Charnel House Earth: The Death Of Humanity, Chapter 5: Changes

We began finding the bodies not long after Earth’s remnants had collected in the Midwest and western US. The aliens held only the east coast at that point, and we held everything west of the Mississippi River. But the western US was all that they did not possess.

They had all of Eurasia, Africa, and Australia. They avoided Antarctica and the arctic regions since they could not survive the extreme cold. Beyond their intolerance of the cold, we knew nothing about them.

As I stated, we began finding the bodies shortly after those left had collected and begun to train to take back Earth. The discoveries started with the arrival of what I now realize was a slave sent to spy on us. The man looked somewhat normal, though he seemed to have a visor-like cover over his face that seemed to make his face seem pixelated but in HD.

You could see the line where the visor ended, along the cheeks. Oddly enough, the sides of his face, where the jaw was, did not move when his mouth in front did. I found this odd, as all normal humans’ mouths moved as a single unit, not separately.

“Pin him down,” I instructed one of the soldiers nearest me, “something about him is not right.”

“Right, boss,” he nodded and did as he had been instructed.

“I am going to try and remove this thing from his face,” I stated, grabbing what I thought to be a face shield, “and try to free him from his slavery.”

I gave the shield a sudden tug and the slave gave a loud, mortal shriek. There was the sudden sound of suction, then a loud pop. The unit I had taken hold of came loose without warning and I pulled the poor slave’s face off, along with his brain. His head was now completely hollow.

I stood staring, shocked, at the hollowed out cavity that had been the poor man’s head. his brain had been encased in a metal casing that had sheered it off at the base of the spine when I yanked on the unit covering his face.

I had never seen such a thing. The aliens had made humans into permanent slaves, surgically, by removing their facial structure and encasing the brain in a sort of tank where drugs kept them mindles. Their facial structure was then replaced by a sort of monitor where their original face was projected as if it were real.

They were kept fed through a system of intravenous tubes that carried food from some hidden packs within their torsos where a life support system also lay hidden. In reality, they were no longer human.

Of course, we would not discover the hidden life support or IV feeder source until our doctors dissected the poor man’s remains. Such a horrible way to die, made into a techno-zombie. Neither alive nor dead.

Our tech people disassembled the slave’s face to discover how it was constructed. They found that it was no mere television monitor, but a complex mechanism that also housed a small bomb big enough to blow just the unit and the attached brain. It kept the life support going. It kept the brain drugged.

I found the whole thing sickening. The slaves were not alive, at least not by nature’s standards. They were walking dead people.

No mind. No will of their own. No future.

This had been the aliens’ intent for all humanity. It had been the fate intended for all. Not just the handful who had suffered it.

Had the captured scientists suffered this fate? Or had they been the ones force to do this horrendously nightmarish deed? I hated to imagine either way.

***

The first body turned up shortly after I had destroyed the slave-spy. Like the slave that had entered our camp, its head was hollowed out, but the monitor was gone. Unlike the infiltrator, they had not been attacked by any within our sanctuary lands. Nor could anyone recollect seeing any other slaves. Or hearing explosions.

Had these slaves found a self-destruct switch? Had they committed suicide rather than continue living a meaningless life? Or had they been sacrificed?

I found it odd that there was no mess. The head, or the hollow portion, was still intact. And though the brain and the monitor were missing. Almost as if they had been pulled out as I had done to the spy.

The sight was horrible. I would have nightmares for months after. Had this been the fate the aliens had intended for all? To use, then kill?

I was sure that it had been. Slaves, after all, were only good until they were used up. Had these slaves been destroyed because they could no longer function as they should? Or had they been damaged?

We would find out that it was far less conspicuous. It was not any of those. It was a virus within the system, something planted by the human scientists as a way of causing the self-euthanasia of certain slaves who had been made against their will.

I would even witness such an event not too long after the fifth such body was found. I would be out on patrol with Billy and one of the Russian refugees when it would happen. It would change us forever.

***

“Jeff, look!” Billy had spotted it first and pointed to the struggling slave.

“Ho-ly shit!” I exclaimed, looking where he was pointing and spotting it. “What the hell is it doing?”

“Not sure,” He returned, “but whatever it is, it ain’t good.

“it’s trying to pull its face off,” Uri stated, looking through his binoculars, his thick Russian accent somewhat screwing with the words,”let me see if I can discover what he, er it, is saying.” He held up the parabolic listening device he had been attentive enough to bring along. “No promises.”

He had been smart enough to attach the device to a sound recorder as well. Billy quickly attached his video camera to the setup and we got both video and audio of the horrendous scene we were now watching.

Get out of my head!” He was screaming in digital. “I don’t want you there!”

“It’s almost as if he has a battle going on inside his head,” Billy whispered, “he is the first sentient, the first we have encountered who is aware that something is wrong anyway, we have seen. the other seemed to speak only what it was preprogrammed to say.”

I said get out!!” The poor man screamed.

We continued to watch as he tugged and pulled at the monitor, both sickened and entranced. He seemed to know that the monitor was the answer to his dilemma.

One more tug and I should be free of you…” he grunted. Never wanted to be your slave! I was on to you from the very beginning. Now, out!”

We watched in horror as he pulled the monitor free. The pop was loud enough for us to hear and pick up on the video. The monitor went flying, landing a few yards away. There was a pop when it exploded, and then, nothing.

Charnel House Earth: The Death Of Humanity, Chapter 4: The Disappearances

I had never seen an alien invasion movie that remotely resembled what was currently taking place. Not even the television series V came close.Most movies and television shows pictured aliens as either openly destructive, seeking to wipe out humanity in order to use the planet’s core as fuel, or seductively deadly–seeing mankind as simply food. There seemed to be no in between.

And yet, in the movies, man is smart enough to see the aliens for what they were. Invaders. Predators.

Not one movie could have predicted the reaction our visitors received. around the world, the religious communities had been pulled in by the aliens and made to believe that they-the aliens-were the gods returning to lead man into the next age. Even the world’s politicians and government leaders fell for the whole “God come to redeem man” act. Perhaps it was because of their greed that they fell so hard for it. Or, maybe, they were hoping for something that had been a lie all along.

Only those who had left the religious life behind saw through the illusion being cast. Many began fleeing from the capital cities as the extremely religious flocked to them. Those who fled began collecting in the outlying cities at first.

When alien influence began to spread, they retreated to the interior. Once there, they sought us out and joined with us. Many felt guilt as they could not reach their elderly family member and had to leave them behind. They felt as if they had sacrificed them. Left them to die.

Perhaps they had. But it had not been their choice. They’d had to leave quickly or become a slave themselves. Or a meal.

Even they realized that. Still guilt played upon them for a while until they had come to terms with it all. But those left behind would not be forgotten. They would become a part of our battle cry.

Amid this, the aliens and our government officials continued to televise updates on supposed peace accords. Every televised update lacked one human, though the number of aliens remained the same. Then, that person would reappear in the next update–though there was something very different about them. They were almost–robotic.

It had begun. The disappearances. First, the public officials. And the religious leaders. Then, those who had bowed to the aliens.

I studied the officials who returned to the televised updates closely, searching for something I could definitively claim as a change.At first, I could not find anything. And when I did, I was unsure that I had not imagined it.

“Am I imagining things?” I asked Dr. Hargrove. “Or does it look as if there is a headband around Representative Turley’s head?”

“You’re not imagining things,” he responded, “and you can see the LEDs blink periodically from beneath his hair along the sides of his head.”

“In other words,” I began, “he has been enslaved.”

“Yes,” he agreed, “as have all who have returned to the telecasts.” He turned to me. “We need to watch some of the Sunday broadcasts to see if the preachers and priests have found the same fate.”

“I agree,” I nodded, “though we will have to be careful. Never know what they will try over the airwaves.”

“True,” He averred, “and we have no idea what kind of subliminal tricks they might try.”

***

Our ploy with the EMP had worked. We had been able to send at least three S.O.S. messages out into space, each describing our attackers and our plight. We could only hope that those who received the messages would be friendly, or at least a foe of our attackers, enough to come to our aid.

