KOKOWEEF





Malum staggered from the wormhole and fell to three of his knees. His tattered wings drooped over his six heads—one head for each facet that comprised his body. He strained his ears. The screams and roars of battle echoed through the passageway and nearly drowned out the whirr from the wheel-like power sources tethered to his torsos. The first of these biological machines sat crumpled. Blackened. Totally ruined. The eye-like sensors that encircled the second device’s rim glowed at half strength. Fortunately, the four wheels that remained had survived the explosion intact.

Six hearts slammed within his compound body. He pressed his chests and braced himself. The shape-shift from 5-D to 4-D would be unpleasant—the process always was. With only four wheels left, the metamorphosis and its tearing sensations would last a bit longer, but at least the devices possessed enough energy to perform the task.

His tissues crimped then began to warp and compress. An involuntary moan escaped the lips of his third face. He inhaled, which sent each head into a coughing spasm.

A bolt of panic shot through him. The swirling 4-D ether was too dense! He pushed the thought away. Irrational. He couldn’t drown. Only Michael’s troops and the Guardians could destroy an immortal.

The transformation concluded, and the face he directed toward the wormhole issued a sigh. One of his hands, which extended from beneath a lower wing, caught his attention. He flexed it. The cellular structure had become more compact and resistant to movement. Though the wheels had reduced him from a six-headed to a four-headed entity with a corresponding loss of limbs and torsos, he felt heavy. Clumsy. But he’d acclimate. He struggled to his feet and backed away from the wormhole—just in time.

The hum that emanated from the tunnel soared to a rock-shattering screech.

The passage vomited a sulfurous odor. Tremors rippled through its crystalline walls, and the pale blue crystals flared to an angry red. A great turbulent cloud blasted outward. Its roiling margins folded lightning and fire inward.

He shielded his eyes.

Thousands of dazzling creatures, some insect-like others humanoid, belched forth. Most flew. Others, whose wings smoked, hit the 4-D planet’s surface, spread out, and shape-shifted into four-headed entities. At the rear of the torrent, a larger form emerged.

Malum dropped to his knees and smacked a hand to each of his chests.

The commander shifted into a 4-D creature and whipped toward him. “Captain Malum, Michael and his army are in pursuit. Assemble the troops. Station them around the wormhole.”

“Yes, my lord Lucifer.” Malum rose. Enthusiasm bubbled through his chests. An ambush. Brilliant. Simply brilliant. Michael and his angels wouldn’t know what hit them. He pulled battle trumpets from his belts, raised them to his four sets of lips, and issued a series of high-pitched staccato blasts.

The soldiers assumed their posts. Commander Lucifer positioned himself on high ground opposite the wormhole, his four generals at his sides.

Malum drew his swords. With Michael and his army vanquished, what would Lord Lucifer do next? Attack High Heaven? It had been eons since the Enemy cast them out. A triumphant return would be more than euphoric.

The wormhole rumbled.

Lucifer raised his hands.

Malum’s swords shook. Steady. Only moments until Lucifer signals to attack.

A low whine grumbled in the passage.

Malum tightened his grips.

The noise rose in pitch and volume. The tunnel’s walls vibrated.

He swallowed, and his breaths quickened. The surface on which he stood rolled and swayed. He fought for traction then furrowed his brows. Something was wrong. The resonance frequency had changed. An operational wormhole never made that high, warbling sound. What was Michael up to?

Fire roared from the wormhole, incinerating several soldiers. The tunnel warped. Squealed. Folded inward. Disappeared.

Malum cursed, and turned his attention to the commander.

Rage contorted Lucifer’s hate-filled faces. He bellowed and lashed out with his swords. The heads of his generals rolled down slope to Malum’s feet.

His hearts lurched.

Lucifer snarled and charged him.

He dropped to his knees. “No, Lord Lucifer. Please.” With his frayed wings, he covered his heads and trembled.

Lucifer pulled up short. He let out another roar then with his chests heaving turned his attention to the spot where the wormhole had stood.

Malum peeked through his wings. Perhaps while Lucifer was distracted, he could reach safety behind the rise. He inched away from the generals’ severed heads.

