Vigilant - Chapter Four (PG-13)

He was not at all pleased and those around him cowered in fear. How did this happen? His long black robes seemed alive as he paced the floor of his chamber. Odd shapes shifted under the dark cloth. Mephran looked part reptile, part insect, and a bit humanoid. What he allowed you to see was four limbs and a head, but a sick feeling deep inside your stomach told you he was not revealing all of himself.

The room resembled a large cave with rubbery, pulsing walls in place of stone. In every niche could be seen some type of repulsive creature following Mephran with its glare. The walls were writhing with mutated life forms waiting anxiously for their master to react to the news carried to him by his spies. Mephran was the embodiment of malevolence and in the dull red glow of the voluminous room his face looked like evil itself. He stopped suddenly and spoke to the ceiling high above.

"Tell me something, Segriath. What do you think will happen to our plans if Vigilant returns to Aeddonea?

From the shadows emerged as grotesque a creature as can be imagined. Segriath had what appeared to be the head and torso of a man with eight long, fleshy limbs like that of a spider. His many eyes glowed sickly green as he descended on something resembling tendons adorned with ribbons of muscle and skin. Segriath lowered himself to the floor next to his master. A horrible grin spread across his impossibly wide mouth. "We won't be able to take over the planet called Earth, and you will be most unhappy?"

"Correct, old friend," Mephran affirmed. A look of dread flashed across Segriath's horrid visage.

"What would you have me do, Master?"

"Stop what has been put in motion by that meddling sorcerer, Tarthiun," Mephran spit through clenched teeth. "Gather the Horde at once!"

Vigilant - Chapter Three (PG-13)

A sound came from inside the menacing helmet and it took a second for Jack to grasp that it was laughter. "And you think you have no imagination? Tarthiun is surely not evil," Draephas chuckled. "He is a being of the purest life energy and a protector of all that is good. He has been like a father to me. What makes you believe otherwise?"

Jack's face turned red with embarrassment. "I just assumed he was a bad guy after I drew him. I mean, his face just looks so mean. He is the villain in all my stories about Xebolis." Jack paused. "Is that what your dimension is called?"

Draephas moved to the side of the bed opposite Jack. "I will not tell him what you said, although Tarthiun may find it as humorous as I did." He extended his arms across the bed toward Jack, hands held palms up. "And yes, our dimension is Xebolis." Jack instinctively placed his hands on top of the well worn gloves. A great sense of relief came over him. Jack knew he was in the company of a trusted companion.

"It is time to go," Draephas stated as he withdrew his hands. "But first we need to get you proper dress for what lies ahead. I would not let my worst enemy step foot outside in those clothes."

Jack thought he heard another chuckle from the alien as he turned and strode toward the wall. Just as it appeared that Draephas would walk head long into it, the outline of a door materialized. It slid open and he was gone. Jack looked down and discovered that he was wearing the custom made Draephas pajamas a friend had given him for his birthday two years ago.

Draephas returned quickly with an armful of garments and some sort of mask. They were similar in height and build and it took only a few minutes to find something. Everything fit a little loosely but they would do. Jack decided on dark gray trousers with a multitude of cargo pockets, a long sleeved plain black shirt, and a gray utility vest with even more pockets than the pants. On his feet he wore tall black boots made out of a material resembling leather.

"Thanks a lot for the clothes, Draephas. What is this thing for?'" Jack asked as he picked up the mask.

"A respirator," Draephas answered. "You will need it to breath outdoors. This planet, Aeddonea, has an atmosphere that only its natural inhabitants can survive in."

"Then I'll make sure to use it! Hey, how come you don't wear this stuff anymore? It would be way more comfortable than all that armor."

"That is none of your concern," Draephas said sharply, surprising Jack with his tone. "We must be going. Tarthiun is waiting and you have much to learn from him before you begin-"

He caught himself but it was too late. Draephas quickly gathered up the remaining clothing and made to leave. Jack sat down on the bed, arms crossed. "So, what am I about to begin? I think I have a right to know."

Draephas stopped but kept his back to Jack. "Please be patient and save your questions for Tarthiun. We need to leave now. The sooner we do what is required of us, the sooner you may return home to your family."

Jack unfolded his arms with a sigh and sat staring at his lap. "I don't have any family. They're all gone."

In his haste, Draephas had not considered how taxing the recent events must be on his visitor. Tarthiun would tell me to show compassion in this situation... He turned to face Jack. "Tell me," he said quietly.

