Alpha and Omega
"A Rocketman Story"
By John Pirillo
A slice through the shadows. Fall back deeper.
Heartbeat so loud his chest feels like it's going to explode.
Maybe this time.
Maybe the search has ended!
"Come on, bucket head." Jet whined.
Harry swiped at the sweat pooling across his brows, his concentration unwavering as he studied the battle plans before him.
Jet, leaning over the plans, anxious to get going, fretted like the little child he was sometimes. Got to love him, mused Harry as he finally swept his pawn across the board to block the only exit that Jet's king had.
Jet grinned so big that Harry immediately knew he had made a tactical error.
"You should have blocked the rook, not the castle." Einstein said, as he hovered over his shoulder, the sweet smell of his cherry blend whispering between his teeth from the pipe he was smoking.
"Easy for you to say." Harry complained. "You plan a hundred moves ahead."
"Well, one tries." Einstein replied humbly.
Harry gave him a scowl, then waited for Jet to close the game.
Instead, Jet yawned, stretched real big and got to his feet, stretching like a lion does before leaping upon its prey.
"I'm whacked. Think I'll catch some shut eye. 'Night!"
"Hey!" Harry complained.
"You win, Harry. As always." Jet said, the hint of a snicker in his voice as he swept off to the right and their bunks deeper in the underground fortress. A fortress that was deep inside a series of natural caverns inside the Swiss Alps. Left there by ancient Romans on their way to defeating the rest of Europe. You could still see some of their statuary in deeper pockets of the fortress, where even some of their simple columns supported the cavern roof with beauty, while not actual need.
Einstein sat down and pondered the board a moment. "Actually, he's right. You do win."
Harry looked at Einstein. "You're kidding, right?"
Einstein gave him a stony face, then broke into laughter. "Night, Harry."
He walked off slowly, heading a different direction, probably to work with one of his fellow scientists on suit modifications Harry had suggested. He just found it harder and harder to fly the damn thing. He felt like a walking tank. Not like a bird flying. More like a bomb flying the wrong direction.
Brenda, one of the Nurses on station, slipped into a chair opposite him and set down two cups of Java. "Thought you'd need this."
"Thanks." He said, grasping its warmth, allowing it to warm his numb fingers. While the base was comfortable enough, no amount of work could change the temperatures inside, which were usually just this side of freezing. You could always see your breath. When he complained about it, Einstein laughed. "Would you rather it got hot and our electronics blew up, causing a thermal nuclear meltdown of our reactors?"
"Boom!" Einstein made a cute explosion sound, then laughed.
So that ended that.
"Harry. Base to Harry. Come in, Captain!" Brenda teased.
Harry focused on her face, the hint of a smile on his lips. "Sorry, just thinking."
"Ask me flight boy, you ding that old noggin a bit too much for comfort. Some day you're likely to turn into one of those steel brains like Al."
Harry barked with laughter. "He'd love hearing that. Then he could have a real partner to beat chess with."
She smiled, then took a sip of her Java.
Harry did the same. Then his eyebrows rose. She gave him the hint of a mischievous smile. "Woke you up, did it, fly boy?"
"You shooting for bedpan duty, Nurse?" Harry quipped.
"No skin off my back. I've been doing that for years, Penguin."
He laughed. "Sometimes I wish I were."
"Yeah. Read you loud and clear."
They both sat there lost in their thoughts a moment, then Harry said what was really on his mind. "Do you think they're still alive...out there...somewhere?"
Betty's face grew impassive. "Facts are not always pleasant, flyboy."
"Atta girl, fast thinking. But not as fast as my jenny."
"Your jenny is nothing more than a firecracker with metal slung around it." She countered, then put a hand on his hand, not liking the direction their talk was taking.
"Sorry, Harry. Didn't mean to blow out your tanks."
"Likewise." He said with a grin.
She softened. "We would all like to think she was still alive, but..."
He grew somber with that thought. "So many gone. So many."
"You still seeing the split?"
"Must feel like being stuck in a Mae West double barrel salute when that happens."
