It all began with a massive explosion.
I was in my study at the time, completely unaware of the outside world. A thick book in one hand and a notebook in the other, I intently studied every word that lay before me. It was imperative that I not only learn the concepts within the book, but that I also would be able to harness the knowledge to meet my own ends. It was a rare book, the only one of its kind. I came across it one day in a book store located in one of the dust ridden cities of Africa.
I had taken the trip to Africa out of boredom. Life in the US had suddenly veered into the realms of complete listlessness. So I boarded the next available transport overseas. I did not care where the transport was heading, I just wanted the soonest departure. I suppose it was fate that brought me to the shores of Africa.
Two days into my visit I grew tired of the fancy hotels and the unintelligent smiles of the upper-class. I packed my bags and set out on foot, determined to find something interesting.
It was not long before I found myself in a run down village, quite a distance from what we so wittingly call 'civilization.' The citizens of this particular village seemed to be in a constant state of terror. The children did not play in the streets, instead, they hid in alleys and junk piles like diseased rodents. The men and women of the village cowered within the dark confines of their one room shacks, whispering to one another like frightened children. The entire village reeked with fear.
As I wandered through the empty streets my curiosity began to rise. I came across a small book shop at the edge of the village. The shop seemed out of place, its walls were beautifully whitewashed and it's massive oak doors hung wide open. Without thinking twice, I entered.
The shop keeper sat hunched over his cash register, his eyes fastened firmly to the floor in front of him. He looked up slowly at the sound of my footsteps and a wicked smile creased his lips. "Welcome, American!" He chimed.
"Hello..." I responded. Like the bookstore, this man seemed out of place.
"You have come for books!" He said excitedly. "We have many wonderful books! Many! I give you good deals!"
The man was not African. Judging by the shade of his skin and his incredibly annoying accent, he was Arabic... Or something along those lines. He smiled again, "Come, come! Look around, American!"
I did just that. For what seemed like centuries, I browsed the seemingly endless isles of books. All of them were old and in terrible condition, and not one was in English. I noticed the shop keeper was watching my every step, a frightening grin spread across his face.
I was very uncomfortable, to say the least.
"American! You come over here, I have what you look for!" He was nearly bursting with excitement.
I nervously stalked over to the counter.
He was holding the most wretched looking book I had ever seen. "What is this?" I asked.
My inquiry seemed to amuse the little man, he laughed aloud. "This book very powerful!"
I nodded blankly.
The man grew very serious, his voice dropped down several notches as he spoke. "This book..." he whispered, "Man not meant to have. It was stolen from the gods."
How could I reply to that? Either the man was a raving lunatic or he was just suckering another American into throwing out a couple of dollars.
"The village..." he continued slowly. "They all afraid of book. Some say gods will come take it back," He smiled, "But they will not. Whoever holds the book, owns the book." He flipped the book open, "It say that on page ninety-two. See?"
I looked down and saw what at first appeared to be the scribbling of a child, after more scrutiny I noticed that the scribbles were too complex to be random. I had never seen anything like it. "What language is this?" I asked.
The shop keeper's eyes grew wide, "The language of the gods!"
"You take this book, American." The shop keeper ordered. "You take and save village. When book gone, they will be not be afraid."
"How much?" I really had no desire to buy the book. As far as I was concerned it was another scrap of junk.
"You pay me back when you rule world!" The shop keeper grinned, handing me the book.
I opened my mouth to ask another question but the shop keeper cut me off, "You leave!"
"Um... Bye then." I strode out of the shop with my supposed treasure.
That night I returned to the United States, convinced that the entire trip had been a complete waste. On the way back I cracked open the book and began to study it more closely. Someone had penciled in some notes on the last page. The notes were in English. They briefly described the steps necessary for deciphering the text, it was a painstaking process but I knew it could be done. There was also a short explanation of what was thought lay within the text.
The shop keeper had not been too far off... If what I was reading was true, this book was invaluable.
I returned to my home, called my brother and immediately set to work deciphering the book.
Within the book lay secrets that mankind had never been meant to know. And I was determined to learn them all. As I sat in my study, completely enthralled by the text before me, all hell decided it was just about time to break loose
My thoughts were scattered to the wind as the explosion tore through the left wall, spraying a deadly cloud of metal shards and wooden splinters in my direction.
I did not react, for my mind was in another place, and a twisted chunk of metal struck me across the forehead. The book fell from my hands as I tumbled over backwards, blood pouring from my skull. My vision began to blur.
