Story on Amazon Kindle Vella

I have a story, 8 episodes long, on Amazon Kindle Vella which just went live this week. It is a sequel to a story I had published a few years ago. It was titled The Corn Field. It was inspired by the Melissa Etheridge song “We Got No Place to Go”. The song was so sad and plaintive that it moved me to write a story about two people who had no place to go where they could be themselves. At least one editor liked the story and published it. In Vella it’s titled “Somewhere in Iowa” and follows the lives of the boys until the end of high school. You can find it by clicking on this code B093D8YP4C It will take you directly to the story. I’m doubting general perusers will find story as it’s buried under pages and pages of other stories. But use this link and leave a comment about it on Amazon. Here’s a quick link to the Vella page:

I just got a note from Amazon that this is also a direct link to the story.


The Haint

I was sure I had put this up before but I can’t find the post. Anyway, back in November Page & Spine published a story of mine – The Haint. It’s a reworking of a former story Do This One Thing. I had sent it out for comment and made some changes based on what People Who Know Things said. Here’s a link. Hope you like it. If the link doesn’t work, just google Page & Spine and find my name under the Authors tab.


I have four stories slated to be published in June. Three are reprints with links already on this site. Inna Gada da Vida will appear in The Chamber on June 4. Googling The Chamber will take you to their website and the current listing of stories. The Park Bench will appear in The Chamber on June 11 and Escape to Paradise will appear there on June 18. As I said above, these stories have already appeared in Ariel Chart Review and Scarlet Leaf.

A new story will be read live on June 28 at What the Writer Wrote. The story is Welcome to Hell, what happens when a middle-aged executive drops dead in his office. I’ll post a link once it’s available.

Finally, my story Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep will be featured in the horror anthology Noises of a Quiet House set to be published on July 1. It is a collection of eerie, spooky stories. You’ll have to buy the book to see the story, but it’s worth it (IMHO).

As an aside, I have discovered a new app Kindle Vella. It’s still in beta and no idea when it will go live. It allows authors to publish work in serial form. The first couple of episodes are free, then readers will have to purchase tokens to read the rest. It sounds interesting so I uploaded an eight-episode serial story to them. Keep your fingers crossed.

In the Midnight Hour


I’m adding another story here that requires a little explanation and a trigger warning. I never though much about such things until I submitted this to a magazine and got a poison pen letter response. They said several nasty things and also included that I should have included a trigger warning. I’m pulling the story from submissions for awhile, maybe permanently. It has some graphic imagery, but I don’t think it rises to the level of trigger warning. My thoughts are that if you need trigger warnings, you probably should not be reading anything on the internet. I know from experience that sexual assault is an awful experience that affects you years beyond the physical act, so don’t come after me saying I’m insensitive to survivors. I’m one. That gives me some standing. Anyway, consider this your trigger warning. Copyright issues prohibit me from including song lyrics in a story, but imagine Wilson Pickett crooning “I’m gonna wait till the midnight hour.”



In the Midnight Hour

            I screamed with every fiber of my being. I screamed as if the very devil were after me, which in a sense he was. I screamed loud and long.


            I guess I can blame my parents for some of what went wrong. After all, they were the models who taught Bobby and me most of our life skills. And they were as selfish and self-centered as they come. Or are those both the same things? They put their own needs before everything else. It’s my opinion that if you have children, you at least spare a little thought for how your actions affect them. I mean, now that I’m fourteen I realize that my parents are real individuals with dreams and desires of their own, not just cardboard cutouts as stage props in the movie of my life. I don’t think their whole lives should revolve around the kids. But there is a middle ground where you consider your actions and how your children will see them. Our parents never had this quality.

            When I was in first grade, Bobby was my hero. He was ten years to my six and although he wasn’t the biggest kid in fourth grade, he could soundly thump any second grader who dared to pick on me. He took his role as big brother seriously. And soon he branched out to thump the bullies who picked on my friends. All the girls swooned over my handsome brother, and as it became clear he was protecting my girlfriends, they all wanted to be my friend. First grade was rather grand. But not our home life.

            That was the year Mama and Daddy began going through a rough patch. Daddy worked at an office and Mama stayed at home. I’m not sure, but I think the trouble involved money. They would snipe for what seemed like hours, reminding me of the distant rumbling of a big storm. Then suddenly it would erupt, like a clap of thunder. Both had a temper, and they had no qualms about screaming at each other, slinging invectives and accusations. I got that word, invectives, from Mary Jane Slater. She thinks she’s so cool because she’s read so many books. I think she’s stuck up, but it’s still a cool word and describes exactly what Mama and Daddy did. He would call her lazy and a spendthrift. She would call him a lowlife cheater, though I don’t know what he cheated on. Sometimes she threw cups or plates. Daddy would knock pictures off the wall. The sound of something shattering accompanied every fight. To this day, the sound of shattering glass makes me want to curl up into a little ball.

            As you might expect it scared me. It scared me badly. I would run from my room and jump in Bobby’s bed and burrow under the covers. I’d roll myself into a ball and snuggle up to his midsection. He’d put his arms around me and whisper that it would be okay.

            “It’s okay, Joni. Don’t cry. You’re safe with me. I won’t ever let anything happen to you.” Only later would I find the wet spot on my head where his tears had fallen. He would hold me and rock me, long into the night, as we weathered the storm of our parents. He was my rock and my protection. He loved me. He said he would always protect me. And I foolishly believed him.


            I heard someone say hindsight is 20-20. That’s so true. You never notice all the little things people do as they are happening. Only looking back do you say, “Oh yeah, I should have noticed that.” Nobody ever thought anything was wrong with Bobby. I was the one to worry about. He was a perfect student, straight A’s throughout primary and middle school. I was a competent A/B student but had conduct issues. I just didn’t like being restricted and told what my role as a lady should be. I wanted to be who I was, not some character from history. Girls don’t talk like that, girls don’t do that, ladies don’t behave that way. All I heard was don’t. Well, I wanted to DO. So, they labeled me a problem.

            My parents quickly forgot any notes sent home. They were too busy leading their lives to worry about school problems. The only time they met with my teachers was once when the administration dragged them in for a ‘consultation’. It quickly became clear in the meeting that the teachers knew me better than my parents. The meeting accomplished little more than getting me grounded for a week. But even that didn’t last. My parents just lost interest.

            They took a little more interest in Bobby; he was ‘the Son’. However, it was only a glancing interest. They didn’t seem to notice that he had no friends. The younger boys were afraid of him because he bullied them mercilessly. His peers thought he was a jerk. At least that’s what Mary Jane Slater said. Although he was handsome, the girls avoided him because he had this permanent sneer emblazoned on his face. Everyone could sense a feeling of cold calculation emanating from him. Mary Jane said he gave her the willies. Maybe. But to me, he was just my brother Bobby.

            At home I was the problem, too. If something got broken, Bobby always convinced me to take the blame. He said that Daddy would beat him, but they would only ground me for a week. And we knew they’d forget to enforce it. It seemed reasonable, so I always went along. He remained the perfect child.

            I remember how he didn’t like it when I brought home Mr. Whiskers, a stray kitten. He said he didn’t like cats. I figured Mr. Whiskers could melt any person’s heart and tried to get him to play with the kitten. Mr. Whiskers didn’t like Bobby, though. He laid his ears back and hissed. Within two days, Mr. Whiskers had disappeared. There was a suspicious scratch on Bobby’s arm, but I never had the courage to ask him about it. I think that’s when I started to be afraid of Bobby.

            Just before the Bad Stuff happened there was a telling moment in the car. Bobby was sixteen. He had just gotten his license and Mama and Daddy would send him on errands in the car. He loved to drive around. One night, Mama sent him to the store for something. She told him to take me along. It had been raining earlier, and the streets glistened like silver in the early evening under the streetlights. He was driving Daddy’s big Oldsmobile. As we were driving through a residential section, we saw a couple out for a stroll. I tensed when Bobby sped up. What was he planning? As we roared past the couple, he swerved to plow through a puddle sending a wave of muddy, oily street water over the couple. As we kept going, I could hear them yelling. I looked back and saw we drenched them. They were shaking out their coats, furious at what had happened. Bobby had a satisfied sneer on his face.


            Late summer meant evening thunderstorms. A short time after the incident with the car, we were having a late-night boomer. I used to be afraid of thunder and lightning. I would go jump in Bobby’s bed and cower under the covers while he held me. I understood the weather now and no longer needed his reassurances. This storm seemed to circle us. It would intensify and then simmer down, only to start up again a few minutes later. It went on into the night.


            I snapped awake. I had been dozing, not deeply asleep as the rumbling went on. I opened my eyes just as lightning flashed the room. In the brief light, I saw the outline of a man. Terrified, I couldn’t move or speak. Another flash revealed it was Bobby. I was so relieved. At sixteen he was almost a man, now.

            “Bobby, what are you doing here?” I whispered. He came over and sat on my bed.

            “I couldn’t sleep. I remember how you used to come sleep with me when there were thunderstorms.”

            “I was a little girl then. I know thunder can’t hurt me now.”

            “Little Sis is growing up,” he smiled as he said it. I could tell because the lightning briefly illuminated his face. “Can I hold you for old time’s sake?” He pushed back the light sheet I had over me and stretched out next to me. He wrapped his arms around me like he used to, but we were closer to the same size, so it didn’t work like it once did. He was shirtless, wearing only his pajama bottoms, and it felt weird for him to be holding me like this. But I let him. For old time’s sake.

            When he laid down beside me, a part of my nightshirt caught under him, causing it to pull taut against my chest. The lace decorations rubbed roughly across my newly budding breasts, causing me a quick intake of breath. Each breath caused it to rub again, and I found I was breathing shallowly to avoid it. I could feel Bobby’s breath on my neck, hot and uncomfortable in the humid room. I shrugged trying to create a little distance, but Bobby wouldn’t let go.

            “Bobby, let go. I’m hot,” I complained. He relented a little. The movement caused his hand to brush across my breast.

            “Oh. Little Sister’s nipples are hard. You excited about having a man in your bed?”

            “Don’t be stupid.” Luckily, the dark kept him from seeing how deeply I flushed.

            “I don’t know. Seems kinda definite to me.” Then to my horror he began stroking my breasts. Involuntarily, the nipples became even harder. “Seems like somebody likes this.”

            “Stop it. Stop it, now, Bobby. Stop it or I’m telling.” A renewed flash of lightning illuminated an iciness I had never seen in his eyes before. He slapped my face, then grabbed both my wrists and whispered directly into my ear. “You ever say anything about this, and I will hurt you. I will hurt you so bad you will never forget.” He removed one hand from my wrist and began brazenly fondling my small breasts.

            “Don’t,” I whimpered. He stopped, then he placed his hand on my neck and began squeezing. I couldn’t breathe. I could see his still silhouette, dark against flickering light from distant lightning, his face in shadow. I tried to pull his hand away with my free hand. Then I began hitting him in the side with my fist. Nothing moved him. I began seeing sparkling lights around the edge of my vision. Suddenly he released me. I gasped as much needed oxygen returned to all my systems. I wanted to get away from him, but he still had me trapped. I feared what he might do to me.

            “Don’t fuck with me,” he hissed. “I can make you suffer.” He returned to fondling my breasts. “I can hurt you in ways you never imagined. Just like that fucking cat. Why not lay back and enjoy it?” While my anatomy had little choice but to send sensations of ecstasy, my brain interpreted them with disgust as my brother assaulted me. Tears slid from my eyes as I cried as silently as I could. He slid his arm under me to encircle my neck, reminding me he could strangle me if he so chose. His other hand slipped under my cotton shirt and then slid down inside the front of my panties. I had only been having my periods for a few months. I silently wished I was having one now. He deserved to get a bloody hand. I clamped my eyes shut as he tried to slide his finger into my opening. I was dry and it hurt. At the same time, I could feel him pressing his groin into my backside, the lump in his pajama bottoms noticeable. He humped me like this for a few minutes then stiffened with a groan. We lay still for a moment. Then his arm around my neck began to close. I had both hands free and reached up pulling at it. Once he felt he had made his point, he eased the pressure.

            “Remember what I said.” Then he crept out of my room. I felt so dirty I wanted to get in the shower right then, but how would I explain that in the middle of the night? I balled myself up in my sheet, buried my head in my pillow and sobbed until I fell into an exhausted sleep.


            Even my self-absorbed mother noticed my pale complexion and dark smudged eyes the next morning.

            “Goodness, I hope you’re not coming down with something,” she said as if every childhood illness I had was done for the express purposes of inconveniencing her. Bobby glared at me with a warning in his eyes.

            “I’m fine,” I mumbled.

            “You’ve always been so sickly,” Mama said. What the hell? I’m hardly ever sick. “Sunshine, here’s never been sick a day in his life.” Mama ran her hand over Bobby’s hair. ‘Sunshine’ beamed at her. I wished them both dead.

            Bobby didn’t return that night, but I couldn’t have stopped him. My door had no lock. I considered pushing my dresser in front of it, but it was too heavy to move.

But Bobby was not done with me yet. Not by a long shot. Every few nights, I guess when the teen-age urge got too much to bear; he came to my room. I just closed my eyes and tried to be elsewhere in my brain. That didn’t last as Bobby wanted more participation from me. I just dully looked at him the first time he said that.

            “I’m going to stick it in your butt, your pussy, or your mouth. You decide.” My first thought was the butt, so I wouldn’t have to look at him, but I considered how painful that must be. I refused to play his game, so he decided on my mouth. That didn’t satisfy him, though so he would jerk himself and then finish in my mouth.

            By this time, anyone paying attention would have noticed that my life was falling apart. I ate almost nothing, I rarely bathed, never washed my hair, spoke to no one. I had no interest in taking care of myself. I just wanted to be dead but was too afraid to do even that. Mama decided I had anorexia and lectured me nearly daily. She also said if I didn’t take better care of myself, she would come into the bathroom and scrub me herself. Like that would ever happen.

            My few friends left at school knew something was wrong but didn’t know how to reach me. I withdrew and shut everyone out. One of them one day texted me a magazine article about ‘Girlpower’. It was all about stepping up, defending yourself, being your own person. All the things I used to be. It brought tears to realize how far I had fallen. It also caused me to take stock. Bobby would be at home at least two more years so I could expect the abuse to go on that long. I knew there was no way I could live like that. Something had to change. The easiest way was to kill myself or failing that, him. But how?


