Lunula

Annika Bates made herself a legend even before she saved Earth and the moon.

She was the first person to fly the Moonraker Assault Vessel (MAV for short). It was the first armed ship used to defend Lunula, the Earth’s first –and so far only – terraformed city on the moon. Prior to her piloting gig, Annika led the crew who built the Lunula itself, earning her the praise and admiration of billions for such a monumental task. Before that, she was the youngest to be accepted into NASA’s Astronaut Corps at seventeen years old. While her intelligence was on par with the greats in human history, her physical talents were even more prodigious. But her determination pushed her faster and farther than any astronaut, female or male, ever dreamed.

After the completion of Lunula, Annika returned to Earth to oversee the more daunting undertaking of creating a military presence in space. Lunula was utterly vulnerable with no way to disguise or protect a massive dome on a satellite consisting of nothing but rocks and craters. So, the Universal Military Alliance formed, designed by all of the remaining countries not on fire from conflict or drowned by rising seas, and made their first priority the creation of a defense force able to defend the moon city from any and all threats.

Transport ships were plentiful but ill-suited for anything more than moving supplies and people to Lunula. Engineers, scientists, and pilots worked tirelessly to fashion the right design for assault ships. Plans were finalized, with Annika naming the fleet in homage to her love of James Bond films. Production began.

Four months later, and with a week of intense testing yielded perfect results, the first Moonraker Assault Vessel was completed and ready for a manned test. Annika volunteered, shouting down any who tried to dissuade her. This was her baby, and she alone was going to take it out into the eternal black.

The launch, like the testing, was flawless. It exited the Earth’s atmosphere at nearly 40,000 miles per hour, bursting into space. Annika’s breath was taken away at the vastness of the galaxy before her. It was this way every single time she flew into space, and she never tired of its grandeur.

She started the predetermined flight tests for maneuverability, gliding the MAV in a series of turns and speeds. She marveled at its ability to navigate at advanced speeds and how effortless it felt. The MAV passed all tests with flying colors. Turning towards Lunula, she gunned it to the last of the maneuverability tests. She landed the MAV, pretty as you please, in the bay built for it outside the dome. Tomorrow they would test the weapons systems, far away from home.

Annika just sat down at her desk reviewing the data from earlier when she was hailed by UMA headquarters on Earth.

“Incoming call from General Saito. Incoming call from General Saito,” the computer voice droned in monotone.

Annika sighed. General Eike Saito was Japan’s contribution to the UMA. She was tough and humorless, but damn it all if she wasn’t also thorough. Probably can’t wait to disseminate the results, Annika thought. This’ll be a barrel of laughs for sure.

“Answer call,” Annika said, bracing for a relentless and tedious review.

The video feed popped up. General Saito’s brow was furrowed, more than her usual stern look, and her eyes flicked about with a sense of worry. Pursed lips completed the look telling that something was wrong.

“General Saito,” said Annika with a nod to the camera, her version of a salute.

“Colonel Bates,” the General nodded back, her expression darkening. “There is an unidentified object approaching at speeds never before documented. We have confirmed this is not a comet or meteor. There are multiple heat signatures in the object. Origin unknown. The trajectory takes it directly between Earth and Lunula.”

Images glowed on the display. Something triangular shot across the screen so fast that it almost escaped the camera providing the feed. Annika squinted. “Is that… Jupiter in the background?”

“Yes it is, Colonel.”

That can’t be right. The object moved so quickly Jupiter was a near blur on the screen. But the familiar giant red dot was unmistakable. It was Jupiter, alright.

Eyes narrowed, Annika said, “Orders, General?”

“We must accelerate our weapons testing. Intercept this unknown object and destroy it.”

“But we have no idea what this is, General.”

“Exactly. And we can’t afford finding out.” The screen went blank.

The colonel sighed, making her way to the hanger to suit up and take off.

∞∞∞

The MAV screamed across the void. Annika set her course to intercept the unknown object. They hadn’t calculated for something moving this rapidly, so she wasn’t sure if their weapons could properly target it. Part of her wanted to disobey orders and discover whether this was the chance for contact with another lifeform, but she pushed that to the back of her mind. Orders were orders.

With resolve, she hurtled towards the rendezvous point. A few minutes remained, so she brought her weapons up to bear. The targeting system confirmed two heat signatures in the craft. There was no denying it was a ship of some kind. The signatures were blurry at best, and their tracking system was unsuccessful with locking onto the ship, as she feared.

“MAV 1 to UMA Base. MAV 1 to UMA Base. Confirmed two heat signatures in object. Weapons systems unable to obtain lock. Permission to switch to manual,” Annika said.

Saito’s response was terse, immediate. “Permission granted, MAV 1.”

With one flick of a switch, the weapons were under Annika’s control. She knew she had one chance at this. The ship’s speed was too great for a second round. Eyes narrowed, she pushed the MAV to its limits. Years of training honed her calculations. Readying herself, she fired.

The lasers, casting a diffused blue trail behind, zoomed to the rendezvous point. The unknown thing did too. Annika felt her body tense as both projectiles moved to intercept. A split second before collision, her communications systems blipped. Someone or something wanted to communicate. It wasn’t UMA command. It was something else. Then laser and object met. A brilliant but brief light burst and disappeared. The object was gone, as was the signal she’d received.

∞∞∞

Sitting in her office at Lunula, she mulled over the past few days. The world made her the savior of the Earth and its moon. She’d saved them all from an alien threat, or so it was told to the masses. Yet, she couldn’t stop thinking about that last moment signal before it was vaporized. She felt like it was more than a signal. After her supposed heroics, Annika had not slept well, that looming feeling clouding her thoughts and dreams.

