Prompt: SI potential original story

Story by FeuerfoxKA8 on SoFurry

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#1 of Original Fiction

Well, this is something I thought I'd put out into the ether. I may or may not expound on this further.

This is a prompt I had been following as a possible retelling of my 'Man Vs. Planet' story, which was actually originally written to get over a particularly bad breakup and to flood my FA gallery with submissions that the ex-partner would have to wade through. It worked, after a fashion, but due to the comments I receive on it from time to time, I apparently created a monster. As that story follows a similar plotline to Zero Point, I admit that updating it hasn't been incredibly high on the priority list.

A conversation with a friend a while ago brought a prompt for a possible re-envisioning of that story, but instead of involving the Star Fox universe, perhaps it might be better off as original fiction? I'll leave this somewhat polished piece here with the hopes of generating some feedback. This is rated adult due to violence and the exploration of what it might be like to have actually killed someone. As usual, I don't really write anything explicitly sexual though I might use this one as a vehicle to explore more risque' stuff than my normal stories.

For those of you who have been wanting my more regular pieces, the next chapter of Zero Point has been completed, but needs a little polishing before I post it. Keep an eye out; I should have it up here in the next few days!

The white lines dividing the highway flashed underneath the glare of the headlights like a primitive animation, streaks of light flashing past to lie dormant under a cold, dark Colorado night. The pale green glow of my car's instrumentation was a comforting counterpart to the foreboding scenery outside. What was a vista of natural wonders during the day turned into a dark, eldritch abyss at night. Having been born and raised in cities most of my life, there wasn't much love lost for the wilderness. Especially when it meant roaring down a dark highway at one in the morning with no sign of civilization for miles.

Western Colorado was like that. This state had ninety percent of the landmass of the UK, yet possessed maybe one fifth of its population. While I had once lived on the rather populous I-25 corridor on which Denver sat, the rural highway extending north from the small town of Ouray was completely deserted. If it wasn't for the fact that the terrain was quite treacherous and only a puny guardrail separated my Japanese-made hotrod from the road and a likely fatal drop off the side of what most non-natives would consider a mountain, it would have been a decent night drive.

I was only here at the behest of one of my friends. He wanted to go out here for his wedding and subsequent honeymoon, and wanted me there. Who was I to say no? Even if it meant coming back to a friend's house at the wee hours of the morning just to get enough sleep for the cross-country trek back home to Louisiana. It had been a pretty disappointing vacation, anyway. Call me a cynic but I wasn't big on the romance thing. Hard to get excited about someone else's happiness when you had a pretty antagonistic outlook on that particular concept, right?

The crooning of Lyle Lovett's duet with Emmylou Harris competed with the dull grumble of the engine under my car's hood. The inhospitable environment outside was the deciding factor in my musical selection, country songs I had grown up on during my childhood. Being the son of a country musician would do that to you, even if my tastes now swung more toward the grunge and alternative side of things. Having Layne Staley keep me company seemed to not fit the mood of the slightly uncomfortable, half-tired drive I was making, so Lyle Lovett it was.

The road was completely desolate, devoid of even late-night truckers bringing in goods to Ouray. That was likely typical for an early Tuesday morning, and the thought of not having to compete with semi trucks on a somewhat dangerous two-lane highway relaxed me a little bit. I once again scanned the gauges and instruments to get a good feel of how my car was faring during the trip. I was headed at a rate of just under sixty miles per hour, the manual shifter was sitting happily in fifth gear, my fuel gauge had dipped slightly underneath the full mark, and my previous experience indicated my gas mileage was hitting somewhere in the low-thirties. Not too bad for an old turbocharged four-banger.

The weather was pretty clear, although the lack of any decent moonlight made for a trip into an inky void except for the area my high beams illuminated. You did have to watch it through the mountains, though. The weather could change at the drop of a hat any time of the year; a clear night could turn into a rainstorm or even sleet, despite it being summer. As I roared down the highway I stabbed a finger at the audio controls, the old country tune snapping off and replaced with something a bit more jarring.

The voice which came out from the device sitting on the console was quite similar to the old DECtalk synthesizer used by Stephen Hawking, but was currently piping out weather information. It was an old weather band receiver; something I didn't use very often but was pretty useful the few times I had needed it. "...northeastern Ouray county, partly cloudy. Winds of six miles per hour coming from the north. Chance of precipitation ten percent. The current temperature is fifty-six degrees..." I stabbed the button again, allowing my MP3 player to continue piping in the music being delivered from the stereo. Lyle Lovett had given way to Van Morrison's Brand New Day. Other than a long drive ahead of me through some tight, unfamiliar roads in the middle of the night, things were going pretty good. The town of Montrose was miles behind me, and I hadn't hit Blue Mesa Reservoir yet; Colorado's largest body of water. It was time to settle in for the long haul.