We held no illusions. It was likely that most alien races would be hostile. Perhaps even similar to our current invaders. But we had to try everything we had at our disposal to rid ourselves of our current invasion. Even if it meant inviting a second invasion.

I only hoped that the latter was not the case. I hoped that we found friendlies, not hostiles. We didn’t need to become an opportunity for some other militant race.

We were desperate. We were running out of time. If we could not find allies, humanity would be destroyed.

“Don’t Worry, Jeff,” Dr. Hargrove assured me, “we’ll find allies. Somewhere.”

“I sure hope you’re right,” I sighed, exasperated, “not sure we can take these fuckers by ourselves.”

“It is always darkest before the dawn,” He smiled, “it always seems the most hopeless before we succeed.”

“Yeh,” I nodded and smiled sadly, “my grandpa always said that when things seemed hopeless.”

“He was right, you know,” he admonished.

“True,” I chuckled nervously, “Things always resolve themselves.”

“Of course,” He nodded, “It is nature’s way of resetting itself.”

***

Every single leader had been subverted. Our public servants were no longer ours. Our leaders were now under the control of the aliens.

While wars between nations ceased, there was an unnatural feel to the whole process. Refugees were no longer turned back at what had been the borders of every country. Many disappeared, never to be seen again.

Those who remained fled from Europe, Asia, and Africa in search of some open coastal region in the eastern US where they could land. Some were even seeking entry to the west. And to the south.

What had been strong militaries were now reduced to small groups of resistance. Most supplied a defense for those seeking asylum as they fled. The tactic seemed effective enough, no matter how weak it seemed.

They slowly filtered into our little haven. The military collected in one area, the civilians in another.

“We’re going to have to ask the military to begin training the civilians in warfare,” I stated, mater-of-factly. “if we’re to survive this invasion. there can no longer be any civilians. Not even I can remain a civilian.”

“You’re beginning to sound like that hero-type you claimed to never be,” Billy chided smartly, “and you’re damn good at it.”

Charnel House Earth: The Death Of Humanity, Chapter 3: We Come In Peace

Snapping Larry and Mac out of their shock proved more difficult than we thought. Neither wanted to believe what they had just seen, not that I blamed them. I couldn’t.

Hell. I didn’t even want to believe it. Yet, there it was.

I knew that the problem was bigger than the four of us. It was probably bigger than all those we might find to ally ourselves to. This was because none of us had been in the military.

I had grown up in one of those religions that now flocked to the aliens in the belief that they were God returning to reclaim what was his. They had taught, until I had long since left, that we were to be pacifists. We were not to fight the “world’s” wars. We were to be witness to them and against the world itself.

We were taught a lot of bull shit. Including a running to a ‘place of safety’. A sort of religious hiding place where we would wait out the war of ‘Armageddon’–the war to end all wars. Looking back, it was all a bunch of lies based on misinterpretations meant to make a description of an internal battle into a physical event.

Now, man had lost that war. Both inwardly and outwardly. They had accepted an illusion for the truth and were about to pay for it.

Still, those of us fighting to free humanity would have need of just such a place. Some place the aliens could not find. Some place they could not survive.

But we would have to invent a way for us to survive. After all, even I knew that we would not be able to survive anything the aliens could not survive without some sort of personal life support. Yet, none of us were scientifically or imaginatively persuaded enough to dream up anything that elaborate.

“Lar,” I stated, “can you check the local university to see if the professors in the science department are still free?”

“Sh-sure, man,” He nodded, “why?”

“We need a system to get messages through to all within the science community who have still not been rounded up by the aliens,” I began, “we need to gahter them together into our own group.”

“Why?” He inquired, still clueless as to what we were really doing.

“we sure as hell can’t make personal life support systems ourselves,” I gave him a sideways look, “we need science for that. technology is a part of science.”

“Oh,” he replied dumbly, “I see.”

“Git started, man,” I implored him, “we don’t have time to waste!”

he scrambled to his feet shakily and went to complete the task I had sent him to do.

“Mac,” I shook my other friend out of his stupor, “Your cousin still in the service?”

“Yup,” he nodded.

“Go call him,” I responded, “tell him to gather all the military he can. We’ll need all we can get.”

“Right away,” he jumped up and disappeared.

“Now what?” Billy inquired.

“Now,” I smiled grimly, “we wait.”

***

“How would we get an S.O.S message out without the aliens picking up on it?” I inquired, looking at the astronomer who sat across from me.

“We don’t,” he shook his head, “at least, not with our current technology. It was, after all, a message that brought them. they will likely pick up anything we send from this point on.”

“Can we encrypt in such a way that it would sound like gibberish or somethin’?” I pressed.

“Sure,” he averred, “but it might seem that way to any we might want help from as well.”

“Is there any way to make the alien communication ship go down just long enough to get a single message through?” I asked.

“Possibly,” he nodded, “if someone could get close enough to it for a short time, just long enough to slip one message through, without getting caught.”

“True,” I frowned, “that is a problem. getting close enough without being discovered and captured.”

“Would an EMP work?” Mac inquired.

“It might,” he nodded, “if we had one.”

“We have the remnants of the military headed our way with vehicles and weapons,” Mac responded, “not sure how well our weapons will work on the aliens, though.”

“bullets might wound them,” he admitted, “and even kill them, but that is still unknown.”

“Do they have any kind of body armor?” I queried.

“The soldiers seem to have a light armor,” he stated, “though how effective it is is not known.”

“So,” Larry sat back presumptuously, “Jeff’s theory about finding a place where they cannot survive as a sort of place of safety is the only sure fire way of defeating them.”

“yes,” he replied, “and no. As far as a base is concerned, it is the only true way to stay safe, the idea of finding some place inhospitable. The only problem is that it would also be the end of us as well–unless we were to design a cross between armor and individual life support to counter the effect of our eventual base.”

“Pressure suits with oxygen filtration,” I smirked, “combined with impervious armor.”

“Precisely,” he grinned, “but we neither have the materials nor the manpower to design, let along build, such a thing.”

“So,” I looked away, “we return to the question of getting an S.O.S. out.”

“Yes,” he admitted, “we return to that question.” He paused for a few minutes, as if in thought. “We’ll attempt the EMP idea first. If it fails, we will search for another way.”

“you think they are immune to Earth’s viruses?” I looked up, an idea forming in my mind.

“There’s no telling what kind of viruses they have been exposed to,” he began, “but I am quite sure that they have not been exposed to those of our planet. We can always try a viral attack at some point. Good thinking.” He slapped my back. “I’ll make a scientist out of you yet.”

“One step at a time, Doc,” I grinned sheepishly, “one step at a time.”

Charnel House Earth: The Death Of Humanity, Chapter 2: It Came Out Of The Sky

It was dawn when the team from SETI and those from NASA witnessed the ship’s entry into the atmosphere and began settling upon the coordinates that had been sent to them by the visitors. The president, politicians from both parties, every religious leader in the country, and those who believed the visitors to be God returning to claim his ‘kingdom were also present. Millions more watched in awed horror as humanity’s fate came silently from the sky.

the scene was very much the same elsewhere in the world. Europe. Asia. Africa. The Middle East. Australia and the south Pacific.

“Yam,” the lead visitor stated without moving his humanoid lips, “That I am.”

“Yah,” Another began, “that I am. Weh be my title.”

“Jesu,” another moved to the front of the group that appeared as most envisioned Christ to be, white, long haired, bearded, thin, and very American in appearance, “That I am.”

“The end of time has arrived!” The murmur began coursing its way through the religious leaders and rapture-hopefuls. “They are here to rapture us away from this cesspool of evil!”

“We come in peace,” The one who had addressed himself as Jesu began, “and to bring peace. We come to bring you Heaven on Earth. An end to your sorrows.”

“Come,” Yam interjected, “and learn war no more. learn to serve your fellows as you serve the Lord you God.”

“become princes of men,” Yah seemed to smile at the phrase as he spoke it, “under us.”

