I

The relentless rain was coming. A vast and assaulting sheet that left none beneath it dry or without being hindered in their movements. It was sudden and extreme as it always was, droplets fat and sticky in the low gravity. They clung to any surface, enveloping it all in a translucent skin that shimmered like miniature oceans in the breaking daylight which sliced through it all, clouds regardless. And with the glaring and extreme UV radiation night became day as the little world continued on its endless and solitary waltz through the complex trinary solar system.

Through intelligent and soulful eyes It welcomed the warmth. Neither a he or a she, It was all together different from anything any humanoid would be familiar with. A complex entity, certainly It possessed a mind capable of thoughts that rivaled and often surpassed the strange carbon based collections which stalked It even now. But that mind was devoid of only one crucial thing that ensured the survival of other non-humanoid species, ruthlessness. It certainly was not a pacifist by nature, like all sparks of consciousness it possessed a quality and drive that pushed it to do regrettable things. However, It's unrivaled ancient history contained no bleak wars, no crusades, and certainly It did not have a word which could be translated to something akin to genocide.

No, the conflicts faced by It's kind were shaped by nothing more than the requirement to feed. And with a self regulating population upon this lush world, there was always more than enough prey to go around. So It knew only the simply hunt of lesser, dimmer things. Creatures like itself, but devoid of the sentience which made It's kind sacred. To It, the purposeful ending of another intelligent life (or even something of suspected intelligence) was something that could be translated to blasphemy.

As the day rapidly approached, the landscape unfolded beneath It. The small world was suddenly a large space to those eyes (nine in all), filming over in partially translucent fifth eyelids to shield their delicate inner workings from the extreme light. It was a world if deep blues, purples and bleeding oranges that intermixed every which way. A world of deep canyons cut by raging rivers and lakes, shrouded in heavy chlorine mist and yellow belches that flowed like water. Certainly this land was fatal to unmodified humanoid life, it was far too warm, far too small, and the gasses which It breathed was a noxious chlorine mix, containing little if any oxygen. But this was home, the only one known. For the search carried out by It's fore bearers had found nothing out in the expanse beyond this realm. Nothing of value, anyway. The worlds encountered were either hopelessly lost to artificial manipulation at their current technological state, or already occupied.

So they quietly dwelled within their artificial constructs, tiny bubbles orbiting places of relevance. Or else they stayed here. Where they had existed, virtually unchanged for 50 million strong years.

The harsh light doubled in intensity as the second sun was rising, shedding light on the great family-herds that lay in the valley far below, partially lost in the chlorine cloud. At first glance from those sensory organs, they appeared to be moving landscape, their carapaces blending into whatever lay beneath foot. But as those eyes, far more sophisticated than any hawk zoomed in upon the center of it all, the landscape took on a richer detail.

These were It's people, more specifically, the family in which It had been born into.

They were odd creatures with their alien limbs in a perpetual state of running and hopping. Like some twisted kangaroo they vaulted across the landscape, propelling themselves high into the air by three rear limbs, then descending once again with an additional front six moving in a motion reminiscent of a millipede. And then it started all over again, moving in great waves of hundreds.

Their smooth skin, translucent by night was now becoming an ebony black tinged by greens that swirled like some perverted oil spill. They were beginning the morning's feast, sucking in the glaring day in addition to the tiny, human sized creatures that were mindlessly heading for shelter against the fast approaching day. But the rapidly breeding things didn't stand much of a chance. Their ultimate fate was to be halved at the beginning of every day. That was how it was here. How it has been since the beginning of their civilized society.

But It was well feed, as always in the morning. Possessing something that could translate to poet, or artist, this creature relished the grand natural sight which unfolded every day below. But today, It would witness something far more interesting than the usual sunrise coupled with the ritualistic culling. Something unseen to It's kind until now.

II

Fourth Deputy Centurion Marell Akantos lurked motionless in the shallow depth of the narrow waterway. The water was murky here, and even despite the elaborate filtering mechanisms built into her combat suit, the stench of chlorine and sulfur filled her cranial exoplating. Far below lethal levels, her commander had assured her and those under her command they were in no danger, for the odors picked up by their sensitive noses were only traces of the lethal atmosphere lingering. Nothing at all to worry about.

She was clearly a humanoid sentient. Beneath those thick, rubbery layers of her jumpsuit stood a woman whom bore little physical difference from most typical human subspecies. She was even a member of one of the two progenitor races, that of the Roman Empire. So it was her people that in part sparked this ingenious design, and little variations had appeared since it was first forged in the jungles of some lost terrestrial world.

This place would have killed Marell in seconds if not for the technological means which protected her. But it appeared surprisingly little to combat everything from microscopic alien bacteria to the highly corrosive atmosphere. It was nothing more than a thick sheet of seamless, spongy material not at all different in appearance to that of a wetsuit. It spread over her entire body, revealing only her face beneath an almost comically large helmet that clamped firmly to her collarbone. At the moment she was not required to give facial ques to those twenty four under her command, so she had set the elaborate thing to opaque. Her visor instead displayed a multitude of statistics regarding those under her command.

Most were talking to one another in private channels, their heart rates slow and relaxed. A select few were engaging in virtual combat with a vast array of opponents, displaying a flurry of mental and physical responses. Her second in command was playing a game of cards with himself. A solitary sentry on the outskirts of their secured riverbed was singing along to the latest musical craze.

They had been waiting here for a solid three hours ever since the drop shuttle had departed for the safety of their home encampment. They didn't have to worry about their life support, for that shiny black cranial exoplating was everything from a personal computer to a tiny self contained world. The bacteria which it housed somewhere out of sight would, in theory, keep them all alive indefinitely as long as their bodily functions remained. There was even a neat little tube that dispensed a multitude fruit juices.

Marell sucked on that now, enjoying the crisp, bittersweet and faintly metallic liquid which would keep her well awake for the coming day. It would have usually been no problem, but the days on this little world lasted for a gruelling eight point six of her standard.

