Beyond the Crystal Heavens
Celia squatted by the stream waiting. She had been told by Mr. Tubkin to be there by before the mid-day meal. The water gurgled and swirled around the stalk she kept poking in the water at the edge of the stream. Occasionally she would look up to see if Mr. Tubkin was coming up the road.
She knew he would be happy that for once she was on time.
Celia stood up and walked to the side of the road to get a better look. It was a warm day and the wind was blowing her long golden hair into her face. She pulled it up on top of her head giving it a slight twist and held it there.
“Where is he?” She said to herself. She puffed out her cheeks pouting and then blew the air out making a raspberry sound that Celia was sure to make last as long as she could.
“Ugh!” she said stomping her foot on the path. She released her hair letting it drop and cascade over her bare shoulders.
Celia began to walk down the road towards Mr. Tubkin’s house. Something must have delayed him. Maybe the Gretards had come back looking for revenge and attacked him. She smiled at the thought of the creatures being driven off by Mr. Tubkin’s machines again. They would never learn.
Celia was getting hungry now. Mr. Tubkin was to have brought a picnic today. She saw one of the fungus like mushroom trees just ahead had a spore pod hanging close to the ground and it looked ripe. She skipped over to the huge mushroom and leaned close to the pod. It was bright red underneath and the stalk was beginning to turn black.
It was ripe.
She twisted the stalk until it snapped and shot upward as it broke loose. Celia then carefully placed the pod on the ground and pointed the black end at the path. With a quick stomp of her foot the black end popped open and shot a stream of spores and a milky white fluid across the road with a pop.
She picked up the pod and pealed it open until she reached the cone shaped heart. She took a bite and chewed the sweet tender fungus inside. It was just the way she liked it sweet but still crunchy.
Celia continued down the road eating the sweet fungus fruit. Her hands had become sticky so she decided to take a quick detour back down to the stream that ran parallel to the trail. Once at the stream she squatted back down and swished her hands in the cool water. After she had finished she wiped her hands on the thick lichen that covered both sides leading down to the water.
As she stood up she saw a strange piece of black metal lying on the bank. Celia picked it up and looked at it. Metal was rare in the upper part of the valley where she was. It reminded her of one of the parts that Mr. Tubkin used on his machines. She was sure that it was something that he had lost since only people that came from the crystal heavens used machines and understood things like that.
Celia tied the metal too her waist cord belt and went back up to the trail. There was still no sign of Mr. Tubkin on the path so she kept heading towards his home.
He had promised to tell her about the world that existed above the crystal heavens today since it was her day of life. She was now old enough to learn about such things according to her people.
They were very different from Mr. Tubkin. He was very tall and heavy. His hair had turned gray and white due to his age. He also had facial hair consisting of a mustache and beard.
Her people lived twice as long as the ones from where he was from and their hair never changed color as they aged. Her people were also much shorter with the tallest only coming to his shoulder.
Celia wasn’t allowed to travel this far from her peoples lands until today although she had done it secretly before. The mushroom forest was the beginning of the wild lands. Only Mr. Tubkin lived this far into the forest. It was considered a dangerous place full of spirits and monsters. She had even seen the body of an Ashen that Mr. Tubkin had killed once before. The Ashen were said to be people that had come from the great crypts far below the city of ancients that lay a full weeks march from the mushroom forest. They had become possessed by evil spirits and were driven to eat other beings to survive. The fact that one had been found so close to this area was said to be a sign of dark times ahead in the valley.
Celia stopped and stroked the tufts of hair on her long pointed ears. She was becoming nervous suddenly as if being watched. She had traveled about halfway to Mr. Tubkin’s house from where she was told to wait. This meant that it wasn’t any safer to go back than it was to press ahead. Even though she had gone to Mr. Tubkin’s house before she had always been with him and never gone there alone.
Celia spun towards the stream and saw to her horror an Ashen peering up over the lichen-covered bank that lay next to the road.
She screamed at the sight of the thing as it slowly crawled towards her. The thing was gray with splotches of black filth covering its rotten naked skin. The fingernails had grown long as had its teeth that protruded from a drawn back mouth that oozed with dripping black saliva.
“Where are you going child?” the Ashen asked Celia. She was horrified to hear it speak to her. She was told they were mindless animals that were no longer capable of thought and reason.
Celia’s breath was coming in short puffs as she stood frozen unable to move.
“Come closer child so I can speak with you.” The grotesque thing said creeping closer.
Celia was shaking all over now as she stood petrified. The creature was at her feet looking up at her with its dead grayish white eyes. The Ashen stood up slowly in front of her towering over her head being even taller than Mr. Tubkin. It sniffed her hair and fondled it in his fingertips as it slowly examined her form.
Tears ran down her face as she stood frozen unable to move. She was one of the best hunters and warriors in her tribe but this creature scared her into near paralysis. The Ashen’s breath stank of rot and decay. It traced a long finger down her stomach and stopped at her cord belt.
“What is this?” it asked as it tugged on the piece of black metal tied there.
Celia screamed and tried to pull away suddenly. The Ashen grabbed the metal piece and pulled her back. They grappled entwined in each others arms for possession of the metal thing. Celia was just trying to free the metal from her belt in hopes it would be enough to satisfy the Ashen.
Suddenly there was a loud bang that startled both of them.
The Ashen released its grip and stumbled back holding its stomach. Black fluid was pumping out between his fingers as he fought to catch his breath.
“Witch! What have you done?” he screamed. He lunged towards her causing Celia to fall backwards onto the road. He screamed and crawled at her scratching her arms as she tried to push the thing away. It was too much for her senses to endure and suddenly everything went black.
Celia slowly awoke with the sensation of being carried in someone’s arms. She kicked and screamed trying to free herself causing the person carrying her to release her. Without even looking back she began to run down the road unsure if she was even going towards Mr. Tubkin’s house or back to her own home.
“Celia! Stop!” shouted a voice she immediately recognized. It was Mr. Tubkin. She turned to see him trying to catch up to her as best he could.
Celia quickly looked around for the Ashen. The creature was gone.
She ran back to Mr. Tubkin with tears of joy and relief welling up in her eyes. She flung her arms around him and hugged him tight.
“There there girl, it’s all over now. You’re safe.” He said hugging her back.
“Where is it?” She said looking around still clinging tightly to Mr. Tubkin.
“I killed it. I heard your screams and got there as soon as I could.” He said pushing her away. “I told you to wait Celia! It’s far too dangerous this close to the forest!” Mr. Tubkin said as he shook Celia angrily.
“I’m sorry. I got worried. I went to look for you.” She said wiping her eyes.
“Never travel this road by yourself. It’s not safe anymore. I’ve seen more of the Ashen this past month. Something’s happened in the city of the ancients that has caused them to come out this way and into the mushroom forest.”
“Where are we? Are we going to your home now?” she asked confused.
“Yes we are. I want to treat your wounds and that’s the closest place I know of where we’ll be safe.” He said.
There was a strange tone of urgency in his voice. Celia knew that her sister had been killed by the sickness carried by the Ashen and that Mr. Tubkin was her only hope for survival.
Something else was bothering him as well and he seemed to know more about what was going on than he was letting on.
Celia nodded her head indicating she was ready to go. She had composed herself relatively quickly in spite of her ordeal.
In no time they had made it back to Mr. Tubkin’s house. He had built it himself using stone and the surviving parts of his flying machine. He had told her how he came here from a place far above the crystal heavens and decided to never go back. He had said the place he was from was an ugly place full of evil people. Celia often wondered how a man as good hearted as Mr. Tubkin could have come from such a place.
Mr. Tubkin opened the lock on the front door of his home and helped Celia in. the sickness that the Ashen carried was beginning to take its affect on the young girl and she was feeling weak.
“Sit on the chair in the kitchen.” He said.
Celia liked Mr. Tubkin’s home. The lower floor was all stone even the floor was covered in large flat stones that he had to carry from over three miles away on a cart he had made. They had fallen through a hole in the crystal heaven from above a long time ago.
Celia suddenly realized she didn’t have the piece of metal on her anymore.
“I found a piece of metal…I must have lost It.” She said slurring her speech.
The sickness was taking hold now. Mr.Tubkin went to the cabinet and pulled out his medical kit.
“Don’t worry about that now Celia. Hold out your arms so I can clean your wounds. You’re getting sicker.” He said. He poured an anti septic on a big wad of cotton then gently began to wipe the scratch marks on her arms.
Celia squinted her eyes because of the pain from the anti septic liquid.
“It’ll only sting for a minute.” Tubkins said trying to clean the wounds as fast as he could. He knew the sickness could be deadly to her kind.
He quickly wrapped the cotton with some bandages from the cabinet and made his way over to the workbench next to the window. Inside the cabinet was where Mr. Tubkins kept his lab equipment. He rifled through the many jars and bottles until he found a small bottle wrapped in leather. There was no identifying label on it except a bit of paper tied to the bottle with a piece of yellow cord. The paper had no writing on it and was marked only by a black spot in the middle.
Mr.Tubkins looked over his shoulder at Celia. She wasn’t looking any better at this point.
He opened the bottle and poured out some of the olive green powder into a cup. He then added some boiling water and stirred the mixture quickly.
“Drink this Celia.” Mr. Tubkin said holding the cup in front of her nose.
“Eew.” Celia protested as she pushed it away from her.
Mr. Tubkin grabbed Celia by the head roughly and poured the hot liquid down her throat.
She struggled to get away, her face turning bright red as she tried not to choke on the vile concoction.
“No time for games girl…swallow it all if you don’t want to die.” He said sternly.
Celia looked up at him shocked that he had become so violent. It must be important for him to become this brutal.
He released her once he was satisfied that she had swallowed all of it. Celia coughed and choked trying to catch her breath.
“Get over here and lay down on the sofa. You’ll need rest so the medicine can do its job.” He said pointing at the couch.
Celia looked at him bewildered. She knew there was no sense in arguing with a man that was nearly three times her size. Besides he had never harmed her or any of her people during the time he had been there.
“What was that? It tasted terrible.” She said lying down.
“It’s the same potion I gave your sister when she was bitten.” He said putting the bottle away.
“But she died!” Celia said.
“We got to her too late. I knew then it probably wouldn’t work but I had to try.” Mr. Tubkin said without turning around. He closed the cabinet back up and sat down next to Celia.
“You’re supposed to give me the knowledge today. I’m ready now.” Celia said groggily.
“ Rest now girl. You’ve been through a lot today. We’ll talk tonight after you wake up.” He said smiling at her.
She smiled back at him and his words.
“Today, Tonight” there was no night or day here but he continued to use his machines to tell him what time it was, very strange.
He knew how serious her wounds had been infected. She might not ever wake up. It all depended if he got the potion to her in time.
He gently stroked her hair and watched as she closed her eyes to sleep. She was like the daughter he never had and her people had always been kind and generous to him.
Her people were so very different than his. They called themselves the Evermore. Only he knew the secret of their origin on this world. They were small and graceful almost childlike in appearance but most would live far longer than any human. They all wore their hair long and natural only occasionally tying it back or wearing a simple decoration like a headband or beaded strands.
They had long pointed ears that were covered with a fine fur that ended in wisps and tufts that worked like whiskers in addition to helping with their uncanny ability to find the direction of any sound they heard.
They lived in a world of continual light generated by the thick crystal shell that protected the world of fungus far below it. They had no real sense of time passing as most humans do. There was no sun or moon or stars to track it by. They measured their lives by there sleep cycles instead of hours and days.
Few wore any clothes except for a simple loincloth due to the lack of any animal hides or plant fibers. In addition the warm humid air trapped under the crystal heaven kept the temperature above seventy degrees at all times. They used the skin from one of the multitude of funguses or membranes from the innards of one of the insect like creatures that was also their main source of protein. Some of these creatures grew incredibly large but most were about the size of a house cat.
Celia had fallen asleep by now and was breathing normally. Mr. Tubkins covered her with one of the blankets he had brought with him in his ship when he arrived.
He had been a scientist when he lived in the tower and had wanted to study the lands below to see what was buried deep below the thick layer of ash that covered the surface of the planet for thousands of miles in all directions.
He was fortunate that his family was wealthy and could fund his research. He had never liked living in the tower. It was filthy and overcrowded to a dangerous point. Soon there wouldn’t be enough resources to feed the population and the poor would begin to climb up the tower and take what they needed.
The people living in the tower needed options.
He took it upon himself to study the Ashen plains below to see if the material could be used to make anything that the poor could manufacture and sell. He wanted to help them to become more self-sufficient so they could sell their own products and support themselves.
He hadn’t figured anyone would try and stop him.
There was a large group of wealthy individuals that liked having the readily available cheap labor to exploit. They also liked having the control they had over others. If the poor began to prosper they may threaten the well-entrenched power system now in place. It would also mean these same families and businesses would have to compete with any new markets that might arise from the lower classes if they began creating new products in a market they didn’t control.
The answer to their problem was simple.
They sabotaged Mr. Tubkin’s air barge and left him to die in the Ashen fields below.
This plan would have worked but for one incredible stroke of luck. The area where Mr. Tubkin landed was unlike most of the surface. The ash was not as deep and a rare hole had been smashed through the crystal shell by a landslide long ago. His air barge slid down through the opening and into a world no one knew existed.
An amazing underworld lay before him. As far as he could tell the vast land stretched for nearly a thousand miles in all directions. The crystal shell above illuminated everything below. The combination of chemicals spewed out of the waste tubes of the tower and the minerals in the planets soil created the self-illuminating crust like shell above. After a few centuries the land below the shell sank down and settled hundreds of feet below the crystal shell giving the appearance of it being an unending crystal heaven far above.
The fungus was the first to develop followed by the insects and then the Evermore. Mr. Tubkin guessed that the Evermore had evolved or adapted to life in this strange underworld from the earliest humans that came to this world and lived during the original construction of the foundation.
His research over the years also told him that there was extensive terraforming done in those first few decades of colonization enriching the environment to better suit Human life and to accelerate the evolution of any viable life forms that came in contact with them. Any mutations or life forms under the crystal heaven would adapt at an incredible rate.
After his crash landing he realized that his ship had been sabotaged and that he could never return to his home. He was found by the Evermore and welcomed as a guest to their world. They found his stories of the world above fascinating and terrifying. It was soon decided that he would only tell a select few of the Evermore of his world above. The elders would select these individuals when they were deemed mature enough to understand the dangers of such a world and only then would they allow Mr. Tubkin to tell them of the Tower far above their world.
Celia was to be told on this very day. It had been her father that had found Mr. Tubkin and helped him to survive and build his house the first year that he was there.
Now she lay on the brink of death with Mr. Tubkin’s strange potion the only thing that may keep her alive. He spent the rest of the day by her side watching for any change in her condition.
Her sister had been attacked two years ago by an Ashen while she went to explore the lands closer to the tower with some friends. Mr. Tubkin gave her the same potion that he had just given Celia but it had been hours after her sister’s attack before he was able to administer the potion to her. She died the next day.
He was certain the potion would work for Celia but he would not leave her side until she woke up.
Hours passed without any change. Then suddenly Celia opened her eyes slowly. Mr. Tubkin stroked her hair and smiled.
“Feeling better?” he asked.
“I think so…I had a strange dream.” She said rubbing her eyes.
“What did you dream about?” he asked as he checked her pulse.
“I dreamed I was in a place, a place that was pitch black and it went on for ever. There was no ground or sky just blackness as far as far can go. The only thing there was lights, thousands of tiny lights everywhere in all directions.” She said trying to recall the details of the dream.
Mr. Tubkin sat back somewhat surprised. Celia had just described being in outer space. He was the only one that knew about space and space travel in this world.
“Do you remember anything else?” he asked.
Celia sat up and rubbed the back of her neck thinking.
“I think you were there Mr. Tubkin, it was you that took me there.” She said happily.
“Now why would I take you someplace like that?” he asked.
“We have to go there so we can save everyone.” She said grinning.
Beyond the Crystal Heavens
Skaz Jacoaby paced back and forth in the tiny apartment nervously. He was in deep trouble this time and there was little chance he would be able to get out of it.
“What are we going to do Skaz honey?” Dot asked. She was Skaz’s number one girl. Dot was a natural beauty with very little more to offer this world beyond her looks and drop dead sexy figure. Like thousands upon thousands other girls like her in the tower she had no parents and almost no education. Skaz had found her and turned her out a little more than two years ago. She was his only source of income now.
“Shut up! Don’t you think I have enough on my mind without you asking stupid fucking questions?” he snapped drawing back his hand as if he was about to hit her.
Dot recoiled instinctively curling up in the corner on the bed.
“I just need to think is all. We’ve been in tighter situations than this so just shut up and let me think.”
Dot nodded her head silently.
Skaz went to the dresser and pulled open the top drawer. He felt around inside and then looked angrily at Dot.
“No. They’ll kill you Skaz.” Dot pleaded.
Skaz stepped over to the bed. “What did you do with it you stupid whore? I need to know where it is at all times!” he said slapping her in the head repeatedly.
“What if they came in here right now? Do you think they’d wait until you got it for me?” he shouted.
Skaz froze as the door smashed open and flew off the hinges. His eyes went wide with fear as two huge men burst into the room holding guns.
They looked around quickly for anyone else in the room.
“Get your shit and come with us. It’s time to pay up you little piece of crap.” The first one said. He was wearing a long tan long coat and dark sunglasses. The man was huge and had the reddish rash on his neck of a stim abuser.
“I’m not ready Gaff.” Skaz said uneasily. “Look…why don’t you just tell her you couldn’t find me? All I need is a few more minutes. Hey why don’t you spend a little time with Dot here? She was just telling me how much she liked you.” Skaz said.
Dot had pushed herself as far back into the corner as she could. She knew the two men from before. They had beaten Skaz up last year when he had come up short of money the first time. They were Setta’s enforcers. They had come to make him pay for being late again.
“You make me sick.” Gaff said as he put his pistol in his coat pocket.
“You don’t get it hustler. You can’t give me anything that I can just take whenever I want.” Gaff reached over and grabbed Dot by her hair and dragged her off the bed. He swung her around and pushed her down bending her over the counter top in the kitchen area knocking bottles and glasses on the floor. He gave Skaz an evil smile and pulled Dots panties down to her knees while holding her head down on the counter.
The second goon grabbed Skaz by the back of his collar and put his pistol against Skaz’s temple. He forced him to sit down on a chair facing Gaff and Dot and made him watch as Gaff made his point about being able to take whatever he wanted from him.
When he had finished he let Dot slide down onto the floor and pulled up his pants.
Dot looked down at the floor being sure not to make eye contact with anyone and pulled her panties back up clumsily with a shaky hand.
“You got anything else you want to try to bribe me with?” Gaff asked smugly.
Skaz looked at Dot and then at Gaff. He put his head down ashamed. He was just a little punk in a game that he was way out of his league. He couldn’t even protect his only girl from being screwed right in front of his own eyes in his own apartment.
“Okay Teek” Gaff said addressing the other man as he held Skaz by the back of the neck, “I’m ready to take this piece of shit back too Setta unless you want to fuck his whore too.”
“Nah, I’ll wait till we get back to Setta’s, at least her whores didn’t have this losers little prick inside them.” Teek grinned. Both men laughed and grabbed Skaz lifting him too his feet.
“What’ll we do with her?” Teek asked.
“She’s on her own now. He’s not coming back this time.” Gaff said.
Dot looked up at Skaz as the two men dragged him out of the doorway and into the long dark hallway. Gaff kicked aside the broken door and pushed Skaz out onto the large balcony. Even with the shielding that kept the dust storms out it was still cold and dark on the dimly lit balcony. Gaff’s air barge was moored just a few feet in front of the doorway with its motor still running. Teek and Gaff pushed and shoved Skaz across the balcony and onto the air barge. Skaz knew this would be his last trip anywhere on the tower. He had run out of options and now it was only a matter of time before he was dead.
“Hey Gaff.” Skaz said looking over the edge of the barge as it hovered high above the next level down.
“What?” Gaff replied as he unfastened the mooring lines.
“Promise me you’ll make it quick when the time comes.” Skaz asked.
Gaff looked at Teek. He was checking the controls in the wheelhouse of the barge.
“Okay Skaz, I promise.” He said quietly.
They all looked up as the door opened that they had just come out of. They could see Dot silhouetted standing with the door open. She was just standing there watching them get ready to leave.
“Hey Gaff…” Skaz said.
“Okay.” He replied irritated. With that simple word he had agreed to protect Dot. He knew that she had nothing to do with the things that Skaz had done. He would keep her safe at least for a while.
Gaff signaled to Dot to get on board.
Dot ran over to the edge of the balcony and hesitated. She knew she needed protection and if Skaz was going to be killed then she would have to give herself to Gaff if he would take her. She knew he liked her even if he did just rape her.
“Just don’t stand there stupid get on.” Teek yelled as he gunned the engines. Teek pulled away from the edge just a little as soon as she tried to step across leaving her to look over the balcony at the four thousand foot drop below.
“Stop playing around Teek!” Gaff yelled.
Teek just laughed and pulled back close enough for her to step over. Dot jumped over as the barge bumped into the balcony. She stumbled and fell as she hit the deck of the barge. Seven-inch high heels weren’t made for jumping around in.
“Okay let’s get this over with.” Gaff yelled too Teek. The barge’s engine roared to life as it pulled away from the balcony. Dot remained on the deck keeping as low as she could. She hated traveling by air barge. They were used for hauling equipment and supplies between the hundreds of levels of the tower. She preferred to use the lifts on the interior.
The tower was a titanic black spire that rose eight thousand feet from the surface of the planet. The base was far below the first cloud layer and was said to be almost six hundred miles across. At the level they were on, near the middle, it was only two hundred miles across and tapered up to the upper most levels were the wealthiest citizens lived. Magnetic shields as well as two-foot thick plastiglass and steel hatches and doors protected the open areas from ash clouds and the frigid air at those levels.
She didn’t know who built the tower or even why it was here in the first place. All she knew from her meager education was that her ancestors as well as just about every one else’s in the tower came from another world long forgotten over a thousand years ago.
There didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to its design giving it an ugly appearance. To her it looked as though the whole thing would just come crashing down one day into a huge pile of twisted pipes, wire, and steel.
They were still inside the magnetic field that kept out the cold thin air. Dot looked up at Skaz and for the first time in her life saw he had a look of regret and sadness on his face. He had given up and was awaiting his fate. He just looked forward in the direction they were traveling unable to look at her at all.