I didn't receive much warning at first. A few drops of rain splattered on my windshield and the outside air wafting in through the vents. This was early August and while snow in the higher elevations wasn't unheard of it was fairly rare. Especially with the weather station reporting no such thing. I pursed my lips and spoke the first words I had uttered since getting into the car. "That's damn strange."

The rain intensified over the next few miles, slowing my pace down from sixty to a mere forty. This would add some time to my travels, which I wasn't very happy about. Suppressing a grumble I downshifted into fourth gear, mentally cursing the clueless meteorologists who missed this particular stormy nugget. I could smell the humidity pouring through the vents; a quick push of the temperature slider started to ward off the chill that came with it.

My trusty Toyota plowed through the rain and intermittent gusts of wind, the weather picking up quite nastily. I hit the weather band button once more only to hear the standard recorded message: a decently clear night devoid of any storms. Nothing about what I had been driving through the past eight or ten miles. Disgustedly I punched it off, returning me to a more upbeat, thrilling playlist than I had been plodding along to. For some reason I had been growing tired. I shouldn't be; I had a decent dinner and a Red Bull in me.

An idea sprung to mind. Jacob and Kerri should still be awake. It was their honeymoon, after all, and they were kind of the party hard types. Good for them, even though I had to leave their wedding festivities a few days early due to obligations back home. I pushed the call button on my stereo, bringing up a voice prompt. A spoken command later, the iPhone in my pocket was busy connecting with the one my friend possessed.

Jacob's voice was garbled with the weaker than usual cellular reception, but he was at least somewhat intelligible. "Hey? You alright?" His answer was indicative of the fact he hadn't expected my call so soon.

"Kinda. Did you hear about any storms going on? I'm about twenty miles the other side of Montrose and it's getting pounded." I was pretty confused, but at least the handsfree allowed me to keep my attention on the road. "Weather station isn't saying jack about it."

"Let me jump on the Net right quick and check." As I heard the POST beep of his booting laptop he thankfully kept me company. "Sorry we didn't get out plinking like I was hoping to. We still need to test out that new wedding present, right?"

"Damn right." I responded."Not every day that you get an AR15 as a wedding present. I expect a rain check when I'm out here next time." Admittedly that was fairly extravagant but he deserved it. He was about the only other person I knew who had worse luck with the ladies than I did. At least Kerri gave a shit about him, and her family treated him like he was one of their own. That was a far cry from what his ex-wife ever hoped to be, but I digress.

As Jacob and I waited for his laptop to fire up a crapware-laden Windows XP installation, my attention was more or less drawn to the rapidly-changing road conditions. What was even stranger was that a fog seemed to be rolling in, a change from the rain which was far less than welcomed. I snapped my high beams off, allowing the Toyota's fog lights to do their duty of kicking in. "Uhm, it's getting pretty damn foggy out right now." The visibility was dropping and my speed dropped accordingly. I went from forty to twenty in about a minute, downshifting into second to put the engine into a more suitable powerband. "Thick as pea soup out here. What the hell's going on?"

Unfortunately, the reply was garbled. The weather was fucking with the cell reception out here. "Can... says that... should... ...ear. Why... not... can't say." I sighed, annoyed at the horrible circumstances that seemed to be piling up one after the other. I was about to ask Jacob to repeat what he said, but the stereo display decided to flash at me. The call had dropped.

I immediately hit the redial button. Nothing happened. With an annoyed growl I cast a quick look at the reception meter on the stereo's screen. No bars. Just f'ing great. Exactly what I needed right now. The music kicked in once again, Mick Jagger's voice belting out the lyrics to 2000 Light Years From Home. The song was a strange counterpart to the chaos outside, and as I looked back on what transpired over the next few minutes could have been considered proof that the universe has one fucked-up sense of irony.

The transition wasn't that dramatic, as I recall. One moment I was peering through the rain and mist, trying to make out the outline of the road. The next I felt the rear end of my car get squirrely; the suspension shuddering like each of my tires had been punctured. That caused me to slam on the brakes, my Celica sliding to a halt as I fought the wheel to keep it from spinning out. The rain still came down and the fog was still around. I was on Highway 50 in the middle of nowhere, and I had at least one damn flat. I wasn't getting any cell reception, and I hadn't seen another vehicle in the past half-hour. I was completely alone and completely fucked. Happy fucking Tuesday.

