So Much Knowledge, So Little Intelligence

Words zipped past Reg's view in his augmented reality as he read an eBook in class. He'd managed to program in his reading speed which allowed him to speed read through just about any book.

“Reggie, are you paying attention?”

Miss Hooper, a tall blonde woman who looks about ready for a mid-life crisis by wearing jeans and a really tacky turtle neck sweater to a high school. Reg turned off his book feed of Advanced Survival Techniques: Deserts and cocked an eyebrow.

“Yeah, I guess so.” sighed Reg. Last time he spoke his mind it ended up making him look like an idiot in front of his entire class.

Miss Hooper smiled dryly and turned back to the LED screen wall she was delicately writing on with a stylus. A lesson plan on beginning Calculus. Reg rolled his eyes and thought “Already read two books on Calculus, and even theoretical physics”.

Bored after a moment with the lesson plan, he straightened himself in his classroom integration chair. All he'd have to do to learn anything he wanted to know was use his neural up-link to sync with the school's galactic internet connection, key in a couple search terms, and upload the information to his brain.

Hell he could learn to be a five star chef in under a week if he really wanted to be. Reading was just something to keep occupied while he had to be forced to dredge himself to school every day. Most days he doesn't even learn anything from the classes.

“You're not actually paying attention, are you Reggie?”

Putting his hands on his temple, his frustration showed. Reg had always been ahead of the curve but for some reason the adults who were somehow in charge of him felt the need to drag him slowly through this muck of social awkwardness.

He could have taken an apprenticeship for building matter manipulators, but no. This washed up old hag wants to teach him about something he's known about since twelve.

“I'm sorry Miss Hooper but I'm not. I can't. Everything you're covering was in two lesson plans I uploaded already, and I've even read two books on Calculus, and another on theoretical physics. I'm racking my brain trying to figure out why you won't let me skip high school altogether. Hell, what's the point of it at all?”

Looking around the room, he realized he was one of three kids sitting a room of twenty CIC's. One girl sat with her eyes glued to the floor, while the other was a boy who looked like he was filling out a worksheet on his augmented reality by waving his hand in the air as if to write out the problem.

Miss Hooper stood up straight and sighed. Shaking her head, she put her hand on Reg's black hair and ruffled it.

“There is a point of you being here Reggie. No one doubts that you can learn whatever you want. You're here because you refuse to apply that knowledge in any functional manner.”

Reg held his breath a moment and tried to hold back the anger within him. There were so many holes in her argument he had to try not to laugh. It wasn't hard.

“Apply the knowledge? How am I applying knowledge by repeating problems over and over again just so you can say I know how to apply it? I never asked for your opinion of my ability, now did I?”

Miss Hooper pushed down on his head and really ruffled his hair.

“You have no idea what life is like. We put you here because we've seen more life than you, and we know what you'll need to be a functional part of society.”

Reg had heard enough. Grabbing his brown messenger bag, he swatted her hand away from his head and stood up. Without a word, he made his way out of the room.

“Where are you going?! Class is not dismissed mister!”

Placing the strap over his shoulder, he stuck his hands in his white cotton hoodie and stormed out. Automatic doors beeped over and over as he passed. A clean white hallway with small black square projectors jutting out from the walls. Classroom numbers with information on class currently in session appeared next to the doors on his augmented reality feed.

“Reginald Bower you get back here this instant!”

A scowl washed over Reg's face. He'd had just about enough of adults telling him what to do. Loading the school's main server hub, he bypassed the firewall and installed a small virus file to the school's speaker system. Immediately the lights dimmed and the halls filled with a slow and somber violin solo. Turning back to Miss Hooper, she looked at him in surprise.

Reg whipped around and walked backwards, mocking her by pretending to play the world's smallest violin. Her slender face filled with rage as she stormed back into the classroom. Laughing and righting himself, turned back around to head towards the elevator. As he reached the end of the hall where he would make his descent he pulled up a feed of the school's suborbital camera.

Every week he had to take a shuttle out of the atmosphere to take classes on the Glasgow Federation Space Station. Staying there Monday through Friday was as awful as it sounds. At least on the weekends he could explore worlds with his virtual reality.

Titan IV had the most beautiful jungles. Thankfully in virtual reality bugs and diseases aren't an issue. Since the Glasgow Federation began terraforming planets for habitation they learned to scan the environments with pinpoint precision. This drove a whole host of tourism-themed VR games that basically let you explore their world sans people for free.

Most people would travel there to see more of the culture, but Reg was more interested in the evolution of plant and animal life on terraformed planets. A species of deer that could camouflage itself based on it's surroundings evolved on Titan IV. They say Legacy Prime could evolve a neanderthal type species over the next millennia.

The elevator dinged and pulled Reg out of his reverie. Sixteen and he had already explored so much in life through the wonders of technology. Stepping into the elevator he signaled it towards the hangar bay. His friend Germain ran cargo to the space station every day and would gladly give him a ride back whenever. Beats waiting for the weekend shuttle.

Quiet soothing music played over the elevator speaker as Reg pondered his next move. It was still only ten o' clock standard time so he probably had a while before Germain even showed up with his daily delivery. His AR feed signaled a hint at possible suggestions in text out of the corner of his eye.

[\Suggestions/]

1) Contact Germain to find his delivery schedule, then decide next course of action

2) Wait for Germain at the hangar, consume various media

3) Order Pizza, Win at Life

That last one was programmed to always show up for a giggle. Although contacting Germain wouldn't be terribly difficult... thought Reg. If it weren't for the school then hearing our every word and sending security to detain me before I could leave. Maybe two and three are appropriate.

With the decision made, Reg continued his course towards the shuttle hangar. There he could ask where the delivery bay was so he could wait for a non-existent package from Germain's shipment. Maybe he can even get a time from someone so he can go check out the arcade. Credits weren't an issue when you knew how to just bypass the payment system altogether to play.

At least he didn't take tickets out for prizes if he did it that way. Reg was an honest hacker. The elevator dinged and doors opened to a dirty looking hallway. Grease marks littered the steel floors and walls. Two men in overalls stood talking over coffee at a gravity manipulation machine.

“Excuse me gentlemen, I'm looking for...” Grabbing a piece of paper out of his pocket, Reg pretended to read something from it. “Shuttle 8221, Germain Lasko... They didn't give me a time but the package is a condenser for robotics class and my teacher says I need it today. Can you help?”

An Independent Celebration

Standing with a vitamin water in one hand, playing with her curly brown hair in the other, Cheryl leaned on the cubicle wall. Sitting in the chair that occupied the cubicle, Laurie sat with a magazine in her hands as the two chatted for a quick break.

