Karen headshot

By Karen Cole

Author: “Tom Paris”
Ghost Writer: Karen Cole
Word Count: 12,500

Surely, this was the bravest possible thing to do…I saw an attractively shiny and elegant black surface, the only one of its kind. It drew me closer, pulling me straight forwards with its seductively sweet blasphemy. I stroked the smooth, polished machine, pleasuring myself, as if anticipating something wonderful. What could I say to it? It knew me, but I didn’t know it…

Then my memory said it was a hyper-dimensional resonator, easily
connectible to a space-time modulator for the necessary power boosting, which uses a tesia coil to generate the zero vector. The HDR, both invented and built by the legendary genius Steven L. Gibbs, of course, only moves one a few years in time either way, without the STM attached to it. You could make big money off the stock market, but so what?

I sucked in my Spartan guts, knowing the combined force of these two technological wonders could move me centuries into either the far-flung past, or the omnipresent and surely ever-darkening future. What would I find, what would I seek or would seek me, if I went either way?

My shaking hands connected the two, the glowing electromagnet overheated, and there was a blinding flash of light with a loud POP! I bilocated. My mind and body swerved into two directions as the POP! lingered, not redly volcanic like a firecracker, but sucking small, like a mysteriously vague blue balloon.

Violent waves of dizziness and nausea overcame my entire soul. I knew I was going somewhere real but otherwise, as the whole room spiraled over my exploding head, as my limp body slumped to the multi-colored parquet floor.

*********************************************************

I arose, looking wildly about everywhere at everything, but there was an obvious view port straight ahead of me. And people! It dawned like a starburst that I was onboard an alien spacecraft, clearly orbiting the planet Earth, or so it seemed. Wow, whose side was I on, now? Everything was dark inside, but there were small track lights everywhere, lending a soft, velvety ambience to the environment. The spaceship itself was clearly gargantuan, resembling an overdeveloped version of the Queen Mary, or a similar luxury cruise liner.

It was nearly identical to what we had on Earth before…I could sense a presence behind me. I felt a hand clutching my shoulder. I wheeled, expecting only the worst. For I could see clearly, in spite of the eye-protecting light. Now my time had surely come!

“What are you doing here?” inquired one of the crew, and somehow I just knew it was the ship’s main navigator. Stammering with all the excitement I could muster, I almost screamed aloud every minor detail of how my time machine worked. But then I shut up, realizing they must already know all about it.

“Surely, you’ve studied what Gibbs and I accomplished!” I cried, as the gentleman nodded in an offhand manner, looking more bored than anxious.

“Look, I’ll make a deal with you,” the ship’s main navigator said in complete English, speaking a tongue perfectly appropriate to my own century and locale, right down to its regional Arkansas accent. “If you help us fight the Draconian Empire for one prescient year, we will take you home.”

“HOME?” I screeched into his smiling face. “Home?” I said, suddenly realizing the repercussions of my actions. However, I had no real family, back there, always being an alienate in my own time, stuck perpetually in another’s place.

“But I just got here! I have so much to learn from you, if I’m not so retarded that I can’t understand anything, next to you people!” I had immediately begun ingratiating myself, apparently. The main navigator chuckled, clearly amused, and then became serious. He seemed almost to know what my next question would be.

“Please, can I stay here onboard your ship, and live here with you? I’ll be no trouble, honest!” I stopped short of begging, but had already done so, and held up my hands in prayer to the main navigator.

He suddenly “tsked,” as though what I’d said had been highly inappropriate, anyway. As if what I had blurrily stated held some deeper contextual meaning, like what was supposed to be an ad on a cereal box had already memorized my credit card number. Back and forth, I had slid into a totally fluxing place, one with a constantly realigning, strange new divisional meaning.

He nodded, indicating an answer to my many questions and long-withheld desires to lead a happier life. “Okay, our traveler from both the past and the future. If you vow to Yahway you will stay with us for one single year, we will give you the most appropriate, wonderful, and splendidly possible of all permanent wives.”

This sounded quite peculiar, yet so fetching! Unsure, and promised a way out of perpetual loneliness, it was all I could do to not nod, but my head moved joyfully and expectantly by itself into a firm, and patently normal, yes!

*********************************************************

The main navigator took me to a good old-fashioned cafeteria. We had an extremely nutritious soup and salad, and I gratefully devoured sliced and peculiarly tasty turnip greens with green kale, onions, tomatoes, and peppers. I saw some vegetables I could not recognize, and devoured them all summarily!

Yet, there really was nothing unusual or alien-looking about the soup, merely a thin beef broth with onions. The main navigator slowly explained that this was a minor “punishment,” the idea being to keep us going and guessing. I could tell something was ahead of me, something that would require my full attention, and all my wits and resources. I was so excited!

But the main navigator solemnly handed me sparkling and Puritan-era silverware, obviously made out of undyingly treated pewter: a knife, a fork, and a spoon. This he did to explain the time-factoring. I had already eaten. By the time I finished again, we had “elaborated” the factoring, and I was finally in one piece, permanently established in the time zone I had entered.

Imagine, all this done in the midst of a cafeteria meal!

Ikonor was the main navigator’s name. He was a Kel, one of a highly specialized warrior race of astonishingly tall blond soldiers, virtually created to fight the evil reptilian Draconians. I did not need it explained to me that the Draconians were universally repugnant slavers, from a constantly invading other planet. The Kels were always looking for men of valour with heroic courage to continuously fight, and to most probably perish doing so, these Dracs. I was ecstatic; my mission in life had been found at last! Was I tall enough, was I brave enough, was I real enough? Of course! But surely this was not to be.

For Ikonor gently took me aside, and walked me for seemingly miles to a tiny little crew cabin buried deep within the labyrinth of the huge ship. And he left me there, to rot in blind ignorance.

All that night, I dreamed of death, and where it might lead. To
nowhere, again? Was this to be my perpetual fate? At least I could see all the twinkling stars from my tiny porthole.

Upon the brightest one, I wished to have my supposedly promised wife for exactly one night, just one night alone, and that I would make it the most magnificent night she could ever experience. And I prayed that my wife would be truly a woman, and that in spite of my rampant indecision, that I would truly always be a man, though that way could clearly only lead in one direction.

Then, thanks to a melatonin gas steadily entering the room, I fell asleep on the small bed in deeply exhausted comfort, oblivious to all my fears, hopes, and fickle dreams.

*************************************************

Strangely enough, the next day I was not led off to die. Nor were we anywhere near the planet Earth, which greatly excited me. When we arrived at my new home of Zambawa City on the planet Calarian, I was stricken like thunder by its sheer, raw, unbridled beauty – a world of statuary, of a blazing golden green and all other colors, richly stark virginity beyond compare, constantly changing to the flickering lights of a carefully and respectfully kept illuminated darkness.

It was just like San Francisco used to be when you entered her at night, the brilliant sparkling skyline drifting majestically into view, all the beckoning myriad lights of an unsurpassable distance. I was finally going to live in it forever, or so I wished to myself.

Arching like a vanguard above me was a robin’s egg blue sky. The pollution of darkling clouds of any nature was gone, and the air smelled so fresh and clean I instantly gasped lungfuls of it, like a hungry shark gulping fish. Huge and sprawling coniferous forests swallowed the obviously distant and soul-beseeching mountains, with receding and comfortably well-placed small towns in the valleys, spaced expertly between the spreading meadows and available flatland greens.

I thought I saw a magnificent scientific laboratory observatory, off to the left. Zambawa City, as we entered its sweetly downtown area, was packed with small and curvingly graceful round domiciles, and wide open tree-lined cobblestone streets. I suddenly thought of them renaming it “Sleepless City,” due to the ever-present domed brightly twilight sky.

