test-pilot by ahmed.1987

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									                                    Test Pilot

                               John H. Carroll

                      Published by John H. Carroll at Smashwords

                            Copyright 2009 John H. Carroll



    This story is dedicated to the emo bunnies who would like very much to ride in a
                                        spaceship.


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                                          ***

     Captain Gregg Johnson walked down a hallway on Moonbase City. It was a
dumbass name for a city on the moon. If the bosses let him name the cities, they’d have
good names like . . . Godiva Glow City, or . . . Batcave City or something cool like
that. Didn’t matter to him what they named the city though, not his job. Whatever.
     He grunted at a private who was saluting him, but kept walking with coffee in hand.
Why the hell officers needed people to salute was beyond him. He had his job and did it.
He let others do their jobs. That didn’t make him or them any better than each other. If
he had his way, he’d get rid of ranks. They were unnecessary and stupid. Everyone
should just do their jobs and get on with it. Whatever, that wasn’t his job either.
     Gregg Johnson was a test pilot in the Skull Squadron. The symbol for their
squadron was a skull, because death was usually the end result of being a member.
Gregg’s job was to get in the cockpit of new spaceships and find out what they could do.
Amazing spaceships were being made with numerous new advances every year and
needed to be tested to ensure they didn’t randomly blow up.
     Ever since The Company had secretly bypassed governments and made their own
space program, technology had been expanding at an extraordinary rate. No one knew
who ran The Company or how it started. It was just named “The Company”. Stupid
name. If Gregg had any say . . . well, he didn’t so there was no use worrying about it.
Not his job. Whatever.
     Now governments, private companies and even individuals with asinine dreams
were in a big race to develop new technologies and gain any advantage. Most wars had
stopped because they cost too much and the equipment and trained individuals used for
space exploration were too important to go around destroying in battles.
      Things were changing at a furious pace. Education was being brought to third world
countries so there would be more people to discover new technologies. Even if only one
in ten thousand people actually discovered something new, it was worth it for the edge.
Those third world countries still didn’t have a lot of food or many of the other things they
needed to prosper, but they had all the education imaginable. Computers were
everywhere in the world now, cheap and easily accessible, and there were online schools
and colleges available to anyone. The people who did exceptionally well were grabbed
by The Company or other entities to work in their programs. They were given further
education and training in whatever profession they excelled in.
      Numerous bases around the solar system existed where countries vied for position
and power. The Company was the most powerful entity of all, but didn’t try to interfere
in politics. New technologies were being developed and tested all the time and chaos
ensued as a result. The mortality rates for testing those technologies were high, but any
complaints about such things were shoved aside in order to meet goals and deadlines. It
wasn’t only things like spaceships, equipment, and new materials being tested, but
medicines, social habits, and psychology as well.
      Being a test pilot didn’t just mean testing spaceships. As it stood now, the average
pilot couldn’t fly a spaceship in anything but a straight line. Computers did most of the
piloting and navigating. Gregg was exceptional, but even he couldn’t normally make
decisions fast enough to do necessary tests. Plus, the human body wasn’t equipped to
handle space; it had to be augmented in various ways. So the doctors had made certain
adjustments to Gregg’s body. He agreed to it because he didn’t have any other plans for
his life and he liked being more than the average human.
      His skin was one of the things modified. Skin would be rapidly destroyed by
various aspects of space, especially if a suit was damaged. There were suits that
protected the body for a little while, but a test pilot needed more than that. Gregg didn’t
understand what they had done to him as it was complicated, but somehow his skin could
last outside of a spacesuit for a little over ten minutes now. Another modification was to
his internal organs. They were reinforced to be able to take a certain amount of strain.
His favorite change was the metal/plastic stuff the doctors weaved into his bones. He
hurt like hell for months after they did it, but now he felt invincible. The bones could still
break, and had, but it was harder to do.
      For the most part, he looked normal. Except for his eyes; those looked freaky. The
Irises were a metallic blue, and the whites were actually silver. He didn’t know what the
doctors had done to those either, it was even more complicated. The Company was the
only organization with human modification technology this advanced, but they didn’t
have voters to please and ignored cries of outrage made by humanitarians.
      Drugs and fluids were pumped in and out of his body at scheduled times. It still
freaked him out when they did it, but he had gotten over it for the most part. That’s
where he was coming from now. The doctors had done a fluid exchange and
enhancement on Gregg, and then gave him a pill he didn’t remember ever taking before.
He realized that it was new because there was another consent form to fill out, which
basically said if it kills you, you agree not to hold The Company responsible. Gregg
didn’t even look at them anymore, just sign and get on with it. All he knew was that his
veins felt itchy again like they did whenever he underwent the fluid transfer.

