The Ballad of Dick and Tess

Part I

“I love you,” She lied.

“I love you too,” He lied back.

“So how is ‘the man with a bitch in every port?’”

“How did you know that?” He asked, turning to face Tess.

She winked at him, “Let’s just say you got very drunk last night.” Tess rose and took a seat besides Dick on his $25,000 bed made of imported cherry blossom wood from Kyoto. “So, what’s her name?”

“His name actually, and it’s Quazi.”

“Business or pleasure?” Tess asked, letting her effervescent brunette locks drape across Dick Martin’s waxed chest.

Dick’s sharp blue eyes pierced through to the brilliant amber nestled in Tess’s pulchritudinous face, “Both,” Dick said with a mischievous smile.


“Well, it’s not everyday you get to meet the Queen of England.”

The Queen?” Tess asked with astonishment in her voice, and Mr. Martin nodded in response.

“Elizabeth II, or Prince Charles, and Quazi too if you believe me. Or I’m just a delusional chap.” He said as he finished buttoning his attire.

“You’re crazy.” She said.

He smiled, “I know.”

Tess threw herself onto Dick’s luxurious bed, and she sighed, “Dicky, come back to bed.” Her eyes pleaded with him, but Dicky had places to be and people to see.

“You know I can’t, Tess,” He replied as he adorned himself of his Talia suit.

“I know I can squeeze at least another five minutes out of your schedule,” Tess said with a devilish charm in her smile.

Dick Martin turned away from the mahogany mirror as he finished looping his tie, “And how is that, my dear?”

“Oh you’ll see, Dicky Martin,” Tess said with a wink, “You’ll see.

And with a soft chuckle Dicky left Tess in his flat with a spare key and a breakfast in bed.

After Tess had finished her gourmet crepes that Dick had personally prepared for her, her curiosity got the best of her, and to be fair, Tess was a very nosy socialite, but Dick knew that; however, Tess did manage to find Mr. Martin’s diary within five minutes of searching for it.

And she read it all.

And Tess was absolutely terrified by the things she learned of Dick Martin, her latest of paramores in a long line of lovers. And so Tess bolted from Mr. Martin’s flat as soon as she was modest and decent. “What a liar…” Tess grumbled beneath her breath.

“Taxi!” She hailed on the streets of London, and a cab pulled up beside her, “Where to Madam?”

“Anywhere but here; just start driving.” She responded.

“South Main alright, miss?” The cabby asked.

“Works for me,” Tess said.

“Perfect,” The Cabby said, “By the coffee shop work for you? I have a very important meeting with the royal family.”

“The Royal Family?” Tess asked, “With Prince Charles?”

“Yeah,” The Cabby extended his hand for Tess to shake, “Quasimodo, pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

“Quazi? Are you meeting with a Dick Martin?” Tess asked, blinking at the coincidence.

“How did you know?” Quazi asked her.

“Let’s just say I’m… psychic.”

“Really now?” Quazi asked, “What am I thinking of right now?”

“The $500,000 worth of opium you’ve smuggled into London from Hong Kong hidden above the right rear tire” She said.

And Quazi’s face turned pale white, “Oh shit! You really are Psychic! What about now?”

Tess gave it a wild guess, “Uhm… Chinese Food?”

“HOLY FUCK! You ARE psychic!” Quazi said.

“It’s alright. Your secrets are safe with me.” She pressed her face against the cold glass of the taxi cab’s window, “So what is Martin up to these days?”

“Well an English prince is paying top dollar for somme top shelf opiates from Afghanistan, so that’s all I know. I just work for the man, and he is The Man.” Quazi said with a slight chuckle in his voice.

“Well, I know that already. What is he doing today?” Tess asked.

“No Clue. That shit’s above my paygrade,” the cabby responded.

And so they sat in silence the rest of the way to the coffee shop on South Main St. in London of the UK.

And after Quazi dropped off Tess, he parked the car in a discrete location to retrieve his opium, and then he walked onto South Main St. of London. And when Tess was a far way off, and he asked her how she knew he’d be there.

“Sweet serendipity, love, sweet serendipity.” Tess told him.

“You didn’t rifle through my belongings and find my little blue book, did you?”

“Maybe,” Tess smiled, “maybe.”

“Well if you did, I may have to kill you.” He smiled back at her and winked as the waiter placed a cup of Earl Gray on the table with a hint of bergamot and citrus, “If you did.”

Dick Martin sipped on his Earl Gray as the waiter took down Tess’s order, “So Ms. Lockeson, did you read through my diary?”

She shook her head, “No, Mr. Martin, no I did not.”

Dicky laughed loudly, “Never play poker, Tess. You’re gonna lose every hand.” A jolt of panic bolted down Tess’s spine. She knew that he knew. And he knew that she knew that he knew.

“Don’t worry Tess. You didn’t find my black journal, I’m sure.” Dick assured her.

His words slightly alleviated Tess’s concerns, “So what’s in your black journal?” Tess asked.

“Well if I told you that, I really would have to kill you,” Dicky Martin said with a glare as cold as stone.

Tess got the message. “So how well do you know the royal family?”

Dick sat up straight, “Well Ms. Lockeson,” then he placed his empty cup of tea on the table, “You’re about to find out.”

Tess looked behind her to find a young Prince of England walking towards their little coffee table set out on the streets. He was wearing a Brooks Brothers suit as he carried an embossed brief case of genuine Tuscan Leather and set it down before their table.

The Prince nodded. “Mr. Martin, I presume.”

“Prince Charles,” Mr. Martin nodded back, “And William?”

“He had more important manners to attend to – I think something to do with someone by the name of Kate Middle- something or other. Anyhow, the flowers?”

Dick pointed behind Charles into the crowd, “Quazi is on his way as we speak.” And in five minutes the Cabby that had just dropped off Tess took a seat beside her as he carried a briefcase identical to the Prince’s.

With a nervous glance at Tess, Quazi exchanged brief cases with Prince Charles, both of them making very sure not to be noticed by anyone. The waiter had just returned with Tess’s coffee when Prince Charles rose from his seat as a buzzing began in the pocket of his jacket. “Please excuse me gents and madam, but business calls.”

And so they ordered for The Prince as he took his call, but Tess, being the intrusive gossip she is, listened intently to The Prince’s call. “… don’t care who he is! Kim Jong-Il is not going to get any blueprints for any weapons! Assassinate the twat if you need to, but DO NOT LET THE GODDAMN BLOODY GOOKS GET THOSE BLUEPRINTS!”

And Tess asked herself just what kind of Pandora’s Box she had opened when she read through Dicky’s diary.

“Please excuse me gentlemen, but it appears that I need to cut this meeting short,” The Prince said when he returned to the table. “It was a pleasure meeting you Ms…” He extended a hand towards Tess.

“Lockeson. Pleasure to meet you as well, your majesty.” She said, shaking The Prince’s hand. And with that he disappeared into the crowd.

“So we just sold drugs to The Crown Prince of England?” Quazi asked, taking a bite of his Western Omelette on an everything bagel.

Dick simply brought a finger to his lips as he nodded his head. “How’s the sandwich?”

“Oh my B, brotha. You know this chick can read minds right?”

“Oh really? Or maybe she simply lacks respect for others’ privacy.”

Tess’s cheeks flushed red, “In my defense it was right under your pillows.”

Dick wiped away the bit of the Parisian fare on his chin with an embroidered handkerchief. “Fair enough.”

“Uh… I can’t do that psychic shit y’all are up to, wanna fill a brotha in?”

Dick retrieved an envelope from his jacket and slid it across the table to Quazi, “How about I just give you $10,000 and not fill you in?”

Quazi shrugged his shoulders, “Works for me.”

Not long afterwards the waiter dropped off the check and Dick Martin left a very generous tip. Not long after that Quazi started heading back to his taxi, which left Tess alone with Dick at the table.

“So what’s your real name, Mr. Martin?” Tess asked him once they were alone, and Dick nearly spewed the tea from his mouth at her audacity.

“My, my. They told me you’d be nosy, but I had no idea you’d be so intrusive.” He said.

“Please? I’m really, really curious now.” But still the gentleman refused to budge.

“Pretty please with a cherry on top, Mr. Jared Greez?” Tess begged.

Dick’s jaw dropped open, and this time he did spill tea on his Talia suit. “Don’t use that name in public!” He hissed at Tess.

“Then tell me your name, Mr. Alex Watski.” She hissed back.

“Careful, girl. Curiosity killed the cat.” He said with daggers in his voice. Tess grew frightened at that, but her curiosity was greater than her fear of Dick Martin.

So she pressed on, “Agent-”

“003, double ‘O’ 3; just call me three.” Dick Martin said as he rose from the table.

“Wait! Do you-” But before she could finish her sentence Dick had already vanished into the crowd, just like The Prince of England.

Dick made a phone call to his superior once he made sure that Tess had lost sight of him. “Mr. Smith, my position and my cover as Dick Martin is compromised. Orders?”