Looking back, I’m surprised how long it took me to realize that there was another path out. It was brazen, Machiavellian and very much the old Joni. It was dangerous, but I had to go for it. The next time Bobby came to my room, I chickened out. He had me conditioned to submit to him. I realized it would be harder than I thought. Not knowing his schedule made it more difficult to psych myself up. Two days after my last attack, I noticed Bobby fondling his testicles in the living room when he thought no one was watching. It aroused him. I knew I could count on a visit that night.

            Late, after everyone else was asleep, he slipped into my room. There was a half moon, making everything in my room seem silver. I could make out Bobby’s figure with the silvered permanent sneer marring his face. He knelt on my bed, pushed his pajamas down to his knees, and straddled me. I gathered up my courage and said I was tired of the same old thing. Why not try putting it in my pussy? Even in the dim light, I could see his eyebrows go up in surprise. He quickly shifted his knees and laid down over me, fumbling under my shirt to strip away my panties. I had to work quickly. As soon as he sprawled on me, I wrapped my legs around him, locking us tightly together. I threw both arms around his neck and pressed as hard against him as I could. Then I was ready. I screamed with every fiber of my being. I screamed as if the very devil were after me, which in a sense he was. I screamed loud and long. I continued screaming until I heard the thumping from my parents’ bedroom. Bobby was fighting, trying to get free but could not break my hold. As my bedroom door burst open and a second before the light came on, I released him and began beating at him. My scream changed to “Get off! Get off me!”

            “What the hell!” Daddy roared as the light flickered on. The tableau he saw was me trying to cover myself and Bobby crouched over me, pajamas down, cock erect and a guilty look on his face. Daddy was on Bobby in a second, grabbing him by the neck and actually throwing him across the room. Mama rushed to me, pulling up the sheet to cover me and shielding me in her arms.

            “In your room!” Daddy yelled at Bobby, who scurried out like the vermin he was.

            “Oh, poor baby,” Mama crooned. Maybe she had finally found her calling.

            “Did he hurt you, I mean, did he do anything to you?” Daddy asked. I made my eyes wide and round, looking fearful. I shook my head.

            “He said he’d hurt me if I said anything,” I whispered, just loud enough for them both to hear.

            “Oh, baby,” Mama cuddled me again. Daddy stormed out. In the light from my overhead fixture, I saw him turn left to their bedroom. He came back a moment later carrying his big leather belt. He entered Bobby’s room, across the hall from mine. Bobby would get a thrashing. Good.

            “It wasn’t like that, Daddy,” Bobby whimpered. “She wanted it.” The smack of skin on skin sounded loud even across the hall. Daddy had given Bobby a good slap to the face.

            “I don’t want to hear another filthy word out of your mouth! Pull those pajamas down. You seem to know how to do that well enough.”

            Mama held me tight, but she cringed with each smack of the leather across Bobby’s backside. Various cries and shrieks from Bobby accompanied each blow. It was all music to my ears. He got fifteen licks. Nowhere near enough, in my opinion. Daddy stopped at Bobby’s door as Bobby lay on his bed sobbing.

            “Don’t come out of this room until I come for you.” With that he slammed the door with all the finality of a jail cell.

            “Are you really okay, kitten?” Daddy said, sitting on my bed, morphing from avenging father to tender father in an instant. I said that I was but let them know about Bobby’s bullying at school, his implication in the disappearance of Mr. Whiskers, and all the times he had bullied or talked me into taking the blame for things broken or gone wrong. I may have added a few that were my fault, but I was building a case here. I also poured out a flood of tears, but these were real. I found that once they started, I couldn’t get them to stop.

            “My God! My poor child. I had no idea. How did you let this go on?” he angrily asked my mother. She was quick to take the bait, and they readied for another battle.

            “Please don’t fight. Not tonight. I’m scared. I’m afraid of what he’ll do to me.”  I managed to say this between whimpers as my bout of crying died out. They both looked ashamed for a moment.

            “Don’t you worry, baby. He won’t ever hurt you again.” Daddy promised. Wow. Maybe military school? Daddy went down the hall to the pantry. When he came back, he had a length of cord in his hands. He wrapped one end around the doorknob to Bobby’s room and secured it. Then he tied the other end to the door to the bathroom beside my room.

            “You’ll have to use our bathroom if you need one tonight, but at least we know that little creep can’t get to you. You’re safe now. Tomorrow we’ll figure out a permanent solution. Do you think you can sleep?” I nodded, dashing tears from my face.

            “I think I’ll sleep here for a while,” Mama said. “I’ll just feel better knowing my baby is safe.” Wow, Mama was in the running for Mama of the Year. She and I dozed for about an hour, then she got up and went to join Daddy. I laid there for a minute. One more thing I wanted to do. I got up and crept across the hall to Bobby’s room. I scratched softly at his door.

            “What?” came his ragged, tear-stained voice.

            “Bobby, it’s me,” I said with sympathy in my voice. “Does it hurt so awfully bad?”

            “Y-yes,” accompanied by a sniffle.

            “Good!” And I slipped back into my room.

The Visitors

I’ve decided to retire a few of my stories and figured this place would be a good rest home for them. I wrote The Visitors on April 9 in 2019. I think of it as a kind of Twilight Zone story. Imagine Rod Serling in his suit and skinny black tie, lit cigarette in hand saying “Submitted for your approval; a small world going about its business. They are about to face the unknown. Strange people from another planet. Are they friends or are they foes. Or maybe a little of both. Little do they know they have just crossed over to… The Twilight Zone.”

The Visitors

            The Visitors arrived nearly a year ago. It seems longer. It’s amazing how quickly the astounding becomes the commonplace. We just take it in stride and keep on going. Astounded hardly encompasses the world’s reaction to the knowledge that other sentient beings inhabit our universe. We were all taken by surprise. Contrary to the conspiracy nuts, the government had no prior knowledge of aliens nor were we keeping extraterrestrial bodies in cold storage in some secret government bunker. From the clearance I have in my job with the Global Security Department I know these things.

            As you are surely aware, we have been watching the sky for ages looking for signs of other life. Since the modern era, we have used radio telescopes and electronic imaging to test for evidence in the night sky. Ironically, we did not detect the Visitors until they were nearly upon us. Their ship’s small size, low reflectivity, and we suspect, stealth technology, rendered them invisible to our instruments. Once our astronomers detected them, it was clear they were headed toward us and only a few weeks out.

            There was general hope that the news might encourage holdouts to join the world body. We have been marching steadily since the advent of the technological age toward one world government. It is only common sense considering the global marketplace controlled by trans-national corporations. Nationalism had become old-fashioned, even quaint. All the democratic republics and constitutional monarchies, basically the western hemisphere, quickly merged. The totalitarian regimes, whether philosophical or religious, refused to cede their limited power. By the time we detected the Visitors, some 80% of the world’s population were allied with the World Union. We kept the olive branch extended to the holdouts. As you well know, they were intransigent. The world was quickly leaving them behind, but they refused to budge. There was hope that the knowledge that there were aliens, possibly hostile, might move them to join in the common defense. Sadly, it did not.

This was the major concern. Were the newcomers hostile? As we huddled around our TV sets, computer screens, tablets or phones, that was the great fear instilled in our hearts. What were their intentions? Our world was in sorry shape, but it was ours. It was home. Yes, we’ve polluted the oceans, clean water is becoming more and more rare, deserts are encroaching. We’ve multiplied like vermin, never stopping to consider can we sustain this growth, this lifestyle? Everything has a tipping point. Have we passed ours? I think more were coming to think the consensus was, yes.

            We had hoped that with the economic might of the new World Union things might change. Poverty, hunger, homelessness would be eradicated. Maybe space flight to find elsewhere raw materials that were disappearing here. But the structure makes the government unwieldy and infighting is rampant. Politicians are more concerned with maintaining their power, than aiding the world. Now this new potential threat had them talking to each other, consolidating, using the word “we” a lot more.


            A few days out, we began receiving radio signals from the craft. We put our best people on it, but it remained unintelligible. It repeated; the same message over and over. There was general hope that the message was “We come in peace” and general fear it was “Throw down your weapons and keep your hands where we can see them”. Commerce slowed to a standstill, the markets plummeted, and the world waited. Troops were called up and all our military capabilities were primed but were we really any match for a civilization that could send ships across the galaxy? 

            The Visitor craft took up an orbit farther out than one might expect. Our strategists quickly surmised that this was to place them outside the range of our most advanced missiles. Neither a hostile nor peaceful move. Simply prudent.

            Our cryptologists had not been sitting around wringing their hands. They had streamed linguistic information to the Visitors. They hoped that between their linguists, ours, and the common language of mathematics, a dialogue could quickly be opened.

            Our space-based telescopes were all trained upon them, scanning them in every way devisable–visible spectrum, x-ray, infrared, ultra-frequency, even with newly discovered gravitational waves. It revealed not much. The craft was outwardly inelegant, at best. But I guess that really isn’t a concern in interstellar space. It was the general size of an ostentatious house. You know, the kind to prove to the neighbors you aren’t struggling like everyone else.

            Then our astronomers received a message that we could understand. It said, “Meet us” and listed geographic and time coordinates. It turned out these were the coordinates of the newly established world capital. And the time was high noon. The Visitors had apparently learned enough about us to know we were politically aligned and that our Union spoke for most of the world.


            My position did not get me a place on the dais at the first encounter with an alien species, but I had a closed-circuit feed that was more than what the networks could air. The crush near the capital building was incredible as the meeting time approached. I imagine every video device in the civilized world was tuned to this historic moment. The astronomers reported that a small craft had detached from the original ship. No larger than our largest automobile, it was dropping toward the meeting coordinates. Our monitoring stations reported that the module was circumnavigating the globe, perhaps to allow the heat of entry to the atmosphere to subside. Suddenly people started pointing to the east. All the cameras swiveled to that direction. Telephoto lenses could just make out a white dot approaching. More detail became visible as it neared. We could detect small wings, probably more for stability than lift. It glided with very little sound directly over the cheering crowd and came to a standstill hovering over the landing coordinates. Then it gently lowered. Standing on legs instead of wheels, it looked for all the world like a commuter plane, just with smaller wings and lower to the ground. A doorway on the side popped open and a small set of steps automatically folded out. A hush fell over the crowd. The momentous occasion was upon us. First contact.

            As the world held its collective breath, a figure emerged from the dark interior of the craft. It was tall, much taller than us and more slender. However, it was vaguely humanoid. It had two lower limbs for locomotion and two upper limbs for manipulation. The round protrusion on top was the approximation of a grotesquely deformed head. It dressed all in silver, but the ‘head’ was bare. It was ugly. No doubt about that. Beyond just alien, it was incredibly ugly. Also, quite hairy. Its skin appeared to be rubbery, almost like a mask. What appeared to be eyes were too close together and with oddly shaped pupils. What I assumed were ears were too large and set at an awkward angle. It had some sort of metal register in front of its lower face. I found this was a device that amplified its voice and translated its words to our language. Our President bravely strode across the space separating them. The lights flickered as hundreds of cameras recorded the historic moment. When they met, you could tell that the visitor was a full head taller than the President, and we considered the President tall. The President hesitated, not exactly sure of the protocol. The Visitor looked at him and raised its right forelimb, hand extended. I could see it had an extra digit. The President smiled and grasped the hand. The cheering was deafening.


The following day’s newspaper headlines summed it up. “It’s official: They come in peace!” crowed the Chronicle. “We are peaceful, says Spaceman,” reported the Monitor.  I, along with everyone else in the world, breathed a sigh of relief. Not only that, but what wonders might they show us? Cures for stubborn diseases? How to bring back drought-stricken lands? Cheap, clean energy? The speculation of hoped for wonders was endless. Had we survived our long childhood and were now about to take our place among the interstellar community? What wonders await?

            I pulled every string I could to get myself into meetings and on panels working with the Visitors. Not only was I curious, but it definitely would boost my career prospects. That is how I became privy to information that many will never know.

            They told what their name for their race was, but it was unpronounceable to our mouths. We had no writing system that stood for the unusual sounds. It loosely translated to “people of the world” We continued to call them the Visitors.

It also turned out the Visitors were new to spacefaring, only having recently developed a hyperlight drive. Their leader was cagey about how it worked and was unwilling to give our engineers access to his ship. He glibly advised that they could provide us some scientific help but did not want to disrupt our development by dumping technology we were not prepared for into the marketplace. They said their home was far out in the Sagittarian Arm of the Milky Way galaxy. There were ten of them and they were en route to explore a world near Epsilon Eridanus when a previously undetected black hole had slung their ship off course. They detected our radio waves and came to explore our solar system. There was some damage to their ship, and they asked our help. Our President offered the world’s resources. Undoubtedly, this would open up many avenues for new technologies.


The Visitors intrigued our ethnologists and biologists. There were apparently two genders like us, they reproduced sexually and brought forth their young live. They seemed like us in many ways. But there were also the differences. Something about them was incredibly repulsive, almost like an innate dread of their appearance. It surprised me to find such xenophobic bigotry within myself, but soon found many of my friends felt similarly. They were just so, well, alien.


Their leader made his first appearance alone. However, when the President wanted to honor them with a state dinner, eight came. Their leader said someone always had to be monitoring the ship. Also, the leader sent down ahead of time food for him and his compatriots. He said our food was unpalatable to his kind. The President’s chef was crushed. He was hoping for world headlines and appearances as the chef who served dinner to the Visitors.

            Their leader toured around a bit, making appearances, speaking of a new age of cooperation between our people. He assigned his subordinates to selected factories to retool them to coordinate the repairs on the alien ship. No one factory got all the business. It was spread out so that the technology could not be held secret. The Visitors said this was their gift to the planet.


            It seemed to go so well. First Contact had been made and we would all be great friends. At least that is how it appeared. Although I am bound by confidentiality rules to never disclose my part, I like to feel that I had some hand in saving us from certain invasion.

            I have a lifelong friend who must remain nameless whose teenage son is extremely adept with technology and doesn’t mind operating on the shady side of the law. He boasted to me his son had hacked into the old Department of Defense back before the World Union. And he covered his tracks, so they never knew. He couldn’t prove it, but I had no real reason to doubt him. I had yet to see a system his kid couldn’t break in to. He wanted his son to tell me of a discovery he had made. He had hacked into one of our space-based telescopes near the Visitors’ ship so he could look at it. Simple curiosity. He discovered what he considered a major flaw in the Visitors’ security. Their ship-wide intelligence network was not shielded. He could detect the radio waves much like our internet. I scoffed that he could link into an alien system when my two brands of office computers can’t even talk to each other. He said it was simple engineering. Physicists like to proclaim that we cannot know if the basic laws of mechanics are the same everywhere in the universe. But he said hackers know that there are only so many ways of packing information and sending it electronically. The simplest, most elegant design is a binary system.


