Science Fiction short. "Duel on Syrtis" by Poul Anderson. Science Fiction Classic from Planet Stories and Project Guttenberg.
DUEL ON SYRTIS BY POUL ANDERSON
Bold and ruthless, he was famed throughout the System as a
big-game hunter. From the firedrakes of Mercury to the ice-crawlers of
Pluto, he'd slain them all. But his trophy-room lacked one item; and
now Riordan swore he'd bag the forbidden game that roamed the red
deserts ... a Martian!
* * * * *
The night whispered the message. Over the many miles of loneliness it
was borne, carried on the wind, rustled by the half-sentient lichens
and the dwarfed trees, murmured from one to another of the little
creatures that huddled under crags, in caves, by shadowy dunes. In no
words, but in a dim pulsing of dread which echoed through Kreega's
brain, the warning ran--
_They are hunting again._
Kreega shuddered in a sudden blast of wind. The night was enormous
around him, above him, from the iron bitterness of the hills to the
wheeling, glittering constellations light-years over his head. He
reached out with his trembling perceptions, tuning himself to the
brush and the wind and the small burrowing things underfoot, letting
the night speak to him.
Alone, alone. There was not another Martian for a hundred miles of
emptiness. There were only the tiny animals and the shivering brush
and the thin, sad blowing of the wind.
The voiceless scream of dying traveled through the brush, from plant
to plant, echoed by the fear-pulses of the animals and the ringingly
reflecting cliffs. They were curling, shriveling and blackening as the
rocket poured the glowing death down on them, and the withering veins
and nerves cried to the stars.
Kreega huddled against a tall gaunt crag. His eyes were like yellow
moons in the darkness, cold with terror and hate and a slowly
gathering resolution. Grimly, he estimated that the death was being
sprayed in a circle some ten miles across. And he was trapped in it,
and soon the hunter would come after him.
He looked up to the indifferent glitter of stars, and a shudder went
along his body. Then he sat down and began to think.
* * * * *
It had started a few days before, in the private office of the trader
"I came to Mars," said Riordan, "to get me an owlie."
Wisby had learned the value of a poker face. He peered across the rim
of his glass at the other man, estimating him.
Even in God-forsaken holes like Port Armstrong one had heard of
Riordan. Heir to a million-dollar shipping firm which he himself had
pyramided into a System-wide monster, he was equally well known as a
big game hunter. From the firedrakes of Mercury to the ice crawlers of
Pluto, he'd bagged them all. Except, of course, a Martian. That
particular game was forbidden now.
He sprawled in his chair, big and strong and ruthless, still a young
man. He dwarfed the unkempt room with his size and the hard-held
dynamo strength in him, and his cold green gaze dominated the trader.
"It's illegal, you know," said Wisby. "It's a twenty-year sentence if
you're caught at it."
"Bah! The Martian Commissioner is at Ares, halfway round the planet.
If we go at it right, who's ever to know?" Riordan gulped at his
drink. "I'm well aware that in another year or so they'll have
tightened up enough to make it impossible. This is the last chance for
any man to get an owlie. That's why I'm here."
Wisby hesitated, looking out the window. Port Armstrong was no more
than a dusty huddle of domes, interconnected by tunnels, in a red
waste of sand stretching to the near horizon. An Earthman in airsuit
and transparent helmet was walking down the street and a couple of
Martians were lounging against a wall. Otherwise nothing--a silent,
deadly monotony brooding under the shrunken sun. Life on Mars was not
especially pleasant for a human.
"You're not falling into this owlie-loving that's corrupted all
Earth?" demanded Riordan contemptuously.
"Oh, no," said Wisby. "I keep them in their place around my post. But
times are changing. It can't be helped."
"There was a time when they were slaves," said Riordan. "Now those old
women on Earth want to give 'em the vote." He snorted.
"Well, times are changing," repeated Wisby mildly. "When the first
humans landed on Mars a hundred years ago, Earth had just gone through
the Hemispheric Wars. The worst wars man had ever known. They damned
near wrecked the old ideas of liberty and equality. People were
suspicious and tough--they'd had to be, to survive. They weren't able
to--to empathize the Martians, or whatever you call it. Not able to
think of them as anything but intelligent animals. And Martians made
such useful slaves--they need so little food or heat or oxygen, they
can even live fifteen minutes or so without breathing at all. And the
wild Martians made fine sport--intelligent game, that could get away
as often as not, or even manage to kill the hunter."
"I know," said Riordan. "That's why I want to hunt one. It's no fun if
the game doesn't have a chance."
"It's different now," went on Wisby. "Earth has been at peace for a
long time. The liberals have gotten the upper hand. Naturally, one of
their first reforms was to end Martian slavery."
Riordan swore. The forced repatriation of Martians working on his
spaceships had cost him plenty. "I haven't time for your
philosophizing," he said. "If you can arrange for me to get a Martian,
I'll make it worth your while."
"How much worth it?" asked Wisby.
* * * * *
They haggled for a while before settling on a figure. Riordan had
brought guns and a small rocketboat, but Wisby would have to supply
radioactive material, a "hawk," and a rockhound. Then he had to be
paid for the risk of legal action, though that was small. The final
price came high.
"Now, where do I get my Martian?" inquired Riordan. He gestured at the
two in the street. "Catch one of them and release him in the desert?"
It was Wisby's turn to be contemptuous. "One of them? Hah! Town
loungers! A city dweller from Earth would give you a better fight."
The Martians didn't look impressive. They stood only some four feet
high on skinny, claw-footed legs, and the arms, ending in bony
four-fingered hands, were stringy. The chests were broad and deep, but
the waists were ridiculously narrow. They were viviparous,
warm-blooded, and suckled their young, but gray feathers covered their
hides. The round, hook-beaked heads, with huge amber eyes and tufted
feather ears, showed the origin of the name "owlie." They wore only
pouched belts and carried sheath knives; even the liberals of Earth
weren't ready to allow the natives modern tools and weapons. There
were too many old grudges.
"The Martians always were good fighters," said Riordan. "They wiped
out quite a few Earth settlements in the old days."
"The wild ones," agreed Wisby. "But not these. They're just stupid
laborers, as dependent on our civilization as we are. You want a real
old timer, and I know where one's to be found."
He spread a map on the desk. "See, here in the Hraefnian Hills, about
a hundred miles from here. These Martians live a long time, maybe two
centuries, and this fellow Kreega has been around since the first
Earthmen came. He led a lot of Martian raids in the early days, but
since the general amnesty and peace he's lived all alone up there, in
one of the old ruined towers. A real old-time warrior who hates
Earthmen's guts. He comes here once in a while with furs and minerals
to trade, so I know a little about him." Wisby's eyes gleamed
savagely. "You'll be doing us all a favor by shooting the arrogant
bastard. He struts around here as if the place belonged to him. And
he'll give you a run for your money."
Riordan's massive dark head nodded in satisfaction.
* * * * *
The man had a bird and a rockhound. That was bad. Without them, Kreega
could lose himself in the labyrinth of caves and canyons and scrubby
thickets--but the hound could follow his scent and the bird could spot
him from above.
To make matters worse, the man had landed near Kreega's tower. The
weapons were all there--now he was cut off, unarmed and alone save for
what feeble help the desert life could give. Unless he could double
back to the place somehow--but meanwhile he had to survive.
He sat in a cave, looking down past a tortured wilderness of sand and
bush and wind-carved rock, miles in the thin clear air to the glitter
of metal where the rocket lay. The man was a tiny speck in the huge
barren landscape, a lonely insect crawling under the deep-blue sky.
Even by day, the stars glistened in the tenuous atmosphere. Weak
pallid sunlight spilled over rocks tawny and ocherous and rust-red,
over the low dusty thorn-bushes and the gnarled little trees and the
sand that blew faintly between them. Equatorial Mars!