“Let us bow and give thanks,” One of the religious leaders urged, “for the Lord has returned to put to death this world!”

A cheer rose above the religious collective present. a horrible, ignorant, blind cheer. As if they relished in an end they could not possibly know awaited them.

“We should learn from each other,” one of the scientists offered, “you could teach us of new technologies. New methods of farming. New medicines.”

“all in due time,” Yam urged, “Now, we must meet with your leaders.”

“I am leader here,” the president rudely pushed his way to the front with his cabal of criminals and the congress members who supported his corruption, “I rule this land.”

“Then,” Yam grinned darkly, “I shall start with you. Then, I will meet with those who would pray to us.”

“Shall we go to the White House?” The president demanded. “Or shall we meet on your ship?”

“We shall go to your abode,” Yah stated emotionless, “for now. Future meetings will take place upon our ships.”

“As you wish,” came the response.

The alien visitors were ushered into limos and sped away to the White House. The religious leaders, praising the lord, took their leave with their respective flocks. All who had gathered scattered until only the scientists remained.

As they studied the ship, the scientists seemed to suddenly realize that these visitors were not what they claimed. They were not gods. They weren’t saviors.

“Dear God,” One of the scientists muttered, “what have we done? What horror have we brought upon humanity?”

More aliens flooded from the ship and surrounded the scientists. A select few were lucky enough to escape, but the majority were taken captive. The subjugation of Earth had begun.

***

I watched the broadcast. I could see past the illusion being cast. I could see the aliens for what they were. Predators. Slavers.

I could not believe my eyes as I watched the scene. Though I could believe that the religious community was suddenly willing to give all in order to follow these aliens, and that our government (as corrupt as it was) was willing to meet peaceably with these monsters, I could not believe the initial response of the science community. Sure, these beings represented a chance to learn advanced technologies, but that was not why they came.

Though we had sought them out in friendship, they had come to enslave and to slaughter us. to eradicate us. Make us extinct.

Billy MOnroe, Mac Stephens, and Larry White sat on the couch watching the telecast with me. Mac was so deep in shock that he couldn’t utter a single word. Larry’s mouth had dropped open at the precise moment the scientists had been taken.

“Can you believe that shit?” Came out of Billy’s mouth every time something happened.

“Billy,” I stated grimly, “I haven’t believed much since the current administration got into office. This was something I have always feared might happen, but hoped I would never see.”

“Whadya mean?” He whipped his gaze to me, his face whits as a ghost.

“Humanity is just not as intelligent as it believes itself to be,” I sighed, rubbing my eyes, “even the scientific community isn’t as smart as it wants to believe.” I looked over at him. “Don’t get me wrong, they’re a hella smarter than most of us, just not smart enough to know better than to call out to the rest of the universe at this time. Not smart enough to realize that the other races out there might not be all that goddamn friendly.”

“so I see,” he muttered, still trying to grasp what I had just said, “whadda we do now?”

“Well,” I took a deep breath as I began, “we begin looking for others like ourselves. Military. Civilian. Medical personnel. The scientists who escaped…as well as those who were not there for whatever reason.

“Then we begin looking for allies beyond this planet. Anything that can combat these fuckers. Anything that can destroy them.

“Then we try to convince the rest of the world that these visitors are not our saviors. They ain’t ‘God’ or ‘Christ’. We hafta convince people that these aliens are only wanting to enslave humanity.”

“Aright,” he nodded, coming out of his shock, “how do we do that?”

“I dunno,” I shrugged, “I ain’t never done the hero thing before. Never really wanted to.”

“Guess we’ll wing it,” he stated.

“First thing we hafta do is snap Larry and Mac outta their shock,” I admitted, “we’ll need all four of us on this.”

“Let’s get started then,” He averred, “it’s gonna be a long affair.”

Ghost In The Ruins, Chapter 7

7.

 

“We are very pleased with you, Billy,” the head elder praised, “you have restored water to our planet of origin and possibly life.”

“Sirs,” he fidgeted uncomfortably, “if I may be permitted to speak.”

“Go ahead,” the elder nodded.

“I hesitate to agree with your desire to recolonize the planet,” he responded, “as the risk of there being a repeat of all that came to pass there is too great.”

“Oh?” The elder was now intrigued. “Is there evidence of the incident not being unique?”

“In many ways,” he nodded, “yes. Not that I have definite proof, but…”

“But you saw something that made you believe,” the elder finished for him.

“Yes,” he nodded again, “there is a massive wall like structure, something that looks man made, that stretches the length of the ocean basin we were first in.”

“An interesting anomaly,” the elder agreed, “one that makes me inclined to agree that mass resettlement may not be a viable option.” the elder peered at him. “So what is your solution?”

“We make Earth an animal sanctuary where wildlife can roam free,” he voiced, “and place a small scientific crew to oversee the sanctuary.”

“Interesting idea,” the elder smiled, “and is there more to this?”

“Yes,” he admitted, “we can clean up the lunar colony, tear down the original as it would be…unusable….then build a hostel or resort in its place where visitors who go to view animals in the wild can stay while there.”

“This is your project, Billy,” the elder announced, “we grant you permission to do all that you have suggested. But you must wait for at least eight days.”

“That is eighty Earth years,” he beamed, “correct?”

“Well,” the elder chuckled, “close enough to. It is about 400 Earth years. Long enough for the forests you planted to grow. Long enough for the climate to return to as close to normal as possible.”

“Thank you, sirs,” he bowed.

“You’re welcome, Billy,” the elder answered, then bent closer, “and you will be placed as management of this new sanctuary.”

***

“So what did they say?” His mother asked.

“They loved the sanctuary suggestion,” he bubbled happily, “and I am to be manager!”

“I am proud of you, son,” she smiled, “you have finally become an adult. Being given a charge is a sign that the elders see you as an adult. I believe the mission you were given was their test for you.”

“So I am to pick the science team?” He looked at her.

“Yes, son,” she nodded, a tear coming to her eye, “choose well.”

“What about those who have been caring for the animals in the preservation zoo?” He inquired.

“You will have to ask them if they would be interested,” she suggested, “but they would do as a starting point.”

“And you?” He pressed.

“I can only offer technical support,” she responded, “nothing more.”

“But we work so well together,” he objected.

“Yes,” she nodded, “but you need to find others you can work with. Others not of family.”

“Very well,” he was disappointed, “I shall. Wish you could go.”

“Son,” she began, “I have had my fill of Earth. It was a beautiful planet, but I do not want to live there. This is your destiny. Your opportunity to shine. Go. take hold of it and do not let go.”

“I will miss you,” he sniffed.

“And I, you,” she smiled sadly, “but I always knew that this day would come.”

“You always knew that I would leave?” He was surprised.

“We all must leave at some time,” she nodded, “and I knew that you were marked for greatness. Greatness that would not include me.”

“But,” he objected, “this was never the way I intended it to be!”

“It never is,” she shrugged, “especially when fate takes a hand in things.” She looked at him. “You were always destined to go back. From the first trip we took, that was to be your path. There was nothing I could do to stop it.”

“Couldn’t you have said something?” He inquired.

“No,” she confirmed, “it would have made you want it more. You would have pushed harder. And it would have driven you away from me more violently.

“I had to allow you to do as your destiny demanded. It was more natural. This is what is meant to be. Embrace it.”

“What of you?” He persisted.

“I will still be here,” she affirmed, “and I shall come and visit. Do not worry. And you may have a brother or sister. It is the way these things go.”

***

Billy selected a team. The conservation team agreed to accompany the animals to Earth and to remain there to study and preserve life in a more natural setting. The conservancy cubes were loaded into the largest ship he had ever seen. 

“What shall we call our ship?” Anders, the bug cat overseer, inquired.

“How about The Ark?” He asked, somewhat jokingly.

The Ark,” the scientist mused, “good enough for me.”

“Let’s get loaded up,” he looked at Anders.

“Yes,” the scientist nodded, “let us.”

Billy entered the ship with the science team. He stopped at the hatch and took one last look around. It would be the last time any of them would see Home.

