Recycle Page 55

CCC entries not made into blogs yet:

CCCThemeWordcountNew OCVotesRankingRating
062Survivor2,000?4*2ndM

*2 regular votes, 2 second-choice vote (special situation due to Imp's passing)

Inherit the Earth

We had been in space for eight weeks, and in that time had orbited the earth eight hundred ninety-six times. We had been waiting for our payload to come into range for most of that time. There were four of us; two crew and two scientists. One was Ruby Quartz- a geologist, meant to get a closer examination of the payload- a vaguely glowing hunk of space rock about the size of a Volkswagen Beetle- before we took it into Earth's atmosphere. The other was Xavier Teck- some kind of radiologist, there to find out what gave the rock its luminescent quality. There was Takeo Shot, my co-pilot and chief troubleshooter who to his dismay had spent a lot of our time in space chasing one troubling gremlin after another. And there was me- Peter Salt- captain of this tub, and with my hands in a little bit of everything.

Once the asteroid was close enough it took us only four revolutions to capture it with the arm, and bring it into the shuttle's cargo bay. It was a tense six hours, but we finally had it. Xavier couldn't determine what sort of energy was causing the asteroid to glow. It was spiking all of his meters for energy output, but flatlining the radiation meters. Ruby made her examination, and confirmed that the rock was comprised of extraterrestrial materials. So yes it came from space, and no it wasn't making any of us sick.

I radioed Mission Control. "Houston, we have acquired, examined, and secured the payload, and we are ready to set course for home. Over."

The com squelched, and Houston answered, "Roger that, Clayton. Fire thrusters and angle for reentry into Earth's atmosphere. Over." The squelch was just a sound effect that Mission Control added into the now-digital transmissions. Completely unnecessary, but it was tradition, and it played well to anyone watching it on television.

With a smile, I said, "Way ahead of you, Control. We are ready to come home. The Clayton will begin reentry in twelve minutes. Over."

"Copy that, Clayton. We'll be reading your instruments' transmissions until you hit the atmosphere, and then there will be three minutes of radio silence as you pass through the blackout zone. Over."

"Confirmed, Control. This is Clayton, ending transmission as we prepare for reentry."

"Godspeed, Clayton," answered control.

I turned the com off, and spoke into the shipboard mic, "Well? What's the first thing everyone wants to do when we get home?"

Shot answered first. "I want a burger. No- three burgers. If I have to eat one more MRE, I'm going to lose it." He smiled good naturedly as he knew that no one was a fan of our meal packs.

"I'm going to sleep for a week," chimed in Teck. "This crate's had me on call danged near twenty-four/seven. I'm due for some downtime."

"I've had enough of this space rock," answered Quartz. "I just want to set my feet back on terra firma and enjoy the solid ground."

"Ah, Quartz," I said, pointing out the window, "How can you choose solid ground over that?"

We were all silent for a minute as we took in the wonder of the Earth coming into full view.

"It is beautiful," Quartz finally agreed, "but what use is looking at it, if you don't get to enjoy it for yourself?"

"Amen to that, sister," answered Teck.

"Amen to that," agreed Shot.

I smiled, and whispered into the com, "Amen to that." Then checking the reentry clock, I said, "Alright, everyone strap in. We are four minutes away from reent--"

I was interrupted by the blaring of warning klaxons.

"What the devil?" asked Shot.

"Something's shifted the payload!" I barked. "It's come loose and is bouncing against the bay doors! If they come open, we won't live through reentry!"

Shot grabbed a wall, and pulled himself towards the cargo bay. Gliding weightlessly, he called back, "I'm on it!"

"I'm right behind you," called Teck, repeating Shot's maneuver.

The Clayton began to shimmy hard as we approached the atmosphere. "Make it quick, gentlemen! We are two minutes thirty from reentry! Houston! We have a problem!" I barked into the radio.

As I filled in Mission Control, Teck and Shot were in the bay. "Quick! Grab the lifelines!" shouted Shot. Both men clipped into the lines that would keep them tethered to the ship if the bay doors came open. No sooner had they done that when the doors buckled under the onslaught of the loose payload. "The arm!" called Shot. "Grab the payload with the arm!"

Teck quickly manned the arm's control, and managed to grab the rock with the claw. Then the doors gave way, and the vacuum of space pulled against everything in the cargo bay. Almost instantly, Shot was pulled out of the ship to the full length of his tether. The control arm was wrenched at an odd angle, and was almost fully extended out of the ship. Teck had managed to hold onto a handle next to the arm's controls.

"Reel it back in!" called Shot. "Reel it back in, or we are lost!"

Teck tapped the controls, but the arm barely moved. "It's twisted!" he shouted.

"Do it manually!" shouted Shot over the com. "Those doors have to close!" He began pulling himself in by the tether, but was moving slowly.

Xavier found the manual controls. It was difficult due to the arm being twisted, but he managed to winch it back into the bay.

"One minute to reentry! How's it coming back there," I called.

"Close the doors!" Shot commanded.

"You're still out there!" shouted Xavier.

"Close the doors!" repeated Takeo.