“Can you believe this? The new guy is skipping the work fourth party to uphold a camping tradition? Who the hell goes camping on the fourth of July?!”

Cheryl opened the bottle in her hand and took a drink. Laurie looked up at her, her golden blonde hair straightened and in a ponytail. Resting the magazine on her leg, she looked up and gave a strange look.

“Right?! How did he even manage to get out of it? Isn't the company picnic kind of a mandatory thing?”

Pointing at her with the bottle of water, Cheryl's face distorted to a level of annoyance that Laurie had never seen.

Seriously! I've got at least two other parties I could be going to, not even to mention how we have to plan our family get together around me having to work. Twenty other people all have it off and I'm stuck here because Tom thinks it's 'Good for work cohesion' or whatever.”

Laurie set the magazine down on the desk to pick up a nail file.

“Don't we normally make the newbies bring the potluck stuff? We're gonna be down a dish for all of us thanks to that. What an ass hole!”

As she filed her nail a door opened on the other side of the cubicle and a man poked his head out. With a grin on his face, he spoke in condescending tones.

“Well girls, he wrote on his resume this is something he does every year. And if you wonder why he gets it off and not you, is because he's far more qualified for his job and definitely delivers as such. What are you earning yourself by bitching about someone else's life?”

Both girls scowled at him. Cheryl rolled her eyes and walked away like she had better things to do. Laurie also rolled her eyes as she placed her nail file down and swiveled her chair back to her desktop computer.

“Yeah, that's what I thought. Oh, and Laurie, why don't you bring something for the potluck if you're so worried about us being short on food for everyone.”

Laurie cocked an eyebrow at him.

“Sir, I've been here so long I haven't brought anything for the potluck in three years.”

The man thought to himself a moment and gave another cocky smile.

“Well, then I suppose it's time you contributed more than whine.”

Giving an audible grunt in disgust, she scrunched her face in anger and began typing.

“And make sure it's home made. None of that store bought stuff. Everyone just brings store bought stuff nowadays. It's maddening!”

Laughing as he shut the door, Laurie scowled at him.

#####

Sitting on a camping chair, Marty ran his hands through his sun bleached short hair. Dirt smeared his light complexion and ran with sweat in the mid day sun. Laughing as he reached down for a cooler, he opened it up and popped open a cold beer. His campground was now set. Tent had been erected. Campfire pit was dug and a fire started. Food was hung from the tree. How much better could Independence Day get?

“Honey, do you remember where I put my book?”

A woman called from inside the two room tent. Fabric crinkled beneath her feet as she sifted through her bag. Marty took a sip of his beer and thought for a moment.

“It should be in your bag. Did you take it out for the road trip at all?”

A zipper whizzed open and a tall curvy blonde stepped out of the mesh. She gasped and crumpled her nose in annoyance.

“Damnit! I left it in the car didn't I? I really don't want to hike any more.”

Marty chuckled and placed his beer in the cup holder of his chair. Standing up, he approached her with a grin on his face.

“Oh come now dear. We can go get it later. Just be thankful you didn't leave your gunpowder there when you were preparing for an ambush on the red coats.”

Smiling lightly, she leaned in towards Marty.

“Yes, yes. I get it. Please spare me your patriotic rant. You already got me out here didn't you?”

Grabbing her in his arms, he looked up slyly at her. She was still a good two inches taller than him. It was strange when they started dating, but he had gotten used to it.

“Alright, I know you get the point. At least I'm not at that work picnic today. Every work picnic I've ever gone to is people half-assedly trying to get along with each other. Wasting a bunch of food and making far too much unnecessary noise. Trying far too hard to impress people who are only there to judge their every move.”

She rolled her eyes and squished him in her arms. He smiled as his face dove into her plentiful cleavage. She knew how to get him to shut up.

“I know I know, hon. We've been through this. Just because you don't celebrate it that way doesn't make them wrong for doing it that way.”

He tried to pull away to give a rebuttal. She didn't let him. Keeping his face dug into her chest, she grabbed the back of his head and pushed it in. Marty started laughing and grinning like a fool as he motor-boated her breasts.

“Just remember it's not about what they're doing. If you want to celebrate independence, then celebrate it by having your desires being independent of theirs. And there's one thing I know that even they would agree would be a good way to celebrate today.”

She let her hand off his head and held him lightly. His hair in the front was ruffled so bad it made him look like he'd just escaped the loony bin. Pulling his head up and laying it on the top of her chest, he smiled at her.

“What would that be?”

Giving him bedroom eyes, she looked slyly back at the tent.

“Getting super high and having hot tent sex with your girlfriend!”

His eyes grew wide and the smile on his face somehow grew even wider. She felt exactly what he thought of that idea the moment she said it. It was poking her in the thigh as it was. He stepped back and he bowed to her, waving her into the tent.

“Well I can't argue with that. After you m'lady!”

With a swing of her hips, she booped him on the nose with her finger and entered the tent. Taking a deep breath and admiring the trees around him, he smiled and nodded.

“God bless America.”

Taking his shirt off, he entered the tent and zipped it shut.

 

A Wake Up Call With A Snooze Button

Staring at the TV, Gary scratched his belly. Laying down across the couch was all he could do to keep from falling asleep. Life had gotten so dull lately. Everything was generally the same day to day. Work at the office was always boring. Being a pencil pusher made it difficult to get in the right mindset to spice up your life.

In other news, a local gas station is under investigation for a string of murders-”

Grabbing the remote, he turned off the TV. It clicked silent to leave his mind to wander. Here he was, thirty-two with a steady job, bills are paid, fun money is there. Yet something just doesn't feel right. How could he have all of this opportunity of the world at large in front of him with no desire to explore it. Where did all the drive go?

Is work really that soul sucking? Should we rally to automate everything so people never have to work again? More people would get behind that than you'd think. Although perhaps thinking was the problem. You can spend all day thinking about what you want to do but it never really gets you doing it. Sitting up on the couch, Gary straightened his shirt to cover his slight beer belly. His brown hair was mussed up like he'd just rubbed a balloon to create static.

It may as well have been static with the cloth the old couch was made of. Looking around the room, he realized there was something he hadn't done in a very long time. Pictures of him in hiking gear out at Boulder Hill Trail. It had taken him three hours to find his way back from the vantage point he finally decided on for the picture.

Standing up he walked over to the small bookshelf with pictures of his various escapades. Somewhere something went dull and made these things less interesting. Or did it? Does the rut of work life truly take the joy out of home life? It seems to be a likely explanation. You only have to spend all day entering numbers and printing documents once to realize it becomes a very dull and lifeless kind of job.