Upon hitting the ground, a something occurred to me. It was the fact that I might not live through this. I could almost feel the metallic splinter imbedded in my forehead, its edge delving into the tangles mass of brains that lay beyond my skull. It was a very bad situation.
Of course, it could have been much worse. One of those deadly shards of metal could have easily struck me in a far more sensitive place... Perhaps even severing the very source of my manhood. I would much rather have shred of metal tearing at my brains than for one to have sliced off my favorite extension.
As if fate were mocking me, a second explosion tore through the air. It sent a fresh volley of shrapnel flying past, one of the smaller metallic shards imbedded itself in my upper thigh. That was far too close.
At that moment, the door to my study burst open. Two men darted in, looking around the room expectantly. One of them pointed in my direction.
Consciousness slipped from my grasp, the last thing I saw sent a wave of despair through me. One of the men snatched up my precious book, and then they were gone.
When I came back into the land of the living, I was in a hospital. That did not suprise me one bit, wounded men always ended up in the hospital. Glancing down at my pain ridden body, I noted that there were several bandages in places where I had not known shrapnel had hit. I suppose I was lucky to alive.
"The human pincushion." The familiar voice was seeping with humor.
I turned my head to the left and saw Darrel, my older brother, sitting in an uncomfortable looking chair. He was dressed in his usual attire. A cheap suit and a completely ridiculous neck tie that did not match anything else he was wearing. In fact, I am quite sure that that particular tie would not match anything on this entire planet. He smiled, "How are we feeling today, little fella'?"
I frowned, "I'm terrible. There are more than a dozen holes throughout my body. How would you feel, Darrel?"
He laughed, "You always were the cheery one..."
"What do the police say?" I asked.
Darrel's expression grew very serious, "They aren't investigating it. It was... How did the officer term it?" He frowned, looking for the right words, "Oh yes, he said, 'It was a random act of violence by some menacing criminal. We cannot afford to expend our resources on something so trivial.' That was exactly it... Obviously our friendly law enforcement officer got an unforeseen bonus... A pay-off." Darrel grinned, "The book is gone isn't it?"
Why he found that amusing, I had no idea. "Yes."
"Well so much for random acts of violence."
"I saw the men who took it."
His expression did not change, "Doesn't matter, it's long gone by now. Probably off-planet."
This was true and I knew it. Anyone with a brain would get off of earth after snatching up such a prize.
Darrel cleared his throat. "You did read it... Didn't you?"
He did not hide his disappointment. "That wont get us anywhere."
"I only had it for a few weeks, Darrel. It's not even in English. There was no way I was going to get through it in under a year."
It was true, and Darrel knew it. Translating as I read took quite some time, especially when I had only barely understood the language it was in. It was ancient writing, anything on paper is quite old. These days everything is done electronically, it's far more efficient. But this book was written by hand hundreds of years ago. The paper was yellowed and fragmented, the text faded in some places.
"I suppose we'll have to get it back," Darrel said through a heavy yawn.
"I'll get some people on it right away. With any luck we'll have the names of the folks that took it by tomorrow." He sighed, "We also need to get you out of here, if you saw them you're as good as dead."
I nodded. "And get us a ship. One with guns."
That night the first attempt on my life came through. A nurse entered the room well after dark, a deadly looking syringe glistening in her left hand. I was not asleep, I couldn't afford to let my guard down.
The nurse stalked over to my IV, her eyes darting nervously about the room. She was not one of them, it was obvious that this was the first time she had done anything of this nature. Someone had probably slipped her a nice fat check to do their dirty work.
Just as she was about to plunge the syringe into my IV, I yanked the heart monitor from my chest. The screens to my left instantly flat-lined. She froze, terror written up an down her face. Alarms began to shriek and suddenly the door burst open, a group of five emergency workers came piling in. They saw the woman holding the needle and shouts for security rang out. I was safe... For now.
Darrel arrived the next morning. He helped me out of bed and we made our way out of the hospital. I could barely walk, but other than that I was all right. The fragment that had split open my skull had been removed, and luckily, there had been utterly no brain damage. I climbed into Darrel's car, noting that he had taken the time to clear the usual heap of refuse from the passengers seat. How kind.
As we sped off, Darrel broke the silence. "I have the names. I have the location of their freighter... And as an added bonus," his grin was almost too large, "I got us a nice ship... With guns... Big ones."
"Where are they right now?"
"Oh... Well they left orbit only an hour after that 'random act of violence' and according to the logs... They are approaching the Osiris space station at maximum velocity." He grinned, "Which isn't very fast. Their freighter is pathetically old and slow, they wont arrive for weeks."
