Author: Kristin Kirby
You get coffee. You glance around. A dozen people sip beverages or talk or stare into their computers.
You sit. Then you spot him.
He’s at the counter. He looks at the menu board. You watch him order, watch him pay.
“Thank you,” he says with a smile. “Have a great day.”
You press buttons on your device.
He’s terse the second time. “Thanks.” No smile.
You watch him take his coffee and sit. He drinks his coffee, scrolls messages on his phone. His movements are fluid, natural. Whoever built him did a good job.
After a moment he raises his head and looks at the people in the coffee shop. His expression is open, friendly. He smiles at a mother and child sharing cocoa.
You press buttons on your device. His expression turns blank. He goes back to his phone.
Eventually, he stands, walks to the recycle bin. His hand hovers. You press buttons on your device. He moves to the other bin and drops his cup into the overflowing trash.
Outside, cars move like sludge, trapped by traffic lights. The sidewalk throngs with busy people, eyes straight ahead or on their phones.
You watch him fall into step with the other pedestrians, walk briskly. You follow a few feet behind. His gait is seamless, no noticeable errors there. You send a note to your supervisors telling them you’re impressed with his construction.
He walks by storefronts and gray towering buildings. Then he slows and swivels his head. There’s a bird in a tree, singing. He’s listening with a rapt expression. You sigh and press buttons on your device. He strides past the tree and doesn’t pay attention to the bird.
Ahead, the sudden blare of a car horn, the squeal of brakes. A shriek of pain cut short.
He hurries toward the growing crowd of onlookers. In the street, cars have stopped. Behind the wheel of one car, a woman sits dazed.
Partway under the woman’s car splays a little girl, bleeding, moaning. The onlookers pull out their phones, snap pictures, gawk, snap more pictures.
You watch him push through the crowd. He pulls out his phone. But he doesn’t take pictures.
You watch him rush to the street.
You watch him kneel beside the moaning little girl and punch 9-1-1 into his phone, talk urgently. He leans down to check the little girl.
You inform your supervisors this one will need a complete rewrite. He isn’t acting like a human. Then you delete him.
Author : Kristin Kirby
As she trudged across the rocky sand, shivering, she stared at the one dim star in the sky and wondered how the inhabitants of this soggy planet could see anything. Her gasps were harsh and wet. She was breathing water.>
Lost, drowning, she knew she wouldn’t make the rendezvous. Her companions would leave without her, abandon her in this cold, sodden, desolate place.
Movement to her right startled her, and she stumbled, then caught herself. A curious feathered creature, brown and mottled, struggled in the sand, one wing flapping. Its other wing appeared broken. Its head was bowed. A brown serpent chased the feathered creature, triangular head reaching, mouth agape and full of fangs. A whirl of kicked-up dust enveloped them.
Ignoring the gurgle in her throat, she stopped to watch. The serpent was patient but determined, following the feathered creature in circles, dodging its powerful wing as it thrashed. She thought the serpent wasn’t cruel, just hungry. But she felt for the feathered creature as it fought for its life.
She coughed, doubled over, staggered to one side. She remained hunched and shaky until her gasps subsided. She didn’t have much time. Her companions would wait only until the deadline. They might search for her if they felt inclined, but it wasn’t part of protocol.
The feathered creature now lay sideways, panting, clawed feet splayed, beak open, eyes glazed and bright. It had been struggling for a long time. She could almost feel its utter exhaustion and hopelessness. The serpent rested too, expectant, in the shade of a great boulder. Neither seemed to noticed her.
She and her companions weren’t to interfere in the doings of this planet’s inhabitants. But she couldn’t watch this, and she couldn’t walk much farther.
Wary, she moved toward the serpent. It saw her and spun into an angry coil, tail rattling, forked tongue darting. She stooped, almost fell, but straightened again and in her fist was a rock.
She raised her arm and threw. A dull thunk as the rock landed on the serpent. It jumped, struck out at air, and recoiled. She kicked the ground with her boot. The serpent struck again, but was pelted with sand. Finally it yielded, slithering off to find easier prey. Soon it was out of sight amid brush and spiked plants.
She gave a rheumy cough. The feathered creature didn’t move. Peering closer, she saw the reason for its trouble: its head and one wing were entangled in a flat, opaque, flexible apparatus with six rings. She had no idea its purpose, but realized it was a death trap for anything caught in it.
She kneeled carefully next to the feathered creature, saw its sharp eyes widen in panic. She reached gentle hands to the milky yoke of rings. They were strong. But she found if she pulled, the material stretched, widened. And finally, with the last of her strength, she broke two rings apart.
