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Excerpt for Verum Et Inventa Magazine Issue 04 by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

This page may contain adult content. If you are under age 18, or you arrived by accident, please do not read further.


About the cover: The cover image is titled Medieval Shots. It was produced by Andrew Taylor and is being used under a Creative Commons CC BY License. Fonts: Lucid Blackletter and Lucida Sans.


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Verum Et Inventa

DARK FICTION BY RAYMOND TOWERS


This is a magazine of dark fiction, mostly, in the genres of fantasy, horror and science fiction. Primarily, I am here to promote my fiction writing, but I am also looking forward to including submitted material from other writers with similar styles or non-traditional ideas, as well as contributions from reviewers, commentators and, hopefully, one day, even fans. In addition, and following what you might be familiar with from print digest-type magazines, I will also include articles based on my personal research, or the research of others, many of which will be controversial and difficult to absorb for the normies. Honestly, there are plenty of other outlets out there that pull their punches or whitewash what is true and promote what is fabrication. Verum Et Inventa is Latin for Truth and Fables, or Truth and Fiction, if you will. If you’ve come to read an adventure, I will give you one. If, after that, you want to read an article that might cause you to see things in a different way than before, I’m aiming to provide that as well.


Real soldiers aren’t supposed to scream. But all around me, I heard screams. - Quote from this month’s Story Starter, Slithers


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Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2018 Raymond Towers


Smashwords Edition, License Notes: Thank you for viewing or downloading this free e-book. You are welcome to share this e-book with your friends provided that it remains in its complete original form and is not used for any commercial purpose. If you enjoy reading this magazine, please consider posting a review or making a purchase of one of the author’s other titles. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.


All of the characters in this e-book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, whether living or dead, is purely coincidental.


This is issue number 4 of Verum Et Inventa magazine, with an official release date of February 1st, 2019. With any luck, this magazine will be produced on a monthly or bi-monthly schedule, with a minimum of 100 pages of content per issue. Links to back issues of this magazine can be found on the Freebie page at Raymond Towers Dot Com.


Rating: This issue contains a MEDIUM to HIGH amount of controversial subject matter.


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Table Of Contents


Editorial

Science Fiction

Roaches In The Attic 0 - Non-Retrieval

RITA0 - Chapter 5

RITA0 - Chapter 6

Fantasy

Tales From The Savage Lands 1

The Old Hag’s Tales 1

Lady Martin’s Manor Part 1

Tales From The Savage Lands 2

The Devil’s Vagina

Ben Finds The In Between Place, Part 1

The Wrong Inn

Erotica

Attack Of The Six Foot Vagina!


Story Starters

I Saw Their Faces


Non-Fiction Section

Articles

How I Started Writing Erotica

Mithras, Precursor Of Jesus

Media Reviews

I Want Contributors!

About The Publisher / Author


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Editorial


Welcome, readers to Issue No. 4 of Verum Et Inventa! This issue goes all over the place, including into naughty directions. Kind of makes sense considering Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, right?

Leading off, we have the conclusion of the military sci-fi novella Non-Retrieval. As a reminder, you can download the full novella free through Smashwords.

Next, come several short stories from my Savage Lands series, from Books 1 and 2. SL1, released in late 2017, gives us the dark poem Old Hag’s Tales 1 and the short story Lady Martin’s Manor, Part 1. (You can read other entries from SL1 in last month’s issue!) SL2 was released on January 15th, 2019, and we have three entries from that collection, including two sort of kinky ones in The Devil’s Vagina and Ben Finds The In Between Place, Part 1. Savage Lands 3 through 7 will be released, tentatively, one title at a time, every month or so. These are different than Books 1 and 2 in that they are not short story and dark poetry collections, but longer novellas and full novels. SL3 is scheduled for release on February 15th. You can pre-order that one for 99 cents!

Now, I wasn’t planning on including my erotic writing in this e-zine, because I have a whole other pen name and different websites for that. Since I’ve been baring my soul recently with my writing articles, and since this month’s big article is about how I got into writing erotica in the first place, not to mention with Valentine’s Day coming up, I thought I would toss in an example of the kind of erotica I get into. That would be my short story Attack Of The Six-Foot Vagina, as opposed to my medieval fantasy short The Devil’s Vagina, which is a vagina of an entirely different flavor. I won’t put my erotica pen name here, or links to it, because I don’t want any underage kiddies (or prudes) getting corrupted (or traumatized). I have, however, left enough clues in the article so that you can seek out more of my stuff if you feel inclined to. Caution: My erotica is pretty wild. Read my How I Became articles, or the article in this issue, to get an idea of just how wild.

So far, I’ve covered science fiction, medieval fantasy and erotica. I have a really short piece, almost flash fiction, in the sci-fi horror genre. That’s this months’ Story Starter titled I Saw Their Faces.

Finishing off this issue is an article on the Roman / Persian / Indian god Mithras, my source notes, and a couple of random media reviews. I’ve got a bunch of other articles lined up for future issues, by the way, including many on specific types of writing. Stay tuned for more!


Raymond Towers


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Roaches In The Attic 0

Non-Retrieval



About the series: For the first time in recorded history, humanity has developed the technology to travel at its leisure among the stars. The unrestricted exploration of space begins, only for our first wave of pioneers to discover abruptly and brutally, that we are not alone in the cosmos. It will be up to the Space Marines not only to counter this new threat from far, far way, but also to prevent these bizarre new enemies, the Roaches, from finding Earth and bringing their unforgiving brand of destruction down on all of us.


About this title: - For rookie Spaceman Harold Douglas, the mission sounded simple enough. Take the squad of Space Marines out, discover why the outpost had gone offline, and bring them back home in one piece. That was before his transport suddenly vanished, stranding them on an alien planet. Now, they’re fighting for their lives against the greatest threat humanity has ever seen. Rating: MEDIUM controversy.