As the suns erupted over the horizon, the rain came. The surface a few feet above them shuddered with countless impacts before a series of bright pillars descended upon them. The world was coming alive now, and their mission dictated that they would lead the sneak attack which would snuff that life out. So, marshaling her quarter of a century of soldiers, she began as her mission file commanded.

Trolls II

Dead Eye
The out rigging chamber was still and quiet when Maria finally awoke from her head trauma induced slumber. Her hair was matted and wet. Whether that was due to being soaked in something that smelled an awful lot like diesel fuel or a clotted head wound was anyone's guess. Her hands came back stained black after inspecting the wrench dents.

But her vision was skewed anyway. Everything beyond a dimly lit radius of an arms length was blurry and murky. She could sense movement, but it seemed terribly far away to be of much concern. The backs of her eyes itched once her damaged mind comprehended something familiar. Blue and worn its cover was hopelessly stained. Its pages were soaked in the same bitter smelling liquid that soaked through her cheap secretaries uniform.

She snatched the ledger up from the floor, unaware of the gleeful shout escaping her partially numbed mouth. Its neat spiral bind was broken, the cover hopelessly stained in excrement, blood and bits of bone. She didn't have the faculties to realize it was her own, so she needlessly grabbed her sleeve, trying to clean it off to the best of her ability. It was her only link to the life outside of the murky chamber she now found herself in, and while she could not immediately recall what exactly happened or who she was prior to her awakening, she remembered the critical importance of the ledger and the information it contained.

She had worked with it on a daily basis for years. It contained every appointment, meeting, note and iota of intelligence that was left of her. She had a sudden and terribly feeling that someone was going to be awfully lost without the information it contained.

The chamber floor shuddered. Dazed and handicapped, Maria stared in wonderment at the creature before her meek and little corner of existence. Unable to comprehend fear or wonder, she simply shat herself.

The creature was lost in the haze. She could only make out a sharp tang of spoiled meat, the sound of buzzing flies and the sensation of a hot and heavy fog rolling over her.

Craning her head up in futility, she could make out a single piercing eye. And quite like the bloodied wrench of The Mechanic, it filled her world. She discovered that while her damaged mind could not quite grasp the concept of fear, it could manage pain quite well.

Twisted Face
The mechanical rasp of Kyle's respirator was terribly distracting to Mr. Aeneas as he was dragged from his cramped holding cell into the debris strewn arena. He wasn't exactly a visual man. But pressed later on in his senile years he could still recall the terribly metallic rasp of the man's labored breathing.

It was pathetic and hollow, like a mentally challenged Darth Vader.

"Moving me into the luxury suite then, gentlemen? Superb. I'd quite like a pint of your finest house lager and a nice basket of spiced bread. I'm famished. I've been on the road all evening, you see."

He babbled unbeknownst to the automated midwives. Their ears weren't exactly tuned to his peculiar way of communication.

"Are you really gone, Mr. Aeneas? Or are you just grateful for my company?"

Kyle croaked between his attempts at defying suffocation. The automated midwives dropped him in the center of the arena before collapsing into their constituent body parts. The sand beneath his bottom became soaked with engine oil and synth-blood.

Mr. Aeneas widened his eyes, the bright lights still a little dazzling. He pawed at the dots that made up his world.

"Oh, I don't know. Maybe a little from column a, maybe a little from column b."

There was a clank and a decompressing sound as Kyle lowered himself to the arena floor. His eyes didn't look quite natural, despite being original.

"Are you really gone, Aeolus?"

He asked in a whisper, a digitized thing.

"No, but I'm probably going to wish I was. Aren't I?"

Kyle, despite being the cause of all this torment, sighed.

"Yeah. I'm sorry."

His body disappeared into the brightly lit arena.

"Is Mark around?"

He could make out the sound of the man who was once a friend retreating.

"Yeah. I'm sorry."

Struggling to his feet, Aeolus grabbed the closest thing to a weapon he had. The buzz saw arm of an automated midwife. The lights dimmed and Aeolus could make out the small form of a blue haired man on a catwalk many feet above him. He waved with the arm.

The blue haired man waved back before flipping him off. Testy.

Another round of trials had begun. He could feel the rumbling of an approaching enemy long before the gate swung open.


Trolls I

The Mechanic
Maria scrunched up her nose when Rodney came tumbling into the foyer, all dark, jagged lines and filth. He stank of synthetic oil and Troll afterbirth. The mechanic was brilliant in all meanings of the word, but cleanliness wasn't exactly one of his best attributes.

He wobbled a little too close to her immaculately maintained receptionists desk, threatening to spill his chaos into her little world of order.

"Rodney,"

She began while she checked his arrival time into the elaborate ledger that her employer insisted she keep. Within its hundreds of pages of tiny print more than six thousand meetings, conferences and power lunches were listed in order of importance for the next eight months. This man was consistently number one, every day without fail.

He tried to look charming as he nodded his wide brimmed hat at her, smiling with broken teeth and chapped lips.

"Ma'am. Crazy weather we've been having."

"Mmhhmm."

She was lost in the ledger while he leaned on a pile of paperwork, hopelessly smearing it. Maria only managed to notice after he failed to materialize in the ledger.

"You're not-.."

Her eyes darted from his grubby hands to his face. If looks could kill.

"..-scheduled for.. a.. meeting today."

"I know."

A grimey wrench slowly came out of his jacket pocket. Maria didn't know how to react until her world was filled with metal and pain.

Sain's Horrible Deal
The lair was humid and filthy, the ancient tiled floor stained with decades of Troll afterbirth and rotting vegetation. It was hardly a location he ever expected that would wind up holding all of the riches his nation had to offer. But desperate times called for desperate measures.

