A Bright Midnight Sky

Author : Henry Gribbin

I am a child of the 60’s, therefore I am a veteran of the Cold War. I had the typical abnormal upbringing of that time, but there was one thing that made me somewhat different from other kids. As a young boy I felt this sense of dread. I know that I wasn’t the only one that felt like this because there were signs all around us that the end was coming. Fallout shelters were everywhere, and there were the occasional air raid drills. We were afraid the Russians were going to nuke us all. Our grade school teachers told us to slip under our desks and not look out the windows in case there was an atomic blast. Then there were the films that we had to watch in the school auditorium. I always remember watching army soldiers standing atop a trench in the Nevada desert watching an A bomb being detonated. So maybe you can see why It was always in the back of my mind that I would never reach my 16th birthday. This was depressing because my big wish was to get my driver’s license.

Then something happened which helped change my outlook on life. I was about twelve years old when I saw the light. It was a hot sweltering summer’s night, and I couldn’t sleep. I quietly made my way down the stairs and went out on the front porch to catch a breath of fresh air. I had no idea of the exact time, but I knew it was late. I looked up in the sky and saw a blazing bright light slowly circling above our street. I was mesmerized. I watched this light doing its tight circles for some time. I was tempted to wake my older sister and let her share this moment, but if I did and the light was gone she would get mad. She had a temper, so I kept this moment to myself. I don’t know why but this light helped ease the dread that I had been carrying, and I was thankful for it. I made my way back to bed and slept peacefully.

Time passed. Over the years there have been wars, natural disasters and stock market crashes. But there were good times too. There were weddings, births and many a fine meal shared with family and friends. But recently that feeling of deep dread has returned. I can’t shake this feeling that something very bad is about to happen. Again there are signs which cause me to worry. The fact that we have one world leader that likes to shoot his mouth off and another world leader who likes to shoot rockets over Japan into the ocean doesn’t help. Epic hurricanes hitting our shores and massive security breaches make matters even worse.

The past two nights I couldn’t sleep, so I got out of bed. It was three in the morning. I went out on my balcony, which is on the second floor of my apartment building, and I saw a startling sight. From my deck I can see a lot of sky. This night sky was filled with dozens and dozens of bright shining lights just circling in a lazy orbit. I looked down. The parking lot below me was filled with people. Nobody made a sound. Everyone just stared upwards at the lights. These bright lights did bring back memories of my childhood. Once again a sense of hope and peace flowed through me. I think everyone looking at these lights felt the same. One by one people started making their way back inside. After a while I did the same. I had a good night’s rest.

Something Out There

Author : Joe Essid

The bluish-gray haze in the western sky this morning is not the shadow of the Earth, rising up against the Dawn. No, there is something out there. It’s coming, already slipping over the sky like a thin curtain, the first of many curtains before it arrives in darkness and fury.

You will not learn much on CNN or Fox. They are all yelling past each other, just like the politicians did the last time it came here.

That time, just like today, we had enough warning for my husband to rush around with a checklist printed from a spreadsheet, filling water jugs, freezing block ice, moving aside or inside anything outdoors that might be used as a projectile.

It won’t care. It could crush the house like an eggshell, even though we trimmed the trees and paid a company $500 to cable the big maple so it won’t split. One neighbor already took down a hundred-year-old Oak that looked sound enough to me. He said it was hollow inside. I’m mourning. It spared the big tree twice, already.

Maybe it likes big things more than it likes us. We are so puny and soft.

I watch my husband pretend he can steer the course of events with a pencil and a clipboard. By tonight he’ll be oiling our guns and checking that we have enough ammunition handy. Last time, in the sudden calm after it roared out of town, motorcycles raced at 100 miles per hour on the boulevard not far from here. Guns barked and, for a few terrible seconds, a machinegun stuttered into the endless darkness. But guns cannot stop it. Prayers cannot stop it. For a time when it arrives, even the police cower off the streets in strong buildings, drinking coffee and staring at each other every time the building shakes.

My husband smiles at me. He’ll see that the flashlights all work. He will check the propane tanks and test-start the noisy little generator.

