Monday, January 14, 2019

Why a Heroine

I’m a man. People have asked me over the years it took me to write Reset,, why I chose a female hero and to attempt to write from her perspective.

As my two successful and independent adult daughters grew up, we surrounded them with female role models. But they had few super-heroines to root for. I’m thrilled that Wonder Woman and Black Widow have begun to change that.

I wanted women in Reset who were strong together, as a group, not just alone. Heroines, both gifted with special powers, and “ordinary” but strong who step out beyond expectations.

Sarah’s life prior to the transition to a world without anything man-made is traumatic. Her parents died in an accident for which she blames herself. She has run from an ex-husband who’d beaten and shot her.  In the process, she dragged her girls from the only family they knew, his family. A bravery she does not give herself credit for.

Laden with guilt, fear, remorse and anger, Sarah must learn to trust again, to feel again, to care again, to teach, lead and be part of a new Family. Finally, she must learn to love again and to harness her strengths to save the Family.

I did a lot of research, employed female editors and enlisted the services of numerous female beta and advanced readers to make sure the story felt authentic to them. I am deeply grateful for the vast amount of suggestions I have received along the way. It was very important to me that Sarah and all of the other characters reflect strength and grace. I’ve been told that it shows up in the final book.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Being There

I went for my normal 4 mile walk this morning and, as I ordinarily do, greeted everyone I met. After all, they are my neighbors. One man, who was walking his 9-year old to school, looked particularly melancholy, yet when I said, "Hello", he brightened up and returned the greeting in as cheerful a tone as possible. I asked, "How are you doing?"
Well, as it turns out, not so well. His car is dead. So I drove him to pick up his paycheck from Old Country Buffet, took him to Walmart to cash it, to Autozone to buy a battery, then to my house to get tools, and then to his car parked at a friends house in Pagedale, where we replaced the battery. The car still did not start.
Along the way he told me his story about his strained relationship with the mother of his 3 children, a relationship he is trying hard to mend. I provided some guidance that I hope helps. He talked about his financial troubles, and I again helped as much as I can. On a positive note, he told me about his education and dreams.
My new friend has less than $250 to his name. He asked me to drop him at AutoWorld who will tow his car and tell him what's wrong. Not sure what he will do after that.
But also along the way, we looked up jobs that pay very well in the field in which he is trained. He told me he would spend today applying for them. I believe in him. I think by the end of our morning together, he believes in himself as well.
I hope that today is the day he takes charge of his life, gets the job he has worked so hard for, finds peace with the woman he loves, stability for his family and love and peace in his life. I hope to continue to help my new friend achieve those objectives.
We all have barriers and obstacles in life. Generally we have created them for ourselves. Often it is because we believe we are trapped, but are not. We believe we are not loved, but we are. We believe there is no way out, but there are many.
We just have to take charge of our lives, follow the voice of the universe (or God, or whoever) that guides us every moment of every day and have faith enough to follow that voice to our dreams.
I hear many pleas for help. Think positively and take charge of your life. Listen to your soul. It is always right. No shoulds. Do what you know in your heart is the right thing to do. I am glad I did that this morning.
Enjoy life.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Happy New Year to All.

It is a time to reset, consider the past, contemplate the future, change the things you want to and can, make peace with people for who they are. Begin to build a world in which you can live as simply and happily as you wish. Today is the first day of a new effort to take control of your life and make it truly yours. Consider having the personal faith in yourself, every moment of every day, to resist doing what others think you should do, but instead do what you know in your heart is the right thing to do. If you do, you will find yourself happily living in harmony with all souls, which, in my opinion, is a good way to exist. Enjoy.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Awaiting the Birth of My Novel - Reset

Near the end of last week, after years of work, intense effort in the last couple of weeks by my editor, book designer and advanced readers, and many promises to my friends, I uploaded my first novel, Reset, to Amazon. Now when I did that, it was timed so that based on Amazon’s own promised schedule, the e-book and paperback would be published and available to purchase on or before last Friday, December 14. My due date.

Today is Monday December 17, and I realize that is not forever, but while the e-book has been out since last Thursday, the paperback continues to be languishing in the bowels of the Amazon process. Perhaps it is the weekend. Perhaps it is the holidays. Perhaps Santa has called all of his elves back to service, and they are who normally does this for Amazon.

I am not really complaining (as much as it seems). It is like the days before our daughters were born. Their mother, my prior wife, Lisa, was precisely six days late for both of them. Now that doesn’t sound like a long time either, but ask any pregnant mother how long the last six days of pregnancy are. Well, you can ask the father, who has to deal with her in the most loving manner humanly possible for those six grueling days.

Well, it is not nearly as uncomfortable or painful as that, but for me, the gestation period has been 30 months during which my baby was being crafted, beat up, torn apart, rewritten, edited, criticized, torn apart again, and rewritten many more times, before a few people told me, “This is not half bad.” Then they told me, “This is not bad at all,” both of which were honest back-handed compliments. Then, after another editor and more beta readers and more rewrites, I approached, “This is really OK, BUT . . . .” And finally, in the last several months, with the help of my third editor, people actually said, “Damn, Ned, this is good. I loved reading it.”

So, my baby is about half born, which luckily does not happen with real babies. The e-book is out. The easiest way to find it is to go to my website at  Now I’m waiting patiently for the rest of my baby to be born. Come on Amazon. Come on paperback!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Overwhelming Odds