            When he brought his son in to see me, I could see something had upset him. The kid’s wide eyes and rapid breathing made me realize he was scared. He told me he had uncovered frightful information. He said I should probably take it to the President. I asked him to walk me through what he had found. He said that hacking into the Visitors’ system wasn’t very hard for someone as adept at him. But the initial flaw he discovered wasn’t exactly a flaw. Once into the system, he found all the important files and documents were encrypted. Even he had failed at breaking the alien encryption. Technology, logs, mission notes, everything was off limits. Except the library. We assumed the library was not encrypted to allow crewmen to easily browse the collection. Using a translation app which had been leaked onto the internet, he translated some titles and downloaded a few books.

One was a general history of the Visitors. He showed me the translation, and I was appalled. The Visitors were at best vicious marauders, nearly like locusts that pick an area clean and move on. Every civilization they have encountered they have enslaved, robbed and subjected to genocide. They had nearly destroyed their home world and were now searching for new ones to rape. That was likely to be the fate of any unfortunate world around Epsilon Eridanus. And now they had found us. I used every bit of capital I had to call a special meeting of the President and military chiefs that night.


            The President and his men were aghast at our claims, saying there was no way the Visitors were lying to us as we were saying. Why should they believe some teenage criminal? They said he could have easily created fake documents to deceive them into believing the Visitors were working against us. In the end, due to my insistence the President arranged for several of his most adept technology people to sit with the boy. He opened up his computer, hacked into the space telescope platform, and then intercepted the Visitors’ intranet. He browsed into the library and downloaded several documents. Even a few pages of the most innocuous seeming book immediately illuminated the Visitors’ credo of taking what they wanted by force. The President and his chiefs were all there to witness this. It was a somber group that reconvened in the Situation Room in the early hours of the morning.


            Many hours later, they were agreed. It seemed the Visitors had been thrown off course and their home world was unaware of our location. Their mechanism for sending a message to their home world would not work this close to our planet and in this area of space. It was imperative that they not leave or find any way to contact their home. The fate of the world was at stake. One of the President’s tech advisors asked for a private moment. They huddled and eventually seemed to decide. The President cleared the room of everyone except the four top military generals, his technology advisor and me. I could remain because I had brought the Visitors’ perfidy to light. My friend and his son had to leave.

            The President outlined an audacious plan that if discovered could be disastrous, but no more disastrous than the Visitors revealing our location to their home.


            Several weeks later, the repairs were finished, and the Visitors said their time with us was at an end. The President ordered a big farewell banquet in the capital city. Once again eight of the Visitors attended. They made speeches, toasts were returned, and the camaraderie seemed genuine.

            After the final speech, the President joined the Visitors and prepared to walk them out to their landing module. Suddenly a shot was fired. The secret service men swarmed the President and ushered him and the Visitors quickly into a protected area. The protected area was filled with soldiers who quickly mobbed the Visitors and got them into shackles. The leader seemed to recover his wits quickly and tapped the communication device on his lapel.

            “Blake, it’s a trap. Get the ship out of orbit. Now! Come in. Come in.”

            “I’m sorry, captain,” the President said. “Your ship is no longer available. We have discovered what you are and cannot let your people destroy us as you have countless others. The parts we repaired for you, several contained explosives. We detonated them at the same time we arrested you. I regret the loss of your two crewmen, but the rest of you may remain as our guests. Perhaps we can find ways to work to our mutual benefit.”

            “You lying, lizard-faced son of a bitch,” the leader growled.

            Our President clicked his foreclaws at such an insult. “Perhaps, but I have saved Darzha from the plundering and pillaging that the history of your Earth is rife with. Hopefully, our history will remember me kindly for that.”

The Fourth Reich

This story is a basic take off on Star Trek. I’m a trekkie from way back. I loved the original, hated The Next Generation, didn’t care for the one with Kate Mulgrew, liked Enterprise and never saw many of the other spin offs. Most of the movies were awful. I like the new crop with Chris Pine, et al. Although I share the dismay of many that they have destroyed the canon with the disruption of the time line.

This story was picked up by Scarlet Leaf Review and ran on March 10, 2020.

The Flight of the Arrogant

            “Incoming gravitational pulse, Captain!”

Almost as soon as Science Officer Karen Jordan got these words out, the ship jolted with a mighty shudder.

            “Sorry, sir. It was traveling near light speed. The signal reached us only seconds before the surge.”

            Suddenly the red beacon on the wall began flashing and a loud klaxon signaled the ship’s computer had initiated a red alert.

            “Computer. What’s going on?” Captain Mundy shouted to be heard over the alarm.

            “The gravitational pulse indicates a black hole in the local star system. Its attraction may overcome ship’s thrust. Event horizon imminent,” said the dispassionate voice.

            “Captain, our engines are struggling to get free of the pulse,” Helmsman Anderson reported.

            “Divert more power to the engine.”

            “I’m giving her all I’ve got, sir.”

            Captain Mundy hit the comm button on the arm of his captain’s chair.

            “Jones. I need more power. Divert it from everything but life support if you need to.”

            “Diverting,” Jones called back. “I’m sending you all I’ve got. I’ve cut off everything but the kitchen sink.”

            “Well, cut that off too if you need to. I need all the power we’ve got sent to my engines.”

            “Still sluggish, Captain,” Anderson said.

            “Set a course along the line of the gravitational pull and see if you can peel away. And Karen, see if you can turn off that damn bell,” the captain ordered. The shrill alarm ceased.

            “How did we stumble in this hole anyway?” the captain groused.

            “It’s not on our charts, sir. Remember we are charting new territory. We’re farther out in the Sagittarian Arm than any ship has been. Our sensors had swept this area. The computer should have notified us that space was warped in this area.”

            “Well, log it and report it back to Earth Command. And find out what’s wrong with that computer. I don’t want any more surprises.”

            “Aye, sir.”

            “We don’t seem to be able to pull away, sir,” Anderson told him, his voice a mix of frustration and growing alarm.

            “Are you giving it everything? Hyperdrive and impulse?”

            “Everything, sir.”

            “Can we polarize the tractor beam and push away from the center of mass?” the captain asked.

            “That’s just the problem, sir,” Jordan said. “It’s really like a hole. It feeds on anything we send its way. There’s nothing to push against.”

            “Sir, there’s a small planetoid ahead. It’s in a higher orbital plane. Our thrust plus the tractor beam may enable us to pull ourselves out.”

            “Do it,” Mundy said, wiping his brow and pushing his blond hair back up on his head. Longer than regulation but in space, who cares?

            He watched while Anderson flipped switches and dials expertly at his consol. He’s just a kid, Mundy thought. David Anderson had zoomed through the Academy and now at 21 was on his first space mission.

            “Put it on visual, Karen.”

            On the large viewscreen they could see an irregularly shaped rock, a couple of miles long and maybe a third as wide. It was slowly pinwheeling like a thrown bowling pin. A fat bowling pin. They could hear the hum as the tractor beam locked onto its target and began pulling. The rock appeared to grow in size, indicating they were getting closer. Anderson’s plan was working.

            “Captain, our engines can’t sustain this much strain. If we don’t cut back soon they may blow. Then we won’t have any power.” Jones was shouting on his comm over the alarm that had begun clanging in the engine room.

            “And if we don’t keep it up, we’ll be having our dinner at the center of a black hole. Keep it coming, Jonesie.” Mundy could visualize Jonesie in the engine room – overalls, stained tee shirt, graying hair sticking up in all directions. In his estimation the best damn engineer in the fleet.

            With an electrical crackle, a spark flew out of one of the dials on Anderson’s consol. He jumped back to avoid being shocked.

            “Captain, we just lost engine two. We’re starting to lose altitude.”

            “See if we can lock onto the rock with our talons. That should give us some room to catch our breath.” Anderson folded his six-foot two frame back into the helmsman’s seat.

            As they were near enough to the asteroid the ship shot out several grappling hooks. They reeled the ship in and drove pitons into the rock to secure the ship. The asteroid continued pinwheeling on with the ship along for the ride.

            “Jonesie. How long until the engine is back online?”

            “I dunno, Captain. Maybe never.”

            “Not acceptable. Get my engine running. That’s an order.” 

            “Will do, Captain.”

If anyone could fix a broken engine in space, it was Jonesie, he thought.

            “Suggestions, gentlemen?” Captain Mundy said, looking around the bridge.

            “Sir, once we get engine two back online we can wait until the planetoid is between us and the black hole. We could polarize the tractor beam as you suggested and push ourselves toward a higher orbital plane. Once there we could look for other masses to pull or push against. We might be able to crawl out by stages that way.”

            “Mister Anderson, remind me to give you a raise,” the captain smiled. He clicked his comm button again. “Jones, I need that engine.”

            “Working on it, Captain.”


Captain’s Log

United Earth Ship Arrogant

Captain Robert Mundy

Earth Date April 20, 2316

16:28 GMT

Our exploratory and mapping mission into the Sagittarian Arm of the galaxy has been interrupted by discovery of a black hole. We were pulled into its gravity well and are working on plans to get out. Engine two is temporarily out. No casualties or injuries in the 20 ship personnel. Captain out.


            “Karen, get this and my last five log entries encrypted and sent to Earth Command.”

            “Aye, Captain. It may take some time. I can’t send it via any media except subspace. Nothing else can overcome the gravity well.”

            “How does subspace do it? Maybe we can use that technology to our advantage.”

            “Not unless we can make ourselves microscopic. Subspace uses quantum entanglement to overcome the issues with gravity, speed of light and distance. That only works on the subatomic level. However, if we don’t get out of this black hole’s grasp, we will soon be the size of those subatomic particles.”

            “Explain,” the captain asked. His forte was military, not science and he had no problem deferring to Karen Jordan’s obviously immense intelligence and vast store of knowledge.

            “Yes, sir. As we get closer to the center of mass our bodies will be subjected to greater and greater gravitational pressure. The ship’s force field will protect us for a while. That won’t last long as the force increases. It will give away and we will be crushed. Then the ship will collapse like an old-style aluminum can. Our mass will remain the same, but our volume will continue decreasing as we fall into the hole. But the radiation may kill us first.”

            “What happens when we hit bottom?”

            “No one knows. There may be hundreds of star systems already in the hole. The pressure will be so great that eventually the atoms will collapse. When the electrons connect with their nuclei there will likely be a tremendous release of energy, but our equations fail us. Einstein theorized an Einstein-Rosen Bridge, what some people call a wormhole.”

            “Time travel, Karen? Surely you don’t believe in that.”

            “If Einstein believed it, it’s good enough for me. He said it would open a portal to another place and time, possibly another universe. Unfortunately, we won’t be alive to see it.”

            “Unfortunately,” Mundy echoed.

            “Our complement of scientists is having a field day with this. No one has ever been able to study a black hole this closely before.”

            “I wonder why,” Mundy said sourly.

            “They understand that we are in trouble, but you know how scientists are. They are feeding the computers data as fast as they can to be encrypted for shipping back to colleagues on Earth. Gloria was just telling me about the anomalies she has spotted just outside the event horizon.”

            “What kind of anomalies?”

            “We don’t know. Wrinkles or tears in the space/time continuum.”

            “Space/time continuum? I think you just exceeded my pay grade, Lieutenant. Carry on.”

He watched as she headed back to the labs to ride herd on his “resident eggheads” as he called the ten scientists on the mission. As her superior officer he maintained a friendly distance. As a man he admired how she filled her uniform and undulated as she walked, her short blond hair bouncing gaily. She’s twenty-five and I’m twenty-nine, he thought. She’s beautiful and I’m somewhat handsome (he knew some of the female scientists had their eye on him. One of the male ones also, according to his First Officer). Any other place and time, he mused. If only we could drop into that wormhole. He smiled ruefully as Major Donovan approached.  

“Smiling at your science officer’s ass, Captain? Hardly regulation, but I have to agree with you.” Ben Donovan was a rugged man of thirty-five, decorated and proven on many occasions. He had earned distinction in battle but then was reassigned to a desk. War horses weren’t needed in peace time. He had requested to come along on this mission as security. He said his other option was to put a laser pistol to his head out of boredom.

“What’s up, Major Donovan?” Mundy asked. As a military man himself, he trusted Donovan as much as anyone on his bridge team.

“A minute of your time, if I may.” Although Donovan technically outranked Mundy, as he was Marine to Mundy’s Navy, he always deferred to Mundy as the commanding officer of the ship.


“I want to know if our situation is as dire as it sounds. Some of the eggheads are getting a bit skittish. I need to know if me and Jorgenson are going to have a riot on our hands.”

Donovan and Lieutenant Kevin Jorgenson, the other marine, had been attached as their “security team”, although he wasn’t sure how much security a couple of jarheads could provide. But who knew what they were likely to encounter, and a few hired guns might come in handy.

“We have a plan, such as it is. If it doesn’t work, well, yeah, we’re in dire shape. Jordan doesn’t think our scientist friends will cause much trouble. They’re having fun with their toys and the black hole right now. If worse comes to worst, we can lock’em down.”

“I wanted to make sure I have authorization to keep order.”

“Just use non-lethal force, and only as necessary. I’d hate to get out of this at the last second and have to explain dead scientists to Earth Command. My ship, my responsibility.”


“Captain, I’ve got engine two running again. It’s jury rigged but it should hold unlessen you try to get it to do more than a ship this size is supposed to do. These are small engines, Captain. Not what you’re used to in the Navy. Fortunately, the failsafe knocked if offline before it had a chance to go kapow.” Jones’ voice sounded weary.

            “Mister Anderson. Do we have a target?” the captain asked.

            “Yes, sir. We do. Another large asteroid. Fortunately, we are passing directly under it while our little rock is between us and the center of mass of the black hole. On your mark, Captain.”

            “Mister Jordan, let me know when we are in optimum position,” he ordered, using official Navy terminology for the lieutenant.

            “Aye, Captain. Position coming up. In three, two, one. Now.”

            “Engage,” the captain ordered. Since the ship’s artificial gravity remained constant and overrode all external stimuli, the only indication that they were moving was a faint rumbling from within the ship.

            “Thrust at maximum, Captain. Tractor polarized repulsion also at maximum. We seem to be gaining ground,” reported Anderson.