Compromised?? Already?”

“You weren’t kidding; she’s very nosy.”

Dick Martin stepped into a covert alley where he knew the CIA kept a base of operations in London, “So how do you want me to handle this, Mr. Smith?” But then the call suddenly ended and Mr. Martin turned around to find agent 001 behind him.

“You said ‘compromised.’ Exactly how compromised is that?” Agent 001 asked him.

“Tess knows.”

“How much?”

“Everything since Stalingrad.”

“Even Washington D.C.?”

Dick gave a slow drawn out nod, and John Smith brought a palm to his face. “You bloody wanker…” Agent 001 said.

“My apologies, but-”

Mr. Smith cut him off, “Don’t apologize; just take care of it.”

“You don’t mean…” Dick began to ask, but Mr. John Smith had already read his mind.

“That is exactly what I mean, Mr. Faolan, and if you’re still loyal to the Queen, you will clean up your mess!

“What if I just-”

Agent Smith pushed upon a specific maroon brick that was a slightly darker hue of maroon than the crimson ones around it, and the wall parted like an elevator as the two MI6 agents stepped into the CIA base.

Agents Smith and Martin nodded at the security guards. “Afternoon, gents.” They said one after the other, and the guards nodded back in kind. The agents strolled past CIA clerks and spies as they made their way to the American Armory, and once they past the security screenings, Mr. Smith pulled a silenced 1911 Colt.45 from the shelves before pressing it into Dick’s hands. And their eyes met, and without a single word Dick knew exactly what he needed to do.

“Please 003, keep your bloody lust in check and don’t bring any more civilians into this.” Agent 001 said as they took the elevator back up.

“I can’t even-”

“Either you keep your bloody lust in check or I’ll take you to Buckingham Palace myself.”

The brick walls parted once more, and Dick debated whether he could simply lock her up instead, but he figured it best not to ask.

“Oh, and Mr. Martin, did Charles ever-”

BANG! Agent 001’s head exploded like a watermelon being smashed by a warhammer as they stepped into the alley. Agent 003 had managed to take cover behind a dumpster in time for the second bullet as the sniper reloaded his magazine, but Agent 001 was not quite as lucky.

“Fuckin’ Norks,” Dick cursed beneath his breath, “Bloody fuckin’ Norks.” And for a moment John Smith’s body stood still like a statue before it fell over backwards into a puddle of what was probably piss.

BANG! The next bullet rang against the dense metal of the dumpster as Dick pulled out his SAT phone and the 1911 Colt .45 Agent Smith had just given him.

“Quazi! Get to the American HQ ASAP! We got some bloody fuckin’ gooks on our hands! And get-” Dick cried out in pain as the sniper shot the phone out of his hand and bore through his shoulder. The blare of sirens began nearing in the distance, but with the rush hour of London traffic there was no way the police, or Quazi for that matter, could possibly get to him in time. And Dick was losing a lot of blood. A lot.

Dick took a look at the gaping hole where his shoulder blade once was, and he saw clear through to the other side. The crimson layers of bricks stained scarlet by his blood greeted him as he retreated behind the dumpster, out of the North Korean’s line of sight. Dick screamed in agony as though a thousand knives had been sown into his flesh, and as the sniper took another shot at him, Dick searched for the maroon brick with a desperation in his pale blue eyes, which were growing dimmer by the second.

BANG! Again another bullet whizzed past his head, grazing the lobe of his left ear and leaving a trickle of blood down his neck in its wake. Then he found it. Five feet above Agent Smith’s cadaver lay the maroon brick on the other side of the alley. And so, with what little strength he had left, Dick fired at the fourth story window where he had caught sight of the sniper’s nest, and Dick had barely the energy or power to take cover behind 001’s corpse by the time the sniper reloaded and fired again. But this time Dick had a human meat shield.

The bullets walloped into Agent Smith’s body like the punches of a veteran boxer, but Dick managed to push the brick in time and just miss the last bullet by the width of a single strand of hair. Agent 003 thanked God and the Queen for getting out of that mess alive, but he looked like he was going to die any second as he sprawled out against the elevator floor as it descended to the clandestine base of operations. Then he heard the crack of gunfire and the clash of steel, and when the elevator doors parted ways, the seventeen security guards he and Smith had greeted not ten minutes before all lay dead in a pool of their own blood.

But Dick knew he didn’t have time to mourn the loss of seventeen friends; he probably didn’t even have time to bandage his wounds. Regardless he grabbed the very first medkit he saw off the walls and made his way to the security office where he set the base on lockdown. “Code Red. This is NOT a drill. Code Red. This is NOT a drill. Code…” The loudspeaker boomed throughout every room as the bright red lights flashed on and off and Dick tied a tourniquet around his wound.

As Dick was tending to his injuries he heard a banging on the elevator walls he had just passed through. Then a clatter of stones followed by a loud thud met his ears. Someone had just jumped onto the roof of the elevator car.

Dick readied his gun as he finished taking care of his bullet wound, and a ricochet of stomps echoed down as the intruder attempted to break into the CIA base. Then the doors slid open and Dick unloaded the last of his magazine when the red lights flashed again. Then Dick realized he had just unloaded the last of his clip at Quazi, who thankfully had been using the North Korean sniper as a shield.

“Nigga! Watch where you fucking point that Colt!” Quazi said, holstering his magnum. But Dick had lost too much blood by then to stay conscious, nevermind offer a witty retort.  “How in the hell can you call a nigga for back-up then shoot at the- Oh Shit! That sniper got you bad!” Quazi rushed to finish taking care of Dick’s wounds as he slumped against the wall.

“Yo! Dick!” Quazi was getting worried. He had never known Dick Martin to ever be anything less than dependable, but right now Dick was exactly that. Agent 003 was out cold.

“Ya! Meechim nomduri pali nagga!” Quazi heard aways down the hall. “Tomonga su eenundeh, MOT SUMO!” North Koreans. Quite a lot of North Koreans to be accurate. At least that’s what Quazi thought it sounded like. He picked up an AK-74 from one of the now deceased security guards in response; he was gonna need it. As soon as the first Korean made his way round the corner, Quazi unleashed a hailstorm of bullets till the drums were empty.

When the smoke cleared, the flashing red lights revealed five Norks lying dead on the ground, but Quazi knew there were more waiting around the corner.

“Dicky! Yo Dicky, wake up!” Quazi yelled at agent 003. “Motherfucker, you do NOT pay me enough for this shit.” But the Jamaican’s words fell on deaf ears.

“Ya, Jongsun, hana pyuh!” One of the North Koreans shouted, and a grenade bounced down the hallway towards Quazi. Quazi prepared for a blast of shrapnel, but instead a flash of bright light burst forth, blinding Quazi and leaving him with an intense ringing in his ears. When his senses returned to him he found half a dozen men with half a dozen guns, all of them pointed at Quazi.

So Quazi, being Quazi, let his arms fall to the floor and threw his hands into the air, “Woah! I’m a sellsword, nigga; I fuckin’ surrender!”

“Ya, sersworld go moinge aruh?” One of the Norks asked.

“English motherfucker! Do you speak it? Cause-” One of the Koreans clocked back the hammer on the magnum and pressed it to Quazi’s temple.

“Shut the fuck up.” Said the Nork with the gun to Quazi’s head. “How’s that for English?”

Quazi gulped down his fear as beads of sweat trickled down his forehead. “Good English. Very good as a matter of-”

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!” The Nork roared into Quazi’s face. “Where are the blueprints?”

“The what now?” Quazi asked, glancing at his empty AK-74 on the ground.

“THE BLUEPRINTS!” Spit flew into Quazi’s face. “Where are the blueprints!?”

“What blueprints?” Quazi asked, “I don’t know jack sh-”

“Pali juguh!” The Nork said as he pulled the trigger on the handgun pressed against Quazi’s head.

BANG! The Nork fell over backwards with a bullet between his eyes. BANG! BANG! BANG! Quazi turned around to find all six North Koreans dead and Dick Martin with a smoking gun in his hand.

“Thank sweet Jesus you’re still kickin’, Dick.” Quazi said, catching his breath, but Dick was already out cold again. And so Quazi took him to a hospital. And while the doctors were operating on Dick, Quazi heard a buzzing from the inside pocket of the blood stained Talia suit. And Quazi, mildly concerned about his line of work, answered the phone.


A North Korean responded, “We have Tess.”

(This story is currently available on Amazon for $2.99)


The Prodigal Son of Satan

Chapter I: A Life in Ruins

Do you remember home, Daliya? I don’t mean Rohan’s grove, no. I’m talking about Dharsova. I had almost forgotten the way nature swept through the cities of the ancients there, how acres of grass carpeted their roads and entire forests burst forth from the steel frames of once-grand skyscrapers. I had always wondered how the emerald ruins of Old Dharsova must have awed countless travelers in the days of its glory long ago when the ruins were a metropolis.

