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Excerpt for Herbie Hunter and the Fathomless Legion by , available in its entirety at Smashwords



Herbie Hunter
and the
Fathomless Legion



Last Generation – Book Two



Michael HH Warren



© Michael ‘Double-H’ Warren 2018

www.michaelhhwarren.com

www.sleightsoccer.com


All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission from the author. Brief excerpts may be cited in book reviews, provided the narrative quoted is verbatim and due credit is given by way of the book title and name of author.


Herbie Hunter and the Fathomless Legion, although a work of fiction, has a very strong correlation to historical facts and religious spiritual concepts, and a certainty in the reality of the near future to be faced. However, for the reason that it remains a work of fiction, kindly accept that no apologies will be forthcoming for any offended sensitivities.


While many names of most entities and places are factual, the majority of other names, characters, places, incidents and events are products of the author’s imagination and therefore used fictitiously. However, some terms are deliberately fictitious to avoid confusion and to preserve anonymity. Even so, the reader will naturally relate to basic emotional signals.


Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or having the seemingly impossible likelihood of imitating any actual incident or event, is purely coincidental. Should any artifact, business, event, incident, institution, name or place be found to be evident and occurring in public domain source documents and resource repositories, then accept that they are true to life and therefore factual.


Should any factual inaccuracy or a suspected lapse in basic acumen on the part of the author be detected in the narrative, I hope the reader will interpret the oddities with humor, gravity and/or relevance. Accordingly, the author hereby absolves himself from any libelous action or responsibility for any unintentional errors or omissions.


Illustrations: Siané Power

Cover design: Michael Corvin

Book design: Leila Summers

Editor: Karen McKee

Storyline Advisor and Editor: Ross Julius Henshall

Contents

Glossary

Author’s Note

Preface

Prologue

Chapter One: Get Out

Chapter Two: Going Down Country

Chapter Three: Darkest Town in America

Chapter Four: Legion in the Lake

Chapter Five: Lovelock Cave

Chapter Six: Area 51

Chapter Seven: Ezekiel the Destroyer

Chapter Eight: Jacob

Chapter Nine: Night of a Thousand Demons

Chapter Ten: Together

Acknowledgments

Glossary

Abraxas

A powerful military land/air hybrid vehicle capable of moving heavy loads.


Celtic knot

A stylized graphical representation of a knot present in Celtic mythology.


Chevra Kadisha

Also known as Hevra Kadishah, an organization of Jewish men who prepare the bodies of deceased Jews for burial.


Cosplay

Costume play; the practice of dressing up as a character from popular culture. Costumes are often tailored by their wearer.


Earthship

A house built from local clay and recycled materials. They are built to be eco-friendly and self-sustainable, powered solely on renewable energy harnessed from solar panels and windmills.


Earthshippers

People who live in earthships.


GenZers

A nickname used for people born in Generation Z, the most recent generation. It is widely accepted that GenZers are those born between 1995 and 2012.


Golem

In Jewish folklore, a clay figure brought to life.


Gubernatorial Election

The election for a governor.


Moshiach

In Jewish belief, a spiritual leader descended from King David’s bloodline that will bring unification to the tribes of Israel.


NSA

The National Security Agency, infamous for tracking private data on the Internet.


PTT Button

Push to talk button. Present on walkie-talkies, this button is pressed when the user is transmitting.


RPD

Reno Police Department.


Sit Shiva

In Jewish religious custom, the seven day mourning period practiced by the Jewish people. All the mirrors in the deceased’s house are covered, and mourners are discouraged from making their own food, rather receiving food from friends, family and neighbors.


TL;DR

Too long; didn't read (abbreviated TL;DR, tl;dr, and tldr) is shorthand notation indicating that a passage was considered too long to invest the time and effort to read and absorb.


Wannabees

Slang for “want to be”. Someone trying to achieve a certain style, status or image, but distinctly failing to do so.

Dedication

For Kelly, Caden and Generation Z.


Michael HH Warren, 2018

Author’s Note

Herbie Hunter and the Fathomless Legion questions the connection between the degradation of society’s moral fiber, the universal rise in drug abuse and the worldwide obsession with the occult. When we normalize concepts and practices that were once taboo, we forget why they were ever spoken of in hushed tones, and we fail to see the impact they have on our spiritual wellbeing.


Herbie Hunter and the Fathomless Legion asks the reader to look at the way our society has changed in the last hundred years. The modern age has been molded by fantasy—aliens, vampires, werewolves, zombies, outrageous conspiracies—and the line between reality and fiction has become ever more blurred. What effect has this had on our psyches? Can anyone be sure where the line truly is?


We’ll rejoin our hero, Herbie Hunter, as he battles to find justice for his losses in this turbulent climate. He will have to draw his own line between fantasy and reality, but more importantly, a line between justice and vengeance. Now that he has committed himself as a warrior for the forces of good, he will have to ensure that he does not unwillingly fan the flames of evil by blindly following a misunderstood sense of duty in pursuit of justice. Only when he risks losing everyone he loves can he start to value them over his quest for vengeance for those he has lost.


Michael HH Warren

October 2018


Preface

Herbie Hunter believed in justice; that the evil were punished and the good rewarded. But now, after staring evil in the eye and committing himself as a force of good, he received no reward, and evil was left to fester and grow uninhibited.

In the summer of 2026, the world economy continued to show no sign of recovery. Every day, automation filled another thousand human roles in society, and another thousand humans found themselves with no way to put food on their tables other than leeching off an already incapacitated government.

The perpetrator was no secret: automation. Those who believed themselves to hold the reins of the United States of America could never have comprehensively calculated the impact automation would have on them. Local governments were throttled by self-driving cars that broke no traffic laws, received no speeding tickets and never parked. States that had relied on profiting from coal, oil and gas production found themselves with no market due to the influx of renewable energy sources, rendering their products obsolete. Large cities faced mass exodus as the water tax skyrocketed, and their populations had no choice but to seek settlements around the remaining springs, rivers and man-made lakes. There was no one to tax, no property to profit from, and no way to keep the wheels and cogs of the rapacious administrative machinery turning. The rules of the game had changed, and an outdated system found itself too short-sighted to adapt.

