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SILENT INVASION (Book 1 - The Imagination Series)

Book By: NeilOstroff
Science fiction



Thirteen-year-old Tim Madison’s life turns upside down when a strange visitor takes him aboard a magnificent spaceship to train for a future alien war. Returned home with new skills and this terrible knowledge, Tim confides in his two best friends about his experience. Now, they’re in a race against time to prevent ruthless creatures who are working deep inside our planet from constructing a massive extermination army.


Submitted:Jan 24, 2012    Reads: 14    Comments: 0    Likes: 0   


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PART I

Battle Training

Chapter 1

Something was wrong! Air was still. The house too quiet. Brady the neighbor's obnoxious collie wasn't barking outside.

Tim Madison rolled to the side of the bed and flicked on the table light. His desk, cluttered with astronomy magazines, math homework, and his eighth grade history book; the model airplane with the broken landing gear hanging by fishing line above his bed, his laptop computer, all looked normal. It was the walls. Ordinarily light-blue, they were red. He looked to the floor. The blue carpet had become black. Bright brown numbers on his digital clock beamed 6:15 A.M.

Weird, he thought.

He slipped from the sheets, stepped toward the door, and turned the handle slowly. Bedroom light threw his shadow across the hallway's previously tan, now lime-green carpet. Formally white hallway walls were yellow.

"Greetings," a low voice said.

Tim spun around. Fear soared up his spine. He tried to scream but a lungful of choked air came out. A creature a few feet taller than him, with a human body, beetle-like head, and claws instead of hands, stood wearing an all black jumpsuit.

"I will take you to our training facility where the Thispan Council arranged accommodations," the creature said.

Tim's heart banged against his chest. He backed against the wall and looked from side to side thinking which way to run. To his parent's room? The bathroom? His muscles tensed. Should he bolt back into his own bedroom and slam the door shut?

"What?" he gasped. "Who are you?"

"I am Kiz," the creature said. "The council sent me here because they have knowledge of dangerous events that will occur on your planet. I will teach you skills that most assures your success at preventing these events. This is your assignment."

Tim gulped, pushing panic down. "I… I don't understand."

"You are the Earth's galactic warrior. I will explain more once we are onboard the Skyru."

"The what?"

"Our traveling device."

Panic hit.

"I can't leave!" Tim thought of excuses. "What about school? I… I have a math quiz today and a history test on Thursday!"

"Your universe will only age for one minute while you are away. However, we cannot remain in this state of near timelessness for an extended period. We must reach the end of your universe before the hole connecting our two dimensions closes."

Tim's mind whirled. So much farfetched information was coming at him at once he felt dizzy.

"This is impossible!" he stated.

"As you will learn," Kiz replied. "Nothing is impossible."

Kiz turned and stepped down the hallway. The impulsive for Tim to follow him was enormous, as if being pulled by an invisible string. He felt compelled to go. And he did; down the stairs, through the yellow foyer, to the blue front door. Kiz turned the handle. Hinges creaked.

"We are experiencing problems with the colorization adapter on the time-stopper," Kiz said. "The Council believes its function was second in importance to the urgency of your assignment."

Tim barely heard him; most of his attention was absorbed by the site of the bizarre landscape. The early-morning neighborhood was frozen in time and everything tinted with the wrong colors. Everywhere he looked was something different and astonishing. Brady was blue and stood silent for once in his life with his nose glued to the ground. A few feet away, a green sparrow hovered motionless in midair. Grass on the front lawn was red. Neighbors' houses were pink and blue instead of their usual browns and grays. Leaves on the spruce tree across the street were orange and its trunk was yellow.

"Unbelievable!" Tim gasped.

Kiz headed down the driveway and onto the sidewalk. Tim followed, completely awestruck at his surroundings. They passed an orange squirrel suspended in mid-scamper and another reared back on its hind legs. Brown bees poised above silver daisies. Mountains of green clouds dotted a milky-white sky. Wild-colored cars sat motionless amid the morning congestion around the construction in the right lane of Watson Street.

Bang!

Sound like a cracking of the sky. A silver triangle about the size of a parking space and looking as thin as a pane of glass appeared overhead.

"What's that?" Tim asked.

"The Skyru. Battle training begins now."

Brilliant light flashed from the triangle's underbelly and just like that, Tim found himself standing inside a wide, brightly lit, metal corridor that appeared to go on endlessly.

Kiz stepped forward. "Other galactic warriors are waiting for us in the main hall."

"Others?" Tim's belly swooned with uncertainty. He held out his hands and backed away slowly. "I… I don't think I'm ready for this! I mean, a few minutes ago I was asleep in my bed, and now… I mean… I don't even know what's happening?"

"To tell you more at this time will jeopardize your assignment and everything the Council has worked toward. You must learn your battle skills in the appropriate order for your training to be most effective. The fate of your world, perhaps all worlds, rests on you."


Chapter 2

Tim headed down the corridor in a daze, his heart beat so hard he was sure Kiz could hear it and see the arteries thumping in his neck. This situation struck him with awe and not knowing what waited ahead tinged that awe with a spike of fear.

They passed between two gold pillars and entered an enormous stadium. Thousands of strange beings stared at them from a massive tier of seats. Tim looked over the assembled group. These creatures were like nothing, and everything, he had ever imagined. One nearby form resembled a rose bush but had yellow, tulip-like flowers with bright blue eyes on the ends of translucent petals. And it was hardly the most exotic. Another individual appeared to be an oversized bacteria with large cilia waving on its outside. Another looked like a fish out of water except with a moose's head. Some of the aliens could best be described as transfigured humans with hands where their heads should be and eyeballs on their elbows. Others were bizarre morphs of animal, human, and insect features: flies with arms, a caterpillar with horse-like legs, a moth with the ears of a rabbit. It looked to Tim like someone had taken animal parts out of various bins and put them back together at random.

