In what distant deeps or skies, burnt the fire of thine eyes?

Author’s Note: This story and its bonus story are science fiction rather than horror. These are two older stories of mine, and rather than lose them forever, I’ve included them in this collection to preserve them for posterity’s sake.

Peter rushed down the outpost stairs as the emergency klaxons went off, Urrekshish and Kaleena right behind him. They hit the observation-post walkway running, and it didn’t even take a pair of vid-binocs to see the trouble brewing in the distance. Oh, no, they could clearly see the fires from here.

Agora III was a Taiga-Class Terran planet, and this little Intergalactic Confederacy outpost, A3-H17B, was responsible for terraforming this equatorial section with coniferous pines, those pines imported from both Earth and Sh’rrett.

It was a waste of Peter’s talents; heck it was a waste of Urrek’s and Kaleena’s talents too, but this was their assignment.

Peter was actually ex-military, Terran Alliance Infantry back in the day, as was Urrekshish, also ex-military, though Urrek had been in the S’arrkohna Briold Infantry. Even Kaleena didn’t belong here, especially Kaleena, as the females of the Kyrie were larger and more fearsome than their males, and she had been designated as one of the elite soldiers in their all-female infantry, one of the highly-trained and deadly Val-Kyrie.

Kalleena was a Kyrie, and the Kyrie looked human for the most part, only much shorter, with broader shoulders and thicker bones. Their males were around the same height as the average S’arrkohna, about three-and-a-half to four-feet tall, but their females were taller and heavier-built with more muscle. All Kyrie sported thick, dark hair on their heads that was somewhat stiff, but it was their eyebrows that set them apart, as those lines of hair above the eyes were magnificently long and thick, and Kalleena’s were no exception.

Urrekshish was one of the diminutive but fierce S’arrkohna. Their people were covered in brown fur, and they typically held golden or amber eyes. They sported sharp fangs in place of their canine teeth, and they had small, dog-like snouts for noses. Their males and females were identical in size and muscle, though not in shape.

Peter, himself, was six-one, bald since he was twenty-one, and he had a rugged, athletic build for as old as he was, and he was pushing fifty. He looked like a veritable giant compared to his two friends, but that was fine. He respected his friends, and their heights had nothing to do with that respect.

All three of them no longer wore the colors of their home planets, no. They each now wore the dark-blue jumper-utility parkas assigned to them by the Intergalactic Confederation Engineering Corps. Agora III was where they had been stationed, this was the division they had been stationed in, and each of them followed orders, regardless of what penny prize the I.G.C. had awarded them for their loyal service.

Why those I.G.C. fat cats and politicians had stuck them with the task of terraforming this planet was beyond Peter, as their training was better suited for killing things in the most expedient and efficient way possible.

Even so, the fires raging in the distance were what held Peter’s attention now.

“It’s a fire!” growled Urrekshish. “It’s wiping out the northern line!”

Peter cursed under his breath as he brought his hands up to the top of his bald head in frustration. This was bad, because there was a raging inferno out in the distant trees, but there was no reason for that fire, not here in these stark, wintry conditions.

“Son of a…” he breathed out. “We’ve got to stem this and now!”

“Look!” shouted Kaleena. “There’s something moving in the trees!”

Peter unstrapped his vid-binocs from his belt, flipped them on, brought them up to his eyes, and stared out past the initial tree line of conifers to view the actual problem. Spoilers: it wasn’t the fire.

Moving through the trees was a lithe but massive shape, a beast that vaguely resembled a tiger, but one twelve-meters-tall and twenty-five-meters-long, a gargantuan shape with flames rippling across whatever it had that passed for skin.

Peter sucked in his breath and shook his head. He knew exactly what this thing was.

“That’s a friggin’ MAD,” he hissed out. “We’ve somehow activated a MAD.”

“A Mutant Assault Drone?” asked Kalleena in complete and utter surprise. “I thought they were all dismantled after the war! Why in the forty-seven gods is one here!”

“I don’t know,” growled Urrekshish, “but I do know they chewed us up like…like…”

“Like popcorn,” frowned Peter. “It’s going to hit this base any minute now…Wheeelp…We wanted some excitement, to see some action, and…it looks like we’re going to get it. Get everybody to the armory…if that will even make a difference.”

“No wonder they sent me here,” winced Kalleena. “I should have known.”

“I doubt they knew,” frowned Peter. “The exact location of the remaining MADs has been lost for years. I think the I.G.C. Terraforming and Colonization Bureau just got unlucky.”

“Not as unlucky as us,” grunted Urrekshish. “It’s going to kill us all…Orders? What’s the plan?”

Peter gave himself two seconds of thought to put together any kind of logical plan.

