Wednesday, October 31, 2018

FIFTEEN: THE HUNT




ALARMS BLASTED OUT THEIR claxon call all around Oliver. It was a sound so shrill that a normal man, a human being, might feel inclined to fall to his knees and spill the contents of his stomach across the cream yellow floors of the alien space craft. Oliver didn’t know what he was anymore. He was more than normal. He was something else. And so he ignored the screeching alarm as he moved methodically through the ship.

Following that first punch, the General had retreated, sending his robots in to try and bar Oliver’s way. The robots, even with their laser cannons, were nothing more than stalks of wheat before the threshing mill that was Oliver Jordan in his rage.

“General!” he called out in the voice of a stranger amid the smoke and ruin. “Isn’t this what you wanted? Come take the ring, I dare you!”

The ship was massive, almost too large to be believed if what ground he’d covered so far was any indication. Oliver had been walking for nearly half an hour now down a yellow hallway that curved slightly to the left, and still it continued on ahead of him. There were doors to either side, more doors than he was willing to count, spaced out ahead and behind him. At first he’d taken the time to open each door in turn, gazing into the cream yellow rooms beyond as he hunted. But Oliver had soon grown bored of the task as he stalked the ship.

Each of the rooms had been identical. Living quarters, or so they seemed. But living quarters for what? Apart from the General and his robots, the ship seemed to be empty.

Every now and then, as Oliver passed one of the doors, he would swing a fist into the thing. The door would implode into the room beyond, shooting sparks that popped and hissed. He would smile in grim satisfaction, his confidence growing with each door he destroyed.

Though Oliver couldn’t help but feel a deep need to find the General, find him and make him pay, he mostly wanted to find a way out. A way off the ship. A way back home.

Not long into his pursuit of the General, Oliver had come across a window, more like a porthole. When he stopped to gaze out at the blackness of space, he’d nearly collapsed in panic at the sight of the Earth rotating slowly below. Space. He was in space. He couldn’t even begin to fathom how he was going to get back home. But then, as the first wave of robots had come against him, as he’d turned them into so much scrap metal beneath his mighty fists, he’d realized that they had somehow gotten him onto the ship. Certainly they could get him home.

Eventually the hallway ended at a pair of arched doors, both made of wood, but still the same cream yellow that made up everything else around him. The doors swung open at his touch and he found before him a dining area the size of a football field. Each of the tables in the room were occupied with two to four life forms, and while not exactly human, they were humanoid. Yet, despite the size of the room and the hundreds of diners, nothing moved. His skin crawled at the stillness.

Oliver didn’t want to enter. Yet he didn’t have any other choice. He could go forward or back down the never ending hallway. Going back seemed futile, so onward it was.

And so, a sigh of uncomfortable resolve issuing from his new mouth, Oliver stepped forward.

The room was tastefully decorated, having none of the color in the halls which reminded Oliver of a particular shade of vomit. A stage stood near the back, object sitting atop it that Oliver couldn’t recognize. It was all very alien to him, yet there was familiar about the room, something that tugged at memories of watching the Love Boat as a kid. Was he on some sort of interstellar cruise ship? How did that match up to the General? What kind of cruise ship contained torture devices?

And the people at the tables. They were dressed to the nines, and still not one of them moved.

“Excuse me,” he said. It was barely a whisper, but the silence only enhanced the words, made them into something nearing a shout. Yet still the people did not move, not even a twitch.

He approached the nearest table. It was occupied by four of what looked like human beings, apart from the bright green skin and orange hair. Two of them appeared to be men in black tuxedos, the other two women in evening gowns and bedecked in jewelry.

“Excuse me,” he said again, placing a hand gently on the shoulder of one of the men.

The man felt cold and stiff beneath his touch, and when he drew back the man fell forward onto the table.

Dead.

They were all dead.

He backed slowly out of the room, sweat dripping along an icy spine.

He met a gang of robots in the hall, all of them identical apart from the numbers on their foreheads.

“There’s the human,” one called. “Blast him.”

They opened fire, the lasers bouncing harmlessly off of him. Oliver growled, spread his arms wide, and bowled into them, knocking them back like so many pins.

He pulled one from the pile, pulled its head from its shoulders and tossed it aside. The second one got a fist through the chest and it went limp. It too was thrown away like yesterday’s garbage. He took two more of them, a head in each hand, slammed them together, and then dropped the pair limp forms to fall to the floor in a metallic heap.

It hadn’t lasted long, the fight, and soon the robots were no more than scrap metal littering the hallway.

Still, there was no sign of the General. No clue to a way out. It suddenly dawned on him that when next he encounters a mob of angry robots bent on his destruction, he might want to keep at least one of them intact. Maybe it could help him to get home.

He decided to go back to where he’d started and was soon running back up the hallway. What had taken him more than thirty minutes to walk down took him less than one to run. He’d never before moved so fast.

He found the room in which he’d been tortured, his memories combed through with all the gracefulness of a bull sipping tea. In the room, standing among the wreckage, his back to Oliver, was the General. He almost couldn’t believe it.

“Tag,” Oliver said. “You’re it.”

The General turned, a look of surprise on his face as Oliver’s fist took him in the chin. The General flew back into the wall, the metal denting inward around the hulking body.

“First, you are going to stay away from me and my family,” Oliver said, ticking the point off on his hand as he made his way leisurely toward the General in the wall. “Second,” ticking off another finger. “You are going to get me the hell off this ship and back home. Third,” another tick. “I’m going to repay your kindness by not beating you to death with my bare hands. Sound fair?”

The General laughed, pulling himself from the wall.

“The power of the ring suits you, Oliver Jordan. You come to it well, like you were born to it. I have to admit I was not prepared for your ferocity. I am impressed. But you still have much to learn.”

“You’re going to learn your own lesson right quick if you don’t shut your mouth and get me out of here. I’d be more than happy to tear this ugly ship of yours into scrap metal.”

“I believe you can do it, human. But what you need to understand is that while you now have all this power at your disposal, you are still new to it. I’ve worn the ring for decades.”

“Yet, I’m kicking your butt,” Oliver said. “Explain that.”

“Yes, I’ll admit that you caught me and my crew by surprise, and I’ll admit that you are a problem that will require some thinking, but know that I won’t just tuck tail and run. I will have your ring, and I will use every means at my disposal to take it from you. Even if that means bathing in the blood of your family and all that you hold dear.”

“That was the wrong thing to say, pal.” Oliver clenched his fists.

“Now,” the General said.

“What?” Oliver stopped and was suddenly bathed in white light. The General and his surroundings began to dissolve. “What’s happening?

The white light flashed and for a moment it was all that Oliver could see. This was followed by a drop in his stomach as if he were falling. When his eyes cleared moments later, he found himself thousands of feet above the Earth’s surface with nothing beneath him but air.

Thoughts of his family flickered through his head as he fell. Ruthie, just ten years old and one of the wisest people he knew. Susie and her knack for creative weirdness that, at twelve, always made him laugh. And Elyse. She was the strong one, she was the glue that held the family together. He would simply be lost without Elyse.

As the ground rushed closer, he thanked God that it was nothing but open pasture beneath him. He’d hate to think what harm he might do falling from such a height into a populated area. He smiled, knowing that his death would hurt nothing more than some farmer’s field.

The impact his body made as it slammed into ground was heard for miles. Oliver himself heard nothing but the pounding of his own heart.

He groaned and opened his eyes. His vision clouded with blue sky above and dirt all around. He was alive.

Oliver would have cheered, but decided in the end that slipping into unconsciousness sounded like a much better idea.





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