The federal government had failed to produce adequate laws to tax the corporations that no longer provided society with jobs. They were too distracted by the wars they waged at every front, fighting alongside Israel to claim ever larger chunks of the Middle-East, surrounding Russia and China with ever more military bases. The imminent threat of conflict demanded larger and larger budgets to keep ahead in an arms race and to produce ever more effective killing machines controlled by increasingly sophisticated AI.

So despite a crippled people and government, the military and industrial spheres had never been so prosperous. They fed into each other—the military developing the systems to replace people’s jobs, and the industrial mega corporations devouring military contracts that cost them next to nothing to fulfill. Anyone who bothered to pay attention could see this double-headed dragon was quickly becoming its own independent force, working by its own laws, untethered and apathetic to the bubbling turmoil around it, if not actively stoking its flames.

The Light Seekers, funded by Osiris Corp—one the greatest profiteers of these chaotic times—were determined to use this free fall into depression to their advantage. High-ranking Magisters toured the country, preying on the desperate and providing them with an ill-fated solution to their woes—an all-expenses paid trip to Paradise Rift in exchange for their unyielding loyalty to their cause.

The Rift was preparing for their arrival. With most of the outlying farms securely under Osiris Corp ownership, new developments were popping up every day. Construction on the Osiris Corp hospital, now dubbed Ishtar Clinic, had accelerated with round-the-clock shifts now that summer’s heat strangled construction by day.

So despite what had seemed at the time as a victory over Don Balcom, Herbie had done little to stop this multi-tentacled machine from grabbing ever more power. Now that the Grand Magus was touring Nevada in preparation for the November gubernatorial election, he didn’t even have a figure to aim his rage at. The summer was moving quickly, and he had used the time to smolder in his anger, obsess over his failures and spit at an apathetic universe that seemed to have no sense of justice.

But what Herbie didn’t know was that the ultimate justice was well on its way, the only true justice, the only real justice—Divine Justice. It would come swift and merciless upon the wicked—upon humankind’s last generation.




The heart, like all muscles, is born for a tussle

Is battered and bleeds before healing


You’ll find there’s an issue when rampant scar tissue

Hardens its wounds while it’s sealing


You may reach for your chest, feel the cold stone infest

From a battle, a bruise or a beating


You strike out at others, those you should call brothers

But it’s you that’s the foe you’re defeating



Prologue

July 01, 2026


TOP SECRET

URGENT


Self-terminating message drop


Subject: Specimen 6


To both our government and external funders: The A51-S6 team is glad to announce that Specimen 6 has proven stable. A word of thanks goes to Don Balcom, who resurfaced the work of Paul Hunter and proved his original hypothesis correct: Gene N66 is capable of successfully being incorporated into the human genome with incredible results. Not only has Specimen 6 managed to repress the physical deformations of Specimens 1 through 5, but physical strength and mental prowess is seen to perform at a superhuman level. At first glance, it would seem that Specimen 6 is a complete success.


But we fear that we have opened Pandora’s Box. As you know, Specimens 1 through 5 succumbed to the mental illnesses associated with Omega Energies. The addition of Gene N66 made them susceptible to this phenomenon that we have spent countless years trying to study, but they are yet to truly understand. A small portion of humans have been studied to contain Omega Energies, and all on record have died shortly after levels spiked, much like Specimens 1 through 5.


Despite seeming mentally stable on the surface level, Specimen 6 contains unprecedented levels of Omega Energies. It is our hypothesis that its heightened mental capacity allows it to control the schizophrenic-like compulsions associated with this phenomenon, but they still exist somewhere within its psyche. If Specimen 6 were allowed to continue with the planned protocols, it is entirely possible for it to break free of our control.


After analysis by military psychologists, psy-op agents, neurologists and geneticists, team A51-S6 is hereby recommending that Specimen 6 be terminated immediately and any further incorporation of Gene N66 held off until the Omega Energies are fully understood. It is an unmitigated risk to national security and the future of humanity. We plead with you to receive and consider this suggestion with the utmost severity. We have attempted to create the next step in human advancement, but it seems that we have, instead, created humanity’s possible demise.

Chapter One

Get Out

“It’s just gonna dry up anyway; no need to be sentimental,” the foreman snarled as he churned a mouthful of hotdog and mustard.

Ahiga tried not to focus on the yellow crust that had settled on the bottommost whiskers of the foreman’s thick gray mustache as his protests were shot down.

“There’s a million boys out there who would kill for this work, and you wanna know why, Ay-Ga?” Bits of chewed up sausage rolled around the foreman’s mouth and made Ahiga feel like he was staring into a cement mixer, but he tried to focus on the issue at hand.

“It’s pronounced A-hi-ga, sir.”

“You wanna know why AY-GA?” the foreman repeated, apparently doing his best to say Ahiga’s name wrong, “Because machines don’t complain, so machines get our jobs. It’s spoiled brats like you that got us in this mess in the first place. If everyone could just do an honest day’s work with a smile on their face, there wouldn’t be a need to build machines to replace us.”

“I understand, sir, but that doesn’t change the fact that we’re destroying my people’s history,” Ahiga protested, “The Paiute have lived off this lake for centuries; surely we should be trying to preserve it, not capitalize on its final breaths?”

The foreman ran his hand along his glimmering red face as his eyes bulged in disbelief, “Your pa never said you were a smart mouth when he asked if I had a job for you. If I had known, I woulda sent him running back to the reservation.”

Ahiga reeled his head back at the remark and did his best to conceal his scowl.

The foreman sighed, realizing he had crossed a line, “But he makes a good drinking buddy, so I’m gonna explain this once and only once, so that you can get your hide working.”

The foreman put his hand on Ahiga’s shoulder and pointed to the mountains in the distance, “You know what that is?”

Ahiga rolled his eyes at the patronizing question, “Tule Peak.”