He adjusted the wick on his lantern and let the light play over the closest collection of steel ingots and Bonsai trees. It hurt to look at, but a masochist by nature he couldn't help but wish he had thought out his end of the bargain a little bit better.

There was screaming deeper in the lair, he followed the noise for quite sometime until he came upon the primary birthing chamber. Rows of elaborate belching machines lit by torchlight spewed out tiny bundles of hideous joy. Their ugly little faces twisted in agony, the Trollings screamed at their indignation. The Mechanic and his assistants were there, cooing over them as the automated midwives carried them off to the outrigging chamber.

"Shouldn't you have the entrance guarded?"

Sain called over the racket of Trolling fear and Bonsai trees being run through what he had come to call "the big wood chipper." The Mechanic, startled by his partner dropped a screaming bundle to the floor.

It's delicate egg head cracked open and leaked bits of brain. The Trolling immediately stropped crying, finding the whole process intensely interesting. The Mechanic, thinking nothing of the accident strode over. An automated midwife killed the curious creature with fire before throwing the corpse into "the big wood chipper" with another Bonsai.

"Shouldn't you be out hunting for more off my shopping list?"

The Mechanic replied, hands in his pockets. The filthy, blood stained wrench was a great comfort. Sain's head would crack open just as easily if push came to shove.

"Touché. I have our visitors working on it. They make a ruckus about the whole thing, especially the pissant little effeminate one. But they'll do as they're told so long as I'm running the show."

One of the machines guttered and died. Assistants furiously tried to restart the engine as digitized wailing echoed within its interior. Sain, curious looked over The Mechanic's shoulder, hoping to catch a hint as to just what was going on in this horrible place.

Automated midwives assigned to the stalled machine were lost without direction. Their heads remained stationary while listless eyes grew bored and wandered. One keeled over and died. The others, grateful for a task proceeded to disassemble her biological components with hissing pneumatic drills. While the mechanical shell was dragged off she was added to five separate and working contraptions. They immediately began spewing out fatter Trollings.

The Mechanic didn't look phased.

"My shopping list. Now. Or else you'll have to replace more than one midwife. They're harder to come by than your little trees."

Sain narrowed his eyes, while he prepared a devastating quip before he remember just who he was talking to. He ended up sulking back from whence he came, trying to pick his least favorite member of his harem. Where was he supposed to find ten tons of live deer?

Charities

When I was a good deal younger I spent my fair amount of time watching television, like any normal child. Sure, the vast majority of the programming I was interested in wasn't exactly normal for a kid who should have been watching Transformers or Tiny Toons, but television is more or less television when you boil it down to photons and electrons, isn't it? I watched a lot of entertainment geared toward those much older than I. Documentaries and news programs were pretty much standard, very rarely did I ever opt to flip on a cartoon instead of say, The World Before Man: The Cambrian Explosion.

Which is fine. My parents didn't seem to terribly mind me being exposed to educational material on a daily basis, and it did help my grades in the end of things. But it meant that I was exposed to a large amount of advertising geared toward adults of the intellectual variety. Which meant scores of banks, software and travel advertisements.

But on occasion I'd see an ad depicting a lonely, starving and filthy child in a third world country and a large, white, fat man begging you to shell out a couple of bucks a day to pay for the little kid's booster shots so he can be healthy enough to write you a thank you letter in broken English. I'd occasionally ask my mom if we could sponsor a child in Malaysia or Chad, or where ever the big, fat white people decided to beg from, while holding a shivering, starving child.

The first several times she brushed it off, telling me that maybe for my birthday she'd surprise me, or that she'd talk to my father about it. But nothing really materialized out of my pestering. I never received a letter with a postage stamp from Burma or Costa Rica. We never put an expensive toy in the Toys for Tots bin at the grocery store. At the most we'd donate a couple of cans of soup at a food drive, but that was pretty much it. So I kept asking.

One day my mother and father sat me down, put on their parenting hats and gently informed me that we couldn't do what I was asking for. Why? I asked, more curious than anything. Who didn't want to help those less fortunate? Were they some sort of monsters? Or were they just incredibly selfish?

Well, my mother began. We can't afford to.

Can't afford to? We couldn't afford to buy one toy for the big box outside the grocery store? Or one coat for welfare?

No, my father began with a sad little laugh. You'd probably see it next time we go "shopping."

I was too young to really realize what my father meant back then. I was just a stupid little kid. So I left it at that. I only really realized what they meant as I grew up and began to become more observant of the world around me and how most of my class mates were different. Their parents didn't shop with brightly colored stamps. They always had newer, less worn in clothing. Their holiday presents were much more elaborate than anything I'd ever experienced.

The truth of the matter was my parents were dirt poor almost all of the time. We shopped with food stamps, we received federal food stuffs, my holiday season was populated by Toys for Tots and we "shopped" for my winter coats at our local welfare office. Despite both being fully employed year round, my parents were always struggling to be in the black at the end of the month.

The only time I saw anyone in my family give to a charity was when my father died. My since disowned "aunts" decided to donate $100 in my father's name to a diabetes foundation, instead of helping my struggling mother pay for his funeral (at the time, unknown to me my mother was very much in debt, due to my father's expensive medical issues).

So, suffice to say donations and charities are still a sensitive subject for me. I really don't like giving or receiving pity or handouts. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth, like admitting defeat, or that one party is inferior to the needy group. As arrogant as I may be, I don't like to think I'm better or inferior to anyone else. But it's been seared into my mind.

The moment I left the nest I became bogged down in my own financial woes and it's continued to this day. I've only started to work myself out of the enormous multi-generational slump. To this day I've never really given charity more than a couple of dollars a whack, and even then I feel forced and awkward. Like I'm a bad person if I avoid eye contact with the old army vet looking for handouts outside of the grocery store. Or screening my calls because the local police department needs money to host youth activities.

Which is not to say that I'm against charity. Quite the contrary, I'd love to help the local SPCA or help diabetes research, or provide some manner of relief to those in situations I've found myself in. I just don't like being approached and being put on the spot and guilt tripped while I barely have enough as it is.

