Harvest Center K24-090 (area formerly known as Kansas, USA)
He dangled the silver locket and smiled at the faces of his wife and son.
“Four more,” he said, closing the locket and placing it safely in the upper pocket of his utility vest. “Only four more and I can go home.”
He tried to wipe his mind clear of any distractions, smiling one last time at an image of his wife and son playing out by their pool. It seemed so long ago to him. A lifetime ago. It actually was.
He had a much different life fifteen years ago. A perfect life. Until they came and ruined it. They ruined everything.
The sound of gunshots brought him back out of his mind.
“It is **** like that that’s gonna cost you everything John,” he whispered to himself.
Focus damn it.
He readied his assault rifle and listened. Footsteps--. Frantic ones.
He listened to the echoes that reverberated off the walls of the old oil tank he had found refuge in. A large portion of the right side of the tank had rusted away and the left side was perforated with numerous bullet-sized holes. He looked out the large rusted-out section and saw nothing. With his assault rifle tightly gripped in one hand he crawled to one of the holes on the opposite side of the tank and peered out.
A gaunt looking man was crouch running near some overturned vehicles. He took cover behind an old Chevy pick-up and started to reload his SMG. Another gun shot rang out making the man drop both the gun and the clip.
He must be nervous. Easy prey.
John switched positions to get a better view of the shooter. Another shot rang out followed shortly by the sound that John could only best describe as a watermelon being smashed by a baseball bat. He noticed a white trail barely visible in the gray skies.
Tracer rounds.
John’s view was blocked by a semi trailer. However, the fading white trail let him know that it was a high elevation shot from the west. After two years of fighting in this same arena, he had every nook and cranny mapped out in his head. He knew he was located in the far south corner of the arena, almost near the arena wall. John knew there was only one high elevation point from the west, the radio tower.
He slid back to the previous hole he was looking through and found the gaunt man lying face first in the dirt. A large pool of blood sat near what was left of his head.
“.50 cal,” John groaned. “****.”
The .50 caliber sniper rifle was one of the two rare guns in the game. The other was an RPG. He knew that there was only one of each of these placed throughout the arena. Those were the rules. He had already found the RPG early on in the game and stored it in the hood of a burned out Ford Mustang toward the western wall.
Each of these rare weapons were supplied with a small amount of ammo. There was only one warhead for the RPG and five rounds for the sniper rifle. The shooter had already used three shots in his pursuit of the gaunt man. This meant two things to John: the shooter was soon to be out of ammo and was likely a poor shot. Both of which were in John’s favor.
He shouldered his assault rifle and took a deep breath.
“Things could be worse,” he said quietly to himself. “At least there’s only three left.”

From his desk Chim-Wau smiled as he replayed the image of the human’s head exploding as the metal projectile plowed through it.
“Marvelous isn’t it Dev-Noi?” Chim-Wau said.
“Quite,” Dev-Noi said, feeling his stomachs knot up. He didn’t have the taste for brutality that his commander did.
Chim-Wau stood up from his desk. His tall slim frame began to pace back and forth behind it.
Dev-Noi couldn’t help but notice how thin his Commander had become over the past two Earth years. Of course, every Kri-Wa-Jing was slender. However, Chim-Wau had lost a substantial amount of weight. It was especially prominent when Chim-Wau would forgo wearing his mandatory Commander’s robes.
“Is something wrong sir?” Dev-Noi asked, noticing his Commander’s continued pacing.
“There is something I have to tell you Dev-Noi. Something that I’ve been trying to hide from you for quite some time,” Chim-Wau sighed.
Dev-Noi felt his back tighten up with anxiety. “What is it sir?”
“It’s the High Council. They are sending over a delegate today to look over my work,” he said.
“Is that bad, sir?” Dev-Noi asked. “The High Council has always been interested in your work.”
Chim-Wau returned to his seat. “Indeed. Nevertheless, I’ve heard word that they are beginning to question its validity.”
“But, your research into what the humans call ‘humanity’ is revolutionary. The High Council has even published your findings. You’re a hero on Tarlan-Xi,” Dev-Noi said, feeling a sense of pride build within his chest.