"I… I don't believe this," he said. "What are these things?"

"Galactic warriors," Kiz replied. "One galactic warrior chosen from each advanced civilization in this quadrant of the universe."

"Can they understand me?"

"A universal translator is built into the Skyru. You will hear words in your own language as will the others in their own. Some receive information as sonar waves and others understand through scent and smell."

Tim thought about this for a moment. "But you spoke English in my bedroom?"

"I have learned your language as part of the assignment."

"The final galactic warrior has boarded," a voice boomed, through an unseen loudspeaker. "Your assignments now continue. The next general assembly meeting will occur when we reach the final destination. Return to your rooms and await further instructions."

The large crowd swelled toward the outlining corridors.

"Follow me," Kiz said, and guided Tim into one of dozens of recessed openings.

They passed an amazing variety of life: a giant centipede shuffling along on several porpoise-like flippers, a snail with a ferret's head leaving a trail of lime-green slime as it glided down the hallway, a bee that whipped a snake-like tail as it buzzed by.

A creature with a rhinoceros-like head attached to a lithe, cat-like body caught Tim's attention. Spines ran down its back like teeth. A formidable horn poked from its snout. The rhino-cat stopped walking, turned, and focused its tiny black eye on Tim.

"Are you the galactic warrior from planet Earth?" it asked.

Tim's throat clogged with nervousness. He cleared it. "I guess so."

"I visited your world many time spans ago," the rhino-cat said. "It is an acceptable planet for a brief period, but I would not want to live among your people. Impulsive carnivores like you have much to learn before you can be considered civilized. I hope Kiz can teach you to channel all that savagery. I've heard Earth is the first encounter."

The rhino-cat snorted and ejected a wad of mucus that stuck to the wall like a piece of chewed gum. It continued tramping down the corridor, turned, and disappeared into a separate passageway.

Tim flashed Kiz a quizzical look. "What's he mean first encounter?"

"Disregard his remarks. Blituars are an arrogant race who feels humans should not even be granted the privilege of having a galactic warrior."

"Why?"

"Blituars evolved several thousands of years before humans. They made the same mistakes your species now make, somehow surviving planet-wide pollution, harsh famines, and dozens of catastrophic wars. They are now a peaceful race of explorers and somewhat hypocritically given their own tortuous path to becoming pacifists, they consider humans a violent, lower form of life."

"Is the Blituar a galactic warrior?"

"Yes, but he isn't nearly as important as you."

"Why am I so important?"

"I cannot tell you at this time."

Kiz stopped in front of a gold door encrusted with nine huge diamonds arranged like the Earth's solar system with the third jewel from the center as the largest.

"This is your room," Kiz said. "You are free to come and go as you please, but use caution if you choose to walk about the Skyru. Some representatives aren't receptive toward humans. Battle training will commence when I return."

Kiz walked away.

"Wait!" Tim called after him.

"Is there a problem?"

"How do I get inside?"

"Press the largest star-stone."

Kiz disappeared into a side corridor. Tim raised his finger to touch the jewel. When he did, the door changed into a swirling, gray, curtain of mist.

"Computer on," said a digital voice, startling him. "Please identify yourself."

"I'm…uh, Tim. Tim Madison."

"At last!" the computer rejoiced, its tone becoming thoroughly human. "I thought you were the Goron galactic warrior. The Goron has been trying to access your room since she came aboard. I assume she wanted to see what grass looks like. Gorons are curious creatures; they live their entire lives on a single ball of rock devoid of all vegetation. But never mind that information. Everything is prepared as described in your profile. Please enter."

Tim hesitated. Was this a trap? He'd watched enough late-night horror flicks to know that if dangerous monsters were to attack him they usually lurked on the other side of such mysterious places.

"Your room is your sanctuary," the computer assured him, as if sensing his concern. "There is no safer place for you."

Still wary, Tim took a cautious step, and then another. He held his breath as he went through the warm, surprisingly dry mist, and emerged into his own yard with his house in front of him.

Chapter 3

Tim stood jaw-dropped in disbelief. He was home. Or was he?

He surveyed the area; same trees, bushes, even the patch of weeds beside driveway that his dad had wanted him to pull. How was it possible? As the initial shock subsided, he noticed something peculiar. There were no other houses around the development, just a flat, grassy expanse. No animals. No birds. No annoying Brady barking at him from the next yard over.

"I am programmed to provide a habitat where you can relax after your training," the computer said. "Please enter your dwelling so I may explain the altered devices."

Tim crossed the yard to the porch, approached the front door, hesitated, and then twisted the knob. Hinges turned with a creak. He stepped inside. The interior of the house looked the same as always. Family pictures, the silver-rimmed mirror, the wreath of dried flowers, all adorned the hallway walls exactly as if he were in his real home.

He peeked into the kitchen. Mom's blue oven mitts hung beside the gas stove. Dirty dishes from last night's dinner were soaking in the sink. Even the scorch mark on the counter was identical to the one his dad had once made with a hot serving dish.

Tim noticed a green, rectangular device about the size of a small microwave oven.

"What's this?" he wondered aloud.

A beam of light from the ceiling illuminated the device's smooth sides and marble-like surface.

"That is the organic sustenance dispenser," the computer said. "It can manufacture any variety of food."

Tim approached the device, curious but cautious.

"Try it," the computer offered. "Food energy is necessary to keep up your strength."

"How does it work?"

"Simply speak your order."

"Okay… um… " His stomach growled as visions of his favorite foods ran through his mind: pizza, hot dogs, cheeseburgers, but he said simply; "How about a small chocolate cake?"

The machine clanked and popped and emitted strange grinding noises from its inside. A blue light flashed on top, and a second later, a tray materialized. In the middle of the tray sat a small, square chocolate cake. Tim ran his index finger along the icing and poked it into his mouth. He grimaced.

