I’ve been asked a few times since I started posting my fiction online if I fear that someone may steal my work and use it as their own. I don’t. You’re welcome to try and get it published, if you decide to steal it, but just keep in mind: (1) By my posting it here, and saving a copy of it in several places, it is protected by copyright laws. (2) Most professional markets won’t publish reprints. If its on a public website, they won’t take it. Believe me, they check. One of the first non-form letter rejections I received said that they plucked a few sentences from the story and googled it. Of course, it came up on my blog, and it didn’t matter if no one read my blog at the time, it was considered published.
I’m still posting this and my other flash fiction and shorts. Why? Because what you’re really asking me when you ask “Aren’t you afraid someone will steal it or that you won’t be able to get it published elsewhere?” is “Do you think you can write better than this?”
PREFACE: Reach was one of seven men named as such who existed in seven separate universes as multiversally intertwined souls. It was impossible for them to meet; and though, theoretically, it was possible for Reach to cross over to another universe, the chances of encountering one of the other seven were ridiculously low. This was also complicated by the fact that any one Reach jumping universes was being mirrored by the other Reachs.
The origin of Reach is unknown, because Reach himself has yet to create his origins. Reach exists suddenly, and not due to any epic mingling of chaotic strands of eternity in well-defined intersections of “now”. Reach just was and just is – seven times over. He exists sevenfold in time and space, but lives in a dysphoric misalignment with the rest of the universe each iteration of himself inhabits. Frequently, the outsider’s presumption of Reach’s insanity serves only to further separate the heptaphrenic traveler from the only realities that could actually shed light on the purpose of his multifaceted existence.
To further complicate this already complicated tale, Reach does not know he is connected to seven other beings and that everything he does is either influencing or being influenced by one or more of his other existences.
This is Reach Zero, the beginning you’re allowed to consider as such, but not the one that was.
The rubble shifted and Reach felt his pelvis shattered beneath the granite block laying across him. He imagined tiny bits of bone like machetes cutting through intestines. He spat blood and stared blankly into darkness.
The granite was supported on one side by a steel beam that had collapsed nearby. By luck or curse, this had prevented Reach from being completely flattened in the collapse of the building. Regardless, Reach was too near the acute angle created by the granite block to escape being mortally wounded.
He flailed his arms wildly as his abdomen alternated between radiating waves of intense pain and doldrums of complete numbness. Reach didn’t have the patience to consider how long it might take a rescue team to find him. Shock settled over him like a heavy wet blanket.
As his hands danced about on the dusty floor, he suddenly felt smooth skin. Turning towards it, Reach saw a little girl in a yellow dress, her auburn hair dangling over her shoulders in curly waves as she crouched near him.
“You’re all alone here,” she said to him.
Reach had looked both ways. He ran back through the series of events preceding his final impact with the ground and confirmed with his memories that he had indeed looked both ways.
People pawed at him, removing his clothes, prodding his skin. Someone slipped an oxygen mask over him. Some distance away Reach saw his wife bent over and wailing.
Ripping the mask from his face, Reach called out to her, “I looked both ways.”
One of the paramedics forced the mask back over him. From behind it, Reach muttered to him, “Where did the car come from?”
“His pelvis is completely shattered,” one of the paramedics stated.
“Check that head wound,” the other ordered.
Reach could see the car – a green and yellow 1970 Boss 429 Mustang. His eyes widened. “That’s my car,” he mumbled under the mask. He had to blink his eyes several times to tear away an encroaching fog over his vision.
Weakly pulling the mask away again, Reach whispered to one of the paramedics, “My car hit me.”
The paramedic ignored him and Reach felt himself being transferred to a padded flat surface. The scene shifted as he was carried away to an ambulance.
Just before he lost sight of the crowd, the car, and his wife, he saw a little girl in a yellow dress, her auburn hair dangling over her shoulders in curly waves as she crouched near the car that had run into him.
She had written in blood on the side of the car, “You’re all alone here.”
Reach pressed his hand against the Talos Orb and entered the arena. Spinning his sword by rolling the hilt in his palm, Reach reflected on the orb. Millions of gladiators had touched it before their death. There was a legend that sometimes, a great warrior who was nearing his final battle could transfer his soul into the obsidian orb and enter the body of another warrior who would touch it later.
Reach had felt no transfer – he was still Reach, his soul intact and as it ever had been.
The roar of the crowd suddenly died down as they caught sight of the creature the Talosians had chosen for this match. Heated protests started at a whisper and grew to a cacophony of outrage.
Reach felt his soul suddenly trying to claw its way out of his body.
The Gathrak took a step forward and its reptilian foot hit the ground with such impact that Reach could feel the vibrations up to his chest. Gathraks were large barbaric warriors, usually topping out at seven feet tall, but this one was well over that. Its scales stuck out at odd angles as the creature’s impossibly massive muscles pressed outward against them. The Gathrak carried only one weapon – a giant iron hammer.
Reach clenched his hand upon his sword hilt tightly, feeling the slickness of his sweat already compromising his grip.
“Unfair! No contest!” came the cries from the crowd.
The Gathrak suddenly roared, showing his four rows of sharp, needle-like teeth. Charging forward, it closed the distance to Reach in five long strides. With an uncanny swiftness, the creature swung his hammer at Reach’s mid-section. Reach hopped backwards and the hammer just missed colliding with his ribs. The hammer tore through the air, blowing Reach’s long hair into his face with the power of a hurricane’s winds. Unfortunately, Reach’s sword had remained in the path of the hammer and shattered as the mighty weapon struck it.
Reach’s sword arm went numb with the impact. Before he could react, the Gathrak swung his hammer in a reverse arc, slightly lower than before.
The blow shattered Reach’s pelvis, obliterating his abdomen with thousands of shards of bone slicing through flesh and organs.