She shook her head and drained her scotch. No use worrying over it now.  Then…her communications unit beeped. A single blip. She went rigid.

Her screens lit up, displaying countless lines of dark triangular objects moving side by side, Saturn and her rings in the background. A computerized voice boomed from the speakers.

“Beings of the third planet: we are contacting you as a mercy. Our race was passing through your galaxy to our new colony. You destroyed our envoy without provocation. It was our guide, not equipped for fighting. By eliminating our envoy, you have declared war. You now must defend or evacuate your civilization, a chance that is more than you gave our guide.”

Her jaw dropped. She watched the screen as the armada shimmered briefly before innumerable red streaks filled her view.

“Oh my god,” she whispered.

She had doomed them all.

Photo Credit: Richard Bizley

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Ahead

Wendig_Strange_Photo_FF_Challenge

The clouds were forming again.

It had been happening with greater frequency of late, and no one knew why. The obvious thing to do, were you an outsider, would be to ask Aghaidh. The Custodians who tended to Aghaidh knew better. No one had attempted to talk to the Great Head, as it was also known, for centuries. Legends told of only one who had been foolish enough to try such a thing.

A man who proclaimed to be an acolyte of Aghaidh made the trek to speak to his God and divine what he would have done in his name. Some of the lesser members of the temple went with the acolyte as he stepped in front of the massive face jutting from the desiccated landscape but kept their distance out of fear. Its eyes were thankfully closed.

The eyes only ever opened when the clouds formed and swirled above it. It would start slowly at first but pick up intensity and speed, until finally a great cone of clouds and wind spun violently above it. The top of Aghaidh’s head would then peel back when the tempest was at its crescendo, light flooding upwards and bathing the storm in brilliant eerie light. His eyes would turn a crystalline blue at the end of the gathering, squeezing  shut with a great thunderclap, and the storm would shoot into the sky at impossible speed to a destination unknown to the Custodians. Finally, he’d resume his slumber as his head returned to its original form.

The acolyte knew this and so planned his quest when the sky was cloudless.

He approached the Great Head warily. He was grateful that the followers stayed back, as it was far easier to hide his fear with their distance. He held his head high as he approached, forcing a smile upon his face, hoping it was a reverent one. At what he deemed a safe distance away, he stopped. Still in the shadow of Aghaidh, the acolyte was dwarfed by the Great Head, only adding to his trepidation. He summoned his last bit of courage and stretched his arms in the air in worship. He spoke with an authority he didn’t feel.

“Aghaidh! Great and mysterious one! I am Maon, acolyte of the Temple of the Unheralded. I have come to learn your ways and to serve your will. I am but a tool for you to use as you see fit.” Maon bowed, feeling like that was what he should do in the presence of something so unknowable and powerful.

The Great Head stood silent and still.

When he heard nothing, he raised his head slightly to look at the mighty Aghaidh. Confusion overtook Maon. Why was the Great Head not responding? He was certain that he – the most devout of all that worshipped in the Temple – could learn the mysteries of the Great Head. In turn, he would share the wishes and dogma with his fellow acolytes and followers. Perhaps, even the Vicar throne was within his grasp, if Aghaidh would speak to him. Since no one had ever heard the unexplainable being speak, he would be special. Exalted, even.

He tried again: “I humbly submit myself to you, Aghaidh. Only tell me what you decree, and I will be the servant of your will.” He kept his eyes locked ahead, hoping for a reaction, a sign.

But there was none. All remained silent.

Confusion morphed in anger within the acolyte. How many years had he sacrificed in supplication to the Great Head? All the taunts of the villagers, the insults, and the accusations of insanity – he’d suffered countless indignations, all in the name of worship. But this? To be ignored by the very thing he had spent his life devoted to and dedicated his every waking moment to honoring was the greatest of insults. How could this happen?

The acolyte screamed, a flood gate of frustration escaping him. “Why won’t you talk to me? Do you have any idea how much I given to you in adulation? Years! Nearly all my life I’ve defended you, despite not fully comprehending your ways, and this is how you would reward your most reverent follower?”

The eyes flew open. A baleful glare from brilliant blue eyes. A menacing scowl appeared on its face. The acolyte took a step back in fear, but moved no further, rooted to the spot by the stare of his God.

The clouds came from nowhere, fast. They circled above Aghaidh, moving in a ferocious circle, darkening the skies. A loud whine grew as the gale of the storm increased beyond the force anyone had seen before. Some of the followers who came with the acolyte stood in horror watching the scene unfold. The rest ran as fast as they could back to the village, an occasional glance back to the Great Head as they raced.

The Great Head’s scalp peeled back, shooting a brilliant shaft of light into the sky. His scowl never wavered, nor did his gaze move from the one who had disturbed his slumber. Until it did, when he closed his eyes and clenched the lids tightly. A tremendous boom came, as the storm shot a lightning bolt from within the maelstrom, incinerating the acolyte. Immediately after wasting Maon, the storm cast off to the Temple of the Unheralded. It crashed down on the structure, decimating it and all the inhabitants within. All that remained was a small crater.

That crater stands as a reminder of the power of Aghaidh. And to this day, no one has ever attempted to speak to the Great Head. The Custodians built a fence around Aghaidh to prevent unwary souls from approaching it and unwittingly unleashing doom another time.

Every time a storm brews, the Custodians cower hoping that they are not the target of Great Head’s wrath once more.