“You know the High Council just as well as I, Dev-Noi. They are insatiable beasts. They want more, much more.”
“When do they want it?” Dev-Noi asked.
“Today,” Chim-Wau said, pressing a button on his desk. The paused holographic image of the human’s dead body was replaced by hundreds of different camera feeds placed throughout the arena.
Dev-Noi felt his stomachs knot up once again. “Sir? Do you have anything to give them?”
“Yes Dev-Noi. I do.”
“What sir?”
“Him,” Chim-Wau said, pressing another button on his desk. One of the many camera feeds enlarged to take up the entire holographic screen. Chim-Wau paused the image and zoomed in on a man who had his back up against a pile of scrap metal.
“Who is he?” Dev-Noi asked.
“His name is John Samuel Witcliffe. Subject-003,” Chim-Wau said, struggling to pronounce the odd sounding human name.
“Why is he so special?” Dev-Noi asked, making his way closer to the screen.
He looked like all the other humans. Ugly creatures. There were some similarities in the basic facial structure between humans and the Kri-Wa-Jing. The layout of the eyes, ears, nose, and mouth. Their bodies were also similar in that they both had two arms, two legs, along with ten toes and fingers. However, Dev-Noi noted that humans had much shorter limbs and necks and their heads were far smaller. Such odd proportions. While Dev-Noi was getting used to these creatures he could not shake his revulsion at the thin, fibrous structures that adorned the most unusual parts of their bodies.
This human on the screen looked like all the others. He had a more muscular build however, with longer dark fibers covering the top of his head as well as his face. Dev-Noi noticed a series of human symbols along his upper right arm. Dev-Noi had spent a long time studying human symbols in the Academy and he understood these to be human names. Elizabeth and Jacob.
“This human has won every game he has played since I originally began this experiment two Earth years ago,” Chim-Wau said.
“Precisely Dev-Noi. Precisely. This man had no prior combat training. He was a ‘mail courier’ for most of his life. I am unaware of the exact nature of this occupation; however, I’ve been told that there is no combat involved whatsoever. Yet, somehow this human has killed well over sixty others,” Chim-Wau said. “He is -- quite simply -- a killing-machine.”
“What skill does this human possess?” Dev-Noi asked. “What skill separates him from the others?”
“It’s not a matter of skills Dev-Noi. This man is being fueled by something.”
“By what sir?”
“Love Dev-Noi -- this man is being fueled by love.”

John stopped near a large pile of scrap metal in order to catch his breath and his thoughts. He’d been spotted almost immediately after leaving the old oil tank. He chastised himself for his own stupidity. He didn’t take the time to scope out his surroundings before he went to investigate the gaunt man’s pockets. That mistake almost cost him everything. And for what? The man didn’t have a damn thing that was worth anything.
The gaunt man only had one clip left of ammo for his lone weapon and his pockets were filled with empty cigarette cartons and an empty canteen. John knew before he even checked the man that the chances he held the second piece to the Yutad were slim to none.
John reached into his left pants pocket and pulled out a small, shiny golden disk. Around the circumference of the disk were different alien symbols. John didn’t understand what they meant, but he was told that they stood for a popular quote within the alien religion. Belief leads to Ascension. In the center of the disk was a square indentation. John knew that this was where the second piece of the Yutad was placed. Now it was only a matter of finding it so that he could go home.
The rules to the game were complex and unforgiving. Six men were placed within the arena, each with an assortment of weapons. There were two rare weapons hidden in the arena as well as the two pieces to the Yutad. The first person to collect the two pieces of the Yutad won and was allowed out of the arena. The remaining men were then forced to continue play until there was only one man standing, he too was allowed to leave.
Complications would arise when only two men were left alive and the Yutad had yet to be put together. John had encountered this problem three times over the course of playing.
The first time, his opponent was belligerent and blood thirsty. John cringed as he remembered watching the man running around the arena like a hungry animal. He didn’t want to do it. He wanted them both to be able to leave. But the man was beyond human calmness and so like the animal he had become, John made the choice in a smooth trigger-squeeze.
“I had to do it,” John muttered out loud.
