There's something for everyone in this speculative fiction collection which will tantalise, thrill, entertain and amaze!
Ephemeral Whispers has it all - magic and monsters, spaceships and aliens, good guys and bad.
There are experiments gone awry, terrifying alien invaders, monsters within and without. There is life and death, addiction and insanity. There are other worlds, different worlds and everything from motorways to hyperspace!
This collection is science fiction at it's best, with an added dash of fantasy and a slice of horror!
Intense pain, nausea and total disorientation. Those are the most vivid memories that I have of the project. And they said that I would not feel a thing! Anyway, this is how it all started.
I was Chief Project Test Officer with Heywood Aerospace. I prefer the term 'test pilot', people know what you are talking about then. Being a test officer as opposed to a test pilot means that you get used to try out everything going, not just aircraft. I was 'Chief' because I was the longest serving (for that you can read surviving) professional guinea pig on their books.
I had been with them for twelve years and in that time had been patched up and put back together more times than I really care to recall. Each and every time I get injured I swear to myself that I'll call it a day, quit while I'm ahead. I've seen too many friends bow out in spectacular but painful ways. Each time I change my mind, the money is too good and besides, my few remaining friends are in the same business.
Girlfriends come easy. I suppose it's the associated glamour (if they think it's glamorous they should try it), or perhaps it's the excitement. Either that or they've heard how much we earn. They never last though. Can't take the pressure, not that I can really blame them. Every time you go to work you may not come back. It's easier for all concerned not to have relationships. After all it's dangerous enough without going out there with your mind on someone else.
I was assigned/volunteered, it is hard to distinguish between the two in this line of work, to Project Caledoni. When the guys at Resource Allocation (fancy name for personnel) offer you a project contract, you either sign up or start looking elsewhere for employment. I call it assignment, they call it volunteering. Should I end up spread all over a runway somewhere, there are numerous legal loop holes they can exploit that way.
This was the biggest pay-out they had offered me yet. A cool half a million. I suppose that should have set the alarm bells ringing, but when you've had your head caved in as often as I have you tend to miss the obvious every now and again.
I signed up and, within four hours, just long enough to pack my few personal possessions, was whisked away to some secret complex nestled in the bottom of a deep and obscure valley. I was ferried there in the back of an old cargo chopper. Nowhere near as efficient as the new Jet-Copters, but a whole lot more unobtrusive. The little that I could see through the cockpit from my cramped position amongst the crates in the back gave me no clues as to our destination.
The chopper set down gently in an uneven field of green-yellow grass about a hundred yards from an authentic looking country farmhouse. Heavy grey stone walls with a dark grey slate roof. There was even an old and dirty tractor parked outside. A few bored cows watched our arrival with no more than a passing interest. Obviously they had seen it all before. Barely audible over the deep rumble of the rotors, was the sound of hens squabbling nearby.
Old Farmer Giles himself, wearing a flat cap, knee length worn green wax jacket and almost knee high black Wellington boots caked in mud, pushed open the weather-worn three bar gate and strode purposefully across the field towards us. He almost looked the part, although the sub automatic needle gun that he held in his meaty fists pointed in our direction suggested he was not all he appeared to be.
I jumped out onto the soft springy turf. My one bag followed and landed at my feet. I always travel light. I inhaled fresh country air as the helicopters engine began to growl. Fresh country air! Not all it's cracked up to be; all I could smell was exhaust fumes and manure.
"You Pearce?" shouted Farmer Giles over the noise of the rotors as the chopper began to lift off.
"That's right," I yelled back, ducking low in a reflexive move to avoid having my head taken off.
"ID," he said simply, standing about a yard in front of me with weapon levelled. His finger I noticed was white on the trigger. If he was a farmer then I was a French Maid. I stood six two (when I was standing straight), and he was a good four or five inches taller. Solidly built as well, all sinew and muscle. Carried himself like a soldier, very erect and confident. The words Sergeant Major sprang unbidden to mind.