Lonely or not, the man had a gun that could spang death clear to the
horizon, and he had his beasts, and there would be a radio in the
rocketboat for calling his fellows. And the glowing death ringed them
in, a charmed circle which Kreega could not cross without bringing a
worse death on himself than the rifle would give--
Or was there a worse death than that--to be shot by a monster and have
his stuffed hide carried back as a trophy for fools to gape at? The
old iron pride of his race rose in Kreega, hard and bitter and
unrelenting. He didn't ask much of life these days--solitude in his
tower to think the long thoughts of a Martian and create the small
exquisite artworks which he loved; the company of his kind at the
Gathering Season, grave ancient ceremony and acrid merriment and the
chance to beget and rear sons; an occasional trip to the Earthling
settling for the metal goods and the wine which were the only valuable
things they had brought to Mars; a vague dream of raising his folk to
a place where they could stand as equals before all the universe. No
more. And now they would take even this from him!
He rasped a curse on the human and resumed his patient work, chipping
a spearhead for what puny help it could give him. The brush rustled
dryly in alarm, tiny hidden animals squeaked their terror, the desert
shouted to him of the monster that strode toward his cave. But he
didn't have to flee right away.
* * * * *
Riordan sprayed the heavy-metal isotope in a ten-mile circle around
the old tower. He did that by night, just in case patrol craft might
be snooping around. But once he had landed, he was safe--he could
always claim to be peacefully exploring, hunting leapers or some such
The radioactive had a half-life of about four days, which meant that
it would be unsafe to approach for some three weeks--two at the
minimum. That was time enough, when the Martian was boxed in so small
There was no danger that he would try to cross it. The owlies had
learned what radioactivity meant, back when they fought the humans.
And their vision, extending well into the ultra-violet, made it
directly visible to them through its fluorescence--to say nothing of
the wholly unhuman extra senses they had. No, Kreega would try to
hide, and perhaps to fight, and eventually he'd be cornered.
Still, there was no use taking chances. Riordan set a timer on the
boat's radio. If he didn't come back within two weeks to turn it off,
it would emit a signal which Wisby would hear, and he'd be rescued.
He checked his other equipment. He had an airsuit designed for Martian
conditions, with a small pump operated by a power-beam from the boat
to compress the atmosphere sufficiently for him to breathe it. The
same unit recovered enough water from his breath so that the weight of
supplies for several days was, in Martian gravity, not too great for
him to bear. He had a .45 rifle built to shoot in Martian air, that
was heavy enough for his purposes. And, of course, compass and
binoculars and sleeping bag. Pretty light equipment, but he preferred
a minimum anyway.
For ultimate emergencies there was the little tank of suspensine. By
turning a valve, he could release it into his air system. The gas
didn't exactly induce suspended animation, but it paralyzed efferent
nerves and slowed the overall metabolism to a point where a man could
live for weeks on one lungful of air. It was useful in surgery, and
had saved the life of more than one interplanetary explorer whose
oxygen system went awry. But Riordan didn't expect to have to use it.
He certainly hoped he wouldn't. It would be tedious to lie fully
conscious for days waiting for the automatic signal to call Wisby.
He stepped out of the boat and locked it. No danger that the owlie
would break in if he should double back; it would take tordenite to
crack that hull.
He whistled to his animals. They were native beasts, long ago
domesticated by the Martians and later by man. The rockhound was like
a gaunt wolf, but huge-breasted and feathered, a tracker as good as
any Terrestrial bloodhound. The "hawk" had less resemblance to its
counterpart of Earth: it was a bird of prey, but in the tenuous
atmosphere it needed a six-foot wingspread to lift its small body.
Riordan was pleased with their training.
The hound bayed, a low quavering note which would have been muffled
almost to inaudibility by the thin air and the man's plastic helmet
had the suit not included microphones and amplifiers. It circled,
sniffing, while the hawk rose into the alien sky.
Riordan did not look closely at the tower. It was a crumbling stump
atop a rusty hill, unhuman and grotesque. Once, perhaps ten thousand
years ago, the Martians had had a civilization of sorts, cities and
agriculture and a neolithic technology. But according to their own
traditions they had achieved a union or symbiosis with the wild life
of the planet and had abandoned such mechanical aids as unnecessary.
The hound bayed again. The noise seemed to hang eerily in the still,
cold air; to shiver from cliff and crag and die reluctantly under the
enormous silence. But it was a bugle call, a haughty challenge to a
world grown old--stand aside, make way, here comes the conqueror!
The animal suddenly loped forward. He had a scent. Riordan swung into
a long, easy low-gravity stride. His eyes gleamed like green ice. The
hunt was begun!
* * * * *
Breath sobbed in Kreega's lungs, hard and quick and raw. His legs felt
weak and heavy, and the thudding of his heart seemed to shake his
Still he ran, while the frightful clamor rose behind him and the
padding of feet grew ever nearer. Leaping, twisting, bounding from
crag to crag, sliding down shaly ravines and slipping through clumps
of trees, Kreega fled.
The hound was behind him and the hawk soaring overhead. In a day and a
night they had driven him to this, running like a crazed leaper with
death baying at his heels--he had not imagined a human could move so
fast or with such endurance.
The desert fought for him; the plants with their queer blind life that
no Earthling would ever understand were on his side. Their thorny
branches twisted away as he darted through and then came back to rake
the flanks of the hound, slow him--but they could not stop his brutal
rush. He ripped past their strengthless clutching fingers and yammered
on the trail of the Martian.
The human was toiling a good mile behind, but showed no sign of
tiring. Still Kreega ran. He had to reach the cliff edge before the
hunter saw him through his rifle sights--had to, had to, and the hound
was snarling a yard behind now.
Up the long slope he went. The hawk fluttered, striking at him,
seeking to lay beak and talons in his head. He batted at the creature
with his spear and dodged around a tree. The tree snaked out a branch
from which the hound rebounded, yelling till the rocks rang.
The Martian burst onto the edge of the cliff. It fell sheer to the
canyon floor, five hundred feet of iron-streaked rock tumbling into
windy depths. Beyond, the lowering sun glared in his eyes. He paused
only an instant, etched black against the sky, a perfect shot if the
human should come into view, and then he sprang over the edge.
He had hoped the rockhound would go shooting past, but the animal
braked itself barely in time. Kreega went down the cliff face, clawing
into every tiny crevice, shuddering as the age-worn rock crumbled
under his fingers. The hawk swept close, hacking at him and screaming
for its master. He couldn't fight it, not with every finger and toe
needed to hang against shattering death, but--
He slid along the face of the precipice into a gray-green clump of
vines, and his nerves thrilled forth the appeal of the ancient
symbiosis. The hawk swooped again and he lay unmoving, rigid as if
dead, until it cried in shrill triumph and settled on his shoulder to
pluck out his eyes.
Then the vines stirred. They weren't strong, but their thorns sank
into the flesh and it couldn't pull loose. Kreega toiled on down into
the canyon while the vines pulled the hawk apart.
Riordan loomed hugely against the darkening sky. He fired, once,
twice, the bullets humming wickedly close, but as shadows swept up
from the depths the Martian was covered.
The man turned up his speech amplifier and his voice rolled and boomed
monstrously through the gathering night, thunder such as dry Mars had
not heard for millennia: "Score one for you! But it isn't enough! I'll
The sun slipped below the horizon and night came down like a falling
curtain. Through the darkness Kreega heard the man laughing. The old
rocks trembled with his laughter.
* * * * *
Riordan was tired with the long chase and the niggling insufficiency
of his oxygen supply. He wanted a smoke and hot food, and neither was
to be had. Oh, well, he'd appreciate the luxuries of life all the more
when he got home--with the Martian's skin.
He grinned as he made camp. The little fellow was a worthwhile quarry,
that was for damn sure. He'd held out for two days now, in a little
ten-mile circle of ground, and he'd even killed the hawk. But Riordan
was close enough to him now so that the hound could follow his spoor,
for Mars had no watercourses to break a trail. So it didn't matter.
He lay watching the splendid night of stars. It would get cold before
long, unmercifully cold, but his sleeping bag was a good-enough
insulator to keep him warm with the help of solar energy stored during
the day by its Gergen cells. Mars was dark at night, its moons of
little help--Phobos a hurtling speck, Deimos merely a bright star.