Gaff walked over to Skaz. “I gotta frisk you now. If you give me any trouble I’ll chuck you off the barge right here. You understand?”
Skaz stood up and lifted his arms to be frisked.
Dot stood up and carefully made her way over to Gaff. She reached out her hand to him to steady herself as she tried to walk in her high heels closer to him as the barge lurched right and left as Teek avoided other barges and the numerous obstacles that jutted out from the hodge podge construction of the tower.
“What are you doing dummy? Just stay where you are until I’m done with him.” Gaff said sternly.
Dot suddenly lurched forward and grabbed Gaff’s long coat to keep from falling. She pulled herself up close to him hanging on as tight as she could.
“Stupid bitch!” Gaff yelled and smacked her to the deck causing her to tumble dangerously close to the edge.
Skaz reached for her and was also smacked down by Gaff’s massive hand.
“What’s going on back there?” Teek yelled from inside the tiny cabin.
“I got it under control…just keep…” Gaff stopped in mid-sentence.
He looked at dot half sitting on the deck. She had lifted his own gun from his pocket and was pointing it at him. Dot looked terrified and her hands were shaking badly.
“Aw you gotta be kidding me!” Gaff yelled.
“What’s going on back there?” Teek yelled back
“Stupid bitch snagged my gun.” Gaff yelled back.
“I’ll get her.” Teek said as he stepped out of the cabin.
“Get back in there, the safety’s on, she can’t shoot it.” Gaff said calmly.
Skaz leapt towards Dot and grappled for the gun. “Dot give it to me!” he yelled.
Gaff threw a toolbox at Skaz hitting him in the back.
Dot fumbled with the gun whimpering trying to figure out how to take the safety off.
Gaff slowly made his way over to Dot as Skaz writhed in pain on the deck.
“Just for that Dot I’m gonna give you a flying lesson. All the way to the bottom of the tower.” Gaff said as he reached out for her.
“Did you get the gun?” Teek yelled.
“Just fly the barge you…” Gaff turned for a second to see Teek looking backwards at him and another barge pulling out right in front of them.
The two ships smashed into each other with a sickening crunch. Teek flew forward and off the front part of the bow and into the inky darkness below screaming all the way down.
Gaff was knocked too the deck and rolled end over end until he was thrown off and onto the deck of the second ship.
Dot slid to the side and off the edge of the deck only to have Skaz grab her ankle at the last second. Dot screamed as she tried to grab the landing skid just out of reach below.
Both barges spun out of control hitting exhaust stacks and antenna arrays ripping out wires and hurling them down below.
Gaff’s barge began to loose altitude and spiral down out of control. The spiral caused Dot to be thrust against the landing skid suddenly. She grabbed on tightly just as Skaz lost his grip.
“I’m okay!” Dot screamed. “Let’s get out of here!”
Skaz stared at Dot perched on the landing gear and breathed a sigh of relief.
He quickly got to his feet and ran to the cabin. He had flown air barges before so this one wouldn’t be too hard to figure out.
Dot stood slowly clinging onto the skid and reached up to the access hatch above. The impact had knocked it open with the end of the rope ladder used for in flight transfers hanging out just within reach.
Skaz threw the engine into reverse pulling the two barges apart or so he thought. The second air barge had hit a power line and the wires had fallen entangling both barges just feet apart.
Dot’s fingers touched the ladder knocking it down a little further. She quickly pulled the ladder down low enough to step on. She carefully stepped on the ladder’s lowest rung with her high heels and began to climb up and inside. The ladder slipped and fell its entire length of fifty feet straight down with Dot hanging on and screaming all the way down.
Skaz pushed the throttle all the way forward pulling both barges backwards until they jerked to a stop due to the power lines still being attached to the tower superstructure.
“Shit! Shit! Shit!” Skaz yelled in frustration.
“Skaz you piece of shit!” Gaff yelled. He had landed on the other barge after the accident and had made his way to the bridge of that ship. He was gunning the engine and trying to ram the cabin of his own barge now occupied by Skaz.
Dot slipped through the last rung of the ladder as it yanked itself tight as the full length was finally spooled out. Her entire body had passed through the ladder leaving her hanging down with only her arms and shoulders still hanging tightly to the ladder. She swung in a wide circle suspended fifty feet below as the two entwined barges fought to free themselves from one another.
Gaff pushed the throttle of the second air barge as far forward as it would go. He aimed the barge at the cabin of his ship a second time but Skaz was faster and swung his craft backwards and to the left.
One of the crew from the second barge had made his way to Gaff’s position and tried desperately to rest control of the ship from him. Gaff quickly elbowed the crewmen in the face sending him backwards onto the deck.
Skaz heard Dots screams ran to the aft hatch. He flung it open and jumped down into the hold. He looked out of the open hatch and saw Dot hanging onto the ladder for dear life. To his added horror he saw they were rapidly falling towards a layer of static charged clouds below. The magnetic shielding that kept out the cold and dust sometimes produced a highly electrified area between the shield and the tower that arced lightening bolts back and forth. If one of those bolts hit Dot it would fry her for sure.
The rest of the crew was now attacking gaff. Soon he would be over powered and subdued.
There was no way he was going to loose Skaz now.
Gaff threw the last two crewmen off of him and began to run. The crewmen started to chase him until they realized what he was about to do.
Gaff gave a loud yell as he launched himself off the air barge and into the gap between the two craft. He pumped his arms and legs in mid-air as hard as he could trying to stay in the air just one second longer. Gaff hit the deck of his air barge easily landing heavily on both feet. He was a highly trained mercenary before he became an enforcer for Setta so his strength and agility allowed him to attempt feats like this with the confidence he would succeed.
Skaz watched frozen while Dot swung helplessly below the craft as bolts of lightening shot back and forth just a few feet below her. There was nothing he could do for her but watch.
Dot looked up at Skaz.
“Help me Skaz! I don’t want to die!” she pleaded. The tone in her voice denoted she knew he had already given up on her. It was as though she knew he would do nothing.
“Hold on Dot, I’m coming down.” He said.
Instead of relief Dot looked at him as though he had spoken a foreign language to her. He said he would help her but she just couldn’t believe it.
Skaz climbed down into the hatchway and started down the ladder.
Gaff saw the open hatchway that lead down below decks.
“You can’t hide Skaz. I know every inch of this barge you weasely son of a bitch!” he yelled.
Gaff smiled knowing Skaz had nowhere else to run so he concentrated on freeing his Barge from the other. He opened the storage locker behind the cabin and pulled out an ax. He immediately started to hack away at the wires that were holding his barge entwined with the other. The ax was sharp and the copper wires snapped easily under his blows. After finishing his work his air barge slid slowly back away from the other craft. Gaff laughed as the other crew yelled and cursed at him for the damage his ship had done.
Content with his new situation Gaff throttled back on the engine and spun the ship’s wheel away from the tower.
All at once he heard Dot screaming somewhere below him. He realized the voice was coming from outside the ship so he went to the rail and looked down. To his complete horror he realized his barge was slowly falling down into a static belt with Dot hanging from the rope ladder as it swung wildly in wide circles like some kind of insane carnival ride.
The lifting batteries must have been damaged in the crash causing them to become magnetized. The static belt was dragging them down into the lightening discharges and there wasn’t a damned thing he could do to stop it.
Skaz had made it about half way down the ladder towards Dot. Each rung lower he went the more he began to reevaluate his relationship with Dot. This whole hero thing was something new for him and he wondered if he should just climb back up and cut his loses. He looked up to see how far he needed to climb only to see Gaff looking down at him.
“Never thought I’d see you doing something for someone else.” Gaff said genuinely surprised.
“Keep going down Skaz and I’ll try to steady the ladder to keep it from swinging so much.” Gaff said surprised that he was now working to save Dot and help the man that had been sent to bring him back to be killed.
“Crap.” Skaz said simply as he continued down. Gaff lay down in the hold and grabbed both sides of the rope ladder giving it a little more stability. The ladder slowly stopped swinging wildly and was now hanging almost straight down.
“I’m not sure I can hang on.” Dot said exhausted.
Skaz looked up at Gaff unsure if he should continue down.
“If you come back up here without her I’ll throw you off this barge personally.” Gaff said sternly.
Skaz inched down to the last rung. He carefully looped his leg and arm in the ladder and reached down. He grabbed hold of Dot’s short jacket by the collar and tried to pull her up with his one arm.
“Dot, you gotta help me.” Skaz grunted.
“I’ll slip.” She said.
“It’s okay Dot I got your jacket now pull yourself up!” Skaz yelled.
Dot knew that tone of voice. He used it just before he would hit her. Dot wriggled and pulled herself up with Skaz’s help until she had made it up and through the last rung of the ladder.
She sat on the rung clinging tightly to Skaz’s leg trembling. She had done it.
“Dot don’t stop we gotta keep moving!” Skaz yelled.
Dot looked down below only to see they were right in the middle of the static discharges that were arcing back and forth just a few feet away from them.
“Move your asses!” Gaff yelled. He knew that if one of those bolts hit them their body would be blown to pieces.
Skaz groaned as he pulled Dot to her feet and helped her take hold of the ladder.
“Send her up first!” Gaff yelled urgently as they continued to drift down into the white-hot plasma discharges.
Skaz looked up angrily at Gaff. He had done all the work. Why should he have to go up second?
“Get your ass up that ladder and be quick!” Skaz yelled at Dot.
Dot struggled up the ladder as best she could in her seven-inch platform high heels and micro mini skirt. Skaz followed as close as he could up the ladder half helping half pushing Dot up the ladder.
Dot reached up to Gaff and he grabbed her by the wrist. She looked up and smiled in relief as he easily pulled her up and into the hold. Skaz made his own way up and into the hold by himself only to see Dot clinging tightly to Gaff.
Just before he could protest the first bolt of energized plasma hit the barge blowing out the lights and showering the hold with sparks.
“Get topside…hurry!” Gaff yelled. Dot climbed the ladder up to the deck above. Gaff stuck out his arm and stopped Skaz in his tracks.
“This ain’t over Skaz. When we get out of this static and set down I’m still taking you to see Setta you got that shithead?” Gaff growled.
“I didn’t think you’d change your mind Gaff. Especially now that you have Dot finally.” Skaz said angrily.
Gaff punched Skaz knocking him to the floor.
“You’re the one who wanted me to have her remember loser?” Gaff shouted back. Gaff climbed the ladder and made his way up on deck. Dot was holding onto the crane hoist in the center of the barges deck.
“Wait there. I’m going to try to steer us clear of the tower to get away from the static.” Gaff said to Dot. Dot nodded nervously in agreement as Gaff made his way to the cabin.
Gaff spun the ship’s wheel steering away from the tower and tried to re-engage the lift batteries.
A second bolt hit the barge followed by a third. The electronic components and wires all caught fire at once. The electrical discharge had burned out almost all the electronic equipment on board.
Gaff grabbed a fire extinguisher and put out the fires. He hurriedly checked the instruments to see just how badly damaged the barge was.
Just then Skaz made his way out of the hold below.
“The batteries are fried Gaff. We got no lift!” Skaz had seen just how badly they had been damaged before he climbed up the ladder.
Gaff looked at Skaz and gave a finalistic laugh.
“Looks like you got lucky punk.”
“What do you mean?” Skaz asked becoming worried.
“We’re going to crash down there somewhere down there and there ain’t a damned thing we can do about it.” Gaff said.
Beyond the Crystal Heavens
“Can’t you fix it?” Skaz yelled.
“Shut up Pimp. You’re the reason we’re in this mess.” Gaff shouted back as he took a threatening step towards Skaz.
Dot stepped in front of Gaff blocking him from attacking Skaz.
“Not now Gaff we have to figure out a way out of this. Don’t you have any lift belts we can drift down in? Maybe someone will pick us up then?” Dot asked. Even she knew there was no way to call for help with the radio fried and the chance someone would risk there own air barge to tow them back to the safety of the tower this far away and at the rate they were falling wasn’t very likely.
“All I have is one old parachute. There’s no way to guide it so we’re better off staying with the barge.” Gaff said calming down.
Skaz walked away and looked over the side. They had already drifted to the very edge of the magnetic shield. They were going to wind up slipping out past the shield as soon as they reached the lower levels where the shields don’t cover the entire side boundary of the tower.
“So we’re just going to drift down and crash in the Ashen fields?” Skaz asked in disbelief.
“Shut up and let me think.” Gaff said.
“How hard will we hit…I mean will the crash kill us?” Dot asked Gaff hoping the answer would be no.
“Don’t know. No one’s ever come back from a crash out there.” He said grimly.
Dot thought about their situation for a minute.
“Could we use the parachute to float the ship down on?” she asked.
“Don’t be stupid! This ship is way to big!” Skaz snapped at her.
Gaff looked at Skaz angrily.
“You know I can still chuck you over to lighten the load.”
Skaz recoiled knowing it wasn’t an idle threat.
Gaff smiled at Dot.
“It would slow us down a little…maybe enough.”
“Only thing is then we’d be buried under a hundred feet of ash. We’d be trapped in the hold of the barge waiting to starve to death or die of thirst or suffocate.” He said.
“We have to try Gaff. If we survive and then there’s no hope you can use this.” Dot said giving Gaff back his gun.
“Where the hell was that?” Skaz asked.
“It was on the deck after I fell. I just found it a second ago.” Dot replied innocently.
“Uuuuugh!” Skaz groaned. He couldn’t figure out why she gave the gun back to Gaff.
“What?” Dot asked not sure what she did to make Skaz mad.
“You’re still mine Dot, I ain’t dead yet! You’re supposed to help me not him!” Skaz yelled.
“Oh you’re dead alright…or just as good as dead. If we make it out of this you’re still going to see Setta one way or the other.” Gaff said coldly as he stuck the pistol in his belt.
“Or have you forgotten that I can take what I want from you anytime I please?”
Dot wanted to yell at both of them. They were wasting precious minutes arguing with each other.
“Tell me where the parachute is Gaff, I’ll get it.” She said trying desperately to keep him focused on their situation.
“In the cabin under the seat. It’s in a box with some bottles of water and junk.” He said.
Dot made her way to the cabin trying not to trip in her high heels.
“Why don’t you just throw those things away? They’re gonna get you killed stumbling around on this barge?” Skaz shouted.
“They cost me two hundred fifty credits!” she shouted back.
“Just throw them overboard!” Skaz shouted.
“NO! I bought them myself and no one is going to tell me what to do with them!” Dot shouted back angrily. Gaff and Skaz both looked at each other shocked. They had never heard her stand up for herself before.
“Who the Hell do you think you’re shouting at?” Skaz yelled back.
“Shut up Skaz for once in your miserable life just shut the fuck up.” Gaff said smiling at Dot as she continued up to the cabin.
Dot brought back the parachute and gave it to Gaff. They figured out a way to rig it to the stern of the barge. Gaff had decided that at the last minute they would all climb below decks at the stern. With the parachute open the bow would hit first taking the brunt of the impact and maybe absorb enough energy to leave the stern intact. Of course they would still have to figure out how to get out of the ash fields and back to the tower but for now they had to just try to survive the crash.
They continued to fall for another ten minutes and drifted out over the ash fields like they had guessed. Gaff had them take the mattresses and blankets and anything else that might help absorb the crash and pile it in the stern of the ship. This is where they would ride out the last few seconds of the trip down.
There was a strong wind blowing at the base of the tower that caught the parachute and spun the barge around facing away from the tower.
“Damn it!” Gaff yelled.
“What’s the matter?” Dot asked.
“We’re all turned around…we’ll hit stern first now.”
“Cut the chute!” Skaz yelled.
Gaff frowned realizing Skaz was right. The parachute had slowed them down most of the way but the wind had turned them around and they were picking up speed.
Gaff grabbed the ax and swung it down on the cords severing them all with one blow. The parachute shot loose into the ash cloud spinning the Barge around and around.
“This is it! Everyone below decks!” Gaff yelled.
The three all scrambled into the stern and held on. Skaz had found a support beam and hung on. He looked over in the darkened room and saw Gaff holding Dot tightly.
The impact was less than they expected. The ash absorbed the crash as the barges hull made contact with it. They held on as they felt the barge begin to slow down. There was a hissing sound as the tiny flakes of ash scraped across the hull as the barge sank deeper and deeper sliding down into the ash completely burying the craft. They seemed to keep going and going longer than expected. There were several jolts and bumps as the hull hit and bounced making contact with the surface below.
“Why aren’t we stopping?” Dot cried.
“I don’t know.” Gaff shouted. Suddenly the barge rolled upside down and pitched down violently. They could feel the barge sliding down a steep incline. The barge swung around and rolled over then stopped suddenly. Everything was quiet. The three sat in silence and waited for whatever was to happen next.
“Everybody okay?” Gaff asked finally.
Gaff looked at Dot’s face. Light streamed in from the porthole illuminating her face.
“I’m fine she said rubbing her arm.
“I’m okay.” Skaz said.
Dot blocked the light from shining in her face with her hand.
“It’s bright.” She said.
Gaff looked surprised. He looked at Dot then the porthole.
“What is it?” Skaz asked.
“It should be pitch black. We should be under hundreds of feet of ash. There shouldn’t be any light.” Gaff replied standing up.
“What?” Skaz asked.
“The ash…we should be under a hundred feet of it at least.” Gaff said looking out the porthole.
“What the…” Gaff ran to the ladder in the hold and opened the bottom hatch. At once a cloud of ash cascaded down inside the hatch covering Gaff. He coughed and sputtered fighting his way up the ladder and outside.
“Shut the hatch! You’ll kill us all!” Skaz yelled.
Dot ran to the porthole and looked out. She watched in amazement as she saw Gaff slide down the hull of the barge onto a strange and wonderful land. The light coming down from above shifted and changed from one gentile pastel color to the next. A soft mossy like vegetation covered the ground as far as she could see. And there were mushrooms. Mushrooms thirty feet across and a hundred feet high.
“We’re in Heaven Skaz…we died and went to Heaven.” Dot said through tears of joy.
“There ain’t no Heaven.” He said shoving her out of the way.
He looked out at the scene before him trying to understand what he was looking at. Skaz didn’t realize Dot had even left until he saw her slide down the hull and caught by Gaff. They were both smiling and looking around in wonder at this new land.
Skaz started to head out of the wreck when he stepped on something. He looked down and lifted his foot. It was Gaff’s pistol. It must have been knocked loose in the crash as they tumbled around inside the hull.
Skaz quickly picked it up and stuck it in his pants behind his back. He made sure his black leather blazer covered it completely before he went to the ladder.
“Now we’ll see who’s going to kill who.” He said smiling too himself.
He climbed up and out until he was standing on top of the hull. He watched Gaff and Dot as they began to examine their new world. He looked up in the direction they had come from. There was a large mossy out cropping that the barge was resting on. He saw a trail of ash and debris that lead up as far as he could see to a beautiful crystal sky that shimmered and glinted every color of the rainbow. Skaz noticed a hole in the crystal ceiling far above that was dumping ash down the side of the mountain the ship was resting on.
“We’re underneath it. We’re under the ash plains.” He said to himself aloud.
Dot screamed suddenly. Skaz then heard a deep throbbing buzzing sound. He looked around panicked until he realized the sound was coming from above and behind him.
To his horror he saw some kind of giant insect swooping down at him. The thing was huge. The head was five feet across with huge mandibles. Its wings were moving at a speed so fast that they appeared to be only a blur. Four legs hung down their full length of ten feet or more as it continued to get closer. The whole creature was a vibrant red color with black and yellow markings.
“Don’t move!” Gaff shouted. He fumbled for the gun that was no longer in his pants. He looked up to see Skaz shooting at the insect and dodging the monster’s attacks. His shots were panicked and all of them missed or bounced off the thick exoskeleton of the beast. He lost his footing and fell tumbling off the barge and down onto the thick mossy ground in front of Dot and Gaff.
The insect landed on the barges hull and began to climb down.
Gaff ran over to Skaz and wrestled the gun from his hand. Gaff finally snatched the pistol away and gave Skaz a kick in his stomach to keep him down and out of the way.
The insect opened its mandibles and lunged at Gaff.
“Smile pretty for me.” He said calmly as he carefully took aim and fired. He knew the only way to kill the beast was to get past its thick exoskeleton so he waited and fired into its open mouth sending the bullet into the monsters brain.
The creature collapsed sliding down the barges hull and lay crumpled on the ground at their feet.
Gaff looked at Skaz angrily and threw the pistol at Skaz hitting him in his arm as he held it up in front of his body trying to defend himself.
“Keep it! It’s useless now! You just used up all the ammo! You’re lucky there was one bullet left!” Gaff yelled at Skaz.
Skaz rolled over and lay on his back holding his arm.
“You said you were going to kill me! What was I supposed to do?” I had to keep it!” Skaz yelled back.
“Do you think there are more of those things Gaff?” Dot asked trying to keep these two men from killing each other.
Gaff stepped back from Skaz and turned too Dot.
“What?” he asked.
“Do you think there are more of those things?” Dot repeated.
“Uh, yeah…probably. This is most likely their territory. We should get outta here…maybe go down into the valley. We’re going to be stuck here for a while and we’ll need to find water and shelter.” Gaff said as he began to focus on their survival.
“We should stay here with the barge, at least we’ll have protection if one of those things comes around again.” Skaz said sitting up.
“Fine. You stay here in the barge. You ain’t going with us anyhow.” Gaff said matter of factly.
“What are you talking about?” Skaz asked.
“You took my gun and wasted all our ammo. You fight me on everything I say so you’re staying here.” Gaff said.
“What about food and water? How am I supposed to survive?” Skaz asked.
Gaff looked at Skaz.
“You’re a waste of humanity Skaz. You’ve only ever looked out for yourself. The second I fell asleep or turned my back you’d try to kill me.” Gaff said.
“You can’t leave me here to die! Dot…say something!” Skaz pleaded.
“Leave her out of it. Besides you were dead the second I dragged you out of that apartment. You’ve been trying as hard as you can to have someone put a bullet in you since the first time I met you so here’s where it ends. You’re staying here and me and Dot are moving on…without you.” Gaff said.
Skaz knew he was in trouble.
“Listen, you’re right. I’ve been selfish my whole life but I did what I did just to survive. Just give me one last chance Gaff. I’ll carry the supplies. I’ll do all the work but just don’t leave me here.” Skaz pleaded.
“We just can’t leave him here…” Dot said.
“What are you talking about? He whored you out when you were just sixteen. He had you giving blowjobs in an alley for ten credits a pop! He’s abused you for years and now you want to save him?”