The foreman turned and guided Ahiga’s body along with his own, “And that?”

“Tohakum Peak,” Ahiga groaned, all too familiar with the landscape having lived at the Pyramid Lake Reservation most of his life.

The foreman pushed Ahiga’s shoulder, turning him around one hundred and eighty degrees, “And lastly …”

“Virginia Peak. What’s your point?”

“My point is,” the foreman smiled knowingly, “there hasn’t been a drop of snow on them peaks in over six years, and neither you nor I, nor any fancy government project, nor some hippie rain dance, is gonna make snow fall on them peaks. And if snow don’t fall, it don’t melt, and if it don’t melt, there ain’t no water to fill this lake. You getting me, AY-GA?”

“Yes but …”

“But nothing. We either pump out what’s left in this lake or the sun’s just gonna suck it up and drop it off in the ocean,” the foreman snapped, having had enough with the conversation.

He turned his back to Ahiga and started stomping away—but Ahiga couldn’t let him go. As much as it pained him to see the lake disappear, it was clear that it was going one way or another. It was barely a quarter of the size it had been when he was growing up on the reserve, and a few more dry summers would turn it into a dry lakebed anyway. But there were far greater fears than his people’s heritage driving his reluctance to work.

“We’re all going to die here if we empty this lake,” Ahiga called after him, loud enough for the rest of the crew to catch wind.

The foreman turned, stomped back to Ahiga and grabbed him by the collar, “You shut your mouth, boy,” he hissed right up in Ahiga’s face, splattering it with drops of spit. “Say one word of that nonsense and you’re out of here, you got it? It was hard enough getting this project approved with all your people’s protests. I’m not losing this job because one redskin still hasn’t realized that the battle is lost. Now get to work.”

Ahiga wanted nothing more than to tell the foreman he was a fool and a dead man, that he didn’t need this stupid job—but he knew what his father would do to him if he came home without his day’s wages. He felt a jolt of fear run up his spine at the thought of it.

He nodded slightly, pulling his face away from the foreman’s, wanting nothing more than to escape the odor of hotdog sitting on his stale breath. The foreman replied with a victorious glare, released him and headed back toward a water tanker, presumably to eat another hot dog. Ahiga sighed deeply as he dragged himself over to the closest pump to help guide the pipes into the lake. Looking back at murky water, he wasn’t sure which was more terrifying: his father’s wrath or the legends he had been told since he was a child.

Even in the morning hours, the sun had already begun to blaze down on the lake. Ahiga quickly found that the safety gloves he had been issued became like water balloons, filling up with sweat as he got down to work. He noticed that the other workers avoided him as he toiled away in the relentless heat throughout the morning. He wasn’t sure if it was a result of the words he had said or the color of his skin. He was much younger than the other twenty odd workers, having just finished high school, and he was well acquainted with the older generation’s feelings about anyone who didn’t look like them.

He didn’t mind. He couldn’t imagine what he would say to them anyway. He doubted any of them would be interested in his research into the strange happenings around the lake or how they suspiciously correlated with folklore going back hundreds of years. No one in Gerlach did, other than his best and only friend, Martin.

Ahiga was almost hoping something spooky would happen so that he would have news to report when he got back to town. Martin would have a million questions for him about his day’s work—that was for sure.

But as the day progressed, it became ever more apparent that the biggest danger he faced out on the lakeside was the mundanity of the work boring him to death.

At noon, when the sun became unbearable, they stopped their pipe laying to escape the heat beneath a canopy the foreman had set up. Ahiga had packed some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that did little to satisfy the fierce hunger that the manual labor had worked up; he sat alone in the most secluded corner, hoping that no one would bother him. But as he was glugging down some water from his canteen, he was surprised to see a middle-aged man with a freckled face and a red-tinged buzz cut slink his way across the shade of the canopy and plant himself beside him.

Ahiga said nothing at first and stared at the lake’s navy blue waters. In the corner of his eye, he noticed that the man was lanky in build, but Ahiga was lankier still and hoped that he didn’t intend on causing any trouble.

“So what’s all this talk about dying out here?” the man finally spoke, not bothering to look at Ahiga.

“I … um, I didn’t mean to freak anyone out,” Ahiga muttered, trying not to agitate the man.

“Didn’t ask if you meant to freak anyone out; I asked what you meant earlier. Man’s got a right to know.”

The man looked Ahiga up and down and immediately noticed he had frightened the boy.

He let his shoulders drop, relaxed his posture to show that he meant no harm, “Name’s Hudson. I’m from down South. Don’t mean to scare ya, but like I said, if something’s gonna kill me, I gotta right to know.”

Ahiga bit his lip as he collected his thoughts, not quite sure how much to say. Sure, Hudson seemed calm enough now, but he had seen people change in an instant before.

Ahiga swallowed hard as he prepared to share what he knew, “There are legends surrounding this lake … legends that have proven themselves as real as can be.”

“And what might these legends say?” Hudson asked, not seeming too fazed by the intensity in Ahiga’s voice.

“Well you see, the Cui-yui Ticutta—”

“The what-what uh-whatta?” Hudson interjected.

Ahiga shook his head clear, “The Paiute people that survived off Pyramid Lake—it means Cui-ui eater, the Cui-ui being the fish that populated the lake once upon a time.”

“Makes enough sense, go on,” Hudson nodded. Ahiga smiled as he noticed Hudson’s interest piquing.

“Well, they had it pretty tough living out here in the desert. There was only so much food to go around, and if you couldn’t help gather nuts or catch fish, you were dead weight on a struggling tribe.”

“I can imagine,” Hudson agreed.

“So, if a baby was born deformed in any way, and the tribe knew it could never carry its weight … well that’s not the sort of baby you want growing up.”

Hudson’s face curled down into a frown as he realized just what Ahiga meant, “Oh boy, what did they do with them babies?”

Ahiga shrugged, “They did what they had to do to keep the weak out of their tribe. They drowned them … right here … in Pyramid Lake.”

“That just ain’t right,” Hudson spat, shaking his head.

