Birds of a Feather

Author : Desmond Hussey, Staff Writer

Tensions are high in the control room as the Pegan ship passes the Moon. Speakers emit a constant chatter of enigmatic chirps, beeps and ultra-sonic tweets which constitute the Pegan language.

“You’re telling me, we’ve been in contact with them for sixty years,” Chief Administrator Swanson’s face is a study of barely controlled anger, “but we still have no idea what their intentions are?”

“That is correct, sir.” I shift uncomfortably in my seat.

“Then what the hell have we been paying you people for?” His voice rises, filling the chamber. “Assembled in this room are the world’s brightest minds and not one of you has any idea how to talk to them?” Eyes stare glumly at consoles or shoes, desperately avoiding contact with Swanson’s rage. “Need I point out the importance of establishing communication? We need to know if they’re hostile or friendly.”

“It’s not that easy.” I know I’m walking on thin ice, but I continue. “We’ve tried every known language, but have found no common denominator, no shared linguistic or phonetic keystones of any sort to build off of. We’ve tried pictures and symbols, but we share no familiar point of reference. Likewise, we have little or no context for the images they send us. We aren’t even certain if they see the same spectrum of light as we do. Earth memes lack any relatable context to Pegan ones – an arrow might mean direction or a weapon to them. We do know that their language is a highly complex one. We suspect it may even be chemical in nature–“

“Chemical?” Swanson shouts. “How in blazes do you communicate with chemicals through space?”

“Exactly our problem, sir,” I pause as he mulls this over. “We’ve had some minor success with mathematics, but the Pegans have demonstrated a comprehension far beyond our own. Our mathematical vocabulary is grossly undeveloped, much like a pre-school child by comparison. It’ll take legions of mathematicians a century to decipher the volumes of equations they’ve sent us so far. It’s a gold mine of information about the universe, but the actual nature of the Pegans remains a mystery.”

The intricate crystalline mass of the Pegan ship fills the view screen, minutes away from entering the atmosphere.

“We think,” I add tentatively, “they’re friendly.”

General Haigg butts in, barking around his cigar. “Thinking isn’t good enough, Doctor.” He addresses his aide. “Major Demakis, begin the launch sequence for the warheads. Prepare to fire on my command.”

“No!” I yell. “Activating weapons could be interpreted as an act of hostility.”

“You know this how, Doctor?” Haigg demands. “I thought we didn’t understand each other.”

“We know they’re not stupid. They only want to talk. I’m positive. Any act of aggression, even a passive one, might alarm them.”

“You’d risk an alien invasion to satisfy your hunch that they’re friendly?”

“You’d destroy our opportunity to befriend a superior alien species because you assume they’re hostile?” I retort.

“Sirs!” the radar operator calls out, “Multiple targets closing in from all directions on the alien craft’s co-ordinates. They aren’t ours.”

“Get me eyes out there!” General Haigg barks.

On the view screen, the Pegan ship glows brightly as it breaches the atmosphere over South America. It comes to rest two miles above the jungle canopy, a shining city of crystal and light.

“What are those shapes flocking to it?” Swanson asks.

“Birds,” I say, “Millions of birds.”

The sky surrounding the Pegan ship is thick with a variety of birds creating a cacophony of chirps, clicks and cheeps.

It sounds Pegan.

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Children of the Sun

Author : Demond Hussey, Staff Writer

She appeared as a blazing slash across the midnight sky; a falling inferno, trailing multi-colored flames in her wake. Her impact shook the foundations of the continent, causing minor earthquakes and avalanches worldwide. Forest fires raged around her crater, burning for weeks before the fire crews could extinguish them.

She certainly knew how to make an entrance.

My “extensive” knowledge of meteorites, asteroids and comets made me one of the few specialists called in when the impact zone had been deemed safe, but nothing could have prepared me for what I encountered there. My experience did not include fallen angels.