"This tastes like dirt!" he said, sourly.

"All nutritional content required by the human body is supplemented into whatever food you choose to consume. This small chocolate cake provides all the vitamins, protein, and minerals necessary for an active twelve-hour period. Would you like to order something more specific to your tastes?"

"Maybe later."

"Then please enter the area you commonly refer to as the den."

Tim stepped from the kitchen toward the room. Heat hit like someone had opened a giant oven door. He looked to the ceiling and drops of perspiration slid down his cheeks.

"Can you cool it in here?" he asked.

"Whatever temperature you desire need only be spoken aloud."

"Make it seventy degrees."

Hotness skyrocketed to a broiling furnace. Tim felt as if he were going to ignite. Dizziness overtook him and he reached to the edge of the sofa for support.

"Seventy degrees!" he gasped, as sweat gushed from his pores. "I said seventy degrees!"

"This is the temperature requested," the computer replied. "Commands are set on Thispin Kevlerts until otherwise specified by the room's occupant. Would you like Fahrenheit or Cel--"

"Fahrenheit!"

A cool blanket of air immediately fell over the room, relief and comfort rolled with it. Tim steadied his quaking legs and wiped his face with the bottom of his shirt. He noticed a large silver box resting on the table where the television set should have been and stepped over. A beam of light suddenly shone on the device, highlighting several multi-colored buttons poking out along the top rim. The base looked like a four-way speaker.

"And this?" Tim questioned.

"The entertainment receiver," the computer replied. "The entertainment receiver can play any Earth-transmitted television program or music. Should you have any questions relevant to your environment simply knock and I will respond. Good day, galactic warrior."

With the computer silent, Tim could finally think about the events of the previous hour. Will his parents and friends know he's gone? What does being the Earth's galactic warrior mean? Why did the Council choose him over billions of other people? Would he be back in time to take the history test on Monday?

He headed up the steps to the second floor and into the bathroom, and then into his parents' bedroom, and finally into his own room, searching for mistakes; examining every angle and knick-knack: a misplaced lamp, a forgotten chair, a picture slightly out of focus. Everything was identical to his real house. Everything! The photograph of him and his two best friends, Dan Larson and Jamie Richards perched on the dresser, even the model airplane with the broken landing gear hung from fishing line above his nightstand. The clock held steadfast at 6:15 A.M.

He caught his image in the window. His hair was the same chestnut color and the same stubborn acne still spread like a gash across his forehead. He plopped down onto his bed, leaned over, and knocked briskly on the wood frame.

"Computer on, how can I be of service?"

"What's a galactic warrior?"

"A galactic warrior is an agent, deputy, delegate or symbol of a governing body according to Thispin mandate 43567.82."

"That's not what I mean! What kind of galactic warrior am I? What's this training all about? What am I supposed to do?"

"I am not programmed to relay that information."

Tim fell backward onto the mattress, sighed in frustration, and looked out the window at a synthetic world bright with artificial sunlight and perfect in every way. The spruce tree across the street swayed in the automatic breeze. Chalky mounds of stark-white clouds gently skimmed a flawless, powder-blue sky. But no birds flew in that sky, no insects buzzed around the screen, no sounds of nature filtered in through the open window.

"Computer, can you tell me how long I'm gonna be here?"

"I am not programmed to-"

"Never mind! I know the answer. Only one minute will pass on Earth so it doesn't matter, right?"

"I am not programmed to relay that information."

"What are you programmed to answer?"

"Questions relevant to your environment. All other information will be divulged at the proper times. It is essential that you learn what is necessary in the sequence that best benefits your training."

"What am I being trained for?"

"Battle."

"What kind of battle?"

"I am not programmed to-"

"Forget it!"

He hopped from his bed, bolted down the stairs, and entered the kitchen.

"Cheeseburger on a bun!" he stated, to the organic sustenance dispenser.

The dispenser whirred and made popping noises. A blue light flashed and a cheeseburger appeared on a tray. He bit off a mouthful, chewed twice, and spit it out. The meat tasted like the icing on the chocolate cake and the bun had the consistency and flavor of cardboard.

"This is awful!"

The dispenser didn't respond.

He thought about his choices. Why had the chocolate icing tasted so bad? Why were the temperature extremes so specific? Why did the bun have the consistency of cardboard?

He glared at the device. "Six ounces of premium ground beef cooked medium-well and served on a toasted sesame-seed bun. With lettuce, dill pickles… wait, make that extra dill pickles, ketchup, and a slice of onion. Oh, and two slices of melted American cheese on top of the beef, and a sweet chocolate milkshake on the side."

The dispenser wheezed and the selections appeared. He picked up the burger, eyed it skeptically, sniffed cautiously, and then took a small bite. The flavor was extraordinary.

"Mmm, that's more like it."

He grabbed the shake, headed out the back kitchen door, ambled around the side of the house, down his driveway, and across the street up to the spruce tree; which looked normal enough apart from the golf-ball-sized star-stone embedded in the center of its trunk. Beyond the spruce tree lay a flat, seemingly endless field of vibrantly green grass.

He paused, and then looked up to the perfect sky.

"Rainstorm, fifty-five degrees Fahrenheit!" he hollered.

Menacing black clouds immediately swallowed every trace of blue. Temperature plummeted and a sudden, strong wind whipped the spruce tree, bushes, and grass into a fury.

Tim grinned mischievously as rain began splattering in fat drops on his head, shoulders, and food.

He pressed the star-stone and entered the Skyru.


Chapter 4

Tim walked the brightly lit metal passageways for what seemed like miles but hadn't encountered even one of the creatures he'd seen in the main hall. He didn't feel scared, or homesick, or even worried. All he felt, as he strolled down corridor after corridor, was pure amazement at the size of this wondrous place. He spotted a door similar to the one for his room except with sixteen star-stones embedded in the gold. The eleventh was the largest. He pressed it and the door turned into mist.