Lucifer spun toward him and growled. “On your feet, craven. Michael collapsed the entrance to the 4-D universe. Its expanse is spherical. To meet us at its opposite opening, he has to circumnavigate, but our path along its diameter will be much shorter. We’ll arrive at the back passage first and set up a surprise attack. Inform the officers.”

Malum jumped to his feet, raised the horns, and signaled the orders to the lieutenants. The army formed ranks. At Lucifer’s signal, they teleported across the 4-D universe at millions of times the speed of light.

A gaping wormhole lay ahead. Malum squinted at it. They must have accelerated faster than he thought to arrive so quickly. How much time before Michael appeared?

Lucifer led the charge through the wormhole with Malum close behind. The army followed in columns, and the first company cleared the passage. As expected, their wheels began to whirr for the transformation back into 5-D entities.

Cramps hit Malum’s torsos. What was happening? The transition to higher dimensions wasn’t supposed to be painful. He stifled his cries, slowed his speed, and examined his hands. The tissues twisted and compressed. He dropped to the solid surface beyond the wormhole, glanced at his commander, and blinked. The facets of Lucifer’s body distorted, as did those of the soldiers.

A horn sounded.

Michael!

The soldiers fumbled for their swords and spun toward the shofar-like signal.

Michael stood above the wormhole, his 3-D humanoid body encased in dazzling light. He brandished a gold-colored sword with one hand and held a small bronze-colored machine in the other. Part of his surrounding army cut Lucifer’s lines and held back the companies still in the tunnel. The rest of the angels dove at the demons on the planet’s surface, slashing with brilliant swords.

“Aiyee!” Lucifer’s terror-struck soldiers scattered and shrieked. Hit by the angelic weapons, their bodies hissed and vaporized.

Michael tossed the mechanical device into the wormhole.

“No!” Lucifer bellowed.

The walls of the wormhole shivered. Sang. Cracked. Sucked in a swirling torrent of interplanetary ether that dragged Malum, Lucifer, and the remnant of soldiers back into the tunnel. They lost their footing and fell. The walls began to melt. On hands and knees, they clawed their way against the savage maelstrom that tore at their wings. The passage narrowed. They cleared the entrance the instant before it sealed shut and disappeared.

Malum shuddered and lay face down in the sand. It was hopeless. Outnumbered thousands to one. Michael’s troops would annihilate him or capture him and send him to the Lake of Fire before his time.

“Retreat!” Lucifer cried.

Malum jumped up and dashed toward the commander. In the lead, Lucifer teleported through galaxies, dust clouds, meteor belts, a super nova. Skirting gas giants and black holes, they finally came to rest on a red planet in an undistinguished solar system.

Malum quivered and turned his gaze toward the star-filled sky. Michael was nowhere to be seen.

Lucifer’s eyes shone like fiery coals. He paced back and forth. His wings whipped around his body when he spun.

“My lord,” Malum said. “Where’s Michael?”

“It was a subterfuge.” Lucifer screamed and whacked at several boulders.

His decimated soldiers huddled together, heads down, visibly shaken.

“My lord,” Malum said. “What happened?”

“The Enemy hid a 3-D universe within the 4-D universe,” Lucifer snarled. “We blundered into its wormhole, Michael sealed it—no doubt at both ends—and now most of my army is trapped inside the tunnel.”

Malum licked his lips and searched the skies once more. “But why hasn’t Michael moved in to finish us off?”

“He can take his time.” Lucifer faced him and held out his two arms.

Malum stared.

“Yes,” Lucifer said. “The maelstrom ripped off our wheels before we fully shifted into the third dimension. Essentially, we are disembodied spirits. And we’re not going anywhere. Not unless we can create a device like Michael’s, open the wormhole, and free the army.”

Malum reached out to a boulder. His hand passed through it as if it wasn’t there. In their present state, they couldn’t handle matter, so how could they build another machine? And even if they could, how would they find the collapsed wormhole? It could shift anywhere. He pulled himself straight. “What are your orders, my lord?”

