Author: Connor Long-Johnson
A crowd had gathered and soon snowballed into a frenetic mob on the bridge overlooking the river. Cries and shouts swirled in the air as the crowd surged and morphed like the uneasy river below, sirens blared in the background and two lone police officers, barking orders to the baying masses, were drowned out; their presence a paper boat in a tsunami.
For those at the front of the pack who were leaning, stomachs pushed hard against the concrete barrier of the bridge so much so that they struggled for breath, were busy filming the scene on their phones as it unfolded in front of them.
The ship (they had all – in their collective wisdom – decided that it must be a ship) was still on fire. The purple plumes of smoke rising from the tail end of the vessel, its rear end jutting out of the water, were billowing in the early winter morning breeze westwards towards the smatterings of people that had massed to look at the spectacle. Most were donning masks or coughing steadily into the insides of their jackets as the smoke gently chocked them. Meanwhile the leaking fuel from the craft had turned the water of the Thames a sickly green colour, like the juicy snot at the tail end of a cold.
Like moths to the flame they stayed, mesmerised, inhaling the foreign fumes of another world.
“Did anyone see it come down?”
“Na, I heard it crash though.”
“What do you suppose it is?”
“Well that do you think it is? It’s got to be alien.”
“Bollocks, it’s from the military I reckon, some special sort of secret plane or sumink. They test ‘em all the time.”
“Don’t be so stupid, just look at the damn thing, it’s the size of a bloody building and it’s leaking green goop!”
“Whatever it is it’s fucking huge, and it stinks.”
“I heard that they’ve found two bodies already.”
“Let me guess, bald, green and three feet tall?”
Questions began to swirl into the mixture of sirens and shouts, a blanket of erratic muttering like white noise descended on the bridge.
Then, like a rocket blasting off from the launchpad, a scream rose up out the chatter, shrill and piercing, thundering across the water, turning every head and silencing every tongue.
“Her! She’s an alien!”
A woman was stood clutching a child wrapped in a small bundle in one arm, her other pointing a vicious accusatory finger at someone in the crowd.
“Look at her! Look at her eyes!”
Eyebrows cocked and heads began to turn, following the finger to another woman in the middle of the crowd. The accused was hunched over, a hood guarding her face.
“What? Me?” she said in a raspy voice and pointed a gnarled, ghostly white finger dotted with liver spots into her chest, her face contorted, “I am not an alien!”
“Just look at her!” The woman was no longer screaming, she was stood trembling, a deer in front of imaginary headlights.
“I am not an Alien!” the old woman’s voice rose, the coarseness suddenly replaced with venom, “Are you stupid girl?”
“Why are you wearing that hood? It’s 29 degrees today.”
“Is she glowing?”
“What’s wrong with her eyes?”
The silence ushered in by the woman’s scream was slowly being replaced with another gentle murmur.
Slowly, the woman turned, making her way to the edge of the crowd. Somewhere amongst the tumult, a foot, unseen and unknown sent the woman to her knees and pulled the hood away.
Another wave of silence hushed the crowd.
The woman stood up and they all saw her clearly in the daylight, her hair was the colour of molten silver, falling in liquid metal waterfalls and splashing over her two hunched shoulders. The skin on her face was like that on her hands, deathly pale, an unnatural whiteness. It was like seeing a blanket of snow on a midsummer night.
“I told you, look at her!”
“Oh my god she was right.”
` Before the woman could rise to her feet the crowd had broken out into a panic, it began to surge and swell, cresting over the fallen woman in a stampede of paranoid frenzy.
“Please no! I am not an alien!” The woman begged, struggling to her knees.
“Throw her into the river!”
“Toss her in. I saw a movie once where the aliens were allergic to water, throw her!”
The woman began to feel the peculiar sensation of having her own body hoisted into the air, moving out of her control, her arms flailing as she was chucked over the bridge. She felt her stomach roll and then the cold embrace of gravity as the water rushed to meet her.
“That’s it chuck her over!”
“Hopefully she’ll drown. But there must be more of them.”
There was a general murmur of agreement and the crowd dissipated, rabid dogs with the smell of blood on their snouts, all the while the woman, amongst gargling cries, was still insistent.
“I am not an alien.”
Author: Brian C. Mahon
Maurice yells in capitalized white letters across her left eye’s field of vision: [DO NOT MOVE.]
Target confirmed – ten feet away, closing.