"Worse." He admitted.
She looked into his eyes. "What's it like in that other world?"
"We were winning."
He didn't say anything more. What more could he say? On his own timeline the Allies were beating the crap out of those brown shirts, but here...they were on the run...hiding in rabbit holes and taking pocket shots, hoping for a big break.
"You live back then sometimes, don't you?"
"Yes." He sighed, put his head in his hands a moment, then looked back at her. "It's like a dream...this world...when I'm there, but now that world..."
"Like a dream?"
"Al or Nicolai come up with anything yet?"
"Not a damned thing."
She put a hand on his wrist and he could feel the warmth of her seeping into his body. He flinched at first, but she didn't let go. "Whenever you want to talk more about it."
She got up and smiled. "Why don'tchu come up and see me some time, big guy?"
"You been looking at those old reels, have you?" He smiled at her.
"Oh yeah. Those movie stars had it all down." She returned the smile, then walked off, the same time as klaxons blared throughout the underground cavern.
Harry bounced to his feet, spilling his Java on the table top. He ignored it as he ran as fast as he could to the rigging area. He, along with a myriad of penguins, who supported the operations, raced in every direction. Checking power. Checking radar. Checking entrances and exits. Checking fuel. Checking supplies. Hauling out fire equipment. All the things that penguins did to make sure the flyboys were safe and the secret base secure.
He mused over the term penguins a moment, thinking it funny that his fellow airmen would be called something as cute as that, but such was the slang of the times...even in this alternate reality. Which brought him back full circle to the klaxons blaring. Either there was a major battle coming, or something had gone terribly wrong.
"Suit up, Captain!" Ordered his commanding officer of the day. Colonel Windser. The man was an uptight asshole, without the slightest clue of good manners or mercy. He would just as readily swap a fellow airman down into the ground as a Nazi storm trooper.
Harry ignored him as always, leaped up the ramp into his suit, twisted around and slipped inside. The ground crew sealed him in quickly and made sure his electronic network was active and ready. Others manned the new electronic consoles that kept track of his heart rate, his air, his munitions and more importantly his amp out if need be. He'd only amped once, and it had cost him a month in rehab from the shock of impacting the ground. He was determined...not to let that ever happen again.
Amping was a term for bailing out, but in his suit, it just meant being enclosed with a super inflated cushion that was supposed to protect him from earth impact. It did, but it usually left him in shock for weeks from the violence of the impact. They had tested it once without him and deemed it okay, but he knew better. It was experimental. Which was why he was begging them for lighter suit.
As his helmet sealed off and his scanners lit to life, his screens for monitoring the outside of the suit, his armament, his flight navigator, his communications gear came to life as well. "Rocketman, loud and ready." He quipped.
"Gotcha, Harry." Jet rang in from a receiver near his right ear.
Harry activated his legs and began disconnecting from the ramp. He turned and faced the ramp he would be launching from. He began racing up it as the mountainside ahead began to part like the fabled walls of Ali Baba's forty thieves.
"Rocket!" Harry shouted, then shot up into the midnight black of the Swiss night. No moon, no stars. Clouds thick and dreary. Perfect for his flight to stay hidden from the Nazi base below, but bad for his systems readouts, as the fog caused a lot of false readings.
"Jet, what's going on? Nothing in range."
"This is Colonel Windser, you are to stay air born until further instructions. We have a bogey. I repeat we have a bogey."
"Colonel, that tells me zero!"
"Heads up." Jet ordered.
Harry turned his helmet up.
The clouds were thinner there. As he flew higher, they thinned further and he became aware of something metallic coming into view. It was larger than him, and armed to the teeth. Another Rocket suit...with a huge Swastika on its chest.
"Jet, we have a problem."
"What is it?"
Static blasted into his ears, then Colonel Windser's voice blasted through. "Shoot it down. Now!"
"Captain, are you disobeying a direct order?"
"No sir, just not interested in shooting my own self."
Long silence. "What?"
"It's me. Rocket me."
