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Excerpt from Eden’s Wake

Belac, Ben, Eve, Pete and three of Belac’s men took turns lowering into the cave through the hole used to steal the Andor. Seven others remained above to trace the same path that the ones below would traverse.

            Belac handed each of his men two wooden branches and kept two for himself to use as torches. Once they were lit, he spoke.

            “You must remember the Andor is not to be touched. It must be carried by the poles inserted through the rings on each side.  This is also the same for the Shadow Ones. If they touch the Andor they will cease to be.”

            As the group moved deeper into the cave, they struck the ceiling with a long wooden rod. The men above would place an ear to the ground to follow them as they progressed.

            “We will halt for a moment,” Belac said. “The torches are growing dim and we must replenish the fuel supply.” He opened a bag and pulled several strips of cloths smeared with a black substance that smelled of petroleum. He wrapped the cloth around his torch. At once, the fire light increased. He did the same for the three of his comrades and then the group continued on.

            “Will the torches help us against the Shadow Ones in the caves as we search for the Andor?” Ben asked. 

            “In a minor way,” Belac replied, “if your skill is such that you are able to touch them with the flame.”

            “Is this the reason we have the torches instead of using the night vision instilled within us?” Ben asked.

            Belac nodded.

             “We will rely on both.”

            The group continued deeper into the underground lair. As they traveled through the tunnel it divided, heading in different directions leaving a menagerie of catacombs. They came to a halt with no clear direction to search.

            Belac pulled more of the strips from his bag and wrapped the torches increasing the light throughout the immediate area.

            “Gather the group closer together,” Belac ordered. “We must intensify the light into a single component, to battle our enemy.”      

            Several shadow creatures danced in and out of the groups vision as they moved closer and then further away from the firelight. As they did so, the torch bearers would swing their burning weapons in unison, causing portions of the creatures to disappear and forcing them to back away.

            The group moved with intent following the retreating creatures, all the while developing an insight of where their quarry lay.

            “I sense we are growing closer,” Belac said, extending his hand to stop Ben, Eve, and Pete’s progress.

            Belac’s three men took the lead, their torchlight fading. Volton, who traveled ahead of the rest, left the ground without warning. Amar reacted, thrusting his torch into the shadow creature holding his friend. The flame startled the creature, causing the spot it touched on its dark form to disappear; however, the gesture came too late as Volton slammed into the ceiling hard enough to shatter his spine and flatten the back of his head. He fell to the ground with a sickening thud that left him twitching as his involuntary nervous system protested one final time.

            “Everyone back!” Belac bellowed.

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Excerpt from TERMINAL CORE

Clay’s expression changed to one of surprise and pain. He raised his hand. In the center of his palm was a quarter inch hole. A drill bit could not have made a cleaner cut. The culprit, a slashworm, had exited on the backside of Clay’s hand and wasted no time working its way up his arm.

“Ah,” Clay groaned, “there’s more than one.” He pulled his right pant leg up in time to see a parasite exit his calf muscle.

“What are they?” Jake screamed. A worm entered his shoulder just above the clavicle connection. Both men writhed on the ground in pain. The soil seemed to move as thousands of the slashworms vied for a free meal.

Before long, Clay and Jake would be consumed alive.

A lightening-like patterned grid of positively charged ions danced a few inches above the ground. It covered a region a quarter square mile, turning the area into a stunning pyrotechnic show.

In the middle of this square, lay two human figures. Both were in fetal positions, swatting at their necks and faces. The constant hum emanating from the charged grid came to an end along with the light display.

A comical scene played out as the men continued to slap themselves. Then, realizing the slashworms had ceased their attack, they stopped their flailing and sat up.

A short, slender man, barefoot and dressed in overalls walked up on Clay and Jake.

“Well, now,” he said, through a scraggly mustache and beard, “‘pears like you two went and sat down amongst some mighty nasty critters.”

“Yeah, I guess it would appear that way,” Clay said. He brushed dirt and debris from his clothes and examined himself for slashworm damage. Strangely enough, there was no pain associated with his wounds.

“I’m-a guessin’ you two is fair the well stupid to be sittin’ down in a slashworm nest.” He pushed a strange looking pistol into a wide holster hanging from his side. The pistol was attached to a double cylinder backpack, by way of a flexible metal hose. At the top of each cylindrical tank set a cone that ended in a dull point. An electrical charge danced between the tips of the two cones.

“Reckon it’s a good thing I were out and about.”He stuck his finger in his right ear and dug around, pulling out a large brown lump and wiping it on his overalls.

“Yes, sir, dang good thing fer real I jest happened along.”