Non-Retrieval was first released on Sept. 6, 2010. It has recently been revised and re-released. Download a free copy of this novella at Smashwords, or find out more about the series on Raymond Towers Dot Com.


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This is the conclusion, continued from the last month’s issue.


5


Platoon 10-20’s come to town,

Platoon 10-20’s come to town,

Tougher hombres can’t be found.

Tougher hombres can’t be found.

We’re gonna blast some Roaches today,

We’re gonna blast some Roaches today,

cuz Platoon 10-20, we don’t play.

cuz Platoon 10-20, we don’t play.

So to any hellbugs on this rock,

So to any hellbugs on this rock,

Platoon 10-20 won’t be stopped.

Platoon 10-20 won’t be stopped.

Ten! Ten!

Twenty! Twenty!

Ten! Ten!

Twenty! Twenty!

Soldier down behind enemy lines!

Soldier down behind enemy lines!

Platoon 10-20’s going in double-time!

Platoon 10-20’s going in double-time!

We find our man, we get him out!

We find our man, we get him out!

That’s what 10-20 is all about!

That’s what 10-20 is all about!

It’s time to stand our ground and fight,

It’s time to stand our ground and fight,

cuz at 10-20 it’s do or die!

cuz at 10-20 it’s do or die!

Ten! Ten!

Twenty! Twenty!

Ten! Ten!

Twenty! Twenty!


“Hold still a sec.” Rubalcava said. He stepped behind me, rummaged through my pack. A minute later, he handed me a small flashlight. “Here you go.”

“Thanks.”

The focused beams of light led us over the dark landscape. I could see plenty of Wehnteweisell all around as we walked. Some of these were curious enough to stretch their leaves out to touch us on the arms or back. Rarely did they reach out for our heads, as if they held some sort of respect for that part of the body.

I hadn’t even imagined that there might be little ones, but I came across them every so often. They were only a couple of feet tall. They looked like perfect miniature copies of the adults. As I stopped to shine a light on one of these young ones, it reached out with a nimble leaf and surrounded my hand. I closed my eyes to see if it communicated like the others.

Instead of being immersed in a great black cloud, however, I found myself staring at the black chalkboard of my mind. A two dimensional image came forth. It was a pretty picture of a plain where a soft breeze rustled over a stretch of black grass, overlooking a placid lake of soft blue. Several small pineapples were gazing over the serene landscape. That was a time of freedom, I understood, before Roaches or humanity had claimed their planet for war.

The image blurred, shifting to another impression where the young pineapple that communicated with me had been standing in a forest. It was playfully lifting its leaves in trying to catch the happy and colorful young birds that were flying around and teasing it. Whenever the tree managed to catch a bird, it would wrap it within its leaves and give it a sort of joyous blessing before the bird was released. This was considered a form of love, I understood.

‘This happy come back?’ The young plant asked.

The question was crude, the voice reminiscent of a little boy’s, but I got the gist of it. I answered, “Yes. Once the Roaches are gone, you will get your world back.”

The scene faded. I sensed an ominous dread sweeping through the young plant before me. A new image rose, of planet Lesenia hosting a huge Space Corps Recruit Station. Big machines came in to level giant patches of trees to build a colony. Later came a city with roads. Soon, several cities were lighting up the black expanse of night on the planet’s surface. I saw recruits arriving by the hundreds, even thousands, marching, running, doing jumping jacks and brandishing plasma rifles. And I saw war, once these recruits graduated from their training, war among the rest of the worlds surrounding Lesenia. The young Wehnteweisell before me conveyed a feeling of deep regret. Slowly, it withdrew its contact with me.

Those last few thoughts were human, I realized. I wondered which of us humans could be having them, when I heard Renquist’s sharp voice slicing through the night.

“Get away from me!” The rough Staff Sergeant snapped, apparently barking at another Wehnteweisell up ahead.

Along with the rest of the squad, I stepped clear of all the pineapples.

Renk was still shouting. “No grab-assin’ (horseplay), jarheads. Roll out your fart sacks (sleeping bags) and ree-tire! We are heading out to Fiddler’s Green tomorrow, and I want to be prim and proper when I get there.”

I pointed my flashlight at Rube while he got his sleeping bag off his pack. A minute later he returned the favor.

“I see that Renquist is all motivated again.” I smirked.

“Yeah, that guy’s a Hard Charger.” Rube nodded, as he tried to find a good, flat patch to lay his bag on. “He prefers a straight-up battle to all this sneaking around bullshit. Once he’s got the enemy in his sights, he’s a hundred percent again.”

“What did he mean when he said Fiddler’s Green?”

“Paradise.”

“Paradise? We’re heading out to paradise tomorrow?”

“He meant Heaven.” Rube explained. “Some of us may not be coming back.”

The Marines had a morbid sense of humor sometimes, I thought. “Did you catch what Renquist was thinking, just a couple of minutes ago?”

“No. What was it?”

I told Rube about the vision I had, of recruits running all over the planet and wars all over that solar system. I also told him about the Wehnteweisells’ reaction to that.

“Damn.” Rube muttered. “I really hope the trees don’t turn against us. I hope they don’t roast us like they’re planning on doing to the Roaches.”

“Do you think they might do that? We’re supposed to be the good guys here.”

“Are we?” Rube shrugged. “I hope they see us as the good guys. If they want their planet back bad enough to set a quarter of it on fire, I think we’d better play it safe just in case. The Staff Sergeant thinking about colonization and conquering, that doesn’t make the best impression of us. And what happens if they start getting sick from our bacteria, like they are from the Roaches?”

I dragged my sleeping bag over next to where Rube parked his.

“Three feet apart.” Rube cautioned. “I don’t want your leg draped across my thighs in the morning. Wouldn’t look right for morale and all that shit.”

I couldn’t help but laugh.

Once I’d set up my bag, I crawled in. I left the zipper open in the event I had to get up right away, as Rube suggested. Renquist was barking something about a one-hour fire-watch for some of the Marines, with him volunteering to go first.