After a pause, Jack spoke. "When I was three my brother disappeared from our back yard. My Dad was supposed to be watching both of us but he ran inside to check the score of the football game. When he came out Patrick was gone. He was only five, so how far could he have gotten in a few minutes, right?"

Jack swallowed hard. "They searched for weeks but never found him. I was young but I still remember everything. I was playing with my Jawas and droids in the sandbox and Patrick was climbing an oak not 10 feet away. It was real windy that day and Dad told him not to climb or else he may get blown right out of the tree. One minute he was there and the next he...wasn't. I never even saw him leave."

"Mom could never forgive my father and he could never forgive himself. They separated about a year later and not long after that he was found hanging in his closet," Jack continued. "My mother and I survived pretty well considering. She passed away almost 4 years ago from cancer, so now it's just me. Hell...most of what I just said probably makes no sense to you, does it?"

Draephas walked over and placed the clothes on the end of the bed. "I, too, have no family." He put his hand on Jack's shoulder and gave it a squeeze. Jack looked up at him and smiled weakly. Without another word he stood up and followed Draephas out of the sleeping chamber and into the unknown.

Vigilant - Chapter Two (PG)

Jack's eyelids fluttered as he struggled to open his eyes against the harsh sunlight coming through the hotel window. His head felt as if it were about to burst and he was shaky and nauseous, but he didn't feel hot anymore. At least the fever broke, he thought. As his eyes focused, Jack realized that he wasn't in his room anymore. What he thought was the sun was actually some sort of artificial light suspended closely above where he lay. "Am I in the hospital?" Jack wondered aloud.

"No, you are in my spare sleeping chamber," said a gravelly voice that could have been human.

Jack sat up with a start and banged his aching head on the lamp. It made an angry beeping sound as it floated to the corner of the room. Rubbing his head, Jack took in his surroundings. He knew he had never been here before, yet it all seemed so familiar. He was lying on some sort of bed that was hovering a few feet off the floor. The room was empty with the exception of the lamp and a hulking form standing in the shadows. The walls and ceiling were dark and smooth but Jack could make out faint lines and shapes just under the surface.

"Who...who are you?" Jack asked nervously. "I can't see you."

The being stepped into the light. Jack immediately recognized Draephas, his favorite action figure from his Xebolis series of toys. Shocked, he slowly reached into his pajama pants pocket and took out the figure he always carried with him. Jack held it up and looked back and forth between the plastic and flesh versions of his humanoid alien. They were identical! The living Draephas was close to 6 1/2 feet tall, his muscular frame concealed behind dull black armor. A pair of two foot long horns rose up and out from the sides of his full face battle helmet. Draephas looked precisely as Jack had drawn him many years before.

"Oh, man, I'm sicker than I thought," Jack moaned. "That fever cooked my brain and I'm hallucinating!" He shut his eyes tightly and lay back down with a flop.

"Get up, Jack. We have no time for games," Draephas growled. He motioned to the lamp and it quickly took its place above the bed. Jack squinted under the glare as he raised himself up on one elbow.

"No time? No time for what?" Jack asked incredulously. "Why am I asking you? You're not even real!"

"Yes I am, and you know it. Look inside yourself if you don't believe me." Draephas marched over to Jack and grabbed the action figure from his hand. "Where do you think this came from?"

"A factory in China," Jack sneered.

Draephas slammed his sizable fist down on the bed, scaring Jack into a sitting position. He leaned in close to the startled toymaker.

"I am no fool, so do not treat me as such," the alien hissed. "You know damned well what I mean." He stepped back and stood facing Jack, massive arms folded across his barrel chest. Silence filled the room as Jack gathered himself and thought hard. After a moment, he spoke.

"I was in my workshop late one night sculpting a prototype for a new figure. I got sleepy so put my head in my arms on the table and took a quick nap. When I woke up, I grabbed my sketch pad and a pencil and," Jack finished with a puzzled look.

Draephas dropped his arms and began to pace slowly around the room. Several times he halted and began to speak, then shook his head and continued walking. It was some time before Draephas stopped again.

"I was hoping you would know more about here. It would save much time if you did, and time is precious," Draephas explained. "We do not have the luxury of lengthy conversations."

"This is really happening, isn't it?" Jack asked softly. Draephas nodded in affirmation. "So, I'm not feverish in a hotel room in Beijing. Instead, I am in a...sleeping chamber...having a chat with an alien I created. Am I right?"

"Not exactly, Jack. It is true that what you are experiencing is real. However, you did not create me. You beheld me in your sleep and sketched what you saw when you awoke. For reasons I do not fully understand yet, you are connected to our dimension. It seems that when you sleep that link can strengthen enough to give you sight into our realm."