The creature didn’t hesitate. Free, its head snapped up, both wings arced, opened–she felt the gust of them on her face, heard the flapping–and the feathered brown body rose into the air. Nothing like this magnificent being, that owned the sky, existed on her planet. Her heart rose and flew with it, her eyes squinting as they followed it away on the horizon.
Then she lay gratefully on the sand near a tall, thorny plant, amid the buzz of insects and meager heat from the dim star. The day continued around her.
Her companions would search for her. They’d find her. They’d be there soon.
Author : Kristin Kirby
I caught him in my arms as the others ran for safety in the shelters. The fires began to die around us. I sat on the ground and held him while the sliver rays took their inevitable toll. An agonizing way to go, the rays. They moved fast and deadly through your insides–too fast and too many to remove or repair.
“Did it…work?” He could barely rasp out the words.
“Yes, you did it.” I swiped tears from my eyes so he wouldn’t see them. “Everyone made it.”
He nodded, relieved. The snow fell in light, cold whispers that melted to nothing. It made promises we all needed to believe: more seasons, more time.
“Remember…” he started, and then he was racked with coughing.
I grasped his hand. Mine shook badly. “Yes?”
“Remember our drive…in the mountains?”
I nodded. It had been last fall, a warm day with only the hint of chill. We’d met the month before, new recruits unsure of how bad the invasion would become.
On a day leave, our last, we’d changed into civilian clothes, run through the rain to his solar truck, then driven east toward the snowcapped mountains. Only an hour from the city, the highway had risen higher, the towns had become smaller, and the rain had stopped.
We’d seen a bald eagle high in a fir tree, and when we’d driven past, it had flown up, great, dark wings arching and white head dipping as it glided over the nearby river.
“Wouldn’t it be great to move up here,” he’d said. “See, this is something real, something you can touch. There’s an eagle. There’s the river. There are mountains. Concrete things, beautiful things. Not like death. That’s a concept. You can’t see it or touch it. It only becomes real in the absence of something.”
He hadn’t talked about it before–the impending war and what it might cost us. Driving on, he’d looked steadily at the road and become silent. I’d taken his hand and he’d squeezed mine back, and we’d found a motel, and when we had undressed and come together, his body had been warm and relaxed and strong.
“This is real,” he’d said, our eyes locked, his hand on my face.
By that evening when we’d returned to the barracks, our orders were waiting for us.
“I remember,” I said softly. I smiled and put my forehead against his cheek. So many things to say, and now they’d be lost. “I remember.”
I felt his face contract. A smile of love, I hoped, and not a grimace of pain from the sliver rays. I pulled away to look. It was neither–a twist of his mouth. Regret. Sorrow.
“Sorry for…being stupid,” he said.
“No, don’t. You saved–”
“We should’ve had a…lifetime.”
He coughed again, hard, blood at his lips. It would happen now. I would lose him.
I held his face and willed my hands to be steady. In the moment my eyes met his, we lived a thousand years. Ten thousand. Still not enough, but they would have to do.
“I’m here,” I said. “I won’t let go.”
I felt his warm skin. The rough sleeve of his uniform. The ground beneath us, safe for now. These were real, concrete things. You could touch them. Goodbye was a concept. It only became real in the absence of something. Of someone.
He closed his eyes. I sat with him. Bombs went off in the distance, but I heard only the whispers of the falling snow.
Author : Kristin Kirby
Monday, March 7:
Hi, loyal readers! Remember last week how I blogged about that guy in front of me at the salad bar who held the tongs hostage so long they developed Stockholm syndrome? Well, today he must have spent fifteen minutes arranging his cherry tomatoes on their lettuce bed so they would artistically complement the shredded cheese and croutons.
Slow people in the salad line, please: you’re not painting the Sistine flippin’ Chapel! You’re throwing vegetables on a plate to shove in your craw—-then they’re all jumbled together in your gut anyway before bobsledding through a mile of intestines toward the inevitable finish line. So move it—-there are people behind you!
Now to the coolest news in the galaxy, literally! Triffitz Corp., everyone’s favorite interplanetary wholesaler, has finally introduced their new meat into stores and restaurants. And our downstairs cafeteria too! We’re not talking the lab-grown stuff, synthetic meat, shmeat. No, sir—-this is real animal, direct from Titan or Io. Or Callisto. One of those moons of Saturn. Or Jupiter.
