Isle of the Dead
By RD Rivero
"Isle of the Dead"
By RD Rivero
March 1, 2000
The open ocean flat, featureless. The horizon infinite, distant. The sky bright
gray, almost white. Not blue, not blue, there were too many clouds for blue.
A new vessel, built by Panthro, skimmed across the water. Christened 'Luna,'
she was roughly square-shaped and tightly compact. Most of her bulkhead was
the engine and the fuel, extra compartments were for equipment and for food,
what was left was reserved for her passenger's 'enjoyment.'
Up in front was the control room: two stations side-by-side, each a copy of the
other. Panthro was on the left, his hands were firmly on the steering-wheel.
Liono was on the right, his steering-wheel moved in unison with Panthro's.
Liono peered out of the glass window, his weak, his dim eyes were just able to
see the parade of foamy waves that rolled past the Luna.
The mood in the control room was not bleak. Neither wanted nor needed to
say much to each other. The two were that close but was it a good thing? But
was it a good thing to be so close, for as long as had been planed, in such
cramped isolation? Thoughts, sudden thoughts, unexpected thoughts, thoughts
came to Liono's mind. From reflections off the glass window he saw distinct
and unobstructed images of the panther, of the fine figure of a Thundercat -- no!
He shook his head, he covered his eyes.
"Is something wrong?" Panthro asked.
Liono's heart fluttered. He turned hot, red hot while he stirred, uncomfortably
stirred in his chair. "No, nothing's wrong," at length he said. His mind reeled
with nervous, anxious about Panthro questions. What did he see? What did he
know? What did he suspect? "I've been cooped in here for six hours, Panthro,
my mind is --"
Panthro cut him off mid-sentence with a burst of laughter. "I see, look, there's
nothing, wrong, with that. We're almost at the island any ways, why don't you
take the steering-wheel and keep your mind busy on something else."
Liono wanted to give at least an explanation or a denial. But his friend handled it
so well that instead he let the matter drop and die. He sat up in his chair and
took the throbbing steering-wheel in his hands.
"If it's a little shaky, it's 'cause of all them waves."
Liono could see then, clear, clearly. An outcrop of hills, a thick canopy, a green
forest offset by a wide, sandy beach. The island was devoid of all perceptible
movement but for the crashing waves beating the shore.
Panthro turned a few knobs, monitors flickered, pictures changed. "Good.
Good. We're almost twenty miles from the island."
"What about these waves? The ocean's become quite violent!"
Panthro looked up and ahead. The waves, once mere ripples, had become
fifteen-foot monsters. The Luna was hit on all sides, rocked left, right, up,
down. What had begun a calm, serene voyage had degenerated into a bizarre,
"The storm! The hurricane Tygra warned us about. Full speed ahead, Liono!
Don't slow her down! Don't slow her down!"
The Luna was barraged by pellets of icy rain. Pellets so large, so fast, that fell
with the force of bullets. The glass window, the outer hall, hit, as the sounds
produced intensified, as the storm grew potent. The light that had been with
them from the start of the trip acame to the darkness, to the blackened cloud
cover. Only the monitors and the blue lights of the control panels lit the interior
Liono pressed a button, the forward headlights blinked on. He saw the
nightmarish vision of the ocean water boiling and bubbling over. Tossed by falls,
the vessel traversed one wave crest to the next. An unseen Newtonian force
knocked Panthro off his chair. A giant mass of water smashed against the glass
window and for an instant, for no more than a passing moment in time, Liono
could see down into the water, down into the ocean, onto the abysmal floor
beneath. His heart skipped a beat while he thought the vessel sunk for the
muggy, muddy bottom was too close, too close.
A sharp impact, an inescapable crash.
"We've reached the island," Panthro managed to say. The Luna was assaulted
mercilessly by the on coming, on rushing waves while she sat helpless,
half-buried in sand. "I'm switching to land mode." He took over the controls.
The vessel treaded inland softly, slowly, Panthro stopped at the fringe between
the grassy beach and the interior forest. With the engine off the Luna's drone no
longer masked the wailing, the bellowing echo of the torrential winds that
stormed heavy outside the few inches of cover the outer hull afforded.
"Hurry. Let's get inside." The Thundercats left the control room. Trees swayed
violently, branches fell on the glass window. Great bursts of Thunder vibrated
the Luna while the two walked through her narrow hallway. "We can handle
lightning," the panther said, "at least I think we can. But we can't radio back to
Cat's Lair through this mess, that's for sure."
The vessel jolted. The Thundercats were knocked to the floor in an
entanglement of arms, legs. "That was a close call," said Liono. He helped
himself and his friend up.
Panthro was about to respond. He opened his lips and out came an explosion
of thunder so strong both were taken aback. "The living quarters, the safest part
of the vessel. We'll have to wait the storm out in there," he said. He directed
Liono into a small room, a sliverous rectangle of a room. At one end was what
passed for the facilities. At the other were hollow tubes, three of them, one over
the other. The tubes had been fashioned into beds complete with mattresses.