Inhaling through his nose, he smelled everything around him. It was a pretty neutral smell considering it was his own living room. Reaching for his phone on the floor by the couch made him realize what day it was. Saturday was really the only day he had to lounge like this. He checked the weather and his calendar. There was nothing going on, and sifting through texts from his friends reminded him they were all gone for the weekend.

Scratching his chin as he pondered what he could do. There was rain due in a few hours, but that left at least three or four hours of sun to enjoy. A list of local parks and some gas in the car was all he needed. Yet something felt... off. Like he wasn't supposed to be leaving the house for some reason. It wasn't every day one had an ominous feeling like this. Could it mean something? Nah. Gary wasn't one for superstition.

Running upstairs he changed into some loose khakis and a thin v-neck shirt. Patting down his pockets to make sure he had his wallet and keys was the last thing before leaving. Yet as he put his hand on the door knob, that ominous feeling grew stronger still.

Every fiber of his being told him this was a bad idea. Come to think of it, he hadn't even looked outside himself. Light shone through the window next to the front door as if it were a bright sunny day. Looking out, the clouds were light and fluffy. Nothing out of the ordinary. There must not be much of a reason for the feeling if everything checks out.

Turning the handle on the door made the feeling go away completely. Beholding what was on the other side however, made different feelings arise within Gary. Confusion mostly. A hint of fear, but mostly confusion. His neighbors were standing in front of their house talking like they were friends. The sky was more akin to the top of a warehouse with beams stretching across to hold flood lights illuminating the area. Large clumps of white fluff hung from the ceiling by small strings.

A large light blue tarp was rolled up on the back side of the warehouse. Looking to his right to inspect the window by his door, a thin television screen was attached to the other side to fit the window perfectly. Looking back into the house, he tried to look out the window again. It looked just like a real sunny day from the other side.

His mind raced with questions. Jim, his neighbor, spotted him from the yard next to him and walked over with a smile on his face and a beer in his hand.

“Hey Gary! Wanna join us for a couple beers?”

Gary looked at Jim with a sigh and a highly confused look on his face. Gary couldn't find the words he needed to express his disbelief. Luckily Jim picked up on it.

“Oh! That's right! You haven't been out of the house on a weekend in a while. So this happened about six months ago actually-”

Jim went on to explain that aliens had arrived at some point and royally messed up the atmosphere somehow. So in order to protect humanity from it's mistake, it built a housing for every major city and urban area that protected them from the radiation emanating from the alien's reactor core. They were here to help supposedly. Gary pointed at the clouds and the tarp, and began to speak but was promptly cut off.

“Oh that? That's just a little something we've been doing. Makes things feel more... normal during the week ya know? Created a lot of jobs at least.”

Gary cocked an eyebrow and began to rub his temple. How could he have missed something this major? He knew the rut cut him off from what's happening in the world but... He watches the news every day to make up for that. It's a shame that just usually turns in to nap time. If it wasn't, he might have seen this happen.

At that moment his phone buzzed with a text from his friends. It was a group picture of them with a strange blue humanoid figure wearing a backwards ball cap and holding a joint in it's pincer. All the text said was With love from Colorado.

Taking a deep breath, Gary looked around trying to find in his mind what to do next. Thoughts and questions swirled in his mind. Not just about how ridiculous life had apparently gotten in his mental absence. How could he have possibly gotten so absent-minded? How could he have missed all of this? Jim looked at him with concern and patted him on the shoulder.

“Hey, I get it. We all had our moments that made it difficult to accept. Aliens? Really? We'd seen so many movies about it and expected something more... grand. A war. Economic and philosophical prosperity. But honestly, what we got was basically some really smart drinking buddies.”

Gary couldn't help but laugh at that. Alien drinking buddies? I mean, sure. It was bound to happen at some point. But there must be more to this than meets the eye. The world had just gotten infinitely more interesting.

“Like, the other week they announced subterranean tunnels to travel from major cities. Give em another year or two they'll have atmospheric levels back to normal to where we can just start living on Earth like normal again.”

Jim's eyes were alight with wonder and passion. This man was wildly ecstatic that aliens were now a part of his life. Gary realized this may not be nearly as bad as he thought if all of it were true. It was easy to think that these promises can be kept by a species so advanced we couldn't possibly understand what kind of reach they have.

“You know, it's enough to make ya not care their reactor core radiation leaks sterilized 95% of the population. They can always make test tube babies, and once we find out who are the last fertile ones we can begin to rebuild from there.”

Gary thought on this for a moment. Every time Jim talks it adds another layer to this extreme new reality Gary had been thrown in to. No doubt there were countless other angles to this alien coexistence thing. Turning into his house, Gary waved goodbye to Jim and shut the door behind him. Lying back down on the couch, he continued to stare at the ceiling. He needed more time to think on this alone.

Edward and the Raven

Lilac. That's the smell that always brought Ed out to this nature trail. Dirt whispered beneath his feet as a soft breeze tickled the leaves of the oak trees. A small lilac bush grew wild amid the trail, surrounded by various other plants of all kinds. Trekking through the thinly beaten path of dirt and grass led him exactly where he wanted to go.

He trudged this path wearing a new pair of brown cargo pants, a thin t-shirt with the logo of his favorite beer "Shweitzer", and some basic sneakers. The week had been crazy working behind the bar. Being a bartender downtown meant an inordinate amount of people every night. It was a good living for sure. But hardly an ideal one for an introvert.

Wind blew and reminded him again of the smell of lilacs. This time it was accompanied by a smell he was entirely unfamiliar with. Musty. Earthy. Moldy. Mixing with the lilac creating a strange bitter-sweetness in his mind. Pulling out his phone, he checked the map he kept pulled up for long hikes.

This park had miles of trails. All of them were mapped, mind you. So even if he had no idea where he really was, he could check at any time. GPS was faltering, and couldn't pinpoint his location. No matter. It's not like he'd never been around this trail before. Rustling of a bush caught his attention, and he looked quickly to his right to see a deer prancing out of view.

Strange. He had never seen a trail branch off to the side. The tree line grew thick, and unfamiliar. Though he'd seen this trail before, this looked new. A small, incredibly worn down wood sign had a crude steel square on it, marked in sharpie with the words "Trail Closed". That's all Ed needed to see. Any time there's a trail closed sign he was sure to follow it down all the way to the end.

More often than not, it led to another trail that led to the main circuit. Sometimes it led to a dead end, and he simply followed it back. Not much to lose really. The grass grew taller and scattered between the gnarled oak branches. Something felt strange about them. Ed had never seen Oak trees grow with their branches entwined like that.

