Remnants of the Nether

A soldier visits graves of the fallen to pay his respects.

Author: M.V. Viltch

An avid explorer, author, and alien enthusiast, M.V. Viltch is a military academy graduate and ex Naval Reservist currently working in the maritime field. No experience with aliens just yet, despite best efforts.

Narrator: Eddie Knight

Eddie Knight has been a technical leader in organizations ranging from financial services to software security, enabling him to gain the wealth of experience and insight that he brings as a speaker, author, and strategist.

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“Hey, man,” I whisper as rain pelts the side of my face, mixing with my tears.

Drenched, I squat over the holo-plaque, running a hand over the wet, glimmering surface.

I curse when nothing happens. “Dammit!” I slam a fist against it. The squad had worked hard to scramble together the dough for the fancy gadget, one intended to play out memories. A simple tombstone wouldn’t do for Jaimie.

Disheartened, I rise, looking up at the blackened sky and squint as fat raindrops hit my eyes and skew my vision. Lightning crackles somewhere to the east, momentarily illuminating the countless rows of plaques and gravestones in a ghostly light. Some are active and beaming into the evening’s downpour, playing out distorted holo-memories of lives long gone for visitors long departed.

I want to be here, and I don’t.

Sensing my distress, my service bot-dog nuzzles my leg. I smile weakly and give Rex a scratch behind his metal ear.

“We’d almost made it, too. The transport was just over the ridge,” I say to Jaimie. “We’d started calling them Karverns. Damn beasts. Cyborgs. Whatever. We were never meant to be out there in the cosmic nether.”

In the back of my mind, I still hear the beasts’ otherworldly mechanical roars as they charged our ranks and tore us apart—as I do in my dreams. Our forces had stood no chance against their razor-sharp bladed appendages and impenetrable armor made of stardust.

“And for what?” My hand closes around the crystalline trinket in my pocket. It’s wet, like the rest of me. “The ancient relic wasn’t intended for us.”

I sigh.

“But it was those damn turrets that had done us in, huh? They would rather destroy the thing than let us have it.”

The rain intensifies, hammering against Rex’s metal chassis as cold prickles my skin. Melting into the dreary rhythm, I squeeze my eyes shut as lights flash in my retinas. Vestiges of power-bolts as wide as tree trunks, men writhing in the alien dirt with armor caved into their bodies and missing limbs, and the final blinding explosion that had encompassed all of us. Then, there are the screams.

My fist tightens around the shard. “You were holding it, remember? We carried out our orders. We got it. Then I threw it to you when my rifle jammed. And you ran.”

I almost chuckle. “Oh, how you ran. You were always the fastest.”

I swallow hard. “But it was only the crystal they cared about and what those damn turrets aimed at. We were the intruders in that endless blackness. Beyond the known. There wasn’t even a star.”

Sighing, I pull the shard out of my pocket. It glows an eerie green in my palm as I focus on it through the sting in my eyes. Looking back, I feel as if our failure was pre-determined. We were never meant to venture beyond our known universe. Yet, we did. Odd things had begun to happen the moment we left the confines of our galaxy—baffling power-surges, voices, shadows no one could explain or identify.

“The trip out of the galaxy was something, thought, wasn’t it?” I smile, glancing back at Jaimie’s plaque. “The ten months out of cryo. We made every day count.”

Now, I do chuckle. I can’t help it. “Heart breakers and life takers, right? Kendra still remembers you. As does the LT.”

I shake my head as I laugh. “Those stuffed alien trophies of his will never smell the same again!”

Sensing my spike in mood, Rex edges closer and rewards me with a wag of his mechanical tail. The tail stops when my mood sours.

A shiver passes through my body as I hesitate. “They say I need to let you go, man.”

I stare at the shard whose ethereal glow encompasses my entire hand. “That that’s what you would want me to do. Live my life. That I need to push you to the back of my mind like the op that never existed. Like it never happened.”

I clutch my fist tight around the shard. The rest of the mystical crystal so many had lost their lives for had been blown to smithereens.

“But it’s all I have left of you.”

Rex whimpers, nudging my leg in silent encouragement. It was his job, after all. I swear my shrink was tapped into his processors.

Glancing between the crystal, my bot-dog, and the holo-plaque, I make a decision.

My eyes stop on Rex as I suddenly feel like I’ve been punched in the gut.

“Recycle,” I force out.

Eagerly, Rex obeys and pops open his mouth as if awaiting a treat. With a parting glance at the plaque, I toss the shard into the dog, only for a sense of urgency to overcome me as the last remnant I have of Jaimie clatters down his throat.

Cancel, I almost say, but right then, Rex glitches. Freezing in place, he jerks as if electrocuted and blue energy arcs through his eyes like lightening. Panic surges through me at the sight, and I drop to my knees in a puddle and grab his chassis.

“Rex!” I shake him. I’d long personified the bot, depending on his presence. Strange mechanical sounds escape him as he spasms in my clutch.

“Reset!” I shout, slapping a desperate hand over his chassis with splashes of water, attempting to knock the circuits back into place. “Reset!”

Head jerking to point at me, the eyes flare red. Blood-red like rubies lit ablaze. With a yelp, I scoot away from him, dragging myself through the grass.

“Wh-what—” I stammer.

What demons from the nether had I brought back? 

The dog approaches, head lowered in a menacing growl, only to jolt as another spasm wracks its entire chassis.

The head cocks. “Hell, yeah, I ran! Those damn sword arms were the size of my freaking torso! But hey, you think Kendra’s still single? I need a belly rub!”