"I'm not leaving you out there!" Teck cried desperately.

"It's not your choice," answered Shot, and then he unclipped his tether, and tumbled backwards into space.

"NOOOOOOOO!" shouted Xavier.

"Thirty seconds!" I called.

Xavier took a deep breath and hit the button to close the doors. He watched Takeo tumble farther away from the ship until the doors finally shut.

Then we hit the atmosphere. Mission Control was still barking out questions and orders as we hit the blackout zone.

"The cargo bay is closed, Captain, but the doors were damaged by the payload! I don't know if we can do this!" called Xavier.

"Keep your head and get in here!" I answered back. "Where's Takeo? I need him up here now!"

"He...he didn't make it," was Xavier's quiet reply.

"Quartz! Get up here!" I barked.

"Me?" she said fearfully.

"I need help on the stick!" I shouted. "If we don't get this nose up, we are going to start burning really quickly! MOVE!"

Quartz sort of drifted, sort of fell into the seat beside me, and grabbed the co-pilot's stick without bothering to strap in. She pulled for all she was worth, and I pulled with her. It seemed like forever as the nose pulled up, and we could hear ceramic tiles peeling off of the underbelly and slamming into other parts of the ship. We were feeling the heat, and I have no idea when we started screaming. The ship shook violently, but the heat finally started to die down, followed by our screaming, and then the radio crackled back to life.

"Mission Control, this is Clayton. Do you read?" I said into the mic as calmly as possible.

There was no answer.

I checked the readouts and repeated, "Mission Control, this is Clayton. Do you read?"

No answer.

"Houston?" I said into the mic a little less calm, but trying to hold it together so I didn't freak out Quartz and Teck. They were only scientists, after all. They had trained for this mission, but weren't astronauts before this. "Houston, this is Captain Peter Salt of the Clayton. Come in, please."

Nothing.

I checked the readouts again, and pointing to our GPS, I told Quartz, "We're on our own. You see that red star?"

She nodded.

"That's our landing strip. We have to make it there before this fancy plane runs out of fuel and turns into a fancy rock. You're going to call out the numbers from that readout there," I said pointing, "and I'm going to land her. Okay?"

She nodded.

"Your voice, Quartz! Use your voice!" I barked, trying to keep her focused.

"I heard you!" snapped Quartz. "I read the numbers, you land!"

I nodded. "Good. Teck? Where are you at?" I called into the com.

No answer.

"Teck!" I barked.

Nothing again.

"Ahhh, crud!" I fumed. "We'll have to figure that out later," I told Quartz. Start reading the numbers."

Quartz read, and I flew. It seemed like an eternity, but was only minutes until we were on approach to our landing in Texas. "Dangit," I said through gritted teeth.

"What?" asked Quartz anxiously.

"Our front landing gear is jammed. Maybe damaged by a tile coming loose. Maybe fused by the heat of reentry. I don't know. We're landing with just the back wheels," I said in frustration.

"Can we do that?" Quartz asked. She sounded almost calm.

"We don't have much of a choice," I said as we descended. "We are on approach and low on fuel. We can't make it to our secondary landing site, and if we could we'd still have the same problem when we got there." I sighed deeply. "We're landing here. Ready?"

Quartz said, "Like you said: I don't have much of a choice."

We looked at each other, we nodded, and I glided her in. The ship shook as the back landing gear touched down on the runway, bounced, and touched down again. Then the nose dipped and crashed into the tarmac, and we skidded hard until the ground grabbed the nose hard, and we spun horizontally out of control. There was nothing to do but hang on for dear life, and that was the last thought I had before the ship slammed into something violently, and I blacked out.

I don't know how long I was out, but I woke up leaning against the harness of my flight chair. I guess if rescue crews hadn't swarmed the shuttle yet, then I hadn't been out long. I looked to my right, and was horrified to see Quartz through a hole in the shuttle wall, lying in a heap outside on the runway. The trail of her innards told the tale: she had apparently been impaled on her flight controls, then ripped away from them violently by the crash. I could only stare numbly. Finally, I whispered, "At least you made it to terra firma, Quartz."

Hearing no sirens or voices, I struggled out of my flight restraints, and made my way back to the cargo bay. Through the window, I could see the charred remains of Teck who had apparently burned on reentry. The payload sat inert, not even glowing. "Poor devil," I muttered.

I made my way off of the shuttle, and was greeted by... no one. Not a single soul. No rescue crews, no news choppers, no radio transmissions from Control. Nothing. And what happened to this facility? The buildings were in clear disrepair, and the runway was cracked, and the cracks full with weeds. Further down the runway, I saw a wing, and what had made us spin. A tree! Growing right in the middle of the cracked runway! How in blue blazes?

I walked the distance to the Mission Control Center, and found it unmanned. TV's showed only blue screens if they worked at all. Computers would boot, but their clocks showed only zeroes rather than an actual time. I finally found one that was hooked to the satellites monitoring the Earth and objects that might interfere with vessels in near-Earth orbit. They showed the same story the world over- deserted. I accessed a satellite's clock which was solar powered; date reading 2460. How had I landed over four hundred years in the future, and what happened to the people?

