The Steel Tree

Author : Glenn Blakeslee

It had taken us weeks to get there. My brother Phillip and I, carrying heavy packs, had joined with a group of pilgrims early in our journey. We’d wound our way through the ruins, followed the old freeways to the mountains which rimmed the coastal plain like sentinels.

We wore burnooses and headgear like the pilgrims. I’d befriended a girl, Elisa, traveling with her parents, and spent my time with her. “The Tree talked to our ancestors,” she’d said once, but I didn’t argue with her, couldn’t blame her for being backwards. Most people, besides my clan, were lost in myths of the old days.

“Maybe it’ll talk to us again,” I replied.

We were attacked by robbers in the foothills. They rolled rocks down on us and closed the narrow canyon to our advance, but we were able to overcome them. I killed my first man with the rusty shotgun my father had given me, and kept wits enough to collect the emptied shells before covering the body with stones.

Finally we’d arrived. The Talking Tree stood high on a ridge overlooking a rugged sere valley, a tall evergreen that looked out of place among the Manzanita and low sage that filled the canyon.

Pilgrims filled the space around the Tree. Beyond, a cleared area beside the crumbled asphalt of a highway held merchant shacks where people traded water, food, and bits of broken technology as charms. Phillip and I moved to the front of the crowd, where the pilgrims stood reverently circling the Tree. Some were praying but most just watched, waiting for the Tree to Talk.

The Tree was a steel column surrounded by a wire fence, festooned with tokens and charms. At the middle and top of the column curved pieces of steel jutted at cardinal points. Green plastic needles cascaded from the column, completing the Tree illusion. A large silver box stood between the Tree and the fence.

Phillip glanced down the canyon, at the hills that fell to the sea. “Excellent fresnel location,” he whispered, and walked toward the Tree. The crowd stirred, and as he climbed the fence pilgrims gasped and screamed. I stood back, at the periphery, afraid.

Phillip motioned to me from inside the fence. I carefully dropped my pack and pulled out the converter-relay and the compact solar panel, handed them to him. The crowd moved but didn’t approach the fence. Someone shouted “Blasphemers!”

Phillip opened a door on the silver box, knelt and stepped inside. I turned to the pilgrims, who were all watching us, the crowd surging toward the Tree. I pulled the shotgun from under my robes, pumped it once, and pointed the barrel at the sky. “Get back!” I screamed.

A bearded man in the crowd screamed back, “You must not touch the Tree!” and he took steps toward me. I lowered the shotgun.

Elisa appeared out of nowhere. “Matthew?” she said, looking at me.

“The Tree doesn’t talk to us,” I said. I tried being calm, but I was shaking. “We use the Tree to talk,” I said, holding the shotgun level, but not at her.

Phillip scrambled back over the fence, smiling. “The interface worked perfectly,” he said and pulled a handheld from his pocket. The crowd watched, silent. Phillip pushed a button on the device. “Radio check,” he said.

The handheld was silent, and then a tinny sound issued from it. My father’s voice said, from miles away, “We read you.”

The bearded man threw up his arms. “It talks!” he screamed. Elisa smiled at me.

Bit by bit we are rebooting the world.

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Have a good look, Mr. G.

Author : Q. B. Fox

Bill had never been the sort of person who looked for the limelight. He was the sort of team player that kept his head down and worked hard; no doubt that’s why he had been selected for this mission.

But it bothered him that he would be the first person in the world to do something as remarkable as this and no one would ever know. He would not be a name in text books or the answer to game show questions. But worse, no one, beyond a very small circle, would ever know that he’d done it at all.

Not for the first time, he sighed wearily.


“Telescopes, William,” Professor Paulson had confided in him, “It’s all because of telescopes. Before that no one could see the details, so we hadn’t bothered with them; there was enough to do. But Cambridge University’s new Gorsky Orbital Telescope… They say it’ll be able to read the serial number on the reflector array.” The professor had laughed at his own exaggeration. “And you know what academics are like…,” Paulson had added with a wink.

At least Bill had met the president.

“I’m sorry to ask you to do this,” he’d said to Bill solemnly. “As you know this is our second attempt to complete this mission. Travelling in space is harder than people imagine.”

“If it wasn’t, sir,” Bill had replied, “then there wouldn’t be a mission to carry out in the first place.”

The president had smiled, but it had been sad smile; no doubt he was thinking of the missing astronaut’s family.