Panthro had entered first but had forgotten the main radio outside in the hall.
The room was so thin that only one at a time could stand abreast. Liono stood
up, backed up against a wall while Panthro passed before him, pressed his
body on him. Panthro's nose gently tapped against Liono's for a brief moment.
In no time at all Panthro returned with the instrument. Together the two
Thundercats sat in one of the tubes. They faced one another, their legs
intertwined, their arms nearly hugged, nearly around their bodies. They tried to
work the main radio, they thought they had picked up Tygra but all they heard
were snatches of communications between Cat's Lair and the Tower of Omens.
The storm was too strong and there was nothing that could be done but to wait
for the hurricane to pass. Already five in the afternoon, the last time Panthro had
checked, the storm headed north at fifteen miles an hour.
Siren calls -- taken to be sudden gales by the slumbering Thundercats --
blasted forth to alarm the start of the new day, the next day. The massive clouds
of the hurricane had cleared, rolled back and away to reveal bright blue sky.
Even the unruly winds had been replaced by calm, gentle breezes swept in the
spray from the waves from the sandy coast. All around the vessel the ground
was cluttered in branches, trees and tree trunks and the scorched parts of the
Luna herself that had been smashed, shattered from numerous lightning blasts
from the storm from last night.
Panthro collected the larger parts that were still whole, thankfully still whole,
while Liono sat in the control room with the main radio.
"You're safe on the island?" Tygra asked.
"Safe, not quite sound. The storm damaged the vessel."
"Lightning. Parts of the engine are strewn over the beach. Right not Panthro's
out picking up the pieces."
"Is he taking it well?"
"Yes," Liono smiled, "he's not so, tense."
"We'll have to wait 'till he knows more about the Luna's condition before the
mission can continue."
"But the weather's clear, right?"
"There's not a system anywhere. You can expect blue skies a yonder for some
"I hope the six hours to get here weren't wasted."
"They won't be. We can't underestimate the importance of the mission. The
island was once a fuel plant back on first earth. The plant exploded but there's
still plenty of uranium left. If that was to fall into enemy hands the results could
"Uranium. You don't think it's too dangerous to be out here unprotected?"
"The radiation levels have dropped dramatically. Don't expect to see much life,
certainly no animals, no animals larger that insects anywhere on the island."
"I suppose those are all good things to know. I just wish we had more
information but I guess that's what we're here for. Have you guys thought of a
name for this place?"
"Willa called it the 'Isle of the Dead.'"
"That fits just right for my tastes."
The damage to the Luna had not been too extensive, there was quite an over
abundance of fuel and all but there was still a significant delay. There was
enough food and water for a week's stay on the 'Isle of the Dead' and that was
fortunate since it did not seem expedient to drink the water or eat the fruit there.
So the two Thundercats came up with a plan.
Panthro busied himself with his duties, he had decided to stay behind and fix the
vessel. Meanwhile Liono packed his bag full of fresh water and food. He took a
few maps, the few maps there were of the island and a small radio transmitter.
He headed off, he promised to check in on Panthro regularly to tell him of his
The two Thundercats parted in deep felt hugs, one after the other, each afraid
to leave the other. It was as though Liono was headed off from the safety of
home into a cruel world, forever away, forever to remain away. It was as
thought Panthro knew he would not see his friend again, in the fear that after
that past evening that was now the end.
The beach was encircled on the left by tall hills, on the right by dense trees. He
did not feel up to climbing that day so he took the longer, scenic route that
traversed most of the outer rim of the island.
Liono walked along the beach until Panthro and the Luna disappeared behind
him. He walked along the sands where his trail was constantly erased by the
upsurge of the ocean waves. Small crabs with enormous claws danced around
in the open, in the hot summer sun. After several hours the beach ended in a
sudden mass of rocks, boulders as large as a man but weighing tons. He
climbed them to the top, a good six or seven feet and saw the rest of island
sprawled before him.
The rustled branches of the trees brushed up against his face, he drew them
back to reveal that the ocean spread its way into the island. The water was
turbulent and foamy, suggesting the presence of more of those rocks beneath
the surface. The beach continued on the other side nearly half a mile away.
He looked at the map just then and in a turn of inspiration he understood the
blatant artificiality of what he saw. He had stumbled upon the remains of a wide
canal. The rocks were not rocks at all but eroded chunks of concrete. What
was adversely affecting the water of the inlet of the canal must have been more
slabs of concrete that, had been dragged out by the currents from the interior of
the island through the millennia.
Carefully, carefully he got down and turned right into the forest. The ground
was covered in about a half a foot of water, no doubt from last night's
hurricane. As he stepped through it he sent shoots of mud up with his shoes to
cloud the water. Ants and worms floated across his legs. He hoped none of the
vermin would crawl on him. He especially feared the worms, the leaches.
