On this day in 1974, the story of Peyton Drake's introduction to the Omniverse began. To commemorate it, this site will post the entirety of his 49-novella saga chapter by chapter. Let the Omni Tale begin!
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“Never heard of him, sorry.”
“He’s in my math class … I think … maybe.”
“Isn’t he that guy from that old rock band?”
Chapter One – The Red X
Pete Drake was as memorable as parsley garnish.
That was just the way his father liked it. Lt. Drake had gone to great lengths to ensure his son didn’t stand out or excel in any way. He belittled Pete’s dreams. He ridiculed his ideas and inventions. He even uprooted the family and moved across the country when Pete became overly chummy with a classmate.
The conflict-shy fourteen-year-old considered all the fuss unnecessary. It wasn’t as though he resisted being ordinary—just the opposite. He’d spent years cultivating a bland façade and hiding his talents. The tactic enabled him to float through life unnoticed and without incident, rarely attracting the attention of the bullies at school. More important, it helped maintain harmony at home. Today would be no different—or so he assumed.
The sky cracked open with a roar of thunder, more akin to an anguished scream than an atmospheric boom. As if the switch on the sun had been flipped off, the bright morning turned charcoal grey. The neighborhood birds left off chattering mid-chirp. Sheets of rain poured off the house’s eaves, obscuring the view of anything but water. A noise like the turning of a giant metal gear groaned. The entire house jolted.
The pelting of agitated water beads ceased. His half-open bedroom window rattled as a luminous sunbeam pierced the glass to cast a rainbow on the opposing Navajo White wall. The warming beam of spectral light dissolved his apprehension, thus sparing his thumbnail from further attack.
“Omnigram for Drake,” called a delivery boy outside, raising his voice above the shrill squawking of the ferruginous hawk perched in the tree that was the focal point of the front yard.
Pete scrambled out of the blanket fort he’d constructed on the floor of his room, doing his best not to disrupt the military diorama he’d set up. The delivery of any sort of gram was a big occasion at the Drake home. The last messengered communiqué the family received had been a risqué strip-o-gram that arrived at the wrong address—as his father avowed more than once.
Cassie, Pete’s mother, answered the courier from her regular spot on the front porch swing. “That’s us! Thank you. I … Where’d he go?”
The sunbeam dimmed. The rain-streaked glass rattled again. By the time Pete got to the window to investigate, the messenger was gone, taking with him the promise of excitement. Cassie pressed a thumb to her temple and looked around as if she didn’t understand what was happening or where she was—a common occurrence for her in recent years.
As Pete turned away, he did a double take at the hawk that was now perched on a branch near the window, staring straight at him.
That bird gives me the creeps. It’s always looking at me like … Hawks don’t eat people, do they?
He shuddered and returned to the center of his room to hunker down inside his threadbare shelter. As he untied the keep’s privacy flap, his gaze caught on the only adornment that remained in his room, a marked-up calendar blazoned with a definitive red X. There was no getting around it. It was moving day—again.
The sight of the red X always tied Pete in knots. Unconsciously, he grabbed his side to massage his pancreas. Logic dictated it was his pancreas that was affected by the offending X. Given he couldn’t pinpoint where in his torso the discomfort lay, coupled with the fact he wasn’t sure what a pancreas did or where it was located, he felt confident in his diagnosis.
The bulk of his boxes already packed, he reasoned he’d earned a respite and some time alone—alone aside from the two armies assembled in the fort. With greater care than usual he arranged the little green soldiers passed down to him from his father. Their impending battle was to be the last waged at the current coordinates. As such, he intended to make it one for the annals.
He’d outdone himself with the latest addition to his arsenal of custom-built war machinery—a sophisticated, self-arming and repeating catapult. His boyhood collection of marbles sat lined up beside it, positioned at just the right angle for automatic loading and firing. Surveying his well-ordered combat zone and innovative armaments, he let out a gratified sigh. “Peace at last … Let the carnage begin.”
As he picked up a box of matches to ignite a fuse, the steady beat of boots parading through the house stamped to an emphatic halt. Pete knew from experience the silhouetted figure looming in the doorway would brook no procrastination. He held his breath, as if doing so would help him to go unobserved.
Maybe if I just stay quiet and ignore him, he’ll eventually just go away.
“Junior, for cryin’ out loud. I already asked you to pack up your room and the head. You’re not going to make me ask again, are you?”
“No, sir,” Pete muttered, emerging from the security of his quilted war bunker.
“Shoulders back … and no sulking. You know this move is for your own good, son.”
So you keep telling me.
Pete stared silently at the floor, trying to shake off the battlefield barbwire that had attached itself to his sock.
“Just what have you got going on in there?” His father stomped over to the fort and pulled back one of its blankets, exposing the upright broom that served as the structure's primary support. “I’ve been looking for that broom all morning, Junior!”
Lt. Drake grabbed the broom handle and yanked. Pete gawped as his field headquarters collapsed into a pile of laundry and the rows of artillery scattered across the linoleum floor. When the sound of rolling marbles ceased, the lieutenant tramped across the heap of mismatched covers and shoved the broom into Pete’s hands. “Looks like you’ll be needing this after all.”
And just like that, before Pete could wipe out so much as a single squadron, his war was preempted. A lump rose in his throat as he examined the remnants of what should have been his greatest victory, and he imagined he heard the strains of a requiem swelling beneath the mound of blankets.
“Now, are you going to pack this mess up, Junior? Or do I have to do it for you?”
Pete shuddered at the thought of his newly constructed catapult’s fate should his father make good on his threat to pack the fort. He dropped down on his hands and knees to initiate the hunt for strewn marbles, counting in his head how many he collected and how many he had yet to find.