Ikonor had already explained to me how the past, merged neatly with the future, had simply left our people motionless, giving us a way to stay stable in time. He did not blame any of my actions for the presence of the Draconians, none of which were in sight anywhere. But the destructive nature of their presence permeated the whole area, full of many signs of death, down to the very structuring of the buildings.

They had left scars on the people of the town, scars on the sidewalks, scars on each building’s walls that could be seen by all awakened eyes, many other than mine. Everything was designed to be a shelter in a storm, beautiful, but stonily and deathly silent.

The tallest, most strikingly artistic structure in the peacefully lit and overwhelmingly sunny downtown was a huge oxygen generating tower called the “Big Southern Belle.” The O-tower made the planet habitable by all the Kellian people.

They needed air blended with concentrated 30% oxygen, in contrast to the 21% oxygen that humans like me needed. Having been told that much, I could not understand what I was doing being alive at all, then laughed aloud, realizing that I would be automatically “high” on oxygen for the rest of my existence in the alluringly splendid city! Possibly, it would build up my muscle and stamina, to prepare me for what lay ahead. Everyone looked very well-exercised, and someone would surely hand me the equipment, the encouragement, and the time that I desperately needed. I had completely accepted whatever challenge would
come before my new people, whatever idiocy would continuously menace and evade me. I would live and die defending us, wife or no wife.

*********************************************************

No longer the main navigator, Ikonor was now apparently my personal trainer. He presented me with the sparest of small utility apartments, where everything was completely within reach, and all was systematically appealing to the senses. My refrigerator was waist-high, like I was back at college. The stark-white walls, however, were weirdly clean of artwork, or any other adornments or ornamentations.

Just as I reached out to touch what looked like an old black telephone from the late 1800’s, it rang, and I picked it up. Ikonor said all of my preliminary training had been performed in advance, and coughed loudly into the receiver. Instantly, the entire wall in front of me parted neatly like the Red Sea, and I saw all that I ever needed to know or do displayed on a wide screen, with full surround sound.

It was stupendous, awesome, a terrifyingly prolonged Drama of War, a brutal conflict stretching into its frozen, lingering totality.

Much to my surprise, instead of packing me off to boot camp, Ikonor, now the Kel Commander, handed me a huge ray rifle and put me immediately on the front lines of yet another planet. It was barren and deserted, full of the vast unknown. I looked wildly about for mercy, saw none anywhere, and randomly shot my first “Being of Vast Importance.” The Red Sea merely parted again; he sprawled in meaty profusions at my very feet, one pile of very exploded lizard dung.

Each morning was new, each day was a Drag. We were all herded into the humungous flying space buses in vast multitudes, to fight this weird race of 15-foot reptilians; they were seemingly the most subhuman monsters, the kind with a choice which “we” Kels could never have. Our Yahway-given duty was to fight and die while attracting the other Kels, or so I figured. Both sides at first seemed to be grotesque demons straight from the nether bowels of Hell; but then I noticed only one side was scaly all over, like idiotic mini-dragons, with radiation-emitting eyes that could blind one permanently.

These malevolent creatures could only cause utter despair and hideous circumstances wherever they sojourned. I could not feel sorry for them. I couldn’t ever see things their way. They were sheer, raw, unmitigated evil. Our incredible and eternal job was to destroy them all, before they destroyed all of us.

The ugly lizards fought stupidly but fiercely, using their laser rifles, supplied by Yahway-Knows Who Else, to poison our eyes mostly. Every night was fit for laughs about your life, for the terrible lizards even possessed invisibility suits. How could we ever win? How could I even so much as live another day?

I often checked for foot and tail prints, to see if Dracs were around. Most of my time was spent out in the open without shelter, either getting rained on, or being broiled like an Arcturian lobster under the wretchedly dry and consuming vast summer sun of the awesomely desert planet Tory’s war zones. For this is where we fought our battles, in a mutually agreed-upon No Man’s Land.

Howsoever, the race of Kels always treated me as one of their own kind. Every moment with them was nice, complete, and alluring. I was always their total equal. I swore to give my life solely for them. They made me feel I was home, unlike the elder planet Earth, where people knew I was nothing but shit. I was happy to risk my life, even my afterlife, for all of them!

I began learning to speak Kellian, a very elaborate language, similar in style to ancient Sanskrit, with great difficulty. Most of the Kels just used English with me, or something very like it. The vast majority of my time was spent avoiding death and trying to bring it to the Dracs. Once I had bagged three of these monsters, the Kel Supreme Commander, Traxis the Great, held a conference with my Kel superiors. Thanks to Ikonor, now a dear friend, whose life I had saved on more than one occasion, a major decision was made regarding my circumstances. Although technically I was supposed to have killed ten Dracs and to have spent one hazardous year on the front lines, probably to be killed while fighting, Ikonor had discussed my especially alienated selflessness and attainments with our High Command. It was decided to give me my dues, a good, faithful wife and a brief time off, quite a ways ahead of schedule.

My daredevil attitude, where I would bravely scream aloud to attract all available Kels to my side, helping us kill more Dracs with sheer teamwork, had attracted this special attention. The High Command would give me an actual person, a wife, and a small newlywed’s two-bedroom apartment; my dreams of ecstatic pleasure had come true!

It was incredible to me that I would be receiving a life-long partner in the same way that my Dad had given me a puppy dog when I was a kid. What about her feelings, I wondered vaguely to myself; for I did not want to lose this opportunity to mate with the sophisticated, sociable, and highly moral race of Kels. Surely, this was the epitome of a short life and a gorily circumspect death, serving a worthwhile society even if only briefly, gratefully breeding new warriors for this tremendously important struggle between our radically different two empires. I could only imagine what a vastly superior beauty my wife would turn out to be, and dreamed of her every single day I fought. And I finally managed to kill my ten Dracs, right on schedule.

*********************************************************

All of my wildest possible visions were fully realized! Her name was Ikanya, which means “faithful to the end” in Kellian. She was over 7’2″ tall, built like a spartanly strong and rawly proud Olympic athlete. She embodied the physical incarnation of total perfection, sweet as honey dripping from a bending tree; she possessed a smooth, milky white peaches-and-cream complexion that was glowingly radiant. She smelled of flowers after the spring rains, and her stride was more graceful and delicate than that of a balletic prima donna’s.

She had been bred for an especial perfection of womanly purity and size, bequeathing the best of health to all our warrior offspring. Her loosely flowing mane was the purest of finely spun gold webs; her eyes were pools of azure blue, gigantic in size next to mine. She was so huge, but always kind, loving, and compassionate when it came to serving me with anything at all. I fell deeply in love with her the instant we met. It was an inner fire that burned us both, a growing flame kindling with our every touch. With one single angelical kiss our inmost passions ignited, sparking the pursuit of our marriage’s eminently fated infinite excellence.

Ikonor told me one thing, however, which only made me more overjoyed: the penalty for ever hitting my wife, or even so much as yelling at her, was instant death! In a broken combination of English and Kel, I whispered, “I accept this fair and just fate!”

Ikanya, who was more than worth it, simply always understood me. She had studied Earth’s history pertaining to my time, which was the main reason she had been paired with me. I, however, was given one mere month to learn the Kel language with her, and to experience our honeymoon, a brief time off where I did not have to kill and die, for one sweet and lingeringly luscious moment…

We spent my off-time in our spacious, luxurious, and well-appointed living room, mostly. It had a continuously shiny linoleum-like floor, which Ikanya never needed to clean, with real old-fashioned wooden furniture from turn-of-the-century France, and a holographic television planted in the centre of the room, surrounded by the usual walls that slid away to reveal command controls for any instructions I would need regarding our new life together. One of the bedrooms was the master, of course, with a larger than king-sized bed, well-suited for our mating rituals; but the other bedroom was smaller than a tiny shoebox. It simply awaited our first blessed and naturally planned arrival, which elated both me and my wife’s very souls’ essences.