Jack took a deep breath, letting it out in a rush of air. "All these years I thought my characters and stories were products of my imagination. Come to find out I'm nothing but an inter-dimensional plagiarist?" He abruptly swung his legs over the side of the bed and stood up. This time the lamp was prepared and scooted back into the corner before Jack could head butt it a second time.

Jack laced his fingers behind his head and sighed. "I understand what you've told me so far. I'm not sure why I understand it, but I do. What I don't get is how I ended up here."

"Your guess is as good as mine," Draephas replied. "Perhaps Tarthiun can tell us. It is he who told me of you."

"Tarthiun the Shaman? But he is evil!" Jack's expression turned to one of distrust. Keeping his eyes on Draephas, Jack put the bed between himself and the alien. "What's going on here? Am I your prisoner?"

Vigilant - Chapter One (PG)

His imagination had been a thing of wonder since he was a young boy. Early on in life, he wrote fantastic tales and drew incredible pictures from the ideas blossoming in his mind. He fell in love with science fiction and fervently collected toys in all shapes and sizes to act out the stories he created. Soon the playthings he had were not enough and he started disassembling them for parts and making his own toys. His skills were almost magical! As he grew into a man his passion drove him to channel his powers into the design and sculpting of toys like no one had ever seen. Space travelers and fearsome alien creatures came to life in his attic workshop. The toymaker was meticulous in his art, and he cast and painted every toy himself to ensure its perfection. Collectors, enthusiasts, and children alike bought the toys as soon as the paint had dried and before long the toymaker had far more customers than toys to sell them.

He worked day and night to meet the ever growing demand, but the time came when the toymaker had to have his toys made in a factory. He toiled just as hard, inspecting and touching up each toy before he would pass it on to the lucky recipient. He was kind and generous and often gave away more than he sold. His reward was the look of joy on the face of a collector, or the laughter of a child playing with one of his creations. His craft led him halfway across the world to where his toys were being made. The toymaker wanted to improve the process and the final product even further. He was a tall, broad shouldered man full of energy, and his intensity was felt throughout the building as he worked side by side with the employees on the assembly line.

Before he could leave the foreign country to come home, the toymaker was struck with a mysterious illness. He tossed and turned in the grip of a raging fever in his rented room on the highest floor of a great tower. Hours and days blurred together in an inferno of dreams as a monstrous typhoon battered the structure mercilessly. The building swayed under the weight of the storm, yet the toymaker lay oblivious of the peril close at hand. Suddenly, the large window next to the bed exploded outward, leaving a swirling vortex in its place! In an instant the toymaker was sucked out of the room and into the darkness...

Kranion Answers the Call (PG)

The summons came through as Kranion was downloading the polluted life energy of a vicious Villser into a holding pod in the containment zone. Cosmic Wave was losing a struggle with a Gargethion on the far side of the Glyos system and needed help. What was he doing out there? He double checked his transmitter but there was no mistake; there was trouble on planet Botellias.

Kranion locked down the pod, docked his collector to recharge, and thought. Will this be the time? His worst fear was coming to the aid of battling Pheyden, only to find out that the opponent had pure life energy and he was helpless to defend his cosmic brother. Well, not helpless. I could still draw the creature's life energy, but what then? It couldn't join the central energy force after that, so innocent life energy would be doomed for all eternity to rot in one of those miserable pods. Could I live with myself after that? Could I live with watching a Pheyden die while I stood there and did nothing? The very idea of having to make that choice filled him with dread.

No sense in worrying about that now. It will all be over if I don't get moving. Kranion grabbed his collector from the dock, visualized Botellias, and he was there. A lush planet overgrown with vegetation and teeming with gentle wildlife, Botellias was not a place he found himself very often. The Gargethion were a higher life form with powerful telekinetic abilities but they were always peaceful, choosing to keep to themselves and focus on their gyrofarming.

As he made his way through the dense growth Kranion picked up the sounds of battle to his left. Moving closer and using a large kryno bush for cover, he parted the branches and found himself looking on to a small clearing. Cosmic Wave was pinned against a boulder with one of the Gargethion's hands around his throat, one on each arm, and one on each leg. With its remaining arm it was thrashing the poor Pheyden's head mercilessly. Cosmic Wave's blaster was on the other side of the clearing in 3 pieces. Kranion had seen a Gargethion use its numerous limbs to harvest with astonishing speed, but never to attack.