                                             ***

      Doctor Harry Mofou was a bit mad and extraordinarily brilliant at the same time.
He made the cool shit Gregg liked most; weapons, suits, equipment and gadgets. Gregg
got to test those as well. The latest item the doctor had given him was the hand cannon, a
repeating laser pistol. Most laser pistols and rifles just shot a beam that holed something
nearby, whether rocks, people or metal walls. They were dangerous enough that very
few people were allowed to have one. The hand cannon had eight compact firing tubes
that shot out repeating beams generated by a new energy source Gregg didn’t understand;
something to do with solar and gamma power recharging systems. It was complicated.
Whatever. All he knew was that he wasn’t actually allowed to fire it . . . ever. But it sure
did look nice sitting on his hip.
      He entered a large lab with a lot of tables. Junk was spread over those tables; parts,
pieces and various items. Male and female scientists worked on devices beyond Gregg’s
understanding. Six testing rooms were spread around the edge of the lab, each with
windows so observers could watch the tests. Workers were cleaning blood and body
parts from one of the rooms where it looked like a test had gone bad.
      A couple of other members of the Skull Squadron were being fitted with new
equipment. One was a newbie who looked extremely nervous, glancing at the workers
cleaning up body parts. Her hair was dark and straight and she had a tan, unusual to see
on people stationed on the moon. The cute young woman must be very new, just from
Earth. Gregg might just have to hook up with her if she survived whatever she was
testing.
      “Hey Doc, what’s up?” Gregg said as he approached an older bald man with
rectangle glasses, crazy eyes and a pristine lab coat.
       Doctor Mofou turned around from the device he was working on. “Ahh, there you
are. Come along, Captain. I think you’re going to like what I have to show you.” He
gestured for Gregg to follow him to another lab, which required a DNA scan of the
doctor to enter. Once that was passed, they walked in to a room with well organized
equipment; laser weapons, tools, suits and other items.
      The good doctor led him to a suit in the middle of the room. Gregg thought it was
black at first glance, but looking closer, he saw stars floating in it. He got right up next to
it and stared, turning his head left and right a little bit. There were definitely stars
floating in it, like looking into space. “What the hell, Doc?”
      Doctor Mofou chuckled at the reaction. “Do you like it? It’s the newest technology
anywhere.” He moved up next to The Captain and ran his hand along the suit. “If there
is other life out there, it may even be beyond their technology. The Doctor had a mad
grin on his face. Gregg reached out and touched the suit.
      It wasn’t there. He didn’t know how else to explain it. His fingers ran up and down
the suit, but he couldn’t feel it. There was nothing there. Doctor Mofou began cackling.
Gregg knew the doctor was mad, but that laughter was scary. “How does it do that, Doc?
It’s like it’s not even there.”
      The cackling stopped. The doctor was staring at him intensely. “Do you really want
to know, Captain?”
      Gregg thought about that. “Is it complicated?”
      Mofou gave a twisted grin. “Incredibly complicated,” he said.
      Complicated wasn’t Gregg’s strength. “Nope, don’t want to know.” The response
caused more insane cackling.
      The Doctor and one of his assistants helped Gregg into the suit, which fit like a
second skin. He freaked out when he looked down and saw the stars roaming through
black space where his body should be. “What about the outer suit, Doc?”
      That question surprised the doctor. “Outer suit? There is no outer suit with this. It
is everything.” The mad cackle became louder.
      Every other suit Gregg had worn had layers. A body suit went right against the skin,
then a thermal suit, then the outer suit. It was inefficient, but necessary. This just felt
like a thick body suit. Gregg could move without any hindrance; in fact he felt stronger
and faster. Doctor Mofou watched him with wild eyes and maniacal grin, enjoying the
look of amazement on the Captain’s face. “Nice, Doc. This is real nice.”
      Mofou and his assistant took Gregg into an empty back hallway leading to the
hanger with ships that needed to be tested. The Captain was testing a newer ship today:
the XOXO 13. “I’m not so sure about this Doc. Doesn’t XOXO mean hugs and kisses?”
he asked the doctor, who just continued to cackle. The assistant rolled his eyes. Greg
protested, “Hey, seriously. This ship is named “hugs and kisses thirteen”. That’s not real
comforting, Doc.” They needed to name ships differently; like Lightning, or Thunder
Rock or something. Whatever. Not his job. “This thing had better not hug and kiss my
ass goodbye.”
      Doctor Mofou cackled some more as he handed Gregg a helmet. It was different
than most. Instead of just a big round bubble, it was small and thinned out to fit the
shape of a person’s head. The helmet sealed to the suit when it was put on even though
there was no noticeable attachment. “Can you hear the sound of my voice, Captain?” the
Doctor asked.
      Gregg frowned. He could hear Mofou’s voice, which shouldn’t be possible in a suit.
“How come I can hear you, Doc?”
      Instead of answering, Doctor Mofou gave a gleeful grin and clapped his hands.
“Yay, me! I did it!” He was one freaky dude, thought Gregg. Mofou continued, “The
material of the suit receives sound. You can adjust how much you hear and where you
hear it from. The same material also transmits your voice and any noise you make.” He
frowned and his face twisted as he explained. “I still have to figure out a way to prevent
it from transmitting bodily sounds like farts, but that’s not as important.”
      Mofou became very businesslike, hooking up a computer to the suit for a moment to
check readings. “I have the sound and everything else set already. You could easily kill
yourself with the suit if you messed with the controls. We’ll give you extensive training
with it later.”
      He finished looking at the readings and unplugged the computer. The connection on
the suit sealed over, becoming starry again. Gregg could feel the attached backpack,
which was smaller than on most suits. “How does it generate oxygen, Doc and how
much time do I have if I’m out of the ship?”
      Mofou’s eyes lit up and the mad twitch in his lips began to come back. “Do you
really want to know?”
      Gregg thought about that. “How much time I have; yes, I want to know. As far as
the rest; is it complicated?”
      The Doctor became serious for a moment. “The air should last for about two years,
although you’ll die of thirst within three or four days, so it doesn’t matter.” Then he
began to grin again. “The rest is extremely complicated.”
      He figured it would be. “Never mind then, Doc. Let’s just get on with it.”
      The training Gregg had gone through to simply fly a ship was extensive. The
training to run them through tests was even more so. Pilots were the cream of the Skull
Squadron. Not all squadron members survived long enough to pilot. Out of those who
did, Gregg was the best. Sure he had crashed a couple of ships, but everyone did that.
Only a few walked away from it like Gregg, who was the only person ever to walk away
from four crashes. It took a lot of skill to crash in a ship and only have severe damage
instead of it being completely totaled.