            “Alright, Davie,” Mundy had come to stand by Anderson’s chair, bent over, his head close to the second lieutenant. “At the halfway point we flip the tractor and switch polarization at the same time, locking onto the new asteroid. No second chances.” Everyone sat quietly as the seconds elapsed.

            “Now, Davie!” Mundy was amazed at how quickly the young man’s hands flew over his console.

            “Target acquired, and … traction.”

            “Captain, I’m warning you. The engines ain’t liking this one bit,” Jones called almost immediately.

            “I’m not asking them to like it. Just do their jobs. Give me fifteen more seconds.”

            “We got maybe 20. No more.”

            “Come on, Davie. Pull!”

            “Grappling hooks away,” Anderson said. “And contact. Cut engines.”

            “Reel us in and lock it down. Well, done, Mr. Anderson.” He patted the young man’s shoulder. Anderson sat back, apparently pleased with himself.


            The bridge door opened and First Officer Commander Jennifer Newly strode in. Her black hair was pulled into a tight bun and everything about her looked fresh and pressed. She had served nearly five years with Mundy. She repeatedly made sure to be assigned as his second. She knew he had the makings of a great captain and wanted to learn from him. And she had decided he wasn’t that hard to look at, either. She felt that, together, they made a formidable team. Mundy was inclined to agree.

            “Reporting for shift, Captain. You may be relieved if you wish.”

            “Good to see you, Jen. Take the con. Mister Anderson, brief the commander. Lieutenant Jordan, with me. We have a scientist to go see.” He and Jordan left the bridge, with Jordan wondering what this was about.


Despite its name, UES Arrogant was not a large ship. An inelegantly shaped floating box, it was fifty meters long, ten wide and twenty deep. It resembled two old style mobile home units, one stacked atop the other. It was divided into a small bridge, science labs, five closet sized cubicles for the scientists who had to double up, and six for the crew. Only Mundy had a private room. Or private closet as he called it. There was also a small workout area crew were required and scientists were “recommended” to use to maintain their muscle mass while in space. Finally, a dining area/meeting room that would accommodate all twenty of them, with a little crowding. The scientists worked in shifts, five sleeping while five had the labs. Similarly, Captain Mundy and Commander Newly traded off, as did engineer Commander Casey Jones and his assistant Lieutenant Digger Emory. The other four crew, Jordan, Anderson, Jimmy Cain and Dr. N’duru also rotated as needed.


            It took nearly two days to find another large body to use. At least they assumed it was two days. None of the chronometers worked in the event horizon vortex. They could determine very little except that there was a violent maelstrom of matter and energy surrounding the ship.

            They attempted the maneuver just as before. However, shortly after starting, Karen shouted “Gravitational wave!” Everyone grabbed onto whatever they could as the wave slammed into the ship. It sent them tumbling along the orbital path. Fortunately, the shielding was strong enough to keep them from being crushed as they bounced around the orbital zone like the ball in an ancient pinball machine. By the time they had established a modicum of control over their ship Anderson shouted, “Holy moly, we’re headed straight into the hole!”

            “Pull out, pull out!” Captain Mundy ordered, keeping the panic he felt from his voice.

Because of Anderson’s quick thinking and sharp reflexes, they managed to pull the ship up and it shot across the surface of the waves of hot gases like a stone skimming across a lake. They had lost a significant amount of altitude, although they had no way of measuring how much. They could hear the groans and growling of the ship hull as the force field tried to shield them from the crushing gravity this deep in the black hole. They had swung around the hole like a rock in a sling around a hunter’s raised hand.

            “Captain, I can’t get an accurate gauge,” said Anderson. “But it would appear we’ve been slung into a superfast eddy. We’re spinning around the hole like crazy. Maybe as much as 0.9 light speed. This ship isn’t built for such speed. If it weren’t for the force field and gravitational pressure we’d have already spun apart.”

            “So, if we hit light speed maybe we’ll start going back in time and can avoid this mess?” Captain Mundy joked.

            “I wish. Even our school kids don’t believe that anymore,” Commander Newly said. Considering the predicament they were in, she had taken to remaining on the bridge during her down time. “There’s no going back in time.”

            “Except maybe through a black hole,” said Lieutenant Jordan winsomely.

            “That’s pretty much that, then,” said Mundy. “We’ve got no more aces up our sleeves. Karen, can we get a last dispatch off to Earth Command?”

            “Negative, Captain. We’re so deep in the hole even the quantum realm is affected.”


            Over a few days they successfully attached themselves to several larger bodies caught in the same super-eddy and gained a little more distance from the black hole but were unable to move further. Their velocity made it impossible to grab large bodies outside the eddy. Lieutenant Jordan said it was just as well. The sudden jolt of the reduction in speed would probably tear the ship apart.

            The crew spent a week maneuvering the ship to the upper edges of the eddy only to have the gravity drag them back down. It required constant monitoring to keep them out of the black hole’s hungry maw.

            “I doubt we can do this much longer,” Mundy said, speaking to the entire crew and scientists. “The toll on the superstructure of the ship is too much. It will eventually give. I suppose we have a few more days, less than a week before the hull is breached. I imagine it will be a quick, but quite painful death. I will authorize desensitizing pills for all military personnel who want them, but I expect everyone to continue at their stations as usual. We will meet this like a disciplined team. N’duru, as medical officer, could you take over distributing suicide pills to the scientists who may want a quick exit?”

            “Sure thing, Captain.” She left the bridge to carry out her assignment.

            “I guess this is where I’m supposed to say it’s been an honor to serve with you,” Jordan said. “It sounds so trite, but actually it sums up how I feel. It has been an honor. Thank you, sir.” Mundy could hear the held back tears in her voice.

            “Same here, Karen. Chin up. Best damn science officer ever. I’ll put that in your permanent file,” he said with a grin. She gave him a tremulous smile.

            After Karen left the bridge to confer with the scientists Jennifer Newly came up to Mundy’s chair.

            “I just wanted to echo what Karen said. It truly has been an honor to serve with you. Five years now. We know each other so well. I can almost anticipate your orders before you give them. It’s just awful that it has to end this way. If there’s anything like an afterlife I guess I’ll see you on the other side, Rob.”

            “Yeah, feels like we’re an old married couple. See you too, Jen. If we both go the same way,” he said with a smile. Jennifer liked his smile. She thought it was one of his best features. He was attractive in so many ways, and she thought she could go for a guy like that, but she knew his interest was elsewhere. Oh, he may leer at Karen’s rear, but his real love, his true love was this ship. It claimed every minute of his day, every bit of his patience and every trace of his energy. But she liked rugged men like him and like Major Donovan. Now Donovan was a man she’d like a chance to get close with. He’d held the starring role in a few of her fantasies.


            For the rest of the day they all sat at their stations, pretending it was like any other day. All the scientists had rejected the suicide pills, saying they would run their experiments to the very last, hoping that someone might eventually pick up their data. Like the officers, most of them had no family back home. That was why they had chosen a multi-year mission into space. Anderson kept Mundy apprised of what the psi on the outer hull was, and how much it could withstand. He also reported that radiation inside the ship was reaching critical levels.

            They were near to breaking and another gravitational surge like the last two would flatten the ship. Their hearts barely had time to leap into their throats when Karen yelled, “Gravitational surge, but it’s coming from …”. That was all she managed to get out before the wave struck the fragile little craft.


Admiral’s Log

WAE ship Konigsberg

Reich-Admiral Zariah Als

15.13.578 Anno Imperium

The crew has become restless as we have been weeks without a prize. My research into ancient records indicate a ship was lost in this area over 900 years ago, back during the United Earth years. There is no record of another ship salvaging it so it should be somewhere in this star system. I’ll check the black hole first. A smart captain would have devised a way to park himself at the event horizon if he were captured by it. Perhaps that ship is circling there still, with near thousand-year-old corpses guarding their treasures. Admiral out


            The scuttlebutt is that we are looking for a ghost ship lost a thousand years ago, thought Bunde Christophe Verhoven. If I’m in a boarding party and come up against a skeleton, I hope I hold myself together better than poor Bujonjoe did. I had befriended him, although I’ve had to act in the past few weeks as if I never did. I feel like I deserted him. I’m most ashamed of that.

Such a sensitive soul as him should never have been in the military. He was not cut out for it. But his father forced the issue. His old man was a hard-core Nationalist. He swore his son would serve and advance or die honorably. Well, Buj did neither. He stuck his laser pistol in his mouth on wide dispersal and vaporized his head. When we found that freighter a couple months ago Buj had been on the boarding party. He stumbled and fell into a partially decomposed body. He screamed and scrambled back, spewing vomit all over himself. Even worse, he pissed himself. The men laughed at him. But they felt he had cracked under pressure and couldn’t be trusted. He was no longer part of the team. He started getting hazed pretty hard. I saw the bruises from the beatings he was getting. The dark circles under his eyes told me he wasn’t sleeping, or wasn’t being allowed to sleep. He avoided mess hall and hardly ate a thing. He confided in me the last time I saw him alive that the three guys who everyone knew were the worst of the sadistic bundesleiters had gang raped him, and the bruises on his body attested to the truth. He was frantic and didn’t know where to turn. It was even worse luck that he was serving with an old pirate like Als. And I don’t use the word pirate lightly. Als, with his one eye and broad girth is much like the lawless brigands that sailed the oceans of old Earth some two thousand years ago. But the Supreme Leader and the Empire turn a blind eye to his activities as long as he gets results. Als pays as little attention to his men as to the law so the worst of the bullies run the barracks. They had identified Bujonjoe as a weak link and he was being removed. As far as Buj was concerned, he took the only path he could see. I just feel so sorry for him.


            “So tell me, Reichsmagister, what do you see?” Admiral Als asked his science advisor looking at the screen of his scanner.

            “There might be something there, might not. If it’s beyond the event horizon we won’t be able to see it.”

            “I’m aware of that. But our quantum entanglement device can detect telltale signs at the quantum level if there is something in there worth pursuing.”

            “Yes, but at the cost of a huge expenditure of energy which we are already running low on.”

            “But think what we might find? The records say a science ship was lost in this area. It may have had those sun charged batteries we lost the technology for. Just think if we found those. An endless supply of energy for me. And for the Empire at the right price of course. And a science ship. No telling what surprising technologies it may hold. So much was lost in the Glorious Revolution.”

            “If it is your command, mein Herr.”

            “It is.”

            “As you wish. Heil!” he gave his admiral the straight arm salute.



            Poor Buj. The bullies put a dress on him and made him walk around the ship wearing it for a day. Being raped was the ultimate dishonor and now this public dishonor. Man on man sex was nothing new. On spacing ships with a hundred men and no women it was not uncommon. But wearing the dress signified that he is lower than even a slave. He is a man no more. He is as low as a woman. I am not sure if that disgrace is what sent Buj over the edge or if it was just a cumulative effect. I’m not sure I could handle it as long as Buj did. God, I hope I hold myself together if I’m on a boarding party.


            “Mixed news, mien Admiral,” said the Reichsmagister as he entered the bridge. He stopped and sketched a short bow before continuing. “It appears from the QED signature that a ship is hiding in the jersa surrounding the hole.”

            “Not hiding, Reichsmagister. Just the victim of a power beyond its ability to control. Just as we would be if we ventured too close.” Then, as if just making sure, he turned to the helmsman. “Helmsleiter, be sure to keep a respectable distance from the event horizon or you will feel the sting of my laser baton on your back.”

            “Jawohl, mein Admiral.” Helmsleiter Kell’s eyes grew wide and round at the thought of the Admiral’s laser baton.

            “That sounds like good news, Reichsmagister. Can we get a fix on it?” asked the admiral.

            “Nein. It moves around the black hole at nearly the speed of light. May as well try to capture an electron as it speeds around its nucleus.”

            “That is not acceptable Reichsmagister. A thing that can be detected can be captured. I will not come this far and be denied my prize. It is your duty to determine how we will acquire it. I will give you until this time tomorrow to work it out. Dismissed.”

            “Heil!” said the Reichsmagister with his straight arm salute.



            It looks like I may be off the hook, after all. Even if there is a derelict to be salvaged we apparently can’t get to it. The admiral gave the Reichsmagister until today to figure it out. The guys say he’s got nothing. The admiral doesn’t like hearing no. The Reichsmagister will at least wind up in the brig and we may be rounded up to see a public torture. It’s been a while since anybody pissed off the old man that much. Word gets around. They say the Reichsmagister was on the bridge till late last shift. He supposedly had some animated conversations with Commandant Michaelik Smits. I don’t know what that was about, but I bet he was trying to work out how not to end up in the torture booth. I don’t particularly like the Reichsmagister but no one deserves the torture booth. And I don’t like being forced to watch the agony of a man as he is tortured. An object lesson, Als calls it. Als is a savage bully who likes hurting people. Unfortunately, he is just the kind of man the Empire breeds and promotes. I hate this whole stinking culture. I hate what they did to Bujonjoe. And I hate what they are trying to make me become.


            “Heil, mein Admiral. I believe I have devised a method of extracting the derelict ship from the cloud of jersa.” The Reichsmagister looked haggard from his sleepless night.

            “Oh? Enlighten me.”

            “Commandant Smits. If you would be so kind. Please bring up the black hole with the suspected orbit of the ship as predicted by the QED.” A black sun appeared on the screen, blacker than the black background. It was most visible as a black circle in the group of background stars. A red dot circled the black sun so rapidly it seemed to be a solid line. It was at a forty-degree angle to the WAE Konigsberg, only partially visible from their angle.

            “Now, Herr Kell,” he spoke to the helmsman. “Please realign the ship’s orbit by fifty degrees longitudinally.” The helmsman looked to the Commandant.

            “Do it,” he said. Once they had established a new orbit the Reichsmagister said, “You see now that our orbit is perpendicular to the salvage. Bring us to this point in our orbit, Herr Kell,” he said, pointing to a spot on the small map in front of Kell. “Now show us a ship’s view of the orbit of the salvage.” The diagram on the large screen showed the same black spot. But now the red dot was circling the back spot in a wide flat circle, always in sight.

            “We can capture what we can detect, you said, mein Admiral. But to detect it we must see it. From this vantage we can figuratively see it or at least detect it continuously. That will allow us to capture it. I propose to polarize our tractor beam to a circular pattern, set it to detect only metal, turn it toward the orbit of the salvage and see what fish we catch.”

