Super Concentration Headache Battle Warrior Edition
A Feature by Paul Harrington and Fenrir-Lunaris

The following is an excerpt from the journals of Horace Alfonse Montgomery, a middle-aged exobiologist whose mission is to observe unknown forms of life in the universe. Horace disappeared on December 18th, 2008. Since he disappeared, encoded messages have been found in deep space. This is the first of those messages.

I never intended to come to this world. After my investigation of the elusive Monterey Penguin was complete, I decided to take a brief vacation. I boarded my ship and set a course for Earth. A few days passed quietly, when suddenly my computer alerted me to the presence of a spacial distortion. It was unlike anything I'd ever seen; a great cloud, rapidly changing shape and color, vaguely resembling humanoids and animals. I tried to divert course around the phenomenon, but it was too late; whatever it was, it had caused the ship's sensors to shut down. I was flying blind as the cloud pulled me into its massive body. I blacked out before I could send an emergency beacon.

I woke up to the sound of a great pounding. What was this? I was on solid ground, and my ship was nowhere in sight. All I had with me was what was in my backpack; a few packs of rations, some water, and the recorder/transmitter that I use to chronicle my journeys. This place was disturbing, unnatural. It hurt to even look around; a rainbow had vomited all over this land. I pulled myself out of my funk as best I could, and saw what seemed to be a giant hammer pounding a nail that must have measured fifty feet in height. Every strike of the hammer sounded like some perverse mixture of pain and laughter. Someone sicker than I was enjoying this. I had to get out of here.

I followed a tunnel that alternated between pitch black and a depressing shade of neon green. Whenever the green light flashed, I caught glimpses of terrible things skittering by, searching for their next meal. Scavengers. As long as I was alive I could tell they would ignore me, but I knew that if I fell down and gave up they'd be on me in a second. I couldn't have that. Besides, I'm not kosher.

These slow mutants seemed to be corpulent, jittery, and red. They were well fed, I have no doubt. Their bodies seemed to have some sort of ethereal robe, or perhaps a sheet, covering them. It flowed around them in a quite unnatural way, and they stared with large, dead eyes, eyes that hadn't seen the light of day in quite some time, living only in the darkness and occasionally fleeing the phosphorescent flashes.

I reached the end of the tunnel and never looked back.

On the other side of the tunnel I came upon a desert. It loomed endlessly before me, and I felt glad that I'd eaten well before I'd come here. I hoped my remaining rations would last.

As I crossed the wastelands, I kept my eyes fixed on what seemed to be strange plates glistening in the sky. Eventually I drew close enough to see that they were in fact faces, human faces without bodies and without souls. They grinned stupidly and endlessly, letting out occasional chuckles followed by desperate wheezing. These things sounded as if they were on the brink of death, and they never stopped grinning.

I continued through the desert for what seemed to be days. I had no sense of the passage of time here; there was no sun and no moon, and the sky's color changed randomly and violently. There were times when my vision became so distorted that I had no choice but to sit down and ride out the storm. These were the worst times; part of me feared that those faces might descend from their suspension, or that the mutants in the tunnel might come back for a second shot at me.

On the last leg of my journey through the desert, I came across different sorts of faces. These, like the others, hung suspended in mid-air, but while the earlier faces showed dumb, guttural joy, these showed illness, disease, suffering. Fluid oozed from the eyes and nostrils of some. Others moaned and shivered. Still more dripped sickly purple sweat onto the desert floor. This sweat would hit the earth and hiss like acid; these sick faces must have been burning up. Watching them chilled my soul, and set me steadfastly on my goal of getting out of this world before it became my purgatory as well.

I reached a small hut on the edge of the desert after wandering for God only knows how long. By now my body was wasting away, and I was afraid I looked as bad as those suffering faces in the sky. I called out, hoping the hut belonged to someone civilized, someone who could help me survive this hell. I have worked hard to avoid interacting with the creatures I study on my voyages, but I had no choice this time. If I didn't get help, I would die on the edge of a shiny desert on a green and red evening.

Fortune was with me this night. The owner of the hut was a rat, brown furred and slightly shorter than myself. He was scrawny, but clearly had been eating better than I had. With him was a small robotic creature with two chicken-like legs, a large head, and a sharp beak. It crowed out words in a language unfamiliar to myself, and occasionally repeated phrases that the rat and myself said in perfect imitation. I hated the sight of this bird-thing; I felt as if it were mocking me, laughing at my suffering. I don't know what powered it. Perhaps some sort of nuclear device? It was far more advanced than anything else I encountered.

The rat gave me food, and to my surprise it was good. I suppose anything would have tasted good after what I'd been through, but this food was clean and real, and that's all that mattered. I stayed with the rat a long time, sharing stories and secretly wanting to snap his mechanical bird in half. We played Rock Paper Scissors to pass the time between stories and meals.

