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Nicholas Samuel Stember

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To Quell a Phoenix
By Nicholas Samuel Stember
Thursday, May 13, 2004

Rated "PG" by the Author.

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Recent stories by Nicholas Samuel Stember
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Published in "Cosmic Unicorn" Magazine, 1995
Copyright 1995 - Nicholas Samuel Stember, First Reprint and Electronic Rights Available

Approx. 5100 words long

TO QUELL A PHOENIX by Nicholas S. Stember Cheryl Danbury felt a mixed rush of fright and exhilaration flow through her body as the mammoth engines below her poured out fiery streams of combustion. The cabin around her began to shake from the pressure as she closed her eyes and accepted the strangely pleasing sensation of G forces. Slowly, the shuttle began its struggle to escape the gravity that held it to the Earth. Taking great efforts, she managed to turn her head to the left, settling her eyes on the shuttle's chief mission specialist, Haley Brooks. His deep brown skin was flushed against the muscles in his cheeks as he met her gaze and smiled reassuringly causing her to suddenly wish that she felt as calm as he. Sure, Cheryl chuckled silently, he and the rest of the crew are in the military, they've done this a dozen times before. I'm the lucky civilian who gets to be the passenger on this ride...unnecessary baggage, as pilot Stuart McKenna would say. But the young woman didn't care. Forcing her fear down, she allowed herself to fully enjoy what no civilian ever had before. She could barely hear the shuttle's commander, Kyle Randall, talking with mission control as she tried to calculate the time since liftoff. It felt as though the pressure had been on her forever, but she knew that it couldn't have been much more than a minute since the space craft left the ground. She was drawn out of her thoughts by the sudden blaring of a red light on the control panel up front as commander Randall reached to the switch below it. "We've got a problem," his voice rose above the din. Cheryl's exhilaration drained away, fuelling her fear to a near panic...'we've got a problem' was the last thing that she wanted to hear while trapped inside tons of metal that was hurdling toward space. "What's going on?" she frantically yelled to Haley, but the white terror in his eyes told her more than she wanted to know. She looked back up front, and was blinded by the sudden flash of brilliant azure light as the fireball engulfed the cabin. *** Cheryl stretched out her stiffened arms, feeling the soft mattress beneath her and sighed. "What a dream," she quietly mumbled while rolling over. "I think that nightmare better describes the situation," came from a voice that she recognized as shuttle pilot McKenna's. She sat bolt upright and drank in the stark surroundings. She was in a circular barracks of some sorts, with ten lavender beds set along the wall. The six members of the shuttle's crew were spread among these beds, all slowly regaining consciousness. She blearily gazed over at Kyle, who was sitting up in his bed, directly across from her. "Where are we, Commander?" "That should be an easy question," the pilot interrupted sardonically. "Perhaps we're in the local Holiday Inn." He sneered at the lone civilian. "We can call for room service if you're hungry." "That will be enough, Stuart," Kyle cut him off. "You're attitude isn't helping the situation." Then he turned to his left. "Haley," he sighed, "what happened?" "I'm not sure," the mission specialist admitted, "it looked like some sort of overload occurred." Cheryl felt the blood drain from her face as she glanced from one crewman to another. "What does that mean?" her trembling voice asked. "Are we supposed to be dead?" "Hardly," came from a strange voice to the side. She turned to see that the room's one door had silently opened, revealing a tall person standing in the doorway. Her gaze was instantly drawn to his flat, almost reptilian head which was completely hairless. His maroon leathery face twisted into a lipless smile as he strode in to the circular room, followed by two more of his kind. Cheryl stared at the strange beings in frank disbelief. They wore only simple white tunics, leaving their three toed, webbed feet uncovered. She tried shaking her head to snap herself out of the dream, but already knew that it was a useless gesture...this was all too real. Kyle quickly stood up to face them, and took a deep breath as he firmly extended his hand toward them in greeting. "I am commander Kyle Randall " "We know who you all are," the being responded quickly in his rough, whispery voice. "We have been anxiously waiting for you to awaken." He gazed down, settling his bulbous eyes on the commander's hand. Then he reached out, extending his own hand to clasp Kyle's, shaking it in the traditional manner. Cheryl watched with fascination as the commander's small hand was dwarfed by the webbed, three fingered hand that covered it. "Who are you?" she suddenly found herself asking, shocked that she had allowed her thoughts to become