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Isle of the Dead
By RD Rivero




"Isle of the Dead"
By RD Rivero

March 1, 2000


[Part One]

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, 
roller-coaster ride.

"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 
scene.

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.


[Part Two]

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."

"How so?"

"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 
time."

"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 
be catastrophic."

"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 
discoveries.

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.


[Part Three]

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 
too sensitive.

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 
soon enough.


[Part Four]

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 
for it."

"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.


[Part Five]

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 
elsewhere.

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.


[Part Six]

"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, 
simply, animals.

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.


[Part Seven]

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 
abnormally warm.

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."

Panthro.

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?"


[Part Eight]

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 
Luna.

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.

Another hall.

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.


[Part Nine]

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 
closed shut.

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 
metal.

"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 
turned back.

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.


[Part Ten]

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 
suppose."

"Uranium."

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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