“Hey, the Spartans did worse. They left their deformed babies in the forest to be eaten by wolves. And they weren’t short on food; they just didn’t like weak babies,” Ahiga defended.

Hudson shook his head as his eyes grew wide, “You sure know a lot about people killing babies, but what’s it got to do with us dying out here, exactly?”

Ahiga looked back over the lake and thought of the secrets it hid beneath its surface, “The Cui-yui Ticutta began to realize there were consequences to their actions—that when you do evil, evil comes back for vengeance. They soon discovered that anyone approaching the lake after nightfall was never seen again … they say there are lost souls dwelling within these waters, hungry for retribution. They come out at night, scaly and twisted from torment, like monstrous lizard creatures and drag those who dare come too close to the shore back into the waters with them. They—”

“Hold up,” Hudson interjected.

Ahiga snapped his head around to face him, broken from his storyteller’s trance, “What?”

Hudson put his arm on his hip and shook his head, “If anyone who walks by the lake at night is never seen again, how do you know what the evil baby souls look like?”

Ahiga’s face snapped into a frown, “I never thought of that.”

“Sounds like an old wives’ tale to me. Probly to keep kids from trying to swim in the lake in the dark in case they drown,” Hudson reasoned.

Ahiga’s shoulders dropped, disappointed that his new friend was a skeptic.

“That’s not all though. Just yesterday they found a herd of longhorn with their throats torn open just over that ridge,” he counter argued, pointing to the other end of the lake.

“Mountain lion,” Hudson shrugged.

Ahiga shook his head, “Firstly, finding a herd of longhorn surviving out here is strange enough. Black Rock Desert isn’t exactly thriving anymore. But a mountain lion that bit out all their throats and left the flesh intact? Near impossible. People are saying it fits the alien mutilation model pretty well, but I know better.”

“What? Them babies took out their eternal anger on a bunch of longhorn?” Hudson chuckled.

Ahiga’s face remained stern and serious, “Had to have been something, and when you start looking at the bigger picture, everything starts lining up.”

Hudson just shook his head and smiled, “Go out looking for jack rabbits and you’ll see a fuzzy tail on every rock and scrub.”

He saw the disappointment on Ahiga’s face and decided to change the subject.

“Anyways, it’s not like we gonna be here after sunset, so there ain’t nothing to worry ’bout,” Hudson smiled, “But we best get back to it. Why don’t ya come help me get a tanker fixed up to a pump?”

Ahiga nodded, slightly displeased that he hadn’t been taken seriously. He remembered the first time he had told Martin about the legend of the lake. It had sent him into a frenzy of questions, followed by countless days of research and plenty of visits to the lake. The folklore that Ahiga shared with him had molded their entire friendship.

But Hudson was nothing like Martin. He was rough, but kind, not an intellectual, but highly logical. Ahiga was happy to have him as a friend, and happier still to have someone to work beside as they got through the mundane work.

Perhaps this won’t be so bad after all, he thought as he followed Hudson out to the lakeside.

But he was wrong. It was far worse than he could ever have expected. The sun’s intensity had increased tenfold since they had retreated under the canopy for lunch, and Ahiga felt as though he was an ant beneath a magnifying glass.

“It feels like my skin is sizzling!” he gasped as he reached down to grab a length of pipe.

As Hudson reached down to grab the other end of it, he quickly drew his hand back, pulling off his glove and sticking his fingers in his mouth, “Hot dog! It’s hotter than a stove top!”

The other workers soon began to mumble and groan as it became ever more apparent that the conditions were simply not fit for men to work in. Talk of unions and labor lawyers started to bounce around the lakeside until the foreman finally caught on to what was happening.

“Everybody, back under the canopy!” he yelled out across the lakeside.

The men were eager to obey, and it was not long before the foreman stood in front of the crew beneath the sweet haven of the shade.

“Listen up, boys, this is how it’s gonna go. The reason we hired you guys in such a rush is because Osiris Corp needs this water outta this lake yesterday. If that wasn’t the case, you bet they would’ve got an Auto-Pump system sent up from Houston. So here are your options: leave, don’t come back and don’t expect no paycheck. Your other option is to wait out the heat and work into the evening. I’ll get some lights sorted out, and you can go home when the pipes are laid, maybe even with a little summin’ extra in your pocket for the inconvenience. Now what’s it gonna be?”

Ahiga gulped at the thought of it and turned to Hudson, “I’m outta here.”

“Oh, don’t be like that, think of it as a chance to prove that all those wild stories are nothing but tall tales. I’m sure you could use the extra cash anyhow.” Hudson winked reassuringly.

Ahiga couldn’t help but imagine the look on Martin’s face when he told him that he had been knee deep in Pyramid Lake after sunset. The two had discussed doing just that countless times, yet whenever the opportunity had arisen, Ahiga had always been sure to come up with an excuse to postpone their plan. This frustrated Martin to no end, being the more adventurous of the two of them. Martin was about as fit as Ahiga, which is to say, not very fit at all, and Ahiga was sure that if anything were to come out of the lake after sunset, Martin wouldn’t be able to provide much safety or protection.

But now, with Hudson by his side, Ahiga felt a sudden confidence. If anything really were to go down, he felt assured that the leather-skinned Southerner would have his back.

“So whaddya say? You gonna brave the water babies with ol’ Hudson?” Hudson smiled in the shade of the canopy.

“My dad would knock my block off if he found out I turned down overtime …” Ahiga shrugged, offsetting the implications of the statement with an awkward smile.

They killed off the hours of unbearable heat by telling their histories to one another. Ahiga regaled Hudson with tales of a simple life growing up on the Pyramid Lake Reservation, before moving to Gerlach when his father had gotten a job working for Osiris Corp. But Hudson had lived far more life than him and thus dominated the conversation. He had worked in a steel pipe factory for fifteen years after dropping out of high school in his sophomore year. When the automation age started to gain momentum, his years of loyalty had meant little to his employers. When they finally gave him the boot, he was left with no choice but to travel the country in search of what little manual labor was still out there.