vocal. She felt herself shrink back as the three turned to face her. "Do not worry, Cheryl Danbury," the one that had greeted Kyle assured her, as he released the commander's hand and approached her. "We mean you no harm. We are a people that come from the other side of the galaxy." He looked back at the rest of the shuttle's complement, while broadening his alien smile to reveal a toothless grin. "You may call us Phellens, and my name is Ronas." He gestured to his two companions. "We are happy to welcome you aboard our vessel." "Vessel?" Haley asked in wonder. "You mean we're not on Earth?" "No," Ronas answered cheerfully, "you are safely in orbit high above your bountiful green world." "That makes you aliens," Stuart stated obviously, almost bluntly. "Perhaps," the Phellen answered with a nod of his wide head. "I would think it is a matter of perspective. Would you not agree, Cheryl Danbury?" Despite the direct question to her, she found herself smiling at the gentle tone from this strange being, and the pleasant manner of his attitude toward them. "I guess you're right," she admitted, "everyone's an alien to someone." "But this is our planet," the pilot quickly added, "not theirs." "We informed you that we are high above your world," another of the Phellens quietly reminded him. "But this is our stellar system," Stuart retorted. "So quick are you to claim the stars?" Ronas asked solemnly, then flashed an almost saddened look at his two companions. "He's just surprised at seeing you here," Kyle cut in before his pilot could snap out anything else, "as we all are." "Most understandable," Ronas admitted, his thin smile returning. "This must be unsettling to you all." This produced a general state of agreement throughout the shuttle's crew. "You must have many questions," Ronas continued soothingly. "Perhaps I can quell a few of them with this statement. We are here completing a routine observatory mission. This is something that we do on all developing planets. Our objective is to watch other species progress in their growth and maturity. We are a peaceful race who abhor violence of any kind." Ronas gazed lackadaisically at the circle of humans around him, as if he had given an unnecessarily long winded speech. "Does this help?" "I suppose," Kyle admitted thoughtfully as he looked to his crew for comments. "When was your last visit to Earth," Haley asked enthusiastically, given the implied consent of his commander, "and how long do you stay each time?" Ronas gestured to the door. "Perhaps we can answer your questions while showing you our vessel." After the commander gave his approval, the three aliens, and the crew of the shuttle left the circular room to enter a brightly lit corridor. Following the hallway's gentle curve, they passed a few oval doors, and the occasional Phellen, who would always stop to smile at the visiting humans. "To answer your questions," Ronas offered as they walked along, "the last time that we came was roughly 2500 B.C., by your calendar. Each visit is several hundred of your years long." "Hundred?" Cheryl blurted out. "How is that possible?" "I was present on the last voyage here, though very young at the time," Ronas admitted. "However, we do live quite long in human terms, many thousands of Earth years." He laughed warmly while placing a hand on the commander's shoulder. "Sometimes I wonder how you accomplish your goals in the short time you have." "We manage just fine," Kyle responded while walking into a room with a large window along the wall. "I guess we don't miss time that we never expected to have in the first place." Cheryl separated from the rest and approached the picture window, illuminated by the soft glow of the Earth below them. She felt her hands tremble as she placed them on the cool transparent material, bringing her nose within inches of the pane. Her emotions spun as the reality of what was happening finally sank in. I'm really on an alien space ship, she relented as she shook her head in wonder. Then it hit her...and she smiled broadly. Hell with being the first civilian in space, she silently laughed, I'm the first civilian to meet a Phellen. Then she turned to the rest of the group, anxious to begin this fantastic adventure. "Tell me Ronas," she asked while leaning against the window. "do you ever make contact with your subjects?" "After a time," the Phellen admitted, "when we think that it is necessary." He allowed the visitors to gaze at their home for a few more moments, then ushered them along to their next destination. They came to a large exhibit room, with ancient artifacts dotting the walls, and a large panorama on a table in the center. "This is my favorite place," Ronas admitted. "It is here that commemorates our last voyage to your unique world." Cheryl found herself staring at the objects along the walls, from ancient ceremonial headpieces, and wide swords with short flat blades, to the image of the sphinx that covered the ceiling. "You visited Egypt," she stated simply, as she walked to the table in the center. "Yes we did," Ronas admitted as he let the rest catch up with her around the exhibit. "This miniature scene depicts your