But at what point is it wise to start channeling a portion of my income into a worth while cause? When my debt has been entirely eliminated? But at that point, wouldn't it be more wise to invest the same amount of money, so I'm capable of donating even more in the future? And what would do the greater good, giving gift cards to grocery stores to the homeless, or kibble and blankets to the SPCA? Or a big check to the Wildlife Conservation Fund, but be unable to see the results and potentially risk it being lost to administrative drivel?

The sea was cold that night, and huddled on the sandy shore of the tiny volcanic island the last remaining Balena drank in the crisp and bleak sky. Her eyeless head swayed in the gentle and frosty air currents as they rushed over the only landmass on the planetoid, they were complex, thin and disorienting, but all the same welcome. She was a sentient creature, certainly, as evidence shown by that big, egg shaped head of hers. But lacking the tool wielding appendages of her long ago separated cousins, she was not so in the traditional sense. That considerable mass of grey matter in that thick creamy white head of hers didn't know or care about physics, or the all together boggling concepts which surrounded interstellar travel. But within, she nurtured profound revelations equally as astonishing. Perhaps, in the opinion of a couple of important few, even more so.

Her long and delicate flippers, all four of which still baring similarities to that of a humanoid plodded through the grainy jet black granules beneath. Her mass was considerable, and being on land was exhausting despite the all together relaxed gravity. But she was used to the deep black depths of her home waters. The pressure was different here, nothing at all like the crushing depths closer to the seafloor. But even though being separated by an extreme amount of time from her malicious land and space dwelling relatives, she still shared one common objective. That of survival, be it her own, or that of the species. She herself in her mayfly like existence was growing to the end of her natural life cycle, being nearly four centuries old now. But perhaps it was not too late for her children, clinging to her innards deep in her belly now, to make a life for themselves.

As no other of her kind had done before, the lone Balena quietly went about digging through the desolate, wet soil with much inefficiency. Her flippers had too long been removed from the single island and she was not properly adapted to birth this way. But she went about her task, being driven by some subconscious, animalistic instinct within. It was hard to believe such a cold, calculating thing dwelling in her inner most neural network could produce something so, well, motherly. And even as the tiny volcanic shards began to break her skin, she continued on bravely through the sterile ebony soil.

The great cities below laid in shambles, as they had for most of her life. Destroyed by fevered minds fearing the emergence of her kind. And with them, the rich nurseries from which she had one day, long ago, been birthed into. Poisoned, the currents and algal blooms would not cleanse the areas for another two or three decades. And she could not wait, not a year, or another minute to birth the next generation. So seeking the only option she saw available, she came upon the great black island. A charcoal blotch on her shimmering blue world, it's only region devoid of significant life force. But here, it was the beginning of it all with it's half collapsed artificial structures and constructs not designed for her kind. They aged now, as they would continue until the end of time.

Perhaps this would be a new beginning, she thought to herself in her own complex and rich language. Maybe her children would somehow be spared the ritualistic culling of the cousins. Maybe long enough to find a way to defend themselves better against their poisons and radiation blasts. Maybe even one day escape them altogether.

Maybe they'd swim in great shoals again, grander consciousness flickering in the intense super natural light as they shared their diverse collections of essence. A community that would rival the previous one, spanning the entirety of this water world and perhaps beyond, to the great giant in which it circled, now an ominous green marble which hung precariously above head. But to her sensory organs, it glared in intense and unnatural infrared. A nerve ending white light spread like the stars themselves.

That great jaw unhinged and she bellowed into the month long night, a darkness so devoid of company it carried a total futility to it. But she continued on, her song deep, mournful, almost gothic. The children writhed inside her as she forced their departure. They came kicking and screaming with stabs of pain, dozens of them, miniature versions of her adding to the night's depressing song. Their voices were tiny, innocent as those eyeless heads swayed back and fourth in the protection of the crater which she had dug. Their little mouths wailing as their umbillicals snapped under the light gravity.

Such precious new life, she remarked, with her bulk relaxing and the last of her litter being released. And she began to calm, that great neck laying itself down. The end was drawing to a close now, as it had been for her mother. But she felt no sadness or regret at leaving this world or her wonderful new lives. After all, she was engineered to have no predators. And the sea was rich in life. Yes, they would fend for themselves quite well.

How well, she could not possibly fathom as she gazed up at the brilliant glare above. How could she know that the bright pinpricks far above was the end for her ruthless cousins? That no longer would her kind be hunted, because, of course, those were cities burning.

She shut herself off from the curiosity, letting the night greet her. And despite those tiny worming bodies nipping at her stomach, she quietly fell asleep. Beyond, oblivion greeted her.

I look up to the sky, to the stars that twinkle above my head and I wonder; will we ever reach them? There's so much wonder in the sky, so much that we could learn if we turned our attention upward... and yet, that's not something we want to do. We want to stay here, we want to fight and kill one another over issues that are so blown out of proportion that we don't even know how they started.


A thousand more young men and women died today in a war that has been raging for generations now, their only crime being born in an era that lusted more for power and conquest than discovery. If this were peaceful times, if we were a truly great civilization as they claim, those people would have been educated, they would have given their lives to something that would impact Humanity in better ways, beyond dying in a ditch somewhere because two nations can't just get along.


The stars watch us, they see our foolishness; do they weep for us? Can they see how much we suffer because of our own failings, our own lusts for the material? Possession of land, of money... the power that comes with it; what does it all matter? Does such fleeting things truly deserve the sacrifice of so much potential? If the stars do watch us, then maybe they are laughing... maybe they watch the Human drama on this little world and laugh at how stupid we are, at just how small and meaningless our little fights are.