The water level kept rising. The ground was sinking into a ravine. He doubled
back and walked more toward the coast of the canal. While he maneuvered
through the slippery rocks that lined that edge he saw to his horror just how
deep the collected water's got. He looked to his left, there for the first time the
full extent of the ravine, a wide, long ditch some thirty feet deep, covered past
the rim by water. Water that was clear and tranquil enough that he could see
straight through to the boulders, tree stumps and green plants at the bottom.
The water faded and he judged then that he could go back on the land from the
rocky coast. Though the water had completely receded yards from the grizzly
sight of the ravine, for some reason his heart still beat ferociously. Heights and
depths were other things that bothered him but at least he was not covered in
leaches. Just mud.
The canal, whose coast he closely hugged, made a sudden left turn. It was a
perfect turn, a ninety degree turn. After hiking down the length of the canal
some more he realized that the thin layer of coast was not rocky anymore. It
was clear, for nature had returned to it. Nature. Nature. Age could not wither
her, nor time stale her infinite variety. He looked back at the map and smiled.
Now he was very close to the heart of the island.
Liono radioed his progress back to Panthro. The communication was
fragmented, garbled due to the radiation effects. Their equipment seemed rather
There was no beach, instead the ground sloped down to the water. The canal
had narrowed as well as calmed. On the other side the trees had encroached so
far that branches, trunks and roots shot straight into, over and above the
current. The air was scented in a way that was oddly inviting but as he crept
closer to the green hills that loomed in the distance, Liono could not help but
sense the faintest odor of burnt meat. There was no smoke, no noise so he
dismissed the effect all together.
The hills were the same hills that stood in front of the Luna. He was reassured
of his progress. The island was small indeed and he wondered if he should have
packed as much food as he had. It seemed he would be able to traverse the
whole 'Isle of the Dead' in much, much less time than he had thought.
The density of the trees had decreased such that he thought he could see
something through the greenery of the scene on the other side of the canal.
Although he could only snatch fragments and mere glimpses from within the
spaces between trees and branches, in fact there was an object, there was a
construction of some sort. No bother. He would be there to see it all for himself
Liono was almost too distracted with the way things would be than with they
way things were. He did not notice until it was too late that he walked out into
the open, into a meadow of ankle-high, patchy grass. Hovering over the grass
were babies, toddlers, children, picking and eating leaves directly off the
ground. He stepped back in shock.
The children were human but hairless, but completely hairless. Almost the shade
of mirrors and nearly featureless. He was so very careful but he could not find
one, not even the slightest hint of one feature to discern individuals.
They ran around naked, they had no sex organs.
"Who's watching out for them?" He wondered to himself. He looked around the
meadow, he peered into the trees but could not find an adult anywhere. There
was not anyone to watch out for the children. "What if one of them stumbled
too close to the water? What if there's an accident?" He contacted Panthro
while he maneuvered through the hoards of infants extra carefully. The fields
were covered with them as well as their dropping, their urine.
"Well, there must be adults, Liono, there can't be children without adults. I
mean. Where did they hide, where were they protected from the storm?"
"Funny that only the Amazonians knew about this place. Willa even had a name
"They might be descendants of humans who remained on the island after the
explosion and survived somehow. But keep looking, you should find something,
some trace of the adults around and be alert, you don't want them to think
you're going to harm the children."
Panthro's was sound advice and Liono took it to heart. The conversation was
again oddly garbled and cracked. The static was stronger and that was strange
since he was also closer to Panthro than before.
In any case he continued. The infant-covered fields morphed into spare rocks
and boulders. He was at the terminus of the canal. He looked back. He had
taken almost ten hours to walk one half the area of the island.
At the end the water widened in a semicircle. That time Liono was more
attentive that time. He saw more of them, the children. Hairless, featureless,
without genitals or any of those characteristics that by nature should differentiate
the men from the women. The humans he had just discovered were much older
than the ones from before, from the meadows. All about the same height, the
skin was less reflective but still unusually gray.
Some lay on the ground, on the rocks, motionless but for the rise and fall of
their chests while they breathed. Some walked in grounds, one group in
particular sprinted across the shoreline. Some conversed to each other --
though all Liono could make of the language was a series of grunts.
They ate off the ground. They dropped feces and urine though there was no
problem with that. They dropped running, explosive diarrhea that shot in the air
in a thick vapor. They did not ever bother to clean themselves, they left their
bodies smeared in those substances.
Liono was especially disgusted. Among children such things could be remotely
understood but among adults? Or what could pass for adults? He wondered.
There was no one else. There could be no one else, no older humans. All
around him was the clear and undeniable evidence. There was no example for
the youth to see and to aspire to know better, to do better.