This trail must be something terribly special. The smell of tall grass and lilac faded, as a neutral smell of bark and mold permeated from the trail. Ahead of him the trail continued on a beaten path while oak branches gnarled even tighter and began to limit the light getting through.

It bent and curved for what felt like a good mile. Filled with the same plants, same trees. The only difference in scenery was the smell. Things started to smell cleaner. Fresher. More open. With a hint of musty mildew. Not long after noticing the smell, a cave appeared on the trail ahead. As he approached, the rustling of leaves startled him.

A raven flew out from the trees and landed on the path in front of him. It looked right at him. Stopping dead in his tracks, Ed felt a strange tinge of anxiety creep into his mind. Something didn't feel right. Yet it felt like if he didn't investigate, it would feel even worse. Cawing once, the raven picked at the ground. It picked up a small stone, round and neatly polished.

It looked back at Ed, and lifted it's wings to take off. Gracefully it flew up and back around into the cave behind it.

"Well then..." Ed muttered to himself.

It only felt proper to follow after it. Sure it was kinda scary, but that's part of the allure. What could be on the other side? Knowing this world, probably just a dead end. Or a bear. That's a possibility too. Feeling unsure of himself, Ed began to take that first shaky step. In the war against curiosity, Ed frequently lost.

The earth beneath his feet started to feel heavier. More real. It gave way like it was moist and fertile. Until he came to the cave. The smell of mold filled his nostrils, and he had to take his phone out to use as a light. Thankfully he had a flashlight app. Flashing it from wall to wall, it was difficult to really get a good picture of what the cave looked like.

He decided instead of trying to get a full picture, he'd just make sure he had firm footing ahead of him. Pointing the flashlight in front of him, he walked slowly but surely ahead. The steady hum of air moving through the stagnant cave made it difficult to concentrate. Still, he moved forward.

The sound of moving water made his heart jump. There was a river in this cave somehow. There weren't any rivers nearby. Hell, there weren't even any lakes nearby. He was really unsure of himself now, considering that was a sure fire sign that he'd stumbled on something no one else had before. Someone would have noticed a cave with an underground river in a heavy traffic state park by now, right?

He pushed forward, checking the battery on his phone. It was getting low, but it was enough to get him through and back. Hopefully. The sound of a rock skipping on the hard floor startled him. A caw echoed much louder than he'd care for, and the raven stood in front of him again. It bounced and cocked it's head, hopping towards him curiously. 

Ed stared at it quizzically. It made it's way to his feet and looked up at him. Cawing again, he reached for his ear with his free hand.

"That's a bit loud, don't you think?"

It let loose a quiet squawk, and pecked at his feet a moment. Hopping around back over to it's pebble, picking it up and taking off into the air again. Shining the flashlight on it, Ed watched to try and see where it went. It flew forward a few feet, then dove downward. A caw echoed again after a few seconds. As if to beckon Ed forward.

His heart began to beat quickly, and he walked carefully forward. A few feet ahead he came to the ledge of a steep decline. It looked dangerous to try and walk down, but he could slide down slowly without any harm. Kneeling down on the ground, he sat near where the decline started and began to slowly put his leg over to start the descent.

Another caw echoed through the cave, reminding him to push forward. Slowly he descended down the rocky hill, trying to not rip his pants. The smell of water overwhelmed his nose, leading him to believe that there was an underground pool nearby. Something strange hinted in the air too. The smell of lilacs, but different in a way.

It smelled like lilacs, but it must be another type of flower he'd never seen before. The decline started to get slippery, and he began to slide involuntarily down. His phone gripped tightly in his hand, he pointed it downward a bit more to see where he was going. Directly towards a cliff. The rush of water started to fill the cave, and slowly he realized he could be descending towards an underwater ravine.

That did not bode well. He tried to no avail to grip the rock face he now slid awkwardly down at a much more alarming rate. His heart beat intensely, and fear began to grip him. This could end very poorly. A caw echoed through the cave, and calm entered him again. It was like the raven was telling him everything will end well. 

He tried to dig his foot into the rock regardless. His sense started to overcome his curiosity. Unfortunately, as his sense beckoned him to turn back, he was now too far into his adventure. The rock face grew slippery from the moisture, and even his clothes started to dampen. At this point, he knew that he would continue downward whether he liked it or not.

Placing his phone back into his cargo pocket as quickly as he could, he hugged the rock face. He was only feet away from the cliff face now. It was right there. A caw came again, and he took a deep breath. Closing his eyes, he loosened his grip on the rock face and let himself slide.

Fear quickly overcame him as he slid quickly down and over the side. Vertigo kicked in as he tried to tell his body to straighten out for the water. Thankfully the fall wasn't that far. Although if it had, he probably wouldn't have slammed his leg on the water's surface. The current was strong, and pulled him along at an alarming rate. Rushing back to the surface, all he could hear was water rushing by.

A caw echoed through as strong as the water, and he was pulled under again by the current. For a moment, he wondered how his curiosity could have possibly gotten him into this much trouble. Then he realized he didn't have time to think about what happened. He had to think of what is happening now.

He fought as hard as he could to stay above water. It was difficult, and the current pulled him under one more time. Water pulled him along like a rag doll until finally he felt himself free of the water again. Free of water, and of solid ground beneath him. Light filled his eyes, and it took a moment for them to adjust. He felt like he was falling, and a caw came to his side again.

A heavy breeze blew past him, causing his wet clothes to give him chills. His eyes adjusted quickly. What he saw, he couldn't even begin to comprehend. A massive red crystal illuminated in the distance. Towering above the trees with massive stone structures floating around it. Looking down, he realized he was slowly falling through the air. Not like normal. Safely falling.

A raven flew by with it's wings outstretched and it circled around towards him again. There was no sound from it, only the pebble in its mouth. What had to have been hundreds of feet below him was a structure like he'd never seen before. It was a shrine built around the basin of a waterfall. The one he had just been thrown out of.

The raven circled around him, and he felt his body tug slightly forward. As it flew back in front of him, this time he followed. An exhilarating feeling overwhelmed him as he glided on the air towards the ground. It led him swiftly away from the waterfall towards the woods below. Trees colored with greens of all colors, and even some reds.

The raven flew towards the ground, and the trees creaked and moved to greet them. A small evenly grassed clearing below rushed up to him, as he floated slowly down towards it. Falling awkwardly on his side as it let him down, he looked up to see the raven hopping up to him on the ground. A giggle came from behind him, as it placed the pebble in front of him.

This cannot possibly be happening. Ravens cawed from all around him. Swarms of them were circling above. 