“I didn’t have anyone to take care of me Gaff. You don’t understand. Yeah he did those things and I did those things but at least he was there! I always had food and a dry place to sleep. He took care of me when I was sick and he protected me. All we had was each other. We did what we did to survive. It wasn’t a great life but it could have been a lot worse for me Gaff.” Dot said.
“That’s all crap. That’s the shit he’s put into your head to control you Dot. You’re pretty, you could have done better than him.” Gaff said.
“With who? You? You could have taken me away if you wanted to but you only screwed me when you wanted to. You paid just like the rest of them. Once you had your fun you left but Skaz was still there.” Dot said sadly.
Gaff sighed. She was right. He could have done more for her but she was just a whore. He liked her but he never would have taken her away from Skaz or that life. He liked having her there as a convenience. He could be with her and not have to take responsibility for her. He could have done more.
“Okay scum bag. You can thank Dot for this last chance but if you do one thing to make me even think you’re gonna do something stupid I’ll kill you, you got that?” Gaff said pointing a finger at Skaz.
Skaz wiped a tear away from his eye. He was really scared that he would be left behind. Then he did something that shocked all three of them.
“Thank you Gaff and thank you too Dot.” He said humbly.
“Yea…we’ll see about that one.” Gaff still didn’t believe Skaz.
Skaz stood up and brushed himself off. They all stood in an awkward silence for a few seconds.
“Skaz, go back in the barge and hand me out the supplies we stashed in the stern. Dot you look around the barge for any pieces of pipe or metal we can use for weapons.” Gaff said.
Skaz climbed up into the barge and into the hatch. He took one last look at Gaff. He wondered if he would lock him in the barge and leave with Dot anyway.
“Go ahead…I’m right behind you.” Gaff said reassuring him he wouldn’t.
Skaz gave an awkward smile and disappeared into the hull of the ship.
Dot stumbled across the moss in her high heels.
“Dot maybe you should get rid of those shoes. You’ll break your ankle walking on that moss in those things.” Gaff said.
“It’s all I have Gaff.” She had bought the shoes with her own money. She picked them out by herself and made the decision to buy them by herself. They were more to her than just a pair of shoes.
“You can keep ‘em Dot but just take ‘em off and walk around barefoot for now.” Gaff said.
“On that?” she asked.
It was only then that he realized she had never walked on grass or moss or anything from nature in her life. She had spent her life in the tower and most likely had only seen pictures of things like that.
“Go ahead you’ll like it.” Gaff smiled.
Dot took off one shoe as she leaned against the barge on one foot. She slowly placed her bare foot on the moss and smiled.
“It tickles.” She said grinning.
Gaff smiled seeing her reaction.
“It’s wet.” She remarked wrinkling her nose.
Just be careful not to step on anything sharp.” He said. Gaff climbed up on the barge and waited by the hatch for Skaz to hand him the first bundle of supplies.
Dot held tightly to her shoes as she walked on the cool damp moss. She scrunched it between her toes and giggled. She had never seen anything like this place and she hesitated for a few minutes to take it all in. This world was so different than the tower it was hard to adapt to the surroundings. The air was different, the smells were different, even the sounds were different. It was quiet here. Only a chirping sound or the buzzing of an insect could be heard. This must be what nature sounded like.
Dot had gathered up a few pieces of metal that might be used as weapons. She had also found two long metal poles that were part of the antenna that she thought would make good spears.
Gaff and Skaz had stripped the barge of everything they could think of. They actually found themselves working well together with this task. They took as much as they could of any food packages and water bottles and put the items in a big sling made from a blanket and suspended it from one of the poles. Skaz took the front and Gaff took the back sharing the load. Dot put on several pairs of Gaff’s socks and put on a pair of old work boots they found. She laced them up tight so they would fit. At least this way she had some somewhat normal footwear on her feet for their trip down into the valley.
They traveled all day with little effort. They spoke about the world around them as they tried to make sense of what they were seeing. They wondered if they were the only ones to have ever survived after a crash. The fact that no one had ever returned to the tower did put them in an uneasy state of mind.
“Hold it.” Gaff said suddenly.
“What is it?” Skaz asked.
“Shhh.” Gaff hissed.
“They all stood motionless for a few minutes. Then Dot and Skaz heard it too. Whistles and chirps all around them. Something or someone else was near and knew they were there.
Gaff motioned to Skaz to put down the sling. He then pulled out a hefty piece of metal from his belt and held it close to his side. Dot kept the pack she had been carrying on her back and held the hammer that she had stuffed in her boot by her side as well.
Skaz went over to Gaff and waited. Gaff looked around a bit more and gave Skaz a hammer from the barge. He didn’t allow Skaz to have a weapon yet.
They stood peering into the thick forest of mushrooms trying desperately to see what was making the sounds.
Without warning a small humanoid figure dropped from one of the mushroom caps above landing lightly in a crouched position in front of them. He was small with long golden hair and wore only the briefest loincloth that was made from some strange material. He wore blue face paint and carried a long pointed staff with intricate carvings on it. He stood slowly and smiled a toothy grin at them all. His big aqua green eyes darted back and forth from Skaz to Gaff too Dot and back.
“What the Hell is this?” Skaz asked under his breath.
The small man suddenly pointed at the hammer in Dot’s hand.
“Hammer!” he yelled gleefully.
“Hammer, hammer!” he exclaimed.
Dot tried to hide the hammer behind her back but the little wild man maneuvered around her still trying to see the hammer. He showed no fear at all and acted almost playful.
“You Tubkin! You like Mr. Tubkin!” he exclaimed loudly.
“What should I do Gaff?” Dot asked nervously.
“Smile and don’t act scared I don’t think he wants to hurt us.” Gaff replied looking around. He wasn’t sure if this man was the only one around.
“You from above the crystal heaven. You are like Mr. Tubkin eh?” the man asked Skaz.
“What the Hell is a Mr. Tubkin?” Skaz asked Gaff over his shoulder.
“Just smile and nod. If he lives down here then he must have food and water.” Gaff said to Skaz.
Gaff smiled at the man and stepped forward.
“We would like to see Mr. Tubkin. Can you take us to him?” Gaff asked.
“I take you to Elders. Elders know where Mr. Tubkin is. They will take you to him I think.” The man said feeling the leather material on Skaz’s black leather pants.
“Yes, take us to the Elders…you understand?” Gaff said.
“Okay good.” The man said. And with that he made a series of sharp quick chirping sounds.
From above about twenty small men and women dressed like the little man all dropped down from the mushroom tops and landed all around Gaff, Skaz, and Dot.
Then one after the other the little people all touched or patted Gaff, Skaz, and Dot. After that a few picked up the sling by the poll and started off down into the valley.
The little man motioned to the three.
“We help to carry supplies. You come with us to village. You come now.” The man said smiling.
Skaz shrugged his shoulders and began to follow the small people down the path. Gaff noticed Dot was just standing still with her hand over her mouth wide eyed.
“What’s the matter Dot?” Gaff asked.
Dot took her hand away to reveal a huge grin on her face.
“They’re adorable.” She replied.
Beyond the Crystal Heavens
Celia was feeling much better now and the effects of the wounds from the Ashen’s attack had passed. The potion Mr. Tubkin gave her had done their job.
“When are you going to tell me about your world Mr. Tubkin. You promised it would be today.” Celia asked. She had been waiting for this day for quite some time.
“Okay Celia have a seat and I’ll get started but I have to warn you that it’s not a pleasant story.
Celia jumped up on the big padded bench built into the window. This was her favorite place to sit in Mr. Tubkin’s house. He had made it for himself but whenever Celia came over he knew she had to sit there. He was happy to surrender the seat to her because she loved sitting there so much.
Mr. Tubkins sat across from her and cleared his throat.
“As you know I come from the land above the crystal heaven. It is a very bad place. In this land there is a tower, dark and tall. It sits in a sea of ashes that stretches as far as the eye can see or a man can walk.”
“Ashes? Ashes like in the village fires, that type of ashes?” Celia asked.
“Yes but the ash is as deep as a hundred Caeshi mushrooms.” He said.
(The Caeshi mushroom is a fungus that stands more than eighty feet high and is the largest fungus under the crystal heaven.)
Celia looked at Mr. Tubkin skeptically.
“Nothing I tell you today will be a lie or even a joke. These things I tell you are deadly serious, do you understand?” he asked.
“You promise?” she asked.
“Yes.” He said sitting up straight.
Celia nodded for him to continue.
“A long time ago when my people first built this tower there was no ash on the surface. It was very different but as they built the tower the people used food that came in a box that other people made and put the food into. It was meant to keep the food from going bad. So once the other people ate the food they threw the boxes outside the city.”
“It sounds like those people were crazy. Why didn’t they just go and get their own food?” she asked.
“They had been raised and taught not to by the people who made the boxes of food.” Tubkin said.
“Why would they do such a thing?” Celia asked.
“I’ll try to make you understand as best I can. Here we all share everything we make and eat but there in the tower my people make things for other people that give them numbers in exchange. Then they take the numbers and give them to other people for things they make.” He said.
“That sounds very confusing Mr. Tubkin.” She said bewildered.
“It is. Only people that want more numbers then they need really understand it.” He said.
“Why would someone want more numbers than they can use? Do they give them away.” She asked smiling.
“No Celia they keep as many as they can get.” He said.
“But why?” she asked.
“They can control other people that way. They can make people do whatever they want that way.” He said.
“They wouldn’t control me. I’d just go and make what I needed or get my own food.” She said.
“But in my world there are no mushrooms or moss or insects to eat. Everything belongs to the people that have the most numbers.” He said.
“I don’t like the way things are in your world Mr. Tubkin.” She said still confused.
“I don’t blame you Celia. The people that have less numbers get angry and try to take what they need from anyone they can. They even hurt and kill others to get what they want.”
Celia sat and thought for a while. It was not what she thought she was going to hear.
“Did you come here to warn us about your people?” she asked.
“No, I came here to see if I could help the people with less numbers but the people that had the most numbers broke my ship and made it crash here. They wanted to kill me Celia. They don’t want anyone helping each other. They want to control everybody.” He said.
“I heard that once there was an Evermore that was strange inside his head. He always wanted to hurt others. My father said he was driven away and made to leave the Evermore for all time.
You should go back and drive these people with the most numbers away.” She said.
“ There are too many Celia. There are too many of my people to make them change.” He said sadly.
“How many are there?” she asked.
“More than all the mushrooms in the forest and beyond.” He said.
“There can’t be that many, you’re trying to trick me now. There are not that many people anywhere.” She said. She was sure he was testing her or was playing a joke on her.
Mr. Tubkin looked down at the floor in silence.
“I am telling you the truth Celia. My people are dangerous and would kill all the Evermore if they came down here. You must never let that happen. You must never let any of your people go to the old ruins or come to my home without me. The Ashen were once my people but something has changed them and it’s getting worse. There are more Ashen now. They have begun to leave the ruins and look for the Evermore. They eat your people when they can.” He added.
“Why do you stay out here were it’s so dangerous? You should move in with my family at the village.” She said.
“My machines will keep me safe Celia. You don’t want me in the village with you anyway.” He smiled.
Even after fifteen years living with your people I still can’t trust myself to be with them. You see I am still a lot like my people in the tower. I’m afraid if your people trusted me too much I would take advantage of them.” Mr. Tubkin said.
“No Mr. Tubkin, you are not like the ones in the tower. You would never hurt us.” She said smiling.
“I was raised by their laws and customs. Bad people raised me and I must always remember not to act like them anymore. There would always be a chance I might show your people the wrong thing or they might copy something I do. They won’t realize that what they have learned is wrong until it is too late. And if you learn a bad thing you can’t unlearn it.” He said smiling slightly.
“Will you ever go back to your people?” she asked as if she were afraid her friend might leave.
“I can never go back Celia. I can’t live with your people and I can’t live with mine either. If I went back to the tower they would want to know where I have been. They would make me talk or I might make a mistake and tell someone. If I did that they would come here and destroy everything and kill your people.” He said.
“Why would they hurt us? We would be friends to them just like we are too you. They would see we are not their enemy.” She said.
“I know you find this hard to believe but they would take everything you have and make you all do what they say…it’s all they know how to do.” He said.
Celia stared at Mr. Tubkin for a few seconds.
“Are you a bad man Mr. Tubkin?” she asked plainly.
He looked down at the floor again and then straight into her eyes.
“Yes Celia, this is the secret that the Elders want you to know. They want you to know that one day I might do something bad and you might have to stop me. They want you to understand that I can’t be trusted. They make me tell this to each of your people when they can understand what that means so you will know that it is true. It is the only reason they let me stay here close to your village.” He said ashamed.
Celia stood up and walked towards Mr. Tubkin.
“You will never do anything to hurt me Mr. Tubkin. You are not like the tower people. You are like us now.” She said putting her hand on his shoulder.
“I don’t want to have to show you what I’m capable of Celia so just please believe me.” He said.
“I will remember what you’ve said Mr. Tubkin but I will never believe it. You are like us.” She said.
Mr. Tubkin smiled and put his hand on hers. He held it tight and then tighter. Celia looked puzzled and tried to pull away but he jerked her closer.
“You’re hurting me.” She said becoming frightened.
He stood up still holding her hand tightly and loomed over her.
Celia tried to pull away now but it was useless. He dragged her over to the big padded bench by the window and pushed her face down on it twisting her arm behind her back.
“Oww…stop I’m scared. Stop your hurting me.” She whimpered.
“I told you I didn’t want to show you what I was capable of but you wouldn’t listen. Now you made me do it.” He said as he grabbed the cord that held her loincloth on.
“No, No stop.” She was crying now and was becoming panicked.
Suddenly he jerked her to her feet and released her. He stepped in front of the door looking at her.
“This is what I can do to you if I let that side out. This is why I can’t be trusted. It’s because I have the power to do so. I have my machines and my size. I could make you all do what I want at any time.” He said.
Celia collapsed on the floor shaking. She no longer knew who this man was.
He took a step closer too her and hesitated. He watched as tears ran down her face.
“But I won’t. I tell myself every day that I won’t.” he put his hand out to her and smiled.
She realized he had to show her what he could do. He knew that she had to feel the fear and the pain to make her believe it.
Celia stood up by herself without Mr. Tubkin’s help.
“I understand what you mean now.” she said ashamed.
Now you know what I can do I need you to understand that in the tower there are many more that would not have stopped when I did. They would do many bad things. Now you know why you must never go near the ruins or have contact with the Ashen. If my people found out about this land they would kill all of you and destroy everything here.” He said opening the door.
“You should go home now Celia. I will walk with you until its safe.” he said.
Celia felt stupid. She thought she was wise to the world but she had just found out how little she understood of it.
“Can I stay with you a little longer Mr. Tubkin?” she asked.
“Are you sure you want to?” he asked.
“I know you did what you did to teach me a lesson. But I also know that only a good man would have stopped when you did. I understand but I still trust you Mr. Tubkin.” She said wiping her tears away.
Mr. Tubkin smiled and sat back down in his chair. Celia looked at the big padded bench. It used to be her favorite place here but now all she could think of is being pushed down on it and his thick heavy hands forcing himself on her.
She looked around and decided to sit on a chair across from Mr. Tubkin.
“You see?” he asked.
“This is what they call evil Celia. You’ll never enjoy that bench again because of what I did.” He said looking at the bench.
“I feel bad now when I look at it. It makes me think of what you did.” She said.
“That’s what is so bad about it. I’ve taken your favorite place from you and you’ll never enjoy it again like you did before.” He said looking for her reaction.
“Why must your people be that way? Why must they hurt others?” she asked.
“There are too many of them and not enough food and other things they want for everyone so they fight over the things there are. They are like trapped animals in a box that is way too small. They have to fight for everything to survive.” He said.
Mr. Tubkin stood up and went too the kitchen area. He took two ripe stem fruits from a basket and came back in and sat down. He then held one up to Celia he knew this fruit was her favorite. She nodded accepting his offer. He took out his long knife and split both down the side and squeezed the fluid out into a bowl on the table.
Celia watched as he cut up the blood red cone in each one and placed the pieces in a bowl. Once finished he pushed the bowl to the center of the table and took a piece for himself and put it in his mouth.
Celia took a piece and looked at it. Everything was different now between them.
“I don’t like this feeling anymore. Can you make it go away?” she asked.
It was the terrible feeling from the lack of trust she now had for her friend Mr. Tubkin. He had been like a second father too her and now she felt betrayed.
“You thought our talk today would be fun didn’t you?”
Celia shook her head yes.
“I’m sorry I had to do it Celia but you had been chosen to have this knowledge by your people. You must be one of the few Evermore who protect the others. You have to keep the Evermore away from the ruins and far from this place. But most importantly you must never tell anyone about what I said or did here today. They must not know about the tower or the truth about my people. You must keep this secret or some will become curious and go to the ruins and the tower. They will be caught and my people will find out about you and your home.” He said.
Celia put the sweet fruit in her mouth and chewed it slowly.
“It’s good.” she said feeling a little better.
Mr. Tubkin smiled. He saw she was feeling better about what happened.
When he first made contact with the Evermore he saw them as a quaint and simple people. Only later did he realize that they were highly intelligent and capable of very complex ideas and thoughts.
They lived in a world of plenty. They also lived very long lives and their birth rate was very low. It wasn’t unusual for a female not to have a child until she was fifty years old or more and then only that one her whole life.
There were almost no diseases or unpredictable weather patterns to worry about plague or drought. In fact they lived a very rich life in a way. Food was plentiful as well as shelter. The Evermore had almost no personal possessions as everything they had was shared. If anyone needed something they would all pitch in and help that person get what they needed.
Mr. Tubkin took a long time to realize they acted this way because of their overwhelming understanding that working together to obtain a goal is the only logical way to ensure survival. In short they were much smarter than his own people in most ways. They had an uncanny ability to be happy with what they had.
“It’s easy to stay away from your people Celia, its easy for me to do that.” He said taking another bite of the fruit.
“Why is that? Do you fear what you might do so much?” she asked.
He laughed to himself.
“No Celia, it’s because I’m ashamed. Your people are better than mine. They are so much better I feel like an animal around them. I’m just a beast that must control my instincts.” He said.
At once images of the half naked Evermore women popped into his mind. They were small, pretty, and very trusting. He was strong enough to take anyone of them he wanted. And the men were small too. They were no threat to him. With his machines he could sweep them aside and rule them all.
And why shouldn’t he?
He wasn’t getting any younger. This wouldn’t be a bad way to finish up his older years. He could get used to being waited on hand and foot by these people.
This is just one of the twisted thoughts that went through his mind.
The Evermore had only tried to help him and make his life more comfortable. They even trusted him with their children.
There was no doubt he shouldn’t be around them…ever.
“Did you hear that?” Celia asked. Her ears twisted in the direction of the village even before she turned her head.
“What is it?” Mr. Tubkin asked. He couldn’t hear anything but he had learned to trust the senses of the Evermore without a doubt.
“It’s the horn. There must be an emergency at the village!” she said.
“You go, run back as fast as you can and don’t stop for anything no matter what. I’ll follow soon and bring my machines just in case.” He said jumping too his feet.
Celia leapt to her feet and flung open the door.
“Go!” Mr. Tubkin yelled.
Celia took one last look at Mr. Tubkin as he put on his heavy coat and vest. Without a word she nodded and took off down the path as fast as she could. She became nervous when she got to the place in the path where the Ashen attacked her. She noticed a large stain from a black liquid splashed all over the path. This is where Mr. Tubkin must have killed the creature. Celia continued running until she reached the stream she had been waiting at earlier. This was the beginning of the Evermore lands. She slowed down slightly now that she was out of the wild lands and away from the mushroom forest.
In a few minutes she had reached the edge of the village. Everyone was cheering and laughing. She breathed a sigh of relief when she heard the sounds of happiness coming from the village. Celia hurried around the hollowed out mushroom husks they used as houses and made her way into the center of the village.
She froze in horror at the sight before her. There surrounded by her cheering friends and family were three large people dressed head to toe in clothing. They were from the tower. The same people Mr. Tubkin had just warned her about had somehow found her village.
Instinctively she looked behind her for Mr. Tubkin. He wasn’t there yet. She would have been able to hear his machines if he was close.
She had to do something.
Celia ran past the crowd towards the meeting hall. The Elders would know what to do until Mr. Tubkin arrived. She looked at the tower people as she ran by. They were all tall even the female. There were three of them in all. One was very tall and wore a heavy long coat. He had a feeling of malevolence about him. She felt scared just looking at this man.
The second man was about as tall as Mr. Tubkin but younger and not as thick. He was dressed all in black and his eyes darted back and forth studying the Evermore like a predatory beast.
And then there was the female. Her body was the least covered of the three. She seemed different than the men. She was smiling and didn’t have the feel of being dangerous. She seemed to be enjoying the attention and the welcome that the Evermore were giving them.
She seemed as if she meant no harm to them.
“Holy shit Gaff. Look at these babes. They’re all naked.” Skaz whispered through the corner of his mouth.
“Shut up you idiot. You better do some math here. They’re small but there are about two hundred of them. If I were you I’d keep my stupid comments to myself. They may not take kindly to raping their women.” Gaff snapped at Skaz.
He knew they were in a potentially dangerous situation. They didn’t know anything about these little people. They seemed friendly enough but he had no doubt that Skaz could ruin that with his big mouth.
The crowd quieted down suddenly. Gaff, Skaz and Dot all turned to see two men and two women come out of the largest of the village buildings. Two of the men and one of the women wore a simple headdress of twisted fibers and the carapace of some large insect on their head. The second woman stood slightly behind the other three.
“I am Fendal, leader of the Elders. Who speaks for the three of you?” the tallest Elder asked.
“My name is Gaff. I speak for us.” Gaff said stepping forward.
“Where have you come from? Are you from the tower or are you from the ruins?” Fendal asked stepping forward.
Gaff looked at Skaz and Dot.
“We come from the tower. We crashed here by mistake. We are friends.” Gaff said trying to look pleasant.
The crowd of Evermore cheered and hooted with approval. They apparently liked people from the tower.
“Tubkin, Tubkin, Tubkin.” They all chanted.
Fendal raised his hands silencing the crowd.
“You must wait for Mr. Tubkin. He will judge you for us. He will tell us if you can stay with us or if you have to leave.” Fendal said.
“Who is Mr. Tubkin if I might ask?” Gaff queried.
“He is from the tower as are you three. He is a friend and we will let him pass judgment on each of you. For now you must come with me and wait in the meetinghouse until he arrives.” Fendal said plainly.