John had never shot a man that close to him before. Never close enough to actually see their eyes.
Why didn’t you just stop?
“Why?” John startled himself with the sound of his own voice. If he wanted to live to see Beth and Jacob he needed to get the hell out of his own head and back into the game.
The sound of scraping metal made John’s muscles tighten up. Quiet, angry murmurings of someone to the left of his position followed the scraping. Someone else was making sloppy mistakes, probably the one who spotted him near the gaunt man’s body.
John saw a hover camera up in the sky near his position. Its anti-gravity generators hummed quietly as it hung there like it were being held up by an invisible string.
“Always looking for a show,” John whispered, feeling red hot rage build up in his chest. Not now. Anger clouded his senses and he couldn’t afford that now.
John turned his attention back to his pursuer as he heard footsteps nearing his location. He lowered himself behind some large metal pipes and propped his rifle between them. He took a series of deep breaths and placed his finger on the trigger.
He watched as a tall man with dark black skin rounded the corner of the large scrap metal pile, a shotgun butted up against his shoulder. A chunk of sheet metal blocked most of John’s shot.
The man scanned the area to his left, staying close to the same pile of scrap metal that hid John. He then turned his attention to the right looking directly at John but seeing nothing but the sharp scales of twisted metal where grown men hid in fear.
For the first time since the aliens came, John was happy that he hadn’t gotten a chance to shave or bathe in almost two months. The aliens wanted animals and now John looked and smelled like one while he waited for the man to make his next move.
The man began to make his way closer towards John, making sure to keep close to the scrap-metal pile. John still didn’t have the shot he needed and he knew he was running out of time. A twelve gauge shotgun was far more effective up close.
The man stopped near a piece of sheet metal and took a seat behind it. John heard a series of clicks and then saw a tiny trail of smoke rising from behind the piece of sheet metal.
John smelled the comforting burn of a cigarette.
Now or never. He shouldered the assault rifle and placed his finger back on the trigger. He followed the trail of smoke downward and stopped the aiming reticule where he estimated the head was. John closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and upon opening them he squeezed the trigger.
He let off five shots where the reticule was pointed then lowered it further down and let off another five shots. John waited quietly, waiting for the man to leap up and barrel down on him with his shotgun. Instead, John watched as the shotgun tumbled to the ground next to the man’s feet along with a small silver lighter.
John was aware of his heart smashing against his ribcage. He slowly stood up and began to make his way towards the man. The right side of the man’s face was torn up as well as his right arm and upper chest. Blood poured out of the gaping wounds.
With his eyes squinted he patted the man down, checking his pockets for the second piece of the Yutad.
“Damn it,” he growled as all he came up with was a pack of cigarettes and a small billfold in one of the lower pockets of his utility vest.
John opened the billfold and found it stuffed with pictures and drawings. There were dozens of yellowed and worn photos of a family. John recognized the dark-skinned man in every one of them. He unfolded one of the drawings which had a series of stick figures drawn next to a house. Each figure had a label, mom, dad, Jenny, Lisa, Alexander, Me.
John closed his eyes and he crumpled the drawing in his hands. He grabbed hold of the billfold and threw it at the hovering camera.
Picking up his assault rifle, John aimed at the camera and squeezed the trigger. He emptied his entire clip on the hovering orb, which didn’t move an inch as the bullets ricocheted off its invisible shield.
“**** you!” He screamed at the top of his lungs. “**** you and your ****ing game!”

Dev-Noi’s mind was spinning as he tried to understand his Commander’s description of the human concept of ‘love.’ The only thing he could compare it to was the Kri-Wa-Jing’s mateship. Mateship was the act of having ones genes paired up with the most suitable match in order to spawn a youngling. This pairing was always done by a branch of the High Council.
Chim-Wau went on to describe ‘sexual intercourse’, another idea that Dev-Noi found hard to comprehend. He had heard stories about a time long ago when the Kri-Wa-Jing were forced to interlock their reproductive organs in order to spawn. However, the High Council had deemed the act far too filthy and uneconomical. From then the Kri-Wa-Jing simply combined their genes along with their suitable mate’s genes at one of the many birthing facilities on Tarlan-Xi.