"My God is better than your God, so convert or die", "Your land is better than my own so I'll take it", "Might makes right, and money brings power"... is this all we're capable of thinking? Can't we all just look up to the stars and see how small we are while how vast the rest of the universe truly is? Can't we just be content to live with one another and turn toward the future, to make it better? Can't we all marvel at the glory of all creation and hope to one day see it in all its magnificent splendor?


I look to the sky and I wonder... what will be my fate? I got my orders today, I'll be shipped off to some forsaken corner of the empire to defend some meaningless little patch of dirt that the brass thinks is worth dying for. This may be the last time I can look up at the sky and think these thoughts, the last time I can afford to wonder about the glory of the stars and the frailties of man.


If the stars are watching... will they laugh at my death, or weep at my loss?

Janet

The sun was a bloated thing in the early twilight, a stuck pig that bled red and orange into the heavily polluted horizon. The night was kicking and screaming, dragging its heels like a spoiled child. Stars refused to twinkle into existence, and the bums were not yet prowling the shady side of town, in their never ending quest for fuel, alcohol or otherwise. It was as if there was some intelligent being, some tangible almost super natural force was somehow in control of the world surrounding Miles. Maybe there was a god showing him some miniscule amount of pity. But he doubted it. Like all things, night would come down like a jackhammer, and with it the temperature would drop a full twenty degrees. Things would be miserable long before he reached his tiny studio apartment, he knew that for absolute certain.

He was a thoroughly below average joe, Miles. Short, with not a speck of attractive definition on his pale, freckled body. That heavily thinning copper hair swept itself over in a pathetic comb over, not quite creating the illusion he so desired. His gut was a little too bloated, and he walked with a little limp from a recently sprained ankle. Cheap no name sneakers dragged a little as he made his way down the wide, quite urban side walk, their heels worn and filthy from over use.

A bright purple windbreaker was zipped up most of the way, to guard against the oncoming chill as the concrete jungle allowed it's heat to be sucked away. It was a little too small, but he had to take what he could get. Money was constantly a problem for Miles, and a cheap windbreaker was all he could afford for the time being. His wishful logic informed him it would be enough until it started to get really cold. So maybe he'd have some time to save up a little money.

What a joke that was. In his future, immediate at least, lay Ramen Noodles and instant cheesy macaroni. Well into the brutal winter he knew that was fast approaching now in mid autumn. Soon he'd be stuck trudging home in a blitz of snow and ice, in those ancient sneakers and surely by then tattered second (or third) hand windbreaker.

The traffic on the street was light, and he enjoyed what silence he could scavenge from his long trek home. Occasionally, he sipped on a tepid coffee from the gas station by his office building. It was old, stale, and the creamer an unpleasant cinnamon non-dairy powder. It stung his taste buds and left a disgusting aftertaste in his mouth. A thin film of it clung to his teeth, and as his tongue patrolled those small square off white chompers, they felt slimy and unnatural. But this was a treat, granted, it was horrible coffee, but he enjoyed the flavor of the creamer, and the caffeine would help with the chores that awaited him at home.

Maybe he could even stay up long enough to slip quietly into one of his many, many hobbies. But perhaps the word hobby is an overstatement. A hobby requires financial support, and quite obviously he lacked such a luxury. What he had were interests. An over used library card, piles of newspaper clippings (the free, ad ridden variety) and stacks of worn (and quite ancient) notebooks. Scribblings, really. Chicken scratch that held perhaps a glimmer of talent. But ultimately only that, a simple glimmer of what might have been.

In his youth (some couple decades prior) he had been told he had an amount of promise. That perhaps he could even sell his works for profit. But he lacked focus. His ideas, initially creative and totally unique, gradually slumped into unfinished works. Being the pack rat he was, he never got rid of a single work. Perhaps, just perhaps dear Miles was under the illusion that it was possible to spring back to work one day.

This is not to say Miles was miserable. Quite the contrary, he had one passion in his probably dead end life. And perhaps his only real hobby, it was Janet. He adored her, his companion for an eternity it seemed. Janet, unlike most of his friends and family, was always a constant. She was there in the early morning before he began his trek to work and at night to listen to how his day went, and was always glad to see him. She was gorgeous, her hair a deep black originally had now been tinged grey and begun to thin like his own, but he imagined it added character. Those big, watchful eyes shimmering with intelligence as she snuggled up to him in the drafty one bedroom they shared.

He lavished money upon her, and during the past couple of years, increasingly more of his paycheck went toward his one and only love. She was old, and although he'd rather say she was so and so years young, who was he fooling? They both knew that her health was failing, but he liked his elaborate little illusions. But he was a good man, Miles. He loved her like he always had, the only way he knew how. So, he paid for the endless parade of drugs, medical visits, operations and equipment out of his own pocket (no assistance had ever been offered to him, that was an impossibility) and he allowed himself to suffer accordingly. It seemed to be reaching its climax now, she gobbled up every cent. Overtime was all he had left in the world besides her, and he was thankful after all those years that he had such a demanding boss.

The engorged globe of hot plasma exploded as it dipped across the expanse of the Earth. The sun was falling quicker now, spilling out its guts all over the western sky like some celestial slaughterhouse. The pollution only increased the beauty of it, and squinting through his coke bottle glasses, he wondered who really cared anymore. Certainly he thought it was pretty, but he saw a lack of interest from the occasional passer by. Sad, he thought. That such beauty would go so unnoticed by so many. He wasn't smug about the fact, but it was a little depressing.

He didn't know that Janet lay by her tiny windowsill, on her favorite blanket watching the same scenario. She settled softly, her bulk relaxing, weary muscles moving into a position that was comfortable. Those watchful, intelligent eyes closing as she slipped into a sleep warmed by the dying red innards of the sun.