I had certainly found my place, if it could ever last.

Ikanya, so knowing about traditional Earth sustenance, prepared an easy meal of spaghetti and meat balls the very first night in our new home. She knew every custom of my territorial birth, taking my small hands into her large and feminine fingers, and looking deeply into my overflowing eyes. When I reached up to kiss her, she blossomed like a lily-white rose, and I murmured softly that we should proceed upstairs and begin to fulfill the expectations of our society, and our
deep love for one another.

In a voice full of honeyed mischief, she said, “Okay, sweetie, whatever you wish.” We casually strolled up the winding, compactly circular staircase, to the master bedroom. As she laid her gorgeously large body down on the bed, I slowly peeled the soft cottony socks off her gargantuan, yet blithesomely female, feet. Suddenly, she stared up at me, frightened as any virginal child.

“Please, don’t hurt me,” she moaned, afraid, yet truly womanly and totally seductive.

“I could never hurt you. I love you more than life itself,” I whispered gently as I massaged her velvety-soft and spotlessly clean rose-pink toes. I need not relate the sanctity of our pure love-making; our kisses alone were surely envied by the cloistered winged minions of heaven itself. I know it sounds corny, but it’s true!

When I awakened the next morning, my wife’s gargantuan form lovingly sprawled across my achingly spent body, I dreamt to myself of my supremely good fortune. On Earth, I had fretted about getting fired, losing my house, my car, and even my girlfriend, from not being able to keep up the hectic pace of day-to-day occupations. But here on the planet Calarian, I had virtually nothing to worry about. Ikanya, ever-faithful, would never leave me, for the Kels always mate for life! I would have a faithful wife and a steady job, and very close and decent friends, until I died virtuously from a just and unusually conscionable war between morally divided eternal equals.

Nothing would make me feel lonely and unwanted, ever again.

*********************************************************

Upon the next blissful morning, we feasted on an old-fashioned breakfast of eggs and toast, lovingly prepared by Ikanya, who in the middle of our meal began showing me the various foods and naming them for me. “You must learn our Kellian,” she softly breathed into my rapt ears. Touching an apple, she said the word for it was “tochan.” “Hobi” was the word for bread, and “juzzot” meant melted butter, as smooth as my wife’s velvety warm skin.

After a time of whiling away the hours happily with my wife, she began teaching me the Kel’s history. I learned they were originally from Earth, as I’d long suspected, from the lost continent of Atlantis, before the Great Wars between many different fighting peoples had nearly destroyed our two planets.

All of a sudden, seemingly from nowhere, my wife looked intently into my eyes, which were gazing at her with unspeakable love. “You’re part Kel!” she announced loudly, to both of our amazement.

“Huh?” I haltingly asked. “Are you sure?”

“It’s in your eyes. Our people were scattered during the Great Wars.” I guessed she was probably right. Ikanya, an award-winning student of ancient Earth history, knew all the generals of the ancient Roman Empire, and often compared me to the heroic Marcus Aurelius. I would always quote him to her, while we made our briefly blissful love:

“How quickly all things disappear, in the universe, the bodies
themselves, but in time, even the remembrance of things.” But I knew I would never forget our brief time together, even beyond my death and utter obliteration.

We went outside a lot together, to enjoy and cherish the beautiful city we were protecting and repopulating for our monumental fight. One day we sauntered out of the apartment, strolling down the cobblestone streets of Zambawa City, locked ritually hand-in-hand. We happily found a lovely verdant meadow, cheerfully blown by the wind, with a gurgling stream running through it.

We both took our shoes off, and began wading until we were waist-deep, and wonderfully cooled off, a most magical moment indeed.

Hours later, Ikanya and I sat on a small marble bench as we searched the heavens for the awesomely potent and available stars. There were millions of them, but sad to say, no readily apparent moon.

“Do you miss the moon?” Ikanya inquired, in her lovely sibilant and sylvanly sweet voice. “Yes,” I replied, burying myself in her soft embraces. “I wish we could be together under a silver moon, forever, not just a few weeks.” My wife smiled broadly as a river, while a meteor shower flashed a spectacular show overhead.

“Make a wish,” she tittered girlishly. “You have that expression, too?” I muttered into her smooth neck. “Yes, it’s old hat with us,” she sweetly sighed, so versed in our old expressions.

I put both arms around my wan, winsome, and somehow petitely glowing girl, and we slowly walked home, going to bed, gamboling playfully as we always did, and falling asleep locked in each other’s embrace. Under the twilight streaming in through the skylight, I gazed upon the gorgeous face of my queen, wondering how she would look under the old-fashioned, delicately pale streaming moonlight of Earth; that light would be able to precisely capture the diaphanous glow that always seemed to radiate from her austere, yet childish features.

There was something ethereal about my wife’s face; it held mysteries about Earth and my new planet that conjured up visions of boldly spiritual places and far-off wonders to come that I would surely get to behold, someday, and soon.

Unless I simply died – first.

*********************************************************

The next morning, Ikanya gave me her family’s greatest and most
treasured heirloom, an old Terran music box. Its singing was so sweet that it brought tears to my eyes as I held it. The box was fashioned of antique burnished rosewood, with brass cylinders and myriad bells all working in perfectly refined unison.
`
I gazed at my wife through a hazy, grateful blur. But suddenly, Ikanya was crying too, enormous tears running down her reddening face. What had I done, and would I receive the death penalty for it? I richly deserved it, to have made my wife cry so. I asked her what was wrong. “It’s only because I love you so much,” she stammered.

That was always her way. She had a fabulous gift for selfless compassion, and cared solely for my well-being, constantly. She held a sweet, forbearing kindness, and a gift for love I have never seen in any other living person.

The month flew by like a single summer’s day, and I was back on the space bus, sent to fight with the constantly oncoming Dracs. It was truly the most boring of work, standing in the hot sun with nothing to do, only more sad and gray days on the battlefield. Overwhelming black clouds drooped near the horizon, affording some shade, and beckoning a terrible thunderstorm that dropped sheets of scarlet rain, drenching me to the bone.

Cold and shuddering as I was, I knew that if I survived, I’d soon be embraced and held in the warm and loving bosom of Ikanya, my truest reward for being a heroic and valiant warrior. But it seemed forever and ever before the space buses finally gathered us all up, and ferried us swiftly home.

Ikanya slowly peeled off my soaking wet uniform, as my frozen and aching form huddled near her. “I’m cold,” I chattered through my teeth. Ikanya simply said, “Don’t worry, we’ll warm each other right up!” And we immediately began to do so.

*********************************************************

Each morning was the same routine. Ikanya gave me a huge kiss, handed me my lunch, and I went out to catch an aging space bus. These ancient flying contraptions from earlier days rattled in flight when full of people, and took us all far away to the planet of Tory, where we had managed to relocate the raging war between our peoples. Over the course of immeasurable time, we had lost many brave and lusty warriors, including our Captain, our Troop Commander, and my dear friend Ikonor. His loss grieved my heart most greatly.

Our new Troop Commander, Zykor the Magnificent, named me our new
Captain, assigning me the job of piloting one of the old space buses. Its controls were written in ancient Kellian, and were difficult to read, but I slowly eked out their meaning; the lettering looked like scribbles, scrawls, and loop-de-loops, which Ikanya translated from my hasty scrawls, brought home at the end of the day. Ikanya was always my lifesaver, my guide to everything mysterious and Kel.