Dark and cold and empty. The rockhound had burrowed into the loose
sand nearby, but it would raise the alarm if the Martian should come
sneaking near the camp. Not that that was likely--he'd have to find
shelter somewhere too, if he didn't want to freeze.
_The bushes and the trees and the little furtive animals whispered a
word he could not hear, chattered and gossiped on the wind about the
Martian who kept himself warm with work. But he didn't understand that
language which was no language._
Drowsily, Riordan thought of past hunts. The big game of Earth, lion
and tiger and elephant and buffalo and sheep on the high sun-blazing
peaks of the Rockies. Rain forests of Venus and the coughing roar of a
many-legged swamp monster crashing through the trees to the place
where he stood waiting. Primitive throb of drums in a hot wet night,
chant of beaters dancing around a fire--scramble along the hell-plains
of Mercury with a swollen sun licking against his puny insulating
suit--the grandeur and desolation of Neptune's liquid-gas swamps and
the huge blind thing that screamed and blundered after him--
But this was the loneliest and strangest and perhaps most dangerous
hunt of all, and on that account the best. He had no malice toward the
Martian; he respected the little being's courage as he respected the
bravery of the other animals he had fought. Whatever trophy he brought
home from this chase would be well earned.
The fact that his success would have to be treated discreetly didn't
matter. He hunted less for the glory of it--though he had to admit he
didn't mind the publicity--than for love. His ancestors had fought
under one name or another--viking, Crusader, mercenary, rebel,
patriot, whatever was fashionable at the moment. Struggle was in his
blood, and in these degenerate days there was little to struggle
against save what he hunted.
Well--tomorrow--he drifted off to sleep.
* * * * *
He woke in the short gray dawn, made a quick breakfast, and whistled
his hound to heel. His nostrils dilated with excitement, a high keen
drunkenness that sang wonderfully within him. Today--maybe today!
They had to take a roundabout way down into the canyon and the hound
cast about for an hour before he picked up the scent. Then the
deep-voiced cry rose again and they were off--more slowly now, for it
was a cruel stony trail.
The sun climbed high as they worked along the ancient river-bed. Its
pale chill light washed needle-sharp crags and fantastically painted
cliffs, shale and sand and the wreck of geological ages. The low harsh
brush crunched under the man's feet, writhing and crackling its
impotent protest. Otherwise it was still, a deep and taut and somehow
The hound shattered the quiet with an eager yelp and plunged forward.
Hot scent! Riordan dashed after him, trampling through dense bush,
panting and swearing and grinning with excitement.
Suddenly the brush opened underfoot. With a howl of dismay, the hound
slid down the sloping wall of the pit it had covered. Riordan flung
himself forward with tigerish swiftness, flat down on his belly with
one hand barely catching the animal's tail. The shock almost pulled
him into the hole too. He wrapped one arm around a bush that clawed at
his helmet and pulled the hound back.
Shaking, he peered into the trap. It had been well made--about twenty
feet deep, with walls as straight and narrow as the sand would allow,
and skillfully covered with brush. Planted in the bottom were three
wicked-looking flint spears. Had he been a shade less quick in his
reactions, he would have lost the hound and perhaps himself.
He skinned his teeth in a wolf-grin and looked around. The owlie must
have worked all night on it. Then he couldn't be far away--and he'd be
As if to answer his thoughts, a boulder crashed down from the nearer
cliff wall. It was a monster, but a falling object on Mars has less
than half the acceleration it does on Earth. Riordan scrambled aside
as it boomed onto the place where he had been lying.
"Come on!" he yelled, and plunged toward the cliff.
For an instant a gray form loomed over the edge, hurled a spear at
him. Riordan snapped a shot at it, and it vanished. The spear glanced
off the tough fabric of his suit and he scrambled up a narrow ledge to
the top of the precipice.
The Martian was nowhere in sight, but a faint red trail led into the
rugged hill country. _Winged him, by God!_ The hound was slower in
negotiating the shale-covered trail; his own feet were bleeding when
he came up. Riordan cursed him and they set out again.
They followed the trail for a mile or two and then it ended. Riordan
looked around the wilderness of trees and needles which blocked view
in any direction. Obviously the owlie had backtracked and climbed up
one of those rocks, from which he could take a flying leap to some
other point. But which one?
Sweat which he couldn't wipe off ran down the man's face and body. He
itched intolerably, and his lungs were raw from gasping at his dole of
air. But still he laughed in gusty delight. What a chase! What a
* * * * *
Kreega lay in the shadow of a tall rock and shuddered with weariness.
Beyond the shade, the sunlight danced in what to him was a blinding,
intolerable dazzle, hot and cruel and life-hungry, hard and bright as
the metal of the conquerors.
It had been a mistake to spend priceless hours when he might have been
resting working on that trap. It hadn't worked, and he might have
known that it wouldn't. And now he was hungry, and thirst was like a
wild beast in his mouth and throat, and still they followed him.
They weren't far behind now. All this day they had been dogging him;
he had never been more than half an hour ahead. No rest, no rest, a
devil's hunt through a tormented wilderness of stone and sand, and now
he could only wait for the battle with an iron burden of exhaustion
laid on him.
The wound in his side burned. It wasn't deep, but it had cost him
blood and pain and the few minutes of catnapping he might have
For a moment, the warrior Kreega was gone and a lonely, frightened
infant sobbed in the desert silence. _Why can't they let me alone?_
A low, dusty-green bush rustled. A sandrunner piped in one of the
ravines. They were getting close.
Wearily, Kreega scrambled up on top of the rock and crouched low. He
had backtracked to it; they should by rights go past him toward his
He could see it from here, a low yellow ruin worn by the winds of
millennia. There had only been time to dart in, snatch a bow and a few
arrows and an axe. Pitiful weapons--the arrows could not penetrate
the Earthman's suit when there was only a Martian's thin grasp to draw
the bow, and even with a steel head the axe was a small and feeble
thing. But it was all he had, he and his few little allies of a desert
which fought only to keep its solitude.
Repatriated slaves had told him of the Earthlings' power. Their
roaring machines filled the silence of their own deserts, gouged the
quiet face of their own moon, shook the planets with a senseless fury
of meaningless energy. They were the conquerors, and it never occurred
to them that an ancient peace and stillness could be worth preserving.
Well--he fitted an arrow to the string and crouched in the silent,
flimmering sunlight, waiting.
The hound came first, yelping and howling. Kreega drew the bow as far
as he could. But the human had to come near first--
There he came, running and bounding over the rocks, rifle in hand and
restless eyes shining with taut green light, closing in for the death.
Kreega swung softly around. The beast was beyond the rock now, the
Earthman almost below it.
The bow twanged. With a savage thrill, Kreega saw the arrow go through
the hound, saw the creature leap in the air and then roll over and
over, howling and biting at the thing in its breast.
Like a gray thunderbolt, the Martian launched himself off the rock,
down at the human. If his axe could shatter that helmet--
He struck the man and they went down together. Wildly, the Martian
hewed. The axe glanced off the plastic--he hadn't had room for a
swing. Riordan roared and lashed out with a fist. Retching, Kreega
Riordan snapped a shot at him. Kreega turned and fled. The man got to
one knee, sighting carefully on the gray form that streaked up the
A little sandsnake darted up the man's leg and wrapped about his
wrist. Its small strength was just enough to pull the gun aside. The
bullet screamed past Kreega's ear as he vanished into a cleft.
He felt the thin death-agony of the snake as the man pulled it loose
and crushed it underfoot. Somewhat later, he heard a dull boom echoing
between the hills. The man had gotten explosives from his boat and
blown up the tower.
He had lost axe and bow. Now he was utterly weaponless, without even a
place to retire for a last stand. And the hunter would not give up.
Even without his animals, he would follow, more slowly but as
relentlessly as before.
Kreega collapsed on a shelf of rock. Dry sobbing racked his thin body,
and the sunset wind cried with him.