      Some people were surprised at how nonchalant The Company was at having ships
destroyed, but what those people didn’t understand was that metal was cheap now that
they mined it from moons, planets and asteroids. Labor was even less costly. The most
expensive thing right now was supplying food and water, but The Company was working
on that and it would probably be solved in thirty or forty years.
      Ships didn’t cost much really. They weren’t cheap, but not massively expensive
either. Even new technologies were produced economically. Interestingly enough,
Captain Johnson was considered to be more valuable than the ship that he was flying.
Very few members of the Skull Squadron lived or stayed in the squadron long enough to
make it to his experience level, and none were as good as he.
      After entering Company Spaceship XOXO 13, Gregg went through the pre-checks,
systems checks, checks and balances and a lot of other checks before it was finally ready
to go.
      A voice came over the com. “Captain Gregg Johnson, this is Moontower 8. You
have clearance for departure in CSS XOXO 13.” The voice he heard was sultry and
seductive. Regrettably, he had already hit that and she wanted nothing more to do with
him. Still nice to hear her voice though.
      “Oh crap. I’m in XL 36, not XOXO 13. Can I still take off, Moontower 8?”
      The sultry voice became slightly panicked. “What? No! You may not . . . Gregg,
you bastard.” He chuckled while picturing her trying to compose herself. “Captain
Gregg Johnson, I repeat; this is Moontower 8. You have clearance for departure in CSS
XOXO 13. Please get the hell out of the hanger and try not to crash into a mountain this
time.”
      Gregg laughed. The two of them would probably be spoken to about that exchange
but they were good at what they did and it wouldn’t be a problem. He hit the controls,
initiating full thrusters.
      The ship shot out of the hanger. It was what Gregg did. He flew the ships hard and
fast to see what they could handle. The drugs flowing through his system helped him to
take a step back from his mind and calmly focus on the glut of information in front of
him.
       Gregg saw thousands of bits of information and detail coming from a series of
instrument panels. His hands and fingers gracefully flowed over them, guiding the ship
and giving it directions. In most ships, like supply and passenger ships, there were locks,
controls and default settings to limit what a pilot could do. On this one those controls
were all removed. Most pilots would have crashed the ship instantly, but Gregg was
trained for this. Plus, he had some groovy ingredients flowing through his body making
it all possible.
       A moment later, he was away from Moonbase and into uninhabited territories used
for testing. The Captain looked out the window at starry space above the pale glowing
moon. The Earth was at the edge of the horizon, a beautiful round mudball called home.
Diagrams and data were digitally laid over that by the controls of the ship. He didn’t
know how the technology worked, it was complicated and he didn’t care, but he loved
that it did. Kisses and hugs thirteen was a nice ship. It was smooth, responding to his
every whim.
       “Let’s see what this puppy can do.” Gregg put it into a roll, the view through the
window spinning round and round. It was tight, very tight. Then he leveled off upside
down and began fishtailing, which progressed into flying sideways.
       Flying in space was much different than flying in atmosphere. Airplanes used the
atmosphere to turn and maneuver and were limited because of it. In space, maneuvers
were done with different types of jets. Gregg didn’t understand the way it worked, but
those jets didn’t use fuel based propulsion so he could lay on them all he wanted. The
details of how they worked were complicated. Whatever.
       Then things got fun. His hands moved lightly over the control panel, but they
produced extraordinary effects. Kisses and Hugs, that was what he named the ship in his
mind, was flying sideways, upside down, then; by a couple of gentle motions of his
hands, it rolled over into a sideways flight in the other direction.
       The Lunar Apennine Mountains were coming close. He would really test the ship’s
maneuvering skills there. Gregg was beginning to discover its limitations, though it
handled a lot better than anything else he had flown.
       Then he was above the first hills and right up next to the mountains. There were two
passes he would go through. Suicide Pass was the first one. It was nothing to the
Captain, just a warm up. True Death Pass was the challenging one. They were stupid
names, he thought in the space of a millisecond. Something like Hell Pass or Angel’s
pass, as in everyone who tries it dies and becomes an angel, would be better. Whatever.
Not his job.
       Kisses and Hugs handled both passes easily. He darted in and out of the canyons
and mountains. The ship maneuvered high speed, twisting and turning, all the while his
hands danced above the control panel.
       This was when he felt truly alive, more than just the average Joe. Next, Kisses and
Hugs zipped through the last of the mountains and into a clear area. Coming up was the
south pole of the moon. There were much more challenging mountains and canyons
there.
       The Captain increased altitude and accelerated, the ship jumping forward though
Gregg couldn’t feel any movement. Grav-shields protected him from forces of inertia,
gravity or anything like that. He didn’t know why they were called grav-shields; that was
stupid. They didn’t really shield him from anything. They should have been called
inertia barriers or no movement thingies or something. Whatever. Not his job.
      He dove into the canyon. It was tight. Even the smallest mistake would result in a
terrible crash . . . and then it happened; that smallest mistake.
      It wasn’t anything that Gregg had done as tests would later show. These ships had
more sensors than anything else. Every aspect of the flight and the pilot was monitored
including sensors in his body.
      Something went wrong with one of the engines. It just cut out for a fraction of a
second, but that was all it took. Gregg compensated quickly and put as much power into
the necessary maneuvers as possible. There was absolutely no panic as he was prepared
for death, it being part of the job. The only thing important now was to continue trying to
fly the ship as well as possible.
      Gregg knew the ship was going to have a lot more problems after it scraped the side
of the canyon. It took all his effort to pull Kisses and Hugs out, but he managed.
      Regrettably a big mountain was outside of that first canyon and Gregg was headed
right for it. Damage to the hull was pretty bad, but he thought he might be able to
recover and land. The ship was spinning and looping slowly all at once.
      Captain Gregg Johnson calmly hit different engines and managed to almost miss the
mountain, but not quite. Kisses and Hugs was getting affectionate with the sides of
mountains and canyons and that wasn’t what it was built for. Gregg did all he could to
aim away from the ground he was heading toward. He got the nose up and activated rear
thrusters which helped some, but the ground was inevitable and there was little that he
could do . . . unless he pushed the button. Gregg had two seconds to think about it and he
knew he shouldn’t. If he didn’t push it, he would hit the ground no matter what. There
was a good chance he might not die in the crash, but Gregg had always wanted to push
the button anyway.