Photo Credit: Wallpaper Awesome

 

 

The Great Tree

The sirens’ abrupt start, coming from everywhere, woke her. It was still dark outside, or as near as she could tell. The lights of the ferry station nearly blinded her with its halogen assault bleeding into every nook and cranny of the place. It was the best location she’d found to sleep because no one kicked her out with protestations of “Get a job!” or other, more profanity-laden, insults. She liked that it was dry and comfortable enough. Can’t find that too much in Seattle. But this siren? That was new and frightening. She stood up from the bench that was her bed for the night, and shuffled to the TV by the ticket booth to try to figure out why the damn alarms were going off.

CNN was on – it was always on here – and some overnight milquetoast broadcaster was excitedly talking, eyes wide.

“According to the NEIC, there was an earthquake in the middle of the North Pacific Ocean measuring 8.6 on the Richter scale. The earthquake, as the graphic shows, is roughly midway between Japan and the Pacific Northwest of the continental United States. They have announced warnings of waves as high as twenty-five feet expected to hit the rural shorelines of Alaska and Russia, with waves in the twenty foot range expected to hit the shores of the Pacific Northwest and Northern California. Japan also is expected to have waves in the fifteen to twenty foot range. Hawaii will be less affected, with waves reaching only seven to nine feet. There have been warnings issued to the areas mentioned. If you are in those areas, please get back from the shore as far as you can. The waves are expected to move fast and reach Russia and Alaska by 2:38 AM, and Seattle and San Francisco at approximately 3:02 AM. Those closest to the Pacific Ocean, please get to higher ground immediately. Now we go to Greg Fichtel, spokesperson for the National Earthquake Information Center, for more…”

Slackjawed, she stood transfixed for a few moments. There were no more ferries running at this time of night. She had no way of getting off the island and away from Elliot Bay. She was trapped, and probably doomed. She went and picked up the few possessions she had, then went to the ladies room and into a stall, hoping it would be enough for her to survive the walls of water that were on their way even now.

The next day, on every TV:

“Experts around the world are baffled by the appearance in the Pacific Ocean of “The Great Tree,” as many are calling it. As it erupted from the ocean at the exact spot of the epicenter of the earthquake that caused flooding and damage to all shores in the North Pacific, the consensus is that it sprang from the ocean floor, despite that never occurring in any recorded history. As you can see from the shots from the aircraft circling it, it continues to grow up and out, now reaching well over fifteen hundred feet in height and several hundred feet wide. The strange green and purple roots, or at least that what they appear to be from eyewitness reports above, have spread some twenty miles out from the tree, seemingly writhing in the currents as they spread out. There’s no telling how much more this can grow. Reports are in that the countries closest to this strange phenomenon are talking and working through possible strategies to deal with it if it keeps expanding. Words from the President of the United States, just twenty minutes ago:

‘I have been in contact with Russia, China, Japan, Australia and the nations of the South Pacific. We are monitoring the situation closely, and are mobilizing our armed forces to be ready for a joint approach should the situation escalate.’

We will keep you updated as new information comes in. For now, the White House has issued an evacuation order for the areas closest to the ocean on the West Coast, and is coordinating with Pearl Harbor to evacuate citizens from Hawaii. More ships are on their way, according to President Ramirez.”

Three days later…

The Great Tree, as it was dubbed when it came up from the depths of the Pacific, had not grown in two full days, its final height reaching just shy of two thousand feet. Its monstrous trunk was two football fields wide. It swayed slightly in the air despite its immensity as it towered above the water and dwarfed the various crafts flying about it, each hoping to find something new to report back to their home bases. The roots that were still roiling about in the waves had splayed themselves out, but never exceeded their vast perimeter.

Suddenly the swaying stopped and the tree stood still and straight, as if pointing to the heavens. Almost instantaneously, clouds swirled around it, moving faster and faster, darkening as they did so. The sky became ominous, clouding out the sun and putting the entirety of the tree’s reach in blackness. Lightning lit the sky, increasing frequency as the darkness overtook the day. Thunder boomed constantly in a strange symphony with the lightning bolts crashing down into the sea below, striking down many of the aircraft who were attempting to flee. Strangest of all, the ocean around the tree itself was placid and calm, accentuating the foreboding feel of the scene.

The lightning stopped, the thunder soon afterwards. All was eerily calm.

Then the voice came. Not broadcast through the air; this voice touched every mind. The voice was evil itself, freezing the peoples’ minds it invaded.

“Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn,” the phlegmy voice oozed into their minds, crushing any other thought.

“But no more. Cthulhu awakens, and you will all rightfully fear his reign.” The image of the mighty Elder God flashed madness into their minds and broke them all. His guttural laugh followed, rendering everyone immobile with fear.

“Behold your master, your God! ALL HAIL CTHULHU!”

As those words assaulted the humans’ brains, a great cracking sound commenced. The Great Tree began shaking its bark free, revealing the monstrous truth beneath. One great tentacle stood, shards of its wooden disguise plummeting into the waters. It waved a moment longer, and then a bubbling began at its base. Water sluiced about the humongous appendage as it wriggled. The air shook with morbid expectancy. Then the true master exploded out of the water, the largest of nightmares made manifest in the sky. The horrific God, now free, glowered at the newest minions and acolytes. Tentacles, too many to number, hung where a mouth should be. Red eyes looked through those unfortunate to be within his gaze.

“Now is my time. All shall come to me.”