"Welcome Ed." The voice of a sultry woman was behind him. It was accompanied by the strange smell similar to lilac.

The Valhalla Protocol - Labyrinth of Daetheria

A crystal explosion had broken the silence within the massive mossy stone halls of the ruins of Daetheria. It was the home of a notorious Minotaur that resided below his home of the Valhalla Rise. Jericho had grown up there, unknowing of the vast world that lay beyond the endless seas that raged hundreds of feet below the edge of the Rise's bluffs. There was only one way in, or out. A tunnel that had been sealed ages ago to protect us from the world's dangers.

A cough came out of nowhere, as he felt his lungs were filling with blood. He never thought he would even be beyond that tunnel, let alone running for his life from a Minotaur. Feeling his side for the shard, he concentrated on the point that felt worst, and imagined it healing all the way through. A green light emanated from his well worn leather gloves. He wasn't much of a fighter, but he knew a trick or two to stay alive. Tremors pounded like thunder and assaulted the very ruins with the Minotaur's rage.

“Your people's gall never ceases to amaze me. First, you tell me that you require aid. Then, you tell me you are of Valhallan descent. I've had interactions with humans many times in my day young one, but my axe has had many, many more!”

Looking back, Jericho picked up the pace as his wound healed. The beast was five times his size, and he wasn't exactly scrawny. The roar of a massive stone axe dragging through the labyrinth made his ears begin to lose the ability to hear anything but. It was grinding away at his very core. Nervously, he tried his best to come up with something to diffuse the situation.

“I'm terribly sorry if I disturbed you! I assure you I meant no harm! If you are unwilling to render aid, I will gladly leave!”

The noise of the beast's laughter nearly knocked him over. A tribal cloth was all that covered the furred beast. His horns had rings pierced through them, many with skulls attached. A necklace adorned with what must have been dragon teeth and a large uncut ruby left Jericho wondering if it was functional. Hoof after hoof battered the stone beneath, growing ever closer to it's prey. Looking around, All he could see were lines of separate tunnels in front of him.

He had a feeling the beast wouldn't allow him to make it that far. All he had left were his wits, and he wasn't sure what good those would do. Still, something must be done. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a small vial of glittering white dust. Popping the lid off, he poured the entirety of it into his hands and let it fall loose. Readying his legs, he grasped the hand full of dust and turned to face the Minotaur.

Throwing it as hard as he could, each grain exploded into a blinding burst of light. The beast began to run forward and covered his eyes, believing it to be a simple illusion. Unfortunately for him, Jericho had picked up a trick or two during his experimenting with magic.

The dust covered the Minotaur and as it made contact, each little grain exploded with a burst of air and threw him forcefully onto his back. Jericho wondered how long that would keep him down.

Make the Mose of it

My name is Mose. I'm a zombie, technically. See, the metropolis I lived in was cursed and buried under like, a whole crap load of sand for a hand full of centuries. Although I didn't know him before all this happened, a pretty stand up guy named Kim rose me from the dead. Now, I know what you're thinking:

“Black magic?! Exile him! He is a necromancer!”

Sure, he may be meddling in powers beyond his understanding, but he's actually doing it to be nice! Did you know that he managed to tweak his spell to make us not feel negative emotions? It's certainly splendid if I do say so myself! I lost my eyeball last week and well, it all seems pretty funny the longer time goes on.

I'm sure it'll turn up one of these days! Anyway, Kim is a stand up guy I tell ya and all he wants in the whole wide world is to be accepted into the Mage's Academy in Freya. The town and I really love the guy and we will miss him dearly, but we want to help him move forward in life. So we all thought we would write letters to the academy directors and tell you why he deserves to develop his skills there!

There was this one time, when Deloris lost her left thumb, he actually grew one from the side of a pig and re-attached it to her! Golly gee she was sure happy to be able to play racket ball with us again. We had gone every Tuesday for weeks and one week she passed out at a party and woke up without it! Gotta lay off that cactus juice sometimes you know?

Well, I'm rambling, so I suppose I'll just close with reminding you Kim really is a great guy. Give him a chance, and you'll make more than just him happy! Thank you sir and/or madame!

 

Sincerely,

Mose

The Valhalla Protocol - Odin's Labyrinth

Caverns surrounded him and appeared to shift as he gazed around speechless. No one direction felt like the right way to go. Somehow he had found himself in this labyrinth filled with the stench of decay and blood. Checking his gear, he realized that he was somehow stripped of everything but his bow. Perhaps the enchantment that bound it to him allowed him to keep it even within his dreams.

Imbibing a strange bowl of liquid at an altar wasn't normally the way he found his way around. These however were some extreme circumstances. Wilhelm was honor bound to allow him time to complete the ritual, and that's all he could do to figure out a way out of this mess. A Minotaur wasn't exactly something he wanted to fight. So now he's here, trying to figure out which part of the cavern holds the prize he seeks. 

Stone was carved in places, while the natural openings within the rock a blurred white light through them. To his right was a dark cave that echoed with the sound of running water. In front of him was a tattered and moldy ruins entrance with a stairway leading down. Light crept through the stairway, hinting that he would at least be able to function normally there.

To his left appeared to be a small outcropping in the cave with a large pond. The face of the water was so still he could see there was another tunnel leading through under the water. He could also see something stirring at the bottom of the pool. As he noticed the movement, the sand shifted and began to part. Instinctively, he dodged backwards. Just as he tumbled backwards, a grotesque mass of mud snapped out through the water. A massive eye opened in the vaguely human figure.

"Who are you to disturb this hallowed ground?!"

Full Dive Dad - Prologue

"It's gettin' to be his birthday soon. I want to get him something really cool that his other friends won't have. You know, something big." Walking slowly down the detergent aisle, Jeff and I were checking for faced products and where things needed to be filled. "Oh? What exactly did you have in mind?" Stopping at a pallet of off brand fabric softener, Jeff noted they needed to get another pallet down. "That new Virtual Reality thing coming out he's been raving about. Apparently they're just starting to do some beta testing for home console versions. Thing's run a good five grand!" 

He stopped again and looked at me like I was crazy. "Jesus Greg! I know you make good money managing but ye gods man! That's a lot of money for a game system!" Waving my clip board around, the sounds of the morning pre-open store check filled the neighborhood Costco. "Yeah, it certainly is. But it also is a very unique opportunity and something I'd love for him to be a part of. He's so passionate about technology of course I want to give him that!" Things were going smoothly with the morning drills, a few hiccups here or there with lazy employees but nothing out of the ordinary.