Family was another strange concept to Dev-Noi. Younglings within the Kri-Wa-Jing society were raised at the Academies. Dev-Noi had spawned five younglings with his mate and he never met a single one of them. The idea of raising them himself was unnerving. He had seen a number of younglings who were in the midst of their training and he found them to be quite detestable. To even think that he himself was at one time a youngling made Dev-Noi recoil.
“I’m afraid I don’t understand sir,” Dev-Noi finally said.
“Which part Dev-Noi?”
“This ‘love’ that you speak of,” Dev-Noi said, watching the replaying image of the John human shooting at the hover camera. “Is it a measurable force?”
“I’m afraid not,” Chim-Wau said, stopping the replaying image and bringing back the hundreds of camera feeds on the holographic screen. “I believe that ‘love’ is actually, as crazy as it might sound, immeasurable.”
Dev-Noi’s face scrunched up. ‘Immeasurable’ he pondered. In all of his life he had never heard of any force that was ‘immeasurable.’
“Will the High Council even acknowledge it then?” Dev-Noi asked, knowing their love for statistics and calculations.
“That’s what we will see,” Chim-Wau said. “I am hoping that they will at least grant me more time to flesh out my research.”
“As do I sir,” Dev-Noi said.
The holographic screen flickered and the camera feeds were replaced by a stern looking Kri-Wa-Jing. He wore a large golden head piece with the the Kri-Wa-Jing’s credo etched into it. Ascension Shall be Reached Through Belief and Faith.
“Ah, Delegate Trenk-Reh, to what do I owe the pleasure?” Chim-Wau said, fidgeting nervously with his hands.
“Do not play coy with me Chim-Wau,” Trenk-Reh growled.
Dev-Noi noted that his voice was far deeper and raspier than most Kri-Wa-Jing.
“My apologies,” Chim-Wau said in a defeated tone.
“I am simply contacting you in order to let you know that I will be arriving to your ship shortly. So I expect your primary landing bay shields to be powered down this time. I don’t want there to be another fiasco,” Trenk-Reh said, sliding his hand across a scar below his left eye.
Dev-Noi snickered. The last time that Trenk-Reh had visited, Dev-Noi had forgotten to power down the shields and Trenk-Reh’s cruiser smashed into them when it was coming in to land. Both pilots were killed and Trenk-Reh was seriously wounded.
“Of course,” Chim-Wau said. “We have learned from our past errors.”
“I hope so,” Trenk-Reh said. “For your own sake.”
The screen flickered and the hundreds of camera feeds returned.
“He seems agitated,” Dev-Noi said.
Chim-Wau nodded solemnly.
“That will not be good for us,” he said.

John had always rationalized to himself that the men he killed out in that arena weren’t fathers or husbands. They were enemies, enemies who threatened his life. Enemies who were standing in the way of him being able to see his wife and son. It is this rationalization that allowed John to rid himself of the guilt that plagued him for the first year.
Before having to fight in the arena, John and his family were some of the fortunate few who were put to work in one of the many alien plantations. He spent his days with his family picking an apple-like alien fruit called Wyadir which was too soft skinned to be picked by the alien’s giant machinery.
All in all John considered himself lucky. He had heard stories of some men and women who were forced to work underground in the alien’s mining facilities. The only downside of working out in the fields however was the constant surveillance of the lower level aliens.
John noted that the more powerful aliens were taller, around nine-feet tall, and wore more ornate robes than the shorter soldiers who stood at around six to seven feet tall and wore darker, more plainer robes.
On “Recruitment Day”, as it came to be called by those in the plantation, two nine-foot tall aliens in ornate robes emerged out onto the plantation and began to select certain men to participate in a research experiment. John was one of the first to be chosen. He was taken into the large, domed ship that sat on the outskirts of the fields where he was given the rules and the rewards of the game by one of the more powerful aliens, Chim-Wau.
In very broken English, he and the others were told that the winner of each game would be allowed to return to the fields for a month. If a person refused to participate they would be executed. If they attempted to use the weapons within the arena against the aliens they would also be executed along with their family members.