“There must be hundreds of them!” Jackie stared over the rocks of the ridge through her rusting binoculars. Waves of bright green and red clad soldiers, covered from head to toe, emerged over the crest at the end of the valley leading to the small river settlement they’d just left. “Who are they and where did they come from?”
Jerome, of course, had no more idea than did Jackie. “They’re not from around here.” He tended to make light of situations. Jackie gave him an unappreciative glance, slapped him, then smiled and handed him the binoculars. The siblings were both were lithe runners, with long, soft, light-sandy-brown hair that people said flew behind them like fire as they ran. They loved the image and spent time keeping their locks as clean and untangled as possible. At the moment, their hair flowing in the nice breeze, threatened to give their position away.  
“They’re aliens or something. They’re tall and slender with huge chests but no real shoulders,” he paused, “and their arms are really short.”
“What are they wearing? It looks like their bodies are covered with, like, full-body leggings or something.”
Jerome adjusted the binoculars. “Yeah, like a second skin or something, but with maybe some sort of armor on the front, or these guys have huge out-of-proportion chests. Look how they have helmets with face masks and equipment on their backs.” They were whispering now and slid a bit lower behind the rocks on the ridge they’d just crossed on their way back home. He returned the binoculars to Jackie, who rested them on a depression in the rock outcropping in front of her to reduce their profile as much as possible.
“I don’t think they can live in our atmosphere.” They knelt and watched. As the alien force approached, she continued, “Look how the first several rows march in crisp military step.” She slid the binoculars off the rock and tucked them into the beaten leather case attached to her belt. The three layers of shirts she wore were various shades of grey and brown, tattered from use. When she ran, they flew around her like leaves on a tree. She wore blue jeans, also full of holes and areas of extreme wear, now dirty and discolored. They were tied with a rope at her slender runner’s waist. The zipper had broken long ago, but she no longer cared about such trivialities as fashion. Her clothing served as ideal camouflage in the woods she and Jerome found themselves in so often as they traveled from village to village. Jerome no longer bothered with a shirt. His jeans ended just above the knees, “to give him more freedom to run faster and longer.”  Their feet were bare and soles toughened, hard and leathery. Their skin was darkened from exposure and scarred from early scuffles for survival, now well in their pasts. They both wondered if these intruders on their harmonious world would change that.
“Impressive.” Jerome murmured. The force drew closer, visible with unaided eyes, pounding their tiny feet as they moved forward in the valley, just beneath them. The ridge on their side of the valley was steep, though passable if, like Jackie and Jerome, you knew the difficult path to the top and were trained to make the climb. They felt pretty safe.
“Jerome, look at those soldiers toward the back of the ranks. They’re just wandering along in no particular formation, chatting, kinda singing and goofing off.”
“Those are not soldiers. Look how much smaller their chests are. No armor. And their helmets are a lot smaller. Like they’re just breathing devices and not battle protection. They must be support personnel, cooks, communications and stuff like that. They are not trained military like the aliens in front. That’s for sure.”
She and Jerome had just left a small encampment of about 40 or so men, women and children along the Meramec River near the place where the town of Valley Park had once been. Like everything else, the town had been left in ruins by a mysterious explosion several years ago. At first everyone assumed it was a localized event. A horrible earthquake. But then, when no one came to help, the assumption grew that the Shock, as they called it, was at least national if not global in scope. Only remnants of the buildings remained, mostly foundations, overgrown with vines and vegetation of all sorts. The village itself was a mish-mash of lean-tos and makeshift shanty structures randomly placed along the river. Despite this, the small group was always happy and peaceful. Jackie and Jerome enjoyed their frequent, albeit brief, visits.
The imposing alien force was heading down the well-trodden path in the center of the slight valley toward that village. The two runners knew that the path led to another small settlement of humans well to the north. They looked at one another. Jackie spoke as she returned her gaze to the aliens, “I’m sure these guys visited Sheila’s village.” It was farther and they seldom visited, but when they did they found 25 or so pleasant humans living along a nice stream, struggling to make it day to day. Pretty much like every human settlement since the Shock, other than theirs, referred to as The Tribe. Sheila’s residents more regularly met with Jackie and Jerome, and sometimes others from the Tribe, more or less halfway between them, at the entrance to the Grand Prairie. The Tribe never asked for anything. They just delivered the help and supplies these villages needed.
The Tribe was a much larger group of humans well to the east of their current location. Whatever this group of aliens may be, Jackie had to make sure, somehow, that they would not destroy her world, again.
The Tribe, their new family, was the most successful, powerful and the most benevolent of all of the human settlements left after the Shock, which wiped out nearly everything and everyone a few years back. The Tribe was technically led by a council that rotated frequently, but everyone knew their true leader was Shandra, an amazing woman, deeply intertwined with everything around them, everything in nature. She could communicate with the animals, great and small. It was a power bestowed upon her by the Shock itself, while she was in a spiritual trance, meditating with a Buddhist guru in an ashram in what was once St. Louis. The ashram was destroyed and the monk killed with it, but the entire huge structure had fallen around Shandra, leaving her still in her trance, surrounded by dead bodies and fallen concrete and steel. She was not even dusty when Jackie had found her.
As a scout and runner, Jackie’s connection, through Shandra, was with squirrels and was ideal. She valued the information she gathered from her lithe companions. It’d been the squirrels who’d alerted them to the presence of the army they were now watching.
Their mission to the little village was one of support rather than trade. The Tribe had more than it needed and regularly traveled to the smaller encampments to help train the residents on how to live off the land and to bring supplies. In this case, they had brought replacement spears and arrows, strings for their bows and some bone fish hooks. All of these small groups knew the Tribe and their leader, Shandra, and revered her almost like a god. The Tribe considered her their leader, but they knew she was a regular person with flaws, a sense of humor and no desire to be an empress. She just had special skills. Everyone in the Tribe had their own unique sets of skills and corresponding duties. Jackie and Jerome had been marathon runners before the destruction, so they were communication runners now. Everyone had leadership roles and the Tribe operated as a commune of equals rather than a governed society. Nonetheless, when things got stressful, everyone turned to Shandra. What could be more stressful than an attack by an alien force?
None of the other villages had the gift of connecting with the animals. Not even the women. Even for the women of the Tribe, that power came from Shandra. Shandra, and her right-hand woman, Daisy, were the conduits through which the power of connection was given and maintained. Daisy was sort of a human amplifier. She connected Shandra to all of the female members of the Tribe. The farther one was away from the Tribe, the weaker the connection, but even this far from Shandra and Daisy, Jackie retained her connection to home and her relationship with her squirrels.
The village below was beyond the edge of that range, perhaps because of the rocky ridge they were now atop. When Jackie entered that small village, she lost all connection to home. That was always frightening and she never wanted to stay long. Heading to Sheila’s village was even more harrowing, as it took her well beyond the range of her leaders for several days. The two of them never went without several others. There were bands of renegade humans, mostly men, roaming the area, searching for food and opportunity to rape women. It’d been awhile since they’d had an encounter, and she and Jerome were accomplished fighters and had never lost, but she received her fair share of scars from their battles, healed eventually by Daisy. To avoid further conflict, they were often relieved of the wares designated for Sheila’s village. Out there, her squirrels were of no help. Hence the now more common practice of meeting where Jackie remained in range of home.
Being connected had become a crutch, perhaps, but it had saved her life more than a few times as the bands of rogue men occasionally strayed into the Grand Prairie. That was invariably a grave error, resulting in their deaths. Shandra, Daisy and the Tribe may have been revered, but they were also feared. Outsiders did not visit the Tribe. They did not enter the Grand Prairie. This was a message the men got loud and clear from Daisy. Shandra received it just as clearly for the women. Sheila’s villagers needed only to cross the small entrance to the Grand Prairie and within seconds they would be met by armed Tribe scouts. Soon thereafter, the Tribe would provide them whatever they could in assistance.
A large grunt came from below. The alien force was suddenly ordered into neat columns and rows, marching in unison, in the manner of those who follow tyrannical leaders. Lights had popped up on the machines on their backs. Even those in the back fell into line, though with significantly less precision. At each step the entire group grunted loudly. The collective sound resonated like the beat of a bass drum down the small valley before them. Those in the back didn’t stay in formation very well, but they no longer wandered or sang. Some began to attend to small black rectangles they were holding.
“They’re lit up.” Jerome noted, pointing. They looked to be something akin to tablets from the prior world. The aliens were running their many long, pointed fingers across them. “Man, what these creatures lack for arms, they more than make up in fingers.” Their fingers appeared to elongate to about two feet or so, extending like telescopes and bending in long arcs. Jackie thought they looked like those arms that hold up a study light. They were not tentacles. They didn’t have the flexibility of tentacles. More like spider legs with many more joints. They didn’t seem to be able to grasp things. They used multiple fingers to surround things, and their machines were designed for this.
Those in the far back were in no formation at all. They each guided different, larger pieces of equipment, floating on small transports hovering in front of them. Big black rectangular structures. Their long spidery fingers busy flying across and into the boards, lights flashing.