“Can you imagine, not having been in a war so long that these beings have lost the concept of what war is?” Rube asked. I clicked the light on briefly to see him lying down with his hands behind his head. “Back on Earth, it’s been one war after another for well over a century. Thanks to the Pulse System, humans have even succeeded in taking war into space. I’m losing the concept of what it is to have peace.”

“The pineapples have no weapons.” I concurred. “They have no defenses. They have no way to prevent an invasive species from coming in and stomping all over them.”

“Well, they do have their mental powers.”

“Which they use for nurturing animals and plants, and for maintaining ecological cycles. If they could make something’s brain explode, don’t you think they would have done that to the Roaches by now?”

“Maybe they’re waiting for the right moment.”

“No, they’re not evil beings. They’re righteous, like monks.”

“Yeah.” Rube agreed. “You get the feeling that maybe this planet is a sort of paradise? That just by showing up, the Roaches and us are fucking it up?”

“I’ve been thinking that, a little.”

“Maybe human beings don’t deserve a paradise, if all we’re going to do is fuck it all up.” Rube stifled a yawn. “Try to get some sleep, man. We’ve got a big day tomorrow.”

Maybe Rube was right, I thought. Maybe humans didn’t deserve a paradise.

I lay there a little while, before the day’s exhaustion set in and I too drifted off to sleep.


Early the next morning, I was awaked to the sound of a buzz saw. Once my head focused on the grating sound, I discovered it was Renquist’s raspy voice instead.

“You heard me, ladies!” The Staff Sergeant’s shouting gave me instant irritation. “It’s show time! Get your butts out of your fart sacks before I start kicking them out. And let me tell you, having a size twelve boot jammed in between your butt cheeks is not a good thing to have!”

A heavy hand began slapping at the side of my head. “Rise and shine, meathead.”

It was Mason, fully dressed and going around making sure everyone was roused.

“I’m awake.” I said impatiently. To prove it, I sat up.

Mason turned away and began slapping on Rube’s head next. “Time to pack your gear, man. We’ve got us a battle to fight.”

Rube ducked his head further into his sleeping bag. He said, “Mommy, the monster’s come back! It’s the one from all my nightmares!”

“Fuck you.” Mason stood up, before he went to bother someone else.

Like a frightened child, Rube poked his head out to look at me. “Is the monster gone?”

“Yeah.” I chuckled.

“Well, all right!” Rube sat up, looking spry. “We’ve got a fresh set of cammies in our packs. Let’s get geared up and ready to roll!”

As I was getting dressed, I noticed that Dempsey was hounding Renquist like a lost child, but twice as loud.

“We’ve only got nine rifles, and that’s if you‘re counting that Spaceman.” Dempsey whined. “And you seriously expect us to take on four Roach nests? Are you kidding me? We should just grab a transport and head out. Once we round up enough troops, we can come back here and launch a major assault on this planet!”

“What if the Roaches aren’t here when we come back?” Renquist countered. “What if they figure out how to use the Link System before then and they Pulse all the way out to your family’s backyard?”

“The Roaches don’t know the coordinates to my family’s house.”

“That was a hypothetical statement, you asshole.” Renk snapped. “Finish getting your gear together, before I put you in charge of retrieving live rounds (flying bullets) for me!”

Mason was walking past us, mumbling, “What a rat turd, what a major waste of space.”

I watched as the big lout lumbered past, just to make sure he wouldn’t slap my head again, before I looked back at Dempsey. Apparently, he hadn’t gotten the hint, because he was still hounding Renquist like a dog wanting attention.

I turned to Rubalcava. “What is it with that guy? I mean, the rest of you Marines all bring something to the table, like combat skills or versatility, and you with your theories. But what about Dempsey? What does he provide that makes him worth bringing along?”

“Long story short, he’s our good luck charm.” Rube explained. “We get ourselves in some real scrapes sometimes. Just when it looks as if our platoon is about to bite the bullet, just when things get to their absolute, hairiest worst, Dempsey comes through in the clutch. It’s crazy, because he can turn the tide of a battle all by himself. I’ll give you some examples.

“One time, the platoon got pinned against a ravine wall and the Roaches were massing up right in front of us. Dempsey went freakazoid like he’s doing now. Then he makes like a mountain climber and starts up the side of the ravine. We didn’t even see what he was doing until he was three quarters of the way up. He sets off this rockslide, and a bunch of us barely had enough time to get out of the way. The rockslide keeps on building momentum and smashes right into the wall of Roaches, scattering them all over the place. The Roaches thought we’d started the rockslide deliberately. They fell back in case we tried to set off another one. This gave us the chance to find a better position to defend from. Some choppers came by a little while later to zoom some rockets up their collective Roach ass. Thanks to Dempsey’s rockslide, we got out of that pinch with only minor injuries.”

“Another time,” Rube continued. “We’re under heavy fire again. Dempsey freaks out after a heat blast sets his backpack on fire. He’s jumping up and down and slapping at his pack trying to put the fire out. He trips on his own two feet and accidentally pulls the trigger on his Spitfire. It’s a one in a million shot, because the plasma bolt goes right into this huge pile of brush that we hadn’t been paying attention to. What we don’t know is that behind the brush is the core of a Roach nest, and this is a highly volatile piece of shit. It blows up, killing all kinds of Roaches in the process. Just like that we have more boots on the ground than they do.

“The guy may look like he’s too dumb to tie his own shoes, but I’m telling you, the universe has a crush on him. It has bent over backwards to keep that guy alive and the rest of the platoon right along with him.” Rube shook his head. “I just hope he has that same mutant luck with him today because we’re going to need it.”

We quickly finished gearing up.