They lifted off after the last conservancy cube had been loaded. The small loading/offloading crew remained aboard. They would return the ship after all was offloaded. 

That had been how he had set things up. They would load and unload the ship, then return Home with the empty ship. He would remain on Earth with the scientists.

He smiled sadly. In a flash, they would be over Earth. There, they would off load the animals according to their original continent. The Americas. Eurasia. Africa. Australia. 

The islands would receive their animals last. There would be fewer to offload. Fewer to get mixed up.

Behind them. A second ship lifted off. This one was loaded with a cleaning and colonizing crew. The lunar colony would be small, just enough to maintain the hostel. 

Their project would be the most important. It would establish a resort where people could stay while visiting the preserve known as Earth. It would ensure that there was little to no contamination of the preserve.

***

The Ark lifted off from Earth and vanished. Its departure symbolized the last chance of leaving the planet. Billy blinked away the tears.

What had begun as a research project had become his life’s work. He was now fully invested in returning Earth to its former splendor. There was no turning back.

He turned away from where the ship had been and vanished into the primal jungle. He would roam the forests and jungles from this point on.  

Ghost In The Ruins, Chapter 6

6.

 

He had found the same promise of hope at each capped source. Grass had begun to grow where the water had made a wet spot. The discovery gave him such hope.

It showed him that life could return to the planet. Life would return. That meant that once the caps were destroyed, the atmosphere would return to what it had been before humanity poisoned it.

The rains would return. The plant life would spring back to life. Verdant forests and lush prairies would grow.

He hoped that the elders reconsidered their idea of resettlement. He would rather they return the creatures of Earth back here to roam free. Yes, Earth would be best as an animal sanctuary.

Humanity had its new home. It really did not need to return here. They did not need to risk returning to what they had been.

If they wanted to colonize, they should look outward from where they were now. Not back toward where they had been. No need to revisit the past.

Not permanently, anyway. The animals could have Earth once they were repopulated in their respective regions. Humanity could come back and visit, leaving it as they found it.

Not that it would be hard. They no longer hunted for pleasure or even for food. They no longer had the need.

Perhaps they would have to cull the population in order to keep illness down. Then, again, maybe they wouldn’t perhaps illness was nature’s way of doing just that.

He could only hope that the elders would listen. The planet was going to be pristine. Untouched.

At least once every seed had grown and all animal life returned to its rightful place. And once the oceans were filled and once more teeming with life. Why spoil it?

Humanity had destroyed it once. There was no need in risking it happening again. Not after so much work to restore it.

Perhaps they could replace the colony on the moon and use it as a hostel where they could stay when visiting Earth. They could also clean up Mars and recolonize there.

He would recommend this as more feasible. He would push for the idea of Earth as a nature preserve. A sort of open zoo where the animals roamed free in their own environment.

The only permanent human inhabitants would be those sent to ensure each region’s animals’ full return to wildness. The keepers. They could close down the preservation zoos they had set up on Home permanently.

He smiled. It was a grand plan. He just hoped that the elders would agree.

***

He placed explosives on the last cap. He was finally done setting the charges. It had taken three months, but now they could free the water.

He grinned with satisfaction. Every seed had been planted. Every cap was ready to be blasted. 

“Are we ready, mother?” He asked into his communicator.

“For what?” His mother returned.

“I just set the last explosives,” he responded, “are we ready for mass blasting?”

“Did you remember to place the wireless remote detonators?” She pressed.

“Yes,” he averred, “and made sure that the explosives were just enough to destroy the caps, but not enough to damage anything else.” 

“Then,” she admitted, “we are ready just as soon as you are back in the ship and we are airborne.”

“Then,” he stated, “I am on my way in.”

“Any special requests?” She inquired.

“Turn on the external audio sensors,” he suggested, “I want to hear what it sounds like after the caps are blasted.”

“Very well,” she sighed, “the audio sensors will be on.”

“I’m headed back in,” he concluded, “no time to waste.”

“The hatch is open,” she averred, “just hover right in.”

“Thank you,” he stated, “I will.”

He sped to her location.  He had no time to lose. They had to get to a high enough altitude that the mists of the roaring waters did not dampen their ship and cause contamination. They also had to go above the planet and deploy the relay net so that the simultaneous detonation could take place. 

He hovered into the cargo bay of the ship. Getting out of the rover, he made his way to the bridge.

“We need to release the relay net,” he stated, “so we can finish up.”

“Let us get into high orbit,” his mother responded, “that should do the trick.”

***

The relay net was a remote operated retractable device that expanded to whatever size was needed. They would expand it completely for use, then allow it to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere. It would not cause any harm to the planet.

Once it was deployed, they reentered the atmosphere and hovered low enough to capture any sound that might emerge after the detonations. And waited. 

The detonations barely registered as more than a distant pop. A soft, but growing roar followed as the waters were suddenly released. They watched on the monitor as the waters washed over the parched ground, flooding over the newly planted seeds.

It was a beautiful sight. He thrilled at the thunder of the water as it flooded forth. The sound of nature at her most pure. Most violent.

Even his mother was enthralled by the sight and sound. It was the first time he had ever seen her speechless. He smiled.

“So,” she finally gathered enough courage to speak, “this is what the elders wanted you to do?”

“Yes,” he nodded, “though I am not so certain we should recolonize.”

“Is that their intention?” She frowned.

“It was one of the possibilities, yes,” he admitted, “though not the only one.”

“What would you do?” She pressed.

“I would turn Earth into a sanctuary for the animals currently kept in the preservation zoos,” he responded, “with minimal human contact. And almost no human population…just a small number of scientists to oversee the welfare of the preserve. We could…have hover tours to keep contact to a minimum and a hostel on the moon to stay at when visiting.”

“So,” she rubbed her chin, “you’re against recolonization?”

“Yes,” he nodded again, “I am. Why colonize when we can always search elsewhere for suitable planets? What if recolonization sets off the chain of events that originally caused us to leave the planet in the first place? What if we recolonize and end up finally destroying the planet?”

“I see your point,” she averred, “and agree. The risk is too great.”

Ghost In The Ruins: Chapter 2

2.

“What will you do on your next outing to Earth, Billy?” His mother asked.

“I think I will explore a bit,” He stated, “and test to see if there is water anywhere.”

“Have you cleared this with the elders?” She inquired.

“Not yet,” He shook his head, “but will soon enough.”

“What if they tell you no?” She pressed.

“On exploring?” He returned. “Or on the subject of seeing if there is water?”

“Either,” she answered, “or both.”

“Then,” he smiled sadly, “I guess that I will have to obey their wishes.”

“So,” she frowned, “You won’t break with their decision?”

“If they believe that the idea of searching for water is unnatural,” He sighed, “no. If they have no preference, then I will do as I wish. I would rather they grant me permission outright.

“As for exploring…I will accept their decision as one of protection. No need to put myself in danger against their will. What harms one, harms all.”

“Well,” she breathed, surprised, “you are learning!”

“Of course!” He assured her.

He had not told her that he would have disobeyed if he felt there was something just beyond sight that was of importance. Or that he had already spoken, beforehand, to the council of elders on the possibility. After all, he was but a student and did not make the first trip without their permission.

She would have been a bit disappointed had he done so. She was always trying to find ways to discourage his curiosity and to curb his desire to know. She was, after all, his mother. 

Well, to be more precise, she was his parent. Humanity had become asexual as it evolved, making two parent families a thing of the distant past. He simply called her mother, as she preferred a feminine presence.

He, on the other hand, would be known as someone’s father since he preferred a masculine appearance…though he could change at any time. Strange how evolution worked. 

Still, evolution drove the wheels of nature. Change was inevitable. And what was now the norm would, somewhere down the line, be phased out as sexual coupling had been. 

And gender. Gender was not really necessary either. Not really.

He knew neutrals who had hundreds of children. Neutrals resembled neither and yet both. They were what ancient Earthers would have called androgynous. 

He smiled. What a wonderful time he lived in. How different humanity was than it had been. 