Something snake-like and covered with foul-smelling goop sprung out, wrapped around his chest, and yanked him into air chalky with dust and smoke. The snake-like thing tightened and squeezed out the last breaths in his lungs. Tim struggled to inhale against the iron-band pressure. His vision dimmed. Weird dots of light flashed inside his eyelids. He was going unconscious. He was going to die!

A high-pitched scream came from somewhere off in the darkness. The grip loosened and he dropped a few feet to a rough, vine-covered floor. Only this was no ordinary ground. And there weren't vines beneath him. Terrain was moving, ebbing and swelling to the motion of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of tiny, snake-like creatures.

He gasped and clawed, teary and half-blind, toward the misty doorway, which looked as dim as a flared match in the harsh environment. Tiny creatures spun around his legs. His head ached from lack of clean air.

A huge, winged creature with a dragon-like face picked Tim up in its slobbery, toothless mouth, flapped to the doorway, and dropped him into the corridor. Tim lay flabbergasted, sucking in great gulps of fresh air. He looked up to see the dragon-faced thing shaking its head and pointing a talon, as if scolding him.

"You alone are responsible for the results of your actions," the dragon-faced creature said.

It flicked its green tail indignantly and the hole closed, becoming the shiny gold door again. Tim sat a moment waiting for his hands to stop shaking and his knees to stop knocking. A noise came from one of the far corridors, like someone giggling after breathing in helium. He got up, proceeded toward the sound, and poked his head (cautiously this time) through a small archway.

On the other side, was a room like a movie theater with an aisle in the middle separating about a dozen long rows of seats. Dim, but not completely dark, the theater was illuminated by lights flickering across a mammoth video screen showing multi-colored balls spinning against a white backdrop. As each ball popped, another of a different color appeared in its place.

More giggling erupted from something squirming in the center seat of the front row, something large and furry. Tim edged down the aisle and shimmied along behind it.

"Uh… excuse me," he said modestly, and lightly tapped the creature's shoulder.

The creature yelped, bolted up, and scrambled over the seats, lodging one of its four flamingo-like legs in the thin space separating the back cushion from the bottom one.

"You startled me!" the creature screeched. "Computer, lights on!"

The room brightened and the huge screen went blank.

About Tim's height, and covered with knots of coarse, dirty-brown hair, the creature had the pointy face and plump body of a field mouse, but with two long, hairy arms like a gorilla.

"Hurry up and help free me!" the mouse-creature demanded, and its long, wiry tail tossed impatiently. "I haven't got all day to waste with you!"

Tim pushed on the bottom cushion and pulled the headrest back. "Is this better?"

The mouse-figure shook its foot free, and with a sneer on its snout said, "Quite. What are you doing here?"

Tim cleared his throat. "My name's-"

"I don't care who you are! Why are you intruding upon my leisure time? You've ruined my enjoyment of the Zenith Orbs!"

"They told me I could go where ever I wanted."

"Who told you?"

"Kiz."

The mouse-creature's expression instantly changed into one of delight. "You're him! You're the one!" It grinned, showing several rows of small, serrated teeth. "The mission is almost over!" Its round, black eyes ranged up and down the length of Tim. "I missed the general assembly meeting but I did overhear that the Earth's galactic warrior was quite young for an assignment of this magnitude. But I never figured they would choose such a small and weak-looking human."

"I can handle whatever this assignment is, don't worry!" Tim stated, letting it be known by the challenge in his voice that he would not be insulted. "What are you, anyway?"

"Being from Earth, a planet less-knowledgeable about the inhabited universe, you obviously cannot help your ignorance. My name is Colton. I am the galactic warrior from the planet Wooran, located at the seventeenth quadrant in the twenty-third universe. Tell me, young Earthling, has anyone explained the challenges bestowed upon you as the galactic warrior for your planet?"

Tim pursed his lips. "Well, not exactly."

"Being chosen as a galactic warrior is probably the single most important responsibility that a member of a species can be entrusted with. You, in some way, maybe through acclaim, maybe dialogue, maybe violence, will directly affect the evolutionary path of your world."

"What am I supposed to do?"

"Each galactic warrior has a different assignment," Colton replied. He licked his hand graciously and then preened a whisker. "I know very little of yours except of its importance. You are the first encounter, after all."

"I heard that before. What's it mean?"

"I cannot answer your questions."

Tim's frustration boiled. "I want to know what's happening to me!"

Colton turned and dashed up the aisle.

"Hey, wait!" Tim shouted.

But the galactic warrior from planet Wooran was gone.

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Chapter 5

Tim wandered intersecting corridor after intersecting corridor marveling at the overwhelming size of the Skyru. Thousands of alien species were traveling with him, but he hadn't encountered any other individuals since meeting Colton. He thought that was very strange.

As he rounded the next bend he saw something he hadn't expected, something that sent a shockwave of awe rushing through his system; a large, triangular window. He ran up to it, pressed his forehead against the glass, and shielded his eyes against the Skyru's interior illumination.

Sprinkled like confetti against the black wallpaper of space, a vast canopy of stars glittered by the millions, sparkling in brilliant reds, whites, and yellows. A massive spiral galaxy floated in the far distance like a speckled doughnut.

How many worlds in that one cluster alone? Tim wondered. How many galactic warriors?

"Attention, galactic warrior!"

Tim whirled around. No one was behind him or on either side.

"I hear you," he answered.

"It is time to begin the first part of your training. Return to your room."

"Okay, I'll head there now."

He started down the hallway, looked around, stopped in mid-stride, turned and walked a few paces in the opposite direction, and then stopped again. Every angle, every curve appeared identical. He thought for a moment and then knocked on the wall.