I sat there for a minute before switching the ignition off and switching the hazard lights on. Perhaps only one tire had a blowout. My car had a full-sized spare and I could make it back home if I changed that out. Doing it in the rain would suck, but maybe I stood a chance of getting back home at a decent hour. It was worth a shot. My hand reached for the door handle and pulled it; the subtle pop of the latch releasing echoed like a gunshot in the silence.

I stepped out and felt a pliable, crunching noise underfoot. I should have been on the road or at least a paved shoulder, not rough gravel. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness and cloying fog, something didn't seem quite right. I had been driving on a major state highway, but I was on a pretty narrow dirt path. My heart started racing. "What the hell?" I whispered to the silent, still night around me, senses springing into overdrive. Something was seriously not right here. I was pretty damn sure I hadn't pulled off on a side road.

I reached into my pocket and pulled out my phone. The iPhone made a decent short-range flashlight, which would be enough for me to inspect any damage on my car. The rain was letting up and the fog was rolling out much to my pleasant surprise. Changing out a tire on a dirt road had its challenges; using a jack in the mud would be nearly impossible. I kicked at the dirt, arching an eyebrow at the fact it was still pretty dry. I was on a major paved state highway in the midst of a freak rainstorm. Now I was on a dirt road which should have been a mud-soaked mess. To say that something didn't compute was putting it lightly.

Wherever I was, my first priority was to check my vehicle. If something was busted, I faced the fact I could be out here for hours in an area where cell reception was pretty much nonexistent. I could either hoof it and find someone's house, or wait here and hope a passerby would come along. If my car was just fine, then I could just figure out where my GPS led me wrong and get back on the highway. I was naturally praying for the latter.

Using the glow of my phone's LCD display, I did a quick check of each tire. They were just fine. A quick check underneath revealed no puddles of leaking fluid, and I didn't see anything amiss when opening the engine compartment. I had a couple bottles of oil just in case, as well as a spare jug of coolant. You didn't drive out into the sticks without some preparation. After an incident when I was younger involving a friend's Honda throwing a timing belt and stranding us for several hours, I made sure to keep some sort of an emergency kit in any vehicle I owned.

Either way, I wouldn't need it. I had a nearly full tank of gas and my Celica was good to go. After sliding back into the driver's seat I fired up the willing engine and switched on the GPS. That's when I ran into my first problem. The display showed absolutely no GPS reception. Just fecking great. A glance at my phone told a similar story, the legend "No Service" displayed where the carrier's logo should have been. I guessed the only way I could go was back toward the highway I apparently had turned off of.

I switched the headlights on as I popped the shifter into first gear and eased off the clutch. The dirt road snaked forward, rutted with the passage of narrow-wheeled vehicles which spoke of a decided lack of maintenance. I was driving a 1988 Toyota Celica GT-Four; one of a handful of the all-wheel drive models created for rally competition. While designed for racing in these conditions, my car's rarity made me quite cautious about how I drove it. I wasn't looking forward to beating the suspension to hell and chewing up the paint on a road in this particular shape, so I kept things slow. I could already hear the clattering of pebbles being kicked up into the wheel wells, which made me cringe. At least the rain had vanished along with the fog.

I decided to switch to the weather band radio. Punching the button only got me static. That didn't make any sense. A quick check of the AM and FM bands only produced static as well. No phone, no GPS, and no radio? The hiss of white noise was unnerving, so I just switched the radio off. Did something happen? An overactive imagination started making up implausible, ridiculous scenarios. Was I the sudden, unaware survivor of some sort of nuclear event, like something straight out of Jericho? An Eric Flint-style 'Ring of Fire' scenario? Most likely I was in a hell of a dead spot, but my mind continued to wander.

I had made a four point turn to get my Celica headed in the opposite direction. The 'road' was barely able to carry two cars at once; I'm sure that encountering another car would have nearly put us both in the ditch. The surroundings were a thick pine forest, not that dissimilar from the ones surrounding my hometown in Louisiana. Other than the rumble and roar of my car's engine and the constant clatter of gravel, everything else was eerily silent.

The next couple of hours passed by as if they were years. I kept a slow, constant speed, aware that I was lost and had finite fuel available. Every few minutes I checked my phone, GPS, and radio; none of those gave any indication of receiving any signals. Either way things were going pear-shaped relatively quickly.

Another half hour passed before I actually reached somewhere. Even with a frustrated mindset my jaw dropped as I came across a scene that more fitted my native state of Louisiana than anywhere I knew about in Colorado. As Steve Kilbey sang about a hundred fifty grand in blood money I eased my GT-Four onto a tightly built cobblestone path that signaled the end of the dirt road I had been coasting down. The powerful high beams revealed a stone fence at the far end of the road, and beyond that I could just make out a rather wide river cutting a path through the dense forest I somehow found myself in.