It was now without hate. But then, it was no longer bound by religion in any form. No texts told them how to believe. 

Difference was seen as simple individuality. One could choose their gender appearance. Or they could choose to remain neither. 

No one sat in judgment of any who desired to be any of the three. After all, they had learned that the soul had no gender. Not really. 

Genders began blending when sexual unions became a literal fusing of male and female. Then, there was no need to fuse. The two halves were born as one. 

That wasn’t to say that one couldn’t have multiple partners. On the contrary. One could.

But it was rare. Almost no one sought a second pairing. Almost.

Besides. It wasn’t necessary. It wasn’t really sought after.

They had come a long way. As a race. As a society.

They were no longer divided by color. They were all the same drab grey. They all looked pretty much the same. 

Everything that had driven humanity on Earth was gone. It had all been replaced by sameness. Dull. Boring. But enlightened.

***

“Billy,” the head elder began, “we give you permission to explore the ruins of Earth. We also give you permission to scratch the surface to see if there is indeed water there. If your findings come back positive, then Earth is indeed healing itself. If they come back negative, then we will know that there is no possible future for the planet.”

“Thank you, oh great ones,” he bowed, “while I hope for the best possible results, I realize that things may not go that way. I am fully prepared to fail in finding any sign of life or even water.”

“It is good that you are ready for such,” the elder responded, genuinely surprised by his honesty, “for you must not forget that prehistoric man, our ancestors, had what they called biological weapons as well as something called nuclear weapons. By the exodus, they had developed such horrible weapons that could cause mass destruction on a global scale.”

“I understand that, oh great ones,” he nodded, “and I understand that they constantly warred with one another over such things as color, creed, sexuality, and all the base things.” He hesitated. “But I do not understand how long it took for some of the effects of their weapons to degrade.”

“Hundreds of years,” the elder stated, “so most of the radiations should be gone.even those that were left unused and that have begun to degrade, should be harmless.”

“Then,” he looked at the elder, “I should be safe?”

“Yes,” the elder nodded, “does your parent know that you are doing our work for us?”

“No, great ones,” he shook his head, “she does not. I…have  not told her.”

“Do not inform her that we are behind your expeditions,” the elder ordered, “she does not need to know. At least not yet.”

“And if my findings are positive?” He asked.

“We fully intend to send back a few colonists to reclaim the planet,” the elder replied, “once it is proven that the planet can successfully sustain life.”

“Will my experiments cause change?” He inquired.

“They might,” the elder averred, “but it is a risk we are willing to take.” He paused. “Take seeds. Plant them. Monitor them over the next few expeditions.”

“Grass?” He pressed. “Trees?”

“All the plants in hydroponics,” the elder instructed.

“Yes, great ones,” he bowed again.

“Your parent should stay with your ship,” came the final instructions, “and monitor for offworld messages and your data transfers.” 

“Then,” he was surprised, “she would not accompany me into the field?”

“No,” came the answer, “you must do all on your own. In secret.”

Ghost In The Ruins: Prologue & Chapter 1

Prologue

Earth was a dismal pit of despair. The greedy continued to drill for oil and dig for coal despite the efforts of the enlightened few who saw that the excess, the greed, was killing the planet. And so, mankind continued his drive to extinction…religion and greed blocking all enlightenment.

Among these enlightened few, Jim Barry had been an obscure soul. His success had been recent, but not at what he was about to become known for.

Though he had always been a thinker, a man of reason and uncommon intellect, he had never pushed the envelope in quite the same manner as he was about to. Now, he sat at a table, drafting the plans for a massive fleet of craft.

“What are you doing today, Jim?”  The voice of his assistant brought him out of thought.

“I had a brilliant Idea,” He smiled, “and as you know, I don’t have many.”

“Ooo,” his assistant stated excitedly, “I like this! Who is it for?”

“well,” he swallowed, “I had thought of offering it to the religious community…what with their expectations of rapturing off this hunk of rock and all…” he looked up at her. He could see that she was clearly amused. “But if they don’t take it, we’ll see how many of our fellow humans, those of us who are enlightened enough to understand what greed, hate, and religion is doing to the planet, want to go in search of something better. Let the ignorant have their way with Earth.”

What is this?” She pulled the plans for the terraforming equipment from beneath the plans he was currently making.

“Terraforming equipment,” He looked over at her, an eyebrow cocked, “why?”

“So,” she began, “this goes with that?”

“Yes,” he nodded, “as do atmospherics machines, gravitational generators, and shield generators to protect from possible asteroid bombardments.  There are hydroponics labs, tool and resource replication labs, and medical labs.”

“and I suppose that there will be stasis pods and self contained perpetual engines?” She pressed.

“Of course,” he smirked, “how else are these things going? Seriously, though, they are far from perpetual motion engines. They are, however, somewhat self-driven and based on continuous cold fusion reaction.”

“How do they work?” She was intrigued.

“They pull in elements from space,” He explained, “and fuse the particles together using a cold fusion reactor. No radiation leaks. No human interaction…unless they break down. And that is highly unlikely.”

“I see,” she nodded, “and who is going to pilot this thing?”

“Three crews,” he nodded, “two in stasis, one out for a single year. Each rotating into their routine at the end of the year. No contact with their charges.

“Only the medical crew and technician crew will have any sort of contact with the passengers. But not in a way where the passengers will speak to them. More like to keep the stasis units working and the occupants alive and breathing.

“The idea is to keep the passengers in stasis until they reach their destination. And before you ask…there will be three tech crews and three med crews. They will do as the flight crews. Rotate…until deep space where timers will be set for so many years once automatic pilot takes over.

“the only thing that should awaken the crew before the set time is if something happens. Staying out of their intended path. A near miss with a comet or asteroid. If a stasis tube stops functioning.”

“You have this all thought out,” she giggled, “don’t you?”

“It pays to, yes,” he chuckled.

***

Tests of all the components had been a success. The ships were ready. All he needed was a customer.

Talks with the religious community had failed. Miserably. Not that he had expected them to succeed.

The extremely religious had always wanted to rule the world. They had desired a theocracy for centuries. Now, if all went well, and the majority of humanity desired to leave, they would finally have their chance.

He sighed. He hoped the rest of humanity was more open to relocating. Let the destructive keep this ball of dust. They had already destroyed it.

“Sir,” his assistant announced, “They’re here.”

“OK,” he nodded, “I’ll be there in a minute.”

“Very good, sir,” she averred, “I will tell them.”

She left and he put his head in his hands. It was now or never. He rose and headed for the door.

“The craft are light and durable,” He began, moments later, standing before the representatives of nearly every nation, “as are the stasis tubes. As passengers, all will be placed in stasis for the length of the journey.

“Crews of techs and medical personnel will monitor all passengers until deep space is achieved. Then. they will also go into stasis until such time as they are awakened. The same will happen once the navigational crew get us to deep space…they will also go into stasis until the passengers reach their set destination. there, they will land the craft so that the medical and tech crews can unload the now awakened passengers.”

“What will be the cost?” The German representative inquired.

“We leave everything behind,” He stated, “this planet, the currencies, our homes, cars and most belongings. Some of us may even leave behind family members.” He looked around the room. “If this is a price you are unwilling to pay, then by all means stay! Just know that they will probably kill you for being enlightened.”

“We can always rebuild,” the representative from Ghana admitted.

“And we will,” he assured them, “as we will have the aid of terraforming equipment and any other technology needed for both survival and protection.”

“What do we have to gain?” The Arab representative asked.

“Don’t you mean what do we have to lose?” The Japanese representative returned.

“I see no need to think this through,” the French representative announced, “I know many who would jump at this chance.”

“So do I,” the Russian representative nodded, “anything to get away from oppression and hate.”

***

Several unmarked ships lifted up from every country. Aboard, teams of astronauts who had trained extensively now guided the ships out into space. Techs and medics kept a vigil over the passengers who were now in stasis.

Among those onboard as passengers were Jim and his assistant. Neither had desired to remain. Behind them, his abandoned labs now burned.

1.

He remembered summer. Earth had been a cacophony of seasons. Extreme heat. Extreme cold. No in between.