“All eyes and ears on me.” Renquist called us to attention. “This is the word. We will enter the transport-hill and get shipped out to the location nearest the outpost. Once there, this is how we will organize ourselves. Rubalcava and myself will climb to the top of the hill, both to supervise the situation and to provide suppressing fire. Two teams of two Marines each will simultaneously round the sides of the hill. Mason and Brickwell will head in one direction, while Strawberry and Dobson go in the other. Once we are in position by the side of the hill facing the outpost, Mason and Strawberry will attempt to extract the captured humans, while the remaining four of us will continue to fire and keep the Roaches off those two Marines’ backs. If we are unable to extract the captives, we will render them unusable to the enemy.”

This time, I knew what that meant.

“While this is going on,” Renk continued. “Demspey and Neelson will escort and defend Spaceman Douglas to the first usable transport. Spaceman Douglas will ascertain the condition of the transport. If it is incapable of operating, he will move on to the next transport in the row. Spaceman Douglas will make every attempt to load the Pulse Magnifiers on one of these transports and have the vessel ready to Pulse out once our main objective has been achieved. We will have approximately forty-five minutes to carry this plan out. Remember, we are under the deadline of an approaching wall of fire from beyond the transport end of the field. If you are not inside the transport with the main body of our squad… You will be left behind, to your detriment.”

It was a sobering speech.

“Now, who’s ready to make like a hero?” Renquist asked.

“Oorah!” Brickwell shouted.

“Oorah!” All of the others, except Dempsey, Neelson and myself, followed suit.

“Then let’s get this caravan underway.” Renquist directed us toward the transport hill. “To the rock elevator from Hell!”

All nine of us marched into the mouth of the hill. Even though the sun was already starting to rise, the innards of the hill were still as dark as a cave. Without our flashlights in hand to guide us we barely kept from bumping into one another.

“Move further back, Dempsey.” Dobson complained. I could hear him slap the other soldier’s pack. “You’ve got plenty of room.”

“I have to be one of the first ones out.” Dempsey protested. “I have to help secure the transport.”

“You mean you have to go hide in the transport.” Dobson pushed him further inside. “Move your ass!”

“Let’s keep it tight.” Renquist said. “Nuts to butts.”

“That’s what Mason likes.” Dempsey insulted.

“Where are you, little man?” Mason’s voice growled. “I’ll show you some nuts!”

“Mason, Strawberry, I want both of you up front.” Renquist tried to break the friction between his men. “Packs on the floor, grenades and extra plasma clips at the ready.”

“We’re all inside, Staff Sergeant.” Strawberry commented, as we dropped our bulky gear on the ground.

A solitary Wehnteweisell slowly crept into the cave mouth, laboriously pulling itself from the black grass and onto the gray soil. It wasn’t as tall as the others, as it stood at about four feet if you didn’t include the leaves. I wondered if maybe it was an adolescent. In my mind’s eye, I could almost see the short tendrils that the creature used to propel its body along the ground.

“Do you think they’ve started that fire yet?” Rubalcava asked.

“They’d better have.” Brickwell replied. “Once the Roaches see the smoke from that thing, it’ll scare the crap out of them. I bet they’ll abandon the entire outpost trying to get away from it.”

“As long as we don’t get caught in the blaze, I’m all for it.” Dobson related.

In my head, I could already see the fire. It was a giant wall of flames, impossibly high at twenty to thirty feet. It raced along the fertile landscape at an unbelievable speed. Gulping at its intensity, I saw the destruction, complete and unforgiving, that the flames left in their wake. Scorched, blackened ashes were all that remained of the previously lush landscape. Everything combustible was gone. Even the surfaces of boulders had been charred. It looked as if the hand of God was sweeping across the planet.

I glanced around, but nobody else seemed to be catching the visions I was. Simply, I said, “The fire has been started.”

“How do you know?” Dempsey asked.

“Cut the chatter, jarhead.” Renquist said. “I think he’s right.”

It was as if the Wehnteweisell had opened up some part of my brain and they’d forgotten to shut it off. Wondering what else I could catch a glimpse of, I closed my eyes and allowed my mind to roam freely.

My thoughts centered on the young Wehnteweisell at the cave mouth. Emotions of anxiety and fear were exuding from the being’s mind, of the horrors of war that the naïve creature had recently been exposed to. It felt a gnawing dread that it was about to die.

The Marines around me, they were all having their own thoughts as well. These were images of their particular version of home or the faces of their loved ones. Some of the men thought about their achievements or their disappointments. A few images were so strong I was able to pick out who was thinking them.

I saw Staff Sergeant Renquist, who had been obsessed with emulating his cold and heartless father, a strong military man like him. In this bitter man’s life, there was Marine Division and nothing else, and without this drive there would only remain an empty void. I saw Mason’s thoughts as well, past the cruel and tough exterior, back to a time when he was married and had two children. Now, he was a divorced drunk and prohibited from seeing his offspring. From Mason’s own mind, I could see that he’d become as bitter as Renquist. Dempsey’s head was a confused tangle of knots; he wanted attention, he wanted glory, but he wasn’t secure enough to push his worries away or relaxed enough to become his ideal self. His fear was becoming strong enough to infect me. When I realized this was happening, I pushed him and the rest of the Marines out of my thoughts.

I reached out to the Wehnteweisell again, sensing its joyful memory of how it had been assigned to watch over a tiny nest of bat-like birds. By chanting to them, it eased the young birds’ anxieties, as the parents flew off to acquire their nourishment. It made the Wehnteweisell happy when it sensed that the babies considered the tree to be a third parent. Then came the day when the Roaches arrived, when this young pineapple had been torn away from its task and enslaved into the vast, living machine that now served the cruel Roach masters. It understood well why such a large portion of their planet was being sacrificed. It was also wondering if it would ever see those bat-birds again.

Then the pineapple hummed a short song, more symbolic than essential, some sort of established ritual, before it moved on to the task it had been given.

As I stood there, among the creature’s innermost thoughts, I could feel it reaching out with its mind as it hummed. It was scanning along the inner surface of the cave, reaching far into the hard dirt to an ancient circuitry that lay embedded within. There were hidden, narrow circuit boards there, built untold eons ago by long forgotten space travelers. The circuits were formed from such an extremely advanced design that the technology was able to both analyze and repair itself. The transport-hill had far outlasted its original designers, so that not even an ancient race like the Wehnteweisell could recall who the actual builders were or what they looked like.