As steam from the last water-bomber was blown away by hot winds, she was finally revealed, lying at the bottom of a crater seven kilometers in diameter and six hundred meters deep. Initially, we had to wear protective goggles just to look at her as well as heat-shielded coveralls. She still glowed like the surface of a star and emitted broad spectrums of light, heat and radiation. It was utterly improbable, but there she was, a being of pure solar plasma born within the heart of a Sun.

It sounds cliché, but I fell in love as soon as I saw her. That’s the only possible description for the profound waves of breath-taking awe and raw emotion that overwhelmed me as I gazed into that crater. Love is an inadequate word. How can any human emotion approach the glory of her being?

It wasn’t her physique alone that inflamed my heart, though by human standards, she was a goddess, voluptuous and impeccable. She was gigantic at first, a humanoid roughly four meters tall, curled into a fetal position on a bed of molten granite. Her body pulsed and rippled with the vast, untamed powers churning within her. Dark “sun-spots” moved in hypnotic patterns over volcanic skin. The surrounding air seemed alive as heat waves bent her light into a shimmering, prismatic aura. I had never seen anything more transcendently beautiful in all my life.

It wasn’t her beauty alone that impassioned my soul, but something else, some unseen, life-giving energy that radiated from her infusing everything around us. Within days, the charred forest began to send forth new growth. Animals returned and flourished in abundance, drawn to her budding, verdant oasis. The ground beneath her had cooled and crystallized into a dense bed of multi-colored migmatite interspersed with precious gemstones.

But she was dying. We watched helplessly as her light slowly ebbed away. It was as if she was pouring her life into the world around us, healing the wound she had surely, inadvertently created.

My heart was breaking by immeasurable degrees, but there was nothing we could do. Over the course of several weeks I remained with her and simply wept, daring each day to draw nearer to her cooling and shrinking body, praying for some miracle that would rekindle her fading life-force. As scientists scuttled and tested, recorded and analyzed like knowledge-hungry scavengers, my constant tears evaporated off my red and blistered skin, yet I remained vigilant. No one dared to stop me and, eventually, I could lie beside her.

Not once had she stirred, but for the gentle motions of her belly, rising and falling with each breath, each weaker than the last, but as her final exhale of hydrogen and helium leaked from her, now shrunken, metallic form, her luminous eyes opened and seared into mine. In a blinding moment of unparalleled revelation, we became united in cosmic understanding and recognition. We had both been born of the same light – two Children of the Sun.


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Author : Desmond Hussey, Staff Writer

“Oracle, will she love me forever?” Tim whispers to the shimmering, liquid amber orb hovering in its special alcove in the family room. It’s late and he should be in bed, but he must know the truth. He can’t sleep. All he can think about is her kiss on his lips.

“Insufficient data. Specify subject of inquiry.” The Oracle’s voice quavers like a bubbling brook, not quite feminine, not quite masculine. Pulses of orange light punctuate each word, casting strange shadows within the darkened room.

“Melanie, Melanie Calder. From school.” He glances quickly over his shoulder to make sure no light emanates from beneath his parents bedroom door.

“Require genetic sample to complete inquiry.”

“Genetic sample? What for? I thought you just knew everything about the future?” Tim hisses, impatience coloring his barely pubescent voice.

“For love matches, a genetic sample is required to determine compatibility.”

“Like, blood?” he barely utters, horrified.

“Any bodily fluid, skin, hair or nail sample will suffice.”

The boy slinks off to bed, his young mind feverishly plotting how to acquire the necessary sample. His sleep is restless, but by morning he’s hatched a plan.

That evening, when certain his parents are sleeping, Tim prowls down to the family room and stands before the Oracle’s nook. In his hand he holds a single long, auburn hair like a precious artifact. Melanie winced and scowled when he pulled it from her head as they made out, but he quickly apologized and made up some stupid lie about her hair getting caught in his watch band. It was all he could do to keep hold of it as they continued to frolic beneath the elm tree by the school yard.

“Oracle, I have the sample. What do I do with it?” Tim can barely contain his nervousness. What if he gets caught? What if they aren’t compatible? What if they are?