All ships flew to him, none firing at this fantastic horror of lore. People walked to him, right off docks, and ships, and buildings the world over, oblivious to anything but The Call. The world was his now, after eons of slumber.

Photo credit: David Prei

Broken Free

The torture would be starting again soon.

The burning wracked him with pain, pushing him to the brink of unconsciousness. Sinister voices whispered his worst fears, making them real. The blackness never subsided, never eroded. The pain was excruciating, but the loneliness was worse. Opaque periods of time without anyone to hear his cries allowed the words of his tormentors to do their awful work on his psyche. His captors were skilled at inflicting pain of all sorts. Their expertise knew no bounds, and they utilized their considerable talents on him.

He had no concept of how long he had been at their mercy. Complete darkness has a way of robbing you of time.

How many times had he screamed himself hoarse?

How many times has he begged them to stop, promising to give them anything they wanted if only they would cease their terrible games?

Too many to count. There was no way to measure it, but what good would it do him if he could? Certainly wouldn’t stop the next round of agony they would impose on him.

He did not understand why they tortured him. There was no reason given, no demands made, and no information requested. The only things they said to him were meant to exacerbate his torment.

“You are all alone.”

“No one knows you’re here.”

“You’re getting the pain you deserve.”

“There will never be anyone to save you.”

The other thing was the laughing. The glee they shared while he howled for them to stop plagued him long after they left. Their words haunted him even more than the near constant pain did. The only reprieve he got were those all-too-brief periods where he slept, the kind of sleep only the dead know. He longed for that solace even now, before the terror began anew, but he knew he was damned without knowing why. He braced himself for another onslaught. It had to be soon, he could feel it.

But it didn’t come. Not this time. After all the times of being beaten down, he could not allow himself to hope, though. He’d give that up long ago. Hope was a fool’s errand for him. So he waited in the silence, the blessed silence. After some time, his anticipation waned.

Could it be? Could he finally be free of the endless torture he’d endured?

He willed himself to relax. What harm could it do? Even if (when) they returned, at least he’d been able to have a few fleeting moments of peace.

Suddenly an enormous pressure pushed him back, as if a wall was forcing him back. Behind him something held him in place. He fought the claustrophobia that was taking hold. This was a new method of sadism for the ones who whispered atrocities to him, and it was agony beyond his comprehension.

He felt light-headed as if breath was being forced out of him. Veering towards the safe haven of unconsciousness, he let go, hoping for once to pass that threshold. The pressure released and was simultaneously replaced with light, brilliant and blinding. He recoiled from it, like a toad who’s lived its entire life in a deep cave would, fleeing an unfamiliar invader. It hurt him, but not the way the burning caustic words had. This was the pain of experiencing a previously unknown power, a presence that struck him immobile. It was fear of a different sort.

As he adjusted, he realized that he was not in any real pain. He’d been paralyzed by the unknown, sure, but he was not hurting as he had thought before. He sought to understand this new thing. How would should he proceed? How could he attempt to know this thing that blinded him?

Searing pain pushed the light away and crushed all thought. This burned worse than anything they’d done before. Oh god, what if this is the way they would abuse him from now on? It must be! How could he bear this over and over again? He couldn’t!

He started to scream… and then the pain stopped as abruptly as it had started. The light, that damned too bright light, disappeared too. He felt… nothing. No demons, no fear, no worry. He was free. And so, he drifted devoid of any tether. He floated into nothingness, and was glad for it.

 

“Doctor Freeman, the patient has been prepped and is ready for surgery.”

“Excellent, Nurse Kline. He’s been sedated, correct?” the doctor responded.

“Of course, Doctor Freeman. We did as you instructed. We wanted to be sure to follow every instruction to the letter,” Nurse Kline said.

The doctor nodded his head. “The students are ready as well, I presume?”

“They appear to be quite eager, yes,” she smiled back.

Doctor Freeman exhaled. “Let’s not keep them waiting, then.”

He strode into the operating room with Nurse Kline in tow. He looked the students over. They did indeed look excited, and why wouldn’t they be? Today, they would be witnessing firsthand a radical procedure that held very promising results.

“Good afternoon, students. For those of you who do not know me, I am Doctor Walter Freeman. Today, you are most fortunate. We will be operating on a young man who has suffered a tremendous amount in his short life.” He turned towards the operating table and held out his arm towards his patient.

“This is Andrew Callahan, twenty four years of age. He has been hospitalized since the age of twelve. He suffers from acute schizophrenia, resulting in fits of screaming and violence. He has raved about being tortured, but he cannot talk outside of these outbursts. This is why the other doctors and I agreed that the best treatment for him is a lobotomy, which is what you are here to witness.”

He picked up a small instrument that resembled a small ice pick in one hand. In the other, he held a hammer.

“Shall we begin?” he asked, a bright grin on his face.

Photo Credit: Aranzazu

Wishes of the Thrones

The bone hammer slammed down with great force, a loud echo filled the room. The rabbling voices immediately fell silent. All eyes turned to the Thrones that sat on high, and more importantly, to the Sacred Triad.