Into these panels, the young Wehnteweisell’s mind reached, to the liquid metal switches that could be activated by the electrical impulses of the tree’s mere thoughts. I watched as the liquids flowed from one juncture to another, a tiny fraction of space apart. This triggered the entire inside of the hill into trans-dimensional operation. The physical integrity of the entrance changed, becoming almost fluid. Its new properties allowed the softened dirt to flow together and seal the entrance shut.

The circuitry switched into its next phase and the cargo of nine humans, plus one big-ass pineapple, was instantly transported to a location several thousand miles away. Our group was moved into another transporter-hill, built exactly like the one we’d left behind. Strangely enough, I understood that several hundred such hills existed all over the planet.


The hard dirt wall began to disintegrate, once again from an unexpected direction. A strong shaft of sunlight pierced into the darkness of the small cave. The sunlight was on a level plane with the hill’s mouth, blinding us temporarily as the opening enlarged into its usual dimensions.

Just as our eyes finished adjusting, we saw the distortion of air from the Roaches’ heat beams, heading right for us. Mason and Strawberry had been shuffling forward to exit the cave as they’d been directed to, but only Strawberry managed to jump out of harm’s way.

Mason grunted as the two separate heat beams jarred his body from opposing directions. Their combined fury caused the soldier’s frail flesh to explode into the cave. Even as far back as I was standing, bits of muscle and bone slapped into my face. One human fragment even made it into my mouth as I opened it up to gasp at the atrocity.

The young Wehnteweisell, unable to move that quickly to begin with, exploded a second after.

“It’s an ambush!” Rube cried out. “Everybody down!”

“No!” Renquist refuted, instantly angry at Mason’s loss. He ran up the edge of the opening. “I only see a handful of them, hiding out there among the transports. Move out now, Marines, before they mass up against us! I’m taking Mason’s place!”

“I’ve got you covered, Staff Sergeant!” Brickwell threw himself on the ground, square in the middle of the cave opening.

With some dismay, I watched the Marines begin to fire in the direction of the transports. Renquist made it out, followed in the opposite direction by Strawberry. Both Dobson and Brickwell stepped up to take their places. I grimaced when I heard a grenade going off, again in the direction of the transports.

Rubalcava moved forward, gauging the situation quickly. “Two Roaches left! The rest of you are going to have to deal with them. Brick, Dobson, let’s go!”

The three Marines disappeared around the edges of the cave.

Dempsey took a spot at the edge of the cave mouth. I jumped over to the opposite side. The two remaining Roaches were both standing and firing at the Marines who’d just exited. I watched as the normally uneasy and frantic soldier steadily aimed, popped off a shot, aimed and popped off a second shot. Both Roaches were down a fraction of a moment later.

Dempsey lowered his weapon and laughed in disbelief. “Did you just see that shit? You have to tell the guys when they get back, because they aren’t gonna believe me! Two shots, two kills, man! That was fucking unbelievable!”

I hardly believed it myself. I glanced back into the cave, noticing that Neelson had not budged from his spot. “Are you ready for this?”

Neelson nodded unconvincingly.

Dempsey stepped out and quickly looked to either side. “We’re clear! Let’s go!”

He led the charge, with me following close behind and Neelson a longer distance back. We covered the twenty or so yards in record time, where Dempsey quickly jumped into the third of the four transports ahead of me. Just as I was about follow him in, he jumped back out and we both ended up on the ground.

“Sorry, man!” Dempsey scrambled to his feet. “They took out a bunch of panels and wiring and shit on this one!”

The Marine bolted past me and ran toward the next transport over.

I stuck my head inside, in case the transport was still functional, but it wasn’t. A lot of its control panel had been taken apart by force. As I headed toward the next transport, I noticed that slowpoke Neelson was just barely arriving. For some reason this infuriated me. Dempsey could be labeled the chicken-shit of the outfit, or even me, but the thought that there was someone even more cowardly than the two of us pissed me the hell off.

“You have to keep up with us!” I shouted, but even so I quickly left him behind.

Dempsey was sticking his head out of the last transport’s hatch. “This one’s good, man! You can fly us out of here!”

I went in and looked. The control panel was sound. Everything else looked in order. Then I looked up at the Plasti-Shield.

“Let’s go, man! Start this bitch up!” Dempsey urged.

I pointed at the thick window, where a bolt of plasma had very recently struck the plastic and cracked it. “If we try Pulse off the planet, the window will collapse and we’ll die. We can only Pulse on-planet.”

“Mother-fucker!” Dempsey screamed. “What good is that gonna do? The whole fucking planet is on fire!”

“What?”

“Don’t you get it?” Dempsey cried out. “These pineapple fucks, they don’t want us here! They want to get rid of us just like they’re getting rid of the Roaches! They’re going to burn this whole planet to shit! And not just a quarter of it, either. I mean all of it! They’re burning the entire fucking planet!”

I thought back to that young Wehnteweisell that had accompanied us into the hill, the one who had been splattered all over the place right beside Mason. They had chosen that one because it was a young one, and because the rest of the trees hadn’t told it the entire plan. This way, none of the humans could mentally gather information from it that it hadn’t been given. We’d been set-up by a bunch of plants, I realized. It was only through Dempsey’s uncanny intuition that we found out ahead of schedule.

“You’re right.” I chuckled nervously, as my own psychic intuition kicked in. “They’re going to burn up the entire planet.” I glanced out the window but the angle was wrong. I couldn’t see the flames from there. “Not only that, but they lied about the timing too. The flames are going to reach us a lot faster than we figured.”

“Fucking great! What do we do now?”

“I guess we die like rats.” I said, but just having this thought made me angry. Angry enough to lash out at the next thing that dared to step in front of my face. “Or we can die like Marines!”

