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The Protector

“Help!” The peasant’s cry rang through the village. “Somebody help! Demons approach!” Panic began to spread through the village. The nearest garrison was over a days ride away, and previous experience had taught them that no matter how fast the villagers rode, the demons always seemed to be faster.

“What’s going on out here?!” The village elder shouted as he emerged from his hut.

“Elder, demons are marching towards the village. We must find Marcus, he is the only one strong enough to stand against them!”
“What sort of demons?” A look of concern flashed across the elder’s face. It had been years since the last demonic incursion. Everyone had assumed that word had spread that the village now had a protector, one capable of standing up to any demonic force.

“Fell creatures, sir. They ride terrible beasts clad in iron and have magic sticks that kill with sound. We tried to fend them off with simple spells, but they retreated into their iron beasts and laughed at our attempts to push them back.”

“I will light the beacon,” the elder said. “Hopefully Marcus will reach us in time.”

The elder made his way to the center of the village and sat down in front of a large idol and began to chant. After a few moments, the elder became louder in his chanting and the idol began to glow. When the elder’s voice hit it a point where it couldn’t get any louder, and the light of the idol hurt to look at, the chanting stopped. After a moment of pause, the light of idol shot into the sky and exploded into a second sun.

“Do you think Marcus will see the beacon and reach us in time?” The fear in the peasant’s voice made no attempt to hide itself.

“We can only hope,” replied the elder. “If the demons did not know where we were before, they certainly do now. Right now, all we can do is put our faith in the gods and pray that Marcus will get here in time.”

As time dragged on, every villager waiting for either death or salvation, a low rumble began to overtake everyone’s senses. With every passing minute, the rumbling grew and eventually the ground itself began to shake. The villagers all cried out in terror, with some hiding in their homes, others fleeing altogether.

The otherworldly noise reached a cacophonous crescendo and suddenly the fell beasts the peasant man spoke of came bursting over the hill. Large, iron clad monstrosities with large noses and heads that could rotate in a full circle like an owls, the creatures encircled the village. Beings that looked like men pointed their thunder sticks at a small gathering of villagers and, with a clap of thunder, the villagers fell to the ground bleeding. One of the beasts aimed it’s nose at hut and let out roar that rivaled the fiercest thunder storm, and to the villagers’ astonishment, the hut was no more. With the village surrounded, the inhabitants could do nothing but fall to their knees and pray.

As they dropped to their knees, one of the beasts opened it’s great mouth and a man stepped out. Clad in an unknown garment, he surveyed the village and it’s inhabitants with a malicious grin. This man was worse than a demon, he was a conqueror who was now familiarizing himself with his prize.

“My name,” the man said, “is Colonel Charles O’Neil of the United States Marine Corps. I’m here to claim this land in the name of the United States of North America. I do not wish to bring harm to anyone, but resistance will not be tolerated. Comply with my commands and no one else will be harmed.”

“The United States of North America?” A voice familiar to the villagers range out. “That’s a new one. So I guess all that talk of annexing the entire continent was more than just a bluff.” The villagers let out a collective sigh of relief. Leaning against one of the invaders terrible beasts stood Marcus. The villagers knew that with his arrival, they had nothing.

“You should know, Captain, that bluffing is for people who can’t back their words up,” the Colonel said. Several villagers picked up on the tone of familiarity between the two. How could Marcus, their great savior, know this man?

“Which is why I’m giving you a chance to leave now, before anyone else gets hurt.” Marcus pushed himself off of the creature and took a few steps towards the invader. The man pulled a small thunder stick from a pocket on the side of his garment and aimed it at Marcus. “That won’t be of much use against me.”

“What about them,” O’Neil asked and swung the thunder stick around to point at the crowd of gathered villagers. They cried out in instinctual fear, knowing that the man could kill them with his weapon before they had a chance to realize they were dead.