"Holy crap, Harry, how's that possible?"
"How are you possible, how am I?" He shot back. "Some kind of new split in the timeline. Jeepers, you're rattin' up the wrong tree, if you wanna make sense of this."
"Other suit is arming, Harry."
Harry did the only thing he could, he amped.
Inside his suit, he became compressed in a soft substance that would save him from any impact. The suit was made of a highly resilient metal that nothing short of an atom bomb could destroy. He was the only breakable part.
"Harry, you crazy!"
The last thing he saw was the face in the other suit as it closed in. His own. The eyes were in shock, then it shot to the right and vanished as he plummeted towards the earth.
That was the last thing he remembered for about a week. The next thing he remembered was Nurse Brenda's voice talking to Jet in a low murmur. Then he realized it was just him surfacing from dreamland.
He opened his eyes. He was hooked up to all kinds medical scanners and body fluids. "Hey!"
They both gave him looks of relief.
Colonel Windser stormed into the room, his face bright with anger, but instead of hollering at Harry, he wiped at his eyes, which were clearly wet with tears. He touched Harry gently on his shoulder. "Damn you, Harry!"
"Damn me, sir!" Harry joked back.
Colonel Windser jerked his eyes to Jet and Brenda. "You make sure he has everything he needs to recover fully."
He looked back at Harry. "And then you got a lot of explaining to do." He smiled. "I'm glad you made it, son."
He paused as if about to say more, then left in a storm as he had entered.
Jet whooped it up. "Harry, you just got cussed out by the meanest guy on the earth and survived."
"Didn't sound that way to me."
Brenda laughed. "You should have heard him when you amped. My ears are still healing from all the swear words."
"So what happened?" Harry asked, genuinely confused.
"You survived." Jet said gently, his smile warm and soothing. "You made it, fly boy!"
Harry laughed. "You should have seen the look on the other guy's face."
"I'll bet." Jet snorted. "Bad enough to have one loser in the air, let alone two!" He laughed. But what he was really thinking was "How could Harry be sure the other Harry would recognize the gesture of surrender and not blast him to kingdom come?"
Brenda joined the laughter, but Harry didn't. What had happened to the other him? Did he realize that Harry was not the enemy like he had the other? And why was he flying a suit with a swastika on it? Those questions boiled in his mind as he slipped into a much needed, and deep rest.
"The Eighth Ring of Hell"
A To Hell and Back Story
by John Pirillo
Swimmer, also known as Ryan Stone to his friends, and Squad Commander the Triple A squad, hunched down behind the outcropping off North 41 coming out of Vegas. It was a little traveled road, and for good reason. There was hell to pay there during the summer, because the nearest gas station was a hundred miles away, which had no water unless you bottled it in and no food unless you liked eating Little Debbie's, the only food the station carried, or probably could afford.
Swimmer had stumbled upon the station in a delirium. He had just escaped a very, very dark place, but without his support. They had fallen back to cover his escape, so he could bring the big guns back with him. It wasn't going to happen. He was stunned, dehydrated and beaten.
Oh, and by the way, there are regions...not really on our world...we call them rings...where hell resides. Each hell caters to the beliefs of those who have imagined them into existence. You see, the problem with human beings is that their thoughts are so powerful, that when they fear something enough, they actually create it at some point, in some place or another. Thus Hell. And more than one version. All nasty places, all places a smart person would rather have no part of. Not that only dumb people go to hell, they're actually more filed up with smart people than the other way around, because smart people think they can get away with anything. But they're wrong. No one gets away with anything. Ever. Not in the long run, sometimes not even in the short.
Anyway, he had survived. They had survived. The owner of the station turned out to be a little known angel...literally...named Michael, who looked after those doing the work his kind carried on for the Big One upstairs.
He had awoken on a crusty counter, devoid of anything but Little Debbie's, chocolate doughnuts. Michael was gently dabbing his mouth with a swab of cloth from bottled water he had sprung into, and poured liberally over Swimmer's body.