Reach flew through the air a good ten feet before crumpling in a pile of human suffering.
As the Gathrak approached to deliver the killing blow, Reach saw a little girl in a yellow dress, her auburn hair dangling over her shoulders in curly waves as she sat upon the Gathrak’s shoulder.
In its guttural voice, the Gathrak said, “You’re all alone here.”
Reach had left his glasses inside, but could make out the shape of the paper boy coming up the sidewalk toward the gate to Reach’s house.
“Wait just a minute son,” Reach called out, struggling to push himself up out of his chair on the porch. He felt his old, frail bones cracking as he straightened up. Grabbing his walker, Reach began to shuffle over to the steps leading down into his yard.
The boy slipped Reach’s paper into the mailbox and kept walking down the sidewalk.
“Now wait a minute,” Reach called out to him. “Come back here.”
Trying to maneuver down the steps, Reach cursed himself for not having a ramp installed.
“You owe me a quarter,” Reach accused. “I didn’t get my paper on -”
Reach missed a step and fell. Tangled in his walker, his weight caused him to vault over the walker and slam heavily to the concrete walk. His pelvis shattered in the impact.
Reach cried out in pain and grabbed at his chest to press the button on his emergency device. It wasn’t there. He had left it on the porch.
Near his head, Reach caught a glimpse of yellow in his periphery. Turning his head, he saw a little girl in a yellow dress, her auburn hair dangling over her shoulders in curly waves as she crouched near him. She had a newspaper bag over one shoulder and was holding an issue unrolled before him.
The headline read, “You’re all alone here.”
Leaping over the fire escape, Reach angled for the dumpster.
He could hear his pursuers as their footsteps clanged against the metal above him.
Landing in a pile of cushioning trash, Reach quickly righted himself and vaulted over the lip of the dumpster. Gunshots rang out as the thugs above him fired. Bullets ricocheted off the concrete as Reach sprinted away from the scene, the stolen briefcase in his hand.
Turning the corner of the alley, Reach put on some extra speed and made for theater four blocks away where he had parked his car. He knew the thugs sent after him wouldn’t try to jump the fire escape like he had, so that gave him quite a lead. For once, Reach thought he might make out big on a heist.
The bullet hit him right on his hip and shattered his pelvis. Collapsing to the ground, Reach’s face scraped against the asphalt. The briefcase skittered away down the street. The pain was intense, but Reach was only wondering why they hadn’t fired again to finish him off.
Rolling over onto his back, Reach looked above him at the rooftops, scanning for the sniper.
Next to a large billboard atop a building nearby, Reach saw a little girl in a yellow dress, her auburn hair dangling over her shoulders in curly waves as she crouched at the edge of the building’s roof, a sniper rifle in her hands.
The billboard read, “You’re all alone here.”
The proton blast tore through the shields and ripped a jagged hole through the port side hull. The ship’s displays quickly changed from yellow to red as the engine room vented into space and forward propulsion stopped. The Nemesis had been skirting along the atmosphere of the planet when the pirates had attacked. The sudden cessation of the engines caused the damaged ship to slip towards the planet and enter a decaying orbit.
Reach righted himself in his captain’s chair and bellowed orders to his crew.
“Can we get that engine back online?” he screamed over the wailing of the disaster sirens.
“What engine?” the engineer yelled back to him. “That blast tore engines three and five away into the space.”
“Pump the cargo room with flexcushion,” Reach ordered. “And get those men out of there or they’ll be permanent residents in the safety foam. I want that cargo secured at all costs.”
Turning to his second officer Reach stated flatly, “We may crash and burn to a hellish crisp, but by God, those relief supplies are going to survive so the refugees can get to them.”
“Yes sir,” the second officer replied.
The second impact of proton blasts threw Captain Reach from his command deck. He collided roughly with the tactical console and his pelvis shattered in the impact.
Crying out in pain, Reach doubled up into a fetal position.
His second officer rushed over to help, but a third blast threw the unprepared officer against the forward glass, killing him instantly.
Pulling himself up against the tactical console, Captain Reach took in the scene.
Of the seventeen bridge officers required to pilot the starship, only five remained.
“Captain,” the communications officer called out weakly. “The pirates are hailing us.”
“Put them through,” Reach gasped, steadying himself against the console. His abdomen was a fiery ball of pain.
On the forward screens an image of the pirate ship’s bridge appeared. In the captain’s chair Reach saw a little girl in a yellow dress, her auburn hair dangling over her shoulders in curly waves as she leaned forward with a sneer.
“You’re all alone here,” she said.
“Daddy, please don’t die,” the little girl said.
Reach touched her cheek and smiled. “It’ll be okay, little one.”
The infection had moved from his abdomen, and Reach could feel it coursing through his systems, slowly destroying his body. It had been a careless accident. Exploring the strange planet he and his daughter had crash landed on, Reach had lost his footing and tumbled from a ridge. He had fallen against a sharp rock, which had pierced his hip. Weeks passed before Reach realized anything had gone wrong. The fall itself wasn’t terribly painful, and Reach had recovering quickly enough to continue hiking the rest of that day. The cut on his hip, however, slowly became inflamed with a strange infection.
As the infection had worsened, Reach began teaching his daughter how to fend for herself – which berries she could eat, how to find water, how to avoid predators, and how to create shelter. The little girl was only nine years old, but in the short time she and her father had been stranded on the planet, she had matured rapidly.
A week before, Reach had lost his ability to walk. The infection had spread into the bone of his pelvis and eaten it away completely.
Laying on his back in the crude shelter of a cave they had found, Reach caressed the cheek of his daughter.
“You’re all alone here,” he said to her.
“No,” she replied. “You’ll always be with me.”