Concentrating on the Gargethion, Kranion reached out and joined with its life energy. A deep blackness filled his thoughts and there was no question. He stepped into the clearing, raised his collector, and pulled the trigger. A thick beam of energy shot across the clearing and engulfed the Gargethion in a cocoon of white light. A few seconds of writhing and it was over.

Cosmic Wave slid off the boulder and into a heap on the ground. As Kranion approached he noticed a strange mark on the back of the dead Gargethion's head. It was a small slash and its edges glowed green. Kranion had never seen a wound like this but he had a good idea what made it. Well, that explains why the Gargethion turned aggressive, but how did Cosmic Wave become its victim? This would continue to happen across the Glyos system if Kranion didn't eliminate the abomination he called Bio Villser and its two evil replicas.

Kranion knelt next to Cosmic Wave and felt for life. It was there but very weak. He took a regeneration capsule from his belt pouch and broke it over his fallen brother. A moment later Cosmic Wave groaned and slowly sat up, leaning against the boulder for support. He raised his head and looked into Kranion's eyes. Without a word Kranion nodded, visualized Aidoneus, and was gone.

In the relative safety of his dimension, Kranion processes what just happened. Cosmic Wave was a fool for trying to avenge Bio Pheyden and he is lucky to be alive. The next Pheyden who tries may not be so fortunate. I've got to put an end to this before Bio Villser spawns again!

Pheyden(s) vs. ? (PG)

They stood silently at a crossroads bordered by endless blue barricades of energy. Four space travelers from as many times and dimensions brought together for a common purpose. Arquem Pheyden broke from the group and moved slowly down a corridor. He paused at an opening in the partition and cautiously stepped into the void and out of view. A moment later his head appeared from behind the wall.

"It hasn't come this way yet. The power orbs continue down this passageway and around the corner." Arquem quickly looked back over his shoulder before rejoining his brethren.

"It must still be feeding around the perimeter," Red Guardian Pheyden said quietly. "We must split up and begin to drive it towards a southern corner of the labyrinth. Remember - do not let it reach one of the large spheres or our shields will be temporarily deactivated."

The other Pheydens nodded in acknowledgment and moved out. As Andromeda Pheyden made his way down the hall he heard something in the distance and stopped. From somewhere up ahead came the faint sound of metal on metal. It grew louder as he slid stealthily along one of the blue barriers separating him from his quarry. The noise built to a roar as the creature approached, its gnashing steel teeth devouring power orbs as it went. Andromeda ran to meet the circular being head on and saw that it was being pursued by Red Guardian! Despite its panic the half machine, half organic golden yellow monster continued to ingest balls of energy at an impossible rate. Just as the Pheydens were about to close in, it deftly turned into a warp zone and was gone.

On the opposite side of the maze, Pulse Pheyden was about to change course when the beast appeared out of nowhere right in front of him! It saw him and reversed direction, Pulse in hot pursuit. By the time he realized a large sphere lay up ahead it was too late. The creature swallowed it whole and spun on Pulse as his shield short circuited, encasing him in a glowing dark blue aura. Partially paralyzed, he tried to escape but was vaporized in an instant! The ghostly outline of his eyes floated eerily down the corridor and out of sight.

Andromeda and Red Guardian emerged from the warp zone as their shields were flashing back into operation. They sprinted after the yellow fiend, herding it towards a corner. They struggled to close the gap but it managed to stay one step ahead of them, rounding the bend and continuing down the long southern passageway. As the Pheydens came around the corner they saw Arquem leap out of an opening up ahead. The creature was surrounded! The three Pheydens charged mercilessly and rammed full speed into the beast's fleshy curved sides as it let out a high pitched death warble. Its mechanical jaws malfunctioned and opened on to itself as the monster imploded!

Pulse found himself whole again in a small rectangular chamber. The only break in the walls was protected by some sort of force field. Without warning, Andromeda and Arquem suddenly appeared on either side of him. Red Guardian spoke from just outside the room.

"We are not done here. There will be another..."

Pheyden vs. ? (PG)

As Pheyden materialized, he spied the fading outline of himself standing on top of a battered green tank. By the time he reached the rectangular junker it was gone. What part of me was here...and why? He quickly surveyed the noiseless surroundings for answers. The tank's laser cannon was pointed straight up and glowed red hot in the night air. Pheyden's gaze followed the barrel upward and fell on a partially demolished shield hovering closely above the tank. More barriers in varying states of ruin floated to the left and right. Upon closer inspection Pheyden saw that they had taken hits from below as well as above. That's strange...why would-

The eerie silence was broken by a thundering rhythm and the sky instantly filled with waves of space craft! Without pause the skull-like ships in the bottom row began their brutal attack, releasing bomb after bomb as they moved in unison. Pheyden scrambled inside the tank and manned the controls. Using the shields to his advantage, he deftly drove back and forth while returning fire. Laser blasts and bombs collided in midair and ship after ship blew to pieces.