world during our last contact." They all gazed at the brilliantly detailed model of a section of a desert with a wide river running through it. From the small people frozen in mimicry of life, to the scaled pyramids that dominated the scene from the past. However, the prevailing element of the model was the magnificent triangular space ship that hovered over one of the incomplete temples, a giant granite stone dangling from cables beneath it. "This answers so many questions," Cheryl said while gazing at the exhibit. "The intelligence of the ancient Egyptians, their great achievements." "And poses so many more questions," Haley added while looking around at some of the odder pieces. "Such as those." He pointed at an array of weapons on one wall, which included several futuristic looking pistols and a nastily pointed rifle. "The most important question," Kyle interrupted, "is what about us? Did you have anything to do with that fire on our shuttle?" "No," Ronas replied seriously. "Your shuttle had a flaw in one of its booster rockets that caused a chain reaction throughout the would have all been dead within seconds." Cheryl felt a wave of nausea sink into her stomach, as the memory of those few moments of terror came back. "Why did you save us?" she asked, though she was sure of the answer. "As we told you," Ronas responded, "we abhor violence, and treasure life in any form. We removed you from the shuttle moments before the explosion." "And our people below?" Kyle interjected. "They most likely assumed you all to have died. What was left of your craft landed in the ocean, I doubt they will even expect to find your remains." "So once again," Kyle asked slowly, "where does that leave us." "Here, I am afraid," the Phellen admitted. "We are not sure when we will make actual contact, and to return you before we were ready could have disastrous results." "For us or you?" snapped Stuart. "How long must we stay?" Kyle pursued while waving a hand to quiet his pilot. "Until we are ready," one of the Phellens informed him, "no more than seventy of your years." "Seventy?" shouted the pilot, "that's kidnapping." The entire crew faced the Phellens in astonishment, then began mumbling amongst themselves. All but Cheryl, who turned away from the scene and continued to gaze at the artifacts, all in perfect condition, and wondered if this had happened to any ancient Egyptians. The commander flashed Stuart a warning glare, then turned to face Ronas again. "As we discussed earlier," Kyle ventured hopefully, "humans have a short life span. We will most likely not survive seventy years to return home." "Do not worry," Ronas beamed reassuringly, "we will help you to age slowly, so that you will return home with but a three year loss to your biological lives." "But with a total loss to our personal lives," Kyle continued. "Many of us have wives or husbands back on Earth, not to mention children." Ronas let his bulbous eyes rest for a long moment on the commander, then he looked over to his companions, who solemnly shook their heads. "I am sorry, Kyle Randall," Ronas sorrowfully informed him, "there is nothing that we can do." "But there was so much that you must have done to help us before," Cheryl blurted out while turning to face the Phellen. "You must have changed life totally for the ancient Egyptians when you contacted them, and you saved us from dying in the shuttle. So what difference would it make to let us go home? Especially if you intend to make contact again anyway." Ronas seemed to pause, his thick maroon skin crinkling in thought. "We did have an impact on your people before, but that was a different era. You are far more paranoid as a species now than you were thousands of years it is, we have to exert massive energy to keep from being detected by your satellites and radar. And as for saving you, we told you that all life is precious to us. I am sorry, we cannot let you go back down...not yet at least." The Phellen suddenly widened his eyes, as if hopeful of a different tactic. "Think of all you will have to learn from us over the next seventy years. Then you can be ambassadors to your own people." He looked at his companions again, who seemed to nod their approval, then he faced the commander. "We must confer in private. You can remain here, simply ask the dispenser for what you want and it will provide it for you." The Phellens began to leave through the door they came in, when Ronas glanced back over his shoulder. "We will return shortly. Try to begin to enjoy your stay with us." They watched in silence as the three aliens left, then they all began to talk at once "Quiet," the commander ordered. "Will you all please be quiet." "What are we going to do, sir?" Haley asked, voicing everyone's question. "We will continue to try and reason with them," Kyle offered. "They are rational, intelligent beings, eventually they'll understand our position." "That's the plan?" Stuart scoffed. "It's obvious they just intend to keep us prisoners here." "They could have let us die," Cheryl intervened, fed up with the pilot's opinions. "Better that than being an addition to their collection here," he snapped back. "All