"Sorry. It's the best I can do. Angels thrive on Little Debbie's."
"So I hear." I told him, trying to laugh, but my face was too dried up and cracked. It hurt like hell from the sunburn I had gotten. Never march three hundred miles in the hot deserts of Vegas. It's begging to be hurting.
"Your men are safe." Michael told him with a gentle smile.
"They're safe too, but one of them will need a few weeks to recover her pride."
I gave him an odd look, but he said nothing else.
"What did you say your name was?"
I pointed upwards slowly.
"The Big One?"
He shook his head. "None of us are any bigger than the other. It's a humble thing, you know."
"Yeah." I agreed, not really knowing what to believe.
I had just escaped the Eighth Ring of Hell and had stumbled into a gas station run by an angel, whose name was Michael, and sold only gas and Little Debbie's.
"You'll be better in the morning when they find you." He told me.
"Find me? I'm already found."
He just gave me that odd smile and said no more.
I managed to get my feet under me, and dropped to the concrete flooring. Big mistake. I collapsed like a rag doll. He rushed around, though I don't remember the sound of any footsteps, even though he was wearing thick boots. He came to me and lifted me as easily as if I were no more than a bag of feathers and set me on the counter again.
"I don't want to mess up..."
He grinned. "Too late. Here."
He gave me another Little Debbie. Damn! If it didn't actually boost me as soon as I bit into it. My mind became sharp as a needle.
It had been 0800 hours. Our team had been chasing a cluster Demon. It's a rare one, but very dangerous, because it can multiply itself, and believe me, when I say multiply, I don't just mean to ten. We had followed it all the way from Vegas across Red Rock Canyon, over the Vegas Valley desert and heading towards Mohave. It was fast. We were faster. Equipped with sand sails, we used the winds, which usually gusted quite a bit through there, to propel us on our sand slays at over sixty miles an hour. The cluster demon could make just barely fifty.
We corned him in Baker, before he could reach the city proper and diverted him back towards Vegas again, thus avoiding him killing everyone in Baker, and making sure we could battle him on grounds where we held the advantage. Were we stupid!
He reached the 41 and took off like a bat of hell. We swept after him, barely able to keep him in view until he cut off the narrow paved road and began jumping in enormous leaps up a raw hillside, where aged sandstone boulders and granite spikes rose threateningly in the air.
"Blue and Red teams to the left. Green and Yellow right." I ordered and we split up.
My team caught up to him just as he triggered the Doorway. We called them doorways, because they sort of looked like them. But bigger, much bigger. Demons don't do anything in miniature. Everything's big and grandiose. This is why you don't want one rampaging in a city or town. They won't just take one soul, but all of them they can.
We plunged through the doorway, not even seconds after the cluster demon, but still too slow. He had already managed to lunge ahead along a narrow path that ran around steep black mountains next to a liquid fire ocean that slithered and sloshed at its base, casting very hot and bright flares of light upwards, so that any clothing it touched seared and threatened to catch fire.
I turned to Digger, my right hand man. "Anything?"
He shook his head. "This place is new."
Shaker, who was vibrating a mile a minute, shook his head, which was quite an event to see, as his whole body was already shaking so bad it hurt to watch. "This place is a different vibration from all seven hells, Swimmer."
I shook my head, discouraged. Another hell. God! How many were there?
Almost as if answering my question." Digger shot back with. "I told you there were probably more."
I gave him a stern look. He shrugged.
I sighed, and then we put on a burst of speed, limbering our Flingers for the upcoming battle.
We reached a hard turn that began to climb steeply, and widening as it did so. We finally crested the top, our bodies straining from the effort, sweat stains over every inch of our uniforms. The cluster demon stood on the top of the black mountain, its ravenous purple eyes fixed on us. It began to cluster.
"We're so..." Digger said.
"Screwed." Shaker finished.
"Not if I can help it." I told them, and began firing my Flinger. The whole time I held my trigger finger down, I thought of my daughter, and what would happen to her if I didn't get back home. I had lost her once. I would never do that again. "Never." I swore as I ran out of ammo and the last of the demons launched itself at me, reaching out with lobster claws to skewer my throat. Instead, I skewered it with my regulation knife.