I told you I was from Naileh, but to be honest Daliya, I was born and raised in Durham, a small village settled by the tribes of Aker and nestled in the foothills of the Keinshoums to the North. The elders say the bricks of the buildings there had been laid long before The Occupation, before the First Apocalypse even. The ruins were thousands of years old, and the city had fallen to the elements over the ages. Branches and vines wove through windows and walls. Wildlife made homes in the offices and stores, but game was plentiful and harvest season always filled our granaries. Life was good in Durham. You must be wondering why I ever left. I owe you that at least.

My wife was getting married to someone else. She wasn’t my wife yet though, just the girl I had loved all my life. There was an old war memorial that Miri liked. The inscription was too worn-out to read, not that I could read Ancient Dharsovan to begin with, but the statue stood high upon a hill overlooking the ruins of Durham. It was a beautiful view, and the bent knee of the bronze soldier made for a comfy spot to sit. I met Miri there every morning on my way towards my father’s sheep to watch them as they grazed, and at the end of every day I’d find her there waiting for me so we could watch the sun set over our village together as we talked about our days. When we were children, we snuck away from our parents and our chores to meet there before we ventured forth into the ruins, hoping to scavenge a working artifact or discover something about life before The Occupation.

But Miri wasn’t sitting atop the lap of the giant bronze statue today. She was somewhere else, like she had been yesterday and the day before. I had barely spoken to her in the month before her wedding. When I had caught sight of her with Rian the other day, her eyes met my gaze for just a moment before she laughed at something he said and walked away. I had simply stood there, shocked she hadn’t even acknowledged me. Finding nothing but air in Miri’s spot left me with the same cold, lonely feeling I found that day in her eyes. So I just kept walking up the path to my father’s flocks to keep an eye on the herd before he’d scold me for abandoning my chores, and as I was walking, I cursed Rian as though he had murdered my family. He might as well have.

I had spent more years with Miri pilfering through the remnants of Durham or climbing high up the last of the skyscrapers still standing from The Old Wars than the number of weeks they had known each other, but one day Rian rolled into town with a working car and swooped Miri off her feet with promises of a better life in Ralon. I hadn’t seen her in the months since.

By the time I reached the pastures, my father was already there, resting in the shade of a cherry blossom as old as he was. His father had planted it in thanks to the Prophet when our tribe had first found the empty ruins of Durham, still bountiful with ancient delicacies like chocolate or soda.

“Father, what are you doing with the herd?” I asked him, “You need to get your rest.”

When he didn’t respond, I figured the old man was sleeping and brought my attention to counting the sheep that grazed in the hills overlooking Durham. Typical. A lamb always wandered off when my father watched the flock. With a pang of irritation, I hiked along the hills in search of the missing sheep. To my pleasant surprise, Buzkashi had already found her.

Remember Buzkashi, Daliya? A boy couldn’t have asked for a more faithful stallion. He was my father’s gift to me when I came of age. I wish I could’ve given Buzkashi’s foal to my son and continued the tradition, but I have you to thank for that. The horse was smart though, I’ll give him that. He meant to warn me on that hill, I’m sure of it. I should have taken Miri and my family and run far, far away that morning, before she ever got a chance to step into that church, but all I did when I saw Buzkashi was stroke his mane and feed him a sugar cube I had been saving to share with Miri. Buzkashi even whinnied off into the horizon where the nomads would hike through the mountain passes and into the valley where Durham nested. In hindsight I should’ve known the horse was warning me, but the way those silhouettes danced across those rolling hills, I assumed the outsiders were little more than the merchant caravans that passed through our village on their camels and elephants, but if I had stayed just a moment longer, I would have known it was Rel-Sabat in their armored convoy. But like a fool I mounted Buzkashi and led the lamb back to the flock, where I kept watch for the morning.

A few hours later as my legs were growing weary, I sat down beside my father beneath his Sakura. The shade was a blessing from the prophet as a breeze assuaged the fierce summer sun. It was there beneath that cherry blossom where I first met Miri.

The sky that night must’ve been the prettiest I had ever seen, but it wasn’t nearly as pretty as the girl lying beside me. Miri Garit. She was my best friend growing up, but I couldn’t help falling for her. Everyone says their crush is one of a kind, but Miri- Miri really was one hell of a kind. Cute, smart, kind, fun. She was the kind of girl that only existed in the stories our parents told us by the fire. Her eyes shined brighter than the moon hanging over them, and her smile lit up the night sky like the sea of stars above. She was perfection incarnate.

Everything about that night was perfect. Nestled beneath a welcoming tree beside a beautiful girl as I gazed at the stars after a day of play with a cherub. What more could a boy want? Of course, a thin little arm shot through the air like the shooting star it pointed at.

“Make a wish!” Miri exclaimed with glee, eyes clamped shut as hushed words escaped beneath her breath. “I wished for a husband who’ll always love me,” she said bubbling with all the innocence of a child. “He’ll take me away from these boring, old ruins, and we’ll live some place nice like Dunlhasa, Naileh or maybe Ralon.”

“But they keep Dharsovans as slaves in Friga!” I said, scared out of my mind of ever finding myself in that frigid hellhole.

“Okay, maybe not Dunlhasa, but I wish someone would come and take me away someplace, any place other than here.”

“Why’d you say your wish out loud?” I asked, “Now it won’t come true!” I was secretly happy about that. I liked it here. But then tears began to well in Miri’s eyes.

“Never?” She asked. I couldn’t tell her the truth. My balls hadn’t dropped yet. So I grabbed her hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze. The smile she beamed my way made my heart skip a beat, several beats.

“Well, what’d you wish for?” She asked, breaking me from my reverie. I wasn’t superstitious, but I hesitated. I had wished for the one thing I truly wanted in life, and I didn’t want to risk it never coming true.

“Oh pretty please? I told you mine!”

“Alright,” I couldn’t argue with that, “I didn’t wish for anything cool. It was stupid, really,” I began.

Locks of golden curls draped across Miri’s face as she turned towards me. She was waiting to hear my one desire, her lips just one bold move away, a hint of cherry lingering in the inches between us. I cherished that moment. I burned how lovely she was into my memory, and it took all the self-control I could muster not to reach out and brush her rosy cheek, to shift just a little bit closer, to kiss her, but I couldn’t bring myself to risk our friendship. The thought of growing distant killed me deep down. Instead I soaked in the sight of her, letting silence reign, the soft hush of her breath ringing in my ears, the rustle of wind running through the meadow. If I listened closely enough, I thought I could hear the beating of her heart. I wanted more than anything for it to beat for me.

“What is it?” Miri asked.

My cheeks flushed scarlet as I scrambled through my thoughts, at first to make it seem as though I hadn’t been staring at her, then again for a plausible lie. “I want to be a soldier.”

“Oh,” Miri said before realizing, “Come on Krade, you’re a scaredy-cat.”

“Am not!”

“Are too! Climb this tree!”

I sat up turning behind me to find a canopy of leaves that climbed stories into the sky. No way was I climbing that. “Uh, I broke my leg just now.” I said ‘Ow!’ for good measure, but Miri just shot me a look.. I wasn’t getting out of this one. “Okay, just promise me you won’t laugh.”

“I promise, cross my heart and hope to die.” With that I laid back down upon the grass and let my embarrassment out with a sigh, “I wished for…”

Miri’s eyes locked onto me, and the way they sparkled, I swore time had frozen for a moment, “a dance with the girl of my dreams beneath this cherry blossom with three full moons in the sky.”

“That’s so sweet! Miri squealed, “Who did you have in mind?”

The question left me caught in those doe eyes like a deer caught in highbeams because I wanted nothing more than to say ‘you.’ But like a fool, I just said I didn’t know.

“Shouldn’t you be at a wedding?” My father asked, stirring himself from his seat and me from my daydream.

“Shouldn’t you be in a hammock?” I replied, “Besides, I need to watch the flock.”

My old man clutched onto a low-hanging branch as he brought himself to his feet, “No you don’t. The flock needs to be watched, but not by you. Now go to Miri’s wedding. Stop it. You love the girl.”

“Yeah, but she’s marrying someone else.”

“Only because you’ve kept the girl waiting too long,” He placed a hand on my shoulder, “She loves you too. Set things right, Krade.”

I couldn’t argue with that, and in that moment I thanked the Prophet for my father because he had reminded me of what I needed to do. I hopped on Buzkashi’s back and galloped down the sloping hills of my father that oversaw Durham all the way to the church in the heart of the village where the service was already in progress.

The doors had been locked, of course. I spent nearly twenty minutes looking for a way in before I found an old window with a busted lock on the second floor. It was a dusty old place, filled with cobwebs and artifacts from long-gone days. A handful of skeletons were strewn on the floor in choir robes. The church didn’t get much use, but our tribe had restored the first floor soon after we settled Durham. We gathered there every week to offer praise and worship to the Prophet and to hear the wisdom of his scriptures. It was as I was nearing the stairway that I first heard her voice.