That didn't curb the awful gut feeling that something was wrong, and I didn't mean the steak I ate at the Outlaw a few hours ago. The sky had already started to fade away from black to that overcast shade of gray that heralded a quickly approaching dawn. I took the time to glance at the digital clock next to the radio, shining an impersonal 3:26 to the darkened interior. The sun had absolutely no business being up at three-thirty in the morning.

"Seriously? Really, seriously?" I spat my frustrations to whatever deities were listening at that exact moment. "Give me a leg up for once in my life and then pull this kind of shit on me?" Out of force of habit I shut the car off as I opened the door, opting to fish inside my glovebox for the real flashlight I kept in there instead of having to rely on my phone.

I emerged into the impossibly predawn air, thick with the humid, heavy scent of running water and carrying a hint of a chill. The burble of the river carried clearly, intermixed with the calls of awakening birds I had absolutely no idea how to identify. Using a combination of my car's headlights and my flashlight I scanned the area, looking for a signpost or some other sign of civilization. I had just wandered onto someone's private property, that's all. I lost track of time, or I somehow forgot to set my clocks for the change in time zone when I drove out here. That's all. There was a perfectly rational explanation for this.

I found what I was looking for at the mouth to the dirt road I had emerged from; a tall, ornate wrought iron signpost fixed into the stone fence which lined the road. The directional arrows pointing down the dirt path and in both directions along the cobblestone road were the only elements I recognized. Inset into the black on white text was a flowing script I couldn't decipher at all. It looked vaguely similar to but not quite like a cross between Hindi and Arabic. Either way it was all Greek to me. The rational explanations continued as I continued to stare at the sign. Private land, sure. Perhaps some sort of religious commune that managed to find the mother of all dead spots. Despite the strange language someone around here made that sign, and it was a good bet that _someone_around spoke English. Hell, I'd use my passable German and smattering of Russian and Spanish if that's what it took to get directions back to US 50.

Unfortunately, all the rational explanations were completely shattered by what happened next. The voice from behind me caused me to jump, my right hand instinctively reaching underneath my white linen shirt as I turned around. There was absolutely no rational explanation for what I was seeing and hearing. Absolutely none at all.

Three figures had apparently materialized from the woods behind me, all dressed in midnight blue hooded robes with blood red trim. They looked as ornate and otherworldly as the sign I had been staring at. Two had the stockier, taller builds of men; the one who hung back a little bit was smaller and more slender. Perhaps a female or a teenage boy? It was hard to tell from the robes. The golden quarterstaff in that one's hands and the short sword lazily held in the lead man's grasp wasn't inspiring confidence.

The voice spouted out a question in a very flowery, elegant language. It sounded like a question and he expected an answer. Wouldn't he expect someone driving onto their property to be speaking English? I decided to respond. "Sorry, I don't speak your language. Any of you speak English?" I decided to try German for good measure. "Ich verstehe Deutsch, auch."

The smaller one turned to the others and said something in a low voice I couldn't pick up. After a moment he or she stepped forward and tried again, this time speaking clear yet accented English. "We bid you welcome, traveler, to the domain of High Priest Lersat." The voice was clearly feminine. "We ask that you come with us to... speak with Lersat." She hesitated a little bit when she spoke.

I don't know what tipped me off. Something about her voice, the hesitation, or the entire situation just sent alarm bells ringing through my head. Something was definitely not right in this corner of the world. "Listen, I'm sorry about accidentally trespassing. If you can point me back to the highway I'll gladly move along. I'm kind of on a timetable here." I took a tentative step back towards my car, keeping my eyes on the two guys. Between the hoods and the relative darkness I couldn't see their faces, but they weren't fools. The guy to my left almost mirrored my movement in a possible attempt to block off any line of quick escape.

"It is not that... simple. We insist you come with us." She lost all of her politeness, her insistence more of a command than anything else. They weren't cops and despite it being their religious retreat they had absolutely no legal grounds to hold me here. The sickening feeling that something was about to happen caused my hands to shake.

"No." My answer was short and simple. "If you want to press charges, go ahead and call the county sheriff. I'll wait here for them to show up, but I'm not coming with you." The tone of voice I took must have gotten through to them, because the two guys took a step forward; the one with the sword raised it in a threatening manner.

"We won't ask you again." The lady snarled. "Come with..." I saw an opportunity and took it. I took off backwards, certain of the relative safety of my car. As long as I could get to it and drive away I would be fine. A surprised shout came from sword-guy as he took a vicious swipe at me; the glittering steel blade flashing in front of my eyes as he missed.

