Ah, crog. Not now.
Jaruka Teal quickly swerved off the road with his Howler Cycle, right into a vegetation-rich ditch. He had to avoid a couple Wave crystals in the ground and a few zombie corpses with partially destroyed heads. He stopped the vehicle and got off to crouch behind a bush, letting the bike fall to its side.
Two hours on Terra Firma/Earth, not including his kidnapping, interrogation, humiliation, and loosing his Lunar Spear, and he nearly ran into human authorities again.
Seven local police cars raced down the road toward the main city of Temecula. The lead sheriff didn’t see Jaruka or the alien vehicle before turning the bend. Her and the deputy’s behind were too preoccupied with dispatch calls in the city. Terran transformations. Society crumbling. Who cares, not even the alien.
The big Jamaican man with dreadlocks was lucky, again. Transporting Scott Dunne and Katie Walsh by Howler Cycle, without a sidesaddle, got a traffic cop’s attention and pursued for a mile until Jaruka did the exact same move with no injuries or falls. He’s a pro rider.
It was still the hairiest ten minutes the terrans experienced on two wheels.
The sirens dissipated. He peeked above the road; the coast was clear. He stepped and nearly tripped on something both soft and hard, and looking down at a male zombie’s hand under his foot. Half its head was blown out, trickling thick blood on the grass.
One of over two hundred million corpses covering the United States. He still noticed them on the streets, and not a single police officer or a dump truck collecting them before they really contaminate the area. Jaruka still couldn’t believe terran magic could do so much to indirectly cause it, but it really did.
“Can’t say sorry when you’re dead,” Jaruka said to the corps.
He revved the Howler Cycle’s fusion engine and guided it out of the ditch. One massive vehicle of alien design and engineering Jaruka appreciated. Huge tires. Frame made of non-Terra Firma metals. Alien writing on the gauges. An energy source no human ever developed. His baby, his ride.
He got back on and rode off.
Then a sheriff car passed by; the deputy looking at Jaruka, and Jaruka looking right back.
“Crog.” Jaruka opened the throttle and raced off.
Sirens sounded behind him. He looked back as the car turned and started pursuing Jaruka.
The sheriff grabbed the mic from the dashboard. “This is 572. Officer in pursuit. I have a suspect on an unknown vehicle going over sixty on Glen Oaks Road heading east. Do you copy?” Officer Charles had no sleep for the last few days, but was certain the motorcycle looked a bit off. On top of what happened to him in the last few days, he did not want a custom chopper or whatever that thing was becoming a danger to the rider and others. He wished he could do something about the zombies littering his home.
“Copy, 572. Charles, you were supposed to be with Williams on that bank situation on Rancho,” dispatcher said.
“I was nearly clipped by a Ford sedan and had to play catchup.” The Ford Interceptor’s engine was at full horsepower, speeding down the road trying to catch up.
The sheriff was too focused on turning the corner as dispatch repeated the original orders. But this felt important. Like the zombies killing people he knew, then killing themselves or whatever happened. Mostly good natured, innocent people that didn’t deserve to die. Not to mention the transformations, the magic, and all the weird shit he seen on the news about Area 51. He thought that base was all a hoax until real aliens showed up, killing humans and zombies and ignoring the terrans. He wished this nightmare would end…
And he lost the suspect. Not a trace of the bike was left. “Dammit,” he said. “What was that?”
“572, do you copy?” dispatch said.
“Yeah.” He swallowed. “Yeah, I’m still here. I’m still here. Suspect is lost. Proceeding to original orders. Copy.”
“Copy that, and don’t do it again. Don’t forget were short on officers. Catch up with Williams.”
“Roger that.” The sheriff cursed as he turned back towards the city, but still wondered who was that motorcycle’s maker.
A mile down the road and past the bend, Jaruka kept on laughing in his helmet. “That is there authority vehicle’s speed? That is just embarrassing!” He turned the handle, still ignoring the speed limit, for he needed to get out before more officers track him down.
He drove far from wine country and into the hills. Jaruka did not want to meet Katie’s parents, not ever and certainly not soon. He respected his privacy, and during Brill securing his citizenship in Maryland, Jaruka located a suitable spot so that the black band around his neck was close enough to Walsh Estate Winery. He wanted to rip it off, but his job and situation was far from avoidable. He rode through the mountain and past the dam to Vail Lake, onto a dirt road where the Howler Cycle had little to no trouble negotiating.
He stopped at a clearing several feet from the water, killing the engine. Getting off, he reached into his pocket for a small device and pressed a blue button. Light shimmered in the space between him and the water like a blanket caught by the wind, then dissolved revealing Jaruka’s temporary home.