Shiori’s training keeps excitement in check; the suit keeps her mute. The target, Meng Mei, born to the wrong rich man, is strapped to an oak chair. Shiori creeps closer, toes gently padding the floor and her eye on a digital decibel meter.
[Blue Endeavor pan right. Audio and video are clear. Need to identify him.]
A Sino-Russian Cooperative guard chomps on a cigar, sitting on the desk opposite Meng Mei, scrolling on his phone. Sixty-eight percent left in the suit’s flex-strip batteries, meaning only twenty-three minutes of light-bending active camouflage remaining.
[Stay slow. Tile is engineered sound reflective. Don’t shuffle. Strike team ETA twelve minutes. Monitor and remain.]
*Monitor and remain?* Shiori jerks her head, *no*. She is here, now, and she can strike before the Cooperative kill another hostage.
[Blue Endeavor, monitor and remain.]
Shiori shakes her head quickly. *NO.*
She’s almost breathing on her – Meng Mei is a beautiful girl, ten years old in a pink dress and pink ribbon in her hair but bearing a bruised, swollen eye socket and split lower lip.
[You are reconnaissance. MONITOR AND REMAIN.]
Shiori reaches behind the chair, eyes on the decibel meter, the girl, the stooge, the room, slipping her fingertips around strapping binding the girl’s ankles. *Reconnaissance. Wasted potential. Act now, save now!*
“Shénme?” The girl licks a clot of blood from her lips, looks down at her right ankle. As the strap loosens, the Russian bald and burly spits his cigar onto the tile.
[BLUE ENDEAVOR! YOU WILL BE COMPROMISED!]
Just as the words fill her field of vision, she pulls the emergency knife from her hip pocket and lunges at the Russian. Her blade cleanly whisks across his throat; a soundless execution save his gurgles.
[BLUE ENDEAVOR! WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?]
She whispers, “What we needed to. No arrests, no plea bargains, no more little girls. He dies. She is saved. We leave.”
Maurice’s disappointment buzzes in her ear, “Blue Endeavor. You *can’t* leave. The strike team isn’t there yet.”
Shiori ignores him and concentrates on untying the girl’s wrists.
“Nǐ shì shàngdì ma?” The girl’s dark eyes moisten with hope and confusion. Shiori never learned Chinese, barely knew Japanese, but she knows a look of fear.
*Only one way to build confidence.* Shiori presses two sensor points behind her jaw, unveiling the white-striped azure catsuit, Blue Endeavor.
“Shh. We are getting out of here. I am Shiori.”
“BLUE ENDEAVOR, EXIT, EXIT, EXIT!”
Two faceless, visored brown body suits appear from the corners to charge Shiori. She spins away from one, knife in hand, but a strong embrace inverts the world and delivers tile quickly.
“BLUE ENDEA-R!” Maurice screams as her nose bounces off the floor.
“Meng Mei, you serve your father well. I’ll ask him to get you ice cream,” rolls a heavy Russian accent from the suit sitting on her back.
Shiori picks her chin up in disbelief just to have her head smashed back to the tile. Served?
“How long, Misha? Six months we try to get their technology?”
“Six? Seven? Who cares? It was a good plan. With her suit, we’ll be able to move while invisible. We get promotion this time.”
Shiori relaxes, the ceiling spins. The strike team will be here, full of flash bangs and bullet holes to save the day.
“First, we must get rid of girl. Shame.”
A crack precedes the white flash from behind her eyes.
Blue Endeavor, mission end.
Author: Rachel Sievers
The crowd rushed on in the hot, stale air. Women holding the hands of little ones. Men rushing by with all their possessions. The holy and unholy fleeing before the wave of evil. All around people ran by him. His feet were cemented down as he watched them run. Fear paralyzed his whole body, the weight of it making him unable to move more than just his eyes to look at the scene playing out before him.
The bodies of people he knew and didn’t know lay all about as his eyes scanned the wreck before him. They lay with their bodies unharmed. Eyes closed like they were sleeping. Peaceful almost. There was a beauty in this destruction.
Destruction had come so quick. The end of his world had occurred in a matter of hours. There had been rumors for a while but in his small dusty village in the mountains of India seemed untouchable. They thought it would pass them over. They had prayed to their many gods to save them, sure that one would answers. They hadn’t. The gods sat in their way off place watching their devoted be turned to stone.