Jackie looked at Jerome. He shrugged. She trained her binoculars on the devices. “I think they’re communication devices, maybe power sources. See those arrays over there? Maybe solar power? Take a look.”
Jerome took the binoculars, “Look at the backs of the troopers. They each have some sort of pack on with tubes and wires. Look! The lights on those machines in back seem to correspond to lights on certain backpacks. They light at the same time.”
“I can see that. Like bouncing signals around the group.”
A single alien dressed in the brightest red armor strode to the front. He didn’t have a visible weapon. He raised his short arms and his fingers rose well into the sky above him, longer than the two feet that seemed to be the limit of the others.
“The leader. Fuck, look at those fingers. What’s that on his head?” Jackie asked.
“A feather plume, or something, streaming from his helmet. But it looks like blue liquid sorta coming out of his head and going back in, well some kinda liquid or goo or something. Beats me?”
“It’s changing colors and getting taller. And its glowing.”
The leader’s fingers moved in what seemed like a formation of some kind.
“Oh my god, Jax, there’s a big green light” he handed her the binoculars, “see it over there on that device in the back?”
“Well when that went on, all the guns in the arms of the alien soldiers lit up green.” The fingers of the soldiers in the front phalanx extended in unison and the guns were raised and pointed forward, at the ready, lit green on top from butt to tip.
“Wow, you’re right. The leader guy must’ve turned them on or powered them up or something. Damn, Jer. We can’t warn them, can we?”
“No way.”
“I think he just gave another kind of command. His head thing turned colors and he’s wagging his fingers around.” He led the formation down the narrow valley toward the settlement. The pounding of their feet and their droning grunts alerted the villagers. The runners watched helplessly as they saw their friends beginning to panic. A few who had crept to the edge of the forest, had run back to the village to alert them.
“Marcel, no, go back. Run!” Jackie whispered as she watched the leader of the humans, who they both knew very well, stride out to meet the alien army. As soon as he came into their line of sight, however, the leader raised a long ugly finger. The plume on his head turned from blue to red. A light flashed in back, then lit on a soldier in the front row, who raised his tiny arms, which held the weapon at the end of his long fingers. A red beam shot from its tip in a burst and evaporated Maurice with one pulse. No bang, just a puff of steam and a cloud of black carbon ash settling to the ground where their friend had been standing.
“Fuck.” They both whispered in unison.
The battle was brief, but the humans put up a fight. Most of their spears were vaporized, careened harmlessly off the chestplates, or were allowed to fall harmlessly to the ground while the human who had thrown it was turned to mist and ash. One of the humans had crept past the soldiers on the smaller hill across the valley from the two Tribemates. She rose and threw a new, Tribe-made spear toward the attacking horde. It struck an armored alien warrior in the upper back. Once it hit, it sank deep into its body, almost as though it was being sucked in. The alien fell to the ground, dead. The woman who threw the spear pumped her fist and yelled expletives at the aliens. She was evaporated immediately. All of the residents, man, woman, child, old, infirm, were not just killed but systematically removed from the face of the earth with a pop and puffs of steam and carbon dust.
“Holy shit!” Jerome exclaimed a bit too loud. A blast came their way and they narrowly missed being destroyed. A huge elm looming above them was evaporated. The carbon dust rained down over them as they sprinted down the hill. They never slowed across the Grand Prairie, darting into the edges of the lush dark forests to avoid being seen, then around the Tribe’s hill that overlooked the Grand Prairie, and down the small valley that led to their settlement, also by the river.
Even if you could get across the Grand Prairie without being rebuffed by the Tribe and Shandra’s allies, it would be a rather daunting task to find the Tribe. A broad expanse of undulating grasslands ranged over several miles from a small opening on the west end, a mile or so east of the small now evaporated village, a space maybe fifty feet wide, between stark ridges of rocky hills that encircled the prairie. This was the only effective route into the compound. The ridge to the south that Jackie and Jerome had watched from was more rocky and treacherous to climb, except for the Tribe’s experienced members. It was heavily forested on the western edge of the Grand Prairie and was fifty to seventy-five feet tall. As the ridge curled south to the river and moved eastward along its northern banks, it was increasingly barren and tall. Near the Tribe’s encampment it had very few trees and was a good 200 feet above its base. About halfway down the slope from the ridge to the edge of the Grand Prairie, the forest grew thick and dense.
On the ridge’s backside, it fell in vertical cliffs down to the river. These cliffs were dotted with ledges, pathways, caves and tunnels the Tribe knew well and used for shelter and could use for defense, though no one tried to attack them anymore. They entered the system of caverns from the enclosure in the compound and used many of the larger openings within the cavern system for living quarters, meeting rooms, storage, etc. The caves were much cooler in the heat of the summer. The Tribe was well situated and defended, but perhaps not against what the runners saw used against the other human settlement.
To their south was a wide, relatively shallow, but rocky and rapidly moving stretch of the Meramec River, flanked on the far side by another more gradual vertical cliff covered in brush, rising well over a hundred feet into the air. This ridge fell off sharply on its south side, making it very difficult for a force to attack them from that direction. The Tribe could enter the water in a backwash that was calm and easy to navigate, but crossing the river in their location would be extremely treacherous. They moored numerous boats they’d gathered since the Shock in the gentle backwater. No motors, but strong enough to fish from and escape in.
The Tribe lived in structures that were much nicer than the ones in which this village resided. They were made of wood frames, stone walls and thatched rooves. There was one big central structure in which nearly everything occurred when the weather was inclement. Around the outside were enclosed passages to other rooms and into the caves along the ridges that surrounded their home. The main room was heated by a large central circular fireplace that exhausted through a hole in the roof. The engineers in the Tribe had split and hollowed out saplings, and then lashed the halves together to create pipes. The pipes were used to move cold air from outside the walls to the base of the fire to stoke it so that the fire wouldn’t draw air in through every crack and crevice in the structure. Similar pipes were used to move warm air from the fire, down the passages to other parts of the structure. The system had its limits. While the main fire kept the central room warm, even in the dead of winter, the system of pipes barely cut the bite of the frigid cold in the outer rooms.
The kitchen was also a warm place, as it had its own fireplace and cooking stone. The Tribe members often hung out in the kitchen. The pipes also served to provide a bit of warmth to the Tribe’s lookouts in the wooden towers that rose above the enclosure, blowing warm air from the fires up through the bottom of the parapet floors. The pipes were even used, on a very limited basis, to move water through the system. The engineers were extremely creative. Some of their contraptions reminded her and others of the Swiss Family Robinson Disney movie, and the engineers admitted they got a few ideas from that film and others.
To the east was a huge mountain that rose abruptly from what used to be buildings along the river. This mountain trailed as vertical cliffs along the Meramec all the way to the mighty Mississippi several miles to their southeast. There was another set of caves in this ridge downstream only accessible through a small cavern into which the Meramec’s water’s flowed. It was difficult to see if you didn’t know it was there, and no one other than the Tribe knew it was there. They could hide the older, infirm and very young members of the Tribe in those caves and had practiced the evacuation many times.
Jackie and Jerome traveled over eight miles in just under 40 minutes, probably a record had anyone still counted such things. They fell to their hands and knees, out of breath and still frightened out of their minds. Shandra and a few others rushed toward them. Shandra, through Daisy, had felt their fear and anticipated their arrival.
“There are hundreds . . . maybe over a thousand  . . . aliens . . .  coming to kill us.” Jackie got out between gasps for air.
“They destroyed . . .  the small village to the west of us, . . . Marcel’s village. . . . Everyone’s dead. Everyone.” Jerome fell onto his back as he finished.
“They have laser weapons or something.” Jackie blurted out between breaths.
Doc spoke first. “Relax sister and brother. Get them some drink. Help them up.”
Tribe members helped them over to a wooden bench. They were given a cooled herbal tea the Tribe loved. It was full of fresh minty flavors and rejuvenating nutrients that would help them get their senses back. They gulped it down and were given more. This they sipped.
Everyone looked to Shandra. She stepped into the circle, beckoned to Daisy, who followed her. Daisy put her hands on the shoulders of the Tribe’s two runners and they felt better immediately. No one was shocked by this anymore. Daisy smiled, hugged them both, and backed out of Shandra’s way. Shandra hugged Daisy and thanked her, then knelt down so that she was below them.
Shandra was tall, maybe 6’3”, with long, full and glistening jet black hair that encircled a face that appeared simultaneously dangerous, tantalizing and loving. She was elegant and graceful in her movement, but strong as any man in the Tribe. She explained once that her background was like a mixture of Baskin Robins 31 flavors, a little white, a little black, a little Native American, a little Asian, a little Indian, a little of many other things Jackie couldn’t remember. The only words to describe Shandra, Jackie thought, as their leader and her oldest and dearest friend knelt before them, was exotic warrior. 
Shandra’s dark, engaging eyes, smiled at them, “Good. Relax. Take a deep breath and gather yourselves.” She was hypnotic. The events of the encounter became crystal clear in her mind. “When you are ready, please tell us everything. Every little detail. Connect to your squirrels for anything that you cannot remember. They are all around and everywhere and know and perceive more than you can as a human, though they are unlikely to understand what they sense in the same way.” Daisy stood behind her with a blank look and a loving smile on her face. They were both so difficult to read. The two were connected deep within Jackie and through them she was connected to every squirrel in range. Jackie had gotten used to the feeling, though the first time she’d felt it was more than a bit overwhelming.