                                           ***

      It was called Theoretical Light Drive. Every time a ship equipped with it had been
tested, the ship disappeared. Even manned ships had disappeared with no trace. The
button Captain Gregg Johnson pushed activated that drive instantly. He thought
Theoretical Light Drive was a good name for it even though no one had asked him.
Whatever.
      His body didn’t itch anymore; now it was inside out. That was the only thought he
had time for before he pulled right back out of light speed. Gregg didn’t know where he
was and all the instruments were suddenly out of whack. He had traveled faster than
light and didn’t know how far he had gone even though he had turned it off within one
second. The problem was that the scientist and engineers who built it didn’t know how
much faster than light it went.
      The feeling of being inside out ceased. He looked at the controls. The instruments
were all completely wrong, none of them working properly. He tried to do the standard
fixes, but they just didn’t work right.
      At times Gregg would look out the window. The ship was moving and looping a bit,
but he didn’t recognize why. The only option was to shut everything down and do a
complete reboot. He saved the all of the recorded settings and information to files
separate from the rest of the system to be studied if he got back.
     It took an hour for everything to shut down because there were so many safeguards
to prevent accidental shutdowns and half of those were malfunctioning. Once he was
done, he let the ship systems stay off for five minutes. Luckily his suit, separate from the
ship, hadn’t been affected and it still kept him alive. He watched the universe floating
past the window and enjoyed the peace.
     Gregg didn’t think he was in his solar system anymore. It was too quiet out here;
not physically, but spiritually quiet. He could feel the existence of people even in space.
A person just kind of knew they were there. But out here he couldn’t feel anyone.
     A moment of panic hit him. Death was okay. Death alone was not okay. Calming
himself down, Gregg relaxed and simply enjoyed the peace and beauty of what he
believed was true space. Then he pushed the reboot button.
     The operating system was stored in three different ways in case of a rare reboot.
Gregg didn’t know which file the system pulled from or how as everything started
working again and he didn’t really care, it was complicated. Whatever, it wasn’t his job
to care, only to use it if need be. It worked beautifully. There were still numerous
mechanical failures, but not the critical kind.
     After about another hour, Gregg had the ship stabilized. He was outside of the solar
system. Not far out, luckily, but far enough. Fortunately the ship had plenty of supplies
for one individual. Briefly, he considered hitting the light speed button again. The
chances of hitting something important or having another critical failure were too high
and he decided against it.

                                            ***

      Three months later, Gregg was entering a command ship. It was good to be with
people again. After various debriefings, he was given vacation on Earth. Then he went
back to testing ships.
      The fact that he had been the first one to successfully fly at light speed was unknown
by the general population for over two hundred years as his very existence was
confidential. The Company officially classified everything the Skull Squadron did.
      He was later told that his little trip had exposed more than one massive flaw with the
ship’s system. Fixes made with that knowledge led to the eventual success of faster than
light travel. When they asked him if he wanted to know what those flaws were, he asked
if it was complicated. And when they said yes; he responded, “Nope. Not my job,”
before walking off with a smile.

                                            ###

            An excerpt from the fantasy novel, “Rojuun” by John H. Carroll:

                                          Chapter 1

     Tathan was a tall man of twenty nine years with short, curly black hair framing a
face tanned by travel. His hand was on the hilt of a thin, slightly curved sword sheathed
at his waist and his intense grey eyes studied the peaceful valley where he had been
raised. Throughout his journeys, he always remembered the sights and scents of this
valley. Tathan closed his eyes and felt the breeze caress his cheek as it had in his
childhood. It brought the sounds of bees finding the first blossoms of the year. Other
insects buzzed through the valley hoping the birds would be too busy singing their songs
to feast upon them.
     The sun had risen just an hour ago. Tathan knew it would take a full day and night’s
travel to make it to the eastern side of the valley where he used to live, so he adjusted his
travel pack on his shoulders and continued on. There was no path or road; his parent’s
house being the only dwelling in the valley. Snowcapped mountains surrounded wild
grasses which were dotted with groves of trees and crossed by small streams. The sky
was deep blue with wisps of clouds that would likely become afternoon thunderstorms. It
was early spring and flowers were beginning to bloom, mingling their scents with that of
fresh grass.
     Growing up, few people had come through to visit. It was a safe, remote place free
of the wars, thievery, politics and various ills of civilization that prevailed throughout the
rest of the world. The only religion Tathan had grown up with was a simple spirituality
and knowledge of the ways of nature. Just being back in this valley was almost enough
to bring a smile to his face, but he hadn’t smiled in quite a while.
     Tathan abruptly jumped at a noise from his right, rapidly drawing his sword. He
moved low to the ground in the direction he thought the sound had come from, but
couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary. Then he scrutinized the small mountain trail
behind him for danger, finding nothing. The breeze ruffled his hair as he scanned the rest
of the valley and the sun glistened off of a small, opal tipped piercing in his eyebrow and
the golden earrings which hung from his ears. An unseen danger whispered on that
breeze. Tathan stayed in a defensive position for a few moments, waiting for something
to materialize. When nothing did, he sheathed his sword and continued the journey
home, his senses remaining alert. He must remember not to be so jumpy when he
returned home.
     Tathan loped across the valley at a good pace. He wore dark leather clothing over
his thin frame and moved much like a panther gliding over the grass. Some had
underestimated his strength in the past for he was not built as a brawler, his true abilities
being speed and stealth. Hours passed before he eventually slowed to a walk.
     It was good to be able to run again. A person could not run through city streets
without attracting stares. The mountain pass he had just come through was not made for
running either, being too steep. Tathan reached into his pack to grab sustenance as he
looked around once more. Sheep roamed freely to the north of him, staying together to
protect themselves from the occasional predator. Tathan remembered having to round
them up for wool and meat when he was younger. It was a simpler life then.
     The rest of the day passed without incident. Flowers were in bloom while bees and
insects went merrily about their business. It amused Tathan to think of insects as merry,
but it was the way of things here. The thought of camping for the night crossed his mind,
but he had been traveling for months and his sleep had been disturbed by dark dreams.
     As the sun began to touch the western mountains, Tathan stopped to rest for a bit and
cook a warm meal of rabbit he had caught along the way. It took a few minutes to set a
fire pit and gather some sticks from a grove of trees nearby and water from a small
stream. The clouds hadn’t delivered upon their promise of afternoon rain so the wood
was dry. A gesture and a word sent a swirl of flame from his fingertips to light the
campfire. Tathan prepared the rabbit then warmed roots he had dug out of the ground
earlier. It was a good meal. He leaned against his travel pack to relax for a bit while
eating.
     All of a sudden, Tathan rolled to the left and jumped into the air before landing on
his toes. His sword slashed through the air, then again, and once more. Tathan jumped
aside looking for the next person to fight. There was no one, no one at all. In the dim
light of the moons and the lingering coals of the campfire, Tathan saw that the only thing
he had wounded was thin air. He was certain the air would recover. After a quick search
of the area; he extinguished the fire completely, grabbed his travel pack and continued on
toward home.
     The world of Ryallon was vast. Many scholars believed it would take a lifetime to
go from one end to the other; some said it couldn’t be done in a lifetime. Two moons lit
the night sky for him to travel by. Siahray, the closest, was blue and green. It was three
quarters full in the southern sky. Piohray was small and far from the world. Red and
orange colors swirled around the surface though this was hard to tell unless one stared at
it for a while. It was half full near the eastern horizon. Shortly after midnight, Tathan
thought he saw a dragon cross the sky in front of Siahray. A few minutes later he saw a
burst of brilliant white to the north. The thought of dragons playing in the sky pleased
him. It was not a sight one saw in the cities.
     It was morning when Tathan saw the smoke of a fireplace rising in the distance. He
would make it in time for breakfast and his stomach growled hungrily at the thought.
Before long he was close enough to smell cooking food. The sun peeked over the
mountains ahead as he approached the house, an old place built by his great, great, a few
more greats, great grandfather or something. It was made of grey stone with a thatched
roof and faced the southern mountains. He had been told as a child that the stone was
bound by magic, making it strong. Two other houses had been built when the family
expanded at some point in the past. They stood empty, used only for storage. Only
Tathan, his parents and his older sister, Mariah, had lived there in his youth. The large
barn behind the house was stone as well. A brook he had played in as a child babbled
merrily nearby. On the other side of the brook were the woods where he used to explore.
     The sun’s amber light had just reached the chimney top of the house when Tathan
stopped, taking in the scene before him. The thing he remembered most about his
childhood was wanting to leave. Every chance he got, Tathan would run off to explore
the woods, climbing up trees to hide from his parents so that he wouldn’t have to do
chores or go to bed. He explored further with every year he aged, going beyond the
woods to the base of the mountains, trying to find roads out of the valley. At first his
father beat him for running off, but eventually gave up when he realized that his son
would just run farther and hide better the next time.
     “Mother! Mother!” A young woman had just come around from the back of the
house and spotted him, breaking his reverie. She ran to the front porch and with a look
over her shoulder, dashed in the door. Tathan stared at the door for a moment. There
hadn’t been anyone younger living here when he was growing up. His sister would be
much older now. It had been fourteen years since last he was home. This was his home
wasn’t it? This was the valley he grew up in wasn’t it? . . . Yes . . . It had to be.
     A tall, attractive woman of middle age walked out, wiping her hands on an apron that
protected her yellow dress from stains. “Hello, traveler! We don’t get many people
visiting in this valley,” she said in a strong and cheerful voice with a welcoming smile.
Her black hair was beginning to go grey, the same color as her eyes. The same color as
Tathan’s eyes. “Traveler? Are you well? Do you need aid?” The woman spoke to
Tathan again with a worried expression.
     He shook his head to clear it. “Hmm? Yes. I’m alright. Pardon me, but I don’t