“Nice dress,” Selise said, walking into the room and oblivious to me hiding behind the spiral staircase. “It’d look better on me though.” She eyed the bridal gown from top to bottom, her gaze landing on the face of her little sister, “Prophet knows what Rian sees in you.”

Miri ignored her. The bride was too busy losing her mind before a three panel mirror of gilded mahogany. Her eyes fluttered shut behind a veil embroidered with silken petals that flowed to her nape as she tried to calm her racing heart, but Miri managed a smile through it all. A brilliant diamond sat on her ring finger, and soon she’d be living out the rest of her days in a far away land where the people flew through the air in mechanical beasts and more died from obesity than starvation while I broke my back every harvest and herded sheep.

A huge grin cracked onto Miri’s nervous face, she was choking on too much excitement to keep a stoic front around Selise, but nothing could ruin today for her, not even her sister because she was going to be Mrs. Miri Brand. “Everything will be alright,” she told herself beneath the click of Selise’s ivory shoes against the engraved marble. “Everything will be alright.”

“Please, who are you trying to fool?” Selise lifted the veil from Miri’s face, “We all know he’s just marrying you because you’d be some easy Dharsovan souvenir to bring home and fuck occasionally.” Selise’s hand wafted to her own hair, letting the flowers of lace drift back over the bride.

I could see Miri burn with envy as she watched her sister admiring herself in the mirror. Selise had always been the pretty one, but Miri had prayed that maybe, just maybe she’d be prettier on her wedding day. Well-endowed, radiant skinned blessed with a face that makes Helen of Troy look like a meth addled prostitute, Selise could fill an ocean with all the attention she showered in, and Selise never let a day go by without letting her little sister know it, and Miri hated her for it. But Selise wasn’t a very hard person to hate.

“What do you want, Selise?”

The goddess of beauty circled Miri, her fingers brushing against the frills and patterns that adorned the young bride. “Look in the mirror, Miri. What do you see?”

“I see a narcissistic cunt wearing a dress she paid for by sleeping with men three times her age.” Miri said.

Selise stopped behind her sister, “And I see your future.” Hands of silk caressed Miri’s flustered cheeks and a voice whispered into her ear, “I see him running off with another woman a year or two later. I see you begging for loose change in the slums. I see you starving with your bastard children because you married some outsider that’s going to forget all about you the day you start getting old.”

“That’s not going to happen.” Miri said.

“Oh?” Selise chuckled, “Beware false Prophets. You’re just a game that lasted too long because, let’s face it, no one cares about you. You’re as worthless as you think you are. Krade didn’t want you, so now your Rian’s sloppy seconds. Maybe his twelfth helping even. Who knows how many women have sucked that foreigner’s disease-ridden cock. I’m sure you’d know the answer.”

I wanted to wipe away the tears welling in Miri’s devastated eyes as I watched Selise’s words wrench a knife into her sister’s heart. Somewhere buried deep beneath years of living in Selise’s shadow of hating herself every time she looked in the mirror, of worrying what people thought of her everyday, a part of her couldn’t help but believe Selise.

“Poor girl, are you going to cry? This is why everyone talks about you. You might as well quit while you’re ahead. Leave him at the altar before he leaves you at the courthouse.”

Miri tried to say something, but only a whimper escaped her lips before Selise cut her off, “People like you aren’t fit to be loved, my dear sister.”

Miri couldn’t take it anymore. She finally exploded. “I hope all your children are stillborn, so you’ll have to come home to a finished, painted, empty nursery again and again. I hope you die like your daughter did.” Too far. It did the trick though. Miri could see all the life in her sister die, and without a word Selise stormed off. She was right though. The dress would have looked better on her.

The door slammed shut behind Selise as Miri watched her sister leave. “Damn it.” Miri muttered. From the looks of it, I thought she might have actually considered cancelling the wedding, and for a second I didn’t hate Selise. For a second.

Miri gazed deep into the mirror, “What does he see in a loser like me?”

A voice rang out behind her, “The most sublime work of art to have ever graced my humble eyes.” Startled, Miri spun around to find the face of an Adonis staring into her own, “I don’t deserve you.”

The groom lifted Miri’s chin, “No you don’t.” Rage coursed through my veins as their lips met for the thousandth time. “You deserve someone far better.” Rian said, and just like that Miri forgot she ever even had a sister.

How could I ever compete with that? Rian was suave, rugged, and charming. I was none of those. Jealousy consumed me at the sight of Miri stroking her fingers through Rian’s slick, black hair.

He planted a kiss atop her forehead, “Nervous?”

Miri’s eyes looked upwards, “Not anymore.”

“If my memory serves correctly, tradition dictates the groom not see his bride until the ceremony.” Miri’s father interrupted. The man stepped towards them with a purpose, his back perpendicular to the floor, his head of perfectly aligned gray basked in the kaleidoscope of sunlight that poured through the great windows of stained glass ten feet tall. I have no idea how her father didn’t intimidate Rian- Miri’s father intimidated Miri. Elder Garit stopped a few feet before the couple, eyeing them down with all the austerity and haughtiness that his age could afford. His silent glare rang out loud and clear. Leave. Now.

“Looks like I’ll see you in an hour.” And with that Rian strided through the door, exchanging glances with Miri’s father on the way out. It was the closest they’d ever come to mutual respect.

Now his gaze came to rest on Miri where it wordlessly criticized every detail of her, from the stray split end to the loose threads on her dress. She let herself breathe after a slight nod from her father. Approval. Nothing impressed this man. His quiet reservation was the most affection Miri could hope for.

“Things are going smoothly, Miri.” He said, “I trust that you will keep things going smoothly. I will not suffer any further dramatics from you or your sister.” Elder Garit straightened his fine robes. “Selise already stormed out in tears. What did you say?”

Miri refused to respond to that. She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction. She was nothing more than a memo in his agenda, and she wanted him to know the feeling went both ways. “You should have married Krade.” He said. Then he left the room.

The booming roar of the chapel organ heralded the bride, and soon I was all alone in the Bride’s Room once Miri had walked out the door. I wasn’t alone for long though. Selise had walked back into the room as she let the tears fall like rain from her eyes. Her makeup ran down her face in streams and the scarlet on her lips from moments ago were smeared over half her dress. It was when her eyes met mine that I really felt sorry for her for the first time in my life. She was a pitiful thing to see. I couldn’t believe the broken down mess in front of me was the beauty I had seen moments ago, and when she embraced me, I felt the sorrow of a barren woman cursed with a barren womb.

“Dear Prophet, Krade, what did you hear?”

I returned the hug as she pressed her cheek into my chest, “Everything.”

“I had a reason, you know.” She took a deep breath, “Fuck. I’m an awful person.”

I met her gaze, “I know.”

“Fuck you too Krade.” Selise rested her head against my shoulder.

“Today is your sister’s wedding.”

“I know. I tried my best.”

“Your ‘best?’” I asked, curious by what she meant, but she brushed my question aside and stayed like that for a while, just looking at me. She looked at me with a longing I had never seen in a woman. It started to grow unbearable, but when I started to leave, Selise stopped me.

“Wait.” She said, but I had a marriage to prevent and no time to wait.

She pressed her hand harder against my chest, “Please Krade.”

Her voice rang with a desperation, so I waited.

Selise grabbed hold of my hands, “I should’ve told you this a long time ago.”

Then she kissed me.

“I love you” Selise said.

Silence, I responded with.

A million thoughts bore through my head at once. She was waiting for me, for me to say something, anything at this point. Soon her anticipation and excitement gave way to fear and trepidation as I stood there with a dropped jaw and a stunned expression. I didn’t love her; I didn’t even like her. I hated her. I hated her for the way she always treated Miri, for the way she acted like she was the only person in the world that mattered.

“Selise, what about Drake?”

“He doesn’t have to know. No one has to-” She stopped when she read my face, “Miri is getting married, Krade! You can’t have her!” Her voice was trembling now, ready to burst into tears again.

“Selise, I love someone el-”

She pushed me against the wall, knocking over a clatter of furniture, “I know who you fucking love, dammit.” She stormed off, “I just wanted you is all. It’s all I ever wanted.”

I was in absolute shock. I debated telling my brother what had happened. Selise was his wife. I stood like that for several minutes trying to comprehend Selise’s confession. The most beautiful girl in the village wanted me? But my thoughts were cut short when I heard footsteps rushing down the hallway. In a panic of being where I shouldn’t, I dashed back up the stairs to where I had been hiding. When it sounded as though they were coming up the staircase as well, I found a closet filled with balls of dust and moths that fluttered away as I shut myself in the closet.

I couldn’t fucking believe it. Rian was cheating on Miri. Moments before he was to pledge his life away to the woman I love, here this piece of shit was carrying a giggling teenager from the village up into the attic to fuck. My chest erupted in anger at the sight. I could hear the girl asking if it was really alright for him to be doing this so soon before getting married.

“The Prophet’s not watching, my dear.” Was all Rian said before sliding himself into her. “Besides, the risk makes it all the more exciting, doesn’t it?”