“Place sample in scanner and re-state inquiry.” The Oracle’s voice is blandly indifferent to his anxiety. In the darkened quiet of the house, its voice seems thunderous, out-matched in volume only by the beating of his love-sick heart.

Tim carefully places the hair into the awaiting scanner tray and, once again, whispers his fated question, “Oracle, will Melanie Calder love me forever?”

A red laser flashes over the hair in the tray and for an agonizing minute the Oracle says nothing, just hangs silently in its niche while Tim waits with baited breath.

“Genetic compatibility is unsatisfactory. Love match will not succeed. Try again.”

The blood drains from Tim’s face as each terrible word slices his tender heart. It can’t be true. It feels so right to be with her. How can this be happening? “There must be some mistake,” he reasons. “Why, Oracle?”

“Genetic compatibility is unsatisfactory.”

A firm hand lands on his shoulder launching Tim’s stomach into his throat. He turns shamefully around to see his father’s stern face in the darkness reflecting the amber glow from the Oracle.

“Dad,” Tim chokes, “you’re up.”

His dad gestures toward the sofa. “Have a seat, son. We need to talk.”

Tim collapses into the sofa, deflated, all hope for the future washed away by the Oracle’s agonizing words. His father sits beside him. A long silence passes before his father finally speaks.

“Son, sometimes knowing the future robs us of our present. It prevents us from living in the moment. Do you understand?”

Tim stares woefully into the gloom.

“I’m sure Melanie loves you, now, today. Enjoy it, kiddo.”

A faint smile creeps onto Tim’s face.

“Thanks Dad. I will.”


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Art of War

Author : Desmond Hussey, Staff Writer

I drop from warp-space long before entering the Veretti system – a safety precaution that has become standard protocol on my salvage missions since my near-fatal incident in the Hox system. The extra flight time adds up, but it’s better than colliding with some laser-riddled chunk of battle cruiser upon re-entry.

I use the extra time to scan for anything out of the ordinary – rare radiation or a conglomeration of manufactured mass – anything that might signify a unique discovery that could flesh out my collection. I ignore the common flotsam. Amateur work, too simple and not very rewarding. I’ve refined my tastes and select only the best artifacts these days. It pays off in the long run and my clientele appreciate the rarity of my finds.

Whatever happened in the Veretti system was apparently pretty volatile judging by the amount of rubble and radiation clogging up the inner planets. As my forensics program sorts out the gritty details of, what I like to call, ironically, the Creative Impulse, I do more a conventional scan with my eye and a gut feeling I’ve learned to trust in my old age. It’s amazing how dumb computers can be sometimes, especially in the realm of esthetics. Programmers are full of it. Subtlety of contour, line and color is lost on AIs.

However, navigating tricky debris fields is one thing AIs excel at. While my ship picks its way through clouds of rock and wreckage, paying special heed to forgotten mine fields and unexploded ordinance, I spend some time researching and collating the data, attempting to piece together the story of what happened here.

Story is important. It adds a level of sophistication to the artifacts buyers like. Thee wealthy don’t just want great, rare art. They want a conversation piece.

Sifting through the aftermath for something interesting can be a tedious enterprise, though. After all, one nuclear or chemical Armageddon is much like any other. Several times I’ve left a site empty-handed after months of meticulous picking through haunted alien necropolis.

Good art takes time and patience and today I am rewarded two-fold.

On a moon I find a war-beast bronzed by the ionization of its battle-mech. A perfect storm has somehow preserved in intimate detail the alien’s gargantuan figure, its twin claws raised in savage fury, its sinewy tentacles poised in an imposing, yet delicate asymmetry of combat. The molecule-thin titanium alloy coating its entire body glints in the distant sun’s azure light. A rare find indeed.