"Well... Our fighter ship is one of the newer models. Not a civilian craft I might add... And we can catch that freighter in a matter of hours." He paused. "There is one small problem."
"It seems that our dear enemies are good friends with all the right people... The entire Osiris armada is at their command."
That was not good. A space station the size of Osiris was liable to have a fleet that could pose a threat to most of the major governments on earth. "Then we must act quickly."
Darrel nodded, "That we can do. Hopefully we can take out the freighter and recover your little book before the Osiris station can react."
We drove the rest of the way in silence. My mind was not running on full power, I had not gotten nearly enough sleep. We had to get that book back. If it were to fall in the wrong hands, the fate of earth, and humanity for that matter, would be monopolized. You see, within the pages of that book lay secrets that lay beyond science. Things that are far to extraordinary for a human being to discover on his own. I began to wonder about the author. Was the book truly written by some divine being?
In the short time I had with the book, I had uncovered only a fragment of information. Nothing that would be helpful in any way. Besides, the power the book had to offer was so immense that it was all or nothing. I could have never settled for a mere chapter, I wanted it all. And so did Darrel. Together, we would be unstoppable.
We pulled into Darrel's driveway, I smiled as my eyes fell across the massive fighter ship that lay in his front yard.
"I really had nowhere else to stick it." He shrugged, "Plus this way I can show off to the neighbors."
We boarded and settled in. There were, indeed, some very big guns mounted on the ship. Not only guns but a vast array of missile turrets. This ship alone could level New York City without any effort at all. No wonder it wasn't cleared for civilian use. Darrel certainly had a lot of connections with some very important people.
Inside, the ship was rather small. There was a small room with military style bunks, another room with a rather tiny table and some kitchen wear and a bathroom. Of course, there was also the bridge, where the piloting and weaponry was controlled from. I noted that we were one man short. This was obviously a three man craft. One pilot, one combat gunner and one navigator.
Darrel saw me staring at the extra chair. "Not to worry, it can actually be handled by one man. A navigator is nothing more than a spare tire. All we need is me, the pilot." He grinned broadly. "And you, the gunner."
So that was that.
We launched and cleared earth's atmosphere with ease. Darrel's piloting skills were unparalleled. He demonstrated his superiority by looping around a television satellite and weaving in between a small network of government spy satellites.
I glanced over at him questioningly.
He smiled, "Just warming up... Not to worry, those were only Japanese sats, they cant do anything about us. I like to flaunt the power of America, that's all. And that," He pointed back toward the television satellite, his face writhing with disgust, "I hate that station. So many commercials..."
"Let's get the book, Darrel." I said sternly.
He yawned, "Oh all right."
Under Darrel's unflawed piloting skills, we reached the freighter in an hour and a half. The huge craft was lumbering lazily along, the Osiris space station a mere speck in the distance. "Cripple them!" Darrel shouted.
I activated the weapons and released a volley of high velocity missiles into the freighter's main thruster. The hit was precise. The ship sat helplessly before us. Ripe for the taking.
Darrel opened up communications, "Hello boys, consider this: We have the power to turn you into a heap of slag at our leisure, now give us the book."
There was no reply.
"Show them we mean business, dear brother." Darrel grinned.
I sent a laser blast flying toward the freighter's power source. Lights went out down the length of the entire ship, they were on backup power now.
The communications port burst open, "Leave us be! We have no 'book!' We are only a supply freighter! Leave us or we shall report you to the authorities!"
The man was genuinely frightened. I wondered whether he was even aware of the precious cargo that he carried. I turned to Darrel, "It might have been hidden with his payload. The crew probably doesn't even know about it."
Darrel nodded thoughtfully. "Good point, little one. I certainly wouldn't go telling my underlings about something like this..."
"Does this thing have docking capabilities?" I asked.
He shook his head, "Sorry bro, this thing is strictly a 'blow 'em all to hell' ship. The only way we can get on board that freighter is if they pull us into their cargo bay."
I groaned, "Well they cant very well pull us in. We've thrashed their power generator."
Darrel turned to me, "Then we've hit a dead end."
I thought it over. There was really no way we could get into the ship and find the in time to evade the Osiris fleet. We had two choices, neither one of them appealed to me. Our first option was to leave and hope for another opportunity to retrieve the book. This was a crazy idea, the book would never again be in a vulnerable position. To go after it would be suicide. The second option was to destroy the freighter and the book with it. The best choice was obvious.
"It may be better that we destroy it. Such a book could destroy the world. Humanity is not ready for it." he said sadly.