Not at all what he had been promised. But then it was over a thousand years after man had caused the massive disaster that had sent the species, the race, into extinction with the rest of life. Well, those who had refused to leave.

They had been extremists. The Inheritors they had called themselves. Radically religious. Closed minded. Hateful.

Those seeking better lives, more peaceful lives, had left Earth behind in search of paradises never before experienced. The rest were left to their own devices. Their own hatred. Their own ignorance and greed.

“What are you thinking, Billy?” His mother inquired.

“I do not understand,” he answered, “history says that Earth was once green. That man greedily cut down the forests and drained the fossil fuels, polluting  the water and air. And yet, the air is back at breathable levels. Has man been gone so long that the planet is healing itself?”

“Perhaps,” she nodded, “though I would hesitate in the belief that the air is breathable for very long. After all, the plant life has never really rebounded.”

“But could we terraform it back to its former state?” He pressed.

“Probably,” she averred, “but the planet is tainted.”

“Tainted?” He was confused.

“It holds the memories of those who destroyed it,” she explained, “and the disease that drove them to oblivion.”

“Couldn’t we make it a sanctuary?” He was still trying for a yes.

“Possibly,” she stated, “but that is against the natural law. The planet is to heal itself. That means we cannot intervene.”

“But we terraformed our planets,” he objected.

“That was over a thousand years ago, Billy,” She reprimanded, “we have learned so much since then. How not to go against the natural laws. The universal laws.”

“Well, yes, but,” he struggled to object.

“We have learned that all things are in balance,” she continued, not allowing his objection to take shape, “that we should never take more than we need. To never become greedy. That the old ways were wrong.”

“I know, but,” he tried again.

“We learned that terraforming was unnatural,” she brushed the attempt away, “that it harmed other planets. That other planets held new and better food sources than our old ones.  That evolution was always the natural path.

“You remember the skeletons in the museum at home? How they don’t look like us, but are our ancestors?”

“Well, yes,” he snorted.

“Humanity changed over those thousand or so years,” She taught, “after leaving Earth. Each planet hold a different evolutionary branch, each with its own unique appearance.”

“Sort of how,” he began to see what she was trying to tell him, “how evolution caused the color variations of humanity on Earth.”

“Yes,” she smiled, “now you are getting it.”

“So,” he scratched between his antennae, “if some of us came back to Earth…”

“Possibly,” she admitted, “but as I said. I wouldn’t be too sure of the air being at levels that could sustain much life. After all, the plant life has yet to return to normal and I am not so sure that Earth is still fertile enough to support much life.”

“And the sun?” He asked.

“What about it?” She returned.

“They once claimed that it would blow up,” He replied.

“There is still five billion years, give or take a few thousand,” she mused, “just as man had predicted that there was about 7.5 billion years…but that was before the avent.”

“So,” he smiled gleefully, “there is still a chance that life can evolve again?…here?”

“Yes,” she giggled, “I suppose so, given the right elements and the right natural push.”

***

Home world was nothing like Earth. The seasons here never became too cold or too hot. The old colony was now abandoned, no longer suitable for the new race of beings that had risen from the human colonists.

Plant life here was different as well. As was the animal life. But then, living here was different.

Few left the new home world unless it was to do research and none ever left for long. Here, only peace existed. Here, only symbiotic coexistence happened.

There was no crime. No greed. No hate. No lust.

Only a single mind. A hive mind. Something that had been a side effect of the planet’s unique atmosphere.

Much the same had taken place on the surrounding planets where other colonies had sprung up. Each planet had added to the humans. Changed them in a unique way.

But all had changed for the better. Mentally. Physically.

Billy had enjoyed his visit to Earth but had been saddened by the state of the planet. It had been completely destroyed. Its forests had been cut down. Its animals had been driven into extinction, man with them.

But what had saddened him the most was that there was no longer any surface water. The whole planet was a giant desert torn apart by massive eruptions. The colonies, Or what he had seen as colonies, were completely empty and crumbling. Eroding.

As were the land masses. They were all eroding. It had all been so surreal.

He had hoped to see a glimmer of hope. Something that would tell him that the planet was healing. Or Beginning to.

Instead, he had seen that the damage might never be reversed. The planet was dead. Useless.

It had been completely drained. Now, it just took up space. Like Mars and the rest of the planetary system it was a part of.

He sighed. The thought was depressing. And there wasn’t anything they could do to bring it back.

He would have to study it a little more.  Maybe he had missed something. Maybe he had overlooked some clue.

Yes. That was it. He had missed some clue.

He had overlooked the obvious. And though he could not terraform, perhaps he could scratch the surface to find if the planet still had water. And if he found water, maybe the planet could heal itself.

 

 

 

 

 

Hall Of Five Rings (1993)

The Hall of Five Rings

I. The Mission

The stars sparkled as Anagi Minamoto made his way to the little house that Onaginura Matao called home near the beach. As he walked, he tried to remember the first time he’d seen his old mentor’s home. No mattered how hard he tried, he could not. It was as if he’d been coming to the little house on the beach since he was a child, though he had not. Still, the urge to think it as such seemed so natural.

As he looked down the empty street, he could remember where he first met the diminuitive teacher. It was as if it had been yesterday. They had crossed swords at a nearby teahouse. He’d been sent to kill Matao’s master, Aginagi Onaga, a great samurai. Though he’d wounded the great samurai, he had failed his mission. But Matao had refused him the honor of ritual suicide. Instead, he convinced Onaga to retain Minamoto’s services indefinitely.

He got the feeling that Matao had done so for more than one reason, though. The greatest of these was to keep him from making a second attempt uponOnaga’s life. The second, it seemed, was to prevent him from doing the honorable thing and killing himself. But there seemed to be more than just that.

He couldn’t place his finger on what Matao’s purposes were, though. The more he tried, the fewer answers he came up with. Fewer answers, but even more questions. The more questions he found, the harder he found it to understand.

He emerged from his thoughts as he reached Matao’s door. He rapped on the light-framed door, then entered…sliding the door open upon command. Once inside, he slid it back shut and knelt to remove his shoes. Rising, he bowed to his mentor in respect.

“Come, my boy,” Matao motioned, “let us be seated.”

Bowing again, Minamoto went to the short table and sat at the end, upon the floor. Matao did likewise at the opposite end. As if summoned, a young lady entered with the tea. She glanced at him as she poured the tea into the tea bowls upon the table. All the same, she did not raise her head and her eyes did not meet his. Still, he could see her stealing glances.

When she was done, she left the room as if dismissed. A second girl entered bearing their meals. She, too, glanced at him in the same manner as the first. And, when she was done, she also left as if dismissed.

After drinking, Matao poured the second bowl of tea. Again they drank, then they ate. After the meal, they relaxed. The ceremony and meal had ended.

As if summoned, a maiden entered the room. Though tall and slender, she was well-built and full-figured. At Matao’s gesture, she bowed to Minamoto. Matao made a second gesture and she let her outer robe fall free. Beneath, a thinner, more tightly wrapped robe allowed him to see every aspect and contour of her body.

“Do you like her, Minamoto?” Matao asked, “Do you like what your eyes now behold?”

“Yes,” Minamoto answered, “I love what my eyes now see.”

 

“Then you must do something,” Matao replied, “to win her trust in you, assassin. Understand?”

“Yes,” Minamoto replied, “Just tell me what I must do.”

“You must go,” Matao answered, “Into the Hall Of Five

Rings…”

“But no one has—-” the ninja started.

“I know,” Matao cut him off, “that no one has come out of the

Hall alive! But you must! You must break the cycle! For her!” “But what must I get from within? Minamoto inquired.

“The rings that are guarded within,” Matao replied, You must bring them to her.”

“Then I shall,” the assassin replied, “but should I fail, I will come for you.”

“Why?” Asked the diminuitive teacher.

“Because,” Minamoto stated, “You would have both deceived me and betrayed my friendship.”

“Do not worry,” the shorter warrior replied, “It is not my intent to do either.”

