The VX Drust-Jaeger hummed along the Hyper Rail at over six-hundred kilometers per hour. Reece had decided to put the vehicle on autopilot after a few minutes. There wasn’t much driving that needed to be done. Besides, he needed to take a breath and collect his thoughts. It was still several hours to the far side of Africa, and he needed a plan other than to get far away from the Order’s forces as fast as possible.

Reece’s eyes traveled across the horizon. Nothing but sand and rock was visible. There was a simple beauty in many of the rock formations, but he quickly became bored with them. Reece felt eyes upon him. He glanced at Cyrene. She seemed to be studying him.

“What? Do I have something on my face?” he asked, eliciting a giggle like tiny temple bells from the nymph.

“No, you’re just perfect, Reece,” she said, still smiling. “Besides, as you can see, there’s not much else to look at, is there?”

“You’ve got that right,” he replied. “Kinda seems like a gigantic waste of space, doesn’t it?”

“Everything has a purpose,” said Cyrene. “Sometimes it’s just hard understanding what that might be.”

“I always thought it would be smart to find a way to make this land workable for homes, crops, mining, or whatever,” said Reece. “We have placed like this in the American Commonwealth too. Something like that would have been a big help with our overcrowding problem, you know… before ninety-eight percent of the world’s population got wiped out.”

“I understand the sentiment and it is well-placed,” replied Cyrene. “Population management is important for all species. The Earth usually does a good job of that all on its own. However, it shouldn’t have to come to that. Starvation, wars, disease, violent crime, and even a lack of sexual desire and drive to procreate are all tools the planet uses to cull an overpopulated species. It’s as methodical as it is barbaric. Better to avoid that situation entirely.”

“Interesting point,” replied Reece. “But people tend to look unfavorably at being told they can’t or shouldn’t have kids or even to limit the number of kids they’ll have.”

“Yes,” sighed Cyrene. “There isn’t a good answer. People want their freedom, and it is understandable, but it also means they will suffer for it.”

“Well, I guess that’s the human condition,” replied Reece.

“I suppose so,” replied Cyrene. “I’m glad neither of us is human. Too many contradictions. They are their own worst enemies.”

“To be honest,” said Reece. “I still think of myself as human. I can’t help it. I’ve lived as a human for my entire life, up until a few months ago. Look, I know you’ve seen the worst of humanity, but there is unlimited potential for good there too. They… we help each other. We show love, empathy, sympathy, and camaraderie. At our best, we lift each other and cheer for other’s successes. We don’t leave each other behind. We come together in an instant to battle an external threat. We risk and even sacrifice our lives for those we care about and sometimes even for strangers. At our best, we are a force not to be underestimated.”

“Well then,” replied Cyrene. “I see that you are very passionate about humanity. Perhaps I have misjudged them.”

“Not really,” said Reece. “Many are as bad as you think, some even worse. And those are the ones that stir things up. The vast majority of people just want to live simple happy lives surrounded by those they love, be entertained and have fun, and maybe raise a family. They don’t care about power or control. That’s why the bad ones tend to take over. It’s unfortunate, but that’s just the way it is.”

Cyrene simply nodded before returning to her thoughts. Reece watched her for a moment, admiring her beauty and her thoughtfulness. Smiling wistfully, he did another sweep of the landscape with his eyes. The view hadn’t changed, but he found new beauty in the rock and sands. Maybe they were growing on him, or maybe Cyrene’s words had affected him more than he thought. He pondered her words while the car hummed along the hyper rail, the long metallic track curving over the horizon and toward their destination.

Once they got as far as they could go on the track, Reece was at a loss for what to do next. The Order was out there, all around, and closing in. He wished there was a way to contact their friends. Once the rail ran out, they’d be out of options.

“Uh, Car?” inquired Reece. “What kind of long-range communications devices do you have available?”

“Hello, driver,” the car’s artificial intelligence (AI) replied, a level of snarkiness in her voice. “You would like a list of available long-range communications technologies that I have available for your use. Is that correct?”

“Yes,” said Reece, rolling his eyes.

Cyrene giggled at Reece’s frustration with the stubborn AI. Ciera was passed out in the backseat and hadn’t heard a word. Reece just sighed.

“Running comms check now,” said the car’s AI. Numerous lights and static sounds emanated from the ceiling console between him and Cyrene as the car swept the frequency bands for any signals. “I’m sorry, I am not receiving a signal on any input. Would you like to… Zzz… correction, satellite communications restored. How would you like to proceed?”

“Can you encrypt a signal for a particular transceiver?” asked Reece while he hastily fished the crumpled paper with the carrier’s transceiver number from one of his interdimensional pockets.

“You would like to create a secure connection. Is that correct?” asked the car’s AI.

“Yes,” deadpanned Reece.

“Please say the transceiver code you wish to connect with,” the car’s AI stated.

Reece read off the numbers, and as usual, the car’s AI repeated them back and asked, “Is that correct?”

“Yes,” answered Reece, the exasperation evident in his voice.

“Okay, secure connection established,” announced the car’s AI. “Would you like to go live?”