I nodded. It was a hard decision, but he was right. Nobody was safe as long as this book was around.
"I say we blow them to eternity." Darrel grinned, "Lets save the universe, my brother."
I nodded grimly and fired. The freighter split open down the middle and exploded. The book was gone, the world was safe. I felt a slight loss, for that book was precious... It could never be replaced. But Darrel was right, such a book could easily attract negative attention and fall into the wrong hands.
Darrel let out a shout of exhilaration as maneuvered the fighter through the wreckage at top speed. He smiled and glanced down at his controls, "I guarantee the boys from Osiris are on the way over here."
I forced a smile, "You bet."
Darrel frowned, "Cheer up junior, we've just saved the world... The universe!" He chuckled, "We're heroes now!"
His artificial excitement did not phase me. "Great. Lets get out of here."
We returned safely to earth.
I began to think the whole incident over. How had anyone found out about the book in the first place? Darrel had been my only confident. He had probably gone and bragged about it to the wrong person. Darrel was like that. If they wanted me dead, why didn't they finish the job when they took the book in the first place? I suddenly began to question the whole thing.
Darrel would do anything for power. Almost anything, but he would never kill his own brother. He would cheat and steal from me but never would he kill me. Had the book been on the freighter? Had it ever left earth?
"What is it?" Darrel asked. He knew me better than anyone. He knew that silence meant I was working things out in my head.
"Nothing," I replied.
We exited the ship and Darrel smiled, "I'll see you around, brother."
"Yes..." I paused. "You certainly will..."
He turned toward his home, "I've got some things to do... Take care."
"Darrel," I called out.
He paused at the door, not turning around.
"You only had to ask me, I would have given it to you."
Darrel chuckled, "Perhaps..." He turned slightly, his eyes catching mine. "But it was a lot more fun this way, wasn't it?"
With that, he strode through his front door.
I jammed my hands into my pockets and looked to the horizon and shook my head. It was all one big game for Darrel. He wanted to see just how I would manage to get the book back. In the meantime he would spend every spare minute studying the text and learning its forbidden secrets. Eventually it would get to him. He would see how much power the book actually held and the game would become lethal.
It was a game I did not want to play. "Oh well." I said to myself.
Power corrupts. Power destroys. By the end of the year Darrel would close the book and hell would take mankind by the hand. Yet I had no desire to stop him. If it was fate that lead me to the book, then it was also fate that handed the book over to Darrel. Perhaps Darrel had been chosen to lead mankind to its end. The apocalypse seemed to be running behind schedule anyways.
I stood silently in his front lawn for what seemed like hours. Attempting to justify my lack of action in this situation. But the longer I stood there the closer my mind came to realizing the truth. I was the only one who could stop Darrel. And I had to do it now, before it was too late.
I climbed back into the fighter and located the weapon cabinet. I selected a hand held flamer and sighed. Saving mankind wasn't all that great afterall. I exited the ship and went to Darrel's front door. It was locked, of course, Darrel never left a door unlocked.
Without so much as a second thought, I kicked the door down and strode purposefully to Darrel's study.
There he sat. His head buried in the ancient book and his brow creased.
I leveled the flamer and squeezed the trigger. The barrel spewed a stream of steaming magma into the air, it struck the book dead on, vaporizing it instantly.
Darrel stared at the smoldering hole in his desk and stammered, "You... But... Y-y-you..."
"You were right, Darrel. It had to be destroyed."
"B-b-but... I..." Darrel stuttered.
I lowered the flamer, "I'll buy you a new desk."
At a complete loss for words, Darrel only nodded.
I left the flamer on the kitchen table on my way out.
As I stepped outside I noted that the sun had begun to set. It had been quite a long day. Not in the least bit boring. I wondered what difference the book had made in the fabric of time. Had it been written only to be vaporized before anyone could possibly read it? What a pointless gesture.
I allowed myself a smile. I had saved the world. Mankind probably wouldn't have been any safer with the book in my hands. It was a sad truth. I had saved the world, yet I was almost the one who would have destroyed it.
I yawned and allowed one last look at the sleek fighter that sat in Darrel's front yard. I glanced suspiciously around, wondering if anyone would notice its disappearance. Darrel did say it could be flown by one man...
I climbed aboard. It was definitely time for a vacation.
David has been writing science fiction and horror for a number of years, hehas only recently begun to explore the genres of fantasy and historical fiction. His works have been publsihed in the romance, science fiction,horror and action sections of The Little Read Writers Hood, AphelionWebzine, Titan, The Writers Outlet and Dementia.
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