“The ****ers have us by the balls,” John had heard one of the men say as he talked about the alien’s cruel game.
John realized that he was right. The game had to be played and had to be played by the alien’s rules.
The only way to survive the game and survive life outside of the game was to make rationalization. This ability to rationalize allowed an otherwise humane man to become a killer. Rationale helped to ease the immense burden of guilt. Rationale, to John, was just as important as air to breathe and water to drink.
Until today, John had trained his mind and body to hide behind his own protective shield of rationale. He had trained his fingers to know the feel of photographs and letters and to avoid them at all costs. He had trained his eyes to never look at the name that was etched into each man’s dog tags. All that training, years worth of training, John realized, had just been washed away by the family drawing found in a dead man’s wallet.
John sat limply next to the bloodied corpse. In his right hand was the crumpled up drawing. In his left hand he held his silver locket. And in front of him lay his assault rifle, its last and empty clip beside it.
“I’m sorry,” he said quietly, glancing at the man’s body out of the corner of his eye. “I’m so sorry.”
A loud popping sound made him look up. Through the clouds he watched a conical shaped ship descending rapidly towards Earth. It slowed down as it neared the arena and for a short second it hovered just a few hundred meters above it before zipping off westward.
John opened up his right hand and looked down at the drawing. He closed his eyes and slid it into his pants pocket.
Standing up, he reached toward the dead man’s neck and ripped the chain off that hung around it. He looked down at the silver tag that dangled from his hand.
There were groupings of alien symbols that John didn’t understand. Underneath those was the name – James Quentin Harbacker.
“I’ll make them pay for it James,” he said, wiping a tear from his eye. “I swear to you, somehow, they will pay for it.”

The door to Chim-Wau’s command center opened to reveal the towering silhouette of Trenk-Reh and his two bodyguards.
Trenk-Reh was almost a whole head taller than most Kri-Wa-Jing and his large ornamental head piece only helped to give him even more stature. Height was a sign of power within the Kri-Wa-Jing and Dev-Noi knew that many had chosen to take growth hormones to increase their height. It was a highly frowned-upon practice, but those in charge were known for it. It was evident to Dev-Noi that Trenk-Reh had taken a few in his lifetime.
“Delegate Trenk-Reh, what a pleasure,” Chim-Wau said from behind his desk.
Trenk-Reh and his two bodyguards stepped hesitantly into the ovular room. He gave the room a quick glance and grunted disapprovingly.
“Chim-Wau, your untidiness never ceases to amaze me,” Trenk-Reh said.
Chim-Wau gestured toward Dev-Noi to move the empty Wyadir platters and mugs. Dev-Noi hurriedly picked up the platters that were strewn about the room and placed them into a neat stack with the mugs on top.
“My apologies sir,” Chim-Wau said.
Trenk-Reh took a seat opposite Chim-Wau’s desk and studied him from head to toe.
“You do realize how disrespectful it is to be wearing your under-garbs in the presence of a high ranking official,” Trenk-Reh said.
Dev-Noi watched Chim-Wau’s eyes widen as he realized his mistake. He quickly stood up and slid into his Commander’s robes before taking a seat again.
“I do apologize, things have just been so hectic,” Chim-Wau said, adjusting his robes. “What with my intensive research reaching its apex and my ship being short handed and all.”
Trenk-Reh steepled his fingers in front of his face.
“You know very well that budget constraints have forced the High Council to cut a great deal of our security and assistance personnel. You are not the only one feeling the crunch Chim-Wau. You might take an example from the other Harvest Commanders who have been able to keep up even with the constraints.”
Dev-Noi cringed as Chim-Wau’s forehead grew red with rage.
“Well, with all due respect, Delegate, the other harvest commanders aren’t working on revolutionary research projects while running a harvest.”
“Yes, this revolutionary research you speak of. As you know it has become a point of interest for the High Council, even more so than your capability at being a Harvest Commander.”
From underneath the table Dev-Noi could see Chim-Wau’s hands tighten into fists.
“Watch yourself Chim-Wau, I wouldn't want anything to happen to you,” Trenk-Reh smiled.