When the Shock had hit, Jackie had been returning to her car to pick up Shandra, her roommate, after her meditation and yoga sessions. Jackie had just finished running in a nearby park when the sky opened, a massive burst of energy slammed her into the grass. She felt as though she would be crushed. The ground beneath her rolled like the waves in an ocean. The earth beneath her car ripped open, reaching as far as she could see up and down the street. The roar and cracks of huge structures being rendered from their foundations, falling to the ground tore at her ears from all directions. The huge crack in the ground widened. Her car teetered and then fell in. A swell of earth flowed under her, tossing her into the crevasse.
The metallic thud hurt, a lot, but saved her life. She’d fallen onto the top of her car, now jammed into the seemingly bottomless rip in the earth’s surface below her. She gathered herself, some fifteen feet below the roiling surface, and managed to grab the edges and stay on the roof of her car. She could only watch as hell rained down above and all around her. The car was sitting on two solid rock outcroppings that had once been connected. Dirt and debris fell from the edges of the gash above her and from the world she’d once knew. Bang! The car rocked violently as a stone smashed into its hood. She scrambled toward to back, grabbing the top of the rear window which had shattered, and was just able to hold on. She pulled herself up, but her fingers bled from the remaining rear window glass. A crash from above her, as a huge tree from the park fell across the opening, leaves and twigs rained down upon her. As the tree twisted in the chaos above, one of its long branches spun toward the car, scraped across the car from her left to her right, nearly tossing her off into the abyss. This time she held on to the branch for dear life as it stopped above the car. Pain raged through her body, but she managed to scramble and crawl back onto the roof of the car, clinging now to the branch connected to the tree above her.
Her right leg hurt badly, but didn’t seem to be broken. Her left shoulder probably was, however. She was bleeding badly from her fingers, a nasty cut in her left side and another on the right side of her forehead, both from the branch she now clung to. Her ribs hurt on both sides. She had no idea as to the extent of the damage to her body. Another rumble of the earth, a shift and the car teetered again beneath her, slipping on the rock in front of her. She forced herself through the pain to grasp the branch with everything she had. The car rocked to the right, groaned, and screeched as though it was a frightened as she was, before it fell from beneath her feet into the darkness below.
Her scream startled even her, eyes darting every direction, she pulled herself close to the branch and began to climb. The tree protected her from the debris falling from above her into the abyss. She climbed, one branch at a time, pain ripping through her shoulder and leg. Blood poured from her head, less so now from the cut in her side. Her hand was numb. Then, at ground level, she climbed on top of the trunk of the tree. As she straddled it, the huge crevasse below her began to close, sending more shockwaves rolling through the surrounding area, disrupting the tree as its branches in the crease were crushed. She was pushed upwards, like riding a bucking bronco, grasping at the branches to keep from falling as the tree twisted and rolled.
When the crack in the surface slammed closed with a mighty blast of seismic force, whatever structure had been left standing, fell crashing to the ground. She was thrown from the tree, landing hard. The crack was closed. Then the Shock stopped. She was alive. In incredible pain, but alive. That was more than she could say for the many bodies and parts strewn around her. She rolled to her hands and knees and threw up on the ground in front of her. She pushed back from the mess, gagged again a few times, and finally fell back on the ground in utter exhaustion.
It was just a couple of blocks to the studio where Shandra worked out. Jackie pulled herself up by the tree branches. Removed her shirt and held it to her forehead to stop the bleeding. She fought through the debris the rest of the way to Shandra. Jackie stopped in her tracks when she found her, still sitting in a lotus position, unharmed and clean. Jackie had been both thankful and confused.
As Shandra awoke in Jackie’s presence, an odd expression crossed her face and she looked around, cocking her head side to side, almost like an animal trying to get a better read on a sound or smell. As Shandra’s senses returned more fully, she was surprised at the destruction she saw around her, but more, astounded at what she felt inside her. Jackie was badly injured, bleeding, limping and in pain, but alive. She sat, dirty and grimy, in the ruins strewn around Shandra who hugged her. The sensation Jackie felt was wondrous, warm and a little scary.
Without warning, Shandra seemed to return to her trance. It was as if she didn’t even see Jackie or the devastation around them. Shandra stood, turned and stared into a dark black cavern created by the fallen building that had once held the guru’s ashram. As Jackie also watched the dark hole in the mass of concrete, out walked a simple young woman, also clean and unharmed with a peaceful smile on her face, as though nothing unusual had happened. She walked right up to Shandra and Shandra reached down and hugged her.
It was at that moment that Jackie first felt the connection. It frightened her. A sudden awareness from deep inside her of a spiritual sort of relationship between Shandra and Daisy, and with her. Daisy released Shandra and hugged Jackie. As she did, all of her wounds and injuries healed and strength flowed through her. Then Daisy turned to Shandra as if waiting for instructions. Shandra smiled, turned to Jackie, and said, “This way, to our new home.”
Over the years, Shandra had tried to teach all of the members of the Tribe how to connect to Daisy and Shandra and to the animals, birds and insects of nature. Jackie wouldn’t learn to communicate with her animals, in her case squirrels, for several days, but she could communicate with Shandra from the moment Daisy hugged her. They could communicate without speaking. A hug from Daisy was the trigger. Once that happened, things changed. For some reason, only the females had the capacity to connect to Shandra directly through Daisy and to animals, but unlike Shandra, who could connect to all animals, each woman or girl could connect to only a single species in the animal world. The men became passive, not subservient, they just lost any natural competitive aggressiveness they may have had. They could connect with Daisy, but not to Shandra, not to animals and not to one another.
Daisy was as plain as Shandra was exotic. Maybe 5’4”, stocky, pale white skin with freckles, flat, straight mousey brown hair, and she was anything but graceful. While Shandra wore many versions of loose, dark, flowing clothes, mixing silky black lace with soft cotton and leather, often low cut and leggy, reminiscent, Jackie thought, of a stereotypical Hollywood gypsy, Daisy’s wardrobe consisted of the same off-white cardigan sweater over a soft pink linen blouse, a long pastel pink, green and yellow patterned light cotton skirt, white bobby socks and white tennis shoes, with a pink bow in her hair. She looked the same everyday as she had when walking toward them from the ruins of the Ashram. Her clothes were never dirty and she never took them off. Daisy was gifted in many ways. No one had ever heard her speak. They weren’t 100% sure she could hear, well at least their voices. Her face always smiled in a way that made it impossible for anyone to stay angry or sad around her. She hugged everyone and those hugs were amazing. If you were hurt, you were cured. If you were sad, that feeling flew away. If two people were in an argument, Daisy would appear, hug them both and the issue was resolved. If it was a lover’s spat, they often were inspired to make love right then and there. Early on they were often embarrassed afterwards, but the Tribe had come to understand the power of Daisy. There were no judgements or reprimand. No further embarrassment, and no one made fun. Other than Shandra, no one in the Tribe was as revered and loved as Daisy.
Rejuvenated by Daisy’s hug and the wonderful tea, Jackie and Jerome started from the beginning and ran through every detail imaginable. The support mission, their discussions while there, and the status of the little village. Their decision to leave. How the squirrels had stopped them. They went over the colors, shapes and characteristics of the various uniforms and the behaviors and activities of the various parts of the group, only just then realizing all of the different ranks and duties they undoubtedly represented. They went through a detailed description of the bodies of the aliens, their arms and fingers, the armor on the chests of the soldiers in front, their tiny, almost hoof-like feet. They discussed the way those beyond the first phalanx walked in a leisurely fashion until the battle call, and then in seconds transformed into a series of square units, a marching formation to attack. They noted that the formation was perfect in front, but less so among the units nearer the back.
Jerome did some quick math based on the rectangular nature of the formation. “There was the leader in front. They were six deep, eight wide in two groups in front, side by side. Then another pair of groups, each also six deep and eight wide. All of these aliens had the big armor chestplates and the pulsing laser weapons. So right behind the leader were about 192 armored and armed soldiers. My guess is the ones in front are the most seasoned and trained.
“Then there was a good-sized space, maybe twenty yards, before the support personnel. They were less ordered, but there were around the same number. They were not armored, that we could tell. A few had the big weapons, but most did not. They may have smaller ones. Most in this group had good-sized packs on their backs. Probably supplies. Several had nothing. They seemed important, but smaller in stature. The few armed aliens stood beside them.
“Then another ten to fifteen-yard gap behind that group, were the techies. They were easily the least disciplined, but they had all of the gadgets and what we all figure is their traveling energy source, the arrays. I can’t guess at how many of them they were. Definitely without armor. Since they were focused on their machines once the fighting started, they are probably lightly armed at best.”   
They talked in detail about the technicians in the very back, their floating machines, how their energy increased, their fingers moved quickly and their boards lit up before a blast emitted from a weapon. They discussed the nature of their weapons and the devastating evaporating pulse that came from them.
Mr. Jones, a physicist, interrupted, “Tell me more about the suits they were wearing.”
Jerome began, “Their uniforms and suits seemed to be completely sealed. Even when relaxed no one took their helmets or anything else off.” The two talked about the hoses and wires that ran all around like spaghetti across their backs, connected to what seemed like black square packs. They reveled in the one human victory and how their flint pointed spear penetrated with ease into his upper back, above the backpack, and then sank deep into the alien, killing it. Jackie noted, “That’s a weak point.”