By the time Miles reached his fifth story studio streetlights buzzed around him like so many hazy fireflies. The sun had disappeared an hour prior, and with it came the cold. Not nearly as bad as he had feared, but still windy enough to drive the warmth from the tip of his nose. His key sunk home in its lock, and then five additional as it had been for several years. Ever since his neighbor's apartment was ransacked, and the poor old woman mortally wounded. He had cursed himself for a long time afterward for leaving Janet alone. It could have been her, and it nearly cost him a full week's pay to get over his paranoia.

The door creaked open, and he shut it quickly behind himself. Two dead bolts found their place, with each individual heavy duty key lock.

"Sweetpea, I know you don't like it when I'm late.. but Mister Sorrentos kept me for forever."

He didn't need to explain why, he knew she wouldn't understand the complexities of his job. And he wasn't really in the mood to put her through a soap box moment. The wind breaker was discarded, as were his bargain bin sneakers. As Miles turned, he began to tread through the maze that he shared with the love of his life. Antiquated cat runs, catnip balls, a little furry scrap of clothing sewn into the shape of a mouse (he made most himself from discarded work shirts) were spread out evenly. He took great care in placing them back neatly into their designated areas.

He may have been poor, but by god, he'd never be messy.

He wandered around, cleaning the mess that had built itself up in his absence, occasionally commenting on his day out loud. The silence in the house was a little disturbing. She didn't come as she usually did, nor the racket that accompanied her (Janet had grown a little clumsy in her old age), and she remained perfectly quiet where ever she was.

He found her as he often did, fast asleep in her windowsill. She had covered herself with her favorite blanket. He felt a little guilty for making so much noise, but he pushed it aside as he began to disrobe. What he needed right now was a nice hot shower, and then a hearty meal, because tonight was Friday. Dessert night for the both of them. He could taste that fruit cup now.

He sat next to her, admiring her beauty. Even now she retained a quiet grace about her, she would continue to age as of course he would, but to him, she'd always be his little ballet queen. As he sat there, watching her intently a gnawing feeling began to work itself up in his oversized gut.

Oh my god.. she isn't br-

Stubby fingers ran themselves through her long, thinning hair and felt no movement. There was no deep breath that accompanied sleep. There was no sign she was aware of him, and there certainly was not a heartbeat.

She had died alone.

Hot wells erupted in his eyes and miniature rivers cascaded down his face. Picking her up roughly, he clutched her tiny frame desperately, as if trying to will her back to life. Quiet tears eventually gave way to violent sobbing as he gripped tighter and tighter to her hair, burying his face in her cold flesh.

But she was gone, that was for certain. He had always known her illness, feline leukemia, would eventually steal her from him. And his tears were bitter, bitter sweet, fur sticking to his wet lips and glasses pathetically.

So this, he wondered, was what it felt like to have nothing.

Despite the fact that I have been writing for almost nine years, I would gladly give it all up for the ability to draw. You may think this madness, but I assure you that it is not. I would honestly rather be able to draw than be able to write.


For the whole of my life I have been very drawn to imagery; I know that when we're young we all like pictures instead of words, but even as I grew up the written word was secondary to images for me. I could read a well written book and enjoy it, but I would get much more pleasure out of a well drawn or painted image. To me, the fact that it's portrayed in an actual image, where the details are shown in their full glory rather than merely described and left for your imagination has a much deeper and stronger impact.


I can't say that I don't have an imagination; if I didn't then I wouldn't be much of a writer. However, when I read something, no matter how well the details are spelled out for me, I can't fully picture the image the author is trying to paint with words. For me, not having the full image degrades the work, it makes it less enjoyable.


I suppose that this all stems from the way my mind works; I tend to think in imagery. This is especially true for when I get an idea for a story and flesh it out; a basic idea can come to me in words, but as I develop the idea it comes out as an image. I can see the characters talking and doing actions, I can see the area around them, Hell I can almost smell what's around them. If I close my eyes the whole thing just deepens, my whole mind focuses on the images; that's where I really get to work, as I can almost produce a short film of events.


So I think in images, but surely that doesn't mean that I cannot write it. And that's true; I can write about the images I come up with, and I can do it decently well. That's the problem; I can only do it decently well. This is the major hurdle that I can never get over; I'm not proficient enough with words to get what I truly see across in a way that allows others to imagine what I can easily see. Detail has always been my enemy; I've never been good with describing it, never been good with using it to my advantage. Perhaps it's because I never had training, but then that doesn't explain how some people who haven't had any training can produce some of the most detailed pieces of literature that I have ever seen in my life.


If I had any talent in drawing, however, I could eliminate the need for words and simply lay down on paper what I imagine, what I think. If I could draw I wouldn't be limited to a futile attempt to get what I mean written down; it would be there for all the world to see and understand with ease.


Sometimes I wonder why I can't draw; my mother had the talent for it. Why couldn't I have inherited that instead of getting the ability to write decently well? It is as though I was going to have the talent (due to my ability to think in images), but somewhere along the way the proper gene sequences were never triggered.


But regardless of what could have been, I still have a talent. And while it may not be the one I prefer, I will still try to develop it as much as I can, even if I never rise above being mediocre.

"So, what you're trying to tell me is that you... I mean, that you're actually..."


Words failed him; he never expected this to happen.


"Yes, I am. Just like the last ten times we went through this."


Her voice sounded bored and slightly annoyed, she didn't think him that dense. It couldn't be that hard for him to accept; she was the one it had happened to and she was out of denial in about five minutes. He was in it for nearly an hour now.


"But... but how?!"


"Well, given the time it must have been about two months ago when we were on that little trip to our homeland. It figures that this had to happen on home soil."


"But that's not possible! The timing... and the fact that we were careful...!"


He was having a Hell of a time accepting this as fact; he took ever measure to ensure that this couldn't have happened, short of having parts of his body physically removed and destroyed.


"Not careful enough, I guess. You saw the proof with your own eyes."


It was amazing to her the way he refused to just accept the facts. He always thought himself so damned incapable of error when he set his mind to something; or maybe he just didn't want to accept the responsibility.


"This can't be happening, this just can't be happening! Unless...."