I burst out from the closet in a rage as the girl’s moans quickly changed to screams. I swung my fist at Rian’s arrogant little face, knocking it in a bleeding mess to the floor while the girl tried her best to hide her shame. I wanted to murder the both of them for what they had just done to Miri, what they must have been doing this whole time, but by the time I had resolved to, half the village had entered the attic to investigate.

“Krade, what the hell is- By the Prophet! Rian! What the fuck are you doing?” My brother screamed at the top of his lungs.

“Drake don’t let Miri see this, please,” I pleaded with him, but it was too late.

“See what?” Miri asked as she climbed up the stairs. When she saw Rian passed out on the floor with his limp cock hanging out next to the young harlot, Miri’s legs gave way beneath her as she fell to the floor. I threw my arms around her as she kicked and screamed and cursed Rian’s name. Outraged would not have done justice to the ire of Elder Garit. Had it not been for Selise, Rian would have been a dead man.

“Father!” She cried out, clambering up the stairs, disoriented and shaken. Her dress had been torn to shreds and blood stains ran from head to toe. Bruises and cuts of all manner had covered Selise.

“My dear daughter, what in the world has happened to you?” Elder Garit exclaimed after seeing his daughter.

“Rape!” Selise cried, “I’ve been raped!”

All of the village was dying to ask who, but Selise was far too inconsolable to respond. It wasn’t until I stood up that Selise made the slightest movement. She fell over backwards, pointing at me and squirming away into the corner. “Krade! It was Krade! Krade raped me!” She screeched.

And in that moment I thought I’d die. In seconds dozens were trying to kill me. Drake was the first to land a punch on me, “YOU RAPED MY WIFE!” My older brother roared. His fists crushed my ribcage like a bundle of twigs. I hadn’t even had a chance to defend myself or reason with anyone. With a girl as beautiful as Selise, I’m sure any man would have been putty in her hands, and Selise had manipulated those men into beating the ever loving shit out of me. I REALLY hated her now. Soon enough I was surrounded on all sides by people who wanted my blood. They were stomping on me, kicking my face in. I could’ve sworn they had broken twenty of my bones in the first minute. I thought they were going to beat me to death right there.

“Wait!” Selise shouted, jumping between me and the raging villagers. “Stop! We should get Elder Daker first before we do anything else to Krade.”

Drake had been bashing my face in when his wife stopped him, “Wait? Wait for what? Did this man rape you or not?”

Selise froze. She couldn’t tell the truth. Not now, not after what she just did to me. “He did.”

“Then he dies.” Drake said.

“But no man should have to bury his son without knowing why first. Get Elder Daker.”

Soon enough everyone agreed to that while I lied in a puddle of my own blood. I needed to tell them I was innocent, but the pain overwhelmed me. I felt as though knives had been stitched into my flesh and every move I made tore through my muscles, but someone pulled me to my feet when I went to rise. I don’t know how but I managed to stand for just a second, and with what little control I still had over my limbs, I pointed at Selise and screamed at the little wench. “SHE LIES!” But that was a poor choice on my part. Drake hurled me out the window.

Charging into me from the other side of the room, he rammed all his mass into me. That hurt bad. Drake was built like a brick house from all those years forging our plowshares and hoes. It was enough for the old, rotted drywall to give way and we fell twenty feet into the streets.

I think Drake broke every other bone in my body when he landed atop me with a thud. The weight of his figure crushed my chest, and for a minute my lungs couldn’t take in any air. When I finally took in a gasp of precious oxygen, Drake struck me clean in the jaw, splattering blood all over the grass. He kept punching me again and again relentlessly until I nearly passed out.

Then a gunshot rang out through the air. The barrage of fists finally came to a halt, and Drake rose to his feet. By now everyone I knew was standing in a circle around me. Half the village was worrying I might die. The other half was worrying I might live. Several more gunshots echoed in the streets and the clamor died down to silence.

A hummer double plated with sheet metal parked a dozen yards away from us. I barely had the strength to stay conscious nevermind move. For the next few minutes, I listened in horror as I lay helplessly on the crimson block of grass. I could hear several footsteps exiting the vehicle as another pulled up beside the first. More men came out of the second as someone began to speak.

“People of Durham! We are Rel-Sabat, and I am Aliks Markov.” The man began, addressing the crowd before him, “We come in the name of The Prophet and of his chosen Yon Mithis, who has entrusted us with freeing Dharsova from the foreign devils. Should you be a loyal follower of-” The man stopped talking and walked over to me. Dropping to his knees, Markov lifted my head into his lap and fetched a waterskin from his pack. As I coughed and choked on the drink he offered me, the man of Rel-Sabat peered into my empty gaze. “I see the eyes of an innocent man. Poor soul, what have you done to deserve such treatment?”

Immediately a chorus of people cried out rape and assault and adultery. Aliks Markov let his waterskin fall to the ground, its contents spilling wastefully onto my chest. With a solemn composure the man rose to his feet. “I see.”

Markov bent over and picked up a worn chunk of a concrete slab, torn from its original asphalt. “Followers of Kisral know what the Ashrai says must be done.” After a minute everyone in the village held a stone in their hand. Even the children had found rocks large enough to bash my skull in.

“May your next life be one that takes a more righteous path.” Markov said as he threw the first stone.

I braced for impact, yet I felt nothing when I should have felt my bones crushing. Upon opening my eyes I found Selise standing before me, a great gash on her forehead. I could only wonder how the crowd must have reacted to Selise protecting her rapist.

“Stand aside, woman. Killing a mother earns a thousand lives in hell.”

“My daughter is dead.” Selise said, glaring the holy man down.

“Then a hundred lives for an innocent woman, neither of which I look forward to. Now stand aside,” Markov said, raising his assault rifle.

She stood her ground, “No.”

“You would defend this sinner? Have you read the scriptures? The Ashrai demands The Prophet’s Justice.” Markov eyed her carefully, “You know the fate of those who stand in the way of The Prophet’s Laws.”

An elderly voice cried out from a distance, “Stop this madness!” Every head turned to see who it was. An old man was running down the road as quickly as his frail legs could take him, his grizzled beard drenched and dripping with sweat. The boy that the villagers had sent to get my father was a ways behind.

“Markov, what are you doing here in Durham?” My father asked the man of Rel-Sabat.

He lowered his gun and slung it around his back, “Ah, Elder Aker, it is good to see you again after so many years.”

“Explain yourself now! Yon Mithis promised me Rel-Sabat would never take one step in Durham. We’ve honored our half of the agreement.” My father was baring his teeth now, anger pulsing from his being like the vein on his temple. I had never seen him so enraged.

Another one of the armed men spoke, “That was before the Anjalans invaded Dharsova. We are at war with the foreign devils, surely your village is willing to help us free our homeland?”

My father crossed his arms and spit on the ground, “We want no part in your war with Anjala. Now leave! Before you lead the Anjalan troops here.”

“We are here on The Prophet’s business. We will leave once it is done.”

“And what business is that? Murdering my youngest son?”

Markov dropped his guard and turned to face me, “This is your son?” His expression reflected some thought as he ordered his men back, “This was not my doing, Elder Aker.”

My father addressed the crowd, “What is the meaning of this?” He demanded. “What proof do you have of Krade’s transgression? What evidence has convinced you of wrongdoing? Or did you beat my son to an inch away from death on Selise’s word alone?”

Elder Garit stepped forward, “You would call my daughter a liar?”

“I would.” My father said, his voice cold as stone, “And I call you all fools!”

Some of the villagers lowered their heads in shame and others withdrew back into the crowd.

Markov addressed them, “Someone has been wronged. The Scriptures demand justice, Elder Aker.”

“To hell with your scriptures! The boy is-”

A flash of light filled the streets, and my father’s brains were splattered over the church doors as his decapitated body fell limp atop the asphalt. Blood spewed from his neck all over me and the crowd while Drake cried out in a rage before hurtling towards a Rel-Sabat soldier. Then they shot him too. Another thud.

Silence engulfed the village. It was Aliks Markov who spoke first, “You heard him yourself. He dared to blaspheme The Prophet’s word. Now let us finish what we-”

A weathered brick crashed into the back of Markov’s head, felling him to the ground beside my father as a pool of blood soaked into the grass by my face. His lifeless eyes peered into mine. Several of the men from Rel-Sabat cried out in horror as their leader’s corpse stayed still as a fallen statue. Then more cries followed suit when they realized Selise was the one who had killed him.

“Prophet have mercy on his soul, Markov has been slain by a woman!” One exclaimed.

A dozen or more pointed their rifles at Selise.

“What do we do? Killing a woman is a grave sin.” Someone said.

A gun clicked, “Killing an innocent woman is a grave sin. This one has slain a man of the Prophet.”

“Wait! Stop! Please, I beg of you!” Elder Garit stepped in front of his daughter. The old man prostrated himself before Rel-Sabat, “Please, take my life instead.”