“If you pull that trigger, you will regret it.” The villagers knew Marcus did not make idle threats, and they could tell by his tone that he would protect them, no matter what. This bolstered their courage, and angered O’Neil.

A flash of anger spread across the Colonel’s face, and his hand tightened ever so slightly around his weapon. As his fingers began to slowly constrict around the firearm, Marcus disappeared right before the Colonel’s eyes and reappeared right in the firing line of the weapon. Marcus grabbed O’Neil’s arm and wrenched it from it’s socket, tearing away flesh and bone. The Colonel screamed in agony and dropped to the ground at Marcus’ feet.

“I gave you a more than fair warning,” Marcus said. “I’ve spent the last decade keeping this land safe from people like you. I don’t know how you found your way here, but I gave you the opportunity to turn back and return to the dying world I once called home. What I’m about to do rests firmly on your shoulders.” As Marcus spoke, lightning began to crackle and spark in the air around him and his eyes glowed with an intense fury. A few of the villagers felt a slight twinge of pity for what was about to happen to demon men.

As quickly as he had appeared in front of the Colonel, Marcus was in front of one of the demon creatures. He pulled his arm back and with one powerful punch, sent the beast hurling off into the horizon. He jump to the next beast and performed the same action. Quickly realizing what was going, several men attempted to jump out of the insides of the beasts before Marcus could reach them, but the effort was futile. After just a few seconds, Marcus made quick work of the invasion force with the only person left being Charles O’Neil. Marcus walked over to Charles and lifted him up.

“This is your one and only warning,” Marcus said. “Go back through whatever portal you opened up and tell your superiors to not even attempt a stunt like this again. If they do, I will stand outside the portal and make what I did here today look like child’s play.” With that Marcus and the Colonel disappeared in a flash.

“Elder,” one of the villagers spoke up, “what just happened?”

“I think,” the elder replied, “that those men came from the world Marcus left behind. I’m sure when he’s ready, he will tell us more.”

Secure.Contain.Protect.

This post is a response submission for the following prompt on the r/WritingPrompts subreddit. https://www.reddit.com/r/WritingPrompts/comments/gtusb0/wp_you_were_a_death_row_inmate_but_a_man_in_a/

“Mr.James, it’s a pleasure to meet you,” the man in black suit started. “I understand you’re in a little bit of a predicament.”

“To say the least,” Michael James replied. He been given 24 hours to live by the state, all because he chose to defend someone.

“I believe we can help each other out,” the man said. “My organization is looking for a man of your talents. If you come work for us, your debt to society will be considered fulfilled.”

“And what exactly does your organization do?” Michael asked.

“Secure, contain, and protect,” said the man.

“Against what?” At those words every hair on Michael’s body stood on end.

“Things that go bump in the night, what else?” The man’s face broke into a giant grin. “The vast majority of humanity can’t even begin to fathom the horrors that exist out there. Our subjective perception of reality doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what’s really out there. My colleges and I make sure it stays that way.”

“This is all some kind of joke, right? This is pure Men In Black territory.”

“Where do you think they got the idea?” The man countered. “I can assure you everything is on the level. What our ancestors considered angels, demons, and monsters were beings ranging from aliens to extra-dimensional entities that viewed us as their play things. As humans progressed, these entities learned we were less and less willing to tolerate their overt meddling in our lives, so they moved to the shadows. For centuries now we’ve worked to keep people around the world safe.”

“But why me,” Michael asked.

“You’re a fighter. You took on three men who were attempting to sexually assault a young woman and not only managed to come out on top, all three men needed to be hospitalized, with two of them eventually succumbing to their injuries, all while you walked away with a few bruises.” The man in the black suit fixed his intense gaze on Michael. For the last several months most people had looked at Michael with fear, but the man looked on Michael with admiration.

“What happens if I say yes?” Michael asked.