I will be freezing vegetable stew, so, if the propane does not last, stew can slowly thaw in the powerless freezer as we hunker down. We will watch the four walls, our pets clustered around us and making themselves very small, while it stomps and rips around outside. Then, in the awful quiet, if its errant eye misses seeing us, we will creep out into the ruined yard to just listen to the departing roar.

We will steal some glances into a sky free from the smut of city lights, maybe be brave enough to sit in lawn chairs as our bare feet rest on cool debris left in its wake.

We are not the religious kind, but we’ll thank God and clink glasses, grateful that we’ve been spared once more, and we will pretend that it will never come again, just as we have done every time so far.

After it leaves, for a few days until the street light returns, the Milky Way will climb the sky and the stars shine just for us, as they did for our ancestors.

No More Inspections

Author : Laila Amado

Marjorie began freaking out when we lost contact with Earth. I gather she thought she would still get to go home one day, though I can’t imagine the corporation ever paying for this trip. If you ask me, I think the bastards finally blasted themselves into oblivion and I am not terribly sorry about that.

They used to say in my school that Earth is a blue planet, but there it was just a phrase from a textbook one rarely opened. Here, on this world, the ocean is a tangible thing. Indigo, periwinkle, viridian, and all shades of azure, it enters your house without permission and permeates your skin. Day in, day out, lapping quietly beneath the floorboards, it listens to your words and movements, whistles when you fly the scooter over its languid waves, roars in the dark of the night when heavy clouds roll over the invisible horizon. If you choose so, you may never leave the water here at all, merging with its changeful body in perfect harmony. Wading into my laboratory knee deep in the swash, I contemplate the tidal range and the variations of aquatic flow.

Marjorie says no signal means no more ships. No more ships means no more music, no new books and no real chocolate. I think – no more inspections.

I remember when the last ship came, its heavy white bulk an alien intrusion in our world of ever shifting shapes. How they marched down the ramp, so competent, so fully in control, dressed in standard issue overalls and sturdy waterproof boots. Sure, they brought all of that stuff Marjorie pines for but they made such a fuss when they saw the babies. Neither my gills nor Marjorie’s budding wings have drawn their attention, but the young ones are unable to hide. Newborns are so trusting.

They said, “They are growing fins, how could you allow this? You did what? You introduced local DNA?”

They started talking of protocol breach and quarantine, and the doctor, the one with broad glassy nails on carefully tanned hands said they would have to be exterminated, the whole corrupt batch.

No, loss of contact is good. Loss of contact means no new ships and no need to explain to Marjorie what happened to the last one. What I did to that last ship. There are a lot of deep lagoons on this planet and, hopefully, she would never find the one where the good doctor’s white bones rest beneath the floating lilies.

A Million Idle Daydreams Come True

Author : Thomas Desrochers

Michael lit a hand-rolled cigarette, hands shaking.

“What fucking century are you from?” Jack opened his flask and took a long drink.

Michael exhaled smoke. “What millennia are you from?”

“The one where everything sucks.” Jack spat on the grass next to him.

“Well.” Another cherry flare. “I get that.”

The two watched the night sky for a while, Michael burning through two more cigarettes and Jack nursing his flask. The sun Regulus was particularly active, giving the night sky on Regulus V a permanent aurora so near and so restless that it sometimes cast shadows. Tonight it was a dancing glow over a nameless cityscape that stretched from horizon to horizon, a triumph of architecture that was home to five hundred.

“I just don’t get it,” Michael said. He lit a fourth cigarette.

“What’s so difficult?” Jack leaned his head against the crooked oak they were sitting under and closed his eyes. “He took his head and made sure that nobody was going to be able to put it back together ever again.”

“I get that, dillweed.” A few more puffs. “I don’t get why he did it.”

Jack snorted. “Have you always been this dense? He wanted to go from being to not being.”

“Yeah, but why? I mean, look!” Michael blew a cloud at the billow sky above. “How could you get tired of that? The stars beyond it? I mean, you can go literally anywhere. You can do nearly anything. Anything we want – we’ve got it! What’s wrong with it? Why trade it for a ride on the plasma express?”

