Circumstances Beyond Our Control

Author : Patrica Stewart, Staff Writer

“It’s not a great analogy, Professor, but think of it this way,” explained the chronotechnician, “time flows like a river. Something we call a ‘world line,’ which is the sequential path of an object through space-time. I can select any object, say you, and follow your ‘world line’ back through time, and project the image on the Chronoloviewer screen. Would you like a demonstration?”

“Absolutely. Show me what I was doing yesterday, at exactly this time.”

The chronotechnician spent five minutes entering the appropriate data into the control panel, and then activated the Chronoloviewer. Although there was some noise in the image, the Professor saw himself at the lectern in front of his 10:00 Paleontology class. The notes on the computer screen at the front of the class were clearly from yesterday’s lecture. “Wow, that’s incredible. Do you have sound?”

“Sorry, Professor, not yet. Would you like to go further back? Maybe see if O. J. killed Nicole?”

“Hardly necessary,” he replied with a trace of disgust. “Can you go back 65 million years, to the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction, and show me what killed the dinosaurs?”

“Huh, I guess so. I believe I can follow Earth’s world line.” This time the data entry took about an hour, and the image was slightly noisier, but the dinosaurs on the screen revealed they were viewing the correct time. However, the scene was right out of a sci-fi B movie. Streamlined aircraft, firing energy weapons, were hunting the dinosaurs. The forests were being set ablaze, and all the animals were being driven into large nets and transported up to gigantic hovering saucers. The Professor didn’t know what to make of these images. Why were space aliens hunting the dinosaurs? Was it for food, or sport? Did the aliens cause the mass extinctions? Maybe the Chicxulub impact was a big coincidence, and had nothing to do with the actual extinction of the dinosaurs. The fires the aliens were setting could explain some of the contradictory soot evidence found by Paleontologists. “Quick,” he said, “go to the Triassic mass extinction, around 195 million years ago.”

It was the same scene, although the ships were visibly more primitive. But this time the aliens were using pulsating energy beams from orbiting space ships, concentrating most of their firepower in the centerline of Pangaea. The continent seemed to split in half as horrific lava flows were driving the animals toward large metal cages. Shuttlecraft were ferrying the trapped animals into space. The Professor realized that the lava trench could be the start of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. And, there was archeological evidence of extreme lava flows coincident with the Triassic mass extinction. This was extraordinary!

Over the next six hours, they viewed the Permian-Triassic extinction, the Late Devonian extinction, and the Ordovician-Silurian extinction. The scenarios were always the same; alien spaceships harvesting Earth’s animal population. “Nobody will believe this,” mumbled the Professor.

“Ah, sir, I don’t want to be an alarmist,” said the chronotechnician, “but this could be very bad news for us. I’ve done some quick back-of-the-envelope calculations; if you divide the dates of these mass extinctions by 32.5 million years, you get whole numbers: 2, 6, 8, 11, and 13. It’s like these aliens live on a planet or space station that approaches our solar system every 32.5 million years. I’ll bet there were minor-extinctions in between the major ones, say at 32.5, 98.5, 130, or 162.5 million years ago. If I’m right, it’s been 32.5 million years since their last visit. The hunting parties are due back at any time.”

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Vertiginous Origin

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

“What is it that’s troubling you?” The doctor could clearly see the discomfort in the young mans face as he wrote ‘Anxiety’ on his steno pad.

“It’s getting harder and harder to go outside. It’s wide open spaces, they terrify me.” He clutched at the seat cushion beneath him, head down, eyes haggard beneath rough cut bangs, “I had to hide under an umbrella to get to the subway, and I picked you because you’re in a tower over the tube station, isn’t that weird?”

He noted the cloudless sky through the window. ‘Agoraphobia,’ he wrote on his pad, ‘possible Anablephobia’. “How long has this been affecting you?”

“All my life, but not like this. The older I get, the more debilitating it’s become.”

“How old are you exactly?” he asked, adding ‘Progressive’ to his notes.

“Nineteen.” He released the chair only briefly with one hand to rub at his nose, “Twenty on the twenty eighth of September.”

The doctor scribbled ‘Libra’ as he continued. “Born here in St.Louis?”

“I was. I moved to Phoenix when I was seven to live with my aunt, but I’ve been moving towards home for a while now. Trains mostly, buses. Not sure why exactly, I guess I just wanted to go home.”

“Come home,” the doctor corrected him. “So – you’re a blackout baby then?”

“Yeah, parents bored in the dark when the comet hit.” He shifted, uncomfortable. “I guess there were a lot of September babies in twenty nine.”

“Why not fly home? Surely that would have been faster?” ‘Possible aerophobia’ he noted.