As the weeks wore on, the battles became high-pitched and feverish. I was forced to crawl on my belly through a mucky and brackish swamp, swarming mud flies eating me alive, worse than the sweat bees of old Earth. They would sting me right in the eyes, big and mean things that they were, just like the damn Draconians.

Thoughts of Ikanya flooded my mind constantly. She was more holy and pure than a church’s sanctuary, a true womanly vessel of sacred honour and right. In spite of the pressing need for battle, we attended church regularly, once a week, for the Kels were a very religious race. I often thought of mortality and what it meant, seeing and experiencing death every day of my sure to be brief life. I thanked Yahway each second for my wife and continued existence, day after tiresomely lengthy day, night after serenely blessed night.

One typically sweat-drenched, mind-numbing afternoon, I heard a peculiar grinding noise, and froze like a naked statue. An odd-looking machine was making its way towards me; I finally recognized it as a remote recon ‘droid of the Dracs. I shot it down, realizing there must be more Dracs nearby. I brought my squad together in a huddle, and told them, “Men, the Dracs sent their toys out to do their dirty work; keep your eyes open, and be alert!”

Out of nowhere, thousands of Dracs arrived. My men were being cut to pieces, and after an hour of heavy fighting, most of us were wounded or dead. Moans and screams of the lost dying filled the air. This was duly recorded as the famed Battle of Carmoosh, where many valiant warriors died, including my Troop Commander Zykor. Right there on the field, I was summarily named new Troop Commander.

A raw recruit, a mere twelve-year-old boy, as we needed even these youngsters in our hard-pitched battles, told me right there on the red-soaked battlefield that he wanted to bag his ten Dracs, so he could get a wife before he died. Dripping sweat, looking over a nearby ridge, I saw a swarm of at least three large oncoming “bugs.”

“Can I take ‘em?” asked the boy. “Have at them!” I screamed. “But be sure you know what you’re aiming at, not our men!” As he shot his ray rifle, far away to the horizon, black clouds of dusky smoke filled the sky with an odor of burning rubber. Firing their lasers, the Dracs blinded the boy in one eye.

He screamed out his rage and protest. It got even harder to see, as the smoke from distant fires blocked even my vision. “Do you have a pair of binoculars?” I begged of the boy, having lost mine. “Of course I do! I’m just like anyone else!” But the faded, fuzzy images on his nightscope could have been anything…disregarding my feverish precautions, as the voluminous smoke cleared, the boy fired.

I heard his abject screams of horror, frozen in time and space, too late. He had exploded the chests of three of our best men.

We carried his limp body over to an instant military tribunal, where it was decided that although he had meant no harm, an example needed to be made of him. He was found guilty, and executed very painfully by firing squad. This was indeed a dark day for the Kels. But a new boy was instantly sent out to replace him, a much nicer and more cautious lad, of twelve years also.

I felt a swiftly growing concern that so many youngsters were dying in this hideously prolonged war against the Dracs. But the new kid only told me the same thing: he wanted to kill his ten Dracs quickly, and snag his promised wife. So I decided to give him tips and tricks on how to fight the beasts.

“Dracs wear invisibility suits, so you have to scout out signs of their presence. Look for bending blades of grass, large dirt and mud trails. And remember, Dracs always travel in threes, so if you shoot one, shoot all around it for the other two. It’s the only way you’ll survive. Finally, Dracs use chemicals and lasers, so remain behind your head shield at all times, no matter how hot it gets. You can see infra-red around a live Drac when it’s turned on.”

After this speech, and several weeks later, the new kid, whose name was Virkon, had slaughtered his ten Dracs. Ecstatic, he jumped up and down, hugging me with a man’s strength. His fortitude had paid off well. The Kel Central Command gave him a beautiful, innocent little twelve-year-old girl, who wore dazzling, virginally white silken robes, with her golden hair flowing freely over her narrow shoulders. She had smoothly pearl-white skin, flawlessly glowing teeth, berry-plump ruby lips, and starkly pure blue eyes that radiated kindness and virtue. She was an absolute angel, almost as lovely as my Ikanya.

Her name was Bellayette. She strode bravely up to Virkon and breathed with words like pure air, “I am so fortunate, for I get to marry a courageous warrior.” Virkon simply and boldly said, “I am surely the lucky one, here.” When he came back from his one-month honeymoon, he was not the little boy I’d known before. He was truly a man, respectfully full of “Yes, Sir!” and “No, Sir!” but expecting to be treated the same as any other man. He told me, “I thought being married would be wonderful, but I had no idea how magnificent it was until I kissed my Bellayette. She is the kindest, sweetest person in the entire endless universe.”

I pounded him soundly on his back, and cried, “Welcome aboard, proud warrior!” He asked me, a broad grin stretched across his face, “How’s it going with your wife, Commander?” I replied, “I have to be honest with you. There is no one who will ever come close to her, for everything she does is the best. For example, she performed an ancient medieval Japanese flower arrangement ceremony yesterday that almost rivaled herself in its beauty and modest perfection. You should have seen it.”

Virkon cried out, “Come by our place sometime, and we’ll see what my wife does!”

*********************************************************

I told Ikanya that we’d been invited by the newlyweds to eat at their new apartment. “Perhaps we can bring them a little gift,” she gently suggested, and produced a crystalline ball of pure glass that refracted all the kaleidoscopic colors of an overarching rainbow.

Yet, I thought I could see something looming dark and menacing, huddling secretly within the curious ball’s most hidden shadowy depths.

The very young couple cooked an awesomely appropriate meal for us, a series of little ancient Italian pasta dishes, antipasto, and three flavors of ice cream for desert. Ikanya helped Bellayette in the kitchen, and we four sat down to a most delightful repast.

During dinner, the kid asked me, “So how do you like it here? I mean, compared to ancient Earth, where you grew up.” I answered, “This place is ever so much better. It’s like an unearthly paradise. The Kels are the best; everyone is so friendly and helpful, ready to give his life to serve our valiant cause. Earth was terrible, with rivers like sewers, and oceans that were gigantic cesspools.” Virkon said he’d like to see it anyway. “You mean use the time machine? Trust me; you would never want to go there. It’s hopeless. Here, we have a majestic land, people we can be proud to be part of, and a real cause, worthy of our entire lives’ devotion. This is the place to be!”

Ikanya and I spent the night at their lovely apartment. We both felt happy to have made new friends. Soon, squeals of delight came from both their bedroom and the guest one where Ikanya and I frolicked, locked in a chorus of joie de vie.

There was no smoking or drug use anywhere on our planet, no casinos, bars, or dance clubs. There was no need for anything like that there. It was a great place to raise your family, though it could be a bit boring at times if it was not for the war raging constantly, and reminding us how precious our lives were. Alcohol consumption was extremely rare among the Kels, sort of a bow to the distant past. I was given a ration of one bottle of medicinal wine per month. I saved my rations for four months, and invited the kid and his wife over for dinner, having enough wine saved to fuel an army.

Yahway, did we ever party that night! We each downed one bottle, and sang and danced the night away. My wife pounced on the table, singing her lungs out, and the kid’s wife drunkenly joined in. Then from nowhere, the kid punched me out, and it was over. Everything spun around, then went black, just like before.

I woke up in the brig at military headquarters, with two angry Kels pounding on my chest and screaming at me. “Why did you get them drunk? What were you thinking, Commander? ANSWER ME!” Supreme Commander Traxis the Great was highly insulted by my behavior; his face was contorted into a mask of crimson rage. He told me my wife had been found naked in a ditch, totally covered with mud, and crying. The kid was found in a treetop, howling like a Wactovian monkey, and his wife had been captured by feral humans and dragged into a cave, where she was brutally and repeatedly raped.