Presently he looked up, across a red and yellow immensity to the low
sun. Long shadows were creeping over the land, peace and stillness for
a brief moment before the iron cold of night closed down. Somewhere
the soft trill of a sandrunner echoed between low wind-worn cliffs,
and the brush began to speak, whispering back and forth in its ancient
The desert, the planet and its wind and sand under the high cold
stars, the clean open land of silence and loneliness and a destiny
which was not man's, spoke to him. The enormous oneness of life on
Mars, drawn together against the cruel environment, stirred in his
blood. As the sun went down and the stars blossomed forth in awesome
frosty glory, Kreega began to think again.
He did not hate his persecutor, but the grimness of Mars was in him.
He fought the war of all which was old and primitive and lost in its
own dreams against the alien and the desecrator. It was as ancient and
pitiless as life, that war, and each battle won or lost meant
something even if no one ever heard of it.
_You do not fight alone_, whispered the desert. _You fight for all
Mars, and we are with you._
Something moved in the darkness, a tiny warm form running across his
hand, a little feathered mouse-like thing that burrowed under the sand
and lived its small fugitive life and was glad in its own way of
living. But it was a part of a world, and Mars has no pity in its
Still, a tenderness was within Kreega's heart, and he whispered gently
in the language that was not a language, _You will do this for us? You
will do it, little brother?_
* * * * *
Riordan was too tired to sleep well. He had lain awake for a long
time, thinking, and that is not good for a man alone in the Martian
So now the rockhound was dead too. It didn't matter, the owlie
wouldn't escape. But somehow the incident brought home to him the
immensity and the age and the loneliness of the desert.
It whispered to him. The brush rustled and something wailed in
darkness and the wind blew with a wild mournful sound over faintly
starlit cliffs, and it was as if they all somehow had voice, as if the
whole world muttered and threatened him in the night. Dimly, he
wondered if man would ever subdue Mars, if the human race had not
finally run across something bigger than itself.
But that was nonsense. Mars was old and worn-out and barren, dreaming
itself into slow death. The tramp of human feet, shouts of men and
roar of sky-storming rockets, were waking it, but to a new destiny, to
man's. When Ares lifted its hard spires above the hills of Syrtis,
where then were the ancient gods of Mars?
It was cold, and the cold deepened as the night wore on. The stars
were fire and ice, glittering diamonds in the deep crystal dark. Now
and then he could hear a faint snapping borne through the earth as
rock or tree split open. The wind laid itself to rest, sound froze to
death, there was only the hard clear starlight falling through space
to shatter on the ground.
Once something stirred. He woke from a restless sleep and saw a small
thing skittering toward him. He groped for the rifle beside his
sleeping bag, then laughed harshly. It was only a sandmouse. But it
proved that the Martian had no chance of sneaking up on him while he
He didn't laugh again. The sound had echoed too hollowly in his
With the clear bitter dawn he was up. He wanted to get the hunt over
with. He was dirty and unshaven inside the unit, sick of iron rations
pushed through the airlock, stiff and sore with exertion. Lacking the
hound, which he'd had to shoot, tracking would be slow, but he didn't
want to go back to Port Armstrong for another. No, hell take that
Martian, he'd have the devil's skin soon!
Breakfast and a little moving made him feel better. He looked with a
practiced eye for the Martian's trail. There was sand and brush over
everything, even the rocks had a thin coating of their own erosion.
The owlie couldn't cover his tracks perfectly--if he tried, it would
slow him too much. Riordan fell into a steady jog.
Noon found him on higher ground, rough hills with gaunt needles of
rock reaching yards into the sky. He kept going, confident of his own
ability to wear down the quarry. He'd run deer to earth back home, day
after day until the animal's heart broke and it waited quivering for
him to come.
The trail looked clear and fresh now. He tensed with the knowledge
that the Martian couldn't be far away.
Too clear! Could this be bait for another trap? He hefted the rifle
and proceeded more warily. But no, there wouldn't have been time--
He mounted a high ridge and looked over the grim, fantastic landscape.
Near the horizon he saw a blackened strip, the border of his
radioactive barrier. The Martian couldn't go further, and if he
doubled back Riordan would have an excellent chance of spotting him.
He tuned up his speaker and let his voice roar into the stillness:
"Come out, owlie! I'm going to get you, you might as well come out now
and be done with it!"
The echoes took it up, flying back and forth between the naked crags,
trembling and shivering under the brassy arch of sky. _Come out, come
out, come out--_
The Martian seemed to appear from thin air, a gray ghost rising out of
the jumbled stones and standing poised not twenty feet away. For an
instant, the shock of it was too much; Riordan gaped in disbelief.
Kreega waited, quivering ever so faintly as if he were a mirage.
Then the man shouted and lifted his rifle. Still the Martian stood
there as if carved in gray stone, and with a shock of disappointment
Riordan thought that he had, after all, decided to give himself to an
Well, it had been a good hunt. "So long," whispered Riordan, and
squeezed the trigger.
Since the sandmouse had crawled into the barrel, the gun exploded.
* * * * *
Riordan heard the roar and saw the barrel peel open like a rotten
banana. He wasn't hurt, but as he staggered back from the shock Kreega
lunged at him.
The Martian was four feet tall, and skinny and weaponless, but he hit
the Earthling like a small tornado. His legs wrapped around the man's
waist and his hands got to work on the airhose.
Riordan went down under the impact. He snarled, tigerishly, and
fastened his hands on the Martian's narrow throat. Kreega snapped
futilely at him with his beak. They rolled over in a cloud of dust.
The brush began to chatter excitedly.
Riordan tried to break Kreega's neck--the Martian twisted away, bored
With a shock of horror, the man heard the hiss of escaping air as
Kreega's beak and fingers finally worried the airhose loose. An
automatic valve clamped shut, but there was no connection with the
Riordan cursed, and got his hands about the Martian's throat again.
Then he simply lay there, squeezing, and not all Kreega's writhing and
twistings could break that grip.
Riordan smiled sleepily and held his hands in place. After five
minutes or so Kreega was still. Riordan kept right on throttling him
for another five minutes, just to make sure. Then he let go and
fumbled at his back, trying to reach the pump.
The air in his suit was hot and foul. He couldn't quite reach around
to connect the hose to the pump--
_Poor design_, he thought vaguely. _But then, these airsuits weren't
meant for battle armor._
He looked at the slight, silent form of the Martian. A faint breeze
ruffled the gray feathers. What a fighter the little guy had been!
He'd be the pride of the trophy room, back on Earth.
Let's see now--He unrolled his sleeping bag and spread it carefully
out. He'd never make it to the rocket with what air he had, so it was
necessary to let the suspensine into his suit. But he'd have to get
inside the bag, lest the nights freeze his blood solid.
He crawled in, fastening the flaps carefully, and opened the valve on
the suspensine tank. Lucky he had it--but then, a good hunter thinks
of everything. He'd get awfully bored, lying here till Wisby caught
the signal in ten days or so and came to find him, but he'd last. It
would be an experience to remember. In this dry air, the Martian's
skin would keep perfectly well.
He felt the paralysis creep up on him, the waning of heartbeat and
lung action. His senses and mind were still alive, and he grew aware
that complete relaxation has its unpleasant aspects. Oh, well--he'd
won. He'd killed the wiliest game with his own hands.
Presently Kreega sat up. He felt himself gingerly. There seemed to be
a rib broken--well, that could be fixed. He was still alive. He'd been
choked for a good ten minutes, but a Martian can last fifteen without
He opened the sleeping bag and got Riordan's keys. Then he limped
slowly back to the rocket. A day or two of experimentation taught him
how to fly it. He'd go to his kinsmen near Syrtis. Now that they had
an Earthly machine, and Earthly weapons to copy--
But there was other business first. He didn't hate Riordan, but Mars
is a hard world. He went back and dragged the Earthling into a cave
and hid him beyond all possibility of human search parties finding
For a while he looked into the man's eyes. Horror stared dumbly back
at him. He spoke slowly, in halting English: "For those you killed,
and for being a stranger on a world that does not want you, and
against the day when Mars is free, I leave you."