CCCThemeWordcountNew OCVotesRankingRating
057The Black Envelope473?13rdE

The young man opened his mailbox and saw the ominous, black envelope addressed to Noah & Juno Hu. He turned it over in his hand several times on the way back into the apartment, and stood at the breakfast bar looking at it for a minute, before his wife looked up from the couch and saw the concern on his face.

"What is it, Noah?" she asked softly.

"I...I'm not sure," he said with some concern. If they were back in Chinatown, they both knew what this would mean. But here? In Larsen? He exchanged looks with his wife one more time, and then grabbed a knife from the silverware drawer. As he opened the envelope, he breathed a sigh of relief and laughed. "HA! It is only an invitation to your sister Wanda's fortieth birthday party!"

"Psht!" said Noah's wife, laughing with relief. "I've lost count, but I'm pretty sure she counted thirty-nine a couple of dozen times!"

"Now, Juno," cautioned Noah. "You should be nicer to your sister. You know she is not that old. Forty is hard for some people."

"Not for me!" Juno said happily. "I'm gonna be thirty-nine forever, baby! That's eighteen and twenty-one, all wrapped up in one package! That's cute little ol' me!" she cheered with a giggle.

"Oh ho, is that right?" laughed Noah.

"You better believe it," she said with an I dare you to say otherwise look. "Y'know what? C'mere."

Noah smiled as he crossed the living room. "Yeeess?" he said with a smile as he leaned on the back of the couch looking down at his petite wife.

"No, I meant down here!" she said as she jumped up and wrapped her arms around his neck, dragging him over the back of the couch and on top of her.

They laughed and tickled and kissed for a long minute, before Juno put both hands on his chest and stopped. "You don't think she'll invite...you know...do you?"

Noah lost his smile. "To invite her would only invite trouble. Surely your sister would not do such a thing?"

"I hope not," pouted Juno. "I don't like that ginger harpy."

Noah pursed his lips for a moment, contemplating his wife and this new possibility for the party. "Best not to let it upset you. I think that even your sister could not hold a grudge for that long. She invited us to the party, right?" he said, kissing his wife gently.

"Hm," she hummed. "Well. You're probably right. It would only ruin her big day."

"Yes. One a couple of dozen years in the making," smiled Noah.

Juno couldn't help smiling back. Then they laughed. Then they kissed. For the moment, they forgot the black envelope and its invitation altogether.

***

The young, red haired woman looked in her mailbox and saw a black envelope.

CCCThemeWordcountNew OCVotesRankingRating
053Sableye's Escaped!!2,556?41stT

Escape Through the Nexus

Nim heard two gunshots outside of his apartment. He jumped up to turn off the lights, then went to the window.Nothing out there but forest, he thought to himself.

Then a weird flame lit up the woods, way inside. It shot across a space, and then something darted across it. A short scream followed, then something indistinct he couldn't make out through the glass. Silently, he clicked the lock off, slid the door open, and stepped out onto his balcony, moving to the corner that was cast in shadow. More gunshots followed, then more flames, and then that something again, followed by a weird roar.

"Sableye's escaped!" he heard from the darkness.

Escaped from what? thought Nim. There's nothing out there. Or there's not supposed to be. I better look into this.

Stepping back inside, he went to his bedroom without turning on the lights. Ambient light from the moon allowed him to navigate well enough, and what he was looking for was always in the same place. While the single shots now gave way to machine gun fire, he tightened a belt, tied the holsters attached to it to his thighs, and then checked the guns. Fully charged. He Velcroed a star shaped metal badge over a patch of the same shape on his chest, and then grabbed a duster hanging on the door hook. Putting it on, he slid his feet into his boots, and checked to see that the anti-grav heel units were charged. Making his way back out to the balcony, he swung himself out over the rail, and descended lightly to the ground, a couple of floors below.

He made his way into the woods, and tapped his belt buckle to enable the force field. No sense getting shot by panicked shooters, he thought. He'd only gone about a hundred meters into the forest when a handful of men came sprinting towards him, shooting wildly behind them. He stepped to one side, then stuck his arm out, catching the first two in the chest as two more ran by. They fell hard to the ground, and then he grabbed the next one that came within reach; a babyfaced male. "What's going on here?" demanded Nim.

"Ranger!" cried the young man, wild eyed. He then looked over the ranger's shoulder, eyes wider still. Nim crouched suddenly, jerking the man down with him, then spun his leg outwards, catching the man's two companions again, sweeping their legs out from under them. Drawing one of his guns, he pointed it at them and said firmly, "I'll ask again: what is going on here?"

The two men put their hands up in front of them, and one of them said, "Sableye's escaped. The danged thing is trashing the camp!"

"'Camp?'" repeated Nim. "What camp? These woods are empty!"

The second man on the ground shook his head. "It's tesseracted. We're guards. They bring us the Nexus' worst."

Nim made a face like he'd just got wind of something foul. "What the hell are you talking about? There ain't no Nexus prison 'round here! I would know!"