Before they knew it, it was four o’clock, and the foreman was ordering them to man up and face the sun, lest they be laying pipes at midnight. By then the workers were happy to obey, already itching to answer the call of the saloon in Gerlach where the work bus would be dropping most of them off.

With plenty of pipes to link up to plenty of pumps, the work kept Ahiga’s hands busy while Hudson regaled him with stories of his travels from across the country, from sleeping on park benches and knocking on strangers’ doors for bread crusts, to wild nights with even wilder women when there was finally some currency on his cash card.

By seven-thirty, Ahiga was too worn out by the hours of labor to notice the sun dipping below the horizon or the shadows melding into a blanket of darkness. He barely turned his head away from Hudson’s tales when the foreman began setting up portable floodlights along the lakeside and hooking them up to a diesel generator. There were still plenty of pipes to be laid, more tankers waiting to be filled, and an ever-growing thirst for liquor among the workers. Not even Ahiga cared for legends or folklore while his aching joints and muscles kept his mind focused on getting the job done.

“How do these guys just keep working like this? I’m so broken!” Ahiga asked Hudson in disbelief as they made their way over to a tanker to secure a pipe to its valve. Hudson grabbed a wrench and started tightening the bolts around the valve in the bright white beams of the floodlights.

“Between you and me, I figure they ain’t doing it on strength alone.”

Ahiga stretched out his back as he pondered the loaded statement. “What do you mean?” he asked, softly.

Hudson quickly gazed around as he rotated the wrench, checking that none of the other workers were too close by, and leaned towards Ahiga. “Something I noticed about your little town, Gerlach. There’re more crystals floating along those streets than a salt mine. I’m sure a few of these boys have taken advantage of it.”

Ahiga swallowed hard. He knew of the methamphetamine problem that had plagued the town in recent years. It had even found its way into his own home.

“I should have thought as much …” Ahiga muttered under his breath, remembering what awaited him once this job was done, and where his wages would inevitably end up.

“That’s half the reason I chose to spend the day with you. I got no business talking to a bunch of jaw clenching ramblers. But never you mind, we still gotta get the pump piped up to the lake if we wanna get this tanker filled,” Hudson remarked, quickly changing the topic.

“Hey, redskin!” a voice called out to them from the lakeside.

Both Ahiga and Hudson turned to see the back of a man bent over in the water, staring downwards.

“Who you calling redskin, Brody? You’re the biggest hick this side of the country!” Hudson retorted.

Ahiga shook his head desperately, begging Hudson not to get involved. The slur was nothing new to him, and it wasn’t worth anyone’s time to fight about it.

But Hudson wasn’t having any of it. “’Bout time I taught that pig a lesson,” he mumbled to Ahiga.

Brody lifted himself and turned to them. He was about as wide as both Ahiga and Hudson combined, and about a head taller.

“Oh, pack away your claws, mama bear; I just found our friend a nice fish to take home for dinner. Don’t you injuns live on these things?” Brody laughed.

Hudson’s hands tightened around the wrench as his upper lip quivered with rage. “You better shut that mouth of yours or there’s gonna be trouble.”

“Wait, did you really find a fish?” Ahiga interjected.

“See! He’s over the moon!” Brody chuckled, still knee deep in the lake.

Ahiga walked toward the shore, Hudson just behind, wrench in hand.

“The Cui-ui lakesucker went extinct three years ago—you might have just found a reason to save this lake!” Ahiga smiled, his walk turning into a jog as his excitement grew.

“You just be careful of him,” Hudson warned as he kept up with Ahiga’s pace.

“Oh yeah, they’ve been splashing ’round something fierce out there. Why don’t you try catch it?” Brody laughed, finding Ahiga’s excitement over the fish hilarious.

“Mr. Foreman! We need to stop pumping!” Ahiga called out, now running to the shore.

The foreman shot up in his seat in one of the water tanker’s cab. “Stop pumping?” He yelled, blurry eyed from drifting off to sleep.

“There’s fish out there!” Ahiga called out, now spotting the splashing in the water as he approached the shore.

By now every worker on the site was circling in on Ahiga and Hudson to see what all the commotion was about, fueling Brody’s hysteria.

“I’m gonna try catch it for ya!” he laughed, turning to the middle of the lake.

“Don’t kill it! It could be the last of its kind!” Ahiga pleaded after him.

The foreman ran up behind the group, red with rage. “Get outta the water you dimwit! I’m paying you by the hour!”

Hudson shook his head and pulled on Ahiga’s shoulder to whisper in his ear, “That man is high as a kite, why d’ya go listening to him?”

“I can see it, Hudson! There’s something moving in the water!” Ahiga defended passionately.

The floodlights lit a small section of the lake in surgical white, and just beyond their reach, ripples and splashes and bubbling could be seen. By now, Brody was just a few feet away, stepping into the shadows.

And then he was gone.

“Brody?” Hudson called out into the lake, “Quit playing around!”

The foreman ran right up to the shore, “I’m docking you an hour’s pay for this—mark my words!”

The men squinted out into the darkness, hoping to see Brody surface with a stupid smile on his face. A moment passed as they stared out over the water, then another, and then another.

“He’s drowning!” one of the workers called out when it became clear that Brody wasn’t coming up.

“Don’t just stand there! Go in and get him!” the foreman yelled, panic rippling through his vocal chords.

The workers went running into the black water, desperately trying to reach the light’s edge where Brody had vanished. All except Ahiga.

He didn’t want to admit it, but the second Brody went under, his heart had begun to pound in his chest. He had seen something out there among the splashes and the ripples and bubbling—something that wasn’t a fish.

He stepped back, a lump in his throat, holding in his words. He saw Hudson wading deeper and deeper into the water and somehow, he found the courage to speak.

“Get out! Get out of the water now!” Ahiga desperately screamed across the lake.

But Hudson was furiously pushing on, desperate to save Brody’s life.

“We gotta find him!” he yelled back, continuing through the lakebed.