“It’s not just being outside,” he hooked one sneaker behind the chair leg, “it’s hard to explain. I’m afraid of falling.”

“Ah, Philophobia,” he spoke out-loud as he added the word to his notes, “it’s the fear of falling. Not uncommon.”

“Well, not falling the way you think. If I look up, I’m quite sure I’ll fall into the sky.”

The doctor paused. “Falling up? That is unusual,” he clicked the pen against his lip, “anything else unusual? Strange dreams, other notable triggers?”

“Sometimes I dream that I’m alone in a field, and the sky closes around me and swallows me up. It get’s really dark, then really bright. I usually wake up soaked. I think I scream out-loud.”

“Are you staying with family here?” He struggled trying to find a word for ‘fear of falling into the sky’, finally giving up and writing that down instead.

“I’m staying with my mom, out by Forest Park.”

“Your father…?”

“I never knew my dad, never even seen a picture. Mom used to say the comet made me, before she stopped talking about it.”

“Hmm.” He wrote ‘abandonment issues’ before continuing. “You’ve talked about this with your mom?”

“My mom doesn’t talk. That’s why I went to live with my aunt. When I showed back up at my mom’s house she wrote ‘go home’ on the wall and hasn’t so much as looked at me since. She stays in her room, mostly, drawing pictures on the walls.”

“Pictures of what, exactly?” He stopped writing and looked up.

“I don’t know, planets and stars and stuff. She’s a bit of a nutter, but she is my mum, you know?”

“Well then,” putting down his pad, “we’re out of time, but come next week at the same time, and if you can get your mother to join you, I’ll see if I can’t block off two sessions.”

“Next week?” He met the doctors gaze for just a moment before looking back at the floor, slumping. “Somehow I think I might be gone by then.”

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Author : J.R. Blackwell, Staff Writer

She fought me again yesterday. It made me feel like a monster. I tried the gentle approach but she refused, so I had to take her by force. It was, as usual, satisfying and depressing.

Afterwards, I hid in the forest and slept. I’m afraid she’ll try to kill me if I sleep out in the open. I tracked her and caught up quickly. If we don’t get back to the compound soon, the others, my people and hers, will assume we are dead. I imagine them dividing our meager possessions.

Today I brought her roast rabbit. Rabbits were rare for the first year after The Fallout, but now I’m finding more of them. Some of them are oddly mutated; missing a leg, or an extra ear, but they are still good for roasting. I left it next to her while she slept. Maybe it will help to mend things a little.

Later, I found her sitting cross-legged on a large rock. She was holding a stick she had chiseled to a point.

“Are you going to try to kill me again?” I asked her.

“I thought about it all day,” she said. “But no. I’m not. I just want to know why you’re doing this to me. Why won’t you let me go?”

She knows the answer, I’ve explained it over and over. “It’s because you’re young, fertile, unaffected by the radiation of the Fallout. It’s because my people have only found sixteen fertile women, and we can’t afford to lose a single one. I want to protect you and the children you’ll have.”

“You won’t protect them. You’ll eat them,” she said, angry, clutching her stick.

I shrugged. “I can’t stop you from seeing it that way.” Then I sat down next to her. I didn’t try to touch her. We were silent, watching the stars. They are clearer now that the city lights have gone out.

“Before all this,” she said, motioning to the diseased trees, “I was a chemist. Now you want me to be a baby factory. I need my life to be about more than that. You have forever. I only have sixty years – less now. Maybe there are other humans out here. Maybe I can find them.”

“I could help you,” I said suddenly. Even if I carried her back I don’t think she’d stay. She’d try to escape or kill herself.

I placed my cheek to the ground and listened. Her heartbeat was loud, little animals moved and the compound, weeks away, was on the horizon on my senses. But there was something else too, in the dessert. Movement. “I don’t know if it’s even human,” I said. “It could be dangerous.”

“Or it could be human,” she said. Her face softened. For the first time, I felt like she actually saw me as someone in need. “I can’t promise that I will ever accept you.”

“Just don’t fight me.”

“I can’t promise I won’t,” she said. “But I can try.” She moved close to me then, and put her arms around my shoulders. I kissed her cheek, her jaw. I was elated. When I bit her, she gasped, but she did not fight me. It was so quiet. I could hear her blood, her breath, the movement of flesh and bone. It was the sweetest drink I had since the Fallout.

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Author : Sam Clough, Staff Writer

Kate was lucky. Or so she kept telling herself.

Out of the whole world, she was the only one who had both the right kind of sight and the right kind of mind. It was a self-made mantra, one that rolled across her thoughts, looped back on itself and changed, mutated and grew with each iteration. The words spilled out of her, and made themselves real.