Rising, Minamoto bowed curtly to his wizened mentor. Matao returned the respect and honor. Minamoto knelt and put his shoes back on, then left the old man’s home. He had a task to prepare for. Tomorrow, he would face the unknown that resided within the Hall of Five Rings.

II. Into the Hall

Morning found Minamoto awake and ready for battle. Unlike the samurai, his light armor was literally unnoticeable. It was more like the under-robes, those worn under the armor-but over the inner-robes, that the samurai wore. This made it easier to move stealthily.

Slipping from shadow to shadow, he made his way toward the Hall. He had a task to accomplish. He had a woman’s heart to capture. As he drew near to it’s great doors, he saw Matao waiting for him. Why had the old man come?

“What is it, old man?” He asked, slipping from the shadows, “Are you afraid I will fail?”

“No,” came the simple reply, “Nor would I send you in without being present to give you something that would help you within.”

“Then, you won’t be with me?” Minamoto inquired.

“No,” came the reply, “not in person. But, should you need help, look into this.”

The small man placed a small brass mirror into the assassin’s hand.

“Look into it and speak my name, “the old man continued, “then you shall see and be able to speak to me. Take care that it does not fall into the hands of those within.” “Yes?” Minamoto pried.

“I can aid you,” the smaller warrior continued, “through advising you. But, should you encounter Him, you can also use the mirror to summon me…and it will draw me to it.”

“Now go!” Matao exclaimed, “May the gods smile on you.”

The diminuitive samurai bowed and disappeared into the shadows. Minamoto looked at the small mirror the old man had given him, then placed it within his robes. Stepping back, he looked once more at the grand view of the Hall of Five Rings. It seemed to be the grandest view he’d ever seen. But within, it held the greatest of all evils.

To compare the Hall to any of the numerous temples that dotted the mountainsides upon the isles would be to diminish the beauty of the building. It’s red lacquered pillars shimmered brilliantly in the morning sun. The doors, lacquered red, was accented with black and gold. Designs, painted on, hid the true nature of the building.

As he opened the massive doors, a young samurai tumbled out. A knife protruded from the young man’s back. He bled from a score more wounds, his sword still held loosely in his hand.

“They knew of my coming,” the young warrior whispered,

“they knew of my purpose.”

“Rest well, warrior,” Minamoto whispered back.

“Assassin,” the young man whispered, “bring honor back to my father’s house. Restore my sister’s virtue. Let all do honor

unto the house of Nagasiami Moto.”

“Rest assured,” Minamoto replied, “I shall avenge and restore.”

“May the gods bless you, assassin,” the young samurai gasped, then died.

The deep crimson hue of the Hall’s interior was as dazzling as the exterior. Great chains, strung through great rings in the ceiling, supported massive chandeliers that held lamps which blazed hot. These lamps hung from the chandelier bracings by much smaller chains so that one could easily pass from chain to bracing and from bracing to bracing as they passed from one chandelier to another. Minamoto smiled. This had offered him an advantage.

From his concealment in the shadows near the door, he noted that the guards seemed to watch only the floor level…not the great chains, nor the ceiling. This made his chosen route clearly the best. Once up near the ceiling, he would have to take care of the guards on the balcony, then cross to it and venture through the doors they guarded. Beyond, he would have to see what path to take.

So, up the chain he went. Stealthily, he made his way along the immense hanging causeway it formed far above the floor. Those below seemed not to see him. So far, so good.

Midway, he stopped and strung his bow. Pulling two arrows from his quiver. He drew back the string, sighted, then let the first arrow fly. A split second later, the second had been released. The two guards on the balcony fell silently to the floor, dead. Quietly, Minamoto continued on, after unstringing and putting away his bow.

Once on the balcony, he slid into the shadows. From shadow to shadow, he made his way deeper into the Hall. He knew that his quarry could only be found in the very heart of the building. So it was there that he headed.

III. The Master of the Hall

Minamoto drew both of his swords as he crept deeper into the heart of the Hall. He knew he’d have to fight sooner or later, but he wasn’t looking forward to it. He preferred not to even be here to doing the task he’d been sent on. But he knew he had to do it, so he continued on his mission.

With no balcony on this level, and smaller chandeliers, he had no choice but to go through the door he saw just ahead. But he had a small problem. There were two samurai guarding it. He had no choice but to take them out of action.

Returning one of his swords to it’s scabbard on his back, he drew a dagger and threw it. As the first guard fell to the floor, he gave up on stealth and charged…redrawing his other sword in mid-stride. He made quick work of the second guard with astounding speed. So astounding that there was no time for his opponent to raise the alarm. He flung the doors open and rushed into the room beyond.

The figure in the center of the room wheeled about to face the intruder. He drew his sword as he did so, anticipating an attack.

Minamoto stopped short.

“What have you come for, ninja?” the samurai demanded.

“The five rings,” Minamoto replied, “Do you have them?”

“They are here, ninja, do not fear about that,” the samurai replied, “but you must fight me. Fight!”

The samurai slashed wildly at Minamoto, who calmly countered each blow and brushed them aside.

“You fight well, ninja,” the samurai stated with a tinge of surprise, “I thought assassins always struck from the shadows, unseen by their foes.”

“You have much to learn, samurai,” Minamoto shrugged in reply, “We, too are warriors.”

With a keen blade, Minamoto struck expert blows. But the duel was short, and within forty-five minutes, the samurai dropped his sword…falling to his knees wounded.

“The rings are yours, ninja,” the samurai whispered, as Minamoto bent to receive his yeild, “You have won. But do not let Him know of your victory, or we all shall be doomed.” “And who is He?” Minamoto inquired.

“He is master of the Oni,” the samurai replied, “and Master of this Hall.”

Moving past the fallen warrior, Minamoto retrieved the rings from the shrine and secreted them beneath his armor. Turning, he saw another figure enter the room. This one was taller than he, but never did the shadows leave its form. The only light he could see came from the eyes.

“Very good, shadow warrior,” it stated, “you successfully reached the rings without the alarm being sounded. Four dead, one badly wounded…not bad at all.”

“You must be ‘Him’,” Minamoto surmised, secretly removing the brass mirror from its place and dropping it where he stood. Then, he stepped forward. “”Matao! Come!”

Matao appeared within the room, where the mirror had fallen, his sword drawn.

“So. We meet again,” the figure replied, “Matao.”

“Get the samurai out of the Hall, Minamoto,” Matao replied without looking away from the figure, “get them to safety.”

“You forget,” the figure spoke, “I, and my Oni, block the door. I command the shadows, samurai. Your assassin can not

leave this room. You, both, must fight.”

The shadows began to close in around them. Yet, they would not carry the fight alone. Though wounded, the samurai that had fought Minamoto hailed his fellows by raising the alarm. The samurai, rushing into the room, saw their comrade and two other warriors in distress.

Minamoto hacked his way through living shadows, making his way to a window at the far end. As he reached it, he slashed through the cords that held the tapestry over it. As it dropped to the floor, light flooded the room and obliterated the Oni. A roar of anger escaped the master of the Hall when he realized his army had been destroyed.

But the light had weakened him as well. With a well calculated slash, Matao cut his foe down. When the master of the Oni was gone, the great Hall shuddered. The samurai glanced at Matao and Minamoto with panicked expectation. The ninja rushed to his friend’s side.

“Get them out of here,” Matao commanded, “don’t worry about me, just get them out of here.”

Minamoto nodded, then commanded the samurai warriors of the Hall to evacuate. Picking up the wounded samurai, he began to do likewise. Turning, he saw Matao stoop and pick up the mirror. He heard his old friend say something. Glancing back again, he noticed that the old man had vanished. He turned back toward the door and made good his own escape.

Once beyond the steps of the fabled Hall of Five Rings, Minamoto and the group of samurai turned to gaze upon it. As they did so, it crumbled—falling in a great cloud of dust. The dark magic that had sustained its existence had ceased to be. The Hall was no more.

Putting the wounded samurai down, Minamoto began to examine his wounds and bind them.