“We will do as you ask Fendal.” Gaff replied. He motioned to Skaz and Dot to move towards the meetinghouse.
As they walked towards the building Skaz looked at Gaff.
“Relax pimp. No matter what this Mr. Tubkin says we’ll be the ones deciding who stays and who goes here from now on.” Gaff said in a low voice.
Beyond the Crystal Heavens
Mr. Tubkin had reached the edge of the village by now. He left his machines just outside the line of sight of the village square.
As he moved closer he saw many of the villagers milling about talking feverishly to one another.
He caught sight of one of the hunters named Jekki, he had been told of the tower last year just as he had told Celia today.
“Jekki what’s happened?” Mr. Tubkin asked.
Jekki moved closer so their conversation wouldn’t be over heard. Mr. Tubkin leaned over slightly to hear what he had to say.
“It’s happened Mr. Tubkin. Three of your people have come here. They came in a sky boat that crashed like yours did. I was with Makka’s hunting party when they found them. No one else in the hunting party had been told the truth but myself about your kind.
There was nothing I could do Mr. Tubkin, I had to let them bring them here.” Jekki said sadly. He knew what had to be done.
“It’s not your fault Jekki. There was nothing that you could have done to stop this from happening.” Mr. Tubkin said patting Jekki on the back.
“This is my problem.” He said grimly.
“They have been taken too the meetinghouse by the Elders to wait for you.” Jekki said pointing at the building.
Tubkin smiled at Jekki and turned to the meetinghouse. As he made his way through the village the Evermore greeted him by touching him lightly and saying his name. He touched each one back as he passed repeating each ones name.
This simple custom forced every one in the village to remember that every one was an individual and they each had value.
Mr. Tubkin finally entered the door of the meetinghouse. He had to lean over to enter momentarily due to the height of the door.
Once inside he saw the Elders and Celia standing against the wall. Sitting on the benches in the center of the room were three people, two men and a woman. They seemed fairly typical of the tower’s lower class. The all looked at him as if he was a policeman about to question them.
“My name is Nathaniel Tubkin. I’m here to find out why you’ve come here.” He said crossing his arms.
The big man stood up.
“We had and accident with my air barge earlier and lost function to the lifting batteries. We all thought we were going to die but we crashed down through the ash and into the ceiling of this place winding up here. It’s a miracle we survived.” Gaff said.
“What are your names and what do you do?” Tubkin asked in his most official sounding tone.
“Look pal he just told you we didn’t mean to come here so if you can just show us the way back up to the tower we’ll be on our way.” Skaz interjected.
“Shut up Skaz. The man just wants a little information is all.” Gaff said smiling.
“Excuse my friend…he’s still a little shaken from the crash.” Gaff replied.
“Your names?” Mr. Tubkin repeated.
“My name is Gaff Tessle, my friend there is Skaz Jacoaby and the young lady’s name is Dot Schulman.” Gaff said trying to gauge Mr. Tubkin’s response to any of his answers.
“What are your jobs, I mean how do you make a living?” Mr. Tubkin asked pressing his questions.
“I specialize in security matters.” Gaff said.
“An enforcer.” Tubkin thought to himself.
“Mr. Jacoaby and Miss Schulman are in the entertainment business.” Gaff said smiling.
“A pimp and his whore.” Mr. Tubkin thought to himself again. This was quiet a group before him. All three were out and out criminals.
They would have to be taken away from the village as soon as possible.
“We have a rule down here. No one from the tower can stay in the village. You three will have to come stay with me until we can get you enough supplies together to get you back to the tower.” Mr. Tubkin said.
“You know how to get back there?” Skaz asked apprehensively. He was hoping that they would be stuck here for a while. At least long enough to make a deal with Gaff to let him go.
“Yes there is a way into the tower from below. It will take several days to get there but you’ll be able to rest at my home before your journey.” Mr. Tubkin said smiling.
Something about that smile flipped a switch in Gaff’s head. They were being set up. The fact that they were here was making Mr. Tubkin very nervous. For some reason they had become a problem. He had to be careful not to let on that he suspected anything.
“Hey great! So I guess we’re going home then, fantastic!” Gaff said happily clapping his hands together.
“Can’t we stay a little while longer?” Dot asked suddenly. This place was so different then the tower. The people were friendly to her and acted happy to have met her. Skaz only took her some place new if he had a client for her.
“Yeah. What’s the big hurry Gaff? I mean fine…okay we can’t stay here but we could still stay down here for a while. Nobody has ever seen anything like this before. Hey! We could start up a business down here you know, tours and vacations and stuff.” Skaz blurted out.
That’s when it hit Gaff. They had stumbled on a huge secret and Mr. Tubkin understood as he did what would happen next. The tower people would come down here and ruin everything. All of this would be destroyed. He also understood what all that meant. Mr. Tubkin would have to kill them to keep them quiet.
“Yeah…uh, why can’t we stay a little longer? We wouldn’t be any trouble honest.” Gaff said unconvincingly.
Just then two huge robots clanked into the meetinghouse doorway. They had weapons in each hand. The first held two axes and the second carried a sledgehammer.
“I’m afraid I must insist. You will come with me now and I don’t want any trouble out of any of you.” Mr. Tubkin said in a sterner tone.
Celia had never seen Mr. Tubkin’s machines alive. They usually stood motionless outside his house waiting for his commands.
Gaff looked at the robots. He saw they were just heavy utility types used for working outside. If he had a pistol he could probably stop both easily but in a hand-to-hand fight he didn’t stand a chance. He would have to penetrate the metal casing that covered the sensitive inner workings.
“Okay Tubkin I get your point.” Gaff said.
Gaff turned to Dot and Skaz.
“Come on let’s go.” He said to them.
“Why can’t we stay?” Dot asked.
“What’s the matter Dot? You never been kicked out of nowhere before?” Gaff replied.
Dot looked at Mr. Tubkin and the Evermore Elders. There were no looks of happiness on their faces like on the people in the village.
They looked very serious. Dot suddenly felt very dirty. She had seen those looks before. She wasn’t good enough to stay here. None of them were.
“Oh. Okay…I get it.” She said hurt.
“I won’t explain our reasons for sending you away. You don’t want to hear them anyway.” Mr. Tubkin said to Dot.
Gaff helped Dot up to her feet.
Skaz stood following Gaff’s lead.
“Why don’t we just go and find somewhere else to stay down here?” Skaz asked.
“Give it a rest Skaz. We ain’t welcome anywhere down here.” Gaff said.
“Let them pass.” Tubkin said addressing the robots. The two machines stepped back away from the door.
Gaff walked out holding Dot by the arm. Skaz followed adjusting his blazer and looking down on the Evermore in an attempt to show he didn’t need to stay here anyway.
They were lead away from the village by the back way. Mr. Tubkin was in the rear along with his two robots.
Fendal the Elder watched as Mr. Tubkin left with the three people from the tower. He turned to Celia and motioned for her to come stand by him.
“Celia I want you to go and follow Mr. Tubkin. Those people cannot be trusted. They may try to overpower him and his machines and come back here. By now he has told you about the tower people and you understand what they might do. You have never been told but there have been others from the tower that have found their way down here before. It has been our great burden to make sure they never return to tell anyone about us.
Do you understand what I am telling you?” Fendal asked.
Celia’s eyes widened as she realized what he was telling her. The Evermore had killed those other tower people. They had murdered them to stay alive.
“Take these two sacred items and use them if the tower people with Mr. Tubkin try to come back.” Fendal said handing Celia the items.
One was a long skinny piece of metal that had been sharpened on one end like a needle. The other end had a handle made of wrapped membrane for a handle. The second was the black spore powder used to kill the larger insects that sometimes come down from the hills and attack the village. Both items were made for nothing else but killing.
Celia hesitated to take the items but she knew she was one of the chosen to hear the truth and was now charged with the safety of everyone in the village.
“Do you understand what you must do if they escape and try to come back here?” Fendal asked.
Celia stood with her shoulders back proudly and looked at Fendal.
“No one will hurt the Evermore. I will do what must be done Elder.” She said proudly.
“Very good child now be on your way and try to remain well hidden, it will give you and advantage.” He said smiling trying to raise her confidence.
Celia took one last look at the other Elders standing in the meetinghouse and then left the building. She ran quietly as she could between the buildings and down to the stream. Celia climbed the bank and looked over the top at the road. There was no sign of Mr. Tubkin or the Tower people.
She decided to follow them from the road. The memory of the attack by the Ashen was still fresh in her mind. The creature had been hiding down by the stream and she didn’t want to risk another encounter.
Celia followed along listening for the sound of Mr. Tubkin’s machines. They made a lot of noise when they moved so she was able to tell when she was getting too close to them before she could be seen.
She stopped along the path when she heard they had reached Mr. Tubkin’s house. It sounded like they had all gone inside and after a while everything became very quiet. Celia became worried that something might have gone wrong so she quietly made her way up to the house and peeked in the window. She could make out the woman from the tower standing against the far wall.
Celia had never seen a woman so beautiful in her life. Her eyelashes were long and black and flawless as if someone had painted them on her. Her eyebrows were likewise perfect.
The woman had bright blue eyes and ruby red lips. She seemed very tall to her but she was much shorter than the men. Her clothes seemed far too tight for her and made of the same material as Mr. Tubkin’s long coat. He called the material “leather” and said it was the hide from some sort of animal.
The two items the woman carried puzzled her though. They seemed as though they were some kind of shoes but the heels and bottoms were enormous. A person would never be able to walk in them so they must be used in some sort of ceremony or ritual.
The woman’s breasts seemed way out of proportion to her body due to their size and fullness. Some Evermore females had larger breasts but nothing like the ones possessed by this goddess of a woman.
Celia concluded that she must be someone of great importance in her world.
The shorter man was handsome as well but he seemed sad and angry. His eyes constantly seemed as if he had just told a lie and he was watching to see if anyone had noticed. His entire body was dressed in the same black leather material as the woman.
It was distracting to watch him pacing back and forth so much. He reminded her of an animal trapped in a cage that was continually trying to find a way out.
The tall man was not as handsome as the shorter one but he was well muscled and calm. He was the only one of the three that seemed dangerous to her. He had the mind of a hunter but was the type that enjoyed the killing better than the hunt.
He seemed very sure of himself and tough. As much as this man frightened her she found herself attracted to him as well.
His coat was some sort of woven material and well worn. He wore tall leather boots with the pants tucked inside at the top. Mr. Tubkin had shown her a picture of his father once before and he had been dressed very much like this man. Mr. Tubkin said his father was a soldier. It was a job that meant he was supposed too protect his people from enemies. She never did quiet understand what all that meant but she was beginning to. She had been given the job of killing anyone who threatened her people. She was like one of these soldiers now but she knew she was different than the tall man. There must be different kinds of soldiers for her to have the same duties but at the same time be so unlike than this man.
Mr. Tubkin was at the table drawing something on a piece of paper. It looked as though it was a map of some kind. The big man looked angry but was keeping himself under control.
The tension in the air was very noticeable even from her position outside the window. Celia was sure the only reason one of these three hadn’t already tried something was the fact that Mr. Tubkin’s machines were standing in the room with them all.
“Okay Gaff, here’s a map that will take you to the tower. If you stay on the path you will find the ruins of the first settlers of this planet. Look for the large doorway and go inside. There are stairs inside. Go up them and eventually they’ll take you where you want to go.” Tubkin said handing Gaff the map.
“What if we take the wrong stairs?” Skaz asked.
“It won’t matter…they all go up. There is no basement.” Mr. Tubkin said dryly.
Skaz realized there was nothing lower in the tower then they were now. He just nodded in understanding.
“Please Mr. Tubkin…let us stay. We’ll go away and live somewhere else but don’t send us back.” Dot asked.
“Speak for yourself girl. I’m getting out of this hole if it’s the last thing I do.” Gaff said. He knew Tubkin was sending them into some kind of trap but he was also telling Tubkin that it wasn’t going to work.
“Yeah, I’m with Dot. I want to stay. There’s nothing left for me up there.” Skaz said crossing his arms.
“Forget it pimp you’re going with me.” Gaff said sharply. He then looked at Dot and then at Mr. Tubkin.
“I’ll tell you what Tubkin. I’ll make you a deal. I’ll go and I’ll take the pimp with me.” Gaff started to say.
“Hey…” Skaz protested.
“Shut up! Like I was saying I’ll go and take the pimp but I want you to keep Dot here. She ain’t no trouble and you could probably use the company. What do you say Tubkin.” Gaff said.
“No everyone goes.” Tubkin said looking at Gaff.
“Please Mr. Tubkin. I won’t cause any trouble and I’ll do what ever you want me to do. I’m even a pretty good cook.” She said smiling pathetically.
“Tubkin how long have you been down here? Ten, twelve years I bet. That’s a long time to be without a woman. Sure Dot’s a whore but she’s different. She don’t do drugs and she never was a big drinker. She’s…special. Everyone likes her. What do you say Mr. Tubkin, give her a chance. You can always send her up later.” Gaff said.
“Every body goes up.” Mr. Tubkin said with a slight waver in his voice. Dot was looking at him with her big blue eyes. Mr. Tubkin looked at Dot. She was very sexy in her tight leather outfit. She was born to please men.
“Go ahead Dot. Give him a little taste of heaven.” Gaff said urging Dot on grinning.
Dot slid down and got on all fours. She slowly crawled over to Mr. Tubkin like a cat in heat licking her lips and moaning quietly.
“You can have all that anytime you want Tubkin. Won’t cost you nothing old man but a roof over her head. You’re in a real good spot to negotiate here pal.” Gaff said grinning.
Dot had reached Mr. Tubkin’s feet and was rubbing her head against his legs like a cat stopping once and awhile to look up at his face and into his eyes.
“Pleeeeaaassse.” Dot purred.
Mr. Tubkin pushed dot away.
“No! Get up off the floor damn you!” he yelled.
“She’s too much for his old ass.” Skaz said laughing.
“Enough! Why did you have to come here?” Mr. Tubkin yelled.
“Hey, hey take it easy Tubkin. If you don’t like it that way she can do it anyway you want.” Gaff said trying to defuse the tension.
“If she stays I stay.” Skaz said leaning back.
“If she stays or if she goes doesn’t concern you. No matter what you’re coming back with me Skaz we already had that conversation.” Gaff said taking a threatening step back.
“You can’t hurt me in here. Those robots will bust you up if you start a fight in here.” Skaz said.
“Well there’s only one way to find out if they will or not then but either way you’ll get a beating first.” Gaff said taking another step.
“Both of you two get out of my house. You’re nothing but animals. Get out or my machines will do it for me.” Mr. Tubkin yelled.
The robots were more alert to the situation than they thought. They both suddenly crouched and took a fighting stance when they detected the tone of urgency in Mr. Tubkin’s voice.
“Take it easy Tubkin, we’re leaving. Come on Skaz.” Gaff ordered.
Both men stood quickly and eased their way out the front door being careful not to make any sudden movements that would make the robots attack.
Mr. Tubkin followed them out the door and threw the bag of supplies at them.
“Now get moving and don’t come back or the robots will automatically attack and kill you.” Mr. Tubkin said.
“What are you gonna do with Dot?” Gaff asked.
“I’m going to give her a chance. Maybe if she’s away from you two she can have a normal life for a change.” Mr. Tubkin replied.
Gaff picked up the bag and handed it to Skaz.
“You just might be right old man. You just might be right about that.” Gaff smiled.
“Tell her I did the best I could…I’d appreciate that if you would.” Skaz added.
Both men had resigned themselves to their fate. They would have to leave and not come back. Even if they believed Mr. Tubkin didn’t have it in him to kill them if they come back they knew the robots would simply carry out their orders without hesitation. Robots often allowed people to do horrible things without guilt.
Gaff took Skaz by the arm and lead him away. They had to press on now and take their chances.
Mr. Tubkin watched as the two men walked off in the direction of the place shown on the map.
“If either one comes back I want you to kill them, do you comply?” Tubkin asked the robots.
“Comply affirmative.” Replied the first one.
“Comply affirmative.” Replied the second one as well.
Mr. Tubkin turned and went back inside and closed the door.
Dot stood against the wall with her hands behind her and her head down.
“Thank you.” She said quietly.
“Take off your clothes.” Tubkin ordered.
Dot quickly removed her jacket and the rest of her scant clothing and threw them on the table. She wasn’t sure what to expect next.
Tubkin walked over to a storage chest and opened it. He rummaged around inside and pulled out a bag. He then tossed the bag to Dot.
“There’s some clothes in it. Can’t have you walking around looking like that if I’m going to treat you like a human being.” Mr. Tubkin said.
Dot held the bag close to herself and began to cry.
“What’s wrong?” he asked surprised at her reaction.
Dot shook her head.
“What do you want from me?” she asked nervously.
“I just want you to put those clothes on. I can’t help you if you’re dressed like a…the way you were before.” He said.
Dot opened the bag and pulled out a large green pull over shirt and an old pair of pants. That was it, no weird stuff like a dog collar or clown wig or anything. She looked at Mr. Tubkin puzzled.
“I don’t understand.” She said.
Mr. Tubkin began to understand that Dot might never have been with someone who didn’t want to use her for their own pleasure or gain.
“Dot, look at me.” He said.
Dot looked at him still nervous.
“I want you to put those clothes on…that’s all.” He repeated smiling.
Dot put the shirt on and then pulled on the pants. The pants were way to large so she was forced to hold them up with one hand.
“That’s better.” Mr. Tubkin said smiling in an effort to calm Dot down.
“Oh, wait a minute…” he said as he knelt down in front of her. Dot still wasn’t sure what he was up to.
He took hold of one of the pants legs and rolled them up and then the other. They had been to long so this would be a quick fix. He stood back up and stepped back.
“That should do for now. I’ll show you how to sew later so you can make them fit better. I guess I can make you a belt out of that dress of yours later too but for now I’ll just give you a length of wire I scavenged from my ship.” Mr. Tubkin said.
“Why did you let me stay? What do you want from me?” she asked again.
Mr. Tubkin sighed.
“You’ve had a hard life haven’t you Dot?” he asked.
“Yeah…not so great.” She said looking away. He could see in her eyes that she was remembering some of them.
“Well this is how it’s going to be Dot. I’m giving you a chance at a new life with us down here. I don’t think you wanted to keep doing what you did in the tower so I’m giving you what you want.
You can never go back there. I can never go back there. If either of us did eventually someone would find out about this place and those bastards would come down here and destroy everything. If we went back up there it would mean all of the Evermore would be killed. Do you want that to happen?” Mr. Tubkin asked.
“No. I like these people. They made me feel happy. I know it will be hard but anything is better than up there.
I Just don’t understand what you want from me. How do I repay you for food and shelter? You want to have sex with me? Cause I’ll do what you want me to do but I just need to know.” Dot asked feeling a little more relaxed.
Mr. Tubkin sat down at the table.
“Dot, I’ve been down here for over fifteen years. I’ve loved every second of it. The Evermore are fantastic people that only want to help me and share everything they have but one thing has been missing. I’m lonely Dot. I’ve missed having a conversation with someone like myself. I just don’t want to be alone anymore.” He said.
“And that’s it? Just talking.” She asked surprised.
“Yeah, for now anyway. We’ll see how things go from there.”
Dot smiled. She was safe down here and this guy might just be what he really seemed to be. He was decent man.
“You sure? Cause I give one hell of a blow job.” She said grinning.
Mr. Tubkin looked at her and smiled. She was what she was. It would be something he would have to learn to live with.
“Well maybe just this once.” He said resigning himself to his fate.
Beyond the Crystal Heavens
Gaff and Skaz had been hiking through the mushroom forest along the trail that Mr. Tubkin had marked on the map. It had been a tiring journey due to the gradual uphill slope of the path. They came to a ruin of a concrete wall that looked to them to have been part of a larger structure at one time. These ruins were probably over a thousand years old by now and whatever purpose they had before had been forgotten a long time ago.
“What’s that on the side?” Skaz asked. There were symbols and writing in some unrecognizable language carved into the wall.
Gaff stopped and looked up at the symbols.
“It’s a warning.” He said looking around.
“How can you tell?” Skaz began to look around as well.
“See those symbols that look like skulls?” Gaff asked.
“Yeah.” Skaz replied.
“You ever heard of a warning sign that didn’t have a skull on it?” Gaff said.
“What’ll we do?” Skaz asked.
“We keep going. Those are old symbols; maybe whatever they were afraid of isn’t around any more. Not much of choice anyway.” Gaff said.
Skaz looked around some more and then caught up to Gaff on the trail.
“Maybe we should go back Gaff. We might be able to find another group of those people and stick with them. They might even know a safer way back up to the tower.” Skaz said.
“That guy Tubkin had it right as I see it. If anyone ever did get lost down here and then make it up everyone up there would know about this place.
There’s a reason no one has ever come back from crashing in the ash fields Skaz. Any of them lucky enough to get down here is probably killed. They can’t risk any of us getting back with that information. They’re peaceful people but not stupid. They know it’s them or us. Anyone would do the same thing.” Gaff said.
They walked a little farther in silence. Both men were thinking to themselves about their predicament.
“Hey Gaff.” Skaz said.
“Yeah?” Gaff replied.
“Do you think Dot will be okay with that Tubkin guy? I mean do you think he’ll treat her right?” Skaz asked.
“Let me think about that…hmm, if you’re wondering if he’ll sell her ass to anybody with enough money or smack her around if she tries to keep any of the money she made from sucking some strangers cock then I would have to say no. I don’t think he’ll do any of those things Skaz. Oh and I’ll tell you this too. I really don’t think she’ll miss all that fine treatment you gave her either.” Gaff said sarcastically.
“Hey you paid for her too so don’t be so judgmental about me big man. You ain’t no better than me so back off about that stuff.” Skaz shot back.
Gaff stopped and looked at Skaz angrily.
“Yeah I know so don’t remind me. I wasn’t any better to her than you were. The only difference is that I admit it. I treated her like a whore. I could have done more for her but I didn’t.” Gaff said.
Skaz looked at Gaff. He could see he was truly sorry for what he had done. He had really liked Dot.
“That’s why I did it Skaz. That’s why I made sure she stayed with him. She’ll never leave this place. She’ll never have to go back to the life she had. Dot will only have to be with Tubkin from now on. She liked this place the first time she laid eyes on it. Tubkin will do right by her no doubt about it. She’ll do what she’s told to do…she always has.
You need to worry about us right now. We’re the ones in trouble not her.” Gaff said.