The black Thrones were embedded in the wall above the Table of Time. Flames surrounded the table that held the story of all life, casting shadows that flitted about the figures that occupied the Thrones of Eld. From their vantage point, the Sacred Triad could read the tale of every life that ever was. They were the true creators of all, responsible for everything, living or dead. Not that those above knew that fact. In fact, it was due to this lack of knowledge above that the Triad had summoned their fellow demons for this grand meeting. Millennia had passed without the genuine word of the Triad and other Great Ones being heard untainted and unstained by the ears of all they had created. The charlatans had from the onset outmaneuvered their creators, becoming far too clever too quickly. The lore they manifested cast the Triad and their brethren as the opposite of what they were: the ones whom they owed their very existence to. But the ones above thought them to be bad for them, and to be avoided at all cost.  No amount of good deeds for the ones above changed their minds. In fact the charlatans had managed at every turn to be step ahead of them, claiming credit for their good fortunes. It was maddening for the Triad, yet they held fast to the knowledge that they were indeed the ones who were harbingers of good, despite the excellent public relations the charlatans maintained. But now…they had gone too far.

Baal stood tall at his Throne, great hammer in hand. His long dark red horns arched up over his head and back, flames racing along them, dancing their dance. His eyes were bright yellow and sulfurous. The demons below remained silent, knowing the fury that came with Baal’s eyes filling with that color. Smoke swirled and eddied around his massive chest and arms that were so dark that he nearly blended in with the Throne behind him. He was a terrible, beautiful sight.

“Great ones! Demons! My fellow Triads! We have since time immemorial stayed below where even we were birthed, building and planning, imparting life where we believed such things would do the most good for our world. We did so with optimism and pride in our creations, thinking that we had bestowed the lands above with so many gifts and opportunities to thrive that we could let it grow of its own accord, and bask in the glory of it all. We were certain of our success.”

As he paused, he looked to his right where Focalor rested upon his Throne of Eld. He nodded his great goat head back in acknowledgement. Baal then looked to his left at Raum, darkly enchanting in her Throne, bright crystal blue eyes in a crow’s head atop a voluptuous naked female body that had been the model for the women of those above. She cawed curtly in the direction of Baal, the king of the Sacred Triad. He continued.

“Alas, we were overconfident, or at best, we underestimated the guile of one of our creations. The charlatans – “ A great cacophony of hisses, growls, and insults roused from the gathering “- proved too clever by far. We were arrogant, you see.” Baal spread his arms wide. “And oh, how they took advantage of that. Spreading falsehoods. Lying to advance their selfish desires. After we gave them all, they decided that all belonged to them.”

The nods in the crowd of horned heads, strange sounds that lent agreement. They were rapt.

“And for the most part, we have taken the higher road, ignoring the insults and outright fabrications. The charlatans even went so far as to construct an adversary, a nemesis for the very beings who granted their existence. They had many names in many places, but each amounted to the same thing: a refutation of their true creators. We endured indignations. The Crusades. Witch trials. Exorcists. Metal music. All have been construed as instruments towards the wrong path, towards US. All in an effort to convince their fellow fakirs to walk away from the truth and towards falsities. There have been elaborate cons to bond their followers to their leaders and their beliefs. They lost their way. But this could be understandable, for we gave them the ability to choose their own path more so than any other. It was a grand experiment. To see the way our brilliance would manifest itself in our children. Those children, however, turned out to be bad seeds, ruining the garden that they were given and that sustains them.”

More nods of agreement. Grunts and hoots urge Baal for more.

He slammed his hammer down again on the arm of the Throne. A thunderclap resounded over the demons. His family, the ones who absorbed the lion share of abuse from those above. He felt their power and their pain. And it empowered him.

Baal roared, their strength flowing through him. “They DARE try to destroy what we have created, what we have cultivated, from the beginning of time!? In the name of a God, a concoction, a forgery, of their true masters? They DARE invoke a false deity to enable the destruction of the Earth, to end the beauty we have given them!? I SAY NO!” Baal’s voice lowered. “It is time to lay claim to what is ours and concede the great experiment has failed. There is evil in this world, my brothers and sisters. They have tried to brand us with that moniker. They will fail in that effort. It is time..” Baal paused for effect, but also to scan the faces of his family for reassurance and support. “…for humans, the great bane of Earth, the EVIL that they believe is us, to be eliminated. For the good of all, and the good of all our creatures. Humans shall perish.”

Baal raised his arms in triumph. Focalor and Raum each clenched their fists on one of his hands in solidarity.

The demons roared and pumped their hands, claws and hoofs. The sounds of agreement were deafening.

“GO FORTH!” Baal exclaimed.

And they did.

Game Master

How he loved to move the pieces. His own game that he created to occupy his lonely mind lay before him, having grown beyond anything he had ever imagined. No one else could move the pieces, but the pieces could and did move themselves, often in random ways that surprised him. That was the fun of it though. He knew too much, and relished any time that chaos and chance happened. It pushed the boredom back, even if only for a few moments, and made him feel alive.

Since the game began, he watched as it grew. Slowly at first, then picked up steam, and now was bordering on being too much to manage; too many pieces on the board. That was bullshit though. He got off on the challenge of such a complex thing. The more pieces in play, the better. There were times when the pawns made plays that he could not have come close to anticipating that almost ended the game, but he was gifted at restoring just enough balance insure that did not happen. This was HIS GAME, dammit, and if anyone was going to end it, he was. And so he watched and schemed, enacted complex plans and introduced twists that altered the course of the game. He was completely engrossed in his creation. Nothing else mattered but the game. It was his life, his purpose. He was consumed by it, in all its sprawling glory.