“You were brave,” the samurai said, breaking the silence, “but you also know that kindness conquers all. This day, you have both conquered a foe and made an ally. I am proud to call you friend.”

“But I cut you with my blade,” Minamoto responded, “As a knight of darkness and shadows. Doesn’t that offend you?”

“No,” the samurai replied, “I lied to you. I tricked you into fighting. There was no need to fight, but you felt trapped. Refusal to fight also conquers a foe. But though I tricked you, my trickery failed me this once.”

With those words, the group fell silent. Minamoto finished binding the samurai’s wounds, helped him to his feet, and-bracing him-he made his way back Matao’s little house…followed by the small band of samurai that had escaped the collapsing Hall. The mission was almost complete. He now had to give the rings to his betrothed.

  1. Matao Explains the Truth of the Hall of Five Rings

The young woman answered the knock upon Matao’s door. Before her stood Minamoto and a small band of samurai.

“Why do you bring a great army, ninja?” she asked, her voice quivering in fear.

“I saved them from Master Death,” Minamoto replied, “and they saved me from the Oni.”

“Why did they save you, and you-them?” She asked.

“We have made a pact,” Minamoto replied, “we are now allies.” Suddenly, he changed the subject. “Is Matao here?”

“Yes,” she stated, “Master Matao is here.”

“Please let him know that I have returned,” he commanded.

“As you wish,” she replied, “Please do come in and wait.”

He watched as she shuffled off to retreive her master. The samurai sat and made themselves as comfortable as possible. Of the twenty-four, only three had accompanied him into Matao’s home. Of these, one was the wounded warrior.

Matao, his wounds bound, entered the room and bowed to his guests. The samurai arose, and with Minamoto, returned the honor.

“You wish to know,” Matao began, “the secret of the five rings.”

“Yes,” Minamoto replied.

“You also want to know the truth of the samurai you fought, then saved when the Hall fell into ruin,” Matao continued.

“Yes,” Minamoto responded.

“All is so simple,” Matao replied, “When Almakagi, the king of the Oni, came to this city, he built the Hall. Once it had been built, he called all the clans and families together in a meeting promising a grand feast. When all had assembled, he proposed that they all become his allies. His purpose was to cause much mischief and to win many slaves.

“But many present saw through his illusion. They recognized all to be a trick to enslave all the people of the city, even the warriors. They could see that his ultimate plan was to enslave all who reside on the four islands.

“Rejecting Almakagi and his grand illusion, all left the Hall…never to set foot in it again. All, that is, but five lords. Those five were fooled by Almakagi’s generosity and thus, they fell under his control.”

“But the samurai,” Minamoto interrupted, impatiently, “were they of the five?”

“Patience, my boy,” Matao corrected gently, “I will get to the samurai, but not until a while later.

“Anyway, foe these five lords Almakagi made five rings. These five rings gave unto them unnatural power. Horrible power which they still wield…or, at least, their descendants do. The original five died long ago.

“To counter these, the gods forged seven rings and gave them to seven faithful lords, wisest and most just of the land. But five of those houses fell in battle to Almakagi’s legions, and their rings fell into His hands. Two houses, my own and that of Nagasiami Moto, remained. We, two, remain allies to this day—but we are also lieges to Aginagi Onaga.

“Master Aginagi has been at war with the five since he rose to power. I had married into one of the other five houses that the gods had picked and a daughter had been born to me. My brother, Amato, married into the second house of the seven and to him a son was born. The young Nagasiami was married into the third house, and his brothers into the fourth and fifth. To them sons have been born and shall carry on the bloodlines of their mothers’ ancestors.

“For these reasons did I send you, an assassin, into the Hall to retreive the rings. It had been your clan, and its allies, who had wisely declined Almakagi’s invitation and remained in your mountain fortresses. For this reason, you were not under His power and—though He stated that you were—were not captive. But you chose to stand and fight, believing His lie and were the one who brought his ruin.

“The samurai you fought against, then saved, were all of the fallen houses of the seven. They had, like the younger Nagasiami, went in to retrieve the rings and their masters’ honors.”

“Which they could not do,” Minamoto cut in, “because they are neither lords nor great warriors.”

“Precisely,” Matao replied, “Though they are great warriors in their own right, they were not of the leading houses. Once in the Hall, they were ensnared in the trap He had laid for them.”

V. Finit

With the five rings divided among their future owners, one of which remained in Minamoto’s posession, fate had finally played out. Almakagi had been sent back to His dark underworld kingdom, with His Oni, in defeat. The five houses had been reestablished and the seven would watch over Ipon. No more would evil have an upper hand in the fate of Ipon.

The samurai warriors he’d saved were now his. Minamoto was now their lord. Four had been picked to carry the messages bearing the rings and had gone on their missions. He sent the remainder to the home of his clan, bearing a message written by his own hand. The wounded would survive.

“Ah,” Matao stated, turning to Minamoto, “you want the girl, no?”

“I do,: the ninja replied.

“Then you shall have her,” Matao stated, “Rie! Come!”

The young woman shuffled into the room. Minamoto rose and went to her. Untying the sash about her waist, he watched the outer robes fall open and reveal her slender naked body. A grin of satisfaction formed upon his lips.

“She pleases you, I see,” the diminuitive teacher observed.

“Yes,” Minamoto returned, “very much so.”

“Then take her and go,” Matao commanded, “and bother me no more this night.”

Minamoto waited long enough for his bride to retie her sash, closing her robes, then bowed in respectful farewell to the old man. She did likewise, then hurried out before her new husband. Minamoto exited Matao’s house, closed the door, then left the city with his wife. It had all come full circle. His debt had been paid in full.

It was dark as the couple left the city. The moon sat yellow in the sky, surrounded by the sparkling stars that dotted the sky faintly. It was a fine night. A fine night, indeed.

As they made their way to Minamoto’s clan, and the fortress he called home, he anticipated the prize of his heart. That prize walked beside him in the form of his maiden—wife. She would bear him many sons. She would make a fitting queen for his clan.

The Italian Connection (2007)

The Italian Connection

A Perry St. Laurent Adventure

I sat in Milan at a quaint little coffeehouse, that few have visited and even fewer had ever heard of, waiting for my contact. She was running late and I had time to fill, so I loitered there basking in the warm Italian sunlight. It was a pleasant day, not much of a rush to do anything in particular, and I was beginning to like the leisure life. Seemed to suit me well.

Up until that point, I had done all for the money. I had never really taken into consideration the other aspects, due to always having a time constraint, and now found myself reassessing why I was doing what I was doing. Indeed, I found myself wondering if it was truly the money I was after. Or was it something else? Or was there something else behind my doing it?

Suddenly, it hit me. The money didn’t matter. Sure, I was making more dollars than sense, but it wasn’t the money I liked. I liked the freedom. I liked the travel. I liked the experiences. I liked…well, I liked everything I did. The money was just an added bonus. It helped me go from point A to point B and live in the places I was while I was there.

But it was everything else that I did that kept me doing my job. I’d seen places I’d only dreamed of seeing when I was a kid. I’d learned things that only first-hand experience could teach. I made friends everywhere I’d gone and whom I kept in contact with ever since. I had found a life that I was suited to. No factory, no office, no other form of work could give the satisfaction I felt every time I turned in another piece to my agent. Of course, every article was for a magazine or newspaper, but it was satisfying to educate people with first-hand experiences.

My life was what I wrote about. Whether it be while among the people of some African tribe, or out in the middle of Siberia. I wrote from my own, unique perspective. I wrote about what I came to know, not what some idiot said was true. I knew. There was no doubt that I knew. I lived it. I didn’t have to make assumptions. I didn’t have to make excuses for some erroneous and bigoted remark. I wrote as if I were one of those whom I lived with.

While I sat musing, in satisfaction, my contact arrived. She’d been held up by another appointment, but it didn’t matter. I was no longer working against my time restraints; I was now working on my own time. I was through working for the money. I left a tip for the server, though I probably shouldn’t have, and then got up to leave. It had been a wonderful two-hour wait and I was now ready to face the world…