Before departing, he got several oxygen tanks from the boat and hooked
them into the man's air supply. That was quite a bit of air for one in
suspended animation. Enough to keep him alive for a thousand years.
Invasion of the Fractals.
The Fractal Universe.
The sword is mightier than the pen, but only when it's wielded by men. In God's right hand, the sword is righteousness, honor and courage and never strikes an innocent man down. For true power is not the power to destroy, but the power to lift up and heal. --- Merlin the White Dragonfire.
History is strewn with bodies of the weak and the strong; the high and the mighty; and the weak and the lost. History is much like death it only marks the passing of time, not the creation of it. True time lifts its locks of silver, its caress of gold, its touch of the moment and like the mighty serpent of Creation that winds through all worlds and places, it shelters all beneath its shadow. --- Boggle the Clown.
A better adjective for the old school building portable should have been the Barn, for it smelled more and more like that as the hot days continued to ply at our minds and bodies in the midst of an air conditioning disaster.
I could have let in a fractal breeze to cool off the building, but I was afraid of revealing my power here now because of the recent attack. Maybe Gerald was smarter than I had thought when he said I wasn't giving myself enough credit. He was actually telling me I was being stupid and arrogant...just like Patti...for ignoring the fact that what I did was having a ripple effect in time and space and in the Fractal Universe.
A new law was forming in the back of my mind. What goes up must come down, or in the Fractal Universe, what side steps in and out, will also open paths in and out.
I first became aware of this anomaly about three years ago, but had no name or description for it at the time.
It was shortly after I had performed my first side step into the Fractal Universe. I was so full of myself for the vision of reality I had unleashed and experienced I had ignored the shadow movements about me. True, they weren't exactly hobbling up to me, poking their prickly heads in my face and saying "boo!" but they were there on the edges of my consciousness. I just pretended it was just a side effect, a temporary thing, but something as major as damage to the sidelines between our universes.
I remember reading in the newspaper the next day about a local drug store, a Walgreen's I think, that had a break in, but had set off no alarms, and no cash had been taken, nor any merchandise disturbed, except for in the aisle of balloons. All the balloons were missing.
Only a freaking child would break into a ten million dollar store to steal balloons! I had thought at the time, laughed, then turned off my TV and gone to work, the incident bothering the back of my mind, but relegated to the dustbins of further insight somewhere in some kind of hoary future, cobwebbed with time.
But the two that Senator Murphy had sent to attack me, it turned out where not from him. The bodies of two men, who looked exactly like those two had been found several days later in the field outside the school, rotting there, crows having a time of their life pecking their flesh off. It was by accident they had discovered. A couple of the kids had tossed a Frisbee and it had overshot the back fence. They had climbed over to retrieve it and found the bodies.
They would have bragging rights for weeks about the discovery, but nightmares for much longer.
The FBI and Homeland Security both sent teams to investigate, and shortly after that they came to our school and began interrogating teachers and students. That was when the Tall Man pulled out his deck of cards and laid down a joker.
They vanished as quickly as their investigation had begun. The news media shut down and retractions were announced, saying it was all a hoax. Both boys woke up the next day with memories of the incident wiped from their minds, if not their dreams. There was nothing the Tall Man could do about that without possibly hurting them permanently.
"Chesterton, this is serious business." He told me over a box of doughnuts and coffee. I had been retrieved from school during my second period class to meet with him. Patti covered for me while I side stepped from there to here, where I presently sat.
"Tell me about it." I said between bites of a cinnamon roll and sips of coffee.
He nodded, as if I had just expounded the most profound words of all time, then set his half eaten chocolate doughnut down, wiped his hands, then touched the folder between us. It was labeled: INVASION. In very, very big letters. Bold and black.
He flipped it open.
Gerald Butler stood in the doorway of my room, searching it with his eyes.
"Before you go side stepping out of here in anger because we've been watching you, look at what's behind him."
"Mind Reader." I snapped at him, side stepping back into my chair just moments after slipping away. I took the photo in my hands and eyed it closely. I brought it closer to my eyes. It couldn't be. And then memories came flooding back. Memories that I had buried in the hoary cobwebbed depths of my mind for future reference. Well, the future was here and now.
I set it down, my face hot and flushed. "I hate people watching me! It makes me feel like Big Brother is alive and well and seated in my backyard."
"He is. But it's not him you got to worry about." He tapped the blurry forms behind Gerald. "The fact that he didn't even notice makes me even more nervous. Neither one of you spotted these things."
"Well, you wouldn't have either without this..."
"Camera. Nano camera. It's embedded in the ceiling of your room. A special spray paint that we can activate at any given time and can provide any angle we desire."
"Tech that advanced?"
"Watching my kids?"
"No. You, Chesterton."
"Although we have a great deal of insights into what you do, we still don't know how yet. We need to know how."
I sighed. I had let them in. My lighthearted soul had just got rung out and hung up to dry. If Patti had been there at that moment, she would have smacked me on the side of t he head and kissed me at the same time. At least that's my vision of what might occur. Probably not the reality. I don't want you to start thinking I'm a masochist, or she's sadistic. Quite the contrary. I am hard headed and stubborn at times, but usually for a good reason. She's just straightforward enough to see through my prima donna moments and quick to correct them. How lucky can a guy get?
"So how do we stop this?"
I gave him a surprised look. "You're the Tall Man. The guy beneath the President. Literally." And he was. This office was buried deep beneath the White House so the President had instant access to its resources at his disposal, as well as the safest place on the planet to bail out to, should such a thing become necessary.
Suddenly, my cinnamon roll was looking pretty bleak and tasteless. I felt like my favorite peak had somehow managed to bite my ass and feed it to me for breakfast.
He reached across the table and patted my hand. "It's not that bad, Chesterton."
"Yes. It is." I disagreed.
"Yes. You're right." He agreed, which just sent me deeper into the craphouse of my regrets.
I looked up. "We need friends in high places."
"We have them."
I brightened. "You do?"
He didn't reply. His eyes never left mine.
I boggled for a moment, and then recovered my senses. "Patti's gonna hate me."
This brings us back to my present plight, a portable school building that even a horse would be disgusted with and an angry mob of forty adolescents who yearned for happier times. I sent out for the tenth round of A & W frosted mugs and fries and when done, I side stepped them to the front door, and knocked on it.
Morris opened it, glanced around. "Mister K, no one's there."
"How about our drinks and fries, Morris?"
He looked down. "Uh, sure, they're here."
"Please bring them in."
He did so.
We spent the next ten minutes luxuriating in the greasy depths of salty potatoes and frosty mugs of root beer...not actually mugs, really just cartons heaped with shaved ice, but who's complaining?
Finally, the last bell of the day rang and the kids plowed out of the room, leaving cartons and containers littering the room. And surprises only Shondel and Morris remained.
Morris gave me a shy look. "I'd like to help, Mister K."
He gave Shondel a sweet smile. She gave him one back. Who could have seen this coming?
In ten minutes my room smelled like an angelic barn once more, and the two kids departed, each absorbed in the other's talk as they stepped outside and left.
I sat down behind my desk and considered the small miracle that had happened. Every once in awhile all the hard work actually pays off and a kid or two will rise above the herd mentality and become more than they can be. Real human beings. Likable and lovable. A teacher's only reward, besides the low paychecks and long, long sweaty hours is having a child or two actually get it. Actually understand there's more to life than "Me!" When that happens, it's a time to celebrate, kick up the heels and relax. But only for a few moments, because next we have to start filling out all the administrative paperwork, replying to all the parents... (Maybe two or three if we're lucky)...who want to help, and get prepared for the next day's round of Herculean labors.
It was at that zenith of expectations that my door opened unexpectedly and Gerald stepped inside. "So soon?"
"Always too soon and too late." He replied sadly, and then flung the door open.
Across the school grounds, which were becoming shrouded in shadow from the setting sun. It was late, almost seven. Wow! Time flies when you're having fun. But across that expanse of ground was rushing a horde of demonic fractals, horned and four legged, with mean looking teeth and eyeballs to match.