Like a scared rabbit, Neelson stood before the hatch, timidly clutching his rifle.

“Move!” I yelled.

Once he did, I jumped out. I started to run back toward the hill.

“Where are you going?” Dempsey called out after me.

My strides didn’t falter, nor did my fury. As I reached the entrance of the hill and witnessed the gore that was once Mason, I remembered the radio built into my helmet. I pulled the microphone end out near my mouth and activated it. “Staff Sergeant Renquist, this is Spaceman Douglas!”

“Go ahead.”

“All transports are out of commission.” I said, feeling even angrier than before. We’d tried every option, and every single time the door had been slammed right into our faces. “Repeat; all transports are a No Go! Also, the Wehnteweisell are planning to burn up the entire planet, not just a fourth of it. They will be burning all of us right along with it!”

“Well, ain’t that just beautiful?” Renquist sounded as if he was laughing. “You hear that, jarheads? Planet Murphy’s Law has pulled out all the stops on us! Fiddler’s Green, here we come!”

“What’s the word, Staff Sergeant?” This sounded like Dobson.

“We will proceed with the extraction.” Renquist’s voice sharpened. “And we will give these Roaches one hell of a send-off! Dempsey, Neelson, Douglas, won’t you come up front and join the party?”

I slid the mike shut, so it would be out of my way while I cursed.

“Our goose is cooked!” Dempsey came to a stop beside me. He was panting as if he’d just run back from the transport.

“Where’s Neelson?”

Dempsey turned back, but the last Marine was nowhere in sight. He looked to me and shrugged. “Praying in one of those transports, probably. What are we going to do?”

“I guess we go and back up the others.”

“There’s no point!” Dempsey replied. “We’re all going to die out here anyway! What does it matter if we get Knotts and the others or not, if we’re all about to be part of the biggest barbecue the universe has ever seen?”

“You can stay here if you want.” I said, checking the tiny readout on the plasma rifle in my hands. I still had plenty of ammo left.

Without another word, I left him behind.

I’d rounded about fifty feet of the hill, when I caught sight of Brickwell. He was leaning tight against an outcrop of dirt and firing almost without taking a pause.

“Douglas here.” I announced as I got in closer. “What’s the situation?”

“We are in the Galactic Suck of All Ages.” Brickwell cursed. “That first skirmish with the transports warned the rest of the Roaches up here. A bunch of them were on their way to investigate when they ran into us. Now, there are so many of them firing at us that we can’t budge but an inch a time.”

“Where’s Renquist?”

“About forty feet ahead.” Brickwell informed me. “He’s hiding behind a short dirt wall. That’s part of the defenses the Roaches were setting up, but Renk got to it before they could. He’s pinned down, though, and that wall’s been getting nailed non-stop.”

A cloud of dirt exploded from the hillside, just a couple of feet above Brickwell’s head. Crumbs of gray dirt showered down on the two of us.

Brickwell moved back by a few inches. “They’re getting a little ballsy, now that they know there’s only about five rifles firing at them.”

“What can I do?”

“Do you know how to use a flash grenade?”

“Yeah. We threw a live one back in recruit training.”

“Well, you’re about to throw a live one again.” Brickwell replied, quickly taking off the belt around his waist. “Unless you think you can shoot better than I can.”

“I’ll take the grenades.”

“Okay, set them for five seconds. Jump out, toss them and jump back. Do it that quick or else you’re burnt toast. If you’re still holding a live grenade when you jump back, you’ll be taking me down along with you. We don’t want that, okay?”

The landscape was teeming with Roaches, I observed.

“Where do I aim? They’re everywhere!”

Another section of dirt detonated, cutting Brickwell’s refuge in half.

“We’re going to have move back if we don’t do something right now!” Brickwell cried out. “Just aim anywhere you see a large bunch of Roaches!”

I unclipped one of the tennis ball sized grenades from the belt and activated it. The device had a good weight to it, I realized, as I set its small timer to five seconds. The timer’s countdown only began once I pressed a red button with my thumb. I could do this while I positioned myself to throw.

I slipped back by about four feet, jumped out into the open, and pressed the button as I launched the grenade. Without waiting, I jumped aside and onto the ground, then rolled as close to the hill as I could get.

When the grenade went off, Brickwell stood up straight and fired about half a dozen shots, then crouched back to his previous position behind the crumbling outcropping. “That was good! Toss ‘em another one! Right down their throats!”

Another grenade blast could be heard from the opposite side of the hill.

“I’m glad somebody’s still alive over there.” Brickwell commented.

I set the next grenade, just before mounds of dirt started erupting only a handful of feet from me. I couldn’t move any closer to the hill because my back was already on it. The heat blasts were getting too close for comfort.

“We’re going to have to pull back!” Brickwell said. “We don’t have anything big enough to drive off the Roaches! We need some kind of massive diversion!”

A diversion? An idea suddenly popped into my head. “Do you have a GPS tracker?”

“Yeah.”

“Let me have it!” I took the device the moment Brickwell held it out to me, quickly finding the app that would allow it to act as a beacon. I sure hoped the Mapper was as sturdy as it looked. “Okay, I’m tossing a grenade out to, uh, about nine o’clock, to drive back the Roaches coming in on the left. Ready?”

“Yeah.”

I jumped out and tossed the grenade, then got out of the way as three heat blasts started ripping up the ground beside me. In my head, I counted down the five seconds. Once I heard the grenade go off, I jumped out again and tossed the GPS tracker directly over Brickwell’s head. It landed about a third of the way between the hill and the hanging prisoners.

“Was that my tracker?” Brickwell asked. “You know those things don’t blow up, right?”

I didn’t answer, because I was already running full throttle away from the man. As I ran, I pulled out the helmet’s microphone stick, sure that everyone was listening to my heavy breaths as I fled the battle. “This is Spaceman Douglas! I have one major league diversion coming up, but you have to hold your position for about four minutes!”