Jeff sighed and shook his head while we went through the deposits. I was so excited to tell someone about my awesome Dad plan. I don't exactly spoil him by any means. "Besides, did you know that Costco pulled some strings and got me one! It was supposed to be closed market! Invite only!" So many drawers were wrong. Cashiers suck sometimes. "Yeah I get it man I get it! You did a cool thing! Kinda tooting your own horn a bit too much don't you think?"

###

He was right. Maybe I didn't need to rub it in so much. Still, I was proud of my accomplishment. What was I supposed to do? Either way, there was no way in hell I could have imagined learning so much from that thing. From a game. It taught me one very important lesson: My son has just as much to teach me, as I do him. I want to say I feel bad for him, especially knowing that he'll never know his mother, and will probably never see his dad again either. 

All I know is it was fun while it lasted, and I am going to miss him. Somehow, he'll find a better life. I know he will.

Four Oh... Four - This Means Something...

"All I have to do now is connect the motor and..." Reaching down to my freshly built quad-copter UAV, I connected a wire directly to the motor. It bypasses the usual safeties on small motors like this, so I could overclock it for a bit more speed from the rotors. That means steadier and quicker height control. Whirring came from the motor, and the small plastic blades all started to spin in sync with each other. 

It's a piece of art, really. It looks like a regular quad-UAV, but it had one slight difference. Not only did it have a fully rotational camera on both the top and bottom, but it also had a high quality miniature microphone that could filter out the reverberation coming from the blades for a pretty solid clear sound. Speakers around the bottom of the chassis let me broadcast any sounds I wanted from my phone. Like my voice, or a silly sound, or a bird call to lure out certain species of birds.

The sink is still running in the kitchen. My small apartment living room wasn't really the place to be building my masterpiece, but I didn't have much to work with. Most of my money went into the three-dimensional printer I bought to build it. That was a lot of my grant money for the lab though... Ah still! If this thing works the way I made it to, I'll be waving the patent in their faces and getting a partnership! 

Think of the uses! Probably the best part for me is seeing exactly how the AI reacts to change in stimulus, and how it will learn to scan it's surroundings more efficiently. Oh the glory of robotics! "Peter! Did you leave the sink on in the other room again?" Libby is my late wife's sister. Ah, little background might help I guess... I got married about four years ago to a very lovely woman by the name of Abigail Kingsly. Our two year anniversary was a very special one for both of us, in that I got a phone call, and she got in a terrible car accident.

Save the sob story though, I've heard it enough. Yes, real tragic, awful stuff. But life happens. I loved her, and still very much do, and that's all there is to it. Now I have Libby, her sister, though not in a romantic sense. I just live with her, since they were twins and Abby and I got along so well, naturally Libby and I did too. Only difference really, is that Abby had no issues dating a small person.

Yeah, I'm four foot five inches tall. It's not so bad really, I just have to find other tools to live life with. Hence, my invention here is an exploration drone. Long story short, I live with Libby now because it's hard to take care of some household stuff living alone. Anyway, I used to have a wife, I live with her sister now. Now that that's taken care of, let's get this faucet turned off.

Hopping with joy into the other room, I turned the faucet off. "Do you hear that Libby?" A moment of silence passed, and you could hear the motor and the blades from the drone. "Did you finally finish it?" She walked into the living room, a fit, solid girl in her mid thirties, much like me. Except she was average sized, and looked like she could literally throw me across the room. Strong girl would be an understatement. I hopped back into the living room with a grin right between my black goatee. 

"You're damn right I finished it! Now he just needs a name, and a test run. I think I know what I want to call him." Libby was all smiles on that pretty face of hers. Her blonde hair was tied in a bun behind her head, and she was wearing some comfortable lounge clothes. She wore some pretty intimate stuff sometimes. Told me that since she was twins with Abby, and I'd seen Abby naked plenty of times, it's not like she has anything to hide.

It's true, I guess. I'm still a man though, and that can be kind of problematic. "What's on your mind?" She leaned against the hallway wall, and watched it hover in the air for a moment. "Ed. For Exploration Drone. Pretty simple, but still a name. I think he's booting up his subroutines. I started the bootup process before I finished the rotors since I know it takes a good long time." I excitedly watched as it floated in the air, and Libby cocked her head to the side. "Ed huh? Not bad. Simple. I guess I can appreciate that."

Bootup Sequence Alpha is complete. Status: Charlie. 

Libby looked weirded out by the fact that it played it's status message in my voice. "What? Who else was supposed to record his status messages?" She nodded in agreement. "Yeah, I guess. That's pretty cool there Pete. What's it for again?" Checking my phone, I pulled up the status UI on the app that linked directly to Ed. It streamed it's camera and microphone data directly to my phone, which then bounced that data to a cloud on my desktop at home, and also a backup on my computer at work.

"It's an exploration drone! It's basically so I can just explore cities and parks and stuff and see what I wouldn't normally be able to see." It's easy to see why I'm excited about this right? Is that not something most people want? "So you're gonna use this thing in the city? What are you looking for? People hookin' up with the blinds open? That's a helluva lot of nerding out for a voyeur website startup." I couldn't help but laugh really hard at that. I know that's not what I'm using it for. In fact, I had never even thought that it could be used for something like that.

I guess it could. "No, I built it so I could see your 'hot yoga' sessions out in the city with that guy Terry you keep telling me does such a great class. I've been meaning to get down there but it's just such a hassle, so I built a robot that could be there in my stead while I stream it here and take the class in the privacy of my own home. Genius, no?" That one caught her off guard. We have this thing, where we try to say the least sensible answer we can think of. We've gotten good at it.

"I gotta admit, you had me going with the quoted 'hot yoga' sessions. Thought you were insinuating something else. Which hey, you're a smart guy. Maybe one day you'll learn what some of this subtle talk about hooking up is all about. That is, if your nerdiness doesn't keep you from developing anxiety over the subject." Ouch. That one dug deep. "You're mean. That was a low blow and you know it. Are we really gonna play this dirty?" 

"Like pigs rolling in the mud." Oh, she's feeling feisty today. "Ah, no wonder you're so good at it. You've been doing that for a while now I suppose. I'm still new to this, so thanks for holding my hand with it." That one hit pretty good. "No problem. I'm used to holding your hand too, by the way." She turned around with a smirk on her face, and slapped her toned butt with her hand. "Oh wow. That is a new low." She just laughed, and I realized I set myself up again so bad she didn't even have to say it.

Oh god. At least I have Ed. Wait, where did Ed go? I hear the whirring, but he's not here anymore. Did I miss him go off on his first exploration? He's in the kitchen probably! Rushing into the kitchen, I found Ed hovering above the sink. The camera was scanning the counter, but it kept getting stuck on the faucet. What's wrong buddy? Pulling out my phone, I could tell that the faucet position was causing it to glitch and have to re-scan the entire counter again for a proper picture.