I hit the jackpot on one of the home worlds, though – or what’s left of it. Typically a dead planet yields little more than pockmarked landscapes riddled with broken cities and deserts of bone dust, but whatever force bombarded this unfortunate race’s home was a real planet-buster. At the center of a cloud of rock and dust spins the cooled remnants of the planet’s molten core, now twisted and frozen into an amorphous blob of iron and nickel that whispers of the devilish forces which re-molded it. Its magnetic fields are staggering and the radiation levels are through the roof, but this only raises my price.

Some say mine is a macabre (pre-) occupation – profiteering from alien holocausts – but I believe I’m offering a valuable service: – uncovering fragments of eons past to remind anyone who cares how long and troubled the path of civilization truly is, and how many once great cultures have fallen to its many violent pitfalls along the way.

So what if I happen to strategically place those pitfalls myself. Therein lies the art of war.


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Author : Desmond Hussey, Staff Writer

The endless sea of torches before me is reminiscent of the once star-riddled firmament.

“Civilizations are like stars”, I begin, my message echoing and rippling endlessly outward through the crowd like some acoustic earthquake, my voice the epicenter.

“A star’s origins are buried deep within the annals of time. They begin as loose affiliations of individual elemental particles, “citizens” eking out a mutual existence, sharing “Neighborhoods”. Many “Neighborhoods” unite to form “Villages”, clusters of organized energy, which, in turn, grow and envelope other “Villages” until the star finally ignites into a power far greater than the sum of its parts.”

I can’t help but look upon the towering mountain of technological triumph dominating the landscape beyond the sea of humanity. All of the Human Race’s achievements have led to the creation of this colossal testament to survival. Humanity’s hope weighs precariously upon its success.

“Some stars are titans, cosmic dynamos whose influence spreads far and wide, their ambition often exceeding their limitations. While their “citizens” become innumerable, consuming vast amounts of energy, their cores become covetous, hording matter like cosmic skinflints. Uniting forces become unstable until the short lived star ends in violent cataclysm. The few surviving refugees are scattered to the cold, uncaring winds. Their ruins radiating strange energies for dark eternities.”

I pause to take a breath, the chill air burning my lungs and robbing my body of precious heat. Every second is colder than the last and as warm as it’ll ever be again for a long time.

“Other stars grow larger still”, I proceed, “until their woeful urge for dominion becomes an irresistible pull, a dark, oppressive force which draws all life, all matter into their illiberal folds; wells of consumption. As masses swell, depression reigns. Pressures mount. Centers cannot hold. Always, inevitably, there’s a quick, violent upheaval, a yearning for freedom, for liberty, but in vain – The tyranny of gravity prevails. Everything becomes lured inexorably into morbid, unknowable vortexes. Inescapable places. Lightless places. Places of death and futility.”

The silence of a million thoughtful minds fills the empty air.

“But smaller stars”, my voice now charged with pride, ”enjoy a long, prosperous existence. Their forces are stable, dependable, conservative. When the inevitable end comes, it comes slowly, predictably. The sun grows, reaches the limits of it’s resources, then, welcoming oblivion after a long life, it fades serenely into non-existence. Its “citizens” disperse, returning to a life of individuality within a universe of endless potential – Wanderers amidst the Great Unknown.

“We were both blessed and doomed. Blessed with a small sun, yet doomed to survive our own violent growing pains only to bear witness to the unstoppable heat-death of the Milky-Way.”

A low rumble shakes the ground, permeating my bones. Small stones tremble. Anticipation swells as I raise my voice.

“Just as we have watched, during the long life of our people, the stars in our galaxy die one by one, their energies extinguished by the brutal power of entropy, we have witnessed countless civilizations of our own become consumed by their own darkness.

“But we are, each of us, the inheritors of our own unique and ancient heritage. We are survivors and we will not wait for the end. We will not go gently into that good night! We will rage, rage against the dying of the light!”

The roar of the crowd is deafening, but the ignition of the World-Engine drowns all other sound. Slowly, relentlessly, we begin the dark voyage across the galactic gulf, searching for a new home.

We, the Sunless, shall endure!

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