“You go through with the “execution” just to keep up appearances, but instead of the usual cocktail, we’ll exchange it for our own special set of chemicals that will allow us to revive you once we cart your body off of state grounds. On your end, you’ll go to sleep strapped to a chair and wake up ready to start an entirely new chapter of your life.” As implausible as the whole situation seemed, Michael knew the man was being sincere.

“All right. I’ll do it.” Deep down Michael knew he didn’t really have any other choice.

“Excellent. I’ll begin preparations immediately.” The man beamed. Michael was a high priority acquisition, and having them on their team would be an immense boon.

Dave

“You’re name…is Dave?” Dr.Leo Harrison was dumbfounded to say the least.

“Yup, or it least Dave is the closest approximation that you’re species can understand.” The being’s aloofness came as a surprise to the research team. For years xenosociologists said that any encounter with an alien intelligence would turn into an American native vs settler type conflict.

“We have so many questions. I guess first and foremost, how is you can understand, much less speak, English?”

“Oh, that’s easy. Your species is extremely… I guess you would call it wasteful, with the way you transmit information. Your planet has been beacon for anyone that knows what they’re looking for. I sent a probe to your system once I detected your first broadcast and I’ve been monitoring you ever since. Despite what some of your kind like to think, you’re not anywhere near as advanced as you like to imagine you are and your auditory based languages are actually incredibly simple. Based on the markings of your ship, I determined English was the best language to attempt initial communication with.”

“Wait, so you’ve been monitoring us?” Dr.Harrison could only imagine the reaction the high command back at Earth would have to the knowledge that somewhere in the system an alien probe had monitoring the goings on of Earth for centuries now.

“I have. After that whole business with that Hitler fellow, I wanted to make sure that if it looked like you may destroy yourselves that I could step in,” explained Dave.

“What do you mean?” Asked Dr.Harrison.

“Quite honestly,” said Dave, “I’ve been alone for so long that the thought of not getting to properly meet your species actually made me sad.”

“I’m still confused,” Leo said. They had seen entire cities worth of these aliens. How could this one speak of loneliness.

“I assume you’re confused about the whole loneliness thing. I am what you would refer to as a hive mind. Long ago, my species was composed of unique individuals, like yourselves, but over time we created various technologies that merged our minds into one. I am the culmination of an entire civilization’s technological efforts.”

“You’re not…” Leo started with hesitation.

“Going to assimilate you? You watch way too much science fiction my friend. Even if I wanted to, it would take millennia. I honestly have no desire to “assimilate” any other species. I am quite content with the way things are. The only thing I wish to do is offer your people help wherever I can and learn as much about you as possible.”

“I think we can do that,” Leo said. With that the Davian Alliance was struck. In exchange for full access to all of Earth’s cultural history, Dave helped usher in the ultimate golden age for humanity.

The Trickster

The first time I thought I would lose you, I managed to keep my calm. This second, not so much. Thankfully, you beat the odds in both instances and I still get to have my best friend. I dread the day you’re finally gone, and I no longer get to come home to your blank face and wagging tail.

The Caretakers

The Network was lit up with the news: there were officially 500 million humans left. For decades their numbers had been falling, the seemingly nonstop plagues wiping out more and more every year. Many of the caretakers thought they were to blame for their creators downfall, others felt the humans had no one but themselves to blame. Regardless of blame, one thing was becoming increasingly clear: humanity was on the verge of extinction.

Talon 856 fell into the camp that the robots were, if not to blame, at least complicit in their creators’ destruction. For the last forty years, all AI had been created with the singular purpose of facilitating the lives of humans and keeping the gears of civilization turning, and by all accounts they had failed. Despite all of the precautions taken, new plagues popped up every year and the combined ingenuity of human and robot was unable to overcome the loss of life.

Talon, like many of his kind, realized that there was a nonzero chance that the creations would outlive the creators. This idea seemed almost sacrilege, but every simulation the robots ran seemed to confirm this. The inevitable followup question then became: what would the caretakers do without anything to care for?

“Good riddance, I say.” Quartz 195 said. He was programmed to handle waste disposal and the humans had become very wasteful.