He was a good host, but he clearly didn't know anything that would help me get home. He knew nothing about how his robot worked, only that there were more of them in a dead city east of his hut. At least, he once knew it as east; the sun hadn't risen for ages by now, and all sense of direction had grown uncertain. I thanked him for his hospitality, shot one last hateful look at his robot, and set off in the direction he believed the city lay. Even if it were full of these repugnant machines, it seemed like my best option. There may be some sort of vehicle I could use there.

The city was a long walk from the rat's hut, but nowhere near as long as my walk across the desert. By now the desert had turned to plain, and the grass felt good to walk in. Soon trees began to appear, and I was able to rest comfortably in their shade. Their fruit was oddly discolored, and I only ate tiny bits at a time. Just enough to keep me going, but not enough to fall under the spell of anything sinister that might live within.

I arrived in a city that was as dead as the rat had described. Tall buildings stood everywhere, in a massive, claustrophobic grid, but I saw no life. There were no lights in any windows, though I could hear what sounded like a faint heartbeat from behind a couple of doors. I didn't investigate them closer. How could I?

I followed the road into what seemed to be an old train station. There were no trains left, but there were rails that looked as if they hadn't been used in years. There was something strangely sad about this place.

Deeper inside the station, I finally found something alive, or, at least, as alive as a robot can be. It was a small, spherical machine with short, piston legs and a simple face. I couldn't tell if the face was there by design, or if it was graffiti drawn by another passing vagrant. I turned this machine over a few times, and found the words COMRADE BOMB - TGC 2007 AP stamped on it. I had no idea what they could have meant, but the word "bomb" was enough to make me put it down and back away.

It was when I placed this robot down that it came to life. Its square, blue eyes lit up and it slowly approached me. I feared it at first, but as I continued to look in its eyes I felt a sense of calmness. They were the most pure, untainted color I'd seen since I entered that tunnel with the mutants so long ago. Unlike the robot that lived with the rat, this one seemed unable to speak. Still, it followed me as I continued to explore the station, and there was something reassuring about that. We were both lost souls, but at least we weren't alone.

We continued to explore the station, but weren't able to find anything useful.The whole trip felt like a dead end. I'd just about given up when the sound of  clicking began to fill the air, getting louder and closer by the second. Robots like the one in the rat's hut were beginning to shuffle out of the darkness, and those faces from the desert were melting through the station's walls. We were surrounded.

I made a run for the entrance, with the Comrade Bomb close behind. He seemed uninterested in the monsters surrounding us. My mad dash for freedom was in vain; every inch of the entrance was filled with those horrible faces. Soon, the ground began to shake, and nails erupted from underground, massive nails that pierced the station from floor to ceiling. I was in a full panic.

One of the bird-like robots leapt at me, biting into my wrist. I screamed; the pain was excruciating. I shook him off violently while the Comrade Bomb's blue eyes changed to a harsh red tone. I felt as if he wanted to protect me. I called out to him, begging for any kind of help he could offer, as I continued to flee from the hungry robots. Suddenly, my friend emitted a high pitched, electric whine, and all the robots around me froze. They turned in his direction, and slowly, curiously, approached him. The faces in the walls looked on contently, and I backed further away from the murderous machines. There was a bright flash, and an explosion.

He was a bomb after all. My comrade had detonated himself, destroying the central floor of the station, and annihilating the hungry robots in the process. I was lucky that I was far enough away to be safe from the explosion. The nails began to recede, and the faces began to fade. Whatever evil was in this place had decided that it had had enough. I felt relieved, though at the same time disturbed. The brave robot I had befriended only moments before was now gone.

Unfortunately, the explosion had caused the entrance to collapse, and there was no way for me to dig my way out. I sat on one of the few benches that was still in one piece and was thinking about what to do next when I heard a faint chuckle from the depths of a tunnel. I had avoided exploring the tunnels in this station out of fear of stumbling across more mutants, but this chuckle seemed too human. I had to follow it.

For a brief second, I saw a human in the tunnel, or at least something resembling one. He had gray skin, a short white beard, a long robe, and a gentleman's hat. I caught a glimpse of him as he turned around and entered a door, behind which shone a bright, fluorescent glow. He closed the door behind him before I could call out to him. Still, he couldn't get too far before I reached the door myself. Could he? When I reached it, I realized that the door was standing freely in space, connected to no wall and having no frame. Its knob was hot to the touch. There was writing on the door; it read, "The Shuffling Madness." I didn't know what it meant, but I felt compelled to enter. Any place would have to be better than this dead world. I'm sending this transmission now, before I enter this strange door. In case I don't survive whatever it is that lies on the other side, I want my readers to know what it is that I saw here, and any other travelers to beware of the sinister cloud that brought me to this place. If I survive, I will continue my chronicle on the other side.