Viruses didn’t know borders. Or wealth. Or poverty. They didn’t know if you were a dictator or a slave. They didn’t know if you were from the riches of the developed world. They didn’t know if you were from a poor village in the mountains with ancient laws to keep you safe. They came in just the same and killed without care.
The virus took hold in the brain, killing and turning beautiful bodies to stone in one swift movement. The virus passed itself through body fluids, most commonly through saliva. It didn’t mind other body fluids but saliva was the most easily passed when they gave each other the kiss of death.
When hands from behind clasped his head and turned him towards her, he noticed how beautiful she still was. Had it not been for the black iris, pupil, and sclera he wouldn’t have known she was ill. When she pressed her pale lips to his, it was his first kiss. And his last.
Author: Lin Edwards
She knew she was close, and her heart was racing.
She’d been on the catering team of the dive expedition all those years ago; young, inexperienced, excited just to be part of it. They hadn’t let her go down into the cave system or its tendrils of flooded tunnels opening out into watery cathedral-sized chambers. But nothing would stop her now.
She parked, and killed the engine. The disability mods had worked well, but long hours of driving had exhausted her. She opened the window and listened. There was no traffic this far from anywhere, but she could hear the caves breathing. She smiled.
Memories flooded back of lying on the ground listening to the blowholes and gazing up at the billion stars splashed across the black sky.
She opened the door and dragged her legs out. She had not returned a moment too soon — any later and the disease would have consumed her. She waited for the pain to subside.
The breeze picked up, and a willy-willy appeared out of nowhere just as it had that fateful night. It had been a warning then, but they had gone into the caves, and so would she.
“Come willy-willy,” she whispered.
The willy-willy passed harmlessly overhead, and she looked in vain for an olive green snake. The few divers who had got out alive said a snake had followed them into the cave to warn them. Looking up, she saw a Min-Min light, or something like it, in the distance. Theory has it that Min-Mins are a Fata Morgana — like the mirage of a ship that seems to be floating in the air — but this light was moving erratically, almost as if it were alive, and approaching rapidly. Its edges looked fuzzy. She felt suddenly, incomprehensibly, calm.
As she dragged herself out to stand by the car, the light reached her and sped over her head, buzzing, then stopped and hovered, as if waiting for her to follow. She obeyed, using her sticks to stumble towards the light and the cave entrance she knew must lie beyond. Every time she moved forward the light moved on and then waited.
The fuzzy edges broke up into distinct, tiny circles of light, and just as the light shattered into a million pieces, she reached the cave entrance.
She stared down into the dark reflections in the water below. If she fell or jumped, she knew she would never get out. Not that she wanted to. She’d been planning for months, perhaps much longer. The divers’ disappearance into the caves had haunted her dreams for years.
She stood on the edge for some time savouring the sounds, the violent sunlight and shockingly blue sky. The Min-Min, now a shimmering mass of individual lights, waited patiently and then dropped beneath the lip of the entrance. She leaned over and peered in. Half-way down on a small ledge, an olive-grey snake lay watching her. She dropped her sticks and allowed herself to collapse and fall, and follow the lights deep, deep down into the crystal clear water.
The lights separated and the tiny circles surrounded her, each moving independently like miniature manned space ships. She felt herself being tugged and pulled, deeper down into the water and then along into a narrowing tunnel of almost blinding light. Around her the caves echoed with haunting music and she smiled. She had come into the caves at last.
Author: Linda McMullen
I turn onto my side as a MyPillow ad launches behind my eyelids. They fly open. The algorithm adjusts. I settle back down. A commercial for a sleep number mattress plays, and I wonder if it’s worth the money. I decide that a) it probably is, and b) I probably need to let go of this spring-studded catamaran I’ve had since I lived at home – sentimental value notwithstanding. The micro-shot of dopamine that this decision produces has clearly registered, because the next ad is also for a mattress.
I wish I could afford to upgrade to the premium plan, but those sleep-number things aren’t cheap, and… well… it’s another $120 a year, and for that maybe I could invest in a heavy comforter –
A pop-up ad: Would you like to try our Silver Package? Just $5 for the first month –
“No!” I exclaim, “and if this is how you run your service, maybe I’ll just cancel!”
The next ad (for a weighted blanket) vanishes mid-word, and my program appears:
Complete blackness, accompanied by white noise.
It’s… gosh, that blessed static!… it’s louder than you… well, thank goodness for it, because… because… so hard to… much harder to… wide open… four a.m. flashing on the… I signed up after the… so many senseless…
…but the white noise…