            “Masterful and logical. Just as I expected of you, mein Reichsmagister,” said Als with sincerity in his voice. “Helmsleiter, make the changes the Reichsmagister has recommended.”

            “Jawohl, mein Admiral.” The young helmsman’s fingers flew over his control panel. He knew Admiral Als had little patience and was not to be kept waiting.

            “Ready, mein Admiral.”



The crew of the UES Arrogant were near to breaking and another gravitational surge like the last two would flatten the ship. Their hearts barely had time to leap into their throats when Karen yelled, “Gravitational surge, but it’s coming from …” That was all she managed to get out before the wave struck the fragile little craft. “Above,” she barely managed to yell. The hissing, pinging and bonging from the craft moving around the slurry of the black hole increased.

“It looks as if we’re moving against the momentum of the debris, not toward the black hole,” said Anderson peering at his monitor. “That’s not possible.”

“Maybe another black hole has moved into the neighborhood,” offered Jimmy Cain, a helmsman who wasn’t on duty but had decided to meet the end among his friends. He was so young, just out of the Academy, he made Mundy feel like an old man. He was an odd match as Anderson’s counterpart at the helm. At five feet six he was the shortest height the Academy would accept.

            “No, we’d have noticed it before now,” said Jordan.

            “Well, we’re definitely moving. And up, away from the black hole. I don’t know how it’s happening, but it’s happening.” Anderson was delighted.

            “Well, I don’t like my staff standing around with their collective thumbs up their asses. Something’s going on and I want answers. Pronto!” Everyone scrambled to their stations and managed to look industrious although no one knew exactly what to do.


            “We must find a way to slow down the craft. Once it leaves the soupy jersa surrounding the black hole it might fly apart slinging around at nearly the speed of light. Helmsleiter, can you use the tractor beam to retard their speed?”

            “Jawohl, Herr Reichsmagister.”

            “Then do so.”


            “Captain. The ship is definitely caught in a gravity wave from above. But the wave is coherent, not natural. It’s as if we’re caught in a tractor beam,” Jordan said, coming up with a theory that seemed hardly plausible.

            “We’re movin’ at near the speed of light. Ain’t no tractor beam can catch you when you’re doin’ that,” Casey Jones gave his opinion. As the expert on what was physically possible with machinery, what he said carried weight.

            “We’re slowing down,” Anderson called from his console. “It’s like our engines are being overridden.”

            “Cut our engines, Davie. Let’s save them for when we need them. Somebody or something has us in a trap. I want to know who or what and why. Give it to me, gentlemen.”

            “I think I know,” said Anderson softly, yet everyone turned. “Look at this.” The screen showed an exterior view from the ship. It was obvious they were rising through waves of gases and energy, star dust and micrometeoroids. And right in the center, possibly light minutes distant was a glowing dot. A dot that the console indicated was a spaceship. A spaceship that was not registered on Earth.

            “Oh shit,” Mundy said. “First contact.”        


“Captain. I really must demand that you let me speak with the aliens. As the only one aboard with diplomatic experience it is only reasonable,” scientist Harry Albright said. “No offense, but with your military background and military thinking you are liable to cowboy us into an interspecies war.”

            “No offense taken,” Mundy said gritting his teeth. He really hated dealing with these people. That’s what he had Jordan for.

            “Harry, you know NASA and World Council protocol is very clear on this. The commander of the ship that makes first contact is to represent Earth unless an actual credentialed diplomat is on board,” Jordan chided him.

            “That’s ridiculous. This is too important a moment to be left to amateurs.”

            “We haven’t even determined if they are friendly or hostile. Before I let you invite them in for tea and crumpets, I want to know a little bit more about them,” Mundy said.

            “It’s attitudes like that which get us into wars. I wish to file a complaint.”

            “Take it up with Earth Command.”

            “Hmph! If you are going to continue to refuse to see reason on this, at least agree that Dr. Righter and myself will sit on the committee that receives them. There’s no telling what kind of faux pas you may commit.”

            “Dr. Albright. Let me put this as diplomatically as I can. No fucking way!” He knew Earth Command would be all over him about this, but the momentary satisfaction was worth it. He strode out.


            “Karen, is it possible for them to hold us in a tractor beam at this distance?” Mundy asked.

            “I don’t think possible is the question. They undoubtedly do have us in a beam.”

            “Well, they saved our butts. We need to thank them. Establish communication. And give us a little push with impulse, Anderson. I want to at least give the impression that we are coming to them of our own will.”  

            “Captain, I’ve done some scans on them. They don’t have any kind of shield up to prevent scans.” Commander Newly said.

            “So, either their shields are down to show friendly intent, or they don’t fear us enough to put up shields or they just don’t have shields. Keep our shields up, Jennifer, until we know more about them. What did your scans find?”

            “A mixed bag. Their engines seem more primitive than ours, but they do have hyperdrive, obviously. They are also heavily armed. I doubt our shields would last more than a couple of salvos. Heat signature would indicate there are warm-blooded creatures inside.”

            “Good. I really didn’t want to meet up with any lizard people. I hate lizards,” said the captain, only half joking.

            “Or bug people. The movies about bug people creep me out,” admitted Anderson.

            “Alright. Let’s keep our wits about us. Anything yet, Karen?”

            “Negative, Captain.”

            “Send everything we know so far to Earth Command. Do it subspace. If these aliens detect the message they may mistake it for hostile intent, or they may trace it to Earth. No need in announcing where we’re from until we know more.”

            “Will do, Captain.”    

            “Captain!” Commander Newly called. “I’ve got something on my system. It looks like a message. It’s an old-style system of amplitude frequency modulation, we haven’t used it in hundreds of years.”

            “Good. Feed it into the computer to start working on a translation. Is it directed at us?”

            “No, sir. It was sent in the other direction. I guess back to its base or fleet.”

            “Holy shit,” Jimmy whispered it so only Anderson heard it. “Captain, Captain, you gotta hear this.”

            “What, Jimmy?” asked Mundy.

            “Well, you know I’m a technogeek, right? I mean I have a kind of skill with computer systems. I can hack into just about anywhere. I think I just hacked into the intership system of the aliens. They’re speaking English.”


            “Commandant Smits,” called Helmsleiter Kell. “The salvage appears to be assisting our tractor beam.”

            “What do you mean ‘assisting’?” asked the Commandant. Admiral Als walked over to stand near the helmsman.

            “The salvage seems to be pulling away from the black hole, as if trying to come toward us.”

            “That ship has been stuck over 900 years and has accreted a ton of sludge and spacemud. It was probably just stuck and then broke loose. No chance of us losing it?” the Commandant asked, seeking assurance. Losing Admiral Als’ salvage ship would send them all to a prison planet.

            “No sir. We have a good grip and our beam is strong. And as I said, it’s not fighting us. It’s trying to come toward us.”

            “Interesting,” said the Reichsmagister from a nearby console. “I’ve noticed the ship’s energy signature. Its systems seem to be still running. Imagine that. After 900 years. They sure don’t make them like they used to.”

            “Yes. A worthy prize,” gloated the Admiral returning to his perch above all the others on the bridge.

            “Commandant! I am getting a communication from the salvage ship,” the communications officer said. “It is a regular signal; I don’t recognize the frequency. I can’t tell if there is any message imbedded, just a regular pinging.”

            “Bah. It’s probably an automated distress signal. It would be motion sensitive, set to start if the ship were disturbed. You are all as nervous as my maiden aunt. Herr Kell. How long until we get the ship into our cargo bay?”

            “Four hours, mein Herr.”


            “English? What the hell? Are you sure about that, Jimmy?”  The captain was out of his chair and standing beside Lieutenant Cain, looking at his console.

            “Their system is primitive. My little sister could hack into this. But look at these interoffice messages. English. Some of the wording is a bit off, but that’s what it is.”

            “Ok. Keep looking. Karen, Jennifer. Thoughts?”

            “Not a clue,” Jennifer said.

            “I’m stumped, too,” Karen said, shaking her head so that a lock of blonde escaped her band and fell in her eye. She absentmindedly brushed it away.

            “Captain,” Cain called again. “I can get into the log of where the ship’s been, cargo, armament, registry, personnel. Everything but the captain’s log. The encryption there is more sophisticated. It may take me a while to break it, but I’m sure I can,” he said with a sniff of pride.

            “What have you found out.”

            “Nothing that makes sense. It says it left Earth a couple of years ago. They have 90 personnel, mostly soldiers. Heavily armed. Under an Admiral Zariah Als. A lot of the titles involve ‘reich’. And the system of dates is weird. Apparently, it’s the year 578 AI. And, uh, well there was something about being involved in the Martian uprising. The ship was instrumental in causing the collapse of the dome over the Martian capital, causing the death of everyone inside. That was like a million people. My gramma lives there.” There was a note of worry in his voice. “It matches nothing in our computer’s data base.”

            “None of that makes a bit of sense.” Mundy was perplexed as anyone.

            “Ship’s registry is WAE Reichsboot Konigsberg”

            “WAE?” asked Mundy.

            “Uh, it says World Aryan Empire.”

            “Oh my god. Neo-Nazis? That explains all the pseudo-German crap. I didn’t think there were enough of them to make a difference,” Newly said. “Have they taken over while we were gone?”

            “No. We’ve been in contact with Earth the whole time, except when we were in the event horizon. Wait a minute. I noticed something earlier but didn’t follow up. The stars are wrong,” Jordan said.

            “Stars?” Mundy asked.

            “Computer. Analyze star field and match with current star charts,” she ordered.

            “Complete,” said a disembodied voice.

            “Based on star position what is the date?”

            “Earth date 3220 CE, unable to calculate month, day and Greenwich Mean Time based on available data.”

            “That’s not possible,” said Mundy. “Computer. Recalculate.”

            “Working. Earth date 3220 CE, unable to calculate month, day and Greenwich Mean Time based on available data.”.

            Anderson said what everyone was thinking. “But that’s like 900 years difference, in the future.”

            “No. The computer must be malfunctioning, taking in some erroneous information,” Newly said. “Or affected by the black hole’s radiation. Either that or we have to believe that we have time traveled into the future. Which isn’t possible.”

            “I wonder,” said Jordan. “I have a theory. Let me get to my console.” Once sitting at her station, she began typing and bringing up various charts and queries. “Damn. It works out. I never would have believed it.”

            “Karen, what’s going on? What have you figured out?” Mundy asked.

            “Maybe a rational answer. It involves relativity. Science has found that Einstein was correct in most of what he theorized. One of the effects of relativity is that the faster a ship moves, the slower time passes within the ship. A ship going from Earth to Alpha Centauri at half the speed of light could get there in 8.5 years to outside observers, but the crew will have only experienced it as a year or so. Experiments have proven this is correct. Well, we were in that black hole for what, a week, maybe two? Davie said we were accelerated to .9 the speed of light in the super-eddy. According to my calculations, and Einstein’s calculations back them up, what we experienced as ten days, at .85 light speed the rest of the universe would experience as 900 years.”

            “No. That can’t be right,” Mundy stated.

            “The math is correct, Rob,” she almost never called him by his first name while on duty.”

            “Ok. I got into their history files,” Cain broke in. “It says the World Aryan Empire defeated United Earth 578 years ago, 2642 CE – old style, hence the date of 578 Anno Imperium – ‘in the year of the Empire’. Damn. Pardon, Captain. It really happened. They’re not aliens. They’re us. We’re in the future. And from what I’ve seen in their files, we’re screwed.”


            “Commandant. Come quickly.” Kell motioned to Smits. “Look,” he said once Smits was at his station. “Heat signatures from within the vessel. There are warm blooded creatures inside.”

            “Unbelievable. How many?”

            “Impossible to tell. I’d say maybe 15, certainly no more than 25.”

            “You sure it’s not just mold growing on the decomposed bodies?”

            “No, Herr Commandant. It has to be actual warm-blooded creatures.”

            “Interlopers. Someone may have salvaged it before we got here? How unfortunate. For them,” said the Admiral. “We will have to relieve them of their burden. Anyway, they were stuck in the event horizon. I’m sure they will be very grateful for our rescue.”

            “Communications officer. Can we contact them?”

            “I believe so, mein Admiral. At least I can send a message to them. Whether they answer is the question.”

            “So be it,” barked Als. “Send them this. Attention to anyone who may be on the vessel we have in tow. I, Admiral Zariah Als, have claimed this vessel under Space Salvage Laws of the World Aryan Empire, Third edition. Under Chapter 2, section 7 of said regulations I claim possession of the vessel and all contents. The vessel will be brought into our cargo bay. Resistance will be met with overwhelming force and perpetrators will be dealt with harshly. You will be apprised of your disposition at a later date.”


            “That doesn’t sound very friendly,” commented Mundy upon hearing the message from Als. I would like to be ‘apprised of my disposition’ before I deliver myself into his hands.”

            “Sir, I found their Space Salvage rules while digging through their library,” Cain said. “It says that any abandoned or stranded space vessel may be taken for salvage only by a military commander. All cargo and contents become the property of the salvager. Section 7 states that any ship that is not registered with the Empire is contraband and any personnel taken are considered criminals and may be sold as slaves.”

            “Slaves?” Jordan exclaimed. “No civilized people allow slavery.”

            “Maybe not in our world. But it looks like we’re not in our world anymore,” Cain said. “And it’s worse than just that. Women have no rights. They are the property of their father or husband. They aren’t allowed any kind of public life. Most never leave the house.”

            “Keep ‘em barefoot and pregnant. Isn’t that what they used to say?” said Newly. It wasn’t really a question. Her tone of voice showed it was a condemnation of the whole system.

            “We’re not going to just give up to them are we, Captain,” asked a wide-eyed Anderson.

            “Hell, no,” growled an angry Jonesie. “Gimme a blaster and I’ll take out a dozen or more before I go down. And I can set off a couple of neutron grenades for good measure. Jonesie ain’t nobody’s slave!”

            “But this is a science ship. We have no weaponry,” worried Dr. Harry Albright. He and Dr. Gloria Righter had been called in to represent the ten scientists on board. “Surely they can be reasoned with.”

            “Dr. Albright, I’m a reasonable man and I’m all for reasoning with our new friends, but I’m beginning to think that ship has sailed. I’ll make nice for now, but I’m not opposed to letting loose a little of our force against them. Jimmy, how many are on that ship?”

            “Infrared imaging indicates 90.”

            “We have 10 warriors here. Each of us have to take out nine bad guys. I like our odds” Major Donovan said with a grim grin.         