Celia had followed the two men deep into the mushroom forest. She knew it would be dangerous but she had to be sure of their fate. She had a responsibility to her people to make sure these men never left this world under the crystal heaven.
Celia stopped and crouched low. The two men had come to the old wall. She watched as they looked at the ancient warnings carved into it from long ago. They continued onward deeper into the ruins. Soon they would be attacked by the Ashen and killed. She felt sick that she would have to watch their deaths but her people would have to know for sure if they were dead.
The mushrooms in this part of the forest had grown huge over the centuries because there was no one here to cut them down for food or to make things from the tough skin of the fungus. It was also dark because of the huge tops of these massive fungus that blocked out the light from above.
Suddenly Celia heard footsteps from behind her. The two men must have somehow got turned around or they had decided to try and return.
Celia peered into the distance and saw their silhouettes. Then to her amazement she saw a third walking along with them. She looked to her right and saw four more figures moving through the forest. She looked ahead of her and was confused. The two men she had been following were there now.
Celia looked from side to side and all around her. There were shadowy figures all around her now.
A chill ran down her spine.
It was the Ashen!
They were all around them.
She had walked right into a large group of these creatures.
Celia dropped crouching as low as she could. She was between the Ashen and the two tower men.
The Ashen were very close now. Celia crawled towards the two men. She had to get closer so she could see what happened. She hugged the ground being careful not to lift her head too high. She couldn’t risk being seen by the two.
Suddenly a hand grabbed her ankle in a viselike grip.
She rolled over trying to twist herself loose and see who had grabbed her. To her horror it was one of the Ashen.
Celia screamed as loud as she could.
“What was that?” Skaz asked shaken. The shrill cry had sent shivers up his spine. It was a death scream.
Gaff tossed Skaz the bag and ran in the direction of the scream.
“What are you doing?” Skaz couldn’t understand why Gaff was running towards the scream.
Celia kicked and screamed at the Ashen as hard as she could. She pulled out the long slender dagger the Elder had given her and jammed it in the Ashen’s hand.
The creature howled in pain and let go. Celia scrambled to her feet and stumbled along through the smaller fungus she had been hiding in as best she could. She didn’t turn around to see if the Ashen was following her, she knew it was. Her eyes darted from side to side making sure she didn’t run smack dab into another one.
Gaff leapt over the smaller fungus and headed towards the screaming. His reaction had been instinctive. The screaming was from a woman. It might be Dot trying to follow them. He didn’t even have a plan for when he got there.
Gaff pulled out his knife from under his coat as he ran. Just ahead he saw two figures coming at him. The first looked like one of the Evermore women with her scant clothing and long flowing blonde hair. The second was an abomination of humanity wearing tattered clothing and was horrifying to look at.
Its skin was dead white with blackish gray splotches covering the exposed skin. Gnarled teeth protruded from the screaming mouth as it snapped its teeth together like a rabid dog.
The eye sockets were deep and black with glowing white orbs set deep back that he took for the things eyes.
There was a second of recognition as his eyes met the girl’s eyes.
He was the big man that did all the talking.
She was the Evermore girl that stood behind the Elders in the meetinghouse in the village.
He leapt over the girl holding his knife ready to strike. Gaff yelled as he hit the shocked creature full force knocking it backwards off its feet.
Celia stumbled and fell dodging the big man as he made his attack. She turned quickly to see him on the ground struggling with the Ashen.
“Watch out for its claws, they’re poisonous!” she yelled. To her surprise she found herself trying to help this man instead of letting the Ashen kill him like she was supposed to.
With one precise strike Gaff stuck the creature up under its chin driving the knife into its skull. He quickly spun and regained his footing. His hand was shaking slightly as his eyes met the frightened Evermore girls.
“What the Hell was that thing?” he yelled still in shock from its appearance.
“No time. We must go. There are more here.” Celia said.
Gaff understood. They had to get out of here. This is the place Mr. Tubkin sent them. This is where they were to die.
“Skaz!” Gaff called.
“Over here…where are you?” Skaz yelled back.
“Hurry, it’s an ambush!” Gaff yelled.
“Shit!” Skaz cursed as he ran as quickly as he could following the trail of smashed funguses from Gaff’s boots. He quickly spotted Gaff and the Evermore girl. Gaff was waving at him to hurry.
Gaff took Celia by the arm and lifted her to her feet. His grip was gentile and he lifted her effortlessly with his powerful arm.
Celia took hold of his sleeve instinctively for protection. She didn’t want him running off without her.
Gaff looked at her hand holding his sleeve and then smiled.
“Big hero huh?” He joked. He knew what kind of a man he was but this girl thought he was someone who would protect her. Maybe he was. Even he didn’t know why he had saved her.
“What’s going on…” Skaz stopped in mid sentence when he saw the dead Ashen lying on the ground.
“What the Hell is that?” he asked shocked.
“Come, we must go…they come soon.” Celia said tugging on Gaff’s sleeve.
“Lead the way.” He said. The three bent low and made their way through the smaller funguses away from the area. They could hear the screams and squeals of the Ashen behind them they must have found their cohort’s body already.
Eventually they came upon the empty exoskeleton of a long dead giant insect. It was at least seventy feet long and looked like some kind of centipede. Celia crouched down and crawled up inside the shell.
“Come.” She said simply.
Both men looked at each other. They decided to trust her and went inside. The interior was quiet spacious and was well lit due to the numerous holes in the Exoskeleton from years of decay and rot.
Celia undid a small crystal ornament from her loincloth and rubbed it quickly between her hands. The crystal began to glow bright blue illuminating the interior. She looked around inside checking to see if there was anything in here with them. It appeared to be safe. She motioned for the two men to sit down and be quiet. Once they had all situated themselves she blew on the crystal causing it to stop glowing.
Gaff and Skaz figured she knew what she was doing. They both sat quietly and caught their breath. They both had been awake for along time and were very tired. They all sat silently with Celia motioning they all needed to be completely silent. In a few minutes Gaff and Skaz had fallen asleep.
Gaff woke up with Celia asleep leaning up against him. He kicked Skaz in the foot to wake him up as well. Skaz sat up and rubbed his eyes. Immediately he had a look of disgust on his face when he saw the Evermore girl cuddled up to Gaff. Skaz pushed himself up on one hand but as he did so the ground under his hand collapsed and sunk down about ten inches.
Skaz looked at Gaff frightened and then at the hole under his hand.
Gaff look surprised as well but before he could say or do anything the ground under Skaz gave way dropping him down out of sight.
Celia sat up startled by the sound. Gaff froze in place and grabbed Celia holding here still as not to disturb the ground beneath them anymore.
They sat in silence for a few minutes hoping to hear Skaz’s voice or some sound indicating he was alive.
They then saw a fist sized insect climb out of the hole and stop. It appeared to be looking around the enclosure and assessing what it was looking at. Then just as suddenly it turned and scurried back down the hole.
Gaff and Celia looked at each other puzzled. They then heard a very faint hissing sound coming from below. Gaff leaned forward holding Celia back just in case. He immediately felt sleepy and before he could do anything else he fell forward unconscious.
Celia covered her nose and mouth. She knew of the gases that sometimes leaked out from the depths in these long and forgotten places. They could kill with just a few breaths. She was trapped inside the carapace of the insect unable to leave. The Ashen were still outside and the gas was slowly leaking into the only safe place in the area. Celia slapped another hand over her nose and mouth as if trying to hold the other in place. There was nowhere to go. Her body convulsed and twisted as she fought to keep from breathing from second to second. She needed to hold out until she could think of a way out of this trap she had crawled into.
All at once she released her grip on her face and gasped for air. Her instinct to breath was too strong. Immediately she felt light headed. She covered her mouth again but it was too late the gas had done its work. Celia’s hand slid away from her face as she slumped over and passed out.
Celia sat up suddenly and gasped for air. Her last memory was that of succumbing to the deadly gas in the insect carapace. She looked around trying to figure out where she was. Suddenly she felt sick to her stomach. She had been told of this place her whole life. This is where the bad Evermore went when they died. She had died and was in the land of the dead.
She began to panic.
She had been good.
This was a mistake.
She shouldn’t be here.
“Help! Help me someone! She cried.
The Evermore’s religion told of a terrible place where their people go after death if they had been bad. It was a place deep underground watched over by horrible monsters and worse. They would be punished and never allowed to have their spirits released from their bodies. Each Evermore judged by their god, “Sinuk”, to be sent here must be forced to work in the earth and help make the fungus grow wherever it is most needed. They would never be able to rest and must toil for eternity. They would never look upon the crystal heavens again.
Celia cried and grabbed the webbing at the opening of the dugout room she was in. Why had she been sent here? She thought and thought and then she realized it was because of what Mr. Tubkin had told her. She now had the knowledge that lead to doing evil. She had been tainted by his words like he said.
“Sinuk help me I didn’t know it was wrong!” she shouted in her own language.
“Forgive me I did not know the knowledge was evil. The Elders sent me to Mr. Tubkin to learn it. It was not my choice!” she cried hysterically.
“Sinuk please forgive me! I didn’t know! I didn’t know!” she screamed pleading.
Celia began to cry and curled up on the floor. Her life had ended and her spirit would be forever trapped in her body never to be with her ancestors in the spirit realm.
Skaz awoke on the dirt floor of some sort of dugout underground. The room appeared to be egg shaped and completely made of compacted dirt as hard as concrete. The only source of light came through an opening at the opposite end of the chamber. The opening was blocked by some type of fibrous web-like material that was sealed into the surrounding wall of the opening. Skaz scrambled up to the opening and peered out. He was surprised to see a dirt tunnel about eight feet in circumference. It appeared to be constructed the same way as the chamber he was in. there were glowing crystals all along the ceiling running from one end to the other as far as he could see. It was the only source of light in the entire area leading him to believe he was deep under ground.
“Hey!” he yelled.
“Hey Gaff!” he continued.
“Any one? Is there anyone out there?” Skaz yelled.
Skaz screamed and fell back as a large insect head suddenly appeared at the opening. It was slightly larger than a human head and colored a rich green color with dull orange eyes. It slammed its hand against the webbing and made a clacking sound as though yelling at him.
Gaff awoke sitting in a high-backed chair in a well-lit room. His vision was still cloudy from the gas. He could make out shadowy figures moving about the room through the containment field that surrounded him and the chair. They were making clicking and buzzing sounds as they tended to their duties.
“Where am I?” Gaff asked leaning forward. He fumbled to find the knife he had earlier hoping it somehow found its way back into his coat. It was gone.
One of the figures approached him. Gaff wasn’t sure he if he was hallucinating or not. The being in front of him was about five and a half feet tall. It was defiantly some sort of insectoid life form he was certain.
He had served in the military so he was familiar with several diverse alien species. This one looked like an offshoot of one of the insectoid races out by the far rim. They tended to be an expansionistic and aggressive race. There had been several wars in the past hundred years with them always ending with the Humans wiping out entire planets with atomic weapons. The Insectoid races always fought to the bitter end with no mercy for their enemies so the Humans quickly adopted an “us or them” type of military doctrine towards the Insectoids.
“Bugs? What are you doing here?” he asked still groggy from the gas.
The insectoid adjusted the controls on his translator hanging from its neck by a golden chain. The devise was encased in a burnished copper container.
“You are from the tower?” the insect asked Gaff.
“Yeah I’m from the tower.” Gaff had thought of several smart-ass comments before he had replied but decided to cooperate until he found out what happened to Skaz and the Evermore girl.
“Why have you come?” it asked.
“We crashed…my barge was damaged in an accident so we wound up crashing down here.” He replied.
“You were found with an Evermore girl. Why was she with you?” it asked pressing the investigation.
“I heard a scream. Those people…creatures were attacking the girl so I helped her. I don’t know why she was there in the forest.” Gaff said. He was regaining his facilities quickly as the effects of the gas began to wear off.
“Why were you in the forest?” the insect asked.
“We were just trying to get home. I figured the closer we got to the base of the tower the better our chances to get inside and make our way up.” Gaff said.
“Why did you want to return?” it asked.
“We didn’t…but we had nowhere else to go.” Gaff said. He remembered the conversation with Mr. Tubkin about being told they had to leave. They had to leave because they were mad dogs that could never be trusted.
“Explain.” It asked.
“We’re garbage! You know what garbage is bug? It’s something that stinks up the joint and if you leave it lying around sooner or later it stinks everything up.” He said sarcastically.
“We know what garbage is.” It replied.
“Well then you understand.” Gaff grinned.
“We eat our garbage, it’s more efficient than leaving lay around.” It said.
Gaff regretted comparing himself to garbage at that point.
The two beings looked at each other in silence for a few minutes then Gaff smiled.
“How long have you bugs been here?” he asked. It was time he did the questioning for a change.
“Our colony landed here over a thousand years ago. We live deep underground unlike your race. The original purpose was to terraform this world and we succeeded easily since we live a subterranean existence. We don’t have to change the atmosphere or temperature of the surface we only need to maintain the environment where we live.
Gaff didn’t want to know the answer to the next question he was about to ask but he couldn’t resist.
“How many of your kind is down here?” he asked.
“Millions.” The insect said calmly.
“Is this an invasion?” he asked.
“You are the invaders. Over a thousand years ago my race sent colony ships out into the stars. Each ship was to find a world and set up a colony. We landed here and built our colony hundreds of years before your race arrived. You are the invaders.” The insect replied.
“Are you going to attack the tower?” Gaff asked apprehensively.
“We have decided that there is no need. The cost would be too great and the rewards too few, there would be no winner if we fought.” It was a very clinical and cold decision on their part.
“So what happens to us now?” Gaff asked.
“You will be sold to slavers. We do have dealings with other Humans from other worlds. You have value to them.” The creature said. It pressed a button on the devise hanging from its neck releasing the containment field holding Gaff in place.
Gaff leapt to his feet and attacked the insect in front of him. He knocked it to the ground and stomped on its chest smashing the devise and wounding the creature. Gaff pulled the pistol the insect had on its belt from its holster and fired a shot into the insect’s head.
“I don’t do slavery bug.” Gaff growled. Two more insects entered the room only to be cut down by Gaff’s marksmanship.
He ran through the door and saw he was in a hallway. It was long and cylindrical in shape. A glowing crystal hung down from the ceiling every several feet illuminating the corridor. There were web like coverings that enclosed many chambers along the walls. Even in an alien place like this he could still tell these were holding cells.
A bug came running up the hallway towards him carrying a large weapon. Gaff fired first dropping the creature in its tracks before it could shoot.
Gaff stuffed the pistol in his belt and picked up the large weapon. It was a plasma gun. He had seen one used when he was training years ago in his alien weapons class.
“Oh Yeah, come to papa.” He said picking the weapon up in both hands.
He stood quietly listening for the reinforcements to arrive but it was still quiet. He decided to risk it.
“Skaz!” he yelled down the hall in his loud booming voice.
He only had to wait a few seconds.
“Down here! Gaff get me outta here!” Skaz’s voice was unmistakable even down here.
“Help me!” came another voice.
“Get me out of here.” Came a third. The hallway became alive with the voices of prisoners trapped in the cells. There must be over two-dozen.
“Crap.” Gaff’s plan of making a run for it suddenly went up in smoke.
Beyond the Crystal Heavens
“Who are you people?” Gaff yelled down the hallway.
Two-dozen voices yelled their varied answers all at once.
“Everybody shut up. Skaz where are you?” Gaff yelled.
“Down here!” Skaz yelled as he stuck his hand out between the webbing as far as he could.
“I see you. I’m coming! Have you seen the girl?” Gaff yelled as he ran down the hall towards the arm sticking out and waving.
As he ran down the hall the other voices called to him begging and pleading to be set free.
Gaff reached the cell and leveled the plasma gun at it.
“Get back!” Gaff yelled.
“No wait!” Skaz screamed. He had seen what plasma guns did to soft tissue. He dove towards the back of the cell and covered his head and face as best he could.
Gaff pulled the trigger and let loose a blinding white-hot stream of plasma energy at the front of the cell. There was a loud hissing and crackling noise as the pure stream of energy struck the dirt wall. Gaff hadn’t expected the gun to be so powerful and had to shield his eyes as it fired.
The earthen wall bubbled and hissed as it melted away and slid down into a puddle of molten slag.
“Come on Skaz it’s open!” Gaff yelled coughing from the hot gases expelled by the molten dirt.
Skaz jumped through the hole made by the weapon and into the hall.
“ You could have killed me!” Skaz yelled.
“You can always get back in!” Gaff yelled back.
“Okay, okay let’s get out of here.” Skaz said looking up and down the hall.
“Where’s the girl?” Gaff asked. The other prisoners were all yelling and pleading to be released by now.
“I don’t know…lets keep moving.” Skaz said.
“We’re not leaving until we find her.” Gaff said pointing the plasma gun at Skaz.
“Damn it Gaff we gotta go!” Skaz shouted panicked.
“We’re not leaving until we find her.” Gaff said calmly.
“Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! All right we’ll look but we gotta get out of here!” Skaz said looking in the cell across from his.
“Gaff looked up and down the hall at the dozen or so hands and arms waving frantically at him to be released. One of the cells didn’t have any sign of an occupant at the web. Instinctively he made his way over to it and looked in. On the floor curled up was the Evermore girl. Gaff took a step back and fired the wicked weapon searing an opening in the wall in a matter of seconds. He leaned the gun up against the wall and stepped into the cell. The girl had her arms up over her head terrified. Gaff bent down and picked her up like a child and stepped through the opening into the hallway.
“Hold it right there Gaff.” Skaz said. He was standing just outside the opening pointing the plasma gun at Gaff and the girl.
Gaff looked angrily at Skaz.
“Be sure you know what you’re doing Skaz. You’re about to make a big mistake.” Gaff growled.
“Okay you got the girl now let’s get out of here!” Skaz’s voice was shaky. He was more scared than anything.
“First we get everybody out then we go.” Gaff said sternly.
“There’s no time Gaff!” Skaz pleaded.
“Skaz, we have a plasma gun…those bugs won’t come down that hall while we have a plasma gun. Now start opening those cells before you make me put this girl down and kick your ass.” Gaff said remaining as calm as he could.
Skaz stood thinking for a moment.
Gaff took a step closer.
“Okay stand back!” Skaz shouted at the next cell and fired the plasma gun.
Gaff knelt down in the hall and cradled the girl in his arms.
“Hey. Hey you. Snap out of it. We’re getting out of here. We’re going to get the rest of them out of their cells and then we’re busting out of here.” Gaff said rubbing her tiny hand between his trying to snap her out of it.
In less time than they thought they had freed the other prisoners. One of the prisoners made her way over too Gaff.
“I don’t know who you are or why you’re here but I have a ship two levels down in a hangar. We can use it to escape if we can make it there.” The woman said.
She was a rarity among Humans. She had the very strong features of a group of people from earth long ago usually referred to as Asians. Most humans by this point in time were a mix of all the old groups. Very few had enough of the outward features of any one of the old groups to spark the recognition of one of them.
“You’re a Lunarian!” Gaff said surprised.
“Do you have a problem with that?” she asked angrily.
“If you got a ship you can be Xaung Chang himself as far as I care.” Gaff laughed. He didn’t have a plan to get out of here at all. He only wanted to go down fighting. He never thought they’d make it out of here alive. But now there was hope. A Lunarian with a ship meant there was a good chance of escape.
“Well what are we to do now?” the woman asked. Her speech was well defined revealing she had been educated.
“You know the way from here?” he asked.
“Yes.” She said.
“Me and you will lead the way and we fight like Hell until we’re on that ship.” Gaff said smiling.
“That’s not a plan…that’s just stupid!” she protested.
“Well lady, stupid is all we have going for us right now.” He replied smiling.
“I guess it beats slavery. I wouldn’t make a good slave.” She said grimly.
“Skaz give me that damn gun before you hurt yourself. Okay everybody listen up!” Gaff said as he stood up.
“We are all going to make a break for it. If you want to try and escape with us then just keep moving and don’t stop for anything. If you stop you get left behind, Got it?” he yelled.
The other captives all murmured their acceptance of the plan. They all new their chances were small but it’s all they had.
Gaff stood Celia on her feet and gave her to Skaz.
“If she doesn’t make it to the ship with you don’t bother getting on.” Gaff said staring him in the eyes.
“Why do I have to take her? How come she’s so fucking important?” Skaz asked whining.
“She gets on the ship or you don’t!” Gaff said poking Skaz in the chest repeatedly.
“Oww! Okay Gaff…jeez!” Skaz said.
Gaff stood erect and looked at the strange assortment of Humanity behind him. The Lunarian woman was next to him but Skaz held the Evermore girl tightly in front of him.
Gaff gave Skaz a look of disapproval.
Skaz responded with a sleazy smile and then positioned the girl behind him.
“She don’t get on you don’t get on.” Gaff reminded Skaz as he pointed a finger at him.
“Okay everybody here we go!” Gaff bellowed. He began moving the group forward holding the plasma gun up and looking down its sights. He felt the Lunarian woman grab hold of the belt on his coat to help guide him as they made their way down the tunnel. He stopped and looked around the first corner. He saw two bugs coming down the hall carrying rifles. He looked back at the Lunarian and grinned.
She suddenly had the feeling that this idea of being stupid might have been a terrible mistake.
Gaff gave a thunderous war cry and rounded the corner firing the plasma gun.
“Come on!” he yelled to the rag tag group behind them. The Lunarian woman yelled as well followed by someone else. Soon all of them were yelling and pushing each other forward.
Gaff swept the plasma gun from side to side incinerating everything in his path. More of the bugs began pouring into the hall from the far end firing as they advanced. Gaff never let off the trigger as the Hellish weapon spewed forth its white-hot destructive force.
The tunnel began to fill with smoke from the burned walls and bugs.
“Keep moving damn it!” he yelled. He looked at the power gauge of the weapon; it was almost empty.
Soon they had reached the end of the hall and were standing at the ramp leading down to the next level. He kept moving with the Lunarian in tow. Once at the bottom of the ramp they heard more bugs approaching from the far end. The hallway was completely empty all the way too the ramp at the far side.
“Let’s move!” he yelled. He began running as fast as he could almost throwing the Lunarian off balance. He knew they had to get to the ship to live. Nothing else mattered but to push as hard as they could until they were on the ship and every second they were not on the ship meant they were in danger. They had made it about three quarters of the way when the bugs began to pour in. Gaff yelled and pulled the trigger. The first wave went down screaming their high-pitched squeal. Gaff waded into the burning corpses. He kicked the rifles that were still functional back towards the group.