“What are you up to, Douglas?” Renquist came through.

I slid the mike out of the way as I ran around the hill. I paused near the cave mouth when I saw Dempsey standing just inside. He was nervously pointing his weapon at me.

“Shit! I thought you were a Roach!” Dempsey said. “I almost shot you!”

“What are you doing back here?” I asked, suddenly irate that he wasn’t helping.

“Waiting to die, I guess.”

“Do you want to be a hero today?” I asked. “Right now?”

Dempsey’s face showed confusion, but I didn’t have time to wait for him to make up his mind. I started racing toward the transports.

“Wait!” He shouted, but I didn’t stop. Whether or not he joined me, I was going through with my plan.

I made a beeline for the last transport and jumped into its hatch. In two more seconds, I was glancing down at the control panel and activating switches. The Pulse Magnifiers were all at fifty percent or so, which was good enough for what I had in mind. I activated the Nav-Com and linked up with the outpost computer. After that I scanned the local area for the GPS beacon.

Dempsey jumped in through the hatch. “What are you doing? I thought you said this thing couldn’t fly?”

“Not off-planet.” I answered. “If you want to help the others, shut the hatch.”

Surprisingly, he did.

The Nav-Com beeped when it located the beacon, and I entered its coordinates as my destination. Quickly, I adjusted the transport’s landing orientation. I had the sudden thought to change the elevation to plus ten feet. In quick sequence, I activated the four Pulse Magnifiers.

I pulled my mike back out. “Diversion coming up in twenty seconds! When this happens, I want you to cease fire! Repeat, cease fire when the diversion starts and resume once you have seen my location! Do not fire until after you’ve seen where I am!”

“We’re the diversion, aren’t we?” Dempsey asked from behind me.

“You want to get out, now’s your chance.”

“No.” He shook his head. “We’re going out in a blaze of glory, right?”

“Probably.” I nodded, as I checked the transport clock. “Have a seat on the bench for a second. Diversion in five, four, three, two, one, and… zero!”

I pressed the Pulse Activate button. We were enveloped in the familiar super-bright sheen of a Pulse. Since the distance was so short, one Pulse is all it took.

The transport’s glow, appearing suddenly and ten feet high in the air, caused the Roaches to pause in their actions and turn away from the glare. A few had already made the instinctive decision to scatter back to a safer distance and see what the hell was going on. When the transport dropped down and smashed into about twenty of their fellows, the resultant crash and squealing from their maimed compatriots made even more of them want to take a very long step back, and they did so in droves.

Inside the transport, both Dempsey and I had neglected to use our security belts, so we got a good jarring as well. We were soon scampering for the hatch. Once we’d shoved it open, we were privy to a scene of five Space Corps Marines driving back at least one hundred enemy combatants.

“Good deal, Douglas!” Renquist sped past me, right before Dempsey and I leapt out to join the chorus of plasma fire.

Strawberry was ahead of Renk, and nearly at the tiny grove of trees where the captured humans were strung up. With his field knife in hand, the tall soldier jumped up and hacked at the thick cord that held them aloft, causing the rope to rip and bringing the entire bunch plummeting down to the ground. Renquist was soon at his side. The two men began patting the green-dyed humans roughly enough to figure out if they were alive or not.

“They’re already starting to come back!” Rubalcava’s voice screamed through my helmet radio. “Eleven o’ clock and three o’clock!”

Heat rays started bombarding the small grove of trees, hampering the rescue effort briefly, before our return volley allowed Renquist and Strawberry to start back. Each of the two Marines had a person dragging on an arm. Dempsey and I rushed over to relieve them of their loads, although we struggled to walk with the overwhelming burdens. Both Renquist and Strawberry went back for more people.

In horror, I witnessed as the two rescuers propped one unfortunate up against a tree. As they moved on to free the next captive, heat missiles struck the dazed and helpless man. Just as Mason had minutes earlier, that man burst into a gruesome red and orange spray.

The vision of carnage was still vivid in my mind, as Dempsey and I hurried our heavy loads toward the transport. We dropped them right in front of the hatch. By their arms and legs, the two of us dragged them through the hatch, one at a time. Just as we were finishing up Renquist and Strawberry came by with another four. Knotts was the most coherent of these. Although much dazed, the big man was able to make it inside the transport by himself.

“That’s the last of them.” Strawberry said, once all of the personnel were inside the vessel. Are you sure we can’t ship out on this thing?”

“Positive.” I shook my head. “The front window’s cracked. We wouldn’t survive the compression through space.”

“Then we get all of us somewhere safe.” Renquist said. “Somewhere as far away from this outpost as possible. A place where the fire has already gone by.”

“It’s not safe!” Dempsey protested. “This whole planet isn’t safe!”

“Why not?” Renquist asked.

“It just isn’t!”

The answer popped into my head, as soon as Dempsey had replied. “Multiple waves. The Cleansing fire is going to take place in multiple waves, because the Wehnteweisell aren’t going to risk any bacteria surviving just one pass.”

Renquist took this in stride. “Where is it going to be safe? Dempsey, do you know where?”

“I have no idea, Staff Sergeant!” Dempsey was whiny all over again.

“Take a guess, god damn it! Use your freak power!”

Dempsey threw his hands up in the air. “I don’t know, maybe the hill we just used to come out here. I can’t think of anywhere else!”

Renquist shook his head and grimaced. “That’s still in the path of the fire, but it’s the best idea we’ve got. Douglas, maneuver this transport as close to the teleport-hill as you can and get all these people inside of it!”

“That’s bullshit!” I balked. “I’d rather try to teleport between the waves of fire.”

“The Pulse Generator is going to be melted after the first wave.” Renquist returned. “You’re going to run out of Pulse power, unless this Cleansing is finished in one wave or two. Take these people to the hill and that’s an order! We’ll try to hold the Roaches back until the captives are all inside.”