right," Kyle interrupted, "that's enough." He waited until everyone was quiet, then let out the deep breath that he was holding. "This isn't going to get us anywhere. My position still stands, we'll try to reason with them some more." "Reasoning with them obviously is useless," Stuart began gain. "They've clearly made up their minds that we're here to stay." "So what's your point?" Cheryl grumbled. "That if we're going to escape than it's up to us." "Escape?" she responded, amazed at his lack of foresight. "First of all, it isn't like we're on some desert island. We're in orbit without our own ship. Second, you're forgetting the fantastic opportunity that we have here, to learn about these people. Think of what they can teach us." "To do what?" he laughed cruelly. "To be their captives?" The pilot gestured wildly at the model. "Look at their ship, hovering over all the humans like some floating god. And those weapons on the walls, how do we know that we weren't their slaves back then." Cheryl turned away from the pilot in disgust and leaned onto the glass case, letting herself become engrossed in its contents. "That's uncalled for, pilot!" Kyle snapped back at him. "There's nothing in that model that suggests anything but that the Phellens were aiding the Egyptians." "Yeah, right," Stuart scoffed, "I'm sure the Egyptians had nothing better to do than to build huge pyramids that did nothing other than point up into space, obvious markers for the alien space crafts." The commander's face stiffened in shock as he saw others of his crew nodding in agreement. It was plain to him that his pilot was influencing them. "And what would you have us do, Stuart?" "I'm not sure," the pilot relented. "But sitting here doing nothing surely isn't the answer." Cheryl felt the conversation fading into the background as she studied the meticulous details in the model of the scene...from the clothes that the Egyptians wore, to the hieroglyphic writing inscribed on the spaceship. Then her lips parted slightly in astonishment as she studied the fine detail on the half inch high figurines. A cold wave of numbness flushed through her veins, pulling her away from the table to the weapons on the far wall. She picked one of the fantastic looking pistols off the display, feeling the cool metal of the grip fit neatly into her hand. "Kyle," her voice trembled, "I think that something very strange is going on here." The commander broke from his argument to look over at their passenger, his eyes widening at the sight of the large pistol in her hand. "Cheryl?" "T they're ours," she stammered, "don't you understand? The weapons, the ship, all ours." "What are you talking about?" he asked, watching carefully as she approached. "Look at the Egyptian figures in the model," she instructed, as she felt her palm around the weapon grow damp. "Really look at them." Kyle leaned over the table to study the miniatures and felt his own mouth open in surprise. The detail was amazing, from the tunics and sandals that they wore, to the holsters around their waists that carried their firearms. He looked up at Cheryl in confusion, as she offered him the gun. Slowly he took it, feeling its heavy weight in his hands. "It's the same gun as the figurines are carrying," she stated, regaining her courage. "Feel the grip, commander, is that the grip a Phellen would use?" Kyle studied the weapon, letting his gaze focus on the tiny guard that encircled the bronze trigger, a guard far to small for the three fingered, webbed hand of the Phellens. "None of those weapons on the wall were designed for Ronas' people," she added firmly. "And look at the spaceship. Everything here in the Phellen vessel is rounded and curved, but the ship there is a sharp triangle. And the hieroglyphics on the ship where we would put a name. That's the symbol for the Egyptian goddess Bast. Why would the Phellens put a name like that on one of their ships?" She sucked in a deep breath, then let it out through her still shivering lips. "What are you trying to say?" Kyle questioned. "That the ship in the model and these weapons were made by humans? Or are you saying that they were made for us by the Phellens?" "I don't know," she replied wearily, "but something is very wrong, or else why wouldn't we have found such artifacts ourselves when doing archeological digs in Egypt? And why no record of us flying ships through the air back then?" "Space is more like it," added Haley as he pointed to the ship in the model. "That vessel is totally un aerodynamic. Therefore it must rely on stabilizing thrusters alone. Why build a craft like that if not to take it into space as well?" "Wait a minute," Kyle chuckled as he raised a hand. "Are you both trying to tell me that ancient Egyptians knew how to fly into space?" He turned to Cheryl. "What about after they left, what does history say about that period?" She thought for a moment, recalling the lessons she had taught back at her university in Manhattan. "From what the Phellens told us of when they were there, it was the end of an era for the Egyptian empire. After that the Egyptians fell apart for a long time, no more pyramids, only