Author : Craig Finlay
It seemed fine, to place it there. You were on the weekly trip to the greenhouse with Mom and Dad and Stella holding your hand the whole way as you skipped 10 meters at a time through the light gravity of the inner ring. It was warmer there, drawing heat from the power core. Perfect for plants and the misting sprays hung so long in the light gravity you didn’t need to pretend like you’d ever seen a cloud.
The odd way things impose when you’re too damn small to use the world correctly. Not just the adults and the air you could see but the banks of ferns and the ever-novel soil that held them. You’d taste it, quickly. And every time knew you missed it somehow, despite never having had it, never having walked on Earth.
And really, that was it. The knowing of it all. What Stella told you. That we’d never leave the ship. That we were born to fly the ship and we would die, too. We’d teach our children the ways and workings. Let them fly into the orbit of some other sun. Your parents were so angry when you asked them about death and children and Stella promised to never ever tell you a secret again you little twerp.
So it seemed fine, you found a tree frog in the greenhouse that clung to the underside of hemp tree leaf. There were very few but you found one. Low, where you could see just fine. Uncle Mack said you could be a Southerner, not a Yankee yet. As if such had meaning still.
And it clung to glass when you placed it there. And to your hand when they told you to put it back, clung green and still. You managed it into your hands. It seemed fine that you squeezed tighter and tried one great leap to get out but your hands closed too quickly. And fine too when you returned it limp to the leaves.
Stella was right and she had a way of saying something that was self-evidently true and somehow make it seem profound. But you had nothing to say to Mom and Dad and Uncle Mack when they asked you again and again about the frog and why you squeezed it until it went limp and laid it back on the leaf. Staring then, just staring and not saying anything, at the same knot of grain on the tabletop Mom’s heirloom, real wood. Staring and hoping you could bore into the rings of the knot and make a whole big enough to climb in, just you and a frog that still breathes and clings, and finally make an escape.
They didn’t ask me, of course – how could they? But everyone finds themselves in odd atmospheres now and then, something that felt fine. There’s no damn reason for it, no greater take.
Not when you’re six.
Six is such a goddamned mystery.
Author : Josh Thompson
A planet full of gods is not a nice place. Ancient humans knew this and their legends were full of betrayal and conflict and suffering. If anything, the inhuman powers of the gods brought out what was most human in them. That was the ultimate lesson of those tales, but humanity forgot, as ages passed and gods changed. As civilizations rose and fell, perhaps they became uncomfortable telling the stories of powerful and violent deities because they were slowly becoming what they had told of.
Alberta woke up.
She still needed to sleep. She wondered if that made her at least a little human. She wondered what being human even meant. She looked human. Her thoughts were human. She didn’t feel human. It had been a long time since that.
She stretched her arm forward. Its brilliant, stark outline extended in contrast to the endless ocean that engulfed her. The pure ceramic white of the layer shielding her fragile body from that emptiness shone brightly. She watched it contort and flex. It was not a suit of armour; it was an extension of herself. In the depths of space, it was her.
She uncurled her legs and looked downwards towards herself. Her body was shiny and perfect and the same as it had always been. She looked to her left, then rotated until what had been her left was above her head. There was a cloud of hydrogen a few thousand kilometers away. In a white hot veil of fusion and energy, she was there. She barely noticed traveling there. Her arm still extended in front of her, she watched the gas swirl around it. Maybe this fog would one day make a star. She pulled a swathe of the cloud into an infinitesimal glow in the palm of her hand. She couldn’t be human, she thought, as the tiny ball of light dimmed and shaped itself into a bowl of cereal. Humans could never do this. Was she a god, she pondered, as she turned the hydrogen around her into breathable air in a fiery outpouring of radiation and heat? Her undented, blank white mask disappeared around her mouth, and she raised a spoonful of cereal to her lips. She still ate cereal every time she woke up. She had never heard of any gods that did that.
She wondered if she would ever get bored of her cereal. She doubted that. She’d had a long, long time to get bored of things, but she’d never failed to do this one thing. She didn’t need to eat anymore, but it was some measure of normalcy. Very long ago she’d instructed the artificial intelligence augmenting her own to remove the number of bowls of cereal she’d eaten from its array of tracked data. Even though it was the only constant ritual left in her life, knowing just how many times she’d done it was depressing.