Jackie tapped into the squirrels. Squirrels, like all animals, sense the spirit of other beings. Mostly they perceive emotion in a range from positive to negative, without the labels humans ascribe, but they perceive hierarchy, desire and attitude quite well. She had to translate their way of feeling about other beings into the way humans understand those terms, but she was very familiar with how to do that. From them she learned that the aliens had spirits. They were not robots. Not all of them approved of this mission. The most powerful and angry were in front. From there back the attitudes of the soldiers grew increasingly tepid. The Tribe members fleshed out every tiny detail. Jackie and Jerome were amazed at what they recalled that they didn’t remember committing to conscious thought or observance.
Jenny, a strong, muscular woman, several inches shorter than Shandra, a captain in the Navy in the old world, and a military logician, spoke up. “I believe, from what I’ve heard, that this is a force sent to wipe out whatever humans are still huddled out here in the wilderness. My guess is that they are miles from their base, wherever that is, and draw their power from the sun through the array you spoke of, including the power required to operate their weapons. They are not here to settle or homestead. They are here to destroy.
“They know, from experience I am sure, that humans are nearly completely un-armed in any real way. They can simply walk up to a village, face them straight on, and systematically wipe them out. That is how the force is designed. Power in front. Support in back. Simple straight forward fighting alignment, similar to what one might have seen in Europe in the 1600s.”
John, a short pump engineer, spoke next, “Their weakness is that everything comes from that energy source in the back. I am surprised it is not better guarded. If we can take that out, perhaps their weapons will be rendered useless.”
“They have probably been destroying small hamlets of humans for weeks, maybe longer, and have realized we don’t see them coming, have no military strategy and are completely unprepared for them. We have that advantage, such as it is. Not sure it is terribly helpful against hundreds of warriors. We are overwhelmed even if they just have knives.” Jenny concluded.
The engineers began to talk amongst themselves. Other small groups were discussing other issues. Jackie and Jerome drank the rest of their tea as the Tribe faded away, having retrieved all of the available data.
Jerome put his arm around her, as he often did, and she sank into his body. They were both suddenly dead tired. He kissed her on her forehead, “It’ll be OK, sis.”
Shandra, who’d been listening deep in thought, rose to full height. The Tribe hushed. She walked to the top of her huge spherical rock. She stood, arms outstretched, then sat cross legged, arms still out to each side, eyes closed, head back, face pointed to the sky. Daisy watched and then sat on the ground in front of her in the same pose. Jackie kissed Jerome, smiled as she rose to her feet and headed toward the stone. The women stood in a circle around it, holding hands, eyes closed and facing the sky. Jerome, who didn’t move, and the other men knew Shandra and the women were tapping into the power of nature and their animals all around them. This was normally done prior to a hunt, and was as much as anything else a request for permission to do so. In the Spring, and occasionally at other times, the Tribe met with the animals in the Grand Prairie on more social/spiritual terms in what one might consider a grand party, though it was much more sensual than that. It was a time when each woman interacted directly with her companions in a group. Sometimes Shandra just needed to do this and everyone followed her lead. Jackie just obeyed and trusted her faith in Shandra. So did everyone. They owed her their lives.
After Daisy and Shandra had found each other in the midst of the debris in those first moments after the Shock, Shandra began to move toward this location, toward this spherical stone, though Jackie didn’t know it at the time. There were people all around. Most were injured, dying or dead, but certain of those who could began to follow them. No one knew why, they just knew to do so. Others did not. Jackie never knew why some followed and others didn’t. Daisy would hug the followers as they arrived and they would be healed and happy. Shandra led them, over 200 by the time they arrived at this big spherical stone. Shandra mounted the stone and sat cross-legged as she was now. Daisy sat in front of the stone and Jackie and all of the women knew they were to hold hands and encircle the stone. The men stood outside the circle but as close to one of the women as possible without touching them.
Then the earthquakes began. The small group of humans watched in horror as the ridges tore from the ground, sucked up anything human that had been there, wrapping stone around it, and rose several hundred feet on either side of the prairie as giant rocky walls. Then the huge mountain ripped itself from the earth to their east, creating an escarpment many hundreds of feet high beside them, rippling to the north, connecting itself to the ridge on the north side of the Grand Prairie. There, at the meeting of the two ridges to the north of them, rose an even taller mountain, thousands of feet tall, which now had snow near its peak ten months of the year. No one had even tried to climb it. According to the Tribe’s explorers from that direction, it reached miles to the north and east to and up the Mississippi. There was a small settlement of humans to their east at the confluence of the Meramec and Mississippi. Maybe forty people. They were hard to get to except by river. The Tribe did what they could for them, and they too revered and worshiped Shandra, nearly as a god.
The fledgling Tribe could only see the eastern edge from where they were, but they watched as the Grand Prairie emerged above the acres of damaged subdivision homes, strip malls and other buildings, swallowing them up in its undulating hills. Any remnants of buildings and people in the area disappeared beneath. The area where their encampment lay, centered on the spherical stone upon which Shandra had been sitting, did not move. It didn’t even ripple from the quakes. The only thing that remained was the basement to the hospital that had been there, accessible only through a cave in the mountain. This kept it in remarkably pristine condition. Otherwise, in the area around them, one would never know that a prior human civilization had existed.
It was as if Daisy and Shandra had built their protected community from the prior devastation. As scouts, Jackie and Jerome traveled outside the Grand Prairie and saw that the area beyond it was pretty much as it had been after the Shock, with ruined human buildings and rubble strewn across the area. It was overgrown with plants, but it was all still underneath. Not so in their part of the world.  
This particular communication on this day, however, was atypical and dire; a rally to all of the inhabitants of these woods, mountains and ridges around the Grand Prairie to band together with the Tribe to fend off these invaders. Jackie could feel the power race through her. She could feel her squirrels attending to their call. They understood and were willing to be part of the solution. They pledged their support to Shandra and the Tribe.
A few moments later the trance came to an abrupt end. Shandra stood and spoke.
“We are not outnumbered. We will not be overwhelmed. Come.” Jackie knew that Shandra had been preparing them for this moment for years, ever since human civilization had ended. The way it all happened was inexplicable, massive shock waves from the sky that killed most humans, crumbled even steel buildings and structures, and rendered all machines, weapons and electronics inoperable. Odder still, the Shock drove plant growth into high gear until plant-life over ran nearly everything. Though Shandra never spoke of it, throughout the camp it was well understood that there was no explanation for the Shock except as a precursor to an alien invasion. Nothing human could have done this.
Nature had rebounded with gusto. Huge forests had grown up in the two plus years since, a remarkably short period of time. The massive geological changes created earthquakes and aftershocks. Any building that had withstood the shock waves from the sky, was destroyed by these quakes.
One of the benefits of nature’s rebound was an abundance of plants to gather, and of animals to kill and eat. There were several in the Tribe who knew various survival skills. How to start a fire. How to make stone knives, spear tips and arrow tips. How to whittle to create bows, spears and other wooden tools. Hunting and gathering was good from the very beginning. It was as if the animals and fish, after Shandra’s hunting trances, seemed to sacrifice themselves. Everything was used, meat, organs, bones, hides, everything, and someone in the Tribe knew how to use them. The Tribe was healthy. They respected everything in nature, took only what they needed and shared whatever they could with all of their neighbors, human and animal. In exchange, through the power of Shandra, they’d built spiritual relationships with the animals from insect to snake to bird to bear.
The Tribe was composed of around 250 people, some of whom were elderly. They’d been blessed with many children and more on the way. They had maybe 120 able-bodied adults capable of fighting; a paltry few compared with the impenetrable, highly-armed approaching army. The Tribe’s weaponry consisted of twenty arrows with flint points, two bows, several dozen flint tipped spears, numerous flint knives, a few leftover steel knives they’d found and various shovels, picks, and other tools used for digging or chopping. Their arsenal would be no match for the sophisticated weapons the aliens were equipped with.
Why is Shandra so calm? What does she know that I don’t? Jackie thought.
The entire Tribe was waiting for her to continue.
“Begin the evacuation process to the caves for all unable or unwilling to participate in this battle.” There was no judging. Other than children under the age of 12, the elderly and infirm, and women who were known to be pregnant, each person was permitted to make that decision for themselves. The plump engineer and a few others capable of fighting chose to go with the boats. No one judged them for this. A few of the pregnant women objected, especially Jenny who was five or six months into her pregnancy, but Shandra explained the importance of preserving the Tribe and that they carried the future inside them. “Jenny, if we all perish today, you must lead the rebirth of the Tribe.” Her point was clear, the fighting party could all be killed, decimating the Tribe. It would fall upon Jenny and the others to save it, rebuild it, restore it. She did not give them an option. They obeyed.
The evacuation had been practiced many times and would be executed cleanly and efficiently. The boats were pulled to the shore. Food, blankets and other necessities were loaded into the boats. The able-bodied pregnant women would move the boats and their precious cargo to the safety of their secret caverns downstream. Jenny would command the lead boat and the entire mission to the caves.