"Computer on," said an even, robotic voice. "Identify yourself and the nature of your problem."

"I'm Tim… Earth's… uh, galactic warrior. I'm lost."

"What area of the Skyru would you like to visit?"

"I just want to go back to my room."

"Follow the lights. Computer off."

Immediately, a line of blue bulbs lit in the floor, blinking a trail to the left. Tim followed, turning corners and walking for a ways, until the lights winked out a few paces from his door. He pressed the star-stone and tunneled through the mist.

Rain beat against the ground and collected over the street and front lawn in miniature pools. It immediately soaked Tim's head and dribbled down his back.

"Sunshine, seventy degrees Fahrenheit!" he shouted.

Clouds dissolved, the sky turned blue, and the flood evaporated. Kiz poked his beetle-head through the trunk of the spruce tree and into the illusion.

"Been exploring?" Kiz asked, bringing the rest of his body through. He was wearing a maroon jumpsuit that accentuated thick muscles. "Hope you didn't get lost."

"Nah." Tim wondered if Kiz knew about his intrusion into the snake-creature's room or his meeting Colton. "This place is huge."

"Some galactic warriors require a territory of as much as a hundred miles of personal space to feel at ease enough to benefit fully from their training," Kiz replied. "The galactic warrior from the planet Vulciver grows to a length of nine hundred feet and won't tolerate a stay in anything less than an ocean of Bralouth acid twenty miles across and three miles deep. And we must be accommodating in all circumstances to ensure the galactic warrior the greatest success."

"How is this possible? How is any of this possible? This ship looks so small from the outside."

"Dimensional interfacing," Kiz said. "The Skyru exists in two dimensions at the same moment. Its outer shell, which is composed of a synthetic metal polymer, appears as a small solid in your universe, while the massive interior resides in our dimension."

"Are we flying through space?"

"Yes. Our section of dimension is completely contained within this Skyru that moves through your reality. We can disconnect the vortex safely only after reaching the final destination."

"And where's that?"

"It doesn't exist, yet. The final destination occurs as a byproduct of our intrusion into this universe; a hole in both dimensions. We must travel a bit more before we can make the exact calculations of where it will occur and then we can slip back into our dimension before it reseals."

Tim rubbed his temples while shaking his head. "This is confusing. I just want to go home. To my real home."

"You will, soon enough."

Kiz signaled for Tim to follow around to the back of the house. Worn picnic furniture his parents had owned for as long as he could remember was in its usual half-circle arrangement around the rusted gas grill. He looked at the lawn; the grass; the weeds: every species of flower and brush was exactly as it was in his yard on Earth.

"Sit down," Kiz said, and eased beside the lawn chair. "What I'm about to tell you is necessary at this stage. It is information you must ponder and draw your own conclusions about." Kiz propped Tim's chin with the tip of his claw so their eyes met. "You were chosen as a galactic warrior not because of who you are now, but because of who you will become in the future."

Tim blinked with surprise and suspect. "What does that mean?"

"Your planet will soon face a great crisis. Governments of your world won't react properly and a catastrophic event will occur. My job is to show you what is necessary to prevent this crisis. This is your assignment."

Tim crossed his arms. "To stop something that hasn't happened yet? How can you know?"

"Progression of time in this dimension has no effect on my species. We live outside of linear space. In terms you can comprehend as a human, we have been here, are here, and will be here, all at the same moment. We know about major events that have happened, are happening, or will happen in your universe." Kiz paused. "And we as a species must carry the burden of this knowledge."

"If this is true," Tim said. "Why do you need me at all? Why not just prevent the bad stuff from happening?"

"The Council will not interfere with the evolution of natural events in this dimension. It is our most revered law."

"How can you say that? You gather creatures and people like me to interfere for you! There's no difference!"

"We recruit galactic warriors and train them in how to avoid these cataclysms. It is up to the individual to carry out his own assignment. Sometimes we are successful, like when the Drock galactic warrior prevented the Nebula Mite infestation from destroying his planet's food supply. And sometimes we are not."

"What happens then?"

Kiz paused and looked up at the brilliantly clear sky. "The last unsuccessful galactic warrior the Council chose came from a highly advanced planet named Virothern. The Viron galactic warrior was trained on how to capture the attention of his people by foretelling minor events that would occur on his world. The Viron would then sway the population into trusting his predictions, hoping they would listen to his solutions when the time of crisis neared. But the Viron became so obsessed with the celebrity his predictions brought him that he failed to implement the evacuation plan for which we'd also trained him. All thirteen billion of his species were incinerated when a passing meteor stripped Virothern's atmosphere. It is a great responsibility to be chosen as a galactic warrior. Your species' survival depends on the actions and decisions that you make."

Tim stared ahead in slowly dawning horror. "I never asked for this responsibility and I don't want it."

"You do have a choice," Kiz offered. "When your training is completed and you are returned home, you can go about your daily life doing nothing for your people. The catastrophic event will occur and you will be subjected to the consequences along with the rest of your planet."

"That's not a choice! That's a threat!"

"Perhaps, but it is you who are making an informed decision to remain passive. The rest of the population does not have such an option. You alone are responsible for the results of your actions."

Tim repressed a shudder. His stomach swirled. He desperately wanted to forget any of this was happening.

"Relax and eat some food," Kiz said, standing to his full height. "Think about what I have told you. I will return when we are ready to begin the physical training."


Chapter 6

Tim awoke with a start, bolted upright, and looked around his cluttered bedroom. Everything appeared normal: his computer, the posters on the walls, homework papers strewn about the floor, the alarm clock on the nightstand frozen at 6:15 A.M.

He slid off his bed, grabbed a blue T-shirt from his dresser, and opened the closet where his favorite jeans hung from a hook. He stepped into them and then out of the room, halting in mid-step as he noticed a plate-sized silver disk floating soundlessly at the top of the steps. He immediately remembered where he was.