They blamed only Virkon for the crimes, as the Kel’s policies on getting drunk had never been properly explained to me. A firing squad was immediately convened, as the poor kid had also struck an officer.

Me.

The Kels, who had always welcomed me as one of them, felt I had brought deep dishonor upon their people. They shunned me. My poor dear wife was sobbing uncontrollably, in a lot of physical and mental anguish over what the ferals had done to her friend. What were these ferals, I asked? The Supreme Commander told me they were human/ape hybrids created by the Dracs to demoralize and weaken us. Ferals could not talk, or even walk upright, but they could mate with Kels. Ferals lived in the hidden mysterious depths of dank caverns, only crawling out in the black of night to seek out any errant victims, arcanely stalking the dark penumbral shadows of our bluely domed city.

On the spur of our drunken night and the attack on Bellayette, Supreme Commander Traxis the Great decided to destroy all the ferals. “We’re going to smoke those devils out of the caves!” he screamed. And so we poured gas down every cavernous hole we found, and then exploded them with torches, setting the caves on fire like raw infernos. Angry, red, screaming ferals raced out, dazed, into the broad daylight. God, they were ugly! We simply shot them one by one as they came out. I ached to make them die slowly, for what they’d done to Bellayette.

I thought we’d got them all. But somehow, I knew otherwise.

********************************************************

For several months after the incident, Ikanya slept with all the lights on; the slightest noise would wake her up screaming in the middle of the night. Our nightly ecstasies were gone, tainted forever. Oh, well; I was usually so tired at night, anyway. I tried to get her to talk, but a Kellian cultural taboo kept her from ever telling me exactly what had happened to her. All I could do was longingly gaze upon her sleeping, restless form, nightly keeping watch, forever scarred by hideous guilt over my thoughtless and selfish acts.

But slowly, ever so softly, our lives began returning to us.

We men pressed on in the battlefield, warring constantly with the Dracs. And every evening I drove all of my squadron who were left safely home, leaving the bodies behind for the medics. It was all of a fifteen-minute flight, vast miles being travelable in mere parsecs by the rickety old buses, the very least examples of Kellarian engineering excellence. I knew when I got home I’d find her, my faithful wife, tearfully afraid I would not return, waiting for me. As I pulled the thing up to the space port near our apartment, she’d spurt like a track star joyfully straight to me, shouting my name aloud, her voice filled with excitement as she yelled, “HAYPAYPERRI-AH!” It was the most common of all Kel greetings, and the most endearingly loving one.

But a horrible day was soon to follow. My own mortality was drawing ever nearer, and I was nearly wounded by a special unit of Dracs assigned to kill me in particular. When I returned home, I was battered and bruised, but only happy to once again see my beloved. Ikanya immediately saw to nursing each of my cuts and bruises, while I vainly tried to assure her of my physical health. We hugged each other tightly, both knowing that one day, probably very soon, she’d never see me again.

Just as we entered our humbly peaceful abode, a SHRIEK! hit my ears. The piercing alarms of air raid sirens were signaling a direct Drac attack on Zambawa City! Huge Draconian bat-like ships swiftly materialized over the horizon, peppering our once beautiful and fertile landscape with rapid bursts of outspreading, voluminous fireballs!

Every building around us seemed aflame; all our scientific and cultural laboratories broke into enormous infernos, funeral pyres for everyone inside them. Hundreds of buildings exploded to smithereens. I couldn’t drown out the pitiful screams of my fellow noble Kels as they and their children were systematically burned alive.

The cremated centre of the city was now only flame and ash, pouring liquid metal out of the fortified steel like molten lava from an erupting volcano. Although the Kels had prepared for such an awful attack, apparently the Dracs had forged ahead with new technologies, and we only lay open and helpless before their horrendous onslaught.

A shrill hissing noise, the cry of a gigantic abandoned infant, filled my ears. The Big Southern Belle, our oxygen tower, had been blown apart, and was leaking out all our air supply! Horrifyingly, this would only feed the flames much faster, incinerating the city.

Meanwhile, I could feel the thinly oxygenated air deserting us, becoming weaker every passing minute. I was forced to gasp for what life I could keep. But what would happen to my oxygen-deprived wife?

Thinking fast, I forced her into an emergency hyperbolic oxygen chamber, concealed within a sliding wall in our living room. Ikanya needed much more oxygen to survive than me, a mere human. Her skin had already become bluely cyanotic; her breathing was forced and labored as the hypoxia worsened. I prayed fervently to Yahway, while the enclosed and carefully monitored pressure within the chamber slowly grew from two to four atmospheres. Alive and well, Ikanya smiled kindly at me as I gaspingly breathed what was left of the air outside the glass.

I stumbled outside, somehow managing to draw halting breaths. But the emergency evacuation procedures had already begun. I was forced to strap an oxy-tank onto Ikanya’s back, as the alarm system turned into a loudspeaker blare announcing the evacuation of the entire planet of Calarian. The oxygen production towers had been destroyed, not only in our decimated city, but everywhere in the Drac’s reach.

It was now time to leave. We wept as we boarded the buses.

My wife and I gripped each other, milling among the saddened throngs, whose lives had been shattered. Most had relatives, snuffed out by smoke and flames, or buried forever in deep and twisted rubble that had once been beautifully wrought fortified steel and concrete.

The Dracs had won. We had lost the war. It was all over.

While I muttered this to myself, a sobbing, dirty-faced girl wandered into our midst, tiny and lost in the teeming throngs, crying inconsolably about her dead mother. Ikanya, ever the comforter, even during this worst of all possible times, held her closely to her breast and rocked her like a baby, slowly calming her down.

All was insanity, but this moment was microcosmically precious. Two other little girls, intrigued by Ikanya’s motherly graces, drew near. We gently assured the crying girl that we’d keep her as our own, if she didn’t have any other family left. Then the two other girls began teasing Ikanya, pulling off both her shoes and socks.

“Whatever are you doing?” my wife asked, giggling timidly. Everything was just crazy, and now this! “I am a confirmed nibbler,” said one of the two girls, who were twins. She began sucking on Ikanya’s big toe, and the other one joined in. Ikanya laughed, quite relieved by this simple comic act, and hugged them both very hard.

It turned out the crying girl’s name was Mitalla, and the twin’s names were Chiaretta and Samayette. The twins were quietly whisked away from poor us by their relatives on the space bus, leaving us very bereft. We never forgot how much we’d laughed at their silly antics.

The space buses finally packed themselves in, huge fleet after endless fleet, arriving on the nearby world of Kumara, friendly to the Kel Empire. It had been carefully prepared for our arrival in the sad event of such an occasion, although we could not have anticipated the destruction of our entire planet, but the Draconians had already broken several war zone treaties; they simply invaded anywhere they wanted. Anyway, a spacious hostel system was organized, committees being formed in hours to assist loved ones in finding one another. Many people were forever scattered by this tragedy, akin to the olden time’s Great Wars.

As we stood in one of the largest hostel lobbies, a man surged from the crowd and tore the little girl my wife had claimed on the space bus out of her loving arms, crying, “That’s my daughter, let her go!” Ikanya instantly faded, like a rose losing its petals as it died. “I’m sorry. Here she is. We were only protecting her.” The humbled man took pity on us as he saw the heartbreak in our eyes. He reassured us we could visit them, once they had found their assigned quarters. The little girl cried again, struggling as she left with her daddy.

“We almost had a child,” Ikanya sighed, listlessly watching their fading backs as the noisy crowd swallowed them whole. “We will, someday,” I told her, trembling with a guilt-ridden rage, fearfully induced by the overwhelming commotion, sorrow and suspended reality of vast suffering, on a scale the likes of which I’d never experienced before, and certainly never would again. Or so I thought.