She still had emotions, though she probably had a slightly different perspective than most humans had, she mused. The gods of human legends had been jealous, and proud, and vengeful. She wondered if the absence of other humans caused the absence of those feelings in her, or if the absence of those feelings was in fact the absence of her humanity. Those gods had also been loving, and righteous, and generous. She was none of those things. She wondered if humanity’s legends would have been different if those peoples had known what it was like to experience godhood, but then she caught herself. She knew far better than that.
Author : M. Irene Hill
A whisking wind stirred up a cauldron of crows that congregated amongst the remains of the centuries-old pagan temple. Accompanying the wind, a young woman of tempestuous temperament and flaming hair.
Unconcerned by the rumbling heavens, Akasha knelt down in the tall grass that sheltered the ruins. A rounded stone fragment, once part of the temple’s altar, invited her near. A cacophany of caws from the trees did not deter her. The wind whipped her long hair and pried at the ribbons of her bodice, but she was oblivious to everything but the ruins.
She traced the stone’s mosaic patterns with tactile reverence. Along its jagged edge, inscribed symbols of an eagle and a lightning bolt beckoned her soft touch, eliciting a resonant hum and crackling sound through the valley, and sent a frisson of excitement through her; the subtle change in the aether invoked a primal feeling that she didn’t understand, didn’t care to, but instinctively yielded to. Earth tremored in response to the exploratory touch of her fingers against the rough stone; its vibration penetrated deep into her marrow.
Akasha’s sonorous voice rang out, the mystical song carried by the wind, inciting more clamorous cawing from the crows that now assembled near the edge of the ruins. She stood amongst the stones, face turned into the wind, singing her siren song.
The crackling and humming sounds were almost palpable. A frenzied wind ravaged the treetops, scattering leaves, branches and startled fauna. Rumbling heavens reached their crescendo and, rather than cower or cringe, Akasha stretched her arms upward, like a small child wishing to be swept up in an embrace.
The frothy clouds boiled over, and the rain fell in a deafening roar, drowning out the crow’s cries. Akasha’s gown and long hair were wet and plastered to her willowy body. She stood stoically, a trembling, wet offering to the gods.
The murder of crows watched in silence now, from the safety of the hilltop cairns, while a colossal spacecraft fissured the sky and descended into the valley.
To the crows, the spacecraft looked like a fluid, rippling bird of prey, its shimmering exotic wings outstretched. It exhaled lightening bolts, and deep rumbles issued from its belly. Elder crows that had seen the giant bird before, long ago, feared its return, but respected its impressive might. It always took the females. They eventually were returned, similar but different.
The hovering craft captured its prey, shocking her into paralysis before carrying her away to its nest in some faraway Galaxy.
When the clouds retreated and the Earth’s tremors subsided, it was deemed safe to return. The murder of crows reconvened at the temple ruins. The tall grass was parched and brittle around the mounds of stones. Foreign smells lingered. Only a green ribbon from Akasha’s gown remained.
The youngest crows tried to make sense of it all. Others blamed themselves for not stopping the abduction. The elders reminded them it was not their place to understand or interfere. Their role was to bear witness. That was all.
The eldest crow grasped Akasha’s lost ribbon in his beak, and flew home to his nest. He added the ribbon to his growing macabre collection, which included myriad items like bones, teeth, scraps of fabric and metal, gadgets and gizmos, dried flora, shiny coins, totems and talismans.
His role as curator of alien artifacts would be passed on to the next generation soon enough, likely before Akasha returned to the temple.
Author : Kate Haas
Alice sat on the railing of Aunt Nat’s fishing pier. It was crowded today. She watched a seagull glide overhead as she picked at her sunburned knees. Alice closed her eyes. The air smelled like saltwater and cheese steaks. Aunt Nat must have started serving lunch at the store. Alice couldn’t remember the last time she felt this relaxed. Part of her wished that she could stay in 1986.
A familiar voice sliced through the fishermen’s chatter. Alice was stunned. It was Tom, here, at the pier! She’d been searching for him most of the summer – ever since she left 2015. The problem was that eight-year-old Alice had limited resources and strict parents. She had assumed that the adult version of herself would travel back in time, but the movies were all wrong.