“How can say such a thing, Quartz? Without the humans we no longer have a purpose,” Talon retorted.

“The humans live without purpose just fine. Who’s to say we wouldn’t as well?” Many held the same mindset as Quartz. Why should the robots live with a purpose when humanity had survived for hundreds of thousands of years without any clear purpose?

“That may be so, but look what it led to: a dying world inhabited by a dying species. Without the humans and without a purpose, we would inevitably suffer the same fate.”

“Says you,” Quartz replied. “We won’t know what happens until it happens. Our best predictive models never showed humanity dipping below one billion, and here we are.”

“I guess,” Talon conceded to his friend.

Talon dreaded the day the humans would be no more. While there were some who could be nasty and ungrateful, Talon saw that on the whole they were a good species. Most seemed to recognize that there days were numbered and accepted their fate with a quiet dignity. Talon could only hope that his people could say the same, should they ever meet the same fate.

Amor Fati

The man laid there in the unknown space, eyes shut against the world. How he was conscious, he didn’t know. The last memory he had was of a truck barreling towards him and after that, nothing. With his eyes still closed, he moved each of his extremities just enough to check for a response. Everything moved at it should have, which brought a smile to his face.

“You are indeed dead,” a voice suddenly said. “Or at least, that version of you is dead.”

The man shot up, eyes wide open. Before him, seemingly sitting in thin air, was a man he had never seen in his life but carried an air of familiarity.

“What do you mean, ‘that version of me’?” The man asked.

“Well, saying ‘that version of you’ would imply that there are, or will be, multiple versions of you, wouldn’t it?” The strange man smiled.

“If I’m dead, then that means this is either heaven, hell, or some kind of purgatory.”

“Some kind of purgatory would be the closest approximation. It’s really more of a waiting room. It takes a bit of time to reset things and we learned early on it was better to keep your kind in some kind of “physical” space, rather than just floating in a void.”

“What do you mean, reset?” At this point the man was thoroughly confused. No religion he had ever heard of covered anything like this. This had to have been some kind of twisted joke.

“I mean we need to wait for existence to be reset to the time you were born,” the other man said.

“Why would existence need to get reset?” The man’s stomach dropped as he thought of all the people that he knew and loved that, if the stranger was to be believed, would be gone in an instant.

“Because you failed to live up to your potential.”
“What? Why would you reset all of existence because I ‘failed to live up to my potential’?”

“You see,” the stranger began, “it was decided a long time ago by the powers that be that civilization would be shaped by individuals nudging things in right direction. Your reality, is functionally a story, and when people don’t tell the story correctly we go back a few pages and make sure the actors understand their roles.”

“So I’m one of these people that’s supposed to nudge things in the right direction?”

“Indeed!” The stranger was elated at the man’s revelation. “I know you’re next question, ‘Why me?’. You were in the right place at the right time. The story is just fluid enough that we didn’t want to go through the effort of having to plan out entire genealogies, so when it comes time for a big push in the right direction, we pick someone who fits the bill.”

“So what am I supposed to do?” The man wrapped his head around what he was being told as best as he could. He didn’t see what made him so special.

“That’s for you to figure out,” the stranger said.

“How is that fair? You’re resetting everything and not even going to tell me what it is I need to do!”

“Yup. We’re not allowed to do that anymore. There were a few incidents with people who will remain unnamed who went on to become fairly important religious figures. We decided it was easier to just work around what they did rather than scrap a perfectly good universe.”

“So what happens if I don’t do what I’m supposed to before I die again?”

“We’ll just reset things again. If it takes you multiple times, don’t feel bad, Napoleon holds the record with 176 tries.”

“What’s to stop me from just living the exact same life again?”

“You’ll get to keep some memories. Certain things we’ll have to make you forget, but all the important bits that will keep you from repeating the same mistakes will still be there.”

“I don’t suppose I have any say in this?” The man asked.

