Reaching for Salvation

The Light brushed her fingertips, close enough to touch but not close enough to grasp. She knew that it held the fading memories of all that was good and happy.

Cassiel looked down at the trap that held her. Her mission had been a simple one – gather intelligence on a Black Mass. She had done it so many times throughout the millennia that she had lost count. She could not remember having ever considered going beyond her orders before.

She stretched up towards the Light again. She touched the edge of it, felt a small amount of His love, but it was fleeting. She knew that He was watching, and always testing her, as He always watched and tested everyone.

The air around her became cold, as the Light shrank away from her. She reflected on the decisions she had made throughout her existence. Which step had brought her away from Salvation? The corpses around her, were these the ones that she had created today? Or were the culmination of her choices?

Over the millennia she had seen too much. She didn’t know what had caused her to snap this time, but she had done it. She had failed her Test, going beyond her assigned intelligence-gathering, to retribution.

Cassiel – could she even use that name anymore? – knelt down among the carnage around her and wept. She had Fallen away from God’s Grace. She had damned herself.

And the worst part was, given the same circumstances, she would have changed nothing.

Image Credits: Nicole Jimenez.

The Game

Arthur woke once again in his hospital bed. The steady beeping of the monitor was a familiar background noise. After so long in this bed – he wasn’t exactly sure how long – the rhythm was a comfort that he would miss if it wasn’t there. Of course, if it wasn’t there, he wouldn’t be in a condition to miss it.

There was a rustling sound and the sudden smell of cigarette smoke. Arthur opened his eyes. There were two shadowy shapes moving around the room. Each one had a chair, and he saw that they were two strangers in robes. One was an extremely thin man in black robes, and was the source of the cigarette scent. The other was a bearded elderly man in white robes.

The two men set up their chairs on either side of Arthur’s bed. The dark-robed one on his left leaned something against the wall. Arthur could dimly see a pole with a blade on the end. Then, with sudden clarity, he saw that it wasn’t a man, but a robed skeleton with a scythe. It was time, then. The Reaper had come.

Arthur struggled to turn his head over to see the other man. He wasn’t illuminated by the room’s lights. Instead, a glowing halo floated inches above his head. Two feathery wings sprouted from the man’s back. An angel, then. This should be an interesting night.

The Reaper pulled a deck of cards from somewhere within his robes. He nodded to the angel, then both sat. The Reaper shuffled, then passed the deck to the angel to cut. Then, he dealt the cards onto Arthur’s blankets, ignoring the man under them.

Arthur watched the game down his body. He frowned as he saw the Reaper’s pile of chips grow. He felt his life fading with each hand. Then, the angel rose and pointed at the Reaper’s seat.

“What are those under you?” he asked. The voice echoed in the small room. “You are cheating!”

The reaper slid over to hide the cards. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” His voice was deep, almost beyond the edge of hearing. Arthur felt the vibrations almost as much as he heard the voice. “Count the deck, you will find all fifty-two cards.”

“We have two jokers! There should be fifty-four cards! No wonder your pile is growing! This man’s life is leaning in the balance, and you have the temerity…”

Arthur raised his hand, knocking the chips over. Both spirits were immediately silent.

“It’s OK,” he rasped. “I know that my time has come. Please, let it come easily.”

The angel touched Arthur’s hand. “Are you sure? There is still a chance.”

“I am,” he replied. “The doctor told me that I can live, but I’ll be stuck in this bed for the rest of my life. Let it end now.”

The angel nodded. The Reaper rose and took up his scythe. He swiped it through Arthur’s body. There was a brief moment where time stood still. Then, Arthur’s spirit rose from the body.

The angel took the spirit’s hand. The Reaper started to protest, then fell silent.

All three left the room.

Image Credits: Hu Zheng.

An Unexpected Visit

Zug, Tarv, and Eki sat around the fire. Eki was tending the flames, giving the meat an occasional poke with her stick. Zug and Tarv, as usual, were describing the hunt to her, their claims more and more outrageous as they went on. She ignored them as she usually did once they got too crazy. She looked at the back of the cave, to where she stored the berries. They weren’t fermented yet, so she knew that they weren’t drunk. They were just trying to impress her.

Eki looked up sharply as she heard a noise by the cave entrance. It was a high-pitched humming, something she had never heard before. A moment later, the other two looked up too. They always were a little slow at picking up the small clues. Yet, there was no missing the bright light that soon shone in from above.

Zug grabbed his spear and jumped in front of the fire. It was too late to hide the flickering light from outside, so Zug moved to block whatever invader was coming to take their food and shelter. At almost the same time, Tarv pushed Eki towards the back of the cave, taking up his spear to defend her.