recognize you.” Tathan said in a quiet voice.
     The woman paused and looked closely at Tathan. “I don’t recognize you either.
Should I?”
     “I was raised here. My name is Tathan.”
     There was dawning realization on her face then a smile as she spoke. “Tathan? . . . I
know that name. You’re Ellin’s son, left some fourteen years ago. Welcome home
nephew.” The young woman who had rushed inside came back out to stand timidly next
to her mother. The older woman made introductions. “My name is Sherrie and this is
my daughter, Liselle. Will you join us for breakfast?”
     “Yes, thank you. Are my mother and father home, and Mariah, my sister?” Tathan
saw the two women look at each other in silence. He knew immediately that something
had happened to his family.
     “Your mother is here, but. . .” She continued after a brief pause. “Your father left
his body to the ground some ten years ago. His body gave out,” she explained. “Seven
years ago, your sister Mariah felt pain in her side for some days before she also died. I
am so very sorry.” There were tears in the eyes of both women as they looked at him
sympathetically. Tathan felt tears in his own eyes as well.
     Sherrie came forward with arms outstretched to give him a hug and share his grief.
Tathan jumped back, his sword instantly drawn and aimed at the woman. There was fear
in his aunt’s eyes as she gaped at the dark blade. She dashed back to her daughter, both
of them holding each other, staring at the young man who had suddenly become
dangerous and threatening. Tathan bit his lip to hold back his tears. His body had moved
instinctively as it always did these days. Too many people rushed at him in hostility. He
put back his sword as quickly as he could, shamed by his reaction.
     “I’m so sorry. . . I didn’t mean. . . Please, forgive me.” Tathan stood there, tears
flowing down his eyes as the loss registered. It was terrible to think that he would never
see them again. He closed his eyes, remembering them in his mind. He could still see
them smiling at him. Though he had known it would be a possibility, the knowledge they
were gone brought great pain to his heart. A deep breath brought Tathan back to present
time once more. He wiped his eyes and refocused on his aunt and cousin only to see two
men moving up to them. One had a pitchfork and the other wielded a thick piece of
wood.
     The man with the pitchfork moved forward. His voice was gruff. “Here now,
stranger we won’t be asking for trouble nor will we be expecting any.”
     Sherrie stopped him with an arm in front of his chest. “He’s family, Scott. He’s also
fast with that sword and I wouldn’t like to see you bleed, Husband.”
     Scott turned to Sherrie, giving her a dark look for doubting his ability to protect her.
“Well now, family then?” Scott looked at Tathan more closely, then at Sherrie, then
Liselle. “He has the same eyes as you. I’ll believe he’s family.”
     “My mother is here you said? And is she well? . . .” Tathan trailed off, ignoring
what Scott believed.
     Sherrie responded quickly. “Oh yes. She’s inside! Ellin!” she hollered back toward
the house. “Ellin, you must come out. Tathan has returned home to us.” Tathan wanted
to move closer, but could not bring himself to do so. He just stood there waiting. A
moment later his mother came out. She was much older than when he left, which was to
be expected he supposed.
     “Tathan? Tathan, is that you?” she asked in a high toned voice. There was a
resemblance to Sherrie and he could see the women were definitely sisters. His mother’s
hair had gone completely grey though. “Tathan? Is it really you?” She moved close to
him. “Your eyes, they are the same but . . . so . . . haunted. . .” Luckily Tathan didn’t
draw his sword this time. It wouldn’t do to scare his mother.
     “Hello, Mother. I’m so sorry about father and Mariah.” The sobs broke from him
now. Ellin came in and held her son in a strong embrace. After a few moments, they
separated. Tathan dried his eyes with his sleeves while his mother dried hers on her
apron. “I’m sorry mother. I’m sorry I wasn’t here. I’m sorry I. . .” Tathan trailed off.
     She patted his shoulder and looked him in the eye. “Tathan, my son. Don’t worry
yourself over what has gone before. They thought well of you. They missed you, but we
all knew you were a traveling spirit. How are you, Son?” Ellin reached up to run fingers
through his short curly hair. “You’re different, Tathan. Your eyes. . . What have they
seen? Why are they so haunted my son?” It was as though she wanted to ask a hundred
questions without giving him the time to answer any of them.
     “I . . .” Tathan didn’t really know what tell her about his time away. So much had
happened to him. “So . . . this is my Aunt Sherrie and Cousin Liselle?” he deflected
lamely.
     His mother stared at him for a moment then turned to make introductions. “Yes, and
this is Scott, Sherrie’s husband. Laremy is Scott’s brother. They arrived shortly after
your father’s death.” Scott and Laremy came over to shake Tathan’s hand. They were
both strong men with blond hair and blue eyes. Laremy looked to be the older brother.
Tathan shook their hands and nodded to them each in greeting, saying nothing.
     He turned to his mother, taking in her grey hair and the wrinkles aging her face.
“Aunt Sherrie mentioned breakfast? I’ve traveled a ways without a good meal.”
     Ellin smiled at her son. “But of course, Tathan. Come inside. Sit with us and tell us
of your journeys.”
     As they walked inside, Tathan looked around to see that everything was still as he
remembered. Well-used rugs were scattered over the stone floor of the large living room.
Chairs and a few small tables were spread around, most directed toward the fireplace,
which held a warm morning fire. The ceiling was made of wood braced by thick beams
stained dark brown. Old tapestries hung on stone walls, made by grandparents and great
grandparents. The quality was as fine as any owned by nobles whose houses he had
wandered through while they slept. This was where the family had gathered since the
house had been built.
     “Come to the dining room, Tathan. The food is ready.” His mother gestured to the
room on the left where they ate all of their meals. Aromas of cooking meat, eggs and
fresh bread filled the house. He went through the opening and into the large dining room.
The wooden floor, which had seen generations of feet, was swept and clean. More
tapestries lined the walls in here as well. Tathan ran his fingers down the large wood
table, wondering how many meals had been set upon it over the generations.
     His Aunt Sherrie gestured to a chair on the near side of the table. “Won’t you sit
here?” He took the offered seat as the other men sat down in their places. The women
brought the food in wooden dishes then sat down as well, his mother taking the seat to his
right. Tathan’s plate was filled with food quickly. There were places where he had eaten
amazing meals in his travels, but nothing ever seemed as good as home. Every bite was
savored and he closed his eyes here and there, smiling at the flavors that burst through his
mouth.
     “I’d guess you like the food by the smile on your face, Cousin,” Liselle, on his left,
said in a melodious voice. She had long, black wavy hair and was wearing a dark blue
dress suitable for doing chores in. Her eyes were grey, much like his, but gentler.
Tathan found his gaze drawn to a flower in her hair. It was bluish-purple in color and he
got the distinct impression it was watching him as much as everyone else was.
     Liselle was a pretty young woman, the kind who would find an unpleasant life in
many of the cities Tathan had traveled through. The thought made him look back down
to the food on his plate. In doing this he missed the worried looks his family exchanged
with each other.
     “You worry me, son. I’ve said it twice and I say it again. You look haunted.” His
mother’s face was filled with concern for him. Everyone else at the table had gone quiet.
“Tathan, what happened in your time away?”
     It was a difficult question to answer. “Well. . .” Tathan tried to decide what to say.