Pheyden mercilessly unleashed a torrent of devastation on the approaching armada. Gaping holes in the vertical assault formation told him that he was making progress fast. A large red command saucer came out of nowhere and flew rapidly above its fleet in a blur of pulsing sound. Pheyden saw his opportunity and timed the shot perfectly. The saucer vaporized as the ships moved lower and lower at an ever increasing rate.

Relentless shelling had reduced the barricades to little more than fragments. Avoiding the steady stream of bombs took every ounce of Pheyden's concentration. He continued dodging and blasting with amazing quickness. The elimination of one multiplied the speed of the remaining ships dramatically. Only two triangular-shaped craft remained, their dangling mechanical appendages swinging in sequence. Pheyden knew he had to strike now or they would reach the surface and all would be lost.

He positioned the tank just to the right of the only serviceable shield and waited. As if on cue they appeared from his left and tore into the barrier. The lead ship showed itself for a split second over Pheyden but that was all he needed to destroy it. He fired again but the last ship was already gone. He tracked it as it abruptly halted, dropped and reversed direction. It was heading right for him!

The ground shook under the bombardment. Pheyden knew he could not outrun his assailant. He had one chance left and waited for the right moment to shoot. Steady...steady...NOW! The shockwave rocked him as the ship disintegrated. Pheyden opened the hatch and climbed out on to the tank. As he stood scanning the empty darkness overhead, he felt himself being pulled into another dimension.

As Pheyden materialized, he spied the fading outline of himself standing on top of a battered green tank. By the time he reached the rectangular junker, it was gone. What part of me was here...and why?

Tea Party (PG-13)

A small round table and chairs in a corner of her bedroom. Plastic cups and saucers laid out for two. I watch her from just outside the doorway. She pours pretend tea and carries on her polite hostess conversation. I start to leave when she says something wrong. Or maybe she didn't. I listen some more. A few words escape me but the ones I hear sound all right. I stay for another minute before going downstairs to make dinner.

She comes down and sits at the table. I finish cooking and serve the food. We talk about the day for a while. She stops talking and looks down at her plate. I can hear her giggling softly. I ask her what is so funny and she looks up with a mischievous grin.

I have a secret, she says.

About what?

About you, Daddy.

Who told you?

Mommy did.

Oh...okay. Now finish your dinner, I say.

We follow the routine of bedtime. I kiss her goodnight and turn out the light. On the way to the living room I think about her secret. I wonder what it could be. Nothing good on television so I might as well go to bed. I hear her voice as I pass her room and take a peek. Nothing doing in there. Guess she was talking in her sleep.

More giggles at breakfast. She's up to something. I get her on the school bus and go to the study. On my desk is a picture she drew of herself holding hands with someone. Her mother. Something in her other hand that I can't make out. Too busy to think about it so I put the picture away and start working.

Afternoon comes and I go outside to meet her bus. She goes to her room to play. I bring up a snack and find her back at the table only not serving tea. She's paying close attention to an empty chair. I put the plate on the table and ask if she is going to share with her guest.

No Daddy, she doesn't eat.

What about tea?

She doesn't drink either, she says.

No laughing at the dinner table tonight. She looks serious. I ask what's wrong and she won't say.

Did something happen at school?

No, Daddy, she says.

Then what is it?

I'm not supposed to tell.

Why not?

Just because, she says.

She leaves to put on her pajamas and I go to the study. I sit down and take out the picture. Is that the dress her mother wore the day she was killed? She was only a year old. How could she remember that? I hear her slipper scuff the floor behind me as I feel something cold slide into my neck. I fall out of my chair and on to my hands and knees. The handle of a kitchen knife is quivering above my shoulder. Blood is pooling all around. I don't understand. She's standing there looking at me. I ask for help and she points to the hallway.

I can't, Daddy. Mommy told me not to.

Her mother is hovering there watching. She looks pleased. Payback is a bitch. I collapse into a spreading red puddle. My world is losing its color. Almost over so I close my eyes and let the darkness take me.

I'm next to her now. We go upstairs to our daughter's room. A small round table and chairs in a corner of her bedroom. Plastic cups and saucers laid out for three. She's waiting for us, big smile and fake pot in hand.

Anyone for tea?