loose control of their was a dark time for them." "Maybe these weapons were to defend against an invasion," came from the pilot. "A war which they must have lost." "What?" "Why else for all the high tech weaponry?" Stuart speculated. "The Egyptians must have recognized the Phellens for what they were and tried to defend themselves." "That's ridiculous, Stuart," the commander refuted. "These weapons had to have been provided by the Phellens." "But they said that they abhor violence and treasure life in any form," the pilot added with a smirk. "Building weapons like these are hardly in keeping with that philosophy, is it?" The crew fell silent as the implication of what they had discovered sank slowly in, then the commander shook his head and sat down on a far couch. "No," he sighed. "There must be some explanation for all this." "There is," Stuart asserted, "and it's the one I've been telling you all along. We've got to get word to our government about these aliens, before it's too late." He grabbed one of the weapons off the wall, quickly surveying it for possible use now. "Now who's with me?" For a moment silence hung in the air like a guilty verdict, then one of the shuttle's crew grabbed a weapon off the wall, followed by a second, and a third. The pilot let out a satisfied grin as he surveyed his damage, then defiantly turned to face the commander, his followers behind him. "I want you people to put back those weapons," Kyle ordered while standing up to face his subordinate. "We are going to use diplomacy to obtain our goals here, not bloodshed." His words fell like winter snow on a deserted battlefield, only stirring the ice. Then he watched in grief as his chief mission specialist took a weapon as well, leaving him as the last crewman unarmed. "Haley...?" "I'm sorry sir," the mission specialist responded apologetically, "but the pilot is right, just sitting here is suicide." "I order you people to lay down those weapons," Kyle demanded as he strode forward to face the pilot. "I'm afraid that's not possible," Stuart refused with a smirk. "You see, Major Kyle Randall, we're the same rank. You have no authority over me." "I am the shuttle commander," Kyle shouted, his temper rising. "I don't see any shuttle here," Stuart laughed as he gestured around him. "It's because of the Phellens that we're imprisoned here " "It's because of the Phellens that we aren't a cinder at the bottom of the Atlantic," Cheryl snapped back, interrupting the pilot's call to arms. Stuart flashed a warning glare at her, his eyes darkening like a coming storm. Then he turned to the rest of the crew. "Now for a real plan of action--" They were all silenced as the far door slid open abruptly, allowing access to Ronas and his two companions. With blinding speed, Stuart raised the pistol up and pulled the trigger of the fantastic weapon. The crystal sides that housed the barrel glowed an iridescent sapphire for a moment, then died out. All shuttle members quickly turned to witness the results of the weapon, figuring it to have emitted an invisible laser charge but the Phellens just stood there stoically, their flattened faces devoid of emotion. "It is as I told you Ronas," the Phellen closest to the door whispered sadly as he shook his head. "They have not changed at all." "They are just not quite as developed this time," added the other. Ronas raised his thick hand to rub at his forehead methodically, then let out a sigh of desperation. "I am afraid you are right, my friends." He turned to them, leaving the humans in stunned silence. "The same treatment as before?" "What are you talking about?" Kyle interrupted, stepping forward to confront the aliens. "You are still a savage race," Ronas informed him as he faced the group, "and much too dangerous to allow into the cosmos." "Still?" questioned Cheryl. "Then this is a human ship building that pyramid." Ronas nodded solemnly. "When we first visited your planet, we were astounded at how quickly you had advanced technologically. In just a few hundred years you had advanced from bows to space faring vessels." He walked over and placed his hands lightly on the casing over the model, almost as if caressing a loved one. "We came to welcome you to a new existence, the ambassadors representing hundreds of peaceful races that inhabit this galaxy. But when we arrived you were still a violent people. You carried weapons of destruction, and were arming your ships to have the same." He shut his eyes, as if closing out a virulent horror. "We realized that you were too intelligent, and had achieved space flight without maturing as a species." "So you came to destroy us," Stuart accused, while gripping the useless pistol angrily. "No," Ronas quickly refuted while facing them. "We told you, we abhor violence of any kind, and value all life. We decided to erase your technological knowledge and place you back where you had been hundreds of years before." "But this makes no sense," Cheryl voiced as she approached Ronas. "There's no evidence of technologically advanced cities on Earth from that era, let alone space ships." "That is because we did our job well," one of the Phellens commented