"Here," I replied reaching very slowly and carefully into my jacket pocket. "I'm one of the good guys, honest," I added with a smile as I held it out for inspection. Until that moment I had never considered having the eight year old picture replaced. I had not changed all that much, despite having my face rebuilt twice. I hoped not anyway. I'll swear I broke out into a cold sweat under the scrutiny of his steely gaze.
He grunted and lowered the muzzle marginally. "This way," he ordered turning and setting off the way he had come. Some welcome this was. I grabbed my bag and hurried in pursuit. He led the way into a ramshackle barn that extended from the side of the farmhouse to the wall of a nearby field. We passed through a rough wooden door that had certainly seen better days and within three paces came to a very solid looking metal door. It looked like armour plating. He pressed his palm against a reader to the left of the door and ushered me inside as it slid open.
"Welcome to our humble set-up Mr Pearce," said a voice from the darkness as the door hissed shut behind me. A very nice sounding female voice. Lights sprang on. She was about five eight, slim and reasonably good looking (who am I to judge?). Shoulder length brunette hair was pulled severely back and tied with a no nonsense black ribbon. She wore a long white lab coat, over a jade blouse open at the neck. Black jeans and white training shoes completed her ensemble.
"Delighted to be here," I said with my warmest smile. Farmer Giles had stayed the other side of the door and I felt a lot better without him. "Nice doorman you have here."
"Oh, you'll get used to the security in a couple of days Mr Pearce. Francis is a pussycat really, once you get to know him." Francis! The name fit about as well as the farmer disguise. "If you would like to follow me I'll show you to where you can freshen up before meeting the rest of the team. Okay?"
"Sounds fine by me. You can call me Tom by the way. When you say Mr Pearce I think you're talking to my Dad."
She laughed politely. "Tom? Your personnel chip said that your name was John?"
"It is, but my friends all call me Tom. It comes from my days in the..."
I was interrupted by a sudden horrible banshee wailing. The lights flickered and were replaced by orange emergency lighting. Approximately thirty seconds later silence descended like a blanket and the lighting returned to normal.
"That was for your benefit," my escort informed me. "Francis likes to spring these little surprises. I think he's a secret practical joker. In case you had not already guessed, he's our Head of Security, and that, believe it or not, was the emergency alert. If you hear that for real you get outside as fast as you can. It means that the shit has well and truly hit the fan."
My ears were still ringing and I had a sneaking suspicion that a change of underwear may be in order. "I've no intention of hanging around if I hear that again. You could have warned me."
"What, and miss your reaction?" She smiled wickedly.
The floor had been sloping gently as we walked along the sterile white corridor, our footsteps sounding loud on the uncovered surface. I surmised (quite correctly) that the main body of the lab was underground. We stopped outside a door no different from the other half dozen that we had passed, and she extracted a keydisc from one of the deep pockets on her crisp white lab coat. She slipped it into a slot just above the door handle, waited whilst the red tell-tale turned green and then let us into the room.
"Welcome to your home for the next however many days," she said with another flash of her uneven pearly whites.
"Home sweet home," I muttered looking about. The 'room' measured roughly six feet across by ten lengthways. A flop down bunk ran along one wall. Facing it was a small wooden desk with matching bare cushion-less chair. High on the wall above and to the left of the doorway perched a portable TV. The other side of the door there was a small closet. Good job I had brought only the one bag. Midway along the far wall of the room was a concertina door.
"Bathroom," my guide said noticing my gaze. "If you can call it that. Miniscule shower cubicle, a sink and a chemical toilet. No expense has been spared."
"I've had worse." Eighteen months living in a room half this size and sharing a bathroom with six others. That had been on the experimental Leo Space-Station. Not an experience that I wanted to repeat.
"Well then, I'll leave you to freshen up. I'll come back for you in an hour, okay? Any questions?"
"Yeah, just the one. Do you have a name?"
She laughed as she...
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