“Evacuation’s out,” he said unhappily. “There’s not enough time. Fighting it will get us all killed…There’s no doubt about that.”

“What then?” asked Kalleena. “If I’m going to die, I want to die fighting.”

“No, that’s suicide,” frowned Peter.

“It would be a glorious death,” said Kalleena thoughtfully.

“It would be a waste,” grimaced Peter. “You’d be bitten in half and probably roasted before that…Wait…Wait a minute…”

“What is it?” asked Urrekshish.

“MADs are cyborgs,” replied Peter. “They’re half organic. This one’s skin is clearly synthetic, and it’s reinforced to resist most conventional attacks outside of artillery…”

“And?” asked Urrekshish. “You’re going somewhere with this…”

“Darn right,” nodded Peter. “If its synthetic outside is aflame, its organic inside must have a constant core temperature that’s resistant to heat…Urrek…What’s the status on that A.U.V. of yours? Is it juiced up and loaded?”

“Why?” asked the S’arrkohna male. “What does that have to do with…”

Urrekshish’s golden eyes went wide as his furry brown face split into a toothy grin of comprehension.

“Oh, yeah!” he grunted. “Let’s head to the armory!”

“Isn’t that where we were going in the first place?” asked Kalleena in audible confusion.

“Yeah,” nodded Peter, “but now we have a reason to go there. Let’s head out.”

They booked it to the armory while Peter gave directions to the rest of Security through his communicator. He was the chief officer at A3-H17B, though he was only in command of twenty officers for an outpost that hosted a little over twelve hundred people. Still, those other officers needed instructions right now, and those instructions included laying low and keeping the populace calm.

They walked into the armory garage where Urrekshish’s A.U.V. resided.

The armored utility vehicle in question was a pet project of the four-foot-tall S’arrkohna male, because Peter knew for a fact that Urrekshish held a deep fascination for all things Terran. The S’arrkohna warrior loved Terran vehicles, buildings, lore, cultures, religions…just Earth in general.

“There it is,” grinned Urrekshish. “The Thunderbird.”

The little S’arrkohna eagerly motioned toward his labor of love.

The armored hover-vehicle was five-meters-long, almost three-meters-wide, and a little over two-and-a-half-meters-tall. Urrekshish had painted it a cobalt blue, yellow lightning bolts along the rear half, with a great bald-eagle’s head painted across the front.

Peter whistled as he gave it a once-over. The cockpit was designed for a pilot and copilot, while the back held a rear-mounted, .50-caliber, kinetic-heat heavy machine gun with a singles’ firing seat. Centered on the top of the A.U.V. was a dual .40-caliber kinetic-heat turret gun with a 360° swivel chair for the pod gunner.

“This…is what dreams are made of…” whispered Kalleena in a husky breath.

Peter ignored her and gave Urrekshish a light push from behind.

“Hey, is it fully loaded?” he asked.

“Yep,” nodded Urrekshish. “It’s armed and fully powered…We have no time left, though. If we’re going to do this, we have to do it now.”

“Agreed,” grunted Peter. “Urrek, you’re piloting. Kalleena, you’re…”

Guuuuun…” breathed the four-and-a-half-foot tall Kyrie female.

She wandered over toward the back half of the vehicle to inspect the rear-mounted gun.

“You’re on the rear gun, then,” sighed Peter. “Looks like I’ve got the ball turret…Come on; let’s get this show on the road. That MAD will be here any second.”

He studied his two compatriots one last time. There was a good chance he wasn’t going to see either of them again. There was a good chance they were all going to die, and not just the three of them…More than likely everyone stationed at this outpost would be slaughtered. He wanted to remember his friends as they were now, because this might be the very last time he saw them.

He nodded once to himself, content with the memory he had just made in his mind.

“Let’s ride,” he grunted.

They loaded into Urrekshish’s Thunderbird, and Peter strapped into the ball-turret gunner’s seat. He flipped on the com-switch next to him and spoke loudly and clearly into the speaker on his right.

“Let’s go!” he said firmly. “Urrek…start her up, and…you know what to do, right?”

“Oh, yeah,” grunted the S’arrkohna, and they were off.

The tricked-out A.U.V. rumbled out of the armory garage gate and onto the wintry asphalt of the compound.

“Kalleena!” said Peter. “We’re going to lead that thing off! That means you and I will run interference while Urrek drives us away from the compound!”

“Affirmative,” replied Kalleena. “This will be fun.”

“Oh, it’ll be something, all right,” muttered Peter.

Urrek piloted the hover-vehicle down past the main-garage tarmac and out onto the wintry terrain beyond.

The great flaming tiger, the beast they so feared, had already burned a line through the northern trees, and it was headed directly toward the outpost, so Peter decided to get its attention.