“If any of you know how to use those now’s the time to do it!” he shouted. Several of the people grabbed the weapons and moved up closer to the front.
“This is it people! This is the final push! They’re coming to kill us all this time so think of your wives and children. If you ever want to see any of them again you better fight like you’ve never fought before! There won’t be a second chance at this!” Gaff yelled as the second wave of bugs charged them.
The bugs were met with a barrage of fire from their own weapons and the Plasma gun. Gaff was firing short bursts now waiting for the power to give out any second. He kept the momentum forward by twisting and kicking any of the bugs that got near. They had reached the ramp that lead to the Lunarian’s ship. The plasma gun finally gave out and quickly became a club in Gaff’s hands.
They were met on the ramp by another wave of bugs. It had become a free for all fight at this point of fists and feet against the spiked carapace and mandibles of the bug troopers. The bugs had stopped their advance down the ramp with their shear numbers. The bugs were surrounding them as they attacked both sides of the Humans and slowly were making their way towards the rear in an effort to encircle them.
Gaff looked up and could see the ship about a hundred feet ahead. They had almost made it.
“We have to get closer!” the Lunarian screamed over the sound of the battle. Gaff looked at the woman as she pushed her arm towards him. Just under her skin was a blinking red light. It was some sort of secret remote control devise that had been implanted under her skin.
Gaff didn’t ask questions he made one last push through the bugs swinging the spent plasma gun with all his might. The first bug went down with the exoskeleton of its head smashed. He continued swinging and shouting. This was their last hope. It was all or nothing. The rest of the Humans took up this same furry of battle. They weren’t even sure why they were doing it but they trusted Gaff and they did what he did.
Gaff woke up on the deck of the cargo bay. He looked around and saw several other of the Humans still lying there or waking up like himself. Two robots hovered above them clicking their messages back and forth too each other.
Gaff sat up quickly and looked around. He saw Skaz sitting up rubbing his head.
“Where is she?” Gaff yelled too Skaz.
Skaz looked around. He didn’t see the Evermore girl anywhere.
“Easy Gaff…I don’t even know how I got here myself. She’s got to be around here somewhere…take it easy.” Skaz said nervously. Gaff had put him in charge of her safety and now she was missing.
“Get up…get up and find her NOW!” Gaff said as he moved towards Skaz.
Skaz scrambled to his feet with his arms out ready to fend off the coming assault.
“Your little friend is alright.” The Lunarian woman called from the catwalk above.
“Where is she?” Gaff asked gruffly.
“She’s in my room asleep. She’s taken this whole ordeal pretty badly so I’m keeping her isolated until you can speak with her in private.” She said descending the stairs into the cargo bay.
Gaff rubbed his head for a second gathering his thoughts.
“Yeah, that’s probably a good idea…thanks.” He said looking as she made her way across the deck towards him.
She was very attractive now that she had a chance to clean herself up a bit. She was wearing fresh clothes and had her hair pulled back into a waist length braded ponytail.
“How long have I been out” Gaff asked.
“We’ve been on board for about three hours I guess. The ship got shot up pretty badly on they way out. The Chitin have the entrance tunnel pretty well protected by heavy guns but our shields held most of the way and the rest was pure luck.” She said smiling confidently and putting her hands on her hips.
“Hey what happened back there anyway? How’d we wind up on the ship?” Gaff asked.
She held out her wrist and pressed her thumb into it three times. He saw the same blinking red light that had been there before.
“Its my back up plan. In my line of work there are times I need to make a safe and hasty exit so when I press this button my ship sends out a sonic shock wave powerful enough to knock out just about anything that draws a breath. I have a dampener implant so the frequency doesn’t affect me. After the shock wave is over my robots come out and assist me. This time I simply had them bring everyone inside. I piloted the ship out by myself and so here we are.” She said seeming very proud of herself and also quiet nonchalant about the whole ordeal.
“How many did we save.” Gaff hesitated to ask.
“Sixteen, not including you, your two friends and myself.” She said calmly.
“That many?” gaff said. He sounded disappointed.
“It wasn’t your fault. We were all finished. Then you showed up and took charge, I like that.” She smiled.
“Damn I don’t even know your name.” Gaff laughed.
“Diana Qwan, I’m the captain of this vessel as you’ve probably surmised.” She said extending her hand in the ancient gesture of greeting.
“Names Gaff Tessle. That’s Skazinski Jacoaby, Skaz for short, in the black leather. We don’t know the girl’s name, we kind of just met.” Gaff said shaking her hand.
“Where are we headed?” Skaz asked walking towards them.
“Back to the tower, we need some repairs before we can get into space.” Diana replied.
Skaz stepped forward nervously.
“Gaff…cut me a break. I’ll just stay on board and leave here. Believe me I’ll never come back. Just let me go and nobody will have to see me again.” Skaz pleaded.
“I always finish what I start Skaz…you know that. Besides you wrecked my ship.” Gaff replied coolly.
“That was Dot, she’s the one that grabbed your gun not me!” Skaz argued.
“Doesn’t matter now. I need the money to bad so I gotta take you back.” Gaff said.
“I can’t believe you’re going to turn me in after all we’ve been through. We were like partners.” Skaz pleaded.
“You wouldn’t know what a partner was if one fell out of your ass. You’ve never looked out for anyone but yourself. You’re a liar and a cheat and now it’s time you paid the price for it.” Gaff said getting angry.
Skaz looked at Gaff and then at Diana.
“A whole new world! A paradise! People will pay big bucks to visit a place like that.” Skaz said taking a step closer to Diana.
Gaff hit Skaz with his fist knocking him to the floor.
Skaz rolled on the floor holding his nose trying to keep it from bleeding.
“Shut your mouth pimp!” Gaff yelled.
“Fuck you! Fuck you fuckin’ bastard.” Skaz yelled back.
“That girl in your bed…you ever seen anyone like that before?” Skaz yelled to Diana.
“She’s one of ‘em. She’s from the new world I’m talking about. If you take me with you I’ll tell you everything!” Skaz said.
Gaff leaned over and grabbed Skaz by the collar and drew back his fist.
“Drop him Gaff.” Diana yelled.
Gaff turned to see Diana pointing her pistol at him.
“I want to hear what the pimp has to say if you don’t mind.” She said.
Gaff began to put it all together. The insect that interrogated him had mentioned that they did business with slavers. Diana Qwan was a Lunarian, a group of Humans known for their criminal activities. She had been a prisoner of the bugs and had a ship right in their hangar bay. She must have been a slaver that had a deal go bad with the bugs. The ship even had an all robot crew typical of slave ships because robots don’t show empathy or sympathy.
“I can tell by the look on your face Gaff that you figured out what I do for a living. In any case you now understand that I won’t hesitate to shoot you where you stand so I’m telling you one last time to let him go.” Diana said leveling her pistol at his head.
Gaff dropped Skaz letting him hit the deck and took two steps back raising his hands.
“Okay leather boy, tell me everything you know.” Diana said. She snapped her fingers and at once four of her robots surrounded her. They all carried laser pistols and had them pointed at Skaz and Gaff.
“We crashed in an air barge and fell through a hole under the ash. There is a land under the ash and above the insect colony. It’s incredible and beautiful. The air is clean and the whole friggin’ place is covered in huge mushrooms. They’re gigantic I tell you. It’s like no place you’ve ever seen. And there’s people! Yeah that girl in your room is one of them. She’s proof I’m telling the truth. Have you ever seen anyone that looks like that before?” Skaz said quickly.
Diana looked at Skaz and then up in the direction of her room.
“So I guess you want something in return from me for the location of this place?” Diana asked.
“Yeah, take me out of here. Just drop me anywhere there’s Humans. Any planet anywhere but here.” Skaz said.
Diana looked at Gaff and smiled.
“Your right. He really is an awful person.”
Gaff just shook his head in disgust.
“What…what’s going on?” Skaz said confused.
Diana smiled at Skaz.
“Take this…gentleman to the frame. I want to know where this land is and make sure he doesn’t leave out any details.” She said to one of the robots.
The robot grabbed Skaz by the collar and started dragging him across the deck. Skaz looked in the direction he was being dragged and saw a square metal frame bolted to the floor. There were chains hanging from the frame as well as on the floor. This is how she was going to get the information.
“Gaff! Don’t let her do this! Gaff!” Skaz screamed.
“I need him alive Diana. He’s worth a lot to me.” Gaff said.
“If he talks he’ll live. He just might be missing a few bits here and there.” She smiled.
The robot hung Skaz up on the frame. Diana walked slowly over to him allowing the fear of what was about to happen build inside of him.
“Okay, okay I’ll talk. I’ll tell you everything you want to know. Just let me down.” Skaz begged.
Gaff stood motionless unable to do anything. One of the robots was behind him holding a laser pistol on him in case he made any sudden movement.
“I know you’ll tell me everything my dear. This frame has been one of my best information gathering tools. I’ve become very good at obtaining information with it.” Diana said.
She stood in front of Skaz who was hanging in front of her and sunk her fingernails into his thighs. He grimaced in pain trying to be brave about the whole ordeal.
“You know it’s a strange thing to operate a slave ship. I’m out here for weeks on end sometimes all alone. You become disconnected with your humanity I think. All I have with me is these robots and the slaves I am going to sell.
You have to see them as not Human. They can’t be just like you or you can’t do your job. I’ve had to condition myself to believe you and your kind are less important than myself. I am a predator and you are my prey. It happens on every world across the galaxy. Kill or be killed. If you’re not the one on top then you’re the one hung up like a piece of meat…like you are.” She said pulling her fingernails out with a quick jerk.
“Stop it! What are you doing?” Screamed a woman’s voice from above.
They all turned to look at who was yelling from the walkway above. It was Celia. She must have woke up and come out of Diana’s cabin to see where everyone was.
She had a look of horror on her face. She had never seen any one acting this way before.
“Go back inside honey. I’ll be up in a few minutes.” Diana said calmly.
“No! You have to stop!” Celia screamed. She ran down the stairs as fast as she could. Celia walked quickly across the floor towards Diana and Skaz. The robot guarding Gaff headed towards Celia leaving Gaff unguarded.
Celia kept coming as the robot moved up behind her.
“Don’t harm her.” Diana said to the robot.
Gaff saw his opportunity.
“Celia! Take the red box off the metal man NOW! He shouted.
Celia turned to see the robot behind her. The red box was plain to see on the robots waist.
Celia saw the urgency in Gaff’s eyes and without further thought she reached out and pulled the box off the robot causing it to stop and go limp dropping the gun.
Diana’s order too the robot not to harm Celia allowed her to pull the power drive off without the robot trying to stop her.
Gaff ran up to the robot keeping it between him and Diana blocking her line of sight so she had no shot. He dove at the last minute and grabbed the gun then rolled aiming the gun at Diana.
“Call them off! Call them off or I’ll shoot.” Gaff shouted. The robots didn’t have a clear shot at him and only Diana was still pointing her gun at Gaff by now.
Diana hesitated then smiled.
“Stand down. Don’t shoot anyone unless they shoot me. If they shoot me..rip them to pieces.” She said.
Diana put her pistol back in its holster and casually crossed her arms.
Gaff stood up and held the gun on Diana.
Celia ran over to Skaz and began to yank on the chains as she endeavored to free him.
Diana looked around the large cargo bay. Gaff was holding a gun on her still. Her robots stood awaiting her next command.
The other prisoners were standing huddled together waiting to see what would happen next.
“Let him go!” Celia pleaded still pulling on the chains unable to figure out how to open them.
“Your move Diana.” Gaff said as the tension mounted.
“Release him.” Diana said. At once one of the robots went to the frame and pressed several buttons on the control panel releasing Skaz.
“Still your move Diana.” Gaff repeated.
Diana sighed heavily.
“Why can’t things be simple anymore? Fine…we’ll talk this out. Maybe we can come to an agreement or an arrangement or something.” Diana said rolling her eyes in compliance.
“No funny stuff?” Gaff asked.
“No funny stuff Mr. Gaff. We’ll talk this out for now besides this isn’t fun anymore.” She said irritated.
“FUN?” Skaz asked.
“Shut up Skaz.” Gaff said coolly. He knew the whole situation could change back in the blink of one of Diana’s beautiful eyes.
Skaz looked at Gaff and remembered how his own mouth nearly had him tortured too death.
“Right.” Skaz agreed.
“So what now?” Diana asked Gaff.
“Easy…all we have to do is figure a way that we can all go our separate ways with nobody loosing anything.” He replied.
“I don’t know about that…you see…I’m kind of hard to please.” Diana said grinning.
Beyond the Crystal Heavens
“Why are you so mean?” Celia asked helping Skaz to his feet. She had never seen anyone tortured or even thought someone would do those things.
Diana laughed and looked at Gaff.
“Is she serious? She really isn’t from our world at all is she?” Diana smiled completely amused.
“No she isn’t. She’s better than us you just can’t see it.” Gaff said.
“So what is your offer Mr. Gaff? How do you think we can come to an agreement with so much at stake?” Diana asked.
“All I want is to go our separate ways. I take the girl, Skaz, and the other prisoners and you take your ship and go somewhere else. We split, and call it all just one Hell of an adventure.” Gaff had no doubt that she would decline his offer.
“I still don’t see what I gain from all of this.” Diana said.
“I did save your life, that should count for something.” Gaff said.
“And I saved yours as well, it was my ship that finally enabled our escape.” She countered.
“So what do you want from my end?” Gaff asked.
“It goes against my upbringing to relinquish anything I don’t need to in a deal and as far as I can tell I’m still holding all the cards.” She smiled.
Gaff looked at Celia and Skaz. He then looked at the other prisoners as well.
“Not every card. You see Diana I’m a pretty good card player myself.” He raised the pistol at Diana’s head.
“I hope you aren’t trying to bluff your way out of this.” She smiled.
“Nope. I’m folding. Only thing left for me to do is quit the game.” Gaff said still pointing the gun at Diana’s head.
“You wouldn’t!” She said.
“If I walk away from here at best you’ll let me go and keep the rest of them as slaves. You’ll also torture Skaz until he tells you where her people are and most likely enslave them too. You’d be the only one who could provide her type to any rich deviant in the Galaxy. You’d be wealthy beyond measure. You’d destroy an entire culture just to make a buck.” Gaff said coolly.
“If you shoot me my robots will kill all of you.” She said trying to threaten him.
“You’ve already condemned all these people and hundreds more of her people to a fate worse than death. You’ve over plaid your hand sister, we don’t have any other options left because of you.” Gaff snarled.
“No wait! Wait a minute. Perhaps I have been somewhat aggressive in my negotiations. I think I’m open to further dialogue.” Diana said holding her hand up in an instinctive reflex.
“Too late Diana, you already know about her people. You can’t be trusted with that information.” Gaff said.
“I said wait!” Diana shouted. She had seen Gaff in action and knew an act of violence was always a second away if provoked.
“Talk fast…I’m getting nervous.” He said. He now held the winning hand. He was willing to die for what he wanted but she wasn’t.
“Drop your weapons.” Diana said reluctantly.
Her robots all dropped their weapons at once and took a step back away from them.
“Okay?” she asked.
“Nice start but not enough.” He said taking a step towards her.
“Shut down. All of you shut down.” She said submitting to his demands.
The robots all went limp as they shut off their power supplies.
Gaff holstered his gun and grabbed Diana by her neck with both hands before she could react.
“It’s all a lot different when they fight back ain’t it slaver? Not so tough without your robots are you? If I didn’t need you I’d let these people here decide your fate but today is your lucky day. I need you to pilot this ship for a while more.” Gaff said squeezing Diana’s throat.
Diana’s eyes filled with tears as she began to pass out.
Gaff suddenly caught sight of Celia’s face from the corner of his eye. She was scared. She had never seen things like this before.
Gaff released Diana and let her drop to the floor. She lay gasping trying to catch her breath.
“Anyone else want to see who’s in charge of this ship?” Gaff growled.
Everyone sat in silence. They all understood Gaff was a killer and not a man to make angry.
Gaff turned and looked at Celia standing next to Skaz.
“What’s your name girl?” he asked in a more relaxed tone.
“Celia.” She replied shaking.
“Why were you following us before…and don’t lie to me.” He asked.
Celia was frightened of Gaff now. At first there was something she liked about him but now she was just scared.
“The Elders…they wanted to make sure you died. The way out that Mr. Tubkin showed you was a trap. They said if you went back to the tower you would tell others about us and they would come and kill us all.” She had revealed everything instantly. Celia was too scared to do anything else.
“I believe you Celia. Don’t worry…I won’t hurt you.” He said knowing she would never believe him.
“So now what do we do Gaff?” Skaz asked.
“So now I take you back and get my money.” He said.
“Aww for shits sake Gaff! You know Setta is going to kill me!” Skaz said.
“Not my problem Skaz.” Gaff replied coldly.
“Any of you people want to give me a hand getting rid of those damned robots?” Gaff said to the other prisoners.
Several of the men volunteered and they quickly dragged and pulled the machines into the airlock and blew them out over the ash fields.
Gaff picked up some of the shackles next to the frame and put them on Diana.
“I’ve had a real hard time lately. I haven’t ate or got any good sleep for days. I’m in no fucking mood to be tested so if I even think you’re trying something funny I’ll bust up that pretty face of yours…do you understand?” he said grabbing her from behind and whispering in her ear.
Diana didn’t speak she just nodded her head. For the first time in her life she knew what it was like to be one her victims.
“Any of you know how to fly a ship like this?” Gaff asked. No body answered.
“Any of you know how to do anything?” Gaff asked frustrated.
“I know a little about engines. I worked on them about ten years back in the militia.” One of the men said raising his hand. He was wearing work coveralls and heavy boots. He appeared to be in his late thirties and had a crew cut.
“Do you think you can run a diagnostic protocol on the ship’s computer? I want to know just how bad off we are.” Gaff asked the man.
“I’ll try. She might have codes or passwords in place to prevent it though.” The man responded nodding towards Diana’s direction.
“Take her with you. If she doesn’t help you then make her tell you and don’t feel guilty about it. Remember she was going to sell you to whatever pervert had enough money to buy you. Just don’t kill her…yet.” Gaff said as he handed her off to the man.
“Hammond, Mike Hammond.” The man said.
“What?” Gaff asked.
“My name, it’s Mike Hammond, call me Mike.” He said.
“Oh…right. Okay Mike.” Gaff nodded.
Mike took Diana to the cockpit of the ship to go over the damage to the ship taken by the Chitin gun batteries during their escape.
Gaff sat down and rubbed his eyes. He was tired and hungry. He looked up to see the remaining prisoners staring at him.
He laughed to himself quietly.
“Anybody here know how to cook?” he asked.
“I do.” A woman said. She was older than Gaff and a little on the heavy side. Her clothes were shabby and well worn. He hair was dirty and tussled from her imprisonment and escape.
“What’s your name?”
“Barbara Riley.” She said nervously.
Gaff noticed they were all scared of him.
“Look…you don’t have to be scared anymore. Once we figure out how bad off the ship is I’ll take you all back to the tower and you can all go home…okay?” Gaff said.
“We don’t believe you.” Barbara said suddenly.
“Why?” Gaff asked irritated.
“We all heard you talking about that place this girl is from. We know you can’t let anyone know about it. You have make sure none of us ever talk about it.” She said. She was tired and frustrated too.
Gaff stared at the prisoners. He didn’t even think about them over hearing all that had transpired.
“Ugh!!!” Gaff yelled suddenly as he stood shaking his fists in the air.
“That’s right! You can’t take me back now. Even if you did I’d tell Setta about her people. I’d make a deal and tell her.” Skaz said.
Gaff pointed the gun at Skaz.
“I can fix that little problem right now smart mouth if you want.” Gaff growled.
Celia jumped in front of Skaz.
“No more! No more hurting!” Celia said.
Gaff looked at the rest of them.
“I’m just trying to do the best I can. I never wanted any of this. Now everybody shut up for a minute and let me think!” Gaff sat down and put away the pistol again.
“You Barbara take her, the one in the green dress next to you and find some food, enough for everyone.”
They stood motionless.
“Go ahead I’m not going to hurt anyone for shit’s sake. I didn’t save all your asses just so I could kill you. In case nobody remembers I did just save all of you.” Gaff said.
Barbara took the other woman and headed off towards the stairs leading out of the cargo hold.
“The rest of you can look around the ship and see what you can find that might be useful.” Gaff said to the others giving them what he hoped would be seen as a reassuring smile.
They all began to break up into groups of two and three and start to explore the ship. Even Skaz had slipped away with the rest. Gaff leaned back and closed his eyes. He needed sleep and thought he’d try to catch a few minutes while they all looked around.
He had only laid down for a minute before he sensed someone standing over him. He opened one eye and saw it was the Evermore girl Celia.
“What?” he asked bluntly.
“I want to go home now.” She said crossing her arms. She was trying to sound insistent but Gaff could see she was still frightened of him.
Gaff sat back up and sighed heavily. How did all of this get so messed up so quickly? Why was all of this his problem?
He looked at Celia’s little face that seemed so childlike in its innocents.
“Celia…your name is Celia right?” he asked her.
“Celia…things are very complicated now. I want to take you home but we can’t go back right now…we have to wait a little longer.” He said smiling a little.
Celia’ eyes welled up with tears and she began to cry loudly. She had reached her limit. All of these things she had witnessed were just too shocking to her. She fell to her knees and covered her face bawling.
“I don’t know what to do anymore! I don’t know the right thing to do Celia!” Gaff shouted frustrated.
“Mr. Tubkin would know what to do.” She said weeping.
“Well Mr. Freaking Tubkin ain’t here to tell us all what to do is he?” he said sarcastically.
“We need to ask him. He’ll know what to do.” She wept.
“Well then…” Gaff stopped in mid sentence and thought. If he could find the hole in the ash were his barge crashed before they could fly the ship down through the hole and go back to the underworld. They could then walk back to Mr. Tubkin’s house and ask him. Maybe he could come up with a solution for this problem.
“Okay Celia we’ll take you home soon…today even but it won’t be an easy journey.” Gaff said relived. He would soon be out of this whole stupid mess.
“Really?” Celia asked.
“Just as soon as we fix the ship we’ll start back.” Gaff said smiling.
He stood up quickly and caught himself. The lack of food and sleep had begun to get the better of him.
“Go find Skaz and tell him to meet me in the cockpit.” Gaff said to Celia.
“What is a…cokspit? “ she asked mispronouncing the word.