The young man spoke up, "You're not supposed to know." Nim looked at him. "It's the best way to keep these prisoners' locations secret," he said.

"Look out!" one of the others shouted.

Nim looked at them, and they were looking behind him. Throwing the babyface all the way to the ground, Nim ducked himself, and looked up just in time to see a vaguely humanoid creature bounding at them on all fours, gem-like eyes gleaming in the moonlight. It growled, leapt, and went right over their heads, disappearing into an oval shaped void of energy.

Looking to the young man, he said, "Sableye?"

The young man nodded.

Looking to the other two guards for more information, one of them shrugged, "Don't look at us. We only detain. Youare the ranger."

Nim tilted his head at them with some frustration, then leapt to his feet. He took three running steps, then threw himself into the nexus.

***

There was a brief head rush, and then Nim was tumbling out of the nexus. He rolled to his feet, coming up with his gun. "Nexus Ranger!" he shouted.

A bald man with a mustache had Sableye pinned down- one hand on the back of its neck, one on a leg, and a knee in its back. Looking at Nim, he simply said, "Heironymous. Secret Service. This yours?"

Spotting the badge on the man's belt, the ranger said, "I promise you: this is out of your jurisdiction."

"You don't say," the man said dryly, looking bored.

Just then, Sableye swiped a hand backwards, throwing his captor off to one side. It made a face, then yowled, and then exploded. Nim's force field kept him from harm, and once the dust cleared, he saw that the agent was also unharmed, although his clothes were in tatters.

"I hate when that happens," said the agent.

Nim looked around quickly, and spotted another nexus against the wall. "Sorry 'bout the intrusion," he said as he broke into a run, and leapt through the portal.

"No real harm done," Heironymous said as the nexus closed. Then, looking at his clothes, he said, "Hmph. I'm going to be late for dinner."

***

Nim rolled to his feet again, and then was immediately thrown to one side as the floor pitched to one side. Slamming into a wall, he saw the Sableye fighting with a tall, hairy humanoid which was howling its anger as it fought.

"What is that thing?" shouted 'Tar.

"I have no idea!" Drom shouted back. "But put it down before it destroys the Eagle! Tubacca! Quit playing with it!"

The creature gargled a protest, and then threw Sableye at a bulkhead. Instead of slamming into it, another nexus opened up, and it slipped through silently, sticking out its tongue as it did so.

Getting to his feet, gun in hand, Nim started to steady himself when 'Tar shouted, "Drom! Blaster!"

"Got it! Hang onto something!"

'Tar and Tubacca did as commanded, and the ship rolled sideways. Unprepared, Nim sailed backwards, tumbling through the nexus like an open window.

As it closed, a small explosion rocked the ship. "I am really tired of getting fired at today," Drom said quietly.

***

Hitting the deck in a full sprawl, Nim looked up to see a large man with a mace fighting the Sableye. Then he heard, "And what manner of man are you?"

He looked to the bow of the ship where the voice came from, and saw a tall blonde man that was apparently in charge. Before he could answer, the Sableye came screeching towards him. Ducking instinctively as it leapt, he rolled to see that Sableye leapt over the rail, but he didn't hear a splash. Scrambling to his feet and heading for the rail, he was suddenly jerked backwards by a powerful hand. "Finnrick asked you a question!" growled the man with the mace.

"Hold, Manjaro," came another voice. A man with a falcon on his arm approached from the stern, and pointing at the ranger's chest, he said, "See? He wears a symbol similar to Heironymous."

"I am still not convinced that was Heironymous, mage" spat Manjaro. "Even a dragon could not live that long."

Snorting at Manjaro's assumption, the mage turned his attention to the ranger and said, "I'm Ulrich. Are you friends with Heironymous?" he asked.

Thinking of his first trip through the nexus, he answered, "We've... met. My name is Nim." Looking to Manjaro, "I'm chasing the creature you were fighting." Then looking to Finnrick, he said, "I must be after him now."

"Go," Finnrick said without hesitation.

Nim ran to the rail, but stopped. "No!" he cried. "The nexus. It's...gone."

"I can help you with that," said Ulrich. Gesturing calmly, a mist reached out for Nim, enveloping him.

As he disappeared, Nim complained, "Aw, not magic. I hate magic."

Ulrich stared towards the dissipating mist, and answered, "That's probably why it affects you like it does."

***

A puff of mist heralding his arrival, Nim doubled over and threw up.

"Another intrusion?" said a booming voice. The ranger wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, then looked up to see that it belonged to a gigantic red bird with four yellow eyes, sitting in the biggest tree he had ever seen. Under one of it's massive claws, it had the Sableye pinned. Or it did until a nexus opened up underneath, and the Sableye fell through. The bird stumbled slightly as it's foot slipped through as well, but it drew it out of the nexus just before it closed. "Hm," it said as it looked at the bottom of its foot, checking for the Sableye. Seeing nothing, it looked again to Nim, and said, "And who are you?"

Nim stood up slowly, hands drifting instinctively to his holsters, making sure his guns were still there, but he did not draw. "I'm chasing the creature that just disappeared from under your foot. The Sableye is a fugitive," he said. Direct explanations were often best when jumping dimensions.