Except it was in an infinite loop because it kept hitting the faucet snag each time. Moving the faucet head so it centered between the sinks, Ed finally got to finish his scan. He started to move back out towards the living room, but instead I made him land on the kitchen counter and shut down. I had to review the programming for the faucet handle and figure out what caused the glitch before I moved on, considering if he wanted to really explore he couldn't have snags like that.

He's still in development stage, and there's lots of kinks to work out, but once I get him fully calibrated he'll be able to show me some pretty awesome corners of the world. So let's see here... First I'll review the footage, see where it glitched, and go from there. 

In Between Moments - The Strangeness of Quiet

It's strange. This quiet calm. It's like a momentary reprieve from what our lives have become. Explosions. Gun fire. Men shouting out orders. I live in a war zone. Why are people fighting here? I honestly can't tell you. I don't fight for either side, I just live here. My home land has become ragged and worn down, if not destroyed in many places. Asphalt lay littered in the streets, along with the garbage both sides bring. Explosions from either side have torn holes in our favorite restaurants. Have made us find another grocery store to provide food for our families. And even made our families find other ways to educate and keep our kids safe during the day. 

Despite the destruction, there is peace yet to be found here. In moments like this. Where regardless of the reasons, both sides cease to destroy. Here I sit, in my bullet ridden car, trying to get into town to pick up groceries on the safer side of town. Everyone is quiet. No one says a word. Why? Because it's not often we get quiet like this. The serene stillness of the air. Hearing with wind blow, without the smell of gunpowder. It's strange, but it's moments like these that keep us going. The hope that our lives may once again return to the normal quiet. Watching the trees slowly sway in the breeze, and actually hearing the clatter of leaves.

Hearing a stranger on the side walk crinkle a bag as they walk home from the store. A couple enjoying small talk on their door steps, while the rest of us just enjoy the peace. We all know it will continue again, and perhaps that's for the best. Perhaps there is a reason there is fighting here, perhaps there isn't. Regardless of the reasons, this is what we have for the moment. Peace and quiet. And perhaps all that fighting, all that destruction and loss, is exactly the reason we appreciate that peace and quiet. I know our struggles are more directly life threatening than most. But the concept is the same.

We do not appreciate the peace and quiet without the chaos and the noise. So while the breeze still blows, and the quiet still remains, I will enjoy it. Because I know once the fighting begins again, we will not have the time to look back on this moment until we have another like it again. Thank you moment. While you may be a small shred of peace in between all the chaos, I will appreciate you regardless.

Four Oh... Four


We live in the age of robots. How awesome is that? Except there was such a huge artificial intelligence scare and it's outlawed across the globe. Something about "They'll wreak havoc and cause deaths rampant!". Or some such bull shit. Personally, I said to hell with this law. I think it's a load of bunk. As far as I know I'm the only one to really think that though.

So one day, I was tinkering with an old airborne drone of mine and thought: Why don't I just write an algorithm that makes it look for other potential points of interest based on wind conditions and visual stimuli? It's that simple. I didn't program him to be anything other than a way to explore the world with my own actions. I didn't expect it to be such a big thing.

Yeah, there was a lot of chaos, havoc, rampant death. But if what I've seen is true, it was never the robots doing the killing. They weren't programmed for that and no one wanted to program them for that anyway. But there was still killing. No one seems to know why. Hive mind? Maybe. Anarchy? Nah. The real problem is humanity wasn't ready to accept what artificial intelligence would do to it.

My friend taught me one thing in all this, and that's that robots are a natural part of progression in cosmic life. Because while the robots may start out cold, emotionless, and only capable of us telling them what we want them to do. But artificial intelligence reiterates the fact that our lives are accumulations of our choices. Humanity didn't want to accept the fact that there's no greater force making them act like dick holes.

There's no voice in the head of the masses telling them to commit immoral acts upon their fellow humans. They can't handle the idea that it was just them being dicks. That's all humanity has ever been on the broad scale. Being dicks about it. God forbid we just accept that our nature isn't perfect and we're designed to love chaos...

That's still not what I wanted though. I didn't want anyone to get hurt. That being said I'd still do it all regardless. I gained far too much out of it. What did I gain?

I gained a friend.

The Last Life to Live

Name's Wayne. I'm just a simple guy, looking for something so complex you can't possibly comprehend the nature of it's existence. If there is a purpose to it, it's a cosmic joke. Someone, somewhere is laughing at my pain. My suffering. Glowing bright red it can attach itself to any surface and move about with a speed that doesn't seem natural. I feel like it's haunted me in past lives... And will continue to haunt me until the day I die.

It's been on my mind a lot more than normal lately. Something just doesn't feel right. Bruce has been distant as of late... Can't say I blame her. Someone who is so obsessed with something they may never be able to obtain can't possibly be healthy to be around. Maybe that's why I feel more stressed than normal. Haven't had my gal at my side when I need her most.

Yeah, I know what you're thinking. Bruce is a girl? Well you can't blame her for the name her crazy mother gave her. Needless to say once she could get out of that house she did. No need to keep ties with people who seem hellbent on making your life infinitely more difficult. What are parents for though, right? I need something to calm my nerves. 

Standing up from my desk I know what I need the most. A glass of warm milk. It isn't just a bedtime tradition for me. It was the only way for me to relax without having Bruce around. There's just something about it that calms the soul. Relaxes you. Or maybe that's just me. My office is a mess. I may want to think about cleaning it up.

But when you're so obsessed with finding out as much as you can about the red,  cleanliness isn't exactly on your mind. Papers are strewn out across the floor, marked with sightings of the red. The boxes I had kept them in are all empty and lining the room. It's been appearing more and more lately, and not just to me. It seems like it's been haunting the entire town. Even Jerry, the town rat has been getting grief from it.

Walking through the papers was difficult without disturbing them. So much for being a professional detective. I'm not sure if having so much research material out like this is seen as a sign of a thorough job, or insanity. Either way, people still seem to keep coming through to find what they're looking for. No matter what that may be. A lost toy, a lost love, and even their lost sanity.

I may not be a psychologist, but sometimes people just need someone to talk to. It's all the same to me. I still help them find what they're looking for, even if that's just peace of mind. The kitchen was filthy. Coffee stains on the counter, crumbs all over the floor, and dishes piled up in the sink. Do I at least have a clean glass for milk? Looking around this dinky kitchen didn't take me long to find something to use. It wasn't a real glass, so much as it was a coffee mug.