“Yes!” exclaimed Reece.

“Live in three, two, one…beep,” announced the car.

“Uh, hello out there. Ground Control, do you copy? This is Reece Danielson. Over,” he said, speaking into the car’s sound system.

“By Perun’s fist,” came Micah’s joyous shout, shocking both Cyrene and Reece and waking Ciera from her nap. “Reece, we were pretty sure you were buggered. How did you escape? Is Celia with you? Over.”

“Hah, good to hear your voice too, Micah,” said Reece, chuckling at the man’s boisterous outburst. “Yes, Celia is with us. We escaped by, well… driving really, really fast. Oh, and we had help from some giant sandworms. We’re on the Hyper Rail right now and headed for the coast. Can you meet us there? Wait a second… how did you know we were in danger…and about Ciera? Over.”

“Oh, we’ve been in contact wi… Zzz…” came Micah’s reply before it was cut off.

“I’m sorry,” said the car’s AI. “But the signal has been lost. Attempting automatic reconnect. Reconnect failed. Attempting automatic reconnect. Reconnect failed. Attempting automatic reconnect. Reconnect failed. I’m sorry. I’ve tried three reconnects. Would you like me to continue?”

“Sure,” answered Reece. “But can you do it quietly?”

“You’d like me to attempt satellite reconnects with voice mode off? Is that correct?” asked the car’s AI.

“Yes,” hissed Reece.

“Okay, silent comms enabled,” replied the car.

“This car is giving me a headache,” muttered Reece.

“You get headaches?” asked Cyrene, her voice dropping an octave in concern.

Reece looked at Cyrene. Her brow was furled in concern as she gazed back at him. She was beauty incarnate and it took him a moment to answer. The nymph misunderstood the reasoning behind his speechlessness and placed a delicate hand on his arm to comfort him. The warm touch broke him from his gaping.

“Not often,” answered Reece, shaking dirty thoughts from his mind. “Now that I think about it, the last time I had a headache, a man used his chi or mana to take it away. Also, I haven’t had a cold or the flu in years…that’s pretty strange, right?”

“No, I think there’s more going on than we know,” answered Cyrene.

“Like the fact that I keep running into allies that only I can help?” asked Reece dryly. “And, more often than not, with my… you know, body.”

“Exactly,” replied Cyrene, surprising Reece. “Think of it like this. The aspects of nature, or gods and goddesses of this planet as you call them, are fighting back against the rot and corruption. However, they can’t do anything physically or practically themselves. Instead, they are helping those individuals who have shown themselves to be both friends of the planet and resourceful.”

“We’re only one part of this fight, Reece. Every one of this planet’s champions is currently engaged in this war. Nobody is on the sidelines because there aren’t any. We either win and live in harmony with nature… or lose to live and die as slaves while the earth rots.”

“Well, don’t sugar-coat it, love, but I guess that makes sense. This is winner, take all,” said Reece, pondering her words silently before a burst of blue light surprised them all.

“FINALLY!” squeaked Chippo, suddenly materializing on the floor console between Reece and Cyrene.

“Jupiter’s cock!” hollered Reece, recoiling from the weresquirrel while the two women shrieked in surprise. The miniature glowing weresquirrel lounged comfortably on the center console like he had NOT just appeared out of nowhere after being missing in action for some time. His bushy tail was wrapped around him and he looked incredibly pleased with himself.

“Whoa, you scared the crap out of me, Chippo,” Reece chuckled, returning to his position. “But it sure is good to see you, little buddy.”

“It’s good, so good to be seen,” answered the Furdian, sitting up and stretching. “Apologies. Those mana-dampening devices took a lot out of me, yes, a lot. I had to completely remake myself. Don’t worry. No worries. I’m basically up to speed. I regained my cognitive abilities a while ago. Yep, I can think again. Cool, right, right?”

“Well, alrighty then,” said Reece, laughing lightly. “Since you’re ‘up to speed’, anything you want to add to the conversation?”

“Not much, not much,” answered Chippo. “Just that Cyrene is a very smart nymph. Yes, yes, she is.”

“Why, thank you,” she said, genuinely smiling at the little man before looking at Reece. “I like him.”

“Oh, Chippo, this is Cyrene. Cyrene, this is Chippo. He’s a ….”

“Furdian, I know,” answered the nymph, cutting Reece off with a wink and a smile.

“A really, really smart lady,” whispered Chippo.

“Yeah,” answered Reece. “I’m starting to figure that out.”

“He CAN be a bit slow at times,” Ciera added. She leaned into the front seat and kissed Reece on his cheek. “But we love him anyway.” Giving Chippo a big smile, she added, “And it is so good to see you, Chippo. Though I could do without the heart attack next time.”

“I’ll try, try to be better, hee, hee,” smiled Chippo merrily. “So, how’re we doing?”

“Better than an hour ago,” answered Ciera, giving Chippo a half smile.

“Yeah,” agreed Reece. “I feel like we’ve got a fighting chance now.”