The Marin’zal gunnery dropship, a brand new vessel of Nova Company, or was. It can hold up to twenty humanoid soldiers for immediate deployment on the battlefield, with advanced defensive shielding and offense cannons under the cockpit and either side of the ship. Two gyroscope side thrusters make up most of its thrust while the anti-gravity generators under the hull, connected to a V15 fusion engine covering the hover power. The dropship can act like a dragonfly, yet speed is somewhat decent.
But the Endeavour’s engineers and mechanics modified it to be Jaruka’s home until his new ship arrives. Weapons were downgraded from plasma to one sonic cannon, but shields were enhanced.
It’s… not… home, Jaruka screamed to himself.
He walked up to the ship. The two bulkheads on both sides of the ship were permanently welded and jerryrigged to never open. Only an airlock hatch was left alone. He swiped the device over a keyport, the sound acknowledging his presence, and the hatch opened inward. Jaruka entered and closed the hatch.
At least Jaruka gave credit to the mechanic’s changes. What used to be four rows of seats was only one. The middle had all his stuff recovered from the Lunar Spear’s remains and the crates at Area 51. One wall had the basic necessities: kitchenette, bathroom, workbench, shelves made from the weapon racks, and a pullout cot. Jaruka’s plasma rifle and katana hanged on the far wall, over the remaining weapons and glassblowing gear he recovered.
It smelled like the Endeavour’s hangar bay; Jaruka liked that. If he focused enough, he could smell the multiple species that filled its space. Won’t be long until it fades, replaced with his and Terra Firma’s smells.
Homesickness sank in, but most important, he felt degraded.
He took a few breaths, cracked his knuckles, and let out his rage, throwing and destroying anything that’s not his. He screamed and blamed everything on Denverbay. Exhaustion came and he fell to the floor, screaming even more.
The fire within the stone-lined circle crackled under the night sky, it’s orange-red-yellow glow casting on Jaruka and the dropship’s chrome and blue paintjob. Humans would expect an extraterrestrial to use alien technology like a dark energy powered heater or a entertainment system far complex than human satellite TV, but really, that’s asking for a beating without basic survival techniques.
The fire pit was Jaruka’s therapy. The flames ignited soothing, pleasant memories, where he mattered to people. But also compliment his drunken brain.
“Throw that bastard into a blackhole I would,” Jaruka yelled in the quiet night, his green, three-fingered hand clutching a bottle of brew. “Yeah. And me pissing into the gravity wake. Ice spike of piss through the bastard’s body. That’ll teach that dunderhead to mess with me. Swich. Bang. Pow! You hear that, Creosian!” He screamed at the black band on his lower leg, under the double jointed knees. “Jackass.”
He took a huge gulp of brew, made from the kitchen on the Endeavour. He felt a bit better without wearing his DNA mask. A green-skinned, digitigrade legged, Halcunac mercenary. His human and true form have the same muscle density, but his feet were three toed and strong built. His eyes and dreads were the most prominent. All black eyeballs with a gold iris, almost glowing to the fire. His dreads were both living flesh and natural wood, overgrown and still bearing pale rings of age. He still wore his clothes—long cargo pants, white tunic with its sleeves ripped off, and cargo vest—after arriving Too drunk to care to clean up.
He chuckled. “Maybe a flaming bag of crap flung at his ship. And attract adult mud fleas. Yeah. Perfect!” He smiled and chucked again.
Another swig down his throat. Lying on the foldable lounge chair, his plasma rifle in the other hand touched the ground. Good memories from the fire, bad memories snuffed by alcohol and B vitamins, and security from his weapon. His perfect therapy session.
The dropship was a mess and didn’t feel like spending the night in there. He missed his old ship, and his dignity. He had worse, but nothing like this.
Even worse—not knowing when he will get more of the brew. It aggravated him he had to ration it. Yet again, his drunken self didn’t care.
Besides his rough day, it was Christmas day on Terra Firma. Humans and terrans sleeping, celebrating, attempting to have a normal holiday. With people. Which Jaruka lacked in.
A small sound came from a distance and Jaruka spat some brew out. “What… Who’s there? Griffon?” The hill beside the ship were black with some trees and bushes. He jumped from his seat, legs a little wobbly. “Are you human? Show yourself!” He charged his rifle, aiming at the source of sound.
His drunken haze made him pull the trigger. Green plasma balls erupted from the barrel, blasting rock and dirt to charred and molten mass. He smelled burned oxygen. The glow was bright enough to light up the whole hill.