“The cockpit…cock…pit. Just tell him to come find me where they control the ship from.” Gaff said.
Celia wiped her eyes and smiled. He really was going to take her home. She ran off in the last direction she saw Skaz headed.
Gaff climbed the steps out of the cargo hold and made his way towards the front of the ship. He quickly found the cockpit and went in. Diana was sitting on the floor with her hands still manacled behind her. She had a bloody nose and her left eye was swelling up.
Gaff looked at Mike who was busily running checks on the ships systems.
“She been giving you trouble?” Gaff asked.
“None at all.” He replied.
“Why the beating then?” he asked.
“I got a wife and two daughters and this bitch was going to take me away from them.” He said looking at Diana.
“Humph.” Gaff grunted his understanding of his actions.
“How did you all get down there in the first place? I mean down there with the bugs.” Gaff asked.
“Jobs. They advertised for workers on level two two seven. We were told the work would be dangerous. We were supposed to be refitting an old food processing plant for the tower but it was all a lie. They have a deal with the slavers and the bugs. Thousands have been tricked into that fate by fake job offers.” Mike said.
“When we get back we’ll tell the leaders about it.” Gaff said.
“It’s the leadership that is doing it; they even know about the bugs.” Mike said still concentrating on the diagnostic program.
“Why would they do it?” Gaff asked.
“Simple, there’s too many of us. Not enough food and water to go around. Besides the bugs might start thinking we’re too different to have hanging around on their planet. If they think the leadership will sell out the rest of us then why bother to attack? If there is one thing Humans and the Bugs have in common its good business sense.” Mike said.
“A few thousand Humans doesn’t seem like it would be worth the trouble. Why not take all of us in one big attack?” Gaff asked.
“It has to be done quietly. The bugs don’t want the government to send in the military and nuke the planet. It seems they’re learning how to be patient.” Mike said.
“How did you find out about all of this?” Gaff asked.
“It was the bugs. They told us anything we asked. They seem to be a very honest race and besides they knew we weren’t going anywhere once they had us locked up in those cells. That is until you showed up.” Mike grinned.
Gaff smiled, at least that had gone well.
“So what condition is the ship in?”
“Not to bad considering the beating it took. The only major problem is the main power drive is out. It would take weeks to get to a jump gate instead of hours.” Mike said.
“Can you fly it?” Gaff asked. His answer would determine Diana’s fate.
Mike looked at Diana sitting on the floor. She knew if he could fly the ship she would be useless to them and she would be killed.
He hesitated before answering allowing Diana’s fear to rise.
“No, no I can’t.” Mike said looking at her. She sighed a sigh of relief. She had gained a few more minutes or hours of life.
Gaff knelt down in front of Diana.
“Today’s your lucky day slaver. I need you to pilot this ship down through the ash into that land I told you about. We’re all going to disappear for a while.” Gaff said calmly and awaited her answer.
“It seems you hold all the cards Gaff. I’ll do what you ask. I only ask your assurance that you won’t let these others hurt me anymore.” Diana said looking at Mike.
Gaff stood back up.
“If you think we bonded back there or something forget it. I might be a hired goon but at least there are rules in the world I live in. If Mike here owed my boss money I’d make him pay up for sure.
But he would have known that was part of the deal when he took the money in the first place.
You’re just a slaver, a piece of shit. You victimize the innocent and the weak. You’re the lowest of the low in my book so just be glad I don’t let these people hang you up on that frame and have a go at you right now.” Gaff said angrily.
Diana looked up at Gaff. She knew now her life hung by a thread. It was finally hitting her what it must have been like for all the people she had sold over the years.
“Now I’m going to put you in the pilot’s seat and have you fly the ship to a new location. If you try anything stupid I’m going to do things to you that your slaver brothers never even thought of you get me?” Gaff asked pulling her up by her hair.
“Okay, okay I’ll do what you say!” she said wincing in pain.
Gaff pushed her roughly into the seat then pushed her forward and removed the manacles.
Gaff grabbed a big hand full of hair again and twisted it tightly in his big meaty hand.
“Now head west and go slow. We’re looking for a hole in the ash so take it easy.
“Mike, use the scanners to see if there is a hole that leads straight down through the surface. We need to find that hole.” Gaff said.
Diana turned the ship towards the west and flew steadily in the direction Gaff had indicated.
“Stay on this heading and keep an eye out for a large depression in the ash fields. Mike I’m going back down to the hold and check on the rest of the people in our little party. If she even looks like she might try something hit her and then call me.” Gaff said shaking Diana’s head and releasing it.
Mike smiled at Gaff and nodded.
Gaff walked back to the rear of the ship and stopped when he got to the top of the stairs that lead down to the cargo hold. The rest of the people were there already there along with the items they had gathered up.
“Where’s Skaz.” Gaff shouted. Skaz was the only one missing from the group.
“He took the girl and went off down that way.” Barbara said pointing towards the engine room.
Gaff didn’t reply he took off in that direction without hesitation.
“Celia!” he shouted as he looked in each room. He finally found them in a room that seemed to be a laundry of some kind.
Skaz was standing cross-armed watching Celia take off her loincloth.
“That’s it Skaz!” Gaff said coming at him drawing his pistol.
“No! It’s not what you think!” Skaz yelled.
“No Gaff no!” Celia screamed.
Gaff saw a small pullover shirt and a set of pants laid out. Skaz was giving them to Celia so she would have some better clothes to wear around the other Humans.
“Aww…Skaz. What are you doing?” Gaff lamented.
“Nothing, I swear it! I found all these clothes so I figured she could use some if she was going to be with us for a while longer. Look, a mushroom.” Skaz held up the pullover shirt. It had a big picture of a mushroom on it.
“Don’t you get it Skaz?” Gaff asked.
“What? Nobodies using this stuff.” He said.
“The clothes…they’re from all the slaves she’s sold Skaz. Those are dead people’s clothes Skaz. That mushroom shirt was from a kid.” Gaff said grimly.
Skaz dropped the shirt as if it was a dirty diaper.
“Put you loincloth back on Celia you can’t wear these clothes.” Gaff said.
“But I like that one.” She pouted pointing at the mushroom shirt.
“I’m sorry Celia…they’re dirty. You can’t wear these.” Skaz said.
“We’ll find you something better okay Celia something new.” Gaff said as he ushered her out of the room.
Skaz stood looking at all the clothes piled high in the room. Each shirt or pair of pants represented a life destroyed by Diana.
Skaz folded the tiny shirt back up and carefully laid it back on the top of the pile. He followed Gaff and Celia back down the hallway and down into the cargo bay.
Skaz watched as Gaff told the remaining people to wait in the cargo bay for him to return. They all had boxes and bundles of things they had found that might be of use but Gaff never stopped to look at any of it.
Gaff went back into the cockpit and sat down. He scanned the ash fields. They searched in near silence for over an hour until they found it. Gaff had figured out the location by remembering how long it took to walk to the village after the crash and then how long it took to get to Mr. Tubkin’s house and finally how long it took to walk to the ruins where they were attacked by the Ashen. This narrowed down the area considerably.
The opening was about three hundred feet in diameter so the ship could lower itself down inside easily. Once they descended they quickly spotted the wreckage of Gaff’s barge and the dead insect. Diana maneuvered the ship under ground until they found a clearing.
Gaff ordered her to land the ship as best she could on the soft spongy ground. The ship landed and sunk down past the landing feet until it became stable.
“Okay Diana get up.” Gaff ordered.
“What are you going to do?” she asked suddenly becoming nervous.
“I’m going to let you be the first one to see the world you would have destroyed. You’re going to see what you can’t have.” Gaff said.
Diana got up and looked at Mike. He looked back coldly at her showing nothing but hate and disgust.
Gaff marched Diana down the stairs and past the prisoners.
“Don’t let them hurt me.” She begged.
“They won’t hurt you I guarantee it now keep moving.” Gaff said staring down any of the prisoners that looked like they might try something.
Gaff opened the hatch and pushed Diana out into the strange under world. She stumbled at first but then began to look around.
“It’s beautiful…it really is.” She said turning to Gaff.
Gaff drew his pistol and shot Diana in the head.
Her body fell backwards and landed softly on the mossy ground.
Her eyes stared upward at the crystal heaven as the last bit of life slipped from her body.
Skaz, hearing the shot, ran to the hatch and looked out. He saw Gaff push Diana’s limp body with his boot and watched it roll down the hill.
“What have you done? We’ll never get out of this place now.” Skaz said as he ran to Gaff’s side.
“I thought you didn’t want to go back.” Gaff replied.
“I didn’t want to stay here!” Skaz said.
“Well get used to it ‘cause none of us is going anywhere until we figure this out.” Gaff shouted.
Skaz paced back and forth in frustration.
“So now what do we do Gaff? What’s the big plan?” Skaz shouted.
Celia had walked up to the two men by this time followed by the other prisoners.
“We go see Mr. Tubkin. He’ll know what to do.”
Beyond the Crystal Heavens
“What have you done?” She was the only one that could fly the ship!” Barbara yelled.
Some of the others began to become angry knowing Gaff had just trapped them in this strange world.
“Yeah and I’m the only one that has a gun!” Gaff yelled back.
“The robots had guns. All we have to do is go back in the ship and get them, then we’ll all have guns.” One of them shouted.
“I’m betting that I’ll shoot first.” Gaff growled drawing his gun.
“Okay, okay everybody calm down. We can talk this over. Why not listen to what the man has to say after all he did just save all of us not so long ago.” Skaz yelled.
Gaff was a little surprised that Skaz was trying to help calm everyone down. He had been waiting for him to try and turn everybody against him.
“You know Gaff and me wouldn’t do anything against you so calm down and hear him out.” Skaz continued.
There it was. The reason Skaz had spoken up. He had chosen a side in this little mix up. He had chosen Gaff’s side. Gaff laughed to himself. Skaz had actually chosen correctly for a change.
“Okay now everyone listen up. This place is the home of Celia here. Her people have lived here for a thousand years completely cut off from the rest of the Galaxy. If anyone found out about them their entire world and culture would be destroyed by the people in charge of the tower and you all know it.” Gaff said pacing back and forth in front of the group.
“If any of us slips up and says anything all these people will die and so will their world. So the question is what do we do about it?” Gaff asked.
“What about our families? What about us? We’re all thankful for what you did but we just want to go home.” One of the women said.
“I know that. But we’re talking about a whole race of people. Their lives are in our hands.” Gaff replied.
“So what do we do?” Mike asked.
“There is a man that has lived down here for fifteen years and knows everything about this place and its people. I’m going to see him and find out what we can do about this situation…for all of us. You’ll all be safer if you stay in the ship. There are large insects down here that are very dangerous so don’t go wandering around. Plus some of Celia’s people have orders to kill any Humans that get lost down here. That’s just how it is for now so be smart and listen to what I tell you to do.” Gaff said.
The remaining prisoners all agreed to do what Gaff told them for now.
“Celia I want you to come with me to Mr. Tubkin’s house. If I go alone he’ll have his robots kill me. Celia I need your help to save all these people. I know that I’m scary to you but we have to convince Mr. Tubkin to help us.” Gaff said.
“I’ll help you Gaff. I see the evil in you but I also have seen you do good things as well. We will go to Mr. Tubkin and get his help.” Celia said.
Gaff smiled at Celia.
“Skaz I want you to stay here and make sure nobody wanders off.” Gaff said.
“Me?” Skaz asked not sure if he heard him right.
“Yeah you. You were right. We’ve been through too much at this point so if you do this one thing for me I’ll let you go. I promise I won’t turn you in to Setta.” Gaff said.
Skaz didn’t know what to say.
“Gee…thanks Gaff. You can count on me.” Skaz said smiling.
Gaff and Celia started off towards the direction of the village. They eventually came to a fork in the path.
“We’ll go this way. It’s longer but we don’t want to go near the village. The Elders will have you killed if they know you’re here. You must stay hidden until we reach Mr. Tubkin’s house.” Celia said. She had an air of caution about her. Gaff could see how much danger he was in.
“My life’s in your hands Celia.” Gaff said.
Celia smiled at Gaff. She was seeing the part she had liked about him again.
“This path is very safe. We don’t hunt on this side of the village now. Now is when the Berllogs travel over there. We hunt them there now so the Evermore will be there.” She said pointing.
“This way goes underground all the way to Mr. Tubkin. We will not be seen or heard down there.”
“What’s down there?” Gaff asked.
“Later there will be food that grows down there but it not be there now.” Celia said.
Gaff was beginning to understand that the Evermore had no sense of time or direction the way Humans understood it. There were no stars or sun or even day and night to gauge it off of. There was only the ever-present glowing and color shifting crystal heaven above them. The sky was always the same whenever they looked at it.
They began traveling down the trail and into the tunnel. Gaff noticed small patches of boiluminesant moss that clung to the walls lighted the tunnel dimly. They walked in silence for a while neither one knowing what to say to the other.
“How many people are in your family Gaff?” Celia asked.
“I don’t have a family.” Gaff replied.
“Why not?” she asked.
“I’m an orphan. The leadership raised me and put me in the military when I was old enough.” Gaff replied.
“I have a mother and a father. I had a sister but she died.” Celia said sadly.
“What do you do in your village?” she asked.
Gaff laughed to himself. She wasn’t going to be happy until she knew too much about the kind of man he was.
“I hurt people.”
“Why do you hurt people?” she asked surprised.
“You see, I work for people that lend other people money. So if they don’t give it back then it’s my job to make them pay it back.” He replied.
“What is money…is it like numbers? Mr. Tubkin told me of numbers.” She said proudly.
“I guess so.” He said.
“Why do your people worry about numbers so much? It seems like they cause a lot of trouble.” Celia asked.
“It’s how we keep track of things. We have to have numbers so we can make sure everyone gets their share but it never works like it should. It does cause us a lot of problems now that you mention it.” Gaff said smiling.
“I would not use them if I went to your world. I would show your people they don’t need them.” She said.
“They would make you use numbers Celia. As a matter of fact they would just take a good person like you and do bad things to you until you died.” Gaff said coldly.
“I would be kind to them so they would like me.” She insisted.
“It doesn’t matter how you acted. My people are mean and they would kill you because you are weak.” He said.
“I’m not weak. I am as good a hunter as any man in the village and I am the fastest runner as well.” Celia said.
Gaff grabbed her by the throat and held her at arms length. Celia twisted, kicked, and even tried to bite Gaff to no avail. Gaff shoved her back effortlessly releasing her and smiled.
“You’re weak.” Gaff said grinning.
Celia punched Gaff in the side hard and looked at him half angry and half pouting.
“You are mean like them to I think.” She said.
“You have no idea.” Gaff replied smiling.
They walked a while in silence again with Celia leading the way. Gaff watched her walking. She was small and muscular like a gymnast. He began to think of her inappropriately now for the first time they had met. She was quite attractive and exotic.
“If you are a bad person then why do you care what happens to the Evermore?” she asked unexpectedly.
Gaff just smiled.
“Why don’t you tell the tower people about us and make the money for bigger numbers?” she pressed.
“You should just be glad I don’t and leave it at that.” He replied.
Celia stopped and pushed against Gaff causing him to stop.
“No. You must tell me why you do this.” Celia insisted.
“You won’t understand Celia.” He said.
“You should say why.” She asked in a more calming and friendly tone. It was as if she wanted him to open up to her.
“It’s hard to live in the tower. People are mean to each other all the time. They hurt each other all the time because we only care about ourselves. We don’t need each other because we can buy what we need so we don’t connect.” Gaff saw that Celia did understand that much.
“Down here it’s different. It’s how it should be. You don’t want things because you have each other. This is how life should be. Everyone caring about everyone else.” He said.
“So why do you want to help us?” she urged him to continue.
“This might be the only place like this left anywhere. Someone needs to make sure it stays that way.” Gaff replied.
“Is it you, are you the one that is going to save us?” she asked.
“No, I just want to make things right. We didn’t mean to come here but the damage is done. Me, Skaz and the rest of those people all know about this place and I can’t make them not know what they all ready know.” Gaff said. He sat down against the wall of the tunnel exhausted.
“I’m so damned tired I can’t think straight anymore. I just want to do one good thing in my life. Just one. Aww I don’t even know what I’m saying anymore.” He said leaning his head back and closing his eyes.
To his surprise Celia sat down next to him and put her arms around him. She hugged him tightly and rested her head on his chest.
“You need sleep Gaff. You should sleep for a while. I’ll lay here with you so you won’t be alone.” Celia said.
Gaff swallowed hard. Her half naked body pressed up against him felt good. She was an innocent and was only trying to comfort him. She didn’t realize her actions were getting him excited.
“Your heart is pounding very fast Gaff, are you sick?” she asked.
Gaff stood up quickly almost knocking Celia to the ground.
“I’m okay. We need to keep going.” He said feeling guilty about getting aroused by this young girl.
“What is the matter? You are not okay. Did I offend you?” she asked.
“No…it’s not right that you were so close to me. You’re very young and I’m not sure you’d understand what I mean.” He said awkwardly.
“I am not so young.” She said.
“Yes you are Celia.” Gaff said.
Celia smiled and rolled her eyes.
“Mr. Tubkin says I am thirty of your years old. He has watched us for a long time and says we grow old slower than you. He says your people grow older twice as fast as us; very sad for you to live such a short time.”
Gaff looked at this girl surprised that she was nearly his age.
“You look like a kid to me.” Gaff said confused. Dot was younger than Celia but was way more experienced with what men wanted.
“Look Celia…you’re very pretty and when you get close to me it makes me want to do the wrong thing you know?” Gaff explained.
“You wish to be inside me?” she asked confused.
“Yea…No I just want to get to Mr. Tubkin’s house and get this taken care of.” Gaff said trying to change the subject.
“But you said I was pretty so why don’t you want to be inside of me?” Celia asked.
“I just don’t think I should.” Gaff said.
“I would like to be inside of you I think.” She said smiling.
“Wait…what? What do you mean…be inside me?” Gaff asked almost afraid of the answer.
Celia tapped her head as if thinking.
“I mean be inside you…your head.” She said.
“You mean get to know me.” Gaff said relieved.
“Yes get to know you.” Celia said smiling.
“Well yeah sure I’d like that.” Gaff said.
“Then we can be friends and give pleasure to each other.” She said smiling.
Gaff just stood looking at her smiling at him. It wasn’t a come hither smile it was more of a (I’m glad we got that straightened out.) kind of smile.
“We should keep going.” Gaff said. He didn’t want things to get any more complicated.
“You still have to rest Gaff.” Celia said concerned.
“I will but I think we should keep moving for now.” He didn’t trust himself around her now. He needed to clear his head of the thoughts he was having about her.
“We will go but I will make you rest soon Gaff.” Celia said. She was becoming worried about him.
They continued on for another hour. Gaff stumbled and fell unable to continue.
“No more walking. Now is time for you to rest.”
Gaff sat up and made his way over to the wall of the tunnel and leaned up against it. Celia helped him take off his heavy long coat. She rolled it up and put it behind his head using it like a pillow. Once again Celia cuddled up against Gaff and closed her eyes. Gaff began to protest but Celia put her finger on his lips hushing him to silence. Within minutes they had both fallen asleep. Only Celia had been able to get any decent sleep while on board the slaver ship. She had been able to sleep in a real bed while the rest had been left unconscious on the deck of the cargo bay.
Hours passed as they slept in the dimly lit tunnel. Gaff woke up first slowly. He looked around and groaned quietly as he realized everything that had happened up till now had been real. He was in a tunnel deep underground with an alluring woman child and the fate of her race in his hands.
He looked at Celia who was lying next to him still sleeping. Her long blonde hair had fallen away from her chest as she slept revealing her tiny breasts. They were nothing compared to Dot’s but a breast is still a breast.
Celia sat up and stretched. She looked at Gaff and smiled. Her hair fell back over her breasts as she stood and stretched again.
Gaff sat forward and laughed at his situation.
“What is funny?” Celia smiled asking.
“Nothing. Let’s get going. I want to get to Tubkin’s as soon as possible.” He said.
“We’re almost there now. I will have to go first so Mr. Tubkin’s machines won’t hurt you.” She said.
“You must make him understand that I want to protect your people. He has to understand that Celia.” Gaff said.
“I will make him understand.” Celia said firmly.
They continued on for seemed to be about two hours. Gaff saw the light filtering down from the opening of the tunnel.
“We are here Gaff. You wait here and I will come back. It will be okay I think. Mr. Tubkin will want you to help all these people I think.”
Celia said. She had a look of apprehension.
“What is it?” Gaff asked.
“If you hear his machines coming run away.” She said. Before Gaff could ask what she meant Celia ran down the tunnel and out into the mushroom forest.
Celia ran as fast as she could knowing that she was near the spot she had been attacked by the Ashen. She made her way too the main path and finally reached the home of Mr. Tubkin. Exhausted she beat on the door and called for Mr. Tubkin.
“Mr. Tubkin…it’s Celia. I need your help!” she shouted.
The door opened and there stood Mr. Tubkin. Celia saw Dot standing in the room as well but she was dressed differently. She was wearing a long sleeved shirt and baggy pants that had the cuffs rolled up.
“Where have you been? Everyone is worried sick! Are you hurt?” Mr. Tubkin asked Celia.
“We need your help Mr. Tubkin. We fell through a hole and the man bugs captured us. Gaff saved us and we went up into a big ship. We came back and Gaff killed Diana. Now there are tower people here and we need your help to save everyone!” Celia said excitedly.
“Gaff’s back here? Who did he kill? Slow down Celia you’re not making any sense.” Tubkin said.
Dot pushed past Mr. Tubkin and gently led Celia inside and sat her down.
“Are you hurt? Where’s Gaff now?” she asked.
“He’s in the tunnel waiting for me. Tell your machines not to hurt him and I will bring him here. He will tell you what happened. Please Mr. Tubkin he is only trying to help save the people.” Celia begged.
Tubkin looked at Dot. They both thought this was over and started to make adjustments towards a new life together.
“Go and bring Gaff back here. I will tell the machines not to harm him. Go now and hurry.” Mr. Tubkin said.
Celia ran back and found Gaff waiting were she had told him to. They both hurried back to Tubkin’s house and went inside.
Gaff explained everything to an angry Mr. Tubkin. He had wanted this whole ordeal done with the first time and now everything had gotten much worse.
“How many more Humans?” Mr. Tubkin asked.
“Sixteen men and women.” Gaff said.
“Why did you bring them here for God’s sake? What did you hope to accomplish?” Tubkin yelled.