Bill turned his head to check the navigational readouts and in the cramped cabin he banged his head on a rover’s replacement wheel; the original was damaged during landing, apparently.


The professor had shown him the pictures from the obiter.

“They’re convincing,” Bill had conceded.

“It’s all really there, William. We put all the machinery up there. The problem has always been the people.”

“That’s what Agent Gregg said, sir.”

It was what Agent Gregg had said.

“The problem was always the people. We lost lots of craft; fifteen before we even managed to slam one onto the surface, another two after that. When three people were killed, someone (and I am not authorised to tell you who) proposed a different direction.”

“But how did you keep it quiet?” Bill had asked.

“Well, we weren’t entirely successful with that, now, were we?” Agent Gregg had said with a grin. “But mostly there was much less to keep quiet than you’d think; mostly what folks think happened, happened. ‘Cept there wasn’t any more people involved.”

“And the Russians? How could they not have known?” Bill had wondered aloud.

“Now there is a tale all of its own,” Gregg had laughed. “Shall we just say that ‘bout the time the Soviets found out, we found out they hadn’t been entirely honest either.”


Bill shook his head, forced himself to concentrate as his pod started its landing procedure.

His main mission was to take stuff away from the sites; like the garbage left over from deploying the reflectors. But some things he was there to leave behind. It’s all in the detail, he told himself, parroting his training.

He adjusted his boots, larger than they needed to be, so they left the right size prints. Then idly he rolled a dimpled spheroid around the palm of his hand.

“What a lot of fuss,” he thought to himself, “to put a golf ball on the moon.”

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It Feels Like

Author : Iva Koevska

-Mommy, what does snow feel like?

I’m in the kitchen taking care of the dishes after dinner. I turn around and there she is. My little daughter’s staring at some snowflake hologram. It’s as big as her head, a gorgeous illusion of perfect symmetry. One you will hardly ever find. Since it doesn’t rain or snow anymore.


I’m delivering this climate speech for the hundredth time, trying to explain to someone who knows only sun, bright blue sky and a daily temperature of 22?C what does wind or raindrops or snowflakes or dew feel like. I hate those climate history classes and I know that kids need to know. It’s just that… I haven’t felt the slightest change of weather for some 20 years now. And the last time I saw and felt snow was right before the Great Installment. Right before they put this great big computer controlled factory dome up there in the sky to take care of the weather, the global warming and all the pollution. It’s like having an air conditioner switched on all the time in some weird incubator.

So now I’m trying to make up my mind and remember what snow was like. I must have been 10 years old back then. As old as my little darling.

-You know ice, don’t you? It’s wet and cold. Well, snow feels kind of like ice.

I’m lying. Like I lied when I told her that morning dew felt just wet. There was more to that. We hated and we loved the change in weather back in the old days. Back then we were not the prisoners of an artificial sky designed to “bring you comfort and safe environment for your children”. We were not supposed to experience rain and snow and dew through holograms. We lived through every gift or punishment nature had for us.

Oh, I know what snow felt like. What it was like to dance in the perfect whiteness of winter, making angels in the snow. What it was like to have a snowflake melt on your tongue, to take a handful of these perfectly shaped jewel flakes and imprison them in an ice sphere marked with the warmth of your hands. What it was like to fall in love with the chill of the clear winter sky…

It felt like freedom and childhood and love.

But how do you tell that to someone who’ll never know more than sun?

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Author : Kevin Hosey

It was after him.

Captain Kurt Avenel hadn’t seen the alien creature himself, but the last radio transmission from his first officer gave him a brief, panicked description: two meters tall with a reptilian body, razor-sharp teeth, and jagged claws. Their deep space freighter, the Leonine, had recently passed through a dense cloud of meteorite fragments. Avenel speculated the alien was concealed on one of them and somehow made its way inside.

That’s when all hell broke loose.

The creature began methodically stalking the seven-person crew. After all efforts to trap or kill it failed, Avenel ordered everyone else to abandon ship.

Then he became its intended prey.

Sweat prickling his face, he peered cautiously down the corridor leading to the last remaining escape pod. Flashlight leading the way, he stepped into it. It was shrouded in dense darkness. For one terrifying moment, he felt as if he had slipped outside the confines of the ship and was adrift in space.

And then he heard it. A voice.


A voice…inside his head.


Something metallic smashed against the deck. Avenel jumped so violently, he lost his grip on the flashlight. The cylinder rolled on the deck, then bumped against a square piece of slatted metal. It was the cover to the ventilation shaft above him.