The uncommonly kempt lieutenant busied himself by consulting his coaster-sized wristwatch and activating a variety of its functions, each of which emitted its own distinct cheep—each cheep causing Pete to lose count of his marbles. “The moving men will be here at fourteen-hundred hours, Junior. That gives us just under thirty minutes.”
Thirty-seven marbles down. Sixty-eight to go.
“Where’s the packing chart I gave you?”
Forty-one down. Sixty-four to go.
Without waiting for an answer, the lieutenant rummaged through the few remaining papers on his son’s desk, wrinkling the detailed design of the latest creation Pete intended to build—someday.
Pete knew better than to say the words aloud, lest he send the lieutenant into yet another harangue about the younger generation’s lack of respect. Instead, he stayed silent, imagining his father dressed in a Little Bo Peep get-up. Picturing his father looking ridiculous always made tongue-biting easier, not to mention far more entertaining.
Thirty-five down … or did I already do the thirties … Dang it!
The lieutenant viewed Pete’s drawing from several angles, ultimately crumpling it into rubbish.
Pete bit down on the inside of his lip at seeing weeks of work so insouciantly dismissed. His mind flashed to the family’s recent nature walk where he witnessed a painstakingly crafted anthill get blithely leveled by a recreational hiker going off trail, coffee mug in hand.
That’s exactly how he treats me—like an ant. I will never step on an anthill again.
His father shook the ill-fated sketch in his fist as a warning. “How many times have I told you to drop this inventor nonsense? No good will ever come of it, Junior. I raised you to follow orders, not waste time on useless widgets! If you buckle down and continue on the path your mother and I have outlined for you, you’ll be a shoo-in at the Naval Academy and follow in your old man’s footsteps. How would you like that?”
Pete forced a wan smile and considered his father’s footsteps, or rather, his footwear. Certainly, the military man’s shoes were paragons of proper care, being put to bed each night after a systematic polish once the shoe trees had been locked into place. At the moment, Pete pictured his father in ballet pointe shoes, their pink satin ribbons tied daintily around the lieutenant’s hairy calves.
“Now get to work. That’s an order!” Lt. Drake lobbed Pete’s drawing in the trash, turned about-face, and marched from the room in four-four time.
Get to work?! Every time I do you just throw it in the trash!
Pete collected the last of the errant marbles and deposited them in the fabric bag his mother had sewn for the purpose. With a peevish huff, he folded his raggedy fort blankets and placed them in the box marked OLD LINENS, moving at a pace a tortoise would mock. He was in no hurry to face the inevitable. In an attempt to drown out both the silence and his depressing thoughts, he turned on the television.
“… Another spate of unexplainable wildfires has broken out in the Midland Valley, and while crews race to put out the flames, a water main has ruptured caused by the latest in a series of earthquakes. That’s the fourth one this week, isn’t it, Stu? I can’t keep track.”
With quiet solemnity, he scooped up the army men and let them fall atop the cushy blankets. “You’ll be safe in here for now. I have no idea what the terrain will be like at the new place.”
He zeroed in on the television.
Did the TV guy just answer me?
“Gina, seismologists are still scratching their heads over the recent quakes, stating there’s no scientific reason they should be occurring and no pattern as to their locations.”
“On a brighter note, the eleven-year-old boy who’d gone missing last week has been found and is home safe with his family. Randy Floyd was unable to describe where he’d been taken or by whom, but said his captors ‘were friendly’ and that they let him jump on a cloud. Police have no leads at this time and …”
The lieutenant stormed back in, glowering as his eyes scoured the room, his fists on his hips.
Pete picked at his thumbnail cuticle, weighing the potential ramifications of addressing his father. “Looking for something, Dad?”
“For the damn clicker, of course,” he said, upending Pete’s boxes in his single-minded quest for the television remote control. “You should be packing, not watching that damn drama box!”
A crisp cracking noise from inside one of the overturned cartons echoed through the empty room, followed by an indistinct crumbling. Pete winced.
He then crossed the room to turn the television off manually. “I packed it, sir.”
“Oh … You’re damn right you packed it. That’s what I told you to do, isn’t it?”
“Now where are those damn moving men? I’m docking their pay if they’re late!” Once again, the lieutenant was on the march.
Cassie sashayed into the room past her exiting husband, fanning herself with a wax-sealed onionskin envelope and inhaling its fruity fragrance. “Look who received a messengered letter,” she said in a cheery singsong. She faced the calligraphic envelope toward Pete, running her forefinger under his name in game-show-hostess fashion, then turned the envelope around to display its wax insignia and tassel closure.
“Whoa! I’ve never seen a letter like that before!” He reached toward her outstretched hand in reverence, paying no attention to the rhythmic footfalls approaching.
“Cassie, where did you pack my—” The lieutenant broke off speaking and snatched the correspondence from his wife’s hand before Pete could touch it. His voice dropped to a controlled growl. His nostrils flared. “Where did you get this?”
“A courier just delivered it for P.J. Isn’t it exciting, Peter?” Cassie squinted, her eyes struggling to focus. “I’m sure I’ve seen that seal somewhere before. Do you recognize it, hon?”
The lieutenant turned away, pulled the Swiss Army knife from his pocket, and sliced open the top of the envelope. As soon as he glanced at the contents, he stumbled.
Cassie barely managed to catch him. “Get a chair, P.J., quick!”
Pete dove for his desk chair.
The old wooden seat groaned as the lieutenant collapsed into it, his world collapsing with him.