They lowered their guns, seemingly relieved by the fact that they didn’t need to execute Selise. “Good, a man taking on a woman’s burden. You will enjoy prosperity in the next life, Elder.” One of the armed men handed Selise a pistol. “Shoot him.”

“You can’t force her to kill her own father!” From where I lay on the ground I couldn’t see who had said that, but it didn’t matter, he wasn’t going to live long.

“Quiet, outsider! She is the one he is paying the blood price for.”

“No! You sons of bitches have lost-” Bang. Thud. Dead. I heard Miri scream. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the sound of her voice, “RIAN!” She cried.

Good, I had thought to myself.

Elder Garit was practically begging Selise to kill him now, “They will kill you if you don’t damn it!” But Selise shook her head, wanting nothing more than to undo the chaos she had unleashed with her lies. “Dammit Selise! Shoo-”

Miri screamed again for her father this time as his limp body crumpled to the ground like a rag doll. Selise let the pistol fall to the ground as she trembled and shook, disgusted with herself. Her gun hit the blood-splattered pavement a moment after her father.

No one knew what to do now. The whole village stood there, a mix of terrified or satisfied. The Prophet’s work was being done. Then their attention returned to me. One of the armed men picked up the stone Markov had dropped. In a minute everyone held a stone in their hands once more, and I said my prayers.

Then the missiles hit us.

The Prodigal Son of Satan

Prologue: 66.6

Noah had been sitting by the telephone, waiting for it to ring all day long when someone rang the doorbell. Everyone had already heard the news despite the fact that they had found it just that afternoon. It was nearly midnight now, and every single channel, every single website, radio station, newspaper, every single everything everywhere was blasting the news to everyone. The whole world was awake and watching. If you were sleeping when it happened, you could’ve been sure a friend would have called you. If they couldn’t get hold of you, they’d drive to your house and wake you up just to tell you what happened. That’s how big this was.

The doorbell chimed with more urgency. “That must be them,” the old man muttered as he rose from his armchair. Noah had been wondering when they’d come to get him. Every nation was working together on this. China, Russia, America, even Ukraine and Syria managed to send their best personnel regardless of the fact that they were in the midst of civil war. Noah turned off the television after seeing the same footage being commented on by the thousandth politician or scientist. They were knocking very hard now, but Noah wasn’t in any rush. He grabbed a suit and his favorite tie. He was sure there’d be cameras there.

Noah started to worry they might dent the wood on his door. “Professor Chomsky, head of linguistics at MIT? I’ve been sent by President Obama to escort you to Ground Zero.” She was shouting loudly, probably not concerned with waking the neighbors because who in the world could possibly be sleeping at a time like this?

“I’m coming, I’m coming,” Noah tried to appear austere, but beneath the distant facade this was the most amazing moment in his life, and this moment was going to be like a candle to the sun compared to what he’d find six hours from now.

The agent nearly banged her fist on Noah’s forehead when he opened the door. “I’m assuming you’ve heard the news.” She said after regaining her composure. With a nod Noah stepped past her and entered the cruiser running in his driveway. He could barely keep his thoughts straight; there were so many of them. They had already left the neighborhood by the time he remembered a person was driving the car.

“We couldn’t land the helicopter in a residential area,” She said after reporting in to her superiors on the radio, “It’s just up ahead.”

Sure enough, there was an HH-60 Pave Hawk waiting in Hanscom Field to bring them to Arrecife Alacranes, The Scorpion Reef. A fisherman and his daughter found it while digging for worms on La Isla Perez, just off the Yucatan Peninsula. By the time Noah had arrived, the half dozen shacks and huts he had seen on the newsreel had transformed into a full-scale military operation. Teams were flying in on helicopters; floodlights and tents had been raised everywhere. They landed next to Air Force Two as Joe Biden was leaving the plane with a dozen heads of state. The Vice President even stopped to shake Noah’s hand before a handful of blue berets escorted them to the discovery, shoving less important people out of the way.

A detachment of South Korean K2 Black Panther tanks had all of their barrels pointed at the tent, just in case. A unit of Navy SEALs had Kim Jong Un and his bodyguards surrounded at all times. Nobody knows who invited North Korea, but Noah spotted a SAS sniper in the corner with a laser pointed at Kim’s forehead. When he entered, none of his escorts followed. The only people inside were academics and scholars. Good, Noah thought, that’s the way it should be. He made his way to the circle of scientists huddled around what must have been it and stood behind Stephen Hawking, where Noah could see because Hawking was in a wheelchair. A couple faces glanced in his direction as he entered the tent, but no one uttered a word. Everyone was far too focused with the discovery. Then he saw it.

It was a cube made entirely of what appeared to be gold, about five feet tall, wide, and deep, but the surface was constantly shifting. At first Noah thought it was random patterns, then it quickly became clear. It was alien script. He wondered how many of the others had figured that out by now. Definitely everyone. They didn’t need the authority on linguistics to reason that. They needed the authority on linguistics to reason what the hell it was saying.

Not a soul had spoken a single sentence in the twenty minutes he had been there, and he did not dare ruin the austerity with any observations he had made. Every minute or so the text would change languages from one unknowable font to another. The calligraphy was of a beauty he thought he could only dream of. He witnessed such intricate letterings and pictograms formed with such detail that he could not believe they were not designed by a master craftsman. There were languages in alphabetic, logographic, abjad, abugida; Noah was sure he saw a base-19 numerical system and hybrids beyond count, each more exotic than the last. And he had yet to see any repeat. Immediately this had far reaching consequences. It told of a civilization that spanned across countless stars, maybe even galaxies. It seemed as though nearly everyone was waiting for it to change to English, or at least something remotely human.

Neil deGrasse Tyson broke the silence. “Well, at least we’re not alone.” It was a welcome bit of comic relief from the intense analysis. Soft laughter filled the room until suddenly the text stopped shifting and melted away into the cube’s flawless sides. Mortified would be a gross understatement of the scientists’ reactions. Before them stood a completely blank slate of gold on all sides. People were holding their breath in fear of changing the cube any further. After a minute’s silence it returned to normal, and a collective sigh of relief filled the room.

“Hello? Anyone in there?” Noah asked it. Like clockwork, the text disappeared once again. Suspicions confirmed, it was sensitive to audio. “My name is Noah Chomsky, what are you?” In response glyphs formed on the surface, but only several, as though in mid-sentence. No, no, that was definitely a punctuation mark at the end of the line, although it were only a few inches across the cube. Save the several symbols in front of him, the entirety of the cube was blank. Alain Aspect spoke in English, probably thinking to not confuse the golden cube, “How long have you been here?” More text fleshed out the first line slightly more. Then they inundated the cube with questions after that. Before long everyone was asking it something. Soon the cube was filled on all sides with all manner of writing. Then it stopped being a cube. Its corners and edges folded and warped in the most extravagant ways, as if a glassblower were sculpting with molten gold. Seconds later a humanoid figure began taking shape before them as the lustrous gold faded to the hue of midnight black.

Its limbs grew more defined now. A metal frame of a robotic skeleton stood surrounded by a circle of scientists as the mercurial substance filled the gaps in the extraterrestrial hull like a horde of intelligent slimes inching and melting into place. Then the last of the viscous gold, now a sleek, solid sable, hardened into a machine made in the image of man. Noah refused to believe his eyes. When the android hummed to life and two dim red flickers flashed on in its head, Noah refused to believe his ears. A deep hearty laughter erupted from the machine. Its head held back, arms holding its sides together, the robot was in a fit of hysterics. No one knew what to make of the situation. Many questioned their sanity.

“Holy shit! We’re still alive,” The laughter finally died down as the machine’s eyes met Noah’s. “What’s your name?” It asked addressing the linguist.

“Noah,” he said with an excitement he hadn’t known since losing his virginity fifty yearas ago. Then it threw its arms around him, hugging Noah just hard enough to hurt. “You have no idea how good it feels to see humans right now.” There was a warmth to its voice and a sincerity to its actions that made Noah feel as though it had truly missed him. Machines with emotions? Noah smiled at how this discovery had just defenestrated another age old debate. The inconceivable shock on everyone’s face had by now given way to rapture.

“Where’s Krade?” The machine asked with a smile, pulling away from Noah.

“Krade? What is a Krade?” When it heard his response the machine became distraught. Too overwrought to answer, it pushed its way through the scientists and dashed through the flaps of the tent to gaze deep into the night sky.

“Sixty six…” It muttered, an expression of worry growing on its face as Noah and the others followed the machine outside where the whole island had frozen to witness the wonder that had woken the world. The barking of orders ceased, the rush and commotion flowed to a halt, and every eye was so enrapt that not one dared stray. “No… no… how can it be? Sixty-six?” All the while the machine’s gaze stayed glued to the heavens, and everyone wondered the significance of sixty-six. After a while Noah almost spoke, but suddenly the machine fell to its knees and pounded its fist into the Earth as it cried out, “Krade you fucking bastard! Die and never wake me up!” The realization had set in for the machine.