Some youngsters passed him and sprinted into the water but Liono paid little
attention until he heard a frantic scream. He turned to see. One of them had
gone too far into the canal and obviously could not swim. No one else seemed
to notice or to care about what had happened. Liono put down his bag on a
patch of dry land by a rock and dove into the water. To his amazement the
canal was quite deep, quite unnaturally deep but the forefront of his mind was
He approached the drowning victim slowly from behind. He softly wrapped his
arms around the youngster until it was calm then he strengthened his hold. Liono
managed to tread back to shore. None of the others had shown interest in what
had happened or what could have happened. He knew then it would surely
have died had he done nothing and he wondered how many other grizzly deaths
had been suffered needlessly.
But just then he understood. Liono had inadvertently stumbled upon paradise.
Here there was absolute innocence, no knowledge of any kind and no
restrictions. Clothes, taboos, embarrassment, not even the idea of death was
understood to those people. People? Did they qualify as people? Or were they
in such a useless and deprived condition that they were no more than animals,
oblivious to their surroundings. If it was a society it had achieved the most
perfect level of equality, there was absolutely no way to tell one individual from
the other, one sex from the other.
Liono shook his head, retook his bag and once again wandered through the
entangled mass of those unusual humans. He had to give them a name. Those
aerbills. Halfway through the grassy clearing he stopped to look back, the
aerbill he had rescued stood at his heels. The four-foot tall youngster chewed
leaves of grass he had ripped up from the ground. None of the others had even
given him a second look but that youngster had him right in his sight. Eye to eye.
Liono continued his walk all the time aware that the same aerbill followed him.
He was extra careful about the terrain he hiked, for he reasoned that it was not
too experienced at that sort of thing. He all but crawled his way around to the
other side of the canal were the densest trees were.
Once again he stopped. Yes, it was the very same one he had rescued,
somehow he knew that. Liono took it by the hand and together the two
traversed through the wilderness at an even slower pace. Much to his relief that
side of the island was not flooded though the land was soggy. The terrain was
flat and level and -- for some odd reason he could not put his finger on -- the
trees were blatantly arranged to some order, though someone had planted them
to a preconceived pattern.
Perhaps there were some aerbills, who possessed knowledge, older ones,
wiser ones. Perhaps he would find those as well as answers to some daunting
questions in that part of the island. Liono found something else instead. He
remembered the building or the parts of the building he had seen before from
the other side of the canal. It was open to him now in full view.
The structure was topped with a dome, or at least with what remained of a
glass dome for only the outer edges were intact, terminated in the jagged outline
where the rest of the roof had cracked and had caved in. Curved concrete
walls supported the nonexistent roofing and gave the building its wide, circular
appearance. Liono stepped closer but the youngster did not. It remained in
place, terrified. He tried to console it but without success.
So he went alone. He approached the building cold slowly. The side he faced
had an indentation were slight concrete steps led to a dark, interior hall. The air
was stale but strangely misty, dewy. The floors were bare and covered in dirt,
dried, dead leaves. A slight current of air followed him in.
Inside, the grand room was darkened by shadows though open to the elements.
The otherwise hot, late afternoon sun was replaced by cool, gray clouds.
Littered everywhere were books, bookshelves, maps and many other objects
that indicated that the building was once a storehouse of knowledge.
For the first time Liono was actually excited. He picked up one of the books
from a well-hidden shelf where he judged it was well protected from the
weather. The book decomposed to grainy dust in his hands. He tried another,
the same, only that the cover remained but the words on the leather housing had
faded and were gone, destroyed by time.
"Panthro, come in. Panthro? Are you there?" Liono tapped the radio on the
ground. He stood alone outside the abandoned, dejected building. "Panthro!"
"Liono," the faintest voice began, "you're -- breaking --"
Nothing but a static hiss followed from the radio transmitter. "What am I going
to do?" He heard a snap, a twig snap in the underbrush next to the rock he sat
on. He turned and looked behind. The youngster that had followed him dangled
on the thick branch of a nearby tree. At first Liono laughed then he got up to
put it down.
He knelt down to its eye level. "I, Liono," he said. "I, Liono," that time he
followed his words with hand gestures, pointing and tapping mostly directed at
himself. The youngster did not respond, at least not in anyway that Liono could
understand. The aerbill got down on the grass and began to eat the raw, green
leaves right from the dirt, roving and moving on the ground in much the same
way a vacuum cleaner would clean a rug.
"Well, I guess that's my cue." Liono took out a sandwich from his bag and
began to eat the meal. "You know, we used to go around all naked, too, back
on Thundera. As Lord of the Thundercats, I guess I could reinstate that custom
but could you imagine how, how awkward that would be? How awkward
could it must have been back then?" The youngster rolled around, rolled over,
kicked its arms and legs in the air violently. "I used to have fun like that when I
was a kid, I think I still do."
Something happened next that was indeed telling. The youngster found a rock
about the same size and shape to the one Liono sat on. The youngster got on it
and began to act out all of the lion's movements exactly. It had every last accent
and mannerism down right, it had even attended to the extra detail of chewing
on a sandwich it did not have but pretended to hold in its hands.