The two bodyguards behind Trenk-Reh flashed their blasters hidden underneath their robes. Dev-Noi could see their crimson half-circle frames shimmering in the light of the command center.
Chim-Wau released his hands and felt his forehead cooling.
“Nor do I,” he said, returning the smile.
“Now, if we may proceed,” Trenk-Reh said, pulling a data-pad from inside his robes. “The High Council has chosen me to judge the validity of your recent findings from your experiment. It is an honor that I take very seriously. So, if you would kindly upload me your report, we can look it over together.”
Chim-Wau quickly exchanged glances with Dev-Noi who was now nervously watching the events unfold from the corner of the room.
“Well, unfortunately I have not been able to finalize my report,” Chim-Wau said.
Trenk-Reh kept his focus on his data-pad that he was busily typing on.
“Alright...well, show me what you do have and we’ll go from there.”
“Actually, Delegate...I haven’t started the report,” Chim-Wau said, gripping the sides of his chair nervously.
Trenk-Reh’s typing stopped as he looked up.
“Excuse me?”
“You see, it’s rather...well, it’s rather complicated,” Chim-Wau began.
Trenk-Reh violently stood up, his data-pad landing upon Chim-Wau’s desk. Dev-Noi let out a panicked yipe as Trenk-Reh’s bodyguards drew out their blasters.
“You insolent, irresponsible waste of space! How dare you squander my time -- the High Council’s time!”
Trenk-Reh shook his head, his head piece swaying precariously.
“The High Council will hear of this, Chim-Wau, and as Ju-Car as my witness, you will pay severely for your indolence!”
With that Trenk-Reh picked up his data-pad and turned towards the door.
Dev-Noi looked anxiously at his petrified Commander.
“Wait,” Chim-Wau said, standing up.
Trenk-Reh and his bodyguards stopped in front of the door.
“What is it Chim-Wau,” Trenk-Reh asked without turning around. “I would highly suggest not wasting any more of our valuable time.”
Chim-Wau hit a series of buttons on his desk and the hundreds of camera feeds dissipated leaving the previously stilled image of John.
“I might not have written a report,” Chim-Wau said. “But I couldn’t, because you see the force I have found is immeasurable.”
Trenk-Reh slowly turned to look at the image on the screen.
“Impossible,” Trenk-Reh said, looking over the image. “I have never heard of a force being immeasurable.”
A smile blossomed across Chim-Wau’s face.
“Well, then you will find this particularly interesting.”

John pried on the rusty hood until it finally opened with a satisfying crack. Inside sat the RPG in its black metal case.
“Good,” John sighed, unlatching the metal case.
He hoisted the RPG onto his shoulders and shut the rusty hood.
Between leaving the dead body of James and finding the RPG, John hadn’t had much time to think out a decent plan. The mysterious sniper who John could still not see thanks to the mountainous piles of garbage was continuing his rampage. The sound of the .50 caliber sniper rifle firing kept his mind focused on survival.
He wasn’t sure what he wanted to do, but he knew what he wanted to see. He wanted to see every single alien dead. Especially the lead one, the one that chose him during Recruitment Day. Chim-Wau.
John’s mind volleyed ideas back and forth. When one part of him liked an idea, another part of him pointed out the flaws within it. What it all came down to was none of them seemed plausible. Everything around John was turned in the alien’s favor. This was their game, their rules.
“How can you beat someone at a game when they are the ones making the rules,” he asked himself.
John’s hairs stood on end as he heard a noise behind him.
He spun around on his heels with the RPG at the ready only to find the mysterious sniper already aiming at him.
“Don’t move,” the man said, the barrel of his gun shaking. “I could’ve killed you a minute ago if I had wanted to.”
He looked young, no older than twenty five John thought. He was short and stocky and there was a large scar running down the length of his right arm.
John gritted his teeth in anger. Not anger towards the man in front of him, but anger at himself. Anger that getting caught up in his head had finally cost him.
“So why didn’t you?” John asked. His RPG was aimed directly at the man’s torso.
“There’s no need,” he said. “I’ve killed three and I heard a **** load of gunshots coming from around here a long time ago. Haven’t seen anyone else before you. So I’m guessing you’re it.”