"Greetings, galactic warrior," the house computer said. "I trust you slept well? Air quality, temperature, odor, and humidity were tailored specifically for a deep, restful rejuvenation."

Tim pointed at the disk. "What's that?"

"The Council sent an information sphere to answer questions you might have regarding your planet's future. However, the sphere will not tell you the outcome of the events for which you are being trained."

"How does it work?"

"Simply ask a question. Computer off."

He stared at the disk and then ducked under it and trotted down the steps into the kitchen to order breakfast. The disk followed, hovering a few feet above his right shoulder like a loyal falcon.

"Disk," Tim said, as he stuffed a puffy doughnut into his mouth; grape jelly squirted across his cheek. He wiped and chewed. "Answer me this. What am I doing here?"

The disk replied in a stoic, breathless voice. "You were chosen by the Thispin High Council to represent the planet Earth in an inter-dimensional effort to preserve species which evolved as a result of the Creators' seeding of the twenty-seventh quadrant in the twenty-third universe. You will be trained to understand the defenses and weaknesses of the Tarnacki so you can prepare your planet for events that will occur in the Earth's future."

"What's a Tarnacki?"

"Tarnacki are cybernetic robots constructed by the Creators 2.614 billion years pre-Earth. They were designed to drift through empty sections of space and locate hospitable planets on which to implant protein strands in a grand experiment on evolution. Tarnacki increase their numbers by using resources on these planets to construct more Tarnacki to implant more protein strands. The collective then moves on to the next suitable host planet. As millennia passed, Tarnacki evolved into thinking machines and no longer adhered to the Creators' original programming. The Creators enacted a resolution to eradicate them. Tarnacki discovered the Creators' plans and scattered into the far reaches of the universe. Through many missions and galactic warrior assignments, the Creators were able to eliminate all but a few individuals. These individual Tarnacki discovered an exploratory satellite sent from Earth. This satellite contained detailed whereabouts of your planet, its inhabitants, and its huge stock of natural resources."

Dread filled Tim's insides. "What happened?"

"Tarnacki arrived on Earth and designed a hidden base where they will build an army of soldiers. They will launch a full-scale attack with the intent of ceasing all biological life and turning the planet into a manufacturing facility. They will then move their newly created army to attack other populated planets."

Tim stared at the disk. "They kill everybody?"

"I am not programmed to relate the outcome of this event."

The ding of the doorbell broke the conversation. Tim went shakily into the hallway and opened the front door. It was Kiz.

"Now do you understand the importance of your assignment?" Kiz asked.

"This steel Frisbee just told me Earth is wiped out!" Anger raised Tim's voice. "That's the event I'm supposed to stop? Extermination of every living thing!"

He stormed back into the kitchen. Kiz trailed him.

"We do not know the outcome of your assignment!" Kiz stressed. "This is why you are here to train."

Tim's mouth went dry. He turned to the organic sustenance dispenser. "Cold milk."

A glass appeared filled with a block of white ice.

"Not that cold!" He threw up his hands in disgust. "Who do you think I am? I'm no hero! I can't save the world! I'm nobody!"

"It is regrettable that you feel this way," Kiz replied. His claws pulled at the collar of his uniform. "Because when your training is completed you will have learned everything necessary to alter the event… except the will and courage to achieve that goal. Those are virtues I cannot teach."

"This sucks!"

"The Council will not interfere with alien cultures," Kiz reminded. "Only guide."

"Is that why they sent this sphere-thing to give me the bad news? They expect me to save the world but they don't have the guts to tell me that themselves?"

Kiz straightened his posture. "You make a valid point."

His antennae twitched. The disk did a tight loop in the air, zipped down the hallway, and disappeared out the front door.

"From now on," Kiz said, "I will answer your questions."


Chapter 7

Kiz ushered Tim from his room on the Skyru and down a twisting passageway that opened into an expanse so immense the other side wasn't visible; like standing on a beach and trying to look across the ocean.

A black speck appeared in the distance. Hissing sound filled the air and intensified as the speck flew up quickly, stopped a few feet in front of them, and hovered in mid-air. The vessel was egg-shaped and about the size of an automobile. Seven baseball-bat-length spikes protruded from opposite ends. Tim glanced at his reflection in the craft's shiny, black finish.

"This is a Tarnacki fighter," Kiz said. "It is the oldest and most devastating machine in your universe. The sound you heard is the release of energy produced by the propulsion emitters. A fighter approaching at top speed is audible approximately seven seconds before it reaches you." Kiz pointed to the thin spikes sticking out from one curved end. "These are the propulsion emitters. A direct hit here will completely disable the system."

"A direct hit from what?" Tim asked.

"You will acquire weapons when necessary."

Kiz stepped around to the other side and waggled his claw to indicate another set of similar-looking spikes. "These are the weapons array. The array shoots concentrated beams of high energy particles that sterilize their target."

"You mean kill?"

Kiz stood solemnly. "Yes."

Tim ran his hand along the length of the spike. It felt fragile enough to break off.

Kiz bent down and pointed at a small blue nozzle sticking out from the bottom. "This intake vent is the most vulnerable spot on the fighter. In much the same way humans emit warmth from their bodies, Tarnacki exude invisible pulses from their electronics. These pulses are harmless in an open area, but in a confined space and without the intake to absorb them, they are lethal to both human and machine."

Tim nodded in understanding.

"Tarnacki cannot survive in an oxygen-rich environment unless they are wearing a pressure suit." Kiz pressed a small button barely visible against the side of the craft. The top half lifted open like a convertible. "This is what one looks like."

Kiz reached in and pulled out a silver jumble of long, delicate, spider-leg-like appendages protruding from a round, frail, metallic body about the size of a basketball.