It rose to its feet and turned to face Noah, “How far back does your history go?” It asked solemnly.

“Over ten thousand years! Noah proudly exclaimed, but the machine shook its head in dismay. Its attention returned to the stars. “I don’t fucking believe it.” The machine said beneath its breath.. “Buried for sixty-six million years…”

The machine gazed back at the tent where a fisherman had caught sight of a glint of gold early that morning. It sprinted back into the tent and searched for a spot in the flooring placed atop the ground. Noah watched in fascination, perplexed to the machine’s motivations. It began stomping into the hastily laid tiling, shattering the ceramic as a metal foot smashed through the floor and into dirt below. Its hands dug into the soil, and handfuls of earth flew across the room. A growing crowd had joined Noah in observation, every mind wondering why the machine was digging and digging so desperately at that. The hole was nearly half a man deep when it finally turned to address the onlookers, mesmerized and silent. “Well?” It asked in frustration, “You wanna know why I’m digging don’t you?” The look on every face screamed ‘Yes.’

“Then fucking dig.”

Dawn had cast a scarlet glow across the ocean when the last CAT 325C excavator unloaded the final haul of dirt from its tilting bucket fifty feet above Noah, where he and the others had joined the machine in the night old quarry. When they reached the bottom, a chorus of gasps and exclamations joined the coalition of soldiers, workers, and able bodied aides who had been shoveling all through the night and now marveled at the fruits of their labors. A massive sphere of silver loomed above their heads. Its flawless surface basking in the moonlight, the sphere drew the people in like moths to a flame. The machine placed its hands upon the silver sphere. When nothing happened, the machine gave it a kick, “Dumb ass Ralosi safety measures…” It grabbed the wrist of the nearest person and placed his hand upon the sphere. A red iridescence rippled from where his hand met the alien thing, waves of glowing rings emanating throughout it faster and faster until the silver sphere became a ball of burning crimson that brightened the quarry so that light streamed out from the pit like water gushing from a geyser. Noah had to shield his eyes in fear of being blinded. When he could see again the sphere was silver once more, but it was beginning to melt. The substance flowed over their feet and lapped at their knees to reveal a human woman encased in a crystal cylinder. Her clothes were elegant like feathers dancing in the wind. Her face held an expression of shock frozen in time. Her eyes pleaded for someone.

The machine walked up to the cylinder and took in the sight, “Of course he saved you.” It placed its hands on the cylinder. Tiny fragments of crystal slowly chipped off and began to drift away into the early morning sky. Clouds of crystal dust soared high into the air as the frozen woman burst back to life. Gasping for breath, she fell on her hands and knees as she returned from stasis to reality.

“What happened?” The young woman asked, looking up at the machine as she found her bearings.

The machine glanced around at the crowds of faces lost in disbelief, “Well looks like Krade did it.”

“Crazy motherfucker…” She dusted off her pants, “Where are we? Naileh?” She asked it, looking around the dim pit.

“We never left Aurin, Daliya.”

An expression of horror erupted on her face, “Krade! Where the hell is Krade?”

The machine shook its head, “Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but…” It produced a second golden cube from the palm of its hand before tossing it to the wondrous woman, “He left you a message.”

She caught the device and a bright light flashed through the darkness as a hologram spewed forth from the device in her hands. The image of a man floated a few feet above them in the air. Dry, cracking blood covered his face and clothes. His right arm was missing beneath the elbow, and he spoke with the solemn air of a dying man.

“Hey Daliya,” The man coughed, blood spewing from his mouth, “I know I’ve done things you don’t agree with, things no one agrees with, but I hoped that maybe if you knew everything you could understand.”

Suddenly the scenery flashed and the broken man’s confession gave way to a landscape of ruined cities, the ancient remnants of a grand metropolis lost beneath forests that sprouted from toppled skyscrapers and greenery that scaled the concrete skeletons like emerald gilding. “Do you remember home, Daliya?”

Noah and the others watched on in stunned silence as the man recounted a life sixty-six million years past.

The Tale of Sir Hecnick

Chapter I: The Way to the Wicked Witch

There once lived a knight of great renown who had vanquished the deadliest of dragons and the mightiest of mages, but this legendary hero harbored a harrowing secret. He was a complete and utter pussy. Nevertheless, his feats of bravery had earned him an audience with His Majesty Corwin the Conceited, King of Corwinia. Corwinia had originally been known as Wisconsin, but Corwin the Conceited had it changed soon after his coronation.

“Your Majesty, how may I be of service to you?” Asked the cowardly knight as he kneeled before King Corwin upon his throne.

“Sir Hecnick, I have a quest for you,” replied the king. “Deep in the Forest of Flames lives a most wicked witch who has cursed my name, and I task you with-”

“Slaying the wicked witch and lifting the curse?” Sir Hecnick asked, his eyes wide with fear.

King Corwin tilted his head, confused. “What? No. There is no curse that needs to be lifted. This witch called me a cunt! I demand you capture the witch alive and bring her to me so that she may face the King’s justice!”

Sir Hecnick rose to his feet, “Your wish is my command, Your Majesty! I shall set off in pursuit of this witch as soon as-”

“Oh, and Sir Hecnick,” The King interrupted, not paying particular attention to whatever it was that the knight had been saying, “Do be wary of the witch. Rumor has it that she can summon terrifying demons with a single word and turn men into frogs in the blink of an eye. She will be a most dangerous opponent.”

“Of course, Your Majesty. I shall set off in pursuit of this witch as soon as my stallion  recovers from its fever.” The knight said, trembling in his armor.

“Nonsense! You shall take my swiftest steed to aid you in your quest!” King Corwin snapped his fingers, and a pair of servants arrived with a brilliant black mare in tow.

“Oh, that is very generous of you, Your Majesty, but I couldn’t possibly take away your finest horse from you.” Sir Hecnick slowly began to inch towards the door, “I think I’ll just wait until my stallion is healthy ag-”

“I insist you take my horse!” said the king. “This witch must be brought to justice as soon as humanly possible!”

Sir Hecnick sighed, “If you insist.”

And so the cowardly knight set off on his quest to capture the Wicked Witch that lives in the Forest of Flames. Riding atop King Corwin’s black mare, Sir Hecnick arrived at the stables to find his squire, a young man named Jamal, attending to his stallion, which was completely healthy. “Sir Hecnick!” Jamal said, rising from his seat as the knight entered, “What was it that King Corwin wanted?”

Sir Hecnick gave a sigh as he looked down from his horse. “He wants me to bring him the Wicked Witch that lives in the Forest of Flames.”

“The Wicked Witch that lives in the Forest of Flames!?” Jamal exclaimed with a gasp, “But rumor has it that she can summon terrifying demons with a single word and turn men into frogs in the blink of an eye! She will be a most dangerous opponent!”

Sir Hecnick’s voice quivered in fear, “Yes, so I’ve heard from-”

“But I’m sure that the Wicked Witch that lives in the Forest of Flames will be no match for the Heroic Sir Hecnick!” said Jamal, mounting the saddle atop his own horse. “We must ride for the Forest of Flames at once!”

“Yes of course, at once…” The knight trotted off the castle bridge where he took a left upon a fork in the road to the squire’s confusion.

“Sir Hecnick, where are you going? The Forest of Flames is to the south, down the right path,” asked Jamal.

“I think we should go this way,” said the knight.

“But the Forest of Flames is less than a ten minute ride away from here. You’re heading north in the opposite direction.”

“Oh. Well, if we go this way, there will be a shortcut that will take us to the Wicked Witch even faster.”

“Of course, Sir Hecnick! How could I have ever questioned you? What a genius you are!” And with that the squire followed the lead of his knight. The two journeyed north for many hours under the blistering sun, and Jamal began to wonder if they really were taking a shortcut to the Wicked Witch that lives in the Forest of Flames. They continued trekking north until they came upon a raging river with but a single narrow stone bridge to cross a ways down the water. However, as they reached the narrow stone bridge, an enormous, ferocious troll emerged from beneath the bridge’s shadows.

The troll was as tall as two men standing atop one another. His muscles bulged like boulders beneath a crackled hide of faded green leather. A pair of fangs as large as daggers rose from his lower jaw. He brandished a gargantuan iron mace the size of their horses. “I am The Troll that Lives Under the Bridge!” roared the troll, globs of spit flying into the faces of Sir Hecnick and Jamal, his breath reeking of the rancid odor of decaying human flesh.

Immediately the knight jumped off his horse and ran behind his squire. “Spare me! Please! Eat my squire instead- he’s much tastier!”

The troll stomped his massive feet and pounded his massive chest, “No one gets to cross my bridge unless they pay the toll! One gold coin!”

Jamal pulled out a single gold coin from his coin purse and handed it to the troll. The monster jumped back in bewilderment. No one had ever paid the toll. Everybody who came through this way usually just ran away or ended up getting eaten.