He sighed. “I. . . don’t know. A lot of things have happened. I’ve seen . . . things.” He
looked around the room for a way to escape the conversation. There was nothing of help.
“The world isn’t peaceful like it is here. Please, Mother, what matters is that I’m here.”
     Ellin smiled sadly at her son. “Of course, my dear Tathan. You’re here and that
truly is what matters.” She smiled and reached for his hand, taking hold of it with her
own calloused hands, gripping firmly to comfort him. “You are here. It’s so good to see
you. I’ve worried so much since you left.” Tathan returned both her smile and her grip.
     “How long are you here, Tathan? For good or just visiting?” Laremy had a deep
voice, warm and welcoming. His smile was welcoming as well. Both men had quickly
gotten over the confrontation outside.
     “I don’t know honestly. I didn’t even realize I was coming home until I saw the trail
through the mountains. There it was, and I was traveling on it.” Tathan gave them a wry
smile. He had been escaping from troubles in the south and hadn’t realized he was near
the trail until coming to a small village at the base of the mountains.
     Scott nodded toward the sword on Tathan’s hip. “You seem to know how to wield
that thing. I probably wouldn’t be much of a challenge for you with my pitchfork would
I?”
     “I’m sorry, Scott, but no. I . . . am dangerous when a sword is in my hand,” Tathan
said. He didn’t want to hurt anyone, especially not his family. “You may have noticed
that I. . .” He found himself pausing a lot. He didn’t like talking about himself. “I’ll be
very careful not to hurt you. I promise.” Instead of reassuring his family, his words
made their eyes widen in worry. Tears of sadness flowed down his mother’s cheeks
again. “Here now, mother. Don’t cry for me. I’m alright, really,” he said.
      She responded, “Oh I know, dear. I just worry.” Ellin fanned herself with her hand,
controlling her tears. “I can see you’ve grown, but I also see that peace eludes you.”
      Tathan gave a short laugh. “True, but I found the adventure I wanted.” He took her
hands into his and held them to his forehead, then hugged her tightly. “I love you,
mother.”
      Ellin sobbed into her son’s shoulder for a few moments. Sherrie and Liselle dabbed
at tears that formed in their eyes at the emotional moment.
      After finishing breakfast, they moved to the living room and talked for a bit about
life in the valley. The weather was an important subject. Winter had been mild and
spring had started strong, giving the men hope for good crops and gardens. Hunting and
gathering supplemented small crops of vegetables and grains. The sheep that roamed
were used for food as well. Life was good, if simple.
      Tathan avoided talking about his travels when asked, preferring to listen to his
family. He felt his eyes beginning to droop before long.
      “Laremy and I were going hunting for deer today. We should get going if we want
to be back before nightfall. Would you like to go with us, Tathan?” Scott asked as he
pulled a bow and quiver off of the wall. Laremy grabbed his as well.
      “No. . . Thank you. I haven’t had sleep in a couple of days, so I wouldn’t be much
use to you,” Tathan responded. He really did feel tired, but it was a relaxed tired. It was
good to feel warm and safe for the first time in what seemed like an eternity.
      “Liselle, get your cousin set up in the east bedroom. He’ll be comfortable there, I’m
sure,” Sherrie said.
      “Yes, mother,” Liselle responded and then turned to Tathan. “You probably know
the way, but I’ll show you anyway.” She beamed a smile at him.
      “Thank you. I’m really tired, so there’s a good chance I’d get lost,” he jested.
Tathan knew every inch of the house, but he was road weary. It was nice to have
someone show him the way.
      Once in the room, she turned down the covers and closed the shutters. Liselle looked
to be a couple of inches shorter than his six feet of height. “There, it should be nice and
dark for you to sleep,” she said. Her voice was like a soft stream running through the
forest. “I’d love to hear about the places you visited. They must be wonderful.” Her
eyes lit up and she clapped her hands in excitement.
      “They’re exciting . . . but not always wonderful. The idea of seeing them may sound
fun now, but were you to visit those places . . .” his words trailed off ominously. Shaking
himself of the dark thoughts, he continued, “I’m sorry. It’s not good for me to come in
here to scare you like that.”
      She chuckled. “It’s alright. My father and uncle try to scare me all the time. I want
to see the world. I know it’s dangerous, but I don’t care.” Determination showed in her
eyes.
      “I see,” he responded quietly. “That’s understandable. I felt the same way after
leaving and would probably do the same thing again.” Tathan ran his fingers through his
hair and sighed. “This is home, but it’s not exciting. There’s no adventure.”
      “Then you think I should be allowed to explore the world?” Liselle looked hopeful
at the thought of an ally.
      “No. It’s a bad place and most people die quickly in it,” he said. Tathan realized
that was an overly harsh view of the world, but it was how he had come to feel.
      “Oh.” Her face was crestfallen. “Of course. Well, I should get to chores now.
Mother will be wanting my help.”
      Tathan placed a gentle hand on her upper arm. “If you wish to explore the world,
then you can always go. There comes a point where your life is yours to live even though
it may hurt others.” He looked into her eyes with sincerity.
      “Really?” Liselle bit her lower lip in thought. “I don’t know what to do honestly.
Mother wants to take me to Rothton to find a husband.” She rolled her eyes in
exasperation.
      “That’s where my mother is from, which means Aunt Sherrie is from there too,
right?” he asked.
      “Yes. But I don’t want to get married. I want to explore the world, have adventures
and find a handsome prince!” Liselle twirled with her arms in the air.
      Tathan chuckled at his cousin. “I understand. That’s exactly how I felt when I
left . . . well, minus the part about the handsome prince.” He grinned at her.
      “Oh, but you would make such a lovely bride for a handsome prince,” she said with
a laugh. Her laughter was bright and innocent. Then she sat down on the bed with a
wistful sigh. “I really don’t want to go to Rothton to find a husband. What am I to do,
Tathan?” she asked.
      Why was she asking him? He didn’t know what she should do. “I’m not sure what
would be best,” he shrugged. “It seems like women are always supposed to get married;
men too I suppose.” His cousin turned to listen to him as he sat next to her. “My parents
wanted me to go to Rothton to find a wife. Father was upset when I refused.”
      “I didn’t know that,” she responded.
      He nodded, “He didn’t hold on to his anger. Father realized I was going to leave.
He sat with me and told me what little he knew of the world. Then he let me know that
he loved me.” Tathan finished with a smile.
      “That’s really nice, but I don’t think my father will be quite so understanding.”
Liselle twisted her lips wryly. She stood up from the bed and said, “Well, I need to do
my chores. Get some rest. I’ll wake you when dinner is ready.” With that she turned
and left the room, closing the door behind her.
      Tathan sat on the bed a little longer. He felt relaxed for the first time in a long time.
After a bit, he went to the window and opened the shutters to look outside. It was a
beautiful day. Birds were singing their lovely songs in the trees. Flowers were in bloom
and their fragrance filled the air. There were a lot more flowers than he ever remembered
seeing. Tathan took a deep breath then exhaled, letting some of the tension flow from his
body. It was so nice to relax for the first time in ages.
      He stayed at the window for a time, then went to bed for some rest. The covers were
soft, cool and smelled of spring air. Tathan drew his sword and lay it down next to him
as usual, but couldn’t sleep. Getting up, he sheathed his sword and leaned it against the
nightstand instead. A moment later, he was resting peacefully.