“This baby of yours better be fast, Urrek,” he grunted, “because here it comes!”

He swiveled to his right in the turret and used the manual HUD to lock onto the beast. Peter clamped down upon the firing switches, and the A.U.V. ball turret rattled as streaks of orange kinetic rounds spat fire into the distance.

The creature was far faster than they had anticipated. It spun in a ninety-degree arc and charged as Urrekshish boosted the A.U.V. to full speed.

“Hit the throttle!” yelled Peter as his targeting swiveled left to right, left to right.

His targeting was thrown off by the S’arrkohna’s veering of the vehicle to avoid spaced-apart trees, boulders, and bad, rocky terrain covered by snow. Peter did his best to line up the targeting HUD, and then he fired more magnetically-propelled, self-immolating bullets toward the creature closing the distance behind him.

More lines of orange spat backwards to impact the MAD in various places, but this time the assault was from Kalleena’s rear gun. This thing roared as it was struck in the face, along the sides of its flaming body, and upon its front legs, but it barely slowed at all.

“We’re just pissing it off!” screeched Kalleena.

“Good!” yelled Peter. “Keep up the pressure!”

The pair fired in tandem as Urrekshish did his best to keep the hover-vehicle from destabilizing over the rocky terrain.

“We need to hit Brink’s Fjord!” cried Peter. “Keep firing till you’re out of rounds!”

“That won’t be difficult,” he heard Kalleena mutter over the com.

Peter chuckled as he continued to lay down fire at the raging beast behind them.

He checked the terrain map on his left, and they were headed in the right direction, right toward the Brink, a pair of cliffs that led out toward the Broken Sea.

“Head us down into the Fjord!” said Peter. “We’ll lead it out from there!”

“That’s a one-way ticket!” yelled Urrekshish. “Once we’re in the Fjord, it’s do or die!”

Peter grinned at that statement. His S’arrkohna compatriot had been watching too many ancient-Earth war films lately.

The beast continued its chase without any more provocation, though they gave it plenty. Kalleena’s gun spit orange lines of kinetic heat at its huge face, angering it further, that rage mathematically squared as Peter continued his own assault.

Kalleena’s gun rattled off rounds until she stopped firing altogether.

“I’m out!” she yelled over the com.

Peter rattled off more rounds until the guns did nothing but click when he pressed down on the switches.

“Me too!” he replied. “I’m out, but it doesn’t matter! We’re at the Fjord! This is it!”

They entered the frozen valley between the Brink, and Peter felt a sharp spike of fear as the MAD turned left to climb the cliff upon Peter’s immediate right, his left if his turret had been facing forward.

“I can’t see it!” he yelled.

“It’s coming down up ahead!” cried Urrekshish.

Peter swiveled his gunner’s chair to view through the forward cameras ahead of them. The beast was indeed coming down the cliffs, bouncing from one rocky wall to the next to trap them before they could reach the open sea.

“We’re not going to make it!” he yelled.

He knew he was going to die, that they were all going to die, but his little S’arrkohna buddy surprised him at the last second.

“This is the Thunderbird!” barked Urrekshish. “The dial goes up to eleven!”

Peter was thrown back into the straps as twin jets powered by compressed fuel blasted out from the back. The A.U.V. roared forward just as the MAD roared down upon them. Peter swiveled the gun turret around to view the great and terrifying beast land behind them as the Thunderbird rocketed out of the Fjord and onto the flat sheets of ice that made up the Broken Sea.

Urrekshish flipped off the jets as the A.U.V. flew out across dangerous, unstable sheets of ice. The mutant assault drone, this huge and flaming tiger, crunched through the Fjord’s ice flow to blindly follow them out onto the expanse of frozen water. It jumped once to catch them, but the Thunderbird slipped through its front paws just in time.

The huge burning creature crashed through a sheet of solid ice as it dove headlong into a frigid, watery grave. Chunks of ice and freezing water kicked up all around the AUV, one particularly large chunk of ice banking off of Peter’s turret, doing enough damage to lock up his swivel drive.

Urrekshish drove in a wide circle around the enormous hole in the ice before making his way back to the entrance of the Fjord.

“Is everyone okay?” asked Peter.

“Yes,” answered both of his compatriots at the same time.

“Did we kill it?” asked Kalleena.

“That thing had to have an organic interior that was somehow resistant to heat,” replied Peter. “My guess is that…this was the reason why it was locked away here on Agora III. The lowered temperature kept it in hibernation, but we somehow happened to terraform near its vault, which changed the climate just enough to wake it up…Yeah, it was resistant to heat, but in the end, it couldn’t take the cold.”

“It was a glorious death,” replied Kalleena.