But seconds later, Hudson, as well as the other workers in the lake stopped their frantic searching and found themselves frozen in fear where they stood in the water.

“Do you hear that?” one of the workers called out across the lake.

They did, every one one of them—the sound of a child giggling.

The desperate panic to find Brody quickly turned to a cold, bitter fear.

The foreman listened intently as he squinted into the darkness from the shore. “Brody, if that’s you messing with us, I’m gonna have your head!”

But it wasn’t Brody; it couldn’t have been. The sound seemed to be coming from every direction, echoing against the surrounding mountains.

Ahiga’s body shook uncontrollably. He tried to will his legs to run, but his body refused to obey.

“Get out of the water, Hudson!” he squealed through his paralysis. This time, Hudson was happy to listen.

With Ahiga’s tales playing in the back of his head, Hudson didn’t waste any time turning around and heading back to the solid ground. His heart pounding, his muscles desperately trying to break their natural limits.

But the others would never make it back to shore.

Hundreds of red eyes seemed to rise from the waters, speckling the shadows like a spray of blood, surrounding the white halos that the floodlights projected onto the lake.

“What in the …” the foreman whispered from the shore, his blood running cold at the sight of so many bright red eyes.

The echoing giggles seemed to be getting louder, coming from all directions—and then SPLASH! One by one, the men dropped into the water. They sank like stones, desperate screams of terror as their final utterances. The horrifying giggles were barely muted by the crash of full-grown men being pulled under, and the terrible sound of their voices gargling their last breaths.

All the while, the creatures giggled on.

It was only once Hudson got to shore and stood beside Ahiga and the foreman, eyes fixed on the carnage, unable to look away, that they saw what had brought about the workers’ untimely ends. Their scaled heads hovered just above the water’s surface as they slowly waded into the floodlights’ beams. Long, black, wet hair framed their reptilian faces as they reached out, with twisted, deformed limbs covered in scaly lizard-like skin, beckoning Ahiga, Hudson and the foreman into the waters with an unending song of sweet childish giggles.

The foreman was the first to break his eyes away, his vocal chords tearing as he screamed in fear, running toward the closest water tanker. Ahiga and Hudson turned to follow him, the floodlights blinding them as they ran.

But Ahiga and Hudson did not make it far.

Twisted forms emerged from the shadows behind the floodlights, first just three or four, but then they came in droves—giggling, tittering, and snickering. Before anyone knew it, countless water babies were reaching out their crooked hands up to the foreman as they surrounded him.

It was then that Hudson noticed the wrench he had dropped on the ground before jumping into the lake to save Brody. With adrenaline pumping through his veins, he bolted to where the wrench lay, grabbed it and continued on to where the foreman stood locked in fear as the water babies surrounded him.

Ahiga watched on as Hudson swung the wrench at the creatures, again and again, wielding it like a sword. But it was hopeless. The wrench went right through the creatures as though they were made of air, and they giggled with ever more hysteria with each swing.

Even as the creatures seemed to grab at both Hudson and the foreman, their grip had no strength, but passed through their flesh—and then crawled inside. Hudson and the foreman screamed—blood curdling, agonized screams—as the creatures leaped at them, passing through their flesh and burrowing into their souls.

Ahiga could only watch as the two men writhed, foam dripping from their mouths and bodies, convulsing as though they seized to the creatures’ laughter. Tears rolled down his face as he watched the men suffer, feeling powerless, terrified, knowing that these were his last moments on earth. He turned to see the shore lined with the creatures, red eyes peering through the darkness all along the edge of the floodlights’ halos. He dropped to his knees, weeping, screaming, but still their laughter rang louder in his head than his own cries.

He sunk his face into his hands, waiting to feel the water babies sink into him, imagining what burning agony it would be to feel them slip inside his flesh, waiting to die. But moments passed, and, still, he felt nothing; the giggling had finally stopped. His heart pounded as his body shook and eventually, he dared to open his eyes to see what carnage lay before him. A few feet away, Hudson and the foreman stood, staring at him. Their pupils were dilated so wide and horrifying that they seemed to take up the entirety of their eyes.

“Hu … Hudson? Are you okay?” Ahiga whimpered through his tears, terror convulsing his body.

Neither of the two said a word, but reached down and grabbed him by his arms.

“What are you doing!” he screeched.

The men said nothing, but dragged Ahiga’s limp body towards the murky waters.

“Stop! No! Please! Don’t!” he screamed.

He had seen men change in an instant before, but never like this. The water babies’ vicious white smiles awaited him in the lake, opening up a path to its deepest point. Ahiga sobbed uncontrollably as he felt his feet sink into the lake and the cold sting of the water.

“Please, why! Why are you doing this!” he cried desperately as they dragged him further in, half his body now submerged.

Just before they were deep enough for the water to cover his face, he heard Hudson speak—speak in a voice that was not his own, the voice of a demon—the last words Ahiga would hear in this world, “The Legion is unbound, and we must test our strength. The Antichrist walks among us, and we must prepare for war.”


***

Herbie wiped the sweat that had settled in the coarse ridges of the scar on his cheek as the morning sun began to set the Rift ablaze. He closed his eyes and bobbed his head as Jo Zep and the Falcons played Hit & Run through his headphones, the upbeat reggae keeping his heart from sinking too deep.

Summer had arrived and Big Cotton Creek had simmered into a trickle, heightening the water restrictions as the filtration plant tried desperately to quench the town’s thirst with groundwater alone. Day by day, new records were being broken, and it was common to hear Light Seekers muttering among themselves, “the hottest summer in the history of Paradise Rift.”

Herbie tapped on the back plate of the compass in his pocket, wishing that the twins would hurry. SleightSoccer practice in the high noon sun was a death wish, and the morning hours had to be savored. This lesson had been learned through heat stroke and sunburn in the first few days of summer, and Beatrix would be watching the kitchen clock to ensure that Herbie was back indoors by lunchtime.