“You’re pretty trusting,” John said. “What if two of us were springing a trap?”
“I guess if it was a trap then I’d be dead already,” the man said.
John found the man’s argument to be naďve. Must be his first time.
“So if you don’t plan on killing me, why are you still aiming at me?”
“Cuz,” the man said. “I have no idea what your intentions are. And as much as I’d love to save this last bullet for those alien *******s, I’m more than willing to share it with you if you want.”
John couldn’t help but smile at the man’s cockiness. But before he could even break a full smile, he thought of an idea.
“So you wanna kill them too?” John asked.
The man kept his sights on John. “Duh, no ****. Who doesn’t want to kill them?”
“Ok then,” John started, lowering the RPG. “I have an idea on how to get back at them...but I’ll need help.”
“Impossible,” the man said, lowering his weapon as well. “No one fights against them and survives. Besides, if they catch us working together they’ll kill our families.”
The image of Elizabeth and Jacob flashed through his mind. The man was right, even if his idea worked, he had no idea what the later consequences would be. Not just to him, but his family.
“But,” the man said, breaking John’s thought. “I heard that they’re gonna make my brother play the game next time.”
The man slid a hand through his sweat slicked hair.
“He’s only seventeen,” he said. “He just had a kid too.”
It felt like a freight train barreled into John’s stomach as the revelation hit him. His son would be seventeen in a couple months. Would they recruit him to play? What if they made them play against each other? Father against son.
John felt a sudden and much more powerful urgency come over the situation.
“If your plan works do you think they will stop this game?” the man asked.
“I don’t know,” John said, taking a seat on the rusted hood. “It’s worth a shot though isn’t it?”
John wasn’t looking for the man to agree with him. Instead he was looking for the man to encourage him.
“I can’t watch my brother march in here,” the man said.
“I can’t watch my son coming into this either,” John said, placing his chin in his hands.
The man swung the sniper rifle strap around his neck and let it fall to his side.
“So what’s the plan?” the man asked.
“Do you have the other piece to the Yutad?” John asked as he reached into his pocket and pulled out the golden disk.
The man nodded and pulled a small pyramid from his pants pocket.
“Good,” John said, taking the two pieces in his hand. “First, we’ll be leaving this arena together.”
“How,” the man asked. “That’s cheating.”
“No,” John said, placing the pyramid into the disk. “I found the Yutad and you killed the last man left in the game. We both get out. That’s their rules. Remember?”
The man smiled. “Okay, what’s the next part of the plan?”
John returned the smile as he jumped off the hood.
“Bring your weapon with you and I’ll tell you on the way back to the ship,”
“But they’ll take them away the minute we get on board,” the man said.
A small elevator-sized, dome-shaped ship came up over a pile of junk. Its anti-grav generators buzzed as it came to a landing in front of the two men. The doors on the craft parted and John stepped inside.
“They’ll try,” John said.
The man let out a short laugh as he hopped aboard the small craft.
“My name is Keith by the way. Keith Jensen.”
John held out his hand. “The name’s John, John Witcliffe.”

Dev-Noi watched in suspense as his Commander explained in amazing eloquence the concept of human love. It seemed far more practiced than the explanation he gave Dev-Noi only moments ago. That was Chim-Wau’s talent though.
Throughout the Kri-Wa-Jing, Chim-Wau was known as a master orator. In his early life he had been a biology professor at the Academy. His lectures were considered some of the very best. Many were upset when he resigned from his teaching position.
Once the Age of Expansion began, Chim-Wau left the Academy to enter the fleet that set out to find new worlds. These new worlds would give the Kri-Wa-Jing the necessary room to plant the required harvests that were needed to sustain the continually growing populace.
On his tour of duty, Chim-Wau’s oration skills served him well. So well, in fact, that he was promoted to ship commander of the small frigate, Id-Friur, during the raid on Earth.
Unfortunately, Chim-Wau’s savagery with some of the humans during the beginning of the colonization of Earth caused him to be demoted to Harvest Commander.
It was a lowly job that placed Chim-Wau in a deep depression, Dev-Noi remembered. It was at that same time that Dev-Noi graduated from the Academy and was chosen as Chim-Wau’s second in command by members of the High Council.