Brian had been flying his Cessna Skycatcher when a glowing green portal had opened up right in front of his little plane. Thankfully, he wasn’t training any students today, because they would have been in for the rude awakening he was now receiving, that awakening the realization that he was now somewhere else, and where that somewhere specifically was, he had no idea.

He had passed out upon traversing that portal, and he had honestly thought himself dead when his plane had hit the strange green doorway, but thankfully, that had proven false, so that, in itself, was good fortune for the moment.

Nevertheless, he had awoken in a small tent while laid out on a simple hammock-strung cot, but he was uninjured, and he was still wearing his flight instructor’s clothes, though he had not been carrying any weapons with him during his flight.

He did not know what was going on, but he was wary, because this reeked of some kind of science-fiction-type abduction, and he did not know what was going to happen next.

He walked out of his little tent and was met with a lifeless, barren landscape of red soil capped by the bright day of two orange suns in a clear blue sky.

Before him stood six purple-skinned giants dressed in huge gladiatorial armor, and each giant was easily twenty-feet-tall. The six wielded equally giant weapons, spears and swords and axes, all of which exuded varying, dangerous forms of energy.

There were four males. One had a spear that crackled with electricity, another had an axe that burned with fire, the next, a hammer made of solid stone, and the last held a trident that sprayed out a cold mist.

The last two giants were female. The first held a sword that shone brightly with light, while the second brandished a whip that absorbed light, wreathing the sinister weapon in darkness.

“You have been chosen, little one, to represent your world,” said one of the giants in a booming voice, the one with the crackling spear. “You will choose six of your world’s elements, and we shall then test our might against the living elemental warriors our magic shall create from your own chosen elements.”

This giant whipped his huge spear around in a flurry of crackling, electric circles before he planted the blunted shaft end into the red soil beneath him.

“I am Torik,” he proudly stated. “My element is thunder, the power of lightning, wind, and furious sound!”

The second male giant swung his great axe and seared the air around him with a blaze of fire.

“I am Kreeos,” he said. “My element is fire, and I wield the mighty force of a volcano!”

The next male giant swung his hammer and cracked the red earth beneath him, causing the ground to shake and rumble.

“I am Ragnos!” he boomed. “I hold the power of stone, the power to shake the earth itself! Tremble before my might!”

The last male giant stepped forward and pointed his trident skyward. A whirling mist of icy shards spun around the weapon for a second before he slammed the pole end into the red earth at his feet.

“I am Tridos,” he said firmly. “I hold the power of water, that which makes oceans and winter! I drown my enemies and crush them in ice!”

The first giantess gently pushed past him and pointed the huge tip of her glowing sword at Brian’s face.

“I am Lumina!” she said in a fierce tone. “The force of light, the very power of the twin suns, is mine to command!”

The last giant, the second female, sauntered past the first giantess and cracked her whip several times before giving her reply.

“I am Shadavon!” she hissed. “I wield the hidden power of darkness, that which swallows the soul!”

Apart from the fact that Brian figured these giants’ names to be really stupid and somewhat cliché, he did sense a definite threat here, if only to him. There was no way these maroons were ever going to take Earth, but he didn’t need them to know that. They were, however, quite capable of nuking him to ash.

He kept his mind sharp and his wits about him as the giants made their challenge.

The first giant, the male giant with the spear, pointed out toward the barren distance.

“Behold the price of failure,” he said with ominous intent.

Brian turned in alarm to stare at a small group of furry creatures with lizard faces being led away in chains by another group of purple giants. These small creatures appeared broken in both spirit and form, their faces an expression of doomed hope and final loss.

“If your world’s elements fail,” said the giant with the spear, “then we shall conquer your world as is worthy of our kind. It is might that rules the stars, and it is might that shall always lead.”

Brian frowned as he thought about this. Never in his life had he ever thought that he would be the one to save the world, but it appeared that this was exactly what he was going to have to do, but that was fine, because if he was anything, he was smart…

Eh, who was he kidding? These Darwinian throwbacks would never be able to take Earth no matter how much magic they wielded.

Earth didn’t need magic…Earth had science.

Brian looked up, stared down the giant with the spear, and gave the overgrown bully a knowing smirk.

“Might has its place!” he yelled confidently. “I’ll concede that point, but never underestimate the power of the mind!…The element from my world that I choose first is…plutonium!”

Taiga Taiga, Burning Bright Copyright © 2020 100 More Tall Tales Matthew L. Marlott

Taiga Taiga, Burning Bright Copyright © 2023 bloodytwine.com Matthew L. Marlott

It’s Elementary Copyright © 2020 100 More Tall Tales Matthew L. Marlott

It’s Elementary Copyright © 2023 bloodytwine.com Matthew L. Marlott

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