            “Captain, you’re going to get us all killed, or worse,” complained Albright.

            “Maybe Dr. Albright. But I don’t fancy being a slave to some latter-day Nazi. You and the scientists can hang back if you want, but I’m going in with a plan.”

            “What’s the plan, Cap,” asked Jonesie.

            “Well, I think we need to tread softly for now. Much as I’d like to, we don’t need to go in with guns blazing. We’ve determined that their technology is way behind ours. I guess they must have lost a lot of it in some war. They don’t need to know that. Jimmy said even his sister could hack their system. He and Anderson and Jorgenson are tech whizzes. If we can get them into the bad guys’ ship system, we could throw ‘em a few curves. I imagine they’ll keep us together at first. Albright, Righter, you keep your scientists together as much as possible. If we’re going to make a break it needs to be early on. I don’t want to leave anyone behind but if it’s between that and getting everyone else out, I will leave your ass behind. If I say move, your people need to move.”

“We’ll be ready, Captain,” said Righter, while silencing the blustering Albright.

“Good,” Mundy continued. “Dr. Righter, tell your people to encrypt access to everything they have. If this goes sideways, I don’t want to give them anything easily. My team. Make nice. Get them comfortable. Encourage them to brag about their system. The more we know, the better. Jimmy, encrypt all ship’s documents.”

            In the meantime, Mundy sent Admiral Als a neutrally worded response saying that his crew were a science team and posed no threat to him or the Empire. He said they were stuck in the black hole, but not derelict. He indicated that they were duly registered with United Earth which he assumed was no longer dominant. He asked for asylum for the eminent scientists on board who could undoubtedly provide new and valuable technologies to the Empire. He got no reply.


            The Konigsberg quickly became visible out the portholes. It bristled with antennae and what were undoubtedly guns. It was obviously a warship. And it was huge. They later discovered the majority of its size was made up of the large cargo bay. It yawned before them like the maw of some ravenous beast of prey. Soon they were completely engulfed. Their ship settled in the artificial gravity of the bay and their gauges showed the air pressure was quickly approaching Earth normal.

            “It’s showtime, people. Look lively. We want to make a good impression,” Mundy smiled, hoping to cheer up the somber group.

            His officers all had on their dress uniforms and the scientists, well, they were still a motley looking crew. Through the porthole he could see the main gate into the bay open. A detachment of about twenty soldiers trotted in and fanned out to keep the ship under armed guard.

            A burly man and a slimmer one came in last and looked expectantly at the ship. Mundy unlocked the hatch and a short ramp opened. He led his group out, the crew marching orderly, the scientists crowded together and frightened looking. They stopped short in front of Admiral Als. The man was Mundy’s height, broad and dressed in a uniform with many medals and stripes. His greasy gray hair was pulled back in a queue. A black patch over one eye gave him the look of a pirate. Mundy suspected it was more than just a look. He had a short, grizzled beard and appeared to be a hard worn fifty. The man beside him was shorter, younger and dressed in a black uniform. The insignia on his uniform denoted Commander rank. Looking at Als, Mundy brought up his right hand offering a military salute. Als just looked at him and sneered.

            “My name is Captain Robert Mundy, commanding the United Earth ship Arrogant.”

Als gave him a backhanded slap. There was the sharp intake of breath among Mundy’s officers, but no one moved.

            “You have no name unless I say so. You are a slave and are only to speak when spoken to. You all live and die at my pleasure. Do you understand?”

            “Yes, Admiral,” Mundy replied tightly. No man had ever struck him and walked away unscathed. Als would not be the first, he vowed.

            “As part of the cargo of the salvaged vessel you are my property. Please me and you will be kept in my service. Displease me and there are unpleasant alternatives. Eighteen of you. Is that your full complement?”

“Yes, Admiral.”

Als motioned to his soldiers and four trotted up the ramp to search the ship. A moment later they came out and the leader nodded to Als.

“Where is the ship you came on? Did you jettison it into the hole?”

“The Arrogant is our ship.”

Als grabbed Mundy by the throat and lifted him to his toes.

“You lie! You have slipped onto the ship I have claimed like vermin. My Reichsmagister has ways of extracting information. Most unpleasant ways. You will tell me what you know, in time.” He lowered Mundy who had begun to turn blue. As the captain massaged his throat, Als strode over to look at the scientists who cowered before him.

            “I hope you creatures have brains for your bodies are no good for work or sex. I probably couldn’t get fifty credits for the lot of you. The crew is more promising, especially the females. And a negress. There aren’t many out here this far from Earth. I feel certain I can earn a healthy sum selling you.” Dr. N’duru looked at the admiral disdainfully. Mundy hoped she was smart enough not to say the words that were obviously on her mind.

            Dr. Albright shakily stepped forward.

            “Admiral. I represent the scientists of Earth. At least the old Earth.” That was all he got out before Als grabbed him by his mouth.

            “A representative, are you? That makes you a leader. Leaders don’t make good slaves. Always troublemakers. Smits,” he said. The man in black drew his pistol-like weapon from his waist and handed it to Als. He turned it and fired a short blast of energy at Albright’s midsection. He immediately crumpled to the floor. Several of the scientists cried out. Mundy made a move to approach him but was stopped by Als’ hand on his chest.

            “I usually don’t waste my resources, but I believe this one has more value as a lesson than on the market. You need to reconcile yourselves to your new status. Speak out of turn to a free man and you will get a severe and painful reprimand. Cross me and you will get the same fate as this slave. Take him to the disposal,” he said to Smits.

            Smits crouched over the man. “He lives still,” he said.

            “All the better. To the disposal.” Smits signaled to two soldiers to come and help. They lifted Albright with one under each arm. Though grievously wounded Albright managed to raise his head and mutter unintelligibly. They drug him to a chute marked ‘Disposal’. The soldiers hefted him up and tossed him in headfirst. They closed the chute. There was a suctioning sound. Several of the scientists gasped.

            “That slave is now free. Free to roam the void as he floats about in space. Anyone care to join him? No? Good.” Turning back to his companion he said, “Smits, see to the disposition of my new slaves.” With that he walked out.


            In their holding cell it was pandemonium. Most of the scientists were wailing. Others were throwing recriminations at Mundy for bringing them into such a dangerous situation. One seemed catatonic.

            “Shut up, damn you!” he cried. “You know the situation we’re in. You can work with it or die. I’d suggest you grow a little steel in your spines and show these savages what you can do. If you don’t, they are liable to throw you out the disposal like Albright.” There was silence as they all stared at him as if he were the enemy, though he had only told them the truth. He sat down on the floor beside Newly.

            “We might as well work on the assumption they are listening in,” he whispered in her ear.

            “Agreed,” she said quietly without moving her lips. “Then again, their technology is primitive.”

            “You and Karen get around to everyone, including the scientists, without making it obvious. Maybe get Anderson to help. Remind them that they are to cooperate for the time being and keep their eyes and ears open. We need to gather as much intel as possible.”


            Mundy had no sense of time. They were in a windowless room with constant lighting. Cain had already whispered to him that with a pick Digger had secreted in his shoe either of them could easily disengage the ancient lock on the door. Good to know.

            After what seemed like hours the man in black came in followed by an assistant and six armed soldiers. He carried what looked like an old-fashioned riding crop. Mundy rose and stood in front of his people indicating he was the one to speak to. He didn’t try to speak first. He had learned that lesson.

            “Good,” sneered the man. “You wait for your master to speak. That is the first and often the most difficult lesson for former free men to grasp. I am Commandant Smits. It is my unenviable task to advise you in the ways of slavery, to ease you into your new situation, as it were. This is Bundesleiter von Hoek. You will address us as master at all times.

            “As you may have surmised, while you are the property of Admiral Als, you are to submit to questions and directions of all officers on the Konigsberg. Officers only. You will be advised if you are to entertain the troops.” He leered evilly at this remark. He stepped forward, moving Mundy out of the way with a wave of his hand and looked over the scientists.

            “Mein Admiral wishes to know if his property has any scientific value. You,” he said, pointing the crop at Vince Rhodes. “Yes, you will do to start. Guards, take this one for testing.” Two of the armed soldiers grabbed Vince by either arm and marched him out of the cell. He looked back over his shoulder, terrified.

            Smits casually strolled back toward Mundy and his officers. He stopped and used his crop to lift Newly’s chin. She jerked her face away. “If you were five years younger, I might make use of you. You’re definitely attractive enough. But a little older than what I like. Pity. Now you, on the other hand,” he said looking at Jordan and running the crop down her arm. “You are also just what I like. Guards, take her to my quarters.” He turned and left with von Hoek in his wake as two guards grabbed Karen. Mundy and Anderson tried to intervene but were clubbed into submission by the remaining soldiers.


            Vince was returned several hours later.

            “I was terribly frightened, but they just wanted to test my level of knowledge. I quickly outstripped anything they knew. They are terribly backward. I’m amazed that at their level of physics that they are actually spacefaring. They are much like us back at the beginning of the twenty-first century.”

            They pulled Maynard Johnson next.

            At long last Karen was returned. She was being dragged by two soldiers. They opened the door and unceremoniously threw her in. Mundy and N’duru rushed to her side. She was badly beaten and still bleeding from a number of wounds, some serious looking. Her uniform was in shreds. They applied what first aid they could. It was fortunate Dr. N’duru had not yet been relieved of her medical pack. When she was able to talk, Jordan said her right arm might also be fractured. They formed a sling with Mundy’s overshirt.

            “Apparently slaves are also used for sexual pleasure. That is what Smits wanted. I went along for a while, trying to be nice, but put him off. He got a little too personal, so I let him have it, and I don’t mean my body.” Mundy lips lifted in a grim smile as he considered this. Karen was the best hand at martial arts on his ship. She regularly handed Mundy his butt at sparing. “Yeah, I kicked his ugly ass good until the guards got into it. It took three of them to take me down, but I got some good licks in. Two of the guards are in sick bay because of me. And that slimy bastard in black will be walking funny for a few days. Donovan said we each needed to take out nine. Only six to go for me, Cap,” she grinned weakly through swollen, bloody lips at Mundy. “You guys need to catch up.”


            A germ of a plan took root in Mundy’s brain. He whispered it to Newly and she was all in.  

            “Jen, I hate to ask you to do this. If I could, I would, but I’m not exactly built for it. Are you sure?”

            “If it would get us out of here, I’d hump old ugly Als himself,” was her reply.


When they brought Maynard back several soldiers arrived with food. It wasn’t anything fancy, just bread, thin soup, and water, but they were all famished. Mundy had noticed that when Smits had dismissed Jennifer as too old for his sexual tastes, von Hoek’s eyebrows raised. He also noticed after that how von Hoek took a long last look at her. As Von Hoek was supervising the soldiers setting out the food, Jennifer stood close to him and made eye contact. She smiled in a seductive manner and licked her upper lip with the tip of her tongue. With a smirk she strolled away, rolling her hips. Donovan once told her when he was drunk that she had the “best damn ass in the navy”. Message delivered, she thought.

            After the meal the soldiers took Larry Bostwick for testing. When he returned several hours later the lights dimmed. There were eighteen blankets piled by the door. They huddled on the floor, seeking comfort in each other. They had only been down a short while when the door opened, and von Hoek and four soldiers entered. “You,” von Hoek pointed at Jennifer.

“And…that one,” pointing at Cain. They were both quickly grabbed and hustled out of the room. They were taken down a corridor but then separated.

“Where are you taking him?” Newly asked.

“Silence, slave. You do not speak unless your master addresses you. Aren’t you concerned for yourself rather than this other slave?” von Hoek asked.

“Jimmy is my responsibility. You’re in a command position. You should understand,” she reasoned.

“Oh, tut. We’re past all that. You have no responsibilities other than pleasing your master. And right now, that’s me. Smits may have thought you were too old, but he likes little girls anyway. I understand the slave he pulled beat him soundly. She’ll be severely disciplined for that. The admiral ought to have her whipped and throw her to the troops for sport, but with her looks, she’s worth too much. She’ll bring him a fortune on the open market. You probably will, too. But for now, you’re just my type. And don’t worry about your little friend. A couple of the guards I owe a favor saw him and thought he was cute. They asked for some play time with him. He’ll be fine. They know not to permanently damage the property of the Admiral.”

“What?”cried a frightened Cain. He struggled anew with his captors, but to no avail. They began dragging him down the corridor. Newly felt sick at the fate of poor Jimmy.

The guards deposited her in what she supposed was van Hoek’s quarters. Deposited was the best term seeing as they walked her in, dropped her on the single bed and walked out.

“Now, slave. Let’s review. The guards are just outside. One word from me and they will beat you senseless. I can also recommend having you branded, that would take the fight right out of you. Make me happy and I’ll see about cutting short your little friend’s time with the guards. I’ve seen the looks you gave me. Let’s not pretend. You can begin by taking off your shirt.”

The thought of even touching van Hoek made Newly’s skin crawl. The man was skinny, had bulging eyes and receding hair. The officer’s uniform did little to improve the image. Still, she had a plan and enough experience to know how to remove her top seductively.

“Nice,” purred von Hoek. “I like a lady with a slim build.” He came close and slid his hand along Jennifer’s chest, splaying his fingers. Stepping back a pace he quickly removed the tunic of his uniform.

Newly was repulsed at the sallow, sunken chest that was revealed. Then von Hoek was back on her, kissing her neck and mouthing the area around her ears and where her neck joined her shoulders. She slid her hands up von Hoek’s chest, slowly as if caressing him. Von Hoek hissed an intake of breath and then groaned his pleasure. He grabbed her head and kissed her on the mouth, his tongue seeking entrance. She slid her hands up to cup von Hoek’s head also. Then, with a violent wrench she twisted it until von Hoek could see his backside. But by then von Hoek could see nothing. He was dead.

Newly allowed herself a momentary shudder to rid herself of the essence of von Hoek. Then tapping her earlobe, she whispered, “Mission successful, Captain.”

“Good work, Jen. You okay?”

“I feel like I need a shower, but, yeah, I’m good.”

“Okay. I’m patching in Donovan.”

“Been waiting on you, Cap. What’s the situation?” Donovan said.

“Where are you and Jorgenson?” Mundy asked. They had stayed behind in a hidden compartment when the crew went out to meet Als.

“Still in the Arrogant. We went out and got the guards. There were four of them and three techs. Those disposal chutes are really neat. Anyway, we have new uniforms and weapons. And sorry about Dr. A. We were watching from inside the ship.”