He remembered his commander as a sulky figure who rarely made any public appearances. Instead, he would send Dev-Noi to do anything that required face-to-face contact, whether it be with the hired personnel or the humans.
More than two Earth years ago Chim-Wau’s depression finally vanished after he was given clearance to begin a series of experiments. During this time Dev-Noi actually spoke to his commander face-to-face for extended periods of time.
In fact, from that point Chim-Wau and Dev-Noi were inseparable as they worked side by side in getting the arena constructed and choosing the test subjects.
Almost immediately following the first few trials of Chim-Wau’s experiment, he already had a plethora of findings about ‘human nature’ that he placed into a dissertation. This dissertation was widely acclaimed as the one of the greatest works in Kri-Wa-Jing’s history.
Just as then, Dev-Noi stood proudly as he watched his commander.
“This ‘love’ force is so powerful that it drives that human to kill. To kill other humans. Who knows what else we could get the humans to do if we exploited this force. The possibilities are endless!”
Dev-Noi looked at Trenk-Reh who was now pacing back and forth along the holo-screen.
“Now, you say that this force is immeasurable, correct?” Trenk-Reh asked, stroking his chin.
“I have not been able to find a way to measure it, no,” Chim-Wau said, raising a finger. “But if I am given an extension...perhaps some more funds I would--”
Before Chim-Wau could finish, Trenk-Reh slammed his hand against the holo-screen causing it to flicker and go out.
“Are you absurd? Do you honestly expect me to walk into the High Council’s chamber and ask them for more funding for an experiment that is essentially chasing a completely unquantifiable force? A force, which I am starting to believe, does not even exist.”
“Are you accusing me of lying, Delegate?”
“A liar? Perhaps. More so that you are mentally unbalanced,” Trenk-Reh said with a slight sneer.
“Excuse me,” Chim-Wau said, standing up from his seat.
Trenk-Reh’s bodyguards flashed their blasters which made Chim-Wau quickly sit back down.
“Don’t think I don’t know your history, Chim-Wau. I know that you tortured dozens if not hundreds of humans during the beginning of the colonization. Don’t think that I don’t know you were demoted to this repugnant job you have now because of it. Don’t think that I don’t know the only reason the High Council even allowed for this ridiculous experiment to take place was to keep your sobbing pleas quiet.”
Chim-Wau looked embarrassingly at Dev-Noi.
“The High Council might be more accommodating to your issues, but I am not. This absurdity that you have going on is wasting precious funds, time, and not to mention harvest production. Which, if you have forgotten Harvest Commander, is the reason you are even here in the first place. The High Council didn’t give you this job so you could play around with your sick fetishes, you are here to serve the High Council, Tarlan-Xi, and most importantly the Kri-Wa-Jing.”
Trenk-Reh pulled out his data-pad and began typing upon it.
“I’m shutting down your experiment Chim-Wau. Effective immediately. The fate of your career as well as those in your employment will be left to the decision of the High Council upon my return to Tarlan-Xi,” Trenk-Reh said, sliding the data-pad back into his robes.
“You can’t, not now!”
“I’m afraid I can Chim-Wau,” Trenk-Reh said with a full smile. “Now if it were completely up to me, I’d have your head. Just thank the gods that I don’t.”
With that Trenk-Reh and his bodyguards made their way out the door.
The holo-screen began to flicker and the camera feeds returned. Dev-Noi looked up at them, noticing that something wasn’t right.
“Sir?” Dev-Noi said, staring at the holo-screen.
Chim-Wau’s gaze was fixed on the now closed door.
“All I’ve worked for,” he said. “All my dreams, gone...washed away.”
“The High Council will have no pity on me. They will desecrate my name.”
“They will demote me to janitorial duties at the Academy. No, it’ll be worse than that. Waste management at the birthing facilities.”
“Sir!” Dev-Noi said, raising his voice for the first time in his entire service under Chim-Wau.
“What is it Dev-Noi!” Chim-Wau growled, looking at him.
“The humans sir,” Dev-Noi said, taking a deep breath. “They’re gone.”