Jack laughed, bit his tongue, his eyes dull in the green light. “You weren’t kidding, you really don’t get it. It was never about the world around him.” Another drink. “He could literally have taken up mountain sculpting for the hell of it, on a planet all his own. It doesn’t matter – nothing and nobody was about to keep him here. A million luxuries weren’t going to pluck him out of his own damn head.”

Michael sighed, grinding his cigarette out. “I still don’t get it. What was the problem?”

“Ha.” Jack shook his head. “That’s the stupidest part. He’d always been saying, ‘One day I’m gonna go ahead and get it done. It’ll happen eventually.’ It was a foregone conclusion to him. It wasn’t a way out, it wasn’t, ‘Man, this sucks.’ All he cared about was going the way he wanted to go. It was a fucking law of physics in his head, no stopping it.”

Michael pulled his knees in, resting his forehead on them. Tears fell off the end of his nose. “He was our friend.” He paused a second, swallowing hard. “I just don’t get it.”

Jack started to get angry, but stopped himself. He reached out and set his hand on Michael’s shoulders. “That’s ok.”

He felt like he should be crying, mourning, anything at all – but he just felt empty. There were a million people on Regulus V, and in seven days he hadn’t seen any except for twenty at the funeral; even then they had seemed uncomfortable being together. They put him in mind of children, children hiding in separate corners of a miracle workshop that could house ten billion.

A hundred heavenly spears lit up the sky like fireworks, quiet as the dead.

Jack shook his head. “I don’t get it either, Mikey. But he’s gone now, and we can’t do a damn thing about it.”

They sat together for the rest of the night, abandoned, not even the wind to keep them company.

Grobnars and Humans

Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

Once they were gathered on the elementary school playground, teams needed to be selected for a game of Grobnars and Subjugates. Dinklebarg, a grobnar, was today’s selector.

Greg, a human, raised his hand and asked, “When we play Grobnars and Humans, how come I always have to play the human?”

Dinklebarg flapped his gills in consternation, the tips of his tentacles pinking in embarrassment at having this conversation again. “You’re the only human in the group, Greg.”

Greg responded, “But Fleeznar and Wyndleflang get to be humans sometimes. They’re grobnars. They get to play different species. Why can’t I?”

“Because we can retract four of our tentacles to look like a human.” Dinklebarg retorted.

Greg was aghast. “Look like a human? What? But you’re green! And you have more eyes than I do!”

Dinklebarg shrugged his torso mass “Well, I mean, it’s close enough, isn’t it?”

Greg gestured to another child. He was a tall, black, spidery creature that was listening to the conversation. “And Jeevnitz here isn’t even a grobnar! He’s a nurktick and he gets to play human too, sometimes.”

“He can crouch on his hindstilts, pull two of his forelegs in and fold his antennae down. If you’re looking straight at him then his mouth pincers look like lips and his wings are transparent. The profile’s pretty convincing, I think.” said Dinklebarg.

Greg crossed his arms. “That’s ridiculous.”

Dinklebarg yellowed in anger. “Look, are you making trouble? You humans are so sensitive.”

Greg said, “All I’m saying is that it sounds like you’re saying that all species are interchangeable with humans but that humans can’t be anything else.”

There was a pause on the playground. Everyone was listening now.

“Oh, here we go.” said Dinklebarg with an exasperated fluff of his tentacles.

“Am I wrong?”

“Look, you lost the war”

“Oh here we go.” said Greg, mocking Dinklebarg.

“Am I wrong?” whined Dinklebarg, mocking Greg.

Greg said “Yeah, well, Jeevnitz’s race lost his war to the grobnars but he gets to play as a human.”

“His race put up a respectable fight.” barbed Dinklebarg.

Greg continued, “AND he gets to play grobnars AS WELL when it’s necessary.”

“Well….he doesn’t make trouble like you do”

“I’m not making trouble!” shouted Greg.

Jeevnitz’s nickturk buzz chimed in “Uh, Greg, could you leave me out of this?”

Dinklebarg and Greg stared at him and then back at each other.

“Look, bonebag..” said Dinklebarg.

“Oh, excuse me for having an endoskeleton.” replied Greg, curling his hands into fists.