Aside from the bulk of the men and women, a few of the older Tribe-members and all of the adolescents of age joined the fighting group. Each would have their value. 156 members of the Tribe, many more than Jackie had expected, proudly followed Shandra up the gentle grassy slope that led from their camp, around what was referred to as the Tribe’s hill, as it guarded the narrow entrance to their home, out to the eastern edge of the Grand Prairie, spreading out before them.
Shandra stood on a log to brief the Tribe. Daisy stood in front of her. “You all know what is coming. These warriors are not from here but they want to take our world from us. This is likely only a small portion of the number of aliens that must exist around the earth. These aliens, however, have made the mistake of threatening our part of this world. We are overmatched if we try to stand toe to toe with them. We, however, have allies that this invading force will not be prepared for. All of our neighbors have agreed to join with us in defeating this menace, now and in the future.
“Ladies, all of you have connections in this world. Reach out to them. I will communicate to you through Daisy. You will orchestrate the movements of your animal teams as I command. There must be no delay. Does everyone understand?” All nodded their heads. “Bring all of your friends to this field.” She went through the positioning of all of the animals, great and small, and even of the insects. Each woman understood her duties.
“I will bring the large animals, wolves, bears, mountain lion and wolverines to the edges of the forests. They will work with the men. Men, I realize that for some reason in this world you do not have these connections, but my charges will work with you. I will guide them. You will have a major role to play in this battle. Gather all of the weapons we have, make or fix all that we can. You will attack these intruders at our advantage from the darkness of our forests. They have weaknesses. We will use them.
“They wear extensive life support systems with lots of tubes and hoses in the back. They are arrogant and do not protect their backsides. Their troops in the rear are weak of spirit. That is where they are most vulnerable. Their system is designed for a frontal attack on overwhelmed and under-armed human sized creatures.
“We will not let them get close. We are not waiting for them to get here. We are meeting them out there. I want them in the middle of our huge undulating grassy plain. The hillocks and dells will make it hard for one flank to know what is happening on the other. We will take them a little at a time over the course of that stretch of emptiness. Joe, arrange armed men in groups of 3 and 4 in the dense trees all along the length of that plain. I will bring animal colleagues to you. We will change the odds to our favor.”
Shandra spent the rest of the day connecting to her friends the wolves, mountain lions, wolverines and bears. Being larger animals, they, like the human men, would be easier for the aliens to fight, so they would have a finishing role in the battle. After her pieces were all on the huge board before her, she laid out the final attack plan on the marching alien hoard. Two male runners returned and reported that the front of the mass was nearing the opening into the long open Grand Prairie. They reported that they moved together in front but more sauntered in back, and with no fear, without the heavy stomps and grunts used to create fear in their target.
“Perfect.” Shandra turned to the Tribe. “Now is the time. Get your forces out there in the places we discussed. We need to all connect through Daisy and she will relay my orders for battle. Please stay focused. Alright, it is time.” Daisy was a rather unusual woman, connected deeply to the women and not to any of the animals. In these situations, she operated exclusively as a vehicle for Shandra to communicate with them. She could do so over great distances and her value in this situation was immeasurable. All of the Tribe’s women could simultaneously connect to her. Through Daisy’s connections, Shandra could see and hear everything that the women could see and hear and convey messages and orders to them, all without a word being spoken. Each of the women could in turn see anything any of the other women could see. Daisy’s powers were to Jackie a bit like adjusting the dials to a television. Shandra situated Daisy in the branches of a big oak tree at the top of the highest point around the plain. Two early-teen boys helped her up and climbed up with her to keep her as safe as possible. Shandra stood below her. Two girls stood beside her, unarmed. When the battle began, Shandra would be unaware of her immediate surroundings. She would only see the Grand Prairie through the eyes of the women. She would move, wave her arms, guiding and directing the team below her. The girls were there to make sure she didn’t fall down or lose her balance on the rocky escarpment. Were that to happen, the connections below would be lost, as would be the battle.
Six of the other adolescents stood guard with weapons, just in case someone made their way up to them. This served to protect Daisy and Shandra and also to keep the youngest of their family from the greatest risks of harm. The two girls beside Shandra were not yet old enough to have connected to Daisy or Shandra or to any of the animals to a degree required to be effective. That allowed them to concentrate on their one critical task.
The Tribe ran to rally their forces and then out along the edges of the Grand Prairie amidst the darkness of the surrounding trees. They could each feel their connected animals find their places. It was an elaborate plan requiring instantaneous responses to Shandra’s orders, but everyone understood its brilliance, even the animals.
Once everyone was in place, Shandra, and by extension through Daisy, Jackie and all of the women, could see the entire field of battle.
“Game on.” She conveyed to her troops.
Jackie waited for the alien army to enter the rolling plain, feeling her squirrels gathering in the trees above her, stretched several yards to either side. She felt hundreds of them around her, and she could sense they understood the importance of their part in the attack.
She tuned into Shandra. The aliens in front marched in unison, now grunting with each step. Their feet were small, almost hooves, and despite their numbers, they barely trampled the bright green grasses and fragrant yellow wildflowers in front of them. It was strange to just watch them march in, but it was also comforting to know that their gear didn’t detect their presence. This was evident from the ambush at the first attack and the fact that they didn’t notice the two of them until they’d given themselves away. But, remaining concealed was also a power of Daisy’s. They often used it when repelling the rogue male bands of invaders. All of their spirits, when connected to Daisy, could become hazy as viewed from the outside. Still there, but not easily recognized. Connected to Daisy, even the Tribe’s men benefited from this capability.
As the front rows began to pass her location about halfway down the Grand Prairie on its northern side, she could channel a grainy greyscale picture of the alien force through the Daisy-reflected eyes of Maggie who was near the Grand Prairie entrance. Jackie watched as the last rows of support personnel sauntered through the entrance into the Grand Prairie, gazing at the ridges on either side, chatting and even singing songs in their odd language, which sounded rather squealy to Jackie. Shandra waited until there were 50 yards between the back lines of the alien force and the entrance to the Grand Prairie. That entrance was a trap in back, only fifty-foot-wide between the two abrupt and sharp edges of the ridges that encircled them. Just in case, several boulders had been rolled to the edges using now wild draft horses. The horses, guided by Joanie, would push the boulders over onto any retreating soldiers if that became necessary. There would be no going back for them now.
Jackie felt Shandra order Maggie to set the bees loose, Cara to launch her wasps and Marci to send her biting horseflies in attack on the techs in the back rows of the alien forces. Sharon sent her field mice from right below the aliens. Jackie watched as the skies darkened over the back rows of aliens as the flies emerged, but only for a moment before the insects descended en masse upon them. The flies attacked the fabric of the suits, biting small holes in them and crawling inside, biting the flesh of the aliens. The release of pressure sounded like whistles. The bees and wasps swarmed low and fast out of the forests from many angles. They soared into the ranks of the techs and wandering alien support personnel, landing on them, stinging them through their thin suits, invading any crack or crevice in their gear. The aliens began to swing at the air with their long fingers, but they were clumsy and unable to deal with the tiny creatures surrounding them. Long slender tails released from behind them, swinging in the air, but they were burdened by the packs on the alien’s backs and were useless. Like the aliens’ fingers, the tails also seemed to have many joints, restricting their flexibility. The point where their tails met the rest of their bodies turned out to be a weakness in the suits, which the insects and mice exploited. The aliens were defenseless and the attack was relentless. The warriors began to scramble, run in circles, dropping gear and technology as they ran.
As the gear was released, whatever made it float was gone and it fell to the ground. The mice attacked the gear, tearing at the wires, electronics and anything else they could dislodge from the equipment. The bees and wasps turned on the next row of soldiers. The mice moved forward with them, racing around the bodies of the frightened aliens, ripping at hoses and gnawing at their protective suits, ripping huge hissing holes in both. The aliens flailed at one another and the mice and insects covered them. Many stumbled in the grasses and fell hard on the ground. They were remarkably inept at righting themselves, and once down the mice ripped their gear to shreds.
Jackie felt Shandra’s next order, “Annie, release the buffalo.” The herd of several hundred buffalo rolled out of the woods to Jackie’s right, trampling the larger pieces of equipment, the power arrays, the smaller systems, and many of the alien techs and back line communication personnel underfoot. The buffalo rose up and landed on the equipment, driving strong front legs through the external coverings. It took only moments, but the animals left the equipment in ruins. As fast as they arrived, the herd romped out the small western entrance to the plain through which the aliens had entered. Jackie watched as the middle of the alien force reacted to the rumbling ground, turning to try to see what was happening. Jackie hoped Jenny and John were right and that this attack would cripple the offensive weapons of the alien army.
