PHASE IV : THE LOKI ARC ( 51 of 66 )

: “ Harvest ”


And Troy Carter is six years old. 

The black enamel of the old uneven stucco brushes against his fingers as he stumbles down the hallway. In his mother’s room, he hears odd sounds, high-pitched keening like wind through twisted limbs. He shivers, cold thick air tears heat away from his skin. 

“Unh… oh yeah, do it to me baby… right there, ohhhh…” 

Troy peeked through the open doorway, sees the ugly, naked body of an unfamiliar man on top of his mother’s. Their forms seemed joined, an ungodly and terrifying new breed, with four arms and faces shifting in continuous agony. 

“Mommy?” The voice is small, frightened. 

“What the hell?” And the monster is gone, the two halves pulled apart. The ugly man glares at him, buttoning his shirt, pale chicken legs still showing under its moist tails. His face was lean, and hungry, like a vulture’s. He glared at Troy. “Son of a bitch. Fucking kids.”  

Troy! Go back to bed!” his mother ordered. She grabbed at the man’s arm. “C’mon baby… he’s just a kid. Don’t let that spoil…” 

The vulture shook her hand away.  “If I wanted this bullshit, I could be at home. Fucking four kids at home, not to mention my cunt of a wife.” He pulled on a pair of filthy brown pants. 

Troy’s mother sat up, fat pink mammaries bouncing. “What about my money?” 

The vulture flung a small pink chit at her. “Five credits. More’n you’re worth. Goddamn whore with kids running around everywhere…” He stormed out, not even bothering to shut the door. The cold of the planet swept through the crumbling tenement, piercing Troy’s tissue-thin pajamas. 

“Five credits?! You son of a bitch, don’t you walk out on me. Don’t you dare fucking walk out on me!” 

“Mommy… I’m sorry… did I do bad?” 

Troy’s mother stood, pulled her bustier straps over her shoulders, and marched over to him.  

“You stupid kid. You stupid fucking little retard.” She slapped him once, twice, again and again. Her mollusk heart fluttered beneath sagging, freckled breasts. Her voice twitched like centipede legs.  

“Mommy… I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” 

“Sorry? I needed that goddamn money, you little shit!” She drove him to the floor, the kick sending him sliding into the hall on filthy linoleum. “I should’ve listened to everybody! I should’ve had the goddamn abortion after your father died!” 

Troy wept, blood and snot dripping from his nose. He had never really known what it was to shiver, what it was really like to be cold… 

And then he falls… 

And Troy Carter is sixteen. All the galaxy is open to him. 

“Hey Border Worlder!” The plastic can smacked against his head, the heavy liquid inside ramming against his skull. Syrupy coke dripped down his neck and the back of his shirt. It was cold. But not that cold. Behind his eyes, he raged fire.    

Days tended to be like that at the Space Force prep academy, but you got used to it.    

“Hey Troy. I like what you’re doing with your hair. Styling the back differently?”

Helen sits, long strands of hair like live wires dancing in tune to her smiling eyes.     

Troy smiled, wiped a bit of the excess soda from his hair. “Terrans.” He leaned down and retrieved the almost-empty soda bottle. “Wasteful little bastards.”    

“Don’t let it get to you. You’re twice the pilot any of these spoiled brats’ll ever be.” She’d never know all the flight time he’d logged when she smiled; each one sent him soaring.    

From out of nowhere, a hand snaked around, grasped Helen around the mouth. Troy looked up, startled. Three of the seniors had slipped in behind her, held her down. He rose, angry. Screw his scholarship. 

“Hey, Helen o’ Troy. Y’know, I’ve always wondered,” the lead boy asked, his sweaty stink drowning out the smell of the cafeteria food, “which one of you Border World fucktoys is the bitch, and which one is the butch?” 

“Well hell Neil, check these little mounds out!” The smaller boy on the right, stockier with wavy blond hair, grasped her left breast. “Oh yeah, those’ll grow in real nice.” 

The leader released Helen, threw her back down in her seat. Troy remained, fists clenched. His heart pounded. 

“What about it, castoff?” Neil asked. Helen kept her head down. Troy saw her crying, and a spot of blood on her lip from where this Neil kid must have scratched her. He looked around for backup, but there was none. No one interfered when it was a Border Worlder getting stepped on. “Ever gotten your cherry pushed by a real man, and not some degenerate provincial fuck?” 

“Hey look! I think you pissed off Troyboy!” 

Neil and his cronies circled the table. “I think you better get the fuck out of my face, Border Boy.” He shoved Troy, knocking him off-balance. “Your kind aren’t wanted here, y’know. Why don’t you go home?” He shoved Troy again. “I mean fuck, everyone knows if we just gave the Cats the fucking Border Worlds, they’d be happy with it. We spend all our time and money defending your burnout little cinderworlds.” Neil paused, voice cracking. “I lost two uncles and my older brother defending some fucking garbage dump that’s probably a resort to your kind. What do you fucking say to that?” 

Troy said nothing, nothing of the hundreds of words he wanted to say, none of the hundreds of infuriated punches and kicks which pounded against his skull like a throbbing tumor, each one with tendrils the size of gasping skin pores. 

“Aw, screw it.” Neil and his two friends walked away, back to their table. Troy’s face, bright red, dropped in concern. He reached across the table to take Helen’s hand. 

“Hey, you okay?” 

She said nothing. 