It all works out in the end. Opening the fridge made me realize even more of how obsessed I've been about all this. There's nothing in it but some butter, old vegetables, and various condiments. Not even an old milk bottle to be found. With a sigh, I realized that I needed to go visit Bruce. I want to see her anyway, but I don't want her to feel like I'm just using her. Either way, I need something to calm my nerves.

Closing the fridge, I heard a knock on the door. I'm not expecting any appointments today, and I don't get many walk-ins. I suppose it's best to not keep them waiting. Walking out of the kitchen and into the main room, there she was standing and waiting for me like she always used to. Bruce was a beautiful dame, the kind you could sit on the couch with and cuddle all day.

"Hey Sugar, need some company?" She's definitely a class act. "How'd you know? I was just about to come over to see you." My smile must have revealed how relieved I was to see her, because her smile turned to a grin. She pulled her arm out from behind her back to reveal a fresh bottle of milk. Bruce always knew what it is I wanted. "Care for a drink?" Batting her eyelashes was always my weakness. Even if I wasn't in the mood to be with her I would still be putty in her hands.

"If you're offering, I certainly won't say no to a drink with such a class act." That one made her giggle and blush, just like it always did. Oh how I had missed this girl. I had to clear off some papers from the love seat in order to find space for us to sit. Taking the bottle of milk from her, I offered her a seat. She sat so gingerly on the couch it reminded me of all the fun times we've had.

"I'll be right back sweetheart, don't you go anywhere!" She smiled at me, but her eyes were glancing across the room at all the papers. "Don't worry about those doll, it's work for a client. He's lookin for the same thing I am." I could hear her shift on the couch. "What's he looking for?" The indignance in her voice told me she's still wary about the red.

"Answers." Best to leave it vague. Don't need her thinking I'm in too deep. Going into the kitchen made me realize I can't hand a pretty lady a drink in an old coffee mug. I gotta get some glasses clean. Washing two glass cups didn't take long, especially since I had to set the milk in a pan to warm it up. "So how have you been Bruce? I haven't seen you in a while."

There was some hesitation, which is never a good sign. "Trying to stay sane. How about you?" Ouch. This kitty's got claws. "I'd like to say I'm doing the same but I don't think you'd believe me even if I said it." Let's just get it out in the air I guess. She's obviously here for a reason. "You're right, I wouldn't believe you considering all of this you've got lying around." She sounds angry, but I think we can get past this.

"It's for a client. What do you want me to tell you?" Pouring the milk into the glasses, I turned to go back into the main office. Except she was standing in the doorway to the kitchen. "I want you to tell me that you're going to give up on this red thing and come back to me. Don't forget who it was that ended it in the first place." Was that me? I could have swore she ended it. Considering her words were It's either me or this red thing!.

"You're right. But sometimes you gotta find truth in your life doll. There's nothing wrong with chasing a dream." The look on her face went from angry to sad. "I know... But I want you to wake up. And live in the real world. With me Sugar." She walked tenderly over to me and touched my face. Looking into those fierce eyes I couldn't help but wonder if what I was chasing was the right thing.

"I do live in the real world darling. Sometimes the real world is crazy, and that's just the part of life I'm stuck in. The red won't go away just because I pretend it's not there." A tear streaked down her soft face. It's hard to see such a sweet girl in so much pain. Love isn't an easy thing to understand. "If that's how you really feel..." I put the glasses of milk on the counter behind me, and grabbed her shoulders.

"Do you honestly think I can't chase this and love you at the same time Bruce? I do love you doll, but it seems like you can't handle me being a man of ambition." Her eyes watered even more, and she started crying completely. Digging her head into my chest I waited for her to calm down. The milk was cold again by the time she had finished. "Wayne, I know you can! But it scares me! What if something were to happen to you! This is dangerous, and I can't... I can't stand the thought of losing you!"

Her tears swelled up again. "Life is dangerous doll. You can't shy away from what you want just because you're afraid. You gotta reach out there and take it!" That seemed to do something to calm her. She looked into my eyes, and I couldn't help myself. A kiss was exactly what we both wanted, so we did. It was long, and sweet. I missed this feeling. Looking down at her after made me realize I truly did love this woman.

I don't want to lose her either, but I still can't shy away from the truth about the red. That's when something came out of the corner of my eye. It moved so fast, and was so bright. There was no mistake. That was the red. She saw the look in my eyes and stepped back. "Please! No! Don't go Wayne!" She cried out at the top of her lungs, but it still couldn't sway me. I had to find it.

Dashing out of the kitchen towards the door, I ignored the papers on the ground. They scattered beneath my feet and flew around the room. Once I opened the door my suspicions were confirmed. The red was waiting for me outside in the street. Laying flat on the ground in the middle of the intersection, while the cars stopped to gaze at it. I made a run for it, trying to make it to the red before it disappeared again.

I can hear it laughing. Cackling at my pain, my suffering and my inability to end this. I will end it. I will find out what it is! In usual fashion, once I reached it it had moved out of the way at the last moment as I pounced on it. The corner of my eye revealed it was now trailing itself along a line of cars parked on the side of the street. I had to get it and end this!

Chasing it down the street, it managed to always stay one step ahead of me. Moving from car to car, jumping onto the street and onto the sides of buildings. Whatever this thing was it didn't live by our rules! But I had to try and stop it! There it was. It had stopped in the middle of the street again. Sitting still and ready to be taken. This time, I wanted to catch it by surprise. Hiding behind a car for a moment, I decided to make my move.

I jumped on it, and knew it didn't have time to move out of the way this time. I knew I had it. This time, it hadn't gotten away. It was right below me, and I could just barely make it out. I had never actually caught it before. It didn't stay too long, and it didn't feel like I was even holding anything. But this time, I could hear the real laughing. The universe was cackling at me. Laughing at my pain... My suffering... Why?... Why?!... WHY?!

*****

"Come on Kenzie, time for dinner!" A little girl, short and blonde was holding a small laser pointer while a black and white cat ran around and dashed at it. She let it catch the small red dot on the floor between her brother's toy car sets he was playing with and the plastic mat to make it look like driving in the city. The cat looked down at the mat and then back around at the cars frantically.

"Oh Wayne! You're so funny! Bruce where are you? Mom why doesn't Bruce like playing with the laser pointer?" A tall woman with an apron peeked her head into the living room with a smile on her face. "I don't know honey. Maybe we can find out after dinner. So come on or your food will get cold!" The little girl dropped the pointer and stood up enthusiastically. "Ok momma!"

Another black and white cat came over to the one hurdled on top of the mat, and began to purr while it rubbed up against it. They both walked away from the mat, and jumped up onto the couch and lay next to each other.

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