I stood up, and brushed my hands off.
"You sure know how to get a guy's attention."
He grinned. "Yeah. Just like a first date, ain't it?"
I gave him a shocked look. "Hey! Let's keep this strictly personal between us."
He laughed and I stepped outside with him, reaching into side space for the nearest weapon I kept there, a huge blade with smaller blades that roared like miniature buzz saws, because they were and he and I rushed the oncoming horde, like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid rushing to their death.
Except I had no desire whatsoever to die here and now. Least not before I had another Sweetkins Fried Chicken Breast.
We both roared at the top of our lungs, ran like proud knights, which we were and began slicing and pounding into the horde.
Will Chesterton K and his new found friend, Gerald Butler be able to hack and slash and pound their way through the horde of fractal monsters? Will Chesterton get to finish his cinnamon role? Will Gerald still be alive to insult his new friend yet again?
Come back on November 20th to find out.
I am now reverting to posting just once a month now to free up time to do more publishing and writing. Thanks for your reads and visits so far. Looking forward to more of same in the future.
Meanwhile, side step into happiness!
Chesteron K is back! "Shave and a Fractal." The Fractal Universe. "A good shave can solve many problems. Especially a close one!"
"Shave and a Fractal."
The Fractal Universe.
Fractals are these really cool mathematical formulas that have been converted to astounding, sometimes even breath taking strings of matter and light that appear to be more like another world, or even galaxy or universe than just a string of number ones and zeros. Binary code. You see I'm a scientist. Not a rocket one. More intimate than that. Perhaps a bit crazier too, considering some of the things I've done, places I've been, and sights I've seen.
Anyone lucky enough to have seen one of the awesome fractals has a life that will never be the same again afterwards. The tiny buggers...on our computer monitors, or perhaps classroom screens...are actually not what they seem, but everything we can't imagine. Vast spreads of shining orbs of light strung behind each other in perilous patterns of color that may as easily resemble a chocolate shake as a distant and far off galaxy of stars and Oort clouds.
I could go on and on about how incredible they are, and you still would only be peeking from the outside into a vast universe of variation that the Infinite Creator, or whatever you want to call the Force behind Creation. It's sort of like peeking into love by watching two attractive people lock lips and exchange glancing blows across their faces...we call them caresses and kisses, but they call them love knocking at the door. Whatever we call fractals they remain mysterious and unattainable to most, even as love is. True love. True fractals.
It's as easy to find the true world of fractals as it is to get a shave and a fractal...in other words, pretty much impossible. This is why I compared it to love. Look around you and you'll find examples of love, sometimes even pure love...course those sorts usually get strung up on a cross, tortured, or killed in some other vicious and low mannered way...but even those close in love, close in the spirit of love are few, though enough of such exist to keep our world from exploding like that ancient world Maldek that is now a series of asteroids past Mars. The Asteroid Belt.
Yeah. Planets explode. With a little help from our friends...anger, jealousy, hatred, self hatred, greed, lust and so on and on...but let us not get lost in philosophy. A little Nuke will do ya, and a lot of Nukes will do the planet. But let's not linger on what idiots those people were, we've got enough here to deal with.
It's all about fractals. Or it should be.
I feel that God created them because we needed a place of redemption, a solitary and remote place, and yet an attainable goal where we could rest our weary hearts and souls and replenish ourselves on the pure beauty of Creation before diving back into the thick man soup of confusion and dismay that life on earth has become with the rise of corporate consciousness and the lessening of human value in the greater scheme of things.
My name is Chesterton K and I'm a science teacher. At least that's what the people in the know say. The ones who gave me grades, a slab of wood with a paper on it stamped, "You're Done!" And then a boot out into the world of reality where I struggled a few moments, before deciding I couldn't take it any longer and found a better path. Teaching the young not to follow my footsteps. At least the ones that led to destruction of spirit and the holding back of self love and pride.
I teach science because I can still share the wonder of a universe that is mostly unexplored with young minds still in awe of their own bodies, and also quite ignorant of the abuse they are already putting them to with their over chemicalized food, super saturation of constant sexual titillation and overly zealous attraction to chemicals that alter the mind and body in pursuit of pleasure.
Enlightenment is a bitch. Really. I doubt that any master of the past...Galileo, DaVinci, Moses, Buddha, Jesus...you name them...had an easy path in life. The more you get it...life that is...the more painful it is at times to be in it, and yet with that revelation comes a kind of remote and peaceful impersonality that you learn to not only deal with it, but to love it back in ways that that reality...kicking and snarling...doesn't think it deserves.
Yeah. I'm a teacher. A damned good one. I stand a tad over six foot. My hair is black when I'm not starching it with blue, ruby or mint sparkles. I have intense eyes, mainly because I see so much and my humor is cosmic. That is, I laugh at pretty much anything, because it's hard to take serious a world where people are just the blind leading the blind for the most part.
I remember reading an H.G. Wells story, The World of the Blind, I think it was, where everyone was blind, but when a one eyed man entered the kingdom he became king. Except it doesn't work that way in our world. In our world the one eyed man will get his eye poked out. The blind are very jealous of their darkness.
The Tall Man paced his office, hands clasped behind his back like the fabled Sherlock Holmes as he paces his sitting room floor before the window looking out over Baker Street, intent on the defying mysteries of his most recent case, the inevitable pondering of its meaning, and the huge leaps of logical deductions which inevitably lead to a revelation that impounds a criminal or murderer in jail or a comfy six by three apartment beneath the earth.
"Chesterton, it's getting a bit hot out there."
I nodded, not really interested. I was playing mini chess with two fractal partners who sat across the desk from me. I had borrowed them from their universe precisely because they were incredibly smart when it came to chess; they could survive in my world, and also to annoy the Tall Man, who saw such ventures as a waste of time and stupid.
They're not. Man without the ability to play is a lost soul. One must play as surely as one must work. The two are wed as tightly as a couple who have been married happily for fifty years. They belong together and know it.
"Checkmate!" I told my fractal partners.
They both gave me these lopsided grins. They can't give any other. Their mouths are just dabs of swirling essence and hard matter that resemble a jigsaw puzzle out of synch. I gave them the high sign, smacked their open palms, and then watched them step sidewise back into their own realm, where they would continue playing chess forever and a day.
It had been a lucky break for me when I found that universe. Can you imagine a universe filled with beings whose only reason to exist was to play chess? I could and I found it. Lucky me.
"Never been less." I finally decided to tell the Tall Man, who had turned to face me, waiting patiently for me to finish my dallying and reply.
"I agree. But you must stop reaching for the impossible solutions and find ones that allow us to live at least...partially...in harmony.
I shrugged. "I don't think that Senator Warner would agree with that estimation."
The Tall Man shrank down into a chair, defeated. Senator Warner was a wart that would never stay excised from our skins. He was too thick, too worrisome, and too determined to make our existence miserable. He was also damned lucky.
Last time I had seen him was on top a favorite peak with billions of hungry fractal critters scrambling up the peak's side to help him with dinner. Theirs!
"I just have one question." I said while playing with a fractal sun that I had plucked from its orbit and was now spinning around my right thumb.
"Will you quit that?" The Tall Man ordered in exasperation.
I tucked the sun safely back into its orbit, and then looked him in the eyes. "When do we off him?"
The Tall Man shrank even further if that were possible. "We don't."
"Why not? You've got the President's right earlobe. You're on the inside looking out, shouldn't the Senator be spam by now?"
"In Nixon's world maybe." The Tall Man replied with a touch of sadness in his voice. "Even the Black Ops have people watching over them. People connected. Politics can save anybody's butt these days."
"And probably connected to the same dirt bags as the Senator." I added.
I sighed and got up.
"Where are you going, I haven't told you your assignment yet?"
I turned to look back at him. "When Mother Nature gets fooled, she gets even."
"You're not going to do anything stupid, are you?"
I gave him a blank stare.
He shook his head and gave me a weak smile. "Chesterton, either you really are the smartest man on this planet now, or you're a total idiot out of control."