“I mean it! Go away or else!” Jaruka fired again for untold amount of shots, making a two-foot wide, smoldering crater. Some bushes were on fire but were quickly snuffed away by the plasma’s embedded magic.
He dropped his spent rifle and fell on his knees from dizziness. He screamed at the sky, hoping that the direction was toward Creos, the capitol planet of the galaxy. “Crogen laws! I hate you! Rot in hell you tripodic pin branch of a politician!”
Looking down, his bottle was tipped down, alcohol seeping into the soil. He cursed and smashed the bottle against the hull.
Jaruka went back inside the ship, but his drunken haze spotted a few furry critters in the ship rummaging through his belongings. It ticked him off. “Who the hell are you? Get out—“
Revolting liquid was sprayed in his face, causing him to scream, gag, and fall backwards.
“Breath in. Breath out. In with the good, out with the bad.” Katie said it five times, attempting to concentrate. Her arms were in front, palms facing each other.
She made up this technique a few hours ago. It’s shocking to her that within a short amount of time, like a week really, Katie Walsh became an established magic user. Not bad, considering that her childhood consisted of a New Age fascination hobby, believing that magic does exist.
Focusing on her hands, she felt the familiar shift of terran energy in her nerves, a slight tingle from spine to fingertips. This focus gathering was for her audience—her family and her boyfriend. Scott and the totems were there too for support. Her mother, father, big brother, and little brother sat together on the couch.
One wink from Scott was all she needed. Thank you, honey.
“Okay, here I go,” Katie said. “Don’t make me laugh.”
The Walsh family said nothing as they anticipated the result of the terran transformation. Since the Wave occurred, since the crystals fell to earth in dense populated cities, and since the first glowing tattoo aired on television, Scott and Katie were amongst the first terrans to emerge. They look much like humans, but with elongated elf ears, toned muscle structures, peculiar under-skin cartilage armor plating on their forearms, forelegs and along their spine, and a three foot tail sporting the similar stacked armor pattern. They also have totems. They are the spiritual/physical representation of a terran’s subconscious. Scott’s totem is a brown and white Siberian husky named Keeji, sitting by him. Katie’s is a beautiful red-tailed hawk, sitting on top the fireplace mantle.
The rest of the family was still human, annoying that there’s no way of determining when the transformation will occur until that tattoo appears on their bodies, then wait for six hours.
But the transformation gave them a gift: magic. The transformation redesigned their nervous system permanently and created a new organ to house the physical liquid of magic, powerful as a half-megaton bomb.
That was what Katie was tapping into.
She adjusted her stance, closed her eyes, and said, “luchtaigh.”
Muscles tingled as energy from her mana heart raced through her spine, down her arms, and through the glowing Celtic tribal tattoos that emerged as a side-effect. Blue and white wisps and viscos liquid flowed out, collecting into a ball of light between Katie’s hands. Some of that liquefied energy dripped on the carpet, quickly evaporating.
She wanted a simple spell to show, nothing showy that might frighten her parents and siblings. By their shocked expressions, she did just that.
“Now imagine a non-radioactive mushroom cloud in the middle of Area 51 saving me and Katie’s lives,” Scott chimed.
Brenda Walsh, the mother, gasped.
“I don’t think that helped,” Keeji added.
The demo lasted for a few more seconds until Katie started breaking a sweat. Even her spell showed it. Katie released her breath and relaxed as the tattoos disappeared and the remaining magic outside her body extinguished to nothing. She leaned forward, hands on thighs to catch her breath.
“Why am I so exhausted? I was never like this a few days ago.”
“Nervousness or simply sleeping on and off for two days,” Arana added. “You are showing off to your family after all.”
“I’ll need to fix that.”
She looked up and her family were like statues. Scott said they were okay, but winced a little from his chest scar pinching a nerve.
“Okay guys, tell me,” Katie said, “what do you think?”
Jacob, the youngest sibling and troublemaker of the family, was the first to act. He stood up, let out his breath, and walked upstairs. “I’ll be in my room,” he said scratching his head.
“Holy shit,” Robert said with wide eyes. “It’s a start but… damn. Can’t believe this is really happening.”
“Really?” Katie smiled.
“But that tail is still giving me the creeps.”
“Oh not this again,” Katie said with a sigh.
“Katie, I’m serious. That tail is a problem. It can cramp my style if I get one,” Robert explains. “Magic, yes. Any chance I offend people with a fifth limb, can’t handle that. Other than that, there is a shit load of possibilities here.”
“I’d rather start small,” Scott said.
“Which by the way… a mushroom cloud? You were skeptical ever since Katie had her phase, but I cannot see you using magic to cause that much damage.”