from behind Ronas. "All evidence was removed, and primitive cities and villages were placed instead. Your people never knew what had been taken away from them." "But we knew how intelligent a species you were," Ronas continued. "So we dulled your intellectual ability so that it would take you longer to achieve space flight this time...and it did, almost four thousand years." "But why?" she questioned, desperate to understand. "We hoped that if it took longer for you to grow technologically, then you would mature by the time you reached space again...and could affect others in the stars." He stared at their shocked faces for a moment, then shook his head sadly again. "But I see that it was not enough. This time we will have to dull your senses so deeply that it will take you another thousand years to reinvent the wheel." "Now wait a minute," the commander stepped in. "What gives you the right to place judgement on us?" "The right of peace throughout the galaxy," Ronas commented while gesturing to the weapons in the crews' hands. "But we've matured so much since those days," Cheryl pleaded on humanity's behalf. "To judge us by the foolish actions of a few isn't right." "Have you truly matured?" Ronas asked doubtfully. "Judge yourselves by your newest creation, your shuttle. Do you use it to explore and find new ways to feed the misfortunate, or to supply a worldwide source of energy? No, you use it primarily to place military satellites in orbit to hover over your enemies...and your friends." "Then why don't you just kill us?" Stuart spat angrily. "It would be far more humane than lobotomizing us." Ronas let a weak smile come to his lipless face as he shook his head. "It is interesting how easily you use the word humane, while a weapon is clutched in your hands. But, no, we are not destroying your brains, or your intellect...merely slowing it down. As for killing you, we already told you that the very thought of that is repulsive to our minds precisely why we can not have your kind in space yet. Perhaps this time, you will develop slowly enough to mature into a peaceful race by the time we need to contact you again, probably in ten or twenty thousand years." "What about us?" Cheryl asked quietly, almost afraid of the answer. "You will be sent home, to start your lives again." Ronas gazed sadly at Cheryl's shimmering eyes, then smiled gently. "Do not worry, I am sure that there is hope for your people yet. But for now, it is better this way." "No," Stuart yelled while lunging toward Ronas, his hands outstretched to clutch the Phellen's throat. But he fell short his mark, as the room filled with a familiar flash of brilliant azure light, stunning them all into senselessness. *** Cheryl stopped walking, allowing the feel of the fine grass beneath her bare feet to sooth her with its cool softness. She gazed across the lush forest that covered her large island, admiring its simple beauty that was slowly becoming masked by the iridescent twilight. How lucky she felt to live in this wonderful place, away from the nomadic tribes of the west. Then a shadow of doubt crossed her lightly tanned face, as she looked across the edge of the forest and out onto the shore. Why did all this suddenly seem strange, when she knew that she had lived on this island her entire life. Walking out onto the warm sands, her gaze roamed across the gentle rolling waters, back toward the mainland...something was missing. She stared intently at the ocean, suddenly feeling as if there should have been a magnificent idol reaching up from the waters toward the gods, lit by the brilliant torch that it held in its out stretched arm. For what seemed an eternity to her, she stared at the empty waters, then glanced up into the darkening night sky. One of the points of light that illuminated the heavens glowed brightly for an instant, then flashed across the sky. Cheryl laughed, entranced by the magnificent grace of the dancing light, then smiled, allowing her mind to clear of her troubled thoughts, certain that they couldn't have been that important after all.  

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Reviewed by Jim Dunlap 5/24/2004
Interesting story. I've written a few of sci fi poems that come at it from that angle, and even had a few of them published.
Reviewed by Nickolaus Pacione 5/16/2004
You got yourself quite the imagination when it comes to writing Sci-Fi; and this story is well written on that field. I can see where you are going to be an influence in the near future. I am doing a recommendation of this one on my blog. Keep cranking them out, you have a gift for the imagination and this is a walk into the depths of that imagination. I came into reading this one after reading some of his horror stories, highly recommended. A writer that is related in style to his will be the writer, Joni Latham. I have grown to have a strong correspondence with both writers and grown to have a respect for their talents in horror and Sci-Fi. You new guys just getting into writing the genre -- read the story "The Third Rule" because that is basically shows them how its done.

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