I didn't bother looking back as they gave chase. I wasn't wearing robes and didn't have to worry tripping over them while they did. The partially open door of the Celica was beckoning to me; safety and a means of self-defense were only a few yards away. That was before I had the dubious honor of being subjected to... whatever it was.

One moment I was rushing towards my car and the next I was flat on my back, somehow staring at the rear bumper of the vehicle. My peripheral vision caught a glimpse of the female figure pointing the quarterstaff at me, its end glowing in a freakish display of blue light. That wasn't supposed to happen.

I had other worries. The other two were closing in on me and I was running out of time. The trunk! My hand slapped upwards, pushing in the lock mechanism as I scrambled to my feet. I needed something, anything to ward off these maniacs. Packed in with my suitcase and computer bag were a few other direct means of self-defense, but I didn't have enough time to pull out any of the firearms I had brought with me to go plinking.

Instead, my hand wrapped around the torque wrench I used to change between my track and street wheels. It was a hefty chunk of metal, about three feet long and meant to tighten some very serious stuff. It would be enough to block that guy's sword and give him a reason to regret this particular turn of events. Sword-guy rounded the corner as I came up with the wrench, slamming the tool down on his blade with as much force as I could. The improvised weapon actually impacted upon his wrist, making me cringe at the snapping noise and the shriek of pain which followed. He tilted his head back, revealing a sight that stopped me in his tracks. He... he wasn't human.

An elongated muzzle and crimson fur greeted my shocked gaze as I heard the clatter of his sword slipping from its grasp, kissing the rear bumper of my car before it met the cobblestones underneath. Yeah, I had seen more than my fair share of furry artwork and cartoon characters over the years, but that was supposed to be fantasy. Not some sort of twisted reality. I didn't really get the connection until later, but the fox-man in front of me snarled, fumbling for something underneath the folds of his robe. A primal voice inside my head screamed at me, cutting through the shock. I had no choice but to act.

The fox-man was a few inches shorter than I was, and perhaps weighed fifty pounds less than my portly 210. I wasn't in the best of shape; a mostly sedentary life and a corporate IT job that kept me in an office most of the time wasn't kind to my physical fitness. However, I did have him dead to rights. I snapped the torque wrench down as hard as I could muster, the heavy steel construction slamming into his shoulder with another sickening snap. This time he went down, and the two astonished figures that were hanging back seemed to leap into action. This time I'd need more than a torque wrench.

I made a mad dash for the passenger door, the sounds of screaming, angry voices, and running footsteps hot on my heels. I pulled the door open, desperately reaching for the leather holster on the passenger seat; the one I shouldn't have taken off. My concealed handgun training paid off the moment the other robed figures rushed around the vehicle. There was no time for hesitation; my life was in danger and it was either me or them.

The female shifted her staff at me at about the same time the sights of my Glock 19 fell upon her center mass. It was over before it happened. Curiously I didn't notice any noise; only the slap of recoil against my palm and the robed figure falling backwards. A harsh buzzing, whistling noise snapped me back to reality. Something had flashed past my vision. I glanced around to see the remaining figure turning around, frantically drawing back the string on a wicked-looking crossbow. My adrenaline surging, I brought the pistol up once more and shouted.

"Drop the fucking weapon! Right now! I swear to God I'll shoot!" A split second of hesitation was all I had; the figure making up his mind and forcing me to make up mind. The crossbow was leveled at me, but I was already pulling the trigger.

This time I heard the gunshots, a rapid string of three cracking out as the robed assailant crumpled to the ground. The silence was nearly as deafening as the rounds I had fired, heavy with the realization I had just taken two lives and severely injured someone else. I can't tell you how much of a sickening, disheartening feeling it was. Even with the adrenaline coursing through my system a sharp pang of guilt caused me to drop the still smoking pistol as if it had become red-hot. I had just killed two people.

Zero Point Chapter 23: Restoration

Brian drew a heavy sigh as he glanced at all the gear laid out in front of him on the shuttle's dining room table. They were about to return to action far too early, and that meant that he had some hard decisions to make. The wrong choice could spell...

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Zero Point Chapter 22: Palaver

_ "It's hard to imagine that nothing at all could be so exciting... could be so much fun..."_ The slow music, accentuated by Mick Hucknall's soulful crooning, filled the lounge. Dimmed lighting cast a dull yellow glow on a gray tile floor and walls the...

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Man Vs. Planet Chapter 8

Chapter 8: Collective Bargaining. "Okay, let me down." Krystal complied with my wish, setting me down gently at the base of the tree I had pointed her toward. As my hearing was still literally shot her telepathy was the only way she could...

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