Liono finished his meal quietly then slowly approached the aerbill. The
youngster he had saved sat on the rock silently, rigidly. It did not move, it did
not react. Liono lifted it and walked it toward the building.
Suddenly he was aware of that burnt meat smell and something more, a faint
drone, a faint melody a siren. No doubt the youngster was in its trance. Liono
was able to bring it into the building without fear or protest.
"It'll be safe to say that what ever that sound is, it's the reason why I can't talk
to Panthro. I don't know why you're so afraid of this place. There's absolutely
nothing here but dust."
Once again Liono walked through the maze of bookshelves and displays only
that time he paid more attention. Not all of the books decomposed, not all of
them were badly damaged. In particular there were entire sections, volumes
printed on metallic parchment. Maps, detailed and exquisite, unfolded in his
hands. Some of the land masses were familiar to him but distorted, grossly
distorted. There were too many islands, too many continents and the
orientations were all wrong.
"Tygra said Third Earth was active. Could he have meant this? That its surface
keeps changing? Yes. This is First Earth. When it changed it became Second
Earth. When it changed some more -- will it ever cease to change? But it can't
be too violent, I mean some things stay the same. Egypt, the Nile and these
little, small countries to its right look familiar." Liono put down the atlas. He
remembered where he was and that the youngster could not possibly
understand him, not especially in that catatonic state. Somehow the sound of his
voice was more to calm himself than for anything else. Still he should not talk to
himself. "But wait," he uttered in defiance, "I'm on an island where everything
goes. Why should I be hindered by vague notions of pretended morality?"
Liono was cut off in thought by a foul and potent stench. The youngster, the
aerbill had come out of its trance, if only for the moment, to leave behind rather
large and obtuse droppings that it very promptly sat on. "That's why, that's why,
by Jagga, the fates answer me. Or else we turn into that."
"'Rivero's Theory of Quantum Gravity,' sounds useless to you, too, doesn't it?"
Liono asked the youngster who still sat in place, sat on the desk, smeared in its
feces. There was no response. "I'm sure it wouldn't hurt anyone if I did this."
The lion opened the book to a random, unseen chapter and ripped out several
pages, odd scraps of paper with mind-boggling equations. "Physics. Who needs
it, right?" With the sheets he cleaned up the mess the aerbill had made of itself.
He found he needed half the book to do the job.
Liono threw the wasted pages along with the crippled remains of the battered
book out into the bushes and trees that surrounded the building. The drone, the
hum was louder and steadily increased. He wondered what it all meant but
instead, instead the sky darkened in the throws of sunset.
Back in the building he barricaded the exit, the one and only exit with the
skeletons of emptied bookshelves and tables. With the remaining tables he
managed to form a large pen area where the aerbill could roam about freely.
Liono did not want the youngster to soil or to ruin the environment in the
building wantonly. He did not feel right about it, though, he knew that at the
least it was human, sentient to some extent and capable of complex, cognitive
reasoning but, whatever the strengths of its mental powers, the aerbills were,
Then there was that drone. The hum became intolerably loud but, being so
constant, so constant he was easily able to keep it out of his mind. Sunset came
at last without fanfare. The skies above were pitch black and cloudless.
Innumerable stars dotted the heavens, bright, shiny but Liono did not have many
good memories of space. He tried once again to contact Panthro only that time
there was not even static, there was only silence. The Sword of Omens
remained unchanged, his senses were not acting up. He promised himself that
the next day he would head straight back to his friend and to the Luna. For the
moment it was night and he needed to sleep.
The bright morning was pierced by the shouts of desperate screaming. Liono
jolted up coldly from the floor into the air, into the misty air. With the Sword of
Omens ready in his hands he explored the interior scene with his eyes only.
Soaked in the stale moisture that had collected through the night, the world was
deadly silent. It must have been a dream and no more. Liono smiled and put
away his weapon. There was one thing: the youngster had broken free of the
pen it had been kept in, restlessly, relentlessly it tried to climb the bookshelves
that blocked the only known exit.
Out in the open fields the early sun was painful. While the two walked through
the greenery Liono realized that the humming was gone. Odd that he had so
easily forgotten. He had forgotten about Panthro too.
He stopped and retrieved the radio transmitter from his bag. "Panthro?
Panthro? What's wrong with this thing?" Tired of the useless bit of technology,
again he pulled out the Sword of Omens and held it up to his face. "Sword of
Omens, give me sight beyond sight! Show me Panthro!" In a blaze of
bewildered light he saw the blue panther. The Thundercat appeared to be
asleep in a tube but not a tube from the Luna, no, it was sleeker, it was
glass-topped. Panthro's body was different, too, out of shape, out of
proportion. "What could this mean? I've got to find him."
Through the rest of the silent woods he ran back to the large, grassy meadows
where the aerbills had gathered the day earlier but when he arrived there was
no one, not even a trace of anyone around. He stopped to look at the maps.