Many of the aliens in the back, who were unarmed, headed for the woods. The well-armed men, lions, wolves, wolverines and bears waited there, tearing into those who made the fatal mistake of entering the darkness. After the animals had attacked them, the men were on them in seconds, finishing them off. The bees, flies, wasps and mice moved steadily forward in the ranks, creating chaos and panic at the back, far from the view of the commanders in front. The smaller handheld machines of the next wave of support personnel were abandoned, dropped from the clumsy fingers or used to try to defend against the swarms attacking from above and below them. Jackie watched those in front of her who clearly noticed that their communication was disrupted. The lights fell dark on the backs of the soldiers now well in front as the last of them crossed a good sized set of hills the ran across the Grand Prairie. They were still marching, grunting loudly, and she hoped they were now so focused on their attack formations, grunting so loudly that they could not possibly hear much behind them, and out of direct sightlines, that they would remain unaware of what was occurring in the back of their ranks long enough for the Tribe to continue to whittle them down to size.
“Send in the cockroaches. Thank the bees and wasps and send them home.” Jackie smiled at the odd orders coming from Shandra, but she felt Suzie direct her millions of cockroaches into the fray, attacking the gear of the units just a few yards to Jackie’s right. She could watch them as they joined the biting horse flies moving forward, swarming the aliens, gnawing on components, clogging holes, disrupting their effectiveness, invading their suits, crawling into their life support hoses, congesting their systems and generally sending them into a frenzied panic. More of the attacking force were incapacitated. There was nothing for the aliens to shoot at. Nothing for them to fight against. She could see well back to her west, the men and Shandra’s larger beasts, out in the Prairie, stabbing the helpless aliens, grabbing their hardware and destroying anything that seemed to be functioning. When the last of the alien techs and support personnel were killed, the men and larger animals began to follow. Fourteen women stationed at the western edges of the Grand Prairie emerged with stone and steel knives and ran in support of the men, launching into the attack on the struggling aliens.
A group of about twelve alien soldiers from the middle ranks, turned and began to run toward the men. The flies were swarming all around them, but these were soldiers, not fearful techs. They broached a small hill, prepared their weapons, but they didn’t light up as expected. They glowed a bit. The men and women looked up from their efforts, saw the alien soldiers, and ran at them, spears raised. The aliens hesitated.
“Send in the squirrels.” Jackie was ready. The squirrels flew from the tree tops, raced across the Prairie toward the trained alien soldiers. One aimed his dimly lit weapon, fired and struck one of the older Tribesmen. He was gone, steam and carbon dust, but the weapon would no longer fire, and the soldier threw it aside. The other eleven, ignoring the flies and the whistling of their suits as holes released life-supporting gases, raised their weapons, but before they could fire Jackie’s squirrels leaped onto their legs, clamoring up their backs. The Tribe’s men and women raced toward them. Aliens fired, but the squirrels caused the bursts to be directed randomly, mostly into the air. A few flies were disintegrated. The weakened bursts could not reach to the forests, dissipating in the air. The weapons were useless, all energy dissipated and none available from the arrays and systems now in pieces.
The aliens fell into turmoil as the squirrels bounced from alien to alien, biting and clawing at the hoses and wires on their backs. The men arrived and stabbed the aliens, killing them. Jackie directed the squirrels forward as more soldiers turned. The men dropped behind the hill as the aliens fired the last bursts of energy stored in their weapons. The mice attacked the aliens from below, disrupting their focus and their aim. The aliens tried to fire again, but the guns were dead. The squirrels arrived, tearing at their gear.
More aliens struggled, hoses and life suits hissing, soldiers flailing their long fingers helplessly in the air at their nearly invisible, lightning quick attackers. Flies and cockroaches arrived. Jackie ran from her hiding place in the woods, joining in the attack, guiding her squirrels, driving her long knife deep into the weakened aliens. Blue blood spurted from the wounds. The squirrels moved forward, the Tribe followed them. The large animals joined in dispatching the aliens from the back, forward.
The damage to the life support systems of the soldiers was showing. Many reached for their throats, waved at their packs behind them, tried to take them off to stop the leakage, but could not. The squirrels seemed to be relishing in their role and Jackie could feel them almost playing with their victims as she guided them forward.
As the front lines, the presumably most highly skilled of the aliens, passed the next set of hills, the archers emerged behind them. They had ten shots, and each made his or hers count. Whoosh, together the arrows flew from the bows, driving into the vulnerable backs of the alien soldiers. They died quickly as the archers raced back into the woods. The soldiers in front turned, feeling their brethren fall behind them, and began to fire their weapons into the trees at random, using up their one precious shot. Trees near Tribe members were evaporated. One of the archers yelled as a tree beside him turned to steam and ash. A beam was fired at him. He leaped behind a large rock which absorbed most of the burst, but he was struck. His left arm evaporated into steam and dust. He screamed again and a few soldiers began to run in his direction.
“Send in the snakes. Jackie, save Johnson.” Jackie turned and redirected several of her squirrels toward the south side of the Grand Prairie. The soldiers had a huge head start, but her squirrels were fast, leaping from alien to alien, toward the place where her Tribesmate lay wounded behind the rock. Jackie sprinted across the Prairie. She understood that two men and several other large animals were racing through the darkness of the forest toward the area. 
Johnson lay behind the rock as a medical team looped through the darkness to attend to him. A burst from the gun of one of the alien soldiers destroyed another tree, but the weapons could not penetrate rock. The team huddled behind it. Two aliens slowed as they approached the darkness of the trees. Three pumas and two of the men arrived and waited in darkness. The soldiers entered the trees, warily looking left and right for any signs of danger, moving their weapons side to side. One weapon was dead, though the alien did not realize it. The lights on other was waning. It appeared they had one, perhaps weakened shot left.
The two turned and faced Johnson and the two members of the medical team and raised their weapons to fire. Jackie’s squirrels arrived and attacked the aliens still outside the forest, distracting the two inside it. Shandra’s pumas attacked them from behind, ripping at their exposed necks and backsides. Two Tribesmen, Frank and Mark, raced in, driving spears deep into the sides of the two shocked soldiers. The spears penetrated deep and seemed to stick in the soft, gooey interior of the aliens. They turned to fire as their suits hissed. Unlike those in the back, these were seasoned warriors. They would fight to their death and were determined to take these humans with them. Frank dove to the right as the beam ripped from the alien’s weapon. It was weak, striking a tree and barely damaging it. The second alien looked at his weapon, tried to fire it but it failed him. The pumas tore into them and they fell to the ground, now flailing for their lives. It would not last long. The alien warriors in the field reeled under the onslaught of the squirrels. Two stumbled and fell. Jackie arrived and drove her long knife into one. Most of the aliens had used up their one shot, but two focused from beneath the squirrels and aimed into the woods, waiting for something to shoot at. Jackie could feel Shandra move the pumas back into the darkness.
Crunch came from behind her as Jerome tackled an alien to the ground. He was about to drive the butt of his weapon into the back of her head. The blue blood from the aliens slashed neck, curved in the air as the two fell to the ground and rolled a few feet away. Jackie leaped to her feet, and drove her shoulder into the chestplate of a warrior preparing to attack Jerome on the ground. She drove her knife into his side, behind the chestplate, squirrels leaping onto his shoulders and head, ripping at his neck. The blow of the weapon on her back shot pain through her. She pushed the alien back and he fell on his tiny legs, hard onto the ground. She dove to the right, and rolled as an alien sent a burst of energy toward her. Thank heavens those things glow first, she thought.
Another fired, but his aim was destroyed by their ally beasts, and he struck only a tree, which disintegrated. Another turned toward her. Jerome jumped him, dragging him to the ground, stabbing him over and over with a flint knife. A beam flew from the mass of alien warriors, striking the rock and a tree well back in the forest, but missing Jerome by inches. He rolled behind the fallen warrior. Mark flung his spear at another alien, striking his chestplate. It did nothing. The suits hissed wildly as gasses erupted from them, but the warriors were coming. Jackie slid off the alien she had just slain and sprinted into the forest. Jerome, Frank and Mark did the same, then cut hard to the right, west down the south edge of the forest. Bursts of red ripped through the forest behind them, evaporating trees. Aliens entered the forest in pursuit, now weaponless, but trained fighters nonetheless. The three pumas, two bears and five wolverines were waiting and tore into the unsuspecting soldiers. Jackie, Jerome, Frank and Mark stopped, returned and helped to finish off their attackers.
“Shit!” Johnson said. “Jerome, your hair is singed. Get down.” Just as he rolled off the dead alien, he pulled him over on top of him another burst tore into the woods, striking the alien, evaporating him. The steam was blue and the ash was minimal, but the alien was gone. More aliens were coming. The Tribesmen and allies dove for cover as bursts filled the forests, eliminating trees that gave them cover. Jackie ordered her squirrels, all of them, to their aid and they came. The soldiers were well-trained, but not for what was happening to them. They were prepared to destroy small, unarmed, unprepared bands of pitiful humans. They had no experience dealing with millions of tiny attackers, hundreds of invisible invaders from below and innumerable quick feisty animals with very sharp claws and teeth, raking them from all angles. Supported by a very prepared and orchestrated human and large beast fighting force. Without their weapons or communication systems, and massive disruption to their life support systems, despite their bravery, training and downright anger, Jackie could feel them fading.  
Invisible in the grass, the snakes rose and drove their teeth through the thin skin of the alien suits, deep into the actual skin of their victims, injecting deadly poisons into the alien systems. The soldiers lost their focus on the humans in the forest, danced in horror at first, but within seconds the venom, perhaps coupled with their inability to breathe, began to take effect. The aliens fell, struggling for air. Tribesmen rallied from the Prairie and descended on them, finishing them off with spears, knives, sharp claws and fangs. The snakes found target after target.