     If you would like to read more, go here:
http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/31154

                                             ###
                                    About the Author

     John H. Carroll was the youngest of seven children and was born in Atlanta, Georgia
in 1970 where he was kept in a dresser drawer with the clean socks. Luckily he wasn’t
kept with the dirty socks or else he might have grown up to become slightly warped.
     As a child, John spent most of his time wandering through the Mojave Desert in an
attempt to avoid people. He would stare at the sky, imagining what it would be like to
explore different worlds. One of his favorite memories is watching his dad build the
fuselage of Evil Kneivel’s skycycle in their garage. One of his least favorite moments
was watching that skycycle fall into the Snake River. (Not his dad’s fault and he has
documentation to prove it, so nyah)
     As a teenager, John spent most of his time driving wherever he could in an attempt to
avoid people. He would stare at the road, imagining what it would be like to explore
different worlds. He was the captain of the chess team and lettered in golf and band
while in high school and wasn’t beaten up anywhere near as much as one might imagine.
     As an adult, John spent most of his time staring at a computer screen in an attempt to
avoid people. He stares at the monitor for hours, imagining what it would be like to
explore different worlds. He has been married to his wonderful wife for 14 years and
they have three obnoxio . . . wonderful children who always behave . . . when they’re
asleep.
     Rojuun is the first book of a series that will continue for a while. He writes in the
evenings and weekends whenever possible. Regrettably, the family mentioned in the
previous paragraph desires food and shelter, requiring the author to possess a full time
job until such time as his writing makes him rich.

     John Carroll’s author page at smashwords:
http://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/johnhcarroll
     His book, “Rojuun” is here: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/31154
     Follow him on twitter at http://twitter.com/kookoo88 if you like insane ramblings
and random comments.
     Find him on facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Rojuun/144347435617228
     On hubpages: http://hubpages.com/profile/kookoo88

								
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