Somehow, it shocked me less that it took a mere twelve weeks for the planet Calarian to become basically habitable again. The Kels, with limited help from the Kumarans and others, simply descended on it in unstoppable droves, and we broke our backs restoring and upgrading Kellarian technology to its rightful place, exploiting any opportunity to make things better, safer, and longer-lasting. I was immediately assigned an enormous work crew, and we drove ourselves remorselessly, a struggle much more difficult than the battlefield had ever been.

Our magnificently crumpled, broken-down city came back to life again, as we slaved away like tireless dogs. The huge O-Tower was the first structure to be revitalized, with new materials engineering to make it more firmly proof against the Draconians. She was pumping out breathable oxygen, freeing my wife from her oxy-tank prison, as each factory and laboratory came back to life, repainted, shiny, splendidly sound, and virtually renewed. Even the scorched grass sprouted green new shoots, filling out as we formed fertilizer spreading teams by the hundreds, helping the greenways, plants, gardens, and even the burnt-out corpses of splintered trees sprout from their musty, dead stumps.

My life, honour, and sense of worthwhile purpose had fully returned, along with a renewed sense of deep humility. We frequently attended church, and always thanked Our Yahway. Hope hadn’t died, and the women and children were flown home, summarily. We all kept busy like ants in an anthill, repainting our restructured domiciles. Soon our small apartment was fully functional and back to normal, and Ikanya celebrated our grateful return by fixing us a meal of rare roast beef, mashed potatoes, asparagus, and chocolate mud pie. I felt great, but couldn’t shake a displaced sense of alertness, and constantly worried about the future. Wasn’t it unlikely to not happen again?

Twenty weeks after the unforgettable “Rain of Awesome Terror in the Skies,” or RATS, I was back in command on the front lines, glad to be fighting and killing the evil beings who’d wreaked such havoc and devastation on my beloved homeland. Meanwhile, the Dracs had not been idle. Another heavy attack had totally destroyed the mining, farming, and industrial planet of Ronson, in the Kellarian Empire’s incorporated Mutara Cluster. We slowly gleaned from unbelievably wretched but vital star system reports that we had only twelve planets left of an original galaxy-spanning empire of over fifty. And our own situation, though hopeful, was edgy at best. From the original Kel population of nearly one trillion people, less than fifty million survived the evil tragedy.

Though I kept busy fighting, daily worry became more prominent, riddling my head with fears. But our concentration on death was broken one day by the sudden appearance of an unreported small shuttle space bus. Thank Yahway, we didn’t fire, for out of the entry hatch stepped Ikanya, smilingly delivering my lunch, a peanut-butter sandwich!

Rule-breaking was one of the things I loved most about my silly and vivacious wife. I shook my sweaty head in wonder, but told her she wasn’t supposed to be anywhere near the battle zone; women were never allowed in mortal combat roles, only as nurses, doctors, and medical personnel. Of course, the medics had to venture behind enemy lines, sometimes. She laughed at my vain concerns, while we ate together.

Then from the unknown, a thin cry escaped from a nearby cave. Was it a leftover feral human? I drew my weapon and clambered down the dismally yawning hole, with Ikanya’s taughtly breathing form close behind me. Such caves were common in the war zones, and often full of ferals, which the Dracs sometimes used to attack our wounded, and those stuck attending on them at night.

Incredibly, there was a row of filthy, smelly cages, and each one of them held a tiny little Kel child inside.

Ikanya shouted, “OH MY GODS!” For her, such a bold statement approached blasphemy, but that was my wife. She didn’t care about her. I blasted open each of the locks, freeing the children. Several were dying, and we screamed loudly for the medics. I pulled out one ravaged little boy, apparently about three years old, who hugged me like he couldn’t ever let go again.

“Please, help me!” he cried, black and blue all over, with open wounds that bled; he was covered in sores, and had unnatural, twisted injuries. My wife immediately realized the truth. “Those monsters! They’ve been experimenting on them!” I coughed into my hand, overcome by sadness and the underground stench of disease and death.

Several of the children died in hospital. But we personally flew the tiny little boy home with us. He screamed almost constantly, even at night. He would wake us up, pleading and crying for mercy.

My wife, sadly well-versed in torture from the past unpleasant experiences I had caused, turned grimly to me one night and said, “He’ll have nightmares like this for the rest of his life.”

“Why?” I questioned, in a daze of shock and sleepless horror.

“They destroyed him,” she replied, in a low, guttural murmur. We both turned over and tried to rest, stuck listening to him scream his fear and rage like a demented baby, sometimes all night long. But we took turns getting up and trying to quiet him; he would finally fall asleep in our arms. We relaxed, finally having a child, at last. At least that much, and someday he would surely be normal and happy again.

We had only our faith, recovering ourselves after losing so miserably, to guide us. Night after night we kept watch, and waited.

But his mother and father finally turned up, through the local civil authorities, and the boy was taken away from us. His parents were so grateful and relieved that we all streamed in tears at their touching reunion, and for the first time, the little boy smiled! They told us his name was Bato, and his cheerful grin made this both one of the happiest and saddest moments of my entire short and eventful life.

“Well, I guess we’ll never have a baby of our own,” I sighed, as my wife looked alluringly into my drooping, listless eyes. “Yes, we will,” she softly whispered, “for I just happen to be pregnant!”

O, my wonderful Ikanya! I grabbed her, and we bear-hugged.

*********************************************************

Supreme Commander Traxis had given me some time off after the tortured children’s rescue, which I spent answering to the media about the awful feral prison experiments, and even signing autographs. We never did find out how they’d kidnapped those kids. Was there someone amongst us on the enemy side? And of course, Ikanya and I had put our time together to good use. We’d laid awake nights from the poor boy’s screaming; we must’ve accidentally done something right, in our sleep.

After this little erstwhile vacation, one blessed announcement of my family’s invigorated life, it was straight back to the battle fields. This time we fought over the devastated planet Ronson, which the Dracs now savagely held captive. There were few living Ronsonians, and we didn’t hold out much hope for them. We kept attempting find and rescue missions, to no avail. We fiercely battled, coming very close to losing the planet to superior forces. But we fought on, undyingly, in the relentlessly scorching heat. It was enough to affect anyone’s judgment, and I was far from immune from such desert abandonment.

Early one morning, before the twin suns were up, I ran down the dried-up banks of the Green Moon River, towards a rocky escarpment. I thought I was spying out Dracs. As I ran, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky; the summer doldrums were on full blast, with not even the faintest whisper of a breeze. What had been the simmering kettle of an absurdly glorious morning, given the wastelands created by the Dracs, had become the boiling cauldron of a wetly molten afternoon. Yet the battle raged on, blindly, as in any other war. Was this one really just as unfair, just as mistakenly waged as our Earth wars had usually been, and was I finally waking up to that salient fact? Were we somehow misguided?

I had to rest. I took a moment to duck out of the glaring sun and into a darkened cave, tired and worn from baking like an apple in that oven of a desert. It was extremely hot and stuffy inside the cave, but at least it was shady. I raised my visor, wiping my face, and realized that I’d been wounded, shot in both arms by a laser rifle. I began to treat my injuries, as taught by the female Kel medics.

My vain attempts at comfort fled as I saw three large devils approaching the cave’s entrance, armed with flame throwers, jabbering away to each other in Draconian. They must have smelled the blood that dripped from my wound, and were drawn directly to me. They knew who and what I was! Dropping bandages, I gripped my laser rifle tightly, fell to the ground, and fired three shots, one right after the other. If I missed just one, I was a dead meat. In spite of the heat, my aim was fantastic, and all that was left was smoking lizard shit.