The bird's top set of eyes smoldered slightly, but it said, "So go after it while you are still able."

"Thank you," Nim said respectfully, "but... how? The nexus closed behind it."

"That branch, there," came a voice from behind him. Nim jumped with a start, and turned to see a furry creature pointing to a low hanging branch. "You are the biggest squirrel I've ever seen."

"My name is Ratatosk," said the squirrel. "Get to that branch before Toucan the Terrible changes his mind."

Hearing the bird's name, Nim looked to him cautiously.

Eyes still smoldering, Toucan the Terrible said, "You should listen to the tree rat."

Wasting no time, Nim jogged over to the branch and jumped up to catch hold. Pulling himself up, he stood and walked in the direction that Ratatosk pointed. The branch climbed and curved steeply, and Nim followed it until he reached the end. "Now what?" he asked aloud, looking out into the black void.

"Jump," he heard Ratatosk's voice echo from below.

With no real alternative, Nim did as he was told. The inky darkness swallowed him up, and he was gone.

Looking a few branches up towards the bird, Ratatosk said, "You know I don't like it when you call me that, Sam," he said.

The bird's smoldering eyes lit up brightly, and two beams lanced out, reducing the squirrel to a pile of ash. The four yellow eyes narrowed, and the toucan laughed cruelly.

The ash shifted, and Ratatosk rose from the pile, shaking the ash from his fur. Glaring at the bird, he said, "I don't likethat either."

Toucan the Terrible threw his head back and laughed loudly into the darkness.

***

Throwing up, then picking himself up off the ground, Nim spat, then said, "Magic again. Yuck."

The yowl of the Sableye drew his attention. It was clawing at a man's arms as the man attempted to choke it with his rumal. The man wore a turban, had a mustache similar to Heironymous', and a gleam of murderous intent in his eyes. Drawing one of his guns, Nim aimed and announced, "Nexus Ranger! Let the Sableye go!"

Just out of the corner of his eye, Nim spotted a woman walking through the wall, guns of her own trained on the man in the turban. "Phansigar!" she shouted "Time to... what the devil?" she said in bewilderment as she saw the Sableye.

Nim drew his other gun and pointed it at the woman. She in turn trained one of hers on him. Dressed all in white, she looked every bit the ghost that her entrance had made her appear to be. "Who are you?" demanded Nim.

Before she could answer, a blue flash distracted both of them. They looked towards Phansigar and the Sableye, only to see the creature leap through a nexus. The turbaned man spun his rumal around his head, and let it fall around him, disappearing also. As he did so, his voice echoed from the ether, "Another time, Woman in White!"

Staring in disbelief, she looked to Nim, the only other person left in the room. He looked back to her, and said, "I'm afraid I have to be going too, ma'am, but if you don't mind me saying so, you're beautiful." And with a wink, he ran for the nexus and jumped.

The Woman in White drew her arms back slightly now that she had no one to aim at, then holstered her guns. "I will find you, Phansigar," she said quietly.

***

Landing lightly on his feet, thanks to his anti-grav boots, Nim shouted, "Nexus Ranger!"

"About time!" shouted Solomon Seal as he shifted to mist to avoid a swipe from the Sableye. Reforming on the other side of the room, he said, "Take care of this thing, will ya? It throws fire!" A blue fireball erupted towards him as if to prove his point, and he misted away.

Nim fired at the mist, and the Sableye looked at the ranger with confusion, not sure why he had fired at his opponent. Taking advantage of the distraction, Nim fired at the Sableye, wounding it and knocking it backwards. Before it could recover, he reached in his pocket, and came out with a pokeball. Throwing it, the ball captured the Sableye, the creature yowling in protest. Walking over, Nim picked up the ball and pocketed it.

Punching a button on the hilt of his gun with his thumb, he fired at the corner of the room, and a return nexus lit up. Looking to the vampire, Nim nodded and said, "Sorry 'bout the disruption." He then walked into the nexus.

Walking in just in time to see the nexus flash closed, Jeanine Fairchild cried, "What in the world is going on here? Solomon?" Looking around at the mess, she exclaimed, "My office!"

Solomon sighed deeply, and looking at the now empty corner of the room, he said, "Don't worry, boss. I'll get it straightened up."

***

Landing easily back in the woods where he started, the babyfaced guard was still there, waiting. Looking at Nim a bit awkwardly, he said, "They told me I had to wait. I hate being the new guy."

Reaching into his pocket for the pokeball, he handed it over to the guard, and said, "See if you can keep it secured this time."

The young guard nodded sheepishly, and said, "Thank you, Ranger...?"

"Name's Nim. Roderick Nim," answered the ranger. "You can call me Rod. Most call me Nim."

The guard nodded. "Thank you, Ranger Nim." Hefting the pokeball, he looked at it as if he couldn't believe all the trouble it had caused, and assured the ranger, "I'll make certain this gets back where it belongs," and he turned to go.

Nim called out, "Hey! I didn't catch your name!"

"Need to know," the guard called back as he waved over his shoulder. "You don't," he said simply as he walked away.