Two shadows in the bright light grew closer until they could be recognized as tall, thin creatures. They stood on two feet, unlike the animals that Zug and Tarv hunted, but they were not the same as the cave-dwellers. Their clothing was strange and didn’t look like the hide of any animal the dwellers had ever seen. Something clear and round covered their entire heads.

Zug pointed his spear at them. “You are in our home, strangers. Leave in peace.”

The creatures looked Zug, making strange noises. Then one raised his hands, palm forward, in front of itself. It was obviously trying to speak to Zug, but the sounds made no sense.

Zug, seeing that the creatures were ignoring him, advanced with his spear forward. Then, he shouted a challenge and threw the spear.

There was a bright green flash. The second being, the one that had not been talking to Zug, had pointed a strange object at the spear. The flash had been the spear disappearing as if it had never been. Zug held up his hands, signaling for another weapon. Tarv came forward with two spears, giving one to Zug. They each pointed a spear at one of the invaders.

The invaders spoke again in their strange voices, then slowly backed out towards the light. Soon, their shadows had disappeared into the bright light. The light dimmed and focused until Zug and Tarv could see several lights on a large disc on the ground. They watched as it rose into the sky, then flew off towards the direction of sunrise.

Image Credits: Chris Rallis.


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Shoemaker, Skytrain

Shoemaker-1, Skytrain. You have been cleared to proceed to bay number three. Opening barn door. Over.”

Another routine flight is almost done. I look along Skytrain’s port side and see the odd numbers lined up, 1 to 15. Even number 13, second from the end. Under the number 3, a door is outlined in red lights, which change to green as the transmission ends.

Skytrain, Shoemaker, roger. Proceeding to bay 3. Switching to RCS now. Over.”

I switch on my RCS thrusters to fine-tune my approach. Almost automatically, I go through my bay-landing checklist. I look out the cockpit windows to check my wing clearance and to verify that my fuel-oxygen engines are off.

I press the button for internal communications.

“Attention passengers, this is the pilot speaking. We are beginning our final run for docking in Skytrain. As rotational gravity will be present, please take care as you move about the cabin. Take extra precautions if this is your first time off-planet.”

I key over to the radio again.

Skytrain, Shoemaker, I am transmitting number in 3…2…1.”

I press the “transmit” button on my computer’s modulator. I am treated – if you can call it that – to a squeal and a burst of static as my cargo and passenger manifests are sent over. After it’s done, I key again. “Over”.

Suddenly, the lights around bay 3 turn red.

Shoemaker-1, this is Skytrain. Wave off. Wave off. Turn nine-zero port to co-align with Skytrain’s course. Do not engage your main engines. Escorts are being dispatched now. Out.”

I quickly reverse my RCS thrust to bring Shoemaker to a stop, then pivot as fighter craft come out from the unmarked bays along Skytrain’s length.

Looks like today’s flight won’t be as routine as I had thought.

Image Credits: Andree Wallin.

Server configuration changes

Be aware that I am migrating some of my services to a new configuration.  This may cause issues in connectivity to my site.  This shouldn’t take too long, and most users shouldn’t even see any issues.

That being said, thank you for your patience.

Looking for a few good patrons

I’ve been trying to think of a way of saying this without sounding like a bit of a beggar, but I’ve given up.

Hosting a website isn’t free.  Improving my writing isn’t free.  Unfortunately, these are facts of life.  And, since writing is a part-time thing for me, I need to be able to justify spending the money on sharing it.

Enter Patreon.  They enable crowdfunding of artists (as I like to jokingly call myself), in order to allow us to continue creating content.  This allows for me to pay for things like web hosting, editorial services, and other things related to writing.

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A Rude Awakening

I woke up to the sound of the general alarm. The first thing I noticed was the difficulty I had moving. Apparently, they’d killed the gravity generator for this drill. The mess deck was lit by dim red lights, but I had adjusted to those long ago. As I floated out of my rack space, my half-engaged brain heard the PA announce “Emergency stations! Emergency stations!” No reason given – must be a general exercise.

The alarm repeated as I grabbed my uniform, fought to get into it without gravity’s aid. Next was my emergency respirator. A quick glance at the gauge showed me a green indicator, confirming two hours of oxygen.

I got out into the flats and noticed flickering lights. This was new. It’s then that I noticed the odd pitch of the engines. While I’m not an engineer, I’d lived aboard Slipdagger that I know what she should sound like. That wasn’t my partship though – someone else needed to worry about that.