Even the simple act of riding his bike from one side of town to the other had become a sweat-soaked ordeal that he would rather avoid, and even just an hour after sunrise, his palms already stuck to his handlebars as he tried to keep the bike steady.

He gazed down the road in hope of seeing the twins, but all that met his eyes was Osiris Corp Construction signs, flattened homesteads and the first few duplexes of the new housing development rising up from the desert. It wouldn’t be long until the once quiet farmland was completely absorbed into Newtown, leaving Beatrix’s old wooden two-story a lonely island of the past, fighting the rising tide of progression all around it.

He remembered staring out of Melody’s window at John Bauer’s leveled ranch, the first marks of the gross transformation. That night had begun so innocuously. He and Melody had danced together, hinted at their feelings for one another; he would have never suspected that it was the last night they would spend together before she was taken away. It was on that same night that the demon that possessed Daeva had fooled them into freeing her.

The night his mother died.

He shook his head clear, keeping the rage out. Rage made him weak—Pastor Hendryx had taught him that. He would never leave himself open to an attack like that again. He closed his eyes and let the music rush over him with the last cool breeze of the morning.

He felt a hand rest on his shoulder, a soft and familiar hand that had rested on him many times in the past weeks. Pulling the headphones from his ears, he gently raised his eyelids, “Hey Brend.”

But Brenda Lee’s gaze did not meet him with the same calm. Hollis stood behind her, his usual energy dampened by some secret they were desperate to share.

Brenda Lee wore a black blouse and skirt that trailed down to her ankles, while Hollis wore a white button up shirt, and black pants. Nothing could be more out of character for either of them.

“What’s up with you two?”

Brenda Lee looked down to the hot asphalt at her feet. “We can’t come to SleightSoccer practice today.”

“But, guys, it’s my birthday! We have the whole day planned out!” Herbie insisted.

Brenda Lee’s face twisted up, a battle of emotions smeared across her features, “I know, Herbie, we really wanted to come, it’s just …”

Hollis cleared his throat and motioned for Brenda Lee to continue, “Tell him.”

“Tell me what? What’s going on you guys? Why can’t you come to practice?”

Brenda Lee sighed, not too sure why she had to be the one to break the news, “It’s just that um …”

But Brenda Lee was not given the chance to finish her sentence as a gust of wind whipped the back of Herbie’s neck, and the near silent hum of electric motors rang in his ear.

He snapped his head around to see a convoy of black Valac Templars and Leviathans fill up the road behind him. An all too familiar sight in Paradise Rift—but there was something different about this particular motorcade. Each vehicle had a miniature American flag attached to its hood, and the Leviathans at the front and back of the convoy were fitted with blue and red police lights.

Herbie stared intently as car after car swooshed past him, a sick feeling bubbling up inside of him, an uneasiness that said—there is evil nearby. He couldn’t help but wonder if on the other side of the black tinted windows, Don Balcom was staring back at him.

After what seemed like an eternity, the last Leviathan in the motorcade zoomed by, leaving the desert feeling hollow in its wake. He watched the convoy head towards Newtown and beyond, and a thick silence descended on the trio.

“What is he doing back here so soon? I thought he was touring the state for his campaign! What are you guys not telling me?”

It was then that Herbie finally made sense of Hollis and Brenda Lee’s choice in clothing, the tension in their clenched fists and furrowed brows. Herbie felt a wave of disgust come over him as he realized why they weren’t going to be at SleightSoccer practice that morning.

“So, are you telling me that after everything he put Daeva through, he is now going to try and win some sympathy from her death? And the two of you are going to be a part of it? On my birthday?”

Hollis shrugged, unsettled, “She was his daughter after all, Herb. She deserves a funeral, even after everything that demon made her do. You can’t fault him on that.”

“Are you defending him?”

Brenda Lee grabbed his hand and squeezed it, “No one is defending Don Balcom, trust me on that. But technically, we’re still Light Seekers, and we have to play our part. Go home, Herbie, hang out with your grandma and Goji. Take your mind off things for a bit. You’ve been on edge all summer with all your planning to get Melody back. Don’t let this get to you. We’ll come by and hang out as soon as we’re finished.”

“Today’s gonna be awesome, Herb!” Hollis added, “We’re just gonna have to skip practice, that’s all. But there’ll be plenty of time for that—we’re only halfway through the summer holidays!”

Herbie knew they were right. Getting angry would only make him weak again, and he couldn’t risk it with the Grand Magus in town. Don had sworn to make his life a living hell, and he was not the kind of man to forget about such a promise. Herbie was up against an expert manipulator, a sadist—a killer. If he didn’t plan his moves carefully, he would find himself being puppeteered by Don’s twisted script to his own downfall.

He snapped his hand away from Brenda Lee and squeezed tightly on his bike’s handlebars. “So I’ll see you guys later. Enjoy the funeral.”

“Happy birthday, Herbie …” he heard them call after him before he shoved his earphones back in his ears and turned the bike back towards Beatrix’s house. He had found the perfect track to vent his rage towards the Light Seekers with—Manfred Mann’s “Blinded by the Light”.

I should have expected thishe’ll twist every situation to suit himself; of all days to have a funeral! I bet he knew it was my birthday … his mind moaned as the song built up.

He ground his teeth in frustration, at his inability to act, to take control of the situation. At least Hollis and Brenda Lee can tell me what goes downmaybe I can learn something from this, the calmer side of his thoughts argued. But they’ll probably whitewash the whole thingmake it seem like nothing so that I don’t get upset, so I don’t think of Melody.

Although Herbie knew that it was his anger speaking, he also knew that it was right. It had become difficult to draw the line between his sense of obligation to get Melody home and the deep existential agony of losing his mother. Everything had come crashing down so quickly earlier that year. The only way his mind had found to cope was to lump all of his problems into one nameless ball of rage and plastering Don Balcom’s ugly mug over it. That way, his mind had reasoned, if he could expose Don for the monster he is, everything would be alright, and all the pain would go away.