"Hmph," said Nim as he watched the guard wander into the woods. "That's gratitude." Then he turned to head back to his apartment. "I do the legwork, he gets the prisoner. Shoot."

CCCThemeWordcountNew OCVotesRankingRating
048Space Adventurer955?51stT

Ringo Saturn and The Vault of the Heavens

Io Jupiter is the galactic equivalent of a grave robber. The only catch is that she has no problem creating the graves herself if it gets her what she wants. Me? I guess you could say that I'm a grave robber too- I prefer treasure hunter- but I like to go about it naturally rather than lethally.

My name is Ringo Saturn, and right now, Io and I are on the trail of the same treasure: The Vault of the Heavens. In all of the galaxy, there's nothing like it. The legends about it are many, but there's one saying about it that persists from solar system to solar system; planet to planet:

  • It holds doom for he who tries to take it for himself.
  • It holds wealth beyond measure for he who would allow himself to be last.
  • It holds hope for all that live, for generation upon generation.

I haven't really worked out the meaning yet, but whenever something like that survives time, it bears paying attention to.

At the moment, I don't really have time to dwell on it. Io sent her mercenaries after me, and they came in with blasters blazing. I've been stuck on this dustbowl of a moon for a day-and-a-half now, holed up in a derelict asteroid miner's cabin while the mercs make Swiss cheese out of the entire structure. Fortunately for me, whatever prospector built this place decided to tunnel his mine from his kitchen floor. So when I jumped under the table for cover, I fell into a deep, dark hole, clear of the blaster fire, but still in reach of the coffee, thanks to my ring.

Oh yeah, the ring! It belonged to a former Radio Cowboy. Maybe the first- I haven't made time to figure it out yet. It works in conjunction with a badge and gun, all of which the cowboy was buried with. It's been one of the best finds I've ever made- saved my hide a few times already. It has a pretty decent AI incorporated into it, but it's mostly informational. Meaning it's not exactly like having a friend on a road trip, but it will tell me all sorts of things if I ask.

The badge is shaped like a five pointed star- some connection to ancient law enforcement on a planet in another solar system that we supposedly all came from. I don't know if I believe in that or not. I haven't found any evidence to refute it, but I haven't found any to support it either. Either way, the ring generates an energy field that absorbs solar radiation to stay powered. The badge draws a charge from the ring, and generates a force field around the wearer, even keeping in an atmosphere in space. I made it into my belt buckle. I haven't wanted to test the limits of that so I use a spaceship whenever possible- The Starbolt, aka The Saturn Starbolt.

The gun is just a gun, except that the ring can be focused through it when necessary. Among other things, the ring can generate energy blasts, but it takes concentration that someone in a firefight can't always generate. So at those times, I can use the gun. It draws a charge from the ring too, but if I hold the gun in my ring hand so that the ring is on the grip, it's basically unlimited ammo. At that point, it's just point and shoot. Kind of scary to say about a gun, but good to have when you need it. It's designed to work with the ring so that if the Radio Cowboy is ever disarmed, the gun won't work for anyone else for very long. With the right command to the ring's AI, it can be shut down altogether.

As I said though, it's powered by solar radiation. Right now, I'm on the dark side of the moon, I've been firing back from the mineshaft all night, and the charge is getting low. It's when a merc's blast shatters the coffemaker that I get an idea. "Ring! Your charge is sustained with solar energy, correct?"

"Affirmative," the ring answers.

"Is it strictly solar energy, or can you charge on other fuels?"

"The ring was designed for solar absorption based on that being the most likely source of energy in space. However, any energy source can be converted to power the ring."

"Yes!" I cheer. "Ring, form a field around the mining cabin!"

"This will strain the ring reserves to dangerous levels. Badge field may be compromised."

"Form the field around the cabin!" I shout back. "Absorb the blaster fire!"

"Complying." An energy beam lances out of the mineshaft, and envelopes the cabin. The blaster fire intensifies, and after a few minutes, the ring simply says, "Fully charged."

I kiss the ring, and say, "Get us to The Starbolt!"

"Complying." Suddenly I'm flying out of the shaft, the energy field knocking the table aside, and then punching a hole in the roof. I fire at the mercs as the ring flies me back to the ship, and their blasters continue to charge the ring. We're soon out of their range.

"Wahhhhoo!" I shout. "I could get used to this!" We fly straight into the boarding bay of The Starbolt, the hatch closes behind us, and I am soon in the cockpit and firing it up. We're in orbit in no time.

"Okay ring, time to find Io Jupiter," I mutter.

"Location of Io Jupiter unknown."

"We've really got to work on your language interpretation. You are way too literal."

"Interpretation function fully operational."

"Case in point," I mutter again.

Io Jupiter, here I come.

CCCThemeWordcountNew OCVotesRankingRating
035Zombies1,053461stT

Most cultures have some version of zombie lore, but most know the movie zombie: a herky-jerky walk and warning moans that would allow anyone to get away easily. Shambling, emaciated monstrosities that hunger for human brains. Well, I can tell you that the movies are partially right- they hunger for humans, period; not just the brains. They get to be shuffling, decaying monsters if they don't eat often enough. On a steady diet of human flesh though? They look just as human as you or I. How do I know this? Because I, Atsan, am one. Because I know where the zombie came from. It's a curse- the curse of the windigo.