“Believe me. I was unconscious. From what others said, the mana had a mind of its own it seemed. Now I have to wait until this scar heals to figure out what really happened.”
“Anyway,” Katie interrupted the men. “Mom. Dad. What do you two think?”
Brenda had no say. She was preoccupied with covering her mouth. Katie could have sworn she saw her shiver a little. She was the most vocal when the couple was in Big Bear, but now she was dead silent to say anything about the changes, knowing that her own daughter will never be human again. Jonathan was somewhat the same. He fidgeted in the couch, trying hard to keep his composure.
Katie didn’t blame the two. Everybody on earth is still wheeling from magic coming true, including the most powerful governments.
“I’m not comfortable,” Jonathan managed. “Not one bit, Katie.”
“I expect that, it’s alright with me,” Katie said.
“No, no it doesn’t make it alright. Do you even have the slightest idea what is happening here?”
“Do you?” Scott asked and Jonathan turned. “Ever since the Wave you’ve been disappointed with her and our choices. This happened for real. Be grateful we survived Area 51.”
“Now hang on a second.” Jonathan stood up. “We don’t know what this really is. How do we know this won’t be a real problem? How will this help us? I just don’t see it, and I think we are taking this a little too fast.”
“Nothing’s wrong with exploring our potential. We can’t just ignore that and hope it goes away or hear what the President says what to do,” Katie said, crossing her arms and her tail curling around her leg, causing Brenda to wince. “This is happening and I’m learning, Dad. And what I’m learning will help prepare Scott when his heart is healed, and might protect this family, maybe improve our lives.”
“’Might’ and ‘maybe’ urk me, Katie. I can’t allow it.”
“I hate to disagree there, Mr. Walsh,” Arana said. “The transformation is inevitable. Sooner or later, it will happen, and you alone have to adapt.”
“Oh yeah, the animals. I’m also not too comfortable about my own subconscious talking to me. Look, I’m the man of the house and for the whole family, we need to carefully look at this before we go barging into something bad.”
The front door was kicked in, two of its hinges broke off the wood threshold and the forty-year-old doorknob punched a hole through the wall. A green, three-fingered hand rested on the door.
The family on the couch screamed, then screamed again looking at a dreadful and frazzled-looking Jaruka Teal. His clothes from two days ago were still on him, but were covered in dried mud, including his skindreads. His right eye twitched. Both his feet were bare with some scabbed skin. Also his own skin showed some red rashes.
“You two. We talk. Now!” Jaruka yelled, pointing at the terrans with a dead black and white skunk in his hand.
The family jumped from the couch and backed away. Robert ran for the kitchen with the totems as Keeji screamed, “Crazy alien in the house!”
Brenda screamed. “Forget what Dad said, Katie. Save us!”
“Woah, wait, wait a minute, just cool it.” Scott was out of the recliner and grunting from his chest pains. “Jaruka, what is wrong with you? What did we agree on the other day?”
“I have spent two days scrubbing my skin raw and it’s not helping! The mud doesn’t do crog at all. Plus these leaves I found is making everything itch.” Jaruka slammed the skunk carcass on the coffee table. The smell coming from the Halcunac was horrendous that made the couple gag and their eyes water. “Please tell me you can get this off because I am one step closer to set my skin on fire!”
“Who or what are you? Are you even human?” Jonathan yelled. “And how do you know my daughter?”
“Stay out of this, old man. For goddess sake, I need hel—.”
One loud clunk to Jaruka’s head by Robert’s lucky shovel was all it took to stop the commotion. Robert came around from the dinning room carrying it, not known to anybody else. It didn’t matter that Jaruka was taller than all of them. A shimmer of light waved over Jaruka’s body. His body fell forward, rolled over the couch, and crashed on the coffee table face first, crushing the skunk carcass. No such movement afterwards.
Robert lowered his shovel and breathed, hands shacking. “Jesus Fucking Christ,” he said.
“I’m calling the cops,” Jonathan said.
“No, no, nobody is calling the cops,” Katie said. “Dad, stop right there. I have a good explanation about this.” Katie knelt beside Jaruka to find he was breathing, but held her breath from the smell.
“Oh really. Katie, there’s a Predator knockoff in the living room.”
“He’s also our cellmate, and a friend to that alien battlegroup that destroyed Area 51,” Scott explained. “ Remember seeing that Jamaican guy at the gate when we came home? You just clobbered him, Robert. I hope that he wakes up he doesn’t remember what happened.”
Robert looked back down at the sprawled alien on the floor. “Oh… crap.”