Lucifer squinted upward. “We need to find some intelligent beings, indwell them, and force them to do our bidding. There isn’t enough atmosphere to support life forms here. That blue planet, the third from the star, probably has life, since the Enemy places living creatures on water worlds. We’ll go there.

***

Beyond the Pillars of Hercules, 847 B.C.

Adnes peered out the lab window. Deron’s distinctive orange and black flying machine floated down to the airfield behind the buildings. Drat ze man! He be here in ten minutes. Too late to hide.

His attention turned to the bronze-cased device that stood on the lab bench. Ze machine be small enough to conceal in a pouch. But should he? Na. It na good.

Turning a knob, he focused the apparatus on a pebble that lay atop a balance then monitored the power gauge while the machine warmed up. At 0.001%, he grabbed his logbook and recorded the rock’s decreasing weight at thirty-second increments.

Success. He followed instructions, and everything be perfect. He would be experimenting at 0.01%—as soon as he got rid of that blackguard Deron.

A knock on the door.

Before Adnes could react, Deron barged in.

Adnes clenched his jaw. “Deron! You be an agreeable surprise.” He hid his data beneath the machine.

Deron sneered. “You so easily tell lies.” He turned his attention to the device and gasped. “It works?”

“I will na know until ze trials be complete.”

“That will na happen.” Deron slapped an envelope into Adnes’ hand. “This be orders from ze High Council of Atlantis. Activity must cease until all members can study your proposal.”

Adnes skimmed the paper, and his heart sank. “I can na believe you go this far.”

“I go even farther. Whatever ze Council decides will be irrelevant after ze university dons make their decision. With them, I meet tomorrow. I be confident their patronage they will retire.”

Treachery! Adnes sank onto a lab stool and took a deep breath. He looked up. “Why you do this?”

Deron pressed his lips together and shook his head. “I na take pleasure. The council members and I believe your project be perilous. We want to know who supplied ze plans for ze device, why, and what be his purpose.”

Adnes swallowed. “I na be free to say.”

“That na be good enough. Ze machine you power down and then you go. If you do na cooperate, a constable will barricade the doors, and you he’ll escort to ze stocks.”

Deron turned on his heel and stomped from the lab.

Adnes sighed. Who would believe him if he said a ghost that lived inside a column of smoke supplied to him technological knowledge?

Bilge muck.

Adnes would send himself to a mental institution, but that all ze information that ze apparition shared for years had worked. Did na Atlantis appreciate all ze inventions? Flameless light, clean water, transports, and flying machines. Ze ghost say this little box contains awesome power. One burst at half strength might supply ze country’s energy needs for a month. As a weapon, a threat that it be used could eliminate war forever. Atlantis’ High Council be so small minded. Na vision whatsoever. Adnes must educate them.

He twisted a dial and the machine began to whine.

“Adnes, I na be clear?” Deron stood in the doorway, his face dark with anger. “Turn that off immediately.”

Adnes lifted his chin and blocked his adversary’s view of the apparatus. “Deron, you stand in ze way of progress.”

“I show you progress.” Deron grabbed a stool, shoved the smaller man aside, and took a swing at the device.

“Na!”

The stool made contact, and the machine clattered to the floor. Its whine grew to a roar.

Adnes dove for it. Electrical discharges knocked him back.

Plaster showered around them.

“Ahh!” A lighting fixture fell and pinned Deron to the floor.

Adnes crawled beneath the lab bench. The air lost transparency and formed standing waves. The building groaned, twisted, and dropped through the earth. Flesh melted off his hands. His eyeballs burst. The last things he heard were his screams.

***

Washington, D.C., USA

Eighteen Years Ago

Captain Malum landed on the Capitol Dome a safe distance from the spot where Lucifer slouched. The transparency of the commander’s body and wings caused him to look like a cross between a humanoid and a huge jellyfish. At present, he was almost colorless, perhaps resting up from some tirade in which he had been fiery red.

Malum flew down to the roof, folded his wings, and dropped to one knee while smacking his chest. “My lord, I have returned.”

“That’s obvious,” Lucifer snarled. “Report.”