Very little of the island remained unexplored to him and what was left amounted
to small, hilly areas with thin stretches of beach.
"I don't suppose you know where the others went?" Liono asked the youngster
who had surprisingly kept abreast with him through the wilderness. "I have my
own friends to look out for." He began to put the maps away in his bag. "I
suppose I should give you a name but what sort of name? Not a name at all."
He stood up. "Q. Yes. Q. Nice. Simple."
Liono and Q walked toward the tall hill in the background. The trees thickened
briefly then gave way to ground, cleared ground patched with cut tree stumps.
The smell of burnt meat, it was the freshest from the tree stumps. He poked one
with the Sword of Omens, the tree stump rang hollow. "This isn't real!" He
grabbed it by the sides, he pulled it up, he rolled it counterclockwise.
Beneath the facade of the quasi-natural was a tunnel, deep, cloaked in the
shadowy vapors of darkness. A faint -- the faintest -- gray mist evolved from
the nothingness of oblivion revealed to him. He had stumbled upon the
ventilation shafts of some large oven. An oven. Why, even the ground was
Liono looked at Q -- through it all the aerbills -- in a way he had not done so
before. "All this time. All this time I've only had half the picture."
He ran to the looming hill to see then that along the side were two, gigantic
metal doors, bright white, unadorned, perfectly flat and so close, so tight
together that not even a sheet of paper could break through the nearly
imperceptible crack between them. An incredibly violent trail, a trail ripped into
the muddy earth, terminated before the closed orifice.
With only instinct and intuition Liono ran the course of the trail backwards
where he was led to the other side of the hill, to the grassy beach where he had
last seen Panthro and the Luna. Instead he found the indented outline of the
Luna pressed permanently onto the ground, onto the brown sand.
"By Jagga! What am I going to do? What am I going to do?"
In the distance tall trees swayed and ruffled gently in the wind oblivious to the
horror that had unfolded before them. Liono walked back through the trail. All
along the ground were splotches and dots of blood, still wet, still shiny. There
were scattered parts of the Luna as well. The abductors did not seem to care to
be tidy. Somehow he just could not see the aerbills doing something so violent,
he just could not see them ganging up on anybody, let alone on Panthro, on the
Back in the stumpy, smoke filled clearing Q roved over the grass where he ate
the taller leaves. Liono stood before the metal doors and aimed the Sword of
Omens at the thick slabs. Bursts of pulsating energy shot forth and though the
doors groaned there was no progress. The doors had not parted an inch and
were cold to the touch.
Liono had to think fast, there was precious little time left already. Over the open
tunnel he stuck his head in. The air was warm, hot and circulated violently. The
inner walls were also unbearably hot but there was more, there was a slight,
grooved ladder that he hoped ran the full length of the shaft. As he proceeded
down into oblivion he rolled the fake tree stump over the hole so that Q would
not inadvertently fall in while he grazed mindlessly in the small meadow.
The tunnel was as deep as he had feared. Hotter and hotter still, he wondered if
indeed he had done the right thing. He looked up, not a sliver of daylight
reached him from that depth. The inner walls were covered in an oily ash that
stuck to his fingers in a way that was not entirely comfortable. The substance
deadened or muffled the pain the otherwise hot interior would have dealt him.
He became aware of a sound, or rather, certain sets of sounds. He thought his
mind was not working right. It could have been the effect of the thin smoke that
circulated up the tunnel. It could have been fear plain and simple. At the end he
reached a flat, stable ground which was just as metallic as the rest of the shaft.
Behind him was a thin grating, a mesh netting that acame easily after a few
kicks. Past the darkness of that new passage the sounds were the loudest and
at last identifiable. Hammering, hammering and the hint of a chain saw, there
were screams, too, screams. After another set of flimsy mesh work he found
himself in a large room.
Open and spacious, the room was perpetually lighted by the eerie effects a
dying gray fog that evolved from the top corners of the walls. The room. No, it
was more than just a room, it was a vault. On the floor all around him were
meat hooks. He picked up one of them, heavy, ten pounds maybe, covered in
crisp ash. Along the sides of the vault there were more meat hooks with large
chunks attached to them. There were not too many of those chunks of meat and
where there were, all were about the same size, the same shape. He
approached, each carcass had been carved to perfection, no limbs left, no
heads, the chests were ripped open, the internal organs removed.
Suddenly the same chain saw from before came back. That was immediately
followed by screams. The screams died, the chain saw went on and on and on.
Liono ran for cover in between sections of meat hooks. The hooks were
attached on to skeletal, metal frameworks that could be moved, or slid easily
from one part of the vault to another through rails, tracks built into the tiled
ceiling. He did not want to move or to disturb the flexible, the dangling partitions
for the sounds produced were too loud, too noticeable.