“You . . . you killed those filthy bloodsuckers?” Jake exclaimed.

“Oh no,” the little old man said, “I didn’t kill’ em, I jest ran’ em back in the ground fer a spell.”

Clay and Jake stood, continuing to brush themselves off.

The small man extended his hand.

“Names Taggert Lee.” He shook Clay’s and Jake’s hands. “My friends call me Gert. Being you two fellers ain’t what I’d exactly term as mean, I reckon it’ll be fittin fer you to call me jest that.”

Both men acknowledged Gert’s gesture of friendship, and in the spirit of camaraderie offered their first names to be used by Gert.

“Now, I ain’t sure if you two knows it or not, but them there nasty little buggers that was a gnawin on ya is hardheaded little fellers. They ain’t ones to back down from an easy meal.”

Clay along with Jake looked at Gert and then at each other, not understanding what the little man was trying to say.

Gert shook his head. “Some peoples can be so dense that it jest ain’t proper. Looky here, you two.” He hocked up a big ball of phlegm and spat it on the ground, in front of Clay’s boot. A single slashworm pushed through the soil and sucked the phlegm ball down.

Clay and Jake were mesmerized watching the parasite, push through the Earth, devour the organic Jell-O and disappear.

“Is you two stupid or is ya tryin to get et up?”

The two men broke from their reverie and jumped. They landed beside Gert as the ground boiled with thousands of slashworms in search of the meal they had tasted moments earlier.

“I guess stupid would fit best,” Clay said.

“No argument there,” Jake echoed.

The sky had been growing light for some time now. The uniqueness of this hemisphere included dual suns that never fully set. So there was always light even if just a small amount.

“You two dummies gets not a argment from me neither.”

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Excerpt from TERMINAL CORE

Twenty-three

AS SURPRISED AS POPS WAS, he didn’t show it. He had seen transfers before, but this was the first one that had almost dropped on his head.

Quincy,” Pops repeated. “Can’t say as I recollect anybody named Quincy.”

“He’s the marshal in these parts,” the stranger said.

Pops saw the man slide a small blue object into his pants pocket.

“Now I remember. I met the marshal once; didn’t know his name was Quincy though. Anyway, you’re about thirty miles off target.”He paused, waiting for the newcomer to react; when he didn’t, Pops continued to speak. “Like I said, you’re about thirty miles off. He’s north of here in a town called Baine.”

“North you say?”

“Yep.” Pops took a moment to evaluate the stranger. “Gotta name, friend?”

“Lynch,” was all he said.

“Don’t talk much, do you?”

“Ain’t got much to say, leastwise not to you.”

“Friendly too, I see.”

“I’ll be leaving now, wouldn’t have an ellack I could borrow, would ya?”

“Afraid not, only got the one.” It’s against my better judgment, he thought, but being as I’ve never been accused of using judgment good or otherwise. “Why don’t you stick around, have some coffee and I’ll take a look at that chin of yours.”

“I guess I can do that, a cup of joe would hit the spot.”

Pops and Jake’s quarters were modest. Two bunks, a small kitchenette and work stations to monitor inflow and output. The kitchenette boasted a small table with four chairs.

Lynch took a seat while Pops blew the dust out of two cups, put the coffee on to perk and located the first aid kit.

Lynch didn’t budge as Pops cleaned the wound with alcohol wipes. Once he had worked his way through the blood and hair, he found the gash in the gaunt man’s chin. He looked through the first aid kit and found what he was looking for. Unscrewing the top from the small tube, he squeezed the two ends of the wound together, and ran a line of adhesive down the length of the laceration.

Lynch moved his mouth to speak.

“No,” Pops ordered. “No talking till this sets up.”He held the wound together and counted to sixty, then released his fingers. “You’re good to go. That glue will last long enough for your wound to heal and is stronger than your own skin.”

“Much obliged,” Lynch said, rubbing at the newly closed gash. The coffee pot signaled its doneness by bubbling up into the glass knob on top.

Pops poured two cups. “I take mine black, how about you?”

“Black’s fine.” Lynch accepted the cup.

The men sat enjoying their beverage.

Lynch spoke first.

“Sorry ’bout my gruff attitude earlier.”

“Nothing to worry about. A new place will do that to you, especially when you planned to end up somewhere else.”

Lynch couldn’t tell his benefactor he was in fact exactly where he wanted to be. This one fact weighed heavy on his mind, but no matter—when you have a job to do, you can’t afford thoughts like these to get in the way.

“So,” Pops said, “what brings you to these parts?”

Lynch took a sip of his coffee and pursed his lips.