“The meteoroid that hit Russia did not carry the type of quasi-crystal you require. However, a scout detected a sizeable asteroid fragment buried deep beneath a mineshaft in the California desert. It might be worth unearthing.”

“Well?” Lucifer faced him, paused, then his eyes flashed.

Malum cringed. What did the commander expect him to say? He’d carried out his assignment. Would Lucifer punish him just because the Russian meteoroid was a disappointment? He pulled his wings close, tucked his chin, and braced for burning blows from Lucifer’s sword.

“Just what did you do about the asteroid, fool?” A pink tinge spread through the commander, and his hand moved toward the scabbard that dangled from his waist.

“Nothing, my lord.” Malum trembled.

“Nothing!” Lucifer roared. His body turned red. “Do I have to do everything? Get someone out there—now—and recover that fragment. I need quasi-crystals.”

“Yes, my lord.” Malum smacked his chest again and shrank away. “I shall leave immediately.”

Prior to take off, he glanced at the sky. Six thousand earth years and still no angelic army. But it was just a matter of time. Before the forces appeared, Lucifer had to find another source of quasi-crystals. Without those indestructible crystals in the casing, assembling a new device would be futile. The wormhole would remain sealed. Lucifer’s army would languish inside. Then upon Michael’s arrival, he’d dispatch them all to the Lake of Fire. Malum shuddered, opened his wings, and leaped into the air.

Lucifer lifted a restraining hand. “Captain, wait.” He was absorbed with something on the ground.

Malum set down on the roof again and squinted over the edge. Only descendants of that fool Adam, scurrying around like the bugs they were, oblivious to the spirits around them. Many were unknowing hosts to demons from his company that rode undetected on their victims’ shoulders. Some of the Enemy’s recruits, mainly among the tourists, walked around encased in electromagnetic auras their human eyes couldn’t detect. Guardian spirits accompanied all the young children. If the Enemy made the effort to send Guardians into this world, why did he delay in sending Michael?

“See that man with the huge aura?” Lucifer asked. “The one with the two little boys that are feeding the squirrels?”

“Yes, my lord.”

“He’s Lieutenant Colonel Gus Jackson, the boys Charlie and Skip. I’ve been trying without success to penetrate Jackson’s cursed aura since he was a child. But now, I see a chink in his armor. His children. He’d do anything, anything at all, to protect them. The number of Guardians lurking around the boys intrigues me. The Enemy must have some special interest in at least one of them. When they reach the age of accountability, and their Guardians back off a bit, have a detail ready to attack before the boys can swear allegiance to the Enemy and receive their own auras.”

“Yes, my lord.” Malum bowed then dropped to a treetop several yards from the Jacksons.

Delicious. Malum licked his lips. Ever since the Garden of Eden what he liked, even more than manipulating politicians, was harassing and corrupting children. His delight was to capture their hearts, twist their minds, and erase their innocence before they could covenant with the Enemy. Over the centuries, he had honed his skills and formulated ever-stronger powers of persuasion. He was so good at his covert art; the humans never guessed they were under attack. The recognition Lucifer gave him for devising then suggesting the content of that new video game to its developers made him proud. Even now, it was breaking down the defenses of hundreds of thousands of youth.

A Guardian spotted him and called out to his comrades. The spirits grabbed their sword hilts and bunched around the children.

Malum waved. As far as three-dimensional creatures went, the Jackson boys were a handsome pair. But aside from that, there didn’t appear to be anything extraordinary about them.

The older boy ran ahead of his father and brother. Two Guardians followed him. Six remained with the little one Lucifer called Skip.

The demon fixed his attention on the child. It seemed the Enemy had singled out this one for some unusual purpose. Well, Malum would take care of that. He’d be patient. When the time came for the Guardians to leave the boy exposed, Skip would suffer the first attack. Something devastating—maybe a death—would plant doubts about the Enemy’s love. That would be the opening. Fellow travelers in education would help confuse the boy. For a while, everything he touched would prosper. Then Malum would strike Skip’s body and mess with his mind. The boy would deny the Enemy’s existence, leaving himself open to the final attack. At that point, Malum would crush him.


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