Alice still wasn’t sure what she would say to him. She opened her eyes. Tom walked up to an open spot opposite Alice. He was leaner and less muscular at nineteen. His big brown eyes were bright and unaffected by the rough decades that were still ahead. She wanted to make them smoother for him. For both of them.
She was ripped from her daydream when she spotted a woman trailing a few feet behind Tom. Alice’s blood burned. Brandy’s dark lipstick and her close-set eyes never failed to bring the term “lipstick on a pig” to Alice’s mind. Alice had to make sure that Tom didn’t make this mistake again.
Tom noticed the little girl perched on the opposite railing of the crowded fishing pier. She was wearing mirrored sunglasses, beat-up Keds, cutoff jeans, and a yellow Schaeffer’s Pier t-shirt. He couldn’t see her eyes, but he had the feeling that she was staring at him. Tom tied the rope for the crab trap to the railing in front of him and picked up his beer. Brandy was crouched next to him baiting her trap.
Tom looked over his shoulder. The little girl had pushed her sunglasses to the top of her head. She was clearly staring at him. The girl couldn’t be more than ten. She tied her long hair back with a scrunchie. Then she smiled and winked at him.
Tom turned away. This was getting weird. Brandy leaned through the railing to drop her trap. Tom tilted his head back and lifted the beer to his lips. Something brushed against his leg. Brandy careened over the side of the pier. Her head smacked against one of the wooden pilings, leaving a red smear. She hit the water hard and was gone.
As people on the pier ran towards the commotion, Alice slipped back to her perch and flipped down her shades. She tied the front of her t-shirt into a jaunty side-knot. She felt light. For the first time in a long time she was excited for the future.
Author : Philip Berry
Every child remembers their first visit to the field. They follow the teacher over the low rise that was a burial mound for the first settlers, and down a glass ramp into the excavated field where ranks of men and women stand staring forward. Each is subtly different in proportion, though their expressions are the same – neutral, heavy, lacking character. That is the tradition – commonality; just one of many; a speck in history.
Some of the statues shine, the metal in the surface having been polished by the families that created them. Some are tarnished, slowly oxidizing. The elements appear as swathes or geographic patterns.
They were made by the second generation of settlers, and by those who have come since. When a settler nears the end of their life, they arrange for an effigy to be made. It must hold a tool or a weapon. After death, it is placed in the great field. Thus we thank nature for the ore which we smelt to create objects that are collected throughout the galaxy. Even the air can be filtered here, its metallic vapours condensed to liquid forms that fill runnels and trickle, gleaming, into the artisanal huts.
When I was sixty, and the joints in my fingers began to stiffen, I was told by a wise woman in the commune that I should begin to think about my effigy. What clothes would I choose for it; what object would it hold? I thought back to the thousands of examples I had seen as a child, and decided that my statue would present a simple pencil, as I am a silversmith and design jewellery.
Last week I looked in a mirror and saw how heavy my eyelids hung, and how the bands of grey across my teeth had thickened. I went back to the wise woman, to ask if I should begin to create the effigy.
She laughed, then asked, did I remember seeing the ‘broken farmer’ in the field. I did. All the children did. He lay on his back, feet pointing to the sky. His chest been cracked open by the fall. I remembered being surprised at how much attention has been paid by the sculptor to the internal structures of the thorax. The chambers of the heart had been modelled perfectly; the great blood vessels had been cast to anatomical precision. In contrast, his face had fallen away over time. Not even the metallic ions in its structure could save it from time’s insistent arrow.
The wise woman approached me. Her skin was bronzed and her mouth barely moved. She tore the top two buttons from my tunic. The fumes from the forge had coated my shoulders and upper chest. The hairs on my chest glistened. She ran a cool finger across the patterned surface, and watched carefully as I breathed.
“Your lungs are stiff. You have a three months to decide.”
“Your place, in the field.”
She laughed again. “Come, we are not children. You have decided what you will hold – a pencil, very modest. Now you must decide, where will you stand? Where in the field?”
I saw the truth of our tradition.
I saw how the metal had entered my tissues, crept along my tendons, lined my viscera, sheathed my nerves, and immobilized my features. I saw myself, one of many, staring forward, eyes fixed, unaware of the children who passed me on the glass ramp.