"That?" Tim scoffed. "That tiny thing is gonna destroy Earth?"

"Tarnacki were constructed before most planets in this universe solidified and acquired strong gravitational fields. Do not let their apparent fragility fool you. They are a formidable enemy during ground combat. Each carries a single weapon, clipped here."

Kiz lifted the appendage allowing for Tim to get a better look. The silver weapon had a triangle-shaped handle and small, pencil-thin barrel.

"While in their pressure suits Tarnacki can travel across any surface including water at speeds much faster than a human can run. Their intelligence is quite limited in comparison to a human, and their eyesight and aim are terrible, but they are brutal and ruthless in their attacks. Be wary, they will use many forms of deception to lure their enemies into traps." Kiz tossed the Tarnacki aside as if discarding an old soda can and climbed into the craft, knifing his knees up to his chest. "Your first lesson is to learn to fly the fighter. Come sit beside me."

Tim's stomach somersaulted at the thought of piloting an alien spacecraft. He hesitated, wrapped his fingers around the rim, and then heaved inside, toppling sideways into a backless seat. Dozens of multi-colored lights blinked from a console in front him. Underneath the console were a lever and several toggle switches.

"These lights are the communication system," Kiz said. "Tarnacki talk to each other by flashing binary pulses of the visible spectrum."

Tim studied the controls. There were no numbers or letters, just rainbows of colored lights and different shaped symbols.

"The fighter is steered by manipulation of the center stick." Kiz indicated a joystick with a red button on top mounted in front of the seat. It looked identical to the joystick on Tim's Playstation. "Speed is adjusted by raising and lowering this instrument beside it. We'll call it the throttle." He motioned to the long row of toggle switches. "This one closes the hatch and prepares the fighter for flight."

Kiz flipped the relay and the top came down over them, becoming a one-way tinted window with a 360-degree view.

"This one activates the force field." Kiz flipped another switch.

A shock popped through Tim's nerves jutting the hair on his body.

"Ow!" he yelped "What was that?"

"Species sensitive to static electricity often find the activation of the force field unpleasant," Kiz answered. "But its protection is vital in battle situations. Use it sparingly, however, because the force field consumes a great quantity of the fighter's power." Kiz returned his attention to the controls. "To fly the fighter is a simple matter of applying pressure on the throttle to increase speed and turning the joystick in the desired direction. There are no complex movements. Just up and down, right and left."

Kiz clamped the joystick and eased the throttle forward. Within seconds, they were speeding along at a fantastic rate with almost no sound of engines or sensation of movement inside.

"The fighter is equipped with several levels of firepower. To arm the system, push this button and switch on the number of emitters, up to seven, that you wish to access." Kiz pulled back on the throttle and turned the joystick in a semi-circle. The fighter immediately slowed and spun around to face a metal girder. "I will demonstrate."

Kiz flicked down three switches and squeezed the red button. A thin, stream of brilliant yellow light jetted from the weapons array. The girder turned pink and then melted into a steaming, molten puddle.

"Your turn," Kiz said, and he moved from the pilot seat into the cramped space behind it.

Tim relocated and gulped a couple of quick breaths. "Where should I go?"

"Start by moving straight ahead."

Tim tensed above the controls. He braced his hands, applied pressure to the throttle, and then pulled back quickly. The fighter lurched forward a few yards and then stopped. He pushed and then pulled back again. The fighter bucked a few more yards.

"Smoothly," Kiz said. "Fly with confidence."

Tim nodded and gently pushed the throttle forward. Their surroundings blurred as the fighter soared through the room.

"Go right," Kiz instructed.

Tim swiveled the joystick and the fighter made an effortless 90-degree turn. He pushed the joystick down and the ship descended. He pulled back and the fighter shot toward the ceiling. He spun, doing a 180-degree loop before evening out.

"This is easy!" Tim exclaimed. He leveled the fighter and let go of the throttle. The fighter stopped and hovered in midair. "It's like a video game."

"Fire the weapons system," Kiz said.

"At what?"

"You decide."

Tim glanced down at the row of switches and methodically flicked on all seven. He rotated the fighter to face another girder, steadied the controls, and then laid his thumb down on the red button. A bright, fiery jet of white energy torpedoed into the girder, vaporizing it, and burning a blackened hole through the floor.

"Whoa!" Tim released his grip and sat back. "That's some gun."

He pushed the throttle. The fighter didn't respond. He pushed again and the control panel dimmed.

"What's wrong with the engine?" he asked. "The fighter isn't working."

"You depleted all available power because you fired seven emitters at once and maintained the force field," Kiz replied. "The fighter needs time to ionize oxygen from the air and recharge the energy cells."

Kiz aimed a claw at a flashing yellow light in the center of the panel. "This is the energy level indicator. When it is solid yellow the fighter is at full power. If it starts to blink you're running low. The slower it blinks the less energy will be available to run the rest of the equipment. If the light shuts off completely, you're in trouble."

The panel suddenly kicked back on and the energy indicator light shined brightly.

"Return to our starting point," Kiz said.

"Uh…" Tim looked from side to side. "Which way?"

Kiz pointed to another instrument; a circular, clock-like device filled with triangular lights. "This dial is the direction finder. The lit triangle in the center is your point of origin from when the top hatch closed. Lights surrounding the triangle will show you which way to proceed."

Tim eased the throttle forward and the light to the left of the triangle started to blink. He turned the joystick and the center light flared.

"Keep going straight unless one of the other lights starts up, if one does then turn in that direction."

Watching the direction finder and using the lights, Tim cruised easily to the exit. He stopped, lowered the fighter to within a few inches of the floor (it seemed to want to hover naturally) and flipped the hatch-open switch. The roof raised and they both climbed out.

"Well done," Kiz said, walking alongside Tim as they headed back to his room. "It is important that you remember everything I show you. We don't train galactic warriors with knowledge they won't apply during their assignments."