The curse is simply this: you resort to cannibalism, you turn into a windigo- what you know as a zombie. All that mythology crap about thirty foot "ice giants" with red eyes, or comic book white sasquatches? Bull. It's just this: you consume human flesh, you become consumed by the need for more, and more, and more. And you'll want more, because for every person you eat, you gain their vitality- their strength...understand? You eat ten men, you gain the strength of ten men.

It's intoxicating. Like any intoxicant though, it doesn't last. It's fleeting. It's also debilitating. That's where the movie zombie comes in. The longer you go without eating, the harder it gets for you to move. You become stiffer and stiffer, and you start to decay, becoming more akin to what you've undoubtedly seen in the movies. Keep eating regularly though, and you keep passing for human, and you can continue to move among them freely. I've been doing that for some time.

You don't believe me? You don't think this could possibly happen without people knowing? They do know. They just have a problem containing it. Because the curse is unknown to most, some have unknowingly spread the problem. Those rumors about the mafia owning hot dog factories where they dispose of unwanted bodies? Truth. So there are an awful lot of people out there that have consumed the evidence for them.

There's something about not knowing though...or maybe it's that the human meat is diluted with animal meats and animal byproducts...but whatever the case, if you don't knowingly eat human flesh, the curse is delayed. You are still consumed with that gnawing emptiness, but not knowing what it is, you chase all of your desires, always wanting more and more and more, and never feeling fulfilled. When you die though, that's when you rise from the dead and become something much more like the movie zombie. Still not knowing what it is you need, and hindered by the rigor mortis from dying, not to mention the embalming fluid replacing your blood, you shamble along in jerks and fits and starts, instinctively looking for the human flesh the curse demands.

I know what you're thinking though: "I call B.S.! Everyone has eaten a hot dog before! How come we don't see more zombies walking around?" Right? Well, that's just the problem, isn't it? Most everyone has eaten a hot dog before, so we have no way of knowing who got the mafia mystery meat that will bring the curse down upon them. Why do you think we use embalming fluid? To preserve bodies? Really? A mixture of solvents is going to preserve a body? You buy that? It's to further hinder the mobility of a resurrected windigo, to make them easier to catch and dispose of. Burial vaults are called "vaults" for a reason. It has nothing to do with "keeping the ground from settling in the graveyard." It's to keep windigo from clawing their way out of the grave. You have no idea how many zombies have spent years upon years beating against their burial vaults, trying to get out.

The problem for the willing cannibal turned windigo is hunting. How do you find that steady supply of human bodies without people growing suspicious? You have to put yourself in the right place. Some of the windigo I know are medical examiners, eating John and Jane Doe. Some are graverobbers, haunting pauper graveyards, or just digging up the freshly buried and replacing the vault (because they do keep the ground from settling, you know). Yes, yes, windigo can eat other windigo to survive. It's not as good, but it does the job. There's other ways too. The homeless. Runaways. Hookers. Gang bangers. Hospitals for the less fortunate. War zones. Being a paid assassin. There's a good one! Get paid to eat others and keep your own life going!

Then there's my favorite, and it's the one I just happened to be able to take advantage of. You become the head of a state run orphanage, contracted out to a corporation like mine. It's the perfect buffet. Unwanted children that birth parents want to forget, and the world generally wants to pretend don't exist. Yes, we have to let some get adopted, but there's so many ways to cover up a meal- "They ran away from the orphanage!" Or "They died in an accident," or "...of a sickness/ sudden illness/ unforseen medical condition." They "get adopted" by phantom paper parents, or best yet- they "age out." Kids that have mostly reached their full growth potential, so have the most meat on them, are still incredibly vital, and having aged past our need to be responsible for them, are "released into the world," and are no longer my concern to account for. Those are the best meals. And they have kept me fed formany years.

The state loves the Atsan Association's Atsan Orphanage and Home For Wayward Children. They think we are very well run, and very efficient. They're encouraging us to expand our operations, becoming a charity with branches all over the country. I think it's a lovely idea. I've suggested that we could help with local homeless shelters too. We've even offered to open halfway houses for paroled convicts. They're very excited to have us participate. The eagerness to take the financial burden off of over-stressed government resources practically comes off of them in waves.

For myself, I can hardly wait to taste what other localities have to offer. I'm positively watering at the mouth, just thinking about it. You, in the meantime...enjoy your hot dog.

Stories Based on Songs Entries not made into blogs yet:

SBSSongWord CountNew OCVotesRankingRating
001(Writer's Pick)*4874n/a**1st***T

*I picked "Black Velvet." **Mine was the only entry, so I won by default. ***A win's a win. ;)

Black Velvet

A knock came from the front door, and the tall, ebony woman placed her book on the table next to her wing chair. Reaching in a drawer, she withdrew a nine millimeter and approached the door silently. Standing to one side, she placed the barrel over the peephole, and in a rich voice with a hint of French, she asked, "Who is it?"