Toward the recess of the chamber was a series of open doorways. The eerie
blue light was still there but for the first time he saw the fixtures that produced
the dull ambiance. The doorway he stepped through led to a catwalk elevated
over another vast chamber. He saw no movement beneath, only large shapes
about the same size as those that were on the meat hooks from before. The
immovable figures were still and dormant, leg less, headless but more intact
internally and evolved a stench that was not pleasant.
Liono noticed that he was going up, each new area he entered was slightly more
elevated than the one before. In that new room he passed several wide cages.
The grounds were covered in green leaves and fresh grasses and for the first
and for the last time there were bright lights, real lights. That was how he was
able to tell the rest. In each cage there was a aerbill but much larger than the
ones he had seen before. On each aerbill he saw mammary glands, nipples and
genitalia, all female. The females closest to him were the fattest, the ones further
out were less fat and the ones at the extremes of the vault were not only thin but
those faraway cages contained more than one individual.
Ahead there was a series of stairs that led up, up to darkness. All lighting was
gone, vanished. He ascended, he toiled up to the top and he came to a vast,
low-ceilinged room, lighted in blue and empty. Round, metal columns adorned
the level. He walked among the pillars, the sound of his footsteps echoed in
undamped timbers. Toward the far end the walls had the faintest outlines of
doors. Barred doors to cells that contained aerbills, the youngsters, the ones he
had seen back topside. They lay flat, they rested on makeshift beds, four to a
cell the aerbills had piles of fresh grass and plenty of water.
Liono found yet more stairs that led to all sorts of places. He dropped to his
knees dizzy. He did not know where to go, once again he did not know what to
do. At that moment the sirens called. The cell doors swung open. The
youngsters stepped out suddenly wide awake. The aerbills walked up the stairs
in neat, ordered rows. Liono, sparked with the insight of inspiration, managed
to proceed undetected behind one on of the many lines.
Above that open level was another, another, another and then yet a fifth, each
level identical to the last. After that fifth level he took a different turn and broke
away from the masses of youngsters who were then headed to the clearly open,
metal doors that adorned the side of the green, looming hill.
The ceiling of that fifth level was a patchy frame work of iron trusses. He could
see the blue skies outside and the fact that the large room above that last level
was nothing more than a platform. A platform that, he hoped, contained the
Luna. Liono knew Panthro was elsewhere.
Thin wire meshes he easily beat through with his fists. He crawled through the
cramped, claustrophobic passage he had violently revealed. At the other end he
came into what he could only describe as the sleeping chamber, or at the least
one of the many sleeping chambers contained in that bizarre, in that shadowy,
unimaginable, mind-bending complex.
"Jagga only knows to what extents this place converges," Liono wondered
aloud to himself.
Everywhere, forever along the walls, in the center of the room, piled in
conveyor belts, one atop the other, were tubes, glass tubes. In each of them
was a figure, a human, humans different from the aerbills. Liono saw and was
amazed by the extreme variation of color, ethnicity, size -- male and female --
all the characters of the original mankind that populated first earth.
"Panthro!" He ran to one of the tubes that contained a figure that he was all too
familiar with. He banged on the glass but nothing aroused the slumbering
Thundercat. Liono looked down upon the body. There was something wrong
with it, there was something wrong with Panthro. The skin did not seem to stick
to the body as it ought to. While the figure breathed the skin moved and shook
in ways that were unnatural.
With the Sword of Omens he smashed the glass of the tube. The shattered,
sharp pieces spread noisily in a polyphonic explosion across the cold, ironclad
floor. Liono shook the body of the Thundercat to try to wake him. All he could
get out was a moan, a groan that was unrecognizable. Liono peeled the flesh
over inadvertently to reveal that all along it was just another one of the humans
covered, clothed in Panthro's hollowed-out hide bloody. He screamed and
darted back in the terror of realization.
"Panthro!" He gave on last yell.
The human stumbled around on the floor, slowly coming to life, in screams, too.
The piercing shrieks were followed by a siren complete with flashing, strobing
red lights. The other tubes opened, the glass tops shot straight up into the air or
rolled to the side, down beneath the metal portions of the cylinders. Panthro's
hide still clung to the body of the human he had awoken, who was on his feet
already, headed toward Liono. Its arms waved violently, its head shook from
side to side. What ever grunts or yelps it made were lost to the loud clamor of
the bellowing sirens. Liono tried to ran back but the room was so dark and so
cluttered with those tubes that he had lost his way through the demonic maze.
He took out the Sword of Omens and sent a shot of light through the vast
room. An incredible and painful surge of screams followed that for the moment
actually drowned the glaring alarms. The humans who had made it to their feet
stumbled to the ground and writhed in pain apparently unable to stand the bright
lights. Liono doubled back. He had to shot another burst of light to keep further
hoards from neighboring chambers from getting to close. With one last shot of
energy from the Sword of Omens Liono rediscovered the open passage from
which he had entered through and managed to squeeze in and to crawl out of,
back to the platform.