"I will," Tim assured him.

And he meant it.

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Chapter 8

Tim stood beside the den window and stared up at the clear night sky. Stars glimmered brightly despite the brilliant full moon. He sighed, turned his sight to the entertainment receiver and knocked on the floor.

"Computer on. How may I assist you?"

"I want to use this entertainment thing."

"What program would you like to observe?"

He thought for a moment. "I don't know, how about a Bugs Bunny cartoon?"

"Which title?"

"I don't know their titles. Just play one."

"As you wish."

A low, blue light radiated outward from the entertainment receiver. Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd popped up on top as three-dimensional characters. Tim leaned forward to touch Bugs and his hand passed through the image.

"How does this work?"

"The entertainment receiver is designed with a holographic light assembler. You may also view it as you would view a two-dimensional image on an Earth television, a Galok four-dimensional Playsquare, a Phelastian image modifier, a Kildon-"

"This is fine!" Tim passed his hand through Bugs again. "Very cool."

Temperature in the room dropped.

"That's just an expression! Computer, seventy-five degrees Fahrenheit!"

The room warmed. He walked into the kitchen and ordered a grilled cheese sandwich and chocolate shake. He ate at the table and then settled back onto the couch. Yawning, he let his mind settle. Sleep took him a few moments later.

* * *

Something touched Tim's face pulling his mind back to consciousness. He cracked open his eyelids. A long, Tarnacki appendage twitched inches from his face.

Tim's heart kicked to a gallop, nearly taking his breath away. His stomach plummeted. He rolled his eyes to the left without moving his head. A second Tarnacki stood watching Bugs Bunny on the entertainment receiver.

Gripped by an almost immobilizing terror, Tim drew a slow, deep breath and began a mental countdown: Five... Four... Three... Two... One...

He bolted upright, grabbed the sofa cushion, and swung it like a bat. The impact hurled the first Tarnacki into the second and both tumbled into the bookcase. Thick, bluish smoke swirled from their pressure suits. One of them split open with a loud pop and a lime-colored, slug-like creature slithered out. The creature ballooned up, turned a deep shade of purple, and burst, splattering the walls with goo.

"Greetings galactic warrior," Kiz said, and stepped through the open front door.

"We're under attack!" Tim screamed. "Do something! Sound an alarm!"

Tim wanted to run, put as much space between him and the Tarnacki as possible, but Kiz just stood there blocking the exit, arms folded, antennae twitching.

"Initially, I was against the Council's decision to fabricate this scenario," Kiz said, as the mess vanished. "But after careful thought, I agreed it was necessary to test your bravery, ingenuity, and physical reaction to surprise situations."

Blood rushed and heated Tim's cheeks. "You set this up?" His voice pitched. "You?"

"Your assignment is too important not to test you at every level. You are the only one who can stop the Tarnacki invasion of Earth. You are the only human in the universe being given this opportunity. If you fail, everything will fail." Kiz turned around and stepped back outside without apology. "Time to start ground training."

* * *

Tim followed Kiz into a tube like the one they had entered when first boarding. A light flashed and the floor moved them silently through the air at an incredible rate of speed.

After a few moments, they slowed to a platform. An opening misted and they stepped into a whack of dry heat. Tim raised a hand to shield his face against blinding sunlight. To his amazement, they were standing several yards from the rim of a very deep and incredibly expansive canyon. He glanced over his shoulder at the door they'd come through. A rocky slope and thick forest of pines trees had replaced the opening.

"Tarnacki have established a base of operations here," Kiz said, and stepped to the edge. "You must learn to fight in this terrain."

Tim's knees buckled and he squatted down. Slowly, he crawled to the fringe as an uncontrollable tremor shook his body. Except for a narrow ledge that jutted out about thirty feet below, the cliff dropped almost straight down hundreds of feet to a blue squiggle of a river. A memory came back to Tim. He was only nine, but the frightening feeling of freefall when he slipped off the tree swing and the pain he'd felt from his shattered kneecap as he hit the ground remained as fresh in his mind as the day it had happened.

"You must climb down to that ledge," Kiz said. "That is the only way to gain entrance into the base."

Tim reversed until he was some distance away. He sat beside a large stump of what must have once been a mighty evergreen and curled his knees to his chest.

"What's wrong?" Kiz asked. "You are not behaving according to your profile."

Tim shuddered. "How should I be behaving?"

Kiz cocked his head. "Oblivious to the danger, of course."

"Oblivious? I'm scared to death!"

"Impossible! A phobia of this nature is not documented."

"I know what I'm feeling!"

Kiz reached over and tapped a rock. It morphed into a device similar in appearance to the organic sustenance dispenser. Kiz studied some colored lights and then crossed his arms. "I don't understand how the Council could have overlooked something so vital to the success of your assignment. You must scale the cliff to infiltrate the base."

"This is hopeless!" Tim cried, and lowered his head into his hands. "Just tell me if I reach the base. You already know if I do or don't."

Kiz looked up from the device and the black square became a rock again.

"We do not know precisely."

"But you know the future?"

"We know the pathway of time. Specifics are never absolute. Any number of factors in the present can change the outcome of any future event."

"I don't understand."

"When my species interacts with this dimension we become a part of the era of the moment. We can only interpret the outcome of events from this particular linear viewpoint. For instance, we do know the Tarnacki have invaded your planet; this is an absolute. We know you are the leader in the fight against them; this is also an absolute. And yes, we know whether you are successful or not, but only during this particular timeframe. Understand?"

"No," he replied, shaking his head. "I don't."

Kiz continued. "Suppose one week before the battle you break your foot, that is a minor, and very specific event; a single grain of sand in the infinite shoreline of time and possibilities. Such an injury gone unnoticed by the Council would leave you unable to properly lead an





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