One of the monsters was a Drac Commander, not unlike me. I proudly ripped the gold chain from around his scaly throat, placing it around mine as I shakily strolled through the smoking ruins of that infernally hot planet. Now I had a proper war souvenir to give my good wife, to remember me by when my aim was finally sloppy.

The desert heat made the horizon violently shimmer. Beyond the sand dunes lay an old, abandoned Ronsonian building, from the looks of it a museum or library once, now empty for time immemorial. Ducking inside to wrap my wound, fearing lurking Dracs would kill me, I found instead one of my best warriors, Yak, the youngest in the group I now commanded. He was worse than mortally wounded; his entire midsection was weirdly and surgically removed, by what, I couldn’t fathom. How was he even alive? It was only a matter of moments.

I cradled him in my bleeding arms. Over and over, he cried, “I don’t want to die, I don’t want to die!”

The very next day, at a mass funeral held on Calarian, I gave a eulogy speaking of this boy’s heroism and honour. His mortal sacrifice and valour were what saved the planet Ronson that day, I very solemnly intoned, as the Kels wretchedly sobbed into their sleeves. The truth is always the most painful aspect of our reality, I realized. For the first time in years, I wondered to myself about the moral righteousness of the Kel’s cause. Were we just as blind and stupid as the lizards?

Were we, in some way hidden and unknown to me, well, evil?

My beautiful, brave wife now stepped up to the podium, her head held high. Overcome with emotion, I could only hug her. She read off the names of those killed in the battlefield for the entire past week, over three hundred men, as it had been a particularly bloody stretch.

Later, I whispered in her velvety ear, “Thank you for being so kind and compassionate. It’s not just your hair; your very heart is entirely composed of the purest gold.” I thought she’d like my words.

“Don’t ever say that,” she whispered back. “Your hair is not gold-coloured, but your heart has always been exactly the same as mine.” Apparently, in spite of the Kel’s general blondness, they were not racist; a part of me was thus secretly relieved of a heavy burden.

In the months that followed, my wife’s already large, normally flat belly began to grow, swelling quite profoundly. I started doing all the housework. The Kel culture didn’t use servants or maids, and you had to pull your own weight, unless you were very disabled. My wounds had healed, and I set to, even with the little energy I had left after a long day in the battlefield. I’d been elevated to Head Major Commander, so I didn’t have to actually fight in person anymore, but I usually waded in with the rest of them anyway. I was needed. And I still managed my chores every evening, while a cranky Ikanya chided my mannish incapabilities. I couldn’t seem to do anything right.

Boy, was it ever worth it!

In the spring, our glorious ball of wonder, Tirana, was born, looking every inch like her mother, though her hair was more a straw colour, not richly golden like Ikanya’s. And for some reason she was sickly at first, and we almost lost her. But then she rallied, and by the time she was two, there was a definitively Kellarian glow in her chubby twilight cheeks. After two years of limping around, she was able to run and horse with the other children, when the boys played soldier, and the girls pretended to nurse them and dress their wounds. This form of activity was more dead serious practice than mere kid’s playtime, unfortunately. But at least our Tirana was a girl, and not predestined to die in a barren pile of dirt, like her daddy.

On a lazy winter day, and for no particular reason, Tirana was boredly playing with the antique music box Ikanya had gifted me when we first married. As she wound it, the charmingly melancholy melodies brought me back to a happier time, when I had first started out with all my dreams of fortune, death, and ecstasy, on a new world and in a new time. I smiled dreamily at my little girl, knowing I must cherish every minute spent with her and my wife. The battle front afforded me precious little time to spend with them, as tedious battle strategies now consumed every waking moment of my hard-working existence.

That night, we three gathered together on the balcony, and we watched as our brilliant little girl tried to count all the equally brilliant stars. What was out there that the Dracs needed so much, I vaguely wondered. Our empire was always trying to enlist support from any inhabited planet we found, warning them about the slavers’ threat.

I began singing to Tirana, “Star light, star bright, Daddy loves his star tonight,” and I hugged her tightly. She beamed up at me, and impishly replied, “Star loves her Daddy, too.” My eyes twinkled with tears. Ikanya brought us all a hot chocolate. We sat, and drank well.

Another night, our little girl came into our bedroom while we two were sleeping. She climbed up and whispered “Daddy, I’m scared, there are shadows in my room.” And then she added “and I’m lonely.”

My wife smiled, and I knew there was nothing to do but give in. “Then why don’t you stay here, with us?” With a beaming grin on her openly innocent face, our little angel crawled under the sheets.

In the morning, I watched her sleeping for a long time, feeling very grateful indeed. She was so sweetly beautiful, clearly down from heaven. Our union had been blessed, all of my dreams richly fulfilled.

But the war was getting steadily worse. I knew this well, from my strategic duties in the field. My troops were almost gone. We had
tried very hard to keep what few men we had. I’d been promoted to Head Major General, and had been given a lovely three-bedroom house. But it couldn’t contain the restlessness and helplessness I always felt.

Once again, it was just another day. I went off to the front as usual; nothing extraordinary happened. It was dull and dreary, and I couldn’t keep down the stale old rations and the liquid nourishment from my canteen. Something was different, something was weirdly wrong.

When I got home, my wife and child were gone. I knew they’d been kidnapped by the Dracs, who had rumoured methods of using certain traitorous Kels, unknown spies who’d been promised prestige and life by the Draconian Empire. These subhuman traitors had enticed my family into a vehicle, and taken them to the Drac Territories. They were somewhere out there, lost and alone, and I was so important now, they’d show them both absolutely no mercy. Immediately, I flew back into the battle, leading my troops deep into Drac-held areas. We checked out three different planets, which took over a week, and we fought harder than we’d ever fought before. But there was no sign of my wife and child. We rescued a few other people, but not them.

There was a chill in the air, making my panic even worse. We marched on the planet Ronson finally, through the cold of the twilight. With an ever-impending sense of doom, finally, we found them.

They’d tortured my little girl with incredible ferocity, before finally killing her. Then I saw an unspeakable horror beyond Hell, or any possible description. It was the thing that was left of my wife.

I cried a river of tears, then suddenly stopped. The fright had left me entirely. The vast emptiness of space hollowed out my insides, engulfing me in a black, starless cloud. There was no such entity as love in this sick universe. It was beyond all time, beyond even space.

Beyond all time, beyond even space. What did that mean?

Our Supreme Commander, Traxis the Great, approached me with some overdue caution, as I appeared absolutely insane. But I was really just standing there, deathly still, feebly lost in thoughts of suicide.

He told me to take all the time I needed to recover. Recover?

“Use the time machine. Go back to Earth, visit your folks, and when you’re ready, then come back.” The time machine–?

“I don’t want to fight anymore,” I replied weakly. My heart was haunted by the thought of killing anyone for any reason, ever again.

“You’ve personally slain over a thousand Dracs. They did that horrible deed to your family because of your virtuous, loyal service to us. Retire if you like, and draw yourself a pension.”

Mental disability, the women doctors said. So I did.

A year later, I finally gave up the struggle of holding out. I decided to kill myself, having nothing to live for; I would have to die slowly, painfully, and ingloriously, after what I’d done to my family.

I would jump off the Qumran Bridge, an old relic leftover from bygone days of glory on the once-industrious planet of Ronson, where we’d found my loved ones, at which point my life had come to an end. I would linger where they’d perished, completely isolated from any hope.