“I was out of ideas! I didn’t ask for this! I could have just taken everyone back to the tower but they saw Celia and heard Skaz talking about this place. I figured you might be able to fix this somehow.” Gaff yelled back.
“Yeah I can fix it. I can fix all of it by having my robots kill them all. They’ll just march in and bash their brains in one at a time! Damn it Gaff if they go back one of them is sure to tell someone about this place. They have to die Gaff and you signed their death warrants.” Mr. Tubkin replied.
Both men stared at each other angrily.
“Why don’t you take them somewhere else? You said you have a spaceship so why not just take them somewhere else?” Dot asked.
“We don’t have a pilot and we don’t have any where to go.” Gaff
“Beta Minus…we could go to Beta Minus.” Mr. Tubkin said looking down.
“Beta Minus is a neutral system. They won’t let us land there.” Gaff said. “Besides we don’t have a pilot.”
Mr. Tubkin pulled up his sleeve to reveal a tattoo of a snake wrapped around a planet.
“You were a pilot in the militia?” Gaff asked surprised.
“We’ve all done things we’re sorry for.” Tubkin said. The militia pilots were used to transport prisoners of war to death camps.
“They still won’t let us land there, not after what the New Planet Union did. They hate us.” Gaff said.
“You said the ship is a slaver ship so it’s not registered as an NPU ship.” Tubkin said.
“How will we survive? We don’t have any money.” Gaff asked.
“We sell the ship. We’ll all have plenty of money after that.” Mr. Tubkin said looking at Dot.
“Then how will you get back here?” Gaff asked.
“It’s a one way trip for all of us Gaff. We all have to go and never return. Look on the bright side Gaff. The NPU is a terrible place to live so at least we’ll have some freedoms on Beta Minus.” Mr. Tubkin replied.
“What about those people back on the ship? Don’t they have families? They’re not going to want to leave them behind.” Dot said.
“We’ll take all of their families as well. Those people were all desperate for work, that’s how they were tricked into being captured by the Chitin. Nobody wants to live under NPU rule anyway. There ain’t too many of us in the tower that wouldn’t go somewhere else if they could.” Gaff said.
“That means stopping at the tower for at least twenty four hours. They’ll all need time to gather their families and belongings.” Mr. Tubkin remarked.
“I know a safe place. We’ll have them all send messages to their families once there and then we’ll wait twenty four hours after that we’ll leave.” Gaff said.
“This just might work.” Mr. Tubkin said smiling.
“Aw shit! I just remembered the main drive isn’t working. It would take months just to get to a jump gate instead of days, we’d never make it.” Gaff said.
“We’ll get it fixed. Skaz didn’t spend that money he got from Setta Gaff. He still has it hidden in the tower.” Dot said.
“Son of a bitch! That little rat would have let me kill him before he gave it back, what an idiot.” Gaff said frustrated.
“What about me? Am I going? Celia asked.
Gaff turned and looked at her. She would have to stay behind and help her people. There would be no place for her in the new lives they were about to undertake.
“You’ll stay here Celia. Your place is with your people. You’ll have to warn others about what you’ve seen.” Mr. Tubkin said placing his hand on her shoulder.
Celia looked at Gaff waiting for him to say she should come with them but he just looked away.
“I understand. I will take you back to the fork in the road and then go home to the village.” She said complacently.
Mr. Tubkin gathered up as many of his belongings as he could and packed them on the robots. They were all ready to go after about an hour or so.
“After I’m gone don’t let anyone come to my house. The Ashen are getting closer and I fear the Evermore will have to move up that way very soon to get away from them.” Mr. Tubkin said pointing.
They all started off through the mushroom forest and down into the tunnel. Eventually they arrived at the fork in the road.
“Celia you have been a great friend to me. Now go and live a good life with your people and watch out for them.” Mr. Tubkin said sadly.
Celia looked at Gaff and smiled.
“I am happy to have met you tower man. You are good and evil but I think you are mostly good. Be more good Gaff you will be happier that way.” Celia said as her eyes welled up with tears.
Gaff smiled and nodded unable to speak. He had never been considered good before and Celia was most likely the only person that had been happy to have met him.
They watched as Celia headed back towards the village. Then they all turned and headed back up to where the slaver ship had landed.
Gaff stopped and took one last look down the path hoping for a last glimpse of Celia but she had already disappeared back into the mushroom forest.
Beyond the Crystal Heavens
They had reached the slaver ship at last. Skaz was sitting outside the hatch making sure the others stayed inside. Gaff had fully expected for Skaz to have messed things up and that all the other people onboard would be running around loose down here.
“Everything okay Skaz?” Gaff asked pressing his luck.
“Yeah, it’s actually been boring to be honest. I think they’re still scared of us.” Skaz said grinning a little. There it was again. Skaz had aligned himself solidly with Gaff…for now.
“Tell them all to come out. The guy that is going to help us is here.” Gaff said.
Skaz went back inside the ship. After a few minutes the other people began to file out. They looked nervous and seemed to be expecting bad news.
“Okay everybody listen up! This is Mr. Tubkin and Dot. Mr. Tubkin knows how to fly this ship. The girl is Dot…his advisor. Now we got a plan that some of you will like and some won’t. For the ones who like it fine. For the ones who don’t just remember it was me who opened those cells and got you out of a short life as a slave bitch so you’re just going to have to eat it!” Gaff said.
Skaz noticed Gaff was acting a little more aggressive once again. His temper was coming back so he had better watch how he acted around him.
“We’re all going to Beta Minus but first we’ll stop at the tower and get the ship repaired. In the mean time you’ll all have twenty-four hours to contact any family you want to take with you and have them join us. Don’t worry about money because we plan to sell the ship once we’re there and give everybody an equal share. The ship is worth millions so everyone here will have a nice little nest egg to get started with.
For anyone here that doesn’t know it Beta Minus is a neutral planet so there is no treaty with the good old New Planet Union so we’ll be free to do whatever we want once we get there.” Gaff said.
Everyone looked at each other surprised. Most tower people only dreamed of leaving the tower to go to a neutral world. Now they would have a chance at a new life. The began to talk amongst themselves and most agreed they would give the plan a chance as long as they could take any family they wanted.
The discussion was happily brief and most issues settled quickly with Gaff silencing the dissenters in short order. This was how it was going to be and that was that.
Everyone was ordered back into the ship by Gaff. He had an urgency in his tone that seemed as though he was in a hurry to leave this place. The loading bay hatches were closed along with the airlock doors that had all been opened to help circulate fresh air into the ship as Mr. Tubkin looked over the controls.
“Most of this looks familiar…its almost twenty years since I sat at the controls of one of these things.” He said to Gaff.
“Take your time professor, I think you’re only going to get one chance at this lift off. If you hit that ceiling on the way out this things going to blow up like a fuel dump so don’t be nervous.” Gaff said slapping Tubkin on the shoulder.
“Thanks…Thanks a lot.” Mr. Tubkin said swallowing hard.
He pushed the throttle forward slowly. The ship pulled slowly out of the soft mushy ground and lifted into the air. Tubkin smiled as he realized the ship handled much easier than the ones he used to fly.
Skaz walked up to Dot who was busy going through the items the people had found on board. She saw him and turned around to face him. She had her high heels hanging from a cord around her neck.
“Still got those stupid shoes I see.” Skaz asked joking.
“Uh yeah…” Dot said trying not to make eye contact.
Skaz rubbed his head awkwardly.
“Tubkin been treating you okay?” he asked.
“Yeah Skaz…he’s real nice to me.” She replied.
“Good, good.” Skaz said.
“Look Skaz…I’m with Tubkin now so if you’re trying to pull something funny you can just forget it.” Dot said nervously still not looking into his eyes.
“No, no it’s not like that Dot honest. I just wanted to tell you I’m sorry for getting you into this…I’m sorry for everything I did.” Skaz said.
“I’ve heard all of this before Skaz…lots of times.” She said.
“Yeah well this time I mean it. I hope everything goes the way you want it to Dot…really.” Skaz said. He put his hands in his pockets and walked away.
The ship was functioning well and they were almost at one of the lower docking bays of the tower. Gaff had talked to Mike about overseeing the repairs when they reached the tower and he had agreed as long as he could contact his family first.
They landed the ship and Gaff spoke with one of his friends about fixing the main drive. He promised to pay the man by morning and he agreed. The people that wanted to were allowed to make contact with their families by radio. Everything was going as planned so far and it looked like they would be able to pull this part of the plan off.
All that was left was to have Skaz get Setta’s money and pay the man for the repairs by morning.
“Come on Skaz me and you are going to take a little walk.” Gaff said pulling Skaz up and out of his chair.
“Wait! You said you weren’t going to turn me in!” Skaz said trying to get loose.
“Shut up stupid I ain’t turning you in. we’re just going to go get Setta’s money so we can pay for the repairs.” Gaff said shoving Skaz towards the ships airlock.
“Wait a second…that’s my money. Why do I have to pay for the repairs?” he said protesting.
“‘Cause I don’t have any. That is unless you can think of a way I can get that much.” Gaff said staring at Skaz.
Skaz understood. If he didn’t pay for the repairs the Gaff would turn him in and get the reward money from Setta to pay for it.
“Okay, okay but you gotta protect me. If anyone sees me out there Setta will send someone else to kill me and probably you too.” Skaz said.
“Well then you should probably shut up and take me too it as fast as you can because one way or another we’re doing this…this is going to happen.” Gaff said shoving Skaz out of the door of the ship.
The casino was filled to capacity. Lights and noise filled the air as hundreds of patrons from only the best tower elite mingled and lost money by the millions. This was Setta’s place, The Siesta Palace, the best entertainment spot in the tower. Setta had built this place from the ground up with her wit and charm. She was also completely ruthless and possessed by a quest for wealth that drove her constantly to further levels of pure evil.
A man dressed in a black uniform made his way through the crowd. He was tall and heavyset. A long jagged scar ran across his forehead and down the right side of his face. His hair was cropped short in military fashion denoting his military past. In his day he was a man of action and considerable bravery but as the years had caught up with him he found himself in Setta’s employ as her head of security.
He saw Setta sitting at her usual table surrounded by the same old crowd of poker players. She was wearing one of her trademark low-cut red dresses that she seemed to have been poured into to the point of overflowing. Her hair was piled on top of her head thick and curly black accented by diamond tipped pins that held it in place. She always accessorized in diamonds from her earrings down to her rings and ankle bracelet.
The game was ancient but had made its way from earth and into the cosmos. Even alien races played the game in these times. Few Humans even knew of Earth or what it meant to there own heritage but they all knew what poker was.
The man moved next to Setta’s high backed chair and stood patiently as she finished her hand.
She flipped over her last card to reveal an ace of spades and sat back grinning. The men at the table threw down their cards.
Timothy Bines, the Chief administrator for all the star ports and landing docks on the tower sat back disgusted shoving his chips towards Setta’s pile.
Jim Withers head of the tower improvement committee slugged down the rest of his drink and fiddled with his antique timepiece as usual.
Matt Chambers crossed his fingers across his chest and sighed. He wasn’t worried about his loses due to the fact that he had taken the money from one of the workers retirement accounts he managed.
The other regulars, Brad, Stan, George, Tony, and Malachi all ended their hand with distinct tells that Setta watched and memorized. Her one greatest asset was her ability to read people. It had been key to her success in the tower. “Tell people what they want to hear and you’ll never loose.” She’d always say. The men at the table were some of the most powerful in the tower. Setta had courted them all into becoming part of her private game in more ways than one.
The man in the black uniform bent down close to Setta and whispered something into her ear. Her self-control was legendary. The news she had just received infuriated her but she simply laughed and excused herself. Her patrons never saw her angry or ill tempered. They were her guests and one of the commodities she controlled in this casino was happiness. Everyone must be happy in the Siesta Palace. It was why people came back night after night even though the usually lost.
Setta crossed the room exchanging smiles and greetings to all the customers she met. She was beautiful, friendly and beyond reproach.
Setta finally reached the door to her private office begging to be excused by the patrons to attend to a minor business problem.
Setta walked across the huge room and sat at her massive hand carved desk. The man in black stood patiently in front of the desk with his hands crossed behind him at ease.
Setta’s dark brown eyes stared at the man as a fiery rage grew behind them. Her fingers drummed the desk anxiously as she thought.
Setta pounded her hand on the table.
“He never spent the money! He kept it and Gaff knew it. They were in on it together from the start!” she said angrily.
The man in black said nothing.
“That little fucking pimp outsmarted me! Me!” she screamed.
“How do you want this handled?” the man asked calmly. He had become accustomed to her explosive outbursts.
“I want them fucking dead! How the Hell do you think I want it handled Colonel?” Setta yelled.
“I don’t think Gaff was in on this Setta, he hated Skaz.” The Colonel said.
“Oh no Colonel, Gaff was in on it otherwise he would have brought Skaz back by now. With that much money even Skaz could have bought Gaff.” Setta said sharply.
The Colonel knew there was no sense in arguing with her when she was this mad.
“I can’t believe that little shit tricked me. If this gets out I’ll have a bunch of cowboys coming after me. They’ll think I’ve gotten sloppy…weak. This is going to cause me a lot of trouble.” She said fuming.
“I’ll handle it personally Setta. I’ll get Robert and we’ll fix this real quiet like.” He said in a calming tone.
“Robert? Is he available?” Setta asked. She knew of Robert’s reputation as a bounty hunter and enforcer with a stellar reputation of doing whatever it takes to get his man.
“Yeah he’s available. I spoke with him two days ago.” The Colonel replied.
“Do it. Tonight, no matter what the cost.” She said.
“Are you sure? Robert doesn’t come cheap.” The Colonel said.
“I don’t care I want them found and strung up…no! Bring them back to me. I’ll kill them myself.” Setta said coldly.
“What about Skaz’s whore Dot? She’ll have to be silenced as well.” the Colonel asked.
“I guess your right Colonel. Damned shame though with the right grooming she could make a lot of money for me.”
Setta thought about Dot for a moment.
“Better not risk it though. She’ll have to be killed as well. If you want to play with her first I won’t object.” Setta said feeling generous.
“I figured I’d do that anyway. It’s not like I’d be doing any damage to the bitch that hadn’t already been done.” He said.
“Fine, whatever Colonel as long as she winds up dead it’s all the same to me.” She said staring out the huge eight-inch thick glass window.
Setta looked out into the darkness that was broken only by gaudy lighted signs and flashing lights of the bars and casino’s that littered this part of the tower. She had made it this far by being utterly ruthless. She wasn’t going to let one dirty little pimp and his friends ruin it for her. She would find them no matter where they went no matter what the cost.
Gaff and Skaz walked down the back corridors of the tower trying not to be noticed. Skaz had hidden the money in an abandoned part of the tower that only he knew about. It had been used to store old pump parts and other obsolete industrial machinery.
“It’s just up ahead. Make sure we’re not being followed.” Skaz said nervously.
“I’m more interested in keeping an eye on you.” Gaff said trying to keep up with Skaz as he ducked in and out of the isles and wracks of equipment. Everything was covered by oil and dust from years of being neglected.
Gaff turned when he heard a sound behind him. He didn’t see anything so he turned back to follow Skaz but he had disappeared.
Gaff started to call out but changed his mind. Maybe there was someone behind them, he couldn’t be sure.
Gaff followed the isle he was in and came to a dead end…Skaz was gone.
That was it everything was ruined. None of these people he had saved or the Evermore had a chance anymore. Skaz had just killed all of them.
Gaff felt something tapping at his foot, it was Skaz. He had crawled under one of the shelves and into a new area of the maze of equipment and parts.
“Come on hurry up.” Skaz said waving for Gaff to hurry.
Gaff ducked down and went under the shelves following Skaz.
“I found this place when I was a kid. I always hid stuff here even way back then.” Skaz said smiling.
“You know I lost you back there. I had no idea where you could have gone.” Gaff said wondering why Skaz didn’t run.
“I know.” Skaz replied.
“Why didn’t you run?” Gaff asked Skaz.
Skaz looked at him hurt.
“I thought we were doing this together…you know like a team. I thought… you know…we were like buddies now or whatever.” Skaz replied.
“You and me…friends? What are you joking?” Gaff laughed.
“Hey in case you forgot pretty soon all we’re going to have is each other. We’re leaving here and none of us have any friends where we’re going to wind up.” Skaz said a little braver than maybe he should have.
Gaff looked at Skaz. He was right surprisingly. They would all have to stick together from now on.
“Okay Skaz…we’ll give it a try. But you only get one chance, understand?” Gaff said.
“That means you too. No more tough guy ruff stuff.” Skaz said.
Gaff looked at Skaz.
“I can’t promise that.” Gaff said smiling.
Skaz shook his head at Gaff and pounded his fist on the side of one of the machines. An access panel dropped open and inside was a suitcase. Skaz smiled and pulled it out laying it on the ground. He clicked the lock and opened the case to reveal it was full of cash wrapped in bundles. Skaz tossed one of the bundles too Gaff.
“This is good. No electronic transfer to trip an alarm or security bot in a systems network.” Gaff said impressed.
“Looks like you should have been an embezzler instead of a pimp.” Gaff said half joking.
“Okay let’s get back and get this over with. ”Skaz said.
“Why are you so gung ho about doing this? Why are you so willing to give up all that money?” Gaff asked straight arming Skaz.
“Look let’s just go! What the fuck Gaff? Since when did you start caring about why I did anything?” Skaz said pushing back.
“I need to believe I can trust you Skaz.” Gaff replied.
Skaz looked around uneasy.
“It’s not that hard to understand Gaff. I’m done here. It’s over for me if I stay. Unless I leave the tower I’m a dead man. I don’t want to die Gaff.”
Skaz gave Gaff the suitcase.
“Don’t let me die Gaff.”
Gaff had led a life of violence and had seen men die up close on more than one occasion but it always happened quick. He didn’t play games and that’s why he was still alive. Skaz had chosen a side and it was Gaff’s. Now he wanted Gaff’s protection and he was willing to pay for it.
“Okay Skaz but remember I still don’t trust you. You’ll have to do what I say when I say it or I can’t take responsibility for what happens to you.” Gaff said.
“Hey no problem Gaff.” Skaz said relieved.
Both men made their way back through the labyrinth of old machine parts and racks too the dock where the ship’s main drive was being repaired. Gaff paid the foreman for the work and the parts leaving them with more money left over than they thought.
Gaff and Skaz went to the ship. They still had ten hours left before the dead line to leave was up. Almost at once Gaff noticed Mr. Tubkin waving at them frantically to come on board the ship. They both hurried over and went inside to see what was wrong.
To Gaff’s horror he saw Dot sitting on a crate next to Celia.
“How did she get here?” Gaff asked frustrated.
“She snuck on board before we lifted off. All the hatches were open so she just circled around and climbed onboard.” Tubkins said equally frustrated.
“We have to take her back. If she stays she’ll never see her home again.” Gaff said.
“I cannot go back. I have seen too much of your way of life. I am like your people now. I am no longer Evermore.” Celia said sadly.
“It’s because of what I told her. She knows our ways would ruin her culture. It’s my fault.” Mr. Tubkins said running his fingers through her hair.
“No. It is the dream I had when you gave me the medicine for the wounds from the Ashen that attacked me. I told you we all had to leave together so I could save my people. The great Sinuk has given me this task. We all must save the Evermore.” Celia explained.
“What the Hell is she talking about?” Gaff asked Mr. Tubkin.
“She was attacked by a creature they call an Ashen…some kind of mutated human. They come down from the tower or something…I’m not even sure what they are myself. Anyway I gave her a strong natural antibiotic that I made and made her rest. When she woke up she said she had a vision of her and me in space on a quest to save her people. The strange thing is she never knew about or even heard about space. There’s no way she could have known about it.” Tubkin said wondering.
Gaff thought about what Mr. Tubkin had just said. He looked at Celia who was smiling at him nervously.
“It doesn’t matter…she’s going back.” He said staring at Celia.
“No I am not!” Celia suddenly yelled standing up and taking a step towards Gaff. She had seen Gaff do this same kind of thing and was now mimicking Gaff’s actions.
Gaff recoiled in surprise.
“I didn’t think you had that kind of anger in you kid.” Gaff said grinning.
“She didn’t until she met you. She’s right when she says she’s like us now. She can’t go back because she’s been tainted Gaff. We’ve shown her too much for her to remain there I’m afraid.” Mr. Tubkin said.
“What are you talking about?” Gaff challenged.
“She just yelled at you. The Evermore don’t do that. She learned that from you Gaff and if she stays with her people she’ll inadvertently teach them. They’ll become violent Gaff. They’ll become like Humans.” Mr. Tubkin explained.
Gaff suddenly realized how fragile the Evermore culture was. His instincts to save them were right but his own culture had ruined Celia and had prevented her from ever going back. Everything she had experienced was absorbed as knowledge to be used. Gaff finally understood just how quickly the Evermore could learn and assimilate into a foreign culture but it tended to erase their own as a result.
“I will not go back to my people. I am like a Human now.” she said sadly.
Dot put her arm around Celia and pulled her close to comfort her. Celia rested her head against Dot’s shoulder and wept. She didn’t want to leave but she knew she had to.
“There there sweetie you just go ahead and cry. You’ve lost more than all of us put together. We’re all escaping Hell but you’re leaving paradise behind.” Dot said looking at the rest.
Gaff looked at everyone in the cargo bay.
“How much time do we have left?” he asked Mr. Tubkin.
“A little less than ten hours.” Tubkin replied.
“I’m going to get some sleep. I’m taking Diana’s cabin unless someone else wants it.” He said walking away.
He didn’t wait for a response. He knew he could take whatever he wanted for now. They were all afraid of him or grateful so he would always get first pick.
Gaff entered Diana’s room and closed the door. He took off his long coat and draped it over a chair and then sat on the large bed. It would be four days until they reached the jump gate. Another twenty-four hours in warp space and then five days until they reached Beta Minus. Ten days in space with a bunch of unhappy people. The only saving grace was that none of them knew each other so it would be a while before they divided up into groups. Once that happened the trouble would start.
That gave him a few days to keep that from happening. They would have to look like one unified group when they got to Beta Minus. They would have to look like good honest hard working folk if they had any chance to be allowed to stay.
That gave him a few days to observe them and get to know who would cause trouble but enough of all this. He needed his sleep badly. He didn’t even search Diana’s room for anything the others might have missed.
Gaff stretched out on the bed and took out his pistol and held it in his hand. He lay back and crossed his arms over his chest still holding the weapon and closed his eyes.
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