So I skipped the salad bar and had an alien burger, and it was uh-may-zing! Tender. Juicy. Waited in line there, too, but it was worth it! Triffitz Corp. promises the end of boring meals, and boy do they deliver. It’s just like any other meat, so you can cook it however you like. And the best part is they claim it tastes different to everyone who eats it!
I thought my burger tasted like bacon meets chocolate meets the best steak I’ve ever had. My coworker Brian said his tasted like his mom’s home-fried chicken. A woman in the elevator compared hers to pepperoni pizza. Gonna have to pick some up for dinner!
Thursday, March 10:
Miss me, bloggees? I was in bed with the biggest, ugliest stomach bug! Even missed work. But today I’m back, and my appetite’s back too. You know what lunch is gonna be, don’tcha? You got it!
Did you see the press release from Triffitz Corp.? There’s already a shortage of alien meat due to popular demand—-even with the European boycott (they think it’s GMO or some nonsense). But hang on! Triffitz reassures us that a ship full of live alien food animals is zipping its way to Earth right now. They’ve got farms set up across the country, cuz according to Triffitz these things breed like bunnies, despite being as big and plump as cows and not cute at all. So we’ll never have a shortage again!
Tuesday, March 15:
Lots of people out sick today. Rumors are flying that Triffitz burgers are just not agreeing with everybody. Sort of like a meaty Montezuma’s revenge. (And, yes, I know how un-PC that was.) I’ve had a few bouts of heartburn myself, but antacids clear it right up! Am headed out to lunch—-guess what I’m having!
Saturday, March 19:
Um, yeah, Triffitz Corp. should have studied the alien species longer. Maybe done a little more testing. I mean, just because you kill something and chop it up and cook it at 160 degrees doesn’t mean it’s dead. I’ve had like fifteen burgers in the past couple of weeks, so by now my insides are goo on their way to slurry. If you’ve eaten any alien meat, even only a bite of it, doesn’t matter—-it’s already taking its comestible joyride through your organs.
Yep. Turns out while we’ve been eating them…they’ve been eating us.
Author : Kristin Kirby
They’ve locked me in the device like they do every time. But this time I’m putting up a fight. I scissor and kick my cramped legs, wave my arms, and the device rocks a bit. That’s good. I’m stronger than before.
It was all a blur, my coming here. Images distorted and blinding, sounds loud and blaring. I was weak. Afraid. I could barely move, my limbs not used to the atmosphere, the weight.
I’ve acclimated a bit since then. Their language is difficult to parse, though, and so far I understand only a few words. With more time, I can crack it and communicate with them. Or maybe I’ll play it close to the vest, not let them know I understand what they’re saying. Keep the upper hand until I know what they intend to do with me.
I’ve been able to sit up, and once or twice make it to my hands and knees. I’m still unsteady; my strength soon fades and I collapse. But it’s a start.
I can’t clean up after myself, though. It’s uncomfortable and humiliating, but what can I do? I suspect the liquids and food they force-feed me, while just enough nourishment to keep me alive, are also designed to sustain my weakened, vulnerable state. They eat their own food in front of me, but when I reach for it, they pull it away.
The door to my quarters is frustratingly close, but bars on my cage prevent my getting to it. At night they hang a contraption overhead. It rotates and makes discordant tinks and squawks. I can’t figure out its purpose; I assume it’s to spy on my movements and alert my keepers of any attempts at escape. I find myself staring at it for hours, wondering how I can use it for just that. Like everything else, though, they keep it tantalizingly out of my ham-fisted reach.
It’s time. And right on schedule, here comes the airplane, which usually delivers a green mush substance. Sometimes it’s a train, accompanied by, from my main keeper, a hearty but unintelligible “choo choo!” But the mush never tastes like real food, and, as they don’t eat it themselves, it makes me suspicious.
I try to grab the airplane, to push it away, but my hands are clumsy balloons I can’t control. I bang on the surface of my device in frustration. My main keeper makes noises, waving its own long, spindly arms and baring its white teeth. It wants me to eat the mush, but I’m so angry all I can do is cry.
Eventually I get ahold of myself and open my mouth. I need nourishment, after all. This time the airplane delivers an orange substance, slightly sweet. Still only mush, but not as bad as the green stuff. I swish it around my mouth. Some dribbles down my chin, but I ingest enough to want more.
Okay. I’ll eat their mush substance. I’ll play by their rules. But only until I get stronger, until I can walk unaided. I’ll wait for them to slip up and forget to shut the bars of my cage. Then I’ll see what’s out there, what new world I’ve been dropped into.