The white, metal doors -- at that point his only conceivable way out -- were
The Luna lay in pieces but much of the hull remained intact. Inside the control
room the glass window was cracked and shattered. Liono wished he had paid
more attention to what Panthro had done to operate the vessel. He needed to
ram the doors.
From all around the inside of the hill came the sounds of screams and yells. The
humans were getting close. The lights. He turned on the headlights and the back
lights and the sounds of the incoming invasion ceased. Back to the business of
the door. The Luna was too beat-up to use her to smash those thick slabs of
"Panthro, come on, you must have --" Liono flew down the hall to the engine.
The fuel tanks were composed of small containers, each a gallon in volume. He
was pleasantly surprised that there was so much fuel left. Gently, very
cautiously, he pulled two of the plastic containers free and carried them out of
the Luna along with scraps of tattered cloths. One of the tanks he spilled over
the doors. The other he propped up snug against the nearly imperceptible crack
between the two slabs of the doors. The cloth he dunked into the wide open
top, into the ready liquid. Standing far away from the fumes he lit a match.
Cradled in his hands he drew it close to the cloth and lit the fabric.
Lightning-like he ran for cover in the Luna, he hoped he could reach the vessel
in time but the explosion caught him from the back and launched him into the air
a good thirty feet.
He came to a few moments later basked in daylight. His body was badly
bruised and he thought he might be bleeding. He could not feel any broken
bones at least not yet any way. Liono looked around the platform. The Luna lay
helpless on her side, fuel spilled out all over. The fuel spilled in streams through
the platform and the bunkers and the mazes beneath. The whole interior of that
complex was full of fumes that mixed intolerably with the odor of burnt meat.
Liono knew he had one last chance left. The Luna was upside-down and
everything inside was in total chaotic disarray. On top of that he was in the
darkness again but fortunately the bright morning light was strong enough to
keep the humans away, back in the shattered shelter the subterranean complex
afforded them. All Liono looked for was the main radio. He had last left it in the
control room but figured that Panthro may have moved it somewhere else,
somewhere inward. Amid the mattresses and the oddball litter that adorned the
ceiling of the living quarters, now acting as the floor, nearly submerged in the
water from the broken pipes of the small excuse for a rest room, he recovered
the main radio. The Luna began to rumble and slide, the vessel was dangerously
close to tipping over to a more exaggerated orientation. Liono carefully
maneuvered free from the destroyed vessel. He clearly heard the gurgling of the
fuel tanks spilling their contents. After those twenty minutes of looking and
finding there was still plenty of fuel left in the vessel.
Back on the dreadfully familiar ground of the platform Liono ran to the metal
doors he had blown open, completely open. The door frame, the framework,
even parts of the hill itself were destroyed, lain over the ground in gnarled
shards and dusty piles. Safely in the open air, in the meadowy clearing, he
He aimed the Sword of Omens at what fragments of the Luna he could still see.
The energy blast broke through the vessel and shot a fire ball into the air. The
hill turned into a volcano that erupted not lava but globs of dirt and metal. The
world was set on fire and roared in one violent explosion after the other. The
unstoppable sounds of iron groaning, metal splintering, ground incaving rang
over the cries of horror that came from the humans from beneath the island.
The Luna and her creator did not exist anymore. Liono walked solemnly under
the weight of the great loss suffered that day. He stopped, he drew a deep
breath, he looked back. His red mane fretted in the air, in the hot air tainted
with the fumes of fuel, with the smell of burnt meat, of burnt flesh. The hill was
no more, the hill was gone, the ground had spread and splattered in avalanches
to reveal the broken skeleton, the open framework of the complex that had
stretched undetected beneath the island.
"Say it again?"
"Panthro is dead."
"The earth will shake. With Panthro dies part of Thundera," said Tygra.
Liono sat on a rock on the side of the canal. All around the aerbills roamed on
the grassy meadows.
"They got him, they skinned him, they skinned him alive."
"You don't know that, Liono."
There was a silent pause.
"Those were the ones you blew up?"
"I blew up their complex. I don't know if any of them survived but the sunlight
will keep them down for a while."
"It'll take us a couple of days to get to you."
"I've got enough food. I can make it."
"Don't go anywhere near that complex 'till we get there. I bet we'll find most of
the uranium intact in some deep, well-protected chamber. Well-guarded, too, I
One of the youngsters approached Liono.
"Liono? Liono? Where are you? Liono?"
The main radio fell to the ground in a soft dud. Liono ran after Q. He laughed
and giggled. The two tumbled into the water. Other aerbills followed. In the
distance, where once the hill stood flames licked the sky above. Liono swam
through the canal easily, no longer bothered by the dark depths below.
Alone, far from the youngsters, far from the aerbills, with firm acceptance he
contemplated the world not in sorrow, not in sorrow. Everywhere the earth
grew green anew. Everywhere, forever, skies were bright and blue,
everywhere, for ever. For ever and ever.
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