Jeevnitz drummed his legs and hummed to Dinklebarg “Hey, you can’t say bonebag. That’s speciest.”

“Thanks for finally showing up, Jeevnitz.” Greg smiled at Jeevnitz.

“I might be insectile but I’m no speciest.” replied Jeevnitz, fluttering his wings.

“Oh, you subjugated races just love sticking together, don’t you?” pouted Dinkleflarg, his tentacles striping red in defeat.

Greg persisted. “All I’m saying is that I can play a grobnar once in a while if it’s needed.”

Dinkleflarg relented. “Okay okay. Fine. You can play a grobnar today. Happy?”

21188 pistoned over to the conversation, face shield projecting the letters “HEY GUYS WHAT’D I MISS?” with a smiley emoticon. He ticked, waiting for a response, servos whining as his silicate head swiveled from face to face of the other children.

Greg blushed “Oh man not this guy again.”

Jeevnitz rolled his eyes and clicked his mouth pincers in annoyance. “Awkward.”

Dinklebarg said “We’re not playing robots today, 21188. Go on standby or something until recess is over.”

21188’s face lights changed to “YOU GUYS ARE JERKS” with a frown face symbol as he turned to motor away.

Under My Scorched Wings

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

From orbit, this island must look like charred toast floating in a soup of boiled seafood. They’ve rained fire upon us for hours. Not sure what we did, but, as Lailoken always said “It isn’t about what you’ve done, it’s what they think you’ve done, or what they think you’re going to do.”

Another wave of fury crashes across my back. I don’t know why they bother. The rocks won’t burn unless they turn up the heat a lot.

There’s nothing visible left to burn –

Except me.

Ah-ha.

Well, that took an embarrassingly long time to realise. So, Lailoken and just about everything else I’ve ever known have been incinerated during an attempt to annihilate me. An entire civilisation and the land it inhabited laid waste because folk always judge by what they would do. And, given sway over me, them up there would rampage. Therefore, they thought themselves to be in danger, because they didn’t believe that anyone could possibly mean what was said about peace with something like me available.

Callow men and distrust; petty minds never breed noble motives. The goad for the recent unrest becomes clear. Finally, I understand what you said about true prescience being like ‘hindsight in advance’, Lailoken.

But, we are as our natures dictate. In the end, our veneers fall away. For them, cowardice, greed, and tyranny are natural states. I am left with a choice. Do I do as I am capable, as my ‘nature’ should mandate, or as I prefer?

Mgixyn shouts up at me, her voice filled with fear: “Dynas, how will we escape? You can’t carry us all and the fires they throw will slay us even if they don’t hit us.”

She makes a point that contains my answer: I cannot save the children while the bombardment continues. Therefore, the bombardment must end. To stop the bombardment, I will have to break a few things. Thus, preference and capability will meet.

So be it. As the fiery hail abates once again, I twist my neck, bringing my head level with the cave entrance, so all can see me. Although those amidst the clutter at the back will only see a silhouette.

“Stay here. I’m going to ask them to stop.”

They nod and hunker down.

I leap. With a crack that echoes off the far mountains, my wings expand and I rise, shedding debris as I go. By the time I blast through the LEO debris layer, my hide is scoured clean. Levelling out as I clip MEO, I ‘breathe fire’- using a focussed in-system portal between my open maw and a solar flare event. That lets me spray a lot of blazing coronal cloud about. Things get bright as stuff either blows up, melts down or gets blasted to ashes. I can hear their distress calls, but, really, they started this slinging-hot-stuff-around lark. Hardly my fault if I’m better at it than they are. That’s just evolution. Works for hypernatural war machines as well as monkeys.

After re-entry, I descend in a leisurely glide, letting the extremes of my foray dissipate while picking out landmarks for our trip to the coast.

I land in a gust of ash, my claws settling back into the ruts they left.

Wide eyes look up at me. Clamouring voices rise.

“Have they stopped?”

“Is it safe?”

I nod. Their eager preparations are a joy. Sheltered here, they missed seeing the horrors. They will survive.

Under my scorched wings, they will thrive.

And that’s as good an oath as any.