That meant the alien was in the corridor with him!

Avenel cried out when the darkness seemed to solidify and slam him against the bulkhead. Lit in the halogen beam of his flashlight, he found himself peering into the open jaws of the alien monstrosity. It was a cavern of serrated teeth dripping with green saliva.

Eyes open so wide his lids threatened to rip loose, and heart pounding as if begging desperately to escape, Avenel watched as the creature’s mouth curled into a demonic smile. The alien’s face edged even closer until Avenel’s entire world consisted of nothing but its foul breath and piercing red eyes.

And then—it spoke.


Suddenly, impressions of the creature’s thoughts flittered through Avenel’s mind. A child. It was a child. And it wanted to play.


The word Avenel heard moments before. It was some sort of psychic emanation coming from the creature. It wasn’t stalking him. It was playing with him, just as it had been with his crew.

Suddenly, Avenel dropped and hit the deck as the alien released him. Confused, he watched as the creature scurried away…giggling.

“Come find me,” it called out in a thick, guttural voice. Then it was swallowed by the darkness.

Avenel blinked. What was it talking about?

Then he knew. Hide and seek. The thing was playing hide and seek.

And now, apparently, Avenel was “it”.

The captain of the Leonine had seen many strange things during his years in space. But that was definitely the strangest. A huge, terrifying, yet harmless alien child, perhaps lost and lonely, had come on board simply searching for someone to play.

With that realization, Avenel’s fear and anxiety slipped away. No longer afraid for his safety, he sat wondering what his next move should be. The company he worked for had a standing order that any initial contact with sentient alien life should be pursued in the hopes it may lead to future profitable business ventures.

Okay, so what now? How would he pursue relations with a childlike being?

After a few moments of deliberation, he shrugged and stood up. Retrieving his fallen flashlight, Avenel stared in the direction the alien had vanished.

Then he cleared his throat, counted to a hundred and called out, “Ready or not, here I come.”

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The Quiegmans Take a Holiday

Author : Roi R. Czechvala, Staff Writer

The massive ship hung motionless over the city, menacing in its silence. Below in the preternatural darkness the frightened population cowered in their homes, their offices, their automobiles. One thing was certain… death was imminent.

Not a sound came from the ship as it slowly rotated above them. Had it not been for the fact that it was only slightly smaller than Rhode Island, it wouldn’t have been noticed at all.

It hung above the terrified metropolis like a restless turd, watching, plotting, seemingly readying itself to unleash a fiery Hell upon the peaceful citizens.

As the minutes flowed into hours, slowly, one by one and in small groups the terrified people emerged from their places of refuge and stared unblinking into the twilit sky. They regarded the craft with unabashed awe, almost with reverence, definitely with fear.

Hushed whispers began to emanate from this crush of humanity as they clung together trying to make sense of this singular event.

“Where did it come from?”

“What do they want?”

“Do you think they’re friendly?”

“I have to pee.”

But the strange craft ignored their inquiries, that is if they were heard at all. It continued to hover patiently above the city as seemed to be its wont.

Soon, under the command of the governor, the national guard arrived bristling with weaponry. Legions of tanks formed, and lines of artillery were aimed to the sky. The mightiest army the world had ever seen converged upon this spot below the object, but the ship didn’t seem to mind.

Calls went out across the land and around the globe. Enemies of centuries put aside their differences and worked together as one. Cats and dogs walked side by side. Soon the military might of a unified Earth formed, prepared to do battle with this otherworldly foe.

A famous general spoke to the masses. His voice carried on every television and radio.

“Though we face our darkest hour, let it not be said that we went willingly into that cold dark night, for here we stand, here we fight.”

With weapons pointed for devastation and minds turned inward to faith, all of mankind waited, as if in mutual embrace.

Suddenly the air was rent by a powerful sound, that shattered the windows, and caused the buildings to quake. It was a sound to make children shiver and grown men shake.

As quickly as it started, silence returned. Then a voice was heard from up in the air. It started out low, then started to grow. In unaccented English clearly was heard;

All right already, quit your bitching. One damn mistake and your crawling up my ass. Give it a rest woman. Damn it. Uh…hey… um excuse me? Um… the missus and I were on our way for a little outing in the Horse Head Nebula, and well…he he… and well, it seems we have got ourselves turned around a bit…shut up woman I‘m asking… so if you could just point us in the right direction…”

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