The twins had picked up on this and as a result, they did everything in their power to keep him calm, to stop him from fixating on the Light Seekers—to protect him. They would undoubtedly downplay anything that happened at the funeral to keep his mind off of his hatred toward Don and the Light Seekers; and although he appreciated the sentiment, he needed answers.

Now was the time for action. He could deal with his broken heart later.


***

“It’s so good to see you all again,” Don Balcom had crafted his tone and facial expression to perfection—somber, but piercing, deep tones of sadness rising gradually to pull in the crowd’s attention.

He had stepped out of the three-piece suit he had been seen wearing on the news streaming sites in order to don his baggy white Light Seekers robe, an eye on one sleeve and a flame on the other. Light Seekers smiled like children in a toy store, despite the morbid nature of the gathering. Their eyes grew wide with praise as they sweated through their formal attire while the sun made its way to its deadly peak. Clammy hands gripped parasols and umbrellas to protect them from the sun’s fierce rays, although the desert’s reflective sands ensured that the heat was inescapable.

Herbie listened in and couldn’t help but think back to Nathan Macklin’s death at the hands of Don Balcom. No funeral had been held for him, only a simple memorial assembly at Seker High. No one would stand in the comfort of the auditorium—no one dared say a word. It was not a Light Seeker’s duty to mourn an outsider.

“I can’t thank you all enough for coming and supporting me on this darkest of days, to mourn the loss of the true light in my life, the chosen one, my daughter, Daeva.”

Members in the crowd bowed their heads, some let a few tears trickle from their eyes to plop down onto the hot desert sands.

“Life without my flock just hasn’t been the same, and since Melody ascended to learn from the Galactic Brethren, I have never felt so alone …”  

It wasn’t the first time that Herbie had heard the rationale for Melody’s disappearance. He had tried to speak with Light Seekers, tried to reveal to them that Don had sent his own daughter away to be studied by the military, but they had scoffed him off. The disgraced former Brother of the Light Seekers could only spread lies in their minds.

Hollis and Brenda Lee had warned him to stop—that the Light Seekers would never listen. They believed that Melody had been chosen by the Galactic Brethren to rise into the mothership and be taught the secrets of the universe.

Don paused, adjusted his posture, and lifted his tone, “You’ll all be glad to know that the campaign couldn’t be going better. You may just be looking at the next governor of Nevada,” he suddenly boomed, pulling in the crowd like a cow’s neck in a lasso. “And when that day comes, I’m going to turn this little town into a thriving metropolis and every citizen will live to please our Galactic Brethren.”

Without any effort, Don had changed the event from a funeral to a rally. The crowd cheered with joy at the promise, completely abandoning their sadness in an instant, as though their hearts were puppets being tugged this way and that.

Herbie’s stomach churned as he peered through the gap between two parked cars not far from the ceremony, though even from a distance, he, too, felt his heart being swayed. The idea of getting some tech into the Rift sparked a sudden excitement in him—and he could only imagine how the Light Seekers felt.

If Don’s plans came to fruition, the Light Seekers would no longer be a motley crew of fanatics hiding away in the desert, but an established movement influencing the course of history. Despite their unyielding faith in Don and the so-called will of the Galactic Brethren, there wasn’t a single Light Seeker in all of Paradise Rift who didn’t long for the lives they had left behind in the cities and the opulence they had indulged in before The Big Crash took everything from them.

“And, furthermore, my children, I have some exclusive news about my campaign that I want you to be the first to hear.”

The Light Seekers turned to one another, excitement beaming from their eyes, conveniently forgetting why they had gathered.

“You’ve probably been wondering about all these new houses going up and all the new people we’re expecting in the town. You’re all excited to see our organization grow, I’m sure, but you must be asking, where are all these new Light Seekers going to work?”

If the question hadn’t been floating around in their minds before, it certainly was now. Herbie hadn’t even taken a moment to consider it, Everyone in town works for Osiris Corp in one way or another—in construction, the water plant or internal administration—but surely there can’t be enough work left over after automation for another thousand people?

“I’m going to pressure the boys in D.C. to allow me to test a Universal Basic Income in Paradise Rift! Cash cards loaded with all the money you need to get by, no questions asked!”

The crowd went wild. It was the most bizarre thing Herbie had ever seen or heard. They cheered from behind mourning veils, punching the air in their pitch black attire.

Do none of them even care about Daeva? Herbie had to ask himself. But that other voice inside of him, the one he tried to shut out and keep silent, butted in, Are you surprised? They didn’t care when Melody disappeared, and they don’t care about saving her. They’re mindless followers who deserve the cruel fate that Don has prepared for them.

Herbie shook his head clear, forcing the voice down to the darkest depths of his mind where it couldn’t be heard. Sitting there in hiding was doing nothing but agitating him, so Herbie decided to get closer. As he darted between the rows of parked cars, he did his best to get a good look at the setup, the stage Don usually erected for his performances allowing him to stand taller than those around him, the bodyguards in black suits with Augmented Reality Sunglasses permanently fixed to their faces, the Light Seekers obediently hanging onto every word that came out of the Grand Magus’s mouth.

The scene was all too familiar except for one thing; an object laid down just in front of the stage, an oblong shape wrapped in a light brown cloth, something strange enough to divert the audience’s attention away from their master every now and then.

I’ll have to get a little closer, Herbie thought as he moved forward, watching out for Don’s bodyguards as he went.

“But back to this … terrible, terrible tragedy. You’re probably wondering why I’ve waited so long to bring you all together, to mourn the loss of Magister Daeva Balcom.”

Herbie moved in closer, adjusting his angle, getting small glimpses of the object—a coffin? Buried on a plot of land that would inevitably be dug up for housing developments? It didn’t make any sense.

“We did an extensive autopsy on Daeva in an attempt to discover what went wrong with her communication with the Galactic Brethren.”

The blatant lie made Herbie want to be sick, She had her soul ripped out by a demon, you monster, his mind replied as he made his way forward. Herbie heard the artificial sadness build up in Don’s voice as he blubbered on, choking up with tears he summoned like a stage actor, reining in the mood once more to suit his devious purpose.


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