Pops’ eyes grew wide, the laser blade having split him from groin to sternum.

Lynch stood and retracted the four foot long beam of light. He shoved the handle into his front pocket and then placed a hand on the older man’s shoulder.

Pops continued to stare in disbelief. “Why?”

“Nothing personal, just business.” He held Pops’ shoulder and eased him down until his cheek lay touching the table.

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Excerpt from “Eden’s Wake”

BEN MOANED AND OPENED his eyes. He clamped them shut again as he sat upright, cradling his head in both hands until the dizziness subsided. He opened his eyes, squinting as the meager light filtered in. After several minutes, he could discern shapes.

He pulled himself to his knees, pausing as another wave of vertigo coursed through his brain.
Ben stood, placing his hands on his knees for support. In each direction were contrasting shades of blue. As his vision adjusted to the new surroundings, he was able to distinguish that the darker shades resembled trees. These were not the trees that one would ordinarily expect, but distorted abominations. Their broad bases grew tightly together. The wrinkled bark swirled in random patterns, until ending at the first course of limbs, which hung close to the ground. The branches grew in tiers that twisted in a spider web-like fashion toward a darkened azure sky.
Something akin to bats, but larger, darted in and out of the menagerie of limbs. Ben couldn’t distinguish details, just the ragged silhouettes as they fluttered by.
He was standing on a path of sorts. From the little he could determine, one way disappeared into darkness; the other led toward a pinhead-sized light.
Ben felt the alluring pull of darkness, beckoning him to follow. It repeated over and over its promise of reward if he would take the first step beginning the journey.
The small point of light also called to him, yet promised nothing, save for help along the way and peace once he reached his destination.
Ben looked into the darkness, hesitated and then took his first step toward the light. One of the flying creatures dipped low, opening a small gash in his forehead.
“So that’s how it’s gonna be.” He swatted at the aberration as it dived a second time, knocking it to the ground. As the creature tried to right itself, Ben brought his foot down hard, twisting until mud oozed up the side of his shoe. The miniature beast shrieked, its shrill cry muffled into a gurgle and ultimately silence as its head sunk beneath the murky goo.
Ben raised his foot, bent over, and reached down. The limp form made a sucking sound as he pulled it from its muddy tomb. He brushed caked-on debris from its body, turning it over several times to examine the lifeless corpse. Its wings hung straight down beside its body, gently wafting each time a light, stagnant breeze pushed its way through.
The creature had a curved beak, similar to an eagle, but with rows of random jagged teeth. The forehead swept back, ending at a dome at the crown of the skull. Black, lifeless eyes grotesquely protruded from either side

of its head, just below close-cropped, rounded ears. Its wings were blue, a nearly transparent membrane that stretched between black arm bones. The bottom edge of each wing was so ragged it appeared they were haphazardly torn from tissue paper.
Overlapping, triangular scales covered its chest, and stiff, thick fur its back. Ben noticed a single talon hung from the lower thorax, with no legs to speak of.
That’s why they’re forever moving. They have no way to perch. He lifted the animal by its wing tips, letting the body dangle. The span was approximately two feet.
Ben loosed his hold, allowing the creature to hang by one wing. He curled his lip in disgust and released his final grip. Before the leathery wing could clear his fingertips, the lifeless head screeched, wrenched upward, clamping its serrated beak onto the soft tissue between Ben’s right thumb and index finger.
With the same hand Ben made a fist, squeezing tight around the thing’s neck. With his free hand he grabbed its torso, twisted and pulled, removing the head. Black fluid spewed from the body as it writhed on the ground in silent agony.
The beak remained attached to his hand, its eyes wide and still afire with whatever demented life inhabited the disembodied aberration. The fluid leaking from the severed head seemed to crawl around Ben’s hand and into the wound, opened by the creature’s mouth.
“Ahh!” Ben tried to pry the beak open with no success. His hand seared as though doused with acid. A muffled cackle emanated from the closed mouth. To quell the pain, he grabbed the oozing neck and pulled, removing a sizable portion of his own flesh as he did so.
Ben dropped to his knees. He pulled handfuls of muck from the ground and rubbed it into the burning lesion. Wisps of smoke curled upward as he removed the last of the caustic blood. He bared his teeth, stood and stomped the cackling head deep into the mud.
Ben watched as several bubbles pushed through the mud over the buried head and then stopped. He kicked the decapitated body high in the air and out of sight into the woods on the other side of the path. He stood there, eyes ablaze, staring into a fevered nothing for several minutes until his breathing slowed and his muscles relaxed. Ben took a deep breath, sighed and sat down exhausted.

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