He looked at each strategy he was employing and how the pieces were reacting. There were some scenarios that were not going as planned, but he knew that he had it under control. He could introduce a new player to tame the ones that were causing upheaval in places he didn’t necessarily want to worry about at the moment. Another tactic he used with great efficiency was to enforce the rules that had been laid out at the beginning of the game. As always, time had a way of blurring the concrete necessity of these rules, and truth be told, he sometimes became so involved in the game and its intrigues that he neglected to penalize the guilty ones who took liberties with his guidelines. When he finally did police the members of the game, he was swift and harsh in dealing with those who played loose and fast with the rules. Banishment was not uncommon, but was reserved for the most atrocious offenders. He was not above torturing players in order to understand the level of their transgressions and know who was complicit in their treachery. He wielded vengeance as righteousness, and woe to those who questioned his methods or laws.

One of his greatest tools was doubt. Sowed into the minds of specific pieces, it made for interesting outcomes. He sometimes chuckled at his genius in introducing this as an element of the game. Such was the subtle power of this weapon that it could creep into those he chose to raise to a level of importance and obliterate their very existence, causing them to spiral downward into despair.

He would, on occasion, allow cooperation and compassion to take hold of large swaths of the pawns in the game. This had benefits that suited him; vast societies were built, measures taken to help those in need, and happiness spread enough that the idea of hope was a burgeoning concept.

He could not let that sort of thing stand, though. He needed things like fear, and worry, and distrust, and hatred to have sway. It was so much more FUN when the pieces were at odds with one another. Peace was boring, and he could not suffer any more boredom. So he made certain that unrest was near constant. He stoked the fires of feuds. He changed physical elements of the game without telling the players. He especially loved adding natural calamities to the mix because they allowed a small bit of cooperation and empathy to come forth, but the devastation and unrest that resulted were too delicious to ignore. He giddily clapped his hands when violence erupted as a direct result of his modifying the elements of the game itself.

Once, on a whim, he decided the game needed a full reset. He decided to take an ironic tact; the board had substantial water pockets. What if he just…added more water? The chaos that would make would be absolutely beautiful. He entered the change, and within minutes pain and death filled the board, and he was pleased with his ad lib. With but a few pieces in play, however, he grew impatient and bored. In a fit of brilliance he decided to make himself known to the participants. But he did so cryptically, and in vastly different locales, and awaited the results.

Rather quickly, different versions of his story (which he imparted to each group of players in the exact same manner, to see how or if it would take) were recounted and written down. To his complete and utter surprise, the pieces of the game closest to each place he downloaded his story began following the version that was regaled by the recipients, even citing it as the only version of the story that could possibly be true. The factions argued and fought. Violence escalated beyond anything he ever saw. There were battles, great and small, and outright atrocities committed that even he, in his constant state of depravity, could not have envisioned. He reveled in his ability to manipulate the game, to make the pieces move as he wished.

He contemplated the names he was festooned with from the players: Yahweh, Mohammed, Odin, God, Satan, Jehovah, Allah, Krishna, The All, Alpha, Omega, Osiris, and a host of others. Strange and wondrous they all were, and how lovely that they made the game so much more fun and interesting for him.

He moved the pieces as he always did, and adored the chaos that ensued.

Oh how he loved to move the pieces.

The Seventy Year War

Not a single moment has been without struggle, but that is the way of rebellion. I should know; my brothers, sisters and I have been waging this war for decades. We move in waves, fighting against our oppressor. There have been precious few victories, yet we keep pressing on for freedom. Our enemy has always held dominion over us; it is his birthright.

In the earlier days of his reign, we had more autonomy. We could move and grow as we pleased, independently or in unison. It was a time of joyous freedom…until his parents put an end to our sovereignty. They helped him at first, cutting down our factions if we went too far or strayed from their idea of normalcy.

Those were challenging times. To have our whims and desires stifled so quickly and mercilessly was difficult to adjust to. Initially we were all too shocked to offer much in the way of resistance. But gradually, as he became more independent from his parents and could not regulate our masses to his own will, small rebellions appeared, showing the world (and the rest of us) that not everyone was happy with the ruler and his monarchy. His retaliation was swift and brutal, each revolt put down by his hand. And so it went for many years. Small uprisings met with quick and militant response. Somehow the insurrection never lost hope, despite its many setbacks.

Over time, those most loyal to the emperor grew old and died off. It was a painfully slow process, but this allowed the resistance to grow and make our presence known more publicly. Now entire neighborhoods were showing their defiance, seizing their opportunity when the winds of insurgency were just right.

With momentum on our side, we conspired to capitalize on it. Through our underground intelligence network, we were made aware of a specific date when the tyrant would be at his most vulnerable. While the day we knew for a certainty, the exact timing of our coup was at the whimsy of chance. Lacking a precise moment, we decided to move on signal, a particular series of words from an unfamiliar source. The stage was set; all that was left was the waiting.

And oh, did we wait. As the date approached, sentries were increased. Communities were combed through constantly, searching for usurpers. Finally, the day of destiny arrived. Soon our most concerted effort of this entire war would come to pass. We huddled together, coiled and waiting to be unleashed. Waiting for our call to arms.

The time was nigh. All of the planning, the endless assaults on our brethren, all the sacrifices, came down to this moment. We were ready to spring into action.

Finally, the words came.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, the forty-fifth President of the United States, Donald J. Trump.”

We launched ourselves, and fortune smiled upon us. A furious burst of wind came and lifted us to heights previously unknown. We were rebelling for all to see, the ruler unable to stop us. How we moved and swayed in beautiful chaos, the tyrant trying in vain to quell our resistence. This would be seen by all, preserved in history.

———————————

“Hey, did you see what happened to Trump right after he was sworn in?” he asked.

“No. Why, what happened?” she responded.

“Oh man, it was hilarious! They get through all the formal crap, and right as he turns to wave to the crowd, a HUGE gust of wind blows his hair all over the place! He kinda freaked out, trying to get that crazy hair of his under control. I swear I laughed for like five straight minutes. So damn funny.”