He looked at her hard, his eyes glaring; it unnerved her quite a bit.


"Unless...?"


"Who else were you with?! Tell me his name!"


That hurt; it hurt a whole lot. She didn't think he would ever think of that, didn't think he could be that cruel. She was shaken, her eyes started to burn as she held tears back.


"... How dare you even think that? HOW DARE YOU! You've said and done a lot of fucking stupid things in your time but I never, ever thought you would ever dare think that I would do such a thing! Is that how you think I really am? Do you think I'm just some little slut that would fuck another man behind your back?!"


He was taken aback by her words; she rarely, if ever cursed. He always considered such crude words unfit for her... if she were saying such things it must have meant she was hurt deeply. He looked down and away from her, not wanting to look directly at her.


"How else could this have happened? You were on your period that time, you said so yourself. And I... I did everything in my power to ensure that this could never happen. I knew we both weren't ready for this, but now... after everything..."


His voice was so small and low, it was as though he had been humbled through a sound beating. And he had been beaten; all his plans had fallen apart, all the careful preparation to avoid this ugly little fact of nature, all the time he spent ensuring that this very thing would NEVER come up. Nature had beaten him. The odds had beaten him. Life had beaten him.


She knew how much he hated to be beaten, but more than that, she knew how much failure affected him mentally and emotionally.


"... Sometimes... these things just happen. Not all plans are fool proof; you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men. It's not your fault, it's not my fault; it just happened. We can't spend time thinking about why and how; we have to look ahead."


Her vice was soft and calm, a far cry from the anger and rage she felt moments before. It still stung, but she understood the reason behind his words; she had made peace with how stupid he could act while under pressure.


"How can we do this? We never thought this would happen, we never planned..."


She could feel his voice shake as he spoke; it was finally setting in that their lives were going to change forever.


"It's already been a few months, so... we'll just have to use the rest of the time we have left to prepare."


She was so calm and cool about it, but he was a wreck.


"Can't we... get rid of it...?"


What he was asking was blasphemy, it disgusted her to the very depths of her being that he would even think of such a thing. Even if what they had done was a sin and a great taboo, to commit another was just... vile to her.


"How can you even suggest that?! Have you no heart; this is your child! But more than that, it's my child... our child. I thought you'd be happy to hear this... happy like I was when it finally set in.


Don't you want to have a family with me...?"


"I never really... thought about it. I mean, how could we when the two of us are..."


"That never stopped us from doing things, even when we knew that it was wrong."


She was right, but even still...


"I don't know how we can even consider keeping it... I mean, we'd be damning the child to some serious social stigma. And the risk for defects is higher. Can we really bring a child into the world with that over its head? Would it be right?"


He was trying to find a rational excuse to end this whole thing, but she wouldn't let him; she couldn't stand the idea of ending the life of their child.


"The others will accept the child, and for everybody else they don't have to know. And if it's still a problem, we could go somewhere else, somewhere where the people won't find out; we could start a whole new life together.


And so what if there's a defect? That doesn't mean we won't love the child any less; that doesn't mean it doesn't have a right to life."


"But still... I... I'm not father material! I'll screw the kid up, I just kno-"


She placed a finger on his lips to stop him.


"Everything will turn out fine Aeolus, you always worry too much. I know it's a lot to take in right now, but things will get better; I promise. So, please... don't ask me to get rid of our child and don't worry about what will happen months from now.


We have to live here, now... we have to come to terms with the fact that we're going to have a family. Even if our family... isn't exactly very tradition."


Aeolus took a deep breath and slowly, he nodded. She was the voice of reason he needed at this time... really, the voice of reason he always needed and will always need. That's part of the reason why he loved her; no matter what happened she managed to put things into perspective, she managed to talk some sense into him.


He took her hand into his own and squeezed it softly;


"This is just like you, Iltyhia; always picking the worst possible person to do things with."


Iltyhia smirked slightly before grinning;


"Well of course! That's because I'll never have to worry about somebody else stealing the man I love, and now the father of my child away from me."


"Oh really? So it's all about my being such a loser that nobody else would want me, huh?"


Aeolus asked in a joking manner; he knew she wasn't actually serious.


"Well, I also sort of owe you. I mean, you looked after me all that time when we were kids, and again when you found me in that Hellhole after our hometown burned."


He smiled at her and shook his head;


"You sure do know how to make a guy feel special, little sister."

Down A Hole

"Crap."


Aeolus muttered to himself as he hid behind a corner, his prized Gunblade in his hands. He was never without it while on a mission, it was the one thing he had carried with him since he abandoned his homeland while his empire was collapsing under the stress of invasion and a dead emperor.


He swallowed hard and looked over to a young woman beside him, her long blond hair matted down with dirt, sweat and filth that she didn't even want to think about. Her green eyes were wild and glaring at him, half crazed from the time she had spent there;


"Now why did you have to go and do that?! IT'S PISSED OFF!"


"Well what did you want me to do; ask it in a nice, mature way to please not EAT US?"


They'd been stuck in that hellhole for days now, and every waking moment he didn't spend running for his life he questioned why he even thought it was a good idea to come here. What's more, why was it even a smart idea to bring his sister along for the ride? But he knew the answer to that question already, it was pretty simple when he looked beyond all the reasoning he attempted to apply to it.


He had been thinking with the wrong head when he brought her along; a few months apart was a little too long for him to handle. Well, handle himself anyway.


"I think that would have been a better idea than shooting it in the testicles, you idiot! How would you like it if I did that to you, huh?!"


Enki, her God help her, but sometimes she thought he wasn't as smart as he seemed to be. Whatever possessed him to give away their position by aiming for the damned things balls and then squeezing off a round she'll never know. He didn't look at her then, his eyes were focused on the glistening metal of his weapon; there was just enough light for him to get a half decent reflection of the beast as it skittered about while searching for them.