And far away from the damned time machine! I didn’t even know where it was anymore, having lost its location years ago. Thank Yahway that such a temptation was stolen from me! I didn’t even deserve to go home, to the wretched old planet of Earth I’d originally fled, seeking my fortune, life, and nobility. What good was leaving the best place that ever existed, without being able to defend it anymore? I had doubted our noble cause, and not upheld the virtues of love and honour. I was too cowardly to fight the Dracs, and they were winning anyway. We were being quickly overwhelmed, losing planet after planet. There was no hope left, yet of course the Kels and others bravely continued to fight, probably to the very end. I was retired, so it wasn’t really desertion, but even that thought came to me. Though there was nothing I could do but pray to Yahway, or maybe even to God, it felt like I was deserting the Kels, and the entire universe. I was just like the damn Draconians, which I’d known all along. I wasn’t good enough to be a Kel warrior. Clearly, I deserved anything at all that happened to me.

What good was War, what price my wretched honour? My family had paid it in full. Now I must pay, too.

I stole an old space bus, took it to a deserted area of Ronson where even the Dracs never went, and marched several sandy, sweaty miles to the bridge, rusting and shimmering verdantly greenish under the molten sun. I would fall, break my body, and probably suffer for hours, which I clearly deserved, having thought things over carefully.

At the top of the bridge, I took one final breath, absurdly hopeful in the moment of my final reckoning that somehow there could be an end to the pain. Though I knew it was cowardly, I prayed to anyone listening that there would be. Then I took my dive, falling forever, and landed with a pronounced THUD! that scattered sand around my body.

Against my prayers, I lived! Writhing painfully in the sun-blackened sands, hideously hot, but so broken I couldn’t feel it at first, after some time I finally settled down, gasping. The pain was impossible to bear, beyond all human suffering. But I remembered what I’d done, my final plans to atone for a reckless life filled with guilt and stupidity. Though my every bone was broken, I would fulfill them.

I’d strapped powerful post-nuclear explosives to my back. They were on a timer, and in about three hours an explosion would rock the planet, destroying all Drac outposts and any chance they could hold the irradiated deserts anymore. The Ronsonians were all dead, or suffering unspeakably, so it didn’t matter. This was my last act of desperation, one calculated to cover up my disappearance mostly, not to further my good reputation. I hoped to go down in history as an insane fool.

Screaming and crying uncontrollably, begging the God I vaguely remembered and the Yahway I had pledged my soul to for the blessed peace of death, I began to crawl on my bleeding belly. Through a time unendingly long, I suffered, and was almost glad of it, due to my supreme mental anguish. Seemingly hours later, I finally despaired.

I wasn’t going to die. I had gone to Hell, forever, like I deserved. Looking straight at the blasting sun, I let it melt my eyes out, like the Draconians had always wanted. For I was one of them.

********************************************************

An eternity later, making myself feel all the pain I could muster, I crawled into an abandoned building. The bombs had not gone off yet, and I guessed they never would. Fainting, I shook myself awake, knowing why I hadn’t bled to death yet. It was my destiny.

I was stone blind, and without mercy made myself lurch to my feet. With my years of Kellarian training, I was able to perform such an act of titanic strength, but I didn’t know where I was going. God didn’t love me anymore. Yet something rattled through my broiling brain, the words I’d heard across a remorseless distance so long ago:

Beyond all time, beyond even space, that’s where they keep love. That’s where you can find it, that’s the only place. Beyond all time, beyond even space, beyond any meaning. The only place is with God.

I laughed weakly, insanely, knowing there was no such thing as love! And I fell down, rolling, and bumped into something that felt peculiarly familiar. It was hot to the touch. I held it in my hated, bleeding fingertips, which had slowly scraped off all their nails on the desert’s rocky floor, and without any sight knew it instantly.

My memory said it was a hyper-dimensional resonator, easily
connectible to a space-time modulator for the necessary power boosting, which uses a tesia coil to generate the zero vector. The HDR, both invented and built by the legendary genius Steven L. Gibbs, of course, only moves one a few years in time either way, without the STM attached to it. You could make big money off the stock market, but so what?

If I had my family back, hang the stock market, hang adventure, and hang me. God, I begged, save the universe. Make it whole.

My shaking hands connected the two, the glowing electromagnet overheated, and there was a blinding flash of light with a loud POP! I bilocated. My mind and body swerved into two directions as the POP! lingered, not redly volcanic like a firecracker, but suckingly small, like a mysteriously vague blue balloon.

This time, there were no violent waves of dizziness and nausea. Instead, I arose, looking wildly around me. I could see.

There were people everywhere, happy smiling faces strolling past gorgeous statuary and portraits on the colourful museum walls, chatting amiably about the most fascinating topics. Ronsonians. I’d never really seen them before, in all of their splendour and majesty.

“Look! It’s that famous retired Head Major General of the vast Kelliconian Empire, What’s His Name! Oh, I’m sorry! Whatever is your name?” chortled an overweight, buxom lady spilling over with expensive jewelry. “What?” I gasped, in a raspy and totally unfamiliar voice.

Looking over at an antique silvery mirror, lost in a cloud of confusion, I could only gape at my new reflection. I was over ten feet tall, with magnificently flowing blond hair spilling over my uniformed and medallioned shoulders. I was wearing the gold chain I’d taken off the dead Drac Commander around my muscular, scaly green neck…scaly? Green? A pale, winsome shade of green, and quite attractive, really! I cut a nobly tall, combination Kel and Drac figure, and I knew the gold chain had never belonged to any “Drac Commander.” It was mine. It had been mine all along, a treasured wedding present from my wife.

It took hours of explaining matters to me, by the distinguished Ronsonian scientists, to learn what I’d accidentally accomplished. The bombs had gone off, somewhere back there in time, when I had miserably gone unconscious. Due to the lingering aftereffects of my previous time travel, a space-time continuum was instantly created, which had thrown me through the flux I’d experienced again, when I’d first used the time machine. It brought me back to the moment when I’d connected the blackly seductive machine to its smoothly white counterpart. But something important had been altered, as inalterable but flowing past events had entered the continuum, changing my reality.

There never has been any evil, slaver Draconian Empire, nor a separately good Kellarian one. We have been the Kelliconian Empire since time immemorial, and our duty is to police the universe, making sure that all hosted planets are safe from disaster or any attack by outside forces, though there never are or were any. We’re fortuitously locked by time and space into a graciously eternal, infinite peace.

My job is to continuously scout and monitor the Kelliconian Empire, and attend to any problems or troubles our widespread, mutually helpful alliance of thousands of planets ever has. And my family?

My wife, Ikanya, is beautiful and moral as ever, and now over ten feet tall, as I am. I can finally kiss her without craning my neck, and she is the most wonderfully vibrant shade of emerald green you can imagine. And our little daughter, Tirana, is fair and glowing as ever, but mysteriously darker, with deeply green skin covered in fishlike scales that protect her from any harm. She plays constantly with her brother Yakanyo, a handsomely tall lad of twelve who thinks he’s already a man, here on our brilliantly twinly moonlit planet, far away from any such imaginary planet as “Earth.” Sometimes, I tell the children chilling fictional tales of it, and wildly weird stories about strange “wars” we once fought there.

“Silly Daddy,” they chant in unison, sometimes. “There’s no such thing as ‘war.’ What on Calarico are you talking about?”

Executive Director of Ghost Writer, Inc., Karen Cole writes. GWI at www.rainbowriting.com is a renowned affordable online professional copy writers, book authors, ghost writers, copy editors, proof readers, coauthors, rewriters, book cover creation, graphics and CAD, digital and other photography, publishing assistance and book and screenplay writers, editors, developers and paid analysts service. We also do presentation and pitch services for your book and/or screenplay ideas to major TV and film industry representatives.

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