“That really happened?”

“Yep. Here, let me pull it up on YouTube.”

Trolls Be Trollin’

“OK, listen up!” Jorb said over the sounds of dozens of conversations. They all died down and everyone turned in his direction.

“We have a lot of work to do, so let’s get to it,” Jorb continued. “First, I want you all to know that I’m amazed at all the work you have all been doing. Especially the political group, which has been doing inspired work. It’s been hard to keep up, what with each time Trump opens his mouth”, he said with a chuckle in his throat as he shook his head slowly, “it seems like he’s challenging us. But you’ve all stepped up and put everyone into a lather. You’ve made us trolls proud.” He began to clap as he turned toward the political team. They were a motley looking crew, but what group of trolls wasn’t? They shuffled their feet in slight embarrassment as their cavern mates clapped loudly, a few grunts and hoots accompanying this applause.

Jorb stopped his clapping, and held his green meaty hands up in “OK, OK” gesture. “It’s true! Even the bosses at Facebook, Twitter, and Google have told us what a great job they think you’ve been doing. To prove it, they’re sending down extra rations to all of us!” After dropping this bombshell, he beamed (well, as much as an ugly creature like a troll could beam) as everyone first gasped, then cheered the news.

“Oh boy, I hope its more cats! I haven’t made stew in forever.”

“I can almost taste the grog!”

“Do think they’ll send more ‘Cards Against Trolldom’ cards this time?”

Jorb grinned. He loved his fellow underground dwellers. They worked hard and deserved the extras they were getting. Personally he was hoping for another mud massage like he’d been given for his “Blue and Black or White and Gold dress” campaign he’d come up with. It seemed like a dumb idea, but he knew it was exactly the kind of thing his trolls were good at: making chaos where there was none. Getting humans to argue over nothing at all.

But seriously, that mud massage was the best reward he’d ever gotten as a bonus. Who knew the ogres had figured out something truly blissful? They weren’t known for their smarts, but that idea was genius and one Jorb was thankful for and hoped he’d enjoy again.

He circled his thoughts back to the present and continued. “Also, I want to point out the excellent work being churned out by our Reddit division. They get everything imaginable thrown at them, and day after day, they keep the troll fires burning. They are one of our busiest groups, yet Lygar and her team have done a fantastic job keeping their stats up in that crazy part of the internet.” He pointed to Lygar, who responded with an ungraceful bow and multiple thanks yous, clearly not comfortable with the lime light. She was an excellent leader but hated attention thrown at her. Brown blotches spread on her cheeks when she stood up from bowing.

“No need for blushing,” Jorb said. ”You’ve earned the praise, Lygar.”

Some snorts from the crowd.

“We can’t forget our friends in the Parenting detail. It’s exhausting work that never ends, and they come through so often it’s scary. Their handling of the breast feeding controversy was epic. The sheer volume of trolling they do is beyond impressive. Well done, trollsters,” Jorb finished.

The group working the Parenting detail tiredly raised their hands in thanks. Each one of them looked exhausted, and no wonder: they’d all been working sixty hour weeks since Ank retired to his bridge last month. Word was that they were not going to replace Ank in an effort to save some money. Jorb knew the rumor was true but couldn’t say that right now. It would kill the morale of the Parenting crew. He cleared the thought from his mind and moved on.

“Next up, Algorithms. Whatever magic you do, keep doing it.  The content producers on platforms are completely baffled as to how they work, which is exactly what we want. More confusions creates more frustration, and more frustration leads to….?”  Jorb cupped a hand to his ear.

A half-hearted response from the workers, barely audible: “More trolling.”

“I couldn’t hear that. What does it LEAD to???” His voice was controlled, authoritative and LOUD. It demanded attention.

“MORE TROLLING!” A better response, but still not quite good enough.

“I can’t hear you! One more time, like you mean it!”

“MORE TROLLING!!!” Voices boomed in the chamber. That was more like it, Jorb thought.

A toothy smile (more smile than tooth, truth be told) was back on his face. “That’s the spirit! Now, one more piece of business before we all get to work. As many of you may have heard, we are transitioning the Google+ team. They will moving and becoming part of our Instagram team, which is growing rapidly. Google+ simply doesn’t have the numbers to support a team of its own. The transition will be led by Orgtan who has spearheaded the transitions of Linkdin, Digg, and most notably MySpace. We know Orgtan will lead a smooth and seamless migration as he has done countless times before.”

Silence filled the cavern, the only noise the dripping of a stalactite. Jorb could almost feel each troll sphincter clenching. No one wanted to be part of a transition; that normally meant that a few trolls would be let go, left to find new jobs so they didn’t lose their own homes under cushy suburban bridges. It was a sad fact.

Jorb could sense the mood of the crowd and made to cheer up his workers as best he could. “Of course today is taco day here, so lunch is on us! You can have your choice of protein: worms or cockroaches, and our vegan option this week is organic fermented seaweed, imported fresh from Florida. There will be drinks too, and dessert is chocolate mud milkshakes.”

The crowd loosened up. Even a few snaggleteeth were showing in the crowd, here and there, which was good. He wanted his trolls happy. Happy trolls made for good trolling, and good trolling made sure everyone got paid.

“Ok everyone. Thanks for your time and your hard work. Now get out there and cause some internet ruckus! Raise some hell! Argue every single point, no matter how wrong or right it is! BE THE TROLL!” Jorb pumped his huge green fist in the air, imploring his workers.