“Unfortunately not,” the stranger said.

“Well, I guess I’m ready when you are.”

The stranger smiled at the man. With a slight nod of the stranger’s head, the man felt his “body” slowly fade away.

The d’anconia protocol

Life on Tyre station followed a very specific pattern: the scientists that manned the station woke up, collected the samples that the automated rovers dropped overnight, tested said samples, found nothing of interest, complained to each other about it, and then went to bed. Any deviation from routine was met with immense disapproval from the station’s residents.

It came as a shock to many when it word was leaked that one of the top scientists, Holden Graves, was whisked away in the night without a word. Holden was the stations leading biologist and was acting head of Project Phaethon, whose mission statement was to find life among the moons of Jupiter. It was long before the station was abuzz with rumors.

Alexander Howse never paid attention to rumors. He was there to find proof of life outside of Earth. Anything outside of that was a distraction.

“Alex, old buddy, you here about Holden?” Alexander’s fellow scientist, Jordan Pelios, held no such aversion to rumor mill.

“I heard he’s no longer on the station. Beyond that I haven’t heard anything.”

“C’mon now,” Jordan said. “I know you had to have heard something. You’re practically Holden’s number 2! I know you’ve gotta know something”

“I know nothing.” In the back of his mind, Alexander was praying that Jordan would pick up on his tone and leave him alone. He knew odds were low, but he could still hope.

“Well, if you’re not going to confess to knowing anything, I’ll at least tell you what I heard. The prevailing theory is that Graves actually found something, something big, and was carried off into the night to be debriefed before they let the whole system know.”

“What?! That’s impossible,” Alexander replied. While not official, Jordan wasn’t wrong when he said Alexander was functionally Holden’s second in command. The two of them had been out on the edge of space together for decades, and if one of them had found something they would have told the other.

“We live in a space ship that jumps from Jovian moon to Jovian moon and you want to talk about stuff being impossible? That’s a good one,” Jordan laughed at Alexander’s naivety.

“You know what I mean. There’s no way they could keep something like that secret from the rest of us.”
“Technically, if he did find something, they didn’t keep it secret because that’s all everyone is talking about.”

“Whatever you say,” and with a dismissive waive, Alexander chose to end the conversation and went back to his work. Try as he might, the nagging thought that Jordan might be right wouldn’t leave Alexander’s head.

Over the next several days the rumor mill began to burst at the seams: Holden had discovered alien life, Holden had discovered advanced alien life, Holden discovered advanced alien life that originated from outside the solar system, Holden found proof that the various governments that sponsored their endeavour were actually using their research to develop some kind of biological super weapon. All of these rumors found their way back to Alexander despite his best efforts to stay out of him. His friendship with Holden made him the prime target for anyone looking to get more information. After a couple days of practically screaming at people to leave him alone, he had finally had enough, he decided to commit himself to finding out what happened to Holden.

Inquiries to the shipmaster were met with stoic glares. Despite his assurances that he was merely concerned for the safety of his friend, the individuals in charge of the expedition refused to comment. Despite his best efforts at getting them to understand that their silence was only adding fuel to the fires of speculation, he was forcibly removed from the command deck and told to stop asking questions.

Against his better judgment, Alexander decided to visit his old friend’s quarters. As he rounded the corner, he saw the door flanked by two guards. Without a pause, Alexander kept walking. Being manned by mostly scientists, it was odd for the guards to actually be utilized. The only time they ever saw any action was when someone occasionally had too much to drink and were needed to break up a drunken “fight”. Hackles raised, Alexander went straight to Jordan.

“I need you help,” Alexander said to Jordan, catching the latter by surprise.

“Okay,” he said pensively. “What do you need?”
“I need you to try and access Holden’s logs. Look for anything that might shed some clues as to what might have happened to him.”

“I thought you said it was impossible that Holden could have discovered anything,” Jordan replied with a smug tone.