“Good, just outside the cargo bay is a map of the ship. Newly, where are you?”

“In a private quarter on deck B, number 25. Think you two can get here on the double?” she said to Donovan, meaning him and Jorgenson.

“Sure thing. See you in five.”

“I think there are two guards on my door.”

“No problem.”

While she waited, Jennifer put von Hoek’s body in his closet. If anyone were to casually glance in the room, they wouldn’t notice anything amiss. A few moments later there was a sizzling sound of an energy blast, as if from a laser weapon outside and then a quiet tap at the door. It opened to reveal Donovan and Jorgenson in WAE uniforms with a dazed soldier held up between them and two more lying apparently dead in the hallway. She raised her eyebrows at Donovan.

“Mr,” he glanced down at the soldier’s name tag, “Zmeckis here got a little too interested in our presence. We cocked him and the next soldiers we met we just told we were taking him to sick bay.” Jorgenson had already dragged the two dead soldiers into the room as Donovan talked. He ripped the cover off the bed and tore strips from it. They securely gagged Mr. Zmeckis, tied his arms and legs and loaded him in the closet with von Hoek. It was a tight fit. They loaded the other two into the small bath.

“Von Hoek is, or rather was officer level so he must have some kind of security clearance. See if you can get onto the ship’s systems from his connection, Jorgenson,” Jennifer said.

“Security on this system is for shit,” Jorgenson said disdainfully. “It’s an open book to me.” He went over the ship systems and conferred with Donovan. After a moment Jorgenson caught Donovan staring at Newly while she conferred with Mundy.

“You’re hopeless,” he whispered. “When are you going to say something to her?”

“Get us out of this mess, and I might. Right now soldier, we need a plan.”


After a short time, Donovan sat on the bed with Newly.

“Ok, Commander. Here’s the plan. Jorgenson is going to divert all bridge control to engineering. He’ll have to do if from engineering, though, so you and Jorgenson head on down there. Here’s a view of it.” Jorgenson showed her a screen that was apparently a live feed from engineering. They could see three guards and two engineers. “You two will need to neutralize those guys. Jorgenson then can seize control and lock all control systems into engineering. Bridge will notice it immediately, but I’ll create a diversion so don’t worry about them.” He patted a bag at his side with several neutron grenades.

“Still, it won’t take the eighty or so soldiers left long to get there and break in.”

“No, it won’t. That’s why Jorgenson is going to do his stuff in two minutes, tops. Then you two are outta there. He’s going to release the clamps on the ship and disable the tractor beam and weaponry. Then scuttle the whole system.”

“We can’t get the ship out without the bay door open and if the door is open, we can’t get to the ship.”

“I got it covered. Jorgenson said there is a thirty second delay function on the air lock. Once y’all are in, I press the button and run like hell for the ship.”

“What are our chances of pulling this off?” Newly asked.

“Seriously? I’d say slim to none. You got any better ideas?” She had to shake her head that she didn’t.

“Let me bring Mundy up to date.” She tapped her lobe again and talked softly to her captain. He reported that everyone else was in the cell except Cain.

“I’ll keep trying to open his frequency. We’ll do what we can to find him. Out.”

“Problems, Commander?” Donovan asked.

“Jimmy Cain is missing. Some guards grabbed him the same time they got me. He could be anywhere. Captain’s trying to raise him.”

“I don’t like to leave anyone behind but if it’s between getting eighteen people off this ship and zero, I know where I stand. He’s the Cap, though. I’ll leave it up to him.” Donovan handed her the laser pistol he’d pulled off a guard.

“Jorgenson, ping me when you’re in place.”



They only encountered two soldiers on the way to engineering. They shot them both and gained two more hand weapons. Newly hated killing indiscriminately, but this was a battle situation.

Jorgenson tugged his earlobe to signal Donovan when they were in place. He palmed open the door and they went in all four guns blazing. They quickly had engineering under control and Jorgenson got to work on the controls. Newly pinged Mundy and told him it was time to get their people moving. She reminded him Digger could open the door and he and Anderson could neutralize the guards. The scientists would have to help Jordan. Mundy specifically reminded her that lethal force was acceptable.

By the time she finished relaying to Mundy, Jorgenson was grabbing her and heading for the door. Suddenly the red alert lights and horn came to life. As they were exiting the control room Jorganson lobbed a couple of neutron grenades behind him at the engine core. The entire ship lurched when they went off, detonating one engine with them as well.


“All right, folks. It’s time to move. Davie, N’duru, Digger. Form a front line with me. Jonesie, help Jordan. You scientists get behind Jones and keep up. I’m not coming back looking for stragglers.”

“Not to worry, Captain,” Dr. Righter said. “I’m bringing up the rear to make sure everybody moves their asses.” Mundy decided there was a reason he’d always liked Righter.

“C’mon, lassie,” Jonesie said to Jordan. Instead of trying to support her, he just picked her up to carry like a baby.

Digger quickly disengaged the lock and Mundy and Anderson overwhelmed the two guards who’d been napping. Mundy took one weapon and passed the other to Dr. N’duru. He saw Anderson’s questioning glance.

“She’s the best shot on the ship. Regularly kicks my ass at sharpshooting.”

N’duru took the weapon, giving Anderson a sly smile. The alarm bells suddenly came on and a moment later they felt the ship lurch.

“Seems like Jennifer and Jorgenson have made their presence known. Step lively now,” Mundy said.

The holding area was on the same level as the cargo bay, but it was on the opposite side of the ship.. Resistance was light as they fought their way to the cargo bay seeing as the ship was caught off guard and chaos reigned. Donovan had apparently disrupted their chain of command by tossing some grenades on the bridge. They were almost upon the cargo bay when they ran into a group of soldiers who thought it wise to form up and protect Admiral Als’ salvage.

They had picked up three more pistols along the way so the five of them – Mundy, N’duru, Anderson, Digger and Jonesie had the job of taking out the squadron. Once the soldiers were dispatched Mundy led his group into the cargo bay.

“I expect we’ll have company pretty soon. Davie, you’re with me. Jonesie, you and Digger get my engines warmed and ready to go. N’duru, get Karen strapped in and do what you can for the pain. You scientists get in and get out of the way. Now go!”

Jonesie passed Jordan into Diggers arms. “It don’t take but one to start up them engines, Cap. I want to stay and kick some Nazi butt.” Mundy was amused by Jonesie’s spoiling for the fight. He hadn’t seen action in over forty years and apparently missed it. He was forever telling stories about his part in putting down the Zendu uprising. Relative peace had reined since then across the Alliance aligned planets. They heard the noise of approaching troops, so the three dropped into defensive positions.


As they were getting near their destination Newly and Jorgenson ran up with Donovan. His eyes were bright and it was clear he was in his element. Newly’s ear pinged and she heard Mundy saying they had heard from Cain. He said he was in pretty bad shape and disoriented. He doubted he could make it to the cargo bay on his own. Mundy gave her Cain’s coordinates.

“I’ll get the boy. You two get to the ship,” Donovan said. Newly wanted to disagree, say Cain was her responsibility but the reality was that Donovan had the better chance of getting himself and Cain to the ship alive.

 As they approached the bay, they heard laser pistol fire and a familiar roar.

“Take that, you filthy Nazi scum!” Jonesie was giving the Nazis what for. With Newly and Jorgenson coming up on their rear they were quickly dispatched. No time for prisoners.

“Good work, Commander. Any more of them filthy buggers?” Jonesie asked. He seemed eager for more action.

“I believe we’re in the clear for the moment,” Mundy said. “You two help get all the passengers in the ship. And I want my engines ready to go, pronto.”

“On it, Cap.” He and Jennifer ran for the ship.

Mundy heard the whine of the engines when Jorgenson pushed him toward the ship.

“You go. I need to be able to give covering fire for Donovan if the bad guys beat him here. Then I’ll open the bay.”

“No both of us can give more cover. Then we can all get on the ship. The thirty second delay…”

“There’s no delay. We just said that to brook argument. Donovan’s plan all along was to get us all on the ship and open the bay himself. He’s got enough neutron grenades in his bag to destroy the entire ship and he plans to do it. So, if he doesn’t make it, I need to open the door. “

Mundy remembered when the mission began, he had wondered if two Marines would be of any use if the situation got hairy. Now these two Marines had together saved all their lives. And were willing to give theirs in doing so. Mundy was not a man given to much emotion, but damn, he thought, that was brave. 

He ran for the ship. The engines were ready, and Anderson was in place at the controls. All he needed was to engage and they’d be on their way. Looking out the port window he saw several laser shots hit the door above Jorgenson’s position and he returned fire. Then Jorgenson turned and looked at Mundy through the portal and hit the ‘emergency door open’ button. Inside the cargo bay you could hear the great whoosh as all the air rushed out of the opening door. He saw Jorgenson crouch on the other side of the door and return fire again. The bay door was over halfway open when it stopped. Then slowly it began to close.

“Oh, shit. Als’ people found an override,” Mundy said. He had to think quick. “Jennifer, forward shields on maximum. Davie, on impulse power, back us up as far from the door as possible.”

“Captain, you’re not thinking…?” Newly said.

“Damn straight. Full power forward, Davie. Engage!”

To tell the truth, he wasn’t sure if the ship would survive breaking through the cargo bay door. But he didn’t see any reason to stay behind. It was now or never. The Arrogant was a tough little ship and survived crashing through the door, leaving twisted metal in its wake. They flew clear of the larger ship with Anderson yelling “Yeehaaa!” as they burst free. Their spirits all soared with the little ship.


Donovan had planned on lobbing two neutron grenades into the bridge. If Als was there at the time, he was a goner. Good, Mundy thought. With the havoc they created in the engine room, he doubted those Nazis would ever leap to hyperspace again. Hell, impulse might even be a challenge. Without controls, the weapons were offline, as was the tractor beam. Now for the really crazy part of my plan, he thought.

“Captain, we’re being followed,” reported Anderson.

“What? How?”

“Apparently it’s a shuttle craft. It doesn’t have much range, but it’s fast and sensors show it’s armed.”

“Shields aft, full power!” Mundy yelled, expecting a proton torpedo or laser cannon blast.

“Sir, we’re being hailed,” Newly told him.

“Patch it through.”

The connection was tenuous, and the words were scratchy, but the message came through loud and clear.

“Got room for four hitchhikers, Cap?” Donovan crowed.

“You old devil. I thought sure they got you,” Mundy said, so overjoyed he missed Newly’s gasp.

“It’ll take more than a few dickhead Nazis to take me out. I got a couple of presents for you. See you in five. I just have a couple of torpedoes to unload.”

“Jennifer. Aft screen,” Mundy commanded. Nothing happened. “Jennifer. Now.”

“Sorry, Captain. Coming up.”

Before them they saw the slim little craft approaching and the huge Konigsberg looming in the background. They could hear Donovan say, “You will be apprised of your disposition now, you Nazi asshole!” Two tiny missiles shot out of the back of the speeding craft, headed for the warship. Both were direct hits, setting off a chain reaction of other explosions. Within moments the ship was a shambles. Ironically, there was little left worth salvage.

Within five minutes the shuttle had come up alongside the Arrogant. Anderson connected it with the grappling hooks. Donovan said they had four space suits so they could tether and walk over. The airlock was small, so they had to come in one at a time. The first one in and out of his suit was Jimmy Cain. No one was more glad to see him than Anderson. He wrapped Cain up in his long arms.

“Bud. I so thought I’d lost you.”

“I so thought you had, too,” Cain deadpanned. His face was badly bruised, but he seemed to be holding up well, until suddenly he collapsed, weeping.

“I’ll take him to our quarters,” Anderson said. He helped Cain out of the room. Dr. Vera Jong, who had an extensive background in counseling followed them thinking Cain might need to talk with her.

Second through the door was Jorgenson. Mundy hugged him and slapped him on the back.

“Our other present is coming next,” Jorgenson said.

An unknown man took off his suit next after exiting the airlock. He was young, pleasant looking and seemed very frightened.

            Jorgenson said, “Meet Bunde Christophe Verhoven. He found Jimmy, shot three guards who had Donovan pinned down and asked for asylum. I didn’t see how we could turn him down. He said he couldn’t stand anymore of Als, the Nationalists or the Empire. I think the guy finally found his moral center.”

            “Welcome,” Mundy said, shaking the new man’s hand.

            They all cheered when Donovan came through the door.

“Mundy,” he said. “Against all odds, that crazy plan worked. I never thought it would.”

            “Well, pretty much anything is possible with two leathernecks and an old squid.”

“Ok, the testosterone’s getting a little thick in here,” said Newly.

            Anderson appeared in the doorway with fire in his eyes.

            “You filthy bastards!” he raged at Verhoven. “You freaking assholes! Your soldiers raped Jimmy. I swear I’ll kill every one of you. He lunged at the soldier but was intercepted by Donovan and Mundy.

            “Easy, cowboy,” Donovan crooned softly.

            “Stand down, Anderson. That’s an order. This man saved Jimmy and Donovan’s lives and has been offered asylum. We can’t blame him for what the others did.” Mundy held on to Anderson as he cried in his arms.

            “I’m so sorry for what they did,” pleaded Verhoven. “The Empire breeds violence like that. That’s what I want to get away from.”

            “Well, we may be a lonely little outpost of civilization, but you’re welcome to join us, soldier,” said Mundy.

             “I hate to break up the party, but we still have a huge problem. We’re nine hundred years from our time in the middle of an evil empire.” Newly looked at Mundy expectantly.

            “Speaking of improbable plans, I have an idea,” Mundy announced. “Before we got deep into the black hole Karen and I had a talk with our physics expert Dr. Righter. Her calculations show that the anomaly she found at the black hole was most likely a wormhole.”

            “Most likely as in really might be or wishful thinking?” asked Newly.

            “Somewhere in between,” admitted Dr. Righter. “Einstein theorized they would be in the center of a black hole, but my equations and data indicate this to be an extra-solar spatial/temporal distortion, i.e. a wormhole not in the center of a black hole.”

            “Is that even possible?” Newly wanted to know.

            “Who knows what’s possible? I’m convinced the math is correct. If we fly the Arrogant into it there’s a good chance the shield would keep it from crushing us. It would probably be navigable and should deposit us somewhere and sometime else, not sure where or when.”

            “Good chance, probably, might? Why don’t we just follow the yellow brick road while we’re at it? Maybe we’ll end up in Kansas,” Newly was unconvinced.