It was a damn good thing he'd managed to let loose a surge of plasma straight up its nose a few days before; without its sense of smell they were actually pretty safe. But even so, the sheer size of the monsters body --not to mention the teeth that were as long as he was tall, if not even longer-- and amazing movement speed despite its huge bulk made it dangerous, regardless of being nearly blind and unable to smell anything.


"I wasn't aiming for its balls, Ilythia; I was aiming for the fuckers hind right leg. It just moved at the wrong time and I got right in the nuts. But by the looks of the thing moving it sure as Hell hurt; he's not moving all that fast. Maybe it'll even bleed to death and we'll be free."


He didn't look at her at all, his eyes were locked on the reflection in the sharp upper portion of the bladed casing for the gun barrel. He was trying to be somewhat optimistic; it was so out of character that she thought him sarcastic.


"And if it just makes the thing want to kill us even more? What then, dear brother?"


Aeolus could hear the sarcasm in her voice; oh it annoyed him so much. Over the past few days he had come to hate Ilythia with a passion, always whining and complaining about the situation. He did too, but she seemed to go over the edge with all her bitching. If he were any less of a man, he'd of punched her already.


"At that point I'll let you come up with the plan. I mean, since you BITCH SO MUCH about whatever I do, I'm ever so sure you have some brilliant and epic plot to get us out of this. Right, dear sister?"


He spat it at her with frustration and greater sarcasm than he meant to, but it felt so good to let it out. Ilythia growled at him; that was never a good sign. When she growled it meant bad things would happen to him; he was suddenly more afraid of her than of the beast as it blindly stalked about, the hole where its balls used to be slowly bleeding it to death.


Perhaps it wouldn't be so bad if he let the giant mole rat eat him...

If you haven't heard of this little drama on the Internet then I must ask; how in the Hell did you manage to get to Mars? And for that matter, how did you manage to get a wireless connection for a laptop, have Internet access and STILL haven't have heard of it?


For those who have, I'm sure you're all divided on the topic. Some of you think that this is a good thing; those damned cultists are going to get PWNED hard by the masses of teh intarwebz (which is a series of tubes, mind you) simply because they are Legion (and you may be part of said Legion, but you're anonymous so you won't say). Some of you think that this is all the work of that foul Xenu, whom is attempting to keep you from being free of those damned thetens.


As an Atheist, I get big lulz out of the concept of Scientology; it's really even more insane than the whole thing involving a virgin giving birth to a guy who is the son of God, but who is also in a sense God but not really. The whole thing with Xenu and thetens makes me laugh harder than the concept of a Devil in Hell who was once a lowly angel whose power has ballooned to a state where he's somehow able to defy the ultimate power that is God. But more than that, on a basic level I get epic lulz out of the people who ACTUALLY BELIEVE the whole thing and see it as a religion, not what it really is; a scheme to get money dreamed up by a bad science fiction writer who just so happened to use a lot of drugs and had a harem of hot pants clad teenage girls that did his bidding (including dressing).


Now, you may be thinking me part of the Legion, but I'm not; I'm one of those people that love the drama and hope that it doesn't end. I'm not going to get involved in the little war, because the moment I do I'll be a part of the drama that I laugh at in a mocking way. I cease to be an outside observer, lulzing at the idiots who defend the faith and the anon army that is taking this way too seriously (Internet is serious business, I guess).


Now, in this war I can see there are five sides to this whole thing; we have the Church of Bad Science Fiction, we have SERIOUS BUSINESS anons, we have doin' it for the lulz anons, misc folks (idiots on YouTube who are just as SERIOUS BUSINESS as the first group of anons, but against the anons because they're "Terrorists") and then there's people like me who laugh at the whole thing. Each side is almost always good for some lulz, but some more than others.


The CoBSF is always good for some epic lulz, even without this war. Everything they do and say is rich in lulz material; it's as though their whole mission in life is to be the biggest cult of clowns on the face of the planet and provide us with endless hours of amusement, but then they deny it because being a clown is not cool (or metal), so they had to come up with a cover story.


The SERIOUS BUSINESS anons are, perhaps, even better for lulz; they're so damn serious about their "cause" to "destroy" the CoBSF that they have become a beast almost similar to that of that which they seek to destroy, only without the aliens and spaceships that look like jets (but surely some have a harem of teen girls in hot pants... that or five year old girls). They have become almost as mocked and reviled as the Church itself; indeed, if they somehow manage to take down the beast they seek to slay, they will in turn be the ones hunted by people who are just as SERIOUS BUSINESS as they were.


The lulz anons are the true Internet Superheroes in this whole war; they're doing it for the lulz and nothing but the lulz. They give themselves entertainment, and by extension we also get entertainment. God bless (these) Anonymous.


The whole other group is not in it for the lulz, but there is much lulz to be had at their expense. They rage against anons, they bitch and complain, one tool named Paul Fetch (lulz "I'm taking you serious. I'm taking you serious. You hear me? I'm taking you serious." The man repeats everything atleast three times, I guess he must be OCD because we only needed to hear it once.) even decided to make a video in which he declared "war" on the anons and claims he's building "an army" (lulz YouTube Army) to fight them (oh noes, teh Paul is coming for anon!).


They're so SERIOUS BUSINESS that even if they don't mean it, they have become a major source for lulz with people who don't even like anon or the Legion. They're also proof that trolling is alive and well in the world; if it weren't do you think idiots with the need to repeat shit over and over would bother making YouTube posts about them? I think not.


Finally, there is myself and others like me. We are not a major source of lulz; indeed we don't bring much lulz to the table. Instead, we grow fat on the lulz brought by everybody else, feasting on the drama and pain and torment and Internet penis fighting that all the other sides shove into our greedy, ever thankful faces.


So I say to everybody involved, please do keep it up; everybody watching wants their epic lulz.


tl;rd: SERIOUS BUSINESS FTL, lulz FTW.

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