The larger snakes moved forward to attack the more veteran alien soldiers in front, delivering pain and fear as well as venom into the fierce fighting force. The insects arrived, swarming them, disrupting their systems. Squirrels arrived, tearing at their life support. Larger snakes found the weak areas of thinner fabric behind the legs and necks of the soldiers. Bites were hard and toxic. The rows of troops began to panic, falling without warning and within seconds of being bitten. Some got off random shots. A few evaporated their own soldiers in an effort to kill the beasts on them. The snakes slithered without sound through the grass beneath the warriors and from warrior to warrior, who began dancing and running in all directions. Their leader commanded order, but to no avail.
He spun trying to understand where the attacks were coming from, but he could see nothing but chaotic terror behind him. Jackie crouched with her fellow Tribesmen and women, and their huge allies, behind the hills just west of the top ranks of the alien forces, guiding their charges through their foes. They were waiting for orders to attack.
“Bring the birds,” Shandra ordered. “Thank the flies and send them home.” Jackie knew that many had sacrificed their lives.
Thousands of birds of all sorts rose from the tree tops, began to swarm above the aliens, now frantically trying to avoid the snakes below them, the squirrels racing from soldier to soldier, the mice still gnawing at their gear, while still trying to understand what was happening above them. The sunlight was nearly obliterated by the swarm. Some of the soldiers tried to shoot their weapons, but they all failed. The power source lay in ruins a mile behind them, and whatever had been in reserve had been exhausted. The birds, more to create panic then to kill, descended en masse, and the Tribe, now amassed at over 80 behind the hill, each armed with some sort of weapon, even if only a sharpened stick, rose and ran at the remaining aliens. The birds pecked at the hoses and tubing behind the soldiers, leading to the packs on their backs. Jackie, focused on guiding her squirrels as she ran, and could hear more leaks erupt, hissing as whatever these aliens breathed dissipated from their suits.
“Send the rats.”
The larger rodents rose from the grasses beneath the army, swarmed up, climbing the aliens, gnawing at suit materials, and the hoses, wires and tubing behind them. As all of the small animals wreaked havoc on the remaining alien force, several soldiers ran into the woods seeking refuge, only to be met by the big animals and violent Tribesmen, who pummeled them.
“Release the eagles and hawks.”
The aliens were in complete disarray, running in all directions from the swarms of birds attacking from above, the insects, mice, rats and snakes from below and squirrels seemingly all around them. The Tribesmen drove their weapons into the struggling, unsuspecting and now unarmed soldiers. More fell as snakes delivered their venom, but Jackie could feel that the snakes and the field mice, were nearly spent. Many had died, but they had decimated the most powerful alien soldiers in the front ranks. Then the big birds arrived, landing on soldiers, digging at their flesh, at their eyes, ripping huge gashes in them, then leaving for another. The aliens were now outnumbered by the Tribe, and overwhelmed by their allies.
“Send the birds home. Call back the snakes and mice. Send the cockroaches home. Thank them all dearly for their help in protecting all of our homeland.” The killers remained, the large birds, the large animals and the humans, now rampaging through the frantic aliens.
“Tell Martin to kill the leader.” Martin was a master bowman. He received his orders through Carmen who was with him. He was ready. He had selected a long straight arrow from the quiver, set it in his long bow and had taken aim at the leader a few minutes earlier. He could see his opportunity was near. The leader stopped screaming at his troops in his high-pitched squeal, his plume rising and falling and changing colors, glowing brightly, pulled his long fingers from the air and removed what looked like an old world handgun, though certainly more advanced. He brought it up and aimed it at the humans. Jackie was staring right down the barrel. His weaker backside faced Martin’s location. He selected a spot that looked open at the top of the leader’s back, and waited for his shot. Then the leader stopped, stood tall and put both sets of fingers on the gun. The arrow left the bow with a smooth swoosh and drove itself deep into the back of the leader. The bullet ripped into Jackie’s shoulder as the leader was struck, knocking her back. Jerome was there, and caught her. The second arrow was on its way before the leader could fire again. It ripped through the leader’s neck. A blue liquid spurted from the suit, quickly covering the leader’s shoulders. The plume atop his head, exploded into the sky, showering the area around him with whatever the substance was, sending a large glob of it skyward. The general fell to his knees and then onto his face. The bulk of the goo from his plume landed with a splash on the back of his head as he fell.
“Tell Martin, nice shots.” Carmen delivered the news from their leader. He smiled.
Aliens were falling as the small animals began to destroy their life support and other systems. Struggling to breathe, struggling to stand, grabbing at their throats. The eagles and hawks tore into the remaining aliens, ripping at their gear with their razor-sharp talons, tearing through their suits and flesh with their beaks. The Tribe and large animals arrived, stabbing, pummeling and tearing the alien forces to shreds. Jerome scooped his sister into his arms and began to sprint toward the hill that Shandra and Daisy stood atop. His legs screamed at him as her pounded up the slope toward them. Jackie was dizzy, losing blood. He had to reach Daisy in time.
The last of the aliens fell to his death as Jerome crested the ridge. Shandra came out of her trance. “She needs help. She’s been shot.”
The boys guided Daisy down from the tree. Jackie felt herself fading, then she felt the warm hands of the diminutive woman no one understood. Her smiling face greeted her as her senses returned. She could feel the wound healing, closing, and the strength growing inside her. Daisy let go and the smiling face of her best friend, Shandra, appeared above her.
“Hi, girlfriend. You’ll be OK. You did great out there.” Shandra and Jerome helped her up and they all turned toward the Grand Prairie. Their broad peaceful field was strewn with bodies and bright blue liquid. “It is time to head home.” Shandra and Daisy led the way.
The grotesque bloody opening that had been Johnson’s arm had been secured with a tourniquet. Daisy touched it and as she had for Jackie, healed it, but even she couldn’t restore the arm. Nancy, a woman in her forties, Frederick, and older gentleman, had both died in the battle. There were no bodies to bury. Numerous animals and insects were lost in the battle as well. All would be honored that evening, though the losses were comparatively few. Jackie felt Shandra release all of the animals and ordered deep gratitude conveyed to all. Jackie conveyed this to her squirrels and could feel the love of the entire system.
A cheer went up through the Tribe across the Grand Prairie. They began to take the suits and technology from the aliens. The vast majority of it was complicated, biometric, completely destroyed and useless to them. Several of the aliens did have what appeared to be advanced versions of old fashioned projectile guns with ammunition. They’d been either too arrogant or too overwhelmed to even consider using such antiquated technology. Most had not even bothered to carry one. Everything was gathered and dragged back to camp for inspection and analysis. There were several scientists and engineers in the Tribe who would enjoy immensely the challenge of breaking down and deciphering the alien military technology.
The Tribe’s doctors would dissect the alien soldiers and try to figure out other weaknesses to take advantage of. The space in the basement of the former hospital still had useable scalpels and other tools for the purpose. Ordinarily, they cared for Tribal injuries and performed the occasional required surgery here as well.
The rest of the aliens were dragged to the center of the field. A circle was dug in the grass around them to control the fire. Wood was stacked on top of the pile. Before the fire was lit with a log from the Tribe’s fire, a spark fell on a pool of alien blood. It burned quickly and brightly.
“Dude, we need that stuff.” Jack said to the team. “Hold off on the bonfire.”
The Tribe gathered containers, and built a tall wooden rack. The aliens were hung by their feet from the rack like cows sent to slaughter, containers below them. Their necks slit and their blue blood drained from them. It would be used as fuel. As each alien was drained dry it was stacked inside the circle. The valuable wood was retrieved and taken back to the compound. Any grass or dirt with the blue blood was cut and added to the pyre so that the fire would not burn out of control. When all the bodies were stacked high, the leader was dragged to the top and propped up in a standing pose by wooden branches. His head was half gone where the goo for the plume had blown it off. The stack of aliens was lit. The bodies burned quickly, remarkably cleanly, and completely. Within hours the last vestiges of the alien forces were eliminated from the Tribe’s part of the world, leaving only a black circle, which nature would heal in short order.
The Tribal members evacuated to the caverns were retrieved. The party that evening was long and raucous. Everyone shared stories of the victory and sent prayers of thanks to their animal and insect teammates. Shandra knew that while the battle was won, the war was long from over. There were more out there. She hoped the force was unable to communicate to their companions what had happened this afternoon, more importantly how it was accomplished. Perhaps it would be a long time before a force returned. When they did, she hoped this battle would serve as great practice for what likely would be a much larger, less arrogant and more organized, attacking group. She could only hope. She couldn’t worry about that now. More sentries and runners would be established some miles out around the Tribe’s home. At least they’d have earlier notice of another land attack. What she feared most, of course, would be an all-out air attack.
The wineskin arrived. We will deal with that when we have to, she thought to herself. She stood, raised the wineskin high in the air, to the universal cheers and applause of the Tribe.
“To the Tribe!” She drank long and hard, the sweet red liquid spilling down her chest. Then held it aloft again.
“To our Allies all around us!” another cheer, applause and long drink from their leader. The wine they made was pretty good given their limitations. She glanced down at Daisy beside her, who looked as though nothing unique had occurred. Shandra touched her with a gentle hand, and Daisy looked up and smiled at her with that simple, pure, endearing smile. Shandra winked at her and Daisy returned her smiling gaze to the Tribe of revelers, unfazed. Our secret weapon. They have no idea the power you hold inside you. I dare them to return. Shandra held the wineskin aloft one more time.

“Victory with overwhelming odds is ours!!!!!” She yelled into the night sky and drank deeply.