“I wish I knew how our friends were faring, “Reece continued before realizing he had a possible answer the whole time. “Oh, I’m such an idiot… ”

“What?” asked Cyrene, Chippo, and Ciera, the three looking at him quizzically.

“I just need to reach out to them with my mind,” explained Reece. “If they’re out of range of the mana dampeners, I should be able to talk to them. I just need to find them as I did with the Kraken.”

Wasting no more time, Reece reached out with his mind, but this time it felt like he was wading through cement. The farther out he went, the thicker it became. Pulling his consciousness back into his body, he took a deep breath and sighed.

“Something’s wrong,” gasped Reece. “I feel woozy. I don’t know if the mana dampeners are affecting my ability or what.”

Cyrene looked over at him, studying his face before putting her hand on his forearm.

“You’re exhausted,” she said. “You’ve barely slept and have been going for too long. You should sleep. Sexual energy is nice, but sooner or later, you crash.”

While Reece processed her words, he felt the fatigue in his body and the cloudiness in his mind. She was right. While the sex and nap had temporarily reinvigorated him, he needed sleep.

“Yeah, I think you’re right,” he said. “I can’t even think straight. None of us have gotten much sleep in a while.”

“I have,” said Ciera. “I just slept for a good hour.”

“That’s okay, but not enough,” replied Reece.

“Says you,” answered Ciera. “I’m a Lilin. We don’t need much sleep. We get most of our energy in other ways.”

“As do I,” rebutted Reece.

“Sure,” replied Ciera, grasping his shoulder and giving it a comforting squeeze. “But there are still differences between us. I may not have all your abilities, but neither do I need to slumber a quarter of my life away like you do, sleepyhead. Trade me spots. You can nap, and I’ll babysit the autopilot for a while.”

“Yeah, you make a good point,” replied Reece, yawning uncontrollably now that his weariness was on his mind. “I think I’ll take you up on that.”

Chippo hopped into Cyrene’s lap while Reece crawled over the console and into the back seat. He could feel the fatigue and soreness in his muscles from that small effort and knew he was nearing his limit. Cyrene gave the Furdian a head pat. Chippo smiled contentedly while he made himself comfortable on her warm thighs.

“Lucky furball,” grumbled Reece, for which he got a shoulder punch from his backseat companion.

“What am I, chopped liver?” asked Ciera, giving Reece a playfully hurt look.

“Nah, you’re my good luck charm,” answered Reece. “And if I weren’t so tired, I’d show you just how sexy I think you are and how lucky I am to be able to do this…”

Reece leaned in and planted a hard kiss on the Lilin’s lips. His hands snaked around her taut waist and pulled her body into his. She didn’t resist. Instead, she returned his passion, probing his mouth with her tongue. He readily accepted, and they enjoyed a short make-out session in the backseat of the VX Drust-Jaeger. He could feel his body perk up, and a light buzz coursed through his body from the energy he gained from the kiss. However, it dissipated almost as fast as it bolstered him.

“Harrumph,” coughed Chippo. “Now, who’s getting lucky?”

Ciera and Reece pulled away from each other, and Reece mumbled sheepishly, “Fair enough, Chip. Though not as fun, I guess I do need some sleep.”

“Hanging out with a smoking hot Lilin and an equally smoldering nymph, and I’m the lucky one,” grumbled Chippo while turning completely around to make himself comfortable on Cyrene’s lap, not unlike a cat. “Some people…”

Chuckling at Reece and Chippo’s antics, Ciera crawled into the front seat. While the red-hot Lilin’s body pressed against Reece as she got into the front seat, Chippo gave him a raised eyebrow. The subtext was clear. Ciera was making Chippo’s point for him. He was indeed a very lucky man. Reece was too tired to respond intelligently, so he pulled a travel pillow and light blanket out of his suit and prepared to make himself comfortable. He was so exhausted that he doubted it mattered. But he didn’t want to wake up with a kink in his neck or one of his arms asleep.

“Is there anything you don’t have in there?” asked Chippo, shaking his head in disbelief as Reece curled into his pillow and pulled the blanket over him.

“Nope,” quipped Reece as he rolled over and pulled the blanket over his head.

“Well then, maybe you could find a nice Furdian girl in there for me,” muttered Chippo, the last thing Reece heard before drifting off into sweet and gentle oblivion.

Reece sat in the driver’s seat of the VX Drust-Jaeger. Sand swirled around the car, blown by the wind from every direction. The Jaeger punched through the blowing sand as it sped down the hyper rail towards destinations unknown. The metal beam floated about two meters above the moving sand… moving because there were things beneath it, just below the surface. They were things he knew would not be kind to him if he fell into the sands.

“Enjoy the gift,” said a sultry voice. Reece recognized it as the goddess Inanna. He knew then the car was placed in his path by the goddess. Through what mechanism, he couldn’t begin to fathom. “It is more than it seems. Use it wisely but treat it well.”

“Thank you,” said Reece as he awoke.



About the author

Daniel J Hull

I write short stories and novels, typically sci-fi and fantasy, with a touch of steamy romance thrown in for good measure.

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