I got to my station with the Emergency Repair Team. Someone was on the headset already. His respirator mask made it impossible to see his face, and I couldn’t see his name badge. I gave him the thumbs-up; and watched him mark me down on the roster. I suited up the rest of the way and started checking the toolkits while the rest of the team filtered in.

“Five minutes,” called the PA. “Ship is at emergency stations.”

I looked at the rest of the ERT, floating around the shop. A few had managed to get footholds near the edges of the room, but there were too many of us. Of course, the latecomers always got the best seats.

“D’you hear there, this is the Captain.” We all looked up at the PA speaker. “During the transition out of hyperspace, we had a power surge on the main generator. Fires were put out by rapid response and damage is being assessed. Damage control priorities are the restoration of power and navigation. This is not a drill.”

From the back of the room, I heard the comms guy. I recognized Mike’s voice. “Dispatch a team to forward navigation. Complete loss of systems.” Immediately I grabbed my tools. I waved to the command section, making sure they saw me. The supervisor gave me a thumbs up, then indicated an apprentice to join me. We headed out of the shop and forward towards the navigation space.

As we headed out, I took stock of my companion. He was new – this was his first cruise. The white stripe on his rank flash showed that he hadn’t even completed his ship’s orientation.

“Do you know where we’re going?” I asked the rookie.

“More or less. I’ve gotten a basic tour of our spaces, but that’s about it. I’m afraid I won’t be much use to you for troubleshooting.”

Great. I was saddled with a rank amateur. I hoped that the problems would be simple.

When we got to forward nav, my hopes were dashed. The door was vacuum-sealed. I grabbed the phone beside the door and dialed the net-access code. I heard the tone brief tone indicating that I had joined the ERT party-line, then someone speaking.

“…ilizers and gyros are bent. I’m getting some stock numbers. Hopefully, the binrats have some parts for us.”

“This is After ERT, roger. HQ did you copy?”

“HQ copies.”

“Forward copies.”

I took advantage of the silence to announce myself.

“Forward nav on net. Reporting.”

“Forward ERT, go ahead nav.”

“This is forward nav, we are unable to enter the gyro space. It indicates vacuum-sealed, and I can’t see the equipment status.”

“Forward roger, we have just received reports that forward nav is non-responsive because it has been blown out. Do not attempt to breach the seal, that room has been lost to space. Return to ERT.”

Damage reports continued to come in, but they were pretty disheartening. We didn’t have the parts to repair the after nav system, and the salvage team didn’t get much out of forward. The captain stood down emergency stations since there was no purpose in us staying on high alert. In fact, he ordered a stand-down of all personnel not required to get us back on track. Unfortunately, as one of Slipdagger’s navigation system experts, I had a few long days ahead of me.

Eventually, we got some equipment together. The result is shoddy-looking. It’s held together with duct tape and prayers, but we hope it will do something. The captain and the ship’s navigator have had a look at it, and they agree that they can work with the limitations of what we have. Basic stabilizers to keep us level, but no computer guidance. They retreated to their cabins to pull out pencils, papers, and calculators.

Tomorrow, we will find out if my repairs worked.

Image Credits: Siddharth Tailor.

The Wrong Afterlife

Prehistoric hunters take down a mammoth

The last thing I remember was lying on the ground in the rain, hearing the sounds fade away as I got colder and colder. Then, I saw the light. I went towards it.

I was expecting to find myself in front of St Peter, or at least some other judge of my soul. I was disappointed when, instead, I found myself in the middle of a jungle. I caught occasional glimpses of others around me, but nobody solid. Other ghosts passing through here, maybe?

I decided there was no use in staying here, so I start to walk in a random direction. I got lost several times going around the trees.  Since I didn’t know where I started, there didn’t seem to be much different. I heard a roar like I’ve never heard before. It wasn’t a big roar; in fact, just the opposite. But as small as it was, I could feel it go through me, along with a primal terror. I ran, then found myself running into the only solid person here.

He was a big man. Not a tall man or a fat man, but a big one. Solid muscle, covered in hair. He wore only a simple strip of woven material over his shoulder.  It seemed to be more utility than modesty, as it held spears to his back but covered nothing.

He looked at me and grunted. Then he shook his head and turned toward the roaring sound. That’s when I saw it. It looked like an elephant but was much smaller and hairier. Almost like…a miniature mammoth?

I looked around and realized the truth. Heaven wasn’t created by modern man, it was created by the first men.

I’ve lost track of how long I’ve spent here, hoping to find my way into a more modern heaven. I’m sick of mammoth steak (even if it cooks itself as soon as it’s killed), and I’m not much closer to having a conversation with Gronk. I can’t even kill myself to move on to a different heaven. Believe me. I’ve tried.

Image Credits: Sedeslav.