Right sight. Right mind. Luck. Lucky. Chance alignment. Good fortune. Fate. Destiny. Consistently high random numbers. Roll of a die. Roll of eighty dice. Kate be nimble, Kate be quick. Kate got to save the world. They can’t see them so you have to save them from themselves. The knife works. Save them. Kate be nimble, Kate’s got luck.

She was walking fast down a commercial street, trying not to attract too much attention to herself. There was an infestation nearby. The knowledge of it compressed her thoughts like a cast-iron circlet. It was impossible to ignore, an itch that desperately needed scratching.

A restaurant had spilled out onto the street: people sat at small tables, drinking coffee. She stopped by the establishment’s window, and saw her quarry.

The window made a satisfying crash when she threw the table through it. She jumped through the gap, and quickly scanned the room. Diners at tables. Twenty-two horrors and twice as many of the doglike terrors stared at her from all around the room. They growled, sensing the danger that she represented.

She launched herself out into the room, dodging between the evenly-spaced tables, and around the serving staff. She drew the long knife that had been hidden under her jacket. It was a rudimentary weapon at best, but special. She’d spent two long weeks working on it, changing the knife on a fundamental level so that it would damage the beasts.

She pinwheeled, the knives catching and breaking the terrors as they flung themselves at her. The diners stared at her with wide eyes, forks halfway to their mouths. Horrors roared their hate and menace, gnashing their too-many-teeth. Kate fought with reckless abandon, trusting the mantra, her luck.

Her circuit of the room finished by the door to the kitchen. All around, the broken bodies of the horrors lay on the carpet, slowly beginning to disintegrate. The evidence would be gone in a couple of minutes.

Andrew straightened his tie, and minutely adjusted the tiny enamel badge on his lapel. He stepped through the wreckage of the window, saw the shocked diners, and the damage.

“Did a woman come through here? She would have been acting quite oddly.”

A waiter close to him nodded dumbly.

“Thankyou.” Andrew stepped further into the restaurant, the broken glass crunching under his immaculate shoes.

“In case you’re interested,” Andrew spoke slowly, looking around the room at the silent diners, “her name is Kate. And none of this is her fault. There was an accident, a long time ago. An experiment went badly wrong, and her conscious mind began to drift out of control. Her mind extrapolates up from tiny clues in the way people speak and act: she sees terrible things, embodied as monsters.”

A murmur circulated around the room as people began to unfreeze. A few returned to their meals. There was a sudden crash from the kitchen: it sounded like a meat freezer exploding.

“If you’ll excuse me,” Andrew smiled at the stunned faces, “duty calls.”

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Take Me To Your Leader

Author : Randall Bennett

“Take me to your leader,” said the squat, green, bug-eyed creature, in an oddly modulated voice.

Carl leaned down, and looked down at it, and his eyes opened wide. He had never seen anything like it before.

“Um. You’re talking to him,” Carl said.

“You are the leader of this planet?” The alien’s eyestalks slanted sideways, in a gesture that Carl interpreted as a quizzical look.

Carl laughed, part of his tension coming out at the outburst. “No, I’m not the leader of this planet, I’m the leader of me.”

“Query. Misunderstanding. What?” The alien retracted its eyestalks in a way that made Carl laugh again.

“Yeah, a lot of people have trouble with the idea. Although you’re not people, so I guess I should explain. Ever hear of anarchy?”

The alien just raised its eyestalks again, which Carl took to mean that it was listening.

“Look, there is no government. There is no leader for you to see. No officials. This place was founded by people that didn’t believe in the waste that goes with those outdated ideas. When we need something than more than one person can provide, we join together.”

The alien was silent for about 20 seconds, and then said “This being does not understand.”

Carl said, “Look, the problem is that when someone creates a government, it starts to exist for itself, rather than the people. So we eliminated it, and we organize as necessary.”

The alien raised its eyestalks higher, as if looking around, and stated “First contact subject is recalcitrant. Must find other contact for relation to hierarchical structure top leader for first urgent communications between species of danger then sharing technologies culture.”

“What’s urgent? What do you mean by danger?” Carl said, beginning to look concerned. Just then, another man walked around the corner up the street, and waved to Carl. Then he did a doubletake, and quickly joined the two.

As the man walked up, he narrowed his eyes at the alien, then looked at Carl, and pointed at the alien, saying “What is…”

“It’s an alien, Johnny.” Carl said. “At least, I’ve never seen anything like it. I mean, in all of our space travels, we never met a non-human race. So I guess this is a first. It says that it has something urgent to tell us. About some kind of danger. But you’ll never guess what it asked—“

As if on cue, the alien faced Johnny–at least, its eyestalks did–and repeated its first question in that oddly modulated voice: “Take me to your leader.”

Johnny laughed out loud. “You’re talking to him.”

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