            “At this point, if I found a yellow brick road, I’d follow it,” Mundy said. “We know what this time in this universe holds for us. I don’t want to stick around. This wormhole is a chance to escape. There’s no guarantees. But if we survive, it will put us somewhere, sometime, in some universe. Odds are, whatever we find, it will be better than what we’re leaving. It would be hard pressed to be worse.”

            “I’m in,” said Donovan, with Jorgenson nodding.

“If our friends are going into the black hole, I guess we should, too,” said Jorgenson.

            “What?” asked Mundy.

            “While we were in the engine room, I entered a new flight plan and gave the ship a push. It’s set to drift right for the middle of the black hole. I decided that a black hole was a nice resting place for their black hearts.” Donovan raised his fist, grinning, and Jorgenson bumped it.

            Dr. Righter spoke up. “The scientists have decided we want to go, also.”

            “I think we all want to go, Captain,” said Anderson, and Newly finally nodded.

            “Alright. Everybody buckle in. It’s going to be a rough ride.”

Over the next few minutes everything in the ship was battened or stowed. The scientists buckled in, and the crew took their places.

            “Dr. Righter gave me the coordinates for the anomaly. All laid in. Awaiting your orders, Captain,” Anderson said. He decided it felt good to be able to say that again.



Sharing Christmas

I have a part-time job where I fly around the country reviewing companies for an accreditation agency. At least I did until the coronavirus hit. I may get back to it someday. Back in 2018 I was reviewing an agency in Alabama. I finished up and had about a three hour wait for my flight in the Birmingham airport. I gotta tell you, there ain’t much to do in the Birmingham airport. But I had my laptop with me. It was November 16 and airport was all decked out for Christmas. I was feeling the Christmas love and this is the story that flowed out. I got it all on paper (or at least in a computer file) and dressed it up the next day. A little magazine picked it up and it was printed in Down in the Dirt magazine (awful name, I know) in the May 2020 issue.

Sharing Christmas

After my first marriage fell apart, I was in a very dark place. What began as a trial separation became permanent. I went through a depression, shut myself off, stopped eating, that kind of thing. It wasn’t all bad; I lost some weight. With the help of a counselor and a support group, I survived it all. I remember the turning point vividly. I was in my company’s offices, standing outside my office, looking down the long hallway. People were arriving for a meeting. I noticed one of my coworkers coming down the hallway. She was about six feet tall, in skintight white Capri pants, high heels and a flowery top (yeah, inappropriate for a business meeting). Her long hair was curled around her shoulders. It bounced around as she strutted down the hallway like it was a fashion runway, smiling and greeting others, basically owning the place. She just had that kind of personality. I was never really attracted to her, but at that moment I noticed how vivacious she was, how full of life. It was as if a fog lifted. It was like in The Wizard of Oz when the film went from black and white to color. A seismic shift. My life was Technicolor again.

Now that I had returned to the Land of the Living, I felt I was ready to venture out and meet people again. Friends recommended the Long Branch Bar where most nights people went to actually socialize and dance, not just hook up. So, I took myself there. First night, the first two ladies I asked to dance turned me down. My already bottomed-out self-esteem took another beating. I just hung my head and skulked out of the place. But I came back, made friends, and became a regular. I honed my already fairly good dance skills and became a desirable dance partner. Oblivious as I always am, I didn’t realize that I was apparently already desirable real estate. Once I got some new clothes that fit, a new haircut and a new attitude, one woman in my office said the other ladies had deputized her to let me know that I was officially hot. Wow. Glad this happened before #MeToo. I’ve never thought of myself as attractive. I was a nerdy kid and now figured I was just a nerdy adult. It was a kind of heady moment.

Over the next year I went through a succession of romances, each a bit bizarre in its own way. At one point, I faced a choice between a woman eight years younger than me (28) and a lady eight years older than me (44). I went out with both of them for a while. I determined eight years is just over the limit for generational change. Kay just had a different mindset than me, plus a son only ten years younger than me. Jenna, on the other hand, just hadn’t matured yet. She was all about the party. However, I followed my hormones and stuck with Jenna for about 8 months. It did not end well. I’ll just leave it at that.

            Then there were the Silent Stalker and the Game Player. I may be attractive, but I was definitely attracting the wrong type. They reminded me of a comment by a comic that the difference between Charles Manson and the women he dated was that at least Charlie had the common decency to LOOK crazy. At this point I got the feeling that I was just finished with women. I needed to take a break. My gay friend offered to introduce me around the gay club, but that wasn’t the kind of break I was looking for. Just a brief hiatus from women. I decided I could be happy with my own company, go where I wanted, stay out late and do the things I liked. It was very freeing in its own way. Who knew a smile would capture me?

            That’s what started it all. A smile that just lit up the room. Well, that and the Martin Luther King Jr holiday and a lame horse. Lena was an avid horsewoman. She would ride her horse mornings before work. That particular January her horse was lame so she couldn’t ride. She had a Monday off for the King holiday with no plans for Sunday evening. A friend suggested she try the Long Branch. She went, and she found she enjoyed it, and so kept coming. I didn’t notice her at first, but we ran into each other in February when she asked me to dance. When I saw her later across the floor, she smiled. Her whole face lit up like one of those Renaissance paintings of the Madonna. She totally captivated me. After weeks of being one of my regular dance partners, I realized I wanted to explore more. To hell with my hiatus from women. Biology trumps all.

            Lena turned me down on my first four requests for a date. Each one she claimed the same thing: she had a house guest coming into town and couldn’t be available. Well, I’m not an idiot; I know when I’m getting the brush off. I decided I could settle with just being friends. Then she asked me out. She later told me that she really did have house guests and realized that I probably wouldn’t ask her out anymore, but she was interested. She invited me to a baseball game. It turns out the game got rained out before we even left her house, so the date turned into an evening sitting in her living room just talking. Probably actually a great way to start a relationship.

            That summer was pretty wonderful. We saw a lot of each other, tried fun new things, went to the beach, picnics with the symphony, and the State Fair, just datey kinds of things. By the fall, I was in that place where you begin to wonder where this is going. Was she just a convenient partner for doing things or was there more going on? I’m sure everyone recognizes that point in relationships.

            My birthday came in early December and I received a birthday card from her. This was back before Facebook. Getting a card by mail from someone who wasn’t my mother or grandmother was its own kind of intimate. She came over to visit me on my birthday and I told her I would go out on Sunday to pick up a Christmas tree. My family always put up the Christmas tree the weekend after my birthday. My mom said it was important to separate the two holidays. Lena expressed surprise that I was getting a tree. I was living in a small apartment and would be gone most of the holiday time visiting family. As far as I was concerned, that didn’t matter. I said as long as I am able, I will always have a Christmas tree. It’s my favorite holiday, not for any religious reason, but as a symbol of happiness and childlike wonder at the magic of it all. Peace on Earth, goodwill to all; that kind of stuff. My depression was gone, I’d just had a hell of a good year and was ready to celebrate. I told her I had gotten custody of half the Christmas decorations and if what I had wasn’t enough, I’d go out and buy more. I’m all about Christmas, no Grinches allowed.

            So, Sunday, I bought a six foot Frazier fir and set it up in my little sun room. Soon the entire apartment smelled like Christmas. That aroma always brings back enchanting memories of Christmases past. I pulled out my allotment of decorations. I strung the lights I had and stood back, considering if that was enough or if I needed more lights. As I stood wondering, there was a knock on the door.

            I opened the door and there stood Lena with a box filled with vintage Christmas ornaments.

“Can I play?” she asked. I pulled her in and we were like two kids decorating that tree with ornaments from our childhoods, stopping frequently to explain the important memories attached to each. When we finished, the tree was full, was gaudy and was gloriously Christmas. We stood back to admire our handiwork. I looked at her and though we were alone, the moment seemed sacred enough to require a soft voice.

“Merry Christmas, Love,” I murmured.

“Merry Christmas, Sweetie,” she replied. We sealed it with a kiss. What happened next is none of your business, but we validated Christmas as my most favorite holiday. But we weren’t just celebrating the holiday. We were celebrating each other. How through all the twists and turns and ups and downs we had ended up together in this moment. How lame horses and Monday holidays, Madonna smiles and bad romances had led us here. How through it all we had each found someone worth sharing a Christmas tree with.  It was so unlikely. So unexpected. So random. Yet, so perfect.


Halloween! The Hell you say. What’s the big deal with Halloween? Halloween was a big deal to us kids when I was growing up. I mean, wow, an excuse to get candy from the neighbors and eat it until you threw up. Who could pass up on that? And back then you could eat the apples and oranges you got in your bag without examining them for needles and razors. And the dressing up was kinda neat. I loved trick or treating until I was about 12. After that, a Halloween dance at school was always nice. I liked school dances. I wasn’t afraid to get out on the floor and was considered a good partner by the girls. I always had dance partners. And sometimes we’d meet in the upper bleachers or behind the bleachers. But that’s a story for another day.

All the dorms and frats had big Halloween parties in college and that’s when I began seeing outlandish and frequently group costumes. It was off the hook crazy. And I loved it. I was less adventurous. Just give me a sheet and I could rig up a toga. Twine some ivy around my head and, hey, I’m an ancient Roman. Not to mention the toga parties. But again, a different issue for a different day.

 My parents never put up Halloween decorations. Come to think of it, I don’t know anybody that did. I mean some people, like us, put a Jack o’Lantern on their front porch, but that was about it. This was the 1960s and 70s South. Everyone I knew was Baptist and they had decreed that Halloween was of the devil. Maybe they were right.

What are we celebrating, anyway? All Hallows Eve. The night before All Hallows Day, the day all the saints are worshipped and any saint that doesn’t have a special day, well, this is for him or her. If it’s a Catholic thing, then Baptists are sure it’s a thing of the devil. In Mexico it is El Dia de le Morte, the Day of the Dead. It’s a particularly ghoulishly named celebration of our ancestors. While the whole shebang seems wrapped up in Christianity, somehow Halloween has taken on the trappings of the other side. Who wants to be an angel for Halloween when he can be a first class Satan?

These days Halloween has morphed into a major holiday. Maybe Hallmark and Hersheys  are to blame. It seems nearly every house in my neighborhood has their trees, bushes and porches wrapped in orange lights. There are larger than life blow up black cats, headless horseman on his steed, with a pumpkin as his head, ghoulish demons or is it demonic ghouls. What is a ghoul, anyway? Ghastly and ghostly heads and streamers hanging from trees. And one house has about twenty skeletons trying to get in.

Hope your neighborhood is properly decorated and hope you don’t get TPed. Remember doing that? Of course you do. Happy Halloween to all. This week my story is actually a memoir. It’s about a fun time I had on a Halloween about 46 years ago. Enjoy!

The Ghost of Halloween Past

The summer after I turned sixteen I was allowed to buy a car. We lived way out in the country so becoming self-mobile was an important step. The sudden freedom to come and go as you please was wonderful. No more asking Mom or Dad to take you “to town” to buy things. No more borrowing the family sedan for dates. It was just incredible.

            It turned out one of Mom’s friends at work had a son who was entering college and couldn’t carry his car so he wanted to sell. It was a metallic blue 1966 3-speed Mustang. Probably one of the sexiest cars ever. It’s now a classic. But back in 1973 it was just a seven-year old car. I got it for $500. I was soon recognizable far and wide by my “blue ‘stang”. And it didn’t hurt that girls didn’t mind being seen riding around in such a cool car. I can’t say that I was ever cool, but my cool factor sure moved up a few notches with that purchase.

            But this story isn’t about the car, only what the car made possible. My friend and I were casting about for something to do on a Thursday night. It happened to be Halloween night. Two sixteen-year-olds and Halloween are usually a recipe for trouble but we were (fairly) good kids. I came up with an idea.

            First you have to understand the situation out in the country where I lived. Our community was about a dozen houses stretched along a couple miles of country road on both sides of a country church. Then there were the outliers farther out or on even further back roads. Our church boasted a constant population of about 100. The local kids wanted to be part of “trick or treat” (free candy, duh) but they had to get their parents to take them to nearby villages where they really didn’t know the people. Also, the people in our community were always disappointed that we couldn’t participate in giving out goodies because no one trick-or-treats in the country. Our church came up with a nice idea. All the members of our church who wanted to give out Halloween goodies would leave their porch lights on. All interested children would meet at the church at sundown. An elder with a pickup truck would pile the kids in the back and drive to all the church member houses so the kids could do their thing. And along the way, they would pick up information about other neighbors, not members of our church, who might also have some treats. Of course, that wouldn’t work in 2019 because it’s illegal for kids to ride in the back of a pickup, but this was a simpler time.

            So, about sundown I picked up my friend and had an old white bedspread. While the kids were inside the church for a required prayer and mini-sermon before the main event, he and I pulled up behind the church. I took the spread and went out into the graveyard beside the church. I crouched down behind a tombstone and waited.

            The kids all came filing out of the church in their various costumes. There were about ten of them ranging from about 4 or five up to about 12. They climbed in the back of the truck all excited. As the driver turned on the engine, I rose up from behind a tombstone with the bedspread over my head. I raised my arms and started loudly moaning. At the squeal from the first kid who spotted me, I began moving toward the truck. Soon all the kids were screaming in fear and glee at the Halloween ghost. The driver, seeing what was happening sped off and the chorus of squeals died into the distance.

            Totally pleased with myself, I got back in the car and drove about a half mile in the opposite direction the truck had gone and pulled off into a wooded road so my car was hidden. I stood beside the road in my white disguise. Soon I heard the roar of the old pickup coming my way. I raised my arms and waved them back and forth. The truck driver began blowing his horn to get the attention of the kids in the back. As they sped by me they were all shrieking once again in glee.

            After they had passed, I drove to an old farm house and parked behind the barn. I went out into the field beside the house and hid behind a bale of peanut vines. This was one of the last stops. As the last kid was climbing into the back of the truck, I stood up and began running toward the truck waving my arms and howling. The kids all began screaming, “Go! Go!” to the driver. He timed it and pulled away just as I was getting close. I ran after the truck a little ways still carrying on. The kids were loving it.

            That was it for the night. My friend had only gone along for the company. He stayed in the car and told me alternately I was “weird” or I was “crazy”. But he had a smile when he said it.

            On Sunday there was still a little chatter among the young kids about the ghost they saw Halloween night. My friend and I never told anyone. So, if you were a kid who saw a ghost while trick-or-treating on Halloween night in 1973 in eastern North Carolina, I’m the Ghost of Halloween Past.