"I prefer the latter configuration. I like to keep people guessing." I grinned back.
Then I sidestepped from that room somewhere deep beneath the White House and vanished.
Patti and I played MineCraft on my wall to wall Digital Screen silently, while the roars and noise of the game filled in the gaps between our conversations.
Finally, I switched off the game, twisted around to face her.
Her lips were puckered. I kissed them.
She smiled into my eyes.
Damn her! She knows my most deep and darkest secrets I thought.
Then she turned off the guilt spots and I relaxed, alone again with my deepest darkest secrets.
"Chesterton, you're like glass. I can see right through you."
"Shields, Captain. The enemy is upon us!" I cried out in horror.
She clapped a hand over my mouth and hovered closer, ready to strike me dead with the venomous Vulcan death grip.
"You're going to do something stupid, aren't you?"
Exposed. Annihilated. Destroyed in one nanosecond. Shields down. Not holding. I am alone and unwanted in a universe of hurt. Retreat and lick wounds.
She kissed me again, and then pulled back.
I nodded. She had the power of voodoo over me. No fair.
"Look." She said. "I know this Senator Murphy thing is starting to get to you."
"Starting..." I blurted out, before she clapped her hand over my mouth again, stopping me from profaning myself and all that I held dear.
"Honey, you gotta get a grip on yourself."
She let go.
She gripped my mouth again with her palm. "Promise?"
I was held in Darth Vader's powerful claw of force death. I couldn't speak. I couldn't breathe. I was no longer to be of this mortal world. I looked into his powerful helmeted face and could only nod.
The grip released and I collapsed back against the sofa, banging my head into the wall in the process. "Ow!" I complained.
She touched the banged spot. "Daddy got a boo boo? Want Momma to make it better?"
"Oh did I!"
It's not polite to peek into other people's love life, so I am omitting what happened next and segueing to a more interesting avenue of thought. How to bring down the Black Corps that Senator Murphy was part of. I called them Black Corps, because nothing else fit better, and besides, it sounded more ominous.
If I'm going to be a Luke Skywalker diving into the death star, I want to know that all the men and women I am about to destroy are as evil as Dark Vader, or else I'm going to be killing the evil Darth along with many, many innocent military personnel, who are only doing their job, and could give a crap's ass about the evil master's true intentions.
War is not pretty and weaves the greatest of fools and the kindest of hearts into its all embracing glove of violence.
I stood on my favorite mile high peak with the milling billions of fractal critters below with huge mouths hungry for my flesh and gathering to take another run up the sides to nab me before I side stepped away. I loved this domain, though God knows why. The critters here are all teeth and hormones, the flowers bite, the trees fall on you and the rivers run with creatures too gruesome and fractal mad to even discuss. Yet I loved it. Maybe it's because I could see the beautiful fractal rainbows that played across the descending fractal sunset here. Not just once a day, but all day.
"What do I do?" I asked the infinite fractal universe spinning, twirling, shining, and illuminating the skies before me. "How do I solve this equation?"
I sat down to ponder the complexity of what I was planning.
I knew the fractal critters were already hurtling themselves up the sides of the peak. Maybe one day they would break it with their weight. I was not the kind of scientist who could determine that, but I had a suspicion that our laws of physics didn't apply here the same way over time, even if in the shorter term they did.
I felt no trembling or shaking of the peak as the tidal wave of hungry critters raced towards where I lay among fractal flowers pondering the meaning of my life and how to displace a certain dishonest Senator who kept reincarnating back from whatever hell he was sent to into a prominent position that allowed him to keep on complicating my life and that of my loved ones.
My greatest fear was that he wouldn't stop at hurting me, Patti and the Tall One, but also my children at school. Granted, they weren't all the kindest most lovable things in the world, but they were in my charge, and despite some of the negatives that these sprouting buds possessed, they were still children and deserved as best a shot at making it to the fully sprouted stage, even as a forest tree should reach its height in the sun.
What to do?
The sound of thundering billions of tiny fractal feet finally reached my ears.
As the first of the bizarre all mouth like creatures spilled over onto my little heaven, I side stepped into fractal space, still unsure what to do next. I wasn't a killer, but I wasn't opposed to protecting those in harm's way. What to do?
What to do?
I sidestepped into my favorite barber shop. Dave's Barber Shop. A Shave and a Fractal was its name. He and I had a lot in common. He was an ex-student of Mandelbrot...the explorer of the Mandelbrot fractals and one mean sonuva bitch. He took crap from no one. He would as soon knock a jerk out as keep talking to them to find common ground if the jerk wouldn't cool their heels. I had watched him deck a customer who began bitching in his face because he hadn't a spot open for him to get his hair done, even though he had been told many times before to get an appointment!
Dave was no man's stupid, or lackey.
As he took his razor to the barbs of hair beneath my chin, causing the soothing peppermint soap suds there to curve away as he slid the blade smoothly across my stubbly skin, I sank into a soothing relaxation of spirit and mind I seldom allowed myself. This once a Sunday excursion into self pleasure was my only allowance of pleasure in a world that was becoming more and more complex, and of late more and more deadly to me and my loved ones.
What to do? I thought to myself, and then as I slipped into a kind of slumber from the gentle touch of Dave upon my face, I came up with an idea.
It was enough to get me to surf above my dream state a moment and be aware that he was no taking the razor to my other ear, and then I dove back beneath the waves of contentment, patient enough to know I...
...Knew what to do!
I smiled inside myself.
Someone was in for a big surprise.
Then I was lost to the pleasures of a simple shave.
The Sum of All Fears
Journey to the Center of the Earth
By John Pirillo
No one knew how long they'd been down under as they were beginning to call their trek through the vast, seemingly unending tunnels and labyrinths of stone and molten lava rivers. Yet, no matter how far they walked, or how long, it seemed the path was never ending.
Once they had gotten excited when they found what could not be ignored: Proof that Jules Verne had actually made a trek beneath the earth. The only question was how he had gotten so far and how he had found his way back home. Perhaps more importantly yet, why?
Why had he made the journey?
Why had he risked his life and that of his party of brave friends?
What had they hoped to achieve?
If they could answer one of those questions it might yet help them determine a positive and perhaps saving turn in their own downward spiral...it had to be that...into the interior of the planet, Earth.
Rush, a former explorer, had been at the height of his career, preparing to ascend Mount Everest with the woman of his life, whom he had been fighting with in their mountain chalet in Switzerland when the Big One struck.
His fortune, his fame, his life, his love had all been swept away by cascading avalanches of snow, ice and rising walls of lake water.
Just like that Rush had lost everything. All hope. All life.
It had taken the Special Forces and their mission to enliven his heart again. That and finding men and women, who like himself, were haunted by a past they hoped to forget and a future they hoped to save.
Everett was a spicy Brit, a Professor, a climatologist who had warned everyone that something big was in the air, but no one had believed him. And after it happened, no one believed it then either. He had been there in London, just a short distance from the famous headquarters of the last two Beatles when the Big One had struck.
He had watched in horror as building had been lifted like child's toys and plummeted back to the ground in thousands of pieces, seen civilians smashed, rended, and torn by flying debris, collapsing edifices, and hurtling pieces of metallic cars that had lost control.
Both men had a lot to forget and now. And now?
Rush and Everett looked more and more like the cavemen they were beginning to look like. They had both given up trying to keep their beards shaved and their hair short. Now, they just threw their beards over their shoulders, and wrapped their hair in tight bundles on top their heads.
"If the President could see us now, he'd think he'd gone back in time." Everett grouched, picking at the tiny creatures that now inhabited his scalp and hair. Yeah. It was hell down there. Bugs were everywhere. All sizes.
"Rowlf!" Their tall bug like companion noted and both men just grunted, sounding like Cavemen too.
Rowlf barked in his grinding low voice and both men did their best to ignore his laughter. It was becoming more and more irritating and besides he was starting to look like a walking turkey breast. None of them had eaten for about eleven days now. Water was abundant. Their trek had brought them to an underground stream that poured downwards along their path.