Renquist was right, I thought. If I tried to Pulse more than a time or two, depending on the distance, I would be too low on energy to do it again. I had no idea how many Wehnteweisell were willing to sacrifice themselves in order to destroy the Roaches, or how many waves of fire they were willing to start up to get us off-worlders away from their planet.


6


Renquist and Strawberry hurried outside while I rushed over to the controls. “Dempsey, get the hatch!”

A second later, I heard it clang shut. I pulled up the coordinates where the shuttle had been parked previously, and I halved the distance between that spot and the teleport-hill. I shifted the coordinates slightly so that when the flames reached the transport’s Pulse Magnifiers, the side of the hill and the transport itself would buffer the resulting explosion and not let it enter directly into the hill unhampered. It was a fairly pointless gesture, as we still had the planetary fires and the other exploding transports to worry about, but I was grasping at any straw I could think of.

The Magnifiers were running low. I quickly snapped them all awake even though the regular procedure was to fill them up one at a time. I wasn’t going across the galaxy, I was only going to the opposite side of the hill, and so I didn’t need as much energy for such a short trip.

“More Roaches spotted at one o’clock.” Rube’s voice came over the radio.

I glanced out the cracked window, where sure enough I could see them massing up out there. I hoped the Pulse Generator worked faster than they did.

Before I became unnerved by the threat, I turned to look at the inside of the vessel. We had seven green-skinned people lying on the benches and floor, three women and four men, and one green Knotts sulking by himself in a dizzy stupor. They were all stripped except for their underwear.

Dempsey was looking over the women. “I’ve never seen green tits before. You know why they left the underwear on these people, right?”

“No.”

“The Roaches can’t stand the smell of our piss.” Dempsey revealed. “We’ve caught a few of them before. When we pissed on them, it made them go ballistic every time.”

I was about to ask the man what had compelled the Marines to piss on the Roaches in the first place, when something like a hammer blow smashed into the front of the transport. Instinctively, I ducked down from the impact.

“They’re blasting us with heat.” Dempsey said, leaving his own crouch to take a look outside the window.

I went and checked the Magnifiers, finding them all to be at least at forty percent.

“They’re not as full as I would like them to be, but here goes.” I said, right before I pressed the Pulse Activate button.

Another heat wave smashed into the heavy window, causing me to jerk my head back. Thankfully, the heavy plastic held. A moment later the Pulse came.


Dempsey was undoing the hatch the instant the Pulse began to subside. He pushed it open and glanced back at the cargo we were about to unload. “We don’t have a stretcher around here, do we?”

“Probably, but we don’t have any time to look for it. Where the hell is Neelson, anyway?”

Dempsey shrugged, as he took the legs of the survivor closest to the hatch. “I don’t know. He grabbed his pack and disappeared right after you took off running earlier.”

Between the two of us, we lugged the heavy load out and across the thirty or so feet to the cave entrance. We deposited the guy just inside the entrance, but if Neelson was hiding in there neither of us could see him.

By the time we got back to the transport, Knotts was doing his best to escort his own survivor back. Since the man Knotts was escorting was upright and slightly coherent, we didn’t take over for him. Instead, we grabbed the next unconscious body in line, which to Dempsey’s delight was a female. She was a lot lighter to move than the first guy, so we were soon on our way back for the next one.

“I’m getting pressed over here.” Brickwell announced on the radio.

“Fall back a little.” Renquist answered. “Douglas, how about you get that transport back up here? Let’s give these Roaches a fireworks show they’ll never forget. Make sure the ass-end of the transport is facing toward the hill while you’re at it.”

I scrambled inside and looked at the dashboard. The Pulse Generator at the outpost was still active, I noticed, but the Magnifiers were all at less than twenty percent. I pulled my microphone stick out. “I need at least five minutes to replenish.”

“You’ve got the time.” Renquist replied. “Now that the captives are out of the way, all we have to do is keep these Roaches busy until you get here. They’re holding back right now, in case we have any other surprises for them.”

Dempsey helped me get the rest of the outpost personnel outside, and about fifteen feet away from the shuttle so the Pulse wouldn’t singe them. By the time we’d done this, the Magnifiers were over thirty percent. It wasn’t great, but once I’d rerouted auxiliary power I could work with it.

“Ready to launch.” I announced to Renquist.

“Modify coordinates to ten meters closer to the hill than your previous landing, and see if you can find me some duct tape.”

“Copy.” I replied.

After shuffling through some metal cabinets of odds and ends, I soon had the requested item in my hand. I went to close the hatch, observing Dempsey and Knotts lugging away another unconscious man from the group lying on the ground, before I made my way back to the controls.

Into the mike, I said, “Transport incoming.”

The Pulse took me nearly to the edge of the hill. When I opened the hatch, Renk was standing just outside. He snatched the roll of duct tape from my hand and hurried to the rear of the transport, where he started taping thermite grenades to the Pulse Magnifiers.

Rube’s frightened voice broke through the radio. “Mass charge incoming, ten o’clock through two o’clock!”

“That’s a suicide charge.” Renquist said, hurriedly setting the timers on the grenades. “Now that the Roaches know we’re not getting any new troops from this transport, they’re going to try and roll right over us like a tidal wave. We’ve only got five minutes to get to safety, Spaceman, before this thing goes off!”

Hammer blows began smashing at the front and sides of the transport.

“Let’s move!” Renquist said.

We fled using the structure of the vessel as cover. All around us, big geysers of gray dirt and rock shot up from the relentless attack the Roaches were perpetrating on us.

A loud groan from the radio caused the two of us to look at the top of the hill where Rubalcava had been positioned. All we saw up there was half a dozen clouds of scattered dirt.

“Rube, are you there?” Renquist barked into his mike. “Rube?”

No answer came back to us.

“Fifty meters and closing!” Dobson’s voice cried out.

A second later, another distressed voice came over the radio. “This is Brickwell! I just got hit by debris! My leg’s tore up! I can no longer hold my position!”


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