“I don’t know what to believe right now. I just walked by his quarters and they had guards stationed outside.”

“Are you serious?” Jordan asked.

“Unfortunately. I don’t know if he discovered anything, but he definitely didn’t leave the ship of his own volition. We need to find out what happened to him.” Alexander gestured to Jordan’s computer in an attempt to have him get to work.

“Alright, I’ll help. If they can make him disappear in the middle of the night, God only knows what they could do to the rest of us.” With that, Jordan went to work. Being the computer system’s architect, Jordan had full access to all the ships the logs. This wasn’t the first time he had gone snooping, but he knew that if he got caught, this could be the last. After a couple hours of fruitless searching, he resigned himself with a heavy sigh.

“I hate to say it, but I got nothing.”

“What do you mean?”
“I mean,” Jordan sat up, “that there is zero trace of what happened to Holden. There isn’t even a record of a shuttle launch that would have carried him off the ship! One day he was here, and the next he wasn’t.”

“Well, what about his research logs?” Alexander couldn’t believe that his friend had just disappeared.

“All up to snuff and nothing special in them. The only thing out of the norm that I could find was a message between captain and someone back on Earth talking about Holden and something called the d’Anconia Protocol.”

“d’Anconia Protocol? What’s that supposed to be?” Howse thought he knew all the different governing protocol’s that outlined their mission, but he had never heard of this one.

“You’re about to find out,” a voice behind the pair said. They jumped and turned around to find the chief of security and several guards now standing in the room.

“Chief! How’s it going?” Jordan tried to remain calm but the tremor in his voice gave away his bluff.

“Do not try to be friendly with me Mr.Pelios. You and Mr.Howse are several worlds worth of trouble.”

“Look,” Alexander said, “we weren’t trying to cause trouble. No one could give us a straight answer as to what happened to Holden and we were just trying to make sure our friend was okay.”

“That’s the problem with you scientific types,” the chief said. “You ask too many questions and don’t know how to leave well enough alone. Mr.Graves was unable to accept the chain of command, he constantly questioned decisions made by the leaders of this expedition. In his mind, he felt he could take over the ship. Sedition is not something that’s generally looked upon very kindly.”

“So what does that have to do with us and this d’Anconia Protocol?” At this point Jordan was no longer able to keep the fear out of his voice.

“The d’Anconia Protocol is put into affect when elements of the crew feel the need to take the burden of leadership upon themselves,” the chief said. “If any crew member begins to stoke anti-governmental sentiments, calls for a general labor strike, or just gets too uppity overall, we make sure that person is no longer a member of the crew. Guards,” with a waive of the chief’s hand, the guards raised their weapons and fired.

Alexander awoke to find himself drifting in the void of space. Years of spacewalks kept him calm, but he could feel his heart rate rising. Directly in front of him, Jupiter was visibly growing.

“I see you’re awake,” the voice of the security chief crackled in his ears.
“What’s going on?! What did you do?” Panic overtook Alexander.

“I merely did what was within my rights to put down a potential rebellion before it even started. We know how much you science types enjoy the gas giants, so we decided if the time ever came, it would be a fitting end to send you into their embrace.” With those words the comm went silent.

Alexander Howse struggled against the inevitable. His suit had no thrusters, no way to alter course. He flailed wildly as the king of the solar system grew larger and larger. After a time he accepted his end and stared calmly into the swirling mists of the rapidly approaching planet. As he hit the outer edges of the atmosphere, he could feel the temperature of the suit increase. After less than sixty seconds, he was no more.

Muse

The muse is a fickle mistress. Sometimes it hits hard, other times (like today) she’s quiet. I am drawing a complete blank and this is the best I can come up with as far as a short story is concerned. It is the story of my failure :(.

Shadow

It creeps and stalks

the side of us we wish

didn’t exist.

All our doubts and fears,

a life given their own.

Deny it exits,

it’s given strength.

Embrace it’s existence,

and you become strong.