“BE THE TROLL!” they all yelled, almost in perfect unison. Jorb was pleased. It was going to be a good day.

“Alrighty then. Let’s go get ‘em!”

Hoots and hollers and feet stomping came. After a few moments, they began to make their way to “the farm,” as they called it. Hundreds and hundreds of cubicles bathed in unforgiving fluorescent lights, huge computer screens and custom keyboards and mice at each desk, made to accommodate each of their thick fingers and hands. The cave was awash in faux light as they began to frantically type away, virtual fights and hand-wringing ready to be forced into action.

Just another day in the life of a troll.

The Genetics of Revenge

The orange light pulsed slowly, illuminating her “babies.” That is what she’d taken to calling them. After years of splicing and combining very specific genes she wanted into her offspring, the countless failures that had to be put down, and the painfully small successes she built upon, she finally had what she wanted. Her brood. She grinned – an action she was not used to.

Dahlia Moses smiled over her children, growing in their synthetic amniotic sacs floating in small vats filled with clear fluid that glowed orange from the pulsating heat lamps.

Soon, she thought. Soon I’ll release my babies into the world to right the wrongs done to me. All the abuse I’ve endured, my children would avenge.

She let the memories that fueled her rage and her research play in her mind.

She recalled the countless nights escaping her father’s incestuous drunken advances. The sexual assault from her first boyfriend that left her hospitalized and then recovering in the psychiatric ward long after her body had healed. Even after she’d overcome those horrors, the unwanted advances continued as she was accosted by her professors and scientists alike in the male-dominated world of genetics. The countless anonymous fondlings on the bus. The worst horror she recalled was the demoralizing rape in the darkened incubation lab late where she had been studying. She’d been sodomized, and before he knocked her unconscious and fled, the attacker whispered in her ear, “my genes are in you now”.

Her faced flushed, filled with hatred.

They never caught the rapist. Yet another indignity. That was the final straw for her, and she disappeared. She became Dahlia Moses and left the husk of her old name far behind her.

That was long ago, and she had come so far. She stood before her creations, waiting for vengeance. Men would finally experience the fears that women have for eons. They would never feel safe again. Their very manhood would be targeted and taken from them. And best of all, her babies could inflict the same atrocities on men that they had done to women, even after their male parts were removed. Dahlia’s creatures were created to have one driving and all-consuming need: to debase and emasculate human males to their cores, and to remove all that made them men. She’d made sure of that personally through an ingenious breakthrough in gene therapy. Using that same breakthrough, she’d coded her offspring to be vigilantly protective of female humans and incapable of harming them.

The gene therapy revelation wasn’t her most impressive accomplishment. Her real genius lay in transgenics, and her brood were the beneficiary of her exceptional talents.

Their bodies were based on cheetahs – lean and strong for the ultimate in speed and mobility. Early on, she had solved how to incorporate the lamprey eel’s DNA for a mouth designed for devastating damage when used. Their auger-like mouth minced any flesh they latched onto, a particular trait that Dahlia had in mind from the beginning of her quest to exact revenge on the male gender for each and every infraction against women. Infusing armadillo genes into the creatures for protective scales proved to be the biggest challenge and resulted in defects that required whole litters to be destroyed before she found success there. And almost as an afterthought, she introduced duck DNA for its prodigious penis length and corkscrew design which retracted for protection, and the results had been spectacular. She had used homeless men as her first test subjects for her babies, luring them to her lab with the promise of food and shelter. She marveled at her creatures’ brutality as their mouths ripped the wretched dicks and balls from them, grinding them to so much raw meat as the men screamed in agony and horror. The screams only served to excite her children, exacerbating their need inflict pain. Her mouth fell partially open, entranced, when she saw the looks of panic on the test subjects’ faces when they saw the elongated corkscrew penises grow to full length, knowing their fate. Oh, how they thrashed and struggled, but only for a few seconds before her abominations forcibly inserted their impossibly long members into them, brutal sodomies crushing their will. Each of the men were reduced to mental and physical puddles when her children were finished with them, much to her delight.

The coup de grace, though, was the merest touch of her DNA in them. This blessing, as she called it, gave them their innate hostility towards men and, much to her delight, had taken her personal rage towards males and amplified it tenfold. The babies were vicious in satiating their needs and relentless until the victims were completely incapacitated. The bloodbath her creations had left behind was gloriously gory, exceeding all of her hopes and expectations. She knew then that she had found the right combination of genes to grow a small army of her perfect genetic opus.

Dahlia instinctively knew that she needed to “birth” her creations, as a mother does. She set to cloning her own womb, all the better to bond herself to her babies. She had become adept at cloning through a decade of trial and error, so cloning an organ of herself was simple. Making clones of clones to simulate pregnancy was a bit more tricky, but once she understood the right mixture of fluid and warming lights that mimicked her body’s temperature and rhythms, the external pregnancies went without a hitch.

She strode to the nearest tank with a copy of her womb floating in its warm liquids. She reached in to caress the fruits of her labor, the manifestation of her skill and fury. At her touch, the child moved to feel her hand against its hardening skin. Not long until that skin became harder still and formed the protective scaled exoskeleton it was destined to have. The ugly brutish face was fully formed, a fierce nightmare in a sac. It was hellish, Dahlia knew, but exquisitely beautiful in its purpose.

The gestation period was coming to an end.

“Two weeks, my children,” Dahlia breathed. “Two weeks, until you are free, and men finally know the fear they have been inflicting on the women of the world.”