It fell to my feet and I scrunched its head into mush, then looked up just as one of the cluster demons, that had not died put on a burst of clusters. I grabbed over my shoulder and reached for my grenade launcher. They were miniature atomic bombs, clean ones, that only blew up and killed things, didn't leave any radiation traces behind.
The cluster demon's forms continued to multiply. I blew up first one, then the other, but there were always ten more than the last time I fired. Digger and Shaker joined in and we began to catch up. My teams converged on our position and we laid down a blanket of highly volatile short range missiles that rearranged the shape of the mountain top. When the dust settled, all that was left was blood and guts. Demon blood and guts, which is just totally disgusting. Imagine living inside a slaughter house, with all the sewage of the world dumped in there for flavor, and you have just a glimmer of how awful their smell was.
We looked at the remains and the holes in the mountain top, and then made a short camp. I looked at our teams. "Okay. This place is new. Let's not wait to find out how new. Got me?"
"Yo!" They all answered.
"I signaled them with my right hand and we all hustled down the mountain, seeking the doorway we had entered through. Usually the only way out of hell was the same way in, but sometimes the devils changed things, laid traps. They were quite crafty, if somewhat ambitious. I finally was able to take in more of the details on the return hike.
The black rock we had been traveling over was not rock at all, but condensed bones of humans. Every now and then a piece of the rock would move, revealing a hand, or a mouth, or a set of eyes. All of them reaching towards us, pleading for help.
It broke my heart, but I knew we couldn't save them. Anyone down here, up here, wherever in the hell this place was...they were out of our ability to make a difference. All we could do was hope to stop more from being trapped.
We reached the doorway. It was open.
I had been sweating the possibility of it being closed, but it appeared to be just a fear, nothing more. But as soon as we approached the doorway, a burst of demons broke forth through the doorway, and shook their way free of the black rocky ground about us.
In moments we were fighting for our lives.
That was when my good people had practically shoved me through the doorway. They could hold their own, but no way could they all make it through without half of them biting it.
"Penny for your thoughts." Michael told me.
I looked up from the counter at him; he had another Little Debbie held out for me.
"This will be the last one."
I nodded and reached for it. I took it and dragged it towards my mouth to take a bite. I bit.
Then I felt a hand slap my face really, really hard.
I blinked my eyes and Mustard was squatted next to me, sucking on her hand, which I had just bitten. "What were you thinking?" She bit out to me, her eyes bloody red from anger and sun stare.
"Always thought you tasted better than you looked." I quipped.
She reached a hand up to slap me again.
Digger caught it.
"Welcome back, Commander."
Everyone gathered around me and as I rose, I could see how weary and beaten all of them were.
"Where's..." I started to say as I realized a very important member of our teams was missing.
"She's back a mile, nursing her pride." Laughed Mustard. "She got nipped in the.....uh, place where the sun don't shine."
Everyone broke into laughter. I did too.
I turned around, instinctively knowing the direction to go, because I had already spotted the direction of their footprints. I was going to have to scald them about leaving tracks for the demons to follow, but right then I was just happy to see everyone alive.
Now to get back home and give that daughter of mine a hug and kiss. My heart began to ache at that thought and worry. Because she had already been in jeopardy once by the demons. I had sworn it would never happen again. And it wouldn't. Not as long as I was alive and my Triple Kick Ass Angels.
"Yo!" They joined in when I ordered them to double time behind me.
The Baker Street Adventures Gazette, Volume One, Edition Even is now published and available online to read or download on www.johnpirillo.com
Whoa! This is has been a major change again for me. I'm really having fun playing with this limited format of a fictional paper. Look for more changes as time moves on, perhaps even longer editions as I'm mulling over that as well.
Meanwhile, go to HERE to read the Gazette online, or to download it to read on your computer for your leisure time or to archive.
Have a great weekend.