“Um… okay then.” The troll said, sticking the gold coin in its pocket. “You guys have a nice trip.” It gave a wave to Sir Hecnick and Jamal as it returned to its home beneath the bridge. Their path now clear, the knight and his squire made their way across the narrow stone pass atop their horses.

As they were traveling, however, Jamal was somewhat bothered by the fact that Sir Hecnick had been so willing to sacrifice his squire to save himself, but Jamal didn’t call Sir Hecnick out on that because Sir Hecnick never said anything when he walked in on Jamal masturbating that one time. And so they continued on their journey north, venturing farther and farther away from the Forest of Flames until they came upon a large oak tree.

This oak tree was home to a fearsome caterpillar named Jonathan, and Jonathan ate a dozen nuclear submarines every evening for breakfast because he thoroughly enjoyed the taste of Uranium. It reminded him of Chocolate Cream Pie, but nuclear submarines were very hard to find in the oak tree he lived in, especially in the 1300s. In fact, this caterpillar hadn’t eaten a nuclear submarine in its entire life. Jonathan was just a poser. Jonathan didn’t have any friends – but not because he was a poser. Jonathan didn’t have any friends because he was a caterpillar, and it is common knowledge that caterpillars are incapable of forming deep lasting relationships. The best they could ever hope for are acquaintances. Jonathan, however, didn’t have any acquaintances either – because he was a poser. This upset Jonathan greatly, and so he decided to embark on a quest to supply his nuclear submarine diet. Catching sight of the two men that were walking towards him, Jonathan called out to the knight and his squire.

Coincidentally, Jamal happened to be fluent in caterpillar and managed to understand Jonathan’s request. “Sir Hecnick! There is a caterpillar in that oak tree over there that is in need of our aid!” The squire said.

Sir Hecnick paused and gave the tree a curious look, “A caterpillar? What could it possibly need from us?”

“Apparently it needs our help to build a time machine that would propel it into the future.”

“How in the world would we go about doing that?” Sir Hecnick asked.

“I have no idea,” replied Jamal, “But as you always say, ‘Where there’s a will, there’s a way.’”

“I’m absolutely sure I’ve never said that,” Sir Hecnick said, but he figured such an endeavor would take a considerable amount of time. And he really didn’t want to deal with terrifying demons or get turned into a frog, so Sir Hecnick agreed to aid Jonathan in building a time machine.

After many years of research and experimentation, Sir Hecnick and Jamal finally discovered a means of breaking the barrier of lightspeed and propelling someone forward through time. With satisfied grins, Sir Hecnick and Jamal flicked on the switch. A pulsing blue glow emanated from the machine as it began to whir and hum to life. The crackle of electricity filled the air, and in an instant a blinding flash of light burst forth and Jonathan was gone. The knight and his squire clapped one another on the back as they basked in their success. Jonathan had finally made it to the future, where he could feast on all the nuclear submarines he could dream of, but they had forgotten one crucial detail. Unfortunately, all of them had failed to realize the fact that the Earth revolves around the Sun. When he exited the time machine, Jonathan’s body imploded due to the absence of atmospheric pressure, and his mutilated remains instantaneously froze in the near absolute zero temperatures of space. Thus was the story of Jonathan.

However, Sir Hecnick and Jamal had no knowledge of Jonathan’s tragic fate whatsoever, and believing that they had helped another poor soul in need, the two continued on their hunt for the Wicked Witch that lives in the Forest of Flames. For forty days and forty nights, they traveled in rain, snow, and shine, crossed vast deserts and open seas, trekked through high-reaching mountains and deep stretches of valleys until one day they came upon a unicorn.

This unicorn had fallen in love with an olive tree. The olive tree was very shy at first, but the unicorn thought that the olive tree was incredibly sexy. It had so many curves that the unicorn’s horn stood up straight as soon as it saw the olive tree. Educated people will note that a unicorn’s horn is always standing straight, but if they are so educated, have they ever even seen a unicorn with their own two eyes? No? Well then they’re arrogant, ignorant bigots who promote a stereotypical objectification of unicorns. People who have actually seen unicorns in person will testify that their horns are normally very floppy and often much shorter than expected. Unicorns will typically only display tall, sharp, pointy horns when they are very aroused. The reason why unicorns are depicted as such is because the first man to illustrate a unicorn was really into bestiality. Narwhals, on the other hand, have constantly sharp horns. This is because narwhals are whores.

The olive tree also found the unicorn attractive, but their love was forbidden because there was a massive war between the Unicorn Nation and the Olive Tree Kingdom. Sir Hecnick and Jamal were so moved by the bond between these forbidden lovers that they decided to help the unicorn and the olive tree elope to the one place in the world where they would be accepted for who they are, Portland, Oregon.

The unicorn and the olive tree would go on to campaign for interficticious animal and arboreal marriage equality rights, but they were struck down in the Supreme Court. They had a small ceremony in their neighbor’s backyard anyway, and Jamal was in attendance. (Sir Hecnick couldn’t make it though because he had promised his sister in-law that he would take his niblings to the monster truck rally that weekend.) Eventually the unicorn and the olive tree settled down and had children, little olive trees that sprouted tiny unicorns that tasted like Nature Valley Granola Bars. The two grew old together until a tragic surfing incident when the olive tree was bitten by a shark. The olive tree immediately fell in love with the shark and engaged in a lengthy affair that destroyed their marriage and devastated their children. Then the unicorn died of a broken heart. The olive tree showed up to the funeral, but this was only because the olive tree had been chopped down and used to make the unicorn’s casket. And that is why olives are an integral facet of Greek heritage.

By the time Sir Hecnick and Jamal remembered that they were on a quest to capture the Wicked Witch that lives in the Forest of Flames, they had found themselves so completely far away from the Forest of Flames that they were on the other side of the planet – in China.

“Sir Hecnick, are you sure that this is a shortcut to the Wicked Witch that lives in the Forest of Flames?” Jamal asked as they strolled past an Asian martial artist performing calculus and eating rice. The Asian also had a small penis, which Jamal knew because he had walked up to the Asian and cupped his genitals – for science.

“Of course this is a shortcut to the Wicked Witch that lives in the Forest of Flames! Why would you ever think it isn’t?” The knight replied.

“Only because we’ve been traveling for three years, and the Forest of Flames is a mere ten minutes away from the castle of King Corwin the Conceited.”

“Not every shortcut is faster than the usual route.” The knight said with his arms crossed.

“But that’s the definition of a shortcut.” The squire pulled out a dictionary that he kept in his back pocket because Jamal was a total nerd, which is why he never got laid in college. “SHôrtˌkət. Noun. A shorter, quicker, or easier way to get to a place; a route more direct than the one ordinarily taken.”

Sir Hecnick rolled his eyes, “I see someone’s still a virgin.”

“I am not!”

“Inflatable sex dolls don’t count.”

“Oh…” Jamal looked down at his feet. “Still, I think you should ask for directions. We’re clearly lost.”

“You’re right.” The knight tapped on the shoulder of the nearest Chinese person, who was also a martial artist with a small penis performing calculus and eating rice, “你叫什麼名字?”

The Chinese person greeted Sir Hecnick with a bow. “我的名字是陰道.”


Sir Hecnick was clearly not as good at Chinese as he thought he was because the Chinese man named Pu See promptly roundhouse kicked the knight in the face.

The reason for this is what Sir Hecnick had said, which roughly translated to, “Go fuck yourself in the ass with a rusty tetanus infected rake before shoving it down your mother’s throat and churning her intestines into a meaty paste, you worthless, chink eyed sack of human filth.” In his defense, it was a fairly innocent mistake. The Chinese word for ‘directions’ and the Chinese phrase for ‘go fuck yourself in the ass with a rusty tetanus infected rake before shoving it down your mother’s throat and churning her intestines into a meaty paste, you worthless, chink eyed sack of human filth’ both sound very similar. Indistinguishable to foreigners, actually.

But when Sir Hecnick rose from the ground to respond to his assailant, the knight found that he could not find the Chinese person that had just kicked him. This was on account of the fact that all asians look exactly alike. And so, unable to find directions, Sir Hecnick and Jamal wandered to distant lands and faraway places until at last they came upon a sign.

WELCOME TO THE FOREST OF FLAMES, the sign read. ONLY YOU CAN PREVENT FOREST FIRES. SPONSORED BY THE NATIONAL PARK SERVICE. Beyond the sign lay the vast woods that sheltered the Wicked Witch that lives in the Forest of Flames.

“Sir Hecnick! We’re here at the Forest of Flames!” Jamal exclaimed upon finally reaching their destination.

“But I see no fire. This looks like a completely normal forest. Why do they call it the Forest of Flames?”

Suddenly, a gathering of foreboding clouds appeared out of nowhere and blocked out the sun, casting an ominous darkness. In an instant a lightning bolt flashed across the sky and struck the forest as rolls of thunder rumbled in the distance. Immediately the Forest of Flames exploded like dynamite into a hellish inferno that engulfed every branch and twig.

“Probably because of that.” Jamal said.