Without the water, no doubt both men would have died long ago. Both were familiar with the concept of fasting, but neither particularly enjoyed having to do one because they had no other choice. It's one thing to fast when you know you can raid that frig at any given time, but when the only thing you can raid is an eight foot plus Insectoid, who also happened to be a friend, then fasting became distasteful as well as painful.
"Remember when there used to be KFCS all over the place." Rush reminisced during one of their more and more frequent stops.
Rowlf listened behind them, still as a statue, for some reason he'd become more and more quiet as the two men slowly starved to death. Whether it was because he feared for their lives, or was himself beginning to see them as walking meals, no one knew. No one wanted to conjecture or voice their own fears, knowing each had enough as it was to weigh their minds down.
"Yeah. And the fries at Burger King. Those new fancy ones that were low fat." Everett added, wiping at the spittle gathering in his mouth as his hunger pains kicked in again.
Last time they did that he had thrown up.
It was supposed to make you throw up. Being hungry, but when the stomach hurt that bad, it no longer obeyed the laws of the universe, but began turning in on itself. He could tell his body was beginning to eat itself up. He could put a finger around his wrist effortlessly. Before it would have taken his hand to do that.
Rush nodded. "And when grasshoppers and night bugs were the worst of it."
Rush glanced over at Rowlf, who was still silent. "My apologies, Rowlf, no insult intended to your family line.
"Rowlf nots buggy." He finally said, then lapsed into silence.
Everett looked at Rush. "See! Now look what you've done. You've insulted our meal...I mean our best friend."
Rowlf stomped off, leaving the two of them behind.
Everett pulled himself up and wobbled on his legs a moment, then sat back down.
"Great! Just when dinner was getting so close."
Everett chuckled. "You know I didn't mean it."
"Yeah, but he doesn't!"
Everett sighed. "Do you ever wonder...?"
"If we're the last humans?"
"Constantly." Rush said with a grunt, picking at another critter trying to get into his right ear. He caught it and held its struggling form out before his friend. "Whose turn?"
Rush made a face and popped the bug into his mouth and began chewing it. For a brief moment it struggled for its life before his teeth mashed it into bug matter and juices, which he savored for the length of time it lasted. About two seconds.
" For all we know the Hollow Earth Special Forces are just echoes streaming down towards the center of the earth now, hollow memories in a hollow world of hollow souls fleeing to nothing and nowhere."
"Wow! That was really philosophical." Rush pointed out with a sigh. He scratched at his head and clasped another struggling critter between his fingers.
Everett scowled at the creature and shook his head. "I'd rather die."
"You will die if you don't eat." Rush reminded him.
"We're dying anyway. They're living off us. We're living off them. The balance is shifting not to us, but to them. You know it. I know it. We're just meals on wheels."
He barked with laughter.
Rush joined him.
The two men stopped as suddenly as they had started.
"I wonder what it's like to be with a woman again."
Everett looked over. "What? My hair too much for you?"
"You idiot! I like girls, not Neanderthals!"
Everett made a girl swing of his beard hairs and a cutesy smile, fluttering his eyes in a mock flirtaceous glance at his friend. "Not even once...for old time's sake?"
Rush scowled at him. "There's never been an old time's sake and there's not going to be a new time's sake. We'll be dead first."
Everett let his beard hairs drop back over his shoulder again and sighed. "Do you think angels have sex?"
Both men got very, very tight faces and then they broke into a laughter so bright and clean that both got their energy back, even if temporarily.
Rush stood up, t hen gave his friend a hand up.
They leaned on their stone spears and eyed the direction Rowlf had gone. "Down or sideways?" Rush asked.
Everett snorted. "Does it even matter?"
"Well, for one the water goes down...."
"And for two, Rowlf went that way."
"He's our friend." Everett agreed.
Without another world both men made their way along the moss lit path that wound round and round great glowing lichen covered boulders and past glowing streams of lava that coursed in channels parallel to the water they needed to survive.
As they descended the path broadened.
Everett suddenly stopped and put a hand up.
Rush looked at him, almost falling over he was so weak.
Everett grabbed him to steady him. "You smell that?"
Everett pointed ahead. "That. That!"
Then Rush smelled it.
Both men held onto each other and hobbled as fast as they could to reach the origin of the smell. They forced their sore feet, their weak muscles, their tight backs and sore arms to carry them the hundred yards necessary to reach a weak fire, set by a stream of molten lava.
Rowlf sat there on a stone, while he rolled over with a thinner stone, shaped like a branch, several odd looking bloated things that steamed in a bowl of water he had forced from the flowing stream to lay next to the molten lava and warm it up to cooking temperature.
Both men stumbled to a stop as Rowlf turned to eye them. "Twaste wike chicken!"
He cackled and both men laughed.
"I don't care if it tastes like my old tennies right about now." Russ said, and then his eyes rolled up in his head and he fainted dead away.
Rowlf got up and hurried over to Everett who was barely able to lay his friend down, before he also collapsed. He lay beside Russ and closed his eyes.
"Whatever you do, Rowlf. Don't bury me next to that lice infected sonuva bitch, will ya?"
And then he lost consciousness as well.
A bright light flickered in his face.
"Go away!" He cursed.
The light flickered again.
"I said go away!" He cursed even louder.
Then something stuck him in the arm. He screamed, and then woke up all the way.
General Miles Davison loomed over him, watching with a smile, as Nurse Betty administered to him. She stabbed him with another shot, after which he cursed again, but not at her, instead at Russ who lay next to him, watching silently.
Russ reached a hand over. "We made it, pal."
Everett looked again at Nurse Betty. "Do you like to dance?"
She stabbed him with a third shot and he began to lose consciousness. "That isn't an answer." He slurred, and then vanished in a peaceful slumber.
She turned to Russ, who was looking ready to go out himself. "If it wasn't for your friend, Rowlf finding us, you'd both be dead. What in the world did you two eat that horrid thing for?"
Russ grinned. "When in Rome..."
General Miles sat down next to Russ and patted him on the knee.
Then Russ became aware that dozens of men and women were gathered about him and Everett, all smiling. "Did I die and go to heaven. And if I did, why aren't any of you wearing wings?"
Nurse Betty laughed and turned to General Miles. "Can I keep this one?"
And that sweet voice was all that Russ heard for the next sixty four hours as he descended deeper and deeper into the Hollow Earth alongside his best friends, Everett and Rowlf, as they searched for a way home.
At last it's ready and available. My first big book production with great art and a great story. Journey to the Center of the Earth!
Journey to the Center of the Earth. Millions died. Now millions more may. Who will save them? Buy now at Amazon Books now for $2.99
News alert! Beware Baker Street Universe, the United States of Corporate America is coming to take you away!
The silence that had fallen was broken by the voices of hell as hundreds of demons launched from the innards of the Globe Theater and rushed them, their hungry eyes and claws reaching out to ravage them.
Have no fear I will complete this tale. I thought it a good point to break the story, since it has become much longer than I thought it would be to do another shot at my favorite Private Eye Crossbones.
Yup. I've changed his name. Seems more appropriate considering the state of America he has to deal with.
I will return to the Bane of Sherlock Holmes after I get a chance to catch my breath over the weekend, Meanwhile, look for a new tale of the Private Eye Crossbones in an hour or two as my fingers warm up the keys and they loosen into a semblance of a new and important tale in my Unisted States of Corporate America series of stories.
Any accidental or intentional finger pointing at corporate America is strictly on purpose.
Thought it would be fun to look at some of the author's artwork, as well as covers for his stories.
Audio Book. The Moon Pool by Abraham Merritt. Chapter 31: Larry and the Frog Men. Golden Master of Fantasy!
Flying Saucers. George Knapp. Area 51. Flying Saucers and Bob Lazar, man who reverse engineered them. Copenhagen 2014.
Check out the Audio Blog for an interview with Bob Lazar by Art Bell, a noted radio interviewer who specializes in the unknown.
Exaltation. A Levels Story. Science Fiction. By John Pirillo. "Heck with a Stargate! I'll take the whole pyramid, thank you!"