Walker out of his sight. After strapping on his feedbag with a ration of grain in it, Sith dined on a hunk of spicy Curbra jerky. He washed it down with water. By that time Thunder Walker was done and he took the bag off.

“Stay alert tonight, my friend,” Sith warned him while petting him affectionately. “I too, shall sleep with one eye open.” Wrapping his great cloak around him, Sith lay down on the hard ground and quickly fell asleep.

The morning light was accompanied by birds happily singing about the new day. They came out of the cave and into the blue sky blinking at the brilliance of the morning light. As Sith looked around he felt a presence. Then he saw them. They were half his size. Little naked humanoids. Male and female. There were thousands gathered outside the cave. All patiently waiting for Sith and Thunder Walker. One of the little people stood in front of the assembly. This spokesman tried a couple of languages before settling on Sith’s native Orzath. He was slightly taller than the rest and a darker green.

Greetings Lord, we have been expecting you,” he said while bowing before him.

Who are you?” Sith inquired.

“The Amsoest. We are the last of our kind and live peacefully in this valley of our ancestors. We have been waiting for you to deliver us from our enemies mighty lord!”

“What enemies? Of whom do you speak?”

“Everyone who comes into this valley to hunt us for sport. In recent times we’ve suffered terrible casualties as they kill and enslave us for their amusement. Our elders have been predicting a champion for many years. When they sensed your noble and honest aura, they also sensed your sadness.”

“This is so?” Sith wondered.

“It was ordained,” the speaker solemnly said.

Sith looked up in the sky and saw white puffy clouds appear directly overhead. As he watched the clouds formed into a figure he recognized, Astoria! She smiled down at him and her lips parted in greeting. Thunder Walker pawed the ground as Sith smiled back and shouted, “I love you!” 

The people looked on in awe.

When the cloud melted away and the sky was clear again, Sith addressed the people. “You’re right. This is my destiny and I gladly accept it. Henceforth, a long as I live, I will be your protector against those who would do you harm.”

And, so it was.

As It Stands, we all need to have some meaning to our life.

Stuck Between Science and Magic

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“Help! A static-riddled voice pleaded in the darkness of the laboratory.

“This is Professor Dean Tucker. Can you…” the words dissolved in a steady stream of static coming from a speaker in a cubicle in the center of the room. Everyone was gone for the day and the night janitor was slowly making her rounds when she thought she heard a voice.

“Is anyone there?” she meekly inquired. “Hay alguien alla?” she repeated in Spanish.

She heard a crackling sound and walked over to the cubicle in the center of the lab. She stood there for a moment listening, then heard, “I’m stuck! Help me…” The suddenness of the unexpected voice made her jump in fright. When she couldn’t see anyone she decided it was time to get out of the room. It was obviously haunted. Like a good Catholic, she crossed herself and hurried out.

Dean watched her leave – as dimensions opened and closed – and his heart sunk. He did this to himself. He should have waited until the next day when his fellow researcher and he could have tested the Dimension Splitter together. He would have had a backup. Someone who would have been there to help him in the case of an emergency. Like this one.

But no.

There was no time to dwell on that. Dean started walking and there was a flash as his surroundings disappeared and he reappeared in a primeval jungle. As he looked around a Brontosaurus came into view. The gigantic quadruped sauropod didn’t even seem to notice him although he was less than a hundred yards away. He ducked behind a tree and felt dizzy. Thunder and lightning. Day and night. Dinosaurs. He felt like he was drifting and woke up in the middle of a battlefield. Corpses lay putrefying in the unrelenting sun. Miles of trenches packed with bodies. Some alive. Most dead. Dean stumbled through the thick muck and mud before climbing out of the trench on a blood-soaked rope ladder.

He thought about the laboratory. Then he was there again. Sitting on the chair inside the cubicle. He glanced over at the wall clock across the room. It was 2 a.m. He started to rise from the chair and…

The world exploded! He was floating in some kind of clear bubble and could see scenes of mass destruction below him. Wildfires raged across mountains and coastal shore lines disappeared beneath the wild waters of the ocean. Buildings were crumbling under seismic shocks. Volcanos erupted. And people all over the earth were trying to survive the cataclysmic events he was witnessing.

The whole terrifying panorama turned black and he looked up and saw stars and planets overhead. He was sitting beside an ancient oak tree located near a simple cottage. He got up and walked over to it and noticed a well just a few yards from the cottage. His mouth felt like cotton and an urge to get a drink of water overtook him. As he lowered the wooden bucket down the well, someone stepped out of the cottage. The glow from a lantern inside the cottage framed the old woman as she hobbled over to him.

“What are you doing here human?” she abruptly asked.

“I don’t know where here is. I’m lost.”

“Another one,” she sighed. “When are you foolish mortals going to quit poking your noses where they don’t belong?

“I don’t know what…”

“Oh, forget it. You’re here now. Have a drink. You weren’t just messing with science my boy, you were messing with magic too.”

“What can I do?” he pleaded.

“I’ll tell you what I told the rest. You’re going to have to go on a quest.

“A quest?”

“Yes. You know what that is, don’t you? Of course, you do. You’re an educated man. You’re going to have to find your way back to the real world. You’ll need a special key to do that. Hence, your quest.”

“Where should I look?”

The old woman and the cottage were gone. He found himself standing on an old cobblestone road that could have been built by the Romans during the height of their power. He chose a direction and started walking. Soon he came upon a man sitting on a large rock. Something about him looked familiar.

“Hello” Dean called out as he approached.

The old man looked up from his book and nodded.

“I’m looking for something. Perhaps you can help me?

“I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think,” the man cryptically replied.

“Do you know where I might find a special key?

“One thing only I know, and that is that I know nothing,” the white-haired oldtimer claimed.

“Wait a minute! I know who you are! You’re Socrates!

“Now it is time that we are going, I to die and you to live; but which of us has the happier prospect is unknown to anyone but God,” he said.

As Dean watched in awe, a cloud enveloped them and he thought he heard music. The cloud soon grew so dense he slowed down and put his hands out in front of him. It was moist and smelled like the ocean. A seagull cried out as it spotted food on the tiny stretch of beach that opened up before him. Sand crabs scuttled out of his way as he walked over the white sand and up to the breakers and looked out at the vast sea. It was calm and undisturbed by ships. A few seagulls glided lazily in the mild wind currents searching for food in the crystal clear waters below.

Without questioning why, Dean had the urge to swim out past the waves and slip into the deeper waters. Rays of sunlight sent slivers of luminescence into the depths as he reached a bed of coral. He felt like he could hold his breath forever, but something inside him reminded him that he couldn’t. He was a human. Not a fish. After a short search he found a small metal box. A sense of sheer joy made him smile as he grabbed it and started for the surface. Once he was back up on the beach he eagerly opened the metal box.

It took Dean a few minutes to adjust. He was sitting in the cubicle again. It was still dark in the laboratory. Gingerly, he stood up, expecting something to suddenly change. He walked over to the control panel and stared at it as the first rays of sunlight snuck through the shades in the laboratory. He was back. And, he learned a lesson. Without hesitation he picked up a metal stool and brought it down hard on the control panel! He didn’t stop until he was out of breath.

As It Stands, who knows where the line is between magic and science?