"Ms. U'tra?" came the answer. "It's Sally. Mrs. Flowers sent me."

Still pointing the gun through the peephole, she opened the door halfway and said, "Miss Mustang? I wasn't expecting you today."

"I wasn't expecting to be here today either," answered Mustang, "but Mrs. Flowers said her need was quite urgent. And Ms. U'tra, I've told you that you can call me Sally."

Opening the door fully and waving Sally in with her gun, she walked towards her kitchen, and called back, "When we know each other better, I shall, but if it makes you more comfortable, you may call me Violet."

Stepping inside and closing the door behind her, Sally walked as far as the living room, and stood waiting. "But would it make you comfortable?"

From the kitchen, Violet said, "As far as is in my control, I do not allow what makes me uncomfortable. People know my stage name of 'African Violet,' so please: 'Violet' to you." Coming back into the living room with two cups of coffee, she handed one to Sally and said, "So why has May sent you? She has been my employer for several years, but our understanding has always been that my free time would be mine alone. What is so urgent?"

Finishing a big gulp of her coffee, Sally shook her head slightly. "I don't know really. All she said was to tell you that she has need of 'Black Velvet.'"

Violet stiffened slightly. "'Black Velvet?' You are certain this is what she said?"

"Well, yes, but--"

Taking Sally's cup, Violet sat both cups down on an end table. "You should have led with that. We are wasting time."

Sally was taken off guard. "Well, I--"

Violet reached behind her, brought her gun out of her waist holster, checked it, and said, "Is she with you?"

"Yes, out in the--"

"Let's go," said Violet, steering Sally towards the door with a hand on her shoulder.

They left and got in the front of a black Lincoln Continental. "May," Violet said politely. "It is time?"

"It is," answered May. "Sally, we're on the way to see Amanda Coney."

"Candy Girl?" she asked.

May made a disapproving face.

"Sorry," said Sally. "It's how I've always known her, but I don't know why she got that name."

"Because it's appropriate," said May scornfully.

"How so?" asked Sally.

"Because like candy," said May tiredly, "everyone gets a piece."

Sally stifled a laugh as they pulled away. Violet smiled slightly while staring out the windshield.

Bonus:

Before I went with "Black Velvet," I was going to go with "Black Magic Woman." The idea was that this woman transformed men into statues through black magic. This was all I had of that before deciding to change songs:

Black Magic Woman

She had made a name for herself as a sculptor of some of the most lifelike men ever seen. Not just hardbodied David's or Adonis's, but men of all body types- tall, short, fit, fat, full bodied hair, bald, young, old- she didn't seem to have a preference. They were most often nude sculpts, and while their lower halves would show various states of arousal, their faces were what caught the art world by surprise. Pleasure, pain, joy, anger, and even fear.

SBSSongWord CountNew OCVotesRankingRating
003The Legend of Wooley Swamp357612nd?

I really phoned this one in. After picking the song, I waited until I was really close to the deadline to write the story. I rushed something out so Imp' wasn't the only entry, and the votes showed it.

The Legend of Wooley Swamp

"It was right around these here parts that three young fellas beat down ol' Lucius Clay, tryin' t'get money th' ol' coot had buried in his backyard. Legend has it that they didn't even get past the house before quicksand sucked 'em all down. An' ol' Lucius can still be heard on stormy nights, laughin' like a demon, an' lookin' for his money."

"Oooo," mocked a redheaded boy with freckles. "Scary. Scoutmaster Jim, where did you find this guy? Ghost stories in the middle of some mosquito infested swamp? There's really a badge for this?" he complained.

"Oh, the badge isn't for the ghost stories, Roger. Or the campfire. Or for setting up camp. The badge is for treasure hunting. And that story that Ol' Pete is telling ya has everything to do with it, because it is Lucius Clay's money that we are gonna look for."

Roger looked a little green. "The 'laughs like a demon, an' lookin' for his money' Clay? That guy? Wh-why would we wanna do that? I-it probably doesn't even exist." The other boys in the troop murmured their agreement. "Do... do we have to?"

"Now, come on, Roger, buck up!" chided Jim. "You're not some cubs on their first outing! You're Eagle Scouts! If we find the money, we prove the legend true, and we turn it over to the county museum. If we don't find it, then we practiced some campfire safety, and we call it a fun weekend."

"Well, I guess. S-sure," Roger agreed hesitantly. "We can handle it, can't we guys?" No answer came. "Guys?" Still no answer. Roger looked behind him, and found no one there. "G-guys?" Turning back to Scoutmaster Jim, he found nothing but Ol' Pete, tending to a barely burning campfire. "Sc-scoutmaster Jim?"

"Oh, th' swamp done take dem," said Ol' Pete. "Still t'ink y'can handle it?" And then Pete laughed, and laughed, and laughed.

Roger screamed, turned to run, and hadn't gotten five steps before he fell into the quicksand.

And then he woke up.

"Man, I hate that dream," said Roger as he climbed back into bed.

That's it.

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