“Look, summer’s about to start. What say you and I go to Nueva York and relax a bit? Get away from all this crap.” 

Helen sniffled, raised her head. Her face still bore an ugly red impression from Neil’s solid gold lion crest. Tearstreaks marred her pixie features. “I’ve already got a job here, sorry. Working in the admissions office to help pay tuition.” 

“Look… I’ve gotta go, but I’ll be around. You call me if you need anything, alright? Anything.” 

She smiled, a small thing. “Thanks. I will.” 

Troy! A moment please.” 

He turned. “Professor Wallace, sir!” 

The graying old warrior took Troy by the shoulder and led him away, making no mention of the stain on the back of his uniform. Troy valued him as no other; he’d never had a role model before. (Never had a father before…) “Troy, I’d like you to consider a study abroad for this summer. I always try to offer it to my best students…” 

And he left for the summer, as forgettable as any young summer, and when he returned, a shiny piece of Gotherian crystal in hand as a present for Helen, he ran to the admissions office. Through the plasticene windows, he saw her filing papers. 

“Helen! Wow, it’s so good to see you. Anyway…” 

But he saw her, white-faced and ashen, and beneath the edge of the desk a swelling in her stomach. And on her neck, an ugly scar, the shape of a lion. 

He stopped. The crystal dropped, shattered. It splintered, sending tiny refracting pieces everywhere.  

“Helen… I…” He had nothing to say. 

Her eyes brimmed. “It’s not…” It was useless. She knew. He knew. 

“That son of a bitch. He…” 

“There’s nothing you can do, all right? Just… just leave me alone, Troy. Just leave me alone. I’m going back home after this semester.” She turned back to her filing, shoulders shaking. 

He felt his head pounding again, his fists twitching. He remembered cold. Now he knew heat. 

And then he falls… 

And Troy Carter is twenty-two, he’s a hotshot pilot, and he’s really screwed the pooch this time.  

It was supposed to have been a milk run, just scooping up a satellite. But he’d wasted all his missiles as decoys, and didn’t have enough to finish what he started. 

“Dammit!” He slammed a gauntleted hand into the console, but it was useless. All of the electrical systems were fried. His Avenger was a coffin in space. 

The craft swarm him, and he laughs, for all he can think about is how much his locker will smell after the oranges he’d smuggled aboard started to rot in their hiding place.  


Velina liked oranges. 

Velina, with her cocoa-rich tresses and dancing eyes. Velina, who admitted she’d once orgasmed after cracking an encryption in her mind during sex. A stained photograph of her was wedged into his tactical computer. Her eyes were distant. The photograph, an after-image of light reflection, captured that.  

I love you, Velina. 

Thousands of years of human language, and that was still the only way to say it. 

He stared out at the stars, remembering what Professor Kiser had told them back at the academy, about so many stars being hundreds of light years away, about supernovas being seen thirty thousand years after the fact. 

All we ever see of stars are their old photographs. 

“Catscratch! Hold on kid, we’re coming!” 

The scratchy message shocked Troy out of his reverie. He redirected power from life support to the communications system.  

It was Blair. Hell, it was always Blair. He was like Superman and Luke Skywalker rolled into one. And he’d let him down. Let down his hero, his role model.    

(His father…) 

Troy sighed, leaned back in his chair. He wasn’t going to die, not today. 

They’d really wanted that satellite though. It had all the comm. data they’d need to crack the conspiracy wide open. 

"Fuck," he said to himself. 

Velina was going to kill him. 

And then he falls… 

It is a week later, and his hand trembles as he triggers the particle beam weapons, coherent energy beams slicing through the helpless transport.

“No, please! We just want to live! We’re not infected… we’re not infec…” 

It’s not just that he’s shooting down civilians. It’s not just that all of Telamon IV is a ghost planet. 

It’s the latest casualty report. 

Helen Waid, aged twenty-two, and her five year old son Troy

They’d been on the first transport that tried to escape. 

Troy forces back tears and spit, and angles his craft towards the northern pole of the planet. Another transport. Another pleading refugee group. 

Bodies choked the orbits of Telamon. Within the cockpit of his killing machine, Troy Carter wills himself not to cry. 

And then he falls… 

And he receives the report that his mother has died, but it doesn’t matter. He hasn’t seen her in years. Besides, there’s another war. There’s always another war. 

And then he falls… 

It’s a new threat, and he suits up. But there are too many, too many of them. The nightmarish green glow of their engines, the pulsating throb of their ship skins…

He ejects, his fighter burning around him. Too many. They click and tack like insects, screeching at him through the communicator. He feels the pull of a tractor beam. The gaping maw of the nightmare opens to him, its teeth guiding him into the slimy pit of its recovery bay, mouths opening and closing like weeping flesh wounds.  

And then he falls… 

The Nephilim chitter excitedly to each other, adjusting the neuro-electrical stimulators to more accurately synch with Troy’s chemistry. He wakes, but for a moment, and recoils at the ungodly cold of the green mucus membrane he’s encased in. He panics; he can’t move. Only his eyes were free. On both flanks, endless rows of tubes filled with the same viscous horrors, vague humanoid shapes in each, writhing and screaming. But for a moment, a brief interlude of terrifying consciousness, he understands the harvest of pain the nightmare gods are engaged in. Agony is their ambrosia. 

And then he falls… 

And Troy Carter is six years old, and around the corner in his burnt-out shell of a home he hears something…